All the World's a Stage
A novel by Bronwen Welsh
Copyright© 2016, 2017 Bronwen Welsh
A sequel to 'The Might-Have-Been Girl'
Chapter 48 Meeting Reggie again
A few days later, Reggie rang to say that he would call in at Stratford on his way up to Bridchester to see Stella and his parents.
“That's a huge detour for you Reggie, why don't you just drive straight to Bridchester?” I said, but he insisted that he wanted to see me. Coming all the way south to Stratford was making the journey about five times as long as going straight across the country. Fortunately, he could drive on motorways for most of the way, and at least when he returned to Blackpool he could take the direct route.
We arranged that he would arrive in time for lunch on the following Saturday. During the next few days, I spent a ridiculous amount of time deciding what to wear for our meeting. It had been so long since we had seen each other and so much had happened, that despite our regular emails and occasional phone calls, I wondered whether we would find that things had changed between us.
I decided not to dress up, but not to dress down either. As an actress whose face was starting to become known, I felt the need to always present smartly in case I was recognised. I knew that many young women seemed to prefer wearing trousers or jeans, but that wasn't my style. Finally I decided on a smart grey skirt and a silk blouse. I wore stockings and three-inch heels, plus one of my silk slips, not just because it made the skirt hang better but because I liked the feel of it against my skin. I took extra care with my makeup and hair, almost as if I was going on a first date.
Reggie arrived at about two o'clock on Saturday, carrying a beautiful bunch of flowers. The look on his face when he saw me told me all I needed to know. We greeted each other with a kiss on the cheek; the moment I felt his lips on my skin I knew that the old magic was still there and I think he did too. Reggie could only stay for a couple of hours, so I wasted no time serving us the meal I had cooked, and while we sat down to eat it we talked.
After a few mouthfuls of the roast lamb and vegetables, he complimented me on my cooking.
“Well I had a great teacher at the start, and I've had plenty of practice since,” I said, wanting to keep the atmosphere light, although I knew we had serious matters to discuss. “Do you have any more news about Sophie and the accident?” I asked. Somehow I now found it easier to use her name.
“Well it turns out the brakes on Sid's car did fail although there's no proof that they were tampered with, so it might have just been an unlucky accident. I also found out why Sid and Sophie were so badly injured. It seems that neither of them were wearing a seat belt. Mildred told me that Sophie was wearing her new dress and didn't want to risk it getting crushed. As for Sid, apparently he almost never wore a one, he said he didn't like the way it constricted him. Mildred was wearing hers and came off comparatively lightly.”
“And what is happening with Sophie?”
“They finally brought her out of the coma and are doing tests on her. It seems she does have brain damage but they're not sure how bad it is yet.”
It's funny that after all that Sophie had done to Reggie and me, I could be forgiven if I enjoyed a feeling of satisfaction that she was suffering, but somehow I couldn't do that. I suppose it's sympathy for a fellow human being, no matter how badly they have behaved.
“If she doesn't recover enough to look after Stella, what will you do about her?” I asked.
“To be honest, if Emma is prepared to keep looking after her, then I'll delay making that decision for the time being.”
“Does knowing she's not yours make you feel differently about her?” I asked. I knew it was a difficult question, but I felt I had to ask it.
“This may sound strange, but it doesn't,” he said. “After all, it's not Stella's fault how she came into being, and she won't be the first or the last whose official father isn't the real one. Since you and I are the only people who know I'm not actually her father, I feel I owe it to her to keep it a secret.”
“I'm glad you said that Reggie. She's a sweet little girl and I really wish she was my daughter.” That remark came out of my mouth before I realised what I was saying.
“Do you really?” he said. He sounded surprised.
“Is it so strange Reggie? I'm a woman, and most women long to be mothers. I know I can't physically give birth, but that doesn't stop me wishing I could have a daughter of my own.”
Reggie reached across the table and took my hand. “I think you would make a great mother,” he said. I felt my eyes prickle with unshed tears, and I tried to cover up my emotions with a smile, but I'm sure Reggie saw through it because he squeezed my hand.
“Who knows what the future might bring,” he said.
We finished our meal with homemade apple pie and custard which I knew was a favourite of Reggie's, and after a cup of coffee, he said that he really must be going. It had been wonderful to see him again. It was something I had dared to dream for ages and I had almost given up hope of it ever happening. The events of recent weeks had given me hope that perhaps there was a future for us together after all. Before he left we exchanged another kiss. This time it was on the lips and it lasted for quite a while. It would have been so easy to lead him back into the flat and into my bedroom, and judging by the way his body was reacting to me, I'm sure he would not have resisted, but somehow it didn't seem the right time – yet.
