They both looked up and noticed there was someone standing in the far corner of the room.
"Emmet!" Derek said in recognition, a smile in his voice. He stood up and Marie followed. They walked towards a guy who seemed to be in his mid-twenties. He had deep tan skin with dark brown eyes and even darker, thick and unkempt locks of hair. Emmet was a little taller than Derek with broad shoulders and a flat, hard chest that was obvious through the dusty white tank he was wearing. All in all, he was very handsome in a laid-back way. He wasn’t even trying.
The two men clasped hands in a handshake way and pressed together in a brotherly hug. The goat in her hand began getting restless so she gave it a few light scratches behind its ear to soothe it.
"It’s so typical of you to just show up out of nowhere. How long have you been back?" Emmet asked, flashing a wide, white toothed grin. "A couple of months," Derek shook his head as he regarded his friend. "What the hell are you doing here?"
"I was helping your dad out with the dehorning today."
Derek angled towards Marie when she stepped closer.
"Emmet, this is Marie. Marie, Emmet." Derek said. Emmet stretched out a hand. Marie awkwardly positioned the goat to shake his.
"Nice to meet you," she said. Emmet smiled. "Likewise."
"What have you been up to these days?" Derek asked. "I just got my Masters in Agronomy, so they gave me a position at the university as a lecturer for the second years while I further my research," Emmet said casually. "Nice," Derek said and gestured towards Marie. "Feel free to talk agriculture with Marie. She’s like that cat in Adventure Time; she has approximate knowledge of many things. You can pick her brain about just about anything," he added and smiled at her. She gave a laugh and looked over at Derek with a raised eyebrow.
"You like Adventure Time?" she asked. He pulled up his shoulders. "I may or may not have started a memory stick collection of the characters," he said, making her smile. Marie carefully placed the goat on the ground when it gave a restless kick. It stayed near her feet for a few seconds before scampering away.
"I’m sure she wouldn’t be interested in the chemical composition of soil and plant leaves," Emmet said. Derek laughed when Marie’s eyes rounded in interest.
"Marie’s a science enthusiast who happens to study music," he said. Emmet’s eyebrows lifted a bit. "That’s new, and pretty awesome." He put his hands into his pockets. "What kind of science interests you? From the way you just reacted, I’ll take a wild guess and say chemistry," he said. "Chemistry, biology, physiology. . . Anything that has to do with life is amazing," she said. "She’s one of those people who could literally stare at a flower for hours just to see it open," Derek said. Marie looked at him. "I’m not that bad!" She defended, but at the back of her mind she wouldn’t consider that such a great waste of her time. Derek gave her a knowing smile, as if he could read her thoughts.
Beyond the sound of livestock shuffling through hay and blaring goats, outside the sound of tires rolling over earth and the hum of an engine caught all of their attention. Marie and Derek both instinctively turned back to see a large, white truck pass by the open entrance.
"Your dad’s back," Emmet stated, voicing their thoughts. Marie was careful to look at Derek, who seemed to tense all over. She could tell he was willing himself to calm.
"Guess we should go say hi," he said in a tone so flat it almost startled her. Derek took the first few steps and she followed alongside Emmet who gave her a comforting smile. She was sure she looked nervous, she wasn’t sure she knew how to handle Derek when he was like this. No matter how easily they had fallen into comfortable friendship the fact was, she only knew him for a week. There was a lot she still needed to learn about him and she supposed this was one of the things.
Derek opened a little gate she hadn’t noticed earlier and shot her a wicked smile when he held it open for her. Marie’s mouth went completely dry at the surprise of that smile.
Then she realized it.
He had known there was a gate but he decided to lift her over. Probably to get a view under her dress! When Derek saw the realization on her face he smirked and winked. Marie’s mouth fell open in shock and amusement.
"Pervert," she mumbled when she walked past him, and received a quiet chuckle from Emmet.
