After the show, Ray took Ma and Francesca home.
“You did good, Frannie,” he said as he drove. “How’d we look, Mrs. Vecchio?”
“You looked very good together,” Ma answered.
As he drove Ray figured that she was probably right. It had felt good to hold Frannie in his arms and feel how smoothly she followed him, despite her inexperience. Fraser’s words from long ago came back to him about all women being their sisters. Holding Francesca, moving her around like that even with all those people watching, had stirred some feelings in Ray that were not at all brotherly.
As she got into her pyjamas that night, Francesca was thinking about another dance number from another old movie musical, My Fair Lady. She remembered Audrey Hepburn getting into her nightgown after having a nice dance number with Rex Harrison. Audrey lip-synched the voice of Marnie Nixon “I could have danced all night” after dancing with a man with whom her relationship at the time was purely platonic. Then later in the movie they fell in love.
Now she and Ray had been dancing, and it was just a show, but it had been very interesting. Ray (for she was getting used to thinking of him by that name and not as Kowalski) was a great dancer. And you could feel how he loved the movement and the music. There was something nice about a guy who could let you know what he was feeling like that.
Once in her flannel jammies, she slipped on her fuzzy slippers and padded down to the kitchen for the cocoa she knew her mother would have ready.
“You and Kowalski, you looked good tonight,” Ma remarked between sip of her own cocoa.
“You said that before in the car.”
“If I said it, then it was true.”
“And he’s using the name ‘Ray’.”
Ma sighed. “I know that, cara. But me, I can’t call him that.”
Francesca picked up a poppy-seed cookie from the plate on the table and nibbled it thoughtfully. “You remember how at first Welsh said he was supposed to live with us? Boy would that have been strange.”
A few days later, over their usual Tuesday lunch, Ray decided to broach a certain subject with Fraser.
“Buddy, can we talk?” he began, between mouthfuls of lo mein.
“We most certainly can,” Fraser declared. “I would say we communicate much better than most friends. We talk very well indeed.”
Sure we do, thought Ray, except you never understand what I’m saying. Aloud he said, “No, Fraser, I don’t mean can we talk in general. I mean can we talk right now.”
Fraser put on that puzzled expression which Ray, in the privacy of his own mind, thought of as the Spaceman Look. “We ARE talking, Ray.”
Ray needed a good fortifying gulp of Chinese beer before trying to carry on. “I mean, I want to talk to you about something specific.”
Having the situation spelled out clearly, Fraser leaned forward to give his whole attention. “Yes, Ray.”
“Um, Fraser. About Francesca. How, um, do you feel about her?”
“In what sense?”
“I mean, like, as a woman.”
Fraser appeared to be deeply puzzled. He paused to take a sip of Jasmine tea to aid in his deep cogitation. Finally he said, “I don’t understand what you’re asking me.”
“Earth calling Fraser! She’s nuts for you! Have you ever done anything about it?” He’d heard rumours that Fraser and Frannie had once done something about it, but had no evidence one way or the other as to whether this was true. He had his suspicions, though.
“Um, I, um,” It was Fraser’s turn to stammer. “I, um, never have. Um, done anything about it, I mean. I mean, not never . . . just not with Francesca.”
Ray’s suspicions were confirmed.
“Do you want to?”
Fraser lowered his head into his hands. “Do we have to have this conversation, Ray?”
“Yeah, I have a reason. Do you want to do anything about it?”
Fraser raised his head slightly and ran his hands through his pelt. “It’s just . . . well, she’s an attractive woman, but . . . she’s your sister.”
“No, Fraser, she’s Vecchio’s sister.”
“Right. Your sister.”
“Okay, this isn’t getting us anywhere. Look, Fraser, I know they say all’s fair in love and war, but I always thought being buddies was more important than anything. Duets, like I said that first day. You got to tell me straight out . . .”
Ray paused. Fraser was looking so distressed that Ray realized ‘straight out’ couldn’t happen, so he re-phrased. “You got to tell me, in your own way, if you mind if she went out with someone or if you want her for yourself.”
“Whom did you have in mind?”
“Not relevant, Fraser. Do you want her for yourself? Yes or no?”
Ray had never seen the Mountie so uncomfortable.
“She’s his sister,” he whispered, with great effort. “I . . .I . . . I just couldn’t.”
“So you don’t mind if somebody else could?” Ray insisted.
Still looking down, still very quietly, Fraser said, “I’d be so relieved.”
A couple of weeks later, Ray came over to Francesca’s desk and, as casually as he could, said, “Hey, Frannie. Want to have lunch?”
Consulting the time display at the corner of her monitor, she answered, “ It’s only twenty after ten. Why would I want to have lunch?”
Ray decided he had been too casual in his approach. “What I mean is, do you want to have lunch with me?”
“At lunchtime, you mean?”
“Yeah.” Ray’s detective feelers were extended to the maximum to pick out the tiniest clues from her reaction, but there seemed nothing to detect from what he could tell. “How about that new Greek place?”
“Works for me.” With that, Francesca returned her full attention to the computer screen. It wasn’t much of a change, since she had barely glanced at Ray more than a few times during the whole conversation. Sensing himself dismissed, Ray drifted off.
Maintaining her cool until Ray was out of range strained all Francesca’s ‘cool-maintenance’ ability. As soon as he was safely out of ear and eye range, she pounced on her telephone. “Angie? It’s me. He finally spoke up. Just now.”
“I know, I was going out of my mind! These shy ones can drive you crazy!”
“Yeah, I guess I’ll have to go slow. What’s with men anyway? The ones that make you barf are all over you and the ones you want, it’s like pulling teeth.”
All through lunch Francesca did her best to give off ‘available’ vibes without laying it on so thickly as to scare Ray off. She had heard through the grapevine that he had trouble with women. For sure that Stella must have put him through real hell. She could tell Ray found her attractive, you could always tell when men wanted what they see. It was so clear in Ray, whereas the signals from Frazsh had always been mixed.
Frazsh. He sure had looked like a frightened squirrel that time she came to his apartment. But he had come to his senses fast enough to send her packing, shivering in that wasted lacy underwear. His excuse had been that as his partner’s sister she was sacred. At least he’d been gentleman enough to let everybody think she had scored. Over the last few months she had been doubting whether she’d ever be able to land him, and, even more to the point, whether it was worth the trouble anymore.
In the restaurant, Francesca and Ray made small talk, ate, Ray paid and then they walked back to the 27th without his even so much as touching her hand.
For the rest of the afternoon, Ray said not a word to her that was not business. Then, just a few minutes before he was about to go home, she heard him cursing his computer. This was not an unusual occurrence but she went over to his desk anyway.
“I can’t make it print! Damn it, where’s
Fraser when you need him?
Francesca leaned over him.
“Let me help.” After some training she had mastered some rudimentary computer skills, ‘making it print’ being one of them.
She tickled a few keys and the printer across the room began to chug. “See. I don’t need Frazsh anymore.”
At that moment, she decided to ignore Angie’s warnings to go slow. Something told her now was the time. Putting her hand over Ray’s hand, she said softly, “Ray. Do you hear what I’m telling you? I don’t need Frazsh anymore.”
Ray looked up at her, and his gentle look of happiness and shy hope told her that her impulse had been a good one. She smiled her encouragement. No, she didn’t need Frazsh anymore. This guy was better.End