EIGHT:

 

"Sweetie you need a nap."

"Ugh! No I don't," she said angrily and pushed out of the car herself instead of waiting for him. They'd just gotten to WEG and as she hopped out of the front seat she caught a glance at her watch. She was late and that wasn't a good thing. Justin would get on her case about it even though he'd not been one to be very prompt himself.

It seemed as if she couldn't do anything right these days.

"Meredith," Gritty growled, grabbed for her to pull her back in the truck then hurried to follow her out of the truck and up to the driveway to the door. "Meredith."

She ignored him focusing her eyes on the door she needed to enter the building through and kept walking, trying to ignore him behind her hoping that he'd leave her alone. Her feet hurt horribly after wearing uncomfortable shoes all morning and her whole body ached from lack of sleep due to her anger over the events of the night before.

It wasn't helping that Gritty wasn't on her good side at the moment. He'd woken her up that morning an hour before she'd needed to get up and it all had gone downhill after that. She'd missed having a quiet breakfast due to some reporters calling her then had worked out for almost two hours before being rushed to a photo shoot. That hadn't gone well either.

First off she was horrible in front of a camera; still hadn't gotten used to being the center of attention. If that wasn't bad enough, standing being fussed over, she had been embarrassed when her shirt strap had broken leaving her bare-chested in front of a crew of people and now she was going to record and hadn't gotten a chance to change. She still wore her photographer's make up and wore her work out gear from that morning which she knew would call even more attention to her.

They walked into the studio and Justin was sitting at the controls and looked over when he heard her. He'd been drinking something and was having a hard time trying not to spit it out. "What the hell are you wearing?"

"Shut up!" Meredith had no tolerance for him at the moment and wasn't at all in the mood to deal with him. "Do you have the background stuff ready for me?"

He nodded, never letting his eyes leave her face. "I finished them while I was waiting for you."

Meredith put down her bag and began to pull her hair up then kicked off her running shoes. It was a nervous action, the whole hair thing. She normally wasn't that concerned with her appearance, well she hadn't been until she'd been pulled into the business. She'd been average when it came to taking care of herself, but she'd become high maintenance when the record label and Lynn had gotten a hold of her, mostly due to the media attention she'd been getting lately.

"You ready?"

"What's the rush?" he asked lazily.

"I wanna get out of this fucking studio! Is that so fucking hard for you to understand? I don't want to be here and I certainly don't want to be here with you," she screamed loudly. It shocked the hell out of Justin. She could see the strange look that crossed his face. He wasn't sure how to handle her attitude, but she really didn't care at this point, "Are you ready to record or do I have to push the fucking buttons too?"

Justin exploded from his seat stepping towards her quickly then seemingly holding himself back from going any closer. She'd only seen him like that a few times and mostly it was to defend himself. He'd had the reaction that any other person would have, but then seemed to control himself due to his status. He was forever having to watch himself in the public eye and even though there was no one around at the moment, if word got out about him getting into a fight the shit would really hit the fan. "Sit the fuck down."

Gritty was in the doorway and she expected him to say something, but he didn't. The shock of seeing Justin acting in that way was something, but Gritty not taking action, not being over protective was something new. Justin normally was fairly controlled with his emotions but this was definitely a new side of him and she normally would have expected to see Gritty across the room stepping in if Justin tried to get closer to her, like he normally did.

"Sit the fuck down Meredith," he repeated in an angry growl, almost the same one Gritty had used with her in the car that morning. He ground his teeth together, she could see his jaw moving slightly even though his mouth was now closed.

Meredith sat down, pushed back into her seat by the profanity that he threw at her.

Justin stood over her, leaning now to press a hand against the armrests, trapping her in her seat. He spoke clearly and calmly. "Don't you DARE think that you can walk in here and boss me around like that. The last time I checked I was the producer and YOU were the singer, not the other way around." He stopped and stood up, stretching his back a bit before he continued, "Whatever goes on between you and whoever on the outside and me when we aren't working doesn't come up in here and IT DOESN'T GET IN THE WAY OF THIS WORK."

