"Thanks for this, Emmet," Marie said as she shrugged off the white lab coat Emmet had handed her when she stepped into the lab earlier. "No problem. It was actually fun playing tour guide for the day," Emmet said as he guided his way through the lab. Marie glanced around, eyes sharp with interest at the environment. White countertops were loaded with transparent packets, white little boxes and pipettes. Cupboards with glass doors lined a section of the back wall, displaying containers of every shape and size. Microscopes stood around at different stations. Machines around her made odd sounds, moved in strange ways, had interesting scents, and honestly made her wonder if some of them had been used in the production of Charlie’s Chocolate Factory. She smiled to herself at that thought. This was the second time that day she had passed through the lab and yet it still seemed like a wonderland to her. She felt like a mischievous child that wanted to press every single button, flick every switch to see what happens, and play around with the colorful liquids that could potentially burn through her skin.
It had definitely been fun for her too, a much-needed distraction from everything. When she got to the university earlier, Emmet took her for a tractor drive along the fields and through the experimental farm where the air reeked of cow manure and farm life. Sounds of cows mooing, chickens squawking, pigs grunting brought a strange sense of home. Tidy rows of fresh sprouting plants lined the farm and satisfied anyone’s OCD. Next, they went to the lab and Emmet demonstrated how they did chemical analysis on the plants as well as soil tests. She had never had a more informative day. Her brain had been stimulated the most pleasurable way. She was definitely coming back.
"So this was a surprise. Don’t you have to prepare for tomorrow night’s big show?" Emmet asked as he hung his lab coat on the coat hanger that stood near the door. Marie let out a sigh and hung her own next to the hook his was on. Final rehearsal had dragged on for hours! At a certain point she was counting the seconds to three o’clock so that the session could end. She’d practice with Giselle a bit again later, but she couldn’t wait to get out of that theater. Her fingers automatically moved over the keys when they were supposed to, she knew the melody by heart, she knew her cues, she didn’t make a single mistake, something that usually filled her with elation, but today she was just frustrated, completely lacking heart. Repeating the same thing over and over again was utter madness!
Okay, so it wasn’t the rehearsal that put her in such a foul mood. She was still on edge from talking to Derek. She hadn’t slept well. The look on his face before she walked away burned through her vision more than she could control. It looked like she had torn him apart. She wanted to apologize, but wasn’t sure what for. It was his move.
And she prayed that he would actually make one. There was nothing she could do but wait on him, and who knew if he was ever going to speak to her again.
Marie lowered her eyes and focused her attention to the present.
"Yeah, don’t remind me. I came here to take a break from all of that."
"Right," Emmet said and held the door open for her to walk out. "You don’t have to answer but I feel I should ask since he’s my friend–."
"No," Marie turned so abruptly that she almost collided with Emmet. Luckily he stopped in time. She shook her head and closed her eyes, releasing a breath slowly. "I’m taking a break from all of that as well." She opened her eyes and felt her lips tug at a small smile. "Besides, you’re his friend, remember? Whatever I say will probably be reported back to him and I’d rather say it to him personally or not say anything at all," she said. Emmet smirked. "Hey, if you feel like bitching about Derek, I’m your go-to guy. The idiot and I have been friends for so long that there’s no turning back. I insult him to his face all the time, doing it behind his back can’t really be classified as betrayal."
Marie smiled fully at that. Emmet was such a goof. She almost wished she had a friend or cousin to set him up with, but none of her friends would be able to keep up with him and her only female cousins were Rosaline and Rosemarie. Rosemarie was so in love she was practically married already, and Marie was secretly still hoping Rosaline would get back together with Eric’s younger brother, Shane.
Emmet’s eyes caught something behind her. A moment of panic flashed in his eyes before he covered it up with a smile and raised his hand in greeting. There was a shuffling behind her before she could turn around, curious to see who had provoked such a response. A guy in a lab coat with short golden hair and flirtatious blue eyes strode towards them. His whole demeanor screamed self-assurance and with the way he was looking at her, Marie was sure she’d hear proof of that soon. She groaned inwardly and silently hoped he wouldn’t hit on her. She was already exhausted at the idea but she forced a friendly smile on her lips.
