During the next week Marie saw Derek much more than expected. He came to the university almost daily for afternoon meetings, inspections and who knew what else while she had to stay late often for tutoring, that now occurred three times a week instead of two; every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Prof Tech had decided to increase her sessions because, according to him, she was not making adequate progress. Though it still remained a torturous nightmare to sit through every session, Derek found a way to make that more entertaining. He sneaked in one Wednesday when he finished early and waited for her, pulling faces and making antics from a balcony or back row when Prof Tech's back was turned. Marie had forced her focus on the sheet of music before her, she couldn't help but try to keep him in her peripheral vision and choke back a laugh. No one else, not even friends she had for years would ever even consider doing such a thing.
Derek filled a space of loneliness she never knew existed. He made her realize how dull her life had become. During her life, she had surrounded herself with particular friends and events that she only recently realized were all too familiar. All her friends resembled people in her life. Some were like Giselle, others were like herself or her mother, father, and some were even like her professors. Their actions were entertaining, but predictable. Her life had become a continuous cycle of classes, tutoring, family dinners, brunches with friends...
But Derek was not like anyone else she knew. He was like a splash of neon on a pastel painting. She couldn't go through one conversation with Derek without light-hearted, or even full on, bickering - and she loved it. Being someone who hated conflict, Marie never felt comfortable with raising her voice to anyone other than her sister. She usually compromised or complied, but with Derek she welcomed any disagreement. Teasing and arguing with him was fun and humorous and he never got genuinely upset the way others always seemed to become.
"You're really going to get me into trouble one day," Marie said the Friday afternoon as they walked to the parking lot after her last session for the week. "You're lucky Prof hasn't caught you yet," she added. Derek gave a casual shrug. "The man already thinks you're a retard. If you screw up because of me or because of some unknown flaw he hears, it won't make much of a difference. I doubt he'll ever catch on."
Marie could only try to conceal her grin since she had nothing to disagree with. She crossed her legs over each other as she purposely stepped on dry leaves that had fallen from the trees, making them crackle under her white sneakers.
"Is it strange adjusting back to autumn in March to May?" She asked and glanced at him. Derek shrugged and grinned as he watched her orient herself to step on as many leaves possible. "Home is home, remember," he said with a smile. "Plus I'm like some babe magnet around all these lovely ladies of the university, I'm not ready to give that up yet!" he added after a pause. Marie looked at him with a raised eyebrow. "Oh, please, by all means spread your modesty. You seem to have it in abundance," she said dryly and gave him another shove which caused her to lose more balance than him.
Derek reached out impulsively and grabbed her by the arm before she tumbled. "Whoa." Marie laughed when he steadied her. She uncrossed her legs, looked ahead and faked a serious expression. She straightened her denim jacket and smoothed a hand over her maroon strappy dress. "I'm cool," she said with a straight face that caused him to chuckle. "No wonder the guy thinks you're a retard," he said, shaking his head. Marie sent him a mock glare and continued walking, normally this time but she couldn't resist stepping on one or two leaves every now and then.
Damn, she was adorable. During a week of knowing her, Derek had found that he constantly became more eager to see her. He wasn't sure what it was. It wasn't as much attraction - well, at least not the kind he was used to - as curiosity. He had found her attractive from the beginning, and it seemed that wasn't going away any time soon. The closer he got to her, the more he got to look at her, the more he realized how stunning she was. Better yet, she was brighter than he originally thought. For someone who was studying music, Marie dove into other subjects with much more ease and enthusiasm.
At more than one occasion, she would argue a point by listing hormones and genes in the body, something she seemed completely fascinated by. They had once had an entire conversation about what happens when you eat and Derek could now hold a conversation with the term 'ingestion analgesia' in it, should the need ever arise - which he doubted it would, but it was still disturbingly sexy listening to her explain brain functioning during a meal.
