(1937-09-19) The Way You Look
Details for The Way You Look At Me
Summary: Audrey meets Ranjali's mother, who lets slip a secret Ranjali has been keeping from the singer. In turn, Audrey reveals a secret of her own.
Date: September 19, 1937
Related: None

Alone on the stage, clutching her ripped dress to her shoulder, Audrey Taylor fights back her last few sobs. The spotlight narrows in on her alone, leaving the rest of the set blackened by darkness. Slowly, she rises, standing defiantly against the injustices laid upon her by her oppressors. She lifts her chin to the audience, and declares vehemently that she shall never again be held down or misused. As her soliloquy plays out, she is as a phoenix rising from the ashes of a tragic former life — a life the audience has lived with her for the last four hours. Finally, the curtain drops, and the applause roars. Behind the red cloth, Audrey smiles softly, filled and uplifted by that sound: adulation.

Ranjali is practically hanging over the ledge of her family's box. Her fingers grip her seat so tightly that, when she finally is able to breathe enough to join the applause, she has to practically pry them loose before she can stand. Her mother, seated a little behind her, is in a similar state, being as emotional as her daughter tends to be. Her father looks on with politely reserved interest, clapping modestly beside his wife and offering his daughter a handkerchief before her tears start to drip on her dress; a brand new shimmering green silken thing bought just for the occasion.

"Marvelous performance." He claims stoically, offering his wife an arm before leading the way through the curtains, "Now you say you met this actress where? In a bar?"

Naturally, as roses are thrown onto the stage, the curtain part slightly and Audrey steps out again for a curtain call. Her hands go to her bosom, demonstrating how touched she is by the applause. She blows kisses to the crowd, offering her deepest thanks, though no sound can be heard above the ovation.

At last, after being joined by her co-stars for one final bow, Audrey is backstage, stripping out of her costume. Nobody bats an eyelash at seeing her in a state of undress; backstage modesty is a long forgotten memory to most thespians. There are many kisses and congratulations on a fine production, both to and from the starlet. She makes her way to her dressing room to deflate after another exhausting performance.

"A dance hall. The Natrix." Ranjali suppresses a sigh at her father's insistance on being so old-fashioned. "It was lovely, truly. You should have seen it." She manages the small lie with ease, her father would most definitely have had some sort of system malfunction if he'd seen that performance.

But her mother makes up for Mr. Winterthorne's lack of enthusiasm. "Oh my darling, I'm so sure it was. She's truly spectacular! When can we meet her? Are you allowed backstage yet? I told you you should have brought flowers, they would probably let you backstage if you had brought flowers." Giving her husband a gentle tug, she starts leading the small family toward the back of the Hall, keeping up a near constant chatter. "I still cannot understand why Bastian couldn't come. Even in a Triwizard year, you would think he'd make time for his own family!"

Audrey settles into her make-up chair, staring into the lightbulb-rimmed mirror. In the privacy of her dressing room, her perpetual smile fades, the public mask taken off. She stares at herself blankly for a time. Then she slowly shakes her head, her features tightening. Were anyone with her, it would be a truly uncomfortable moment as she suddenly breaks down in tears, her sobs carefully silenced to prevent any from without overhearing.

Will the wonders of good-intentioned mothers never cease? It seems Sakina fully intends to meet this performer. Tonight. And it also seems that this is going to be rather easy, as the family finds out when she attempts to get to the backstage area and finds out not only that there is a list, but that the name 'Ranjali Winterthorne' is on that list.

Mother and daughter thank the guard and make their way through (Arthur, having taken one look at the in some cases half naked chaos behind the doors, decided rather abruptly to await the women in the lounge), following the directions which lead them through the colorful labyrinth to the dressing room door, and after a short conversation (protesting on Ranjali's part and insisting on her mother's) Ranjali reaches up and knocks three times.

Audrey sits up instantaneously, her look of panic lasting mere seconds. As she wipes her eyes, cleaning away the streaking make-up as best she is able, she calls out in a sing-song voice. "Just a moooooment!" She gives herself one more dire look in the mirror, which suddenly vanishes underneath a bright, charming smile. She is an actress to the core.