When they stepped outside, a man was standing near the truck in dusty jeans and a worn gray shirt with his back to them. "Remember not to touch her! She’s extremely sensitive right now," he called and Marie noticed the body of a little girl with long, straight dark hair running into the house. When the man turned, Marie was struck by the resemblance between him and Derek. The same shockingly bright eyes, the same square jawed facial structure although his had a bit more stubble and seemed more worn and sun-kissed than Derek’s. His father’s hair was a much lighter shade of brown, seeming to stray in that gap between red and blond. Mr. West had lines all along his face; laugh lines, frown lines, lines that represented a life lived with more emotion and feeling than most humans allowed themselves to feel. Marie noticed that instantly, especially by the way he looked at his son. The conflict behind those eyes, the expression that had so many places to go that it froze all together.
Mr. West held his son’s gaze as they approached. "Derek. I’m glad you could make the time to drop by," he said. It sounded almost painful to hear him utter those words. They came to a stop three steps away from Mr. West.
"Yeah, I’ve been busy," Derek said. Marie glanced at him. Derek’s jaw had tightened ever so slightly. "I can imagine. Your grandmother told me about your new job. You’re turning out to be a big time architect. I’m proud of you, son. Congratulations," Mr. West said. Marie saw a muscle jump in Derek’s cheek. Before Derek could reply, Mr. West’s eyes landed on her. Marie flinched then relaxed when his expression softened and he gave her a light smile.
"New girlfriend?" Mr. West asked and looked at Derek. Derek looked at Marie and shook his head.
"No, a friend. Dad, this is Marie."
He stretched out his hand but didn’t seem to notice he was doing it.
"Josh West," he introduced when she shook his hand. "You’re the Balaco girl, aren’t you?" Out of her peripheral vision, Marie noticed Emmet’s eyebrows lift. She nodded.
"Well it’s great to finally meet you. My mother speaks of you and your sister a lot, all good things," he said. "I’m honored," Marie said with a smile. "We’re both very fond of Mrs. West, sir. She’s the best."
He grinned at that. "That she is," Mr. West said and gave the group a sweeping glance. "Why don’t we continue this conversation inside," he suggested. "I’ll get you guys something to drink. I need to check up on that little girl anyway."
"Who was that?" Derek asked. There was a flicker of something in Mr. West’s eye. Concern? Defensiveness? Fear? Marie wasn’t sure, but there was definitely a shift.
"She’s the daughter of an old friend I lost contact with years ago and recently reconciled with. She’s staying with me for a while as a safety precaution," he said. "What is she in danger of?" Derek asked. Mr. West held his gaze for a second too long. "I’ll tell you at another time," he said, his tone neutral. Marie knew this didn’t involve her, but she couldn’t help but be curious now. They all followed behind Mr. West towards the house.
The front door opened up to a dark, wide hallway with doors on either side every few meters. The floor was made of heavy wood that was an absolute pleasure to walk on. The bottom of the hallway opened up to a kitchen that seemed to be the only thing on there that conformed to Marie’s expectations of a farm. There were old cabinets all along the walls with simple tiled flooring. A bare wooden table was in the center of the kitchen and two large windows with a door in the middle and a sink beneath the left one stretched across the back wall.
"Have a seat," Mr. West said and went towards the kettle. Marie and Emmet both sunk into chairs but Derek leaned back against the countertop in the corner of the room and crossed his arms over his chest.
"I’m just going to check on Cleo while this boils, she’s got this fascination with the pregnant sow outside," Mr. West said. "Sow?" Marie’s eyes shot to him with interest. He looked at her. "Female pig," he clarified. Marie almost laughed. "I know what a sow is. I’ve just never seen one in real life," she said. "Oh, my apologies. Would you like to come have a look?"
Marie nodded quickly and stood. Mr. West smiled at her eagerness, the lines by his eyes deepening. He looked at the boys.
"You two can prepare the coffee while Marie and I go collect Cleo," he said and turned to Marie. "What would you like, Marie? Tea? Coffee? There’s some hot chocolate too if you’d like."
