"Never Say Die"
It was just one of those days again.
Ginger Szabo Metcalf suddenly flashed back to every single showbiz adage she had learned since starting out, and with the aplomb of a seasoned performer, she raised her eyes to the camera and turned on her thousand watt smile for her audience. The show must go on, she told herself. After all, I am a professional.
Out in the front row, she caught her husband's smile of sympathy, and saw him wink at her. The gesture was meant to put her at ease, but it only released the butterflies in her stomach--Jeff sure looked swell in his baseball uniform--and realizing she didn't need to be distracted any further than she already was, she looked back into the camera.
"Well girls, as we homemakers all know, sometimes things don't always go as planned.." She pushed aside the cold cookie sheet with the pale, raw reindeer-shaped cookies that stared back at her--almost taunting her--and turned up the intensity on her smile. "But I promise if you follow all the instructions I gave you today, your entire family will be raving about those delicious sugar cookies, and you won't be able to keep up with the demand! Just don't forget--like we did today--to pre-heat that Beacon deluxe oven to 350 degrees before you pop these treats in, and you'll be all set to go!"
Her cheeks hurt from smiling, but she was not going to let on that the prop man's latest blunder bothered her in the least. Besides, she almost felt sorry for the poor fellow--Mr. Melon was sure to give him a memorable upbraiding for this oversight.
"We're just about out of time here, folks, but before we leave you today..." The camera man cued Jeff to join Ginger behind the counter, and Ginger held out her hand to pull him beside her. "My husband and I wanted to extend a special greeting to everyone out in the audience."
Jeff tipped his baseball cap and smiled into the camera, just the way Ginger had coached him backstage. He hadn't had a serious bout of stage fright since Ginger had helped him get over it nearly two years ago, but she knew that there were still times he got a little uneasy with the thought of so many people watching them all at once. She felt his hand go to the small of her back to pull her in closer to him--partly for moral support, and partly just to have an excuse to touch her--and with a cool debonair air that even Robert Taylor would have killed for, he said, "From our family to yours..."
"... have a very Merry Christmas and a safe and Happy New Year! Bye for now!"
"And we're off the air!"
Ginger released the breath she'd been holding for the last few minutes and looked up at Jeff. "I hate being live," she muttered, as he came in for a kiss.
"Well I thought you did fantastic, myself," he told her. Somehow, when Jeff said so, she could believe it.
"What do you say we sneak out of here before Mr. Melon starts ripping into the prop guy?"
"Read my mind, honey-"
Ginger froze in her spot. She thought for a moment of pretending not to hear Miss Wescott's last minute call, but decided it wouldn't be worth it, and turned around to face her.
Miss Wescott smiled and clutched at her clipboard, then darted over to Jeff and Ginger. "I'm sorry to have to tear your wife away, Mr. Metcalf, but Mr. Melon would like to speak with her in private for a moment..."
Jeff raised an eyebrow. "He isn't going to try to renege on this two week vacation he promised her, is he?" he said. "Ginger's been nothing but a trooper for him for the last year and a half, and she deserves a nice Christmas break for once."
"Heavens, no, that's not why he wants to talk to her," Miss Wescott said, though something about her nervous giggle told Ginger whatever the reason was that he wanted to see her, it wouldn't be to wish her a Merry Christmas.
Reluctantly, she let go of Jeff's hand and said, "Would you mind waiting? This shouldn't take too long-"
"Not long at all, Mr. Metcalf, I promise to have her back out here in no time!"
Jeff nodded and smiled weakly. "A-all right, I'll be out here."
Ginger followed Miss Wescott down the narrow corridor, weaving through the obstacle course of lights, cameras, dollies and wires. She wasn't exactly looking forward to starting her two week holiday by having to face Mr. Melon, though she wasn't sure why she already had a bad feeling about this.
"Mr. Melon? You wanted to see me?"
"Oh yes, Mrs. Metcalf! Won't you please come in..." Mr. Melon came to the door and took her hands--Ginger wondered for a moment if he had snuck a sip of the eggnog she made on the show today--and turned back to the sullen man still sitting in the office. "What are you still doing here? I thought I fired you! Now go!!"
"But Mr. Melon-"
"Now don't you worry, Mrs. Metcalf, he won't be around to forget to turn on the over again... Miss Wescott, find me another prop handler, ASAP!"
"Now then..." He led her into his office, then, after sticking his head out of the door for a second, walked back in and closed the door behind him. He sat before her at the desk and stared back at her with a smile more phony than her mother's diamond broach, then finally took a deep breath and opened his mouth.
And before he even spoke, Ginger already knew this wouldn't be something she'd want to hear.
"Mrs. Metcalf, we've known each other for a long time, and I feel I can be honest with you."
"What is it?"
His smile began to quiver. "The owner of Fine Foods came to me with some suggestions for the show."
Ginger swallowed hard. "Suggestions?"
"Yes, you see, he has some concerns. He doesn't think you're... well, 'right' for this."
Not right?! Ginger flashed back to her humiliation at her failed screen test and blinked back at Mr. Melon. "What-what does that mean, exactly, Mr. Melon?"
