This is an adult story involving Scott and Betty that takes place before my fanfiction piece "Poppies." While it has nothing really "untoward" in it, it is rated "R" for adult themes. (Note: This has nothing to do with the George Clayton Johnson Twilight Zone episode by the same name, although the basic themes are the same.)
If you wondered why Betty didn't want to ride the elevator in "Poppies," this may explain why.
Nothing In the Dark
A Remember WENN story
by Linda M. Young
She was forty words, more or less, from finishing up the final script of the day.
The door to the writer's room was slightly ajar; from beyond it she heard a voice bidding someone farewell. The broadcasting day was over; here she was, still typing.
This late night, she reminded herself, would earn her an afternoon off.
As she finished the last lines of Jed Jenner, G-Man, her glance, then attention, fell on the previous script she'd worked on, an introduction and other framing sequences for next week's Health and Welfare.
Why hadn't she put that one out of sight?
Since Scott's right hook had driven Dr. Bickman unceremoniously from the station premises, a succession of medical personnel had filled his role, chiefly doctors and nurses, the occasional scientist. This week, Maple had chatted with Betty's favorite guest, Mary Bradenton, a high-school nurse, about teenagers' health problems, which became a discussion of remedies for pimples. Afterwards, Mary had come to the writer's room and asked Betty for a word in private.
She'd been puzzled about the need for secrecy. Mary reminded her of certain elder aunts, not too tall, ruggedly built without being stout, with silvering close-cropped hair, and, as befitted a nurse, always dressed in muted colors and sensible shoes. She always stood and sat with easy but correct posture. She and Betty usually had a good rapport, but this time she'd seemed ill at ease, unable to choose the correct words. Finally she had requested bluntly, "I was wondering if there would be any way we might address a more serious and delicate subject?"
"How serious and how delicate?" she'd responded curiously. "If you're having trouble explaining it to me, I'm pretty sure there's something in the Broadcasting Codes against what you'd like to do."
Mary sighed. "I was afraid of that. I'd hoped...well, after the situation with Mrs. Kahana and her baby a few weeks ago, perhaps it might be feasible. But- You see, dear, we've had some students...who have been experimenting with sexual relations. I was wondering if there were some way we could talk about it on Health and Welfare."
Betty felt her cheeks grow warm. "Oh, heavens, no. They won't let us discuss such things about married adults, let alone teenagers! We'd be thrown off the air, if not arrested. We didn't have any serious problems when Cora had her baby, but we did get several calls from people who were appalled that we even mentioned such a thing on the air. Why, we've had people complain when we had a birth story on one of our soaps!" And thank God, she added to herself, that the audience didn't know Gus and Cora hadn't been married at the time! Mary's face looked troubled, so she had continued aloud, "I remember a girl in my high school who was sent away because she was expecting a child. It does happen. Why suddenly now?"
Mary's tale about a favorite student, a naive sophomore beguiled by inaccurate tales, brought Betty back to her sophomore year of high school. Marcia Blaine had been in her sister Patty's senior class, so regrettably misinformed about sex that the love of her life, Bud Debusky, star of the Elkhart High basketball team, had been able to talk retiring Marcia into something she would have blushed at ordinarily. Bud had offered to marry Marcia, but his father had forbidden it, not wanting Bud to give up a college scholarship for "some snip with no morals."
Both she and Patty only knew that Marcia had left school because of "sickness," but after the girl had been shipped off to an aunt in New York, where she would bear her child and give it up for adoption, her mother had sat them down to tell them what had actually happenedand ask if there were any questions. Neither were innocent of certain "facts of life," having been told several years before (to her mother's credit, although Betty knew she had been embarrassed, Clare Roberts had been aboveboard when she spoke of sexual relations).
Betty always suspected the question was directed specifically at Patty, but her sister had merely shrugged. Pat had been "sparking" Harry Stevens for over a year now (although Mother didn't like it); they were planning to be married as soon as the elder Roberts would allow. Mother wanted her to wait until she was twenty-one, but she knew Patty would probably wheedle something out of Dad; at heart he was incurably romantic.
