Claire came out of her reverie. "I guess the only answer I can give you is that you'll both just know when the time is right."
Eileen leaned into Claire with affection, giving her a playful bump. "Thank you, Claire. It will have to do."
"Oh, it's not a problem. I'm glad to help. But if you find you can't find the right moment, then there's always the more direct approach. Cut off all of his avenues of escape, and then-"
Claire and Eileen looked at each other meaningfully for a second, before they replied simultaneously.
They both laughed, causing the other passengers to look over. Smiling, Claire and Eileen tried to regain some sense of composure. Only partially successful, they looked around at the scrutiny they were getting, waving at some of the stares.
An older woman walked by, her eyes lowered in amusement. "That's what I would do," she said simply, before continuing on her way.
They both looked at her with surprised expressions, nodding their agreement. Eileen sighed, looking out over the ocean. "We're both too old to be carrying on so, Claire. I think we've all been around Trevor too much."
Claire thought about how long she had known him. "Eileen, you have no idea..."
"Clear a path! Yeah, I mean you butterbean! Love train passing!" Trevor made siren sounds from where he sat on top of an upright piano as it slowly approached several surprised passengers who scrambled out of the way. Surrounding him on all sides, seven crewman and ship's stewards struggled to move the piano down one of the ship's cramped passageways. The piano had originally been sitting in the third class smoking room all the way aft. But Trevor needed it all the way forward. So he had decided to hitch a ride as they pushed it along, calling out orders through a rolled up paper, clearly in his element.
One of the exhausted stewards looked up at Trevor, wiping a tired arm across his forehead. "Mr. Hale. This would be a bit easier if you would climb down from there."
"Hey, think that it's not nice to fool with Mother Nature? Try the god of love, buddy. I can fix it where your sexual encounters can be counted on one hand. Or is that your one hand can be counted on? Either way, no one said love was easy. You guys owe me, so put your back into it. Now, mush!"
"But Mr. Hale-"
"Hey, less woe more go! Who arranged the corset raid to the stewardesses quarters last night? Huh? That would be me. I have first hand knowledge that some of you owe me big time. And by the way," he turned to one of the stewards, placing his impromptu megaphone against the man's ear. "Billy! My, man! The point of a corset raid is to take the one's they're not wearing. Still, I admire your initiative. Not to mention your recuperative powers. I've never seen someone run so fast after taking a good swift kick between the- Claire!"
Trevor spotted her as he continued to ride on top of the piano, warmly calling out to her as she came out of a side passage. She looked over, surprised at what she saw.
"Sparky, top of the morning to ya! Bottom of the morning! Hips of the morning! Ribcage of-"
"Trevor, what are you doing?"
Before he could answer, another of the struggling crewmembers called up to him. "Mr. Hale, please!"
Trevor grunted in annoyance. "Fine, I'll get off already!"
Trevor climbed off, dropping smoothly to the floor. With a groan of relief in unison, the men were immediately able to push the piano noticeably faster, rolling it quickly forward. As it sped towards her, Claire lifted her hands and stepped out of the way, allowing the procession to squeeze past. She walked beside Trevor as they followed behind the piano.
Trevor shook his head. "I've never seen so many whiners since the centaurs lost the tap on keg night."
Claire smiled at him. "Maybe they were weighed down by all the delusions you carry around. It's a heavy load."
Trevor called out to the stewards through his paper megaphone. "And just because the girls threw a retaliatory raid and took all your best and/or only undergarments is no excuse for acting so... crotchety."
Blinking as he thought about what he had just said, Trevor laughed once. "Ha. See that Claire? I made a pun."
"Hmm. Thalia would be proud. Trevor, what is all this?"
"Just some final prepera- Wallace! Hey music man, come over here. You too Mr. Brailey."
The man Trevor had called out to walked up to them, dressed in a white musician's jacket and carrying a violin. One of the men pushing the piano came over as well, wearing a similar blue jacket. Trevor put his arms around both of them.
"Here's the deal, Wally. I played a few things for your intrepid pianist here before I drafted him into the love chain gang. And-" Trevor momentarily took on a very nose in the air British voice, "Mr. I've got perfect pitch and can replay anything you could possibly show me surprised me and managed to get them memorized after a few tries. Magic fingers told me he'd run it by you to work out arrangements and parts. Time will be tight, but do you think you can do it?"
Wallace nodded. "I will endeavor to do my best, Mr. Hale. But right now I'm needed for Sunday services, as is Mr. Brailey, I'm afraid."
