Among the girls at Monumental Pictures, Cosmo Brown had something of a reputation as a safe date. Sure, he’d chat you up as eagerly as any of the other guys would, and he could be just as full of hot air sometimes, but he’d see you to your door at the end of the evening without expecting anything more than a friendly farewell peck on the cheek. If you invited him in, he’d happily spend an hour or two snuggling on the couch and chatting over a Gin Rickey, or an Old Fashioned (or an Aviation, if you were Betsy from the costume department), but his hands never wandered, and he wouldn’t want to stay the night. Fresh-faced starlets in want of an escort for a party were frequently pointed quietly in his direction.
It was only natural, then, that nobody turned a hair when they saw Cosmo squiring young Kathy Selden about town when Don was otherwise engaged – after all, an evening out with Cosmo was a bit of harmless fun, nothing more, and if Don didn’t mind his best friend keeping his girl company, then why should anyone else? It wasn’t as though Kathy was stepping out on him.
Privately, Kathy found the whole thing rather hilarious. Of course, it wasn’t as though the girls at the studio were wrong about Cosmo, exactly – he was very much the gentleman in so many ways – but their honest belief in his innocence… Well, perhaps it was better to keep the knowledge of just what Cosmo could do with that clever tongue of his strictly between herself and Don and the man in question, but sometimes Kathy felt a little inclined to defend his sexual prowess. The one time she mentioned as much to Don, he hadn’t stopped laughing for almost twenty minutes, and Cosmo himself had been very confused when he got home to find the pair of them giggling together and entirely unable to explain themselves. Not that he hadn’t been willing to join in, of course. Cosmo was always happy to laugh with them.
So, perhaps it wasn’t really so surprising how few questions were asked about Cosmo living in Don’s house, even after the wedding. It was a pretty big house, after all, and as far as anybody else knew, Cosmo had a bedroom in the North wing, right next to the music room. Cosmo did have a bedroom in the North wing; he just didn’t actually use it all that often. Once in a while, when he’d been up late working on a score and didn’t want to risk waking Don or Kathy, sure, but most nights he spent right where he belonged – in the master bedroom, wrapped up in a tangle of limbs on Don and Kathy’s ridiculously large bed. Some of Kathy’s favorite memories were of mornings when she’d woken first, and got to watch her boys painted in shifting watercolor tones by the dawn sunlight creeping in through the bedroom window.
Those moments were why she’d first thought of buying a camera – not for stills, but a film camera. It was frivolous, perhaps – film was expensive, and you could only record a few minutes on a single canister – but it seemed unfair, somehow, that she and Don would be preserved on screen, but there were no moving pictures of Cosmo, who was so full of life and joy and laughter. And, well, it wasn’t as though film was all that expensive, when you compared it with what Kathy actually earned, especially if you bought the 16mm sort.
About a week later, she arrived home carrying a Bolex Auto Cine B, and a projector to match.
“Hey, Kath, you’re not bringing work home with you, are you?” asked Cosmo, grinning, as he hopped down from his perch on the bar and sauntered over to inspect her new acquisitions.
“No,” she told him, setting them safely down on the table, “just a little project.”
“Well,” Cosmo murmured, catching her by the waist and pressing a soft kiss to the side of her neck, “that’s all right, then.”
And Kathy had been meaning to ask him where Don was, because she wanted to propose her idea to both of them at once, but Cosmo worked his way up to nibble briefly on her ear before pulling her into a melodramatic dip and kissing her properly, and…well…it was just a little bit distracting.
It was Don who brought it up in the end, later that evening, when he was sprawled out on the sofa with his head in Kathy’s lap and his feet in Cosmo’s.
“Say, Kathy,” he drawled, eyes half-closed.
“What’s this Cos has been telling me about you showing up with a camera?”
“Oh, that! Well, I thought it was a shame we couldn’t watch Cos up on the big screen, too.”
“What do you wanna see my ugly mug up on the big screen for?” asked Cosmo, looking genuinely baffled.
“Face it, Cos,” said Don, “we happen to like your ugly mug.”
Cosmo made a face.
“Don’t you bully him, Donald Lockwood,” Kathy mock-scolded, “He’s very handsome and you know it.”
Cosmo made another face, and this time neither Don nor Kathy could resist laughing at it. And then, of course, having got his breath back, Don declared that they’d just have to demonstrate how much they liked Cosmo’s face, and almost an hour was lost smothering him in kisses and caresses, and apparently Don’s hand had ended up down Cosmo’s pants at some point, if the soft, needy noises Cos was making into Kathy’s mouth were anything to go on.
And, well, by the time Cosmo was more or less capable of coherent discussion again, it was pretty late to worry about having a serious conversation; so they wordlessly agreed to shelve it until the morning, and headed up to bed.
Between one thing and another, it wasn’t until the following Thursday that Kathy actually managed to get her camera set up and pointed in Cosmo’s direction. He raised an eyebrow at her.
“And you want me to dance?”
“You don’t have to sound so skeptical, Cos,” Don put in from across the room.
“Easy for you to say – you do this kinda thing all the time.”
“So do you,” said Don.
“Not in front of a camera, I don’t.”
Cosmo turned an exaggerated pout in Kathy’s direction, and it was very hard not to fold under that bright blue gaze and let him off the hook.
Don was not so easily swayed.
“Aw, c’mon, Cos. It’s not so different from a live audience.” He batted his eyelashes at Cosmo, and it would have been ridiculous if Cosmo weren’t clearly melting.
“Okay, fine,” Cosmo capitulated, “What sort of a number did you want?”
Kathy would have come up with an answer, honestly, but Don swept in and took Cosmo in his arms in a perfect ballroom hold, and she had to scramble to start the camera rolling. It started out as a foxtrot, smooth and elegant. Then Don spun Cosmo out of hold, and Cos broke into a little tap before returning to Don’s arms and taking over the lead. None of them had got around to setting the gramophone playing, but Don was humming something softly, and it seemed to be enough: they kept perfect time in their jaunty little number, switching back and forth between leading and following. Kathy thought it was probably Cosmo’s decision to exchange the foxtrot sections for Charleston, but it was hard to tell when the pair of them were so seamlessly in step throughout. The tap interludes got faster, too – Don’s not quite so much as Cosmo’s, but then Don tended to get those expressive shoulders of his involved, where Cosmo was entirely happy to let his feet do most of the talking.
By the time they came to a stop, leaning on each other a little and breathing hard, Kathy was sure she had never wanted anything more than she wanted to kiss them in that moment. So she walked over and did just that, and Cosmo made a show of swooning into Don’s arms, and they all ended up in a heap on the floor, because Don had somehow failed to expect it. Kathy couldn’t think of anywhere she’d rather be.
After that first time, Cosmo seemed to forget about being camera-shy. Any time the little Bolex came out, he’d put on his best Cheshire Cat grin and perform ever-more-ridiculous dance routines. So far, Kathy’s favorite had been a lightning-fast tap number on the kitchen table, during which Don had pulled the tablecloth out from under Cosmo’s feet without him missing a beat. One day, she was going to sweet-talk Cos into teaching her to do that, she really was.
Don, of course, was not always a cooperative sidekick – there were times when he’d march in to hoist Cosmo over one shoulder and carry him off, protesting exaggeratedly. Kathy got the impression this was a joke from their vaudeville days, but neither of the boys had ever actually confirmed the theory.
It wasn’t all that long before Don started stealing the camera to film Kathy dancing with Cosmo, too.
Dancing with Cosmo was rather different from dancing with Don. He was physically slighter, for a start, but where Don’s touch was firm and supportive, Cosmo’s – unless he was in the mood for ridiculous lifts – was butterfly-light and ever so reactive. Some days, Kathy could swear Cosmo listened with his fingers, which made no sort of sense at all, but she didn’t know how else to describe it: when they danced, Cosmo was somehow always where she needed him to be, even when she’d barely thought to make that step a breath ago. It occurred to her that maybe that was part of how Don and Cosmo always kept in lockstep – Cos was a mind-reader. And it probably helped that Don knew Cosmo inside out. They laughed when she brought it up.
“What good would it do me to read this lummox’s mind?” asked Cosmo, nudging Don with his elbow.
That led to an impromptu wrestling match, which led to sex on the couch, which was more awkward with three people than it would have been with two, but they had enough grace between them that nobody fell on the floor.
Afterwards, sated and sweat-sticky, Kathy had another bright idea. She made a mental note to conspire with Don about it later, and curled closer into Cosmo’s chest.
Finding a moment alone together was not the easiest thing in the world, but they had managed to find an unoccupied prop store on their lunch break, and Cos would still be recording for at least another ten minutes.
“…and I know if he wore it on the usual finger, people would ask questions, but there’s places in Europe where they wear them on the right hand, so perhaps that would work?”
Don kissed her.
“Kathy, you’re a marvel. You don’t mind being the one to buy it?”
“You know, I think it might look a little strange if you went into a jeweler's claiming to have lost your own wedding band and then tried to buy one that wouldn’t fit you to replace it.”
“A valid point,” Don conceded, “All right. I’ll butt out. But let me know when you’ve got it, won’t you? I want to be involved in the next bit of this plan of yours.”
He looked so sweet with that earnest expression on his face that Kathy just had to kiss him on the nose. It earned her a chuckle and a flash of that beautiful Don Lockwood smile.
“I love you, Kathy.”
Logically, Kathy knew that the ring box weighed very little, but nonetheless her handbag felt oddly heavy. Funny, the tricks emotion could play on the mind. A small part of her was quietly panicking over the possibility that Cosmo wouldn’t like it. Closing the front door behind her, she took a moment to just breathe, before announcing her presence in the same breezy tones she always used.
Don hurried over almost immediately, practically vibrating with anticipation.
Kathy fished the little box out of her bag and held it out to him. Don took it with a reverence she wasn’t sure she’d ever seen him use, opened it, and stared at the ring inside for several moments with a rather stunned expression on his handsome face.
“Oh, Kathy,” he breathed, “It’s perfect.”
And Kathy could have protested that it was a plain gold wedding band, much like any other, but Don looked so darned happy that she couldn’t bring herself to do it. She smiled back at him instead.
“Gosh, Kath, we need a plan,” said Don, after a moment, sounding almost surprised.
“Well, aren’t you the famed romantic lead?” Kathy teased.
Don seemed so genuinely alarmed that Kathy had to stifle a snicker.
“It’s not funny, Kath. You know what a frightful ham I am. Cos deserves a proper proposal.”
“Gee, Don, you managed to propose to me, didn’t you?”
Don looked suddenly rather embarrassed, and mumbled something unintelligible in the direction of the floor.
“I’m sorry,” said Kathy, “I didn’t quite catch that.”
“You mean,” Don repeated, eyes still firmly fixed on his own feet, “I went ahead and announced to Lina, Zelda, and anyone else in earshot that I was going to marry you.” He frowned. “I think I might end up in real trouble if I tried that with Cos. I’m surprised you let me get away with it.”
Kathy covered her mouth with her hand, struck more than usual by the awareness of what a sweet, hopeless sap her husband was. Regaining her composure, she took advantage of his abashed slump to kiss his forehead – usually, she struggled to reach, even on tip-toe.
“Oh, Don,” she sighed, “We’ll work something out.”
It was on a Friday, just over two weeks later, that they put their plan into effect. Cosmo was due to get home about two hours after Don and Kathy – they’d had a pretty short shoot scheduled, whereas Cos had the orchestra in to record, which always meant a pretty full day – so they were guaranteed a decent window of opportunity to get things set up.
Don had fretted over recipes for days, before eventually settling on goulash, on account of the fact that he knew how to cook it and he knew Cosmo liked eating it. Kathy was in charge of dessert, because Don was a terrible baker. They’d bought enough candles to put your average Roman Catholic church to shame, and used them to fill the dining room. They’d even put out the beautiful lace-edged tablecloth that Kathy’s mother had given them as a wedding present.
Kathy wondered, slightly frantically, whether they’d perhaps gone a little overboard, but Don had been so determined that everything should be just so…
“Don, Kathy, I’m home!” came Cosmo’s usual cheery greeting from the hallway.
A few moments later, he breezed into the dining room, stopped short, and raised a questioning eyebrow at Kathy.
“Are we expecting company for dinner?” he asked, sotto voce.
“No,” she told him, more or less managing to sound casual.
“Shucks, Kathy, I didn’t forget your birthday, did I?”
Kathy found herself smiling fondly as she assured him that he hadn’t. Cosmo went quiet for a bit, then gave her a funny sort of sideways look.
“Uh, forgive me if this is indelicate, Kath, but are you…y’know…expecting?”
For a brief moment, Kathy was stunned into silence.
“No, Cos. Why would you think…?”
“I dunno, Kath. It’s just –” he waved a hand expansively at their surroundings “– Well, you seem to have gone to a lot of trouble to make the place look nice, and I’m running out of ideas what the heck we’re celebrating.”
Kathy moved round the table to his side, and pulled him into an embrace.
“Don and I have something for you,” she whispered, “but it’s supposed to be a surprise.”
Cosmo leaned back far enough to level her with his best innocent look.
“I can keep a secret.”
“So can I,” she replied, tapping him lightly on the nose in mock-rebuke.
Cosmo crossed his eyes as though trying to examine an imaginary injury, and rubbed the tip of his nose dramatically. Kathy couldn’t help but laugh. Judging by the pleased little smirk dancing round the corners of Cosmo’s mouth, that was exactly what he’d been going for.
Cosmo, to his credit, managed to sit through the entirety of dinner without dropping any hints to Don that he knew they were up to something. If he waggled his eyebrows meaningfully at Kathy a few times when Don wasn’t looking, well, it was her own fault for not coming up with a cover-story beforehand.
“Cos,” said Don, coming back from clearing the plates to stand by Cosmo’s chair, “there’s something Kathy and I wanted to ask you.”
“Ask away,” Cosmo replied, when it became clear Don was waiting for an answer, turning sideways on his chair to face them properly.
“Cosmo –” Kathy moved to stand at Don’s elbow “– you know we both love you very much, don’t you?”
“Sure,” said Cosmo slowly, leveling them with a slightly suspicious look.
