"So, how is the sea treating you," Patrick Crawley asked me as he pulled out my chair when I met him to dine.
I gave a small laugh. "It’s not been too dreadful," I replied. "Though I still don’t know how anyone convinced me to go with you. I mean no offense of course. I have always wanted to see New York. I have a bit of a soft spot for America."
"Yes. It’s the oddest thing. What draws you to it?"
"I’m not certain I know for sure."
"Oh, come now, you must have some idea," Patrick pressed.
"Well," I began, only to be stopped short as a deafening noise and jarring crash rattled the ship. Patrick and I exchanged a look. We both knew what the other was thinking without either of us needing say it. The ship was tilting. The Titanic was going down.
Not wasting a moment, we followed a panicked crowd out to the lifeboats. I kept him within my sights every second. He was my lifeline. I needed him if I was going to make it out of this alive. Lifeboat after lifeboat filled with women and children went down. I refused to board without Patrick. A foolish notion, perhaps, but I needed to be assured of his safety as well as my own.
It became harder and harder to find a lifeboat. At the rate the ship was going, we'd be lucky not to slip and splash into the freezing waters below. Seeing as our chances were dwindling, Patrick fiercely grabbed my hand. "We have to go," he said. "We can’t wait. We have to jump." I nodded, trusting him without a second thought. "On three." I nodded again.
"One." I breathed in deep as Patrick counted us off, preparing myself for the fall. "Two."
"Promise me you won’t let go of my hand," I said, before he could hit three. Now he was the one giving me a nod.
"Three." I squinted my eyes shut and we were flying. In the span of a few seconds, it seemed as if there were no bottom to reach, no water below us at all. We would stay perpetually falling through the sky for the rest of time. And then, the cold.
I had lost sight of Patrick the moment we hit the water. Our hands slipped apart with the force of the water against them, and the suddenness of the icy chill prevented me from calling out to him. I blinked my eyes furiously, my lashes heavy with water drops. Everything around me was blurred, distorted. Wreckage, other people, I could hardly tell the difference.
Once over the initial shock, I began to shiver. In the short while I had spent in the water, I could hardly feel any of my body. I was numb, floating there, not even completely able to feel my legs as I kicked them, swimming to some semblance of safety, no matter what form it came in. I kept scanning the area for Patrick, but he was nowhere to be found.
I grabbed hold of a large crate, floating gently by. It was enough to keep me up and mostly in one place. I tried once to cry out Patrick's name, but the shivers prevented my call from being anything more than a stuttered whisper. He was lost to me, and I could only hope he’d be okay.
The cold sank deeper into my bones. No feeling was left in my legs at all anymore. I even reached my hand down to check they were in fact still there. It seemed so surreal not to feel them. The longer I waited there in the water, the calmer I became. I fought to feel the panic from earlier, but it was drained from me entirely. I made one more slow, nearly effortless attempt to search out Patrick, but my heart was no longer in it. Between the darkness of the sea and the clouded night sky, the last thing I remember...was black.
"Good morning, all," Cora said, entering the room.
"How nice of you to join us, mother," Mary replied.
"I thought I would for a change. It does get terribly lonely having breakfast in bed all the time."
Her daughters smiled and welcomed her to the table while Robert watched Carson come in with the morning paper. Carson looked solemn, but not alarmingly so, it was rather usual for him to look stern and solemn, so no one knew anything was amiss until he told them so. "The front page, sir. It appears the Titanic has gone down."
Robert accepted the paper and Carson dismissed himself as the silence befell the room. "He can’t be serious," Cora said, first to break the quiet tension.
"I’m afraid he is," Robert replied, scanning over the article. "Have we ever known him not to be," he added in attempt to at least briefly lighten the mood. No one laughed, or even cracked a smile.
After Robert read the highlights of the article aloud, the hush had overtaken them once more. Robert registered no detectable emotion at all, though he must have been feeling something. The girls sat in silent disbelief, mouths slightly agape, and Cora was nearly on the verge of tears.
