Frank takes one final drag from his cigarette and blows smoke expertly out of the side of his mouth as Dana and I begin to cheer.
He shakes his head as he throws the glowing butt onto the street and grinds it under the heel of his boot. “Fine. Next time, I’ll blow smoke in your faces while we drink, so you don’t have to wait on me afterwards.”
“Or, you could just not smoke,” Dana says. “It smells, you know.”
“And it wasted fifteen minutes of our lives,” I say. “We’ll never get this time back.”
Frank looks to Jake and Don as if for help. We’d been inside drinking and talking for a few hours now, but none of us is ready to go home.
“I heard smoking can kill you,” Jake says, deadpan.
“I heard the gum works,” Don says.
We all laugh as Frank throws his hands up and pretends like he’s walking back into Marty’s. I grab him by the arm, laughing. “Okay, okay. We’ll stop giving you a hard time...”
“Thank you!” Frank says.
“When you stop smoking,” I finish.
“That’s it!” he says grimly, turning on me.
I should have anticipated it (it’s been Frank’s solution to silencing me since the eighth grade), but before I can maneuver myself behind Dana, he’s bent down and grabbed me at the knees, thrown me over his shoulder.
I scream and laugh as he makes a run for it, my protests echoing down the deserted Main Street, my arms bouncing over his back, my hands grasping for his jacket as the others yell after us.
At the end of the block, Frank sets me down, panting, hands on his knees. I straighten my hair and my sweater, unable to stop laughing as I regard Frank’s doubled up frame. “You know, if you weren’t a smoker, you could have made it much further.”
Frank grins as he straightens himself up. “Maybe someone just weighs a lot more than they did in college.”
I smack him on the arm.
Frank moves tousled strands of hair out of his face and nudges me back. We lean against the dark façade of the Tomahawk Hill market; cans of corn making a pyramid behind us and observe the rest of our party chatting as they head our way. “Felt like those college days tonight, didn’t it? Drinking at Marty’s with Dana?”
I sigh. It had felt really good. “Only with Jake and Don, instead of Audrey and Rich.”
“Don’t take this the wrong way, Liv,” he says, his face suddenly open and honest in a way that makes me uneasy. “I’ve always had a thing for you... I think you know that’s why I didn’t talk to you again when you did the unthinkable and left all this,” he gestures wryly to Main Street, “behind, for LA. But as someone who is—completely and utterly over you—”
I open my mouth to protest but close it again with a sinking feeling. Maybe he’d never said how much he cared in so many words, but I had known. In the summers, when Audrey and Rich were living in different cities fulfilling college internships, I’d been back here in Tomahawk Hill with Frank. Audrey would joke that Frank was my fill-in boyfriend, and I would tell her she didn’t know what she was talking about. I take his arm, squeeze it. “Totally over me, huh? I’m sorry Frank.”
He makes a big deal of clearing his throat. “That is, completely and irreversibly-- I might add-- over you. It was a long time ago.”
I grin wryly up at him. “I was an idiot,” I say.
“Be that as it may, may I ask you something?”
“What does Rich have that I don’t?”
I lean away from Frank, shooting my eyebrows upwards.
“Oh yeah,” he says, clearly enjoying my discomfort. “I know what Audrey used to say about me. Rich, two-point-oh.”
Frank nudges my shoulder. “I know you’re sorry. And I’m sorry for never making you confront how I felt about you; that was my fault.”
I lean my head against his arm, marveling over how a minute conversation could restore so much. “Friends for life?”
“I’ll be your Sam, and you can be my Therese,” he says.
# # #
It put me on edge, the familiar way in which they stood side-by-side, her head leaning into him. It was easy to imagine them as kids, leaning against the front of a building in just this way; sipping malts, talking about their horses, their woes with parents, the world.
“Where to now?” Dana says, placing her hand on my arm. I could tell she’d taken special care with her appearance tonight and she looked nice. I wonder, as she squeezes my arm if it were for my benefit. “Unless you need to cash it in, Jake? I know your flight to New York is at the crack of dawn.
“I’ll nap on the plane,” I say, smiling at her then shifting slightly on my feet so that her hand falls naturally away. Maybe Dana was about as interested in Don Pederson as day old leftovers from the diner, but it was apparent what Don’s intentions were where she was concerned. He’d talked almost exclusively to Dana the entire time we were at Marty’s.
On our end of Main Street, there isn’t a soul in sight, the only signs of life are the old-timey street lamps and the “Market” sign above our heads shining dimly into the night. I can hear dogs barking in the distance, an occasional car door slamming shut down at Marty’s. Once the bar is renovated, we’ll start pulling people from surrounding towns and Friday nights will begin sounding very different.