“Well,” said Don, “the other day, Kathy had a wonderful idea.”
“And, of course, it couldn’t exactly be public knowledge, but…”
“What we’re trying to say, Cos, is that, well –” Don dropped to one knee, and Kathy put her hand on his shoulder “– we’d like to extend the ‘till death do us part’s.”
Cosmo made a strange, choked little noise when Don held out the ring.
“Gee, I don’t know what to say,” he managed at length.
“We were hoping you’d say yes,” said Kathy, softly.
“Of course the answer’s yes. That’s not what I –” He fell silent again as Don slid the ring onto the fourth finger on his right hand.
“Like they wear them in Russia,” Kathy explained.
“Sneaky,” said Cosmo approvingly, “I like it.”
“Well, then. Husband,” said Don, extending a hand to Cosmo with an exaggerated bow, “To bed?”
Cosmo took Don’s hand, and followed him for all of three steps before pausing.
“What about the dishes?”
“I’ll wash ‘em in the morning,” Don promised airily.
“I’ll hold him to that,” Kathy said, and Cosmo laughed merrily.
“Well, all right then. To bed.”
Don, evidently in the mood for melodrama, swept Cosmo up into a bridal carry.
“Hey!” Cosmo protested, “Put me down, you great lunk!”
“Ah ah,” scolded Kathy brightly, “It’s traditional.”
Cosmo stuck out his tongue at her, but allowed Don to carry him up the stairs to their bedroom without attempting to escape.
Don set Cosmo on his feet just inside the bedroom door, and drew him into a long, hungry kiss, which worked as quite an effective distraction from Kathy wrapping her arms around him from behind to unbutton his waistcoat and shirt.
It was only when she started pulling the garments down his arms that Cosmo broke away from Don’s lips.
“Oh, hi, Kathy,” he panted. “Fancy seeing you here.”
She dropped a kiss on his newly-bared shoulder, pulled the shirt’s sleeves free of his hands, and raised a conspiratorial eyebrow at Don, who grinned back impishly.
“You know,” said Cosmo conversationally, apparently having caught his breath, “I can’t help noticing you two still have clothes on.”
“So do you,” Kathy replied, smirking.
“We might have to do something about that,” Don put in. He ran a finger down Cosmo’s chest, and carried on southwards to the top button of his fly.
“Oh,” breathed Cosmo.
Kathy tugged his undershirt gently upwards, and Cosmo obligingly – though somewhat absently – pulled it the rest of the way off, eyes fixed on Don’s lascivious grin.
And then, well… Don dropped smoothly to his knees, and Kathy had the sudden, delightful realization that the girls in make-up wouldn’t tell her off for leaving hickeys on Cosmo’s neck.
“Jesus, Kathy,” said Cosmo as he returned from the bathroom next morning, freshly-shaven and tugging his shirt collar upwards in a futile attempt to hide the livid marks on his throat, “When were you planning on telling me you’re a vampire?”
Kathy inspected her handiwork critically.
“I guess I might have got a bit carried away,” she admitted.
“If you wouldn’t mind awfully keeping to where I can cover them up next time…”
“I’ll consider it,” Kathy purred, and pressed a quick peck to Cosmo’s lips.
He pulled her back in when she went to move away, and kissed her back, catching her lower lip gently between his teeth for a moment as he pulled away.
“You know,” he murmured, “anyone would think you were getting possessive.”
“And what if I were?” she asked, looking coquettishly up at him through her lashes.
“Kathy, you’re gonna be the death of me,” said Cosmo, with great sincerity for someone who sounded quite so aroused. His cheeks had gone a very pretty shade of pink, and really, Kathy just had to kiss him again.
“Nice to see you’re managing without me,” came Don’s voice from the doorway. He grinned at them as they broke apart to look at him. “Much as I’d love to join you, we should probably think about heading to the studio. You’ve got a meeting with R.F. about that modern number at nine, Cos, remember?”
Cosmo looked thoughtful for a moment.
“What time is it?”
“Twenty to,” Don replied.
“Fine,” he huffed. “But it’s a rein-check, not a cancellation.”
“It had better be,” said Kathy.
“Kathy, I love you,” said Cosmo, and planted a brief kiss on her mouth. “Don,” he went on, closing the gap between them, “I adore you.” He kissed Don, too. “I’d better skedaddle – I’ll see you both at lunch.”
With that, he swept out of the room, leaving Don and Kathy alone together.
“What’s the betting we get there before he does?” Don asked, smirking.
“Knowing Cosmo’s car? I’d say three-to-one at best.”
“One day, he’s going to let me buy him one that actually works.”
“I wouldn’t hold your breath,” said Kathy, smiling. “Come on, let’s get going.”
They linked arms and headed for the stairs.
It began with Kathy fainting on set.
It had been a long day’s shoot, and it was hot under the lights – one moment she’d been grasping for a line that had slipped away from the tip of her tongue; the next, she was waking up on the floor with her head cushioned in Don’s lap.
“Hi, Kathy,” he said, smiling down at her shakily, “You had me worried there for a minute.”
He helped her sit up slowly, and kept a supporting arm about her waist as she leaned on his shoulder while the slight fuzziness receded from the edges of her vision.
It occurred to Kathy that there had been a full crew on the sound stage the last she’d been aware, and now she and Don seemed to be alone.
“Roscoe had everybody clear out,” Don told her, evidently reading the question on her face.
“Oh, I see.”
“And there’s a doctor on the way, just to be safe.”
“Really, Don, I think I’m just a little overtired.”
“In which case, he’ll tell you to take a day or two in bed, and everything will be swell. Or it’ll turn out the same as when Cosmo’s ma used to get dizzy spells, and he’ll tell you you’re anemic and prescribe you red meat and stout.”
There was a tension to Don’s face that suggested he was trying to reassure himself as much as Kathy, so she didn’t try to argue.
“Cosmo’s mother used to get dizzy spells?” she asked, instead.
“Sometimes, yeah. Cos had a lot of brothers and sisters, and the little ones got first dibs on dinner when money was tight.”
It wasn’t surprising, exactly – Kathy had known since early on in their relationship that Don’s official life story was pure hokum, and she’d had at least some of the real story from Cosmo over the years – but it still made a part of her very sad that Don talked about such things so matter-of-factly, as though they were nothing particularly unusual. Which, of course, objectively speaking, they weren’t, and wasn’t that the crux of the problem?
In the end, after taking her pulse and blood pressure, and asking what felt like an awful lot of questions, the doctor had sent Kathy home with orders to rest up, and made her an appointment at the surgery two days later for tests. He’d told her he suspected she was a little anemic, which was probably why she’d fainted, and he’d intimated that he had an idea as to the reason behind the anemia, but he wanted the tests done to confirm his hypothesis.
Kathy had duly gone to the surgery to provide the necessary samples, and it wasn’t all that long before an envelope arrived in the post containing the results.
Somehow, Kathy couldn’t quite work out how to make the announcement herself; so she handed the letter wordlessly to Cosmo, who was occupying the adjacent seat at the breakfast table. He skimmed it quickly over a mouthful of scrambled eggs, and a broad grin spread its way across his face.
“Hey, Don! Guess what!”
Don raised an eyebrow at him and took a sip of his coffee.
“I don’t know. What?”
“You’re only gonna be a father!” Cosmo beamed.
Don blinked a few times, face blank; then he lit up.
“Kathy?” he asked breathlessly, seeking confirmation.
“It’s a little earlier than we’d planned,” she smiled, “but yes. We’re having a baby.”
“Hot dog!” Don exclaimed, jumping to his feet.
Cosmo leaned in to whisper a playful but sincere “Hallelujah” in Kathy’s ear, as Don circumnavigated the table to fling his arms around the pair of them.
“We’re gonna be parents,” he announced, sounding slightly starstruck.
“Oh, no,” Cosmo put in, “You two are gonna be parents. I’m gonna be an uncle.”
“Cos,” Don began, in tones of protest.
“No, Don, I’m serious,” said Cosmo gently, forestalling his argument, “It’s your names on the marriage certificate, and much as I’ll love the kid like my own, you can’t go teaching them to call me Papa. People will ask questions we don’t want to answer.”
He was right, of course, but that didn’t mean either Don or Kathy liked it.
“Oh, Cos,” Kathy sighed.
Don held them both a little closer, and didn’t say anything.
“No,” said Cosmo abruptly, “I refuse to let the pair of you be melancholy on such a happy occasion, just because I chose a bad time to have a necessary conversation. Come on – we’re going back to bed so I can make it up to you.”
Later, lying loose-limbed and languid between her dozing husbands, Kathy reflected that Cosmo had been as good as his word. Smiling to herself, she pulled the blankets a little closer about her, and settled down to take a nap.
“Still comfortable?” Cos asked, making another slight tweak to Kathy’s underpinnings.
“Good.” He snagged her dress from the edge of the bed and handed it to her. “To tell you the truth, I was a little worried the girls were just putting a brave face on it.”
“Well,” said Kathy, slipping the garment over her head, “you’ll hear no complaints from me.” She smoothed out her skirts, and took a moment to assess her reflection critically. Perhaps it would be going a bit far to call it miraculous – she wasn’t really showing all that much yet anyway – but the trick Cosmo had learned in his vaudeville days was doing its job flawlessly.
“I find myself a little curious just why you were paying enough attention to pick this sort of thing up. Don certainly wasn’t.” Kathy knew that for a fact – she’d asked him.
Cosmo perched himself on the foot-board and gave her a shrug.
“Exactly. And just what was he gonna do if he ever got serious about one of the nice, respectable girls he used to sweet-talk in every town we played? He’s always been able to charm the birds from the trees, but he never used to put much thought into consequences. Knowing him, he’d have asked her to run away from home and join our act, and then, well…” He spread his arms in feigned helplessness. Who knows what might have happened?
There was a logic to it, Kathy couldn’t deny that.
“What if you’d found a nice, respectable girl to get serious about?” she teased.
Cosmo favored the thought with an amused huff.
“Me? Gee, Kath, at the time I was pretty convinced I was a homosexual.”
And Kathy had half-suspected, but it still felt vaguely shocking to hear him say it so bluntly.
From Cosmo’s merry laughter, her surprise must have showed on her face.
“Kathy, I used to have a collection of Arrow collar adverts. And sure, I was dippy over Don, but I noticed other guys in a way I just kinda…didn’t with girls.” He shot her a suddenly very sappy smile. “Until you, that is. I notice you plenty. Not sure what shade of queer that makes me.”
“I think,” murmured Kathy, leaning in close, “that makes you a hopeless romantic, Cos.”
“I like the sound of that,” he whispered against her lips, and kissed her.
They managed to wrap on Falling For Emily before she started to show beyond what could be easily hidden, and after that it was mostly shooting promotional photos and giving interviews for a few weeks.
Eventually, though, she really did have to step away from work, unless she wanted to try out some of Cosmo’s more creative suggestions for hiding the bump. And not long after that, when she was about seven months gone, her mother came to stay.
In fairness to Kathy’s mother, it really was an advantage to have some company in the day – it could get quite lonely when Don and Cosmo were both at work – and it would inevitably be a great help to have someone with prior experience around to lend a hand once the baby came. The problem, however, was that with a guest in the house, Cosmo was sleeping in his official room, instead of the master bedroom, and Don was up at all hours with nightmares that he refused to talk to Kathy about.
The first few days hadn’t been so bad – Don had been a little sleepy in the mornings, but hardly so much that anyone would think to comment on it. Now, though, almost three weeks later, Don was practically dead on his feet most of the time, and Kathy frequently found herself reminding Cosmo not to let him drive. Cos took her anxious nagging in good humor, and had developed a habit of saying his goodbyes to her on a morning with a grin, a wink, and a promise to keep Don safely confined to the passenger seat.
Today, though, was Sunday, and Don had decided to escort Kathy’s mother to church.
Cosmo had looked surprised and slightly concerned when Don announced as much at breakfast, and Kathy cornered him about it as soon as her mother and Don had left.
“What was all that about?”
“Well, with the exception of your wedding day, Don hasn’t been to church since I had appendicitis back in ‘18. In case you hadn’t noticed, he’s not exactly the religious sort.”
Well, that confirmed Kathy’s previous assumption that the neat, diagonal scar that ran parallel to the crest of Cosmo’s right hip was from an appendectomy, even if it didn’t really answer her question.
“Was he a regular churchgoer before?”
Cosmo gave her a slightly peculiar look before answering.
“Not really, Kath. The way he tells it, he thought I was gonna die, and praying was all he could think of to do, since the doc wouldn’t let him sit with me.”
Kathy could have sworn she felt her heart miss a beat.
“Don’t look at me like that, Kathy – it was years ago, and I don’t even really remember it.”
“But you –”
“My appendix burst before the doctor could get it out,” he said bluntly. “By all accounts, I had a hell of a fever, and they called in the padre to give me my last rites because my heart was struggling for a little while. I wasn’t awake to be scared by it, Kath – it was Don who had a hard time of it. Don’t you go feeling sorry for me.”
That was a pretty tall order, so Kathy settled for hugging him instead of talking. Cosmo held her close and stroked her hair softly.
“I do think that might have something to do with why Don’s not sleeping, though,” he murmured.
“This has gotta be the longest we’ve spent in separate beds since then. And, I mean, he’s not as bad as he used to be, but I got pretty used to playing teddy bear to begin with.”
“Oh,” said Kathy. Cosmo’s theory would certainly make a degree of sense.
“I’ll talk to him when he gets home. There’s gotta be something we can work out.”
“Oh,” said Kathy again, this time out of surprise at a sudden, sharp twinge low in her belly.
“Kathy?” Cosmo asked, “What’s wrong?”
She told him, and he pulled away to arm’s length to look her in the eye.
“And how long has your back been aching?”
“Since I woke up, but how did you…?”
“Congratulations, Kathy –” Cosmo squeezed her shoulders gently and gave her a reassuring sort of smile “– I think today’s the day.”
“Well, I’m not a doctor, but I saw it enough times with my ma.”
Kathy must have looked as worried as she felt, because Cosmo wrapped her up in his arms and rested his chin on top of her head.
