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December 24th, 1944 - 3:24 PM
"Scott," Betty Roberts Sherwood sighed as she tried to find a comfortable spot in the car seat, "why you can't you stay for Christmas day?"
"Betty," Scott said tightly, "we've been over this a million times. I'll hang around until tomorrow afternoon, but I have work to do for the W.E.N.N that really can't wait. I shouldn't be putting it off as it is."
"Is that really what's going on," Betty asked with a smile, "or are you just trying to avoid meeting my family? You know that this is going to be a family reunion."
Scott laughed. "No, I really do have work to do." Betty shot him a look. "I swear, Betty, I'm telling the truth for the first time in my entire life."
"No, I think there was that one time three years ago..."
"Funny, Mrs. Sherwood, very funny," Scott said in a mock-hurt tone. His face became serious. "Betty, are you sure you're all right? We can stop if you or the baby don't feel well..."
Betty patted her growing stomach. She became sick not long after she and Scott returned from Nantucket in October. A trip to the doctor's office revealed that Betty was two weeks pregnant. "Scott, Dr. Drake not only okayed this trip, he insisted on it. He said that it would be good for both of us to take a vacation away from the station for a few days." She changed the subject. "I think you'll like my folks. They're wonderful. Dad is still the editor of the Elkheart Daily Bugle. Mom used to be an actress, but she just keeps the house in order now."
Scott tried to keep his eyes on the road. Betty looked so pretty. Her eyes shined and she hadn't stopped smiling since she heard the news that she was about to become a mother again. Their daughter Agatha rested in the backseat. She was too excited to sleep at first, but her mother's singing and her father's gentle voice finally coaxed her to dreamland. "So, Betty, could you give me the list of who's going to be at this reunion thing again?"
Betty nodded and produced a long sheet of paper. "Let's see. My older brother Dan, his wife Carol, and their twin sons Everett and Elliot are coming over for dinner tonight and tomorrow, since they only live across town. My younger brother Harry is in Europe and obviously can't make it, but Mom said that he sent a Christmas letter and he survived the Invasion of France. His wife Mona will be coming here from Indianapolis, though. My grandparents on my mother's side and my grandmother on my father's side are coming. Grandpa Roberts died in the flu epidemic of 1919. My sister Pam and her three kids are coming down from Ohio. Her husband George is in the army in the Pacific. Great Aunt Prunella and Great Uncle Martin are coming tomorrow. Aunt Florrie lives in the next town over and may come tomorrow night if she can get her car to work..."
Scott interrupted her rambling. "Betty, we're here." He pulled onto the field next to the charming Victorian-style farmhouse where several other cars were already parked. Two little boys and a young girl played on a swing and a rope tied to a tree near the house. The large porch was filled with laughing, chattering people. A bored-looking teenaged girl read a magazine on the back porch.
All three children ran to Betty the moment they saw her. "Where's the baby?" the girl asked.
"What's it like to work at a real radio station?" one of the boys queried.
"What'cha bring me?" asked the other.
The teenager just rolled her eyes and put her magazine under her arm. "Honestly. Well, come on, help Aunt Betty and Uncle Scott unload the car."
A tall, bespectacled man joined the crowd next to the cars. "I'll take care of that, Amy. You take the kids inside before they run Uncle Scott and Aunt Betty ragged." Amy muttered and grumbled but did what she was told. Scott started to take their baggage out of the trunk, but the man waved him away. "Oh, I'll do that, son. You just take Betty and little Miss Agatha up to the porch to meet the family. Laura's been asking about you for at least an hour." He shook Scott's hand and Betty hugged him. "Oh, by the way, I'm Rupert Roberts, Betty's father."
Scott nodded. "I'm Scott Sherwood." He took the baby out of the car. She was wide awake now and gazing around her in rapturous glee. "And this is our daughter, Agatha."
Rupert grinned. "I'd hold her, son, but my arms are full at the moment." He kissed his daughter's cheek. "Welcome home, sunshine. I'm glad you got to join the family this year. You have a fine husband and a beautiful little girl."
"And I do believe that this beautiful little girl needs to be changed," Scott added.
Betty took the baby from him. "I'll do it, Scott. I know where the bathroom is. I need to use it myself anyway. You help Dad." She grabbed Agatha's bag and vanished into the house.
Scott took the last remaining suitcase and his cane and hobbled onto the porch. Two elderly women knitted and a somewhat younger one embroidered. The younger woman put aside her wooden hoop and opened the door for the men. "Here you go, Rupert," she said. "I'll be inside in a minute. I just want to finish this stitch."
Scott dropped the suitcase. "You must be Mrs. Roberts." He slapped the patented Sherwood smile on his face. "I must say, you look far too young to have grown-up children."
