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Saint Valentine

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There’s a corner drugstore called O’Halloran’s on 6th Avenue and 52nd that always has WMCA playing on its radio. Dean doesn’t like going there because he says the coffee’s terrible, and he’s right, but the elderly Irish dame who serves at the counter seems to like Jerry and doesn’t mind if he makes one malted last an hour. So, if he’s not working, that’s where he goes to listen to Dean’s show. He makes sure to arrive at 7.15 sharp, orders his shake and perches on his regular stool at the far end of the counter, away from the door. He’s figured out that that’s where you can hear the radio best, see. Then he takes out his notebook and works on ideas for his act until Dean’s broadcast starts at 7.45.

It might only be sustaining, but the gig is a good one. Not much pay by way of bucks, but Dean gets bed and board courtesy of the station and in this business, Jerry’s learned, that’s half the battle won. Bye-bye Lou’s room at the Bryant! Bye-bye lousy pull-out! Now they’ve got a whole room all to themselves. Luxury! It’s kind of down at heel sure, but it’s actually pretty nice. It’s got its own sink and the bed is surprisingly comfy. Though he guesses even a bed of nails would probably feel comfy after a few weeks on Lou’s pull-out.

The station doesn’t know that he lives there with Dean, of course. But they figure that as long as they keep their heads down and don’t bother anybody there’s no reason for those guys to find out. They ain’t hurting anyone, after all.

He loves their tiny room, he really does. Dean doesn’t say too much about it but a couple nights ago he came home hiding something behind his back, which turned out to be a pretty little flower arrangement in a blue glass jar. Dean had gazed off somewhere over Jerry’s left shoulder as he gave it to him, and muttered something about making the place more homey. Jerry is one hundred percent sure that Dean stole the flowers from a table at The Glass Hat, but that doesn’t matter. He thinks it’s Dean’s way of saying that he likes their place too.

The only downer, really, is that the radio’s busted and they can’t afford to get it fixed. Jerry took it apart and he knows just what he needs to do to make it work again, but one of the coils has blown and they need bucks to buy a replacement. There’s not enough to spare this week, but maybe next week? Or maybe the week after. Anyhow.

The first few bars of Dean’s signature tune drift through the speaker and Jerry looks up from his work, resting the end of his pencil against his lower lip.

Come to me my melancholy baby,” Dean sings, and Jerry feels a sweet little something inside him start to glow.

Today has been nothing but rain. Rain, and greyness, and more rain. Jerry’s been wearing Dean’s second best pair of shoes all week because his own have sprung a leak. He knows how to fix them but, yada yada yada. One day they’ll be rich.

The bell above the door tinkles and Jerry glances over as a young couple glittering with raindrops come in out of the night. The fella shakes off a black umbrella while the girl checks her satin shoes for damage. There are more couples than usual in here tonight, all wearing nice clothes and with their hair done specially, making an effort to look their best despite the endless rain. Most will be on their way to dinner, or a club, or maybe just the movies. It is Valentine’s Day after all. Dean’s voice comes warm over the airwaves, singing ‘Till Then’. Jerry sighs and pencils a little heart in the margin of his notebook.

This is the first Valentine’s Day he’s ever had in his whole life where he’s got someone of his own to actually have Valentine’s Day with and here he’s alone, as usual. Dean had offered to bunk off his radio gig and the club gig after it so they could be together, but Jerry told him not to. He was worried about Dean getting fired and losing the room and them both winding up in the gutter. He knows he should have been pleased with himself for being so sensible and grown-up about it, and yet. Here he is pouting into a malted by himself. That’s where being sensible and grown-up gets you.

Molly passes him as she leaves the counter to clear tables. She gently touches his shoulder on her way by and says,

“Dino’s sounding lovely tonight, my dear.”

“Always does, Molly,” he smiles after her, feeling very proud of his friend. Dean does sound good, real good in fact. He sounds like a guy who should be a big star some day. Jerry admits that he may be slightly biased but he thinks Dean always sounds beautiful, even when he’s just singing quietly in their room.

One time last week they stayed in all day because they were fed up with getting drenched every time they stepped outside. Dean was occupying himself by polishing his stage shoes, sitting on the floor with old newspapers spread all around to protect the rug. He’d rolled his shirtsleeves up to his elbows and he was singing softly while he worked, black smudges of polish all over his hands. Jerry was lounging on the bed, because there wasn’t much room to lounge anywhere else, writing in his notebook and occasionally sneaking a peek at Dean. The song he was singing sounded like ‘Stormy Weather’, but he was singing it so quietly it took Jerry a while to realise that he’d started changing the lyrics.

Don’t know why,” he sang. “There’s no sun up in the sky, Joey Levitch…

Jerry’s ears pricked and he sat up.

Had to change your name, it was too ethnic.

Jerry started giggling.

Try having one like mi-ine.

