Thursday April 18th, 1912
Rivka and Max were far from the only passengers on deck, watching New York draw near. They sailed past the mighty Statue of Liberty, and Rivka stared up at her in awe. She clung to Max's hand, not sure what was going to happen when they disembarked. Surely her brother would be there to meet her; would he want to meet Max? Or would he quickly usher her away? Max had told her, repeatedly, that there was no point fixating on what could happen.
Still, she had.
"Everything will be fine," he whispered in her ear. "Look, we're nearly there."
"That's what I'm afraid of."
"Don't you want to be back on solid land?"
"More than anything," she murmured, "but I'm still afraid, Max."
"I know," he said. "But we have a promise, remember? One month – the Metropolitan Museum. Noon."
"The Metropolitan Museum at Noon," she repeated. "May seventeenth."
She was afraid of that, too. "What if I'm late? Because I get lost getting there."
"Rivka," he said promised, "I'll wait there all day for you if I must. Don't worry. It'll be okay."
Maybe it would all be moot. Maybe Moishe would give Max their address and tell him to come over tomorrow, or next week. Maybe she wouldn't need to wait a month to see him again.
It started to rain. Rivka wished she had an umbrella, or a rain coat, or something to help keep her dry. But she wasn't willing to go back in and miss this, so she resigned herself to getting wet. She glanced at Max, and he seemed unperturbed by the water.
"Ma cherie," Clementine called from across the deck. Several passengers turned to see where the noise was coming from and Clementine ignored their disapproving looks as she hurried towards Rivka. "Ma cherie! We're nearly there!"
Clementine had been uncharacteristically quite since coming to terms with Philip's death. It had hit her hard; the pair must have been closer than Rivka had realized. But their impending arrival seemed to be improving her spirits, and Rivka was grateful for that. She released Max's hand to better allow herself to be gathered up in a tight hug. "Yes!" Rivka replied. "We're nearly there!" She forced herself to sound cheerier than she felt. For Clementine's sake. She pointed at the Statue of Liberty. "She's beautiful, isn't she?"
"A gift from a Frenchman," Clementine said with a knowing smile. "We know our art."
"Indeed, you do," Max replied, smiling warmly at Clementine. "She is a symbol of everything America aspires to be."
"Will your family be at the dock to greet you?" Rivka asked Clementine.
"Unlikely," Clementine replied with a sour look. "Unless of course they've had a chance of heart after I nearly died. No, I was told when I left that my aunt and uncle had hired a driver to pick me up to take me to the train. Not that it makes much difference. I have never met either of them, I wouldn't even know what they look like. It'll be much less uncomfortable to find the driver holding my name up." She laughed, a spark of her old self back. "At least I won't have to make small talk with him."
Rivka doubted anyone was in the mood for small talk. Everyone just wanted this journey over and done with. No one more-so than Esther. The woman alternated between inconsolable sobbing and anger at everyone and everything. Her children had hardly been outside the stateroom; Rivka had offered to take them for a walk, but Esther had refused to allow them out of her sight. Not that Rivka could really blame her, the poor woman was traumatized by the loss of her husband. Even still, it had made spending any length of time around her trying, and despite her unwillingness to leave Esther alone for long, Rivka – and Clementine – had spent most of their time with Max. Largely in his stateroom, where they could avoid the passengers who took out their grief on him for surviving when their husbands and sons had not.
Clementine pulled away from Rivka and handed her a folded-up sheet of paper. "My address," she said. "You promised to write."
"I will," Rivka replied solemnly. "I swear." She tucked the paper into her pocket, determined to put it somewhere safe the moment she was in her brother's home.
"You really don't know your own address?"
Rivka shook her head. "I wish I did. But the moment I find out what it is, I'll write you, so you have it."
Clementine nodded, leaning forward to kiss Rivka's cheek. "I cannot begin to express how happy I am that you were who I ended up sharing a room with, Rivka. I was afraid I would end up with some proper, stuffy old woman. How dull that would have been."
"I think we can agree that the trip was anything but dull," Max said wryly.
