Spirit of Steel 24


North Shore Hawaii for Christmas.

She didn't know how she'd gotten talked into it, but the night before Christmas Eve she found herself aboard a plane with her family, Justin's mother's family and Justin's father's family and his grandparents headed West.  The private jet had surprised her.  She knew that Justin had connections and the money to do it, but private jet was something that was a bit surreal.  Instead of curling up in a coach seat on an American Airlines or United flight, she'd curled up in her lazy-boy sized seat next to Justin's little brother Steven and watched the lights of the mid-west and west before there was a short fueling stop in Palm Springs before she fell asleep on the rest of the flight out over the pacific ocean.

"Honey."

Carolina jumped a bit when she felt her body being shaken.  She thought for a moment that the plane had hit an air pocket or something, but when she finally opened her eyes and found Justin's mother leaning over her.  "What?  Are we there yet?"

"Almost," she said and pointed towards the window where the sun was just rising.  "The captain is getting ready to have us land and the flight into the airport is amazing so I thought you'd want to see it, especially with the sun coming up like that."

"Thanks," she said and rubbed her face to wake herself.  She looked over and found Steven curled up with his blanket snoring a bit and smiled.  He was a spitting image of his brother and after a few weeks of being away from Justin it was something of a shock to see Justin's face in a smaller version next to her.  It was strange, that feeling of butterflies in her stomach.  She'd had it a bit in Colorado, but this trip was bringing that feeling on full blast.  Maybe it was seeing Justin then, seeing what life would be like with him, and now the urge she felt to continue what they started in Colorado, that had her nerves fluttering now.

She turned her head back to the window and hoped that things would go smoothly in Hawaii.  She'd talked to her team and explained that her time with them was probably going to be shorter than she'd thought.  Coaching them was a great thing, but she wasn't sure she could be totally into coaching when her heart still was one of a competitor.  She'd started to think over the last few weeks that hanging around her sport for longer than she needed to wasn't something that she wanted to be known for.  She was thinking that retirement was the way to go and if Hawaii went as well as she hoped it would she was going to tell Justin her decision to leave the sport.

As the plane came through the early morning fog on the bay and slid onto the tarmac Carolina watched out the window and was the first to see the black silhouette of a Jeep against the orange red morning sky.  She was just about to point out the jeep to her mother when she saw him step out of the jeep.  She found herself not being able to breathe.  She'd tried to image what it would be like. She'd skipped this part of her last trip due to the strange situation with her car when she'd driven up to Denver, but now she was in the middle of a true test of her restraint.  She felt silly admitting it, but she wanted to cry because she'd missed him so much.

"And there is our little prince," Lynn said with a laugh.  "Looking a little on the groggy side, but here."

"Yes sir," Justin's grandfather said.  "There he is."

She watched out the window as Justin shuffled to the near side of the jeep to lean against the side of it.  He shoved his hands in his pockets and when his hood slid back a little she could see that he had sunglasses on an a beanie hat on underneath the huge sweatshirt.  He turned his head to the sun and she could imagine that he was closing his eyes and warming his face against the rays of the sun.

The plane finally slid to a stop and it seemed as if everyone else who had been sleeping was now awake and leaning towards the windows to see out.  Both Justin's brother's grabbed their stuff and started towards the door.

"Wait for your brother boys," Lisa, Justin's step mother called out to them from the seat two rows behind hers.  "I don't want you boys running in between the planes."

Justin's grandfather stopped near her seat.  He reached back and grabbed onto Justin's grandmother's hand before giving Carolina a smile.  "You ready?"

Carolina nodded and saw that her mother and her father were busy talking with Randy and Lisa about something or other, giving her an opportunity to sneak outside to see him.

Jonathan and Steven were already hugging their brother near the car and he helped them put their backpacks in the open topped jeep before he patted the bumper with his hand and watched his brothers climb over the back seat to get into the jeep.

When she reached the car she expected him to pull her into his arms and hug her to death, but he didn't.  He gave her a half hug, kissed her cheek.  "How are you?"

"Good," she said, the wind had gone out of her sails and she was sitting there trying to figure out what had gone wrong between the call she'd ha with him two days before and their present meeting.  "Did you all have a good flight out here?"

"Yeah."  He didn't look at her, but moved to show her that there wasn't a door on the Jeep and that she should get in.

"Justin?"

"What?" he asked with a wide smile--a too wide of a smile.

She watched him turn towards her and she moved to pull his sunglasses from his face.  His eyes met hers and she knew instantly that something was wrong with him.  Whether it was the early morning hour or something else, she wasn't sure, but there was definite worry in his eyes.

"You ok?" she asked.

He nodded, but the look on his face didn't show it.  "Lemme go say Hi to everyone then we can hit the road."

There was hesitation, but she nodded to accept his request to not answer her question so that he could go and see his parents.  "Ok."


It had been a hellish morning already.  The fans had found out that they were staying at the Turtle Bay Resort and he had found himself dodging them that morning on his way out to the Jeep.  Mike and Todd both suggested that he not drive down to the airport himself.  He wanted to punch the both of them when they suggested it, but instead he'd shoved his sunglasses on and hadn't removed them until Carolina had wanted to see his eyes.  As he approached his parents he shoved them back on and tried to force a smile on his face.