"I just wanted to remind you that this is a natural thing with all boys. You mustn't ever let them have their way. You've seen now with Marcia what terrible things can come of it. Boys simply have desires and it's always up to the girl to stop things from going too far."
"I don't think that's very fair," Betty had pointed out.
Clare had sat down on the bed between them, patting the knee of each daughter. "I know, dear. Men don't suffer at all to their reputations, or very little, at least, when this happens. It's something you have to live with. And they all will try it, even the most mannerly boy."
Betty, for all her tenth-grade sophistication, exclaimed, "Not Dad!"
And to her astonishment, her mother averted her eyes! When the older woman had regained her composure, she had said, "Your father is a sweet gentleman, Betty, but he's still a man. And you won't be able to tell how they'll react from the way they act in public. The ones you might think are the nicest can turn into bullies when you say no. You must push them away, hard, because they don't want to listen, they just want the pleasure. And there is the other type who will trybut if you say no, he will pull away. No matter how else he acts, he is at least a gentleman."
She'd never decided which idea was more bizarre: her prim mother pawed as Morton Hall had tried to do with her the week before while walking home from the Sophomore Spring Frolic, or her humorous, gentle father trying to slide a hand under her mother's dress. She decided if Dad did have "desires," at least he had not asked Mother derisively, as Morton had her, who she was "saving it for."
"Someone important," Betty had retorted, "which means it's certainly not you!"
Once Mother had left, she had said to her sister, "I can't picture Marcia...well, doing something like that. She's always been so quiet. The same with Bud. Next thing I know, you'll tell me Harry's tried something with you!"
Now it was Patty's turn to blush. To cover, she reached out and ruffled Betty's hair as if she were eight years old again. "Didn't you hear a word of what Mother said? All boys are like that, not just the brash ones. And-." She ducked her head, then looked back up. "When you're with someone special, it's terribly hard to say no." She laughed at Betty's wide-eyed reaction. "Don't let Mother or anyone ever tell you differently, Betsgirls have 'desires,' too."
She shook her head as if the action could shake the past away as well, and shifted the offending script from sight. Then she could concentrate on finishing Jed Jenner and marking it for distribution. In the hall she could hear Maple's throaty laugh fade, Mackie's voice raising as he asked after an umbrella. Umbrella? Despite it being early November, they were having a particularly steamy Indian summer and it had been unseasonably warm, especially inside; she'd been perspiring all day and hoped the weather had finally broken. Still she finished up, putting the scripts in order for the next day, to save her work tomorrowbut her mind began to wander freely.
Talk about learning the hard wayshe'd put no credence in Pat's final words of advice until her senior year, when she dated Mike Wasser regularly. Mostly they'd discuss college planshe'd attend agricultural school, then come back and claim the parcel of land his father was holding for him, while she'd be studying English literature and composition at Indiana Northernbut on spring nights, when they would stroll at the edge of the woods and talk about their futures, there was always time to slip behind a tree and share kisses, soon not the innocent pecks like at the door, but something deeper that awoke longing inside her. But despite her feelings, she remembered her mother's words.
She sighed. They'd drifted apart during her first year away from home when she realized that although she loved the town she had grown up in, she did not want to stay there, nor become a farmer's wife. Mike had accepted it gravely, but his final kiss haunted her for months. No more beaus, she'd resolved, at least not until she had established a career.
That was before Steve Bascombhe sat next to her in English lit during her junior yearwho was studying for the ministry. Under his tutelage the algebra that had so stymied her made sense, and he claimed her suggestions would someday help him compose the best sermons in the United Methodist Church. Betty smiled at the memory of long walks under the budding trees, excursions into the country in Steve's small roadster. More often than not Saturday nights were spent parked off the side of some country road, certainly talking, but sometimes exchanging urgent kisses and caresses that went further than Clare Roberts might have liked. Compared to what had happened to Marcia, it was all very innocent, but the touch of Steve's hands and lips were sometimes more than heror hiswill power could bear.
