A/N: I’m the worst! I can’t believe I haven’t posted in so long. Classes started back up this past week, and everything just got away from me. Take two updates today as my sincere apology, and we’ll be back to our daily posting schedule from now on.
I had a problem, Jane Anne.
I had no clue what to do.
And Alexia was AWOL and my brothers were useless (apparently, they didn’t like Derek enough to help me figure out how to fix things) and my mother was, as always, no better (“If a boy’s going to abandon you because he didn’t like one kiss, Janelle, then he’s probably not worth it”—ugh. She never gets it).
In any case, I had spent the few days since the party alternately pacing and stress baking and stress cleaning and stress-throwing-out-baking so I didn’t stress eat. It was a nightmare, and I wasn’t sure what to do. It seemed to me that the ball was clearly in Derek’s court; he said he liked my more direct approach to things—it made me “not boring,” whatever that meant, but surely ignoring such a profound social nicety would simply be crass.
Janelle: “Just calm down, Janelle.”
Janelle: “He’ll call. Or send you a letter. Hey, maybe that’s it! He’ll send you a letter, because he’s classy and a gentleman, and maybe he already sent it and it’s just stuck in the mail! That has to be it.”
Janelle: “That has to be it.”
Janelle: “That has to be— Um.”
Janelle: “Oh my Creator, you idiot Janelle, how long has he been standing there?”
Derek: “Long enough. I did, indeed, send a letter—a thank you note, to be precise, for your lovely party—but I decided I’d rather like to come in person as well.”
Janelle: “I am so sorry, Derek, I have the worst habit of talking to myself when I’m… thinking.”
Derek: “When you’re nervous?”
Janelle: “When I’m thinking. Here, to make it up to you. Would you like some pudding?”
Derek: “I think it’s cute that you talk to yourself when you’re nervous. And, no thank you. I’m here with purpose, and though that pudding is likely delicious, it would only get in my way.”
Let me tell you, Janelle, my heart sunk. No, more than that—it dropped down through my stomach like a bullet, hit the floor and splintered the hardwood beneath my feet. It lurched and jarred and shook. It sank like the bloody Titanic.
He was here to break up with me. Or, rather, since we weren’t so much as dating, he was going to tell me that he never wanted to date me, or court me, or consider me for marriage later in life when his parents finally forced him to settle down.
Janelle: “I appreciate your purpose, but I really think you’d like this pudding.”
Derek: “My dear Janelle, you’re just trying to stall me.”
Janelle: “Dear sir, I resent such an implication! I am a woman, but also a baker, and am proud of my craft. Try the pudding. Here’s a spoon.”
Derek: “It will be a relatively quick conversation, Janelle. It’s not a conversation, I don’t think, that you’d not like to have.”
Janelle: “I really, really doubt that. Derek, just eat the pudding.”
Derek: “Janelle, you are beautiful and stubborn and ridiculous. I’m not eating the pudding. Come here.”
Derek: “I’m not sure what you’re so nervous about. Did we not share a marvelous kiss the other night?”
Janelle: “We shared a kiss, sure, just as my mother descended from the sky after her extraterrestrial visit—not exactly good ambience. Besides, I’m sure you share kisses with many women.”
Derek: “Yes, indeed, I do, but none with women so interesting as you. You’re stubborn. And direct. And my parents likely wouldn’t entirely approve of those mannerisms—“find a proper lady,” they’d say, but they don’t know what I need. My father is a businessman. It’s worked well for him to be accompanied by nothing more than arm candy, bless my mother’s heart. I’m a doctor. I could hardly bring a weak-willed, brainless dolt to a function.”
Janelle: “Oh. Well, yes, I suppose that’s true. But I…”
Derek: “But you?”
Janelle: “Chemistry? The kiss, it didn’t…”
Derek: “Did fireworks go off? Perhaps not. But your mother was descending from the sky as our lips met—I hardly expecting that a kiss that surrounded by distraction would be earthshattering. And I do believe that, based on our other interactions, we have plenty of chemistry.”
Derek: “Don’t we?”
Janelle: “Oh, um… um, yes, I think we do.”
Janelle: “We do.”
Derek: “Can we have our conversation, then?”
Janelle: “Oh my goodness! Derek! What are you doing?”
Derek: “I’m kidnapping you, young maiden! To have our conversation!”
This was amazing. This was a dream. But it didn’t make any sense. Derek had never acted this way before. Maybe it was because of where we were, alone in my shop with no one the wiser that he was here or that we were here together, but… it was confusing! I knew the man was non-committal, but now he was acting silly and romantic and like he wanted to bring me to functions. Doctor-related functions.
What was going on?
Janelle: “Just a second, Derek. What’s happening? You’re like a whole other person!”
Derek: “You’re the least like any other woman I’ve met in my life so far. You’re unique, Janelle. You know the social niceties, but sometimes you don’t seem to care. Which is great, because I hate the social niceties. They’re important, and necessary, and I abide by them strictly, but I’d rather be this way with you than some stiff, proper bleh of a man. Wouldn’t you rather that?”
Janelle: “Oh… yes, certainly.”
I couldn’t stop smiling. He could be himself around me? Again, I was beyond confused, but excited too. That was promising, if he felt like he could be more carefree around me.
Derek: “And you were worried we didn’t have chemistry.”
