"When's your next test?" He asked as they neared the farm gate. Derek glanced at her. He felt his concern intensify each time he looked at her. Her make-up had run because of her tears, her hair was a mess and her eyes betrayed the lack of sleep she had gotten. She shook her head. "I'm done. I'm leaving for Palanadia tomorrow evening after rehearsal," she said and leaned her head against the seat. He smiled when he saw her fighting to keep her eyes open. She had given up on going back for her lesson. Now he just needed to focus on getting her to relax. "Just a quick visit," she said. "I've got to be home in an hour for dinner and I still have to finish packing. I need to perfect that piece by tomorrow's session."
Derek frowned. "Forget about that for now," he said as they entered the farm. Marie took in the fresh air so deep that he heard it, and released it in a sigh of relief. He looked over at her and noticed that her eyes were closed. "It always smells so clean here," she said and half-opened her eyes. "So what do you think?" He asked as he looked back at the road. Derek lifted two fingers off the wheel and pointed at sun lowering in the distance, creating a pink-orange colored sky. "You've got three options; the quick route, the rough route, or the scenic route," he said. "I think I've been through enough today. I'm in the mood to see some pigs. Quick route," she said. Derek smiled and drove along the side of the farm. Marie suddenly sat up with alert and pulled the mirror down. She gasped. "Why didn't you tell me I looked this horrible?" She asked and opened the cabby hole. Derek glanced at her quickly as they got to a patch of rough road. He noticed out of his peripheral vision that she was wiping her face.
"You've got make-up remover wipes in your jeep?"
"You'd be surprised at how prepared I am. I'm like a girl scout," she said as she continued wiping her face. When she seemed satisfied, she began pulling pins from her hair and finally tugged the hair tie out and shook her hair loose. The jasmine fragrance immediately filled Derek's nostrils and his grip tightened on the wheel. He refused to look at her, knowing how dangerous it would be now. Why? Why out of all the girls he had met in his life would her scent be the one to make him question his sanity?
When they reached the house, Derek helped Marie out of the jeep, fearing she'd collapse if he let her do it on her own. He looked at her when she had her feet firmly on the ground. Stripped clean of make-up and wild curly loose hair... Derek almost cussed under his breath. Damn, he wanted her. Seeing her like this wasn't helping his situation. She looked so vulnerable and fragile, it made him want to hold and protect her all night. He groaned inwardly. "Could you just give me a moment to put on some mascara? I really don't want to meet your dad looking like this," she said. Derek found himself smiling at that. "You're fine. Plus, the guy lives with goats, he's seen worse," Derek said and turned her to walk towards the house. His father stepped out to greet them.
"Derek, Marie." Mr. West caught sight of Marie and paused. Derek knew he saw the same misery Derek had seen that afternoon, minus the tears. "How are you?" He asked when they were closer. "I'm alright. How are you?" She asked, forcing a smile into her voice. Mr. West met his son's gaze for a brief moment, but in that moment they shared a mutual understanding. She was not 'alright'.
"I'm good. Come on in. Derek messaged me saying you'd like to come check on Aunty Martha. I'll fix you something warm to drink while you go on back," he said and let Marie take the lead into the house. Derek pulled his knitted jumper over his head and tugged down the gray t-shirt that had ridden up. "Hey, Marie," he said when they entered the kitchen. She turned around. He held the pine green knitwear out to her. "Here, I have a feeling nothing will wash out of that shirt if you get a stain on it. And lose the skirt, it doesn't do well with the farm. We both know you've got shorts on under that."
Marie's eyes narrowed suspiciously as she took the jumper. "How did you-." He gave her a suggestive smile and lifted one brow. Marie smiled reluctantly and shook her head. "Perv," she said and pulled the top over her head. She pulled her hair out and turned towards the door. It was a bit over-sized but, he had to admit to himself as he watched her leave, she looked better in it than he did.
