A Remember WENN story
by Linda M. Young
Scott Sherwood took a final look at the memorial plans, then rolled them back up into their container and propped it in the corner behind his desk. He leaned back in his chair, reflective, contented at the way things were going: Betty'd finalized the plans with the memorial park last week, and the funds were still growing. There were days when he could even forget what the money was originally earmarked for.
Now that he'd finished the paperwork Betty and Gertie had left for him and tangled with a couple of sponsors on the phone, it was quiet. Too quiet. He hated quiet. It meant something was wrong.
He popped out of his office, but the hall was deserted. If he looked ahead, he could see C.J. in the control room, monitoring the broadcast, looking a bit wrung out. After last week's cold spell, the flu was running rampant through the station. Mackie, thankfully, was over the worst of his; Dr. Watson and Colonel Moore hadn't sounded too bad, but Philip Crandall with a stuffy nose wasn't something Scott would want to listen to again. Hilary Booth apparently Did Not Get Sick, but Jeff had been under the weather for a couple of days and even normally ebullient Maple had been sniffling.
Scott strolled up the hallway toward reception, peeking in the both the green roomemptyand the studio, where Hilary was reading A Woman's Views on the News. Jeff was seated at Eugenia's organ bench, his head back against the wall. Evidently Hilary's view on this week's news was putting him to sleep. Eugenia, however, as well as Mr. Foley, was conspicuously absent.
A sneeze from reception interrupted his observation.
"Gesundheit!" he said loudly, strolling up to the desk and leaning over it. "Gertrude Reece, you do not look well."
Gertie regarded him with a disgusted expression. "Thank you, Mr. Sherwood, for telling me what I already know."
"Where is everyone?"
"Lunch, Mr. Sherwood. That break at noon that everyone gets except for Gertie," she answered tartly, then sneezed again.
"Miss Reece, I insist you should have a lunch break-" Scott said expansively. Gertie looked up at him with hope.
"-remind someone to take over for you when they come back from the Buttery," he finished and she gave a sigh.
"Thank you, Mr. Sherwood." She paused as Scott remained at her desk, looking almost lost. "Mr. Sherwoodhave you seen Betty this morning?"
"Said hi to her when I came inshe was typing away as usual. Told me she was caught up with her scripts and was trying to get ahead so she could take Sunday off." He smiled, looking pleased with himself. "I'm planning on asking her to the movies. There's a great double feature at the Bijou, a Western with..."
"Mr. Sherwood!" Gertie interrupted. "I haven't seen Betty since early this morning, and frankly, she didn't look very well when I did. She's usually out here checking up on things, and isn'tso do you think you might go check up on her?"
He frowned. "Not well? Funny, I didn't notice..."
Gertie murmured sourly, "Men seldom do."
"Sure, Gertie, I'll see what she's up to. Have a good lunch!"
Gertie sighed again as he strode off, but was unable to comment further since the switchboard buzzed again.
Scott, oblivious, continued, whistling, down the corridor. Gertie had to be wrong; surely he would have noticed any illness when he talked to Betty that morning...
But when he knocked on the door of the writer's room, there was no answer.
When the silence persisted, he opened the door wide enough to peer inside. He could see Betty's elbow, but not her head.
His heart suddenly accelerated and he pushed the door open, hurrying to the desk, only to discover Betty asleep with her head pillowed on her arm, using the typewriter for support.
"Hey, Betty-" He shook her arm gently.
She came wide awake, startled. It was only then he noticed how pale she was, except for the red mark made on her cheek from lying on her arm.
"Scott?" She blinked her eyes, then rubbed them, her formality returning. "I'm sorry, Mr. Sherwood. I guess I fell asleep."
"You okay, Betty?" This time the worry in his voice was genuine. "You look terrible."
"Gee, thanks," she said, rolling her eyes.
"Heck, Betty, I don't mean it that way. But you do look like you ought to be home in bed." He leaned forward and touched her forehead. "I think you have a fever."
Betty sighed, leaning her head back. The brightness of the lights in the room, although she usually complained about it being dark, was almost too much for her to bear. "I think you're right, Scott. I guess the flu has finally flown my way. Funny, I don't really feel as if I've got a cold; I'm just tired and my eyes ache."
"You need to get home." Scott said. To his eyes she hadn't looked this bad since Victor had been reported dead.
