Spirit of Steel
Justin never had let the size of a crowd intimidate him. He’d felt comfortable in front of fifty thousand and comfortable in front of five. This time there was only one fan he was worried about, only one that was keeping his mind off the show in front of him. Last he’d heard she was going to be on her way up at noon, but she never showed and he’d had to leave the hotel for the venue without her. He’d left her a ticket and passes at will call because she hadn’t shown up at the hotel as she said she would. Now he was only minutes away from show time and he hadn’t seen her yet.
“You ready?” Trayce asked pulling on the backpack that he’d been lugging around all day. They’d been in the bus for the last few minutes searching for Justin’s cell phone, but hadn’t found it. “You’ve got like a half hour before you need to be on.”
His feet carried him from the bus parking lot into the arena and he found Delia, the makeup artist, waiting for him near the door. She was the epitome of calm. Her smile was even and she was breathing steadily, unlike himself. His breath caught in his throat and he coughed a few times. “Is she--?”
Delia had heard about his big visitor coming and had been giving instructions to look out for her. EVERYONE had been given instructions to look out for her. “Honey. I don’t know what’s keeping her, but go on and get ready and I’ll have everyone keep an eye on her. Tony’s got the word out that as soon as she’s spotted that they’ll bring her to you.”
He held an arm across his stomach and sighed. “I think I’m going to throw up.”
“You won’t,” she said hugging her to him protectively, “You’re going to go on that stage and have a good show and we’ll deal with all the other stuff after you’ve gone out there.”
He looked around in the crowd as if she might suddenly appear and take away the edge of the evening, but it didn’t happen. “I just wish I knew where she was.”
“Did you find your phone yet?” she asked.
“No,” he said, “I keep thinking that she’s left me a message that she’s not coming and I can’t find the damn thing to get the message.”
“I’ll search around for it. Maybe it got in with your dirty clothes from last night.”
“Thanks Delia,” he kissed her cheek.
“You and Trayce better get going,” she said and swatted at his butt.
“Ok,” he said.
They walked towards the dressing room, Trayce at his side, nudging him a bit when he would start to run into one of the equipment boxes that lined the halls. “What’s with you?”
“She ditched me,” he said.
“Like Delia said, it’s gotta be something incredibly important if she’s not here.” For some reason Trayce was actually sounding like he knew what he was talking about. They’d been on the road for so now, but it was just that evening that he was glad that his friend was his personal assistant on the trip rather than some hired person. “Come on…You just talked to her a few days ago and she never said that she wouldn’t be here.”
Justin nibbled on his lip and looked around one last time before they slipped into the dressing room. “I haven’t seen her in weeks though and now that I have the chance she’s a no show.”
“Look,” Trayce said, “Delia is on the look out, Tony and the guys are on the look out and I’ll make another sweep while you’re on stage and look for her. You need to concentrate or your freaking hair is going to get set on fire like Michael Jackson. You know how freaking clumsy you get when your mind isn’t on the show.”
Justin ducked his head. “I know. I know.”
“Man,” Trayce said putting the bag down in the corner. “Calm the hell down. I’ll go search for her.”
“Ok.” His mind still wasn’t on the performance at hand. That wasn’t until Marty stuck his head in the room a few minutes later.
“So I hear you’re going to puke on my stage,” Marty said with a laugh.
“Your stage?” he laughed a little.
“Well you can’t be sick if you’re laughing,” Marty said.
“Yeah, all those spin moves are getting me. This whole shake thing—“ He shook his shoulders like one of the moves from one of the songs. “It’s really giving me a stomach ache.”
Marty’s face turned into a huge frown. “She’s not here yet?”
Justin shook his head that she wasn’t. “Shit.” He slammed his fist down on the table took a deep breath and rubbed his eye. “Fuck this. I got work to do.”
“There’s my boy,” Marty said with a laugh.
“I can’t fuck up your shit on stage or you’ll never work again man.” Justin rubbed his hands over his short hair and stretched. “How long until we go on?”
“About five,” Marty said with a look at his watch. “You stretched out?”
“Yeah,” Justin said, “I’m gonna take a piss then I’ll meet you guys out there.”
Marty nodded and left the room.
A knock came a second later. “I found your phone!” Delia pushed her head through the door. “I found it.”
He grabbed it up, but sadly there was no message.
“You ok honey?”
