Fiction

IT TAKES TWO

All Ran wanted from life was money, lots of money and glamour. He settled for more, much more. You’ll understand when you meet Mary

ALEC RACKOWE October 15 1947
Fiction

IT TAKES TWO

All Ran wanted from life was money, lots of money and glamour. He settled for more, much more. You’ll understand when you meet Mary

ALEC RACKOWE October 15 1947

IT TAKES TWO

All Ran wanted from life was money, lots of money and glamour. He settled for more, much more. You’ll understand when you meet Mary

ALEC RACKOWE

RAN heard her crying when he came back from the pay phone at the end of the long corridor of Mrs. De Ruyter’s rooming house.

He’d called Fleur, leaning against the wall that was scribbled with phone numbers despite the stern warnings in black and white. The clerk at the apartment hotel had told him Miss Terming was not in. Sire had left word she would not he back until late. Was there any message?

Ran said, “.lust say Mr. Stevens called.”

He’d been disappointed but not surprised because Fleur had said she might be busy. Fleur was one of the models most irr demand and sometimes she worked late. Sometimes, too, it was politic for her to accept dinner dates. Hut Ran wasn’t afraid of anyone beating his time. Hrwas Number One oir Fleur’s hit parade. There was no doubt of t hat.

The radiator near the pay phone hisser! comfortably. Ran tightened the belt of his tweed dressing gown about his lean waist and went down the corridor, his dark hair shining, the cleft in his chin subtly prominent, his grey eyes clear.

It was as he came abreast of the room next to his that he heard the girl crying. Not loudly, but quite distinctly.

Ran stared at the door. The occupant, he knew, was Mason, M., who had the 8-8.20 spot on the morning line-up at the bath. Ran had the 8.208.40 spot and he knew Mason, M. to be a lady who used nice smelling bath salts and left t ho bathroom clean as a whist le.

He’d never seen her. Not to recognize, at any rate. She could have been any of several girls he’d seen in the elevator or in the corridors of Mrs. De Ruy ter’« old-fashioned apartment house. Mrs. De Ruy ter, a portly old girl with a youthful make-up and frankly dyed hair, gave vocal lessons in her studio apartment at the rear. Most of her roomers were students of music or art, but a few were business people. Like Ran Stevens. But what Mason, M. did was something Ran never thought about. She was just, the girl next door and 8-8.20 on the bath list.

HE HESITATED. The sobs continued. Ran . frowned and lifted one hand from his pocket. He knocked, grinning at himself. It was none of his business, but what on earth was there for anyone to feel as sad as that about in a world as busily cooking with gas as this one?

The sobs stopped abruptly. For a long moment there was silence, broken only by the distant voice of some Jenny Lind going up a scale like a jeep. Then the door opened.

Ran had to look down. The girl who stood in the doorway was barely beyond the tiny stage. If she hit five-two she was going well. She wore a woolly rohe that covered her completely. Her pale gold hair was piled on top of her head and pinned to keep it there. There were tear stains on her cheeks and her small nose was shiny.

She looked up at him with violet eyes that seemed much too large for her face.

He said abruptly, “Got enough handkerchiefs?” Her rather nice eyebrows lifted and Ran said, “It’s best to be properly equipped for floods.”

The eyebrows went. down. The violet eyes got almost black. Ran said, “You’re Mason, M. I’m Stevens, R. The R stands for Randolph. I bunk next door. By right of that I interrupt your weep.” The big eyes got even bigger and darker. A tiny frown appeared between the smooth-etched brows. Ran hastened to ask, “What does the M stand for?”

She said, “Mary,” and Ran sighed exaggeratedly. “Thought the cat had got your tongue for a moment.”

Mason, M. didn’t smile. She merely looked at him. Ran queried, “Bad news from home?”

She shook her head. Ran asked, “Fresh out of folding money?”

“Boy and girl kaput?”

“Of course not.”

She sounded quite impatient, but with her voice it was a nice sound. Low and quite deep for so small a girl. Ran goggled at her. “Then what on earth is wrong?”

