Index cards scattered the floor as did pencil shavings and ideas ripped to pieces. I sank down beside an ever changing canvas, and Adam joined me.
“I’m exhausted. Can we stop now?” I laced my fingers in his.
“Aww, come on El, we’re getting to something, I can feel it!” He helped me to my feet and offered me another card. “One more, then we can take a break, promise. I’ll even give you free range this time, anything you want.”
I plucked the card from his hand and scrawled one word onto the blank paper, holding it to the canvas. The previous images of various shapes disappeared and the word glowed in a red ember. The lines of the word seared into the canvas and sparked.
“That’s it? Just “fire”?” Adam peered over my shoulder.
I held the card in place until the image took on a life of its own, then I held my hand to the corner of the canvas and lines stenciled in the form of a flickering flame.
“You said anything I wanted.”
He huffed and kept his sight on the changing canvas. My arm trembled as the flame waved in an invisible wind. I closed my eyes, willing a breath of life into the small budding flame, and it crackled a dying response as the lines of the image’s outline faded. Drops splashed onto the wood floor, but I ignored them, groaning as I opened my eyes to a picture of a flame I squinted to make out as if I’d scrubbed it raw with pink rubber.
“You okay?” His hand touched my shoulder as my knees buckled. “Woah, hold on.” He rounded my side, and his eyes widened as they flicked between my face and the floor. “Ellie, you’re bleeding!”
My gaze landed on the puddle of blood half soaked into the knees of my jeans. I wiped at my nose, and my hand came away painted crimson. Adam ran to the bathroom, returning with a towel and a wet washcloth. He drew my hands away and made me pinch the bridge of my nose. I switched hands as he wiped them clean.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to get blood on your floor.” The towel muffled my speech, but Adam shook his head.
“Don’t worry about it. Just relax, and I’ll get it cleaned up.” He kissed my cheek as he disappeared down the hall, coming back with paper towels and a spray bottle cleaner.
I took the towel from my face and breathed in, waiting a moment before pressing my fingers to the edges of my nostrils. When they came back clear, I stood up. Nausea attacked me, and I fell back on the bed. Adam turned back to me and came to kneel beside me.
“You’re pale. Are you sure you’re okay?” His hand pressed against my forehead and he nodded. “No fever, but you should take it easy.”
“I probably just tired. A food break should be the pick-me-up I need.” I grinned when he chuckled.
“You got it.” He stood and gathered the dirty rags and paper towels, stopping in the doorway. “I’m sorry if I worked you too hard. It’s just-”
“None of that. You were trying to help. Who knew I had this…ability too, huh?”
“That’s what you call it?”
“I didn’t think you’d like the word superpower, so I chose ability.” I laughed as he hung his head, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth.
“Ability it is. Hold tight, and I’ll be back with some munchies, okay?”
I nodded, and he headed off. I laid back against the wall, closing my eyes as I checked my nose every couple moments until it’d stopped bleeding for a few minutes. The whir and clank of the washer starting a cycle brought my attention to the waking world for a second before I closed my eyes again. I shifted to lay on the bed as Adam returned with his arms full of food. He dropped my stash of candy bars and chips down first, placing containers of strawberries and blueberries on the nightstand.
“I didn’t know if you preferred junk food or healthy food, so I went with both.”
“Smart. Then neither of us can feel too guilty, right?” I laughed as I popped a couple blueberries in my mouth.
Adam settled beside me and tore into a chocolate bar. He broke off a piece for me as I traded him a berry. “What do you wanna do now?”
I plucked the last chunk of chocolate from his fingers and stole a kiss. “How about you take over?”
He grabbed for it, but I held it out of his reach, taking the last bite before he could get it back. He flicked my forehead and slid off the bed.
“No fair! Steal my chocolate and make me work.” He crossed his arms as he stood before the pile of goodies.
I raked a couple up from the floor and tossed him the candy filled with chocolate, caramel, and peanuts. “There’s plenty. It is my secret stash you know.”
He rolled his eyes. “Oh yeah, some secret.” He broke a chunk off of the second bar and popped it into his mouth. “What do you want me to work on anyway?”
“You could practice with your ability. It’s been awhile. Can’t afford to get rusty, right?”
His arms hung at his sides and he set the candy on the edge of the stand, sinking beside me. “I can’t. What if something goes wrong? I know they say practice makes perfect-”
“Practice improves you. There’s no such thing as perfect.” I took his hand and held it in my lap.
“What do I strive for?” His eyes wouldn’t meet mine, choosing instead to look at the ghost of the bloodstain on the floor.
I stood up and led him to the canvas I’d used. “Control. That’s what we’ll work on.”
I shook my head. “No what ifs, just take it one step at a time. Start with something simple.”
He picked up a worn down pencil from the floor and drew a glass stopping as soon as the last line connected. “Now what?”
I led his hand back to the empty glass. “Now, just imagine what’s inside.”
He huffed and put his hand to the glass, closing his eyes. The pencil dropped from his fingers as water dripped into the glass. It trickled into the bottom, filling the glass up half way. Then the liquid changed and crimson drops bled into the crystal clear water. The glass filled, cracked, and shattered, splashing the canvas and us with watered down blood. I gasped as Adam dropped to his knees, panting.
“What happened? It was working then…”
“I couldn’t get the image of your bloody face out of my head. I’m sorry.” His head bowed and he refused to meet my eyes.
