Chapter Two: Staying Behind
"Step aboard, miss!"
For the past hour and a half or so since the ship had started sinking, Rose had thought of nothing except the cold of the water that had soaked her to the bone; of her mother, who might seem cold-hearted, but really did care inside; of Margaret Brown, if she was tucked safely in a lifeboat somewhere; and of Jack, the person she'd fallen in love with just a mere couple of days ago.
As much as she wanted to save herself, she knew that her naïve head revolved only around one thing, and that was Jack's life. If he was spared, so would she; if he was not, she might as well be thrown into the ocean like she conspired to do more than forty-eight hours ago. Had it really been such a short amount of time she'd spent on this ship? It felt like years that she'd known Jack, and everyone aboard.
If Rose had been told previous to the voyage that she would fall in love with a penniless artist boy in the course of three or so days, she would have denied them right on the spot. After all, wasn't that what she was supposed to do, reject the disgusting viewpoints of society? "A poor boy, honestly," she would have said. "Could you think of anything viler than a peasant?"
So maybe that was a bit of an exaggeration, but that's how she'd played out her society for the longest time possible, or, more specifically, since she'd been able to read and write. After a while, she sensed that something wasn't right about the way they gossiped and looked down their noses at other people, and she didn't make her rebellious thoughts known until she'd been forcefully engaged to Cal, who was selfish and, what she sadly came to learn, abusive.
Did her mother even care that she'd almost been thrown into a violent, scarring relationship? Did she not know that Rose, who learned that she had so much potential after meeting Jack, would have been locked in some gigantic, echoing mansion to produce children and watch them grow with governesses and nannies? Did Ruth DeWitt Bukater know how boring that sounded in her daughter's seventeen-year-old, adventure-seeking ears?
Yet, that was how society worked, and Rose no longer had an excuse for protesting against her strikingly rich fiancé.
But now the Titanic was sinking, and she couldn't care less about the life she lived before. Since meeting Jack, she could feel the overwhelming sense of freedom in an arm's reach, and if she could just lean forward a tiny bit further, she'd be unchained from her old life and flung into the new one—that included sleeping under bridges, drinking cheap beer, and traveling the nation, a fresh journey every day.
And just like that, Rose was snapped out of her dreadfully wondering thoughts by Jack's hands squeezing her arms as they strained to stick together despite the overwhelming crowd of people waiting for the currently filling lifeboat. Her muddled eyes were met by his dazzling blue ones, smothered with pleadings and silently groveling her to get in, though she refused.
"No," she protested, attempting to sound firm as her fear made her voice crack. "Not without you." And her hands flew up to his face to adore and appreciate his boyish features once again, and to smooth out the limp, overgrown hair that adorned his forehead.
In response, his own hands grazed her cheeks, and she was flung back to the point in time when their hands had first met, and when their eyes had pored into each other's. Lust and wonder, longing and yearning—all of those were there, and the attraction certainly had bloomed. "Don't worry about me," he said convincingly to comfort her from the mass panic. "I'm a survivor, all right? Now, get in the boat."
Her lips were in formation to utter the single word "no" again, but she was interrupted by Jack once more. "Get in the boat, Rose," he whispered, forcing her exasperated eyes to look into his desperate ones. "Don't do this to us."
Us. It was the first time he'd ever referred to them as something more than friends, though they'd been more than that for a while now—and Rose liked it. In fact, she had a hungry yen for it, and would do anything to quench its desire for him.
Just anything to make it all stop.
Reluctantly, Rose let herself be swept away by the officer in charge, never letting go of Jack's hand. From the moment the frantic crowd had pushed them towards the edge of the quickly sinking ship and the crew member had taken her arm, she could feel Jack's hands brush off her face and hectically grasp for her fingers, almost as though he didn't want her to go despite his undoubted words.
They stayed entwined like that even when Rose took her first step into the safety of the slightly rocking boat, pictures of their future life together reflecting through her head like a rolling film. And their hands were able to grasp on to each other's for a few more seconds, Jack giving her a reassuring squeeze, before they were brutally and cruelly torn apart.
Rose stumbled back and into her seat in the lifeboat, her eyes flashing everywhere, from the starry, moonless sky to the famished ocean below, consuming the ship bit by bit. Then her gaze came across Jack's, and she was certain she couldn't do it—leave him all alone on that deathtrap. But he was right: He'd have no chance if she stayed with him, and he would die, frozen by the unbearable waters.
