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Kiss Us If You Miss Us

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And Starlet Makes Three?

by Dora Bailey

For years we've wondered about the relationship between dreamy stuntman-turned-leading man DON LOCKWOOD and his virtuoso best pal COSMO BROWN, now head of the MONUMENTAL PICTURES music department. They're seldom far from each other's sides, but they've always stayed mum about how close they are. For a while it seemed a triad announcement might be around the corner, given how close the film hero seemed to platinum-haired leading lady LINA LAMONT. But now rising starlet KATHY SELDEN has been getting delightfully cozy with our duo. Is this the completion of the happy triad?

*

Speaking of platinum-haired (but not, we now know, platinum-voiced) goddess Lamont, we haven't seen her on-screen since we learned her cavalier dances to another's tune, and our studio insider says she hasn't been spotted on-set in weeks. Sources close to this wavering star in the Hollywood firmament assure us we haven't heard the last of her. Let's hope that before we hear from her again, she finds a better vocal coach than she had last time!

*

Grandpa Brown always said that walls made a house, but laughter made a home.

Then Grandma Pauline would yell, "I'd like to see ya live in a home made of laughter, ya lazy bum!" Cosmo wasn't sure why Grandpa and Grammy Lorna had stayed with Grandma Pauline. Probably too old and stubborn to admit they'd made a mistake.

Anyway. Laughter. It was the cornerstone of the Brown family and what he'd always loved best about Don. Kathy helped them stay more grounded, but things were still usually chucklier than not, Chez Brown-Lockwood-Selden, and that suited Cosmo fine.

It was odd that Don and Kathy were laughing at a cat in pain.

Cosmo hung his jacket on its hook and wandered through the kitchen and into the living room. Kathy was sitting at the bar, while Don stood at the end by the record player.

The screeching record player.

Maybe it was supposed to be music. Maybe that was the problem. Sure, that was it; he was thinking about it all wrong. Not a cat in pain, a cat in music.

All right, maybe that's the same thing.

Fresh gales of laughter rolled over Don and Kathy, and Cosmo leaned against the doorjamb, watching them contentedly. Look at their triad, all three-sided and settled down. Some days he still pinched himself to be sure it was real. Then he gave himself ice cream to apologize for pinching himself. He'd better get better at believing, or none of his pants would fit.

Whatever was happening on the record player stopped happening, but Kathy and Don spent another thirty seconds setting each other off laughing. Kathy's laugh was intoxicating—loud and chaotic, with a little snort escaping here and there. A genuine laugh, not one that'd been coached into her by the studio. Don's laugh—well, Don's laugh was like sliding into a warm tub at the end of a long day. Always had been.

Once they'd settled down, Cosmo pushed off the jamb and ambled toward them. "If we'd known yodeling cats were your style, Kath, we'd'a taken you back to vaudeville."

They turned, and the way they both lit up quieted that part of him that thought this could all fall apart, that lived in dread that a "Gotcha!" was coming. "Cos!" Don shouted, needlessly vaulting the bar and striding over to him. Once a stuntman was all Cosmo had time to think before strong arms were around him, and he was melting into a kiss as familiar to him as his own name. More familiar, if Don kept doing that thing with his tongue. Don pulled off with an over-the-top smacking noise, like he usually did. "Welcome home, dear."

"Well, hello, sailor," Cosmo said woozily. He'd been kissing Don since they were fourteen; that shouldn't happen anymore, right? Must be something in the water. "Why, I oughtta come around this dive more often."

"Are you calling our house a dive, mister?" Kathy demanded. She spun him away from Don and kissed him. Her kiss was new, exciting, sent zings up and down Cosmo's spine. Kathy was coiled energy and youthful optimism (only ten years younger than he and Don, but in this business, that could be a lifetime. Two, if you were efficient about it). And breasts. Coiled energy, youthful optimism, and breasts. Definitely Kathy's best traits.

"You class up the joint, no doubt about it," Cosmo told her when they broke apart.

She laughed and took his hand, hauling him toward the bar. Don made a limpet of himself on the other side, his arm around Cosmo's waist and his long-legged, restless gazelle steps pulling them all off-course. How one of the most graceful leading men in Hollywood could be such a klutz in his own home was truly one of the mysteries of the ages. "Come here, Cosmo," Kathy said. She all but shoved him onto one of the bar stools; he sat with an "Oof" and a funny face to make her smile. "You have to listen to this."

Cosmo made himself look stern, though it was hard when Kathy stood between his legs and leaned her back against his chest, pulling his arms around her waist. "Don knows my stance on yodeling cats," he said, hiding his smile in her hair.

"Oh, no," Don said, lifting the record player's needle. "You'll definitely want to hear this."

There was just piano, at first. Poorly played and very fast, like when a player piano roll spun out of control. Cosmo was wincing already. "Don, this is cruel."

"And it only gets worse from here," Don said sunnily.

Just when Cosmo was about to protest this treatment, the voice started. And proved that Don's dire prediction was underselling it. "Who gave a chipmunk a microphone?"

Kathy grinned. "Recognize the voice yet?"

Don drew himself up with dignity. "Madam, I am a squirrel supporter. No chipmunk has ever darkened my doorstep."

"Listen closer," Don urged.

It was the last thing Cosmo wanted to do, but he forced himself to pay attention to nuances of tone and nasality.  Careful listening revealed horrors in the lyrics as well as the vocalizations: "Did she just rhyme 'silver' with 'pilfer'?"

"Oh, no," Kathy said. "She rhymed it with 'pilver.'"

At the end of the chorus, an exhortation to "Kiss us/if you miss us/in Mississippi" reached a shrill and ear-piercing crescendo, Cosmo straightened, wide-eyed, and shouted, "Lina!"

Don and Kathy burst out laughing all over again, and Cosmo had to shush them to listen to the rest of the song. Which turned out to be worse than the beginning.

*

The song, unsurprisingly, was called "Kiss Us (If You Miss Us) in Mississ(ippi)," and Cosmo would give it this much: it was incredibly catchy. Like the plague. Kathy smacked his arm when he woke up humming it, but by the time he left the house for the day, he'd caught her and Don both humming or singing bits of it, especially the bit about "If you love us/bend your knees/like they do in old Orleans," which seemed to be Don's favorite. ("Are they demanding a proposal?" "Or a muff dive?" "Kath!")

At Monumental, Cosmo had been in the music department for less than ten minutes when he heard the first fiddler warbling, "We're so happy that you're ours/when we're flying through the stars" in a voice not much better than Lina's.

Cosmo smiled ruefully at him. "Really gets stuck in there, doesn't it?"

Al laughed. "It's a winner in our house. Bonnie's mom died last month, and June took it real hard. She don't get on so great with her own mom, so Bonnie's mom kinda adopted her. But, oh, the record, that'll get a laugh out of her anytime." He looked around furtively. "Guess it's good Miss Lamont doesn't work here anymore. Hard to take her serious as a leading lady when you've heard her do that."

