When Andrea returned home that evening, tired and emotionally bruised from the spats, she was surprised to see a familiar stranger sitting at the coffee table. Prim and proper, Léa had a slight sheen of a tan across her face, dappling her fair face with subtle blemishes. She had been thrown abroad again, no doubt, by work.
“Good evening, Andrea. You live here again, I presume?”
“That’s true, Léa.”
Their conversation, fluent in words, stifled with awkwardness, shot between them. Andrea recalled that she hadn’t seen Léa since the disastrous dinner storm-out. Lucas had probably been relaying their life back to her, though.
And Léa had a great deal to be angry with Andrea about: she was the woman living with the man Léa loved. In her defence, Andrea could have found reasons to be angry with the sister of the man who had thanklessly abandoned her heart.
She didn’t. From the smile that graced Léa’s lips, the latter wasn’t dwelling so either. Neither considered these points, and Léa’s eyes were filled with a softness that told an apology for both events – that was just the person Léa was, taking the blame where none existed.
Léa must have known something of the thoughts swelling through Andrea, because the next thing she said was simple and kind.
“Lucas feels bad, too. He loves his job, he loves me, and he had to make those decisions for his career.”
“I know. I thought so, too. Of all the women he’s dated, I thought that you had struck a different chord inside him. You are different from them all: innovative, gentle, plain but not in the simple way that I am. You spark something of novel excitement in him.”
“Sparked. Past tense. And he did so in me.”
Léa scraped away a lock from her forehead. “I’m not sure Lucas is quite rid of you so quickly, if you know what I mean. Anyway, don’t blame yourself. If there’s anyone to blame, it’s –”
She was cut off by the snap opening of the door as Keith walked in, clutching at the shopping. It was odd that he had taken that initiative, and Andrea stood a moment to appreciate this change. What had given in his smug mind? Keith’s eyes floated over to Léa. Andrea looked between them, wasting a second as she came to the realisation that Keith had been the one to invite Léa in…finally.
“I’ll leave you two,” Andrea mumbled, pushing her way out past Keith.
She kept her head down, in case either of them was looking. From that temptation to stare back, Andrea posited that at least Léa had focused vision onto the messy mop of ginger that crowned her.
It wasn’t that she wanted to keep her emotions from them, but Andrea had had quite enough of stubborn Keith – and she knew that he wasn’t giving up on his pursuit this easily. Good for him if he had taken her advice. Still, that was no stipulation for success.
Andrea inwardly cursed as her hopeful smile escaped its mental confinement and spread onto her lips as she ducked into the annex room.
Having slipped out of that house, she edged the door closed, taking as much care as she could afford to make sure that it didn’t slam.
When Andrea’s footsteps were nothing more than an echo in his mind, Keith busied himself in the kitchen. He shifted the few bags of shopping, emptying them laboriously, locating hiding holes and storage spaces he shoved the food and cleaning fluids into. Anything to avoid Léa’s eye. Every time he cast a glance in her direction, all Keith imagined was the anguish that woman had felt after being kicked out of the only place to stay in the area. She had travelled so far – and she had done so again. If nothing else, that was very faithful/reliable/kind of her.
Nevertheless, she had the golden right to be mad at him. He half wondered if she had accepted his invitation back because she was preparing to attack him with barbed words and familial snide. Or was it because of the other reason? Léa’s passive demeanour gave away nothing.
When there was nothing left stray to use as a plausible excuse, he spun, jacket whirling, and clutched at the edge of one counter behind him, in case she decided to pounce and he needed a secure nest.
Keith felt himself turning bright pink.
“I’m sorry,” he said at the same time as Léa.
“I didn’t mean for that to be such an entrance,” he said.
“I didn’t realise that Andrea would be back so soon,” she said.
Keith smiled, saying, “it was awkward, but I didn’t mean it to be.”
“She doesn’t have any anger, Andrea doesn’t. She’s a well-meaning person.”
Keith grinned. Her sensibility leaked through in that little way she held her hands together. He studied her face, her sincerity and her apologetics. All were real, even when they didn’t have to be now. Too, Léa’s face broke into happiness. Soon, they were laughing beyond the humiliation state.
“Here, I bought some tea. I’m surprised we didn’t have any, but Andrea and I aren’t really tea drinkers.”
