“I’m telling you, he’s here! I saw him.”
“Bull,” says Carly, not even bothering to look away from the mirror. “There’s just no way it was him. No way. You’re a loon.”
She clicks the lid back onto her lipstick and pops her lips a couple of times, much more concerned with getting her face perfect before all the girls are called into the studio than with anything Marie has to say.
“I swear to God I saw him! I saw Jerry Lewis out there in the corridor, as plain as the nose on your face.”
“Oh come on, Marie. Why would he even be here, huh? What for?” Carly catches her eye in the mirror, looking exasperated. “And by the way, you look pretty dumb getting mad in that costume.”
Marie looks down at herself. True, it is kind of hard to make a convincing argument about anything while dressed up as a sexy daisy, but all the girls are wearing the same thing and she doesn’t really think she looks any dumber than anybody else. A lifetime of dance training, for this. Good grief.
“What for? For Dean, of course,” Marie replies softly. “He’d be here for Dean.”
“You’re a sap, that’s what. Apart from that one movie Dean was in that Jerry directed, they haven’t even worked together for, what, twelve years now? Thirteen?”
“‘That one movie’? The Croupier was beautiful, Carl, it won Oscars!”
“Okay, okay, it was a good movie. But it’s not like Dean needs help with his TV show for God’s sake, especially not from some big-shot director bossing everyone around.” She picks up her hairbrush and sets to work on her long curls. “They probably don’t even see each other anymore.”
“Well, I think they do and I’m telling you I saw him. He was wearing a red sweater, and he was walking with a cane just like he does when you see him on the talk shows. He was out in the corridor with that guy who works for Dean. It was him.”
As she speaks, the dressing room door opens and Brandy sneaks in, waving a fresh pack of cigarettes she’s just bummed off a stagehand.
“Got ‘em!” She says. “Score, huh? He gave me the whole damn pack. What are you talking about, who’s out in the corridor?”
“Marie thinks she saw Jerry Lewis.”
“I did see him!”
“Oh, yeah, he’s here,” Brandy says, casually. She drops down sideways into a make-up chair, long legs thrown over one of its arms, and starts casually unwrapping the cigarettes. “I just saw him, he went into Dean’s dressing room with Mack.”
“See!” Marie says triumphantly. “I told you!”
“Well I’ll be damned,” says Carly, setting the hairbrush down and turning to face the others. “But what’s he doing here?”
“Well, it’s probably… you know.”
“No,” says Carly. “What? What do we know?”
“The rumor about them,” Brandy says, lighting her cigarette. “You know.” She raises her eyebrows and blows a meaningful cloud of smoke in their direction. Carly and Marie exchange looks, equally nonplussed.
“Brandy, stop saying ‘you know’,” Carly snaps. “We clearly don’t know. What rumor? Spill.”
“The rumor that they’re… you seriously don’t know?” Brandy swings her legs off the chair arm, sits up straight and takes a big drag on her cigarette “Oh boy, are you two in for a treat! Gather round children, let me hip ya to the tea.”
Carly rolls her eyes but can’t resist drawing her chair closer. Marie sinks to the floor, riveted, and sits cross-legged at Brandy’s feet. Brandy grins at them, delighted to have some serious gossip to impart.
“Well, the rumor is that… they’re together. As in, together together.”
Marie’s mouth falls open. Carly just laughs.
“Bull. Shit.” She shakes her head. “Nope, no way. That’s absurd, Brandy. Who told you that?”
“Steve told me. You know sound guy Steve. He’s known them since the Colgate days, you remember that show? But the whispers have been going round for years, I’d heard ‘em already. That’s why I’m shocked you didn’t know.” She sits back and takes another drag. Marie gazes up at her, rapt.
“Do you think it’s true?” She asks.
“Sure, I believe Steve.”
“Then I think it’s true too.”
“Well I don’t,” says Carly, folding her arms. “You’ll be telling me next that Cary Grant’s gay, you nut!”
Brandy looks at Carly like she’s about to say something, then thinks better of it. Marie’s still gazing up at her with a faraway look in her eye.
“Brandy, what exactly did Steve say? Have they been together a long time?” She asks. “Gee, I remember when they were on TV when I was a little kid. I loved them, they were so funny. I always wished that someday I could have a buddy like that. Like the other half, you know?”
