Chapter 1: Under the Surface
Jerry doesn't hear what the guy says, just sees Dean pick him up and throw him over the bar. Bottles and tumblers explode into nasty glittering stars. People gasp, someone screams, and then everything is quiet. Even the band has stopped playing. Jerry looks at his partner, who glares at the guy spitting blood on a bed of broken glass. There is colour high in Dean’s cheeks. He pants, clenches and unclenches his fists. Then someone is pushing through the crowd towards him, and patrons go about their business, and the musicians pick up where they left off. Jerry goes to Dean, wanting to be near him.
“What’s the trouble here?” Dark suit, shiny shoes, slicked hair. Jerry spots the ring on his pinkie. It’s the owner, flanked by two huge men.
Dean stays silent.
The bartender, who is struggling to help the poor bloodied bastard to his feet, pipes up: “Fella was provoked.” He gestures to the groaning mess on the floor. “Had it comin’, I say.”
Jerry, acting as usual with little to no planning, says, “Yeah! I heard the whole thing!” He throws his arms around Dean’s neck and beams at the grim-faced owner. “My Deanie would never start somethin’ like this, Mister. He’d only finish it.”
The guy looks Jerry up and down. His lip twitches. “Man, you guys never switch off.”
Jerry grins, every bit the Idiot from the act. Dean has relaxed a little in his arms and turns to the owner.
“I’ll pay for the damage.”
“Now, let’s not be hasty here.” He reaches over the bar, grabs the dazed customer’s lapel and pulls him close. “Maybe you oughta pay.”
The guy shakes his head, mumbles something.
“Sorry, didn’t catch that.”
“Not. My. Fault.” He dribbles blood. “Guy’s crazy. Just threw me.”
“That ain’t right.” The bartender puffs up his chest. “Now, I don’t care to repeat this fella’s language, but he said some things liable to make a nun swear.” He looks at Dean. “I say he’s justified.”
The owner hauls the bastard over the bar and shoves him into the arms of the heavies. He’s laughing, but it doesn’t touch his eyes. “Go on, fellas.” They drag him, kicking and screaming, from the club. The other patrons look pointedly in other directions.
“Sorry for the trouble, gentlemen.” The owner holds out his hand. “We love the show.”
Dean shakes briefly. Jerry leaps forward and pumps the hand up and down. “We love your club, Mister. It sure is swell!”
The owner laughs and turns to the bartender. “Their next drinks on the house, okay?”
“Have a nice night.” The owner strolls away, shaking hands with a select few patrons as he passes. Dean and Jerry turn to the bar. A couple of waiters have arrived with dust pans and brushes. The bartender helps them with the worst of it, and then turn to the club's star attraction.
“What’ll it be?”
“Same again. And a Shirley Temple for my little partner.”
Jerry beams and hugs Dean’s arm. The bartender looks from one to the other, but he doesn't comment.
“Comin’ up,” he says, as Dean and Jerry climb onto barstools.
He sets about making the drinks. Jerry watches him, a little fascinated by the process. Dean lights a cigarette and smokes in silence. Despite his outward calm, sitting so close Jerry can feel the tremors that rumble under the surface. It must have been bad, whatever was said. Jerry’s heard people call Dean that before, but he never reacts so violently. That word rolls off him, leaving barely a hair out of place. So what could have forced his hand? He can't think, and he doesn't like to ask. Instead, he replays that incredible moment over and over: his partner, Dean Martin, lifting a guy up in the air - one hand in his armpit, the other between his legs - and tossing him like a sack of potatoes. No, not that, Jerry thinks. It looked almost too easy for Dean, so perhaps that wasn't the right simile. Like a pillow, maybe. Something light, something effortless.
Jerry's still in his reverie when the bartender sets down their drinks. They thank him, and as he sips Jerry watches Dean closely. Looking at him now, you would never believe him capable of such an outburst. His expression is soft, almost thoughtful. He looks to Jerry just about the most gentle it is possible to look. Then again, he always looks this way to Jerry. But looks can be deceiving, and Jerry can tell he's still stewing.
Dean's leg bounces. It knocks against Jerry's knee, against the bar. Jerry watches for a while, and then puts a hand on his thigh. Dean stills beneath his light touch. He glances at him. His gaze skitters over Jerry's face; all his young partner offers is a small smile. They turn back to the glasses on the bar. They don’t speak, just sip their drinks and listen to the buzz. If anyone sees the two men sitting close, the one with his hand on the other's knee, they don't say a word.
Chapter 2: A Safe Distance
By the time they leave the club it’s past five o’clock. Instead of turning towards their hotel, they head east through the dawn. A few straggling drunks and partygoers are all they see. It’s so still and quiet, that Jerry feels as though time has stopped. Dean walks with his hands shoved in his pockets; he doesn’t even smoke. Jerry does, though, puffs frantically, and shoves two lit cigarettes in his nose. He grins cross-eyed at Dean, sniffing smoke and exhaling a thick grey cloud. Then he methodically slots the last of his cigarettes wherever he can: behind Dean’s ears, down the back of his coat, in his hair. Dean pretends not to notice. All this plays out in perfect silence.
They cross the road and Dean removes the cigarettes, miming bemusement at each discovery. Jerry stares at his hands; the knuckles are split, but clean. He washed the blood off. With a dim sort of panic, Jerry realises that he wants to hold them, to kiss them, to soothe them if he can. He thinks he might do it – Dean won’t mind, right? – but his courage falters. He hurries on ahead, all but skipping down the ramp to the beach. His heart thuds.
They hang around on the sand for a while. Dean has counted the cigarettes and shared them: three each. Jerry lights up, takes off his shoes and socks, which Dean holds obligingly, rolls up his pant legs and makes a beeline for the water. It is, of course, freezing. He yelps and leaps away as though burned. The cigarette tumbles from his lips and sizzles in the sea. Dean laughs. Jerry goes back and tries again, splashing in the shallows.
“W-w-water’s guh-guh-great, Dean!” he calls, chattering his teeth to an almost insane degree. He rubs his hands up and down his arms in a manner that is only slightly exaggerated. “C-c-come on i-i-in!”
“No, I’m all right, you enjoy it for the both of us.” Dean strolls along. Jerry watches him go, watches the measured paces, watches his back move beneath his coat. He stares and stares and wonders how a man can be so perfectly put together. Goosebumps ripple across his flesh, and Jerry knows they are born from something more than the icy water that laps around his ankles. He shakes his head, braces himself, and plunges his hands into the water. He chases his partner, ignoring the sand that sticks thickly to his feet, and claps his frozen fingers to Dean’s cheeks.
“Ehi!” Dean jerks and shivers. He makes a grab for Jerry, who dances out of reach. At a safe distance, he looks back and sees a glint in Dean’s eyes. He looks from Dean’s face to the shoes that he so helpfully holds.
“No,” Jerry says, starting forwards, and he’s already laughing nervously. “Dean, no!”
Dean raises his arm and pelts one of Jerry’s shoes, sock and all, into the waves. It splashes out of sight. As they watch, it re-emerges and bobs along on the gentle current. Like a ship in a storm, it takes on water, lists, sinks. Jerry’s mouth hangs open. Then he snaps to attention. He marches over to Dean – no mean feat barefoot on sand – but stops short. Dean looks from the water to his hand and back again. He turns to Jerry.
“I didn’t…” He shakes his head. “I wasn’t thinking.”
“Oh.” Jerry meant to feign anger, but that look on his face makes it too hard. “Don’t worry about it, Paul. It was just a—”
Dean ignores him. He leans down, pulls off one of his own shoes and, before Jerry can say anything, throws it to the sea. It soars in a perfect arc and plops neatly beneath the waves.
“Well.” Dean looks at Jerry. “That didn’t really solve anything, but…”
Jerry gapes. He leaps at Dean, who drops the other shoe and catches him. He endures a barrage of kisses, laughing.
“You’re an idiot!” Jerry cries, positively weeping with joy. “Who knew? I been the Idiot in the act when all along it shoulda been you!” He hugs his neck fiercely.
“Well, it wouldn’t’ve happened if you hadn’t—”
Jerry isn’t listening. With one final loud smack on Dean’s cheek, he drops to the sand. “An idiot,” he says again, delighted with this development. He remembers another time, sitting in a café with Dean, watching him carefully cut a reasonable slice of pie, then stick his fork in the remainder. Dean shoved the monstrous slice into his face, leaving Jerry to choke helplessly on his drink, and regarding him with a bemused expression. That was stupid, too, but it was a joke. But throwing his own shoe into the sea? Oh, he thinks. Oh, I love him. He almost says it; the words bubble deliciously in his throat, threatening to overflow and cascade from his mouth. But a different three words come to him: “You’re so stupid!”
“Yeah, you.” Jerry picks up his other shoe from the sand. “But I got an idea. Take off your shoe.”
Dean does, shaking his head.
“Gimme your socks.”
He shakes his head again but obliges, holding them out. Jerry slips them on his sand-caked feet, and hands his shoe to Dean.
“There. Socks for me, shoes for you.”
Dean looks at him, one eyebrow raised. “I’m the idiot?” he says, but he puts the shoe on with his own.
Jerry giggles. “Maybe it worked better in my head.”
They look out at the sea. It’s as if nothing happened. The shoes are gone, and the partners are left with the calm whispers of the ocean, which slowly twinkles to life in the rising sun.
They sit on a bench in the park that lies just beyond the beach. They sit close. Jerry’s feet are cold. He rubs off the sand as best he can and turns Dean’s socks inside out for the illusion of a clean pair. He spends a little time poking and stroking Dean’s legs with his toes, asking wordlessly for warmth. If they were in their hotel room, maybe Dean would hold Jerry’s feet in his lap and rub them. Here, though, he just smiles indulgently and lets Jerry play footsie for a while. He doesn’t even mention the sand that stains his pant legs.
Jerry pulls his feet up on the bench and sits on them, but this just makes them ache. He shifts position again and shoves his frozen toes under Dean’s legs.
“Ehi,” Dean says softly. “What goes on here?”
“Cold,” the Idiot whines. He wriggles his toes. Dean starts and looks at Jerry with a bemused fondness that makes his head spin. Jerry hides his face.
“You gonna tell me?” he says to his knees.
“What that guy said to you.”
Dean chuckles. “You said you heard the whole thing.”
Jerry shrugs. “I lied.”
“Figures,” Dean says.
“What was it?” He wriggles his toes again.
Dean starts up and can’t suppress a giggle.
“You’re so cute,” Jerry says without thinking, and pulls his feet out to sit cross-legged instead. He can’t quite believe he’s actually said it out loud, but Dean seems unaffected, so he adds, “I mean it sincerely.”
“Cute isn’t really the idea,” Dean says.
Jerry laughs and pokes Dean’s arm. “C’mon,” he says. “What’d the guy say?”
“Doesn’t matter.” The look on his face says otherwise.
“I’m a big boy, Dean.” He pokes Dean’s shoulder. “You can tell me.” He pokes his neck, his cheek. Dean sits passively, eyes closed, and Jerry’s index finger prods and prods and prods. As it goes in for another, Dean turns his head and catches it between his teeth. Both men freeze. Jerry is less aware of the vaguely painful pressure of Dean’s incisors, than of the warm wet feel of his tongue. Strangely, he doesn’t feel so cold anymore. Dean opens his jaw a little, and Jerry slips free, pulling down the bottom lip on his way. He looks at his finger, at the slick shiny coating. He knows he should wipe it off, but finds he can’t move.
Something hangs in the air between them, but whatever it is dissolves as a gurgling moan sounds from Jerry’s stomach. Dean smiles, eyebrows up in delight. Jerry flushes crimson.
Dean stands. He lights a cigarette and smokes. Jerry looks up at him. He wants to ask again about the guy at the bar, but knows it’s not the time. Dean maybe thinks the topic has been dropped, but Jerry has only shelved it.
“Come on,” Dean says. “I’ll buy you breakfast.”
Jerry jumps to his feet and, seeking refuge in audacity, seizes Dean’s hand. “Take me to that deli?” He bats his eyelashes.
“Oh, boy!” He sets off through the park, dragging Dean along. The sun is almost fully up now, soft golden light filtering through branches. The early risers have arrived: an old man walking his dog, a young man jogging. Dean and Jerry pass beneath a large tree and are covered in shadow. Jerry finds himself imagining what it might be like to huddle closer to the trunk and kiss in secret. Then they’re back in the sun, and this clandestine image melts away.
Chapter 3: Comfortable Silence
TW: discussion of antisemitism, slurs (homophobic, racist), derogatory language
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Jerry squishes his face against the glass. “Closed.”
He huffs, steams up the window. He draws a rude picture in the condensation.
“Ehi!” Dean pulls his hand away and wipes the glass.
“Still closed.” Jerry pouts.
“It’s all right,” Dean says. He raps the window with his knuckles.
“Deean.” The Idiot tugs his arm. “I’m hungry.”
“Hold on, Jer.” He knocks again.
When they arrived in Chicago, the first thing they did after checking into the hotel was ask around for the nearest deli. Turned out the nearest wasn’t much to write home about, but the grapevine had it that a ten-minute cab ride away was hidden a gem of a place. They hurried over and were greeted by the most wonderful sight: a small, grey-haired Jewish woman named Ada Blum. The moment she saw them, she pulled them close as though they were her own children and spent the afternoon before their first show fussing. She especially took a shine to Dean – much to his amusement and Jerry’s half-feigned jealousy – and took every opportunity to pinch his cheek and remark what a handsome boy he was.
“Ain’t I handsome, too, Dean?”
“You wanna argue with her?”
They left with the promise that they would be back soon. Less than twelve hours later, and here they are again.
Jerry can feel himself freezing from the feet up and huddles closer to Dean, who puts an arm around him. He’s big and warm and safe, and Jerry finds himself wondering if they might give up on the deli, wander back to the hotel and tumble into bed. Gone are the days of sharing to save money, but he’s so cold he thinks Dean might let him snuggle close again, just this once.
Dean nudges him. Jerry looks up and sees their adoptive mother approaching. She waves to them and unlocks the door, beaming.
“My boys!” she says. “Back so soon.”
“I couldn’t stay away,” Dean says, offering an easy smile.
Ada pats his cheek. “What a good boy you are.” She turns to Jerry, spots his feet. “And this? Where are your shoes?”
“We uh…” He glances at Dean, who makes a point of staring at the sky. “There was an accident.”
“Oy.” She covers her face. “Come in, come in, before you freeze to death.”
They hurry inside. She locks the door and ushers them to a booth. The boys takes off their coats and sit facing each other. Then Ada orders Jerry to remove the cold, wet socks – refusal is impossible – and disappears out the back. Dean watches her go then looks at Jerry, who is shivering.
He can only nod.
“Gimme your feet.”
He raises his legs and feels Dean’s large hands on him.
“I won’t,” Dean says, and carefully begins to rub his feet. He avoids the soles, knowing how Jerry hates that, and focuses on the toes, the tops, the ankles. Jerry doesn’t know if it’s helping or not; he’s too shocked to feel anything.
