They never left the back door open, but it was always unlocked. Simon strode towards it, cringing a little when his boots sounded too loud and the noise echoed off the wide alleyways flanking the theatre. The stagehands, hunched over their cigarettes near the door, looked up when he approached. They lobbed a few crude propositions his way and giggled when he buttoned his coat higher.
Simon breathed a small sigh of relief when the handle opened. He stepped inside and snapped the door closed just as quickly. The cold quiet of the outside cut off, replaced by the hum, patter, and roar of the theatre’s workings.
The dim overly warm corridors, formed with looped rope and false walls, presented a problem. He was quite lost before a patronly man carrying what looked to be a bushel of silk scarves stopped him. Praying the dark hid his face well enough, he stammered out a name. The man pointed him towards the actresses’ room, down one makeshift passage, without as much as a blink. Simon hurried away, unnerved by the man’s indifference.
Verity Kast’s dressing room door was ajar and Simon angled himself so he would not be seen, before knocking on the frame. Her voice, he recognized it from on stage and off, called from within, “come in.”
Simon toed open the door so it swung in. He leaned sideways past the frame but did not take a step inside. “I certainly will not.”
A rustle of dressing gown and shuffle of bare feet was followed by the appearance of the actress at her door. When Verity recognized him, she rested herself against the frame. “Well, this is a pleasure. I did not expect you so soon. Tonight is only the dress rehearsal.”
Simon dug into the pocket of his coat. He withdrew a folded envelope, marked with a broken wax seal of a rose shade. “A single ticket, to opening night, personally addressed and gifted to me. Are you trying to get me in trouble?”
“Mr. Ivanov.” He corrected.
Verity’s plum-stained lips quirked as she fought a smile. “Mr. Ivanov. How can I get you in trouble, if you haven’t done anything wrong?”
“I haven’t, nor do I intend to.” He said flatly and held out the envelope. This close he could see the brush of freckles over her nose, dark against her deep olive skin. “Which is why you should take this back.”
Verity held Simon’s gaze with hers for a long moment before she complied. Her fingers brushed his as she took the folded paper. “You know, if your sisters had found it, you could have explained me away, simply a poor besotted actress with sights above her station. You wouldn’t be in trouble.”
“And set them on your trail?” Simon adjusted his gloves.
“You admit some regard for me then?” Verity asked. She played with the envelope, running her oval-cut nails under the paper’s crease.
“They are protective, and … dogged when crossed. You have a good career, I don’t understand why you would put that at risk.” Simon looked away from her, back the way he’d come. It wouldn’t do for him to get lost again.
“Of course you don’t.” Verity straightened with a sigh. “Straight back that way, then two lefts once you pass costuming. That’ll get you into the alley. Next time I’ll send tickets to your sisters, do you think they’ll bring you along?”
Simon paused, “I can ask.”
“Do.” Verity slipped her hand around the doorknob, leaning on it as she teased him “now go, before I get a reputation for having young men in my dressing room.”
“You mean you don’t already?” Already half turned away, he raised an eyebrow at her.
“Not in polite circles. I’m more careful than you think.” Verity said, her slow grin more crooked than it been before. “Goodnight Simon.”
Verity shut the door before Simon could correct the uncalled-for familiarity. He stood staring at the closed dressing room before he shook his head at himself and turned to find his way out.