Lucas knew it was the start of his new life. Even the following day he took to with fervour; he marked exercise books and devised half of the mock exam paper to test his students in the new term, as was expected in his duties as Head of Department. Where he had slacked before, he unlocked a new energy from his surroundings. No doubt even Andrea could see it.
As he lifted himself up from his desk and gathered a second paper of notes from the coffee table, he hummed d – to himself more than anybody else – a motif of a Christmas Carol he had been practising with the choir. He had once been the Director of Music at Lansdale College’s Catholic Chaplaincy, but had quit on an impulse of the obsessions had been carrying around. He hadn’t felt ‘worthy enough’. Now, however, Lucas had spotted a notice for the hiring of a new Director and he was refreshed enough to consider reapplying. Lucas giggled to himself. They should hire him.
The one problem was that Andrea didn’t pay attention to his absences. She was wrapped up in her painting schedule in order to raise money for him. That was sweet, but Lucas had been cutting down on his expenses. He could survive without her wild-haired scheme. He could survive without having to work at that school if he lived on the very edge of ‘simple ’, but Lucas had only just stopped simultaneously treating and restraining himself.
He popped out, almost three evenings a week, in preparation for the Carol Service in the Chaplaincy, but even when he returned, tired yet joyful, Andrea never parted her gorgeous lips to ask where he had been. That smarted. Other women had clutched to his ideas like they were pearls, but Andrea sometimes acted as if she was not in a relationship at all. Lucas liked independence, but the way Andrea acted in hers…. He couldn’t comprehend her childhood, which had sounded lonely as an only child, but he supposed that it could not have been worse than his own.
But that was a rather pompous thought.
It just confused him. When she showed him love, Andrea was a darling; when she didn’t, she was a different person. He didn’t remember seeing that when his OCD had forced him to latch onto her – and, yes, now he shamefacedly admitted it – but now his mind was clearer, she wasn't the perfect match. Then again, who was? Lucas was a little afraid of giving his life to a woman. With no way out.
Maybe he wouldn’t invite her to the Choral service. He didn’t know if she would like it. In fact, there was a lot Lucas didn’t actually know about Andrea. She didn’t seem the type to pray and recite and sing like he was. They were as different as they were the same at a first glance.
He wrapped up warm as he prepared cycled out that morning, singing more snatches of different hymns from the mass he had been to the previous night. Lucas was flat-out busy. Yet, Andrea still had not noticed. This new work would keep his mind off the frustration.
Andrea started at the creaking opening of the front door. Her first thought was that it needed oiling. Her second was that Lucas was heading out. With that, of course, came the question of where? She pulled herself away from her laptop, rubbing her sore eyes. Even in the natural light, it was not a bright enough morning to be staring from screen to screen.
In fluffy socks that caught against the grain of the carpet, she made her way to the front door, gathering her cardigan around her. Lucas was there, straddling his bicycle, on foot on the driveway, but one already in place on a pedal.
He noticed Andrea at the last minute, his expression growing to a beam. She crept closer and tried to gesture, but their voices caught over each other. Lucas kissed her goodbye and pushed off. “I’m going to do some shopping. Is there anything you need?”
“No, thank you.”
“Don’t fall off,” she called, remarking of his lack of helmet.
Yet, she, too, felt the urge to now go cycling about without a helmet. What weirdness this feeling was to her.
Andrea trudged back into the house, smiling to herself at Lucas’ optimism. She slipped a lock of hair behind her ear, and moved around their living room, tidying up the debris that both of them – but mostly his untidy, scruffy nature – had abandoned.
Moving Lucas’ list off the coffee table, Andrea spotted a phone. Lucas’ phone. She cursed under her breath. He was off, without his phone. What if he needed to contact her? Andrea shook her head at her own ridiculousness. She didn’t need to worry, because of Lucas’ ingenuity.
She lifted it, ready to tuck it away into her handbag. Maybe if she took the car now, she’d catch up with Lucas in less than a minute.
