It was especially cold in the internal offices of the bank. Keith sighed. He gestured in Harry’s direction, attempting to explain what had happened enough for him to warrant those days off he had taken. Now back in the bank, he tried to explain the awkward reason of not wanting to meet Léa whilst she delivered what items were once hers back to Andrea. His friend grimaced in his direction.
“What can I do, mate? What is it with you and losing birds?”
“At least I treat them with respect!” Keith sighed. He winced at his own brutality. “Sorry, I haven’t been sleeping so well.”
That was true; there was too much on his own mind. The mystery of Léa had taken its toll on him in that he stressed every night that she would ruin the new formation of his fledgling return to Andrea.
“Ah, it’s okay,” Harry finally conceded. “Look, let’s go out for a beer or something. The Shanghai Diner or some new place. Actually, TSD do a mean pasta dish along with the spicy stuff. I bet you’d like it there.”
An aching bell rang through his mind. The Shanghai Diner: the restaurant in which Andrea had first given him her number. Keith didn’t hesitate pointing this out to Harry, who shrugged in return.
“That’s a shame. I’m not gonna stop inviting you to have a lad’s night. You need some time away from the world, mate.”
In an instant, however, Harry’s eyes strayed to the arriving temp, Eliza. Keith hated to admit that he saw the truth in it, but Harry was right about many of his pressing issues. Keith wanted to get away; he wanted to think about someone other than Andrea for once. Léa had been the sole distraction from the terrible dichotomy of love and betrayal, but now she was gone, too….
Eliza cleared her throat, bringing Keith quickly back to reality, his eyes clearing over the charts of capital profit ‘per annum’. Eliza gave Keith a simpering smile, before she spoke.
“Keith, they’re a man short out front and they asked me to ask you if you could….”
“Sure. I’ve basically finished sorting the margins out here anyway.”
He adjusted the overflowing files on his desk, siphoning through the junk letters and personal files for one particular record of accounts. He brushed them back. Surely they had computers to do these sorts of calculations? He crossed his eyes over to the screen. Another client's file was there, which he had been changing before Harry had marched in.
That was even worse: the computers withheld all this data, so much so that not even the statisticians could recite the details of the most illustrious of Lansdale Bank’s clients.
“That’s great,” said Eliza, wrenching Keith back into the world again.
Harry raised his eyebrows tauntingly, but Keith shook his head as Eliza turned her back. She liked him, but, really, was she his type? The flowery essence that was mimicked in her unsubtle choice of perfume over-powered Keith’s senses. He liked smartly picked aromas, such as Andrea’s earthy smell that imitated her element-body and flame-hair. It was clear that Eliza knew nothing of Maths or business, her work in the bank no more than a secretary. What interest was there in plain emotion?
Having stood and having shot Harry another glare, he let her lead him into the cashier-slot, computers and money-boxes dotted around him, customers fading in and out of view behind the white partition. It was to be a dull afternoon.
There was a clock above the frown awning of the bank. All hands were intact, but, for some reason, whenever Keith checked, his day was not moving forward in time. There was not even any minute to hit his head against the desk in frustration, for customer after customer came at him, demanding attention.
Eventually, Keith stopped looking to the clock and kept his eyes on the mundane faces that drifted in front of him and the muffled voices that asked for what he, a manager of accounts, considered trivial. Perhaps time would play fairer if he did so.
However many pitiful minutes later, as Eliza moved forward from greeting a customer, Keith eyed her, there in the space. He gestured from behind the partition.
“Eliza, could you man this station for a moment? I’m going to take my break now.”
“Sure, Keith,” she chirped.
He sidled out of the slot, wincing at the dull ache in his dead legs, remembering the days when he had first been employed in Lansdale Bank and had had to be a cashier day in and day out. Keith strolled the foyer, occasionally leaning against one of the columns when he felt a leg twinge for the worst.
In one of those moments, near the back of the customer queue, his eyes sailed from the grand façade above over to the movement of guests waiting to cash cheques and the like. Keith sighed; it was routine. That was, until his eyes settled on the form of a woman in a mink-brown coat. At his concentrated stare, she looked up and her eyes widened.
“Keith!” the woman remarked. In all the dismay with losing both the women who had stayed at his home, Keith had forgotten the one who had put him in misery to begin with.
“Oh, hello, Christine,” he grumbled, leaning straight and making his way over to her, the back of the line.
Christine brushed her coat down, obviously pleased with its mink-like quality. She stood as epitome of glamour; when she had been with him, Keith noticed, she had never acted posh. Now he thought about it, however, she had always been one to want flashy gifts and to speak with a touch of pride in her materials. There was a selfish air he didn’t like about that. Yet…she was just as beautiful as she had always been.
