Thank goodness for work. It was a distraction, but Andrea had always, even as a child, told herself that distractions were the best of starts.
It may have made her day routine, but Andrea would not have asked for more. Each sense of order reminded her of the good times she had once had with Lucas – the application of his disorder into beauty, like the way his blemished skin hued the moments they touched.
At least she was able to see lunchtime with better brightness in her eyes, regardless of that outside weather that hazed panes of glass blocked from sight. Alexia had been wandering around the office for a while; when asked, she replied that she was waiting for one of the work-placement students with a pastry from the deli down the road. That was when Andrea knew it was time for a break.
When the lab-coated young adult had hurried away, having presented Alexia with a cinnamon bun, Andrea hovered her way over to her friend.
“You know, that’s not what they’re there for.”
“Yeah, but I wouldn’t be in power if I couldn’t take advantage of my privileges.”
“Right. I’m not in the mood for eating, so I’m gonna go back to work. Enjoy your treats.”
“Again?” Andrea could hear the expression of disdain that must have been covering her companion’s face.
She kept walking. “Don’t tell me to eat. I’ll do that in my own time.”
Alexia said, “This is your own time. Technically.”
“You know what I mean.”
Andrea wondered if Alexia was going to stand beside the refreshment table all of their lunchbreak. To her surprise, her friend changed courses, heading straight for Andre and her cubicle. Alexia wandered in, the smell of pastry and perfume accompanying.
"Did you see him this morning?"
Andrea didn’t look up. "We passed, eye to eye, but he was leaving as I was only just getting up. I'm lucky Keith has to be in work an hour before I do."
"And that you always arrive late."
“It was good of you to come in.”
Andrea shrugged to herself. It was nevertheless true, but the inability to be on time had, for once, acted to her advantage. Alexia was smirking. And not because of the bun.
Andrea grabbed a pencil and starting marking up another report. "At least we didn't break up before Christmas," she repeated aloud.
Alexia's step faltered inches from her desk. Andrea allowed herself a self-contained smirk now. It was almost worth it. The sound of Alexia's wheelie chair deflating simply added to Andrea's bubbling glee. She had certainly caught her friend out.
"God. I'm sorry. I feel like the precursor of doom," announced Alexia. Andrea looked up.
The woman’s eyes locked with Andrea's. She pulled a face and swung her legs up onto her desk, those inch-and-a-half heels clattering down in the midst of a pile of white papers.
Andrea stared. She said, "Does Darren let you do that to his furniture?"
"All the time." And her face flipped from joy to sorrow. "Oh, I'm sorry. That was thoughtless." Alexia lifted her legs down. The two of them sat in twin chairs facing each other for a moment – before she had sprung to her feet again.
"It's alright," Andrea called. Alexia better not be sulking.
The coffee machine buzzed in the distance, a droll, simple sound that summed up Alexia well when it came to food. Low intake, high energy. Andrea let her rattle around in the kitchen-corner; she had her water and her folders, enough to satisfy the mind.
"Do you want my advice, Andrea?"
Andrea raised both eyebrows. Alexia was back. "I always want your advice."
An apple slid onto her desk, a fallen ruby courtesy of Alexia. "The way I see it, you have one of two options. One: stay with Keith –"
"Two: get Keith together with Léa so you can be free. And then ask Léa if you can stay at her house."
Andrea wrinkled her nose in confusion. "Where would she sleep?"
"Where do you think?" Alexia retorted.
Andrea blinked. Huh? On realisation, she threw her hands up to her mouth. "Ew, I didn't want to see that! Geez, no. Léa doesn't...."
"It was a thought," Alexia drawled. She had a piece of icing decorating the curve of her upper lip, the latter pointed in the same way that Andrea well remembered Lucas’ to be.
Andrea’s hands had scooped up the apple. Biting into its brittle skin, she watched Alexia for a minute longer, taking in the fine curves of her body. She was about the same height and width as Léa. If only they didn't have such different accents and hairstyles and dress sense. Though… Hiding her smile, Andrea rotated on the spot. She shifted folders around on her desk.
"No," Andrea's smile tickled her cheeks, "I was just thinking of something I could –"
The word 'do' caught in her throat like a slice of a poisoned apple. Far from coughing, Andrea drew her right hand up to her throat and stroked closed that bitter larynx. The smile had slid off her lips before she had willed it to leave her.
"I can't do this anymore, Alexia. I can't keep throwing lies into lies and making new scenarios. You can't afford to have me throw you into Léa‘s place just to catch Keith. I promised myself that I'd tell him the truth – and I have. What harm is there in keeping the same idea?"
Alexia tapped her pencil on her desk in three. She nodded without taking those bottle green eyes from Andrea's.
Eventually, she said, "I would happily have taken Léa’s place. For you. But I understand. You have more faith in the human act of reconciliation than I do. That's why I'm the one with a divorce under my feet and you're the –"
"Don't say it. I'm not a child."
"What are you going to do?" Alexia asked. "There's no third option."
Andrea scooted along in her chair to her computer-bank at the desk. She stared at the loading internet, skipping it straight to the Google page and then onto her search results. A multitude of letting agencies popped up just below her eye-level.
She said, "There is. I'm going to leave Keith and Léa alone. If I start searching now, I will find a flat within my price-range in only a couple of months. Then I can move out of Keith's and leave him alone to make his own decisions. I can't afford a Lansdale house.... I could squeeze a Swinford house in if I stretched the budget over my mortgage; the flats there are so much cheaper than Lansdale’s, though. I could always see if there are any lower positions coming available for me at the clinic." She scrolled through to another tab on her computer, ready to Google the Swinford Clinic. "It's about time I left this confusing town."
"No, Andrea, no." Alexia leapt out of her seat, and thrust her hand down upon Andrea's right. It curled over the sleek sphere of the mouse.
"You can't throw away everything you've worked for here. You're such a great people-person, taking the hands of those sufferers and lessening their pain as much as you can. Sure, you deserve a different job – but a higher one, not one where you see mocking Morrison at every turn when you come to clean his office. Besides," she blushed, "I was always hoping that I'd be the one to move first; I know travelling and I wanted you to wave me away. My job would then be open for offer."
She didn’t want her job hinged on psychodynamics. The mouse-lead caught in the gap between the desk and the wall. Andrea tugged at it with short, sharp jerks, but nothing made the lead fluid in her hands. She flung the trapped mouse down onto her desk. The bang resonated through the empty air. Andrea didn't even have the strength to thank fortune that it was their day alone in the four-office complex.
Alexia's hands were a shawl over her shoulders, into which Andrea buried her head, her tired eyes. Between sobs, she explained, "I don't want – to leave here either, 'Lex – but Lucas is gone. I'm gone with him. I want – to start afresh and – get away from Keith. Lansdale is lonely."
"I know. Andry... Andry, you're getting mascara on my cream jacket."
Andrea snorted, probably causing Alexia more clothing discomfort. "Be glad it's not – velour. I heard – a nightmare to wash."
"Yeah," Alexia replied. "But velour only comes in colours that make me look washed out."
Andrea couldn't help but give a wet chuckle, sniffing. She pulled away and grabbed a tissue. When she had overcome the rising urges to cry and to throw things across her desk, Andrea returned her eyes to the computer screen. She crunched the tissue close in her hand.
"Thank you. You understand why I have to do this, though? I can't stay in a world where I feel trapped and isolated from doing what I love."
Alexia said nothing. Out of the corner of one eye, Andrea noticed her retreat back into her open cubicle, fingers and eyes darting over the untidy form of the spread desk. She folded the stray napkin on her desk in half, before tossing it into the bin with great velocity.
Lunch was over.