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Ring the Nurses!

Chapter Text

Patsy wasn’t as excited about her new play as she should have been. There were too many moving pieces in the script, and too many pages. There would be cuts, many of them. The play had too many characters. Characters would have to be cut, many of them. But she wouldn’t turn down the part. She was the lead, of course. At this point in an illustrious career, she had come to expect nothing less.

On the first day of rehearsal, she sat in front of her dressing table teasing her hair and shellacking it into immobility atop her head. She wore a striking new dress, a metallic emerald sheath that she'd had godsend Tony Amos tailor, and red lipstick in a blend that was supposed to last all day. She knew she needed to be able to move for rehearsal, but she needed to make a good impression. One might not believe it, but the inimitable Patsy Mount had her moments of insecurity.

The character she was playing was too like her for comfort, really, a straightforward, efficient nurse who had little time for foibles or games. As an actress, Patsy perhaps allowed more time for games than Nurse Millicent Beckwith did, but she didn’t appreciate leisure time the way the more frivolous actresses in her friend group did. After all, she was serious; she had attended LAMDA.

An hour before rehearsals were set to begin, she breezed out of her flat into one of the first blue days of the summer. She was pleased to be able to wear her sunglasses, purchased in hopes of better weather on one of her outings with her best friend Trixie. Trixie was a terrible over-spender, spreading her exorbitant debt throughout London like a disease, still hoping a call from Hollywood would pluck up her cheeky smile.

“Oh, sweetie, those look divine," Trixie said of the sunglasses. "It would simply be a crime against humanity to leave them on the rack.”

Ever since drama school, Trixie could make people do what she wanted. Her charming personality worked on everyone, mail carriers, store clerks, children, dogs, cats. For whatever Trixie desired, from a hot cocoa to a jeweled necklace. It certainly worked on directors; she was never out of work, though she was typecast as flirtatious blond with little substance. Patsy didn’t think that her friend ever did much to disrupt this illusion – on or off-stage – though she knew that Trixie had the power to display depth in both arenas.

For her part, Patsy had purchased the sunglasses and spent the next summer month trapped in grey skies and drizzle. But on this first nice day, she’d have to spend her time in the dark Apollo Theatre, where it could be any time of day.

Just as she was about to go inside, a young fan hurried up to her, her face flushed with nervousness. “Are you Patsy Mount?” the girl squeaked. The girl’s mother came up behind her.

“I am.”

The girl was starstruck and grew too shy to speak. Her mother said, “We saw you in 'Oliver!' months ago before it closed. Ethel can’t stop talking about it. You could say she’s smitten.”

Patsy kneeled in front of the little girl. She was still thrilled by meetings like these, though she was statuesque enough to be regularly spotted by adoring fans (typically men). “Do you want to be an actress, Ethel?” she asked.

“Oh, gosh, no!” Ethel giggled.
*

Delia’s stomach gurgled from an ill-chosen breakfast of milky coffee and Welsh cakes. She’d only lived on her own for two years since she’d left the dormitories at drama school, and was a woefully inept cook. She only knew how to make pasta and the Welsh cakes. She’d only learned the latter from her mother from years of forced lessons on Sundays, but she’d only made them twice, for a girl she’d wanted to impress. That morning, she'd offered the leftovers to her roommate, a no-nonsense, 60-something nurse called Phyllis Crane.

“How do you think I lived this long without getting sick a day in my life, Ms. Sugarplum?” Phyllis had asked when Delia had offered her a second Welsh cake. She’d planned to have enough to offer Eleanor one with her tea whenever she came by, but Eleanor made it clear that she would not be coming by Delia’s again.

Delia shrugged at Phyllis’ comment.

“Because I’ve given up meat, and eat sugar very sparingly!” Nurse Crane disdainfully looked at Delia, who was on her third cake to quell her nerves for that day's rehearsal. “And I might suggest you do the same. You are an actress, are you not?”

On the tube ride to the Apollo, Delia wished she’d eaten something more sensible for breakfast. Porridge maybe. The sugar and milk had done a number on her stomach, as had her falling out with Eleanor. She looked at a man stroking a woman's face on the train, and felt sick about her own prospects. She would never meet a woman who would commit to her the way she would. If Delia could do anything, it was commit, no matter how difficult that commitment might be.

But when she reached the Apollo Theatre, she wished she hadn't committed to acting. The space was certainly the largest theatre in which she’d performed in so far, and posh, with its ornate gold and plush red seats. Laurence Olivier had performed here, and now so would Delia Busby, from Pembrokeshire. The thought was enough to make Delia chuckle, and she did, stopping her smile with her hand so she didn’t look like a lunatic to the rest of the cast. Here she was, her first day at the Apollo, and she was already going mad.

Delia surveyed the rest of the cast of "Ring the Nurses!" The title was stilted, and silly, there was no way the production would give Delia the experimental theatrical experience she wanted. She only had a minor role, a friend of one of the main characters, but she was glad to see a cast of mostly women for once. She was only three years out of drama school, and she already couldn’t see herself playing a host of maids and governesses to the tuxedoed gentlemen of 19th-century drama for the rest of her career.

The script may not be cutting edge, but it would be the biggest credit to her name thus far.

As she walked down the aisle toward where the cast had assembled, she recognized some of her fellow cast members. There was the stately Louise Julian. She wasn’t surprised (there was a bimbo nurse in the script), but was somewhat starstruck, to see Trixie Franklin. She paused in her confident stride when she spotted the absolutely legendary Antonia Cavill. Delia was thoroughly intimidated now – she’d seen Antonia play a devastating Nina in Chekhov’s "The Seagull" years ago on an shocking (to her mam) class trip planned by a persuasive drama teacher. Delia assumed Antonia was just a figurehead in this show; she’d even heard around theatrical circles the elderly woman had dementia.

The cast was so dynamic – Delia had the impulse to run.

But spotting her somewhat-friend Barbara Gilbert calmed her nerves. She’d met Barbara only once at an acquaintance’s flat party. They’d drunk champagne together, and Barbara told her about the clergyman to whom she’d once been engaged.

“Tom said, ‘A wife is meant to follow her husband,’” Barbara had laughed, “This was in 1961, Delia, 1961! Not the Middle Ages. Now I’m not the hippest cat in the barnyard, or whatever that expression is, but I took off the ring that I bought – for myself, of all things! – and told him that I had an obligation to myself and my craft first.”

"You let him have it!" Delia had said, impressed.

Barbara was a modern woman, though today she was wearing her hair in a very square headband. Delia herself wore a black velvet pantsuit and had curled her hair out at the bottom. She wore eyeliner, though she feared it had smudged all over her face on the hot car. She felt great anxiety when she started a new production, never quite believing that anyone could take a country girl seriously on the London stage. She never used her Welsh accent for any part, and even when she talked normally, as herself, she could tell her innate vowels had modified in her six years practicing posh English elocution.

Out of this same sense of self-protection, she was nervous to sit next to Barbara, concerned that Babs wouldn’t remember her from the party. But god forbid she sit alone. She slid in next to her acquaintance with a hope and a prayer, and whispered, “Remember me?”

Barbara squealed, and said, “Of course, I do! We’re going to have so much fun. You’ll never believe who is in—”

But then, Barbara’s babbling was silenced by what felt like a great hush in the room. The rest of the cast stopped their nervous chatter and turned as the last cast member to arrive strolled down the aisle. It was hot outside, but the woman wore a short coat over a green dress and pulled off a pair of calfskin gloves as she sauntered toward the stage. She slid off a pair of sunglasses to reveal killer blue eyes. The auditorium seemed to pulse with excitement.

Delia knew her. She was Patience Mount, the most beautiful woman Delia had ever seen.

Patsy nodded to the other cast members as she passed them, as if they were all attending her garden party, and took her seat in the very front row of the auditorium. She slapped her gloves into her hand and called to the director, who was deep in conversation with another man onstage, and said, “Mr. Sebring, I believe we’re all quite ready to begin!”

She might be the most beautiful woman Delia had ever seen, but she also suspected Patience might also be the most difficult.

Chapter Text

The thing about the lounge popular with actors, the Loose Caboose, was that their drinks were strong enough to get you heaving after only two or three. But stage actors, film actors, and those who wanted to pretend they were either spent as much as they earned there, drinking orange whiskey flips and Chartreuse and tonics, and dressing like they wanted to be seen.

The lounge had an enormous synthetic lit-up blue tree growing from the centre of the floor into the ceiling. A group of men played swinging piano and bass in the back corner. Plush lime-green chairs covered the floor, and tonight, there were dozens of women in miniskirts and tall boots, and men in thin ties, draped all over the chairs and each other.

Patsy didn’t turn heads here, which was a relief. She tired of people looking at her because she wore stylish clothes or spoke with an accent elevated enough to mystify. Here, the actors, used to drawing attention among non-actors, loudened the room to a fever pitch, aiming to outperform and outshout one another. Patsy was never willing to fight for attention, so she liked the Loose Caboose because she could blend into the crowd.

Trixie streamed into the lounge and ordered a pink squirrel, a revolting concoction of Crème de Almond, Crème de Cacao, and heavy cream. Patsy followed behind her, feeling somewhat old hat among the men Trixie greeted by yanking on their ties.

“Don’t think I’m forgetting that drink you owe me, Irv,” Trixie smirked at a man in a grey suit sitting next to the bar.

He held up his martini in affirmation, but his eyes lingered past Trixie, on Patsy. He cheers’d her as well. “How about I buy your friend a drink, too?” he said, still speaking to Trixie.

“A double order seems rather a social faux pas,” Trixie scolded him.

There were always men in grey suits offering to buy Patsy drinks. In response, she ignored Irv and ordered herself a gin and tonic. Her father taught her, too young, that a clear drink prevented a hangover.

Drinks in hand, Trixie led them toward a cloister of four chairs. “I’m exhausted, really,” she said. “I loathe getting acquainted. It feels like I work in godawful business!"

They'd spent much of the day's rehearsal getting to know one another. Patsy nodded her agreement, but she kept thinking of the little brunette she’d met earlier. Delores, Delilah, Delia something. Delores had flushed when they’d been introduced, and said, “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Patience. I saw you in Blithe Spirit at the Globe and you were absolutely compelling.” Delilah had swallowed.

Patsy, so accustomed to commanding a room or being expected to, said, cavalierly, “Hail to thee, blithe Spirit!”

Delia had looked abashed, like she thought Patsy was making fun of her for her effusiveness. Perhaps Patsy had been. Patsy was dismissive to most people, except to children, and especially to actresses. But Delores’ sincerity, her almost puppy-like eyes, made Patsy want to be serious for a change. It hadn’t been so long ago that she herself had been genuine, had it?

“Do you think Niles Sebring is a doll, or what?” Trixie continued. When Patsy didn't answer, she said, “Hello? Patsy? Have you blasted off?”

Patsy was snapped from her reverie. “No, I don't like him.”

“Well, of course you don’t. But for me?”

“Why don’t you take yourself more seriously, Trixie?” Patsy snapped unexpectedly.

Trixie took a wide-eyed drink of her pink squirrel, trying and failing to appear nonplussed. She set her drink on a side table, contemplating. “I am what I am. Perhaps I don’t have the far-reaching and exacting standards of one Ms. Patsy Mount.”

“Bollocks!” Patsy felt cosmopolitan and lewd. “You have more abilities than those” – she gestured to Trixie’s brassiere-aided décolletage – “you're so hasty to show off.” Patsy drained the gin and tonic, and, longing for her nightshirt, left Trixie sitting there, gape-mouthed.

Pulling her coat over her sheath, the same man from the bar grabbed her arm and said, “Ready for that drink?”

“I was just leaving,” she said, as she hurried away from the man and Trixie, not sure when her cruelty had spiraled.

Just as she was about to leave, she saw her co-star (her very minor co-star thought the again-nasty Patsy), that Delilah, Delores person sitting with friends. The woman’s cheeks were flushed, and her eyes were wide as one of her friends told a story. Patsy surprised herself in smiling at the younger woman’s jollity.

“Oh!” Delores said when she spotted Patsy. She leapt up to block Patsy's path, and said, “Mam always taught me not to gush, but Patience Mount, what a pleasure to see you twice in one day!”

The girl kept grinning at her, and Patsy, god help her, couldn't stop a small smile in response. What was it about this chipper little thing that pleased her? She typically hated fawning. Trouble was, this Delilah seemed sincere.

“Will you be this enthusiastic every time we meet?” Patsy said drolly. “This kind of welcome would surely grow tiresome.”

The woman’s grin wavered. “I’m just excited to work with you, is all.”

“The pleasure is mine, Delores.” Patsy brushed past the woman, who felt more like a fan than a co-star, and was nearly out the door when the woman said, “It’s Delia, actually.”

Patsy paused, one hand on the door. She had the inexplicable urge to laugh, but instead she half-turned, without meeting the brunette's eyes, and said, “Call me Patsy.”

*

There Patience – er, Patsy – Mount went, Delia thought. And she couldn’t even remember Delia’s name.

*
Delia flipped through her collection of glossies to see if she could find any pictures of Patsy Mount. If she found one, what would she do with it, paste it into her scrapbook? How mortifying would it be to see Patsy at rehearsal and imagine the pictures she had clipped of her at home. Still, Delia searched, flipping the pages ragged until Phyllis, in her nightcap and pyjamas, called, “Are you studying for your bloody A-levels, Delia?”

“Mm?” Delia responded, distracted by a photograph of Anita Ekberg with a parasol.

Phyllis didn't ask another question, but instead said, “Good night, Miss Busby,” shutting the door to her bedroom. They made fine roommates, though Phyllis could be a bit gruff. This had frightened Delia when they’d first settled on the arrangement, but since she’d decided Phyllis meant well.

In the sixth magazine, Delia found what she was looking for: a photograph of a solitary Patsy in an on-stage still from ‘Blithe Spirit.’ The photo was in black and white, but Delia could tell Patsy’s cheeks, like her hair, were blazing.

*

The truth was, Delia had seen Patience - blasted Patsy! - as Ruth Condomine six times. She’d spent nearly all the wages she’d earned as a typist for the A.A. Sommer Accounting firm on tickets. Hard to believe that her roles as “Cub Leader” and “Dog Warden” - for which she recited the line “Mrs. Harrington’s Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is missing!” – didn’t pay her rent. She subsisted on baguettes for an entire week after spending most of her wages buying tickets that sat her increasingly close to the stage.

One night, she’d purchased a seat in a box on the loge, so she could see Patsy up close. As the production ended and Patsy came to take her bow, Delia flew to her feet with wild applause. And she was almost sure that, just for a moment, Patsy tipped her head in her direction. This motion gave Delia hope, but for what she couldn't be sure.

*

The next day at rehearsal, Delia vowed not to seem completely daffy in front of Patience Mount. They were colleagues, after all, co-stars. They even shared a scene during which Nurse Millicent Beckwith cried on her Nurse Julie Lafferty’s shoulder after watching a young mother in her charge lose a baby.

They were rehearsing a group scene that afternoon, in which all the nurses were eating dinner in the nurses's home after a trying day. Delia had one line in the scene - “Mercy me!” She had practiced the line many times the night before in the mirror, clutching her hand to her chest.

Ring the Nurses! was an attempt at depicting the gritty realities of urban life in the poorer parts of London. But the production couldn’t be too gritty thanks to the censorship of dear old Lord Chamberlain. The playwright, a man called Karl Braunstein who’d immigrated to London from Braunschweig after the war, gritted his cigar in his teeth whenever director Niles would announce a change to the script – “No, we cannot discuss contraceptives!,” he’d yell, “Cross out that line, Antonia.” It was like he wanted to torture the writer.

The dinner scene was a debriefing after a case of typhoid upended a Chinese immigrant family in a boarding house. The nurses spoke to each other about good cheer under hardship and provided emotional support. Delia couldn’t stop herself from feeling moved, and even became somewhat teary-eyed as Patsy's Nurse Beckwith described quarantining the residence and separating mothers from children.

“Mercy me!” Delia said in response to her friend's story. Delia was disappointed with her line's delivery; she had put her hands to her chest very poorly.

In the middle of her second monologue, Patsy interrupted herself to speak to the director - “I don’t believe that Nurse Beckwith would ever say that the epidemic ‘wracked her to the center of her soul,' Mr. Sebring. Quite melodramatic, Mr. Braunstein. It fails to inspire. Can we cross out that line with pen?”

*

Patience felt rather wrecked after the rehearsal. She had been testy with the director and rude to the writer - why? She wasn’t a practitioner of the Strasberg method which suggested putting one's own emotions into her performance; god, she would rather shovel shit than consider her own feelings. She performed the emotions of others so she would not require any of her own. Yet she was not exempt from feeling. The typhoid epidemic, she simply writhed when she considered that phrase. And she’d had to say it several times that day, roll it disgustingly around in her mouth.

She wanted to wash out the phrase at some no-name drinking establishment. She was glad she’d worn slacks and a non-descript blouse so she could fit in anywhere. She asked Trixie if she would join her, but Trixie said, “Sorry, sweetie, but I have an appointment for a permanent.” Patsy recalled her friend had her hair set the week before but was pretending otherwise. Trixie was still sore about Patsy's outburst at the Loose Caboose, as she should be. Patsy didn't know how to apologize.

She asked Louise and Niles and even Karl to go out with her, but all of them had expectations for dinner with spouses. Patsy had no family to call on, except a father in his drafty country manor, and no beau. When others spoke of their relations, Patsy, who enjoyed her own company very much, nevertheless felt very much alone. Which she was. She might have been beloved by thousands, but those people loved Ruth or Nancy or Elena, not Patsy.

As she considered another long evening in her flat with a bottle of wine and a takeaway curry, she saw Delia hurrying out of the theatre, a depressed expression on her face. Surely, this woman might be unattached enough to have a drink with her, so she inquired.

Delia looked as though her eyes might bound from their sockets when she said, “I’d love nothing more.”

Chapter Text

At the pub, Delia was starstruck that she got to moon over Patsy’s hair, her mouth, her eyes up close and personal. It was like she had her very own Garbo right across the table, though Patsy’s face was sweeter, even if her temperament was just as severe. Delia watched Patsy ordering their drinks at the bar, feeling a thrum of excitement in her chest. She could not let her attraction to Patsy detract her from what could be a very fruitful professional relationship.

As soon as Patsy sat down with the drinks, Delia said, “Do you believe that ‘the art of acting consists in keeping people from coughing’?”

Patsy paused, furrowing her brow with confusion. Then she cocked one eyebrow; truly, she should patent that expression. “Gracious me, Delia, can't a girl become fuzzy-headed before she must discuss the art and science of our profession?”

“That's a quote from Sir Ralph Richardson.”

“Mm-hm.” Patsy offered a half-smile at Richardson, who had recently made a jealous-inducing turn in the film version of 'Long Day’s Journey into Night.'

“The idea is to make the audience forget altogether that they have throats, not just tickles in them," Delia said. "That’s what I dream about.”

"That's a dreadful image."

"It is, isn't it?" Delia laughed at herself.

“You did say, ‘Mercy me” with ever so much aplomb at yesterday's rehersal," Patsy offered, that sly grin back on her face.

Patsy seemed to be playing with her again, which Delia didn’t like, but she was pleased that Patsy had remembered her single line from the day before. In the face of Patsy's condescension, Delia wanted to seem knowledgeable and impressive; she felt as though she could get Patience to take her seriously if she knew their craft immensely well, so she said, “Perhaps we might discuss the psycho-physical elements of Stanislavs—”

Patsy cut her off. “Is the Ring the Nurses! script bloated?" she asked, or really rather stated. "I’d say it was bloated, and if I had my way, I would cut it down to size.”

Delia blushed. She couldn’t imagine overstepping her place with the director or playwright as Patsy suggested, but she wasn’t as well-known as the older woman. “It seems of appropriate length to me.”

“There are unnecessary characters left and right. My old professor said the best theatre showcases half as many characters, slice and dice the riff-raff until only the chaff remains.”

Delia looked hard at her perspiring glass of schnapps. She would, without doubt, be one of the riff-raff characters Patsy would prefer be cut. Hurt but unwilling to admit it, she stole a glance at Patsy, and said, “You’re an actress, not the playwright.”

Patsy paused, crooked a single eyebrow, and smiled. She dabbed Delia quickly on the hand with the tips of her fingers, like she was an old friend who had done something very naughty. “Quite right you are, Delia.” She seemed entirely pleased - not taken aback - that Delia would challenge her, when so many better established West End players would not. Delia liked that Patsy admired cheek, rather than scorned it.

They had a pleasant chat after that, and Delia could tell Patsy very deliberately steered their conversation away from the theatre. Delia spoke of her mam and father, her training at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama. Patsy talked about her flat and her years-long quest to secure an Eames chair for her parlor.

“Phyllis and I only have a lounge-slash-parlor-slash-entryway-slash-dining room. Just that one room.” Delia shrugged. Distracted by the prospect of redecorating, she absentmindedly pinned a piece of loose hair back into her chignon, holding a clip in her teeth, as she said, “So I've no idea how we’d stuff even a record player in.”

As she worked on her hair, Delia watched Patsy’s face grow more agitated. The redhead ran her hand across her hand and mouth, and then drained the liquor from her glass. She hurtled herself to stand and said, “Early start tomorrow. Tab is paid up. Good night!”

And then she was gone so fast that a shocked Delia peered around the booth divider as Patsy left. Why was she out of there like a shot? Besides, they had no early start the next day – rehearsal didn’t begin until half past eleven.

*
When Delia pinned her hair back, distractedly talking about her flat, Patsy’s heart had started beating double-time. There she was, imagining unpinning Delia’s hair and then- she stopped herself with a wholesome image of a tea saucer with a proper china pattern. Whenever she felt that way about a woman, she knew she had to run.
*

Years ago, Patsy thought her feelings for women would dissipate, that she’d start noticing men as she should. Plenty of the girls in boarding school had “practised” on each other as she had, but now that they were all close to 30, nearly all those girls had married. Most already had children.

She was the only one left watching the heave of flushed collarbones, the curve of rounded cheeks, a sweep of dark hair being pinned up.

Her affections for women may have lingered, but she wouldn’t indulge them. They signaled an immaturity, an arrested development, that she could not abide. She wasn’t the type of woman who was supposed to be this way. Loving women was for back-alley inverts who jingled pocket watches in trousers or for oversexed vipers leering from the covers of pulp novels. She still didn’t fancy men, but she wouldn’t keep a woman cooped up in a flat in an out-of-the-way locale.

She’d tried only once to flirt with a woman in the past two years. She’d heard of a secret pub where “those” women went, a place with a green door and no sign. She’d crept towards the place in flat shoes and a crisp white shirt, her lipstick on, obviously, but not so well-dressed than anyone would recognize her.

Inside, she couldn’t believe how stifling the club was. She hated it there, immediately, feeling as though she was shaking from hatred, of these people, of these women - and herself - who were made poorly, had developed incorrectly. Homosexuality was caused by an overbearing mother, wasn’t what Freud said? Patsy’s mother had taken every command her father had given her, but had died when Patsy was eleven - how did that impact her development? Anyway, Freud, like most everyone else, had mostly written about men.

At the bar, she was just about to walk right out again when a tall woman in burgundy lipstick and a slinky black dress grabbed her arm. The woman exhaled her cigarette smoke in a way that made Patsy’s stomach drop, and said, “You’re the best-looking thing in here. I couldn’t let you leave.” The woman held out her hand, and as the jukebox played Billy Fury’s “Once Upon a Dream,” Patsy felt like she was dreaming as she was led onto the dance floor.

“I haven’t even had time to remove my mac!” Patsy stammered as the woman put her arms round Patsy’s waist. Patsy swallowed as she wrapped her arms round the woman’s neck. It didn't feel wrong to be here, smelling the woman's lavender-scented perfume.

“It’s seems that overcoat’s not the only thing making you hot,” the woman whispered close to her ear.

For once, Patsy’s brain melted, stopped telling her to do whatever it was she wasn’t. She looked at the woman with a nervous smile. When the song ended, somebody put on an old tune, Gracie Fields’ “If I Should Fall in Love Again.”

"This old shite?" somebody shouted from the corner.

As the lush swell of the strings began, the woman reached her arms out to Patsy for another dance, but Patsy was suddenly reeling.

How were they playing this song? Surely it couldn't be this song, but it was. Her sister’s favourite, her sister, who even at eight was a hopeless romantic. The song could be nothing less than an admonishment from some higher power. Was it a rebuke from Grace?

“Fancy another dance, beautiful girl?” the dark-haired woman was asking, but Patsy looked at her with rediscovered horror – she could never be in love. She should never experience this simulation of romance. So, she hustled as fast as she could out of the bar and into a night that was darker and colder than she had before imagined.
*

The next day at rehearsal, Patsy systematically ignored Delia. When Delia waved to her, enthusiastic as a fool, Patsy tipped her head – half-tipped it, really – as she walked past her to sit next to Louise.

“She might not remember you from yesterday, you know?” Barbara said, hitting Delia’s shoulder with her own in solidarity. “I ran into Patience Mount in the lavatory, and I was so tongue-tied that I said, ‘Good evening, madam,’ even though it was only 10 in the morning!”

“We had drinks together yesterday.”

“Oh, you didn’t!” Barbara was beside herself. “I simply would have stammered and grinned like I'd been lobotomized. That woman is terrifying – and terrific,” Barbara stumbled to add. “Really terrific.”

The rest of the rehearsal, Delia felt Patsy’s coldness. It wasn’t even coldness, as coldness would have been kinder. This was absolute indifference. Delia thought they had gotten along fine; Patsy had even seemed to welcome Delia's criticism. And now this? It was entirely inexplicable.

Near the end of rehearsal, Delia was feeling crummy about what could have been a fine working relationship, when she stopped to watch Patsy alone onstage. Patsy’s Nurse Beckwith is alone in her bedroom, weeping over the death of an old man she had nursed for years. She picks up a photograph of her own beau – a black man in a military uniform that she keeps framed in gilt – and says, as homage to the old man and to her own forbidden love, “The world is full of love that goes unspoken. It doesn’t mean that it is felt less deeply… its beauty and its pain are in its silence.”

Delia couldn’t help herself - she wept again. Blasted Ring the Nurses! No matter how often she told herself she wouldn't cry, she always did.
*

After rehearsal, Barbara and Delia headed out for a late supper of haddock and chips. As they left the theatre into a murky-skied late evening, Trixie ran up to the pair, putting one hand on either woman’s shoulder. “As the cultural attaché for our city’s underground, I am only performing my due diligence to invite you to the event of the season, an underground poetry reading from Allen Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti.”

“Ooh, I love poetry!" Barbara said. "Tyger Tyger, burning bright, In the forests of the night; What immortal hand or eye, Could frame thy fear—”

“Barbara, stop it!” Delia hissed. She’d heard of the underground, where the counter-culturalists and artists gathered to fight for lives society would not accept. She had always wanted to be a part of it all, consciousness-expanding attitudes and anti-government ideas, though she couldn’t believe she was being offered entry to such experiences by a woman she could see being a First-Class airline stewardess. But never one to hide her emotion, she nearly shouted, “I’m dying to go!”

“Great!” Trixie said.

Barbara seemed confused. “Which rail line? I board at Hammersmith station, but surely they’re not going to be there—”

“Not the tube, Barbara. Something else.” Delia shook her head at her friend.

“Oh. Well, I’ve no plans!” At least Barbara was up for adventure.

“I’m so glad. We’ll plan to go after rehearsal tomorrow. I’ve heard there will be thousands of eligible men there, ladies, so be sure to dress to impress!”

Delia certainly wouldn’t be looking her best for any eligible men – nor they for her. She kept Allen Ginsberg’s "m under her bed at home. She kept it hidden not because she was ashamed to own homosexual literature but because she wasn’t sure how Phyllis would feel about reading the poem “Supermarket in California.” In it, the speaker imagines Walt Whitman flirting with a male grocery boy, saying, “Are you my Angel?” The collection was both romantic and depressing; Delia loved it nearly as much as her slim volume of Federico García Lorca.

Just then, Patsy hurried to join the party, heading towards the station, as they were. “Trixie!” she said, enthusiastically, and then, less jubilantly to the others – “Delia.” She glanced at Delia, and then seemed to fling her gaze away. She looked at Barbara and paused, thinking but coming up short. “Delia’s friend.”

"I'm Barbara!" She stuck out her hand to Patsy, and then shook aggressively.

“You’re undoubtedly coming with us tomorrow night, Patsy,” Trixie said, waggling her eyebrows at the others.

“I’m game for whatever the fates have suggested,” Patsy said, undeniably in a good mood. Perhaps she’d told the lighting designer his ideas were laughable, Delia thought, bitter at how their most recent interactions had transpired.

“We shall descend into the seediest underbelly of this city, then!” Trixie said, letting out a little whoop.

Patsy’s expression grew somewhat displeased at the suggestion of seediness. Delia couldn’t wait to see Patsy be discomfited sharing legroom with the hippies and the free lovers and the homosexuals, none of whom Patsy would have anything in common. She'd probably even expect to bring a date. Patsy was hip in her own posh way, but Delia'd heard that one underground performance artist collected an audience by staring for an hour at a boiled egg on a spoon.

Delia couldn’t wait to see what tomorrow night had in store – but no matter how much duress the other woman was under, Delia also couldn’t wait to spend the evening with Patsy.

Chapter Text

“I’ve been home for months, but not all of me!” Allan Ginsberg shouted, in his flat accent.

When he articulated wildly, Delia laughed, thrilled with her life and the decisions she'd made. She glanced past Barbara to watch Patsy shrinking in her chair. Delia wasn’t supposed to be watching Patsy; she was supposed to be watching the poet. But Patsy attracted her like moths to a flame - she had no choice.

Patsy was dressed (to Delia's hilarity) in a female version of Ginsberg’s polo neck and blazer combination. But Royal Albert Hall was heat-sodden with thousands, and Delia's glances turned to an unabashed stare when Patsy removed her outer layer to reveal shapely, pale arms. Delia swallowed, embarrassed at her own longing, and stared again at Ginsberg. Despite his passion, the balding American had little on Patsy.

But she liked watching the boys in striped shirts and large-frame glasses moon over the poet. She’d never seen such obvious homosexual devotion out in public. Or anywhere, really. One of the boys even squeezed his companion's – another man’s – hand. Subtly, of course, but Delia caught it. They were brave, as was Ginsberg.

As was Delia.

As the reading continued, Delia washing in and out of listening, watching others, and sneaking looks at Patsy, she could feel it – the revolution was coming.

Interrupting what could only be Delia’s feelings of triumph, Barbara leaned over, several ticks too late, to ask, “How does one acquire an ‘ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo’?”

Delia had the urge to laugh at Barbara’s misunderstanding of one of Ginsberg’s more obvious metaphors, but she whispered, “Drugs, Barbara. Drug overdoses.”

“Oh,” Barbara said, heaved back into her seat. “I can't understand a thing but I love him. Is he married?"

"Homosexual."

"Really?" Barbara's eyes grew big. She looked at Ginsberg, for confirmation, to see if there was something on his person that would give him away. "Really?!"

Delia nodded, a bit smug in sharing the world and the multiple ways to operate in it.

Satisfied, Barbara said, "I wish they had his poems in a book. I’d like to read it.”

“They do. It’s called Howl.”

“Somebody put these poems in a book?” Barbara was disbelieving. “I know I’m in the theatre, but these would kill my mother! Without doubt, she would drop dead.”

At the end of the performance, Ginsberg threw up his hands, and the audience rose to its feet in thunderous applause. Delia had never witnessed a production this enthusiastic. She rarely felt like she was really a part of something, but here she was, in the thick of it. Delia Busby, a country girl who’d always felt she was missing out on life, felt herself being caught in the currents of a different world.

She glanced again at Patsy, to see if she might also like to usher in the modern world. Delia’s stomach dropped when she saw that Patsy was looking back. 

*

Patsy was anxious. She was a worldly person, wasn’t she? She’d grown up in Singapore for Christ’s sake, and she was still letting a wild-headed American put her on edge.

If she were being honest, it wasn’t Ginsberg who was making her so uncomfortable, but the lads – and some of the women – pawing at each other that way. If they were going to be like that, couldn’t they do it in private? After all, it was illegal. Her friend Tony Amos had been caught up in a homosexual sting, involving a public toilet and the police, and she’d stood by him, or more precisely his business, even when others wouldn’t. He could nevertheless tailor a frock, couldn’t he? But she’d said, to anyone would listen, “I don’t mind anyone’s behaviour, as long as it’s in private.”

She herself was being far too indiscreet, too public, as she watched Delia out of the corner of her eye. She might be a hypocrite, but at least she knew her boundaries. If she had affections (which she didn't), she would never demonstrate them in public.

She could watch Delia, but only as a case study in enthusiasm. That was all Delia was; that was all she could be.

The Welsh woman had razzed herself into a tizz that evening, clapping her hands and shaking her head like she was at a camp meeting. Patsy smirked, glancing at Delia again, as she clasped her hands under her chin. What adoration Delia felt for Ginsberg. Patsy enjoyed the poet, too, but she couldn’t be caught out.

“Perhaps the warmth in the hall indicates our ever-increasing proximity to Hell,” Patsy whispered to Trixie.

“Oh, Patsy,” Trixie seemed saddened. “You do know how to make one recall one's sense of propriety. I, for one, had aimed to forget.”

For once, Trixie didn’t comment on a man’s attractiveness; she commented on his character. While Patsy knew her reproof of Trix the other night was harsh, perhaps the blond had seen the sense in it.

When the poet finished, the audience rose to its feet, and Patsy saw no objection in following herself. She started to clap, and when she saw the pair of women in front of her squeeze hands, in a hidden way that only someone like Patsy would recognize.

And then, as if her head had its own volition, she looked over again. It turned out that Delia, spurring Patsy’s terror and stubborn hope, was already watching her.  

 

*

After the reading, the foursome of actresses followed a heady crowd of bohemians to Soho, where, it was said, the rules went out the window. Delia had heard from someone that there bad behaviour was not just forgiven, it was expected.

Delia wanted to live there. 

But as much as she wanted to experience drugs and free love and pure abandon, her Mam was always a phantasm on her shoulder, whispering things like, “If I’m killed on the street, Delia, at least I’ll be wearing respectable knickers.” Clean knickers were a metaphor, of course. Her mother's favorite cliche was intended to remind Delia that girls in clean underthings were the only ones going to heaven. 

But though Delia kept her clothes clean, Mam had never respected Delia’s ambition to be an actress. She didn’t understand how anyone could perform as someone else, or why one would want to. For a woman, a vocation was only a short stopover before her marriage, though she might be able to book-keep in her husband’s shop. This was what Mam had dreamed about for Delia – “you'll find a nice man with a haberdashery,” Mam had always said, a dreamy look in her eye.

But it was Mam who had fallen short, Delia often reminded herself, when the older woman procured neither the haberdasher nor produced the kind of daughter who would be interested in him.

“An actress?” Mam had nearly shouted when Delia announced she planned to study acting at university. “An actress?!”

Her father had been the one to front whatever money Delia needed – and to pack her secret treats to take back to school after a depressing weekend at home.

For years, her mother didn’t acknowledge Delia's career path, nor the fact that she hadn’t married by twenty-three, twenty-four, or twenty-five. But her parents had come to see her as Louise (a maid) in Private Lives, and Mam had hooted with laughter. That laughter was something, wasn't it? Mam might not understand Delia’s choices, but she was coming round to her life. Well, at least, to some aspects of it.

Delia was wondering why her mother was so unconcerned about her own death when they arrived at The Mandrake Club. “It’s absolutely divine inside, ladies,” Trixie said, by way of introduction. “It makes a person feel like a living creature, rather than a ghost.”

Inside, Delia felt like she was about to take flight. The walls were wood- and copper-paneled, like anywhere, but this place was different. Men wore hair to their shoulders, while women sported short, bowl fringes and heavy, doll-like mascara. The crowd was packed shoulder to shoulder, elbowing to the bar to buy pints, as a trio of black-haired jazz musicians spun instruments in the corner.

