"Marie, are you wearing that tonight?"
Marie nearly exploded, but instead she gripped hard onto the stair rail, closed her eyes and slowly counted to five in her mind. The fact that she was exhausted wasn’t helping her control her temper. After a week of rehearsals with Prof. Tech, she felt mentally wasted. She desperately needed a nap and some good food but since she had to put in extra hours of rehearsal to make up for the Wednesday she missed, she didn’t have time for a quick nap. By the time she got home, her nerves had given in to her exhaustion and all she could do was taking a quick bath before getting ready for dinner.
Marie let out a breath slowly and opened her eyes. Her mother stood at the bottom of the staircase staring up at her expectantly. "What’s wrong with what I’m wearing, mom?" She asked and took a glance at her jeans and large sweater that slightly hung over one shoulder. She had purposely decided to stay in her socks for a little while longer. Andrea brought her hands together and studied her daughter’s outfit with mild disdain. "I just think you’ve got such a lovely body and you shouldn’t hide it under all that." She gestured towards Marie’s outfit as if it were a hanging pig cadaver. Marie looked away. She didn’t think she looked that bad. "Mom, it’s winter. Plus it’s just Derek coming over," she said and looked back. Her mother smiled patiently. "That’s my point."
Giselle walked by from the kitchen and stopped when she got to their mother’s side. "I say throw on a pair of thigh high’s and a sweater dress if you’re so worried about the cold. I mean, it’s not like we have an air-conditioned house or anything," Giselle said with a lifted eyebrow. Marie sighed then turned around and headed back to her room to change into an ivory colored knitted sweater dress and black thigh highs with boots. She’d never admit it to Giselle, but this was actually warmer than her previous outfit.
Molly was making little pig-like snorts from her pen in the corner as Marie finished dressing. "You’d never judge me the way they do, will you?" Marie asked as she picked the piglet up. She smiled, all the tension from the last half an hour instantly breaking when she held Molly. She kissed the little prickles of hair on Molly’s head. "Of course you won’t. You’re a good little pig," Marie said, grabbing her phone as she walked towards her door. The door had barely opened and Giselle was already tugging at her hair. Marie tried to duck away. "What are you-."
"I knew it would miss something," Giselle called and pulled out the hair clip that held Marie’s hair up. Giselle all but ran away with the clip before Marie could stop her. "Giselle," Marie grumbled under her breath. She looked down at Molly and shook her hair in place, accepting that she was not in charge of her appearance tonight, then walked into the kitchen for some time away from her mother and sister’s priming. She glanced at the clock when she entered.
Six-forty-two. Eighteen more minutes.
Every centimeter of the kitchen island was packed with various covered bowls, plates and platters. Marie placed her phone on one of the chairs before lifting the lid of one of the platters, revealing a row of spinach cheese puffs. "Score," she sang and took one of the smaller plates from the cupboards. After placing Molly down with a carrot, Marie placed three puffs on her plate and hoisted herself up on the counter with the plate on her lap. Her mother would have a fit if she saw her sitting on the counter like this. Marie shrugged. It was a risk worth taking. She picked up one of the puffs, the inside of her mouth instantly soaked in saliva. Ah, she was starving!
"A bit early for that, don’t you think?"
She jumped, nearly dropping her snack and chocking on the piece she had bitten off. Marie looked up to find Derek standing in the doorway, looking smug that he caught her. With her heart hammering against her ribs, she dropped her head into her free hand as she tried to recover.
"You nearly gave me a heart attack," she said with half of the puff in her mouth and the other half in her hand. After swallowing, she looked up as Derek strode towards her, stopping to give Molly a light scratch. Marie’s heart started racing for a different reason now. He looked really good. Derek decided on a pair of dark jeans, oxford shoes and a coral blue sweater over a white collared shirt. Her lips tugged at a smile when she realized it was something her father would normally wear on a casual day. She wasn’t sure if it was a conscious decision from Derek’s side.