"And who will write my scripts, Mr. Sherwood?" she responded lightly, closing her eyes.
"Come on, Betty, didn't you tell me you were caught up? What's left?"
"Oh, I don't know. An new introduction for tomorrow's church service..."
"You're telling me Mackie can't ad-lib an intro for the First Presbyterian Church?"
"...and I wanted to get next Saturday's Magic Time finished..."
"What's to finish? Use tonight's introduction...change the names...piece of cake. Jeff and Hilary's secret code junk takes care of most of the show anyway."
"But Kurt Holstrom will be herehe's an important advertiser and the Archbishop..." she protested, but it was a feeble one. Her room, her bed, a nice hot bowl of soup, and a cold compress sounded wonderful.
"Betty, you can write that kind of stuff in a minute...when you're feeling better. If you rest today and tomorrowyou'll be right as rain in a jiffy."
She wished she had as much confidence in herself as he did right now. Her eyes still closed, she finally sighed. "You've convinced me, Scott. I'm too tired to fight."
"Good. I'll take you home."
Her eyes popped open. "Scott, I'm not that sick."
"Betty, you are very important to this station. And as the guy in charge of this station, it's important to me to get you home safely."
She finally allowed him to help her on with her coat, collect her purse and a folder of scripts"Just for me to correct!" she had protested when he tried to tug them away from herand escort her from the station to Gertie's accompanying nod and sneeze. He tried to make small talk, but when she leaned her head against the cool wall of the elevator, he shut up and let her ride in silence save for the laconic voice of the elevator boy announcing the ground floor.
He walked her to the trolley stop and she was about to smile and thank him when she realized he had no intention of leaving her there. "Mr. Sherwood, really, I can get home by myself."
"I am walking you directly to your door, Miss Roberts," he said with a smile.
"Scott, there's no need for you to play Sir Lancelot."
He invented some patter about knights, reluctant to say what he really thought, which was that he was intensely worried about her. She was perspiring from the fever, even as the cool March wind tossed the bottom of her coat and the edges of her hat, and despite her bravado, didn't look as if she could last on her feet that long. He'd pulled bluffs like that often enough to know what they sounded like.
She was tough, though. She argued back until Scott sighed loudly. "Betty Roberts, do you mean to tell me you are going to deny me a chance to make up for my former unsavory behavior?"
The comment was accompanied by his best sad-eyed look, the one that reminded her too much of the day he had confessed about Victor's memorial. She surrendered.
At this time of day there was only a moderate crowd riding the trolley, so she and Scott found a seat easily. She was shivering and sleepy despite the trolley's sun-warmed interior, and finally she drifted off, her head finding a pillow in Scott's shoulder. There used to be something repellent about him, a air of untrustworthiness, but lately he seemed solid and dependable always there...
Scott swallowed as he watched her doze off against his shoulder from the rock of the trolley movement. By the time any of his other girlfriends had gotten this close, the warning alarms would have gone offthe ones that reminded him of the harsh klaxons used for lifeboat drill in the Merchant Marine. Some inner instinct still prodded him to leave: even with the cover of the Memorial Fund, something would explode someday, taking him with ithe'd never remained at a scam long enough to allow the fuse to burn down before.
The last time Scott had darkened the door of a church was at his mother's funeral. Still, he prayed briefly for his luck to hold.
"Hey, Betty," he said, shaking her gently. "Our stop's coming up."
She awoke with a jerk. "What?" It was only when she realized how much more woozy she felt that she recalled being drawn into sleep, into a dream...
A dream about dancing she hadn't had in weeks.
Scott saw her face redden as their eyes met and he bit down hard on his lip to keep from smiling. He didn't recall ever having a girlfriend who could blush so genuinely.
Had he actually ever been close to a woman who blushed, period?
Betty found herself starting to drift again as the trolley ground its way to her stop. It was probably all still her dream anyway, a dream of Scott easing the scripts from her hands and tucking them under one arm, guiding her with the other hand down the steep steps of the vehicle and across the street.
Perhaps she only imagined that the front desk was emptythat Etta Royer had left her usual stern sign plunked conspicuously on the polished surface: "Helping Tenant. Please wait here for assistance"that Scott instead steered her to a nearby staircase and walked her carefully up one flight and down the hall to her room. That when she fumbled for her key he took it from her unsteady fingers and let her in, placed the scripts and her purse on the small table she kept next to the door for just that purpose; that he had paused, his hand still on her arm, then offered to warm some soup for her while she went down to the hall bath to change into something warmer.
