Marie couldn't contain the spread of her grin when they stepped into the living room. Giselle was speaking to their mother with her back to the entrance and Derek was near the piano with her father, each with a glass of brandy in their hands. Derek and her father were turned at an angle in which they both caught the movement at the entrance and turned. Her mother's eyes widened greatly and her lips rounded. Giselle paused mid-sentence and turned around. The room instantly became quiet as everyone processed the information. Hardly a split second later, Giselle's expression mimicked their mother's. Giselle let out a squeal before sprinting towards him. Eric nearly toppled over when she crashed into his embrace.
"What are you doing here?" Giselle hit Eric's chest playfully. Marie took a step back, laughing. "You're such a liar! You're supposed to be in India." He laughed as he stared down at her with absolute adoration in his eyes. Marie felt happiness rise in her chest at the sight.
Eric seemed to suddenly become aware of the audience and he lifted his head to look at everyone. He smiled sheepishly and stood away from Giselle to shake Mr. Balaco's hand. "Sir," he greeted, receiving a grin from their father. Their mother didn't even wait to be acknowledged, she simply stepped in and hugged Eric, making him laugh again. "It's good to see you two, ma'am," he said, his voice making it obvious that his windpipes were being crushed. He looked up from the embrace. "You must be Derek," he said and reached out a hand. Derek shook it with a smirk in Mrs. Balaco's direction. It was clear she wasn't letting go any time soon. "How long are you staying?" She asked and looked up at Eric. Giselle laughed and touched Eric's shoulders. "Come on, mom. Give him back," she said. Andrea gave a final squeeze before releasing him with what seemed like great reluctance.
"Unfortunately, I'm flying back tomorrow evening." He winced and slowly turned towards his fiance. "Meaning I'll need to have breakfast in the palace so I'll only be able to come see you after ten tomorrow morning and I'll need to be back before eight the evening for dinner," he said. Giselle's smile shortened before it restored itself. She shook her head. "As long as we can go to the beach for a while . . . And you're here for brunch tomorrow morning. I'll cook." Giselle turned towards everyone with a raised arm, receiving giggles from Marie and their mother.
"On that note, I think it's time for dinner," Giselle said, bringing her hands together in a clap, a habit she had recently picked up from their mother.
Derek had to keep from turning towards Marie during the entire dinner. It was odd having her so close next to him for so long, electrifying actually. He anxiously awaited every touch, tuned in to every word she was saying. The fact that he was sitting across royalty was much less unnerving, he was barely aware of it. What he couldn't be ignorant of was the way Giselle and Eric interacted with each other across the table. Never before he had seen a couple like the two of them, not even in his friends and their relationships. They didn't just look at each other, their entire presence seemed to shift when one or the other spoke. Their eyes brightened, Eric's voice became gentler, the way Giselle smiled changed, even their bickering was compassionate. Yet, at the same time neither of them seemed conscious of it, and it was done in such a way that they didn't exclude the rest of the group. There were no lingering stares or affectionate touches that could make people around them uncomfortable. They were just them, naturally, and it was a beautiful sight.
That must be what love looks like, he thought at a certain point.
"So when's the big day?" He asked as he reached for his water glass. "Next year, December first," Giselle said. "She tells me nothing about what she's planning," Mrs. Balaco said from the other end of the table with a small pout on her lips. Giselle lifted a finger and smiled playfully. "That's because you will take over completely. This is for the sake of harmony in the family. Plus, I want to surprise you," she said. Her mother shook her head and sighed. She looked at Derek. "I've waited so long for one of my daughters to get married just to be excluded like this. Do you think that's fair, Derek?" she asked. Derek's lip quirked. "I think it's because she knows you might outshine her on the wedding day," he said with a glance in Giselle's direction. Her eyes narrowed but her smile lingered.
"Eric always says I got dad's brains and mom's beauty," Giselle said. "Obviously God knew what he was doing." Marie's quip was rewarded with laughter. "Well then I apologize for intercepting your eye color with my genes," Mr. Balaco said to his daughters. "You didn't win completely with Marie, daddy," Giselle said and looked at her sister. "I'm sure by now Derek's noticed what I'm most envious of regarding my sister."
Derek looked at Marie. She purposely didn't look at him. She didn't need to, he could sketch her eyes from memory if he were asked to. He looked back at Giselle. "I'm sure Eric wouldn't want it any other way," Derek said, making Eric smirk and turn to Giselle. "Not a chance," he said. Giselle scrunched up her nose at him.
The rest of the dinner went on in more or less the same manner. Conversation flowed easily, the food was incredible and by the time they finished dessert, Derek was satisfied enough to take a nap at the table. They relaxed in the sitting room with coffee and tea while Giselle played relaxing music in the background with Eric watching and sometimes talking to her from one side of the piano.
Derek occupied a spot on a sofa. Mr. Balaco sat on another settee at the other side of the room with his wife on the armrest, his arm around her waist and her arm over his shoulders as they spoke to each other. Marie took up the seat on the other side of the sofa he sat on, giving them a chance to talk a bit. By the time Eric had to leave, it was past eleven. Derek decided to take this as his cue to leave as well.
"I'll see you off," Marie offered. Derek's heart sank and the nausea began again. He greeted her parents warmly, thanking them for dinner and said goodbye to Eric and Giselle when they left the room for Giselle to see her fiancé off.