"Like seeing a king in his underwear," Cosmo agreed. Al moved on. Cosmo got to thinking.

*

By day's end, Cosmo had lost count of how many people he'd heard humming or singing Lina's song. He'd heard a couple people declaim the lyrics like lines from Don's movies, and when he walked past Wardrobe after lunch, he was pretty sure he saw them putting the record on to play.

Everyone knew Lina's song. And everyone was laughing at it.

*

Out on the Monumental backlot, Lina'd drawn a crowd. "Sing it again!" they called. "Go on, Lina, sing it again!"

Lina, looking half pleased, a quarter smug, and a quarter trapped, launched into "Kiss Us (If You Miss Us)," the many flaws in her high, pinched, thready voice a hundred times starker without accompaniment. Cosmo stood at the edge of the circle, a growing unease prickling his spine. He was sure it was nothing, but—no. Enough.

Cosmo was no fan of Lina's, but he wouldn't keep kicking someone once they were down. When Lina wobbled her way to the end of the song and the crowd, double what it'd been when she'd started, clamored thunderously for another repeat, pushing in around her and forcing her against the railing (one quarter pleased, three quarters trapped), Cosmo shoved into the circle, elbowing onlookers out of his path to Lina.

"Sorry, folks," he called once he was close enough for it to carry, "Miss Lamont has important business to attend to; no time for free concerts. Move along; get your entertainment elsewhere. I recommend Three Fools for Love, starring Don Lockwood, Kathy Se—youch!" He glared when the very pointy heel of Lina's shoe dug into his toe, but he hustled her out of the crowd and around the corner.

Ever the queen of appearances, Lina graciously bore his hand cupping her elbow while they were within sight of the crowd, but as soon as they turned the corner out of view, she wrenched her arm out of his grip like it was an Iron Maiden—and she was the maiden. "What did you do?" she demanded, the growl in her squeaky voice making her sound, as usual, like a grumpy bulldog puppy.

"You needed a hand. I had an extra." He wriggled his fingers in front of her; she slapped them away.

"What do you know, you . . . piano player?"

"Ah-ah-ah, Lina, I've been promoted, remember? It's chief piano player now."

Lina snarled and gestured angrily in the direction they'd come. "There are people out there. People who wanted to hear me. They wanted me to sing it again!" She was in raptures. Apparently she was going to overlook the part where her adoring fans had almost crushed her against a railing in the Monumental backlot.

"What are you doing here, anyway?" he asked. The termination of Lina's contract with Monumental was the studio's most closely guarded secret. Which meant everyone knew.

"I had a meeting. Not that it's any of your business."

Short for "my lawyers and I had a meeting with R.F. and Monumental's lawyers." Cosmo was thrilled to be well out of that.

"Look, Lina, about the song—"

"Yeah," she said, eyes flinty, "what about the song? Why'd you stop me from singing it again?"

"Well, for starters, haven't you heard the saying 'Always leave 'em wanting more'?"

Lina wrinkled her nose. "That's a dumb saying. Who says that?"

"No one, obviously," Cosmo muttered. He pinched the bridge of his nose and prayed for fortitude. Beating around the bush wasn't working; time to hack a path through the thicket. "Lina, look," he said, "the song is bunk. I don't know who told you it'd be a good idea, but they've inhaled more helium than the Goodyear Blimp. You can't sing. Hell, you can barely talk."

Lina stared at him, and for one fleeting second, Cosmo thought she was going to cry. Oh, God. He couldn't handle Lina crying.

But he'd forgotten. Lina Lamont didn't cry. Lina Lamont got angry. "You lousy, rotten, good-for-nothing snake," she hissed. Well, shriek-hissed. "Quiet" appeared not to be in Lina's vocabulary. "You think you're so high and mighty because today's big stars have taken you on a couple dates?" Cosmo opened his mouth to correct her mistaken impression, but he might as well have tried talking to the Wells Fargo wagon as it thundered across the prairie. "Let me tell you one thing, buster, it ain't 'cause they like you. It's pity. They feel bad for you. 'Cause you're nobody, got it? In-sub-scure."

Cosmo lost his chance to make his next objection while he figured out what the hell word that was supposed to be.

"And another thing!" Lina shouted. Cosmo looked around, worried they would draw a crowd again, but Lina shouting was much less rare and hilarious than Lina singing, so although a couple people glanced their way in passing, no one seemed interested in coming over. "I think you're scared."

"Oh, yeah?" Cosmo said, and then winced. Really, Cosmo?

"Yeah," Lina sneered (with her voice, honest! It was a sneer of the voice; Cosmo would attest to it). "Because I bounced back. Without you, Don, or Monumental. Lina Lamont, Queen of Hollywood!" She dropped into a tone Cosmo recognized well, the one that said she was quoting from an article about herself. "'With a musical style that's hard to forget and a singing voice unlike any other in the world, this song has see-mented Lamont's place in Hollywood memory.' And I did it all by myself—without any of you!"

"Well, sure, if you don't mind your 'place in Hollywood memory' being between a banana peel and a monkey in a Shriner hat."

She came at him, raised hands curled like claws. Cosmo grabbed her wrists and wrenched her arms down and away from him, holding her off while she struggled against him like a cornered cat.

"Lina, Lina listen," he panted. "Listen. I'm trying to help you!"

"I don't need your help!"

Cosmo let go abruptly. She was right. Well, no, she wrong—she did need his help, or someone's help, because the record was a catastrophe, and someone on her publicity team was giving her reprehensible, career-wrecking advice. But what she'd done, she'd done on her own. If she didn't want Cosmo's help undoing it, that was up to her. His life was complicated enough without trying to fix hers when she didn't want him to.

Cosmo took a step back. "All right, Lina," he said, shoving his hands into his pockets. "All right. Good luck with . . . everything." He turned, took a few steps, and then paused again, because he was the tiniest bit a cad (hey, you didn't pal around with Don Lockwood for twenty years without some bad habits rubbing off—or had his bad habits rubbed off on Don?). "If you ever want to know the difference between an audience laughing at you and laughing with you, you know where to find me." Then he forced himself to walk away before he made the situation more abysmal than it already was.

*

For the next month, that was the end of that. Don and Kathy started shooting another movie. Cosmo wrote a lot of film scores and played a lot of piano. They got used to being three after so many years of being two (or on Kathy's case, one).

"Kiss Us (If You Miss Us)" continued to be one of the most-played songs in Hollywood.  At its peak, Cosmo heard it about twenty times a day, between radio, record players, and people singing it. Cosmo would happily  smack the next person he heard singing it. The sound of a palm hitting a cheek had to be better than the sound of the song.