There were survivors of course, but none of which had been named yet. "Patrick," Edith said, as if the idea hadn’t occurred to anyone else.
"Yes, Patrick," Robert mimicked, not in a mocking sort of way, but in a way affirming that it is what they all must be thinking.
"And," Cora began, but could not get any of the subsequent words out. They all knew who she meant, without her having to say it. Cora could no longer hold back the tears, and she abruptly excused herself, heading back for the privacy of her bedroom.
"Her friend," Sybil stated sympathetically after Cora had gone.
"Not just her friend," Robert corrected. "Her closest friend since coming to England."
"They were practically inseparable," Mary added. "The whole reason she went to America was because of mother's stories."
"I can’t imagine what she must be feeling right now," Sybil said.
"She probably blames herself," Edith chimed in, the realization just dawning on her.
"She shouldn’t. None of this is any fault of hers," Robert insisted, his words coming out more harsh than he had intended them to. Perhaps he was more affected by this than he showed. Realizing his outburst, Robert excused himself to check on Cora, leaving the girls at the table to wonder how any of them were going to make it through this, and if either of the people important to them on that ship had survived.
My eyes open a sliver, the light above me forcing me to close them again. I realize I’m lying down, on my back, and it’s morning. Well, maybe not morning, but daylight. Light enough, in any case, that my eyes were having a rough time of adjusting to it. The next thing I noticed was that I wasn’t cold anymore. I moved my fingers and toes, feeling a blanket lying on top of me. I braved opening my eyes a little wider, seeing only the bright white of a ceiling before having to close them again.
Some minutes passed before I could leave my eyes open for any length of time, but finally I could see the room I was in. A hospital, it appeared. Slowly, achingly, I sat up. My leg was hurting something fierce, but other than that it felt nice to change positions. My back cracked as I sat upright, looking about the room. I had begun to wonder how I ended up here, but then I remembered. It all came hurtling back. The ship. The crash. Patrick. The cold. I shivered just at the memory.
Patrick wasn’t in this room, I noted. Again, a shiver passed down my spine. Something was telling me that he had not been as lucky as I was, if I could call myself that. "Miss, you shouldn’t be sitting up," a frantic nurse said suddenly, rushing over to me the minute she saw me. I laid myself back down, wincing at the pain in my leg. I wondered how bad the injury was, but I didn’t dare ask.
"It’s good to see you’re awake, Cora," the nurse said after she was assured I was safely back in the lying down position.
"Cora," I asked. I couldn’t fathom why she was calling me that.
"Is that not your name? It’s just, you were saying it when the rescue crew pulled you out of the water. They thought you were trying to tell them your name."
"I—" I began, but stopped short. I barely had memory of being pulled out of the ocean at all. All I can really remember is thinking I was going to die and how—
Suddenly I pieced it all together. The nurse was looking at me with concern, and I knew I’d have more time to think about all that later. "No, it’s not my name," I told her. "It’s just someone I know. Someone I’m close to."
She crossed the name off her sheet and wrote down my real name in its place. "I’m afraid you have a long recovery ahead of you. Your leg was ripped up pretty badly. Do you have any idea what did it?"
"No," I admitted. "I just remember being hardly able to feel it once I hit the water. I simply assumed it was due to the cold."
"Well it was a bit more than that. I’m not saying it won’t heal, but it will take time. I hope you’re willing to put in the effort."
"I certainly am," I replied.
"Then let’s get you on the road to recovery."
"Have the names been released," Mary asked her father.
"I’m afraid so," he replied, not looking away from the paper. "Patrick has been confirmed among the deceased, and there’s no mention of your mother's friend anywhere. She was likely lost to the sea before they could account for her. I wish there were some way we could spare her the news."
"Perhaps we can," Mary suggested.
"I don’t see what merit there is in giving Cora false hope. I think she’d rather know for sure—"
"But even we don’t know for sure," Edith interrupted. "Just because she hasn’t been recorded in any hospital doesn’t mean she isn’t alive. There are a thousand possibilities."