“Thank you for coming all the way to Stratford,” I said. “It means a lot to me.”
Reggie smiled. “It was worth the trip just to see you and I wanted to tell you in person how grateful I am for all that you've done for me, and for Stella too.”
He didn't tell me he still loved me, but perhaps he thought it was too soon. Who can work out what is going on in a man's mind? Still, I didn't tell him that I loved him either. I think we were both still feeling a little shy with each other.
On Monday Reggie rang me again. He had visited Emma's house and seen Stella. She greeted him with an exuberant 'Daddy!' as he swept her up into his arms. This I heard the next time I spoke to Emma. While she was pleased to see him, after a few minutes, she was perfectly happy to go back to playing with Elizabeth and Tom, while Penny supervised like a little mother. Apparently there were no tears when he left. He also had a report on Sophie. The tests to date showed that her brain injuries were quite severe. Reggie was told that she might improve but no predictions could be made at that stage, and she would be staying in hospital for the time being.
The following week the previews of 'The School for Wives' started. My character 'Agnès' had been brought up in a nunnery as the ward of an older rich man 'Arnolphe' with the aim of keeping her innocent of the ways of the world. It was Arnophe's intention to marry Agnès but of course she ends up falling in love with a younger man.
When I first appeared, I was wearing a very simple gown, but after leaving the nunnery, I wore a quite sumptuous silk gown. It was tightly corseted, with a low neckline and dropped shoulder. The overskirt was pinned back to reveal a highly decorated petticoat, and I wore silk stockings, satin slippers and a wig of long curly hair. I must confess that I did enjoy wearing the beautiful clothes of previous centuries when I was performing. It really helped me to get into the character, just as it had when I had first performed in 'Dear Brutus', which seemed such a long time ago.
Molière is the stage name of Jean-Baptiste Poquelin. His plays are not often performed in Britain, and it was a pleasant change for me to appear in one of them. The reviews were good and we performed to nearly full houses. As you might expect, Frank came up to Stratford for a performance, and as usual I obtained a fully autographed programme for him which I presented when he, Dale and I had supper that evening.
“How do you enjoy playing Molière as opposed to Shakespeare?” Frank asked me.
“Very much,” I replied. “I was starting to think that I might become type-cast as a purely Shakespearean actress, so this has widened my scope a bit.”
“The costume you wore was gorgeous,” he said.
“Yes, that's a bonus of being in the theatrical trade,” I replied with a smile. I hadn't seen Frank appear as Frances for a while, not that it bothered me in the slightest when he did.
“That's a very nice dress you are wearing too,” I commented. “Although perhaps not quite as elaborate as the one I wore.”
Now that the season had started I only had Sundays off, so it was difficult to visit Bridchester. Going to Brid on Saturday night was not really practical as I was always tired after an evening performance and it wasn't sensible to tackle a long drive. Dale was very good. He offered to drive me up following the performance and after a few weeks I took him up on his offer. I slept most of the way, and when we arrived at Mum's house, Dale slept in Emma's old room. I, of course still had my own room there, and Mum always kept it ready for me whenever I arrived.
The following morning we all visited Emma and David's home and enjoyed a very nice day. David and Emma had met Dale before and made him very welcome, thanking him for taking the trouble to drive me up to see them. Stella actually called me 'Mummy'. Well both Sophie and I had long blonde hair and perhaps Stella was starting to forget what her mother looked like. I became quite emotional and had to leave the room for a while until I had composed myself. Everyone was very nice and made no comment about it.
I was now speaking to Reggie on the phone every couple of days and that was so nice after the long period when our correspondence was greatly curtailed. One thing was worrying me, what was happening about his university course?
“I spoke to the Dean and explained the circumstances and he was very understanding,” said Reggie. “I've been given 'leave of absence' until things settle down and I can return to York. I do intend to finish the course.”
“What will you do about money to live on? I can help you out if you like,” I said. I knew that Sid had been giving them money but of course that would stop now.
“That is so kind of you,” said Reggie. “But I should be alright soon. Sid had left a will, and the bulk of his estate goes to Mildred as you'd expect, and if she had pre-deceased him it would have gone to Sophie and then Stella and any other children. However, much to my surprise, he left thirty thousand pounds to me. I didn't know if I should take it but when I spoke to Mildred she said of course I should, as I'd need it to live on while I finish my course.
