Last Gift(7)

By: Jessica Clare, Jen Frederick

My Nick loves art. My Nick loves me. I think of his lean, tattooed body and how gorgeous he is to me. Perhaps I will get a tattoo — some of his beautiful, haunting sketches — on my body. He will see it on my skin and know I am his forever.

I like this thought. I dash up the stairs to our apartment, unlock the door, and hustle to the desk set up in the corner of the spare bedroom. It is Nick’s office, though he does not spend much time in here. We prefer to cuddle on the couch, and my love has gotten quite good at sketching with one hand, the other wrapped around my shoulders and holding me close while I watch movies or read a novel. I used to read nothing but romances, but the reality of Nick has ruined those silly fantasies for me; now, I read cozy mysteries about crime-solving cats.

Nick’s sketchbook is carefully set on the desk, amid boxes of charcoals and pencils. I pick it up and begin to flip through the pages, as always fascinated by the inner workings of Nick’s mind. The sketches are dark, and some are disturbing, but all of them have a beauty and a grace to them. I pause over one sketch of a woman that must be me, asleep in bed, the covers tangled about my body.

My heart aches with love for this man, and I bite my lip.

It’s not right for a tattoo, though, and when I skim a few more pages, I find just the right picture. Clutching the book to my breast, I race back out of the apartment, time not on my side. I must make a photocopy of this and get back to school before Nick realizes I am gone.

~~ * ~~

DAYS PASS AND NICK SUSPECTS nothing of what I plan. We have a small tree in the corner of our apartment, but there are no boxes under the tree yet. It’s like neither of us wishes to be the first one to put something there and declare the holiday, so we hold off. Instead, Nick helps me decorate the apartment with garlands, and we play Christmas music, and kiss under the mistletoe, so much mistletoe. Nick has practically filled the apartment with it.

On the twenty-fourth of the month, I tell Nick that I am going Christmas shopping for my father. It’s a tiny white lie; my father is a firm Amazon shopper and ordered all of our Christmas presents weeks ago. He even got them off the porch himself, which is a big step for my father. I’m proud of him. I’m not visiting him today, though. I take the bus downtown and head to the tattoo parlor I have picked out, where I have an early appointment.

The place is empty when I walk in, a counter full of body jewelry and bottles of disinfectant in the front of the store. The walls are covered with colorful tattoo designs. Behind the counter, one sleepy-eyed man is sitting at one of the chairs. He turns at the sight of me. “You Daisy?”

I smile nervously. “That’s me.” I pull out the drawing I have kept in my purse for the last week. “I need this drawing tattooed over my heart.”

I lay the artwork flat on the counter in front of me and smooth it out nervously.

It is a picture of a red heart, surrounded by darkness and delicately cupped between sketchy suggestions of fingers. There’s a banner across the center, and where Nikolai had written my name, I have modified the drawing and put his name in the banner across the heart. It is in Cyrillic: Николай.

I love it. It is darkness and hope. It is Nick’s heart in my hands, and I will put it over my heart as a double meaning - that the one that beats in my chest belongs solely to him.

The man looks at the drawing. “Nice work. Kinda dark for a pretty little thing like yourself, though. You sure you want that?”

“I do,” I tell him. “Right here.” And I tap my chest, right where my breastbone is. “Can you do that?”

“I can. Go ahead and take your shirt off.” He heads to the back with my paper.

I’m a little shy about taking my top off in front of a stranger, but the man could care less about my naked breasts. He doesn’t even look in my direction as I step inside the tattoo parlor and begin to disrobe. Before I am totally topless, he offers me a towel and tells me to use that to cover up my breasts but to leave my chest bare. Thank goodness.

The man is kind as I sit in the chair and he begins to disinfect the spot. He talks of the weather, and Christmas, and his girlfriend’s children. I smile and talk with him. They are looking for an apartment downtown; I suggest to him our building, which will be ready in another month, and I will make sure Nick gives this man a discount. He seems nice.