The Hearts of Yesteryear by Vivien Dean is now available!
Throughout his career, actor John Paravati has stuck with what he told the gossip rags — he’s been in like, in lust, even in respect once or twice, but never love. All he’s ever cared about is performing. If he’s stuck now doing commercials for cruise lines, at least it’s better than shilling adult diapers.
But Hollywood pretends, and John is a master. Because once upon a time, he loved two things more than anything — his best friend Frank and the movie palace he used as sanctuary.
Over fifty years ago, John ran away from his hometown. Now, someone has restored the theater he left behind, and they want John at its relaunch. The memories still sting, but he agrees to attend, even though it means dealing with heartache. At seventy-seven, he’s too old to hold onto the hurt. The question is, however, is he too old to start over once it’s gone?
Frank was already hard at work pulling the worn tent from the shed. In spite of being one of the better-off families in town, the Hansons had owned the same tent for as long as he’d known Frank. What had seemed like an opulent cave when he was six now felt cramped and cozy. Unless he slept diagonally, Frank’s feet poked out through the door now.
They pitched it in record time, and John crawled in after Frank to hide from the outside world. He had to pull his knees up to avoid getting too close to Frank, but as soon as he did, Frank slapped at his arm.
“Relax,” he said with a smile. “We’re all clear.”
Though that wasn’t why John was trying to keep from touching Frank, he uncurled a little to keep Frank from asking too many questions. “We still going to the matinee tomorrow?”
“You’re the one with the busy social calendar. You tell me.”
John blushed. “It’s not that busy.”
“Oh, really?” Rolling onto his side, Frank propped his head up on his hand, seemingly uncaring that he’d crowded into John’s space even more. “How many times have you stayed after school to run lines with Dorothy since the cast list went up?”
His blush deepened. “Who counts that kind of thing?”
“You must do it two, three times a week, on top of all your rehearsals,” Frank pressed. “You’re going to tell me you and her aren’t doing something else other than reading your scripts?”
“That’s exactly what I’m telling you.” It had the added bonus of being true.
“She likes you.”
“So?” Frank gaped at him. “Did you just tell me, ‘So?’ Are you nuts? She likes you so much, she’d make out with you and then lie to Pastor Arden about it, just so she could get you to do it again.”
“You think?” The possibility left John more than a little nauseous. He’d never thought of Dorothy in that way, even though he knew he was supposed to. She was one of the prettiest girls in school. At one time or another, most of the boys he knew mooned after her in hopes of a little attention. The only person John had ever felt remotely that way about was Frank, but he was smart enough not to let anyone cotton on to that.
“Don’t act dumb,” Frank chided. “What’s wrong with Dorothy? Why don’t you want to kiss her?”
John shrugged, unable to meet Frank’s eyes. It was bad enough his face felt like it was on fire. “I’ve never kissed anyone before, is all.”
“So wouldn’t it be better to have your first time be from someone as pretty as her?”
For the rest of the world, the answer was yes. For John, the prospect of kissing anyone but Frank — an impossibility no matter how he looked at it — the answer could only be no.
When he didn’t respond right away, Frank sighed and sat up. “Look, it’s not that hard. If you’re scared, practice on your pillow or your arm or something. That’s what I did.”
John’s head jerked up, his jealousy sizzling through him like a shot of adrenaline. “Who’d you ever kiss?” he demanded.
“Well, I haven’t done it yet.” Contrary to how John felt about his inexperience, Frank looked unashamed. “But I’ll be ready when it happens.”
“Because you kissed a pillow.”
“Not as dumb as being too chicken to try.”
“I’m not chicken.”
“Have you even tried kissing her on the cheek? You don’t need to know what you’re doing for that.”
John scowled. “No.”
“There you go, then.”
“It’s different, I’m telling you.”
“Nah, it’s not. Look.”
Out of the blue, Frank stretched and pecked John on the cheek, a touch so glancing he was back where he’d started by the time John realized what he’d done.
“See?” Frank said without an ounce of fluster. “That’s nothing.”
Except it wasn’t, not to John, anyway. But what hurt more than the embarrassment of being considered too afraid to offer such a chaste kiss to a girl was hearing Frank dismiss the slight caress as nothing. In a pique of sudden anger, he scrubbed hard at his face, though his imagination kept playing it over and over again in his head. Its fleeting burn lingered even when he scooched beyond Frank’s reach and any more unsolicited kisses.
“I’ll kiss Dorothy when I’m good and ready,” he retorted.
Frank must’ve sensed he’d gone a step too far, because his smile was placating. “Sure, you will.”
The subject was dropped.
John never forgot it.