"Morning, dad. How was Singapore?" Marie asked as her father entered the kitchen. Edwin Balaco was undoubtedly a morning person, much like Marie herself. It was nine am. on a Saturday and he was already dressed in dark jeans and a black sweater with cap toe derbys. He looked at his daughter with eyes the same shade of green as hers. He had begun to gray in his brown locks that was usually styled back but he wore it with a sense of charm, entering his fifties with great elegance. Anyone could see he was a classic man. He was lean, kept fit and always carried himself with the confidence that only came of living a life filled with many great accomplishments.
He smiled at Marie as he finished strapping on his watch. "Good morning, my dear. Spectacular, as always," he said and gave her a kiss against her hairline. Marie smiled and watched him as his gaze landed on her ipad that lay in front of her on the kitchen island.
"And this?" He asked, giving a slight grimace at the image of the moist, grooved intestine on the screen. "Not really a pleasant sight to start off your morning," he said. Marie glanced down and twirled her warm mug between her fingers. "It’s the duodenum of a pig. You know, the duodenum is in the small intestine? I was just curious about the difference between a monogastric and ruminant animal," she said and locked the screen. When she looked at her father, he had raised his eyebrows. His expression was puzzled, but his posture calm. "A monogastric animal is an animal who’s stomach is not compartmentalized as opposed to a ruminant animal who has a compartmentalized stomach, which means it’s stomach is separated into four sections, each of which..." she trailed off when she noticed her father’s expression soften into amusement. "Never mind. I was just curious, dad," she said. Edwin chuckled and walked over to the espresso machine. "My bright little girl," he said absentmindedly as he poured himself a shot of caffeine. "Well one thing can be said for sure, you’re able to make conversation with a vast variety of people. What started this curiosity?" He asked when he turned towards her with the cup between his fingers. "I visited a farm yesterday and came into contact with a few goats and a pig," she said. His eyebrows lifted again and his mouth formed a slight grimace. "A pig? My word, Marie. How did that happen?" he asked and took a sip. "I made a new friend who’s dad owns a farm," she said. His smile deepened. "I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. Like I said, vast variety of people. Now tell me, how are the lessons with Prof Tech going?" He asked. Marie felt the muscles in her back tense.
"I’m not progressing as well as he would have hoped," she answered, hating her voice for sounding so feeble. "No? What’s the matter?" Her father asked. Marie swallowed. "He’s just at a different tempo than what I’m used to. I’ll get used to it," she said and forced a smile. Edwin gave a nod. "I have full confidence that you will. You’re a Balaco," he said and took a sip from his cup.
"Yeah," Marie said quietly and placed her mug on the counter. "Anyway, dad. I have to get going. I have rehearsal later and I’d like to do a bit of shopping beforehand," she said and took her bag and iPad off the counter. "I’ll see you there later, sweetheart," he said as she headed out of the kitchen.
Derek rubbed his thumb and forefinger over the crease in his forehead, paused, then decided to hold it there and rest his elbow on his knee. His eyes were shut as he ran the memory of the dream he had the night before through his mind. It was so real and so unwanted. So far, he had been able to maintain a friendship with Marie. He hadn’t hit on her once, since they had that first coffee together, hadn’t touched her inappropriately, hadn’t tried to kiss her, hadn’t questioned whether or not she had a thing for him. He was doing well, he had his urges in check. Yeah, sure there were moments when he compensated by staring at her until he felt like a complete perv, but he could write it off as innocent fascination.
Then that damn dream had to screw everything up.
Now he had a reason to desire her, and boy was it strong. The kisses they shared were fantasized but they felt so real. He could feel the heat from her body, smell the sweet scent of her hair, lose himself in the taste of her mouth... Every moment of that dream was imprinted on his brain. He hadn’t realized how much he wanted her until he had a hint of what it would be like to be with her. Worse, he knew it would be a million times better in real life.
Even before the dream, when Marie hugged him to say goodbye after the movie, he couldn’t help but think of how nicely she just fit into his arms. He wanted her to stay there for a while longer. He supposed that’s what sparked the dream. He couldn’t remember ever actually experiencing a hug the way he did with her. He took the moment to absorb every detail without realizing it. The sweet jasmine scent of her hair, the way her forehead was directly parallel to his lips, how delicate and light boned she felt, the gentle vibrations of her vocal cords when she had thanked him for a great day.