She looked at the boys. "I’d love some tea guys. Try not to burn the place down, Derek. Mrs. West told me the story of the GHD," she said and raised a finger to him with a mock disapproving expression. To her relief, the tension in his face softened a bit in a small smile.
The door had hardly shut behind the pair and Emmet had turned in his chair and looked at Derek with a raised eyebrow.
"Friend?" He asked with obvious disbelief. "Friend," Derek said sternly. He couldn’t relax. Every familiar thing about the house annoyed him. He wanted out, but Marie seemed so eager to see more of the farm and he couldn’t find it in himself to take this learning experience from her.
"Did you bang her?" Emmet asked. Derek flinched. Somehow the word he had heard, and used, so casually since puberty had sounded so profane when referring to Marie. "No. She’s a friend," he said again. Emmet’s brows lifted and he choked on a laugh. "You say it, but I’m still finding it hard to believe. The Derek I know doesn’t just have a friendship with a straight, beautiful girl." He gestured towards the closed door without looking at it.
"Those legs alone, man. I’m tempted. How can you not be?"
Derek felt a pinch of irritation in his muscles but tried forcing them to relax. He looked at his friend and gave a shrug to write it off as something casual. There was no doubt that Marie awakened desire in him, most girls did. But most girls weren’t like Marie.
"I am nothing if not flesh and blood and raging hormones," he said with a smirk. Derek lifted a finger accusingly. "But no hitting on her. She happens to be a lot of fun to have around. Your influence might change that," he said. Emmet lifted his palms innocently. "I am nothing if not flesh and blood and raging hormones... and impeccable self-control," he added when he saw Derek’s expression. Derek smiled a bit and looked at the stretched land through the window as he listened to the kettle boil. Emmet stood and headed towards the kettle. He opened cupboards and pulled out cups.
"Well since you clearly haven’t got your mind set on Marie, despite the fact that she’s easy-going, captivating, beautiful, completely out of your league – and that does not happen very often –, seemed to take the time to lower her blue-blooded-Balaco-standards to the likes of you, not that I’m judging –." Emmet held up a hand defensively with a teabag between his thumb and forefinger then dropped it into a white teacup. "-Why don’t you come and scope out the talent you’ve missed over the last few years by coming to my place next Saturday." He turned to look at Derek. "My flatmate is having a housewarming since he’ll move in Tuesday and I haven’t had the opportunity to celebrate the new job so it’s a two for two. I met him at the gym. He’s an accountant that’s pretty jacked, gay, and he’s got a lot of girlfriends." Emmet sent Derek a sly smile. "So best be prepared for a lot of female companionship."
"And or a lot of gay companionship," Derek said sourly, even the thought of attractive girls couldn’t help shake the unease of being back in this house. Emmet shrugged. "All the better. Less competition."
"But more cock-blockers. Gays are pretty protective."
"I’ll just have to pass off as the perfect gentleman then."
Derek smirked and shook his head. "Lord knows you’ll need someone to help you pull that off. Alright, I’m in," Derek said. "Yes!" Emmet pulled his fist to his chin in triumph. Derek smiled. It was so easy conversing with Emmet, like no time had passed at all. The back door opened and his dad, Marie and a little girl entered. Derek looked at the little girl the moment she looked up at him with big, round auburn eyes. Her long dark brown hair went just past her waist and pieces hung messily around her rose colored, sticky cheeks and round face. He noticed the little brown paper bag in her hand. She hardly measured up to his waist and couldn’t be more than five years old. She regarded him curiously and tilted her head to one side. "Who are you?" She asked bluntly. Derek raised his eyebrows in amusement.
"That’s my son, Derek. Remember, I told you about him," Mr. West said as Emmet handed him a mug. "I’m sleeping in your old room," she informed. Derek noticed that there was a double gap in her bottom teeth. "Oh, yeah?" Derek lowered onto his hunches so he could almost be eye to eye with her.
