Chapter Fifty Six: Denouement

The dark mancunian streets were filled with the stale remains of Christmas as I walked along the damply shining pavements. The huge tree, hung with lights, which had dominated Piccadilly for the past month or so, gleamed in the misty mancunian drizzle, and the illuminations on Oldham Street also remained.  I walked along Moseley Street to Saint Peters Square, my head bowed against the rain, my hands shoved deep into my pockets against the cold, which clung to me as persistently as the damp.

  The Central Library building loomed in the distance, and I crossed the road by the Metrolink with relief, running the last few feet up the greyish white stone steps.  Stained glass dominated the interior, lending the white building, with its high ceiling, an extra majesty and gravitas.  I swallowed, nervously, as I made my way downstairs to the basement, and to the rather less intimidating intimate glow of the red and white formica café by the Library Theatre.  I had messed up my timings I realised, and had arrived forty-five minutes before curtain up.  The café was largely deserted, save for an earnest seeming man in a black wool coat, whose white wool scarf hung long and unravelling outside his coat, despite having been wrapped twice around his neck.  He was surrounded by books and scribbled notes, and was writing furiously; a cup of coffee lay in front of him, neglected and forgotten, as I made my way over to the counter.  I felt uneasy as I sat down a few minutes later at one of the little tables with a pot of tea and a slice of stollen, I knew that I was doing what I was doing for a good reason, but I still couldn’t decide if it was right or not.  I was still agonising over it when the call to take my seat came, and I made my way across and into the theatre still undecided.  As I sat down on one of the red plush seats, and listened to the hum of the audience and music from the stage, I thought, Please let it be right, and when the lights went down, the music and the murmurs ceased, I allowed myself to be distracted by the play.

  Chekhov’s ‘The Seagull’ isn’t a usual choice for me, give me a Tom Stoppard or period comedy any day, but in the softly lit, intimate warmth of the theatre, I watched, absolutely rapt, as the actors unfolded their story.  The two young leads, playing Constantine and Nina, held my attention the most.  I watched as these two naïve young characters progressed from idealistic lovers to irretrievably damaged, older, world-weary strangers.  In her final scene, I watched the young, dark, lively actress as she conveyed, with heart wrenching accuracy, the suffering Nina.  As she moved, and as she spoke, I sensed the subtle insinuations of Chekhov’s words, and I saw what lay beneath them.  This girl had such little self-awareness, but there was so much tragedy in her life, so much of which had been brought about through her own mistakes.  A failed actress who ran away with a writer, to be his muse and have (and lose) his child, who was destroyed by him, looks melodramatic on paper yet, on stage, she was fascinatingly real, I believed in her, and I believed in her attempt to get out of the trap that she was so irretrievably caught in.  I sensed her selfishness, her inability to see Constantine’s misery.  I sensed her frailty of mind, her stubbornness, her misery… When the curtain came down, and the cast lined up and took their bows, I applauded with genuine appreciation.  Nina was in the middle of the line up, applauding, along with the rest of the cast, as the shows director emerged from the wings, and took a bow.  My eyes rested on her as I took in her features, now that she was playing herself again.  The long, dark brown hair, which had been neatly contained throughout most of the play, hung wet and wild across her face, as it had in her final scene. Her dark brown eyes were shining, but, I sensed a wrongness there; the unhappiness, which had been expressed so eloquently in her final scene, had not entirely left her, I realised; it was a part of her, and Adrienne, like Nina, could no longer be the ingénue she once was.  If she had tried to be, then it would be an act, for that which is changed cannot be unchanged.

  The restaurant was a luxurious four star Italian eatery near Deansgate; the kind of plush carpeted, expensively lit, lavishly decorated place that I could never get a job at, let alone be served in.  It was very busy that night, and the black and white uniforms of the waiters and waitresses flitted around us and past us in the pale pink soft light.  I watched with a wary, critical eye as she ordered from the menu with an ease born of experience. Her hair had been tidied since her curtain call, and she had changed from her ragged dress into loose black trousers, and a white linen shirt, which made her look both sophisticated and self possessed.  As we waited for our food to arrive, I asked her politely about her life in France, and she talked prettily but vaguely about her Paris apartment, and the lifestyle of the French actress.  In turn, she enquired about Titanium Rose, and I gave her a general overview of our career over the past two years.  It was natural, I suppose, that we be wary of each other, and that we be hesitant in terms of what was said, but it was more than that. I suspect that each of us had picked up on the shadows around the other, and that we were both too sensitive and well behaved to pry.

  Neither of us chose to drink, which might have oiled the wheels a little and, perhaps, have ensured that things were less awkward.  The ice was never really broken, and we ate amidst carefully phrased conversations, which melted away as quickly as they had begun, the ensuing silences swallowed up by those dining and working around us.  I mentioned, as the remains of our main course was being taken away, that the second single from our album has just been released, and that Katy is in London, doing promotion for the single and album whilst producing some tracks for The Flirts and Molotov Cocktail, “A regular superwoman,” I concluded with a trace of disgust.

