As he left Don and Miss Selden to get reacquainted, Cosmo shook his head in amusement. He was glad that Don was still committed to making up for Selden getting fired from her job, but at the same time, he couldn’t help but be impressed that Don had remembered the incident after all this time. She must have made quite the impression on him.
Startled, Cosmo turned around and saw one of the models from the “Beautiful Girl” number—the one with the “cunning hat”—giving him a smile. He smiled back. “The very same, not to be confused with Mr. Black, Mr. Burgundy, or Mr. Burlywood. What can I do for you?”
“Nothing, really. I just wanted to say that I think this is a wonderful number. I love the music and the lyrics. The slow crescendo at the end is just perfect.”
Cosmo blinked, then grinned. “Well, thank you. I don’t think it’s a true masterpiece, but it’s certainly one of my better ones.” He put a hand to his chest dramatically and gestured expansively with his other hand. “I can only hope this is one of the pieces that helps immortalize me.”
The model laughed, the sound warm and genuine, proving that she was responding to his antics rather than mocking him. Cosmo felt a warmth in his chest at the sound. When she stopped laughing, she smiled at him again. “I’m sure it will. Assuming the audience isn’t distracted by all the ‘beautiful girls’ on screen.”
Cosmo chuckled. “I’d say that’s a given, wouldn’t you?”
“Maybe. But context means a lot in the movies, even when it comes to pretty girls.”
“All right, everyone, break for lunch!” Sid called out, “We’ll pick it up from the top when we come back!”
“Excellent,” the model said, “I’m starving. You wouldn’t think just standing and posing would make someone so hungry, but there you are. See you around set, Mr. Brown!”
“Oh, uh, sure! See you around, Miss…”
“Fay.” She replied, and then with a wave, she was off to the commissary. Cosmo smiled again, then went to go find Don. He wanted to see if he needed to offer congratulations or more condolences.
A few days later, Cosmo was on his way to the commissary to grab some lunch when someone called out to him. “Mr. Brown!”
Cosmo turned around and saw a woman with wavy auburn hair running up to him. Not recognizing her, he raised a hand and gave her a smile, which generally bought him enough time to learn or re-learn someone’s name. She smiled at him, and then he finally placed her, having been thrown off by her lack of hat. “Fay! Nice to see you again!”
“The feeling’s mutual,” Fay said, “How’s it going?”
“Can’t complain,” Cosmo said, “No, wait, I guess I could say that I wish I could get a chair with my name on it like Don and the directors get, or that R.F. always demands rewrites on my songs instead of saying they’re perfect as they are.”
Fay laughed, her head tipping back slightly as though it was the only way for her to properly express her amusement, and Cosmo’s chest got warm again. Fay lowered her head and grinned. “Well, it’s good to hear that things aren’t too bad with you. Are you going to the commissary?”
“Yeah. But depending on what they’re serving, I may not be there long.”
“Mind if I join you? My bit of the latest scene ended, and my friends are all part of the next one on the schedule. I just hate to eat alone.”
“Sure, come on.” Cosmo said with a smile, resuming his walk. Midway there, it occurred to him that he probably should have offered her his arm to at least try to be gentlemanly, but then again, this was Hollywood. She was probably used to informality in all things around here.
It turned out that the commissary was serving chicken and mashed potatoes, which they were generally pretty good at (their meatballs, on the other hand, were notorious; someone had once put some of them in a pile of rocks for the angry revolutionaries to throw at the palace during a big action scene, and nobody had noticed until one of the peasants had thrown one and realized there was a smear of grease on his hand). He and Fay both got a plate and found a spot in the corner. “So, how’s it going with Lockwood and Lamont?” Fay asked, “They getting used to working with microphones yet?”
“It’s…a work in progress,” Cosmo said diplomatically, thinking of the costuming ladies who were probably still trying to sew some decorative camouflage onto Lina’s dress to hide the mike, “But most of us are still going through growing pains. Even me; I have to think about how things sound on instruments other than piano! Do you know how hard it is to write a love ballad for a tuba?”
Fay laughed, though she quickly cut herself off and covered her mouth so she wouldn’t disturb nearby tables. “I guess it’s lucky I’m just a dancer. I just have to stand around and silently react, like I always have.”
