Her fingers drum repetitively into the wood of the kitchen table. The sun has barely risen, long shadows not quite reaching Andromeda’s drowsy form. Ted has been absent all night and she has been counting the hours until his return. She sips at her cold tea, not quite remembering when she made it and for how long it has been undrinkable. These things do not matter because tea is a habit she cannot escape. No cup of tea should be left unfinished and she will not waste this one.
An hour or two later (the clock lies dismantled on the table, its irritable ticking silent), the front door creaks open, announcing the return of her husband. She rises after draining her cup, ready to greet him.
“Good morning.” He looks surprised to see her, but nonetheless greets her with a gentle kiss. She grimaces. “What are you doing up at this time?”
She inspects his ink-stained hands as she leads him into the kitchen. “I couldn’t sleep,” she admits gruffly. “I don’t feel safe alone in this house.”
Gently, Ted removes his hands from hers and moves towards the sink. The rushing of water from the tap breaks the early morning silence of the house, finally waking it from its slumber.
“I didn’t mean to worry you,” he apologises, letting the cool water wash over his hands, the ink running into the sink as the evidence of his late night endeavours vanishes. “I didn’t think the meeting would last so long, but we ran over.”
“It’s not your fault,” she says softly, moving behind him and resting her head on his shoulder, her arms wrapping around his waist. “I’m just so restless these days. You know me, I can’t help being anxious. I want this war to be over.”
“I’m doing my best,” he consoles her, twisting towards her and kissing her forehead.
“I know,” she sighs, releasing him and wrapping her robe closer around her body. She is shivering despite the comfortable temperature. “You’re brave enough for the both of us.”
Ted dries his hands on the nearest tea-towel. “Don’t be silly. You’re just as brave as I am.” He smiles fondly, taking her hand and starting to lead her upstairs. “Now, why don’t we sleep for a couple of hours before Dora wakes?”
She tugs his arm, stopping him at the foot of the stairs. “You go,” she encourages, trying to keep her voice even and light. “I have a couple of things to do before I go.”
He looks at her curiously and she tries not to crumble under his scrutiny. “Where are you going?”
It hurts to lie so easily to him, for the false words to tumble of her mouth so readily. “I’m just popping to the market. I need to get some vegetables for tonight.”
“Right,” he concedes, satisfied with this answer.
As he climbs the stairs tiredly, she forces herself not to feel guilty. She cannot guarantee that Gideon will stay for long; he has been home for three weeks already and she knows he will be gone before she has the chance to appreciate him. She must seize every opportunity she can to be with him, even if it requires betraying her husband.
She washes her face and presses her dress, smoothing out the creases as though they are lies and deceit. She pulls her hair back from her face and secures it with the only pin she can locate amongst her vast collection of brightly coloured ribbons. They are no longer worn, kept merely for their sentimental value, a prompt for nostalgia. Now she prefers to blend in.
Another hour has passed, another hour with Gideon lost. She slips quietly out of the house as she hears the cry of her daughter and closes the door quietly behind her. As she scurries up the deserted street, a small smile escapes her lips.
She takes the bus, using what little muggle money she has to remain inconspicuous; Ted is always reminding her that magical transportation is no longer safe. Amongst the commuting muggles, she is anonymous. None of them would know her and they will not remember her. They will look into her dark eyes and not recognise her for the adulteress she is. All they see is a sleep-deprived young woman, dark eyes shining with stifled excitement. It is liberating to slip among the crowd so easily, to be away from disapproving looks and disappointed family. None of these people care if she lives or dies.
Hopping off the bus at her stop, she picks up her pace until she reaches Gideon’s flat. She has only been here a few times before, though she has always admired the beautiful old townhouse. She peers through the windows, searching for any sign of him. The lights are off so she resigns herself to pulling the bell. It echoes somewhere deep inside the ground floor flat.
She shivers slightly as she waits for him, clouds covering the weak early morning sunlight. The unreliability of the British summer never ceases to astonish her; just two days ago she burnt her nose on a lunchtime errand.
He pulls the door open, smiling when he sees her. He grabs a jumper and joins her there on the pavement, leaning towards her and kissing her chastely. “Morning, beautiful.” She can’t help but smile briefly at the warmth in his eyes.
She pulls away, looking cautiously over her shoulder. “Not here, Gideon, you know that. Let’s go somewhere more private.”
He sighs, shoving his hand in his pocket instead of holding hers. “I wish we didn’t have to hide. I’m sick of pretending.”
Stiffening, she becomes uneasy. It is hard not be irritated when he slips into one of his moods. “I’m sorry,” she mutters. “You know what the situation is. No one can find out about us.”
They cross the road, heading towards a park. Ordinary people with ordinary lives pass them by; joggers, commuters, families. Andromeda has never felt like one of them. She lives beyond the boundaries of normality and she has long accepted that fact. They cannot act like an ordinary couple because their circumstances drag them far from that realm. She must help him accept it, too.
