A Portrait on the Wall
Letters came from the prison cell, but every one of them was delivered without ever being read by Ms. Millicent Ballard. It wasn’t until she began to feel detached from his memory that she thought she could bear reading whatever he had written to her in those letters. She sat on the window seat one grey and dreary morning, and sliced through the first sealed envelope to remove its contents. She brushed her fingers over the dried ink, following the lines of his quick cursive as she read the letter line by line; word for word.
No one spoke of the undeniable affect Mr. Atwin’s absence had on Millicent. Everyone was aware of where he was, and why, and although it hurt Mr. Ballard deeply, knowing he had let a murderer into his home, ill words were never spoke of the man for his daughter’s sake. For he knew, despite the still façade she wore to conceal her real emotions like the corset that concealed waist, she loved the man.
One and a half years later…
Millicent Ballard watched through the clouded glass at the figure coming down the drive. Gravel shuffled under his feet, the sound of footsteps resonated off the stone steps out front, proceeded by a solid knock on the door.
“Who might it be?” asked Alexander cautiously as he sensed his elder sister suddenly grow anxious.
Millicent turned to her brother, briefly catching a glimpse of her portrait hanging on the far wall of the entryway as she extended her finger past him. “Alexander, go to your room. Now.” Her younger brother looked at her with surprise and anger, but did as he was told.
When he had vanished beyond the top of the stairs down the hall, Millicent finally opened the door.
William stood on the front step casually dressed in a clean pair of trousers and a linen shirt with suspenders. There was no coat, no army uniform or even any bags. Everything he had owned was neatly packed away in the guest house at the back of the property awaiting his retrieval.
“I’m out Mill. I’m here now, out, with you. Isn’t that all that counts? We can leave this place, forever. Start somewhere else anew.” Millicent stood quiet, unable to meet his broken gaze as she fought the feelings she knew she was going to forever feel for this man. It pained her deeply to see him struggling with his words- hope still in his heart for her.
“You and I are on different pages you see.” Her voice was quiet, meek as she swallowed the horrible lump in her throat. “I was never destined for a life with a man like you. The only reason why you grew close to me was so that you knew that I wouldn’t give up your secrets. We can’t William- not now.”
William stared at Millicent with his eyes glistening from the tears. He took a step towards her. When she didn’t move away, he knew that it was his last chance to hold her face in his hands- to bring her precious, soft lips to his. She didn’t hold back from his kiss. In fact, she embraced it for all that it was, and all that it meant to him. They both wished that they could return to the thick of it all, when they were both fully submersed in the alternate reality where their pasts did not matter, and all that stood between the two of them was their love for one another. But alas, Millicent had learned that the world was crueler than the one she had been raised in, and she held tightly to preconceived notion that had turned out to be true- a life of chaos cannot be a life of peace. William lowered his hands from her face, seeing the golden light of the sun in her eyes like they day he twirled her around the ballroom floor in a momentary lapse of time.
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