hayley atwell as matilda archer

Miracle & Magician

“I didn’t realize the weather would be quite this oppressive, darling,” the well-dressed lady said to the man beside her in the carriage. She waved a gloved hand in front of her face, trying to excite the dull air into breathable oxygen. “I think I left my fan in my trunk. Oh goodness, it’s positively unbearable.”

“Uncle Thomas did warn us in our last correspondence that we probably should’ve come sooner, but you are fully aware of the trouble I ran into securing our passage,” he reminded her, looking out the window at the wide-open prairie. He smiled at her. “But that’s not what you’re worried about is it?”

Matilda Archer looked up at her fiance Henry Durant. “No, it isn’t.” He squeezed her hand. “You know me too well.”

“You are beautiful when you fuss. Uncle Thomas will fall in love with you.”

Matilda looked out the window. “That’s why this visit has me so nervous. What if he doesn’t like me? What if he writes back to your family that he doesn’t approve of me? What then?”

Henry drew her close and kissed her forehead. “I’d marry you with or without their approval.”

She buried herself in his embrace. “Do you promise?”

“On the very stars in the sky.”

* * *

Their arrival into Cheyenne was unheralded, as Matilda figured it would be. It seemed to be a lovely Western town. Everything looked new and fresh. Going West had always been a dream of hers. This minor stop on their way to San Francisco – where Henry had been offered a job as a barrister – was meant to pay respects to Dr. Thomas Durant, the eldest of her fiance’s uncles. According to Henry’s mother, before Uncle Thomas moved West with the Union Pacific, he was a great influence in young Henry’s life, inspiring him to study law.

His unbridled ambition is what attracted Matilda to Henry. Orphaned at a young age, she fell into a bad crowd in Boston. She learned very early that no one wanted to bother with a girl, let alone an orphan girl. She had offers of the salacious kind but she couldn’t imagine herself giving her body to random strangers every night to feed herself. She hoped she would never stoop that low. So she became a governess, fended off improper advances, and kept her nose in a book if at all possible. She knew she would have to marry, but she didn’t want to think about it yet.

Until Henry, that is.

Their romance was unlike anything she had experienced before. His thirst for knowledge, his zest for life, the way he looked at her. He treated her like a queen. For a woman with no name and no prospects, it was thrilling. She chose Henry for the protection the Durants could offer. Luckily his family accepted her with open arms. She was used to be being abused by their type of people, but the moment she showed her mettle, they knew she could be molded. She didn’t speak of her past, and they didn’t ask after it. They accepted that she was a modern woman, and could breathe fresh air into their family. When his uncle heard of their engagement he encouraged them to visit him one day. Today was that day.

“Thank you,” Matilda said to the driver, as he helped her from the carriage. She took a long look up and down the main drag of Cheyenne. Henry fussed over their trunks and traveling bags with another passenger.

Henry led the way into Mrs. Palmer’s hotel. It looked much like a home, with a piano and bar off to the side.

“How lovely,” Matilda said, almost breathlessly.

“Is that you, Henry?” said a disembodied voice from above. Smiling down on them from the top of the landing was Thomas Durant. He seemed almost overdressed for prairie living, but his inviting smile is what calmed Matilda’s butterflies.

“Uncle Thomas, how good to see you again!” he shook his uncle’s hand and hugged him warmly.

“Is this your fiancee?” Durant asked. He leaned forward to take Matilda’s hand in his, which he kissed. “Welcome to the family.”

Matilda blushed, “thank you, Mr. Durant,” she said politely. “I’m so pleased to finally meet you.”

“I wasn’t expecting you until later. Are you hungry? Shall I fetch one of the maids to prepare a meal for us?” he asked, guiding them to a table near the empty bar.

“I know Matilda was a bit overwhelmed by the heat. Perhaps a cool glass of water would help?” Henry said, his eyes probing hers. She nodded.

As they sat down, Durant began the conversation with “Tell me about your trip, how was it?”

Matilda let Henry speak. She didn’t think it appropriate to come on too strong. She didn’t mind playing up the demure damsel. She would rather come off as cold than to be her old vivacious self from the get-go. She knew how to behave in social situations such as these. She nodded in all the right places, offering simple smiles and confirmations for Henry’s story of their travel.

She mindlessly gazed out the window during the conversation, and something caught her eye that caused ice shot through her heart. His hair was longer but she would never forget those brown eyes. It was Mickey, she was sure of it.

