Ladies and Gentlemen, take your seats! Summer Season is almost open.
Blurb: A Treading the Boards Novella
A trip down to Cornwall is just what Ryan Penniford needs to recover from the daily grind of London life. Ryan and his amateur dramatics society, the Sarky Players, are traveling to Porthcurno to perform at the stunning Minack Theatre.
Stuart Box has returned to Cornwall after earning his PhD, and is killing time as he looks for a job back in London. Spending time with Ryan from the Sarky Players is a great way to take his mind off things.
During their first meeting, sparks fly, but not in a good way, and they must work to get past their initial hostilities to discover they have great off-stage chemistry. Stuart soon learns Ryan is not the superficial man people assume he is, and Stuart likes what he sees. The feeling is entirely mutual.
Pity Ryan is only visiting for two weeks, but both men want to see where this holiday romance might take them.
Ryan swirled the dregs of wine in his glass. “Any left in the bottle?” he called down the table.
Caroline theatrically turned the bottle upside down. Ryan scanned the small pizza restaurant to catch the eye of a waiter. With another bottle of pinot grigio secured, Ryan turned back to the conversation about the dress to last.
“It was a disaster,” declared Linda, waving her arm and nearly spilling her wine. “We’re going to be so shit the Minack won’t let us come back.”
“You’ve been in enough of these things to know that means nothing.”
Ryan wondered what she’d expected from a rushed run-through on a Friday evening. And most of them had forgotten how well everything had gone the previous weekend. He’d been in several of the Sarky Players’ productions, and this was by far the most prepared they’d ever been.
Caroline put her glass down and tucked her hair behind her ears. “But even you have to admit tonight was terrible.”
“Oh please, the pair of you are like the Dowager Duchesses of Doom. We’re doing A Midsummer Night’s Dream, everyone knows their lines—sort of—and the crowds will love it whatever. From what I’ve read, the audience will be too busy watching the sodding dolphins to be worried about our performance.”
Calum leaned around Linda, pushing his ever-slipping glasses back up his nose. “Too right, Ryan. Tell the naysayers to pipe down.”
Given the glower Linda focused on Calum, Ryan wondered if their leading man had a death wish and if they’d need to find an emergency replacement for Oberon. He sipped his wine and decided to sit back and watch.
“Calum, just because some of us want to give our best, doesn’t mean we’re naysayers. If you could remember your lines rather than staring at Penny’s cleavage, I’d be a lot less worried.”
“I do know my lines!”
“Oh yeah, what comes after Swifter than arrow from the Tartar’s bow?”
Calum flustered and grabbed for a breadstick. “Don’t put me on the spot. That’s terribly unsporting.”
“Please, Linda, Calum, this is our celebratory dinner. Can the king and queen of the fairies get along for just one night?” pleaded Owen, and Ryan thought he made a much better peace broker than director.
The patronizing old git had thrown his weight around to direct the Sarky Players’ first Minack production, despite his last play being a complete shambles. But Ryan was feeling charitable, possibly due to the wine arriving and the waiter pouring him another glass.
“Owen’s right. Let’s have a toast. To fairies, the sea, and the chance to get an amazing Puck.”
“Ryan!” snorted Linda. “I bet you’ve been waiting all evening to use that line.”
“Actually, from the moment I was cast.” He grinned. “You must admit I am an amazing Puck… can’t fault Owen’s casting.”
The rest of the table burst into laughter. Ryan raised his glass. “Ladies and gents, a toast. To the Sarky Players—playing away from home!”
The others around the table joined in the sentiment, and a musical scale of clinking glasses accompanied the toast and stopped the bickering between Linda and Calum, who were now discussing their travel plans.
Owen turned to Ryan. “I still can’t quite believe we got a slot. Pity Andy wasn’t able to get time off to be part of the production, but Phil did a sterling job with the set.”
Ryan knew that Andy and Phil’s decision not to travel to the Minack had nothing to do with Andy’s job, but that neither of them wanted their first holiday together as a couple to be under the scrutiny of the Sarky Players.
“Never mind. Maybe next time they’ll make it.”
“They don’t know what they’re missing. I’ve wanted to put on a play down there since I was a boy.”
“I’ve never been,” Ryan admitted. “Actually I’ve never been to Cornwall.”
“You’re in for a treat.”
