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By:Amanda Lance

I feigned offense. “You don’t know that.”

Charlie grinned. “You woulda made up some excuse to not come out until after the first.”

Rolling my eyes, I forced myself back into his arms. “It wouldn’t have been an excuse,” I mumbled. “I would have found a very legitimate reason.”

He laughed.

“I’m a selfish guy, okay? I want you all to myself.”

I sighed. “I’m okay with that.”

We held each other for a moment before he spoke. “Hey,” he whispered in my ear. “I got a surprise for you.”

“Should I be nervous?”

“I hope not.”

He led me back into the room where the smell of the paint profoundly took over. Standing behind me, he wrapped his arms around me and folded his hands over mine. I laughed at his manipulations, but once I began to look around at the room, I was distracted by the elaborate drawings done on the wall. From the familiar lines, I knew instantly they belonged to Charlie, and as usual they were nothing short of amazing. He had taken great detail into sketching roses at the base of the floorboards so that they appeared to be growing from the floor themselves. He had even painted them a shade of blue—something I had never seen Charlie do to any of his sketches before. The bloom of blue roses bordered every wall of the room. Several inches high, they checkered and overwhelmed. Yet to avoid over accentuating them, Charlie had also created small white flowers drawn into scene, often straight in-between the blue roses. I couldn’t identity these flowers directly, and frankly couldn’t even recall having ever seen them before. They stemmed from a checkered spike that Charlie had painted a sort of gray—and little white blooms sprouted from every orifice of each cone with the tiniest yellow seeds at their centers.

I was in awe at his craftsmanship. “Wow.”

“If you don’t like it I can paint over it,” he rushed. “I wanted it to be a surprise. And it was supposed to be done before you got here, but I kept messin’ up.” As he trailed off I could see the soiled rags embellished with different shades of paints and the remains of brushes over a used tarp.

“Wait a minute.” I pulled away and turned around to face him. “This,” I gestured to the room’s walls, “is for me?”

He grimaced. “I can paint over it,” he repeated. I saw his shoulders tense up; his hands buried themselves in his pants pockets, and his eyes left mine.

I knelt in front of wall where the paint smell wasn’t quite as profound, a starting point, I guessed, and took in the specific features of the picture. Every rose appeared to be unique from the one before it; some had the look of soft, younger petals while others were in full bloom. I saw one further down the wall that was only in its early budding stages, and another whose petals were beginning to slip off.

“Like this? How could I like this?” I wanted to trace the outline of the little white flowers, but I was afraid they were still wet, so I held back. I ran through the dictionary in my head and tried to think of the right words to describe how the illustration affected me; like every one of Charlie’s sketches, the flowers he had drawn for me was absurdly authentic, but the color he’d added in addition to his talent was breathtaking.

I looked back at Charlie; his face revealed an astounding disappointment, as though he were trying to return to sleep after a great dream and couldn’t get the image back. Laughing, I ran back to him and threw my arms around his neck, pulling myself up and securing my legs around his waist.

“I really like it.” I kissed his face until I felt him smile. “Scout’s honor.”

Charlie sighed and squeezed me tighter, rocking me in the throes of his arms. “If you don’t, I can change it.”

“Don’t you dare. I’ve always wanted to live in one of your drawings. I just didn’t think I’d ever get to do it literally.”

He sat up on the over-extended windowsill, which was only one in a series of windows that ran across the northern wall of the room. The view faced the front of the yard, where the decayed remains of last season’s orchard withered on.

“I’m glad you like it.” He laughed. “Since you wouldn’t let me get you anything for Christmas…”

I bopped him on the nose. “No gifts.”

Laughing, he threw his head back. “You broke your own rule!”

“Some sketchbooks and charcoal pencils are nothing compared to this, Charlie. I mean it, you’ve outdone yourself.”

He recoiled but still continued to laugh. “Maybe it was good I didn’t go with my first idea.”