“Don’t be. You did good!”
His head popped up. “I covered us with blood! How’s that good?”
“Because we know your imagination is still strong. All you need is to practice control.”
He shook his head as he scrubbed his hands on his pants. “I need to forget about this ability.”
“You can’t! Think of everything you could do if you got it under control!”
Adam stood and towered over me. “Yeah, if! What happens if next time something explodes? What happens if I hurt you?” He clenched his fists and hung his head low.
I wrapped my arms around him before he could say anymore. His weight sank in my arms and brought us both to our knees. I gripped him as he sobbed into my shoulder.
“I hate this. I hate thinking of ways I could hurt you.” He clung to me as I shushed him and rubbed his back. “I don’t wanna lose you. I just want this to stop!”
I guided his head up, forcing his eyes to meet mine. “Listen to me. I’m not going to leave you, ever.” I kissed his tear-stained cheeks. “We’re going to figure this out. We’re gonna learn to control this.” I helped Adam to his feet and wiped the remnants of despair from his face. “Together.”
He clutched me close before shifting to look at the bloodstains. His head dipped for a moment before I led him out to the closet, pressing towels into his hands.
“We’re gonna clean this up, change, and try again okay? I’ll be right there with you.”
He nodded as he turned back and headed into the room, dropping to his knees to mop up the spattered blood. He swept up small shards of glass into the towel. I took it from him, giving him the spray bottle and a clean towel to finish the job. I tossed the bloodied and broken mess in the trash, rinsing my hands in the bathroom sink. Adam joined me, tossing the other towel into the washer in the middle of its cycle and cleaned his hands. We picked clean clothes and stripped away the bloodied fabrics. After we changed, we stepped back into his room.
“Okay, what now?” He eyes locked with mine as we returned to face the bloody canvas.
He moved to take it down, but I stopped him. “What if you can replace the bloody mess with something else?”
“Like what, another contain for the the chaos?”
I looked at the blood spatter and shook my head. “No, something different. Can you try imagining something that makes you feel…safe, in control?”
He stretched his hand out, touching the crimson soaked canvas. Adam closed his eyes, placing his other hand in the middle of the bloody pool. At first, blood seeped onto his hands, and he pushed it back. The liquid retracted and soaked into the canvas, disappearing from his hands as another image sprouted. I watched lines spiral and twist out of his hands onto the surface, gathering in a gray ball. The ball exploded and the lines raced to connect forming the figure of a face.
“Adam?” I touched his arm as it shook.
He shook his head and willed himself on. He refused to speak and kept his hands still as the lines manipulated themselves in his image. When the outline of the head finished, he moved his way down, creating the shoulders. Then, color splashed onto the canvas, hurrying to fill in detail. Soon a visage of brown hair and blue eyes blinked, still in rough model form. He exhaled as sweat dripped from his forehead.
“Adam, you can stop, baby. Don’t push too hard.” I grasped his arm, but he shook his head.
“Not yet, I’m not done.” He groaned as his pushed on.
Pink kissed the cheeks as alabaster flowed into the rest of the skin. Lines outlined a body, drawing a dress to cover it. Color spread out in the top and I brought my eyes to focus on Adam, huffing in his work. I tugged his arm, but he wouldn’t budge.
“Almost there, please. Turn around and let me finish.” I opened my mouth to speak, but he shook his head. “Trust me.”
I nodded and turned, covering my face with my hands. I listened to Adam’s breathing as it hastened and grew heavier. After another minute, Adam collapsed with a moan. I spun and fell to my knees beside him, blotting the sweat from his face.
“I told you not to push so hard, baby. Are you okay?”
He nodded and smiled, showing a shaking thumbs up. “All done.” He shifted and struggled back to his feet. “You can look now.”
I stood and turned, gasping and taking a step back. I reached out, and a painted hand met my own, mirroring my actions as the duplicate of me smiled. The eyes blinked and the mouth quirked at my expression. She twirled and laughed as her blue orchid sundress flowed with the energy of new life. She pointed back and I turned to Adam.
“I can’t believe this. How-”
“You said to think of something that makes me feel safe and in control. I’ve never felt safer with anyone else.”
Tears pricked at my eyes, and Adam hastened to kiss them away. I embraced him and clung on as he wrapped his arms around me.
“I don’t know where I’d be without you. Probably still a lost, scared little boy.” Adam took my hand and turned back to the portrait, touching her heart with his hand.
I placed mine on top of the warmth of the echo of his touch. I took another look at his work, gasping and reaching out to stop it as it morphed. Adam held his arm to block me, letting the image drip and drain away, lines reforming to a solid black square. My eyes widened is the square gained depth and a silver latch. When the last line connected everything together. Adam reached into the canvas and pulled the box out.
“I’m glad that worked. I didn’t want to clean anymore.” Adam sank to one knee and presented the black box, still holding my hand in his. “Ellie, I want you to be with me through everything. No one else can help me, love me the way you do.”
My eyes widened, and the sparkle of a blue gem stole the air from my lungs.
“It’s not traditional, but it’s your favorite.” Adam grinned as tears slipped down my cheeks. “Ellie Delvin, will you marry me?”
I leapt into his arms, burying my head in his shoulder as tears stained my face and shirt. I clung to him for a moment before forcing my eyes to meet his. I pressed my lips to his before he could utter another word.
“Adam Caldwell, I was afraid you’d never ask.”