"…the theatre has one special characteristic. It is always possible to start again."
—Peter Brook, The Empty Space
"It's like psychoanalysis," Montgomery says, "nothing ever changes, but at least it's familiar."
Doris rolls her eyes at him—that's different, at least, and he likes it better than her tragic sighs—and frowns down at the menu, as if they haven't been coming to the exact same diner for four years. "College was supposed to be different. Just because we went to PA shouldn't mean we already know everything. I'm supposed to be developing my craft, not doing endless tongue exercises."
Montgomery raises his eyebrows, and Doris's cheeks go a little pink. "You shut up, Montgomery MacNeil."
"No really," Montgomery prompts, "weren't you going to a movie with that guy from your voice class? Bob? Ben? Dave?"
"Phil," Doris says, and then she does sigh, "and, I don't know, I thought it would be better, meeting people who never knew me when I was boring old Doris Finsecker, but then they don't know me, do they? I love being Dominique Dupont, who never had to sing at a stupid birthday party or Bar Mitzvah in her perfect glamorous life. Being somebody else is wonderful, except when I remember that I'm being somebody else."
"Schizophrenia not all it's cracked up to be?" Montgomery says dryly, but he knows what she means.
Before he can say anything else, their waiter comes over to take their orders. When he's gone again, Doris twists her paper napkin between her fingers until it starts to shred, and asks, "Have you seen him?"
Montgomery wishes that their conversations didn't always circle back to Ralph; but then he thinks about Ralph, who was just waking up when Montgomery left to meet Doris for lunch. Comedy club hours keep him out late, especially when he's still trying to patch up the mess he made of his gig at Catch a Rising Star, and he was still mostly asleep in Montgomery's bed at half past twelve, but he'd caught Montgomery by the back of the neck and leaned up to kiss him goodbye, slow and sleepy and a little sweet, and, well—it is what it is.
"He's been staying over," he says to Doris.
"Oh," Doris says, and looks away, "that's—good. Is that good?"
"Doris," Montgomery tries, but it comes out rougher than he intended. He's usually so good at keeping this conversation light. "You could see him. I could bring him to lunch. You could come over. He misses you, and I know you miss him."
"I can't," Doris says grimly. "I left him, and you're—" She waves a hand in the air, a gesture that Montgomery thinks is probably supposed to be suggestive of whatever Doris thinks two men do in bed. "I have to concentrate on my career, I don't have time for—"
"Friends." Montgomery can hear his voice going quiet and tight, like it always does when he's upset. "You just said that you aren't learning anything new at Tisch, so what you really mean is that Dominique Dupont doesn't have time for Doris Finsecker's friends."
"Oh," Doris snaps, her eyes flashing with righteous indignation, "and what kind of friend are you, Montgomery MacNeil? You're sleeping with my ex-boyfriend. Didn't you ever stop to think that I needed you, too? You're supposed to be my best friend."
Montgomery isn't really in the habit of not thinking about things. When Doris stormed out on Ralph, months ago, he had almost gone after her instead; and when Ralph turned up at his apartment after graduation and backed Montgomery right up against the door and kissed him, Montgomery had almost pushed him away. The thing is, though, that of his two best friends—he loves them both. But Doris, under all that shy, nervous awkwardness—mostly gone now but still lurking behind her eyes on bad days—is one of the strongest people Montgomery knows. Doris will be fine. Doris will remember this feeling and use it in her acting. Ralph doesn't come with any such reassurances, and Ralph needs him more than Doris ever will. And then there's the other truth: that Montgomery had always loved Ralph, that it had been exactly what he'd wanted, for Ralph to kiss him messily against his apartment door, and then for the two of them to stumble back onto Montgomery's bed, touch-clumsy and scared and stupid. But he can't say either of those things to Doris, even if they're both true. "I am your best friend," he says instead, "but I'm not sorry about Ralph. It is good. I just wish you would talk to each other—"
"No," Doris says, final and unwavering, and that's when the waiter comes back with their lunch orders.
"You kids are better than Broadway," he remarks, setting their plates down on the scuffed linoleum table.
Doris starts laughing, and just like that the tension between them eases. Montgomery can feel his mouth quirk, mostly involuntarily, but, well—they are better than Broadway; one day, they'll take Broadway by storm. "We're here every Saturday," he says, resigned, and bites into his sandwich.
"Hey," Ralph says. His cheeks are flushed from the cold—or from drinking, Montgomery can't always tell; but it's early, and it's Sunday, so maybe just the cold. "Did you eat?"
"Hmm?" Montgomery asks, still not quite back in the real world, and Ralph drops his coat and comes over to lean against the window frame, just barely out of Montgomery's reach.
"I brought dinner," Ralph says. "I saw my sisters—Anita made enough carne guisada to feed an army, I think she has a future in the restaurant business." Ralph seems calmer than he usually does when he comes to Montgomery's from his mother's house—but he's been booking enough gigs to have money to give them, to keep the lodger-stepfathers out of his mother's spare room. "Anita said, I wasn't allowed to leave unless I took some food for you. I think she thinks you don't eat."
Montgomery looks up sharply, his breath catching. Ralph is smiling down at him, his cheeks pink and his eyes warm, and they don't talk about this. Ralph's family is Catholic, and Ralph—for all that he's been sleeping in Montgomery's bed regularly for four and a half months—Ralph isn't gay, not like Montgomery is gay. They don't talk about this; but Ralph's sister was worried about Montgomery, which means that she knows Montgomery is important enough to her brother to worry about. "Oh," Montgomery says, finally letting out a breath. "Well, I have a deadline. Professor Wasserman wants me to enter this young playwrights workshop—"
Ralph takes a step closer, and Montgomery drops his notebook on the floor and reaches out, catching Ralph's hip with the palm of his hand. Ralph leans one arm on the window frame above Montgomery's head and bends down until he can tangle his other hand in Montgomery's hair and catch his lower lip with his teeth. He might not be gay like Montgomery's gay, but he lives in Montgomery's house, now, in all the ways that matter. "Who needs dinner, anyway," Ralph says against Montgomery's mouth, and Montgomery pulls him down.
"It's Montgomery." Even over the speaker he's pretty sure she can hear how terrible he sounds, because she buzzes him up immediately, and when he gets upstairs, she's standing in the open doorway of her apartment, in her pajamas.
"It's after midnight," she starts, "Montgomery, what's—"
"I left," Montgomery says. "I think maybe you were right, when you did. Can I stay here? I didn't want to kick him out of my apartment in the middle of the night, even though it's my apartment, when I was the one who decided to leave—I never thought I would be the one to leave, but Ralph doesn't—he just keeps self-destructing until there's no way anybody would be crazy enough to stay. Not even me." He runs out of words, suddenly, and then he's just standing in the hallway outside Doris's apartment, shivering.
"Oh," Doris says, blankly, and then her face changes and she reaches out to pull him in for a hug. "Come inside," she says into his shoulder. "You can have the couch. It's kind of lumpy, but it's yours for as long as you want. Just tell me what you need. You want me to punch him?"
Montgomery chokes on something that isn't quite a laugh. "Thanks," he says, and lets Doris tug him into her apartment and hang up his wet coat and push him down onto the couch. It's only when he's sitting down that he notices the strange man standing in the doorway between Doris's living room and bedroom.
