TWELVE:

 

"Oh look, Steven made it look so pretty!" The laugh that followed the exclamation grated on her nerves.

She heard her voice, the laugh, and for a moment thought it was a bad dream, but when she opened her eyes and looked over at the partially opened door she knew that it wasn't a dream and that Britney Spears, love of Justin's life, was in the living room.

"Great," she moaned as she pulled the covers around her and pressed her cheek back into the pillow. The pillow still smelled of him, which made the realization of morning even harder for her. She lay there for only a few moments before pushing herself out of bed. There was no use in staying there all day. She'd have to face the world and face the reality of the situation sooner or later.

Putting off the inevitable interaction with Justin and Britney would only make matters worse. It'd only give her more horrible things to think about Justin and his girlfriend and more time for her to beat herself up about sleeping with a man who clearly wasn't hers.

It was going to take a minute for her to collect her clothes and dress, but she made herself look half-presentable before she went down the hall to the bathroom to brush her hair and teeth before finding the rest of the people in the house.

"Morning Meredith," Gritty said as she walked into the living room towards the kitchen.

She ran her tongue over her minty teeth and sighed as she passed everyone in the room. She was on a mission to get passed them without crying and she wasn't going to fail.

"Morning," she mumbled trying to keep her eyes from where she saw Justin sitting on the couch with his brothers and Britney.

She didn't have to look at them directly to know that Britney was sitting so close to him that she was practically sitting on top of him. She didn't need to put herself through that torture of knowing that Justin had his hand on her naked thigh and that the shorts and swimsuit she would be barely legal in most states. They were in love and they acted that way and there was nothing she could do about it.

"There's coffee in there," Gritty called after her as she disappeared into the kitchen.

Tears were in her eyes as she leaned against the counter for a moment before pulling out a mug. She took deep breaths and tried to keep their voices from reaching her ears as she poured her coffee and moved out onto the back porch, taking a seat at the table. She curled her legs up into the chair and tried to concentrate on the sound of the water hitting the sand. She didn't need to hear the man that she'd just made love to sitting with his girlfriend happily chatting away about the day. It hurt too much to see them together. She didn't need to hear the lie that he was shelling out too.

"Meredith?"

Moving her head a little she saw Steven standing in the doorway. He'd dressed for the day in his swim suit and a Nike brand T-shirt and socks and shoes and had a baseball hat on his head, tipped a little back on his head letting the full force of the worry on his face get to her.

"What's up sweetie?" she asked holding an arm out to him asking for a hug.

He granted her wish for a hug then stood next to her with her arm still around him. "Are you mad at me for waking up last night?" he asked cautiously.

"No sweetie," she said tiredly, holding back a yawn, "I'm just not awake yet and I'm a little tired. I didn't mean to be grumpy."

"You're like Justin," Steven said, "Britney knocked on the door early this morning and he was grumpy when Tiny knocked on the door to get him awake."

"Your brother is always grumpy in the morning. You just have to get used to it," she said, "He always says sorry when he wakes up all the way."

"I know," Steven frowned.

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

Morning light came through the window, falling across her face and waking her from the best night of sleep she'd had in months. She took a deep breath before opening her eyes and listened for a moment to the heartbeat that was just under her ear. She smiled. He was still there with her, despite the threat of a busy schedule looming over him.

Her head came up off his chest as her eyes opened and took in the sight of his sleeping body. He lay on his back half covered by the sheet that was pulled up around her. One of his arms curled around her back and the other flopped carelessly over his eyes, shielding him from the sight of the outside world. His legs stretched out to the end of the bed and she found that her leg had curled over one of them in the night, holding her in place against him and consequently holding him to where he slept.

Time was their worst enemy at moments like this, but she knew she needed to check the clock. If he were late he'd not only get in trouble for being late, but would also get questioned on his whereabouts, which would only bring more trouble.

Eleven-thirty. It didn't at all seem that late in the morning. The sun was up and she could hear cars on the street and the neighbors mowing lawns and things. They'd stayed up late though and even though she would love to spend the rest of the day with him, she knew that he had things to do that afternoon and she should wake him up.