The pale mass on top of her small head quivered with the movement of her chin. “Nothing. I was just crying.”

Ran blinked. “But you don’t just cry. You’ve got to have something to cry about.”

Mary shook her head. “No you don’t. I was having a good cry, that’s all. It helps.”

Ran said feebly, “This is something new to me.” The ghost of a smile touched her red lips. “You wouldn’t understand.”

He grinned. “Female psychology stuff, hey? Relieves the tension and all that sort of thing, I take it.”

Mary said, “Uh-huh,” on a long-drawn breath. Ran said, “I’m glad there isn’t any dark sorrow

clouding your young life, but just the same I don’t get it. The weeping, I mean.”

“It just is,” Mary said and Ran laughed.

He was about to make the three steps to his own door when something made him ask, "You had your dinner yet?”

Mary said, “No. I . . .”

Ran broke in. “Slap on a pair of galoshes and let’s eat together.”

Her voice was uncertain. “I was going down to the drugstore later . . .”

“Drugstore,” Ran said with utter contempt. “Ducking out one door and in another. What sort of act is t hat in a city like this? Wit h sights to see and smells to smell? With life pulsing up and down and our fellow cell mates standing outside Carnegie Hall up the street and yearning. Don’t you want to live V'

She laughed at that. A full, throaty flood of sound. “All right, but 1 pay my own.”

Ran looked around, then beamed at her. “I hear no objections from any quarter. Not on a Thursday. Ten minutes?”

“Five,” Mary said and Ran threw up his hands in admiration.

IT WAS snowing again when they went out. The damp flakes touched t he gleaming sidewalks and disappeared; fell on the February slush in the gutters and laid a tilín of white momentarily on the dirt-greyed ridges.

Ran snuggled his chin into the collar of his polo coat. He put his hand under Mary’s arm and helped her across the icy street.

The sidewalks were crowded. Shops and cafés blared amber light and neoned color. Mary was so small that Ran was afraid some hurrying pedestrian would walk right over her. It amused him. He laughed and Mary peered from under her scarf and laughed too. She was such an odd little figure. Nothing like Fleur. Not exciting; not really anything. Just company for an otherwise dull evening. Ran was glad he had asked her to eat with him.

They had dinner in a café west of Seventh on Fifty-sixth. Down three steps, narrow and long. Jammed with people. But the dinner was table d'hôte and cheap in comparison with other places.

They had puree mongole —all thick soups somewhat scorched being mongole. But it was good. They had goulash with broad noodles and kale. Mary had ice cream for dessert and Ran had apple pie à la mode.

Over their coffee and cigarettes they talked. Ran grinned at Mary. “Nothing like a nice warm noisy joint on a night like this. Doesn’t give you a chance to dwell on your troubles, if you have any. Me, I haven’t.” He quirked an eyebrow at her. “Just look interested and I’ll give out with, "I’ve Got Plenty Of Nothin.’

“You don’t sing,” Mary said.

Ran shuddered. “It’s good you’re 8-8.20 and not 8.20-8.40 on the bath line and have to wait outside. You’d be reassured. I’m an off-key basso. Do you?”

Mary smiled at him, her elbows on the table. “I’m a would-be actress. No parts yet but I get a spot, now and then on the radio.”

Ran said, “Now what d’you know? Practically in a kindred profession. I’m with Stamen-Stone, Advertising. You do anything with us?”

“Your Mr. Broker has my name, but he’s never called me.”

Ran gestured. “I’ll jog Bob’s memory. Keep your platters ready. You’ve cut some?”

“I’ve some of the shows I’ve been on.” Her silky lashes swept up. “What do you do at StamenStone?”

Ran grinned. “I’m big.” The grin deepened. “Anyhow. I’ve got a job there and I know where I’m heading. Just at Continued on page 42

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It Takes Two

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present it’s, ‘Hey, Ran, do this and that go here and there.’ But someday I’ll have a couple of accounts to handle and ‘vice-president’ on my stationery.” Mary was looking at him with wide «■yes and Ran stopped. “Pretty loud horn, hey?”

