“What are you doing?” The strawberry girl asked, peering over the inventor’s brightly lit work table, where he was busy constructing something intricate. She cupped her face with her hands and watched him work, a bemused expression on her features.
“Hello, my little strawberry girl.” The inventor put down his tools and drew her close, making her sit on his lap. “I’m making something for you.”
She snuggled into him, her cheek warm on his shoulder. “Is it a surprise?”
“No,” the inventor smiled, ruffling her silky hair. “I’m making you a heart. I noticed that your old one was missing some big pieces and were barely held together, so I removed it. I’ll put in something nice and new.”
The strawberry girl pouted. “I don’t need one.”
The inventor used one finger to tilt her head up. He kissed her forehead. “You’ll feel the difference, I promise. Ready to put it in?”
In response, she unbuttoned the shirt she was wearing, slowly and precisely. She was wearing one of his button-downs, and it was way too big for her petite frame. When the last button came off, the shirt slid down her shoulders instantly.
The inventor had something in his palm. It was small, jewel-bright and glowing, and it was as red as the strawberry girl’s lips and cheeks and the irises of her eyes.
It burned when he put it in. She whimpered in pain, holding on to his shoulders, but he silenced her by planting little kisses all over her face. Eventually, the white-hot burn in her chest subsided, and he sat back and surveyed his work with a sense of satisfaction.
“It fits perfectly,” the inventor announced happily. “I just need to run back to the hardware store for more copper wire, but I’ll be back. Wait here, all right?”
“Can’t I come with you?” She asked petulantly, pulling the shirt back on. He helped her with the buttons while explaining that she should stay put, because the new heart needed to get used to its new environment. She followed him to the door and watched as he got into his car, then waved until he was out of sight.
There was a heavy, twisting feeling in her chest, and she could feel her eyes beginning to fill up. A single tear slid down her cheek, and she raised a hand to her face, tracing the tear’s path with a fingertip.
“Oh no,” said the strawberry girl. “I think I’m malfunctioning.”
The inventor found his strawberry girl curled up on the couch, one hand over her face. When he sat down beside her and touched her cheek, she instantly sat up and wrapped her arms around him.
“What’s wrong?” he asked in alarm.
“I don’t want the heart,” she said. She got one of his hands and placed it on her chest, palm first and fingers splayed, so he could feel its racing heartbeat. “When you left,” she began, “my heart started acting funny. It made my chest hurt. It made my eyes leak. I felt like I was going to die.”
He looked at her tenderly, curling his fingers around her hand. “That’s what missing someone feels like, sweetheart.”
“It feels really really horrible,” she said in a small voice, her eyes filling up with tears again. “I thought I was going to die without you. Please, take my heart away.”
The inventor held her close and stroked her hair. “I understand that it feels painful sometimes,” he said softly. “But let me ask you something. Do you remember what you felt when you realized that I was back?”
Her lips curved into a smile, and she blinked her tears away. “It felt like I was seeing the sun, after being lost underground for a million years.”
He brushed the leftover tear-tracks on her cheeks away with his lips. “If you give me back your heart, you will never feel that again. It’s all about balance. Feeling the pain will make you realize just how important someone is to you. It hurts when they’re gone, but when you’re together, it feels like all the stars are yours to keep.”
She leaned her head on his shoulder. “Do you feel like that, when you’re away from me?” She asked shyly.
The inventor tickled her ear. “Yes, silly girl. That’s why I wanted you to feel what I felt.”
“All right then.” She turned to face him, smiling happily. “You can lock it up now.”
He reached over to the table, where a pair of tiny keys were held by a thin silver necklace. He carefully locked her heart inside her chest, and then she helped him put the necklace chain around his neck. The sat looking at each other in silence, listening to only the calm, synchronized sounds of their heartbeats.
“Do you know what his means?” He asked, leaning his forehead on her forehead and looking into her eyes intently. “This means that I’ll hold the keys to your heart forever.”
She closed her eyes and touched his face. “That’s the way I want it to be.”
Inside her chest, her heart skipped a beat. When she opened her eyes again, she knew that, somehow, everything was going to be all right.