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Sierra Winchester Sierra Winchester
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Years Without

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She had a friend.

Twenty three years that he hadn't known her. He had to fix that.

Years Without

                 They met at a small art gallery. In all honesty, he wasn't actually into art, but he had come. His sixteen year old sister, Katie, had begged him to attend since her work was going to be on display. She didn't need to beg, her puppy dog eyes would win anyone over within the span of a heartbeat, though he was never going to tell her that. So, on his way to get yet another glass of the oddly tangy punch that they had been serving, he met her. Paige Nightingale. Her long brunette hair was pulled up into a regal looking bun and she was wearing an appropriately fancy dress to match.

              He felt dull in comparison, because how could he not? All he had taken the time to do was his hair, and even then it wasn't really done. Messy and barely styled into a loose configuration of waves, his chin-length hair hung around his face. His Metallica t-shirt no longer seemed feasible, nor did the faded with age jeans he wore. Still, he must have made some sort of impression on Paige, because when Katie flew up to them, ignoring the stranger and begging her big brother to come see some sculpture, she wordlessly slid her number into his pocket.

              Two days after the art gallery, they met up again. Nonstop they had been texting for those two days and it didn't seem like they'd run out of things to talk about. Endlessly, they seemed to find some new topic. So, when they met at the park in the center of downtown, they talked. With actually words instead of typed letters, they had even more inflection in their debates and stories. Saying that they had hit it off was an understatement.

              So, their meetings continued. They were happy to just hang out, even if they had to share their time with Katie who had won some contest for her art and was constantly dragging her brother all over the surrounding towns and counties for various more competitions and prize ceremonies. Eventually, though, he realized something.

              They were sitting together, a year after their initial meeting, under some oak tree in the same park that they had been going to since two days after the gallery, “Hey, baby?”

              Without looking up at him, Paige hummed out in response, her long slender fingers playing with his calloused ones.

              “I have known you exactly one year. I spent one full year with you, but I missed the first twenty-three years before we met,” He spoke, as if where he was heading with this conversation was the most obvious thing in the world.

              “Yes. Mind getting to the point some time before I turn twenty-five?” She prodded, but the smile in her voice gave away her teasing.

              “That obviously means that I have twenty-three years to make up for. Don't you think?”

              Sitting up fully, she looked at the gorgeous man in front of her, her eyebrows knitted together as she frowned at his statement, “No. You can't make up for twenty-three years, Wyatt. It isn't possible to get that time back,” Quickly, she added on, “Not that I care. I'm happy to just be with you now.”

              Wyatt shook his head, smiling softly, “I can try.”

              “Prey-do-tell, how?” Paige asked, sweeping back a strand of hair that had tethered itself to her face by sticking to the bubblegum lip gloss that coated her lips.

              “Simply,” He stated, yet again acting as if it was so obvious, “Twenty-three consecutive dates. Starting next Saturday, I'm going to take you out every night for twenty-three days.”

              “Twenty-three?” She questioned, even though she already knew the answer.

              “One date for every year that we were apart,” He grinned.

                     The week sped by and soon it was the following Saturday. Wyatt had the next three weeks of dates planned, having made sure that he had ample time to plan them all out to the very last detail. For each date, he gave Paige a time that he would pick her up and what sort of outfit she should wear for it.

