Honestly, if he didn’t know the woman so well, Cosmo might’ve felt bad for Lina Lamont. Then, of course, she’d go and open her mouth, and well, that was the end of that. It wasn’t her voice—well, it wasn’t just her voice, anyway, though Lord knew shrill and grating never did anyone any favors—and it wasn’t just her general unpleasantness. It was that she didn’t have any sort of sense of humor. Not about herself, heaven forbid, but not about much of anything else either.
So while he might’ve otherwise felt just a hint of shame for the way Don’s hand settled on his back as they entered the Chinese theater for the screening, for the way Don turned from Lina at the coat check but let his hand linger a second longer on Cosmo, for the sweeping caress the angle of their bodies hid from view, well, Lina’s beady-eyed stare and insistent pulling at Don’s arm put that impulse to rest before it took any sort of root.
“C’mon, Donny, walk me to my seat,” she said, getting a grip on Don as he rolled his eyes at Cosmo. “The picture’s about to start.”
Don smiled at Cosmo—a quick, close-mouthed thing, more intimate than the bright grin for the cameras—and turned to Lina.
“Of course, Miss Lamont,” he said, sweeping a courtly bow. Lina looked smug, and Cosmo stifled a chuckle at Don hamming it up.
Don tossed a wink over his shoulder as he left, and Cosmo smirked as he left to find his own seat. He’d have a spot backstage after it was over, and that, combined with being in on the joke, was enough.
Don took an unexpectedly long time to get to RF’s party after the picture, even considering his misadventure on the way there. Cosmo flirted and chatted and kept half an eye on the door the whole time; wouldn’t you know it, when he was finally getting half-serious about chatting up a pretty little thing, who should arrive but the man himself. And the man himself seemed oddly shaken.
They didn’t get half a minute to talk, of course, before Lina was butting her way in, followed quickly by RF, and never mind that there weren’t any cameras or reporters here to mug for, that half the people in the room were well aware of the score and the other half were at least well aware of Lina and how Don tolerated her. No, had to get the golden couple to make an appearance together.
And then was RF’s little gag, and everyone dismissing it as a stunt. That was the problem with these Hollywood types, no real sense of innovation. Don and Lina’d made about a dozen of the same picture; just went to show that when they found a formula that worked, they’d keep riding it until it sputtered out. No need to take any risks or try anything new.
But then it wasn’t Cosmo’s studio, and so long as he kept collecting a paycheck, what did he care really?
And then the dancing girls came out, and Don just lit up. Cosmo wasn’t close enough to hear what went on between Don and that cute girl that popped out of the cake, but the horror on her face and smug amusement on Don’s said there was certainly some sort of story there. And then Lina got a cake in the face and that was Cosmo’s night made, it really was.
Except then Don ran out after the girl, and he didn’t come back in.
Cosmo assumed, of course, that Don caught up with the girl and probably went home with her; it was a bit galling that he hadn’t even stopped to say goodnight, but then she had gotten out of there in a massive hurry and he could see how Don might not want to explain why he’d go back into the party the girl had fled so quickly. So he stayed at his own apartment for once and gave it till the next morning to investigate.
And he wasn’t a bit bitter that he’d immediately abandoned his only real prospect for the evening when Don came into the party, only for Don to go off with whatever pretty little thing caught his fancy.
Don didn’t really take girls back to his mansion very often; Cosmo’d stayed away out of the same sense of privacy they both had to give one another distance during these little flings. But he had no compunctions about letting himself in and availing himself of the kitchen and whatever food he could scrounge up there.
So when Don came down grinning to beat the band and whistling to himself, hitting the beat in a staccato rhythm as he danced down the stairs, he found Cosmo eating eggs on toast at his dining room table.
“Mornin’” Don said, kissing Cosmo swiftly and stealing the last of his breakfast.
“Good morning to you,” Cosmo replied dryly. “No, please, help yourself.”
“Kind of you to offer me my own food.”
“You know me. Bastion of the milk of human kindness, or something like that.” Cosmo surreptitiously gave Don the once-over, admiring his easy grace as he leaned against the china cabinet. “So, you have a good night? What was her name?”
“I had a perfectly fine night but I’ve not the slightest idea of what you’re talking about,” Don replied breezily.
“That Coconut Grove girl you ran out after, the one who hit Lina with the cake,” Cosmo said, furrowing his brow. “You don’t need to play coy with me, you know that. I don’t mind it. Would’ve appreciated a good-night, but needs must and all.”
“Oh, Cos, I didn’t mean to run out on you,” Don said, suddenly looking stricken for a moment before masking it with humor. “Though really it’d be no more than you deserved after leaving me in the lurch the way you did on the way to the party.”
“You’re trying to misdirect me now, and I won’t have it,” Cosmo said, giving Don an exaggeratedly arch look. “What about the girl? I saw you, you couldn’t keep your eyes off her. Seemed like you knew her.”
“Yes, well. I didn’t spend the night with her. Tried to catch up with her but she ran off.”
“Ran off? From the great Don Lockwood?” And he had to be careful to keep the smirk from getting too smug; Don’s ego could be fragile at the most inopportune times.
“Oh, not some silly film actor. Far too pedestrian for the likes of Miss Kathy Selden. She’s only impressed by serious actors.” Don’s voice was light, but Cosmo knew him well enough and long enough to hear the notes of insecurity and bitterness.
