Saturday morning dawned cool and clear over the broad expanse of the mid-Atlantic. Stretching calm and blue to the horizon, the open sea sparkled under the bright light of the new day. The water was empty and serene, far from the trials and troubles of people or nations.
Then a ship steamed into view. Small against the great expanse of water, it pushed its way forward white painted superstructure glistening bright in the morning air. Slowly it grew larger, it's mighty prow cutting through the waves that crashed far below the great ship's name, painted above its slung anchor. Titanic. Trailing the ship, the wake of the vessel's passage frothed and churned a path in the water. A path that in the distance behind faded away into calm ocean again, like a forgotten memory.
In the foreground the ship sailed on as it bathed in the new sunlight angling down from the eastern sky at its back. Sunlight which warmly cascaded along the ship's port side as it steered slightly south. Row upon row of round portals marked the riveted hull. Behind one of those openings was a small cabin where the golden rays cascaded through the portal to fall in a shaft of light onto the wooden deck within.
The shaft fell between Claire and Eileen as they sat in Claire's cabin, seated across from each other on the room's two small bunks. The light reflected off the floor, bouncing onto their faces in a soft illumination as they huddled together. They had been talking for over an hour, a quiet discussion that had obviously been one of some soul searching. Both seemed calm and introspective, but the remnants of the exposed feelings they had discussed could still be heard in their voices. Eileen had poured her heart out to Claire, telling her everything about her fears... her hopes. And Claire had listened. And had done her best try and help.
"Eileen," Claire was saying, her voice reasonable and caring. "You're still pushing William away."
Sighing to herself, Eileen closed her eyes. "Is that what I'm doing?"
Claire nodded. "Yeah. Yeah it is."
Eileen looked away. "Well... maybe it's for the best in the end."
Claire smiled. "You're not a very good liar, Eileen. I see in your face that you don't believe that. You feel something for William. He feels something for you. So why not?"
"After what happened at my wedding, I don't think that-"
Claire reached out and held Eileen's hands between her own. "Look, I know what happened to you was rough. It would be on anybody. I mean, your fiance left you at the altar. The absolute worst place to tell you he doesn't love you."
Eileen sniffed, remembering. "It's not really even that. For the longest time afterwards, I just assumed it was another woman. There had to be a reason he did what he did. A secret affair, or an attraction to someone else I didn't know about yet. I would still run across him here and there. So I waited to find out who it was. But there was never anyone else. What he told me was true. It wasn't someone stealing him away. He just wasn't in love with... me."
"You're right," Claire said. Eileen looked over as Claire continued. "Don't you see that it wasn't about anyone else but him and his feelings? It was his decision not to marry you. His. It was in no way your fault."
Eileen shook her head. "But it forced me to evaluate things, Claire. Evaluate myself. I keep asking the same question. Why? Why didn't he love me? I absolutely adored him. I loved him with all my heart and yet... he still left. I guess I just wasn't good enough."
Claire leaned forward. "No, that's not true. Don't believe that for a second. Just because he didn't love you doesn't mean you didn't deserve it. Love's unpredictable. You can know someone, be side by side and spend every day with them and it doesn't matter. Sometimes the love you hope for... just isn't anything more than a delusion. No matter how much you want it to be real. It's nobody's fault. But in the end... you can't force someone to love you. I should know."
Eileen gave her a curious look but didn't say anything. She waited instead for Claire to tell her.
Claire's expression became thoughtful, the sunlight's glow bright on the edge of her face. She reached behind her and picked up a pocket watch from the bunk she sat on. Claire had found it in her, in Mrs. Collins', baggage. Looking down at it, she turned it between her fingers as she continued.
"There was a man. A man I loved very much." She paused, it was hard to talk about. "His name was Frank."
"Before Mr. Colli-, before Trevor?"
Claire seemed uncomfortable. "After what he's been telling people about me, I'd rather not discuss my relationship with Trevor right now, since I'd like to keep my good mood. Anyway, Frank and I were together for almost a year. It still hurts to think of him sometimes, but I'm learning to deal with it. Frank was the one who ended it with me."
"I'm so sorry, Claire. Why did he end it? Didn't he love you anymore?"
"No, that's just it. He told me he would always love me. But, he felt that... that it was me who didn't love him. We had an argument. And somehow he got the absurd idea that I was in love with someone else and wasn't admitting it to myself. Someone I... spend a lot of time with. I tried to convince him he was wrong, but he didn't believe me. So he left. In the end, he let me go because he loved me. It's what I've been trying to tell you. I couldn't force him to stay."
