When Derek woke up, he was more dazed than usual. He had worked until around seven in the morning, not able to stop the ideas once they started. He had scratched out, erased, calculated, measured, drew and tore then started over, amongst other things. He couldn’t remember the last time he had felt so inspired. He had never felt this kind of excited pressure before either. But the pressure and inspiration had nothing to do with it. As an architect student you learned how to get as much done as possible until you collapsed from exhaustion.
The desks that stood in the corner of his room were physical testimonies of everything he had put in so far. He had three desks; two that occupied the corner in an L shape, and another that stood at length against the wall, separated by a bin from the desk opposite his bed. His desks were all crowded with sheets of paper and a multitude of stationary. His computer screen stood in the corner with most of his ideas and memos pinned either on it or on the wall around it. Papers, pencil shards and some of his tools lay scattered around his work space with his clothes from yesterday laying on the floor around his bed and he didn’t notice a damn thing as he made his way to the bathroom, half-leaning against the wall as he did. He pulled down his boxers and sat down on the toilet seat, per morning ritual, and rubbed his eyes. His head was a white haze and all he could think was that he desperately needed coffee - soon.
Coffee. Derek dropped his heavy head into his hands.
"Oh, shit," he mumbled and squinted to look through the open door of the bathroom, leaning back as far as he could to get a glimpse of the clock that hung on the wall.
He dropped his head back into his hands and mumbled a few curses before completing his ritual, flushing and jumping to his feet. Why didn’t he just ask for her number? At least then he could have messaged her letting her know he’d be late, he overslept, he was working, he was an architect – any excuse would be better than letting her sit there waiting for him. Marie intrigued him. No girl had ever actually offered friendship to him, he wanted to know more about her. He was curious to see how this would play out.
Or not play out depending on how pissed she would be that he kept her waiting for so long.
He hopped into a shower that took less than four minutes, brushing his teeth simultaneously then, after a quick glimpse at the gray-clouded sky through the window, began grabbing clothes out of his closet, trying and failing to avoid the unpacked boxes that stood about the floor. He should have been settled in by now, he had two weeks to do it and he quietly cursed himself because of it after bumping his toe for the second time. As he hopped into a pair of jeans that lay on the floor, he hoped silently that she was still there. Derek glanced at the clock again. Eleven-twenty-seven. He threw on a white v-neck shirt and a knitted gray cardigan. He found his wallet, after a frantic search, in the jeans he wore, sprayed some cologne and headed out the door in a rush while still pulling on the left shoe of his white converse high-tops.
He broke into a jog downhill and had to take a deep breath to compose himself before stepping onto the wooden platform of the café. Derek walked in and consciously ran a hand through his damp hair as he scanned the handful of customers in the café, expecting her to have left. He was more than half an hour late. There was a slim to nothing chance that she’d actually still be there.
His brows lifted when he noticed Marie sitting near the edge of the balcony, looking entirely serene with a book between her fingers and her chin nuzzled into her thick, knitted red scarf. Her hair was in a high bun again and some of the pieces that had escaped it had begun to frizz because of the damp air. She had already ordered, he noticed when he saw the half-empty latte mug.
"Huh," he said, not sure if he was relieved or disappointed that she didn’t seem at all bothered by his tardiness. Derek strode over and was about to pull out the chair opposite hers when he noticed her boots were propped up on it. Marie was completely oblivious of his presence until gave the chair a slight shake. "Oh, hey," she said and lifted her feet off the chair he was meant to sit at. She pulled an earphone from her ear that he hadn’t noticed and tapped at her phone on the table, probably to pause whatever she was listening to. Derek looked at her fingers, noticing the little silver ring designed as a crown that she wore on her index finger.
"Hey, sorry I’m late," he said as he took the seat. She pulled her scarf down her neck and placed her book on the table then sat up, giving a little stretch as she did. She stretched out her arm and checked the thin gold watch on her slender wrist. Her eyebrows lifted.
"Very late," she said with a sweet giggle. "Good thing I brought a book."
"You don’t mind that I’m late?" He asked, genuinely amazed and placed his folded arms on the table, holding her gaze and mostly trying to rest a bit from the morning rush he had just experienced.
"You overslept." She pulled up her shoulders. "It happens." Marie raised her hand and a waiter walked over almost immediately.
"Grace, would you mind getting my friend a Brazilian coffee? He needs to be nursed back to life."
Derek didn’t even notice the waiter, whoever she was. He could just try to force his sore eyes open and wonder why Marie was removing her scarf. Marie pushed the big, soft net of wool towards him until it touched his cheek. So soft, so sweet smelling. So tired.
"Here." She laughed. "Lay on this until your coffee comes, you look like you could use a little nap."