Throwing on a lavender dressing gown trimmed in white tufts, she throws the door open. "Ranjali!" she exclaims excitedly, stepping in for a hug. "You came!" She doesn't linger long on the embrace, making way for her guests to enter. "Please, come inside and introduce us."

Ranjali returns the hug with a relieved smile. "Thank you. I do hope we aren't intruding." She glances over her shoulder giving her mother a warning look. But the woman just looks back expectantly, and waits only long enough for Ranjali to add, "This is my mother, Sakina Winterthorne. Mother, this is Audrey Taylor." And then Sakina is stepping forward, both hands reaching out for Audrey's, "Oh my dear, you were simply fantastic! Truly, what talent! I am truly thrilled to meet you! How exciting it must be, to be able to perform like that!"

Audrey gladly takes the offers hands, squeezing them. "Mrs. Winterthorne…may I call you Sakina? Thank you so much. It truly is exhilarating, but the most joyous moments are these, hearing firsthand that someone enjoyed it. Of course I am especially honoured to meet Ranjali's mother. She has become such a dear friend already." She flashes Ranjali that ivory smile.

"Of course! I may love my husband, but I don't always have to love his horribly English name!" Sakina winks. Ranjali, caught between embarrassment at her mother's forward nature and the happiness of being with some of her favorite people, smiles back at her friend. "Ah!" Sakina continues, "Then we will have to be sure to come and visit you after performances more often, won't we Jali?" She barely glances at her daughter before continuing, "Now. Miss Taylor. You will have to forgive us for not bringing you flowers. My daughter insisted that there would be no point, that you would receive too many as it was. But it is the principle of the matter! And so, you will have to let us make it up to you and take you to dinner."

"Please, call me Audrey! Dinner sounds absolutely divine. I hope you don't mind waiting while I dress?" She gestures to her barely-clad form, draped in the robe.

Ranjali's looks of warning to her mother, which have begun to grow stronger, are ignored completely by her mother. As is the growing blush. "Not at all, my dear. Do you want any assistance? Or would you rather a little privacy? Oh, you know, I should go send Arthur home anyway. I'm sure he'd rather spend the night with some brandy and a boring old tome than meeting with the brightest star in London." Another wink, "I'll meet you at the car when you two are ready!" And then she's gone, leaving Ranjali in her seat, wondering just where its safe to look.

Audrey giggles softly as Mrs. Winterthorne bustles out. "My, she comes and goes quickly, doesn't she?" She winks at Ranjali, then moves over to her clothing rank, fingering several gowns as she considers her evening wear. As last she produces a cream-colored number with a daring neckline, holding it up against her body for Ranjali's opinion.

Ranjali manages a chuckle. "She and my father are polar opposites. Its easy to see why they fell for each other. Less easy to see how they've manages to stay together so long without destroying all the furniture on a regular basis." She glances up, and after shaking herself out of a rather stunned stare gives a small nod, "Its lovely. Perfect. You were perfect tonight. I see now that I have little hope of being in your presence for very long without falling all over myself with adoration."

Audrey beams at Ranjali, setting the gown aside. "Oooh, don't be silly. We're friends now. Soon enough you won't even notice all the glitz and glamour. It's just part of the show. But…thank you." Her eyes sparkle appreciatively, and silently plead with Ranjali to never stop noticing. Then, unabashedly, she lets the thin dressing gown fall to the floor, and she is bared in naught but lower undergarments as she prepares to don the dress.

"It's less about the-" Ranjali breaks off with something akin to a tiny squeak, her eyes widening for a split-second, then dropping to the floor. "A-about the glitz. And more.. more about th-the," She swallows, trying to find her thought train, "The talent. I'll never be able to stop noticing your… talent." After forcing out that last word, she closes her eyes and takes a deep, slow, breath.