“No.” Her hair hung about her shoulders now and it was nice hair. Thick and curling. “You know what you want. That’s good.”

“Sure.” Ran crushed his cigarette in the saucer. “I had two years in the Army. When the odd moments of fighting and being too darned scared to think about anything weren’t happening that was all I did. Dream about what I was going to do when, as and if I got back. It’s proceeding according to plan. Johnny Stamen, the boss’ son, was my company commander. Johnny got me my job. I like it. Like the people I meet and work with.”

“That’s a lot.”

“Most.” Ran drained his coffee. “Particularly in what I’m after. Contact man. I expect I’ll have my two big accounts before I’m thirty. Then I’ll be making enough to live the way I want. To have a swell apartment, go to I all the openings and all the bright spots — with the most beautiful girl in New York beside me. As my Missus.”

Mary smiled. “Have you got her picked out?”

“You bet. Not quite ready and willing, but she will be when the time comes.”

Mary’s eyes were warm and friendly. “I’m sure she will. Your family likes her, of course.”

“Haven’t any,*’ Ran said, leaning back. “My parents died when I was a kid. My Aunt Clare brought me up with the rest of her brood on West 114th Street. They moved out to the coast during the war so I’m on my own, which I prefer.”

He dropped the match into the saucer. “So much for Stevens, R. How about Mason, M? You’re not New York?”

“Ohio. A l*ttle town you never heard of. Near Masillon. We’ve a farm.” “Nice, I bet.”

“For dreaming.” A dimple showed in her smooth cheek, but her smile was shadowy. “I’m the youngest and I was always a dreamer. When 1 got to High 1 took dramatics so you can tell which wav mv dreams went.”

“East. Why not West?”

Mary gestured with small, wellshaped hands. “I’m not the type that wins beauty contests and goes to Hollywood. But Helen Hayes isn’t any bigger than I am, nor Ruth Cordon . . .” “And Katherine Cornell is just a voice and you’ve got a .swell one. So you came. You had it all dreamed out. Like me.” He grinned at her. “We’ll make it, podner. Some day Fleur and I will come around all decked out for your opening night. It'll be a smash hit and we’ll throw a party for you later at the Penguin with everyone of importance there. Shake.” He thrust his hand out across the table. Mary put her little one into his. She had a nice, firm grip.

1MIEY walked back to Mrs. De Ruyter’s in the snow. They looked into shop windows and snickered at prices. It wasn’t the same as when Ran walked with Fleur. Men didn’t look with bugged eyes at Mary and women I didn’t pause to inspect what she was wearing.

They were still giggling over the way the elevator rattled when they ¡ stopped at Mary’s door. Ran said,

“Pleasant dreams, fellow dreamer.” Mary opened her bag and took out a crumpled bill. “My share.”

Ran took it. “Honest, too. I think I’ll adopt you for a sister. Keep a brotherly eye on you. Okay?”

“Okay.” Her nose wrinkled at him. Ran said, “Two knocks on the wall. Means ‘okay.’ One knock. Means, ‘help-help.’

Mary said, “Good night, Ran. And thanks.”

“We’ll do it again soon.” Ran heard her door close as he opened his. There was a bit of paper on the carpet. He picked it up. One of the other cell mates had taken a call for him. The pencilled scrawl said, “Call Fleur.”

Ran went out into the corridor again. He could feel his heart beating. Even when he wasn’t with Fleur he felt the excitement she created in him. He went to the phone, dropped in the nickel and dialed. He asked for Fleur and a moment later her silky voice was saying, “H’lo. Where’ve you been?” “Dining a gal. What did you expect?”

“Pretty?” There was a quick jealousy in her voice that made Ran smile; made a reassuring blanket over the hot coals of uncertainty he often felt.

He said, “Look at your mirror and see if you have to care. How was your dinner date?”

The drawl was back now, smooth and lazy. “The food was good. I thought about you all the time, Ranny.”

“Right and proper. What about tomorrow?”