Jerry’s eloquent response was to scrunch up a piece of paper and throw it at Dean, who threw it back along with one of his old cleaning rags. Things escalated quickly from there. They ended up having to reimburse housekeeping for the cost of one new bedsheet, and Jerry’s shower took twice as long as usual that night. Who knew boot polish was so hard to wash off? He grins to himself at the memory.

While Jerry’s been daydreaming, the intro to the next song has started and seven new hearts have appeared in the margin of his notebook. He recognises those swooning opening chords but he can’t quite place the song until Dean begins.

Living for you,” he sings, “is easy living.

“Ahh,” Molly clasps her hands together, “sure I love this one.”

It’s easy to live, when you’re in love.

“Your Dino, he sings it so beautifully too.”

And I’m so in love, there’s nothing in life but you.” Molly sings along with Dean.

“Hey Moll,” Jerry says, slipping down off his stool and opening his arms. “May I have this dance?”

“Oh, son,” Molly laughs. “You’re a sweet boy, you are.” She comes around to his side of the counter and he takes her soft hand in his. They make a funny pair for sure. Molly’s like a little silver-haired bird and Jerry must have nearly a foot on her in height, but they take a gentle turn all around the drugstore anyway. To Jerry’s surprise, several of the other patrons stand up to join them, making an impromptu dancefloor out of whatever space they can find. As the song nears its close he twirls Molly back to the counter, where she stops and looks out at the swaying couples.

“Oh, I do love to see the youngsters dancing. Young love is such a very precious thing." She says. "But then you know that, don’t you dear." She fixes a twinkling look on him and he remembers how naturally she’d said your Dino.

Before he can reply, a new customer enters and Molly hurries over to take his order, leaving Jerry to stare after her and wonder. ‘Easy Living’ has finished and Jerry clambers back onto his stool and retrieves his pencil. He waits to hear from the radio announcer what the next song will be, but instead a different, much more familiar voice reaches his ears.

“This next number is our last tonight, ladies and gentlemen.” Dean says, and Jerry’s jaw drops. Dean doesn’t talk. The announcer introduces the songs, not Dean. He hates talking.

“I’d like to dedicate it,” he continues, “to anyone spending Valentine’s night all alone while their other half works.”

Jerry nearly falls off his stool. He’s just about recovering his composure when Dean adds quietly, over the opening bars of the song,

“You know who you are, kid.”

All the breath leaves Jerry’s body and he knows, he just knows that he’s gone bright red. Thankfully Molly is still busy with her customer otherwise he would’ve had to hide under one of the tables. Dean is crazy, he’s gone absolutely crazy. Jerry adores him. Nobody’s ever. Nobody has ever

My funny valentine,” Dean sings, and Jerry is going to burst into flame. He closes his eyes. He’s smiling so hard his face might just break. This is his song.

Sweet, comic valentine.” He wishes Dean was here singing to him. It feels like he’s here but he’s not, and Jerry wants so badly to put his arms around him.

You make me smile with my heart.” He loves this song. Because he knows that his looks are laughable, unphotographable. He knows his figure is less than Greek. So it stands to reason, as Dean has pointed out, that if he believes Dean when he sings those things then he also has to believe him when he sings,

Yet you’re my favourite work of art.

Jerry folds his arms on the counter and buries his face in them, letting the song wash over him. He’s still paying enough attention though, to notice when something’s been changed.

Please,” Dean implores,“change your hair for me.

Jerry laughs, and quickly clamps a hand over his mouth.

You will if you care for me.

He knows Dean hates the hair. It’s not the hair, he hears Dean’s voice say in his head, it’s the stuff in the hair. Maybe he'll let Dean at it with the scissors after all, he thinks. As a reward.

The song is ending.

Stay little valentine, stay…

As Dean holds the last note of the line, a lovely tingle runs all the way down Jerry's back. He thinks about their cosy room with the busted radio and the little blue glass jar of stolen flowers. He thinks about the comfy bed, and the sink with two toothbrushes sitting on it in a chipped enamel mug. He thinks about Dean.

Each day is Valentine’s Day.

 

~Twenty minutes later…~

As he leaves the radio studio, Dean takes the liberty of sneaking into Lindy’s and using their phone. The call to Johnny at the Harlequin Room doesn’t take long, but all the fake coughing still kind of hurts Dean’s throat. He lights a cigarette. They like him at the Harlequin and he’s usually pretty reliable. He reckons the chances of getting fired for swinging one night off sick are slim. He will take those odds.

As he steps out onto the wet sidewalk he shoves his scores inside his coat and turns the collar up against the rain. Rounding the corner onto 52nd, he weaves through the hunched crowds of umbrellas and overcoats, a song in his heart, a spring in his step and a little pink-ribboned deli box of halva in his pocket. Up ahead, the neon sign of O’Halloran’s Drugstore glows with promise, drawing him closer and closer to the beautiful boy perched at the end of the counter with an empty glass in front of him and a notebook full of hearts.