Keith cleared his throat. “Have you been well?”
“Very,” she said, rather icily. “And yourself?”
“I’ve been all right. Busy,” Keith mumbled. He let his eyes follow the curve of Christine’s sleek hair as it lapped at her full lips and fell to the beginning of her tight figure.
Christine coughed lightly, awkwardly. She looked away. Keith took it within his power to step forward. Like old times, her face was painted with a thousand bold questions. And close enough for emotions to fold alive. When she looked back into his face, her eyes were sorrowful. Could it be that she was as full of regret as he? Something swelled in Keith's chest. It had been too long since Christine had made him sure of life. So many memories and thoughts and wants swirled in his brain that they were a fire set upon him. Again, the query bothered him with its repetitious tendrils. Could she really…?
He leant forward, staring into those translucent eyes of hers. Keith stopped the thoughts and placed his lips upon hers, jolting as she pulled away.
“Keith, are you mad?” she snarled, pushing him further away. Even the thoughts of her hands back on his chest were pleasing enough for Keith.
“I miss you, Christine.”
“No, you don’t,” she said, giving him a dirty look, which they both regretted afterwards. Christine wasn’t a mean creature, Keith knew that. She just liked passion and presents, two things that Keith could never have given her. He looked her up and down once, before conceding. He sighed.
“You’re right, I don’t. Christine, you hurt me so very much when you left me, but I moved on. Now, it’s Andrea whom I miss.”
Christine’s defined curves of eyebrows rose in surprise. “She left you? I thought she really had something for you –”
“Really?” Keith questioned.
“No,” Christine told him. “I could see that she was bored. Keith, you’re boring.”
“Oh, stop it!”
“No, what I mean is that you need to find yourself a woman who is as equally temperate and dull. Andrea and I were searching for excitement. You need a girl who likes simple things: reading, popular music, trekking.”
“All right, then,” Keith said dryly. “I’ll bear that in mind. Excuse me.”
He turned, about to leave the queue when Christine reached a hand out to his shoulder.
“Be happy, Keith. I know I am.”
Glancing back, Keith was surprised to see sincerity – guilty sincerity – written all over her face. He fingers twitched to catch his attention, alighting on the cluster of diamonds and the silky golden band behind them. She had married a man with money. Whilst his mind reeled, his eyes were cast back at her face. Nothing. There were no romantic feelings left in Keith for Christine. What had been passed between the two of them that minute before was sentiment.
The edges of Keith’s lips twitched. “It was…nice to see you, Christine.”
“Likewise.” And the lady smiled as friendship passed between them at last.
The line shunted forward and, with it, Christine. As customer after late customer joined the queue, Christine’s dark locks soon intermingled with the rest of society, as if she had just told Keith that she was walking into a crowd to forever forget him. This time, however, it didn’t sting. He respected her wishes, and so he edged away.
Keith took a deep breath. It was one thing to miss Christine, but yet another to attempt to reconcile the past. He closed his eyes and breathed in again. What was wrong with him?
“I need a break,” Keith admitted quietly to himself.
Footsteps began to hurry past and the voices simultaneously waxed and waned, their rushed quality never discarded. With his back to a pillar, Keith tuned in to the disorder of the bank until a second pair of familiar footsteps, shod in falsely expensive shoes, wandered around him.
Eyes snapped open, just in time to see Christine raise a hand, her other forcefully holding the door open for a family who bustled out just before her.
“Ah,” said Harry as he rounded one of the tables, coming close again and gathering up the elastic borders of the queue. He must have witnessed at least the end of their exchange. “I recognise her. The lovely Christine.”
“Harry,” Keith spun to face him, “I’m in. Let’s go out tonight – as single guys.”
“Yes!” Harry punched the air overdramatically. Keith rolled his eyes. “For once, the man folds to his masculinity,” Harry continued.
“Oh, shut up.”
They exchanged punches on the arms, but Keith was secretly glad that Harry did not mock him for his hasty change of mind. At least it meant that he hadn’t seen Christine’s second rejection. No, not rejection: release. She was gone now, and he was pleased with that occurrence.
For once, Keith was happy that there was no one at home to disappoint or to call; there was no guilt in missing dinner without a word. Keith wondered if this was what Andrea had been feeling as she snuck away to that Lucas, but he quickly cast the irksome thoughts from his mind. He was a single guy now. Free.
The clock above the awning struck five o’ clock and the bank began to close.