While my Heart Still Beats

Chapter One

Emily was a pretty and proper child, and her parents spoiled her for it. She had a lavish and tasteful dress for each day of the week, and she had impeccable taste. Every man in the region doted upon her, and she spoke with them tastefully and kindly.

Emily had a sister, named Constance, who was the polar opposite of Emily. Constance was boorish, rude, stubborn, and a downright disappointment to her conservative parents. Constance was the eldest of the two, and dressed plainly and modestly, a contrast to her tasteful and fashionable sister.

But the sister's taste in clothing was certainly not their only contrasting feature. The first was their appearance. Emily had a soft and kind face, with flawless porcelain skin, and blond hair that formed soft curls framing her face. Constance had a sharp jutting jaw, prominent cheekbones and an overall stern look about her, as well as unruly brown hair that simply refused to lay properly.

This is certainly not to say Constance was not pretty, she was lovely, with plump red lips, and flawless skin only slightly darker than her sister's, however Constance had the sort of beauty that was only admired by a rare few. And this was largely due to her personality. Emily was very social, she always giggled appropriately at jokes, was a master in the lost art of small talk, and most of all, Emily was happy. And it showed: her face simply radiated with happiness, and people were attracted to it. Constance's mood was as brooding as her dark eyes, and as stern as her sharp jaw.

Constance may have been the opposite of Emily, but she still cared for Emily very much. They fought constantly, but when it was important, Constance would have a few kind words for Emily. Emily always meant well.

Constance was an artist, and she saw all that was wrong with the world. What she wanted to paint was a glowing and beautiful landscape, where the sunlight caressed each brushstroke, and make each person who looked upon it feel filled with a warmth that could only come from such a utopia. But as much as Constance tried, she simply couldn't paint it. It wasn't real, it was a dream, a fantasy, the true world was as dreary as her dull beige dress.

When Constance looked around her, she saw a world full of fakes; her parent's praised her sister for her class and beauty, always telling her how much they loved her, while behind Emily's back, her parents planned a wedding to a rich man double her age. Because Constance knew, she heard her parent's whispers on night's when she crept downstairs hoping, more than anything, that finally she would hear them utter a word of praise in her name.

The men who courted her sister did not love her for her personality, merely how it emphasized her already pretty features. They spoke to her endearingly, and then spoke about less than classy things behind her back.

So Constance painted people. People not with the sparkle of light in their eyes, but the dullness of death, always only their faces, from the neck up. She painted the men who courted her sister, and one night, she painted her parents. It was merely a painting, innocent enough.

The next day a newcomer arrived in town. A rich newcomer. So rich, in fact, that no one in the region spoke of anything else the entire day of his arrival. Women threw themselves at him, and he ignored them cooly. Men attempted to speak with him about politics, and what was fashionable, and anything else they might think dignified, and he answered them politely, and moved on.

The man was in the region on business, or so he said, and was merely passing through, however, things changed.

The morning of the man's arrival, Emily had become quite ill, and a doctor had been called. The doctor stated that it seemed to be only a passing ailment, and that with some bed rest she would be in full health within two or three days.

So Constance and her parents went to meet the stranger without Emily.

Constance was dressed up in one of Emily's fashionable dresses, and her hair was put up in the most organized style it would co-operate with, which meant pulled very tightly and uncomfortably, and piled on top of her head. Constance was certainly not happy with the situation, and she had no problem telling this to her parents.

It was to be a dull afternoon, they would go knock on the stranger's door and invite him over for tea. Then he should arrive at their home a few hours later, and they would have to make small talk for hours. Constance longed for her paintings, which she had begun to store in the attic for fear that her parents might see them and dispose of them. Often now Constance would gaze at her paintings for long hours at a time. There was something comforting about those dead eyes staring back at her, she thought it must be that they finally saw the world just as she did.

Constance realized that at least one good thing would come of the afternoon; she'd have another subject to paint. She was right.

They arrived at the inn where the man was staying, and Constance began to think of things she could do later during tea, that would certainly send the man packing (at least quicker than he would have). She came up with a few ideas involving mice, flies, and some expired cream she knew was hidden in the kitchen. Then the door opened.

Constance immediately turned her attention to the man, (she did want to memorize his features after all), but she was caught off guard. The gentleman stared at her with eyes full of interest, they looked like she thought her eyes might look when gazing at the field lit by the strokes of sunlight. She quickly looked away, feeling uncomfortable for a moment, and when she looked back, he had the same dull, stern face that she had begun to use each day.

He was just like her, Constance realized, and then she knew that this man could not be married to Emily. He should be married to her.

Like her paintings, she could only love those who understood.

The gentleman spoke briskly yet politely to her parents, and agreeing to tea, he shut the door, without looking at her once more.

The few hours awaiting the gentleman's arrival for tea went quickly for Constance. She had a lot of work to do.

As soon as they had arrived home again, she had begun her painting. She painted the gentleman's lovely dull eyes first, then the rest of his head, then the rest of his body. It was so lovely and satisfying that she simply couldn't stop, and she made a snap decision to include herself in the portrait, standing beside him. It was almost as if the painting painted itself, and she didn't realize there was anything strange or different about it until she had finished.

Then it struck her; she had painted herself, in this portrait with a stranger, and not only that, but she had painted herself in a wedding gown. She had painted their bodies too, while all the others were merely heads, sitting on necks without shoulders. This was a special portrait, and she set it upon a lovely stand in the attic, in a special spot where it would be the first thing she saw as she entered the door. She stared at it; she would wear that wedding gown, she would wear it when they were married.

Then the doorbell rang.