“It’s too soon, surely?”
“My littlest sister was earlier,” he soothed. “Besides, sometimes dates get mixed. It’ll be all right, Kathy, just you wait. Nothing much is gonna happen for a while yet, though. Want me to make you a cup of tea?”
“No, Cos. Just hold me.”
“Okay,” he said, and did just that, softly humming a lilting tune that Kathy didn’t recognize.
Despite her mother’s gentle cajoling, Kathy had always planned to give birth at home. The reason she’d given her mother was that she could be surer of avoiding the press if she didn’t go to hospital, but a lot of it came down to an uncertainty of whether a hospital would actually allow Cosmo to visit her right afterwards.
So, when her mother and Don returned from church, there wasn’t any talk of Kathy going anywhere. Mrs Selden took charge, sending Don to call for the doctor and asking Cosmo to set some water boiling – which, in point of fact, he already had – before ushering Kathy upstairs to the bedroom with a stack of clean towels.
It was some hours later – the afternoon well on its way to becoming evening – that Kathy was finally able to hold her babies in her arms.
“Congratulations, Mrs Lockwood,” Doctor Adams told her, “Both very healthy, and quite a good weight for twins. I’ll drop in again tomorrow to check on you all. Would you like me to send your husband in on my way out?”
“Thank you, Doctor, I’d appreciate that very much.”
Kathy’s mother made a slightly disapproving noise at that, but satisfied herself with merely brushing Kathy’s hair out of her face and straightening the bed-sheets a little, rather than actually suggesting that Don had better wait until Kathy looked presentable.
Don, of course, was very little concerned with what Kathy looked like, and came straight over to kiss her as soon as he entered the room, even before paying any kind of attention to the twins.
“Don,” Kathy told him as he pulled away, “I’d like you to meet Grace and Freddie.”
Though they hadn’t expected to need both of them, they’d agreed on a boy’s name and a girl’s name between the three of them a while back, in order to avoid having to sneak around Kathy’s mother to get Cosmo’s opinion. It was vaguely amusing to realize how close they’d come to having to do that anyway – if Grace had been a boy, or Freddie a girl, the plan would have been well and truly scuppered.
“Kathy, they’re beautiful,” Don told her, smiling so widely that is was impossible not to smile back at him.
“Would you like to hold one of them?”
Don looked both eager and slightly terrified, which apparently was enough of a response for Kathy’s mother to retrieve Freddie and place him gently in Don’s arms, correcting his hold before stepping away.
From the doting expression that made its way across Don’s face, Kathy was willing to bet that he’d be wrapped around Freddie’s little finger in no time flat.
“I’ll fetch Cosmo,” Don told Kathy, still grinning like an idiot, and was out of the room before Kathy’s mother could manage a word of protest.
Cos couldn’t have been far away, because it wasn’t long at all before Don returned with him, depositing Freddie in his arms as soon as they were through the door.
“Hi, Kathy,” said Cosmo, smiling softly at her, “Congratulations.”
He looked very much at ease with a baby in his arms – when Freddie made a soft whimper that might be working up to a cry, Cosmo bounced him gently until he settled again, without ever actually seeming to be thinking about what he was doing.
Don took advantage of having his hands free to borrow Grace from Kathy, so that he could introduce her to Cosmo, too.
The four of them together were about as perfect a sight as Kathy had ever seen, and she found herself rather disappointed when her mother deemed it time for her to rest and bustled the menfolk away.
“Now, Kathy,” her mother said, taking one last look at the twins in their crib and then coming over to perch on the side of the bed, “you really mustn’t encourage Mr Brown.”
“Encourage Cosmo?” Kathy asked, confused.
“If I’m not very much mistaken, dear, that young man is carrying a torch for you. And, well, I daresay he’s too fond of your husband to try doing anything about it, but it wouldn’t be fair to give him hope where there isn’t any.”
It was said in gentle enough tones that Kathy could hardly take offense, but she wasn’t entirely sure whether to be amused or worried by her mother’s interpretation of the situation.
“Gosh,” she said, at length.
“Well, I’ll say goodnight. Do call me if you need anything, dear.”
Cosmo brought breakfast up for both Kathy and her mother the following morning, for which Kathy was ridiculously grateful – the twins had been remarkably settled overnight, only waking a couple of times, but she still felt dog-tired and rather sore.
“Morning, Kathy,” he greeted her brightly, “Mrs Selden. How are you both?”
“Very well, thank you, Mr Brown.”
“Pretty good, thanks, Cos. Say, where’s Don?”
“Still in bed. I didn’t like to wake him,” Cosmo said, with a slight raise of his eyebrows which Kathy took to mean that Don was, in fact, currently occupying Cosmo’s bed.
She hoped they’d managed to have that talk; though even if they hadn’t, Don getting a full night’s sleep was a pretty good start.
“He’s not expected at the studio today, is he?”
“No,” Cosmo confirmed, “Rehearsals for his latest project don’t start till Wednesday. Unless you want him out of your hair? I could always press him into service as a violinist.”
“But Cosmo, whatever would Danny say?”
Danny – Cosmo’s usual violinist, and first chair in the studio orchestra – was, as well as being a very good musician, about the most easy-going person Kathy knew, and would be far more likely to find the situation amusing than be offended by it, but Kathy hadn’t quite decided whether she wanted Cosmo to spirit Don away or not.
“Tall, Blond and Amiable? He wouldn’t say a thing, except perhaps to rib Don for not practicing.”
“I think that sounds a very sensible idea, Mr Brown,” Kathy’s mother put in, firmly.
Cosmo’s eyes flicked to Kathy, seeking her approval; so she gave him a smile. After all, it wasn’t worth starting an argument.
“Right you are, Mrs Selden,” Cosmo said, with a playful salute. “Don’t worry, Kathy – I’ll drive.”
Between the three of them, they muddled through the next few weeks well enough. Don still didn’t exactly look well-rested, but – as he had confided to Kathy one night – Cosmo had bullied him into taking frequent naps in his trailer between scenes, and it was at least a minor improvement.
Nonetheless, there was a deep sense of gratitude and relief when Kathy’s mother finally deemed it time to go home and leave them to their own devices. The first night, Kathy had ended up seeing to the twins by herself, because Don was dead to the world and so firmly wrapped around Cosmo that there was little chance of him escaping to help her. Cos had been very apologetic about it, but Kathy couldn’t honestly say she minded all that much – it was too pleasant to have him back in their bed where he belonged.
It was the twins that finally persuaded Cosmo to take a turn behind the camera – being the one most able to work from home, he ended up playing house-husband fairly often, and he maintained that it was only fair that Kathy and Don should see what the children got up to when they were away.
Consequently, there was a pretty good film record of Grace and Freddie at various milestones, from crawling to first steps and beyond. And from there, it wasn’t so big a step to branch out into filming Don and Kathy, too. Kathy’s collection of carefully developed and meticulously labeled film reels therefore expanded such that it contained footage of the whole family in almost every possible combination – excepting, of course, all three adults together, because somebody had to man the camera.
Of course, staying at home to mind the twins meant that Cosmo didn’t go out so much as he once had, but most of the girls agreed that Danny made a pretty good replacement. Sure, he didn’t crack wise the way Cosmo did, and maybe he wasn’t quite such a slick dancer, but he was a sweetheart and he knew how to show a girl a good time. And Betsy was happy to wait for the times Cosmo was free – she did, after all, have a very pretty roommate to keep her from getting lonesome when spending a night in.
All in all, the situation chez Lockwood suited everybody involved pretty well, and nobody saw any real reason to make changes.
It was, therefore, not precisely intentional that when the twins were coming up on two years old, Kathy ended up in receipt of another letter regarding a rabbit. That didn’t stop the mood following her announcement of the news from being distinctly jubilant.
“Kathy, that’s wonderful!” Don told her, wrapping her up in a tight hug while Cosmo grinned goofily at them both from his perch on the arm of the couch.
“Get over here, Cos,” Kathy told him, extending an arm in invitation.
Cosmo hopped down and closed the distance in a single stride, insinuating himself into the middle of their embrace with practiced ease. Don gave an amused huff and kissed him on the temple. Cosmo flashed Kathy a wicked little smirk, and pulled Don into a proper kiss. And then, well, it was only fair for Kathy to join in.
And if they all ended up in a sweaty tangle of limbs and blankets on the bed – quietly, because the twins were still asleep – then that was an entirely satisfactory state of affairs.
Having done it all once before, the organizational side of preparing for a baby was far easier than Kathy had remembered – things didn’t take so long when you knew how to do them properly from the start, and Don and Cosmo were excellent, rather than just damn good, with routines that they found familiar. So slick a team were they that it took very little effort on Kathy’s part to convince her mother that they would manage without her until the baby was actually imminent this time. Cosmo, naturally, celebrated the news with a silly little ditty about sleeping, which he laughingly dedicated to Don.
Don attempted to pretend offense, but he looked far too charmed by Cosmo’s ridiculousness for his hurt feelings to be particularly believable.
The twins seemed highly enthusiastic about the idea of a younger sibling, and started including the baby in their conversations with Kathy, though they apparently knew better than to expect any response. Freddie had even attempted to join in serenading the baby with Cosmo, which had been mostly very sweet, though with frequent bursts of unintended hilarity when he encountered a word he couldn’t quite pronounce and mangled it.
Cosmo took the opportunity to attempt teaching Freddie an Irish song he claimed was child-appropriate (Kathy couldn’t understand enough of it to confirm one way or the other, but Don didn’t say anything to suggest he disagreed with Cosmo’s assertion), which their little boy butchered with glee.
Bertie arrived just under a week early, and was a far quieter baby than either Grace or Freddie had been. He ate, and he slept, and on the occasions when he was awake but not particularly hungry, he watched the world go by and gurgled contentedly.
“You know something? You’re the best-behaved baby I’ve ever met,” Cosmo informed Bertie as he waltzed him gently around the master bedroom.
Kathy watched their reflections in the vanity mirror as she put the finishing touches to her hair.
The bathroom door opened, and Don came in wearing a slightly defeated look, his bow tie dangling limply.
“Hey, Cos, would you mind?” He gestured at the offending article of clothing.
Cosmo chuckled, warm and low and rich.
“Sure. You’ll have to hold the baby a minute, though.”
Bertie made no complaint at being transferred from one father’s arms to the other’s, and Cosmo reached over him to fasten Don’s bow tie with deft fingers.
“There,” he announced, with a last tweak to set the tails straight, “Pretty as a picture.”
“The tie?” asked Don, handing the baby back to shrug into his jacket.
“Why, Mr Brown,” Kathy interjected in theatrically scandalized tones, “Are you flirting with my husband?”
Cosmo looked exaggeratedly thoughtful.
“Well, how about that?” he said, “I think I just might be.”
All three of them laughed, and Don made a show of looking Cosmo up and down.
“Remind me again why you’re not coming with us, Cos,” said Don, cupping Cosmo’s cheek.
Cosmo leaned into the touch.
“Because we’d have to have someone over to watch the kids, and that would mean I’d end up sleeping alone. Again. Donny, you wouldn’t do that to me when Mrs Selden only left last week, would you?”
“Call me Donny again and I might,” Don replied sweetly; then added, more seriously, “Couldn’t you have asked Betsy?”
“It’s her anniversary tonight. I have more sense than that.”
“Anniversary? But Betsy doesn’t have a fella.”
There was momentary silence in which Cosmo and Kathy exchanged a look.
“Darling,” said Kathy gently, “Betsy has Susan.”
Don looked surprised, then a little embarrassed.
“Susan from make-up?” he asked.
“Oh,” said Don.
“Kathy,” Cosmo sighed, “how did we ever end up with this idiot?”
“Well, he is handsome.”
Cosmo hummed in agreement, and leaned in to kiss away the pout from Don’s lips.
Don attempted to follow Cos when he pulled away, but Cosmo stopped him with a gentle hand on his chest.
“You’re gonna be late to your own premiere if you start that.”
“I don’t care,” Don murmured, leaning a little closer to brush the tip of his nose against Cosmo’s.
“You won’t be saying that when R.F. murders you for it,” Cosmo countered.
“I hate it when you’re right,” Don sighed, sagging a little, and stepped away from Cosmo.
“Come on, Don,” Cos cajoled, “You’ve got the fame; you’ve got the glory; you’ve got the money…”
“And now I have to take the little heartaches that go with it. I know, pal, but that doesn’t mean I like it much. You will wait up for us, won’t you?”
“After all these years, Bertie, your Daddy still doesn’t trust me,” Cosmo told the now-sleeping infant in his arms.
Kathy found herself giggling at the pair of them.
“We’ll be back before midnight,” she assured them both, grinning, “But Don, it really is time we were off.”
She tucked her hand into the crook of Don’s elbow, and Cosmo followed them downstairs to kiss them both goodbye at the door.
“Have fun, you two.”
“We will,” Kathy promised. “See you later.”
The silly thing was that they’d been about to go home. One moment, Don was raising an arm to hail a cab; the next, a car mounted the curb and sent him sprawling. For a few awful seconds, Kathy was half-convinced he was dead. Then he groaned, and the world started moving again.
“Don?” Kathy dropped to her knees beside him, and he squinted up at her as though he was struggling to focus properly.
“Ow,” he said.
That, Kathy suspected, was an understatement – she was pretty certain his left wrist wasn’t supposed to bend that way.
A warm hand landed on her shoulder, and she looked away from Don just long enough to identify that it belonged to Danny.
“I’ll call an ambulance,” he told her; then he shrugged out of his overcoat and handed it to her. “Keep him warm. I won’t be a minute.”
Don flinched slightly when Kathy draped the coat over his chest, and made an awful little whimpering noise when the movement jarred his wrist.
“I’m sorry,” she told him, though the words came out all scratchy round the lump in her throat, “Just lie still for me, all right?”
He hummed something that might have been an agreement. Kathy took his right hand and stroked her thumb across his knuckles. If it was as much to soothe herself as her husband, well, nobody was likely to judge her for it.
Perhaps she lost track of time for a minute, because suddenly Danny was back. He hunkered down opposite her in his shirtsleeves, suit jacket folded over one arm.
