He moved around down there as if he owned every pathway he was treading into the linoleum. He might have owned the place in which she lived, but Andrea’s movements were her own. She wasn’t going to bend to a dictator who thought he ruled her, too.
She watched the clouds move in their lazy, sluggish way. It had barely been five minutes. Enough to pool her heart out, not nearly enough to pretend that Keith had not struck a nerve.
Yet, she was better than to lie down to his actions once more. Feelings were off the table at last. Andrea scrunched up her nose, pushing out the last of today’s sorrow. It slipped down in two raw tears. She chucked her tissue in the direction of the bin, not stopping or wondering if it had actually met its mark.
Now was the time. She untangled her limbs, subdued a hiccup, and unlocked the door with a brisk turn of the wrist.
This stupid debacle had infuriated her, but it also kicked her into better action. There was more beyond a life of pining away, though pining was all she had wanted to do for a week or more.
Andrea stormed down the stairs, rage only the initial flame of her fire; she knew exactly how to act now. And it wasn’t as someone dwelling on their lost happy ending.
Get away from Keith. The task itself didn't sound too trying, but she was well aware of how he clutched at her. And she’d had enough!
Keith stood from the second armchair when he saw her. Gentle remorse poured not only from his eyes, but his pores, too. His hands were clasped and begging even before they had moved to be. Guilt sprinkled itself through Andrea’s body, but she pressed on, meaning to march up to him and tell him that she couldn’t take any more lovey-dovey notions and overblown reactions from him.
It never happened. As soon as her feet touched the downstairs carpet, Keith had swooped in and opened his tight lips.
“Baby –” he’d never called her that before, and it disgusted Andrea a little to hear it said in her unyielding direction – “I apologise for yelling before. I was cleaning, I was shocked….”
He shrugged and stepped forward. Before she had a chance to stop him, his arms were snaking around her torso.
She said, “You have a right to yell, Keith. Anytime you want.”
He smiled at her. “Good.” Then his lips were there, lavishing themselves on hers, taking away her essence with every rotation they did.
Andrea located her hands within his vine-clasp. With a little trouble, she slipped them out and found Keith’s rough tie under her hands. She pushed.
Under the pressure of her hands, Keith fell back, righting himself before he tripped. His hands still lunged for her body and his lips still moved, until they formed audible words.
“What’s wrong, Andrea? Did I hurt you? I mean, I’m sorry about the painting, but I have apologised. It’s not as if I’m going to hold this against you every moment. Come on, stop acting so hard on me!”
He leant forward and managed to wrap himself around her once more. His hands were warm, but they sat at ugly places on her shape. Inwardly, Andrea cursed.
“I don’t know what you think love is, Keith.” She pulled away. “But it’s not this fight you think it is. Why are you always so pushy?”
Keith let out a choked laugh. Andrea stared at him.
“Me?” he questioned. “I’m not pushy. You were upset, I was comforting. That’s the way it goes.”
“Oh, you –”
“You know, I was just trying to apologise. Better to get it out in the open before I have to go back to work. Okay. Maybe spring cleaning was a bad idea, but I’m running late and I just want you to know that I didn’t mean to lose my temper like that.”
Maybe it sounded admirable to him. Andrea, however, twitched. She pushed her lips into a tight, hard line. Nothing was helping now.
She thought she was going to scream. Yelling was one thing, but Andrea was about to explode. The pent-up rage had not been seduced by his double-locking lips.
“Keith!” she screeched. “You’re driving me insane!”
He leapt back. “Excuse me?”
“I thought it was because I was in love in with you. I didn’t understand how Christine was still in your life when you were meant to be dating me –”
He gasped, his mouth wide and fish-like. “She wasn’t. She just intruded – like when her mother was ill.”
“I treated her mother’s Alzheimer's,” Andrea yelled; “that’s not the point. It’s the interruptions. I thought I was in love with you and my irritation came from Christine’s presence. I didn’t blooming well realise that you were acting like a jerk.”
“What’s this all about?” Keith asked. His eyebrows twisted together.
“It’s not about the way you are. I don’t care if you don’t go to the pub as often as you should, or if you work in a bank.”
“The bank? What –?”
