They wandered into the station, Andrea with a heavy heart. She had hoped that, despite her plans, Lucas would have been able to talk her out of it. She had secretly hoped he would beg her to stay – or at least to travel back to Oxcote with him. It certainly made sense. And she had even hoped it might have been romantic. Get down on his knees and all that.
Lucas was a step ahead. A quaint receptionist dug her fingernails into an official-looking keyboard. A lump stuck in Andrea’s throat as she saw the tailored glasses the woman wore. Just like Alexia.
“My name’s Lucas Gorge,” he was saying. “I’m here to report a stolen vehicle. A blue Opel 1.6: 16V.” He reeled off his number-plate in two breaths whilst the receptionist typed, face changing to no end.
“We already have a vehicle reported missing of that exact description. An officer will be with you in a moment. Please take a seat, sir.” Her voice would have been a drone, were her accent not so trillo.
Lucas stormed away from the desk, his woollen jacket sweeping in a semicircle in the turn. Andrea followed, taking baby steps as she watched him. Her throat was not slightly dry now and any motion to clear it would have caught his eye. He threw himself down onto the blue-fabric chairs of the waiting-area (it was hardly a room), a hand flying up to his temple.
Eyes locked onto hers. “You reported my car missing.”
“I saw it leave in the hands of a ruffian,” she answered. “What else did you expect me to do? Keep quiet?”
Lucas waved his hands in the air, in a mockery of gratefulness. “I don’t know. Mind your own business, perhaps.”
What? He expected her to forget him in one second of life? “When you’re setting my housemate up with my friend…? At least I was there. Cars don’t just abandon themselves. Agents are needed.”
“Yes,” Lucas said. He was gritting his teeth.
They glared at each other.
“Where were you?” repeated Andrea. She dropped down into the chair beside his. A shiver ran down her spine twice as she recalled the moments in which Lucas’ car had driven away without him. Yes, every action had an agent, but Andrea didn’t want to dwell on who might be behind the loss of a vehicle she had come to, indirectly, love.
“I went for a walk. I wanted to give Léa and Keith some space.”
“You were, by sitting outside.”
He raised his eyebrows. “It’s a dull thing to do.”
“Read a book!”
“I’m a man: I don’t read books.”
Andrea shifted her hands to her hips. That felt sturdier, even whilst sitting. “So you went for a walk. How…did a thief get into your car?”
Lucas turned pink again. “I left my keys in the ignition….”
Andrea frowned. “Near one of the newest estates of Lansdale? That’s stupid!”
“Great to know your opinion of me, Miss Ford.” Lucas was rolling his eyes, relishing their arguments again.
Wow, it felt good to yell his name like that, regardless of how attractive Andrea found the use of his official surname. If Lucas thought he could be the boss of her emotions, he had something coming to him.
To her surprise, he didn’t retaliate. He rubbed a hand over his eyes, and shook his head. She took a deep breath in and held it there, widening her eyes as the oxygen sunk its way through her capillaries. Nice enough.
“I’m tired of talking,” he said. “I’ve had a long day, travelling far too much. Frankly, I could wait for the constable in silence.”
“I’m being pragmatic,” Andrea announced. They were not going to slip into the awkward nothing again. “Imagine if you have to pay to get it back, or something. You always said you need the money.”
“As Head of School –”
Andrea almost growled. She curled her fists against her forehead in frustration. “But you’re not Head yet. You’ve not even relocated from Lansdale.”
“Not at this rate,” replied Lucas in a soft voice, throwing his face into his hands again.
“Don’t,” Andrea said, hurting – she didn’t know if he was playing the victim – that wasn’t Lucas’ general style – or genuinely so troubled. She was torn so that it brought tears to her eyes.
“You are not Head of School yet,” she repeated, leaning forward in the chair.
Lucas looked up from his hands, but she avoided his eyes. Better that he not see that she was drawn to tears by him once again. It was embarrassing, amongst other things.
“Andr –” began Lucas, before he cut himself off at the sound of the constable’s footsteps entering the room again.
Andrea turned herself to face the policeman, watching from the corner of her eye as Lucas did the same.
“Good news, Mr. Gorge; we‘ve recovered your vehicle.”
“Thank goodness!” he cried.
“Who was it?” Andrea asked, frantically reaching for Lucas’ hand in their shared panic. His fingers slipped away, just out of capture.
“Just a teenager from the comprehensive school, Lansdale District Secondary. I’m afraid he thought it would be fun to go for a joy-ride in your car, Mr. Gorge. Don’t worry, we’ve got him in custody now. Just be more careful where you leave your keys next time.”
“Oh, he will,” snapped Andrea. She tucked the free-running lock of hair away behind an ear. Neatness in two parts again.
She felt warm fingers surround her cold ones. It took Andrea a moment to realise that Lucas had taken up the hand she had relinquished onto the structure of the seat.
Their eyes met over the blue mesh of the seating. He lifted his head a little higher, as though full of the same contemplation that had begun to absorb her, but no signature smile darted here or there on his lips. Lucas held her hand without that usual look of ashamed disdain.
Andrea tapped her fingers under his cover of limbs. They should talk. Properly. She was about to open her mouth and voice this jussive, regardless of Lucas’ indicative against.
“Mr. Gorge,” the officer said, reappearing. He indicated another man in uniform walking a step behind. In his hands he clutched a square board reminiscent of a corkboard Andrea had once had in her flat.
“We found this in the passenger seat of your car. Is it yours?”
The policeman flipped over the corkboard. Andrea swore his flourish was deliberate. She gasped. Paint glittered across the canvas as if still wet. Acrylic had been a good idea. The crimson mark in the sky morphed into a heart the more times she took her frantic eyes to it. Andrea felt her cheeks burn with colour.
Lucas stood. “It’s mine.”
The painting changed hands without comment; soon, the policemen were gone with little more to say than paperwork.
Lucas traced her brushwork under one index finger.
“You’re Belle Woolf? You spent £100 on ‘Lucas’ Land’?”
“I was going to give it to Léa and Keith if all went well,” he replied. “My leaving present to them – and the money, for you.”
“Lucas!” she said. “You can’t afford £100 for a painting.”
“I’ll get a little extra when I sell the house.”
“And you haven’t even sold the house yet?” She threw her face into her hands.
“Andrea,” he murmured. Fingers tingled upon hers. “Buyers keep dropping out. I’m inclined to believe in Divine interference.”
Andrea was inclined to agree! She stared into her mottled palms. No resort emerged to be made.
Lucas cleared his throat. “It’s beautiful, by the way. Thank you. You have such skill in capturing what I did.”
“You make me sound like a copycat,” Andrea muttered into her hands.
“Andrea…” He latched onto a wrist, successfully tugging it away from her face. Andrea squinted in the dull light filtering through the gaps. Too bright.
“I don’t know what to think,” she said. She opened her eyes to find his staring back in deep disarray.
“Would you like it back? Here. If you want something of our life…. It’s marred, but it’s our Lansdale.”
Andrea barely choked back her tears. What an offer! She studied Lucas in earnest, caressing his untouched features in the scenario in her mind. It was tempting – she did love the painting more because it had been made for him – but Andrea knew what was the more honest thing to do. After all, her argument of Lucas as a reason was evidence for both keeping and abandoning her creation.