a Remember WENN story
by Linda M. Young
She should have known it would be raining.
Well, all right, she was exaggeratingwas Mackie right in accusing her of becoming like Scott?but it might as well be rain; the sky was a weighted greyness overhead and the fine mist still contained the bite of winter although it was mid-March. If it wasn't already chill enough, there was a brisk wind, flapping edges of coats and awnings, creeping up legs and sleeves to make the most heavily bundled person shiver.
Despite having to be out in the cold again, she was glad to be finished at the office of the memorial park. She'd felt quite detached from herself as she talked in measured business tones to Mr. Pendleton: they had discussed location and construction and, of course, price. Scott had jotted down a figure from the bankbook that didn't even begin to meet the amount.
She'd momentarily wished Scott had been there with her, although the reality of it left her aghast at the idea. The redoubtable Mr. Sherwood would have moved in with fast talk, the last thing this situation needed. Still, it would have been nice to have someone to chat with before or afterward, someone who knew Victor, rather than Pendleton's bloodless recitation of facts and figures.
Face it, Betty Roberts, she thought grimly to herself, you're not only getting used to having him around, you're even enjoying it...
Her train didn't leave until six, and it was now only 3:30. She'd had an early breakfast and no lunch; hunger was gnawing at her stomach with a painful insistence. Now where...where was that coffee shop she had passed earlier?
Ten minutes later she was tucked in a small booth at the rear of the Crowne Coffee Shoppe. It was still too early for it to be very busyin fact the place was empty at the momentand she waited while the blue-uniformed waitress washed and refilled the row of glass coffeepots before making herself known.
A scant five minutes after that she was sipping hot tea and watching the waitressher name was Lillian and she had apologized profusely for not serving her earlier: "Why, sweetie, you were so quiet I didn't even notice you! You need to speak up."make her an egg salad sandwich.
Egg salad sandwiches. Betty bowed her head, smiling to herself, thinking of her first day at WENN. She had been even more hungry than she was now and dying to eat something, even Gertie's peanut brittle. Jeff had taken her in to meet Victor, and to her disappointment he'd been so...aggressive. Now, after all she'd learned, she knew that she'd been terribly naive to expect them all to greet her with open armsshe'd had to prove herself tough enough to cope with the challenges of WENN before she had gained Victor's or the cast'sindeed even Gertie's!respect.
Funny, she hadn't thought of that in a long time. It was Scott who was making her prove herself these days, but in reality Scott and Victor were a lot alike: once they had an idea it had to be carried to conception, no matter what the price or the time. Victor had just been a little more...aboveboard about ithis manipulations usually didn't skirt the edge of illegalities. But even with Victor, there'd been a lot of skating on thin ice: his experiment with Hamlet as a murder playlet, It's Your Nickel, the prerecorded programming all flashed into her mind unbidden, and with them, Victor's voice proclaiming, "Oh, God, I love radio. You can bring something to life at the speed of a bolt of lightning! It's...like being God!"
Her eyes were blurry with tears by the time the waitress asked, "You okay, sweetie?"
The working-class voice, so like Maple's except without the Brooklyn twang, and the matter-of-fact manner comforted Betty; she swallowed her tears, blinked, then looked up with a wan smile as the sandwich plate was placed before her.
The waitress looked very prim in her blue uniform and white pinafore apron, her bright blond hair captured in a net and topped with a ruffled white cap emblazoned with a gold crown. She had on an encouraging "company smile," but her eyes were lined with tiredness.
Betty decided a combination of the truth and a lie would serve her best. "I'm fine, thank you. I've...just come back from a rather unpleasant errand."
Lillian flashed a genuine smile as their eyes met, an expression that faded when she glanced down. "Oh, sweetie, I'm sorry."
Betty blinked, then looked down as wellthe memorial park literature was peeking from under the slim volume of Christina Rosetti poetry she had carried with her. For a moment, she was speechless.
Lillian saved her. "Oh, I understand!" Her voice lowered, confiding, although the coffee shop was still empty. She swallowed, her eyes darting to the big glass window overlooking the street, watching the people hurrying back and forth outside, heads bent against the sharp wind. A gust threatened to send a businessman's umbrella sailing, but he tugged it firmly to obedience and the wind lost its prey. Only the traffic cop in his bright yellow slicker, standing implacably at the corner waving on automobiles, did not bend against the bitter mist.
Then the waitress took a deep breath and continued, her voice stronger. "My Jimmy's there, you see. He was killed on the railroad last year. That's why I'm here working, rather than being home with our baby."
Betty wondered what to say. She hadn't even known how Victor felt about heroh, they'd had dinner together, taken walks on the riverfront, shared their ideas for scripts and series over coffeebut then she'd never told him how she'd felt, either. It was the biggest regret of her life. But Lillian had lost so much more.
"I'm sorry," she finally managed, and when she spoke her voice trembled for a second. "Who looks after your baby?"
"My momma," Lillian answered. "She adores little Jimmy. I guess that makes me lucky. He could have to stay with our neighbor, or some babysitterbut then I couldn't afford that."
"I'm glad he gets to stay with his grandmother," Betty responded, feeling as if she was just parroting kind words despite her sincerity.
"Oh, yeah. If I didn't have Momma, I don't know what I'd do." She glanced at the teapot-shaped clock on the rear wall of the shop as if noting the time until an appointment. "Sweetie, you want some more tea?"
"Yes, please," Betty answered and had time to tuck the memorial pamphlet out of sight before Lillian returned with the steaming kettle.
"Was it a family member, sweetie?" Lillian asked, as she poured the tea.
Betty hesitated. No, Victor wasn't familynot as defined by blood or legalities. But everyone at WENN had become family, even Scott, as infuriating as he was.
"A close friend," she responded carefully.