Eileen smiled. "But then you found Trevor. He must have been a comfort."
Claire's face brightened as she thought about how Trevor had been trying to cheer her up. "Sometimes."
Despite all her protests about Trevor, Eileen recognized the look in Claire's eyes. It was the look she still hoped to see in William's eyes. A look she both feared and yearned for. Seeing it in Claire somehow made her feel better, feel happy for her.
Claire turned back to Eileen. "Anyway, my point is you never know where you'll find the next love of your life. It could be someone you see everyday. Or... a chance encounter on a cruise travelling home. But I do know every person you meet is different. William isn't the man who left you at the altar. Just like you're not the same woman inside. Maybe William could love you if you let him. And I honestly think you could love him."
"I wish I were as certain, Claire. I really can't say how William feels or even how I feel. I barely even know him."
Claire smiled. "Sometimes that doesn't matter. With Frank, I just knew. Instantly. Even though it took me awhile to come around and accept that. It was wonderful when we were together. I remember how even the air felt different, fresh, new. Like my heart was a balloon holding my body up. I see the same things when I look at you and William. It's a rare thing. Don't throw it away."
Eileen sighed, grateful for Claire's encouragement. "Thank you, Claire. I know it is. I'll have to think about it."
Claire looked at her happily. "Make sure you do. Sometimes love can come from unexpected-"
Suddenly the door to the cabin swung open as Trevor burst in. "Hey Claire, I was wondering-" He stopped in mid-sentence as he realized Claire wasn't alone. After a moment he closed the door quietly. Slowly Trevor stepped into the room.
"-directions." Claire finished.
Eileen smiled to herself as she rose off the bunk, smoothing her skirt. She turned to Trevor. "Good morning Cupi-, excuse me... I meant Mr. Hale. Claire and I were just engaging in a little girl talk amongst friends."
"Really? Hope it was productive. Claire's kind of a pro."
"Actually it was. Thank you again Claire. I'll see you later on deck."
"Goodbye, Eileen. Think about what I've said."
Eileen placed a hand on Claire's shoulder with affection. As she moved past Trevor, she looked him over, searching for something. "What ever happened to your wings? Lose them with your bow?" Without waiting for an answer she left the cabin.
Trevor watched her leave in wonder. Turning back to Claire he smiled, not quite believing it. "You told her who I am?"
Claire was lost in thought, until she realized what Trevor had asked. "No, I told her who you only think you are."
"I figured why should all the passengers be limited to talking about my 'condition' when you have a perfectly good dementia all of your own. Eileen relayed to me what you allege I like to do when-"
Trevor couldn't hide his smile. "Look, I'm sorry about that. I was just having a little fun."
"At my expense, Trevor. Anyway, it does explain some of the strange looks I've been getting."
"Only some. So what did you two girls talk about?"
"Everything. Life. Love. William. How I think she should take a chance and see what happens."
Trevor blinked, surprised. "So we're actually on the same page about this? Wow. That's..."
Claire smiled up at him from where she sat. "Frightening, I know. But don't get the wrong idea, Trevor. I still believe we're imagining all this, I've just changed my approach a bit. Who knows if this is all just a metaphor. By resolving some off the conflicts here, maybe we'll be able to wake up."
Trevor could tell she was just trying to find justifications for caring, but didn't want to bring that up. "If you say so, Claire."
She looked down at the pocket watch she held.
Claire ignored Trevor's attempt to annoy her. "I think I should give you this." She handed the watch over to him.
As Trevor took it he looked over at her, not quite understanding what she was doing. "What is it?"
"I found it in my luggage, Trevor. Well, Mrs. Collins' luggage. It's a honeymoon present, I think. From Mrs. Collins to Mr. Collins. So I ... well, considering who everyone thinks we are... I thought I might as well give it to you."
Trevor was speechless. As he looked down at the watch he held, he didn't know what to say. He flipped open the lid only to find an inscription written on its other side, pressed into the new metal.
We'll always know each other,
Because true love... remembers.
He was very touched by Claire's unexpected gesture. Smiling, he looked over at her. She waited for a snide comment. But for once, Trevor decided to just say-
"Thank you, Claire."
She blinked at the sincerity in his voice. "You're welcome, Trevor."
