The days after Lucas had broken up with her were hard. She couldn’t stay at his house, of course, and she found herself nodding to Keith as he let her back into his place. The conversation could not have been more awkward – the point of describing why she was standing with her possessions outside of his door after so long – but Keith was reasonable at least.
“Hi,” he mumbled, opening his door that evening.
“Keith…I need to move back in with you.”
She curled her fists at the revelling look that passed his face.
“Of course!” Keith exclaimed. “Do you have bags?”
“No, everything unnecessary I left here, remember.” She bit her tongue. Why did Keith have to make it so hard? All he needed to do was part from blocking the doorway.
The man started, as if he hadn’t realise how sharp-tongue she was going to be. “Sure. Are you going to tell me what happened before I assume things?”
“Not yet. Assume away. Maybe I’m not suited to a successful relationship,” she mumbled. She kept her head low, passing away the shocking anger through her system. It ached through her bones.
“Oh, no, Andrea,” Keith said. “You were just not suited to Lucas.”
Her eyes shot up from the neat pavement in a glare.
“What?” Keith protested. “I knew he was going to break your heart.”
“Be quiet, Keith.”
“All right,” he grumbled. He gestured for her to step in. Back to that oh-so familiar house, with its disorder and clutter tucked away. It wasn’t loud like her flat had been, but neither was it accustomed to tidy sense. As Andrea looked, she couldn’t discover any touches of home like Alexia had furnished her own flat with. That was the saddest thing.
She clenched her fists, but crept in. Léa had not changed an inch of the décor or the room’s displacement.
“I’ll just put these things in the spare-room wardrobe, shall I?” She didn’t mean to snap, but everything she thought of doing was tainted by Lucas. Distant Lucas.
Two dresses, two pairs of jeans, a bunch of tops flew into the wardrobe. That was all she had taken from Keith’s and all she had gained at Lucas’. Too little.
From the echoing downstairs of the house, Andrea heard Keith’s mumbled reply. She ignored it. Served him right for his dictorial ways.
In her grumpy mood, Andrea hurried down the flight of stairs, her bare feet clattering on the wooden panelling. Keith with his wide-shaped eyes and his pointed goatee, was standing in the middle of the living room, still waiting for her. He didn’t need to, but still he did. Andrea clattered to a halt. She wouldn’t show him any sign of happiness if he was going to hold it high. Not yet. It wasn’t fair.
“What about this crate?” he asked, indicating the box she had left by the door. Her box of art-supplies.
“No. Leave it.”
His hands sprung away. “Alright.”
Andrea ducked outside the doorway, snatching the box into her hands. Thankfully, nothing had moved. She lodged the box under one arm, and climbed the stairs once more. She didn’t need to tell him that she was going to work in her bedroom. He wasn't her boyfriend anymore.
That week, Andrea went back to work, but she couldn’t recall any of what she was supposed to be doing; the ordered nothings slipped out of her mind as easily as they slipped in. It was weird getting used to Keith’s house and its layout in the town. His was much nearer the central plexus – nearer the bank – and so far from the flowing eddies of the seashore. Here, the hurrying of Lansdale was committed. Here, Andrea had stumbled on so many of her lows.
At least her access to the supermarket was instant. Andrea drew that as her only joy from the well of sadness she pooled onto her pillow each new night.
One afternoon, she was dragging her heavy load of generic, high-market brand items along the central way, when she heard the coax of a familiar engine.
Andrea didn’t know whether to curse or to cry with joy. Of course Lucas was still here until he sold his house…however long that would take. Perhaps that was a curse as well as a kindness.
She faced the dirty road. His window was open, the foreign car rolling past with its fascinating streamlined-ness. Through that window, Andrea saw Lucas, sunglasses on, nodding to the strong beat of some sort of rock band and tapping his fingers as if he was a pro at that sort of thing. Andrea a strain, it suddenly hit her that he was listening to the All Time Low CD that Léa had given him. ‘Damned if I Do Ya…’ especially struck Andrea’s memory.