She felt her cheeks grow hot and hoped Lillian didn't notice it.
As if she hadn't noticed the flush of Betty's cheeks, but deliberately, the waitress continued, "It hurt me for the longest time, but it's getting better. For a while all I wanted to do was concentrate on having a big headstone for Jimmy. Kinda kept my head together, so I didn't have to think on how much I missed him. Then Momma gave me a good talking to. Said the best memorial I could raise for him would be taking care of myself and the baby, goin' on with our lives-"
The bell over the door jangled, interrupting Lillian's reminisce. The new customer was a rather tattered looking older woman bundled in a worn coat with a paisley-cotton kerchief tied tightly over her head.
Lillian excused herself, stepping away from the table to consult with the woman in hushed tones while Betty stirred sugar and cream into her tea and thought about the waitress' last few words. Lillian's mother sounded a lot like her own, quoting little home-grown homiliesin fact that one sounded familiar. For a second Betty couldn't place the words.
Then she realized that she had said almost the same thing to Scott months ago, when things had finally come to a head over her reaction to Victor's death. Had she lost the capacity to believe in things like that? And why? Was Scott's cynical aspect rubbing off on her? Or had life in the city just toughened her?
"Sorry about that, sweetie," Lillian said in her ear, and Betty jumped, sloshing the tea from her cup. The next thing she knew, Lillian had apologized and was bringing her a fresh cup after mopping up the spill.
"Look at me, gabbling your ear off and slopping tea all over when you probably wanted to read your book," the waitress clucked. Then, as if unable to stop confiding in Betty, she lowered her voice as the older woman departed the restaurant. "That's Mrs. McWilliams. She always comes in here for change for the bus. I ain't supposed to give it to folks, but I keep some on me anyway, for people like her. The management doesn't like it, so it's not exactly honest, but little things like that don't do any harm, you know what I mean? Anyway, what I wanted to finish saying to you, sweetie, was...well, that even after Jimmy...I've been seeing someone. His name's Dan. He and Jimmy used to work the railroad together. He likes little Jimmy, and he's nice and respectful, even if Momma does say railroad men are too wild... So-"
The bell at the door jangled once more as a group of five businessmen strolled in, laughing and talking loudly.
Lillian's voice grew briskly professional again. "You call me if you need anything else, okay?"
Betty nodded mutely as she trotted off to greet the man. They were evidently regulars, for in a moment the waitress was laughing and bantering with them. She'd been sweet, but nevertheless Betty was glad she was gone; she'd not only guessed some of Betty's secret feelings, but come too close to her others, including her hidden guilt about the source of the funds for Victor's memorial.
Betty opened the poetry book to slide out the memorial folder; inside was a copy of the bank balance note Scott had copied out in his sprawling hand. She fingered it thoughtfully, then smiled to herself as she ate her sandwich.
She'd always dated "nice boys," from Mike, her high-school sweetheart, who'd become an accountant, to Steven, the medical student at college who still attended church on Sundays and Wednesdays, to Doug, WENN's pleasant attorney who did legal aid work without thought of his pocket...so why these feelings for Scott Sherwood, for heaven's sake? She'd avoided his type at college, the devil-may-care ones who drove too fast, drank too much, took too many chances. Scott was all those, and morethis thirst for those chances had taken him overseas, made him too worldly for her usual tastes. She hadn't expected him to stay long at WENN, and nothing had astonished her more than when time and association began to soften his irritating edges. He'd arranged for her to get home for Christmas (at expense to himself), gone out on a ledgeliterallyto save their newsday broadcast, continually juggled to save the station. Even she was reacting to the difference in his behavior (and she still wanted to blush after remembering that unconscious kiss to his cheek in the corridor).
And, if she had to admit it, the date they'd been on the previous week has been...well, fun. Knowing Scott's taste in ladies, she'd been prepared to "wrestle," but instead she'd relaxed listening to his past exploitsand he'd even given her a chance to relate her own stories as they sipped at ice cream sodas. True, he had snaked an arm behind her during the comedy they had gone to see at the Rialto, but he hadn't pushed, not then, nor for a kiss when the night was over...and you couldn't blame a guy for trying, could you?
Oh, she knew, dragging herself back to reality, a particularly juicy deal could make him backslideshe remained irritated at his behavior during Ruth Geddy's visitbut his confession about Victor's memorial had taken most of that sting away.
She glanced at her watch and sighed. It was time for her to pay up and move on.
She was fumbling in her purse for the coins to settle the bill, plus add a nice tip, when the bell on the door sounded again. This time the arrival was a man clad in grey engineer's coveralls and a blue shirt covered by a short thick jacket; he swung a steel lunchbox in one hand and his cap in the other. He was fair-haired, just starting to go thin on top, and red-faced from the cold, but with a big grin on his face nevertheless. Lillian, behind the counter refilling one of the pie displays, was alerted by the sound and the expression on her face blossomed with delight.
"Hiya, Lil," he said, offering her his arm. "Quitting time, kid. You ready to go?"
"Mary's late," Betty heard her answer, "but it's okay. I'll just check out the guys and tidy up till she gets here. You want some coffee?"
"Just the usual," was the man's breezy reply, and Betty smiled as the man who had to be Dan leaned forward to kiss Lillian. Then she carefully laid her coins on the table and left, tossing the waitress a smile as she departed.
The cold hadn't abated and Betty hunched in her coat in reaction, like everyone else bowing her head into the wind. But somehow she wasn't as chilled as before. Maybe the homespun homilies were the ones she should be listening to.
She thought of Scott again, just for a moment, then shook her head. Unlike Scott with his wild schemes, she didn't intend to rush things. She'd take this slowly, wait and see how it played out.
But right now, it was time to get back to Pittsburgh and WENN. Time to go home.
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