"So." Derek turned at the sound of his father's voice. Mr. West was looking through the cupboard until he found a glass, slender cup and placed it on the counter. "Mind filling me in on why she looks like she had just been bawling her eyes out?" He asked and lifted his eyes to his son. "She's overworking herself. She cares too much about her family's approval," Derek said and watched as he filled the cup with milk. "Yeah, well, with a last name like that I can imagine the pressure," Mr. West said and placed the cup in the microwave.
"What are you doing?" Derek asked when he saw his father search through another cupboard and take out a cinnamon shaker. Mr. West looked at Derek. "It worked for you as a kid," he said. Derek felt a hint of nostalgia when his father said that. He remembered when he was a child and his father gave him a glass of milk with cinnamon to calm him down after a nightmare. But that wouldn't be enough to get Marie to relax. "Add a spoonful of sugar," Derek said and paused. "Is there any whisky in the house?"
Mr. West looked at Derek, studying his expression, probably searching for some form of judgment. "Check the cellar," he said quietly. Derek wanted to tell his father that he didn't judge him for having alcohol in the house. He knew his father had stopped drinking, the man looked younger now than he did when Derek was a child. He knew what a man in the grip of alcohol looked like, this wasn't it.
But instead of saying anything, Derek gave a nod and walked into the hallway. He moved the rug to reveal the hidden cellar door.
Marie made her way to the pens a few steps away from the house. There were a few set up, each containing different ages and genders, as Mr. West had explained to her, but Marie was most interested in Aunty Martha and how her gestation was going. She smiled, feeling her spirits lift a bit when she noticed the massive sow padding around the dirt.
"Hi, there," she said when she reached the fence. Aunty Martha was in her own separate pen, but she would have to be moved to an indoor enclosure closer to her due date. Marie took off her skirt and hung it over the gate. She adjusted the denim shorts and tried to pull them a bit lower. With the size of Derek's sweater, it would look like she wasn't wearing any pants at all. She was sure Derek wouldn't mind, being the guy he was. She felt a hint of a smile at her lips. She wanted to be mad at him for putting her into this situation but she had to admit to herself that she felt better now than she had earlier. He was right, of course she'd never tell him that, but he was. She would have cracked if she had to go back into that theater. Still, she couldn't stay long. She'd stay for about an hour, just to keep Derek happy, then head home, try to take a nap, and jump back into rehearsals from home. She needed to perfect that piece.
Marie clutched her stomach when it twisted painfully at the thought. She wanted to throw up, but nothing but thick air seemed to push up her throat. Cold sweat broke out on her forehead and she had to put a hand on the fence to steady herself. She took a deep, unsteady breath through the nose and let it out slowly. Marie flinched when she felt something moist touch her leg. She looked down to see Aunty Martha pressing her snout against Marie's calf to get her attention. Marie smiled and crouched down. She reached out and caressed the pig's perky ears. The pregnant sow responded to her touch by pressing her head against Marie's hand and making quiet, grunt-like sounds. Marie laughed and felt a pressure break inside of her. "I had forgotten how friendly you were," she said and brought her free hand to the other side of its head lightly scratched as the sow moved her head from side to side under Marie's fingers. Although large, the sow was lean. It seemed to have just the right amount of fat to smooth out the fleshy pink skin and give it a healthy elastic feel. In length she could easily have been half the size of Derek.
"You know, I learned a lot about you since the last time we met. We're more alike than you think, and you're quite an intelligent creature," she said, remembering how she couldn't put the book on animal behavior down once she started. "I'd love to get to know you better, but I have to head back soon. Maybe one day I'll drop by again."
She thought about Derek and his father, the silently hostile way Derek handled his father and how hard Mr. West was trying to fix things but not getting a chance to. "I think those two should at least be able to talk to each other," Marie whispered to Aunty Martha. She sighed and looked over her shoulder at the old brick house. "I wonder how things are going in there," she said. Derek had stayed with his father instead of accompanying her. Maybe that was a good sign.
