And you'd be inclined to be mine for the taking
You're part of this terrible mess that I'm making
But you, you're the catalyst
-Catalyst by Anna Nalick
I looked around me, unsure of where exactly to go. The rain was quickly seeping through my clothes and I took stock of my list of friends in the city. I texted and tried to call Abigail but it went straight to voicemail. I next tried the two company members who were actually nice enough to exchange numbers with me. They didn't pick up. I contemplated grabbing a hotel, but I couldn't afford it. My mind went through every option I could think of before I landed on the only available one to me. I hitched my duffle bag higher on my shoulder and headed towards the nearest subway station.
I let the rattle of the train lull me into a daze as I stared out the dark window in front of me. A flash of skin danced across my eyes and a breathy moan reverberated through my brain. I quickly tried to push those thoughts out of my head, instead counting heartbeats. One, two, three, four…
I got to five hundred and one before the train came to my intended stop. I followed the flow of the evening rush, letting it lead me out of the station. I took a deep breath of the fresh air as I climbed the stairs up to the street. It was still pouring rain, although I couldn't get much wetter. I was already soaked through and honestly the rain reflected my mood. It felt befitting. I looked around me, only being to this part of the city a handful of times. Luckily I remembered my way to Derek's building.
It was only down a couple of blocks before I recognized the building and the doorman. He must have been good with faces because he remembered me and let me in instantaneously. I had figured I would have to call up.
There were no sounds in the quiet elevator and I had nothing to focus on but to watch water drip from my jacket to the floor. I was so intent on observing the little puddles I was making that I almost didn't notice the elevator arrive at my intended floor. I got out quickly making my way to Derek's door. I forced myself not to hesitate, instead knocking on his door succinctly and confidently.
A moment later Derek answered the door clad in sweats and a t-shirt, obviously not expecting company.
"Bloody hell, what happened to you?"
That was an interesting question that surprisingly I wasn't quite prepared to answer. "I…well…" I hesitated.
"Wait, come on in," Derek cut me off. "I can't have one of my performers getting sick. Hold on just a sec."
And he darted upstairs. I glanced around, noting that the apartment seemed empty, not that I would have minded interrupting some romantic interlude. He interferes with my love life, I will interfere with his, I thought. He came back downstairs, carrying a small stack of clothing.
"Here, I think you remember where the bathroom is. Help yourself to any of the toiletries in there."
Whatever I had been expecting, this hadn't been it. He must have seen the confusion on my face. "You really believe I'm completely devoid of all human emotions? You are shivering for Christ sake. You need to get warmed up. Go take a quick shower and I will fix you up something warm to drink and then you can tell me what the hell you are doing at my apartment."
That seemed like a reasonable enough plan and I hadn't actually noticed that my teeth were slightly chattering. I followed his advice and headed in the all too familiar bathroom, although this time it was in completely different circumstances.
I let the steaming shower loosen my muscles and force myself to relax. I found some shampoo and soap in the shower. I vaguely wondered if this stuff had been Ivy's. Maybe she had left it here after she and Derek had broken up. I pushed that thought from my head, figuring it didn't matter anyways. I didn't relish the idea of smelling like her though, and I wish I had grabbed some of my own bathroom items from my duffel bag that was in the foyer. I had dumped it when I accepted the clothes from Derek. Too late now.
I got out and dried off. I examined the clothes that he had given me. A pair of sweats and a soft grey t-shirt, not that unlike the clothes that he had been wearing when he answered the door. I pulled them on, happy with the fit. They were loose and comfortable, but thanks to the relatively similar heights, not completely swallowing me up. I hung my clothes out across the shower rod, hoping that they would dry that way.
When I emerged I spotted Derek in his front room, could you really call any part of the open space a room? He was sitting on the same couch as the one he had been on during my "coaching session." Once again I had to note that things were quite different this time around. I walked over, curling up into one of the chairs adjacent to him. He reached out and handed me the steaming mug he had been holding.