A suspicion was forming in Cosmo’s mind as he remembered the way Don had sought assurance at the party. “I’m getting the feeling you’d met her before,” he said, coming over to stand next to Don, leaning in so their shoulders and arms pressed together.
“Yes, well, after you so cruelly abandoned me in the street—” Don jostled his arm a bit to show there were no hard feelings—“I wound up in her car, and she gave me a ride home to change from that ruined tuxedo. We had an exchange of opinions.”
Cosmo raised his eyebrows. “An exchange of opinions, huh?”
“Yes, well, in Miss Selden’s opinion film actors are mere clowns of no talent whatsoever and the only real acting to be found can be found on the stage.”
“First of all, I resent that. It takes a lot of talent to be a clown.” Don grinned over at him, and he continued on before he could get a word in. “And furthermore, I find it odd that a young lady friendly enough to give you a ride out of her way would also take the time to disparage your profession completely unprovoked.”
“Honest, it was! There we were, finally sorting out that I was a famous movie star and not an infamous gangster—”
“I’m sorry, what? Only a person who’d never seen a gangster before would ever accuse you—”
“And just when she’s starting to warm up to me she bursts out with this insult!” Don finished, rudely ignoring Cosmo’s interruption.
“Starting to warm up to you, was she?” Cosmo said, a niggling suspicion taking root in his mind.
Don looked a little abashed. “Well, I was maybe testing the waters a bit to see if she might be willing to be a bit more friendly, once she knew who I was.”
Cosmo rolled his eyes. “Oh, heaven forbid there be someone not willing to immediately swoon into the arms of the great Don Lockwood.”
“Aw, you seem plenty willing most of the time,” Don said, slipping an arm around Cosmo’s waist.
Cosmo gave him an unimpressed look. “Yeah, well, I knew you before you were great. That’s an entirely different story. And you keep trying to change the subject away from this girl.”
Don threw up his hands and rolled his eyes. “Well, maybe I was the slightest bit overbearing in my reaction when she jumped out of that cake. And maybe I’d like the chance to apologize, or at least to see that she doesn’t despise me entirely for it.”
“It’s not like you to get this caught up,” Cosmo said. “You don’t normally care so much about what the fans say.”
“Well, this one’s different.”
“I can see that much.”
Don turned to him, suddenly serious and intent. “Hey now, Cos, I’ll drop this in a second if you want me to. She just got under my skin a bit, you know, saying I wasn’t a real actor. Hit a sort of a nerve, what with the way I started out, you know. But she doesn’t really mean anything to me, not compared to you.”
“Aw, Don,” Cosmo said, surprised by the sincerity. “Well. She was awfully cute, at least the glimpse I got of her. Suppose it wouldn’t hurt anything to try to find her again. Just so you can apologize for being such an ass, mind.” And just so Don could get her off his mind.
But despite both of their best efforts, Don’s Miss Selden was nowhere to be found. The search had apparently been made all the harder by Lina’s interference; Cosmo actually felt a little guilty for mocking that cake in Lina’s face, knowing now that it had meant the poor girl’s job.
And then the whole search got a bit pushed aside by the bustle of changing over to talking pictures, once RF understood how much money they stood to make. Not to mention Don getting discouraged by the news of what Lina had done.
Cosmo’d never seen Don like this before. Frankly he was getting a little concerned; the man did little more than sulk about with that long face of his. Cos could scarcely get a laugh out of him these days.
So all told he was more relieved than anything the day he realized one of the dancing girls in the background of a scene looked familiar.
And Don was incandescent when he told him.
He felt something heavy sink in his stomach for a moment, but pushed it aside. Don always came back to him. They always came back to each other.
He reminded himself of that as Don led the girl away. He pasted on a grin in the face of RF and Roscoe’s pitying and calculating looks.
She really was a cute girl. Very pretty. And a hell of an attitude; a real firecracker. Sweet, too, the way she got so flustered and abashed when Don wholeheartedly endorsed her getting the part RF was offering. A thoroughly nice girl; not exactly the type Don usually went for, but Cosmo could certainly understand the appeal.
He was a little surprised to find when they came back from their little tête-à-tête, the smile he greeted them with was genuine. But Don just looked so happy, and the girl’s smile was so lovely, and he could see how nervous her eyes were. She wanted him to like her, which boded well for now.
“Cos, this is Kathy, Kathy Selden. And Kathy, this is Cosmo Brown, my best friend.” Don had hold of Kathy’s arm and was reaching out to lay a hand on Cosmo’s shoulder as well.
“It’s lovely to meet you,” Kathy said, to all appearances in complete sincerity. “And I’m so sorry about earlier; Don’s explained everything to me.”
“Quite all right, he could do with a few more people standing up to him,” Cosmo said, shaking her hand. “And I’m glad to finally meet you, Miss Selden. We really have been turning the town upside down looking for you.”
“Oh, do call me Kathy, please,” she said, “I hope Don didn’t take up too much of your time.”
“Aw, don’t worry about it,” Cosmo said, grinning. “Don’s hopeless. I’m used to looking after him and dealing with his whims.”
Don laid a hand over his heart and staggered. Kathy laughed at his mugging, and her laugh was as clear and as sweet as a bell.
