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New Beginnings


by Susan L. Minnick

Italics denotes thoughts and flashbacks.

It had been a long day, and nott that sort of day that ends satisfactorily either. By all rights, she should have been happy. Thrilled, really. Charmed by all life had to offer at its new beginning, its fresh start...

"Itís farewell."

"What, Victor?"

"Goodbye to WENN for me, Betty. The government has been aware for some time now about RCAís new television sets and they want to study the impact these inventions could have on the country and the way America is run. Apparently, they think Iím the man to do it."

"So youíre just leaving WENN? Just like that?"

"Betty, I hate to admit it, but I havenít been at WENN for the past five years."

He hadnít, really. Ever since the war began heíd been on trains back and forth between Pittsburgh, Washington, and New York City so many times that everyone on the A-Track knew him on a first name basis. Victor was so busy with the W.E.N.N. that he hadnít had time for radio station WENN, or anything else for that matter. But that wasnít the issue; with Victor away so much and the cast busied with entertaining Pittsburgh and informing the world, Betty hardly had time to take a breath. While other girls were writing to their boys in the swamps, Betty was swamped with paperwork from every federal communications agency the government had to offer. She had no time for letters, care packages, flowers and rice...

"I now pronounce you man and wi...men and wives. You may kiss the...brides." The elderly Reverend stumbled over the words in his leather-bound book. It was understandable; there werenít many times in a preacherís life when he had to perform three wedding ceremonies at once, let alone over the airwaves.

"Oh, congratulations Mackie! Congratulations, Mr. Foley! Congratulations, Mr. Eldridge!"

Betty laughed. Mr. Foley and Eugenia were an item before the war broke out. It was only after Pearl Harbor that they decided to wait to marry, Betty assumed because the workload was so that any newlywed couple wouldnít be able to snatch five minutes for themselves. Mackie had finally broken down and asked Maple to dance at the canteen on V.E. Day, and they hadnít stopped since. Mr. Eldridge and Gertie HAD been a surprise though, and one that even took Hilary back a bit. Afterwards they all smiled at it though, and even chuckled. There couldnít have been a sweeter set of grandparents for the station than Gertie and Tom.

"Goodnight, Betty." A familiar voice interrupted her thoughts. The writer turned from her desk to face the door. The once-diva smiled as she straightened her dress. "Donít stay up too late, Betty. There isnít a script you canít finish tomorrow."

The two chuckled. Hilary and Betty had grown close during the war; Betty had often been someone Hilary could talk to when bad news came from England, and Betty, even though she didnít always say it, had looked up to Hilary. Not many women could face having to send off their husbands to a war~torn country for a third time, let alone when they had a baby to raise. Hilary did it all though, without batting an eyelash. It continued to amaze Betty to this day. "Iíd better be off. Who knows what those two have done to the house by now. Goodnight."

Betty smiled. "Goodnight, Hilary."

As the tap-tap-tap of Hilaryís heels faded down the hallway, Betty turned back to the stack of papers on her desk. This can wait Ďtil morning, she thought. Putting her gloves on, she picked up her purse from its relegated spot in the corner and switched off the light. She made her nightly rounds, checking Studio B, the record room, the office, and the Green Room, ending up in Studio A.

"I wonder who left the lights on," Betty commented upon entering the familiar room. She looked around and smiled, letting the unusual silence enclose her.

"Betty."

Her eyes drifted shut. It had been a long day.

"Betty?"

Was that someone calling her name? No, she must be dreaming.

"Betty?" a strong hand fell on her shoulder and her eyes opened in shock. The voice sounded too familiar but, no, it couldnít be....

No one. She turned to find herself alone once more. Shaking off the disconcerting feeling she flicked the lights off and headed out, ready for bed.