“Aww,” Brandy says, leaning down and affectionately stroking her hair. “Precious child.” She thinks for a moment. “I don’t think anyone knows when they really got together. Steve reckons it was a few years before Jerry’s accident. That was ’53 right?”
“Oh boy, I was so little, I don’t remember. I just remember suddenly they weren’t on TV anymore and I was sad about it.”
“I remember. It was the year I turned ten, so yeah, 1953. Boy, I had a doozy of a birthday party that year.” says Carly. “I remember my mom and her friends talking about the accident; it was in all the papers, the doctors saying he might never walk again. Then they vanished for, wow, maybe a year? After that Dean would be on TV singing sometimes.” She looks wistful for a moment. “He looked lopsided without Jerry, at first. I remember that. And kind of sad”
“So, if Steve says it was a few years before,” says Marie, looking thoughtful. “Then they got together while they were still working as a team, right Brandy?”
“I guess they must’ve, yeah. But I don’t think anyone knows for sure. They’re real quiet about it, understandably.”
“I think it’s so romantic.”
“You think everything’s romantic, Marie.” Carly sniffs.
“Well it is, isn’t it? They were best friends and they fell in love.”
Carly just rolls her eyes. Marie wonders if she ever gets dizzy, she does it so much. Then she feels a bit mean for thinking it.
“Seriously, Dean though?” Carly says. “Are you kidding? He flirts with the girls like it’s going out of style!”
“But, think about it Carl: does he? That’s his reputation sure, but really think about it. Does Dean actually flirt with us, or do we flirt with him?”
“Well, I guess…” she lapses into silence for a moment, searching for some memory that’ll prove her point. Nothing immediately springs to mind. She can picture Dean laughing with the girls, making sure everyone’s happy, being very funny and gentle, but nothing more.
“He’s the sweetest guy in the world, sure.” Brandy continues, almost as if she’d read her mind. “And he’s so kind when someone has a crush on him, which is always. But doesn’t he seem sort of… disinterested? And can you name one single girl here who he’s actually picked up? I can’t.”
“How about Jerry, then.” Carly says, trying a change of tack. “Isn’t Jerry married?”
“Oh, yeah, sure he is,” says Brandy, “And have you seen a picture of him with his wife lately?”
“Well, hell, I don’t know…”
“I’ll tell you now, you haven’t. Because it’s not a real marriage anymore, it's an arrangement.” Brandy shrugs as if this was as the most obvious thing in the world. “She lives in this gorgeous house in Bel Air and he lives out on the coast somewhere secret with Dean.”
“Well I’ll be damned.” Carly says again.
“Now you believe me?”
“Let’s say I’m coming around.” Carly distractedly picks up her hairbrush again and turns back to the mirror, looking thoughtful as she brushes. The jigsaw pieces in her head are slotting together while she works.
Marie has a hundred more questions she wants to ask, but before she can voice any of them the speaker in the corner of their dressing room crackles into life.
“Call for all dancers to Studio 4 please, all dancers to Studio 4.”
“Ooh, showtime!” Brandy stubs out her cigarette, stands and turns to the mirror to straighten out her sparkly green minidress. She picks up her ridiculous petal headband from the counter but can’t quite bring herself to put it on yet. Looking at Carly and Marie, it seems that they can’t either. “What we do for art, huh girls?” She says ruefully.
“Art and a paycheck, honey,” Carly replies, fixing the offending thing onto her head. “Art and a paycheck. C’mon girls.”
Carly leads the way out of the room and Marie follows, but she isn’t thinking about art or a paycheck right now. She isn’t thinking about their number, or the steps or the dorky outfit. She’s thinking about whether she’ll look at Dean differently when she sees him again. She’s wondering if Jerry’s still here, and if she’ll catch another glimpse of him. She’s thinking back to those two black-and-white boys on the TV screens of her childhood, with their baggy tuxedos and their chemistry that fizzed off the screen so strong that even her baby heart recognised it. She’s thinking, and they loved each other all along? She’s thinking about how love is alchemy. She’s wishing that someday she could have a buddy like that. Like the other half, you know?