“Raspberry or strawberry jam, Andrea?”
Andrea eyed Lea’s selection spread out on the gingham rug. “You brought two kinds of jam?”
Léa shrugged in the middle of a giggle. “I can make jam. I learnt in France last year. There are some upsides to being shipped out on a regular basis. So: jam?”
“Yes, Léa,” declared the man beside Andrea. He swiped the pot of raspberry from its place and unscrewed the lid, seconds later dolling out the globules onto his bun. “Though I’d always prefer tuna.”
“You can’t have tuna on a picnic!”
“I have to agree with Léa on this one,” the man across from Andrea chimed in. “Sorry, Lucas, outvoted two to one.”
“Not if Andrea votes with me. Come on, what’s it to be? Tuna or jam? Delicious raspberry or only slightly delicious strawberry?”
What on earth? She was still trying to hold back giggles. Andrea could do so no more and collapsed onto the blanket, tuffs of grass tickling her cheek.
“Keith – Kei –” she spluttered without success.
“What?” both men asked, but, by now, Léa had joined Andrea’s hilarity.
“I don’t get what’s so funny,” Lucas protested. “Come on, out with it.”
“It’s your making a mountain out of a molehill,” Léa told him.
Lucas rounded his eyes in playful innocence. “Moi?”
Andrea closed off her giggling. It was more than that, but Andrea didn’t dare to draw up inferences when the others were all left in definite happiness by the randomness of condiments. She looked at Lucas, forcing a pokerface to replace her childish smile. “It doesn’t matter.”
When his face dropped, Andrea worried that she might have offended him with a second of remembrance. But Lucas nodded. “I know.”
“So,” Léa stressed. “Would you like –?”
“No, thank you. I buttered my own just before we left.” She unwrapped her little cling-film parcel and presented it to the other lunchers.
“Buttered?” Keith exclaimed. He scoffed into his raspberry spread. “Now who’s being ridiculous?”
Léa said, “Please! I think it’s perfectly reasonable to be having butter. It’s just tuna that’s weird.”
Her mouth full of creamy bread, Andrea held up a dirty palm. “Don’t make me giggle again! Let me finish my lunch first.”
Lucas was laughing, too. His chest rose and fell in the merriment. Andrea looked to the sticky hand that propped him up from the blanket, and to the other, inches from her ankle. He had already wolfed down his food as they had been speaking. It didn’t stop him from turning into a hub of giggles.
A round of four smiles met each other. Even after Andrea and Léa had controlled their breathing (a surprisingly easy thing to do compared with Lucas’ lack of self control when it came to his percussive laugh), the smiles stuck to the faces of each luncher. Andrea didn’t know the real reason for hers. Was there one, and was it really necessary to have such a reason carved in stone? She was with the people she loved – if that was no proper reason, then she was happy to be condemned for being sensible.
After all, even the patients she treated knew their emotions.
Andrea dusted off her hands. The butter slid off them. Having grabbed her second piece of food, she looked around their makeshift table on the ground. Everyone was munching – even Lucas, though goodness knows what he had found to sink those teeth of his in.
At least now silence wasn’t a bitter thing. She could enjoy her two rolls as the people opposite her did so, enjoying the pleasant peace of the surrounding wildlife. Not very many creatures – not even the ducks – came out to play, but the trees had a way of encapsulating the joyful reprise and swaying in time to some natural rhythm Andrea identified. It wasn’t quite the rhythm in her head, but it would do.
Léa’s movement of wiping her jam-coated fingers against a stretch of grass caught Andrea’s eye. Wordless, they met across the tartan.
“This is a pretty park, Andrea,” Léa said. “I hadn’t noticed it before.”
“Mmm, in the old district, visitors don’t tend to notice it.” She licked her lips, taking away one layer of the creamy dew.
“Andrea,” muttered Lucas, “you’ve got a curl of butter on your lip. Just…there.” He brushed it off, making her shiver all the while. Andrea stared into Lucas’ eyes. She heard Léa cough from some distant, real life world.
Léa rolled her eyes. “You children!”
Andrea tore her eyes away from Lucas and focused them on her sister. In true Léa style, she was creating a conversation through the dips and elevations of eyebrow speak. Andrea knew none of it, but she waggled her own eyebrows all the same. It was Léa’s eyes that betrayed her question, her motive…even, possibly, her suggestion.
The woman, who had, before, been sitting cross-legged, drew her knees up to her waist and shifted her body into a softer position, an obliging L-shape. Keith possessed none of the subtle hand-touching that Lucas was known for doing, but he was eyeing the greater length of ankle that Léa had produced from under her tracksuit.
Keith straightened up, stretching his physique, the tallest of the four of them – and Andrea couldn’t resist a smile as she remembered that had been the reason they had met – directly above Léa’s hairdo, and, somehow, one of his hands ended up the other side of her.
Andrea cast an eye at Lucas. He may have been the first to finish his bun, but he now held the last remains of a sausage roll in his hands. He stared at it, before the chunk disappeared into his gob. In no part of his movement did he think about giving Léa and Keith some space. Mr. Insensitive!