“Hey now, you’re moving up in the world!” Cosmo protested, “You got to stand around with the camera lingering on you specifically for seven seconds in the ‘Beautiful Girl’ number, didn’t you? Maybe in the next movie you’ll get to say ‘Right away, sir,’ or something like that.”
“I can dream, I guess,” Fay said with a shrug, “Any chance you could write a song with a line specifically for me?”
Ordinarily, Cosmo would have seen that as her trying to use him to get a bigger part, but she said it with such an impish grin that he just knew she wasn’t being serious. “Sorry. I don’t get to control who sings the one-liners. But I’ll try keeping you in mind while I’m composing, so at least you’ll have a variety to choose from.”
“That might be nice, actually,” Fay said, “That way there’ll be less of a chance that I get stuck with a line I hate.”
“You wait,” Cosmo said, “You grow to hate all of them after you’ve had to speak or sing them over and over again.”
“Maybe we need a new position; ‘behind-the-scenes entertainer’. Their job would be to distract us from the monotony between takes, or maybe react dramatically to the dialogue so we remember why we’re doing this in the first place.”
“I’d be happy to take that job.” Cosmo said, “I do it for free at times anyway, and I could always use another paycheck.”
“Wouldn’t we all?” Fay said, before waggling her fork at him, “But if you did get the gig, I think you’d be great at it. A sterling example for everyone else to follow.”
“Well…thanks for that,” Cosmo said, surprised but gratified by the praise, “Not your standard compliment, but I’ll take what I can get.” Then, still feeling a bit off-kilter, he decided to change the subject. “So what are you working on? Still part of Beautiful Girl, or did they move you to a different film?”
Fay was more than happy to talk about her newest project, including some good-natured griping about the costumes. After a bit, she looked at the clock on the wall and gave a yelp. “They need me back on set in ten minutes! Sorry, but I’ve got to run. See you around, Mr. Brown.”
“Cosmo, please!” Cosmo said, “I think we’ve hit the point of being allowed to be on a first-name basis. Especially since we interacted off set.”
“Cosmo, then,” Fay said, giving him a bright smile, “Till next time!”
Gathering up her plate, she gave him a quick wave, then hurried off. As Cosmo turned back to his plate, he was surprised to realize that it had been empty for at least five minutes.
When the decision was made to turn The Dueling Cavalier into The Dancing Cavalier, Cosmo was of course the one assigned to write the new songs (and even if he hadn’t been, he would have fought for it; it was his idea, after all). While he was writing the numbers, he remembered the conversation he’d had with Fay in the commissary. Or rather, the first conversation; the two of them wound up eating together at least once a week, and when they didn’t, they’d generally at least manage to wave or say a few words to each other every day. She hadn’t brought up the subject again, instead preferring to talk about her current work, but in a way, that made Cosmo even more inclined to do her a favor, since she didn’t seem to be angling for it. With her suggestion in mind, he wrote two numbers that would have multiple single line speaking/singing parts. He also wrote most of the dance segments in a way that would hopefully allow for some of the chorus girls to have a moment to shine.
After all of his music had been approved, he quietly asked R.F., Roscoe, and the casting director for the modern day segments of Dancing Cavalier to consider casting Fay (by then he’d learned that her last name was Daniels) for the new numbers, on the grounds that “She’s a good dancer who learns quickly and takes direction well, which is what we need if we want this picture done on time.” He wasn’t lying about any of that—he’d dropped by some of her productions to see if she was free for lunch, and seen for himself that she followed instructions without complaint (she saved it for when she was off set) and danced well enough that she didn’t overshadow the stars, while also being able to pull off more complicated routines. Cosmo wasn’t sure which of the three ultimately signed off on it, but five days after making his suggestion, Fay told him excitedly that she’d gotten a singing line (“Patching up the costume tears”) and a ten-second dance with Don. Cosmo congratulated her and made no mention of his involvement, and she didn’t bring up any suspicion of him pulling strings either.
Cosmo made sure to free up his schedule so he could be on set the day they filmed “her” number—“Broadway: Home Sweet Home”—and watched with pride as she sung her line with the right amount of exasperated verve while she pretended to mend a ripped dress. When Roscoe yelled “Print!”, she glanced over and gave Cosmo a wink and a little wave. Cosmo waved back and made the “O.K.” gesture to her with a grin. She positively beamed before having to head to wardrobe to change costumes for the dance scene, which made Cosmo’s chest feel warm again.