"He feels that you're... a little too 'young' to be the Fine Foods Family Hostess."
"Yes. He thinks the audience may have a hard time believing that you're a housewife, since you're... not... housewife material, e-exactly..."
Ginger didn't know whether to laugh or cry. "But Mr. Melon, I am a housewife--well, except for this job, I am--and my audience knows that!"
"Mrs. Metcalf, you're a newlywed-"
"I've been married a year and a half, Mr. Melon-"
"Exactly, still a newlywed! A-and then, there's your history as the Lemo Tomato Juice Girl."
"What in the world does being the Lemo Girl have to do with this?"
Mr. Melon shrugged and let out a nervous laugh. "The owner feels that your one-time pin-up career-"
"-is hindering people from thinking of you as a regular housewife--one of them, you might say."
Ginger shook her head. This could not be happening to her. Not again.
"Mrs. Metcalf, I'm sorry to have to tell you this, but... when the Fine Foods Family Hour comes back on the air after the Christmas holiday, we'll be replacing you with someone older--someone who's been married longer, and has children, and grandchildren. Someone who won't seem so much like a threat to the female members of the audience. You understand, don't you?"
Ginger could see his mouth moving, but stopped hearing the words he was saying.
"Are you... firing me, Mr. Melon?"
He smiled unconvincingly--almost in apology--and nodded at last. "I'm very sorry, Mrs. Metcalf. Now don't think of this as a setback--you are a very valuable asset to WREQ, and we don't want to lose you. But until we find the right project for you, we'll have to... we'll have to keep you under wraps for a while."
Slowly, she got up from her seat and headed towards the door. "Mr. Melon, I've given three years of my life to this station--and if this is how you're going to treat me after everything I've done, then you can consider me no longer a part of WREQ altogether!"
"Now, Mrs. Metcalf, let's not be rash-"
Mr. Melon's gaping mouth was the last image she saw when she slammed the door behind her.
"I'm going to kill him!"
Jeff was gripping the steering wheel so tight, Ginger thought he would break it in half. She should have known the news would upset him as much as it did her--maybe even more so, she thought with a smile. To her surprise, she turned to him and said, "You'll do nothing of the sort, Jeff Metcalf."
He did a double take--somehow managing to look at her without swerving off the road. "What are you saying, Ginger, you're just going to take this lying down?"
"No, of course not! It's just that..."
This time, a little more gently, he said, "That what?"
She sighed and pulled her gloves off, absent-mindedly playing with them in her lap. "Look," she said, "heaven knows I'm upset over this. I mean, Mr. Melon has been pulling these stunts on me from the very beginning-"
"That's exactly my point-"
She wasn't sure if Jeff would understand what she was about to say. Come to think of it, she wasn't sure if she understood herself. "But maybe this is a blessing in disguise."
He wrinkled his brow and glanced back at the road before returning his eyes to her. "How's that?" he said in bewilderment. She knew he probably hadn't expected her reaction to be like this--she, the one who nearly threw their relationship away, stupidly, for a chance at a career that now seemed to have ground down to a halt for the moment.
"Don't look so surprised," she said. She laughed, trying to lighten his mood at least a little, and then after a while, she went on. "I was thinking... I was thinking about what you said to me right before we broke off the engagement..."
She saw his shoulders rise at the mention of the incident--though things had worked out in the end, neither of them particularly enjoyed bringing it up, even now.
"I said a lot of things I shouldn't have, Ginger," he said after some silence.
She smiled back at him, hoping to ease some his guilt. "So did I. But Jeff, you were right about something."
"If I did make it... If I became the star I've always dreamed of being, maybe my career would have taken me far away from you. And if there's one thing I've learned in the last year and a half, Jeff, it's that I wouldn't trade a minute with you for a career as the biggest box office draw in the country."
She saw his eyes soften, and suddenly, he pulled the car off the road, taking her by surprise, though after the many times he had done it before, she should have expected it.
And she should have expected the kiss that came soon after--long and sweet, with his fingers tangled in her hair and his other hand cradling the small of her back. When it was over, he kissed her eyelids and just looked at her in awe for a few heartbeats before he finally spoke. "That was one of the most selfish things I have ever said in my life, Ginger."
"Jeff, how can you-"
He placed a finger on her lips. "I seem to recall one hell of a spunky woman who once told me that she was going to prove everyone wrong for writing her off." He leaned in a narrowed his eyes in the way that made her dizzy. "I kind of liked her spunk, to tell you the truth."
She laughed and took hold of the front of his baseball jersey, pulling him towards her. "Have I ever told you how much I love you, Jeff Metcalf?"
He gave her a look that meant to tease her. "Well as a matter of fact, it seems like I say it a lot more often than you do-"
"Jeff!" She swatted his arm playfully, but he grabbed her by the waist, making her giggle in surprise as he tickled her. "I'm trying to have a romantic moment here, do you mind?"
"In that case," he said, gently kissing her neck and making her forget her train of thought, "who am I to interfere then..."
"Oh my word..."