Waiting to Live, Waiting to Die
I’m having dreams of shrieking people, freezing water, and pale, motionless faces. I’m not scared, just resigned. I know those things are coming.
I wake up early the next morning because of the nightmares. I can’t fall asleep without hearing the howling.
I want to take a shower, but our suite doesn’t have one. I read somewhere that only a few first-class suites had personal bathrooms. Obviously, our room is not one. I don’t know where the bathrooms are for first-class, so I try to get dressed instead.
We only have one dress each. Paige and I could switch just to shake it up, I guess. I quickly find I can’t lace up the corset by myself. I start crying. It’s the first time I’ve cried since we landed in 1912. I’m crying because the whole situation frustrates me and I’m pissed it’s happening to us, but I’m crying mostly because I’m sad. I miss my parents and our lives in 2019. Now I’m mad that I’m crying in the first place. It won’t help or send us home, and that just makes me cry more.
There’s pressure on my shoulder and I know it’s Paige. She gives me a reassuring squeeze and comes to sit in front of me. The silver lining to this whole thing is the fact that Paige is here with me and I’m not alone. I’m not sure I could handle this otherwise.
“Are you okay?” Paige asks, giving me a look filled with so much sympathy it almost makes me cry again.
My throat feels closed off, so I just nod. I exhale, closing my eyes. I need this intake of cool air to renew me. No more moping about, that sure as hell won’t fix anything.
“I can’t lace up the corset by myself. I was trying to let you sleep. I’m sorry if I woke you,” I reply after a moment.
Paige smiles at me briefly then pats me to turn around. We both stand up and Paige laces up my corset as she had last night.
I wonder if anyone can do these up by themselves, perhaps with the practice of having done it for years.
“Were you crying because you couldn’t lace up the corset?” Paige asks after a second of silence. I laugh one humorless laugh.
“No… well sort of. The thought that I can’t even do this by myself made me feel sad and helpless. I’m helpless to get home and I’m helpless to lace up my own freaking corset. I didn’t sleep well either. I had nightmares of dead bodies in the water. Everything just hit me at once is all,” I tell her. Paige nods once stepping back from me to grab my dress.
Paige is amazing that way. She’s quiet so people think she’s weird because she’s a cello freak with little to no friends. Really though, she has a fiery, sarcastic personality, and she’s funny without even trying to be. She’s fine with the way she is and she never tries to change herself to fit in. She is comfortable in her own company and she’s so ridiculously sympathetic. Sometimes I wish I was more like her.
“I didn’t sleep well either. Nightmares too. Anyway, we better hurry and get dressed so we can get some breakfast before your date,” Paige says as she buttons up the back of my dress.
“Ha-ha, hilarious. It’s not a date,” I shoot back, but I feel myself blushing at the thought of my walk with William. Paige raises her eyebrows at me before helping me with my stockings and shoes.
“Whatever. We better do something with your hair. You look like you just got electrocuted,” she says, smiling at me a little. I give her a dirty look, but I sit down on the vanity stool so she can brush it. Paige brushes and braids my hair until it looks decent.
“Thank you, Paige,” I say standing up and hugging her. I hope she knows how appreciative I am to her for all she does for me, knowingly or not. She hugs me back with no hesitation.
I help Paige dress quickly and do her hair. We leave the room and head to breakfast. When we get into the corridor, we see William walking towards us. He smiles when he sees me. His smile is infectious and I can’t help smiling back.
“Good morning to ya,” William says, bowing his head.
“Morning,” Paige replies politely back, then walks up the hall in front of us. William holds out his arm for me to take and we start down the corridor after Paige.
Ship employees are waiting to open the doors for us when we arrive at the dining hall. I smile at them feeling super weird to have people doing things like that for me. I mean people open doors for you if they arrive at the door first, but that’s just out of courtesy, it’s not their job.
I suppose some hotels have door people, but not one we’ve ever been to. My parents do pretty well for themselves, but they’re not wealthy by any means. That’s what the first-class is though; wealthy people.
