Josh Anderson smiled as they walked towards middle campus. "I’ve got to admit, it looks better than I expected," he said. Derek looked at him with a grin. "Is that relief I hear? Don’t tell me you doubted my abilities," Derek said. "You managed to stay inside the budget, you satisfied that battle-axe of a coordinator, and your design looks spectacular." Josh shook his head. "I’m impressed. I was taking a massive risk with a newbie. I’m glad it paid off. This calls for a drink. Some of the guys from work are getting together to celebrate, first round’s on me," he said and slapped Derek’s shoulder. Derek laughed, relieved himself that the project was done and dusted. All that needed to happen now was the reveal of the new theater hall, which promised to be an exceptional night. He felt a smile at his lips despite the nausea that began in his stomach.
It would be the first time he’d see Marie actually perform, hopefully she’d want him thereafter Friday. The idea of talking to Marie made him want to vomit. He had no idea what he would say except for "I’m sorry". Why had he been so stupid?
Derek looked at his boss and tried to look apologetic as they reached the parking lot. Derek shot a quick look to see if he could catch sight of Marie’s jeep. A mixture of excitement and dread stirred within him when his eyes landed on it. She was still here. It was around the time she finished rehearsal. He played with the idea of going to see her now and talking to her before Friday, get it out of the way. No, then he’d have to cancel dinner. He was brought up by Natalie West, he knew better than to just cancel a dinner, especially when he had absolutely no excuse he could offer Mrs. Balaco. Plans had been made, expectations were set. It was just poor manners. Plus, he wanted a few more days where he could still enjoy Marie’s smile. The urge to see that smile seized him in an instant.
He looked at Josh. "I’ll catch the next one, I’m gonna go meet up with someone," Derek said. Josh’s eyebrows lifted. "With a girl or your grandma?" He asked. "Funny," Derek said and smirked. "Actually–."
Derek and Josh both turned at the sound of the female voice. He grinned when he saw Giselle wave excitedly and walk towards them from one of the buildings. Like Marie, Giselle had legs that stretched far past the over-sized knitted cream sweater she wore with black leggings and red leather boots. She surprised him by giving him a hug when she reached them.
"Fancy seeing you here," she said when she pulled away. "We were just doing a final check on the new offices," he explained and gestured towards Josh. "Giselle, this is my boss, Josh Anderson. Josh, this Giselle Balaco," Derek said. "I know who she is," Josh said as he shook Giselle’s hand. "Everyone knows the Balaco girls, especially the one who’s engaged to royalty," he added with a smile. Giselle laughed easily. "I’d like to think I’m known for more than just that," she said. "Of course you are. You’re my eleven-year-old daughter’s role model. She’s wanted to be a musician since she was five. She’s even seen a couple of your performances. She’ll be here for the final show," he said. "Lovely!" Giselle said with pure delight in her voice. "I’d love to meet her."
Josh’s eyes lit up. "She would lose her mind if I told her that," he said. "I’m a fan of anyone who loves music. Plus her father is responsible for the beautiful new theater hall. I nearly fainted when I took a look yesterday. It’s the most incredible hall I’ve ever played in," she said. Derek’s eyes went back and forth as Giselle and Josh conversed. No wonder the woman landed a prince, she had an easy grace about her that highlighted her beauty even more. Pure happiness radiated from her and became contagious.
"Megan Anderson, eleven years old, got it." Giselle said after a while. "I’ll have two back-stage passes arranged for her and yourself. Derek can deliver it to you on Monday. I’ll give it to him when he comes over for dinner Friday."
At that Josh’s eyebrows lifted. "Hold on, you have dinner plans are with the Balaco’s? How’d you manage that?" He asked and looked at Derek. Derek smiled at his obvious surprise. "I was invited by Mrs. Balaco," he answered coolly. Josh shook his head.
"Marie! Look who I found," Giselle called, making Derek’s heart skip a beat. He immediately turned in the direction Giselle was calling. He turned in time to see Marie lift her eyes from her cell phone and meet his gaze. There go the butterflies again. Her eyes rounded with surprise then a hesitant smile came to her lips as she lowered her phone. She wore her white high top converse with a dark jean, white sweater and large gray scarf. Her hair was down, something he hadn’t seen in a while.
"Hey, guys," she said when she reached them. She touched them each with her gaze in a shy manner before stopping at Josh. "Hi, I’m Marie," she said and reached out to shake his hand. "Josh Anderson," he introduced back. Recognition lit up in Marie’s eyes. "Oh, you’re Derek’s boss. It’s such an honor. I’ve seen the new theater hall and it’s absolutely breath-taking," she said. Derek smiled as she spoke to Josh. Her expression softened as she relaxed into the conversation, a friendly smile playing at her lips. Man, she was beautiful.
A subtle throat clear caused him to look at Giselle. She lifted her eyebrows and gave him a smile that made him aware that he had been staring. He felt heat rise up his neck. Wait, what? Was he blushing? He hadn’t blushed since high school.
