“I'm not doing it. I'm not moving out.” Cosmo crossed his arms across his chest and leaned back against the wall of what had been their, as in belonging to all three of them, living room for four years.
“We can't ask him to, Don. It's not fair,” Kathy agreed. She was sitting on the couch and worrying her lower lip with her teeth.
“I know it's not fair, but you know what they can do to us if we don't put on a show for them,” Don said. He took a deep breath and squared his shoulders, resisting the urge to shove his hands in his pockets.
“No, actually, I don't,” Cosmo snapped. “This town's tip-toeing around all of a sudden, like the studio's got some sort of power that it never had before.”
“Cosmo's right. They won't care,” Kathy said. “We'll just keep our heads down and go about our business.”
“Cos, you remember how Lina and I were always getting hounded. If we don't make a few concessions we'll be in all the magazines.”
“You and Lina were always getting hounded because you wanted to be. The two of you were a publicity stunt to rival a circus sideshow. No one ever wrote about us back then.”
Don had picked up the phone on the third ring, but Cosmo didn't give him a chance to properly answer it; he just started talking. This was one of Cosmo's favorite things to do, start speaking before whoever was on the other end of the line got a chance. It was one of those barely aggravating habits he took great pleasure in. “Lina's on a publicity tour for the weekend. Let's go out.”
“You'd think she was rumored to be your fiancee with the attention you pay to her schedule,” Don said.
“I just like to have the reassurance of an evening uninterrupted by her particular vocal quirks.” “Well, I can't blame you there. What did you have in mind?”
“I was thinking Cafe Bali.”
“Even if Lina was around, I don't think we'd have to worry about running into her there.”
“Oh no, it's the place to be seen this year, haven't you heard? I only suggested it so that I might be seen next to the famous Don Lockwood, and a rich benefactor would take it upon themselves to sponsor my artistic talents. Then I could finally get to work on my symphony.”
Don laughed. “I always knew you were just using me. All right. See you there.”
Cosmo hung up the phone and strolled out the door.
It didn't take more than fifteen minutes to walk to Cafe Bali from his apartment. His favorite table was open when he arrived, the one from which you could see the stage and the door. He ordered what passed for a gin and tonic these days and settled in. It had been harder to get Don on his own since he'd entered into this publicity stunt with Lina. The fact that Lina seemed entirely unaware that it was only a publicity stunt made matters more complicated. There had been more sneaking around in the past three months than there had been in all Don and Cosmo's years in vaudeville.
The gin and tonic was half gone by the time Don strolled in.
“What's the show tonight?” Don asked as he slid in beside Cosmo.
Cosmo shrugged. “Does it matter?”
“I guess not.” Don took a healthy gulp of his drink. “I don't think I can keep ahead of Lina for much longer, Cos. She's everywhere I turn. Maybe the movie business was a bad idea.”
“Well, it's too late to go back to vaudeville.” Cosmo chucked Don under his chin. “Don't pretend this isn't what you've always wanted. People actually believe you when you tell your ridiculous stories about your lofty origins now. Which famous Shakespearean actor did you study under this week?”
“Oh, I can't even remember.”
Cosmo rested his head on Don's shoulder, secure in the knowledge that no one in Cafe Bali would give them a second glance. “Don't look a gift horse in the mouth. We've got the life we always talked about.”
“Not entirely. I'm pretty sure for a little while we talked about being pirates.”
“No one ever wrote about you and I then because Lina was there,” Don said, sighing and rubbing a hand across his face. “Listen, nothing about the three of us has to change. You can even sleep here most nights. Just have a place of your own, for appearance's sake.”
“No. I'm not going to be the third wheel in this thing.” Cosmo gestured broadly between the three of them. “I'm not going to feel like I'm walking into somewhere I don't quite belong every time I come here. I get enough of that being a composer on a film set. This place is ours now.”
“It won't be like that,” Don said. “I don't want it to be this way either, but I don't see any other way it can be.”
“We're the team responsible for three of their biggest hits in the past five years and they're just going to run us out of town if we don't meet some arbitrary moral standard? I don't think so.”