Oh, Cosmo could definitely understand the appeal.
“So, what do you think? Isn’t she wonderful?” Don looked expectantly at Cosmo, swirling his drink in his hand as he leaned against the bar in his living room.
Cosmo looked over at him from the sofa. “She’s delightful. But you don’t normally ask my opinion about these things.”
“Well, no,” Don said, coming over and handing Cosmo a drink of his own, “but Kathy—she’s different. I like her.”
“I’d hope so, after everything we went through finding her.”
“Yes, and I really am grateful,” Don said, sitting next to him on the couch and stretching his arm out along the back. “But I...well, I think this is a girl I might be able to...have feelings for.”
Cosmo set his drink down and swallowed hard, pressing his palms together. “Oh?”
“No, Cos, I’m not...I don’t intend...I love you, you know that,” Don said, leaning forward and taking Cosmo’s hands in his. “That hasn’t changed in all the years we’ve known each other, and it’s not going to change now.”
“It’d be easier,” Cosmo said, not wanting to think about it but knowing it was true nonetheless. “The studio’d be over the moon. They’d let you out of the thing with Lina no problem, if they knew you had a nice, pretty girl to settle down with.”
“I don’t want that. Not if it means giving you up,” said Don, meeting his eyes. “I like Kathy. I really like her. But I won’t—I just wanted you to know. That I think she could be more than just another fling. And I want you to like her, because I don’t want you to leave just because she’s around more.”
Cosmo dropped his eyes, studying their entwined hands. “I do like her,” he said. “I do. And I don’t like that it’s all a bit unfair to her, isn’t it? That she’ll come in and fall in love with you, and think I’m a friend to her, when all the while...”
“It’s not—don’t make it sound like that, Cos. Like it’s something shameful. I won’t jump into anything with her. We’ll take it slow. And when the time is right, we’ll tell her about us. Because I can’t—” He cut himself off and was silent for a moment. Cosmo waited. “I danced with her. I was just—I was so happy, and I danced around her, and then she joined and the only other person I’ve dance with like that, felt like that about, has been you. So I won’t give you up, but I want to give things with Kathy a chance.”
Cosmo took a breath. “We’re inconvenient, you know that. If the studio gets word, they’re going to want to push things as far as they can. We’ll need to use Lina; you’re going to need to make nice with her. Because if you really want to give things with Kathy a try, if you really want to make it last, we’re all going to have to take it slow. So you and Kathy will hide behind Lina’s ego for a while.”
Don’s eyes kindled. “You mean it?”
Cosmo’s mouth quirked up. “Well. I do like her. And I want you to be happy.”
“Oh, Cos,” Don said, leaning in and kissing him.
Cosmo sighed into the kiss, tilting his head and letting Don take the lead. He didn’t want to think for a while, but he knew he was going to make this work. For Don.
But with the decision to use the rumors of Don’s relationship with Lina to hide whatever they were doing with Kathy, it was nearly impossible to actually go out. And Don and Kathy couldn’t been seen together around the lot too much, as word would get back to RF and to Lina herself, either of whom would press the issue in a way that might prove inconvenient.
So as it happened they spent a lot of what time they had together in Don’s house, or going out to the less glamorous places, which meant Cosmo spent quite a bit of time with the happy couple.
And Kathy was simply charming.
“Well, I don’t understand. Didn’t the two of you meet in dancing school? That’s what the fan magazines say.” They were getting lunch together, the three of them, at a hole in the wall diner where no one paid them a lick of attention.
“Ha! Hardly,” said Cosmo, grinning. “Trust me, I was there. We grew up on the same block. Spent our childhood busking for pennies in pool halls.”
“It’s just a slight misrepresentation,” Don said, grinning as well at Kathy’s wide-eyed look. “We really did learn everything we know about performing when we were kids. We’ve just...refined it with time.”
“Oh, a slight misrepresentation, Mister Always-dignity?”
“Oh?” Kathy said, perking up with interest.
“Now Cos,” Don said, glancing between them, “I’m sure Kathy’s not that interested in our sordid past.”
“Oh, but I am,” she said, leaning in towards Cosmo. He mirrored her, winking conspiratorially.
“Well, I could tell you all kinds of stories about our ups and downs—mostly downs—on the vaudeville circuit, which is what Don means when he prattles on about our experience performing, but the really good stuff is how Don got his big break.”
“Kathy doesn’t want to hear this!” But Don was laughing, and Kathy was looking at him with those big blue eyes.
“Please, you simply must tell me now,” Kathy said.
“He started off with me, playing mood music for the scenes, you know. And then he filled in as a stunt man once, and managed a pratfall so impressive they hired him on the spot,” Cosmo said, smiling at Kathy’s delighted laugh and Don’s exasperated groan. “Yes, it was quite different from the romantic lead he wound up as. But he was quite good at it really. Managed to get himself beaten up, blown up, and half drowned in the first week, but it seems to have paid off all right. After all, he’s got that mansion and I’m still stuck in a three-room walkup.”
“Whatta you need a mansion for, you’re always at mine,” Don said dryly, reaching over to squeeze his knee companionably.
“Well, that’s why I never got into the stuntman business. Figured I’d let you take the punishment for both of us.”
