He's alive. Lowe's words echoed in Anne's head, haunting her. Seated across from her, Megan, and Rose at a small London café he'd shared the most earth-shattering news Anne could recall. But somehow, she'd been less shocked than she expected. She recalled the way Lowe never seemed to make eye contact when he shared the news of Murdoch's death, the way he said that Murdoch could never have lived with himself, knowing that he'd caused the deaths of all the innocents. He's been sorting things out with the White Star Line – that sort of thing takes time. I told him I'd let you live peacefully, but I can't keep lying. It's almost been a year. He's returning to Dalbeattie.
Anne sighed as she stared out at the open ocean, uncertain whether her sigh was wistful or anguished. Exactly one year had passed since Titanic sank. Exactly one year since her first and only kiss. Exactly one year since she'd last seen the man she thought she loved. She'd been so certain until Lowe's announcement at the café. But how could she love him if he didn't love her in return? She pondered the question.
She'd gotten to know him better through his family and friends in Dalbeattie, where she decided to take up residence, along with young Will. Not a day passed that she didn't think of the man who'd changed her life forever. And now, after a year, she found herself wondering what could have happened. What would have happened. What would certainly happen if he ever dared to show his face again.
The mid-April skies were bleak and grey. Anne stared out at the sea, green-grey waves with frothy crests. She pulled her shawl more tightly around her slim shoulders and lost herself in the rhythmic lapping and crashing of the waves against the shore and rocky cliffs. She closed her eyes against the joy and the pain. He's alive. And he never sought you out. Granted, he caused his family more grief than he'll ever know, but . . . he never sought me out. The words were icy water to her face.
Anne hung her shawl near the door, first glaring at the garment she'd treasured as a reminder of his compassion. She paused to allow her fingers to longingly graze the worn fabric. If she allowed her mind to wander the slightest bit, she could remember the night he draped it around her shoulders. Furiously she blinked away the tears that threatened so as not to frighten young Will.
Having left the beach early to discourage herself from dwelling too deeply on her impossible wants angry wishes Anne decided to prepare lunch. She threw herself wholeheartedly into the cooking that distracted her from the sadness that still pervaded every sense of her being, oblivious to the goings on in the house.
She failed to hear the knock at the door, or the footsteps of Will as he raced to greet the caller. All she heard was the sound of her own sniffling as she fought the urge the weep.
"Momma?" Will's soft voice startled her from her thoughts, and she quickly wiped the salt drops from her face.
"Yes, darling?" Anne asked sweetly as she turned to face her son. Her lips parted in surprise as her eyes widened. "Oh." She could not quite believe the spectacle before her. Her hand instinctively rose to find the comfort of her locket. "Oh. I must be dreaming."
The man stood in the doorway of the kitchen. He carried himself with the air of a gentleman, though he wore a simple white work shirt and brown slacks with suspenders. And as he stood there, he stared at Anne, not daring to breathe nor blink, for fear that she would vanish.
"You're not dreaming, Momma," Will reassured.
"Anne." Her name was spoken softly, timidly. It was a faint breath of air, a question. She sensed the shame in his voice, but did not feel the satisfaction she'd dreamed of.
"Impossible. . . ." Anne shook her head slowly as her eyes remained riveted on the man before her.
Murdoch smiled sadly as he eyed the boy, Anne's pride and joy. He recalled that somewhere in the chaotic meeting with his parents they'd mentioned the orphan Anne adopted, who was perhaps all she needed. He supposed he deserved that for waiting so long. But it had taken him that long, and then some, to defeat the guilt he felt after the accident – the accident that he had caused, the one that had killed so many. The accident that he felt was the reason he could never be with Anne. I never thought I'd see you again.
Cautiously, he took a step forward, and then another, concentrating on the vision before him. As he closed the distance between them, his heart began to race and he wondered what to say to her. He had thought about it often enough – daily since he'd last seen her. But now as he found himself mere inches from her — he could faintly smell her perfume, the same she wore on Titanic, and the green intensity of her eyes was the same as when he'd last gotten lost in them — he was breathless and mindless, and nothing made sense. He peered down at her lips, slightly parted in surprise and quivering as she held back tears. He hadn't wanted to make her cry. "Anne . . . I beg you to forgive me. I'm so very sorry. I'm sorry that a mere apology does not justify what I've done. But please, Anne. You must understand why I asked Lowe to tell you I was dead. You deserve so much better than . . . than a murderer. I could have stopped it. Smith told me to rouse him if the conditions were the least bit suspicious. But I was too prideful; I thought I could handle it. And I crashed the largest ocean-liner on her maiden voyage, and—"
Anne silenced him with a finger to his lips as her anger swiftly cooled to a vexation. "Shh. . . ." Her voice trailed off into nothing as she searched his eyes for something, anything that would give away his secret and shake her from this dream and nightmare. Nervously, she reached up and touched his cheek. It was warm. It was solid. He was real. Her voice was a whisper. "Oh . . . this cannot be real. You never came, and it's been a year. I've mourned for you. I'm so angry with you, Will. Do you know that?"
Murdoch's shoulders visibly slumped in defeat. He had dared to hope that perhaps. . . . He felt his throat tighten as a stinging sensation began behind his eyes. A year of preparation was hardly enough for the overwhelming depression he felt. "I. . . ." No words would come. He could say nothing that justified or lessened the consequences of his actions. His eyes lowered to the floor as her hand dropped from his cheek.
For a moment, Anne's eyes nervously scanned the floor as they registered countless emotions vying for control. And Forgiveness won.
She reached up again to cup his cheek with her palm, waiting for his head to rise. Her eyes searched his, his nervousness and overbearing sadness displayed for all to see. And suddenly her anger was baseless in light of all he'd endured over the past year. With a shy smile, she leaned up to his ear. "I forgive you," she whispered. "A thousand times over. I've missed you so, Will."
She smiled as she saw surprise replace the nervousness, and joy counter the sadness. She leaned up as he took her in his arms and softly graced her lips with a gentle kiss. Anne did not know whether to laugh or cry, and then all thought processes seemed to stop as she was lost in his embrace.
The end! I must admit that I didn't want this story to end, which may be why it took me so very long to finish it. Either that or the fact that I had no less than six different endings prepared (this is a mix of all of them, as I couldn't decide quite how to end it!). I've not read this story in ages, and now looking back I realise that I should probably go back and revise much of it, but all in good time. I am grateful beyond measure to everyone who has read and reviewed this story. Without you, I doubt I'd have finished this -- honestly, I might've just let it sit in Microsoft Office with six different endings attached to the end.
Regarding Lowe and the meeting, this event occurred perhaps a month before Anne visits the beach on the anniversary of Titanic's sinking. It might be more understandable if I'd have written it out. . . . Of course, then you'd have known that he was alive before they actually met. Then again, I think that might have been obvious. Also, Anne's pms-like mood swings are a result of me combining the endings, but I imagine that my own feelings would be vacillating between anger and joy if I were in her position. I simply felt the need to explain all of that.