“Darling, are you going to drink that?” Henry asked, the amusement evident in his voice. It was then she realized that she had brought the glass of water to her lips but hadn’t taken a drink for several moments. She clumsily placed it back on the table and tried to appear as flustered as she could. Uncle Thomas’ eyes followed her line of sight, and the gears were turning in his head.

“Do you know that man, Miss Archer?” he asked. He turned to Henry. “That’s Mickey McGinnes, a rather dissolute fellow. He owns the brothel that follows Hell on Wheels. Not the kind I typically mix with. But there are so few people in this town. We all know one another.”

“Please, call me Matilda, Mr. Durant,” she replied, coughing from the dry throat that suddenly plagued her. “And no, I do not.”

“You wear your heart on your sleeve, Matilda, something tells me that you do,” Durant said, never breaking his gaze from her face. Henry watched this transaction with a mixture of amusement and confusion.

“You know, I do think this heat is too much for me. I think I should retire for a bit,” Matilda said, holding her future uncle’s emotionless gaze for as long as she could muster.

“I shall join you,” Henry said, “the heat has been oppressive.”

Both men stood as Matilda did. She held onto Henry’s arm tightly and tried her best not to trip going up the stairs. What she hadn’t realized was that Mickey had seen her too.

* * *

After a short afternoon nap, Matilda and Henry went downstairs to the party already in progress. Matilda was against the idea of a party being thrown in their honor so soon after their arrival, but Henry insisted. He didn’t come out and say it, but the implication was that Uncle Thomas meant to show them off, to show the kind of family he came from. Matilda knew he was right. From the brief intimation that Uncle Thomas implied about Mickey during their afternoon chat, Matilda hoped he would not be there.

The party itself was nice enough, as much as you could get in a small town like this. Matilda scanned the crowd as often as she could, making sure the party-goers never changed. They met the owner of the hotel over a midday meal, Mrs. Palmer, a tough woman if she ever saw one. She met several men from Hell on Wheels, and they seemed respectable enough.

She thought one was named Bohannon, and the sheriff with the railroad was a negro! He was named Ferguson or something. He was very nice, having never really mixed with their kind before. She was surprised to meet Ms. Louise Ellison, the local newspaper reporter. Matilda wasn’t very good with names, but she had read some articles by Ms. Ellison before. She didn’t have much time to question why a woman of her education was following Hell on Wheels. Her mind was too preoccupied. It was nearly the end of the celebration, and she felt the weight lifting. She was home free. They were only going to be in Cheyenne for a week before continuing West. She could easily avoid him for six days. Couldn’t she?

“Penny for your thoughts,” Henry whispered in her ear, as they lazily made their way around the impromptu dance floor.

“I was thinking about how lucky I am that I found you,” she replied.

“I remember that day as though it were yesterday,” he asked, twirling her around. “It was in the park, wasn’t it?”

“Yes. I was reading a book about Queen Elizabeth, and you were cavorting around with some silly girls of questionable intentions,” she said, raising an eyebrow.

He grinned as he looked down at her. “And I thought to myself, ‘why would a beautiful girl need to read a book on a beautiful day like this?’ I didn’t know who you were, and I made it a point to find out and ruin your day.”

“Ever the romantic,” she said, giggling. In her bliss, she didn’t see the figure sidle up next to Henry. But he felt the tap on his shoulder. He paused, and they both turned to the distraction.

“May I cut in?” Mickey McGinnes asked, his eyes lingering on Matilda longer than she would have liked.

“No,” she replied immediately. Her face contorted as soon as she said it. Both men looked at her oddly, for different reasons, she knew.

“You may. I shall find you during the next song, darling,” he said to Matilda.

He politely bowed in the stranger’s direction, not comprehending that this man was the one his uncle had warned him about earlier. Mickey nodded and bowed as well. Mickey took her up in his arms and twirled her away.

Matilda’s head immediately went to a dark place. All of the emotions she had felt when she had known him, the way his skin smelled after they made love, the words he blinded her with to make her believe that he was all she would ever need. It all came rushing back.

“You’re as beautiful as I remember you, Tilly. Or do they call you Matilda now?” he whispered. Matilda felt herself go weak in the knees. She heard a lot of Irish accents in Boston, but his accent always made her wet.

“Matilda,” she replied, cottonmouth plaguing her speech again.

“You did well for yourself,” he said, nodding in Henry’s direction.

Henry’s back was to them, as he was chatting with Uncle Thomas. Durant had taken a keen interest in Matilda’s new dancing partner.

