Lucas smoothed down his shirt. He should have given it a second iron. He reached for a yellow tie, folding it around, caressing his own neck, tilting it up to meet in a neat knot in its middle. In the mirror, the outfit shone, almost complete. Lucas prodded his tie, grinning at its vibrancy.
A little twitch of his fringe caught Lucas’ eye; the front of his hair that fought hard to remain in the quiff he had long abandoned for style, and today bore no exception to the rule as it pinged back up, disregarding Lucas’ past brushstrokes.
It had been a long day, though not without its freedom of study. When she was not at work, Andrea was still painting, something for which Lucas admired her tenacity. He himself had dived into constructing the mock-exam paper for the next term. Again. This was probably the most important part, minus the teaching, of his job. Yet nothing had come to him. No flash of inspiration, no coil of electric perspicacity. Sometimes, it was no fun losing quirkiness.
That was one of the reasons Lucas hated the holidays. Boredom augmenting in quick instalments. Today, there had been no opportunity – or indeed: sense – to call a meeting of the choir, as the performance was forthcoming.
Loose ends showed in the awkward unfolding of Lucas’ unwieldy forelock.
He poked his head out into the corridor; Andrea held her own hairbrush, touching up her amber waves, so he emerged from his room, nudging his tie all the time. He resisted the urge to be over-finicky. It was so tempting at times! And since they had fought last time – it had only been a few days ago, Lucas calculated – he had been finding it harder to apply the CBT without thinking of her and starting guiltily.
He had been eyeing the floor the entire time. He looked back at Andrea. She pouted and raised her eyebrows at him, welcoming all the time. She tossed her hairbrush to the bookcase and ran a hand over her hair once. She dazzled in the little light streaming though the upper window. Lucas sighed.
Andrea picked at the flowery fabric of her dress. He tilted his head, a smile tugging on his lips. He’d not seen her wear that one before. But, as Andrea dug a nail into a small hole, he spotted that the cloth was not new. It was nice that she had pulled out something to wear for him.
Andrea blushed. “What?”
Lucas grinned. “Hi.”
“How do I look?”
Andrea fiddled. “Good, I’m trying.”
Lucas nodded. He shuffled forward and pecked Andrea’s cheek. Her smooth face was unusually warm under a faint layer of foundation and the impression of his lips. On the other hand, those hands of hers, when Lucas encircled one with his, felt tight and cold, already fighting the typical winter evening to come.
“You always look divine,” he told her.
Andrea turned red again. She nodded, eyes displaying something interesting. Was that…guilt? Lucas couldn’t tell. She had little to feel sorry for, though she was trying. She had changed. And he did like that. In moderation.
He gestured to the stairs in a swing of his external arm. Andrea attempted to conceal the apprehensive smile pushing out from her soul to her curvaceous lips. She nodded and adjusted a small bracelet on her wrist. That was new – old? – too. Lucas made a mental note about asking her when they had corresponding free time. That was not planning ahead. He wiped away the damp residue from his lips, and swore that as a promise to himself.
Behind him, Andrea kept twisting her fabric body. Her anxiousness was understandable.
The car awaited, a broad chariot in the evening glow buzzing from the streetlamp above; as he closed his front door, Lucas clasped Andrea’s hand close. Her heartbeat pulsed through the blankets of skin around their fingers, bleeding into his own in an instant. Maybe he could guide her through religion just as he guided her through the current night.
They arrived earlier than they had expected. They had left earlier than intended anyway. It made sense. Lucas exited the car with a swing in his step, a bounce he hoped added only to his gait. When he swerved around to Andrea’s side of the car, intent on being a gentler man, she was already scooping her gorgeous legs out of the vehicle.
Again, he extended an arm for her to take, but Andrea snatched up his hand from where it hung loosely by his side instead. Mutually, they steered each other in the direction of a small, rough path that served as the first entrance to the chapel-building.
They didn’t say a word to each other. Andrea’s eyes careered off towards the deep sky and stopped short of spire apexes visible simply through the two bulbs affixed to the outer framework of the chapel. Once he had seen that he was not going to catch her attention, Lucas observed the flowers on the path. Even in the darkness, drops of colour curled from the earth, marking Creation’s simplicity in wisps of winter wanderers.
They walked as two, even with adjoining hands.
“Through here,” was the first thing he said since the shared small-talk in the car. Lucas extended a hand in indication, and Andrea pushed her way through the long panes of glass.