"Now it all makes sense," Josh said in a tone loud enough for Derek to understand he was speaking to the group. Derek looked at him and Josh smiled knowingly. "Meeting the family, eh? I didn’t know you were dating a Balaco, much less than it was this serious already," he said. A silence fell among the group. After a slight neck twitch, Marie looked at Derek expectantly, as if he were to clarify this to Josh. Derek, however, went as blank as she seemed. He cleared his throat. "Uh, so no rehearsal today?" he asked her. Marie’s brows came together over confused eyes. "What?" she asked. He gestured with his eyes at her outfit. "Jeans," he clarified. "Oh!" She glanced down. "Yeah, I’ve had the day off from Prof Tech, he had some appointment. I just came to pick up Giselle and speak to one of my lecturers."
Giselle laughed. "Marie’s been mark-scavenging," she explained. Marie pulled a face at her sister and shrugged. "Balaco standards," she said, making Giselle shake her head. Marie turned to Derek. "But how’d it go? When did you guys finish?" She asked. "It went well. Fantastic, actually," he said. "Told you," she said. Derek felt a tightening in his chest when she smiled at him.
"Okay, I’ve got to be off," Josh said, making Derek look at him. "I’ll see you at work. It was nice meeting you ladies. Have a lovely evening."
"Likewise," Marie said. "Yeah, and I won’t forget about the passes," Giselle said. Josh thanked her and walked off.
Giselle turned to Marie and Derek. "Derek, we’re going to grab a late lunch. Please join us," Giselle said. He looked at Marie and smirked, ready for her disapproving glance. "Yeah," Marie said, surprising him. "I, um, need to talk to you about something anyway," she added, a bit uneasily. He suddenly felt his nerves contract. "Am I about to have my first lesson on healthy living from the Balaco sisters?" He asked, trying to play off his nerves.
"I’d say you’re due for one," Marie said.
"I’ll go grab our coffees," Giselle said and got up from where she was sitting next to Marie. They had decided to go to a café that overlooked the ocean. All three decided to get a table on the deck to catch that ocean breeze.
Derek grinned as Giselle walked away. "She does realize we have a waiter for that, right," Derek asked and looked at Marie. "She just enjoys manipulating situations for whatever happens to be the greater good in her mind."
Derek was about to say something when he noticed a hand lift at the door.
"So about what I wanted to talk to you about," Marie said but Emmet was already behind her. "Hey, guys. What are you doing on my side of town?" Emmet asked as he neared. Marie looked up and smiled instantly, seeming to forget she wanted to say something. "Hey, I was wondering when I’d see you again. How’s the project going?" she asked. Derek’s eyes went from Marie to Emmet and back. Why was she looking at him like that? "It’s going a bit slow," he said. Marie bared her teeth and gave a slight wince. "For agriculture that’s saying something," she said, causing Emmet to laugh. "Ah, some drunk kids decided it would be funny to jump the fence and take a leak on one of my plots. It set my data back a bit."
Marie’s eyes widened. "That’s horrible!"
"I thought waste is supposed to be good for plants. Like fertilizer, or something," Derek said. They both looked at him and he instantly felt stupid for saying anything. Emmet opened his mouth but Marie explained before he could. "Fertilizer has many components that are essential to plant growth, yes, but Emmet’s research includes a specific fertilizer that is chemically formulated for optimal plant growth in the crop he’s using. Now urine is high in nitrogen, which plants need, correct enough, but his study is uniform. All the plants under study needs to be tested under the same circumstances and conditions so having this plot contaminated throws out that entire section." During her lecture, Derek noticed Giselle standing behind Emmet with lifted brows. He had to smile. Marie looked up at Emmet. "Did I get that right?" she asked. Emmet gave a slow clap. "Everything you’ve said is accurate, yes, but that’s not the entire reason." He braced himself against the backrest of the chair next to Marie and looked at Derek. "Bottom line, I can’t use that section as part of my report." He shrugged. "Luckily they didn’t contaminate that much. I can still use the rest and it should be sufficient."
"So what are you going to do with the plot? Turn the soil over?" Marie asked. Emmet smirked. "Nah, we decided to leave it just to see how it differs from the rest for fun," he said. Marie smiled. Derek felt the muscles in his shoulder tense. Why was she smiling so much around him? "If the extra nitrogen causes super growth in that section I think you should alter your research," she said. Emmet laughed. "I’ll have to track those guys down and find out what they had been drinking if there’s any heavy alterations."
"If you do, give me a call when you do the analysis. I’d love to take a look at the procedures."
"Please tell me I’m not the only one at this table who isn’t a science enthusiast," Giselle said, causing Emmet to turn around. Emmet’s eyes widened then relaxed in a split second, but not fast enough that Marie and Derek didn’t catch it. Marie looked at Derek and smiled knowingly. "I’m Giselle, Marie’s sister," she said stretching out her hand. Emmet took it without breaking eye contact. "The famous sister. It’s an honor."
"And you are most definitely Emmet. Marie told me she met an agronomist. When she used to take part in science fairs it always involved a plant of some sort."