  Adrienne raised an eyebrow quizzically, “I’d ask you about it,” she said as she raised a glass of water to her lips, “but I suspect that isn’t why you wanted to meet up.”

  I heaved a sigh; now that we had got to the business at hand I had more doubts than ever.  Still, I had come this far; it would be silly to back out now, so… as she drank her water, I began to tell her about Emily, and more specifically, about Fliss’ feelings for her.  “The thing is,” I said reticently, “she needs closure before she can move on.”

  I watched, warily, as she nodded, but I sensed puzzlement on her part, her brow was creased as she said, “I thought I’d made the situation clear to Fliss two years ago, when I left.”

  “I don’t think it seemed that way to Fliss,” I explained cautiously, “In fact, I know it didn’t, it’s always seemed as though she expected you to come back.”

  “I see,” I heard the tension in her voice as she picked up the dessert menu.

  I waited, but nothing further was going to be said, I could tell.  She had shielded her face with the menu, so it was impossible to tell what she was thinking.

  Throughout the final course, she concentrated on her food, and kept her thoughts, and her feelings, to herself.  As the table was cleared, once more, she asked, pensively, “What’s Emily like?”

  “Shy,” I said, succinctly, “and younger than Fliss, very awkward and quiet.”

  She nodded unhappily to herself as she reached for her credit card; she wouldn’t look at me even after she had found it, and I became increasingly apprehensive.  Eventually, she murmured, “It’s the easiest thing in the world for Fliss to just flutter her eyelashes and wait for someone to make the first move, but it doesn’t sound as though that would happen in this case…” She looked up at last, and her face was an unreadable mask as she said, “It’ll be good for her, she’ll have to do all the work for a change, be a bit more butch.”  She frowned, “Is this girl gay though?”

  I grimaced, “I don’t know,” I admitted, “and I’m pretty sure that no one else I know does either, including Fliss.”

  Adrienne grew thoughtful, “Well,” she began, “I can talk to her, if you think it’s necessary, but I don’t think it’ll help.  I’d much rather write her a letter…”

  I agonised for a few moments as to which would be the least painful for Fliss, and Adrienne must have sensed my uncertainty, for she said, with an unhappy sigh, “No, I’d better see her, if I don’t,” she sounded tired, “she would come to me, it’s best I go to her before she decides to come to me.”

  Fliss was in the kitchen when I arrived home, she was wearing one of her oldest, most worn, nighties, which was pale pink and had teddy bears patterned all over it.  Her long fair hair hung loose, to just past her shoulders, and she was making herself a drink before heading off to bed.  As Adrienne emerged from the shadows behind me, she froze.  In the awful, taut silence, I saw the stricken look in her eyes, and the pain in her face; it was so silent that I could almost hear her heart beating faster as she stood, absolutely stock still, her eyes glistening as the tears dripped slowly down her face.  I hurt for her, but it was the pain of sympathy, and, probably, the pain caused by guilt.  What on earth had possessed me to do this to her? Adrienne walked slowly past me as though she were in a trance, her eyes were distant, and her face was unreadable as she took Fliss in her slim arms, and held her.

  The phone was ringing, it had been ringing for a while I realised as Fliss began to sob into Adrienne’s shirt, but it was only now that I had heard it.  I walked along the hallway, to the stand by the stairs, in a trance, and picked up the receiver with heavy, clumsy hands.  The voice on the other end of the line jolted me back to reality, “Happy fucking New Year,” growled Nat, in a dull monotone, “I sure as hell hope its going better for you so far than it is for me.”

  “Not really,” I sighed, “not tonight anyway…”

  “Dylan’s filed for divorce,” she continued in that same, dull monotone, oblivious to my remarks.

  “Well,” I conceded, wryly “you can hardly blame him…”

  “I know, but…”

  “I’m surprised he waited this long…”

  “He’s met someone else,” she droned.

  “Oh…”

  “Yeah… and as if being given the kiss off by my now very ex-husband wasn’t bad enough, Amber’s been romancing Sabine from The Gates, and she’s been lapping it up.”

  “So I gathered.”

  Once again, she didn’t appear to hear me, “So, as well as all that, there’s this big Valentines Day shin dig at Juvenile Hell to organise, with yourselves of course, and everyone there is going to be in a couple except me.”

  “Surely not everyone,” I reasoned.

  “Yes, everyone!” she snapped, and I could sense her despair as well as her exasperation as she continued, “Amber’s going to have Sabine there, you’ll be with Fergus, and Fliss is drooling over Emily, so I can’t borrow her…”

  “Nat,” I reasoned, “you’d eat the poor girl alive…”

  “Fliss!” she snapped, “Not Emily!”

  “Sorry.”  There was an awkward pause, then my heart leapt as I remembered something, “What about Shahina?”