1. “Wear something casual, I'll be over at seven.” The first date wasn't anything different than they had done before. A simple dinner at some mom and pop diner that was on the edge of town. Still, even with the fact that it was a standard date and nothing new, they had fun.
2. “Personally, I say wear that really long coat that you've got and nothing underneath....but, instead, wear that coat and your bathing suit. I'll be over by eleven tonight, be ready.” To say the least, Paige was more than a little confused as to what could've been planned so late at night that required her to wear her bathing suit; Still, she knew better and didn't question Wyatt. By the time he picked her up she had only managed to confuse herself further, which only made her even more embarrassed when he pulled up to the public pool. “What-” She began, but Wyatt shook his head to quiet her and she watched as he glanced around conspiratorially and then jumped the fence. So that was it, sneaking into the public pool long after it had closed. Somehow, though, the thrill of it all made the whole date worth it.
3. Katie had some sort of ceremony that day, so he had called earlier than usual. “Anything you want. I'm picking you up at noon.” He swore to her that although the date wasn't going to be the greatest in history, it was going to be semi-romantic because it was how they had spent the first few months of their relationship. Paige had to agree with that notion.
4. “Pack an overnight bag. I'm gonna be there in fifteen minutes.” Doing as she was told, she packed her bag and then threw on her favorite outfit, a lowcut tanktop that boasted some band that no one remembered, an army green jacket and some ripped blue jeans. That night she stayed over, having dinner with Wyatt, Katie, and their mom, Gene.
5. He didn't call this time, because he woke up with her in his bed and her head on top of his chest. Glad that she was a late riser, he snuck away carefully and went to make her breakfast. When she finally meandered downstairs he had chocolate chip pancakes smothered in whipped cream and tea waiting for her on the table. “Date number five,” he explained, “is breakfast with yours truly.” Homemade meals were a rarity, and so Wyatt earned himself a semi-private makeout session in front of the stove; Paige's shirt provided the poor covering.
6. “Punk. Be there at eight.” Punk wasn't much of an instruction but more of a vague notion. Therefore, Paige slipped on a tank top with slits in the sides and a pair of ragged jean shorts with some combat boots. It turned out that somehow, obviously by some sort of miracle, he had found tickets to the band that was featured on her favorite shirt. Date number six was the concert. That earned Wyatt quite a few passionate liplocks and some slight deafness in his right ear for the next day, but he didn't mind. The look on her face made everything worth it.
7. She was tired after the late night concert, so they spent the next day in bed, just lazing about. Quite a bit of ice cream was involved as they binged Netflix, though; Paige's throat was raw from screaming singing all night long.
8. “Cool and comfortable. I'll be there in an hour.” Paige was waiting by the door, excited to figure out what today's date would be. He pulled up, but it wasn't his car. Having borrowed his dads' old convertible, Wyatt pulled up with a grin. “Ready to drive until we run out of asphalt?”
9. “Warm and comfortable. I'll see you at  six.” Wyatt pulled up at exactly six, grinning when he saw Paige grinning at him. Before she could pester him to figure out where they were going, he spoke, “I know how fascinated you are with old drive-ins. So, I found one a few towns away.”
10. “Try to look like you're a little older. Do that bun thing with your hair. I'll be there at ten!” Wyatt had already hung up before she had the chance to correct him by saying 'chignon.' She didn't question where they were going, but he was dressed in a polo shirt and nice slacks, she she was wondering if it was fancy. Not long after e picked her up they pulled into a bakery, but he didn't give her the chance to question their venue. “I called ahead and told them that we're engaged, our wedding is in thirteen months and we needed a cake sampling immediately.” So the tenth date was spent filling up on cake samples and making up all sorts of bizarre stories about their 'seven' years as a couple. In the end they ran off before they were asked to decide, but they agreed in the car that the chocolate forest cake was the best.
11. “Wear something you don't care if it gets dirty. I'll be over in a half hour.” Paige wore a pair of jeans that were so dilapidated they should have been thrown out months ago and a sweatshirt that was on the verge of falling apart. Wyatt pulled up wearing a shirt three times his size and track pants that had certainly seen their best days. This time, she didn't question why they were wearing such odd outfits. Thankfully, it wasn't long before she learned the truth. Walking inside Katie's room, he grinned at the tarp that was spread across the floor and the many rows of balloons that covered every wall. Picking up a handful of darts, Wyatt just grinned instead of answering.
12. “Warm! See you at ten!” At ten, Wyatt pulled up with a grin so wide that Paige didn't have the heart to ask where they were headed. The ride was almost an hour long, but it was worth it. High marks were given to Wyatt because somehow he had found a spot in their city where you could see the stars.
13. “Be over at nine. Wear your cute Pjs, the ones with angel wings on them.” Simple was perfect, sometimes even better than complicated  things. That's why a full night of marathoning movies was a perfect thirteenth date.
14. “Your 'Kiss The Cook' shirt! Be there around eleven thirty.” Obviously, the choice in shirts was a giveaway to something, but not a definite idea. So, when Wyatt arrived with a truck fu