"Oh, hell," Montgomery says, "I'm so sorry, Doris, I didn't mean to—"
"Don't you dare try to apologize to me," Doris says sharply.
Doris's gentleman caller looks back and forth between them, eyebrows raised. He's blond, and not too tall, and he doesn't look like an actor. After a moment he says calmly, "Dominique, your friend looks like he could use a drink. Where do you keep your whiskey?"
Doris looks up at him and smiles, soft and sort of charmed, and maybe—maybe, if Doris is okay, if Doris is moving on, then it is actually possible to get over Ralph Garci. "In the cupboard next to the stove," she says, and then, "Andrew, this is my friend Montgomery, he's going to be staying here for a little while. Montgomery, this is Andrew—" she stops, and then squares her shoulders and finishes firmly, "my boyfriend."
"Nice to meet you, Montgomery," Andrew says promptly, "I'm sorry about whatever happened, but Dominique will take good care of you." He leans over the couch to kiss Doris lightly, and then disappears into the kitchen.
"He's nice," Montgomery says to Doris, lowering his voice so that Andrew won't hear. Doris's apartment may have four whole rooms, but it's still approximately the size of a postage stamp. "What's wrong with him?"
Doris glares. "Nothing, as far as I can tell. This was our third date." Montgomery winces, and she puts out a hand, takes hold of his and folds their fingers together, "No, sorry, I'm sorry, I didn't mean—Montgomery, what happened?"
Montgomery looks down at their hands, and then he leans into Doris so that he doesn't have to look at her face. She puts her other arm around him and pulls him close, until his head is resting on her shoulder and his legs are folded up on the couch. "What didn't happen? Sex, drugs, late nights and bad shows and worse decisions. The price of success, turning into someone he didn't even want to be." That's not the real problem, though. Montgomery knew what he was getting into. He knew Ralph was hurt and broken and self-destructive, worn thin with the desperate desire for fame; but he thought that if he could be there for Ralph, if he could be a rock, if Ralph had someone to come home to, somewhere he could remember how to be himself—and how stupid was that, to think that he could just be there, and be enough. "You know what happened, Doris," he says quietly, at last, "he stopped telling me the truth."
"Doris," Naomi is saying, "Doris, baby, why can't you listen to me for once in your life—"
"No, Mama," Doris snaps. "This is what you wanted. You were the one—I would have gone to any school, you were the one who wanted me to be an actress, so why is it so hard for you to accept that I am an actress?"
"I just don't know you, anymore," Naomi says, sounding almost defeated. "When you were sixteen, I said, I didn't want you to become this Dominique, and now you want to throw away your life? I want you to grow up, but I don't want you to grow away."
"That's what people do," Doris says desperately, and even from where Montgomery is standing, he can see that Naomi is crying. Doris looks up over her mother's shoulder and sees him, and he tilts his head in the direction of the bar down the street, where they'd planned to meet after the ceremony. Doris nods, and Montgomery turns away.
He orders drinks for both of them and gets a table under the window. Doris comes in ten minutes later, cap and gown folded under her arm and her eyes hard and dry. She sits down, and he slides her vodka tonic across the table. "That sounded bad."
Doris knocks back half of her drink, and then spreads her hands out on the table. Her fingers are bare. "I gave Andrew back his ring," she says. "I got a job in Oregon—the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. It's an apprenticeship, and I'm taking it, so I can't get married. I don't want to get married. I want the freedom to just—take every job. Anywhere, anything, as long as I'm on a stage. I want to work hard, and I want to be the best actress I can be, and that means—you know what that means."
"Don't have kids," Montgomery says grimly.
Doris nods. "Your mother is a wonderful actress, Montgomery, but I don't want to hurt anyone like she hurt you." Montgomery looks down at the table, his eyes prickling, and Doris reaches out and grabs his hand. "I love you, you know that? I'm not leaving you. I'm not leaving Mama and Harvey, either, or even New York, not for good. I'll come back, and I'll call you, and I'll write, but I have to do this. I have to do this myself."
"I know," Montgomery says, because he does know, and he's still a good enough actor himself to be dry-eyed and smiling when he looks back up. "You're going to be a star, Dominique Dupont."
Doris leans right over the table and kisses his cheek. "Come over tomorrow and help me pack?"
She smiles at him, just a little sadly, and then she finishes her drink and stands up. "I should go make amends. I left my mother crying in the park."
"Doris," Montgomery says, mildly horrified, "stop reading Chekhov."
Doris laughs. "Not a chance. See you tomorrow, Montgomery." She sweeps out, and Montgomery watches her go. His best friend in the whole world, always walking out of doors.
She's right, though; and more importantly, she's good. He believes her, when she says she'll come back, when she says she won't forget him—and this is New York, so of course she'll be back. He believes her, but that doesn't mean his own problems don't come boiling up to the surface at the thought of her leaving. It's been years since he saw him regularly, but he thinks maybe he should give Dr. Golden a call.
"Excuse me," somebody says, and Montgomery looks up. There's a cute guy in a denim jacket standing over his table. "Sorry," he says, "but are you Montgomery MacNeil?"
"Yes?" Montgomery says warily.
The guy smiles, looking relieved and a little sheepish. He has 'NYU undergraduate' written all over his face, but that isn't surprising in this neighborhood—or in this bar, which is usually populated entirely by theatre students. "Sorry, I know you don't know me, but I read your play? It was really—it was really good." He's blushing, and Montgomery is suddenly, stupidly charmed. He had no idea he had this kind of recognition. Actually, he's sure he doesn't have this kind of recognition, but the NYU theatre students are always on the lookout for new work. "Sorry," he says again, "you probably hear that all the time."
"I really don't," Montgomery says slowly. He's out of practice, and he's always been awkward in situations like this. On the other hand, there's an attractive guy who likes his play talking to him, and Montgomery isn't so out of practice that he's dead. "If you wanted, you could sit down and tell me what you liked about it? Or even just your name, we could start there."
The guy blushes again, but he takes Doris's abandoned seat and holds out his hand. "Stephen Jones."
Montgomery shakes his hand. "Nice to meet you, Stephen Jones," he says, "I'm Montgomery."
"Hi," he says, because there's no point in fighting the inevitable orbital drift.
"MacNeil," Ralph says evenly, but he sounds subdued for Ralph. "You remember Lisa and Amy?"
Montgomery actually saw Amy at an opening night party last month; sometimes New York is a very small town, especially in the theatre. "Of course," Montgomery says, "it's good to see you both. Lisa, you're looking well."
Lisa smiles at him. She's gained weight, even aside from the pregnancy, and she looks happier than she ever did in school. "Thanks, Montgomery. We saw your reading at Playwrights Horizons, last spring, it was so good—oh, this is my husband, Daniel Levinson. I'm Lisa Levinson, now. Dan, this is Montgomery MacNeil. We were in the same year at PA."
"There are a lot of people here," Dan says cautiously, and it's true—years and years of Jim Farrell's students have turned out for his wake, because there's nothing like death to make you remember what you owe to someone.
