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He Loves and She Loves

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He loves and she loves and they love
So why can't you love and I love, too?
-
He Loves and She Loves, from Funny Face

 

 

 

Three drinks deep at a party at The Garden of Alla Hotel wasn’t perhaps the ideal place for sharing personal secrets with your betrothed, but Don Lockwood, star of stage and screen, former stuntman and one-time travelling vaudeville performer, had always been good at adapting to his surroundings.

Kathy had been invited to the party by Nazimova herself, and she was most of the way through a complicated story about the machinations of Nazimova’s “sewing circle” before Don realised she wasn’t talking about people actually sewing .

But then - given the behaviour of men in and around showbusiness, Don had always been surprised that more women aren’t solely romantically interested in each other. So discovering the sapphic tendencies of many unnamed women in Hollywood isn’t shocking, exactly - it just made him see many aspects of the world around him in a new light.

Don wished, not for the first time, that Cosmo was at his side, ready to laugh and expose any double-meanings immediately with a joke and a nudge in the ribs.

He was sure that very little of this would have been new to Cosmo.

“Keep up, Donny,” Kathy said, kind of delighted, when he interrupted to ask her for clarification that he was understanding her meaning correctly. “Although I’m not sure if I should keep talking about this - I don’t want to scandalise you.”

“Not at all,” Don said. He checked there was nobody nearby to overhear, and downed the rest of his glass. “I’ve, ah, had relations with guys myself. And gals. All sorts.”

Really,” Kathy said, her eyes sparkling. “We’re going to get some more cocktails and you’re going to tell me all about it.”

 

---

 

Don saw Kathy back to her door that night, his heart light with fizzy liquor and the knowledge that he had been truly seen, understood, and loved all the more for it.

She leaned forward to give him a light hug around the shoulders and kiss his cheek, but before she pulled away she whispered into his ear, “I’m not surprised, you know. I’ve seen how you and Cosmo are together.”

She pulled back, smiled, and before Don could answer she had whisked herself away into her living quarters - where Don couldn’t follow.

It played on his mind the whole way back home. He brooded in the back of a cab, and tipped the driver double to make up for the absence of his usual gregarious charm. Don and Cosmo? Together ? Not for lack of wishing on Don’s part - but no, never.

He let himself in and fixed himself a glass of cool lemonade with ice and lay on top of his bed, slowly sipping on it. It was early spring, but in California that didn’t mean much - it was still warm even in the early hours, and he’d been in his shirtsleeves most of the night.

Why hadn’t Cosmo been at the party tonight? Don was sure he’d been invited, by Kathy if not Nazimova herself. It felt strange, voyaging out into a new social world where people expected to see Kathy at his side - and not Cosmo. Don wasn’t sure he entirely liked it.

Oh, he liked going out with Kathy. More than liked it. But why did Kathy’s arrival in his life mean that Cosmo shouldn’t be there, too?

All of this mixed uneasily with Kathy’s assumption about the way the two men were with each other, and Don slept badly and uneasily that night.

 

---

 

“I tell ya, I’ve heard it does wonders for mornings after the night before,” Cosmo said, pushing the glass of tomato juice with a dash of hot sauce across the table to Don.

“Really,” Don said. “You’re a pal, Cosmo.” He takes a long sip and winces.

“Of course, I mostly heard that from the barman,” Cosmo said, helpfully.

“I figured,” Don said. “You’d have to be paid to recommend this.”

Cosmo put his hands up in mock surrender. “OK, you’ve seen through the ruse.” He paused, like he was trying to gauge how serious Don was - it was probably hard to make his expression out beneath the dark glasses. “Want to send it back, sans compliments to the bartender?”

“No, no, I’ve made my bed...” Don said, and gave the drink a slightly pathetic stir before taking a longer sip. “At least it’s some extra pain for my memoirs.”

“So, you going to tell me about this party last night, or am I going to have to send someone out for the morning papers?” Cosmo asked, leaning forwards on his elbows.

Don cursed inside his head, and tried desperately to think of anything to share that didn’t relate to his conversations with Kathy. It had kind of... consumed the whole evening.

“Nothing? No signs of Nazimova and a new paramour?” Cosmo sighed exaggeratedly.

“Next time you’ll have to come yourself, Cos,” Don said. “Or make friends with a columnist.”

 

---

 

Don had been seeing a neighbourhood girl before they set off on their first vaudeville tour, and he’d diligently written to her from every town until she sent him a fairly terse mail back at his lodgings in Nowhere, Ohio, saying that she was marrying her third cousin from two blocks over and that he should forget about her.