“Well, he’s a lot better than you’ll ever be,” she replied.

He looked at her as though she had slapped him. Matilda promptly stopped the dance, forcefully threw his arms off of her, and left the party. She needed to breathe.

She found herself in the back of the hotel, near a water trough. There was enough light coming from the uncovered windows to guide her far enough away from the prison of the dance floor. The world was spinning in front of her. She gazed down at her humble diamond engagement ring.

To her, it had magical powers. It was her ticket to a better life. She would do nothing to jeopardize that. But if there was one thing she would never forget from her previous life, it was the sound of Mickey’s footfalls. It always sent her into a tailspin, knowing he was walking down the hallway to her room to fuck her senseless. Against her better judgment, she turned to face him as he came upon her. His probing brown eyes were undressing her, and it sent chills down her spine.

“What are you doing here?” she whispered.

“I could ask the same of you,” he said gently. He got closer, and every inch closer was making her dizzy. She turned away to steady herself on a nearby pole. “But I heard enough talk from the ladies inside. I meant what I said, my love. You did well for yourself, Tilly.”

“I’m engaged,” she explained, more to the trough than to him, as though an explanation would shield her from everything she was feeling. “I’m marrying that wonderful man inside, and he loves me more than life itself.”

Mickey pressed himself against her, his arms enveloping her from behind. Matilda tried hard to steady herself but she knew she would lose this battle. She felt safe in his arms, after all these years. She felt safe in Henry’s arms, but not like this.

“I loved you like that. Do you love him?” he demanded. It was more of a command than a request.

She sighed, “yes.”

“What?” he muttered, burying his face in her neck. “Say it again.”

“Yes,” Matilda moaned, but only loud enough for the two of them to hear.

They both knew she wasn’t replying in the affirmative to his question. She sighed as he swallowed her tiny frame in his arms more tightly. The same arms that held her so tight as she lost herself in the love that nearly destroyed her.

A loud crash sounded from nearby, and a stray dog skittered away from a spare wagon wheel that was settling in the dust. They jumped at the distraction. It was enough to break Matilda from his spell. She pushed him away and kept him at arm’s length.

“Stay away from me,” she said. “You ruined my life once before, and I’m not going to let you hurt me again.”

She took a deep breath as she walked quickly back to the party. She didn’t see Bohannon in the shadows, observing the scene that had unfolded.

* * *

“Do you really think to ruin that poor girl’s life?” Louise began, peering up at Mickey from her extensive notes.

“I know Matilda Archer, and I know she didn’t get this far telling her poor fiance the truth,” he replied, feigning pity.

“Something tells me you have more to lose by telling me all of this,” she said, gesturing to the pages between them. “This is quite a bit to confess in a letter to a complete stranger. Much less me.”

“If it means the truth has been told, then my conscience is clean,” Mickey replied. It was the intensity in his eyes that held Louise’s interest. “Will you do it?”

“I don’t have much of a choice, do I?” asked Louise. “Give me a few hours, and I’ll have everything ready for you.”

* * *

Matilda woke up late one morning. Cheyenne agreed with her, and she decided early on that her silly thoughts about Uncle Thomas disliking her were unfounded. The way the townspeople treated her and Henry upon learning they were Durants bode well for them.

That particular morning was several days after the party, and she worked as hard as she could to avoid Mickey. If she saw someone who looked even remotely like him, she would dash into the closest building to hide. It was silly, but that was her only solution. In a few short days, she would finally be free from the cloud that hung over her soul. She rubbed the sleep from her eyes, and saw Henry with his back to her, sitting on their suite’s high-backed couch.

“Good morning, darling. What time is it?” she asked groggily. She turned over to examine her wristwatch. It was nearly 10:30 AM, much later than she usually slept. “That’s a bit late for me.” She looked at him. “Are you drinking this early in the day?”

Henry drained the shot glass of the whiskey. He nearly knocked over the half-empty bottle beside him. She knew something was wrong.

“Henry, please talk to me,” she asked, as she threw the covers off. He poured himself another shot, and drained it, grimacing at the flavor. She sniffed the air. It was thick like oil on him. “You don’t drink whiskey,” she muttered as she got closer.

The fog of sleep faded from her brain when she saw what was in front of him. She saw a pile of unfamiliar papers on the table. She saw her name. She saw Mickey’s name. She saw Boston in the ladylike scrawl. The color drained from her face, as she gathered them up and parsed through them as quickly as she could.