"He was a great teacher," Montgomery offers, which is also true, but not really the point.
"You know what they say," Ralph says, his voice sharp with the self-mocking edge that Montgomery remembers too well, "those who can't do, teach." Amy looks like she's about to protest, and Montgomery frowns, trying to figure out what Ralph is really talking about; but then Ralph adds, softer and suddenly more earnest, "But we owe him. He was our teacher for four years—we owe him our careers, those of us who have careers, and even the rest of us—some of us probably even owe him our lives. He told us the truth, and we all owe him."
It's so exactly what Montgomery was thinking that for a second he can't say anything at all. He remembers being this in tune with Ralph, remembers how it felt when the only people who seemed to understand him, on some level beyond all the psychoanalysis and the problems with women and the hair and the homosexuality—who got all that and got him despite that—were Ralph and Doris. He misses Doris suddenly, acutely; but she's back in Ashland, doing All's Well That Ends Well and Merchant of Venice and Crimes of the Heart, and she can't get away. ("Mr. Farrell wouldn't want me there," she'd told Montgomery on the phone, her voice a little waterlogged but no less determined, "not when I have shows to do—the theatre always comes first, you know that." "I know," Montgomery said, but he knew the lie for what it was, the same thing they always said to comfort themselves when real life was too impossibly hard.) He almost wishes he'd brought Stephen, but they're too casual to go to a funeral together; careful, but casual, and it's not—well, it's nice, but it's not something he wants in this room, with Ralph and his former classmates and their dead drama teacher's ghost.
"Huh," Lisa's husband is saying, "well, it must be nice for his family, that so many of his students cared so much about him." It's perfectly banal, but Montgomery winces, and then he catches the same look on Ralph's face: theatre was his family, or maybe, theatre is all the family any of us know how to have. Even if, with Lisa and Dan standing there, married and happy and expecting a baby, their lives a million miles away from the High School of Performing Arts, this is manifestly untrue.
There's an awkward silence in which none of them are quite sure what to say—if Mr. Farrell had family outside of PA, Montgomery doesn't know about it—and then Amy says into the silence, "There are going to be more of these, aren't there." It's not really a question.
Dan looks confused, and Lisa looks away, and Ralph says, meanly, "Montgomery would know better than anybody."
"Ralph," Montgomery says warningly, and Ralph actually looks abashed, like maybe he didn't mean it, or like maybe he forgot that Montgomery could hold his own against Ralph's untempered cruelty. If anyone wants to point fingers, Ralph belongs to the at-risk population even more than Montgomery does. Ralph fucks men and uses drugs, and his bisexuality hardly makes a difference when it comes to proportional risk.
"I didn't mean—" Ralph starts, but Montgomery shakes his head. "I'm sorry," Ralph tries instead, too intimate for their surroundings, and Montgomery knows that let me make it up to you comes next, but it's been three years, and Montgomery is over Ralph Garci's self-hating homophobia. He has friends who aren't Ralph, now, and some of those friends are already dying.
"Yes," he says to Amy, avoiding Ralph's eyes, "there are going to be a lot more funerals."
Ralph Garci is standing on the other side. Montgomery stares at him for a whole minute, shocked speechless, before he really registers that Ralph is at his apartment; Ralph is at his apartment, and he looks terrible. His eyes are red-rimmed and bloodshot, and his hair is a mess, and he's leaning against the wall outside Montgomery's door like he needs it to stay standing.
"I wasn't sure you still lived here," Ralph says, and then, "I can go, you don't have to invite me in."
"It always seemed like too much trouble to move," Montgomery offers, before his brain catches up with his mouth. What is Ralph doing here? "You don't have to go," he says warily, "but—what are you on?"
Ralph laughs, bitter and humorless. "Funny story, I'm sober."
Montgomery catalogues the panic in Ralph's eyes, the defeated slump of his shoulders, and thinks, oh, fuck. "You'd better come in," he says grimly, and Ralph nods.
"Montgomery?" Doris calls, and Montgomery steps away from the door to let Ralph into his apartment just as Doris comes into the room. She freezes when she sees Ralph—actually stops moving completely in a way that would probably be funny under different circumstances—and then she says, "Jesus Christ, Ralph, you look terrible."
Ralph stops in the doorway, arrested. "Doris," he says, staring, "you look fantastic." Doris crosses her arms over her chest and raises her eyebrows until Ralph blinks, and coughs, and looks helplessly at Montgomery. Montgomery shrugs. "Sorry, Doris," Ralph offers finally, "I—you look really good, it's been—"
"A long time," Doris finishes, "and not that this unexpected reunion isn't touching, but what's wrong?"
"Nothing, I'm great," Ralph says airily. For such a compulsive liar, Montgomery thinks he should really have a less obvious tell. "There's this new show on NBC, they think it might be bigger than Saturday Night Live—"
"Ralph," Montgomery says quietly, and Ralph abruptly shuts up. "Maybe you should sit down?" Ralph takes a breath, like he's going to try again, and then he looks at Montgomery and visibly deflates, sitting down heavily on the couch. The couch is new since the last time Ralph was here—since Montgomery realized that maybe, now that he was an adult, he should buy some furniture. Doris looks like she's about to say something, but Montgomery shakes his head at her and goes to sit on the couch next to Ralph.
"You came here," Montgomery says to Ralph, "you didn't even know I still lived here. You didn't know Doris would be here, either, but here we all are. Again. I know it's been a long time, but you came here. If you don't want to tell us the truth, then you should leave, but if you do, we'll listen."
Ralph is quiet for a long time, and then he starts talking. "I got a phone call, from this guy I used to—" He shrugs, looks at Doris, and then makes an ambiguous gesture that could mean 'fuck' and could mean 'shoot up with'. "He got clean, and found out he has AIDS, and he said—" Ralph takes a shaky breath. "He said as part of his program he was making the calls, to everybody he knew who could have gotten it from him."
Doris crosses the room and sinks to her knees in front of the couch, reaching for Ralph's hand, and Montgomery remembers the last time Ralph went to pieces in this apartment, with both of them there to listen. "So I went to the clinic," Ralph says, breathing out on a sob, "and I'm—I'm fine, I don't have it, I'm fucking fine, and then I was just sitting there, and so many of the other people there—they were getting bad news, and then there's me, and I'm thinking, what did I ever do to deserve being the luckiest bastard in this room? It should've been me. Nobody's counting on me. My sisters, maybe if I had been there for them before, but they're—I already failed them. They're growing up, anyway, they're getting out, and I'm just some funny guy. There are a thousand more where I came from. You know, I'm not even funny, anymore? I'm a washout. I even washed out of fucking teaching school." He stops, suddenly, like his tape has run out. Montgomery takes Ralph's other hand and laces their fingers together, and Ralph says, "Then I thought, maybe my mistake was outliving Freddie in the first place."
"You're not Freddie, Ralph," Doris says, wearily.
Ralph shakes his head. "I know. Doris, I know. I'm not eighteen anymore, okay? I know I'm not Freddie. I don't even want to be Freddie, but he was still the only role model I ever had." Ralph's voice breaks, just like it always used to when he talked about Freddie Prinze. "He fucking shot himself when he was twenty-two, and I—I don't know why I'm still alive."
