"Yeah, Betty, who's Craig Atwater?" Scott asked with a frown, echoing the thoughts of the assembled cast.
Betty hesitated, glancing into Scott's troubled brown eyes before looking at the rest of the group. How best to explain this? "Oh," she quavered a little nervously, "just a fella I used to know when I was in college. I haven't seen or heard from him since I've been here."
There was a decidedly pregnant pause, during which everyone simply waited for Betty to further explain, being either too polite or too surprised to openly pry. She looked at the faces of her adopted family, debating about what she should tell them, before her eyes fastened on Scott's face - and remained there. He looked so clearly hurt by her hesitation to tell the story, that he must be thinking she was hiding some kind of torrid, and unfinished, love affair. For some reason, the sight of him in pain was too much for her to bear, and she desperately wanted to make him feel better.
Still with her eyes locked on Scott, she began telling them about Craig Atwater. It was a simple story, really, and not worth all this attention. There was just one detail she wasn't quite prepared to share.
"We used to date back in college. Oh, nothing serious or anything," she hastened to add as Scott's eyes clouded over further. "I always thought of him as more of a friend than anything else. We used to have a lot of fun together going to movies, even a couple of dances. To tell you the truth, I'd kind of forgotten about him, it's all been so long ago," she waved a dismissive hand.
"I wish I had an old beau who would send me a dozen roses after being out of touch for so long. Such a romantic way to remind someone of your undying devotion," mused Gertie half-enviously, which earned her a scowl from Scott.
Betty turned her attention to Gertie, too. "That's not what this is," she denied quickly. "In his note, he says that he's in town for the next couple of days on business and since he knows I work here, he sent these over with an invitation for lunch today."
"Where I come from, when a guy sends a girl flowers like that, he means business. Are you gonna go, Betty?" Maple asked curiously.
"I'm not sure," Betty began uncertainly.
"Oh, I think you should. It's kind of romantic, really, two old flames meeting up after so many years," Eugenia added dreamily.
"Don't do it, Betty," advised Hilary. "Once burned, twice shy I always say. Or at least I should have," she added.
"Very funny, Hilary, but we'd better be going. Remember, you did promise to have lunch with me today," Jeff took her by the elbow and began edging her toward the door.
"Oh, yes. I dimly recall making that engagement although, for the life of me, I can't think why I did." The rest of their conversation was lost as the front door closed behind them.
"Wait a minute!" Betty said abruptly. "If we've all been standing out here for the last five minutes, who's broadcasting in the studio?" She glanced at the remaining faces circled around her.
"Don't worry, Betty. Mr. Foley and Mr. Eldridge have been reading the news from Studio A," Eugenia reassured her with a bright smile.
Somehow, Betty didn't find that prospect even remotely reassuring. "Scott, I think it's time you took over the news from Mr. Eldridge," she said decisively, laying her hand on his arm. "Scott?" she repeated when the only response she got from him was a long, searching look. "Oh, sure. The news. Piece of cake," he grinned down at her, but somehow the grin didn't have it's usual spark and his words rang a little hollow. He moved towards Studio A, knowing Betty was watching his retreat. Scott couldn't help but feel something was not right here. When Betty had told that story, she hadn't told the whole thing. She was holding something back and Scott didn't dare to hazard a guess why. He only knew that it unsettled him. Scott also knew that as long as this Craig Atwater guy was in town, he wasn't going to let Betty out of his sight.
And he still hadn't given her those flowers!
Betty watched Scott walking into the studio with a definite sinking feeling. He knew. Oh, he didn't know exactly how her relationship with Craig had ended, but he knew that she'd held something back from her explanation. That look he'd given her before walking away had told her everything. The truth was, she wouldn't mind telling Scott the whole embarrassing story, she just didn't want everyone else to know - it was far too personal. It was all ancient history anyway, and Craig had probably forgotten the whole thing. The fact that he'd sent the flowers and invitation were a clear sign that he had.
She'd just have to explain it all to Scott at the first opportunity. She'd go to lunch with Craig today, just to catch up and talk about their college days. He'd be gone by tomorrow and her relationship with Scott could continue right where they'd left off on Friday - wherever that was.
Betty smiled in anticipation as she headed for the writer's room. It didn't matter that she couldn't particularly define her relationship with Scott. She only knew what she felt: happy when he was around, missing him when he wasn't, filled with anticipation at the thought of seeing him. Oh, yes, and there was that completely undefinable, yet delicious thrill she only seemed to feel when he was around.
