All the World's a Stage
A novel by Bronwen Welsh
Chapter 5 Lunch with Dale
Dale had been so busy giving lessons at his dad's driving school that our lunch together had been delayed. However on Monday he rang to say they had appointed a new instructor and as a result he was free for lunch on Wednesday if I was. Since my disagreement with Reggie on Sunday, I had had time to think about it and also the fact he hadn't rung me since, and I was getting a bit annoyed. I thought he had over-reacted to my comment, and since it seemed he was giving himself and me 'carte-blanche' to spend time with other people, why shouldn't I have lunch with Dale?
Wednesday dawned bright and sunny, another lovely summer's day, so I decided to wear one of my pretty summer dresses, with bare legs and sandals. I had mentioned to Mary that I was having lunch with Dale as a 'thank-you' for his helping me to purchase a car, and I was glad that she made no adverse comment about it, not even a raised eyebrow. I didn't mention to her that Dale was gay, as I didn't know how comfortable he was about telling people.
I took care with my makeup and was pleased with the results when I checked in the mirror. While I principally wanted to look nice for Dale, (it would not have looked good if I'd turned up looking like I'd thrown on the first clothes that came to hand), I had another reason. Being recognised by some people who had attended a performance of 'Hamlet' I knew that I should keep up the standards of the Company by looking as good as possible every time I went out. This wasn't a chore of course, as I enjoyed wearing pretty clothes as much as when I had first started doing so in public almost a year previously. Some people think that being an actress is a very glamorous occupation, and in some ways they are right, but it's also hard work, and that's the part they don't see.
I had arranged to meet Dale at Le Bistrot Pierre, just across the Avon, at noon, and had booked a table for two. It was only a couple of minutes’ drive away from my flat and I arrived a few minutes early but Dale was already there, and I had to say that he looked very handsome. Even though I never had any intention of him being more than a friend, I had that strange feeling of regret that women experience seeing a really handsome gay man and knowing that he will never experience desire for them.
Dale stood up as the Maitre d' ushered me to the table and held the chair for me. I thanked him as I sat down. He asked if we would like a drink, and we both settled for mineral water. Dale said he was conducting a lesson later in the afternoon, so it was important that he have a zero blood alcohol level.
“I hope it is alright to say that you are looking very beautiful today,” he said with a smile.
“Of course it is,” I replied and felt myself colouring slightly.
“I'm so glad,” said Dale. “Nowadays a man never knows if complimenting a woman will be taken as a sexist remark and evoke disapproval.”
“Well this woman is happy to receive any compliments she can get,” I said, smiling.
The drinks arrived then and we toasted each other, had a sip and then settled down to examine the menu. All the dishes were named in French, but thank goodness the descriptions were in English. For entrée we both had the 'Salad de samoun', and for the main course, I ordered 'Médaillons de porc', while Dale ordered 'Pavé de steak'. I'm sure my readers can interpret the names of the dishes. I have to say that the food was very good and very reasonably priced. I would have skipped dessert if I had been on my own, but it was obvious that Dale wanted one, so we both settled for 'Crème brûlée' . It was delicious, but I couldn't help thinking to myself 'Thank goodness I've got a few hours to digest lunch before going on stage!'
During lunch we chatted, first about the work he was doing, and later, since we were seated some distance from the other occupied tables, (the Maitre d' probably thought we were having a romantic lunch), the conversation turned to my personal life. I gave Dale a brief summary of my time in the theatre and how I ended up acting almost by accident.
“The happiest accident of all was of course meeting Dame Emily on the London Underground. If it hadn't been for that, I wouldn't have been here today,” I said.
“But that wouldn't have made any difference if you didn't have talent,” said Dale.
“I'm sure there are many other girls with as much talent as me, if not more, but they didn't have that lucky break,” I said.
“Well, you've made the most of it. I saw you in Hamlet and I can only say you were superb,” said Dale.
“I'm surprised you managed to buy a ticket,” I replied.
“I was lucky. I only need one ticket and it was a return due to someone falling ill. So what's next for you after 'Hamlet'?”
“I'm in 'Twelfth Night', playing Viola/Cesario,” I replied.
“That's interesting, is it two parts?” said Dale looking puzzled.
“Not exactly,” I replied. “I'll give you a brief summary of the start, but I won't be a 'spoiler' in case you go to see it. Twins Viola and Sebastian are shipwrecked on the coast of Illyria. Viola is saved but believes her brother is drowned. She is concerned about being in a strange land as a young woman so she disguises herself as a youth, takes the name Cesario, and obtains a position as a page to Count Orsino; and promptly falls in love with him. The Count is wooing the Lady Olivia who refuses to marry for seven years following the death of her brother, so he sends Cesario with love messages to Olivia who of course falls in love with 'him' – Cesario; the perfect 'love triangle'.” I paused and smiled at Dale. “Am I confusing you?”