The edge of his lip tugged as he studied her. "Wow, you look great," he said. She would have scoffed if he didn’t place his hands on either side of her thighs, boxing her in. "This is probably the only chance I’ll have to do this tonight, so-."
He placed his lips against hers, sending a shot of tingling heat through her body. Marie’s eyes fell closed as she brought her free hand to the back of his head, losing herself in a kiss so deep and deliberately slow it made her head spin.
Derek pulled back and smiled at her, causing a flutter in her chest. He lifted his fingers to touch one of the locks that hung over her shoulder. "You should really wear your hair down more," he said. "You’re early," Marie said, her mind not registering any other response. "Giselle messaged me saying your dad was late and if I hurried I could get here before he did. It was an opportunity to give Giselle and your mom flowers without the pressure." He smirked.
Marie tilted her head to the side. "You bought Giselle flowers too?" She asked. He nodded. She scrunched up her face. "I hope mine’s chilling in the foyer somewhere," she said. "I didn’t get you any," he said. Marie looked appalled, making him laugh. "I did, however get you something that might complement that outfit," he said and reached into his back pocket. He brought out a square black box the size of her fist and handed it to her. Derek took the other half of the spinach puff from her fingers and popped it into his mouth. He nodded at the taste and took the plate off her lap. "Open it," he said and stepped aside to lean back against the counter. Marie’s brows came together over her eyes. She lifted the lid and immediately jumped off of the countertop. "Oh, my gosh! It’s the Arc Reactor from Iron Man!" She started bouncing on her toes in excitement. Derek laughed and set the plate aside. Marie put the chain over her head and pulled out her hair from under it. She stared down at the blue pendant with a massive smile on her face.
"This is so cool!" She turned and threw her arms around him. "I love it!" She squealed. Derek laughed again as his arms circled her waist. She kept her hands on his shoulders when she moved back to look at him. "I’ve actually got something for you too," she said. Derek’s brows lifted a bit. "Really?" He asked and moved his palm higher up her back. His eyes seemed distracted as they slowly traveled over her face. Marie nodded though she was fighting for thought. "But it’s not finished yet," she said. His lips tugged the slightest bit as he continued to study her. "You’re making me something?" he asked. She shook her head and he raised his eyes to hers. "Writing me something?" he guessed again. "Getting warmer."
Derek’s brows lowered. "Composing?" Marie’s smile broadened.
Marie laughed. "You don’t have to look so surprised. You’ve heard me play, I’m not that bad."
"You never told me you composed though."
She dropped her eyes sheepishly. "Uhm . . . I’ve never actually composed something before. I, uh, I watched Adventure Time," she started and looked at him. Derek lifted his brows. He was clearly fighting back his amusement at this point. "And the credit song gave me an idea," Marie finished.
Derek gave in to a little chuckle. "That sounds interesting." He pressed his forehead against hers. "Can’t wait to hear it," he said and lifted his chin to take her lips between his.
"Dad’s home! You two better be done in there!"
Marie dropped her head and giggled at the sound of her sister’s warning call. "We should probably go say hi," Marie said and took a step back, out of his arms. Her skin tingled everywhere his arms were and she was sure she was trembling. Molly ran towards her and pressed her snout against Marie’s shoes. "Hey, girl. I think you want another carrot," Marie said as she reached to pick her piglet up.
She was like a drug. It was impossible not to smile when she was.
Derek followed Marie outside, fascinated by the way her hair bounced with each step. He never realized how much he liked her hair. She wore it tied up, straightened, or in a bun so much that he actually forgot she had curls. He was at it again. For now, he decided, he would push the thoughts of what would have to happen after dinner to the back of his mind. He knew he was in denial, and he was okay with that for the time being. Getting through the evening with Marie and her family first, drawing the line with Marie second.
He knew he was playing around with her. He shouldn’t have kissed her. He didn’t plan on kissing her. But seeing her sit on that countertop, flushed from the way he had surprised her, he couldn’t not kiss her.
