The pearls clacked through Jerry's fingers one by one. He was standing in front of the suite's mirror worrying the necklace and studying his reflection, trying to figure out who it was staring back at him. There was something calming about the smoothness of each perfect bauble as it rubbed against the pads of his fingers.
The New Caledonia was docked. The yacht's rocking had grown more severe since they stopped moving, now that it had something to pull against.
He didn't want to get off the boat. He didn't know what waited for him on a surface that didn't move under his feet. As soon as the ground was stable he'd have to be stable too and if these past few days had taught him anything it was that he was far from that. That and never to trust men who claimed to love classical music.
There was a partially packed suitcase lying open on the bed behind him. Not that he really had any worldly possessions anymore—even the suitcase was Osgood's. He hadn't had many to begin with, and the last of them had been left behind in the madcap escape from the hotel. He'd
stopped packing half an hour ago when Osgood had stormed out, swearing “We can still get married!” in the face of Jerry's repeated refusals—not of the proposal itself but of the proposal's plausibility.
He'd only been packing, folding and unfolding and refolding the same three items of clothing over and over so that he wouldn't have to look Osgood in the eye. The attempt to organize those few items, and pretend he was organizing his life, seemed even more futile now--in the empty, low-ceilinged room that rocked him back and forth, quiet but for the wet smacking of the waves against the yacht's hull--than it had when Osgood was getting righteous.
They couldn't get married. It didn't matter whether Jerry wanted to. They simply couldn't.
Jerry was still fidgeting with the pearls when Osgood crept up behind him. He made an excited sort of squawking sound that would've sounded more appropriate emanating from a dinosaur than a human being and grabbed Jerry around the waist, resting his chin on Jerry's shoulder. (Seeing as he was almost a head shorter than Jerry he had to perch on his tiptoes to accomplish this, and balanced precariously this way he stumbled forward a half-step and ended up leaning most of his weight against Jerry's more solid frame.)
“You can keep those if you like, darling,” Osgood said, nuzzling his face into Jerry's neck. “I want you to have something to remember me by.”
“Oh, Osgood,” and on just those three syllables Jerry's voice modulated between masculine and feminine five times. He turned around and wrapped Osgood in his arms. “Why will I need something to remember you by when I'm going to be seeing you every day?”
Osgood grinned so wide his cheeks rumpled into mountain ranges and snatched the pearls teasingly from Jerry's hands. “Better not have anything reminding you of me, then. Wouldn't want you getting tired of me.”
If they were going to do this, he was going to go all in. He wasn't going to worry about whether it made any sense, whether he was a boy or a girl, because it felt right. His brain had gotten him into trouble more often than his heart over the course of his life, anyway. So he said, “Let's have the ceremony on the beach.”
Mrs. Fielding did approve. She met Daphne first, and smiled at her knowingly as they shook hands, like she could see everything that Daphne was in an instant. Her gaze was piercing but not unkind and made Daphne realize just how little she knew about herself. Mrs. Fielding used the handshake as an excuse to pull Daphne into a hug even though they'd just met, standing on her tiptoes to whisper in Daphne's ear, “You've got a handful with this one, but I've got a feeling that if anyone's a match for my son, it's you.”
Jerry wasn't sure that the man who performed the ceremony was actually a priest, or any sort of religious figure at all, actually, but he was sure that it didn't matter.
Sugar was a flower girl. Joe was the maid of honor—wearing his ridiculous sailor outfit with a flower crown wrapped around the hatband. And if the flower girl and the maid of honor wandered off during the couple's first dance to neck a bit, no one noticed, because all eyes were on the dancing couple. Osgood had learned to follow, at least for a step or two, and as they twined around each other to the sultriest tango rhythm it became impossible to tell who was leading who, they moved in such effortless tandem.
It would take him a month to see every room in the house and he was pretty sure he'd still missed some of them. His favorite would be the aquarium room. Apparently it had been a ballroom once, but there were two other ballrooms in the house and even as much as Osgood loved dancing he didn't need three whole ballrooms. Two balls at a time was plenty. So he'd filled the third with a veritable maze of aquariums. The light in that expansive space was wavery and there was a briney scent in the air, like the ocean was out of sight just over a hill. Brightly colored fish flitted back and forth in their glass enclosures, their fins waving through the currents like the banners of a ticker tape parade caught in a languorous breeze. Jerry wondered what it was like in their world. It must be quieter. He imagined there would be a constant sort of rushing noise in your ears that would feel like silence. He wondered if the cries of the peacocks were loud enough to cut through the watery abodes.
