[Author note: as well as Alexia’s name changing, some of her history has been rewritten as well. Sorry for any inconvenience.]
Andrea shivered in the cool air outside The Shanghai Diner. Here, in the busy main-street of Lansdale, people passed through in a hurry, their coats slapping against their legs in the breeze. Figure after figure passed with no care other than their own, and Andrea stood watching them with her eagle eyes, thinking of all the troubles that must have been cornering them.
“Inconsequential,” she muttered, barely realising that she had spoken with her voice as well as her lips.
“Hmm?” said Lucas.
Andrea turned. He was standing behind her, closer to the door of the restaurant, where the light highlighted his hair. She couldn’t help grinning at him, and Lucas happily returned the smile.
“Sorry; nothing. I was literally just thinking aloud. That was a little silly.”
“Not much so. I know thinking aloud well.”
“Sure,” Andrea replied, and she lent in to kiss his smooth cheek.
Turning back to the street, Andrea let her mind flow into a lesser state of consciousness again. Every image that passed – every person that seemed to be there – held within it another life. Andrea was a little lost in her fiction when a hand waved in front of her face.
“Earth to Andrea,” chortled the mellifluities of a plain voice at the higher end of its scale.
Andrea blinked, focusing on the new figure in front of her. After all, she was supposed to have been waiting, but had forgotten to watch for her exact charge.
“Oh! Léa! God, I’m so sorry.”
“You blanked out there,” observed Lucas’ sister. Andrea didn’t feel the need to correct her. Instead, she pretended she had been the first to notice the guest. Andrea smiled and Léa’s expression split a second later.
“Hey!” they chorused, embracing quickly.
“Now we’re just waiting for Alexia,” grumbled Lucas. His eyes shot to his watch.
Andrea checked her own with a much more casual feeling; it was only five minutes past the hour, but that was evidently the reason that Lucas rolled from the ball of his foot to heel and changed. It was marvellous how ordered he could be – but, Andrea reminded herself, order was not a thing to celebrate. Not with Lucas.
Léa’s eyes drifted over the concrete, too. “Do you want to get a table, Lucas? Andrea and Alexia can join us when she arrives. We’ll beat the line that way.”
Lucas smiled quickly, lifting only the corner of his lips. He blew Andrea a kiss, and she dipped her head in return.
“So, have you met Alexia before?” Andrea heard Léa say as they headed into the building. Even then, she knew the reply forming on her partner’s lips:
“No, I’ve only heard many, many things about her….”
Andrea rubbed her hands together, trying to refrain from falling back into the wonder of introspection. It wouldn’t be long.
Indeed, it was only a minute later that Alexia appeared around the curve of the main road. Cheeks and nose blushed bright by the nipping cold, she gave Andrea a quick wave, before stripping off her leather gloves and tucking them into a coat pocket.
“Come on,” Andrea said with a little giggle, letting her friend grab her arm and lead her in to The Shanghai Diner.
“Not my fault. I had to rush of over the place today. I wish you’d consulted me first. I might not have been well enough for it.”
Andrea shot her friend a look. That was unlikely. “But you were and that’s good.”
Alexia caught the look and cheekily held it. “Well, I do thank you for inviting me here.”
“There’s another reason,” Andrea whispered. “But I’ll talk to you about it later.”
“Sure, whatever you want.”
It took them a few seconds to locate Lucas and Léa at a table near the back of the restaurant. She let out a little sigh of relief to see Lucas’ hands gently clasped in front of him and his feet still on the floor below. His sister knew him well enough.
Having exchanged the usual greetings, Alexia sat down opposite Léa and Andrea took her place next to her, opposite Lucas. With identical smiles, the siblings greeted the friends.
“What do you think you’re going to have?” asked Alexia.
“Oh, I don’t know.” Andrea scoured her menu, eyes flicking occasionally upwards to see how Lucas was making his way through the selection. His eyes were so intense that they almost pierced through the paper.
He gave out a soft chuckle. “Maybe the lemon, rosemary chicken. I don’t know, either.”
“Of come on!” exclaimed Andrea. “I can make that for you at home.”
“Maybe.” His eyes twinkled in unison.
A waitress shuffled over, notebook in hand. When they came to ordering, though, Andrea kept her eye upon Lucas for a different reason. When he ordered one of the finest wines in the menu, without thinking of money, she did exactly the same.
In fact, Andrea didn’t think about much of what she ordered – but she knew she would like it nevertheless.
From there, her mind turned to food and work and the multitude of unmemorable conversations that the four of them created and, just as quickly, dispersed.
They were halfway through their main meal when a look flitted across Alexia’s face. Andrea had been midway through a conversation with the Gorge siblings about the restaurant, to which they had never before been, and had been looking around the displays. Andrea had gone to point out the dragon decoration across the way to Alexia because it had reminded her of the sharpness of her friend's expression. Only because she had turned did she notice the shock on Alexia face. It was there for a fraction of a second and then gone, but it was enough to raise Andrea's attention.
Alexia raised her sharp glasses as the door opened. She and Andrea were facing outwards; Léa and Lucas could only see into the bright red interior of The Shanghai Diner, and, consequently, they did not see the group who strode through the door next.