Betty nodded her head as if she'd reached a final decision as she entered the writer's room. She would tell him the rest of the story as soon as she could. Seeing the doubt in his eyes a few minutes ago had hurt her, especially since there was so little reason for it. Their relationship was becoming more complicated, but Betty welcomed it - she didn't want the feelings she was experiencing to end for anything in the world.
In Studio A, Scott was doing his best to deliver the news with his usual aplomb, but finding it difficult as his mind strayed far afield from current events in Europe. He desperately needed to talk to Betty. The more he thought about it, the more he realized that this old boyfriend of Betty's was no big deal. That didn't mean he was going to leave her alone with him of course, it only meant that Craig didn't stand a chance.
Scott realized that he still had some competition in the form of Victor, but some guy Betty hadn't seen in at least two years, who probably still lived in Indiana? Not a problem. So she hadn't been completely honest about her relationship with Craig. Did it really matter? It had been so long ago and Scott believed that complete honesty was almost never the best policy. Heck, most of his life had been built around that creed. How could he possibly fault her for keeping one little secret from him?
Now all he had to do was find a way to invite himself along on that lunch date. Piece of cake! A smile broke out on Scott's face as he finished the news with something more like his usual panache.
A bold knock sounded at the writer's room door. Betty looked up with a smile; that knock could only belong to one person.
"Come in!" she called brightly.
Scott poked his head into the room. "Got a minute, Betty?"
"For you? Always," Betty replied without conscious thought.
"Really?" He looked at her quizzically. This just might be easier than he thought.
"Oh!" Betty just realized what she'd said. "Well, I mean, I'm always available to help everyone here when they have a problem with a script or a storyline, they only have to ask," she clarified, not a little flustered.
"Oh, sure, I know that, but I wanted to talk to you about something more personal," he stopped abruptly, waiting for her reaction.
"Scott, I'm sorry. I know there was something you've been trying to tell me. With everything that's been going on, I completely forgot. What was it you wanted to talk to me about? And what are you hiding behind your back?" She waited expectantly, elbows propped on the desk in front of her, chin on her hands.
There was no point in delaying. Scott took the plunge, taking the flowers from behind his back. "Betty, these are for you. I bought them because, well, Friday night was so wonderful and I wanted to thank you for giving me another chance. Not many people have ever done that for me, and it means a lot," he paused, watching in wonderment as her face registered delighted surprise.
"Scott," Betty could hardly get the words out, not that she actually knew which ones to use. "That might be one of the sweetest things anybody has ever said to me," she stopped, burying her nose in the flowers before looking back up at him with a happy smile.
Suddenly, the short distance between them seemed like it was far too much to Scott. He knelt on one knee before her, and Betty suddenly found breathing normally immensely difficult. Absently, she reached for the collar of her dress and toyed with it, her other hand still clutching the bouquet. Scott looked just as if he was about to... But that was ridiculous, thought Betty, their relationship hadn't gone that far. However, the thought did nothing to calm Betty's frantically racing heart.
Scott looked directly into her eyes, now brought on a level with his own, and read the confusion there. "Betty, what I want to talk to you about, I really can't talk about here. Come to lunch with me. I know you don't have much time, but at least it will give us a little more privacy than being here," he waited, his eyes pleading with her to acquiesce.
Betty's heart rate and breathing were slowly beginning to return to normal. With relief, and if she was completely honest, just a twinge of regret, she realized that it was only a lunch invitation after all. But what could be so important that he had to discuss it with her outside of the office? With a start, Betty remembered that she needed to talk to him, too, which also brought about the recollection that she already had a lunch date.
"Scott, I really wish I could, but Craig should be here any minute and I have no way to get in touch with him to cancel. I need to talk to you, too, about Craig," she frowned as her voice trailed off uncertainly. Then she brightened. "You should come with us. Oh, I know we can't talk privately that way, but it's probably your only chance to meet him and we can talk tonight."
At the mention of Craig's name, Scott realized abruptly that a lunch invitation had been his original goal all along. He'd completely forgotten that that was why he'd come in here in the first place. "Sure, Betty, I'll come. In fact, I'd love to meet him," that wasn't entirely a lie, anyway. He drew in just a little closer to her. "We can talk tonight. Maybe at the Starlight Ballroom?" he suggested, his voice low and persuasive.
Betty felt as if she were floating towards him. "Sounds perfect," she managed to whisper.
"Seven thirty?" that same velvety voice, drawing ever nearer.