She grinned and patted her short, brown-red hair. "Why, thank you, sir. You must be Scott Sherwood. Betty warned me about that grin of yours. It can supposedly charm any woman within a five mile radius." The two old women laughed and Scott blushed. "Now, Scott," Laura scolded, "would you please go inside and close the door? You're letting the heat escape."
Scott sat in the living room with Rupert Roberts, his older son Dan, Rupert's father-in-law Orville Moore, and the children. Betty, Laura, Pam, the grandmothers, and Carol were in the kitchen working on Christmas dinner. They were going to have a big dinner at the Roberts' house that night and at the local Church on Christmas day. Amy listened to Dick Haymes in her grandparents' room upstairs. The men talked about war and farming and radio while the children played with the old train set under the tree.
Scott noted that Agatha loved playing with all of the kids, which was a good thing. She was going to have to get used to sharing her toys and her parents in a few months. The worst that happened was that Agatha couldn't seem to figure out that old metal toy trains weren't edible. She got her hand slapped by her father the third time she attempted to stuff the caboose in her mouth. When Elliot and Everett got bored with the toy train, they grabbed each other and wrestled. Agatha giggled and jumped on top of her cousins.
"Shouldn't you get her away from them?" Dan asked as he watched George Jr. toss Agatha into the air and catch her. "She is just a girl."
"Nahh, Aggie and I wrestle all the time," Scott explained. "She knows that she can't be too hard on me, though. My leg can't take it."
"How did you get that bad leg if you never left the States?" Orville inquired.
"It's a long story," Scott began cautiously. "Two Nazi spies who claimed to be a sponsor and a writer invaded WENN a few years ago. Betty stopped the writer from plugging me in a worse place than my leg, but the bullet shattered the bones so badly that I'll limp for the rest of my life."
"This radio station you work at seems awful dangerous," Rupert said. "I would think that the worst danger a radio station could experience is a power failure!"
"Oh, we get our share of those, too," Scott admitted. "WENN's not your average radio station."
"Betty told us some pretty interesting stories when she came home a few years ago," Rupert explained. "I gathered from Betty that you've led a pretty interesting life. What made you give it up?"
"Betty did," Scott admitted. "I never thought I'd meet someone I could spend the rest of my life with, much less change my life for. We weren't on the best of terms for a while, and there was a time when I thought I'd lost her, but we worked things out."
Dan slapped Scott on the back. He nearly choked on his brandy. "Yeah, it was like that with Carol and me, too. I never thought I'd find a woman who liked the land as much as me."
Pam's six-year-old daughter Margie tore Agatha away from the boys and sat her on the large armchair. She pulled a thick book out of the shelf. "I'm going to read you a nice Christmas story now, Aggie. It's about a baby who's even littler than you are. Mommy says that he's the reason we have Christmas. She and I read this story together every year, but she's busy tonight, so I'll be Mommy."
Scott smiled as he watched the little girl read and his daughter squirm. Margie read well for her age, but she struggled over the big words. "Hey, Margie, would you like some help?" he asked.
"That would be very nice. Thank you, Uncle Scott!"
Scott settled between Margie and Aggie. He placed the book on his lap. "'And the Angel said 'I shall bring you tidings of great joy, which will be for all people. For unto us a savior is born, which is Christ the lord..."
"Mom," Betty grumbled, "I am perfectly capable of peeling potatoes!"
"I just don't want you to overwork yourself, honey," Laura fretted.
"I'm fine," Betty exclaimed. "You're worse than Scott. He barely allows me to type scripts at the station!"
"What does he think about this?" Carol asked as she sliced carrots.
"Scott? He's thrilled. You'd never believe it from the way he acts sometimes, but he loves kids. Agatha adores him and the children at the station think he's some kind of god," Betty admitted.
"Betty," Laura asked, "why isn't he leaving tomorrow afternoon? Is there something wrong between you two?"
"Laura," her mother Anne said sternly, "leave Elizabeth alone. She and Scott seem to be getting along fine to me."
"Me too," added Mona, who carefully checked the ham for the eighth time and then checked to make sure that she hadn't gotten any stray grease on her fancy, sophisticated suit. "In fact, I say she's darn lucky. Betty, I'm going to tell you right now that your husband is, as Amy would say about Gary Cooper, a total hunk."
Betty blushed and all the women laughed. "He's wonderful. I never thought I'd even learn to work with him, much less marry him. He was so infuriating when we first met. He thought he was the king of the world or something." She sighed. "He's changed, though. The change is subtle, but he has changed."
Laura sat down at the huge table with her daughter. "I'm not going to try to change either of your minds. I know how performing works and that shows don't stop for holidays. I used to be an actress myself before I married your father."
"Yes," Carol pointed, "but you only did two stage shows a day. Betty writes dozens of radio programs a day and hundreds of shows a week. She should probably thank her lucky stars that she gets to see Scott at all!"