“Cos?” Don asked, blearily.
“Sorry, only me,” Danny told him gently, “There’s an ambulance on its way, but let’s see if we can’t make you a little more comfortable while we wait, shall we?”
He folded his jacket into a makeshift pillow, and eased it carefully under Don’s head. The hand he’d used to lift Don’s head while he slipped the jacket in place came away bloody, and Danny’s reassuring smile faltered just a little.
Sitting in the hospital corridor with Danny (who had followed the ambulance in his car so that Kathy wouldn’t have to be alone) was, in its way, almost harder than it had been to wait with Don on the street. There, at least, she’d been able to see with her own eyes that he was still breathing.
A nurse brought them tea – milky, and with enough sugar that it was borderline sickly – and Danny gently nagged Kathy into drinking hers. It didn’t precisely make her feel better, but it offered a distraction for a short while, at least.
Then a police officer had arrived to take their statements, it having been a hit and run. He’d been very polite, and very understanding, but Kathy still felt a little guilty that she couldn’t tell him anything much beyond that she thought the car had been blue.
Later, there was a different nurse – a ward sister, she said – who told them that Don had a clean, though displaced, break in his left forearm, which had needed to be set before it could be put in a cast; a fairly impressive collection of bruises; possibly a few cracked ribs; and a mild concussion which meant he would need to remain in the hospital under observation for twenty-four hours. He had been very lucky, all things considered.
“I can let you have five minutes with your husband now, Mrs Lockwood, but then you really must go home until visiting hours start at ten o’clock.”
“Thank you, Sister,” Kathy said, and followed her down the hallway to room 103.
The sister left her at the door, and Kathy took a moment to brace herself before going in.
Don looked pretty awful, truth be told, lying back against his pillows with a bandage round his head and a dark bruise beginning to spread its way across one cheek, but he smiled at her when he saw her, and held out the arm that wasn’t in plaster.
“Oh, Don,” she gasped, a little overwhelmed by the relief of seeing him more or less in one piece.
She crossed the room to his bedside, took the extended hand tightly in her own, and leaned in to press their foreheads together lightly. Don gave a small, contented hum, and tilted his head so that the tips of their noses touched.
“I’m sorry if I worried you,” he murmured.
“It wasn’t your fault,” Kathy told him, smiling at his ridiculousness, “Just don’t ever scare me like that again.”
“I’ll try not to,” Don offered sincerely.
And well – what else could Kathy do but kiss him?
It was soft and lingering, and there was an edge of desperation to it – neither of them were quite willing for it to end.
“How are you feeling?” Kathy asked against his lips when they finally came up for air.
“Sore,” Don replied, “and if I try to sit up, the room starts spinning, but I’ve had worse.”
“Hey, I used to be a stunt-man, didn’t I? You should’ve seen some of the bruises.”
The goofy smirk on his face was enough to coax a little laughter from Kathy. Sometimes she forgot, with Cosmo around, but Don could be funny too, when he put his mind to it.
It was gone 2AM when Kathy stepped out of Danny’s car outside the house. She thanked him, again, for everything, and waved as he drove away.
Then it was a very short trip up the front steps and through the door.
“Cos?” she called softly, not wanting to risk waking the children.
“Kathy! You’re late.” came the response, and Cosmo appeared from the direction of the lounge, beaming. “I thought we had –” The smile faded from his face. “Where’s Don?”
“In the hospital,” said Kathy, “He’s got a concussion, and they want to keep him in for observation.”
“Oh,” said Cosmo, his voice going peculiar in a way that Kathy didn’t like, “What happened?”
“He was hit by a car.”
Cosmo looked a little like he might be sick.
“He’s got a broken arm, and he hit his head pretty hard, but beyond that it’s mostly just bruises,” Kathy told him, making a solid attempt at sounding calm and reassuring.
There was a short, rather uncomfortable silence.
“Look, Kathy,” Cosmo said, sounding oddly far away, “I’m sorry – I know we had…plans, but I don’t think I feel like fooling around. Not tonight.”
“Cos, you don’t ever have to apologize for that.” Kathy took his hand between both of hers, and squeezed it gently. “I think I might like to hold you, though, if that’s all right?”
“Yeah,” breathed Cosmo, visibly pulling himself together, “Yeah, that sounds good. In bed?”
He was shaking, Kathy realized, and her heart broke for him.
“In bed,” she agreed, and pulled him gently towards the stairs.
They had to let go of each other’s hands to change into their nightclothes, but it wasn’t long before they were snuggled under the blankets together. Cosmo curled himself tightly against Kathy’s side, and she held him close. He was tense all over, and the way he was breathing sounded suspiciously like he was having to try quite hard not to cry.
She held him a little tighter, and pressed a kiss to the top of his head.
“He’s okay, Cos,” she murmured into his hair, “He’s okay, I promise.”
“I know, Kath,” he whispered against her collarbone, “but I think I need to see him for myself before I’ll really believe it.”
“He told me he’d had worse,” Kathy offered softly.
“He always says that,” Cosmo said, huffing a strangled little half-laugh, “Sometimes it’s even true.”
He was trembling again, and it broke Kathy’s heart a little that she couldn’t think how to make it better. She carded her fingers gently through his hair, humming a half-remembered lullaby her mother had used to sing her as a child.
In the end, Kathy didn’t have time to worry about finding somebody to watch the children whilst she and Cosmo visited Don – Danny arrived on the doorstep just as they were finishing breakfast, and waved off Kathy’s attempts to thank him as though it hadn’t occurred to him to think of it as an imposition on his time.
“Really, Kathy, it’s the least I can do. You’re my friends, and Don needs you. That’s all there is to it. Now, go.”
And, well, Kathy couldn’t bring herself to argue with that.
Cosmo was silent beside her in the passenger seat on the drive to the hospital. He seemed calmer than he had the night before, but he still wasn’t his usual cheery self. Kathy couldn’t remember the last time Cos had been quiet for so long in one stretch.
But then they got to Don’s room, and Don was propped mostly upright up in bed, smiling that big old sappy smile of his, and it was like someone flicked a switch – all the tension fell away from Cosmo’s shoulders, and the corners of his mouth quirked back into the usual playful half-smirk.
“Hey, Kathy. Hey, Cos,” Don greeted them warmly, “Fancy seeing you here.”
“Well,” Cosmo drawled, perching himself casually on the edge of the bed by Don’s hip, “we had to come and see for ourselves if that thick skull of yours had finally come in handy.”
“Cos!” Don gasped, pressing a hand to his chest like some caricature of a Victorian lady. “Why, I’m surprised at you. I thought you were a gentleman.”
Cosmo managed to keep a straight face for all of three seconds before bursting into bright, infectious laughter. And what could Don and Kathy do but join him?
“Oh, it’s good to be home,” Don announced, sprawling luxuriantly across the couch and depositing his feet in Cosmo’s lap.
Cosmo, apparently in a generous mood, elected to give him a foot-rub. Don, understandably, dissolved into a collection of loose limbs and soft, contented noises: Cosmo really did have very clever hands. Kathy supposed it came with being, as Lina had used to put it, a piano player.
“I hope you realize,” said Cosmo, “that I’m not letting you out of my sight for at least a month.”
Don half-opened his eyes to look at Cos, before aiming a languid smile at him.
“Sounds lovely,” he all but purred.
“Stop it.” Cosmo swatted Don’s toes gently before going back to massaging.
Don looked theatrically innocent and batted his eyelashes.
“You’re fooling nobody, Donald Lockwood,” Cos told him mock-sternly. “Back me up, Kath?”
“Oh no,” Don cut in, “you’re not allowed to gang up on me when I’m hurt. That’s just cruel.”
“I don’t know, Don,” said Kathy, straight-faced, “I think if you’re well enough to flirt you can handle a little bit of teasing.”
Don pouted at her.
Kathy grinned back.
A slow, sly smile spread its way across Don’s face.
“You know, Kath,” he said, “by that logic, if I’m well enough for you to tease me, then I’m well enough for Cos to let me chat him up.”
“I’ll consider it,” Cosmo replied archly, “but isn’t nap time over soon?”
“What do you think, Don?” Kathy asked, “Do you feel up to seeing the terrible two?”
“Yeah,” said Don, smiling broadly, “I think I’d like that.”
By the time Kathy returned with the twins, Don was sitting upright on the couch like a civilized person – probably a wise decision, given Grace’s penchant for climbing on people if she caught them lying down.
“Daddy!” Freddie shouted, and flung himself towards Don too fast for Kathy to stop him.
Cosmo was on his feet in an instant. He plucked him out of the air before he could make contact, and swung him up onto his hip.
“Freddie, what did we say this morning about jumping on Daddy?”
“Not to…” said Freddie glumly.
“No hugs?” Grace chipped in, sounding heartbroken at the prospect.
“Of course you can have hugs, sweetheart,” Don reassured her, “but Daddy’s a bit delicate at the moment, so you’ll have to be gentle.”
It wasn’t long before the twins were snuggled up against either side of Don, visibly delighted to have their father back. They were a little wiggly at first, and Don failed to hide a wince more than once when a stray elbow caught him in the ribs.
Kathy raised a significant eyebrow at Cosmo.
“Who wants to hear a story?” he asked, putting on his best dramatic expression.
That got the children to sit still and pay attention – Cosmo was their favorite storyteller, because he could do a vast array of voices and knew at least three different songs about pirates. Pirates were the twins’ favorite.
Kathy settled herself in her favorite armchair and smiled to herself. Everything was right with the world.
Later, as they lay together nude amid the blankets, Kathy and Cosmo made a painstakingly careful study of Don’s injuries with feather-light fingers.
“You know,” Don murmured, “I meant what I said earlier.”
“Hmm?” asked Cosmo.
“About being well enough to chat you up.”
Cosmo gave Kathy a long-suffering look, and took his hand off Don’s shoulder to run it gently over the medley of bruises on his chest.
“Don,” he said, “you and I both know those ribs won’t stand up to much. I don’t want to hurt you, and even if you managed to talk me into trying, Kathy wouldn’t let me.”
Don turned doleful eyes on Kathy, who raised her eyebrows in response. She was with Cosmo on this one – much as she imagined there would be reassurance in physical closeness, it wasn’t worth causing Don pain.
“Can’t this be enough for the moment, darling?” she asked, running her fingers down his good arm to squeeze his hand, before pulling it gently up to where she could kiss it.
“I missed you both. And Cos wasn’t this difficult about it last time.”
Kathy’s eyes flicked to Cosmo, whose normally expressive face had gone oddly blank and rather pale.
“Last time?” he hissed after a moment, teeming with quiet fury. “You mean the time you thought you’d use the fact I wasn’t on set to see you get hurt to bypass the busted ribs rule? And I was fool enough not to question why you wanted to keep your shirt on until you passed out on me?” He took a deep, ragged breath and got up from the bed. “If you’ll excuse me, Kath, I’m going to sleep in my room tonight.”
“No!” Don protested, looking rather horrified. “No, Cos, I wouldn’t… I was a heel, and I’m sorry, and I’ve already promised you I’ll never do that again. I meant the time Joe got a little keen with the TNT on that one stunt, and you…”
“Oh,” breathed Cosmo, sitting back down, the tension melting away from his posture as his lips formed a smile that seemed both fond and exasperated. “I see. Why the heck didn’t you lead with that?”
Don gave a self-deprecating little chuckle.
“I don’t know if you’ve noticed, Cos, but you’ve always been the brains of the outfit.”
Kathy felt more than a little uncertain as to precisely what had just happened, and it must have shown on her face, because Cosmo gave her a soft smile and reached out to take her hand in his.
“What our beloved husband has been going about suggesting – very ineptly, I might add – is that we could always try this.” He skimmed their joined hands lightly southwards over Don’s stomach until it was pretty obvious just what Don had been attempting to start.
“Well,” said Kathy, shooting Cosmo a conspiratorial grin, “that’s all right, then.”
And it was.
“I just don’t know, Kathy. Where on earth am I going to find a replacement leading man in three days?”
Kathy had only really gone to the studio to invite Danny to dinner on Saturday – Don’s idea, but one that both she and Cosmo wholeheartedly supported – but somehow one thing had led to another, and she’d ended up in an impromptu meeting on the subject of the film Don had been supposed to start shooting later that week.
It was a tough question, there was no doubt about that.
“R.F.,” said Kathy slowly, “you’re going to think I’m crazy, but what about Cosmo?”
“Well, he knows the lines – Don rehearses with him at home. And they’re near enough of a height. That’d make the costume adjustments easier.”
“But can he act?”
“Can he act? R.F., you should see him telling the twins bedtime stories! He’s a born performer.”
R.F. gave her a long, considering sort of look.
“All right, Kathy. We’ll screen test him. Tomorrow at ten.”
“He’ll be there. I’ll make sure of it.”
“Kathy,” Cosmo sighed, “I’m a song-and-dance man, not an actor. What did you wanna go suggesting me to R.F. for?”
“You’d be perfect, Cos,” she told him earnestly.
Cosmo made a face.
“C’mon Cos. For me?”
“Gee, Kathy, you sure know how to back a guy into a corner. What time do I have to be there?”
“Ten,” said Kathy, and kissed him.
Cosmo shot Kathy a distinctly baleful look as Susan finished gluing the false mustache to his upper lip. In an odd sort of way, it rather suited him – at least, it did when he was togged up like a British fighter pilot from the Great War.
“I feel ridiculous,” he informed her, primly, as soon as Susan indicated he was allowed to move.
“You look very handsome.”
“Aw, c’mon, Kath. Be serious.”
“I am,” Kathy told him, “Now go out there and knock ‘em dead.”
“Yeah, yeah. Shoulders back and think of Shakespeare – I know.”
That sounded suspiciously like something Don would say, if you asked Kathy. Nonetheless, Cos put action to word, straightening up and adjusting his cap so that it sat at a slightly rakish angle before heading out of Don’s trailer and onto the set.
