Trevor nodded."Take them, tell them thanks from me and that I still need Mr. Brailey later."
Mr. Hartley quickly moved over to Mr. Brailey at the piano, who upon seeing him, quickly cadenced the music to a stop. He rose and left with Mr. Hartley, followed by the cello player, Mr. Bricoux. All three tuxedoed musicians said their farewells and left, heading above. Several steerage passengers took their place. A clarinet player named Howard Irwin stepped forward and began to play some sheet music. It was a familiar tune to most of the steerage passengers, "Put your arms around me, Honey". As the dancing continued, Trevor turned back to William and Eileen, moving over to them as Claire fell in step beside him, curious as to what was next.
William and Eileen looked at them, puzzeled as Trevor waited with a smile.
"You two look good together," Trevor said. "I can really pick em. So. Let's get this thing started."
Eileen blinked. "What do you mean?"
"I promised William fancy and fancy is what the two of you are going to get. Fancier than a beer soaked dance hall in steerage, anyway." Trevor motioned behind him, and a few of the ship's stewards and stewardesses came out of the crowd. "My love minions here are going to get you dressed before you attend dinner in first class. It's still a little early to eat, but time is short. So let's get a move on.'
"Trevor," William began. "Can we have a little more time to-"
"No arguing. As a wise contemporary from Olympus once said, Just do it." Trevor sighed fondly. "The things she liked to do, you mortals have no idea."
The men led William away as the women did the same with Eileen. The two of them shared one more glance at each other, surprised at being separated so quickly. But as Eileen was led away, she was willing to see what Trevor had planned. Behind them the crowd burst into applause again, expressing their approval at finally seeing the long planned date begun at last.
Trevor stepped into the space William and Eileen had left behind, satisfied. Everything seemed to be working. Claire stepped up to where Eileen had stood, turning to Trevor as the party continued in the rest of the room. Crossing her arms she spoke softly, looking at him with the tiniest smile on the corner of her lips.
"All of this planning and execution, Trevor. All this effort. All for what could be just one night for the two of them."
Claire nodded. "For once, I can't find fault. You did good, Trevor."
He laughed. "Good thing I took your advice and didn't get involved."
Amused, Claire shook her head. "A broken clock twice a day..."
Out of the corner of their eyes they both noticed John and Violet standing silently behind them, watching them carefully. As Trevor and Claire turned to face them, the rest of the room feel silent as if on cue. The musicians stopped playing. Everyone slowly came closer, standing all around in a semi-circle. Now it was Trevor and Claire who were the center of attention as the entire room watched them, happy faces all around.
Violet stepped forward to speak. "And now for the two of you."
Claire looked over at Trevor, wondering if this was part of his plans. "Trevor, what is she talking about?"
Trevor seemed confused as he looked across the crowd. He had no idea what was happening. "I don't know, Claire."
Violet smiled. "The estimable Mr. Hale isn't the only one who can play at being Cupid. All of us have decided that we would like to show our appreciation. To the both of you. You've both been very generous and kind. Even if one of you believes we're something that isn't quite real, while the other believes he's something that isn't quite real either. You've both done a lot for us. For all of us. It's time we returned the favor."
Trevor leaned forward. "And you're going to do that by..."
Violet smiled. "This was William's idea, but we all agreed. We're sending you up top as well, to a first class meal together. We've arranged it all, everything is set. So come on dears, the evening awaits..."
Claire couldn't believe it. She lowered her eyes and smiled, touched by the gesture, even if the motivation was misguided. Trevor seemed genuinely surprised, not used to the tables being turned on him. They both looked at all the expectant faces that watched them from around the room.
Trevor snuck a nervous glance at Claire, embarrassed by what they were proposing. "Thank you, Violet. But I don't think that's such a good-"
Claire spoke at the same moment. "It's sweet of you, but Trevor and I aren't really romantically invol-"
Violet would hear none of it. "Now, now. Don't be as slow to realize how you feel as the two who just left. I've never seen two people who have needed, to borrow Trevor's colorful phrase, 'a kick in the arse', as much as you two. We've all seen it. So no more arguments. It's for your own good. You're going to dinner together and that's final. We won't hear no for an answer."
Claire blinked as she considered what they thought she felt for Trevor. "Trevor... I-"
Trevor didn't let her finish. "You don't have to do this, Claire."
Violet rolled her eyes. "If you need a pretext, so be it. We would like you two to observe William and Eileen, see if all our work pays off. How about it?"
Claire looked over the array of grateful faces before her. Trevor had done a lot to help a lot of people on the ship. Even if they were all figments in her head, as she still believed, somehow she didn't want to disappoint them. Trevor looked over at her in the same moment she turned to him.
