New York City, USA
April 20, 1912:
The room was silent for a long moment after I finished my story. Only the scratching of pencils on notepads or a random cough was to be heard. Looking at my pocket watch I was shocked to see only an hour gone by, it felt like a month or more.
"One hell of a thing," declared Senator Smith, "you are a genuine hero in my book." I blinked, puffing on my last cigarette. All I wanted to do right now was cry like a bloody baby. Every night I heard the screams of those poor souls dying in the water, knowing my mates were among them.
"Why?" I snapped, "because I did my bloomin' job? The real heroes never came out of that hellhole engine room. I'm just a survivor. And if I'm such a damned hero, why did White Star cut my pay the moment she went down?" The words shot off my tongue with more venom than I intended. It wasn't the senator's fault. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to bitch."
Smith nodded and shook my hand, "They won't be forgotten, Mr. Branson, I promise you that. You're free to go."
I threw open the door and found Barrett waiting for me. He shook his head at the sight of me. "Want to get a drink? You look like you need one," that made me think of McCreary and a lump rose in my throat. Fred put a strong hand on my shoulder and we walked outside together.
Later, we sat in a busy bar drinking cold beers. As I drank, I half-expected to hear 'hey, coal monkey!' and look up to see Jim McCreary, Mr. Andrews , Chief Bell and the others standing in the doorway. It's not fair, any of it.
"So, what do we do now?" I asked finally. Last night I sent a telegram to my folks and Teresa, letting them know I was alive and not to worry. If I could just hug Teresa, everything would be okay.
"Go home, go back to work," Barrett said. I stared at him.
"After what just happened?"
"You want to eat, don't you?" He said and took a sip. The guy was right of course. Part of me seriously considered getting a job as a coal miner on shore, but that'd be running away. I'm not a runner.
Barrett held up his glass, "To Titanic, a lovely lass who went before her time." We clinked our glasses and drank. Another lump filled my throat, I swallowed hard.
"And to absent friends," I croaked, emptying my glass and filling it back up again. I'll never forget them, not as long as I live, all of the heroes from the lower decks.