*

Delia loved the club immediately, but she loved being packed in next to Patsy even more. On her end, Patsy looked as grim as Delia had ever seen her, as she was shoved even closer into Delia by an inebriate in a black hat and flowered shirt.

Delia wanted to comfort Patsy; she had the inexplicable feeling that she'd been comforting Patsy for years, in innumerable variations. 

So, she took Patsy’s hand, saying, “Loosen up a little, Ms. Mount. There will still be formal china tomorrow.”

Patsy’s face did in fact soften for a second, and she even squeezed Delia’s hand back. Until she remembered herself, it seemed to Delia, and said, a little wiltlingly, “Quite not my crowd, Deels.” Then, Patsy pulled her hand from Delia’s to retrieve and apply powder from a compact.

What was Patsy hiding? Delia wondered, but she couldn’t ponder properly because she was so flustered, and her body was electrified. A miracle had just happened - Patsy Mount had given her a nickname.

*

The foursome plunged their way into the packed bar, where they miraculously found a table in an alley-way that had been half-heartedly converted into a palazzo. That was one thing the bohemians had going for them, Patsy thought, they could do anything with half-fizzled follow-through, and everyone would call them geniuses. She herself did everything with a great deal of meticulous planning, and it was this habit she believed made her a success.

Yet she couldn’t deny the charm in the alleyway, with its cobblestones and string of white blinking lights. She sipped a glass of red wine, and though it smelled almost like petrol, she could squint and be reminded of a childhood holiday she’d taken with her family to Venice. Then, her mother was still alive, so was Grace. As the memory overtook her, she recalled her father sported something he hadn't for years now, perhaps decades – happiness.

But she didn’t have far to look to see her companions wear that feeling. Barbara and Trixie were beaming contentedly, while Delia’s grin was wide enough to appear painful. Patsy tuned back in to Delia reciting some part of a Ginsberg poem she had memorized, “…the grass of public parks and cemeteries scattering their semen freely to whomever come who may—”

“Delia!” Patsy yelped. She lowered her voice and said, “Though the poet recently recited those same words to an audience, I fear you would not receive the same warm reception.”

Delia's mouth hung open. She looked disappointed, embarrassed - and Patsy hurt from crushing Delia's feelings of free-spiritedness. 

In response to Patsy’s admonishment, Trixie began to clap, “I will give her a similarly warm reception. Brava, Delia!”

Barbara joined in heartily. “You’re a finer reciter than I was, Delia. I think I was so awful because of my latent comic timing, don’t you? Could you take me seriously reciting ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” Perhaps recalling childhood embarrassment, Barbara took a large gulp of her wine.

Someone else, sitting several tables away, was more pleased at Delia’s recitation than Patsy had been. A small brunette wearing a skirt and a fedora over her curled hair slinked to the table. Patsy didn’t like think the woman slinked, but she did.

“That’s was quite a performance,” the woman said, pulling a chair next to Delia's. “Better even than our night’s entertainment.” Patsy didn't like to think the woman was French, but she was French. Patsy was immediately furious. This woman was slinky and French, and she was sitting next to Delia.

Delia laughed, free and easy as ever. “You’re too kind, Miss...or Mrs...?”

“Brigitte,” the woman said, kissing both of Delia's cheeks. (So forward! Patsy steamed). “And I'm a Miss, though I don’t expect you’ll need to use that title.”

“I’m Delia,” she replied, returning the kisses. Patsy had been to France many times, and kisses like that weren't customary between strangers! She dug her nails into her palms. Delia and the woman were nose to nose, mouth to mouth, next to one another, like they were the only two people in the world.

Patsy had never begun to imagine that Delia was the way Patsy herself was, with women, but maybe she had been wrong. 

"I’m Trixie!” Trixie interrupted, glancing pointedly at Patsy about the bubble forming around Brigitte and Delia.

“Oh, how rude am I, so taken by Delia’s impassioned recitation!” Brigitte looked at the rest of the table, nodding to Trixie in apology.

Barbara blushed furiously, as uncomfortable as a Liverpudlian should be with a Parisian, and said, “Take my name - it's Barbara!” way too loudly. “Of course, don’t take my name. You’re Brigitte. That’s just an expression! Sorry for shouting,” she then whispered, raking Brigitte’s hand.

“And you?” Brigitte turned to Patsy without even seeing her. Patsy couldn’t stand that she didn't attract Brigitte's attention, but more so, she noticed Delia watching their interaction behind Brigitte. If Delia had inclinations towards women, then why would she direct them toward Brigitte instead of onto Patsy?

This realization killed her.

Patsy had to clear her head, so she said, “I’m going outdoors for a smoke.” She hurried through the crowd, pushing bodies away from her with the greatest amount of socially-acceptable force.

As she rushed inside, she heard Trixie shout, “You were already outdoors!”

*

Brigitte was attractive and mysterious, Delia noted, and she was being very friendly. Very friendly. Perhaps Brigitte woman was flirting with her, though it was hard to tell with the French. They oozed sex, or at least that was their reputation. She later earned a persuasive hint at Brigitte’s motive - as Delia finished her glass of wine and reached for the carafe on the table, Brigitte stopped Delia’s hand to pour the wine herself. The other woman's hand lingered on Delia's as she poured the wine into the glass, her eyes on Delia's. When the glass was nearly brimming, Brigitte stopped pouring, smirked, and - lingeringly - removed her hand. 

Delia's interest was piqued, but if she was being honest, she was looking beyond Brigitte, toward the door into the club. She couldn't stop watching, waiting. For Patsy, of course. Who else existed in the world? 

Chapter Text

In the street in front of the Mandrake Club, Patsy calmed down enough to recognise how ridiculous she'd been. She was being far too dramatic, and vowed to reel herself back in before she returned to her friends. She could perform any emotion, after all, and tonight she would behave like a carefully restrained person.

She just had to finish this one cigarette.

Of course she’d behaved strangely earlier; she wasn’t used to venturing outside her own expectations. So, it had been only natural that she’d react too strongly to the Frenchwoman invading her space, changing her plans.

As she was inhaling the blissfully-calming fag, a young man who had been standing near headed toward her. Obviously intent on finding a method of introduction, he said, “Need a light?”

Patsy stopped herself from rolling her eyes. “I’m set, I’m afraid. See?” Patsy dragged the cigarette again, making its obviously-lit tip glow orange in the dark night. But though she would have typically been flip with him, she reminded herself to be calm. “Thank you for your concern.”

She spoke evenly, but she couldn’t stop a hint of derision – and a single eyebrow pop – from creeping in as well.

*

When she returned to the back patio, Patsy sat herself between Trixie and Delia. Delia wasn’t surprised Brigitte and Patsy clashed – both seemed similarly hard-headed, intent on speaking their thoughts.

Delia thrilled when she saw the redhead but reminded herself she was being foolish. After all, it wasn't every day that a gorgeous Frenchwoman seemed smitten with her. Patsy was just a schoolgirl crush, as aloof and unaware as all the girls Delia’d fancied back then.

*

On their second carafe of wine, Trixie captured Brigitte to discuss French beauty secrets, of which there were apparently plenty, so Patsy had Delia to herself.

Patsy drank another glass of wine to loosen her inhibitions, though not enough to entirely give up control of herself.

“I noticed you were quite thoroughly enjoying the entertainment this evening, Pats,” Delia smiled, rolling down the corners like a faux-disappointed schoolmarm. She bumped Patsy with her arm playfully.

Pats. Patsy covered her smile with her hand - she’d never been given a one-syllable nickname before, and she quite liked it.

But she couldn’t let Delia see how pleased she was, so she plowed on as though she were referenced casually all the time. “I can’t imagine what you’re referring to, Miss Busby.”

Delia bumped her again, grinning now. “Don’t think I wasn’t watching how rapturously your attention was placed on Mr. Ginsberg.”

Patsy blushed, dipping into her drink. Delia had been watching her and told her so aloud. The night was cold in the mid-evening, but she felt a heady rush of warmth and enthusiasm. She cleared her throat. “I haven’t the foggiest what you’re describing, Deels. I believe I behaved as only the most ardent supporter would.”

"Is that right?" Delia smirked. "I wasn't aware that one could demonstrate devotion by appearing both perplexed and demoralized!"

Patsy was enjoying this. Delia seemed to have lost her nerves around the redhead and was speaking to her the way she would anyone else.

"Oh, well, it's the latest thing," Patsy quipped, "Called 'keeping one's perspective close to the vest.' It's designed to drive anyone mad. But perhaps you aren't up on fashions in behaviour, Delia?"

Delia gasped in mock alarm. "Why, Miss Mount, I don't know how I could have been more aloof! I was quite the Victorian lady. An Angel of the House if there ever was one."

Patsy dissolved into laughter at Delia prissing her lips and raising her eyebrows like the strictest of Patsy's schoolmistresses. Delia broke her expression to laugh along with her. It had been ages since Patsy had felt so close to anyone so quickly. And she couldn't recall when she'd been so comfortable being herself. Even with Trixie she held parts of herself back; the blonde actress seemed like she preferenced style over substance. Over empathy. Or had Patsy inserted that dynamic into their relationship?

Delia asked Patsy why she'd gotten into the theatre.

Patsy considered a retort in response but decided instead to be serious. Sometimes she thought she didn't know how to be herself, rather than a character. But Delia's sincerity, her open-faced expression, made Patsy recall she had a personality of her own.

"Most people want a salacious answer," Patsy started, "hoping that I wanted fame or glory, or liked imagining people looking at me. But I don't much like those aspects of the profession." She turned up her mouth in a half smile. "The truth is, I like stories. I like telling other people's stories, far more than ruminating on my own." She met Delia's eyes and hoped for understanding. "Do you have an idea what I mean, Delia?"

Delia's face was bright, and her posture attentive. "I do, Patsy. I know exactly what you mean."

Patsy grinned and so did Delia. Then, realizing they'd been adrift from the others for too long, they turned back to the conversation. But still, Patsy pondered. She decided that earlier in the evening she hadn't been upset about Brigitte because she fancied Delia in a romantic sense. She simply had expected to spend time only with Delia – and Trixie and Barbara, too, of course.

It was settled then. Patsy explained her behaviour herself, and decided there was nothing wrong with spending more time with Miss Busby.

*

Delia couldn’t understand Patsy. One moment, she was shattering in the pub and then she was furiously scurrying away and now here she was back making cheerful small talk. The mercurial moods of actors, Delia concluded, though she felt herself to be quite a consistent person, steady perhaps to a fault.

Brigitte was talking to Trixie about anti-establishment leanings, to which Delia knew Trixie was sympathetic, if not entirely well-informed. Trixie tried to direct the Frenchwoman’s attention to fashion.

But Brigitte was not having it. “We’re not seeking to topple the bourgeoisie or even the middle class,” she explained. “We just want to live as we wish, without the problems that come with social expectation.”

Delia was only half-listening, her focus tuned on watching Patsy’s reaction. But she related to what Brigitte said. Her family hadn’t been poor exactly, but they’d had to work harder and for less money than others. She’d been dismissed for her accent often enough that she’d almost subconsciously muted it, to speak more like the English did. Only when she visited home did it tick back.

“I agree with you, of course,” Trixie was saying, “but tell me, do you think I could wear a beret? They say French women—”

Brigitte shrugged. “I only purchase what I need to eat and enjoy. Otherwise I mostly receive what I wear from friends.”

Barbara saw the opportunity to interject. “Oooh, like boyfriends?” She picked up the sleeve of her beaded jumper and said, “My ex-fiancé bought me this, but he got it in a size meant for expectant mothers! I had to exchange it,” she lowered her voice to a whisper, “but in secret.”  

“I don’t believe that letting one’s gentlemen callers’ purchase one’s attire is entirely subversive-approved.” Trixie raised her eyebrows. “In fact, I’d suggest that’s one of the older tricks in my book.”

“Perhaps I’m using a word incorrectly,” Brigitte clarified. “I’m describing item exchanges, trade for services performed—"

Trixie cut her off, referencing a different kind of exchangeable service. “See, we are discussing the same thing!”

Brigitte shook her head, growing frustrated. “An example. I looked after a friend’s flat for a week and in return for my effort she gave me this blouse.”

“Oh, pish-posh,” Trixie said, “I saw your hat just last month at Selfridges.”

Brigitte put her hand to her hat. “This came from a similar exchange with a girlfriend.”

Delia pricked her ears at the word “girlfriend.” She knew women used that term to describe their female friends, but out of Brigitte’s mouth she suspected it meant something else.

Patsy interrupted, speaking with less self-assurance than usual. "Let me just say, upbringing offers no guarantees."

The others turned to her in surprise. They expected Patsy would say more, but she didn't. After another few silent beats, she raised her eyebrows, like she wanted to lighten the mood. “Right! This conversation is dreadfully dreary. Shall we talk about something more pleasant?”

Delia had thought Patsy, with her jeweled bracelet, cashmere jumper, and elevated position in the theatre, might have felt discomfited at the discussion of class. But what had she meant that her upbringing offered “no guarantees”? Delia’s tablemates looked equally disconcerted, so Patsy, always ever-capable of controlling a room, continued, “Perhaps Deels here could even recite another naughty poem?”

Delia’s curiosity about what Patsy had meant faded as soon as those red lips spoke their term of foreshortened endearment – “Deels.”

*

As the group headed home for the evening, Brigitte caught Delia. “I’m having a party at my flat in three days.” She gave her a piece of paper on which she’d written address. “I hope you will be able to join us.”

Delia stood on the sidewalk in front of the Mandrake Club and watched as Brigitte inserted herself into a throng of departing revelers and disappeared.

“What an unusual person,” Trixie commented.

But Barbara was more taken with the Frenchwoman than Trixie was. “Mum thinks I should find a suitable marriage. But Brigitte makes me want to smoke hashish and spin Peter, Paul, and Mary!” she announced.

Barbara might be swooning, but, as much as she hoped otherwise, Delia was not. Well, at least not for Brigitte.  

*

Previews for Ring the Nurses! were fast approaching. These were important to the longevity of the show, as critics from all the major periodicals would decide whether to recommend the play to theatregoers. But Neil Sebring was still making last-minute edits on the script, actors' blocking was being rearranged, and Antonia could not remember her lines. Or, perhaps more accurately, she did not care to remember her lines. Patsy seemed to have settled down, though, seemingly more interested in bantering with Delia than criticizing Neil.

Costume fittings were well underway, as well. Patsy was fitted for a well-tailored blue uniform with white pinafore front and starched white hat. As the costume mistress measured Patsy's waist for alteration, Delia couldn’t help but stare. Patsy looked softer somehow, more approachable, with her red hair pinned back, cardigan, and sensible shoes.

Delia considered her own costumed appearance. She’d been given a slightly different one – a lavender dress with puffed sleeves. She knew the nurses in the emergency ward wore these absurd get-ups, but she’d rather wear something as form-flattering as Patsy’s. “I look like a confectionery,” Delia said, looking big-eyed at herself in the mirror.  

“I wouldn’t say that,” Patsy said, coming over to fluff Delia’s sleeves, “Something more like a petit four, bite-sized and pastel and” – just as she was about to leave the dressing room – “sweet.”

Delia grew so hot that she longed to powder the blush rushing up her neck. What was Patsy doing to her? Her friend was far too cheeky to water down Delia’s ever-simmering feelings for her.

After all, Brigitte’s party was forthcoming in only a few days. Brigitte seemed much more of a sure thing than Patsy; Delia was nearly certain that Brigitte fancied women. Patsy, on the other hand, was so buttoned-up that she’d likely never even considered the possibility.

When Delia, ready for the dress rehearsal, went into the auditorium, she watched Patsy chum around with Murray Draper, the actor who played her boyfriend. They were sat close together, laughing and nearly knocking elbows. Seeing them together, Delia knew that Patsy would marry in a not so distant future. And as much as she wanted to pretend her feelings for the redhead didn't matter, Delia knew she would be crushed on Patsy's wedding day.

Sometimes Delia felt very lonely, like she was the only one of her kind.

*

Apparently, Neil Sebring was concerned about how the interracial relationship between white Nurse Millicent Beckwith and black Captain Sidney Kramer would be perceived by the somewhat conservative theatre critics. While the West End had and continued to produce serious theatre in the post-war years, the hard-hitting dramas had perhaps too often turned into musicals and comedies that offered audiences little challenge and plenty of relief.

Delia overheard the director discussing his anxieties with Patsy, who had been rehearsing her long-awaited kissing scene on the set that represented her bedroom at the Nurses’ Home. She stood in the wings behind the curtain, where she couldn't be seen, and listened.

“I’ve discussed it with Karl, and he’s fine with changing out Nurse Beckwith’s love interest," Neil said, "making him poor man or working man—”

“It won’t do to put Mr. Draper here out of a job,” Patsy said, gesturing toward her co-star.

Delia didn’t understand why Neil was consulting with Patsy at all. Certainly, she was his star, but he could do what he wanted as the director, couldn’t he? It was unusual the way that he deferred to her and let her boss him.

“But Patsy, I’m already concerned that Ring the Nurses! will be overlooked by the public. Especially with how well Blitz! is doing with its nostalgia and musical numbers.”

“Well, then we need controversy,” the redhead nodded definitively. “That will certainly sell tickets.” Delia had never seen a woman refuse to be pushed around by men as unapologetically as Patsy did. She herself wanted to be assertive, but she worried about getting fired or replaced, at both her day job and in the theatre. Patsy seemed to have no such worry.

 “I do hope you’re right,” Neil said hesitantly.  

“I nearly always am!” Patsy said brightly, leading Murray back to Nurse Millicent's bed. “Right. Let’s begin again.”

Delia had to laugh – Patsy was too much. Delia’s admiration of her friend almost made her forget her confusion about how Patsy treated the director. But later, when they were removing their makeup in their shared dressing room, she decided to ask Trixie about Patsy’s forwardness.

“Trixie, you and Patsy are both similarly well-known, but Patsy is quite…how shall I say…aggressive with Mr. Sebring.”

Trixie stopped rubbing cold cream onto her face to look at Delia. “Oh, sweetie, don’t you know? Her father owns the theatre - and the company.”

 

Chapter Text

“Question is,” Jeremy Mount said as he sipped his tea at the most staid and posh teashop Patsy knew, “will the production be well-received?”

Patsy cleared her throat. “Ring the Nurses! fills a need, at the moment," she explained. "Audiences want to feel they are fulfilling a social obligation at the theatre. This production certainly lets them do that.”

Patsy’s father wasn’t the most dedicated of parents. In fact, Patsy felt he preferred his collection of exotic birds, macaws and quetzals mostly, over his one remaining daughter. Perhaps that was part of the reason she went into the theatre – on stage, she was as glittering as her father’s animals.

Jeremy raised his eyebrows. These were nearly all Patsy could see, as he held his cup and saucer so close to his mouth that it nearly covered his nose. One leg was crossed casually over the other, as he lounged. This cavalierly casual posture, Patsy knew, helped her father convey the fact that he was very rich but also very bored by his money. Patsy knew the feeling.

Patsy's impulse to gain her father’s approval had diminished as the years passed. He often let her control his holdings in the theatrical world; his interest in coming to London had stalled. After his wife and daughter had died, Jeremy rarely traveled, or left the house. He left maintenance of the Mount legacy up to Patsy.

Patsy’s love for the flashing worlds of the theatre had been inspired by her mother, who could have been described as whimsical. Her sister had a similarly fantastical nature. Patsy was more like her father but she'd wished she wasn't. Before her father had moved them out of London, Louise had taken Patsy and Grace to the theatre at least once a month. They’d even risked seeing White Horse Inn in 1940 in London before the bombing raids had forced them back to Singapore. 

Her father had never lost his interest in making money, though, and Patsy was glad for it. If he’d lost that interest, he’d have nothing more to occupy his days than the chirping of his exotic pets in his country home in Hampshire.

Jeremy came to all her shows, but he never congratulated Patsy for her competency in a role. After her last performance, in Oliver!, he deduced, “A simplified, saccharine adaptation of Dickens. What more could the fawning masses want?” And he was right - that show had earned him scores of money. 

At the tea shop, Jeremy set his saucer down, finally, to address the idea that audiences wanted hard-hitting theatre at the moment. “I do hope you’re right, Patience. We don’t want the same thing to happen as with House of Dawn, do we? The plight of the workingman in a plodding, dreadfully dull affair.”

“This production is certainly not the same!” Patsy was angry then. Her father was supposed to be her partner, but here he was, antagonizing her. At first she had disliked the production but it had quite grown on her now.

Her father said, “Your taste isn’t always entirely unencumbered by your own interests in the subject matter, Patience. I shall attend a dress rehearsal in a week’s time, to ensure we don’t have a similar debacle as previous.”

Patsy agreed. What alternative did she have? She had come to feel rather sentimental about Ring the Nurses! and if her father didn’t find the show compelling for a general audience, he could pull his funding, after only a limited run, or even before the first performance.

*

Delia only had a single scene in which all eyes were on her. In the scene, her Nurse Julie Lafferty demonstrates compassion and understanding for the discrimination the Irish face in London.

“Molly Murphy's dying of a bad heart, Nurse Beckwith, in a sordid apartment. She can’t find another place because she isn’t allowed to rent anywhere,” Julie says.

“It’s a terrible thing,” says Nurse Beckwith.

“How many times have you seen the signs – ‘No dogs, no Irish’?” Julie continues. “They are still everywhere, and it’s 1961! I feel like we’re living through the war all over again, with the hate for these people. Everybody saying how they're not like us.”

Nurse Beckwith nods halfheartedly, but Julie is fervent.

“If only people knew how to be compassionate!” Julie says.

Delia knew that she had been tasked with interpreting the playwright's most sincere and personal message. He’d experienced the militarization of hatred in Germany, and now he wanted to point out the parallels in other experiences. She had a great responsibility, and she didn’t take her role lightly.

After they finished rehearsing the scene, Patsy nudged Delia and said, “Your Nurse Julie Lafferty is a great reformer. You certainly do her justice, Deels.”

*

Patsy feared her father’s reaction to two of her favourite people in Ring the Nurses! Murray Draper, who played her character’s black boyfriend, and Delia Busby, who added sincere feeling to every scene. Murray was controversial for obvious reasons, and Julie Lafferty perhaps would ruffle feathers with her pro-Irish sentiments, which Patsy knew some devout audience members would interpret as anti-English.

This was absurd, of course, but her father was conservative himself, not socially per say, but financially. He wouldn’t dream of taking a chance on any production that might be contentious unless that contention would make him money in the long run.

She wanted to protect her friends. She would remind her father that it was now 1962, and everyone who came to see the show would value a bit of controversy. "After all, nobody modern wants all fluff and sugar in their art, Dear Father," she would say; "most people want to be able to debate the merits of a production later, with their spouses at the dinner table."

As she imagined articulating this final quip, she thought of her father’s spouse, her mother, long dead. Then she pictured the spouse she would never have. At that moment, an image of Delia, animatedly tearing into a pork pie across the dinner table, flashed into her mind. Maybe she wouldn’t use that line with her father after all; she couldn’t bear to imagine the life she wouldn’t have.

*

Delia was on edge with Patsy now that she knew about her father’s influential position. So much was clear now. Patsy’s sense of entitlement in controlling the production. Her disregard for the ideas of director Nigel and playwright Kurt.

Patsy popped her head into Delia’s dressing room the day after the Welshwoman learned about Patsy’s position at the Apollo. Delia’s body scrambled to adjust, and she didn’t know if her nerves were caused by Patsy’s influence – or simply because she was Patsy.

“I’m dying to see Dr. No, Deels.” Patsy’s eyes lit with mischief. “It might not be Shakespearean, but it certainly seems like it could be quite amusing.”

Delia looked around nervously. She wanted to see the film, too – everyone was all abuzz about the character called “James Bond.” But she didn’t know if she could handle sitting next to Patsy in the dark for two hours. How would she stop herself from holding Patsy's hand? But now her feelings were all muddled – did she feel differently about Patsy now that she knew about her father? Trixie wasn’t in the dressing room to save her; she would have to talk to Patsy all on her own.

But she couldn't think of a single thing.

“Delia?” Patsy said to counter Delia’s silence. “May I come in?”

Certainly she could come in, Delia thought, she practically owned the bloody theatre! Delia forced herself to smile and stiffly said, “Of course.”

Patsy sat at the stool next to Delia and looked at her. Delia caught a glance of the two of them in the mirror and couldn’t help thinking how smart they looked together – the darkness of her hair against Patsy’s pale complexion and bright lipstick. “If you’re not interested in spy pictures, Deels, just say so. I’m not so committed to James Bond that—”

“I have plans this afternoon.”

“Oh,” Patsy said, glancing down at her hands for a second, before returning to her friend with a brave smile. “I see.”

Delia couldn’t bear to see Patsy disappointed, not only because she was, in essence, Delia’s boss and the arbiter of her future career. “But I’d love to go tomorrow,” she stammered, wanting to recapture Patsy’s enthusiasm.

Patsy tweaked her head to the side with excitement. “Brilliant!” she grinned.

*

Patsy didn’t consider her career as a departure from the practical. Some found acting frivolous, but it required meticulous attention to accents, mannerisms, consistent characterisation. It required Patsy to study the habits of those unlike herself, and in ways that she did not always understand, forced her to become more compassionate. The wretches and the embittered may be ignored by society, but Patsy was interested in portraying their humanity.

Despite her commitment to the profession, Patsy never knew how to feel when she earned a leading part. Not every role she’d played had been with a company her father owned, but several had been. Had the directors known the role her father played in funding their dream productions? They may have, certainly. Occasionally, she took a more significant role in the production aspects than she otherwise would have. Perhaps that was why Nigel Sebring hadn’t told her to shove her comments where the sun didn’t shine.

But certainly, Nigel wouldn’t cast her as the lead in Ring the Nurses! if she hadn’t been right for the part. She was no petulant child who would throw a tantrum if she didn’t have her way.

No, she was a hard worker and a consummate professional, and those things stood for something, didn’t they?

With her father’s hand in it, though, and her famous name, she never knew whether or not she was truly talented.

*

Delia had enjoyed Dr. No immensely, though more than anything, she had enjoyed sneaking glances at Patsy’s reactions. The redhead grinned at the theme song and shook her head at the jokes, and once, when there had been several gunshots fired, clutched at the armrest between the pair of them with anxiety. Delia had patted her friend’s arm but stopped her impulse to rest her hand over Patsy’s and keep it there.

After the film ended, Delia was energized with spectacle, and, if her cheeks were to be believed, Patsy was flushed with enthusiasm, too.

“I do believe your eyebrow raise is even more killer than Ursula Andress’, Ms. Mount,” Delia said.

“What do you mean, my ‘eyebrow raise’?” Patsy said, cocking her eyebrow in demonstration. Delia paused, waiting for Patsy to break into laughter. But Patsy just kept staring at her, with the eyebrow under contention held aloft.

“You mean you don’t know?” Delia said, shocked.

“I might have my characters behave severely, but I myself don’t have a severe expression!”

“Patience Mount!” Delia said, clutching her hands to her chest in imitation of Julie Lafferty. “You may have slaughtered dozens of helpless citizens with a haphazard arch of such an eyebrow!”

Patsy giggled, seeming more at ease with herself than Delia had ever seen her, as they headed out of the theatre onto the busy street.

“Shall we discuss the film at a pub?” Patsy asked, “I know one—”

Delia was too distracted with thinking of ways to make Patsy laugh again that she didn’t notice someone dressed severely all in black heading toward them.

“Delia Busby?” said an unmistakably French voice.

Delia turned around, her shoulders drooping with Brigitte’s voice. She didn’t want Patsy to think that she preferred this woman’s company, whatever kind of company Patsy might imagine the woman offered. “Hello, Brigitte!” she said, too enthusiastically.

“Did you just see Dr. No?” Brigitte asked, grabbing Delia’s arm.

“Yes,” Patsy said, inserting herself into the conversation. The redhead wasn’t accustomed to being ignored. “It was quite smashing, to say the least!”

“Drivel for the masses,” Brigitte said, rolling her eyes. “Entertainment for a mindless age.”

“Right,” said Delia. “Patsy and I were just—”

“Were you dragged along then, Brigitte? Were you forced to view the film under duress?” Patsy asked.

“A girlfriend asked me to view it with her,” Brigitte said, coolly.

Delia groaned internally. She knew what Brigitte was coding to Delia. She hoped Patsy wouldn’t catch on. What would the redhead think if she suspected Delia was traipsing around with a certain kind of woman?

“Mm,” said Patsy. “I don’t believe I have a single girlfriend with whom I would attend a film I prepared to detest.”

“Perhaps we don’t have the same sort of girlfriends, then.”

“Or perhaps only one of us allows for the occasional frivolity and good-natured escapism.”

The women glared at one another. What was this? Delia wondered. She put a stop to their bickering by saying, again, “Patsy and I were headed to the pub.”

Brigitte countered. “But why don’t you join me? You are both actresses, are you not?” She stared unfailingly at Delia, not even glancing at a sniffing Patsy. “David Rudkin’s Afore Night Come is a remarkable debut, but unfortunately the Royal Shakespeare Company is mounting it at the members-only Arts Theatre. Luckily, you may come as my guest!”

Delia noted the singular "you" that Brigitte promised. But she had been delighted by the reviews of the offbeat production, though she’d written off being able to see it herself. She longed to go - this type of theatre had first driven her passion for the profession. But she wouldn’t leave Patsy for any reason, no matter how much she wanted to see the play.

“Only if we're both invited,” Delia said.

Patsy returned Delia’s chivalry with a small smile.

“Of course,” Brigitte said, acknowledging Patsy only under duress. “What is it you say in this country? Ah, yes. 'The more, the merrier.'”

 

Chapter Text

To her dismay, Delia was seated next to Brigitte in Afore Night Come, with Patsy on the French woman’s opposite side. Brigitte watched engrossedly, barely acknowledging her companions, which gave Delia plenty of time to steal glances at Patsy.

Afore Night Come was a surprise. At first, Delia thought it was a conventional drama, with a group of fruit pickers working in the Black Country. But the group hates an Irish tramp, who, in the second act, they murder ritualistically, his body slashed with a cross and then decapitated.

It wasn’t an idyllic countryside, that was certain.

More surprising, though, was the depiction of homosexual lust between two of the men. Delia knew that aside from the bloodshed, this was the reason that the play couldn’t be performed publicly. As the play’s rage was between men, so was its desire.

In the audience, Delia couldn’t stop herself from mimicking the forbidden desire depicted onstage. She longed for Patsy, and couldn’t stop herself from looking at her. Delia wondered if she’d ever stop watching Patsy taking in readings or films or plays. She felt a bit voyeuristic, examining Patsy without Patsy’s knowledge. But she wanted to see the redhead as herself, not as one of her characters.

Despite her fretting about voyeurism, Delia was rewarded by her too-regular glances at her friend. The redhead watched the play transpire with interest, her hand on her chin, but in the second act, during the ritualistic murder of the Irishman, she looked to Delia with an exaggerated grimace, pulling down the corners of her mouth and raising her eyebrows. Delia, who had been worrying about Patsy’s appreciation of a such a graphic scene, started to laugh, pressing her hand into her mouth to quiet her chuckles.

Brigitte glared at Delia.

“Sorry,” Delia whispered, but when she turned back to the stage, she couldn’t stop the giggles that wracked her body. It was painful to hold in her hilarity. But when one of the characters sipped the blood from the head of the decapitated man (the play was very dark), Delia watched Patsy become similarly overtaken with mirth – bending over onto her knees and shaking with laughter. Delia didn’t care if Brigitte scolded her; she was glad her connection with Patsy let them have a uniquely shared understanding that didn’t even require language.

Afterwards, when they streamed out of the theatre onto the street, Brigitte said, “Lord Chamberlain surely would have vetoed that. The censorship in this country is truly medieval.”

“Yes, it certainly required a private production,” Patsy murmured. She almost staggered and seemed uncharacteristically muted.

“I loved it, though. It was ever so intense, wasn’t it?” Delia pressed. “I’d love to be a production like that!”

“You would be a triumph, I have no doubt,” Brigitte said.

Patsy rolled her eyes. “Oh, Deels, experimental theatre is a man’s affair. You’d play the wailing spouse, at best. Or the maid. Again.”

Delia winced. She was hurt that Patsy wasn’t over the moon about the production like she was, but she kept her feelings to herself.

 *

On the street after the show, Delia wanted to ditch Brigitte and get the drink she’d been promised alone with Patsy. But it was very late now, and she feared that Patsy would want to return to her flat. The redhead seemed disoriented; after all, the play had been quite disturbing. More than anything, Delia wanted to hear Patsy’s thoughts, if she’d appreciated the play or found it distasteful.

She wondered if Patsy’s father would ever consider producing something experimental, if Patsy's interest ever lay in productions that would be banned in public theatres. Patsy had yet to describe her role in her father’s theatrical business dealings.

But before she could tell Brigitte she was deathly tired and then suggest to Patsy they lark out for a private nightcap, Brigitte said, “Delia, may I speak to you for a moment in private?”

Delia was confused. “I can’t just leave Patsy standing alone on the street!”

Patsy’s eyes widened at Brigitte’s request, but she didn’t complain. “I’ll just lean up over here. I rather desperately require a cigarette.” Patsy pulled her pack and lighter from her handbag, as if to reassure Delia that she did in fact have a task.

“All right,” a blinking Delia said to Brigitte. Inside, she was boiling. Now this woman wanted to take her away from Patsy? Certainly, she didn’t have a romantic chance with Patsy the way she did with Brigitte, but she nevertheless preferred Patsy’s company, even if it was platonic.

Brigitte pulled Delia into an alleyway far enough away from the crowd that they couldn’t be heard.

“I noticed you staring at me all night,” Brigitte said.

Delia’s eyes went wide, and she could feel her face pinking with embarrassment. She had been watching Patsy, of course. But if the Frenchwoman had seen her, what did Patsy think? Did Patsy think Delia was smitten with Brigitte? The thought was too terrible, and for what seemed liked the thousandth time in her life, Delia wished she had been more discreet.

“I wasn’t!” Delia said, her voice shaking. If she had misread Brigitte incorrectly, too, this accusation could be dangerous for Delia. In any event, she didn’t want to lead Brigitte on; Delia had no interest in the Frenchwoman.

“You don’t have to be coy, Delia.” Brigitte took Delia’s upper arms through her overcoat and squeezed. She leaned closer toward Delia and said, “I find you similarly difficult to resist.”

Delia took a sharp intake of breath, too stunned for words, as Brigitte said, “I hope we can continue this discussion at my party. Remember? Wednesday evening.”

Then the Frenchwoman slunk away, into the shadows between the streetlights, calling “Good night, Patience” to Patsy who was smoking several metres down the street. Delia couldn’t hear Patsy respond.

Delia bit her nail. Nothing good could come of what Brigitte had perceived about the evening. She would have to go to the party to correct the woman’s perception. Delia was so overwhelmed with what the Frenchwoman had said that she didn’t see Patsy briskly hurrying towards her.

Delia looked up from where she was staring, deep in thought, when the taller woman came to stand near her. “Good night, Delia,” Patsy said, efficiently, in a more businesslike tone than she’d used with Delia in several weeks.

“Sorry about that, Pats. Are you still up for that drink?” Delia was hopeful.

“It’s frightfully late!” Patsy said, in a forcefully bright voice. “I must have my beauty rest. So, I shall bid you farewell.”

“Good night, Pats.” Delia wilted from disappointment as Patsy strode toward the street and held out her hand to hail a taxi. One acquiesced to her request nearly immediately, and Delia was left standing there, without even an offer of a ride home.

*

Patsy couldn’t stop her emotion from swelling once she’d sunk into the cab. Her stomach ached from hurt and jealousy – and before she knew it, she was crying and dabbing her eyes with a paper tissue.