I didn't recognize the clear, greenish liquid, but I assumed it was a kind of tea. I took a sip and was treated by a warm, minty flavor. I let myself take a few more sips before looking up to meet Derek's gaze which was studying my intently.
"Do you want to tell me why you showed up on my doorstep like some poor, wet puppy?"
"I need a place to stay for a night or two and you were the only person I could think of, well besides the people I tried and that weren't answering their phones."
"Okay, and you think I'm going to let you stay here why?"
"Because I have nowhere to stay and it is all your fault."
"I would love to know how," Derek laughed.
"You've been working us such long hours since the workshop. I thought things were supposed to get better after that, but it seems like the hours have gotten worse. I'm never home at all, to the point that Dev doesn't count on my being home before 9 most nights. And then of all things you let us out early and well…" I trailed off. This is the part I didn't want to talk about. I was fine telling Derek that he was a demanding boss. But, telling him about my personal life, that seemed much scarier.
"What happened?" His voice was soft, and curious.
"Dev cheated on me. I walked in on him and this reporter going at it on our couch."
Derek whistled lowly, grabbing his drink from the end table and took a gulp. "And it's my fault because?"
"You let us out early. I would have never found out otherwise." Even to my ears I sounded ridiculous.
"As much as I'm sure you would love to blame me for the all of the earth's ills, this problem is not my fault," Derek spoke succinctly, although not callously.
"If you hadn't let us out early, I never would have seen…" The image came to the forefront of my mind again. Some curvy blonde, her boobs bouncing ridiculously as she straddled Dev on the couch. Her high-pitched shrieks sounded like they came straight from a porno.
I looked up to see Derek leaning forward a little, his face filled with concern. It was actually his use of my first name, not calling me that Cartright girl, which was most striking. And just like that tears started to fall from my eyes and I had difficulty swallowing past the lump in my throat. But I forced myself to hold onto some of my dignity and not completely break down into sobs.
"He cheated…on me."
Derek sighed, looking down. "That will remain one of the greatest mysteries of the century."
"That he could cheat on a girl like you," he said, this time looking me in the eye.
I didn't know exactly how to take his words, but I decided they were a compliment.
Derek let out another heavy sigh, as if I was greatly inconveniencing him. "You can stay here for a couple of days, until you can figure something else out. Although, I just have to ask. He cheats and you are the one that gets kicked out?"
I smiled, humorlessly. "As Dev so kindly noted as I packed up my bag, his name was the one of the lease, not mine."
"He's a classy fellow isn't he?" Derek chuckled.
I couldn't help but give him a watery smile. "That he is."
"Well, let me show you upstairs. You can take my bedroom and I'll take the couch."
"Oh no, I couldn't possibly…"
Derek cut me off. "It's fine. I end up working downstairs half the night anyways."
I studied him as he led me to his room. Derek had surprised me this evening. While he was still snarky and standoffish, he was kind where it counted.
I woke up and glanced over at the digital clock. It read 6:42. I had gotten a total of four hours of sleep between my restless bouts of tossing and turning. I was torn between anger and sadness over what happened with Dev. But, what surprised me was that while those emotions were there, they weren't as intense as I had thought they would be. I had laid awake analyzing the last four months of our relationship, since I joined the musical, and realized how little time we actually spent together between our various jobs. I figured that was what drove Dev to cheat and to my lack of complete and utter meltdown.
I pushed myself out of bed and found that Derek had brought up my duffle for me in the middle of the night. I smiled at the thoughtfulness. I ruffled through it, grabbing my normal shower stuff and a fresh set of clothes before heading into the master bathroom.
I looked around, glancing at all of Derek's personal toiletries. My curiosity was piqued at this little insight past Derek's calculated exterior. The rest of his house was devoid of any personal touches, but in this bathroom his razor was strewn across the counter. There was a small cologne bottle opened, the cap sitting forgotten next to it. I picked up the bottle gingerly and took a quick whiff. It definitely smelled like Derek, although it was missing something, probably Derek's own personal scent. Derek's toothbrush was sitting alone in a shiny silver little cup, highlighting his single status. I guess I had that in common with him now.