She threw her hands into the air, fiddling with the strands of hair around her face as they came back down. “Yes, maybe that was the reason I hesitated calling you at first. So shoot me. Worries changed from simple to complex: your ex girlfriend was lingering around you and I was so basic in her place.”
Keith looked as if he was going to step forward. He extended his hands a little. Instead, he did one loop in the carpet and spun back to face her. “She wanted nothing more to do with me.”
“I know that now. But when I was…grr, when I was annoyed, I blamed Christine, when I should have been blaming you and getting my doubts cleared. It’s not who you are, it’s who I am.”
“Huh. It sounds that way.” His voice crescendoed. “For goodness sake, Andrea! This is not all about you. It’s about us both. How can we still be a couple when you’re clinging onto a fling?”
A fling? Ouch. And to say that when Christine had been hanging around. He had dwelled on the issue, just as he had dwelled on the person.
“You didn’t let her go….”
“No. I did. I refuse to let you say these things to me! What kind of girlfriend treats me the way you have done these past few months? Be happy I took you back!”
Her heart had been slapped. She stood, still panting from her act of screeching, and lifted a hand to her bare neck. He could have been a distance from her and she would have treated him the same.
Now Andrea could see that Keith was just looking out for the same thing as her: love. Except he held her in his naïve thoughts, when he didn’t realise just how much she had been smearing their relationship with lies about how she had been feeling.
Too many lies.
This time, Andrea wasn’t angry. She watched him with sorrow littering her eyes.
“Keith, listen to me.” She took a deep breath. The words were coming, difficult or not. For Andrea, they were barely much effort, but she worried about Keith’s reaction all the same. “We’re not happy. Admit it, please; do yourself a justice and admit it. This relationship – if that’s what you’re going to call me living under your roof free – should work, but it doesn’t. Don’t you see why it doesn't? Maybe it did before I realised my greatest error came at leading you on so much at first. Even if we were meant – No, I’m not going to make excuses.”
The Adam’s apple in Keith’s throat bobbed. “If not that – what are you going to do?”
“I’m not going to be angry,” Andrea said with a sigh. “Keith, talk to me. Not about what we had, love or not, but about the time you spent with Léa. I know I didn’t see you much, but she reported such positive things. You changed from being an angry person to being someone prepared to listen again.” Andrea fiddled with her collar, trying to pull it away as she gave up her truth she had always known. “We both miss the Gorges. Please, get over your pride, and admit your feelings for her.”
“I love you, Andrea.”
“No, you don’t. You just think you love me.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. Léa annoyed me to the core.”
“Keith! You never stopped to wonder why.” It was the opposite of her own hypothesis. How ironic. “We all saw it, except you. Go on, deny that Léa is an attractive woman.”
He sucked in cool air through his teeth. “Well, she’s gone now and we’ll never know.”
Andrea fiddled around in her pockets. Where was that blasted mobile? “I’ll phone her, arrange to meet up.”
“Stop it! What good will that do?”
From her collar, her hands travelled to the warmth of pockets. She kept them there, though she scrabbled no longer. She shrugged. “You might admit that you find her attractive.”
“Alright, I do, but that means nothing. Attraction is negated by intolerance. Besides, I find you attractive, Andrea. I want to explore the world with you.” He held out his hands, entreating, as his words folded themselves over each other. They danced and cried alone.
“Explore the world?” She let out a frustrated sigh. He just wasn’t getting it.
“Maybe you really did love me, Keith,” she added. “I don’t know how long love is supposed to last. That’s Alexia's department, both in practise and in her theoretic mind.”
“Forget Alexia –”
“Done. I’m serious. The way I see love is that you’re meant to want to spend your life with someone, not just your money or your holidays. Believe me, I’ve been thinking a lot about it, especially after…I returned to this house. I don’t want to spend my life with you. Not any more, though I would happily spend a holiday with you. And I don’t think you want to, either.”
He snorted, but said nothing in return. He clicked his fingers, straightening them out. Then, without warning, Keith stretched his toes and paced. It created an unsettling rhythm.
