Perhaps Lucas had been asking her to come with him. He wasn’t very clear when it really came to asking for things from Andrea, despite how fancy he could be with his dance moves and humour-tinged ways.
Perhaps he wanted her to infer that she should get a religion. She had been presently agnostic for such a long time without knowing what that really meant. Religion was not the enemy; it simply kept evading her like a riddle. Now Lucas had a mixture of promises on his pointed lips, he expected her to turn to an answer, rather than sticking to her safe sidelines.
Andrea rubbed her head for the second time since Lucas had left. Half an hour had passed and he had not returned. Perhaps he really had gone to mass.
She was in no mood to follow. Yet, she grabbed her coat. She was in no greater mood to stay in the empty house, where even the heating could not be warmer than her heart of fire.
There was one address she recalled that she had never been to before, but this person could help her now.
With warm red tones and various shades of a grey-purple dotted about the place, Alexia’s flat was exactly how Andrea had once imagined it. A far cry from the hovel of assorted junk that Andrea’s old flat had been, this interior was a home and immaculately designed in its tasteful décor.
This was Alexia and she knew how to change nauseating plainness.
When Alexia answered the door after two rings, Andrea – despite all her heartache – took a moment to be surprised at how dressed down she was. Alexia’s long, dark hair lapped at her shoulders, slightly damp at its roots, and her figure was hidden within a draping dress. Even the black sleeves drooped and hung.
She gave Andrea one look and put on a false mask of irritation.
“I hope you know what time it is.”
Andrea recovered from her surprise in her uneven heartbeat. “Evening, I know. I’m sorry. Can I come in, Alexia?”
“It’s time for Britain’s Got Talent – but, yeah, come in.” In a moment, her expression changed in a curve. “What happened? Why are you here? I have so many questions. Lucas didn’t kick you out, did he?”
“Why would you assume that?” Andrea cried aloud, before losing any composure she had promised herself she would keep in Alexia’s presence, and bursting into fearful tears.
She tried to wave the worrying hands away. “Lucas hasn’t kicked me out, he hasn’t dumped me, but…we had another fight. It was a big one this time.”
Alexia’s eyebrows shot up. “I thought they were all ‘big ones’. You are fighters.”
Andrea swallowed the salt tears that had rolled into her mouth. She pulled a face. “This one was different. If you would let me in, I could tell you.”
Alexia held out her hand and aided Andrea above the sill and through the exterior door, for which she was very grateful. With tear-splattered eyes, all Andrea could see was the dark lines that cut through her vision. She bumbled through the well lit room.
“Sit down. Make yourself as much at home as you can.”
Andrea observed the flat. A glass of wine lounged on the stylish coffee table. Andrea found herself falling into the cosy seating that adorned the living room. The whole place appeared full of chairs! A beanbag was settled amongst the two living chairs; in the room through a painted arch-doorway was a swivel chair positioned for the desk and laptop beyond it. Andrea dug her fingernails into the short plush, eyeing the curving glass. Automatically, she snatched it up, wiping her eyes.
Alexia grabbed the television remote and flicked off the gadget. Each movement couldn’t care less – except when her beautiful head turned in Andrea’s own direction.
“I hope you’re not going to drink me out of my alcohol!” she chided.
Andrea shrugged. She sipped the red delicacy and attempted a smile, only to be soured by the artificial warmth.
“So, tell me what happened? Spare no details, Andry.”
Andrea rolled her eyes in a wild manner. “It’s religion. That’s what he said.”
“What about religion? Don’t leave me in the dark. I’m trying to help.”
“He…has complained that I don’t pay attention to him, that I don’t ‘ask him where he goes when he leaves the house without me’. Or whatever. Goodness knows.”
Alexia must have detected the snide tone of her voice. “Take the wine carefully, Andrea. You’re such a lightweight.”
“Just leave me alone,” she grumbled.
Alexia pursed her lips, ignoring the remark. That was good. “You were always interested in his ‘religiosity’, remember.”
Andrea cursed inwardly at Alexia’s fulfilment of her teasing promise. Now it was not so much fun to hear herself being quoted in this way.