There’s a noise behind the counter. Jerry starts, pulls his feet away. Dean watches him curiously, and then turns to look. Ada emerges from the back, holding a pair of slippers so fluffy they wouldn’t look out of place on a farmyard. She hands them to Jerry, who quickly slips them on.
“How do they feel?”
“Perfect,” he says. “Thank you.”
“I’m glad.” She touches his head. Her eyes stay fixed on Jerry, but she speaks to Dean: “You look after this one?”
There’s something in her eyes that gives both men pause. Then Dean answers softly, “Always.”
Jerry can’t stand it and declares, “Goyim don’t come better than my Deanie!”
She favours them with a radiant smile that makes her look twenty years younger. Then she claps her hands. “What will we have?”
They order two pastrami sandwiches, a cup of coffee for Dean, and a glass of milk for Jerry. Ada smiles indulgently, pinches Dean’s cheek, and then hurries off to make their breakfast.
Dean and Jerry sit in comfortable silence. Jerry’s feet are warming up, and he feels a little sleepy. He watches Dean, who leans back in the booth, an arm slung over the back, and glances out the window. His profile, Jerry thinks, is even more beautiful than the whole face. Or maybe it’s just that his whole face is too beautiful. In any case, Jerry finds it easier to look at him like this, to study how the early morning sun catches on his lashes, turning them silver and gold. He tilts his head, thinks about plunging his fingers into Dean’s hair. He’s done it before, but the thrill never diminishes. The fact that Dean lets Jerry touch him at all is so wonderful and terrible that Jerry can’t bear to think about it for too long.
Wonderful? Sure. Dean is pretty wonderful. But terrible? Jerry wonders why that word comes to mind.
Then Dean looks at him, and Jerry knows.
“What?” Dean asks.
Jerry rests his forehead on the table. He is warm now, but he wants Dean to touch him again, so he sticks out his foot and strokes Dean’s ankle.
“What?” It’s quiet and muffled.
“If you wanna do that, then I guess you’ll have to pay for breakfast.”
Jerry laughs. He sniffs. He feels tears trickle down his nose.
“Is this okay?” he whispers, hoping Dean doesn’t hear, but he does.
“Surely.” Simple as that. It slides from his mouth in that perfect charming drawl and Jerry wants to cry harder. But he doesn’t. He raises his head enough to wipe his face, and then sits back, retracting his foot.
Jerry stares out the window. He feels Dean’s eyes on him, but knows he won’t say anything.
It’s hard, sometimes, to be with a man who won’t speak. Jerry loves to be quiet with Dean, loves sitting close and feeling Dean’s breath, listening to his heart; he knows this silent closeness does more for Dean than talking ever could. Jerry loves to ramble at Dean, loves how Dean indulges his every thought, his every whim. Jerry loves how Dean knows what to do, where to touch, to calm him: his shoulder, the small of his back, the nape of his neck. He loves all of these things.
Sometimes, though, he wishes Dean would speak. And when Dean does speak – when they are alone, and it’s dark, and he allows Jerry a glimpse into his mind, his past, his life – Jerry listens.
Ada returns with their breakfast. The sandwiches are at least as big as Jerry’s head, and as he stares at them in ravenous awe, Dean gets up and kisses Ada’s cheek. She laughs and says, “If only you were Jewish!”
“He could be,” Jerry says. His eyes flick down. “Just one little job and—”
Dean pretends to hit him.
Ada goes out the back again, and they listen to her steady progress up a flight of stairs. Then they turn their attention to the feast before them.
“Christ, there’s so much,” Dean says.
“Paul, if this kills me, know that I died happy.”
Dean chuckles. “Better not die on me now, pally.”
“Would ya miss me, Dean?”
“I’d miss havin’ a career.”
“Oh, it hoits me.”
In unison, they haul the sandwiches to their mouths and take impossibly huge bites. The sounds they make with that first taste are almost obscene, but they couldn’t care less. Mustard and meat juices drip down their hands, stain their shirt cuffs. The sandwiches are devoured in record time. Jerry picks up his glass and drains the milk in one gulp, while Dean sips at his coffee.
Jerry stretches and yawns mightily. Then he gets up and joins Dean on his side of the booth. Dean shuffles along to give him more room, and Jerry leans against his shoulder.
“’M tired, bubbe.”
“We’ll go back soon.” He sets down his mug, puts an arm around Jerry, who takes his other hand and holds it in his lap.
“So what’d that guy say?” he asks.
Dean sighs. “Jer, forget it. It’s over.”
He strokes Dean’s split knuckles. “I wanna know.”
Dean shakes his head, stares out the window. Jerry presses on:
“I knew it must’ve been something bad for you to react that way.”
“Doesn’t matter.” His tone is final, but Jerry refuses to let him shut this down.
“Maybe not,” he says, “but I wanna know.”
Dean sighs again. Jerry turns Dean’s hand over, traces the lines on his palms.
“He said… some stuff about you. Some stuff about us.”
Jerry wants to look at Dean’s face, but forces himself to focus on his large, warm hand. “Nothing about you?” he asks.
Dean shrugs. “I didn’t hear it.”
“So what about me?”
Dean shakes his head again.
“I bet I heard worse.” He nudges Dean, who keeps his mouth tightly shut. Despite his frustration, Jerry is touched. Maybe Dean wants to protect him, or maybe he just doesn’t want to repeat whatever the guy said. Either way, it’s sweet, and Jerry loves him for it. He works his way around each of Dean’s fingers and lingers on the uneven pinkie.
“Boxing,” Dean says.
Jerry nods; he knows the story. He is overwhelmed with the urge to kiss the little finger, as though he might somehow be able to set it right. Instead, he slots his fingers through Dean’s.
“When I was a kid,” Jerry ventures, “there were these guys in Irvington – Nazis, I should say – and once I stood and watched them march with their flags. Swastikas. Stars and stripes. All tangled up together. I ran all the way home.” He pauses. Dean says nothing, so Jerry goes on: “But at school, I couldn’t do that. There was this one kid, Arnold Hutter. Whenever he saw me, he’d get this… mean look in his eyes. I remember him tellin’ me that a Jew was nothin’ but a nigger turned inside out.” Dean’s fingers spasm; Jerry flinches, but the pain isn’t so bad. He keeps hold of Dean’s hand until it relaxes. “I went after him once. Grandma Sarah cleaned up my bloody nose after and told me I couldn’t fight the world. But kids are easy. I could fight a kid. Teachers were worse. In elementary school, I wouldn’t sing Christmas songs. Said they should have to sing Hanukkah songs, too. They said I was uncivilized. In high school once, I did a little unplanned experiment in the chemistry lab. I got sent to the principal, and when he started saying somethin’ about Jews, I hit him.” He chuckles softly. “Remember I told you I got kicked outta school? That’s why. So, yeah. I bet I heard worse.”
Dean is quiet for what seems like hours. Then he says, gently, “Jer…”
Jerry can’t explain what effect Dean saying his name like that has on him. There is sorrow in it. There’s anger in it, too, he thinks. And there’s something else. If Jerry were completely delusional – and he can be – he might think it’s love. He squeezes Dean’s hand.
Dean squeezes back.
“Okay,” Jerry says. “You don’t have to tell me. How about the other thing, then? What’d he say about us?”
Dean runs a hand through his dark curls, then puts his arm back around Jerry.
“Just…” He sighs. “He said seein’… seein’ a Jew was bad enough. Why’d he have to see a couple fags, too?”
“Fags?” Jerry thinks about the act, how he lisps and flirts, how he hugs and licks and kisses his partner, how he stands so close he can feel Dean’s breath. Finally, he says, “But we hide it so well.”
Dean snorts and covers his face. “Jer, please.”
“I’m just sayin’, this fella’s observant!”
Dean throws back his head and laughs. Jerry watches him, heart swelling. Then he asks, “You want I should stop?”
“All the… fag stuff. I’ll stop if you want.”
“No, no… It wasn’t even what he said, really. Just… the way he said it. I can’t explain it.”
Jerry wishes he could tell him how grateful he is. Not just for that, but for everything. He wishes he could explain why seeing Dean in such a fit of violent rage didn’t scare him, but made him feel safer. He wishes he were brave enough to kiss the corner of Dean’s mouth without turning it into a joke.
He wishes, above all, that he and Dean will be together long enough for the two of them to share everything like this, every sad little story from their childhoods, every moment of pain. The good stuff, too, but the bad stuff, Jerry thinks, is somehow more important.
"Look at this kid," Dean says. He pulls him closer, kisses his temple. "Bedtime, I think."
Jerry nods. He slides out of the booth, retrieves his coat. They go to the counter to pay. Ada comes around the corner. Jerry wonders briefly if she was waiting there, but he can't focus. Dean pays, leaves a large tip, and kisses Ada again. When Jerry tries to return the slippers, she bats him away. "They suit you better, I think." Jerry kisses her. She comes to the door, and wishes them a good morning, afternoon, evening, for all the times she won't see them. They flap their hands goodbye, and as they walk out she switches the sign on the door from CLOSED to OPEN. It's past the usual time.
Jerry walks ahead, briskly. He wants to get back. He needs to sleep. But he replays over and over as he walks the moment Dean's lips met his skin. Not the first time, surely? Or has it always been me doing that? He thinks, with a giddy sort of nausea, that this may be the first time Dean has kissed him. His body flushes hot and cold.
He jumps guiltily.
"I got a cab, c'mon."
He runs to his partner, and they bundle into the back. Dean gives the driver the hotel's address, and then settles into the seat. They sit close. Jerry leans back and closes his eyes, thinking, I should call Patti. Then he falls asleep.
Jerry's experiences of antisemitism both in and out of school, including the name of his tormentor, are taken directly from 'Jerry Lewis in Person' by Jerry Lewis and Herb Gluck.
It’s fully morning by the time they reach the hotel. Dean heads up first, while Jerry pays the concierge to wire a message to Patti. I love and miss you both, he writes. I think of you always. Then he hurries after his partner, whom he finds sprawled out on the bed wearing nothing but his briefs. Jerry quietly collects and folds Dean’s discarded clothes. He undresses and slips between the sheets of the other bed, turning on to his side to regard his partner. He wonders briefly if he should pull the covers over Dean, but then he yawns, closes his eyes, and drifts off.
Five hours later, he’s up and raring to go. He tiptoes from the room to the sound of Dean’s muffled snores and freshens up in the hotel’s communal bathroom. By now, Martin and Lewis are doing well enough to afford a hotel room with its own facilities, but a three-night engagement seems to Jerry not worth the extra money. The way he figures it, by the time they start to crave a little privacy, they’ll already be on to their next stint.
He goes back to the room – Dean has shifted position but still snores steadily – and pulls on a shirt and sport coat. He stuffs some cash into his pocket and heads for the door. For a moment, he debates waking Dean and going down together. He knows that if he pokes and prods his partner enough, he’ll agree to come with him. Looking at Dean now, though, Jerry can’t bear to wake him. His hand falters on the doorknob, falls. He goes to the bed.
Dean’s face in repose is like a renaissance sculpture, like David, or one of those ancient Roman gods – in any case, some impossibly beautiful thing crafted by a master. Jerry has often caught himself, on early mornings or late afternoons, having risen before Dean (as is customary), studying the calm features. Sometimes he frowns, and Jerry notes the small vertical line between his eyebrows. In these moments, he longs to stroke Dean’s forehead, smooth away whatever troubles him.
He is never quite brave enough.
Jerry shakes his head and hurries out before Dean can wake to find his partner staring down at him with a sad little smile on his lips.
Downstairs, he sits in the restaurant and orders a glass of orange juice. He still feels full from the pastrami sandwich, so sits and drinks without eating. He lets his gaze drift to a pretty young woman who sits alone by the window. She looks about Jerry’s age – that is to say, she looks her age; Jerry is lucky to be mistaken for a fifteen-year-old – and stares out at the street with her chin in her palm. Not for the first time, Jerry wishes he had Dean’s natural charm. Dean needs only to raise an eyebrow, and a girl could forget all about the guy on her arm.
And a skinny kid from Jersey could forget all about a lot of other things.
Jerry shoves this thought away. The girl looks over and spots him. He grins sheepishly, and to his utter delight she smiles back. Without stopping to consider whether this is a good idea, he goes over to her table. He is struck immediately by the most exquisite green eyes he has ever seen.
“Hi,” she says.
“Hi!” The Idiot makes a bid for freedom, but Jerry pushes him back. “Hi,” he tries again. “I’m Jerry.”
“Rose,” she replies. There is a curious expression on her face that he can’t read. They shake briefly, and he asks if she’s alone. “I’m waiting for a friend. A girl friend,” she adds quickly.
“Can I… wait with you?”
She nods, and he sits in the chair opposite.
“You’re staying at the hotel?”
“Mm-hm.” She sips her milkshake through a straw. “Just for a few days.”
“Me too,” Jerry says. He tells her he’s a comedian, and that he and his partner are performing at the club down the street.
“Oh? What’s the act?”
“Martin and Lewis.”
“That’s it!” Her eyes light up, and she leans closer. “I knew I recognised you. I’ve seen your posters.” Guiltily, she goes on: “I haven’t seen the show, but my friend never stops talking about you.”
“She says she likes Dean, but now that I’ve met you, I guess I like Jerry.”
He flushes and she laughs, not unkindly. Then she sighs.
“What’s the matter?”
“Oh, nothing. I’ve been waiting for a while, that’s all. She’s never this late.” She looks at him. “Do you want to go somewhere else?”
“Well, she’s kept me waiting. Maybe I should keep her waiting.” She leans down and slowly takes the straw between her pink lips. As she sips, her eyes flick up to Jerry’s.
Before he knows it, they are standing in the elevator. They step off on the second floor and she leads him to her room. Rose draws the curtains, double-checks the door is locked, and then takes Jerry’s hand. He kisses her, feels her respond, and wraps his arms around her waist. They move together in their passionate embrace, Jerry attempting to shed his clothes without breaking the kiss, and tumble on to the bed. She kicks off her shoes; Jerry loses his; and then he is on top of her, and she is digging her nails into his back. His lips trace lines over her cheek, her jaw, her neck, and he feels her head turn, and her mouth finds his temple.
And he is back in the deli, pressed close to Dean, who turns his head and presses a kiss to his temple.
And he is back in the park, his finger caught between Dean’s front teeth.
And he is back in the club, his hand resting on Dean’s thigh.
And for some reason, this doesn’t make him want to stop.
“Mornin’, Mr Loomis.”
“Paul, it’s nearly four o’clock.”
Jerry came back to the room hoping to sneak on a change of clothes before Dean woke up, but here he is, standing a little breathless and dishevelled in the doorway and looking at his partner, who sits smoking by the window. Dean is still essentially naked, and probably won’t make a move to get dressed until it is absolutely necessary. Jerry usually doesn’t mind, but right now he wishes Dean were still passed out on the mattress.