I took my shower, trying to not yawn for more than two minutes. I got dressed and quickly swiped on some mascara and concealer before deciding that there was really nothing else to be done to try to hide the dark circles under my eyes.
I headed downstairs but I didn't see any sign of Derek. I walked to the kitchen area and found a single sticky note attached the counter. In blocky script was written "Headed to work. I locked the door behind me. Help yourself to any food. See you at rehearsal. –D"
I searched the kitchen and found a protein bar and I brewed up a small pot of coffee. I ate quickly and grabbed my purse and jacket before heading out to my morning shift at the coffeehouse before rehearsals.
"Okay guys, that's a wrap," Derek announced before turning to speak with Julia and Tom.
I went to the back of the room to gather my stuff and switch into my flats from work. This was the part of the day I had been dreading. While Derek had been nothing but gentlemanly and extremely generous in letting me crash at his place, I couldn't figure out what to say to him when we were alone. Also, did he not want people to know that I was staying at his apartment? Should I meet him outside the building? Or better yet, should I meet him at his apartment? I wish there was a guidebook for this kind of situation. Then again, I'm not sure there were that many women who caught their boyfriends in the act and had to crash at their director's place. Nope, that was just my luck. It didn't matter anyway because the decision of what to do next was taken from me.
"Karen," Derek called. "Can I speak to you for a moment?"
I couldn't discern anything from his voice, probably his intention. I finished shoving my dance shoes in my bag before going up to him, trying to keep a completely neutral expression on my face.
"Hey, what's up?" I asked.
"Do you want to grab dinner before going back to my place?"
"I don't know," I hesitated, glancing at Ivy. She had her laser vision pointed at us as she exited the rehearsal room, obviously too far to overhear our conversations. "I'm not really dressed for being in public."
"Nonsense, as long as you leave a sizeable enough tip, nobody cares what you are wearing."
"It's my treat."
Derek's tone was so light and his face was not the cold mask he usually wore. For some reason this entranced me. "How can I refuse such a charming offer?"
"Great, shall we then?"
I followed him out of the room and the building. We walked in silence as he led me down a block and a half to an upscale restaurant that I had never been to before. It was bright and airy with a lot of windows and lighting. It relieved me that it was not some dimly lit, romantic place. We were seated instantly, bypassing numerous couples waiting. Obviously Derek frequented this place often.
We were seated at a small table in the back corner near a window. While not completely secluded from the rest of the restaurant, it was definitely set apart slightly by being on the edge of the activity. We were each handed menus and left to examine them. I gulped at the prices. I kept reminding myself that Derek was rich and that he had offered. It would be rude to refuse. I still looked for one of the cheaper items.
Our waitress came around to take our orders. Derek ordered a sirloin steak and a bottle of red wine for both of us. I asked for the spinach ravioli. The waitress smiled at us both, saying she would return shortly with our wine.
We were left in silence then and while not completely awkward, it wasn't comfortable either.
"So, did you sleep well last night?"
"Not particularly, although that had nothing to do with your place and more with everything that happened yesterday."
"Yes, you would be the type that would overthink your entire relationship in one evening, trying to find that one place where you went wrong. And what did you land on?"
I hated that he could see through me so easily. "If I had been a more attentive girlfriend, not in the show, this probably wouldn't have happened. Not that I would change anything," I told him confidently.
Derek's eyebrows shot up. "Not even for darling Dev?"
I considered his question as the waitress returned with our wine, pouring each of us a glass and leaving the bottle at the table.
"Don't get me wrong, he seemed like the perfect, supportive boyfriend. But, looking back now I can't help but think that he thought he just had to wait this out. I would eventually get fed up with the business and turn to a more suitable career. He just had stick by me until that point. That's not what I want in a relationship."
"You never seize to amaze me Karen Cartwright. So, if you don't mind me asking, what is the plan now?"
