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Best Man

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It is an elaborate affair. This much is already clear at the dress rehearsal. There is a flurry of lighting technicians and cameramen amidst the stage props, photographers testing out the best spots and settings, make-up artists shuffling to and fro, the costume designer brandishing her pincushion for last-minute alterations of the bridal robe or the guests’ attire. And truly it is right and just that they have set up the location, from the red-carpeted aisle to the Art Deco altar, in studio hall number three. The priest is real, as far as he can tell, but his garb has likely appeared in a production the previous year. Cosmo is no expert in European royalty, but he is sure that their celebrations and ceremonies must pale in comparison to this carefully crafted Hollywood production.

All in all, the whole fuss could have been outright amusing if it weren’t for the fact that this is supposed to be the wedding of his two best friends and he is supposed to play - no, be - their best man tomorrow.

It is the publicity stunt of the year - and who can blame Monumental Pictures for taking advantage of romance? This is the happily-ever-after their fans are lusting for; this footage will be the highlight in their upcoming film and lend a new level of authenticity to it that other studios can only dream of.

It is beautiful. It is picture-perfect. It is also too perfect to be real. But then, there is no ceremony that could do justice to Don and Kathy’s love for each other anyway. What little does this artistic embellishment matter then?

If only someone in the prop department were daring enough to serve real moonshine instead of this sorry excuse of prop champagne - they would have his eternal gratitude. Because right now he would give everything for a stiff drink to get through this affair. But this is Hollywood and we are a dry nation, and so he will have to make do until Roscoe calls it a day and he can head home.

Their home. At least this is what it will be until the newly-weds will sooner or later draw the line and ask him to vacate the guest room. Cosmo is sure - it is not even a question whether they will ask him to move out but rather when.

This home is where he finds himself hours later, sitting at the closed piano and nursing his third bourbon, holding on to the glass as if it were a lifeline. After being pushed about on set this way and that way, he can’t help feeling like a particularly awkward and badly paid extra. How did he ever get into this? And who is he to be the third wheel in their glamorous life? If there’s any dignity left in him, he needs to come up with a plan B, before he gives the bride and groom away and loses the major part of his soul in the process. And this is when he remembers the letter that he had received earlier this month and dismissed offhandedly.

Several calls and telegrams later, when Don and Kathy finally come home late and exhausted, he is prepared.

“You would think R.F. is the one to walk down the aisle, not me!” Cosmo can hear Kathy protest from the hall.

“Oh, darling, let him have his fun. Just imagine how he would suffer if he had to orchestrate Lina’s wedding! And as long as we let him have his way, he will stay out of our private life.” Don’s voice is as cheerful and carefree as ever.

Cosmo steels himself - and then they are already all but dancing into the room, two forces of nature, circling him, pulling him up from the piano bench. Don takes the empty glass out of his hand with a playful frown and claps him on the shoulder.

“Got the jitters, best man?”

He swallows around the lump in his throat and puts on his best goofy smile before he trusts himself to reply.

“Well, technically you are the one on the way to the guillotine, my friend. I’m just carrying your chains and shackles.” Don’s snort of laughter puts him at ease enough to continue. “And speaking of heads at stake… I have a very important announcement to make.”

This catches both Don and Kathy’s undivided attention, and it’s now or never. Although never seems a tempting option, he thinks, as he feels Kathy’s perceptive and mildly concerned look fully directed at himself.

“Don, Kathy… I want you to know that you are not the only ones facing life changing events. I am… happy to announce that I will go to Europe to work with Sternberg on his first talkie.”

There, he said it. And he puts on a proud grin for good measure.

Don is wide-eyed and rooted to the spot; Kathy sits down heavily on the sofa. There is an awkward moment of silence, and Cosmo is sure his heartbeat can be heard all the way to Timbuktu. Kathy is the first to find her voice again.

