"What's going on in here Miss T?" Justin entered the room cautiously. He tried to be casual about it, leaving his overachiever personality at the door. He didn't know what he was going to do to calm her down and half of him wanted to pick her up and carry her out of there, but felt as if he did that she would always end up fearing the studio which in his mind, even if she didn't end up performing or singing, wasn't something he could live with.
There really was no question as to what was going on. Tegan looked scared out of her mind. He'd never seen her look scared like this. Shy was one thing. Shy like on Jay Leno when she'd stayed next to him, whispering to him a few times during their spot on the show, but here was a little girl that was totally foreign to him. She was standing there with the big studio headphones on, making her look like Princess Lea, with her fingers in her mouth as her eyes threatened to spill over with tears. "I--I--"
Justin knelt down beside her and removed the headphones from her head, setting them on the floor before turning her to face away from where everyone was watching them.
"Are the headphones hurting?"
She nodded that they weren't.
She nodded her head that she wasn't scared. Her eyes stayed away from his, as if she didn't want to show him her fear. "I don't want to do bad."
Justin pulled Tegan into his arms. "Honey, you'll be fine. Whatever you sing will be good. You've sung before." He didn't have a clue if she really would be fine, but he knew that a hopeful attitude wouldn't hurt her. It had worked with Mere, so he figured it would work with her.
* * * * *
"No. No. No."
Meredith's voice faded away with the last line of the stanza as Justin stood up quickly. In his explosion, his knees pushed the chair back so far that it slammed into the coffee table behind them, tipped a little, then settled. He turned his head to look it for only a moment then twisted back to stare at her.
"What's wrong now?" her voice asked over the speaker looking first at him then at JC then back to him for reassurance. There was annoyance in her tone as she put a hand on her hip and dragged the headphones off her ears.
"I thought it was fine," JC said looking up at him from his seat. He shrugged and leaned over to talk to Meredith using the mic, "Hold on a second Meredith."
"Fine isn't good enough." Justin tried to keep his tone even, but it was a losing battle. At the moment this wasn't how he saw this project ending up. He'd thought that she'd be great and he'd be great and the whole album would run smoothly, but reality was hitting him in the face. This was going to take some work on both their parts to get this done.
JC leaned back in his chair, stretched his arms above his head, leaning back in his chair to yawn. "Chill out."
"No." Justin put a hand out towards Meredith behind the glass. "She's sounding like shit right now. You can hear it." He looked down at JC and narrowed his eyes. "I know you hear it."
"She sounds fine," JC repeated sitting forward a little to look at the legal pad of notes he'd been making while they were recording.
"Exactly," he said moving his hand along his arm squeezing at his bicep trying not to explode in front of the two of them, "She shouldn't sound FINE."
"Hello?" Meredith's voice came out of the speakers in the room with a huff. "Justin if you're going to critique me then at least let me hear it. This whole Children of a Lesser God thing isn't working for me." She faked a few things of sign language at him.
"Hold on a second," JC said into the mic to her then turned to Justin, "What specifically are you having issues with?"
Justin flopped down into his chair and folded his arms across his chest. "She just doesn't sound right. She doesn't sound like herself. Her voice is shaky and look at her." They both turned and looked at Meredith who was staring back at them with a confused look on her face. "She looks like she's afraid of that microphone. She never used to be like this."
"No Justin," JC said, "She always used to be like this. The only difference is that now she's your ex and instead of encouraging her like you used to, you're sitting over there throwing spears at her with the look in your eyes. Everyone would get a little scared of seeing that."
"I am not," Justin said angrily.
JC shook his head and picked up his coffee cop. When he shook it and found that it was empty he leaned and threw it in the trash.
By the time JC had righted himself Justin was already up out of his chair and standing next to Meredith in the studio. "Take off your shoes," Justin instructed.
"What?" she asked.
"Take your shoes off," he repeated.
She stared at him for a moment then did as she was told, reaching out to hold onto the music stand in front of her for support as she kicked her way out of her shoes.
Her only reaction to his request was in the action of folding her arms over her chest, widening her stance and staring at him.
Justin reached out and was about to grab her arm to try and shake it loose when a booming voice stopped him. "JUSTIN RANDALL TIMBERLAKE YOU BEST NOT EVEN THINK ABOUT IT!"
Meredith too seemed shocked by this interruption and turned to stare at the window. Gritty had returned and was now standing on the other side of the glass staring back at the two of them.
Justin turned to Meredith holding his hands up in surrender mode, "Tell him to back off. I'm not going to assault you or anything."
Meredith leaned and spoke into the mic, "It's ok Gritty. I'm fine."
"You sure?" he asked.
She nodded then turned back to Justin, "Now where were we?"
Justin's eyes stayed on Gritty in the window as he took her hand out, held her by the wrist and pulled on her arm making it wiggle a little His first mistake was touching her. He could feel her pulse in her wrist and the scent of her perfume was making it hard for him to concentrate, but he finally got himself under control and spoke. "Calm down and relax a little. If I didn't know you better I'd think you were grinding your teeth over there. It's just you and the mic...remember that."
