and write that symphony
summer 2002; revised/expanded spring 2004 from 28 to 54 pages
There were things she thought about all the time, like waking up early enough for work, her mother's strident insistence on introducing her and Don to all sorts of European nobility, and finding a discontinued silver pattern to match the incomplete set she'd gotten from her grandmother.
Then there were other things that barely teased at her, things that somehow stayed sweeter because she didn't think about them all that often. What about the quiet peace of a cottage in the mountains away from the noise of Hollywood? Or going to Broadway after all, her childhood dream, now that she had the money? What about the sunlight on Cosmo's hand, and his hand on her elbow, at the zoo?
He'd tipped his hat off, twirled it idly around one finger with his other hand in the pocket of his pants, stared with his head tilted to one side at a boa constrictor twined around a branch. "Kinda reminds you of Don, doesn't he?" He had said, straight-faced.
She had laughed and slapped his arm playfully. "Oh, Cosmo!"
"You know, you're right," he'd decided with an air of finality, "His head isn't big enough. Don just may be more of a monkey."
When she'd put her hands on her hips and mock-scowled, his blue eyes had widened artlessly in his thin face, and he'd said, "Oh, don't get me wrong, Kathy, Don's the greatest monkey you'll ever meet."
"If my husband's a monkey," she'd asked later, hand tucked comfortably in his elbow as the seal-keepers tossed silver fish from a bucket into the water, "then what does that make me?"
"A monkey's uncle, if Don's sister ever had kids. Of course, he doesn't have a sister."
"A monkey's wife and a monkey's friend," she'd retorted, wrinkling her nose at him.
He'd been elaborately wounded. "Well, I like that! Look, Kathy, I'm sorry you married a monkey, but you don't have to take it out on me!"
"You're sorry I married a monkey," she'd said musingly over coffee and cookies on her own balcony later in the afternoon, as they waited for Don to come home.
Cosmo slouched artfully lower in the chair, a breeze ruffled his hair, and the shadows deepened under the porch roof, an indigo collar next to a sky rouged the color of a lush ruby-red grapefruit. "Well, yeah, it's a terrible loss to the world," he said flippantly, without looking at her. "It means I can't marry either one of ya. I was born to be a monkey's uncle." A dramatic sigh. "Well, there goes my chance."
And that was the first time she thought it loudly enough to hear herself.
It was the first, but it wasn't the last.
"Don't you wish Don was here?" She'd asked Cosmo once, while they were having breakfast together at a café down the street from the studio.
He'd passed her the milk for her coffee, then started to pass the suger and remembered it was Don who took it and not her. "Sure," Cosmo had shrugged, "Nice fella. My best friend, isn't he? But may I ask why this occasion is special? You didn't want him yesterday at the symphony?"
She took a sip and shrugged, added more milk. "No, of course I did. Nothing special. Just--thinking."
Cosmo had said, "No need to sound so certain about it."
She'd smiled into her coffee and reached out to squeeze his hand. "Oh, Cosmo. At least I have you." After she'd said it Kathy had realized it might be interpreted the wrong way.
"Yeah," he'd replied brightly enough, "and at least I have you too. We're less than three, more than one--say, I think there's a song in that." He hadn't seemed offended. In fact, his manner was joking, but Kathy thought he'd meant every word.
Either one of ya, she said to herself, thoughtfully. Either one.
Don was, in a way, her lucky charm.
She hadn't wanted to see the first of his pictures she'd gone to--Céleste had dragged her, "but Lockwood and Lamont! Isn't she just gorgeous, and oh, he's so dreamy," and one look at his poster at the theater, at the beginning of his rise to fame, had been enough to convince her that that sort of looking could become a dangerous habit. Two years and three pictures later, she'd had more fan magazines than she'd known what to do with and a diary with a lock for the embarrassing dreams she knew better than to share with anyone. And it was right after that her drama teacher told her she was the most promising student he'd seen in years, and she got hired at the Coconut Grove.
But a lucky charm isn't usually a real person, so it was very unnerving to meet her idol in person. Oh, her anger, at the premiere party for The Royal Rascal! How dare he drop out of her fantasy life and into her car, looking more like a pirate than a movie star, and cosy up to her with the kind of pick-up lines you see in bad vaudeville, and apparently not the least interest in knowing her as a person--he'd barely asked her name before his arm stretched over the back of the seat.
He was nothing like she'd imagined. He was nothing like he was in the pictures. His face--his mouth--they were the face and the mouth of someone urbane and sophisticated, someone who never tried to cosy up on the first date.
When she'd learned which party she was performing that showgirl dance for with the Coconut Grove, she'd smoothed her hand over her hip in that little pink dress and thought, what if he looks at me, hadn't she? She'd touched the tips of her breasts through the fabric and felt them itch and swell and press forward, and put the dress aside and stood naked in front of the mirror, tracing wide circles with her fingernails over the dip of her belly, the smooth white of her thighs, the dark thatch between. And when she closed her eyes and slipped a finger between her legs and bit her lip she'd seen his eyes, flat and black and white, like on the picture screen.
Then just a week later he'd fallen into her car. And though he was so much less than she'd hoped, while she'd fumed and burned with shame at her own naivete, he'd smiled and swept his eyes over her just like that, until the pink dress wasn't shiny and new, was dirty, and she'd seen herself in front of the mirror again and her breasts had swollen and tingled under his knowing gaze.
How dare he be less than she wanted and more at once, real and solid and scary, with the power to light these fires in her with his eyes, without uttering a word that was polite or gentlemanly instead of crude or cruel or childish?
Kathy had thought all her illusions were destroyed, and when her lucky star fell from his pedestal her world turned upside-down. Max at the Grove fired her for hitting Miss Lamont with the cake, which she really couldn't regret, but still--and Céleste got engaged and planned to move out, which would have made it impossible to make rent for very long. She had been scraping bottom and thinking of moving home to her mother when she met one of Mr. Simpson's junior directors at the library and he gave her a part in a variety sketch--and Cosmo and Don showed up, and he wasn't angry with her, he stopped just short of taking her elbow to usher her out into the back lot, and--the rest was history.
She'd found out he could be her lucky star after all.
Don burst through the front door, caroling as he tossed his jacket and hat on the coatrack, "Kathy! I'm home!" She leaned over the banister from the second floor to look at him and couldn't help smiling at the stars in his eyes.
"And how was your day?" she asked, and let him pull her close, let herself melt against him under the power in those gentle hands around her waist.
"Just like every other day without you there, Star," he said, smiling down at her. She knew how it went: no real answers until she smiled and leaned close for another kiss and chuckled against his lips or his cheek, and then he'd stop being, as he'd told her that day in the studio when they first kissed, "such a ham."
"You haven't started filming yet still," she'd said, and stepped away towards the kitchen, "And Cosmo's been working on the score?"
"Yeah," he said with his first hint of irritation, "He's been working on that night and day. I'd never get to see my best friend at all if it wasn't for the lunch breaks."
She rolled her eyes at him. "Don't be silly, Don, Cosmo practically lives here. Does he even have his own apartment?"
He wasn't sure about that, she could see; he frowned and tilted his head to the side, and he was still doing that when Cosmo appeared in the door. "Well, hello, my good friends. Oh, Don, why the long face? Don't tell me Kathy's told you you don't have a sister!"
"Cosmo wants to be a monkey's uncle," she supplied, "and so of course, he thinks I do too."
"Tell me, Cosmo, do you even have your own apartment anymore?" Don asked, pouring glasses of wine.
It was the wrong way to ask, they could both see at once. Cautious shutters closed behind his face, and he replied, "Yeah, of course I do! I try not to hang around too much for fear of offending the house plants, but…"
Don, master fence-mender, grinned at once, "Well, we wouldn't want to offend the house plants, but I was just wondering where you kept all your things. Your room--" called, until that very moment, the guest room "--is looking very lonely without them, so I wanted to know if I was going to have to look up your address before we went to get them."
Cosmo looked at Don, looked at Kathy, and looked back at Don again. He opened his mouth, closed it, opened it, paused, and finally settled on her as the more rational of the pair. "Did he just ask me to move into the guest room?" But the shutters were gone and his eyes were sparkling again.
"Yes," Kathy confirmed, with an apologetic shrug and a little twinkle. "You know us movie actors. Not much good with words."
"But," Don said, stuffing one hand in his pocket and throwing the other arm around Cosmo's shoulder, "I figured among family, I could get by with a lotta dumb show," and made a pleading face, lower lip out, and pointed at the spare room.
And Cosmo looked down into his wine, but he was practically glowing.
Don had proposed in the same sound stage where he'd first told her he loved her, with the same "five hundred thousand kilowatts of stardust," and he even called her "Star."
It was the pet name, the one she woke up to whispered in her ear in the middle of the night, what he said when he smiled at her from across the room at a cocktail party to make her tingle from the crown of her head all the way down to her toes, what he called her when she was about to beat him at poker and he wanted to distract her (not, of course, that it ever worked).
But the funny thing was that it was really Cosmo's name for her, though he never called her by it.
The first time she'd been called that had been over a winter lunch in their new dining room, and Don'd looked up and said tenderly, "I see the stardust whenever I look at you." It still made her throat close, though he probably couldn't have been any more sentimental if he'd tried.
Cosmo, with evident knowledge of the events on the stage--and why not? Don told him everything, Kathy'd known from the beginning, and so would she--had said, "That's because she emits stardust, Don, haven't you heard? Kathy's a 'shimmering, glowing star in the cinema firmament.'"
"Oh," Don had said, after they were all done rolling their eyes at the remembered newspaper article: "Right."
When she thought about it, it made sense, she supposed. Cosmo had called her "Star" a few times over lunch or dinner, and at the premiere of a new movie, always when Don was there, with a hint of irony in his voice--looking at Don, not at her. Only when it might have been a joke. She thought there might have been another time or two, besides those, but it wouldn't come to mind.
Once the name had become Don's, it was special, like a lover's gift, a secret token slipped under the table, something small and lacy and racy with red satin, the kind of thing he'd give her for Valentine's Day. And after all, there was that little burr in his voice when he said it, even in front of Cosmo sometimes, though he tried to tone it down.
The thing was, Don wasn't the kind to take offense. Kathy wasn't sure he was capable of resenting Cosmo for sharing a pet-name or even noticing it. But Cosmo always would vanish tactfully from the room before either of them were ready for him to. He had a far over-developed "tricycle sense," as he called it. Kathy couldn't remember ever thinking of him as a third wheel, but try telling him that. Don had told him, in fact, but Cosmo always seemed to think he was joking, or to be determined to take it that way even if he wasn't.
The thing about Don was that all his fame was incidental. He wasn't untalented as an actor, though he was certainly more of a ham than a King Lear. He and Cosmo had both skated to their present space in life by taking every step as it seemed to them at the time fun, or interesting, or likely to land them in a few particularly good meals.
He had the looks to become America's biggest heartthrob in the space of a year, but he hadn't set out to do that.
Cosmo had confessed to her their main motivation in going to California had been the sun. "You can do vaudeville anywhere just as well as anywhere else, we figured," he said.
"Can't you?" Said Kathy.
"No," he'd said. "It's awfully hard to get work in vaudeville around L.A. The nightclubs are full up. They've got a higher standard of the art here than out in Coyoteville, New Mexico."
"So you didn't acquire any kind of reputation before your first picture with Lina," Kathy had said to Don once.
"I didn't have any experience," he'd corrected her, "beyond your average running into burning buildings."
But Don hadn't set out to be a stuntman either. Circumstances had conspired. He was fearless and had lightning reflexes and incredible coordination, great natural stamina and fit, a strong but average build that turned out surprisingly sturdy.
"What was it like jumping off a cliff?" She'd exclaimed, hardly able to believe him.
Don had thought for a minute. "Wet."
"Well," he'd said, "the ocean was under the cliff--"
Even now, Don was doing what had happened to him. He'd learned to dress himself always to take advantage of shoulders and eyes and thighs, to smile and wave, all part of the job, just as he'd learned to carry Cosmo on his shoulders while playing the violin for his last gig.
His consciousness of his own extraordinary beauty was vague and not very firm. To Don, his body was nothing more than a tool, the intermediary between his mind and the world. His role was the same.
And so for Don his pickup lines, his forwardness, his absolute unselfconsciousness in public, were not arrogance but simply who he was; he didn't care if the trim line of his waist and his hip drew every eye; he didn't care if there was something in his manner that invited confidence. For Don what mattered was what worked and he operated on a very simple basis.
He looked for things he liked, or wanted--like sunny California; like being with Cosmo; like being with her; like his flat, which he'd picked for the ironwork on the balcony, he told her with perfect sincerity. When he found them he went after them.
Sid, who liked and admired Don greatly, nonetheless assiduously avoided working with him anymore after he'd thrown a shoot two days off schedule by taking an unscheduled break to go camping in a meadow. Neither Kathy nor Cosmo had even known where he was. It hadn't affected the picture in the long run--delays were built into the process. But Sid was a stickler for schedules, and had said his nerves simply couldn't take it.
"Why'd you do it?" Kathy'd asked Don.
He'd frowned for a second and said, "I wanted to, I suppose. Why not?"
He and Cosmo, you could see if you watched them carefully, fell effortlessly into one another's footsteps everywhere, knew instinctively when to step aside. In music Cosmo was the leader. In the movies, in executing a plan (like the California one), it was Don. In fixing a flat tire or making a plan (like the way they'd gotten their first California paycheck--they'd snuck into Monumental and worked several weeks without pay first, uninvited) it was Cosmo. In dancing they were absolutely equal partners.