He spent the filming of the dancing alternating between watching Don and watching Fay, the former to admire his skill and the latter to make sure she was keeping up. Fay was completely focused on the scene, keeping her face turned towards the camera, smiling broadly as she went through the routine, always moving in sync with the other chorus girls. She wasn’t making it look effortless, but she had definitely practiced enough that she could spend more time on her “acting” than making sure she remembered the steps. When it came time for her to take her turn with Don, she kept pace with him, clasping his hands and then spinning away in time with the music, just as planned. She’d need some more polishing if she wanted to have a shot at being a musical star, but from what Cosmo could see, she was well on her way.
It took eight takes before both Roscoe and Don were satisfied, and Fay managed to keep her composure the whole time. Other than waving at Cosmo and gulping down water in-between takes, she kept her eyes on the prize, trying to look just as fresh on the final take as she had at the start. There were times when her energy was noticeably at a lower ebb, but when the time came for her bit with Don, she’d dig deep and light up again. Cosmo recognized it as something he and Don had had to deal with sometimes back in Vaudeville, which made him even more convinced that she had a good future in acting ahead of her.
Thinking of the Vaudeville days also caused Cosmo to drift off into daydreams, the music of the number making him picture a variety of scenarios. Sometimes it was him and Don, performing something similar to their old double act; sometimes it was Don and Kathy, possibly performing for the camera but entirely focused on each other; sometimes it was him, Don, and Kathy, joking around like they had when they’d decided to make The Dueling Cavalier a musical; and sometimes it was him and Fay, Fay learning the steps he’d help choreograph and laughing that rich laugh of hers whenever she got something right, looking at Cosmo like he was a genius. That was always the point when he’d snap out of it, wondering where exactly that thought had come from, and focus on the actual dance routine.
After Roscoe called “Cut! Print!”, Cosmo came over to Don first. “Looks great, Don,” he said, “Maybe not quite the way I pictured it, but still pretty good.”
“Pretty good? It’s great!” Don replied, mock-offended, “It has to be, if it’s going to be the last big number in the movie. Gotta leave the audience on a high note, after all.”
“I think you’ll succeed at that,” Cosmo assured him, “Maybe they’ll even forget there was anything historical about the movie at all.”
“Not with Kathy helping Lina out, they won’t. Speaking of which, I should see how she’s doing with her lines. See you later, Cosmo.”
“Sure.” Cosmo said, waving him off. Then he looked around to see if he could spot Fay. After a few seconds, he saw her standing in a group with some of the other dancers, all talking excitedly. When Fay noticed him approaching, she broke off from the rest and came up to him with a tired but happy grin. “So? Did I pass muster?”
“Mustard? Yeah, and ketchup too.”
“Oh, stop!” Fay said, laughing and lightly swatting the air in his direction, “This is important to me.”
“I know,” Cosmo said, giving her a sincere smile, “And I think you did great. Even if the audience doesn’t notice you, I think casting directors will.”
Fay lit up at that, and Cosmo felt his chest heat up in response. “You really think so?” she asked.
“I do. I’ll even be completely serious for a moment, hard as that is for me.” He chuckled, then continued. “Do I think this is going to catapult you to stardom? No. But do I think this will lead to a bigger part in the next picture, which will lead to another, and then another? Absolutely.”
Fay abruptly moved forward, and the next thing Cosmo knew, she was hugging him tightly. “That’s all I need to hear. Even if you hadn’t assured me of your sincerity, I’d have believed you. Thank you.”
The rest of Cosmo’s body seemed to heat up upon contact with her, including his face. Before he could come up with something to say, or even move to try to return the hug, Fay had let him go. “I’ve got to get out of this and try to get some feeling back into my feet before heading home. Lunch tomorrow?”
“Y-yeah,” Cosmo said, nodding automatically, only half-hearing her as he tried to fully process what had just happened, “Sure. Of course!”
“Great! See you then!” And with another warm smile and a wave, she hurried to catch up with her friends. Cosmo remained where he was, feeling at a loss for a minute, then finally snapped himself out of it. He might as well go see how Kathy and Don were doing, and maybe suggest the three of them go out to celebrate the number’s completion.