“Chap bein’ nasty to ya, miss?” the cabbie called, glancing at her in the rearview.

Even he had noticed! Pasty must take more care to be more cautious, or to wait until she was properly alone to let her emotions overtake her. But she wasn’t always able to entirely check her emotions, keep them at bay, even though she had loads of practise.  

“Nothing so exciting,” she smiled at the cabbie in his mirror. “I just attended a dreadfully depressing play.”

“All right, then. S’pose I’m glad to hear that.”

Patsy smiled at him again, but then turned to watch the streets out the window. She’d heard the whole of Delia and Brigitte’s conversation. Brigitte had taken Delia to an alleyway for privacy, but the space between the two brick buildings turned out to be echo chamber, directing what they said toward Patsy.

That was how Patsy had learned that Delia was infatuated with Brigitte.

Patsy had stood as still as she could, smoking with an appearance of calm, as Brigitte told Delia that she’d seen the Welshwoman watching her. Patsy had continued standing statuesque and blasé as Brigitte had so confidently announced that she found the brunette “similarly difficult to resist.”

In the cab, Patsy swallowed the lump that threatened to make her tear up again. All along, Delia had the romantic persuasion that Patsy had hoped – and feared – that she did. All along, Delia had been capable of feeling the way that Patsy felt for her.

But there were two notable differences. The first was that Delia didn’t reciprocate Patsy’s feelings. Instead, the brunette longed for the Frenchwoman, for Bordeaux and dimly-lit rooms and entrancing accents. Suddenly, Patsy saw herself as stodgy and predictable, offering nothing as unexpected as the infinitely-compelling Brigitte.

The second difference was that Delia was willing to act on her desires in a way that Patsy had sworn she never would.

She was furious at Delia. How dare she live so freely, when Patsy herself could not?

*

Jeremy Mount was slated to view the first dress rehearsal of Ring the Nurses! and Delia was terrified. Trixie had warned Delia about Patsy’s father’s exacting standards.

“I was in one of his productions several years back, and he called me a ‘blonde bimbo’!” Trixie combed her eyebrows in the mirror of their dressing room. “Certainly, that aptly described the character I was playing, but that remark demonstrates his frightful directness. Be prepared, lovely!”

Delia swallowed. Rumours had swirled amongst the cast that Jeremy Mount was wont to change plotlines or winnow scripts or even scrap whole characters at the final moment.

“Rumour has it,” Barbara said as she rushed into Delia and Trixie’s dressing room, “that he cut Jill St. John’s character entirely, and she was the lead! She arrived at the theatre the next day and all of her lines were crossed out with red pen.”

Delia swallowed.

“Oh, phooey!” Trixie exclaimed. “He’s not as bad as all that.”

But Delia’s nerves felt like gelatin as she painted her lips and penciled her lids to be seen under the harsh stage lights. It didn’t help that Patsy had barely spoken to her since their weekend’s outing. She hoped that Patsy wasn’t avoiding her because she thought Delia preferred Brigitte’s company. Or what if Patsy had seen Delia “staring” at Brigitte in the way that the Frenchwoman had implied? Patsy might have spent the last few days recalibrating their friendship, deciding Delia the wrong kind of woman to befriend.

Patsy popped her head into the dressing room where Trixie and Barbara were still discussing the ax-wielding tendencies of one Jeremy Mount. Delia’s stomach flipped when the redhead came into the room, and she had to stop herself from leaping from her chair to hug Patsy. She missed her friend already; she missed the closeness that they had just begun to develop.

But Patsy was interested in no such niceties. Instead, she said simply, perhaps with a hint of malice, “Break a leg, ladies.”

*

After his viewing, Jeremy Mount insisted on taking Patsy to his favourite dark-wood establishment for Beef Wellingtons. Her father was quiet on their walk over from the theatre, moodily staring into the lighted windows of stores and at wetly-trudging passersby. Judging by her father's mood, Patsy decided the posters with her sketched face advertising the opening night of Ring the Nurses! in one week’s time would be plastered over with an ominous “CANCELLED.” Though her father had never stopped one of Patsy’s productions altogether, there was a first time for everything.

They settled and ordered in silence. It wasn't until their meals arrived that Jeremy left Patsy reeling when he, cutting into the marble red center of his beef, announced that he loved the play. “What a smash it will be!”

Patsy twitched up her face, her eyebrows flying closer to her hairline. She couldn't recall when her father had been so effusive, least of all about the theatre. “You think it will be lucrative?”

“Certainly. However, it is simply a delightful play. Heartwarming, as they say, and socially relevant.”

Patsy took a bite of her own dinner, waiting for her father’s typical harsh criticism. She couldn't believe he had actually liked something she was proud of. 

“I do have one suggestion, though,” he said. “Mm…perhaps more of a requirement, shall we say?”

Patsy looked to the ceiling, prepared to level her father’s suggestion that they slash either Delia's role or hastily re-cast Nurse Millicent Beckwith's black love interest.

But her father said neither of those things. “That Delia Busby is quite the draw, Patience," he said instead. "I couldn’t keep my eyes off her, even when she was mending stockings in the background. I’ve already spoken to Karl Braunstein, and he’s agreed to expand her role.”

Patsy was shocked, and she didn't bother stopping her mouth from dropping open. “Pardon me?”

“She’ll be a co-lead of yours so to speak,” Jeremy said as casually as if he’d told Patsy he’d be ordering a snifter of brandy. “Nigel assured me that Miss Busby is quite the quick study.”

*

Delia dressed for the soiree at Brigitte’s flat in a way that she hoped wouldn’t impress. She didn’t freshly wash her hair or press out her frock, and when she prepared to leave, Phyllis stopped her at the door.

“Where are you going this evening, Delia, looking so glum?” Phyllis asked, looking up from her book. “You look as though you’ve been paid to wail at someone's funeral.”

Delia laughed. She appreciated Phyllis’ bluntness. “I’ve got to deliver dreary news.”

“Ah,” Phyllis smiled knowingly, her face perking with memory. “I recall during the war when I had to let down a fine-looking Lieutenant who said he’d kept my picture pinned inside his jacket during the Battle of Normandy. My face was the only thing that pulled him through.”

“How terrible!”

“When the spark is gone, Delia, there’s no way to reingite it, I’m afraid.”

“In this case, there was never any spark to begin,” Delia said, decisively. "At least not on my end." 

Phyllis looked quite pleased with her younger roommate. “I appreciate a woman who knows what she wants! Have courage, Miss Busby.”

Delia was fortified with Phyllis’ well wishes during the train ride across town to Brigitte’s flat. Brigitte lived on the third floor of a dimly-lit brick building that looked like it had been haphazardly re-cobbled together after the war. Delia heard the party before she saw it. Down the hall, voices murmured and a record vaguely buzzed.

When she knocked on the door, Brigitte answered. The Frenchwoman grinned and pulled Delia inside by her two hands. She wore slim black trousers and a green pullover, the outfit favoured in multiple variations by most of the other guests. Around 20 beatniks were scattered on Brigitte’s limited furniture and sprawled onto pillows thrown onto the floor. Near an open window, a small group sat cross-legged passing round a bubbling hookah that emitted the strong scent of flavoured tobacco.

“I’m thrilled you're here,” Brigitte said. At their close proximity, Delia could smell the wine on the Frenchwoman’s breath and see her stained teeth even in the dim flat. “Everyone, this is Delia Busby. Delia Busby, this is everyone!”

“Hello, Delia Busby!” the partygoers chorused in a cheerfully-inebriated unison.

“Hello, everyone!” Delia laughed, despite herself. She may not want Brigitte as a romantic partner, but perhaps the two could be friends. 

“Please,” Brigitte said, steering Delia away from the living room into a meagre kitchen, “Help yourself to wine” – Brigitte gestured to a mismatched array of ceramic mugs and old-fashioned crystal glasses - “and it seems like Jerome has devoured most of this cheese plate, but you’re welcome to the dregs.”

Delia poured herself some throat-burning red wine, as Brigitte lingered, a smile on her face. It was now or never, Delia decided. She would tell Brigitte that she had feelings for someone else.

But before she could start, Brigitte said, “I talked to my friend Rodney, he’s directed a number of experimental shows for the Arts Theatre.”

“Mm?” Delia stuffed biscuits sitting in a tin into her mouth. Perhaps she could squelch Brigitte's feelings for her simply by being sloppy. It was at least worth a try.

“And I remembered how you said you wanted to try experimental theatre. They’re having auditions next week, and he’s agreed to let you have a go. Apparently, there’s a terrific part for a woman in his new production.”

Delia’s heart lurched – “How did you get him to agree?”

Brigitte reached out to wipe the biscuit crumbs from Delia's mouth, letting her thumb linger over Delia’s lips. “I simply said you were the most adorable thing I’d ever seen.”

*

Patsy had mixed emotions about her father's announcement regarding Delia. She was glad he’d noticed her (former?) friend. She’d known that Delia had something, a magnetic quality, that would make her quite the star. What would it be like, Patsy dreamed, if two of London’s leading ladies were smitten with each other? But then she forced herself to acknowledge the truth. Only one of London’s leading ladies was smitten with the other; Delia fancied someone else entirely.

Besides, Patsy wasn’t sure if she wanted to share top billing with Delia. At their dinner, she convinced her father to still put Delia’s name below hers on the programmes and to leave the Welshwoman's name off the marquee. If Delia wanted Patsy’s level of success, she would still have to earn it.

Yet, she felt a flutter of excitement when she called Delia to tell her the happy news. She hoped that Delia would gush on the phone, for once more excited to speak to Patsy than to Brigitte.

But after Patsy dialed, Delia didn’t answer. Instead, a gruff voice announced, “Crane and Busby residence. Phyllis Crane speaking.”

“Is Delia available?” Patsy said in her professional voice.

“I’m afraid not. May I inquire who is calling?”

“This is her friend Patience Mount.”

“May I take a message, Patience Mount?”

Patsy hesitated, her enthusiasm in telling Delia the news deflating. “Yes. Please tell Delia that a new script will be distributed to the cast in the morning, per my father's behest. She  should find the changes to her role quite favourable.”

Patsy listened to Phyllis murmuring her message as she scratched it onto a piece of paper. “I will be sure to convey the message, Miss Mount. Thank you for calling. Good-bye.”

Patsy pictured Delia flipping open her script the next morning. When she thought of Delia's eyes filling with glee at her new lines, Patsy's heart lurched, in pain, in loss of someone she hadn't before believed she could have. 

Chapter Text

Delia was grateful to Brigitte for putting in the good word for her at the Arts Theatre. So grateful, in fact, that she couldn’t bring herself to tell the truth about her lack of attraction to the Frenchwoman. Oh, Delia, come now, she thought as Brigitte took her hand to lead her out of her flat's kitchen into the lounge. 

Not one of Brigitte's other guests even batted an eye at the two women’s casually clasped hands.

What a miracle. 

In fact, as the group watched a foursome of wordsmiths play Scrabble in the centre of the room, one chap pecked another's lips after he admirably played ‘Quixotic’ on a double word score. Into what kind of alternate dimension had she stumbled? Delia wondered. Aside from the Ginsberg poetry reading weeks before, she had never before found herself in places where people like her could be so open with their affections.

Brigitte’s flat seemed nothing short of astonishing.

And Brigitte was a remarkable woman. She did what she liked in the way she liked to do things. Delia was, of course, more independent than anyone in Pembroke would even dream of being. After all, she lived on her own, without a man, on her own wages. She ate what she liked and went where liked without anyone’s permission.

But she didn’t even know how to live a life as much her own as Brigitte's socially-unacceptable one. 

Delia's most recent half-hearted lover, Eleanor, popped into her head. Delia had mooned over Eleanor, who worked at the record shop, for months. The blonde wore houndstooth skirts and jumper vests under a pair of glasses that looked like they belonged to Buddy Holly. Once, after Delia stayed flipping through the stacks for an unacceptably long time, Eleanor headed over to her, record in hand.

“The ‘Wooden Heart’ single just arrived,” she said, offering it to Delia.

They had never spoken before, except for when Eleanor had told Delia the price of her purchase, and Delia had handed the woman her money. Now, Delia gaped, shocked into stumbling by the object of her affection finally initiating a real conversation. “Pardon?”

Eleanor smiled. “Joe Dowell?”

Delia closed her eyes. “Right. Of course. 'Wooden Heart'!”

“It seemed like your sort of tune.” Eleanor smiled shyly. 

Eleanor offered the record, and Delia had taken it. After she'd bought it, of course.

Delia had invited Eleanor to have a coffee after she finished her shift, and it took six such meetings – and six mediocre singles that Delia wouldn’t have otherwise purchased – for either of the two to admit their attraction to one another.

Eleanor spent only one night at Delia's flat, when Phyllis was out of town visiting an elderly aunt. In the morning, Eleanor had practically bolted the drawstring on her borrowed dressing gown closed when Delia tried to kiss her. Eleanor pulled away, and Delia could see that she was crying. “Why must I be this way?” she whispered.

But here was Brigitte, her arm firmly clasped round Delia’s waist. The Frenchwoman kept her arm in place as she whispered to her friend Scott, whose turn it was on the Scrabble board, “Couldn’t you spell “H-A-S-Y?”

“He hasn’t got a “Z,” Brigitte,” Delia interjected.

Scott flipped around and grinned. “I’m glad she finally found a lady friend who can spell, Delia. You wouldn’t believe the riff-raff this one drags home.”

Brigitte tipped her head and pursed her lips in self-deprecation. “He doesn’t know what he says, Delia. I have nothing but impeccable taste.”

Then she stared at Delia, the object of her good taste, her gaze steady and unbroken. Delia looked into Brigitte’s dark eyes, wishing that her dazzlement with the Frenchwoman would translate into reciprocated romantic feeling. But Brigitte's phrasing about "impeccable taste" had, of course, reminded Delia of someone else. 

*

Delia wasn’t one for self-delusion; she had always been clear-headed and willing to follow her intuition wherever it took her. After all, she’d become an actress after a lifetime of direction to enter a reasonable profession.

But how she wanted to delude herself about Brigitte!

As she took the rattling train back to her flat, she decided to ring Brigitte when she returned home. After all, what would be better for a practically-minded woman than a romantic partner who was certain about her? What could be better than a woman who knew what she wanted – and what she wanted was you?

Patsy was like Brigitte in some ways – both were stubborn and self-directed, both acted first and thought later. But for whatever reason, Patsy sparkled in Delia’s imagination in a way that Brigitte did not. Brigitte may have kept her arm round Delia’s waist all evening, but her touch hadn’t had elicited any of the delirious magnetism as Patsy did when she touched Delia's hand or brushed her knee. 

But Patsy was an impossible dream. All she would ever be was Delia's friend.  A crush was an energizing amusement, certainly, but Delia was 25 and ready to make a serious commitment. Out of all the options in London, Brigitte was certainly not the most dismal bet. She was lively and popular and smart – and, of course, smitten.

Delia was quite prepared to make that call to Brigitte, to invite her to an evening at the pub, when she opened her flat to find a note from Phyllis sitting on the table. It read:

“DELIA…PATIENCE MOUNT RANG…SAYS SHE HAS A SURPRISE FOR YOU IN THE MORNING…PHYLLIS.”

Delia thrilled at the sight of Patsy’s name written on the paper. She traced the hardened nurse’s scratching on the page: Patience Mount, Patience Mount, Patience Mount. What was Patsy's surprise? Tracing the redhead's name was like casting a spell that made Delia forget about Brigitte entirely.

*

The next morning at rehearsal, Patsy’s father’s secretary, Miss Ryan, delivered the new scripts to the cast. “After a careful review of the production, Mr. Mount has decided that a few changes must be made,” she said as she handed a new script to a furious Antonia.

Antonia directed her antagonism at Jeremy’s proxy, his daughter. “As long as it is day, we must do the works of he who sent me,” she said, quoting the Bible as usual. “When night is coming, no one can work. Surely, we are well into the middle of the night, Miss Mount, and therefore should no longer be working!”

Patsy, who was well-versed in taking charge, strode up the stairs to the proscenium. “My father is a taskmaster certainly, and as his proxy, I should perhaps apologise that he did not make his recommendations sooner,” Patsy said. “But I shall say that his opinion is historically beyond reproach. Thus, these changes should make the production even more of a success.”

Louise seemed persuaded by Patsy’s speech and beamed her benevolent smile. “I, for one, believe criticism, good and bad, is a gift. Without it, we would all reach a stagnation that would stymy our progress!”

“Thank you, Louise.” Patsy nodded at the veteran actress. “Besides, on my father’s suggestion, Karl Braunstein has primarily expanded only the role of Nurse Julie Lafferty. Mr. Mount feels that character is one to whom the audiences can empathise and relate. So, the actress most impacted by these script changes is Delia Busby.”

Patsy scanned the seats in search of the Welshwoman. She looked towards the back of the theatre to see if Delia was panicking, flipping through the script in terror. But Delia was not there.

As if on cue, the brunette burst through the doors from the lobby. She sped down the aisle, her face frantic. Her mouth dropped open in horror as she realised the entire cast had turned to stare at her. She threw herself into the seat closest to the aisle, making a dreadful clatter pulling down the seat in the otherwise-quiet auditorium.

“Delia Busby, you’re late,” Patsy called from her place on stage. She was halfway amused at Delia’s flushed cheeks and flyaway hairdo. But part of her was furious – certainly Delia was late because she’d spent the morning with Brigitte, likely kissing languorously and eating bon bons or whatever Frenchwomen had for breakfast. “And in fact, you are more affected by these changes than anyone else here.”

Was she scolding Delia? Patsy wondered. It seemed that she was. Again, her feelings were mixed. Patsy didn’t want to embarrass her friend, but on the other hand, she had chosen Brigitte over Patsy, yet again.

“I’m sorry, Pats – er, Patience, er, Miss Mount,” Delia stammered. “What changes?”

“You, in fact,” Patsy said, her eyebrows raised in full admonition.

Miss Ryan hurried over to hand Delia her new copy of the script.

“You shall see that Delia's Nurse Julie Lafferty has made quite the impression on my father,” Patsy said, her voice booming.

She watched as Delia flipped through the pages, her eyes growing as large as Patsy predicted they would. The rest of the cast had turned in their seats to watch Delia, which, Patsy knew, would certainly unnerve her. Perhaps the Welshwoman would now know better than to let Brigitte stay the night.

“It seems like you’ll need to spend your evenings studying up, Delia,” Patsy said, smacking the rolled script into her other hand. “You'll have little time for much else, I’m afraid.”

*

Delia stared at the script as Neil Sebring discussed how the changes Jeremy Mount had made would affect the production. She couldn’t believe how many new scenes she’d been given. In one scene, she had to direct a woman alone in her home how to birth her child by herself. It was quite a long scene, and Delia would be front and centre, speaking on the telephone, of all things, for its entirety. How would she hold viewers’ attention that way?

As she kept reading, she discovered that Nurse Julie Lafferty becomes so involved with her Irish and Chinese patients’ tenement squalor that she dedicates all her time to caring for them. Instead of simply speaking of the typhoid epidemic as in the previous version of the playbook, the revised Julie Lafferty bravely cares for the sick who have been quarantined and injects them with life-saving medicine.

Despite her precautions, Nurse Lafferty is infected with the sickness herself. A doctor recognizes that she has typhoid right away because he came to know disease after his relatives died of it in the Japanese Prisoner of War camp in which he was held as a young man.

In hospital, the doctors and nurses wear protective suiting to keep themselves from contracting the disease from Nurse Lafferty. While the play depicts neither Julie nor the tenement dwellers dying, Julie knows that she can no longer remain in the profession since even if she were asymptomatic of typhoid, she still might carry the disease.

In the end, a newly-rudderless Julie prepares to return home to live with her parents in Wales, the disease too fresh on their minds to let her stay in London. Nurse Millicent Beckwith accompanies her friend to the train station. In tears, Nurse Beckwith asks Julie what she will miss most about nursing.

“How can you love ignorant, brutish people whom you don't even know?” Julie says. “Can anyone love filth and squalor? Or lice and rats? Who can love aching weariness, and carry on working, in spite of it? One cannot love these things. One can only love God, and through His grace come to love His people.”

Julie steps onto the train, and from the platform, delivers her final line: “How will I ever find grace now?” Then the train starts steaming, tugs away, and Nurse Lafferty is never seen again.

*

Patsy didn’t read the complete additions to the script until she returned home to her flat, kicked off her brogues, and began to highlight her own new lines. She was quite enjoying the changes that Karl had made, noticing that they added emotional feeling to scenes that had before felt flat or melodramatic. Her father had an eye, after all.

But then she read the last few of Delia’s scenes as Nurse Julie Lafferty. As Julie Lafferty nurses the residents of a tenement home infected with typhoid, Patsy put her hand to her mouth, disbelieving. When Julie herself becomes infected, Patsy’s stomach heaved. She feared she might wretch. When Julie survives her illness – thank god - Patsy let her fury overtake her. She couldn’t turn the page on the script but kept reading Julie’s last line – “How will I ever find grace now?” – again and again, even as unwelcome tears blurred the letters.

She wiped her eyes with her hand. How could her father do this to her? How could her father suggest a welcome addition would feature this disease so prominently? He must have known how this addition would affect his daughter, or perhaps he hadn't even considered her. 

This addition confirmed what Patsy had often feared: her father very seldom thought of his daughter's feelings. 

*

The next morning, Patsy checked in with Trixie about the changes to the script. The blonde no longer had the second largest part – that honour had been usurped by Delia – and Patsy wasn’t sure how Trixie would respond to the adaptations.

“How are you holding up, old bean?” Patsy said, playfully, again performing someone other than herself. She and Trixie had never had the kind of relationship in which they spoke entirely honestly, but they had been truthful enough with one another. That is, until Patsy had been so uncharacteristically cruel at the Loose Caboose weeks before. Since Patsy had become consumed with Delia in subsequent weeks, and ashamed of the way she'd treated her good friend, she hadn’t given Trix a proper apology.

“Oh, what else could I expect?” Trixie smiled bravely in response to Patsy's inquiry, the new script on her dressing table.

“Hm?” Patsy inquired.

“It was like you said, Patsy,” Trixie said, her mouth shaking in a not-entirely-successful bid to hold off crying. “I don’t take myself seriously, so I’m not given serious roles.”

Trixie’s Nurse Meghan Cooper was the show’s comic relief, beautiful and flighty and not entirely reliable. She was the nurse biding her time in the profession before a rich doctor came to sweep her off her feet.

“Trix, I didn’t mean what I said that night.”

“Of course you did, sweetie,” she sniffed, pasting on another heroic smile, “because it’s true, isn’t it? And now look, Delia and her earnest Welshness have already passed me by.”

“My father called her relatable. That had nothing to do with you.”

Trixie opened the script to the additions for Delia's character. “Why couldn’t Nurse Meghan Cooper adopt a noble cause? Why wouldn’t Nurse Meghan Cooper finally recognise the gravitas of the nursing profession?” She flipped to Delia’s final scene. “Why couldn’t Nurse Meghan Cooper have a heart wrenching monologue about the nature of grace?”

Patsy put her hand on her friend’s. “This has nothing to do with your abilities.”

“Yes, but it does have something to do with being blonde.” Trixie nodded wryly. “Perhaps I should take a page from your book and have a go at ginger?”

“I’m sorry about what I said,” Patsy repeated.

“It’s all right, sweetie. We’re all testy at the beginning of a production.”

“Thanks, Trix.”

“But, oh dear, I’m being positively beastly! I didn’t ask you anything about how you felt about the revisions. Do you think your father knew Karl would add these scenes about –" Patsy watched her friend frame the words delicately – “the disease?”

Patsy had sketched out the outline of her childhood for her friend but had characteristically given her few of specifics. One of the details, though, was that Jeremy Mount had been long absent from his daughter’s life, both before and after what had happened. “I’m certain he knew,” Patsy said.

“Your father can be quite a lout, I’m sorry to say.” It was Trixie’s turn to take her friend’s hand. “What are you going to do?”

*

The next day, as rehearsal was ending and the cast was changing back into their street clothes, Delia couldn’t stop herself from knocking on the redhead’s dressing room door. Patsy had without doubt been avoiding Delia since they had attended Afore Night Come with Brigitte the week before. Delia had felt downright sick about their strained friendship. She had no idea what Patsy thought of her or perceived about her relationship with Brigitte. After all, Patsy was anything but blind – what if she had deduced what Delia felt for her and had been sickened?

But Delia couldn’t stay away from Patsy. Her longing to be near the redhead was almost animal; if Patsy was near, she couldn’t resist being as close as she could to her. She had hardly been eating anything at all as day after day passed with only the most cordial of acknowledgements from the redhead. 

When Delia rapped on the door, Patsy called a muffled, “Come in!”

Delia opened the door and could immediately tell that Patsy was unwell. Her clothes were somewhat rumpled, like she’d been lounging instead of holding up her ramrod posture. Her mascara and eyeliner were rubbed off; Delia had never seen her friend with anything but a full face.

“Something you need, Delia?” Patsy asked, confronting Delia’s shocked-silent, wide-eyed staring.

“Oh. Yes,” Delia said, wanting to ask Patsy how she was feeling but thinking their relationship too strained for an authentic heart-to-heart. “I wanted to ask you if you would help me practise these new lines? I’m not the quickest of studies.”

Delia swallowed, straining backwards in preparation for a reproof.

But Patsy nodded, seeming somewhat distracted. “Anything to keep me from ruminating alone in my flat. Right!” She said faux-cheery again, performing her best impression of an unflappable woman. “Let’s go someplace quiet.”

*

On the walk from the theatre to a quiet tea shop, Patsy couldn’t believe that she was again spending time with Delia. She didn’t know if she could handle being so close to the Welshwoman after what she knew about her, smelling her fresh-washed face or her lingering scent of clean clothing. Seeing her adorable, smiling face.

But like Trixie'd said earlier, Delia was an earnest person. In a world - and a small family - that always seemed to put Patsy on the offensive, she wanted to hold onto a kind person who said only what she meant. Regardless of her romantic proclivities. Delia was worth keeping. 

*

Patsy quizzed Delia on her lines in the teashop for hours, the pair of them finishing pot after pot of Earl Grey. Neither would sleep tonight, Patsy thought, pushing thoughts of losing sleep with Delia for reasons other than over-caffeination from her mind. They were simply professional colleagues, burgeoning friends. There was no need for discussion romance of any kind in relationships like theirs.

“I’m so happy we could spend time together like this, Pats,” Delia said, grinning through her steaming mug.

“Me too,” Patsy said sincerely. “I’m glad to help in your star-making turn.” She winked playfully. 

“Honestly, I'm nervous. What if I can't deliver?" Delia said, and Patsy had to stop herself from taking her friend's hand. 

“You shouldn’t be anxious. My father loved you, and he doesn't even like anyone. I don’t struggle to see your appeal. You have a sincerity that is so often lacking in the world of over-analytical, over-polished actors.”

“Thanks, I think.”

“That was a compliment. You have a quality that simply is, that cannot be developed.”

Delia's eyes sparkled with the compliment. "Ah - that reminds me, Pats, I have something I wanted to talk to you about.” She pulled a few folded pages from her handbag and pushed them over the Patsy. “Brigitte has connections at the Arts Theatre.”

Patsy bristled at the Frenchwoman’s name. Her suspicions had been so casually confirmed. Delia had been spending time with Brigitte, and she’d likely even attended the party that the Frenchwoman had reminded Delia about. Patsy burned at the thought of Delia spending time with someone who so clearly adored her.

“This the script for the company's newest production, and while they’re rather exclusive, Brigitte managed to secure me an audition. And the part’s rather good. It’s not like you think, Patsy. The playwright’s first name is Lucille." 

Patsy’s mood had soured with all this talk about Brigitte. So, the Frenchwoman was exerting her influence to impress Delia? So, the Frenchwoman was aiming to make Delia’s career, when the Mount family had already been so willing to stick out their necks for the unknown Welshwoman?

“Will you take these pages and tell me what you think?” Delia asked.

Patsy snatched the pages from the table and stuffed them into her handbag. “Of course,” she said, rather brusquely. “I’ll read these tonight and give you my opinion in the morning.”

“Thank you, Pats. I'll be relieved to know what you think.”

“Certainly. But Delia, don’t you think you should focus on perfecting your Julie Lafferty, instead of larking off on some experimental fancy?”

*

At home, Patsy was, as she had predicted, wide awake from too many pots of tea. Curious about Delia’s new theatrical prospect, she pulled the short script that Delia had loaned her and perused it in bed in her pyjamas. The script was immediately entrancing: whimsical without being preposterous, unusual without being absurd. And she only had 20 pages. Excitement pulsed through her as she read to the final page of her foreshortened version; she couldn’t recall the last time she’d been so flushed with possibility.

 

Chapter Text

Patsy may have been efficient when it came to getting her way, but in fact, she often didn't know what her way was. She had impulses that pushed in her one direction or another, yes, but she didn’t always trust them.

When she was quite a young child, she knew in her gut that her family should have stayed in London, rather than returning to Singapore during the war. Her father thought the city would be dangerous, and his family would be safer out of the fray that hadn't yet come to Asia. Patsy recalled herself saying, “Father, I’d really rather stay here!” when they'd been in London last, but he hadn't listened. Besides, who knew if they'd have been safer in the city?

Surely, that line could only be part of the myth of Patsy's precocious girlhood. She couldn't have really said something so sophisticated. But if she had, and had been ignored, perhaps that had been the start of the waffling, the indecisiveness, that had plagued her personal life. In public life, she was a quick decider, immediately sure of the choices that would benefit the Mounts professionally. Personally, though, she continued to doubt what her senses told her to do. Sometimes, she’d electrify at a possibility, a role, or a person, but her rational side would convince her that her heart was misdirected. She always made the logical decision. 

So, when she retrieved the rest of the script of Travellers on River Severn by Lucille Blethyn from her contact at the Arts Theatre, she didn't want to trust her instinct about it.

“I’m having the script sent to you via courier, Patience. We’re quite excited about the production," her friend Reggie told her, via telephone. He was not precisely her friend. He was, rather, her acquaintance. Or rather, her distant work contact. Patsy had few friends, for reasons she couldn’t articulate and didn’t believe she had expressly chosen.

“From what I read so far, so am I.”

“You know she’s a real Traveller, don’t you?” Reggie asked.

“Who?”

“Lucille Blethyn.”

Patsy had never met a real Traveller before, though she’d seen plenty of them around the city and in their caravans on the outskirts. She knew they were a hated group, and Lucille would have a difficult life in London if she announced her status as an Irish Traveller.

“I must say I’m fascinated," she continued.

“You’ll have to come see the production!” Reggie insisted. “We’re just casting for it now. Wait – how’d you get hold of part of the script?”

“I borrowed it from my friend Delia.”

“Oh, Delia Busby, eh?” Reggie asked. “She’s created a real stir round here.”

Pasty knew that Delia's most significant previous role had been as a dog warden in a children's drama, and couldn't help a bit of a sniff in her tone. “How would Miss Busby create a stir?”

“Our friend Brigitte’s talked her up quite extensively. Tells me, Delia’s a dream, oui, oui, oui, yeah, Delia’s a doll, oui, oui, oui.” Reggie stopped, seemed to collect himself. “Brigitte’s French, hence the—”

“I’m familiar with Brigitte.” The Frenchwoman was everywhere! 

“Small world, eh?” he said. “All right, Patience. I'll see that script gets to you soon. Hope to see you here when we open.”

When Patsy received the script, she finished the entire book in a few hours. As she read, her heart was lurching all over the place. In it, a young, unmarried woman named Brydie Mills, who lives in a small town in Gloucestershire, is blamed when one of her friends kills herself under mysterious circumstances. While Brydie can displace the town's suspicions away from herself somewhat, tensions flare when she falls in love with a Traveller who has camped with his family on the outskirts of the community.

Travellers on River Severn aimed to include the same social message that Ring the Nurses! did but was more effective somehow. Patsy had come round to Ring the Nurses! certainly, but the play did have its syrupy, melodramatic moments, and ultimately reached a pat conclusion. It did little to unsettle its audience, change their worldview.

But Travellers on River Severn was disturbing. She didn’t like experimental productions that confused or provoked unnecessarily; she hadn’t been entirely persuaded by the all-male drama in Afore Night Come. This was different. Its ending was ambiguous, and left her disoriented and surprisingly bereft.

The script still on her lap, Patsy radiated with impulsivity. If she moved quickly enough, her mind wouldn’t talk her down from her perch. She dialled the operator. “Yes. Acorn 1295 please.” She waited until the operator connected her, pushing back the impulse to slam down the receiver. Then Reggie was on the phone.

“Reggie, would you do a favour for an old friend?” she said. “I’d rather like to audition for the role of Brydie.”

*

In her dressing room before the first rehearsal of her expanded role, Delia shifted between feelings of overwhelming sadness and chest-bursting jollity. She was now on stage considerably more than she had been before in this production, or any other. It was a joy, and a challenge, to bring Nurse Julie Lafferty to life. Before the revision, she'd had to embellish the character considerably. Then, Julie had only a few lines, so Delia had developed her own backstory for the character, even sketching her family history, her fears, her triumphs in a little notebook.

But now Julie Lafferty had twice the time onstage she’d had before, and at least three times as many lines. This reality was undeniably exciting, but Delia often quaked under pressure. 

In the wings waiting for her first cue, Delia held her script in a shaking hand. Since she'd only received her new part a few days before, she hadn’t fully memorized the lines and stage directions yet. Yet the pressure was building - Ring the Nurses! was slated to open in one week's time. 

Patsy came up behind her, and as much as Delia didn’t want her friend to see her fret, Patsy noticed Delia's fear. Of course she did. Patience Mount saw all. She pulled down the shaking book from in front of Delia’s face and squeezed her friend’s wrist. “My father doesn’t expect miracles,” she told Delia.

“Yes, but perhaps I shall deliver them.” Delia offered a timid smile. 

“You don’t have to be perfect on the first rehearsal, Deels. Don’t put so much pressure on yourself.”

But at the start, Delia didn't heed Patsy's advice. She was aware of herself on stage in a way she'd never been before, of the way her arms moved, of the way her voice reverberated in the theatre, of the way the other actors interacted with her. She felt as though she were projecting awkwardness. Was Louise upset that she had to share scenes with someone so inexperienced? Did Barbara believe that she was more deserving of Mr. Mount’s attentions than Delia?

When the Welshwoman returned to the comforting backstage after her first scene, she was so tense it felt as thought her shoulders were trying to throttle her, cut off her air. She wished she’d never been noticed, she wanted to return to her middling position, to hide. A terrible thought for an actress, Delia! she mocked herself, trying to make her breaths come more deeply.

“Wow, Delia, you were terrific!” A beaming Barbara shouted as she came to embrace her friend.

Delia stammered a thank-you, Barbara's graciousness never failing to astound her. 

“If I would have had all those new lines added, I would have fainted away, dead on the floor," Babs continued. “But not you.” 

After rehearsal, in her dressing room, Delia saw that Patsy had left the script for Travellers on River Severn in front of her dressing table's mirror. A note with Patsy’s looping handwriting on it had been tied round the cover with a bit of string. Ever sophisticated, Patsy, Delia rolled her eyes with delight as she noted the fine quality of the redhead’s choice of blue string.

Just as she was about to read Patsy’s note, Trixie came into their shared dressing room. More than any of her fellow players, Delia was nervous about Trixie’s reaction to her expanded role. After all, now Delia had a larger part than even Trixie. Certainly, the blonde had been immensely friendly to Delia since they known one another and always put on a breezy air of indifference. But that didn’t mean that Delia couldn’t picture Trixie tallying each one of Delia's new lines.

But when the blonde rushed into the dressing room, she ran to Delia. She grabbed Delia's hand as she sunk onto a chair opposite her. Her face falling, Trixie said, “Oh, Delia, Patsy is simply devastated.”