She stopped at the door to the chapel, her head peeking and poking the air in sporadic movements – as if she no idea how she had to sit.
As usual, the congregation was minimal, judging only by the confines of wooden pews that dug into the chapel floor. Lucas eyed his watch to prove that they were early. Nevertheless, the high ratio of grey hair to any other shade unnerved him. He tapped the watch, wishing the time to still.
On the other hand, Lucas didn’t recognise one face. He smiled. When he shifted his gaze over the front-centre blocks of wood, he finally came to notice someone under sixty.
“Come on, Andrea. Let’s sit over there.”
He took her hand – clammy and shivering – and tugged her along. That resistance only straightened her body for a few seconds more.
The print flowers on the dress were flattened and Andrea shrank into place, tucking her legs just to the side of the knee-cushion as if she did so regularly. Lucas folded in beside her, blocking any escape. If Andrea had any brewing ideas of running at the last moment, he had already created a standing block. Andrea, however, leant into the pew, regardless of its rough exoskeleton.
The front door creaked and Lucas craned his neck towards it. In very slow time, a young couple - younger indeed than Andrea and Lucas - wandered in and settled themselves into a nearby pew. After them, more parishioners filled the bones of the church. Lucas relaxed, his fingers tingling as they readied themselves to skim the keys of his beloved organ.
"I'd not given much credit to the Lansdale worshippers," he said. "Oh, look, I know her; she's the parent of one of my students." He waved.
When he turned back, Andrea was in the midst of rifling through an order of liturgy that she had picked up at the door. She paused over one leaf, fingers falling, tracing a certain eight words.
Andrea’s head jolted. She started under the heat of his gaze.
“‘Lucas Gorge, Director of Music, St. Anne’s College’. It sounds so official.”
“Not particularly,” said Lucas. He didn't see the point in saying more.
Andrea sat in silence as the remainder of the congregation arrived. However, she fiddled with an edge of the program, a smile tipping the corner of her mouth.
And the service started, all the vital organs of the body utilised together to achieve the pounding machine that he was used to. Lucas had not heard much of the other pieces, but they captivated him all the more so. He sang for those pieces that he had no change of position, and he often weaved a hand around her waist. It was his own way of making her feel welcome. Andrea’s smile, albeit directed as inwardly as she could, grew as the music augmented. Andrea delighted in the effort of music; that much was evident. Not in the way she sung, indeed, but in the way she dropped and lifted her froth hair.
When it was time for Lucas’ own conducting, careful indicated by Andrea as before, he straightened out the folds of his trousers, not rhythmically, but sensitively, and stood, sneaking through the cluttered pews. Amongst a dozen piercing eyes, Andrea’s were the only important pupils he hoped were gleaming.
He lifted and swished his hands before the muscle movement kicked in. Conducting was, like any absorption of music, reliant most strongly on automatic principles. It was less a waving of the hands than a listening of the music. The choir made Lucas buzz, too. Every face merged with their sounds, layer upon layer weaving together and building with the joy in Lucas’ chest. For a moment, he forgot his entire bundle of trouble with Andrea – nothing more than being the best conductor blared out to him. Music latched and fed on ills with ripe gums.
Less than five minutes later – for all the practise, his performance lasted so little as an intrusion in time – Lucas was shifting his trouser-legs up and sliding back into the pew. Andrea shone him a look of a bright angel. Wonderful.
The service continued. Lucas didn’t fiddle but during the times he made a point to Andrea. In the last third of the service, where the music had started to take a mellower tone, he had pulled away from his love, and now sat in thought and no thought. Amidst a particularly contemplative reading, Andrea uttered a little gasp beside him.
Lucas cast a lazy eye down to the order of service sheet, open on its fourth page, one which Andrea must not have investigated before. She ran a finger along the last line of text; Lucas already knew those words: 'accompanied by Director of Music, Lucas Gorge, on the organ'.
The pew wobbled as Andrea shifted in her seat. "Why didn't you tell me?"
The reading left behind it an abrupt silence. Lucas tensed, but only in his musical anticipation. He ignored her hissed query and strode over to the vast organ, the king of the instruments. He beamed at the expectant applause. That was more like it.
He braced himself above the organ stops; whilst he had been teaching for a good third of his life, Lucas felt a true affinity with the muse within his body, moaning now about escape. The passionate soul locked within a rational mind heard, and the Bach pallet was opened to him.