She thought dancing was what Don really lived for. You only saw when he came so fully to life, when you got a good look at his face halfway through an improvised routine, that he was never quite all there otherwise. Cosmo was the same way.
"You can really dance," Don had told her after that first heavenly interlude in the stage.
"Oh," Kathy had said blankly, "I--I studied it since I was a little girl."
He'd grinned and when he'd introduced her formally to Cosmo, it hadn't come until after "Cos, say, Cos! Look at this!" And gesturing at her feet impatiently until she got that she was supposed to show off a few steps.
"Hey. Nice," Cosmo had said.
"Cosmo, the lovely Miss Kathy Selden. Kathy, you know Cosmo Brown by reputation."
"Delighted, Cosmo." Playfully she'd curtsied.
"Milady, charmed." He'd matched her with a flourish and a bow.
"Well, Cos, whaddya think?"
Cosmo'd grinned. "Let's try it. Hm-hm-hm hu-um hum-hm, hum hm-hm-hmmm... All I do the whole day through is dream of you..." And he and Don had swayed for a few beats, lined their feet up with a couple of little slides that looked amazingly instinctual, and with only a couple of glances at one another gone into a neat pattering step. A gesture had invited her in.
Kathy had been taken aback at first. It was nothing like a dance class, nor a performance, nor an audition, even at the Coconut Grove, but the beat was infectious and after all she'd been dancing to that song for months. She'd fallen in with them.
Their first time they'd kept switching the pace, and even the song a few times--tentative, as it were, testing each other out to see what Kathy could do, what they could do, how it could fit together. By the end even they were a little winded; Cosmo was fanning his face and walking in little circles and Don had slumped against a handy wall to wipe sweat from his brow. Kathy stood next to him and let him take her hand. Even her face was glowing with perspiration.
"Wow," she'd grinned after a minute.
"Wow," Cosmo had echoed.
"I always knew there was something missing when we did that number, Cos," said Don. "Didn't you?"
Cosmo'd looked thoughtful and nodded. "Kathy, you're just gonna have to stick around."
Don had looked surprised. "Oh, don't worry about that," he'd said, "I'm keeping her."
Kathy woke up on Saturday, not to the sound of Don's voice (though there was the firm weight of his arm around her ribs, and the brush of his finger on her bare breast when she reached for the bedside table), but to the incessant ringing of the telephone.
It was her mother.
"Katharine!" The voice itself nearly smelled of Givenchy.
Kathy sat up hastily and cleared her throat. A start of cold air made her snatch the sheet up over her chest and tuck it under her arms. "Good morning, Mother. How are you?"
"Fine, fine, simply magnificent, my dear--listen, pet, I've found something that you've simply got to see. If you could get down to Sunset, it's off of there by a few blocks--"
"Now?" Kathy tried.
"You do have your car, don't you, Don hasn't gone anywhere? Or maybe you could borrow one from that little friend of his who's always around. Could you?"
"No, I have the car. What is it, Mother?"
"You'll see when you get here, Katharine, and trust me, you'll be so delighted. Can you be here in another fifteen minutes?"
"Well, I. I suppose, if you gave me another ten to fix my face and my hair… where?" She dropped a kiss on Don's forehead and another on his sleeping mouth, and climbed out of bed. Twenty minutes later she was on her way out the front door to a sleepy gray morning, dew-silvered grass and a sky shining even through all the clouds so she needed her sunglasses. Cosmo, in slippers and pajamas with his hair standing up in the back, stood sipping his coffee by the open window, and she stopped to give him a kiss on the cheek and a smile, and breezed away on a breath of perfume.
Saturdays were the best, especially since Cosmo had been around all the time, with the quiet of the house and the sunlight of Beverly Hills all spread out around just the three of them. She'd been looking forward to it, the first one since they'd carried a trunk and a hatbox and three armfuls of books up the stairs to their guest bedroom on Wednesday. Cosmo had always been around anyway, but it was different, now. When she'd woken up before to find him in her house, he'd always been dressed.
Today she had only just stopped herself from smoothing down his hair, just turned her head aside at the last to plant the kiss on his cheek instead of the curve of coffee-scented lips. Something fragile was being born in her house, and she wanted to be there until it had been. But her mother didn't deal well with being told "no," so in the interest of diplomatic relations, Kathy liked to save her disobedience up, and not use it until it was called for. Besides, she hardly thought she'd be gone past lunch, maybe not even until Don woke up. When thoroughly satiated, he was a very heavy sleeper.
Kathy thought she could more or less tell that, when she came along, Cosmo hadn't been in the habit of paying much attention to the other people in a room besides himself and Don. She'd seen him out of the corner of her eye--noticed him, that was, even while she was dancing at the party and quite out of breath--before she'd heard him speak or had any idea who he was.
She only discovered later how odd it was that he actually wasn't standing with Don at the time. Usually they stuck together like one was the real boy and the other was the shadow.
Don had been so cruel--he was dangerous when hurt. She remembered her world narrowing with anger and frustration and pain for those few hours until it contracted to a pinpoint and she had to leave.
"Excuse me," she'd snapped.
He'd moved to block her and oozed, "Oh no, don't go, now that I've seen where you live--" gesturing to the fake cake she'd had to sit in, her least favorite part of the act, "I'd like to see your home."
"Now look here, Mr. Lockwood..."
And then she'd been introduced to Lina. "Say, who's this dame anyway?" The high, nasal voice had come as no small surprise, but she'd been in no way to analyze or even register it and tried to push past again.
Don had moved to block her surreptitiously without even looking, and said to Miss Lamont, "Oh, someone far above us all. She couldn't learn anything from the movies."
Well, throwing a pie at someone who had Don's reflexes, and who also had a prima donna standing behind him, was one way to get out of the party fast. She hadn't known then about his years of dodging fruit and vegetables on the stage.
Don made another lightning-fast move to the side to restrain what had seemed to become a Fury or at least some kind of swamp-thing, covered in white and pink icing, and Kathy took her chance to dart around him and away.
As she passed, she'd brushed by Cosmo grinning and heard him say, "Lina, you've never looked lovelier."
She'd had her makeup kit and her clothes in a bag and a pile respectively and she'd grabbed them up, one in each hand, so she had to open the door with her wrist and kick it. It was heavy and she'd slid sideways through it and clattered down the steps to her car, thrown the things in the passenger side (where he'd just been sitting, she couldn't help but think) and jumped in.
Kathy had always been quick and competent in tight spots. It probably came from a deeply-ingrained admiration for her grandmother, who regarded tears in most circumstances as unecessary and in poor taste, if not a little ill-bred. At least, tears before company.
So she'd shoved the car into gear and sat up straight in her seat and pulled out with what she noticed with one pleased bit of her attention was a very neat and smooth bit of steering. She'd heard someone calling after her as she went--although it hadn't penetrated until she was past the gates that it had probably been him.
Not that it made her want to look back.
She'd wondered as she slowly calmed down, driving with the intense and focused mania which often follows shock and precedes a storm of tears--who was that man in the gray suit? Maybe it was Cosmo Brown?
She'd sniffed, fumbled beside her for purse and handkerchief, then given up and wiped her nose on the back of her hand. Too bad, Kathy had thought, tapping her fingers on the wheel at a red light. I'd sort of wanted to meet him. I wonder what a lifelong friend is like?
She'd seen him around the studio a few times, chatting with people--Cosmo seemed to be friends with everyone--when she was working with Sid, but he'd never spoken to her until he stood proprietarily by, watching her and Don closely while she still didn't know what to think, if his pride was still injured, if he was angry on Miss Lamont's behalf (well, practically his fiancee by all accounts), if perhaps he wanted to apologize?
But Cosmo had said to her, "Boy, am I glad you turned up," without a word of introduction, as though they already knew each other. "We've been looking inside every cake in town." For him, because Don knew her, he did.
Then she knew who he was.
And after she and Don had got the preliminaries out of the way--apologizing, confessions of fan magazine purchase, dancing and a kiss or two--they walked out of the empty stage hand-in-hand to really get down to their first conversation.
Kathy had been walking a few inches above the ground, but she remembered Don saying, "You're probably wondering who that was. People think Cos doesn't have any manners, but what they don't realize is he's only doing it to make me look better in comparison."
Startled, Kathy had laughed. "But I think I do know. That is, I've seen him mentioned somewhere. Cosmo Brown, isn't it? I can see you two are very close."
Don had beamed somewhat abashedly and squeezed her hand. "Well, at least now we've got our own apartments."
"I don't," Kathy muttered wistfully. Then, "I suppose I'll be seeing some more of him now. What's having a best friend like?"
"It's brilliant," he'd said to the latter question. "And oh, I hope you will," he added, stopping her to squeeze both her hands at once and smile down into her eyes, "I hope you will. And I think you will too--Cos seems to like you. I wouldn't be surprised if he's picked it up by osmosis from me."
Kathy said in a little confusion, feeling light-headed with all the rush of honesty, "I like him too. I did right away." She just barely stopped herself from adding, and besides, he's your friend.
Don smiled even more widely, if that were possible. "A woman of excellent taste. I don't know that you could have said anything more likely to make me decide all my instincts were right."
"And have you decided?"
"Oh, yes," he'd said, "I don't ignore my instincts. I'm never letting you go." That hadn't bothered her at all.
Kathy made her way inside again just past two with a box full of silverware and three new pairs of gloves. She hated to wear them, and her mother always bought them for her. But she couldn't complain. She had a drawer full for if she ever needed them, like when her mother came to stay or insisted she and Don come to dinner with the Comte Silvestre Aguilar y Comaro, or the Duke Herzig von Lichstein--and meanwhile, it kept her mother happy.
The house was silent. She would have thought the boys were sleeping still, but she knew Don couldn't go all night and all day without eating, and besides, she'd seen Cosmo up when she left before eight.
She left the box on the kitchen counter to have its contents polished, next to two empty glasses with beads of iced tea or Coca-cola glistening on their insides. There were crumbs of coffee cake on the table, though the dessert plate they'd come from was pristinely clean in the drying rack next to the kitchen sink.
She'd had lunch with her mother on Sunset on the way from the estate to the department store, and didn't feel like making anything. If Cosmo and Don had eaten nothing but coffee cake, she didn't want to know about it. A glass of orange juice later, she was walking through the apartment, the rooms lit only with sunlight as she passed. The dining room, empty, the living room, empty, the laundry room, empty; upstairs--their bedroom, full of sunlight from the shades lifted, but empty; Cosmo's room, empty.
Her heels clicked, through the carpet runner, on the terra-cotta floor. And there, she might have known, a gleam of artificial light from the music room, with the door mostly open.
Don sleeping like a baby on the couch was the first thing she saw when she stepped through, with an unruly jet lock just touching his eyebrow and one of his hands curled up next to his cheek. His mouth and the collar of his shirt were open above a cashmere vest that was going to be creased from the way he was lying in it, and matching linen slacks.
She felt herself smiling almost automatically at the look on his face, and she might have walked all the way into the room with her gaze trapped by his beauty if she hadn't seen the copper gleam of Cosmo's hair. Then, of course, she turned her head at once. He was curled in a low-backed wing chair facing away from her and towards Don with his head propped on one knee. He'd made no sound, so maybe he was asleep too? Kathy moved softly around the edge of the chair.
She wasn't really startled to see his eyes opened and fixed on Don's face, with much the same expression she herself wore. Only now, of course, she wasn't looking at Don.
Cosmo lifted his face, eyebrows rising to acknowledge her a bit slowly. The room's light was a bright wash of white, but he was at a nice angle, caught in the honey-colored rays from the open window. There were daffodils in bloom in the box, and the scent of them mixed with the sun to gild his face a study in pale and dark shades of tawny. A fox, or a lion, or a cat, with his sharp face; but a monkey Cosmo was not.
Kathy felt the corner of her lips twisting up, again, because even though he was trying his hardest to look alert and perfectly serious, his eyes were a little too wide. Wide and dazed. She knew that feeling. Don couldn't help being dazzling.
She ran her hand along Cosmo's shoulders, perched on the arm of the chair and tilted her head over until it rested against the top of his. It was surprisingly comfortable, and not hard to balance when she got the hang of it. His hair smelled clean and felt crisp and soft as could be. She probably would have fallen asleep like that, but one doesn't fall asleep perched on the arm of a chair. Cosmo put an arm up around her waist, and they sighed. "He been like that all afternoon?"
"All morning," Cosmo said, "since breakfast. It can't be afternoon, 'cause we haven't eaten lunch." He said it more perfunctorily than plaintively. She believed it was automatic with him--his first language. He'd never say plain "yes" until you'd knocked him nearly speechless.
Cosmo had written them a sweet little concerto for accordion and orchestra for their wedding. Don had made him arrange it for the piano, of course, and for something that wasn't supposed to have any words, it was certainly sung a lot, at least, around their house. None of them ever made up rhymes to any other tune, any more.
A serious occasion never went by that Cosmo or Don didn't compose lyrics in honor of, or, for that matter, an occasion that could be made fun of by pretending it was serious. Kathy found herself humming snippets of it, mixing up the lines from Valentine's Day and Christmas and the lines for the much-anticipated last day of filming of the most tiresome movie Don or Kathy had been in, up till that point. She'd even helped Cosmo, over a few too many gin and tonics, compose the ones for Don's last birthday--something about "the best a girl could have--" "or a boy!" And the funny thing was, she thought Cosmo had said the first, and she the second. They were better, in short, forgotten than remembered.
