Watching Berwald carve life-like figurines at sunset was a tradition (Name) could never break. Large, calloused hands gently twisted the gouge to create the eyes on the Swedish moose while wood shavings floated onto the hardwood balcony like snowflakes. With a soft blow, the Swede cleared all the remaining dust from the head. (Name) could see the small waves of satisfaction that rippled through those ocean blue eyes as he turned his creation over in his hands. It brought a smile to her lips. Berwald may not be very expressive, but his eyes conveyed more emotions than words could ever dream of.
Taking a sip of her coffee, she observed as he methodically sanded off the irregular bumps in the moose. His glasses reflected the golden sunlight and it momentarily blinded her. Once she regained her vision, she saw him gazing intently at her, ocean orbs glittering with curiosity. He was holding out the moose figurine delicately, long fingers poised around its middle.
Gently taking it from him and examining it, she offered him a bright smile and said, "Best one yet, Sve."
Was it possible to be drowned in an ocean of humble pride and amusement? Apparently it was, for she could not tear her gaze away from his. The corners of his mouth twitched up and the breeze lightly ruffled his sun-kissed locks, eyes glowing an unnatural blue in the sunset hues. Feeling heat creep up her neck, she carefully placed the figurine back in his hands. Their fingers barely brushed, but the electric jolt that nowadays would usually race up her arm at skin to skin contact with him still made itself known. She was sure her cheeks were dusted with pink.
As he polished the figure, causing the detail in the grain of the wood to shine, (Name) felt a cold nose press itself to her elbow. A white fluff of a dog sat itself next to her on the stairs. Giggling, she patted its head. Another jolt surged up her arm as one long finger brushed her hand as it scratched behind the fuzz ball's ear. Berwald momentarily paid his due of affection to his and Tino's pet before returning to work. Not seconds after did Tino amble down the steps and plop between them. The short Finnish man greeted her cheerfully and plucked the dog from the stairs, cradling it in his arms.
"I think we should get you a collar, Hanatamago," he said as he poked its nose. "One of these days, you'll run off after (Name) and we won't be able to find you."
Laughing, (Name) softly elbowed him. They always joked about Hanamatago loving her more than them well, Tino did. Berwald merely got this glint in his eyes that told her that he was thinking the same thing. His expression, on the other hand, always remained stoic and impassive. And she loved that, even though admitting so made her heart rattle her bones.
"S-so, Berwald," Tino lightly stuttered. "Have any p-plans for tomorrow?"
(Name) tilted her head. Her mind mentally revised her calendar, searching for anything important that may happen tomorrow. She drew a blank just as Berwald shook his head no.
Tino gasped, "But tomorrow's your birthday! Surely you must want to do something special!"
Again, the Swede shook his head negatively. (Name) barely caught it, however. Her mind was in a swirl of nerve wracking panic, every muscle in her body taught with its effects. How could she have forgotten her best friend's birthday? By the stars, she didn't even have a gift! Biting her lip, she laid out her options. She could make him something in her jewelry store, but the next shipment of materials won't arrive until two days from tomorrow. All she had were scraps. How about some baked sweets? No, he'd had enough of those at the café he works at. A card was too childish and she would certainly not tell him her gift would be delayed. She knew he'd act like it didn't bother him, but it truly did. Only option left was buying something in town.
"Hey guys?" she quickly interrupted.
Berwald tilted his head in acknowledgement.
With a sheepish smile, she said, "I have to run. Forgot to count up the till back at the store. See you tomorrow!"
She ran off without giving them a chance to reply, headed straight for town. Pushing and squeezing through people, she rushed to every store she found. Some were closed. Others closed the door right in her face. Very few let her inside to browse, but kicked her out seconds later when she couldn't decide what to buy. Soon enough, the whole market closed as the sun dipped below the horizon. (Name) kicked a pebble and it rocketed towards a trashcan, bouncing back and striking her knee. Hissing, she gingerly poked at the scrape. It felt just like she did now, open and bleeding disappointment.
