Nineteen: Covert Conversations

The trio sat in silence. Then, after he had pulled himself out of his stupor, Lucas, too, raced out of the restaurant.

Andrea put her head in her hands. She only released herself from the prison of doubts when she felt the movement from beside her; Alexia was shifting the plates and crockery on the table.

Andrea rotated to spy on Keith again, he uncomfortable, too, amongst the fun and games of his colleagues. She knew, without a doubt, that he had been watching Léa the moment she had charged out. The guilt was written all across his face.

“Don’t do that. We can’t stay here, Alexia. Not with them there.”

“I don’t mind Harry,” she said, twirling her straw in her drink and sucking the fizzy daiquiri from it.

Andrea raised her eyebrows. “That’s not the point.”

Alexia continued slurping. “So, what are you gonna do?”

Andrea shrugged. She turned her attention to Lucas now walking back into the restaurant, that look written all over his face.

He sighed as he slid back down into his seat.

“How is she?” Andrea asked, quivering. She took Lucas’ hands from his face and gently rubbed them. They were slightly nipped from the weather, but both palms glowed red.

“I can’t help but stress, you know. I’ve sent her on her way; Léa’s not going to be fit for the rest of the dinner.”

“Oh dear,” added Alexia.

“I didn’t realise she was so affected.”

“Neither did I,” said Lucas, “but she regresses, or something, a lot of her emotions. Did when we were young. I think…seeing Keith again overwhelmed those hidden things.”

Andrea was no longer hungry. She pushed her plate in Alexia’s direction. “Probably.”

“I am so sorry. Not for Léa’s actions, totally natural, but for suggesting TSD. I should have said we travel further.”

“Lucas!” Andrea scolded. “That’s a stupid thing to be sorry about. None of this is, in any way, your fault.”

Lucas gave them both an uncomfortable look.

“I’ll get the bill, eh?” he suggested, half shrugging.

“Yeah.” Andrea studied him. Whilst his eyes lingered on Keith a little, Lucas bore none of the dramatic reaction his sister had shown.

As Lucas left for the counter, Andrea fiddled. First with the napkin on her lip, and then the curls that fell onto her forehead. She shook her head to clear the strands away.

“Alexia,” she began.

Lucas was back in a flash, leaping back as quickly as Andrea could blink. Her world was moving too slowly. He had been there, five metres away, and suddenly he was back, at her elbows and across from her face, hands darting outwards.

“She’s busy,” Lucas said, dipping his head in the direction of the counter and waitress. “She says she’ll come to us when there’s a free space in the queue. Apparently, TSD is particularly overbooked tonight.  Anyway, there’s not much more we can do. No use stringing it out. ” He tried to caress Andrea’s cheek, but they were both trembling. Not too much to make any difference, but enough to make the contact jagged and distorted.

Andrea pulled away first; she was conscious that their lovey-doveyness would make Alexia uncomfortable. Alexia herself turned, raising eyebrows. But in her look was a question – referring to what Andrea had begun to say.

She dipped into her purse, and fingers brushed upon the keypad of her phone silently. Whilst she typed by touch, Andrea pretended to look between Alexia and Lucas, whilst her mind was absent in that direction. Instead, she smiled politely, and muttered obscurely:

“Don’t worry about those work things, Alexia. I’ll email you. Now’s not the right time to talk about it.”

Alexia’s eyes met Andrea’s and passed through them down to her hands.

“I understand.” She gently smiled.

Lucas looked between them, and signalled for the waitress again. Now, his impatience was clearer. He took the knives from the plates, pairing forks together. He picked at the pieces of his chicken, torn between taking it and leaving it alone now that the meal had turned rottenly cold.

It had been a while since Andrea had thought deeply about Lucas’ ailment, but the night’s flurries had brought the memories of his troubles right back into her world. She studied him out of the corner of her eye, finishing the message on her phone, her covert conversation with Alexia across the table:

‘Lex, you work on diagnoses; do you think that Lucas shows much of being affected?

In a minute, Alexia having popped out her buzzing phone and given a certain hidden glance across the table, the reply was in Andrea’s hands:

What do you mean?

“Lucas,” Andrea whispered. “Please stop that.”

Even before she had finished speaking, the conversation had been well over. He jumped, pulling his hands away.

“What do you mean?”

“Nothing,” she coyly replied; “just pay more attention to your guests.”

“I am.” He grinned, but his smile was somehow crooked.

