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Stardust


By Emma Redmer

Rated: G

Disclaimer is on the Introduction page.

December 4th, 1943

Victor put the phone down. "Well, I just got off the phone with Grace Cavendish," he said. "She said that her tour was supposed to stop in Pittsburgh this time and that she would be most delighted to give us a miniature version of her concert on WENN."

"How did you get to know her?" Scott asked. "Grace Cavendish is a hard woman to get close to."

"We both worked in New York for a time in early thirties," Victor explained. "She did shows on Broadway and I was an assistant manager at the Columbia Broadcasting Station there. She made several guest-star appearances on some of the shows I directed. We attended parties together and I would see her shows. I saw her in 'Razzle Dazzle' after she, er, convinced Hilary to vacate the main part. She left New York after the show closed, and I left New York not long after she did. The former manager here at WENN offered me the kind of artistic freedom that I never had at CBS."

Scott looked into Victor's eyes. He was still wary of the man who was once the rival for his wife's affections. The feelings between Victor and Betty were never truly settled. He wondered... "Victor, are you still in love with Betty?"

Victor took a breath. "Scott, I'm not sure. I thought I was in love with her, but now I have Maple..."

"Maple loves you, Victor. She hasn't said as much, but I can tell from how affectionate she is with you."

"Maple is a wonderful woman," Victor said with a smile. "She has so much raw talent. Her singing voice alone takes my breath away. She could truly be something, Scott. She's so eager to learn and grow and change, and is so strong-willed and bold and energetic." Victor paused.

"But..." Scott prompted the taller man.

"But Betty was the one I fell in love with first. I will always have some feelings for her, and for Grace. They just aren't as strong as they were." Victor picked up a sheet of paper and decided to change the subject. He never felt comfortable discussing his personal life with others, even people who were his friends. "What do you think about my idea for that new music show, Scott?"

"I think it's dandy, Victor. You mentioned that you wanted to attract a younger audience a few weeks ago. Kids today are really into swing and jive music and dancing. I've seen the boys and girls in the green room whooping up a storm. It would be swell if they could take all that whooping into Studio A. We could even have Giselle and some of the teenaged officers announce it."

"How about 'United States Grandstand' for the title?"

"Let's shorten it a little. Make it 'US Bandstand'. It could replace that half-hour of music that we have on after 'Jed Jenner, G-Man'."

"I'll talk to Giselle when she gets off the air." Victor left the room to find the young French refugee.

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Giselle Bedeux beamed as Victor told her about his idea in the hallway near Studio A. "We need a young, fresh voice, one that will speak to the young people in our audience and help draw in their friends."

"I would be very happy to, Monsieur Comstock. I have learned much American...how you say it...slang from the officers in the Pittsburgh Canteen. I am sure that they would be glad to help me announce the show and make it sound like a place where teenagers and young peoples would dance and sing."

Victor nodded. "It shouldn't be too hard. You'll mostly be playing recordings of popular swing and jive music, but we will have guest stars when they are available."

"It sounds like fun. I am becoming fond of the Glenn Miller Orchestra, and of Frank Sinatra, and other American singers. I just saw a very good movie a few days ago called 'Thousands Cheer'. There were many famous movie stars in it. Judy Garland sang a swing song with Jose Iturbi, and Gene Kelly danced beautifully," Giselle told him. "Gene reminded me of Josh Manley," she added sadly. "They are both very funny, and have good singing voices. I miss him so."

"Have you heard from him?" Victor asked, knowing how fond of the happy-go-lucky young Army private Giselle was.

"Nes' pas," Giselle admitted, "no, not for two months. I am very worried about him and Chris. They were in the thick of fighting in Italy the last time I heard from them. I do not know where they are now." She brightened. "I'm going to go see if Betty has my script for 'Hope Springs Eternal' ready." Victor watched admiringly as the young girl walked over to the writer's room. The poor child was already forced out of her home by the Nazi invasion of France and her father was killed while aiding those in need in Europe. He only hoped that he could be as strong as Giselle.

"Victor," asked Maple, his wife, "whatcha doin? I thought you said we were going out to lunch after you got done talking about new shows with Scott."

"Maple," Victor started, "I need to talk to you. Come with me." He took her hand and dragged her into the office.