He must have seen her. The eyes checking their wing-mirrors more than twice either did so for terrible safety, or they did so because of beautiful reminiscence.
As the car revved away, Andrea clutched the slipping shopping bags, not knowing how to move herself onwards. Seeing him again only brought on the quandary of emotions she associated with the break-up.
Damned, was he? It was fury at first that hit her in rolls, questioning the motives of that man whom she had known to be a ‘player’ right from the beginning. Ex girlfriends here and ex girlfriends there! Despite flaunting her own ex around him – and that could not be helped when Léa had landed in the middle of them! – Andrea’s fury dictated that Lucas was in the wrong. His excuses were facetious and his love might have been petty. Nevertheless, Andrea couldn’t bring herself to be angry at that man for very long.
She was left with nothing but an agony eating into her, the emptiness in her chest that might well have been heartache – had her chest contained her heart any longer.
He had professed to being a thief, and he was that all right: but a thief of souls.
She walked home, head down and hands red from the plastic handles of the shopping bags. It half came to Andrea: she deserved the sore fingers and the ruined nails – not that they mattered to her anymore.
And that route was as achingly routine as before, in that time when Andrea had been blissfully lonely without a man standing behind each shoulder. How she managed to move with her lead feet, Andrea didn’t know, but she soon unpopped the door of this new place she tried to call home.
Keith wasn’t in. Good. Having put away the three bags of shopping, Andrea set up her laptop. Its initialisation beep was reassuring. A single idea hit her as she watched it load in drear markers, finding her fingers eagerly tapping away at the side of her chair. She couldn’t remember a single lyric – it was not her way to deal with music – but the corresponding line of a lead guitar kept running through her mind uneasily.
When the desktop appeared, Andrea clicked on her internet and typed in ‘All Time Low songs’ with such speed that she thought herself on automatic typing. So much for an intended task; she opened two new tabs, one for her email, one for the artsy site on which she sold her pictures.
The interpretation of Lucas’ photography lay beside her, tucked to the bottom of the crate holding every artwork she had lifted from Lucas’ home. She refused to let Keith lift even a finger onto them.
She put it on her website, on auction, in fact, because of its popularity. Bittersweetness came when it sold, but only out of her own fault: she had titled it ‘Lucas’ Land’. She had kept the red heart smudge, and that was weird in itself, surreal in art terminology, but worse was giving the image – Lucas’ capture away – at all.
Working through the titles and layout of the page, too, therapeutic at the very least, Andrea located a playlist on Youtube of the band’s songs, and left it on play in the background of her computer. She nodded her head in jolts to the electronic music. Just when Andrea thought she had passed the point of seeing Lucas and turning back into the lass dissolved by salty tears, she was overcome. Simply by the croon of some boy-band that had once talked about, Andrea was sobbing into her hands, unable to make out the colours of her webpage, let alone the font and detail required.
She clicked off the internet player, sharp. The silence bathed her in cool passivity.
Andrea watched the screen again. She nudged the mouse into the tab containing her inbox, breathing through the weight change in the centre of her body. Thank goodness for distractions. Andrea clicked on the ‘new’ button, and began typing in Darren’s name. Onwards work and onwards being the psychologist as she had always wanted to be.
An email blipped into her inbox, labelled, quite intrusively, ‘welcome back, past students’. Huh? Andrea backtracked and opened it. She stared at the alumni invitation back to the fateful St. Anne’s for a 150th anniversary lunch. With another scowl, she deleted it.
Even emailing was ruined.
She snatched up one of the novels beside her. Quite a pile was forming. She shifted her hand along the plastic spines. False tales. That’s all they ever were. But Andrea kept caressing, waiting to select her next read from the list she had abandoned over the Christmas disasters. Smoothness curved into sharp edges. As a finger fell upon the corner of a thicker tome, Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd, pain shot through her index. Andrea hissed. She cupped the paper-injured limb in the folds of her skirt, dirt colour smudged with the bright ruby that coated her heart. Andrea shivered.