Don, Kathy, and Cosmo went to a lot of parties. Hollywood parties were the worst.

With the rapid ascent of talkies and the increased importance of the music department, Cosmo had gained cachet in the social sphere. But he was still a face behind the camera, not in front of it. He'd never be as "big" as Don and Kathy. That was fine by Cosmo; he'd never wanted to be a star like Don always had. He'd only wanted to entertain people and have a place to put his extra energy. He gladly let his better-known partners go out and shine while he stayed back and kept the home fires burning. (Metaphorically.) (Mostly metaphorically. Cosmo'd learned some important lessons about dishes with the word "flambé" in the name.)

But he emphatically did not like Monumental's publicity department subtly shoving Cosmo out of the picture of his own relationship. They couldn't officially control what the gossip rags said, but their own publicity stills from movie screenings and opening night parties framed the story they wanted told, and the rags fell in line.

KATHY SELDEN and DON LOCKWOOD share a cozy moment with THREE FOOLS FOR LOVE co-star KATE MCCOY.

DON LOCKWOOD and KATHY SELDEN in intimate conversation with fellow MONUMENTAL PICTURES leading man LACHLAN REAY.

KATHY SELDEN goofs around with DON LOCKWOOD and his best pal COSMO BROWN.

How many times had one of R.F.'s boys had interrupted a conversation or dance between Cosmo and one or both of his loves to introduce some glamorous new Monumental star or rising director? With the rise of talkies, wide-eyed hopefuls were crawling out of the woodwork every day, and, miracle of miracles, they were all single and looking for a couple to join.

Everything came to a boil the morning after the wrap party for The Aristocrats' Husband. Cosmo smacked the morning paper onto the table between Don and Kathy, who looked at him, bleary-eyed, over their first cups of coffee.

"Cos?" Don asked warily.

"Look," Cosmo said. He wrapped his arms around himself, but he couldn't stop the shaking.

"Cosmo, what—"

"Just look, Kathy." Cosmo leaned on the counter by the sink and stared out the window. He didn't need to watch Don and Kathy. What they were seeing was seared into his memory, and he wasn't sure he wanted to see their reactions.

It was one picture out of the handful that made up the spread, one of a hundred that'd been taken last night. Don, as the film's titular husband, flanked by his "wives," with the caption, "Big announcement soon from KATHY SELDEN, DON LOCKWOOD, and JUSTINE FRANK?" The "big announcement" was the opening date for Aristocrats' Husband, of course. But placed in the center of Variety's spread, bigger than the other pictures and surrounded by a heart-strewn border, it suggested a very different interpretation.

"Oh, Cosmo!" Kathy jumped up and rushed over to him, plastering herself to his back and wrapping her arms around his waist. Some small, petty part of him wanted to pull away, but he slumped against the counter, letting her rest her cheek against his back.

"C'mon, Cos," Don said, coming up beside them, "you can't think—"

"Of course I don't think it," Cosmo snapped, "but everyone else will, and that's a problem."

"Studio misdirection," Kathy said. "They do it to everyone."

"They wouldn't be able to do it to us if you two didn't hide me away like an embarrassing old rug." The words slipped out bitter and cold like poison, but Cosmo felt better for having said them aloud after carrying the resentment for weeks.

He knew they weren't doing it on purpose. Well, he hoped. But in all the times Don and Kathy had talked to the press since the Dancing Cavalier opening night spectacle, they'd talked so lovingly about each other you could hear the birds twittering around their heads, but they'd said not a word about Cosmo—even when asked outright if they had a third. That question elicited a song and dance worthy of the greatest vaudeville routine, and it sat in Cosmo's gut like curdled milk.

"Cosmo, we . . ." Very carefully, Kathy unclasped her hands and withdrew her arms from around Cosmo.

"Cos—" Don said gently.

Cosmo's world turned into a spiderweb of fissures and started to fall apart. "Is that it?" he asked roughly, turning to face them. "Now that you've found each other, out with embarrassing old Cosmo, in with exciting new Justine? Or is it Kate McCoy? I have such a hard time keeping up. I hear she's pretty attached to her husband, though; best of luck with your tetrad. Or how about Lachlan Reay? I've always hated that guy."

"You love that guy," Don snapped. "Said he's the funniest man in Hollywood after you."

"That's why I hate him!"

"Cosmo, stop." Don's breath was coming fast, and his tone was ragged, but it was still a command Cosmo couldn't resist. Like always. "That's not how it is."

Cosmo crossed his arms. "Then how is it?"

Kathy and Don exchanged a glance that spoke volumes, and Kathy worried her hands together, lovely fingers twisting and untwisting. "The studio prefers," she began carefully, looking at the floor. Then she stopped, lifting her eyes to Don in a desperate plea for help.

Don had been in the business far longer than Kathy. He was more jaded, less easily appalled by the appalling things the studio did every day. He looked Cos in the eye and said, "Monumental's publicity department told us to downplay . . . well, you. It's why we haven't made a big announcement." He wiggled his fingers. "It's why there's no rings."

Cosmo's eyes popped. "What?"

"Kathy and me, we're gonna make a lot of love stories together, Cos," Don said. He leaned in close; Cosmo leaned away. "The studio says people are more interested in watching our characters find love—with each other and with other actors—if they think we're looking for love, too." He gestured between himself and Kathy.

Cosmo stared between them in horror. "And you . . . went along with that?"

"Our contracts—" Kathy began.

"Your contract," Cosmo spat. "Sure. You're green; you don't want to do anything to jeopardize your future. But you." He whirled on Don, advancing with a rage he didn't think he'd ever felt, steps relentless and sure across the tiles until he had Don's back against the wall. "You're The Great Don Lockwood. Hollywood's shiniest shining star. Monumental's meal ticket. You threw your clout around to get Kathy rightful credit for Dancing Cavalier, but for me, Don, for me—"

"How's it different, Cos?" Don demanded. His eyes flashed, and his chin tilted up defiantly. "How's it different from what we've been doing all along?"

"Don!" Kathy gasped behind them. 

"It's different," Cosmo hissed, "because you promised. When you started conveniently leaving me out of interviews and press spreads, you promised that once we found our third, you'd tell the world you loved me."

"Cos," Don said, softening. He reached toward Cosmo's cheek, but Cosmo jerked away. "Cos, I do love you."

"And yet the world remains uninformed."

"The studio," Don said again.

"The studio hasn't been with you for twenty-five years, Don."

"I know, but Cos—"

Cosmo turned away. Whatever Don was going to say, he didn't want to hear it. He'd spent most of his life under the knowledge that in the book of Don Lockwood, the chapter on Don Lockwood came first. He'd hoped Kathy could even them out, form a bridge that would remind Don that other people in his life deserved his time and affection. Instead she'd become Don's reluctant ally in the fight for fame and fortune above all.