Only when they were apart could she consider the relationship with detachment. She wanted to write, to leave Indiana, not become a minister's wife, who was as wedded to his job as she was to him: unofficial head of all church committees, person who played peacemaker when committees disagreed, hostess for the churchall this beside raising a family and keeping house. One night she had sat down and cried, wondered if her desires for the future were foolish, if she should not abandon her dreams. But she knew that while she might learn to love the challenge, more than likely she would become discontent, restless, hating every minute of every committee meetingand perhaps hating Steve as well.
He'd made swift promises: he'd apply for a parsonage in larger cities, make sure they had domestic help so she could pursue her writing. His kisses, his touch, swayed her along with his words; her practicality finally overrode them. Their parting was to Clare's evident dismay, because she had considered Steve a "fine catch."
There! The final script was in the final pile. She gathered up her sweater, hat, and purse as a staccato knock came at the door along with the inevitable, "Bettybettybetty-"
Simultaneously they both said, "I thought you had gone home long ago."
Scott grinned as their eyes met. He was leaning on the doorjamb, jacket slung over his shoulder. It must have been equally as warm in the studio as it was in the writer's room, for he had loosened his tie and unbuttoned his shirt collar. "I was here for A Book at Bedtime, remember?" he said jauntily. "What's your excuse? I thought you weren't working these late nights any more."
Betty tapped the scripts crisply. "Those, Mr. Sherwood. With those I have earned myself a Saturday afternoon off."
"Swell, Betty," he said, with a light in his eyes she had learned to be wary of. "We're broadcasting the Penn State game on Saturday, aren't we? How about lunch?"
"No, thanks, Scott," she said briskly, resolutely. She picked up her cardigan, started to put it on, then thought of how warm it had been this afternoon and laid it over her arm instead, finally picked up her purse. "I'm going to do some shopping, maybe have tea with Lorna Seibert. She's my neighbor at the Barbican, new to Pittsburgh. I've been promising to show her around town."
And she'd taken him to task for lying! She had planned to shop, and intended to give Lorna some pointers in city living, but Saturday's lunch she hoped to reserve for Victor. He was expected back in town tomorrow, and had told her he thought he might be free on Saturday for lunch. She was counting on that confounded private line of his not ringing, at least through Sunday.
A lunch, perhaps longer, with Victor was what she needed. They'd go to somewhere quiet, talk about the station, talk about his work in Washington. Exchange smiles, light touches. Perhaps they might go walking near the river, or in the parkmaybe at the museum. Walking arm in arm among the exhibits, sharing favorite pieces, a quiet warm hug and gentle kiss at the end.
"Betty?" Scott brought her back from her reverie.
"Oh, I'm sorry. Just tired, I suppose. It's been a very long day."
"Can a guy at least walk you to the trolley?" he asked hopefully. "It's pitch black outside with the rain."
That she could accept. It couldn't hurt.
"Then it is raining?" she asked with a sigh as she put on her hat. "Oh, wouldn't it be nice to have a magic carpet that would whisk us magically home, without getting wet?"
"Closest I could get would be a secondhand Ford," he joked.
"With my luck, Scott," she said almost seriously, "the roof would leak."
The bantering they shared as they walked down the hall was soothing. This is the way she wanted it to be between her and Scott, a couple of buddies exchanging jokes. It kept away the frightening aspect of him.
Now, she knew, as she bent a little to lock the door, hiding her face from his view, that was really a lie. Scott wasn't frightening. He was exasperating and dependable, aggravating and endearing all at once. It was the way she felt about him that was frightening; she didn't trust it.
