"Marie! Just stop!"
Marie jumped in her seat and lifted her eyes to Prof. Tech. He pressed his palm to his face and dropped his head. Marie stared at him as she watched him will himself to calm down. She took a piece of flesh from the inside of her mouth and bit on it, hard. "How is it possible that you're a Balaco?"
Marie felt something slice through her when he said that. The world fell painfully silent and she couldn't move, afraid it would upset him more. He removed his hand from his eyes and stared at her with cold, blue eyes. "We've been practicing this piece since this morning and you can't even get the simplest of it right?!"
Marie flinched at his loud, angry tone and dropped her eyes. She removed her hands from the keys and placed them in her lap in a tight ball.
"What is wrong with you? Where is your head, child?"
Marie felt misery slither into her chest. That's exactly what she felt like, a child. She felt like crying. It had been a long, tiring few weeks. Rehearsals had always run hours longer than planned and it had been long in the first place because of her planned visit to her sister. Marie had never felt more exhausted before in her life. She had just finished her last test that morning after another sleepless night. Insomnia had taken full control for the past few days. She was too stressed to sleep. She constantly had the next day rolling through her mind as she tossed and turned in bed. She always needed to study or rehearse and that influenced her dreams when she had them. Even when she finally got to sleep, nightmares of her tests and rehearsals tormented her so that when she woke up, she was more exhausted than she was before she fell asleep. Every day came with new preparations and while she usually got away with rehearsing on her own before actually rehearsing for Prof. Tech, the sight of a piano caused her stomach to churn. One more day of rehearsing before she could get on a flight to Palanadia and the heck out of Cashadin. She had never looked forward to seeing her sister more in her life.
Marie looked up at Prof. Tech with wide eyes. Again?! They had been at this piece for hours without stop. She looked at the piano blindly and placed her fingers on the keys with great reluctance. Every part of her being instinctively recoiled, but she had no choice. Her blood felt acidic, her fingers were trembling, her skin felt moist and she had never been more desperate for a bath. She wanted to scrub every inch of her body until she was red from head to toe. She lifted her one hand, placed her nails into the side of her scalp and scratched, feeling the slight relief the pain brought, she dug her nails deeper into the skin until she was nearly sure something would tear. But it felt so good.
Marie extended the feeling by digging her nails into her scalp and dragging them down to her ear. The line of pain gave her a small sense of relief from the tension that had built. She knew she was messing up her hair, but she could deal with that later. She slowly brought her hands to the keys and realized her chest was heaving. Angry tears burnt her eyes and she felt like her nose would bleed at any second. Her insides squeezed together, making her want to squirm.
"Prof. Tech, I'm sorry to disturb your rehearsal."
Marie looked up and let out a breath of relief when she saw her father step onto the stage from backstage. Prof. Tech turned to face her father. "Balaco, what brings you around?" He asked and shook her father's hand. "We have a bit of a problem regarding the flow of the show. I could use your insight. It would only take a moment. Can you spare ten minutes?" Edwin asked. Prof. Tech nodded and Edwin looked at his daughter. He smiled gently. "Would you like to step out for a few minutes, dear? You're welcome to stay if you'd like," he said. Marie shook her head, trying not to seem too eager. "No, that's alright. I think I need some fresh air anyway," she said, making sure to control her tone. Marie stood up and walked towards the back of the stage. "Ten minutes, Marie!" She heard the professor call and felt her shoulders tense and a crawling chill run up her spine.
When she reached the exit door, she pushed it open with more force necessary and took in a deep breath of air. Marie fell back against the closed door with her head dropped so that her chin was on her chest. She breathed irregularly. Her body felt like a cage and she considered for a moment if one could feel claustrophobic in one's own skin.
She needed to talk to her sister. She was going to lose her mind. Marie reached into the concealed pocket of her skirt and pulled out her phone. As she searched for Giselle's number, she walked towards her jeep. She didn't want anyone to hear the conversation she was about to have. Marie reached her truck the moment she pressed the call button and got in. She slammed the door shut and began scratching her head again. Her hair was in a bun and with the violent way her fingers were working her scalp, she'd have to fix it before returning to the theater. The ringing continued and the more it rang, the deeper her nails went into the skin.
"Hey, you've reached Giselle. I'm in the middle of something right now but leave me a message and I'll get back to you soon."
A beep sounded and Marie ended the call. A moment later her phone vibrated in her hand.
::Sorry! In rehearsals. Crunch time. Important?::
Marie stared at the text from her sister until it blurred because of her tears. She let out a shaky sigh and blinked, letting the tears roll down her cheeks before typing back.
::No biggie :) Just missed you::
Giselle typed back immediately. ::Can't wait for you to see the performance! :) So excited to see you! Talk soon::
Marie dropped the phone, not caring where it fell, and brought her hands to her face to hide the tears that were streaming now. A sob escaped her, followed by another and soon they were uncontrollable. She dropped her head and gave in to her sobs. She couldn't do this. The thought of going back to that piano, to Prof. Tech, it only caused her to sob harder.
"I can't," she mumbled against her palms and shook her head. She heard a tapping against her window and her head jerked up.