“All right. I’ll be here around five. You come up when you can.”

“Fine,” Ran said. “I’ll go get some sleep. Night, Fleur.”

He felt fine when he finally got into bed. He switched off the light and on an impulse he turned to the wall and rapped twice. Immediately the two raps came from the other side. Ran smiled and drew the covers over him. Everything was going swell. His dreams were going to come true. He hoped Mary’s would, too.

He lay in the dark, thinking of Fleur. The sound of her voice was in his ears, the sight of her, so exquisitely lovely before his eyes, just as it had been ever since he had met her.

IT WAS in the ornate offices of World Metals, Stamen - Stone’s biggest account handled by Johnny Stamen himself. Johnny had gone over to have a conference with Arthur Anderson, who was not only World Metals’ vicepresident in charge of advertising, but

also the son-in-law of Japhet Astwood, millionaire chairman of the board. He had said, “Come along to Metals with me, Ran. It won’t do you any harm to meet Anderson and listen in.”

Arthur Anderson was a smoothlooking man in his forties, with greyed temples and clothes that really fitted. Looking at him Ran was sure that was how he wanted to be. Successful, contented, known.

The office had knotty pine walls and hickory furniture. Johnny and Anderson had gone into the portfolios Ran had carried over. They’d discussed the new campaign and Ran had spoken only once. To make a suggestion that Johnny received with a nod; that Anderson considered, his dark eyes on Ran for a long moment and then had said, definitely, “Good. I’m sure the old man will like that.”

Johnny and Anderson had gone off a little later to see Japhet Astwood. Ran had bundled papers back into the portfolios and left Anderson’s private office to return to Stamen-Stone.

It was when he came into the outer office where Anderson’s two secretaries sat that he saw Fleur. It was late September and very warm. Her blue dress set off her eyes, her bright titian hair. Ran had never seen anyone so lovely.

She was asking for Anderson and the secretary said, “He went out. I’m not sure if he’ll be back immediately or not, Miss Tenning.”

The secretary had looked at Ran and so had Fleur. He’d recognized her, because she was the eye-appeal of World Metals ads.

He’d said, “They’ve gone up to jabber with the Big Boss.”

Fleur had said, “I won’t wait then.” Ran had held the door for her. In the corridor he’d said, his heart pounding, “I’m with Stamen-Stone. I’m Ran Stevens.”

They’d had coffee in the shop downstairs. They’d made a date. Ran could hardly believe his luck. He was crazy, about Fleur. He had been from the moment he saw her—but that she should feel the same about him . . . “My girl,” he murmured into the dark. He shook his head unbelievingly and fell asleep.

He was pretty busy the next day but he found time to drop into the casting office and tell Bob Broker about Mary. Bob, short and bespectacled, nodded. “I remember her. Little gal withbigeyesandagoodvoice. Special?” “Just like a sister,” Ran said blithely. Bob grinned. “Didn’t think she was your type, Casanova.”

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“You’ll keep her in mind though, Bob?”

“Sure thing. We’ve always new characters coming into our soaps. I’ll spot her.”

“Thanks, chum.” Ran swung out of Bob’s glassed-in cubicle. He smiled at the sténos in the banks of desks down two thirds of the big room. They smiled back at him. He was at peace with the world. He had given a pal a lift and he was going to see Fleur.

But Johnny Stamen kept him half an hour after five. Ran fidgeted, anxious to be off, but he was grateful to his boss just the same. There were three other executives in Johnny’s cypress-paneled office and Johnny brought Ran into the discussion. The older men listened when he talked. They were friendly, interested in what he had to say.

He told Fleur about it when he got to her apartment in the quiet and farfrom-inexpensive hotel. It had turned bitter cold after the snow and Ran took off his coat and went over to the fire that burned under the low white mantel in the Adam living room. Fleur came from inside, fastening a gold plaqued bracelet about her wrist.