And the lifeboat started to lower. Her eyes brewing with tears, Rose watched with an increasing amount of uncertainty as the whole thing shuddered and the ropes scooted it down slowly. There were two children with their mother placed right next to her, and she witnessed them sobbing for their daddy left on the ship; Rose could feel the ache in her heart as she, too, glanced back at Jack.
He had sounded so certain that he wanted her to leave, but with the way his hand had held hers just moments before, she now realized he really didn't want her to part from him as much as she wanted to stay. But she couldn't do that to Jack; she couldn't risk their future, existent or not.
For a second, Rose conjured up enough willpower to stay with him and lift her body off the seat just the slightest—which caused a considerable amount of uproar from the surrounding passengers as the boat wobbled—but when Jack's eyes beckoned to hers, she just hesitantly sat back down and kept her view trained on him.
Eventually they reached the brim of the brewing, ice-cold sea, and the ropes were removed and the lifeboat rowed away. There was no sight of Jack high above on the decks anymore; he was now going to fend for himself. But Rose couldn't shake the feeling that she should have stayed just to be with him, just to make sure he was going to be all right.
However, the worst part of the whole horrible ordeal was that they witnessed it all go down. As the tilt of the deck became steeper and steeper, the ship lurched and a smokestack broke off; soon enough there was a deafening crack that resounded like gunfire, and the entire ocean liner known as the Titanic split in half, and as the stern fell and rose, only to stand still and upright, many people thought they were saved. But after thirty seconds of bobbing, it started to be pulled down into the bowels of the ocean depths, and the rumbling that had been present as it died ceased to exist.
At first, no one did anything but shudder and let their eyes be glazed over with shock. Then the women in the boat realized that they still had room for more, and many protested going back to save the living before they became part of the dead. After all, wasn't it their men out there?
As for Rose, she only shivered and choked on silent sobs as big, wet, sloppy tears ran down her cheeks, the terror and guilt of it all finally caving in on her. How could she have left him out there as the women claimed? Why hadn't she jumped?
You jump, I jump, right?
"We have to go back," Rose spoke up, voice weak and cracking. And just in case they didn't hear her the first time, she reiterated it: "We have to go back!"
"They'll swamp us," was the crew member's argument. "That's for sure."
"Then we'll find someone who cares," Rose uttered in reply, her tone now cold as the night air. "And by then we'll be able to collect those fortunate enough to live this long." She didn't dare mention Jack, not in person or in her head; she just couldn't do it to herself to question his authenticity.
That's when the drifting lifeboats nearby collaborated together and, as Rose had said, one decided to go disperse their passengers and head out into the field of possible survivors. It was no other than Officer Lowe of lifeboat fourteen, readying himself for the dreadful task. Before she knew it, Rose had stood up in her spot, again going against the hissing protests, and proclaimed, "Let me go with you!"
Astounded, Lowe was speechless as he stared at the witty young lady, trying to identify if she was joking or not. "This is a gory task, Miss," he said in his crisp Welsh accent, his breath condensing in the air in small clouds. "Not a pretty sight."
"I don't care," Rose stated, keeping her ground. "Just let me go with you." Quick as a whip, she also added, "Please."
With no one as eager to volunteer, Lowe sighed perplexedly and waved her in, uneasy about it, but since no one else was jumping out of their seats for the ride, he undeniably had the space; there wouldn't be much of anyone now.
Meanwhile, Jack had found himself washed up on overturned collapsible B along with forty other men, all clinging on to life in a literal sense. As men perished in the murderous cold, the only energetic scrap of sanity Jack had left to keep him alive was the warm thought of Rose: her blue-green eyes embellished with fluttering lashes, her full lips, the freckles hiding on her pale skin; of how he had promised her he would somehow make it out of this still living. By the time there came a cry in the distance, only fifteen of the men remained, all questioning if they were hallucinating from the frigid waters of the lifesavers rowing their way.
But there were other boats out there, too, one that got to them first. And Jack watched in a strange, indescribable sense of dread as the one he'd heard yelling for survivors paddle away, avoiding where rescue had already hit.
"That's the last of them," Lowe announced tragically; they had only pulled in five people, and they'd searched a great area.
"What?" Rose cried out, the horror and pain not yet completely striking her. "But that can't be! I'm looking for someone, and he's not here—"
"Then maybe he's been saved by one of the other boats," Lowe interrupted her, not looking forward to a heart-breaking ramble from the first out of many women to lose someone she loved.