“I thought since it’s such a trek to get down there, I’d stay an extra week after the run.”
Owen nodded in approval. “Good plan. You driving down?”
“Good Lord, no. I plan to get the train and pick up a hire car at Penzance.”
“I did offer you a lift,” Linda interrupted.
“I know you did, darling. But I do love a nice long train journey with a Kindle full of books I’d like to become better acquainted with.”
He’d been polite but firm, turning down several offers, some of his castmates asking more than once. As much as he was looking forward to the production, he would be stuck with these people for nearly a week. He needed the five-and-a-half-hour journey to gird his loins and prepare for being his outwardly perky, flirty self with little chance for downtime until after the run had finished. It was even worth getting up at sparrow’s fart to catch the earliest train so he could be down in Cornwall by early afternoon.
Linda pouted. “But you’ll miss our fun sing-alongs, and you’ll be all crammed up and have to wrestle strangers for legroom.”
“I’ve already bought my tickets. I’m pretty sure I’ll survive slumming in first class for the duration.”
Ryan knew if he stayed much longer, he’d face a barrage of further offers. While he was grateful they wanted his company, he really wished they would take his polite no as an answer. He downed the contents of his glass and dug out his wallet. Mentally totting up the price of the pizza and the wine he’d drunk, he placed the notes to cover his share and a little extra onto the table.
“You’re not leaving us, are you, Ryan?” asked Penny, who, with her blonde ringlets, suited her role of Helena. “Sorry, but I’ve a date with a mass of writhing male bodies on a dance floor. Being away from London for a couple of weeks means I need to get my fix before I go.”
“I thought that was why you took a holiday let on your own.” Penny waggled her eyebrows. “For a local fix.”
Ryan pushed his chair back and stood up. “Just because I intend to sample the local cuisine doesn’t mean I don’t want a reminder of civilization to take with me.” With the sound of catcalls ringing in his ears, Ryan walked away, waving good-bye without turning back. The night air was warm and muggy and hit him like a brick wall as he left the restaurant. Unsurprisingly for a Friday night, Greenwich was busy.
Pubs and restaurants full of people unwinding at the end of the working week, couples walking arm in arm, groups of friends kicking back and enjoying what Greenwich had to offer. Like many others he walked toward the Docklands Light Railway station, but unlike most of them, he didn’t enter the DLR station and instead kept on walking. He had no desire to go into the city center, he seldom did, but he knew enough of the city’s gay scene to talk a good talk and persuade people he was living the life they expected of him. The beauty of having a flat on the waterfront wasn’t just the fantastic views of the river and the city. It meant he could be back home from the center of Greenwich in less than ten minutes.
Ryan opened the front lobby door to the block of flats, then tutted at the state of a wilting plant and made a mental note to send the maintenance company an e-mail regarding upkeep. His salary afforded him the luxury of living where he did, and he worked bloody hard for it. He didn’t pay the ridiculous service charge every month to look at drooping greenery.
Ryan took the lift to the top floor. Once at the penthouse, he let himself in, thankful that his cleaning lady had been in and put away the delivery from the laundry service. The flat never got too untidy, and Janice was a godsend when it came to making sure he had everything how he liked it. While she wasn’t cheap, she also did his shopping, which was worth so much more than what she charged for three mornings a week.
Taking care to properly unlace his shoes, Ryan took them off and placed them in the built-in shoe cupboard before padding through his flat to the master bedroom. He still had to pack, but he could do that in no time with a little Brahms to keep him company.
With the dulcet tones of “Sarabande in A minor” floating through the wireless speakers, Ryan removed a suitcase from a cupboard in the walk-in wardrobe and collected what he needed, including the travel pack of toiletries he always had on hand for when work sent him away on frequent travel trips. He hummed along with the music as he packed, idly thinking that his castmates probably thought he’d be on his knees in the back room of a seedy club by now. The notion made him chuckle. His role as Puck wasn’t the main testament to acting ability—no, it was that everyone believed the persona he’d created after leaving Oxford.
Satisfied he had everything packed, Ryan grabbed a beer from the fridge in his small but high-spec kitchen and headed out onto the balcony, picking up his Kindle as he went. He’d earned a few chapters of American Gods before bed.
Let no one say Ryan Penniford didn’t know how to kick up his heels on a Friday night.