"I need to find an apartment within my price range, which should be fun. I already asked the other cast members and none of them are looking for roommates, although they said they would tell me if they heard of anyone needing a roommate. I also, need to get the rest of my stuff from Dev's place. I have no idea how to go about that one. Oh and I still need to call my parents."
"Well, I'm not going to just kick you out onto the street, contrary to my reputation, so take your time on finding a place. And, as for your stuff, I could hire a team to go retrieve your belongings. You would just have to come up with a detailed list of what should be collected."
"I couldn't possibly," I quickly refused.
"Come on, let me do this for you as an apology for the creepy, late night audition I had you do."
"I would consider housing me as more than making up for that."
"Nope," Derek shook his head. "That is just me being a decent human being. This would be me going above and beyond that. Let me do this for you."
It was such a considerate offer, which made it all the more puzzling since it was coming from Derek. I would have liked to scrutinize his words for any hidden meaning, but I didn't have the energy. My gut was telling me to just trust Derek.
"Okay, that would be really helpful."
"Great." Derek grinned at me triumphantly, as if he had won some sort of battle.
Our conversation was cut short though by the arrival of our food. I hadn't eaten since that protein bar that morning so I was famished. I just dived in, forgetting all rules of decorum and looking dainty. I looked up self-consciously to see Derek smiling at me, much softer than his cheshire grin from before. That small smile made my stomach clench and my toes tingle in a foreign manner.
Derek unlocked the door and dropped his keys on the table near the doorway. I let my bag fall to the floor and sighed in relief to be home, so to speak, after a long day.
"I have to do some work," Derek explained, shrugging out of his jacket. "But, you're welcome to the tv or you can use my computer, if you don't have one yourself. Make yourself at home."
"Thanks, I think I should call my parents and explain what is going on."
"Okay. Well, I'll be in the living room if you need anything."
As I watched him walk away, I contemplated how courteous and relaxed he seemed in the last 24 hours. Not at all what I would have expected from him. Also, I was quickly realizing that he was so good at his job because he obsessed over his work. I always figured he was a genius that was naturally amazing. But, he had rehearsed all day and he talked non-stop throughout dinner about ideas for the musical. Now he was going away, to do something I'm sure to do with the musical. It astounded me.
I refocused, bracing myself for the phone call to my parents. I held down the three button on my phone and it dialed my mom's cell.
"Hello?" My mom never checked the caller ID before answering.
"Hey mom, it's me."
"Oh Karen. Your dad and I were just talking about you. We were thinking about inviting you and Dev down for Thanksgiving. Or would it be easier for us to come to New York again?"
"Actually, I wanted to talk to you about me and Dev."
"Oh did he propose? Please tell me you said yes," she spoke excitedly.
I rolled my eyes, even though she couldn't see me. "No, mom, actually the opposite. Dev and I broke up."
"What? Why? He was so perfect." I heard some muffled sounds as my mom covered the phone to relay what I said to my father.
"We just grew apart," I explained, half-truthfully. For some reason, I was embarrassed to tell them what really happened. I wondered if they would blame me for what happened. If I hadn't been pursuing this stupid dream, maybe I would have been able to spend more time with Dev and this wouldn't have happened. My mom always told me I needed to give Dev signals that I was committed to the relationship. Maybe, she was right.
"People just don't grow apart that quickly. What really happened? You can tell me honey."
I took a deep breath, steeling myself. "I caught him having sex with another woman in our apartment."
"What?" My mother gasped. There was the sound again of my mother relaying this information to my father
"He cheated mom."
"That rotten little…" her voice trailed off. "Well good riddance. You were always too good for him."
"You don't think I caused this, by having such long hours between work at the coffeehouse and rehearsals?" I couldn't help to relay my concerns from last night.
"Of course not. He chose to cheat. That was his decision and you didn't cause it whatsoever. Honey, you are following your dream. If he can't understand that, then it is his loss. He is going to regret his decision when someday you are the talk of the town and you are starring in your own show. You'll have some handsome actor on your arm and Dev is going to think he was a fool to ever let such a wonderful, talented women slip through his fingers."