Kathy spent most of the premiere beaming with pride. Cosmo on screen was wonderfully convincing: he played Wing Commander Lacey with a wonderful balance of his usual joie de vivre and plenty of good old-fashioned British stiff upper lip, which he allowed to waver at just the right moments. There was one scene – a very young subordinate, who had barely made the airfield after being shot up on patrol, dying in Lacey’s arms – that made Kathy weep. Sylvester Newel, who played the teen-aged pilot in question, was a clever find of Roscoe’s, and he and Cos between them sold it beautifully.
Zelda Zanders was pretty good as Lacey’s girl back home, too, though Kathy still didn’t quite feel generous enough towards her to allow more than that.
Kathy snuggled closer against Cos’ shoulder. Don, on Cosmo’s other side, smiled softly and squeezed Cosmo’s hand.
“I couldn’t have done it better myself, pal,” he whispered, just loud enough for Kathy to hear him, too.
Cos ducked his head, cheeks aglow.
Don folded the paper open to the article he’d been reading and tossed it down on the table in front of Cosmo, beaming.
“They love you, pal!”
“Well, it’s a nice change from the reception we got in vaudeville, I’ll give it that,” Cosmo said, scanning the article with an expression of mild curiosity. “Say! They think I have ‘exceptional gravitas’ – how about that?”
Kathy grinned at him.
“Now will you admit it was a good idea to suggest you to R.F.?”
“All right. I’m not sure I fancy doing it again, but it was a good idea.” Cosmo hopped up from his seat and held a hand out to her. “What do you say, Kath? Dance with me?”
“I’d be delighted,” she told him, and they waltzed a ring around the kitchen table while Don grinned at them both like a love-struck fool.
In many ways, the children were very much alike – all three of them were energetic, wavy-haired and cheerful, and perhaps a bit too clever for their own good at times. But where Grace and Freddie both had Don’s dark eyes, now that they’d outgrown the ubiquitous newborn baby blue (Grace had his dark hair, too, though Freddie’s was much lighter, almost sandy), Bertie had never lost his brilliant azure. And, in honesty, it didn’t take a genius to work out where that came from, particularly when the blond locks he was born with had darkened over the last three years to a familiar shade of chestnut brown.
Kathy’s mother had developed a habit of directing disapproving looks at Kathy any time she saw her talking to Cosmo. It was a good thing Cos found it funny, or Kathy might have been upset by it. As it was, it was hard to take offense when Cosmo took it as a cue to twinkle his eyes at her merrily and flirt.
For the most part, the fan magazines avoided printing anything that could be construed as scurrilous gossip, but that didn’t mean there wasn’t the odd article that managed to subtly suggest that Don was either somewhat oblivious or extremely forgiving, considering that Cosmo still lived in the same house as the Lockwoods.
Don enjoyed doing dramatic readings of such articles at the breakfast table. He cut his favorites out and kept them in a scrapbook.
The children, of course, knew nothing of the slight controversy surrounding the relationship between Mommy and Daddy and Uncle Cosmo. As far as they were concerned, three parents was an entirely normal number, and Kathy intended to keep it that way for as long as she possibly could.
The thing about sharing parental duties with a pair of ex-vaudeville performers was that they had a slightly unusual take on how to occupy the kids. Ordinarily, Kathy thought Don and Cosmo’s strange little games oddly charming, but she rather felt she ought to draw the line at them juggling the children.
Only, judging from the amount of laughter, the children were having a whale of a time, and Kathy hated being the one to spoil their fun…
So, rather than saying anything, she fetched her camera, and filmed Freddie and Grace and Bertie being spun around and tossed gently, one by one, from Cosmo to Don to the bed, and running around to Cosmo to be picked up and thrown again.
Perhaps it wasn’t a game that other children played with their fathers, and Kathy’s mother would certainly disapprove, but Kathy honestly struggled to think of a better way to spend an afternoon.
“Gee, fellas,” said Don, “it ain’t half quiet around here with the little hooligans all at school.”
He was right, Kathy thought – on rare weekdays like this when none of them had a film to work on, the lack of children made the house feel strangely empty.
“Well, how about a song?” Cosmo suggested.
“Well, sure,” Don smiled, “But what should we sing?”
“Any ideas, Kathy?” Cos asked her.
She thought for a moment, then shot her boys a sly smile.
“If it’s naughty to rouge your lips,” she began, and Don and Cos grinned.
“Shake your shoulders,” Don sang, putting actions to words.
“Or twist your hips,” Cosmo countered, with a wiggle.
“Let a lady confess,” Kathy took up the tune again, and the boys joined in to make a pretty three part harmony on “I want to be bad!”
Then the three of them were up on their feet and dancing, swapping parts and dropping in and out of harmony gleefully. Between them, they managed to fill in for the instrumental interludes with their feet fairly well, despite having to soft-shoe it.
Kathy had almost forgotten how much she enjoyed having the whole house to just the three of them. Not that they didn’t dance plenty with the kids around, but it was different when they didn’t have to keep half an eye on where small feet were in relation to their own.
And it was different when, on finishing the number in a panting, gleeful heap on the couch, they could kiss and kiss without fear of interruption.
Yes, this was something she had missed, Kathy thought as she skimmed Cosmo’s thigh and Don’s chest with playful, teasing fingers: the ability to spend a full half-hour making out in the front room. Life just didn’t get much better.
“I love you,” she told them, quiet and earnest and warm.
Cosmo gave a contented little hum and smiled beatifically. Don leaned in to kiss her cheek. And perhaps they should have been thinking about making lunch, but it was so very tempting to simply bask in each other’s presence for just a little longer…
Kathy stared into her bag, and the yellow box stared back at her. To think, after several years of hesitating over the necessity of professional development, she’d finally gone and done it. Kodachrome. Just the one reel, for the moment, because heaven knew she couldn’t use it for anything that might raise questions from whoever developed the footage, but the concept of her little clips of memories not being constrained to black and white was an exciting one.
The studio was replacing the older sound-recording equipment, and R.F. had agreed happily enough to let Kathy have some of it for a nominal amount. Don put the skills he’d learned building props in his vaudeville days to good use building a cabinet to house the new speaker system in the little back room Kathy had long since taken over to house the projector.
And, well, it seemed only fitting to pair that first, precious reel of color film with a song.
“Don,” she asked, as they sat together off-set while the scenery was being changed, “do you have a favorite song?”
“A favorite song…” Don gave a contemplative little hum. “Just one?”
“Well, that’s a question, and no mistake. Why do you ask?”
“I want a record of Cos’ singing. You and I, we’ve done musicals, but he’s got such a lovely voice, and nobody but us ever hears it.”
“Oh,” Don breathed, “Kathy, that’s a marvelous idea. My favorite song for Cos? Let’s see…”
He was silent for a little while, chewing his lower lip in the way that he sometimes did when he was thinking hard.
“I don’t need an answer right away,” Kathy told him, “But could you tell me when you’ve thought of one?”
Don flashed her that megawatt smile and nodded.
Roscoe shouted – well, something, and Kathy got up, pulling Don along with her by the hand.
“Come on, we’d best get back.”
“No rest for the wicked,” Don agreed, still smiling.
Watching her boys attempt to teach the kids dancing was, Kathy thought, one of her favorite ways to spend an afternoon. In fairness to the children, they picked up on things pretty quickly, but Don and Cos were – rather like many talented people – not naturally all that good at breaking things down into steps. Oh, they managed, but not without arguing about it. And of course, as far as the children were concerned, Daddy and Uncle Cosmo sniping good-naturedly at each other about who was supposed to be leading was an endless source of amusement. Don and Cos being who they were, the laughter only encouraged them.
“Would you stop speeding up? It’s supposed to be a foxtrot, not a quickstep.”
Cos grinned and dropped into glacially slow-motion.
“Cos,” Don groaned.
“Well, you told me to slow down.”
“Yeah, but not that much!”
“Well, then!” Cosmo swept Don into a dramatic dip, “Why didn’t you say so?”
Their noses were about an inch apart, and Kathy almost thought they would kiss and play nicely, but then a mischievous look flitted its way across Don’s face, and he hooked a foot behind Cosmo’s ankle and pulled, dragging Cos down on top of him in a heap.
“What did you do that for?” Cos demanded, doing a remarkably good job of not joining in with the children’s giggling.
Don grinned lasciviously, and judging by the scandalized way Cosmo’s eyes widened, it was probably just as well Don’s hand was out of view.
“You two behave yourselves,” Kathy scolded gently.
Don had the decency to look at least mildly apologetic. Cosmo picked himself up off the floor, then held out a hand to help Don up, too.
“You know, pal,” said Don, dusting himself off, “maybe we ought to dance that quickstep after all.”
“I thought you’d never ask,” Cosmo replied with a smirk.
Don held out a hand and made an exaggerated bow, and Cos stepped easily into hold, taking the lady’s part. They stepped off in perfect unison, joking put aside for the moment. Kathy could watch them like that forever – all elegance and easy awareness of each other. And when the twins attempted to copy them, it was really just the sweetest thing.
Kathy sidled over to Bertie, who was standing at the edge of the impromptu dance-floor alone, watching raptly.
“Would you like to dance too, sweetheart?” she asked him.
Bertie considered it for a moment, then extended a hand and sketched a proper little bow.
Certainly, given their height difference, Kathy and Bertie were more on a level with Grace and Freddie in terms of correct form than with Don and Cos, but it hardly mattered – Bertie’s eyes were sparkling joyfully, and Kathy found she couldn’t think of many times she’d been happier.
It was only a few days later that Don came back to Kathy about that song. And then, well, it was the work of very little time at all to set the microphone up on top of Cosmo’s piano.
Kathy felt, somehow, that she shouldn’t really have been surprised that Cosmo’s warm, rich voice turned positively sultry when he sang Let’s Misbehave, fingers flitting over the piano keys to sketch a teasing rag out of the accompaniment. He made love to the camera shamelessly, and Kathy found herself rather longing to kiss that come-hither smirk off his lips.
Judging by the expression on Don’s face, he shared the sentiment.
Naturally, as soon as Kathy had stopped the camera rolling, she and Don set about showing Cosmo exactly how much he was appreciated. It was amazing how easy it was to tease him, once you knew just where to touch; where to kiss to bring him to the edge, before moving swiftly on to other, less sensitive spots. Cosmo accused them of torturing him, but he said it fondly. And, indeed, he gave quite as good as he got, as soon as they gave him the opportunity.
The look of concentration on Bertie’s face as he tried to work out how to reach all the holes and keys on his newly-chosen clarinet with fingers that – at seven – weren’t really quite long enough to reach was pretty adorable. The screeching noise that ensued when he actually attempted to play a note was decidedly less so.
“Oh dear,” said Bertie, staring at the instrument with a betrayed expression.
“Try it again, kiddo,” Cos told him gently, “only keep your jaw a little softer this time.”
It still wasn’t perfect, but the resulting sound was one that didn’t actively offend Kathy’s ears. And it was definitely better than Freddie’s first attempts at the violin.
“Well?” Kathy asked, honestly unsure which answer would be worse.
“The doc gave me a clean bill of health, and I’m to report for basic training on Monday.”
Kathy took it back. That was definitely the worse answer.
“Oh, Cos,” she breathed.
He managed a cheery little grin for her, even if it did look a fraction strained around the edges, and held out his arms in invitation. Kathy pressed herself tight to his chest and clung to him as he stroked her back.
“Now, don’t you take on, Kath. I’ll be all right. I might not have Don’s experience at being blown up, but I can look after myself.”
Kathy wanted, very badly, to believe him, but she was well aware that things weren’t that simple. She had read the condolence letter from her father’s CO enough times to know that it was entirely possible to do nothing wrong and still lose. Still die. And God only knew what she and Don would do without Cosmo.
There had been an argument, Kathy knew. It had been mostly quiet, and they’d chosen not to have it until she’d left the room, so she wasn’t absolutely sure of what had been said, but it wasn’t difficult to tell what it had been about – Don had been all for volunteering now that Cosmo had passed his medical examination, and Cos considered that one of them going away to war was quite enough.
Judging from Don’s dejected mien, Cos had prevailed, though he himself didn’t look all that happy about it either.
They spent much of the afternoon not speaking to each other, but when it was time to go to bed, Don attached himself to Cosmo with a fierceness that Kathy hadn’t seen in a long time. She knew the feeling. Curled snug against Cosmo’s other side, it took an awfully long time for sleep to come.
Not only did Cos write home at every opportunity – long, detailed letters full of jocularity, wry anecdotes, and little cartoon sketches of the men he served alongside out there in Burma – he also sent, in a few installments, an entire score for Don and Kathy’s next movie. The fact that he hadn’t actually seen the script didn’t stop the music from being damn near perfect. Don probably deserved at least some of the credit for that: he was the one who’d sent careful synopses of all the important scenes.
Kathy worried about Don. He put a brave face on for the children, but lately he was sharper, somehow – more skittish – for all that he seemed to be getting a fair amount of sleep. And he’d lost weight since Cos shipped out. Not so much that you’d notice it to look at him, but enough that Kathy could feel the difference when she ran her hands down his naked rib-cage. And Betsy had mentioned having to take in some of his costumes by an inch or two.
“I miss him,” Don murmured into her hair one night, as they curled together in the afterglow of a round of sex that was very pleasant but not quite what either of them really wanted.
“I know, darling. So do I.”
It helped, a little, to say it out loud; as though acknowledging the hole in their lives absolved them of the need to try and fill it. Things wouldn’t be right until Cos came home, and that was…perhaps not okay, exactly, but it was what it was, and it would be silly to pretend otherwise.
It was still the longest eighteen months of Kathy’s life.
The words had barely left Cosmo’s lips before Kathy was flinging herself into his arms, uncaring of the fact they were still on the doorstep where any passer-by might see them. His kit bag dropped to the ground, and he hugged her back tightly, lifting her up and spinning her in a circle.
“Oh, Cos! It’s so good to see you,” she told him, laughing from sheer joy as he set her back on her feet. “Let me look at you.”