But in addition to that, which was for both of them, he'd gotten Don a replica of the sign from the first night club they'd played ("a den of vice and iniquity!" he'd barely been able to tell her through all the laughing, and hugged Cosmo tight enough to crush ribs). And that had been exactly what Kathy expected, because they'd been best friends forever, and Cosmo might have been her best friend as well as Don's, but she'd had no idea that she as well as Don was his. Then, when she'd been climbing into the car for the trip to the airport, he'd stopped her and pressed a long narrow shape into her hands, smiling with his eyes softer than they ever were with mirth. "I thought of you," Cosmo had said simply when she unfolded a Japanese fan made of paper-thin cuts of pierced pale wood topped with thick rich paper, so deeply-textured you could almost taste it.
"It's beautiful," she'd whispered, bringing it closer to her nose on a spicy-sweet translucent draft of sandalwood.
"I said I thought of you, didn't I?" He'd grinned, which had earned him a kiss on the cheek.
Then she hadn't been able to stop touching it and looking at it, even though she was almost afraid to breathe on it or it would break. There was a shiny silver wash like mother of pearl across part of the white paper, flecks of darker things--rice husks, maybe, she didn't know--and pale cherry blossoms printed, drifting like rose snow in front of the stacked peaked roofs of a mist-wreathed building. Cosmo had called it a temple, but she had been more certain, the longer she looked at it, that it was a palace.
"Where did you get it?"
He'd told her in a boutique, and then informed her proudly that it was an antique, and that had kindled her imagination like nothing else could have. Kathy loved antiques, the grand old homes of Hollywood with their terra cotta walls and their velvet ceilings and their oak banisters that she couldn't span with both of her hands together. She loved history the way she loved her childhood and the smell of the Oriental carpets in her Grandmere's house, in the big rooms where children weren't allowed. She loved the ghosts she could brush elbows with in the dusty rooms.
"I wonder whose it was," she'd said dreamily. She still couldn't remember what he'd said--something flippant, she thought--but it really didn't matter, because later, she'd met the owner.
The first half of their honeymoon had been spent in Paris, the second in New York, because Kathy had never been to Broadway. And in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, there she'd been in a glass case: a doll with rice-white skin and midnight black hair in enough silk kimonos to considerably weigh down her little porcelain arms (unless they were papier mache or something like that instead).
At first Kathy had thought she was a princess (and it could easily have been her palace, behind the cherry blossoms on the fan in her evening bag), but later that night, thinking about it, she'd wondered if she was a courtesan. The fan would belong to someone like her--or, that is, the doll was a representation of the kind of mysterious woman who would have owned the fan, who would always hide her real feelings and a secretive smile behind the fan the same way her palace peeped coyly from behind its veil of blossoms. In the end, courtesans don't have palaces, and princesses are mysterious from choice, not from necessity. Kathy decided the doll was a princess.
"Don," she remembered saying. "Look at this beautiful doll. Doesn't she remind you of my fan?"
He'd kissed her, the way he'd been in the habit of doing, as if everything she said from "good morning" to "oh, Don, could you get the 'phone?" was the cutest thing he'd ever heard.
"I wonder what she was like," Kathy had mused, half-seriously, leaning against his shoulder, and he'd lifted her effortlessly off her feet and swung her around.
"I'll bet," he'd grinned, "she was a beautiful, gracious lady, just like you; but I bet she wasn't nearly as adored as you are."
"Listen to who's talking," she'd scoffed. "Let's ask your millions of fans, Donald Lockwood."
Don had waved this consideration airily aside, as if turning down a second glass of champagne. "Naaaah. I'm sure Cosmo and I between us adore you plenty to beat all my fans put together."
Kathy woke up at the first hint of evening, curled half in Cosmo's lap, feet tucked under her, in the big wing chair. It was nearly, though not quite, large enough for both of them. The windows were turning dark; outside red and pink tinted the clouds, and sunset peeped behind the skyline. A faint milky image of the room was reflected in the glass; the lid of the piano was up, and Don was stirring on the couch, his eyes open, looking at them.
Kathy smiled sleepily and held out a hand to him, careful not to wake Cosmo, or disturb his hand on her hip, his head on her shoulder. Her dress was going to be horribly creased.
Don stretched and smiled back, and crept soundlessly across the room (in his sleepiness, narrowly avoiding the coffee table), to lay his head in her lap--on Cosmo's leg, actually, pressing his nose into her skirt, and she dropped her hand to card through his hair, disarranged and sweat-damp though it was. Her other hand was trapped between Cosmo and the chair.
She petted Don's hair and let her eyes drift closed, feeling the soft hollow at the back of his neck, the sensitive edges of his ears, his hot damp breath on her thigh through her skirt.
He nuzzled at her leg, and incidentally Cosmo's, and she felt warmth invade all of her body, heavy and lazy, quickening and swelling the blood. Her pulse points were warm, her skin becoming sensitized all over, and her other hand tightened involuntarily on Cosmo's shoulder. He stirred, almost-murmuring, and Kathy met Don's eyes. They were both stricken.
Then Don smiled and dropped a kiss on her leg, smoothed his hand over her hip and trailed a hand up over her arm with a wink--he knew what he did to her--and strolled out of the room, rolling his neck and stretching a little.
Kathy put her head back on top of Cosmo's and tried to calm her heartbeat and her breathing--but his arm felt so good around her waist. She pressed a kiss on the top of his head and shifted her legs minutely. Through the layers of his slacks and her skirt it seemed like the heat of his flesh, high on the thigh, burned her, so heightened was her awareness.
She closed her eyes and resigned herself to not sleeping, and to not moving to disturb Cosmo's sweet trusting surrender. She wouldn't do that for the world. Instead she would just savor each exquisite moment even if her nerves caught fire and tonight she would take them to bed and let Don kiss them calm.
When she woke up again, it was because Cosmo was stirring sleepily against her, and when she lifted her head she saw his eyes were open, and smiled at him.
Cosmo blinked blearily.
"Oh, my, I suppose I shouldn't have got up so early," Kathy yawned, "I hope you're not squished completely flat. I'll stand up."
"Thass' alright," said Cosmo, twitching his nose. She felt his fingers stirring the knit fabric of her sleeveless dress unconsciously. "I think I know what woke us."
She put one hand on the arm of the chair to steady herself and stood up. Pins and what felt like red-hot needles shot up her leg, from the sole of her foot almost to the thigh. Kathy winced. "What's that?"
Cosmo hobbled out of the chair like an old man. "Sustenance, milady. Sustenance."
Kathy lifted her head and realized he was right. She smelled Spanish rice and some kind of fried beef and onions. Her eyebrows lifted. "It's dinner time."
Cosmo offered her his arm. "And the little woman has made us something. Shall we?"
She took his arm, but didn't lean on it too hard as she noticed he was favoring a leg too. "Lead the way, sir."
When Kathy had been playing dolls with her nanny, Cosmo and Don's parents had been drinking together regularly, and Cosmo and Don had been two little boys in kneesocks and matching hats and vests, tap-dancing on the tables in smoke-filled pool halls, the kinds of places Kathy's mother wouldn't talk to her about until she was seventeen.
Kathy had had friends, in fact, who snuck out especially to visit the seedy kinds of places that Don and Cosmo smirked and smiled about. Mary Belle had been the type to "accidentally" drop cigarettes when she turned out her purse and smile at the Sisters that they were Papa's, she guessed, but anyway, it would never happen again. Kathy hadn't set foot in one herself until she was out of high school entirely, living in a little set of rooms with yellow curtains and an heirloom quilt picked out by her mother.
She'd never been the sort to let Mama choose her roommates, though. Céleste had been French and fun, the sort you could count on to take you to a smoke-filled club with about half as many lamps as it needed, just once, and laugh instead of saying "I told you so" when you choked surreptitiously into your handkerchief.
None of them had ever wanted to go back to that kind of place. They wouldn't discuss it, but she knew they'd no more give up their pasts than she'd give up a hair on either of their heads, a bad joke or a simply horrid golfing jacket. Cosmo and Don had spent a childhood singing and dancing together in places like that. Exchanged their first smiles and shared their first pieces of candy, drunk their first mouthfuls of rain and caught their first spiders.
She'd only ever seen three photographs from so long ago, and never met either of their parents. Even without those pittances of information she'd have known: Don had been a snub-nosed black-haired cherub with a concentrating frown. Cosmo had been a knobby-kneed, skinny mop crowned with fine, curling flaxen hair and freckles, with the long-fingered hands of a pianist in miniature.
It had never occurred to Cosmo that they weren't best friends; he was the kind who knew things at once, with the exception that it had taken him the better part of twenty years to learn that not everyone was so astute. Meanwhile, Don, until the landmark of their three weeks' acquaintance, had pondered the problem "seriously."
He told her he'd put the question directly, but not without a hesitation. When you didn't know him, this hesitating tendency made him seem morose--which he wasn't, not really. It was simply something to be got around. Cosmo, since not long after that day, had known to demand Don "spit it out" (and Kathy had her own methods of persuasion).
"Do you want to be best friends?" he'd said, and Cosmo had blinked,
"You mean we aren't?"--which he'd amended to "yes" when Don had seemed nonplussed.
And ever since then, or possibly before, depending on how you wanted to look at it, they had been. Kathy could imagine their lives stretching behind them, hardly a day they'd ever spent apart, punctuated regularly by essentially the same conversation, over and over. "I'm going to California. You wanna come?" "No, I thought I'd stay here and work in a coal mine. …Yes, I'd love to." "Be my best man, Cosmo?" "I thought you'd never ask." "No kidding, Cosmo, who am I?" "Well, you're my best friend at least." (Unspoken: And nothing else matters. )
Well, she tried to imagine it; she didn't know if she really could. There was no one Kathy knew like Don knew Cosmo and no one she knew like Cosmo knew Don. Don didn't know himself like Cosmo did, and Kathy didn't know herself like that either. But she knew things about both of them, of course, that she could never have explained to them; so she couldn't resent it. It didn't even bother her. Most of the time.
They didn't have families, had never had a place, never a home--never anything but each other. And in those years she'd missed they had something Kathy would never have; but she had them now, and she was glad enough to have Don and Cosmo to come home to, and her piano and wet bar and her favorite couches and her wrought-iron balcony too. She'd wanted them to have the same thing. Don was easy enough to sway; Cosmo was harder. She padded around the house barefoot or in pajamas and a dressing gown more now than she had before he had come to live with them, the subtler equivalent of taking his elbow and steering him towards the center of their home life. He wasn't going to be a guest in her house.
Kathy's first kiss had been absolutely a mess. She had been fourteen and Derek had been exactly one month and one day older. They'd both still been in their Catholic school uniforms, and he had run all the way from History of America across the school so she wouldn't have to wait to be walked home. They hadn't even held hands until they rounded two corners, and he'd only kissed Kathy at all because she stopped walking, to show she wanted him to. It had been more exciting because of its status as first kiss than because of anything more exciting than that, like the too-soft sloppy wetness of male lips that didn't know where to go on her mouth and didn't feel like she'd imagined kisses when she opened her mouth on her pillow face-down and breathed hard late at night.
She'd been able to smell Derek's breath right before the kiss, and had almost forgotten to close her eyes. He had wanted to put his hand against her waist, which she hadn't expected and so it had made her jump, even though it was completely normal, obviously. She'd made herself stand still for it, because everyone knew that it just got better.
She could tell you the color of her shirt and his and how many seconds she'd held her breath.
She bet Cosmo could tell you those things about Don's first kiss, whether he'd been anywhere nearby or not.
After dinner Kathy cleared the table and let Don and Cosmo do the dishes. Don was humming "Fit as a Fiddle" while Cosmo tapped out the piano and violin parts through the dishcloth on the plates and forks. She sat on the table and ate grapes out of the bowl while they finished drying and went through a miniature kind of choreography in the narrow space between the chairs and the sink.
"You skipped the piggyback part," she remarked leadingly, when they held out their hands for applause, and handed them each a grape.
"You were in the dining room," Don explained.
Cosmo winked at her. "I'm thinking you should invest in a bigger kitchen, Don. This one could get to be hard on the knees."
"Or we could save the honky-tonk for out in the living room and confine ourselves to slow songs in here," said Kathy.
Don wrinkled his nose. "Killjoy!"
But Kathy stretched out her arms to Cosmo and sang in her deepest voice, "He'll kiss--"
Cosmo caught it--and her--up obligingly, "Her with a sigh, would you? Would you?", twirled her carefully and deposited her in Don's arms.
"And if the girl were I would you?" Kathy said, batting her lashes at him. Don could never resist a good cue. He kissed her and Cosmo had to sing the line.
"They met as you and I and they were only friends--but before the story ends--"
They spun into the living room and he deposited her none too gently on the couch so he and Cosmo could carry out their half-tap dancing version of the waltz while she finished the song.
She left the room after that as quietly as she could so as not to disturb them, just as Cosmo was sitting down at the player piano. She could hear the intermittent strains of half a dozen songs as she washed her face, brushed her hair, and slipped into a satin night dress.