"How do you like living here? I heard you’ve met Aunty Martha," he said with a smile. "Who’s Aunty Martha?" She asked. "The pig outside that’s gonna have babies soon," he clarified. Cleo giggled. "That’s her name?" She asked. Emmet made a strange sound and Derek looked at him, daring him to give in and laugh. He looked away, sobered up then looked back at Derek nonchalantly. A loud buzzing caused Derek’s eyes to flicker towards Marie. She reached into her pocket, pulled out her phone and excused herself as the buzzing continued.
"Mom?" He heard her ask as she walked into the hall.
He turned his attention back to the Cleo and she held out the little brown bag to him. Derek peered inside. An assortment of sweets filled the bottom quarter of the bag; jelly beans, a bonbon, heart-shaped sugary sweets, candy teeth, smarties, and a bunch of other things. Derek raised an eyebrow and looked at his father.
"You really allow her to eat all this candy?" He asked. His father leaned back against the sink and gave a shrug. "She saved up for it by helping out on the farm and she’s trying to make it stretch until the end of next week. I won’t allow her to have the whole bag at once, I value my sleep," he said. Derek looked back at Chloe.
"Have some. Uncle West says I can’t share with Aunty Martha-." Derek had to suppress his grin. "- because she’s a pig, but you’re not so you can have."
"Thanks Cleo." Derek reached into the bag. "Although some people would argue your point on the pig thing," he said and pulled out a gummy snake.
Marie entered the kitchen, her gaze on him. "I’m sorry, but I need to get home. I completely forgot that my father’s returning from his tour," she said. Derek noticed the way her fingers absentmindedly stroked over each other and rose to his feet while gripping the head of the snake between his teeth. He had seen her do it a few times since he had met her, she never seemed to notice it herself.
"Guess we’re gonna have to cut this visit a bit short then," he said after taking a bite and pushing the head to the back of his cheek. Marie gave a small nod.
"I can give you a ride back," Emmet said and they both turned towards him. He stood, leaning back against the countertop with his arms crossed over his chest. For a moment Derek thought Emmet was talking to him, but his gaze was on Marie. He looked at Derek. "I mean, if you’d like to stay a bit longer and check the improvements on the farm or something. I’m supposed to head home anyway," Emmet said. There was a pause before Marie and Derek looked at each other.
"Wait, you think that jeep outside belongs to me, don’t you," Derek said, barely containing his amusement and turned back to Emmet. Emmet’s gaze flickered between the two of them before his eyebrows lifted. He raised his fingers from his bicep and pointed towards Marie. "That’s your jeep?"
Marie smiled as a feeling of dejavu crept up on her. She nodded. "I’m not sure jeeps and dresses go all that well together," Mr. West said from the other side of the kitchen, causing her to turn towards him, his expression mimicked Emmet’s.
Marie heard Derek chuckle and looked over instantly. For the first time since he had seen his father, his features relaxed completely. She felt a pressure break in her chest that she didn’t notice she had. She laughed and looked back at Mr. West. Marie nodded.
"It’s a constant struggle, it seems," she said and looked back at Derek. "I would let you take the drive back with Emmet, but I have absolutely no sense of direction and that coupled with the fact that I can’t drive through the road here, could turn out to be problematic," she said. He smirked.
"Did you take her through the long way?" Mr. West asked with a grin. "There’s another way?" Marie asked, bewildered. Derek shrugged casually. "How else did you expect that jeep to gain some dignity?" He asked. Derek seemed to find the expression on her face funny and she had to roll her eyes.
"Come on. We should get going," she said and looked at Mr. West with a smile. "It was very nice meeting you, sir."
He gave her a nod. "Likewise. Remember, if you’re interested, due day is round the end of next month," he said. "I’ll probably be in Palanadia visiting my sister, but I’d love to come see the piglets when I return," she said. "Whatever you’d prefer," he said kindly. Marie waved at the little girl as she and Derek walked towards the door. Emmet strode closer too. "Bye, Cleo," she said. "Bye, Marie," Cleo said and waved. "Bye Emmet. Bye Derek."
The guys said their goodbyes and soon they were outside. Emmet walked to the side of the house where a black chevy was parked. He raised a hand as a goodbye.
