Thirty-Two: You Shouldn't Have

It was tempting to say that Andrea was remembering that she loved him again.

Keith lingered over the odds and ends in the corner shop on the way home. He was going to treat her. Maybe that would inspire the certain gleam in her eyes to return. He recalled that moment she had turned back to his door; she had glimmered. That was the Andrea he knew, the one full of light and self-amusement. She was returning.

He knew the reason she had shed no tears. Andrea wouldn’t admit it yet, but she was glad to be back in his house.

Whilst Keith had momentarily dwelled on challenging Lucas with hate, he found it much easier to treat Andrea to the happiness she deserved instead. Now she was back, Keith allowed himself joyful interludes at the great feeling. It was all that occupied his mind as he paid for the chosen bunch of flowers. He had no idea what kind of chocolates she liked, but instead, Keith made a mental note to cook dinner for her tonight. That would do for the woman.

Keith bobbed in his strides; time must have moved quickly in his enjoyment, for he found himself in the tree-towered abode before too long. He juggled the lock and the flowers, laughing to himself at how stupid he must have looked. He entered the quiet house, peering around the corner of the front door. Andrea must be in her room.

 

Even through monochrome living in the bank, and Léa’s absence at being a companion, Keith hadn’t forgotten Andrea. It was his duty to be there for her. He’d been waiting, thinking; now that she was back, it was time to start splashing out on all the gifts he had forgotten to lavish her with. Maybe, just maybe, she’d spend a moment with him this time around. Second time lucky, hey? After all, without Lucas as a distraction, Andrea would give more of herself to his house.

Keith shifted the roses under his arm, thinking of the best way to surprise her with them. He tiptoed to the bottom of the stairs; one look declared that Andrea was tucked away in her room, door shut, as she often did – as she had done for the last couple of weeks. But it was time to make a difference for her. No more wounds, no more tears. Tonight was the night for them.

Avoiding, the urge to fidget, Keith kept the roses close, but wandered about the living room. If she knew he was back, her attention would be peeked enough for her to come down.

Indeed, it must have worked. A few minutes later, she plodded down the stairs, avoiding his eyes – likely, in case she betrayed her true feelings. Nowadays, Andrea was slow to walk or to speak, but whatever she did say sounded wiser than ever.

“Afternoon, Keith.” She stumbled on his name.

“Hello. These are for you,” he said, producing the bunch of bright red roses in a sweeping arc when she was close enough.

“Keith…you shouldn’t have.”

“I wanted to.”

Her face shone as full of colour as the bouquet. She lifted them from his hands, clutching at the rough packaging, and lowered her nose to the flora.

“Mm, they have a lovely scent. I guess…it was a kind thought.”

His heart swelled at her words. “Yes. It was.”

“Here,” she thrust them back. “You put them in a vase for me, please. I’m going to pack away my files, make a bit of room for our feet or something.”

“Busy day?”

Andrea had turned away and he into the kitchen, but their voices still met through the partition of the ajar door.

“A little,” she remarked. “I just don't have the vitality I used to.”

“Nonsense! You’re just the same as when you lived here before.”

Keith shook the droplets of cold water from his fingers. He scooped up the roses and dipped them into the vase. Not enough water. Keith twitched the tap again. The tones of Andrea’s dull voice filtered through, hidden enough behind the stream of clear water. Keith grabbed the tap, shutting the water off, and he stood in intense concentration. He almost thought he had imagined any response.

Striding back into the living room, Keith presented the flowers to the absence of Andrea. Soft tred on the stairs caught his attention, and Andrea wandered back down, in her arms a bunch of brown-covered files. Hadn't she been moving them away from the living room? Keith hadn’t seen. He hadn’t absorbed the room before Andrea had demolished it.

Keith pushed down his little confusion. He nudged the flowers, vase and all, onto the coffee table. “Here. Did you say something a minute ago?”

“No.”

He definitely hadn't been imagining. The slanted look of accusation within her pupils said volumes more than her lips ever had. Oh well. Andrea was allowed to have some privacy. It was all part of the recovery process.

The folders clattered down beside the vase. Andrea’s hand shot out to a petal; when she noticed his eyes in her direction, the hand recoiled, snake-like. It was all part of recovery, Keith assured himself.

Almost unconsciously, they followed the same route into the kitchen. Andrea’s hand on the door ducked away from his. She shot him a look – Keith couldn’t tell whether those eyes of hers were narrowed in confusion or annoyance. It didn’t matter.

He edged through into the kitchen, wincing as Andrea’s sharp heels followed, clunk, clunk. He gathered himself at the counter, fetching out each ingredient. The recipe-book was already casting its knowledge into the world, but he didn’t need it, in any case.

A sharp gasp from Andrea told Keith all he needed. She hadn’t expected him to be cooking.

“Oh, Keith, I can cook again tonight,” she cried. What was the point of her wasting away every night just to produce food for their consumption. Her works were lovely, but they didn’t last. Andrea had to learn that.

“No, no, I’ll do it,” he added aloud.

Her brow furrowed into several ridges, but she didn't argue. Instead, her chest rose and fell and she walked away. She folded her hands into her lap as she sat, fingers grazing the covers of a pile of books nearby. For all she professed about working and reading, Keith hadn’t seen her do either since she had reclaimed her place.

He didn’t feel as if this was ‘slaving away’. Some people might have, Andrea included perhaps, but Keith wanted to work the vegetables into bite-sized chunks, and turn the raw chicken into something worth staring at as well as eating. It was never going to happen that way. But Keith liked to think he could wow a woman with food.