She should still resent it, she told herself sternly, that he had lied about Victorbut she knew she didn't. It had hurt worst because he had violated her trust, not simply because of the lie, however irrational that was. She had hated him for weeks, and then had still felt hurt because of what they had lost between them. When he'd come back, trying bit by bit to regain what he'd lost, she had tried to ignore him until, with a revolver pointed at his head, he'd told her what she hadn't wanted to hear. How could she not have known, from that desperate farewell kiss; as angry and as disillusioned as she had been at that moment, she still shivered at the memory.
Victor was safe. Together they kept their desires in check.
"Betty, you okay?"
She finished securing the door, flashed him a smile and another fib. "The lock was stuck. It's so damp tonight."
"Yeah, real weather for ducks. Betty-"
She was afraid of what he would say, as he sounded oddly reluctant.
"-the elevator boy is gone, but I could work it, if you want. It would save you that long walk down the stairs."
"Oh, that would be wonderful, Scott." The stairs were not only long and steep, but dark at this time of night. Her feet were already aching despite her having been seated at her desk most of the day. "You don't mind?"
He flashed a grin at her. "Piece of cake. Back in a minute."
He disappeared up the staircase two steps at time while she sagged against the wall. She should have just walked, but she was so tired, and Scott still seemed to have immeasurable energy and the elevator was parked only two floors above.
She craned her neck at the window at the end of the hall, but it was too dark to see anything but rain spatters against the blackness.
After what seemed endless moments, the friendly rattle of the elevator caught her attention; the outside doors opened and Scott pulled back the cage. "Your chariot awaits, Miss Robertsor whatever it is they say in those knight movies."
"Looks more like a tumbrel," she quipped as she stepped inside.
He cocked his head at her. "A what?"
"Tumbrel." When he still looked puzzled, she added, "You know, one of those wagons they took people to the guillotine in."
Scott's eyebrow arched, but he quietly slid closed the cage door. When the outer doors had shut as well, he took the control stick in his hand and slowly moved it to the right.
"Gee, Betty," he said, trying to joke, "is my company that bad?"
"I was only teasing," she protested.
It had been more like an omen. Suddenly the elevator jerked to a stop so abruptly that the control lever flipped from Scott's hand and Betty's purse flew from her fingers. She let out a cry of alarm as she began to tumble backward, grabbing the polished railing behind her.
A moment later the lights went out.
She caught her breath, gasping in an accusing voice, "Scott Sherwood, what on earth have you done?"
His voice seemed unnaturally loud in the darkness. "Not my fault this time, Betty. Power failure, probably." He sounded strained.
"Are you hurt?" she asked.
"No." His voice indicated otherwise.
Men! He probably didn't want to admit he'd twisted an ankle or cracked his elbow during the elevator's abrupt stop. "Well, this is just fine," she said tartly, recovering. "So much for getting home for some sleep. Isn't the phone near you?"
"The emergency telephone. Scott, did you hit your head?" He sounded so odd, as if he was a candle being snuffed. She reached out, using her hands to trace her way around the elevator, from the smooth rail to the sharp, cold diagonals of the cage door to the corner where she had last seen him. Her fingers found the emergency telephone first. "Never mind, I have it."
She lifted the phone from its cradle, heard it hiss. "Come on, come on," she said through her teeth, bouncing the u-shaped piece of metal down a few times. Then the receiver crackled to life and she heard the clicking and static as the direct line connected.
After some minutes the operator had transferred her to elevator repair, only confirming her worst suspicion: the torrential rain had been the indirect cause of a truck skidding into a telephone pole, taking down the power lines. Pittsburgh Power was on its way, but there was no telling how long the repair would take. If there was an emergency, she should call back; otherwise she needed to stay calm.
"They want us to stay calm," she said in a disgusted voice, hanging up.
"There's a tall order," he said thickly.
Puzzled, using her hands again, she traced her way from the front corner of the elevator to the rear, using the support rail. Her fingers finally touched Scott's hand, tracing taut fingers wound tightly around the rail. At her touch, he started, grunting.
"Scott?" What was wrong? Her heart began to pound. She repeated, "Are you hurt?"