Derek was too tired to care what anyone else thought. He pulled the scarf closer and dropped his head, face down, into it and closed his aching eyes. He almost fell back into sleep, but knew he could hold out until his coffee came.
"You’re not as upset as I thought you’d be," he mumbled, hoping she could hear him through the fabric he was breathing into.
Marie looked at Derek and fought the laugh that dared to escape her throat. It wasn’t that his statement was that amusing, it was his presence. She was used to seeing him in calm, well dressed, controlled immaculacy. Derek was the type of guy who awoke something in you that was terrifying and exciting at the same time, but that terrifying part fell away the moment he opened his mouth and you realized with both glee and disappointment that his personality didn’t exactly match his mysterious facade. He had a type of strange attractiveness about him, phantom-like and unapproachable and striking. Yet, the guy in front of her seemed to have no problem in displaying human-like behavior such as exhaustion and perplexity. Dark, gray skin circled his near transparent eyes and he was clearly in need of a coffee. Granted, he was still well-dressed, but his shirt was wrinkled under his cardigan, his hair was wet, he was a bit out of breath, not to mention her nose burnt with the thick scent of his cologne that spiced up the air. She hoped that would fade soon, but for now she couldn’t help but find everything else hilarious. She had to keep her cool though, she wasn’t sure he would appreciate her laughing at him before he had his morning coffee. "I’ve been stood up before. Your unconscious kind of takes precautions for you after that," she said with an unnecessary nod and looked at the mist covered mountains ahead. Derek lifted his head a bit so that his head was still on the table. She looked at him and his eyes met hers. "Plus, my friend Grace - the waitress - is always a late when we plan to go out for brunch or something. I’ve always got a book in my bag just in case," she added. "Hold on." Derek brought an arm onto the table just to lift a finger into the air. Marie bit her bottom lip to keep the giggle from escaping.
"He didn’t even call or message you to say he wasn’t coming?" Derek asked, his eyes in a wince that seemed almost painful. Marie shook her head at his question. "Who is this guy and in which gutter is his corpse? Because that’s the only valid excuse I can think of for standing up a girl, especially one like you."
She smiled a bit and Grace returned with Derek’s coffee. Derek sat up and took the white mug eagerly from her hands with a gratifying nod.
"Grace, I don’t know who you are or what your story is, but right now you are my savior and you are greatly appreciated. Also, I will need another cup of this soon," Derek said and took a deep sip of his coffee, closing his eyes as he did. Grace giggled, giving Marie the opportunity to laugh. Grace was a Philippine originated girl who studied at the university as well. She was slim with brown skin and paper thin hair currently up in a ponytail. Grace looked over at Marie, with wide, excited brown eyes and a massive grin.
"So hot," she mouthed and let her jaw drop too low before walking away. Marie giggled quietly. Derek gave a brief moan of pleasure before placing the mug down in front of him and opening his eyes.
"Give that a few minutes to kick in. In the meantime, keep talking. Crash course me on Marie Balaco," he said and braced himself on his elbows while toying with the ear of his mug. Marie took her own cup between her hands and leaned back against her chair.
When she began talking, she mentioned everything anyone could have gotten just off reading her Facebook profile, but Derek seemed fascinated by most of the things she said. She told him about Giselle and her relationship with a prince, about what she studied, about her parents.
"Wait, Princess Andrea is your mother."
"Yup," Marie popped her P and waited for his expression to sober up. Derek brought his cup to his lips. "I’ve never been so grateful for not chasing a girl. You’re a Balaco and half-royal..." Derek shook his head and downed the last of his coffee. "Shit would have hit the fan if I screwed you over."
She laughed and they continued talking, falling into easy conversation that left them both amused most times as they shot clever remarks at each other at every opportunity.
"I still can’t believe you’re an architect." She shook her head. "It’s hard to think there’s an entire section of your brain that isn’t devoted to seducing the opposite sex."
"Oh, don’t worry, it’s partly devoted." Marie raised an eyebrow. "The word architect seems to be some sort of aphrodisiac. So I use it often in my... pursuits," Derek explained with a suggestive smile. "I can’t just offer my looks, how far would that get me?"
"Oh, I’m sure you gladly offer girls more than that."
He grinned and tried to hide it in his second coffee. The subject of his work went on further and Derek had told her of his job and how he had come to get it.
"So after being scouted, Josh let me intern for a while. I got coffee, did a lot of job shadowing, went to sites, sat through some interviews then suddenly after a month he calls me in and tells me he wants me to work for him permanently. He used to ask me for my ideas on projects that other architects or he, himself, was working on, but I always just assumed he was testing my knowledge until I saw him actually use some of my ideas. He gave me credit when clients asked so that was great."