It was almost painful to tear herself away from that close embrace, even if it was only an arm’s length. Even as tanned as he was, Cosmo had noticeable dark circles under those blue, blue eyes, and his cheeks were hollower than she remembered them being the last time she’d seen him, but he was whole and hale and just as beautiful as ever. She pressed a hand to his cheek, and he leaned into the touch – a familiar motion that made Kathy’s heart skip. Then he turned his head a fraction to kiss the heel of her palm, and she had to pull him inside so that she could press his back against the door and kiss him properly. He dropped his kit bag again as she did. Funny – she hadn’t noticed him picking it up. But that hardly mattered when those much-missed lips were pressed warmly to her own, and those clever-fingered pianist’s hands were clutching her hips with gentle fervour.
Pulling away from that kiss was the hardest thing Kathy had done in a long time, but it would be terribly selfish of her to keep Cosmo all to herself for any longer.
“We should find Don,” she told him, in response to his soft sound of protest.
“Oh,” he breathed, and a slow, anticipatory smile lit up his face. Kathy took the opportunity to steal his uniform cap and hang it on the hat-stand. His hair, she noticed, with a flash of sadness, was rather shorter than he usually wore it, and it made him look older, somehow. At least it probably wouldn’t take all that long to grow back.
Don wasn’t difficult to find – he was going over a script in his little study. It took a moment for him to notice their presence, but when he did, he was on his feet so fast that his chair fell over with a clatter.
“Cosmo?” he asked, as though he didn’t quite believe his eyes.
Cos closed the distance between them in a few strides, and took Don’s face between his hands. For a moment, Kathy expected them to kiss, but when Cosmo leaned in, it was to rest his forehead against Don’s in a gesture that seemed almost more intimate. Don’s hands came up to bracket Cosmo’s cheekbones as well, and they looked into each other’s eyes for a long moment, both grinning as broadly as Kathy had ever seen.
“Hello, stranger,” Don breathed.
“Hi,” Cosmo replied, in the same soft, reverent tone.
They did kiss, then – tender and heartfelt, but surprisingly brief. Then they turned to Kathy as one, and she went to them readily, folding herself up in the circle of their arms and relishing the deep feeling of rightness that came from having both of them there. None of them was willing to let go for a very long time.
The children were very reluctant to let their favorite uncle out of their sight when bedtime came around, clamoring for a story in a way they hadn’t in several years. Cosmo, of course, obliged them, and it was some time before he managed to escape to the master bedroom with Don and Kathy.
They spent long hours relearning the planes of each other’s bodies with fingers and lips. And if it was the first night in a long time that Don, his head resting on Cosmo’s chest, fell asleep without lying awake for an hour or two first… Well, it was hardly a surprise. Cosmo’s heartbeat and the soft sound of his breathing as he slumbered between them had always been a remarkably effective lullaby.
Kathy snuggled closely against Cosmo’s other side, where she could feel the gentle flutter of each exhalation against her hair, and closed her eyes.
“You’re in love with Uncle Cos, aren’t you?”
That was decidedly not one of the things Kathy had expected her fourteen-year-old daughter to ask her, for all they’d perhaps been more tactile since Cosmo’s return, and she found herself briefly speechless.
“And Dad is, too,” Grace continued, “Right?”
It didn’t sound as though she was unhappy with the idea – merely curious. Kathy took a deep breath.
“Yes,” she said softly, “We are. Very much so.”
Grace nodded slowly, smiling a little.
“I thought so. Is that why Grandma doesn’t like him?”
“I suppose it is,” Kathy said, thoughtful. “They certainly used to get on all right with each other before…”
“Before Bertie started looking so much like Uncle Cos?” Grace finished for her.
It was hard to work out precisely how to reply to that, and Kathy floundered for a moment.
“Yes,” she said at length, settling on blunt honesty, “Your grandmother thinks that he and I had an affair behind Don’s back, and she prefers to dislike Cosmo than to dislike me.”
“But you didn’t go behind Dad’s back,” said Grace, as though it was that simple.
“Oh, Gracie,” Kathy told her, “I think the truth would only scandalize her further.”
Grace got the same little furrow between her brows when she was thinking hard that Don did. Kathy found herself smiling to see it.
“Okay,” Grace decided, “but I’ve gotta tell Fred and Bertie we were right.”
She was out of the door before Kathy could say a thing.
A few days later, Freddie asked if he could learn to use the camera. And, after a little practice, he, Grace and Bertie ganged together to ask if they could film their parents together – all three of them.
It was very difficult to say no to those three eager, earnest faces; so it didn’t take long for the kids to corral Kathy, Cosmo and Don onto the couch with a microphone in front of them and Freddie pointing the camera their way.
“Roll ‘em!” cried Bertie, in his best impersonation of Roscoe Dexter. It was really rather good, considering the kids had only visited the studios a handful of times over the years.
Don straightened out the list of questions Grace had written out for them and cleared his throat dramatically.
“The first one’s for you, Cos – when did you fall in love with Kathy?”
“That’s an easy one,” Cos laughed, turning to Kathy with a soppy expression, “I was a goner from the minute you threw that cake in Lina’s face.”
“Be serious, Cos!” Kathy scolded him lightly.
“I am!” he protested, “I tell you, Kath, it’s a good thing you ran out when you did, or I might’ve proposed to you on the spot, and then where would we be?”
“Honest, Cos?” Don put in, sounding genuinely curious.
“Cross my heart! Do either of you have any idea how long I’d been dreaming of doing that myself? And then along comes Kathy and wham! Right in the mush. Oh, I could’ve kissed you, Kath. I would’ve, if you’d stuck around.”
Kathy didn’t know quite what to say to that, so she settled for giving him a quick peck on the cheek. Cosmo being Cosmo, he ‘swooned’ melodramatically onto Don’s shoulder, setting the children giggling.
“All right, all right,” said Don, pushing Cosmo gently back upright again. “Next question.” He handed the list over Cosmo’s head to Kathy.
“You know,” said Kathy, looking down at the paper in her hands, “I think I’m beginning to see a pattern here. Don, why did you fall in love with Cos?”
“Why did I fall in love with him? You kids sure do think of some funny questions.” Don paused, frowning a little. “I guess, to begin with, it was that he was always there for me. Cos… Even when you had things to do, places to be, you were with me the minute I realized I wanted you to be. And you’ve always made me laugh, even at myself – I need that, sometimes, I know. Then, when I was old enough to think about that sort of thing, I realized you were about the handsomest guy I ever met, and there was that, too.” He aimed a daffy but sincere smile at Cos, and reached out to take his hand. “But I can’t list all the reasons I kept on falling in love with you after that; there are too many.”
“Shucks, Don,” Cosmo murmured, “You sure know how to make a fella blush.”
It was true – Cosmo’s cheeks had gone a very pretty shade of pink, and Kathy thought he looked utterly adorable. Of course, if she told him that, it would only embarrass him further, so instead she handed him the sheet of questions.
“Your turn, Cos.”
He cleared his throat.
“All right, then. Kathy, what’s your favorite thing about this husband of ours? That you can mention in front of the kids, of course.”
“Cos!” Kathy protested.
It earned her nothing more than a devilish eyebrow-waggle.
Grace and Freddie looked mildly scandalized; Bertie mostly seemed confused.
“Oh, I’ve always appreciated the fact that the moment the world stops watching, all that leading-man smoothness goes out of the window,” Kathy said breezily.
“Hey!” Don leaned around Cosmo to shoot her a betrayed look.
“No, don’t be offended, darling – I think it’s very sweet the way you wear your heart on your sleeve. Although Cosmo’s right,” Kathy went on, feeling suddenly devilish herself, “that’s nice, too.”
Don gave her a saucy wink, and Cosmo cracked up. And, well, looking at the children’s theatrically disgusted expressions gave Don and Kathy the giggles pretty soon after. It took them almost to the end of the reel to pull themselves together again.
There was a strangeness to having Bertie on set with her for her latest film – only the third since the war ended. A pleasant strangeness, but a strangeness nonetheless. Perhaps some of it was the fact that, rather than the fresh-faced kids she’d tended to play not so very long ago, this time around she was cast in the role of a widow just beginning to look for love again.
Bertie, who shared the angle of her cheekbones and the curve of her lips, but looked nothing at all like Don – who was playing opposite her as the leading man – was the obvious choice to cast as her dead husband’s son. Don, in a moment of sheer audacity, had even managed to arrange a framed portrait of a rather young-looking Cosmo in naval uniform (it was a stage costume, he’d told her when she asked, from a comedy set Cos had tried out briefly in early ‘21 whilst Don recovered from a broken leg) for the night-stand on the bedroom set. Kathy had expected Roscoe to go mad over it, but apparently it was all properly arranged, and Don got a little more leeway now he was an assistant director as well as an actor.
Hence, when Bertie sat beside her on the bed and delivered his line – “What was he like, Mama?” – it wasn’t merely the script that had Kathy smiling down at the picture as she took it in her hands.
“Your father,” she began, warm and wistful, “was the most wonderful man I ever met…”
“What’s this?” Don asked, staring down with some suspicion at the official-looking piece of paper Freddie had just given him.
“My orders from the Navy,” said Freddie.
There was a long, stunned silence, in which Freddie stood tall and proud, almost daring them to protest. Kathy found herself wondering when her little boy had grown into this determined young man, and reached for Cosmo’s hand. He gave her fingers a gentle squeeze.
“They want you to report for training next Thursday,” said Don bleakly.
“That’s right.” Freddie tried for a smile, but it came out looking slightly ill. “Please don’t be mad.”
“Nobody’s mad at you, Fred,” Cosmo assured him, though there was a little line of tension between his brows.
“It’s just a little sudden, that’s all,” said Kathy, “You never said you were applying.”
“I wasn’t sure I’d go through with it,” Freddie admitted, sagging a little, “But I’m old enough now to do my duty, and there didn’t seem much point in putting it off.”
“Come here,” said Don thickly, opening his arms. Freddie stepped into the embrace, and Don clung to him. “Promise you’ll write. Every week. All right?”
“I promise, Dad.”
“And come home safe, won’t you?” Kathy added, clutching Cosmo’s hand a little tighter than was probably comfortable.
“Yes, Mom,” said Freddie, sounding rather choked.
Cosmo pulled Kathy with him to join the hug, and they stood like that for a while – the three of them wrapped around their eldest son. There was a degree of comfort in being able to hold him.
“Have you told your sister?” Cosmo asked, rather abruptly, the thought evidently having just occurred to him.
Freddie’s only response was a non-committal hum.
“Don’t you think you’d better?” Kathy asked him gently.
“Yeah,” sighed Freddie, carefully extricating himself from their arms, “Yeah, I will. I wanted to tell you three first, though.”
Kathy kissed him on the brow, and leaned into Cos and Don as they watched him ankle off in search of Grace.
“Our little Freddie, old enough to join the Navy,” murmured Don, sounding rather dazed, “When did that happen?”
“Next thing you know, we’ll be finding gray hairs,” said Cosmo. It was a weak joke, but Kathy and Don both laughed anyway. It was preferable to crying.
Kathy cleared her throat, and Bertie froze with his hand on the doorknob. Slowly, he turned his head to look at her, and a little of the tension in his shoulders fell away.
“Where exactly do you think you’re going, Bertram Lockwood?”
Bertie’s charming, innocent smile was almost exactly the one Cos used when Kathy caught him planning something that was supposed to be a secret. Kathy raised a stern eyebrow.
“I’ve gotta go rehearse with Chris and the boys,” said Bertie, raising his clarinet case for emphasis. “I promised them I’d be there.”
“You also promised you’d get your schoolwork done before you went out,” Kathy countered.
“I…” Bertie floundered. “Please, Mom? Just this once? Chris’ll never forgive me if I don’t show.”
Kathy felt she ought to be firm with him – it wasn’t the first time he’d left an essay till the morning it was due – but he looked honestly upset about the thought of Chris being angry with him, and she couldn’t quite find it in her heart to tell him no.
“Oh, go on then. But you walk Chris home, and get yourself back here by eleven, understood?”
“Yes, ma’am!” Bertie agreed, with a sloppy salute.
He was out of the door before Kathy could say goodbye, let alone change her mind about letting him go.
“No, don’t put that glass on the table. I’ve just polished it.”
“Sorry,” Cosmo replied mildly, resting the glass of water on his knee instead. “Don, is there any particular reason you’ve taken a sudden interest in the housekeeping?”
“Freddie’s bringing a friend home with him on shore leave,” Kathy told him, dropping a small stack of coasters she’d just dug out from one of the kitchen cupboards onto the coffee table.
Cosmo swiped the top one to set his glass down on.
“Thanks, Kath. Who’s this friend, then?”
“His name’s Clarence,” said Don.
“Poor kid,” Cosmo opined. He paused, and gave Don a contemplative look. “Hey – Clarence? Wasn’t that the guy he couldn’t shut up about in his last few letters?”
“Now do you see why I’m cleaning?” Don asked, waving his feather duster at Cosmo in a manner that could best be described as slightly threatening.
“Oh, I still think you’re ridiculous,” Cosmo drawled, “but I do see why you’re doing it. C’mon you great lummox, come and sit down.”
Don didn’t look inclined to acquiesce, so Kathy took him by the hand and gently pulled him close enough that Cosmo could catch him by the waist and drag him down onto his lap, back pressed flush against Cosmo’s chest. Don made a brief attempt at escape, but Cosmo’s arms were wrapped pretty firmly around his middle, so he didn’t get very far.
“Kathy,” said Cosmo, blithely ignoring Don’s grumbling protests, “I think Mr Lockwood here is in need of a distraction.”
“Hmmm,” said Kathy, plucking the feather duster from Don’s grasp and setting it down on the table, “I think you might be right.”
“Hey, come on, fellas. Let me up?” Don wheedled.
“Darling,” said Kathy firmly, perching on the arm of the couch to put herself at Don’s eye-level, “you’ve been cleaning for hours now. And it’s not as though the house was dirty when you started.”
Cosmo hooked his chin over Don’s shoulder and tilted his head a little to lean his temple against Don’s cheek.
“She’s right, you know.”
“I’m only trying to make a good impression,” Don protested. “I mean, it’s not every day one of the kids brings someone home to meet us.”
“No,” Cosmo said, rearranging his face into an expression that was somehow both stern and deliberately comical, “you’re panicking, Pagliacci. Lighten up! What’s the worst that could happen?”