Kathy was laughing outright now, and he shared a pleased glance with Don. It was wonderful to make her laugh; she was so genuine about it.
He was getting to like her more and more every day, really, and he was dreading having to tell her about him and Don. Because they were going to have to tell her; she’d stuck around for weeks now, all through the filming of The Dueling Cavalier, and she didn’t look to be going anywhere anytime soon. But now it felt like they’d been lying to her all this time, for all that their reasons were good. He didn’t want to do anything to disrupt their friendship, or her relationship with Don, and more importantly he didn’t want to hurt her.
And then she solved the problem for him, in that inimitable way she had.
Don was out shooting scenes; now that they needed quiet on the set, Cosmo didn’t spend quite as much time with him on the lot. He’d taken the opportunity to ask Kathy to lunch, and she’d accepted his offer and the deli sandwich he brought along with him to tempt her.
They chatted inconsequentially for a bit, but she seemed to be holding something back. Finally she seemed to steel herself, and she looked up from examining the remains of her lunch.
“Cosmo, I—I like you very much, you know,” she said, looking up at him through her eyelashes.
Cosmo’s insides felt twisted. “Gee, Kathy, you know I like you too.”
“And Don. I like him quite a lot. Quite a lot. I’m very fond of him.”
“Well, I’m glad to hear that. I’m sure he’ll be relieved.”
“Oh, Cosmo, please—don’t be angry with me, please—but no matter how fond I am of the both of you, I won’t—I won’t be part of some sort of lavender marriage.”
Cosmo stared at her. For once, he was at a loss for words.
“I wouldn’t—that is, I don’t mean to cause any trouble for either of you,” she said anxiously. “I just—it’s a decision I have to make for myself. I want more than just—”
“It’s not—that is,” Cosmo said, and Kathy’s mouth snapped shut. “Don really does like you very much. I’ve never seen him this way about a girl. About anyone, really, except maybe—well.” He stopped and took a breath. “You’re not entirely wrong. Well, really, you’re not wrong at all. About us I mean. But that’s nothing to do with him and you.”
“Oh. Oh. Well.”
They sat in silence for a few moments, Kathy avoiding his gaze. It was probably the most awkward moment of Cosmo’s life.
“We were going to tell you,” Cosmo said at last. “When we were sure you’d be around for the duration, if you will.”
“And you...the two of you, you still...”
“Ah. Yes. Well, Don likes both of us very much, you see. And he’d rather not make a choice. If he doesn’t have to.” He said the last part carefully, looking sidelong at her.
“Oh! Oh, no, I wouldn’t...I wouldn’t ask that,” she said. “I...well, that’s the reason I wanted to talk to you about this. Because I can see how he...how he looks at you. And how you look at him.”
“Yes, well,” Cosmo said inanely, looking down and smiling. “It’s been a long time. The two of us.”
Kathy smiled, warmth unfolding across her face, and Cosmo’s chest unclenched. They’d be all right if she could still smile at him like that.
“Aw, come on Cos, we were going to tell her together,” Don said later that night, after Cosmo related the whole incident to him.
“Hey, don’t look at me. She was the one who brought it up,” Cosmo responded, crossing his arms.
Don slid up next to him, resting a hand on his arm. “All right, all right. You seem a little shook up over it. Did she...how did she take it?”
“Fairly well, actually,” Cosmo said, glancing up at him. “She wanted to be sure we weren’t using her for her veneer of respectability.”
“And you’re all right?” Don pressed, moving to slide his arm around Cosmo’s shoulder.
“I like her,” he said. “I really would hate to lose her over this.”
“Nah, not Kathy,” Don said. “She’s something special. She wouldn’t do that to us.”
Cosmo rolled his eyes. “Oh, to have the confidence of the rich and famous.”
Don chuckled and knocked his forehead with his own. “Yeah, yeah.”
And then, because things never could stay on an even keel for very long, The Dueling Cavalier went into previews and it looked like all the subterfuge about their relationships might not matter anymore. Not if no one was paying any attention to a washed-up has-been star that couldn’t cut it in the talkies.
Or at least that seemed to be Don’s take on things. Cosmo went home with him after the picture; Kathy didn’t go with them. Cosmo told himself it was because Lina’d been right there outside the theater with them, and not because Don was trying to avoid her, but he was pretty sure based on the way Don’d been muttering about Kathy being right about him from the beginning that it was avoidance.
He’d never seen Don quite like this; all through the picture Don had been tense, flinching whenever there was a particularly big laugh. It never used to bother him so much when they were laughed or booed of the stage; just went to show what happened when you let a little success go to your head.
“It’s not so bad as all that,” Cosmo said firmly once they were at home. “Really, it’s a new medium. There’s bound to be an adjustment period for everyone.”
“No, I mean it, there’ve been a fair few unfortunate incidents that I’ve read about. And RF’s right, you’re such a big star, I’m sure you’ll come out all right in the end.”
There was a knock at the door, and Cosmo jumped to answer it.
“You’re an angel,” he said when he found Kathy standing on the other side, clutching her umbrella. “I could really use some help here.”
Kathy smiled as he took her raincoat and hat. “It’s why I came. How is he?”
“Despondent. And you?” Cosmo said dryly, already buoyed by the presence of reinforcements.
