Chapter 7: Just Friends

“You certainly are in a chipper mood this morning,” Carmen noted. She stood behind Brynne tying the strings on the latter’s corset. “Especially since I know that lacing the corset isn’t exactly your most cherished ritual of the day,” Carmen added.

Brynne held on to the bedpost. She’d been on this mission for a year, and her body had become accustomed to being stuffed into a corset. That didn’t mean that she enjoyed the daily experience, though. She hated it. Even more detestable were the ill effects that corsets were having on her body. She was afraid she was going to have permanent physical damage because of those damn things.

“I don’t know,” Brynne said. “It could be because it’s Saturday. Even though it’s just another work day for me, Saturday still feels like an exciting day.”

“Perhaps,” Carmen said. “Or perhaps it could be that a certain someone, a certain co-worker, has caught your eye?”

“Carmen, you should be ashamed of yourself,” Brynne chided. “You know Mr. Andrews is happily married, with a child, no less.”

“I wasn’t talking about him,” Carmen said. “I think you know that already.”

Brynne continued to look straight ahead so that Carmen couldn’t see the truth in her eyes. “Jeremy – I mean, Mr. Bratt – and I are just friends,” she said.

“I just wanted to make sure that you still know where the boundaries are when it comes to certain people.”

Brynne turned around to face Carmen. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“You know what it means. I’ve been watching you and Jeremy. You two have been getting awfully close.”

Brynne rolled her eyes. “So, because I’m a woman and he’s a man, that automatically means we want to jump into bed with each other?”

“I’m trying to intervene before that happens.” Carmen turned Brynne back around and resumed lacing the corset. “You can’t allow yourself to get too involved, Brynne. I know they drilled that into your head during training.”

“Yes, they did. And I’m keeping my distance as best I can without arousing any suspicion. But it’s only natural to form some kind of relationship with a person you’ve spent a year working with. You can’t expect me not to form any relationship at all.”

“I can if that relationship has the potential to jeopardize the mission. The mission comes first, Brynne. Always. Not friends, not feelings – the mission.” As if to drive home her point, she finished the corset with a severe tug before tying the strings off.

xxx

“I really don’t see the point of agonizing over this,” Jeremy said. He and Brynne stood in the Palm Court and Verandah Café, their eyes focused intently on the pebbled floor.

“If Mr. Andrews is concerned with it, then it obviously deserves our attention,” Brynne said.

“But what difference does it make? It doesn’t make any sense to go through all the trouble of pulling up a few pebbles just because the ratio isn’t exactly equal.”

“Maybe it does make a little difference.” Brynne looked up from the floor and tilted her head slightly as she took in the atmosphere of the café. “I think that the number of dark pebbles does make the room feel darker.”

Jeremy rolled his eyes, and led the way to the kitchen. It was a smaller-scale version of the large kitchens adjacent to the restaurant and the dining rooms.

“While we’re surveying the floors on this ship, why don’t we mention the floor in here to Mr. Andrews?” Jeremy suggested. “The color is all wrong for food preparation. Maybe we can have it ripped up and replaced, too.”

“You can be the one to pitch that one,” Brynne said.

“Coming through!” A large cart loaded with stacks of china was pushing its way through the very narrow kitchen. “Watch it, folks; you don’t want to get your toes caught under this.”

Neither Brynne nor Jeremy could see who was pushing the cart and talking, but they heeded his advice without question. Brynne moved so that her back was against the sink, and Jeremy stood in front of Brynne, facing her. It became clear that the clearance was still not going to be adequate. Jeremy moved closer to Brynne, as close as was physically possible, effectively pinning her between himself and the sink.

Brynne tried to avoid eye contact with Jeremy. But when he was forced to lean in even closer because of the passing cart, her eyes found his. She breathed in his clean, spicy scent and felt the warmth of his body through her clothes. For a few seconds she felt like her body was on fire, a sensation that wasn’t at all unpleasant. She had to resist the urge to wrap her arms around those broad shoulders of his. Instead she struggled to find somewhere else to put her hands. One of them accidentally pushed against the knob on the sink and turned the water on, surprising them both. It was then that they realized that the china cart had passed and was already out in the dining room. The two of them straightened up and promptly separated from each other.

“Sorry about that,” Jeremy said. “The cart … ”

Brynne grinned nervously. “It’s alright. No harm done.”

Andrews walked into the kitchen, interrupting the awkward moment. “There you are,” he said. “I’d like you to take a look at the drapery in the restaurant. Something looks off about it, but I can’t figure out what it is.”

“Of course, Mr. Andrews,” Brynne said, as she made a hasty exit from the tiny kitchen.