“Sophie and I used to stay with Sid and Mildred when we were in Blackpool, and now it's only her in the house I thought it might not be appropriate for me to stay there any more, but she laughed and said no-one is going to think she's having an affair with her son-in-law.
'Handsome though you are, you're a little too young for me,' she said. 'And after all, we are related.'
“It's really surprising that now she's no longer in Sid's shadow, she's really coming out as her own person and she's quite a strong woman.
“We're waiting to obtain probate on Sid's will of course and legal matters tend to move a bit slowly. I'm continuing to put out feelers about the sale of the casino and clubs and there is certainly interest. Mildred says that if Sophie has to live in a nursing home then she will need money to support her. Although Sid borrowed against the clubs to build the casino, I've assured her than when everything is sold she will be a wealthy woman. She's very sensible and I'm sure she'll look after the money. She's already asked me about putting it into secure investments.
“I did suggest to her that she might like to keep one of the clubs as a source of income but she really isn't interested. I believe she thinks it's tainted money. I had to go to one of them once on business with Sid, and I must say I agree with her. It was really quite sleazy. I felt sorry for the women working there. Fancy dancing naked in front of leering men drinking over-priced spirits. There were a number of small rooms there and you can guess what went on in them.”
“I suppose they service a demand,” I said, although I was glad to hear that Mildred was getting rid of the clubs. I found myself thinking that I wouldn't mind meeting her now that Sid had gone.
Some weeks passed, during which we performed to packed houses. Finally Reggie phoned with some news; probate had been granted on Sid's will, and Mildred, with Reggie's help had considered all the offers on the clubs and casino. It would not be long before they were sold. This was good news as the hospital had done all they could for Sophie and a decision had been made that she should be moved to a nursing home.
'What a dreadful result of giving in to vanity,' I thought since if Sophie had worn her seat belt her injuries would almost certainly have been a lot less severe. When I thought of her probably spending the rest of her life in a nursing home, I wondered if given a choice she would rather have died in the accident.
Finally, the season of 'School for Wives' came to an end and with it the news that Sid's properties had been sold. Even after repaying the bank, Mildred was now a very wealthy woman. She would need that money to help look after her daughter, but there was another surprise to come, which Reggie told me about in a long phone call.
“Mildred and I get on very well now that Sid is gone. She's been very frank about her life with him, telling me that he was a really nice young man, but ambition changed him, that and the quest to earn ever more money.
'He insisted on buying me a fur coat, even though I didn't really want one,' she said. 'But he argued that I should look like a successful businessman's wife. I knew I looked like 'mutton dressed as lamb', but there was no talking him round, so I went along with it as I did with so many things.'
“Then she shocked me by saying that she wanted to double the money that Sid had left me as a mark of her gratitude for all that I had done. I really didn't know what to say. However there was more to come.
'I want you to do something for me, well two things actually,' she said. 'I think you should marry your actress friend as soon as you can get a divorce. I've only ever seen her once as you know, but she seems very nice, and when I saw you dancing together, no matter how hard you tried, I knew that she was the woman you really love.'
“You can imagine I was struck dumb at that,” said Reggie.
“I'm not so surprised,” I replied. “Women are not as easily fooled as men, particularly when it comes to human relationships. We did our best to hide it, and I'm sure we convinced Sid, but then he was a man. What was her other request?”
“She wants to see her granddaughter on a regular basis, and I think that's a reasonable request. She was quite happy to learn that Stella is staying with your sister, and she has no intention of trying to take her away. She really thinks that is the best place for her at present.”
“Well I think it's a reasonable request too. Stella is getting to know me quite well now. How would Mildred feel if I came along with you and took Stella to visit her?”
“I think she'd really like that,” replied Reggie. He paused. “You haven't asked me what I said to Mildred when she said I should marry you.”
I laughed. “No I haven't because I don't want a proposal of marriage over the phone. I want it to be done properly.”
Now Reggie laughed. “You mean down on one knee and offering a ring?” he said.
“Well I'm an old-fashioned girl, so I think that would be rather nice,” I responded, trying my best not to laugh.
“Well I guess I'll have to think about that,” he replied. “What are you doing next Friday evening?”
“Oh just hanging around, hoping that some nice young man will come along and sweep me off my feet,” I said. “Do you know of any takers?”
Reggie laughed. “How about dinner? You like that place 'Oppo's' don't you?”
“Yes I do, but they do know me there and a lot of theatrical people go there too. Is that alright?”
“That's fine. If I should happen to ask a particular question and get the answer I'm hoping for, then I don't mind how many people know.”
“In that case, it's a date. Shall I book a table for seven o'clock?”
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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