*

Jeremy Mount hadn’t been there for a second of it. He hadn’t been there when Grace cried out in the night for water that never satisfied her terrible thirst. He hadn’t seen Patsy’s mother sweating and writhing on an unbearable bed. Patsy’s mother hadn't gripped Jeremy's hand so firmly in hers that he felt his wrist aching even hours later. 

But there he was sitting in the plush front row of the Apollo Theatre, watching his daughter deliver lines about the disease that had killed the two people she'd loved most. Those lines - that word - pulled her out of the 1959 East End London of Ring the Nurses! She was immediately transported back to Singapore.

*

“What do you mean, Trix?” Delia asked, unclear about what Trixie was getting at. 

“Why, she stormed out of here in tears!” Trixie raised her eyebrows. “Didn’t you see her?”

Delia shook her head. What could have made Patsy so upset? Delia couldn’t believe she’d been so wrapped up in her own anxieties that she’d completely neglected her friend. She felt sick that she’d spent the night before asking Patsy to run lines with her when Patsy had clearly been dealing with something. Was Patsy upset because Jeremy Mount had shown such a preference for Delia? Had Patsy wanted to remain the production's clear – and only – star?

This seemed a bit cruel, even for Patsy, and Delia suspected that if the redhead was simply jealous, she would keep her feelings to herself. This was something else, Delia suspected, something that came over the redhead so intensely that her emotions overwhelmed her. Anything that would make Patience Mount break her composed façade must be simply catastrophic.

“Her father followed her wherever she went, though," Trixie continued. “Though, they're not on the best of terms, so perhaps we should intercede. What do you think, sweetie?”

“I wouldn’t want to intrude.” Delia shook her head. “I didn’t even know she was upset.” Though something had upset the redhead in her dressing room the day before, she was rather cheery in the pub studying lines with Delia night before. Then Delia recalled Patsy’s reaction to the Travellers on River Severn script. Did Patsy fear that Delia would leave Ring the Nurses! at the last second, if she were offered the other role? Was she concerned that Delia would leave the Mounts - and the rest of the cast - in the lurch?

But those couldn't be right, either. Delia already knew that for Patsy, business and emotions never mixed.

Delia shook her head, out of ideas. “I can’t imagine what would upset her so much.”

“Oh," Trixie said. 

“Do you know?”

Trixie didn't respond. 

“Trixie? What's upset her?”

“Sweetie, I’m afraid I can’t tell you if you don’t already know.” Trixie seemed like she wanted to nip off again; she looked at the door hopefully, like someone would come to save her from this conversation with Delia. “Patsy would have my ear, you know. She’s a very private person.”

Before Delia could plead for Trixie to give her more detail, the blonde was off, saying that she had a date that she wouldn’t dream of keeping waiting. “He’s a real dream!” Trixie called, already half-way down the hall.

*

Patsy didn’t think her father would find her crying in the cloakroom, but he rushed in almost immediately after she'd tucked inside. “Oh, Dad, get out!” Patsy muttered. She hated having anyone seeing her cry, and Jeremy Mount was the last person she wanted to lay eyes on at the moment.

“Patsy, I know why you’re crying.”

“You bloody well should!” her anger flared. 

“Please, Patience, don’t swear. It belies your social stat—”

“Oh, come off it, you old hypocrite.”

“Why don't we have a chat—”

“I don’t want a chat,” Patsy said, feeling more rage than she had in years. He should have been there with her, watching them waste away, sitting powerlessly as they faded into lifelessness.

Really, he should have been there instead of them.

Patsy pushed on her father’s expensive-suited back until he was out of the cloakroom. He was too surprised to protest. She went back inside, closed the cloakroom doors, and sat against them. She put her head to her knees and tried to drown out her father's calls to be let in.

*

“Patsy?” came a small voice from outside the cloakroom door. It wasn’t who Patsy thought might come to her aid, conscientious Delia, but instead was that old stalwart Trix. Neither Patsy nor Trixie was too keen on sharing feelings, but circumstances seemed to be forcing them to muddle through, one way or another.

Patsy pushed open the one of the cloakroom doors, and Trixie stepped inside. Patsy shut the door and motioned to Trixie to sit in front of it.

“It feels like we’re kids in a fortress in here,” Trixie tried to smile. Patsy knew she must look ghastly, her liberally-applied theatre makeup forging rivers down her cheeks. She didn’t want Trixie to see her like this, but nevertheless here the blonde was, seeing her.

“That’s what we are, Trix. Kids playing.” Patsy couldn’t keep her lower lip from quivering, and when she felt the tears starting again, she plunged herself into Trixie’s arms. She couldn’t recall the last time the two of them had been this vulnerable with one another. Perhaps there hadn't been a last time.

Her fears weren’t realised, either. Trixie didn’t push off her embrace. Instead, the blonde put her arm around Patsy and rubbed her back as Patsy nestled into her friend’s collarbone. Drearily, she realised she couldn’t recall the last time she’d been held by anyone.

“Your father's really gotten to you, hasn’t he?” Trixie murmured.

Patsy sniffled. “I’m afraid I’m overreacting.”

“No, Patsy,” Trixie said, “your response is entirely justified.”

*

Delia loitered in the lobby, hoping that Patsy would appear from whatever depth of the theatre she’d slunk to. The Welshwoman didn’t even know if Patsy would still be here; her father very well could have carried her off to dinner or back to her flat. But if there was any hope that she could be a comfort to Patsy, that she could even see Patsy, then Delia would wait.

Delia read her book for nearly an hour, believing that Patsy was unlikely to appear. But when she saw Patsy and Trixie emerge from the cloakroom, Patsy as dishevelled as the brunette had ever seen her, Delia had to stop herself from crying in sympathy. She looked so down, her beautiful Pats. But if Delia cried in sympathy for her friend, Patsy might think that the Welshwoman loved her. 

Did she love Patsy? 

She couldn’t ponder the question just now, as Trixie had spotted Delia and was leading the redhead toward her. Patsy hung back and was wiping desperately beneath her eyes with the back of her hand.

Delia wanted to know what had so upset her friend, but she didn’t dare ask. Instead, Trixie aimed to interject levity into the situation. “All the nuns in this show are simply too much for her! Far too many years at Catholic boarding school, right, Patsy?”

“The wimple is perhaps the most unstylish bit of attire ever created,” Patsy deadpanned.

Delia didn’t like to make light of sad things,but if her friend didn’t want to discuss what was bothering her with Delia, the Welshwoman wouldn’t force her. But she couldn’t help feeling jealous that Patsy preferred to discuss her troubles with Trixie.

“We’re going to forget about all religious orders tonight, aren’t we, Pats?” Trixie continued.

“Oh?” Delia said.

“Oh, do come,” Patsy said. The redhead eyed Delia warily. “Unless of course you have plans elsewhere.”

“I haven't a thing on,” Delia said. "Where are we headed?"

“To the square dance at the Palais, of course!” Trixie said. “There’ll be plenty of cowboys there, to croon away Patsy’s blues.” 

The redhead blushed, and Delia tried to stop her heart from falling. If a crooning chap would make Patsy happy again, what else could Delia want for the woman she longed for?

That was the thing about love – you wanted happiness for the object of your affection, even if you caused pain for yourself.

So, Delia thought, I suppose I have my answer.

*

The three women combed the catacombs of the theatre’s costume department searching for gingham blouses and bandannas left over from a production of the musical Oklahoma! a decade ago that Patsy recalled from her early years at uni.

“I could swear I’d seen these down here,” Patsy murmured, sliding through stacks of Elizabethan dresses and brightly-patched Dickensian suits. “Ah ha!” she said, as landed on a row of American-style costumes, full skirts, blue jeans, and leather vests. Patsy was so excited that she pulled down a cowboy hat from the second shelf, put it on her head, and said to Delia, “Care to dance, pretty lady?” in a terrible American accent, tipping her hat to the Welshwoman.

“Of course, kind sir!”

Patsy took her hand and swung Delia round, both laughing, spinning wildly, until Trixie’s call seemed to startle Patsy back into reality. “I never thought I’d be caught dead in a poodle skirt again!” Trixie called. 

“Right!” Patsy said, dropping Delia’s hands. Delia felt as though Patsy was always cheerily changing the subject and pulling back on whatever affection she'd given to Delia.

“That’s not what you wear to a square dance, Trix,” Patsy called, turning to flip through the row of costumes again.

“Oh, no one will know the difference.” Trixie returned with a red skirt with a hanging-tongue poodle on the front. “Isn’t it divine?”

“It’s certainly something.” Patsy raised her eyebrows in dismay, which made Delia chuckle. Whatever had been bothering the redhead seemed forgotten in this display of frivolity. Patsy seemed absolutely delighted to find a red-and-white checked dress that suited her.  

But Delia couldn’t find anything that didn’t make her feel rather flubby, so she simply tied a red piece of cloth round her neck and called herself ready.

“Well, you’re no fun,” Patsy admonished her, but she grinned so brightly that Delia assumed the smile she returned to the redhead must look downright obnoxious.

*

Outfits swiftly chosen, makeup quickly reapplied, and Barbara roped into attending, the trio entered the Palais just on time. The dance hall was packed with an entirely different crowd than The Mandrake Club had been several weeks back. Perhaps this group of young people was less interested in seeing or being seen. Or maybe they simply looked old-fashioned in their flannel button-ups tucked into their blue jeans and never-worn cowboy boots.

Though the Mandrake Club was where she'd dreamed of coming when she first moved to London, Delia found the Palais' atmosphere rather less intimidating, with its lively bluegrass music on violin and banjo, the laughing, swinging crowd trying desperately to follow the unfamiliar steps. After weeks of high pressure, Delia was ready to experience a country-style evening, even if this dance had originated in the States and not in Wales.

Barbara rushed in a few minutes later in blue-checked dress with lace at the collar and a green eyeshade hat, meant for playing poker. "It turned out I did own a cowboy hat!" Babs pointed to her head, thrilled. "It seems it was left behind by the previous tenants of my flat.”

“Sadly, you're rather more ready for a hand of poker,” Trixie smirked. 

“What do you mean?” Barbara still grinned. 

“That’s not a cowboy hat.” Delia forced herself not to laugh.

“Haven’t you ever seen a Western?” Trixie asked, astonished. 

Barbara shuddered. “I hate violence, guns and things.” But though she knew her error, Babs left the hat on all night, and really seemed to get more attention from the chaps because of it.

Delia preferred the unfamiliar square dance to other types of dances because she didn’t have to sway with her arms round a chap’s fast-perspiring neck. And she wouldn’t have to ward off one’s advances after an unconvincing waltz during which she’d feared for the future of her toes. In fact, in some of the square dance moves, she even got to clasp Patsy’s hand, if only for a moment.

After a moment of shimmering eye contact with Patsy, Delia decided that yes, this dance certainly had something going for it.

During a break from the musicians, the foursome retired to a table to consume thematic mint juleps strong enough to put hair on a baby. Barbara, somehow irresistible in her green hat, was pounced on by a mousy solicitor in a turquoise bolo tie, leaving the remaining three a moment to relax.

“I'm rather having fun!” Patsy said, her eyes shining. “I never go dancing.”

“I find it dreadfully hard to believe you couldn’t have all the dance partners you might require, Miss Mount,” Trixie teased.

Patsy sipped her drink determinedly, seemingly unwilling to continue the conversation.

“Delia," Trixie turned her attention to the Brunette, “if you didn’t know, Patsy has exactly standards with men. Impossible standards, in fact. I don’t believe I’ve seen Patsy smitten with a chap in the five years we’ve known one another.”

Delia’s ears perked at Trixie’s timeline of Patsy's love life. Five years was an awfully long time to be without a beau, especially in Patsy’s prime marrying years. But that was just a coincidence, wasn’t it? Patsy was so focused on her career, it only made sense that she had little time for courting. After all, Delia would be shocked if Patience Mount had anything but exacting standards.

“I haven’t had time for men.” Patsy rolled her eyes. “With my career and father’s company to manage, I’m lucky if I even find enough time to sleep, let alone weed out the duds!” Patsy gave a withering look to Barbara’s chap, who was patting Barbara’s hand in long, moist-looking strokes. The trapped woman looked to her three friends and mouthed, “HELP!”

Delia was almost convinced by Patsy’s explanation of her long-term aloneness when a flashing-eyed, dark-haired woman slipped into the seat next to Patsy's. She wore a form-flattering, full-skirted dress, topped with only the slightest hint at square dance attire, a checked neckerchief. The woman wore dark, almost brown lipstick, and wore her hair in a towering half-beehive that hadn’t wilted in the heat of the hall. She sat so close to Patsy that Delia wondered if the woman wouldn't prefer sharing a single chair.

Delia couldn’t believe her eyes. Or rather, she decided not to believe her interpretation of what she was seeing. Surely, she was misinterpreting. Surely, her particular experience subverted a normal meeting between friends.

It was from this self-doubting point of view that Delia convinced herself that she misheard what the woman whispered to Patsy – “I didn’t expect to see you here, beautiful girl.”

Surely the woman had asked for the time, or a fag, or something equally innocuous. Perhaps she and Patsy were old friends.

But an innocent request wouldn't explain why Patsy blushed so rosily and concentrated so seriously on her drink. 

Trixie interjected so Delia didn't have to. “I'm Trixie Franklin,” she held out her hand to the woman with a smile. “With whom do I have the pleasure of speaking?”

“Lucille Blethlyn.” The woman extended her hand to shake Trixie's. “And the pleasure is all mine.”

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Patsy had met the mystery woman who had invaded their table that ill-fated night at the Gateways Club. Tonight, the woman called her the same thing she had back then – “Beautiful girl.” In the sweltering club, Patsy had been drawn the woman, but when she had come to her senses, she had run, breathing hard, suddenly suffocated by the club’s heated mixture of perfume and cologne. That was the night she’d been reminded she shouldn’t go to places like Gateways, she shouldn’t surround herself with women like Lucille.

But here she was, practically crawling with women like herself.

“Please don’t call me frightfully private names in public,” Patsy hissed to the intruder. She wished she could push away Lucille, whose knee was pressed against hers, without drawing even more attention to their proximity. Patsy longed to rub her hands across her own face; she knew her cheeks were burning.

Trixie was watching, her eyebrows raised in bemusement. And, of course, Delia was watching, too.

“I'm Trixie Franklin,” Trixie, thankfully, broke the silence. “With whom do I have the pleasure of speaking?”

“Lucille Blethlyn.” The woman from the Gateways Club took Trixie’s hand for a shake. “And the pleasure is all mine.”

“What a gentlewoman!” Trixie smiled.

Lucille Blethlyn. Patsy knew the name – her Gateways Club paramour was the playwright of the script with which she’d been so enamoured, Travellers on River Severn. Patsy could tell that Delia recognized the woman’s name, too. The Welshwoman’s face grew rosy with pleasure, though immediately before Delia had looked rather queasy.

 “The Lucille Blethlyn?” she said, practically leaning into Patsy to tap Lucille on the hand.

“That's the name my mother gave me!” Lucille smirked, her Irish brogue clearly recognizable.

Patsy hadn’t noticed the woman was Irish in the Gateways Club that night, but then Lucille had whispered. Tonight, here she was, shouting across the table like they were in a barn. It was noisy in the Palais, of course, but one didn’t need to shout as though horses were braying!

“Let me tell you, Lucille,” Delia continued, laying her hand flat on the table. “I can hardly bear the coincidence, but I just finished reading your fantastic play. I’m rightly enthralled.” Delia sat back against her own chair and crossed her arms, shaking her head back and forth, her mouth open in a surprised-at-the-coincidence smile. Her cheeks were flushed, and Patsy was annoyed that Delia would, at this moment, reach peak adorableness. How inconvenient to be distracted by Delia, thought Patsy, when she needed to consider what to do with Lucille.

“Thank you, Mrs. –” Lucille started

Delia interrupted with a laugh, the thrill of meeting someone she admired obviously making her a bit loopy. “I’m not a Mrs,” she held out her hand for a shake, “but I am a Delia.”

“Not Delia Busby, by any chance?” Lucille asked.

“Oh, gracious, you know my name?” Delia clapped her hands together. She pushed one hand onto her collarbone, as if she was going to faint, laughing at her own dramatics.

Patsy thought Delia’s exuberance was reserved for her alone, but perhaps the Welshwoman became similarly verklempt at meeting any semi-celebrity. Patsy didn’t relish that thought in the least.

“You’re quite the talk of the Arts Theatre, Delia Busby,” Lucille said, nodding her head certainly.

I’m the talk of the theatre? No!” Delia seemed overwhelmed, unable to contain her glee. “Oh, Lucille, my most spectacular part thus far has been as a cubs leader!”

Lucille shrugged, apparently unsure of the origins of Delia Busby as legend. “You’ve been quite the talk of some Frenchwoman whom I’ve never met. Says you’re going to win the lead in my play.”

“No, I’m not!” Delia said, blushing so red that she hid her face behind her cocktail glass.  

Trixie was clearly annoyed to be left out of the conversation. “Excuse me, but is there an inner circle that I’m not privy to?” She tried, but failed, to look unhurt.

“Yes, but it’s just for the bohemian crowd at the Arts Theatre,” Patsy said, sure to paint herself as an upright citizen of proper society.

“I’m bohemian, aren’t I?” Trixie said. “I’m ever open to free love, and if I recall, I was the very picture of underground counter-culturalist when I dragged you lot to Ginsberg last month.”

Patsy again let the conversation waft over her as she pondered Lucille. The woman was calmly holding forth with Trixie and Delia, already at ease, already herself, at a table of strangers. And she’d had the boldness to come over here to speak with Patsy, though the two hadn’t seen each other since Patsy had flown from her company years ago, practically in tears.

Lucille was an assertive woman, Patsy noted. The redhead appreciated this quality in other women because she so valued it in herself.

“It seems I’m the only one left out of this Travellers on River Severn fête,” Trixie said to Lucille. “I suppose I’ll be reading your script in my free time, which sounds at least as delightful than having a cocktail with an eligible man,” she continued sarcastically.

“I promise it’s much more enjoyable than that,” Lucille winked at Patsy.

Patsy looked away, to defuse the other woman’s implication. 

Lucille continued, her eyes still on Patsy, “Does that mean you’ve read the script as well, then, er, you?”

Patsy then realised – she had never told Lucille her name.

“Don’t you two know each other?” Delia asked, looking between the two women.

Patsy froze, her heart immediately thundering to attention. Surely, Lucille would know to be discreet. Surely, she would know that Patsy kept her personal life to herself. But she couldn’t make herself say anything to dissolve the tension of the moment.

Lucille saved her. “We were in a production together at uni, Delia, back when we were just wee lasses, weren’t we, girl?” She looked up again at Patsy. “And my memory has always been stuffed with nonsensical recipes and the odd address, so I forget what my old mates are called!”

Patsy swallowed and then forced herself to speak, “It’s Patience. My name.”

“So formal for an old friend?” Trixie said, wagging her eyebrows. It was hard to tell what Trixie knew or suspected about Patsy, but Lucille’s lie didn’t seem to fool her even for a second.

“Right. Patsy, rather.”

“Of course!” Lucille slapped the table. “I remember now.” Then Lucille studied her curiously. “Not Patience Mount, are you?”

“Dear lord, it’s a veritable Who’s Who in contemporary theatre here tonight!” Trixie said. “When the roster goes round next, pencil in Trixie Franklin, please and thank you.”

Patsy wondered how Lucille could possibly know her full name. But then she recognized how Lucille had known – if she’d seen Delia’s name on the list of actresses auditioning for the part of Brydie at the Arts Theatre, then she certainly had also seen Patsy’s name there as well.

“Guilty as charged,” Patsy said, sounding inauthentically cheerful, even to herself. It was exhausting to keep up with an ongoing façade, hiding the places you’ve been, keeping tabs on the lies you’ve told. But the list of lies she’d told had grown so long and tangled, there was no way she could ever put them straight.

“A bit of friendly competition between friends, then, I see!” Lucille grinned at Delia and then at Patsy. “I love to see women supporting one another, rather than tearing one another down.”

“Competing for what?” Delia asked, smiling through her confusion, looking first to Lucille, then to Patsy. “I’m afraid you’ve lost me.”

“For the lead role in my play, of course!” Lucille stretched her arms wide enough to embrace both Delia and Patsy, and instead of slapping the table, she pounded Patsy heartily on the back.  “Both of you are auditioning for Brydie.”

With Lucille’s firm hand on her back, Patsy stuttered in swallowing the drink she had been gratefully sipping. There was no keeping it from her now; Delia knew Patsy’s intention.

Delia looked to Patsy, a smile still on her face, her confusion still there, too.

*

Delia and Lucille went onto the floor to dance when they heard the first notes of a slide-and-clap number called the Watusi. “Won’t you come, Trix? Patsy?” Delia said, turning around to beckon her friends as Lucille pulled her toward the floor.

“I’m going to sit this one out, sweetie,” Trixie said, “and Patsy is too.”

“Am I?” Patsy said. In response, Trixie elbowed her. “I am!” she smiled up at Delia, who was already halfway across the floor in Lucille’s wake.

Once the two women were far enough out of earshot, Trixie slid her chair closer to Patsy’s and asked, “What does she mean you’re auditioning for that play?”

Patsy felt defiant. Who was Trixie to be questioning her decisions? “I’m auditioning for a show at the Arts Theatre. I’m an actress, aren’t I?”

“When do rehearsals start?” Trixie whispered, her eyebrows raised. Rehearsals typically began immediately following a successful audition; this production would certainly conflict with Ring the Nurses!  which had the potential for run for months. 

Patsy shrugged. “In a week or so.”

“Patsy, this simply isn’t like you! Did you forget all about your commitment to Nurse Millicent Beckwith? What is this, a lark or a fancy?”

“I rather want to go off on my own,”  she offered, in succinct explanation. 

“This is about your father, isn’t it?” Trixie persisted. “About what he’s done?”

“Perhaps that’s a part of it,” Patsy paused, suddenly serious, suddenly angry at the mention of her father. “Why do I only do what he suggests, Trix? Why have I felt so beholden to Jeremy Mount all this time?”

Patsy looked across the room to Delia and Lucille performing the goofy dance. They were laughing with abandon, Delia half-crumped over with laughter. Patsy crooked up her mouth in a half smile. Why couldn’t she be so free? Here she was, nearly 30, and had allowed herself to stay under her cruel father’s thumb for far too long.

Perhaps even feel differently about her grain if she cared less about what her father wanted from her. 

She chastised herself for even thinking herself as assertive as Lucille. She was nothing like Lucille, she was a scared child, still waiting for her father to say, “Brava, Patience. Brava.”

But now she knew; her father’s approval would never come. 

“Patsy, I’ve never heard you express dismay about your career thus far,” Trixie said.  

Patsy looked at her friend seriously. “It’s not that I’ve been dissatisfied. Rather it’s that my father has made so many of my decisions for me. It’s that his approval has mattered so much to me.” She smiled again, halfway defiantly, halfway self-deprecating. “But now Father has given me no other choice but to reconsider our relationship.”

“Oh, sweetie, I fear you might be stepping into a hornet’s nest.” Trixie shook her head. “But whatever choices you make, Patsy, you first need to talk to Delia.”

*

Delia wanted to discuss the fact that Patsy would be auditioning for Travellers on River Severn. At first, it was difficult for her to imagine Patsy performing in the Arts Theatre, with its cramped, threadbare seating and its bespectacled, chain-smoking patrons. But the more Delia considered the possibility, the more she realized that she could see Patsy there. The more she thought about it, in fact, the more she thought the Arts Theatre was exactly where her friend should be.

*

As the night at the Palais wound down, Lucille cornered Patsy alone, on her way to the powder room. “I’d love to talk, sometime, beautiful girl. In private.”

Patsy closed her eyes, sighed to calm her anxiously-racing heart. “Please don’t call me that name. Not here, not ever.”

Lucille nodded. “I can see it makes you uncomfortable, so I’ll stop.” She bumped Patsy’s shoulder with her own. “You know it’s supposed to be a compliment.”  

“If you can refrain yourself,” Patsy smirked, and to her relief, Lucille did, too, “perhaps we can meet up for a drink.”

“I’d like that,” Lucille agreed.

Patsy gave Lucille her telephone number.

*

Patsy knew Delia deserved forthrightness, honesty, about her own audition for Travellers. And Trixie had insisted that Patsy explain her choice to Delia, after all, threatening to ring tomorrow to check up on Patsy’s progress. The newfound closeness she’d found with Trixie suited Patsy.

Trixie seemed to appreciate their new relationship, too, though their newfound honesty meant Patsy would be forced to address Trixie’s demons sooner or later. Patsy had for too long seen the blonde douse her sorrows about her career and romantic prospects with nips from a silver flask.

Even that night, as they left the Palais, Trixie had been soused. Patsy had given Barbara money to take the blonde home in a taxi. Many drinks in, Trixie had nearly tipped over, giggling as she tripped over the kerb.

“Perhaps the night was a bit too rollicking,” Barbara had said to Patsy and Delia, trying to lighten the mood, as Trixie continued laughing by herself. “A cup of Horlicks should settle her down,” she whispered to Patsy as she settled in next to Trixie in the taxi’s backseat. 

*

The taxi drove off, leaving Patsy and Delia alone for their walk to the tube. Patsy tugged on Delia’s arm, “Would you come to my flat, for a nightcap? Let me explain everything.”

As if she were a puppet controlled by Patsy’s whims, Delia nodded, almost against her own wishes.  

The ride to Patsy’s flat was quiet. Delia suspected the redhead thought she was angry about the audition. But Delia had never been the jealous type; she simply did not have a competitive nature. She understood that physicality and accent and station played in theatrical casting, and while she sometimes wished her background had produced more favourable circumstances, she couldn’t change who she was.

After all, she was more privileged than most – she had two extreme fans, one in Jeremy Mount, another in Brigitte.

When they arrived at the flat, Delia had no word to describe Patsy’s flat besides swanky. The afore-described Eames chair was the centrepiece of her lounge, surrounded by armchairs with gleaming, frightfully sharp-looking wooden armrests. A gleaming white fireplace that looked like it either belonged in a Swiss chalet or in a sanatorium squatted in one corner. Hung from the ceiling was a bronze Sputnik light brightening a wood and lime-green crushed velvet sofa beneath it.

Delia’s mouth dropped open in delight at Patsy’s style, but the redhead was unaffected by her surroundings. She dropped her keys into a bowl by the door and pushed a button on the wall to blaze the fireplace into life. Delia wanted to comment on the furnishings but was so overwhelmed by the flat’s poshness in contrast to her own meagre digs that she gushed, “It’s so clean.”

Patsy cocked a single eyebrow, and then, seeing Delia’s state of shock, offered a half-smile. “Cleaning is how I get out my aggressions!” Patsy punched her fists into the air in demonstration.

Delia laughed, and it hit her  – she was in Patsy’s flat. She was alone with Patsy in her flat. It was very late at night, and she was alone with Patsy in her flat.

Delia wished her brain hadn’t put that fact into such specific terms because whereas she’d been awed at the digs before, now she was nervous. She wouldn’t drink alcohol if Patsy offered, she told herself.  What if she grew inebriated and couldn’t stop herself from caressing Patsy’s hand, alone with her in the flat, like she was, at this very late time of night?

Her mind was racing. She took deep breath. Everything was fine! she told herself. Normal friends have no difficulty spending time together, alone, in one of their flats, late at night.

But Delia knew her friendship with Patsy was anything but normal.

                                                                        *

Patsy prepared snifters of brandy for herself and Delia. As they sat next to one another on the sofa, Patsy noticed with surprise that Delia drank her brandy very, very slowly.

“Trixie and I have been having too many godawful confessional moments,” Patsy said, attempting to couch the seriousness of the conversation in amusement. “And she suggested you and I should try to do the same.”

Tonight, Patsy had her own insecurities to battle, namely explaining to Delia why she had potentially undermined her role in Travellers on River Severn.

Patsy sighed and swallowed another sip of the burning brandy. She had to do this, and she would. “I read the script, like you asked me to.”

“It’s good, isn’t it?”

“Yes. Remarkable. I found myself quite desperately excited by it. And then I couldn’t recall a time when my father hasn’t had a hand in my decisions, Deels. Even in boarding school, where I felt quite abandoned, I still wrote him letters seeking his instruction on whether I should go out for polo or request for a retest on my British History exam.”

Delia’s worried her mouth in what looked like surprise – or could that be distaste? “I must say, I’m surprised to hear that, Pats,” the Welshwoman said. “I pegged you as an independent woman.”

Patsy laughed humourlessly. “Do you think I could afford a flat like this without Daddy’s help?” She spread her arms, indicating her flat. She shook her head, rebuking her own willingness to accept Jeremy Mount’s patronage. “Do you think I would have ever turned to blasted musical theatre with Father’s encouragement?”

Delia looked consternated, perhaps even disgusted, and Patsy almost stopped talking. She couldn’t offer up this terrible honesty if Delia would loathe her for it. Who was it that deemed it healthy for a person to tell the truth? Patsy was much happier with faux emotions swallowed down with a hearty dose of inauthenticity. Emotions were far too messy.

But she had to finish, at least this bit. “Besides, I haven’t come after a role that seems perfect for you, Delia. I’ve already been beaten over the head with their love for you over there. If you want to quit Ring the Nurses!, I’m sure your understudy will salivate at a phone call from me. I’ll also talk down my father!”

Delia looked pained, but she nodded, apparently that Patsy would be willing to forgive her.

“Point is, I need to get out from my father’s thumb,” Patsy continued. “I need to rebel, in a way I never did as a teen. My father is the only family I’ve got, Deels, but if he’s going to treat me as he has, perhaps it would be better if I had no family at all.”  

“Has he treated you terribly?” Delia said in a small voice. The Welshwoman reached for Patsy’s hand then, and perhaps against her better judgment, Patsy wrapped the Welshwoman’s warm hand between both of her own. She rested their bundled hands on her lap.

Patsy crooked up half her mouth in a sad smile. “He’s not really much of a father, Deels, if you know what I mean.”

Delia didn’t offer her own explanation of an absent father because Patsy knew she couldn’t; Delia had an idyllic rural upbringing. But it didn’t matter if they’d shared this particular experience because Patsy knew Delia empathised with her. That was enough. In that way, Delia understood. “I believe you, sweetheart” the Welshwoman said. “I believe you.”

*

It was very late, nearly 2 o’clock in the morning when they finished their conversation. There was no way Delia was travelling home so late, so Patsy retrieved a blanket and pillow for Delia to build a bed on the sofa. Patsy had offered to share her own bed – “It’s large enough to fit the Queen’s Army, Deels!” – but Delia had of course declined, exaggeratedly remarking about her window-rattling snores.

Delia’s head was on the pillow, her arms folded across the blanket when Patsy peeked her head from her bedroom. “Thank you for listening, Deels. You don’t know how much it means to have someone to talk to.”

“I do, Pats,” Delia said sleepily chuffed, “because I have you.”

Patsy smiled so softly, dipping her head to the floor in such pleasure, that Delia felt tears spring to her eyes. The redhead had almost entirely closed her door when Delia called out, “Pats, can I ask you one thing?”

“Of course.”

“What did Lucille Blethlyn say to you tonight? I could have sworn you’d once been bosom buddies, but then she didn’t even know your name!”

“Oh,” Patsy looked so mortified that Delia knew she’d certainly pushed her friend too far in her reticent truthfulness. But Patsy recovered and said, “She just asked me if I remembered her from uni, all those years ago. Unfortunately I had to tell her no!” Patsy seemed like she couldn’t get the door closed fast enough as she said a rushed, “Goodnight, Delia.”

Patsy might have appeared nonplussed, but Delia could tell that her question had thrown her friend entirely off-guard, if only for a second. But Delia had no idea why that might be.

After Patsy retired to her room, Delia lay there in the dark, looking up at the ceiling for a long time. She imagined she could hear Patsy breathing in the other room, from behind the door. She pictured creeping into Patsy’s bed, thought of what it would be like to feel Patsy’s sleeping back rise and fall as she rested her chin against it.

*

 

Delia left Patsy’s early, before the redhead had woken up. For some reason, Delia couldn’t bear to see the redhead dishevelled from sleep, her defences lowered. She couldn’t bear to betray what the redhead thought was an innocent friendship.

When Delia rushed in the door to her flat, Phyllis was sitting at her desk, writing some sort of correspondence. She peered at Delia through glasses perched halfway down her nose, and somehow the Welshwoman felt like she was back in grammar school, being tasked with spelling the word “M-E-D-I-E-V-A-L.”

“I’m happy to take down a message or two, lass, but I’m not a personal messaging service. You’ve been quite popular, as of late!” Phyllis pulled out two sheets of paper that she handed grudgingly to Delia. Then her face lost its harshness, and she instead broke her stern expression with a smile. “Though when all my gentlemen callers start overwhelming me, I’ll know who owes me a favour. You’ll arranging my schedule!”  

“Yes, ma’am,” Delia smirked. She took the two papers Phyllis offered. The first was from Brigitte. And the other was from Mam! She groaned internally; she had forgotten that she’d scheduled a telephone call with her mother to discuss her parents’ trip to London for Ring the Nurses!

Delia felt so gutted for missing her mother, whom she hadn’t talked to in ages, that she wanted to lie down on her own bed. Patsy’s sofa had been posh but gave her a crick in her neck.

“I’m also glad to know your friend supports our cause,” Phyllis called, still sat at her desk. “Most of the women with whom I’m on rota don’t think anybody but our lot will attend.”

Delia didn’t know what Phyllis was talking about, and she was too groggy to consider the possibilities. All she could muster was a half-hearted, “Hm?”

“The nurses are striking, for fair wages,” Phyllis explained. “That’s why I’m home now, lass, if you wondered. We’re planning a protest.”

“Really?” Delia was amazed; she’d thought the older nurse a rather stodgy sort. Though she shouldn’t have been surprised that Phyllis would fight for her beliefs, as the older woman was immensely commanding.  

“Yes, in full uniform, on April 28th.” Phyllis nodded, confident as ever. Delia hoped that when she advanced a few years she would be as sure of herself as her older flatmate.

She read the note from Brigitte. Written Phyllis’ no-nonsense hand, it read: “DELIA…KNOW YOU WANT TO BE MORE POLITICAL…SUPPORT THE NURSES YOU DEPICT IN YOUR PLAY…THEY ARE STRIKING…IN TRAFALGAR SQUARE…SATURDAY...THIS IS REALITY THIS TIME…BRIGITTE.”

Delia tried to shake the feeling that Brigitte implied her career was unimportant, or at least not important as these nurses who struck for better conditions for themselves and those who came after. Ring the Nurses! was, of course, not reality but still could be meaningful to some. Delia didn’t feel either her profession or nursing was more honourable than the other; they were simply different.

It was only then that Delia noticed what Phyllis was working on at her desk. She wasn’t writing a letter, but was lettering a poster, in black marker. It read: “WE TRY TO HELP SICK PEOPLE BUT A SICK GOVERNMENT WON’T HELP US.”

Here Delia was, thinking she was rabblerousing by auditioning for a controversial role in a theatrical production. But Phyllis was so much bolder, taking part a protest in the middle of a city square. In her uniform, her face shining with pride. Anyone could see her there and think whatever they would about her. Anyone could think her ungrateful for what the NHS had given her, but many, Delia knew, would admire her.

Perhaps Delia would someday be as brave as Phyllis. Perhaps someday she would put her face boldly out into the world. Like most things in life, some would loathe her for it, but a select few would find her undeniably courageous.  

Chapter Text

Five days before Ring the Nurses! was scheduled to open, Delia and Patsy went together to the Arts Theatre to audition for the part of Brydie Mills. No one in the Ring cast knew about the women’s auditions, except for Barbara and Trixie, both of whom Patsy trusted to keep mum.