"I doubt I would if we didn't work for the same station," Betty agreed. "Actually, we haven't had much time for each other since Agatha arrived."
Pam nodded understandingly. "I know. Just be glad you didn't have twins, Betty. My boys are good kids, but they can be a hassle. I thought I was going to go crazy when they were babies! If one didn't want something, the other one did."
Laura rubbed her daughter's hand. "Betty, I know you always got along better with your dad and Dan, but if you want to talk to me about anything, I'm here for you. We all are."
"Mom," Betty said in annoyance, "I appreciate you trying to be my psychologist, but Scott and I are perfectly happy. He just has to do some work at home. That's all. I almost didn't come. We used most of our gas ration points for this month just driving here!"
Mona checked the stove. "I think the ham's ready, Laura," she called.
Grandma Anne nodded. "The carrots and the sweet potatoes are finished, too."
"Well, then," Laura said happily, a gleam appearing in her brown eyes, "we'll call the men and the kids in for dinner, then. Grandma Edith, drag Amy from Dick Haymes."
"Scott," Betty asked later as she and her husband settled down for the night in her old room, "why are you going home tomorrow afternoon? Tell me the truth."
He sighed as he buttoned his pajama top. "Betty, I did tell you the truth. I have some work for the W.E.N.N that simply must get done."
"Scott, even the government shuts down for the holidays."
"But paperwork doesn't." He leaned over and gave his wife a kiss.
"Does it have to do with the government?"
Scott frowned in surprise, but quickly changed his expression. "Well, yes, it involves the W.E.N.N..."
"Is that all it involves?"
"Betty, what are you implying?"
She sighed. This wasn't really the time or the place to talk about the papers she found on his desk in August. She thought knew why he needed to go back to Pittsburgh so badly that he was giving up a vacation, but she didn't want to argue on Christmas Eve. "Nothing." She snuggled next to him in the bed. "Good night, Scotty."
"Good night, Betty."
December 25th, 1944 - Early morning
Betty crept down the stairs and into the kitchen. She just finished feeding Agatha and she wasn't really tired, anyway. There was a lot on her mind. She pulled a copy of "A Christmas Carol" off of the living room bookshelf and turned on the kitchen light. She put on some water for tea and retrieved a few Christmas cookies from the pantry.
A series of heavy footsteps surprised her. "Hi there, sunshine," Rupert Roberts said with a smile. "I couldn't sleep. I thought a glass of Great Aunt Pru's lemon and sassafras tea might help."
Betty held up the tea bags. "I'm way ahead of you." She handed him some cookies. "Here, have some peanut butter cookies. Mom made them from a special Victory recipe that Grandma Anne sent her. They have less butter and sugar."
Rupert took one bite and wrinkled his nose. "No offense to Anne or Laura," he said, "but I yearn for the days when cookies were made with real butter and real sugar and real eggs, not substitutes or nothing at all. These things are barely kept together by hot air."
Father and daughter were quiet for a few moments as Betty ate one of the crumbly cookies. "Dad," she said after she swallowed, "what do you think of Scott?"
Rupert Roberts was quiet for a moment. "I think he's a very nice man who led a very hard life. He isn't used to so much affection."
Betty sighed. "I don't think Mom likes him." She giggled. "Pam and Mona think he's dreamy, though."
"You should talk to Amy," laughed Rupert. "She's thoroughly convinced that Scott is Clark Gable in disguise."
"He acts that way sometimes," Betty admitted. "But there are other times when I wonder if I'm still married to the same man who walked into the control room of WENN spouting talk of barnacles and lawyers."
"Betty, people change," Rupert reminded her. "Scott isn't the same man you met four years ago. No one is exactly the same as they were four years ago."
"That's a good thing, in some ways. I finally feel that I can trust him with the station and the petty cash." The teapot let out a piercing whistle. Betty stood and filled two cups with tea bags and hot water.
"And your life," Rupert finished.
"He's the last man I ever figured I'd fall for." Betty sighed as she handed her father his teacup and sat back down. "I'm glad I did, though. I love him, Dad. I really do. I'm just worried that..."
"...That you're growing apart?"
Betty nodded. "The last time he was distant to me was when he did important work for the Allied cause." She gestured at her belly. "We have Agatha to worry about this time, and there's the new one on the way..."
"Betty, give Scott time." Rupert took a sip of his tea. "If he really is doing important work, it won't last forever. You made it through before, and look at your reward." He pointed upstairs. "Agatha is a lovely little girl."
"She's great," Betty agreed. "She's healthy and as strong as an ox. That baby is tougher than some grown-up men I know."
"As for your mother," Rupert went on, "she likes Scott. She just hasn't shown it. He charmed the socks off of her the minute he flashed her that grin."