Alexia was on the cusp of rolling her eyes. Andrea could easily see that. Instead, she covered her surprised tone with what Andrea could only say as being deep sarcasm.
“Oh, here come the exes,” Alexia remarked. She stopped, tongue darting in and out of her mouth as if she had bitten into it. “Wait. How does Harry know Keith?”
Sure enough, Keith led the group of six men forward, his brown jacket zipped up against the cold outside air. It had been a while since she had confronted him, and Andrea didn’t particularly want to think back to the phone calls she had always meant to make. But Keith did look well. That was enough for a start.
Behind Keith strode a taller man with a muscular chest, and this was where Alexia’s eyes were trained. This must have been the infamous Harry. Wow.
“Harry knows Keith?” Andrea repeated, startled.
“What’s that?” quizzed Lucas, staring in Andrea’s direction with a concentrated air. She shook at the thought of the two men once again competing for her attentions. Neither had really shared a conversation but for her. It was worrying to think of the two of them attempting to talk in her absence.
Andrea swallowed and shrugged at her partner. Instead of dwelling, she subtly tilted her head back to the group, focusing on the athletic man beside Keith.
“That’s Harry?” They hadn’t conversed about Alexia’s ex-husband. That was the rule.
“Don’t say it. I know what you want to say. But don’t.”
Andrea refrained from opening her mouth to ask why they had divorced or to consider the difference between the two people. She could hardly talk when Lucas had been the star to her grounded ship.
By now, the women’s undivided attention to the group at the podium had intrigued both the siblings with whom they were dining. Lucas was as swift as he was quiet with his rotation to stare at his rival; Léa, on the other hand, was full of commotion as she twitched, inch by inch, trying to keep her feet on the ground and the elastic hem of her dress from lifting too far up.
She couldn’t look away.
Keith, already flirting with the waitress, had not spent the time noticing Andrea’ group as she had with his. Harry, on the other hand, had begun to scan around the restaurant for a table that would accommodate their seven. Almost all the bigger tables towards the front of the restaurant were filled, so Harry lifted his hand up to his eyes, narrowing out his vision to the back. He had only just pointed in their direction when his face contorted with surprise.
Harry leant towards Keith and muttered something, before making his way back through the chatter and the munching, pacing himself through the obstacles. Andrea didn’t have to turn again to check to know that he was heading for the empty table behind them.
Alexia’s deep eyes intercepted him the entire journey.
“Hello, Harry. Are you keeping well?” Her voice was stilted, more American than usual.
He almost bristled, as if she had slapped him. A scowl rested on his features.
“Yeah. What are you doing here?”
“Dining,” Alexia crisply replied.
“Harry,” called that same voice that spilled chills down Andrea’s spine. She begged herself not to feel affected sympathy.
Keith was lumbering forward, perhaps ready to remove his friend from his ex. The Gorge siblings had not taken their eyes from him. Lucas had placed his hand upon Léa’s arm and was muttering to her, lips curved downwards form the angle he was twisted in.
Harry sneered at Alexia one last time before turning to his friend.
“Yeah, I found us a table over here.”
Harry strode away with no other look to his former wife. She herself looked down at her food and sliced off another quarter of her his. She speared it with the sharpest fork and ate it with much vigour.
When Harry was gone, Keith remained, in view. Almost as if he didn’t want to, Lucas cleared his throat. The sound was just loud enough for Keith to gaze down at the party with whom Harry had made stern words. Lucas looked away, flushing pink in the awkwardness he knew was to come. Léa still twitched in her revealing dress, watching Keith with a tilted head.
Andrea was certain that their eyes locked.
Léa whirled back around to face Andrea. She melted down into the seat. Her face suddenly drained of all the colour it had possessed before; in the place of her rosy cheeks was a pallet of white stress.
Keith made to move in her direction, stopping and starting like his routine was broken. Well, it had been for a while when he had included Léa into his life. Andrea studied the man; he appeared to be split two differing ways, even after his had thrust his jaw into the air and marched past the four of them.
Maybe she was right. Andrea kept her eyes upon Keith, though it meant she had to twist away from the others. When warm hands encircled her own, Andrea jumped, only to find Lucas comforting her.
“You okay?” he said in a surprisingly warm voice. Lucas’ eyes were hard – sad, almost – but when he glanced at Andrea, they both calmed.
“I’m fine,” she replied. “I’m not thinking about what he almost did…I’m thinking about what he could do. His future is not mine now.”
“Lucas….” interrupted Léa in a tiny voice.
Andrea looked to her; she was still as white as ever, but now she stared, with harrowing eyes on the verge of tears, over Andrea’s head. Of course: Léa and Lucas had to face Keith now. That had to be hard for them both.
However, it was Léa who was suffering. She squirmed, pushing her brother out of the way.
“Excuse me,” Léa trembled. “I can’t do this.”
“Léa!” cried Lucas, reaching for his sister, but she tugged her arm out of his way. In seconds, she had made her way to the door in a trot and had run straight out of the restaurant.