He looks around, cocks his head. His eyes flick down, then up, then down again. A sly smile spreads across his lips.
Jerry goes cold. “What do you m—”
“Don’t gimme that,” Dean says. He pitches the cigarette and comes over to Jerry. “Who was she?”
“I honestly don’t know what you—”
Dean shoves his nose close to Jerry and sniffs. “You make a habit of wearin’ perfume?”
Jerry pushes him away, acutely aware of Dean’s bare skin beneath his palm. “Just aftershave.” He shrugs.
“You gotta have somethin’ to shave first before you can think about after.”
“Ho-ho,” Jerry says, rooting for a clean shirt.
“And what is this?” Dean has come up behind him and now fingers Jerry’s collar. Jerry ducks under his arm. He glances in the mirror and sees the faint smudge of lipstick. Dean crosses his arms and says, “That ain’t your shade.”
“What’s it matter, anyhow?”
Dean’s expression softens, and he looks at Jerry with a kindness that makes him want to cry. He turns away and busies himself with the buttons on his shirt.
“I’m sorry, Jer,” he says. “I’m not makin’ fun. I’m just curious, that’s all.”
“What’s to be curious about? I met a girl. You know how that goes.”
Dean chuckles. “I guess I oughta know by now.”
Jerry pulls on a fresh shirt. “You were asleep,” he says. “I didn’t wanna wake you.”
“Well, I wouldn’t offer you that kinda company anyway. If that ever came on the table—”
Jerry snorts. “Yeah, I know. Back to bein’ a single. I remember.”
A silence falls between them. It is not exactly awkward. In it, Jerry wonders if Dean really would leave him.
Dean touches him. “You don’t have to tell me,” he says softly.
Jerry shrugs under his hand. “She was just some girl I met in the restaurant.” He tells Dean about her, and about her friend, the one who is a fan. He also tells Dean what Rose told him after: that she and her friend would come to see the show tonight, or maybe tomorrow night.
“You’ll have to point her out to me,” Dean says.
“Sure.” Jerry thinks about what she said. I guess I like Jerry. All well and good when she hasn’t met Dean, not that Jerry would blame her if she changes her mind.
They hang around for a while, discussing tonight’s show, waxing lyrical about Ada’s pastrami sandwiches, teasing each other over an array of meaningless things. At one point, Jerry sits in Dean’s lap, wanting to practise their ventriloquist bit. Dean says something about knowing it well enough already, but he doesn’t ask Jerry to get off, so he doesn’t. They sit together for a while, smoking in silence. Dean’s hand rests on Jerry’s thigh. Jerry closes his eyes, a troubled sort of pleasure coursing through him.
Oh, he thinks.
He gets up, trying to act casual, and goes over to the dresser. He watches his partner in the mirror. Dean sits with his head back, his legs crossed, and the cigarette hanging loosely between two fingers. Jerry looks away, crushes his own cigarette in the ashtray and stares at the smouldering remains until his heart stops thudding. Then he checks his watch and tells Dean it’s time to go.
Within ten minutes, they’re shaking hands with the club owner. He tells them how much he’s looking forward to the show, and apologises for last night’s trouble. They tell him it’s fine (though Jerry notices how Dean stiffens at the reminder) and hurry backstage for their last-minute preparations. Then it's showtime. Jerry runs out to warm up the crowd, and then introduces Dean, who sings three numbers. During the third, Jerry emerges from the kitchen. Dressed as a waiter, with his hair slicked down, he sends a waterfall of plates crashing to the floor. The audience howls. The show goes on, as it always does, to rapturous applause. When they finish, they huddle backstage, smoking. They have a little time before the next show, and Dean asks Jerry if he saw the girls.
"No," Jerry says. "Maybe tomorrow night."
The second show goes off without a hitch, but as the third begins, Jerry starts to feel a little strange. He holds the little picture of Patti and Gary in his hand and tries to place his misgivings. Dean is in the middle of his second song, and Jerry edges closer to the stage, close enough to look out on the audience but still remain hidden in the shadows. He sees that Dean has spotted a woman in the audience and, as he is wont to do, has chosen to sing directly to her. She is dark and pretty and utterly charmed. The man sitting with her, on the other hand, is not. He glares at Dean, who has apparently not recognised the danger. He is utterly focused on this girl, and as the show goes on, he keeps shooting her glances. Jerry feels himself working harder - gurning harder, flailing harder, falling harder - and Dean works with him, keeps the breakneck pace going, but still his eyes are drawn to the beauty in the front row. Even she seems unaware of the powder keg in the chair beside her.
The boyfriend - who wears a ring on his pinkie - does not smile once.
When the show ends, the owner is waiting backstage. They shake hands, and Dean slips away.
"You have any trouble tonight, you let me know, okay?"
"I will. Thank you." A question comes to him: "Oh, I was wondering - the fella in the front row. He a... friend of yours?"
The owner laughs. "A friend of yours, too, now."
Jerry hurries off to find Dean. He's not at the bar, where Jerry spots the pretty girl from the audience, and the bartender hasn't a clue. Jerry checks the casino, and even has a quick scan of the dance floor - extra tables were brought out to meet demands, but have now been pushed aside for dancing - though he knows that, unless absolutely necessary, Dean's claustrophobia keeps him from such crowed places. Thoroughly panicked, Jerry heads to the bathroom, slams through the door, and is met by such an awful sight that his heart stops.
The boyfriend from the front row is aiming a pistol at his partner.
Time stands still. Jerry pictures the gun going off, sees Dean fall, clutching his stomach, blood pumping between his fingers. No, he thinks. Fuck. No.
He steps forward, between his partner and the gun.
Jerry feels Dean stiffen behind him and knows he has to think fast: "Listen," he says, "people make mistakes. My partner made a mistake. But I'm going to offer you my hand, to give you my word of honour that I know my partner, and I know that out of respect for you, he would never have done this if he had known who that young lady was." Lying through his teeth, but this guy never has to know that. Jerry holds his hand out, proud and a little shocked that it is completely steady.
The boyfriend's eyes change. "This one time." He takes Jerry's hand, all but crushes it. "This one time. But if he ever—"
"He will never."
The boyfriend glares from Jerry to Dean. Then he stashes the gun and storms out in disgust.
Jerry lets out an almighty breath. He pants, can hear Dean panting too, and turns to his partner. As he does so, he catches himself in the mirror: he is white, whiter even than Dean.
"I've never seen a more stupid son of a bitch," Dean says, eyes blazing. "You coulda been killed!"
Jerry marches across the bathroom floor. He barrels into Dean and hugs him fiercely. His fingers grip Dean's shoulder, and he buries his face in his neck. After a moment, Dean’s hands come to rest on his waist. Jerry trembles. He doesn't cry, but Dean hushes him as though he might. Jerry knows that most of this is fear: fear that Dean could have died, fear that he could have died saving Dean, fear that the guy could come back. But there’s something else, too. He thinks about the girl, how she came alive under Dean's eyes. He thinks about the look he gave her, the look he gives any girl he likes. If he looked at me like that, Jerry thinks, we wouldn’t be in this mess.
If he looked at me like that…
He shudders against his partner, shaking his head to clear this thought, which is so loud, so forceful that Jerry is impossibly afraid that Dean might hear it.
Please, he thinks. I’m sorry. I love you.
Jerry pulls away. They look at each other. Their faces have regained a little colour, and their breathing is steady. Dean touches Jerry's cheek.
"Let's go," he says.
Jerry can only nod.
Dean's run-in with the angry boyfriend is lifted directly from 'Dean & Me: A Love Story' by Jerry Lewis and James Kaplan. The dialogue has been adapted somewhat. This incident actually took place in Miami in 1950, so I hope you can forgive a little artistic license.
They leave the club earlier than usual and make their way back to the hotel. They don’t speak. Dean walks with his hands in his pockets. Jerry walks beside him, so close their elbows brush. Around them, people chat and smoke, enjoying the nightlife. Songs spill from half-open club doors, snatches of lyrics crooned into dark smoky rooms, words rolled into one smooth ball of night music. They pass a young couple, the man with his arm around the woman’s shoulders. She huddles close, and they whisper to each other. Jerry can’t hear the words, but it doesn’t matter; it’s enough to see their expressions, the way she fits so well under his arm, how close his lips are to her ear. He pictures himself in her position, Dean in her companion’s. His stomach twists. He wants to sleep, to forget all this. Every time he blinks, he sees the gun, sees Dean’s pale face. He feels sick, scared, wants Dean to hold him close but can’t ask. Not now. Not yet.
The hotel is quiet. Jerry heads for the elevator, sure that his claustrophobic partner will take the stairs; but as he turns around and the doors slide shut, he sees that Dean is still beside him. He watches him closely, notes the tightly shut eyes, the set jaw. Jerry swallows. He takes Dean’s hand. The fingers clamp tight, but Jerry holds on, not caring that his knuckles scrape and crunch against each other. Then the doors open; he pulls his hand away as though burned and hurries down the hall.
Dean unlocks the door. Jerry slips inside, waits for him to close and lock it. They look at each other. Dean opens his mouth, closes it. He shakes his head. Jerry wishes Dean would touch him. He wishes Dean would hold him, direct him, tell him what to do. He wishes Dean would kiss him, just once. He remembers the feel of his lips on his temple, tries to imagine how that mouth might feel on his own. He knows, of course, but only half of it. When he kisses Dean, his partner’s mouth is still. Sometimes he pulls in his lips, and when Jerry bounces away he exaggerates wiping his mouth. It doesn’t matter; the audience screams with laughter either way. He can’t expect Dean to change the act, to kiss him back onstage.
But they are not onstage.
“Will you hold me?”
Dean frowns, wets his lips. He steps close, wraps his arms around Jerry and lets the younger man hold on tight. They’re hugging, really. Onstage, Jerry crouches, looks smaller and younger. Here, they’re equals. He wishes Dean were taller, wishes he could fit his head beneath Dean’s chin. Instead, he turns his face, nuzzles into Dean’s neck, and kisses the sensitive skin.
“Ehi,” Dean murmurs, but he doesn’t let go. “What goes on here?”
Jerry shrugs, holds him tighter, kisses him again. He’s crying.
“Jer, c’mon, don’t.” Dean pulls back, holds Jerry’s face. He wipes the tears away, and to Jerry’s utter shock begins to move him back, walk with him to his bed.
“Shhhh,” he says, and gently pushes Jerry on to the mattress.
Jerry looks up at him. “Paul,” he says, or tries to; the word catches in his throat. “What are you doing?”
“Helping,” Dean says. “Take off your coat.” He takes off his own, and waits for Jerry to move. He can’t. “Oy vey,” Dean says, and Jerry giggles. “You can’t take direction?”
“You do it.”
Jerry swallows, terrified. “You take off my coat.”
“This kid,” Dean says, but he obliges, gently sliding the coat from Jerry’s body. He throws it on to the other bed, kicks off his shoes, and climbs on to the mattress behind Jerry.
“Shhhh.” That soft, reassuring sibilance again. Jerry waits. Dean’s hands touch his shoulders, and then begin to massage. His thumbs work firm but gentle circles in Jerry’s muscles, while the fingers press, release, press again. Jerry gasps.
The hands pause. “Okay?” Dean asks.
Jerry nods, desperate for him to keep going. The hands move again, more forceful now, and Jerry lets his head tip back, his eyes roll up. A small moan escapes his lips.
Dean chuckles. “Nice, huh?”
“Mm.” Just how nice Dean can never know. Jerry tries not to squirm, but oh God, Dean’s hands on him like this, he doesn’t know if he can hold on, so he breathes, “Paul?”
“S-stop a sec,” he says, though it kills him.
“Sure,” Dean says, and his hands stop, but they stay on his shoulders. Jerry feels his breath on the back of his head; his entire body thrills and shivers. He leans back into his partner’s warm, broad chest.
“Okay?” Dean asks again.
Jerry opens his eyes, looks up at Dean’s kind face and hates himself for wanting his partner like this, for wanting him to lean down, to close the distance and kiss his waiting mouth.
“No,” Jerry says. “Not okay.”
Everything, but he can’t say that. Instead, he shakes his head.
“Are you sad?” Dean asks.
“No,” he says, and it’s true. With Dean here, he’s happier than he ever thought he could be – than he ever thought he deserved to be – but that’s the problem. And how can he explain that to Dean? How can he even begin to explain that being with him is the happiest, most awful thing in the world? “No,” he whispers. He reaches up one trembling hand and touches Dean’s face.
“Good.” Dean’s hands move. His arms slip around Jerry and he holds him from behind. Jerry realises that in this position, he can fit his head beneath Dean’s chin, so he does.
Dean laughs. “Gotta do somethin' about your hair, Jer.”
“Okay,” Jerry says. Dean’s hands are still on him, and as long as Dean touches him, Jerry thinks he might agree to anything.
“Yeah?” Dean asks, genuinely surprised.
“Yeah.” He closes his eyes, imagines those hands sliding south.
“Will you let me cut it?”
“Yeah,” Jerry says again, “but do me something first.”
Jerry wets his lips and turns to look Dean full in the face.
“Kiss me,” he says.
Dean’s eyebrows rise. Jerry desperately scans his face, his eyes. He seems confused but not – thank God – angry. Then he breaks into a brilliant smile and plants a loud smack on Jerry’s cheek. He climbs off the bed, tells Jerry he’ll be right back, and hurries out of the room.
Jerry waits, heart beating so hard and fast he thinks he might pass out. He crosses his legs, tries to think of something safe.
Dean comes back with a basin of water. He sets it down on the dresser and reaches into one of the drawers for the personal barber kit he always keeps close by.
“Wash out the pomade,” Dean says, and he throws a towel to Jerry.
Jerry does as he is told. When he’s done, Dean takes the towel and rubs it fiercely on his partner’s head.
“So rough,” the Idiot says. “This is what you like, bubbe?”
Dean ignores him. He takes out the scissors and comb and turns to Jerry.
“Okay?” he asks.
Jerry nods. He sits on the bed and lets Dean tie the towel around his neck. He’s close again, so close Jerry can smell his Woodhue, and beneath that his sweat, and beneath that Dean’s own smell.
The scissors go to work, the fallen locks of hair mostly caught by the towel, though some tumble to the floor to be forgotten. Dean sings as he works, an Italian song which he explains his father used to sing in the barbershop. Jerry listens intently, though he doesn’t understand a word, desperate for anything to keep his mind off just how close Dean stands to work on his hair.
When he is finished, he steps back, admires his handiwork. He gently brushes any stray hairs away and leans in to blow on the back of Jerry’s neck.
“Jesus,” Jerry mutters, and then flushes, wishing he could take it back.
“Sorry,” Dean says. “Did it tickle?”
“Kinda.” He shrugs, relieved and a little touched. Then, strangely, he feels sad. If Dean thinks I don’t like it, he won’t do it again. “It’s fine,” he adds. “I don’t mind.”
Dean gently blows again, and Jerry sees stars.
“All right,” Dean says. “Take a look.” He moves away so Jerry can see in the mirror.