He turned towards Marie as they stepped outside into the cold, damp air. "Your family's awesome, Marie," he said. She looked at him and smiled gently. "Yeah. I like them too," she said. Derek forced a smile and looked away. His mind was running with wondering how he would begin this conversation. The nausea was like a stone sinking in his stomach. What was he going to say?
They walked the last few steps to his car in silence, their footsteps echoing across the dark cobblestoned driveway. He had to tell her. Had to tell her. He turned towards her when they reached his car. "Marie -." The words vanished when he saw the look in her eyes. She looked up at him, eyes full of concern, brow wrinkled with worry. "What's wrong? Are you okay?" she asked and placed a hand on his forearm. Derek froze at her touch. He could feel his heart hammering at every part of his body.
"I . . ."
Marie watched him patiently as he fought for words. He shook his head and looked away. How could he think straight when she looked at him that way?
He felt her fingers reach behind his neck and tensed all over. Standing on her toes, she pulled him against her. Derek felt his body relax into her embrace and hesitantly brought his fingers to the back of her waist. "Derek," Marie started, speaking into his shoulder. "I know that whatever this is . . . Uhm. . ." She pulled away a bit to look at him and brought her hands to his shoulders. He was sure she would have moved back further if he allowed her but his arms wouldn't move. He just needed to hold her like this a while longer. "No matter what, I'm your friend first, okay. I care about you and I want you to know that you can tell me anything. I can't promise you I can fix it but I can promise you I'll try and I'm always willing to listen." She smiled hesitantly. "You're important to me."
His heart skipped a beat. For what felt like a long time after, all he could do was stare at her. He lifted a hand up her back, urging her towards him and gently took her lips between his. She responded sweetly, allowing him to set the pace. He deepened the kiss slowly, savoring the moment he had with her.
When he lifted his lips from hers, he pressed his forehead against hers while keeping his eyes closed.
What was this? His chest ached in a way he hadn't experienced before. He held her tighter as a fear gripped at him, fear that when he opened his eyes she would somehow vanish.
"You're important to me too," he heard himself say. He let out a breath he hadn't realized he was holding.
Shit. What was he doing? This was new territory.
"Marie . . ." he closed his eyes again. "I'm going to screw this up," he said, more to himself than to her. "I don't know how to be the person you expect me to be." He opened his eyes carefully. Marie's eyes were low. She remained silent for a moment then swallowed visibly. "I've never had any illusions about who you were, Derek . . ." She released a breath. "I knew from the beginning whatever this was, would have an expiration date." Her words cut into a part of him he never knew existed. She searched the ground blindly.
He pulled his forehead from hers when he noticed something. His eyes were misting over. Why would she react like this if she knew this was coming? She was holding back. His heart sank lower and lower as he looked at her.
"Marie. . . don't cry . . . please," he leaned down and kissed her urgently, needing to take the tears away somehow. He couldn't stand the thought of hurting her. He felt disgusted with himself that he couldn't be the type of guy that made promises of love and a future. For a moment he considered it, but he couldn't lie to her and hurt her further along the line. He had gone too far already.
When she didn't respond and he tasted her salty tears, his heart broke. He pulled back and Marie instantly wiped her tears with the back of her palm. "I'm so sorry," he said feeling like an absolute asshole. She shook her head but couldn't look at him. "It's not your fault," she said, her voice choked by the tears she was fighting to hold back. "It is my fault. I should never have led you on."
She shook her head again. "You didn't have to." Marie lifted her shoulders then dropped them. Derek's brows came together a bit. What was she talking about? "You never had to do anything." She lifted her eyes to the stars and blinked a few times to get the tears away. "I fell for you on day one," she admitted, finally meeting his gaze. The surprise was equivalent to someone punching him in the stomach.
"What do you mean?" he asked. She smiled sadly. "Why do you think I insisted on us being friends? I thought I could manage my emotions. I wanted to get to know you without the risk of . . ." She dropped her eyes. "I don't know. It was stupid."
Derek stared at her. He hoped she didn't mean what he thought she did. "Marie, what are you saying?" he asked. She looked at him, opened her mouth to say something but seemed to think better of it and closed her mouth again. Marie shook her head. "It doesn't matter."
"It matters to me," he said and tried to peer into her face. "You matter to me, Marie. You know that, don't you? Talk to me," he insisted. She lifted her eyes to his, they were hard and almost furious. "You don't want to hear it, Derek."
In one instant, it hit him like a thunderclap. He felt panic begin to set it. "You . . . You don't . . ." Damn it, he couldn't even get the words out. She couldn't. Shouldn't. Not him.
"You deserve so much better, Marie. I don't want to stand in the way of you finding the person you're meant to be with."
* Butterfly - Haha. I am literally dozing off as I type this. It's been a long week but I finally got to posting it!
* Miha - More family bonding and Derek-Marie moments for you there. Don't stone me! I'm sorry.
* Anonymous - Nah, that's so cool, man! :) Don't stress. Most of my uni friends have changed their degree since first year and they're much happier where they are. A lot of people step in not knowing what they want for the rest of their lives but you figure it out along the way. At least now you'll be exposed to people studying different things. You'll find out more about yourself and probably hear of degrees you never knew existed. Things have a way of working themselves out :) just be safe, study hard, and have fun!