Twenty: Tense As Hell

Andrea had been running. The hassle in her eyes told what she was ready to lie about.

Keith hadn’t figured it was that late. So Andrea hadn’t needed to hurry. That was the first point for concern. The second were her pupils. Radiant and fiery, she might have even been trembling, through her false smile.

“Andrea…” Keith began, closing the magazine again.

She slipped her shoes off as he stood up, almost slipping away when her eyes would not meet his.

“Andrea? How did it go?”

Andrea jumped; it was as if she had not come to know his presence there yet.

“Oh yes,” she replied. “Yes, it was good. Katarine had to leave early, so Louise and Emma and I went our ways. I’m not sure what became of the others…”

Keith didn’t recognise any of the names that his girl reeled out.

And before he knew it, Andrea, with tear-stung lashes, was beside him, her chest heaving and falling still under the tight green dress.

“Keith…” she whispered, her eyes moving in some sort of caress. Keith felt his cheeks burn at the proximity. He wanted to swing his arms around her, but he could no longer move. He didn’t want to leave her gaze, lest she never again return it.

“Keith,” she repeated, “thank you for being here.”

“I’ll always be here, darling,” he said, trying not to be so taken aback. “This is your home, remember.”

She was staring into his eyes, hers no longer moving of her own accord, though the automated flicking back and forth continued, and she wore an expression of vacuity. She was lacking, but of what, Keith couldn’t decipher.

“I love you.”

The relief that flooded Keith was, strangely, little comfort.

“Of course. I love you too.”

Their kiss didn’t feel right. Keith tried to deepen the sweet intensity, whipping his tongue through those lips of hers, but she was leaning crooked, her own lips dry from worn lipstick; and when he lowered his hands down her back, Andrea drew away, leaving Keith with the feeling that he was the one tightening the rope around her.

“Sorry,” she said, stretching her palms across her face, raw mascara and that silly blusher coming off onto her fingers.

“You’re tired.” He nodded. “A massage will help. Turn around.”

Slowly, she did as he had asked, no question, no other fight than that in her eyes. Keith almost wished that he could remind her that it was not an order, but the edginess between them was so great already.

Her dress was open-backed. Keith couldn’t help staring for a moment as Andrea shuffled from foot to foot, as beautifully dumpy as she had been when they had first met. He lifted his hands to caress her flesh, mottled here in just the same way as her face. In another moment- for Keith needed to wrench himself away from stroking her back– Keith had parted the frizz of ginger, rubbing his thumbs over bone and torso and fabric.

“You are as tense as hell. What happened, Andrea?”

“Nothing, it’s just been a big day.” She sighed.

“Still tired?”

“It feels like it…” Now Andrea’s voice trembled. Her eyes darted corners. Keith couldn’t understand it. A minute ago she had been all over him, but now she began to creep up the stairs, also ashamed to leave.

Andrea turned back as a bare foot edged up the corner of the stairway. Once again, her eyes spoke of longing and the desperation to be distanced.

“Goodnight,” she muttered, forming the words with more deliberation than usual.

Keith stared at the retreating image, the woman who seemed to sashay her way up the steps with heartache and dignity together. Andrea was an enigma to him again.

“Happy birthday,” he called as a last thought.

“Hmm,” was her only response, as the landing light and then the first bedroom light, respectively, snapped on.

Confusion split Keith. On the one hand, had she not come to him? Why would she be with him if there was a someone else on her mind? And the comfort: what comfort was there in it? Where not three hours ago, Keith was certain of her infidelity, now he believed her just to be in a frantic state of mind. Yet, something still lingered out of place, like a scar across her fragile skin.

Keith’s fists balled; he picked up the magazine to read, saw himself skipping the same three lines before he had sat, and finally, ferociously, threw the magazine back down. He paced, tempted to stand and watch the street through tattered curtains. If it took tapping her phone, Keith was determined to find out who had been haunting Andrea.

The End

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