"A week-long celebration of another generation gone by! Dancers, musicians, poets, artists of every form! And all of them will have been produced by the university. Isn’t it exciting, Marie?" Andrea spun around in the kitchen, her shoulder length curls bouncing as she did. She was practically glowing. Andrea Balaco was in her mid-forties but as a lady of high standards and who constantly appeared in the public eye, she looked remarkably younger.
Marie let out a lazy laugh. "They should have you on the marketing team," she said as she watched her mother’s theatrical movements. Andrea smiled and placed a document in front of her daughter then turned to face the fridge. Marie sat at the kitchen island with its rose-colored marble countertop, warming her fingers with the coffee mug between her hands.
Reaching out, Marie pulled the document closer to inspect the title: The Balaco University of the Arts 140 Year Old Celebration.
"Of course your father has already composed enough music for this show to write twenty musicals," her mother said as she placed a carton of orange juice on the counter opposite Marie’s breakfast. Andrea turned to grab a glass out of one of the white cupboards behind her. "Giselle is writing a few pieces herself, obviously. Oh, I’m so excited to see my two girls up on stage together with their cousin."
Jonah Balaco was the one heir who could carry their last name further into history. He was the only child of her father’s younger brother and, not surprising anyone, took an interest in music immediately. Jonah was now turning sixteen and everyone waited patiently to see what he would decide on profession in some day. As by tradition, the Balaco’s were to have their own performance, each family member with the last name were expected to contribute in some way.
"He’ll want to play the cello, you’ll be on the piano and who knows what Giselle might chose to play this year. The coordinating team still has to decide on which piece you’re going to play. I don’t know how it’s going to work this year, but I know you all will sort something out," her mother said and poured herself a glass of juice.
"Giselle’s staying after her exams so that we can properly rehearse. Eric’s flying down to see the show," Marie said, feeling her own excitement begin to bubble. "Of course he is! I’m sure he wouldn’t miss it for the world. Not just for Giselle but also because it’s going to be such a spectacular show! I can’t believe it’s been ten years already. Ah, I do adore these celebrations! It almost makes up for another decade gone by," Andrea said as she took a sip of her juice and looked at her daughter with her dark blue eyes.
"And with the expansion of the university it’s going to be all the more grand," Andrea said as she lowered her glass to the counter. "You might want to read through that document, darling. It’s got a rough draft of all the events to take place. Naturally, the final show will be the Saturday night with the Balaco’s performing and the revealing of the newest theater hall!" Andrea let out a squeal and Marie laughed. Her mother turned into a school girl receiving her first valentine when she spoke about the university’s celebratory shows. This year promised to be bigger due to the end of another decade. For one week during the June-July holidays, the university would flaunt the talents of their students every day until it reached the big finale that usually consisted of just a musical, but this year, due to tradition, the musical would consist all the arts taught at the Balaco University. Plus the expansion of the university was something everyone was looking forward to. Marie already planned on having a sneak peek when she got the chance.
She took a final sip of her coffee before putting the document into her backpack that lay on the chair next to the one she was sitting at.
"I’ll go through it later in between classes," Marie said and got up from her chair. "But I should probably get going. I’ve got an eight am. and a tutor session with Prof Tech at three."
Marie resisted the groan pushing up her throat. She was already dreading the afternoon to come.
"So what do you think, Derek? Any ideas?"
Derek smiled at his new boss, Josh Anderson, a tall man in his early forties that had a spotless reputation when it came to renovations and architect. They had just gotten out of a meeting followed by a tour with the Balaco University’s Design Coordinator.
"The university prides itself on its art and individuality. We want bold and abstract without being too overwhelming. Something that still adheres to the classic simplicity of decades of sophistication. It needs to be functional and comfortable, a workspace in which one feels welcomed. Large windows without being too distracting, well-ventilated rooms. The acoustics must be in check, obviously. Also, going green is very important, it’s very good for marketing so I cannot stress how important it is that you somehow incorporate that in here."
