The wine bar, called Thespian's Retreat, was situated adjacent to the theatre. The press of people in there was unbelievable. Theatre-goers perused glossy programmes and white collar workers gossiped in groups: happy, it seemed, to be free of work restraints. A bunch of women, surrounded by the day's purchases, leaned on the balustrades: restrained, but tipsy. Rachel wondered if they sought alcohol as a means of escape from the onerous business of carting all those bags. Two heavily made-up men were, according to Cynthia, actors from the Hippodrome. Neither was familiar to Rachel but going by the affected way they chatted to their lady friends she concluded that Cynthia was probably right.
The room was poorly lit and stank of wine. The latticed walls were covered with plastic vines, the ceiling adorned with artificial grapes. The black furniture was constructed from wrought-iron and although the place was designed to resemble a vineyard it actually looked more like a gloomy cellar.
Cynthia and Rachel sat at a table near a group of teenage lads: unsavoury creatures in dirty anoraks, with greasy hair and spots. ‘What do they look like?’ Rachel whispered as she lifted her glass, glancing again at the undesirables who had deigned to mix with normal folk.
‘Never mind them,’ said Cynthia. ‘We're here to sort you out, not them.’
Rachel was tempted to blow on the thin spiral of smoke rising from the ashtray. She puckered her lips in readiness, but Cynthia retrieved her cigarette and sucked in enough smoke to instigate an unbecoming coughing fit. Her off-the-shoulder black dress was probably the cutest number she possessed, but it made Rachel feel conspicuous in her own plain denim skirt and tangerine woolly.
‘Go on then,’ urged Cynthia, returning her handkerchief to her bag. 'Regale me with the gen on your love life?’
‘I told you this morning.’
‘Have you tried debating the matter?’
‘I can't. He'll think I'm pushy.’
‘And you’re not, of course?’ Cynthia gazed round as she stubbed out her cigarette, commenting that it was a good job they came early. She crossed one leg over the other and tapped her foot in time to the piped music. ‘Maybe he's shy?’ she remarked as she sank her nose in her glass.
‘I think I frighten him off.’
‘Then stop trying so hard. Talk to him.’
‘What would you say if you were me?’
‘I'd say ....’ Cynthia broke off, and began inspecting her painted nails. ‘Gee, I don't know, Rachel. I really don't.’
Neither do I, thought Rachel, downing her drink. She cringed at the loud guffaws coming from the neighbouring table and was in two minds about telling them to be quiet, when Cynthia cried:
The word was alien to Rachel's vocabulary. Thinking it was an order to get more drinks she scraped back her chair and fished around her feet for her bag.
Cynthia extended a restraining arm. ‘Hang on. Don't you want to hear my solution to your predicament?’
Rachel paused with a glass in each hand. ‘It might be better to hear it with a full glass in front of me.’
‘Go on, then. It'll keep 'til you come back.’
THE queue at the bar was three deep at some points. Rachel had to search for an opening, finally locating one at the far end when three girls moved off to find a seat. They'll be lucky, she thought, as she elbowed her way to the counter. Clutching her money in her hand, she rested one foot on the brass foot-rail and waited to attract the attention of a footloose barman.
‘Two glasses of medium dry white wine, please.’
‘Coming up, Miss.’
Idly, Rachel studied the shelves of wine bottles then looked beyond them to the reflected faces of other patrons.
That was how she saw Gary and his friend.
Gary, who was not one for drinking wine!
Nattering animatedly to his companion, a much older man with greying hair and bulging eyes,
Especially RED wine!
Rachel continued to gawk, losing sight once or twice when people pushed by.
The barman deposited her order on the counter. 'There you are, Miss,’ he said.
Plonking a note in his palm Rachel drew the glasses nearer, ready to depart the instant she had her change. The barman counted coins into her hand, apologising for the vast amount of coppers. When he’d finished Rachel shoved the money into the pocket of her skirt, grabbed the drinks and twisted round.
‘Excuse me,’ she said to the bruiser behind her, who promptly took the opportunity to stroke her hindquarters. ‘Gerroff,’ she hissed, jerking away from him, and cursed as wine spattered her skirt. ‘Don't even think about it,’ she mouthed at the next man, glaring at him and his woman.
The crowd parted to let her through. She scanned the drinking public as she passed, but there was no sign of Gary, or his associate. ‘Damn it,’ she muttered.
Damn it, damn it, damn it!
She combed the throng as she carried the drinks to the table but it was a fruitless exercise.
Cynthia took a glass from Rachel's hand. ‘You've been ages.’
‘I've just seen
‘He was at the back. He left before I could reach him.’
‘Oh, what a shame.’
‘I feel fed up now.’
Uttering sympathetic noises, Cynthia attempted to reinstate the cheer by recounting some anecdotes she had overheard. But Rachel couldn't even raise a chuckle, so Cynthia reverted to the quandary she'd been roped in to solve. ‘How about making a play for someone else? Keith, perhaps.
Rachel shook her head. ‘
Cynthia slanted her head to one side and contemplated Rachel's declaration. ‘You're still determined, then?’
‘More than ever,’ stated Rachel. ‘And, if I have to wait until then to sleep with him, so be it.’
(to be continued)