She couldn’t look him in the eyes. “No, no. It’s yours…you bought it, even if it was for stupid money that I created to pay for your expenses.”
“I think that was admirable reasoning.” He chuckled, but no joy lingered in his honey tones.
Lying the painting down by his feet, Lucas smiled in unison with the sudden brightness in his eyes. More pairs of fingers darted over the chambers of the Ferris wheel. Andrea cringed. He’d better not ruin her work.
“Forget the car. I was more frantic about losing this.”
Andrea cleared her throat, only to find that her mind was still flailing in its uncertainty. If only she didn’t have these emotions! Andrea only wanted to tell him that they should be friends over his distance. But nothing to say easily arrived.
“Well, at least you have the car again. I should have warned you about those comprehensive kids. They are always the same.” She looked at her fingers. “Whilst I have no interest in widening the status gap in this town, we from the more rural district – the traditional Lansdale residents – were always troubled when those council housing moved in. The concrete world was a bad idea.”
“Andrea…you’re talking to yourself there. I know little of what you actually mean.”
She made a noise of acknowledgement at the back of her larynx. The metal on the seats morphed into such a dividing line.
“Land’s Dell indeed,” he grumbled.
Andrea lifted her head. “Huh?”
“This place, it used to be called ‘Land’s Dell’, hence the whole phonetic transformation, or whatever they call it. I looked it up.”
Andrea was tempted to be deadpan in her response. Indeed, she didn’t know whether to be furious that he was learning more about her hometown or forlorn that he scorned it so easily. Eventually, she went for some more contempt, courtesy of living with Keith’s autonomous reactions.
She asked, “You looked up the name of a place you were leaving?”
And he was still here, with a house still to be sold. Andrea didn’t know where to find herself in the mess of tenses. It was a web from which she was never to escape.
“In case Léa was going to stay….”
“Or in case you were going to stay,” protested Andrea. Her thought he was so clever to use his sister as an excuse again and again. But these excuses became habitual.
“Please don’t say that.” Lucas paused, biting at his lip. Well, that was an action she hadn’t seen him do before. In the back of her mind, Andrea actually found herself concocting a reason for his anxiety – a trick or a game to be played again.
“Tell me, Luc –”
“Don’t say that, Andrea. I have a house in a city three hours drive away and I’m perfectly okay at a job as Head of a large private school!”
“Houses can be sold! Jobs can be redistributed. Materials are fickle.”
Lucas looked as if he was about to cry. Those downward-sloping eyes judged the floor and the floor alone. Only when Lucas muttered under his breath and tapped along each line in her painting did Andrea understanding that he was thinking again, controlling again, but this time with so much concentration that it was stealing away his heart, too. Treatment was never meant to be worse than what it treated.
Yet, Lucas muddled along in his own way. It must have been five minutes past before he spoke to her again. Andrea didn’t want to count.
“I know,” he remarked, “and that’s exactly what distresses me about seeing you here again. You remind me that not everything is empirical and material. I should be saying that more often.”
She gave him a weak smile. “You can if you remain in Lansdale with me. Can’t you…?”
“If you’re staying. You yourself were not so sure less than half an hour ago. Andrea, put yourself in my position. Have you ever had to make a choice: your love or your career?”
She blinked slowly, hating. “I didn’t, in the end. It was the kind of silly college crush.” As she spoke, she saw the surprise dart into Lucas’ eyes. She had been the loveless woman. Not anymore. “I was eighteen. I’d missed out on an Oxcote place for Lansdale Uni and I was desperate to reapply. However, as I began my re-application, I met one of the third year Psychology students. I thought he was my world. So, yes, I chose to stay. I chose the man because of the way he treated me, even when he never did more than look. I was silly. When he ignored me, I still clambered after him. Eventually, he outwardly humiliated me, left, and I could do nothing but continue where I had been, my Oxcote place disregarded. I probably wouldn't have ever got in anyway.”
“You’ve never said that before…” Lucas whispered. “Relive your college years. If you had to pick between Oxcote and me, what would you do?”
“This situation is so different!”
Lucas’s voice was low. “Is it?”
“This is work,” Andrea protested; “you are making a choice for work. My dilemma was for university – and that changes people’s lives.” She spread her hands in front of her. A last resort. “Don’t you see?”
“I see that you don’t think what I do is important,” Lucas replied. His demeanour hadn’t changed.
“No! That’s not it at all. What I mean is that my schooling was the best thing for me and I almost abandoned it.”
“Maybe this is what is the best for me: work. Is that what you’re mumbling about? I’m flattered that you’re trying to do the most loving thing for me, but I think your agape is missing a few steps of reasoning.”
She wasn't mumbling! Andrea shook her shoulders, fighting against the confines of the bad blouse she had chosen to wear today, one from her old wardrobe and which Léa had washed without care. She thrust her chest out in indignation.
Lucas was keeping down a strange smile. He leant forward and carefully laced one button of her blouse back through its loophole before Andrea could fight him off her chest. Frankly, she didn’t know how to react to that.
“But that’s exactly why you should have picked me,” she added in bewilderment at his string of words.
She scowled, rubbing a hand over her aching forehead. Every time she looked at Lucas, that surge of furious emotion deluged her senses: she wanted to throw herself at him in love, but also in deep anger. Why did his presence have to cause such contradictory feelings? No other relationship had become the forefront of the mind even when she was out of the man’s aura. She wanted to push him away whilst knowing that doing so would only call up the sadness that came at the root of her confusion.
Lucas said nothing for a minute. His lips pursed tightly in the kind of concentrated thought she knew he used in puzzlement. He studied they grey wall of the station and the carpet the colour of granite – everywhere but her own eyes, though Andrea did notice that Lucas was not against viewing her hands or her waist or her thighs.
