Huge thanks to Joodiff for the beta and her kind but persistently nudging me to write.
Enjoy - please leave a review to let me know what you think.
It's right after curtain-fall. Tonight's performance is at an end and the audience is crowding to get out. Even though it is unbearably hot in the building Grace Foley waits patiently. There's no reason to press on; eventually they will get out. All in good time. It's simply a question of too many people passing through too few too tiny exits together. It simply takes time.
The humidity is high and the air in the foyer is suffocating; stagnant and loaded with the mixed smells of perfume, aftershave, and an added splash of body odour and sweat. It's not very pleasant. Not very pleasant at all, and though she uses the program from tonight's performance as a fan, her back is damp, making her dress stick to her skin.
But she doesn't care right now. She's happy. Happy. Happy. Happy. Almost euphoric. Feeling as if she's floating on a little merry, pink cloud. Her pulse beats a little bit faster and she quietly hums the powerful theme from the ballet they just saw. Not that she's aware of it, still completely lost as she is in the romantic fairy tale they have just seen on stage and the wonderful music that accompanied it. It's been such a delightful evening and she's in no rush to let go of it...
She senses Boyd's irritation though; his tension is apparent. She knows how much he hates situations like this, being trapped in a crowd with no escape possible. The way the hand that rests lightly on the small of her back never breaks its intimate contact, the way he constantly shifts on his feet, and how his gaze constantly flickers across the heads in front of them, searching for a way out. They're all signs of his discomfort. So easy to read – at least for her – and that's even without looking directly at him.
So far, they haven't managed to move much. A few feet at the most and still more people are pressing behind them to leave the theatre. The high temperature is almost overwhelming. Feeling flushed and overheated, Grace finds a tissue in her bag and gently dabs at her cheeks and temples. Inclining her head, carefully hiding her face from Boyd, she wipes the corners of her eyes, silently applauding herself for using waterproof mascara. She silently sniggers, knowing her own weaknesses; some performances always touch a nerve. Every time they make her cry. She knows it, and Swan Lake is definitely one of them.
Half-turning, tilting her head back, she tries to catch Boyd's attention, wanting to thank him for a most wonderful evening and to tell him just how much she appreciates his surprise. It's not uncommon for him to take her out for dinner on a Friday evening, but tonight – of all nights – is a kind of anniversary for them; six months since they accidentally ended up in her bed together. Never has she known a man to remember something like that.
Expecting a quiet meal somewhere, he certainly took her by surprise treating her to a light theatre dinner followed by an evening at The Royal Opera House. Swan Lake of all things. What more could a girl possibly want? Briefly, she wonders how he knew just how much she loves ballet, and that this one is the absolute top of her favourites. Great music and a good romantic story that always tugs at her heart and makes her shed a tear at the end. It's ridiculous given her age, but what can she do, she muses. She loves a good romance, revelling in stories of unhappy love. Always has.
The slow flow of people continues. They manage a few steps before they're stopped once again. Conversation is futile; Boyd can't hear her through the heavy noise in the room from people talking and laughing. Shaking his head, unable to comprehend her words through the cacophony, he inclines his head towards her and mumbles a few words close to her ear, but she only catches a single one 'wait'. Instead, she reaches for his hand, squeezing it to show her gratitude.
In the meantime, she studies him. Something she never tires of. Like most of the other men present, he's wearing a suit, though he carries his jacket carefully folded over his right arm, and she notices he's not only unfastened the cufflinks and rolled his sleeves up a bit – but has also opened one more button at the shirt's neck than he usually does in public. She is not going to complain. She smirks, sensing the blood racing a little bit faster in her veins. Her eyes flicker between the bare skin of his upper chest and the nicely drawn broad shoulders under the thin shirt. It doesn't make it any easier to keep her composure, to stay calm and cool. Feeling hotter and more flushed, she uses her 'fan' even more energetically.
Still, nothing happens. It's one – tiny – step at the time, and there's still a long way to go. By now, they should be close to the exit but Grace is too short to actually see the door over the sea of heads. Still, she imagines she finally can sense a slight breeze of fresh air. Boyd is still right behind her, and the gentle touch of his hand on her back is reassuring. An outburst, more startled than from pain, escapes her lips as somebody accidentally steps her on her toes, and it makes Boyd step even closer and immediately wrap a protective arm around her shoulder. Casting a worried, scrutinising gaze down at her, he inquires, "Are you alright?"