Derek had scribbled down most of what the coordinator had said while also recording it. Writing helped him think and stay focused. He couldn’t stop a faint smile on his lips. Abstract but classic... Well, he didn’t get through seven years of hefty deadlines for nothing. At least the budget was more than sufficient for what she was asking. Derek wasn’t sure how he would pull it off, but he was sure he would. He wasn’t about to screw up his first official project as a qualified architect, and this one was big. Most architects didn’t get a chance at a project like this until they had at least two years’ experience behind their backs. Josh had scouted Derek when he found out Derek was moving back home. Derek never expected to get a job so easily, much less so close to home. He would have been a fool not to jump at the opportunity. And what better opportunity was there than the famous Balaco University. Sure it wasn’t as big as the new theater hall, but receiving the renovation and expansion of the offices to what was regarded one of the most beautiful universities in the world would surely make a comfortable fit in his portfolio.
"Too many to count," Derek answered his boss. "I’ll get them on paper and have my proposals for you by next Monday."
Josh looked at him and raised a finger, his dark brown eyes smiling. "I would have given you two weeks, but I love that fresh ambition. If you’re sure you can get them to me by then that would be great. That’s why I hired you. I’m excited for what you’re gonna come up with. Don’t disappoint me," Josh said and gave Derek a light slap on the shoulder as they neared the parking lot. Josh had a team of at least thirty architects working for him, but because Derek was the newest member and probably the youngest, Josh had insisted on going to see the client with him for his first project.
"Alright then, I’ll see you Monday. Enjoy the weekend," Josh said as he walked towards his car. "Same to you," Derek called when the car drove by. Instead of heading towards his own car, Derek decided to take a little tour of the place. In the many years, he had lived there, the Balaco University never really attracted him and now he regretted it. The place was filled with incredible buildings that held rich history and complex building designs. It was clear that a lot of the newer buildings were reflections of the university’s artistic essence and that intrigued him more. He could have a lot of fun with this place.
He had walked for about ten minutes when he heard the faint sound of a piano coming from one of the buildings. It was after hours, passed five o’clock. Someone was putting in some extra work. He smiled at the sound floating around and tried to figure out which building it was coming from. The sound of a piano always filled him with a sense of comfort. Some of his earliest memories were that of his grandmother playing, it was home. When he located the source of the music, he smiled and went inside. The sound became louder and clearer.
Derek came to a pause after passing through a hallway and entered an open space. The wind knocked out of him completely when he caught sight of the theater hall. The room was sunken. Stairs seemed to go down for at least one hundred meters with black velvet seats on either side. He looked up to see the setting of the tremendously high ceiling which formed odd, but perfectly planned shapes, bending and pointing in what seemed to be random angles, made of a wood that was too far up to pin-point but he desperately wanted to know what kind. Half-moon balconies ran up the sides of the walls, holding to the same black seats, it seemed, of the ones laying a path to the stage. He almost let out a low whistle. Even with the complex and well-thought-out plan of the theater, Derek couldn’t help but begin listing a few improvements in his mind.
He shook his head and looked down to the stage, remembering what brought him here. Derek had to wince at the sight. A man was pacing around, looking dignified and grim at the same time while listening to the girl who played on a grand piano. Derek walked to the side of the room for subtlety. He had a feeling he knew this girl and it would gnaw at him until he was sure he did.
As he walked down the steps that ran along the wall, her features became clearer as well as her fingers as they played along with the notes on the sheet in front of her. Rich notes that seemed to bounce off each wall and fall pleasantly on his ears. Complicated corners of music that didn’t seem to pause even for a moment and each note seemed to fold into the next in a quick flowing motion.
Derek felt his breath catch in his throat at the sight of the girl. She couldn’t possibly have been the same girl he had seen at his grandmother’s just a few days ago. But she was. She sat behind the piano, back straight with her hair up in a big, round bun with little curls hanging out every here and there. She wore laced up brown combat boots with a white skirt and knitted gray sweater. He smiled unconsciously at the movement of her fingers over the keys. Wow. She was incredible.
Derek raised his eyebrows and watched with intent fascination when her fingers began flying cross the keys after the command of the man who was with her. Even from where he was standing, he could see the firm concentration on her face. For some reason, the man who had been pacing spun around abruptly and waved his hands.