These wealthy people are much more sophisticated than rich people where I come from. Rich people in 2019 are self-made millionaires like Bill Gates and actors and actresses. They don’t hold the same level of sophistication as these people do. Maybe Queen Elizabeth and the Royal family, but that’s a different country and a different time.
William leads us to a free table. As we sit down, a server comes over trying to offer something to drink.
“Just water, please,” I say to him. Olivia smiles and nods at him to get her the same.
“I’ll have some tea, please,” William tells the server. Ha, typical European. The server nods once at us before leaving our table. We all sit there quietly for a moment before Olivia finally speaks.
“So, William, tell us about yourself,” she says, smiling at him. He smiles back and tells us about his childhood and where in Ireland he grew up.
It’s fascinating to hear firsthand how someone in the past lived. If I wasn’t so freaked out about how we got here and what would happen in the coming days, it would be more fascinating being in the past and living it first hand.
As it is, I can’t enjoy the experience because fear is my constant companion at the moment. We now have less than three days before the ship strikes the infamous iceberg.
I’ll take the alone time I’ll have when Olivia is with William to go back to that promenade deck. I’m hoping I’ll get some clue to let me know I’m on the right track to get home.
Breakfast comes before long and we eat. William and Olivia speak to each other mostly, which allows me time to reflect. I’m not much on talking to people unless they speak to me first or ask me a direct question.
I briefly think if William and Olivia keep talking, they’ll run out of things to talk about on their walk later. There’s only so much Olivia can say about herself before she’ll cause suspicion, but soon William gets up and holds his arm out for Olivia. She smiles up at him and takes it.
“Miss Wells, it’s been a pleasure to have breakfast with you, but if you don’t mind, I’d like to take the younger Miss Wells on a walk around the ship,” William says to me. I nod and smile a little, giving him all the consent he needs. I watch as they depart from the dining room together onto the ship’s deck.
I sigh and stand up, leaving the table and dining room to find that promenade deck we fell onto. I exit the ship and notice there’s a slight breeze, but it’s not cold. I walk along the deck looking, but it was dark when we got here last night and things look different in the daytime.
I look down into the water and a wave of nausea rolls over me. It looks harmless enough, but I know how sinister that water is, and soon so will everyone else. The water looks still, but it’s moving the ship back and forth enough to stir my seasickness back up. Staying below deck when I can seems to be the best way to avoid dying by puke.
I finally find my way to the promenade deck. People are walking on it now and probably had been yesterday and the day before. Why were we brought to this place?
I look around, searching for anything out of the ordinary. I wait for the wind to pick up or a pulling sensation in my gut, but there’s nothing. I can’t help thinking about the strange phenomenon that brought us here. Fate or destiny? I’m not sure I believe in that, but here we are, and for what, if not fate?
I hear nothing strange as I stand on the deck. I stay here for probably half an hour before I finally give up. I don’t know if it’s Fate that brought us here or why, but we aren’t getting home the same way we came, at least not on our terms. That means we don’t know how to get home. The night after tomorrow, it won’t matter much, anyway.
William and I walk across the deck, passing others along the way. Some nod at William and me and he tips his head to them. I see what other women are doing and copy them. I nod my head with a small smile on my face just the same way.
I have my arm around William’s. It’s a wonderful feeling for a man to act this way around me. While I don’t agree that a woman should obey or respect a man simply because he is a man, I’ll admit something is lacking in men in my time. They aren’t gentlemanly anymore, but that isn’t always their fault. Women in my time are not ladies either. You can’t expect to be treated with respect if you don’t treat others or yourself with respect.
William is looking at me with a strange expression on his face.
“Sorry, did you say something to me?” I ask, feeling a little embarrassed. He smiles at me then.
“Where did you go?” he asks mildly. At least he isn’t looking at me like I’m crazy.
“Just inside my head. I was thinking too much,” I say. “What was it you asked me?”
“I just said you seem different from the other women I’ve met in my life. Though I’m not sure I’ve ever had a conversation with an American before, so it could just be that,” William replies. I kind of laugh at that. Americans differ from others, even in my time.