Silence fell over them and she finally realized how serious this situation had just become. Justin was right about her attitude. It hurt her to admit it, but he was right in yelling at her. She had brought whatever issues she had with everyone else into their recording time and she shouldn't have.

"I'm sorry," she said not daring to look at him. She didn't want him to see in her eyes how stupid she felt, even though he could probably tell from her posture.

"Now," he said taking a huge breath. She looked up in time to see him rotate his shoulders, fixed his T-shirt a little and smile a strange stressed smile, "Are you going to be able to work or do you have other things you need to do?"

Shockingly Meredith began to tear up. The look in his eyes was the one she'd seen so many times before when she'd needed him, but now the tears weren't for the things that had gone on that day, but because he was standing there in front of her, but he was so far away.


Not letting the string of swear words that he was thinking out of his mouth, Justin backed away from her. She needed a little space and so did he. He eased himself back into his seat. His heartbeat was going crazy and suddenly he felt as if he'd just run a mile considering that his adrenaline level was so high.

He watched her cry for only a moment, just enough time to look at Gritty for help before getting up and leaving them in the studio. He made his way down to the kitchen to get her some tissue and a drink or something, but mostly his reason for leaving the room was to try and calm himself down. He couldn't stand when she cried and he didn't want to get caught up in all the drama again.

"What the hell is going on?"

After jumping a little, Justin turned to find Johnny Wright standing in the hallway looking at him with one eyebrow higher than another. He wore his normal outfit of jeans and a polo shirt and would have looked completely relaxed except or the expression on his face. He was watching him closely; too closely.

"What happened to your face?" Johnny asked.

Justin knew that look. It was one that said so much without him vocalizing a word to the people around him. He was upset, more disappointed than anything else, and was on the prowl to stop whatever was going on. This time though, Justin knew that the trouble would be blamed on him. He was the guy in the situation and even though Justin was like his son, Meredith was like a daughter and that overtook his position in line.

Justin lifted his hand to his face and patted his cheek. She hadn't bruised him with her hit, but her fingers had hit his eye and cut the corner of it a little or at least scratched it from what he could tell. "Nothing," he said.

Johnny looked at him with a stern look as if he instantly knew that he was lying. "You sure?"

"Yeah." Justin took a deep breath and tried not too look too nervous. Johnny had a good radar for BS and he wasn't about to set off any alarms. "I'm fine."

The older man leaned a little and looked down the hall towards the studio. "How is work going with Meredith?"

"Fine." Justin wasn't about to pull his personal problems with Meredith into Johnny's life.

"Are you going to take some time off this break or are you working the whole time?" Johnny asked.

Justin rubbed a hand across his chin and up to his head then dropped it back to his side. He moved and leaned against the wall a little resting his head on the smooth surface to look at him. "I think I might fly out to LA for a weekend or two, but basically I've got work to do the whole time," he said, "Why?"

"You need to rest," Johnny said, "You look stressed out and I know you haven't caught up from the tour yet with your sleep and stuff... I'm sure your brothers haven't seen you yet either."

"I'll get it all done eventually," Justin said feeling that he was spending too much time in front of his manager. If he stayed too long he had a feeling that he might get himself into something that he wasn't going to be able to explain his way out of.

"Make sure you take some time out to see everyone," Johnny said and turned around to leave.

Justin continued on his quest for tissue and water for Meredith letting Johnny's words sink in. He was tired and he did need to relax, but at the same time he knew that he needed to get his work done.

*************

"Justin?"

Justin turned his head from the papers he was looking at to see her in the doorway. Meredith had been on the road with them for only a week and this was the first night that they would spend relaxing or at least half relaxing. "Hmmm?"

"One hour," she said.

Confusion shown on his face. "One hour what?"

She reached for what he was reading, but he pulled away so she reached again. "I want you to put that down for one hour. Sports Center is on and you need to watch it."

"I do?" He asked.

"Yes," she said, "You're going to stretch out and I'm going to give you a back rub and you're going to relax."

"I have work to look over," he said pointing at the papers in her hand.

