She doesn’t bother with stagedoor usually- none of the Ladies do. The stagedoor is for the Queens- they’re the ones with the fans after all, they’re the ones people recognise.
(There’s the odd music enthusiast, of course- someone who wants to ask Maggie what she plays, who wants to ask Maria about her technique- but they’re few and far between, and she can vividly remember Maggie coming to her almost in tears after coming across some fairly vitriolic tweets (‘ Who even cares about the LiW anyway?’ ‘God, not everything is about them’ ‘Why do you even both with them, they’re irrelevent’) after idly looking them all up on twitter.)
So no. She doesn’t bother with stagedoor. She’d rather take her time getting ready to leave- and it usually takes all three of them to pry Joan away from the theatre after a show anyway. (Bessie has a strong suspicion that Joan would just end up sleeping under her desk if given half a chance.)
Tonight though, she makes a rare exception. It’s not like she has anything to go home to- all three of her girls are away for once and it’s left the house feeling a little empty.
More than a little- she can barely sleep for how loud the silence is, and she misses waking up to voices, to arguments over the borrowing of conditioner and the smell of burned toast. Going up to bed alone feels strange as well- there’s no one to check on, no one to say goodnight to.
The whole house feels like it’s lost a wall- it feels unbalanced somehow. She feels unblanaced too- a little lost, a smaller more breakable copy of herself.
She makes the best of it though, she tries to fill the empty hours as well as she can. Hence the stagedoor.
It’s a mistake, she can tell that from the start.
Standing, ignored, on the sidelines isn’t helping her feel more grounded- she feels like more of a ghost than ever.
She knows it’s just because she’s not quite herself- tired and fragile from all the days and nights alone- but the way people look at her, eyes sliding past as if she’s not there, is making her mind go places she’d rather stay away from.
Nobody could look her in the eye at court. Some stared, unashamedly, at her swelling stomach, but others avoided even that. It was all very untimely, everyone agreed- etiquette stated that a mistress should wait to be pregnant until after the real wife had a child of her own, but nobody, it seemed, has told Henry that. Not that it likely would have made a difference- he was an impossible man to sway when his mind was set on something. Bessie knew that better than anyone.
She tries to keep herself under control- it’s ridiculous, sh knows, to be so sensitive.
(It’s not even like she had anything that bad to put up with- not like Anne, with her thick raised scar, not like Kitty, with everything those awful men had put her through. Kitty, poor thing, had been young for thirteen, just a child, whereas at least Henry had waited until Bessie was fourteen- nearly- and a woman grown. Not that she would have chosen for him to cast his eye on her but still….)
Clenching her hands to protect her fingers from the cold, she wonders how long it’ll be before she can make an excuse and go back inside- she doesn’t want to leave early, she just wants enough time to have passed that she’ll be tired enough to sleep when she gets home. (She’s never been one to shirk her responsibilities though- not even when she was bruised and sore from overzealous...attention, not even after that wrenching first time when she had walked around with the wetness of blood on her petticoats.)
She has to shake herself out of her own thoughts- she doesn’t want to go there. Not now, not here (not ever). She’s aware of the voice at her elbow- an older lady in a beige coat is talking intently to Aragon.
‘-such fascinating stories! Such detail!’ Aragon is beaming as the woman starts to list all the little references she picked up on- this is the kind of fan the woman likes, someone who cares about the historical side of things rather than what their respective makeup routines are or what secret rivalries exist. ‘And to include the Ladies in Waiting as the band, to tie it all together- it’s wonderful! Even if they’re not really part of the show, so to speak.’
Bessie listens, smiles, even though she’s aware she’s not really part of the conversation- it’s better to look friendly- but it’s a bit of a surprise when Aragon actually nods towards her.
‘Actually, Bessie here is one of our Ladies- we all think they do a fantastic job.’
The woman looks a touch embarrassed. ‘Of course- I just meant so far as speaking lines go-’
‘It’s fine’ Bessie hurriedly smooths things over ‘You’re right after all-’
‘Although of course, YOU actually get a mention-’ The woman thinks for a moment. ‘ Someone who don’t own a wedding ring - that’s you, isn’t it?’
It’s harder to keep her smile in place, but she just about manages it. ‘It is….’
‘The level of emotion there…’ The woman turns back to Aragon ‘The level of betrayal….goodness, it was wonderful. You can really feel the hurt, the anger towards her-’
She has to fight to keep herself from flinching away- from the words, from the memories. Of course she and Aragon are fine now- they’ve all had to let go of past resentments, since holding onto them would make actually doing the show impossible- but she remembers it still, the eyes burning into her, the barbed references to betrayal, the cold glares from those close to the queen, the painful loneliness and fear of what was to come…. She feels sick suddenly.
Aragon’s already somewhat fixed smile tightens even more. ‘We try to hit different levels when we perform….’
‘Oh and you do! It’s as if you really hate her- while of course anyone who knows the history behind it will know the irony that of course, the real Bessie Blount was beloved by the country’ The woman is obviously proud of her research- she rounds on Bessie again. ‘ Bless thee, Bessie Blount - did you know that that became almost a sort of phrase around the country? The people were so grateful she gave Henry a son- did you know you were playing such a national treasure, as it were?’
She never thought she’d have to hear those words again and to have them thrown at her so unexpectedly is like a punch in the chest- she feels her breathing speed up, her throat start to tighten. (Can Aragon feel her shaking at her elbow?)
Through her fog of confusion, she feels Aragon take her arm, supporting her, steadying her. ‘Believe me, she knows…’