Chapter 18: PM Dawn

When she’d first sat down for dinner with Andrews, Brynne had wanted nothing more than to jump out the window beside their table. But Andrews’s easy manner put her at ease. The two had a pleasant, engaging conversation over their meal, mostly about the Titanic and Harland and Wolff. Brynne found that nearly everything she’d learned about the ship and the firm during her first trip remained unchanged. But for the gestures or statements that served as occasional reminders, she forgot that the man sitting across the table from her was now her husband rather than her boss. By the time dinner was over, Brynne had calmed considerably, though not entirely. She still hadn’t figured out how she’d ended up with Andrews.

Looking at the stars from the Promenade Deck, Brynne tried to sort out the apparent changes that had occurred in this timeline. Specifically, she tried to surmise what changes could possibly have led to her marriage to Thomas Andrews. In essence, she tried to guess at their history together, but it was impossible. There were too many variables to account for, and a myriad of scenarios presented themselves to her. This all caused the easy mood that had settled over her during dinner to dissipate – that coupled with the dawning realization that they wouldn’t be strolling the decks forever, and eventually, they were going to end up in the stateroom they presumably shared. Together. As husband and wife.

“What do you think of our ship, finally out here on the open water?” Andrews asked, standing beside her, looking out at the darkness.

Brynne stiffened and kept her eyes trained on the water. There wasn’t much to train them on. They’d departed from Cherbourg a few hours before, and the port city was no longer visible. “It turned out well,” she said.

“It’s better than that,” Andrews gushed. “It’s grand.”

“You act as if this is the first ship you’ve put to sea,” Brynne said. The words came out more coldly than she’d intended, perhaps even harshly. She hoped that Andrews hadn’t noticed the subtle change in her tone.

“It’s the first I’ve put to sea with you,” Andrews said. If he’d noticed her coldness, he certainly didn’t let on. Toward her, he was as warm as ever.

Brynne kept her eyes on the darkness but consciously relaxed her countenance and posture. “Will it be the last?” she asked him.

Andrews turned his back to the sea and leaned back, resting against the window sill. “I was waiting for this issue to come up,” he said. “I’ve been giving it a great deal of thought. We probably should’ve discussed it more before the wedding.”

“That would have been ideal,” Brynne said. She looked down at her hands, folded together on the sill. “It isn’t wrong for you to want a wife who’ll make a good home for you.”

“I want you to be happy, Brynne,” Andrews said.

“And I can’t be happy if you aren’t,” Brynne said. “Could you really be happy seeing your wife at the office everyday? On top of that, you know there’s no shortage of busybodies who make it their life’s work to gossip about how improper it is for a married woman to work, especially in a man’s field.” She finally looked at him. “Could you be happy, or even content, with that?”

“First of all, I don’t care about the busybodies,” Andrews said. “They like to talk, and they’ll find something to talk about regardless. And second, how could I not be happy seeing you everyday at the firm? I’ve been seeing you there everyday for the last year, since you first walked into the office and into my life. My attitude hasn’t changed simply because your name has.”

Brynne knew that he meant every word of it because that was just the kind of person he was. He came from a prominent Irish family, and both family and professional obligations often immersed him in the world of the affluent. Yet, he kept a level head and managed to distance himself from that world, disregarding their rules to a degree, not caring what they thought.

Andrews offered his arm, and Brynne linked hers through. They retreated from the chilly night air to the ship’s warm interior.

Brynne’s eyes roamed over the small Titanic model on the mantle above the heater in A-36. Andrews had revealed quite a bit of information about this new past over dinner and during their stroll on deck, but it still wasn’t enough to satisfy Brynne. She needed details, and all she had now was vagueness. True, it was more than she’d had when she’d first stepped out of the link, but she needed more. What if someone were to ask her about her history at Harland and Wolff, or about her relationship with Andrews? Plenty of others must have known the story of how Brynne and Andrews had met, of how and when they’d become more than just co-workers. She couldn’t risk making something up that contradicted what was already established as fact.

