Keith came back at lunchtime when the weather had perked up. Clouds were still clouds, black or white. But the man didn’t take any notice of that differential. He nodded to Andrea as he slung his coat across the back of her chair.
“Cloudy out there, don’t you think? A little nippy, too. I’d better take my bigger coat when I go back. I’m gonna make a sandwich and grab some crisps. Do you want me to make you anything for lunch?”
“No, thanks; I’ve already had some,” she lied.
Within the minute, he had a sandwich in hand. He munched upon it, eyes watching as her hands ran across the keyboard. Andrea was typing as fast as she could. If only that would actually make Keith disappear.
“Hey –” he began, cutting through her train of thought and the sentence she had crafted.
“…possibly cause for concern if…” Andrea raised her voice as she dictated, hoping he’d get the point.
“Oh, sorry.” She took a moment away and glanced up at him. He had a packet of plain-flavoured crisps in his hands. Eyes jumped from her to the clock on the wall. He was formulating.
Keith said, “You’re busy.” He scrunched the packet up in his large hands. “I’m early. I’m guessing you’re not going to be finished anytime in the next fifteen minutes, so I’m going to do some spring cleaning. Get a head-start. Okay, sweetheart?”
Andrea nodded. She let him kiss her on the cheek, but otherwise, flinched. It was better that Keith didn’t notice. There was enough of an argument raging in her head than to have another go on in the world outside.
Cleaning. Out with the old, in with the new, so they said. That was Keith’s idea in fitted pieces. He slipped upstairs and had barely been busy five minutes, before Andrea heard that familiar creak she had associated with the door to the guestroom. It couldn’t have been his own; Keith oiled his door whenever it creaked because of the amount he used it. The guestroom just rotted. Figured.
She lifted her fingernails from the pegs of the keyboard, and strained against the low sounds of movements upstairs. He was rummaging around in her room – well, the guestroom – moving the pieces that she had only recently set back down. Not that Andrea wanted the order; she simply didn’t like the idea of him rummaging around up there…where she kept all of her heart laid out.
Andrea sunk back into the armchair. Let him have his spring cleaning if it made Keith feel better.
A second silence spilled down the house. Andrea closed her eyes.
Then his footsteps rushed down the steps, each one a louder thump into Andrea’s mind. She rubbed a hand across her forehead, but otherwise refused to show him that he had affected her. She stared at her laptop-screen until it blurred into wiggly shapes.
Keith’s footsteps stopped beside the chair. They were rooted.
"What is this?" Keith asked. He had dressed his words in a dangerous tone.
She caught a square frame in the corner of her eye. He had found the crate. Okay.
"It's a painting," said Andrea, barely looking up at the mess and pink and brown and green.
Keith shuffled about next to her. "I know that. My question was: why is it him?"
Him? Andrea raised her eyes from the document she was typing. Keith was holding – at arm's length, more or less – a headshot-portrait of Lucas in his most vibrant gingham shirt, that gorgeous smile the central focus of Andrea's attention, at the current moment, and, evidently, when she had been painting the picture itself.
"I did that ages ago...."
"Yes, but why is it still in your possession?"
"Keith! It's a painting, regardless of its subject. Don't you remember that it was you yourself who suggested I should take up painting again?"
He shot her a look, which Andrea could call only haughty derision. "Ha! And when did you paint when we lived together before?"
"Excuse me?” She frowned. “You work twenty-four, seven in a bank. I have days off. It just happened that I painted when you weren't there. Besides, I had more to do back then. Now, I fit my painting into my new schedule."
"New schedule? Why should it change? And since when did you have the time to do personal portraits? And why have you kept it?"
Now he was digging into the unfinished bed of the Lucas flower of her life. Andrea avoided her wince by ducking her head and typing a stream of incoherent letters into her document. Anything to keep herself away from thoughts of the other man.
"Keith, that's none of your business," she said.
He sneered again, latching at one of her poised hands. "I am your boyfriend!"
"You’re not! Sometimes I wonder what you think!" cried Andrea, grabbing her laptop in one hand and snatching the painting into her spare. She stormed up those worn stairs, furious. How dare he try and intimidate her like that! Keith should have known better than to use that subject-matter against her, too; he should have seen how much it dug at her. That was the idea, wasn't it?
Andrea tossed away her painting. It floated, purely coincidentally, to lie on her pillow. She couldn’t think. She was sobbing onto her bed. How much she missed the way that Lucas made her laugh, that twinkle in his eyes, those turn of phrases that showed he couldn't care to take things seriously enough. Even in seriousness, he had been gorgeous. When he had moved, Lucas had taken that side from him, taken it from Andrea, too. Maybe, she wondered, he didn't notice the way he acted to charm every living soul, to return to his home-in-the-heart. Perhaps, Lucas had no other layers – yet, Andrea knew that wasn't true. Or did his colours fly when she, Andrea, was near? It both thrilled her and tore her apart that Lucas might be spurred to act differently for the same reason she was.