In her hand, the phone started to shake. It lit up in a neon white shudder. Andrea jumped; the name on the screen was too much of a familiar face. Still, Andrea wasn’t going to be negative. She put the brick-like shape to her ear.
“Hullo?” she said.
“Andrea? Where’s Lucas?” It was Léa. And Andrea thought she had been deceiving herself.
“He’s popped to the shops, or something, but he forgot his phone. I was about to pass it onto him when you called. So…um, how are you?”
She bit her tongue, refraining from adding in any moments of time.
“Yeah, you know. I carry on.”
Andrea bit her lip. There was a thin line between just enough kind words and overdoing it. “If there’s anything you need…. I mean, like, you called, so if there is any more I can do.”
Léa said nothing. Andrea heard her shallow breathing, but there was no spoken response. After a minute – and Andrea knew to wait – Léa spoke again.
“You know,” she pondered, “Keith was asking about you.”
“Of course, he does love –”
Andrea cleared her throat, cutting Léa off.
“I’d think about what you’re saying before you say it.”
“Oh.” Léa said no more for a moment. She sounded as if she was playing with loose strand of her short hair again. Her next words trembled in all syllables. “You see…before I tried to tell him how I feel – felt, Keith wanted to know why you chose Lucas over him. I can understand. Of course I can!” She laughed lightly. “I just thought it was a bit weird of him asking.”
“I’m sorry,” responded Andrea. “He can be….” She shrugged.
“I’m sorry. Again. I shouldn’t have brought it up. I was calling for my brother.”
Andrea thought to herself. “Yeah. Do you have a message for me to pass on to Lucas?”
There was more deep silence from Léa.
“Yeah, I’m here. Sorry, I was just collecting myself. You know what the Gorge mind is like.” Was her chuckle nervous? “Tell Lucas that I was hoping to continue our conversation of the monetary decisions of the edge of my past affair, and that I hope he does splendidly conducting the Choir at the Service. As I’m sure he will.”
The last clause tripped up Andrea so much that she almost forgot to retain Léa’s words and to voice her confirmation. She finished their half-willed conversation shortly after that; Léa’s every word rang bitter, even when she argued against it.
Having lowered the phone to its original place, Andrea put aside a Christmas CD to listen to later, whether Lucas liked it or not. Although her mind cried that it was logical to work whilst her lovely distraction was out, she could not settle. Would it be right to paint today? Maybe she’d ask Lucas when he returned.
Whilst her mind flounced about from topic to topic, it was not on the usual subject of science and strategies for patients. Instead, Andrea couldn’t stop thinking about him. It was only December now, but that led to January and onto February. It was a treat to think of what Lucas might be planning.
Still, he annoyed her often. Mostly when he put on the mask of being vague, but also when that mask was whipped away to reveal a blatant refusal to talk about the truth. She was his partner – and she had a right to know!
Léa’s words had somehow stung Andrea sharply; it was as if he’d tell his sister, but never her.
She twitched her top, a deep red, so it lay across her figure better, and, after clearing her throat, sat down to read.
An hour later, Lucas came back, still humming to himself, but this time with more musical abandonment. He sung strands, moving his hands about – even through the plastic shopping bags – at certain dips or peaks of the melody. So it appeared.
Andrea counted the bags. Substantially fewer stood out than she would have expected from the time he had been away. Lucas hated shopping; he was, by definition, a fast shopper.
She looked him up and down. He had no hair out of place – literally – and his cheeks were only red from the nipping winds and the controlled breathing of cycling. Andrea’s eyes leapt to the window – the weather buffeted the trees, but had that calm to it as well. Contradictory, just like her swarming thoughts.
Andrea raised an eyebrow, subtly, she hoped. Where had he been all this time? Where he was made so happy. Panic constricted Andrea's chest for a moment. Breathe, she told herself, don’t be so ridiculous. But then came the memory that he had coerced her into an affair of her own.
“Are you okay?” asked Lucas. He waved a hand in front of his face. “Earth to Andrea.”