The walk home to the jewelry store gave her scrape time to scab over, but her sadness was still gouging at her heart. Pushing the door open, she sighed heavily. What would she tell Berwald? That she forgot? Oh, yes, perfect; hurt his feelings on his birthday. Brilliant. Tell him that with a huge, sheepish smile, too. That would put the cherry on top.
Her mental berating was halted by the sharp clinking of a jewel when it falls to the floor. Narrowing her eyes, she searched the dimly lit floor for a glint. She found it under the counter and gently picked it up, a cold shock shooting down her spine. The gem was tiny and awkwardly round, a few bumps here and there. But what sent her mind on a whirl was its deep, ocean blue color. (Name) could practically see Berwald staring at her through it with the same curious and amused glint that his eyes when she took the moose figurine. And that's when it clicked.
(Name) rushed to the workshop part of the store, nearly forgetting to flick on the lights. Clearing her work table, she set the tiny sapphire in a groove. Rummaging through her cabinets, she found her scraps box thanking the stars she'd always been a pack rat. She took out her welding tools and the carving set Berwald had given her last year as a Christmas present. He'd said it was high time she started experimenting by herself after having watched him work for so many years. She also snatched up the nice, dark oak block that he'd given her with the tools. Setting them on the table, she cracked her knuckles. Time to work.
As (Name) methodically shaped the wood, her mind painted the picture of the figure for her. A boy, lanky and rather tall for his eight years of age, was sitting on a stump. He had a chunk of wood in one hand, a carving knife in the other. Sharp, ocean blue eyes gazed intently at the creation in progress, blond brows furrowed and golden hair lightly dancing with the evening breeze. His glasses were nearly falling off his nose. The corners of his lips were slightly tugging upwards and his posture oozed pride, even if his expression was indifferent.
A little girl with (length) (color) hair sat next to him on the grass, watching with wide (color) eyes how the shavings floated to the ground. Her knees were bent and she was leaning on the stump. A (color) checkered dress barely covered her bare feet, which were being tickled by the grass. Her lips were parted in a warm smile. One hand was reaching out to catch the wooden rain while the other supported her weight on the ground. Her expression indicated how enthralled she was as she watched the little boy carve his mysterious creation.
The image vanished in a cloud of wood dust as she blew life into the figurine. A replica of her memory stared back at her, colorless, but vivid. (Name) giggled, remembering the awkward cuteness her friend exuded when he carved. It was one of the things that drew her to him. Heat crept onto her cheeks when she realized just how much that cuteness had matured into a veil of alluring mystery. And she was tangled up in that veil without a hope to escape.
Dipping a brush into the creamy peach paint, she began to give her memory some color. She painted the grass a vivid green, his clothes were dark blue with ivory. The stump was left intact. The figurine looked even more alive, but it was not finished. Taking a handful of scrapped gold, she ground it into a powder and sprinkled it onto the boy's hair, bestowing it with that sun-kissed blonde color she was familiar with. The tiny sapphire found its mate and made its home in the boy's eyes. Silver created the wires of his glasses and the blade of the carving knife. A bit of copper formed the brass buttons of his overalls. Ground emerald scraps made the grass come to life as the proper jewels made the little girl shine.
Setting her project before her, (Name) felt a yawn overtake her. How long had she been working? She couldn't bring herself to care. But a nap sounded pretty tempting, especially since her eyes were already drooping shut. What harm could it do? With a sigh and another yawn, she settled her head into her arms on her desk, instantly falling asleep. Her dreams replayed the memory that inspired her creation in an endless loop.
The ring of the shop door bell startled her awake. Rubbing her eyes, she yawned and called out a greeting to whoever entered the shop. A glance at the clock told her it was one o'clock in the evening. Not bad for a na one o'clock? Just how long had she slept? She'd already missed half of Berwald's birthday! Frantically, she flew up the stairs and changed into something presentable, swooping back to the workshop to grab the gift. It was still missing something, but she didn't have the time to find out what. Stuffing it into a bag, she raced out the store after having gently dismissed the customer.
"Family emergency," she quickly explained. "I really have to go."