"Mmmhmm," Betty agreed breathlessly, her eyelids fluttering closed.
Before their lips could meet, the door behind them swung open, banging against the wall. For a moment, it was difficult to tell who was more startled. Mr. Eldridge's mouth dropped open in surprise before it curved into a knowing smile. Betty's eyes flew open and she sprang away from Scott as though she'd been burned. Scott wasn't startled at all. He hung his head and reflected in exasperation that there were entirely too many doors in the city of Pittsburgh, all of which seemed to open at precisely the wrong moment.
Mr. Eldridge cleared his throat. "Betty, there's a Mr. Wetwater in reception who says he has a lunch date with you. What do you want me to tell him?" he waited, hands folded in front of him.
Betty smiled. "It's Atwater, Mr. Eldridge. It's okay, I was expecting him," she stood up and Scott slowly rose from his knee. "Are you ready?"
"Lead on," Scott motioned with his arm to indicate that she should precede him and for just a moment, she felt his other hand at the small of her back. Feeling that familiar little thrill, Betty walked towards the door, Scott close behind. Mr. Eldridge detained Scott at the door by placing a hand on his arm.
"Has she agreed to the exchange then?" he asked in a hushed voice.
Scott stared at the older man, utterly perplexed. "Mr. Eldridge, what are you talking about?"
"Well, you gave Betty the flowers, does that mean she'll give me the chocolate?"
Somewhat enlightened, Scott replied, "Oh, sure, but not until later this afternoon when we get back from lunch." He mentally added buying a box of Walden's Chocolates to his list of things to do today before heading off down the hallway in search of Betty.
Scott was walking along at his usual brisk pace when he suddenly stopped dead in his tracks. Betty really hadn't told them the whole story about Craig Atwater. Not only was the guy a dead-ringer for Cary Grant, he was also wearing a suit which would easily cost more than Scott's monthly salary. Worse, he was hugging Betty - his Betty!
Scott, dumbfounded, continued to stare at the scene unfolding in the reception area, until he at last regained the use of his legs. He strolled briskly down the remainder of the hallway, determined to break up Craig's embrace. He sincerely hoped he wouldn't have to hit the guy, at least not until they'd been formally introduced. At which point, Scott would probably find several reasons for giving him a good pounding.
Unfortunately, from Scott's vantage point, he couldn't see Betty's face or the fact that Craig's hug was returned with something less than enthusiasm. It wasn't that Betty wasn't an affectionate person. She had been raised in a very demonstrative family and she was comfortable being so with close friends as well. This, however, was different. She hadn't seen Craig in at least two years and the way they had parted company was hardly friendly. Not only that, but she was also conscious of Scott watching from somewhere behind her. All of which conspired to make this a singularly awkward moment.
As Scott drew alongside the couple, his features schooled into a smile which didn't quite reach into his eyes, Craig finally drew away from Betty, who smiled at him a little uncertainly.
Finally, Scott heard him speak. Not that it seemed probable he could have missed that voice before. It was big, booming, deep and far too self-satisfied. Scott could think of only one voice that grated on his nerves more - Rollie Pruitt's.
"Well, Bess, I just can't believe it! All these years in the big city, and you still look like the same country girl to me," he punctuated the last word with a playful little jab to Betty's chin.
Bess? Scott winced. How could he have ever thought this guy was a problem? He hadn't even met Craig yet and he was already irritating beyond words. The conversation continued, but Scott was still fuming. If Craig wanted somebody to punch, Scott would gladly comply, as long he got to get in his own shots, too. Time to step in and take over.
"Scott Sherwood," he announced decisively, right hand extended towards Craig.
"No, Craig Atwater. Get it?" He laughed obnoxiously at his own feeble humor.
Betty breathed an internal sigh of relief. She couldn't remember when she'd ever been so glad to have Scott beside her. Scott had somehow managed to insinuate his shoulder between herself and Craig, for which she was grateful. It handily blocked some of the force of Craig's personality. He's certainly changed a lot, she reflected wryly, and certainly not for the better. The one thing that hadn't changed was the use of the hated nickname, Bess. He'd thought it was cute to have his own name for her, something no one else used. He hadn't used it all the time, just often enough to annoy her.
What had happened to the quiet, introspective, serious student she'd known during college? Judging from his clothing, he must be successful at whatever work he was involved in. She shrugged. Sometimes success just spoiled a person. It really was a shame in this case, though. He used to be such a thoughtful friend.
