Days passed with little event. A balmy morning emerged out of the autumn chill on the day of Andrea’s thirtieth birthday. Rain the previous night had left the little front-garden of Keith’s town-house diamonded and dewy-eyed as the couple awoke.
For Andrea, there was that sudden birthday feeling, some excitement that seemed to have sprung from nowhere, and her chest hummed as she peered out of the window of her bedroom.
Keith too had been woken by the morning larks. As he stood cooking an exquisitely-smelling breakfast in the kitchen, he heard Andrea’s door pop open and the soft thud of pink slippers on the stairs.
All in less than a minute, a freckled face appeared in the doorway’s gap.
“Happy birthday, darling,” Keith said. The past week’s unease still lay between them, and, frankly, Keith had no idea how to deal with it. It remained a sore reminder that he wasn’t the sentimental ‘type’.
Keith slowly ladled the cooked breakfast onto his special ceramic plates, which he then slid across the table. He was trying to impress her, even if she would protest that it was not necessary. It was the kind of move that Keith knew better than to ignore.
Tentatively, he watched as Andrea took her plate and began to eat in time with him.
"I know I'm not that great a cook, but-"
"No, no. It's lovely," interjected Andrea.
"-I thought I should make you something special for this-"
"I know. Thank you, Keith."
The remainder of breakfast was taken in silence; Keith could see that Andrea had far too much still heavy on her mind presently to converse properly. If only he could read the lines that were scanning through her mind and onto the light sprinkle of crow's feet that surrounded her colourful eyes.
"So...what have you got planned for the day?" Keith asked as Andrea passed him the plates to wash up.
"Work mostly. But what have you?" she replied, a glint creeping into her eyes. Keith noticed that, even before she had fully dressed for work, her jacket thrown across the back of their sofa, Andrea had painted her eyelids, them a dark shade of shining silver that complimented her complex complexion; on her lips was a pale pink, only slightly stained by bacon grease.
Beyond that, her newfound excitement was clear. Keith couldn't understand how, but she had bloomed over the past couple of months, becoming flowing in her beautiful appearance and her words. He knew, within some sadness, that it was not he who had sparked her source of the light happiness she experienced. Who it could be, he did not know, but, on the other hand, there was the point of some new face who had cheered her. Her confidence had grown so much that it alarmed Keith, even if he knew he was just being the worried boyfriend.
His mind swept off by confusion, he eventually managed an over-the-shoulder smile.
"You'll see..." This present would certainly return her fidelity.
Whilst Andrea was out working, where it was rumoured that Alexis was trying to spoil her, Keith set about dressing the house with tasteful streamers and balloons and placing a pack of candles on the table. He may not have had much to give her, but he could give her a chance at a rekindle of what they had had at that first meeting, and those various times when it seemed that they were meant for each other, pieces in life’s own puzzle.
He also spent the free time he had wrapping a material present, silky, grass-like; however, Keith hoped that the price and the physical element wouldn’t matter to her. It never had before.
The little clock on the kitchen wall had just struck half past five when Keith heard Andrea’s key click in the lock. Why he’d locked the front door, he had no idea, but he knew that this needed to be a great surprise to her. If she had come back when he was not ready… The second thought he had alerted him to the fact that he probably locked the door so that Andrea would not do such a thing as come in when he was not ready. As if that was much of a problem…
However, he was still a little taken off his guard, and, as she dusted herself down in the utility room, Keith jumped over the sofa to the record-player. A romantic CD (Keith had used a compilation, since he did not know who Andrea’s favourite singer was) was soon playing, and the lady herself peeked in as the electric lights began to dim.
In the instant her eyes lit up, Keith felt the warmth of the home he had so missed for what had seemed forever.
“Oh…Keith,” were the words that slipped from her happily-parted lips once her surprise had faded into quiet comfort. “This is…sweet. You shouldn’t have…”
“It’s your birthday,” he replied, pulling out the soft present he had wrapped in green tissue-paper to hide the bright green underneath. Andrea playfully snatched it; she held it up to her ear, shaking the parcel once or twice in succession.
“What could it be? What could it be?” she said, giggling.
Her smile remained, as her short nails, painted in a somewhat brighter shade of crimson, began to perforate deeply into the thin paper. After a minute, in which Keith nervously chewed at his lips, Andrea’s tearing gave way to a dress, long and matt, richly green, to match the specks in her eyes, with hints of cerulean at its crimped edges.
“Wow…this is certainly something, Keith,” Andrea remarked, folding the cloth over her body.
“You’re welcome. I made dinner you too, by the way. I presume you’re hungry after work?”
“Perfectly.” She grinned again, and so he ushered her over to the neatly-set kitchen. The candles had decorated it better than the breakfast-table had been, and their fragrance was sweetly melodic, if that was actually possible.
“I guess it is my birthday,” she continued, looking around with her wide eyes, “and I won’t ever see the kitchen this neat again, will I? I best take advantage of it.”
They settled down, Keith, the waiter for the day, dishing out his ‘special lasagne’, merely lasagne with a greater mix of herbs and spices into the mince, before he himself finally got to tuck in. Things were beginning to look like normality, so Keith asked Andrea about her day. He hoped he was not sounding too mundane again.
"It was good, thanks. Lucky for little old me, we didn't have that many clients today. As a treat, Alexis shifted some of my paperwork to do herself, and, as well as this stunning necklace..." Andrea fingered a silver-leaf chain that Keith had yet to notice, "...she brought in a feast for all her colleagues a lunch. I suppose she was trying to get back into Mark's good books, as it's obvious that she wants to get back together with him."
“I’m sorry,” Andrea said, letting her knife clatter down to the plate as she spoke, “you don’t want to hear this girly gossip.”
“It’s fine, Andrea,” Keith murmured with a chuckle.
“No, even if it is my birthday, you shouldn’t have to sit there whilst I go on and on. By the way,” she added in a casual outward manner, but as if she had been building tentatively towards the words all evening, “the girls have invited me out into town, and I am going to go as soon as we two are done washing up here.”
Keith froze, the pasta layer dripping as it balanced on the way to his widening mouth.
“What about us?” He realised how childish they had sounded the minute the words were out his mouth. “I mean, what about our plans for this evening? A romantic-comedy, a glass of wine or two, a nice quiet chat, just the two of us?”
Andrea looked up from her vanishing sauce to his confused face. Hers however, seemed to stay blank.
“We’ve had a nice time today, haven’t we? Thank you, Keith, the lasagne was nice, the mood is lovely in this place of yours. And…you’ve been so patient.”
Gently, getting up as her structured skirt crinkled at the knees, Andrea lifted her plate to the bin and the sink, cleaning it of the debris of lasagne quickly.
“It’s been a pleasant evening, and I am sorry that I can’t stay, Keith, really.”
She smiled, passively, in the way that she had slammed the door in the early-morning light, as if she was thinking not of him, but of her night out that she had in front of her life; he, Keith, was boring to her, wasn’t he? She could have all the finer things, but she was living with him instead.
'Nice'. That was all he'd ever been to her, wasn't it? She hadn't even made one remark about the decorations, or the music, he noticed bitterly, extinguishing the candles and switching the player off.
Andrea grabbed her mobile from the chair that she had abandoned her items from work on, and swiftly began to text, her fingers the point of her concentration now.
It was then that Keith realised that their relationship, rushed, might not work at all.