His eyes bulge. “I look like a monkey!”
“Then what’s the problem?”
“Dean Martin!” the Idiot yells, and leaps across the room at his partner, who cries out, laughing, and darts away. “Look at me!” he screams. “I’m deformed. You deformed me!”
He chases Dean around the room. Dean turns and grabs him, pulls him close. Jerry gasps and tries to wriggle free.
“Jer, look!” He takes him to the mirror, makes him study his reflection. “See?”
Jerry can’t see anything. He can feel Dean, hear him, smell him, almost taste him, but his vision is clouded.
Jerry shakes his head. God, Dean is so close. And Jerry feels himself go hot, and wonders how close he might be to the edge. He stares at their reflections in the mirror… and sees his face break into a huge grin.
“Paul,” he says, giddy. “I look like a monkey!”
“Exactly,” Dean says, letting him go.
Jerry hunches over, begins to bound around the room, grunting and whooping like an ape. Dean laughs, falls back on the bed, watches Jerry spin around on his knuckles. Jerry turns to him, leaps on to the mattress and sticks his fingers in Dean’s hair. He pulls out phantom fleas and grubs, chews them, swallows with a gleeful gurning grin. He forces himself to keep going, to go bigger, sillier, to ignore the fact that he is on top of Dean, that Dean is looking up at him and smiling, that Dean is between his legs.
Jerry roots in Dean’s ears, the collar of his shirt, sticks his hands in his pockets.
“Ehi!” Dean jerks sideways. “Whadaya doin’?” His exaggerated Italian accent emboldens Jerry. It’s a joke, he thinks, an act, he’s playing along, just fooling around.
“I c’n smell it, boy,” he says, rooting further.
“Whadaya mean smell? What is there to smell?”
“That new nose really ain’t workin’ out for ya, boy,” Jerry says, and dodges Dean’s swipe. Jerry’s hands move south and he says, “I know you gotta banana somewhere.”
“Whoa, hey!” He catches Jerry’s wrists.
Jerry freezes. All the colour drains from his face. “Jesus, Paul, I’m sorry, I was only playin’, I was just—“
“I know, I know.”
“Honestly, Paul, I wasn’t gonna—“
“I know, Jer, slow down.”
“—do anything, Paul, please don’t be mad.”
“Mad?” Dean flinches. Something flickers on his face, some distant recognition, something he forgot. He thought I forgot, too, but I didn’t. I didn’t forget the last time I thought he was mad at me. But he can’t think about that, can’t remember that now. He was supposed to push it away, forget it ever happened. And it’s different now, he tells himself. Last time, Dean was on top.
They sit in silence, Jerry still astride his partner. Dean’s hands rest on Jerry’s thighs.
“Jer,” he says.
“Let’s go to bed.”
Jerry pushes his luck. “Together?”
Dean smiles, shakes his head. Softly, almost apologetically, he says, “Not tonight, Jer.”
Jerry nods, climbs off Dean, who sits on the edge of the bed. He turns to his partner.
“Ehi.” Dean nudges his foot. “This is my bed, pally.”
“Mine now,” Jerry says and flops back on the mattress.
Dean sighs. “All right.” He gets up. “Shoes.”
Jerry sticks out his legs. Dean’s fingers touch his ankles, and Jerry knows instantly that this is a mistake; he can barely feel his shoes slide off his feet, only knows that Dean is touching him again. Dean starts on the socks, and gently slips them away, careful to avoid his bare soles, and oh God, Jerry loves him for it.
Jerry sits up. Dean’s hands work gently to remove his tie, and then go to his jacket. He touches the nape of Jerry’s neck, pulls him forward, and if he hears Jerry’s gasp he ignores it, too focused on pushing the sleeves down and away. Jerry is close to Dean’s neck again, turns his face into the sensitive skin. Does he like this? Jerry wonders, as he kisses his partner. Would he let me do it if he didn’t?
“Stop a second.”
Jerry stops. Dean gently pushes him away, and stars working on Jerry’s shirt. Jerry doesn’t know where to look, wants to see Dean’s fingers, so big and so careful, wants to see the look on Dean’s face. He wants to take off Dean’s shirt, wonders deliriously if Dean will let him undress him, too, and feels himself grow hot all over.
No, he thinks. Please, no.
Dean nudges his arms. Jerry raises them, lets his partner pull his vest up and over his head. Shirtless now, panting though he’s barely moved, he stares at Dean’s mouth, so close to his own, and knows he could kiss it, could make a loud silly noise and turn it into a joke, and Dean won’t mind, might push him away, but he’ll let him do it. But then what? Jerry doesn’t want to think about it.
Dean’s touching him.
What? Why? Dean’s hands are on his belt buckle, and Jesus Christ, Jerry can’t stand it.
He jerks away, practically rolls backwards off the bed, grabbing his shirt on the way. He stands half naked, as far from his partner as possible, staring at the floor, holding the shirt in front of his body.
Did he feel? his mind screams at him. Did he see?
“I uh…” He clears his throat. Make a joke! Tell him not to get fresh and slap him. Do something. “I gotta go,” he says, and then more forcefully: “I gotta go.”
He’s in the hall before Dean can answer. He practically sprints to the bathroom, glad of the silence, the darkness. He slams and bolts the door, and once he’s alone his legs buckle. The bathroom tiles are freezing cold, but that’s good, that’s what he needs. He shivers, gropes blindly for the sink, hauls himself up and catches a glimpse of his face in the mirror, lit in sickly silver-white by the moon. He looks drawn, wide-eyed. Haunted.
“You idiot.” Tears spill down his cheeks. “Such a kid, can’t even control yourself.”
He closes his eyes, leans his head against the glass.
In a perfect world, Dean would follow him into the bathroom. In a perfect world, Dean would hold him close. In a perfect world, they would go back to their room and climb into bed together.
Jerry’s breaths grow heavy; he clouds the glass.
He pictures Dean’s hands, imagines them beneath the covers, slipping against his waist, his hips. Jerry knows he would let Dean do whatever he wants with those hands.
“Fuck,” he moans. His hand moves to the throbbing stiffness in his pants. “Fuck fuck fuck.”
Before he can think better of it, he strips and climbs naked into the tub. He crouches on all fours, knowing he can be quick, and casts himself away, out of the bathroom, out of the hotel, out of Chicago. He sees Patti in their bed, smiling up at him, holding out her hand.
He breathes her name into the dark and is finished in minutes. His final shuddering gasp echoes dully against the tiles until it is swallowed up into silence. He crouches panting in the tub, and then takes time to clean up; he won't turn on the light. He washes his hands three times, and then pulls on his boxers. He slips out into the hall, carrying his pants and shirt against his chest. It's too bright out here, and he cringes in the glare. He imagines a shadowy figure, turning the head of a lamp towards him. He shakes his head, hurries back to the bedroom. The door is unlocked, the lights out, and Jerry creeps in, locks the door behind him. He can see Dean beneath the covers.
He tiptoes to his own bed and slides between the sheets. They are cool, and he welcomes the chill. He snuggles down, and realises just how tired he is. He'll sleep, wake before Dean, and go down to the restaurant. Maybe Rose will be there, or someone else he can spend time with. Or maybe he'll go to the deli, spend some time with Ada and a pastrami sandwich.
As he drifts, from the darkness comes a voice: "Jer?"
He pretends to be asleep.
A number of sources state that Jerry's haircut was thanks to Dean's bribing a barber to cut it while he slept. However, in 'Dean & Me: A Love Story' by Jerry Lewis and James Kaplan, Jerry claims that it was Dean who gave him the haircut. Both stories are plausible, but of course I had to go with the latter. Once again, this probably took place later, so forgive the artistic licence.
Chapter 6: The Wonderful Truth
Jerry stirs just after noon. For once, he has no desire to leap out of bed and get to work. His eyes slide open, and he finds himself staring blearily at the wall. He moans softly, covers his face. A yawn fights its way out, and quite without warning his entire body stretches, joints creaking, knuckles cracking, and he comes to rest curled on his side, wishing he could drift back into unconsciousness.
Snatches of last night assault him – the gun, Dean’s hands on his shoulders, the haircut, Dean’s fingers on his belt, the freezing bathroom – and he shoves his face into the pillow. He wants to scream but resists, content to hold his breath until his head throbs fit to burst.
Finally, he drags himself up, sits hunched on the mattress. He yawns again, runs a hand over his newly-cropped hair. Despite the eventual trauma of last night, he smiles fondly; Dean really is skilled with those scissors. And something tells Jerry that with or without the guy with the gun, with or without his hands on Jerry’s shoulders, Dean eventually would have convinced him to cut his hair.
Jerry clambers from the bed and goes to the mirror. He stares. Then he yanks his ears, puffs his cheeks, sticks out his tongue. He holds the pose, then lets his face relax. Next, he sticks out his jaw, hunches slightly, flares his nostrils. Christ, but he really does look more like a chimp than ever.
A skinny, Jewish chimp, but a chimp nonetheless.
He grins and turns to his partner, hidden almost entirely under the covers, the dark curls protruding the only way to tell the snoring lump is Dean. If Jerry were braver – if he hadn’t run away last night – he would go to Dean now, sit on the edge of the bed and stroke those perfect locks until he stirs. If Jerry were braver, he would slip between the sheets and hold his partner so that he might wake in familiar arms.
Jerry Lewis is a lot of things. And yes, in certain situations ‘brave’ might be one of them. He was brave (or stupid, depending on who you ask) to head out on the road aged 16. He was brave to put on a wig or a dress, or shove huge fake teeth in his mouth and wreak havoc in a nightclub. He was brave when he told Skinny D’Amato a year ago that he knew a guy, a real talented act, who was funny, funny with me, we do stuff together.
But here, now, with Dean Martin, he’s the biggest coward he knows.
We do stuff together, he thinks. Ain’t that the truth.
What kinda stuff, Joey? What kinda stuff you wanna do?
He bites his lips, turns roughly back to the dresser. And he sees the basin of water from last night, still full, waiting to be emptied. He catches his face in the mirror, the delirious glint in his eye, and before he can stop to think his arms are moving, his hands are gripping the ceramic bowl, and he’s going back to the bed, Dean’s bed, his partner’s bed, and raising the basin into the air, upending it on to the beautiful curly-headed Italian Adonis.
Who knew an Adonis could scream so high?
Dean sits up so fast he almost falls out of bed. He makes a noise like a bull getting ready to charge, shakes the water from his eyes.
Jerry backs away, dangerously close to hysterical laughter, the basin still clutched in his trembling hands.
Dean stumbles to his feet. He shudders and whoops, nearly slips, catches himself on the bedside table.
Jerry puts the basin back. He knows he should be looking at Dean’s face to gauge the anger, but it’s too late for that. He’s watching the drops of water trickle down his arms. He’s watching his broad chest heave. He’s watching how his sodden underwear clings, picking out the perfect outline of his—
“Che due coglioni!”
Jerry’s eyes snap to Dean’s.
“Morning?” he offers, smiling nervously.
“This is all you can say?”
“W-well.” He coughs. “It’s the afternoon, really, but—”
Dean leaps at him. With a cry, Jerry twists away. Dean’s yelling, cursing in Italian, but Jerry’s practically ecstatic; he hears the laughter in his partner’s voice, only barely held back, so he slows a little, lets Dean grab him, call him names, and as he’s dragged across the room, he feels the horror of last night sliding from his brain. In its place sits the image of a nearly naked Dean Martin, soaking wet and feigning anger, holding him close and cussing in his ear.
This breaks him; Dean releases Jerry and collapses to the floor, racked with breathless laughter. Jerry’s body thrills with the joy of it and he joins him, giggling helplessly. He reaches out, touches Dean, slaps his shoulders, his chest. What a good joke, huh, Dean? Ain’t I funny, Dean? Ain’t I?
“Jesus, Jer,” Dean manages.
“You ain’t mad?” he asks, though he already knows the answer.
Dean shakes his head, tries to catch his breath. “Just, you know, next time you want me to take a bath, just tell me.”
The giggles taper off, and then they are staring at each other. Silent.
It’s one word, just one, but beneath it, Jerry senses hundreds. He knows Dean, reads him perfectly. He’s asking if Jerry’s all right, if he grabbed him too hard, or scared him too badly. He’s asking something else, too, though Jerry knows Dean would never put it into words.
Dean wants to know if after what happened last night – whatever that was – Jerry feels better.
Jerry nods. He smiles.
After a moment, Dean’s hand breaches the small gap between them. He strokes Jerry’s cheek, and Jerry nips lazily at his fingers. Dean chuckles – the kind of chuckle that barely makes a sound, just a content little puff of air from his nostrils – and tweaks the tip of Jerry’s nose. Then he pulls him gently closer. Their foreheads touch.
They don’t speak.
Dean’s eyes close, but Jerry’s are fixed on his partner’s face, on the soft dark lashes, on the newly perfect nose, on his mouth. Jerry realises that if he tilts his head a little, a movement so slight it would be almost imperceptible, he can press his lips to that mouth. It would be something else, something soft and sweet and secret, and Jerry thinks Dean might let him do it. He wets his lips.
“Let’s just stay here tonight.”
Jerry laughs softly. “But we got shows, Paul.”
“I know that,” he says. His hand rests on Jerry’s hip. “But wouldn’t this be better?”
Jerry scoffs. “You just wanna sleep.”
“What’s wrong with sleep?” He thumbs the waistband of Jerry’s boxer shorts. “We could sleep together?”
Jerry’s breath catches, and the Idiot slips out: “But, Dean, ain’t we gotta be married foist?”
Dean mimics him: “Ain’t we already? Anyway,” he adds, back to his normal voice, “never thought I’d need to convince you to stay in bed with me.”
“Paul.” Jerry clears his throat, wets his lips. “I don’t—”
“Relax, Jer,” Dean says. “Just teasin’.” He gets up, takes his remarkably dry cigarettes off the nightstand and lights one. With an almighty yawn, he stretches and goes to the window, blowing smoke into the afternoon air.
Jerry hugs his knees and stares at his partner. Teasing? He unfolds his limbs, climbs to his feet. He goes to Dean, hugs him, buries his face in his neck.
“Just teasin’,” he says and flicks his tongue against Dean’s pulse.
There are three telegrams waiting downstairs: one for Dean, two for Jerry. Dean reads his and crumples it. Jerry doesn’t have to ask to know it’s from Betty. To make up for this, Jerry reads his aloud: Patti and Gary are well and hope they’re doing the best shows of their lives; and Irving Kaye will be arriving today and wants to know where would be best to grab a bite to eat. Dean raises an eyebrow. Jerry nods and asks the concierge to take a message and recommend the deli uptown.
“Speaking of,” Dean says. “Hungry?”
Jerry flags a taxi, and as the boys near Ada’s place, their stomachs growl.
“Down, boy,” Jerry says and watches Dean laugh.
Ada greets them like soldiers returning from war. She ushers them into a booth and, after pinching Dean’s cheek and asking Jerry how the slippers are finding him, sets about making their sandwiches. The other customers watch, bemused.