"Brad, hey. Did you get that data back to Prof. Jackson?" Emmet asked when he was close enough. Brad’s eyes momentarily left Marie’s and met his. "Yeah, all good." He looked at Marie again when he reached them. "Who’s your pretty friend?" He asked with a smile in her direction. Marie didn’t see the warning glance Emmet sent Brad, but then, neither did Brad for that matter.
"This is Marie. Marie, this is my lab mate, Brad. If you keep to your decision you’ll be seeing a lot of him around here," Emmet said. That sparked a light in Brad’s eyes. "But don’t let that put you off. He can be easily avoided if you play your cards right," Emmet added. Marie stifled a laugh. Brad opened his mouth but Emmet cut him off before he could say anything.
"Dude, I suggest you stop before you’ve started. You’re going to make an ass out of yourself and I don’t feel like dealing with your second hand embarrassment right now," Emmet said. Marie looked at him and he gave a shrug. "Plus, I don’t feel like apologizing on behalf of you and she’s on her way anyway." Emmet pressed a gentle hand to her back and urged her past Brad, something Marie was eternally grateful for at that moment.
"Nice meeting you," she said politely as she walked past and allowed Emmet to guide her out of the building.
"Likewise," Brad said behind her. "I hope I see you around here more often. Maybe next time I’ll give you a tour."
"That’s okay, I’ve covered it!" Emmet said, cutting off all contact Marie could have with Brad. She had to bite her lip to keep from laughing.
Marie smiled to herself when she pulled into the garage. No wonder Derek and Emmet were such good friends. She needed this break, needed to occupy her mind with something other than Derek and rehearsals.
She swung her keys into her palm when she entered the house. She barely had the door closed behind her before Giselle was rushing down the stairs.
"You’re going to kill me and I’m so sorry! It just slipped out. I swear, I didn’t plan on telling, Marie," she blurted before she reached the bottom. A cold flush ran through Marie’s entire body.
"You told dad?" she asked. "I didn’t mean to, I promise. It . . ." Giselle stopped and lifted her arms apologetically, worry etched into her features.
"What did he say?" Marie asked quietly, her heart pounding anxiously against her ribs. Giselle shook her head. "He’s . . . not very taken by the idea," she said carefully. Marie nodded, she had expected as much. She breathed in deeply through her nose. "Where is he?" She asked. "He’s in his study." Giselle’s brow lowered over her eyes. "What are you thinking, Marie?" She asked. Marie looked down the hall to where her father’s study was. She pulled up her shoulders and looked at her sister then walked towards the study. "You’re going to talk to him now?" Giselle asked, surprise in her voice. Marie didn’t look back.
When she lifted her hand to knock on the door, she noticed how it was shaking. Taking another controlled breath, she let it out slowly and tapped on the door.
"Come in, Marie."
Marie twisted the knob slowly and pushed the door open. Her father was standing behind his heavy desk near the window. He looked at her the same way he had looked at her as a child when he was reminding her of the rules in the house. She could already tell he felt like she had broken another one. She closed the door behind her and straightened her posture before walking towards him.
"Daddy, before you get upset, I should tell you that I was planning to speak to you after the show."
"So you’ve made up your mind?" He asked. Marie swallowed. She caught herself before saying yes. First she needed to know if they were discussing the same thing. "What did Giselle say?" She asked.
"That you’re giving up music."
"I’m not giving up on it," she said impulsively. A few weeks ago she would have wanted nothing more than to just be done with it, but now things were different, now she had space to breathe and Giselle to take the pressure off and remind her of how much she still enjoyed performing.
"I just feel that if I’m going to pursue something for the rest of my life it should be something I love doing."
