All the World's a Stage
A novel by Bronwen Welsh
Chapter 15 Reggie and me
I rang Reggie after he had been in York a few days. I didn't want to pester him when he was getting orientated to a new life as a student. He sounded quite excited and told me he'd met up with his friend Roger who had a room close to his. Roger was in his second year of Economics, and so was able to show Reggie around, including the rooms where the lectures and tutorials were to be held.
I would have loved to have visited him, if only to let the other women there know that Reggie had a girlfriend, but now that the season of 'Twelfth Night' had started, I only had Sundays and sometimes part of Mondays off, so we had to communicate by phone. Reggie did have a suggestion. He told me that he had to buy a new laptop computer as his current one wasn't powerful enough for use in the course.
“There's nothing wrong with the other one,” he said. “If you would like it, it would be perfect for emails, web searches and writing, and we could communicate too as it's got a camera, and it would be cheaper than phone calls. What do you think?”
“That sounds like a great idea,” I replied. “I think I'm a bit of a 'tech dummy' though.”
“That's not a problem,” he replied. “I'll come down and teach you the basics. You're a smart girl. I'm sure you'll soon pick it up.”
“When can you come down?” I asked, and Reggie suggested the following weekend, as he was going to join his college's football team and training was about to start.
Reggie arrived on an early train from York the following Saturday and I met him at the railway station. I always made an effort to look pretty for him and I'm sure he appreciated that. We kissed on the platform, oblivious to the amused smiles of passers-by, and then walked to a nearby cafe for a late breakfast.
Afterwards we walked to a nearby electrical retailer called Comet (which went bust in 2012). Reggie introduced himself to the young man behind the counter who turned out to be called Steve. He opened his suitcase and produced the computer which I was going to use, and said that he wanted to organise internet access for me. I confess that the conversation they held might just as well have been in a foreign language for all the sense it made, but I was duly signed up for a package involving the purchase of an ethernet card and a contract with an Internet provider called BT. I took all this on trust, since I had no idea what I was doing.
“Don't worry,” said Reggie. “Steve and I have worked it out between us.”
“I'm sorry, I must seem like an absolute dummy,” I said.
Steve smiled. “Well if you are interested, there is a book written on the subject. It's called 'Internet for Dummies'.” I thought he was kidding me but it turned out he wasn't.
“Get it later if you want to learn more,” said Reggie. “When we get back to the flat I'll set it all up for you and get it working.”
I was happy to leave the technicalities to them both, and confined my input to paying the requested amount of money.
After that we headed back to the flat, and Reggie set up my new computer, plugging in all the cables and organising an email address for me.
“Now we'll get you to send your first email to my computer,” he said. “For that, you’ll need my email address. When I’m back at the University I’ll be able to read it and reply. Back there I’m connected to the Joint Academic Network called ‘JANET’ which gives me direct access to the internet.”
So, guided by Reggie, I sent my first ever email. It was very simple and just said:
'Dear Reggie, I love you. Harriet xxx'
Reggie smiled. “I shall keep that on my computer for ever,” he said.
Reggie then introduced me to a search engine called AltaVista, and explained how I could use it to search out items of interest. It’s long gone now of course, being bought out by Yahoo! a few years later and eventually absorbed into it.
The time had flown by and soon it was time to go to the theatre. Reggie hadn't seen me act in 'Twelfth Night', so as requested I had obtained a ticket for him.
After the performance he came to my dressing room and told me that I was an excellent comedy actress too!
“It's been something new to me after the previous two dramas,” I said. “But I'm really enjoying the change of style, and it's all adding to my experience.”
Reggie drove Mary and I back to the flat and cooked us an omelette each for supper. After that it was time for bed, and I was more than ready for that as I hadn't seen him for several weeks. As we lay in bed, his strong gentle hands caressed my body.
“I can't believe how your body is changing,” he murmured as he gently touched my breasts. I was no longer using breast forms since my real breasts were now about 'B cup' size, and naturally enough they responded to my lover's touch in the most thrilling way.
“Have you spoken to your specialist about when you can have surgery?” he asked.
“She said it could be in about six months,” I replied. “That's why I'm saving every penny I can, but there is a complication. My agent Richard Green contacted me a week ago. It seems that ISC is definitely going to mount a production of 'Romeo and Juliet' towards the end of the year, and he's most insistent that I audition for it. I must admit I wasn't sure and asked him if he thought I was ready for such a role. He’s sure I am, and he said that an opportunity like this only comes along every so often, so I'd be crazy not to try for it.
“Of course it's in his interest for me to get big roles like that, so I rang Dame Emily and asked her what she thought, and she agrees with Richard.”
“I see,” said Reggie. “So it would be worth putting off surgery for, if you get the role?”
“It's about the only one I would put it off for,” I replied.
“Well, in that case you must audition for it.”
“I'm glad you understand,” I said. “I guess it's my fault for choosing the career I have.”
He laughed softly “And what a career it's turning out to be.”
“This is no shoe-in though,” I said. “Every Shakespearean actress my age will be going for it; there might be fifty or more applying.”
“You've got as much chance as any of them, maybe more so,” he replied. “Most of those other girls haven't acted in Stratford, and the people at ISC already know what you can do.”
“Thank you Reggie,” I said. “You always give me confidence when I need it.”
Sometime in the wee small hours, we were both awake.
“What's that noise?” whispered Reggie. “I thought Mary's boyfriend was in Bridchester.”
I listened. There were sounds of smothered giggles and other noises coming through the bedroom wall.
“That's Mary and Scarlett,” I whispered back.