Ran turned from the fire, his throat tightening as it always did when he looked at her. She was tall and long limbed. Her flaming hair was swirled upon her lovely head, caught in an impeccably smooth knot behind her right ear; shining, every strand in place. Her eyes were as blue as the Mediterranean seen from the Riviera. She wore a black suit with jet buttons.

As she came to him, her red mouth smiling, Ran could hardly breathe. He held her close. Fleur moved her head. “Notnow, darling. You’llspoil my job.” Her kiss was light, “You’re late.” Ran told her. “It’s real decent of the skipper, Fleur, letting me meet everyone. I’m learning what makes every department tick. Sopping it up against the day I’ll need the experience. It’s a great day and it’s coming.”

“Sure it is,” Fleur said. She rubbed lier cheek against Ran’s. “You’re going to be a big number in advertising.”

“Sure,” Ran agreed, more lightly than he felt. “But I wish I were a little bigger now. Making a lot more than 1 am. Even half what you must make. I’d drag you to the altar, woman.”

Her long fingers with the immaculate nails curled about his. “There’s time, darling. And meantime, there’s us.” She smiled up at him, her lashes halfmeshed. “Let’s eat downstairs; then we can come back and be alone.”

“Swell,” Ran said huskily. It was one of the things he was eternally grateful to Fleur for. She didn’t ask him to take her out to the glitter spots where it was good for a girl like Fleur to be seen. But he wished he could afford to have it otherwise.

HPMIF.Y had their dinner in the small I dining room and went up again. They sat before the fire. Fleur nestled against him and Ran told her all the things he’d dreamed of—that he wanted for them.

It was late when he got back to Mrs. De Ruyter’s. He washed up and got into bed; clicked off the light. He looked at. the dark of the wall near his head, thinking suddenly of Mary next door. He smiled and lay back and then he heard the soft double rap. Almost like a question. “Okay?” He lifted on his elbow and rapped back, solidly, exuberantly, “O-hay.”

He didn’t see Mary in the next few days. Not even in the mornings because she had had her bath and vacated the bathroom before Ran got up. He knew she had been to StamenStone because Bob told him and be-

cause of the “thank you” note he found under his door. Bob had given her a spot—a very small one on an afternoon show. But at night, no matter when Ran came in, there’d always be Mary’s knock.

He was busy with his job all day and sometimes pretty far into the evening and there were the classes he took at Columbia two nights a week. And Fleur. He saw quite a lot of Fleur those next couple of weeks and his dreams were rosier than ever and there was no room for anyone else.

It was as March blew in on a whirlwind of snow and sleet that Fleur had to go out of town. Ran was disappointed and disturbed when she told him. They were just winding up the batch of trouble that was World Metals’ new campaign and he had looked for a quieter time with evenings free to be with Fleur.

She smiled up at him, cupping his cheeks with cool hands. “I’m glad you’re not happy, Ranny. Miss me, huh?”

“You know I will,” Ran grumbled. “Do you have to go?”

Fleur laughed and crossed the pale green broadloom to get a cigarette. “It’s my living, darling. When it calls I go. And Atlantic City’s not hard to take in March.”

“How long?” Ran asked dismally. Fleur lifted her wide shoulders, “Who knows? Work’s work.”

Ran was disconsolate when Fleur had gone. She wouldn’t write. She’d told him so. “I’ll be back. Don’t you worry.”

But he did. Fleur was so lovely, so desirable and somehow he couldn’t ever be sure she loved him. He couldn’t help worrying.

Mary was a great help though. She kept Ran from feeling too low. She had dinner with him the day Fleur left. It was a Friday and they took a walk in the chill, fitful wind of the clear night. Ran told Mary about Fleur and his fears.

Mary scoffed. She said loyally, “Of course she loves you. Why shouldn’t she? You’re ever so good-looking . . .” When Ran hooted Mary said stoutly, “You are. And you’re kind and decent and—and swell. She’d be crazy not to.”

It gave Ran a warm, comforting feeling. He didn’t say anything, just pressed her mittened hand more closely to him. He’d never had a sister, but he thought if he could have one he’d choose Mary.