* * *

It had been a sleepless night. One of many since, oh, she couldnít even remember when. Betty chuckled. "I canít believe Iíve gotten accustomed to this," she muttered, staring at the black liquid in the mug on the table. One thing she vowed not to do when she came to the big city was get addicted to coffee. She had made a long list of things she vowed never to do actually; go to a bar, dye her hair blonde, fall in love,

WE ARE SORRY TO INFORM YOU THAT YOUR FORMER STAFF MEMBER LIEUTENANT SCOTT SHERWOOD OF THE US ARMED FORCES HAS BEEN DECLARED MISSING IN ACTION STOP

"Hey, if I fought with the Spanish Freedom Fighters for cities like Madrid and Toledo, I sure as hell am going to fight for towns like Toledo, Ohio and Valencia, Pennsylvania. If Iím gonna win this thing for all the Betty Roberts in this country, maybe that means I have to do without the one I care about for a while. Maybe thatís how this whole thing works."

Again that disconcerting feeling came. Again she shook it off.

* * *

"Betty, whoís going to do the organ music for ĎBedside Manorí while Eugeniaís away?" Hilary questioned.

"Anyone but me. I think Pittsburghís had enough of ĎChopsticksí for a while," she smiled as she headed into the office for the morning mail. She flipped through the stack, categorizing into three piles; bills, WENN, and W.E.N.N. The last letter, though, didnít have a pile, and it was addressed to Betty personally, care of the station. She hadnít gotten a letter like that since her first note from her mother, two weeks into her stay in Pittsburgh. The envelope was worn, smoother than the ordinary stationary, and had a postmark from Britain with no return address.

Sitting down, she took the letter opener from the desk and slit the envelope carefully. Pulling out one thin sheet of folded paper, Betty sat back and began to read.

October 1, 1945

Betty,

Oh would you look at the time. I wish I could, they wonít even let me have a watch around here. They think itís too dangerous. In case you still donít know who this is, Iíll spare you the surprise. Itís me, Scott Sherwood.

Betty dropped the letter in shock. No, it couldnít be. It CANíT be! she thought frantically. She hadnít heard a word from Scott since he left that day back in 1941. No one had. The only thing they ever received pertaining to Scott was that telegraph in November of 1944. Now though, if that letter really was from Scott (and judging from the overused clichť it had to be) they found him, and he was alive! She could hardly believe it.

Picking up the letter from the desk, Betty took a deep breath and read on, barely able to contain herself.

Itís been a long time, hasnít it? I know, I have no excuse for not writing earlier, except for maybe those four months when I didnít really know who I was. A few land mines will do that to a person. But now they say Iím healthy enough to come home. So instead of just appearing at the door one day, I thought maybe Iíd soften the blow and let you know when Iím coming. My plane will land in New York on October 25th, so I should be in Pittsburgh by the 27th at the latest. Iím looking forward to seeing everyone again, Betty.

Scott Sherwood

She sat for a moment, just staring at the letter in shock. From shock, to disbelief, to reality and that familiar feeling that she was dreaming. She had to be. But then again, letters donít materialize in your hand, do they?

The phone rang and woke Betty out of her thoughts. Shaking off the dreamy feeling she set the letter aside and picked up the receiver.

"Itís Mr. Medwick, Betty. He wants to set up a time for your monthly meeting."

"Thank you, Gertie, you can put him through."

The line clicked and the shaky voice of Agitato Medwick filled the line. "Yes, Mr. Medwick, Iím looking forward to it as well," Betty mocked with a smile. "Well let me look at my calendar. The 28th? Thatís," she studied the little squares on her deskpad, "tomorrow. Yes, that should be, wait, the 28th is tomorrow. Which means...the 27th..." She picked up the letter. "Iím terribly sorry, Mr. Medwick, I...have to...take care of some business right now. See you tomorrow!" Dropping the receiver back into its cradle, she took the letter and headed out to the reception area.

"Gertie, youíll never believe what I got in the mail!"

"Whatís that, Betty?" the red-headed receptionist queried.

"A..."

"Betty," Jeff popped out of Studio A, "Hilary and I are dying in there; someone has to at least give us a little music. Itís bad enough that our coffee stirs quietly and pours silently."

"I donít think thereís anything we can do, Jeff. I have to finish the scripts and I donít know anyone here-"

"Betty, I do know a little piano," Gertie offered.

