Trevor turned and looked across the room in the direction Claire pointed. He watched for several seconds before smiling at what he saw. "Niceness. I suppose this is round three for them."
Trevor considered it, recounting in his head. "You're actually right Claire. I'm impressed. The numbers lady strikes again. Four."
Eyes fixed across the room, the two of them walked behind a busy, crowded table, trying to keep themselves concealed so they could watch as discreetly as possible.
Across the room, William was slowly approaching Eileen. There was no one between him and where she sat on a bench against the wall. His every step forward was cautious, but of one thing he was certain. He was no longer afraid. Sensing him as he grew closer, Eileen looked up. Calmly she rose to her feet to face him, her stance uncertain. But this time the thought never crossed her mind to leave, because she knew she didn't want to. Instead, as they both stood before each other, they said nothing. Quietly they enjoyed the silence between them, enjoyed the thrilling sensation of the other being so close. Behind them the crowd moved and danced, not noticing their still forms. William smiled as he looked up at her, his face still angled to the floor. He didn't want to break the moment, but he felt he needed to say something.
"I, I suppose that.... Well, I guess I should say... Well..."
Eileen nodded. Somehow the awkwardness of his words sounded endearing. She actually enjoyed it. "I suppose hello would be nice."
Both took deep breaths as they considered what they were doing, trying to figure out just what they were supposed to say next. Until William realized that he still hadn't said it.
She looked at him, her expression soft. "Hello."
"I'm William, in case you've forgotten. I'll be happy to remind you, if you forget." As she looked at his smile, Eileen thought it could have caught the notice of a blind man at midnight.
She suppressed a chuckle as she thought about how she had treated him before. "No, I do remember this time. If you don't quite remember me, I'm Eileen."
Amused at the thought, he looked over at her. "Eileen you say? How could I forget." Looking downward, William skimmed his foot before him across the floor, for all the world like a nervous schoolboy. As Eileen drank in the sight of him, she knew he was far from that. Feeling herself staring, she turned her face away.
William glanced at her as she looked over into the crowd. Gazing at the lovely contours of her face, he felt his shoulders weaken. When she looked back at him, her bright blue eyes meeting his, William felt himself growing dizzy. He desperately needed something to say, something to uselessly try to get his mind off how stunning she was.
"So. Trevor told me this afternoon that you like Shakespeare."
That surprised her. "Yes I do. He's my favorite playwright. His every line of dialogue speaks like poetry."
William shared her enthusiasm, his voice growing quicker. "Oh, I understand completely. I'm a huge admirer of the good bard myself. Mother would have it no other way when I was growing up. See, she read his writing to me when I was a child. He's why she named me William."
"William? That's why you're called William?"
He seemed embarrassed. "Well, yes. As I said, she was an avid reader of his work."
Eileen smiled. "I suppose it could have been worse. She could have named you Puck."
"Perish the thought. Or perhaps Prospero."
"Prospero isn't so bad. But I don't see you as a Prospero."
"What do you see me as?"
Eileen fell silent, smiling to herself as she realized she had said to much of what she had been thinking. Her mind was filled with images of balconies and of a light which through yonder window breaks. "Never mind."
William looked away. 'Do you really believe what you said? Earlier, I mean. When you quoted Much Ado About Nothing?"
Eileen looked thoughtful as she recited. "Sigh no more, ladies. Sigh no more. Men were deceivers ever. One foot in sea and one on shore, to one thing constant never."
"Yes. That's the one. Do you really believe that of all men?"
She thought about it. "Sometimes."
William nodded, deciding to let it be. "I'm quiet fond of several of the sonnets, actually."
Eileen's eyebrows rose. "So am I."
"And I assume you've heard how Trevor considers himself the god of love."
"Most of the steerage passengers have. Still, they're willing to overlook it as simply good fun."
"Trevor's enamoured of Claire, although he would never admit it. The self-proclaimed god of love struck by his own arrow. It reminds me of one of the sonnets."
"154, I believe. The last one."
Eileen smiled. "Yes, I think I see, although 153 works just as well. I know them all. Let me think of how the last one reads. I remember now. The little love god lying once asleep."
Now it was William who was surprised. "You do know your Shakespeare," he said with approval. "I suppose Claire is the fairest votary that disarms him of his heart-inflaming brand."