Kathy shot him a look as she walked into the house. “There you are, Don. I didn’t see you at the theater. I looked for you after.”
“Didn’t want to stick around,” Don said, avoiding her gaze. “I was afraid someone might recognize me.”
She traded a look with Cosmo. He made a face.
“C’mon, Don, Kathy’s a guest, technically. We ought to feed her; it must’ve been hours since you last ate,” he said, addressing the last to Kathy.
“Oh, you needn’t go to the trouble,” she said, but Don was already pulling himself up.
“No, no, we insist,” Cosmo said, pulling her toward the kitchen and trying to be subtle while giving her a significant look to indicate Don needed a distraction. “Though it’s getting late. I don’t think we ought to try anything more adventurous than sandwiches, if that’s all right with you.”
“Sounds perfect.” And see, that was why Kathy was so extraordinary, because she picked up on what he was trying to do right away.
And then Cosmo was brilliant and saved the picture, and Don was taking Kathy home. He’d been gone quite a while—it was nearly two by now—but frankly Cosmo was glad for a moment to himself.
She’d kissed him.
It didn’t mean much of anything—he knew that—just that she was a sweet girl and liked him well enough not to be uncomfortable with him. It hadn’t been more than a peck, really. But he couldn’t stop thinking about it, about how maybe he hadn’t just been glad for Don’s sake that she liked them well enough to stick around, that it hadn’t been for Don’s sake that he’d been sick with guilt and anxiety when she confronted him about their relationship.
About how he’d never felt like this for anyone but Don in his life.
The sound of the door startled him out of his brown study, and he went to meet Don.
“What happened? You decide to go for a swim on your way back?” Cosmo asked, surprised by how wet he was. He’d lost his umbrella somewhere along the way.
“Something like that,” Don said, grinning, as he stripped off his soaked jacket and tie and began to fumble with the buttons on his shirt/vest. “Oh, Cos, I’m just so happy, really. Thank you. You’ve saved me, and you’ve saved the studio.”
Don came over to kiss him, and Cosmo pushed him away. “Save it till you’ve dried out a bit,” he said, going to find a towel before Don dripped all over the house. “And you’re welcome. Though it was self-interest, really. I can’t be the musical director of a ruined studio.” Don laughed, a bit more heartily than the joke warranted, and Cosmo eyeballed him as he came back. “What’s got into you? You’re awful cheerful for looking like a drowned rat, even with me saving your bacon.”
“I think I’m in love with her,” Don said, grinning at him. “I really, really am. I think I’m going to marry her.”
Don had never in his life even mentioned marriage. Cosmo couldn’t find anything to say.
“Only if you’re all right with it,” Don hurried to add as the silence stretched on. He looked worried now, and grasped Cosmo’s hands in both of his own. The towel was slung around his shoulders, and his hands were still cold from the rain. “I said before we started this, Cos, I’m not giving you up, not even for Kathy. And you said yourself she was all right with us continuing on as we’ve been, I’d just like to make things a little more permanent.”
“No, no, I’m fine with it,” Cosmo managed at last, hating the way he’d wiped the happiness from Don’s face. “I like her very much—” and wasn’t that an understatement— “and I can’t imagine you marrying anyone else.”
“I’d’ve married you already if it were allowed,” Don said, pulling him a little closer.
“Oh, you must be lovestruck if you’re getting all mushy on me,” Cosmo teased, once more on more solid ground.
Don laughed, and lifted their joined hands to his mouth. “Oh, Cos,” he said, kissing the back of his hand.
“Let me guess, you love me, you love me, you love me?” Cosmo said, grinning at the annoyed look Don gave him for the reference when he pulled away.
“C’mon, it’s late, we should go to bed,” Don said, relinquishing one of his hands and pulling him up the stairs.
“Well, if you insist,” Cosmo said, following him with a laugh.
So between the two of them they made their pitch and convinced RF to use Kathy’s voice. They had to scramble to get the reshoots done in the few weeks they had before the movie was due to be released, but at least most of the technical issues had been exposed and ironed out now.
And, of course, because the picture was now a musical, it was completely natural for the two main singers to spend an awful lot of time with the musical director. Which might’ve been less painful for the music director if the two of them weren’t so clearly and obviously smitten with one another. And probably if he weren’t equally smitten with the two of them.
And he was frankly used to having to hide how he felt about Don; it came as second nature now to mask the outright affection with affectionate sarcasm and mocking; frankly his relationship with Don wasn’t that warm and fuzzy to begin with. (More a bedrock his entire life was built on, but who’s asking?)
But Kathy—well, he could certainly understand the moon-eyed looks Don kept giving her. She had such a sweet, clear voice. If he hadn’t been in love with her already, he’d have fallen just for that.
They had a whirlwind few weeks together, and then Lina Lamont had to stick her nose in.
It was bound to happen eventually, certainly when Lina saw the credit card on opening night. But it would’ve been easier to present it as fait accompli.
Cosmo dropped his face into his hands for a moment when Don announced his engagement to Kathy before he’d actually gotten around to getting the question out. Thank goodness after that first meeting Kathy tended to err on the side of overly understanding, or they might’ve lost her over that. Presuming an engagement was exactly the sort of thing Don was likely to get involved with, though.