He loved the fascinated way Marie would stare and listen when he explained certain aspects of architecture to her; how certain metals cope under certain stresses, which materials are favored when working in certain environment, what structures and shapes are used to support different aspects of a building. She was always so eager to learn more. During the handful of times they had hung out, they had spoken without actual pause for hours. Separating only when one of them, usually Marie, had become aware of how late it was. He had found something in Marie, he hadn't found in anyone else before, a trust he couldn't pinpoint the origin of. And even as he felt his normal urges prickle at the nearness of a pretty girl, he could suppress them. Her friendship was becoming more valuable to him than he would admit, he was not screwing it up by trying to pursue her.
He watched, fascinated as her dark brown hair caught the bits of sunlight that fell through the leaves and reflected them in a color that matched her dress.
"Are all the girls that study here like you when you get to know them or are you just a particular kind of weirdo?"
He didn't expect her to pause and actually think about this but she did.
"Both," Marie decided and shot him a smile. "Stick around any girl long enough and you'll come to learn all of her strange habits which, I can promise you, we all have. But yes, I am a particular breed."
Derek smiled. "Well thank God for that then," he said and ran his eyes over her outfit. "Didn't you say you hated wearing dresses?"
"I hate wearing dresses to campus," she clarified. "But my mother feels I should dress more ladylike when I attend piano lessons or play publicly. It's been this way since I was a child. I don't even notice I do it anymore."
Derek looked over at her jeep when they reached the parking lot. "Still, I've seen you try to get into that thing with a dress on." He suppressed a grin as he recalled the memory. Derek couldn't help but let his eyes linger on the jeep. It was in immaculate condition. Not a scratch, not a patch dull from dust, not a dent... He frowned, wrinkling his forehead.
"You seem troubled," Marie commented. Derek looked at her. "Your jeep is looking a bit... posh, for a jeep," he said in lack of a better word. Derek put his hands into his khaki chinos.
"How long did you say you had it?"
"It was a twenty-first gift, but Giselle was too excited to wait until February so they gave it to me between Christmas and New Years."
"So you've had it for a little over three months... When's the last time you took her off road?" He asked and looked at her.
Marie stared at him blankly in what he hoped was a pause for thought and not delay to an answer neither of them felt pleasing. She finally lifted an apologetic smile.
"The jeep is accustomed to the city life, like me," she gave, quite lamely. Derek was in a state of shock. "The... Are you saying you've never driven that thing off road?" Derek's horror intensified when she confirmed with a small nod. He walked towards the jeep with great purpose. "Get in the truck," he said and opened the door for her before moving to the other side. "Why?" Marie asked but slowly moved to the driver's side of her jeep. "Get in the damn truck, Marie," Derek said and jumped into the passenger seat.
"Never driven this thing off road," he mumbled incredulously, and shook his head. "Unbelievable. We're going to the farm. Buckle up."
Marie's fingers paused, holding her key mid-air next to the steering wheel. She looked at Derek as if he had suddenly sprouted an extra eye. Derek tapped at his phone then brought it to his ear. He looked at her as her stare prolonged.
"Start the engine," he said impatiently and turned away.
"Hey, dad. I'm coming to visit the farm, leave the gate opened. We'll be there in twenty minutes."
Marie had never heard Derek's voice so distant, almost cold. It was strange. Apparently, he didn't have much to say after that because the call ended and Marie remembered to start the car.
"What about your car?" She asked, trying to lighten the now heavy atmosphere. To her relief and surprise, Derek gave her a small smile. "We'll come back for it later," he said and looked at the dashboard. "This thing is finally going to gain some character!"
Marie wasn't sure what Derek had meant by character until she had gotten out of the jeep about forty-five minutes later, her legs not fully supporting her weight. There were dull scratches and mud patterns all over her now "ridden in jeep" as Derek referred to it. She braced herself with a shaking hand against the window and stared at the strange green sludge on her tire, not really sure she wanted to know what it was.