Even with Lina’s attempt at sabotage (and thanks to some counter-sabotage), The Dancing Cavalier became a huge hit, and R.F. quickly found a new leading role for Kathy so she could prove to the world that she was more than just a good singer and speaker. He was even nice enough to pair her up with Don, though perhaps that was a calculated decision on his part; given the performance at Cavalier’s premiere, pairing the two of them together was a fantastic publicity move. Cosmo, of course, wrote the music for it, and was often on set to keep an eye on things. While the two lovebirds preferred to eat lunch together (and alone), and there were plenty of parties they needed to attend, the three of them got together at least twice a week to relax. But since you can’t keep good performers down, there were a fair few occasions where they’d end up practicing lines (Cosmo filling in for all the other parts, often overexaggerating it to make the other two laugh) or rehearsing numbers. Sometimes Cosmo would test some of his new music on them to see what they thought, complete with the three of them developing some impromptu choreography. Kathy had slotted into Cosmo and Don’s dynamic seamlessly, and even though they’d only known her for a year, it was hard for Cosmo to believe there’d ever been a time without her. Sure, he felt a little left out whenever she and Don got all sappy with each other, but they never excluded him for too long when they were all together, and that was more than good enough for him.
Then one day, the three of them were talking while they waited for the new scene to be set up when they heard someone call out Cosmo’s name. Cosmo turned around and saw Fay running up to them, eyes glowing and smile splitting her face. “I just got the news!” she said as she came to a stop, “Sid’s giving me a solo routine in The Parting Dance!”
“Hey, that’s great!” Cosmo said, grinning, “Which number?”
“‘Dancin’ on Water’.”
“Oh, that was a fun one to write. I’m glad you got that one.”
“It sounds like it’s going to be a challenging shoot, since they’re throwing in some water effects and tricky camera angles to play with reflections. I just hope they design the costumes to dry quickly!” She laughed at that, her head tilting up as it always did, and Cosmo’s chest got warm, as it always did. Then she grabbed his hands and squeezed, bouncing a little on her feet. “You were right. Sid said he gave me the routine because he liked what he saw in the ‘Home Sweet Home’ number. Maybe next time, I’ll get to sing and dance. Can my name on the movie marquee be much farther behind?”
Cosmo laughed. “With that attitude, I’d almost bet on it.”
Fay grinned. “Anyway, I wanted you to be one of the first to know, and I couldn’t gamble on you being free for lunch. Speaking of which, can I buy you lunch next time in order to celebrate?”
“Shouldn’t I be saying that to you?”
“I’m feeling generous.”
“And I won’t turn down a free meal. You’re on. It might have to wait until tomorrow, though; R.F. told me King of Song’s been hitting some snags, so I need to spend some time with the crew today smoothing it out.”
“Great! Good luck with that, and I’ll meet you by the commissary today or tomorrow!”
Fay let go of his hands, nodded quickly at Kathy and Don, and then ran off. Cosmo smiled after her, then turned back to see both Kathy and Don looking at him with sly grins on their faces. “What?”
“I’m hurt, Cosmo,” Don said, giving him an exaggerated pout, “All this time we’ve known each other, and you can’t even bother to tell me when you’ve got a girl of your own? Some friend you are.”
Cosmo was taken aback. “I didn’t…I’m not…she’s not my girl.”
“It didn’t seem that way to me,” Kathy chimed in, “Not with the way the two of you were looking at each other.”
“What? She was happy to get a bigger part, and I was happy she was happy.”
Kathy shook her head. “I know that look she was sporting. The tilt of the head, the pull on the lips, the softness in the eyes…I used to see that all the time on the faces of my friends when we read through the gossip magazines and sighed over the stars. I’m sure I’ve made that look myself plenty of times, especially in regards to Don.” Don draped an arm over her shoulder and squeezed, and she bumped his side with hers affectionately. “She likes you, Cosmo,” she continued, “And given the way you were looking after her just now, you like her too.”
Cosmo wasn’t sure how to respond to that. Denying it just seemed rude to Fay, because he certainly liked her, but only as a friend. But now that Kathy had brought it up, he began to turn things over in his mind. Sure, knowing the right people in this business increased your chance of getting bigger roles, but those right people generally didn’t go out of their way to craft roles specifically for their friends. He’d thought it made perfect sense that he often pictured Kathy or Fay when he was working out dance routines—they were his two closest female friends—but maybe there was another reason for it. And while he liked hearing people laughing at his jokes and antics, the sound normally didn’t make his chest warm.
