Just like the pages of a calendar falling, each autumn week was passing more quickly than the next. It would be, Andrea mused, Christmas before they all had the chance to open their eyes to winter. By now, lighter tops she had replaced with thicker cotton, and the jumper only came off when the heating was on. Lucas was stingy with the heating anyway. Andrea laughed when she thought that he might almost be considering the environmental costs.
Lucas lumbered in at two as Andrea, who had been sitting on the window seat, put down her reading material – The Count of Monte Cristo – and swept biscuit crumbs off the scarf draped at the base of her legs.
“It’s too cold for November, I swear,” she said.
“Be thankful it’s not raining.”
She took the coat he had just shrugged off and placed it back on their coat rack as Lucas unlaced his shoes.
“I was thinking we could go to Lansdale Park for a little time this afternoon, but it’ll probably start snowing on us,” Andrea said.
“Snow in England? Nonsense.”
Andrea playfully leaned to punch Lucas on his arm. She wouldn’t wish he were any less of a joker, though.
“Well, the grass will be too wet to picnic on, at least.”
“Another time, definitely. I’ve driven past the park, but not yet been to it.”
Lucas strode past into the kitchen, talking loudly as he did so:
“I’m going to look at my accounts, so I’d prefer not to be disturbed for a while.”
She left him to it, kneeling down to fetch the novel again. It had been her intention to continue, but something stopped her more than the twisted paths of fate in complex fiction.
It was the sound of muttering that disturbed Andrea. She followed Lucas’ voice into the kitchen to find the man himself scribbling frantically onto a piece of paper. A list was growing. He always created a list before beginning the task itself. Once the scribbling had finished, Lucas lifted the lid of his laptop and began to flick between working there and on paper.
Every few minutes or so a frown would brush across Lucas’ expression. Fiddling with a loose strand of hair, Andrea studied her partner from the doorway, desperately trying not to analyse what could be seemingly normal activity.
Yet, Lucas’ outright rejection of his treatment stood turgid in her mind. His wordless counting could be no matter of measuring.
“What’s wrong?” she asked, moving forward and leaning on the other side of his dinner table.
“Nothing – 30 – " muttered Lucas, clearly not listening.
“Is it money?” Silent counting. “It is, isn’t it? I’m earning just as much as before. I can use what I’ve put aside to pay for any extra for the house.
“Don’t be silly – 35 – you’re a guest!”
“I’m also responsible for both your happiness and your debts, remember. I eat your food, use your resources. In all fairness, we should have devised a payment plan the moment I moved in.”
“You’ve only been living with me for three weeks.”
She ignored him. “How much are we short by?”
Lucas’ round face glowed pink, even by the angle in which he had it turned. “Quite a bit,” he told her, finally looking up, fingers only hovering over the receipts and energy bills.
Andrea crept forward, gently leaning over Lucas’ shoulder to see his calculations. Her heart leapt at the figures spread over pages in pencil and electronically captured. God. How long had he been behind at his bills?
“I can see if the Head of School will book me in for extra, paid jobs. I’m due a pay rise anyway.”
“No. You shouldn’t have to work any harder. Besides,” she added, “I wouldn’t get to see you if you worked even more than you already do.”
“Okay, I come home early compared to the Senior Management Team.”
“This is my fault!” he cried, throwing down his pencil. “Too much money-wasting.”
Andrea stumbled back into the living room, lest Lucas have another outburst. It wasn’t his fault, of course, but for his own good, she wouldn’t test him further. Instead, Andrea set about sorting her junk from the floor; it was the best of useful she could do. During this, eyes alighted on a half-finished canvas sheet she had begun one day off from work the previous week. It was a depiction of a stormy Lansdale afternoon, a spindle of a tree caught bare in the rainfall they had encountered recently. The reason Andrea had abandoned the picture, she begrudgingly remembered, was that moment when her imagination had run out. It left just a blank space in her mind instead of the elaborate vision that Andrea would have kept. She had managed to get as far as painting the tree standing in the street, but the surroundings had lost technique. Staring at it now, Andrea could pick the colours and shapes necessary, even when there lacked a fixed base-line.