And Cosmo was once again outside the charmed circle.

"I'm going out," he said, striding toward the door.

"Cosmo," Kathy said, following after him and putting a soft hand on his arm.

"Let me go, Kath," he said quietly.

"Where will you be?"

"Well, wherever I am, there I'll be," Cosmo said without humor. He grabbed his hat and jacket and walked out the door.

*

Cosmo didn't have a plan. No place he was thinking of going. East seemed nice, away from California and its obsession with putting on a good face. West was also a possibility—first star on the right and straight into the ocean. Eventually, his feet probably would've carried him to his room at Monumental, the one with the single piano and the endless supply of pens and blank composition paper.

But the hand of Fate had long fingers and exquisitely manicured nails, and it saw fit to plunk Lina Lamont in his path, red-eyed and bedraggled and, well, Don wasn't the only one helpless before a damsel in distress.

"Lina?" he asked hesitantly. It might not be healthy, seeing Lina in this state. She'd as soon eat him as look at him most days; seeing her when she'd been crying was how heads ended up on platters.

"Did you do this?" she demanded. "Did you?"

Cosmo took a startled half-step back. "Lina, I swear I haven't done a thing to you in weeks. Why, I've barely thought about you in days."

"But . . . but no one else has said those . . . terrible things you said about me. About my song."

Ah. So it was trouble in recording paradise. "Lina, I didn't say anything but the truth. I'm sorry no one else was willing to say it. What's going on?"

Lina looked around, and it occurred to Cosmo that they were standing on a Hollywood sidewalk, and any privacy they felt like they had was illusory. "Come with me," he said, heading back up the block the way they'd just come and trusting Lina would follow.

When they were settled in a half-concealed booth in one of the most discreet bars in town, Cosmo swirled his scotch and soda and considered Lina. Overdressed and overcoiffed, she reminded him of the old throw pillows his Grammy Lorna had buried her couch under—or did she remind him of the couch? Either way, there was a metaphor there. Something about damask.

"All right, Lina, liquid courage and a knight in shining, erm, sweater vest. What's got you down?"

"My agent wants me to record another song."

"Okay?"

"I brought him music. Classy music. Bel canto."

Cosmo winced. It was an art in itself, butchering that phrase so thoroughly. He imagined Lina would butcher bel canto even worse. "Well that sounds swell, Lina."

"He said no," she huffed. "Says I should do another funny song. I don't want to do another funny song. I want to be a real singer. A chanteuse."

Cosmo coughed into his glass. He'd never heard that word pronounced "CHAN-tooz" before. "They don't want you to be a real singer. They want you to be a punchline."

Lina eyed him narrowly. "Is this your I told you so?"

Cosmo shrugged. "Think of it that way, if it makes you feel better."

Lina harrumphed at him. "And then today, my voice coach fired me. Me! Lina Lamont. Like I was some . . . some person. She called me untrainable!"

If she'd caught him yesterday, he'd've been unswayed by her tears, and they'd be having a very different conversation. A much shorter one, starting with "n" and ending with "o." But today Cosmo was feeling keenly what it was like to be on the outside. Like the world was a joke you weren't in on.

So instead of telling Lina where to get off, he leaned forward and put his hands on the table. "Look, Lina," he said, "I can't make you a chanteuse. I don't know how to teach that and, frankly, you haven't got the voice for it." Lina started to gather her storm clouds, but Cosmo shook his head. "No more beating around, over, or under the bush, Lina. If we're gonna do this, we're gonna be honest about it. It doesn't matter to me one way or the other, but I'm offering you what I've got. I can't make you classy, but by god I can make you funny."

"Funny? But . . . but everyone laughs at funny people!"

Dear lord, Cosmo thought, she's a born comedienne and doesn't even know it.

"Everyone laughs at people who are bad at being funny. I can teach you how to make people laugh with you."

"But—" Lina stopped, and Cosmo didn't think it was because she'd run out of things to say but rather because she had too many to choose from.

"Lina," he said, holding up a hand to forestall her, "if you want to be a serious ac-TOR, you just—" He put his hands on his cheeks and pulled down. "—make a long face and think of Hamlet. It's easy to do, and easier to do badly. But comedy takes something that can't be taught: timing. And you have that in spades."

Lina made a face. "I don't even own a watch."

Cosmo refrained from leaping with glee. Oh, the things he could teach this woman, if she'd let him! "Face facts, Lina. After Dancing Cavalier, you'll be lucky to be cast as Rock Number One in any serious picture. Rock Number Three, at best." Lina bristled, but Cosmo kept going. "But if you stick with me, I'll make yours one of the funniest names in Hollywood. Why, I'll get you up there with Mabel Normand! Dorothy Devore! Rin Tin Tin!" Lina narrowed her eyes to slits, and Cosmo hastily amended, "Alice Howell?"

Lina shrugged, and her expression turned calculating. "What's in it for you, piano player?"

"Well, for starters, maybe you'll stop calling me that," Cosmo shot back. Then he really thought about it. What was in it for him? If he were honest, half the reason he'd stopped to talk to Lina was that she was persona non grata numero uno Chez Lockwood-Selden-Brown, and helping her was going to piss off Don (and maybe Kathy). But his anger was dissipating, and he was still eager to help.

Part of it, he was stunned to discover, was real, actual altruism. Funny people—really funny people, as opposed to serious people who erroneously supposed that comedy was easy—were few and far between. Cosmo wanted to encourage that, nurture it wherever he could, because he liked to laugh, and at some point the jokes stopped being funny when he was the only one telling them.

Lina wouldn't believe that, though, so he dug deeper and found a reply just calculated enough to be honest. "My life is full of people who like me but don't respect me. If I can teach you right, maybe you'll be the first person to respect me without liking me."

"Aw, piano player," Lina cooed, "don't get your hopes up."

*

Kathy and Don offered an apology. Kathy and Don's apology included an explanation for why they would continue following the studio's directives on this matter.

Cosmo moved into the guest room.

*

If life were a musical, this would be the big dance number, like "Broadway Rhythm," where the hero would take four verses and a bridge to learn how to sword-fight, or speak Japanese, or build a canoe out of herring skin (maybe not that one. Sounded fishy).

Since this was real life, Cosmo was forced to live through every damned day of it. Every day of Lina calling him "piano player" and spending half their lesson sneering at him before she would deign to stand beside the piano. Every day of the most nasal voice money couldn't unbuy, a cloud a of perfume Cosmo could barely breathe through, and disdain so thick Gertrude Ederle would've drowned in it. Every day of Lina having incomparable comic timing when she wasn't thinking about it and the beat-sense of a sea slug once the piano was playing.

Even finding a place to practice became a nightmare. Lina couldn't show her face at Monumental, so Cosmo borrowed pianos in friends' sitting rooms and in back rooms of music stores. He got a thrill out of sneaking her into his house while Don and Kathy were gone, but the miasma of her perfume lingered so long he still felt like he was swimming in it the next day.