Fighting back the urge to run from the father-like striding, Andrea took another deep breath. “I don’t think I ever loved you. I think I wanted to love you; I was lonely and you were attracted to me. I was attracted to you. But I never felt more than interest there. You were somebody I…” She sighed again. “I used you, Keith, and I’m sorry, but I shouldn’t have.”
“Weren’t you happy here? You were happy here.”
“For a while, until the novelty wore off.” She lifted and dropped her shoulders. Apologies were not enough.
A floorboard under Keith’s foot groaned. He stopped and lifted his sole, temporarily. “What about Lucas? His novelty has worn off, too.”
“No. He left me for work, and I had to let him go, because work makes him happy – and I want to see him happy. I’d do anything to see him happier than me. I still yearn for him now, and not as a novelty. But I know I’ve got to stay away from him, because that’s what Lucas wants.”
Keith shook his head, and continued pacing. “That’s ridiculous. Who told you to abandon your own wants for the wants of someone else?”
It was a good question. She pushed the curling forelocks off her forehead. Asking herself it a couple of times, Andrea replied, stressing as many words as she could, hoping Keith would see what she had. “He did. I mean, indirectly, but the Christian faith asks –”
“You never used to give a pound about this ‘Christian faith’. To whom does it mean anything?”
“It means something to me!” she cried, fists balled and ready. “If it makes Lucas happy, then I should find happiness there, too.”
It was as if Keith had rolled his eyes. His scepticism was hard within his voice. “So you keep saying. Frankly, Lucas’ spiel is sounding tired.”
Damn it! He hadn’t seen the lightness that she had in Lucas’ declaration. Fighting the panic mode rife inside her, Andrea held her breath. She squinted out of one eye at Keith. He may have stopped pacing – best so that he could stare her down, she supposed – but the way he folded his arms was not in a willing-to-listen way.
He was a bank-man through and through. Andrea only knew one other appeal. She tried it, rolling on the balls of her feet.
“Maybe it is tired to you. But it’s still working for me. Why? Because I want it to. Mind over matter and all that.” She lowered her voice – and her eyes. “You should try it. I think you still have her number. Please call Léa; I only say this because I think it’s what’s best for you. I don’t want you to face the missed opportunity that I see coming. Maybe Lucas is not here, but…you, at least, should have a chance at being happy.”
Keith stared at her for a whole minute. She fixed her gaze of the dirt-coloured toecaps of his boots, biting her tongue. The next words might change their whole dynamic. She just had to will him to say the right sentence.
“Best for –? I can’t believe, after this whole conversation, you’d go back to the Gorges.” In more ways than one.
Andrea lifted her eyes, forcing words past the lump in her throat. The wrong sentence…. “I will. Because they have made me understand things better….”
It was no use. With her mind running in all directions, panic mode dancing in the background of the physical chaos, and her throat about to be closed up by some rudimentary emotion, Andrea knew she would get no other reasoning out today. As it was, she could barely think straight. Behind a fat lock of orange fluff, one temple was beating a rhythm against her forehead. Andrea’s pulsating fingers did nothing.
She jerked her fingers away from her face, and spun, heading up the stairs in two leaps.
“Where are you going?” Keith asked.
“My room. Bed, maybe. I don’t want dinner. I have a pounding headache and work in the morning. I’m going back because Alexia needs me. I need to think my routine over.”
She couldn’t add insult to injury by telling him not to expect her until morning. She didn’t want to see him then, but the hungers of breakfast couldn’t be helped.
“Hey,” Keith called. Andrea turned; he had one hand on the banister, but even his frozen position didn’t calm his burning eyes. “Where does that leave us?”
She ached to remind him that there was no ‘them’. But if he refused to acknowledge the kind of bond he had once shared with Léa, Andrea was not seeing any way of ducking out of their couple-ship. In the meanwhile, whilst thinking of some solution to help herself and her housemate, Andrea needed this place to stay. She couldn’t deny her homelessness. She hated being an only child. It was weak.
Andrea darted her hands over her forehead. For a moment, the headache abated, though not for a stretch of time enough to sort through the idle brain-cells for an answer. Andrea prised open her eyes. Keith tapped his foot, and she watched the world grow and die in those multi-tonal pupils of his.
“I don’t know, Keith. I really don’t know.”