He laughed. “No, I'm keeping up, but it's quite a scenario. So you spend most of your time as a young woman pretending to be a young man?”
“Well in Elizabethan times It was even more complicated, because all the women's parts were played by boys or young men, so you had a young man pretending to be a young woman, pretending to be a young man!”
“How crazy,” said Dale. “Why couldn't women be on the stage?”
“I don't think there was a law against it but it just wasn't the done thing. Did you ever see a film called 'Shakespeare in Love'?" I asked.
“No, I thought it was a 'chick-flick',” he said.
“Well it won seven Academy Awards including Best Picture,” I replied. “A major part of the plot is that a young woman appears on the stage, disguised as a young man. I've got the DVD, would you like to borrow it?”
“Yes I would,” he replied. “For some reason I seem to be getting interested in Shakespeare.”
“Enough about me, tell me about you,” I said.
Dale paused, he seemed embarrassed. “Well compared to you, my life has been very dull,” he said. “I left school at fifteen and went to work for my Dad in his Driving School. He needed someone to do odd jobs around the place, answer the telephone, do the books, things like that.”
I said nothing, but privately I was appalled. Dale was not stupid, but he seemed to be throwing his life away.
“As soon as I was old enough, Dad taught me to drive, and said that once I had my licence for three years and was over twenty-one, he would teach me how to give driving lessons. In the meantime I continued to do the office work and tinker with the cars.”
“But what's your long-term goal?” I asked.
“I don't know, take over Dad's business when he retires I suppose.” The embarrassment was still there. “Except lately, I wonder if I wasted my time at school and could have aimed for something better.”
“You can always go to night school and pick up where you left off,” I suggested. “What would you really like to do with your life?”
“You'll laugh at me,” he said.
“No I won't, I promise,” I replied.
“Well I've always wanted to be an archaeologist,” he replied. “Have you ever watched that show on television called 'Time Team” where they excavate a site for three days?”
“Yes I have. I find it fascinating, and I would love to have been involved with a dig. My father was a history professor you know.”
“I was able to take part in one of their digs when they were near Stratford. They allow some people to do the non-technical stuff, carting wheelbarrows of soil etc. I've still got the recording where I appear for all of five seconds,” he smiled. “It was just amazing.”
“I think you'd have to go back to school or night school and do your GCE 'O' and 'A' levels and then probably go to university to do a history related undergraduate degree plus a one-year masters degree – and maybe even a PhD. It would be a tough slog but I'm sure it could be done.”
“Tougher than learning to be an actress?” he smiled.
“Far tougher,” I replied. “It depends just how much you want it, and of course you'll never be a millionaire doing it; I hope you realise that.”
Dale laughed. “Money isn't everything, so long as you have enough to live on.”
I didn't know if I was venturing onto forbidden territory, but I said “What about your personal life? Do you want to tell me about that? It's alright if you don't.”
In answer, he pulled out his wallet and opening a zipped up compartment, pulled out a small photo and showed it to me. “That's Frank,” he said.
The photo was of the head and shoulders of a young man in his early twenties with fair curly hair. His face was better described as 'pretty' rather than 'handsome'. In fact it didn't take much imagination to see him with the right hair styling and makeup as a pretty girl.
I smiled as I handed the photo back. “He's gorgeous,” I said. “Or am I using the wrong word?”
“No, you're right, he is,” said Dale, colouring slightly.
“How did you meet him?” I asked.
“He came for driving lessons and Dad thought as I was about his age, it would be good for me to teach him how to drive. Dad was right, we got along famously. He's very smart and learned almost too quickly because he didn't need many lessons. It was during the last lesson, as we were heading back to Stratford, that Frank pulled over into a layby which happened to be empty, saying “I want to talk to you about something.”
"I assumed it was to do with driving, but when the car pulled up, he switched off the engine, turned to look at me and suddenly leaned over and kissed me on the lips. I was so stunned I just sat there frozen for a moment. After a few seconds he pulled back, looking a bit shocked and said “Oh my god, did I just make the biggest blunder? You were sending me all these signals, and I just thought, in fact I knew....” Harriet, was there ever a time when you knew that the next decision you made would alter your whole life?”