It had been a relief at first - Don had been finding it harder and harder to remember what she looked like, or why he was writing to her. But the romantic world of an ever-moving vaudeville tour was pretty different to what he was used to back home.

He discovered by accident that it was often pretty easy to pick up a hopeful young man for the night - or easier than picking up a woman, anyway. It wasn’t always what he was after. But it turned out that often, he had a good time. And maybe the men were more suitable to his tastes than he'd first realised.

To begin with, he didn’t know how to mention it to Cosmo. Didn’t know if he should. A lot of guys, you tell them something like that and it’s a good excuse for them to sock you in the jaw.

Somehow, Don couldn’t imagine Cosmo reacting like that. But he still didn’t know what to do; what to say.

Now that Don knew what it was like to kiss other men, to put his hands inside their shirts, inside their pants, to take them in hand in some dark corner of the night, to have their hands all over him too... now that Don knew what it felt like, what it could feel like, if they were gentle and rough at the right moments - it was hard to not get caught up in thinking about what it would be like to try that with Cosmo.

Cosmo, who he almost always shared a room, even a bed with. Cosmo, who was not a stranger he’d probably never get the chance to see again. He had wanted very much to know what it would be like. No, it wasn’t just curiosity - he wanted to try it. He wanted him.

Which added a terrifying extra dimension to the whole thing.

 

---

 

It was while they were on their way slowly travelling down to California that the secret was out. Or rather, it was when Cosmo came across Don in the process of picking up a man with broad shoulders, glasses, and a tan line on his hand, where he’d clearly just taken off his wedding ring.

Cosmo raised one eyebrow and after a beat made to slink away, and Don’s heart lurched. It was too much to hope that Cosmo hadn’t understood what he’d seen. Cosmo understood everything.

But the next morning, when he tried to bring it up, Cosmo all but waved him off. “Don’t worry about it,” he said. “We’ve all done the same.”

Don paused. Because that wasn’t true. But. “Are you saying you--?”

Cosmo scratched the side of his head, a tell that maybe he wasn’t as comfortable talking about this as he was pretending to be. “Sometimes,” he said.

Where? Don wanted to ask. When? I’ve never seen you. I would have noticed you.

 

---

 

But Don didn’t know how to ask, how to bring the topic back up. Did you avoid me? Do you know something I don’t know?

Over the years, they settled into a comfortable friendship which even encompassed this area of their life - and if in Hollywood, Don saw more ladies than gentlemen and Cosmo was the other way around, they were perfectly happy discussing their latest dancing partners of whatever kind over coffee, whiskey, or cartons of whatever flashy new drink Don had been seduced by at the grocery store.

Until, that was, Don started seeing Kathy. They weren't just discussing her - Kathy was there with them, drinking and talking. And Cosmo... 

Maybe there just weren't so many people to talk about, or so many dates to report back on. Cosmo was a busy man.

 

---

 

Don downed the dregs of his tomato juice and shook his head vigorously. “Well, it’s woken me up,” he said. “Could be improved with some vodka, though.”

“No more dreams of dancing ladies,” Cosmo said. “Disappointing.”

“Anyway, you haven’t explained where you were last night,” Don said. “It’s not the same without you, Cos.”

Cosmo ducked his head. “Cards with the orchestra, and in bed by ten.” With no follow-up explaining why .

“That’s no fun,” Don said. “Are we going to get another drink to make up for it?”

“As long as you’re buying this round,” Cosmo said, and ordered a second coffee.

 

---

 

Don was helping Kathy make dinner that evening when it burst out. “I’m not sure what you meant about Cosmo. We’ve never been like that, him and me.”

She looked at him for a long time. “Why not?” she asked, finally.

“Oh, I don’t know,” Don said.

“A pity,” she said. “Will it offend you awfully if I said I wish I got to see more of him?”

“No,” Don said. He’d been thinking much the same thing. “I hardly know where he takes himself off to, these days.”

 

---

 

So of course, they started sending out more formal invitations, in the hopes that Cosmo wouldn’t be able to ignore them.

“Don,” Cosmo said, throwing himself into the director’s chair as Arzner was off grappling with an animal trainer and two dogs that were determined to eat the entire set before filming could get properly underway. “Tell Kathy that if she desires my company for dinner she can just pick up the phone. She doesn’t have to send me such pretty invitations. I’m starting to feel like a maiden aunt.”

“Cos,” Don said.

“I’m not her new charity case, am I?” Cosmo asked, suspiciously.

“I think she’s simply imploring our best friend to visit more often. But I can ask her to cut it out if it bothers you.”