These fancies and discoveries would come later, though. Now it was their first evening in the house. Osgood had invited Sugar and Joe to stay with him, until they figured out what their plan was, and they'd taken him up on the offer without a second thought. The four of them were clustered around one end of the smallest dining room's still extravagantly long table. Its gleaming mahogany expanse stretched out away from them. The candelabras were lit all the way down its length, flickering off into the distance while the four of them sat laughing at its head—or foot, depending on how you looked at it.
“We're going to move to Hollywood,” Sugar said, even though no one had asked, and Joe paused for only a moment, shooting Sugar a quizzical glance that only Jerry noticed, before nodding.
“Yup,” Joe said. “That's the plan.”
“When?” Osgood asked.
Joe looked to Sugar, and she smiled. “Soon.”
Joe popped open a new jar and bit into one of the warty green ex-cucumbers it contained with an audible crunch. “Mmm. Good body, with an aggressive nose.” He sniffed theatrically. “Hints of cardamom and pepper.” He chewed three more times. “Maybe a touch over-aged, but would pair nicely with a subtle mustard.”
Jerry snickered and grabbed the jar from him. “Do you remember when we played in the same set as Julian Eltinge?”
“Do I remember?” Joe parroted back at him. “That was the largest audience we ever played to.” They had played in the same set as a lot of female impersonators in their career, but Julian Eltinge was hands down the most famous of them. Joe couldn't even remember how they'd gotten that gig. Some regular musicians must have gotten sick or something. Those three nights had gotten them a larger stack of cash than months of scraping together gigs before and after, more money than they'd ever see at once again—until Osgood fell into their laps, that was. “And, I distinctly remember you rambling on and on about his performance for weeks afterward.”
“Oh, it wasn't weeks,” Jerry protested. “Those were amazing audiences though, weren't they?”
Joe laughed. “Sure. It was the audiences you enjoyed. 'Joe, how do you think he gets his skin so pale?'” He mimicked, and forged on even when Jerry waved his hands at him desperately in an attempt to get him to stop speaking. “'Joe, do you think he wears heels when he's not on stage so he can practice moving in them so gracefully?' 'Joe, did you ever see him out of make-up backstage? How different did he look?' I thought you'd gone weak-kneed for a man in a dress.” Joe paused. “Which, actually--”
“No, that wasn't it at all,” Jerry said. And it wasn't. He hadn't known how to explain it then, and he still wasn't quite sure how to put it into words, but after spending some time as Daphne it made a little more sense at least. Julian had been beautiful, sure, but he was more interested in how he'd been beautiful than that he'd been beautiful. Was make-up and a corset all it took? Could he become that beautiful with practice?
Sugar came in then, just as Jerry finally managed to twist open a jar of pickles he'd been struggling with throughout the entire conversation. His forearm flexed, the muscles that could pluck out a faster bass line than a graduate of Julliard, bringing all their strength to bear on turning the stubborn lid. The pop when it finally came free echoed through the kitchen and Sugar jumped, her hand flying to her chest.
“Oh my. What have you boys been up to in here? That is the most pungent smell this side of Lake Erie.”
Joe grinned at her.
“Well,” she said, when no more answer than that was forthcoming. “Everything's settled. We can leave tomorrow.”
The second day it was, “Let's take in a show!” Jerry tried on being Daphne for the evening, and no one looked at them twice. Though, some people did look at Daphne once, and quite admiringly, too.
By the end of the week Osgood had thrown a ridiculous party. Daphne made quite an impression on all of Osgood's friends—mostly performers (vaudevillians and movie stars and even a pair of circus acrobats), and the sort of people who liked to associate with performers—not a subtle one in the lot. It reminded Daphne of being packed into a sleeper car with all the ladies from Sweet Sue's band. Which, now that she took a minute to consider it, she realized was one of the times she'd been most comfortable in her life.
When Jerry woke up on the eighth day Osgood had breakfast brought into the bedroom and they didn't get out from under the covers all day.
“Tell me,” Osgood asked half a week later, “Have you ever been to the races?” Jerry rolled his eyes and told Osgood he'd lost so much money on dog races that even Osgood might consider it a tangible amount. Osgood rolled his eyes right back. “Dog racing? I'm not asking about dog racing. I'm asking if you've ever been to a horse race. So close to the action you can feel the breeze off their flanks as they gallop by.” And Jerry had to admit he'd never been to something like that.
By the following Thursday he'd brought in a designer for Jerry to work with so that he could re-do a whole wing of the house however he liked.