"Great," Trevor said. "That will work out nicely. I'll send Mr. Brailey to you in a second. See you later this afternoon. Forward open area." He patted Wallace on the back, sending the head violinist on his way. Mr. Brailey looked ready to follow him, reluctant to get back into the group of men pushing.
"Trevor, perhaps I should go with-"
"Not yet piano man. I'm sure you've heard this before, but I need your talented hands. There's a space with your name on it, so push it. Push it good. Push it real good. We've got a delivery to make." He guided Mr. Brailey back to his spot.
Claire whispered to Trevor. "You might want to ease up before the workers revolt. I wanted to ask you. Have you seen William?"
"Yeah, tall guy. Very handsome." He turned to the laboring crewmen. "Come on fellas! Let's get a move on. Love train. Let's go. Hoo-waa!"
"Eileen's been looking for him, Trevor." Claire looked again at the men struggling with the piano. "Are you going to tell me what you're-"
"Sorry Claire." Trevor turned as he continued to follow the piano. "Can't talk right now, I'm working. I'll come get you later. Love ya, hugs and kisses, yadda yadda yadda..."
As he turned away from her, Trevor noticed someone he recognized in one of the side passages. "Walpole! How's the food situation, everything set?"
She watched in amazement as Trevor walked away, wondering how he had gotten so many people to go along with his scheme. Sighing, she turned and went back the way she came.
Slowly Claire led Eileen forward as they walked together down one of the ship's passage ways. Eileen didn't really understand where they were going or why. She looked over at Claire with a question in her eyes.
"So what did Trevor tell you?"
"Not much. Just to bring you to the forward open area as soon as possible. He mentioned something about giving a special 'concert' he wanted you to hear. But that was all he said."
Eileen blinked. "Strange. He hasn't played at all since that first night..."
"Well, Trevor can be a strange man."
Eileen smiled at Claire. "In his own charming way?"
Claire seemed amused. "I don't think that's the layman's term for Trevor, but yes. In his own charming way."
As they walked, they heard a noise before them. It was the hushed sound of many people, talking quietly as they listened to someone speaking. Curious, the two women glanced at each other as they stopped at the top of the stairs that led down to the third class open area. The crowd noise was coming from beneath them. There was no music, only casual conversations as they listened. The crowd laughed all together, and Claire could barely make out the voice of someone speaking to them. Beneath them, the wooden floor at the bottom of the stairs was well lit. Without a word, Claire and Eileen descended slowly.
As the room came into view around them they looked around, surprised at what they saw. There was a piano placed in the center of the room. Some of the nightly musicians from among the passengers were there with their instruments, mixing among several of the ship's official musicians who were easily recognizable in their crisp blue and white tuxedoes, their instruments shiny and new. The crowd they had both assumed was spectators was in fact a mass of passengers and crew who stood behind the musicians. They waited patiently together, as if they were performers as well.
Trevor stood in the small space before them, obviously in full Trevor mode as he joked and laughed with the crowd. An image came to Claire of Trevor standing in front of her single's group back home, doing the exact same thing, as he usually did whenever she turned her back.
Claire and Eileen stood awkwardly at the foot of the stairs, uncertain of what was going on. It didn't look like a concert. Where were all the spectators?
Someone whispered to Trevor, and he turned around. Once he saw the two of them standing there, his face lit up. "Eileen! You're here. The guest of honor, right on time!"
Behind Trevor the crowd whispered to each other to be quiet as the musicians seated themselves and picked up their instruments. Several of the standing passengers coughed to clear their throats. Quickly Trevor stepped over to the two surprised women, full of energy as he took Eileen by the arms and guided her further into the room.
"Listen, thank's for being here. We're sort of all in this together, so it's a good thing you came. With you here we're all set. Now we can get things going."
She looked at him warily as she stood in front of the crowd. "Mr. Hale, what is this?"
"A concert. Didn't Claire tell you?"
"Great! Let's find a chair for you." Trevor dragged a chair across the floor with a screech, placing it in the middle of the open space.
"Isn't anyone else coming?" Eileen looked hopefully through the crowd, lowering her eyes with disappointment when she didn't see William.
Trevor pressed Eileen's reluctant shoulders and gently lowered her into the chair. "No, we've got everyone we need right here."
Eileen looked uncomfortable under the smiling gazes of the crowd before her. She was conspicuously alone, apart from the rest. As Trevor moved back to the musicians, Claire moved to his side and whispered into his ear.
"Trevor, if this is anything like my singles group last week when you initiated the strip musical chairs fiasco-"
"Don't worry so much, Claire-bear. Unclench every other month, you'll lose wrinkles." He patted her on the cheek. "No musical chairs today. But now that you mention it, I really wished I had remembered that sooner. Oh well, too late to change. This is completely different."
