Spirit of Steel 15


The hotel room was a little cooler than he wanted it to be so before he stopped to take off his jacket he went to the thermometer and turned up the temperature.  The action reminded him of the heat in Tennessee over the summer and he had this short vision of Carolina and him naked in bed together, laughing before they'd fallen asleep about how hot it was in their and of course they'd both started to that Nelly song "It's Gettin' Hot In Here."  He smiled at the thought and hoped that tonight would be that easy going.  He doubted that it would, but hoped that there might be a chance for them to have fun.

When he was satisfied that the heater was going to come on in a moment he slid out of his jacket and went and threw it over the chair in the corner of the room then turned to find that Carolina had taken off her shoes and her jacket and was sitting on the bed Indian style with the remote in her hand flipping channels.

His eyes washed over her for a long time.  Her hair was longer than the last time he'd seen her and for the most part she seemed to be completely comfortable in that room with him, well maybe comfortable sitting on the bed that way, but maybe was a little bit cautious being there with him.  He didn't blame her.  They both were in limbo at the moment.  Neither of them knew where they were headed and that left them both trying to say what needed to be said and not say something that might ruin the small bridge they'd started to build between them.

She finally noticed his stare and looked up at him.  Her hand moved to pat the bed next to her, inviting him to sit down.  He nodded then leaned and tugged on his shoelaces so that he could get out of his shoes then came and sat next to her.  He moved so that he could lean back against his hands and watch television.  He was a bit nervous so he bounced his feet on the floor, shaking the bed a little.

"What are you looking for?" he asked as she flipped channels.

"Nothing really," she said, "Just a movie or something."

"We can order up a movie," Justin said softly not knowing how to approach the situation that was standing between them.  He didn't know what to say or to do and knew that he was walking on thin ice with her about the whole thing.  He'd been able to distract her earlier with the party and the drinks and the singing, but now it was just them and it was going to be hard to be stuck there with her with no way to escape.

"Maybe tomorrow--"  He didn't like the way she hesitated.  He suspected that that if they were at home in Millington that she would have been more excited to hang out with him, in her own Carolina kind of way of course, but she wouldn't be that cold to him.  "I'll fall asleep if we order one."  Her yawn showed just how right she was about her state of fatigue.

Justin laughed and reached to touch her cheek with his hand.  It was a treat to be able to touch her so freely and for her not to move away from him.  He wished a million and one times in the last few months that he could just fly home and do that.  Go and sit out in the backyard and look across and see her on the porch reading her books.  It was something so simple that it shocked him to miss it so often.  "We should go right to sleep."

"Maybe--"  She paused, "I mean if you have to get up and do something tomorrow then yeah we should go to sleep."

He loved the way she took care of him, even if now he had his feet back under him.  He just wished that he could take care of her a little bit since he'd failed so miserably the first time around.

"We haven't really said where you and I were going to sleep--"  He started to say.  He didn't mind where she slept that night, he wouldn't expect her to sleep with him, but he did want to make sure that she'd be there in the morning when he woke up.

She held up a hand and stopped him from talking.  "Can I ask you something flat out?"

"Sure," he said with a shrug of his shoulders.  If she wanted to talk then he wasn't going to stop her from speaking what was on her mind.  He was suspecting that she'd have something big to say about him leaving and had been waiting for her to bring up the subject.

She took a deep breath and looked him straight in the eyes.  "Why'd you leave Millington and not come back?"

"Whoa.  Ok...be blunt about it," he joked as all the air seemed to rush from his lungs.  He knew that she had a right to be upset with him, but hearing it from her was worse than he'd imagined it to be.  The blow of her words was harder to take than he'd thought.  She really had been upset about him leaving.  He was hurt that she thought that he had walked away and not really thought about it.  He knew that people in the outside world thought that he was a jerk and he could be one at times, but he'd thought that Carolina had learned more about him back in Millington and would know that he wasn't a cold hearted man.

"I'm serious Justin."  She turned towards him and he instantly saw the worry in her eyes, worry that he'd probably put there.  "I want to tell you that it didn't have an effect on me and that it's all be great the last few months, but it really think you need to know that what you do effects other people--"

He clicked his tongue a few times and tried to word his next comment carefully.  "You think that it didn't effect me?" 

"It doesn't seem like it."  Her voice was cold towards him, "You don't seem like you've looked back since you left.  You haven't been home in seven months."

"It's not like I wanted to stay away, but by the time I realized how much time had gone by I knew that I couldn't just breeze into town and make it up to you..."

"What are you doing right now?" she asked.

"Truthfully?" he asked.

She looked at him with more worry in her expression.  "Yes."

"At the moment I'm trying not to think about home and about us making love in my room."  He closed his eyes at the mention of that.  He didn't want her to think that was the only reason he'd come to find her again.  "If I start to think about that I'm going to want to kiss you and when I kiss you you're going to get pissed at me and probably leave me just like I left you and I don't want that to happen.  I want to try to make it up to you...try to get you to understand what happened and that I wanted to come home and be with you, help you through your rehab and repay you for the way that you helped me, but by the time I could get back and get back home too much time had gone by and I got scared that I'd go home and you wouldn't see me."

"So what made you decide to come to Colorado?" she asked.  He hadn't remembered that she was so blunt about things.  He liked the idea that they could say the truth to each other, but he almost felt like she was the police and was questioning him about some crime that he'd committed, like they did on those TV shows on NBC and ABC.

