"Northern Lights" is one of the October Writing Challenge entries that was chosen to be a featured story.
Finally, after a lot of debating and arguing over the instructions, the Christmas tree was up, and despite the wonky tip, it actually looked passable. Now it was time for the decorations.
“Where’s the tinsel, Steve?” Daisy called as Elliot rummaged around in a tattered cardboard box full of baubles.
“Up in the attic,” Elliot’s dad said as he poked his head around from the kitchen, his cheeks flushed.
“Do you need a hand?”
“I’m fine, thanks. Just trying to get the pastry for the mince pies rolled out properly.” His head disappeared again.
“I didn’t know your dad made mince pies,” Daisy said to Elliot quietly.
“He used to, before mum left,” Elliot replied. “This is the first year he’s decided to make some again.”
Daisy smiled. “I want to make this Christmas special for him.”
“This tree will definitely do that.”
“That reminds me, I’m going to get the tinsel,” Daisy said, stepping over the death-trap of tangled wires, plug sockets, and light bulbs as she headed to the door.
“Wait!” Elliot jumped out from behind the tree. “I’ll go.”
“t’s fine, I can manage.”
“No, I’ll go. I know where they are,” Elliot’s foot snagged in a nest of wires, and he tripped forwards in his haste to beat Daisy to the door.
He’s up to something, she thought.
By the time Elliot had returned, Daisy had unravelled the knotted LED lights and had begun to string them along the branches, where they twinkled merrily.
“You took your time.”
“I did?” he replied absentmindedly, rubbing at a smudge of dust across his jumper.
“Yeah, you were gone ages.”
He looked away. “I got distracted. Anyway,” he said, walking towards her. “You’ve done a great job with the lights.”
Half an hour later, the tree was complete, and they stood back to admire their handiwork. The branches sagged under the weight of the multi-coloured baubles and glistening candy canes which swung from them enticingly. Daisy knew this was the first time Elliot’s tree had been decorated like this since his mum’s announcement three years ago.
As if knowing what she was thinking, he hugged her close to him. “Thank you,” he whispered in her ear. His hair was sticking to his sweaty cheek.
She smiled at him and looked at the green, blue, and pink lights shimmering across the branches. “They look just like the northern lights,” she sighed, resting her head on his shoulder.
“I know,” he said, planting a kiss on the top of her head. “We’ll still go to Iceland and get to see them one day.”
“I hope so.”
“I promise we will. But really, thank you for this. Dad’s so pleased we’re spending Christmas with him.”
“El!” came a muffled voice from the kitchen. “Can you help me for a second?”
He groaned. “I’ll be right back.”
“Okay,” Daisy said, flopping onto the settee as Elliot disappeared into the kitchen.
When she was satisfied that Elliot was busy, she stood up. “Just popping to the toilet,” she said, not waiting for a response.
Her heart danced in her throat as she took the stairs two at a time, wondering what it was her boyfriend was hiding from her.
At the top of the staircase, she looked up to where the attic was. Holding her breath, she started to climb.
She walked up the rickety stairs to the attic, wincing every time the wood groaned under her weight. Her curiosity couldn’t take it any longer. She had to know what was behind the door that now stood before her.
Her palm was slick with sweat as she reached out to grasp the handle.
The door groaned as she pushed it forward, and she grimaced at the sound. She pulled the cord dangling by the entrance and a dim light bulb flickered into life.
Thick shadows draped the walls and a large spider scuttled across the floor. As her eyes adjusted to the gloom, she saw it was full of long-forgotten boxes of broken knick-knacks and old appliances. One box had the words “Elliot’s stuff” scrawled across it in black marker pen, and Daisy had to resist stopping to examine the contents. A stack of paint pots sat against the wall, congealed paint creating rainbow crusts around the lids. There was nothing out of the ordinary that she could see, though. But then she noticed something in the right-hand corner. A pristine white canvas sheet cloaked a large rectangle shape. It looked out of place in the musty gloom.
She had a sudden vision of herself pulling back the sheet to reveal a Dorian Grey-esque portrait, and she giggled nervously.
There was only one way to find out what Elliot was hiding.
Clambering over a step ladder, she reached the hidden object. She grasped the cotton material and rubbed her finger tips against it before yanking the sheet off.
Her breath caught in her throat.
Daisy found herself looking at a large canvas. But it wasn’t blank. Emerald and sapphire streaks slashed against a stark black sky that was encrusted with chips of diamond. A lake sat below, reflecting the glimmering colours. A swathe of white snow filled the bottom half, and in the right-hand corner — between a row of towering trees — stood a couple, silhouetted against the ice, their tiny hands clasping one another. It was beautiful.
Warm breath tickled the nape of her neck, and she jumped. “It was meant to be a surprise.”
She swivelled her head around and looked at him questioningly. “You painted this?”
Elliot wrapped his arms around her waist. “I knew you were disappointed we couldn’t make it to Reykjavik this year to see the lights, so I brought them to you,” he murmured, his lips brushing just behind her ear.
Her eyes watered as she turned around fully to look at him. “Thank you. I love it.”
His mouth crinkled into a smile as he moved his lips down to hers. “Merry Christmas, Daisy.”