"I hope so, Trevor. Outpatients getting inventive doesn't inspire a load of confidence."
"Claire, if you would go stand by Violet and John, you'll understand soon enough. Try to catch up with the rest of us. Should be easy. You are a doctorate after all."
Claire sighed. "I suppose there's always room for two disasters today."
He smiled. "You wound me. I've got some liniment, will you rub it and blow? Just follow Violet's lead and you'll do fine. No disrobing unless the spirit moves you. Stand there and look pretty. See, look at that. You're two steps ahead of me already. By the way, how's your singing voice?"
"Never mind. Maybe you can go-go dance in a cage, or something." Trevor left her standing by Violet, who patted her on the arm warmly. Claire looked around at the mass of passengers she stood with. They all watched Trevor, waiting calmly. She shook her head, having no idea what was going on.
Trevor stood in front of Eileen and faced the crowd. EIleen stroked her fingers across her neck nervously, looking down as she tried to find a way to dissolve into the floor. Trevor didn't notice, speaking to the rest of the room.
"Ok, let's get into it. Just like we rehearsed. Robert, thanks for helping, but no more singing soprano. It's a little freaky for a man of your size. Alice, babe, scoot over..."
Leaning against the back wall, an older gentleman watched the proceedings with amusement, a lit cigarette between his fingers as he stood apart. He went unnoticed in his gray suit and bowler hat, the only other spectator except Eileen.
Trevor turned to the musicians. "Mr. Hartley, if you please..."
Dressed in his white musician's jacket, Mr. Hartley lifted his shiny violin and placed it under his chin. Beside him a steerage passenger with a battered fiddle did the same, waiting for Mr. Hartley's lead. Trevor seated himself at the upright piano, waiting patiently. One of the stewards who had helped push the piano earlier whispered to him.
"Mr. Hale, there was a piano here the entire time! Right over there," his voice sounded incredulous as he pointed. "Why did you make us drag this piano the length of the ship?"
Trevor shrugged. "I like the tuning on this one..."
Mr. Hartley pulled back on his bow and began to play as the steerage passenger beside him matched him in a close harmony. It was a slow, simple melody that had a folksy, Irish quality to it.
As Claire listened, she blinked and tilted her head. She knew this music, it was familiar somehow. Her brow furrowed when she couldn't quite place it. She was certain she had heard it before. Claire turned beside her.
"Violet, what is-"
Violet shushed her silent and smiled, content that everything was going perfectly. Mr. Hartley and the fiddler repeated the first short phrase again, and then they paused. Suddenly the tempo increased as Trevor jumped in. His hand glissando'd down the keys with a flourish, playing along with several other musicians in accompaniment. The upbeat music sounded almost like an Irish ragtime.
The two violinists continued, the melody simpler with all the added parts. A cello provided the bass. Claire was more certain than ever that she had heard this before. Several people were smiling around her, moving with the music slightly, obviously familiar with it. Soon the upbeat phrase repeated, and in unison the crowd began to sing, making Claire look up in shock.
Poor old Johnny Ray, sounded sad upon the radio,
He broke a million hearts in mono
Claire couldn't believe what she was hearing. Once everyone had begun to sing the lyrics, the song had become recognizable. Glancing all around, she dropped her jaw in silent wonder at all the singing faces. As they continued unaware, she thought about what they would all say if they knew they were singing lyrics that wouldn't be written for nearly a century. Claire laughed and began to sing along.
You're grown, so grown,
Now I must say more than ever...
Behind where Eileen sat, William entered quietly, descending the staircase in slow steps. Eileen didn't notice as she watched the performance before her, her apprehension melted away as she sat and listened to the music with glee. Stopping at the foot of the stairs, William watched her without a word, smiling at how much she was enjoying the entire room singing to her. He held a single rose in his hands but he kept his place, waiting patiently.
Toora loora, toora loo rye aye,
We can sing just like our fathers,
Come on Eileen, oh I swear what he means,
At this moment, you mean everything...
Eileen laughed when she heard her name. Then, without knowing how, she sensed someone behind her and turned slowly around. She looked over at William as he stood there, idly turning the rose in his fingers as he watched her fondly. Her face changed instantly when she saw him, happy he was there. Without a word William approached her and extended his free hand. Cautiously, Eileen took it in hers, slowly rising from her chair and turning to him. She felt herself tremble, but not out of fear, instead on the verge of being overwhelmed as she lost herself in his eyes. She finally understood what Claire had meant, she hadn't before. She felt like she was floating.
