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I'll Remember April

by Emma Redmer

Rated: G

Disclaimer is on the Introduction Page

April 25th, 1944

Hilary Booth Singer sat in the living room of the little home she and her husband Jeff bought before he went overseas as a war correspondant. She read his latest V-mail to their eight-month-old daughter Ophelia.

Dear Hilary and Ophelia;

It's been a long day. I just received your last letter. I'm sorry it's been so long since I wrote you, but things are really jumping here and on the other ocean. You've probably already guessed where we are. Please don't worry about either of us. Victor and I watch over each other and make sure that we don't marry someone we shoudn't.

The stations must be pretty crazy, too, what with all the scrap drives for the war effort going on between shows and Betty out so much to care for her new daughter. I love the photos, especially the one of everyone in the station and of you and Ophelia together. Our Lia really has grown in the last few months. You're still as gorgeous as ever, Mittens. Isn't that the outfit you wore on the first night of our third honeymoon (the one we didn't come back angry from) in the Poconos?

Victor and I have both been listening to the recordings of "Home Sweet Home" and "US Bandstand" that you and Maple sent us - and so have half the men. The soldiers in the troop we were assigned to didn't really start warming up to us until we played those records. Now they're clamoring for more. We found out that some of them are from the Pittsburgh area and regularly listen to our station. Heck, I signed a few autographs!

I got a letter from Mom two days ago and she told me about the USO dance that you attended. I'm glad that all three of my ladies are getting out and enjoying themselves. I promise that I'll spend as much time as I can with both of you, especially Miss Lia, when this war ends and I can come home. I can't wait to see her in person. Her pictures are beautiful, just like her mother. She's so tall for her age! I heard that she's sitting now. Good for you, Lia!

We're moving out soon, so I'm going to have to cut this letter short.
Lots of love to both my ladies,
Jeffrey Singer (Daddy)

Hilary held Ophelia close to her as the rain splattered on the window in back of them. Her mood was as black as the sky. Marguerite Chouix Singer, Jeff's mother, was at a meeting of the Committee for the Posters for Victory! Contest with Ida and Carl Lowenstern, who lived down the street. The Committee was holding a competition in Pittsburgh-area elementary schools to see who could come up with the most creative poster supporting some aspect of the war effort. Marguerite offered to take her, too, but she wanted to spend the evening with Ophelia. Maple and Giselle promised to cover for her.

Hilary smiled as her daughter made noises. Jeff was right. Lia was growing bigger and more beautiful every day. She had her father's lanky height and long legs, but her face and hair more resembeled her mother. Hilary pushed aside a lock of auburn hair and gazed into the face of the happy child who didn't know her own father.

There was a large, rowdy family who lived in the big house on the other side of them. Helen and Jack Merriweather were a robust, lovable pair, full of zest and energy. He was a butcher and she was a Red Cross volunteer. There were seven kids in the Merriweather family - Jack Jr, Molly, George, Joanna, Francine, and the twins, Karen and Katharine, who were only two months older than Lia. Big Jack had somehow managed to get an agricultural deferment. He took care of the kids when Helen wasn't around, and vice versa, with a lot of help from sixteen-year-old Molly. All of the Merriweathers looked the same - tall, stout, flaxen-haired, blue-eyed, and red-cheeked. They moved to Pittsburgh from Philadelphia right before the war broke out. Hilary would be forever grateful to the Merriweathers, all nine of them. Sixteen-year-old Molly was Lia's favorite baby-sitter. Jack gave her discounts in his shop. Fourteen-year-old George, nine-year-old Joanna, and seven-year-old Frannie frequently participated in the various war effort drives that WENN sponsored. The twins were wonderful friends to Lia.

Helen proved to be the best friend of all. She was a busy mother and Red Cross volunteer. She grew vegatables in her backyard long before Victory Gardens literally sprouted across America, gave Hilary all kinds of advice on taking care of Lia, and helped her and Marguerite whenever they needed it. Helen and Marguerite cornered Hilary one Sunday morning not long after Jeff left for Japan and gave her a crash course in cooking for an infant and a busy single mother. It was an experience that Hilary wouldn't soon forget. Hilary grew up with servants to cook for her, and she wasn't used to doing it herself.

She paged through photos of her and Jeff. There were copies of the publicity shots from "Armchair Detectives" that were taken two months before Jeff left for his first London broadcast, the one that got him trapped in the Blitz. Hilary shuddered at the memory of the static and the night she spent worrying about Jeff and praying that she'd see him again. There was another shot of them alone at home, a few days after Jeff came back. Jeff still had his arm in a sling and he was rather pale, but they couldn't take their eyes off of each other. She missed those days, she thought bitterly.