Jerry glances at the counter. A young man he takes to be Ada’s son appears from the back room, puts an arm around her and kisses her cheek. She bats him away with an indulgent smile. Something tugs at Jerry’s chest, and he has to look away.
He looks at Dean instead, who favours him with a brilliant grin.
Their nutritious lunch of hot and greasy beef finished, they say goodbye to Ada and take a leisurely stroll back to the hotel. So leisurely, in fact, that it takes a few hours, and Jerry’s almost apoplectic when they arrive.
“Shoulda told me the time, Paul!”
“You gotta watch, ain’tcha?”
Jerry can’t admit that strolling through the streets of Chicago with Dean made him forget all about such trivial things as being punctual. Dean, as usual, is so laidback it’s a wonder he doesn’t fall over, and while Jerry fusses and frets, he rests an easy hand on the nape of his neck. Jerry knows he shouldn’t worry, and as usual they reach the joint on time and start exactly when they plan to. The first show of the night is a smash. As they run offstage, Jerry tells Dean he spotted the girls. Dean raises an eyebrow and says, “Let’s buy ’em a drink before the next show.”
Rose’s friend is called June. She has lustrous dark hair, red lips, and she can’t take her eyes off Dean. Jerry can’t blame her for that, but he spends the gap between shows clowning and cavorting to get Dean’s eyes off her. He’s not sure why he does it, and when it’s time for the next performance, he quickly apologises to Rose. She shakes her head.
“You’ll have time for me later.”
Jerry grins. He nods, and then hurries after Dean.
Half an hour into the second show, and the boys feel certain it’s their best yet. What cements it is the ventriloquist bit. It usually kills, but never this much. The second Jerry climbs on to Dean’s lap, the audience is theirs forever.
“Aw, Dean,” he cries, after being made to say something particularly embarrassing. “I’m very uncomfortable here!”
The laughter, which started the second they saw Jerry’s crewcut and has barely let up since, crescendos.
“Wh-what” – Dean’s lips are twitching, fighting the giggle that Jerry so desperately craves – “what could possibly be uncomfortable about this?” He bounces his leg.
The crowd hollers. People slam their fists on tables, stamp their feet. Cutlery clangs to the floor, lies forgotten.
“You ain’t the one with another fella’s hand up—”
Frantically, Dean covers Jerry’s mouth. “All right, Jer!”
The audience positively screams. Jerry sees tears streaming down one guy’s face, a lady with her head on the table, shoulders shaking helplessly.
He licks Dean’s palm, freeing his mouth. “Did I do good, bubbe?”
“Yeah, you did just—”
Jerry plants a kiss on Dean’s mouth with such gusto that the chair tips back; the quick-thinking bandleader darts forward, catches them, though he’s in such a hysterical state it’s a miracle he could be of any help at all. Then his knees buckle, and all three men collapse in a tangled heap, the chair pinned between them. Dean’s cursing, laughing; the bandleader’s crying; and Jerry wriggles free so he can see the audience.
Not a one of them can stand. Not a one of them can see. Blinded with tears, they clutch their sides and pant for air. Someone’s fallen off their chair, but not one person is in a fit state to help. Jerry soaks it in, and then turns to Dean, pulls him to his feet, and they laugh wildly in each other’s faces.
I love you! Jerry’s head throbs with the wonderful truth of it. You big idiot, I love you!
“I’ve never seen two guys as close as you before.”
They’re sitting at the bar. Rose is sipping a glass of white wine and was kind enough not to tease Jerry’s drink: a Shirley Temple. After the second show ended, Dean and Jerry somehow managed a third, and now they’re finished for the night. Dean sits with June near the dancefloor, and Jerry alternates between trying to focus all his attention on the pretty girl in front of him, and trying to see what Dean is doing with the pretty girl at the table.
At Rose’s observation, Jerry feels a deep warmth spread through his chest. “Well, sure,” he says, and then, the easiest thing in the world, “I love him.”
Rose looks closely at him. Then she leans in, pitches her voice low: “Do you always kiss him like that?”
“Well…” He bites his fingernail. “Not always. It’s just a part of the act, ya know?” He looks at her, frowning. “Why?”
“I just… haven’t ever seen two guys do that before.”
“I should hope not,” he says. “What kinda guys you hangin’ out with?”
She laughs. She’s pretty when she laughs.
Jerry swallows, lets the Idiot take a shot: “Me’n Dean, we ain’t regular fellas.”
She screeches laughter, covers her mouth. Her free hand clutches Jerry’s knee. He flashes hot, wets his lips, wonders why he’s so excited when he’s already been to bed with her once. His mind slips to the bedroom, Dean’s fingers on his belt. His mouth goes dry.
Such a kid, he thinks. Someone you like touches you, and you’re ready to shoot in your pants.
He goes to speak, notices she’s looking over his shoulder.
“Oh.” She pulls a guilty face, but there’s a little amusement there.
“What?” He turns.
Dean and June have been joined by a guy who looks about as wide as a barn door. He stands looking down at them, his brow furrowed.
“Oh, God,” Jerry says, making to get up.
“I think it’s all right,” Rose says. “That’s Michael. He and June have been going together six months now.” She touches his arm. “He looks scary, but that’s why she likes him.”
Jerry watches his partner turn on the charm; he can’t hear what Dean says, but sees how easily those magic words tumble out of his mouth. Michael, this mountain of a man, smiles. Suddenly he looks like the world’s largest, cuddliest teddy bear, and Jerry laughs.
“That’s my partner,” he says, and turns back to Rose. She’s looking at him fondly.
“What?” he asks.
“I like you,” she says, and Jerry beams.
“Well, thanks. I like you, too.”
At that moment, June and her behemoth of a beau come over with Dean. Hands shake all around – even Dean and Jerry shake, for the gag – and the little quintet chats for a while. Then Michael puts his arm around June, apologies, and says it’s about time for them to go.
“It was wonderful to meet you,” he says, in those soft dulcet tones fit for a much smaller man.
“Oh, yes,” June says, looking apologetically at Dean. “I wish we could have had more time.”
Jerry feels the Idiot stirring, pushes him back.
“I’ll come too,” Rose says. She quickly pecks Jerry on the cheek and does the same to Dean.
And as she leans in close, Jerry sees her hand slip against his partner’s. He frowns, watches as Dean folds his fingers into his palm and shoves his hand into his pocket.
She gave him something. Something she didn't want me to have, didn't want me to see.
He shakes his head and joins his partner as he waves goodbye.
Dean hooks an arm around his neck.
"How 'bout an early night?" he asks, already pulling Jerry toward the door.
"Sure," he says. Tucked under Dean's arm like this, he'll agree to anything.
Chapter 7: This New Embrace
The hotel is quiet. They left so quickly after Michael and the girls, that Jerry half expects to run into Rose in the lobby, but it’s almost empty. He's still tucked under Dean’s arm, and if the man behind the desk thinks it strange, he says nothing.
They take the stairs. Jerry runs ahead, waits on the first landing, bouncing from foot to foot, and then tears off again when his partner nears. Dean strolls after him, hands deep in his coat pockets. It doesn’t take long to reach their floor – Dean won’t stay in a room beyond the third, and that’s as many as this place has – and this time Jerry slips his arms inside his partner’s coat and pulls him close. Dean wears a lovely sleepy grin, and he looks so beautiful that Jerry has to tell him.
“I do?” Dean asks, bemused.
“You always do.” Before he can think better of it, he pecks the corner of Dean’s mouth. He smells cigarettes and whiskey (and wild, wild women) and wonders if Dean may be a little tipsy.
As if in answer, Dean giggles and drawls, “Your aim’s a little off, pardner.”
Jerry swallows. His voice goes low and soft and tremulous: “Will you show me how to do it right?”
Dean blinks. He looks at Jerry as though he’s only just realised who he is. Jerry holds his breath, waiting to be pushed away, for Dean to tell him not to take it so seriously. Just teasin’. The seconds stretch into minutes into hours and beyond, and Jerry feels his whole life swallowed up in the hammer of his heart and the feel of Dean’s breath on his lips. It would be all right, he thinks, to die like this.
Dean reaches round his back, takes Jerry’s wrists and steps out of their embrace. Jerry steels himself for what comes next – He’ll be kind, he always is – but Dean keeps hold of him, leads him out of the stairwell and down the hall, letting go only to open the door and lock it behind them.
A bedroom, Jerry realises, can be a very scary place.
Dean turns on the light. “C’mere,” he says, and walks with Jerry to his bed. Jerry stumbles on numb legs and feels his partner’s hands on his shoulders. “Okay?”
Jerry nods so vehemently it’s a wonder he doesn’t break his neck. Satisfied, Dean gently pulls him down to sit on the edge of the mattress.
“What is this?” Dean asks. He strokes his arm. “Are you cold?”
Jerry shakes his head, though admittedly the biting midnight air has seeped into the room. “Scared,” he whispers.
Dean stops touching him. “I don’t mean to scare ya, Jer.”
“Oh – no!” Jerry takes his hand. “Not you. Not your fault, I mean. I’m just always scared is all.”
Dean frowns. He cups Jerry’s face, lets his thumb soothe and stroke along his cheekbone. Jerry’s breath quickens. He trembles harder as the chill touches his chest, but other parts of him are so hot he worries he might catch fire if the rough pad of Dean’s thumb keeps up its gentle rhythm.
“I have to say something.”
Dean tilts his head and waits.
Jerry bites his lips. He thinks about what to say, how to say it. It’s a small thing, really. It’ll be over quickly. A part of him wonders if he shouldn’t wait. He could shake his head, close his eyes and let Dean’s hand do whatever it wants. If he says it now, he could ruin everything. If he says it now, Dean’s joking threat to leave him might be carried out. If he says it now, he may never know what that hand means to do.
But if he doesn’t say it now, he might never say it; the dread that shrouds his heart might bury it forever.
Sitting here, the autumn cold that ices the room usurped by the warmth that pulses from a single touch of his partner’s large hand, Jerry realises that it’s all right. He meets Dean’s curious gaze and smiles.
“I love you.”
The fear and the worry and the terrible anxiety crumble. In their place bubbles joy, unchecked, undeniable, and Jerry feels it rise in his throat and fairly explode from his mouth. He covers his face, laughing, crying, sure he’s blushing, not giving a shit, because who cares about any of that anyhow? He loves him. He loves Dean Martin. He loves Dino Paul Crocetti, and God, isn’t that just the most wonderful thing you every heard in your life? Isn’t it just marvellous? And couldn’t you just die thinking about all the times you coulda said it and didn’t, you schmuck?
He knuckles tears from his eyes. His hands steal out, grip Dean’s coat.
“You don’t have to say anything.” He sniffs and laughs a little more and tries to read the expression on Dean’s face. It is a little taken aback, but still so kind. Jerry goes on: “I don’t care if you don’t say it back. I just had to tell you.” The laughter gone, he says, “I love you, Paul."
Dean’s face softens. His hand goes to the nape of Jerry’s neck, and in a small and pleasant voice he says, “I know.”
Jerry’s flesh ripples at his touch. “Is it all right?” he asks.
“Surely.” Dean’s fingers stroke him where skin and hair meet. “Why wouldn’t it be?”
“I don’t know,” Jerry says, but he does, and he has to explain: “Some guys… Maybe some guys wouldn’t like it.”
“Ah.” Dean sweeps his hand up and over Jerry’s head, then back again. The movement tingles Jerry’s scalp and he almost loses his mind.
“You’re not mad?” he asks.
Jerry beams and crashes into Dean’s shoulder. His partner chuckles and pulls him into a quick, hard hug. They look at each other for a moment. Then Jerry slips his fingers into Dean’s curls and plays with them while he talks.
“You know,” Dean begins. He clears his throat. His eyelids flutter briefly. Jerry’s hands flatten and fuss and lightly tug his locks. “You know, I did say we should get an early night.”
Jerry swallows. He nods and teases Dean’s hair back to its original state of perfection. He takes back his hands, twists them in his lap. Suddenly, he can’t look at his partner.
“Are you tired?”
Jerry shakes his head.
“Can’t you look at me?”
“I don’t know,” he whispers.
A silence, not quite awkward, hangs between them. Then Jerry hears the bedsprings creak.
“C’mere.” Dean takes his hand and leads him to the mirror. “Look at me here.”
Jerry looks. Dean’s reflection smiles softly. His eyes crinkle. Then he crosses them, sticks out his tongue. Jerry laughs and hides his face.
They are opposites. He knows this; it’s why the act works. But standing here with him, it’s such a painful truth. Skinny Jerry Lewis, with a gap between two teeth and knobby knees standing with Dean Martin, the Man with the Tall, Dark and Handsome Voice and a face to match, probably the most gorgeous person Jerry will ever meet, and not conceited with it, either; he’s kind to Jerry, too kind maybe, and onstage their differences exist to be exploited, even celebrated, and Jerry wants nothing more than to revel in the lightning that crackles between them when they get the balance right. He doesn’t want to be the sexy guy; he’s happy with the monkey. And yet…
“You know how handsome you are?”
“Oh, c’mon, Jer.”
“No, I mean it. Do you know?”
Dean pulls a face. To avoid answering, he takes off his coat and hangs it over a chair. Jerry watches him in the mirror, watches him dip into his jacket pocket, pause, and then search the other, his pants. He frowns.
Dean’s head snaps up. “When did you—”
Jerry shrugs, produces a slip of paper from his coat. Dean rubs his face, mutters something in Italian, and holds out his hand.
“What’s it say, Paul?”
“I don’t know. Didn’t get a chance to read it.”
Jerry nods. He studies the folded white square for a second before handing it to Dean. “Sorry,” he says. He wants to say more but Dean has moved on. I thought it’d be funny, he wants to say. I wanted to make a joke about it but then I kissed you and you looked at me like that and I forgot all about it and I asked if you’d show me how to do it right, so will you now?
Dean seems to read the note a few times, a vertical line of concentration denting his brow, and then tosses it into the wastepaper basket. He smiles kindly at Jerry and helps him off with his coat.
Jerry takes a breath. “Can I?”
Dean looks at him, one eyebrow raised. Then he softens. “Turn out the light,” he says.
In darkness, they undress. Jerry wishes Dean would do for him again but is too afraid to ask. Afraid? No, not that. Not anymore. He’s nervous, anxious, something else he won’t name. He listens to the whisper of fabric against skin, the clink of belt buckles, the whoosh of air as Dean pulls back the covers on his bed. As his eyes adjust, Jerry sees his partner’s hands falter on the waistband of his underwear and his heart stops.
If he takes them off I don’t know what I’ll do.
But Dean climbs into bed still clad in white cotton.
Jerry stands shaking in the middle of the room.
Softly, from the bed: “C’mere.”
There’s a click in his throat; his tongue is like a strip of sandpaper.
Somehow, he reaches the bed. It’s a single, smaller than they used to share, and he knows how close they’ll have to lie.