Brynne paused for a moment and pondered whether knowing those details was really necessary. In five days, she would be back in D.C. in her own time, and this mission would, hopefully, be over with. What purpose would knowing the details of their relationship serve beyond satisfying her own curiosity? Despite the inconvenience of not knowing, Brynne marveled at how an impostor had created this life which she’d so seamlessly stepped into. Someone had taken significant steps to create this new life of hers, but the lingering question was why? It was something Brynne couldn’t initially answer for. She couldn’t make sense of why all this was necessary if her adversaries’ ultimate goal was to keep the Titanic from sinking or to recover some notebook. It didn’t seem to make sense. The deeper Brynne ventured into this assignment, the less she suspected the Titanic of being an important factor. The ship seemed to grow more inconsequential with every piece of the puzzle uncovered. The more time she spent pondering this puzzle, the more she began to believe that there was a much larger picture.

Then Brynne thought of something that chilled her insides: What if the Titanic and Brynne’s new life on it had been nothing more than an elaborate ruse somehow related to the link system failure?

The warm arms that suddenly encircled Brynne caught her by surprise, and her heavy thoughts temporarily left her. They could only belong to one person, and she fought against the initial, instinctive tension that accompanies the sensation of unfamiliar touch. Instead of recoiling, she expelled the tension by moving. She quickly turned around and draped her arms around Andrew’s neck, gazing into his eyes.

Pretending to be his wife wouldn’t be so bad, Brynne speculated. Andrews was kind, handsome, intelligent. Her aversion to intimacy with him on this level was all in her head. She had to get over how the whole situation made her feel like a complete homewrecker. During her first trip, she’d met Helen Andrews, Andrews’s “real” wife, as well as their little daughter, Elizabeth. Brynne and Jeremy had been to their home for dinner more times than she could count. Helen and Elizabeth might not even exist in this timeline, but Brynne couldn’t shake the feeling that she was having an illicit affair with someone else’s husband. For Brynne, that fact alone presented enough of an incentive to know the details of her past with Andrews.

“When did you know that you wanted to marry me?” Brynne asked.

“I would have thought that you know that story by now, after all this time,” Andrews said.

“I do,” Brynne said. “But I love hearing you tell it.” She left him and lounged on the bed.

Andrews chuckled and joined her, obliging. “It was a spring day, almost a year ago, May 1911,” he began. “It was an overcast day, threatening rain. I was in my office with one of the junior associates, discussing you, actually. I looked down at the drafting floor from my office window, and there was this woman I knew I’d never seen before, coming down the aisle as if she’d already done so a million times before. You had already caught my attention with your work, which had arrived before I ever saw you.” Andrews eyed Brynne with mock skepticism. “Was it really by mistake that your plans found their way to Harland and Wolff?”

“Yes – you have my solemn word,” Brynne said with a chuckle. “I’ve never had to resort to those types of methods to acquire work.”

Andrews reached out and brushed a streak of dark hair from her smiling face. “The receptionist led you into my office, and I remember thinking that you were about one of the loveliest things I’d ever laid eyes on. I had to remind myself that you were a professional who had a job to do, not some angel sent down just for me. We chatted for a bit, and I showed you around the office, and then it was down to business.

“I knew you were special, right from the start. I’d been courting a young lady named Helen, but after a number of months, we mutually decided that our relationship would not progress beyond dear friendship, so we parted ways. She married a few months after, and I began to ponder whether I was destined to live out my life as a bachelor. Then I met you, and wouldn’t fate have it that the one time I meet a woman I could see myself marrying, she’s a subordinate. For so long, I wanted to ask your permission to call on you, but I was afraid that you would think it highly inappropriate, and you wouldn’t have been wrong to think so. But when I found out that you were alone in the city and that you didn’t have an escort to and from the office, I felt that perhaps this was a golden opportunity. And it was.”

“And the rest is history,” Brynne said.

“An amazing history,” Andrews amended. He leaned in and kissed her.

Brynne had known the kiss was coming, yet she’d still been surprised. She closed her eyes and returned his kiss. Hearing more of their history together lifted a considerable amount of guilt from her shoulders, but the important thoughts from earlier remained. If the conclusions she’d reached only a few minutes before had any merit in them, there was much more at stake than her well being or that of a mere passenger liner in the North Atlantic.

When Brynne woke the next morning, she was alone. Her eyes landed on the clock on the mantle, and she realized why she was alone. It was 8:27 a.m. She bolted upright in the bed. Andrews had, no doubt, left hours earlier on his rounds of inspections and note-taking. Brynne had intended to join him. Inspections, as she’d discovered during her first trip, were an excellent way to gain access to all areas of the ship without restriction and without arousing suspicion. She’d wanted to get up two hours earlier, but apparently, she’d overslept. She whipped the bed sheets back and froze. She was naked.