Eileen smiled at the image. "Perhaps Trevor isn't the only one not admitting their feelings." She looked up at his curious glance. "Claire, of course. We had a long talk this morning."
William understood. "Sometimes it's hard for two people to admit the true feelings they have for one another." He paused for a second, watching her nervously. "Trevor and Claire, I mean."
"Of course," she replied, softly.
William lowered his eyes. "Trevor must have told you how he believes the ship will sink tomorrow."
Eileen's face grew somber as she considered it. But then she dismissed the idea. "It's just a story. Trevor's been trying to get us together since before he was even going by the name Trevor. It's very sweet of him... if a bit misguided."
William looked at her. Normally those words would have crushed him. But he could see in her eyes that neither of them believed that statement, not really.
"Perhaps," was all he said. Then he continued. "Still... I can't help but feel that the last line of the last sonnet is strangely appropriate."
Eileen tried to remember. "Love's fire heats water, water cools not love."
William nodded as Eileen smiled sadly. "If what Trevor says were true," she continued, "I suppose it is. Still, I wouldn't worry about it. No matter Trevor's good intentions, he's just trying to fashion us as star-crossed lovers."
"You mean like characters in a story someone is writing?"
Her words gave William an idea. If they were characters, then perhaps he should say the lines. He began to quote. "Love is a smoke raised from the fume of sighs. Being purged, a fire sparkling in lover's eyes. Being vex'd, a sea... nourished with lover's tears. What is it else? A madness most discreet. A choking gall and a preserving sweet."
Eileen felt her cheeks flush as he recited those lines. William looked straight at her, eyes as full of adoration as his voice was. She felt a warmth flow through her. "Romeo and Juliet," she said.
William continued. "Eileen, you doth teach torches to burn bright."
Eileen smiled at the compliment, recognizing the quote.
Across the room, Trevor and Claire continued to watch them talk. They couldn't hear what they were saying, but judging by the way they were smiling at each other, and leaning closer, it was going well. Looking over at Claire's face, Trevor realized she was showing far more interest in this than he would have thought. He looked back at William and Eileen.
"Is it just me, Claire, or does it seem to you like they're finally talking to each other? It's a beautiful thing."
"Nothing gets past you, does it Trevor? But I have to admit it does look like a promising first step."
"A first step into their new reality or our continuing delusion? You seem uncharacteristically attentive, Claire. Don't tell me you might actually believe this is real."
"No, I don't believe it's real. Still who knows. If we get the two of them together, maybe the delusional construct will dissipate."
Trevor nodded blankly, at a loss. "Exactly what I was about to say..."
Taking a breath, William finally found the courage to ask the question. "Eileen, as much as I've enjoyed quoting Shakespeare, in truth I came to ask you a question. To ask you again, actually. May I take you to dinner tomorrow?"
Eileen smiled at his persistence, and she paused to think about it. But by a paper thin margin, she didn't feel quite ready for that yet. Still, she couldn't deny she was enjoying his company. "Thank you very much William, but I don't think so. I've truly enjoyed talking with you like this. Why ruin it?"
"Well, we most likely would be talking during dinner. So why don't we just consider it an extended conversation with food involved?"
She laughed silently to herself. "I don't think so. But thank you again. For asking. It's quite flattering of you to do so. It brightened my evening. But for now, I think it would be better if I take my leave of you. Goodnight... good William." Elated and aglow, she turned to leave. But as she began to walk away, she suddenly pictured herself running, an image she didn't like. Stopping, she turned back to William, considering her feelings.
"On second thought, let me just say I'll... think about it. Ask me again tomorrow. Assuming the offer will still stand then?"
William couldn't believe it. His face shone as he nodded. "Tomorrow. And every day after that, will that offer stand fair lady."
She gazed at him warmly. "Very well, then. We'll see. Tomorrow." Eileen began to walk away again, her face beaming with happiness. Then she turned and gave him a look.
"And by the way, William. You could teach torches a thing or two yourself."
Without another word she turned and left, leaving William behind, floating on air.
In a blissful haze, William walked over to Trevor and Claire, who had watched the entire thing from where they stood.
"So," Trevor asked expectantly. Claire stood at his side, just as eager. "How did it go?"
William looked over at Trevor as if seeing him for the first time, an amazed expression on his face. As he answered, Trevor wasn't even sure William had heard the question. "She said she'd think about it. That I should ask her tomorrow."