"So you came here?" Doris sounds bewildered.
Ralph makes a noise that's half laugh and half sob, harsh and desperate. "Would you believe, I was in the neighborhood?"
Montgomery tightens his grip on Ralph's hand, and Ralph looks at him. He looks older, but not that much older; he still looks like Ralph. I would miss you, Montgomery thinks. I do miss you. "I'm not sorry you're still alive," he says, and then, "what do you think about pizza?"
Ralph stares at him. "Pizza?"
"No anchovies, though," Montgomery says thoughtfully, and now Doris is looking at him like he's crazy, too. "I know it's been a while, but I bet you still haven't learned to love anchovies. If you want, you can stay the night on the couch. It's pretty comfortable, sometimes I sleep on it when I don't want to go to bed. So, pizza?"
"I—okay," Ralph says slowly.
"Doris?" Montgomery asks, "Pizza?"
Doris sits back on her heels and looks up at them. She's frowning, eyebrows drawn together, and Montgomery is probably going to have to explain about the anchovies, but eventually she lets out an explosive breath and says, "Sure."
"Pizza it is, then," Montgomery says, but it's another ten minutes before Ralph will let go of his hand so that he can get up to make the call.
"Don't call me Monty," Montgomery says automatically, and then, "wait, what guy?"
Archie shrugs, paying more attention to his sandwich than to Montgomery, which is business as usual. Montgomery sighs, and then, because Archie is a good enough director to be worth the trouble, says, "Okay, thanks," and goes down the hall to the green room.
Ralph is sitting on one of the squishy orange couches, with his feet up on a coffee table. He's tapping a rolled-up manuscript absently against his knee and studying the ceiling, twitchy and not entirely at ease; but he looks a lot better than he did the last time Montgomery saw him. There's color in his cheeks, and he's gotten a haircut, and while it would probably be too much to say that Ralph looks like a responsible adult—he's wearing a bandana, and ripped jeans, and a sports coat with the sleeves pushed up past his elbows—he looks better. He looks good.
"Hi Ralph," Montgomery says from the doorway. "What are you doing here?"
"Hey, M'n'M," Ralph says, taking his feet off the table and sitting up. He smiles cautiously at Montgomery, the caution belying the brashness of the old nickname. "I read your play. The new one, I mean." He taps the roll of paper meaningfully against the edge of the table. "Well, I also read all your other stuff that I could find, but this one, it's so good. I mean, it's really fucking good."
"I—" Montgomery says, "thank you?" It means more to him than it probably should, that Ralph likes his play.
"Yeah, so," Ralph goes on, "I heard you were having auditions, and you should cast Doris, as Shannon."
Montgomery stares at him, feeling suddenly blindsided. Ralph being here is weird; on the other hand, Ralph has always been unpredictable. For him to turn up like this—when it’s been long enough, since last summer, that Montgomery has stopped expecting him around every corner—is strange, but not precisely unprecedented. But—
Because Ralph is right, isn’t he? Ralph has turned up out of nowhere and handed Montgomery exactly the thing he didn’t know he needed, the key to unlocking the play that he wrote himself; because Doris has been playing ingénues in regional theatre, missing New York and getting hungry for something harder, something new; because Shannon—anxious, flawed, brilliant Shannon, his leading lady—is maybe the best part Montgomery has ever written, and somehow Ralph—Ralph, of all people—read Shannon and saw Montgomery’s best friend. How could Montgomery not have known that? His therapist is going to have a field day.
"You came here to tell me to cast Doris in my play?" Montgomery demands. "What are you, her agent? Have you even seen her in anything?"
"Are you saying she's not good enough?"
"No, of course not," Montgomery says, "Doris is fantastic, she would be—" Perfect. "But couldn't you have picked up the phone? Turning up here to tell me to cast Doris—I feel like I should be expecting a punchline, and I don't know the joke."
Ralph is quiet for a moment, and then he says, "I have seen her. I saw her in Cherry Orchard, last month. She's better than she was in school—a lot better, and she was good then, even if she didn't know it. You did, though."
And that’s the thing about Ralph—Montgomery forgets, sometimes, how sharply insightful Ralph can be, under all those layers of self-destruction. It's an easy thing to forget, when Ralph isn't part of his life; but it's also what made Ralph such a good comedian, what made him the original that Doris once called him: not just the rage and the passion, but that uncanny ability to see right through to the heart of things, to call out the truth even when everything he said about himself was a lie. If Montgomery was writing parts for Doris without knowing it, then what if he was writing parts for Ralph, too? What if Ralph is haunting his leading men? Montgomery has had a long time to get over Ralph, and he doesn't want him back, but he's also never really managed to leave anyone behind. What if Ralph—but then that question answers itself, because even if Montgomery has been writing Ralph into his characters, Ralph would never, ever see himself in Montgomery's heroes.
"You know, I've seen her in everything?” Ralph continues. “Everything I could in the last few months, anyway, just like I read all your plays. Before that—" He stops, and then he exhales and says, loud enough to almost hit that old familiar brashness, "I didn't get to the theatre very much, in rehab."
Montgomery blinks; he’s staring again. "You were in rehab?"
Ralph meets his gaze. "After I saw you and Doris in August, I worked some things out. I've been clean five months, and I'm not—" He takes a breath, a little shaky. He's tapping his foot, absently, nervously. "I'm not doing comedy. I want to, someday, again, but I can't—not yet. I love fucking acting, it's the best high—success is the best high, better than the drugs. The drugs were just the way to get that back when I wasn't, when I couldn't—but I can't do that, anymore. You remember what you said, back in school, that never being happy isn't the same as being unhappy?" Montgomery nods, half-frozen under Ralph's gaze. "I think," Ralph says, "that being on that high isn't the same as being happy, either, and I want to be happy."
"How?" Montgomery demands, before he can stop himself.
Ralph laughs, breathy but genuine. "I don't fucking know," he says, "but you should cast Doris in your play. And I—I'm trying school, again. You know how Mr. Farrell always wanted to know what we learned from our worst memories? Well, I learned, maybe if I can't do, I should teach."
Montgomery's eyebrows go up involuntarily. "You're going to be a teacher?"
Ralph raises his eyebrows right back. "Why the hell not?"
Montgomery shakes his head slowly. Ralph Garci, ladies and gentlemen, always an original. "You know, I can't think of a reason?"
"Being able to make people laugh is a gift," Ralph says quietly; and that must be what honesty looks like on Ralph, now: determined, but not desperate. "But I don't have to do it for the fame. Maybe that was my mistake, doing it for me instead of for other people. I wasn't there for my sisters, not like I should've been, but maybe I can be there for other kids."
Neither of them says anything for a minute, and in the silence Carol sticks her head around the door and says, "Montgomery, we're back in five."
"Thanks," Montgomery says, and then, "Hey, Carol, can you add another name to the list for Shannon? Dominique Dupont."
Carol tilts her head in a question, but Montgomery just shrugs—he doesn’t want to prejudice anyone for or against Doris before she comes in—and eventually Carol throws up her hands and says, "you and Archie are as bad as each other. Okay, fine, Dominique Dupont, got it," and leaves, yelling over her shoulder, "Five minutes, MacNeil!"