Tears welled up and I felt so comforted by her words, even if she was obligated to say them as my mother. "I miss you mom, so much. I wish you were here right now."
"I wish I were too. I love you and you are going to get through this."
"Your dad is waving at me, wanting me to pass the phone along to him. You call me tomorrow, okay? And don't let this break you down. You're strong enough to get through this."
"I will. I love you."
"Love you too."
There was a brief moment of silence as the phone was transferred to my dad. "Karen?"
"I'm still here."
"Good, I wanted to echo your mother's sentiment and say you will get through this."
"And, I also wanted to know if you have a place to stay. I remember that Dev had the lease in his name, right?"
"He does. I'm staying…" I hesitated; glancing over to see Derek's hunched over frame as he examined some papers. "I'm staying at a friend's house for a few days. I'm going to start searching for an apartment tomorrow. It's going to be tough though because I'm not sure I have enough to swing first and last rent."
"Don't worry about that. We'll cover that if need be and we can help out if rent is a little steep. I would rather you get a decent place that is a little out of your price range than a place in a bad neighborhood."
"Dad that seems like too much."
"If it will make you feel better, you can think of it as a loan. You can pay us back one day."
I knew this was a lie, and they wouldn't actually let me pay them back, but it made me feel better nonetheless. "Okay, deal. I will let you know as soon as I find anything. Look, dad I need to get going. I have an early shift tomorrow and then rehearsals all afternoon. So I should get to bed."
"Okay. Remember we are here if you need anything, don't hesitate to call. I love you."
"I love you too."
I snapped the phone shut and walked over to join Derek at the couch. I glanced at the sketches of scenes and props scattered across the table.
"It sounds like your parents took things well," Derek noted, his eyes focused on the drawing he was currently sketching.
"Surprisingly so. They loved Dev, sometimes it seemed like they loved him more than me. I thought they were going to blame me from what happened."
"That's ridiculous. You're their child; of course they are going to take your side. And whoever heard of blaming the jilted one for cheating?"
"I don't know. He kept saying how distant I had been in the last couple of weeks. Maybe if I paid more attention to him he wouldn't have cheated."
"Maybe," Derek conceded, glancing up at me. "Or, maybe you would have gotten married had kids, and then the first sign of a rough patch he would have cheated and then things would have been a lot messier. If he couldn't handle a little distance between the two of you, how could you possible think he could handle more responsibility?"
"I guess." I had to admit, he made sense. "Well, whatever the case they were supportive and they said they would help me out financially to find a new place so I hopefully won't be bothering you much longer."
"No rush," Derek replied easily, refocused on his sketch. "You're surprisingly not annoying to have around."
"Thanks, I guess." I shifted on the stiff couch. "Although, sleeping on this cannot be very comfortable."
Derek shrugged. "I don't get much sleep most nights anyways, so it doesn't really bother me."
I wondered if he was just being a polite host or if it really was a pain in the ass to sleep on the couch. Either way, I thought of that giant king size bed upstairs and thought how silly it was for me to have the whole thing. So far, Derek had been on his best behavior.
"Why don't you and I share the bed? It's big enough for both of us without it being uncomfortable and it would make me feel better."
Derek smirked as he looked up from his drawing. "You trust me enough to share a bed with me?"
I met his gaze straight on, to let him know I was serious. "I do."
"It really is no bother to me to sleep on the couch."
"Just let me have my peace of mind."
We sat there staring at each other for a moment, I almost wanted to laugh. We were both being overly polite, trying to make sure the other was happy. It was kind of childish in its own way.
"Well, I'm going to go up to bed. I have another early shift tomorrow morning. I'm a heavy sleeper so don't worry about waking me whenever you decide to come up."
"Okay," was Derek's only response.
I trudge up the stairs and rummaged through my clothes for my own pajamas. I found a pair of red flannel pants and a baggy high school football t-shirt. I changed in the bathroom and went through my nightly routine of washing my face and brushing my teeth. I turned off all of the lights except the bathroom light so it wouldn't be completely dark for Derek. I crawled into bed and felt my body relax into the soft mattress.