"Stop. Stop. Stop. Stop!"
Marie stopped immediately. Her shoulders slumped slightly. Due to his accent and the distance Derek was standing at, he couldn’t clearly hear what the man was saying to Marie but based on his body language alone, it wasn’t anything positive. The man lifted an arm before turning away and walking to the back of the stage, dismissing her.
Derek felt something like annoyance tense his neck. Dick.
He turned his attention back to Marie who first sighed then slowly rose from the seat and made her way across the stage. She descended the steps of the stage and walked towards the bag that lay on one of the chairs in the front row. He watched as she pulled a water bottle from her bag. So there was no one to get her drinks for her? Well this must be where he stepped in. He made his way over to her and was about to say something when she turned in his direction then stilled completely when she saw him.
"Hi," he said, trying to mimic the reaction she had given him when they first met. She squinted slightly when Derek was about three chairs away from her. "Hi. Fancy seeing you here. How was the date?" She asked while unscrewing the top of her bottle. "I never have anything to complain about when in the company of my grandmother," he said. "We have something in common then," Marie said and took a sip of the water. Not even a smile?
"You looked great out there. I was impressed," he said genuinely. Marie lowered the bottle. "Looked or sounded?" She asked, her eyebrows lowered a bit. Derek felt a smile tug at the edge of his lips. "Both."
"I screwed up at the end," she said, looking away and screwed the lid of the bottle back way too tightly.
"Marie! Ten minutes! You’re not near perfecting this piece." They both turned to the voice that boomed from the stage. Marie gave a stiff nod at the man who stood next to the grand piano, Derek noticed the tension in her fingers. "Yes, prof. I will. Don’t worry," she called and turned back to Derek with a sigh. "My point," she said, referring to the way her professor had just proven it.
"Well I guess he’s the expert. Still, I enjoyed it," he said. He gave a little cheer of celebration in his head when he won a small smile from her.
"Thanks." She shook her head. "What are you doing here anyway?" Marie asked. "They’re renovating the offices and expanding the university on the Northern side," he said. Marie gave a small nod. "Yeah?"
Derek smirked. "What has my grandmother told you about me?" He asked, surprised Marie didn’t already know. "She mostly told me stories of you as a child. All I know about you right now is that you’re twenty-four, you’ve grown up to look a lot like your grandfather, you’re a flirt-." They both smiled when she said that. "–You’ve been studying abroad since you finished high school at the age of seventeen and now you’ve moved back here."
"No, that’s not even scratching the surface. I think we should fix that. When do you finish here? Maybe we could go for a drink, you look like you need one," he said. Marie stared, perplexed, at him in the pause that followed.
"Well since subtlety didn’t seem to work, let me try bluntness; I want to take you out, Marie."
"Why?" She asked. "You didn’t seem all that interested a few days ago."
Her reply came out quietly, filled with genuine curiosity rather than sarcasm. Derek pondered on this. He wasn’t sure exactly when he had changed his mind, but somewhere between then and now she had become more interesting. "Well I couldn’t ask you out in front of my grandmother. She’d start planning our wedding on the spot," he said casually.
"Actually, she warned me against you."
He pulled away a bit. "Did she now?"
Marie gave a nod. "Apparently I’m too fragile to handle someone like you and you aren’t the type to stick around the same girl for too long."
Derek grinned, actually enjoying this more than he would have enjoyed flirtation from her side. "You don’t seem all that fragile to me. On the contrary, you hold your own pretty well against a villain like me. Most other girls would have given in by now."
"I never said you were a villain." A small smile appeared on her lips. "Anyone who takes their grandmother out to dinner dressed up the way you were can’t be all that bad."
Derek pulled up his shoulders. "I know how to treat a girl well," he said and lowered his shoulders. He leaned in a bit, not really enough to close any real distance between them but he knew it would feel that way to her. "If you give me a chance I can prove it," he added with a low voice. To his surprise, Marie raised an eyebrow. "It’s not that difficult for me to resist you, you know. The fact that you’re good looking doesn’t count as much of an advantage. Most good looking guys bore me after a while. We usually have nothing to talk about after the first date because they’re so used to using their looks to get what they want. They forget that I have a brain to stimulate," she said. Derek didn’t know whether he was offended or impressed by her boldness. Offended, he decided, more than impressed. "I’m pretty sure I didn’t use my looks to get a magna cum laude printed on my degree."