"Five minutes," Montgomery calls back. He looks at Ralph, who is standing up and collecting his coat from the arm of the couch. "Listen," he says impulsively, "do you want to get dinner? Tonight, or—maybe this weekend? With Doris and me?"
"Yeah," Ralph says, and smiles, "yeah, I really do."
"Bones aren't that heavy," James mutters. He's sprawled, exhausted, on the couch that he and Montgomery and Carol had hauled up the stairs. "I think Dominique said those were books."
"Well," Ralph says sardonically, "that got both morbid and boring very fast."
"I get punchy when I'm tired," James allows.
Doris comes down the hall from her new bedroom, takes one look at the piles of boxes, and sinks down on the arm of the couch. "Is that everything? Please tell me that's everything. Can we get food? Montgomery, you know I love this apartment, but fuck, that was a lot of stairs."
Montgomery leans heavily against the counter. "The stairs won't be so bad once we aren't moving in. Why did I ever think buying furniture was a good idea?"
"What I want to know," Angela says from the floor, "is why you thought buying on apartment all the way out on 9th fucking Avenue was a good idea. It's going to take Neil half an hour to get back with the beer."
Montgomery has been hearing some variation of this sentiment ever since he starting telling people that he was thinking of moving, of finally selling his mother's old place and buying an apartment of his own. The cast and crew of his show have been the worst—well, the best, because they're in his show, and they're amazing, and they're moving to Broadway in two weeks—but also the worst, because they can see why he would want to live here in theory, but in practice, 9th and 47th is a thousand miles away from everything, even if it's also only three blocks from the theatre. They're avenue blocks, as Angela never tires of reminding them. The thing about real estate in Hell's Kitchen, though, is that it's cheap; and there may not be any restaurants, but Montgomery thinks it's worth it, for this apartment that isn't the empty apartment he grew up in, that has three bedrooms and a long hallway and a big living room, and no neon lights flashing in the windows.
"Come on, Angela," Doris sighs, "you used to live a block and a half from here."
"And I moved," Angela says. "Montgomery owns this place, now. You really think property values are going to go up? How are you going to find somebody to take the third bedroom?"
"I thought it could be an office," Montgomery says, mildly. "Or a guest room. We don't really need a third roommate." Having the extra space is nice—Ralph can stay, if he comes over for dinner and doesn't want to go back to his place in Harlem; or Doris's brother can, or even Montgomery's mother, if she ever decides to leave L.A. now that she's finally settled.
"I like it," Ralph says, leaning against the counter next to Montgomery, "it's hard to find apartments like this—big old apartments that haven't been broken up into tenements. Have you seen this kitchen? Montgomery could learn how to cook. His next play could be about a chef."
"Thanks, Ralph," Montgomery says dryly. His next play is not going to be about a chef. "Listen, everybody," he says, "I just wanted to say thanks, for helping Doris and me move, for coming out on your day off."
James smiles, and Angela waves a dismissive hand, and Carol, putting glasses away in the kitchen cabinets because stage managers are superhuman creatures who never get tired, says, "That's what friends do, kiddo. Friends help you move."
Montgomery looks at Doris, who is dusty and smiling, her hair caught back in a bandana and a smudge of dirt on her cheek; at Ralph, who is digging through boxes with a little too much prurient interest, but is here—has been around, for months now, running lines with Doris and coming to shows and reminding Montgomery to eat lunch and doing his homework on Montgomery's living room floor; at James and Angela and Carol, who are taking his show to Broadway in two weeks. "It's good to have friends," he says, and can't quite stop smiling, not even when it takes Neil forty-five minutes to get back with the beer, and even longer for them to find a place that will deliver a mountain of Chinese food to 9th Avenue.
The shower is running when he hangs up, but he bangs on the bathroom door and then shoves it open. Doris sticks her head around the shower curtain and demands breathlessly, "Yeah?"
"You and Archie and the play," Montgomery says, all in a rush. "Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play, Best Director of a Play, Best Play."
Doris stares at him, and then she lets out a whoop that rings, echoing, off the bathroom tiles. "Give me my towel," she says, and when Montgomery does, she flings back the shower curtain, wraps herself in her towel, and throws herself at Montgomery. He catches her around the waist, and then they're hugging tightly in the middle of the bathroom with the shower still running. "Oh my god," Doris says. Her wet hair is dripping water into Montgomery's eyes, but he can't bring himself to care.
Eventually, Doris lets go of him, backs up far enough that they can grin at each other, wide-eyed and still reeling. "Not James or Kathryn?"
Montgomery shakes his head. "We didn't sweep all categories, not even in nominations—there are a lot of good shows this year—but you and Archie and the play, I—Doris."
Doris's smile widens, incandescent, and even in their poorly-lit bathroom she looks like a star. "Fuck, Montgomery. We're going to the Tonys." She hugs him again; her towel is slipping, and Montgomery's clothes are soaked, and they're both standing in a puddle, but they're going to the Tonys. "Thank you," he says into Doris's hair, "thank you for everything."
"Yeah," Doris says, holding on. "God, Montgomery, thank you. Thank you for giving me a reason to come home, thank you for—I love you."
"Me too," Montgomery says. "I love you, too."
"Hey, kid," Archie says gruffly, clapping Montgomery on the shoulder. "Congratulations. You deserve this, don't let anybody tell you otherwise."
"I—" Montgomery starts, touched and not quite sure what to say. "Thanks, but—you aren't upset that you didn't win?"
Archie snorts. "I won when the play won—anyway, I got another one of those at home. You'll mellow out when you've been going to this gig for a few more years."
Montgomery grins helplessly at him, and then Doris calls, "Montgomery, are you coming?"
"Go on, go to your parties," Archie says, actually smiling. "See you around, Monty."
Montgomery would correct him, but at this point—"See you," he says instead, and turns back to Doris and Ralph. Doris is holding the car door open, and Montgomery piles in after her, helping her gather up the enormous skirt of her dress so that she doesn't catch it on her heels when she slides into the middle. She's still holding her award, too; neither of them is ready to let go.
"I still—" Doris says, "I still can't believe we won. This is—"
"I know." Montgomery looks down at the glittering silver medallion. "This is crazy." Montgomery has never—he always loved performing, in his own way, loved being one of the pie-in-the-face people, always putting everything out on the line; but he was never Ralph. It was never about the high, for him, never about success. What he loved was the work, putting words on pages and then watching those words come to life, more vital and extraordinary than he had ever imagined. But winning a Tony is like—it's the opposite of the pie in the face. He wonders if this is what Ralph felt like, all those years ago, or if this is what Doris feels like, every time the audience gives her a standing ovation: like somebody gets him, all of a sudden, and thinks he deserves to be known.
"Hey, hey," Ralph says from Doris's other side. "I told you, Doris, seventeen Tony awards, this is just the beginning. You're going to have enough of them to put together a rock band, three rock bands, you're going to run out of places to put them—"
Ralph stops talking, abruptly, and Montgomery looks over to see that Doris has pressed him back against the seat and kissed him. For a second Ralph doesn't move, and then he snakes one arm up around her neck and puts the other around her waist, lifting her up so that she can push her skirt out of the way and slide onto his lap, lean down until they're really kissing, deeply, with their eyes closed. Doris is still holding her award, but her other hand is on Ralph's shoulder; and Ralph and Doris have always been incendiary, one way or another.