Even though she nods reassuringly, sending him a weak smile, Boyd continues to study her intensely for a moment, before he – apparently giving up on the current situation – morphs into his professional persona.
Straightening his back, squaring his broad shoulders, he towers over most of the people around them and with a sharp note of command in his voice, he, loud and clear, demands that the crowd blocking their way parts to let them pass. Pushing through, shielding her with his body, they soon manage to reach the door and escape out into the night.
Cool fresh air engulfs them. Automatically, Grace stops, takes some deep breaths to fill her lungs with the soothing air. But they need to move. With long strides and an arm around her shoulder, Boyd leads her away from the throng before he finally stops at the other side of the square. Stepping in front of her without releasing the hand resting on her shoulder, but obviously more relaxed now, he lowers his head, places a gentle kiss on her temple, and with lips still lightly pressed towards her skin mumbles, "Better?"
"Mmm," she sighs happily, leaning into him, nudging her head into his shoulder, sneaking an arm around his waist, quietly enjoying the intimate moment without the constant pushing or shoving. Without letting go of the close contact, she angles her head, looks up at him, smiling contentedly and whispering, "I'm fine... You?"
"Yes." Keeping eye-contact, he lifts a hand, gently brushing a strand of hair away from her forehead before rubbing the same hand around his own neck loosening the collar from the skin. "I can breathe again and that's definitely a good thing. Bloody hell!" An exclamation with passion. "That was like fucking sardines."
"But not exactly a reason for you to behave like a gallant knight in armour, Boyd," she teases. Throwing her head back and laughing, she adds, "I'm not a damsel in distress... Are you even allowed to do that?"
"Do what?" he snorts. "Helping you out of a crowded room where you're being suffocated and pushed around? It was nothing." Shrugging, he adds with an innocent expression, "I only asked them to move a bit. Didn't show my warrant card or anything. Nothing illegal there... "
His hand finds her upper arm again, softly brushing his thumb over her bare skin. "Now what?" He raises a questioning eyebrow. "What do you want to do? Go home or go for a drink?"
Grace doesn't need time to think. It's a lovely evening, pleasantly warm. Covent Garden is still full of activity. The area is humming with noise. Groups of people are walking around the streets. Laughter and music echo out from the many bars and restaurants and from the many customers standing outside the pubs drinking and smoking. She shakes her head. "Nah, it's too soon to end such a lovely evening... "
Straight-faced he looks down at her, eyes twinkling wickedly. "Going home doesn't necessarily mean the evening is over, doctor Foley."
Gazing back, she loses herself for a moment, spellbound by the deep brown pools that capture her with more than just a hint of hot-burning passion.
"I know... " She breathes, biting down her lip, fascinated as she watches him deliberately open his mouth a bit and slowly lick his lips.
It's so hard to decline the very obvious invitation. It's tempting and for a moment, she almost gives in... Just the way that man looks at her makes every part of her body hunger for his touch.
Closing her eyes, Grace takes a few deep breaths, then places a calming hand on his chest while she weighs her options. At home, a good bottle of red and a soft bed with cool sheets await them – probably a lot of fun too. But from first-hand experience she knows for sure that they will eventually end up in bed whatever. Together – in more than one way. No matter how late it gets. But there's nothing wrong with wanting it all, she muses to herself. Nothing wrong in teasing him and letting him wait...
It is a lovely evening, and even though she would like a drink she really doesn't fancy being cooped up in a stuffy bar. It's Friday night, though, and the West End will be noisy and full of feisty people more or less inebriated and thus definitely not the place she would choose for a romantic stroll.
"The night is young. Let's go down to the Embankment," she finally says, reaching for his hand.
"Your wish, my command," he replies. Without breaking their mutual gaze, he reaches for the proffered hand, lifts it and presses his lips against her knuckles. Then he turns and starts a slow amble towards the river.
Hand in hand they walk to Victoria Embankment, then take a moment to stop at the waterfront, gazing in silence. It's so quiet and the view is wonderful. There's hardly any traffic, no people around. The dark river, the multi-coloured lights reflecting in the surface of the almost still water make a perfect picture. An almost full moon, partly blurred by some fuzzy thin clouds, is visible in the dark evening sky, completing the image.