Patsy had been nervous about the audition all night, though in her career she’d rarely been prone to a sour stomach. Her anxiety only increased when she entered the theatre and saw the three other actresses – Shelagh Turner, of all people, among them! – against whom she and Delia were competing. Patsy had the impulse to turn on her heel and leave; spitefully, she realised this longing to flee was becoming her constant companion. She could nearly hear herself explaining, as she hurried from the theatre, “Sorry, I was looking for the dentist next door. I’m slated for a root canal!”

But she forced herself to stay in the auditorium. Delia’s understanding hand on her arm made Patsy sink into a seat, puffing out a breath of trapped air from her lungs. Lucille Blethlyn was sitting in a folding chair on the proscenium next to the director. Patsy raised her eyebrows; playwrights weren’t often included in casting decisions. Stop disdaining, Patsy, she thought to herself. They don't play by the rules.

The Irishwoman waved wildly as the pair sat down, and Delia waved back, skimming her arm back and forth in the air. Patsy thought she might lose her breakfast, so she waved only demurely, like the Queen. She was far too anxious for exuberance.

As a rule, Patsy did not put herself into situations in which she felt uncomfortable. As a rule, Patsy would leave any situation as soon as it became discomfiting. Here, though she felt the theatre was spinning, she could not leave. In fact, Delia was blocking her exit – she was sat in the last seat next to the centre aisle.

“Delia, excuse me, please. I must freshen up,” Patsy said, feeling panic rise in her chest. Delia did not move. “Delia, please let me by!”

“Patsy, calm down,” Delia said calmly, a little smile on her lips. “You’ve auditioned loads of times.”

“Yes, but –” Patsy swallowed and lowered her voice – “Father has no influence here.”

“Oh, Pats, is that what this is about?” Delia petted Patsy’s back and put her arm around the redhead in a little squeeze, bopping Patsy's waist lightly into the armrest. “Patience Mount, I want you to know that anybody could tell you have talent, even if you were wearing a flour sack and they had never even heard of Jeremy Mount!”

Patsy grinned at her friend’s nonsensical compliments. “Why would I wear a flour sack?”

Delia blushed and closed her eyes. “I was overtaken with emotion.”

Patsy settled into her seat, squeezing Delia’s hand one last time. “Thanks, Deels.” But she still was not fully confident; after all, the Welshwoman looked up to Patsy professionally, so her opinion was not entirely without bias.

The director, Nils Glazer, explained that casting would be completed in three days, and rehearsals would begin the forthcoming Sunday. “Needs must, I’m afraid,” he said. “We have a protracted rehearsal schedule, time pressures being what they are.”

Patsy watched Delia grin as Lucille then began reading a summary of her play for the actors assembled. The Irishwoman stalked around the stage, occasionally curling her hand into a fist or bending her knees for emphasis.

Lucille was quite the riot.

As she watched Lucille perform, Patsy internalised what a successful outcome to this audition would mean. Ring the Nurses! and this production would certainly conflict. If either she or Delia were cast as Brydie, she would certainly have to unceremoniously drop out of Ring the Nurses!

Patsy could almost picture her father stomping round his lush accommodations at the Corinthia Hotel if she quit the production. What if he threw his tea cup and saucer! Perhaps he would throw a tantrum, balling his fists and pounding his feet!

Patsy felt a surprising levity creep into her imaginings. She pictured her father displaying the most emotion he’d shown in ages, more than he’d demonstrated for years and years.

It wasn’t that Jeremy Mount would be dreadfully sorry that his Patience was no longer in his production. It was more that Patsy couldn’t remember the last time she’d expressly disobeyed her father’s orders, which he couched so cleverly as ‘recommendations.’

Patsy felt a small smile play at her lips. She would very much enjoy telling her father she could make her own choices. She didn’t fear disobeying him. After all, she had her own money, a fund set up by her mother’s equally-wealthy family that she alone controlled. All she would lose, then, was her father’s high-esteem.

Was her father’s respect even worth it? Patsy pondered. After all, staying in Jeremy’s good graces required such a high price.

*

As she watched Patsy’s audition from the audience, Delia found the redhead magnificent. Patsy’s facial expressions alone - tentative headshakes and strong-willed, long-staring pauses - warranted her winning of the part.

What’s more, Delia knew Patsy belonged here, in the Arts Theatre. Patrons deserved to watch the redhead up close and see the subtler facets of her superb characterisation.

Then, Patsy left her final, shimmering line hanging in the auditorium: “Love doesn't adhere to time and boundaries, does it? It just is.”

As the redhead stood, still and defiant, Delia made up her mind. She knew what she had to do. The silence was shattered as the actors in the audience, uniformly rooting for Patsy to fail so they could win the part, started in with begrudging applause. They applauded because Patsy had been terrific. Overcome with feeling, Delia put her two pinkies in her mouth and whistled.

Patsy heard her friend’s garish whistle from stage right and dropped her mouth open in faux shock. But then the redhead winked and smiled, seeming shy. Delia could have dropped right then onto the floor.

Patsy nodded to Nils and Lucille, and walked off stage left.

“Next! Delia Busby,” Nils said, reading her name from a list.

Delia walked to centre stage, warmed by a hearty salute of good luck from Lucille. The Welshwoman looked toward the director. The spotlight was blinding, and she could barely see Nils and Lucille only a few metres in front of her, let alone the audience. She couldn’t see Patsy at all.

“I’m thankful to you, Nils, Lucille, and Brigitte, wherever she might be, for this opportunity,” Delia started, her straying causing Nils to flip through his script in confusion, “but I’m going to take myself out of contention. I think you’ve already found your Brydie.”

The audience gasped as Delia hurried off the stage. She wanted to see her friend. But Patsy wasn’t waiting in the wings. Delia rushed down the stairs to search for Patsy in the audience, but Shelagh Turner was already onstage, already beginning to read. Not wanting to make a commotion in the audience, Delia slouched into a seat, deciding to find Patsy afterward.

As Delia watched the remaining auditionees, she knew for certain that Patsy would be cast as Brydie. Question was, though, would the redhead accept the role?

Once auditions were over, Delia leapt from her seat. She brimmed with such optimism for Patsy’s future – and with hope the redhead would choose to split with her overbearing father – that she longed to embrace Patsy. But, when Delia scanned the seats, she saw that the redhead was not there.

“Oh, Delia,” Lucille said, confronting Delia with a sly smile. “You’re a bold little scamp, aren’t you?”

Delia looked around, more frantically. When had Patsy left? Was her friend furious with her for what she’d done?

“Lucille,” Delia said, “you haven’t seen Patsy, have you?”

“Oh, she ducked out right after her audition. Seemed nervous, though I’m not sure why a woman like her would ever get nervous.  Bloody hell she’s good.”

“Cripes!” Delia shook her head. Another kind thing she’d tried to do for Patsy, and the redhead hadn’t even been there to see it.

“I’ll tell you that you were her knight in shining armour, OK, Delia?” Lucille said. “We’re meeting up later at The French House.”

Delia didn’t know how to react to that revelation, but at the moment, she just wanted to go home.

*

Patsy felt wretched about her audition. She had done a simply dreadful job; had she always been so godawful? Her entire career had been a sham, she felt, and she’d only gotten to where she was thanks to her father’s influence.

What a terrible few weeks it had been! If she’d never been cast in Ring the Nurses! or met Delia Busby, Patsy would never have had anything that stirred up her life. Nothing would have changed; was there anything truly wrong with sheer stability? She had been confident, successful, wealthy – and - she swallowed as the word formed in her head - repressed.

She was so dreadfully repressed.

Here she was, in her first foray into something that her father would have certainly disapproved, and she never would have done any of it if it weren’t for Delia Busby. How childish I’ve been! Patsy reproached herself. Delia’s parents weren’t entirely supportive of her, and still she got out of bed in the morning. Delia’s parents did not approve of many of their daughter’s choices, and still Delia could buy a bloody pot of tea, putter in the shops on Saturdays, make focused conversation that didn’t dissemble into daydreams.

Delia had been Patsy’s inspiration. And now Patsy was her own inspiration. She had done it. Regardless of the outcome of this audition, she had taken the first steps towards independence.

Perhaps this failed audition was only the start of what Patsy would allow herself to want.  

*

After Patsy cried a bit, alone in her flat’s washroom with the water running lest her neighbours hear, she’d dressed and prepared to meet Lucille at The French House.

When she arrived and saw the ghastly French flag painted on the sign above the pub, she couldn’t help tutting. The French were certainly breathing down her neck these days, weren’t they?

She found Lucille sitting inside a snug, already enjoying a dark brown ale.

“Let me just say,” Patsy started, “after everything I’ve gone through with the French in last month, I should have objected—” she popped her head round the frosted-glass divider in the little room and spotted none other than Nils Glazer himself.

“Hello, Miss Mount,” he pumped her hand in greeting.

“Nils won’t be here long, Patsy. I just thought it’d be a right treat if—”

“Hello, Nils,” Patsy said. She looked from Lucille to Nils, trying to figure out what he was doing there. Did Nils want to let Patsy down easy? Perhaps he was dreadfully kind to under-talented actresses.

“Right,” said Nils, breaking the mystery. “I can’t stay long, but I wanted to pop by to tell, well, to ask you, really, if you’d like to be our Brydie? No one even came close to you today, Patience. Nobody could compare.”

“It’s right luck that Delia dropped out of the running, though, wouldn’t you say, Nils?” Lucille grinned at Nils, then Patsy. “I bet that feisty little thing could’ve given you a right run for your money, eh?”

Patsy looked at Lucille in confusion. “What ever are you talking about?” she asked.

*

When she returned to her flat, Delia wasn’t disappointed that she’d given up her opportunity to audition for Travelers on River Severn. Patsy deserved the role; the audition Delia had prepared was nowhere near as impressive as Patsy’s had been. Patsy was remarkable. Certainly, Patsy was nothing like Brydie, yet there seemed to be something that Patsy recognised in the character. Brydie must have made Patsy see something in herself.

Though she wasn’t upset, Delia wished that Patsy had been there to witness her act of heroism. Then Patsy would have known how highly Delia thought of her. She would have seen how sincerely Delia admired her.

Then a terrible thought struck Delia – what if Patsy had seen her on stage and found her distasteful? What if the redhead thought Delia the opposite of courageous – pathetic, too willing to roll over and give up what she had wanted?

Delia went into the lounge, where Phyllis was lettering what appeared to be her fifteenth poster for the nurses’ protest the next day.

“Sorry, lass,” Phyllis said, moving a poster so Delia could find a spot on the sofa. “I don’t know what to do with myself, idle like this. I’m going stir-crazy mad.”

Delia moved a poster that read: “IS YOUR NURSE A BLUR? THANK THE NHS!”

“Perhaps this is the NHS’ method for strike-breaking, what do you think?” Phyllis asked. “Making hard-working women do arts and crafts at home.”

Delia laughed but was too consumed by her own worries to pay much attention to Phyllis. She had to stop over-thinking her relationship with Patsy like this, or she’d go as mad as well.

“I’d like to accompany you tomorrow, if you’ll have me,” Delia said.

Phyllis nodded in quiet gratitude.

“For now, though,” – Delia slid onto the floor next to the older woman - “let me have a go at that black marker.”

*

After Nils left, Patsy took too large a sip of a dark ale and found herself sputtering. She rubbed her forehead, in stress. “I’m gobsmacked,” Patsy said, still shaking her head. “Why would Delia do something like that?”

Lucille shrugged, like Patsy shouldn’t be surprised that people would sacrifice themselves for her. “She thought you were better than she was, I suppose.”

“My audition was total shit!”

“We both saw you, Nils and I, as our obvious Brydie,” Lucille continued.

“I was bloody awful,” Patsy said, still lost in her own thoughts. “I’m going to have a talk with Delia—”  

“Perhaps you misunderstand the effect you have on others, Patsy,” Lucille interrupted.

Patsy looked squarely at Lucille for the first time that night. The Irishwoman was staring wistfully into her pint of Guinness. Patsy had never pondered this possibility, considering herself an excellent judge of situations and character.

But perhaps when it came to herself, Patsy was totally in the dark.  

Lucille stayed quiet, studying the beer like it was the most fascinating beverage ever concocted.

Patsy aimed to snap her friend out of her reverie. “I may have demonstrated my understanding of Brydie Mills today, Lucille, but I can’t parse you at all, I’m afraid.”

Lucille looked up at Patsy, and the redhead was surprised to see her new friend’s eyes were wet.

“You know I’ve thought of that night we spent dancing so fondly over these last two years,” Lucille said. “Nights when I was feeling low, I thought to myself, ‘I wonder what my beautiful girl is doing with herself right this very moment?’”

Patsy’s stomach clenched; she hadn’t realised the extent of the Irishwoman's feelings for her. “Lucille, I –”

“Let me finish. It isn’t easy to find a woman in London, Patsy, especially not for someone like me. I lack discretion, if you know what I mean. Whenever I imagined I’d be alone with my own nagging company for the rest of my life, I pictured you, looking so silly and gorgeous in that hot club with your mac still on. I hoped you still thought of me, too.”

Patsy wanted to cry. Lucille’s story was so like her own. Why couldn’t she force herself to desire for Lucille? She wanted to be able flip a switch that would turn off Delia once and for all. She’d been attracted to Lucille that night at the Gateways Club, hadn’t she? Perhaps that feeling could be recovered, if only Delia wasn’t taking up so much space in her heart.

“I’m grateful to you for giving me hope, Patsy." Lucille said, forcing a grin onto her face." You let me know that someone like you existed!”

“I’m not all that.” She shook her head.

“Sure you are, beautiful girl. But I’m not too daft to see you’ll never fancy me.”

“I’m sorry I was cruel the other night.”

Lucille wiped under her eyes and raised her eyebrows. She quirked up her mouth in a sad smile. “I understand. You didn’t want her to get the wrong idea about us.”

“Who?”

Lucille elbowed Patsy, signalling attempted chumminess with the woman she had so recently hoped would become her girlfriend. “Oh, Patsy, you think you’re so aloof. But I can read you like a book. You’re obviously smitten with Delia Busby.”

Patsy’s first impulse was to demur, say that Lucille’s wires must be hopelessly crossed. But Patsy owed the truth to this woman who’d spent years longing for her. With a burning shame, she recalled how at the square dance she’d hissed to Lucille, “Please don’t call me frightfully private names in public.”

In apology to a woman she perhaps could have loved if circumstances were different, Patsy nodded her affirmation. Just a tiny tip of the head forward, and it was done.  

Chapter Text

After Patsy confessed her feelings to Lucille, the once-temperate French House snug felt like it immediately grew warmer. She was on fire, and her clothes suddenly felt far too tight. Too itchy. She unbuttoned the top button of her blouse and fanned herself with her hand. Suddenly, she was having difficulty swallowing.

“I knew it, Patsy,” Lucille said bravely, so quickly after she had her own affections thwarted. “I could just tell. I have a keen sense of this sort of thing. Delia’s a fine choice. An excellent lass.”

But Patsy could barely hear the Irishwoman. She’d just confessed. Why had she just confessed? “Is it frightfully warm in here?” she asked.

Lucille pulled down Patsy’s fanning wrist and held eye contract with her. “Don’t you worry, Patsy, I won’t tell a single soul.”

Patsy closed her eyes and forced herself to take a deep breath. Her terrible secret. The secret she planned to keep forever. She was no longer the anonymous girl in the Gateways Club, the one who hadn’t lingered long enough to even offer her name. Her truth was known by someone, she was visible. “I wish I’d never told you.”

“Sorry, Patsy, but you didn’t offer up any great revelation. I saw you there, remember? At the club.”

Patsy closed her eyes. “I simply hate that you know. It’s too damaging to be thrown in with you lot. I should have taken that secret to my grave.” Patsy pulled her gloves from her handbag and started to slide from the booth when Lucille stopped her with a hand on the redhead’s arm.

“You’ve never told anyone before?”

“Of course I have,” Patsy nodded bitterly. “I told Camilla Chambers I fancied her after we snogged in the broom closet at boarding school, but she looked sick and said that I was just practice.”

“I’d assumed you’d befriended some of your kind because you were at the Gate—”

“I heard a stagehand talking one night. An invert type, you know, and I went sleuthing.”

“Patsy, there’s nothing wrong—”

“I promise I won’t go home and self-flagellate," Patsy deadpanned. “Thing is, society’s view is important to me, whether I want it to be or not. I’m trying to change how I feel, but it isn’t easy.”

Lucille looked at Patsy, and then shook her head. “I’ve never known what it is to be society’s darling, Patsy, so I’ve never had anything to lose.”

“Maybe you’re lucky that way.”

“No, I don’t think so.”

“Sorry. I shouldn’t have supposed to know.”

Lucille shrugged. “No matter. How would you understand?”

“In any case, Delia Busby ends here, with you. No more discussion, no telling anyone, not even your legions of hangers-on at the club.”

Lucille smirked. “Legions!”

“All right?”

“Of course, Patsy. I can be discreet, I simply don’t prefer to be.”

Patsy gave the Irishwoman a severe eyebrow. “Lucille.”

“Cripes. I will!”

“Besides, it doesn’t even matter,” Patsy continued. “Delia Busby is smitten with someone else.”

Lucille leaned forward, rolled her eyes, and dropped her jaw. “Someone else my arse!”

Patsy would have pressed Lucille on what she meant by that statement, but a young sod in a green sweater came to their snug at that very moment. “Can we buy two pretty girls a cake?”

Patsy immediately reached for a fag to diffuse the situation, but Lucille was annoyed by the interruption, which no doubt happened often to an attractive woman like her. She turned to the lad with a sickeningly-sweet smile and said, “We don’t like cake.”

As the rebuffed man hurried back to his own table, Patsy widened her eyes at Lucille and burst into hysterics. “We don’t like cake, do we?” She laughed so hard she nearly snorted.

*

If Patsy was to tell any person the truth about herself, she’d chosen the right person. But it wasn’t as though she could now tell the world; it wasn’t as though she’d been overcautious before.

The year prior, she’d seen The Children’s Hour with her father at the cinema. In general, Jeremy Mount considered film to be an inferior medium, much less able to convey complexity than stage productions. He’d only wanted to see the American drama because the original theatrical version had been a controversial London smash in a production he had decided not to fund.

In the film, Shirley MacLaine and Audrey Hepburn are teachers forced out of their elite private school based on an allegation that the two women are lovers.

In the darkened theatre, Patsy at first shifted with discomfort until she thought she ought not to let her father see her squirm. Then she sat as stiff as a board, and as still, for the remaining run of the film; she didn’t even cross or uncross her leg a single time.

In the end, Shirley MacLaine’s character Martha confesses she has always romantically loved Audrey Hepburn’s Karen, but never admitted her feelings to herself. Karen does not reciprocate.

Of course, she doesn’t, thought Patsy. They never do.

In the end, homosexual Martha hangs herself in her room.

Watching this entirely predictable plot, Patsy wanted to wretch, to dissolve into tears against her father’s sport coat, but instead she demonstrated somewhat exaggerated boredom as they left the theatre. Her profession often came in handy. She feigned a yawned as they headed for dinner at a nearby establishment. “Quite tedious, wouldn’t you say?”

“I am moved by the plight of the queer,” her father said, casually, worrying his cheek with his tongue like he did when he was thinking.

Patsy was cheered somewhat by her father’s compassion, though she knew that statement wasn’t the end of his opinion. Jeremy Mount always had complex thoughts on many topics.

“Yes, but…,” Patsy prodded. “Yes, and…”

“That Martha couldn’t help her unnatural proclivities, poor thing. But where she went wrong when she disclosed her feelings to Karen,” Jeremy continued, holding open the door to the restaurant for his daughter.

Her father was silent as they were led to their table, but once they’d been sat he continued. “The queer may not be able to help his proclivities, but surely he must develop his ability to keep them hidden from society. Isn’t that one’s duty, after all, Patience, to hide what is unwanted about oneself from prying eyes?”

Patsy could feel her breaths coming more and more shallowly as she gripped the leather cover of the menu. She couldn’t look up at her father or she would have certainty about her suspicion: he knew about her. He was warning her that he didn’t want to know her truth, and if she must act on her proclivities, she must take great pains to ensure they remained hidden.

But she was tired, oh so tired, of predicting her father and reading his deliberately hidden meanings. “They use the term ‘homosexual’,” she said. “‘Queer’ is rather crass.”

Father and daughter locked eyes for a burning second until she dropped her eyes to the menu again.

“I’m ordering the roast dinner, Patience, as I’m sure you will as well,” Jeremy said.

But when the waiter arrived, Patsy ordered the cottage pie.

*

After a somewhat diminished Lucille and Patsy parted at The French House, the latter decided to take a stroll in the drizzling night. The air was brisk and cool. She was still nervous about Lucille knowing what she did, but Patsy found that she trusted the Irishwoman. She didn’t think tomorrow she’d find an item in The Post extolling “PATIENCE MOUNT: HOMOSEXUAL.”

Patsy breathed in the crisp night air, nearly turning to autumn. She felt like the adolescent she’d never let herself be. Loosening society’s grip on her shoulders, escaping from the extreme pressures of the Mount Legacy.

She knew what she had to do tomorrow. Accept Nils’ invitation to play Brydie and tell her father that her understudy would have to take over Nurse Millicent Beckwith’s role in Ring the Nurses!  

But she couldn’t ponder that anxiety-provoking conversation with her father just now. Now, she must visit Delia.

She did not intend confess her love for Delia or anything so ghastly. She did not love the brunette, at least not yet. But she did want to ask why Delia had given up her chance to play Brydie. The reasonable thing would be to wait to ring Delia in the morning, but Patsy didn’t want to wait. So, she wouldn’t. These days, she was supposed to follow her instincts, wasn’t she? She’d tasked herself with the mission of believing herself.

The redhead wasn’t entirely sure she could even find Delia’s flat. She only knew the vicinity of the Welshwoman’s home, her street, and the colour of her building. She’d likely have to hunt for the right place. But Delia was worth searching out.

She hailed a cabbie and told him to drop her near St Martin’s, which Delia had mentioned was one of her favourite places. When Delia had told Patsy about St Martin’s, Patsy had asked if the Welshwoman was religious.

“Not anymore. Feels like I was in another life,” Delia had said, somewhat wistfully.

“Ain’t safe round there for a lady this time of night,” the cabbie said, of Delia’s neighbourhood.

Oh, please. Patsy thought. Life isn’t always about having a chaperone.

“I’m sure I’ll find my way.”

“I can leave the metre running while you pop in for a Hail Mary,” he said.

“It’s a garden, not a cathedral. Do you know the way?”

He wasn’t listening to her, which made her writhe with anger. She hated being ignored. The cabbie looked at her in the mirror, a glint tinkling his eye. “You like them Catholic chaps, eh? I’m an Anglican myself.”

What men do you like, Patience? Who’s your boyfriend, Patsy? You don’t want to grow into an old maid, do you?  She had been asked so many of these questions, once about her boyfriend, now about her husband. Most people found it very odd that “a fine-looking lady like her” had no chap. Would life always be about lads, even when she was an old woman sucked dry of her spirit by talking about men and what they fancied and how they preferred their tea?

“No, I don’t like Catholic men,” Patsy spat, taking out years of curdled rage on this driver. That wasn’t fair, she knew, but nosing into her private affairs wasn’t fair either.

 “Ah, you fancy Protestants like a good girl, then.” He peered up into his mirror and winked.

Would this cabbie ever shut up? Feeling cheeky and quite annoyed, Patsy said, “No, I’m not too keen them either.”

Stumped silent, the cabbie simply drove the car until they arrived. There did seem to be some shady characters about, but Patsy was all too keen to get out of there. Her money already pulled from her pocketbook, Patsy gave the cabbie a triumphant half-smile as she handed it to him. Apropos of nothing, at least to him, she said, “I don’t think women are as good as men. I think they’re better. Good night!”

*

 How Delia wished that Patsy would have stayed at the audition long enough to witness her act of bravery. Though Delia knew that her conviction should have been enough to have made her sacrifice worth it, she wanted her payoff, Patsy’s everlasting devotion. She smirked when she thought this way, but God Almighty, Delia Busby wasn’t a saint!

Later in the evening, Delia had plans to go out for cocktails with Brigitte to discuss her failure to actually take part in the audition Brigitte had set up. After all, the brunette didn’t want to seem ungrateful. Besides, she had an itchy little business that she was putting off – telling Brigitte that she didn’t fancy her.

Delia put on a frumpy frock – a yellow, bumpy-fabric thing that her mother had sewn her – that she only held on to out of sentimental value. Maybe there was some self-protection in her wardrobe choice; perhaps she wanted Brigitte to simply turn off her affections. Aside from Mam, the Busbys had never been people who enjoyed confrontation. But as she fluffed the sleeves in the mirror, she chuckled to herself – the dress was quite ridiculous. She wanted to turn Brigitte down, not humiliate her!

But when Delia decided to change clothes, she heard a surprise ring of her front door buzzer. Brigitte was frightfully early! She wasn’t supposed to arrive for another half-hour yet. Delia knew she would have to answer herself because Phyllis was out with her nursing colleagues, under the guise of preparing for the protest when Delia suspected they were drinking cordials for liquid courage.

Annoyed, Delia zipped herself into the yellow frock and went to retrieve the door.

Brigitte was not behind the door. It was Patsy. The sudden appearance of the redhead made Delia’s breath stutter in her ribcage. Patsy always looked so frightfully gorgeous. Now, though she seemed out of breath and was smoothing her beehive, the redhead’s eyes were still bright, and her lipstick was still perfect.

“Am I interrupting?” Patsy said, easily peering over Delia’s shoulder.

“How did you know where I lived?” Delia blurted.

“I’m something of the detective,” Patsy grinned. “They’re courting me at Scotland Yard, in fact.”

Delia, still shocked to find the redhead on her doorstep, ushered Patsy onto the sofa. She certainly hoped that she hadn’t left the photo she’d clipped of Patsy lying around somewhere in plain view. “It’s a frightful mess in here,” Delia started, reaching for the plates and cup she’d left out from tea, “and I look absurd and you look so nice and –” Delia cut herself off with a deep breath – “what are you doing here, Pats?”

“Lucille told me what happened today,” Patsy said, patting the cushion next to her. Delia sat where instructed. “I’m afraid I don’t understand. You gave up something you’d so wanted.”

This morning at the Arts Theatre, Delia had known she was doing the right thing. Even later, she hadn’t felt the sense of sinking dread she often experienced after making hasty decisions. But how would she reveal the truth without letting Patsy on to the way she felt about her?

Delia sighed and began to try to explain. “In the moment, I knew that you were better than I was. You more suited for the role, I suppose. More fitting.”

Patsy nodded. “You didn’t have to be the judge of that, you know, Deels. Nils and Lucille could have made up their own minds.”

“I don’t regret what I did,” Delia said.

“Good.”

“I only have brothers, and they always ended disputes by knocking one another about,” Delia continued, speaking with more confidence as she went on.

Patsy furrowed her eyebrows at the surprising response to her question. “Right…?”

“But when I went to school, I had to learn I couldn’t just push over the girls when they made me mad like I did my brothers. Girls can hold onto grudges, and they can have long memories, like when I stole a Helen’s pencil in primary four, or when a lad Gretchen liked invited me to the formal. I didn’t want something like a silly audition to get in the way of our friendship, Pats.”

Patsy looked surprised. “You did that for our friendship?”

“You might not have been jealous right away, Pats, but when I became an international film star, you might have changed your mind.” Delia winked.

Patsy looked back and forth across Delia’s face. The redhead seemed overcome – were those tears in her eyes? “Sweetheart, I would never let jealousy get in the way.”

Delia felt that Patsy wanted to embrace her, the air thick with their closeness, but the redhead didn’t move.

“Even if you did win the role, Deels,” Patsy continued, “I wouldn’t hold it against you. You’re more important to me than any role. Don’t you know that?”

After that, Delia knew that Patsy was going to embrace her, and she waited in that turgid air to be enveloped in Patsy’s scent and then - her front door buzzed.

Patsy jolted back, as if awakened from a dream. She shot up from the couch with a clearing of her throat, as Delia sat there, frozen. Had Delia been imagining the heated charge between them?

The front buzzer sounded again. Patsy, now pacing by the window, said, “Aren’t you going answer it?”

Delia knew who was at the door. And she knew how Patsy felt about the woman at the door. Though Delia had come to appreciate the Frenchwoman’s companionship, now she wished she could simply poof the woman into oblivion. Delia just sat there, trying to come up with a solution that wouldn’t materialise.

“Well?” Patsy said again.

Delia trudged to the door.

“Good evening, mon amour,” Brigitte said, kissing Delia’s cheeks.

Delia couldn’t handle Brigitte at the moment. Surely, the Frenchwoman didn’t mean what she’d said. Surely Brigitte didn’t love her.

“Hi, Brigitte,” Delia said, supposing she sounded dreary. Had she ruined a wonderful moment with Patsy, the only one of its kind? She hadn’t let herself believe romance with Patsy was possible, and now had it just been snatched away?

Patsy had opened a window and was sitting on the jam, holding a smoking cigarette. Rain pattered softly on the pavement. Seeing Patsy there in her navy-blue frock and her bright hair, Delia nearly fainted with lust. But Patsy seemed nonplussed by what had happened; she wasn’t even watching to see who was at the door.

Delia decided she had been wrong. The closeness between them had been simply comradeship, compassion that Patsy felt for her friend’s good heartedness.

“Hello, Patience,” Brigitte smiled, tipping her head forward to Patsy.

Patsy turned to look. “Brigitte,” she called back.

“It seems we continue to meet unexpectedly,” Brigitte said. “Perhaps we should make plans to meet on purpose!”

“Someday, I’m sure we shall!” Patsy said back, pleasantly enough, though Delia detected a hint of sarcasm.

“Shall we go then, Delia?” Brigitte asked. “I’m sure Patsy can show herself out.”

“I will take care of Patsy myself, thank you very much, Brigitte,” Delia said, quietly. She glanced to see how Patsy would respond to her admonishment, but the redhead was still staring out the window.

“Where are you two off to?” Patsy said nonchalantly.

“We have a date at The Pink Mongoose,” Brigitte said. Women were accustomed to going on “dates” with other women, but Delia knew Brigitte was coding something specific to Patsy.

“We’re just having cocktails,” Delia hurried to mention. “It’s rather more of a business meeting than anything as cheery as a date.”

“Mm,” Patsy said, rising from the window and offering cheery smiles to both women. “Have fun, ladies! There’s a hot bath at my flat with name on it, I’m afraid, so I must be going.” She swung on her handbag, removing her umbrella and gloves from inside. “Right, I’m off then. Thanks again, Delia!”

Delia sighed. Patience Mount was unflappable. If only Delia could think of a way to stop the redhead from leaving. But she couldn’t, and she didn’t, and then there was Patsy’s back, disappearing down the stairs.

As soon as Patsy was gone, Brigitte folded her fingers into Delia’s. Delia recoiled at the Frenchwoman’s touch, where Patsy’s might have been. “Don’t, Brigitte,” Delia said, brushing off the Frenchwoman and hurrying to the window to watch Patsy hail a cab.

“I’m certainly glad that I found you first, darling,” Brigitte said, crossing her tan-stockinged legs onto Delia’s sofa. “Otherwise, I fear Miss Mount would have acquired you, like one of her many other pretty things.”

“What are you going on about?” Delia felt as depressed as she ever had as she watched the taxi pull up and Patsy step off the kerb into it.

“Patience Mount is obviously in love with you,” Brigitte said.

Delia whirled around to glare at the Frenchwoman. Nothing could be less true. Brigitte spent too much time around homosexuals and had simply gotten her wires crossed.

“Why would you possibly think that?” Delia asked.

Brigitte pulled herself from off the couch and walked slowly towards Delia, staring at her the whole time. Delia felt suddenly quite frumpy in her yellow frock as Brigitte wrapped her arms round Delia’s neck. Very close to Delia’s mouth, Brigitte licked her lips and whispered, “Because I know the language of love.”

Then the Frenchwoman pressed the back of Delia’s head with her hand, drawing their lips closer and closer together – until Delia broke away with a gasp, stumbling backwards and shattering a ceramic planter of Phyllis’ onto the floor.  

Brigitte certainly did not speak the language of love. The Frenchwoman couldn’t even tell that Delia was cold to her affections, no matter how many times Delia rebuffed her. Brigitte might have absurd notions about how Patsy felt about Delia, but the Frenchwoman was entirely misguided in romance.

Chapter Text

Brigitte was likely wrong about Patsy, but Delia suddenly couldn’t stand to be without the redhead, on that dark and drizzling night. Though of course she would see Patsy again, she needed her now. Irrationally, Delia would be devastated to watch the red lights of Patsy’s taxi fade down the block. She needed to catch Patsy if she could. Reason caught in her throat, and she knew with certainty that she must be with Patsy tonight.

“Brigitte, I’ve taken ill,” Delia said, pushing the Frenchwoman toward the door. “Quickly. And rather violently.” She shoved Brigitte’s coat into her arms and opened the door behind the woman’s head. She pushed the Frenchwoman out into the hall.

Delia grabbed her own overcoat and buttoned it over her yellow dress.

Brigitte started, “I’m happy to take care of you—”

“You’re too kind, but I’m off for my lozenges. They can’t be beat!” Delia backed down the hallway, waving to Brigitte. “I’m taking the back entry, a quicker route, you see, but the front exit is much more efficient for you. So long!” Delia didn’t want Brigitte to see her with Patsy, but once the Frenchwoman had headed into the stairwell, she hurried down the corridor. 

As Delia raced down the stairwell toward the back entry, she worried that she would not catch Patsy’s taxi. And if she did catch it, what would she say? That she wanted to continue the moment before Brigitte interrupted? That she wanted to feel the heat from Patsy’s body on this cold evening? Delia didn’t know what she would say, but her legs were moving her forward all the same. 

Delia pushed open the door onto the slick, rain-drenched street where Patsy’s taxi had just taken off down the street. Delia sprinted after it – her rough-and-tumble childhood giving her speed – shouting Patsy’s name. The taxi was luckily moving slowly through the narrow and vehicle-jumbled passageway, so Delia was able to make it to Patsy’s window, where she flailed her arms until Patsy noticed.

The redhead startled, her eyebrows jumping. She asked the driver to stop the car. Delia motioned for her to crank down the window, and when she did, Patsy called, “Dear lord, Delia, has President Kennedy given the go-ahead on nuclear war?”

Delia was winded and felt ineloquent, but she had to be brave. If she hadn’t forced herself to take risks, she would be at home in Wales,  with a skinny husband and a pot of cawl on the burner. “I realised, Patsy,” she managed to stammer, “that I hadn’t even offered you a cup of tea. I found this to be a grave error.”

“No tea? How frightfully improper!” Patsy grinned, and then she laughed, and that lit-up woman made the dark street seem like mid-day, in springtime. Delia didn’t notice her wet hair or her burning calves, and she laughed, too, half-bent over, and peering at Patsy in the backseat.

“Driver, I’ve reached my destination,” Patsy said, reaching into her handbag for the fare.

“Aw, miss, that hardly makes up the cost for turning over the ignition!" Delia heard the man call from the front seat. 

“This should more than cover your trouble,” Patsy said, paying the driver and opening the taxi door.

Then Patsy stepped up from the taxi, into Delia’s arms. That’s how it seemed to Delia, like a blissful falling, like a fitting together. Feared lost, they embraced each other. Patsy’s wool coat scratched Delia’s cheek, and the brunette could smell the spicy floral of the Patsy’s perfume. She had known Patsy’s coat would be rough, she had known that Patsy’s scent would be spicy rose, but her feeling at this moment was nothing like what she thought she had known. This was different; Patsy was enveloping her. Delia was overwhelmed in illumination, in final, blissful knowing.

Delia, determined to be brave, whispered into Patsy’s ear, “I should have done that ages ago.”

“Yes,” Patsy agreed. “You should have.”

