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Installment 23

 

It was indeed a fine way to start a day, Andi thought dreamily as she crawled out of bed the next morning. Rick was already in the shower so she picked up his shirt off the floor and slipped into it. It was cool against her bare flesh as she buttoned it closed and went to the kitchen to make coffee. She was standing at the kitchen counter when she felt two strong arms slide around her shoulders.

“Good morning.” Rick murmured into the curve of her shoulder.

All she could do was sigh and sink back into his chest.

He was hoping that the intake of breath she took a moment later would not result in the question he was dreading.

“So, were you surprised?” she asked hopefully.

Lowering his lips to her warm flesh, he searched for an answer that would not be a lie. “It was an amazing evening. You did a lot of work arranging everything.”

She turned in his arms, studying his face. “Well, that was an...interesting answer.”

“I don’t know what you mean.” he said evenly.

Gasping, she leaned back to look at his face. “You knew!”

He knew that a flush was rising up along his neck and into his face because his skin was getting warm. “I, uh...”

Pushing away from him, she propped her hands on her wide hips and glared at him. “How long have you known?”

“It wasn’t the surprise that was important, Andrea, it was the thought behind it all.” he assured her, hoping she wouldn’t ask how he had found out.

“How did you find out?”

He crossed his arms across his chest and gazed at her silently.

“Rick!”

“It’s not important, really.” he tried to sidestep the question again.

“It’s important to me! Did I give it away somewhere? I thought I had hidden everything so well.” she muttered.

“You didn’t give it away, don’t worry.”

“Then Lee told you!” she accused. “I’m going to kill him.”

As he watched her shake her fists and rant about Lee, he realized he couldn’t let his brother shoulder the blame either. “It wasn’t Lee.”

She turned back to him, mid-tirade. “What?”

“It wasn’t Lee.” he repeated.

“Then how did you find out?”

“I just wanted you to have a reason to move forward.” his voice was low. “I wanted you to have something good to focus on.”

“What are you talking about?”

“My birthday isn’t for four months.” he told her, rubbing a hand over his face, trying to avoid looking into her eyes. “I thought that if you were occupied with something fun, it would help you deal with Jim’s death.”

She stared at him open-mouthed.  “What?”

“I’m sorry, Andrea... I thought it was the right thing to do.”

“You lied to me?” she whispered uncertainly. “Is that what you’re saying to me? That you lied to me?”

Pressing his lips together, he nodded.

“And Lee, he lied to me, too.”

“Don’t blame Lee. This was all my idea... and my fault.” He watched as a flush crept into her cheeks. “I’m sorry.”

She turned away, trying to gather the thoughts swirling around in her head. “I’m torn here, Rick. I understand what you’re saying and I guess I can understand what you did... but still,” she turned back to him. “I’m hurt.”

“Andrea...”

“I’m hurt that you lied to me, I’m hurt that Lee lied to me... and I guess I’m a little taken aback.” she admitted.

“I don’t know what else to say.” He wanted to touch her, but she had her arms wrapped around herself. “I didn’t do it to hurt you, you know that.”

Rubbing her arms, she frowned to herself. “I need some time, Rick, please. I... I just need some time alone.”

He didn’t want to leave it like this. Her hurt was almost tangible to him and he hated it. “Andrea, please...”

She saw his hand reaching out toward her as if in slow motion. Without thinking, she stepped away just slightly, then watched as his hand fell back to his side. “I’m sorry.” she whispered before turning away. “I’m going to shower and get dressed.”

“I’ll wait down here.” he offered, hoping to give her a little privacy.

“No,” she called over her shoulder. “You should go home and check on Lee.”

“Andrea...” His voice trailed off as he heard her climb the stairs to the second floor bedrooms. “Dammit!” he slapped his hand against the counter top. He had made his choice and he had nothing left to do but deal with the consequences.