After walking back to the house and washing her hands by the little tin sink outside the way Mr. West had showed her the last time she was there, Marie returned to the kitchen to Mr. West was stirring a glass of milk and Derek watching him as he leaned back against the wooden table. They both turned towards the door when they heard her enter. Marie smiled self-consciously, especially when she saw Derek's gaze linger on her and her exposed legs under his sweater. "She's such an adorable pig, Mr. West. It's a shame all her offspring will be used for production and not pets," Marie said. She noticed Derek screwing the lid onto a bottle and placing it on the table behind him. Whisky? Marie realized at that moment why he had stayed and almost rolled her eyes. He wanted to make her a drink to calm her down. "Yeah, it's a shame," Mr. West agreed with a nod. "But on the other hand, bacon," he said. Marie laughed. "I feel like I'm a horrible person for being okay with that," she said and played with the sleeves that ran near the tips of her fingers. "People tend to be ignorant of the fact that meat comes from animals, but we as farmers do everything we can to make them live out as comfortably as they can before a humane slaughter."
"How does the slaughtering process work?" Marie asked. Mr. West held out the glass cup to her and she hesitated only a second before taking it. She actually wanted an answer and protesting would steer the subject in a different direction. Plus, what could one drink hurt? She took a seat at the table and Mr. West pulled out his own mug while Derek occupied himself by pouring whisky into a glass for himself.
"Well there are different methods one could use, the one I least prefer is cutting the jugular and letting the pig bleed out..."
The information poured out as Marie's questioned continued. She wanted to know everything, from start to finish. How long a sow is pregnant for? How long it takes to wean the piglets? When are they considered mature? At what age do you usually slaughter and at which weight? What on earth is an abattoir?
Derek sat quietly at the other side of the table but she could feel his gaze on her every now and then. There was a moment where he burst out laughing at her blush when she awkwardly asked about the artificial insemination and how to "get at it". His laughter was so surprising that she found herself laughing as well. The drink they had mixed was not the kind of liquor she was used to, but there was definitely a kick in there. The warmth of the milk added with the cinnamon and whisky sent her into a comfortable, heavy-limed state and she soon found herself sinking deeper into the chair and warmth of Derek's knitted sweater.
"I'm gonna get started on dinner, why don't you two join me and Cleo?" Mr. West asked after a while and gave a quick glance at his son. Marie resisted the urge to yawn and gave a nod. "That sounds great," she said and smiled at Derek. Somehow she had forgotten that she was supposed to have dinner at home. All she was concerned about now was that Derek got her into this and if he wanted to help her, she was going to attempt to help him too by getting him to speak to his father. From the moment she had first spoken to Mr. West she liked him. He was kind and patient with her and her million questions and she wanted Derek to get to know that part of his father.
"I guess dinner would be okay," Derek said after a few brief moments then looked over at Marie and gave her a look she couldn't decipher. She got up from the chair, fearing she would fall asleep if she stayed on it longer. "If you'd like some help, I'd be more than happy to," she said politely and tried not to sway on her feet when she felt her body tilt to the side a bit. Mr. West chuckled. "No, thank you. Why don't you go check on Cleo? We went to the mall today and she begged me to buy her this DVD about a Pixar dinosaur."
Marie's eyes widened and she looked over at Derek with a grin. He caught her eye the same moment she turned. "Well then I will gladly go join her," she said. Derek smirked and looked at his father. "Marie really enjoys animation," he explained. "Ah," Mr. West said and smiled at her. "Well it's nearly over. I popped it in before you two got here," he said. "Then don't be surprised if you find me crying in there," Marie said with a smile and placed her empty cup in the sink after rinsing it out. "Derek can help you cook and I'll go check on Cleo," Marie said brightly and left the room. She walked down the hall until she heard the sound of voices from a television and turned into the dark living room. The floor was made of heavy wood, like the rest of the house and there was a massive fireplace that occupied most of the right-side wall of the room. Large, leather couches stood around a coffee table and a plasma was propped up against the wall opposite the door. Marie smiled at the little body that sat on the floor in front of the coffee table. Blankets and pillows were scattered everywhere but Cleo was using none of it and she didn't seem to notice as her eyes were glued to the screen.