“It’s perfectly all right, darling,” Don was telling Kathy later that night. “RF’s entirely on our side on this one. He’s been entirely in the loop nearly the whole time; Lina can’t actually do much of anything.”
“Aside from be unpleasant, and that’s not really a departure from the usual,” Cosmo added, trying to make her smile.
Kathy nodded, giving a tremulous smile. “Of course you’re right. I’m certain it’ll all turn out fine. But I think it would be best if we didn’t rub Miss Lamont’s nose in things. I won’t sit with you at the premier, Don.”
It would’ve been funny how flabbergasted Don looked at that if it hadn’t been for the entire situation.
“But Kathy, I told you! I don’t care about Lina—”
“Well, I do. She might not be able to do anything about The Dancing Cavalier, but she could still effect my career, you know. I’m hardly an established star.”
Don looked away, and Cosmo watched, arms folded. “Whatever you want, Kathy,” Don said at last.
“You’ll still see the picture, though,” Cosmo broke in. “Really, Kathy, you’re the best thing about it.”
“Oh, thanks,” Don said, but Kathy laughed so he also winked at Cosmo.
“Now, now, I’m not saying anything that isn’t true,” Cosmo chided.
“Oh, boys,” Kathy said, grinning unreservedly now.
“But really, you will come?” Don pressed, and Kathy’s smile faded.
“Oh, I don’t know,” she said. “You don’t think it would be uncomfortable?”
“Certainly not!” Cosmo said. “Why, you could never be uncomfortable with me at your side. I am a veritable social chameleon, equally at ease among every class of society. And they certainly all seem to take to me in exactly the same way.”
“Trying to get away from you?” Don cut in dryly, and Cosmo made a face at him.
“This is why we aren’t sitting with you,” he informed Don, affecting wounded dignity. “Kathy appreciates me.”
“I really do, you know,” she said fondly, kissing him on the cheek. He clapped his hands over his cheeks and put on a show of great bashfulness, hoping he’d managed to cover the actual blush he could feel heating his face.
But Don and Kathy were laughing good-naturedly, so he supposed he was safe.
And then the premiere happened, and for a moment they almost did lose Kathy, and not for the first time Cosmo blessed Don’s luck and charm.
Really, it was a happy ending all around. Lina and her demands were no longer his problem, Don’s problem, or RF’s problem. Don managed to salvage his reputation, got the girl, and kept the guy. Kathy was more or less engaged to a movie star.
And Cosmo...well, he had a job at the studio that actually gave him screen credit, and he managed to keep the guy too, and he had Kathy’s friendship.
It wasn’t anyone’s fault that it wasn’t quite what he wanted.
He somehow found himself taking Kathy to breakfast a few days later. He had meant to take her to lunch the day after, but with one thing and another, between the studio’s demands on both of their time and dealing with Don and the last of the Lina situation, it was the first moment they both had available.
“Cosmo,” Kathy cried, embracing him as they met at the restaurant.
“Hi, Kathy,” he said, grinning in return. He really couldn’t help but smile around her. “Tell me, has Don properly proposed yet?” He tucked her hand into the crook of his arm as they entered the building.
“He did ask,” she said, laughing. “I still don’t have a ring, though. My mother is growing quite suspicious.”
“I don’t think Don’s properly intimidated by mothers. He’s always been too charming for his own good in that respect.”
“What a good thing he has us to keep him humble.”
“Oh, Miss Selden, do you really think you can resist him? Because you were about a step away from calling The Dueling Cavalier good just because he was a bit downhearted.”
Kathy laughed through her protest. “Oh, you were trying to make him feel better as well!”
“Yes, but I certainly didn’t go that far.”
“Oh, Cosmo, you’ve gotten me straight off the point. I didn’t want to talk about Don today. I wanted to ask how you were.”
Cosmo blinked, momentarily stymied. “Oh, well, you know me, I never complain.”
“Really, though,” she said, smiling and looking right at him.
“Really, Kathy, I’m swell. Couldn’t be better.”
“I don’t just mean our...our arrangement. Are you really happy? Because now that everything’s done with Miss Lamont, I’ve had a moment to reflect, and I realized you rather fell into your position at the studio, and I just wanted to ask whether you were happy there. Because you do deserve to be happy, Cosmo, you must know that.”
Kathy startled him into a laugh with her earnestness. “Oh, Kathy, you don’t have to worry about me, really. Music is all I’ve ever wanted out of life, and hey, I’ve got that now.”
“I’m so glad,” Kathy said, beaming at him. “Oh, I do want you to be happy, you know. That’s all I want for you.”
“I suppose we’re a matched set, then,” Cosmo said lightly, grinning at her and trying not to let it get too sappy, influenced by the warmth spreading from his belly at her regard.
Cosmo eyed Don shifting on the sofa from his place by the bar. He couldn’t seem to sit still tonight, and kept grinning. Clearly something was afoot.
“Well, what’s going on?” Cosmo asked eventually, smirking a bit at Don’s obvious excitement. Not exactly in keeping with his usual suave image.
“I’ve finally got it, Cos,” Don said, exuberant. “I’ve finally found the perfect ring.”
Cosmo laughed affectionately, pushing down the unpleasant swoop of his stomach. Jealousy, of course, but of which one of them? “Well, I certainly hope it’s perfect, after all the time you’ve taken finding it.”