Carefully Trevor closed the lid and placed it in his pocket, enjoying the feel of it's weight there. He looked back at Claire where she sat bathed in the morning light. "Since I told you a little about William. What can you tell me about Eileen? Give me a scouting report."
"Actually, her and William are going through similar problems. Loss and rejection. They're both afraid to risk falling in love again, Trevor. Still dwelling on how their last relationships ended. If they could get past that, I think the two of them could work."
"That's true of a lot of people in this room. Love heals, Claire. Like any other wound. But they'll never stop pulling off the old scabs unless we can actually get them talking to each other."
"Gee, Trevor. That's a pleasant metaphor for love."
"We need to find something to connect them. Something they have in common. Any ideas?"
"Well, Eileen's a big fan of Shakespeare."
Trevor smiled. This was a stroke of luck. "You just said Shakespeare, right?"
The nightly gathering in the third class open area had become something of a ritual. But tonight that ritual was about to turn into a fight. Slowly more and more people in the noisy crowd began to take notice as an exchange grew more heated in the middle of the room. Three men confronted a fourth as a worried young woman watched from just behind. The three men were her father and two brothers. And they didn't approve of the closeness with which the man they accosted had been talking to her.
"Father, please!" She pleaded. "Just calm down. We were only talking."
The three of them didn't budge, instead watching the man before them like a wolf that had walked into their front yard, their bodies tensed. Seeing she was having no success, the woman turned to the young man they faced.
"I apologize for this, David." Her father glared over at her suddenly and she cringed, knowing she had just inadvertently revealed that the two of them were on better terms than she had let on. "Mr. Bowen, I mean."
Her father's voice was stern. "Stay out of this, Stella."
One of her brothers piped in as well. "Absolutely. You've no business being near the likes of a Welshman like him."
Stella whirled around angrily, taking offense. "Oh go on, Douglas! You're my brother, not my keeper. I've twenty years in this skin, which is two years longer than you. And before you start, I have a year on you too, Georgie! Are the lot of you to spoon-feed me as well?"
Douglas glared at her. "If need be!"
For his part, the man they accosted stood his ground. David Bowen was young and lean, a boxer from Cardiff, and he felt not the least bit intimidated by the hulking, angry forms of Stella's father and two brothers. He stood there silently with his arms crossed, matching the three men glare for glare. Without a word, another man sidled confidently out of the crowd in support of David. He was another boxer travelling with him named Leslie Williams. Eyes moving across the men who confronted them, he spoke to David.
"Everything under thumb here Davey-boy?"
David smiled. "Couldn't be better, Leslie."
Watching David's expression, Stella's father suddenly felt the urge to mop the floor with the faces of two smug little boxers. Stella quickly stepped in front of her father before he could do anything. The large man looked ready to fight. "You stay away from my daughter! For lightweight champion or no, I'll box your ears!"
Stella shook her head. "Father, please..."
Suddenly a man appeared from the crowd and stepped between the two sides, breaking the tension that was blatantly palpable between them.
"Whoa!" Trevor said. "Hold it, time out! Time out!" He made a T-sign with his hands, not noticing the confused looks around him. "Let's just take a second to cool off a little." He turned to Stella's father.
"Hi there. I'm Trevor Hale. I didn't catch your name?" He waited expectantly for a response.
Stella's father, startled by Trevor's sudden intrusion into the situation, blinked as he answered. "John. John Sage."
"Mr. Sage, I'm sure that all we have here is a little mis-understanding. Here, let me get you a drink, we'll talk this out."
Gently Trevor turned Mr. Sage away and led him back into the crowd. Stella's two brothers still glared over at David, but eventually they followed. Leaving last, Stella gave David a sympathetic look that said volumes. A look that said they would definitely meet again in secret, as they had been doing the past few days. The other boxer, Mr. Williams, calmly took David by the shoulders and turned him around as well, giving him a comforting pat on the back as they walked away. The two parties dispersed in opposite directions, almost as if a bell had been rung.
Claire stepped out of the crowd of spectators as it dispersed, moving into the space left behind. She looked in the direction Trevor had left, over to where he was talking to Mr. Sage on Stella and David's behalf. Reluctantly, Mr. Sage seemed to be coming around. A second ago it had seemed to her that Trevor was walking into what looked to be a brawl. When she had tried to push forward to stop him from getting involved, the crowd had gained interest in the confrontation and had inadvertently blocked her. But now, the next thing she knew, it was over and everyone had retreated peacefully.
