Monday, August 25, 2014

Written Fireside Blog Hop Part 2

Yesterday I posted the first instalment of my contribution to the Written Fireside August blog hop, and here's the second instalment.

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Part Two:

Charlotte stared sightlessly out the window until rain began to spatter against the grimy glass. Just her luck. The one day she hadn’t brought an umbrella.
She climbed off the bus at her usual stop, raising her collar against the sleety rain and tucking her gloved hands deep into her pockets. Jingle Bells spilled out from a store, and the Christmas lights strung overhead reflected in the puddles. The pedestrians hurrying along the busy pavements all seemed to be heading in the opposite direction, an inexorable tide she had to fight against. Something she seemed to be doing a lot of lately.
No-one understood what she’d done.
Her parents thought this was just a blip and soon she’d come to her senses and move back in with Daniel. Their well-meant interrogations were a small price to pay for free room and board.
Her old friends hadn’t been so kind. They’d sided with Daniel and been voluble in their disapproval.
“Is this some sort of early midlife crisis?” Jenny had asked. “Or maybe it’s wedding jitters. We all had those.”
But it wasn’t wedding jitters. Charlotte had stared down the tunnel of her future and wondered how she’d ever come to this point. It wasn’t that she didn’t want marriage and motherhood. She just didn’t want them packaged up in a terrace house and a pocket handkerchief garden, with a daily commute to a job she didn’t enjoy, a week’s holiday in Tenerife every year, and a man she wasn’t passionately and hopelessly in love with.
When the date of their wedding had come and gone, and she still hadn’t gone back on her knees to beg Daniel’s forgiveness, even Jenny stopped taking her calls.
So she made new friends. Friends who knew her simply as ‘Charlotte’, not one half of ‘Daniel and Charlotte’.
She reached the stage door and shoved it open, feeling the same sudden rush of excitement she felt every time she stepped over the threshold. A rush that, weeks down the line, still hadn’t abated. This was what made all the heartache worthwhile. Here, in the musty, over-crowded bowels of the theatre, all the tears and if onlys and might have beens disappeared.
Amidst the panicked preparations, the smell of grease paint, the bright lights, there was no time for anything but magic.

“What are your plans for Christmas?” Brian asked, batting his fake eyelashes at the mirror to check they were firmly stuck on.
Charlotte finished painting her lips. “Turkey at home with my parents, I guess. We’ll eat too much, watch the Queen’s speech and fall asleep watching re-runs.”
“Sounds scintillating. You’re welcome to join me and Jack for dinner, if you like?”
“Thanks, but no thanks.” Their flat might be in the heart of Theatreland, but it was so tiny a person could almost touch both opposite walls at the same time, and it smelled strongly of the Indian restaurant downstairs. “Three’s a crowd and all that.”
Maybe she’d make up for the bad, bad girl she’d been this year by taking mince pies to old Mrs Johnson down the end of the street. Mrs Johnson usually went away to California to visit family who lived there now, but this year she was too frail to travel.
“You know what you need?” Brian turned laughing blue eyes on her. “You need a booty call. You need to spend your Christmas Day making panty melting sex with a handsome stranger.”
If only.
Charlotte pictured midnight dark eyes and a suggestive smile.
She shook her head. “I don’t think Santa is going to be leaving a hot date in my stocking any time soon.”
Brian shrugged. “You never know.”
“Five minutes to curtain up. Places everyone.” The stage manager’s voice crackled over the speakers.
Charlotte rose and gazed at herself in the mirror. Out with Charlotte and her hopes and fears, and in with Dandini. Wigged, powdered, and dressed in tights, she could just have fun.
She pulled her tongue out at her reflection. Cross-dressing for a Southend panto might not be the height of an actress’ ambitions but at least it was professional, paying work. And considering that this time last year she’d still been sat in an office listening to middle-aged housewives drone on and on about the lack of excitement in their lives, she’d come a long way.
Charlotte straightened the lapels of her blue satin coat and hurried up the narrow stairs after Brian. “What do you think Steve will have in store for us tonight?”
Their director loved improv. To keep his cast on their toes, every night he arranged some unexpected surprise for them. Fireworks at the end of the first act, a pizza delivery in the middle of the second act, a cell phone ringing live on stage.
Brian shrugged. “It’s going to be hard to top the Can-Can dancers.”
But Charlotte was sure Steve would find a way. Tonight was their last performance, after all. She swallowed the lump in her throat. She’d only made it through the day because she’d spent most of it wrapped in a fantasy that involved a certain dark-eyed stranger.
Tomorrow there would be no more show and no more reason to catch the Number 25 bus.
In the shadowy light they took their places. The lights dimmed, the music began. Beyond the curtain, the crowd hushed. Charlotte’s heart was in her throat, her pulse beating a wild staccato rhythm. Then the curtain started to rise, the audience began to clap, and something settled inside her.
This was the theatre. Everything would be alright on the night.

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