  “Don’t talk to me about that snake,” she said, in withering tones, “She’s in London, sharing Shanti with Violet, or Violet with Shanti… I lost track of that particular ménage á trois…”

  “Borrow Katy,” I said, quickly, before Nat could start in on reminding me about the time Shahina slept with her girlfriend, Jasmine, four years ago.

  “Please…” I could feel her shudder down the phone, “I’d rather go alone, which I will be doing…”

  “Ask Violet.”

  “In London, with Shanti Nair and Shahina, I already told you!”

  “There must be someone…” her despair was infecting me by that point.

  “No, there’s not…” a note of sadness had crept into her voice, “There just aren’t enough confirmed queer girls, or semi queer girls, on our little scene to go around, and trying to pull in the village is fraught with too many difficulties; I don’t like lairy middle aged women leering at me…”

  “You’re lairy sometimes.”

  “That’s different,” she said with crushing finality.  A note of defeat entered her voice as she said, “Oh, never mind… I’m going to go and watch ‘Rosemary and Thyme’…”

  “And write slash/fiction online after?” I enquired, sweetly.

  “You know me too well…” she grumbled, before abruptly hanging up.

  As I got my breakfast the next morning, it occurred to me that Shahina and Violet, whatever their relationship was, couldn’t both take Shanti to Juvenile Hell on Valentines Day, and that, anyway, Shanti might be in London recording still, or be busy with other things.  Surely Shahina would be free if Violet wasn’t? Yes, Cinders, I thought, wryly, to myself, you shall go to the ball… A very curious picture began to form in my head as I reflected on this, and I smiled despite myself.

  Just then, Adrienne made her way into the kitchen.  She walked slowly, as though she had a lot on her mind; her hair was loose and seemingly un-brushed, and the previous nights clothes were badly creased and wrinkled.  “Don’t look at me like that,” she said, sharply, as I stared across at her from the table.  I saw her wince as she looked away from me, “Yes,” she admitted, wearily, “I slept with her, but nothing happened.”  Her voice turned bitter as she poured herself a coffee, “I did what you asked me to do.”  She sat down opposite me, and nursed the mug of black coffee, her dark eyes were angry, and the tension showed in her face.

  “Has there been anyone since Fliss?” I asked in the stony silence.

  She wouldn’t answer; she wouldn’t even look at me.

  “Well?” I prompted.

  But she still wouldn’t answer.

  “There must have been a queue of girls in Holland and France,” I observed lightly, “all dying to…”

  She brought the half empty mug down onto the table with a crash, “There’s been no one,” she snapped as she glared at me, her eyes ablaze with rage. 

  I wasn’t intimidated by her anger, in fact, I felt as though I’d achieved something; I had made her realise the truth, however painful it was, “You still love her, don’t you?” I said, softly.  I took no pleasure in discovering this, it had been the last thing that I had expected to find out, but I had to know, “Why didn’t you come back? She’s waited for you, she’s waited for you for two years, and if you still love her…” I was beginning to feel angry myself then.

  “It won’t work!” her rage was stronger now, “Do you know how many times I’ve been followed since I came back to the U.K?” she clenched her fists, “Twenty times! Twenty times in a fortnight! I’ve had reporters sneak into rehearsals, and that really makes me mad, because then my work’s being affected, and my jobs potentially on the line.  I’ve three different tabloids staying at my hotel, the paparazzi following me everywhere, and I get chat shows calling my agent, wanting me to go on their shows and talk about my ‘comeback’.”  She spat the last word with visible contempt.  There was a pause, and when she next spoke, I sensed her falter as she admitted, “You were right to bring me back here last night, I can’t drag Fliss into my world, not again; it would ruin her life.”

  I was alarmed at this summary of my actions, “That wasn’t why…” I began.

  “But it’s the truth,” she stated hollowly.

  She looked so sad, and it was probably that as much as the desire to defend my own motives, that made me say, “Fliss would run away to France in an instant if she thought you still loved her.”

  She nodded without, I suspect, really hearing what I was saying.  Her voice cracked a little as she said, “You can’t base a relationship on occasional nights in hotel rooms.”

  Fliss entered the room just as Adrienne spoke this last line, she was still in her nightie, and she looked absolutely wretched as she watched her get up to leave.  In the doorway, Adrienne put her arms around her and held her until Fliss began to cry. It was a long, lingering clinch and, as she emerged from the kiss, I heard her say, kindly and quietly, “I’m setting you free.”

  She walked away without looking back.  I heard her feet on the stairs, heard the door slam shut, and then… she was gone.

  Fliss was crying silently in the doorway.  Her eyes were scrunched up, her lips were trembling, and her shoulders were racked with silent sobs.  She staggered, blindly, along the corridor.  I felt terrible as I got up to follow her, but before I reached the corridor, I heard the door to her bedroom slam, and her bed creak.  Through the walls, I could hear her crying, and it was an angry, despairing, ugly sound.  I could hear her fear as well as her despair, and I wished that I hadn’t done what I’d done.

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