A Remember WENN story
by Linda M. Young
He'd never been so tired in his lifeand that included the last week or so working the loading docks.
Probably, Scott Sherwood thought ruefully, because the job at the docks only required muscle. Chutzpah was more tiring.
He rotated his head to relieve the stiffness in his neck, hearing alarming crackles, and was rewarded with a glare from Lester, who was cutting back from a pre-recorded advertisement jingle, warning him that his closing on A Book at Bedtime was about to come up.
He made it through without a yawn, although he had to stifle one during signoff and was immensely glad the tones of the WENN chime masked any noise as he gaped with his back to the engineer. Then he wearily tossed the used script on top of the jacket he had laid over Mr. Foley's chair, gave Lester a farewell wave, and walked out of Studio A, stretching his arms and giving another yawn.
The place echoed. Certainly everyone had taken advantage of the fact that he was there, tossing parts to him right and left, especially Mackie, and when they had realized that A Book at Bedtime was an abridged first person narration of Wilde's creepy Dorian Gray story, even usually tireless Maple had bid him farewell and left him to it. He and Lesterand of course Betty, still steadily typing in the writer's roomwere the only ones still there.
He wanted coffee before he left, however, to keep him awake on the way home. At least that was his excuse. There was one more thing he needed to do that evening, despite a raw throat from talking steadily for the past eight hours and sore feet from standing at the mike, and he wished he could just leave without doing it. He could hear the ghostly jeers of a dozen Sherwood relatives at his cowardice; after all, what was it but talk? Sherwoods could part a mink from its fur.
Trouble was, it wasn't just talk. If it was an excuse, he could have spun one faster than a spider setting up housekeeping.
He trudged into the Green Room, still dimly lighted by one lamp and the radio, now humming static to the listening public. Through the open blinds he could see that hishell, Pruitt's office was empty. He didn't expect to see that bastard around WENN any longer than he had to be. Surely with someone like that at the helm his station would be dead-
Listen to him. His station. The Sherwood ghosts were jeering again. He'd broken their one cardinal rule: never get involved.
Sometimes not even with each other.
Looking at the empty office hurt more than he liked to admit. He turned away, poured himself a cup of coffee; it was scalding and he blew on it for a few minutes before adding sugar, his eyes fixed on the wall. He heard Lester leave, walking briskly, whistling, then it was quiet. Quiet enough for him to think again. Before he left he had to go back to the writer's roomand that was the last place he wanted to go. When he closed his eyes at night he still saw the expression on Betty's face when he confessed about Victor's letter. The anger didn't bother him as much as the expression of betrayal, the look of revulsion.
There was a relative of his who was rather a joke around the family, his grandfather's brother, his Great Uncle Jack. Jack, Aunt Agatha always used to say with a laugh, had "got religion." Unlike the rest of the family, Uncle Jack worked 16 hours a day, six days a week, so the story wenthe had some type of grocery store outside some little town near Bloomington, Indiana, all because he'd started out one day to stiff a rich storekeeper and fallen in love with his daughter instead.
Maybe there was something in the water in Indiana, he thought cynically, that Sherwood men needed to stay away from.
The longer he sipped the coffee, the shorter his nerves grew. Perhaps this wasn't the best time. Betty had barely spoken to him after the audition. She'd asked him to fill out an employment form, eyes averted most of the time, but aside from that he had not seen her. He had noticed her and Pruitt watching him through the glass of the control room when he had first gone on the air, seen the smug look on her face. She wasn't glad to have him back, he thought bitterlyshe just wanted to needle Pruitt.
Why should she be glad anyway? He had hurt her in the one place where it had hurt the most, something involving Victor. Despite everything, she'd come to trust him and he'd let her down.
Bad move. No one trusted a Sherwood. They hardly trusted each other. Family dinners were contests of skill. And instead of singing around the piano like Betty's family probably did, they "sang out" stories of deals done and people deceived. It was a challenge always, fun sometimesbut for some reason never very homelike.
He knew he should rinse out the coffeecup, but simply shoved it on the counter instead. Tomorrow. He could do it tomorrow. He would do it tomorrow. Tonight it was time to walk out, go home, sleep it off as if the day had been a 12-hour drunk.
Quick footsteps in the hall. The doors to the Green Room swung open.
"Scott! What are you still doing here?"
Time froze. For a minute he couldn't swallow. Betty looked as stunned as he felt, her composure lost for a moment as her mouth parted in surprise.
Then she recovered, her face returned to its neutral cast. Scott managed to swallow, then roused up a grin from long experience. "Didn't mean to startle you, Betty Roberts. Just needed a cup of joe after a long night."
She remained standing in the doorway, a group of scripts clutched to her. "You'd better be getting home then."
"You, too," he said, a catch in his voice. For the first time he looked at those ubiquitous scripts. Had she never left them, even for one night? Did she read them in the beam of streetlights flashing through the trolley windows? Or did she lose a precious hour of sleep to review them?