Jerry slips between the sheets. He’s a little shocked by the coolness against his skin, but then he feels the warmth beating from his partner. For a moment, he listens to his own breath, heavy and fast, then catching in his throat. Dean cups his elbow and brings him closer; their legs slot together like puzzle pieces. Dean’s hand rests on the small of Jerry’s back, and he hums softly, tunelessly, lets his fingers slip up and down the knobs of his partner’s spine.
“Tell me something,” Jerry whispers.
“A real one. About you. About Steubenville.”
“Oh.” His hand pauses, resumes its gentle journey. “All right. You know it already.”
He doesn’t care. He listens, eyes rapt by the shadowy notion of his partner’s face that shifts and swirls until Jerry can see him clearly.
“Pop didn’t mind so much when I left school, s’long as I got a job. Worked in a gas station for a while. Then got into boxing. You know this. I made some money but guess I lost as much or more. But I was earning, so that was fine.” He trails off. Jerry’s arms, which have been folded against his chest, finally come to life, and he reaches out to touch Dean’s cheek. He feels the smile spread beneath his fingers. Then it falters.
“I’d come home, and Mom would see my face. Cuts and bruises. You know the routine.”
Jerry strokes his face, his eyes, runs a finger down the perfect bridge of his nose. He remembers how it looked before. It never bothered Jerry, that crooked schnoz, but he's with Mom on this; he hates to think of Dean bloody and bruised. When money was tight, and Dean and Sonny would sell tickets and bare-knuckle box, Jerry could hardly bear to look at his friend the next morning.
Dean’s humid breath fills his palm. It’s too cold to keep his arm outside the covers, so he brings it back, cushions it in the warm space between them. He waits.
“Couldn’t see her like that.”
Jerry’s heart thuds. “You were a good boy, Dino,” he says and rests tentative fingers on Dean’s broad chest.
Dean moves his hand to Jerry’s waist. “You’re too skinny,” he says, observational. He rests his fingers in between the prominent ribs. Then he utters a low chuckle. “Your heart. Like a rabbit.”
Jerry can feel it, how it slams against his rib cage, like it wants to get out, like it wants to hand itself over. He knows it’s because Dean is touching him, but still it’s a little unnerving.
“You’re scared,” Dean says.
Jerry shakes his head. “No. I’m nervous.”
“Are you for real?” he asks, and Dean muffles his laughter in the pillow. “What kinda question, why am I nervous?”
Dean’s amusement shakes the bed, and Jerry beams into the darkness. Once his partner has himself under control, Jerry touches his back.
They look at each other, an inch apart, if that. Jerry’s eyes have adjusted. He’s glad to see his partner’s face. Dean wears that lovely sleepy grin again, and Jerry can’t resist; he presses his lips to that smiling mouth.
Seconds pass. Dean’s mouth is still. As Jerry pulls back, Dean’s eyes flutter open. He holds Jerry’s hip.
A little lightheaded, Jerry asks, “How’s my aim now?”
Dean exhales a content little puff of air from his nostrils. “Pretty fair.”
“Maybe I need practice.”
“Maybe.” Dean turns his head and yawns into the pillow. “You sleepin’ here tonight?” The words are slurred and soft.
Jerry rests his forehead against his drowsing partner. “Whatever you want,” he whispers.
Dean nods. He slips an arm around Jerry’s waist and pulls him as close as he can. “’S cold,” he murmurs. Then he’s snoring, softly.
Jerry will forever be baffled by how this man, almost a decade older than his partner, can turn into a baby with such ease. He smiles, snuggles closer still. He wants to stay awake, wants to hear his breath, feel his heart, smell his skin; he wants to mark the changes through the night; but already he’s drifting, lulled to sleep in the warm safety of this new embrace.
Chapter 8: Nightmare
CW: injuries, reference to CSA, blood, vomiting
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
By the time he realises he’s dreaming, it’s too late.
It’s not a bad dream. Not really. Not at first. Most of his childhood memories are tinged with an anxious sort of melancholy, and their appearances in his dreams are no different. He dreams often, wakes often in a cold sweat. Frequently, he has shuddered awake to find his partner or his wife hovering over him, holding him, hushing him. Maybe he’s moaned or whimpered or cried out in the dark. Whatever the case, he’s held safely in a pair of arms and drifts back to sleep.
First, though: the dream.
He’s on a bed, hidden under a pile of coats. He’s dozing, lulled by the vague hum of conversation from the next room. His eyes flutter and drift; he can see a little into the room through the gap in the door. No figures, no faces, but he knows his mother’s there, and that’s enough to allow him a moment of calm. She’s playing cards with his aunt, their friends. Some words, some snatch of conversation sneaks through the opening, like a slit in brown skin. Strange, one word says. Like a monkey, come yet more. Aren’t you concerned? He should be concerned – he knows who they’re talking about – but he’s heard it all before. His mother responds. He can’t make out the words, but surely, they must be in defence of her boy. He burrows deeper into the pile, shivering a little in the winter chill. His face his wet; he can’t think why.
When he opens his eyes, he’s warm, still half curled and a little teary. He’s older now, though not by much. Still the hum nearby, but clearer, consistent, comforting. His eyes flutter and drift; he can see a stockinged foot working a pedal. Above, drifting down like autumn leaves, a tremulous voice raised tenderly in song. Hebrew. He coughs against the back of his hand, idly brushes away the tuft of wool by his mouth. The foot pauses in its steady rhythm. A voice, glorious, overflowing love, pours honey in his ears. Manna from heaven, he thinks dimly, and drifts into the future in a warm cocoon.
His parents can’t (won’t) come, but she’s here with him. She calls them and lets him receive their enthusiastic Mazel tov through a wire. He doesn’t mind. She’s proud; she sits in the front and cries and hugs him tight. After, they go back and she roots in a drawer. From behind her back, like a magician proud of her skill, she produces a small box. He opens it and stares in stirred wonder at the gold medallion that hangs from a long chain. The Star of David glints and shimmers, but he frowns at the number welded to the other side. Thirteen? he asks. But why? She covers her mouth; her eyes go wet and wobbly, and he moves to touch her arm. He doesn’t understand but thinks his heart might burst with love for her.
The same house, now dark and cold, closes bony fingers around a skinny boy, barely a teenager, fooling no one. He stares white-faced through a kitchen window, hands pressed against icy panes. In the distance, a large building: he sits watching an insipid light that poisons the night air. His eyes are dry; they itch with the effort of their vigilance. When the light clicks off, he gropes for the phone, grips the receiver, holds one desperate aching breath. Expired, comes the reply. He doesn’t know the word clinical, but he knows this is her tone. He shakes his head, tries to clear his blurring vision, asks, Does that mean she’s getting better?, and knows the answer.
Flashes now. Mixed up. Confusing and tragic and awful. Slipping in the mud and landing with sickening crunch on his right arm. Burlesque, backstage, a lady clad in almost nothing standing in the doorway, holding out a manicured hand to a skinny kid who doesn’t know any better. And then, later, raised voices, fists brandished if not used. He slips out, chaperoned, but basically alone, and cries and frets and wonders what the hell he thinks he’s doing.
Then, sixteen years old, standing on a street corner, he meets a man. He’s older, Italian, a singer. He favours the kid with a smile that feels like the sun coming up on the rest of his life. He leaves notes for him in dressing rooms, cracks jokes and watches how his eyes crinkle in amusement, stares in awe as he drawls casually genius remarks. He crash-lands on the stage in the middle of a show to make him happy. Occasionally, he recoils from himself, worries he’ll come on too strong, be shoved away, but his saviour simply smiles, touches him and pulls him close.
There’s someone else, too. Also older. Also Italian. Also a singer. The second he sees her he’s lost. He leaves notes for her, too, but wilder, crazier. He hides in her closet to make her laugh. He crash-lands on the stage in the middle of a show to make her happy. He finds a pair of baby shoes and tacks them to her mirror. They’re married in three months. More raised voices follow, a matter of faith. She converts, and he hates himself for making her. But the ceremony comes, and as he stands beneath the chuppah the word nightmare slashes his brain, and he screams at himself to wake up, but he can’t. Is it even possible? Can you force yourself to do that? If you can, he fails now, and watches himself raise his foot.
He knows what’s coming next, but still he turns cold.
His foot comes down and lands solidly on glass wrapped in white cloth. It doesn’t smash, doesn’t even crack. He tries again, fails. He coughs, wets his lips, glances sheepishly at his wife and with dim horror at the rabbi. His foot comes down again and again and again and he can’t understand why no one is helping. Isn’t that what happened? Didn’t someone, his father maybe, move him out of the way and bring his foot down on the glass in his stead?
A red spot blossoms on the white. It grows and darkens, glistens thickly. His foot hangs in stasis. He feels his eyes bulge so wide they could fall from his skull. It would better that way, he thinks. Better to be blind than to see whatever bleeds beneath the shroud.
His hand moves, unbidden. He screams at it to stop, but still it moves. Hours seem to pass, and then his skinny fingers pinch the corner of the cloth and peel it back.
Beneath the blood, the swollen eyelids, the shattered teeth.
At first, there’s no fear in the realisation that the bloody battered lump on the floor is his own face.
Then someone screams.
He’s shaking – no, being shaken – and his eyes snap open. There’s something in bed with him, and he shrieks, feels a hand clamp down on his mouth.
“Christ, Jer, wake up!”
Dean? he thinks crazily. Dean in my bed? Holding me? We got a double room, what—
He skitters away, feels Dean seize his arm.
“Jer, hold on, you’ll fall.”
“Shhhh.” Dean holds him. Dean holds him. “You’re having a nightmare.”
“A nightmare, Jer. It’s all right. You’re all right.” Dean’s panting. Is he shaking? “You were screaming.”
“That all you can say?”
Jerry’s mind works overtime. Dean, here, in my bed? No, not my bed, his bed, last night we—
“Why are you there?”
“Behind me,” he says. “You weren’t there last night.”
Dean’s arms hold tighter. “Jer, don’t worry.”
But Jerry does worry. He wants to see Dean’s face, and swivels awkwardly in his arms. On his back, he looks up at his partner. Dean shifts position but doesn’t let go.
“Hm?” He strokes Jerry’s face.
“What happened? Did I…” He takes a second to catch his breath. He swallows, wets his lips. Already the details of the dream are fleeing from him, chased away by his partner’s steady presence. Jerry goes on: “Did I say anything?”
Dean shakes his head. “No, you were just screaming.”
Jerry nods. He reaches up – his hand still trembles – and slides his fingers into the damp, mussed curls at the back of Dean’s head.
“Did I scare you?” Jerry asks.
Dean smiles, bows his head; their foreheads touch. Jerry feels Dean’s small, harsh breaths on his skin. He’s sweating a little, and this realisation makes Jerry rather lightheaded. “A little,” Dean whispers.
“I’m sorry.” Jerry turns on to his side, facing Dean. His partner’s bemused expression sends the last of the dream tumbling from his head. “Can I make it up to you?” Jerry moves closer and feels Dean retreat. There’s something strange here, something different, and as Dean makes a small sound of protest, Jerry understands.
“Dean.” The Idiot trembles on his lips: “You’re not wearing anything.”
“Well.” He coughs. “No, but—”
“What? Why not?”
“Jer, it’s not—”
“But last night you weren’t—”
“Jerry, shhhh, it’s all right.”
“You want I should be naked too?” he asks, voice climbing to hysterical delirium.
“No, Jerry, I’m not doing any—”
A noise in the dark. From the other bed. My bed, Jerry thinks. He was naked in my bed. But such a strange noise, so out of place that Jerry can’t name it at first. A tinkling sound; any other time it would perhaps be sweet but here, in the dark, it’s sinister.
A giggle. A fucking titter. Like a naughty schoolgirl.
“Paul.” His voice has dropped a full octave. It is more serious than it has been in a long time, and he watches with a dim sort of satisfaction as Dean’s expression turns guiltily stunned.
But his partner recovers quickly; he hushes him, pulls him closer. “Go back to sleep, Jer.”
Jerry’s body thrills with the terrible realisation that he can now feel all of Dean against him, but his mind is stuck firm: “Is there someone in my bed?”
A pause. And then, “Jer, I—”
“I gotta go.” A breathy plea; he’s scrambling from Dean’s arms, all but tumbling from the bed. He scoops his clothes from the chair, gropes blindly in the dark for something, anything to put on his feet. Dean calls to him. His hand steals out; Jerry dodges and makes for the door, gaze pointedly avoiding the shape in his bed.
“Wait.” Not Dean’s voice. Softer, lighter. Girlish.
Jerry’s hand freezes on the doorknob.
“It’s all right. You don’t have to go.”
He knows the voice. And despite the roiling in his gut, despite his certainty that the last thing he wants is to see who lies in the bed, he turns slowly back to the room and forces his eyes to adjust.
Rose. The sheet held to her chin. Her green eyes suddenly catlike. Jerry knows – the rational part of him knows – that the smile she offers is kind and sweet and meant to reassure the panicky Jew at the door. But Dean is naked. Rose is naked, too. And Jerry isn’t so green that he doesn’t know what they were doing as he whimpered in the bed nearby. Her smile instead, in his frantic gloom, seems gloating and cruel.
She’s still smiling. And when she opens her mouth again four terrible words come out:
“I like you both.”
And God he doesn’t want to think about what that means. Because he knows, of course he does, but how could she? How could she possibly be suggesting that? So his eyes go to Dean, who stands with one knee resting on his bed. His hand holds a section of the sheet at his lap, and Jerry can see almost every inch of him.
Dean stares at the floor.
“I—” Jerry begins, but there’s no moisture in his throat. He chokes and suddenly feels like crying.
Christ, if I hadn’t fallen asleep, if I’d stayed awake he wouldn’t have—
“Jer.” He’s speaking. Why is he speaking now?
Jerry can’t hear him, won’t hear what he has to say.
“I-I have to go,” he chokes out, and scrambles from the room. The door slams and he flees blindly down the hall. He barrels into the stairwell and feels his legs give way. He has just enough time to pitch his clothes before he collapses on all fours and spills the contents of his gut. It splatters thickly, and he retches, coughs, sobs, hating how the noise bounces and echoes off the walls. It’s over quickly. He moans, scoots away from the mess he’s made and leans against the door.
Why doesn’t he come after me?
He remembers how they stood together, mere hours before; how he slipped his arms around Dean’s waist and kissed the corner of his mouth.
He remembers what he told Dean, how Dean was so kind, so understanding.
He remembers the frowning concentration on Dean's face as he studied the note.
Wiping his mouth, he stands shakily and pulls on his clothes. He’s shivering, teeth chattering; he wishes he'd brought his coat.
He reaches for the shoes he swiped from underneath the bed, and a nervous little giggle escapes him. Grabbing his own or even Dean's would have been too obvious; in his hands are the fluffy slippers Ada gifted him.
And in that moment, he knows where he wants to be.
The stories from Jerry's dream are all taken from "Jerry Lewis In Person" by Jerry Lewis and Herb Gluck, and "Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime" by Arthur Marx, as well as assorted magazine articles.