Then she lay in bed and closed her eyes, nestling between the sheets and feeling them slip and slide over her skin. She was still unsatisfied from the afternoon.
The second time Kathy asked Cosmo if he really wanted to live with them, he took half a handful of marigolds from her and arranged them in the vase on his dresser himself. "Don't be silly, Kathy," he'd scolded, "next thing you know you'll be asking me if I like your cooking, or how you look in that dress."
But the first time she'd asked him--not in so many words, of course, but more like "were you pleased to be asked," hoping Don's bizarre sense of humor hadn't hurt him--he'd been silent almost a full second before he'd said just "yes," solemn and too serious to summon another answer.
Kathy opened her mouth to say something to him, but she ended up looking up at just the wrong time and meeting his burningly blue eyes and what she'd been going to say died and she ended up instead with, "Cosmo, how long have we known each other?"
"How long since you jumped out of the cake or how long since I saw you on the set for that variety sketch of RF's and you got the part of Zelda's kid sister?" He said agreeably, with the same slight smile on his face she knew so well.
"No, I mean--you know that fan you bought for me. Did I ever tell you about when we went to the--"
"Metropolitan Museum of Art, I know, and there was a little geisha-girl in a little glass case with a little fan exactly like that, with a sad look on her face and a picture of a little house in Hollywood on the fan. And she was thinking, 'I wonder what kind of American movie star lives in this house?'"
Kathy wrinkled her nose at him and said, "Why did you buy it for me?"
"Besides that it was the most beautiful thing in the shop I could afford?"
"Cosmo," she laughed, "I'm being serious!"
"All right then," he said, seriously, looking only a little puzzled. "I bought it because it reminded me of you. It's the kind of fan that stands on the wall and waits for you to notice how pretty it is, and never brags. And if it smiled, it would have a little look that was so innocent that--yes, just like that."
Kathy was utterly speechless. She wasn't sure anyone had ever said anything so, so--
No one had ever said anything so romantic to her in her life, except maybe Don's "Oh, Kathy." She wondered what she would do if Cosmo kissed her, but she knew that he never would.
She wondered what Cosmo would do if she kissed him.
She decided to find out.
First she waited until Don asked her about Cosmo; it only took a few weeks. "Kathy, do you think Cosmo's happy?"
She smiled and kissed him, on the jaw below his ear, just a soft brush of lips. She said, "I don't think he wants us to worry about him." Of course that got Don's feathers ruffled. She didn't want him too upset, so she met his inquiring gaze with a calm look, and smiled to take his mind off it.
"I think he's a little jealous," she said. "But you know Cosmo. He'll never say anything."
"Yeah," Don muttered, scowling, "I do. He'll say anything except what he means, the cad."
"Oh, Don," she said, and stood on tiptoe to kiss him.
He wrapped his arm around her waist and murmured to himself, "And who could blame him? I'd be jealous of me too."
"Oh," she smiled, "I don't think he's just jealous of you."
Don grinned. "Well, of course not. Anyone'd be jealous of Mrs. Don Lockwood. It goes without saying."
When they'd started seeing each other it had all been in secret so as not to attract Lina's notice and anger. Everyone at the studio tip-toed around her in those days, even R.F.
Cosmo's car had been out of order again and they'd all three come to the premiere of The Dancing Cavalier in a cab, Kathy squeezed between Don and Cosmo delightfully in the back seat. They were all quiet and all excited.
After Lina's threats the Publicity department had taken her credit card off the screen, but R.F. was embarrassed and clearly very fond of her and had given her two excellent seats in compensation.
Cosmo had sat next to her, about five rows back, centered, and they'd stolen little glances at each other all through the movie. It had felt absurdly like a date. She hadn't realized before he offered to take the seat how glad she'd be to have him there.
In the "Broadway Melody" sketch she'd stolen a glance at him--she'd had no idea he was such an amazing choreographer until Don had shown her the proofs. Head of music and now given screen writers' privileges, Cosmo's star had been rising then too. He'd seen her look and blushed and grinned shyly, eyelashes drooping, and her hand, creeping out of her lap, had met his halfway in a tight squeeze.
They'd held hands almost to the end of the picture.
On Monday she caught Don watching Cosmo.
On Wednesday she caught him watching her. (When she asked him if he was all right he grinned and kissed her hand, and made her stand on the ottoman, and did a tapdance for her singing and humming "Temptation."
"You came; I was alone; I should have knoooooown you were temptation! You smiled, ba da da dum, my heart was gone--" He grinned blindingly.
"And you were temptation," smiled Kathy. "You're really okay?"
He kissed her and wrapped his hands around her waist, "--For you were born to be kissed; I can't resist--" and actually tossed her in the air, and caught her neatly. "--You are temptation, and I am yours... ."*
"Stuntman," she scolded, laughing.
"My little Starlet," he teased, mocking her tone.
She gave up.)
Thursday night he couldn't sleep and spent half the night watching the moon out the window.
Saturday he was gone all morning, moody enough in the afternoon to send Kathy's mother's lapdog cowering under the table at lunch.
That earned Kathy a disapproving stare from under penciled eyebrows. Luckily it had always been her mother's conviction that acknowledging a breach of manners indicated poor breeding, and this prevented her from actually saying anything.
Don, who never missed anything, including an opportunity to be charming, insisted that he drive her mother home. The last thing she and Cosmo heard, clearing the table, as the door closed behind the two of them, was "--Mrs. Selden," and "Oh, please, Don, how many times do I have to ask you to call me Wilhelmina?"
When they were gone Cosmo bowed to Kathy, making a flourish with a handful of still-clean silver and holding a short stack of salad plates carefully steady in the other hand. "After you, Mrs. Lockwood," he said primly.
"Oh, please, Cosmo," she laughed, "how many times do I have to ask you to call me--"
He sighed, mock-exasperated, "Very well then. After you, Aphrodite."
She laughed, rinsing plates in the sink, "Don should listen to you for his lines."
"Haven't you heard?" he said smugly, one of his favorite lines, "Don's irresistible."
"Did he tell you that himself?" she retorted dryly. "I do have the feeling I've heard it somewhere before."
Cosmo, putting dirty knives under the hot tap, batted his eyelashes at her until she hit him, and then smiled down into the sink. "Aphrodite," he called over his shoulder a moment later while she slipped the clean silver into the slots in the wooden box, as if she'd been further away than a foot and a half-- "Much as I enjoy doing the dishes, even in your entrancing company…"
"I'll do the dishes," she offered, rolling her eyes a little. "And you clear the table." "That's very nice of you, but actually, I was going to suggest--"
The first thing she ever remembered Cosmo saying to her was that Don had been looking for her "inside every cake in town." He'd left before Don could so much as glance at him, hadn't waited for an expression from either of them, and sometimes still Kathy thought that when he made his jokes, it was more like he was having a conversation with himself than with either of them. She wouldn't say he closed his eyes, exactly, but there was a little bubble of concentration that made it the perfect moment, a time when whatever he usually thought about her, or Don, or her and Don, or doing the dishes or being "Don's friend," wasn't going through his head.
She stepped quickly next to him, and cut him off in mid-sentence, his eyebrows raised in insincere sincerity, with a firm and unapologetic kiss right on his fine pale mouth.
He was shocked still and utterly silent, but she could taste, she realized with deep gratification, all the softness and sweetness she had expected. Cosmo did nothing but breathe, but on a breath, perhaps the second or third (each somewhat delayed) her cool persistence paid off in the slight give of his lips under hers. Then his mouth opened, just a little, just enough. When she pulled back, with a little smile for the wild look in his eyes and his firmly pursed lips, his cheeks were flushed. She hadn't touched a lock of sandy hair on his head.
Next time, she promised herself, and turned to the dishes. He was gone when she looked up, his trim silhouette in the dining room beyond the door, reaching across for a candlestick. Kathy smiled. She'd seen his hand tremble.
They all three had erratic schedules, but Cosmo made his own, while Don and Kathy were at the mercy of different directors. On days they couldn't see each other, Cosmo almost invariably lunched with both of them.
"Have some guacamole," Kathy would offer. (Or pasta, or potatoes, or salad, or icecream.)
Cosmo would leave off humming and wave her hand away. "No thanks. I already joined Don in mangling a couple of beefsteaks in the late morning." (Or cutlets, or waterfowl, or chicken breasts.)
"All right," Kathy would shrug, and aim the bite at her mouth instead.
Cosmo would say hurriedly, "Well if you insist, just a bite," and reach over the table to catch her hand with the fork in it.
"You have to watch yourself with these one and a half lunches," said Kathy one afternoon. She had the rest of the day off filming and she and Cosmo were taking advantage of the sunshine.
He shrugged. "Are you worried about my girlish figure? Dulling the admiration of my populace?"
Kathy tweaked his nose and skipped ahead of him. "You know, Cosmo, Don and I may love you for your brains--"
"Excuse me! I resent that remark! You love me for my unerring sense of comic timing."
"--But not everyone is so forgiving."
Cosmo appeared to give the matter some thought. "I suppose, one day, I might be called upon to show up on the other side of the camera."
"You might," she agreed.
"--If there's some global cataclysm, or if a villain's got a gun to Don's head and says 'You there! In the ugly hat! Come be in this picture, or your friend gets it!'--"
"Or if Don asks you as a special favor some day--"
"--And he has some really spectacular blackmail material that I don't know about, yeah," said Cosmo, "it's possible. Well, I suppose, just in case, I'd better get in a lot more dancing--to keep in shape, you know." He started humming, which was her only warning.
And he put his hands on her waist, lifted her and twirled her to face him, scooped her up in one arm in the classic ballroom pose and leaped over the curb into the mangy golden grass behind the warehouses where they stored unused sets. "--Your rosy lips, lift the lid, throw me a lovin' kiss, Oh you kid! Honeybunch-a honeybunch-a whisper low... ."
Kathy laughed and threw her arms around his neck and let him whirl her away under the trees, still singing, "I feel so swoony--I'm goin' looney--don't ever let me go!"*
Cosmo had never yet, for all his talking about it, stopped suffering and written that symphony. Kathy wondered if he really wanted to finish it or only thought he did.
Afternoon after afternoon boiled away, escaping him in nearly visible puffs of frustrated genius, so that he stalked in to dinner twitchily and couldn't be counted on for a single joke, or so that he moved in a distant haze for hours and hours. You could hear him in the music room at the piano, playing recognizable snippets--Pachelbel's Canon, the Nutcracker, Beethoven's 5th, O Come All Ye Faithful, William Tell, Turkey in the Straw, Water Music.
Then there were long languid strings of chords, and little snatches of melody that stopped if she so much as exchanged a look with Don, as if they were ashamed to exist. She wanted him to finish it so she could hear it, but she couldn't imagine what he'd do without the symphony in the background to occupy himself.
She put on a sun hat and she and Don walked outside in gathering dusk to give the melody more room to breathe. From the open window they could still hear the pounding of piano keys. Maybe it was her imagination adding the whispers of muttered cursing and distracted trains of thought. She pictured Cosmo talking to himself, scribbling notes in the margins of his composition paper. If they went into that room tonight, they'd probably find poetry and the circle of fifths and things like "whole milk" and "vacation!!!" written in his messy hand, smudged black ink, on crumpled sheets in the wastepaper basket.
She wondered how he'd ever got anything written before her--when no one had been there to tear Don away from him. Maybe he hadn't.
Don put his arm around her and she relaxed in the loose embrace, frowning a little when they ducked under a tree and a wide beam of cherry-colored light stabbed at her eyes. "Sometimes I think he needs to get out more," Don said lightly.
Kathy had been thinking the same thing. She laughed, remembering something her mother'd said at lunch. "Opera," she suggested, then collapsed at his shoulder giggling again while Don made a stern face.
"Cruel mistress!" He said. "You shouldn't taunt me like that. You know I can't stand the opera."
"I'm sure my mother would be happy to go with me."
"As a matter of fact, Wilhelmina assured me that she would--"
"--Oh, God--" Kathy gasped, in another fit of giggles.
"--But I think she had in mind that I would be there also."
"Well," she said reasonably, "he might enjoy it--" though not in the way her mother would, that was for sure, and she could see the thought crossing Don's mind in the twitching of his lips. "--But we can't take him and Mother in the same trip."
"You know what," Don said, "not the opera. We'll have to think of something else."
Well, and then it seemed natural to bring it up. Kathy looked up at him thoughtfully. She knew what she would say and she knew what Don would think. But she didn't know if he would say what she thought he should.
She'd had the conversation with him so many times, after all, inside her head. It ended depressingly often in a fight. Don was more prone to jealousy than Cosmo. I kissed him. You kissed him before I did? Tell me you would have and I'll apologize. It wasn't that she wanted to have a fight, but she didn't really know how to do this.
Then Don licked his lips, and she saw his gaze hungry on her mouth, which made her realize belatedly that she'd been biting her lips. She relaxed: it was easy, then. It had been easy all along. Kathy stood on tiptoe to brush a tender kiss on his lips, and when she stood on her own again, sped their pace a little.
Don trailed behind her, humming "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star."
Around the corner of a square-trimmed privet hedge, Mr. Henderson's octagonal-windowed greenhouse sat in his lawn with the sunset on it like pools of fire. The high-pitched yipping of Sarah Fraser's little dog floated to them through a bay window.
"Star--" he began, and she interrupted him.
"I kissed him Saturday," she said, and stole a glance up at him through her eyelashes.