“Ah, Cos, you know Kathy deserves perfect,” Don said, the corners of his eyes creasing in mirth.
“Yes, so why’s she with you?” Cosmo said, and realized a bit too much bitterness might’ve slipped into his voice from the sharp look Don gave him.
“Something wrong?” Don asked, and Cosmo frowned at the wariness in his voice.
“Of course not,” Cosmo said, grinning, trying to dispel the odd atmosphere.
“You’d tell me if something were, though?” Don pressed. “Honest, Cos, I love Kathy, and I know she cares about you. The last thing either one of us wants is to make you unhappy.”
“So she tells me,” Cosmo said agreeably. But Don wasn’t to be put off; he was only easy to misdirect when he wasn’t already on the scent.
Don sat next to him, and was horribly sincere as he leaned forward and looked him in the eye. “You do know we both love you, don’t you?”
And he tried to keep from doing it, but he looked away for a second, only for a second, before he replied, but that was enough for Don, who had known him all his life, who knew his moods and his tells better than he did himself.
“Oh. Oh, Cos.”
“Now Don, you know you hardly have to worry—”
But Don cut off his half-ashamed reassurances. “Worry? I think it’s wonderful,” he said, starting to smile now. “Really, it simplifies things.”
Cosmo gave him a dry look. “Oh?” He could make that one syllable carry a whole conversation of skepticism, if he did say so himself.
“No, really, think of it. We wouldn’t have to keep two bedrooms here once Kathy and I get married.” He looked worried suddenly. “Or was that your objection? Did you want to marry her? Because really, I did ask first, but I suppose we can all talk it—”
“Don,” Cosmo interrupted, when it became clear his increasingly exasperated looks were doing nothing to get through to the man. “You’re missing a very important piece here. An entire side of this tripod you’re proposing just doesn’t stand up.”
“What do you mean?” Don asked, and he looked so honestly puzzled that Cosmo sighed and tried to explain.
“All right, I will concede that Kathy, in her boundless capacity for empathy, cares about me very much, and not even just because she loves you. But caring about and wanting to marry are two entirely different things.
Don blinked. “But I’m sure she loves you,” he said. “It’s just...well, maybe she hasn’t thought of it that way. Maybe it’s just not something she thinks is possible.”
“Kathy’s not completely sheltered. She knows about us,” Cosmo said. “She’s certainly never let on to me that she has any difficulty with you being with both of us.”
“But if you told her, I’m sure she’d realize—”
“Now don’t go getting ahead of yourself, no one’s said anything about saying anything to Kathy.”
Don gave him a wounded look. “Of course it’s your choice. But I do think you should. I think it’s a chance for the three of us to be happy together.”
Cosmo gave him an unimpressed look. “I can’t believe you’re forcing me to say something so saccharine, but the three of us are already happy together.”
“Huh. If you say so,” Don said, getting up to pour another drink.
Of course Cos knew that wouldn’t be the end of it—Don Lockwood did not just forget about things at the smallest stumbling block, hence the presence of the lovely Kathy Selden in their lives—but he put it out of his mind. No need to borrow trouble.
And it was easy to put it out of his mind when he had Kathy to distract him.
They met for either breakfast or lunch nearly every day; sometimes it was only a quick bite on the lot, and sometimes they managed to get away for at least an hour or two, but even when it was only for a quarter of an hour it managed to lift Cosmo’s spirits just that little bit more.
And when he managed to make her laugh, his day was made.
It was all going well; his feelings for Kathy and for Don remained unchanged, but for all that, he was happy. Maybe he could be happier, but it didn’t seem worth it to risk the nearly-idyllic place his life had come to.
But Don apparently had to intervene.
Kathy had seemed preoccupied all through lunch, responding to Cosmo’s half of the conversation but not nearly as lively and witty as she normally was. Finally he asked what was wrong.
“Oh, I’m so sorry, Cosmo,” she said, looking so contrite he forgave her in an instant. “It’s nothing you’ve done. I’m just worried about Don.”
Cosmo abruptly felt cold. “Why? Has something happened to him?”
“No! No, I’d have told you,” she said quickly. “I’m making a hash of this, aren’t I? No, he’s just seemed a bit blue lately, and I can’t see why.”
“Oh?” Cosmo said, noncommittal. He couldn’t get ahead of himself. It might be nothing to do with him and his issue and Don’s genius solution. But if it were anything else, surely Don would’ve told him.
“Yes, it’s just—I’m being silly. But when we’re alone together he just seems out of sorts. And when you’re there as well he’s just as he is normally, and I can’t help but think, well, he’d rather you were there more often.”
Cosmo pasted on a grin, and Kathy didn’t know him quite well enough yet to see how insincere it was. “I’m sure that’s not it. He is a good actor, all evidence to the contrary, and he must not want me to go poking my nose in. Don loves you, Kathy.”
“Oh, I know!” Kathy said, actually reaching across the table to take his hand. He held it very still in her grasp. “I’m not saying he’s looking to break off our engagement. Only that he misses you. And come to think of it, I rather miss you too. You’re always leaving us alone lately, you could really stand to spend a bit more time with us.”
