The boy took long strides through a narrow passageway behind the university’s building. He climbed a heap of unused tables onto the roof of a storage sack. From there, he made a dash and leaped over the fence. He landed on all four, rolled on the ground a few times before slamming his back against a wall on the other side. This knocked the breath out of his lung.
With a low groan, he picked himself up and began walking again.
At the lab he soon came to, a girl sat lonely on an aluminum chair at a workbench. On the table, electronic parts and colorful wires scattered about like pieces of a sophisticated jigsaw puzzle. The professor was not around when the boy entered the room; only an open laptop and a lukewarm coffee mug lay on a desk by the entrance. The door made no sound when opened but it closed noisily. His entrance made quite a clatter.
Hearing the clatter, the girl darted a glance at him.
“Hi”, he greeted.
The girl nodded in return and slid a chair next to her. She lightly tapped on it, gesturing him to sit down. He sat down and discreetly shifted the chair a bit closer.
“Too close”, she complained. Her soft voice sounded like a whisper.
He backed away, less from the girl and more from the hot soldering iron in her hand. Seeing his reaction, she chuckled and nodded a few times in satisfaction. Then, she returned to soldering components onto a printed circuit board.
A tripod with claw-like metal extrusion—a third hand tool—held the circuit board in mid-air. She lined up a few components on the board and instructed the boy to hold the ones she was about to solder in place. The girl spun some more solder from a spool and held it in her free hand. The smell of molten solder began to fill the air.
At some point, they heard a loud clatter of the door closing behind them. A middle-aged man in casual clothes walked in and took a sip from the mug on the desk by the entrance. He sat down, looked at something on the laptop, and then stood up again. He approached the girl, who once again sat alone at the workbench.
“Was somebody here?” he asked, glancing at the empty chair beside her.
She shook her head in denial. A bead of sweats trailed down her cheeks.
“Is that so? Very well, I’ll be heading out now.”
“Good work today. See you later”, the girl stood up from her chair, bowed a very Asian-like bow and nodded her head to send him off.
“Good work to you too. Don’t forget to turn off the light.”
The girl shot a glance at the boy hiding behind a stand with a large mechanical arm one often seen in automotive assembly lines. She signaled him to sit still until the professor went out of sight. The door closed again with a clatter and they both let out a sigh of relief.
When the circuit board was finished, the girl removed it from the third hand. She needed a cable to connect it to an oscilloscope and went to look for one. Yellow, green, pink, purple, red, and black cables were hung neatly on the wall like a rainbow on a cloudy backdrop. The girl headed for a black cable with a banana jack at one end and a hook at the other, but she hesitated for a moment. She ended up choosing a pink one instead.
“What…?” she asked.
“Nothing”, the boy curtly replied. His lips curved into a grin. He began pacing around the girl like the moon orbiting the Earth.
“Cut it out…”
Her uneasy words trailed off and faded into nothingness but the boy’s grin remained wide.
“Come on now, I’ll love you no matter which color you choose”, he mused and proceeded to grab her small shoulders from behind.
“That’s…” the girl opened her mouth to protest but it soon turned into a delightful smile.
“Say the darnedest thing as you will, don’t you?” she mused and let the boy wrapped his arms around her petite frame. She leaned back a little, the back of her head reached only to his collars, and she could sense his warm cheek rubbing her black hair.
“It’s Valentine, at least let me say these lines once a year.”
It was then that her head suddenly jumped, hitting his chin with quite a bit of force. The girl’s body stiffened. She uttered the same line as before but imbued with the emotion of shock:
Slowly, her hand drifted into her skirt’s pocket and drew from it a black cellphone. She looked at the cellphone’s screen, confirmed the date, held her breath for a second and then nodded to herself.
“It’s February 15 in my home country…”
Her words trailed off again.
“It’s 4PM. I’m heartbroken! How can you forget Valentine!?” the boy bemoaned, one hand placed on his chest, walking around her until they came face to face.
Twirling a strand of her shoulder-length hair around her index finger, she touched his left hand with her free hand and dragged it to where the heart was supposed to be. Her small palm overlapped his. She closed her eyes and nodded, smiling gently. His heart beat faster; this fact, they both were keenly aware of; and his face grew beet red.
“Ah well…” she muttered and let out a long sigh.
There was a slight indecision in her action but she soon made up her mind. Their intertwining hands moved again. This time, they landed on her chest. She held his left hand in both her hands and put it close to her heart, which too was going overclock. Then, she spoke in a voice as pure and as smooth as a swan’s feather…
“You have a spare heart here, and it is in sync.”
After that, she let go of his hand. Her attention returned to the circuit board—then had lost its warmth to the air conditioner.
But, the boy immediately grabbed hold of the hand that was pulling away from him and got down on one knee. From the pocket of his blue jeans, he produced a small anti-static bag. He inhaled, gathered courage in his chest, and lifted his chin to face the girl. Their eyes met. Her black eyes peered into his.
She cast a puzzled look at the item in his hand and extended a slender hand toward it. But, realizing something, she suddenly retracted the hand and it instead landed on her lips then began to tremble. He could hear her gasp and see the tint of red rose up her cheeks. She turned her head away but he could still see her face through the reflection in the oscilloscope’s dark screen. He saw a smile behind her blazer’s black sleeves, which was folded to expose the inner white fabric.
This made him happy and nervous at the same time.
White fluorescent lamps installed on the ceiling were overwhelmed by a pink glow the setting sun cast on thin sheets covering glass windows. An opening in the curtain—where a half-meter square solar panel mounted a stainless steel frame stood—let a single ray of light shone through. And due to this particular arrangement, she saw, from her angle, a bright halo radiating from behind the boy’s blond hair.
This made her unable to take her dazzled eyes off him.
He called her name.
The girl gulped audibly and braced the hem of her pleated skirt in anticipation.
Slowly, his fingers removed from the anti-static bag a silvery ring.
Tiny tri-color light emitting diodes were encased in a semi-transparent crystal mounted on the ring. The crystal glowed faintly as soon as the tip of his fingers made contact. When he gripped the ring between the thumb and the index finger and presented it to the girl, the crystal grew in brilliance and it began flickering in a multitude of colors like a real diamond under the sun.
And then, holding the ring in one hand, her slender palm in the other, he spoke the words he had rehearsed many, many times.
“Will you…bear my name and my children?”
The blush on her face vanished instantly.
“Wow…” the girl uttered, trailing her words in amazement. This left the boy in complete puzzlement.
“How should I say it…” she took back the hand he had been holding and scratched her chin with it as she contemplated an explanation.
As if to distract herself from the turbulence of emotions swirling in her heart, she turned to the pink cable lying on the workbench and plugged its banana jack into the oscilloscope. She then hooked the other end to a pin on the circuit board, which were finished earlier, and while remaining silent, powered up the oscilloscope and made a few adjustments.
To her, at least for the moment, it seemed as though the proposal had never happened and the only evidence of its happening was the fact that the boy had been kneeling on one knee, hand holding a ring in mid-air, all this time.
“Did I fail?” he asked, could not bear the silence any longer.
Her hands stopped. Finally, her less articulated voice could be heard behind trembling shoulders.
“Say…the darnedest thing as you will…don’t you?”
The boy turned his body toward where she stood. Droplets of water were falling onto the white ceramic floor in front of his eyes. The droplets reflected the orange sunlight and glittered like beads of polished rubies. The girl turned around to face him and brought her sleeves up to wipe the tears then overflowing from her eyes.
“Is that…?” he reached for her with a bright smile on his face.
She gave a slight nod and extended a hand toward him.