Frasier Crane looked up as he heard the doorbell ring. "Daphne, the door," he called out, not moving from the spot on the sofa where he sat working on show ideas with his producer Roz Doyle.
Roz rolled her eyes. "Come on, Frasier, are your arms broken? Daphne's busy!" She strode to the front of the apartment and opened the door to reveal Niles, hand raised to ring the bell again. Niles ducked past Roz and headed for the sofa just as Daphne entered the room with a dish towel in hand. "Oh, hey, Niles, come on in," Roz muttered dourly as she closed the door.
Niles suddenly stopped walking; his face lit up as he saw Daphne. "Daphne," he sighed breathlessly. "Please, won't you have a seat? I need an audience for this." Niles gestured towards the table, and Daphne sat, impressed by the urgency in his voice. "You too, Frasier. Maris is holding another of her literary salons tomorrow and she asked that I choose a poem to read. Apparently old Mrs. Cavendish from the museum board liked my voice on the telephone and specifically requested that I be included. And as you know, my Maris has had her eye on joining the museum board for quite some time."
Frasier turned to stare at Niles, crinkles of amusement forming at the corners of his eyes. "Mrs. Cavendish? The one who's always falling asleep, is deaf as a post and senile to boot?"
"Yes, Maris did list those attributes as well." Niles frowned a little, then produced a folded paper from the inside pocket of his blazer. "At any rate, I asked around and found out that Mrs. Cavendish is a big fan of Pablo Neruda. Apparently she once summered in Chile and met the great man himself." He raised his eyebrows archly. "Depending on who one talks to, they may have become quite close indeed. So I settled on Neruda's 'Sonnet 17.' Who knows, this might even have been written with dear Mrs. Cavendish in mind."
Lifting the paper, Niles gestured to the three others. "So if it's all right with you, I'd like to practice reading this in front of a receptive audience." He glanced at Roz. "I include you in that, Roz, although I'm sure you're more accustomed to the sort of verse found written with a Sharpie inside the stall of a public restroom."
Roz leapt from her seat and glared at Niles. "Hey, I can think of a few choice words I'd like to write on your--"
Frasier stood quickly and wrapped an arm around Roz's shoulder. "Really, Niles, that's hardly the spirit of the literary salon. Why, quite a few, shall we say, colorful personalities have always been welcome at such gatherings." Taking Roz aside, Frasier murmured, "Come along, Roz, there's no harm done; let's support Niles in this...aspiration of his, and I'll buy you lunch tomorrow."
Roz frowned, then softened the lines of her face and smacked Frasier playfully on the shoulder, from which impact he reeled slightly. "You'd better. And none of that sissy French crap either. I want a steak."
Frasier settled Roz back on the sofa, then turned to Niles. "Niles, we'd be delighted. And I hope you'll join me after this for an early dinner at Le Cigare Volant."
"But Dr. Crane, I was just getting ready to make dinner here. Your father and Eddie will be back from the park soon, and we're having chicken paprikash," protested Daphne.
"I know, Daphne," Frasier said with a sigh. "That's why I'd planned to eat elsewhere."
Niles was about to suggest that they stay for dinner, but a quick glance and pained shake of the head from Frasier caused him to turn his attention instead to the paper in his hand. "Thank you, Frasier, I'd love to. Now, without further ado, I present to you Pablo Neruda's 'Sonnet 17,' from the collection 100 Love Sonnets."
Niles began to read, unable to think of anything but Daphne. If only there were some way he could tell her that this was for her, only her, that he had wanted all his life to feel this way about someone. He'd memorized the color of Daphne's hair, the look of the cheekbones under her creamy skin, her easy smile and the lilt of her voice. Over and over again, Niles had replayed the moment he'd first seen her and had come to believe that she was the woman of whom he'd always dreamed.
He was ashamed for having given up on that dream, for having jumped at the chance to possess the money, the security, the status that Maris represented. Niles hated himself more than a little for being weak and callow and selfish enough to have fallen under Maris's spell that day while she pounded on the security gate. He could still see her there, trying to get out of a place he'd spent all his days dreaming of getting into; he could see himself too, so young, ashamed of his cheap shoes and squeaky Sears briefcase.
But he had succeeded beyond his wildest dreams, had remade himself from the beleaguered younger son of a policeman into the bon vivant he'd always dreamed of being, with Maris's millions around him and invitations arriving each day to the sort of events he'd read about in the society pages as a boy. He'd told himself that the thousands of small injuries and minor humiliations suffered at Maris's hands were only part of the game, the price exacted for the kind of life he'd so badly wanted, and that rationale had worked until the day he'd beheld that beautiful face in this very room.
Niles closed his eyes and took a deep breath as he delivered the sonnet's closing lines, hoping against hope that somehow Daphne would hear them and understand all the things he could not say to her yet, perhaps not ever:
...I love you in this way because I don't know any other way of loving
But this, in which there is no I or you,
So intimate that your hand upon my chest is my hand,
So intimate that when I fall asleep it is your eyes that close.
From his seat on the sofa, Frasier shook his head and watched Daphne, whose face remained impassive as far as he could tell. He'd always imagined Niles's feelings for Daphne to be an innocent infatuation, but as time passed he could no longer be so sure.
Meanwhile, Niles imagined that Daphne's eyes shone with a glimmer of comprehension. He had to concentrate on every nerve in his body so as not to rush to her side as she began to speak. "I imagine Mrs. Crane must like that one quite a bit," she said.
So his hopes, then, had been for naught. Niles shook his head ruefully. "No, Maris doesn't care much for Latin poets. She finds them too...torrid."
"Well, never you mind, Dr. Crane. I think it's lovely. Most girls would love to have someone say that to them." Daphne smiled in a way that made Niles's heart move alarmingly in his chest, patted his shoulder, then turned and walked out of the room to continue the dinner preparations she'd been working on before he arrived. Roz followed her into the kitchen and their voices were soon heard in animated conversation occasionally punctuated by Roz's hearty laughter.
Niles stood staring after Daphne, transfixed, for a full twenty seconds until Frasier gently placed Niles's coat over his shoulders. "Come, Rodolfo," Frasier said, his voice soft as he steered his younger brother towards the door. "Who knows? Perhaps out there, your Mimi awaits."