Couple of things:
-This story is Cal-centric even though I don't portray him as the good guy (or the villain, for that matter) and yes I do ship Rose and Cal as a warning to anyone who's reading this for the first time. There won't be any Runaway-Rose-escapes-to-Calvert or anything like that in here. I really just write what I want to read, or at least I try to.
-Also, this is a pretty old fic, the bulk of which I wrote when I was 18, and to me it feels dog-eared around the edges. It started as a freewriting exercise to break myself out of a year-long spell of writer's block, and that's why the first handful of chapters are so spacey and ungrounded. This Chapter One is a replacement of the first chapter I ever wrote, but the following chapters are all in their original state. A version of the original Chapter One can be found on Anne's Story Page.
-Disclaimer: No CW infringement. Most of the newspaper headlines in this chapter are from the archive section of the New York Times website.
["All The News That's Fit To Be Print."]
The New York Times. New York, Tuesday, April 16, 1912—Twenty-Four Pages
TITANIC SINKS FOUR HOURS AFTER HITTING ICEBERG; 866 RESCUED BY CARPATHIA, PROBABLY 1250 PERISH; ISMAY SAFE, MRS. ASTOR MAYBE, NOTED NAMES MISSING
MINIA IS DUE TO-MORROW.; Bringing to Halifax Last of the Bodies Recovered from the Titanic.
HALIFAX, N.S., May 4
COLD KILLED MANY OF TITANIC VICTIMS; Of Seventeen Picked Up by the Minia Only One Was Drowned.
HALIFAX, N.S., May 6. - Scores of persons were alive and floating about the ocean for hours after the Titanic sank according to the ship's physician on board the steamer Minia, which arrived to-day. Of seventeen bodies recovered only one of the victims met death by drowning, all others having perished from exposure.
THE TITANIC'S CONDITION.; Senator Smith Seeks Information from Financial Bureau.
WASHINGTON, May 8. - The Senate Committee investigating the Titanic disaster purposes to learn something about certain reports concerning the condition of the ship on the day she sank.
WHITE STAR PAYS IN FULL.; Settles for Maximum the First Claim from Titanic Disaster.
IN STEEL AND IRON.; Great Activity and Preparations for Business at Pittsburgh.
PITTSBURGH, June 22.
TITANIC FINDINGS TO ABSOLVE ISMAY.; But Excessive Speed Is Likely to be Declared the Cause of Disaster.
LONDON, Jun 29. - The Titanic inquiry is approaching a close, and the findings of the court, it is expected, will be rendered some time next week.
New York City
Credibility was a problem.
"You know how to sew, girl?"
Rose clenched her hands behind her back, with the classified ads rolled up in them like a baseball bat. She always tried to keep her hands hidden. They were still lily-pale and petal-soft, marks of the devil; they gave her away. "A—a little," she said, leaning forward into the doorstep, as if that would stop this woman from slamming the door in her face.
The woman's arms were crossed. She was strong-looking and heavy, not the product of fine breeding stock. Middle-class. "Have you ever darned a sock in your life?" she demanded.
"What do you know about garden-tending? Can you cook? Clean?"
"I'm willing to learn," said Rose, trying as hard as she could to show with eye contact what she couldn't have said out loud. She realized that her feet were primly together (force of habit, damn it all) and quickly stepped them apart, more abrupt and less discreet in motion than she'd intended. Yes, credibility was a real problem.
The woman's face didn't soften with its thick features twisted in skepticism, and her arms didn't uncross. Her narrowed eyes were humorless, flitting up and down Rose's personage—her semblance—in a single disinterested half-glance that most likely revealed to her everything Rose had made an effort to cover up. "I have more important things to worry about than a little rich girl with too much time on her hands and nothing to do."
Rose opened her mouth to speak.
The door slammed in her face.
All she saw was her reflection glaring back at her in the glass pane of the door. It was like staring into a funhouse mirror. Little rich girl, really? In her old dress with its trailing torn hem, her nose sunburned, her hair in tangles like Medusa?
experienced nanny wanted
seeking full-time housekeeper with references
maids with previous manor experience encouraged to apply
textile factory needs skilled workers
Sometimes Rose fell asleep on a park bench with the morning's stolen newspaper rolled up in her hand which by the end of the day was only good for swatting at mosquitoes. Sometimes she lay awake in the painful hours of morning and recited conversations to herself, mouthing the words over and over, remembering every facial expression and vocal intonation until she could close her eyes and relive those moments with perfect clarity.
You jump, I jump—remember?
And sometimes—not as often, but sometimes—she tried to peel open her eyes and pay attention to what was going on around her. But she wasn't much good at it.
She didn't have the instincts for hunting. She was just too slow, too static, not quick and clever Jack-be-nimble like she should have been. Her deficiencies were probably going be the death of her, soon. Sooner.
The rain woke her.