He knew better than to ask her if he could walk her downstairs, although he wanted to. He wanted to do so many thingsbut the impulse that was the strongest was to walk up to her, to take her in his arms, to beg apologies and kiss her forehead, to tell her he loved her...
The raucous laughter of the Sherwood ghosts were enough of a reminder of what he had become.
Her arrival, away from the claustrophobic confines of the writer's room, at least made one thing easier. He could speak now, say the words that would have not come there.
"Hey, Betty," and to his own surprise his voice came out in hesitation, "I...wanted to say thank you."
She regarded him coolly. "For what?"
"I left that decision up to the others, if you remember. And Mr. Pruitt had final approval."
Scott said bluntly, "Pruitt hates my guts. He wouldn't have done it unless you had spoken up for me. So thank you."
Her face seemed to soften very slightly, visible to him only because in a year he had learned all the movements of her face from watching her openlyand sometimes not so openly.
"You're welcome." Then, softly, "You had better go, Scott. Bedside Manor comes early in the morning."
He nodded mutely, thinking she would also turn and leave, but she only stepped further into the Green Room, clearing a path to the double doors for him. He was momentarily puzzled, but had his hand on the door before he turned once more.
"Betty-" He had her attention again; it had seemed to wander to the softly hissing radio. "Betty, what was I supposed to do?"
He asked, almost desperately, "The money...that I'd planned to take. How was I supposed to put it back? When I'd decided I couldn't jump ship, I thought the best thing for it was the Memorial Fund."
If it was only 90 percent the truth, it was a more honest statement than he had made in years. Maybe he had laughed a little at Victor Comstock, brooding in a noisy, genial pub in a fabulous town like London, homesick for grimy, noisy, foul Pittsburgh and a struggling little radio station and a woman who had sounded like a romantic fantasy out of some magazine serial. But he'd also been envious of himof his purpose and his drive, which seemed similar to his own but yet so intrinsically different.
To his surprise, Betty closed her eyes and looked away momentarily. Then she faced him, lifting her chin.
"We might have thought of something together," she said, surprisingly. "I did go along with you, after all."
He retorted, "Betty, you didn't do anything wrong."
"Didn't I?" she asked sharply. "You were doing something illegal and I supported it. I even surveyed the site for the memorial. I went along with it because it was for Victorbut dishonest is dishonest, no matter for what reason."
There was no answer for that. By Sherwood reasoning, he'd gone beyond correcting something that really needed no correcting at all. No one was harmed by his money-skimming. The railroad got its advertising, the listeners enjoyed the program, he'd made his cachewhich he then turned into the memorial fund. Heck, in family terms he'd been a saint. But with Betty it was different, as if all the rules of poker had been changed in mid-play.
"I never thought of it that way," he answered quietly.
Give it up, Scubby, the voices were saying in his ear, using Aunt Aggie's nickname. It won't work. Time to go on.
As if she could hear them, Betty spoke up. "Let me ask you something, Scott. Why did you come back?"
He answered without thinking, without calculation of what it would get him or what he would lose. "I like it here, Betty Roberts." He didn't elaborate but his voice went on in his head. I like Mackie's ridiculous jokes and the way Eugenia says hello in the morningsafter her cup of coffee, of courseand Mr. Foley going on and on about one thing or the other. I like Mr. Eldridge's cockeyed logic, Jeff's dedication, the way Gertie takes on Hilary...
"Hell," he finished, "I even like Hilary Booth."
When he realized he had actually said it aloud, he gave Betty his best grin. "You've got to admit she's a challenge."
Not as much as sweet, upstanding, and smart Betty Roberts was, he knew. If she'd been a scam, a poker game, another girl in the Sherwood line of conquests, he would have been gone long before. Because in the end none of it was importantexcept for Betty.
One victory for him: he'd made her smile.
Automatically he looked at his watch, but this time for a reason. "Will you look at the time. I guess it's about time I go."
"You'll miss your trolley," she agreed. "And you need to be here before eight a.m. tomorrow. Please don't forget."
"From the side of my bed to Bedside Manor," he said jauntily. "See you then."
With a burst of energy, he swung out of the Green Room and indeed was out the front door and halfway to the elevator when he realized he'd left his jacket behind. If he expected to bump into Betty on the way back in, he would have been sorely disappointed, but otherwise he retrieved his jacket without incident.
The radio was still on in the Green Room, but now there were voices. Or rather a voice, utterly recognizable. Puzzled, Scott squinted through the window and an askew slat of blind.
Betty was sitting on the arm of the couch, her hands clasped tightly in front of her, the scripts forgotten on the sofa.
She was listening to Jonathan Arnold. And it almost looked as if she wanted to cry.
He almost barged back in, ready to ask her why on earth she would be listening to that stinking turncoat. Then logic took over. Research. She was doing a lot of war-related scripts these days, and this was probably research. Betty was nothing if thorough. Anything she wrote about a swine like Jonathan Arnold would be nothing less than accurate.
Silently, he tossed the jacket over his shoulder and headed for the door. That would probably be some story.
He couldn't wait to hear it someday.
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