“Yeah,” she shook the layer of dust from her head; with his deep eyes so close to her, Andrea could not think that Lucas might have chosen someone else, “do you want help with anything?”
Lucas shifted his shoulders. “No, I’m all right.”
He smiled and tilted his head, before lifting the shopping bags into the kitchen. Before she knew it, he was wittering on about his bicycle.
Andrea followed him on her tiptoes. “Oh, I picked up your phone when it rang. Léa was expecting you to call. She said to pass on the message that she wanted to talk to you about the ‘monetary decisions of the edge of her past affair.’” Whatever that actually meant.
A shadow passed across his face. “Oh! I was wondering where that got to. Not that it particularly matters. What was that you said? Monetary decis –Yeah, no, I know what she was meaning.”
“Good, ‘cause I had no idea. Sounds cryptic.”
He laughed, but kept to himself for another moment. Lucas began packing away the perishable shopping, from a carton of apple juice and milk to the pork they intended to eat for dinner. She watched him do this for a minute, before stepping closer.
“Lucas,” Andrea said with great deliberation. “I thought we weren’t doing anything for Christmas.”
He caught the note in her voice, just as he always did. “We...aren’t, are we?”
“Léa said something else. What’s this, then, about you conducting the choir in an upcoming service? Since when do you –?” Silly question.
“Since two weeks ago,” Lucas rebuffed. “The choir don’t need so long to get used to a different répétiteur. They have been practising laboriously for a month already.”
He said it with such casual ease!
“Why didn’t you tell me?” Andrea cried.
Lucas didn’t face her. “You didn’t ask. Ever.”
That tone was worse than the other one.
“I didn’t think to….” Andrea frowned. It shouldn’t have been an important matter to either of them. It didn’t hold much weight…did it? Andrea wasn’t sure, and that alone made her feel giddy. In addition to the threat she felt from these professional musicians, Andrea’s head spun. She lifted a bunch of bananas from the bag and trying to arrange them into the fruit bowl. A hand of hers managed to sneak up and scrape her hair back again.
“So it was the plural you were having an issue with? Why, are you doing Christmas on your own?” she rebuked.
Lucas flinched. Strange. He normally had a ready comeback.
Lucas ran his hands through his thick hair. “Andrea.”
“Yes?” She waited, but Lucas said nothing. “Yes?”
“I didn’t expect you’d want to come.”
She bristled. “Why?”
“Well…it’s not the sort of thing you’d listen to, classical chorists.”
“Excuses.” Yet, she had posed a similar tale to Keith once….
“Just because I don’t ask about things, doesn’t mean I don’t care,” she grumbled.
Lucas’ arm darted out and snuck around her waist. He created traction with a movement, but Andrea withheld, still annoyed.
“Sorry…?” The smallness of his accented voice made her cringe.
She spun, taking his arm with her. They were noses apart. “Yeah, it was a silly thing to say.” She paused, pushing her hands up to his broad chest.
The type of music she normally listened to or not, she would still be spending time with Lucas, the handsome man who had her in his hands. Andrea blushed. She was also curious about this organ talent he had professed, but never been so ostensible as to perform to her. It didn’t make any difference.
“So,” she said to Lucas. “Christmas day. Can we go to this Carol service? It would give us something better to do.”
His eyes flicked, as rapid as his pulse, between her own. She couldn’t read the expression forming underneath his eyebrows. “If you really want to.”
“Oh, I do. For you.”
“All right.” But, seconds later, Lucas was grinning, as if he’d escaped the hissing rage of a volcano rather than her brewing anger alone.
With him, Andrea packed away the non-perishables, the object and foodstuffs that did more than withstand a bit of nature’s wrath. The conversation turned to dinner, to trivial matters, to the possibility of Léa’s hiding more than she dared reveal to Andrea – and neither to Lucas, so he said. As she worked, Andrea shot him more glances, trying to catch the side of Lucas that bled from him when he thought she was not looking. Yet, Andrea could see no change, and she allowed him to ramble on and on about the service.
Hoping that this impulsiveness wouldn't be the end of her.