Cosmo was at the piano and Don was sashaying around the room when Kathy got back from her matinee performance. None of them had been in a movie in years. Don still did some work as a choreographer, and Cosmo composed a theme or credits' song now and again. Kathy acted on stage occasionally. Don found this endlessly amusing and joked about it all the time, despite the fact that Cosmo and Kathy no longer bothered to humor him with a laugh.
“Just who I needed!” Don exclaimed when Kathy stepped into the room. “Come here, darling. Help me figure out this footwork.”
“What are we working on?” Kathy asked, as she was whisked into Don's arms, and quickly picked up on his step, mirroring him around the room.
“MGM's got a big musical extravaganza in the works,” Cosmo said, raising his voice to be heard over the bass line he was banging out. “They want Don to choreograph a sort of celebrity cameo number. The movie's got something to do with the history of Hollywood, so they thought they'd throw us old fogies a bone.”
“No, see, this spin is the part that's giving me trouble.” Don stopped so suddenly that Kathy bumped into him.
“Here, let me give it a try.” Cosmo stood up, and pushed Don gently toward the piano bench. “Just play a minor arpeggio with a little swing to it.”
Don obliged and Cosmo swept Kathy up in his arms. “See, if you place this beat here, you should be able to,” Cosmo said, but suddenly his heel ran into Kathy's ankle and the two of them stumbled into the couch.
“See,” said Don. “There's something tricky about it.”
“Look,” Kathy said. “It's simple really. Here.” She reversed the position of her arms with Cosmo's so that she was leading, and slowly walked him around the living room. “See how I did that?”
Don leaped up from the piano. “I think so. Was it like this?” He cut between Cosmo and Kathy, trying to pull the latter into his arms.
“Hey, I'm not letting her go that easily,” Cosmo protested and soon the three of them were tangling all around the living room, cutting in and out of each other's paths and laughing all the while. In the end, something rather similar to the chaotic path they danced all around the house would end up in MGM's musical extravaganza.
Kathy sat quietly on the couch. She'd tucked her legs up under her, as if she was trying to take up as little space as possible. “I'm sure R.F. won't be like that. I'm sure he'll make accommodations for us.”
“Oh come on,” Don said. “R.F. doesn't know what's going on half the time. I don't know who's really in control of Monumental Pictures, but it's certainly not him. We can't rely on his leniency. Kathy and I have to look the way the public expects us to.”
“I knew this was going to happen sooner or later.” Cosmo's shoulders crumpled for just a moment before he shoved himself off the wall and stalked out of the room.
Two weeks into Don's hunt for Kathy, he and Cosmo were driving around Hollywood, scouring the sidewalks for a form that resembled Kathy's. Cosmo was starting to get nervous. He couldn't recall a time Don had managed to get to a third date with a dame, let alone be unable to get her out of his head for almost half a month.
“Is that her?” Cosmo pointed at a mailbox. “Wait, no, couldn't be, it's got too many legs. She only has two, right?”
“You don't have to help,” Don said.
“What? And let you drive yourself around town? And watch you mope around for who knows how much longer? We've got to find this girl, if only so she can take back everything she said about the Lockwood-Lamont pictures. We can't have you doubting yourself like the rest of us mortals.”
Don and Cosmo had always gone for different types of girls. Cosmo would do a quick assessment when Don would bring a girl back to whatever hole-in-the-wall the two were staying in during their run at the local vaudeville theater. He'd check what she was wearing, how she'd styled her hair, and what the first thing she said to him was—if she acknowledged him at all. Then Cosmo would roll over and face the wall while the girl and Don did whatever it was they were going to do. They were never girls Cosmo wanted to know any better but he checked every time, just in case.
Cosmo had only seen Kathy for half a second at R.F.'s party, and she hadn't looked like anything special. Sure, she'd been pretty, but Don had never been too awed by beauty. He got it easily. Cosmo wondered if maybe that was all there was to this new obsession. Don couldn't believe that someone had actually been able to resist his charms. He'd never met someone who could before. Hell, even Cosmo couldn't, and Cosmo had read Don's playbook of flirtation backwards and forwards at least a hundred times by now.
It was more than that though, Cosmo could feel it, and after two weeks he was starting to get curious about this girl despite himself. If Don could maintain an obsession with her for so long then maybe there was something worth knowing about her. If they found her, and she didn't become so important to Don as to supplant Cosmo, then Cosmo imagined that maybe they could be friends.