"Beedee," she whispered, "Beedee, you need to wake up."

Justin's mouth closed them opened again. No other movement came from his body.

"Beedee," she said a little louder, "Beedee you need to get up."

"Hmm?" Justin groaned out without moving.

"Justin, come on, I know you have stuff to do this afternoon," she said.

With that Justin moved his arm off his eyes and he turned his face towards her. "Shh," he said, "I'm sleeping."

"I know you're sleeping, but you need to get up."

His eyes opened and he focused on her for a moment. He leaned and kissed her quickly then lay his head back down on the pillow, "In a minute babe."

Meredith wanted to smack him for that comment. It made her feel a little cheap that he would call her babe and not her real name, as if babe was the proper term to use in this case just in case he didn't recognize the woman lying with him in bed.

"Justin, I'm not kidding," she said, "I know that you said you had a meeting this afternoon and I'm not going to be responsible for you being late."

"Where the fuck is the phone?" he asked with a growl.

"Why do you need the phone?" she asked sitting up, pushing his arm away from her.

Justin opened his eyes and pushed himself up and out of bed, walking naked across the room to where her phone was on her desk and picked up the receiver. He stood with his back to her as he dialed a number and waited.

"Yeah," he said, "Tiny, I'm sick...no nothing like that...I just have a really bad headache and...I'm gonna hang out today. Tell Wade I'll come in early tomorrow to learn it all. Have him give my cell a call and say what time."

When he put down the phone and turned to come back to the bed Meredith's eyes stayed on his face, not able to take in the full sight of him naked. She'd felt every moment of his body the night before, but looking at him made her nervous.

Justin got back into bed, under the covers and pulled Meredith back down, "Now, can we go back to sleep?"

"You have work today," she said.

"No I don't," he said grumpily, "I just canceled it."

"But--?"

"No buts," he said curling his arm around her to press her back into his chest again, "Just kiss me, put your head down and sleep for another hour or so and we'll talk about this later."

Meredith did as she was told.

"I'm sorry Bear," he said, "I didn't mean to snap."

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

"Are you gonna go to the beach with us?" Steven asked breaking her away from her thoughts.

"If you want me to," she said.

Steven nodded, "Can we make another sand castle?"

"Sure," she said.

Steven hugged her then ran off yelling to Jonathan that she was coming to the beach to play.

She'd just settled back into her seat, staring out at the water again when she felt a hand on her shoulder. It made her jump and she whipped around to see Justin standing there. He'd showered and changed into shorts and a T-shirt and was holding out an orange to her.

"Thanks," she said and held the orange in her hand.

Justin moved so that he was across from her and said in a very low tone, "I'm sooo sorry."

Meredith put her hand up and tried not to make eye contact with him, "Don't give me excuses. Don't say anything about it."

He opened his mouth to say something else, but she moved out of her seat and retreated into the house. She didn't want to hear it. There was nothing that he could say that would make up for the fact that she'd woken up that morning without him and that she'd found him with his girlfriend in the living room. It was her own fault that she'd gotten herself mixed up in that and she wasn't about to whine about it. She'd go on that day, go on that week, finish the album and make a vow to never see him again.


As Justin shuffled across the sand to the small encampment they'd set out on the beach he watched Meredith playing with Jonathan and Steven in the water. Both boys were sitting by her at the edge of the water digging holes with their feet and letting the water flow over their feet causing their feet to stick in the sand. It was a simple game to play, but one that they'd never share with Britney, not that she would want to play with them anyway.

That morning when she showed up both boys had showed their disgust with her being there. Steven had retreated into the kitchen when Britney had come into the house and only returned when both Gritty and Tiny told him that they were going to watch football.

When he got to the edge of the towels threw a water bottle to both Gritty and Tiny then looked over at Britney. She was lying on her back in her bikini working on her tan with her eyes closed. He wondered for a moment why she'd even flown out to him. When she arrived she'd made a big show of hugging and kissing him in the doorway. That had but then had only spoken to him a little then had gotten on the phone then when they went out to the beach she lay out in the sun and wouldn't talk to anyone except him.