He looked back at Don and Kathy and gave them a sheepish grin. “I think you’re right. Well, on my end, at least. What am I supposed to do about it?”
“Simple,” Don said, “When you meet for lunch, ask her to dinner. Somewhere outside the studio. Dress up nicely, and if she does the same thing, then that means she likes you. And if she lets you kiss her at the end of the night, I’d say that’s pretty definitive proof.”
“Maybe I’ll take her to a diner. Hopefully that way there’ll be some pudding involved as a consolation prize.” Cosmo said. It took Don and Kathy a moment to get the joke, but they quickly rolled their eyes and gave him mock-exasperated looks. “But I’ll give it a try. Thanks, you two.”
“Anytime.” Don said, clapping Cosmo on the back.
“And if it goes south, we’ll be waiting at our place if you want to commiserate. I can even make some pudding.” Kathy chimed in, eyes twinkling teasingly but her smile sincere.
“I’m holding you to that,” Cosmo said, “But I really should head over to the King of Song set. See you both later.” With that, he moved away, though it took a few minutes before he was able to concentrate on the music rather than the flutter of nerves in his stomach.
The next afternoon, he met Fay outside the commissary, as promised. She beamed when she saw him, and his chest warmed and stomach flipped over simultaneously. Not wanting to just blurt out a dinner offer straight off, he managed to smile back and went inside with her, hoping he’d have at least somewhat of an appetite.
True to her word, Fay paid for both their meals, though it helped that Cosmo didn’t order very much. He let her do most of the talking for a few minutes, though he certainly didn’t mind hearing about the challenges that came with working on her number. Finally, when there was a bit of a lull in the conversation, he took a deep breath and said;
“Hey, uh, Fay? This is probably going to seem out of nowhere, but maybe you’d like to…have dinner with me? Tonight? If you’re not busy?”
Before he could kick himself for his awkward wording, or try to smooth it over by suggesting he could give her some advice on her dance, Fay’s eyes lit up, and she reached across the table and grabbed his hands. “I thought you’d never ask, Cosmo. Absolutely. Tonight at eight?”
It had all been so fast that Cosmo’s mind needed a moment to process what had happened. Then he smiled back at her, still nervous but much less so. “Works for me. Do you want to meet at a restaurant, or would you like me to pick you up?”
“Depends on the restaurant and how close it is to my place. There’s a nice little Italian place about four blocks from my apartment, if that’s appealing.”
“I think that would be fine. Where do you live?”
She gave an address that wasn’t too far from Kathy’s old place, and Cosmo agreed to pick her up. Then he said a little hesitantly, “You’re sure about all this?”
“Absolutely,” she said again, squeezing his hands, “I’m looking forward to it.”
They resumed eating and talking about show business, but Fay had a blush on her cheeks for the rest of lunch, while Cosmo could barely remember whatever they talked about as soon as they went their separate ways. When he met up with Don and Kathy later that day, they didn’t even need to ask how it had gone; they just grinned and wished him luck.
That night, Cosmo showed up to Fay’s address, wearing his best suit (that wasn’t a tux; Hollywood or not, you didn’t want to overdo it on the first date). Fay came out as soon as he knocked, looking fabulous in a beaded grey dress. He led her to the taxi, and this time, he offered her his arm, which she accepted with a grin and a wink. All of this was enough for him to stop worrying about being rejected, though it did cause him to start wondering about something else.
He held off on asking until near the end of the meal, figuring they should focus on getting to know each other “off the lot” first. But while he was buttering another roll, he decided he might as well go for it.
“Can I ask you something, Fay?”
“It would be strange if I said no, since we’ve been asking each other all sorts of things tonight,” Fay said with a laugh, “Go ahead.”
Cosmo swallowed. “Why me? I’m sure there are plenty of other guys who have been interested in you. Why go for the guy in the music department?”
Fay smiled. “Because when I first saw you, I didn’t know you were ‘the guy in the music department’.”
Cosmo thought back to their first meeting. “But you complimented me on my work when we first met.”