Olivia lurches forward into our circle as an idea grabs hold. We all look at her, amused. “Do you have the keys to the theater?” This, she directs at Don.
“Yeah...” he says, “I’ve been opening the theater for my dad sometimes...”
He smiles hesitatingly as Olivia wiggles her eyebrows, but when Dana chimes in with, “Oh! A private showing? That would be SO fun!” Don is suddenly as enterprising as J.D. Rockefeller.
“I know where my dad stashes his bottles of bourbon and the movie candy! We could make some popcorn.”
I chuckle as Olivia practically jumps up and down where she stands. “And you could load any film we want right?”
Don shakes his head, sighs heavily as though he’s about to deliver devastating news. “Unfortunately, loading a different film would take too much time to make the effort worth it for one showing, and you know what films my dad shows in November.”
Not to be deterred, Olivia says, “It’s either; The Philadelphia Story, Casablanca, or The African Queen. I could always watch one of those!”
“And the bourbon will help those who couldn’t.” Frank quips.
I wasn’t a huge old movie buff, but you couldn’t grow-up in SoCal and not at least be aware. I’m looking forward to seeing the inside of the theater. Since Bud had declined any discussion about the theater’s future, I’d thought I’d wait a bit to visit, even if it were only to watch a film. I hadn’t wanted to appear as though I might be there to evaluate his business.
Don smiles at me, but there’s a snide edge to his tone when he speaks. “You’ll finally get to see why we’re not worried about your fancy resort coming to town.”
Frank thumps his hand across Don’s back and starts heading him down the block. “Let’s get this going.”
Once we’re all inside the theater, Don locks the doors behind us and begins turning on lights. The theater smells strangely of wet diapers and stale popcorn, but then I’m taken almost immediately by the aesthetic touches; the winding staircase in front of the auditorium, the wisps of painted design on yellowed walls, the deep mahogany baseboards as tall as my shins.
“Beautiful, isn’t it? Never would have expected to see such pretty expressions of Art Nouveau in tiny little Tomahawk Hill, would you?” Olivia runs her hand over the elegant woodwork along the concession stand. I look around to make sure Don isn’t within earshot.
“He’s upstairs with Frank, in the projection room,” Olivia says, sounding amused.
I grin. “I’d love to get my hands on this place.”
“Draw some inspiration from it then,” she says, her green eyes sparkling. “Just because certain people don’t want to preserve what they have, doesn’t mean you can’t take from it when you create something new.”
When Olivia talked this way, I felt an irresistible urge to handcuff her to me and take her with me wherever I went. “This place is special,” I say, walking over to the staircase. The ironwork is beautiful. Of course, that’s when Don decides to walk down the steps.
Until you get a hundred people coming through here a day, running their dirty hands across the walls, clogging your plumbing and breaking your old ass theater seats.
I want to tell Don that people will come for the novelty but never come back because it smells like dirty diapers—just to wipe the smug look off his face—instead, I nod as though I’m conceding something.
Dana joins us at that moment, four bags of microwave popcorn steaming between her fingers. “I think I could have popped corn over the stove faster than that old microwave did.”
Frank walks up with two bottles of bourbon and large paper cups, candy bulging from his coat pockets.
“I can have Eli bring some new bottles and candy by tomorrow before your dad misses it,” I say to Don.
“I may be unemployed, but I think I can afford to replace a couple of bottles and a bag of candy,” Don says. I’m about to say I’d meant no offence, that I simply hadn’t wanted to put him out, but Don says, “Go ahead and find your seats. I’ll start the movie then join you guys.”
Olivia barely suppresses a laugh as we walk into the seating area. “Wow. What did you do to make him dislike you so much?”
I shrug. “Exist?”
“Dead center, right here,” Frank says triumphantly.
Olivia follows Frank into the row, and I’m about to usher Dana in after Olivia, but then I think better of it. “Buffer?” I say to Dana.
Dana rolls her eyes at me, but grins, saying under her breath, “fine, but if he tries to put his arm around me...”
“I’ll reach over and break his fingers,” I stage-whisper as I sit down next to Olivia.
The movie that Bud had set up for the week is, The Philadelphia Story, a love-triangle comedy starring Katherine Hepburn, Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart. And apparently, Olivia’s seen it a million times because she lip sinks the lines periodically. And despite Frank’s attestations that he needed a stiff drink to get through the film, he knew it as well as Olivia did. He leans over and says Grant’s lines in her ear, and she retorts back with Hepburn’s, reducing them to giggles.
Frank and I pass the bourbon between us and Don nurses his own. Olivia and Dana are mostly interested in the candy Frank had procured: boxes of Milk Duds and Whoppers, bags of Swedish Fish. At one point the girls take their boxes of chocolates and shake them into their bags of popcorn.