Andrews watched her go, wondering what had made her so flustered. He turned to Jeremy and saw that he didn’t look much better than she. He reached over and turned off the sink faucet, wondering why it had been turned on in the first place.

/\/\/

At sunset, Brynne was already dressed and prepared for dinner. She was on deck, staring out at the sun as it sank into the sea. The longer she remained on this mission, the more difficult it was to come to terms with the fact that this world would soon be no more. In about 30 hours, this ship was going to be fast on its way to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.

“Brynne?”

Brynne knew it was Jeremy. It didn’t take much for her to recognize his voice. She turned around and watched him. He strode slowly toward her, his coat tails flapping gently behind him.

“You weren’t trying to hide from me, were you?” he quipped.

“Where would I hide?” Brynne asked. “You know much more about the ins and outs of this ship than I do.” She turned back to the rail. She didn’t want to miss the last precious moments of the sunset. “How did you know I was here?”

“Call it a lucky guess,” Jeremy said. He’d noticed that Brynne seemed to be drawn to sunsets. After the Titanic had completed her sea trials, he’d found her on deck at sunset, too. They both watched the sun disappear beneath the horizon.

Neither knew what to say to each other, after that awkward incident in the kitchen earlier. Neither of them trusted themselves much after that. Something so simple as a passing china cart had opened the door to something that neither of them had seriously considered before. Now, both of them were finding it difficult to forget about, and they couldn’t easily shut that door now.

“So, we aren’t dining with the doctor tonight?” Brynne asked.

“No,” Jeremy said. “We’ll be sitting at Bruce Ismay’s table.”

“What fun,” Brynne deadpanned. The last thing she wanted to do was stare at Ismay’s mug for a few hours. Her appetite was fleeing at the very thought.

“We should probably go in there, now,” Jeremy suggested.

Brynne looked at Jeremy. “If we must.”

“We must.” Jeremy crooked his arm for Brynne, and she accepted.

/\/\/\

The first course hadn’t even been brought out, yet, but Brynne was already counting the seconds until it was all over. She tried her best to look content; she could only hope that she was successful. At least she was sitting between Andrews and Jeremy.

“Tell us of the accommodations in steerage, Mr. Dawson,” one woman at their table requested. Her green eyes were trained on the young blonde man sitting on the other side of Jeremy. Brynne could tell from the woman’s sarcastic, mocking tone that she probably didn’t want to hear about the accommodations in steerage. “I hear they’re quite good on this ship.”

“The best I’ve seen, ma’am,” the young man said. “Hardly any rats.” A chorus of gentle laughter erupted from the table’s occupants. This was obviously a person who was good at keeping his cool under pressure. He was able to let the woman’s loaded comments roll off of him like they were nothing and had even come up with a witty retort of his own.

A raven-haired, dark-eyed fellow leaned into the table, joining the conversation. “Mr. Dawson is joining us from the third class,” he informed. “He was of some assistance to my fiancée last night.”

The next person to speak was the young red-head seated beside Andrews. “It turns out that Mr. Dawson is quite a fine artist,” she said. “He was kind enough to show me some of his work today.”

“Rose and I differ somewhat in our definition of fine art,” the raven-haired man said has he helped himself to caviar being presented by the waiter at his side. “Not to impugn your work, sir,” he added as an afterthought.

The good-natured outsider shrugged it off, completely unoffended.

Ismay took advantage of the lull in the conversation to bring Brynne and Jeremy into the action. “Ms. Larence, Mr. Bratt – I’m delighted to see that you could join us this evening,” Ismay said.

“I think I can safely speak for both of us when I say that we appreciate the opportunity to dine with you and your party, Mr. Ismay,” Jeremy said after exchanging a brief glance with Brynne.

“Mr. Bratt and Ms. Larence are members of the Harland and Wolff team,” Ismay said, addressing the other guests at the table. “They’re on board to help ensure that everything with the ship keeps running smoothly, and to make sure that things are even better for our future. We maintain an ongoing relationship with the builders. She may be mine on paper, but in the eyes of God, she belongs to Thomas Andrews. He knows every rivet in her, don’t you, Thomas?”

“Your ship is a wonder, Mr. Andrews, truly,” Rose complimented.

“Thank you, Rose,” Andrews said.

“Ms. Larence,” the older red-head began, “what exactly is the nature of the work that you do?” The question dripped with something insincere and sinister.

“I’m an architect by trade and profession,” Brynne began, “but for Titanic, I designed and decorated the interiors of the ship, along with Mr. Bratt.”

“You’re actually an architect?” Rose said. Her face conveyed an expression of awe.

“I am, yes,” Brynne replied. “I went to architecture school. I usually design buildings, so Titanic is the first ship that I’ve worked on.”

“Which rooms are yours?” The question came from Molly Brown, whom Jeremy and Brynne had met the day before.