When Derek had said farm, she had imagined the peaceful, flat surfaced, quiet types with a large, wooden barn and individual pens outside and a little old cottage nearby like the ones in Charlottes Web, or Home on the Ranch, or some other movie she had seen. The last thing she expected was to reach an area filled with hills, uneven ground with bushes and tawny trees. The "farm" seemed to be lined with a mountain on the outer edge and a high electric fence around the sides and front. It was also much, much larger than Marie had expected. When they had driven in through the gate that opened automatically when they reached it, Marie encountered a dirt road that kicked up gusts and gusts of dust. The air was cleaner, fuller and had a slight odor mixing with the pleasant scent of fresh leaves and foliage. She followed Derek's direction, often wondering if he even knew where they were going.
"I don't even see a road anymore."
"Don't worry, it's there," Derek reassured her and unbuckled his seat belt, making her come to a slow stop. He looked at her with a pinning gaze. "Swop with me."
Reluctant at first, Marie first argued with him for a while until he convinced her that she wouldn't be able to drive as well as he would through the farm. She gave in after a little more persuasion and was terrified merely minutes later. The moderate pace she had taken while driving in was overshadowed by Derek's heavy foot on the accelerator. Worse, the road had become bumpier to the point where the jeep made her bounce from her seat even with the seat belt on, the ground beginning to lift as hills were crossed.
Marie was sure she was going to die when they reached the final hill, one that was so steep she could feel her back sinking into her seat as they went up. The higher they went up, the less she could see of the earth. The sky seemed to become closer and she was too scared to check her surroundings to convince herself that they were not driving at a 90 degree angle.
Derek had laughed when they finally went over the top and she felt air enter her burning lungs. After they descended the hill, it took only two minutes of peaceful driving for them to stop in front of a two story brick house, not merely enough time for Marie's nerves to calm.
Now she was staring at the sludge on her tire, making it a focus point as she tried to take in controlled breaths, willing her heart to calm down. She felt Derek's one hand take her free one and his other on her back, moving in slow circles. She looked up at him.
"Are you alright?" he asked soothingly, a small tug at his lips as he tried to conceal his humor. Damn him for doing this to her! Damn him for finding it funny! And damn him for having such incredible eyes!
She looked away and let out a breath, closing her eyes. And damn her for enjoying that rush so much. She nodded slowly then straightened up and looked at him. His smile carefully broadened.
Marie couldn't fight her own smile. "I hate you. I hope you realize that," she said in a tone that meant the opposite. Derek smirked. "Can you walk?" he asked. She nodded and removed her hand from the jeep. She gave a small stumble as she took a step and Derek had noticed. His hand around hers tightened gently and his other hand lowered to the small of her back. He positioned himself behind her and helped her take a few steps as she tried to regain her sense of balance. The heat of his hand seemed to slowly spread to the rest of her body in the most comforting way and she couldn't find it in herself to stop focusing on it.
Marie looked around for something to distract herself and saw three long, rectangular buildings that seemed to be mostly constructed of metal. Right below the roof of each were a row of windows that stretched all around and there were massive, heavy doors on the side facing them. There was a strange odor lingering in the air and blaring animal sounds seemed to come from the buildings.
"Are there sheep in there?" she asked curiously. "Goats," Derek corrected.
"Is that what that smell is?" She asked, not looking away from the buildings. They seemed nothing like the cozy barns she imagined farms had. "Yeah," Derek said, amusement clear in his voice.
"Do you think we could go inside?"
"Sure. My dad's probably still somewhere in the field. The truck's not here," Derek said and guided her towards the sounds, steadily supporting her still. "Why would he be out in the field when his goats are here?" She asked and looked up at him. "They're not all here. Only the dairy goats. My dad's a bit of a collector when it comes to goats. He's got a lot of different breeds roaming the field. Mostly exotic, some rare."
"Doesn't that put a lot of stress on their systems, especially on a nutrient level? Not to mention climate changes and interbreeding."
Derek looked at her, suppressing a grin. "Well, when you meet my dad you can ask him. I can only answer this; they're goats, Marie. Goats are pretty sturdy, any breed. They can pretty much eat anything and turn it into a source of protein. And the ones in here have an efficient fodder program as far as I know."
