“Keith, do you want a sandwich?”
It was noon, the next day, and Léa had been annoying Keith for the past half an hour, to extrapolate the irritation of the past few days. He didn't suppose that she did it purposefully so that he would be annoyed, but still, her big baby-blue eyes bloomed in his direction at the least moments Keith was expecting them to. He had begun to be thankful for how much work she put into everything, from doing the dishes every morning to suggesting what they should watch to satisfy both of their television habits (Keith had rejoiced that she had a sensible taste in programs, unlike Andrea). Now Léa‘s helpfulness was getting on his nerves. Everywhere he turned, every day he returned from work, there she was, waiting. He had once mentioned her travel abroad for work, but she had simply replied “not yet,” as if she were in charge of when she popped over.
Occasionally, Léa went out when he was in the house. Keith had noticed a pattern in her Sunday and Wednesday evening disappearances, but not asked to where she vanished. Other times, she seemed never to leave. Keith shuddered at the thought, but he knew the reality was – as she declared – that she often visited Lansdale and Swinford attractions when he was at work. If only he had no weekdays, so that he would prove her wrong.
Now, however, he had been given one day off, and here she was, throwing a sandwich in his direction. What did she want?
As she entered the living room, Keith replaced his phone in his pocket, and swiftly stood.
"No,” he replied. “I've been called into work this afternoon to sort out a miniature crisis. I'll leave in about ten."
"Oh, that's a shame. I thought you had been given free time."
He shoved his hands into his pocket, slumping his shoulders. "Giving employees free time often results in there being a crisis of few hands. Besides, shouldn't I be making you a sandwich? It beats sexism and convention."
"Keith! You know we don't mind those things here," she remarked. Keith scoffed at the higher-pitched squawk.
"Share and share alike, you know."
“I don’t care. I’d rather be a better person for all the sandwiches I make than a woman called in politically correct terms. That’s for the editing department to decide.”
Keith eyed her just to catch whether she was being serious. Whilst the woman chuckled at her work-metaphor, she didn’t appear to be retracting its meaning any time soon. A hand tucked a strand of hair behind her ear, as if she expected applause.
Keith began to gather together his possessions. He had said to Harry that he would be in as soon as he was able. Even Léa wouldn’t keep him. He hurried up the stairs, grabbed his briefcase, and then made his way back down only a little more slowly. Unsurprisingly, Léa hadn’t moved. She crinkled her eyes in his direction.
“You should eat, you know.”
“Please don’t begin to sound like my mother.”
“Sorry. I know: housemate, not companion.” She was on the verge of saying more, but moved away to the sounds of the boiling kettle, conveniently ducking her head out of Keith’s line of sight.
Léa still possessed that annoying habit, day after day, where she changed herself from being incredibly witty and resourceful in regards to chatting about sensible, sturdy topics, to being ridiculously spontaneous in her actions, as if they were not purely occurring of her own thought. How was it possible for one woman to be dual-faced in her conversations with him? Keith stuck with his decision that she irritated him by her effort of changing. If she were someone who was more down to Earth...but, no, he refused to consider the alternatives. Léa was Léa, as ridiculous a housemate as she might be.
She’d be gone soon anyway, he told himself. Whilst a part of Keith was comforted by this old news, an inner part of himself would miss her. That was a weird feeling.
He wandered slowly into the kitchen, where Léa was chopping up bread for her own sandwich. Her eyes, downwards, followed her working hands; Keith was no observational studier, but she seemed ashamed. Or was she avoiding him?
“I’m sorry I can’t stay to eat more. I’ll get something from the supermarket on the way to the bank.”
Léa lifted her plate and her eyes at the same time. Keith had never taken a notice of the colour before, but in the midday light of winter, her irises were as blue as the sky...and beautiful.
"Coffee?" When she smiled properly, Keith found himself smiling back, despite his frustrations.
"Léa, can you work something out for me, please?" he gently asked.
She slid her plate down onto the table, before darting back to the kettle and making them both a coffee. "As long as it's not mathematical equations, I can, yes."
He lifted his coffee from her hands. "It's equations of sorts. Y plus X equals happily ever after –"
"Surely you know happily ever afters don't exist?"
"I was just using an example," Keith grunted.
They simultaneously sat down at the table. Léa lifted her sandwich and took a dainty bite from it, caught halfway between wanting to stare into his eyes and not. She was so peculiar a woman!
"Good,” she declared, once she had swallowed her first mouthful. “What can I do for you?"
"It's Andrea..." Keith gestured. "I know it's not my place to be questioning her.... But, you must understand: I've been said to be...dull. I don't think that!”
A weak moment flitted through Léa’s expression, as if she objected to his mentioning of Andrea. They hadn’t explicitly spoken her name for at least a week in the house, but she must have known that his preoccupation was always due to the woman he missed.
“Go on,” muttered Léa. She took another tiny bite.
“I just...want to know why she would choose…um….”
“It’s all about a person’s opinion,” Léa stated. “I’ve seen the different ways people consider beauty. I mean – of course – beauty is not important, but attraction is very different for everyone. In a way, I mean, there is no such thing as objective beauty. Everybody has a different idea.”