*

Fearing the embrace had grown too long for Patsy, for the solitary walker on the other side of the street, Delia pulled away from the embrace she could have held forever. She grew shy as the warmth of their two bodies together faded into the chill of the street. Her statement, and Patsy’s agreement with it, left little room for interpretation. Could it be? Delia dipped her head, too bashful to even raise her eyes to Patsy. “Care to come in for that cuppa then?”

“Delia, we’re soaking wet, froze, and we might get arrested for loitering on the street," Patsy said drolly, as impenetrable as ever. “You needn’t inquire again.”

“Right,” Delia said again. If she looked at Patsy, she feared the spell would be broken, and she would see that Patsy was unchanged. Delia was quite familiar with the sting of rejection, but even more so with realization that women didn’t fancy her after all. So many times, her hopes had been crushed. She suspected this time was different, but she couldn’t entirely believe it.

“This way,” Delia said. “It’s my secret route.” She led Patsy in through the back staircase to her flat, all concrete and slapdash paint. “When I was a child, I always cut through the woods to shorten my travel time.” She peered into the corridor to see if Brigitte was lingering, but the coast was clear. “You know, my path to and from home, to church, to school, and I’ve always done the same as an adult.”

Delia was babbling; she was nervous. “You’d be surprised at how easy it is to be alone in the big city, if you just get off the high street even just a bit.” Delia led Patsy down the corridor, unlocked the door, and entered the flat. She was having trouble taking a deep breath, her spirits high and fluttering, and her nervousness spiralled when she called out for Phyllis. She prayed that the older nurse was not at home. Her hopes were answered; Phyllis had not returned.

Delia didn’t know what she hoped would happen that evening, but she knew that she wanted to be alone with Patsy.

“You’re being awfully quiet, Patience Mount!” Delia continued, aiming to fill the silent room with chatter, and she glanced up at Patsy. The redhead’s face was neutral; Delia couldn’t believe a consummate actress did not give more of her sincere feelings away. 

“No matter, I’ll talk enough for us both, then!” Delia went on. “How do you take your tea?” Delia continued, walking toward the kitchen. Patsy followed her.

“Well-”

Delia was positively flummoxed now; she simply could not stop talking. “I personally take a milky brew, more milk than tea, really, but I’ve been preferring Earl Grey to English Breakfast these days.”

Delia pulled down the tea box from the cabinet to offer Patsy choices, and when she turned to gesture the box toward the redhead, Patsy pushed Delia back against the countertop, forcing the Welshwoman to brace the pair of them against the counter. Patsy looked into Delia’s eyes and then flashed to her lips before she lowered herself to kiss the brunette. Delia felt a strand of Patsy’s loose hair brush against her cheek. Again, Delia was enveloped in the redhead’s perfume, but now she felt Patsy’s soft lips against her own, the swell of her chest, the warm heat of the taller woman’s hands round her back.

Delia wanted to circle her hands round Patsy’s neck, but just as she felt the lustful press of the redhead’s body against her own, Patsy pulled away.

A dazed grin on her face, Patsy darted her eyes shyly to the floor and murmured a half-drunk sounding, “Good night, Delia.” And then Patsy, with her trademark dash, was out the door. Delia, heart pounding and stumbling with ardour, made her way as a slowly as a drunkard toward her front door. Confused and lustful, Delia opened the door to whoop a thrilled goodnight to the redhead, but all she heard was the slam of the heavy door leading out to the stairway. Patsy was already gone.

 

Chapter Text

As Patsy rushed down the street after the kiss at Delia’s flat, she had the sensation that she was spinning. The cause of the feeling was unclear; it could have been elation or terror, or some heady mixture of the two. Patsy didn’t like the feeling at all, she was not yet used to losing control as often as she had been lately. She needed to get across town, away from Delia. She did not want to think of Delia’s face, likely forlorn and confused in that undersized flat. Patsy frantically hailed a taxi, sure that Delia would follow her again down the street.

At home, Patsy closed her front door and bolted it. She poured herself too much gin and sank onto her sofa to drink it. She didn’t enjoy the alcohol. It burned as she drank it down. Delia’s upturned face and closed eyes sprang into her mind. She and Delia. A smile perked at her lips. She and Delia! It was too much to believe; she could scarcely accept what had happened.

But a dread listed in her stomach. What if Delia would tell someone, like Trixie or father? She’d gotten close to girls and women before, perhaps not in entirely the same way, who had used her for her fame or social connections. Delia was different than those other women, wasn’t she? But Patsy hadn’t known Delia very long; the Welshwoman could harbour intentions that would shock and surprise her. Patsy felt too inexperienced to know for certain.

Then there was the matter of Ring the Nurses! It was late in the evening, but Patsy knew her father always slunk round his house until the wee hours of the morning before retiring. Opening night of Ring the Nurses! opening was fast approaching, and one thing was certain: Patsy would not be playing Millicent Beckwith. She knew her behaviour was dreadfully unprofessional, but what did she owe her father? He had already taken so much from her. As the gin took hold, she decided that this slight - being thrown off-kilter - was precisely what her father deserved.

He was at home in the country but would be coming into the city in three days for the Ring the Nurses! premiere. Director Neil Sebring had to be informed of Patsy’s departure, as well, but there was nothing Neil could say to her that her father couldn’t. She rang Jeremy Mount.

“Hello, Father,” she said, when he seemed to yank the receiver from its handle on the third ring.

“Patience, is something the matter?” he said matter-of-factly, always at the ready to take charge.

The gin made her woozy, and she tipped her head up to look at the ceiling. She was feeling rather unwell now, with the kiss and the confrontation and the gin. Two headlong collisions into her fears was far too much for one evening. “Father, I have what I’m afraid you’ll see as terrible news, ”she said

“God, Patience, you’re being cagey. Do come out with it, or you’ll give your poor father an aneurysm.”

Patsy took a deep breath and released it. Waiting wouldn’t make her news any more palatable; her choices would be the same in the morning. “I’ve taken a role in a production at the Arts Theatre. In a play called Travelers on River Severn.”

Patsy listened to the pause on the other end. “The Arts Theatre? Does anyone even go to the Arts Theatre? For what bloody reason would you think that a suitable move for your career?”

“My career is about challenging roles and - ”

“Christ, Patience, if you would have let me know you were interested in a non-commercial venture, I would have offered a charitable donation! When does this thing begin, after all, Ring the Nurses! could run for months or—”

“I’m not going to play Nurse Beckwith.”

Another pause. “What do you mean?”

“I have a sound understudy, Barbara Gilbert, she’s more committed—”

“Like hell you’re not, Patience!”

Patsy paused, her stomach sinking. She knew he wouldn’t react well, but perhaps she’d been hoping for him to surprise her. He certainly was not at the moment. 

“We open in three days, foolish girl!” he continued. “You can’t be serious, Patience. Have you lost your mind?”

“I’m drawn to this production, and I need to go off on my own.” She spoke in a voice that sounded small to her, like she was a child asking for a treat.

“You can’t do this.”

She sighed. “I have, and I am.”

“This isn’t about the theatre, dear girl,” he spat. “I wasn’t born yesterday. I know what you think of me and how I’ve behaved.”

Patsy’s rage erupted across her chest, and suddenly she was gripping the phone receiver in a vice. “I know my own mind,” she hissed.

“Like hell you do!”

That was enough; Patsy was finished. “Then perhaps I’m grown enough to stop wasting my time on such pathetic company.”

She slammed down the phone and stared at it as though it might leap from its handle. She wondered if she’d meant what she said to her father, but she realized, right away, that she had. Though she wasn’t sure if her father had been the only pathetic one. He certainly wasn’t alone. Patsy recognized that she herself had been miserably weak, too.

*

The next morning, Patsy hadn’t come round like Delia thought she might, perhaps with a daffodil in a jar. The redhead hadn’t rung or dropped off a card. Delia didn’t know what to do. Delia had woken with an emotion that had surprised her: she was angry with Patsy. 

She might not even see Patsy today. Surely the redhead would have to tell her father that she would be dropping out of Ring the Nurses! soon enough; the show was opening in three days. Though Delia was about to do the same thing, she couldn’t help thinking Patsy’s quitting the play so close to opening night was more than inconvenient; it verged on cruel. Delia of course didn’t know the nature of Patsy’s relationship with her father, but it seemed like it would inevitably get worse now.

Delia dreaded the dress rehearsal that day because she feared Patsy would not appear. Outside the theatre, she lingered near a sweets shop, peering at the patisserie in the window for far too long, until she made herself go through the theatre’s double doors and into the backstage to search for Patsy.

She searched the corridors and the green room and several dressing rooms, but Patsy was nowhere to be found. In a bout of passive aggression, someone had even removed the redhead’s nameplate from in front of her dressing room door. And why not? Delia grew angrier with the redhead, too, as she pondered the night before. Patsy had simply launched herself out of her flat last night after the kiss. Patsy might have been frightened, but did Patsy think Delia had loads of experience with women? Did she think Delia was not afraid, too? No, Patsy didn’t think about anything but her leaping heart instructing her to get out of there.

Delia knew one of her best qualities was her ability to remain.

When Delia arrived, Trixie nearly immediately caught her elbow and hissed, “Why didn’t you tell me about this?”

Delia knew what had happened – Patsy had quit like she said she would. But she couldn’t tell Trixie the truth, so she played coy. “Tell you about what, Trix?”

Trixie pulled her into an empty dressing room. “Patsy’s up and quit the play. That’s all Neil will say, he’s beside himself, really, he’s in Dressing Room 8 flipping through the script rather despondently. Barbara is near hysterics; she’s the understudy, but she didn’t bother to learn all Nurse Beckwith’s lines.”

“Oh, dear.” Delia sighed.

Trixie saw right through her. “You knew about this, didn’t you? I knew she was having her teenage rebellion at the audition, but I never thought she’d take it this far.”

“I did know, Trix,” Delia admitted. “But only for a few days.”

“Couldn’t you have at least told poor old Barbara?”

Delia shook her head, shrugged a sorry. 

Trixie looked away, a small smile on her face. “I have to give it to Patsy, though. She’s a scene stealer, even when she isn’t here.”

Delia wanted to put on a cheeky grin at Patsy putting them all in the lurch, but at the moment, she discovered she could not even force a smile.

*

Patsy was nearly incapacitated with anxiety the morning after she kissed Delia and called her father. She woke up groggy and embarrassed, wishing she had controlled herself better with Delia. She should have taken the brunette out first and ensured the Welshwoman’s silence and self-control. Patsy shouldn’t have been so rash and then perhaps she could have felt better now. Why couldn’t she have waited to break from her father until after Ring the Nurses! was over?

But of course, if she would have waited to break from her father until later, she never would have done it. If she hadn’t kissed Delia that night in her flat, she never would have done it.

These were truths, Patsy knew, but she wished she could settle with them a bit more easily.

After drinking several cups of coffee and eating far too much pastry, Patsy itched to leave her apartment. She headed where she always did when she wanted to relax, the British Museum. She knew the irony of going to the place her father loved, but she thought spending the afternoon among anonymous Egyptian relics would get her mind off things.

In Trafalgar Square, Patsy realised how wrong she’d been. Thousands of nurses, unmasked and in full uniform stood with their picketing squares, asking for better pay. Signs read “EMPTY PURSES MEAN FEWER NURSES!” and “LESS NURSES MEAN MORE HEARSES!” Patsy smirked at their puns and then pondered what they said. Her life had been difficult for a few years in Singapore, but she could blame that poverty on the Japanese, not on her own countrymen. How could one remain loyal to a country that didn’t even recognise the value of their profession?

Patsy was going to applaud the nurses’ strike with righteous indignation and head into the museum when she saw the person she most wanted to avoid – Delia. Delia held a sign next to a cadre of older nurses, and with her dimpled cheeks and her neat hair, Patsy could easily believe she was one of them. Her sweet, yet uncompromising, manner would make her a fine nurse. Perhaps this ability to metamorphosize was what made her such a fine actress, though; she was able to transform herself completely.

Patsy was still in the mood to slink by, but here was the burden of having bright red hair: Delia spotted her right away. Patsy cursed her attention-grabbing coif; perhaps she would have to go back to being a blonde.

*

After rehearsal ended, Delia attended Phyllis’ protest as she’d promised. She thought there might be very few attendees, but Delia was shocked when thousands upon thousands of women – and a few men – protested the nurses’ wages. Delia in fact felt a swell of pride in standing with these workers; she could understand the value of standing up for oneself and one’s worth.

“Reconsidering your area of expertise, eh, lass?” Phyllis winked at her, as Delia scanned the crowd.

“I just admire you, is all,” Delia said, feeling surprisingly moved.

“I admire us, too,” Phyllis said. “Nurses are a different breed.”

Delia pondered what it might be like to have such a direct impact on a person’s life daily, when she spotted a woman with a shock of red hair across the square. Patsy!

Patsy had seen Delia, that was for certain. Though they were metres apart, they spotted each other, like they were beacons for one another through the storm. But Delia wasn’t feeling romantic, she was feeling rather hostile. What would Patsy have done if they hadn’t bumped into one another like this, in unexpected circumstances? Would the redhead simply have kissed her and then disappeared into the abyss of her own uncertainty? Delia couldn’t abide Patsy’s wishy-washy nature. If they hadn’t happened to run into each other today, would they have ever even spoken again?

Delia was close to Patsy, close enough that they locked eyes and Patsy had put on one of her simpering, forgive-me-please half-smiles. Delia wanted nothing more than to run to Patsy and kiss her again, but she felt that the redhead shouldn’t always be forgiven. Patsy believed Delia’s heart was stronger than it was.

Delia turned around and tried to bury herself in the crowd of shouting nurses. It shouldn’t have been hard. But Patsy was fighting; Patsy was fighting for her. “Delia!” Patsy shouted. Delia burrowed further between strong shoulders and bobbing protest signs. “Delia, wait!” the redhead called, more unabashed than Delia had ever seen her.

But Delia wasn’t going to wait. Not this time.

 

Chapter Text

Patsy followed Delia’s bobbing ponytail for as she could. If she weren’t upset by Delia’s departure, Patsy would laugh; the Welshwoman was behaving a lot like Patsy herself usually did. She was running. If Delia didn’t want to be caught, Patsy wouldn’t catch her. Patsy’s heart couldn’t take the fight. When she paused for a moment to catch her breath, the short woman disappeared, lost in a crowd of moving, seething nurses.

Patsy stood there, breathing heavily. The day was frigid, but in the sea of bodies, she was almost warm.

“Here you go, lass,” a sturdy older woman tried to hand Patsy a protest sign.

“I’m not a nurse,” Patsy replied, pushing the sign back.

“Doesn’t matter,” the nurse said again.

“All right, then,” Patsy said. Though she didn’t feel comfortable enough to shout, Patsy took a sign that read “SOME CUTS DON’T HEAL.” She bobbed it up and down along with her neighbor. “I admire you for seeking better wages,” she said to the older woman who had given her the sign.

“Oh, this isn’t for me,” the woman barked. “I’m near retirement, lass. It’s for these young folks, a travesty the pittance they’re getting.”

Patsy nodded, impressed. Would she, if pressed, picket a theatre company for paying one of her co-stars too little? She didn’t know if she would. Looking around, she saw nurses of all ages, backgrounds, and classes. She had never witnessed so much solidarity in her own career. While she had a few actress friends, many of the women were far too competitive with one another to be supportive. But perhaps some of her isolation was Patsy's fault alone. She had pushed people away and had been too cold, too closed off, from a community.

Then she remembered the good. The people who stuck by her. One person who had always been there for her, her surprising advocate, Trixie. The blonde might not have seemed like she would be a supportive friend, but she had, in fact, always rooted for Patsy. And all Patsy had done was throw her friend over for Delia, and quit the show they were in together without a word.

Patsy was overcome with an idea, so she handed the woman back her sign. “Good luck to you,” she said.

“Good luck to you, too, lass,” the woman called, as Patsy faded back into the crowd.

*

 

Delia wandered through the sea of nurses, looking out for Phyllis. She felt terrible for leaving the older woman in a lurch. She’d told her gruffly dear roommate that she’d support her in this effort, and then she’d disappeared without a word. But after circling around the approximate location for fifteen minutes, Delia finally spotted Phyllis’ permed head.

“Sorry I was gone so long,” Delia said, scooting back next to the older woman and squeezing her arm. “I couldn't find you again.” 

“No bother,” Phyllis said. “I just wondered if you’d disappeared into the ether!”

“No such luck,” Delia said, feeling suddenly, if not surprisingly, glum.

“You’ll never guess who dropped by to show her support,” Phyllis said.

“Who, the Queen?” Delia smirked.

“That stage actress, Patience Mount! I saw her once in a standing-room only section of Oliver!” Phyllis said.

Delia blushed in hearing someone else say Patsy’s name. Delia had been so enamored with Patsy, first the Patsy she imagined and then the Patsy she knew, that she hadn’t been able to drop the redhead’s name into conversation with Phyllis without blushing. Phyllis had no idea that Delia even knew Patsy, let alone was friends with her.

“I know you’re quite the fan,” Phyllis turned to Delia with a knowing look, “so I’m terribly disappointed you missed seeing her.”

Phyllis was dreadfully intuitive, Delia knew. But how could she have known about this? She'd never even seen the two of them together. But, Delia recognized with some horror, perhaps the older woman had seen the pictures she'd clipped of Patsy from the magazine. Would Phyllis mind what Delia was, what she was to Patsy? At that moment, though, it seemed Phyllis cared very little about Delia and her proclivities; she was chanting in a very hearty unison, “WE ARE WORTH MORE!”

*

Patsy went to the nearest phone box nearest Trafalgar Square to call Trixie. The blonde picked up the receiver after a few rings.

“Trixie speaking,” the blonde said, as chipper as always.

“Hi, Trixie, it’s me.”

“And who might ‘me’ be?” Trixie prissed. “Perhaps I once had a friend called ‘me,’ but I haven’t heard from her in ages.”

Patsy knew Trixie was hurt but was covering her feelings with blitheness. In many circumstances, Patsy would have done the same.

“Do you have anything on tonight, Trix?” Patsy asked. “I owe you a dinner.”

“Well, there’s a Paul who might be taking me out,” Trixie paused. “Though he did say he’d drop anything, day or night, whenever I might be able to spare him an hour.”

“Does that mean you’ll go?”

“I will, sweetie, though I’m not sure you entirely deserve that moniker. But I want you to take me somewhere where I can wear my new dress.”

Patsy rolled her eyes, pleased that Trixie was the same as always - wanting to be seen. “How’s the Mirabelle?”

Patsy pictured Trixie’s eyes boggling at the restaurant on offer. “Can you simply get us in there, at the drop of a hat?”

“My father knows the owner, so any Mount – or rather, the two Mounts currently in existence – always have a table waiting. Meet me there at 7 o’clock.”

*

When Delia and Phyllis returned to their flat, Delia had a surprising telegram slid under the door. “Who sends telegrams anymore?” Delia murmured as she stooped to pick it up.

“Young lady, without the humble telegram, we would all be living under Mr. Hitler’s control!” Phyllis admonished her, as she heated the stove on the burner.

“One must know when to let go of an old-fashioned technology,” Delia winked at Phyllis' chagrin. 

The telegram was from a surprising sender, Jeremy Mount.

It read:

Delia,

As circumstances have changed for Ring the Nurses! recently I have decided to shift marketing tactics somewhat. Please come to Basinghall Street 104 tomorrow at half-past noon for photographs. Your costume will be prepared but wear hair and makeup.

-J Mount

Delia knew what the telegram meant. Since Patsy would no longer be the lead in the musical, Mr. Mount didn’t want his daughter's face on the poster plastered around town. Patsy was something of a name in the London theatre, and if she wasn’t going to appear in the production, legions of her fans would be disappointed. Delia was a no-name, but at least the person the attendees would see on the poster was who they would actually get.

“You look like you’ve seen a ghost, lass. Is something the matter?” Phyllis asked.

In other circumstances, Delia would be elated. And she should be now. Patsy hadn't been dishonorably discharged from Ring the Nurses! The redhead had made her choice. But Delia, ever devoted to Patsy, still felt disloyal.

*

Patsy dressed in something modest because she wanted to give Trixie the opportunity to be admired at the restaurant. She wore a navy dress with a high neckline and a shimmering diamond bracelet around her wrist. She left her hair down because when she was a child, her mother had always told her that her neck was her best feature. She’d had so few experiences with romance as an adult that she didn’t know for sure, but she didn’t want to take any chances.

Patsy arrived at the restaurant a few minutes before seven o’clock. “Trixie!” she called, when she saw the blonde, waiting for her in a silver knit dress that clung to hips.

The blonde looked annoyed. “The maître d said that he had no reservation under Mount!” she called.

Patsy was surprised. The Mount name always was enough to secure a table, even if the Mirabelle was jammed. Posh people cowered in fright at the Mount surname when it was wielded by Jeremy, and only to a somewhat lesser degree, his daughter.

“I’ll set them straight, Trix,” she said, squeezing Trixie’s arm. “Follow me.”

“Hello, madam,” the maître d said in heavily-accented English when they came through the door. “Do we have a reservation tonight?”

“Not explicitly,” Patsy said cheerfully, “but you always hold a table for my family. Surname of Mount.”

He ran his pen down a list of names in a book, looking solemn. “We’re terribly busy tonight. So, I'm afraid we have no open tables.”

Patsy’s body stilled. Never, in her years in London, had she had difficulty securing a table at a restaurant or a theatre. Her surname was her ticket to anywhere. There had to be some mix-up. “There must be some mistake,” Patsy said, glancing at an anxious Trixie. “Mount. As in Jeremy Mount.”

The maître d looked at her sadly. “There’s no mistake, madam. We’re entirely full. Not a single open table in the whole restaurant.”

Patsy couldn’t remember what her father’s friend’s name was here. But it was worth a try. “I’d like to see your manager. He always saves us a table.”

The maître d leaned closer to Patsy. “I’m afraid there’s no use, Miss. Your father was here a few days ago, and he said we shouldn’t let his daughter Patsy, a tall redhead,” - he looked her up and down - “use his special table.”

Patsy was so shocked that she forgot where she was standing, and in taking a step away from him, nearly stumbled over a tall stair. “Thank you,” she managed to mutter, as she hurried out into the night, Trixie on her heels.

“Patsy, what was that about?” Trixie asked, throwing out her hands.

“My father is blackballing me, there and everywhere!” Patsy said, flummoxed by the extent of her father’s cruelty. She had seen Jeremy go to great lengths of undermine those who had wronged him, but until tonight, Patsy never thought he’d do the same to her. There were at least a dozen of these sought-after establishments at which the Mounts had had special privileges. Had her father really barred her from all of them?

*

Trixie pulled a distraught Patsy across the street to a nondescript pub in the basement of an old building. The mostly male clientele stared at them as they entered and took a booth in the back of the establishment. They were completely overdressed.

“Sweetie, why didn’t you tell me that you were quitting the show?” Trixie started in on Patsy almost immediately.

“I would have—”

“I wish I could have know so I could give you advice.”

“You would have said that I should stick it through, right?” Patsy said.

“No,” Trixie’s eyes glimmered and she pursed her lips into a smile. “I would have advised you to do exactly what you did!”

“You would?” Patsy looked at her friend hopefully.

“A person cannot fully live if she remains under her parent’s thumb forever, Patsy. If I would have listened to my mother, I would have been a stewardess for British Airways.”

Patsy laughed. “At least you’d still be glamorous.”

“Yes, but I’d have to let inebriated men grab my behind with no recourse!”

“I don’t know what I did to deserve a friend like you,” Patsy said. “I’m stand-offish and stubborn and a regular narcissist.”

“Patsy, stop,” Trixie said. “I may not always like you, but I always love you. You know why that is?”

Patsy shook her head.

“Because I know you’ll do the same for me.” Trixie squeezed her friend’s hand. “And besides, Ring the Nurses! is going to be fine. I’ve been running lines with Barbara, andshe’s going to be a smash.”

“Really?”

Trixie took a sip of the tea she’d ordered, much to Patsy’s relief. The blonde shook her head. “Sadly, no. She’s bungling the lines left and right, but she’s very endearing.”

Patsy smiled, staring at the table. Was it too much to hope that Ring the Nurses! would work out? While Patsy didn’t care if her father lost money, she wanted her friends to be successful.

“And that Delia Busby’s a little workhorse, isn’t she?” Trixie continued. “She won’t anyone say a word against you and your decision. She’s sticking up for you to anyone who offers a sour word.”

Patsy smiled, surprised and delighted. Perhaps Delia didn’t hate her after all.

“What’d you do, old girl, to get her to talk about you so reverentially?” Trixie elbowed Patsy. “Pay her the last of your inheritance?”

Patsy laughed again. “I’m glad to hear that she still likes me.”

“Of course she does, silly. I hope you prove that you’re worth defending.”

“What do you mean?”

“You’ve got to talk to your father. Even if you can’t use the family name to get into places, you should be able to go anywhere you want in the city. If we can’t even eat at Mirabelle, how will I ever get to stare at William Holden over a perfect medium-rare porterhouse?”

*

The day after she’d received the telegram, Delia had arrived at the location requested early, running into Barbara Gilbert, who was also on her way up. In the lift together, Barbara looked at Delia with terror on her face. “I always wanted to be the lead in a big show,” she said, “but I wanted it more slowly. Ease into it.” She smiled grimly. “Springing into action has never been my strong suit.”

“Mine neither,” Delia admitted.

In a photographer’s studio, Delia and Barbara changed into the uniforms they’d be wearing for the performance. Barbara’s complexion was flattered by the blue of her nursing dress, but Delia felt somewhat foolish standing in front of the bright lights of the professional photographer, rosy-cheeked in her purple nursing gear. Her role might have expanded, but her costume had stayed the same.

The photographer, a skinny man who looked young enough to be called a boy, posed them both smiling and looking serious, together and individually, in front of a bright light. After an hour that exhausted Delia, he said, “That’s all we have time for. I have to get these developed.”

Delia suspected what was happening, but Barbara wasn’t quite there yet. “Why so fast?” she asked.

“We’ve got to cover the posters with the other one, his daughter, in them.”

“You mean Patsy?” Barbara said, quietly, sorrowfully like Patsy had died.

“Yeah, she up and quit, you know.”

“Of course we know!” Delia said, angrily, her brow furrowed. Why would the photographer assume he knew more about Patsy than she did? She and Patsy might not be on the best of terms at the moment, but in many ways, Patsy was hers. 

The photographer backed off. “I’ve got to get developing, ladies. You’re free to go.”

Barbara changed back into her street clothes quickly. “I’ve got to get home. So many lines to memorize, and I never knew what rubbish my memory was until now. And my nerves. They’re rubbish, too.”

“Good luck,” Delia laughed. “You're going to be great, Babs.” 

As the pair of them headed toward the lift, they were caught in the hallway by none other than Jeremy Mount. He was rather debonair in a three-piece pinstriped suit with a pocket watch, and he strode down the hall like he owned the place. Perhaps he did. “Ah, glad I caught you ladies,” he said. Delia found it an awkward place to chat, but she couldn’t insinuate they should go elsewhere. “I wanted to say thank you for stepping in at such a difficult time for this production. You two are my golden hopes,” he laid his hands on either of their shoulders as he continued to speak.

“Thank you,” Barbara said.

Delia just nodded. She could see Jeremy Mount in his daughter, they had similar facial shapes and noses, and they even had a few of the same mannerisms. But Jeremy was more insincere than his daughter. Patsy didn’t often exaggerate, and though she had the ability to lie, the redhead seemed to loathe being insincere.

“I want to make sure that we show my daughter exactly what she has given up. Make her regret her decision. Let's make sure this production is even better without her in it.”

Delia saw a glint of malice in the older man’s eye. He was so well-connected and so rich, with little effort of his own, that Delia wondered if the only excitement he had left in life was making those who had wronged him suffer. She knew that he and Patsy had a fraught relationship even before this, but she hadn’t known that he could be so cruel. She ached for Patsy. If Delia had any power whatsoever, she would quit Ring the Nurses! just to spite Jeremy. But then her career would be over; he would make sure she never worked in London again.

Just then, Delia heard a pair of heels thumping down the plushly-carpeted hallway. As Delia looked up, a bright-cheeked, thin-lipped Patsy came to stand behind her father.

“Father,” she said, curtly, like she wished her word was a sword. “Barbara,” she continued, and then, looking at Delia with a similar anger, “Delia.”

Delia was surprised at Patsy’s anger towards her. Yes, she was here with Patsy’s father, but what did the redhead want, that Delia would drop out of the play, too? Delia hadn’t even known that Jeremy was being cruel to his daughter until about five minutes before. Delia shook her head and dropped her eyes from Patsy. Just like she had predicted when she’d first seen the gleaming, beautiful redhead on the first day of rehearsal, Patsy continued to prove to be the most difficult woman Delia had ever met.

Chapter Text

“You cannot simply revoke my freedom of movement, Father,” Patsy said, sticking her chin up toward Jeremy. She glanced to Barbara and Delia, who she didn't particularly want to be there. But if she stopped now, she knew she would never continue. “I should be able to dine wherever I please.”

“Nothing is stopping you, Patience,” Jeremy simpered back. “It simply seems to me that when you give up the responsibilities of being a Mount, you should also give up its privileges.”

Patsy only heard the core of what he’d said: that she’d given up being a Mount. “I'm still a Mount,” she said. Her rage was simmering, hot and painful, under her skin. She couldn’t lose her temper because her father, as always, would be calm and condescendingly smiling; there was no way she could belittle him without looking like a fool. 

“You can eat anywhere you like,” Jeremy said, speaking like she was being irrational. There was that smile, like Jeremy found her to be an insufferable child, “But you’re just not going to be able to get in on my good name.”

His good name. Like she'd done nothing, like she hadn't helped him all these years. When Patsy stole a glance, she saw Barbara was studying her shoes. It was embarrassing to be here, having this conversation with her father in front of Barbara and Delia. Especially in front of Delia, who couldn’t keep a gawking expression from her face. Delia’s family must be all sweetness and light, their disagreements nothing like the discord bred from moneyed politics and family legacies. 

“I trust you’ll be pleased with your replacement.” Jeremy stood near Barbara, gesturing to her like she was a sculpture in a museum display. “I daresay that Barbara might be even more talented that you are, Patience.”

He was just going to be cruel. Patsy should never have listened to Trixie. She’d known her father would only be nasty. She wasn’t like a daughter to him, or at least not one he’d love unconditionally. He only found her useful when she served the purpose he wanted her to serve. 

She wished her mother was still alive. If she had a mother, perhaps she wouldn’t care so much what Jeremy thought or said about her. Perhaps she wouldn’t try so hard to please him. But if her mother was alive, and Patsy's parents were still married, she would have to wonder about her mother’s character, too, for staying with such a man. As it was, she could think of her mother only in nostalgic memory, as good-hearted.

Patsy couldn’t think of a thing to say, but Delia could. “There’s no need to be cruel to Patsy, Mr. Mount,” the brunette said, quietly, stubbornly.

“Pardon me?” Jeremy said, that same smirk on his face that made it seem that he felt anyone who went against him was a peon.

“Delia, don’t,” Patsy hissed. 

“Patsy was good, and you know it,” Delia continued. “She might have made you mad, Mr. Mount, but you don’t want to be estranged from her forever, do you?”

Jeremy's smile faded, replaced with a stony-faced frown. “This is none of your affair, Miss Busby.”

Barbara looked like she hoped the floor would swallow her through it.

“Delia, please stop!” Patsy said, grabbing onto Delia’s wrist to shut her up. Jeremy couldn't do anything to one of his leads now, but he would, later. He never forgot anyone who crossed him. Delia may have - in less than 60 seconds - ruined her career. 

Patsy stood in front of Delia and spent a long moment glowering at her father. Then she grabbed Delia’s wrist and pulled her down the hallway. Delia looked like a little boxer who kept twisting around like she might pop Jeremy Mount one, but Patsy’s grip was strong, and Delia followed along.

*

At the tea shop, Delia seemed angrier than Patsy was. “I would quit, Pats, really I would,” Delia said, shifting on her chair like she couldn’t keep still. “I will if you want me to.”

Patsy smiled and touched Delia’s hand across the table. “No, don't commit career suicide on my account.”

“He’s so infuriating.” Delia shook her head. “That little smile.”

“I know.” Patsy nodded; her father’s face was all too familiar to her.

“I want to let him have it, Patsy. God, just make him half as mad as he made me. I can’t think of the last time I was so angry.” Then she looked at Patsy like she hadn’t realize the redhead was sitting across from her. “Except at you, just the other night! When you kissed me and then sprinted across town.”

“Keep your voice down!” Patsy whispered.

Delia shook her head again; Patsy's insistence on quiet seemed to only make her madder. “How is it that all the Mounts know how to push my buttons?” she said. 

Patsy shrugged. “We just behave badly and think we can get away with it, I suppose.”

Delia wasn't cracking; she stared out the window into drizzling rain. 

“I’m sorry for running out the other night,” Patsy said, lowering her voice. “I wasn’t upset about what happened. I just, well, panicked.”

“What’d you think it was like for me? Imagining I’d scared you half to death?”

“You knew I wasn’t scared.”

“I thought you weren’t, Pats, but I didn’t know.”

“I’m sorry.”

“I know you don’t want to be like you are, Patsy,” Delia said. “I know you want to be different. But you have to try, you know? You can’t leave me to be the strong one all on my own.”

“I am trying, Deels.” Patsy couldn’t bear to look at Delia, so hopeful and full of expectation, so tired at being let down by Patsy, yet again.

“You'll have to try harder, then,” Delia said, standing up and putting down a money for her tea. Patsy tried to pay the bill from her handbag, but Delia stopped her. “For my poor heart’s sake.”

*

The next morning, the Ring the Nurses! posters with Patsy’s well-known face were papered over with new offerings with Delia and Barbara staring stony-faced at the viewer, their arms crossed. When Delia came across a poster on a dilapidated store front, she wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry. The show opened for previews tomorrow, and there she was, being sold as one of the main attractions. She thought she looked silly, in purple-tinted flounce, but she was supposed to be the reason people came to see the show.

She felt devastated, but mostly just exhausted, from her row with Patsy the night before. If she listened to her feelings, she’d let Patsy do anything she wanted to her, slip into her flat only under the cover of darkness, find an imaginary beau, ring her up only once a month, but Delia was worn out by girlfriends' bad behaviour and had to protect herself. The old Delia, believing there was no alternative, took whatever scraps she could find, but no more. She'd rather be alone than be treated poorly.

No, she wasn’t certain there was anything else but scraps for girls like her, but Patsy once offered such a glimmer of possibility. But maybe she was like the rest, after all, too timid, too fearful of something unnamed even when no one else but the two of them were in the room.

But Patsy was worth it. Delia would push the redhead to do better, to be better. After she left that night, Patsy sitting at the booth with her mouth dropped open, Delia just hoped she'd have another chance to try.

*

Patsy had her first rehearsal of Travelers on River Severn the morning after Delia had been so hard on her. She didn’t think Delia had been entirely justified in what she’d said; after all, Patsy had shown the Welshwoman she was trying her damnedest. After all, Delia had watched Patsy attempt to confront her father, seen her wiggle out from under her father's thumb. But was Delia right? Was Patsy simply not trying hard enough?

The rehearsal was different than anything Patsy had experienced since university. The director didn’t treat her like she was anyone special, and even though the other actors clearly recognized her when she walked in, her notoriety soon lost its appeal. Patsy loved being an everyman, relatively anonymous, something she hadn't experienced in a long while. She smirked, recalling her last first rehearsal, when she strolled in like she owned the theatre. Which, of course, she had.

On a high after the rehearsal, Patsy felt lighter than she had in months when Lucille grabbed her shoulder. “Enjoy yourself today?”

“I did, actually,” Patsy confirmed.

“I’m a talent,” Lucille said, taking credit for the play's power. “I’m a wit.”

Patsy laughed.

“I’m a catch, too!” Lucille continued.

