He was charming. Undoubtedly, unabashedly charming. Something about the scarlet coat, stark white breeches and silken top hat all so clean amongst the dirt that surrounded the lifestyle drew her toward him. His sweet words were all the encouragement she needed. The smile was almost a surplus.
She would come home at night and brush off her mother's questions that soon became demands with an airy wave of her hand and a dazzling smile of her own. She had no complaints or concerns; he was a gentleman in every sense of the term.
The looks became words; words became conversation; conversation became feeling; feeling became contact; contact became touch. Weighted touches nonetheless; soft lips, riled hair, smooth skin and a sense of urgency neither understood. He was versed in every part of her; came to know her shapes and curves just as well as she knew them herself. A brush, a breath, a trailing word left her wanting for air. The marks they left were only those of intimacy.
It was his idea. The excitement in his eyes, his tone, every word he spoke was palpable even as they were wild and whispered. Any obstacle she could come up with - her family, his age, her standing, his profession - was overcome with vigor. Persuasion was unnecessary. She couldn't bring herself to let go of him long enough even to walk down the aisle. Even so she wasn't sure he would have let her.
And leave her he did not: not through her family's disownment and her tears, not at her loss; for each time he gently reminded her of her gain. A smile broke through the ache and he smothered it with a kiss.
The lifestyle took adjustment. Setups during most days, speeding along tracks in the dark. He taught her everything she ever need know during the lighted hours and they learned more of each other each night. Even as their days began to crowd, her heart never failed to flutter every time their paths would cross and he would pull her into a spontaneous embrace.
A fast learner, she rose quickly in the rank. Her name and picture covered posters, no longer just his star attraction. Crowds had never been so wild.
With their newfound success came a newfound instinct; she felt an exciting sort of danger creep into their moments, as though any might be the final before their plunge from the precipice. The sense of foreboding was an odd sort of welcome; she enjoyed the unpredictability, life on the tip of the knife.
As the summer months drew themselves around a second time, she felt a sudden shift in gravity. The increase in activity and revenue began to take its toll on them both. She threw herself into her work, denying all existence of the matter. Try as he might, in private, he had not the steady level of self-control.
That particular night began in celebration. Music and laughter and levels of intoxication. All else had left the compartment in the small hours of the morning as she cleared the worst of the disarray. He wouldn't let her continue, enveloping her in his arms and trailing kisses down her neck even as he swayed a little more than normal. The moment was quiet before she good-naturedly sighed and suggested while their high was commendable, it unfortunately might soon mean a low.
His grip moved from tight around her torso to piercing around her upper arms. Its progression was slow but nonetheless disconcerting. His eyes were unfocused as she gave voice to a protest, first gently, then with a seriousness of tone as his fingers dug her flesh in a way that was not pleasant. A word of warning never quite escaped his lips as he came to and relaxed with what may have been an apology, resting his cheek on her chest like a child as she cradled his head and stroked his hair.
Further months passed. Her predictions came true, as they had known would prove so. As they did, the incidents grew in frequency, and with less liquor than she would have liked. Each seemed a snap transition to and fro, profuse with increasing discomfort on one side and apologies on the other. He loved her with every piece of himself, it was true, but she found taking prodigious care in all her goings-on was only to her benefit. The occasions came with little discernable pattern, and while bruises of the skin were exceedingly rare, she felt them darkly colored in other places.
She learned quickly he was easily gifted with envy. This discovery allowed much peace in spite of its nature. A little sidestepping was a small sacrifice, and whatever accusations he might have held in his head at the time were always unfounded. She was loyal in spite of their riffs. Mostly she feared what would become were she not.
She began to realize that what they had possessed initially was weakening at a rapid pace. The physical passion was there on the nights they so chose, but on her side it was unmistakably laced with a danger she did not like. The haze of happiness was fading.
Yet she could never break it to him. Whatever her feelings, whatever transpired, he loved her. Now she recognized it was not an equal sort of love; it was obsessive, possessive. She was his and only his in his eyes, and anyone else he viewed as trying to encroach on that territory often vanished in the dead of night, while the train was in motion. With so many nosing eyes and ears, a confidante was not an option.
What could she do but hope? Hope things would level, hope she could find someone to trust without dropped eaves or a danger to themself, hope that someone would start to worm their way between her and him without his suspicions. However it was common knowledge she was not to be touched. She aired on the side of caution.
Keep him happy and she would get through just fine. Nights were more frequently good than they had been in a long while. Not altogether saved perhaps, but just enough to hope for an advance. She immersed herself further in her work, more than she ever remembered committing before. This was the way to keep safest, she thought; she let her horses be her everything. Her dedication only increased this trek to the positive.
If only she had seen it coming. What rises surely must fall. She had predicted it before; why had she not seen the pattern repeating? The diseased hoof, and nothing could be done. The need for a new star act in place.
The newcomer's boldness.
His anger for it.
And that elephant.