“Darling, I can explain,” she began.

He held a hand up to silence her, as he finished another shot.

“You never spoke about your past, and I respected that because I respected you. I didn’t need to know if you didn’t want to tell me. I didn’t care about your past, because I knew I would be your future. But all this?” he pointed blindly at the papers in her hand. “I was better off not knowing!”

“Come back to bed, Henry. Why don’t you sleep off the drink, and we can discuss this when you are in a better state?” she asked. Matilda gingerly reached for the bottle but he roughly pulled it away from her.

Henry shook his head, gathered up his coat, and grabbed the bottle. “I’m – I’m going out.”

“Where are you going?” she asked. She didn’t know why she was trying to rationalize with a drunk. “When will you back?”

“I don’t know where, and I don’t know when. I’ll come back when I want to,” he said. He stumbled out of their suite and slammed the door shut behind him. Matilda ran to a window and watched him mount a horse and head away from the city. She knew she had an appearance to keep up, so she rushed as quickly as she could to prepare herself to track him down. She hadn’t ridden a horse in ages, but that was the only way she could find him without attracting further attention.

Bohannon watched with some interest as the very tipsy looking Henry Durant trotted past Hell on Wheels on a horse. He nudged Elam Ferguson. “Is that who I think it is?”

“I think it be,” Ferguson chuckled, peering from underneath his wide-brimmed hat. “What’s a boy like that doing drinking so hard?”

Bohannon raised an eyebrow. “For the same reasons you did. That boy’s drinking away a broken heart. I’ll be back,” he said, grabbing his hat, and striding towards his own horse.

* * *

Bohannon kept his horse to a slow gait, a comfortable distance away from the swaying Henry. The young man was mumbling to himself and was entirely disoriented. It was almost comical if there wasn’t an air of sadness about it all.

Henry stopped suddenly in the middle of the road. He looked left and he looked right.

“Which way do I go?” he asked the horse, patting him on the neck.

Bohannon pulled up next to him. “If it’s all the same Mr. Durant, let’s go left.”

Henry swung his head to see his new traveling companion. He nodded silently, and the two of them trotted down the dirt path.

“What’s your name again, sir? You know me, I don’t think I know you,” Henry said.

It amused Bohannon how alcohol stripped away pretension from a city boy like that. Men were all the same underneath it all, no matter the circumstances of their birth.

“It’s Bohannon, Mr. Durant,” he said. “I’d shake your hand but it seems full at the moment.”

Henry looked at the almost empty bottle of whiskey in his hand. “You’re right. By God, you’re right.” Henry polished off the bottle and chucked it into the field, where it crashed loudly and unceremoniously. He leaned over and held his right hand out. “Henry Durant. You got a Christian name, Bohannon?”

“It’s Cullen, Mr. Durant.”

“Call me Henry. Mr. Durant is my father,” he chortled.

Bohannon grinned. “Same to you.”

“Where are we?” he asked, taking stock of everything.

“We’re about five miles west of Cheyenne, Henry. You’re drunk, and I’m not. Not yet.”

“How rude of me,” he said.

He dipped into his breast pocket and pulled out a flask, handing it to Bohannon who politely took a pull. It was moonshine. Bohannon coughed from surprise. He let it burn in his chest, an old familiar taste.

“I don’t know what this is. I bought it off the fella in the hotel bar. I don’t normally drink like a fish. I enjoy a good brandy before bed like any man, perhaps something stronger depending on the meal. But I got some rather unsettling news about my fiancee, and I am… lost. Completely and utterly.”

“It’s moonshine, Henry,” Bohannon explained, as he handed the flask back. “A good vintage from the flavor.”

“Moonshine….” Henry said, taking a pull himself. He coughed violently as soon as the liquor hit his lips. “God, that burns!”

Bohannon plucked the flask from his companion’s hands. “Yeah, maybe you should lay off it until you’ve got your bearings again.”

“Why Cullen? Why me?” he said tearfully.

“Don’t cry on me, boy,” said Bohannon. “I will leave you here to die.”

Henry nodded. “You’re right. I can’t cry. I wouldn’t cry over a woman who wouldn’t cry over me. She’s only marrying me for my money!”

“Ya think so?” Bohannon asked, keeping his eye on him.