“It’s only that I don’t want to get wrapped up in wedding planning,” Cosmo said, hurrying to clarify when he saw the mingled pity and compassion in her eyes. “I’ve never planned for a thing a day in my life, you can ask Don. I’ve got an allergy to it.”
Kathy laughed, as he hoped she would, and he gently prompted the conversation to a different subject. But he would be having words with Don.
He confronted Don that very night, for once cutting right to the chase.
“I know your heart’s in the right place, but you really can’t let Kathy know how I feel about her,” Cosmo said firmly, crossing his arms. “And that includes trying to get her to invite me over more often.”
“Come on, Cos, I’m hardly declaring your feelings,” Don said. “We do miss you. And I’m sure you miss us. I don’t see why we should all three be miserable when we could be happy.”
“I’m quite certain you’re not actually miserable,” Cosmo said, rolling his eyes. “You’re certainly not actually miserable enough to be moping around the way Kathy says you are.”
“I just don’t see—”
“Then get glasses,” Cosmo cut in.
“Really now, can’t you be serious?”
“That’s your job, you’re the serious dramatic actor here,” Cosmo shot back, surprised at himself and how annoyed he was getting. Don just didn’t know how to let things lie.
“I’m not going to talk to you until you can actually be serious about something for once in your life,” Don snapped, and he was actually yelling now. He’d never really done that before.
“Well I guess we’re not talking then,” Cosmo said, fed up and wanting to get out of this conversation he’d lost control of. “Surely you know by now I’m nothing more than a clown.”
And with that he left, heedless of Don’s furious entreaties to stay.
As it turned out, it was actually very difficult avoiding someone you’d spent literally your entire life in arm’s reach of, especially when you had all the same friends and colleagues and worked for the same studio. Difficult, and more to the point, quite conspicuous. Within the first three days of not talking to Don, he’d had more conversations about the man than he cared to admit.
The worst, of course, was Kathy.
“I know you two have fought,” she said gently, cornering him at the studio. “And I want you to know I’m not taking his side, and if you want to talk about it I’m here.”
“Thanks, Kathy, but I’m all right,” he said. He wasn’t ready at all to talk about it, especially not to her.
She studied him for a few long moments. “I don’t know if you realize how...how isolated the two of you are,” she said at last. “You know each other so well, and the way you interact—you give off this air of being complete in the two of you, of not needing anyone else.”
He looked up sharply, searching for hints of hurt, of Kathy thinking she was unwanted.
“I know that’s not true,” she continued, and he relaxed. “And I’m so glad you’ve both...well, you’ve both let me in the way you have. But it strikes me neither of you have anyone you can really talk to aside from the other. And now aside from me. So I’m not taking sides, because I love you both, and I think you both need me at the moment.”
“Oh, Kathy, we need you all the time,” he said, aiming for flippant.
But her eyes widened slightly, and his stomach sank. He might have missed the mark.
“Do you mean—surely you don’t—”
“Now Kathy,” he said, desperate to fix things but unwilling to lie to her directly, “you know I care about you very much, nearly as much as Don does—”
“Do you mean it?” Kathy interrupted, and her eyes were shining, and a smile was hiding in the corners of her lips. “Oh, Cosmo, do you mean it?”
“I thought it couldn’t be possible, you know. I’ve had my fairy tale ending, how could I possibly be luckier? But oh, Cosmo, if you really mean it...”
He stared at her, hardly daring to breath, hardly daring to believe what he was hearing.
But Cosmo had never been one to let an opportunity go by for lack of nerve.
“I mean it,” he said, stepping closer to her. “I mean it, Kathy.”
“Oh,” she said, suddenly looking upset. “But Don—is that what you fought about?”
Cosmo grinned. He couldn’t help it. “Damn. You’re right. He’s going to be insufferable. I hate it when he gets proved right.”
“Cosmo, please, now’s not the time for games,” she said, but that hopeful light was kindling in her eyes again.
“No, you’re right. He already knows how I feel about you, he knows that I love you, and he’s delighted. He thinks it makes things much simpler for the three of us.”
Kathy blinked, and the smile that spread across her face was radiant. “You love me?”
Cosmo paused. Perhaps it was too soon. “Well, I—”
“That’s wonderful,” she said, and suddenly she had her arms around him and was kissing him, and he couldn’t possibly be happier than he was in that moment.
Kathy met Cosmo at Don’s front door that night, nervously tugging at her skirt. Cosmo smiled at her, and opened the door to usher her through without saying a word.
“Don?” he called as they entered.
There was a thump and quick footsteps, and Don emerged into the entryway. “Cos!” he said, surprise clear in his voice. “Kathy!” he added as he came forward, eyes widening.
The three of them stood around looking at each other for a moment, all lost for words.
But that had never been a particular problem for Cosmo.
“All right, fine,” he said, affecting exasperation. “I’ll admit that maybe you had a point this time.” He watched the dawning delight on Don’s face, and was Kathy laughed affectionately. “But don’t think this means I’m conceding any sort of point to you about your awful overacting that may or may not have played a role in getting us this far.”
Don laughed, stepping forward eagerly. “Oh, no, I wouldn’t dream of it,” he said, reaching out for the two of them.
“I rather think I’m going to have my hands full,” Kathy said, accepting the embrace and pulling Cosmo in.
But from her tone, Cosmo doubted she’d mind very much at all.