Each word seemed an effort. "Back when I was confessing all my sins, Betty Roberts, I'm afraid I left one thing out," he finally answered. If it was possible, she could have sworn his grip on the rail tightened; she could feel bone and tendon under her fingers.
And then it came to her: he almost always took the stairs, unless he inveigled his way into an invitation to walk her to the trolley and came down the elevator with her. That casual lean against the rail, then, was not casual at all.
"You're claustrophobic, aren't you?" she said, low.
"My fault." Scott's swallow was forced and very audible. "Spanish cops have no sense of humor; luckily the chief of police thought I'd be of more use breaking codes than squatting in solitary. A week of it was enough." His voice was so brittle she tried to protest, but he continued, "Cell so small you couldn't lie flat. At least that one had a hole you could look out, where they shoved in the swill they called dinner. Pigs outside ate better..."
"Stop it!" she insisted, clenching her free fist, "Or you'll make me crazy, too. I mean, let's be sensible: there's nothing wrong, no one's angry at us, we're not starved, we have enough air. Surely someone will come help us before the hour is out."
"How long have we been here already?" he asked dryly.
"Maybe five minutes."
"Already too long. How many five minutes left in an hour?"
"Nineteen. Scott, stop-"
What was she thinking?anger wouldn't be any help. She tried to put herself in his place. Certainly the darkness was oppressive, and the elevator a little too warm for comfort. Thank God she wasn't claustrophobic herself, or afraid of the dark any longer. She'd had night terrors as a small child, until the autumn evening her father had sat with her, explaining that there was nothing in the dark to frighten her. To illustrate, he had turned the gas on and off several times to reveal always the same bedroom, unchanged.
"You see," he'd told her gently, "nothing changes when the lights go out. There's nothing in the dark that isn't there in the light."
She tried to mime her dad's gentle tone from that night, letting her voice drop, "It's all right. You know that. It shouldn't be too long until someone comes. Try to breath normally."
He let out a strained laugh. "You know that, Betty, and I know that. My gut instincts are another thing altogether."
After a few minutes of listening to his harsh breathing, she said desperately, tripping over words in her haste. "What if you could think of something else? Something you liked to do. Like... fishing! Weren't you and Mackie going fishing again? Back to that place in the Poconos, wasn't it? Perhaps it would be good to take Jeff with you...after all they say absence makes the heart grow fonderalthough I suppose that's how the trouble started, isn't it? And after all, you fellows never did get your fishing trip. By the time the quarantine was over, we were all so tired of each other."
"Even if we did start out with spaghetti and music," he agreed shakily; under her hand she could feel his grip begin to loosen. She was taking the right tack, but it was the wrong subjectshe could not remember the quarantine without thinking of dancing, the warm embrace of Scott's arms, the scent of his after-shave and pressed shirts. She was so close to him now she could smell that same after-shave, and just the faintest hint of the peppermint drops he occasionally popped into his mouth between scenes to keep his throat moist.
She tried to step away by stepping sideways, instead stumbled on his foot; to keep from sprawling she fell forward and caught herself on his shoulders.
Scott's hands reached out, steadied her, then he enfolded her in his arms so that her head rested against his left ear. "Betty, you okay?"
"Only tripping over my own silly feet. Thanks for the catch."
She supposed she should move, but it felt good to relax, to rest her head against his; the only thing better would have been to sit down.
Scott said mildly, "Say, too bad we don't have any music."
Now how did he know what she had been thinking? Nervously, she began again, "There, what did I tell you? You sound better already. Keep thinking about something elseabout fishing. Tell me about Crooked Creek. Is it in the woods? We had a wonderful stream near our house to fish in, past the woodlot..."
Babbling, she knew. Like a girl on her first date, she scolded herself. Then she felt a gentle touch on the back of her neck, fingers massaging the tense places in the muscles on either side of her spine. She gave a sigh of relief, tilting her head back slowly, then forward, working out the kinks, enjoying the soothing movement. Finally she admitted, "Oh, that is wonderful. Thanks."
