"I Get a Kick" 1: Dinner and a Movie

I get no kick from champagne:
Mere alcohol doesn't thrill me at all, so darling, why should it be true
That I get a kick out of you?
"I Get A Kick" by Cole Porter
On every tree there sits a bird, singing a song of love...
"Hi-Lili, Hi-Lili, Hi-Lo" by Branislau Kaper and Helen Deutsch


He looked at me. They all looked at me. Well, no big surprise there, I'd interrupted the great Dr. Venkman in mid-harangue.

"Janine," he said with exaggerated paitience. "Whatever it is it can wait until I'm done." He turned back to his victim.

"Excuse me, Dr. Venkman," I said. "I seem to have indavertently done something to make you think I give a damn what you're saying."

Now they were all staring at me. Like I cared. At least Dr. V had quit talking. Shocked and surprised, no doubt. I'd hear about this later, no doubt again. And I didn't give a damn, absolutely no doubt.

"Is there a client, Janine?" Winston, ever the calm, rational one, looked for some reason in my behaviour.

"No, no client," I said. "But it's after five. Egon, we're going to be late."

He didn't even blink those wonderful, beautiful eyes, just nodded and stood up. "Of course, Janine," he said. "I'm sorry; I had lost track of the time. I'll be with you in moments."

He headed for the stairs. After a pause, Dr. V scrambled to catch up with him. "What's this, Spengler?" I heard as they went up. "Another in your toss-Janine-a-bone series? You ought to know it won't work—"

I snorted. Somebody ought to hit that man in the head with a clue-by-four.

Really, really hard.

But not me. At least not today.

"Where are you going, Janine?" That was Ray.

I almost said, out. But that wouldn't be fair. Ray was a sweetie. In some alternate reality I could even have gone for him, at least a little. "A movie," I said. "Dinner. After that, who knows? Don't wait up."

"Janine," Winston said. "You know I wish you all the luck in the world, but—"

I cut him off. "I know, Winston." Better than you, this time. His dark eyes looked at me, trying to tell me something, but I wasn't really interested in whatever it was so I looked away from him. He sighed, but didn't say anything else.

"What movie?" That was Ray all over.

"Something with subtitles," I said, deliberately rolling my eyes.

"Egon's idea?" he said sympathetically. Then his eyes lit up. "Or—?"

"No," I said, "it's not Japanese."

He grinned and then said, "Well, Winston, it looks like it's just you and me for dinner tonight. I found this great new recipe—"

I walked back to the outer office while Winston was trying to convince Ray to send out for pizza. Today I didn't care if Winston got food poisoning or Ray got his feelings hurt. I folded up the newspaper where I'd found the movie, stuck it in my drawer, locked the desk, picked up my purse and waited.

Yes, the movie was my idea, subtitles and all. It was Swedish, probably very depressing, probably about suicide. Swedish movies seemed to be about suicide a lot. Like Russian ones were about World War II or marital infidelity, or both, Swedish ones were about suicide and snow. But Egon would understand the dialog, and it would keep him busy—listening to Swedish did that. And afterwards he could tell me all the mistakes they'd made in the subtitles, and that would keep me busy, like listening to Egon always did.

And by then, maybe we'd both be more than a little bit drunk, and we could go back to my apartment.

I heard Egon saying goodbye to Ray and Winston. Turning, I watched him walk towards me—oh, dear God, I could watch him do that forever. He'd changed shirts; this one was rose, putting some color into his fair skin. He was wearing that blue-charcoal jacket that shouldn't have gone with the shirt but did and turned his eyes into sapphires, and he looked good enough to eat, graceful and delicate and deadly, like one of those Arabian swords with all the damascene work on the blades.

I gave myself a shake. Some things are just unfair. As Ma used to say. And as she always added, what can't be cured must be endured. So we looked like the original Odd Couple. So what? It wasn't like Egon cared.

And it wasn't like anyone else mattered.