"I thought I'd take a chance because I knew this would be the last time I probably had a chance to speak to you."  His hands rubbed his forehead.  "I'm sorry.  I truly am.  I didn't mean to be gone.  I didn't mean for you to be there alone.  I didn't mean to make promises that I couldn't keep and ruin--"  He forced himself to pause a moment.  His mouth was running and he could see himself getting into more trouble instead of getting out of trouble if he said too much.  "I'm sorry.  I just wanted the chance to say that to you and to show you my life and why I couldn't get back to you when I wanted to."

"You wanted to come back?" she asked.

"Damn Carolina," he said, "I'm not a complete asshole.  Despite all that has happened.  I thought that if I hadn't had to leave town that I would have still been with you at this point--even though we both kind of said that it was going to be a causal thing for us."

Her mouth moved a few times to speak, but she didn't say anything.  "What do you want from this--from us?"

"I just want for there to be an us."  He tried to look her in the eyes and keep in her gaze on him.

"An us?"

"You know...that whole watching movies drinking beers kind of us."  He laughed, "I want to take you to another NBA game--I want to take you--"

"Why?"

"Why the NBA game?" he asked.

"Yeah," she said, "Why?  So we can see a game where your team doesn't totally suck?"

"Yeah." He laughed. "Except this time I might steal you away to LA to watch the Lakers.  Better chance of them winning than Memphis from what I hear."

"Steal me away to Los Angeles?"

"Well,"  He sighed and could feel himself say the words before his mouth moved.  "I haven't been able to stop thinking about you."

He watched her lean towards him, that clear body language that told him that she was melting when he told her what he was feeling.  "Justin--"

"I'm not just saying that either," he said, "I really have missed you--"

She smiled, "I've missed you too."

Silence fell over them.  He sat there watching her.  Watching her eyelids flutter open and closed, and her lips press together then separate as if she was trying to say something more to him.  He reached for her hand and rubbed his fingers over the back of it.  "So will you forgive me for being a jerk and let me have a second chance at this?"

"How is this going to work?" she said, "You're on the road and I'm in Colorado and soon I'll be on the road soon with the team."

He sighed.  She was always the practical one.  He didn't think ahead.  "I'll travel to see you and you'll travel to see me."  He smiled, "There are fencing clubs in Los Angeles and in New York and the club in Orlando seems to be good.  A friend of mine checked it out--"

"You checked out fencing clubs in all those cities?"

"Yeah," he said with a shrug.  "I told Fox Sports that I wanted to try a sport I'd never done before so they researched places for me in all those cities."  He laughed, "They thought it was hilarious that I'd want to try that, but they sent me all the information."

"Justin."

He sat back a little when he realized that his words make it seem like something permanent was going on.  He wanted her forever and ever and all that, but for the moment he'd just take the next few days with her and the promise that there would be more days in their future.  "I'm not saying anything permanent or anything like that, but when you come to visit me, where ever I am, you'll have somewhere to train if you want to."

 "Justin."

He stopped for a moment, now frustrated with her lack of an answer to him.  "Why do you keep saying my name?"

She took a deep breath.  "I don't know what else to say."

He stopped for a moment, "Is that a good thing or a bad thing?"

"A--A--It's a good thing."  She squeezed his hand, "I just don't--"

His stomach dropped when she said that it was a good thing.  He must have done something amazing to get this second chance.

"You don't have to do or say or--"

"Justin let me talk for a minute." She put a finger to his lips to shut him up.

He nodded.

"I don't know how this is going to work, but I'm willing to give it a chance."

"That's all I wanted to hear from you," he said.  His heart rate went up and all he wanted to do was pull her into his arms and hug her, but he thought that might scare her a bit.

Her eyes lowered in a half sad kind of a way.  "I just have one thing to ask of you."

The sky was the limit at this point.  "Anything."

"That tonight we sleep," she said firmly.  "I don't want us fooling around and going someplace that we might regret going to later.  I want to ease back into being with you...I want it to be like Millington.  I want to be able to talk to you."

"That's fine," he said, "Whatever you want."

I think right now I just want to get changed and sleep.  We can start all that couple stuff tomorrow morning."

"I can handle that," he said.

"Ok?" she said with a nod looking at him.

"Yeah," he said with a shrug.

"Good."  She leaned and kissed him.  "I don't know about you, but I'm dead tired.  I think I'm gonna change and get into bed and watch something until I fall asleep."

Justin wasn't sure if that meant getting in bed with him or not so he just nodded and planned the rest of his evening in his head to not include anything about her being in bed with him.  "Ok."

*****

Ten minutes later Justin was pulling the covers back and sliding into bed.  He'd brushed his teeth really quick before letting Carolina into the bathroom to change and now found himself staring at the closed door waiting to see what would come next.  She'd made it clear to him that she wasn't going to sleep with him that night and truthfully he hadn't expected her to, but he was now wondering if they'd at least share one of the queen beds or if she'd sleep across the room from him.

"Hi," she said when she came out of the bathroom wearing her pajamas.

"Hey," he said.

"Can I ask you something?" she asked.

"Sure."

"Can I sleep next to you tonight, even though--"

"Sure," he said and lifted up the covers and scooted more towards the middle of the bed so that she could get in next to him.  Thank God he'd not tried to sleep naked that night.  He'd thrown on basketball shorts and a t-shirt and had even put on socks.

"Don't try anything funny," she said as she slipped in next to him.  SHe turned on her side, facing out towards the room and pushed back against him all in one motion.

When he slid an arm around her and moved his other arm underneath the pillow where her head was lying she moved a little to get more comfortable then sighed.

"Comfy?" he asked.

She nodded.  "Definitely.  No place I'd rather be right now."


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