She helped the weeks spin away. It was Mary who proposed that they go and see the two museums on either side of Central Park. When Ran stared—they were having breakfast in the automat on Saturday—Mary said, “Have you ever been?”

Ran grinned, “Nope. I’m a native son. We never see the sights.”

“They’re worth seeing,” Mary said. “Come on.”

They were worth seeing; all those places people come thousands of miles to see and New Yorkers never think about. The time passed so quickly that Ran had no chance to brood jealously about Fleur.

He saw Mary almost every night, rapped a double-knock “good night” to her when he went to bed. They sat in the topmost balconies to see all the good shows; scrounged tickets to big broadcasts. Mary was à grand companion. She was, Ran told himself, just the medicine he needed to keep him on the beam until Fleur came back.

THERE were jonquils and pussy willows in the florists’ shops when Fleur called him at the office one sunny windswept afternoon. Her voice was

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as silky and lazy as ever, “H’lo, darling.

I’m back.”

Ran’s mouth was dry. “I thought you’d never come. I’ll see you tonight, won’t I?”

“Not tonight. I’m dead tired and I’ve all my things to get ready for the cleaners. ”

“Tomorrow then?”

“I’ll call you just as scon as I get settled.” When Ran was silent, Fleur breathed, “Love me?”

“What d’you think?” Ran asked roughly and Fleur breathed, “That’s all that matters, isn’t it? ’By.”

Ran told Mary at dinner that night that Fleur was hack. Mary looked up, her violet eyes dark. “I’m glad, Ran. There’s nothing wrong is there?”

“No. It’s just . . .”

He didn’t finish. Mary’s silky lashes flickered. “Why don’t you marry her? Quick, Ran.”

Ran grimaced. It startled him somehow. “It isn’t me. And I make so darned little in comparison . . .”

“What does that matter? Don’t ask her. Tell her.”

“Maybe you’ve got something there.” He smiled at her. “You’re pretty swell to me, Mary.”

“Why shouldn’t I be?” Mary asked. “You’re a swell guy.”

Ran thought of what Mary had said while he waited feverishly for Fleur to call. He couldn’t take this waiting and indecision much longer.

When Meur did call his mind was made up. He phoned Mary and broke the dinner date they had. Mary said briefly, “Of course, Ran. It’s all right. Good luck.”

Ran dressed carefully that evening. He put on his new pin-striped flannel suit; donned his grey tweed topcoat and set the snap brim cockily on his shining dark head. He went out into the corridor looking much more assured than he felt. He paused as he passed Mary’s door, hut there was no sound from within and Ran went on, wishing she had been there to give him assurance.

Fleur was as lovely, as immaculate as ever in a royal blue frock with wide sleeves and tight glittering wristbands. She came to Ran swiftly, her face lifted to his. She looked, Ran found himself thinking as he kissed her, different somehow. A little older than he remembered. Tired, maybe. He knew her work was tough.

He said masterfully, “You and I are going out tonight. I’ve things to tell you and we’re stepping beforehand. That’s an order.”

Fleur smiled her wâde, red-lipped smile. “Where?”

“Somewheredanceable. You choose.” “The Penguin,” Fleur said. “Wait until I change into something that will slay them. I've got to look as smooth as you. You’re a good-looking guy, did you know?”

She disappeared. Ran looked after her, remembering that Mary had said that. “Must be,” he said aloud and took one of Fleur’s cigarettes.

When she came back she had on a white sequined dinner dress and her mink coat over her shoulders. She took Ran’s breath away.

Ran had never heen to the Penguin or a place comparable to it. The foyer was jammed with people waiting to get past the velvet rope. Ran checked his hat and coat and swallowed as he moved with Fleur to where the head waiter stood aloof, chart in hand.

Fleur merely lifted her white-gloved hand and the head waiter’s impassive face broke into a gracious smile. He said, “Good evening, Miss Tenning.” The velvet rope came off its brass hook. Ran found himself following Fleur’s swaying hody. Past jammed tables.

Women in evening dress and glittering jewels. Men in black and white and men in the colorful groomed perfection of London-made lounge suits.