 

 

Andrea tried to empty her mind as she showered, hoping that she would have a new perspective on what Rick and Lee had done. Yet, as she stepped out and began drying off, the same emotions flowed over her... hurt, anger, mistrust and disappointment. And as much as Rick had tried to defend his brother, she was also upset with Lee. After all their years together, she thought she knew him better than that.

Pulling on her clothes, she felt tears tickling her cheeks and it took a minute for her to realize that she was actively crying. A wave of sadness embraced her and suddenly, she felt very alone. She had no one to talk to, no one to go to for advice, no one to lean on for support. The two people she thought she could trust had lied to her and her father was no longer in her life.

Without bothering to do anything to her hair, she gathered her belongings and made her way downstairs. But once she was in the kitchen, she realized she had no place to go and even if she did, she had no means for getting there. Spinning around, she was halfway up the stairs when she heard the front door close.

“Andi.”

She froze, but did not turn around.

“I left, I swear I did, but I couldn’t stay away.”

Shuddering as his voice floated up to her from the foyer, she resisted the urge to run down the stairs and jump into his arms. “I’m not ready to talk about this, Rick.”

“I’m not willing to let it go.” he responded. “You’re too important to me.”

She turned and saw the anguish on his face and though it touched her, the hurt still held her immobile. “What is it you want from me?”

“I want you to understand that I was trying to help you. I didn’t want to lose you to your depression over Jim’s death. I understand grieving, Andi, I really do... but what you were doing was more than just simple mourning. You were losing yourself in this pit and I had to find a way to get you back out of it.” He clenched his hands into fists. “I couldn’t let you continue like that. I did what I had to do and I’d do it again. I’d do anything for you, Andrea, even lie... and you of all people know how I feel about lying.”

“And you of all people should understand how it feels to be lied to! There has been so much lying in my life, Rick... from the people I thought were my parents, from my father, with Lee and me, and now this. I don’t think I can stand it anymore. The only way to live a life of honesty is to just live alone. That way you have no one to lie to and no one lies to you.” she said sullenly.

“You don’t mean that.” he whispered.

“Yes, I do.” she said stubbornly. With that, she turned away, hoping to hide the tears that threatened again. Back upstairs, she grabbed an overnight back and a small duffle bag, both of which she found stuffed in the back of her closet. She had some clothes in the bedroom she normally used, so she stuffed as much of them as possible into the two bags. Tears dripped down her face, making no noise as they fell onto her clothes. When she could fit no more into the two bags, she closed them and crossed the room to use the telephone. The only way she could get away from the house, and from Rick, was to take a taxi.

The call made, she dragged her two bags out into the hallway and down the stairs. Once in the foyer, she stood silently at the front door, looking out the window, waiting for her ride to arrive. From her position, she could hear Rick moving around in another part of the house, but she had no intention of acknowledging him. She had no place to go, no one to turn to, and at this point, she didn’t care. She would have to find a hotel to stay in until she could make other arrangements. Leaving like this would be financially difficult for her, but she had no other choice and hopefully she could find a small apartment to rent somewhere while she looked for work. She had made it on her own in her youth, certainly she could do it again now. At the sound of footsteps behind her, her back stiffened.

“What are you doing?”

Pressing her lips together, she crossed her arms over her chest and continued looking out the window.

“Andrea, this is ridiculous!” he reached for one of her bags, intending to carry both of them back upstairs.

“Don’t touch that.” she growled, not looking at him. Pulling open the front door, she snatched up her bags and marched out of the house. She could wait for the cab outside just as easily as she could inside.

He stood frozen in the open doorway, watching her long legs eat up the growing space between them. When the cab pulled up in front of the house, he bolted out the door and down the lawn. But by the time he reached the cab, she was just closing the rear passenger door. “Andrea!”

Staring out the window, she felt herself cracking open. “Lets go, driver.” she called through the plexi-glass. “I have nothing to say to him.”

“Whatever you say, lady.”

She fell backwards onto the seat as the cab shot away from the curb, leaving Rick standing there, shouting her name.