The air is definitely cooler by the river, though still pleasantly warm. A light evening breeze makes the leaves on the trees rustle, and her skirt flapping slightly around her legs cools her body, making her shiver. Boyd immediately notices and swiftly wraps his jacket around her shoulder, stating. "You're cold. Can't have you getting a chill, can we?"
He puts his arms around her, pulling her close to his body. Comfortable, nesting in his arms she pauses peacefully with her back resting against his front. Lightly he places his chin upon the top of her head. Together they stand in silence, taking in the view.
"Aww," she sighs, "what an absolutely breath-taking sight." Softly nudging the back of her head against his chest, she whispers. "What a perfect ending of a beautiful evening. Thank you so much."
"Hm." Boyd angles his head towards her, gazing down at her. Arching an eyebrow, he inquires, "You enjoyed it?"
"Did I enjoy it?" Twisting in his arms, Grace turns around, stirring into his eyes in deep wonder. "How can you even ask? I loved it so very very much. It was gorgeous."
Quietly, he studies her for a moment or two with a penetrating gaze, before he hesitantly adds, "If you say so..." The words fade in the air, and he shrugs slightly. "Wasn't quite sure... "
"How did you possibly get that idea?" Startled, she takes a step back to better regard him, completely floored by his words.
"Really?" He throws his arms out, exclaiming, "For fuck's sake, Grace, you were crying in there."
"Oh, you noticed." She feels her cheeks blushing. She's fully aware of how foolish – even childish – her behaviour was. "It was so utterly beautiful. So romantic, you silly man." She giggles happily. "I was totally carried away... the music, the story, the stunning scenery... "
Boyd stares at her with a look of utter disbelief. His mouth opens and closes a couple of times before he finally exclaims, "It's a fairy tale, woman. Christ!" Raising his left hand, he trails his fingers through his hair. "You're such a softie, Grace. You really are."
"What about you? Did you like it," she gently probes.
Hesitantly, clearly embarrassed, he starts, "Well. Tchaikovsky's music is always great..." Rubbing a hand over his face, he lets it land on the stone balustrade.
As he remains silent, she prods, "But?"
Forcefully, he breathes out. "Still nothing more than a fairy tale. A fucking a fairy tale, Grace. What did you expect?" He shakes his head accentuating his words, "And men in tights are really not my kind of thing. Not my kind of thing at all."
"They were all nicely fit, though. Very fit," Grace points out, smirking. "Beautifully sculptured legs and buttocks," she adds, unabashedly trying to needle him.
"Ha – so much for culture," he jibes back. "You've been objectifying half-naked young men all evening, eh? And on a date, too..."
"It's your fault, Boyd. All down to you," Grace responds with a nonchalant shrug.
"What on earth do you mean? How could I possibly... " Angling his head, chin raised defiantly, he glares down at her with eyes burning with a simmering glow. "And how exactly do you make it my fault?"
"Well, you're the one who bought me here," she easily retorts with glee, nudging him in the ribs. "Now tell me," she leans into his chest, boldly looking up, "did you invite me out tonight to celebrate... ?" She deliberately doesn't finish her sentence.
"Celebrate...? What do you mean... " Immediately Boyd goes rigid, the lines on his forehead become prominent and his gaze sharpens. Unsure about what she's talking about, he shifts his footing. "Please... "
"You forgot?" Arching an eyebrow, Grace fights hard to remain in control of her mirth. "Oh, Boyd..." she sniggers, "never mind." On tiptoe, she reaches up, encircles her arms around his neck. "Today it's precisely six months since we ended up in bed for the first time. Nothing I would ever expect a man to recall so I won't hold it against you. As it turned out, though, you still managed to make it an unforgettable evening, beautiful and romantic. I'm so grateful. I had such a lovely time."
Gently tugging his neck, she invites him to lower his head, whispering. "Kiss me now, and then I think it's time to take me home to bed."
Obediently, lowering his head, he teasingly lets his lips brush hers but then hesitates, studying her closely, running a finger over her cheek. "Sure, you'll be satisfied going home with such an old, and apparently unfit man?" His eye glints impishly. "Not sure I'm able to live up to your expectations."
"Well, you'd better." Reaching up, adding pressure at the same time with her hand, she catches his lips with hers. Eager and very determined, she deepens the kiss. No doubt about it, it's going to be a memorable night.