When they had settled behind the small wall table the gold printed menu wasn’t any more reassuring. Ran felt far from comfortable. But Fleur stood up, her smile inviting. “Let’s dance, Ranny.”

It was noisy; it was crowded, but Ran thought, “It’s part of it. Part of being successful. I’ll get used to it when I can have it. And I’m going to.”

He had meant to tell Fleur while they were eating. He had been certain she knew what was in his mind. But the opportunity didn’t seem to present itself and Fleur didn’t help him. She pointed out all the notable people. She smiled at him, perfectly assured while Ran fidgeted, knowing people were looking at them. People who were utter strangers to him. And he couldn’t help thinking that the hill was going to be whopping. As much as he made in a week.

He frowned. He stubbed his cigarette in the ornate tray and lifted his dark head. He said, “Fleur . .

She didn’t answer. She was looking past him and her blue eyes were wide and—yes—frightened. Rijn turned his head. A man was coming toward them. A big man wearing a carelessly expensive shepherd’s plaid. The only person in the place whose face was familiar to Ran. Arthur Anderson of World Metals.

RAN got to his feet as Anderson stopped before them. Anderson didn’t look at Ran. He looked at Fleur and there was no smile on his face. Fleur said, in a voice Ran hardly recognized, “Hello, Arthur. I thought you were in Manhasset.”

“Obviously,” Anderson said. “I came up to town. I called you but you weren’t in and I came here. I’m sorry I did.”

Ran stared from Anderson to Fleur. He felt a sickening stir at his stomach. Fleur said quickly, “Sit down, Arthur. Please. Don’t make a scene.”

Anderson said quietly, “I have no intention of making a scene. I can’t afford to.” He took a chair from the next table and slid it under him. Ran sat down too, his lips tight. He said, trying to keep his voice steady, “Suppose someone tells me what this is all about.”

Anderson looked at Ran then. His e>es were dark, filled with anger and a weary distaste. “I believed it was understood between Fleur and myself that she wasn’t to do this—sort of thing.”

Fleur said, “Arthur . .

Ran drew his breath sharply. “I don’t get it. Are you—are you saying Fleur’s your girl?”

Anderson looked at Fleur but she was sitting with a bright hard smile on her face. Her eyes did not meet Anderson’s or Ran’s either. Anderson turned to Ran. There was no anger in his eyes now—only pity. “I’m sorry, kid.”

Fleur said, “Oh Arthur, please go away now. I—I’ll see you later.”

Before Anderson could answer Ran said, “No.” He looked at the older man, swallowing. “I didn’t know Fleur was your girl. I thought—”

“I know,” Anderson said gently, “If it’s any solace, son, I’m a bigger fool than you can possibly imagine jou’ve been and I’m not young enough to be excused.’

Ran got up, beckoning to the waiter. Anderson said, “I’ll take care of the check.”

Ran shook his head, his lips trembling. “You can’t.”

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It took almost all the money he had in his wallet. He added the tip, gave the sheaf of bills to the waiter. Then he left without a look at Fleur. Without seeing any of the people at the noisy colorful tables he passed. The air outside was chill and damp.

It felt good as Ran walked up the street toward Fifth Avenue. He felt sore and angry—angry with himself. It was so clear now. He’d always felt, deep down, that something wasn’t right. That being in love—being loved—couldn’t he the way Fleur had made him feel. So disturbed and uncertain.

He thought of Anderson and shook his head. He’d admired him so—even envied him. But what was there to envy? Was that all success brought you? He was an unhappy man involved with someone he was crazy about but couldn’t trust. He’d seen it in Anderson’s eyes; heard it in his voice. It made Ran shiver and draw a deep breath of cold air.

ÎT WAS late when he got back to Mrs. De Ruyter’s, but he’d thought it all out. As he went down the hall he saw the crack of brighter light under Mary’s door and he felt an odd, deep thankfulness. You’d always know where you were with Mary.

He closed his door behind him. He hung up his hat and coat, lighted a cigarette and sat down in the rocker.