She took him and kissed him, snuggling against his chest. "Victor, what is it? We're still going out to lunch, right?"

"No, it's not the lunch date," Victor explained. He didn't know how he was going to tell Maple this. "My orders finally came through. I'm going to Japan."

Maple let him go, a shocked expression on her face. "But, Victor, you've already done your part in this war. Several times, in fact. How often to do you want to die?"

"All I can tell you is that I'll be with Jeff. I don't know if we'll be safe or not."

Maple gulped. "Victor, I know how not safe you will be. Remember, I was in the USO." She smiled. "Well, if can join once, I can join again. I didn't mind doing it last time. Mama's still on her tour. Maybe I can take her up on that act offer."

Victor took his wife by her trembling shoulders. "Maple, I want you to stay here."

She pulled away. "Victor, just because you're married to me doesn't mean you own me. I can do what I want."

"No, I don't own you. You are free do as you choose. However, let me remind you that you have an audience here in Pittsburgh who listen every day to hear you and the others give them news and entertainment. That audience is just as important as the G.Is on the battlefield. This war will be fought on many fronts..."

"Don't give me that! I heard it enough when the war first broke out." She looked at him, studying his thin, narrow features, and suddenly blurted out "Victor, I love you."

His eyes widened. "You...love me?"

"Yes, I love you. I love everything about you. I even love your long words. God," she flung her arms around him, "I'm going to miss you. Can't you at least stay for Christmas?"

"No. They want me to leave in a few days. I've already talked to Scott about it." Victor closed his eyes and opened them again, taking a deep breath. "Maple, I...love you, too. I love your energy, your intelligence, and your talent. I don't want to leave you, but the War Department seems to believe that I am the best man for this particular job." He sat down in his chair. "Scott knows something about all this. I've already asked him to watch over you and the stations for me."

The door to the office opened, and there stood Grace Cavendish in a fashionable suit and hat. "Hello, Victor," she quietly said. "I thought I'd come by early for the broadcast and say hello. You said something about my appearing on some new show or another?"

Maple put on the most realistic smile she could muster. "Wow, you must be Grace Cavendish! I didn't get to meet you the last time you were here, 'cause I didn't work here yet. The name's Maple. You'll say Mabel, and I'll say..."

Grace cut her off before she could explain any further. "It's nice to meet you too, Maple. I heard that you and Victor were married. I congratulate both of you. When did it happen?"

"Last summer." Victor ushered his wife out the door. "Maple, I'll meet you in five minutes for lunch. I just need to discuss Grace Cavendish's appearance on the new show Scott and I developed." Maple found herself staring at the door.

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"SCOTT SHERWOOD!!!" Maple discovered him sitting in the green room with his wife, Betty. They were sipping hot chocolate and discussing the impending birth of their first child. Mary Foley, the adopted daughter of Eugenia and Mr. Foley, sat on the couch and looked at a picture book. Ophelia Singer, the four-month-old child of Jeff and Hilary Booth Singer, lay contentedly in her lap.

"But what if it's a boy, Betty? I won't be able to..." Scott looked up at the furious actress. "Oh, hi, Mapes. What's got you upset?"

"Don't 'hi Mapes' me!" she shouted. "You knew about Victor leaving for Japan and you didn't tell me!"

Betty frowned. She knew that her husband was still involved with the government in some way, but he refused to tell her what he was doing. "What's this about Victor and Japan?"

"Victor's going to Japan to help Jeff, or something like that. There isn't much that I'm allowed to say. And no, I couldn't get him to stay here. Mapes, I tried, I really did, but he's worried about Jeff."

"What about Jeff?" Hilary asked as she entered the room. She sat down next to Mary, who adored the little Singer and treated her like she was her own sister, and pointed out some pictures of children playing in the snow. Mary giggled.

"Victor's going to work with him in Japan," Maple explained. "I just heard about it myself."

"That's absurd," Hilary stated as turned the page and indicated a picture of a snowman. "Between his amnesia and his injuries in London, he won't be able to get within five miles of a war zone."

Mary looked up at Hilary. "Aunt Hilary, can Ophelia and I make a snowman when you and my mommy and daddy are done with all the morning shows? We promise that we'll keep the snow on ground and not throw it on people, right Ophelia?" The baby, not understanding what she meant, just stared at the little blonde-haired girl.