“It is possible it’s the fact I’m American; however, you are not the first to call me strange,” I say to him, which resulted in a smile.
“I did not say you were strange, only different,” he replies, the smile still dancing in his eyes.
“Do those two words mean different things?” I ask. He inclines his head toward me.
“Touché,” he replies. I laugh at him, a real laugh. I haven’t done it since we got here last night. I find it a little hard to get enough air in my lungs for that kind of laugh with a corset on. The person who invented the modern bra was—is—will be a genius.
William smiles at me and laughs a little in response to my laugh. I wonder if women don’t do a lot of heavy laughing in public.
I suddenly think of my parents. Will time pass the same for them as it does here? If we don’t get home before this ship sinks, will Mom and Dad come home from their weekend together and discover us missing? Will they think someone kidnapped us or that we ran away? If we’re lucky and make it home soon, will it still be Saturday there even though a few days passed here?
I shake my head a little to dispel the thoughts. They aren’t thoughts to be thinking on a date. Not a date! I yell at myself.
When I think of the word date, I feel a twinge of guilt for Brad. After spending time with William, I’m realizing what a douche Brad is. It’s little things like William staying quiet when I talk. I can tell he’s listening, which is something Brad never did.
William never seems bored when he’s with me either. I see such a contrast between William and Brad, and it makes me wonder how I didn’t see the shitty things Brad did to me. He was very physical with me too, and I always said I wouldn’t be with someone like that, but somehow I was.
I was so in love with Brad, or I thought I was, that I forgave all the awful things he did and looked the other way with his questionable behavior. Whatever I’m feeling with William now is so different from anything Brad made me feel. It makes me think nothing with Brad was real.
I will break up with Brad if I get home, but still, he is my boyfriend. Even if he won’t be born for some eighty-nine years, it still isn’t right.
I can’t help these feelings creeping up on me for William, though. Besides the guilt I feel because of Brad, in two days we’ll either be dead or going home. What good do feelings for William do me?
Then I think of that red string and wonder how long that string is now and if the other end is tied to William. If that string brought us here, wouldn’t it be because my soulmate is here? What if that is William?
“Sorry, I went away again. I am not being very polite. What must you think of me?” I say, realizing I’m thinking too much again and ignoring William. He smiles down at me.
“I do wonder what you think about so deeply to leave you this way,” he says.
I look him in the eyes. They are a beautiful dark green, like a forest barely touched by light. I want so badly to tell him the truth, but what implications will that have? Will he believe me or think me crazy? If I tell him what happens to this ship, will he stop it or will it still happen? If we stop it, how would that change the future? Besides, I just met the guy.
We stop walking, and I go to the edge of the deck. I put my hands on the railing and look into the endless ocean. I can’t see England behind me, nor can I see New York before me, just ocean.
“I was thinking about my parents,” I tell him. That is at least part of the truth. “I’m afraid I’ll never see them again.” William gives me a sideways glance.
“Why do you think you won’t see them again? Are you afraid this ship will come into peril? They have called it unsinkable,” he assures me. I smile sadly at him.
“No ship is unsinkable, no matter how sturdy it’s built. One rogue wave or iceberg could be the end of this ship, and there aren’t enough lifeboats for everyone on board. A lot of people would die,” I say, wondering if I said too much. William is quiet for a minute. I hope he doesn’t buy into the unsinkable theory. He just nods, though.
“I agree that no ship is ever unsinkable. If Mother Nature wants to have her way with this ship, by God she will. We can only pray for our safety and the safety of others if such an event should occur,” he replies. I agree with him to a point.
“Praying to God won’t save the people who would go into that water. God is a watcher. He doesn’t intervene. If he did, there would be much less suffering in this world.” Crap, why did I say that? People in this time are God-friendly.
“Well, we can at least pray for their souls. If they should die, we can pray there is something good on the other side,” William concedes. I smile at him. Anyone else might have scolded me for thinking such things, but not William. How could you not fall for someone so perfect?
“Yes, we can always pray for something better,” I reply. We are both silent for a few moments before I steer the conversation in a safer direction as we walk together for just a little longer.