When she arrived at town, she groaned. Of course traffic had to pick up today. Cars occasionally zoomed by while pedestrians flooded the street in an eternally moving mass. Taking a deep breath, she began to squeeze through the crowd. She lost count how many times she had been stepped on or had stepped on someone. A car nearly ran her over once. She had to save her gift from smashing twice. Battered, bumped, and bruised, she collapsed onto her knees when she finally exited the perpetual mass of people on the move.
Looking up at the sky, her already shortened breath was caught in her throat. She'd been stuck in that traffic for hours! It was nearly sunset! (Name) pushed herself off the ground and used that momentum to propel her sprint to Berwald's house. Fifteen minutes later, she was racing up the front yard. It was no surprise that Berwald was already there, methodically carving into a wooden block.
Evening, Sve!" she panted.
He grunted in reply, briefly glancing up at her over his glasses, ocean eyes flickering toward the bag she held.
"Just something I brought to work on," she hastily explained. "If I don't zone out again while watching you carve, that is."
Berwald chuckled softly and patted the spot next to him. Grinning, she plopped down on the stairs and watched him shape the wood. Her mind was elsewhere, however, plotting up a way to give him his gift. She knew she hadn't wished him a happy birthday, but she wanted to surprise him like he always did on her birthday. There was no way she'd simply give it to him. Maybe she should discretely leave it on the stairs and excuse herself so he'll find it. Not in the bag, of course. He'd never snoop through her stuff, no matter how intriguing it was. Or maybe she could switch the carvings without him noticing
Opportunity provided a chance for her second strategy. Berwald set down his unusually quick to be finished carving down in favor of working out an apparent kink in his hand. Stealthily, she switched both carvings. She didn't even pay attention to what his creation was; she merely hid it in her bag. Her eyes lit up when he gently took it in his hands. He turned it in his hands, a long finger tracing the details. Yet, neither his eyes nor his ever stoic expression gave away his reaction. He was as cool and collected as usual, and her hopes were dashed.
(Name) felt her heart sink. Did he not like it? Was all her hard work wasted? Each question drowned her spirit further, putting more weight on her already lead heart. Her eyes stung and the butterflies in her stomach died. Perhaps he would react like that too if she ever told him of the deep affections she held for him. The though gouged a hole in her ever-sinking heart.
Standing up, (Name) decided to gather the remaining pieces of her dignity and walk away. But she didn't even take a step forward when a calloused hand with long fingers caught her wrist. It gently tugged her backwards, almost pleadingly. Turning on her heel, she steeled herself for whatever he'd throw at her, but was surprised when her carving was delicately set in her hands. And as she scrutinized it, she realized the difference.
The space behind the children that was once empty now harbored a deep mahogany heart. It was perfectly shaped and smooth. But what stood out were the elegantly carved letters that read: "Jag älskar dig". (Name) felt her heart flutter and her hands trembled on their own accord. A larger pair of hands covered hers, engulfing them in their warmth, one thumb rubbing soft circles onto her skin. Two ocean blue pools stared at her with more emotion than she had ever seen. Waves of glittering affection and hope gently lapped at her heart, softly pulling her closer. So close, that the magnificent ocean turned black as her eyes slid shut and soft lips sweetly caressed her own. Berwald may have not mastered expressing himself with words, but his actions did so much more than words could dream of.
(Name) felt her heart hit cloud nine at the gentle warmth of the kiss. She never let go of the now completed figurine, but her mind had transported itself to worlds unknown. All she knew now was him, his lips, and bliss. A knowledge that remained true even when he pulled away and her eyes opened to greet the ocean. And what a greeting it was, for on his lips was the most magnificent of smiles. Bright and sweet, it was possibly one of the most beautiful things she'd ever witnessed.
But rarest of most amazing of all was when his voice tumbled out those smiling lips to say, "Jag älskar dig, (Name)."
Those four delectable words engraved themselves into her heart in a mirror of his carving. The corners of her mouth pulled up and the most delightful heat crept up her neck and flooded her cheeks.
Keeping her gaze connected with that of glittery, ocean blue, she let the words tumble out her mouth to say, "Jag älskar dig också, Sve."
This was one birthday to remember for years and years to come.