“Thanks.”

“But I take it that’s a yes for tomorrow night?”

“Don,” Cosmo said, a hand over his heart. “I wouldn’t be able to say No to the two of you even if I wanted to.”

And then Dorothy Arzner was back, yelling at Cosmo to get out of her chair, and Cosmo obliged with great elegance and haste.

 

---

 

“How do you both know this song, and I’ve never heard of it?” Don asked.

Kathy laughed and sang louder, and Cosmo finished playing with a flourish and then stroked the keys lovingly. “I’ve missed you,” he said.

“We’ve missed you too,” Kathy said.

“He’s talking to the piano,” Don said.

“Really,” Kathy said, and she laughed and rested her head on Cosmo’s shoulder. Cosmo sat still for a moment, then tentatively ran a hand through her hair.

Don’s mouth felt dry. “Kathy, you saw me two days ago,” Cosmo said, but gently. Don always loved getting to see the softer side of him, like this - with less of the comedic armor.

“But that was at work,” Kathy said. “This is different.”

“We’ve all been busy,” Cosmo said, as he started to pick out a song from Funny Face on the piano with his one free hand - his other hand still resting in Kathy’s hair.

Kathy hummed along for a few bars. “We’re never too busy for you to visit, Cosmo,” she said.

“Sure,” Don said. “It’s not the same without you.”

And then he got them each one more drink. And then another.

 

---

 

After a while - and only a few more formal invitations sent by Kathy - things almost seemed back to normal with Cosmo. He went with them to parties, sure, but more often than not he came to theirs for dinner, and drinks, and talking long into the night. Or he’d spend the evening working something out on the piano while Kathy kept up on her correspondence and Don read over some new scripts...

“Hey Kathy,” Cosmo might say. “Can you try out this vocal part for me?”

Or Don might ask one or the other of them to read a scene with him, or Kathy might do the same. Sure, they were all busy - but sometimes, if you’re lucky, you can find ways to bring the people who are most important to you into that busy whirl.

Don could hardly believe how lucky he was - that he’d found people who made work feel like anything but. Most of the time, anyway. There were still long shooting days, tiresome press junkets, and arguments with studio bosses about upcoming projects. But somehow, they paled in comparison to the rest of it.

 

---

 

But ever since Kathy had brought up the topic of Don and Cosmo, together, it was like Don couldn’t get it out of his mind. It didn’t help that he got to see Kathy and Cosmo together so often now - arm-in-arm, dancing, putting their heads together over a problem or a bundle of sheet music that they were puzzling out.

Kathy made Cosmo more peaceful than Don could remember ever seeing him, and it made his heart swell.

And still his traitorous brain, his swelling heart - they both wanted more. They wanted everything - all those things he’d first wondered about a decade ago or more, but had never really thought were in his grasp.

And the scariest part was, that he was starting to wonder if maybe. If maybe, it was all within his grasp. If he just needed to get up the courage to ask.

 

---

 

“What ever happened to Freddie?” Kathy asked, one evening, after Don had cooked a passable casserole and Kathy had made everyone cocktails with the finest smuggled Mexican liquor money could buy in prohibition California.

“Freddie?” Don said, looking up from the latest issue of a fan magazine he was looking through for, er, purely academic purposes. But Kathy was looking at Cosmo, not him.

“The double-bass player,” Kathy said, as if that would help narrow things down. Cosmo had certainly never mentioned any vaguely romantical double-bass players in front of Don.

Cosmo shook his head. “It wasn’t to be,” he said.

“Hmm,” Kathy said, and patted him on the shoulder.

 

---

 

Don had never been inattentive, exactly. He and Cosmo had been intimate friends for most of their lives, and that came with a certain amount of companionship at parties, nightclubs, and bars. But they didn't usually dance together, not at that kind of party, and they would often arrive at a place together only to be almost immediately separated - by people wanting to hang on Don's arm, smoke with Cosmo, or looking to impart industry gossip to only one or the other of them.

Sometimes it felt like Don was able to socialise better with Cosmo at work than when they went out for a good time. 

And then sometimes - especially after Kathy - they managed to make it work. One night, not long after Kathy confirmed that Freddie was out of the picture, they were at a studio party, drinking mystery punch, and Don had managed to avoid most everybody he didn't want to talk to - and that meant he was leaning against the back wall, not even so much as swaying to the music. Soon enough, he knew he'd be back out there.