“That’s when you first met me. My first real glimpse of you was several months earlier than that.” She grinned at the confusion on Cosmo’s face, and quickly explained.
“It was on the day the studio shut down in preparation to adapt to talkies. I was taking a shortcut through some under construction sets when I heard a piano and somebody say ‘Big people have little humor, and little people have no humor at all’. Well, that got me curious, and I looked around for the source. That’s when I saw you singing and dancing to entertain Mr. Lockwood, and your routine was one of the funniest things I’d ever seen. I had both hands over my mouth so you wouldn’t overhear me—maybe having a larger audience would make you stop—but it didn’t matter too much, because I wound up laughing so hard that I stopped making any noise altogether. You were just so enthused and full of life, willing to do anything if you thought it would make Mr. Lockwood smile. Your attitude was infectious, and I was smiling all the rest of the day, even when I got chewed out for being late. I wanted to know more about you, but thanks to the closure, it took me a while to even learn who you were. After that, I was hoping to find an excuse to speak to you and see if that first impression was an indication of the real you. Beautiful Girl was just the opportunity I was looking for, and it all snowballed from there.”
Cosmo felt his chest heat up again, though this time it was also reflected in his face. “And you’ve really been attracted to me all this time?”
Fay nodded. “I like men who are funny and smart. I knew the first one immediately, and given the time I’ve spent with you and the rumors I’ve heard about your involvement behind-the-scenes on The Dancing Cavalier, you definitely fit the second category too. Even when you didn’t seem interested in me, I liked being around you, because you were so easy to talk to and could almost always get me to smile no matter how bad a day I was having. I wouldn’t have minded just being friends with you, but I’m glad you eventually asked me out.”
Cosmo smiled and put his hand on hers. “So am I.”
(He didn’t even need to ask for a kiss that night; she planted one on his lips before he could even get a word out. It took him two hours after he got home before his mind started working again and he phoned Don and Kathy to tell them that they didn’t have to worry about cheering him up.)
“How’s the latest score going?” Kathy asked as she stretched out on the couch, “It sounds like R.F. is expecting big things from it given the way he’s been talking about it.”
“I think it’s been coming along fine,” Cosmo answered, “The love songs are clicking, as are the comedy ones. I have been wrestling a bit with one of them, though.”
“The big dance number?” Don said knowingly, as he came out of the kitchen with a tray of drinks.
“No, actually, it’s one of the comedy numbers. I’ve got the words and the music for the singing part, but I’m having some trouble incorporating the melody into the dancing bit.”
Kathy clucked her tongue. “Haven’t you been helping him out, Fay?”
“Hey, don’t pin this on me!” Fay said, laughing and holding up her hands, “We spent the past two lunch breaks and our last date trying to figure something out. I helped him decide the dance should have some spinning, but that’s as far as we’ve got.”
“Sounds like you need a third and fourth opinion.” Don said with a grin, passing out the drinks.
“Two heads are better than one,” Cosmo agreed, “Though in this case, what I really need is eight ears and eight legs.”
“So you want a spider?” Fay said, “It might make for quite the sight, but it might be difficult to train. Or to find one photogenic enough for the camera.”
Cosmo gave her a look, even as he grinned. “Given that this number’s called ‘For the Birds’, I don’t think an insect motif’s going to work here.”
Kathy gestured over to the piano. “Play it for us, Cosmo, and we’ll see if we can figure out where you’re going wrong.”
Ten minutes later, the four of them were on their feet, making little bouncing steps in an attempt to mimic the way birds hopped, occasionally bobbing their heads like chickens. Their rhythm wasn’t quite right, since they kept being thrown off by their laughter, but it was giving Cosmo ideas. As he returned to the piano and started experimenting, the others continued to come up with more bird-like motions, though both Kathy and Fay discouraged Don from thrusting out his elbows and waggling them. “That may be overkill, dear.” Kathy said.
“What about bringing both hands to your chest and then spreading them out wide, though?” Fay asked, demonstrating the move, “Similar idea, but more graceful.”
As the three of them started trying to incorporate the idea into their current choreography, Cosmo watched them with a smile. If anyone looked in the window right now, they’d assume the whole group had gone mad, but there was nowhere else he’d rather be right now. Forget a Broadway melody; this Hollywood melody suited him just fine.