Jerry's age when he met Dean is a point of contention. In his autobiography, Jerry says he met Dean in 1945. In Marx's book, the meeting takes place the previous year. I personally own at least two articles that claim they met in 1942, when Jerry would have been either fifteen or sixteen. As I like the idea of Jerry being so young when he met this man he idolised, I decided to use this version of events for my story.
Chapter 9: A Special Friend
After a somewhat awkward encounter with the man behind the desk, wherein Jerry tries (and fails, if the prissy fella’s raised eyebrow is anything to go by) to convince him that whoever threw up in the stairwell wasn’t him, no sir, Jerry pushes through the front doors into a wall of ice. The shock of it makes him seriously consider going back up to the room, but then he thinks about Rose, about her impossible suggestion; and about his partner’s voice drifting from the darkness.
He shakes his head and hugs himself. A brief exploration turns up one lousy cigarette in his inside pocket but no match or lighter. Still, Jerry shoves it between his teeth; the filter tastes stale and old, but its familiar weight is a little comforting. He sees his partner leaning close to chase the tip with a match, or better yet lighting up himself and passing the smoke to Jerry. He shoves these images away, plants his fingers firmly in his armpits, and sets off into the night.
For the first five minutes or so, he is able to ignore the cold. The promise of warm milk and pastrami on rye – to say nothing of Ada’s twinkling gaze and kind hands – works wonders, and his legs continue to pump steadily even as icy fingers slip up his pant legs and down his collar. He finds he is able to walk with his eyes closed, so strong and so clear is the image of the deli in his mind. These comforting pictures come hand in hand with recent memories, with the terrible security found under an Italian man’s arm, squirrelled away in their favourite booth; and with that, the feel of his mouth, the scent of his sweat, the touch of his hand.
Jerry shudders. He’s an idiot, he knows, for not taking another second to grab his coat, so eagerly discarded in the dark, from the room. Better yet, his partner’s coat, that hot ugly thing he refuses to replace.
“Harry Horseshit,” Jerry mutters. The cigarette tumbles from his numb lips; he doesn’t stop.
Once they walked home late. It was cold, their breath fogging the air. Jerry forgot his coat somewhere. He shivered and shook but hardly cared. Chattering on about something inconsequential, he worked hard to keep his voice steady, to keep his sentences unbroken, as his partner slipped that camel coat over his shoulders.
His nine-year-old’s imagination sees him running through the night, coat in hand, ready to wrap his little partner up and keep him safe and warm.
Jerry laughs harshly. He realises he’s stopped walking and feels so numb he has to look down, just to check his feet are still there. With an almighty effort, he lifts a leg and carries on, slowly figuring out the other stupid thing.
He tries to get his frozen brain to punch some numbers. Ten minutes in a cab this journey takes. How long on foot? How fast can he walk? Walking, he thinks. You call this walking? His legs lock and stutter; the fact that they’re still moving is a minor miracle. How long? he thinks. He even forgot his watch.
How long? How long from when we fell asleep to when I woke up? How much time for him to leave me, find her, bring her back? How long before I disturbed their little party?
Listen to yourself, he thinks. He is dimly aware that he has stopped walking again. Who cares? Who cares what he did, what they did? What’s it to you, anyhow? Not your business. He’s a big boy, Joey, let him do what he wants.
What he wants. He chokes out laughter. Not me, then.
“Fuck.” He digs the heels of his palms into his eyes. He sees blackness, then swirling, twinkling stars, then bright lights. Blackness again. Nothing.
He sees Dean.
He’s walking again. Could it take an hour, this journey, if he’s on foot? He realises he doesn’t care, it doesn’t matter. He firmly believes that if he keeps moving, then no matter the cold he’ll get there, sooner or later, and maybe the deli will be dark, but Ada will open up at some point and usher him into the warm, admonishing his being out so late without a coat, without so much as a real pair of shoes. She’ll fuss and criticise and worry, and he’ll love her for it.
She’ll probably ask after Dean.
Jerry thinks about his partner. It’s easy to think about him, despite everything; he’s always thinking about him. It’s easy, he realises, to think about Dean’s eyes, his mouth, his hand on Jerry’s neck, and not about the girl in his bed – or any girl, for that matter. It’s easy to think about Dean pressed close, to think about those fingers on his spine, how their legs slotted perfectly together.
Like two puzzle pieces.
“Why ain’t I mad?” he muses. He wants to be mad. Maybe he ought to be mad. He thinks of his tearful confession, how Dean didn’t pull back from him, didn’t gently push him away. He thinks about how Dean already knew, and still wanted to be with him.
He thinks about Dean leading him to the room, to the bed.
Warmth surges from somewhere deep down in his gut; it’s swallowed up in the frozen air.
How close now? Still he’s trudging. He recognises the buildings, he thinks. It’s hard to tell in the dark, and when he’s only seen them through the cab windows. But yes, he knows this place, this street. That sudden unexpected warmth thawed a little part of him, and he remembers; he walked this way back from the deli with Dean. Could it have only been yesterday morning? So much has changed, it may as well be years ago.
Years ago. He thinks of Dean, years ago. Did I dream about him last night? He can’t remember; it’s all foggy and mixed up. Maybe it’s the cold. But he thinks Dean was there, smiling at him.
He wishes Dean were smiling at him now.
For the second time in as many hours, Jerry is being shaken. This time, there’s no dream he needs saving from. Instead, there’s a cold, numb blackness. In it, he hears voices. He drags open his eyes and finds himself looking into the face of a young man he vaguely recognises. The man says something, but Jerry can’t make it out. Hands slip under his arms, and he’s hauled to his feet. He sways, almost falls, and the young man holds him. Then someone else comes, and Jerry almost bursts into tears.
“Foolish boy!” Ada touches his cheek, and then lets the young man bear Jerry into the deli. Her son, he thinks, placing him finally. Jerry saw him yesterday; he was sweet with Ada, and Jerry assumed she must be his mother, but looking at him now he might be too young. Whoever he is, in less than a minute he's half-carried Jerry upstairs and sat him carefully on Ada’s couch.
“I’ll get blankets.”
“You will not,” Ada says. “You’ll open up.” She waves the young man out of the living room and back downstairs. Then she turns to Jerry, who tries to smile.
“You scare me half to death then look at me so innocent?” She makes a noise in the back of her throat. “What were you thinking, out in the cold so late?”
“Wasn’t thinking.” He feels nine years old again, and there’s a comfort in that. He pouts, puts on his Idiot voice: “My tuches is frozen.”
“And whose fault is this?” She goes to him, touches his face. “But you are alive. That is something, at least.” Making that noise again, she bustles into the small kitchen. Jerry listens to the faint clatters and clinks. He isn’t sure how long he sat outside, legs hugged tight to his chest, spine freezing gradually, but he thinks it doesn’t matter now. He looks around the room. It’s small, perhaps a little too small to be considered truly cosy, but that’s the word that comes to Jerry’s mind. A gas fire burns steadily, and Jerry feels his toes wriggle to life. He sinks into the cushions and lets his eyes drift up.
There’s a framed photograph on the mantel, another young man, smiling into the living room. Something tells Jerry this may be the son he feels instinctively Ada must have.
Next to the photo is a candle.
Jerry swallows and looks away. There’s a heavy throw on the back of the couch; he grabs it, wraps it around himself, and sits patiently – as patiently as Jerry Lewis can be expected to sit, anyhow.
Ada returns with a large tray. Jerry can see a mug of something and a bowl whose aroma is unmistakable. She sets the hearty breakfast down on Jerry’s lap and twitches the throw closer at his throat.
“I’m sorry,” he says.
“Oy.” She strokes his hair. “Apology accepted. Eat.”
“I didn’t mean to scare you. I just…” He chews his lip. “I didn’t know where else to go.”
She looks at him closely. “Talk later. Komm essen.”
He flinches. An image of purpling bruises flickers and dies. Ada’s expression is puzzled, concerned, and he tries to smile at her. Then he turns his attention to the steaming dish of matzo ball soup. He tries to eat slowly, politely, but his stomach growls, and the bowl sits empty before he knows what’s happened. He sits sipping at the mug – some hot, sweet concoction – while Ada clears away the tray.
“So.” She sits beside him, fixes the throw again. “Tell me.”
Jerry opens his mouth, knowing he has to be cautious. All the… irregular details will have to be carefully edited. He doesn’t want to lie to her, but the whole truth isn’t something he wants her to hear.
Slowly, he explains about last night. He tells her that he and Dean had a conversation, and that Jerry thought it went well. After a pause, he tells her he had a nightmare – “I don’t remember it all, something about my childhood, I think” – and woke up to find Dean comforting him. His voice falters, cracks. He takes a breath. “There was… someone else in the room. Dean had a friend over.” He can’t look at her.
Ada laughs softly. “I am old, sheifale, not stupid. So he had a girl in his bed.”
My bed, Jerry thinks, but it’s too hard to explain. “I was… a little uncomfortable. I think because I’d just woken up – I was confused.” He shakes his head. “Anyhow I got… I got upset I think, and I left.” He bites his tongue and waits.
After a moment, Ada asks, “He didn’t go after you?”
“I thought he might,” Jerry admits, and quickly brushes his eyes. Desperate to change the subject, he blurts, “The fella who helped me. He’s not your son, is he?”
Ada blinks. She shakes her head. “No, no. My nephew. He’s a good boy.” She looks from Jerry to where his gaze has drifted: back to the photograph on the mantel. “Ah.” Jerry thinks her legs tremble a little as she goes to retrieve the picture. “My son,” she says, and as she passes the frame to Jerry, he sees the resemblance immediately. The eyes, he thinks. They’re kind.
He thinks about the candle.
“I’m so sorry.”
She makes a soft sound and touches her son’s face through the glass. “It was a long time ago.” Then she looks at Jerry and almost whispers, “You remind me of him a little.”
Jerry is touched but openly confused. “Why?”
She smiles, and Jerry knows.
“He had a special friend also.”
Jerry’s heart stops. Out of fear? God, no, who could be afraid of this angel? No, not fear. The shock of it could do the job, but Jerry thinks it’s something else.
“O-oh.” He clears his throat. “Well… Dean is pretty special.”
Ada touches his hand. Jerry feels his heart kick to life, and is relieved that Ada’s demeanour goes back to normal.
“You call this special?” she says. “Letting you out in the cold like this.” She shakes her head.
Jerry chuckles. Then he bites his lip. “Can I use your phone?” he asks. “I… I have to call my wife.”
She replaces the photograph. For a moment, Jerry stares at her back, which shudders a little. He wants to comfort her, but then she’s turning back to him, holding out a hand to lead him to the phone.
When he gets through, Patti’s voice on the end of the line erodes something in him, and he starts to cry softly. “Hi, Momma,” he says. "I miss you."
"I miss you, too."
She lets him cry. Then she asks how he is, how is Dean, how's the act?
"Oh, it's wonderful," he says, and he means it. "I wish you were here."
She drifts from the receiver, and then a new voice comes on the line:
"Daddy, I love you!"
He laughs thickly. "I love you. Do you miss me?"
"Are you being good for Mommy?"
"I'm glad." He thinks about them alone in the apartment. He tries to grasp whatever awful things were in his dreams last night, can't. But still he shudders. "Can you put Mommy back on the line?"
Patti goes to speak, but Jerry cuts her off: “I can’t stand the idea of being apart from you,” he says, an idea forming. “I want to send you something.”
"No, listen, I’m going to send you something. If I can’t be there with you, then I can at least do something about it."
"What are you sending? There's no money to—"
"Don't worry, Momma. Just trust me. Do you trust me?"
"Of course I trust you."
"Then trust me now." He remembers something. "I'm seeing Irving today - he'll iron out all the details. You'll love it, Momma."
They talk a little longer. They say I love you; Jerry feels that adolescent thrill as though it's the first time. He wonders briefly about saying it to Dean, how he can say it to two different people and still mean it.
Dean. His heart thuds. As he rings off, he senses movement nearby, and half expects to find his partner hovering at his elbow. But it's only Ada, waiting.
"You have a visitor," she says.
It seems so long ago. Is five years a long time? It feels that way: five years since Jerry found himself beckoned across a busy street at 54th and Broadway. Sixteen years old, skinnier even than now, acne fading on his cheeks, and a frankly ridiculous pompadour adding about a foot to his already gangling frame, he hurried over to his friend, who was standing with the most beautiful person young Joey Levitch had ever seen. This stranger, tan and tall and handsome, in a long camel coat and red patent leather shoes (Pimp shoes! he thought delightedly), turned an easy smile on this newcomer and held out a large, warm hand for him to shake. Jerry wondered, as his skinny fingers were swallowed up, if he hadn’t been asleep for the last sixteen years; was he finally ready to wake up and start living? Suddenly, the world seemed brighter, the sun hotter, and the heart in his thin chest stronger and louder than before.
I never thanked Sonny for introducing us, he thinks as he follows Ada back into the living room, where his visitor waits. He knows who it is – of course he does – and even though he’s turned corners to see his partner countless times now, it feels like the first all over again.
“I’ll leave you boys alone,” says Ada, pausing to pat Dean’s cheek on her way downstairs.
Oh, Jerry thinks as the door closes behind her. Oh, it’s not fair. His chest feels tight, hot and cold all at once. He’s forgotten how to speak. It doesn’t matter, though, because Dean’s already speaking:
“I didn’t know what you needed.”
Jerry blinks. He now notices the little bundle in Dean’s arms. He sees his coat, neatly folded, his shoes and socks on top, the tongue of his nice blue tie peeking out from somewhere in the middle. He sees all this at a glance, and then looks back at his partner.
“Paul,” he says. His voice catches. “I’m sorry for runnin’ out like that.” He tries to laugh, like everything’s okay. And isn’t it? Dean’s here. Dean’s here, your Dean, your Paul, isn’t everything all right now? “I got a little confused I think.”
Dean nods slowly. He puts down the bundle and shoves his hands into his pockets.
He’s nervous, Jerry thinks. He’s cute when he’s nervous. He laughs a little, for real this time, and then covers his face. He wishes Dean would hold him.
“Come sit with me, Paul.” Jerry pulls the throw tighter around his shoulders and goes to sit cross-legged on the couch. He watches his partner, who takes off his coat, drapes it on the chair with the bundle, and then joins Jerry.
He’s too far away.
“Paul, here.” Jerry strokes his thigh, wanting him close. Dean comes nearer, hands folded in his lap. His hair’s mussed. He’s forgotten his tie. His shoelaces hang loose. Jerry slips his fingers into those dark curls and tries to tame them. Dean sighs and closes his eyes. Jerry works hard not to show how pleased he is, just hums tunelessly and plays with his hair.
Then, after a minute, Dean rests a hand on Jerry’s knee.
A little braver, a little stupid, Jerry asks, “You gettin’ fresh, Paul?”