He launched his feet onto the pedals, locking them in. So many lines of sound flowed and danced, but Lucas was used to finding his way through their muddle. He checked the little mirror to the corner of the keyboard. Once, twice. That was not being obsessive, just secure.
He let his hands grace the keys, up and down. Each was a button under his grip; he deployed them with less thought; now the music seeped from his pores automatically. Man and machine became sound alone and Lucas played his translation of the written score decorating the pages on his stand.
Time must have passed, but a single minute could have been a lifetime in the heady grips of the melodic moment. At the final weighted chime of the chords, he raised his hands directly off the keyboard to chest-height, fighting any urge in arrogance.
Shuffling out of the structure, he gave a short bow in his numinous humility. Lucas was pretty sure that his grin said more than necessary. Lucas kept the bow; he gestured to the choir – and yet, it was them for whom the congregation cheered.
The organist was the last for welcoming.
He passed through the respectful heads bearing the grin. He only felt its heaviness when Andrea’s glance reached him. Quivering anger. Solitude within her glowering expression. She pursed her lips, gave no sign from her bowed head as Lucas returned. But he knew her enough.
“I hope you’re not sulking throughout the service,” he said as they lifted up their twin hymn books for the penultimate time.
“I’m not sulking,” she muttered. Andrea’s eyes darted onto the pages. Halfway through the first line, Andrea came in with her murmuring alto tones; she’d not sung in his presence like this, but Lucas could have guessed, from her own speech, that she would have possessed a warm a voice as that…no matter how quiet she made it.
In spite of how she did pout, Lucas smirked alongside Andrea. He caught the page number and the end of the bar from her tome, before flicking his own open and coming in at the beginning of the next phrase with the tenor harmony written, but rarely sung in a public, English service.
The heads in front turned slightly, but Lucas ignored the possible glances the might have given him. He was encouraging the loud! He was praising, after all. He was a good musician.
Andrea leant her head in. “Do stop giggling. You’re making people look at us.”
“Embarrassed, Andrea? You should get used to it.”
She was beginning to snigger, too. “Oh, all right.”
It felt right to talk to her whilst he was meant to be singing, as if taking time out from one good merely lead to a second good. Lucas nodded his head and, when the chorus had finished, joined Andrea’s mumble in the second verse.
The final pieces of the service rushed past, as Lucas had expected. He fiddled with his suit jacket buttons – but only very briefly. The unison light there in their hearts became enough to keep them in tune. When the service finished, he let the resounding clapping echo further. How comforting it was. When Lucas stood, he did it with slow contemplation. Nothing more. Andrea followed only a foot behind.
“So…Andrea….” Lucas raised a questioning eyebrow.
“Well, there was a lot less kneeling and proclaiming than I thought there’d be.”
“And a bit more singing?” Whilst Lucas restrained his laugh to save her feelings, the giddiness tickled his throat. “That’s why it’s a carol service.”
“Indeed.” Andrea licked her lips and Lucas almost saw them tighten, before she turned, keeping her head away from his. From the grip of her fists and the catch of her breath, Lucas felt the tension radiate from Andrea’s body. Again. Amidst all the joy of the day, their unified sourness still dampened the mood.
She wandered through the crowd pushing away from the altar and pews, leaving the church all bone and no meat once more. What pitiful sights, that religion appeared only temporary. And, Lucas added to himself, these people had come only for the music, not the faith.
“Wonderful playing, Mr. Gorge,” called a voice from somewhere on his right.
“Hmm? Oh, yes, thank you,” he mumbled.
Why did they have to keep arguing? What hurt Lucas more was the way he always caused Andrea such pain. He had promised her he would stop it, but again and again, they had this ridiculous tension cascading between them. But he loved her so.
“You’re all right, aren’t you, Andrea?” Lucas asked as soon as they had broken away into that fresh air accompanying still winter nights.
She ran a hand along the creases on her forehead, before folding it down into his own. Like a fan, the hand had transformed away the darkness of her expression. “Sure. I enjoyed the service, Lucas.”
“I’m glad you did.”
As they walked, she caught the edge of the gale blowing and swung their arms in time to it. Their fingers interlaced, and Lucas found Andrea softening his organ-worn tips. In the self-imposed silence, she pushed a sigh from her velvet lips, a short hiss of fatigue. Nothing more. Lucas tilted his head to the right. There she walked, bobbing in the colours of flowers, just out of his view. Andrea.