Audrey steps into her gown, shimmying to slide it up her slender form. "Ranji, you are the sweetest creature on the planet. Do you know that? Here, could you zip me up?" She steps near, and turns, displaying her unzipped gown and bare back, apparently oblivious to the discomfort (and thrill, perhaps) she is eliciting in her friend.

"I am?" Ranjali manages to ask dubiously. "Y-yes, I'll try… " Standing, she spends an awkward moment trying to reach for the zipper with only the shortest of glances to guide her. But that soon proves impossible, so she gives up, focusing her vision on the dress itself and quickly pulling the zipper up to the top. "Have you… always been this, ah, comfortable around people?"

Audrey turns around, primping her hair. Getting a glimpse of Ranjali's expression, her own softens. "Oh…I'm sorry. Am I being too forward? Please forgive me. It's what show business does to you. Modesty isn't a luxury we usually have." She tilts her head, a hint of worry in her eyes. "Have I offended you?"

"Oh, no. No its not that." Ranjali chuckles a little, reaching a hand up to the back of her neck. "I was raised to be very modest, of course. But its not… " She sighs, "Maybe I should tell you that, while my mother did truly love your performance, she probably has other motives that I will soon have to talk to her about. Or maybe… I should ask you, would you be as comfortable right now if I were a man in your dressing room?"

Audrey nods in understanding…or so she thinks. "Well, it's like I said, modesty is easily forgotten backstage. I supposed I should be embarrassed to admit that many men have been in here while I changed. Completely chaste, I assure you. Though I can safely say that quite a few of those had no interest in me anyhow," she adds with mischief in her tone.

"Heh… lucky them… " Ranjali murmurs drily. Then she frowns. "That came out wrong. Sorry. Are you ready? There's no telling what kind of trouble mother can get into when left alone for too long." She manages finally to look back at Audrey, her expression one of way amusement.

Audrey laughs, though there is a brief moment of bemusement. But it is soon lost under a flurry of final touches of make-up, hair, and finding suitable shoes before she allows Ranjali to lead her out.

Ranjali is quiet as she leads the way to the car, stopping whenever necessary for Audrey to speak to those still in the halls who want a minute of her time. Thankfully she finds a side door before too long and soon enough are arriving at the parked black sedan. Sakina is standing by one of the back doors, speaking to another woman of around her age. The woman leaves when Ranjali and Audrey approach, smiling to the pair before disappearing down the street. "Ah, there you are! And don't you look spectacular. Come, get in. Do you feel like going somewhere in particular? Or shall I chose for us?'

"Oh, please choose, Sakina. I love to be surprised." Audrey climbs into the car, marveling at the posh interior. "Oooh, I want a car like this. With a driver and everything!"

"You don't have one? How /do/ you survive?" Sakina laughs at her own little joke, taps on the small window separating them from the driver and gives a quiet instruction. Ranjali, somewhat recovered now that everyone's dressed, smiles at Audrey meanwhile, "You won't be disappointed. If there's one thing my mother is best at, its knowing how to be an excellent hostess. Even when we eat out."
Audrey laughs along with Sakina's joke. "I can't wait. I'm usually famished after a performance. I can never eat before one. The jitters are better on an empty stomach."

Sakina nods knowingly, her eyes alight, "You see, I have been telling Arthur for years that I don't like to eat before a party! And the poor man just does not understand!" She adopts a stern face, the corners of her mouth pulling down, and says in an exaggeratedly deep impersonation of her husband, "Sakina, Be sensible. There won't be anything to eat at your party but punch and those enchanted butterfly sugar creations." She grimaces, ignoring Ranjali's laughter, "You simply must have a real meal. Now come and have some spotted dick."

Audrey chuckles along with Ranjali at the older woman's impression of Mr. Winterthorne. "Oh, I do hope I get to meet your husband someday, Sakina. He must be quite a man to have swept you up."