"What are they fed? How many times a day?"
Derek gave in to his grin and pulled up his shoulders. He let go of her, taking care to see if she could stand before moving to the door and pulling it open. Marie looked down the long container that had an isle in the middle and steel gates along the side with a multitude of white goats with brown heads blaring on either side and walking around on hay that was laid all about the floor of their pens with the side of the pens that were the walls fitted with bars that contained dry hay and other plant material. Marie's eyes became wide with wonder as she stepped inside.
Goats stared at her as she walked about, one or two stepping closer towards her with curious eyes. Marie stopped in front of one whose head was just over the rail at her waist. She stared at it. The goat stared back with its large, brown eyes with a slim almost rectangular pupil stretching across the middle.
"Wow, they have got some peculiar eyes," she said without blinking or looking away. Derek chuckled quietly. "You've never seen a goat before?"
Marie looked at him and shook her head. His regarded her for a moment, holding her gaze with a faint smile at his lips as he thought. Marie felt a slow tremor rise from her feet to her hairline, not able to make herself move under his gaze. Derek took her hand in his and led her back towards the door. "Where are we going?" Marie asked. "You're going to love this," he said and pulled her out of the building then walked to the one next to it. Opening the door, Marie instantly gasped with pleasant surprise.
Little goats bounced happily around their parents on either side of the railings, the room had the same set up as the building next to it. Marie hadn't realized she had walked towards a railing until some of the little creatures scampered away. She jumped when she felt strong hands firm on her hips. She turned around in surprise to look into Derek's face. His eyes twinkled with mischief.
"Better hold your dress down when you lift your leg, I'm going to put you over and you can have a closer look," he said. Marie gave a small nod and felt him lift her easily. She did what he said, holding her dress low with one hand and supporting herself with the other on the rail and raised one leg then the other over the enclosure.
"Ah, look at you," Marie said as she slowly went onto her haunches. One little goat was in front of her, regarding her curiously. Marie reached out slowly and touched its head, smiling as a feeling of happiness rolled through her body.
"It's not as soft as I expected... but so warm," she said when the goat closed its eyes slowly at her touch, relaxing. "You can hold it if you want," Derek said and she realized he had gone down on his haunches as well. He reached out and brought the goat closer. Marie took it in her arms and Derek showed her how to hold it comfortably, tucking the legs under it. Marie stared down, reveling in the feel of the warm, fuzzy creature in her arms.
As she stared down, she became aware of Derek's gaze on her. Marie looked towards the gaze to find him with his legs out and his weight on the back of his elbows. Though his posture was relaxed, his eyes seemed sharp and alert as ever. It made her heart skip a beat.
"What?" she asked after a second too long had passed. A twitch at his lips gave away to a sheepish grin. Derek glanced away at nothing and gave a small shake of his head. "You're just... so different from what I'm used to," he said in a low tone. He sounded almost frustrated. Marie didn't know what to take from that, but there was something in the way he had said it. Something tender and edged with a certain vulnerability that was so different from the sarcastic, playful tone he always used.
She wanted to ask what he meant, but the words wouldn't come for some reason. When Derek looked at her again and the vulnerability was gone and replaced by his signature smirk.
"You jackass," a male voice called.
Let's just unofficially label this "Chapter 5.1" as the next one will just be an extend of this chapter, but I couldn't leave you all hanging for too long so I decided to upload before completely being satisfied with the second part. I've made a decision to upload once a week and I will try to keep to this schedule as well as I can.
Thank you all so much for reading my story and commenting. It always makes me smile.
Stay awesome, guys!
Butterfly: I'm so glad to hear that. Haha. They are adorable. I feel like they're beginning to write their own story the deeper I go into the plot.
Miha: Ah! This made my day! Super sweet! Thank you so much, I hope to keep you intrigued with the story as it continues and that it satisfies your reading desires :)
Olive: I'm sorry for a long wait! Thank you so much for your support. You are a spectacular human being!