He shrugged. "If you look at it that way... What do you say, Sparky. Mind a little recon mission?"
"Sure," Claire smiled. "Why not."
The music started up again as the crowd clapped and began to dance, resuming where they had left off, whirling all around the room as the music played. Violet moved over to Claire and took her by the arm. John laid a firm grip on Trevor's shoulder.
In a comforting voice, Violet led Claire away. "Come on love, we've things to do."
Claire and Trevor looked at each other as they moved apart. Trevor was suddenly jerked backwards forcefully. He found himself being dragged away against his will, surprised at John's strength. He called out to Claire.
"I'll see you in first class, love muffin!" he teased
She gave him a warm look, deciding not to argue, instead silently nodding her agreement with a smile. Violet led her away and out of view as Trevor disappeared with John, going the opposite direction. The four of them left an impromptu afternoon party running full bore behind them.
Quickly, Violet smuggled Claire into the small cabin she shared with several other female members of the crew. Claire looked around, uncertain of why she was there. Violet waited expectantly, as if it were obvious.
"Violet, I'm not really sure what you expect me to do."
"Get undressed, silly." Violet hurried over to he bunk and grabbed a very elegant dress that was draped over it. She picked it up and pressed it against Claire, trying to judge the fit.
"I don't know your size, Claire. But I have a pretty good eye for such things. We managed to acquire these clothes for you. Wouldn't want you to be traipsing around first class in steerage finery, would we? The dress isn't mine of course, I don't quite have your figure. But this should fit you nicely."
Claire looked down at the dress pressed against her. It was beautiful, like nothing she had seen in steerage, and certainly not something she would have expected to find in any simple crewman's wardrobe. Claire wondered where it had come from.
"Where did you get...?" she asked.
Violet looked uncomfortable. 'From a long and elaborate chain of people aboard ship that it would be better you didn't know about. Trust in our good intentions Claire, no matter where they're paved. The shoes, dress and undergarments are all there. I'll be here to help you with the corset of course."
"Corset?" Claire picked it up off the bed. "Aren't they a little... tight?"
"Well of course they're tight dear. That's the point."
Claire sighed. "What I wouldn't give for my favorite pair of sweatpants right now..."
"Come on love. Don't want to keep Trevor waiting."
John led Trevor through the cramped spaces under the bow of the ship where the firemen had their quarters. They passed an open shaft with a circular metal staircase leading downward. Heat and the smell of burning coal wafted up to them. Squeezing past several men covered in soot and sweat after finishing their shift, John lead Trevor to a room and placed him before a bunk.
Trevor looked down with a skeptical eye at the fancy tuxedo arrayed on the bed before him. He turned to John, who stood silently watching.
"Couldn't I just go as a waiter or something?"
John gave him a level look. "No," he said simply, his voice leaving no room for argument. As far as he was concerned, if Violet wanted to see Trevor in a clown suit, Trevor would be wearing it whether he wanted to or not. And Violet wanted Trevor to dress nicely for his dinner with Claire.
Trevor was about to ask for something else regardless, but stopped when he saw the glare in John's eyes as they looked down at him. John pushed the clothes over to Trevor, expecting to be obeyed.
Trevor nodded slowly. "Right..." He pursed his lips as he realized how big John actually was. "I think I see your point."
Without another word of argument, Trevor began to get undressed.
Claire waited at the foot of the grand staircase in first class, looking up in wonder. Above her a white glass dome glowed brightly over the exquisite wooden balconies circling one deck above. Wide steps curved gracefully down to the floor where she stood. The changes in the ship's appearance from third class to first were astounding. Small details predominated in everything, whispering of elegance and refinement. Like the repeating pattern of black triangles arranged in a geometric burst, spread through the white tiles under her feet. Or the small swirls and figurines carved into the polished brown wood of the steps, pillars and railings around her. It was like a different world, let alone the same ship.
As she waited, Claire nodded to the first class passengers who glided by, smiling politely as she tried to blend in. She took several nervous steps, looking for Trevor. He was late. As usual. A discreet distance away from her, one of the ship's stewards from first class waited as well, another participant in Trevor's plans. He had led her on a tour of the ship's upper decks after explaining that Mr. Hale was busy below decks and would be delayed. Now they both waited impatiently where Trevor had told the steward he would meet them.