Trees sway in a gentle breeze, the overcast sky casting dark shadows over the young lovers. Her heart races at their secrecy, knowing that they could be caught at any moment. Nowhere is safe for them and it is part of the thrill. Furtive glances over her shoulder keep her pulse sprinting. She tugs his hand free from his pocket and leads him into the trees.
She kisses his brow softly. “Let’s have none of that,” she whispers, hoping to lighten his mood. Time slips away from them like grains of sand and she desperately clings to it. They cannot waste a melancholy second when minutes are finite; but not matter how hard they try, time still escapes them.
Andromeda moves his hand to her waist and leans into him, inhaling his scent. His presses his lips tp the top of her head, stroking her stomach with his thumb. “I hate that you have to leave,” he mutters.
She looks up into his unfathomable eyes, the darkness she finds there never-ending. She can only dream that one day she will scratch beneath the surface of his woes. “You’re leaving too,” she says evenly, deflecting the guilt.
He sighs. “I never thought we’d end up this way. I pictured our futures together, not apart. Why are we fighting it, Andromeda? What’s the point?” She leans back into him, her ear pressed against his chest. She can hear his heart thrumming against his ribcage, the beating growing faster and faster. She wants to block out everything but that heartbeat. “We’d be better off without each other.”
Stepping back, she frowns up at him. “You don’t mean that.” She shakes her head. “You know it’s not true. We promised each other we’d be together and one day we will. When all of this is over, when the war is finished, we’ll be together. I don’t care what it takes.”
She almost glares at him, accusing him of giving up. How can he deny what they both know to be true? Though torn apart more times than they care to count, they leave each day in the hope that the next can be spent together. They are victims of misfortune and bad timing but their time will come. She believes it deep down in her heart and she will wait until their time comes.
He shakes his head sadly. “We haven’t been lucky so far,” he says stubbornly. “What makes you think things will change? If anything, more stands in the way of us now than ever before.”
Gideon’s frown deepens and she wants to curse it away. His denial draws blood from old wounds, sheds light on buried doubts and she cannot bear to listen to them again. Dwelling on such things only weakens the resolve she desperately clings to. It is all that keeps her going. “You’re wrong,” she says angrily.
She pulls him close, closer than before and grips his shoulders roughly. She kisses him, their lips jarring as she conveys the passion locked deep within her soul. He is ingrained in her very skin, his words written into her mind and his scent stained on her clothes. Everywhere she looks she sees him; there is no Andromeda without Gideon. She cannot comprehend a life without them.
He responds with a resigned desperation, like a drowning man gasping for air. He is right, of course; there is no point to these stolen meetings. She will return to her husband and child, and he will leave her once again to pursue a path she cannot follow. Time away from reality only brings them down harder.
His hand slips under her shirt and she sighs as his cold hands reach her warm skin. They work in tandem, quenching thirst after thirst until they realise that their time is up. Minutes have passed wantonly, thoughtlessly and now they must be responsible. Slowly, they drag themselves back into the present.
They tear themselves apart, both with flushed cheeks and short breaths, as Andromeda quivers under his gaze. He strokes her hands with his thumbs, soothing her. She hopes he will say nothing, that he will walk away wordlessly and leave her to break free. But he will not. He will bid her goodbye and construct empty promises of happiness and love; she will believe him. She has to.
She toys with the idea of ending it, with banishing from her life once and for all. But she knows that these thoughts are futile; they are weak. She will settle for impracticality just so that her heart will beat a little faster every time she sees him. He will bring a smile to her face when the guilt threatens to overwhelm her. They reached the point of no return years ago and they are locked into a doomed embrace that can go nowhere. She will enjoy it while it lasts.
The journey home is a pleasant one, a silent one, and when she crosses the threshold she is grateful that he does not query her lack of vegetables. He knows that sometimes it is better not to ask. She sees the knowing look in his eyes, though, and the guilt starts to rebuild. She is torn between loyalty to her best friend, her husband, and her unyielding need for the touch of another. They sit at the kitchen table, surrounded by thoughtful silence.
“You don’t have to lie to me,” Ted says evenly, observing her with sad eyes. “I worry about you if you do.”
Another twang of guilt. “You shouldn’t worry,” she mumbles. “I’m fine.” There is no point denying it; he has always known, he has always been three steps ahead of her.
He takes her hand in his, cradling it as though something precious. “Just be honest with me; that’s all I ask. Then we can both be happy.”
Happy. It is such a strange concept that she never dares chase it. After all, when have they ever both been happy? She has made sure that they will never live happily ever after, that they will never been conventional. She is the one keeping Ted awake at night with doubts and jealousy and she is slowly, piece by piece, tearing their marriage down.
Perhaps there is some truth in her sister’s words after all; she will ruin everything.