He gave her his heart that February evening, when the winter chill was enough to freeze the puddles in storm drains and paint frost swirls across window panes. The streets were filled with roses and cheap pink hearts as couples roamed the streets. The young man clutched a mug in his hands and sank into the overstuffed armchair. The deep red fabric threatened to swallow him up. His eyes fixed on the woman moving before him. Her every step was a dance as she glided around him.
That tiny piece of him was warm in her hands. A stain bloomed on his chest that would only come out with the help of hydrogen peroxide but it wouldn’t matter to him anymore. She twined a string of cheap beads around her fingers, his Valentine’s day gift to her, and threaded it through a ring. At least the parts could be used to make a decent necklace.
“Is it to your liking?” the young man asked, his voice fading to a whisper.
“We’ll see,” she replied, sweeping a hand past her cheek to brush away her fawn brown hair. The gesture left wet streaks on her skin. “Good effort.”
His fingers twitched, and seemed to straighten for a heartbeat he didn’t have. But he had weakened and the chair engulfed him yet again. The sunlight didn’t do much for his paling complexion, but then again, not much could be done.
“I’ll put it with the others,” she said, a smile curling bright red lips.
With every step away from him, he faded. His inaudible whispered protest fell away as the color drained from his lips. When she reached the small bathroom, he was gone.
She looped the beaded string on a small wooden rod before settling the heart into a vat of clear liquid, set in the bathtub as a precaution. Pulling a pair of blue rubber gloves up her pale arms, she plucked a smaller object from a different jar.
It was a perfect heart down to the last vein. The size of a thimble, tiny and delicate, the color had been drained away along with the tissue stiffened, hard as a stone in her palm.
She dunked it into a bucket of tempera paint afterwards. The thin white coating was enough to give her a base to start with, and she hung the heart on the curtain rod to let it dry. Another was waiting for her, a little bigger than the first.
Her studio is about the size of a small closet. A wooden counter is built into the space under the window, with short shelves and drawers covering half of the surface. A jar of water sits by a clean paint pallet, filled with a murky swirl of pigment. Small tubes cover the rest of the available space.
She drags a stool over, hooking her ankle around one of the legs with the heart in one hand, a clean jar of water in the other. After clearing an area on the desk, she shoves the other glass of water to join the many others in the corner.
Cracking open a tub of paint, she dips the heart into the dark green liquid. The owner had liked plants and it only seems fitting. She adds swirls of yellow and dots of white that gradually become more detailed lily of the valley. She splashes blues and reds along the bottom to become blooms of poppies and forget me nots.
When she finishes, she paints a thin layer of glossy varnish over the heart and hangs it to dry.
She stands to gather up a wooden box secured with an intricately carved lid. She traces a rose on it with a finger, then slides the cover off to reveal the contents: painted hearts of all sorts.
She lifts one out and puts it around her neck. The heart is painted a deep navy that borders on black, dotted with tiny beads of white. It dangles down the V of her cleavage, the cold glass-like material raising goosebumps on her skin.
Her phone buzzes.
Hey babe. We going out tonight?
Of course! I don’t want to let you go that easily.
She showers quickly before throwing on a long black skirt that exposes her leg when she walks, with a sheer deep red shirt to show off her lacy bra. A little forward for a second date, but the last man had taken longer than she thought it would. Her hair is pulled into a fishtail braid over her shoulder, a few strands of hair left out to frame her face.
The date, though she loathes to call it that, goes well enough. The next young man is within her grasp in moments. She brings him back to her apartment, their slender fingers entwined together.
“That’s a pretty necklace,” he comments, not bothering to hide where his eyes are aimed. “I’d like to have one, we can match.”
“You’ll have one soon enough,” she replies, opening the door and gesturing for him to sit in the armchair. “Can I get you something to drink?”