It was washing her face that woke her up to realize that it hadn't been a dream, that Scott Sherwood, of all people, was in her room, in her residential hotelwhere no men were allowed.
For a minute, Betty wanted to panic. It had taken her five months to get a room at the Barbican, five months coping with bad heat and bad ventilation and indifferent hygiene at the YWCA. She didn't want to think about having to look for another place to live, and worse, facing the accusations that would come from Scott's presence. Her reputation would be torn to shreds due to a simple case of the flu.
She looked at herself in the mirror, astounded at the pale, wild- eyed girl who stared back at her. This would never do. They'd gotten in without being seen, he could get out, too. He would have to.
She changed her clothes slowly, nagged by another worry: Scott himself. Scott in her room. Would he consider it an invitation of some sort? She was certain what type of girl the globetrotting Mr. Sherwood cultivated, and she could hear her mother's warnings about "the only thing that men have on their minds."
Betty had gotten too close to the groping sort several times in college. She didn't want it to happen now; she was feeling much too ill to have to cope with it.
But if she had to, she would.
As she walked back to her room, the thought of Scott Sherwood making her soup made her smile wanly. She wondered what he was really up to.
In the meantime Scott has been busy. After Betty had left for the bathroomhe resisted the impulse to go with her, despite her wavering gait; the less he was seen in the hallway, the better he had first taken a long look around the room. It was typical of his own usual hired digs, one large room: to the left of the entry a closet, and an alcove where he was sure the ubiquitous iron bedstead sat. Betty had closed it off into some type of bedroom by using a scratched wooden bedscreen evidently dug up from a second-hand shop, probably the same one where the small table next to the door and the second one under the window just ahead came from. Both the tables had been painted in soft pastels, but it looked as if Betty had worked on polishing and repairing the screen. It was almost beautiful again, with a rich walnut finish and inlaid wooden panels.
Midroom there was a small table with two chairs and a small sofa, much worn, Sears' cheapest catalog material, Scott guessed. Against the right wall was a set of low cabinets in a plain light walnut finish, a bit shabby, with an electric hotplate, a dishpan, dishes and silverware in a simple wooden carrier, a large glass pitcher filled with water, and several drinking glasses set tidily upon it.
Scott moved to the hot plate, plugging it in, and bent over to rummage in the cabinets. In one he found a small saucepan, in another some cans of soup and stew. He dug out the can opener in one of the cabinet drawers, opened an old standby, chicken noodle soup, and poured it into the saucepan, added some water, and set the pan over the burner.
As he stirred the soup, he took the time to survey his surroundings again: certainly a furnished room, but with touches of Betty Roberts everywhere, the pretty blue-and-white gingham blanket tossed over the back of the ugly sofa to hide much of its rough brown upholstery; matching curtains on the window; small photos in inexpensive Woolworth's frames perched on the small radio that sat on the table under the window; books piled in a short set of shelves seen just beyond the bedscreen. The "kitchen area" had a sunny calendar from a dairy company pinned up over the counter, along with some promotional photos from WENN, and a white milk vase of paper roses brightened the middle of the cabinets.
Scott had a sudden impulse to see it all; when the soup began to bubble around the edges, he removed the saucepan to a hotpad, then padded to the bedscreen, took a breath, then stepped aside to see what was behind it.
Certainly Betty Roberts here: the bed was made, with no resemblance to his own magpie's nest, and covered in a lively patchwork quilt of yellows and soft greens and pale blues, with tassels on each corner. Leaning against the plumped pillows under the quilt was a pillow made of one big patchwork square, pale yellow with "Elizabeth" embroidered on it in green. Another of the used-furniture tables was doing duty as a night stand, this one had been polished instead of painted, and held more framed photographs, including one of an older couple Scott guessed were Betty's parents, a color photo of a woman with a babyBetty's sister, Scott knew from their recent date, and an old snapshot of a boy about ten or eleven with a big black collie sitting next to him, plus a drinking glass and whatever book Betty was reading at bedtime.
A bureau was wedged in the corner, its surface covered with a few bows, hair nets, a brush and comb set, all in orderly rows. The worn looking glass hanging over it, bits of the silvering worn away leaving dark gaps in the surface, reflected Scott's face and for one minute, the longing in it.