"Edith, dear, thank you for so passionately coming to my defense, but I can take it," Cora announced calmly. No one had even realized she had entered the room. Their disagreement was cut off entirely, seeing as Cora had already overheard the news. "So, there’s no sign of her at all? Not even just her first name," Cora went on, needing confirmation that what she overheard was true.
"Not even that," Robert told her.
Cora nodded, taking in the information, or lack thereof as the case was. "Either one of you could be right. If she’s alive, she’ll turn up. And, if she doesn’t turn up, we can assume she didn’t make it, but we never will know for sure then, will we?"
No one knew what to say. All Cora got in response was forlorn looks and hesitant nods. She was right, they may never know what actually became of her.
The nurse I met on the first day I woke up was correct. My leg did take time to heal. The first week I could not stand on it at all. The week following that I stood, but couldn’t take a step without shooting pain. It progressed from there. Slowly, agonizingly slowly, but I was making progress. I was discharged from the hospital two months to the day after I woke up there. I had graduated from a walker, to a cane, and for now I was still stuck with it, though I planned on using it less and less as time went on if I could manage.
As I made my way down the street I recalled the days I had planned on giving up, quitting and resigning myself to the hospital for the rest of my natural life. There were times I wished I had drowned in the ocean that night, but I pushed on. It always came back to the same reason. My one motivation for using this second chance I was granted the day the ship went down. And now I was working my way towards it.
I had reached town in the evening, later than I had planned on, but I had missed my train due to my damn leg. I wasn’t as fast as I used to be, but it wouldn’t deter me. I decided to stay at a local inn for the night rather than risk showing up to my destination and giving everyone a fright. Besides, I was having some second thoughts. Maybe I had rushed into this too soon. Maybe I should have waited until my leg was in better condition. I had enough money on me to stay for a week if needed, so I’d have to make my decision by then.
I sat on the bed in my room, propping my wounded leg up. It had bled for days, nearly a week actually, before it formed a nasty looking scab during the second week of my recovery. Parts of it opened from time to time, but all that had stopped now. Now the scab had even gone, leaving only an ugly scar where it had been. The scar was my only proof any of it had happened. My memories of it all had faded, barely even there to begin with. It wasn’t something I liked to think about, but I felt as if it was something I should remember. So, in place of the memories, I had the scar. I traced my finger along the edges of it. It was still tender to the touch, but not unbearably so. I looked at it for a moment more then laid back and fell into a dreamless sleep.
"Anna, calm down! What are you trying to say," Mrs. Hughes asked.
"I could have sworn— I was in town and I swear it was her," Anna said, still trying to calm down.
"Her Ladyship's best friend. But wasn’t she assumed dead?"
"She was, but it was never confirmed. Anna, are you sure?"
"Not really, but I’m not sure who else it could have been. She was standing outside the inn, leaning against the wall. She looked just like her, maybe a little paler."
"Did she see you?"
"I don’t believe so," Anna replied.
"Well for now we keep this under wraps until we know for sure. I’ll go into town today and see if I can spot her. I’ll give Mr. Carson an excuse for my absence. If it really is her, Her Ladyship will want to know, but I don’t want to be the bearer of false news."
"I agree. I hope it is her. Her Ladyship has been miserable far too long. She could use some good news."
Mrs. Hughes went into town later that day and passed by the inn several times. Surely if it were who Anna claimed, she would have come calling to Downton by now. Though they had no way of knowing how long she’d been in town. Finally, on her fourth time passing, a woman was coming out of the inn. Mrs. Hughes studied her as casually as she could. The woman she knew did not have a cane, this one did. But everything else she was observing was telling her that Anna was right. It did appear to be her. Now there was the matter of telling Her Ladyship.
"I believe you’re right, Anna," Mrs. Hughes told her when she came back.
"You saw her," Anna replied, more statement than question.
"Yes, and it does look remarkably like her. She’s changed a bit in the months she’s been gone, but I don’t have much doubt that it is her. I’ll tell Her Ladyship after dinner." Anna smiled and the two went on about their day.