“I wouldn’t call any of them mine exclusively. They’re really more like joint efforts between Mr. Bratt and me.”

“Ms. Larence is being modest,” Andrews jumped in. “It’s true that she and Mr. Bratt collaborated, however there are rooms for which Ms. Larence is directly responsible. Among them are the first- and second-class libraries, the ladies reading room, and the very room in which we’re sitting.”

“I knew there was a reason I liked this room so much,” Molly said. “We need more women like you, career women.”

“And I suppose that while the women are off pursuing their careers, their husbands should remain at home to take care of the children and other household affairs?” It was the dark-haired man again. “I believe that the only women who work outside the home are those who don’t have a family and are unable to find a suitable husband. Proper ladies do not work outside the home.” Was it these people’s mission in life to be completely negative and antagonistic all the time?

“Well,” Brynne said with a sigh, “I guess we just have a difference of opinions, then.” She pasted a smile on her face that was just as fake as the smiles most of these first-class people plastered on their faces all day.

xxx

Brynne was surprised that dinner wasn’t as unbearable as she’d initially anticipated. Molly, Andrews, and Jeremy had made the experience palatable, especially Molly, who’d told some hilarious stories. Now the dessert dishes were scattered across the table, and cigars were being wheeled out for the men. The ritual signaled the conclusion of dinner. The men began to rise and bid farewell to their female dinner companions. Jeremy remained seated.

“Are you going to the smoking room with everyone else?” Brynne asked him.

Jeremy turned to her and leaned back into his chair. “I believe I can think of a better way to spend the rest of the evening,”

xxx

Brynne had no idea what she was walking into when she stepped into the third class general room with Jeremy, but it didn’t take her long to figure out that she liked it. When she descended the stairs into the room, she found herself in the middle of the best party she’d witnessed since she’d first started this mission. It had all the elements of a great party: Great music, good people, and alcohol.

“If you want to leave, we can,” Jeremy offered.

“Leave?” Brynne said. “Of course not. I haven’t had this kind of fun in ages. How did you find out about this?”

“You can’t have a job like ours and not find out about things like this,” Jeremy said.

“Well, I didn’t know about it.”

“You have to know where to look.”

The pair began to move through the crowd, and they soon realized that they weren’t the only ones from first class who had ventured down to the lower decks to blow off a little steam. A few feet away, they saw Dawson and Rose. Brynne and Jeremy gravitated toward Rose, who was seated at a table, sipping on a drink.

“Quite a change in atmosphere, isn’t it?” Brynne shouted over the loud music. She stepped around so that Rose could see her.

“Ms. Larence,” Rose said, bolting to her feet. She looked mortified, like a child caught red-handed with her hand in the cookie jar before dinner. “What are you doing here?”

“To tell you the truth, I wasn’t sure at first,” Brynne admitted. She looked around at all the happy, energetic people. It was a stark contrast from the stiff people who comprised the majority of first class. Brynne had wondered whether some of the people at dinner were even alive still. “Jeremy brought me,” Brynne continued. “I think I like it, though.”

She looked at Rose again, who still looked like she’d seen a ghost. Brynne and Jeremy exchanged concerned glances. “Are you okay, Rose?”

Dawson walked over to where the group stood. He eyed Jeremy suspiciously. “Is everything okay, Rose?”

Rose looked at Brynne. “Is it?” Rose asked.

“Yes,” Brynne said. “Of course it is.”

“We didn’t come here to cause any trouble,” Jeremy said. “We’ve been working hard here. We just came to have a good time.”

A smile broke out across Dawson’s face. “You came to the right place, then,” he said.

A man with cigarette hanging out of his mouth carefully walked up to the table and placed four glasses filled with brown liquid on the table. The man looked at Jeremy and Brynne, immediately zeroing in on their formal attire. “It’s gettin’ to be quite a party, isn’t it?” he quipped.

“Tommy, these are some friends of mine from upstairs,” Dawson said. “They helped design this ship.”

“Did you, now?” Tommy asked. “Well, Jack, it looks like you’re comin’ up fast in the world. Dinin’ in first class, makin’ first class friends. You might as well get a cabin and stay up there.” He laughed to bring home the point that his statement was meant to be taken as a joke.

Dawson reached toward the table, picked up two of the drinks, and handed them to Brynne and Jeremy.

“Thanks,” Jeremy said. He immediately took a large gulp from his glass.

“What is it?” Brynne asked.

“It’s stout,” Jeremy said. “It’s a type of beer. Try it; it’s pretty good.” He watched Brynne for her reaction.

Brynne took a tentative sip, testing. She was surprised that she actually liked it.

“Well?” Jeremy asked.

“You’re right, it’s good.”

