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Deep sleep was something she hadn't experienced in a long time. Not since long before she'd begun singing professionally anyway. She loved the traveling, but the sleep was hell, even when she went home sleep wasn't that restful for her. Well maybe there were a few months there where she'd had decent sleep. When she and Justin were still dating she'd slept well, but since then and since her schedule had been turned upside down she really hadn't gotten a really good night's sleep, until that first night in The Keys.

She wouldn't have even realized how deep of a sleep she was in unless the couch had moved. For a moment her body tensed as she waited for some other sign before opening her eyes. She was lying on her side, she knew that much and she was warm, which in Florida weather wasn't that unnatural, but somehow it seemed as if he whole body was trying to keep her in her sleeping state instead of waking up like she knew that she should.

"Hi baby," she heard in hear ear and as she was going to answer the person speaking near her she felt movement then the warmth that she'd been sleeping with disappeared. She opened her eyes in time to see Justin climbing over her and off the couch with his cell phone to his ear. "No you didn't wake me up," he said into the phone as she watched him leave the room, "I should be getting up anyway."

While she knew that she should be feeling a bit shocked to wake up with him laying beside her, those first few moments of thought were focused on the loss that she felt. She closed her eyes again and snuggled into the jacket that had been pulled around her earlier. She sighed and stared at the doorway praying that this was all a dream and that he would come back in minutes and snuggle up with her again. When that didn't happen she closed her eyes again. She knew he wouldn't return. With Britney on the phone she didn't expect to see him for the next few hours.

"Meredith?" The urgent whisper in front of her made her smile. The poor child was trying to be quiet, but when you're six there is no such thing as whispering and tiptoeing. She knew instantly who the voice belonged to and even with her eyes closed again she could picture Steven leaning over her, standing on his tiptoes and not touching her for fear that he'd startle her. "Meredith?"

She opened her eyes and sure enough Steven was standing in front of her leaned over smiling at her. He wore a tank top and a pair of red mesh basketball shorts and new basketball shoes and looked to be a little tired out as if he'd already been out playing that morning. If she'd been the diva that everyone was making her out to be she would have told him to go away, but with the sweet look he gave her there was only one thing to do: give in to him. "What do you need sweetie?" she asked.

"Can you come and play ball with me and Jonathan?" he asked using his southern charm to melt her heart, "Gritty and Tiny are playing, but they're too big. We need a grownup on our team."

Meredith sat up and pushed her hair out of her face. She looked around the room then looked back at Steven.

"What time is it?" she asked.

Steven looked over at the clock in the corner of the room. "The big hand is on the 6 and the little hand is on the 9," he said then thought for a moment, "Nine thirty?"

For most six-year-olds telling time was a big feat, but it seemed as if Steven had learned that skill quickly out of necessity. She'd heard from his mother long ago that some of the first things that he learned were how to dial a phone and how to tell time due to the special relationship he had with his brother. When Lisa had gotten tired of telling Steven what time he could talk to his brother he'd learned to tell time himself and since then had been like an alarm clock for the family to let them know that it was time to call Justin.

Meredith smiled and focused on the clock just to check the time then leaned back a little to stretched out her back. "Let me go take a shower and put on some new clothes then I'll play."

"YAY!" Steven screamed before he could stop himself. He looked at her with a guilty look. "I'm sorry."

"It's ok sweetie," she said, "Go on out. I'll hurry up."

He nodded then ran out of the room to find the others leaving Meredith alone again.

 


 

"Baby I told you that I was leaving for The Keys," he said.

"You left me a voicemail message last night," she said. He heard her puff out an exhausted breath at him and wondered why she was so tired. It was only six-thirty in the morning her time and her day hadn't really even started yet. "So you have time for your brothers but not me?"

Justin took a seat on the back porch steps, feet in the sand, and stripped out of the sweatshirt he'd worn to bed. "Baby Johnny came to me and told me that I should see them and that I needed time away. I wouldn't have gone on this trip at all if he hadn't said anything. I didn't plan this at all. It was really spur of the moment."

"You had to fly them in from Tennessee, how spur of the moment could that be?"

"Britney, what's wrong?" he asked, "You're usually not this snippy."