Their weddings and honeymoons alone took up an album. Hilary was sure to frequently point out Jeff to Lia. She wanted the little girl to at least know what her father looked like and sounded like. An old recording of "Lost is My Valley" played over the phonograph as the two Singer women looked at the books. She indicated a photo of her and Jeff looking slightly embarrassed at their third wedding. Mackie had just tapped Jeff on the shoulder and reminded them that they promised to do "A Second Chance at Love" and "Wee Mary MacGregor, Veternarian" before they left for the Mountain Lake Resort in the Poconos. Hilary giggled at how indignant the actor was, and how indignant she was when she realized that Scott borrowed a camera from Marguerite and was going around taking candids. Lia giggled, too, even though she didn't understand the joke. Hilary was glad in retrospect, though. The flash and Mackie's annoyance caught them totally off-guard, and the effect was charming. Jeff looked particuarly cute with his mouth hanging open like that. The other wedding pictures were more formal. There was one of the entire wedding party, including Scott, who refused to leave Betty's side until she went home and he went back to California to con his superior into transferring him, and one of Hilary and Jeff together in their bridal outfits.

Scotty, of course, was the one who started calling the little girl Lia. "Ophelia," he insisted, "is too fancy-pants and too much of a mouthful for a kid." Jeff agreed in his letters that the name suited her. Hilary loved dressing her up, like a little doll, in the prettiest clothes she could afford. Lia still possessed her baby roundness, but her height gave her the impression of being more slender than she really was. Her brown eyes were wide as she stared at the photos. She pointed a soft finger at one that Hilary took of Jeff while they were in the Poconos. He gazed out over a mountain, the wind whipping through his velvety curls. She loved the thoughtful pose and expression so much that she pulled out the camera and snapped the shot. Jeff didn't find out about the picture until the roll was developed a month later. "Da da," Lia said.

Hilary grinned. "Good girl! Yes, that's your daddy."

Lia, encouraged by her success, pointed at the next photo. They stood up to their waists of the swimming pool provided by their hotel. The so-called "lake" that gave the Mountain Lake Resort its name was so full of alge and muck in the summer that it was useless for anything other than filling the parking lot and lobby with a ghastly stench. Jeff jokingly dubbed the place "The Mountain Muck Resort". He vigorously splashed Hilary while she stood laughing. He looked particularly stunning in his tan swmming trunks. Her swim suit was a bright, tomato red one-piece. Her hair, which she tied back with a red ribbon, had fallen to her shoulders. They both looked very, very happy. "Ma..." Lia struggled as she pointed at the laughing, dripping Hilary in the picture.

"Come on, Lia, you can do it," Hilary gently encouraged the baby. "Say 'Mama'."

"Ma..." Lia gurgled. "!"

Hilary gently put her arms around her little daughter. "Good girl, Lia! That's me, your mommy!" Lia beamed and pointed at another picture, this time of the two of them sitting in a booth, eating cheeseburgers and fries. The picture window behind them overlooked the beautiful Pocanos mountains. "Da da!" she burst out again.

Hilary laughed at the memory. She and Jeff got lost while driving to the Mountain Lake Hotel, and, hungry and tired, they stopped at that little diner to eat while they tried to figure out where they were. Despite their arguing that couldn't have gone over well with the other customers, the elderly chef and the young waitresses were kind and served them free coffee refills. The burgers and French fries were the best Hilary ever tasted, and for once, Jeff agreed with her. The place wasn't fancy, but it was clean, and it offered a splendid view of the mountains and valleys. It was there, after Jeff convinced a waitress to take their picture, that they discussed their future and the possibility of having children and her changing her professional name.

Her changing her professional name was always a bone of contention between them. Marguerite nagged both of them about it. Hilary finally compromised and started calling herself Hilary Booth Singer on the radio and Hilary Singer in private. Jeff accepted this, but his mother continued to drop subtle hints. As Hilary pointed out to Marguerite, the long name sounded dignified, especially to the public.

The subject of having a family was another matter. Hilary never gave it a thought before. Their first two marriages were so last-minute that she really didn't have the time to give it a thought. Their third wedding, however, was performed by a registered priest in front of several physical witnesses and WENN's small but loyal group of listeners. Jeff would be a fine father, but Hilary wasn't sure what kind of a mother she'd be. Children also had the annoying habit of scene-stealing and intruding upon one's career. Jeff kept assuring her that she would be fine, and her co-workers and her neighbors who knew her continued to assure her after Jeff left.

Hilary brushed away tears as she came to a slim, new volume. They were the last photos Marguerite took of her and Jeff before he left. The day he left was the longest of her life, and her pregnancy at the time didn't help. She wouldn't let him go. Marguerite had to pull her away at the train station. There were pictures of them in each others' arms, kissing and laughing and smiling. She studied one of the pictures more carefully. It was one of them in front of the house on the day he left. They stood on the whitewashed porch, looking into each others' eyes. They both were crying by this time, and the tears were obvious, especially on her. Hilary's face was partially covered in the next picture. Marguerite caught her wiping her tears away. Jeff was reaching over to comfort her. Marguerite stopped taking photos after that. She ushered all three of them into the taxi that took them to the train station.