ll of groceries, he shrugged and shot her a sheepish smile, “Baking all day is kinda fun, right?” (He never did tell her that the stuff they didn't eat was for Katie's bake sale.)
15. “Wear comfortable shoes. Be there at nine.” Why only shoes? That's the only thing that Paige wanted to ask. He hadn't specified anything but shoes. Not that it was hard to figure out when he pulled up to the massive mall. A day full of shopping-something Wyatt hated- and she didn't even have to pay a penny.
16. “Wear something comfortable and grab a couple snacks. See you in an hour.” A bag full of snacks was jammed between about twenty different books when he helped her climb into his childhood treehouse. “I love listening to you read... So, we can both read together and maybe read to each other.”
17. “That dress you got for your birthday last year. Be there tonight at nine.” Paige knew what this date was. It could only be one thing if she had to wear that dress. There was a college theater doing Midsummer's Night Dream a few towns over and she had told him not even a month ago how badly she wanted to go. Of course, she was right and he certainly was earning more and more gifts that she wasn't sure she would ever be able to repay.
18. The day of their eighteenth date Paige woke up to her phone ringing. Wyatt had caught the twenty-four hour flu from Katie and had to postpone the date. Instead, Paige made homemade chicken noodle soup and bought as many of Wyatt's favorite movies as she could find and spent the day nursing him back to health and counting it as a date. Somehow, she even managed to convince it counted.
19. “Something easy to remove. Be there around one.” The first part confused Paige to the point where he head had almost began to hurt from trying to figure it out. Thankfully, Wyatt answered her unsaid question before she could even open her mouth, “There's a spa down on Redding Avenue. Couple treatments and massages. Girly crap.” Paige laughed and kissed him before they headed off to do 'girly crap.'
20. “I know you stole my Pokemon shirt. So wear that and some jeans. See you at three.” She didn't wonder how he knew about the stolen attire. It wasn't like he wore it anyway. As they walked down the street, Wyatt explained why they were heading the the arcade, “After all that girly stuff I needed something more manly.” Paige laughed at that, but she didn't mind spending the day at the arcade. She even ended winning up fifty bucks from some sophomore who swore he could beat her in Skee-Ball.
21. “That clubbing dress. Twelve.” Dancing was a typical thing, but Wyatt didn't mind and Paige loved it.
22. “Whatever you want. Picking you up at two.” Tired from the night before,(they had arrived home at four in the morning)  Wyatt kept it simple and they spent the day having a tournament of board games. Paige lost by one Monopoly win on Wyatt's part.
23. “Something memorable. I'll be there at eight.” Knowing that it was the last date, Paige wondered what it could be. Especially if she had to wear something 'memorable.' A picnic, as simple as it was. A picnic at their park, as they had taken to calling it that. Paige began to tell Wyatt how it was the perfect end to her twenty-three 'years' of dates, but Wyatt cut her off. “Paige, I have spent the past three weeks trying to make up for missed time. Time that I cannot get back and give to you, but if I could I would. So...After twenty-three dates with me and a year together...” He paused, as if bracing himself to continue on. Another minute of preparing before he spoke, “Paige Lydia Nightingale, will you marry me?” Mouth agape, Paige stared at the gorgeous boy kneeling down on the crumpled Barbie blanket in front of her. (He had swiped it from Katie to use for the picnic.) Realizing that she was probably terrifying Wyatt with no response, she quickly swallowed the lump in her throat and nodded as her tears fell anyway. As Wyatt slid the cool metal on to her left-hand ring finger, she kept up a constant mumbling stream of 'yes' and 'oh my gods.'

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