Dinner passed and Mrs. Hughes caught up with Cora. "Your Ladyship, may I have a word?"
"Of course, Mrs. Hughes. What is it?"
"Anna ran an errand in town today and when she came back, she had something quite shocking to tell me."
"Oh, is everything all right?"
"Yes. It’s just Anna swore she saw your friend, the one who didn’t come back after the Titanic sunk. Of course, I wasn’t sure I believed her, not that she’d have any reason to lie, but I went and had a look for myself, and I’m convinced it is her. We thought you’d want to know."
"Do you really think so? She’s alive? Why hasn’t she come to Downton?"
"I don’t know for sure. I didn’t speak to her, but I may have an idea. She has a cane now. She was injured. I assume she finds the cane an embarrassment. Either way, I thought you should know we've spotted her. She’s staying at the inn."
"Well I must go and see her," Cora said, her eyes lighting up for the first time in months.
"Perhaps you should wait until morning," Mrs. Hughes advised.
"I don’t think I can. Please, have the car sent around."
"Of course." Mrs. Hughes dismissed herself and went to go alert the chauffeur.
Another day had passed and all I had done was step outside the inn, before changing my mind and heading back inside. Twice. I couldn’t bring myself to leave just yet. I didn’t want to show up with the cane. I didn’t want pity and I didn’t want it to feel like anything had changed. I wanted everything like it was before I ever decided to get on that ship. I never should have left Downton that night. I should have stayed with—
A knock on my door made me jump. It was the softest knock I had ever heard, but in the otherwise silent room, it snapped me away from my memories. Probably the owner, asking if I’d be staying another night. I got up, leaning on the cane for balance and I traveled the short distance to my door. As it swung open, I had to lean harder on my cane just to keep myself upright. It wasn’t the owner as I had expected. It was Cora.
My heart was beating so hard and so fast I couldn’t even hear the thoughts in my own head. How had she known I was here? Most importantly, what was I possibly going to say to her.
"You are here," Cora said, as if she were finally allowing herself to believe it. My heart hadn’t ceased it’s racing, but the pounding in my ears had lessened and I could hear her voice. I had forgotten how much I loved it. I had missed hearing it for so long.
"I am," I confirmed, though my mere presence indicated that. "More or less in one piece," I added for humor.
Cora smiled at me. I could tell she was holding back a laugh. In the situation it was hardly appropriate, but part of me wished she would have. "May I come in," she asked.
"Like I’ve ever said no to you," I teased, still desperately trying to keep the mood light, though I know I couldn’t keep up the facade forever.
Cora walked past me and sat on the edge of the bed. I joined her, sitting at her side, our knees nearly touching. "I thought you were dead," Cora said. There broke my light mood.
"I felt like it, for a while," I confided with a sigh. "Once I got out of the hospital, I came back to town. I’ve been here a couple of days. I’ve wanted to come to Downton, but—" I flicked out the cane for emphasis on my point.
"You’ve always been too proud for your own good," Cora teased. She was right, though. That’s the main thing that stopped me from seeing her when I got back.
"I’ve missed you," I said, a tear coming to my eye.
"I’ve missed you too. When I thought I lost you I regretted so much. I never told you just how much I cared for you. I only realized it a short time before you left, but I fell in love with you."
A small chuckle escaped my lips before I realized how insensitive I must have sounded. I decided I better explain. "The reason I laughed is because before I went off I actually thought going to America would make me closer to you. I know now how stupid that was. If you had told me this before, I never would have gone."
"If you had stayed and hadn’t left and disappeared for all this time, I don’t think I ever would have been brave enough to say it."
"You, not brave? Impossible. You’re the bravest woman I’ve ever met, Cora. And I guess what I’ve been trying to say here is that I’ve been in love with you since I can remember. I may be a little different, physically, but I haven’t changed my mind on that."
I watched Cora's smile widen, and then she kissed me. I hadn’t expected her to, exactly, but it was one of the things I loved about her. She was always surprising me. And now, she had made me glad I survived.