“This is the fourth time we've driven down this street,” Don said.
“That's because we've been circling this neighborhood for three hours. Is there somewhere else you'd like to check?”
“I don't know.” Don sighed heavily. “Let's go back to my place. We've got to be on set early tomorrow.”
“Well, I've never known that to stop you from a night out before, but I'm certainly not going to complain.”
“Why doesn't Cos see this is what would be best for all of us?” Don asked, collapsing onto the couch next to Kathy. “It's what we have to do to stay safe.”
“How would you feel if Cosmo told you that you had to move out?” Kathy asked.
“That doesn't make any sense. The mags know we're in a relationship.” He drew a line in the air between them with his thumb. “If I moved out and Cosmo stayed, that would be a scandal of an entirely different sort.”
“That's not the point, Don. You know that.”
“I know.” Don let his head fall back and stared at the ceiling. “I wish things could just stay the way they are, but they can't. This whole town is changing.”
“We're Cosmo's family now, Don. We can't do this to him.”
“I think I'm going to go visit the folks for a week,” Don said over dinner one evening. “I'd love it if you'd come, Kathy. I know my mother's outraged that she hasn't met you yet.”
Don talked to his mother at least once a month and had been sending money back home to Idaho ever since he and Cosmo had wormed their way into the movie business. When Don's brother moved back home, having finally given up on finding work a year or so after the stock market crash, Don sent a few more dollars a month, figuring this whole thing would clear up soon. Somehow it was three years later and it still it hadn't. But Don hadn't visited home since Singin' in the Rain started breaking box office records. Don had been busy. And any talk of Idaho made Cosmo squirm in that way he did when he was trying to divert attention from what was actually bothering him. Cosmo would never go back to Idaho and so Don felt almost like a traitor for suggesting that he, himself, might.
“Not nearly as outraged as I am, I'm sure.” Kathy smiled across the table. Kathy's parents lived just outside of Los Angeles and she visited them often. Don and Cosmo accompanied her occasionally. The first time all three of them had gone, the Seldens had fallen all over themselves at having a movie star in their house while Cosmo had twiddled his thumbs with a self-effacing smirk on his face. The second time all the novelty had worn off and they nagged gently at Don and Cosmo almost as much as they did Kathy.
“Well, that settles it then,” Cosmo said. “I'll stay here and look after the house.”
“Oh, come with us, Cosmo!” Kathy said, snaking her hand into his under the table.
“No. I really think someone ought to keep track of our affairs here. And have you ever seen Idaho? Well, no, I guess you haven't, but trust me, once you've seen it once, that's enough. And I should know, I saw it once for a stretch of fifteen years.”
Kathy dropped the subject there, and squeezed Cosmo's hand once before reclaiming hers for the purpose of eating. She should've known better than to ask in the first place. She'd never once heard Cosmo speak about his family, and that's how you knew it was bad, because Cosmo would talk about anything, whether it thrilled or infuriated him. He could spin both emotions into amusing tangents.
“I know we're all Cos has in the way of family now, Kathy,” Don said. “I watched him methodically destroy every connection he had to Idaho before we finally managed to get out of there. All he wanted was to perform and his family would have none of that, so he alienated every one of them till he was sure they wouldn't miss him when he left, sure that they wouldn't try and stop him.”
Kathy and Don looked at each other in silence for a moment, and Kathy laid a hand on Don's arm. He'd spent his life trying to be what people wanted of him and now he didn't know how to do that. He couldn't see a way to please his clamoring public and his creative team simultaneously. And he certainly couldn't run this performance through a test-screening to see how it played.
“Kathy, this is ridiculous. How're we going to make this work? It's been great and I don't want it to end, but I can't think how we can maintain it. I mean, what if we all want to start a family? What if we want to have children some day? How would that work with three of us? No one's looking at the long term here.”
“We've muddled through just fine so far, haven't we?” Kathy was smiling gently, but the corners of her eyes were betrayed her melancholy.
The waiting room was empty except for Don and Cosmo. Cosmo had been rifling through the same magazine the whole time they'd been sitting there. He'd flipped from the front to the back to the front again. The world seemed like an exceedingly dangerous place, with the Hindenburg going up in flames and Amelia Earhart vanishing into the air. Cosmo half expected the sky to fall and crush them any moment. Finally he looked directly at Don. “This is silly. Women Kathy's age don't get pregnant. Do they?”