In her very want of him, she wondered what he was going to do with his Thursday afternoon.
Lucas didn’t like to hurry his final moments, but each day grew more dreary. In the final afternoon, the day before half-term, he wandered through the corridors with a blank mind. No sorrows waited for him in the shell of his teaching room – no sorrows, but those continued from the absence of Andrea in his home. Leaving her had been the impossibility for months; now it was the only certainty that tried his addled brain.
Her face as he had rolled by in his car… Hatred and love and all those other emotions that he could not understand. Andrea could be two opposites at once, whilst he himself could only feel one followed by the other. That was another worldly impossibility.
He had wanted to stop the car, get out and hold her. It was wrong to assume that he hadn’t felt. Lucas ached in every fibre of his being. He could hang his head. He didn’t. Instead, he stared at his possessions beneath his fingertips.
As he gathered up the remains of his scholarly belongings at permanent place in the room into a suitcase, Lucas mused, yet again, over his decision. He was sick of plainness and sick of depriving her of any other freedom. He hummed a strain of one of the Christmas carols, stuck again on the haunted imperfect cadence and the sharp, staccato notations. It lingered.
"Mr. Gorge," chirped one voice, light and soft in a youthful way.
"Ah, Charley," he said without looking up. Fold and fold. Everything had to be perfect here. He was not here to perform to his students, beyond the arrangement of a winter mass.
"Mr. Gorge, Mr. Gorge," she said, curls bouncing just off her forehead. "I can't believe you're going. My mum saw you at the carol service."
"Oh, yes," he said, tucking away his jumper.
"She said she saw you with a woman. Is she your girlfriend?"
Lucas snorted. "No, just a friend." Ouch. It wasn't Charley’s fault, but the memories piled on, the sweet ones with the bad. He had moved a pencil to the right, and, when he closed the briefcase, he snapped it in two. This was why order was perfect! Resisting a growing curse, Lucas looked up at Charley and gave her a smile, the little he could do to hide his personal anguish.
“I’ll miss you, Mr. Gorge.”
“I’ll miss you all, Charley. Every one of the students at this school.” Present – and past.
He and Andrea were over. Like every other date he had found amongst his material possessions. Lucas had to move to the otherworldly joys; he had to accept the clear facts now. They wanted every, little different thing, and Lucas would not fold to her demands. On the other hand, had she wanted to leave with him, as impossible as the case might have declared… There was no point freezing his life around hers. What an existential crisis!
Hadn't Andrea been a different case, though?
Charley was gone, and the schoolgirl’s absence resonated with the empty room in his brain. Lucas jolted himself into action; he folded his St. Anne’s case up for the last time, sending a prayer off about his best former lover. If only there was a way to keep both the morality and the flame, keep the job and Andrea close. But he had read those signs clearly in her eyes; she didn’t want to move. The girl, traditional in all respects, had lived in Lansdale her entire life. It would have been too big a leap.
Andrea could not sink into the subtleties of Hardy or any other classical author. Each romantic mystery historical was bland without the wisecracking comments of Lucas, or the soft lacing of his hand around her waist. They hadn’t read together often (well: Lucas had marked student’s work and Andrea had read), but when they had done so, it had been a moment of bliss for her. With all his rushing and frantic obsessing, Lucas needed to absorb the quiet that she had hoped to bring.
Enough. Throwing the book aside, Andrea swore in her heartbreak. Everything reminded her of him. Simply everything. Even the clothes she wore reminded her of his fashion; even the glasses slipping down her nose told her about Lucas’ appearance.
She just couldn’t win! Andrea snatched off her glasses and through them across the floor. They had caught on one of her ears and, as they tumbled, Andrea saw the frame bend back against itself.
When she ran over to the spectacles, it was clear that they were already snapped beyond sticky tape and a positive attitude.
Not that she needed glasses when her tears became her.