“He could get us arrested,” said Don, apparently quite serious.
“He could,” Kathy allowed gently, “but I don’t think it’s likely. He is Freddie’s young man, after all.”
“But what if –” he broke off with a soft gasp as Cosmo started nibbling his ear. “Mmm… Cos. Cos, lay off a minute, would you?”
“Okay,” said Cosmo, sounding rather disappointed. “Would you rather I rubbed your back, or something?”
“Huh?” asked Don. “Oh, no, it’s not that I wasn’t enjoying it, but… Well, how long have we got until Fred’s meant to get here?”
Kathy twisted a little to look across at the clock.
“And we’re not expecting Grace or Bertie home before then?”
“Oh, good,” said Don. “In that case –” he held out a hand to Kathy “– would you care to join us, Kath?”
Kathy took the offered hand, toed off her shoes, and straddled Don’s thighs. His hands settled easily on her hips, and he leaned in to kiss her, slow and deep and sensual. She wondered, briefly, if Cosmo was entirely comfortable with both of them on top of him, but when she pulled away from Don to look, he was grinning like a Cheshire cat.
There was a light, inadvertent brush of knuckles against her crotch, and a quick glance down revealed that Cosmo was busily engaged in unbuttoning Don’s trousers. How delightfully thoughtful. Although…
“Cos, I don’t suppose you’ve got –?”
His free hand came up to caress the curve of her ear, and when he pulled it away, there was the small square envelope of a French letter between his fingers. She took it from him with a laugh – somehow, that trick never got old.
“One day, pal,” said Don fondly, “I’m going to work out where you manage to hide those things.”
Cosmo’s only response was a mischievous little chuckle, and a smooth flick of his wrist that made Don moan.
It was Kathy, in the end, who answered the door when Freddie knocked. Consequently, she was the first to get a look at his companion – albeit over Freddie’s shoulder, as he’d wrapped her up in an enthusiastic hug the moment she opened the door.
He was a tall, gangling slip of a thing – he probably weighed less than Cosmo, despite having half a foot on him – and seemed determined to take up as little room as physically possible.
“Mom,” said Freddie, finally letting her go, “this is Clarence. Clarence, my mother.”
“Pleased to meet you, Mrs Lockwood,” Clarence offered quietly, with a rather nervous-looking smile. He extended his hand to her, after a moment, and she found when she shook it that his palm was a little clammy.
“Just ‘Kathy’ is fine, dear,” she told him, smiling. “Freddie, be a lamb and show Clarence up to the guest room, won’t you? I’d better see where your father’s disappeared to.”
Freddie gave her a joking salute, and herded Clarence in the direction of the stairs.
Of course, Kathy was well aware of where Don was – she’d left him kissing Cosmo against one of the kitchen counters – but she felt it might be wise to check that dinner wasn’t in danger of burning, because her boys could be extremely efficient at distracting each other.
When she reached the kitchen, they hadn’t moved from where she’d left them, except that Cos was now perched on the counter with his legs hooked around Don’s hips. Having managed to get within a few feet of them without being noticed, Kathy cleared her throat. Don jumped, and stepped hastily backwards. Cosmo, who hadn’t anticipated the motion in time to let go, was carried along with him like some sort of very peculiar koala bear.
“How’s dinner coming?” Kathy asked teasingly.
“Well, it smells okay,” said Cosmo with a sheepish little grin, hopping down to the ground, “but I can’t say I was paying that much attention.”
Don gave her a shrug, and raised his eyebrows as if to say What can you do?
A quick peek in the oven confirmed that everything was as it should be, so Kathy didn’t have the heart to scold them.
“That was Freddie at the door a moment ago,” she said, instead.
“And Clarence?” asked Don, not entirely succeeding at sounding nonchalant.
“And Clarence,” Kathy confirmed.
“Well?” said Cosmo, wiggling his eyebrows.
“I think the overwhelming impression was that he’s a bit shy,” said Kathy. “Though, I suppose some of that might just be nerves. It’s not every day a fellow meets his young man’s parents, after all.”
She raised a teasing eyebrow at Don, who huffed a laugh.
“All right, Kath, I’ll play nicely. I promise.”
If anything, Clarence was even more withdrawn when he and Freddie came back downstairs for dinner. Kathy couldn’t quite make up her mind whether she thought it was down to Grace and Bertie loudly monopolizing their brother’s attention, or to finding Don and Cosmo intimidating. Not that her boys were being unfriendly, at all, but their occasional habit of talking as though they were a single person occupying two bodies when they were enthusiastic about something did take a bit of getting used to…
By the time the after-dinner drinks came out, though, Clarence had unbent enough to join in the conversation without excessive prodding, even if his contributions were still quiet and a fraction hesitant.
“Are your family still in Brooklyn, then?” asked Bertie, ever curious.
“Just my Ma, now. I, uh, I have a brother – Jack – but he’s Navy, too. The Colorado.”
“Huh,” said Grace, “I guess you don’t see much of him, then.”
“Not really, no.” Clarence gave a funny little half-smile. “’S not as though we got on so well even when we did.”
There was a brief, somewhat awkward silence, and Clarence looked slightly surprised at himself for having said it. He hastily set his glass down on the coffee table, still half-full.
“How about a song, Cos?” Kathy asked, tone kept carefully light.
Cos, bless the man, launched easily into a very pretty rendition of Give Me The Moon Over Brooklyn, and batted his eyelashes until Don and the boys joined in. And then, thanks to an elbow in the ribs from Freddie, so did Clarence. He had a lovely voice – richer than Kathy would have expected from someone so slight – and a good ear for a harmony. From the look on Cosmo’s face, Kathy rather thought the kid might find himself pressed into service in the Monumental Pictures music department the moment he left the Navy.
If this was the standard the group always played to, Kathy could foresee many more nights spent in The Green Mill listening to Bertie’s band with Don and Cos. Chris, resplendent in an evening suit to match the others, sang smooth and low, and Bertie played a twisting, whirling harmony, backed up by vaguely familiar faces on piano, drums, and double bass. Kathy really would have to ask Bertie to make introductions so that she could put names to them all.
“You know,” Don whispered, leaning in close, “now that I see them like this, I think I understand the attraction.”
“Oh, this is nothing on rehearsals,” Cosmo retorted under his breath. “I tell you, Don, if they spent as much time playing as they do flirting, they’d have hit the big-time already.”
Cosmo had spent almost two weeks standing in for their pianist when he’d been laid low with the flu last winter, so Kathy supposed he should know.
“How long, do you think, until he tries to make something serious of it?” She asked.
“Well, he does have his own place, now,” Cos pointed out. “All he’s gotta do is work up the nerve to ask the question.”
“Ah, but will she take him?” Don put in.
Judging by the way the two of them were making eyes at each other on stage, Kathy would not be at all surprised.
It was a quiet evening – just the three of them and Grace sitting around and listening to the wireless. Well, Kathy was listening to the wireless. Cosmo was at least two-thirds asleep, draped across the couch with his head in Kathy’s lap and his feet in Don’s; Don was reading an adventure novel of some description; and Grace was busily scratching away in her sketchbook in the armchair opposite. Kathy gave in to the urge to card her fingers through Cos’ hair, and was rewarded with a soft, pleased sound and a languid little wriggle of his shoulders. Don looked up from his reading to share an indulgent smile with her – it was very hard not to feel fondly about Cosmo’s occasional cat-like tendencies.
In years gone by, Grace would have wrinkled her nose at her parents and accused them of being soppy, but now she simply gave an amused sort of huff and carried on drawing.
“I tell you what, Kath,” Don said softly, waving his book vaguely in her direction, “this wouldn’t make a bad movie.”
“Oh? Were you planning on writing the screenplay?” Kathy asked.
“Well, no,” said Don, “but if somebody did, I think I might like to direct it.”
He prodded Cosmo’s foot with the corner of the book’s spine.
Cosmo hummed a half-hearted protest, not moving.
“How d’you feel about doing a bit of script-writing?”
“Depends what it is,” said Cosmo, deigning to open one eye.
Don held out the book for inspection. Cosmo lifted his head to squint at it for a moment, then yawned.
“Ask me again when I’m awake,” he said, and snuggled back down into Kathy’s lap, closing his eyes.
“But Cos!” Don protested.
Cosmo gave a decidedly fake-sounding snore, and it was all Kathy could do not to laugh at Don’s betrayed expression. Grace made no such attempt, giggling openly as she sketched. A small, satisfied smirk made its way across Cosmo’s lips.
There was a knock on the door at half past ten on a rainy night in September, and the next thing Kathy knew, Don was ushering a thoroughly bedraggled Clarence towards the stairs.
“Easy, kid. Come on, you can take Fred’s room for tonight. Why don’t you get out of those wet things and dry off a bit, and we’ll see about fixing some cocoa to warm you up, all right?”
Clarence didn’t actually manage a verbal response, but he shuffled off obediently in the direction of Freddie’s room.
“Don, whatever happened?” Kathy asked, worried – the poor boy was soaked through and looked utterly miserable.
“To be honest,” Don sighed, “I didn’t get much out of him except that he wasn’t sure where else to go. Do you mind starting on the cocoa? I’m gonna dig Cos out of his lair – seems like he ought to be here for this.”
Don reappeared with Cosmo in tow before Kathy had got much further than setting a saucepan of milk on the stove.
“Hi, Kath.” Cos pecked her on the cheek before busying himself with rounding up mugs.
They’d got the cocoa made, poured, and carried through to the lounge by the time Clarence came downstairs to join them, dry, freshly shaven, and clad in pajamas and dressing gown that were evidently borrowed from Freddie’s wardrobe – they fitted well enough in most dimensions, but left a good few inches of limb bared at the wrist and ankle.
“Here.” Don handed him a mug, and herded him gently in the direction of Grace’s favorite armchair. It was an overstuffed monstrosity, but it was comfortable, close to the fireplace, and they kept an Afghan draped over the back of it. Lord knew, Kathy thought, Clarence looked like he could do with a cozy spot – she had a horrible suspicion those were bruises peeking out from under his collar.
“Thanks,” Clarence murmured, sitting and staring down into his cocoa rather than actually drinking it.
“Nobody’s going to force you,” said Don gently, “but do you want to talk about it?”
Clarence chewed his lower lip for a moment, looking rather as though he didn’t know quite what he wanted.
“I…” he began, then trailed off. He cleared his throat self-consciously. “Back at Ma’s, Jack found some of my letters.”
“From Freddie?” Cos asked, brows beetling.
“And he told you if he saw you round there again, he’d beat you bloody.” Not a question, this time, and Cosmo’s face was stony.
Clarence stared at him, startled.
“I know the type,” Cos offered, with a rather bitter half-smile, and took a pull of his cocoa.
Seemingly reminded of his own drink, Clarence took a sip; then regarded his mug with an expression which suggested to Kathy that Don might have slipped some brandy in it while she wasn’t looking. In honesty, that might have been just as well.
“I’m sorry for showing up unannounced. I guess I kinda panicked.”
That was something, at least – Clarence had picked up, over the course of a few years’ worth of shore leaves, that he was welcome.
“Don’t you worry about it,” Kathy told him. “After all, you’re quite our favorite son-in-law.”
Admittedly, as Grace wasn’t walking out with anyone, never mind married, it wasn’t as though Clarence had any competition, but it was true enough that they were fond of him. He was a sweet boy, and once you got past the shyness, he had a warm, wry sort of wit that Kathy enjoyed very much.
Clarence went an interesting shade of pink, and stuttered a little before apparently giving up on speech in favor of downing the rest of his cocoa.
“Cos,” Kathy murmured, tracing absent-minded patterns on his chest with a fingertip as they waited for Don to finish washing up and join them in bed, “What did you mean, earlier?”
“About knowing the type?”
“Oh,” said Cosmo. “Well, it may be hard to believe, Kath, but once upon a time, Don and I were young and stupid.”
“You mean you weren’t young and stupid when I met you?” Kathy shot back, enjoying the familiar rhythm of their teasing.
“A very good point,” Cos grinned. “But back when we were younger and stupider than that, and we didn’t have the luxury of a house, we got caught kissing a few times. Back alleys ain’t always as private as you’d think, and the kind of people you stumble across in ‘em can be a little less understanding than you might hope.”
Kathy made a soft noise of understanding in the back of her throat. It was… Well, it was probably better that it had been strangers than someone Cos cared about, but that wasn’t as much comfort as it might have been. She snuggled in closer against his side, and pressed a kiss to his collarbone.
“I love you,” she told him.
“I should hope you do,” said Cosmo, “given you married me.”
“I love you, too, Kath,” he murmured, more seriously, and kissed her forehead.
“And I love the pair of you,” Don offered from the doorway with a sappy smile.
“Oh, hi, Don,” said Cosmo. “Care to join us?”
“Is that a line,” Don asked, “or are you just after a teddy bear?”
Cosmo made an exaggeratedly thoughtful face.
“You know, I really couldn’t say. What do you reckon, Kathy?”
“Hmmm… You do make a very good teddy,” Kathy told Don, smiling coyly. “But then, you’re rather good for other things as well. We’ll have to be quiet, though.”
Don gave her a thoroughly wicked smirk.
“I can be quiet.”
“Well, then,” Cosmo purred, and raised a beckoning finger.
It took only a very brief conversation over breakfast for Kathy to confirm that Clarence hadn’t managed to grab more than his wallet on leaving home, and she duly took a note of his measurements and dispatched Don to acquire some clothes that would actually fit him – the poor boy was far too tall for anything they could lend him to be genuinely comfortable, and Kathy waved off his protests over their spending money on him with a firm assurance that he was family.
“You’re too kind to me, Mrs Lockwood,” Clarence told her earnestly.
“You’d best get used to it, kid,” Cosmo stage-whispered across the table, “She’s been being too kind to me for…oh, about twenty-five years now.”
Kathy elbowed him gently, and Cos grinned back with a complete lack of contrition. He looked rather adorable like that, and Kathy dropped a quick peck on his cheek before getting up to clear the table, raising a stern eyebrow at Cosmo when it looked as though he planned on helping. Cos subsided, and turned his attention back to Clarence.