"You're in worse shape than me," he said in some amaze. "I'm surprised you don't shatter to bits, Betty." His fingers continued to move; the silence that followed was unnerving. "Sodid you used to go fishing, too? I didn't think girls were into worms and fishhooks and that sort of junk."
She was so exhausted the massage was almost hypnotizing. "Hmmm...fishing?"
"You were talking about a stream in the woodlot."
"Past the woodlot...almost in the meadow." Her head relaxed on his shoulder and she continued in a dreamy voice, bits of memory drawn out about her small brother, a brook trout, Edgar the collie. She had known she was tired, but how could it have escaped her how tight and sore she felt? Scott continued to rub her neck and very soon her voice trailed off as she enjoyed the comfort of his touch, being held and cosseted. In the dark she smiled a little.
And then he leaned forward and kissed her neck just under her left ear.
She found herself holding her breath. "Scott...what are you doing?"
He said, very softly, "Thinking of something else."
By her mother's terms, now was the time to back away. Instead, suppressing a shiver that wasn't from fear, she waited.
But he continued massaging her neck as if nothing had happened and after a few minutes she wondered if she had dozed off and dreamed it instead. Finally his fingers slowed.
His breathing was no longer harsh, but still rapid. Barely noticing that her own breath had quickened, she asked, "How are you now, Scott?"
"Better," he murmured, then touched his lips to her neck again. This time it wasn't one kiss, but a succession of them, down her neck from her ear to her collarbone. The action sent a tremor through her that shook her from her toes to her ears, sent feelings that she had tried to suppress coursing through her once more. Involuntarily she lifted her head and his lips continued moving from collarbone to the hollow of her throat.
A moment ago they had been so comfortable together she had been almost asleep, now she was awake as she hadn't been in a long time. His touch brought back those recently-recalled spring nights, of the way it felt when Mike or Steve held her, of feelings that raced too rapidly and had left her breathless. She let out an almost inaudible murmur as he kissed the hollow of her throat again, just flicking it with the tip of his tongue, because now everything ached within her, urging her closer to him.
His embrace tightened imperceptibly, his right hand, so recently gripping the railing, now rose behind her to cup the back of her head, and then his mouth sought hers in the dark.
It wasn't the hard, desperate kiss he had given her the day Rollie Pruitt had fired him as station manager; this one was gentle, leisurely, firm, and full of longing, tasting of peppermint and Ingram's coffee. When she parted her mouth to draw in breath he deepened the kiss, and involuntarily her hands crept up from where they had rested to balance herself and her arms encircled his neck.
She wasn't sure how long the kiss lasted, nor did she care. It had carried her away to a recurring dream, one that started out with dancing and ended up in innumerable variations of what she was experiencing now, only the reality was so much better. She could feel the kiss in every pore of her body, from the tingle of the skin on her arms to the tightening of her nipples to the ache between her thighs.
When he finally broke the kiss, she attempted to catch her breath, wishing she could see him. Was he gloating in conquest, or as winded as she waseach breath she drew sounded almost too loud in the confines of the elevator. She was very conscious of her arms now, the bare flesh brushing against the stiff edge of his starched shirt collar, her fingers buried in the short, silky stubble of damp hair on his neck.
Her thoughts of what to do next were lost as she felt the fingers of his right hand slide forward from her neck. The tips were rough, as if at times they had seen harder work than holding a script or signing a letter, and the sensitive hairs on her arms rose as they traced the edge of her ear from the curve to the lobe.
Now, her instincts told her, now is the time to stop.
But she didn't want him to stop.
Scott's thumb lined her jaw, then he tenderly lifted her chin, and he kissed her once again. She responded tentatively, then relaxed and responded, growing comfortable in the warmth of his arms. Funny how she had hated being warm earlier, and now it was the most desirable thing in the world, welcoming, arousing.
