It was silly to be so jittery, to be so fearful of trivial passings. Still, new, cold shivers trembled down her spine as Andrea approached The Lucky Cafe. This cafe made part of their life. With its baby yellow walls and little treats, it was their romance base. Andrea blushed as she remembered how Lucas had tried to woo her in that very spot whilst she had been living with Keith.
He was already seated at the nearest table to the doorway, tapping his pencil in bursts against the metal edge. For a minute, Andrea imagined Lucas as any other person, not a man inflicted with a, at times grave, mental illness. At the pencil’s twist, she counted the four crochets Lucas always poured over when he was stressed. What was his pain?
“Hi,” Lucas lifted himself from his chair at soon as she had entered.
He strode around the table and untucked her chair before she herself had the chance. Andrea dropped down into the steel frame. The formality unnerved her. Lucas’ wooden strides had already found their place in his chair.
And then Andrea noticed the absence created by lies.
“What’s wrong, Lucas? Where are your bags?”
“They’re coming along with the student bus; I left a little earlier so I could talk with you,” he replied. He kept his eyes upwards, though they rarely connected with her own. He was scoping out the café more often. “Can I get you anything? Chocolate cake? A drink?”
“No, don’t – There’s no need.” She knew he had meant to be nice in dropping out of his trip early, but the steady pace of his words unnerved her. “If you didn’t need me to take your bags…?”
“What?” There was a napkin of the table and Andrea found herself tearing it in her anxiety.
“Just listen, please.”
Andrea nodded; she forced herself to level her eyes with his. Lucas looked Andrea square in the face, his eyes on a par – a line on the life-road – with her own. All transparency seemed semi-useless to the woman; and she was falling ever-deeper whenever their hands almost touched. It was the same with his eyes. Only now did Andrea really appreciate the smoothness of the stubble against his chin, the way hay-fever-tinged eyes sparkled, Lapis Lazuli turquoise that distracted more than anything. Finally, the full force of that feeling hit Andrea; she was not close enough to Lucas, as if the power he exerted on her would never be enough unless she could make herself the truest of people in him. But what occurred to her mind ceased her happiness. Longing. That was the feeling – and was the worst of love’s perils.
Andrea didn’t want to long for him, she didn’t want to argue with him, she simply wanted to be present with him. But Lucas’ expression couldn’t lie. Each time he ventured to open his lips, he stopped, mid-word and saddened, and only the worst of confusions frightened Andrea.
“Andrea,” he muttered, tearing his own eyes away. “I’m leaving. If our being together makes Keith unhappy then you must be with him.”
There it was: the arrow. Short of breath, Andrea’s hand went to her throat.
“No!” she cried. “You’ve always wanted to be a teacher here. What connects us more is this school and if you leave –”
“Stop it. I’ve been offered a better job, away in Oxcote. It’s a Head position and I think I am going to take it. I want to be able to drive students in minibuses and assign tasks to my colleagues. I want to be able to do all the things I’m not now. Teaching is one of my passions...I must follow this passion.” Lucas sounded like his mouth was dry. His silky smooth voice had all but vanished.
“What about Léa?” Andrea knew her words were childish the moment she had said them. But at least there was hope. There always was hope. If Léa were to return – and if she were to entice Keith – Lucas might remember why he was meant to be with Andrea.
“Keith doesn’t love Léa! This is ridiculous; what were we thinking using my own sister to get your ex to leave you?”
Andrea shook her head. Her face was wet, but she hadn’t remembered forcing tears out. Now: bitterness.
“It’s not that. I wanted...” she sobbed, a hand against her mouth, forcing herself to go on. “I wanted you to feel secure. The – our partnership, it was meant to help with your ob – obsessive – compulsiveness. Wasn’t it?”
Lucas looked as if he were about to nod. Instead, he sadly ducked his head. “I can make sense without you now.”
“I…don’t understand. I wanted to help you….” Andrea scraped her nails against the paper napkin. The poor tissue didn’t stand a chance. All the privacy she had let him traipse through, so that he could feel better knowing her!
“And you have. But man cannot live on laughter alone.”
“Please don’t fill me with…proverbs.”
Lucas blinked. “Isn’t that what you want? You want to experience –”
“Don’t say it.” She grimaced.
“Okay. Not those sorts of proverbs.” He sighed a deep, manly sigh.
Andrea eyed Lucas again, feeling the love she still possessed bloom in her chest, like some disreputable lust. Brash anger came again, thumping through her veins. To give in to it, and storm away? No, Andrea wouldn’t bear the scene and she couldn't embarrass Lucas; the rushing dizziness to her head blinded her more than the tears, and her freedom had already fallen to breath. And it reminded her that she had realised too late.