While I was physically comfortable, I still had difficulty actually falling asleep. Now that there was nothing to distract me, images of Dev with that woman kept flashing across my vision. I tried to shut it out and count sheep, but that did nothing. I tossed and turned fruitlessly, trying to erase that picture from my brain. I mentally envisioned an eraser wiping out the image, but it didn't work. I may not be as emotionally distraught over the betrayal as I should be, it was still a nauseating image to have stuck in my head.
About an hour and a half later I heard the sounds of Derek coming up the stairs. I kept my eyes shut and breathing level as he got ready for bed; changing clothes, going to the bathroom, and brushing his teeth. I heard the light switch click and soon he was crawling into bed.
Once he was in bed, the air changed around us, or at least it did for me. My body tensed as I felt his presence. He wasn't touching me at all, but I still felt him around me. I wanted to move closer, but that seemed like a bad idea. However, I noticed that my brain wasn't thinking about Dev and that horrifying image of him banging the blonde. Derek's mere presence silenced those thoughts. That intrigued me enough to turn over so I was facing him and to crack my eyes open just for a small peek.
I was taken aback by Derek mirroring my movement, so he was facing me, his eyes wide open. I debated pretending to be asleep, but something stopped me. Instead I opened my eyes completely so we were staring at each other.
His features were shadowed by the lack of light, his eyes dark and unreadable. The air seemed to get thicker the longer we stared at each other. I wanted something to happen, anything in order to relieve that tension. I didn't know what he was thinking, but I knew that he wouldn't make the first move. He had been honorable up until this point and he wouldn't break my trust in him. That meant I had to take that first leap.
I started slowly, scooting closer to him. Derek followed my lead, bridging the gap between us. That's a good sign. I reached my hand up and traced his cheek, feeling the contours of his jaw underneath his scruffy beard. He followed suit, his rough hand cupping my cheek.
"Karen," Derek breathed.
I don't know what he meant by that, a warning or an invitation. But, the way he said my name, a gentle whisper, made something come undone within me. I closed the distance between us, stumbling to have my lips meet his. Once we connected, I felt my whole body come alive. Derek responded to my demanding kiss, meeting me stroke for stroke. I rolled us over, so I straddled his waist, without once breaking the kiss. His hands tangled in my hair, pushing it aside to trail sloppy kisses along my neck, his beard scratching across my skin pleasantly. I let out a soft moan as he found a particularly sensitive spot near my pulse point. My moan seemed to have a positive effect on him as I felt him harden underneath me. I grinded against him, earning my own moan in return.
I pulled him back up, needing his lips against mine again. This time he slowed the kiss, taking his time to explore my mouth with his tongue. The intensity of the kiss left me breathless, and I had to pull away to gulp much needed air.
"Are you sure about this?" Derek asked, gruffly.
My mind told me this was probably not a good idea, but every part of my body was screaming out to keep going. My brain was what led me to picking nice, sensible, loving Dev and look where that left me. For once, I let a more visceral part of me call the shots and take control.
In response to his question, I lifted my shirt over my head, removing it. Derek took that as all the answer he needed and brought me back down for another mind-blowing kiss.
A/N: First, I know this is probably more than a little OOC. I just like exploring this idea that Karen might bring out a softer side of Derek and why that is, which will be later. Also, I don't hate Dev and I don't think he would actually cheat on Karen. It was just used as a setup for this story. I actually like the guy.
There will be three chapters total. I have the second one done, it just needs to be edited and I have the third one mapped out in my head. I usually wait to post until I am completely done, but I was actually kind of excited about posting, so what the hell.
Thanks for all of the other positive responses to Electrify. All of the marvelous reviews inspired me to write more for these two. They really are fun to write, and it is kind of nice that there are almost no stories for them. I feel like I kind of can write whatever I want without having to worry about copying somebody else.
Let me know what you thought of this; I welcome both positive and constructive feedback. Thanks!