Not until the third week, when Cosmo was complaining about his buddy having sold the piano he wanted to borrow, did Lina look at him like he was the densest thing she'd ever seen and said, "Why don't we use our piano?"

See? Perfect timing when it didn't count.

And that's how Cosmo Brown found himself spending three afternoons a week tickling Lina Lamont and Zelda Zanders' ivories. Not metaphorically.

Cosmo wasn't sure how long Lina and Zelda had been together. They'd arrived in Hollywood together, like he and Don had, but they hadn't been a couple then, only friends. Cosmo remembered a few years where they weren't even that, when the Hollywood rivalry machine had torn them apart as they went after the same roles. But once it became clear that Lina was going to be the star who stood around and looked glamorous, while Zelda was going to be the sidekick who could actually act, they were able to find their way back to each other, closer than ever.

For a half second, Cosmo wondered if Monumental had Lina and Zelda over the same barrel they had Cosmo, Kathy, and Don. He wondered if they were in a happy triad, and he was going to walk into their house and discover someone from wardrobe, or one of the stuntmen, lounging on the couch. But the house sure looked like only two people lived there. If Zelda and Lina had a third, they were very well hidden.

As the weeks wore on, Zelda forgave Cosmo enough for the Dancing Cavalier debacle to help him help Lina, and Lina slowly learned. She learned comedic timing and pitch, the power of a well-placed expression or gesture, the humor of the dashed expectation. She wouldn't take pratfalls, but like all silent picture greats, she could say more with a look than most people could with a page-long soliloquy. She learned how to control the joke, rather than letting the joke control her.

And over a handful of dinners (Zelda sure could cook) and an armful of drinks (Lina mixed a mean Old Fashioned), Cosmo got to know them both. Oh, they'd never be the kind of friends who vacationed together or really relied on each other when the chips were down, but he finally felt like he knew who they were, under all the blinding lights Hollywood kept pointed at them.

Which is how he discovered—

"Never? Not once?"

Lina shrugged and looked at Zelda for confirmation. Zelda shrugged back. "Once or twice, maybe," she said dismissively, "when we first came to town."

Cosmo let his fork clatter to the plate. "You'll never make it as a comic film star if you never go to comedy pictures!"

"I never saw the point," Lina said airily. "It's beneath me."

"No." Cosmo shook his head so hard he heard something rattle. "No, Lina, you cannot succeed at comedy while you look down your nose at it." He picked up his fork and jabbed it at her. "Reeducation starts today."

Cosmo and Lina (and sometimes Zelda) went to a picture every day for the next week. Sometimes two.

That may have been a mistake.

*

"Explain." Don all but threw the morning's Variety at Cosmo and then leaned on the counter and stared at him, hands curled around the edges, every inch the lord of the manor demanding answers from his vassal.

Cosmo wasn't having it. Three weeks in the guestroom had reminded him that he and Don picked that bed and its bedding specifically to discourage long-term guests (Don's parents, mostly). His back hurt; his feet itched; and he hadn't slept more than five hours any night since he relocated. He wasn't in the mood for Don's Don-ness. "It's a newspaper."

Don actually rolled his eyes. "I know. Explain it to me."

Cosmo let his eyebrows lift and his mouth gape slightly before he said, "Well, Don, every morning, all the little letters here go out into the paper fields, like so, and harvest the ripe punctuation marks. Then they bring the harvest home and—"

"Damn it, Cos!"

Cosmo jumped. It wasn't so much the swearing, though Don didn't do that much. It was the tone, the anger an overlay for a hurt and fear deeper than Don usually allowed Cosmo to see. Whatever was in that newspaper had really rattled him.

Cosmo sighed and picked up the paper, looking at the article Don had folded it to. Kathy slipped into the kitchen and curled against Don's side; he wrapped an arm around her and held her close. With the table between the two of them and Cosmo, he'd never felt more out of place in any room, as though battle lines had been drawn and he was on a different side than the two of them.

Feeling suddenly cold and hollow, Cosmo snapped the paper up to eye level and started reading in a dramatic narrator voice. So this thing, whatever it was, had disturbed Their Royal Highnesses? Cosmo would treat them to a full recitation—with annotations.

"'We had wondered whether DON LOCKWOOD and KATHY SELDEN were a triad with COSMO BROWN. But it seems Brown's affections may lie elsewhere.' What? No, hang on a minute."

Eyes wide, Cosmo left off his dramatic reading and scanned the rest of the piece. He could barely take it in, but the gist was clear enough, especially accompanied by a picture of Cosmo leaving the pictures flanked by Zelda and Lina, each with an arm through his. Lina was staring at the camera—the woman had a sixth sense about when someone was about to take her picture—but Cosmo and Zelda were looking at each other. Cosmo was laughing at something Zelda had said, and Zelda looked . . . affectionate. "Oh, hell," Cosmo muttered. "Oh, double hell," he said when his eyes caught the quote from Lina that ended the piece: "'We've been unlucky in love before, but I think our cards are better this time.'"

Cosmo allowed himself a moment of pride at Lina's little joke. Then he dropped the paper onto the table and lowered his head, catching his breath and his thoughts as best he could.

"Cosmo?" Kathy's voice wobbled uncertainly through the fog of his thoughts. "Is it true?"

Cosmo lifted his head and looked at her. Less than a year since Don had tumbled into her car and she'd tumbled into their lives, but he loved her with a bright spark that surprised him some days, as accustomed as he'd become to the low, steady, flame of his love for Don. Looking at her now, though, the only feeling he could muster was a sort of aching curiosity.

He shrugged. "Would it be so bad if it were?"

"Cos!" Don shouted, unwinding his arm from Kathy's shoulder and leaping forward, "How can you say that? After all these years!"

"Yeah, well, things change in all those years, don't they?" Cosmo looked pointedly between Don and Kathy and then gestured at himself. From the way Don clenched his jaw and looked away, Cosmo knew his point had carried: time was, there would be no question what side of the table Don would be on. He wasn't jealous of Kathy. It didn't work that way. But after being the most important person in Don's life for a good two-thirds of that life, getting swept aside like Saturday night's empty bottles on Sunday morning brought a hurt Cosmo had never imagined he would have to feel.

"Cosmo, no! You're still—" Don cast a beseeching look at Kathy; she bit her lip and nudged him with her hand. He was away like a shot, around the table and cradling Cosmo's face in his hands. "I love you, Cosmo. I'll never know how not to love you, and why would I want to learn? I love Kathy, and I hope you do, too, but if my heart's a stage, you're the mark I hit every time."

