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singing with the sound off

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Sometimes he sits in movie theaters and watches with his eyes closed. He remembers when there was radio and when there were silent pictures. Now it's both at once. It's a strange and heady feeling when he's listening to Don singing in one ear and whispering, "Why'd they use that take?" in the other. He hears his music fill the theater and the first time it happened Kathy had reached over Don's lap and grabbed his hand.

"Congratulations," she'd whispered, and he knew she understood--she liked to watch movies with her eyes closed too.

He loves his job on these new movies, writing music. He wasn't joking (except he was) when he said he'd write a symphony if they didn't need him now that it was all talking pictures. He has drafts of one, even, stashed away in a shoe box in the back of his closet. He used to play parts of it for mood music, watching the Don and Lina show for the cameras. But this is better somehow--more people get to hear the notes. Oh, maybe they aren't really listening beneath the talking and the sound effects, but they hear it, and that's the important thing.

It used to be, after work, he and Don would go for drinks at the bar nearest the studio, trying to pick up girls. Correction: Don would try to pick up girls and Cosmo would find a nice one who wasn't all about snagging a star. At the end of the night he'd see her to her door, as Don went home with or without company, and the next day Don would rib him about it and he'd roll his eyes. People called him a gentleman, but that wasn't ever what they meant, except for Don who was blind to any human interaction that didn't include him--not in an egotistical way, or at least not like Lina. Don was better than that. But he didn't notice things unless you pointed him in the right direction first and Cosmo didn't feel the need for him to be pointed. If the vaudeville years when it was just the two of them on the road, too poor to go for drinks, sharing hotel rooms and sheets and pillows and socks hadn't clued him in, then there was no reason the odd screenwriter or lightning technician should be the tip off.

Anyway, they stopped sharing a bed after LA. Even when they were still sharing an apartment it didn't seem right anymore. It had never been a thing anyway, and there was always a difference between having a reputation and having a reputation. It was something Cosmo didn't want to get on the wrong side of. Didn't want Don to get a reputation, either, but mostly he wanted to avoid it for himself.

It all was for the best anyway--soon Kathy would live with Don, in that monstrosity of a house. She was keeping her shared apartment until the wedding. R.F. wasn't entirely happy; he liked his stars to live in style (though not too much style), because it made the studio look less cheap, but Kathy hadn't changed when she'd become famous. It wasn't like Don, who had always been famous and was just waiting for everyone else to catch on. No, Kathy was still Kathy, except sometimes she had billboards with her face on it.

She liked books and going to plays--things Don never had much patience for--and she taken to asking Cosmo, more often than not, to go with. She also asked him about the wedding planning--she wanted simple, Don wanted style and Cosmo had become the unofficial, behind-the-scenes tiebreaker.

Once, when she'd been feeding him wedding cake samples in Don's kitchen, as Don slept on the couch in the other room, she asked about his part in the ceremony. She'd been telling him how the preparations for a wedding were strangely reminiscent of the preparations for filming a movie. There was the costuming and the bickering over the score and the location scouting and the hundreds of details that you don't realize you have to think of until you do.

"Have you gotten a suit?" she said, "You'll be standing up there too."

"Why Kathy," he joked, "don't tell me I'm the priest. Or are you asking me to be the maid of honor?" She looked at him like he'd just played the wrong chord and he took pity. "Don hasn't asked me to be best man or a groomsman--I thought he'd gone with one of his brothers."

"That's ridiculous," she said, stomping into the next room. "Don! Don! Donald Lockwood! Wake up this instant!"

Cosmo fell a little in love with Kathy right then.

When Don finally woke up to her looming over him, he'd just said that he thought it was obvious that it would be Cosmo before he rolled over and went back to sleep. "Who else would be my best man?"

After work, now, the three of them sometimes go their separate ways, but, just as often, they all go to Don's place and cook up dinner. And at lunch it's no longer just Don and Cosmo, but Kathy joining them, or Kathy and Cosmo, singing over sandwiches.

"We need to find you someone," she told him once.

"But Kathy, you're the only girl for me."

"I'm serious Cosmo--there are some great, sweet people--not just from he studio--who'd be wonderful."

He shrugged. "No kidding Kathy. But, it's fine. I like my life."

"Aren't you ever lonely?"

But he wasn't. It wasn't as if he was in love with someone who off and left him for the perfect girl, because Don didn't leave and that girl meant that he had two best friends now. He's always been able to find enough sex to get by, and he was wed to a job he'd never even dreamed of as a kid because it was too perfect.

"What was Don like before?" she asked, once.

"The same--it was the places that were different," he'd answered.

Cosmo and Don used to sneak into movies and swipe comics from the corner store. Once, Don, hyped on his brother's stories about girls, snagged a skin mag. He ripped out two of the pictures and gave one to Cosmo and kept one himself. Cosmo still has his somewhere, probably at the bottom of the box with his abandoned symphony. That was the story he told Kathy when she asked if there was anything about Don that he wouldn't want her to know. He supposed there were other stories, about what it was like to be Don's first kiss (that he knew of), but there were some things you didn't say out loud, even (especially) when everyone kind of already knew.

Another time, when the buzz around the first Lockwood/Selden flick was dying down and the hype for the second one was just starting up, Kathy and Cosmo went for a drink. Don was doing press, and Kathy was recovering from a cold, and he'd been going at it with the editor all day, trying to work out the music cues. It was more complicated now with dialogue and singing and sound effects; he had to relearn how to make movies. They all had to. The Dancing Cavalier and Singin' in the Rain were only the beginning--people liked them because they didn't realize where the mistakes were. Now that the other studios were stepping up, they had to too.

"What about you?" Cosmo asked, "What is the story behind the radiant Kathy Selden?"

"Older parents, only child, wanted to see the world against their wishes," she said, "And you? What is the past of Cosmo Brown, the untamable musical maestro?"

His mother listened to Bach, he sent money home for his sister. His father left to find work and then came back again when the work started up again. He lived next to Don, their mothers shared recipes. Don's family wasn't a bad one, but things were hard and they had three growing boys. When Don left it was a relief, Cosmo knows--more for the younger brother, less work for the older. Cosmo leaving wasn't a relief. Times were tough on the families, but they weren't impossible, and they had food and love and it was enough.

"There was always music in my house," he said, "and that's why I can't stop singing."

She took his hand. "Me too," she said, "me too."

Cosmo isn't one for dwelling on the past, and less for feeling sorry for himself. He doesn't do regret or women and he loves Don like a brother and a best friend and a partner, but he never thought he'd get anything more than that. And if you look at the three of them from the outside--Cosmo, Kathy, Don--you'd think it was Kathy and Cosmo revolving around the star, but it's not. All three are grounded, and if the edges of their relationships overlap then that's only to be expected, because when they sing, they sing in harmony.