“Well that was the one for me,” he continued. “I felt scared and excited at the same time and I said to Frank 'No you didn't make a blunder at all,' and then I leaned over and kissed him. It was my first proper kiss with anyone. Oh I'd had a few pecks on the cheek with girls I'd taken out, more at my parents' wishes than my own, and nothing had ever come of it. One girl actually asked me after two dates when she was going to get laid, and seemed very offended when I said I didn't know. No, this was a real kiss, tongues and all, and we didn't come up for air until a big lorry drew up behind us and sounded his horn because he didn't have enough space to park. We jumped apart and laughed ourselves silly. I think he didn't see what we were doing, being so high up, but we thought it was safer to take off.
“As we drove along, I said to Frank, 'Please find another layby, we have to talk.' He pulled off the road when we came to the next one. I was still shaking when we stopped. Frank didn't kiss me this time as there were other cars there, he sat and looked at me and said 'That was your first real kiss wasn't it,' as a statement more than a question.
“ 'What about you?' I asked him.
"Frank shook his head. 'Not the very first. That was with a guy I met, but he took it as an invitation to do 'other things' which I didn't want to do. He was rough and horrible, but even though you're manly, you are gentle too. I feel safe with you'."
Dale suddenly stopped and then said “I don't know why I'm telling you all this; well I do know actually because I see you as a girl and a friend, rather than a girlfriend. Does that make sense?”
“Perfect sense,” I replied. “In the same way as I see you as a boy and a friend. So what happened then? How did your and his parents react?”
“They don't know,” replied Dale. “They're very conservative church-goers, and if I dared tell them Dad would probably call me a queer or a pansy. He might even throw me out. It's the way they were brought up.”
“So how do you get to see Frank now?” I asked.
“Well I don't see him much. He's actually in London studying accountancy. He was only back in Stratford for a short while when I gave him the driving lessons, and even then he was staying with his parents. I still live with mine of course, so seeing each other in Stratford is almost impossible.”
“But you have seen him since?”
“Yes, in London. He shares a house with two other guys and a girl. They each have a separate bedroom though.”
I didn't feel it was appropriate to ask Dale if he and Frank had got up to 'other stuff' yet. In fact I suddenly looked at my watch and it was far later than I thought. Dale wanted to change the subject too.
“How did Reggie feel about you having lunch with me? I may be wrong but I get the impression that maybe he wasn't altogether happy. Did you tell him I'm gay?”
“Would you mind if I did?” I counter-questioned.
“Not at all. I'm sure it would go no further and it would put his mind at ease that you were quite safe with me.”
“Well yes I did tell him, and it didn't seem to go over very well, but please don't think I'm blaming you. He said that until we are married, he has no right to tell me who I can and can't see.” I could feel myself starting to tear up. “That worried me Dale. I never thought of Reggie as person who would tell me what or what not to do, but that's what he seemed to be saying, like once we were married he'd own me and could dictate who I met.”
“Maybe it was just a bad choice of words,” said Dale. “We don't always put things the best way. Have you spoken to him since then?”
“No I haven't. He was supposed to stay on Sunday night but then he said he had to go back to London for an early meeting. I don't even know if there really was a meeting. Oh Dale, I really don't know what to do. Only a short while ago he gave me this beautiful friendship ring and now it all seems to be falling apart.”
A tear ran down my cheek, and Dale took out his handkerchief and gently dabbed at it. The restaurant seemed suddenly quiet and I thought that other diners might think we were a couple splitting up. How ironic was that? I felt that I didn't want to be there, so I looked up and caught a waiter's eye. When he came over I asked him if I could have the bill please. That might have reinforced the feeling that it was a break-up, but I had promised Dale I was taking him to lunch.
Outside the restaurant, Dale said “Thank you for the lunch Harriet. I'm really sorry you got so upset. I know it wasn't your fault, but maybe you will have to make the first move to repair things with Reggie. 'The course of true love never did run smooth' you know?”
I smiled at that. “Yes I do know. It's Shakespeare, from 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' “
“Well what do you know?” said Dale smiling. “It seems some of that education did rub off on me after all.”
“I think you are smarter than you think,” I replied. “So when are we going to meet up again?”
“So this isn't a 'one-off'?” said Dale.
“I don't see why it should be, unless that's all you wanted it to be. Like you said, we can be a boy and girl and friends, even though we're not boyfriend and girlfriend. In fact it makes things a lot simpler.”
Dale laughed. “Friends it is then. I'll give you a ring in about a week if that's ok, when I know my teaching schedule, and next time I'll pay. Oh, and I'll want to hear that you've patched things up with Reggie.”
'So do I', I thought. That evening I decided to ring Reggie during the interval as it was the only time I could speak to him when he wasn't in work. I tried his apartment's phone number first, but there was no-one home, so I rang his mobile. It rang for a long time before Reggie finally answered.
“Reggie, it's Harriet,” I said.
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.
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