“Lucille, I –”

“I got the message long ago, Miss Fancybritches! I wasn’t speaking of you. I’m speaking of my desperate measures to find friends and influence people.” Lucille handed Patsy and calling card-sized invitation. “I’m having a party. For folks like us.” She waggled her eyebrows. “Maybe you could even invite that Delia Busby.”

Patsy’s first inclination was to decline the offer. Her hands started to sweat just reading the card, though it offered no incriminating evidence, only Lucille’s address and the date and time of the party. Patsy was sure she looked stricken when she said, “I'd be happy to attend.”

Lucille crooked an eyebrow and said, “And I guess I would be happy to eat bad clams! Happy to acquire dysentery!” She knocked into Patsy with an elbow. “Liven up, mate! Don’t want you bringing down my good time.”

*

Patsy might have thought that Delia pushed her too far, but Delia didn’t seem to be budging when she put the ball into Patsy’s court. The brunette hadn’t called her in two days. The night was the opening of Ring the Nurses! and Patsy had sent Delia (and Trixie and Barbara) flowers for the performance. But opening night had come and gone, and Delia hadn’t even sent Patsy a thank-you for the flowers.

Patsy perhaps should have attended the opening night show, but she couldn’t bear to go. She wasn’t displeased that she'd quit the play, but that didn’t mean that she didn’t ache to be up on the stage herself. She knew she’d be jealous to see Barbara performing the role she’d originated. Besides, she didn’t want to run into her father.

She sighed, perhaps staying away from opening night would simply be another thing that Delia held against her. Couldn’t Delia give her a break? She was trying, harder than she ever had in fact. But Delia seemed to only emphasize her failings, her stutters.

She would try contacting Delia one more time. Not only would she herself attend Lucille’s party but she would invite Delia to go as well.

“Delia?” she said. She no longer found it strange to call her actress friends in the middle of the day, since she knew Delia had another performance at night.

“Yes?” Delia said, rather curtly, though Patsy couldn’t understand why.

“It’s Pats.”

“Hello, Pats.”

“Did you get my flowers?”

“I did. Thank you.”

Confusing. It was unlike Delia to be so discourteous; she should have sent Patsy a note, called her herself. “How did the show go?”

“It went very well. Thank you.”

Why was Delia being so cold? Patsy had done what Delia’d asked; she was trying harder. What more could she do? She felt her confusion turn her against Delia, change her mind.

“Is there a reason you’re calling?” Delia asked, like she had somewhere to be.

What nerve Delia had! Whatever could be the matter with her? Patsy was furious now, but more confused than she ever was with her father. She would be as cruel, as irrational, to Delia as Delia was being to her. “I’ve just been invited to a party, by Lucille, you know her. An exclusive party. And I wanted to call to see if you’d like to go.”

Delia’s voice was noticeably more excited; perhaps all Delia wanted was for Patsy to arrange a time for them to meet. “I’d love to!”

But Patsy’s emotions could not turn on a dime. She was already angry with how difficult Delia had been, and she would follow through with her plan to crush Delia. “I’m glad to hear,” Patsy said, the cruelty she was about to dish out sweet on her lips. “Lucille will be my date, so you should find someone to bring, too.”

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 After Patsy told her that she already had a date to the party, Delia held the phone for a long second without speaking. What did Patsy mean that Lucille was her date? Did that mean that Patsy had once been interested in both women, Delia and Lucille, but the Irish playwright had won out in the end? It was too confusing. Here she had been, thinking that Patsy had been mooning over her all this time, while the redhead – apparently – preferred someone else.

Delia wanted to say, “Pardon me?” to Patsy, but she couldn’t let the other woman know that she was upset. She had to play it coy. Besides, she had the perfect person to accompany her to the party, as well. Though she should be fighting for Patsy, shouldn’t she? She should be letting Patsy know that she didn’t need to fear. But Delia was too timid for any grand gestures, so she said, “Thank you for the invitation. I already have in mind a date of my own.”

“Very well then,” Patsy said, curtly. “The flat is Monkwell Square number 23. See you tomorrow. 7 o'clock.”

Delia stared at the phone, like it had bitten her, before putting it down on the receiver. Why did everything have to be so difficult? She had never before had to coddle so many egos. But now she was involved with the Mount family, Jeremy and Patsy, and both were remarkably confusing.

*

Two nights before Patsy had called, the opening night of Ring the Nurses! had been a smashing success. Before the first curtain, Delia had received a bouquet of daffodils, and thinking they may be from Patsy, she tore open the card. After their fight in Trafalgar Square during the nurses’ strike and their awkward encounter in the hallway with Jeremy, Delia was relieved that Patsy wanted to make amends. She had been right; the flowers were from Patsy. But the card was so insincere – and impersonal – that they could have been from her dentist:

“Best wishes on your opening performance. – Your friend, Patience Mount.”

Your friend, Delia fumed. How stupid she had been, she thought, crumpling the card into her hand, to think that Patsy could ever be brave. To imagine that Patsy would someday be able to speak words of love to her. Patsy would always be fearful; Patsy would never believe that Delia was worth lowering her inhibitions for.

Delia had channelled her anger for Patsy into her character, Nurse Julie Lafferty. When Julie died, Delia could almost feel the pain the young nurse felt at her own lost potential, her own lost years. This was how Delia herself felt with Patsy – if only the redhead could get over herself, they could stop wasting time and be together.

After the performance was over, Delia headed into the lobby to sign programs and speak with theatregoers. She had given her one comp ticket to Phyllis, who had brought along to a nurse chum to the standing room-only section of the auditorium. Delia had felt terrible that the only ticket she had for her friend was one where she’d have to stay on her feet, like she did every day. These were real nurses, after all, and they should be pampered at a production that highlighted their struggles.

Phyllis didn’t seem to mind standing, though, and rushed up to Delia afterwards, beaming. “You were a dream, Delia! A better nurse than I am on my best days.”

“That’s because I was acting, Phyllis! I don’t have to deal with the real unsavories – blood and all that – like you all do.”

“Will you sign my program?” Phyllis’ compatriot asked Delia. The woman was quite assertive, with her easy-style haircut and confident thrust of her program. “I quite enjoyed it.”

“Thank you,” Delia said, suddenly shy. “To whom should I make it out?”

“Valerie Dyer,” the other woman said. “Your play really captured us, you know. Our lives, what we go through.”

Delia blushed, but she thought Phyllis and Valerie were far too modest. “That’s very kind, but isn’t our stage version shinier than the real thing?”

“Of course, lass,” Phyllis said. “I spend half my day on paperwork! But it’s the feeling that counts. That’s what you got right.”

“I wonder if she’d do it…” Valerie said, glancing at Phyllis.

“Do you think it’d be appropriate?”

“I don’t see why not.” Valerie grinned and looked again at Delia. “She’s one of us in spirit.”

“Very well,” Phyllis said, looking again at Delia. “You can refuse, of course, no hard feelings. But the nurses' strike, though modestly successful, did not impel enough of our fellow nurses to leave their positions, until better wages were provided. We need a rallying cry to tell them why we must all band together. You have such a knack for monologues, so perhaps a speech isn’t so far off?”

Delia goggled her eyes. “You want me to rally the troops?”

Valerie laughed. “In a manner of speaking.”

Delia paused. This was what she’d wanted, after all. She’d wanted a chance to turn her strengths into political action. She’d attended rallies and countercultural events, but now she could make change herself.

“Do I have to pretend to be a nurse?” Delia asked.

The other women turned to one another. “I hadn’t thought—” Phyllis started.

“No, I don’t think so.” Valerie grinned again and touched Delia’s arm. “You’ll be fine as you are. An up-and-coming celebrity.”

Delia didn’t want to be chuffed by this overstatement, but she was. 

*

When Delia and Phyllis arrived back at their flat, Delia discovered a mixed bouquet much more extravagant than Patsy’s had been. It rose halfway up the front door! She dreaded seeing that the flowers were feared were from Brigitte, whom Delia had first ignored and then treated badly. She felt guilt for her shoddy treatment of the Frenchwoman but tried to ignore it. But the flowers weren't from Brigitte; they were from Jeremy Mount.

Dear Delia,

What a remarkable success you were tonight! It seems that my daughter’s last-minute removal from the production led to your fortuitous ascension to the best actress in my company. You moved me, my dear, and I am seldom wont to sincere feeling. We showed Patience that she was unnecessary; indeed, I forgot that she had ever been there at all.

Yours in the theatre,

Jeremy Mount

Delia seethed with rage after reading the note. Jeremy didn’t care about the production, he just cared about making his daughter regret her choices. Delia's loyalties lay with Patsy, of course, but Jeremy didn’t seem to know that.

Little good her commitment to Patsy did her, though. The redhead didn’t seem at all willing to "commit" herself to Delia. Patsy thought of Delia as her friend, a term made her feel cold, embarrassed. Perhaps Delia’s feelings for Patsy, her loyalty, were misguided after all.

*

The day before Patsy crushed Delia with the news that she’d be attending Lucille’s party as her date, Delia read the review of Ring the Nurses! in The Telegraph. The writer, a woman named Helen Kramer, had praised Delia:

From where did one Delia Busby appear? Is she an apparition from the ghosts who purportedly haunt the Apollo Theatre? Is she an automaton created from good cheer and a bit of elbow grease? Ah, no, Delia Busby comes to us from an even stranger place, Wales, that southwest locale that deposited a homegrown charm and magnetism into London’s newest – and most deserving – star of the stage.

Ms. Kramer had called her a “new star.” Could it be? Delia’s profile had shot up ten-fold in the last few months, but her shaky hands and the unbidden smile that kept reappearing on her face let Delia know she wasn’t sure how to feel about this development.

When Patsy called her the next afternoon to let Delia know she’d moved on to a new woman, though, Delia couldn’t help but wonder if the redhead was simply jealous of Delia’s newfound success. Yes, the redhead had promised that their careers would never get in the way of their relationship, perhaps Patsy could not have predicted just how quickly Delia’s star would ascend.

*

“I did a terrible thing,” Delia said when Lucille picked up the phone.

“Ooh,” Lucille said, and Patsy could picture her friend winking. “Tell me all the gory details. I get a high from hearing about your personal life, since I’ve not got one of my own.”

“Come off it! You could have any woman you wanted.”

“Right,” Lucille deadpanned. “Silly me. Let's hear!”

There was no use being coy, so Patsy said, “I told Delia you were my date to your party tonight.”

“Oh, cripes, Pats! Why’d you do a stupid thing like that?”

“Delia was being, I don’t know, distant, and I decided she’d probably found someone else—”

“She hasn’t, you dumb bird!”

“Maybe she has!”

“So, you want me to pretend to be your paramour tonight, Patsy? Is that what you’re calling me up to say?”

Patsy needed to save face. She couldn’t tell Delia the truth; she couldn’t face Delia’s rejection now. “Would you?”

Lucille paused, and then said, flatly, “No, I won’t. Frankly, I can’t believe you’d even ask me, after what I told you. I thought we were pals, Pats.”

“I haven't forgotten what you said! This is - it's nothing! What’s the harm in a little acting?”

“You’re the actress,” Lucille said. “Not me.” And before Patsy could say anything else, Lucille had hung up on her.

*

Delia wanted to invite Brigitte to Lucille’s party in a way that didn’t make the Frenchwoman think Delia wanted to be her lover. But Delia saw her own hypocrisy: she had asked Patsy to be blunt and straightforward, yet she struggled with to do these things herself.

“Brigitte, would you like to go to a party tonight?” Delia asked.

“Is this a hypothetical question?”

Brigitte was too quick for Delia sometimes, sometimes annoyingly so. “No, it’s an invitation. From me. It’s a party for people like us.”

“Ah, and who are people 'like us'? Artists? Theatregoers? Concerned citizens of Great Britain?”

Delia could almost picture the smug expression on Brigitte’s face. The Frenchwoman must feel affronted by Delia, who had, after all, not called her in almost a week after unceremoniously throwing her out of her flat to moon over Patsy.

“No, you know what we are.” Delia didn’t want to be upfront over the phone.

Brigitte sighed. “You sound so anxious, dearest. I know why you’re behaving like you are.” 

Delia raised her eyebrows; could the Frenchwoman be so perceptive she knew that Delia was using her to make Patsy jealous? “You do?”

“Of course,” Brigitte continued. “I was like you once. Afraid. Afraid of the passion I felt for my English tutor, Beth, when I was 16. But I gave into my feelings, Delia, and was much better off for it. Less thwarted. More confident. I understand your fears, your hesitation, but stop being like I was as a teen, Delia.”

Brigitte thought she knew everything about everyone, but she knew nothing about Delia! She wanted to tell Brigitte to stuff her condescending attitude, inform her that Delia was self-actualized in her attractions, thankyouverymuch. But she needed Brigitte to come to Lucille's party. She needed to use Brigitte to get to Patsy, and Brigitte’s nasty attitude made Delia feel much better about using the Frenchwoman.

“So, will I see you tonight at the party?” Delia asked, ignoring Brigitte’s unasked-for Freudian analysis.

“Of course, my darling,” she said.

Delia brushed her hand across her mouth. She so wished that Brigitte hadn’t used that phrase. After weeks of cute little nicknames and terms of endearment, Delia wanted nothing more than to return to only the trusty name she’d used for the first 25 years of her life: plain old "Delia."

*

Patsy arrived early at Lucille’s flat to apologize. She’d been awful; there was no denying it. But she couldn’t tell Delia the truth. Not after the nonchalant way that Delia responded to her on the phone when she'd mentioned her own date. Not after Delia blasely said that she, too, could find a date at the drop of a hat. Patsy had wanted Delia's yelling. Patsy had wanted Delia's tears. For once, Patsy wanted to be fought for.

She was nervous to rap on the Lucille’s door, but she did it, three curt knocks.

Lucille, in a shimmering purple wrap dress and brogues, opened the door. “Gee, mate, you’re ear—oh, hi, Patsy.”

“Lucille,” Patsy swallowed. “Might I come in?”

Lucille held out her arm to usher Patsy into a flat that was comfortably decorated with obviously second-hand furniture. Frameless drawings and paintings, likely from Lucille’s friends, were tacked into the wall. Lamps with mismatched shades basked the place in a warm glow. Patsy found the place rather cheery, but Lucille didn’t trust her anymore.

“Not what you’re used to, I’m afraid,” Lucille said.

“It’s lovely—”

“I know it’s not. A rubbish pile for the Patience Mount.”

“Lucille, I’m—” Patsy took a step toward her friend.

“No, Patsy,” Lucille said, holding up her hands in warning. “No. What were you thinking you’d do tonight, Patsy? Hang all over me? Give me sweet kisses when Delia panned her eyes around the room? Did you think I’d find it all a laugh? A hilarious game until the two lovebirds finally got over themselves and pecked their pretty beaks together?”

“I wasn’t thinking,” Patsy said, hanging her head.

“No, that’s not true,” Lucille said. “You were thinking. About yourself and about Delia. You just weren’t thinking about me.”

“No, I wasn’t. I feel dreadful.”

“Good, Patsy, good. It’s about time you got over yourself and—”

Just then, the doorbell rang. Either Patsy hadn’t been as early as she’d planned, or time had passed more quickly. Lucille eyed her warily, as she opened the door to a gaggle of well-dressed women in pants and dresses – and a single gentleman with over-coiffed hair and round spectacles. One guest even brought her very modern grandmother. 

“Crew!” Lucille squealed, running into the outstretched arms of the guests, who handed her bottles of wine and packages of biscuits. Patsy stood aside from the warm greetings, her hands behind her back. If she’d been a bit kinder to Lucille, she could have met this group. If she’d been kinder to Lucille, she could have been part of this group. The thought saddened Patsy. After all, Delia was not the only person she wished to know in the world.

After the hugging and pecking had finished, Lucille remembered herself and introduced Patsy. “Crew, Patsy Mount; Patsy Mount, the crew. Patsy Mount is my friend. And who knows? If she plays her cards correctly, she just may become a dear one.”

*

Patsy immediately liked Lucille’s humble and interesting friends. She shouldn’t have been surprised that Lucille had friends like these, and she was pleased to be a part of their conviviality, at least for one night. Even if Delia arrived in a passionate headlock with whomever she’d found to be her date, Patsy promised herself that she wouldn't pretend to be romantically involved with Lucille. It was too cruel. She would tell Delia the truth: she had simply been too worried about Delia’s rejection to be honest.

But when Delia arrived, Patsy wanted to renege on her promise: Delia’s date was, as Patsy should have suspected, Brigitte.

*

The night passed amicably, with more guests of the queer persuasion arriving, drinking wine, and eating themselves sick on cheap biscuits. Patsy was heartened to see that so many of her ilk led lives as mainstream as her own, some were typists and secretaries, some were teachers and nurses, others were ball-busting career women with whom Patsy felt an affinity.

But as much as she wanted to engage with new potential friends, she couldn’t stop watching Brigitte and Delia. They certainly appeared to be an item. Though Delia had told Patsy that she wasn’t romantically interested in Brigitte, perhaps the Frenchwoman had been persistent enough to change Delia’s mind. It certainly seemed so. Whenever the Welshwoman talked, Brigitte watched her with rapt attention. Brigitte refilled Delia’s wine glass twice, without Delia even asking. Once, Patsy watched with heart-sickening attention as Brigitte left her hand square on Delia’s back while Delia told a sweet story about puppies in the Welsh countryside.

She had gone and done it, Patsy realised; she had lost Delia once and for all.

*

As the party crept on into the wee hours of the morning and Patsy continued to fuel her sorrows with cheap red, she had to stand in the progressively-longer line for the communal toilet down the hall in Lucille’s apartment building. She didn’t want to leave the festivities – or stop watching Delia even for a moment – but it seemed that she had no alternative.

Patsy was rolling her eyes at the end of a rather long queue when the person she least wanted to see came to stand behind her. Wasn’t that just her luck? Brigitte looked at her with a smug expression.

“Just the person I’ve been wanting to see all evening,” Brigitte said, her arms crossed and leaning against the wall.

“You’ve seen me all evening,” Patsy deadpanned. 

“Of course. Perhaps I’ve just been too busy looking at – what is that you English say? – the ‘apple of my eye.’”

“Quite,” Patsy said, stepping forward as someone else went into the bathroom. She desperately wanted to leave but she had to make it into that stall.

“I want to commend you, Patience,” Brigitte said. “You’re handling all of this like a gentlewoman of your breeding ought to.”

Patsy turned around, a sneer on her face. “What is ‘all this’?”

Brigitte lowered her voice since they were in mixed company and leaned in closer to Patsy. “I know that we had a bit of competition for Miss Delia Busby’s affections.”

Patsy raised her eyes, shocked. Brigitte must have been so cold to her all this time because she thought they were fighting over the same woman.

“Now that I’ve won, so to speak - you English prefer that language of conquering I have always detested - I admire your restraint.”

Patsy heated up. Was it true that Delia had chosen Brigitte? Was it true that Brigitte had won, like Delia was some sort of stuffed toy at a bazaar? Patsy couldn’t ignore the evidence; it seemed like Brigitte was simply illustrating what Patsy had seen for herself.

Patsy couldn’t let herself seem defeated, so she said, “I never really fancied Delia much. After all, I’m with Lucille now.”

Brigitte looked at Patsy with the saddest, most condescending of expressions, and patted Patsy on the arm. “Good for you,” Brigitte said. “You've found yourself a consolation prize.”

Chapter Text

Delia left the party that night believing that Patsy preferred Lucille. She’d thought that she and Patsy had something bright and boiling, but Brigitte had whispered to her what Patsy had told her near the loo. The Frenchwoman’s mouth too close to her ear, Delia heard, “Patsy Mount is dating Lucille. Isn’t that absolutely delicious?”

Delia felt as though she might wretch, but she smiled to look nonplussed. She took a sip of her drink for time to think of something to say. She wanted to sound cheery, but it took all her training, all her skill. “They make a rather surprising pair!” she said brassily, her voice clammy in her ears. Brigitte didn’t seem to notice her strain.

“They certainly do,” Brigitte agreed, her hand lingering across Delia’s knee,“but I’m pleased that Patience finally understood that you and I want to be together.”

Delia couldn’t keep up lying to Brigitte any longer. “Patsy may not be interested in me, Brigitte, but I still don’t fancy you.”

Brigitte pulled her hand away, like she’d been stung. “I don’t understand.”

Delia sighed. “You’re my friend, but I don’t fancy you. Things would be easier if I did.”

“You invited me to your flat. You invited me here tonight.” Brigitte shrugged. “I don’t think I misread you.”

Was this true? Delia wasn’t even sure herself anymore. Perhaps she had let Brigitte sit too close, behave too much like a lover. Delia wasn’t even sure that she knew the line between lover and friend anymore; this solidity had certainly blurred in her relationship with Patsy.

Delia would take some of the blame for Brigitte’s confusion, but not all of it. Brigitte had never quit, though Delia had never reciprocated the Frenchwoman’s affection. “You did misread me. Perhaps I was indirect, but I never told you I fancied you,” she said. “I never deliberately misled you.”

“I tried to kiss you!” Brigitte whispered, covering her face.

Delia felt rather bad for this Frenchwoman, who, by the looks of her, had never been rejected before. “I’m sorry you—”

“You used me,” Brigitte said, the flippant look on her face disintegrating into betrayal, like a child who has faced her first cruelty.

Maybe I did, Delia thought. Perhaps she’d been so focused on Patsy – always Patsy – that she’d been thoughtless toward this woman who had only committed the sin of admiring her. “I’m sorry,” Delia said. She shrugged then with the simple truth of her next statement: “I didn’t realise.”

“Be more aware next time,” Brigitte hissed, “of others outside of your little orbit.” She didn’t look at Delia again, but instead stood, smoothed her skirt, and glided out of Lucille’s apartment.

For years afterward, Delia would wish she could apologize to Brigitte for cruelty she’d justified as carelessness. As infatuation stifling her usually-kind nature. While she was perhaps not well-suited to being forward – which was why she’d treated Brigitte as she had, out of negligence, not spite – she felt like a hypocrite for being so critical of this quality in Patsy.

Over the years, Delia grew as direct as she could manage, turning down the men who asked her for dates and telling the reporters who asked her questions as much of the truth as she could.

But at Lucille’s party in 1962, none of that had happened yet. Tomorrow, Delia, without Patsy, without any hope of Patsy, would again star in Ring the Nurses!

*

Patsy told herself she could not care if Delia had moved on to someone else. Brigitte could be appealing in a straightforward, flashy sort of way.

Though Patsy could not demonstrate her emotions while Delia sat near Brigitte on a tufted stool, or touched Brigitte on her forearm to see if she’d like another cocktail. Patsy was not angry at Delia, believing herself mostly to blame in the whole debacle of their courtship. She didn’t know if she’d ever be able to stop her endless cycle of self-hatred and deceit. Indeed, she’d never fancied any woman the way she fancied Delia Busby, yet even for her she could not stop her self-destruction.

Delia didn’t even say goodbye to Patsy when she left. She didn’t even glance at her. That was it. Patsy knew she’d done it this time. She’d gone too far. Why couldn’t she have put herself on the line? This was much worse than that.

But Patsy noticed that Brigitte didn’t leave with Delia.

“Is Brigitte still here?” Patsy asked Lucille.

“Who?”

“That Frenchwoman.”

“Oh, the fox,” Lucille winked at her. “She slipped out an hour ago.”

At least Brigitte and Delia weren’t leaving together. But that was all Patsy knew, and all she could know. Perhaps Brigitte had tickets to a show, or a late appointment at the hairdressers. She couldn’t call Delia again to ask her, not after how she’d behaved. Who knew when she’d see the Welshwoman again?

After the party ended, Patsy lingered at Lucille’s well into the early morning, helping the playwright bring plates from every surface to stack by the sink. Patsy was too tired to ponder her life, or self-flagellate, she just wanted to talk with Lucille about something easy. She wanted to talk about the theatre.

“Tell me the truth. Did you write Brydie based on yourself, really?” Patsy asked, picking up a glass shockingly discarded behind the armoire in Lucille’s bedroom.

“No.”

“So, you’re Tovan, the Traveler boy she loves? A forbidden romance based one of yours?”

“No, Pats,” Lucille sighed. “Don’t put words into my mouth, please.”

“Sorry, I just—”

“Neither is me, Pats. They’re composites of people I knew and people I made up. They’re not real, but you thought they were real, didn’t ya?” Lucille nodded for Patsy to sit at the little table in her kitchen and poured the last of an almost-empty wine bottle into a brandy glass Patsy was holding.

“That’s not mine!” Patsy sniffed.

“Ah, live a little, old maid!” Lucille said heartily, nodding to the mouthful of red wine in the already-used glass.

Patsy warily cheers’d Lucille, who had poured herself a sip in a glass with a lipstick mark that wasn’t Lucille’s color. It was that time of night where it didn’t matter. They both took their final swigs.

“It’s like the characters I play,” Patsy agreed. “They’re realer because they’re not real.” Her characters had parts of herself and parts of the people she’d known and parts of other fictional characters and parts of no one in particular in them. They were whoever she wanted them to be.

A thought startled Patsy out of her woozy dreaming – this was exactly how she’d constructed Delia. Delia was not a character. She was not someone whom Patsy could flesh out based on the few things she knew about her. They were struggling to be honest with each other because Patsy didn’t know Delia, not really; she’d made her up.

Patsy swallowed, terrible reckoning overtaking her. “Do you ever feel that way with real people, Lucille? Like you’ve pieced them together?”

“Sure, I do,” Lucille looked at Patsy seriously. “But that makes relationships, love and otherwise, bloody awful.”

10 Years Later – 1972

Patsy Mount was happy to turn 40. Her life was more her own than it had been in her early 30s, when she’d cut ties with her father, or her 20s when she’d lived for her father’s approval. It was a milestone, certainly, to have lived unmarried and childless through the 1960s into the early 1970s, when everyone seemed to heave a sigh of relief and decide that living and letting live was groovy.

Over the decade, Patsy had lost her reputation as a glittering young actress, as one was wont to do when one left one’s thirties. These days, Patsy was never recognized on the street, save for just last night when an elderly couple in matching black wool had told her Laura Cheveley in The Importance of Being Earnest was certainly the role of her life.

She was what she’d always hoped she would be: a serious actress. She never had to sing in any musicals or perform silly drudgery anymore; she was serious and taken seriously. She no longer had to be demanding, so she wasn’t.

As she walked to the old Apollo Theatre – which her father had sold long ago, a rumour she’d heard only recently from Trixie who kept up with this sort of thing – Patsy thought with amusement just about 10 years before. Then, she’d walked into this same theatre pretending to be a movie star, removing her lambskin gloves like she was Marilyn Monroe. A little girl on the sidewalk looked at Patsy strangely as the redhead laughed to herself.

Patsy hadn’t been in a production at the theatre for a decade. The Apollo had stopped mounting big, costly musicals and instead had committed itself to revivals of some of lasting dramas and comedies. Patsy had been cast to play a role she’d always dreamed of: Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire.

Picturing 1962, Patsy thought of Delia Busby. Patsy had watched one dreary Thursday night as Delia played Nurse Julie Lafferty in Ring the Nurses!, but sitting by herself in the second balcony, she could see little more of Delia than the puffed purple sleeves of her nurses’ uniform.

Patsy had wanted to speak to Delia after the show – maybe ask the brunette to sign her program, coyly, cutely, and then they’d fall together again. But Patsy didn’t know if Delia would smile when she saw her, and she wouldn’t have been able to bear it if Delia’s mouth had stayed in a cold, unyielding line.

Instead, she’d forced herself out into that cold night without a congratulations. She had never called Delia again. Delia had never called Patsy, either. Patsy had gotten busy, and she’d realized that years had passed, and they hadn’t talked and never would again.

But Patsy had followed Delia’s career. When the Welshwoman was interviewed in the newspaper about a new role, Patsy would cut the clipping out and paste it into a scrapbook she kept in the deep dark of her closet, behind her row of winter coats. She saw all of Delia’s productions, sure to wear a dark coat and a hair-covering hat and sit in the back, in the shadows.

“Just go say hello!” Trixie had urged once, after they’d gone to see Delia in a musical adaptation of Gone with the Wind. “You were such good friends!”

“Right, for a few months, eons ago,” Patsy moaned. “I doubt she’d even remember me.”

“Stop being tragic!” Trixie rolled her eyes, but Patsy hadn’t gone to speak to Delia, and Trixie hadn’t pushed her.

At home after the musical, Patsy had clipped Delia’s biography from the back of the program, her smiling faced aged in a way that made her look sophisticated. Patsy ran her finger across her old love’s face, wondering if she had been different, if the brunette would be coming here – worn out yet energized from thousands of hands clapping – after she’d washed the greasepaint from her face. Though Patsy was happy with her life and the changes she’d made in herself, she wished she could have been different sooner. If she’d been braver, and less nervous, and more honest, perhaps she and Delia could have made a go at things.

But Delia wasn’t there, and Patsy was alone.

The fall sun was uncharacteristically bright in a London that had already hunkered down for winter. Patsy didn’t want to go inside the theatre yet, though she was excited for rehearsals to begin. As the seconds on her wristwatch ticked closer to starting time, she forced herself to open the double doors. The theatre made her heartbeat tick faster, too, like the residual excitement of meeting Delia lingered all these years later, though of course, the brunette was no longer there.

The table where the first read-through would take place was set up on the stage, and most of Patsy’s co-stars were already assembled. She hurried down the long aisle, not wanting to keep any of them waiting. There was a pitcher of water and glasses and a mug full of pencils. Patsy thrilled, like she always did at the start of something.

As she took her seat, Patsy nodded at Peter Noakes, who was playing Stanley Kowalski and she knew vaguely through mutual friends. Younger actors with whom she was not familiar took up the other seats. Patsy knew that her character was supposed to be only her early 30s, but took comfort in the fact that Jessica Tandy, who originated the role on Broadway in the 1940s, was 40 – Patsy’s age – when the production closed.

Patsy took a script from the pile, nodding at her new co-stars, who smiled at her. She didn’t feel like she should take charge, and she sat there quietly, waiting for the director. No one said a word. Patsy poured herself a glass of water in the silent auditorium. Well, this was awkward! Where was he? He’d set everything up and then flitted off somewhere. She hadn’t even met him yet, as the play had a casting director for whom she’d auditioned.

“Have you seen him yet?” Patsy leaned toward Peter and asked. She was compulsive; old habits die hard. The other cast members, interested in the noise in the silent theatre, tilted their heads toward her to listen in.

“You mean she?” Peter said, raising his eyebrows.

Patsy could feel the energy in the room change when she entered the room. The currents in the theatre, stagnant and reminiscent of old times, shifted, radiating new energy. She marched down the aisle, carrying an armful of scripts, flustered, her cheeks red.

“That little thing?” Peter said again, raising his eyebrows. “Surely she’s the secretary?”

“The blasted Xerox machine was on the fritz!” she shouted as she pumped up the few stairs to the table where they were all assembled. She had a posh new haircut and a pair of silver earrings, and perhaps a thinner face, but Patsy felt as if she and Delia hadn’t skipped a day, though they’d skipped a decade.

Delia’s cheeks flushed deeper as she grinned at Patsy, who she obviously expected to see, and said, “All right, cast. I believe we’re all quite ready to begin!”

 

 

Chapter Text

Nothing about Patsy’s casting as Blanche DuBois was Delia’s style. In fact, she hadn’t cast Patsy in the first place, but instead learned that the redhead happened to be playing the lead role of the production she was directing. Delia had read her lost love’s name in the casting list she’d been given a week before rehearsals started. She’d been dizzied by the surprise appearance of the redhead's name on the list. There she was, PATIENCE MOUNT, like it was any name, the same as PETER NOAKES and JAMES ABERNATHY and all the rest that twisted into meaninglessness with Patsy’s in their lineup.

She was still a Mount; she hadn’t married.

No, if it had been Delia’s choice, she would have preferred to stumble into Patsy in a dark bar, where they’d both already had a few and could forget they’d ended so badly. Perhaps then they would have been pissed enough to reminisce all the way back to Delia’s, though Delia only let herself imagine what would happen next on nights where she was very lonely.

Delia wouldn’t have wanted to shock Patsy with a very public, and very surprising, reunion. But she couldn’t gather the courage to tell Patsy that she was now directing the production of Streetcar Named Desire once she’d read the woman’s name on her cast list. She’d considered dialing Patsy’s old number time and again, or even dropping a letter in the post, but she hadn’t. Then, time had passed more quickly than she’d anticipated, and it was soon time for rehearsals to start.

Delia hadn’t even known that she’d direct the show – her first solo foray, though she’d been assistant director several times – until a week before. The show’s original director Shelagh Turner had taken a position upstarting a new theater in South Africa.

“Why me?” Delia had asked.

“I beg the Lord forgive me, but Christ, Delia! Don’t you know yet that you’re incredible?”

Delia raised her eyebrows, though the woman on the other end of the line couldn’t see her. Indeed she did not know. 

So this was why Delia hadn’t been involved with the casting. She hadn’t, as she hoped Patsy would not think, orchestrated a meeting by casting the redhead in the leading role.

The day of first rehearsals, Delia, already a few minutes late finishing making copies of the cast list and contact information, raced up the aisle toward the stage were the cast was assembled. She couldn’t make herself even glance at the redhead as she hurried, her arms full of scripts, though her palms were slick, and her heart was twisting so dramatically she thought she might faint. She had to appear nonchalant. How pathetic she would seem if Patsy knew she’d nursed a love for her for 10 years!

“The blasted Xerox machine was on the fritz!” Delia called.

Patsy could very well hate her for the Brigitte debacle; or she could very well still be with Lucille, the woman she’d been dating 10 years before. The latter was probably the case, Delia had sighed the night before, nursing a glass of brandy as she made her final pre-rehearsal notes on the script in her flat’s kitchen. In 1962, Patsy had chosen Lucille over Delia. The redhead had made her decision back then, so why would she feel differently now?

The way that Patsy had so casually replaced her – without even a word of explanation – had depleted Delia’s self-esteem for years. To think, she’d loved the redhead! She’d made up for Patsy’s cruelty with many nights of anonymous sex with women she’d never rung up again. What Patsy had done to her, Delia would pass on to others.

But that didn’t mean that Delia didn’t want to see Patsy again. She longed to see Patsy. She hated this impulse in herself, but more than anything, she wanted an explanation from the redhead. Sometimes, she’d wake in the middle of the night and remember Patsy, her eyes full of tears, saying, “Sweetheart, I would never let jealousy get in the way.”

But it had; it had! How foolish she’d been to think Patsy had been sincere that night. She was an actress, after all. Jealousy and miscommunication and insecurity – all of it had gotten in the way. Perhaps Patsy had felt like every minute of their relationship had been a chore, though Delia hated thinking so. Every second they’d spent together had been the most charged of Delia’s entire life. 

Half-buzzing with alcohol, a ruminating Delia prepared the poshest outfit she owned for the next morning’s rehearsal, not only to stir Patsy but also to be taken seriously by the rest of the cast. But mostly to impress Patsy. She wore her hair in a short bob with bangs that she flipped under in a popular style. She chose a blue suit with bell-bottoms and a shimmery silver shirt with a long-pointed collar. When she pulled a pink cravat from her bureau, she noticed her hands were shaking.

She’d see Patsy the next day. This meeting was the stuff of her fantasies.

For years, she’d hated Patsy. They’d kissed that one night, and then Patsy was gone, quite literally, and soon after had moved onto someone else. Surely, Delia had imagined, Patsy needed someone who would let the redhead get away with more than Delia would. Freewheeling Lucille had to have been much easier a lover than Delia was. Delia, wrongly or rightly, had forced Patsy to be brave.

Delia was sure that Lucille and Patsy were still a couple and tortured herself imagining their lives together. She pictured the two gallivanting around cobblestone streets full of late-night brass bands in Paris, running hand in hand along the beaches of Croatia, taking the ramshackle train through the mountains of Italy. 

