“Theo, are you sure you’re okay?”
He was slumped against the bar beside her, all messy brown hair and bleary blue eyes, head cushioned by his right arm. Four identical glasses bearing traces of whiskey were neatly stacked on the table, still emitting the drink’s strong scent. My god, she thought. Of course he drinks them neat. But usually Theo knows better, never drinking more than one or two glasses in one night. What the hell has gotten into him? She had only been gone for half an hour at most, chatting with Madame Boucher, the barkeeper’s wife who often helps her with her errands. By the time she'd come back, Theo had already been downing his fourth glass. And now this was the result. Even the tips of his ears were red.
“Theo, love, come on. Don’t sleep here. Here, have some water.”
She ran her hand across his broad back, coaxing him to sit up and drink the water she brought so he can sober up. He groaned loudly, but he did as she asked.
“What time is it, hondje?” He said, running his hand across his face and hair, messing it up further.
“It’s almost eleven. Do you want to go home now?”
“Let’s stay for a bit more,” Theo answered, his deep voice a croon, almost like a caress down her back. He turned on his bar stool, fully facing her now. “You know what, snoepje... You look absolutely fantastic right now.” With a chuckle, he slid a knuckle down her cheek very lightly. It was not quite a touch, more like a warm spring breeze; bringing memories of drowsy picnics in the park, the air smelling like cherry blossom, and Theo tasting like sweet, sweet maple syrup. She felt heat rising to her cheeks.
“W-what are you talking about,” She laughed nervously, raising her hand to tuck a piece of stray hair behind her ear, but Theo beat her to it. His hand lingered in her hair afterwards, playing with a loose strand. Shit, he’s so close. She could count his eyelashes from this distance. Theo only smiled, charmingly, childishly, his gaze a little unsteady. He’s only doing this because he’s drunk, right? They’d been lovers for a few months now, and she knew that he's not terribly affectionate unless it’s just the two of them — and even then, he’s not one with a penchant for sweet words and innocent touches. His attention always has that slight domineering edge to it — not that she doesn’t love it, mind you. But this was a completely new side of him, and at the moment, she wasn’t sure how to react.
Both of Theo’s hands were in her hair now, combing it, shaking out a few knots. It felt nice, she’s got to admit. But weird. “Theo, what are you doing? Why are you playing with my hair?”
“Shhh, hondje. Don’t fuss. I’m just braiding them.”
She felt a sudden urge to laugh. Theodorus Van Gogh, her big, gruff, fancy art dealer of a lover was braiding her hair? It was like she'd been five years old again, sitting in front of her vanity mirror while her dad braided her hair into two pigtails before leaving for work, kissing her mom goodbye just as he'd walked out the door. “Do you want to tell me why?” She asked, all while enjoying the movement of his deft hands, feeling goosebumps rising on the side of her neck and spreading around her head.
“To make you look pretty.”
“You mean I’m not pretty now? I think I recall you telling me I look ‘absolutely fantastic’.”
Theo pouted. “To make you look even prettier, then.”
She giggled. “Fair enough.”
“There, it’s done! You look pretty,” Theo exclaimed a little too loudly, gaining the stares of a few patrons around them. “Here, look in the mirror.”
“Theo, darling, that’s a dinner plate. I can’t look at myself in there... But I’m sure your braids are amazing and they make me look pretty!” She added quickly, seeing Theo give the biggest, most adorable pout she’d ever seen him wear while glaring at the plate as though he wanted to wrestle it to the ground. How can this man be so cute and scary at the same time? “I think we should go home now, hmm? Can you walk?”
“Of course I can walk, you knabbeltje. Do you think I’m gonna let you carry me home? You won’t even manage five steps.” Theo scowled and stood up, wobbling a little. Ha, he’s back now, she thought. That was fast. Guess he’s a strong one, but I still have to keep an eye on him.
Keeping one hand on his back for support, she got up too, and they started heading for the front door.
They found themselves beside the Seine a little while later. The fresh night air seemed to help Theo recover, although he still couldn't walk in a straight line. He sat down in a bench overlooking the river, his head drooping against her shoulder. Her lace collar tickled his cheek and nose, but he didn't mind. Theo wanted to be near her, to feel her hand in his, her pulse beating strong and alive and here. In his intoxicated state, he only knew one thing, and one thing only; that was, to be pressed up against her and make sure she was not going anywhere. Since she'd come into his life, his heart had been so full to bursting with not just love, but also hope, warmth, compassion, awe, peace, and self-acceptance. And contentment. That was what Theo was feeling right then. His brain cells might currently be swimming in alcohol, and hell, that tree across the road somehow looked iridescent, but as long as she was near, he felt grounded enough to just stay in the moment and breathe. Tomorrow he could chase the world again, brought out masterpieces towards discovery and spread beauty to the ends of the earth if he could help it, but for right now, this was enough. And it would still be enough until the world ends and the years collapse.
There was no higher ground than this. There was no masterpiece more valuable, more worthy of his time and effort, of his whole being, than this beautiful woman and whatever this was that he’d been lucky enough to have with her.
Snuggling in deeper against her, Theo mumbled, “You’re a masterpiece, you know. The most beautiful of all.”
She smiled tenderly. “Only for you, Theo.”
Damn right, Theo thought, as he felt the surrounding world slipping away. Only for him. His own private masterpiece, who had changed everything he thought he knew about life. The only one whom he would always keep safe so that nothing, absolutely nothing, could stand against them; and no, not even the test of time.