Vaguely, she realized that Scott and Craig had continued the conversation. She really should get more involved; from what she'd seen of Craig so far, he and Scott were definitely going to clash. With a start, she realized they already were. There was an air of animosity between them and Betty desperately wished she'd been paying attention to what was being said.
For the moment, they seemed to be involved in a staring contest, so Betty broke in, hoping to avoid bloodshed. "Well, I guess we should all be heading off to lunch."
Craig looked confused. "All of us?" For the first time, his impervious smile cracked.
"Oh, I'm sorry, I forgot to mention that I invited Scott to go to lunch with us. I hope you don't mind." Betty was more relieved than ever that she'd asked Scott along. Being alone with Craig would be nearly unbearable.
Craig rallied. "Well, sure! I don't mind if Scotty-boy comes along," He leaned in closer to Scott and lowered his voice. "That is, if you don't mind listening to a couple of former lovebirds talking over happier times." He dug an elbow into Scott's ribs while Betty glared.
Scott grimaced. Scotty-boy? "No problem. I figure if Betty can stand you, so can I, Greg."
"Whatever." Scott waved a dismissive hand, then offered his arm to Betty. "Ready to go? I know we don't have much time."
She was just about to accept his arm when the front door opened again, admitting a plump, clearly jovial older gentleman. Gertie, who had been watching the trio in reception with a sardonic gaze while reflecting on what a pity it was such a good-looking man should spoil himself by having a personality that ghastly, immediately turned her attention to the new arrival. He removed his hat and held it in front of his considerable paunch while he introduced himself.
"How do you do? I'm Max Berger of Max's Diner. Home of the Max Burger," he announced proudly. "I'm here to meet with Scott Sherwood."
"Oh yes. I believe Mr. Sherwood is expecting you. He's right over there," Gertie replied, pointing towards Scott. This should be interesting. Gertie could tell how much Scott wanted to go on this lunch with Betty, but he could hardly keep a potential sponsor waiting for an hour. How would he wiggle out of this one?
Scott was already walking towards Mr. Berger, hand extended. "Scott Sherwood."
"I'm Max Berger."
"And you're an hour early. What a nice surprise," Scott struggled against feeling disgruntled.
"Yes, I'm sorry about that. Something came up and I've had to push all my meetings up a little. I hope it isn't too much of an inconvenience. I'm sure you always make time for your sponsors. A station this size can't afford not to," he reasoned shrewdly.
"Bad luck, Scotty-boy! Looks like we'll have to have lunch next time. Come on, Bess! Our lunch is waiting for us," he grabbed Betty by the arm and hurried her toward the exit. She cast an exasperated glance back at Scott, who returned her look apologetically. He'd save her from the whole ordeal if he could, but he knew how important this sponsor could be to the station. With a sigh, he turned back to Mr. Berger. It was going to be a long afternoon.
Scott may have thought he was in for a long afternoon, but he had nothing on Betty. When she thought back on that lunch, she could only recall it with a groan. It was the longest hour - could it really have only been an hour? - that she had ever spent in her life.
Craig should have been fascinating, charming, and intelligent. After all, he was a successful architect, had traveled extensively, rubbed elbows with the great and near-great. Disappointingly, he was none of those things. Betty could hardly remember ever meeting such a pompous bore. Well, except maybe Rollie Pruitt.
He rattled on and on, talking about himself and his accomplishments, with copious name-dropping thrown in, just for variety. While she pretended to listen to Craig's stories in rapt attention, she had ample time to reflect on another certain gentleman whom she'd had occasion to spend time with during the last couple of weeks. No contest there. Scott left Craig out in the cold.
Suddenly, she heard Scott's name and was almost afraid she'd simply blurted it out in longing. She quickly realized, however, that Craig was asking about her relationship with Scott. She felt herself blushing furiously. How could she explain her relationship with Scott to a near-stranger when there were times when she could hardly explain it to herself?
"Well, he's probably the best friend I have right now," she began hesitantly.
"C'mon, Betty! Friends don't look at each other like you two do. There's got to be more to it than that. You can tell your old friend Craig." He was trying to be persuasive, but only succeeded in being repulsive. Betty had no desire to tell him anything more than she already had. Fortunately, instead of waiting for a reply, he took her hesitation as an opportunity to bring up his favorite subject - himself. "I once knew a girl, one of the Vanderbilt's, you know . . ."
Groaning inwardly, Betty resigned herself to more of Craig's stories. At least the hour was almost over - wasn't it?