In lieu of it, Andrea let her shameful passion sap her energy away.
Maybe hope remained even when Lucas left. Hadn't he only just bought his Lansdale house? He wouldn't sell it that quickly. She had looked beyond him to the vast windowscape when Lucas spoke again.
“It was never going to last beyond first looks, Andrea.”
Lucas reached for the last spreads of her napkin, stealing away her last comfort. “We conflict too much. A marriage built on anger will always be nothing.”
Andrea blushed, but she ignored his choice of words, protesting, “that’s not true! You might be eccentric, but who’s to say that you don’t bring out the best of me?”
“After those doubts about my Catholicism –”
“Don’t hold that against me,” Andrea choked. “I just need time, that’s all. I don’t hate religion, I promise.” She slipped her head into her palms. If only….
Fingers warmed her arm a little. “I know,” he whispered, “but I’ve already made up my mind to take the offer. You don’t know how much financial pressure the world is under –”
“I do know! I work, for goodness sake!” She took her head out of her hands to stare at his nonsense. “If you are asking me to help with the housework…. I’m not silly. Lucas, I’ll do anything.”
“That’s not my point. I need this, not just for the extra money, but also for the fact that I’m working in a job going nowhere. There’s only so much shouting I can do at restless teenagers. I want to move up and this offer is perfect.”
“Except it’s on the other side of the country.”
Again, Lucas sighed. Andrea wondered if he was going to leave her assertion in the air between them, but then he broke the silence. All around them, the café bustled on, with its own tune and life-beat, but it was silence compared to anything Lucas might ever say. Andrea only cared about the flow of letters from her lover’s lips.
“I know. I’m so sorry. I’m going to move, but…” He took a deep breath. The words were hard now. “I love you. I can’t ask you to drop everything just to move to a place you don’t know so that I can succeed and you cannot. Do you…?”
“It’s all about the career. I want it for myself,” Andrea conceded. She hung her head.
“And, of course, I can’t let my selfish urges get in my way. The Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder was driving me away from the virtues of my faith, but now I see that I’ve made a whole bunch of people unhappy by entering their lives.”
No! Andrea grabbed the edge of the table. She wouldn’t let him go if he thought that was a good reason for going. It was as if he had slapped her. Or worse, cheated on her. These words, no matter their actual meaning, all caused the same skipping of beats within Andrea's heart. For a moment, she wondered if she was going to collapse flat upon the cafe table.
“Lucas! You’ll make me unhappy by leaving.”
“It’s the right thing to do – for you and for Keith. You two should come together again without my interruption. I basically stole –”
“– and I shan’t let myself do that again. I’m a thief and immoral, I know it.”
This time, Lucas didn’t honour her with any reply or third argument. He must have said enough. Andrea wanted to console herself that at least she knew why – but it made her heart no better healed.
He locked his hand into hers. A goodbye. 30-something veins bulging and the two of them throbbed together. Lucas was watching her again; she knew that he couldn’t help it. Their mutual attraction, even in writing, had been their greatest weakness, had it not? Andrea knew little of what teachers were able to see through the eyes of their students, but she was the psychologist. Analyst or not, the fact that his heart beat out of time for her...well, it was still undeniable. She felt it, there, under the plasters of their skin. As always.
And Lucas was standing. He had pushed his chair away and not bothered to retuck it. She did it for him, glad to see the look of obsessive relief that flitted through his eyes. His desire to leave overcame the power of OCD. And that worried Andrea more. Two more tears trailed, but her own voice caught in her throat as Lucas said his goodbye.
He waved, a lift of the hand enough.
“I’ll be home at six. I suppose you want to be out of the way. Take your time with your things. I….”
Andrea scraped her chair back. She tried to tell him otherwise, but her voice had run away with her lover. Perhaps it was for the best. No, it was never for the best.
By the time she had extended a hand, his face had turned, let alone the cheek that she had moved to stroke. The door tinkled as he left; Andrea hadn't even taken a notice of the bell before.
In the cold of the coffee shop that sold such delicious banoffee pie, Andrea stood alone. No matter how many times she pulled her coat further across her body, that cold ache remained. She watched the figures outside, the very many of them, holding all of her tears within her until privacy returned. The one that slowly paced without turning his head was the only one that appeared to glow in the little sunlight, an echo of a shimmer surrounding Lucas. And, in the winter of his life, Lucas stopped at the green lights to brush his face.