“Come on,” she said, pulling him away up the picnic cloth. “I knew this park well, as my childhood home was not far from it. Let me...show you around.”
Lucas’ wicked eyebrows waggled in approval. He shot his sister one look – the sort of naughty declaration – before her quick dismissal was one that they knew was not concentrated on his romance, but her own.
“They make a cute couple,” whispered Lucas into Andrea’s ear as they headed in the direction of the copse that bordered the park.
She jumped, bursting into giggles. “Lucas! And, yes, yes they do.”
“Thank you for doing that.”
The sudden sincerity in his voice almost caused Andrea to stop her advancement.
“A thank you. Why?”
Lucas had managed to pull her into his stride once more, and he was able to turn to look at her.
“You were the one who suggested there might be something there first,” he replied simply. “I owe it to you that my sister is so happy. She can be so romance-shy at times....”
“Oh, Lucas. You don’t have to thank me for that. I was being the nosy one. Remember. We know.”
Lucas laughed out laugh, tilting his head up to the fresh sky. He shook so much that Andreas could not help beginning to laugh, too.
“I hope you didn’t think there was more issue to it than that,” he managed to choke out.
“Not at all. I’m really happy for them.”
“Says the short woman with the droll voice.”
“Hey!” She pushed against him, sending Lucas in a flowing trajectory across the long grass. As he spiralled, he brought his hands up into the spin, twisting like an aeroplane.
“Seriously, Lucas,” Andrea called, grabbing one hand and lifting him back into her personal space. “Behave.”
He pretended to be puzzled, eyes crossing themselves whilst trying to stare at her. “Why? There’s no one here but us. And Léa and Keith, but they don’t count.”
“That’s nice. Your sister and her boyfriend ‘don’t count’.”
Instead of replying, he simply laughed, lacing one hand around her waist as they walked.
“It was a good prepared picnic.”
Her heart swelled. Not that she needed the words to convince her that she could cook. Alexia was asking her opinion about midday and evening meals every time she came to work.
Andrea looped her fingers into his, worn and soft simultaneous. She looked to his face, surprised to see that he was staring at her at the same time. Lucas did no longer conceal his beaming smile from her, eyes alight in utter love.
“Lucas,” Andrea murmured, tracing the patterns of his knuckles with her frozen fingertips, “there’s one thing that I’ve always wondered, since the beginning.”
“You’re so enigmatic that you make me forget that you are! Is there anything else you want to tell me?”
“When you put the ad in the paper, I remember you said something like ‘must like bright scarves and silk handkerchiefs. Must not be colour-blind.’ I can see why the bright colours, for you certainly wear a lot of them, but why the other point? You fascinate me.”
“Oh, that?” Lucas said in the most casual tone she had ever heard him use. “I’m colour-blind. Luckily, colour-blindness is passed on through the mother. I was secretly testing your accuracy at discerning colours, which you obviously have no problem with! Besides, it doesn't bother me, except that there are jobs that I can't do." He latched onto Andrea's hand, eyes wide in mock lament. "I can never fly a plane, Andrea."
She giggled loudly. "I know, I know."
Lucas exchanged his sulking lips for a wider face of joy. "I don't know if I've actually ever wanted to fly a plane. Seems a bit too complicated," he said.
Andrea found herself trying to speak through a flurry of giggles again.
“You’re both gorgeous and mysterious!”
“Gorge-ous? Oh, good. I try my best.” Lucas attempting a bow, but somehow managed to trip over his own feet, or a dip in the ground-level, and the two of them almost tumbled to the floor. Andrea gripped her boyfriend, heaving him up. The tiring effort no longer concerned her – for looking into Lucas’ magnificent eyes gave her the sole energy she would ever need.
Every day he stole her heart once again. This time, the thief deserved a medal.
“I love you,” she said.
“You say that a lot.”
“Don’t you love me, too?” Andrea widened her eyes to him.
They had come to a standstill, though neither of the two realised that their feet had ceased to move. It seemed an impossibility when two hearts were racing within, where every motion came with rushing emotions. When Lucas first reached for Andrea’s hands, she did not feel him, for her attention delayed on the wonder of his eyes, his nose, his mouth.
He raised a hand to gently tilt her chin so her eyes were utterly level with his own. Lucas’ pupils were deep enough to see herself reflected; but Andrea was not interested in her own being. As he opened his mouth, the warmth of his steady breath tingled through her lips.
“Of course, I do, Andrea. I want nothing more than to spend my life searching for answers with you. Forever. I love you so much.”
There lips caressed and joined in harmony. Flesh was no longer flesh when their intimacy lifted up each other’s souls to reflect upon the other. As Andrea felt Lucas’ hands protectively wrap around her back, she lifted her own to pull him closer into the embrace. Winter left no cold mark here, except that of the pure flakes that began to trickle from the sky. In Lansdale park, Andrea and Lucas kissed, not letting even the fresh February snow cool their perpetual passions.