Ted couldn’t get her buzzes out of his mind. Every time he thought of what she had said,
he found himself dizzy and daydreaming, too far into the future for the amount of time he felt
had passed.

“I really love strawberries,” she said, filling Ted’s head with possibilities. “But I haven’t
had one in such a long time. It’s heartbreaking, really.” Indeed, Ted agreed, although he couldn’t
relate since he had never had a strawberry before. But he took her word for it.

They weren’t allowed to venture out of their little settlement, though the rule wasn’t
strictly enforced. If you wanted to live, you followed the rules. If you violated the rules, you
couldn’t depend on the settlement to help you if the need were to arise. That’s how Ted’s parents died. They got bored, invaded a human’s space, and got swatted. Just like that.

When Ted was just a young fly, he wondered why his parents would be so reckless,
especially since they had a child. But he understood now. They really just wanted to live.

After his parents died, Ted met Claire and immediately became smitten with her. He
really wanted to live after he met her. She had a certain je ne sais quoi. Or at least, he thought
she did, based on the way he heard the humans say the phrase. She flapped her wings with a
grace he’d never seen before. The tales she told thrilled Ted, though he couldn’t tell if they were
true or not. They were all of being human, so it was hard to imagine them having the emotions
she spoke of in her stories. It was hard to humanize them, if you will. Claire wanted to be human. Ted couldn’t understand why.

Claire told him of these beautiful stories where heroes would overcome wars and stories
that were “dystopian,” which, she explained, were about systematic societal oppression,
whatever that is. But Ted’s favorites were always the ones that ended with a gorgeous romance.
The guy finally gets the girl, or the girl finally sees the guy as her one true love! None of that
foolishness where the protagonist feels more independent or finds he or she needs only
themselves to be truly happy. Those were always depressing.

When Ted heard these stories, his urgency to live intensified. Claire’s stories made him
see the potential life had; such grand lives were possible! And because of flies’ high mortality
rate, he knew he didn’t have too much time to live a grand life. He needed to let Claire know
how he felt. Soon.

Ted had never confessed his love for someone before, so he didn’t know how to go about
it. But he remembered what she said: strawberries.

Thankfully, the closest human house to him wasn’t too far away from the settlement. It
took a day of flying to get to the house, but if it meant finding a strawberry to present to Claire, it would be worth it.

He staked the house for about an hour, circling it a couple of times, trying to find an
opening. He settled on an open window and squeezed through one of the screen’s holes. Once he got in, he found himself face-to-face with a kitchen faucet, so he slowly flew to the right of it. He didn’t dare try to fly across the sink. One untimely drip, and he’d be finished.

Ted heard a mechanical rumble. Then came urgent voices.

Fuck!” came a woman’s voice, after Ted heard something hitting the ground.

“Would you calm down?” a man’s voice asked.

The woman let out an exasperated, “Ugh! Would you just let me be for
one second? Jesus Christ, Lawrence.”

Ted wasn’t really sure what was going on but decided to lay low for a while. He chose a
dusty black rack-thing emitting savory and fragrant scents for a hiding place.

With the human’s bickering in the background, Ted started thinking about what he was
doing. What even is my plan? How am I going to get a strawberry back to the settlement?
These questions gave him a pounding headache, and the humans exacerbated it with all of their yelling.

Once the humans had been in the house for a few minutes, they started speaking again.

“Did you start the cheesecake yet, Madeleine?” Lawrence asked from somewhere outside
of Ted’s vision.

Ted twitched his wings. Lawrence appeared.

No, I did not. Will you relax? I can’t make a damn cheesecake right this second,
especially not with you breathing down my damn neck!”

Lawrence held up his hands. “Fine. Fine. I’m just saying. Everyone’s supposed to be here
in five hours. And whose idea was it to make the cheesecake from scratch? Oh yeah,
it was yours!”

Madeleine lowered her voice. “Just leave me alone. I’ll start in a little bit. It’ll be done in
time.”

Without a word, Lawrence walked out of Ted’s line of sight. Finally, Ted let out a breath. Now he could continue his stakeout in peace.

Ted watched Madeleine as she started to prep ingredients. Ted had no idea what a
cheesecake was, but he knew what cheese and cake were separately. He couldn’t imagine a cake of cheese would be all that great, but he didn’t want to judge until he actually tried it.

As he watched Madeleine crush some graham crackers with a rolling pin, Ted continued
thinking about the situation he had put himself in. He didn’t know if these humans even had
strawberries. Stupid, Ted thought. So impulsive. This is why the settlement has rules. He beat his wings, irritated at himself. But then he remembered why he was doing this. He could see Claire leaning toward him as she got to the climax of her story. He saw himself, staring open-mouthed, waiting for the big reveal. There was that sparkle in Claire’s eyes, the one she only got when she was telling a story.

Ted shook himself out of the past when Madeleine stirred at the sound of Ted’s wings. Shit, Ted thought, retreating back to his hiding place.