Hilary looked up at Betty. "Actually, Betty, Eugenia and I were thinking about taking the little ones here to the park down the street for our lunch after 'Hope Springs Eternal'. It wouldn't hurt them to get some exercise and fresh air."

Betty smiled. "Go ahead, Hilary. I'd join you, but Scott and I were going to meet with Mrs. Harnell about a new western-themed show that she wanted us to consider, and I really need to get some rest."

Maple grabbed a cup of coffee as she listened to Mackie guffaw over some news item or the other on "Colonel Moore at the General Store". She sighed. "Scott, I don't want to lose Victor. He already died once. I don't know what I'd do if he died again. We won't even get to spend Christmas together. I even bought him his present..."

Scott could see Maple's body shake and he heard her faint sobs. He took the weeping actress in his arms. "It's all right, Maple. He asked me to keep an eye on you, and for once in my life, I am going to keep my promise."

Little Mary also put her arms around Maple. "Don't cry, Aunt Maple. I don't like it when you're sad. Mommy says that people should try to be happy and make other people happy, too." Betty put her arms around her husband as well as she could with her pregnant stomach.

Hilary laughed at the group hug. "What the heck!" She took hold of Mary and giggled as the little girl squirmed.

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"Victor, is it true? Are you really a married man now?" Grace asked him.

He nodded. "Yes. We were wed last summer in Africa and have lived together ever since. I'm leaving for Japan in two days. That doesn't give me much time to give Scott his orders, or give Maple her Christmas present, or call my superior in Washington, or..."

"Victor, do you love me?"

Victor blinked in surprise. "What?"

"Victor, I asked you a question. Do you still love me?"

"I'm not sure. You were the first woman to show me what life could be like. The only woman I had any kind of a non-business relationship with before I met you was Grandmother, and that," he said with an unusual note of bitterness in his voice, "was hardly a relationship."

She smiled. "Do you remember the day we first met at the CBS in New York? I had a minor role on some sitcom that didn't even last a season, and you were an assistant manager, working his way up the ladder."

He chuckled and leaned against his desk. "Oh, yes, I recall that day. You mistook my office for the writer's room and came in asking about scripts, and mistook you for the script girl. How long did it take us to get that mess figured out?"

"Three minutes, as I recall." Grace grinned. "One minute for me to explain who I was, one minute for you to explain who you were, and one minute for me to ask you out to lunch after my broadcast." She laughed. "You should have seen the look on your face when I told you who I was."

"I was very embarrassed that day, I admit. I cannot believe that I did not recognize one of the most promising up-and-coming talents of Broadway. I certainly recognized you after lunch, though." He looked around. "I really need to talk to Scott. The General in Washington wants me to give him his orders. He can't go anywhere with his disability, of course, but he can still be of some use..."

Grace took his chin and kissed him passionately. Neither of them noticed Maple enter the office. Her jaw dropped and she gasped in shock.

Victor broke away, but the damage was done. Maple's eyes blazed. "I don't even want to hear it, Victor Comstock." She stormed out of the room.

Grace let Victor go. "I'm sorry," she stammered. "I didn't...I mean, I couldn't resist one last kiss for old times' sake." She saw the fallen expression on Victor's face and gestured to the door. "Go to her, Victor. I can see from the look on your face that you care about her. We can talk about my guest-star appearances later."

Victor rushed out of the office and into Eugenia, who was bundling Mary in thick layers of clothing. "Eugenia, Mary, have you seen Maple?"

Eugenia nodded. "She just ran in the writer's room. She looked awfully angry."

"She nearly knocked me down!" Mary added. "She didn't see me. She didn't even say sorry."

Victor entered the writer's room to find Maple leaning against the wall, clenching both fists angrily. "I thought you said that you loved me. I should have known it. No guy can love me for more than a little while."

"Maple, no! I meant what I said. Grace was just trying to bury the past. I've told her before that I could never lead the life that she leads. You and WENN mean everything in the universe to me. You're the reason that I'm leaving for Japan. I want the world to be safe for our station and our children."

"Victor, I..." Maple realized what he said. "You're doing this for me? You want to have kids with me?"