As her eyes swept across the staircase, Claire suddenly focused on the statue before her. It was a small winged cherub made of bronze, standing at the end of the hand railing that cut across the wide steps leading upward. Amused, she walked up to the statue, looking it over as she thought about Trevor. He had been a busy little cherub himself the past few days. It was hard to imagine that in some way, he saw himself like this. Smiling, Claire lifted her hand and touched its wingtip, when out of nowhere Trevor was suddenly behind her.
"Sorry I'm late, Claire," he said over her shoulder. "Last minute brush fire I had to put out below decks. Think it's a losing battle, that one."
"Look at this, Trevor." Claire spoke without turning around. Still watching the cherub, she wrapped her knuckles against it, a faint tone sounding off the bronze surface. "Remind you of anyone?"
"If you're implying that I ever looked that doughy-"
"Actually," Claire glanced downward, "I was wondering if it was anatomically correct. You'll notice he doesn't have much of a-"
Claire stopped when she turned around and got her first good look at Trevor. He was dressed to the nines in an elegant dark tuxedo, its smooth lines well cut to his form. The image of him left her stunned. She couldn't remember him ever looking so... attractive. It was hard to believe this was Trevor Hale, delusional psychotic. When had he become so handsome?
It took her a moment to realize that Trevor had stepped back to gape in surprise at her as well. Mouth hanging slightly open, he drank in the sight of the long dark gown she wore, it's delicate fabric clinging richly to her figure but leaving her shoulders bare. When she moved, the bottom edges whispered softly against the floor. Her hands and forearms were encased in white silk gloves. She laced her fingers together as she held them before her, looking like a queen.
"Wow, Claire. That's a great... you look beautiful."
"Thank you Trevor." She self consciously brushed the front of her dress, straightening non-existent wrinkles. Looking up, she slowly reached for Trevor's collar with a smile.
"Trevor you've got, umm... it's a little....your bowtie," Claire chuckled nervously. "It's on crooked. Let me fix it."
"Thanks. Obviously me and little big John don't have much experience with these fancy duds. I still tie a hell of a toga, though. Did I mention how stunning you look?"
Claire's tiny smile beamed at the compliment. "I think you might have mentioned that. Violet did a great job picking out the dress." She pulled her hands back, finished.
"Only the best," Trevor acknowledged.
"Where'd she steal it from?" she said, catching him by surprise.
Trevor smiled to himself. He should have know he couldn't fool Claire. "From the cargo hold, actually. Yeah. Most of the supplies for this shin-dig are from there. A few harmless acquisitions in the name of love. Didn't expect that they would also pick out something for the two of us..."
"Well, it was sweet of them. Aren't you afraid that these 'harmless acquisitions will be missed?"
"I figured no one would really have the chance to notice since..."
Claire nodded. "You've got a point."
"Besides, it would have been a shame to waste that dress on the bottom of the ocean. You do it much better justice, Claire."
"Thank you, Trevor. You look... handsome yourself." She smiled at him. "Almost human."
He shook his head. "Be nice."
"Well, it's definitely an improvement."
"Sort of like everything else up here." Trevor looked around. "I guess humans like to live extravagantly to make up for the mortality thing. Look at this place. Right out of the movies."
"Which only reinforces my belief that this is all in our heads, Trevor."
"No," Trevor looked up. "Movies don't have this level of detail, Claire. Or dimension. Although a 3-D Kate Winslet would have been a thing to see." He looked over at her, running a hand over his ear. "Next thing you know I'll be giving old Leonardo a run for his money."
"Don't hold your breath, Trevor."
"I'll never understand why some women like the little boy look. Must be a mothering thing..."
"Sounds like someone is jealous..."
He gave her an enticing look. "If you're in the mood, I could always find a sketch pad and a couch..."
"Hmm, You don't have a grasp of reality, but I always knew you had a vibrant fantasy life. Nice to have it confirmed."
The steward nearby still waited, watching them without speaking several steps away. He coughed loudly into his hand to get their attention, causing them to look over.
Several of the other passengers around Trevor and Claire were already moving to either side of the grand staircase, gracefully descending the steps behind it to the next level below. They were on their way to the first class dining room, several decks down. The steward watched the two of them expectantly, rocking on his heels.
Claire turned to Trevor. "Shall we go?"
His face beamed. "Absolutely."
Trevor smoothly offered his elbow to her. Claire paused for a moment, considering the idea, before sliding her arm under his. Trevor sighed imperceptibly, a thrill coursing through his shoulders. The steward turned and led them downward as they followed just behind. They descended the grand staircase, circling slowly as they went deeper into the ship. Several passengers seemed to recognize Trevor.
"Good afternoon Mr. Hale. How have you been?" one man said, passing by without stopping as Claire turned a wary eye to Trevor.