“She's only thirty-five, Cos.”
“I feel like we're all so old these days.” Cosmo twisted the magazine back and forth in his hands. There was a soft tearing noise as he gave it a particularly vigorous twist. “Why wouldn't she let us go in with her?”
“Would you want us in there if the roles were reversed?”
“But this involves all of us. Doesn't it?”
Don was about to answer when Kathy stepped into the room. She shook her head slightly in response to their questioning stares and the three of them walked out to Don's LaSalle in silence.
“Where to?” Don asked once they'd all piled into the car.
“Well, I think we should celebrate,” Kathy said.
“BBB's Cellar it is!” Cosmo said.
“I can't think of a more childless place,” Don agreed.
Then they all fell into silence again. Don revved the car to make it across an intersection before opposing traffic got in the way and Kathy grabbed at the dash.
“Did we want a baby?” Cosmo asked quietly from the back seat. “I mean, we never really decided we didn't want one.”
“I don't want one,” Kathy said firmly. “We've got enough projects to put our energy into. Can you imagine us trying to raise a kid between choreographing a number and going on a publicity tour and revising the latest script?”
“We could make time if we wanted to,” Don said.
“I don't think I want to,” Cosmo said.
They all stared at the road rolling away under the car's wheels. Don pulled up to a stop sign and didn't start moving forward again until a car behind them honked.
“No,” Don said finally. “I don't think we did want a baby.”
“Well, that's a relief then,” Cosmo said.
They didn't speak again—no one even called out, “Cosmo, we're on your street!” when they turned onto Cosmo Street, as was the tradition—until they pulled up to the Cellar. Just as they walked in the queen undulating to 'Summertime' brought her performance to an end and the band dove into a rendition of 'They Can't Take That Away From Me.' Kathy grinned, and pulled Don and Cosmo onto the dance floor. Before the song was out the doctor's appointment and the car ride that had followed were all but forgotten.
“I'm going to talk to Cosmo,” Kathy said, removing her hand from Don's arm. “Why don't you get a breath of fresh air? You'll see, this'll all work out.”
Kathy left Don standing there and walked back through the house. She stopped in the living room and looked around. She couldn't imagine living in this house with just Don. It would be like living with a ghost. Cosmo was everywhere. He'd been here the first time she'd ever set foot in the place—that night they stayed up until the morning figuring out how to save The Dueling Cavalier—and they'd all been here ever since.
She did a sad little paddle and roll across the ceramic tiles, imagining how empty this place would feel with just two bodies occupying it.
Marlene Dietrich's heels ticked precisely on the orange tiles of the living room. She swept into Kathy's personal space and kissed the air next to her cheek. “This is quite the party, darling, and The Three Stars was simply stunning. I have a feeling you've got a real hit on your hands.”
“That's very kind,” Kathy said, trying to keep her shoulders straight. Marlene had a way of making her feel small and crooked. “We certainly enjoyed making it. Didn't we, Don?” She grabbed his shoulder and spun him away from his conversation and toward hers so they could face Marlene together and maybe she'd stop feeling like a small child caught with her mother's lipstick smeared on her face. Kathy wasn't sure she was ever going to get used to making small talk with people she'd seen cast in glowing silver on a screen above her. It didn't seem fair that Marlene was so new to Hollywood and Kathy still felt like she was the one out of her depth.
“I'm sorry, what?” Don tried to grasp the conversation. “Oh, yes. Yes. This picture was an absolute pleasure to make. But then, with a creative team like the one we've got, how can you go wrong?” He smiled at Kathy.
“You certainly don't seem to be able to.” Marlene smiled. “Your movies are doing Monumental Pictures very proud.”
Just then, Cosmo looked away from the story Cole Porter was telling and glanced around, as if he'd picked up Kathy's silent distress call. Their eyes met across the room and Cosmo slid effortlessly out of the circle he'd been part of and over to the conversational clutch Don, Kathy and Marlene had formed.
“What sort of trouble are you getting into? Have these two rascals been bothering you, Miss Dietrich? I can't take my eyes off of them for a minute. I'd hate to think that us Americans weren't making a good impression.”