Don blinked. "You... what?"
She only had to smile, like a cat in the cream, and she could see his face heating, a flush of arousal creeping up from unfastened collar to parted lips. Nearly irresistible. He could have done with more tousled hair, though. Kathy felt the pit of her stomach heat and wondered how soon they could get home.
Nearly half the block was taken up with a private house with a huge fenced grounds. Today as they walked past, a peacock was close to the chain links, and Kathy paused and bent to look at it. "Look at you," she said softly, "aren't you pretty."
Don scratched his head and fidgeted. "And?" he said finally.
She looked up.
"You kissed him--and?"
"Oh." She turned back to the peacock. It cocked its head to one side; Kathy tilted hers too. "We'd better give him some space tonight." A hint of laughter entered her voice and she glanced up to let Don see it sparkle in her eyes. "He seemed to be a little, ah, discomposed."
Don gave a little shout of laughter. "You should have let me kiss him first," he said contemplatively, as she stood up and took his arm again.
There it was--she'd known it would come up. "I'm sorry," she said instead of arguing. "But it is going to work out."
"Yeah," he sighed. It wasn't until they reached their own back door again that he admitted, "It'll probably be better this way."
It was pretty easy to tell, just during dinner, even, that Kathy was going to have to be in charge of this. Don, who, bless his heart, loved Cosmo as much as anything and maybe too much for his own good, hardly knew up from down when he was worried and preoccupied, let alone just what to say to put his best friend at ease--although to give him credit, he hid it well.
She passed a bowl of julienne green beans in garlic and Chinese marinade to Cosmo and looked at him under her lashes. Don was staring artistically at the plaster moldings on the ceiling and thinking out loud about the nature of music and how it was really, deep down, just exactly like life.
He was about as transparent as stained glass, but Cosmo wasn't in any mood to see what was right in front of his nose. He didn't even jump when she let her fingers brush against his handing over the bowl, and she knew better than to push it. She suppressed a smile at Don and thought, privately, that if she and Cosmo had been stalking Don he would have sparkled with wit and humor, just exactly as he should.
Kathy tried kicking Don under the table, but it didn't work. "--Or you can just open your mouth and sing whatever comes out," he was saying, and threw her a startled glance, losing his train of thought for just long enough.
Cosmo trilled, "Mama mia, Figaro… oops." He covered his mouth sheepishly as if he'd burped. "Italian. Whod've known."
Don laughed and Kathy breathed a sigh of relief. Cosmo seemed to diagnose the state of affairs as Don's being in a lunatic mood, the unwitting object of his and Kathy's joint efforts to soothe him. It was a bit backwards, but then, it was funny because it was just close enough to true.
They hadn't even been engaged for a month yet the first time Kathy was around for Don's birthday. "What should I do?" She'd asked Cosmo, who'd been writing a score for Don's latest picture,Any Way At All.
"Well," he'd said thoughtfully, "It would be pretty appropriate to hire someone to jump off the Woolworth Building into a damp rag, I thought, just to make Don feel better in comparison."
"For his birthday," Kathy had replied as seriously as she could, "maybe we could think of some other way to cheer him up."
Both of them had pretended they had pressing engagements elsewhere, and they'd sent him on a scavenger hunt with a picnic lunch in the countryside at the end of it. Kathy still remembered watching from behind a pillar as Don said, "Don't you have anything you want to say to me?"
And Cosmo said, with perfect artless perplexity, "Good morning?" His face!
They'd beat him to lunch by a long shot, and Kathy had just been considering heading back into town to make sure he'd found and read the note she'd slipped into his pocket when he'd showed up.
"You're just in time," Cosmo had said. "Kathy saved you some grapes. If you wanted some of the caviar I could run back into town--"
And Don had snatched him in a bear hug, gathering Kathy in with the other arm to muffle chuckles in his shoulder.
"I really thought you forgot me!" Don had exclaimed, his eyes crinkling up in the corners as he unwrapped a sandwich, but Cosmo, who had a whole bank of alphabetically-organized retorts somewhere filed away in his brain, had been watching him intently with a distant look on his face and for once hadn't answered at all.
Cosmo, without a retort! Well!
And there had been too many times that that happened before she knew to watch for it, too many times after she knew before she decided what to do. Sometimes Kathy rifled through the pages of her diary and walked through the rooms of the studio and the house, stalking memories, wanting to examine them again in a new light, to reclaim them for all three of them.
How many opportunities had she missed to look at one of them or the other? Some day they could make up as many kisses as they wanted to, but every moment that passed was another pinprick of light lost in darkness. The glow of candles would never outline the backs of Cosmo's delicate hands the same way twice; the sun would never write the same flavor on his lips again. Every day she didn't touch him contained a feel she would never know. When a new wrinkle creased the laugh lines at eyes and mouth, it was a new work of art, but it was a scar on the face that had been there before.
The more you take out a memory, the more you look at it and polish it, the less real it becomes, the further from reality. But her imagination filled in the gaps gradually--the texture of tweed, the warmth of the back of his hand in an accidental brush, the exact twist in the corner of his mouth when he looked at Don that time. And if she remembered it another way the next time, it didn't matter to her--Kathy sought solace in memory, and insight, not reality. Reality she drank in every day, let it flow through her, and didn't try to save it.
She stirred awake in the still light of early morning. She blinked and the world came into focus, a dream drifted away, and wisps of sensual animal contentment coalesced into the separate sensations of Don's arm around her waist, his thumb brushing the curve of her breast, his face buried against the back of her neck, his long legs snugged against her from behind.
"Mm," she murmured, "'Morning," and tried to turn over in his arms. Don wouldn't let her.
"'Morning," he whispered in her ear. "Stay right--there."
She tilted her head back to allow him better access to her neck. He dipped his head, nuzzling and kissing. His hand had stolen up under the hem of her nightgown and curved possessively over her hip.
Kathy made an approving sound and nestled back against him. Don put his fingertips carefully between her thighs, under the band of her panties, and found her soft and moist. She pushed his hand out of the way in order to slide them off and kicked them out of the way.
She would have rolled back against him to better spread her legs, but he murmured, "Wait, Star, wait--wait." And pushed her back on her side. His weight shifted in the bed behind her; then his hand was on her thigh pushing the hem of her nightgown up out of the way.
Kathy smiled as the satin slithered over her skin and was replaced with the heat of flesh--Don's thighs brushing briefly at the backs of hers, pajama bottoms gone.
He used his knees and one hand to nudge her legs forward until she was almost in a sitting position.
She shivered expectantly. "Don?"
There was a little silence; then from behind, the feather-light brush of fingertips at her sensitized entrance. "Yes?" He murmured hoarsely.
--"Oh," said Kathy, "I just--I. Ahh. Yes, please--" and her voice cut off, choked, as a finger slipped inside her.
They didn't speak. He crept up close behind her, smiling into her hair, until she felt him, hot and aroused, against her bottom and the backs of her thighs. Don's hand on her hip guided them together. She let her eyes fall closed again as he entered her from behind in one long, smooth stroke. It was tight, and sweet, and dreamy. They coupled slowly and she rode each rise and fall in the rhythmic rolling movement of his hips, thinking vaguely about Cosmo and Don both, trying to remember what she'd dreamed.
It was slow and leisurely, languid and hot and sleepy, but gradually arousal woke them up and Don's breath quickened on the back of her neck, his fingers tightening on her hips, holding her still against harder thrusts of his hips so she could feel his thighs straining.
Kathy caught her breath and arched her back, trying to spread her legs a little. Don's hand strayed into the crease of her thigh and around into the damp thatch of curly dark hair. His fingers parted the moist lips and rubbed at the little nerve-center there while he withdrew and shoved home again, opening his mouth, pressing his teeth against her neck.
She felt it like threads gathering all the skin on her scalp and the back of her neck tight, tight, until the heat blossomed and with a long, slow, shuddering spasm she climaxed. She felt like boneless liquid, completely and totally relaxed, as the pleasure continued in little after-shocks. She could feel her walls contracting slick and lazy around Don where his hot hardness still thrust deep, filling her again and again.
"Ohhhh," she moaned softly, and he wrapped his arm around her tight, and shook himself a little, and pushed frantically deeper until he came with a flood of heat inside her.
Don flexed his hips, once, twice, and she could feel him smiling against her neck when he touched something in her and her mouth opened in a silent "oh." Once, twice more he rubbed against her, and with a delicious spasm she contracted sharply around his length again.
He kissed her sweaty neck and nestled close. Kathy could feel him growing soft inside her.
"That was easy," Don whispered after a few contented minutes, happy and inquiring.
"Yesterday," she murmured, turning her head a little, though she still couldn't see him. "Cosmo fell asleep in my lap while you were doing the supper dishes. I couldn't move and I couldn't stop looking at him..."
"Ah, yes." He let her turn in his arms to face him this time, and she could see that well-known smile twist the corners of his eyes and mouth--the smile that Cosmo sometimes shocked out of him, of tender and amused affection. "I know what you mean. His face when he sleeps--it's--soft, and--older, somehow." He paused and apparently decided dignity was far away anyhow. "Beautiful," Don shrugged. "It's beautiful."
Kathy nodded mutely and kissed him.
"So," he whispered. "Were you thinking about him?" His tone was wicked. He didn't seem at all upset.
Kathy grinned in spite of herself. "No! Not this time, anyway."
"Seriously?" Said Don.
"Seriously," said Kathy, "I think about Cosmo a lot. But I never wish you were him."
Don pulled her closer against his chest and rested his cheek on her hair. "Mmmm," he sighed. "Me too."
"No, what I was going to say was--I went to bed without you last night, you remember, and I couldn't wait up for you, and I was thinking about Cosmo lying there on the couch and how heavy his head was in my lap, the way his fingers curl, and just--"
Don let out a breathless little laugh, "Getting hot under the collar?"
"Don! No! ...Yes. But I--took care of it," she explained, trying not to blush.
He kissed her cheek. "Wishing for him?"
Kathy nodded her head yes. "Wishing for you both."
"No, Katharine," her mother had said, threading the heavy pearl bobs on their arched wires into Kathy's seven-year-old little ears, "I didn't say you couldn't wear them at all. I simply said that Mother's jewel-box wasn't for play. Now, a lady must always be perfectly dressed, mustn't she?"
"Yes," Kathy had ventured, holding very still against the unfamiliar weight. When soft manicured fingertips turned her chin one way and then the other, the pearls had swayed and brushed against her neck. It had made her stand up straighter.
"I wear my jewelry every day that I go out. Now, you wouldn't want to wear my blue suit without a necklace any more than I would. But what about with just my pajamas? Well, it would be silly to wear a silver bracelet or a pearl necklace with that, wouldn't it?"
By that part of the lecture, as she remembered it, she had started to grasp the point. She vividly recalled her mother scooping her up to stand on a chair and straightening the stiff-starched dress and the satin sash. The same scent, then, when her mother leaned over to brush red lips against her forehead as now. "No," Kathy had said obediently, and giggled a little.
The giggle had earned a slight reproving frown, softening again. "Now, there are simply some occasions that call for jewelry and some that don't, Katharine. We don't wear pearls to play, or to school. But if there's one thing for which a young lady must always have pearls," she'd continued, "It's a wedding. Your grandmère always used to say so. Now, look," and she'd turned Kathy to face the oval mirror over her beautiful little dressing-table.
The little girl looking back at her had been a vision in the kind of dress she imagined a princess would wear (unless Kathy's was even prettier), with a shy smile nestled between pink roses on her cheeks, and the long teardrop shapes of pure white pearls dangling almost to her round little shoulders. A narrow double strand of pearls went around the high pin-tucked throat of the dress, as well. She was almost as glamorous as the white-cheeked auburn-haired vision of her mother hovering behind her.
"Oh," she'd breathed.
"You know," Mother had mused, "I think they look just beautiful on you. Very elegant, darling. I've never achieved that look in them--pearls just take a certain something," which Kathy had believed then without question. "Maybe these should be your pearls from now on, what do you say? Just think," and the voice dropped near a whisper, "you could be wearing this same set at your own wedding."
Kathy hardly remembered anything of the wedding, but she knew she had sat silently and perfectly still, like "a little angel," on the hard pew. She had held her neck straight and her head high, and if she had looked from side to side a little more often than usual, no one could fault her for that with those pearl earrings on. It was hard to imagine anyone had looked at the bride in the face of the combined vision of little Kathy, the second-most beautiful girl in the room, and her gorgeous, gracious mother.
The flower girl had not been wearing pearls.
Kathy's mother had always believed in knowing. She knew what was right and proper; she knew all the people she should; she knew just how to answer the telephone, how to fix a stain, how to buy an icebox or a set of silver, how to order a car, and how to make anyone feel as if they were important; she knew what she wanted; and she knew that she would get it. By the time she was twenty Kathy had been heartily sick of it. By the time she was twenty-five she had begun to develop a new respect for her mother's methods.
"You have to know what you want," she had always said firmly.
When she was thirteen Kathy had thought she had it figured out. "I do know what I want," she had argued, "and I pretend it's mine already and it still doesn't happen."
An eyebrow had risen, and Mother had said with a touch of frost, "Pretend?"
"Well," Kathy had said with exasperated asperity, "What if he doesn't ask me?"
"Don't worry. He will. Katharine, you must understand." A significant look, and the perfect fingers closing around Kathy's shoulders. "A lady does not lie. You don't pretend. You know."