He turned his eyes away, noticing one last thing, a stuffed cat posed at the foot of the bed. It was a saucy calico with a sweet, lopsided face, and Scott noticed that part of the fur was worn away. A treasured momento, he suspected, perhaps of childhood, or a gift from an old boyfriend. He smoothed its silky head with his thumb.
There were footsteps in the hall.
When Betty re-entered, well-swathed in woolen pajamas, a thick chenille robe, and slippers, Scott was just pouring the warm soup into a bowl and plucking a spoon from the collection of silverware.
She looked at him in astonishment, standing with a bowl of soup in one hand, the spoon in the other.
"I thought," she finally faltered, "you were joking."
He started to make a joke, but only said, "Didn't you think I could warm up a can of soup, Betty? I'll have you know I've been baching it since you started grade school."
The dream feeling was back, but she resisted it this time, sitting in one of the chairs rather than on the sofa, even if she would have been more comfortable there. Scott placed the bowl and spoon down, then rummaged in the drawers until he found a napkin.
"There," he said, taking a seat across from her as if he intended to make certain, like her father always had, that she ate it all.
"You should have warmed up some for yourself, Scott," she said, picking up the spoon, abashed.
"Me? Nah, not hungry."
But he knew he was, not for anything that he could find in her cupboard, nor for anything he could find in the ports of Singapore and the South Seas. Scott Sherwood, the guy who had bought himself the secondhand schooner to experience life, who had gambled in the Philippines and slept with the bar girls of Saigon, who had tried to con them in Madrid and Cairo and even in Pittsburgh, was totally content taking in a homespun corner of Betty Roberts' universe.
Somewhere the klaxons should be going off again, and through them he would be able to hear his father, fortified with a couple of beers, warn him genially, "Don't get yourself trapped, Scotty- boy." After his mother had died he had hated when his father said it, vaguely feeling an insult to her, but as he grew older and craved independence, the philosophy suited. He shied from domestic traps, thought he would always be on the move.
But instead of responding to the alarms he watched Betty as she spooned her soup, and when finally she lifted her eyes to him, they both started, embarrassed, and looked away.
He took the usual way out, the quick glance at his watch and a breezy, "Oh, will you look at the time!", springing from his chair to swoop his coat from the back of her sofa. "Now, you get some rest and don't fiddle too much with those scripts if you're intending to come back on Monday as fit as a fiddle, okay?"
"Understood completely," she said with a smile, and he had to swallow before he could smile back. "Scottplease don't let..."
"...anyone see me?" he finished jauntily. "Don't worry about it, Betty Roberts. Piece of cake."
And then he was gone.
He should make it downstairs okay, she thought to herself, tensing as she finished the soup, everyone should be at work. She would know if Elaine were here...that awful blaring radio!...and Daisy...
She eventually walked to the window, leaning on the sill, her cheek pressed to the cold glass to look out. It felt wonderful against her hot forehead. Five, then ten minutes ticked bythen Scott was suddenly striding down the sidewalk, shoulders back, hands stuffed in his pocket; from his attitude she knew he was whistling. Piece of cake indeed.
She wouldn't find out until Monday and his self-satisfied narrative that "his luck had held" and he'd "bearded the old lioness" in her den, having been caught by Etta Royer near the elevators as if searching for something. He'd only come to pick Betty up at night when elderly George Ferguson was on duty; she didn't know him, and with the usual Sherwood charm he'd managed to half-convince her he was from Pennsylvania Bell, looking into talking some of the girls into having their own telephones. Etta had raked him over the coals for not waiting at the desk, threatening to call the police and Pennsylvania Bell if he ever stepped beyond the entryway again. But he had not been connected with Betty or she with him. Her secret was safe.
But just then she was too tired to think about it. The warm soup and her comfortable garments had made sleep impossible to ward off any longer. Unwilling to untidy the bed just then, she took two spare blankets from the shelf of the closet and stretched out on the quilt, pulling the blankets over her.
Then, as an afterthough, she sat up, reaching for the stuffed cat, snuggling it her arms as she settled back, smiling once more at the thought of Scott standing with a bowl of soup in his hand.
If she dreamed about dancing tonight, perhaps she wouldn't mind it at all.
"Good-night, Mittens," she murmured to the stuffed cat, and fell asleep.
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