Léa put her phone down on the tabletop and stared at it for the second time that evening. As she sighed, Keith could no longer hold back his intrigue.
“Miss Gorge, are you going to spend an entire night watching your phone?”
She yanked her head up, as if surprised that he was being so formal. At the look in her eyes, irritation was stirred up in Keith once again. In the pretence of checking on their coffees, he turned away from the woman and crushed the clear plastic packaging within his fist.
“It’s because I am waiting,” Léa quietly remarked. “The company I work for said that they’d call when they had sorted out what they are doing about my ‘temporary relocation’. It’s kind of threw our plans out of the window.”
“I thought…” Keith said above his vicious stirring of the drinks; “I thought you were freelance.”
Léa’s laugh hit all the high notes, but was unsteady nevertheless.
“That’s not quite what I said. I dip in and out of various degrees of translation for the company, certainement, and they don’t need my involvement all the time, but I’ve always been employed, to do what a boss says. C’est vrai,” she added in a curt French accent.
“Well, why…?” cried Keith exasperated, throwing the teaspoon across to the sink, where it landed with an addressing splash.
“Keith. Why are you yelling at me?” asked Léa, raising her own voice. After a moment, when her chest had stopped its rapid rise and fall, she continued to the approach of Keith with the coffees. “No, I’m sorry. This time must be particularly stressful for you, what with Andrea’s departure. Listen to me: moaning on about not knowing where I’m going in my job was a silly thing to do compared to what you must be feeling. If only Lucas hadn’t put me in this predicament.”
Having listening to her sincere pace of tone, Keith’s own temperament softened. She might have got on his nerves, but Léa also had a very sensible logic to the way she reasoned. Again, Keith sized the woman up: she had slipped on a navy tracksuit for her tour of the town during the day and had not changed for the evening. However, the zipped jumper was undone just below her breasts and a hint of the seductive tried to call from behind the light sports top. Now, sandaled feet poked out from under the deep-hanging tablecloth, the only part of the woman that signalled her quirky side.
Keith stepped over her feet and placed the two cups beside each other in the middle of the table.
“Let’s forget about my problems for now; it’s only work. Thank you.” Léa received her coffee with a smile, which widened after she brought the aromatic beverage to lips and drank. “This is perfect! Just like my father used to make: creamy and smooth, but with a bitter side.”
“The drink or your father?” tempted Keith.
“The drink! Mind your manners!” This time, however, the woman was gently playing with Keith, rather than antagonising him.
Simultaneously, they lifted the coffee cups in both hands, both clutching the warmth inside. Léa smiled over her own rim. The crease of crow’s feet appeared at the corners of her eyes; the first time that Keith had recognised that she had a brighter sense of humour. For a second, Keith’s mind was filled with an unusual blankness, that she possessed both an intimate sincerity and a casual charm, all very unlike her brother. In another moment of the loss of thought, Keith found himself forgetting the relationship between Léa and his rival, as if Lucas began not to matter.
And then the phone between them buzzed, and Léa’s polite manner vanished again. As she stormed off haughtily, Keith remembered that she did indeed provoke his temper, which tended to flare in her presence as much as in Lucas’. It had only been Andrea who had softened the run of fury inside Keith; only she had the power to absolve the fire of his angry mood. Yet…Andrea had walked away. Keith’s emotions burnt: his head ached, not much from his heart.
Sighing and resigning himself, Keith clunked the empty coffee cup onto the table and resumed the pose of depression that Léa had hunched herself into minutes previously.
“That’s right. I can get myself organised for you. Thank you, sir. Yes, I can. Oh, that’s good! I’ll send a review over soon. Bubye.”
Keith stood. He prepared himself for Léa’s return, but, just as she had returned to the kitchen, her phone buzzed within her hand and, giving no attention to Keith, she passed out of the room again.
“Hello? Yes. Oh, yeah.” This time her voice was clearer, her body just juxtaposed into the doorway. “I’m okay, thank you. And yo-? Okay. What? Wait. No...I...all right. Yes; you’re right on that account. Do you think-? Okay. ”
For a second, Léa poked her head into the kitchen, and her cheeks glowed with a colour that did not suit her. An unsure smile came and went, just as the woman herself did.
“Oh, and can you do one thing for me, Lucas?” That name again. Having run the water in the space of time she had been conversing with her brother, Keith scowled into the washing up basin. “Not right now, but sometime this week… Yes. Could you send my passport over? Meet me at the edge of this road, okay?”
Suddenly, the door swung open, and Lea pocked her phone with a dopey gaze upon her face. Keith tried to ignore that smile.
“Sorted?” he asked, staring nonchalantly at the pool of tepid suds.
“Yes; I am staying here for the next couple of weeks. I hope you don’t mind; without a car, I can’t hope to make the three-hour drive up to North Redshire. Besides, there’s so much of this brilliant town still to see.”
“I’m glad you think so,” Keith grumbled.
“What’s wrong? Urg.” From the sounds of it, she had taken a sip from her coffee, but it had gone cold quickly. Léa wandered over to the sink and poured the contents of her mug into the little drain that was separate to the washing-up. Finally, Léa dumped her cup into the soapy water and stood by Keith’s shoulder, watching him.
“What is wrong?” she repeated.
“Nothing,” Keith replied, studying the stain of fish that he was trying to remove from a plate.
“Hmm,” already, Léa’s voice grew faint with distance and that frustrating sense of detachment that she sometimes threw into the conversation. Out of the corner of his eye, Keith saw her examine her petite hands. “I should reapply the orange coat of nail polish to all my nails…”
Keith let the plate dropped from his hands into the sink. It almost resonated a dark smash.
“…but I can’t be bothered yet. Keith?” And then there was that confusing growth of worry in her movements.
“I’m just tired. I didn’t mean to do that.”
“Go: put your feet up. I’ve been eyeing your film collection and you’ve got a good collection of traditional films. I’m very happy to watch one of the James Bonds with you. I’ll finish the washing up (half of it is my mess anyway) if you get the popcorn ready.”
“I don’t have any popcorn…” Keith began to say, but a glance from Léa confirmed that she had been making metaphors out of miniature phrases. He pulled off his yellow gloves and shrugged.
There was no denying that she had good taste in culture.