He had to give a lot of credit to Meredith. She'd had been very civil with her, cold with him, but civil to her and had only been met with attitude from Britney. He wished that things were different, but she'd made her choice and he'd made his and although at first things had seemed great with his new life with Britney, he was slowly realizing that he wanted that he needed a change.

"Britney can I talk to you?"

"Justin honey you're blocking my sun," Britney said moving her hand from where it was on the towel she was lying on and smoothed it across her stomach then back down to the towel again.

Justin moved a little so that he wasn't blocking her then took a deep breath. The seductive action, fingernails across her skin, was supposed to distract him and usually it worked, but this time he kept his mind on the task at hand. "I really need to talk to you."

Just as little brothers are expected to do, Steven came flying in and the most inopportune moment.

"Gross!" Britney yelped when some seawater and sand from Steven dripped on her.

Justin looked over and wiped a hand across her leg where Steven had gotten stuff on her then looked at his brother, getting ready to yell at him. The annoyance of the small boy interrupting was softened only by the fact that his brother was in tears.

"Stevie, what's wrong?" Justin asked looking over his brother to see if he'd hit himself or something on his dive into Justin's lap.

"Jonathan hit me."

"He what?" Justin asked looking over at his other brother. His eyes narrowed as he watched his other brother being hugged by Meredith. "What happened?"

"He hit me because I splashed him," Steven said holding onto Justin like he'd seen him hold onto Lisa in times of need. For a moment Justin wished that his stepmother were on the trip with them. It would make life so much easier for him. She knew how to deal with the boys better than he did. He definitely ranked high in the big brother department, but as for parenting skills he was lacking. "I didn't mean to, but my foot got sucked into the sand and I had to pull really hard on it and when it came out I got sand in his eyes and water on him."

Justin looked up from his youngest brother to where Meredith was standing. It was as if they were all at war now, Justin worrying about Steven and Meredith worrying about Jonathan who looked to be just as upset about what had happened as Steven was. "What'd Meredith say about it?"

"She's mad at me," Steven said.

"Mad at you?" Justin asked moving Steven so that he was sitting on the towel instead of in his lap. "What'd you do to her?"

Steven sniffed and looked at Justin with the same scared look he'd had on his face when they'd woken up that morning. "I asked her why you and she slept together last--"

Justin grabbed up Steven cupping his hands up under his armpits to carry him across the sand. He went over to where Meredith was standing and glared at her. "What the hell is going on over here? World War Three?" he asked.

Everyone started to speak at once, Steven crying out that he was sorry, Jonathan trying to blame Steven and Meredith swearing at Justin for seeming to blame her for all the trouble.

"Shut Up!" he screamed.

They all stared at him, wide-eyed looking at him as if he had horns growing out of his head.

"Justin why don't you just go over and play with Britney and I'll get this mess fixed," Meredith finally said when the silence between them lasted too long. She pointed over to where Britney was sitting up watching them, "You might as well keep her company since she flew three thousand miles to see you."

Justin put his hand on his hip and stared at her. There was something biting in her tone and he didn't like it. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"You know exactly what that's supposed to mean," she said narrowing her eyes at him then glancing up the beach at Britney.

"Why are you two mad at each other?" Steven asked, "You guys were all huggy huggy last night when I couldn't sleep."

They both stopped and stared at him. "What?"

"I heard you," Steven said at his brother as if scolding the twenty-year-old. "You told her that you missed her."

"Steven, you were awake?" Meredith asked.

"You squeezed me to death. I had to wake up," he explained.

Just as Justin and Meredith were about to try to talk their way out of things Britney came trotting up. Justin felt her arm snake through his and a moment later she chose to place a kiss on her cheek. He looked when she did that and scanned the horizon for photographers, suddenly thinking that they were probably making a spectacle of themselves standing there arguing.

Gritty and Tiny were still sitting in the shade by the bungalow so Justin turned his attention back to the people in front of him.