She smiled. "All right, Gertie, I think variations of ĎGoodnight Ladiesí would be perfect for ĎBedside Manorí." She rushed the receptionist into the studio.

Suddenly, the phone rang and Betty ran to the switchboard to get it. "Hello, WENN."

Another call came, and then another and another. As hectic as the switchboard got that day, so did the station. Two new sponsors came in wanting to buy air time to promote their new housing developments on the east side of town. They were these new neighborhoods being built for "those who want the convenience of city life and the comfort of the countryside". After they left, a slew of governmental phone calls came concerning the closing of the W.E.N.N., and after that came a meeting with Gloria Redmond of GLOBE Enterprises concerning the new budget for 1946. Combined with the lack of scripts as well as actors, Betty didnít have a chance to sit down let alone tell anyone the news. But maybe that was a good thing.

Six oíclock rolled around, then seven, then eight. Sign off came but Scott Sherwood didnít. Betty hoped against hope that he just couldnít get a train, that heíd be at the door tomorrow at eight a.m. By midnight though, she was tired of hoping.

Eyes glazed over, she set the cover on her typewriter and closed up shop for the night. Making her nightly rounds and ending up in Studio A as usual, she picked up the extra scripts lying on Mr. Foleyís table and piled them neatly in the corner.

"Betty."

No, no, Iím not falling for this again, she thought warily.

"Betty?"

"I must be insane!" she exclaimed out loud.

"I hope not!" the familiar voice answered.

Her spine stiffened. She turned slowly, wanting so much for him to be real this time...one foot, then the other...she stared at the floor...she didnít dare look up...two shoes, two legs, two arms.... two deep brown eyes...

"S...Scott," she whispered, her voice taken over by doubt.

"Hello, Betty." The two eyes smiled. "Iím sorry Iím late; I let another guy take my seat. He wrote his sweetheart that theyíd get married the day he got back, and he didnít want to leave her waiting."

She had thought about this moment for too long to know exactly what to do. Cry? Laugh? Hug him? Talk to him? All of those options ran through her mind and she realized all she wanted to do was stand there, look at him, let that peaceful feeling that left the minute he walked out of the door flood back and wash over her, and then fall into his arms.

Confused by her silence, but temporarily caught in her gaze, Scott asked, "Didnít you get my letter?"

"Yes," she replied, half dazed, "this morning. I didnít know whether or not to believe it."

The two looked away from each other, shaking off that dazed feeling that paralyzed them.

"I was, really hoping to have seen everyone today," he lied. Scott knew that the Army private was a Godsend. Heíd planned for the past month to see solely Betty on his first day back; she was the only one heíd wanted to see and he wanted to see her alone.

"Well, you wouldnít have been in much luck if you had come earlier. Maple, Mackie, Eugenia, and Mr. Foley are off on their honeymoons." Somehow, when the subject of marriage came up, she couldnít quite meet his eyes.

"Honeymoons? It took four years for Eugenia and Mr. Foley to tie the knot?" he smiled, then laughed. "Mapes and Mackie. She couldnít have gotten a better fella." What about Victor? Was he part of the ceremony too? He scanned her hands, but no luck. They were gloved.

"Yes, it was a sweet ceremony," she watched him casually look at her hand and wondered what he really was thinking. He met her eyes again and she paused, not knowing what to say. "The biggest surprise," she said, her voice sounding a tad shaky, "was Mr. Eldridge and Gertie."

Internally Scott sighed with relief. "Mr. Eldridge and Gertie?! Ha!" he grinned.

Betty was mesmerized by it. The war made him thinner for sure; his hair seemed a tad more gray under the hat, and a small scar ran halfway across his right hand, but his eyes still had that glow, and the Sherwood grin still flashed brighter than the stars. Suddenly she was overtaken by her one regret that had pounded her since December 12, 1941. She never told him how she felt before he got that scar, lost 40 pounds, and almost didnít recover from amnesia.

Nowís the time Sherwood, Scott thought to himself. He hadnít known how he would breach the subject, or what kind of reception he would get. He was more nervous about the second than the first, though, and whenever he did he got nervous. "No time like the present" was his motto. It was now or never.