They turned to look back over the rail. They were pulling up to the pier. Rivka wondered which dock should have been Titanic's, had she arrived safely. But there wasn't anyone around to ask; everyone was too busy getting ready for disembarking. The rain was still coming down; it wasn't a downpour, but Rivka had been out there in it long enough that she was still quite damp. And although some of the passengers had hurried back inside when the rain had started, more than half remained out on the deck to watch. To see, and be seen.
Because they would be seen. There was a huge crowd out ahead of them, waiting for Titanic's passengers to disembark. There were reporters, and photographers. There were probably countless family members – some waiting for loved ones that they knew survived, others waiting to see if they could find out if their loved ones had lived.
"We are a spectacle," Clementine murmured. "Look how they gawk."
"They'll probably send the first class passengers out first," Max commented. "By the time we disembark, likely half the reporters will be gone."
"I hope so," Rivka replied, slipping her hand back into Max's.
He had been right; by the time they were able to make their way onto solid ground, many of the reporters and photographers were gone. They had come to chronicle the most important passengers, everyone else was irrelevant to the story they were going to weave. But those reporters who hadn't managed to get anything from the first class passengers, those from lesser papers, or those who were less assertive, hung back for another go of it with the second class passengers.
Once on land, they – Rivka, Max, Clementine, Esther and her children – clustered together near the edge of the crowd. And when Esther spotted a driver with a placard sporting the name Rosen, she bid Rivka a tearful goodbye before dragging her children off. There was no promise of future correspondence, no exchanging of addresses. Rivka suspected that Esther wanted to put the entirety of the journey behind her, and that included Rivka.
Clementine was the next to go as the crowd continued to thin. She saw a smartly dressed man with a sign that read Miss Clementine Mercier. She threw her arms around Rivka once more. Her cheeks were wet, and when she pulled back, Rivka could see that she struggled to hold back the tears. Rivka was doing to the same. She wished that Clementine was staying in New York; they were both going to feel very alone in their new homes. "Write to me!" Clementine urged, before stepping away. "Write me a letter tomorrow, Rivka! I want to hear from you soon!"
"I will!" Rivka called, wiping at her eyes as her friend disappeared into the car.
Then it was just Max, and Rivka. The crowd continued to thin, and Rivka continued to look for any sign of her brother. It occurred to her that she didn't know what he looked like now, but surely he was coming for her. It wasn't as though she knew where to go to find him.
"Perhaps we should look for him," Rivka said, feeling afraid. Although Max's hand in hers did ground her some.
"We'll never find him if we keep moving," Max said, giving her a reassuring smile. "There's still a large crowd here, Rivka. I'm sure he'll find you."
"Please don't leave until he does," she whispered. "I don't want to be alone."
"I won't want to leave you, even when we find him," Max said with a quiet laugh. "You can rest-assured that I won't leave you a moment earlier."
Rivka shivered from the chill in the air. The fact that she was wet from the still-going rain didn't help matters. Max released her hand to wrap his arm around her shoulders, pulling her a little closer. It didn't keep the rain away, but she did feel a little warmer.
She heard her name being called out, but it was faint. Whoever was calling it wasn't terribly close.
"Did you hear that?" Max asked, and Rivka nodded, looking around.
It was a little louder now. Rivka slid out from under his arm and grabbed his hand once more, tugging her in the direction of the sound. "Moishe!" She called back. "Moishe? Where are you?"
"Rivka!" It was louder still; he must have heard her. Max followed as she tugged him along, until they pushed through a crowd and saw two men, looking frantically around. One looked very much like she remembered her brother, only older. He was taller, and his shoulders were wider. His hair was longer, too. And he had a beard.
"Moishe?" She ventured, hesitant.
The men turned to her and stopped dead. "Rivka?" The one asked, and she nodded.
"Thank Hashem!" He cried, ignoring Max. He hurried to her and tossed his arms around her. Max released her hand, allowing her to be pulled into the embrace. "Oh, sister, it is so good to see you! When I saw your name on the list of survivors… but I was afraid to hope! In case it was just a mistake!"
"I'm here," she said, "I'm here. I'm alive. Moishe it is so good to see you again! How I've missed you, brother!"
He released her, and she stepped back, looking him over with a bright smile. Yes, he looked good. Healthy. Content. She couldn't wait to see what kind of life he had made for himself – for them – here.
Only then did Moishe's gaze settle on Max, who was standing just behind her. "Who is this?" He asked gruffly, looking Max up and down.