"What's going on?" Britney asked.

"Justin and Meredith are fighting and Steven hit me with sand so I punched him."

"It's nothing really," Meredith said and looked at Jonathan, "Tell your brother that you're sorry."

"Sorry," Jonathan said.

"Steven tell your brother that you didn't mean to get sand on him."

Steven did as he was told. "I didn't mean to."

"Thank you," Meredith said and moved passed them and walked back up towards the bungalow.

"Why is she acting like a bitch?" Britney asked in a small voice.


Meredith normally would have just turned the other cheek and made her way away from the hostile situation, but at that moment she was tired of having to act that way. While Britney seemed to get away with everything Meredith always got the brunt of whatever attack was happening.

Knowing that the two younger boys would take in most of the rest of their conversation she shot them both looks. "Jonathan take Steven up and watch a movie or something, you guys have had enough sun for the morning," she said sternly as if she were their mother.

Jonathan nodded, grabbed up Steven's hand and pulled him along towards the house.

"Are you gonna tell her or should I?" she asked staring at Justin.

He didn't make a move at all to speak.

"Tell her what?" Britney asked.

Meredith had known that Justin was afraid to confront issues, but this was ridiculous. Even faced with the truth he wasn't about to let out any information that might ruin his reputation. "You know those publicists have taught you well," she said, "But there isn't any press around or any public, so just tell her what you did...what we did last night."

Justin's expression hardened, eyes growing cold with a slight questioning expression as if he was silently wondering what her motive for this truth session was.

"Tell her!" Meredith felt like stomping her foot, but in the sand it wouldn't do any good.

Again he just stared first at her then at Britney.

"Oh yeah, I forgot, you were always the one to avoid conflict...and I guess cheating on your girlfriend is something you have run away from before."

"Run away?" he asked, "What did I ever run away from? You were the one who disappeared in Vegas."

Meredith wanted to literally spit at him she was so angry. He was placing the blame on her all over again, as if he had no part in what was going on. "Well you were the one who disappeared this morning!"

Britney's jaw seemed to drop and she stared at Justin. "Justin honey, what's going on?"

"He cheated on you--I guess it's appropriate that I tell you that and not him since it's clear that he'd never fess up to cheating."

Justin threw his hands up in defeat. "I didn't cheat!"

Meredith gripped her hands into fists as his denial hit her ears. How could he stand there in front of her and deny the fact that they'd been together the night before. "You slept with me last night."

"I know that." Justin put a hand to his forehead. "I meant before! In Vegas." It was then that Justin seemed to realize what he'd just admitted to. His head whipped around to look at Britney and found her with a shocked and saddened look on her face.

Britney ran her hands through her hair, pulled her hair back into a ponytail then let it fall again to her shoulders. "You slept with her last night?"

Justin was about to open his mouth to speak, but Meredith cut him off. "Oh don't boo-who about it. It's not like you weren't in my position a few months ago."

"No she wasn't," Justin said, "I've been trying to tell you that for months. That night in Vegas I didn't cheat on you. I didn't cheat. Yeah I got drunk and yeah I was in that room with her, but nothing happened. Why doesn't anyone ever believe me when I say that?"

"I don't want to talk about this," she said then calmed her emotions for a moment, took a deep breath and looked at Britney, "I just want to return the favor. Justin and I slept together last night. I know that I am the other woman in the situation, but you've been me before so you know how it goes...sometimes temptation is too much."

"What the hell are you babbling about? This isn't Days of Our Lives," Justin said, "Why are you acting like this?"

"Maybe because your little Barbie spokesperson here--" She threw out an arm in Britney's direction. "--Decided to become a town crier and came running to me to tell me that you guys had fucked."

"I didn't fuck her in Vegas!" Justin groaned.

Meredith took a deep breath, stared at Justin for only a moment, then turned on her heel and left them there.

Once in the house she stopped only to tell Gritty to leave her alone that night and told the boys that she wasn't mad at them then she shut and locked herself in her room.

 

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