Time seemed to telescope into nothing; where one kiss stopped another started. She was aware that several times she made a soft noise in her throat when the kiss or embrace grew more intense, and she could hear Scott swallow several times. Once or twice he broke the kiss to caress her neck again and each time she trembled but did not break from the embrace.
Finally she was conscious of the hand that had been behind her head and was now no longer there. It was drifting down her back, slowly, sensuously, to caress, to smooth, to stroke her waist, then her hip, to cup her still lower, to press her against him so she could feel his response to her body...
She gasped, pulling her head back. "Scott-"
He let out his breath, explosively, as if he had come from underwater. "Oh, hell-" Then he swallowed, took another breath. "Oh, hell, Betty...I'm sorry. I-"
"No." She said it suddenly, not even certain what she was objecting to. "It's-"
She couldn't say it was all right. What had she been thinking?
She said it nevertheless. "It's all right."
Scott repeated, his voice shaken, "I'm sorry, Betty."
"It's all right," she said with emphasis, feeling on the verge of tears, then finished in a whisper, "I just can't."
She could hear his deep breath. "I know."
What had Mother said? "No matter how else he acts, he is at least a gentleman."
Scott Sherwood a gentleman. The thought was astonishing.
They were still standing loosely in each other's arms. She knew if she pulled away he would think she was angry, and she was reluctant to leave in any case. Funny what the darkness could do to you.
Under her hands she could feel the tension flowing back into him. The fingers that had stroked her so tenderly moments ago fell to his side, reached back, grasped the railing once more. Her hands slipped from around his neck to lightly rest on his rigid shoulders. Reassuringly, although she wanted to cry out at the mood spoilt, she said "It can't be much longer now."
This time her prophecy was correct. It was only a few more minutes by the beating of her anxious heart that the elevator lights flickered, glowed steadily for a second, winked out again, then came on for good.
She flinched at the brightness, drawing back only then as Scott winced and put a hand to his eyes. The one flash she saw of his face was of flushed, clammy skin, stunned eyes. When she was able to focus on the elevator again, she noticed her smart little hat was tumbled in one corner, her purse in the other, resting up against Scott's suit jacket. She remembered dropping the purse, but when had the hat...
She blushed as she thought of Scott's hands and bent down quickly to swoop up the hat.
"I'll get your jacket, Scott," she said briskly, to cover. "Grab the phone and ask if they can get the elevator company to get us down."
When she stood back up she could see the cocksure Sherwood mask had covered Scott's face again. He grinned, scooped both purse and jacket up to hand her the former and toss the latter over his shoulder. "Unless the power cut killed something in this piece of junk, why bother?"
Sure enough, when he placed his strong hand around the lever, the same hand that had so firmly yet gently caressed her neck and her hair and her bodyBetty shivered, willing the persistent thought awaythe elevator resumed its way down to the ground floor, where the doors opened as smoothly if nothing had happened. Scott swept the gate aside quickly, with a flourish, before stepping out rapidly and offering her a hand.
She met his eyes only briefly as she followed, but Scott merely said breezily, "Don't know about you, but I'm sticking to the stairs from now on" and she agreed with a mute nod.
The lobby was dim, lit only by the faint light from twin bankers' lamps kept in the window of the radio store downstairs. Without benefit of mirror, Betty replaced her hat before going outside, and once out the front door of the building, hurriedly tugged on her sweater as well. The temperature must have dipped at least twenty degrees during the storm and now the wind had a raw, damp edge to it, driving crumpled leaves and rain before it. "Brrr. November's here at last."
Scott had slipped on his own jacket, settling it close around his shoulders for warmth. From the overhang he cast a quick eye over the streets, still slick and shiny with rain; extending a hand, he found it wet with drizzle. "Betty, you can't go home on the trolley like that. You'll catch pneumonia-"
"Scott!" she exclaimed as a second later he leaped from the step into the street, flagging down a passing taxi. "For heaven's sake, it's not a long ride-"
He turned back to her, the steady if light rain already wetting down his rumpled hair. In the insufficient light from the streetlamp, the shadows turned his serious face even darker. "C'mon, Betty, I'll pick up the tab if that's the problem." He paused a beat, then added, lower, "My mother died of pneumonia."
