Promise Me This
look a bit gray.”
    Michael tried to sit up. “I get so tired.”
    “The sea air, that’s all. Everyone sleeps at sea.”
    Michael pushed away the coverlet and pulled his feet over the bunk’s side.
    “Here, lad.” Owen poured some water in the bowl. “Wash your face and clear your head.”
    Michael dutifully splashed the cold water on his face and up his neck but dallied at the washbowl.
    “Are you up to sitting in the general room?”
    “It’s my turn.”
    Owen rubbed the back of his neck and stretched. “No matter. Are you under the weather, feeling feverish?”
    “No,” Michael said. “No, I’m all right. Just foggy in my head.”
    “A walk on deck will bring you round. The air is bracing, right enough.” Owen pulled off his boots and stowed them in the corner. “I’m hoping for spring in New York. It certainly isn’t here.” The Swede’s snoring nearly drowned Owen’s last words.
    “That Swede.” Michael remembered. “I think he rooted through your bag. The latch was broken—everything helter-skelter when I came in.”
    Owen stared at the gape-mouthed man. “Never mind. I expected as much. He’s drunk enough to sleep through the day and be no bother to us now. We’re wearing everything important.” He pulled his coat around him and lay carefully on his back. “The main thing is that I do not crush these roots. Call me before the bugler comes round. I shall be ready for a hot meal.”
    “Right.” Still Michael lingered. He brushed his jacket—Owen’s jacket—and buffed his shoes. He dug the dirt from his nails with Owen’s penknife and combed his hair with Owen’s comb.
    When he could think of no reason to stay longer in the warm cabin, Michael forced himself to open the door, only to find a steward ready to pound it with his fist.
    “Life belts. Life belts, everyone. A precaution; captain’s orders.”
    “Life belts?” Michael stared after the man as he made his way from one cabin to another, banging on doors, delivering his short speech but offering no explanation.
    “Did he say life belts?” Owen was beside him now.
    “H-he did,” Michael stuttered. “Why do we want life belts?”
    “I don’t know.” Owen frowned. “Wonder if it’s anything to do with that grinding noise I heard just before the engines stopped, just before I woke you.”
    Michael remembered the woman on the deck in Southampton. “God Himself can’t sink this ship,” he mumbled.
    Owen did not respond, but Michael was certain the bare electric bulb from the hallway could not account for the color of his friend’s face.
    Owen turned up the lamp in the cabin, quickly pulling on his boots. “Probably a drill of some sort. I’ll find out. We’ll be wanting to do as we’re told.” On the way out, he paused without looking back. “Wake our snoring friend.” He closed the door behind him.
    Michael’s throat tightened. He pulled a life belt from the top of the cupboard and set it at the Swede’s feet, then sat on Owen’s bunk to wait. Still the Swede snored, but Michael, nearly afraid to breathe, did not go near him.
    It seemed an hour before Owen pushed open the door, took the second life belt from the cupboard, and threw it toward Michael. “Put that on,” he ordered, grabbing the life belt at the Swede’s feet. He jostled the man’s beefy hands, his shoulders. “Wake up. Wake up, man.”
    But the big man snorted, groaned, and rolled over, waving him away.
    Owen grimaced and shook the man roughly. “For God’s sake, man, get your life belt on and get above deck!” He threw the man’s jacket across his chest, jerked him up by his shoulders, and pointed toward the door. But the Swede, bleary eyed and still the worse for drink, made sounds of foreign swearing. He hauled back his fist and swung, grazing Owen’s jaw and opening his lip.
    Michael, numbed through, did not react to Owen’s split lip but asked, almost idly, “Why does the lamp cord hang askew like that?”
    Owen swiped blood

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