“No, I don’t think that at all. But that’s what people will think when they find out about Matilda’s past, and that matters to people like me. I never wanted to be marching off the same cliff like everyone else. That’s why I fought so hard to come West. I didn’t wanna live and die not knowing what was out in this world. That’s why I fell in love with her too, ya know. She was so unusual. I knew I could take her with me around the world, and she wouldn’t even think twice. She’s an orphan. I found her on a riverbank, like Alice from the books.”

“I don’t read many books, Henry, so I’ll take your word for it.”

“She was so charming, and so… unusual. There was something about her – that je ne sais quois – that attracted me like a moth to the flame.”

“You already said unusual.”

“I did?” Henry sighed loudly. “I get an anonymous letter, and I think to myself, ‘why would someone send me a letter?’ No one beyond my family knows we’re here. And it’s not like anyone from her side would contact us. You know what the letter said?”

Bohannon grinned. “I don’t give much to personal affairs… but I do get the feeling you’re about to tell me.”

“That she cavorted around with that whorehouse owner Mickey before she met me. Can you believe it?”

Bohannon held his tongue. He remembered the compromising situation he had found her in behind the hotel with Mickey. But he didn’t believe it to be right to gossip like a woman to a man in his state of mind.

“I mean, I knew what I was getting into when I continued courting her. I didn’t care!”

“Somethin’ tells me you do,” Bohannon said. “You care a whole lot more than you’re willing to admit.”

“I hardly know you, Cullen, and already you know my weakness. You ever been in love?”

His stomach twisted for the briefest of moments at the question. “I was married… once.”

Henry looked at him, his mouth agape. “Did it end well?”

Bohannon was beginning to shut down. It was getting far too personal, but he felt the situation was appropriate to share, to at least even the playing field. “My wife and son were murdered by the Union, Henry, during the war.”

“I served my time for the Union, and I’d do it again,” Henry said, with all the clarity a drunk man could expound. “But some of them… some of them were animals, you could see it in their eyes. Not all of us in the North were cold-blooded murderers.”

“I know that,” Bohannon replied. “But sometimes all you can see is what is in front of you.”

“You’re right,” Henry said, squinting against the setting sun. “Sometimes we stay so rooted in the past, that it consumes us.” They both fell silent, pondering his words.

* * *

Matilda secured a horse and spent hours trying to find Henry, without luck. She turned right off the main road, and couldn’t figure out how he could’ve gotten so far in so short of a time. She stormed into Hell on Wheels, and one of the whores pointed out Mickey’s establishment. She leaped from the horse, hardly paying attention to tying the animal down. She marched in and zeroed in on his smug-looking face.

“You son of a bitch,” she screamed.

The patrons took one look at her and scattered immediately. She ripped the letter from her dress pocket and threw the papers in his face.

“What did you stand to gain from telling my fiance about me?”

“I stand to gain nothing. But a man with a pedigree like Henry Durant should know what kind of life you led before you took up with him, don’t you think?” he asked, absentmindedly wiping down a glass.

“You’re impossible!” she yelled. Matilda began pacing the floor. “I’ve spent the entire day roaming this godforsaken hellhole trying to find him. He drinks medicinally. I’ve never seen him this drunk before. He could be dead in a ditch somewhere or taken by Indians. This is all your fault!”

“My fault? I don’t think so. I merely provided information that seemed relevant to your fella. What he did afterward was entirely his own doing.”

Matilda glared at him. “I bet you sold him that bottle of whiskey too, you disgusting piece of horse -“

“Hold on there, Tilly. I’m a lot of things, but I would never sell alcohol to a man in his current state.” He tried not to chuckle at the insanity of the situation unfolding before him.

“Are you laughing?” she bellowed. That was the last straw, and she strode up to him and lammed him full on the side of his face. “How dare you. How dare you insult me, and ruin my life. Haven’t you taken enough from me already?”

Mickey rubbed the smarting pain from his cheek. “I deserved that.”

Hot tears stung the corners of her green eyes. “You’re damn right you deserved that! The way you left Boston…” Mickey put the rag and glass down to move towards her. He knew that now was the time he had to confront their past. “You – you didn’t even tell me you had left. I always thought you’d come back after what happened. What was I supposed to do?”

“You survived, dearest,” he whispered, getting as close as she would allow. “I knew you’d be fine, no matter what happened after I left. And I was right.”

“Stop,” she muttered. “I – I can’t stand to have you so close to me. How is this possible? How can you still have the effect you have on me after all this time?”

Mickey wrapped his arms around her, unable to hold back any longer. “Like this?” he whispered, his lips connecting with her neck bone.