“The impression you are making is quite fine.” Marlene smirked at the three of them, and instinctively they drew closer together. “I'm quite enjoying myself tonight. It is a shame that my contract is with Paramount. I would love to be a part of your creative team sometime.”
Cosmo choked and tried to cover it with a cough. He'd used up all his smoothness on his entrance and now he found himself just as tongue tied as Kathy.
“Well,” Don managed, saving the three of them from disaster, “maybe that opportunity will come up, one of these days. I'm sure we could do great things together.”
“I'm sure we could.” Marlene looked at each one of them intensely, letting her gaze linger on Kathy perhaps a little longer. “If you'll excuse me, I see Mr. Cantor. I must ask him a question.”
As Marlene walked away, cutting through the crowd with ease, Cosmo let out a tiny, incredulous, exhalation of breath that could've been mistaken for a whistle. Kathy elbowed him in the side and he winced visibly, at which point Don guffawed and the three of them barely managed not to fall into a heap of laughter.
Kathy found Cosmo in what they referred to as the music room. A polished wood floor that produced the clearest rhythms when they got to tapping on it, assorted rhythm instruments—maracas, a tambourine—laid out on a table against the wall, a grand piano in one corner. There was a music stand in the center of the room and Cosmo had picked up Don's violin from where it usually lay beside it. He was holding it like a ukelele and strumming something syncopated on the G and D strings.
Cosmo didn't look up from the floor. “You know this is the same fiddle Don played when I met him? At least three growth spurts and thousands of dollars later and he's still playing this thing.”
They met in church. They loved to tell people that. It was the one true anecdote in the backstory that Don had invented for them. Their parents had been devoutly religious people and hard workers, and Sunday was an important day for them, the day the week was lived for. Church is where Cosmo learned to play the piano. His mother would take him along for mid-week prayer meeting and Cosmo would sneak off to find the organist. Cosmo's parents were ultimately alright with this, because he was still devoting himself to God, if in a slightly different way than they would've found ideal. Don got his fiddling lessons from his grandfather, but he was quickly roped into putting his musical talents to work during the weekly service too.
The first time Don and Cosmo played together, the hymn got away from them. They hadn't even spoken to each other; just by chance they'd both been plopped at the front of the church to play something during communion. The hymn was an upbeat number to begin with and they made it through the chorus once just like it was marked on the sheet music—even though neither of them was actually reading the sheet music. But the second time through, Cosmo found a second rhythm hiding under the first that was far more interesting, so he improvised a little, bringing out a counter melody to match the syncopated rhythm he'd discovered. Don quickly picked up on what Cosmo was doing and ran after this new melody, throwing in embellishments of his own. The congregation managed to keep up for a few bars, but before long most of them were staring at each other in bemusement, with no idea how to keep up with the racket that was now coming from the front of the church.
After the service ended, Don and Cosmo were led by the scruffs of their necks to the choir rehearsal room with a stern command to “think about what you've done,” while their parents and other adults went to take part in the post-church social mingling.
“Hello,” Cosmo said, grinning. “I'm Cosmo Brown.”
Don looked at Cosmo skeptically. He felt that maybe he'd been dragged into something he hadn't entirely meant to do, and this boy was to blame.
“Well, do you have a name, or don't'cha?”
“Don. Donald Lockwood.”
“Well Mr. Donald Lockwood, it's a pleasure to make your acquaintance.” Cosmo's aping of more adult modes of conversation was disarming to Don. He had to admit he found himself amused. “You're pretty good with that thing.” Cosmo gestured at the violin hanging from Don's hand. And that was all Cosmo had to do. With that compliment, Don was his. “You know, I've been looking for a partner.”
“A partner for what?”
Kathy lowered herself to the floor next to Cosmo and he finally looked at her.
“Do you think he's right? Am I being selfish? Is it dangerous for us to keep living together?”
“If I've learned anything in the past few years, it's that you and Don can get yourselves out of any scrape imaginable. You can run circles around people with your words. You and Don will deflect people with a thousand shining sentences before they can ever get close enough to hurt us.” Kathy draped an arm around Cosmo's shoulder and pulled him toward her.