More than ten years later, her mother would never admit to that conversation, but then, she would never admit to pretending, either. It had taken Kathy years of practice and more years of trying not to think about it to get the hang of pretending to yourself that you weren't pretending. But she had it now.
Not that she was pretending.
She watched Cosmo and Don, and she didn't believe, she knew; she felt certainty well up from deep inside her like sunshine; she could read it in Cosmo's posture, in his face, in his constant presence at their sides.
And besides, Kathy said to herself: she couldn't afford to doubt.
"I was thinking about what you said," Don said to her on Friday morning, before his first call. They had their arms around one another's waists, strolling through an empty stage filled with sets and cameras.
"About both of us," said Don. "And the other thing. Well, you know... what I mean is, Kathy, I don't mind that you went first."
"Oh, no?" She said, politely determined not to smile, since Don was giving so much effort to being earnest.
"No. I don't. I know what you're thinking. If you were me, you'd mind."
"I might," she admitted. "If I were me, it might give me a twinge."
"Right," he said, "Well, maybe at first. But why be stingy?"
"There's plenty to go around."
"Exactly," said Kathy.
"Obviously," said Don.
"These things come up whenever two people share the affection of a friend. Or anyone else, for that matter."
"A mother," said Kathy, even though she was an only child of an only child.
"Yes," said Don, who was also (she thought) an only child. Or if he wasn't it had been long enough since he saw either of his parents that it hardly mattered. "And besides," he said, "It's not really sharing, per se. That makes it sound like we split him up."
"Or it is sharing," said Kathy, "and not splitting. All three of us. Cosmo's mine and yours, but you're mine and his, after all, and I'm his and yours."
"Exactly." Don executed a neat little tapping spin and hummed a few bars to himself. "So I was thinking what we're going to do about it."
"We've been moving slowly," said Kathy. "I kind of think that's working well. If we just let it happen..."
Don interrupted her in firm, strident tones. "No. No, I was thinking--it's time for my turn."
Kathy never had a best friend until Céleste, really. She had friends as a child, even though she was shy, but something made it hard for her. Most of the time when she was young she had been bewilderedly angry about it, certain it had something to do with her mother, merely uncertain how. Now she knew she'd been right, and she thought, on the whole, she was grateful. One thing about Mother was that you simply had to take her as she was. Another thing was that Kathy was never going to doubt exactly who she was.
If that had made it a little harder for her with other children, well, she survived long enough until a number of things happened: Céleste, one of her close friends, made noises about getting a flat; Kathy read Lady Macbeth on the stage and took psychology at college; and Mother continued, disastrously, to be the same self as always even though there was nothing on Earth Kathy wanted more than for everything to be different now that she was grown up at last.
And the next thing she knew she was going out with Céleste on the weekends and studying at night, and going to the pictures and buying the fan magazines with her pay from the Coconut Grove, dressing in pastel satin and metal-heeled pumps with one hand and leafing through Ibsen and Moliere and Shakespeare with the other. She had hardly had time for her mother for years, and they didn't talk about it now that they got along better, but she knew that their no-hard-feelings were not entirely unforced on one side.
Caring more about the theater and going to New York than about who precisely she was had been, all things considered, a pretty successful distraction. She had spent a long time learning, in the back of her mind, to really know who she was--not just pretend to. Then Don had dropped into her car from the sky, and without her even noticing, it had stopped mattering so much who she was. Now Kathy cared about who other people were.
Kathy took the stairs to the top floor of the department store. Her heels tapped the stair treads and the brass rail was cool under her hand, and Don and Cosmo were together, somewhere, picnicking, or driving in the convertible.
Don wasn't such an out-of-the-ordinary person, except for looking like a fallen angel. A sculptor's dream, and you could see the little twist in the corner of his lips, she thought fancifully, where the chisel slipped. But he was sometimes a little self-absorbed, sometimes a little lacking in confidence, light-hearted to a fault, easily entertained. But he was intelligent and funny, energetic, and whimsical, and a day with him could be a day like magic. Who proposed in an empty sound stage?
The stairs ended in a curve, and the floor spread out in white and black marble checks with brass or copper between. A salesgirl in a little hat and a long-tailed floating scarf nodded to Kathy, offering assistance, and Kathy wandered off the tiled pathway into thick lush carpet, deep enough to cradle her feet and absorb every noise. She let her fingers trail over a rack and catch in a champagne-colored pegnoir.
Don's effect on her had a little of the movie star in it, still. They didn't talk about it, but she knew she'd known him too long as a face on a screen before she knew him for the two-dimensional, ten-foot-high persona to be entirely gone. All together, she hadn't even known Don for as long as she'd been living away from her mother before she'd met him.
All those years were Cosmo's.
She put her cheek on the cool satin and felt his breath on the back of her neck. She wondered if it felt the same to Cosmo, who'd never known Don as a star, who'd lived his whole life at Don's side. Don would get out of the car and turn in a circle, stretching his arms out, absorbing all the sunlight that touched him. Cosmo would smile with his hands in his pockets, his eyes crinkling at the corners, and his face would hide nothing from her, but perhaps it would be a better mask for him with Don.
"It's the people you think you know the best," Kathy's mother had always said, "who surprise you the most." Kathy had heard it how many hundred times before she realized it was addressed to her long-absent father, and not her at all? Distant, not sad, not angry. Kathy had thought, when she was a teenager, that she was angry enough with him for both of them.
She bought a new calfskin handbag, red and white, and five pairs of silk stockings, because she needed them. She bought leather pumps the color of sherry because she wanted them, and then she found herself back in the lingerie again, looking at silks and satins, and fur and beaded trim, with the luxury--not really new to her, anymore, it was so easy to get used to--of not turning over the price tags.
Being her mother's daughter and her grandmother's granddaughter hadn't always been easy, as much as Kathy had always loved both of them. Her mother always carried everything she wore, from rouge to suits to pajamas to plaid workshirts on cleaning days to her name, as if she'd never so much as conceived of a less than perfect way to do it, as if she never gave it a single thought.
Her grandmother had been exactly the sort of woman who would raise that quality in her daughter, sometimes so frosty she terrified poor Kathy, a feisty curmudgeon who sent her tea back to the hotel dining room five times with a gracious smile and a "please" and "thank you" each time, while Kathy's mother smiled fixedly and gritted her teeth, even in front of the children. She hadn't smelled like perfume, but like lavender and roses from her soap and her scented handkerchiefs. She had never mentioned Kathy's grandfather, but you could walk into the formal dining room and catch her studying his picture, and take her arm to walk carefully back to the clawfooted chair from which she ruled like a queen. She had never mentioned Kathy's father, either, and Kathy still wasn't sure exactly what she thought about him.
Kathy didn't keep track of the time, but it must have been several hours that she spent in the lingerie department, trying to decide what she was going to buy. There was a tailored-looking nightdress that she tried on in dark blue and rose, and a scandalously brief slip that caressed her hipbones and the tops of her thighs when she moved, and a kimono, calf-length, that molded its neckline like a dream to the top curves of her breasts. That one was too short, that one was too loose, that one was too tight, that one was too red.
She didn't mind spending all day in the dressing rooms, really, though. She'd pause with her hand on the shoulder of a hanger and come back to herself ten minutes later, blinking at her own dazed eyes in the mirror. She wondered if Don would kiss Cosmo today as he'd said he would. Where, and what would happen--would Cosmo panic? Maybe he would wait until later to do that.
Cosmo would back off and look suspiciously at Don for a moment, and then he'd turn his face away and smile a little. Don would laugh, and they wouldn't speak about it. They would eat sandwiches side-by-side and drink cold coffee. When they put the basket back in the car, their hands would brush together and their eyes would meet, but still they wouldn't say anything.
Cosmo would find it hard to breathe, she thought, pleating a soft white nightdress between her fingers.
This was a nice one, shape-skimming and not too fitted, simply cut and almost, but not entirely, opaque. It made a blush rise in her cheeks, looking at it, standing in front of the mirror. Hazy splashes of mauve showed through the white at the taut peaks of her breasts, rising and falling a little fast.
She turned to the side, feeling the sensual lapping at the curve of her back, the undersides of her breasts, the backs of her thighs, and looked over her shoulder to meet the eyes, in the mirror, of a wanton siren with her mouth open and red. Kathy blinked, turned her head a little further, and it was her again--her in a partly transparent white nightdress that Don would never pick out for her.
On their wedding night he'd caught her wrists and held them away from her body while his gaze roamed over her in the lamplight. "If you looked any better in that," he'd said hoarsely, "I wouldn't be able to take it off you." She'd laughed a little, and she laughed now, pulling it over her head. She was willing to bet it would come off, one way or the other.
She had an account, here, even though she didn't have them in too many stores, because this was the one closest to their house, the one where her mother insisted on buying her white gloves. Kathy fingered a pair in blue-gray kid as she walked past, and picked them up on a whim. There was a little flare to the cuffs, and a thin band of the same color making a bow at the bony knot at the edge of her wrist.
She'd never had a pair quite like that--she remembered knit ones when she was a little girl, which she had hated, and long satin ones with seams along the sides of the fingers at parties. They took twenty minutes to put on, if they fit properly. Kathy hadn't seen any of her pairs in months. They were tucked with potpourri sachets in the back of her drawer of scarves and handkerchiefs.
The gloves felt like butter in her hands. "I've had my eye on these," the salesgirl confided, "Aren't they smart?"
Kathy smiled and nodded, watching the girl fold them in paper and slide them into a bag.
There was a temporary exhibit Cosmo wanted to go to at the Gallery of Art Sunday afternoon, and she had never been able to go to something like that without gloves since her childhood. She had not, for that matter, been allowed in Grandmère 's house at all without gloves on, and at least in appearance, that edifice had a great deal in common with the Gallery, only the rooms where you couldn't touch anything didn't have railings or silk cords to block them off, and sometimes the doors were even open.
She'd been allowed upstairs by herself by the time she was eight, a slight child, well-behaved and "trustworthy," according to Grandmere, who made the pronouncement with a smile that lit up her beady little blue eyes and warmed Kathy all the way to her toes. You could tell from the way she said it that it was important. There was even a room in the house called the "gallery," with two heavy doors. Luckily, they had very expensive hinges, and swung open easily to let her slip into the dusky-dusty sanctum, where heavy velvet drapes provided a permanent overcast and dust motes sparkled brighter than gilt picture frames. It had been Kathy's favorite room. The Persian rug in shades of green and crimson and gold had been longer than it was wide, thickly fringed, with the fringe always combed out in straight lines.
Kathy remembered sitting on the floor in the gallery, rubbing the thick pile of the carpet back and forth with her thumb and watching the subtle shift in color--a magical stripe of paler gold had appeared at her touch, and then vanished again, when she smoothed it back. She had been able to hear the murmur of her mother's and grandmother's voices from downstairs, and she had rarely tried to understand what they were saying. In one of the most vivid and intense memories, lassitude stole over her and she lay down on the carpet, her cheek in a splash of crimson, and fell asleep gazing at a flat stylized bird.
It rose around her again, so vivid she could feel the scratch of stockings and smell dust and wood polish. She almost knew what she had dreamed about, and she heard the whisper of voices drifting up the stairs and past her ears. When she was very small Kathy had not wanted to be with them, but she'd wanted to know they were there. She'd been peaceful enough to fall asleep when she could feel their presence, could focus on it in silence and stillness, while they sipped tea and forgot all about her.
Her favorite picture in the gallery was a very old portrait of a beautiful lady with a smooth pale face and round pale hands and shoulders, with a narrow nose and white hair piled high on top of her head. Her mother was named after the lady in the painting, Kathy's grandfather's own grandmother.
If she looked for long enough she could see traces of her mother in the other Wilhelmina's face, and the ends of the thoughts that had been dancing through her mind when she sat to have her picture painted. There was a quirk in the corner of her mouth, and her smile was small, but it looked real. And no matter how long Kathy looked at her and smiled at her, she never looked at Kathy, and she was always smiling at the dead painter.
There were a few hours of afternoon left. Don and Cosmo were in the living room, and Cosmo had put on a record.
"Is this the final cut?" Said Don.
"Yeah," said Cosmo happily, "Yeah. Featuring yours truly conducting a six-hundred-piecer."
Don settled back on the couch; Cosmo strolled over, hands in pockets, to sit next to him as the chords started up. "Listen, Cos, I wish I'd'a been there to listen when you recorded it..."
"Nah, you've got your job to do, and I've got mine. I know you'da been there if you could. Besides," a wave at the stereo, "the miracle of modern technology--and a really big salary--"
Don laughed. "Next best thing."
Cosmo put his elbow on the back of the sofa and leaned his face on his fist, facing Don to watch his reaction, "Better. Composer-conductor's personal commentary."
The soft notes of a sort of introductory piece faded and Kathy leaned on the wall next to the door from the laundry room, watching. There was a soft, humming silence.
"What's that?" Don wondered, turning to look at Cosmo, and she saw the electricity when their eyes met even from here.
"Dialogue," murmured Cosmo faintly, without blinking or otherwise breaking the eyelock.
"Oh. Haven't put it in yet?"
"I had it cut out--Didn't think you'd--ah, here we go." A sweeping rush of violins, some bouncy but deep timpani, and the whole orchestra swung into a happy, swishy little piece.
Don tilted his head, grinning, and started to snap the fingers of one hand in time. Only then did he look away from Cosmo. "I like it."