“You mean the woman who played Olivia?” he asked.
“The same,” I replied. “Mary's recently been taking a trip to the Greek Islands, well one in particular.”
There was a moment’s pause while he digested the meaning of my remark. Then he laughed softly.
“Scarlett will probably still be here at breakfast,” I whispered. “Just act nonchalant.”
As I predicted, Scarlett and Mary were sitting at the breakfast table when we finally surfaced, rather late I must admit.
“You two must have been tired,” Mary remarked.
“Well acting really takes it out of me,” I replied, straight-faced.
“But Reggie isn't an actor,” she responded.
Reggie laughed. “I'm the only non-thespian here.” I thought that was a very subtle remark.
Sunday was a beautiful late autumn day, and Reggie and I decided to go for a drive in the country. The autumn leaves had changed the trees to multiple shades from gold to brown, and although the sun was shining, there was faint chill in the air, that unmistakable sense of the season closing and heading into winter.
I chose a summer dress, worn with a full slip, and also decided to wear tights. It's amazing how such thin nylon helps to keep legs warm. I've heard stories of postmen and various outdoor tradesmen wearing them in winter for just that reason, well I assume that's the reason!
As we drove down country lanes, sometimes through piles of dead leaves on the road, I was reminded of the poem ‘Ode to Autumn' by John Keats, and began to recite it:
'Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness!
Close-bosom friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run,
To bend with apples the moss'd cottage trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core.....'
I paused, suddenly embarrassed and said “I'm sorry Reggie, you must think I'm showing off”
“Not at all,” he replied, dear man that he was. “I like to hear you recite poetry. You must have an encyclopaedia of it in your head.”
Now I was blushing. “It's that darn memory of mine.”
“Don't knock it,” he said. “It's your livelihood. Now let's hear the rest of it.”
We stopped for lunch in a little village pub. I've been all over the world, but there is still nothing to compare to an English pub, nothing.
We ate slowly, sitting opposite each other at a small table, sometimes smiling for no other reason than that we were glad to be there with each other. It was indeed the best of times.
It was with a sense of reluctance that we finally drove back to the flat at Stratford for Reggie to pick up his suitcase and take the train back to York.
“I'll ring you, and I'll send you an email,” I said, as we shared a final kiss before he stepped on the train. I watched it disappear into the distance, and I suddenly shivered. I thought of that mediaeval expression 'someone is walking over my grave. 'What a silly superstition,' I muttered to myself as I walked out of the station and headed for where I had parked my car, but I still couldn't get it out of my head.
As I drove back to the flat I suddenly realised that I was becoming superstitious myself, a common occurrence among the acting fraternity. I had certainly adopted the practice of saying ‘break a leg’ to other cast members, and would never risk referring to a certain Shakespeare play as anything other than ‘The Scottish Play’, unless I should be involved in a production of it, when apparently it’s alright to use the proper title.
The season of 'Twelfth Night' continued, with near full houses every night. I suppose it's not surprising. For many people, especially overseas visitors, a visit to Stratford is on their 'bucket list', and part of that is to see Shakespeare performed by one of the most famous theatre companies in Britain. Every day I thanked my lucky stars that I was part of it.
I knew that the next production was indeed to be 'The Scottish Play', and there was no suitable role for me in that, so it looked like I might be 'resting' for a while. My sights were set on the following production – 'Romeo and Juliet', and especially on the lead role.
As the end of the 'Twelfth Night' season approached, I wondered about Mary's plans for the future. However, I didn't feel entitled to approach her on the subject, so it was with some relief that one morning when we were having breakfast, she brought up the subject herself. Scarlett had been staying three or four nights a week at one stage, but now less frequently, and this was one of those mornings when she hadn't stayed over.
“Harriet, I'd like to talk to you about the end of the season,” said Mary as she buttered some more toast.
“Oh yes?” I said, trying to sound nonchalant, although my heart beat increased slightly.
“Yes, you've been very patient in not pushing me about my plans, but now they are finalised. I've decided to return to Bridchester. I've been in touch with Apollo and they would be glad to have me back, but there's something else as well. I don't think you've ever met Charlie. He's a guy I've been going out with off and on for years. Well, the last time I was there, he asked me to marry him.”
“And will you?” I asked.
“Well, I didn't say 'yes' and I didn't say 'no'. I asked him to give me time to think about it.”
Somehow that didn't sound very romantic to me, although I suppose it was a very practical response.
“When I go back to Brid, he's bound to ask me again and this time I'll say 'yes',” she continued. “I want to spend a few more years acting, after all I'm only twenty-one, so we might be engaged for a couple of years, and maybe move in together, but after that I'd like to settle down and have a house and a family, and maybe still do a little acting too.”
“I see,” I said, since there didn't seem to be any more comment called for, and Mary had obviously worked everything out in her head, but she hadn't finished yet.
“I'm sure you're wondering about Scarlett,” she continued. “I have to tell you that it was just a 'fling', both on her side and mine. It's something I was always curious about, and now my curiosity is satisfied and I've decided that it's not what I really want.”
“Have you told her?” I asked.
“We've discussed it, yes, and we are parting amicably, so she won't be staying over again. She'll find someone else in no time, I'm quite sure of that, after all she's a very attractive woman. There is one thing though, Charlie doesn't need to know about Scarlett.”
“Well, he won't hear about her from me,” I responded.
“Thank you,” she said. To me, it seemed a strange way of starting a relationship commitment, keeping something as major as that from your partner, but if that was the way Mary wanted it, it was none of my business.
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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