“You spin a pretty fancy word web too,” Cosmo mumbled.
“Thanks, dear. I've been practicing.”
“Maybe we should get one of those diction coaches in here. We could brush up on our vowel sounds. We'd talk so prettily no one would even care what we were saying.”
“Between the three of us, no paper will ever be able to figure out what's true. They won't be able to print a thing,” Kathy said, and ran a hand through Cosmo's hair.
It was way past Kathy's bed time, but she was still awake, sitting with her family on their front porch, staring at the lights of Hollywood, just far away enough to create a haze on the horizon. Kathy's older brother was leaving for the War tomorrow.
They'd been silent, listening to the crickets and one another's breathing for awhile, when her brother, Tom, spoke up. “Kathy, I got you something.”
Tom held a book out to her and she took it tentatively. It was a copy of Hamlet. “Oh, thank you!” She sprang from where she'd been sitting on the front step and wrapped him up in her skinny arms, and if a tear or two dampened his shoulder, neither of them mentioned it.
“When I get back, I'll read any scene you want with you, so you better practice.”
“I will. I'll have it all memorized before you get back. I promise.” One of Kathy's most beloved possessions was a copy of Midsummer Night's Dream that had come from the shelf of her one-room schoolhouse. Her teacher had given it to Kathy when she realized that no one else in the class had ever touched the dusty book, and Kathy was reading it whenever she had a chance. Kathy had loved the magic of it. But even more, she'd loved the way people spoke. She'd made her brother stumble over Oberon's lines so she could dart about spouting Puck's monologues back at him. Kathy wanted to find the fairy world so badly. She wanted to go to a place where people dueled with words so quick and witty they could cut, but where love drove every line spoken.
“If I get a chance, I'll study up a little while I'm over there too,” Tom said. “Maybe I'll make a better Polonius than I was a Lysander.”
Kathy did read that copy of Hamlet every day. She picked out her favorite scenes and worked on memorizing them. She'd sometimes give unprompted performances of Ophelia's recitation about flowers at the dinner table. Hamlet became as dog-eared and worn as Midsummer Night's Dream had before it.
She never did get to read any of its scenes with her brother. And when she swore she'd move to New York and become an actress, someone who could wield language in a way that would bring people to tears, she swore it for Tom as much as herself.
Don took Kathy's advice. He tossed on a trench coat and headed out for a stroll. He didn't know what good it would do. After about half a block, he realized he was breathing a little easier, though. He felt like Cosmo was blaming him for all of this. Don didn't want things to change any more than they did, but he couldn't see how they could stay this way. It wasn't his fault that he was the only practical one of the three. He'd always known how this Hollywood game was played better than Cosmo and Kathy did.
Waiting at the corner for a truck to pass, he tried out a little two step he'd been thinking about putting in their next picture.
Cosmo always said exactly what he was thinking, and it was only because he said it with that charming smirk that he got away with it as often as he did. It was Don who had gotten them where they were, by carefully crafting the image the public saw, because even if Cosmo and Kathy didn't want to admit it, that had always been important. Don had always borne the brunt of their public image. It was only fair that Kathy and Cosmo share that burden now.
Don walked onto set practically glowing. He did a quick shuffle step over to where Cosmo was sitting at the piano and leaned against it. “Did you see the piece Photoplay ran on Lina and I?”
Cosmo looked up from his A# major chord and pulled a face at Don. “You know, I haven't gotten a chance to read this month's fan magazines yet. What is Clara Bow up to these days?”
Don waved this comment off. “They say I demonstrate good breeding and class.”
“The gentleman who wrote this article has never spoken to you in his life, has he?”
“No, but nonetheless, I think I'm going to take his advice. Cos, where did we graduate from again?”
“Graduate? We've never graduated from anything, except maybe the school of hard knocks.”
“Yes, old Nock Academy. I remember it fondly, don't you?”
Cosmo looked at Don quizzically for only a moment before catching on to the game. “Yes, indeed. There was that wonderful juggling instructor, Mr. Tramp, who taught a course on the handling of pans.”
“Yes, Mr. Tramp was one of my mentors,” Don agreed.
Cosmo couldn't figure the joke in that one, but he continued on with the game anyway. “There was also quite a trying class of acrobatics. Remember the hours we spent practicing our jump, tuck and roll?”