Damn it. It was so easy to become distracted. Distracted by how it felt to be around her, talking to her, holding her, seeing her face light up, studying her expressions as she spoke. It was like her aura consisted of some chemical compound that affected his will power and sensible thinking. He was a dead man if he didn’t do something soon, he was well aware of it.
A bucket of cold water should be effective enough. Maybe he could get Giselle to throw ice cubes down his back, she should enjoy that.
A car drove by and he lost his train of thought. Derek felt his eyes widen at the sight of the sleek black vehicle. "Wait, that’s an Aston Martin." Derek stared in bewilderment. "Yeah, my dad’s got a garage full of cars. He’s a bit of a collector," Marie said. Derek was still staring at the car as it disappeared into the garage.
"I never really understood why someone needs so many cars," she said. Derek looked at her. "Marie." Derek brought his fingers to his mouth as if he were about to say a prayer, closed his eyes and took a deep, calming breath. "I don’t think you grasp this fully." He opened his eyes and looked at her. "That –." He gestured towards the garage. " – is an Aston Martin. A DB9 by the looks of it. James Bond drove a DB5 Aston Martin."
Marie blinked. "Derek, I hate to be the one that breaks this news to you but –." She leaned closer and lowered her voice to a whisper. " – James Bond is fictional," she said. His expression softened into amusement and he shook his head. "I knew you couldn’t be that perfect."
She stared at him. "What?" Marie asked and tilted her head to the side. Derek shook his head again. "Nothing. It doesn’t matter." He looked towards the garage again. "Hey, I know your dad and I aren’t on good terms but do you think he’d let me give that car a spin if I got on his good side?" He asked. Marie looked like she was sucking on a lemon while pressing her lips together to fight back amusement. She shook her head.
"No. No, you’ve got no chance. He doesn’t even let me or Giselle drive his cars," she said. Derek turned as her father exited the garage.
"Come on, you two," Giselle said and winked at them as she led the way to Mr. Balaco. Giselle reached him first.
"Welcome home, daddy," she said and hugged him. "How was the meeting?" She asked and straightened the jacket he was wearing. Mr. Balaco eyed her suspiciously. "A complete drag." He shot Derek a look of reproof before turning back to his daughter.
"Now, daddy." Giselle adjusted his tie. "Marie actually likes this one, and so do I."
She pulled the knot of her father’s tie up to beneath his chin with decisive strength then pointed a perfectly manicured finger at his nose. "Behave," Giselle said with stern eyes that held her father’s until she was sure he understood how serious she was. Derek tried not to show his amusement. Mr. Balaco looked away from his daughter. "Nice to see you again, Mr. Balaco," Derek said in the most convincing tone he could. "Likewise, Derek," Mr. Balaco said in a tone flatter than a pancake. "Sir, I’ve got to complement you, you have great taste in cars."
That sparked a light in his eyes that faded almost as quickly as it came. "Yes, I’m very fond of them." He rubbed his forehead and glanced at the garage. "I’ll have to send the Martin to a mechanic soon though. The check engine light keeps flickering."
"Has the engine been making any strange sounds or does the car struggle in any way?"
Mr. Balaco shook his head. "Not too much. The engine sounds relatively normal. I haven’t been driving with it enough to notice what it does at high speeds."
"It might not be anything hectic then. It can probably be sorted out from home. I can take a look for you if you don’t mind," Derek offered.
Marie saw her father’s eyes harden. "I’d really rather send for a mechanic," Mr. Balaco said. "It wouldn’t hurt to look," Derek said. "I grew up with a dad that believed he could fix anything, and he was right most of the time. You pick up a thing or two from a guy like that."
Marie looked at Derek. That was the closest she had ever heard him come to complimenting his father. "And if I do happen to screw it up, I promise to pay for all the damages," Derek persisted. Marie looked at her father the moment he looked at her. He shot her a pleading look and she shot her own back. He finally sighed in defeat and turned towards the garage doors. "Fine."
Derek looked at Marie with a huge grin on his face before following. Giselle sent her a smile and lifted her eyebrows before backing away. "Buffer for as long as you can. I’m going inside."