“That’s his way, though,” she protested. “Unfortunately, it means we have something to pull us apart in no time.”
“I don’t mean to be pessimistic, but there were always things to pull you two apart. You came together in – what? – unconventional settings to begin with.”
Andrea slammed the glass down, completely empty.
“That never mattered,” Andrea told her. “I was – am – prepared to be with him irrespective of our pasts. You don’t think I’d deal with his matters badly? You know his OCD; I never left him because of that, where others had. You’d think the little thing of religion would be nothing compared to that. Guh.”
Alexia disappeared into another room. She returned a minute later with a second glass, full. For herself. “You think it little?”
“It depends how you look at it,” she said. “You don’t complain of the fact there could be so many wrongs, but you complain of him bringing it up.”
Wrongs? Alexia wasn’t falling into the moral terms of things, too, was she? Andrea would hate for another person to be chastising her for leading Léa to her own realisation.
A loose tear slipped from one corner of her eye, where it had been pricking her. Instead of flicking it away, Andrea felt relief as it traced a path over her cheek.
“Are you prepared to lose him to your pride?” Alexia challenged her.
“Lose him? He’s hardly going to kick me out for believing something different about the creation of the world.” Nevertheless, her heart went through a dozen stages of physical panic.
“Yeah; he sounds pretty serious, both about religion and about you.”
“Lucas never used to be like this. Yet…he’s been through a lot recently, what with the therapy and me and Léa‘s distress. She means a lot to him, too. Then again, I can’t begin to believe in something I never have before.”
“You need to tell Lucas that, not me. Man, I can’t believe I’m dolling out relationship advice.”
“You have your happy ever after. I’m happy you two have finally got your act together.” She sighed. “It’s not as if my own situation is politics.”
“But it means a lot to Lucas. If he asked you to give up painting –”
“I not asking him to stop being a Roman Catholic!”
“Near enough. If you don’t go to Mass with him, he might not go at all. And if ever anything else happens…Catholics like to make sure that they know what part of the household is theirs.”
Andrea gaped at her. Every word was another cold knife in her heart. “What are you saying?”
“I think you know, Andry. If you guys get closer, he’ll want to know if you’ll accept the Catholic side of everything he does. Hell, maybe he was already asking.”
“He was talking about morals. That’s so irrelevant. I never said I wouldn't accept him!”
What were they actually talking about now? Andrea quivered at the thought…. Yet, it was something that she very much wanted. Losing Lucas didn’t even sound plausible.
“Again, no need to tell me,” muttered Alexia. Whilst she probably didn’t care be sarcastic any longer, there was a second, darker tone pushed out for Andrea to detect. She stroked the plush of the chair, forcing down the feelings.
“What can I do? Lucas knows all this already.”
Alexia folded her arm into a long, black snake. “Well, it shouldn’t be too hard to reiterate it to him, then.”
Andrea focused only upon the thought of wine. Wine and impulsivity. That made troubles better. But her glass was empty – and Alexia was not letting up her own words.
“Go on. Why don’t you tell him? If not for his or your sake, for my sake alone. Andrea. I don't want you two to break up."
Andrea started. She forced herself to frown. "We're not going to break up a week from Christmas."
"That's sure what it sounds like."
"Alexia!" Andrea cried. Her hand tightened on the chair arm. Andrea was pretty sure that she was leaving scratch-marks there, in the wall of fabric.
Alexia lifted her own glass to her lips, licking them once the red stain had nourished her. She tilted her head. "Lucas stormed out after giving you an ultimatum."
"It was hardly an ultimatum," rebuked Andrea.
Sympathy dashed across Alexia's face. "You hardly know when you're going to break up."
Andrea wished there were more wine to stop her bottom lip from trembling so. Alexia had a point, even without mentioning Keith. A guilty lump stuck to the back of Andrea's throat without the warm liquid to wash it down.
Her hands shook as she stretched in the chair. "It won't come to that."
Alexia's look was equally sceptical. "If it does, what would you do?"