“What are you doing?” I say. “That’s disgusting!”
“Making it easier to eat our junk food,” Olivia says.
“Salty-sweet is the best,” Dana says, offering me her bag. “It’s better with Raisinets, but you’ll get the idea.”
When the mixture hits my tongue, I grin. Maybe the cheap bourbon has ruined my taste buds, but I grab the rest of Dana’s candy and toss it into my popcorn. “I’m all about efficiency,” I say.
“Swedish Fish?” Olivia says, offering me the bag.
“I’m going to become diabetic if I continue hanging out with you.”
All the alcohol and all the sugar has made her as giggly as a teenager at a slumber party. She laughs while giving me a reproachful look. “You’re the one wanting to open a soda fountain,” she says. “I’d say you’re the one quickening your demise.”
I wiggle my eyebrows at her. “Why don’t you hasten it even more by handing over that malt recipe?”
We both glance up at the movie as Grant begins dressing down Hepburn’s character, verbally beveling her faults until they’re edged like finely cut crystal. It’s a heartbreakingly funny scene.
“On one condition,” Olivia says.
“Are you sober enough to dictate terms?” I tease.
“We call it ‘Nate’s Old Timey Malt Mix,” and grandmother and I get a cut of the beautiful tins you’ll sell in the shop. I know you could imitate the recipe—get close to getting it right, but what’ll sell it is grandfather’s story.”
I laugh so loudly at this Don grumbles something under his breath. “Sorry,” I say, then turn back to Olivia. Her face glows with triumph. This clearly isn’t a new idea.
“You’ll write the little story that goes on the back of the tin, I presume? And you’ll invest?”
“Of course!” she says. “But you have all the manufacturing connections. We’ll do it better, as a team.”
“And the diner? I think that’ll be better as a team too.”
She purses her lips and hesitates. “Therese says she’ll look over her financials while you’re out of town. I haven’t had a chance to talk to Rich about the diner yet to see what he’d like to do.”
I nod. The mention of her ‘checking-in’ with Rich deflates me. Olivia pops a handful of popcorn and chocolate into her mouth, indicating she has nothing more to say. The inconvenient thing is, I do.
“It’s your money, Olivia. This is your dream. I’d hate for you and Rich to be short-sighted about this.”
She frowns; her brows arching like the back of an angry cat. “I know.”
I continue to look at her, wondering how someone as enterprising and independent as she is could also be so reliant on the opinion of someone who’d had years to see her as clearly as I already did, but who absolutely did not.
“You know it’s what you want to do,” I say gently.
Her green eyes shine with defiance at my words, but I see the recognition in her eyes. She turns back to the movie, brows scrunched.
Ever the appeaser, Frank leans over to her, says Cary Grant’s line in a way that demonstrates this must be one of their favorite scenes.
She giggles, her hair failing like a curtain between us.
“Now you know; they’re obnoxious to watch movies with,” Dana says, lightly touching my arm to get my attention. “There isn’t much to do here in the summers, and it gets so hot outside. Frank and Liv came here three times a week or more all summer long. My advice, either watch movies they haven’t already seen, or only watch movies with one of them at a time.”
“We can both hear you,” Olivia says, throwing popcorn at her friend.
“I know,” Dana says, flinging popcorn back, amused when a kernel hits Olivia’s face. “So, could you kindly shut up? We didn’t sneak in here to listen to your version of the movie.”
Olivia and Frank both pretend to be offended, but they quiet down after that. Olivia attempts to pass me more candy, a peace offering for her earlier irritation over my unsolicited advice. I feel relieved.
“Now that I can hear the movie, I think I like it,” I tell her, playfully bumping her elbow off of my armrest.
She surprises me with, “I think I’m going to miss you while you’re away.”
Someone’s inhibitions were tanking.
“You’re like a male version of Audrey,” she amends. “I miss her so much.”
I cock my head to the side. “If by me, reminding you of Audrey you’re saying I make you think of a hot Korean girl with an awesome sense of humor, then I’ll take it!”
She shoves my elbow off our shared armrest in response.
I manage to get my elbow back onto the armrest so that our forearms press together, give her a smile that says, “I win,” except, all I want is to sit closer to her. If I moved my leg slightly to the right, our legs would touch too.
I tell myself to focus on the film, but all I can think about is the void I feel when Olivia moves her arm away to hug her knees to her chest, socked feet on the theater seat. If she were mine, I’d wrap my arm around her shoulder, pull her toward me. It’d feel so natural.
Crossing my arms over my chest, leaning further into the bony back of the theater seat, I realize that my business trip couldn’t have come at a better time.