He had the door open for her already; she squared her shoulders against the damp and stepped in, planting one foot on the puddled street so she could finish speaking. "I can manage the fare. But thank you," she said, looking him square in the eye, but this time it was Scott that averted his glance.
"I let anything happen to you, Betty Roberts," he answered with a forced laugh, "and certain people will eat me alive."
She reached out, squeezed his hand, pulling his attention back to her. "No matter about the reason. Thank you," she repeated, the emphasis on the "you."
His lips flickered in a faint smile. "See ya tomorrow, Betty."
"On time," she reminded in a teasing voice, trying desperately to turn the conversation back to something lighter.
His mouth quirked. "And deprive Hildy of something to complain about? Betty, that would be cruel." He handed her the remainder of the way into the cab. "'Night."
He closed the door behind her and the cab pulled away from the curb. She turned, looking over her shoulder at him standing alone staring after her, pooled in the streetlight, hands thrust in his jacket pockets, until the taxi turned the corner and he was lost from sight.
"Where to, Miss?" the driver asked, intruding on her thoughts, and after she told him, she settled back into the seat, trying to regain some control over herself. She needed to go home, take a shower bath, get to bed. Tomorrow she could do her usual work, talk to Lorna, see about lunch with Victor...
Her heart was still beating rapidly. Victor. That was what she needed, a nice, quiet, safe lunch with Victor. They would talk about the station, about the events of the past week, about upcoming plans, about each other.
Rebellion stirred within her. When did "safe" suddenly become important?
A girl should be sensible, after all, she told herself. When the taxi stops, I'll give him his fare. A nickel tip should be fine. And thus she kept instructing herself, even after she was left standing on the cold curb in front of the Barbican. She didn't feel like being lectured for being late. She was a grown woman. There. The side door should be open. The girls who came out to clandestinely smoke their Sweet Caporals never locked it. Then up the flight of stairs, down the hall.
The turn of her key opened her room, cozy and small, the furnished pieces brightened by mementoes from home: a quilt, photos, plus a battered screen and some end tables she'd bought from a secondhand store and polished up.
A rented room in Pittsburgh, not in Elkhart, where she could have been safe with Mike in a homey farmhouse, raising chickens and babies, baking pies for the county fair and writing women's articles for the Farm Journal. A small room in Pittsburgh, rather than some large, dignified parsonage in the Midwest, where she would preside over church socials and in leftover minutes scribble some story or other to be submitted to a magazine.
She hadn't even "played it safe" going to college; Mother had argued she should at least go to the Normal school, where she could have worked for a teaching degree.
So why now?
"Because," she said aloud, not caring that there was no one to hear, shutting the door behind her, "I do not love Scott Sherwood. We worked that all out."
It had been all settled in the hallway the morning after Victor returned, if in an awkward manner that had rattled her for days. They were friends who had done a favor for each other, nothing more.
As for what had happened tonight, it had just been two adults letting feelings overcome practicality. It had been the darkness, really. Things changed in the dark, feelings, dreams, desires, matters that had nothing to do with what went on in the daytime of real life.
She removed her hat, hung it up. Placed her purse on the table next to the door where she would be sure to pick it up next morning. Walked behind the screen to the narrow iron bedstead so she could undress for bed. Looked at the photo of her mother and father sitting on the battered night stand.
Knew then, looking into her father's thoughtful eyes, that she was as untruthful to herself as she had been to Scott, and he had been to her.
For she could hear her dad's voice as clearly now as she had at age seven, sitting up tensely under the quilts with her arms wrapped around her knees. She sank into the bed, hiding her face in her hands.
"Nothing changes when the lights go out. There's nothing in the dark that isn't there in the light."
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