In front of them, Trevor watched carefully as he played. The music filled the room, almost as if it were nudging William and Eileen forward, just as Trevor had intended.
Come on Eileen, oh I swear what he means,
Ah come on Eileen, let's take off everything,
That pretty red dress, oh Eileen tell him yes,
Oh come on let's, oh come on Eileen...
Eileen turned back to the crowd, her face aglow as several of the singers began to dance with the music, moving out of their places. The performance was quickly turning into a party. She looked over at William with eyes full of affection. He handed the rose to her, but said nothing. He didn't need to. He just waited. Eileen touched his hand in gratitude, thankful he wasn't going to force the question. They turned to watch the singing, dancing assemblage, holding on to and enjoying the moment.
We are far too young and clever,
And things won't ever change,
Come on Eileen, I swear what he means,
At this moment, you mean everything...
From where Claire stood, she watched William and Eileen carefully. Suddenly she noticed an expression come over Eileen's face and she recognized it. The moment had come. The moment when Eileen had to decide to finally follow her heart again, or run away from it.
The song slowed, as everyone began to chant together, watching Eileen carefully.
Come on, Eileen ta loo ra yae. Come on, Eileen ta loo ra yae. Come on...
Looking back to William, Eileen thought about her feelings for him. He watched her calmly, patiently, wanting nothing more than to be where he was, there with her. As Eileen looked into his eyes, she wondered what she had been afraid of. It now seemed foolish whatever it had been, irrelevant. With a determined expression, she leaned in close to him.
"William..." she asked.
He raised his voice to be heard over the music. "What is it, Eileen?"
"Will you have dinner with me?" She smiled.
He watched her in silence, not expecting in a million years that she would have been the one to have asked him instead. With a sudden laugh, he nodded. "Yes..."
She felt as if a weight had been lifted off of both of them. Before Eileen could stop herself she threw her arms around him, laughing herself even as the crowd behind burst into cheers. The music played, speeding back to the uptempo section as people began to dance all around them, singing.
From where Trevor continued to play, he watched as Eileen pulled back slowly, embarrassed at her rash outburst of affection. The look on William's face said that he didn't mind at all. Reaching over, she weaved his fingers between her own, a simple gesture that was full of warmth and hope. Two hands touching. Trevor smiled. That was really what it was all about. Connection. Everything else in the world was just stage dressing. Someone placed a hand on his shoulder and he looked up.
Claire stood next to him, pulling her hand from his shoulder as she leaned against the piano. He raised an eyebrow at her, wordlessly asking what she thought about what had just happened. Not wanting to concede the point, she rolled her eyes and exhaled. But finally she raised her hands and clapped them lightly towards him, showing her approval. Trevor nodded in thanks. Still leaning on the piano, Claire watched the room as it filled with the moving forms of dancing passengers.
Trevor looked over to the other side of the piano where John and Violet stood nearby, his arms wrapped over her shoulders as he held her close. Catching John's attention, he bobbed his head towards Claire, then to the dance floor. John understood as Trevor continued to play.
Whispering into Violet's ear, John slipped her out of his arms. He walked over to Claire and bent forward slightly, offering his hand in invitation onto the dance floor. Claire looked over in surprise, her face reluctant. Suddenly several women behind her began to push her out with John among the dancers.
Claire didn't show much enthusiasm as she and John stood among the dancing throng. She barely danced at all as John stepped and led her through the crowd. She had always loved dancing. But since Frank had left her she hadn't really felt the urge to. Dancing with John didn't seem right somehow, as if something, or someone was missing. So she stood in place, smiling as everyone danced around her.
Trevor watched her silently, disappointed she wasn't dancing, but pleased at the smile on her face. He hadn't seen it in too long. Watching her push a strand of hair away from her cheek, he was struck again at how beautiful she was. Even though he wished she would join the festivities, he was still happy she was enjoying herself.
His eyes wandered around the room, seeing faces he knew. Stella and David danced nearby. The McNamees held each other close. John was back in Violet's arms. Almost everyone danced, the party had truly begun.
Trevor nodded towards Mr. Brailey, who came over and continued to play once Trevor rose from his seat at the piano.
Trevor started towards William and Eileen, who were talking quietly by themselves at the foot of the stairs, before being stopped by Mr. Hartley.
"Mr. Hale, my apologizes but I've got to go. They are expecting me in first class."
"OK Wally, thanks again."
"I'll need Mr. Brailey and Mr. Bricoux as well..."