"What happened?" She asked no one in particular.
Two people came out of the crowd, Nurse Jessop and another man, holding hands. "Hello, Claire," she said. "Mr. Hale stepped into the thick of it before any punches were thrown, thank goodness. Just in the nick of time."
Pleasantly surprised, Claire looked over at the man with Violet. "I'm sorry. I don't believe we've met."
"Oh," Violet said. "This is John Priest, Mrs. Allen. He's one of the ship's firemen."
Claire smiled. "Oh. Well, I see."
John smiled down at Violet as he spoke in a deep voice. "Nice to meet you Mrs. Allen." He was obviously a man of few words.
Claire nodded. "Nice to meet you." She gave Violet a look of approval. Violet's face was beaming.
"Well," Claire said, "I didn't mean to intrude. Umm, carry on," she laughed.
"Thank you Claire. And please thank Mr. Hale as well." The two of them looked at each other as they stepped away into the crowd, engulfed in the other's company. Claire watched them walk away, pleased for the both of them. They continued to laugh and talk as she followed them with her eyes. Then Trevor appeared at her side.
He let out a relieved breath. "That was a close one. Almost blew up in my face. Who knew that Stella had such a big, burly, farmer family on board with her on this trip?" He broke into his best Rainman impersonation. "Next time, more research. Definitely more research. Definitely."
"You put Stella and David together?"
"Yeah, Thursday night. I'm going to have to keep my eye on them now. Humans are always so high maintenance."
"Hmm. You've been busy. I just saw Violet and her new fireman. Your handiwork?"
Trevor nodded. "A love-god's work is never done."
"Don't you sleep, Trevor?"
"I'll sleep when I'm human."
"Isn't that supposed to be sleep when your dead?"
"The difference being?"
Claire looked around the room, wondering how many Trevor had tried to 'help'. It was filled with music, and laughing, happy people. "So Trevor, what's you current tally?"
Trevor smiled. "Thought you would never ask." He subtly leaned in closer to her, their faces nearly touching as he directed her attention around the room.
He pointed at a couple seated together, talking softly. Something about the ease with which they carried themselves around each other said they had known each other for years. "That's Mr. and Mrs. Neal McNamee. They weren't speaking to each other a few days ago. Probably heading for a split, a divorce, or years of misery staying together .I convinced them that sometimes love deserves a fourth chance."
"Yeah. It comes before the fifth and the sixth."
Softly Trevor reached up as he stood behind her and held her shoulders, before he suddenly swivelled her around, helping her keep her balance. Claire almost smiled, facing in a new direction. When the room had spun around her, full of light and music, she had felt for a second like a little girl on a merry-go-round.
"Over there Claire. See that very cute girl standing by the pillar with that young man? Mine. One Mr. Ernest Portage from Notting Hill and one Laura Cribb." Another dizzying spin. "And in the far corner over there you can just make out the delighted faces of one of the galley cooks with a waitress from first class." Yet another spin, this time Claire couldn't help but smile. "Then there's the rather dapper fellow named Robert you're now looking at. I unsuccessfully tried to set him up with an eager red-head, but it didn't take. Still, he found the spunky blond he's with all by himself. More power to him."
When he spun her again, Claire held his arm, the spins getting more elaborate. "Our next contestants are the charming older couple by the stairwell, newly introduced by a kind supporter, namely me. While on the other side of the room are... wait, a bunch of people I've never met. Forget that. Over here... hmmm. An empty table. Sorry, bad aim." Trevor lifted her hand and spun her without pretense beneath it. Claire laughed as he twisted her in a complete 360 degree circle before stopping her again.
"Trevor, are you pointing out actual people you've helped or are you just using this as an excuse to trick me into dancing with you?"
"Well, somebody has to." Trevor took her in his arms as he dance stepped around her. "We could teach these people a thing or two about those swing dance lessons we had..."
Claire whirled away from him as Trevor held her hand, before spinning back into him. They were completely out of sync with the music but they didn't care. Claire stopped after a few seconds, smiling at him.
"Ok Trevor," she said happily. "That'll be enough. Swing dancing's just going to have to wait a couple more decades."
"I suppose," he agreed reluctantly. "Dance fads are always so cyclical..."
Claire caught a glimpse of something in the crowd. She watched for several seconds before smiling at what she saw. She tapped Trevor on the shoulder. "Trevor, look..."