"I’ll see you Saturday," he called to Derek as they made their way to the jeep. "You’re invited too, Marie," Emmet added. "Great!" She called back with a smile then looked at Derek quizzically.
"I’ll explain later," he said and lifted his hand out to her when they reached the jeep. Marie gave a sigh and dropped the keys in his hands. He grinned and that caused her to narrow her eyes. "Don’t get used to it," she said and made her way to the passenger side.
In a few minutes they were driving out through the gate of the farm after a much smoother drive than earlier. Marie shook her head. "I can’t believe you did that to me," she said, referring to the road, they took, when they got there. Derek grinned. "You enjoyed it," he said without taking his eyes off the road. She glanced at him. "I really didn’t," she said. Derek smirked and shook his head as he made a turn.
"So that’s where that comes from," he said, more to himself than to her. "What?" Marie asked.
"When you tell a lie your thumb and ring-finger rub together."
Marie glanced at her hand against the window and realized her thumb was resting against the top knuckle of her ring-finger. She frowned and looked back at Derek. "How could you possibly have noticed that?" She asked. He pulled up his shoulders. "You do it whenever you say thank you to Prof. Tech after sessions, you did it just now when you lied about not enjoying the off-road drive, you did it a few days ago when you told that girl over the phone you’d gladly take a survey but you didn’t have the time..." He paused and looked at her then turned back to the road. "And you did it when you announced that you needed to get home soon," he said. Marie wasn’t sure when her breathing had changed or her cheeks began to burn. Her mouth opened but she didn’t say anything for a few seconds, afraid to ask because she was more afraid of the answer.
"Is it that bad?" She asked carefully. Derek shook his head. "No. And it’s not as noticeable as you think, you just..."
Derek paused and kept his eyes on the road. "I just what?" Marie asked after a few seconds. He gave the wheel a small tap. "It’s nothing, don’t worry about it, Marie."
He couldn’t tell her he sometimes found himself just staring at her. He didn’t mean to, it was just difficult to look away, difficult not to notice all the little quirks she had. Urges to touch her cheek, play with her hair, edge closer when she was near ticked at his nerves like hunger pains that he couldn’t satisfy. With any other girl he would have acted on his impulses by now.
Maybe that’s why he found her so fascinating, because all he was allowed to do with Marie was look and observe.
He decided to brush it off. It was normal for him to feel this way about a girl, wasn’t it? But Marie might take it as something deeper. No need to start something when there was nothing to start. She was cool, but she was female. There was no telling where her imagination would take her and any thought of them sharing something deeper had to be avoided at all costs. Too many girls had made the mistake of thinking they could tame him.
"Don’t stress about it." He looked at her and gave her an encouraging smile when he saw the distraught in her eyes. He understood why she was so horrified by the discovery of her little habit. She hid too much from the people closest to her. Too scared of disappointing anyone.
"When do you actually need to get home?" He asked, his eye back on the road now. "Are you mad?" She asked first. He nearly scoffed. "You just got me out of a situation I really didn’t want to be in. Being stuck in that house..." he shook his head. "That’s what would have driven me mad. Thanks, Marie," he said. When he glanced over, she gave a small smile.
"My father really did get back today," she said. "But he always falls asleep after a long flight. I just need to see him for breakfast."
"So what was that call from your mom about then?" He asked. "She called to tell me not to stay out late tonight because the weather said it would rain later," she said. Derek felt himself smiling. His grandmother would do the same. "She sounds really cool," he said and glanced over at Marie. Marie pulled up her shoulders. "She has her moments," she said but couldn’t suppress a little smile tugging at the corners of her lips.
"Well, you’ve already met my father. How do you feel about sealing this friendship officially?" He asked and glanced at her. "Deadpool came out."
Marie’s eyes widened.
Miha: Haha. I'm one of those people that get offended for the car's sake when someone buys a 4x4 just to drive it through the city streets. Had to incorporate that in here.
Butterfly: Thank you :) that's sweet.