"So you’re saying you don’t love music?" He asked in a tone that dripped disappointment. "I do love music, daddy, but it’s not something I’m passionate about. Not the way you and Giselle are. It’s fairly obvious when you compare me to Giselle." She placed a hand over her heart. "I don’t sit up for hours on end composing in my free time like you two do. I still want to play in the shows and have tutor sessions with Giselle and be a Balaco," she said with a lump rising in her throat. "But I don’t want to be a full-time musician. I don’t want to be a composer. I don’t even want to be in the field of musical production and engineering. It holds no appeal to me. I want to feel the way you and Giselle feel every time you sit down with our instruments. I want to get excited about what I study." She shook her head and forced herself to control her sigh. The release of years of secrecy became too much and stung the back of her eyes as she fought to keep the tears at bay. She swallowed again.
"I love being a Balaco, daddy, don’t get me wrong, but I’m not the traditional type of Balaco. I love science, I love animals, and I am crazy about agriculture. The idea of assisting in the world food crisis is an amazing feeling and being in a lab or walking around a farm makes me exceptionally happy. I’ve never felt that way about music."
Each second that ticked by in the silence after she spoke made her more anxious than the one before. She knew her father was trying to find the right words and that just terrified her more. Would he try to convince her to keep doing music? Would he refuse to allow her dream? Would he understand? Marie breathed with difficulty as she waited. Her father let out a controlled breath that made her hold hers.
"I’ve got too much to concern myself with right now, Marie. We’ll finish this conversation after tomorrow night is taken care of. Try to feign some passion until then."
Marie felt her heart shatter at his caustic words. She wanted to tell him she wasn’t faking anything anymore, that she actually enjoyed performing this year, but the hurt at his words pushed the lump higher up her throat to the point where she would burst into tears if she had to say something else.
She gave a small nod then turned around and walked out of his study.
Cleo looked at Derek with the same inquisitive expression she had given Mr. West, making both men wonder if she understood what had been said. Derek glanced at his father in the silence that followed their explanation. He was sure both of them were holding their breath.
"If Derek’s my brother . . ." Cleo started. Mr. West’s hand was placed in a gesture of comfort on her back while she sat on his lap and looked from Derek to him.
"Does that mean you’re my daddy?" Cleo asked. Derek’s eyes shot to his father. He didn’t move as he watched his father’s expression soften into a warm smile. "Only if you want me to be," Mr. West answered. Cleo smiled and hugged his neck. "Okay, you’re my daddy now."
Derek felt a smile at his own lips. His lungs filled with relief. No doubt Cleo would conquer the world one day if that spirit held up. She looked at him and released Mr. West. She climbed off his lap and ran to Derek who sat on a nearby couch. Derek got to his feet when she reached him and gave her a spin in the air, causing her to giggle as he settled her at his side. Cleo hugged him around his neck.
"I love you, big brother."
Derek felt a lump rise in his throat. His heart swelled painfully. The strange feeling crept up inside of him. It felt alive and powerful and so warm. Happiness, he realized. How many times in the past few months had the foreign emotion just surprised him? It was a strange yet not completely unwelcome feeling, and dangerously addictive. His life was changing rapidly and it was completely out of his hands. So many curveballs had been thrown that he wasn’t sure of himself half of the time. There was one thing he was 100% sure of at that moment, though.
"I love you too, little sis," he said and as he hugged her back he had to keep from squeezing her so tightly she would break.
Butterfly: Haha. I can never leave you with a cliff hanger!
And I never really plan on having a message, I guess it just happens haha. I'm refraining from checking the dates to my last published chapters because i don't want to know how long I've been absent - it terrifies me.
But thank you so much for being such an awesome reader and an awesome enthusiast and just an awesome human being in general :)
Anonymous: Ah, that is awesome! (The college story now) Yeah, I'm mid-exams right now, trust me, the bonds you have with the people in your class get a whole lot tighter around this time since you're all dealing with the same struggle.
But again, uni life is the best! It only gets better :) Enjoy the ride!
Miha: Aw, thanks so much, love! Haha. Jonah is another character that kind of just took up a life of his own. I have a habit of giving some of my support characters too much of a cameo and then I end up giving them their own story in the end (a great example is that of what happened with Giselle. I've got a draft of her and Eric's story on my laptop that I might just post as a little short story due to how much I love their growth from when they met to where they are now). Hope you're still out there even after I took so long.