“It's a fine institution. My father and his father and his father before him all matriculated from its marble halls.” With each of his statements, Don's chest seemed to puff a little more and he glowed a little brighter until Cosmo worried he might explode.
“There's no finer training for a life in Vaudeville than the one you receive at Nock Academy,” Cosmo said.
“If you two are quite finished,” the director called from the set, “we're ready to start filming.”
By way of an answer Cosmo struck another A# major chord and Don strode in front of the camera.
The next time Cosmo did pick up a Photoplay, he saw an interview with Don where he described at great length his time studying under Mr. Tramp at Nock Academy. So, from then on, that was the story.
After the truck finally pulled out of the intersection, Don bounded across the street, not quite noticing how much his steps had lightened since he'd stepped out his front door. He grabbed a lamp post and spun around so he was facing back the way he'd come. If he'd protected the three of them this long, he could figure out a way to get them through this new scrutiny too. After all, like Cosmo had said, the studio couldn't risk jeopardizing the team behind three of the biggest hits of the last five years.
Don looked at the low, ranch style houses he passed on the way back to his own abode, and wondered about the stories each of those buildings contained. What other
triumphs and battles were going on today? How many dramas was he walking past? There was a great sequence here, if he could just put his finger on it. Maybe the camera could pan between living rooms where each family was dancing a different number till they all poured out on to the street and danced together, overcoming their individual problems through unity? Don contemplated this the rest of the way back to his house, the neighborhood passing in a blur.
The next picture wasn't coming along so well. They were trying to come up with the hit song first, the one that would drive the picture forward. This meant that so far, the majority of the workload had fallen on Cosmo.
Kathy and Don would shout ideas at him (“What about something comparing women and men to cats and dogs?” “You know what's a good rhyme for love? Above.” “Hey, what about an el-love-ator?”) from the kitchen, or the living room, or wherever they happened to be canoodling while Cosmo hunched over the piano, trying to get something new and interesting to come out of its keys.
Kathy and Don knew things were going particularly badly when an atonal thump would come from the corner of the house they'd dedicated to music-making and dancing, as Cosmo banged his head against the piano keys. Then they'd look at each other and silently negotiate which one of them would go and run their fingers through Cosmo's hair and whisper that they were just joking about that last suggestion, of course he shouldn't write a song about how it felt to be a cooking pot roast. Why didn't he take a break for a while? Come join them in the kitchen. After all, they had all the time they needed to create the next hit. If he really insisted, maybe they could try a few dance steps around the stove.
Then Cosmo would get up from the piano bench and stretch so widely that half his joints cracked and he looked like he'd grown a foot. He'd fall back into his usual self-deprecating slouch and wander into the kitchen and there the three of them would wile away uncounted hours. And somehow during their jokes and conversation, half the kinks in the song Cosmo was writing, and the story point Kathy was pondering, and the dance number Don had been choreographing, would all work themselves out.
Cosmo raised his head from Kathy's shoulder. “How'd you even end up in this business anyway? Didn't they tell you to run? Didn't your folks raise you to know that show business is the devil itself?”
“You know, Zelda hinted heavily that I should stay away from Don, because if Lina couldn't break you two up, then there was no hope for me. But all of her sly insinuations went right over my head. I didn't know what I was getting into until I was in it.”
“I'm not asking how you fell in with Don and me. I know we're irresistible.” Cosmo raised his eyebrows and smirked a little. The effect would've been more pronounced if his eyes weren't red. “But show business on the other hand, and the movie business in particular, it's the pits. How ever did you end up here?”
Kathy smiled softly at him. “This is where I found the land of fast-talking clever elves I'd been looking for since I was ten. How could I say no to that?”
“We do seem to have an overabundance of fairies in this town, it's true.”
“That's not what I meant, and you know it,” but Kathy laughed.
Kathy spent almost every spare cent she had on the movies, although that didn't amount to a lot after she took out the chunk of her pay that went towards rent, and the other chunk for food, and then there was the chunk for her parents, and of course the chunk for the fund that would get her to New
York City one of these days.
