All the World's a Stage
A novel by Bronwen Welsh
Chapter 23 Wedding preparations
There was one major problem with me attending the wedding of Reggie and Sophie; it was on a Saturday and I was performing in Romeo and Juliet. On that particular day I was scheduled to perform in the matinée. I wondered if I could still do that and then go to Blackpool, but soon realised that I wouldn't have enough time. I wondered if Cassie would mind doing both performances and how would Paul feel about Jemma being the only understudy? Perhaps he would give her the chance to do the matinée, but that wasn't for me to suggest. I decided I must speak to him at the first opportunity, which came just before the next day's rehearsal.
He was obviously surprised that anyone would wish to attend their ex-boyfriend's wedding.
“Well I'm sure you have a good reason for going and you don't need to tell me what it is,” Paul said. “It's alright with me but we have to run it past the Artistic Director Rosa, and even Malcolm if she thinks he needs to be involved.”
Later he told me that we would both be seeing Rosa in her office during a break in the rehearsal. When we entered her office I was pleased to see that she hadn't asked Malcolm the CEO to be involved too.
“So what's the problem Harriet?” she asked.
“It's not really a problem. A long-time friend of mine, Reggie, is getting married on Saturday the tenth of November and he's invited me to the wedding. I feel I should be there to support him as there won't be many guests from his side. I'm due to perform in the matinée but I really wouldn't have time to do that as the wedding is in Blackpool, nearly three hours drive away, and it takes place at 2pm. I'm wondering if you'd mind if I take the day off and leave Jemma to be the understudy? I haven't asked Cassie yet how she feels about doing both performances as I thought I should speak to you first.”
“What do you think, Paul?” Rosa asked.
“I've been thinking about it; Jemma knows the part well enough, and she's a good little actress. I could talk to Cassie about doing both performances, but perhaps this is an opportunity for Jemma to perform in the matinée and then Cassie will be perform in the evening as scheduled,” he replied.
“Very well, if you're happy with that,” said Rosa, and then she turned to me. “You've gone out of your way to accommodate us in the past, Harriet, so I see no problem in releasing you on this one occasion.”
“Thank you, Miss Fernandez,” I replied. “It really is a 'one-off'.”
Walking back to the auditorium, Paul looked at me and said “There's more to this than you said in Rosa's office isn't there?”
I flushed. I had to make a decision whether to trust him or not, and going with 'women's intuition' I decided I could.
“There is,” I said cautiously, “but it's highly confidential.”
“It doesn't go any further,” he replied.
'Well Reggie's father-in-law to be is Sid Vertue, have you heard of him?”
Paul drew in a breath. “I have indeed. How did Reggie get mixed up with him?”
I gave him a brief synopsis of the whole horrible affair, including Sid's implied threat to me. “So you see, if I turn up with a new boyfriend, it will not only protect me, but Reggie too since Sophie and Sid will think that our relationship has come to an end. I hope you don't think I'm being a real coward doing this?”
“If what I've heard about Sid Vertue is correct, I wouldn't blame anyone for doing everything they can to keep him at arms' length,” he replied. ”Good luck with it all. Let me know how it goes, alright?”
I thanked him as we walked up the steps onto the stage.
On Friday evening, Dale's boyfriend Frank came up by train from London. I gave him a hug and a kiss on the cheek.
“It's so good to see you Frank, I missed you last time because I was away.”
“It's good to see you too Harriet. Dale's filled me in a bit on what's been happening and I'm so sorry to hear about it.”
I managed a smile. “Well I'm not giving in, in fact I'm fighting back, and Phase One starts when I attend Reggie and Sophie's wedding. I hope you agreed to me borrowing Dale as a temporary boyfriend?”
Frank laughed. “I'm sure you'll hand him back in one piece.”
“I promise I will, but there's one thing I have to tell you. We'll have to stay over in Blackpool and we'll need to share a room just in case Sid checks up on us. It would look really strange if new lovers were in separate rooms.”
“Of course I understand,” said Frank. “It will all be acting.”
“Actually, there's something you might help me with, Frank. I need a new dress for the wedding, something glamorous. I was wondering if you'd like to come shopping with me tomorrow and give me some advice? I'm really not a 'fashionista'.”
“I'll be happy to Harriet; if Dale wants to come along we can park him in a coffee shop while we hit the boutiques. By the way, I haven't had a chance to congratulate you on getting the part of 'Juliet'. What a fabulous rôle it is, I'm really looking forward to seeing you perform it tomorrow night.”
“I hope you enjoy it Frank. I've got all the cast to sign a programme for you.”
“Oh you are the sweetest girl!” he said, and accompanied it with another kiss on the cheek.
“I have to look after my fans,” I replied.
The next morning we went into Stratford and Dale went for a cup of coffee while Frank and I hit the shops. I think he realised it might be a 'more than one coffee' wait, but he was very good about it.
“I want to be a glamorous for once,” I said to Frank. “Since it's 'black tie' I think a floor-length gown with a fitted bodice is called for, and for an actress it should look dramatic of course.”
“That sounds perfect,” said Frank. “Matching shoes of course?”
“Of course, at least five inch heels, and maybe with a strap?”
Frank was a great help. I couldn't help thinking that he would be wasted as an accountant and should really be a dress designer, so I told him so.
He blushed slightly, “Do you really think so?” he asked.
“Yes I do,” I replied.