Hilary could feel the tears coming again, as they had so often in the last year when she thought no one was looking. She brushed them away and felt a weight against her side. Lia's head lay peacefully on her mother's lap. She hugged her sleeping daughter and just cried. She hated showing weakness, but only Lia was here, and she wasn't listening. "Jeff, I need you," she sobbed. "Lia needs you."

"Cry, Hilary. It will do you some good." Hilary looked up in surprise. Marguerite Singer stood next to the couch. She still wore her elegant gloves, hat, and dripping wet rain slicker. "You're so used to hiding your feelings. You can cry in front of me. I worry about Jeff, too, remember."

She offered Hilary her hankerchief, and the lonely wife gratefully accepted it. "I don't know why I keep breaking down like this. I'm a Booth. I'm supposed to be strong. I'm not supposed to let people know that I'm hurt, or..."

"Hilary," Marguerite gently scolded, "this is a house in Pittsburgh, not a theater on Broadway. The WENN staff, the Lowensterns, the Merriweathers, and I won't do anything to hurt you. We aren't divas armed with poison for your water or producers who are determined to use and abuse you. We all care about you. Carl and Ida asked about you today. So did the Sherwoods, Mackie Bloom, and Maple Comstock when I went to WENN to pick up the scripts for tomorrow's shows that you wanted to take a look at. I saw Jack Merriweather at the meeting and he asked if you had any meat ration coupons left this month."

"I'm a star!" Hilary protested. "Or I was, once. And I will be again, once I get back to Broadway."

Marguerite sighed. "You're still a star, Hilary, and you don't need to be in Broadway or Hollywood to be one. Every person in Pittsburgh who listens to WENN and the Armed Service men and women who listen to the W.E.N.N believe you to be equal in luminesance and certainly equal in talent to Bette Davis and Katharine Hepburn. Isn't that enough for you?"

Hilary frowned in thought. "Grace Cavendish came to WENN a few months ago to perform in the first 'US Bandstand' show. You remember, it was right before Victor left to join Jeff in Japan?" Marguerite nodded and Hilary continued. "I was terribly upset when I first layed eyes on her in the hallway, but then I saw how she looked. Victor and Maple are crazy about each other, and it was killing her. She was all dressed up, but she had no one to go to. She has no children of her own. Her family's dead. She always did cling to the idea that Victor would drop everything to join her on her world jaunts." She let out a breath. "I could have been Grace, Marguerite. I could be the one with all the glory, all the applause, all the money, and no one to share it with. She has everything she could possibly want but someone who loves her the way Jeff and Lia love me."

"And now he's gone. He promised that he'd never leave me again, and now he's in another country." She picked up her daughter and showed her mother-in-law the peaceful child in her arms. "Look at this beautiful little girl, Marguerite. She doesn't know her own father. She knows what he looks like and what he sounds like, but she doesn't know him. He's never held her or put her to sleep or cuddled her or played with her. I watch Scott with his new daughter Agatha and I wonder if Lia will ever know her daddy like that." She entered Lia's room and placed the baby girl in her crib. Marguerite pulled the knitted blanket that Eugenia made for Hilary's baby shower over the sleeping child. Lia sighed contentedly.

Marguerite noticed Hilary's body shake and heard her sobs. She put her arms around her. "Now, now, Hilary. Look at Lia. She's happy as can be. She has lots of friends and reletives who spoil her like crazy and an attentative and loving mother." She looked Hilary over. "You need food. I'll make us a hamburger pie for dinner. Helen Merriweather gave me the recipe yesterday when I ran into her at the A&P." Marguerite gave Hilary one last look as she headed to the kitchen to find the leftover burger meat that Jack Merriweather gave her. Hilary relied too heavily on Jeff, and it hurt her. He was her life. Her face lit up like a sunbeam whenever she got his letters. When Marguerite first moved in with her, she couldn't cook very well, clean, or do laundry. Jeff did all that, she said.

Hilary sat at the desk in her and Jeff's room. She still considered it to be their room, even though he left a year ago. She picked up a piece of the thin V-mail paper and began writing.

Dear Jeffrey,

I have some wonderful news for you, love. Our Lia said "Da da" and "Ma ma" for the first time today...

This war won't last forever...

How will upcoming history effect the WENN staff? How are Scott and Betty doing with parenting? What's Scott's connection with Jeff, Victor, and the government? How much longer will Jeff and Victor be gone?

On the Edge of the Precipice Series

Go to On the Edge of the Precipice#17 - The Gathering Storm!
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