“This… this is great, Cosmo, really. I had no idea. When do you plan to go, and for how long? And-“

“Next week,” Cosmo cuts her off. “There’s a liner waiting for me. I wanted you to know before you head out to your honeymoon in the Caribbean.”

“Next week?” Don sounds incredulous. “You… you can’t do that! I mean - we are getting married tomorrow and you are my best friend and… I've never been married before! I need you!”

Cosmo sighs. He has expected this kind of reaction. “You don’t need me. You are two glorious stars, beloved and admired by millions. Just look at you two! And you have each other now. I am sure you will want to enjoy your sparse free time as newly-weds, without my old grumpy self tagging along.”

Kathy’s eyes narrow. It is immediately clear to him that she has seen through his pretence. Don, however, is still somewhere between righteous outrage and disbelief.

“Cos, come on, you know I can’t do that without you!”

Now this is getting hysterical, or rather, Cosmo thinks, if they continue like this he will be the one to get hysterical. 

“I am sure the Royal Rascal can fulfil his husbandly duties, thank you very much!” he quips and, no, he is not exasperated.

“Sure, but it will only be half the fun!” Don retorts just this side of provocative and leans into his personal space.

“Cosmo,” Kathy gives Don a stern look and takes over, the soft voice of reason, “what Don is trying to say… What we are trying to say is that we can’t imagine this without you. This whole marriage thing and our new careers as all-talking, all-dancing, all-singing stars; then the ever present journalists and fans, all these big expectations and the pressure - this is a lot to take in. How shall we ever get through this without you? You are a part of us.”

“Cos, we’ve always been a team, haven’t we?” Don chimes in and puts one arm around his shoulders. “Remember our good old days in Vaudeville? Do you really think I would have come even half the way without you?”

No, he would not have. Cosmo remembers these days well. He knows how they have shared happiness and sorrow together, weathered both raucous booing and laudatory cheering, shared meagre meals and narrow beds. Very narrow beds with squeaky springs. The latter is not something he wants to dwell on now, for the sake of this discussion and his last shreds of sanity.

“Are you going to be happy? In Europe?” Kathy asks with a very small voice, and it hurts Cosmo to cause her grief. “You’ll come back to us, yes?”

There is absolutely no way to laugh this off or find a witty reply, so he makes his way over to the liquor cabinet to pour three glasses and swallow the feelings that force their way out of his chest and threaten to spill. However, even the longest stalling must find an end, and when he turns around again, there is a speculative look on Don’s face.

“Kathy,” he says and taps one finger against his upper lip, “I think Cosmo is right. He deserves to become the new Beethoven of German film. It is high time we take care of his needs, too. What do you think - can we work a trip to Berlin into our schedule?”

Cosmo wants to protest, but as soon as he opens his mouth, he already hears Kathy’s reply. “We could use our honeymoon month. I don’t mind a change of location and it would be a shame to let the third ticket go to waste anyway.”

Both look positively pleased with themselves now, and he can only sputter syllables before he gets out intelligible words. “Third ticket?"

“Well,” Don drawls and takes up his place at Cosmo’s side again, “did you seriously think we would leave you here while we're gallivanting around the Caribbean?”

Cosmo knows he has lost when he feels Don turn on his charms full force. “This is how honeymoons work, I was told,” he croaks and is sure that his expression must be his most asinine ever. “Unless you…” And he fights hard to quell this stubborn tiny spark of hope that begins to grow in his chest again.

“Unless you intend to spend your honeymoon with the ones you love,” Kathy finishes for him, and there is this bold glint in her eyes again that makes her so altogether unpredictable and special. “As for your artistic aspirations, we could work out the details together, just like we’ve done before; we’re good at that, aren’t we? I have been told, Berlin is an exceptional place to be for modern people like us.”

And when she claims the place on his other side and presses her soft lips to the corner of his mouth, Cosmo just gives up on further musings. Tomorrow might be the Big Day, all-talking and in bright Technicolor, but it looks like he does not need to give away the bride and groom after all.