He remembers being back in his mother's apartment, shining a flashlight at a disco ball and rehearsing Marty. Ralph, you're not supposed to kiss yet. Montgomery is angry, suddenly, watching them—because of course, this is how the story goes. Ralph and Doris were a foregone conclusion, the perfect end to the perfect play, with just enough roadblocks along the way to keep things interesting: he fucked up, she grew up, he got his life together—girl gets guy, guy gets girl. They'll probably get married, and Montgomery will have to grit his teeth and be the best man at their wedding, because that really is the way the story goes.
Doris moans a little against Ralph's mouth, and Ralph lets go of her waist and puts his hand high on her thigh, fingers sliding under the hiked-up hem of her skirt. Montgomery catches his breath. He's angry, and unsurprised, and—absolutely worst of all, the one thing from which he's not sure he can recover—aroused. He hasn't been—it's been a long time, since he dated anyone. Between the show, and the move, and the funerals, it's been a long time since he even wanted to date anyone; AIDS is enough to put a damper on anyone's sexual impulses, and Montgomery has always been a little reserved. He'd thought he was over Ralph, years over Ralph—but watching Ralph kiss Doris, watching Ralph and Doris get halfway to fucking in the backseat of the town car, is like a straight shot of adrenaline to his dormant libido, and he—he has to get out of this car.
Maybe it's the luck of the Tony Award, but the car rolls to a stop before he tries to jump out of a moving vehicle. He gets out as quickly as he can, and goes to pay the driver. "Can you take them home?" He asks. "I can give you the address—"
"No problem," the driver says, and Montgomery gives him his address. In the back, Doris and Ralph are still kissing; but then Ralph opens his eyes, looks up and sees Montgomery, and the look in his eyes is—Montgomery knows that look, too well. He gives the rest of the cash in his wallet to the driver and makes a break for it. Ten minutes in the lobby bathroom, and he's presentable enough to go up to the parties, his award like an anchor in his hand. He finds James and Kathryn and Angela and Neil and a lot of champagne at the first party, and that, he thinks, will just have to be enough to get him through.
He manages—the Tony is still amazing, no matter what—and he talks and drinks and laughs, does just fine until he's walking up the stairs to his apartment at four o'clock in the morning, mostly sobered up, and alone. Maybe he shouldn't have come home; maybe he should have found someone to go home with, but—well, it is what it is. He lets himself into the apartment, quietly, drops his keys on the counter and is about to go down the dark hallway to his bedroom when Ralph says, "Montgomery."
Montgomery is too tired to be surprised. He sets the Tony on the counter next to his keys and turns around. Ralph is sitting on the couch, in the dark. "Turn on the light," Montgomery says wearily, and Ralph flicks on the lamp next to the couch. He's wearing his tuxedo pants and shirt, but he's barefoot and his pants are rumpled, his shirt open over his bare chest, and his hair is the kind of mess it only gets after someone has run their fingers through it repeatedly, and tugged.
"Shouldn't you be asleep?" Montgomery asks, quietly. "Won't Doris miss you, if she wakes up and you're not there?"
"We talked," Ralph says, which doesn't answer Montgomery's question. "We didn't just—we talked about this, me and Doris. Tonight, after we got back here. Thanks for paying for the car, by the way, you didn't have to do that. You also didn't have to run away."
Montgomery lifts one shoulder, half of a shrug. "It seemed like the thing to do. Look, Ralph, I'm really tired. It was a long night, can I just—"
"Montgomery." Ralph stands up. "Doris and me, we talked. I said I would wait up for you, but I can wake her up, if you want, it might be easier if she—" He stops, sounding frustrated, but Montgomery can't think of any reason for Ralph to sound frustrated. Even ten years ago, Ralph and Doris fit together, fiery and intense and sometimes kind of a disaster; but they were teenagers, then, and they aren't teenagers now. Now, they fit together in other ways, like grownups, and this is the time for making sensible decisions, for settling down. Ralph takes a breath, and says, "Do you remember, the last time you ran away, when Doris and I were first together? This couldn't ever have worked, then. I was too fucking scared, and messed up, and I hated that I was—but now? You didn't have to run this time, Montgomery. This time is different, because it isn't just about Doris and me—maybe it never was, but this time, I'm not so scared. This is about you, too."
"I don't know what you're talking about," Montgomery says, and Ralph comes across the room, walking right into Montgomery's space. The light from the lamp is dim, and his face is half in shadows, highlighting his cheekbones and his dark eyes.
"You and Doris are the best friends I've ever had," Ralph says softly. "You're the most important people in my life. You're the people I went to, when I didn't think my life was worth living, and you're the people I came back for. You, and Doris, and my sisters, you're everything to me. You're too important—" he shakes his head. Then he reaches out and touches Montgomery's cheek lightly with his fingertips. Montgomery freezes, and Ralph takes a step closer, cups Montgomery's face with his hand, and kisses him.
The kiss is gentle, but not chaste; it's not the way you kiss a friend. Montgomery takes an abrupt step back. "What the hell are you doing?" His voice is too loud. Doris is a light sleeper, and he's going to wake her up. "You and Doris, you're—don't tell me you aren't getting back together, Ralph, I know you. Don't tell me—and you and I, we aren't—"
Ralph puts out a hand, again, but Montgomery takes another step back, shying away, and Ralph drops his hand. "I wouldn't tell you that," Ralph says, "I'm not a complete asshole. You know, I'm trying this thing where I don't lie to people? Yeah, Doris and I are going to try to make this work, this time, but Montgomery, Doris is your best friend, she loves you, I love you. Doris and me, we need you. You think we wouldn't completely blow up, without you? You think we would leave you behind?"
Of course they would, Montgomery thinks, that's how this is supposed to go. He looks at Ralph, and Ralph's eyes widen. "Oh, of course you think that," Ralph breathes, "of course you do. Fuck, okay, I'm going to wake Doris up, I can't do this by myself."
"Ralph," Montgomery says, but Ralph has already disappeared down the hall. Montgomery looks after him, and then, feeling suddenly very unsteady, sits down at the kitchen table. Maybe he should leave, again—maybe he shouldn't have ever come home. Before he can make up his mind, though, Ralph is back with Doris. Doris is wearing pajamas, and she has pillow creases on her cheek, but her eyes are wide awake.
"Okay, listen," Doris says, sitting down at the table across from Montgomery. "You're my best friend, and we just won these Tony Awards, and it's four in the morning, so probably your mind is a little foggy, but just to make this absolutely clear, there is no world in which Ralph and I would get married and move to Brooklyn and have a thousand babies and leave you behind, Montgomery MacNeil. That is not how this goes."
"I—" Montgomery starts, and then he shakes his head. "I'm not trying to be an idiot, Doris, don't talk to me like I am. What do you expect me to think, when you two—you make sense."
