By Natalie Crowe

The man before her didn’t fit the stereotype of the clientele she normally received. He was too tall, too young, too handsome, too perfect. His hair was dark and curled perfectly across his forehead. His face was perfectly shaped, his jaw sharp—the type of face any woman could fall in love with. As a woman herself, Evangeline could see no flaw in him.

And yet, she knew why he had come into her shop. Even as the embodiment of perfection, he still had the look. The look that everyone who walked through her door had. Old, young, ugly, beautiful—they all shared the same look that haunted him. Evangeline could only describe it as crushing, absolute despair.

“You’re the Heartkeeper?” he asked, looking her up and down with one eyebrow raised.

Evangeline smiled. “Not what you were expecting?”

She felt his eyes travel from her loose blond hair, tied back with a pink ribbon, to the many delicate rings on her fingers, to every ruffle on her short, pale pink dress. Once, her pulse would have raced with the gaze of such a handsome man pinned on her. But now…well. It didn’t matter anymore.

“No,” he said simply.

She nodded, accepting his answer with the same pleasant smile.

Much of what she had been thinking about the man in front of her could be said of her, too, she knew. She’d been told by many well-meaning strangers that she was too pretty, too kind, too young to be trapped as the only Heartkeeper of Canterberry for the rest of her life. But, as she explained to every stranger with a smile on her face, she wasn’t trapped. She had chosen this life.

“So, how does this work?” he asked abruptly.

Evangeline laughed. “Straight to the point, then.”

“I would think that all your customers would be, considering the reason for their visit.”

“Many are,” she agreed, motioning him to follow her behind the counter. “But not all. Some are nervous. They try to put off the inevitable for as long as possible.”

Pulling a jingling ring of keys from the ribbon that served as her belt today, Evangeline ran a finger over the keys until she found the one she was looking for. The heavy key was marked by a heart in the center of its looping design, which matched the metal heart on the door before her.

“Well in that case,” the man said, watching her as she turned the key in the lock of the door, “I suppose I differ from many of the people you’ve helped.”

“Perhaps,” she murmured, thinking of the look he’d had when he’d walked in. “I suppose we’ll find out.”

She tugged the heavy door open and stepped inside, the man right behind her. He breathed in sharply as he looked around the room. Evangeline didn’t. The enormity of the vault didn’t surprise her like it had once. Neither did the rows upon rows of wooden boxes against the back wall, nor the thousands of keys dangling by ribbons from the roof to the right. She looked at her customer as he stared around the massive room for the first time with wide eyes, and wondered for a moment what it would be like to feel surprised again.

Pulling a ledger from its spot on a shelf by the door, she flipped it open to the first page and laid it on the small table where she would work. The quill came next, along with a golden bottle of ink. Then the small knife, its hilt patterned with looping metal hearts to match the key on her ring. That, she set next to the ink, the man’s gaze following it as it left her hand.

“I’ll need a name to begin,” she said, testing the quill’s sharpness against her finger and dipping it into the bottle of ink.

“Alexander Cretin” he stated promptly, as if to a judge in court.

Evangaline wrote the name out in looping letters, murmuring, “Alexander” under her breath. “Is that what your friends call you?” she asked, looking up from the ledger.

He blinked, seeming startled by the question. “Some do. Many call me Alex.”

“Then that is what I shall call you today.”

“Are we to be friends then?”

She held his gaze. “You may find that by the time we’ve finished, a friend will be welcome.”

Alexander Cretin swallowed, a hint of trepidation flickering across his face before he wiped it away. “In that case, yes. Please, call me Alex, Miss…” he trailed off.

“Evangeline. Today, you may call me Eva.”


Once, she may have shivered as she heard her name on his lips. But not anymore.

Alex cleared his throat. “So, the procedure?”

She smiled. “Of course. Please, sit.”

He lowered himself onto the chair she had gestured to, holding himself uncomfortably.

Evangeline noticed.

“I could find out from your heart after this is over, but to make my job easier, let’s discuss the reason for your visit,” she said in a professional tone, turning to the C’s section of the ledger. She found the name Cretin, magically positioned after Crane in perfect alphabetical order, and poised her quill to write.

Alex stared ahead, a muscle twitching in his neck. “I don’t know where to start.”

Evangeline didn’t answer, just waited for him to continue as the seconds ticked by.

“I was going to marry her,” he said finally.

Ah. There it was. Evangeline began to write under his name.

He went on, “I had the ring in my pocket. We went to the harbor at sunset. It was the perfect night for a proposal. Except,” he cleared his throat “a moment before I knelt down, she said it was over.”

Evangeline kept writing, waiting for him to finish.

“I let her go, but not really,” he said, fidgeting with the hem of his coat. “I can’t get her out of my head.”

“And so you came to me,” Evangeline finished. “Have you tried less drastic measures?”

He nodded slowly. “Everything I can think of. I just can’t stop loving her—but I have to.” He met her eyes. “It’s going to tear me apart.”

“The human heart is terribly cruel,” she said, finishing her report in the ledger. She set the quill down and picked up the knife. “Any questions before we begin?”

The switch from despair to fear on his face as he looked at the knife was very noticeable, but she didn’t say anything. She didn’t have to deal with such sudden changes in emotions anymore.

“Perhaps just a few,” he answered, hardening his features to hide his fear. A mask. “That knife…will it hurt?”

Evangeline tested the tip of the knife on her thumb. “For a moment, yes,” she answered truthfully. “But soon you won’t feel anything, and the pain won’t matter.”

“So this is the last time I’ll feel?”

“That’s right.”

He nodded slowly, taking in the reality of what he was about to do. “You said for today, we were friends, yes?”

She tilted her head to the side. “Yes, I did.”