Before long, we end up back at the dining room where lunch is about to be served. I walk in with William and sit at a table, wondering where Paige might have gone and if she knows it’s lunchtime.
After a wasted trip to the promenade deck, I go back to our room feeling a little sorry for myself and wanting to take a nap. I lay on the bed feeling awkward. I’m still not used to the dumb corset, and I know I probably won’t be able to fall asleep with it on. I, however, cannot take it off by myself, so I just continue to lie there uncomfortably hoping that I’m tired enough to fall asleep despite the discomfort.
I look up at the ceiling, thinking about all the possible outcomes of our situation. Since I can’t figure out how we got here or how we might get back, that particular outcome seemed to vanish. Also, if whatever force brought us here happens again, how do we have any guarantees that we will make it back to 2019? We could be flung even further into the past, or only a few years into the future. So, if we can’t get home, what are the other outcomes? We could always die, I think morbidly.
That is a strong possibility since so many people will die. We could also live through the sinking. We could somehow make it to a lifeboat and wait until the passengers of the Titanic are rescued. That is likely since we know what will happen, but what about afterward? We have no money, no family. How are we to have a life in America in this time?
It’s a cruel world out there and for two young women… I shudder to think of what could happen. There aren’t a lot of jobs, especially not for women and, of course, we have no rights. I won’t allow either of us to be hookers, but what if we got kidnapped and forced?
I shake my head to dispel that pleasant thought. That unknown is almost more frightful than the ship sinking. Though I have to admit, if William lives, I’m almost sure he won’t let us go out on our own if we have no one to turn to. He’s been much too kind to us for that.
At least, that’s one comforting thought, but there is always the possibility he doesn’t live through tomorrow night, then we are back to prostitution.
I have another nagging decision racing through my mind. What do we do on April fourteenth? We know what will happen. Sure, no one will believe us before the ship strikes the iceberg, but what about after? Do we tell people and try to save as many as possible? Do we at least tell William so we can save him and his family? Will we help some live who are meant to die? How will that change the future?
A headache is forming behind my eyes from all the useless back and forth. I close my eyes for a minute and I must have fallen asleep because I see beaches and it’s warm. The ocean is light blue and warm enough to swim in. I know I’m dreaming though because where we are at; it’s cold, dark, and something wicked this way comes.
I feel jostling and open my eyes reluctantly. I don’t want to leave the warm beaches and feelings of carelessness. Olivia is standing over me.
“Mornin’ Sunshine,” she says, smiling at me. I groan and turn to my side. That’s a mistake. A stay in the corset stabs me in the ribs.
“What time is it?” I ask. I know it isn’t morning the next day. Olivia laughs. She’s in a great mood. I suppose her walk with William went okay.
“A little after three,” she says. “Are you hungry? I grabbed some lunch before we left the dining hall for you.”
Olivia holds out the small parcel of food to me. It smells good and my stomach rumbles in response. I nod and take the food with thanks.
“Where’s William?” I ask. Olivia smiles a little.
“He went back to his room before dinner,” she replies. We go sit on the couch instead of the bed. It has more back support. I may be young, but damn, my body feels old.
“How was your date?” I ask as I nibble on some food.
“It was wonderful. We talked about all sorts of things. I even let some things slip and he didn’t look at me like I was crazy or patronize me for thinking differently than most people,” Olivia replies quickly with a smile on her face. It’s hard not to smile in response to her happiness.
“That’s how a man should treat you. You deserve that much and more,” I tell her, giving her a look. I don’t know if Olivia even realizes how awful Brad is to her.
Anytime she would talk passionately about something or pretty much when she talks at all, Brad has one of three responses. He would yawn and talk down to her, talk over her about something he thought was more important, or straight up tell her it was stupid. Olivia would automatically stop talking and listen to whatever he had to say instead.
Olivia looks down after catching my look. I can see that she saw what I had all along.
“I know, Paige. If we get home, I’ll be breaking up with Brad. I see it all so clearly now and you’re right; I don’t deserve that. Also, you don’t deserve the way he talked about you, and I should have been a better sister and not have stayed with a person like that. I’m sorry.”