Doris narrows her eyes. "Life isn't like theatre, not really. It doesn't have to make sense." Ralph sits down, too, taking the chair between Doris and Montgomery, and Doris continues, "Life—real life, the kind that's harder than the theatre—it's messy and complicated, and nobody deserves anything. There's no poetic justice. You can't expect life to make sense—but the thing is, I think maybe it's better when it doesn't, and Ralph and I, we love you." She pauses, waits until Montgomery looks up and meets her eyes, and then she smiles. "I don't want to have sex with you, but Ralph does, and I want to have sex with Ralph, and if you want to have sex with Ralph, too, then I don't see why we shouldn't at least try to make everybody happy. I just won a fucking Tony Award, and I think I should be able to do what I want. It might be unconventional, but we're—we're actors. Playwrights," she tilts her head at Ralph, "fourth-grade teachers who moonlight as amateur comedians—anyway, we have the theatre in our blood, and we went to PA, and we're never going to be ordinary. I used to think I was ordinary, but," she shakes her head, "I'm not, not really. I'm not glamorous, but I'm not ordinary, and real life is a mess, but you and me, we've been in this together since the first day of Freshman Year, and Ralph—"
"I love you," Ralph says again, like he can't stop saying it now that he's started.
"I don't—" Montgomery tries, and then he stops, and starts again. "You know I'm not—I'm gay, Doris, that's hard enough. This is just—" He shakes his head again. "You and Ralph, you always have an option on being normal. How do I know you won't decide, a month from now, a year from now, that this thing you're proposing isn't too complicated, or too hard, or just—"
"You don't," Doris says, "and we don't know that you won't decide it's too hard, and go find yourself some nice gay boy without complications. But here's the thing: you didn't go home with anyone, tonight. You came home, even though you sent Ralph and me here, and you bought this apartment, with three bedrooms, for just you and me. You and me and Ralph, we're already a family. So tell me again, that you don't want to try."
Montgomery looks across the table at his two best friends. Doris's eyes are bright, and her Brooklyn accent is thicker than it's been since college, her voice going heavy with intensity. Ralph is—Ralph is a whole different person than he was ten years ago. Still tempestuous, but steady in a way he never used to be, steady in a way he only ever was with his little sisters, before things got bad. Now he has a whole classroom full of kids, all of whom are completely crazy about their Mr. Garcia. Ralph has always been a performer, in one way or another, but now, in the service of something bigger than himself, he can love it without letting it destroy him. Ralph is happy, and Doris is happy, and all they're asking is for Montgomery to try being happy, too. Maybe all this time, he was making space for a family without knowing it, without knowing that it was something he wanted, or something he could have—because Doris is right, he did buy an apartment with three bedrooms, and it wasn't so that he could have an office, or so that his mother would have somewhere to stay if she ever came to visit; he bought an apartment with a third bedroom for Ralph.
"Okay," he says slowly, "okay, I want to try."
Doris lets out a breath, relieved, and Ralph grins, and then leans over the table and kisses Montgomery again. Montgomery flails for a second, caught off guard despite everything, and then he puts his hand on Ralph's cheek and kisses him back. He's too tired for it to be a very good kiss, but Ralph's mouth is soft and still familiar against his, and he kisses him and kisses him, until Doris clears her throat and Ralph pulls back. Montgomery can feel his cheeks flushing. "Sorry—"
"It's fine," Doris says, warm. She's smiling at them. "Please kiss each other. I, however, am going back to bed with my Tony Award. I'll see you both in the morning—or, well, probably the afternoon." She stands up, leans down to kiss Montgomery on the cheek and Ralph on the mouth, and goes back down the hall.
Montgomery and Ralph look at each other, and then Ralph's mouth quirks and he stands up, holding out a hand. "Let's go to bed," he says, "you look like you might fall over if you try to stand up."
"It was a long night," Montgomery sighs, but he takes Ralph's hand and lets Ralph lead him down the hall to his bedroom. Doris's door is firmly shut, and Ralph pushes Montgomery into his bedroom and then shuts the door behind them. He doesn't bother to turn on the lights, but the room is already lightening, early dawn creeping in past the window shades. Ralph reaches up and starts working on Montgomery's bow tie. "I—" Montgomery starts, shivering at the feel of Ralph's fingers on his neck. "I want to, but I'm—"
"Yeah," Ralph murmurs, "shut up." He gets Montgomery's bow tie undone, and then helps him out of his jacket, and then starts undoing his shirt buttons one at a time.
"Ralph," Montgomery says, tugging at the open sides of Ralph's shirt until Ralph is close enough to kiss.
"I missed you," Ralph says, and then they're kissing again. It's dizzying, Montgomery thinks—but he's also been up all night, and this whole night has been one long series of dizzying impossibilities.
"Ralph," he tries again, "I don't know if—"
Ralph pushes on Montgomery's shoulders until Montgomery sits down on the edge of the bed, and then he sinks to his knees. "Montgomery," he says, unbuttoning Montgomery's tuxedo trousers, "shut up. I love you. I'm going to blow you, and then we're going to go the fuck to sleep, and you and me and Doris can work out the rest of this as we go. Got it?"
Montgomery looks down at Ralph, and then he takes a shuddery breath and folds his hands into Ralph's hair. "Yeah," he says. "Yes."
"Fantastic," Ralph says, and tugs Montgomery's pants down. They get stuck on his shoes, and Ralph makes an infuriated noise and yanks on the laces until Montgomery's shoes and socks come off, and then he leans in, gently pushing Montgomery's thighs apart until he can breathe out against Montgomery's cock. Montgomery is exhausted, but he's been fighting arousal all night, up and down with the dizzying emotional highs and lows, and when Ralph slides his fingers up Montgomery's cock, over his underwear and then underneath to wrap his hand around him, Montgomery gets hard a lot faster than he thought he could tonight. "Lift your hips up," Ralph says, and Montgomery obliges, so that Ralph can pull off his underwear, until all he's wearing is his half-unbuttoned shirt. "Fantastic," Ralph says again, lower, and then, "you're a responsible gay guy of the 1980s, where the fuck are your condoms?"
Montgomery laughs, breathy and turned on and kind of stupidly happy. "Bedside table."
Ralph yanks open the drawer of the bedside table and gets out a condom, and then—with no fuss at all, which Montgomery appreciates at five in the morning—rolls the condom onto Montgomery's cock and slides his mouth down after it, wet and warm. Montgomery closes his eyes, and then he opens them again when Ralph licks wetly over the head of Montgomery's cock and fists his hand around the base. Ralph is beautiful, in the dim dawn light, and Montgomery—"I missed you," he says, "fuck, I missed you."
Ralph hums, low in his throat, and then he reaches up and tangles Montgomery's fingers in his hair and goes back down. Montgomery follows the unspoken instruction and pulls hard on Ralph's hair. It's not exactly polite, but Montgomery remembers that Ralph likes this, so he lets himself fuck up into Ralph's mouth until he's shaking and can't keep his eyes open, until he comes.
After, Ralph gets rid of the condom while Montgomery falls back onto the bed, too tired and happy to even get his legs up on the mattress; and then Ralph crawls over Montgomery and gets them both onto the bed the right way, under the covers with their heads on the pillows. "In the morning—" Montgomery murmurs into Ralph's shoulder, not really making sense, and Ralph says, "Yeah," tugging Montgomery's arm over his chest, and then Montgomery is asleep.