After a time he looked at the wall. Mary had certainly heard him come in. She knew he was seeing Pleur. If he didn’t give their knock she’d think something was wrong.

He got up and went to the wall. Pie raised his hand and then paused. Two knocks. But it wasn’t okay. Or was it? Pie stood there a moment and then he rapped firmly on the wall. Twice.

Pie crossed to the chair again, taking a fresh cigarette from the pack in his pocket. He had the lighter in his hand when he looked at the wall. There had been no answering knock.

Ran put down the cigarette. He went to the wall and knocked the double knock again but there was no reply. It bothered him. He hadn’t been mistaken about the light under the door. It was something he always looked for when he came in.

He went out into the hall. The crack of light was there. Ran knocked. AH er a long moment he heard a sound. Then the door opened.

Mary stood framed in the soft light, small and still, her violet eyes looking up at him. There wasn’t any doubt. She had been crying. Ran said against the unease that filled him, “Hey, you

been having one of those no-reason-atj all cries again?”

She didn’t answer. Ran looked past j her. He saw the opened bags. He said, “What gives?”

“I’m going home,” Mary said.

“Visit?”

“For good.”

Ran cried, “But you can’t.” He had a sudden feeling of desolation, like a child at the prospect of being abanj doned. He’d never minded being alone before. But he couldn’t imagine not j having Mary around. “You can’t,” he said strongly. “What would I do without you?”

“You’ve got Fleur,” Mary said.

Ran gestured. “I haven’t. 1 wouldn’t want her if I could have her.” He answered the question in her wide, shocked eyes. “It seems there already is another man.”

“Oh, I am sorry.” Her voice was filled with regret. He said, “Don’t be. I’d rather I found it out now than later. I’m well out of it.”

He looked down at her. “Now what’s this going away stuff? Why?”

Mary’s slim hands lifted, dropped. “It’s no use, Ran. I won’t get anywhere in the theatre. I haven’t got it. I knew' it long ago, but now I’ve found out it isn’t what I want anyway.”

She turned away into the room and Ran followed, strangely disturbed and unhappy. “Do you want to go home?”

Mary shook her head, lifting a dress to fold and lay away into a bag. Ran said, “Then what are you going for?

I know it’s a swell place to dream but it isn’t the place where your dreams w'ill come true, is it?”

“No,” Mary said softly.

“Then why go?” Ran demanded. “Jf you know what you want why not go after it? I’ll help you, Mary. You know that. What is it you want?”

Her eyes brimmed. “I want a house in the suburbs and three children. A kitchen to potter in and . . . and you . . .” She put her hands to her face. “Go away. Ran. Please go away.” Ran didn’t go. He put his hands on her arms and shook her until she looked up at him, wet-cheeked, miserable. She said, “Let me be, Ran. I want everything you don’t want.”

Ran swallowed. “Maybe you’re wrong about what I want,” he said slowly. “I thought I wanted success so that I could have the bright lights and everyone knowing me and a woman like Fleur. I know now it’s no good. But what you want that sounds good. That——that s really

living, isn’t it?”

He looked down into her face. Mary said, “No, Ran. You . . .”

“Me,” Ran said, “I thought I knew all the answers, but I’m only learning. You can dream all by yourself, but it takes two to make any dream come true. And they’ve both got to be right and decent.”

He saw the way her eyes widened. He thought, startled, “Gosh, she’s lovely, Mary is. She’s lovelier than Fleur could ever hope to be—all the way through.” Against the brightness in her face, the unbelieving hope, he said, “1 picked you for a sister, but we could always change the relationship. Mary, don’t go.”

He felt her arms tight about his ribs, her face warm against his chest. He heard her say, “I don’t want to go. I want to stay and help your dreams come true. That’s all I’d ever want, Ran.”

He lifted her face. He bent and kissed her. Her lips were warm and loving, holding all the world and its gifts in their promise. He said shakily, “They’ll come true. Nothing can stop that. I’ve got you—I’ll get everything else I want.” ★