She returned to her cooking. After a while, she left the cheesecake baking in the oven.
Ted decided this would be a good time to look for strawberries. He flew up, landing on a light
above the granite countertop. The kitchen soon filled with rich, sweet smells, and Ted struggled
to resist the sluggishness the smells brought on and tried to refocus his vision.

Madeleine returned to the kitchen five times to check on the cheesecake. Ted stayed put
on the light, not daring to make a sound. The next time she returned, the cheesecake had finished baking and had spent some time cooling in the fridge. The sun had gone down. Ted was gone the whole day. The settlement wouldn’t care. Claire would be wondering where he was. Right?

What am I waiting for? Ted asked himself.

Madeleine took the cheesecake out of the fridge, along with a box, both of which she
placed on the kitchen counter. Strawberries! Finally! Seeing them now, Ted couldn’t understand
why he thought they were so creepy the first time he saw them. Now instead of feeling unsettled at the seeds, he drew comfort from them.

She rinsed them and cut the stems off, placing the cut edge down along the circumference
of the cheesecake. As she stuck the strawberries on the cheesecake, Ted wondered when he
should try to take one. Not now; Madeleine was too focused on the cheesecake. But when? Once Madeleine finished arranging the strawberries, Lawrence reentered Ted’s vision.

“Thanks, hon,” he said softly, kissing her on the cheek.

“Mmm,” Madeleine said, eyes still on the cheesecake.

Lawrence stepped back and assessed her. “What?”

“Hmm?” Madeleine looked at Lawrence. “Nothing.”

“Fuck, Madeleine! Just tell me what’s wrong!”

Here we go, Ted thought. This is my chance. He flew towards the cheesecake, and he saw
a pile of stemless strawberries sitting on a green cutting board nearby. Yes! Madeleine and
Lawrence were too caught up in their argument to notice Ted’s buzzing. So close, Ted thought, the individual seeds becoming clearer and clearer as he flew.

Ted landed on the cutting board amidst strawberry juice, ready to try to lift a strawberry.
Strawberries surrounded him, almost like a strawberry forest with rough, bumpy grasses. Just
from the smell, Ted could tell Claire was right. The strawberries smelled so lovely, Ted almost
just wanted to lie back in a little pool of strawberry juice and breathe in. Madeleine and
Lawrence’s voices rose, bringing Ted’s mission back into his mind, making him jolt back into
action.

“Why do you always have to make something out of nothing?” Madeleine was waving
her arms in strained gestures.

Lawrence laced his fingers over the back of his head and closed his eyes. “I am just
trying to understand what is going through your head.” His voice rose an octave with each word.

Ted didn’t know how heavy a strawberry would be until he tried to lift one, the damp
cutting board preventing him from getting any traction. He realized there was no way he could
take the entire strawberry, so he started gnawing off a piece of it, careful not to swallow any of it. But damn he could taste it. He kept telling himself to keep moving so as not to get lost in the
sweet nectar dripping down from his mouth. He never tasted anything so entrancing.

“Damn it, Lawrence!” Madeleine’s fist came down, and Ted had to abandon his gnawing
to fly out of the way.

Ted was ready to call it quits when he realized the smashed strawberries worked in his
favor. A doorbell interrupted Madeleine and Lawrence’s argument, making them both jump.
They exchanged a surprised glance, dropping their argument. They rushed to the front door and greeted their guest.

Meanwhile, Ted scooped up as much smashed strawberry as he could carry. There was
no way he’d be able to leave the way he’d come in. What am I going to do? Ted wished Madeleine was quicker and brought her fist down on him.

Ted flew around in circles over the strawberry forest for a while before Lawrence and
Madeleine’s guest came into the kitchen. Wait a minute, Ted thought. The human had to come
from outside!

Ted raced in the direction the guest came from, strawberry chunks clutched in his arms.
The doorbell rang again. The door opened. Freedom! Thanks for the strawberries!

He was so high off of his own cleverness and was halfway back to the settlement before
realizing how much energy he had expended. He slowed his flight. It was late in the night; the
heat was heavy. Ted realized he was starving. The heat made the scent of the strawberries even
stronger. Oh no.

One chunk won’t hurt…Ted stuffed a chunk of strawberry in his mouth, coming to a complete stop to savor it. Satisfied, he cruised the rest of the way back to the settlement. He constantly had to talk himself out of eating the rest of the strawberry he had.

When he landed, he had to walk a little way to find Claire. When he saw her, she was
making a little hill of dirt. He held the chunk of strawberry behind him and walked up to Claire.

He cleared his throat.

Claire looked up at him before refocusing on the mound of dirt. “Oh, hey Ted.”

“Hello, Claire.” Ted thought about the strawberry behind his back. He longed to lick his
arms, now sticky with strawberry juice.

“Do you need something?” Claire asked.

“I—uh—” Ted commanded his arms to show Claire the strawberry chunk. “This—for
you—”

Claire looked up at him. “Oh, Ted!” She seized the strawberry chunk in his arms and ate
it. “Thank you!” She returned to her mound.

Ted twitched his wings, face all scrunched up. He held out his arms as if he could still
feel the weight of the strawberry chunk in them.

Tara Golthi is a communications major in her sophomore year. This is her first
publication.