The party was full of balloons, streamers, and confetti on the floor. Don wasn't sure of the occasion - maybe it was a wrap party for R.F.'s latest pet project, maybe it was something else. Nobody needed much of an excuse for merriment. The studio was doing well, against all odds. Why not celebrate?

Don was watching Kathy and Cosmo together. The music was loud and boisterous, and nobody else in the room - except Don himself - could compare. They were both slight, light on their feet, and able to flip between comic and romantic, slapstick and elegant, on the flip of a dime, or at the crack of a tap, a handclap, a wave of the hand.

Cosmo had never dreamed of being a filmstar, had no time for the heartache fame brings with it. Don couldn't begrudge him for it, but on watching him dance like this... he thought he should try and get Cosmo in his next picture anyway. He wouldn't have to be a big name, wouldn't have to get a prominent credit (although Don would fight for it if Cosmo wanted one, especially if he was willing to take on a bigger role than Don had in mind). But Don knew then that he needed to see him onscreen. Needed to see Cosmo moving like this, again and again; needed to record it and project it, blown up many times bigger.

Don wanted to be able to live inside this moment; the hairs on his arms standing on end.

And Kathy - young, small, and completely self-possessed. With every step. Where their hands touched, their arms brushed against each other, it was electric. Don wasn't dancing, was halfway across the room, and could feel it anyway. Surely everybody could?

But when he looked around the room, nobody else seemed to have noticed. Movie people are lousy at paying attention to anything but themselves. Don included; how long has this been happening, how long have they been dancing around each other? All three of them. Stepping around, casually. Pretending not to be so close. Drums pounding in their ears. That insistent beat. The dance ended with Cosmo touching Kathy's face, Kathy touching his back. Cosmo met Don's eyes across the room. He was flushed.

Don waved, not sure how to signal any of what he was feeling. Any of what he wanted. Me next?

 

---

 

The first time Kathy was featured in a movie - Don went to see it, alone, every chance he got. Or he went with Cosmo, or Kathy herself. She wasn't the lead, but he didn't care. He was proud, and pleased as punch for Kathy - but it was more than that. There was something intoxicating about seeing her up there. Immortalised, but also ephemeral, living, spinning, blown up in lights.

Dumb show? No, no - Kathy was the real deal. She spoke and sang and her voice was rich and real, and it tattooed itself inside Don's skull when she talked to him, when she snuck an arm over his shoulder and whispered into his ear, when she sang at the top of her lungs.

"Of course I get it," Kathy said, when Don tried to explain his odd tendency to spend a free afternoon at the pictures. "I saw all your pictures, even before we met, remember?"

Somehow, Don thought it should be different now that they have each other. They don't have the settle for the burnished shadow puppets. But Don likes having both - the real Kathy, and the filmic one, flickering in warm light.

Is it so selfish to want to see Cosmo like that too, even if only briefly, even if only in one role?

 

---

 

There were other things, however, that Don wanted more. More from Cosmo; he didn't just want his image, his skill for dancing. It was remembering those long-ago early mornings, rising from the same bed - it was wanting to know that again, and more of it. It was wanting all of him.

 

---

 

Don didn't know how to ask Cosmo - for any of it. He'd been so lucky with Kathy - once their initial problems were all ironed out. "You ever feel like it should be harder work?" He asked her, once.

Kathy looked at him like he'd grown an extra head. He supposed he'd lucked into a lot of good things in his life - maybe he shouldn't start questioning it all now.

But. Nothing had prepared him for this.

 

---

 

The thing is. The thing is that if one part of your life is easy, it's not any more valuable or necessary than another part of your life that's more difficult. And it's also not worth any less, just for that. Sometimes it's just about knowing what you want, and working for it - whatever form that work may take.

 

---

 

Don and Cosmo have danced together many times. Onstage, offstage, professionally and otherwise. It's almost always been part of a routine worked out in advance, long ago - there are so many dances stored in Don's memory, and he and Cosmo are so close and sychronised that usually if one of them starts up the other one can begin only a beat or two later.

One of the things Don regrets is that it's not easier to dance with Cosmo in other ways - in low light, only for each other, without knowing how and where they're going to end up.

"He was terrified," Kathy said, of her own time dancing with Cosmo. "But he couldn't stop smiling."

And every time they moved closer, every time Kathy and Cosmo held hands, every time Don was able to grab half a song, slip his arm into the crook of Cosmo's arm, innocently enough, while they were walking together at the studio...

 

---

 

“Cosmo,” Kathy said, one night at Don's apartment, in a smaller voice than Don had heard her use in a long while. Cosmo was putting on his coat and patting down his pockets for his keys. “Why don’t you stay here?”