Cosmo laughed, and he smiled tentatively over Don's shoulder when he heard Kathy trying to hide a snicker. God bless Don Lockwood: he could charm millions with a single smile, but when he tried to talk in real life like the romantic hero he'd played on screen a hundred times, he turned into fumbling boob.

Cosmo leaned into the warmth of Don's hands and then wrapped his own hands around them, pulling them away, though he continued to hold them, hanging at their sides like when they'd been kids, just starting out and knowing only rumors of what two people did together besides hold hands and smush their mouths together. "I love you, too, jerk." He looked at Kathy. "And I love you." He sighed and looked back at Don. "Don't you get it? That's what makes it hurt. If I didn't love you both, I wouldn't care. But you're cutting me out and breaking your promises, and I—well, Don, brace yourself; this may be shocking: I love myself, too. Too much to put up with being treated like this."

"It's just for a little while—" Don tried.

"No, Don. Any while is too long. Because how long is 'a little while'? Until your next picture comes out? The one after that? The one after that? As long as you two go along with it, R.F. and the publicity boys'll string this out for whatever they're worth—which by my calculation is about 62 cents. They won't drop that ball as long as you let them run with it."

Kathy gave a desperate snicker. "Your metaphor's gotten awfully complicated, Cosmo."

Cosmo shrugged. "Kathy, my dear, what else is a meta for?"

Don beamed, and Cosmo loved every last crinkle beside his eyes. "There's my Cos," he murmured before drawing Cosmo into a kiss that went a very long way toward soothing the hurts of the last few weeks. When he pulled away, Don looked at Kathy and said, "Then it's settled. Cos will straighten things out with Zelda and Lina; Kathy and I will put things right with the studio."

Cosmo rolled his eyes at Kathy, and she grinned back. Typical. They hadn't settled anything, not by any definition of "settle" that included active agreement by all parties. But the great Don Lockwood had spoken, and once the great Don Lockwood had spoken, everyone else was just along for the ride.

Cosmo found an odd comfort in once again being the recipient of Don's careless affections.

*

"You said a funny thing in the papers," Cosmo said as he riffed on a half-remembered tune and kept Lina in his peripheral vision.

"I say a lot of funny things now."

Cosmo smiled, small and pleased. No one did coy like Lina Lamont. It worked even better now that she'd learned to open her resonating chambers, stripping her voice of most of the pinched nasality that had plagued it. "Comic seductress" was going to be a whole new category in Hollywood, he was sure of it. "I meant when you said your cards were better."

Lina laughed brightly. Her real laugh was a lovely thing, and Cosmo felt honored to be among the few who'd heard it. Or maybe he was just feeling charitable toward the world at large today. A night spent in his own bed, with Don and Kathy, where he belonged, worked wonders on his mood. "Well, of course they are, silly!"

Zelda came into the salon and dropped a kiss on Lina's temple before perching beside her on the couch. "Of course what are what?" she asked.

"Lina," Cosmo said, punctuating it with an over-the-top minor chord, like in monster movies, "has been telling Dora Bailey that we're a triad."

"Lina!" Zelda gasped. Cosmo flinched. He'd expected surprise, maybe a touch of chagrin, but Zelda just seemed really embarrassed. "You can't go around saying things like that! This'll be like when you told everyone you were Don's fiancée! You can't just say things when they haven't happened yet."

Lina put on her classic sulking face and turned away from Zelda and Cosmo both. Cosmo felt like the oxygen had been sucked from the room. "Hasn't happened . . . yet?"

"I'd been looking for the right time to bring it up," Zelda said, still glaring at Lina. "A romantic moment. Set the mood."

Oh, Lord, Cosmo thought, save me from actors and their "setting the mood."

"Why?" Lina demanded. "It's obvious he's going to say yes."

"Perhaps," Zelda said, and Cosmo wished she sounded more genuinely uncertain and less like she was just arguing her point, "but there's a lot to be said for showing someone that we appreciate them and intend to romance them properly."

"Huh," Lina said skeptically. "Romance."

Under other circumstances, Cosmo would've been in downright raptures to discover that Lina Lamont, star of dozens of romantic pictures, didn't believe in romance. But this—that she considered him a certainty, and now he had to break that—"Lina," he said, and he wasn't surprised when his voice came out sounding choked. "Zelda. I—" He licked his lips. "I'm flattered. And honored. And flattered." Two weeks ago, it would've been a line. But the two women in front of him were beautiful and glamorous, and one of them was very smart and the other was very funny, and part of him felt connected to them now that they'd shown him a side of themselves that few saw. Knowing they wanted him in their relationship felt like a true honor. But. "I'm already in a triad."

They stared at him. "What?" Lina shrieked, nasality slipping back in.

"Who?" Zelda demanded.

Cosmo looked between them. They looked flummoxed. "Don," he said slowly, "and Kathy. I thought you knew. I thought everyone knew. When people like Dora Bailey talk about 'Hollywood's worst-kept secrets,' she's usually talking about us."

Zelda shook her head. "I had no idea."

"The . . . the papers," Lina said. "It's always the two of them with some nobody."

Cosmo batted his eyes and clasped his hands in front of his heart. "Why, Lina, are you saying I'm somebody?"

It was the wrong move. Lina's eyes narrowed, and she stalked toward him with an air Cosmo could only call "seductive menace." Too bad her voice was getting less seductive and less menacing with every word. "It won't last. Look at who they're always with. The fresh young star. The rising face. You'll be yesterday's news by tomorrow."

"But that's today!" He jumped up. "I'd better go do something newsworthy!" His jokes usually covered his hurt perfectly, but Lina's arrow had hit too close to places that were still raw from yesterday's fight with Don and Kathy.

"Sit down," Lina commanded. Cosmo dropped back onto the piano bench.

"What Lina's trying to say, Cosmo, is that we're very happy for you, but that we can offer you something more lasting."

Cosmo barked a laugh. "Lady, I'd be dead by the time anybody could give me a relationship more 'lasting' than what I've got with Don."

"I'll give you dead, piano player!" Lina growled in her best angry puppy voice.

Cosmo held up his hand. "All I mean is that you could possibly outlast the year Kathy's been with us, but Don and I have been together, one way or another, since we were twelve. Can you beat that?"

"Twelve?" Zelda and Lina said.

"Yeah, twelve." Cosmo felt prouder than he should've about their twin expressions of shock. "Look, you're both fantastic, and I hope we can keep being friends. If nothing else, Lina, I'm not done with our lessons. But I'm happy where I am, romantically. I'm not interested in going anywhere else." He grinned wryly. "Besides, a lifetime with Don has ruined me for a relationship with anyone else. You'd be better off with a puppy. Easier to train."

"A puppy!" Lina's eyes flashed. "You know what you can do with your puppy, you . . . you jerk?"