Léa took the packet from his hands and fiddled with it. “That’s okay. I have it only occasionally, but sometimes I find coffee too bitter. It’s more of Lucas’ drink.” She blushed in that light, uncomfortable way that she did. “Sorry, I should stop letting mentions of him slip out.”
Keith nodded his head. Standing still. She probably thought he was quite mad to have not moved. Let her think that, Keith told himself.
After a moment, Keith replaced his sturdy smile. “It’s quite all right. He’s your brother, after all.”
“– Compatible with Andrea.”
Having got the box open, Léa had been lifting a tea-bag out. With a squeak, she dropped it back in. Her eyes shot back up to his. “What?”
“He’s the most compatible with Andrea,” repeated Keith, though he had a feeling that Léa’s question had not been from mishearing.
“I – yeah,” she mumbled. That fringe that liked to pretend it was part of the rest of her hair sneaked over her eye. Léa made no twitch. Perhaps she had forgotten that it obscured the blue in her features.
Keith so wished he could remove the irritating strand. It was distracting.
He fiddled within his own hands, wondering how to voice the nagging thought pressing on his mind. “I’ve been thinking…”
“Around the same topic we’ve just been talking about?” She prompted well.
“Well, yes…the reason I called you here was because Andrea and I had a huge fight yesterday. I'm not even sure if she will still hold a straight conversation with me now.”
Léa clutched her cup in both hands – as she had done so many times in the same seat in the same kitchen previously – as she waited for the kettle to finish boiling.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered.
“That’s just it,” Keith shrugged; “I thought I had failed in my quest to get her to remember our love from beforehand, but then I started thinking about what she had said. I suppose you know she can be very bold when it comes to lives?” He didn’t wait for her answer. “She said that we never really loved each other. I guess…it was like that with Christine – my former fiancée – too; all we wanted was what each of us wanted. And it all fell away because we were throwing needs against needs.”
“Uh huh.” Léa nodded. The click from the counter echoed around Keith’s kitchen and his ears. Léa rose, but Keith was quicker. He crossed over to the kettle before she was fully out of her chair and poured the hot water into the cup he had taken from where she had abandoned it. From Léa’s expression, she hadn’t even realised she had put the china down.
“Thank you,” she murmured. “Go on.”
“But, as Andrea said, I was thinking about the way we were heading in different directions, that she was unhappy staying. Romance is not really my forte, but it didn’t stop me seeing that I have a bit of a self-centred habit. I need to be thinking about my woman’s happiness as well as my own.”
“And what makes you happy, Keith?” Léa’s cheeks darkened as she spoke.
“That’s the thing again,” he replied. “I don’t know. But it’s not Andrea.”
Léa lifted her cup to her lips, her eyes never leaving his own. Why did she need to stare? For a patient woman, she could be awfully intimidating. Chills danced in his hands and his feet, but especially down and around his spine. The cup ducked back to its sitting-point, and Léa sighed, hands wrapped in place again.
"So," Léa said, leaving her remark of 'where does that leave us?' hanging in the air. She pursed her lips and paused her fidgeting fingers.
Keith hummed to himself. He breathed in and out, letting the woman wait. She was just as pretty as the moment he had first laid eyes on her, even when that moment had been one shrouded by night. Now they were open with each other, Keith was surprised that these qualities of Léa hadn't changed.
That made him happy.
And Keith challenged himself not to forget that this time.
"I think..." He coughed. Time to swallow the pride. "I think I've fallen in love with you."
Keith blinked. Had she really said that outside of his mind? But the woman was neither bitter nor sardonic, only on the cusp of giggling.
And what a beautiful cusp it was.
He smiled, first from his eyes, and then when he was surer of what he was about to do, from his lips. They ogled each other for over a minute, grinning and giggling lightly together. Léa was the first to silence herself, but only because she was the first to move. Her teacup was abandoned, and, as Léa stood, the aroma of tea wafted its way over to him. He resolved to take tea more often.
Their eyes darted like glowbugs. Each look towards the woman showed Keith more of what he wanted to know. The feeling bit at him, once, twice, returning for a third time when her expression said it all.
Keith took one step forward and Léa none back.