"Betty, I," no, he couldnít. Not until he knew the answer to one question. "Howís Victor?"

She could see the change in his eyes when he asked about Victor; she didnít think she could take it. The glow had gone and was replaced with concern, and hurt, and one thing she only saw once on Scottís face, right when Pruitt announced his famous audit. Fear.

"Heís fine, I suppose," Betty answered lightly.

"You suppose?" He couldnít be more confused.

"Yes. I...we havenít heard much from him since he got to Washington. The governmentís given him a job researching the effects television will have on America. Heís left WENN."

Scott couldnít believe it. "Left WENN? For good? Victor?"

"Yes." Betty said much the same thing to herself after Victor gave his farewell speech. She looked down at her shoe, not knowing what to expect next.

"I never thought Victor of all people would leave WENN," Scott mused, staring off into space. Looking back down he noticed Betty avoiding his gaze. Why didnít she go with him? he wondered. If he hurt her in any way... He touched her arm.

Betty looked up. She knew what he was thinking. "No, Scott, it was never like that between Victor and I," she was so relieved she had finally said it.

Scottís hand left her arm. "But he stayed here."

"In a way, he did." She inhaled and began walking around the studio, tracing her finger along Mr. Foleyís table, proceeding to Eugeniaís organ. Turning to meet his eyes she finished, "but mostly he didnít. Washington really needed Victor. I was the one who stayed here and took care of mostly everything. But that was his job," she looked back down at the organ. "I couldnít hold it against him. He was serving his country."

Scott was amazed. Standing with his hands in his pockets, he replied, "The war has changed you Betty Roberts."

Betty smiled, then turned to meet him. "The war changes everyone Scott. Victor has a new career. Jeff and Hilary have a child."

"And you?"

She pursed her lips. "I suppose...I suppose I donít really know how the war has changed me, Scott. Iíve been too busy filing papers, paying bills, and meeting with sponsors to have noticed any change Iíve made. Maybe that is the change though," she mused, leaning against the Wurlitzer and looking up at the ceiling. "You know, when Bridal Bouquet sent two couples from WENN off to Niagara Falls, and one to dinner at ĎThe Niagara, the finest dining in Pittsburghí yesterday, I started thinking back, back to the day that I came here. Now I recognize what the warís done to me," she looked back at him, "Iím a business woman Scott; all of the Rosies have left their rivets, but Betty Roberts is still scheduling meetings, writing out checks, and typing up scripts." She noticed Scott had stopped looking at her and started looking around, a half-angry, half-sad look on his face. She realized what she had said, and was shocked at how open she had been.

"Scott, Iím sorry, I should never have..."

"You know, the warís changed me too, Betty Roberts," he met her eyes, "I used to be this free-for-all con-man, open to any scheme, any idea, and full of prevarications," he hesitated, "lies. The war changed all that. Lying in that hospital bed, half stir-crazy, I looked back on my life and decided to make some changes. I wasnít going to be a schemer any longer."

"Scott," she said softly. Walking up to him, she put her hand on his shoulder and continued, "you gave up being a con-artist years ago." She smiled. "I still remember the day you auditioned as a replacement actor for Jeff. Later on I overheard Maple ask you if you really had been on the loading docks those two weeks; you were so tricky getting out of that answer, but I knew you just avoided fessing up to her that there was no job in California with NBC. You gave up being a con-artist the day you told me you forged Victorís signature on that letter. You didnít need a war and you sure didnít need a hospital bed to do that."

Overcome with emotion, she turned away from him and tried her hardest to hold back the tears she had wanted to let go for so long. "I...Iím the one that it took a war to make up her mind," she inhaled, "Iím the one that got you into that hospital bed, if I had only..."

He grabbed her and turned her around, the two coming face to face. "Betty Roberts, you listen to me. Nothing you could have said or done would have gotten me, or us, out of the war. But itís over now. You canít look back on it and feel guilt-ridden for the rest of your life." He drew her close and wrapped his arms around her. "Itís over, Betty Roberts, and now the futureís just beginning."

She finally let go, but they werenít tears of sadness anymore.

The End

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