Victor blushed. He was never so candid with anyone before. "I, uh, want to make a, uh, family with you after Jeff and I return from the war. I want a world where I'll never have to leave you again, where we can run this station together and not worry about Hitler and bombs and the War Department."

Maple gave Victor a long, deep kiss. "Let Miss Grace Cavendish try to beat that!" she laughed.

He took her in his arms. "I think I can."

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Victor and Maple didn't see that the writer's room door was opened a crack. Grace watched the entire scene between the married couple. It hurt her to see Victor in love with someone else, but she was glad that there was someone in Pittsburgh who would care about him and watch over him. Victor needed someone to break through his formal shell once in a while and show him passion and affection, and Maple LaMarsh Comstock was bold enough to do it.

"Ooh lah lah!" squealed a voice from one side of Grace, "Miss Grace Cavendish, the motion picture star! May I have your autograph?" Grace looked up to see a tiny blonde girl, barely more than a child, run over to her with the back of a used script and a pen. She gave the girl what she asked for. The small, French-accented creature blushed. "Monsieur Comstock told me that you are going to sing on our new show, 'US Bandstand', tonight."

"We hadn't discussed it," Grace began as another voice reached her ears.

"Grace Cavendish, what in bloody blue blazes are you doing here?" snapped Hilary Booth Singer as she stormed down the hallway, carrying a little winter coat. "Are you planning on poisoning me again? Or do you just want to steal my thunder?"

"Look, Hilary, I didn't come here to argue with you," Grace said. "I came here to..." she looked at the expectant Giselle "...sing on 'US Bandstand'." Giselle grinned and went back to Studio A to play Hope Spring's little sister Felicity, who was meeting with a handsome congressman today.

Hilary heard a cry from the chair near Gertie's desk. Hilary went to quiet her child. She took the fussy little girl in her arms. "Ophelia, darling, I thought you were going to be a good girl and wait for Mommy with Aunt Eugenia and Mary."

Ophelia saw how her mommy looked when the lady with the brown-red hair came in, and she wanted to know who she was. Now that she could see her, she didn't look so bad. In fact, Ophelia thought she looked very nice.

"That is Miss Grace Cavendish, Ophelia, an old, uh, acquaintance of Mommy's."

Grace leaned over the chestnut-haired child. "Is that your daughter, Hilary? She looks very much like you. She has your eyes. What's her name?"

"It's Ophelia Beatrice. We decided to name our children after Shakespeare," Hilary explained. She narrowed her eyes. "How long are you going to be here?"

"Just today and tomorrow," Grace admitted. "The concert is a one-night-only affair."

Victor and Maple came out of the writer's room at that moment. Maple's hair was slightly mussed and Victor had lipstick on his cheek and lips. Hilary raised her eyebrows. "Come on, Ophelia. I think Aunt Maple and Uncle Victor want some time alone." She put her daughter's coat on her and added, with a meaningful look at Grace, "Very alone."

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Grace stood amid the whirling dancers as the records played. She managed to get through a rousing version of "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" earlier with Maple and Eugenia without bloodshed. Victor and Maple danced together as energetically as the youths did. Mr. Foley stood by the record player and kept it and the records from the happily gyrating crowd. Betty and Scott danced the slow dances together. His leg and her condition weren't up to the fast ones. Scott watched Giselle and the Army officers that she danced with wistfully, remembering a time when he could swing and jive with the best of them. Hilary danced with some of the older officers.

Giselle, breathing heavily, went to announce the last song of the evening. "Well, kids, we have come to the end of the first edition of 'US Bandstand'. But don't all you guys and gals worry, we'll be swinging right back here next week, same time, same station. We'd like to leave all you lovers out there with a sweet little song from one of the brightest stars of stage and screen, Miss Grace Cavendish."

Grace looked at Maple and Victor as they held hands and whispered into each other's ears. She felt a tinge of jealously as she remembered the days when she and Victor danced that way. "Thank you, Giselle. I thought I'd leave you all tonight with some memories of 'Stardust'." She continued to focus on Maple and Victor as Eugenia began to play the song.

Love is like the stardust
Of yesterday
The music of the years gone by...

This war won't last forever...

Why is Victor being sent to Japan? What does Scott have to do with his assignment? What will Betty say when she finds out? Will Jeff and Victor come home in one piece...or at all?

On the Edge of the Precipice Series

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