The moment she’d opened her eyes, nothing but thoughts of her mission had occupied her mind. She’d forgotten about all what had happened the previous night. She and Andrews had taken dinner in the saloon, they’d taken a stroll around the Promenade deck. Then they’d come back to the stateroom for the evening. They’d talked, they’d kissed, they’d …

Brynne’s eyes widened at her recollection of the night. They’d kissed, and then Andrews had made love to her. When Brynne had learned that they were married, she’d figured it wouldn’t be long before it happened, especially since this was supposed to be their honeymoon. But when it had actually occurred, the experience had been much different from what she’d expected. Different in a very good way.

Brynne reclined into the bed, reminiscing about the night. Andrews had given Brynne the same detailed attention that he always gave to his work, and the results were impossible to deny. The pressing, disturbing thoughts of the mission had floated away, and she’d let her body give in to the moment. He was nowhere near her now, but she could still feel the lingering sensation of his hands on her body, of his lips, of the warmth of his body next to hers. A languid smile slowly spread across her features. The grin left almost as quickly as it had appeared as Jeremy crept back into her thoughts again. From Brynne’s perspective, not even a week had passed since she’d shared a similar night with him.

A knock at the door broke into her thoughts. She quickly scanned the room for a dressing robe and spied one hanging over the back of a chair. Brynne slid out of bed, and the chair and robe were within arm’s reach. She quickly slipped into the robe and tied it at the waist. It was Andrews’s robe, though she didn’t realize it until she caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror and saw how ridiculously oversized the garment looked on her small frame. The person at the door knocked again.

“Just a moment,” Brynne called. The first step she took toward the door nearly sent her sailing head first into the sink. Instead of smashing her head against it, she quickly thrust a hand out and managed to catch herself before she did any irreparable damage to her head or face.

There was another knock at the door, this one more urgent than the previous two, followed by a concerned voice. “Mrs. Andrews? Are you well?” It was Mary Sloan, the stewardess.

Brynne looked down at her feet once she steadied herself. “I’m fine, Mary. Come in,” she called. A small stack of books lay toppled at her feet. When she looked up from the books, Mary was standing just inside the stateroom door.

“I came by to see if you needed help dressing for breakfast, ma’am,” Mary said. “Then I heard the commotion.”

“It was nothing,” Brynne said. “Mr. Andrews left some of his books lying around on the floor, and I tripped over them.” She kneeled to pick up the books, and Mary immediately joined her. When they’d rearranged the books into a neat stack and placed them in the chair, they both stood.

“I’m a bit out of sorts this morning, it seems,” Brynne said. “I overslept. Have you seen Mr. Andrews?”

“I saw him about an hour and a half ago,” Mary said, not failing to notice that Brynne was wearing Andrews’s robe rather than her own.

Mary’s observation didn’t escape Brynne. “I couldn’t find mine, and his was the closest to me when you knocked,” she said, slightly embarrassed. Mary responded with an understanding the grin.

“I suppose Mr. Andrews has already begun his work for the day?” Brynne continued.

“Oh, yes, ma’am. Said he’d be stopping by the restaurant for breakfast around 8, though. I asked if he wished for you to meet him there, but he insisted that I not wake you before 8.”

“It looks like I’ve probably missed him, then,” Brynne said. She stifled a threatening yawn. “I didn’t realize I was so tired.”

“Will you be taking breakfast here, then, in your stateroom?” Mary asked.

“Yes,” was Brynne’s automatic reply.

“Very well, then, ma’am,” Mary said. “I’ll have it delivered momentarily.” She moved toward the door.

“Mary – wait,” Brynne said. She could use her time in the restaurant to scope it out for her mystery man and woman. She should’ve begun the previous night by keeping a keen eye out for them at dinner, but the shock of finding out that she was married to Andrews had preoccupied her so much that she’d failed to seize that opportunity. “On second thought, I think I will take breakfast in the restaurant,” she said.

She only hoped her two mystery people were still aboard. It was possible that they’d disembarked at Cherbourg the previous night, or that they were planning to disembark today at Queenstown. If what Brynne had figured out the night before was true, she couldn’t figure out how remaining onboard for the entire voyage was necessary for them to complete their mission. But if there was a chance that either of them was still onboard, she had to take every opportunity to find them.

 

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