"Lina." Cosmo wasn't sure when Zelda had gotten off the couch, but she was behind Lina now, a hand on her arm, pulling her away from Cosmo. "Lina, don't. We made an assumption, and it was a mistake. Leave it."

"I'll show you ass-umption!" Lina shrieked.

Cosmo hastily swallowed the laugh that bubbled up. "I'm sorry," he said sincerely. "If I'd realized, I'd've . . ." He had no idea what he'd've. He could've talked more about Kathy and Don, made their relationship clearer, but he'd stopped mentioning them because their names obviously upset Lina. He'd thought it was because of their role in getting her fired, but maybe personal jealousy factored as much as professional. Well, there was nothing to be done about it now. He smiled as brightly as he could and held out his hand. "Still friends?"

Lina ignored the hand. Zelda took it between both of hers, pressing gently. "Friends," she said. He didn't believe it for a minute.

Cosmo ached with a sort of pre-loss. He'd come to value his evenings with Lina and Zelda, and knowing this was probably the last one—that hurt. But maybe it was for the best. Maybe they needed time to go to their corners and lick their wounds and learn how to be friends again—real friends, with no romantic expectations.

And maybe he could do a little good before he left. "Say, what do you think about the screening of Lachlan Reay's new film next week? I could introduce you at the party after. Now there's a funny guy . . ."

*

"Cosmo, I want a word with you in my office." R.F. didn't slow down or look to see if Cosmo was following. When you were the head of Monumental Pictures, Incorporated, you could safely assume everyone was doing your bidding.

"Say, R.F.—" Don called as he and Kathy scuttled up behind them. "R.F., do you have a minute?"

"Perfect timing," Cosmo said. "We're headed to R.F.'s office."

"Just you, Cosmo," R.F. said sharply.

"Oh, no," Don protested. "Anything you want to say to Cos, you say to us, too."

"We're a package deal, you know," Kathy added.

Cosmo didn't know whether to be proud or cuff them both on the heads. He could defend himself—but it sure was nice to have Don and Kathy bothering to ride to his rescue.

Trouble often came to R.F.'s office in threes—usually one litigant and two lawyers. As a countermeasure, the office only had two visitor chairs—and both were uncomfortable. It'd never bothered Cosmo before; usually he came to brainstorm, something he did best while pacing. Now he wondered if R.F. had this advantage in mind, as well: sedate studio head versus irate triad. Only two of them could sit at a time, and none of them could relax.

Don urged Cosmo and Kathy into the chairs and leaned against the wall. He reached across Cosmo to stroke Kathy's hair once and then brought his hand to rest on Cosmo's shoulder. Kathy smiled up at Don even as she reached over to take Cosmo's hand. He smiled gratefully and held on for dear life.

R.F. settled into his massive chair behind his mammoth desk and tapped a stack of newspapers that was sitting on it. "You've been in the papers lately, Cosmo."

Cosmo waited, but that seemed to be all R.F. intended to say. The silence stretched uncomfortably. Cosmo laughed nervously and pulled at the collar of his sweater. "It's a bountiful comma harvest this year."

Kathy tittered. Don's fingers twitched on Cosmo's shoulders.

R.F. scowled and started laying out the newspapers. "You've been seen around with Lina Lamont and Zelda Zanders."

Cosmo waited. Now that he saw what streetcar he was on, he was pretty sure he knew where the next stop was.

"Lina seems to think you've formed a triad."

Don drew a breath to speak, but Cosmo put his free hand on Don't hip and shook his head. "You know, R.F.," Cosmo said, "I'm waiting for an actual question here."

"Are you?" R.F. asked. Irritation flashed warning lights through every word, but Cosmo couldn't tell if it was irritation at Cosmo's attitude or at the situation. "Are you in a relationship with Lina and Zelda?"

"Yes, I am," Cosmo said defiantly. "A friendly relationship. We're friends. Don and Kathy are my triad, despite the baloney the publicity boys feed the press."

"Well, stop," R.F. said.

Cosmo frowned in confusion. He looked at Kathy and Don, who shrugged back, just as lost. "Stop . . . what?"

"Lina is no longer associated with Monumental Pictures. Zelda is up in the air, since she's under contract and producing great work, but given her continued association with Lina—"

"Association? You're going to fire Zelda if she doesn't break up with Lina?" Kathy sounded appalled, and Cosmo didn't blame her. He was feeling green in the gills, himself.

"Monumental cannot allow its employees to associate with people who have proven hostile to our interests," R.F. said doggedly. It didn't sound like him. This sounded straight out of the publicity department playbook.

"But you can't go around telling people who they can be friends with," Don protested. "Who they can be with."

"You all signed contracts."

"For our work," Cosmo said. He let go of Kathy so he had both hands free for wild gesticulating. "Don and Kathy would be happy to tell you I don't so much as sing in the shower without thinking about how I can work it into a film score. My contract doesn't tell me how I can live my life."

"It has a morals clause," R.F. said, and that sounded like the legal department's hand.

"I'm making friends, R.F.!" He threw both hands up. "Tell me what's immoral about that."

"Your friend got one of our best actors fired!"

"Kathy didn't even work for Monumental at the time!" Cosmo protested.

"And I did hit her in the face with a cake." Kathy frowned. "I might've gotten me fired, too, in her place."

"So you don't intend to end your friendship with Lina and Zelda?" R.F. asked, looking like he was done with the whole lot of them.

"I do not." He crossed his arms, probably looking like a sulky child and not caring.

"Then Monumental Pictures, Incorporated has no choice but to terminate your contract and release you from our employ."

Cosmo swore he felt the floor rock under him, and it took him a minute to realize it was because he'd stood. "You can't—"

"I'm the head of this studio, Cosmo." R.F. was standing now, too, but Cosmo was too furious to be intimidated by his height and bulk. "I can do whatever I want."

"Then you'll be 'releasing' me and Kath, too." Don moved away from the wall to stand beside Cosmo. He looked even angrier than Cosmo felt.

"You wouldn't," R.F. said, though he didn't sound sure. "You'd be throwing away your careers."

Don rolled his eyes. "You think we don't get a half dozen offers every day? Every studio in town would give their right arm for Lockwood and Selden."

"You can't," R.F. said, and now he was starting to sound desperate. It was a dangerous sound. "We'll sue you for breach of contract. We'll ruin you."

"Over Lina?" Cosmo put his hands in his hair, pulling in frustration. "R.F., since when do you care about any of this?"

"He doesn't," Kathy said suddenly, staring at R.F.'s face.

"Oh, I see," Don said, giving R.F. the same look. "Publicity Department Pictures, Incorporated, is that it?"

"I have a studio to run," R.F. snapped. "I have lawyers and publicity men to tell me how to do it."

"You know," Kathy said, her voice contemplative, "my contract does have a morals clause."

"Yes, thank you, Kathy," R.F. said urgently. "Thank you."

