“You should paint it.”

“What?”

“The box. Paint the box.”

Her eyes remained steady on his for a moment, as if searching for the meaning to his statement somewhere within his brain. He tried to keep her gaze, but his faltered quickly, his brow furrowing with a quick embarrassed blink.

“You don’t have to…” he muttered apologetically, looking at the box in her lap.

“Why would I– why would you say that?”

“I thought… I don’t know.” And he didn’t. He was just trying to fill the gap between them with anything besides the thick cloud of shame that permeated from his reddening face. “You don’t have to. I mean, It looks fine…”

“Fine?”

“Good. Great. It looks great.”

“I could change it, if you think that’s better.” She pushed, her eyes not relenting, but her voice quavered, betraying her doubt.

“No.”

“C’mon, tell me the truth, it’s important.”

“I am.” He lied. “I didn’t mean it. I was just being stupid. It looks great. Really.”

“Hm,” He felt her gaze shift away, lifting the flame of her scrutinizing glare off his cheeks, allowing the skin to cool off, the blood to drain away and return to its proper circulation. He opened his mouth to speak, but closed it, remembering to think twice before commenting.

They were silent for a long moment, their eyes refusing to meet, her attention firmly drawn to the box in her lap, his to the palms that held it, to the slender arms covered with the light cotton fabric that hugged her pale skin, the folds that twitched and contoured perfectly, responding to the subtle twitching of her fingers.

She sighed, dropping her shoulders, making him want to reach out and hold her, tightly, crumpling the fabric that drooped at the edge of her collar bone.

“You think it’ll work?”

“What?” he blinked, his reverence broken, his eyes frozen on just the right spot. The wrong spot. The unattainable spot.

“Do you think it will work? Do you think she’ll like it?”

“Oh. Sure. I mean yes. Yes, of course she will like it. Why wouldn’t she? Right?” He blinked again, over-correcting, daring to look back up at her face, but too afraid to meet her gaze, settling, instead, on her lips, where a small nervous smile was fighting for existence.

She remained silent. Her lip quivering, twitching between a smile and a frown, her fingers tapping lightly on the lid of the small box.

“It’ll be okay,” he finally broke the silence, smiling at her with encouragement that took his entire essence to conjure. “You’ll see. She’ll love it, just as it is.”

“Yeah,” she nodded, her eyebrows momentarily dropping, then lifting again as she took a breath, straightening her posture. “Yeah,” she repeated, more certain this time. “Yeah, she’ll love it.” The smile spread to her eyes. His heart pinched.

“Thanks. For the help and all.”

“You’re welcome.” He’d do anything for her. Even this.

“I should go, then.”

“You can stay a bit,” he started, but swallowed the rest. That wasn’t meant to happen. That wasn’t a good idea. His heart screamed obscenities at his brain, daring it to not care.

“Nah, I need to go. I’ll let you know how it went,” she pushed herself up to her feet, patting her sleeves, straightening the folds he so carefully noticed.

“Good luck,” he offered, meaning none of it.

“Thanks.” She smiled, then leaned over, bending her knees and reaching her arm over to kiss his cheek. He savored the feeling, letting her lips burn their impression on his stubbly skin. “I mean it. Thank you.”

He said nothing. He couldn’t. He just looked at her, his lips smiling, his eyes unable to contain the catastrophe that overtook his heart. She didn’t see it, though. She didn’t look. She smiled at him, waved and tucked the box into her purse.

He watched her go silently, memorizing the expression on her face, savoring the hot impression of her lips on his skin.

She should have painted that box, he thought, knowing it was too late.

* * *
This was a class exercise; we were asked to read “Hills Like White Elephants,” by Ernest Hemingway, and consider the dialog full of subtext — then write one of our own.

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