Sakina lets the impression drop and beams at Audrey, "He is, indeed. And good for you to realize it, rather than just making some inane comment about him being to boring for me." She looks up as the car stops, "Excellent. We're here." And soon enough the door is opened and the three ladies helped out. The car leaves them standing before a restaurant that has recently gained some rather large fame, if in the Muggle world. Rumors have begun to spread that the King dined here, which meant that the place became almost instantly booked for the next year and a half. But Sakina leads the way confidently up to the entrance, rather as she had at the Royal Albert. While she arranges for a table, Ranjali turns to grin at Audrey, "I should have known she would like you so much. Thank you for coming with us, and for meeting her."

Audrey touches Ranjali's arm, "Of course, Ranji. She's delightful! Thank you for introducing us." She marvels at the grandeur of the restaurant. Even her own celebrity status might not be enough to guarantee her a table without a reservation at this place.

Ranjali blushes at the nickname, and chuckles. "She was everything I wanted to be when I was little. What I can't understand is why she would bring us here. Our reservation isn't for another three weeks… " She turns as Sakina approaches, smiling in a satisfied manner.

"Well, that went well I think. Ladies, are we ready? I think I've made a rather good deal with the young man at the door." Sakina waves for the women to follow, leading the way to the doors and following the waiter inside to a table.

"Did you change our reservation, mother? That was for cousin-"

Sakina cuts her daughter off with a wave of her hand, "Oh, don't worry about him. He'd rather have one of those horrid hunting parties, we'll just arrange for one of them."

Audrey gives Ranjali a shrug and a mischievous smile. Whatever Sakina arranged, it's working out for them. So, cheers! Inside, she deposits a fur coat and shawl at the coat check. When they reach table, she takes a seat, letting one of the wait-staff hold her chair for her. "This place is fabulous. I'll bet that even Wolfgang would have trouble getting a reservation." She nods to Ranjali, of course referring to the owner of the Natrix Club, where they first met.

Ranjali's eyebrows go up, "Really? He seemed… like the sort of person few doors would be closed to." She settles into her seat with a small smile of thanks to the man that holds it for her, looking thoughtfully at Audrey while Sakina orders a bottle of wine, "But then, so do you."

"Well of course she does!" Sakina hands the wine menu to the waiter and sends him away, grinning, "Otherwise she wouldn't be good enough for my little girl! You know I would only let you date the best, Jali." At this, Ranjali groans, closing her eyes, "Mother… "

Very slowly, Ranjali reaches up to pinch the bridge of her nose, as though to ward off a sudden headache. "Mother." She says quietly, "I am not dating Audrey Taylor. We are friends." She speaks each word slowly, carefully, to be certain she is understood.

"You aren't? But my dear, the way you- oh. Oh, my." Sakina's expression becomes instantly apologetic as she catches on. She reaches a hand across the table to pat her daughter's, "Forgive me, Jali. I just so wish that you could find someone again." She glances at Audrey, "And could you blame me, for wishing my daughter would fall for someone so lovely?"

Audrey slowly sets down her menu, a hand going to her chest as if to assist her breathing. There is a slight coloring to her cheeks, mostly concealed by make-up and the actress' training…but not entirely. "You are very complimentary, Sakina." She glances around to the nearest tables, lowering her voice. "But…perhaps this isn't a place to discuss such things. Muggles." The last word is barely audible, but she mouths it clearly. Her eyes drift tentatively up toward Ranjali, looking very much like her character at the beginning of the evening's play — meek and uncertain, before she found her strength and seized her identity.

Sakina glances around and nods, pulling her hand back and picking up her own menu. "Yes, of course. Forgive me. Now, what looks good… " Ranjali takes this moment to gather herself with a few deep breaths. Once a little more collected, she gives Audrey a look that is rather similar to the performer's, though her own also holds a strong dash of fear. "I'm sorry, I, ah, I should have set things straight with her sooner." She murmurs, keeping her voice low.

Audrey is, indeed, a performer, and well-versed in displaying whatever emotion she needs to. The moment of shock has passed, and she is suddenly smiling again. "No, no. Please don't apologize. All is well, and I know Sakina means well. She loves you dearly, it's clear." She smiles at Sakina and says, seemingly to her, "But, will you excuse me while I go powder my nose?" Ah, the classic line for retreating to privacy to gain composure. But when she rises and walks around behind Sakina, she gives Ranjali a look, and jerks her head sideways in the universal sign for "come with me," before continuing on to the powder room.