Derek soon complained about hunger pains. Since it was lunch time at this point, they both ordered and continued talking; discussing movies and tv series and books. Derek was surprised and pleased to find that Marie loved the superhero franchises.
"Finally! I was wondering when I’d have someone to come see Suicide Squad with me. That’s the worst thing about moving back home after a long time, it’s familiar but you have to rebuild friendships or start new ones."
"Couldn’t you have just charmed a girl to go with you to the movies? I’m sure there are a lot who would be willing," Marie teased as Derek cut through another section of his burger. "No." He pointed the fork at her. "Because going to watch a movie inspired by a comic book means I’ve shared something with you and that we are now bros. I can’t seduce a bro."
"So that’s an initiation ritual for friendship? Seeing a DC movie?" Marie asked and lifted her ice tea from the table and took a sip. Derek went back to his burger. "If debating over fictional characters with awesome abilities isn’t friendship, I don’t know what is... Speaking of which, Batman or Superman."
"Batman, hands down," Marie said and stabbed her fork through a chicken strip in her salad.
Derek dropped his cutlery, making a clanking sound on the plate and jerked his head up to look at her. "This is where friendships die, Marie," he said with a mock serious tone, making her laugh again.
After they had settled the bill, each paying for themselves, Derek suggested a walk through the neighborhood to ease the digestion. Houses and buildings, including his apartment and the café, were built up against one side of a mountain that wasn’t too steep to support the construction of the buildings and streets. The mist had settled lower and Derek had given Marie her scarf back as they walked along near empty streets. They ended up on the subject of her music in which Marie had much less to say.
"What about that professor yesterday? How did you get that guy as an instructor?"
"Yeah, he’s a ray of sunshine," Derek said sarcastically. "Where’s he from?"
Marie shrugged. "I don’t know. Germany maybe? I really don’t care." She dropped her eyes and stared at the pavement dejectedly. "You really don’t like him, do you?" Derek asked. Marie shook her head but didn’t meet his eye. "It’s not that I don’t like him. He’s my professor and tutor... I’m sure he’s not that bad a person once you get to know him. He’s been friends with my father for years so-."
She broke off and flinched when she felt his fingers wrap around hers. She looked at him cautiously to find his encouraging smile. "It’s okay to admit you don’t like someone. It’s no big deal. I don’t like him."
"You barely know him."
"He treats you like dirt, that’s all I need to know."
Marie slid her hand out from his. He didn’t even seem to notice. She looked away and gave a hint of a shrug. "It doesn’t matter if I like him or not, he’s supposed to help me improve on my music."
"And how’s that working out?"
"You know, you haven’t told me what made you want to come back here," she said, avoiding the question. Derek nodded, seeming to understand that she didn’t want to talk about it. He pulled up his shoulders. "Home is home. My grandmother’s here, I got a great job opportunity. I couldn’t stay away even if I wanted to."
Marie paused as she considered asking him about other family. He never mentioned anyone other than Mrs. West. Marie knew his father, Mrs. West’s son, was still alive and well and didn’t live that far away.
"He’s a good man that’s made some bad choices. I just wish he and Derek could get along better," Mrs. West had said once. "Why don’t they?" Marie asked. Mrs. West’s face had become grim and distant. "It’s not my story to tell, dear."
Marie had dropped it and never touched the subject again. She nibbled her lip at the thought.
"You were an only child," she started, deciding to try something less direct. "Yeah?" he asked. "Do you sometimes wish you weren’t?"
Derek took his time to answer, so much so that Marie began to fill the silence with her babbling. "I’ve never known anything like it. Giselle was always there and even though she’s away most of the time, we still keep in contact. I mean we fight a lot, sisters often do but... I can’t imagine life without her. It must be a whole different feeling for you, huh? Were you ever lonely?"
Derek made sure to keep a neutral face as he stared ahead. They were walking upwards, towards a street with extravagant houses, all architectural beauties. Some were even built out of the mountain instead of around it. He sketched the blueprints in his mind and listed possible materials while still wondering about her question. He didn’t want to focus on it too hard, but some part of him wanted her to know.
"Yeah, it got pretty lonely sometimes." His throat scratched but he refused to clear it, not wanting her to think this was difficult for him.
"Growing up it was just me and my dad and some of the animals on the farm. My mom decided that family was not for her and she decided to seek something else." He noticed out of his peripheral vision something in her expression change as she looked at him so he continued, not wanting a pause for sympathy. "I mean, she was nineteen when she had me so she was pretty much still a teenager who wanted teenage freedom. She married my father under the order of her parents. Left us before I turned three," he said. He wasn’t relieved to tell her but he didn’t regret telling her either. It was like some part of him just needed her to know and he had no idea why.
To his surprise, Marie’s arms circled around his own. He looked down after flinching. She clutched onto his arm like a koala to a eucalyptus branch.