"Don’t tell me I’ve put you to sleep."
Derek’s head shot up at the sound of his grandmother’s voice. Mrs. West smiled at him as she took the seat on the couch opposite him and placed a tray of fresh, chocolate-covered doughnuts on the coffee table between them. Derek smiled. "You know I’m never bored with you, ma. I just had a... a rough night," Derek said and reached for a doughnut. His mouth began to water when he felt the warmth of the first on he picked up. Derek resisted the urge to moan when he took the first bite. So warm and soft and chocolaty.
"So I heard you saw your father yesterday."
The taste dissolved in Derek’s mouth and somehow turned bland instantly. He groaned inwardly. Why did they have to reach this topic? "And Marie was with you."
Derek looked at his grandmother. She stared at him as if waiting for him to answer an unspoken question. He shrugged nonchalantly. "We’ve been hanging out. Don’t worry, I know. I haven’t tried anything with her." Yet. "We’re friends," he said, trying to silence the little voice in his head. His grandmother smiled slowly. She gave a quiet, gentle laugh. "Was this your idea or Marie’s?" She asked. Derek grinned. "I don’t think you should even question it. Marie’s too pretty to just be friends with, but I’m trying," he said in a teasing tone. He watched as his grandmother’s expression softened into loving amusement. He could only smile back.
"Well at least she got you to go to the farm. What do you think of Cleo? Adorable isn’t she?"
"She’s sweet." Derek grinned. "She’s pretty generous with her candy. I haven’t met a child like that before. It’s highly suspicious," he said. "She was raised well," Mrs. West smiled against her teacup. "And your father? How are things?" She asked and took a sip, trying to make it seem as if it were a question of small talk. "I guess he’s fine. The farm seemed to be in good condition. The animals are healthy, the land is prosperous from the recent rain, the house was swept and my feet didn’t stick to the floor from all the booze that had spilt in his drunken state," Derek said and gave a fake grin. "A pity the floor in the hallway will always remain a bit discolored. I guess no matter how hard you try to clean it, once something’s ruined, it’s ruined for life."
Mrs. West caught the metaphor. She opened her mouth to say something, then closed it, seeming to decide that whatever she had thought would go better unsaid. She gathered a breath. "You know your father has stopped drinking more than a year ago."
"You’ve said." Derek gave her a look that half dared his grandmother to say something in his father’s defense or favor. She knew he didn’t want to hear it. It wasn’t as if an act of self-control now would take back years of solitary childhood.
"He’s trying, Derek," Mrs. West said in a careful tone. Derek dropped his eyes and lowered the doughnut onto the tray. "Well that’s great for him. I wish him all the best," Derek said in a caustic tone. He heard his grandmother sigh. "I don’t expect you to just forgive him, Derek," she said. Good, Derek thought, but wouldn’t say out loud. Instead, he lifted his eyes to look at his grandmother.
His phone vibrated on the couch next to him and Mrs. West’s eyes landed on it. Derek lifted his phone and flipped it around to see the screen since it lay face down. Marie’s name was on the screen and he nearly groaned when he felt his temperature spike. He wasn’t ready to talk to her yet. He knew he shouldn’t what with the dream still so fresh in his memory, but whatever she had to say was infinitely better than the conversation he was currently having with his grandmother. He excused himself and got off the couch. Derek answered when he reached the front door.
"Hey," he said and closed the door behind him. "You were wrong," Marie said. "You said goats can turn basically anything into a source of protein. Goats are ruminants. Ruminants aren’t meant to feed on high protein food. They physically don’t handle it well."
Despite himself, Derek smiled, almost laughed in fact. "You’ve been doing some research," he said and stepped onto the front porch with his free hand in his pocket.
"Well I could hardly take your word for it." His smile broadened at her teasing tone. He felt an instant longing to be near her despite the fact that he had seen her less than a day ago.
"Did you call just to correct something I said yesterday?"
"Well knowing you, I couldn’t let the opportunity slip by."
Derek smirked. "What else was I wrong about?" He asked and leaned against the white railing.
"You didn’t really answer many of my questions to begin with."
"Not really my area of expertise. It figures you’d be most interested in the criteria I can least impress you in," he said. He hadn’t meant to flirt, but it seemed to be a personality trait now. He was grateful she couldn’t see his face, that would have given everything away.