Cosmo glanced over at the window. Usually he only stayed if the weather was bad out - which wasn’t that often in Los Angeles. “I haven’t got far to go,” he said, and he leaned forward to peck her on the cheek.

“Cosmo,” she said, and kissed him on the cheek in return. “That’s not really what I meant. And I wasn't just asking about tonight.”

She took his hand as she said it and ran her fingers over his knuckles.

Cosmo looked around, wildly, and his gaze settled on Don.

Don tried not to choke on his tongue at the sight. Cosmo was flushed, Kathy was giving him her best seductive stare, and the whole thing was -

“You know, Cosmo,” Don said, his heart leaping into his throat. “Kathy asked me recently why you and I had never been involved. Given certain compatibilities and our personal history.”

“And?” Cosmo said, finally.

“I said I had no idea,” Don said.

 

---

 

How many tiny misunderstandings, a decade or more ago? Cosmo trying to catch Don's eye that night; Don too embarrassed to meet his gaze. Too awkward to look back. Maybe it felt like a rejection. Like a step back. A drawing away.

A fork in the road.

 

---

 

Cosmo opened his mouth and his breath left him in a rush. For a second Don thought he was going to keel over. But Cosmo was always perfectly poised, and now was no exception. He stayed perfectly upright. 

When he finally spoke, it was accusatory. It wasn't the tone Don had been hoping for. "I cannot believe you are asking me this question," he said. There was the barest hint of play there, buried beneath something more ominous.

Next, Cosmo looked down at Kathy. His voice was gentler now. "Don was the Romeo and Apollo of the vaudeville circuit," he said. "I was just a mere mortal."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Don asked.  

He looked over at Don. "You were never going to notice me."

"Cosmo," Kathy said. "I've danced with you. I've seen you dance a hundred times and I never get tired of it. Everybody notices you."

"Whether they want to or not," Don said. "And believe me, I know."

"Gee, thanks," Cosmo said. Somehow on more familiar ground.

"Think about it," Kathy said. "That's all I'm asking."

 

---

 

Kathy asked Cosmo to think about it. But it rapidly became all that Don could think about.

Which was unfortunate, as Cosmo decided to take his time. Decided to test them with not-quite dates. He'd go for drinks with Kathy, eat rushed studio lunches with Don, and it was intimate and somehow both more and less than they'd had before. Small snatches; glimpses of a future that might or might not be pulling into their station. Touching their knees together under a table and not moving out of the way. Lingering kisses on the cheek, hand, wrist. And going home - not alone, but still missing something.

"I love you," Don said to Kathy. And it was true. 

"I love you too," she said. And then she looked down. "I love both of you," she said. "It feels right."

Don was helpless. All he could do was agree. And hope.

 

---

 

It wasn't a party. It was an intimate gathering of Kathy's friends, who were mostly women and mostly uninterested in any men around them, no matter how famous.

Which suited Don and Cosmo just fine.

Kathy's friends brought along phonograph records and sheet music, and Cosmo started the party behind the piano, but soon got dragged onto the dancefloor. "I've been working on a routine for three dancers," Don said, keeping his voice deliberately light. "Kathy, you stand over there, and Cosmo-"

Cosmo was perfectly able to follow directions, but Don put a hand on his arm to guide him anyway. "Gilda, if you start playing it at a jaunty pace," Don said, and she started up. The piano didn't sound as good as when Cosmo played it, but Don needed him on his feet. 

Once Don had got the routine across to Cosmo, they danced it through three times. it was short and frivolous. They ended up closer to each other at the end of each run through. It was hot inside. Don's arm kept brushing against Cosmo's shoulder. Kathy liked to rest her head against Cosmo's other shoulder as they stood, chests heaving, waiting for the music to start again.

"Or something like that," Don said, at the end of the third run through.

"Or something like that," Cosmo echoed, and turned around and kissed him, and Kathy's friends either whooped or turned away, and next Cosmo was kissing Kathy, and Don touched his mouth.

"Cosmo," Don said, as Cosmo and Kathy pulled away from each other for air. "I don't think you're anybody's maiden aunt."

"Well, it doesn't hurt to hear it out loud from time to time," Cosmo said. "Let's say we skip this scene for somewhere more private. I've got another routine in mind."

And they did.

 

---

 

Don and Cosmo and Kathy danced together for Don's next picture, although Cosmo asked to be left out of the credits. They hooked arms; they jumped as the screen faded out. Don thought it was the perfect ending to that first film starring all three of them, together. Leaping out there, together. Nobody else would get to see them land.