Meredith took a breath and wiggled her arms a little breaking contact with his hand. "Fine. I'll relax."
"Good." He couldn't find any words to speak to her with. He just kept staring at her for a moment until he heard something over the speakers.
"Thank you so much for that drama," JC said, "I'd actually like to get home to my girlfriend so if you two can break up the traffic jam we'll get on with the show here."
Justin nodded and turned and walked out of the room. A few moments later he was face to face with Gritty. He wanted to tell the guy to take a flying leap but it wouldn't be advisable to do so. Not only would the guy verbally assault him for the thought, but he outweighed him by a good hundred pounds, if not more, and even Justin was smart enough to figure out that the fight wouldn't be a fair one.
"I don't want to sing," Tegan stepped into his arms, throwing her arms around his neck before beginning to cry into his shoulder. "I don't want to."
Justin hugged her for a long time, rubbing her back before he moved to sit down and hold her in his lap as she cried. "Why not?"
She pressed her face into his shoulder. "I just don't want to."
He knew he shouldn't force her to do this. He had never been forced as a kid to go and do anything, at least not at her age. His mother had suggested things and he'd tried almost every thing that his mother had suggested and when he didn't like things he told her that he didn't like them and that was that. Later on in his teens when there were contracts and money involved and when he'd been dealing with Lou he'd done a few things that he didn't want to really do, but at her age she shouldn't have to do anything she didn't want to do.
He was about to give up and let her throw in the towel when he glanced up and saw Meredith watching them. She looked concerned for Tegan and somehow for him.
"Baby you don't have to sing if you don't want to, but I think that maybe you should give it one last try."
"No-o," she whined out.
He lifted a hand and waved to Mere then pulled Tegan away from hugging him. "Honey don't cry." He pushed her hair from her face and moved her hand from her mouth. "Do you want to give up and go out and play outside?"
She shrugged her little shoulders and looked up at him for only a moment. "I don't know."
"How about this? What if Daddy sings with you?" He sighed. "You're not used to singing alone. You always sing with Mommy and me and Jack so I can see how you might not want to sing by yourself."
She shook her head. "I don't know."
"How about I put another mic in here and I'll stand next to you and sing?"
"Ok," she said.
Justin wiped her face off and stood her up. "I'm gonna go grab a microphone so why don't you sit here for a second and we'll be all set."
Tegan nodded and went to grab her headphones off the floor as Justin pushed himself up, brushed off his jeans and straightened his shirt and went out to where everyone was standing.
"What happened?" Mere asked immediately. "Is she ok?"
Justin nodded. "She'll be fine."
He walked across to the closet where there were extra microphone stands and microphones and he pulled out one of each. He went to the boards, pushed a few buttons then moved them back to where they were.
"What are you doing?" Mere asked.
"I'm making it look like I'm going to record," he said, "I'm gonna fake like I'm singing. I'm plugging in the microphone and then have her sing with me, but turning down the volume." He looked around for a moment. "Got any other headsets?"
"Yeah." A headset was handed to him and he turned to go back into the studio finding now that Tegan looked excited about things instead of scared of what was going on.
It only took him a few moments to set up and then he took his position next to his daughter. "You ready honey?"
"Yeah," she said with a smile at him.
Justin was about to start singing when Meredith came in the room and handed him a sheet of lyrics. "You almost forgot them--"
"Thanks," he said and gave her a kiss on the cheek.
Meredith left and soon Justin was raising his hand to let them know to begin recording.
His eyes were half on the lyrics, half on his daughter as he began to sing the lyrics softly to himself, playing along so that she'd feel comfortable.
Once upon a time
He smiled when he heard her voice come over the lines. She was doing well with all of this, making it dramatic without making it horribly cheesy.
People fell in love & they stayed in love
Justin waited to see if Tegan was ok and she looked ok, but had stopped singing when he started into the third line of the song.
"What's wrong sweetie?" he asked.
"Can I do that again?" she asked.
"Sure," he said with a laugh and leaned to her microphone. "Can we rewind and start again for Tegan?"
Everyone seemed more than excited about starting over and soon they were singing their way though the first stanza of the song, with Mere wiping tears from her eyes in the entire time.
Once upon a time
People fell in love & they stayed in love
It never crossed their mind
Not to see it through when they said I do
Tegan started to close her eyes and sing and Justin backed away from the microphone in front of him, singing only so that he could keep up with the words. It was amazing to see her work. She was a professional and that scared him a little bit. She was too young to be this way.
This modern world changes so fast
Hearts break apart like they're made out of glass
It's getting hard to believe in love that can last
I will if you will
He held his breath until he heard Meredith stop them. "That was great honey. Why don't we slow down and I'll have you sing only a few lines at a time and we'll record really good copies of these."
Justin took a deep breath and went to give his daughter a hug. "I'll be back in a second honey. Listen to your mommy ok?"
"Ok," she said and hugged him.
Justin left the studio only giving Meredith a quick look before disappearing outside. If he was a smoker he would have smoked, but instead he went to the kitchen to grab a drink. A soft drink, he moved to get when he saw his mom and Jack playing on the porch.
I Will If You Will by John Berry