Meanwhile, Andrea had stopped crying ten minutes ago. Lucas, he himself had disclosed, lived on the outskirts of Lansdale, his house bought only for the purpose of being close enough to the school. He parked his old car with a jolt, and then swung around to quickly let Andrea out. As she grasped the hand that had been extended for her purpose, Andrea felt a shiver run straight through her.
“Andrea?” Lucas said, lifting her out of the car with expertise. He had most of her bodyweight in his hand, she knew; her whole self was weak enough to fall down and continue downwards.
Keith had almost slapped her! The ache was real, that Andrea could never deny, but her confusion over the plain man’s change left bitterness more prominently running through her spirit.
With a sob, Andrea’s body folded into Lucas’; a thought of his skill in holding her upright crossed her mind, before Andrea once again burst into tears.
“Wow. Hey, it’s okay.”
“I know, I know,” Andrea sobbed, allowing Lucas to pull her as she staggered along.
“Keith just…lost it.”
“I know, Lucas…”
By now, they had reached the front door of his brickworked home. Silently cursing the stinging smudges of her eyes, Andrea counted four windows that faced into the road, the two that had been set into the first-floor in line with the two below. And suddenly Andrea was smiling a little, for the face of his home reminded her of Lucas exactly, right down to the set expression that he wore when he thought nobody was watching.
“That’s better,” Lucas said, catching her eye as his hands twisted at the lock one way and then the next in informal sequences.
“I like your house.”
It was almost as if she was underestimating the place as she said those words. The room Lucas led Andrea into, stopping only in the second that he untied his neat shoes and slid them together into a room that might have been an annexe, was meticulous. Selections of books had been piled in fours randomly across the room; to Andrea it seemed that there were no meanings to the patterns, but Lucas must have had a reason, for the two bookshelves themselves were not full yet. Exercise books lay next to the fountain of a green pot-plant, placed to, Andrea knew, counter the blue of the curtains drawn tightly. Her Psychology of mental illnesses told her enough of both the signs and what to expect from them. Even so, Andrea was impressed at how the place sparkled in its cleanliness. She saw that he was fighting it, but obsessive-compulsiveness hung in the air over the room. Lucas pulled a face as Andrea finally put down her weight onto a carpet white in colour.
“Shoes, right.” She nodded, kicking them together into the annexe-room.
“Put the pair together, please. And by mine, if you don’t mind.”
Andrea obliged, trying to watch Lucas out of the corner of her eye. He was struggling, fists clenched in powerful fury, but even so, it was valiant of him to put her needs before his own.
As Andrea carefully slid into place on a dark blue sofa angled so that it faced the TV but also caught the best of an open window without possible daylight becoming an invasive sheen, she spent a second longer lingering on the layout of the sitting room, before dropping her head to conceal the last of the tears that trickled.
The tears stuck to her face and clenched her lashes against her eyelids. Andrea took the proffered pocket-handkerchief, dabbing it with some difficulty above her mucky face. When Andrea took the object away, she found herself marvelling at its luminosity.
“‘Likes brightly coloured silk scarves’,” she mused, with a weakened giggle, feeling like some sort of sickly child.
“You are quoting me, aren’t you? Well remembered.”
As her breathing slowed, Andrea replied:
“Oh, Lucas, I could never forget anything you have said.”
“You know, you don’t have to step on eggshells around me. Darling, please relax.”
“Yes, but it’s-”
“-Difficult not to. I know. If there were some way I could prove that I should be no problem…” Suddenly, his face broke into a beam. “Here, I’m around you now. Let’s live a little crooked.” And he swung his feet onto the sofa close to her. Then he leant his head back onto the arm, shrugging off the debonair act he had been wearing. His clothes stretched tightly.
But Andrea couldn’t stay. She jumped back up, restless. One moment, and Lucas was right behind her. His hands glided onto her back and then off.
“I’ve been such a mess lately,” Andrea remarked, gesturing to nothing. “Do you need an apology for that, Lucas?”
“Not medically,” he replied, swinging her into his arms. Up above her, Lucas’ eyes were gleaming stars.
Andrea tried to relax herself, first from her shoulders, then by dripping all the positive thoughts through her sets of muscles. ‘Stress Inoculation Therapy’, that was what it was medically known as; to Andrea, it was simply a way of exercising and relaxing away the stress. She almost melted as she felt the fear begin to dissolve. And Lucas’ body was so warm underneath his sweater. His eyes tempted her with every dip and crest of his expression, the patterns about him telling more than words were able.
His chest pulsed in and out. Lucas took her hands, humming a sweet tune- almost seductive- to them both, sharing it with Andrea a couple of times, and he took her back to the sofa, gently pushing Andrea down so that he was able to lean his thighs over her own.
“Relax…” he murmured.
He slipped his hand down behind her head, still gentle, and, as Andrea lost herself completely in his eyes, he pressed his lips against hers. Slightly moisturised and deeply warm, the smooth lips pushed against her own. Lucas was in control.
She felt both bodies tighten, and Andrea was pretty sure that Lucas felt it too.
He unlocked the kiss, but kept holding her to him.
“I’m not going to make love to you; that is not my style.”
She blinked the haziness away to find the honesty within his own eyes.
“I know. My first real relationship and I pick the one man who won’t go to bed with anyone.”
“Excuse me. I’m better than being just plain.”
“I hope that wasn’t a remark against me!”
“Of course not,” Lucas replied, not even bothering to conceal the way his eyes flicked directly over her, checking her out. “You are gorgeous, and you shouldn’t let your own self be put down be the words you think about yourself. Be alive in the person God has made you.”
“Mmm.” Andrea snuggled down into Lucas again.
And they leant against each other, their bodies spread across the worn sofa. Lucas’ breathing was still heavy, his tempo marked. Andrea leant back up to him, kissing him warmly. She couldn’t tell him yet, but Andrea was pleased to call Lucas her boyfriend.
It felt like they had been snogging for a while. Eventually, she was the one to pull away, watching Lucas’ change of expression as she denied him herself again.
Having wandered to the window, Andrea almost sunk into her dream-state. However, realism, in contrast to idealism, pulled her back.
“Hmm?” Lucas crept up behind her, slinging his hands around her body in an embrace. She felt the stubble of his chin rest upon her bare shoulder.
“Is it right that I feel guilty? I mean, Keith was the one in the wrong; nobody can tell me otherwise now,” Andrea told him.
The silence lay between them, but the brush of Lucas’ kisses proved that Andrea had been right to tell him. As if he could read her thoughts, Lucas said:
“Your honesty is honourable, as are those feelings. It’s going to be difficult between the three of us for a while. I’m sorry myself. Can you forgive me for being so tangled up in other people’s lives again?”
“You would know, would you?” she asked, turning to him.
Their faces split with a grin in unison.
“I can’t help it if women find me irresistible. I just happen to gleam with charm!”
“Stop it!” She giggled, hitting him.
Andrea relaxed against Lucas again, trying to hide what she knew already creeping up against the little nobility: the road to recovery was already far travelled.