“You don’t have to apologize. Just promise me that whatever happens, you won’t settle for someone like that again. Keep your standards of any man to William level,” I say and chuckle. She laughs too.
“I promise,” Olivia says and takes my hand. We sit silently for a little while.
Paige is telling me about her trip to the promenade deck and the big fat nothing that it yielded. It makes me anxious to hear because we literally have no other leads. That is the only way we could think of getting home.
With that being the case, we have to think of what we’ll do when the ship sinks. We have to live, and I need to save William and his family. I have to do something now. I don’t know if we should try to stop it all together or not.
We have to at least get on a lifeboat and somehow get William on one too. We would need his help if we are to survive in the early twentieth century, anyway. We can’t do this alone.
With a strong possibility that we’ll be living here, it makes me feel better about the feelings I’m having for William. Maybe they aren’t ridiculous and that something will come of them if we let it.
Paige and I hang out in our room for a little while longer before dinner. Once again, William comes to the door to escort us to the dining hall. We stop just in front of the grand staircase when William’s mother and sister approach us.
“I don’t know why you’ve been ignoring us for these… ladies, but I thought it was time for us all to eat a meal together and get to know them,” she says, still having that look of superiority. I smile at her.
“That would be wonderful,” I say, still smiling way too big and way too fake, but she isn’t the nicest lady, anyway. Before we can head to our table, another woman walks up to William’s mother.
“Eliza, dear, have dinner with us,” the woman says. She isn’t a particularly pretty woman, but she commands the room.
“Maggie, I’m having dinner with my son and these two young ladies he seems to have taken under his wing,” Eliza says, motioning to us.
Maggie? This lady is familiar-looking, but who on Earth is she? Then it hits me like a soccer ball to the face. I’ve seen pictures of her. OMG, this is Molly Brown. They won’t call her that until after she dies in 1932, of course. It thrills me to be meeting her.
“Oh, I don’t believe I’ve met you?” Maggie says smiling kindly and lets her gaze linger on my sister. I curtsy a little to her.
“Olivia Wells, Ms. Brown. It’s an honor to meet you,” I say. Paige glances at me, recognizing the name, and smiles bowing her head.
“Paige Wells, Ma’am.” Maggie smiles at us and nods her head like she’s made up her mind about something.
“I think I’ll join you for dinner if you don’t mind,” Maggie says.
William backed off a little during the exchange and he’s standing by the edge of the stairs. When I look back at him, he smiles at me. It gives me a sense of deja vu.
I realize I’d seen this exact thing in the museum before we traveled to the ship. This scene flashed through my mind as I walked by the replica staircase. It’s like I was always supposed to find William. I smile at him and he comes to my side to escort me into dinner.
We all sit down at a table and I don’t know when I’ve ever been this nervous. I know having dinner with Maggie Brown and Eliza McCarthy is just going to be a wonderful experience. They will ask questions that’ll be impossible to answer and I just know someone will catch us in a lie and we’ll be exposed. Not that it will matter in a few days, but we don’t have time to get arrested or something because they think we are stowaways.
“So, Miss Wells, where are you from?” Eliza asks me pointedly. Paige glances at me. I know she’s freaking out in her mind, but she maintains a cool presence. My hands shake a little. I put them in my lap.
“My sister, Paige, and I were born in England, but moved to the United States when we were young,” I say.
“Where in England, dear?” Maggie asks. I don’t know much about where I was born, but I know that.
“Bury Saint Edmunds in Suffolk,” I reply.
“Oh, I’ve never been. Where did you move to in America?”
Maggie seems genuinely interested. I hesitate when I realize I can’t say Las Vegas. I don’t even know when Nevada becomes a state.
“We moved to Nevada. My father went there to strike gold. He did and made a small fortune for the family,” Paige answers coming to my rescue. I’m glad someone listened when we learned Nevada’s history.
“Wells? I’m not sure I’m familiar with the name,” Eliza says.
