Decisions over paint chips and matters of the heart.
Holding her, even just as loosely as Nate was holding her now, was the best thing in the world. Adelie had installed herself in his life in a way he’d never imagined as he’d opened the door to let her in. Her smiles, her conversation, even her teasing – there was something profoundly missing when she wasn’t there. The colours were brighter when she was around, with her travel sized watercolour kit and her determination to capture happy memories.
“Why don’t you just snap a picture?” He once had asked, as she sat in the middle of the workshop yard, painting the garage and his bike, hair aglow like spun bronze in the setting sun.
“It’s not the same,” she had answered, “the emotion is missing. This is how I see it with my soul.”
As a former racer, she was good with a wrench and not afraid to get dirty. No more blindly groping for tools, she handed him the right one before he could ask and he missed her second set of hands every time she wasn’t there to help him.
He tried not to think about what this meant. Instead, he pulled her a smidgen closer and mumbled: “Too be honest, I was looking for something the shade of your lipstick. It’s the perfect juicy red.”
She giggled. “You’re in luck, I have it in my purse. Let’s compare.” She freed herself from his tender embrace and fetched the tote bag sitting on a chair. They picked the closest matches and Adelie held her lipstick next to them.
“This one comes quite close. Or this. The others are either too blue or too orange, don’t you think?”
His glance clung to her lips, and she probably could have read him the space force’s code of conduct, he’d still be as mesmerised. Even after all the weeks he knew her, he hadn’t gotten used to her beauty, her appeal, and it still had the power to derail his brain. Other women had vanished from his radar completely.
“Nate? What do you think? This red, or this red? I think this one would look fantastic with metallic flakes to add some depth.” She looked at him with raised eyebrows, holding up two paint chips. Focus buddy.
“Pick the one you like best. I trust you more with this than myself.” He was somewhere else with his thoughts, Adelie could tell, and she could also tell that these thoughts had something to do with her. She had no idea what to think about this fact.
“This is flattering, but I’d like to wait and see how they look when it’s sunny.” Resolutely she reunited the two paint chips with their brothers on the table and snuggled back into her corner of the swing. Nate was still watching her, a pensive look on his face. She prodded his thigh with her knee. “Why so gloomy?”
A smile flared up like an old aerobeacon. “I’m not gloomy. I thought about our summer adventures. How much fun we had. I’m gonna miss our weekends together.”
She scooted over and used him as a backrest. His arm naturally fell around her shoulder. Calm spread through her like it always did when they were close. “Why d’you think we won’t spend time together over fall and winter?”
A soft chuckle. “Because it’s unusual enough that you were willing to spend your summer weekends in the dirty garage. It’s freezing cold and uncomfortable in the winter, even with the oven glowing red. And we won’t be able to take trips to the coast and visit our secret cove, either.”
“There are some art galleries in town I could drag you to,” she suggested. “If you need a reason to meet up, that is.”
His chest expanded in her back, then air left it forcefully. “What d’you mean, Lily?”
She sat up and turned around so that she could see his face. “I mean that I’d be perfectly happy with holing up with you here or at my place. Watching movies, or something.” She took a deep breath and stared at their touching knees. “I liked being here because I had you for myself. I don’t need trips to the coast or an art gallery opening as an excuse. I… I just want to spend time with you.”
Nate remained silent for a minute that stretched into eternity. She couldn’t meet his gaze, so she kept on staring at their legs. Eventually, he moved, reached out for her face and gently lifted it. Embarrassed, she blinked as their eyes met. Sun-faded indigo, little dabs of Prussian blue, streaks of almost white. His irises were an endlessly fascinating kaleidoscope of different hues of blue. His wool sweater was soft under her palms as she slid them over his chest. Nate himself radiated a comfortable warmth. His hand moved from her chin to her cheek, cradling her face.
“My little Spitfire,” he whispered. “Beautiful, fierce, little Spitfire.”
The sharp memory of Christopher and his lovely words that meant nothing stabbed her heart again and the pain must’ve shown on her face. Nate furrowed his brows and pulled back a little.
“What’s the matter? Did I say something wrong?”
She shook her head, blinking back the tears. Hoping that her voice would not crumble, she said: “No, no, not you.”
He tugged her close, and she gave in to the impulse of finding shelter in the crook of his neck. Nate had always been open and honest, and she wished she could believe that what he said was true. That she was his little Spitfire. That she could trust him.
“What did this asshole do to you?”