"Hi honey," his mother said giving him a hug.  He hugged her back then hugged Paul and Lisa and his father and quick hugs to his grandparents before giving shy waves to Carolina's parents.  "Baby are you ok?"

"Long day," he muttered.

"It's probably just too early for you," she suggested for him.

"Yeah," he said.  "The limo driver is going to take you up to the hotel.  I'm gonna drive up with Carolina and the boys."

"Sounds good," Paul said.

Justin turned back around towards the jeep.  He knew he was probably causing a scene with his behavior.  He should have been jumping for joy considering that he had the next week off.  He had one performance at the beginning of the trip and one at the end of the trip, but other than that he was free to do whatever he wanted to for five whole days.

He'd worried Carolina with his reception of her near the car.  He could see it in her eyes as he climbed in the car and checked that his brothers were strapped in.  When he moved to turn on the engine he turned the key then moved his hand over to where hers was sitting on the arm rest between them.  "Sorry about being so--"

"It's ok."  She nodded and patted his hand that was on hers.  "It's too early for you.  You should take a nap when we get to the hotel and then we'll go have lunch together ok?"

He opened his mouth to say something, but kept his words to himself.  He was completely thrown off guard by her ability to understand him.  Even if she didn't know what was bothering him, she could see that he wasn't in the mood to be hyper that morning and if she gave him some space he'd come around and talk to her about it.

"What's the deal for today?" she asked with a soft voice as he pulled the Jeep out onto the city streets.

"Nothing much," he said, "I perform tonight--a club show that shouldn't take up much time--but other than that I'm on vacation."

She watched out of the window for a few moments.  He could see her staring at Diamond Head as they headed towards the North Shore and he thought about asking her if she'd been to Hawaii before.  He was surprised that he hadn't thought to ask that of her before.  "Do you have sound check?"

"Look at you," he said with a laugh, "spewing out all the lingo and everything."

She smiled.  "I've been talking to you on the phone too much."

Justin looked in the rear view mirror and let out a swear word before he could catch himself.

Carolina looked at him, startled by the word as Jonathan and Steven laughed in the back seat.  "What's up?"

"Cameras behind us," he said nodding at the rear view mirror.  He knew that there were people on the island looking for him, but he didn't expect them to be up this early in the morning.  He figured he'd at least get through the morning without having to deal with cameras in his face.  "I knew some of them were here when we landed, but I thought they'd lost me."

"Lost you?" she asked.

"Don't worry baby," he said glancing over at her.  He turned a little in the car and spoke to his brothers.  "You guys buckled in?"

"Yeah," they said.

"Good," he said, "Sit tight."  He changed lanes, went off the freeway onto a side street for two blocks.

"Is this scaring you?" he asked when he turned back onto the main road.  He'd thought that maybe he could get the guys off his back, but there were now three cars behind them following them.

When they pulled up next to the limo the front driver window rolled down.  "You guys ok?" the driver asked.

"Yeah," he said, "Tell my parents that we'll meet them at the hotel.  I'm gonna take a few side streets to get back up there."

"Ok," the driver said.

The window rolled up and they continued down the road.

"No worries," he said but suddenly had fear consume him.  It was no secret that the whole Princess Diana thing had scared a lot of celebrities.  He wasn't about to start a chase, but if he could piss them off a little on his way up North he was definitely going to try.

"What's going on with you today?" she asked.

"Nothing."  He lied to her and motioned towards the back seat hoping that she would get the idea that he didn't want to talk about it until the boys weren't around.  "I've been working too hard lately and probably just need a nap or something."

"Really?" Steven said from the back.  He glanced at his brother.  "Momma says that you should take more naps.  You don't sleep enough."

"She's right," Carolina said, "You don't sleep enough."

She was right.  He hadn't been sleeping well lately.  After shows and being on the road he normally would call her up and talk to her for an hour or so before he went to bed.  Her schedule normally was in the afternoon like his so the two of them had spent the last few weeks, speaking to each other on the phone until the wee hours of the morning, sleeping until lunch time before working until the late hours of the evening.

"Well I have a vacation," he said, "So I'm gonna skip cartoons and sleep in."

"You're gonna miss out on vacation by sleeping?" Jonathan asked sounding completely upset that his brother would choose sleep over him.

"Not all the time," Justin said, "I'm going to spend time with everyone.  Which reminds me.  You and me and Steven gotta run and go shopping tomorrow night."

"We do?" Steven asked with an excited voice.  He loved that his brother still got so much joy out of the fact that he was famous and had big Christmases with them.  Most of his job kept him from having a normal life so when he did have time for them he tried to make it the most exciting times of their lives.

"We have to get stuff for Momma and Paul and Lisa and Daddy."  He laughed a bit and tried to keep his mind on that as he watched the cars behind them scrambling for better position to take more pictures.  "And for Carolina.  I tried--"  He paused for a minute.  "--I tried to go last night, but I was too tired and had to go back to the room."

"Do we get to stay on the beach again?" Steven asked.

"Yep," he said, "In the little houses like last time."

"That was cool," Jonathan said back.

Justin watched the traffic and let the miles fly by as they headed more and more North.  He hoped that as soon as they got on private property of the resort that they wouldn't be bothered, but the fact that everyone knew he was there meant that anyone could rent a room at the resort just to get privileges to take his picture.  He just prayed that they could do their Christmas traditions without any trouble.


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