“I don’t know what it is about the two of us,” he said. “We fit together…so intriguingly.”
Andrea folded her arms. “Go on.”
“Normally,” he sighed, “my break-ups don’t go sour this way. My last girlfriend and I parted ways amicably. But I was moving to Lansdale; we couldn’t stay the distance. I guess that’s the logic I applied when…saying goodbye to you.”
“Yes; I was obviously not the normality,” said Andrea, with raised eyebrow.
“Be happy I’m telling you this at all.”
“You don’t need to,” she retorted.
“Anyway,” continued Lucas. “I daren’t ask what happened to us.”
An idea emerged from the multi-ped creature of Andrea’s feeling, though it was only the sort of distant hope that had kept her heart thriving when she had moved back to Keith. Her wonders would be the same regardless of Lucas’ inferences.
Then there was his argument hypothesis.
“Nothing ‘happened’ to us. This is who we are, Lucas.” She paused. “I just wish you hadn’t been so bitter to me.”
He didn’t flinch. That was better.
“I’ve been thinking,” Lucas cautiously began, “was it right to help Léa into Keith’s arms? They might be happy now, but does the end justify those means? I’ve been thinking about that a lot, you know.”
“Yes.” Andrea sighed. She knew. “When I was drunk, I thought only of myself, reaching down into my id – my selfish moods; when I was sober, I was thinking about her.”
Lucas blushed deeply, eyes shining. “You were?”
“Always. All I wanted – all I want – is to see them as happy as you make me.”
“Make? You’re not mad at me?” Lucas pulled a second face, an indecisive squiggle of his features.
“I am hurt, Lucas. But I’ve got to get used to that. You are never going to be the perfect man I keep imagining you to be – that’s love and love hurts. You hurt me, but it hurts more to be parted from you.” She lifted and dropped her shoulders quickly. “In short, I’m as mad at you as you are at me.”
His round face shone and fell through stages of emotion. He enlarged his eyes, throwing back his head as a laugh tumbled from those lips. If he had been on edge beforehand, Lucas was relieved now.
“I’m not mad at you! Not at all! I’m more mad at me for having to cast away your immoral love. I forget that it’s not immoral; it’s immortal. Amoral.”
“Oh, shh! Exactly!” she cried. “Gosh, Lucas, you know how to annoy me.”
The warmth on her hand was his, moving fingers back and forth in both a comfort and the need to be comforted.
“I’m sorry. I seem to do that a lot. Forgive me?”
She closed her fingers around his. “I already have.”
They passed through two more rounds of eye-tennis before Andrea drew her eyes to the clock on the wall. How many more minutes? What were they doing to the Opel, prising it away from the hoodlum’s fingers?
“I never said before,” Andrea mentioned lightly. “But I really enjoyed your organ playing in the service. You have such a talent. A strangely sexy talent.”
Lucas laughed in his rich Redshire accent that always became more prominent when he let happiness consume him. “Oh, I know. Many conversations have been along the same lines. A fellow at St. Hugo’s College used to make a joke of it – I can’t read music well, but I’ll be damned if I can’t improvise. It’s all part of being an organist. Our lives are chaotic and cluttered until we reach the symmetry of our pieces – hence why I started playing in the first place. It took me away from the pain surrounding my home and childhood. Believe me, I know a lot of organists. There’s something about the way organ music can be played that makes it dazzlingly daring. Plus, we have huge instruments.”
Andrea burst out giggling. She felt her face burn, but, for once, the innuendo was deliberate. Lucas was being deliberate for her. They were communicating! From Lucas, Andrea called this brilliant progress away from the blank-faced laughter they had thrust about the relationship before.
Midway through a giggle (for Lucas’ expression was doing nothing to steady Andrea), she flung out a hand to steady herself, against his shoulder hidden under the soft fuzz of his mauve jumper. When all her breathlessness from laughing had subsided, the mere contact with this man gave Andrea a new kind of breathlessness.
They both knew of it. Lucas looked down at where her hand remained fitted to the ball of his shoulder, and then he raised his eyes to hers, as piercing as they weren’t, hidden behind two panes of smeared glass. But Lucas got rid of that issue before Andrea herself could fully think it.
He removed his glasses in one sweep of the hand. He tilted his head, eyes meeting. Lucas was charm personified, with his eyes so close. They glinted, an aching picture in one look, an apologetic sigh in another.
Without thinking anything more, she cupped his face in her palms and placed her lips onto his. In an instance, Lucas’ arms were around her. A perfect kiss came as they skooched closer.
She pulled away, but Andrea couldn’t stop staring at him. She lowered half a hand. The moment mustn’t end. It couldn’t. If they moved an inch from their positions, the whole relationship could fall. Already, Lucas’ eyes were wandering.
“If love ever struck two fools so deep,” he remarked with a chuckle.
The door was flung open and Léa pushed her way through, oblivious to the glares she got from policemen, and more oblivious to the ends of her hair that stuck into the air from the wind.
“Dear, Lord, Lucas! How could you even think of leaving your car unattended? Thanks for ringing me anyway.”
Andrea felt Lucas tense, but he did not remove his hand from Andrea’s waist. “It’s not something one thinks of, Léa.”
There was one thing she did notice, though: the proximity of Lucas and Andrea. The way Léa’s eyes flicked between showed that she suspected everything. She had, after all, first suggested it. She blinked.
Andrea looked down at her legs, carefully overlapping Lucas’. She blushed and parted from him, but latched onto the one hand provided.
Léa’s mouth twitched upwards. “Hello, you two…”