"I’m sorry," she said and offered him a small smile. "You haven’t mentioned your dad at all. What was it like growing up with him?" She asked as they continued walking, their pace slower now. Her question was asked with such gentleness that he couldn’t find it in him to refuse an answer or change the subject as she had. He finally cleared his itching throat and looked ahead.
"Not the best. He dove into alcohol every chance he got. I guess he loved her too much that he couldn’t bear the thought of her not being around... or couldn’t deal with the troubles of raising a kid on his own." Derek lowered his eyes. Marie gave his arm a soft squeeze. The warmth of her body against him was so comforting that he found himself continuing to speak. "I didn’t live with him for long. About a year after my mother left my grandma took me in. I saw my dad on weekends when I visited the farm and sometimes he would drop by. He seemed proud enough when I did well in school. I guess that’s what sparked it. That’s the only time I actually saw my dad smile, when I did well. We had less to talk about when I reached my teen years, when I couldn’t turn a blind eye to his drinking anymore and when kids at school began calling me out about it. I stopped going to the farm on weekends, only dropped by every month or so. I didn’t want to be around him anymore, he didn’t complain. Then I went off to study and..." Derek shook his head and gave a small shrug. "I haven’t seen him in over a year. I didn’t attend my mother’s funeral last year because I didn’t have the time." Marie’s eyes widened. "He didn’t attend my graduation," Derek finished, his tone the same at the end of his story as it were at the beginning.
"I’m sorry you had to go through all that," she said quietly. Derek’s jaw tensed and he shrugged. This was exactly what he didn’t want. He didn’t want sympathy. But somehow it didn’t bother him as much as he thought. That was all he had to offer her.
For now, some part of him whispered.
"Tell me about what it was like to grow up with Mrs. West. For some reason the image of her chasing after you while you were a child is stuck in my head, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t really like that." Derek couldn’t bite back his grin. "She was, and still is, the best grandmother in the world. And, yeah, she did chase me around the house a time or two when I was a child. Apparently I was a bit of a nudist. They managed to break that habit before I started school."
Marie laughed and her grip on his arm loosened gently but not enough to let go. "The pristine Natalie West running around her house chasing a naked two-year-old." She shook her head. "I would pay good money to see that," she said.
Derek smiled and felt light taps of gentle prickling on his face before he realized it had begun to rain. As soon as he had realized it, the sky broke open further and the rain came down heavier. Marie lifted her eyes to the sky and surprised him by laughing. "I think that’s my cue for getting home," she said when she looked at Derek again. She let go of his arm and lifted her palm as if she were catching snowflakes instead of raindrops and smiled just the same.
Derek stared at the girl in front of him as the rain came down around them. He considered, for a brief moment, inviting her to his apartment to just wait out the rain, but the thought of his messy, half-unpacked and work filled apartment made him terminate that thought instantly. Instead, he took off his cardigan and held it over her head to shelter her from the rain. Marie moved under it, almost pressing her body against him but enough to feel the heat coming off her.
"Let’s get you back to that jeep of yours," he said and they headed in the direction they came. Thunder broke through the sky which caused Marie to giggle, much to his surprise.
"It’s coming down pretty hard," she mentioned, sounding gleeful. Derek couldn’t stop an amused smile from spreading over his lips even as he quickly became drenched while helping her to her truck. They reached the jeep and he was relieved to find that she had put the top up.
Marie quickly jumped into the vehicle and looked at him with the door still open. Derek took the initiative to shield himself against the rain now that she was out of it. Marie laughed again.
"You might want to hurry home before you get kidnapped by someone who hasn’t had any for a while," she said and pointed at his chest. Derek looked down at his soaked shirt and remembered he had decided to wear white. The wet fabric left absolutely nothing to the imagination at this point.
He looked back at Marie with a smirk. Pieces of her hair clung to her face and the thin, charcoal colored long sleeve shirt she wore along with dark jeans clung to her skin. Her face was wet but unchanged except for small smudges of black mascara in the corner of her one eye. Derek reached out unconsciously and wiped that part, the smudges coming away easily. He took a few steps back and let her close the door. She rolled down the window after starting the jeep.
"Put a pin in that conversation. I can’t wait to hear more about your childhood with Mrs. West," she said. He nodded. "The three of us can discuss it over doughnuts and tea at my grandma’s one day," he said. Marie smiled and put the jeep in gear. "See you around, Derek," Marie said before driving off. Derek couldn’t help but stare after the jeep as he stood, rain pouring down on him. A wave of astonishment washed over him when he realized that he had just confided a deep part of himself to a person he hadn’t even really known that morning.
Butterfly: Thank you :) sorry for taking so long to post!