Her eyebrows lifted. "For what?"
"Architecture. I’m helping with the renovation of the university. Don’t just assume that because you know my type you know me, Marie," he said, his voice cold. Marie stared at him for a second before dropping her eyes. "I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you. I’m just... not in the best of moods during tutoring and I took my frustration out on you. That was unfair of me," she said and looked at him with her round green eyes, vanquishing his anger like she was blowing out candle. "What can I assume, however, is that you don’t need a girlfriend or a fling, Derek, you’ve had your fair share of those."
"So what do I need, oh wise one?" He asked, sarcastically. Marie’s small smile threw him off guard. "The only thing I can offer you; friendship." That threw him even more. "So if your offer still stands, coffee would be nice. Lord knows I could use the distraction, but I’ll only be available tomorrow. I have a feeling this could go on for a while," she said and gestured aimlessly towards the stage.
Derek considered her offer. It wasn’t a bad one. She had a point. There were thousands of girls out there that he could fool around with whenever he wanted, not adding her to the pile might not be such a bad thing. Plus, his grandmother seemed to like her and he wanted to stay on her good side.
"Alright." Derek gave a nod. "I’ve got time tomorrow," he said.
"Shall we meet at Brews and Books around eleven? It’s this little café that overlooks the-."
"I know where it is." He smiled. "I live right down the street. I haven’t been there yet though. Do they have good coffee?"
"Amazing coffee imported from practically anywhere."
"Good, because I’ve always believed in having good coffee in case the company is bad," he said with a half-smile to let her know he was joking.
"Derek West, I think I might actually come to like you," Marie said in mock bewilderment. "Most girls do," he said with a casual shrug. She rolled her eyes but he was pleased to see the hint of a smile at her lips.
"Don’t you have somewhere to be?" She asked when she looked back at him. "Well that’s a first. I’ve never been invited for a drink just to be rejected in the same moment."
"Yeah, the level of testosterone is riding a bit too high for me. I’m worried I’ll develop a beard if you stay any longer."
"If this level of testosterone is too high for you then it’s a good thing we’re friends and I can’t pursue you now. I wouldn’t want you to O.D. on the first date."
"Mrs. Balaco! If you don’t mind, I don’t have all day," Prof Tech called from the stage before Marie could say anything else. "You could have fooled me," Marie mumbled under her breath, making Derek fight a smile.
"I’m coming, Prof," she said loudly and turned back towards Derek. "Derek was just leaving."
Derek gave in to his smile but lifted a finger. "I’m going, but before I do, you didn’t tell me you were a Balaco," he said. "It seems we’ve got a lot to cover about each other," she said and pressed a hand against his chest to give him a gentle push. "Get lost before you get me in trouble," she said and placed her bottle on her bag before returning to the stage where her professor was waiting impatiently. Derek took a few steps backwards. "I don’t know how you do it, professor. She would drive me crazy too!"
Marie turned, surprised but half-laughing at his statement. Derek smirked and winked at her before lifting a hand. "I’ll see you tomorrow, Marie," he said and turned around, heading for the exit.
Cecilia: I'm so sorry I missed your comment on the first chapter. I had already submitted the second one by the time I saw yours. Thank you so much :) I adore positive feedback! Hope you enjoyed this chapter.
Butterfly: You're going to become my favorite commenter. I hope to make you fall in love with the characters as the story progresses. Thank you.
Lin: Haha. Awesome! I'm glad you liked it. What exactly was it about it though? I would like to keep pressing on that entertainment button if I can.
Olive: Thank you, that's so sweet. I'll admit, when I go through some of my old posts I sometimes cringe at what I had written. I am in no way a qualified writer, but I do notice flaws in previous stories that I'm not necessarily proud of. Haha. Which ones are you reading?