“So,” he reached forward and took her hand in his. “What if I did this?”

Evangeline blinked, looking down at their joined hands. “Will holding my hand make this easier for you?”

“It might.”

“Then you may.”

Alex took a shuddering breath as he kept his focus on their hands, rubbing small circles with his thumb. Evangeline remembered being touched like that.

“So, does this not affect you?” he asked, looking up to meet her gaze. My, but his eyes were beautiful.

“No.” Evangeline pulled the collar of her dress down just enough to show the start of a scar below her collarbone. “I wasn’t always the Heartkeeper,” she said quietly. “I was once a customer, too. My box and key are somewhere out there.” She gestured widely to the rest of the vault.

“I see.” His eyes lingered on her scar. “Were you afraid?”

She thought back to the moment she’d given up her heart in this very room. “I think so,” she said. “I don’t remember. It was a very long time ago.”

“Do you ever miss it? Feeling?”

“I thought I would. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to feel happy—but I don’t miss the pain.”

“Why did you give it up?” This question he asked cautiously, as if worried it might offend her.

But Evangeline didn’t care. She never cared anymore. “Someone I loved very much forgot about me,” she said calmly.


“Have you stalled long enough yet, Alex?”

She smiled as she watched shock hit him. He’d been putting off the inevitable, just as she’d thought he might.

“I just…I need a moment.”

He clasped his other hand around hers as well, resting his elbows on his knees as he stared at the floor.

The Decision. Many customers acted like this about it. Some paced, some talked to themselves, but many just stared, working up the courage to give up feeling forever. Evangeline was used to waiting. She studied the wall of wooden chests to amuse herself while the man before her thought through the rest of his life.

“I’m ready,” he said suddenly.

“Very well.” With one hand, Evangeline pulled a small chest from under the table and opened it, setting it next to the ledger. Then, she picked up the knife. “Unbutton your shirt, please.”

He released her hand to unbutton his shirt halfway, leaving his chest exposed.

Evangeline found his heart with the tip of the knife and offered her hand to him again. He took it, hands trembling.

One slash, and it was over.

Alex gasped as she pulled his heart from the cut, watching the wound seal itself up again. He stared at the heart in her hand, fear and panic and regret on his face. He gripped her hand harder. “Eva, I—”

She dropped his heart in the chest and shut the lid.

Immediately, he stopped speaking. He looked at their hands again, and slowly let go. Blinking, he looked around as if seeing the world for the first time.

“How do you feel, Alexander?” Evangeline prompted.

He turned to look at her, his face clean of emotion. “I don’t.”

She smiled. “Excellent.”

Pulling a blank key from the ring at her waist, she inserted it into the lock on the chest, watching the name Alexander Cretin engrave itself on the key head. She threaded a long piece of ribbon through the hole at the tip and strode to the rest of the hanging keys, lifting it up and letting it dangle with the others.

“You can leave your payment on the counter,” she said, walking back over to Alexander.

He nodded. “Thank you, Evangeline.”

“You’re welcome, Alexander.”

He stood and left the vault.

Evangeline watched him go for a moment before picking up the chest and walking over to the keys again. She plucked one from the ceiling, then headed towards the wall of chests. C’s were the third row up. She set his chest in its place on the shelf and picked up the one next to it.

Slowly, she turned the key in her hand, letting the light hit the name engraved on its head. Evangeline Crane, it said. How long had it been since she’d seen her own name like this? Without hesitation, she plunged the key into the lock of the chest and turned it, opening the lid.

There it was. Right in front of her. Her heart.

She’d sworn never to do this. Promised herself and the former Heartkeeper that she would never feel again. But some of her heart’s power must have been affecting her, because without pause, she picked it up and held it close to her chest.

The world exploded into color as emotions exploded in her chest. Happiness, fear, pain, relief—feelings she hadn’t had in years fought for dominance in her mind. Her permanent smile dropped immediately.

“Alex,” she whispered, and ran to the door.

He wasn’t in the shop. Something grabbed her insides and squeezed. Panic—she remembered that one.

She ran to the front door, swinging it open and setting off the cheery doorbell. There he was—walking away down the crowded street. Tall and demanding and breathtakingly beautiful. How had she not felt this way before, only a few moments ago?

Evangeline cupped her heart in her hands, a million feelings coursing through her body like shocks of electricity. She would run after him. She would force him to come back and put his heart back inside his body. She would close her shop, and together they would run away. They would be happy.

Happy. That was what she had missed the most. Feeling happy.

She could be happy with him. She just had to get him back.

Evangeline took two steps before another emotion hit.


What if it didn’t work? What if she loved Alex and he abandoned her?

Like Maxon.

And then the heartbreak tore into her chest.

The happiness was gone, replaced only by pain. She couldn’t breathe. It’s going to tear me apart.

She watched Alex walk away until he turned the corner and disappeared. There was still time; she could run after him.

But she didn’t.

Wiping tears from her cheeks, she turned and went back inside. Shut the door. Entered the vault.

Her little wooden chest was on the table where she’d left it, right next to her key. Hardly able to see through the pain in her stomach now, she gently set her heart inside the box and closed the lid. Slowly, she turned the key, swallowing hard as she felt her emotions leave her. The new splashes of color drained from the world.

“It’s not worth it,” she whispered to herself. “He isn’t either.”

She hung up the key with the others again and walked to the wall of boxes. Carefully, she set hers next to his. Alex and Eva. They would be together for eternity, in a way.

Her face dry now, she left the vault and closed the door behind her. She ran her finger around the looping heart on the vault key before locking the door and hanging it on her keyring again.

Evangeline turned, walked to her counter, and sat down, waiting for the next customer—the next coward who wouldn’t risk pain for love.