“Give me a minute and I’ll be out,” he said quickly then dialed her number. He cleared his throat and left a message when voicemail picked up. “Hey. It’s me. I’m about to go on and I was just going to see if you were here. I guess you aren’t. Everyone keeps telling me that it’s something important that’s keeping you away so I’m—“ He took a deep breath and let it out. “I’m going to believe them this time and just go on stage.” He didn’t want to hang up just yet. “If you get this tonight call me…I’d like to see you if I can.” He heard a knock on the door. “Later.” He lowered the phone then put it back up to his ear. “I love you Carolina—“ He said quickly then closed his eyes. “Bye.” He turned the phone off and pushed the phone into the backpack that Trayce had been wearing earlier before he went out into the hallway.
Coming off the high of a show was always hard. Now that he was performing as a solo artist it was even harder—no one around him really understood what was going on in his head after a performance. The dancers had some clue, but it wasn’t really as if they knew what he’d shared with the guys in NSYNC for all those years.
Justin’s first and only reaction to his day was to go up to his room at the hotel, take a shower and slide into bed and close his eyes, but he’d promised to go to the after party so he found himself showering at the hotel before being rushed down the street to the club they were holding the party at. He wasn’t performing that night, the opening act the Black Eyed Peas were going to give the crowd a small show, but he knew he needed to be there.
“I’ve got news for you,” Trayce said when Justin returned from taking his shower.
His heart stopped for a moment and he held his breath. It was in that moment that he realize that he was in love with her. If he hadn't known before, Trayce potentially telling him bad news had made the feelings he had for her slam home--slam him right in the chest. “What?”
Trayce dragged out his words, torturing him. “Carolina just checked in.”
"You asshole!" Justin came towards him swinging playfully. "I thought you were going to tell me that she was fucking dead or something. You asshole!"
Trayce just laughed it off in the way that Trayce laughed everything off. "I knew I'd get that reaction out of you."
Justin moved his towel more into place and looked up at his friend. “She on her way up?”
“Yeah,” Trayce said.
“Seemed it on the phone,” Trayce said.
“Did she say why she was late?”
The knock at the door broke him off mid thought. Instead of going to the door he motioned for Trayce to do it and he pulled some clothes out of his bag and disappeared into the bathroom. From inside the room he could hear them talking.
“Hey there,” Trayce said. Knowing Trayce he probably was taking a moment to hug her while Justin was out of the room. “Long time no see.”
“Yeah,” she said sounding frazzled and nervous. That wasn't like her. Justin liked the cocky little spitfire that lived next door. In Colorado Carolina was definitely a different creature.
“How’s the leg doing?” Tracye asked, “Looks a little better than last time.”
“It’s pretty much healed,” she said. He heard the door closed and the squeak of a suitcase wheel. "Is Justin here or did he already leave?”
“He just got out of the shower and is getting changed,” Trayce said then took a breath and called out. “J—you almost ready?”
“Yeah,” he said, “Two seconds. Go grab everyone. We’ll head out in a minute.”
“Ok. Carolina is here.” He paused for a moment. "We're going to the after party for an hour or so."
“Thanks Trayce,” Justin yelled out from the bathroom then took a breath, “Hey Carolina.”
“Hi,” she said nervously.
“I’ll be out in a second.”
“Ok--Don't rush or anything.”
"It'll just be a second."
When he came out into the room she was sitting on the bed. Her black purse was at her side and she was looking at her cellphone carefully. He stood there and watched her and felt for a moment that he should be upset with her for being late, but when her head lifted and she smiled at him, he totally forgot about that.
“Hi,” she said in a soft voice and pushed herself up from the bed. She shuffled towards him and immediately slipped her arms around him and hugged him. “I’m sorry I couldn’t get here earlier.”
He was stunned to have her in his arms and it took a moment to think what to say to her. “You ok? I worried that something might have happened to you.”
“Yeah,” she said and looked up at him with strangely calm expression. She acted as if they were in the middle of their relationship and this was a typical night for them. “I kind of got into some trouble. My car broke down and I got stuck on the side of the road for three hours because the triple A guys couldn’t find me.”
“Really?” he said, “You should have called me. I would have sent someone to find you.”
“Yeah well it’s already taken care of so don’t worry about it,” she stepped away from him and sighed, “Sorry about missing the show.”
“It’s ok. You can catch it the next time I’m in town.”
“How about tomorrow night?” she asked.
"You're gonna stay?" he asked.
"After the day I've had, there isn't a chance in hell that I'm going to drive home tonight."
He nodded. This wasn't a stay over because she wanted to be there with him. It was because she needed to stay over because she was tired. He found himself frowning. He couldn't help it. This definitely wasn't the way he wanted things to turn out.
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