It worked on men, so why not the other way around?

Sticky perspiration dotted his collar in the drowsy steam from the cooker – but even that, hot and fume-like, felt warm and comforting. Andrea was present.

At breaks, Keith peered through the steam and the crack of the door. She was, at least, doing something besides her self-interested introspection: instead of looking at her hands, she scribbled her notes along the side of a crossword in the newspaper, pulling a face occasionally, pencil running its ways around her lips. She must have been stuck.

When the timer struck its final buzz into the haze of the kitchen, Andrea was busy being contented with her answers. Keith first opened a side-window – anything to remove the vapour and sweat – and then pulled open the door fully.

“Hey,” he called. “It doesn’t matter who made it. Dinner is served.”

***

Their forks clattered onto porcelain plates simultaneously. Keith dabbed at his lips. He cast a glance at Andrea, smiling absently, as she always did nowadays. Keith rubbed his forehead. The meal had been dotted with the least of words. Awkwardness was rife in this household.

At least it wasn’t a conversation of dry sarcasm, Keith reminded himself. He was jumping ahead of time if he supposed that Andrea would immediately place herself in the kind of talk they had performed before. Who knew what kind of lies Lucas had twisted into Andrea to get her to change her patterns of speech and behaviour? She was a different woman.

“I do like cheesecake,” he announced.

Andrea’s ginger head nodded. “It’s not bad. Especially this one. The American chefs use more cream cheese, which makes the mixture thicker.”

“Exactly. It’s more…genuine, wouldn’t you say?” He chuckled to himself, reaching for the water bottle in the middle of the table, under the pretence of removing it, when, really, Keith focused on Andrea’s expression.

Her eyes arched upwards, catching his. At the corner of her lips curled a knowing smile, as slight as it was.

“I’m going to keep trying, you know,” he said.

Andrea tilted her head. The smile was still there, though she was trying to push it away. She pushed herself out of her chair, head remaining close to its previous position. “I know. Thank you, Keith. I appreciate what you’re doing. You cook well. I’m sorry I didn’t say that before.”

It was a small gesture. It was a miniature triumph. Enough, indeed, to make Keith’s face break into a grin. He let himself praise her small admission. It was something.

She would soon remember the return passage into his arms. In fact, from the glimmer in her eyes, Keith could see that her memory was falling back into old ways, back towards their sociability and moments of quiet acceptance.

“Is there anything I can…do?” he whispered, lips close to her ear. Tease and try.

Her smile drew bigger. Andrea ducked under his arm and rotated so they were facing each other.

Her eyes sparkled and flicked between his own, as if she was calculating both of their next moves. Keith only had one idea. He opened a hand out to her cheek before she could stop him.

"I…I don't know how I feel about you, Keith," Andrea mumbled.

She drew herself up to kiss his lips. Keith, too, leant down. He let the entire pot of his feelings pour out through his eyes. Andrea was back, in a now and forever way. Strangely, he couldn’t remember what it had been like before, that essence of Andrea through her loving motions.

Those round curves of anatomy brushed against his own, tender and bright in their display of romance. Her lips were dry today, probably due to the harshest winter they had endured. Andrea kissed him for a mere moment, before she drew away with that deep, beautiful concern in her eyes.

“No.”

“What?” Keith asked. He kept one hand around her wrist.

Andrea flushed. “There’s nothing of what I felt before.”

She was holding back. That stern pout stopped her from enjoying the shape of his lips. That was the only sensible reason. Keith’s breath caught, and this time not from Andrea’s wild beauty. It took him a moment to realise that he was afraid. Afraid of her distance.

She would remember how much of a spark their first kiss had held, wouldn’t she?

Andrea turned her eyebrows down in a scowl to the floor. Her hands, once up at his shoulders, were now balled.

Raw power surged again inside Keith. It shot through his lithe body, curling right into the crevices of his fingers. Nails pricked at other nails. She had no right to be cruel when he had so kindly taken her into his house again! After all, she had nowhere else to turn, did she?

“Who are you angry with?” he asked. “Me or Lucas?”

He thought it was a simple question. Almost rhetoric. There was only one person she should have been angry with, and Keith simply wanted to console Andrea away from the pain. Console her into believing how stupid her past actions had been to ruin their entire friendships, let alone their love.

She, on the other hand, froze in confusion. The glare increased. Her eyes did not remove themselves. Words fluttered, on the edge of kissing her lips, but they vanished, and everything she had meant to vocalise did not come into being.

“Go on!” Keith cried.

“It’s not that simple, Keith. It’s not a point of hating anyone.”

“But you hate someone. Tell me!”

The second of silence was almost as brutal as the word itself.

“Myself!” Andrea spat.

Keith almost physically leapt back. His heart was itself doing little dances inside his chest. He put a hand to the fire, taking two breaths as one. Herself? Here was Andrea, the one person who was brave enough to wander afield and experiment, declaring her agony against the self.

Then it hit him; she must have been angry at giving into Lucas for an affair. It was the only solution.

“It’s okay.” He pulled Andrea close. Still, she tensed, but, after a moment, fell forward into his outstretched clutch.

“It will always be okay.”

Andrea closed her lips. They were spending their secrets no more today.

Keith smiled to himself. He knew the virtue of waiting. Today, a little penny of her mind, tomorrow, her whole jewel-bank. There was always tomorrow.

The End

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