Ralph purses his red lips. "So I take it a fuck isn't out of the question?"
Doris is still laughing—probably at Montgomery's face, because she has to have known what Ralph was planning. Ralph, in Doris’s dark red lipstick and a corset and fishnet stockings and knee-high boots, is dressed up like Dr. Frank-N-Furter. Just like old times.
"You know I don't even find Tim Curry attractive?" Montgomery demands. It had been horrible, when Ralph had taunted him like this in high school; and then Doris had gone to see the Rocky Horror show with Ralph instead of with him, and that had stung, even though they were all friends by then.
"But you find me attractive," Ralph points out, and Montgomery flushes. It's undeniable; more to the point, he doesn't have to deny it, not anymore. He puts a hand on Ralph's corseted waist and Ralph leans in to kiss him, dirty and hot. Montgomery thinks he hears somebody catcall; Ralph's mouth tastes like lipstick.
"Hey, losers," Doris says, "it's going to be a new decade in ten minutes. Do you want to keep freezing your asses off out here, or go get some seats before the show starts?"
Ralph steps back, and then says in his normal voice, "Yeah, actually, I am fucking freezing. It's December, what the hell was I thinking?"
Montgomery puts an arm around his bare shoulders. "I would give you my jacket, but it would ruin the look."
"Fuck you," Ralph growls, and Montgomery smirks at him.
Doris comes up on Ralph's other side and wraps her arm around his waist. "Montgomery and I will keep you warm."
"God bless you, Janet," Ralph intones, and Doris snorts.
"Hey," Montgomery says, and Doris and Ralph both look at him. It is really fucking cold, and they should get inside before the show starts, but they're all here, together, and this is so much better than old times. "Happy New Year."
Some days, Montgomery still thinks that this is all just a disaster waiting to happen. Happiness isn't a guarantee, not even when you love people. Doris and Ralph still fight and make up and break up and fight again—always, forever, incendiary—and Ralph is still an asshole, sometimes especially when he doesn't mean to be, and Montgomery doesn't entirely trust any of this. But that's life: messy, and unpredictable, and not really anything like a play.
"Happy New Year," Doris says, smiling, and Ralph says, "Yeah, babies, Happy New Year," and they go into the theatre together.
"Thanks, Sheila," Montgomery says. "I've seen your show, it's hilarious—you should've done more of that kind of thing in school."
Sheila laughs—a big, full-bellied laugh—and says, "You know, I auditioned with five minutes of O.J. Simpson waiting for the elevator in The Towering Inferno? I think after that they were just glad I could act at all; but comedy's my thing—speaking of which, whatever happened to Ralph Garci? He was so funny in school."
Montgomery smiles. Ralph wasn't sure about coming—wasn't sure if he could stand a couple of hours of answering that question—but Montgomery and Doris had talked him into it, if only so that he could brag about their Tony Awards, which he enjoys doing even more than they do. He's dropping his little sister off at rehearsal—Marisol is finishing her freshman year at the school they're no longer allowed to call PA, the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts in Lincoln Center (and that's the weirdest thing, really; Montgomery thinks it would be easier to face down his ten-year-old demons if the whole school hadn't up and moved twenty blocks north and merged with Music and Art)—and then coming to meet them. "He should be here," he tells Sheila. "He's not doing comedy professionally, but he has a job that he loves."
"That's what matters," Sheila says, "loving the thing you do—why the fuck else would any of us be in the arts?"
"Isn't that the truth," Doris says, coming up behind him and linking her arm through Montgomery's. "Hi, Sheila. Your show is so great, did Montgomery tell you? We try to tape it when we can't watch."
"Thanks," Sheila says, and then, "You're together?"
"We live together," Doris says blithely, "Montgomery's gay, though, he came out in school—don't you remember? Ralph Garci was a total shit about it." Montgomery looks at Doris, who is smiling, guileless, and probably treating this whole reunion as an acting exercise.
"Oh," Sheila says, sounding a little confused. "Well, it's great to see you both. Congratulations again." They say goodbye, and she makes a beeline away from them, going to talk with Neisha from dance and David and Ann-Marie from drama, over by the table with the wine.
"That was uncalled for," Montgomery says, grinning at Doris.
Doris smirks back at him. "Well, look, it's not like I'm going to tell the people here how I really feel. That's what you and Ralph are for—and Anita and Marisol and Harvey, sometimes, and our friends. It's not that I don't want to see the people we went to high school with—PA's a bond that doesn't break, and I hope that's still true now that it's not PA anymore; but the theatre world is so small, most of the people I care about, I already know how they are."
"Yeah." Montgomery looks around the room. A lot of the faces are familiar, but most of them aren't; he doesn't know if that's just because they're all people from music and dance who he never knew in the first place, or if they've all grown up to be unrecognizable. "This is weird, isn't it?"
"Totally weird," Doris agrees. "Hey, do you want to go find out if this building has any stairs to hide on outside of the lunch room?"
Montgomery spots Ralph, standing near the main doors of the auditorium and talking to someone who Montgomery thinks might be Coco Hernandez. "Let's go rescue Ralph," he says.
It is Coco Hernandez, leaning heavily on Bruno Martelli's arm while she talks to Ralph. Montgomery thinks he might not have recognized Bruno, from just a glance—he looks a lot older, more than just ten years. Coco, who Montgomery had heard was sick, is too thin and too pale, but her smile is still star-caliber, like she'll make it through this even if it kills her. Montgomery wishes that was just an expression. "Hi Coco," he says, as he and Doris join them. "Bruno. How are you?"
Coco smiles at them. "Oh, you know. Dying. Other than that, well—" she leans into Bruno. "I can still sing, and my boyfriend loves me, so it could be worse, right?" She and Bruno exchange a look, and they both look tired, but they also look like they love each other. Montgomery squeezes Doris's hand. "Hey," Coco adds, "congratulations on the Tonys, both of you. We saw your show, it was wonderful."
"It could've had a better score," Bruno says, "but it was really good." He sounds like he means it, which he probably does; Bruno is relentlessly honest.
"Baby," Coco says, to Bruno, "I just figured it out—that's what's wrong with this party, it needs a better score."
Ralph raises his eyebrows. "What?"
Coco shrugs her shoulders back. "Listen, Garci, this is a Performing Arts party, and you know what a PA party needs, is some spontaneous dancing. We're not any kind of wine and cheese crowd. Block some traffic, make some lunch ladies swoon."
"There's a whole crowd of musicians over by the refreshments," Bruno remarks.
Coco grins. "Find me a piano bench, baby, and then it's all on you." She turns her grin on Doris and Montgomery. "See you, Tony winners," she says, "and Ralph," and then she and Bruno are walking away.
Doris and Ralph and Montgomery look at each other. "You want to get out of here?" Doris asks.
"Fuck, yes," Ralph says, just as there's an uncoordinated clatter of instruments from the other side of the auditorium. "We can come back when Marisol graduates, that'll be soon enough for me."
Montgomery takes Ralph's hand, and then it's the three of them again, just like it always was. "Yeah," he says, "let's go home."