"No! He has to be with me," she muttered, more to herself now as she hiccupped from fresh tears. "I have to make sure he's all right…"
Lowe watched as the confidence and hope the woman once held so proudly dissipated, and she crumbled, full of grief, and cried. And he was not able to comfort her with any other words besides the fact that she was not the only one—either way, she would have still continued sobbing despite his best intentions, and she still would have suffered with heartbreak.
There was no way out of it: She was now one out of seven hundred others who'd lost someone that merciless night .
A couple of hours painstakingly ticked by, and as the morning peaked through the sky, it not only sent hues of pink and orange, but a rescue ship was there to take the surviving passengers of the Titanic to New York. After picking up Rose's lifeboat, she found herself precariously unstable and stumbled into the waiting nurse on the deck, barely able to contain her cracking heart or her ghastly torture. She couldn't stop aching, and she yearned for the world to stop spinning.
In a state of an inconsolable wreck, she wanted to stop living—just like what she'd tried to do a few days ago, though it felt like years, before being impeded by him.
No one said a word except for a few crewmen murmuring pitiful mumbles to the young woman, the nurse promptly leading her away towards the first-class decks after noting her elegant yet wrinkled gown, but Rose firmly placed her chilled hand on the kind nurse's arm and yanked herself away, too preoccupied with her despair to care about anything else but the man she had lost.
She only walked, almost stiffly, a couple of steps before slumping against the wall, as stubborn as he had told her she was: She would wait for him.
But eventually, the Carpathia had picked up the last of passengers, and there was no one else to rescue. As Rose heard the alarming cry of "full steam ahead," she panicked and jolted up from her spot, ignoring the dots of dizziness that blinded her, and scared the crewman out of his wits when she practically fell on top of him, clinging desperately on to his arm.
She couldn't let him go. Lips cracked and throat parched, she was still able to make out the same words she had exclaimed in fear of losing him those lonely couple of hours ago in the lifeboat: "No! He has to be with me… He has to be all right…" Voice breaking in a whisper, she added, "He promised me he'd survive…"
Bursting into another fit of tears, the shocked crewman was interrupted by his buddy who tugged at his shoulder and pointed at something in the distance. "Would you look at that!" he uttered. "There's another one left!"
Shouts of confusion and anticipation coursed through the jumbled crowd that had suddenly formed, forcing Rose to wipe away her tears in curiosity and watch the ruckus that had ensued.
Blood pounding in her ears, she witnessed as the rope ladder was lowered and a woman, presumably first class, stepped onto the rescue ship, disheveled and daze. There came a small, steady stream of them, for, as the statement went, it was ladies first. And then there was a young man Rose's age who she recognized as Jack Thayer, followed by Colonel Gracie, who sent her a wilting smile under his damp mustache at the poor girl's pent-up expression for whoever she was waiting for. Her fiancé, perhaps? But he did not know of her clandestine affair, and of the man she'd fallen so head-over-heels for named Jack Dawson.
Eyes wide and the breath sucked out of her, a shag of dirty-blond hair peeped out from the edge of the ship, and Rose started to shove her way through the whispering crowd, frantic. By the time she reached the railing, practically throwing herself at it with a clang, there he was.
"Jack!" she cried out as she encased him in her arms once he was pulled over, trembling from the cold night, and it was almost as though the crowd sighed in relief for the two reunited lovers. He nuzzled his head into her droopy red curls as she pushed back his overgrown hair, her hands traveling down his jaw and behind his ears where they stayed. "Oh, God!" And she repeated that phrase over and over again as he lightly pecked her on the head: "Oh God, oh God!"
Once the excitement had settled down and the group of satisfied or disappointed survivors dispersed, the couple was still there, swaying slightly back and forth. Eventually Jack had to pull away from the warm embrace, though, because of the case of pneumonia he'd caught over the night. "Rose," he whispered, adorning her face with kisses that made the corners of her lips turn up into a smile. The way he said it was like she was the only person in the world. "You're okay."
"And you will be too, once I get you to the infirmary." She giggled from her drunken respite, smoothing aside his stubborn strands of gold for the multiple time, and she grinned widely, eyes crinkling. "You jump, I jump, right?"
And he stared into her watering eyes, still in disbelief that a woman of such class and such artistic, flaming personality could fall in love with the impoverished artist he was. Lovingly, he pushed aside of lock of red hair that matched the fieriness of her spirit and rubbed her small, delicate shoulders. The two of them were a mess, but they were together—and that was all that mattered.
Squeezing her close to him again, he questioned why he was spared when so many others had perished, only to realize that Rose was his savior as much as he was to her. Close to her, he could feel the warmth and heat emanating off of her, and he sealed their destiny with his undoubted response: