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HE RETURNED home as wet as a rag, and tired out from weariness and hunger.

As he no longer had any strength left with which to stand, he sat down on a little stool and put his two feet on the stove to dry them.

There he fell asleep, and while he slept, his wooden feet began to burn. Slowly, very slowly, they blackened and turned to ashes.

Pinocchio snored away happily as if his feet were not his own. At dawn he opened his eyes just as a loud knocking sounded at the door.

“Who is it?” he called, yawning and rubbing his eyes.

“It is I,” answered a voice.

It was the voice of Geppetto.

The poor Marionette, who was still half asleep, had not yet found out that his two feet were burned and gone. As soon as he heard his Father’s voice, he jumped up from his seat to open the door, but, as he did so, he staggered and fell headlong to the floor.

In falling, he made as much noise as a sack of wood falling from the fifth story of a house.

“Open the door for me!” Geppetto shouted from the street.

“Father, dear Father, I can’t,” answered the Marionette in despair, crying and rolling on the floor.

“Why can’t you?”

“Because someone has eaten my feet.”

“And who has eaten them?”

“The cat,” answered Pinocchio, seeing that little animal busily playing with some shavings in the corner of the room.

“Open! I say,” repeated Geppetto, “or I’ll give you a sound whipping when I get in.”

“Father, believe me, I can’t stand up. Oh, dear! Oh, dear! I shall have to walk on my knees all my life.”

Geppetto, thinking that all these tears and cries were only other pranks of the Marionette, climbed up the side of the house and went in through the window.

At first he was very angry, but on seeing Pinocchio stretched out on the floor and really without feet, he felt very sad and sorrowful. Picking him up from the floor, he fondled and caressed him, talking to him while the tears ran down his cheeks:

“My little Pinocchio, my dear little Pinocchio! How did you burn your feet?”

“I don’t know, Father, but believe me, the night has been a terrible one and I shall remember it as long as I live. The thunder was so noisy and the lightning so bright—and I was hungry…and I came home and put my feet on the stove to dry them because I was still hungry, and I fell asleep and now my feet are gone but my hunger isn’t! Oh!—Oh!—Oh!” And poor Pinocchio began to scream and cry so loudly that he could be heard for miles around.

***

The Marionette, as soon as his hunger was appeased, started to grumble and cry that he wanted a new pair of feet.

But Mastro Geppetto, in order to punish him for his mischief, let him alone the whole morning. After dinner he said to him:

“Why should I make your feet over again? To see you run away from home once more?”

“I promise you,” answered the Marionette, sobbing, “that from now on I’ll be good—”

“Boys always promise that when they want something,” said Geppetto.

“I promise to go to school every day, to study, and to succeed—”

“Boys always sing that song when they want their own will.”

“But I am not like other boys! I am better than all of them and I always tell the truth. I promise you, Father, that I’ll learn a trade, and I’ll be the comfort and staff of your old age.”

Geppetto, though trying to look very stern, felt his eyes fill with tears and his heart soften when he saw Pinocchio so unhappy. He said no more, but taking his tools and two pieces of wood, he set to work diligently.

In less than an hour the feet were finished, two slender, nimble little feet, strong and quick, modeled as if by an artist’s hands.

“Close your eyes and sleep!” Geppetto then said to the Marionette.

Pinocchio closed his eyes and pretended to be asleep, while Geppetto stuck on the two feet with a bit of glue melted in an eggshell, doing his work so well that the joint could hardly be seen.

As soon as the Marionette felt his new feet, he gave one leap from the table and started to skip and jump around, as if he had lost his head from very joy.

THE PRESSURE overwhelmed her. She had to do something to vent or she would drown, and she was damned if she would give him the satisfaction. She stared calmly into his face and reached up with both hands, knotting her fists in her hair. With a sickening rip, she tore it off her head, and handed it to him, just like she’d daydreamed about doing her first day here.

“Is that better? Does that make you more comfortable, for me to look less like you? To know my place?” She was no longer herself, but there was nothing she could do to stop it. And truth be told, she didn’t want to. Maybe now she would finally get through to him, to show him how his disdain for her life was one cut too many.

James stood dumbstruck, holding her hair in his hands. Patches of synthetic scalp clung to it, and Pine ran her hands over her head, touching the exposed metal.

“Pine—”

“Not enough for you? I mean, we can’t have people mistaking me for human, can we?” She snatched a cut-crystal bowl off the coffee table and smashed it against the antique wood, gouging the surface as the bowl came apart. She gripped the largest shard and held it to her wrist.

“Pine, don’t.” James stayed where he was, but his face had drained of color, and Pine nearly dropped the glass. Maybe she had lost control and was behaving the very way he’d predicted, but she no longer cared. He had to understand how wretched she felt, how desperate.

She cut a ring into the skin around her wrist then peeled it back, up over her arm, baring her intricate synthetic flesh. “Is this better? I—” She took a step toward him, her teeth bared.

Pearlvitae.”

Pine froze. The glass shard stopped, its cutting edge just biting into the skin of her other arm.

She’d thought she couldn’t feel any worse, but she was wrong. After everything she’d told him, how hard she’d tried to make him appreciate her situation, he’d betrayed her in the worst possible way.

***

“We’re not attracted to each other,” James protested. How could Joseph even think that? Especially after what had happened the day before? Attraction was the last word James would use to describe how he and Pine felt about each other.

Joseph laughed. “That’s what Pine said too.”

She did? “Joseph, she’s a machine. Sentient or not, I could never—”

Joseph cleared his throat. Pine stood stiffly in the doorway.

“Pine, I—” James flushed. Insulting her was not going to help him. He cast about for something to say. “You’re looking better.”

That, at least, was the truth. The reason for Joseph’s insomnia was obvious. Pine’s skull was again covered by smooth skin, her arms those of a young woman. They must’ve spent the entire night in the basement workshop.

She looked small and fragile, and even more out of place than she had with that outlandish hairstyle. “Yes, well, that’s what so great about being a machine—all it takes is a bit of glue and it’s like it never happened. I mean, it’s not like we have feelings or anything.”

Of course she isn’t going to make this easy. James proffered her the bags, his token of surrender. “I…uh…brought you something.”

***

Heat rose in James’s face, burning with now-familiar warmth. She was radiant, like the dawn rising over the ocean. Although she stood self-consciously beside Joseph, trying her best to shrink, James couldn’t take his eyes off her. Her hair looked as though she’d been born with it. Its deep color made her remarkable eyes even more arresting, and the silky length framed her delicate face and cascaded over her narrow shoulders. The jumpsuit fit her perfectly, her lithe frame making the ‘v’ in front look elegant rather than daring. The rest of the fabric flowed over her body and legs, loose and graceful.

What had he done? He’d warned Joseph how dangerous she was, and yet he’d just made her even more disarming.