The movie was pretty depressing even with me only reading a few of the subtitles. I kind of like the way Swedish sounds, so I spent most of the movie looking at Egon, the way the light from the screen played across his face, and the emotions that chased across it as he lost himself in the story. It was good to see him doing that, just enjoying something completely outside himself. He didn't do it often enough, no matter how much I tried. He'd put his arm around my shoulders and I leaned against him and watched him watch the movie and wished it was that German opera that lasts four days instead of a hundred and six minutes of Swedish film.

But if wishes were horses Ma used to say... she had entirely too many pithy little sayings.

Dinner was good. We'd walked until we found a nice little Italian place we could get into, and we ordered wine and three kinds of pasta and wine and veal and wine and olives and wine and tiramasu and a little more wine to finish the evening off. Egon talked about the movie for a while, explaining the subtleties of the dialog that were lost in the subtitles, and I made a bad pun on subtleties/subtitles and he actually thought it was funny. Then he asked about my family, and I asked about his mom, and we talked a little about my friend Rhonda whose husband was a total jerk but she had two little kids so what was she supposed to do, anyway, and he noticed my earrings. The only fungus we talked about was the mushrooms in the clam sauce, and the only physics was light in black-and-white cinematography, and the only office-work was my vacation next month. Ghosts didn't come up at all, and neither did the other three guys, except Ray snuck in once when we were talking about the movie.

It was way late when we left the restaurant. Mission mostly accomplished: we were both fairly squiffy. Atta girl, Melnitz, I thought, and steered us toward the avenue and uptown, away from the firehouse. Egon was agreeable; he hadn't had so much to drink that he didn't know what he needed, only enough to be willing to accept it. We walked slowly down the street through the crisp September night with his arm over my shoulder and me leaning against him and hearing his heartbeat under my face. We didn't speak; we didn't need to. Not just yet. Eventually we found a cab and rode across the Bridge in companionable silence.

In my apartment, I took Egon's jacket and hung it up in the closet and then went to my bedroom to change. When I came out, he'd made himself at home in the kitchen brewing up some cocoa. I leaned in the doorway and watched him, those elegant hands stirring the hot liquid, the sleeves rolled up halfway to his elbows showing off his strong, angular wrists, and the purely beautiful lines of his throat and back as he leaned over my little stove. After only a few minutes, I couldn't stand it any more, and I went back into the living room and found my current favorite album to be miserable to—Johnny Mathis's "One Fire, Two Guitars"—and put it on. By the time Johnny had gotten to "In the Still of the Night" the cocoa was done and Egon joined me on the couch with two dark green mugs of hot, liquid comfort. He settled next to me, putting his glasses down carefully on the end table.

I took a long drink of his incomparable cocoa, and then tucked my sweatpants-and-tube-socks-clad legs underneath myself and said, "Okay, Egon, honey. Tell me."

"He almost fell out of a window today."

"He must not have even gotten bruised," I said. "He didn't complain once." He glanced up at me, thinking about apologizing. I wasn't having that, so I said, quickly, "I don't mean it didn't scare you to death, Egon. I only mean, he's all right."

"Yes," he said heavily. "But..."

"I know."

"I know," he echoed, meaning something different.

"Egon, sweetheart, you can't keep him safe. Even if he wanted you to."

"I know. But I want to."

"And it scares you when you don't and frustrates you that you can't and then he goes out with somebody like that Trixie..." I raised my eyebrows exaggeratedly, knowing that, even sitting that close, without his glasses he could miss it if I didn't. "I'm sure that's the perfect name for her."

"I believe Beatrice means 'blessing'," he said.

I wasn't sure if that was a joke or genuine obtuseness. As much wine as he'd had, he might have missed my point. "She's from the Bronx, too," I said. "What? Has he exhausted the other three boroughs?"

"Four," he said. "Oh, I forgot. Staten Island doesn't count." He smiled, and then said, "She works in Midtown. He met her at the bust we had at Bergdorf Goodman Tuesday."

"He does work fast," I conceded.

"He has so much to offer them, though," he said wistfully.