"Is it because Scott did some horrible things to people in the past?"
"Betty," Rupert said firmly, "your mother and I don't care what Scott used to be. What matters is that he's a good husband and a good father and his wife and daughter love him."
The clock chimed two o'clock. Betty yawned. "I think I'm going to go back to bed, Dad." She kissed his forehead. "Thanks for talking with me. I needed it."
The older man hugged his daughter. She laughed and slid his loose spectacles back up his nose. "You're welcome, sunshine."
"What about you?"
"I'll be up when your mother figures out I'm gone and comes looking for me." He shooed her upstairs with her unread copy of "A Christmas Carol".
December 25th, 1944 - 6:15 AM
A series of shrieks coming from the hallway rudely awoke Betty. "Aunt Betty, come see!" a small girl's voice screamed. "Santa Claus was here!"
Betty moaned, grabbed her pillow, and pulled it over her head. "I'll be down in a minute, Margie."
"Hey, Aggie," Scott said as he plucked his grinning daughter from her crib, "help me wake up Mommy." He tugged the covers off of Betty's legs. "You tickle her feet and I'll tickle that sensitive spot under her knees."
"Oh no, you don't!" Betty sat up and threw the pillow at her husband and daughter. Scott limped aside and Aggie laughed.
"Mama!" Aggie exclaimed. She gurgled and pointed to the hallway. "Out!"
"I think she wants to go downstairs, Betty, " Scott explained. "All of the kids and most of the adults are already down there."
Betty climbed out of bed and slipped into her robe. "Oh, all right, if the kids are that crazy, we'd better get down there. Mom won't be thrilled if they damage anything important." She smiled. "Besides, they're not the only ones who want to open their presents!" She nudged her husband. "I want to see what you got me."
Betty and Scott sat amid a sea of wrapping paper. Margie and George Jr. were outside playing with the new sleds that their grandparents gave them. Amy retreated to her grandparents' room to listen to her brand new single of Judy Garland singing "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas". Mona took a shower and everyone else finished the last of the big Christmas breakfast that Orville and Rupert made. Little Agatha slept peacefully alongside of the box that contained her new cowboy hat and tin sheriff's star.
Betty admired the butter-smooth leather gloves that her husband gave her. "Scott, they're wonderful! Where did you find them? Leather is impossible to come by!"
He grinned. "I have a friend in Wyoming who owns a cattle ranch," he explained. "He makes leather goods on the side." He tossed his new football up in the air. "Where did you get this? I haven't touched a real pigskin since I played on the Brattleboro Bobcats."
"It belonged to my brothers, but they didn't want it," Betty said. "The two of them hardly ever used it, so it's in great condition. Now you and Aggie can really play ball!"
Scott gave her a long kiss. "Thanks, Betty." He stood up and gathered his coat and suitcase. "I'm going to say good-bye to your folks."
He walked in the kitchen. "I'm heading back east," he announced.
"Why would you want to do that?" Grandma Edith asked in surprise.
"I have important stuff to do in Pittsburgh," Scott explained. "I'm sorry I have to miss dinner."
"That's all right," Pam said. "You got to eat a big dinner with us last night."
"Are we really that annoying?" queried Grandpa Orville with a twinkle in his eye. "Did we embarrass you and Betty too much?"
Scott shook his head. "No, nothing like that."
"Then why don't you forget your work and stay here?" Laura questioned. "Or are you afraid of something?"
"No," Scott said too quickly, "everything is fine." He shook the men's hands and gave Laura a kiss on her cheek and rushed out the door. Laura hit the nail on the head. He was afraid. Afraid for his family and for the stations. He had to go back.
Betty tied his scarf and straightened his coat. "Watch out for traffic, dear," she warned. "It tends to get pretty bad on Christmas day, even with the Victory speed limit."
"I'll be fine, Betty," Scott assured her. He rubbed her bulging tummy. "You take care of the little ones."
"I will." She gave him a hug. "I'm going to miss you. Aggie will be devastated when she wakes up and her Daddy isn't there to hold her."
"I'll miss you and Aggie, too, but you'll be home in a few days. I'm leaving you the car. I'm taking the bus home and I'll beg rides from Mackie when I get to Pittsburgh. Maple is going to meet me at the station."
He headed out the door and down the street. Betty waved good-bye as he walked to the near-by bus stop. "I love you!" she called.
"I love you, too!" Betty heard Agatha cry for her daddy and went back inside. Scott watched her as he climbed onto the bus and settled into the worn seat.
This war won't last forever...
Why did Scott insist on leaving early? Does it have to do with the government papers Betty found on his desk? Why does he fear for his family's safety? Who is "the Falcon"?
On the Edge of the Precipice Series
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