It sliced down through the morning mist, warm, aggressive rain that couldn't cool the city. She curled on her usual bench beneath the wool coat, and she felt damp and sweaty and sick, like she did most mornings. Swallowing nausea, she flipped back a corner of the coat so that she could watch businessmen scattering like marbles over the sidewalks and streets as they dropped their newspapers and ducked for cover.
She swooped in and salvaged one of them.
Returning to her bench, she tossed back her mass of heavy wet hair and tried to pull apart pieces of soaked newspaper. The wanted ads. The classifieds.
The wet page tore off in her hand.
Wanting to scream, Rose jerked back her arm and threw the torn newspaper pulp as hard as she could at the sidewalk. Headlines peered up at her like taunting, curious eyes.
HARLAND & WOLFF REJECTS CLAIM THAT BRITTLE STEEL MAY BE AT FAULT IN DISASTER SHIPWRECK.
It had been weeks. Five, six, seven, eight—was she even counting?
All the shelters were overcrowded and filthy. She could have slipped into one unnoticed—at least, she liked to believe that she could have—but she felt like she was suffocating. I can do this, my fire is still burning at least a little bit she kept telling herself at the black of twilight when she hurried to bathe herself in the fountains of Central Park. She spent a lot of time hurrying, these days, because she was always so afraid that someone was going to catch her. She didn't know how to play this foreign game of hunter/gatherer. She was a minnow in a pool of sharks, tiny and dangerously unaware.
There was no point searching for pity in the faceless sidewalk strangers of New York City.
Little rich girl.
Was that what all of them saw as she darted past, eyes down, quick and shaky and nervous for reasons she never could entirely pinpoint?
It had been weeks, and she was starting to fancy herself selfish.
It would have been so easy to go home, so easy to splutter lies and excuses and loathsome apologies. But the way people would look at her… everything she knew they were going to think and say when they thought she was out of earshot… she wasn't sure she could take it. She didn't want it, she didn't want to do things anymore that she didn't want to do. She wanted to think only about herself. And, at the primal level, she saw that, in herself, and she didn't like it. Didn't respect it.
Jack Dawson had died for her, not with her. He had sacrificed his life for hers, so that she would live, so that she would be alive.
The bitterest, most sickening thought kept flickering on and off in her mind—
—and she tried never to linger on that idea, oh God did she hate thinking about it, but every time she tried to shove it out of her mind it would force its way back, wretched but still so ridiculous and brutal and real.
This was a paradox of Epicurean proportions.
Can the hand that feeds be indivisible from the hand that kills?
She stood in line at the shelter, waiting her turn as volunteers handed out sacks of bread and apples. She ignored the scuffle of people around her. She had gotten very good at tuning out the world, at hearing silence where there was none.
Back in the park, she did her laundry—which meant dipping the odd pieces of clothing she'd collected into the pond and spreading them out in the grass to dry. The afternoon was overcast and cool for early summer. The rain had stopped hours ago.
I could go home, she thought, flinging herself down in the grass among the fabric.
I could give up, lie down and die.
Was it really so black and white? Maybe she was wrong—maybe her suspicions were off.
But did she want to be wrong?
She opened her eyes, stared up into the white-gray sky, and put her hand into the dangerous pocket of Cal's coat, a place she had willed herself to forget about. Her fingers brushed cool metal, and she just stared into the endless sky and couldn't move or breathe or see at all.
I'm trying, Jack. I don't want to let go. I'm trying not to let go.
She was insane.
How could she think of it? Where were her dreams that had seemed so lucid while she was asleep? Her dreams of roller coasters in Santa Monica that would make her want to die for the fragility of tomorrow, spitting and horseback-riding on the beach, too drunk on cheap beer to see straight, and the world so beautiful and dizzy and bright…
But this wasn't about her anymore, and her dreams of gallivanting had begun to slip tragically away.
She wandered down the sidewalk in the early morning light tapping a walking stick along the ground, alert despite her queasiness. She stopped ten feet from the post office door. Just stopped, and stared, and beheld this place of unwanted possibilities.
Through the glass she watched a short little man in a mail hat unlocking the door from inside. He seemed to notice her staring at him and squinted, keys in hand.
The post office disappeared, spinning and bleeding away like paint running off a canvas until it was something one-dimensional and formless.
Disoriented and flustered, Rose spun around and took several long, unsteady strides in the opposite direction, not even sure what she was doing. Was she running away? Did she feel like a thief or a voyeur or a traitor, or a coward?
She didn't even know.
All she knew was that she had made a promise, and that maybe—maybe—
Her long strides shortened, and halted. And slowly, she turned back around. The overcast sky beat down against the post office and the short postman, who stood angled now in the open door.
"Well there, miss?" he said, waiting.
Maybe this was selfishness, in its own desperate way.
Rose closed the distance between herself and the door.