Ah, we're nearly there. One little push ought to do it. I nodded, taking another drink of cocoa. "Yes, I have to admit that the package is gorgeous—"

That was all the encouragement he needed. Fortunately, once he was well and truly off on singing Dr V's praises, he didn't actually need much from me in the way of feedback. Fortunately, because the more Egon talked about Dr. V, the more I wanted to smack somebody up the side of the head.

If only I knew which of the three of us to start with...

Oh, who was I kidding?

I couldn't hurt Egon. The most I could ever say was, "But why him?" And since he always said, "I don't know, Janine. Why me?", well, it wasn't very satisfactory.

Welcome to my life.

Yes, Ma, I know; I'm not getting any younger.

And if I actually clobbered Dr. V, well, that would hurt Egon. Hurt him several ways, so it was out. And letting my big mouth off the leash, that was out, too. Me and Egon, we'd both be out on the pavement looking for new jobs if Dr. V ever got the idea... well, I would anyway. Even if Ray and Winston didn't agree, I'd never be able to stay there. And I honestly didn't know about Egon... though, you ask me, Ghostbusters could get along without Dr. V a hell of a lot easier than without Egon. I mean, Egon and Ray made it work. Oh, sure, Dr. V was good with the clients and all, but Winston could do that now that they didn't have to try and convince people that they were legit (and they'd never had to do that after Gozer).

But Egon would be miserable.

And that meant, even if it felt good for thirty seconds, I'd be miserable too.

I could beat myself up all I wanted, but the fact was that if all I could ever get of Egon was him on my couch pouring out his heart about Dr. V, then that's what I'd settle for. Had settled for ever since the day he'd been trying to tell me why he and I just wouldn't work...

"Are you saying you're in love with somebody?" I cut through his circumlocutions (I love that word, always have ever since he cut down Dr. V with it one day and I looked it up and found out what it meant).

"Well... yes. I suppose that is what I'm saying." He blinked those big beautiful blue eyes at me.

"Who do you think you're dealing with, here, Egon?" I demanded. "You never go anywhere or see any—" I stopped dead. I've never been a wild defender of women's intuition or anything like that, but geeze, I'd just had a doozy. I looked at it again, and yep, all the pieces fit. I stared at him and heard myself saying the words. "Dr. V?"

I'll bet Egon never told a direct lie even when he was a three-year-old and genetically programmed to. "Yes."

I stared at him some more. "Oh, Egon," I finally said. "Oh, Egon, that must be hell."

I'd surprised him, I could tell. He nodded. "It can be," he admitted. "But you see—"

I saw all right. We were a pathetic pair. Me in love with him, and him in love with Dr. P-is-for-Please-Adore-Me Venkman, and him in love with half of New York... nope. Wrong, Melnitz. Him in love with himself and using the world as his mirror... I'd tried to deal with it by dating other guys, but honestly, none of them were Egon. So had he, for a while, with the same result. When we'd had our first talk, as far as I could tell, he had been trying to deal with it by ignoring it—never a good strategy. So now we just dealt with it pretty much the same way: I was his friend and he was Dr. V's, and what we dreamed about was our own little secret.

The big difference between us, though, was the all-important difference of him knowing, about me, and Dr. V not knowing. About anything. Which was why I was able to give Egon this one thing that he needed, if nothing else: he could come to my apartment, sit on my couch, listen to Johnny or Barry or somebody else sing sad, sad songs, and talk about it.

I could step in when Dr. V's jokes and/or lovelife started to be too much, when Egon started to get that look that the great psychologist somehow never noticed, and take him away to be uncritically, and completely, accepted for himself.

And if, after I tucked him up on the couch when the wine finally won, I crawled into my own bed all by myself and hugged my pillow and cried into it, well, dammit, it was my own choice.

And if I thought he was worth it, then, thanks, Ma, but it's my life. Okay?

On every tree there sits a bird, and every one I ever heard could break your heart without a word, singing a song of love...

the end

Part one Part two Part three


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