Derek was immediately taken back at the sight of her. He pulled open the door before she could and stepped closer. His palm cupped the side of Marie's face and lifted her chin to look at him so she couldn't hide again. He had never seen Marie in such a state. He thought back of his years as a student when he'd see some of the female architect students crying when they were near a deadline. Most of them looked like they had reached breaking point; dirty hair, unkempt clothes, no makeup on, sleep deprived, stressed, and in the fetal position against some wall or corner. Yet none of them came close to the state Marie seemed to be in. Her eyes were bloodshot and rimmed with gray, her cheeks red and shiny with tears, her hair was in a messy bun. She looked like her world could collapse at any second. She was dressed as well as she normally was; a black skater skirt with laced up leather boots and a white shirt. She had pearl earrings on and when you looked past her tears, you could see her make up had been put on with care that morning.
Derek understood in an instant. "Prof. Tech?" He asked. Marie dropped her eyes and turned away, her tears silently streaming down her face. She didn't even seem to notice they were now. She was still putting up a disguise. He moved his thumb and wiped some of the wetness away. More replaced the ones he removed. Derek felt anger build in him. "Why didn't you call me?" He asked. Marie looked at him and stared like she couldn't comprehend what he had asked. She wiped the other side of her face with the back of her hand. "To do what, Derek?" She asked, her voice coming out as a croak. "It has n-nothing to do with you," she said and gave a shaky sigh. "What are you doing here?" She asked. She was trying to distract him from what was happening. He felt his frustrations move towards her. She was in tears in front of him and she still wanted to hide?! "My project is here, remember? I figured you were still rehearsing and wanted to come say hi since you went M.I.A. on me for the last two weeks. And don't even try to change the subject. I told you to call me when you needed a break."
"I don't have time for a break, and I was doing fine. Today was just a rough day," she said, the snap in her voice evident. He glanced at her fingers when he saw movement there. Her thumb stilled over her finger the moment she realized he had noticed it. But he didn't need to see her nervous habit to realize she was lying. Derek sighed and looked at her. He stared into her green eyes with such intensity it nearly scared him, willing her to break and let him in. Why was she doing this to herself? He already knew the answer to that. Derek felt his heart ache to see her like this. She was closing up again, fighting this vulnerability. He was sure she didn't have the strength to. She looked exhausted and distraught. Acting on impulse, he wrapped his arms around her shoulders and pulled her tightly against him. Marie's muscles were rigid under his arms but she didn't resist. After a few seconds, she turned her face to hide it in his shoulder and began sobbing again. Derek moved his thumb soothingly on her back and let her cry into his shoulder. He let out a sigh. "It's not good for you to push yourself like this, Marie. It's not healthy to keep things in either," he whispered. She let out a few more sobs, each one coming out more quiet than the last. "I have to get back. I've only got ten minutes," she said and placed her hands against his chest to push him away. Derek moved back a bit but didn't let her go. He kept his hands on her upper arms and looked at her. Marie had lowered her eyes and was staring blindly at her fingers on his chest. "I have to get back," she whispered, more to herself than to him.
Marie looked at him with wide, wet eyes. He cupped her face between his palms and held her gaze. "No. You are going to burn yourself out. This is what's going to happen, you are going to move to the passenger seat and we're going to take a drive to the farm."
"Are you insane?! Derek, I would get into so much trouble. I -."
"Damnit, Marie, I'm not letting you go back in there. Alright? You're either going to come willingly or I'll have to take you by force, but you are not going back to that rehearsal and take another hit when you're so close to breaking point." He had never heard himself sound more serious in his life, and Marie seemed to realize that. He saw the moment she cracked. She looked away and sighed. "I can't, Derek. Prof. Tech and my father are inside, they'll - What are you doing?" Derek let go of her and reached down to pick up her phone from where it lay next to the brake pedal. He took a few steps back. Derek typed a quick message and sent it to Prof. Tech before he could think twice. "Sorted. Get in the passenger seat," he said. Marie searched his eyes for a moment. "Have you lost your mind? What did you just do?" She asked. "I sent your asshole professor a message saying that there was an emergency with your friend Derek and you'd explain at your next session. He should head home." He gave her a smile. "I'll come with you and make something up. Let me figure that part out."
"You're a pretty talented liar when it comes to Prof. Tech. Now move," he said and came closer. Marie dropped her eyes as she battled with herself. "Marie there's nothing you can do about it now. You need a break. Move."
"My... my stuff's still inside," she tried and looked at him. He lifted her phone and sent another message. "There. Your dad will take care of that. I'm going to say it one more time, Marie; move, or I'm going to move you myself."
Marie dropped her eyes again and sighed shakily. "Okay," she whispered before getting out and moving to the other side of the truck. Derek picked up the keys she left on the driver's seat and got in.
Butterfly, Miha, Olive - you guys are spectacular. This is a quick post I won't be replying to individuals for this chapter (like the last). I'm in between tests (BSc life - test every week) but writing is a nice interlude between studying and bedtime.
I feel like this is where the story picks up some momentum so I'm excited for the next few chapters.
Have a great week, guys!
Simone R :)