Claire seemed a little disappointed, but it was good news in Trevor's mind. "Close enough. Time for the end game." Trevor darted enthusiastically across to a man seated at the table near them, speaking into his ear.
"Hey, the Willy and Eileen thing's a go," he said. "We need everything set for tomorrow."
The man smiled and nodded in understanding. Putting his drink down, the man got up to move around the table and speak to another of his colleagues there, whispering plans. Trevor moved back to William and Claire, joining them as they walked slowly across the room.
"So William," Claire was saying. "I assume you will be asking Eileen again tomorrow?"
He looked certain. "Absolutely. A day's not too long to wait."
Trevor nodded beside them, as if he had heard the whole thing. Behind them, the man Trevor had spoken to finished his instructions. The second man rose and moved to a third, who after a few seconds moved to a fourth, a woman, and so on. As Trevor, Claire, and William walked, the ever growing activity slowly followed them like a wave across the room. Soon over a dozen off-duty crew and passengers had jumped into action amongst the revellers, discussing plans.
Claire began to notice, watching in wonder at the effect following behind, growing larger. As she walked, she turned an astonished gaze to-
Smiling he looked back at her. "Just a little pre-positioning, Claire."
Beside her, William saw the same activity as well, just as amazed as Claire was. He laughed aloud. "I hate to keep bringing this up, Trevor. But Eileen still hasn't agreed to have dinner with me."
Trevor wasn't fazed. "I know. But in case she does, and she will, there's nothing wrong with getting a little head start. When you're from the future, you tend to plan ahead."
Claire circled slowly as she looked around, taking it all in. Beside her Trevor stopped as well, watching like a conductor while his orchestra performed under his appreciative gaze. Absently, William continued to walk, wandering off with a smile on his face, engrossed with thoughts of Eileen.
Claire could clearly make out the people in the room that Trevor had co-opted into his plans. Briefly she heard the names of William, Eileen, and Trevor being bandied about. And occasionally she could hear them saying 'Claire' as well, while making quick glances at her and Trevor that Trevor didn't notice. She decided not to argue with Trevor's tactics. His motives were good in any regard. She turned back to him.
"I have to admit, Trevor. You seem to have things well in hand."
He shrugged. "Not quite yet. The only beings flightier than the gods are humans. Well, maybe a fairy or two. We'll have to wait and see."
"Hmm. Regardless, Trevor. Even if this all does work out according to your plan, tomorrow is Sunday. April 14th. One day. That's not much time for a love affair." She didn't have to elaborate on what she referred to.
Trevor nodded, aware of her point. But his face was still hopeful as he faced her. "Still worth it, Claire."
Claire smiled back at him, not really surprised. It was Trevor, after all. And although she would never admit it to him in a hundred years, for once she agreed.
It was early the next morning when Claire woke in a dim light. For a moment she forgot where she was, her eyesight hazy with sleep. As she tried to blink herself awake, she imagined she saw a curtain of bubbles rising before her. She shook her head in confusion when the image didn't dissipate. Then her vision cleared. Lifting her head off the pillow, she propped herself up on one elbow and looked over to Trevor's bunk, across from hers, and found he was gone.
She got no response. Still sleepy, Claire slowly rose from bed. Standing there, she rubbed her eyes as she yawned. She wondered where Trevor had gone off to so early in the morning. Silently, Claire walked over to the small round porthole on the outer wall of their cabin. Looking through with a smile, she gazed out upon the ocean beyond, sparkling in the minute old sunrise.
It had been quite an enjoyable evening last night. After William had left, she had sat down to talk with Violet and John, before moving on to many of the other passengers, speaking with most for the first time. In some way she couldn't explain, she felt more comfortable with them now than she had before. Perhaps it had been from watching Eileen. Seeing her set aside her doubts and move on, finding the courage not to run from what she wanted. Even if Eileen was only an illusion, it made her feel better. She had enjoyed herself. Talking and laughing with all the imaginary people.
As she looked out upon the ocean waves, the crisp air cold in her cabin, it struck her. It was finally Sunday morning. If this illusion followed the course of history, it was the last morning light Titanic would see. The thought sobered her good mood.
And then, she thought about Trevor. Thought about what he would probably say, had said already for that matter. She could almost hear his voice. All the more reason to start early. Looking over at his empty bunk, she felt lucky that he was with her. And she didn't mean only on the ship.