"Oh, don’t worry, there are many other categories in which you amaze me completely."
Derek lifted his brows. "Oh, really? Like what?" He asked.
"Your narcissism, self-assurance capabilities, sarcasm, childishness... I find that your level of pigheadedness is unmatched."
"Let’s not even mention my testosterone levels."
Marie laughed. "So what are you up to today?" Derek asked, feeling his smile deepen. He liked the sound of her laugh. Marie gave a sigh. "I’m in rehearsals. Taking a break, but I think I’m going to be here all day. My dad decided that the piece I’ll be performing should be one he co-wrote with Prof Tech. Which means I’m going to have to practice – a lot."
"I’d love to one day find out what you play for yourself when there’s no one around," Derek said. There was a pause. "I don’t."
Her reply was so quiet, he thought he might have imagined it. "You don’t play for yourself?" He asked, surprised. "No," she answered. "That’s ridiculous!" Derek stood and paced along the front porch. "Marie, you’re an incredible pianist that deserves to appreciate your talent just as much – no, more than anyone else does," he said, feeling his anger build. It wasn’t fair that she be bullied into believing she wasn’t ever good enough. She surprised him by laughing, but it wasn’t the rich laughter he enjoyed hearing. There was a strain there, a pain she always tried to mask. He wondered for a moment how anyone let her get away with it. It was clear she wasn’t happy with studying music. Or maybe it was just clear to him. Marie always spoke about her family with so much love that it was difficult to imagine them allowing her to be this depressed about something. But she also emphasized often what a major role music played in her family line. Was it possible that they overlooked her lack of enthusiasm for the sake of their family name? Or did she just hide it from them well enough. Derek couldn’t help but take a bit of pleasure in the possibility that she let her guard down more with him than her family.
"Well it’s not really like I have a lot of time to horse around on the piano. Whenever I sit behind it I have some piece or another to practice, and I’m not creative like Giselle who can compose a masterpiece in a matter of hours." Marie kept her tone calculatingly light, but Derek knew she felt anything but. He suppressed a sigh and stopped pacing to pinch the bridge between his eyes. He wanted to push further, get her to open up but she could easily make up an excuse to put the phone down if she didn’t want to talk about it. She wasn’t ready to lose the facade she had up for so long.
He needed to get through to her somehow.
"Look..." Derek dropped his fingers and looked up towards the broad mountain tops that dwarfed the houses. "I know you’ve got a tight schedule with rehearsals starting and the trip to your sister’s coming up but when you feel like getting away for a while we can drive up to the farm and get your mind off things," he said. "Really?"
Derek smiled ruefully at the hopeful note in her tone. "Really."
"But you hate it there."
"Yeah, well you love it there. Don’t even try to deny it. I saw how excited you were at the discovery of livestock. It was a bit disturbing."
Marie laughed again, really this time. Some of the tension in his shoulders released. "You’re the best," she said. "Hey, every now and then I consider someone other than myself. It doesn’t happen very often so you should count yourself lucky."
"Hhm, I think you’ve got a lot more kindness in you than you let on."
"I wouldn’t put bet money on it."
"We’ll see. But I should get going. I’m pretty sure Prof would flip his top if I’m not back on stage before he is."
"Alright, I’m gonna get back to my grandma. Try not to commit a homicide."
"Say hi to Mrs. West for me. And Derek... thanks for being a great friend," her voice hit a tender note that made him pause and recollect the memory of holding her in his arms during the dream. He shut his eyes tightly as unwanted heat spread through his body.
"I’ll see you, Marie," he said. After he hung up, he dropped his arm at his side with the phone still clutched between his fingers. "Don’t thank me just yet," he mumbled under his breath before walking back towards the front door.
Yes, I know! I've completely neglected my schedule and I'm sure it won't get much better (I'm sorry). We've started with tests and, as always, I've overestimated my juggling abilities.
Rest assured though, I am still writing and I have a couple of chapters lined up but will only submit when I'm happy with them. I will try not to let you guys wait on my chapters for two long (I'm aiming towards an absence of two weeks max!)
Thank you to my awesome readers, Lin, Butterfly and Miha for commenting. It really encourages me to keep writing and sometimes even inspires me :)
Have an awesome weekend, guys!