Delia thought of what it might be like to run into Patsy and Lucille on some mundane shopping trip buying bread or tea. Delia would be in the store with her basket, alone. The two would be arguing over whether to buy Twining’s or Scottish Blend – something that Delia had always longed to do with a partner - and Delia would storm over and say, “Why Patience Mount, hasn’t it been an age!”

What would Patsy do then? Would she lick her lips with annoyance and say, “Oh. Hello,” before returning to her decision-making? 

Or would she embrace Delia and say, “Ah, how I’ve missed you, dear old friend”?

Or, on nights where Delia was feeling both alone and lustful, she imagined that Patsy would push past Lucille, grab Delia by the throat, and mutter, “Why did you leave me alone like that?” Patsy’s nails ragged on Delia’s thrumming throat, the redhead would push Delia back against the tea shelf. Patsy would topple both packages of Twining’s and Scottish Blend, and - Lucille be damned! - kiss her, her warm, wet lips and shallow-breathing chest – how infuriating it was to Delia that she couldn’t stop lusting for Patience Mount bloody ten years since they had spoken!

Delia couldn’t behave like such a besotted school girl when she saw Patsy the next day.

On the stage in front of the cast of Streetcar Named Desire, Delia stared once more at the script and then forced herself to look up at the cast with a smile. There was Patsy’s face again, calmer and happier, older but settled very attractively, less agitated with the constant feeling she must take charge. Delia felt herself near tears – for all the moments they had missed together, for all those years apart – and yet felt they were still connected, as if an invisible rope that had been slack for all this time had suddenly pulled taut and thrumming.  

Delia was not afraid now, of Patsy, of Lucille, of time, of dishonesty, but felt her cheeks heating with embarrassment that Patsy’s eyebrows were raised and her mouth dropped open in surprise – the redhead certainly had not planned to see Delia. Delia couldn’t stop herself from laughing from pleasure, from the bit of absurdity that they were back together here, in the Apollo, all these years after they had first met. Her fast heartbeat spinning her into light-headedness, Delia said, “All right, cast. I believe we’re all quite ready to begin!”

 

Chapter Text

Patsy's performance  during that first read-through was shaky because she was staring at Delia’s little hand. White, smooth, and close enough to hers that she could touch it if she’d wanted to, Patsy was very aware of the proximity of their hands. She became very careful to hold her pencil away from Delia, and to mark up her script overly-diligently, so their hands didn’t brush accidentally. She didn't want Delia to know she was at all flustered by seeing her again.

After that moment of cheekiness, of grinning, when they'd first met again, Delia had barely looked at her again throughout the whole rehearsal. Patsy had peered too adamantly at her script so as not to meet Delia’s eyes for too long. The brunette seemed entirely self-confident, nonchalant even, among that group of London’s theatre’s most established members. It was true, then, Delia just thought of her as a simple acquaintance, from long ago. Nothing more than any of them, no one special in the course of Delia's life. 

“I’m Delia Busby, your director,” Delia had grinned as she made concerted eye contact with each of the cast members. “Surprise!”

The cast had laughed; already smitten with their diminutive director. 

Once, during the three-hour rehearsal, Patsy thought her fast heart would make her faint when Delia gave her a recommendation: “Your motivation is novelty in this scene, Ms. Mount,” said Delia, her blue eyes boring into Patsy’s.

“Quite right,” Patsy said. She wanted to break their eye contact by drinking from her water glass, though she found, to her great embarrassment, that the cup was empty.

Patsy was relieved to see the rehearsal come to an end. She felt sweaty and rather sick from the anxiety of seeing Delia again and having to sit there for several hours like a civilized person as her stomach somersaulted. Truly, she considered quitting the play so she wouldn't have to endure such agony again.

But her curiosity about Delia’s life got the better of her, and she waited until Delia stopped speaking with Peter Noakes to say hello. Patsy was grateful, as she sometimes was, for her theatrical training because otherwise she didn’t know if she’d ever have the courage to be brave. 

“Delia Busby!” she said, extending her hand for a shake.

“Patsy Mount!” Delia responded, shaking Patsy’s hand heartily. A handshake was strange, the wrong thing, Patsy realized; she shouldn’t have done it.

“It has truly been an age, hasn’t it? Where have the years gone?”

“I know! It seems like only yesterday when we were here last.”

“It does, doesn’t it?”

“It does.”

“It truly does.”

“Indeed it does.”

An awkward silence, both of them smiling at one another with forced pleasantness. Patsy broke the quiet to clap Delia on the shoulder. “What a showing, old chap,” she said. “You’re a hotshot theatre director now, I see!”

“You exaggerate, Patsy!" Delia dipped her head. "But a lot has changed since then for both of us, I’m sure.”

Patsy swallowed, waiting for Delia to tell her about her partner, or her hatred of Patsy, or her newfound partnership with Patsy’s father, Jeremy Mount. Patsy waited for terrible things.

But Delia only said, “If you're up for a bite, the pub around the corner is better than it was ten years ago.”

*

The tension that was never there between them all those years ago cut the air of the pub and created stilted conversation and brutally-difficult eye contact. Patsy studied the menu for far too long because she couldn’t stand to look so directly into Delia’s face. Those eyes. In all her memories, she hadn’t recalled that Delia’s eyes were so piercing, so direct. She ordered two pints for the two of them, at least to take the edge off. They made small talk about Prime Minister Heath and the state of the tube and about their old friends.

“Trixie’s married now, with a pair of young twins,” Patsy told Delia. “She’s named them Olive and Ginger – both girls – which I think is rather adorable. I’m their god mother, but as far as I can tell, all that means is bringing them sweets and chips packages whenever I go round for a visit.”

“That’s lovely. I’m so happy for her.”

“Do you have children?”

Delia snorted her no. “Do you?”

“I haven't experience immaculate conception!” Embarrassed by even the most oblique reference to sex, Patsy finished the dregs of her pint to find Delia watching her. “What is it?” she wiped her mouth with her napkin.

“I just never would have thought you a fan of beer, let alone lager.”

Patsy laughed, and Delia laughed, and it was easy. “A lot has changed in the last ten years.” Patsy motioned for the waiter. “Sir, can we get another round? It’s on me, Deels.”

Delia smiled. “Deels. No one’s called me that for a long time.”

Patsy raised her eyebrows. “I can’t imagine how anyone would call you anything else!”

“I’m a serious professional now.” Delia put on a mock-serious face.

“One who's so professional that she's cast her old friend as her lead for, what, old time’s sake?”

“Pats, I didn’t cast you.” Delia shook her head.

The waiter dropped off the refilled pints.

“In fact, I didn’t cast this show at all,” Delia continued. “I didn’t even know I’d be directing it until about a week ago.”

“So this is just circumstance then? Happenstance that we’re back here together?”

Delia nodded.

Patsy laughed. “Amazing! It seems the Apollo is determined to bring us together.” Patsy watched as Delia smiled, and – were her cheeks reddening? But before Patsy could tell for certain, Delia took her new pint glass and nearly bottomed it with four gigantic chugs. Patsy raised her eyebrows; for such a small person, the woman knew how to pack one in.

Her glass half empty, Delia pushed it soundly onto the table with a sigh. She wiped her mouth with her wrist, her inhibition seeming to loosen.

Patsy had the same impulse. “I bet I can drink you under the table, Delia. What do you say?”

“If you can drink more than I do, Patience Mount, I'll eat my hat!”

“I'm never one to back down from a challenge. Waiter, another round?”

“I daresay you’re trying to get me inebriated!”

Patsy folded her fingers under her chin and waggled her eyebrows, trying not to recall her fantasies where she'd done precisely that. “I daresay that you are correct.”

*

The women drank round after round of beer, so many rounds that Patsy rather lost track and drank more than she should have, or regularly did. Luckily, they didn’t have rehearsal the next day. But she was merrier than she'd felt in a long while, and she did, for the most part, feel quite pleased with her life. Things were again so natural and easy with Delia, and it felt like a rare kind of fortune that they’d stayed this way after ten years of silence.

They were speaking of a French movie they’d both seen recently when Patsy thought of Delia’s old flame, the slinking, foxy Brigitte, and asked, with insufficient consideration, “Do you keep up with Brigitte these days?” As soon as the words slipped from her mouth, she wished she could take them back.

“God, no,” Delia said, spinning her empty glass in her hand. “Didn’t you know that she hated me after I turned her down - god, how long ago was it?” She looked up in thought. “It must be about ten years now!”

Patsy’s mouth went dry, thinking of Delia and Brigitte at Lucille’s party back in 1962. She’d assumed that Delia and Brigitte were newly dating, a cruelty that she hadn’t expected from steadfast and straightforward Delia. But they hadn’t been an item, as Patsy had believed for a decade. “You turned her advances down?”

“I did,” Delia said, still thinking. “It’s somewhat foggy, but I believe it was it at your friend–” Delia cleared her throat at the word "friend" – “Lucille’s party.”

“If I recall, you came there together.”

“Yes, she was my friend, though I treated her very badly, and we never spoke again after that night.”

“It’s sad how those sorts of fallings out are sometimes never resolved.”

“Yes, it is.”

Neither was talking about Brigitte anymore. 

“I’m glad, Pats, to see you again,” Delia said, shyly. “Even if I didn’t make it happen myself.”

Patsy swallowed, suddenly overcome by sadness. Even if Delia hadn’t wanted to be with her romantically, why couldn’t they have remained friends? They could have had tea together occasionally, laughed together like this. Whatever form their relationship took, their connection was undeniable.

“I’m glad, too, Deels.”

Delia looked down, a smile creeping across her face. “Just now we've had a more sincere discussion of feelings than the old Patience Mount ever would have allowed!” 

“Indeed we have!” Patsy laughed, though she felt rather gutted. “Indeed we have.”

 

 

Chapter Text

Delia didn’t want to go home after her night out with Pats, but she had no choice. Her ailing mother lived with her now, and Delia couldn’t simply let Mam wake up confused about where her daughter was. It was already rounding two o’clock in the morning when Delia put her key into the flat’s lock, and she hoped that her mother was sleeping soundly in the second bedroom.

She hadn’t wanted to leave Patsy there at the pub. Of course she hadn’t. But she was no longer 25; she was a 35-year-old with obligations and expectations. She couldn’t simply stay out all night, drink too much, and expect to be successful in her fledgling directing career. Her career success wasn’t a simple goal; it was a struggle to be a woman director in an overwhelmingly male-dominated profession.

But oh, how she longed to be younger, to stay with Patsy all night no matter the consequences or the expectations. She pictured stroking Patsy’s hair around her ear…holding her hand across the table…staring into her eyes over the – no! Patsy was her colleague now. She had to work with her every day, and Delia needed Patsy to respect her decisions, not walk all over her like the Patience Mount she once knew certainly would have done.

Besides, surely there was nothing between them anymore. It was enough of a surprise, and a rarity, that they’d ended their ten years of not speaking with such cordiality. After, in 1962, they hadn’t exactly broken apart amicably, but had ended a spell of talking to each other every day, seeing each other every day with an unexamined row. They hadn’t even fallen out officially, had they? It was more of a slipping away, a lack of courage and honesty on both of their parts, that had driven them apart for all this time.

But now they were back. Pats and Deels. Deels and Pats. And Delia didn’t want to let her silly and stubbornly-lingering romantic feelings get in the way of their friendship.

*

When Patsy called a taxi to collect her at two o’clock in the morning, she felt that nag of fear a woman alone in the city at night was accustomed to. She’d shrugged off her cloak of moneyed privilege as best as she could, but she missed the family driver that she would have used if she’d stayed out this late, a man named Nigel who would have escorted her directly to her front door.  

But over these last ten years, over her lifetime really, she’d gotten used to being alone. She hadn’t cut off her father completely, they still met for Sunday dinners, but she’d made it clear that she didn’t want his money. Her inheritance from her mother gave her enough security to take on only the projects that interested her, though, so she’d never had had to dress as a chorus girl and dance in feathers like some of her less wealthy theatrical compatriots.

That night, after she told the taxi driver her address, he barked, “You leave the hubs at home for ladies’ night?”

Patsy sighed, thinking of Delia. “Something like that,” she said.

“You girls take your lives in your own hands, staying out so late alone.”

“Mm.” Inexplicably, she felt near tears. Her life without a husband was often even more trying than she’d expected.

“Did you hear what I said? If you want to stay out this late, bring your hubs, you hear me?”

Sometimes she wished she had a brother or a well-meaning male friend to escort her more often, but she couldn’t ask her friend Tony Amos all the time. Homosexuality had finally been decriminalized in the U.K., and he’d finally gotten officially divorced and had been living quietly with his boyfriend. Patsy couldn’t call him up all the time.

“Mm-hm,” Patsy said.

“Good lass,” the driver said as he pulled up to her kerb to let her out.

“Driver,” she said only after she’d opened the door and handed him the fee through the window, “you’d be well-suited not to offer your clientele your critiques of their behavior. Perhaps then they’d be more likely to ring you when they require your services, as I certainly will not do.”

As she walked up the stairs to her flat, she smiled to herself as she felt the quick heat of the old Patience. She still had it.

*

“Patsy, try being more gentile in your dislike of Stanley,” Delia suggested to Patsy. “You never like him, but your hatred of him needs to build more slowly.”

They were back at rehearsal two days after they’d had drinks, and Delia was so lustful, she felt as though she was catching the flu. Despite her insistence that she shouldn’t fantasize about her friend, Delia couldn’t help herself. The bright line of Patsy’s cheek. The satisfying firmness of her hand. Just looking at Patsy made Delia quake with desire. Here she was, in rehearsal with the objection of her affections, heart-fluttering and sweating with feelings.

This wasn’t how she should be behaving at all.

“You’re right, Delia,” Patsy said, nodding curtly. This was their second table-read, and Delia knew that some of her cast would have to work on their American accents. But at least Patsy was on her side. It seemed that she had an ally in Patsy now, rather than an adversary. She remembered all those years ago how dismissive Patsy had been of criticism from their Ring the Nurses! director; in fact, she’d been really rather hostile. Had the redhead turned over a new leaf?

After rehearsal, Peter Noakes came to talk to her about his Stanley. Delia was distressed, desperate to speak to Patsy again. The redhead was deep in conversation with the actress playing Stella, Peter’s real-life wife Camilla Noakes, but she could very well leave before Peter let her alone. She had to do her job, though, and Peter deserved her attention.

“I don’t want my Stanley to be strictly a villain,” Peter said.

“That’s wise,” Delia agreed.

“He’s a product of his time and upbringing.”

“As we all are.”

“Indeed.”

“But he’s a real shite, isn’t he, Delia?”

“I’d say so!” Delia laughed, trying to focus on Peter though she couldn’t help looking over her shoulder to make sure Patsy hadn’t disappeared.

“So, how would you say that I balance portraying both of those qualities?”

“So much of acting is just having what you’re trying to do in mind, don’t you think? If I feel like he’s becoming too much of a villain, I’ll tell you, all right?”

“Of course. But you’ll tell me if he’s becoming too much of a nice guy, as well?”

“That’s my job.”

Peter slapped her on the shoulder. “You’ve fine insight, Director.”

She half-bowed, wishing him away. Her second rehearsal, and already she’d let her lust get in the way of her ambitions! She often wished she had a single-minded focus on her goals, not letting anything get in the way. This was perhaps why so many of her friends were spinsters or bachelors or had quietly married bland people in their twenties who would take care of the washing and the cooking.

“You’re already turning out to be a fine Stanley, Peter.” She smiled, sure to keep her face neutral to make sure Peter continued taking her seriously. She walked a difficult and fine line.

“See you tomorrow,” he said.

Delia nodded. But to her chagrin, by the time she looked round the theatre again, Patsy had already left.

*

Patsy had stayed friends with Lucille for the last ten years and met at a weekly gathering of rather queer artists and intellectuals, cobbled over the years by Lucille and her sparkling personality. They rotated apartments, mostly ramshackle buildings with forgiving neighbors, so no one could start putting two and two together. She couldn’t wait to tell her friend that she’d finally seen her one-time lover, Delia, again.

“She wasn’t your lover, remember? ‘Lover’ is so vulgar, too, Pats. All I can see are swinging old men in leisure suits when you say that,” Lucille smirked.

“The wrong term, perhaps, but the sentiment is the same. My old flame, then.”

“Better.”

“So, what do you have say? I look forward to your ever-present commentary.”

“What do you mean what do I say?” Lucille countered.

Patsy took a drag on her cigarette. She’d given them up completely, mostly to hang onto her complexion, but she could never stop herself on these Friday nights of debauchery. She’d mostly given up drinking, as well, but she often found herself handed inventive cocktail after cocktail by Tony Amos’ boyfriend Ted on these evenings.

Ted came up to them with two beautiful green cocktails in cut-glass goblets. He handed the second one to Lucille.

“Green?” Patsy asked. Ted was the most beautiful man she’d ever seen, as there were few Hawaiians who’d found their way to London. He’d made a name for himself performing in an underground Polynesian review, half-naked and dressed in a sarong. “It’s not really culturally accurate,” he’d shrugged to her once. “But dancing half-naked makes me hot.”

“Gracious me,” she’d said, staidly, prudishly, wishing as usual that she could be a bit more daring in her sexuality.

“Tonight we’re drinking absinthe, ladies,” Ted said. “Sugar. Water. The only way to serve it.”

Tony rushed up and wrapped his arm round Ted’s neck, kissed him on the cheek. “Drink up, my darlings. The little green fairy will come calling.” He flitted his hand around.

“Oscar Wilde saw tulips,” Lucille said, sipping and making a face at the high-proof alcohol.

A heavy guitar riff came from the record player in the center of the room, and Dave Edmunds’ “I Hear You Knocking” came on.

“Ooh, got to dance!” Ted said, grabbing Tony’s hand and pulling him to the center of the room, where a bunch of men and women were leaping up and down, pushing one another like kids. These nights of debauchery often made Patsy feel juvenile, but she critiqued that response, realizing that she hadn’t experienced a common teenagerhood of hormones and necking in the backseat of a car. She’d spent it wondering when her affections for boys would blossom, when she’d start mooning over the blonde chaps in her maths class. She never did.

“Pats,” Lucille snapped her fingers in front of her friend’s face, to rally her attention. “Earth to Pats.”

“Sorry, Luce, I was just thinking.”

“Dear God in Heaven, please tell me you aren’t still dreaming over that little chicky.”

Patsy swallowed.

“Have you been thinking about her all this time?”

Patsy sighed and nodded.

Lucille shook her head. “Even with Rex?”

Rex had been a short-haired butch who’d worn jean button-downs and countered Patsy in ill-matched battles for dominance.

“Absolutely I was thinking of her then.”

“And with Helen?”

Helen had been a quiet librarian who brought two of the same books for them to read silently together. They’d never had sex.

“Then too.”

“And now, with Evangelina?” Evangelina was Patsy’s current sort-of girlfriend. She was an Argentinian fluent in four languages who seemed shy until you realized she’d made a hilarious joke that you were too slow to understand. In the last month, Patsy had just been thinking that maybe she might fall for someone other than Delia.

Before Patsy could answer, Ted and Tony came and dragged them onto the dance floor for Elton John’s “Rocket Man.” The men held each other, and Lucille and Patsy did, too, like long-time friends.

“Elton’s such a fag,” Ted said.

“He is not,” Patsy insisted. “He’s just glamorous. Glittering.”

“Oh, right, like those aren’t synonymous,” Lucille added.

“He’s had girlfriends,” Patsy said.

“Like that’s ever meant anything,” Tony rolled his eyes.

*

“I’m not an uncultured woman,” Delia’s mother told her in the morning, before Delia left for rehearsal. They ate breakfast together most mornings, because Delia felt terribly guilty for leaving Mam alone in the house all day. She usually picked up something deliciously fattening from the French patisserie down the street, though her Mam pretended to detest the chocolate croissants they’d been overindulging on lately.

“So…?”

“I eat croissants for breakfast, don’t I?”

“Yes.”

“And I’m a widower, am I not?”

“Where’s this going, Mam?”

“I’ve seen a change in you Delia.”

Her mother had known that there was something different about her daughter, something wrong, for years. Years ago, she’d stopped asking Delia when she’d find a nice bloke and give her grandchildren. It pained Delia, really, that she couldn’t give her mother what she’d wanted because she was her parents’ only child. She wished she could be like so many of the women who fancied women she’d known, aging towards their thirties, who’d found men – homosexual or otherwise – with whom they could finally be socially appropriate. But because of her own stubbornness, Delia refused to conform.

“I can start making oatmeal for breakfast if you’re suggesting I’ve gained a few stones,” Delia winked.

Mam shook her head and put her hand on her daughter’s. “You seem happy, cariad. Whatever it is, I’m glad.”

Delia blushed, dipping her head. “Thanks, Mam. I’m certainly it’s just the success of my big-time directing debut.”

Her mam smiled, one of the first times that Delia could remember since her husband died and she’d sold the house in Pembroke to move to the city she’d hated. “Don’t let your head swell, Delia. Always remember where you come from.”

*

The rehearsal went well, and Delia managed to forget her intentions with her old friend to actually do her job. She needed to get it together, she had an entire show to block, and she couldn’t let her attentions be swarmed by these feelings for Patsy. Not again. She needed to focus. Since she’d been a failure in every way in her personal life, the only thing she had was her career.

But there was Patsy, glimmering in her peripheral vision. Most people thought that a woman’s looks were faded by forty, but Delia thought Patsy looked better than ever.

No – she couldn’t do this. She couldn’t ignore her responsibilities because she wanted to focus on Patsy. Her mother had said she looked happy that morning, and part of that glow was because she was finally getting to do what she’d wanted for such a long time. This directorship was what she had worked for. If the show wasn’t a success – and she’d face even more scrutiny as a first-time director, and a woman – then she’d never be hired again. Everything had to be perfect.

Which meant that she had no time to re-enter the glittering, enticing world of Patsy Mount.

Chapter Text

After the next rehearsal on Friday afternoon, Patsy screwed up her courage to invite Delia to the next round of Friday Night Debauchery (Tony's informal name for their weekly get-togethers), which was set to take place at her flat that night. Tony Amos was coming, and Ted, along with their crew, as well as Lucille and a bunch of her girls. She always had a girl hanging around her neck, and that's really what they always were, girls of 19 or 20. "Aren't you happy to have girls mooning over you, Lucille?" Patsy asked her once.

"Can't tell 'em apart, Pats. What I could really go for is someone who'll scare the bejesus out of me."

"Christ," Patsy said, surprised by her own titillation. She liked scary women, too.

Delia scared her, not because she was cruel or intimidating, but because she wasn't predictable. Waiting to talk with Delia, Patsy loitered backstage, brushing objects with her fingers so she looked like she had a reason to be there, until the other cast members finally cleared out. "Hi," Patsy said. 

"Hi!" Delia replied, grinning with what looked like more confidence than Patsy felt.

"Wonderful rehearsal today. Terrific, er, directing!"

"Thank you!"

Both women paused.

"Was that what you wanted to say, or--" Delia started.

"No. I'm having a little shindig at my flat tonight, if you're free. Nothing wild, well, perhaps a little wild, but you'd be welcome. More than welcome."

Delia's face illuminated like this was the greatest offer she'd ever had. But then it drooped. "It's Friday, so it's cards night with Mam. She's come to live with me, you know, and she's really having quite a difficult time. I can't leave her alone."

Patsy was so desperate to spend time with Delia that she said, without thinking, "Bring her!"

"Won't it be, like you said, rather wild?"

"Only as wild as I say. It's my flat!"

"Mam really has come around, I think, to the way things are." Delia moved her hand around, vaguely describing "the way things are."  

"Wonderful!" Patsy said. "Really, all we're going to do is sit around and talk and drink cocktails. She'd enjoy it."

"She quite needs to make new friends."

"Perfect!"

"We'll come," Delia nodded. "We'll come."

*

In preparation for Patsy's party, Delia put on a wide-legged, navy pantsuit with a belted, tight-fitting bodice. She curled her hair so that it fell around her face in loose waves. She thought she looked smart, like she wasn't trying too hard, but also unwittingly hot. Delia'd had always thought she was attractive or cute, but she'd only recently started thinking of herself as sexy. Those weren't instructions society gave her, she was almost "over the hill" in their eyes, but she didn't care.

Mam almost ruined her confidence, though, when she said, "Don't you look professional, cariad! Is this a party or a job interview?"

"What the hell, mam?" They'd become less cautious with one another after living together for these months. How could they not?

Mam chuckled, sincerely laughed. She seemed thrilled to be going to a party, noting that she hadn't been to one since the Hughes had tried to throw a fondue shindig back in '69. It seemed to Delia that her mother hadn't bought a new party dress since then, either, her blue brocade A-line dress with the cap sleeves looking like the same one Mam had worn when Delia was in secondary school. But good for her, Delia had to remind herself; her Mam still fit into the frock.

Delia suggested a long, knit cardigan for Mam to wear over it, to modernize it for the '70s. She was mortified bringing her Mam to Patsy's, and almost called to cancel several times. What had she been thinking, agreeing to bring mam with her to one of Patsy's parties? This was going to be a disaster. She was normally so level-headed - and so, it seemed, was Patsy - yet both of them made brash decisions when they were together. 

She and her mother had to take the tube to reach Patsy's flat, and Delia knew Mam was going to make a fuss. There were homeless people sleeping along the corridors, and a young, ragged woman even asked Mam for a quid.

Mam was in such a good mood that she reached into her coin purse and dropped one into the woman's hand.

"Thank you, miss!" the woman said as she scampered away. "God bless you!"

"She called me miss," Mam winked at Delia. "It's like I'm a girl again."

Delia was glad her Mam was so happy, and imagined for the first time, that she could help her Mam recover her girlhood, re-live her youth. After all, Gwyn had only been 25 when she'd married and 26 when she'd had Delia. 61 wasn't old anymore, especially not in 1972. Mam was far too young to give up having a good time.

There was nowhere to sit on the tube, so Delia lectured her mother on appropriate etiquette at Patsy's as they hung onto poles. "Now, Mam, some of Patsy's friends are going to be a bit, er, unconventional for your taste. They may be unmarried. They may be exuberant." Delia thought of some of Patsy's wilder gay men friends, who could very well show up in drag. Delia licked her lips; Jesus, she thought, here goes Mam's reclaimed youth. She's barely going to last 10 minutes. 

"Now, Patsy's the wealthy lass who took you to Paris those years ago?"

"Right."

"She's a beautiful girl! What's her husband's name?"

Delia couldn't tell if her mother was playing coy, or really thought Patsy had married. "She never married, Mam. And don't say anything cruel to her about that."

"I understand, Delia! Like I told you the other day, I'm a modern woman. I understand the youth of today."

"We're not exactly youths anymore, Mam. We're middle-aged."

"You'll always be my wee babe!"

"Mam..."

"I'm thrilled to be invited," Mam said, and then she squeezed Delia's hand. Just then, the train lurched, and when Mam almost lost her balance, she squealed with delight. Delia smiled with her mother; was it possible that they could actually grow to like each other?

*

Patsy was going to throw the classiest goddamn party that any of these bohemians had ever seen. She could, she knew, because she had the breeding and the experience. There was not going to be a louche ambiance tonight; everyone was going to have sophisticated conversations around sophisticated aperitivs and sophisticated amuse-bouche.

When Delia said she and her mother were coming to the party, she'd immediately put the phone tree into effect. "Tony, the party must be a bit toned down tonight, all right? One of my friends, she - " Patsy paused, unwilling to be honest about Delia or her mam - "just had a death in her family, and a somber affair needs to be on tap tonight."

"Oh, Pats, I'm so sorry. Absolutely. I rather gag for sadness anyway," Tony said.

"Gag?" 

"Die for it." 

"Let everybody know, no drugs, no drag, no Elton John. All right?"

"Absolutely, Lt. Patsy. You really get me going with your powerful commands. I'll do my duty, sir!"

"Her...er...relative is dead, Tony! Can you be serious?"

"This is how fags deal with death."

Patsy hung up the phone. She had more work to do. She called up a caterer acquaintance and offered her a significance percentage of her inheritance to make bite-sized appetizers and serve cocktails. "We're serving grasshoppers only," she said curtly, still able to use her directness to get what she wanted. "There's too much sugar in them, so they're sure not to drink too many."

Everything was going to be perfect for Delia's mam. She wouldn't dislike the queers anymore; she would believe they behaved even more appropriately than high society did.

*

When Mam and Delia arrived at her door, Patsy was shocked by Mam's enthusiasm. "Patience Mount!" she practically shouted, throwing her arms around Patsy's neck. "My dear girl. I never thought we'd see one another again. Thank you for the invitation!"

Eyes wide, Patsy said, "You're more than welcome."

"Hello, Pats," Delia said much more shyly than her mother had.

Patsy ushered them into the apartment, where men and women, most in black thanks to Tony, sat on every chair and table available, holding bright green grasshoppers cocktails in martini glasses.

"It looks beautiful here," Delia said.

"Thank you," Patsy said, matter-of-fact, business-like. She loved hosting parties. "On the counter by my caterer Frances are amuse-bouche, a verrine of melon soup with fresh melon, a Parmesan panna cotta, and, to drink, a grasshopper. One part creme de menthe, one part creme de cacao, one part single cream."

"Amazing," Mam said. Patsy remembered a woman who was critical of extravagance, of anything that wasn't absolutely necessary, but she seemed to appreciate the festivities tonight.

As her mam wandered toward the food table, Delia hung back by Pats. "You never told me the occasion, Pats."

Patsy wanted to tell Delia that the occasion was she was back in her life. But instead she said, "No occasion. One of us holds a party every Friday night."

*

As the night wore on, Tony was able to hold onto the somber mood. There was no dancing; instead, Patsy listened as her friends had some of the most intense conversations she'd ever heard from them.

"I was raised Anglican, but as I've gotten older, my faith in God has been shaken," said a man (woman?) who Patsy had only seen in red lipstick and six-inch platform heels, dancing on the table. "I want to be able to find spiritual connection as an adult, but I've never known where to turn."

"God works in mysterious ways," Mam said, putting her hands onto the man's shoulders. "You never know when he's going to test you, or your faith, but if you can find a reason to persist, you'll keep going."

"That's a beautiful sentiment," the man said.

Mam nodded, taking a sip of her third grasshopper of the evening.

"She's a hit, that older lady," Tony told Patsy, who had slipped away from the group. "Did you hire her?"

"No!"

"Her authenticity is astonishing."

"She's from Wales."

"Of course she is. By the way, who has the dead relative?"

Patsy licked her lips; she'd never told him. "Sheena," Patsy said, pointing to a Indian-British woman in the corner. "Her grandmother."

"Poor girl," Tony agreed.

*

Delia found the whole affair rather morose. If she'd been more of an intellectual person, perhaps she would have appreciated Patsy's cadre of smart friends in black turtlenecks and silks. But she knew her strengths were not in talking philosophy or policy. She was politically active, and sometimes picketed for the issues she cared about, but she didn't feel like she could keep up with these people. Patsy was so busy playing hostess that she'd hardly even spoken to her.

It was none other than Mam who livened up the night. She'd had four grasshoppers, and though they weren't the strongest drinks in the world, they knocked a woman who rarely drank flat. "Enough of this dreariness. Let's have a party!" She threw up her martini glass into the air, spilling a little of the green liquid onto Delia's knit cardigan.

"Christ, mam," Delia rolled her eyes.

"Patience, do you have the new America album?" Mam asked. "I just dream of seeing them walking down the sidewalk," she said to a woman standing next to her. "Don't you?"

Patsy called, "It's in the record bin, near the player."

Mam fished out the record and "A Horse with No Name" started to play. She started fish-tailing around the room, shifting back and forth on her stocking feet.

The crowd stood, gaping at this older woman, gyrating.

"Well!?" Mam crowed.

"Let's dance!" Sheena shouted, leaping to dance with Mam.

No one was more surprised about how Mam was behaving than Delia.

"Apparently, Sheena has recovered," Tony Amos whispered to Patsy. From what she'd recovered, Delia didn't know. 

*

Patsy had finally let her hair down and was dancing in the center of her flat to the ridiculous music of America. She'd bought the record on a lark, rather as a joke, but tonight she could understand the appeal. Delia's mam was dancing with Tony Amos, cheek to cheek, and she either didn't seem to notice - or didn't mind - the same-sex couples bumping each other and holding hands. Maybe this was going to be a night to remember, after all. Patsy was proud - and rather shocked- that she could give Delia's mother such a good time.

Patsy was so distracted by Delia leaping up and down near here that she didn't hear her front door open and close again.

"Hi, babe," Evangelina came over and grabbed Patsy's shoulders. When Patsy stopped dancing, suddenly cold, Lina kissed her cheek. "Terrific party."

"Lina, hello," Patsy stammered.

Lina raised her eyebrows at Patsy's coldness and formality. "Have we met? I'm Evangelina." She stuck out her hand.

Patsy had entirely forgotten that she'd invited Lina to the party, weeks ago. Lina was always traveling for her job in advertising, so Patsy often forgot when she'd get back to London. She might have grown more smitten with Lina months ago, Patsy realized, if she'd been easier to pin down. She was slippery and rather non-committal, which, of course, reminded Patsy of herself. Though, as it was, Patsy was very taken with this hard-headed woman, and was surprised that she found it difficult to breath now that Lina was near.

Delia stopped dancing and introduced herself. "Hi," she was still breathing hard. "I'm Delia. And you are?"

Lina grinned at Delia. "I'm Evagelina, Patsy's girlfriend." She looked straight at Patsy when she said it. How could Lina read her so well?, Patsy wondered, feeling a bit light-headed round the two of them.

"Well, she's rather more of my..." Patsy started, but couldn't finish because of the look in Lina's cold eyes. She looked between the two women. Which one did she want?

*

As the crowd started heating up again, Patsy had to get away from Lina and Delia. Her feelings were too muddled - with rightness and wrongness, with nostalgia and infatuation. She'd always thought of Delia as the one who got away, but maybe that was just an ingrained response, a way to keep herself from falling for anyone else. She pondered this as she ordered her third drink of the evening. "Just make me a G&T, Francie, will you? The gin's hidden under the bar."

She stood and watched Delia and then Lina, Delia and Lina, so closely that she didn't notice that Delia's mam had come to stand next to her.
Patsy startled. "Would you like another drink...I'm sorry. I'm afraid I only know you as Delia's mam."

"Gwyn," she chuckled. "I'm afraid I quite only know myself as Delia's mam, as well. Or as Evan's widow."

"I'm sorry about your husband."

"Thank you."

"I will take that drink," Gwyn said. "What are you having?"

"A gin and tonic."

"I'll have the same. Evan and I had a strong marriage. A fine partnership." Gwyn said. "I always wanted that for Delia. She's an only child, you know, and I won't be here forever."

Patsy swallowed. She thought often about how she'd cope when her father passed away, and she was left alone with only distant cousins who'd do little more than write her cards on Christmas.

"But she never did find her person," Gwyn continued.

"She still could..." Patsy lied, sure that Delia would never find what her mother wanted for her.

"I may not have understood why Delia is the way she is, the mistakes we made in raising her, but her proclivities shouldn't mean that she has to be alone." She took the cocktail from Frances.

"Thank you, lass," she continued. "It's the 1970s, after all, and I'm not embarrassed by her now. I don't want her to be alone any longer." She looked up at Patsy.

Patsy played with her lip, not sure where this was going, not sure what to say.

"I know you hurt her, Patience. She never told me, but I know. It took her all this time to recover, and now you're back in her life. I can't stop her from spending time with you, but I beg of you, tell her what you want from her. Tell her all that you want from her."

Patsy started, "Gwyn, I'm afraid you've misunderstood--"

"No, Patience, I haven't. Delia might be a city girl now, but she's a country lass. Loyal, dependable. Don't break her heart again."

Patsy gaped at Gwyn as she weaved her way back through the dancing crowd, carrying her nearly-full gin and tonic with her. She watched as Gwyn hooked her arms around Tony's neck, swaddling into him as Ted embraced them both from behind.