"Of course, my dear! All those stage lights, I can only imagine! Go, I will order a few things to get us started." Sakina flashes a smile at the two, then goes instantly back to her menu. Because, as foreign as she may be, she has learned to be British enough to at least pretend that the items on the menu are the most important thing she's looked at in months.

Ranjali glances from Audrey to her mother, then back again, her fear seeming to rise briefly. Its a moment, therefore, before she gathers enough composure (and courage) to rise from the table and join the singer in the Powder room, slipping through the door like a first-year about to have her first lecture from her Headmaster.

Audrey is found…well, powdering her nose, and thankfully alone in the room. She glances up to the mirror when she hears the door open, a mixture of relief and anxiety tightening her throat when Ranjali comes into view. She takes a moment to tuck away her compact into her handbag, and finally turns around, leaning back against the counter top. "So," she starts, a soft, neutral smile on her face. "Your mother seems to care quite a bit about your romantic life."

Ranjali freezes, her eyes darting around the room for others. Of course there aren't any, and as she realizes this she sighs in something like relief. "Yes, its common where she comes from." She explains softly, making her way cautiously to a seat next to Audrey's. "One nice thing about working at St. Mungo's is that my changing shifts make it harder for her to, ah, try and arrange for me to meet women… " She glances at the door, making sure no one enters, then back, worriedly, at the singer.

Audrey nods solemnly, donning her best non-judgmental face. "I suppose my next question, if it isn't too conceited, is to ask whether her assumptions about us were based on…your feelings?" She lifts a brow inquisitively, flashing those big, round, jade-green eyes at Ranjali.

Ranjali hesitates, then sighs. "That is a difficult question. In my mother's eyes, probably. Its easy enough for a mother to tell when her daughter finds someone… appealing, I assume. And yet." She turns to look in one of the mirrors, which from her perspective shows both of them, "Any feelings beyond simple attraction I have not allowed myself. Is is my wish to be your friend. Not your annoying lovesick admirer. I've no doubt you have more of those than you can handle."

Audrey tilts her head with an expression that semi-modestly admits exactly that. Audrey is frequently surrounded by would-be paramours. "Ranji…I don't find you annoying in the least. You've been wonderful to me, and you see past the showbiz illusions." She places a hand on Ranjali's. "You are my friend, and though we only met a short time ago, you've been a better friend to me than many I've known for years. I can sense the sincerity in you. It means so much to me."

Ranjali releases a breath, her shoulders drooping in relief. "Thank you." She whispers. She even smiles a little, her eyes filling with happiness, "Thank you for being so wonderful. You have a friend in me for life, Audrey Taylor."

Audrey squeezes Ranjali's hand, giving her a big, heartfelt smile. She lets a few moments of silence pass, but this is all too big to leave at just that. "So…just simple attraction, is it?"

Ranjali grins ruefully. "Again, yes and no. On the one hand, if I could separate knowing you from my past, yes. But on the other, that isn't really possible. Do you remember, I think at the Three Broomsticks, I said that you had reminded me of something I thought I had lost? Well, you see, that first time I saw you on stage, that was the first time I'd felt that kind of attraction since… some years ago." She looks down at her hands in her lap, letting out a ghost of a chuckle, "That also might have been the closest I've ever come to fainting, you nearly knocked me out of my seat."

Audrey cannot help the flush of glee at the idea that she nearly made Ranjali faint. But she tries not to smile too broadly about it. As she digests all that Ranjali said, she sobers a bit. "You lost someone," she says softly. "Did…did she leave? Or…?" She swallows, sensing that she's treading into precarious territory.

Ranjali smiles tightly. "Broom accident." She explains. "There was a storm, but she insisted on coming anyway. My mother… " She swallows, "She was good to me. This is the first time she's pushed like this." The pain is more difficult to hide this time, when she finally looks up. But its an old pain, she's able to smile a little now.