“How would you be when you live in Ireland?” Paige retorts looking Eliza square in the face. I close my eyes for a minute, worried. The last thing we need is for Paige to offend someone.
It’s silent for a moment as Eliza and Paige eye each other. Maggie breaks the silence with her boisterous laughter.
“She has a wonderful point, Eliza. How would any of us have heard of them?”
I let out the breath I was holding.
“How did you make your way back to England?” Eliza asks instead.
“Visiting family in Suffolk. When we heard of Titanic’s reputation, we wanted to take this ship home,” I reply.
Breeda has been eyeing her dresses, noticing that we were wearing the same ones as last night. I know she will say something and I don’t have an answer.
Before she can open her mouth, however, the food comes. I silently thank some higher power for this slight interruption so I can come up with a halfway decent explanation.
We all eat, and the conversation takes a turn to Eliza and Maggie speaking with Breeda. William spoke with Paige and me. Breeda still looks over at us now and then, making me nervous.
“I’m sorry about my mother. She’s always been direct,” William whispers. I smile at him and touch his hand.
“Don’t worry about it. She’s fine; nothing we can’t handle,” I reply.
William smiles, looking down at our hands. I catch Eliza looking at us. She looks like she’s trying to stare me into acting appropriately, or what she considers appropriate. She’s probably expecting the look to have some sort of effect on me that will make me pull my hand back and look ashamed, but it doesn’t. I just look back at her with the same expression. She finally looks away, saying nothing on the matter.
After what feels like hours, we finish dinner. Maggie and Eliza get up to leave.
“It was nice meeting you ladies,” Maggie says, smiling at Paige and me.
“It was an amazing experience to speak with you,” I reply, and they walk away. Breeda gets up to leave, but stops and looks at us.
“I don’t know what you’re lying about, but it’s something. You wouldn’t need to wear my dresses and the same ones as yesterday if you are who you say you are,” Breeda growls at us.
Breeda looks at William then and speaks to him. “Be careful, William.”
William says nothing as she walks off gracefully trying to catch up with Eliza and Maggie. It’s quiet now. I look at William, but he’s looking after his mom and sister.
“I’m tired. I’m going back to the room,” Paige says getting up from the table.
William is already standing from seeing the other women off. He nods and smiles at her.
“Have a pleasant night, Miss Wells,” he says. William holds out his hand for me to take.
“Walk with me,” he says, leading me onto the deck. It’s a cold night, and I don’t have a jacket. William notices me shivering and takes off his dinner jacket for me to wear. It’s big and warm. It smells like him, soapy and musky.
I smile as we make our way to the promenade deck where we first met. We walk until we come to the railing. I look into the water. It’s black now, so different from the brilliant blue it had been only a few hours ago.
The sky is lit brilliantly with stars and I gaze at them, wondering if the night sky has changed in one hundred years.
“Can you tell me where you’re really from?” William asks quietly. It looks like he’s a little uncomfortable asking. I sigh.
“What I told you was the truth. Where I was born, where we live now. The exact circumstances are different and I’m afraid if I tell you, you will think I’m insane,” I say. William comes up to me and sweeps a stray lock of hair behind my ear.
“I could never think you mad,” he breathes, leaning toward me. I lift my face to his and look into his eyes until he closes them. I close mine and prepare for his kiss.
When our lips finally meet, it’s everything I hoped it would be and more. My whole body ignites with white-hot fire, leaving me warm and cozy inside. William lifts his head away, and the kiss leaves me breathless.
“I am finding myself caring for you much more deeply than I ever expected, Olivia,” William says breathlessly.
In my periphery, I notice the red string I saw before, as short as it could be, connecting to William’s pinky finger. If the myth is true, and right now I have no reason to believe it isn’t, William is my soul mate. My time traveling to this time and place must be for him. Time, space, and circumstance, indeed.
“Me too,” I say. It’s a stupid thing to say, but my mind works sluggishly. We sit looking at the water together, his arm around me as I lay my head on his shoulder.
I decide we’ll tell William the truth tomorrow. Everything we know about who we are, how we got here, and what’s to come.