Kathy shook her head. "It also has a clause about the studio's morals. Its moral obligations to me as an actor in their employ."

"Oh?" Cosmo asked, and then, "Ohhhhh," he and Don said together.

"I wonder what Dora Bailey would say if we told her Monumental was trying to break up close friendships and happy triads," Don said.

"I wonder what Dora's readers would say," Cosmo countered. They grinned at each other.

"That's blackmail!"

"No," Kathy said, as, "Maybe," Don said, as, "What of it?" Cosmo said.

"All right, fine," R.F. snapped. "Cosmo, what do you want?"

"What do I want?" Cosmo blinked, uncomprehending. "R.F., what have I ever wanted? To be left alone. I want to write film scores, direct the studio orchestra, and dream that I'm a butterfly dreaming I'm a man—without interference."

"And be friends with Lina," R.F. said with a bit of a growl.

Cosmo shrugged. "She's the funniest person you've ever fired."

R.F. scowled. "Watch yourself, or she'll be the second-funniest." Cosmo raised an eyebrow, and R.F. sighed. "Be friends with her if you must. But make sure she tones down the triad talk."

"Gladly," Cosmo said. He saw no reason to tell R.F. he'd already taken care of that. "Are we done here?"

"Now, hold on a minute," Don said, because why would you do anything the easy way when you could do it Don's way?

"What now?" R.F. asked.

"Stop posing Kath and me with other people and saying they're our third. We have a third, and we're done hiding him."

"Yeah?" R.F. asked, and Cosmo couldn't tell if he meant it as curiosity or threat.

Of course Don interpreted it as a threat and puffed up like a little dog trying to look like a bigger dog. "Yeah. In fact, we're getting married."

Cosmo's eyebrows went up. He glanced at Kathy, who looked equally bemused. "Since when?" he mouthed.

"Since right now, I think."

"Fine," R.F. sighed. "You'll get an earful from the publicity boys. We all will."

"Good thing you're in charge, then." Cosmo didn't mean to be acerbic, but he was done with R.F.'s "humble man at the mercy of the fates" routine.

"I don't suppose you'd be interested in taking over," R.F. said ruefully.

"But how would I know if I was a piano player dreaming I was a studio head or a studio head dreaming I was a piano player?"

R.F. snorted. "Out of my office, all of you."

Kathy and Cosmo hurried to follow his instructions, hustling a still-argumentative Don out ahead of them.

"Well, that was lovely," Kathy trilled. "You boys sure know how to show a lady a good time."

"Aw, c'mon, Kath," Cosmo said, "who else would give you the threat of a major lawsuit and a marriage proposal in the same meeting?"

"Funny, I didn't hear a marriage proposal."

He blinked at her. "Kathy, when you're right, you are right."

They turned identical batting eyelashes toward Don. He looked at the empty set beside them, and his eyes filled with a familiar mistiness. Cosmo caught his arm. "Oh, no, Pagliacci. Prose."

Don looked wistfully at the set once more and then turned back to them. "All right, prose." He looked at Cosmo. "Cos, I don't know what to say to you that I haven't said a thousand times. You're the most solid thing in my life, and I try to be the most solid thing in yours. I love you like I love my own soul, like I love breathing. Being with you is the only thing I'm better at than acting. You've been patient with me for so long—longer than I deserve—and it's past time I delivered on the promise I made you."

He turned to Kathy. "Kath, Cos and I did pretty well for ourselves. We were happy, and we only set the kitchen on fire once a year. Then you came into our lives, and you've made us realize how much better we could do than 'pretty well.' You've brought a light into our lives we didn't know was missing, and I hope we bring some light into your life, too.

"So, Cosmo Brown and Kathy Selden, will you do me the honor of marrying me?"

Cosmo had always thought that when Don finally asked (and they'd long agreed that Don would do the asking), he would cry and feel a flutter of anxiety. Now the moment had come, and he was dry-eyed and completely sure. "Yes," he said, as, "Yes," Kathy said, and then they were both sort of leaping at Don, who wrapped his arms around them and tried to kiss them both at once. It didn't work so great, but they were laughing too hard to care.

"Okay," Don said, stepping back, "now you."

Cosmo looked helplessly at Kathy. He could improvise jokes and one-liners from sunup to sundown, but a marriage proposal? Not a chance. Maybe Kathy—but, no, she looked as lost as he did; maybe more. He understood. One year wasn't enough to fully comprehend the Inner Mysteries of Don Lockwood. Heck, Cosmo had been seven when they met, and he still wasn't sure he fully comprehended.

Cosmo took Kathy's hands and studied her dear face for a minute. Then he said, "Kathy, I love you, and after a year with you I know I could never go back to dealing with this chucklehead on my own. Will you marry me and save us all a lot of heartache?"

Kathy laughed and pulled Cosmo forward. His arms went around her automatically, and she fit herself against him like she belonged there. Which he was pretty sure she did. "Always," she whispered and kissed him hard. Don's arms came around them, and the hurts of the past few weeks melted and rushed away.

"We're drawing attention," Cosmo murmured into Don's shoulder.

"Good," Don said, pressing a kiss to the side of Cosmo's head. "It's past time everyone saw how much we mean to each other."

Cosmo didn't argue. After all, when Don was right, he was right.

*

And They'll All Live Happily Ever After

by Dora Bailey

All was glitter and shine this weekend for Hollywood newlyweds DON LOCKWOOD, KATHY SELDEN, and COSMO BROWN. The trio wed Saturday morning in a lavishly romantic ceremony with more than 400 guests, followed by a glamorous gala reception at the brand new Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. The happy triad leaves first thing Monday morning for a deluxe honeymoon at a secret location.

"We made a deal," a starry-eyed Lockwood explained when asked why he's keeping mum about their destination. "If Cos and Kathy were willing to put up with a huge Hollywood wedding—rather than running off to the judge that afternoon, like we wanted—we would take a month-long honeymoon and not tell anyone where we were going." Bon voyage, you beautiful triad—wherever you go!

A new marriage wasn't the only delight on display at the party. Brown took great joy in premiering a brand new recording from the always-glamorous LINA LAMONT. Standing with Lamont, her dazzlingly talented partner ZELDA ZANDERS, and handsome Monumental Pictures newcomer LACHLAN REAY, who was never far from Lamont or Zanders for most of the night, Brown outlined Lina's poignant and inspiring journey to this dazzling moment. Then he allowed us our first taste of the record, and I must say, it is exquisite. It's called "That's What I Would Do." It's a little sly, a little sad, and a lot funny. And that voice! Positively revelatory. If that's the singing voice Ms. Lamont's been hiding all this time, ladies and gentlemen, she won't be down on her luck for long! In fact, I may have spotted her in conversation with a studio representative or two around the punchbowl.

Looks like Hollywood's glorious tradition of happy endings is still going strong!