Marie nodded then followed the two men. She adjusted Molly in her arms while trying not to drop her phone. The moment they entered the garage and Derek caught sight of the rows of cars her father had collected over the years, his jaw dropped. He turned towards her, eyes wide with awe. "What?" he mouthed, slumping his shoulders and bending his knees as if he were about to fall to the floor any second. Marie bit on her lip to keep from laughing.
Her father popped the hood open and stepped to the side but didn’t move away from the car. Derek sobered quickly before her father could see his reaction and stepped towards the car with great confidence although Marie could see the giddiness in his eyes that he tried to hold back. He rolled up his sleeves and braced his arms against the sides of the frame. "Alright. Let’s see what we’ve got."
As he leaned over to get a better idea of the engine, Marie looked at her father on the other side while silently praying Derek could actually fix the problem. By the look on her father’s face, he was thinking the opposite. She offered an apologetic smile. He shook his head and crossed his arms over his chest.
"Ah, I think I found your problem, sir. Your gas cap’s a little loose." Derek reached in and tinkered with something under the hood before standing up again. He closed the hood and looked at Mr. Balaco. "Try it."
Seeming dubious, her father went to the driver’s seat, climbed in and started the car. At the sound of the engine coming alive, Molly jumped in Marie’s arms, causing Marie to nearly drop her. "Okay girl, calm down," Marie said soothingly and lowered her piglet to the floor.
Her father switched off the car and got out. "Well I’ll be damned." He shut the car door and looked at Derek. "That it could be something so small." Derek smiled. "Glad I could help," he said. Mr. Balaco turned to Marie and pointed at her. "You can stop looking so smug."
"I –." Marie laughed and raised her hands, not even sure what to say.
"I think we should get inside. Your mom’s probably waiting," Mr. Balaco said. He looked at Derek and stretched out a hand. "Thank you, Derek."
Marie had to bite into her lip to keep from grinning when Derek took her father’s hand. If there was one thing she loved about her father, was that he was never afraid of being wrong. She looked at Molly.
"Come on, girl," she said and patted her thigh lightly. She turned to hide her smile and led the way out of the garage towards the house with Molly walking at her side.
"So you say your father taught you how to work with a car?" Her father asked.
"Yeah, but I also had a roommate that studied megatronics so I picked up a few handy things about engineering as well."
Marie knew she had no right to be so happy that the two of them could find common ground. She felt her phone buzz in her hand and looked down, discreetly opening the message.
::Two minutes away. Hope you’re ready:: Eric. She nearly forgot.
"I’m going to let Molly run around the garden a bit in case she needs to relieve herself," Marie said when they reached the steps to the front door. Her father gave a nod. "Yes, rather out here than inside. Just make sure it’s not on the grass. Have her go into some flower bed. And keep her from rooting, the gardener will have a fit," he said as he walked up the steps. Derek raised a brow. "Isn’t she broken into a litter box yet?" He asked, staying by her for a moment. "She is," Marie said quietly and glanced at her father that stood near the door watching them.
"Keep them busy for a while," she said and looked at Derek. His eyes lit up with realization. He gave a nod before walking up the steps.
*Robin : Aw :) Thanks, love.
*Butterfly: Haha. So I really tried to finish the whole dinner chapter and upload in one go, but then I realized that I actually had more planned for the chapter than I initially thought so it ended up becoming much longer than I expected.
Eric's gonna be in the next one though! Eeee! :D
*Miha: I'm SO happy you read that! Ah, that makes me so happy to know! I love Eric. I'm so excited to have him back even if it's just for a little chapter.
Also (/whispers/), I'm working on a sequel for 'It's Royally Complicated' for where Eric and Giselle finally get married and Mark meets the person he falls in love with. It might take a while, though, but it's in progress :)
Anonymous: Aw, that is so sweet! Oh, my gosh, you're going to have such a great time! It's really the time of your life where you discover yourself and you learn so much. Academically, it changes a while lot but you can do it!! What will you be/are you studying?