Thank goodness! They were almost back to WENN. Betty had tried, unsuccessfully of course, to disentangle herself from Craig at the door of The Buttery. She'd suggested that he probably had work to get back to, a client meeting, or something else equally pressing, all to no avail. He'd insisted on walking her back to the station; he wanted to see the studio that they did their broadcasts from.
The first thing Betty saw upon entering the office was the sympathetic gaze of Gertrude Reece, for which she was immensely grateful. That wasn't all Gertie had for her, however.
"This just arrived, Betty. It's a letter from Victor," she explained excitedly.
Delighted, Betty grabbed the letter. Not only did this give her an excuse to be free of Craig for a few minutes, but it might also contain good news.
"You'll have to excuse me while I read this, Craig. It might contain important business. I'll show you to the control room. You can watch the broadcast from there while you wait." She avoided any protests on his part by simply ushering him to the control room as she spoke, opening the door and shoving him inside. On her way to the writer's room, she noted that the door to the main office was firmly closed which indicated that Scott and Mr. Berger were still closeted inside, hopefully wrangling over the details of a contract.
Once inside the sanctum of the writer's room and seated behind her desk, Betty prepared to open the letter, then paused and contemplated the envelope for a moment. "Victor," she murmured his name, deep in thought. She'd thought a few minutes ago about receiving good news in this letter. At one time, she would have hoped that the news would be personal, now she thought of it in terms of WENN. In a moment of almost startling clarity, Betty realized that she didn't love Victor Comstock. She respected him, admired him, and couldn't deny that there was a time when she'd had a crush on him, but that time was over.
With the current turmoil she felt about Scott, it was a relief to finally be able to put one aspect of that confusion to rest. She valued Victor's friendship deeply, but it went no further than that. With a sigh of release, Betty produced her letter opener and slit the envelope.
A few minutes later, Betty was at Gertie's desk, giving her the news from the letter. It had been more like a short note, really. Victor would be staying in Washington for at least the next couple of weeks and he wanted to leave a new address with Betty where he could be reached more easily. She was supposed to keep everything afloat at WENN and contact him only if a major emergency occurred. Gertie asked Betty how she felt about Victor's continued absence, sympathy and curiosity clearly lighting her eyes. Anticipating this, Betty had framed an appropriate reply.
What Betty hadn't anticipated was Craig, creeping up behind her, listening to their conversation.
"Boo!" he yelled, causing Betty to jump and spin around.
No surprise as to who was standing behind her. "Craig," she forced a smile. "On your way out?" she added hopefully.
"Yes, I'm afraid I have to tear myself away from your enchanting company to meet with my boring old clients," he said, attempting to be ingratiating.
Scott was just ushering a happily satisfied Mr. Berger to the door, while simultaneously listening to Betty and Craig's conversation. Surreptitiously, he moved beside them after seeing the new sponsor out.
"Listen, Bess, I might have to leave you for now, but that doesn't mean we can't meet for dinner tonight. How 'bout it? You and me at 7:30?"
Betty looked up at him and met his leer with revulsion. Thankfully, she had the perfect excuse. "Sorry, Craig, but I'm already going to dinner with Scott tonight," she exchanged a smile with her dinner companion.
"Well, that's okay! I don't mind if he tags along with us tonight. What do you say? You want to be our third wheel tonight, Scotty-boy?" He treated Scott to a resounding slap on the back.
"Aw, Craig, you'll always be much more of a heel," Scott cleared his throat, "I mean, third wheel, than I'll ever be." Scott returned the favor of the slap on the back, hard, causing Craig to lurch forward violently. He chuckled and steadied Craig with a hand on his arm. "Sorry, Greg. I guess I just don't know my own strength."
"It's Craig," he wheezed, finally regaining his breath.
"Oh, sure, I understand," Scott said dismissively.
Craig began making his way painfully to the door, then turned around to address Betty, who had been watching the prior exchange with a barely suppressed smile. "Don't forget, I'll pick you up here at 7:30," he practically ordered before hurrying out the door, no doubt anxious to avoid further evidence of Scott's goodwill towards him.
"But I haven't said I'd...go," her voice trailed off as she realized he could no longer hear her. "Now what am I going to do? Correction, what are we going to do?" She looked to Scott imploringly.
"When a man like that wants to take us to dinner,there's only one thing we can do, Betty Roberts," he announced decisively.
"What is it?" Betty demanded eagerly, delighted that he'd come up with a solution.
Scott smiled wryly and answered, "Wear earplugs."
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