This evening, she was taking herself to a Douglas Fairbanks picture. She liked the fantastical adventures he went on. She didn't exactly see the point of going to a movie that was just like real life. She got enough reality from reality. Fairbanks' swashbuckling persona seemed like it would fit right in at Elisnore, or Oberon's court. She liked to imagine that if he could talk it would be in iambic pentameter. Sometimes, after a movie she would spend the evening creating dialogue for the film she'd just seen, expanding on the intertitles till all of the characters were as verbose as their rapidly moving mouths suggested they were.
She had a notebook full of her scripts, and sometimes, when she went and saw a picture she'd particularly liked again, she'd take the dialogue she'd written with her to theater so she could check it against the images that flashed by on the screen, making sure she'd remembered what order characters made their arguments in and hadn't left any scenes out.
Kathy heard the front door close quietly. She pressed a kiss to Cosmo's forehead. “Come on, let's go talk some sense into him.”
Before they had both found their feet, Don appeared in the doorway. He saw his violin cradled in the crook of Cosmo's arm and found himself caught between a smile and a frown. There was a long moment where the three of them just looked at each other, none of them quite sure how to begin.
Don sighed. “I think we can all—I want us all to stay here.”
“Well, that's good,” Cosmo said. “Because we're not going anywhere.”
“We're going to have to be careful, though. We're not out to make a stand here. We're not changing history or anything. We're just living our lives. Quietly.”
“No one was suggesting anything more than that,” Kathy said.
Cosmo hung up the phone. “Well, that was a strange conversation,” he announced to the house. He wasn't even sure anyone was home at the moment, but if someone was, he wanted to talk about what had just transpired.
“What was it about?” Kathy called from the living room.
Cosmo grinned and followed the sound of her voice. “This gentleman, Vito Russo, have you heard of him? Well, he's writing a book. He wants to interview us about our musical numbers. Particularly the one we created for MGM in the '50s and also the one in The Three Stars. You remember that dance number Don insisted we sandwich in the middle of it? The one that completely killed the film's momentum? This gentleman seemed to think it was very important historically, kept talking about how it was 'coded.'”
“What does that mean?”
“I have no idea. I told him we'd call him back when Don was around.” Cosmo lowered himself carefully onto the couch next to Kathy, remembering the days he could somersault over it.
“That number may have ruined the momentum, but it was good,” Kathy said, setting aside the notebook she'd been writing in. “You always had an eye for the story. Don was the one who looked out for the spectacle.”
“It was alright,” Cosmo conceded. “Remember how much trouble Eddie Cantor had with that section? The one where you spun between him and Don? He never could manage to dance in tandem with Don there.”
“Yeah. The two of them managed to keep perfect time with each other through every other bit of the routine, but when I got in the middle, it was like I demagnetized them!” Kathy chuckled.
“Eventually Don gave up and said it was better that he and Eddie got out of sync there. The craft table was starting to get a little cold, that does drive even the most artistic director to make concessions.”
“I don't know if he gave up. I think he may have actually liked it better that way. I did. I think it did a better job of illustrating the relationship between the three characters.” Kathy's eyes drifted closed, as she recreated that scene in her head. “And Don seemed to think that was the point of the number. To recap the movie for anyone who hadn't been paying attention.”
“That's what you said then,” Cosmo grinned. He could spend hours reminiscing like this. They all could. “But we all know you were just tired of rehearsing it. You don't have to keep standing by that story now. Hell, I was tired of running that number too. I'd been playing that theme for hours. I can still probably play it in my sleep.”
“That's really the number the man on the phone wanted to talk about?”
“Mostly. He also wanted to know about the three of us, and how we'd lived our lives, and how that affected our work.”
“Well, Don certainly won't want to talk about that,” Kathy said.
“He doesn't believe the world is changing again. He thinks any moment the studio's going to come banging through that door and we'll all have to go deeper into hiding. Like it matters anymore. When was the last time he was in a movie?”
Even after Don's concession, the three of them remained at arm's length. There was a moment where they weren't sure whether something had broken irrevocably. Then Cosmo managed a grin, set Don's fiddle gently back in its place, and reached out and grabbed Don and Kathy, dragging them toward him. Just as they were all about to end up in an embrace, Cosmo used their momentum to launch himself into a complicated pratfall.
Then, looking up at them from the polished wooden floor, he said, “So, whaddya say? Let's get to work.”