“Are you saying that Andrea wasn’t attracted to me?”
“No! Sorry, I didn’t mean to necessarily imply that. What I meant was that, in general, there’s someone for everyone, because everyone has a different attraction-state. Not everybody will try and reach for the same guy or girl, and their objects of attraction may not be attracted to them –”
“It has happened,” Keith said, through knowledge of the very many goings of the bank’s employees.
“ – thus it comes that, in society, people hunt around until they find a person they are utterly attracted to and who is utterly attracted right back and, of course, with whom there is more than just passionate feeling, but sentiment, too, and then reasoning dictates that the couple work. Some couples just don’t have enough chemistry – or enough sentiment for that matter. But people move from partner to partner, and it’s part of nature, for we are still animals at heart.”
Keith gave Léa a sceptical stare.
“And how do you know all this?”
“I read. A lot. It’s one of the perks of being a translator. And books, they have the utmost wisdom in them, even if they are retelling the lives of fictitious beings.”
“Oh, yes?” Keith took a slurp from his coffee, thinking. It seemed a silly idea now to have asked his rival’s sister of her opinion. Yet, there was something about Léa that made Keith feel secure in his anxieties. She spoke the truth, but she didn’t possess that way of decorating it, as Andrea had done. After all, Léa wasn't the artist.
“What about you? How did you end up like this?” Keith couldn’t believe he had just said that.
Léa blushed. “I’ve just been unlucky in love, I guess. I didn’t think about relationships until I was in my twenties, and, by then, everybody around me had become couples and the only men left were guys whom I didn’t like. It’s Lucas who has the confidence to go into a million relationships; he just comes out of them pretty quickly, too. Anyway, why am I complaining to you this? It’s ridiculous.”
“No, it’s not,” said Keith. He cursed himself inwardly for not thinking again.
“I’m glad you think so. I’m not my brother; I’m not able to do the things he does.”
“Oh…sorry, that was thoughtless.”
“Yes.” Keith awkwardly twisted the coffee cup around in his hands. Already empty, it no longer warmer them, so he pushed it to the side of the table. A second later, Léa drained the last of hers and did the same. She, too, must have been sensing how uncomfortable they were without words.
“I am sorry,” she finally remarked, looking at her hands.
“It’s okay. I know it’s not your fault,” Keith told her. He was shocked at his truth in the words, but they made sense nevertheless.
At that, Léa looked up, boldness shining in her irises. “You do? That’s good.”
“It’s my own history,” continued Keith. “Christine, my ex…fiancée, got bored of me. I try and think what it is that your brother has got and I haven’t, but I always come to no conclusion. It’s only…as if Andrea is attracted to his vim and vigour. That ridiculously upbeat lifestyle. She can’t resist the sparkling.”
“A magpie woman, eh? But that’ll be the Catholic side of Lucas shining through. He’s so faithful, it’s refreshing to be in his presence.” A grin spread onto her face, whilst her eyes rolled to the ceiling, imagining whatever charms religion flung her way.
“Catholic? But Andrea’s permanently against religion,” Keith pointed out. “She always has been.”
“Until she met my brother, I bet. If you’re wondering what his ‘shine’ is, it’s the way he can trust wherever God takes him.”
“It’s more than that, Léa. Women forever think that I’m so dull. What can I possibly do to change? That was my real question to you if I’m to win back Andrea.”
Was it his imagination, or did Léa pale at the mention of this change? A sudden vacuity flitted through her expression as she repeated the words, but a minute later, she had become the stern-faced sister again. Keith wouldn't have noticed the sudden quiver of her lip had Léa not lifted a hand to wipe it away.
“Win back –? You are not boring, Keith,” Léa replied. “You’ve got many redeemable qualities.”
She clasped his hands into her own. Her eyes widened without blinking. Something wasn’t right.
Keith tore his fingers away. “What are you doing? Did Lucas set you up to this? Flirt your way here so that Lucas can steal Andrea?”
“I was wrong,” he snarled, “you’re exactly like your brother!”
Léa jumped back, fear patterning her face, but was her trickery false?
“That’s not true…”
Keith felt the anger build. He twitched his fingers off the table, throwing himself up with the motion. Instantly, Léa followed. He curled his fists. She advanced.
“Don’t. I have to get to work. But I want you out of this house by the time I’m back. No sign, no hair, no piece of jewellery out of place. And you can leave Andrea’s stuff, please.”
Now, her eyes were aflame. “Keith, please don’t do this. I’m sorry. I’m not ‘working with Lucas’, I promise.”
“Right, ‘promise’. Just like you promise you weren’t saying all those bad things about Andrea to make me change my mind about her.”
“What bad things?”
“You tried to make her the evil one, when all the perverse things are really the opposite of your ideals. Thus, she must be the good to contradict your thoughts.”
“Come to your senses….”
It was this which he hated most about her. She encouraged him to thrash out – and had done from the very first word she had spoken.
It wasn’t right. He cried out:
“Get away from me!”