On Friday Jerry said, “I think I'd like a dog,” which was something he'd wanted since he was a child, actually. And so they got one, a spotted English Bulldog with more energy than sense
Three days later Osgood said, “Would you like to take dancing lessons?”
The next day a private dancing instructor started coming out to the estate twice a week, and taught them new ways to twine around one another.
In this manner almost two months passed and Jerry barely noticed. He certainly wasn't bored once, but he did catch himself getting twitchy once or twice, like there was something missing, even if he couldn't quite put his finger on it.
Hollywood is a grand town. Sugar loves it here. I can't say that our apartment is any bigger than the one you and I had in Chicago, but at least it isn't freezing all the time. We can actually walk to the beach. You know, a beach that has real waves and that Sugar can sun herself on. Which she does. A lot.
I had this situation with a bookie last week. The trombonist in the band I was playing with assured me this was a sure thing, and this bookie was on the up and up. Well, I'm not playing with that outfit anymore, and there's a loan shark after me. I'd hate to pawn Sugar's bracelet. Do you think Osgood would be willing to loan us a hundred dollars? I'd pay him back right quick, of course.
You'll never believe who I saw yesterday. Clara Bow. I was playing for a gig at this swanky movie star party and saw her across the room. Lost my place in the song and everything. She's just as pretty in real life.
You make sure Osgood's treating you nicely. Have you made a sandwich with every one of those pickles yet?
Jerry let out a groan and dropped his head to the bull fiddle's shoulder. Would one of Osgood's staff know how to do this? Could he get Osgood to keep someone on payroll whose only job was to tune this stubborn instrument? Osgood must employ a piano tuner already, so this wouldn't be that much of a stretch. Straightening, Jerry ran his fingers over the bullet holes in the instrument's face. Those probably weren't helping matters any.
Sweat was standing out on Jerry's forehead, and Osgood, who had just walked in, paused in the doorway for a minute to admire the sight of Jerry struggling with the cumbersome instrument. He was flushed and gorgeous, caught in a shaft of sunlight coming from the huge western-facing windows.
“You no-good hunk of plywood.” Jerry was muttering under his breath. “I should chop you up for firewood. You'd like that wouldn't you. Just hold a D for me. C'mon, I won't leave you in here with these snooty pianos all the time. Just,” Jerry grunted, “don't,” he twisted the peg a quarter turn, “slip.” When he plucked that string its note, once again, spiraled down the scale as the reverberations faded.
Osgood cleared his throat and walked over. “Is it time to get you a new bass?”
Jerry wrapped his arms around the instrument instinctively. “No! We've been through too much.”
“Well, let's at least get someone to patch her up.” Osgood placed the palm of his hand over the line of holes, and smiled at Jerry.
“Alright,” Jerry acquiesced.
“Would you play me something?” Osgood asked, eyes twinkling. He loved to watch Jerry play, loved how smoothly and masterfully his hands moved over the instrument. If he sat close enough to the bull fiddle he could feel the music.
And so, after a few more minutes of turning, and a few more curses, Osgood sat cross-legged on the floor, barely six inches away from the bullfiddle's body, eyes closed, smiling contentedly, while Jerry played him the slowest, sweetest chord progression he knew.
I know Joe would never say as much, but he misses you. I miss you too. You and Osgood should come visit some time. We can make Manhattans, play a few standards. It'll be like old times.
Jerry looked up at him over the rim of a coffee mug. He was letting his hair grow out a little, just to see how it felt, and it curled around the tops of his ears and hung over his eyebrows. Osgood was constantly reaching over and brushing it off his forehead. “What gave you that idea?” he asked, though this was a sort of useless question to ask Osgood who couldn't remember a thought from one moment to the next, let alone where it'd come from.
“Well, it does seem like where all the interesting people are these days. And I've always done my best to be one of the interesting people. I think you would get along fabulously there.”
Jerry sipped his coffee, and set the cup down. “What would you do out there?”
“Oh, same thing we do here, I imagine. Hold parties, see shows. Dance.” And Osgood waggled his eyebrows in that way that would've scandalized Jerry's mother, but always made Jerry's stomach spin a little pirouette.
“I suppose it could be interesting,” Jerry said. “But what about your fish?”
“I'm sure they could come with us,” Osgood said.
Jerry didn't ask whether this had anything to do with the fact that Joe and Sugar had moved themselves out there. He wondered if Osgood had taken note of the letters both Joe and Sugar had been sending. Half the time Jerry thought Osgood was canny as a cat, and the other half he'd get distracted by an interesting-looking cloud while he was pouring cream into his coffee and end up spilling over the rim of his cup.