"Maxwell Steele, Mr. Shamo," Max said, stepping forward with an outstretched hand. Moishe reached for it hesitantly. The men clasped hands, and Rivka hoped that was a good start. It wasn't lost on Rivka that Max used his real name.
"Mr. Steele," Moishe said, "thank you for helping my sister find me."
"It was a pleasure," Max said. "I wonder if I might have a word with you?"
Moishe frowned and glanced from Rivka, to Max, and back again. "Sweet sister," he said, ignoring Max's request. "I have someone for you to meet." He motioned to the man at his side. Rivka had hardly noticed him; he was slightly shorter than her brother and altogether unremarkable. He was neither fat, nor thin. He had dark curly hair, and a long black beard. He was likely older than Moishe, but perhaps only by a couple of years. "Rivka," Moishe said, "this is Mr. Yonatan Hersch. Your betrothed."
"A pleasure to meet you, Miss Shamo," the man said, looking her over. Maybe the look was completely innocent, but it felt wrong, to Rivka. The way you might study something just before you purchased it, to determine if the quality was good. He looked satisfied, but Rivka felt anything but. She glanced helplessly back at Max, who seemed as surprised by this news as she was.
"My… my betrothed?" She asked, feeling dizzy. "Brother, you did not tell me…"
"I had wanted to surprise you," he replied, glancing at Max. "I see now perhaps I should have informed you before."
"But I… I can't… that is, Mr. Steele…" She had suspected that her brother might not welcome Max. Might not give his approval. It was for that reason that they had chosen a place to meet up, should that be necessary. And early on in the trip it had crossed her mind that her brother might have had someone already in mind for her. But she hadn't honestly thought that her brother might have arranged a betrothal without her input. Without even allowing her to meet the man.
It wasn't just that he had chosen a groom for her. He had made it official. It was a betrothal. "Rivka," Max murmured in her ear. "May seventeenth."
"May seventeenth," she whispered, more to herself than to him, feeling dazed.
"What was that?" Moishe asked, a look of concern passing his face. "Rivka, are you alright?"
"It has been a long journey," Max said, nudging Rivka towards her brother. "We all nearly died. And she has been out in the rain for well over an hour. Perhaps you had best get her home."
"Yes, of course," Moishe said with a look of gratitude. Rivka caught it and thought perhaps her brother was grateful that Max wasn't making a scene. She was sure anyone could see what she and Max meant to each other; perhaps Moishe believed Max was stepping down. Accepting Rivka's already-decided future.
But he wasn't.
And neither was she.
May Seventeenth, she told herself as she turned to Max. "Thank you, Mr. Steele, for everything." She said. "I hope we will each other again very soon."
"I'm sure we will, Miss Shamo," he replied with a little bow.
Moishe took Rivka's arm and hurried her away from Max, towards a waiting carriage. He gave her no opportunity to stop, or look back, or wave. She was ushered inside, and the two men climbed in, sitting opposite her. She turned to stare out the window, but she had already lost Max in the crowd.
In many ways, it felt like she was in that lifeboat again.
May Seventeenth couldn't come quickly enough.
Max watched her go, feeling a profound sense of loss. For all that they had prepared in case something like this should happen, he hadn't truly thought it would. He had really, genuinely believed that things might work out. Just once.
He longer he stood there, the fewer people there were. Soon it looked as though even most of the third class passengers had gone. He was soaked through, and cold, and feeling somewhat directionless.
It was late. After nine at night. His grandfather's lawyer would be home already. No doubt waiting to see if Max made an appearance, or if it would come out that Max was dead. Had his uncle told anyone that Max was on the Titanic? Was everyone waiting to see if their problem was gone – or practically on their doorstep?
There was one man left with a clipboard, taking names. Max went over to him and said, "I haven't given my name yet."
"Then what is it?" The man asked, clearly tired and ready to get inside.
The man scribbled it down. "Very good. It'll be in the paper tomorrow morning with the rest of them."
Good, Max thought, walking away. He kept his head down and pushed his hands into his pockets. First thing he would do – find a hotel for the night. And then, bright and early, he'd trek across town to claim what was rightfully his. Then, for the first time in his life, he would finally have a home to go back to.