"Snippy?" she asked sounding shocked that he'd said that to her. "Well sorry for missing my boyfriend!"

The dial tone sounded in his ear. He debated whether or not to call back, but decided that if he didn't it would just be more trouble for him to try to get out of later. He quickly dialed her number back.

"Baby don't hang up," he said quickly when the other end was picked up, "I'm sorry that I didn't call you and tell you that I was coming down here earlier, but I kinda wanted to disappear for a few days ok?"

"Do you want me to get her for you?" a deep voice asked him.

Recognizing the voice and only feeling a bit embarrassed for calling him baby Justin took a breath. "Rob is she really pissed at me?"

"She's pacing," Rob said.

He pictured her bodyguard sitting in a chair watching her, shaking his head wondering what was going on between the two of them.

"Tell her that the next chance I get I'll get on a plane and come to her," Justin said then leaned down and rolled up his pant legs before he buried his toes in the sand.

Rob relayed the message and Justin waited and sure enough a moment later her voice came over the line, "I'm sorry J. I just miss you and I hate being stuck out here."

"I know baby," Justin said and pushed himself up. He rolled up his sleeves and walked towards the water looking back to see if anyone was watching him. It was too early in the morning for him to get himself in trouble and walking only a few hundred yards to the water's edge wasn't going to cause a riot. "I miss you too and I promise the next time I get a chance I'll come out there. I know that this is one of the last weekends that the guys are out of school so I thought that it was a now or never situation, plus--" He took a breath. "Plus Meredith likes them and having them here has kept the fighting down to a minimum."

He heard Britney sigh then had a feeling that she'd taken a seat. He could hear Rob and Fi in the background and wondered if her day really had already started. It was too early for work, at least in his own mind it was. "I don't understand why she fights you. She should have known months ago that this was going to happen and if she can't be a mature adult about it--"

"Its not all her fault," Justin said, "I haven't been the best about things with her either."

"It must be nice to get away from her for a few days."

"Actually baby she's here with me," he said.

Britney was slow to react to his comment. He knew it was because she was trying to hold her tongue. "She is?"

"Yeah," he said, "She and Gritty needed a vacation so she came down here for the weekend with us."

"She did?"

"Yeah," Justin said as he approached the water. He stuck his toes in for a while then walked around in the wet sand.

"I should come out there and visit," she suggested.

"No!" he immediately said then took a deep breath, "I mean why would you want to fly all day just to see me for a day or a day and a half then spend another day on a plane to get back to LA?"

"Why wouldn't I?" She asked, "I love you Justin and I want to be with you and you always said that even if it took a day to get to me that you'd be with me and well I think the same thing too."

Justin wanted to groan aloud at that. Him and his stupid promises. They never seemed to help him, only hurt him at times like this.

"I just think you should wait. I probably can get out to see you next weekend. I'll fly out Friday night and stay Saturday and Sunday with you."

Britney sighed tiredly, "Ok, I guess that will do."

Justin wasn't normally one for jumping for joy, but he felt about ready to do so when he heard her calm down about seeing him.

 


 

[ Later that afternoon...]

As she leaned forward to pat down some of the wet sand she noticed that her top was about to fall off. She hadn't moved really much in the last hour or so, not after three hours of basketball that morning. Her movements now were just back and forth to help the guys a little, but she felt like if she moved too quickly that she'd completely fall out of her top. The feeling probably came from the fact that she'd been wearing a regular bra that morning to play and now she was wearing a swimsuit that showed off way way more than it covered.

Seeing that no one was around for the moment she carefully untied the top part of her bikini top and retied it tighter before she moved to stand up. Meredith brushed off her knees and looked over at Justin and his brothers. The triplets, as she was beginning to think of them as, had found a bucket in a closet in the house and were grabbing up some water for the sandcastle that they'd been working on for the last hour. Justin had been really quiet that morning after his phone call, kind of a depression seemed to wash over him, but he didn't let his brothers in on his little mood, only Meredith could tell that he was down about something and it worried her.

"Meredith look!" Jonathan approached holding the bucket and Steven was looking inside as if he didn't want to let the water out of his sight.

"What's up guys?" she asked as she moved to sit on her bottom instead of on her knees.

"It's a starfish," Steven said pointing into the bucket.

Meredith peered over the edge of the bucket and sure enough there sat a palm sized orange and brown starfish. "Wow," Meredith said for effect, "Did you catch this?"

"Justin caught it," Steven said.

Meredith's hand went to her neckline nervously as she looked up at all of them.

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

Justin reached his arm out into the night's sky, closed his hand around something invisible and brought it down in front of him.

"What are you doing?" she asked watching him from where she'd been sitting with him on the back porch of her parent's house.

When he didn't answer right away she got up, pulled the sweater tighter around her shoulders and moved to stand at his side. He cupped both hands together then peaked inside before he held his hands out to her still cupping what he'd caught. "I caught you a star."

"Yeah right," she said with a laugh, "I know you're taller than me, but you aren't that tall Timberlake."

"No, really," he said, "I did."

"Sure," she said laughing again, "I always knew you were a space cadet, but this just proves it."

She started to turn away from him then caught the movement of his hands opening up and a small diamond on a necklace was released and hung from his hand.

"See, I told you I caught you a star," he said with a smile, looking like he'd performed some miracle.

Meredith looked at the stone then at him and held her breath trying not to cry. It was hard to do considering how sweet the gesture had been. Justin was always thinking of things like that, always making her life like a fairy tale.

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

Meredith, what's wrong?" Steven asked.

She shook her head and looked down at the star. "Nothing," she said softly, "We should go put this guy back in the water. We don't want him to get hurt." She threw Justin a look as he walked back over then pushed herself off the sand. She brushed herself off a little then made her way behind them to the water again, leaving Justin standing by the sandcastle with a confused look on his face.

 


 

It wasn't at all normal for Justin to wake up in the middle of the night, but somehow, someway something had woken him up earlier and he couldn't get back to sleep. He tried rolling over onto his stomach, then onto his side, and even had tried to get a drink of water from the bathroom, but nothing seemed to work. The worst part about this sudden insomnia was what it was doing to his mind. He'd found himself frustrated and thinking of only one thing, the one person in the world that he shouldn't have been thinking about: Meredith.

She'd almost cried today again. He'd seen it in her eyes on the beach with the boys, remembering what he'd done for her all those months ago. He'd noticed right away that she hadn't been wearing her necklace, but hadn't said anything about it. He'd given her the present and never expected for her to wear it as much as she had and now that she wasn't wearing it he had no right to ask why. He knew why already.

Rolling onto his back again Justin stared at the ceiling and tried to get comfortable. He wondered how a man his size could be comfortable on a little couch in the living room, but now that he had space to stretch out couldn't sleep.

It had been her. Having her in his arms the night before left him with feelings that he'd had to deal with all day, especially after his wake up call from Britney. He'd left Meredith on the couch so that he wouldn't wake her and when he came back to snuggle back in with her she'd been gone and the day had begun leaving him to deal with the thought of her in his arms.

The whole group had played around on the beach that morning and in the afternoon had played soccer in the small yard out front. He'd gotten a few half hugs from her while they were playing in the water, but for the most part his arms ached for her. Every time he saw her playing with his brothers or holding Steven in a hug, tickling him or making him laugh, he got jealous. She didn't have a care in the world when she was with them and he wished that it would go back to being that way with him.

Opening the door slowly he peaked out into the hallway and didn't see a thing. The moonlight was coming through the windows throwing shadows everywhere and for a moment he himself got scared wondering if someone had found out where they were and had broken in. He wouldn't put it past anyone since it seemed nothing seemed too outrageous these days.

Shaking the thoughts out of his mind he thought next that it might be someone just getting up to go to the bathroom or something. He had his own private bathroom that he was sharing with the boys, but maybe Tiny or Gritty had gotten up.

His last thought was that it might have been Steven. He'd heard from his mother that Steven hadn't been sleeping well lately so he thought he'd go and find him.

Sure enough, as expected, his youngest brother's bed was empty. He stared for a moment at Jonathan and made sure that he was ok before he closed the door. "Damn it," he swore softly. His search for his little brother either started in Meredith's room or the kitchen.

Moving through the house quietly Justin made his way down the hall and looked in to find both Tiny and Gritty still asleep in the third bedroom then moved onto Meredith's room before he went to check the kitchen.

 

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