Derek’s brows lifted. "You didn’t tell me you took part in science fairs," he said. Marie looked at him and shrugged. "That was years ago," she said. "Emmet, you’re more than welcome to join us while Marie tells us about her nerd years," Giselle suggested and gestured towards the seat opposite hers next to Derek. "Uh, I’m gonna have to pass on that one. I just came for a quick caffeine boost and dinner to go before heading back to the lab," Emmet said and looked at Marie. "If you feel like dropping by one day to see what we do, you’re more than welcome. Just give me a call beforehand."
Derek felt his shoulders tense when Marie’s smile widened. "That sounds like fun. Definitely, Emmet. Thank you," she said and seemed to unconsciously give him a thumbs up. "Alright, well it was nice meeting you." Emmet looked at Giselle then lifted a hand. "I’ll see you guys," he said and headed towards the counter to place his orders. Giselle looked at Marie and Derek with a little smile. Derek felt his phone vibrate in his pocket and took it out.
::At least now I know what you look like when you’re jealous. Not your most attractive side. Can’t really blame you though...
Derek pinched the bridge between his eyes and shook his head. "What’s wrong?" Marie asked. He opened his eyes and looked at her. "Nothing." Derek shook his head again and glared at his friend who had turned around and shot him a wicked smile from where he waited for his order. "Just Emmet being an idiot," he said. Derek typed back two choice words and pressed send before placing his phone face down on the table.
"Well our orders are not ready yet so I think I’m going to take a stroll along the beach if you two don’t mind," Giselle said. Derek near laughed when Marie rolled her eyes and shook her head. "Go ahead," Marie said and shot her sister a fake smile. Giselle laughed.
"Alright then. I’ll only be a few minutes," she said and walked away. Marie looked at Derek. He shrugged apologetically. "I like her," he said and smiled when Marie looked to the ceiling and tried to conceal her grin. "You wanted to tell me something," Derek reminded her. Marie dropped her eyes. "Yeah. I need your help," she said. Derek felt tense again but then she raised her eyes to his and smiled, making him relax instantly. "We’re having an extra guest on Friday," she said with a smile in her voice and leaned forward a bit even though Giselle was already on the beach and out of earshot. "Eric wants to come and surprise everyone at dinner. Problem is, he’s a prince, meaning I’ll have to sneak more than just him in. He’s got security and extra cars which makes things a bit more difficult."
"What do you need me to do?" Derek asked. "I need you to keep my parents and Giselle busy when he arrives so that I can get him and his entourage in. I only need about ten minutes."
Derek raised an eyebrow. "Oh, sure, hold casual conversation with your dad for ten awkward minutes. Piece of cake," he said dryly. "You’ve got a fast mouth. You’ll figure it out," she said and sat back. "Marie, do you understand that the longer I speak to your dad in front of your mom the greater the chances become of me getting thrown out of your house."
Marie laughed. "My dad is not that bad."
"I might just be."
Marie tilted her head as she studied him. "Are you afraid of my father?" she asked with amusement laced in her voice. Derek sat back and gave a little shrug. "Intimidated is more accurate. Plus I might accidentally hit on your mom and I don’t exactly have a strong desire to get into a brawl with the father of m–." He broke off. Of what? What was Marie to him now?
Marie averted her eyes. "I’m sure you’ll be able to watch your tongue for a few minutes," she said, bypassing the awkwardness and looked at him. "Besides, now you’ve got two days to practice," she said with a smile. "As long as you can talk to him about golf, tennis, or cricket, you’ll be fine."
Derek’s eyebrows shot up and he laughed.
K: Ah, Jake and Athena. Good times :)
I'm gonna take that comment as an indication that you read my last story? Haha. It was a weird day. I was listening to the song and suddenly got struck with inspiration for that.
Butterfly: Okay, so I literally posted chapter 15 about half an hour after the second part of chapter 14 but it took so much longer to upload, I apologize for that. (**Awkward laughter**).
Aw, glad I could make you smile :) Uh, I usually start out with like a mind-map of how I want things to go, what the characters are like, how they grow throughout the story and so on, and I usually have bulletpoints of events that I would like to have happen during the story and how it should end, but as the story progresses I change my mind and add characters or change their roles in the story and so on so . . . Yes to both, I suppose. Haha.
Anonymous: Haha. Yeah, I'm a university student and I am currently on break. I have one more week of holiday left then it's back to life :)
It's actually winter here so I'm mostly binge-watching series, having coffee and movie nights with friends (I think the majority of my money goes to food and movies), reading, visiting family, traveling.
I've actually got more of a social life when I'm back on campus than when I'm back home on holiday.
P.S. No, not weird at all. I cry for weirder stuff, you do not want to sit next to me during a Pixar movie!
Miha: Ah, that is the nicest thing ever! :)
I love Giselle! She was actually one of my accidental characters in "It's Royally Complicated" I wasn't planning on having a love interest for Eric, but he was honestly the kindest male character I've ever written about and I just wanted him to have a happy ending too. Out of all my characters Giselle is the easiest to write about. All my characters kind of take up a life of their own but I still kind of have to put myself into their brains, with Giselle I just type and it comes out naturally.
She's definitely one of my favorites (I have a lot of favorites though) :)
Lin: Sorry to disappoint, love. Next chapter, promise :)