“Well I'll let you into a secret, I've been playing around with designs for quite a while. Would you like to see my portfolio sometime?”
“I certainly would. That makes me even surer you'll be a great help in deciding what I should buy for this wedding.”
We went to three boutiques that specialised in gowns suitable for black tie events and weddings. It took a while because we weren't in a hurry, we were enjoying ourselves too much. Finally we decided on a gorgeous black sequin dress with a sweetheart neckline and a floor-sweeping train. When I came out of the change room I felt so special wearing it and Frank just said “Oh yes! That's the one!”
“Not too much 'revenge dress'?” I asked and Frank laughed, instantly recognising the reference.
“Well it would be if Reggie had really dumped you, and that's what makes it so deliciously appropriate. That's what people will think and only a few of us will know that they're wrong!”
I produced my card and paid the bill – over three hundred pounds. Now I know that will not seem a lot to many people, but for a young actress it was the most I had ever spent on a single item of clothing.
I suddenly realised that two hours had passed and I felt very guilty at leaving Dale for so long when I told him we'd only be a hour or so. Fortunately he was very understanding. When we arrived back to the café he was onto his third cup of coffee and had read the car magazine he had bought from cover to cover.
“I'm so sorry Dale,” I said. “Lunch is on me, and then I really need to buy a pair of shoes to match my dress. I hope you don't mind.”
“So long as you had a good time, both of you,” he said.
“We did,” we said in unison.
We enjoyed lunch at the cafe, and Dale came along too as we went to a shoe shop, which fortunately had the perfect pair of black six inch heels. They were really pretty with a strap across the instep, and it only took thirty minutes to buy them!
Paul Norad had given me special permission to be late at the theatre, since I assured him that I was only ten minutes away at most, and there was no suggestion that Cassie wouldn't be able to perform the matinée. Nevertheless I felt I should be there, so I dropped Dale and Frank off at the flat. Dale took me aside for a moment before he went inside and said. “Would you mind very much if Frances comes to the theatre tonight?”
“Not at all,” I replied. “I've been looking forward to meeting her.”
“She wants that too, but she wasn't sure how you'd feel about it. I should tell you that Frances is totally convincing, well in my eyes anyway.”
“Well I'd be the last person to object, and I'm sure you are right about how she looks. I hope you come around to my dressing room after the performance. We can go out for supper if you like.”
Dale smiled. “I'm sure Frances would love going out to supper with the star of the show,” he said.
I laughed. “If you're trying to embarrass me, you're succeeding,” I replied.
I arrived at the theatre ten minutes before the matinée started. Cassie asked me how my search for the perfect dress and shoes had gone, and I was able to assure her that it had been very successful.
“I think Dale's partner will be coming to the performance as Frances tonight, that's if he doesn't chicken out at the last minute.”
Cassie laughed. “Is he, or should I say 'she' very convincing?”
“I've never actually seen her,” I replied. “But my guess is that she will be very convincing indeed.”
After the matinée, and before we went back to the dressing room, Cassie caught up with me and told me that Paul had had a word with her about the Saturday of Reggie and Sophie's wedding. He was going to give Jemma some extra rehearsal time and if he thought she was ready, then he would speak to her about performing in the matinée on that day.
“She's going to be very excited, and I'm really glad for her. She's a good actress and she deserves a chance since she's worked so hard,” said Cassie, and I totally agreed with her.
The evening performance went well as usual, and afterwards I returned to the dressing room to change. I had told Cassie about Frances and soon after I was ready there was a knock on the door.
“Come in,” I called, and Dale came in with Frances. I have previously noted that I expected Frank to become a very pretty girl with the right dress, makeup and wig, but I was not prepared for the person who followed Dale into the room.
Frances did not look in the slightest bit like a guy in a dress, Frances looked and acted like a girl. It suddenly occurred to me to wonder how Dale might feel about that, but there was nothing I could say of course.
“Hello Frances, come in,” I said. “What a pretty dress.”
Frances actually blushed. “Thank you,” she said. (I can hardly use a male pronoun when I was confronted by such a feminine-looking person).
I introduced Frances to Cassie, and then reached into a drawer.
“Here's the autographed programme I promised you,” I said.
“Oh thank you so much,” she said as she took it and leaning forward gave me a kiss on the cheek.
“It's a pleasure,” I replied. “Well I'm ready and I'm starving. Shall we go to supper?”
I had invited Cassie to come along too, but she gracefully declined, saying that she had already agreed to meet a friend. I wondered about that, not having seen any boys around, but thought maybe she was just being tactful and leaving me to meet up with my friends.
We went around to 'The Oppo' where I had reserved a table and was now known by name, a fact which seemed to impress Frances. We had a very pleasant supper and then headed back to the flat. I was feeling tired as I always do after an intense performance, so I was not long out of bed, and asleep in minutes.
The next morning at breakfast, Frank was back. I decided I just had to get used to seeing either Frank or Frances depending on how the mood took him or her. I thought that dressing as a girl was more of a hobby for Frank than a serious thing, but I have to say that he not only looked like a girl but really acted as one when he was dressed. I didn't get the impression that he was thinking of transitioning, and it would be up to him to bring up the subject if that's what he wanted.
To be continued.
I would like to acknowledge the assistance of Louise Anne in proofreading the text and giving me a great deal of useful advice about modern-day Britain to incorporate in the story, also Julia Phillips for picking up my punctuation errors and any typos Louise or I missed. I'm very grateful to them both.
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