"Please! I – but –” She shook her head. In the top edge of her vision, Alexia was pacing, taking her time despite her irritation.
“I know I’ve said it before,” Andrea added, “but what am I supposed to do? I don’t know.”
Alexia swilled her glass, staring at its contents. “I don’t either. Please don’t learn to rely on me like this…I don’t know if my advice is worth trusting.”
Andrea sprung out of the seat.
“Of course, it is, Alexia!” she cried.
Her face splattered with tears again. Andrea hugged herself in a vain attempt to console away the mistakes. As she agonised in the middle of Alexia’s living room, the woman grabbed Andrea by the shoulders and embraced her roughly.
Wet hair tickled Andrea’s bare neck, but she slid her head onto Alexia’s shoulder, squeezing the arm that had tucked itself around her own. Despite being pinned in the hug, she tried not to squirm. When the feelings of guilt driving her to cry had subsided, Andrea cleared her throat and pulled away.
Alexia finished off her wine. “Are you going to home, or…?”
“I guess I must. Thank you. For listening, more than anything.”
The mesh of chair fibres coaxed Andrea down. She resisted the urge to collapse again – for all the good it would do her. She might well have wanted the sleep provided, were it not for the instinct that the cold Alexia she had known was going out of her way to procure hospitality. Eventually, she swapped her weight from her hips to her feet.
Andrea’s face must have been mucky, but Alexia, friend that she was, said nothing. Instead, she guided Andrea back out of her apartment; any sign of care came from her lingering in the open doorway a little too long.
“Hey, Andrea,” she added as Andrea prepared to step into the swallowing darkness again.
“For what it’s worth, I think you and Lucas work, despite the hiccups. Think about it – okay?”
Well, Andrea wasn’t about to break up with him. It remained his call.
In retrospect, it really had been a ridiculous argument. Andrea couldn’t even remember how it had come to a high. Andrea pushed her head against the car steering wheel as she waited at traffic lights. If she had only agreed to consider the morals of the situation with him. How he had changed! What did it matter anyway? It wasn’t as if they couldn’t function as two separate people. Yes, Lucas may have once thought her an ordered part of his life, but, since the treatment, he had spent less time at home – looking back, she could see that he had indeed spent more evenings out than before Dr. Morrison had intervened – and had become less limpet-like around her. That made her feel no more or less appreciated, and yet she wished that he didn’t restrain the giddy warm that had attracted her to him.
Why did it aggravate her that her help had only led to her own unhappiness?
Driving back, Andrea rubbed her forehead. Life wasn’t fair. What a motto that was to repeat itself.
Lucas confused her to no end.
It was something that Andrea should have expected that very first morning she saw Lucas' fateful name in the paper. With all the mystery of his delights in silk scarves of many colours, she had overlooked the incompatibility of their beliefs. But were they incompatible? In a realisation, Andrea understood what he saw in the robed woman who knelt, statue-perfect, in one corner of his bedroom. Thinking again, Andrea could fairly say that Lucas had built an alter to the Virgin in his bedroom, a placid, respectful place of worship, which made her opinion look like bullets pushing him away from faith. She couldn't do that to the man she loved.
Lucas was home by the time she returned. Each of his movements were slow and controlled; only a muttering mouth told that he was working through his OCD behaviour treatment.
Andrea knew what she had to do.
“Lucas…” He turned, eyebrows automatically raising when he saw her figure. “Lucas, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to incite your anxiety.”
“I grew up under religion’s thumb. I learnt to love it.”
She hugged herself warm. “And I shall, too.”
“I don’t want to compete between you and your morals or faith stuff. You’re Catholic and I don’t mind. ‘We all have to sacrifice,’ you said. I’ve not ‘tried’ religion since childhood, but if it pleases you…how could it not please me? Maybe I’ll see what Catholicism says and…like it. It’s not creepy Pastor Clark in any case.”
A smile made its way onto Lucas’ lips. He must have known the Anglican Pastor. Lucas crossed from his place at the mantelpiece. He took her hands, but Andrea had a feeling that he wasn’t pacified yet by words. It would take time for his heart to lighten again.