"Hey, Cleo," Marie said. Cleo jerked around and stared at her blankly. "Hey, Marie," she said. Marie stepped inside. "Would you mind if I joined you?" Marie asked. Cleo shook her head and turned her attention back to the screen. Marie felt her smile deepen. She remembered being that obsessed with animated movies, she probably still was. Only now she had more things that occupied her mind as well as her time and things weren't as simple as it was back when she was a child. Still, she thought as the couch molded around the shape of her body, she would enjoy watching with Cleo. Just as she had become comfortable, Marie felt her phone vibrate in her back pocket. She pulled it out and squinted at the brightness of the screen. She opened the message from her mother.
::Where are you? I heard one of your friends had an emergency. Will you be joining us for dinner?::
Marie barely had the chance to type back before the device started vibrating again and her mother's name popped up on the screen. Marie swiped and brought the phone to her ear. "I'm alright, mom, really," she said. "Good. I was worried when I heard there was an emergency. What happened? It's not like you to just miss a rehearsal," Marie tried not to be annoyed at the anxious tone her mother was using. She lay back against the couch cushions and stuffed her fingers through her hair. Marie closed her eyes and began running her nails gently over her scalp. She almost moaned, instantly understanding why Aunty Martha enjoyed this so much.
"It wasn't as big an emergency as I thought, but I got invited to dinner at a friend's place so I'll probably miss dinner at home and be a bit late."
Derek's tall figure entered the doorframe and he turned towards her. "What was the emergency? What are you doing? Where are you?"
"Mom, I'm fine. I'm watching a Pixar movie with a five-year-old, I'm pretty sure there's nothing lethal about that, and I'm at a farm just a bit outside town. I'm with a friend and his father a little girl staying with them and I was invited for dinner. That's all," Marie said. "Ah, so this friend is male." Her mother's anxious voice was instantly replaced by a playful one. Marie groaned but couldn't help but grin. "It's not like that," she said and watched as Derek picked up one of the discarded blankets and toss it over her legs. "Thank you," she whispered and took off her boots before bringing her legs up on the couch then settled deeper into the soft corner of the couch. She dropped her eyes as she listened to her mother. "I'm sure it's not, but I would like to meet this boy."
"Shh!" Cleo shot her a half glare before turning back to the movie. Marie bit her lip on a giggle. "Sorry," she whispered and looked at Derek as he shook his head. Through the flickering, dim light from the television, she could see him giving her a mock disappointed look. She stuck her tongue out at him and he grinned.
"If his father got to meet you then why can't your mother meet him?" Andrea asked over the phone. Marie sighed, she was too tired to fight her mother now. "Fine. You can meet him. He's at the university often. He's one of the architects. Just don't make things awkward," Marie said. "I wouldn't dream of it, dear. When have I ever made things awkward for you?"
"I should make a list and email it to you when I'm in a more goal-driven mood," Marie said. Derek sat at the other corner of the couch and looked at the screen. "Alright, well don't come home too late, Marie," Andrea said. "I won't. Bye, mom."
"I love you, dear."
"I love you too," Marie said and hung up. Derek looked over at her. "I assume I'm meeting your mother soon," he said. She let her head roll on the pillow behind her. "Lucky you," Marie said dryly. "I'm pretty sure I am. I've seen pictures of you mom." He raised his eyebrows and nodded in approval. "Nice," he said, dragging the word out. Marie put her hand to her mouth and tried not to laugh. "You're horrible, Derek," she said quietly. He smirked. "So are you. I'm stuck cooking while you sit here babysitting," he shot. "Hey, you're the one who wanted me to come here," she said. Derek shook his head. "See, this is why I don't do nice things for people," he said before standing up. He gave her a final grin before leaving the room. Marie was still smiling even after he left. She turned to watch the movie, but hadn't even gotten through two minutes of it before her eyes fell.
As always, a shout out to my lovely readers Butterfly and Miha - you guys are the cutest!
The next part should be up by now ;) Have a lovely Easter!!