She tilted her head – and the scene clicked together. Andrea shrugged the half-finished canvas onto her hip and wandered back into the kitchen, where Lucas was still sitting, slumped over the paper lists and his laptop.
“Lucas, I have an idea.”
He looked up, and she was surprised to see the expression of love that danced in his eyes. The man smiled.
“You shouldn’t have to work harder. You already work full-time and I don’t. Thus, I should be the one doing something. Don’t argue now; it’s my living to earn. I have been meaning to finish a few of these paintings. Let me, and I’ll sell them online.”
He nodded, those soft contours deepening around his eyes. He was wonderful.
“All right. You can crack on with that, but I don’t want you to work harder just for me. You shouldn’t have to.”
“I know a couple of sites on which casual artists like myself can sell their works. I’ll be fine to do so. In fact, whilst you’re in Swinford, I’ll get finishing this. I have a cracking idea how I can complete it.”
Lucas peered over at the canvas sheet Andrea had laid across the table. “It’s good. I didn’t realise you had so much of an artist’s hand.”
“Nature... And I’ve recently been painting some more. I haven’t had much time to expand, though.”
“You should paint me some time,” chuckled Lucas.
“Maybe I should.” She began to advance, hoping to prise him away from those accounts. However, with every step she took, Lucas took another glance down. He raised his eyebrows at her for a final time before disappearing behind his laptop to scan the end of the shopping list. Andrea recognised its contents as her most recent jaunt down to Lansdale supermarket.
“Lucas...” she moaned.
“There is one thing I can do to reduce the financial pressure on me...” he said in lieu of an apology. Perhaps he was saying these things to get her to go away.
Andrea raised her eyebrows to him but said nothing. After a minute, Lucas must have known her actions, for her continued in the same half-concentrating voice.
“...Stop the sessions with Dr. Morrison.” His eyes spoke of honesty, even when there was a certain crassness in his voice.
She crossed to him in two steps; lifting his hands was the only way to destroy his attention from the laptop spreadsheet. “Lucas! You’re not getting out of today’s session that easily. Come on, you’re home now; you might as well actually do what you’re supposed to be.”
He stood, taking her hands with him. Without her heels, Andrea had to crane her neck up even further to be on the same level as Lucas. He managed to guide her back into living room, her painting discarded. At least she could appreciate that he wanted to talk away from the money matters.
“The only reason I applied for time off work was for this session as a trial. You should realise that I’m allowed a limited amount of time, which I cannot waste ‘talking through’ pointless things. Besides, the school won’t change my timetable just for treatment for something it doesn’t matter to have.”
“Dr. Morrison will change the appointments if I ask him to. Happily. It’s good for you,” she exasperated, sighing, too, as if that would relate her message further into his vacuity.
Lucas swung Andrea into his arms. Their noses almost touched.
“I know. I am feeling better.” Again, it felt more like an empty promise than an explanation.
In the kitchen, a beeping sort of buzz went off. Andrea broke away from Lucas. She rubbed a hand across her forehead. If only he would be upfront with the entirety of his feelings. In fact, she barely remembered an example of him ever using sensible words to describe his feelings.
“What was that?” she murmured.
“It’s just my email reminder. I was waiting for some documents through from the school.”
“Oh, okay. Don’t forget that your appointment is in-”
He strode back to his laptop. With that, Andrea guessed she was being dismissed and tried a wry giggle. His absence was colder because he had pushed her away from being within body heat. She tiptoed back to the kitchen. At the doorway, Andrea turned, opening her mouth to bade him a sweet goodbye, but the scowl that had settled across his features once again unsettled her. This time, it signalled not reversible trouble, but a more permanent sense of gloom over Lucas’ head.