"You do?" A genuine grin.
"It's sweet." Don tipped his head back along the back of the sofa, crossing his arms over his chest, and slumped down. Kathy could see his legs sprawling out across the rug. She held her breath when he put his head over on Cosmo's shoulder.
She could see how carefully, how precariously Cosmo was holding himself, his eyes fixed across the room. But he didn't move away from Don's touch, and Don sighed and moved over against him, the outsides of their thighs pressed together, one of Don's hands on Cosmo's knee.
"I am listening. And I hope you are too. After all, only one of us has heard it before and it's not you."
Don moved his head closer to Cosmo's ear. "Cos, be serious; for once, I am. About yesterday--I'm sorry if I made you uncomfortable."
"Say no more about it."
"I intend to," said Don a little grimly. "I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable. But what I mean is--Cos--we need you, Kathy and I."
Cosmo stiffened. "I'll try to be around more often, though as I already live in your roomy mutual pocket--"
Don interrupted. Kathy winced. "You're not listening, Cosmo, pay attention to me, here. You mean a lot to us."
He'd finally hit on a method of dealing. He was going to treat Don like a child. Cosmo said patiently, turning his head, "Don, I know. None could be closer. Believe me, pal, it means a lot to me too. Nothing else means more. Kathy too."
Don seemed to feel--incorrectly, that is--that they were on the same page. "Exactly," he said. "I, when I kissed you--it didn't mean what you're thinking. It wasn't just a spur of the moment..."
"Don't mention it, Donald," said Cosmo, turning his head away.
Don stilled and Kathy could read frustration and even fear on his face. He flung his arms around Cosmo's shoulders and buried his face under Cosmo's ear. "I have to," he murmured, "I have to. I can't let it go."
Cosmo, puzzled, put his arms up around Don and stroked his back gingerly. "Oh, say, Don. It's all right. I take it back."
She couldn't see Don's hands anymore--but then she saw the expression on Cosmo's face, and the neck of his sweater bunching, and knew where they were. "Don't," Don whispered, "I don't," and kissed his jawline, and under his ear, and finally his mouth, sweetly and passionately.
Kathy smiled. Perhaps Don knew what he was doing after all. Their friendship was so much a part of Don and Cosmo that she had thought neither of them could see it, evaluate it, as a separate entity--as she could, as a piece in a game of strategy. But in his own way, Don knew its power, knew his strength--just as without appearing conscious of his own beauty, he was perfectly capable of using it to get what he wanted from every man, woman and child he came across.
Cosmo's hands were still, and tense, until one threaded into the hair at the nape of Don's neck and the other cupped his jaw carefully, like it was made of glass.
She slipped away from the door and left them to it.
If Kathy never feared that Cosmo didn't feel what they felt--all their history, all their songs, and everything they understood that no one else in the world could understand--sometimes she feared that he didn't want quite what they wanted, because he couldn't see beyond the (fairly smashing) happiness they already had. There was a smile on his face when he watched her and Don together, not the same smile he gave Kathy with the fan on her wedding day or the one he summoned for Don in answer to "Now listen here, Cosmo, if there's something the matter I want to know about it."
Sometimes Cosmo could be trapped into things, though. The first time they'd taken him out to dinner Don had grabbed one elbow and Kathy had grabbed the other and they'd pulled him to the car discussing his preferences (French, Chinese?) over his head and ignoring his incoherent protests that he knew they really wanted to be alone and it didn't hurt his feelings sometimes, well, it didn't hurt them, ever, but he knew that sometimes they wanted to be alone. Which they didn't, and they hadn't; and by the end of the night, she thought he had realized that, or been so inundated with their songs and understandings and their friendship as to forget to worry about it.
Kathy dressed carefully in a cream-colored satin and crepe suit and a silk scarf, and laid her shoes and gloves next to the door to wait until she was ready to leave.
Sometimes she watched him playing the piano when he couldn't see her and thought that she would rather have had all the years of Cosmo's childhood than all the years of Don's. With Don, you knew what he was thinking, what he had been like. Don was like a book she could read, even if she was never going to reach the end of it--the way he liked to shave, the way he lay in bed, just how he felt about orange marmalade, his nervous habits--they showed themselves to her unresisting, the pages turned, Don took her in his arms and whispered in her ear all his secrets. Cosmo, though, was a mystery, and every new thing she discovered about him was a treasure, a minute victory, a burst of pride.
The sky was overcast, stuffed with cottonwool, backlit and shadowed like ash and dust. When she twitched the curtain aside, even with the window shut, Kathy thought she could smell rain. The windowsill dug into the palms of her hands as she bent, nose almost pressed to the warm glass with a deep inhalation. Shadows scudded over the lawn outside. Maybe she turned the overhead light off to let the silver sunlight flavored with rain fill the room, cascading in as if the window were the lip of a basin and outside, someone had tipped the pitcher.
Or maybe she turned it off so that when Cosmo came on her in her reverie it would be dark, turning her hair from honey to dusky brunette and casting his face in sepia. "C'mon, Kathy," he sang, catching himself on the door frame. "You've been ready for an hour, and you're going to make us late." She followed him outside.
It must have rained after all, because the grass was misted with a damp breath of white. Kathy walked down the brick path; Don kicked the grass along its edge, showering his patent shoe with droplets; Cosmo danced away from them, leaving a trail of brilliant summer-green footprints to the car. Hopefully no one at the exhibit was going to look too carefully at the hems of his pants.
When Kathy was in high school she had first been in a position to recognize that not all of what her mother and grandmother called chinoiserie was from China. Of course, the difference between a Japanese bowl and a Chinese urn was smaller when either was in a Beverly Hills drawing room than when one of them was in Tokyo and the other was in Peking. In Japan, it might be a bowl, but here in this exhibit each and every exquisite piece of artwork was a symbol.
Don made her jump a few times by leaning too close to the glass cases, when no one else was watching. When they were, naturally, he held her on his arm and smiled sparklingly down at her. "Don, you're going to give Kathy a heart attack," Cosmo observed, leaning towards a case of raku-ware as if he were going to prop his elbow on it and then standing upright with a guilty start. She hoped they weren't going to start tap-dancing. (They didn't for more than a few skipped steps, which she didn't count as they seemed unable to suppress them at any time.)
Kathy rolled her eyes at him, and Don said, "Well, after she told me about my sister--"
He got Cosmo with that one. "But you don't have a sister!"
She left them to it and wandered a little way away, past two silk kimonos that looked so heavy they'd take Don and Cosmo both to hold one up, thick raw silk with the weave and the grain showing, embroidery so dense the birds and flowers leapt off the fabric. A heavy sash, nearly two feet wide, she'd bet, trailing over its wooden rack down to the floor, thick brocade in amazing colors that made her blink and look again, and blink and look again.
When Kathy took her antique sandalwood fan out of its case, let its silk tassel kiss the palm of her hand, pressed her nose close to the shimmering paper, it was light as a feather, a breath of air. She had watched her own eyes over the top of it in her mirror and imagined her little princess, in the glass case, doing the same in a still pond overhung with willow--the fan would be an extension of her own hand--effortless and naturally, secretively seductive. The kimono was not only heavy, but seemed cumbersome, stiff as it was with layers of beautiful metallic threadwork, like the specially made First Communion dress she hadn't been allowed to sit down in. It reminded her of Grandmere's gloves, the always-dark upstairs rooms at her house, her grim face that barely even unbent to smile at a six-year-old little girl.
She couldn't imagine her princess choosing to wear it. Calling her dressing gown a kimono suddenly seemed beyond ridiculous, verging on blasphemy. At least it was light enough for her to hold up.
A young man pushed a baby in a pram past a long, tall glass case. The reflection of the wide wheels slid transparently over the folding screen inside the case, painted elaborately with gold leaf and enamel and a near-photographic rendering of a parade. There was pottery so simply pretty--no gold trim, no raised patterns, no florals--that it made her teeth ache. There were Buddhas, and she couldn't tell without touching if they were the reddest wood she'd ever seen or some kind of gorgeous rock, ruby-red but opaque, glassy-smooth and even as porcelain.
More textiles, more folding screens, scrolls on paper so fine you could see through it, that looked like cloth from any angle you looked at it. Woodblock images she recognized from books, from hundreds of places hidden away in her memory, were framed on the walls, simple drawings with solid black outlines and flat blocks of color. Mountains. Bridges. A tiny boat, tipped in the shelter of an enormous wave.
She was nearing the end of the exhibit, perhaps. A cluster of young women with sleek hair and long dangling chains of pearls blocked her path and she turned sideways to slide behind them.
As Kathy made her way towards what she thought was another doll like the one she thought of as her princess, a distinguished-looking white-haired gentleman who looked like R.F. drew a second glance. No, it wasn't R.F.--he was bending down towards what must be a grandchild, a little girl cradling a stuffed bear close to one cheek, nuzzling softly at its furry neck. When he lifted her in his arms they made quite a picture, the man balancing the child on one hip, the child holding the bear no less carefully.
She turned to the glass case and the doll. No little fan, this time, to have a painting of a pagoda or of Kathy's house or anything else. Instead, the S-curve of the little body was bent around a miniature harp, and her chin was lifted. Glass eyes sparkled in the rice-white face; cherry lips parted around a smile that wasn't at all coy, nearly a laugh. No screens of cherry blossom, or of artifice. No looking up beneath her lashes. Was this a geisha too?
"Well?" Cosmo said.
Kathy looked up quickly. They flanked her now, one at each shoulder. Cosmo's hands were clasped behind his back, Don's were thrust carelessly in his pockets. Cosmo tipped his chin down, raised his eyebrows to get a better look at her.
"Well, it might be her," said Kathy slowly.
"It's not the same as the other." Don was frowning slightly. "How was the other--she had a fan, and--"
Cosmo fluttered his eyelashes, tipped his head down and mimed holding a fan in front of his face. "A seductive glimpse of her dark eyes and jet lashes from behind it," he said in an artificial voice.
Kathy turned to look at him, startled; he was blinking, a little, bending closer to the glass case unconsciously. Don had crossed his arms over his chest, meanwhile. "I liked the other better," he pronounced, at the same time as Cosmo said,
"This one." Kathy burst out laughing and threaded one arm through Don's elbow and one through Cosmo's to steer them both to the door.
"I don't know," she said, still smiling, "I like them both."
"I don't know why you're so stubborn," Cosmo insisted, as they stood around after dinner. There was a rosy patch above his collar, faintly visible, that his fingers would drift towards in moments of inattention.
"Don't you?" said Don over his shoulder, pouring another glass of brandy for Kathy.
"Clearly," Cosmo continued unperturbed, "No one ever taught you to appreciate art properly. Who've you been hanging around with your whole life, anyway?"
Don burst out laughing. "That's a very good question."
"Oh, come on now, Don, some of the greatest music ever written was for the opera. Even you must have heard of some of it. What about Vivaldi? You've heard of Michelangelo, haven't you? Not that he's an opera-writer, but he's Italian…"
Kathy raised the glass to her lips and sipped. "Cosmo," Don said, "I'm sorry I underestimated your appreciation for culture." Then he lifted his glass to drain the brandy in one long drink.
"Great, that's wonderful," Cosmo exclaimed, "no hard feelings, pal. When do you want to go?"
Don paused, his eyes widening, and made a choking sound. He nearly spit brandy all over the sideboard. Kathy made a move towards him, but he waved her away, clearing his throat. "Careful," she admonished, trying to keep her lips from twitching: "That's an antique."
"Not to mention the waste of good alcohol. Better make sure you've got enough left to get you through an opera, because you're going."
"You'd love to? Why, that's fantastic. Kathy, isn't that great? What do you think, La Bohème?"
He was so agitated, so completely in I'm-About-to-be-Brilliant mode, that he didn't register her walking closer. "Not one in English, for his first?" She enquired.
A cursory glance. "Carmen? No, that's a little racy." Don perked up. "The Barber of Seville? Oh--no."
"The Pirates of Penzance," Don suggested hopefully.
"Nice try," Cosmo retorted, without skipping a beat.
Kathy was nearly all the way around the table to him now, and still no signs of alarm. Her blood was singing all the way down to her toes, luxurious and satisfied. "You know," she said conversationally, "It took me a few operas to develop a taste for them."
He turned his head to regard her, eyes narrowing in thought. The chandelier overhead was crystal and fully lit, so white light spilled down on the top of his head, swirling like a starburst on his crown, picking out strands to highlight. "Sort of like a baby. We could bring a nanny along, to take him out when he got too restless and ill-behaved."
Kathy stopped, within arm's reach, and smiled meaningly. "Exactly." And reached out for his hand.
Only then did he realize. She could see the knowledge moving across his face like the shadows of clouds. He blanched, moved to retreat, but she caught his wrist.
"Easy," said Don, leaning forward on the other side of the table, his hands resting on the surface, poised to--what? Leap over? With Don, it was possible. Another antique, but for Cosmo, for Cosmo… "Easy."
Kathy tugged him a little closer and said, "Well, not exactly. But you know, I'd go to the opera with you, Cosmo. And if you really want him to, Don will too."
"Carmen," he said. "Tonight."
"If you want," said Don, watching intently while Kathy stroked the inside of Cosmo's wrist with her thumb.
"What are you doing," Cosmo accused, sounding a little hoarse, stepping back to keep her at the length of his arm, but not pulling his hand out of her grasp.