Dean chuckles. He strokes, then takes back his hand. Jerry copies, returning his own to his lap, and then watches Dean’s face work. There’s so much there, so many things he wants to do and say, and Jerry hates that he can’t. He doesn’t hate Dean – God, how could he ever? – but he hates that there’s all this big important stuff trapped in his head that won’t ever get out. Dean’s wonderful brain is thwarted by his traitorous mouth or tongue, maybe his heart. Whatever it is, it makes Jerry so impossibly sad that he wants to cry and scream and fistfight God.
“Paul,” he whispers. He runs an index finger over his temple. “It’s too much.”
“In your head, Paul.” The finger moves, slips over his brow, down the other side. “Tell me a little of it.”
Dean’s mouth works. He shakes his head and gets up. Jerry makes a pitiful little noise of protest and holds his sleeve.
“It’s all right, Jer.” Dean touches him again, one of those warm hands on his face. “It’s all right. I’m still here. I need to get something.”
Jerry nods and lets him go. It’s only a couple feet anyhow – it couldn’t possibly hurt him that much, could it, to be a couple feet from his partner? But as Dean crosses the floor and roots in his coat pocket, Jerry feels his heart thud so hard he’s convinced it must be audible. Come back, he thinks, fidgeting. Come back, come back.
Dean comes back. He sits beside Jerry. He sits close. Then, after a little hesitation, he holds out a scrap of paper.
Jerry knows what it is.
“I thought you threw it away.” His palms have gone clammy.
Dean shrugs, not looking at him. “I got it back. Thought you should see it.” He looks at him now. “It’s all right. I promise.”
Jerry takes the slip of paper and unfolds it, reads it. He frowns. He reads it again. Part of it is just a short number – her room number, Jerry recalls – but the rest is a little confusing, a little… frightening. But isn’t that ridiculous?
You boys are so close.
Partners must share everything…
Would you share me, too?
Dean’s raking fingers through his hair, mussing it again. “I didn’t…” He sighs. Those tricky words, all tangled up in his tongue. Jerry crumples the paper and touches his hands, asking him wordlessly to move them, which he does, letting Jerry smooth the curls again.
“I didn’t know,” Dean says. His hands rest on Jerry’s knees. “I didn’t know what she meant. I just thought…”
Jerry’s nodding. “You thought she was asking permission.”
“You thought she meant that she’d already spent time with me – could she spend time with you, too?” He shrugs. “She didn’t know if that was something we did.”
“Yeah.” Dean visibly relaxes. “Yeah, that’s what I thought. If I thought she wanted—”
Jerry flinches. “Don’t, Paul.”
Once Jerry’s finished with his hair, he strokes his face, his neck, all the way down his arms to join Dean’s hands on his own knees. Their fingers slot together, and their eyes meet. They smile.
“What was your dream about?”
Jerry tries to remember. “I dunno. There’s snatches of things. Bad stuff, mostly. I can’t remember it all.” He squeezes Dean’s hands. “You were there.”
“Christ,” he says. “Musta been terrifying.”
Jerry laughs softly. “Yeah,” he says. “It was.” He rubs his fingertips over Dean’s knuckles. “You’re pretty terrifying sometimes.”
Jerry looks at him, sees the shock in his eyes.
“Sometimes,” Jerry says. “It’s not your fault. I just mean… Sometimes I get scared.”
“I don’t want you to be scared, Jerry.”
“Too late.” He kisses Dean’s hands. “But it’s a good kind of scary, I think. Like before we go out onstage. Or like when your first kid comes along. Scary, but kinda nice, kinda… important.” He reaches for Dean, slips his hands inside his jacket. He can feel the movement of his chest, the slight dampness from the last few hours’ excitement, and beneath that his heartbeat. It’s slowing down, steadying; Jerry counts the beats, tries to sync his own. “I think it’s good to be scared, sometimes,” he goes on. “Being scared means you’ve got something good. Something you wanna hold on to.” He hugs Dean, rests his head on his shoulder. “You ain’t scared, too, Dean?”
Dean chuckles at the Idiot voice and hugs him back. He hugs him hard, harder than ever, like he’s trying to pull Jerry inside him. Jerry wants to go – willingly, easily, the easiest decision in the world – and locks a hand around his wrist to hug tight tight tight. Then, breath brushing Jerry’s ear, so low he has to strain despite their closeness: “I’m scared, Jer.”
Jerry raises his head to kiss his partner’s cheek. Then he pulls away and says, “I have to ask you something.”
“You can be mad if you wanna.”
“Oh, Jer. I won’t get—”
Dean closes his mouth and waits.
“If…” Jerry chews his bottom lip. “If when she said… when she said she wanted I should stay… because she liked us both…” God, but why is it so fucking hard? He thinks about those things – the kind and the cruel and the mixed-up, all tangled together in Dean’s head, and begins to understand a little how he must feel all the time. He pushes on, braver than he feels: “If I stayed… If I stayed with you, what would you have done?”
Dean’s mouth drops open. Jerry watches his Adam’s apple twitch. It gives Jerry a little time to think how that might work. Such a small bed to share, so maybe they would have gone back to her room, that nice double with more space, and where would Dean go and where would Jerry? She would be between them, maybe, but does one guy go in front and one behind? Maybe one kissing her mouth and the other her shoulder, hands between her legs or on her chest. And would she tell them what to do, what she liked, or let them be in charge? And would she want they should be together too?
He recoils from this, refocuses on Dean, Dean Martin, Dino Paul Crocetti, his partner, his friend and brother and father and other things he doesn’t know the name of; he of the tall, dark and handsome voice; he of the new nose and perfect curly hair, and a bottom lip Jerry wants so badly to kiss and maybe nibble just a bit, if Dean will let him; he of the large, gentle hands that stroke and grab and hold, that always know where to touch.
“Maybe we are partners,” he hears himself say. “Maybe we do share, and that’s fine. I don’t care if you wanna sleep with a girl I already went with. I guess you feel the same. But this other thing…” He hugs himself. “We share everything, Paul, but I don’t wanna share you. If… If we…” He can’t do it, has to change it. “If a girl wants that, I can’t do it.”
He doesn’t say, If you want that, I can try.
Hurriedly, he adds, “I’m sorry.”
“No, Jer.” Dean’s holding his shoulders, staring into his eyes. “Don’t apologise. I—” It’s stuck somewhere. Jerry thinks it’s in his throat, so he shuffles closer and gently kisses the sensitive skin. Dean moans a little, so it must be working; Jerry licks around his Adam’s apple, and Dean’s words emerge: “I-I don’t want you should do anything you don’t wanna.”
Jerry smiles against his neck, tickled by this use of his own idiosyncratic phrasing. “You’re so kind, Paul.”
“I mean it. So kind. You were so nice last night. You coulda got mad and you didn’t. You said so many nice things.” He nuzzles. “Thank you.”
“Why would I get mad?” The words vibrate against Jerry’s lips. “You didn’t do anything wrong.”
“Mm.” Wrong, he thinks. Doesn’t that one word sum up so much about him? “Can I ask you one more thing, Paul?”
“Surely.” His fingers trail up and down Jerry’s back; he shivers, tries to snuggle even closer, his eyes clamped shut.
“Why’d you bring her to our room? If you didn’t think she wanted… that. Why’d you bring her? Didn’t… wasn’t…” Didn’t you wanna stay in bed with me, Paul? Wasn’t it enough to be in bed with me, Paul?
Were you only pretending to be asleep, Paul?
Dean’s hand stutters, stops, falls. He sighs. “Aw, c’mon, Jer, I don’t know. I wasn’t thinkin’.” He laughs bitterly. “No, I was thinkin’, but I wasn’t thinkin’ clear.” He sighs again. His hand comes back to stroke. “You know, Jer… You said nice things, too.”
Jerry pulls away to study his partner’s face. “I meant them,” he says. “I do love you, Paul. But I…” He thinks about Dean leading him from the stairwell to the bedroom to the bed, stroking his neck and holding him close, letting him kiss the corner of his mouth, then fully, not even a little mad. He thinks about what might have happened if he hadn’t confessed. “I don’t want that to ruin anything.”
“Oh, Jerry.” He holds his face, thumbs fresh tears from his cheeks. “It won’t. It couldn’t. I—” It’s stuck again, whatever it is, and Jerry thinks it’s too big, too serious for him to dislodge with his lips and his tongue this time. Instead, he reaches behind himself and pulls the throw up and over them both, tinting their world green and gold and red, hiding them in case anyone comes.
Dean watches him, curious, smiling now, and in the relative clandestine darkness, Jerry reaches for his partner.
Irving’s waiting in their booth. Jerry bounds over and hugs him, tugging Dean’s hand. While Irving makes small talk, Jerry steals his glasses and puts them on, exaggerating horror at his friend’s blindness. He takes it all patiently, which is one of the reasons Jerry likes him so much, and he doesn’t complain when his young charge takes off their ties (the nice blue one Dean brought him and Irving’s plain black one) and switches them. He stops clowning long enough to inhale a pastrami sandwich and kiss his partner stickily on the cheek. Dean chuckles and gently pushes him away, says something to Irving about needing a little break, and climbs out of the booth.
“You never have time for me!” Jerry pouts, then grins. “I’ll miss you, bubbe.”
Dean speaks briefly with Ada at the counter, and then he’s leaving. Jerry watches him, grinning like an idiot, not giving a shit. As Dean’s broad back disappears, he regains his composure and turns to Irving.
“Can you do something for me?”
“Sure, Jerry, I can certainly try.”
“I wanna send something to Patti. I spoke with her this morning, and I just feel so… apart from her here, you know? It’s a long story, but I felt so bad last night, and I hate that I’m not there to look after her and Gary.”
Irving tilts his head. He smiles kindly, and as he replies he starts removing Jerry’s blue tie from his collar. “That sounds like a good idea, Jerry.” They swap ties. “What do you want to send her?”
Irving’s hands pause, leaving his fresh knot loose. “A dog?”
“Yeah, a dog. You know, four legs, a tail, kinda furry-lookin’?”
“Yes, I know what a dog is, Jerry.”
“Congratulations. I’m serious, Irving. I wanna send ’em a dog.”
Irving ruminates. He finishes tying his tie and removes his glasses, breathes on the lenses, wipes them with his special cloth. “Dogs can be very expensive.”
“I know that, and maybe this one will be, too, but Dean and I are makin’ money, Irving, we’re really makin’ money, and I think Patti and I will be able to afford this.” He looks away. “I need this. I need to know they’re safe. This’ll help a little.”
Irving nods. Jerry leans over the table, takes Irving’s head in his hands and kisses his bald pate. “You’re a real mensch, Irving. I mean it sincerely.”
He smiles, and they sit in silence for a minute. Then Irving asks, “What were you doing upstairs?”
“Oh, that?” He chuckles. “It’s a long story. We needed to talk about something, so Mrs Blum let us use her apartment.”
Irving nods again. “You boys are pretty close.”
“Oh, yeah. Dean’s like the big brother I never had.”
Irving smiles. “Your brother?”
“Sure. He’s always lookin’ out for me, protecting me.” He tells Irving about the other night, how Dean threw that goon over the bar. He hopes his eyes don’t sparkle too much at the memory. “I wouldn’t have made it half as far without Dean,” he says, and then he goes quiet, a little overwhelmed.
Irving leans forward. He’s studying Jerry so closely, so intently that he squirms under his gaze.
“What? I say something wrong?”
“Are you being careful, Jerry?”
“I’ve seen the show. It’s very funny. I didn’t know you did it offstage, too.”
Jerry swallows. He’s been kissing Dean, flirting, like it’s nothing, like it’s something regular fellas do all the time.
But I’m joking, he thinks. There’s customers here, Irving’s here. I got an audience. No one cares – no one even said anything!
“O-oh.” Jerry clears his throat. “Well, the act is kind of an… exaggeration of our relationship, you know. Our friendship,” he adds quickly. He doesn’t like that look in Irving’s eye. In fact, he’s starting to hate it. "We're just kiddn' around, okay?" He feels like he's begging. He feels like a kid, desperate not to be hated or hit.
"I know, Jerry." Irving's tone is, Jerry thinks, a little patronising. "All I mean is that folks could get the wrong idea. You don't want that to get in the way of your act." He smiles then, and it's a lot kinder. "I'm not trying to be cruel, Jerry. I just want you to be careful."
“Oh, sure,” Jerry says. He wants a break, wants to disappear, so the Idiot says: “Will ya buy me a malted, Oiving?”
Irving buys him a malted. The atmosphere turns calm and easy, and Jerry's halfway through his drink when the little bell above the door tinkles.
“Dean’s back,” he announces to Irving, to the deli and its patrons. “Dean’s back!”
“Yes, Jerry, Dean’s back,” says Dean, sliding into the booth.
“The great goyische hunter returns!” He holds his hand under the table. "You bring me anything?"
They're sitting in the park again. They're siting close. It's much later in the day than it was last time, and they watch a steady stream of people go by, kids and their parents feeding crusts to birds, young couples strolling, old men walking dogs at a glacial pace. Jerry aches to hold Dean's hand, to play footsie a little, but he wants to be good and behave, so instead they sit and talk about nothing, about everything. They crack jokes, make up stories about strangers. They smoke. It's nice, Jerry thinks. Just two regular guys.
Chicago's nearly over, already in the rear-view. They did good work here - especially that last show, Jerry with his new crew-cut. The act's almost perfect now, and Jerry thinks he'll try to convince Dean to wear tuxes next time. It's funnier, somehow; he just knows it.
Saying goodbye to Chicago is easy; saying goodbye to Ada was almost impossible. They hugged and kissed and hugged again. She had found the slippers upstairs, put them in a cute little box so Jerry could keep them safe. He was already crying and at that he was nearly hysterical. Dean put an arm around him and thanked Ada again and again.
"Be safe," she said to them at the door, so low, with such feeling that Jerry had to hug her again, hug her tight, even while he feared he might break her.
Jerry didn't tell Dean what Ada meant, what they discussed upstairs. He will, but that's for later.
Now, it's time to go. Neither of them announces it; they stand in unison and start the slow walk down the path. They're quiet now, both deep in thought, and as they pass beneath the large tree, Jerry remembers something. He remembers what he wanted to do but couldn't. But it's different now, isn't it? Dean knows all about him now, knows how he feels, what he wants. What he is. Maybe what they both are, but that's too much for him right now. It's different, anyhow. So he speeds up a little, turns to face his partner and takes hold of his lapels. He walks backwards into the shadow to hide them both behind the trunk. His heart hammers; his breath catches in his throat. Then Dean smiles, and Jerry kisses him. He puts as much of himself as he can into that kiss and lets it linger on his partner's bottom lip. He holds tight to Dean's lapels, knowing if he moves his hands he'll go too far. But it's all right, he thinks, kissing him again. Dean's mouth is still but smiling, and it's all right.
This is all right.
Thank you so much to everyone who has read and/or commented on and/or left kudos on this story!
I can't even begin to tell you how much I appreciate it.
I hope you enjoyed this final chapter, and thank you again <3