As she started up a monosyllabic conversation with them about work, Andrea gestured at an angle to her friend, whose eyes now strayed to the crockery, to Lucas’ arrangement of vegetables and meat on his place, to the increase in edging everything back into place once he had seen how hurt Léa had been. He loved her, that was for sure, and that protective instinct was deeply embedded, age disregarded.

Andrea’s mobile shook with another text, this one leaving Alexia concluding:

Is he OCD? I would not have thought, but now…. Are you worried?

I think I should do something about it. Something more, Andrea replied simply.

“Sorry to cut your conversation short, ladies, but the waitress, I think she might have forgotten,” grumbled Lucas. “I’ll go up and try again, shall I?”

“That would be good, thank you.” Andrea nodded him away.

Alexia took off her glasses and cleaned them on her napkin. “Three percent of the UK suffers from OCD, but most hide it. Lucas is very good at doing so –”

“Until he gets stressed.”

“Well, I knew what I was looking for,” added Alexia. “What are you going to do?”

“I’ve been booking him in for Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy at the Swinford Clinic with Dr. Morrison, but something’s not working. I know of the technique, and Lucas must be holding back. No, Lucas is definitely holding back. He clams up when I ask about him at home.”

She rested her hands on her palms. “‘At home’. You guys make such a cute couple.”

“Alexia, focus!”

She did so, her eyes clouding over with thought. “Oh, I know Mark Morrison. He was studying for his doctorate at Oxcote when I was an undergrad. Wait, was that where you applied for the Head of Degenerative Diseases Department post?”

“Let’s not talk about that now. You know Dr. Morrison? Good. I’d rather not speak to him myself.”

“He might seem like a typical Conston Grammar School and Oxcote University snob, but Dr. Morrison’s quite nice when you get to know him. You say Lucas is holding back?”

“There’s been improvement, calm mostly, but he’s concealing something affecting him. It’s that which comes out at times of stress like this, especially with Léa. You know how the technique works.”

“And it doesn’t unless he faces everything. He won’t tell you? Right. I can email Dr. Morrison for the favour, tell him that I’m a doctor of Lucas’ as well. That way, he won’t find an excuse not to say what’s been going on in the sessions.”

Andrea couldn’t help chuckling as she listened to her friend’s conjurations. “That sounds a ridiculous plan. Do you really think he’ll agree?”

“Oh, I do,” said Alexia, and her eyes glistened. Andrea knew that her plan had been more than to help Lucas. And she was glad Alexia had that intense intelligent to use her wiles to cheer them all up together after what a disaster the night had become.

Andrea shot Harry another sly look. He was leaning back in his window-seat, as chauvinistic as could be, with elbows positioned lazily and a drink in one hand. He was recounting some event that had happened at the office – no, the bank, evidently from where he knew Keith – that portrayed him in both a masculine and a positive light. Not that they were both exclusive. Still, Andrea was thankful that Alexia had got rid of this man.

When she broke away from her thoughts, Lucas was just sitting back down. His hands shook a little, but he rubbed them together in circular motions as if to distract from that fact. Andrea tore her eyes away politely.

“There, ladies, it’s all paid for.”

“Oh, Lucas, you didn’t have to do that,” said Alexia. “I would have paid my share.”

“No, as Andrea said, you’re my guest. It’s fine.” He stood, abruptly enough to make Andrea worry further. She raised her eyebrows as she gathered her phone from the tabletop, as if she was trying to have a subtle conversation with it, too.

Andrea rubbed a hand lovingly against Lucas’ arm to signal that he should start moving out, but she herself had one more reason to stay.

With once last glance at the party that contained Keith, Andrea moved away. As she did so, Keith happened to look in her direction and catch her eye. His smile was short and tight, but a smile nevertheless. And Andrea knew exactly what he meant by that mismatched look: that he missed her still.

“Will we see Léa again soon?” Alexia asked in general.

“If she’s okay.” Andrea found herself gesturing into space. The door did not come soon enough, though they were at its opening in double-time, all because no one wanted to remain in the vicinity of Keith and his colleagues.

The night had more bite from its winter cloak of mist; Alexia instantly slipped on her fine gloves, but Andrea had nothing her cover her own pinkening hands. She rubbed them together, feeling all the weight from the atmosphere above pressing down – like humidity but without the heat.

“Goodnight, Alexia.”

“Goodnight. And good luck.”

Andrea nodded her goodbye to her friend and then took her lover’s hand. “Come on, Lucas, let’s go home.”

The End

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