“See?” The music changed to a different, but still upbeat, tune. Jeremy took another swig of his beer. “Do you want to dance?”

Brynne nearly choked on her drink. In her mind, she heard Carmen advising her to say no, but all Brynne could think was ‘what would be the harm in a little dance?’

She nodded. “Okay.” They put their glasses on the table. Jeremy peeled off his jacket and took Brynne’s hand. He pulled her body close, and Brynne was reminded of earlier that day in the kitchen, when her body had been tightly pinned between his and the sink. Once again, she smelled his scent and felt his warmth. Her body reacted, tensing at first but then relaxing against him. One of her hands was nestled firmly in his. She placed the other on his shoulder and let him guide her around the floor to the rhythm of the upbeat music. She held on tightly to him, hoping that he wouldn’t lead them into the side of a table. And he didn’t.

“How did you get so good at this?” Brynne asked.

“I do have a life outside the office, you know,” Jeremy said.

They danced. And they drank. And they danced some more. But the room was stuffy, loud, and filled with a cloud of cigarette smoke. Brynne needed a break. She left the room and took temporary refuge in the corridor. Jeremy followed her out.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

“I just needed some fresh air,” Brynne said.

“Do you want me to get you something to drink? Some water?”

“No. I’m fine really.”

Both of them leaned against the wall. They looked at each other. The way they were acting around each other now that they were alone, they could have been mistaken for a couple of high school kids.

“Great party in there, isn’t it?” Jeremy asked.

“It is. I’m glad you brought me along.”

“Me, too,” Jeremy said. “I mean, because you’re a great person to spend time with. I can’t think of anyone else I’d rather get all hot and sweaty with.”

Brynne smiled, while Jeremy tried to salvage what he was trying to say.

“Well, not – you know what I mean, right?” he stumbled.

Brynne finally chuckled at his nervousness. “I think I do.” Brynne looked at the man beside her. All she could do was shake her head. “I’ve never seen you like this before,” she said. “You don’t even seem like the same person I met when I walked into Harland and Wolff a year ago.”

“That’s because you’ve only seen me at work. When I’m not at work, I’m not exactly the same person.” He slid a little closer to Brynne. “So … ”

“So what?” Brynne asked.

“So, what do you think? About this part of me that you’ve never seen before?”

Brynne looked Jeremy over. “I think I like him.”

“Really?”

“In fact, I think he should come out more often.”

“I have a small confession to make,” Jeremy said, sliding even closer to Brynne.

“What is it?” Brynne asked. Her voice was quieter, now.

“I never really wanted that other guy to come out all that much before.”

“Why?”

“There was never much reason for him to show his face before I met you.”

Brynne was almost 100 certain that she knew where this was going. She could even hear Carmen in her head lecturing about COSI rules and crossing the line. She pushed the thoughts aside and focused on the intensity of Jeremy’s brown eyes.

Jeremy touched Brynne’s face and moved in close, gently pressing his lips against hers. She kissed him back. The sensation of his soft lips on hers coupled with the knowledge that he was actually kissing her sent her reeling.

Jeremy pulled away. “Was that inappropriate?” he asked.

Brynne shook her head. “No,” she replied. Jeremy promptly kissed her again. The intensity with which she returned his kiss surprised her, but she didn’t want to hold anything back. She was giving in and giving up on being the good little COSI agent. She wrapped her arms around him, and she wondered just how far this would go while they were still in the hallway.

“Ms. Larence?”

Brynne and Jeremy separated before they even knew who had spoken to them. Brynne wiped her lips, which tingled from Jeremy’s kiss. She looked to the direction of the voice. Embarrassment swept over her when she saw Carmen standing only a few feet away from her. Brynne took a giant step away from Jeremy. It wouldn’t make any difference now, as Carmen had already seen them.

“How did you find me?” Brynne asked Carmen.

“It took a bit of detective work, ma’am,” Carmen answered. “Pardon me for interruptin’, but you have an early mornin’ tomorrow. Before we left Belfast, you charged me with seein’ to it that you got your proper rest, no matter what it took. I didn’t mean to intrude, ma’am. I’m terribly sorry.”

“No, it’s alright, Carmen,” Brynne said. “You’ve done your duty well. You remember Mr. Bratt, my … co-worker.”

Jeremy and Carmen exchanged cordial nods. Brynne turned to Jeremy. “It is rather late,” Brynne said. “I really should be going.”

Jeremy sighed and raked his fingers through his hair. “Okay. I’ll see you tomorrow morning. Goodnight.”

Brynne and Carmen walked past Jeremy en route to Brynne’s stateroom. Brynne and Carmen exchanged looks but no words; Brynne knew that she was in for a good verbal dressing down once they were alone.

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