Derek: “Now will you come have that conversation with me?”
Okay, so I’d determined by this point that he didn’t want to break up with me, or not begin to court me, or whatever. But if that wasn’t the conversation he wanted to have, then what was it? He was so cryptic about it, refusing to say, but it was clearly serious… Maybe he wanted to court me?
That had to be it. I was giddy.
How could I not be, with moves like that?
Well, looking back on it, I should have thought that maybe he just wanted to get me in bed. That wasn’t it, but if I had been any less naïve I definitely would have considered it.
He was really great at kissing, Jane Anne. Like, so great at it. I was so glad that he felt free enough to kiss me like that.
Yeah, yeah, Jane Anne. I know, that was just a line. He probably kissed a lot of girls like that. He probably still kisses a lot of girls like that. That is how he is, and it’s what he likes to do, and so what? He’s discrete about it—he was discrete about it with me. And though we had mad chemistry, I wasn’t in love with him. I wanted the money, the status, the name.
And I think he knew it, too.
I know he knew it.
Derek: “You know me better than most, Janelle.”
That was a line, too—he was so good with those lines. They sounded so sincere.
Derek: “You know that I’m not a huge fan of commitment. I’m focused on my career. I have bigger things to worry about than courting and going on dates and buying jewelry. I have lives to save, and functions to attend. Besides, sticking with one woman the rest of my life has never really appealed to me. But my grandfather just passed away.”
Janelle: “Oh, Derek, I’m so sorry.”
Derek: “Don’t be. He was an ass. But he was the family patriarch, the head of the house. My father, though a good businessman, isn’t really a “head of the house” kind of man. He drinks a lot. Anyway, that’s beside the point is, my grandfather wanted me to take over as patriarch—he left it in the will. Which means I am suddenly in the position of requiring a spouse—also in the will. Can’t be the patriarch without a wife.”
This was more interesting than I thought.
Derek: “I’ll be the first to admit that you’re not the most traditional choice. Mama wanted me to go with one of the Landgraab ladies, and father suggested the youngest Villareal (though youngest really is a misnomer, isn’t it…). They’re all proper young ladies—again, the kind that would suit being at the side of a man like my father. Not a man like me. They’d expect a relationship equivalent to their current status—committed, full of gifts and dates and flattery. They’d expect a lot of things, while at the same time being the dullest, most unintelligent, most boring young women I’ve ever had the displeasure of entertaining. They have lovely figures—I’ve thoroughly explored them—but their minds are hardly worth the face they sit behind.”
Derek: “But you don’t expect those sorts of things, Janelle. You want to be a wife. My wife, don’t you? More than that, you want to elevate your family. You want opportunities for your children. You want a happy, perfect family. I won’t give you commitment, but I’ll give subtlety. I won’t give you flattery and dates, but I’ll give you children and opportunities for them. I’ll introduce you fully into polite society.”
Derek: “It won’t be a committed marriage. But we have chemistry, and for that our marriage of convenience will be better than most. For the both of us. You’re beautiful—you’d look lovely on my arm. You’re smart—you won’t embarrass me. You’re capable—you’ll be able to run my household when I’m away, and care for me when I’m not.”
Derek: “Marry me?”
So. I know, Jane Anne, that was hardly the most romantic proposal of all time. Really, it wasn’t the least bit romantic. And the part about my current status meaning I don’t need certain things—courting, gifts, dates—stung a little. But it was true. He had figured me out. I did want status, and I wanted a family, and I wanted to be introduced into polite society. I wanted my family to be well-regarded and be given as many opportunities as possible. Despite my good grades in school, I had few opportunities. Everyone knew me as my mother’s daughter—as a hot piece, basically. There was nothing for me there.
Here? We both knew that it would be a marriage of convenience. There would likely not be love. But there would be chemistry, and there would be mutual benefit. And this was, at the heart of it, what I’d wanted, though not exactly the means by which I expected to achieve it. I’d be an idiot to turn it down now.
Janelle: “A marriage of convenience, then. I’d like that.”
Derek didn’t stay long after that. He had to make it to his shift at the hospital—important man, saving lives, I got it. He left with the promise that he’d be back to discuss our impending wedding ceremony, and to discuss how we’d present ourselves in polite society. I’m not sure how he’d twist our quick meeting and engagement into something acceptable for polite society, but I wasn’t really sure I cared at that moment. I was happy.
I was, Jane Anne. I know you doubt me, but I was. I had a drive to be well-regarded, and not much more. Did I still have that fantasy in my head—princes and princesses and fairytale endings—sure I did. But this was the closest, I knew, that I was going to get. And honestly? I didn’t mind much. How could I?
It wasn’t what I wanted, precisely. But only because I hadn’t been in charge of setting it up, of executing it. There were things I would have done differently—but it wasn’t my job to do them. It wasn’t my place—it was Derek’s. He made those calls. I would have to get used to that—there were a lot of things that I wouldn’t be in charge of anymore. Arm candy—intelligent, useful arm candy, but nevertheless, this is what I was—doesn’t get to have much control over things in the relationship. The household, the children would be mine.
I, I could tell, would be his.
I won’t lie, Jane Anne, that thought was kind of terrifying.
At the same time, though?
I was almost looking forward to letting that control go.