Catching a taxi at the Strand, they are soon on the way to her house. Seated quietly in the back of the car, fingers intertwined, the drive goes smoothly. The mandatory use of seat belts making it hard – if not impossible to keep kissing.
On arriving at her house, Grace rummages her bag to have her house keys ready, letting Boyd pay the driver as she impatiently heads towards the front door.
But she's too eager. In too much of a hurry to get behind closes doors. Almost there, key ready in hand, she missteps on the path, losing her footing. Staggering, fighting to regain her balance, she accidentally lets go of the key and an annoyed "Damn!" slips from her lips to accompany the metallic sound of the key hitting the tiles.
Instantly, Boyd's by her side, supporting her with a strong grip on her arm. Close to her ear, he whispers with a mocking note in his voice. "No need of a knight?" Deep brown laughing eyes gaze down at her. Slowly shaking his head, he continues. "Nah, of course not..." Arching a questioning eyebrow, he continues, "Steady now?" He bends down. "Better let me... FUCK. FUCK. FUCK!" He bellows, clearly in pain. Letting go of her arm, his hand flies to the small of his back, pressing down.
"Boyd?" Startled, Grace turns towards him, gently placing her palm on his shoulder, "What's wrong?"
"My fucking back. My bloody fucking back hurts like hell," he moans. "Help me inside, Grace. Please... "
"Do I need to call an ambulance?" Unsure what to do, she keeps a worried eye on him while reaching down into her bag for her phone.
"No, no, no, Grace," he waves dismissively with a hand to stop her, adding through clenched teeth, "just the usual shit... a cramping muscle... I'm in bloody agony here." He visibly fights to straighten up. "Give me a hand, though." Slowly they stagger the last few yards to the door and get into the house.
Closing the door behind them, she takes him in as he stands, leaning heavily against the wall. "You need a cold compress, Peter." Nodding in the direction of the door at the back of the hall, she asks, "Can you manage to walk to the kitchen?"
"Probably. It hurts but I'm not a total invalid," he retorts grumpily.
"Hmm, that's reassuring," she places her bag and keys on the little table in the hall, then takes his jacket from him, hanging it on a peg.
"Very sympathetic, Grace; very sympathetic," he mutters under his breath as he slowly moves into the kitchen. "Wouldn't hurt you to show a little concern and some female compassion here."
"Sit down. Stop being a prima donna," she giggles, opening the freezer on top of the fridge and reaching in. At his glare she adds, "Sorry, I know it hurts but you're always so overdramatic," she hands him a bag of frozen peas and a tea towel. "Put it on your back. It'll help."
"Okay. Okay," submissively he sighs, bows his head and starts to unbutton his shirt.
"Good boy," she says, pointing towards the door, "back in a minute..."
She disappears only to return a moment later with a bottle of whiskey in one hand and a bottle of red in the other. "I thought, we could use a drink."
"So sorry to ruin your night, Grace. This definitely wasn't part of my plan for tonight," Boyd says with an apologetic gesture.
"I know, Peter. It's not a problem," she replies, raising her glass, smiling reassuringly "As long as you're on the mend... "
"Still, I let you down."
"Stop fussing," she holds up her free hand to stop him. "Did you make your back hurt on purpose?" she asks mildly. Sipping her wine, she studies him over the rim of her glass.
"Of course not - how can you even ask?"
"Then stop all this nonsense. It's just your masculine pride. Forget it." Carefully she puts the glass on the table. Her hands start flying in front of her, accentuating her words. "Such things happen from time to time. To all of us – probably even to the young, athletic dancers at the ballet. It's not the end of the world – it is an annoyance, but there's nothing we can do about that." Tilting her head to gaze at him, a small smile plays on her lips. "I'm happy with just cuddling tonight. I can live without the Full Monty for now. Anyway, it's late. I'm tired," she gets to her feet, suppressing a yawn. "Now finish your drink or take it with you upstairs; time for bed."
"If you say so... It would be good to lie down. Flat on my damn bloody back." Draining his glass, Boyd pushes the chair away and rises to follow her. "Tomorrow, Grace. I promise..."
"I'll hold you to that."
Respond to a prompt provided by GotTea: Ballet, in more than just a mention. A significant theme, but doesn't have to be the central theme. Must also include the moon, a minor accident of sorts, and one must say to the other, "What on earth do you mean? How could I possibly..." but not in relation to the ballet theme.