"You can do it in an hour," she said with a laugh putting the stack of papers out of his reach.

"But I have to get them faxed back to Johnny," he protested. It really wasn't that important, but he did have to get the papers back to Johnny as soon as he could.

"No," she said, "Remember last time you came home after one of these long stretches? You slept for two days straight. That isn't healthy...I don't care what anyone says. You need to rest."

*************

Justin pushed the thoughts from his mind. He'd relaxed that night. They'd stretched out on the bed and about half way into his back rub he'd turned over and they'd made love.

It was times like that which made him keep his sanity. The sex had always been good between them, but that wasn't the thing that he needed the most from her. He needed the acknowledgment that he had a stressful life and only Meredith could tell when he was in need of a break. She knew him better than he knew himself sometimes.


"Gritty," Meredith said softly as he came into the room and sat down with her. She felt like curling up in a ball and calling it a day.

"What sweetie?" He asked.

"What am I gonna do?" She asked.

"What happened?" he asked.

She went on to explain what had happened. "What do I do?"

"Either you two need to make a deal to not kill each other when you see each other or you need to not see him anymore."

His words got to her; made her heart stop. Not seeing Justin? Not seeing him would be worse than seeing him and being in pain. She knew that. She'd spent the last six months avoiding the whole thing, and him, but that lonely feeling she'd dealt with had been worse than the torture she'd been through the last few weeks.

"I can't do that," she said with a sigh, "You know I can't do that."

"You need to talk to him...not yell at him and not have him yell at you." Gritty put a hand out to her and patted her knee as she leaned against his shoulder. "You need to come to terms with what happened and maybe you should listen to his side of the story."

"Are you taking his side?" she asked.

"Did I say that?" he asked.

"No," she said.

"I'm just suggesting that you two need to talk about this...actually you need to listen to him a little."

"All I needed to see and hear happened six months ago. I don't need to revisit that again. I could barely handle it the first time."

"Like it doesn't haunt you every day?" Gritty said. He stared at her, "I know you think about it. I've seen that look in your eyes. Like when we drove to WEG that first day. Your mind was on it the whole way to Florida and I'm sure it was there in your mind on the drive over. That look is in your eyes every morning--"

"He broke my heart Gritty," she said wiping her eyes on her hand, "I didn't do a thing to him and he ripped my heart out."

"There is something else in your eyes that I see..."

Meredith sat back in her chair and crossed her arms over her chest. "What's that?" She asked, "Pure hatred?"

"No," he said, "Hope."

"Hope?" She asked.

"Hope that you were wrong and hope that you two can be together again."

Her shock at his words were not only because he was actually saying aloud what she'd known all along, but also because he knew her that well. He knew things that she hadn't fully thought through. She did still love Justin and she wished that she could believe the story that she hadn't really heard yet. She had prayed and prayed that first night for it all to be just a bad dream, but Britney had confirmed what she'd said and heard that next morning and that had sealed her opinion of the whole situation.

"Why would I hope that?"

"He's your first love and you put a lot of time and a lot of love into your relationship and I don't think that you're ready to settle that he could do something like that to you. You've known him too long for him to treat you that way."

"That's what gets me the most," she said, "He did know me and he loved me...he told me that a million times, but he didn't follow through with that. If he wanted to see someone else he should have come to me about it instead of sneaking behind my back. I'm almost more pissed about the lying than the whole idea that he wouldn't--" She took a deep breath. "--that he wouldn't love me any more."

"He does love you," Gritty said, "If he didn't love you he wouldn't give you this much crap and he wouldn't want this album to come out. If he didn't love you he'd have been lazy about work and he would have flown to LA or he would have disappeared to Tennessee."

She covered her face and pressed her palms into her eyes to stop her crying as Gritty's words circled her head again and again. She needed to get away, have some time to recover from all of this. She thought about going to see Dante, but after the previsious night's fiasco she wasn't sure if she should go and see him. He had taken her fight with Justin well, but he'd made it fairly clear that he didn't want to get into their drama.

"I need a nap."

 

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