“Sure,” Jerry said. “A change of scenery would be nice. Let's do it.”
Osgood seemed to know all the producers, and therefore all the movie stars, before they even arrived and their third night in town, a Saturday evening, Osgood had them over to the house for a soiree.
Daphne greeted each guest at the door. She was wearing a red spaghetti-strapped dress that shimmered when she moved. Everyone who stepped through into her estate—because it was hers, too, really—was absolutely charmed by her. Douglas Fairbanks, who lifted her hand to his lips and swept into a low bow in the same sinuous motion. Daphne giggled behind her free hand, and returned Fairbanks' bow with a curtsy she'd been practicing. He moved past her and she turned to the next guest coming up the walk, Joseph Schenck. He was not subtle when he raked his eyes up and down her figure, but, as a producer, she figured it was his duty to assess any woman he met for their effect on the silver screen. “You would be heart-stopping in black and white, Miss,” he said.
Daphne shot him her best ingenue look, wide-eyed with her dark lips just slightly parted, and said, “I'm flattered you think so,” high and breathy.
Even Lina Lamont, when she came parading through, gave Daphne a begrudgingly appreciative look. Cosmo Brown, trailing behind, swore he'd compose the sweetest ballad to commemorate Daphne's scintillating presence on this particular evening.
It wasn't much longer before Osgood appeared from the yard and snaked an arm around Daphne's waist. “Come and mingle,” he said. “I'm growing lonely out there.” And so Daphne wasn't at the door when Joe and Sugar arrived, which turned out to be a good thing, because Daphne wasn't exactly who Joe had been expecting to see this evening.
Joe examined the crowd of people in the expansive back yard, mingling on the lawn under palm trees strewn with twinkle lights, drinking bubbly cocktails by the pool, laughing in clumps around the slight-framed man who'd commandeered the barbeque and flipped steaks while telling jokes that rang with the same rhythms of the vaudeville patter Joe and Jerry used to hear before they went on stage.
“Do you see Jerry?” he asked Sugar, who had her arm loosely linked through his until she figured out where, exactly, those bubbly drinks were coming from.
Sugar gestured with her chin, she may not have been a classy gal, but she knew better than to point, at the far side of the pool. “She's over there.”
“She--?” Joe began and then followed the direction of Sugar's gesture till his gaze landed on the couple across from them and broke off. Even if Joe had been at their wedding, he'd spent the intervening months thinking of Osgood more like a patron to Jerry than a husband, like he was one of those lords from the Middle Ages that paid people just to write them poetry or songs and perform every once in awhile. He hadn't imagined Jerry would still be wearing a dress. Or that the curve of his calf would look so appealing in those heels.
“I'm going to get us some drinks,” Sugar said, having spotted a waiter. “Why don't you go talk to her? I'm sure she'll be glad to see you.”
Joe made his way around the pool, cutting through four different clutches of conversation on his way. He recognized at least one person in each of them from having seen their face a hundred times larger in the dark. It was a disconcerting feeling, even if he and Sugar had been living here for almost half a year, he couldn't quite get used to the fact that these were all real people. By the time he made it around the pool and to Daphne and Osgood, they no longer seemed so strange.
“Joe!” Daphne cried, and her voice was high, but Joe still recognized it. Daphne flung her arms around him, taller than him in her heels, and squeezed tight. “It's good to see you!” She was still shouting, and then quieter, so that not everyone in the two and a half acre yard could hear, “I've missed you.”
After only a moment, Joe squeezed back. “I've missed you, too.”
Daphne released Joe slowly and stepped back. Joe nodded briskly at Osgood, who shook his hand firmly, and then it appeared everything was square between the two of them, even if he did still owe him a hundred dollars.
Sugar appeared at that instant, somehow balancing four drinks between her two hands, and once she'd distributed them gave Daphne an even more affectionate hug than Joe had mustered and a kiss on the cheek, too, for good measure.
Before long the arrangement of guests shifted again, and Joe and Daphne found themselves on a bench in the southeast corner of the yard, under one of the glimmering palm trees, catching up on everything they'd missed in the past half year. “And Sugar's got a regular gig at this speakeasy joint downtown, I play in her back-up band a lot of the time. You should see if you can join us! God knows the bull fiddle we've got right now isn't worth the catgut it takes to string his instrument.”
“I'd love that,” Daphne said. “Osgood seems to think he can find me some places to perform around town. Maybe you and Sugar could join in. Get ourselves a drummer and we could even call ourselves a band. I haven't played with anyone since Miami. God, I miss it.”