Smiling again, Claire looked back out over the ocean, feeling suddenly buoyant.
"Carpe diem," she whispered happily, as she turned to get dressed.
The mid-morning sun glowed warmly above when Claire fell quietly into step beside Eileen. As they walked slowly across the aft promenade, Eileen looked over at Claire, saying nothing as they enjoyed the sea air. Sunshine fell onto their faces. An ocean breeze whispered cooly across the deck. Moving aft, they passed passengers seated on the wooden benches nearby. A ship's crewman walked past, nodding politely at the two of them. They nodded silently back. After he left, Claire finally spoke.
"So. Big day."
Amused, Eileen glanced at her. "You make it sound like a prize fight."
"Well, hopefully nothing so combative. But William knows he's going to ask, and you know he's going to ask. And now you've both had a full night to think about it, so... What are you going to tell him?"
Eileen stopped and took a deep breath. "I'm going to tell him... yes." She seemed relieved to have said it.
Smiling, Claire touched her on the shoulder. They both laughed softly. "That's... wow, that's great Eileen. I'm happy for you. For both of you. You've made the right decision. It's worth seeing where this could go."
"I'm going to tell him yes." Eileen restated it simply, the words easier the second time. Then doubt flowered across her features. "At least... I hope so."
Claire didn't understand. "What do you mean?"
"Don't get the wrong idea, Claire. I want to have dinner with William." Her face brightened. "I really want to. I don't think I have ever wanted something so much in my entire life. But I don't think I've ever felt so nervous either. Not even on my wedding day-" She corrected herself. "My almost wedding day, I mean. So just because I want to say yes, and plan to say yes, and hope to say yes, that doesn't mean that when I'm faced with it, that yes... is what will come out. How do I know that I won't ..."
Claire smiled. "Run away? Say no?"
"Exactly. I hope I don't do that. I really want to spend some time with him, just the two of us." Her voice sounded worried. "What am I to do?"
Claire gave her an encouraging look. "Have faith in yourself, Eileen. In the end that's all you can do. But that's all it takes. No one is going to tie you down or force you to accept his invitation. But if being with William is what you really want-"
"It is, Oh my, it is."
"Then you're the only one who can say yes." Smiling, Claire looked away. "But I wouldn't worry too much about it."
Eileen seemed confused. "Why? What do you mean?"
"Well Eileen, let me tell you a little secret. William absolutely adores you. I have a hunch he'll understand if you panic and say no. And then he'll probably ask you again tomorrow."
Eileen laughed. "And the day after that?"
Claire smiled. "Sure thing. He's got his own faith, like you," she said with encouragement. "And besides, you both deserve this."
Eileen raised an eyebrow as she looked at her. "The same could be said for some other couples I know."
Claire watched the ocean happily, but said nothing.
Walking beside her, Eileen crossed her fingers. "I'm hoping that you're right and he doesn't change his mind. But the 'yes' may be the easy part. What would we do? What would we talk about?" Eileen seemed both nervous and intrigued by the prospect.
Claire nodded. "Well when you care about each other, the most mundane things become fascinating. You both have a leg up since you're so taken with each other. Everything seems riveting when it comes from someone you love. Most people have to come around to that point, and it takes them by surprise before they even realize they felt that way. Still, don't fall victim to unrealistic expectations either. You got to expect the occasional lull, here and there. With you and William, you can always fall back on Shakespeare I suppose. But I don't think it will be a problem, to be honest."
Eileen looked at Claire eagerly. "I guess what I'm really asking is when would it be appropriate for me to... Well, when can I..."
Eileen smiled. "For starters..."
"Hmm. It varies."
"How did you first kiss Trevor?"
Claire looked nervous. "This isn't about me and Trevor, it's about you and William."
Eileen seemed amused by Claire's reluctance. "Well, since we're sharing, I thought-"
"Don't change the subject. As for knowing when to kiss William, there's no set signal. With the men I've been with, that first kiss has sometimes been obvious, other times it's been a surprise that has come out of nowhere."
"But what about the the first time you kissed Trevor?"
"Look, I have nothing to say about kissing Trevor, OK?" Claire knew that wasn't evasive, just the truth. But as her mind wandered, she touched her lips with her fingers as if she were thinking, but Eileen knew better, more sure of her suspicions than ever.