“Say,” he said, in that thoughtful tone that often accompanied his craziest and most ingenious schemes, “how are you at writing?”
“Writing?” Clarence asked, looking rather like a rabbit caught in headlights.
“Sure. Don’s got some madcap idea about making a movie of the last book he read – how would you feel about helping me put together a script?”
“I could try, sir.”
“That’s the spirit, kid. And like I keep telling you, just ‘Cosmo’ will do, you know. I’m not old enough or grumpy enough to be a ‘sir’ just yet.”
Cos didn’t wait for a reply before dragging Clarence off in the direction of the music room, and Kathy found herself smiling after them. Clarence might not know what had hit him, but if he managed to help turn out something decent, chances were good that Cos could organize a job in the script-writing department for him – for all that he was officially only in charge of music, he had his fingers in an awful lot of pies at Monumental.
“Mom!” came Bertie’s voice from the hallway, “Dad! Uncle Cos! Anybody home?”
“In the kitchen, sweetheart,” Kathy called back, setting the last of the breakfast things in the drying rack.
The moment he was through the door, Bertie swept her up in a tight hug.
“She said yes!” he announced, letting go. He was grinning fit to burst, and it warmed Kathy’s heart to see him so happy.
“That’s wonderful news! Is she here?”
“No. She’s gone to tell her uncle. I mean, he knew I wanted to ask her – he gave me his blessing last week – but Chris wanted to be the one to tell him she’d agreed to have me.”
Given how fond Chris was of the kindly, bluff old man who had raised her, that wasn’t really surprising. Kathy found it rather charming.
“Well, we’ll have to invite the pair of them over for a proper celebration. Your father isn’t back yet, but Cosmo and Clarence are in the music room, if you want to tell them.”
Bertie blinked a few times in quick succession, and gave her a curious look.
“Clarence is here?”
“For the foreseeable future, yes,” said Kathy.
“Did…” He paused; tried again, slightly shakily. “Has something happened? I don’t recall anyone saying you were expecting him.”
“His brother found out about Freddie,” Kathy told him.
Bertie blanched, and muttered several rather dire imprecations under his breath. He looked at her, blue eyes wide and brows pinched.
“Is he okay?”
“He’s a little shaken,” Kathy mused, “and I’m not altogether convinced he isn’t hiding a few bruises, but all things considered he seems to be doing pretty well.”
Some of the tension in Bertie’s posture seemed to ease at that – certainly, his expression became a little less alarmed.
“Good,” he sighed. “Though, as he’s here, there’s something I want to ask him. The music room, you said?”
He flashed her a brilliant grin, and turned on his heel, heading out of the kitchen with a purpose.
Grace breezed in at dinner, and locked onto her brother right away.
“Bertie! I bumped into Chris earlier, and she told me –” She broke off, rather abruptly. “Clarence?”
“Hi,” Clarence offered from the other end of the table, with an awkward little wave.
“He’s going to be my best man,” Bertie announced, beaming, and Grace seemed to take it as an acceptable explanation of Clarence’s presence, sitting down in the seat next to Bertie’s and helping herself to potatoes. Kathy was glad – the poor lamb had already had a long day, and a cross-examination from Grace was the last thing he needed. At least he was properly dressed, now. It made him look a little less like a lost child.
“He’s also writing the screenplay for Don’s next project,” Cosmo chipped in merrily.
“I thought you were,” Don replied. He arched an eyebrow imperiously in Cosmo’s direction, and got a careless chuckle for his efforts.
“Oh, no, Pagliacci. He’s read the book. I’m just…supervising.”
“You’re writing the score, too,” Clarence pointed out.
“Well, yes,” Cos agreed. “He’s very good, Don. And you can’t expect me not to take advantage of that.”
Don successfully looked disapproving for a few seconds before that big old megawatt smile took over.
“Cos, you’re a marvel.”
Bertie leaned sideways towards Grace.
“You know,” he stage-whispered to her, “I hope Chris and I are that sappy when we’ve been married as long as they have.”
“Sappy?” asked Cosmo, exaggeratedly incredulous.
“Well, I never –” Don blustered, “Kathy, you wouldn’t call us sappy, would you?”
“Gee, Don,” Kathy said, pitching her voice a little louder to carry over the children’s poorly-suppressed giggling, “I don’t know…”
He and Cosmo stuck out their tongues at her in unison.
Kathy knew that Clarence had written to Freddie since he’d moved in – he made no secret of it, and she’d posted letters for him on more than one occasion – but her oldest son still seemed genuinely surprised to see him when he returned from sea. For good this time: his four years were up, just as Clarence’s had been some months before.
“Hello,” said Clarence softly.
For a moment, Freddie just stared at him, as though he didn’t quite believe his eyes; then he flung himself into Clarence’s arms and clung tightly, whispering endearments into his neck.
Feeling they deserved a little privacy, Kathy left them to their reunion. There would be time enough to greet Freddie properly later.
Unsurprisingly, she found Don and Cosmo in the music room, squished together on the piano stool and fooling around with a melody that sounded vaguely familiar. Kathy had a good half-dozen or so reels of them doing this over the years, and if her camera had been to hand she most likely would have filmed them again – it never got old, somehow, the way they made music together; Cosmo’s deft, slender fingers skipping across the keys to paint bright ripples of sound in counterpoint to the smooth flow of Don’s tune. It seemed a shame to disturb their harmonizing, so Kathy leaned comfortably against the door-jamb to listen for a while.
It didn’t take terribly long for her presence to be noticed. Don shot her a blinding grin, and segued easily into the familiar strains of You Were Meant For Me. Of course, Cosmo looked up from the piano at that.
“Hey, Kath,” he said, smiling warmly at her. “What’s a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?”
“Letting the lovebirds have their reunion in peace.”
She went over to stand by the pair of them, and Don swiveled to face the other way before pulling her gently onto his lap.
“Fred’s home, then?” he asked, giving her a friendly squeeze.
Kathy hummed an affirmative, and leaned back against his chest, reaching out to tug gently at Cosmo’s elbow. Cos obediently gave up on playing background music and held her hand, interlacing their fingers comfortably. For a little while, the three of them just basked in each other’s company.
The whole family left the premiere of The Thirty-Nine Steps in high spirits. Cosmo had been right – Clarence was very good indeed at adapting for screenplay. Of course, a beautiful score from Cos and a bit of fine directing courtesy of Don had really sold it. Kathy was really terribly proud of the lot of them.
And if she had contributed by way of making a number of executive decisions during the editing process, well…perhaps she was a little proud of that, too. She might have to do more of it next time.
“There,” said Kathy, pushing one last pin into Chris’ rather elaborate coiffure, “all done.”
Chris got up from her chair and smoothed down her gown shakily. This was the first time, Kathy reflected, that she had seen her soon-to-be daughter-in-law wearing a dress – even for formal events, Chris favored trousers. It suited her, though, to be draped in soft swathes of ivory silk, with her auburn hair arranged in an effusion of soft curls under a lace-edged veil. She looked, as Kathy’s mother would no doubt have put it, like a real lady.
A very nervous real lady.
“You look beautiful,” Kathy told her soothingly.
Chris managed a rather wobbly smile in response.
“You don’t think it’s too much?”
“Sweetheart, it’s your wedding day. I think it’s just right.”
It seemed to be the right thing to say – Chris’ smile solidified, and she pulled Kathy into a brief hug.
Bertie’s face when he saw Chris walking up the aisle on her uncle’s arm was a picture. Certainly, Kathy thought, he looked sappy enough to rival Don at their own wedding, all those years ago. In honesty, Don looked pretty sappy now – his eyes were suspiciously shiny, and he was holding Kathy’s hand a little tighter than was entirely comfortable. Cosmo, sitting on the other side of him, seemed to have been spared the same treatment, but it was probably only by virtue of the fact that they were in public.
Once the ceremony itself was over, a little time was surrendered to the taking of wedding photographs, and then Chris’ bouquet was thrown – Grace, who caught it, looked rather alarmed at her own luck – before the entire wedding party duly headed across town for the reception.
The Green Mill looked rather different in the light of day, but if one looked beyond the brighter lighting and the intricate centerpieces on the tables, it wasn’t unrecognizable. For one thing, there was no mistaking the hulking Steinway in the corner of the stage. There were the usual speeches – Chris’ uncle, Dan, effectively standing as father-of-the-bride, was obviously ever so proud to see his little Christine all grown up; and Clarence seemed to have collaborated with Freddie on his best man’s speech, because hidden among the amusing anecdotes were a few stories that he hadn’t actually been there for in person. Though, of course, it wasn’t impossible that they were stories he’d heard from Freddie nearer to the time – they’d been good friends a fair while before they’d actually got together.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, when the time came for dancing, Bertie’s band-mates took the stage, along with Cosmo, who filled in on piano so that Charlie could sing instead. It also neatly side-stepped the issue of Don feeling guilty about not being able to dance with him, Kathy noticed. And if there were a few songs in there among the old classics that sounded distinctly Cosmo-ish, well…it explained what he’d been up to while hiding from the wedding planners.
In reality, it was several hours before they waved the newly-weds off on their honeymoon and headed home, but it felt like almost no time at all. Even when the time came to head to bed, Kathy felt rather as though the night was still young.
Seemingly apropos of nothing in particular, Don sighed.
“What?” asked Cosmo, looking up from his notebook.
“Oh, you know. Our youngest son got married today. I feel old.”
Cosmo closed his notebook, tucked his pencil into its spine, and set it down on the bedside table. He leveled a stern look in Don’s direction.
Don hummed an affirmative. Cosmo snuggled in close.
“C’mon, Pagliacci,” he murmured against Don’s collarbone, “If you’re old, I’m old. And I feel fresh as a daisy.”
Don chuckled at that, and Kathy found herself smiling, too. Cos had a point, though – for all that there were a scattering of silver strands in Don’s hair, and Cosmo had laughter lines now that hadn’t been there when she’d first met him, they were just as beautiful to her as they’d ever been. She liked to think they thought the same way about her. Certainly, neither of them had ever given her reason to believe otherwise.
“All right,” Don conceded, smiling, “we’re not old. But you’ve got to admit, it’s one of those milestones people talk about. Two out of three kids settled down like grown adults.”
“And Gracie did catch the bouquet,” Kathy added.
“Ah, well,” said Cosmo, “that doesn’t necessarily signify.”
That wasn’t the tone he used for joking about superstitions.
“Oh?” asked Kathy, curious.
“I want the pair of you to promise you won’t go bugging her about it first.”
“I think we can manage that,” said Don, “can’t we, Kathy?”
“Of course,” she agreed easily.
“Grace and I had a talk, not so long ago,” Cos began, “about how it feels to be attracted to people. Before you ask, I don’t know why she decided to ask me, but she did, and I told her as best I could. She said she didn’t think she’d ever felt like that about anyone.”
“Oh,” said Don, in a thoughtful sort of tone.
“And, I mean, it might be that she’s the same way I am with girls –” Cosmo glanced at Kathy “– and she just hasn’t found the right person yet, but I think we’ve gotta consider that it’s just as likely she won’t. Find the right person, that is. And we’ve gotta let her do what makes her happy.”
Kathy felt suddenly even fonder than usual of Cosmo, and reflected that it was a great shame he could never publicly admit to being the children’s third parent. He really was a wonderful father. From the way Don pulled Cos a little closer to him, she suspected she wasn’t the only one feeling sentimental. She reached across Don’s chest to catch Cosmo’s hand in her own, and squeezed it gently.
“You’re a good man, Cos,” she told him.
He squeezed back, and smiled. Perhaps it was sappy of her, but Kathy thought he was just about the most beautiful thing in the world when he smiled like that – soft and loving and a little awed, with his eyes all crinkly at the corners. It was the kind of smile that just begged to be kissed. And who was Kathy to refuse?
Don made a soft noise of protest – which was fair enough, given Kathy was half lying on him – and they broke apart reluctantly. Then Cosmo’s eyes twinkled, and he made a series of faces at Kathy that made her grin. She liked his idea very much.
In unison, they leaned in to kiss Don’s cheeks.
It was Don who started laughing first, but it didn’t take long before all three of them were chuckling.
“You’re both awful,” Don managed eventually, having more-or-less caught his breath.
“Awfully nice?” asked Cosmo, batting his eyelashes.
“Just awful,” Don retorted. “But I love the pair of you anyway.”
“Well, that’s all right, then,” said Kathy, smiling.
Cosmo gave a contented little hum and plastered himself to Don’s side.
“We love you too,” he mumbled, “but if it’s all the same, I think I’m going to sleep now.”
That sounded like a good idea, Kathy thought, stifling a yawn. She dropped a last kiss on Don’s shoulder, because it was within easy reach, and snuggled in close.
“Good night,” she said.
“Sweet dreams,” Don replied.
Cosmo – who, judging by the pattern of his breathing, had already nodded off – said nothing.
The movie theater was dark, and full of people fresh from the Pride parade. And wasn’t that something? All these people, openly, vibrantly proud to be one shade of queer or another. Waiting for the lights to go down, Kathy watched them fondly from her seat in the back row, sandwiched between Don and Cos. So many of them seemed so very young. She hoped their parents valued them the way that they deserved.
To begin with, there was a spotlight aimed at a microphone on the little half-stage in front of the screen. Out of the wings, looking rather nervous, came Freddie.
“Hi,” he said, with a little wave, “Now, I know you’re not here to listen to little old me, so I’ll keep this short. The folks organizing this shindig seem to reckon producing a few pictures about, well, people like us makes me qualified to put together something for Pride. I don’t know that I’m the best choice, but it’s an honor all the same.” He paused; cleared his throat a little awkwardly. “A lot of the footage you’re about to see is older than I am, and it’s not in chronological order, but I wanted to share the people who brought me up to never be ashamed of love. It starts with the first movie I ever shot, and… Anyhow, I hope you enjoy it.”
He left the stage, taking the microphone with him, to polite applause. Then the curtain went up, the projector came on, and there on the screen – squashed unnecessarily close together on a familiar couch – were a much younger Cos and Don and Kathy, paying close attention to a list of questions.