“Hell, if Osgood can throw a party like this before he's even been here a week I don't think there's anything he can't do.”
Daphne smiled fondly through the crowd at the man of the hour, who'd taken the bartender's spot and was mixing a unique drink for whoever asked for one. Judging by the faces his guests made after their first sip he was having about a fifty percent success rate of concocting something palatable. Joe followed his gaze, and though he was still feeling a little discombobulated by this turn of events, found himself smiling indulgently at Daphne's indulgent smile.
“He's got a whole room full of fish,” Daphne said. “They're not quite all here yet, but they will be soon. Just row after row of fish tanks in this maze that you can just about get lost in. It's one of the prettiest things I've ever seen. You'll have to come back over when they're all here.”
“Well, I hope I'll be coming over before that,” Joe said.
“Of course, of course. And bring the sax. And Sugar, too.”
They sat in silence for awhile. The murmur of conversation rising and falling around them. The moisture in the air starting to coalesce into dew, leaving the hem of Daphne's dress damp.
“Was it ever this nice in Chicago?” Daphne asked.
“No,” Joe said, “I don't think it was.”
Suddenly Osgood was bounding over to them, with that look of unrestrained and unembarrassed excitement and glee on his face that Daphne wouldn't ever get sick of seeing. “Will you perform for us, doll?” he asked. “There are some people here who would love to see what you can do.”
Daphne shrugged uncomfortably, “The bull fiddle isn't a solo kind of instrument, dear, you know that.”
“Well, what if we get someone to play with you?”
Osgood looked expectantly at Joe, who stared back dumbfounded for a minute before saying, “Well, I don't have my sax with me, but maybe Sugar would sing?”
“That would be splendid!” Osgood cried, as Daphne said, “Oh, alright, I suppose.”
Once they located Sugar she was more than happy to join, and she saw the perfect spot immediately. Set off a little from the crowd, where the twinkle lights hung low, and moonlight was dappling through the leaves.
“Oh! You fixed the mouse holes!” Sugar exclaimed when Daphne pulled the bull fiddle out of its case.
Daphne smiled. “It sure is handy to have a benefactor sometimes. Whaddya wanna sing first?”
“Something fast and silly,” Sugar said, so they played 'Button Up Your Overcoat' and made faces at each other the whole way through. Sugar pretended to wrap a scarf around Daphne's neck, and Daphne shook her head in stubborn denial at Sugar when she sang “cut out sweets, don't eat meats.” They played something slower and sweeter next, 'You Were Meant for Me,' but Daphne hammed it up just as much, lip synching along each time they came to the chorus and mimicking the over-exaggerated expressions of the silent film stars of half a decade ago. The guests, who had been paying polite attention at first, started laughing, and nudging the neighbors to pay attention.
It went like this for three or so more songs. By the time they played, 'Yes, Sir, That's My Baby' they had both embraced the clowning wholeheartedly. Sugar slipped behind Daphne and sang from there. Daphne's lip-synching was perfect enough that if Joe hadn't seen Sugar step out of a view, and if she hadn't popped her head around Daphne's shoulder every fourth bar or so and sung just a little louder with a mischievous twist to her mouth to remind them who was actually serenading them, he might have believed the illusion himself.
The guests were in stitches, and applauded uproariously after the number. After two more sets, Sugar and Daphne's fooling getting more elaborate each time and being received just as well, they were both out of breath and grinning and agreed to stop there for the evening. Daphne hurried to get the bull fiddle back inside before dew could start collecting on it. When she came back out of the house, Osgood was waiting for her.
“Zowee,” Osgood said, sweeping her into a low dip. “That was great!”
Daphne grinned up at him, eyes catching the lights and sparkling.
Osgood held her there, their gazes locked, as long as he could before his arms started quivering, which wasn't particularly long. “You know, I was just talking to Schenck, and he thinks that bit you and Sugar just did would make a great gag in his next talkie.”
“What?” It came out even breathier than Daphne's usual inflection. She was a little flustered. She'd taken her wig off for a moment inside feeling like something was going to burst up out of her. She'd forgotten what it was like to perform; to work with another person to create something they couldn't on their own, and to have that much supportive energy fixed on her, not caring where she'd come from or where she was going but just enjoying exactly what she was giving them in that moment.
“Schenck wants to put you and Sugar in pictures!” Osgood said again. “He thinks you're the perfect act for the sound era. Would you like that?”
“He wants to put me in pictures as Daphne?”
“You and Sugar could have your names in lights!” Osgood said.
And so they did.