He could feel her weakening in his arms. No matter how many times he embraced her, he loved the feeling of that headstrong woman becoming weak. It was here that he lost any sense of propriety. She brought out the animal in him. It was there in her arms where he felt safest.

“I’ve dreamed of this – of you – for so long,” she muttered. Their lips connected, and they drank each other in for what seemed like hours. “I – I can’t,” she whimpered.

She pushed Mickey away to look at him. He followed her lead and allowed himself to be held at arm’s length. He could be the bad guy in all this and take advantage of her. It would be so easy. The touch of her hand on his chest was the only thing standing between losing himself completely. But he wanted her to make the decision. He hoped it would be the right one.

* * *

The day ended with Henry and Bohannon far enough away they would need to set up camp. The fire crackled in front of the two men, who sat beside each other to watch it absentmindedly. They didn’t speak much as they got farther away from civilization. It suited both of them.

“I don’t even know how I am going to face the people of Cheyenne,” Henry blurted out, breaking the silence. “I’ve embarrassed myself, and Uncle Thomas.”

“You’re gonna march in there, and act like you own the place,” Bohannon advised.

“Is that appropriate? Do people gossip much here? I can’t imagine the trouble we’ve caused for Uncle Thomas.”

“Your uncle is a good man,” Bohannon said, lying through his teeth. “He’ll understand if you say you had a tiff with your lady.”

“You think so?”

“No,” said Bohannon, tossing a twig into the fire. Henry looked at him, aghast. “But sometimes you gotta look at people in the eye and make them believe the lie.”

Henry nodded. “You’ve got a good head on your shoulders, Cullen. Uncle Thomas was wrong about you.”

“About me?” asked Bohannon, his curiosity piqued. “What did your uncle say about me?”

“I think the liquor’s wearing off so my mind’s a bit clearer. I remember seeing your name in his letters to me. He said you were a stubborn murderous bastard, to be avoided at all costs. He said almost the same about most of the people that are following Hell on Wheels though. You’re not as bad as you seem.”

Bohannon chortled loudly.

* * *

“Why do you do this to me?” Matilda asked him. Her green eyes probed his for an answer. “Why does the very thought of you weaken me?”

“Because we were made for each other,” he confessed. “I never should’ve left Boston. I never should’ve left you. But after what happened, I couldn’t imagine dragging you with me, bearing the demons that followed me and Sean.”

“I would have borne your demons until the end of time if you had let me,” she said, dropping her hand from his chest.

He took that as the sign he was waiting for, and gathered her up in his arms. His lips never left hers, as he carried her to his bunk. She tore at his trousers, as he hiked up her skirts and petticoats. They both anticipated the breach, never unlocking their gaze of the other. The passion was there, after all those years. He wiped the errant tears from her eyes, and she kissed the sweat from his brow. They struggled against each other, clinging to the memories that the two of them shared. Mickey held on as long as he could. All he wanted in this illicit moment was to please her.

Matilda hadn’t felt like this in years. She had lovers after Mickey, men she met and bedded the same night, some she had fleeting romances with. Henry was a gentleman, and while the lovemaking was good, he could never compare to Mickey. He hadn’t been her first; she had no romantic notions about first loves or anything like that. They were compatible in every sense of the definition. Feeling his weight against her body, his hips raised from her skin only to pound against her so rhythmically was building in her core. She tried to make it last as long as she could, but she came first.

He covered her with his body as he finished, unwilling to move, trapped between her legs. “You can’t possibly be tired,” she giggled, positioning her head to look up at him.

“Never,” he whispered, finally rolling to lay down beside her in his tiny bunk.

She positioned herself to lay sideways so there would be room for both of them. It was then she realized what she had done. She gazed at her diamond ring, the ring that was supposed to carry her away from the life she had known. She had given in to the very demons she was determined to control. What did she have to show for it now? Cheating on the man who vowed to marry her even if his family disapproved? It proved nothing. It set her back. She felt unclean.

Mickey suddenly felt a cold wind coming from the other side of his bunk. He reached out to touch her. At least she didn’t pull away. She didn’t turn to look at him either. He turned towards her, burying his face in her beautiful dark hair. She grabbed his free arm and held it close to her. He knew he had lost her, and he didn’t know where to go from here. But maybe he didn’t need to have the answers right now. All that mattered was the only woman he would ever love was in his arms, and maybe that was enough.

They both fell asleep. And the next morning, he woke up alone.

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