"Trevor, how do all these people in first class know you?"
"I've snuck up here a few times when no one was watching. The lovelorn aren't always confined to third class." He glanced at her out of the corner of his eye, his meaning clear. "Even successful career types need a little help sometimes too..."
"There are hurricanes that could teach you a thing or two about subtlety, Trevor."
"Thank you, Claire. Nice of you to think so."
As they walked Trevor spotted someone and looked cornered.
"Oh crap," he said.
"What is it?"
"Just keep smiling, Claire. See that man by the door over there? I set him up with a woman. But it turned into a prequel to the crying game. He's still a little pissed at me. Walk faster..." Trevor began to push her along.
Once they were out of sight, Trevor took a deep breath. Claire gave him a look, smug about his failure.
"Hey," Trevor replied, "You can't win them all."
She nodded. "I know the feeling."
They continued down the stairs and stepped onto a carpeted landing on D deck filled with people moving around and talking quietly amongst the reception area chairs and tables, waiting for others to join them. The steward didn't pause, leading Trevor and Claire through the crowd and to two doors into the first class dining room, where they looked around in amazement.
The white ceiling shine brightly above, criss-crossed with a raised pattern of small beams that swirled around rows of chandeliers that pressed flush against the ceiling. Wooden pillars, painted white and elegantly shaped, marched down either side of the huge room. Filling the expanse were tables covered with white cloths, lushly aquisitioned with small flowers and dinner-ware sets. Several of the early arriving passengers were moving through the tables, dressed in their expensive finery and stepping with a stately patience. Claire spotted Mr. Hartley playing in a corner with four other string musicians, their soothing music softly filling the air.
Trevor glanced at Claire, her arm around his. He smiled again at how gorgeous she looked. Not looking forward as he walked, he inadvertently bumped into a small serving cart, making the plates on it clatter. Claire lowered her eyes and smiled, aware of the effect she was having on him. They followed the steward deeper into the room, doing their best to go unnoticed as just two more first class passengers being seated for an early dinner. The room slid slowly past, table after table, spread wall to wall. Finally the steward stopped them at a small setting for two near the back serving doors, tucked into an open alcove on the port side.
As Claire moved to her seat, Trevor stepped quickly around her before she could get there. Like a perfect gentleman, he held her chair out for her. She flashed him an amused look, not used to seeing Trevor chivalrous. Somehow that just wasn't his usual style. But she seated herself gracefully and said nothing, trying not to laugh as Trevor pushed her chair too far in, bumping her stomach.
She wiggled it back to get some room to breathe. "Thank's Trevor. I think I'm close enough."
Trevor darted back to the steward, whispering into his ear. "Nice job, my man. Everything okay with us being here?"
The steward nodded. "This table is unassigned. No one will even notice, Trevor."
"You did good, billy-boy. From this day forward you'll always have an 'in' with the god of love. So what do you have for me. Where are they?"
The steward pointed across the room and Trevor followed with his eyes. He smiled at what he saw, patting the steward on the back. "That's perfect. Thanks again. Thank everyone below too. Kiss Mary twice for me when you two hook up again. Your discretion as to where to kiss."
Once the steward left, Trevor walked over to his seat and sat down. Gaze still across the room, he began to slide his chair sideways around the table and up next to Claire. Surprised, she watched him and wondered what he was doing. He stopped once he was seated close beside her, both of them facing the same direction, Trevor noisily moved his plates over to where she was.
"Trevor, sit any closer and we'll both be sharing a corset."
"Hey, I'm game. Head's up Claire. There they are."
Claire followed his eyes and saw them. Arm in arm, William and Eileen were just entering the dining room as Trevor and Claire had earlier. Eileen wore an eye catching red dress, holding a single rose in her hands. William walked smoothly beside her, dressed well with his hand placed lightly on her arm. They didn't seem out of place at all, another first class couple. Trevor's thieves had done well in dressing them. But where Claire had been struck by the beauty of their surroundings, she didn't think that Eileen and William even noticed at all. As they talked softly, they kept giving each other small affectionate glances. One or the other would laugh here or there, genuinely happy. Claire could see they had eyes only for each other. She doubted they would have acted any differently walking through a field of deep mud. A steward led them to a table near the center of the room.
"A red dress, Trevor?" she asked.
"Good eye, Claire. It's good to eye Claire. You peepers are obviously as well made as the rest of you. I was hoping some of the song lyrics would subconsciously sink in. You know... that pretty red dress, I need you in less. I can play mind games too, you know."
"Yeah, but your home court's a mess..."