She stepped closer and said, "If you don't want to, I'll let you go. But don't lie. You want--"
He turned his face away in confusion, blushing. She thought he was looking at his feet. She thought his hand was trembling, and she folded her fingers around into his palm. His pale eyelashes were dark gold with white light caught in the ends like prisms, or tears, or a handful of small diamonds like the ones on her engagement band. "Don," he muttered, and broke off.
Her hand lit on his chin and she coaxed it up, turning his face her way.
She'd known for a long time that he would say "yes," and amazingly, he didn't know it yet. She leaned close for her second kiss, licked her lips, swallowed the last warm little breath between now and then and touched the satin of his waiting mouth. He gave a little whimper and his wrist twisted in her hand, his fingers clutching at hers even as he stiffened and moved to pull back. She could feel it, lines of tension in the back of his neck. Then Don moved close, a hand cupping her cheek and another gentling Cosmo's. She felt his thumb graze her eyelashes, and the brush of the tip of his nose, dry open lips, on her cheek, at the seam between her face and Cosmo's.
Cosmo relaxed into the touch, and his lips parted a little on a sigh, though his hand in hers wasn't totally steady. There was a hand in the small of her back and one threading into her hair and another one folding around hers and Cosmo's where they were still clasped together, and at least one person was whispering "yes"--just that, only "yes"--over and over again.
The antique table was none the worse for Don's vault over it and they leaned there until it dug into her hip, but the soft-sheened rosewood took the weight of all three easily, wrapped them in the mystic scents of dust and wood polish. "I thought it wouldn't matter that I could never choose," Cosmo murmured finally, muffled in Don's neck, and she twisted and tangled her fingers in the fine hair at the nape of his neck, and dropped a kiss there under them.
"I know. I know."
Kathy called R.F. and mentioned she was trying to give Don and Cosmo a little culture.
"They don't like opera?" said R.F., sounding shocked.
"Oh, Cosmo does," she said. "But I'm afraid Don's a bit of a Philistine where opera's concerned."
Don was leaning back on the edge of the sideboard next to Cosmo, his posture confident and appealing, with one arm possessively behind Cosmo's back. He winked at her behind Cosmo's shoulder and bent to kiss Cosmo's neck.
She grinned and tried not to giggle at Cosmo's little start. His eyes widened, then closed. He didn't turn his head. After a moment, he relaxed back in the circle of Don's arm.
"He doesn't like opera?" Said R.F. "What? He's never been? Why, that's criminal. You've got to take him as soon as possible."
"That's what I was planning to do, Mr. Simpson."
"I insist that you take my box," he said rather gruffly. "It's yours. Carmen's playing through the week. My wife and I have already been several times. Just mention, er, my name. I'm sure you won't have any trouble."
"Oh, thank you, Mr. Simpson," said Kathy sweetly.
"In fact, why don't you go tonight?"
"Oh, we couldn't--"
"Don't argue with me, Selden. Of course you could."
"Well, I suppose we're free."
"Good," said R.F. "That's settled. I'll expect Don to tell me what he thought of it in the morning."
She put the phone in the cradle and crept up on Don and Cosmo, twined her arms around Cosmo's waist, kicked his ankles apart to stand between his knees. She greatly relished the shocked look on his flushed face, the warm affectionate sparkle in his eyes, when he looked at her.
"Kathy," he muttered. "Kathy, you're so beautiful."
Not far from their ears, Don was humming, "Should I reveal exactly how I feel? Should I confess?"*
She smiled and kissed the tip of Cosmo's nose and the center of his lip. "Oh, Cosmo," she sighed. "Sweet, sweet... ."
Don wrapped an arm around both of them. "Now, Cos--if we let you out of our sight to get into full dress, can we count on you to come out of your room in all your opera finery, or are we going to find the window open and a rope of sheets let down to the ground?"
Cosmo let out an embarrassed cross between a cough and a laugh. "I think I'll be all right."
"You sure?" Don smiled slyly. "One of us would be happy to watch you dress."
Kathy tugged his hand out of Cosmo's back pocket and pulled him away. "Don, stop it. The opera's at seven thirty. We haven't got time for all that yet."
Cosmo was looking at them with his mouth open. He still appeared a little shell-shocked.
Don mock-scowled. "We're giving you fifteen minutes."
"Fifteen minutes," said Cosmo, "all right. Got it."
An opera box is a place of extraordinary privacy, Kathy had known since childhood. She had a feeling Don and Cosmo were only now discovering this fact. Probably when Cosmo had been to the opera before he'd been in the pit or the musicians' gallery, or at best on the floor, certainly not in an upper tier of discreetly shadowed boxes.
She thought it was appropriate somehow to take them here for this magical night: Kathy had always liked places where she could brush elbows with ghosts, and she hadn't spent much time with the ghost of Grandmere for the past few years.
"Geez, does this place come with binoculars?" Said Don.
Kathy pulled an antique ivory pair out of her purse and handed them to him, and Don looked at her with renewed respect. She'd brought them even though she didn't think they would prove necessary. She'd worn gloves, too, because some habits don't die.
"You're a woman of many talents."
"One in a million," Cosmo agreed, pulling up a chair on the other side of her, and accidentally brushing the back of her hand as he did so. Every nerve in her body came alive. She made him switch and sit next to Don, and manhandled the third chair right up against the second. Cosmo eyed the proceedings suspiciously. "None of that funny stuff."
"Only in intermission," Kathy promised, and tucked her hand in his arm with deliberation. When she crossed her legs, the feeling of her stockings scratching as her thighs moved against each other was almost abrasive. She shivered.
"What about footsie?" Don said. "Do we have to wait for the intermission to play footsie?"
"We'll see. But I want you to pay attention," said Cosmo severely.
Don's eyes crinkled at the corners and he studied Cosmo's profile intently. "Kathy, how are we for privacy?"
"Watertight," she reported, but she stood up in front of them anyway and leaned back against the balcony railing while Don sneaked a kiss. Her face was warm and she thought she felt a blush in her cheeks, but she disregarded it and posed casually, feeling something of a wanton.
"Mmmm," Don murmured.
Cosmo said against his lips, "You're incorrigible." His breath must have misted Don's mouth.
Don whispered, "You haven't even seen what I'm going to do with my hands."
Cosmo blushed. "I hope you're going to save that for the intermission."
"I meant," Don replied with dignity, "at home."
Kathy smoothed her hands over the front of her gown, from ribcage and hips down the fronts of her thighs, trying to draw her senses all together, to pull herself more firmly under control.
Actually, none of the three of them paid very close attention to the goings-on on stage. There was definitely, as Don reported next day to R.F., a red dress, but beyond that it was difficult to commit to anything.
Midway through the first act, Kathy inched her hand across Cosmo's lap. She could feel the muscles in his thighs taut under her hand, and between them half an erection, hot with blood and pulsing under her fingers. She realized, belatedly, that she was smiling and that she couldn't stop.
Cosmo gasped a protest but she squeezed gently and whispered in his ear, "I can't see very well. Can I sit on your lap?"
He gulped and nodded and she slid over.
"Comfortable?" Don whispered, pressing his nose briefly in her hair.
"Oh," Kathy purred, "I'm all right." Cosmo laid one trembling hand on her left thigh. Don gave an amused little huff and turned his head back to the stage.
With her head on either Cosmo's right shoulder or Don's left the play went much more pleasantly, though most of the time she was dizzy with excitement and lust and she was constantly occupied, running her stocking feet under the hems of their tuxedo pants, squeezing Don's hand, unzipping Cosmo's pants, kissing Don very passionately while Cosmo's hands tightened convulsively on her waist, nibbling Cosmo's neck.
"Kathy," Cosmo said after the second act, "would you please close my pants?"
"Bet you never thought you'd be saying that in an opera box," said Don cheekily, and closed the curtains instead. Kathy's whole body was buzzing, strong and violently awake. She winked at Cosmo and slipped slowly to her knees on the floor. He was flushed and rigid, rising from the folds of white smallclothes.
Kathy licked her lips in anticipation and settled her hand around the base of his erect penis with a firm grip. Her palms and the creases of her thighs were sweating; her belly was hot and tense, and she could feel each beat of her heart pulsing wetly, eagerly, between her legs where her flesh was flushed and swollen with blood. She'd really been teasing Cosmo too long--the fever of anticipation itself was a pleasure to her, like the slow tonguing of a loose tooth, the compulsive stretching of a sore muscle. But Kathy understood, now, that it wasn't necessarily the same for Don and Cosmo: mentally, perhaps, but physically they were ruled by their bodies.
"All right," she whispered, "deep breath," and lowered her head for the first taste. A cautious lick at the head--salty and slick, not unpleasant, not so very different from the taste of Don. She circled him at the base with thumb and forefinger, took him in her mouth and began to suck.
"Ah, Cos," Don murmured, looking over her head at his face, she thought, and he bent over him to kiss him. She could hear Cosmo making little gasps and groans in between kisses from Don, and she shifted restlessly in place, her heels digging into her buttocks, skirt and slip pooling over her folded legs. She could feel her own humid heat on her heels through her underclothes and silk stockings; her panties were wet and clinging.
She mouthed at Cosmo carefully, keeping her teeth covered, trying not to lose concentration even at the feel of Don's fingers on the side of her neck, even when she reached up for Cosmo's hands which were clutching the edge of the chair and he laced their fingers and squeezed hard enough to hurt.
Don's throaty, low chuckle, muffled against open mouth, was a sound Kathy was intimately familiar with. She felt a sharp, pulsing contraction of animal want low in her belly, the hairs standing on the back of her neck, and made some small sound without lifting her head.
It was probably the sound that did it. Cosmo didn't hold out long after that. A little more than a minute, and he made a choking sound and his hips jerked, and she felt the warm spurts of seed in her mouth. She swallowed, and lifted her head.
"You missed some," Don whispered, and brushed his thumb against the edge of her lip.
"I saved it for you," she smiled, and blew him a kiss.
"I can't believe you just did that," Cosmo said, staring at her as she found her feet and rose carefully, one hand on his knee for balance.
Kathy shrugged through her shaky smile. "Why not?"
"Because you--! Ah, hell." Kathy leaned over to kiss him, pushing her tongue through his lips to meet his. "What's that taste?" He said. "Oh."
Cosmo's hand lingered on the curve of her waist, then drifted down possessively, she was pleased to note, his thumb tracing the jutting bone of her hip through the fabric of clinging satin skirt. Kathy leaned slightly closer, and breathed deeply through her mouth, waiting for her own arousal to abate a little and her head to clear.
Don arranged Cosmo's smallclothes and his pants properly and smoothed them out with a proprietary air. "There," he said. "Not a wrinkle." And when Cosmo gave a little shiver that kept going into a mild case of shakes he pulled him over against his shoulder, wrapping him up in both his arms. Cosmo buried his face in Don's shoulder, clutching the back of his jacket.
Kathy, who had just fixed her lipstick, leaned her head on Cosmo's shoulderblade. "It's all right," she whispered. "It's all right."
"I just can't--"
"Oh, Cosmo." She stroked his hair back. "We want you to understand us."
"Perfectly," said Don.
"To understand us perfectly," Kathy corrected herself.
"We're not asking you to 'give us a tumble,'" said Don.
"We're not trying to demonstrate that we'd do anything for you," said Kathy. "Although we would, either of us, or both."
Cosmo shook his head a little and she squeezed his hand.
"So if you think our bed is big enough we won't replace it," said Don, "but we were thinking we could get a larger one--I know you've probably only glimpsed it, you'll want to get a better look--"
"And we could take the poor plants out of the kitchen where Don keeps over-watering them, put them all in the guest room, sort of a dedicated plant room," Kathy added, squeezing Don's hand in turn.
Don said, "Because you won't be needing it anymore--I hope--"
Kathy whispered, "Ever again."
Cosmo smiled at her. "I understand, Star." Don hmmm'd doubtfully. "Oh, you don't believe me? Philistine."
"Well," said Don, "one of us is notoriously thick."
Cosmo smacked the side of his head lightly. "No, I do. Really." He looked from Don to Kathy. "You know, I've even written a song about the three of us--"
"No! You have?"
"--More of a symphony, really," Cosmo said apologetically. "I don't know if it's finished... and I'm afraid I've just now become certain what it was about... ."
"You've really written that cursed symphony?" Don stared.
"I think you know the main theme," said Cosmo. He started to hum their wedding song.
"Cos, you idiot," said Don, "that's not a symphony. That's a concerto."
Cosmo stood up and put his hands in his pockets. "I recycled the theme. It's done from time to time. You know what they say about symphonies."
"No," said Kathy, rather hushed as she could hear the curtain going up down on the stage, "what?"
Cosmo winked. "If you've seen one, you've seen them all."
They skipped the third act, and went out on the street without calling a taxi.
"Should we walk?" Said Don. "It's awfully late."
"Really?" Smiled Cosmo. "From where I'm standing, the sun is shining all over the place."
They linked arms and walked--or actually, danced--home.
*song lyrics from the one song not taken from the film Singin' in the Rain are from "The Cubanola Glide" (by Harry Von Tilzer and Vincent Bryan), which was popular around the late teens and has a small amount of notoriety for references in the deleted portions of T.S. Eliot's "The Wasteland." Needless to say, I discovered it through Sharon, Lois & Bram; the Eliot trivia is the result of Googling for the lyrics.