Audrey nods gravely, her frown full of sympathy…nay, empathy. She turns to step near to Ranjali, pressing right against her and leaning her cheek on the other woman's shoulder. "I lost someone as well. I'm so sorry you had to go through that."

Ranjali sucks in a breath, her eyes widening to fill with the pain she's been holding back. "Oh, Audrey." The touch is all the invitation she needs to lean closer, wrapping her arms around the singer, "Who was he?"

Audrey goes silent, a sudden fear taking her. But in this intimate moment, she so desperately wants to tell her. Taking a shuddering breath, her own suppressed sorrow mingling with Ranjali's, she croaks a little as she speaks. "My first love. He…I wouldn't be here if it not for him."

Ranjali reaches up, tentatively, and almost pulls back twice before her hand touches Audrey's hair in a featherlight stroke. "And you wish, sometimes," She guesses slowly, the effort to keep her own voice from breaking audible in its slight tremble, "That it were the other way around. But it can't be."

Audrey's face tightens as she nods, barely holding back the flood of tears threatening to burst out. Looking into Ranjali's face, seeing her pain reflected, is almost too mush to bear. She throws her arms around Ranjali, embracing her tightly. As painful as it is to revisit these emotions, it is made easier by sharing them with someone that knows the hurt for herself.

Ranjali nods as well, and is silent for a time, just holding her friend and giving them both time to feel the mutual pain and the comfort of sharing it with each other. She pulls back when she's able to breathe steadily, pulling out a handkerchief and offering it to Audrey for any tears that might have escaped. "I am having a thought that perhaps we were meant to know each other." She suggests, "There are few things in the world like knowing someone who understands your loss."

Audrey allows a little sniffle, and gratefully accept the handkerchief, dabbing at her eyes (and quickly checking her mascara in the mirror). "It's true," she says softly, giving Ranjali a strained smile. "I feel closer to you already." She digs a cigarette case out of her handbag, popping it open and offering one. "I've never been with a woman," she says bluntly as she lights up her own. Then, just as directly, she asks, "What do you hope for with me? Aside from friendship. That, you have," she adds, giving Ranji's arm a soft touch.

Ranjali shakes her head at the offer, blinking in surprise. A faint chuckle precedes her answer, "An easier question. Since any hopes I have had have been not only met but surpassed. I wished, initially, only to see you perform as often as possible. After the Three Broomsticks, I wished to know you better, to find out some of what makes you the person you are. After my mother," She glances at the door, "I hoped you wouldn't run terrified into the night. And now, all these things have happened. I suppose all I hope for now is to continue to know you, to be your friend." She frowns, wondering, "And you, do you have hopes of any kind that I can meet?"

Audrey takes a long drag of the cigarette, visibly relaxing as she nurses it. Letting the smoke drift lazily from her mouth, she regards Ranjali for a moment. "The same. You are more than I could have hoped for. More than I deserve, that's for certain. I just…don't want to hurt you. I didn't mean to be some terrible tease back in my dressing room.

This brings another, stronger chuckle from Ranjali. "Oh, well. I'm sure if I weren't so painfully shy I would have handled that a bit better myself. And I don't think you will." She grins, a twinkle appearing in her eye, "Though perhaps I should stick with watching your stage performances, rather than your Natrix ones."

Audrey gives a little pout at that. "I'd be disappointed if you skipped on my club performances. Besides, there have been some stage roles that have gotten fairly risqué, as well." Her pout turns to a grin.

Ranjali places a hand on her heart, sighing playfully, "Then I suppose I will just have to watch them all. What is the phrase? Desensitize myself." Her tone suggests plainly how likely she thinks that isn't. "But we should get back soon. My mother will have to come looking for us eventually."

Audrey nods, putting out her cigarette and reaches for Ranjali's hand. "Please don't ever desensitize yourself, Ranji. I…" She actually blushes, this time unable to stifle it, "…I like the way you look at me." She gives her a girlish smile as she turns to lead the way out.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License