He leant in gently, so gently lest Léa change her mind and spirit away. Luckily, her lips were separating, two plump lines of red, slightly creased from where she had escaped putting on any makeup that morning.
They kissed. As they did so, Keith, eyes shut though he needed not to imagine her beauty, felt Léa lift her hands up to his shoulders. She remained the recipient of the kiss, coaxing the lover Keith to escape from his rational heart and embrace her. That he did, throwing his arms around her back in joy. Her shirt was creased the further he drew his arms up, a little small if anything as it clung to her shoulder-joints and her clavicle. When his hands reached her semi-bare neck, excitement rushed through Keith; his fingers ruffled the short spikes that formed the end of her hair.
Kissing Léa was fun!
He was about a head taller, and, subsequently, had been pushing Léa back in the time he had spent leaning down to her height. Before they smacked against the wall, Keith drew away from the kiss – only, he kept his arms slack around Léa’s body; she herself released her wrists from his shoulders, but kept her head close to his, forehead warm against forehead.
“Thank you,” she said.
Keith tipped his lips. “What for?”
“No reason. I just meant ‘thank you’, nothing more.”
There was always a reason. But it didn’t matter to Keith. Let Léa have her secrets, as long as they were about him.
They parted, moving to the metre distance from which they had come together. In Léa’s eyes was that glimmer of hope mixed with an aching desire to cling that Keith well knew. Unlike anybody else he had known, however, she kept it inside her, didn’t act on it.
Léa was breathless and beautiful. Although she put her wants away, she didn’t tuck her smile in with them, and she moved about the kitchen, teacup in hand, chattering away.
“Could we tell Lucas? He’s waiting for me outside.”
Keith took her hand, finally beaming. In a strange way, he saw more in the manner Léa loved him than he had when he had been with Andrea. She tossed her short hair as she pulled him through his house, giggling. Keith liked the way she lifted her mouth to show tidily-pointed teeth.
Just like Lucas. But nothing like him.
Keith had not been so well fulfilled by being in the presence of a woman, either. With Christine and those before her, Keith had felt indebted to each woman, as if he had needed to work to make their relationship last; with Andrea, Keith had exerted undue effort when guiding her the right way into his life. Léa was different: she expected nothing from him, and took nothing. Léa was special. Instead, she bore some sort of magic that pleased without their need for physical gifts. Keith was glad simply by her listening to him all those times when he had lamented Andrea. Finally, he understood what Andrea had said about thriving on others’ happiness. Keith only wanted what Léa wanted.
If that was him, great!
“Stop daydreaming!” she teased. She edged forward again and leant her wrists upon his shoulders.
Keith flicked his eyes back and forth between hers. In the last of the day’s light, her blue eyes were coated with crystals of clear glitter, like a disco ball; their colour was unique. Keith raised a hand and scraped a couple of the slivers of her hair off her forehead. Léa blinked, but did not otherwise react.
“You’re different, you know,” he told her.
“Yes?” she mused, edging just a little closer.
“All the others have been outgoing, but you have a sense of quiet that none of them had. Besides, we were friends before and I….” He shrugged.
“It’s okay. I get where you’re coming from. Come on, Lucas is waiting.”
He nodded. “That’s my point.”
They parted; Keith and he eyed her smooth backside under the red hem of her shimmering outfit. He raised an eyebrow at that, though. Thank God Léa had been looking the other way.
“Léa,” Keith said at the entranceway. Fond memories of Lucas’ arrival sprung to mind, and he smiled.
Léa shrugged her shoulders, some smugness settled within them. “It’s not every day a girl gets thanked for arbitrary movements.”
“I’m serious. Thank you for being you and not someone else.”
“Guilty as charged!”
He grinned and swung her around into his arms. After everything Christine and Andrea had scolded about not being loving enough, Keith found it ridiculously easy to simply flirt with Léa. Having talked to her for so long before, Keith felt as if he knew the right act to make. His indecisiveness was gone. She nestled into his arm. For a moment, Keith tensed. Léa ran the fingers of the hand he was clutching hold of back and forth. Delightful elation ran through him, and Keith let Léa dip her locks onto his shoulder for a moment.
When she had pulled away from the embrace, Léa swung the door open with gusto, sniggering all the while. She spoke with her eyebrows as she indicated the suburban landscape.
There was nobody in the street.