The Melody of Heartache

Summary: Jeff and Ginger end their romance. "Man, This Joint is Jumping", "Szabo's Travels", and "Appleknocker To Wed Tomatohawker" inspired this very short Homefront story.

Disclaimer: Homefront characters belong to their creators. No copyright infringement intended. No profit is being made. Some of the dialogue that appears in this story is not my own, but belongs to the writers of the "Homefront" episodes "Szabo's Travels" and "Appleknocker To Wed Tomatohawker."

Author: Tracy Diane Miller

The Melody of Heartache

The heavens knew. Or, perhaps it was only the sun that had known but had carefully guarded the secret from celestial relatives. Maybe it didn't even matter now. Maybe it did.

On that day months ago, the sun appeared self-absorbed, dressed in brilliant rays as it washed over an unassuming and serene park in Hollywood. The sun was an uninvited yet arguably welcome voyeur as it peered at the young couple. The woman sat on a bench. Her golden locks seemed to have already been kissed by the sun's smile. She looked confident and determined. She knew her lines. She was going to be discovered during this screen test. She was destined to become a movie star.

Ginger Szabo was a small town girl with big city ambitions. The allure of show business, of being a movie star, had summoned her to California. She was blissfully blinded by visions of seeing her name and image parading across the silver screen and by having fans, reporters, and photographers salivating over her. She could hear the adulation ringing in her ears as an army of voices roared "Ginger". It was going to be a never-ending battle cry, a wail of devotion and admiration of fans for their star. And when they cried out for "Ginger", it wouldn't be for that "other" Ginger, the one who glided so majestically and effortlessly across a ballroom floor with a debonair "Fred". No, those fans screams and their hearts would be pounding expectantly for her, for Ginger Szabo.

The woman's acting partner stood over her. The handsome man, whose beautiful mud green eyes also seemed to have been awakened by the hint of the sun's rays that had quietly illuminated his face, looked pensive. He loved her so much. That was why he agreed to participate in that dance contest, had taken dance lessons, and had adopted her desire to succeed so that they would be given the opportunity for this screen test in Hollywood. Jeff Metcalf wasn't always the most sensitive guy in the world, but his Achilles heel was his intense and unquestioned love for Ginger. Sometimes the depths of that love scared him. Sometimes he felt as if something were tugging at his gut, like a vulture gnawing on the stubborn flesh of a decaying carcass. Was he watching the slow and painful death of his and Ginger's relationship? He felt as if he were witnessing two speeding trains heading from opposite directions oblivious that they were about to collide. He had to warn her. He had to fight for their future.

Yet, Ginger couldn't see the trains. Her eyes were clouded to the inevitable collision but instead sparkled with the hope of becoming a movie star. She envisioned this screen test as the first leg along the yellow brick road to movie stardom. But Jeff saw winning this screen test as a faint whisper that would later become a powerful death knell to his dream of marriage and children with the woman that he loved.

He had approached the subject cautiously by innocently asking her if they won the screen test, what would happen to him. With infectious optimism, she assured him that he was terrific and that he could be a movie star, too. He had countered by saying "acting was a silly line of work for a grown man."

"And just what is baseball if not a silly line of work for a grown man?" She probed.

"It's the national past time." He argued.

Ginger was unimpressed. She informed him that movie sales far exceeded ticket sales for ball games. But Ginger also exposed her vulnerability by revealing to him that she was worried about what would happen to her if he succeeded as a professional ball player and was required to travel across the country for games. She didn't want to bring their children to train or bus stops for quick glimpses of him and tearful good byes. She didn't want to compete with his unforgiving travel schedule.

"You can come with me." He reminded her as he gazed deeply into her eyes.

"You can come with me." She insisted letting him know that she wouldn't bury her dream of becoming a star, not even for him.

At that moment, Jeff felt a slight pang in his chest, the icy and unyielding determination peppering Ginger's words slicing at his heart. Consequently, he told her to forget that he said anything and suggested that they continue practicing. Nothing had been settled. Or, maybe everything had been settled. Maybe through their silent stares in that moment, both of them were painfully aware that the trains had collided. Perhaps that moment was the telling prelude to an eventual break-up, the stirring first note in the melody of heartache.

God forgive him but Jeff was thrilled that they didn't win that screen test. Even as he comforted Ginger, he secretly hoped that she would now put all this acting nonsense behind her and that they could go back to River Run and plan their future. A short while ago he had proposed to her but thoughts of marriage had been precipitated by the prospect of an unplanned pregnancy. When the pregnancy scare proved to be a false alarm, both of them let out a sigh of relief. But Jeff proposed to Ginger again. He needed for her to know that he loved her and wanted to marry her, baby or no baby. She turned him down. They weren't ready.

Then Jeff had silently vowed that very soon he'd ask her to marry him again. He also obsessed over whether he would be invited by the Cleveland Indians to spring training. Spring training would bring him closer to his dream of becoming a professional baseball player. And once he made it as a major leaguer, he could help out his family financially and he and Ginger would have a healthy nest egg to begin their lives as husband and wife. Jeff had prayed long and hard. "Please God, please let me made it to the majors. Or, if you don't see fit to help me get into the majors, I'd be happy with the minors. And if you can see your way clear to do this, I promise that I'll work on not telling so many mental reservations and I'll go to confession more often." Jeff quickly amended his request. What was he doing? Bargaining with God?

God heard him. A slow start at spring training was transformed into an illustrious career as a Cleveland Indian right fielder. But Ginger's dreams of stardom were also being realized. The screen test debacle had led Ginger to impulsively decide to cash in her bus ticket for the return trip home so that she'd have the money to stay in Hollywood for two months. She was certain that she'd be able to get an acting job within that time. It hurt him so much that she would have made this decision without even discussing it with him first. Had he mattered so little to her? And when she called him from Hollywood and told him about that offer to pose nude for a pin-up and about that ham-fisted yahoo who couldn't keep his paws off of her, that jerk director who touched her inappropriately, Jeff had resolved to leave River Run and headed back to Hollywood. He was going to bring her home no matter what. Okay, so Ginger had finally come to her senses and had left Hollywood to surprise him by coming home. But she still wouldn't let go of that show business foolishness. She kept saying that she was going to be a radio star and then took that receptionist job at WREQ. And by some screwy luck, Ginger Szabo became the Lemo Tomato Juice Girl.

And so began the melody of heartache, swelling into a full blown overture of pain. It was a melody that had been introduced by that first note that echoed within the young couple during a fateful day in a Hollywood park months ago. To Ginger, singing her song was her shot at the big leagues. It didn't mean that she didn't love him. But to Jeff, her refusal to come home with him, to marry him as soon as he could make the arrangements with Father Dreher, and her insistence that she remain in WREQ's studio to sing that song, meant that she had made her choice.

Her lips hungrily met his for one last kiss, a good bye kiss, maybe a kiss of regret.

"You remember how to wish an actress good luck. I know you remember. Break a leg? Just tell me to break a leg. Break a leg, Ginger. Please?"

A brief silence.

"Will you come home with me, Mrs. Metcalf?" Jeff pleaded, his mud green eyes searching her eyes for some sign, any sign, which would tell him that she'd choose him over a burgeoning career. But Ginger Szabo wouldn't accept ultimatums. Wanting a career didn't mean that she loved him any less. Sure, he had offered to quit baseball for her, but she never took him up on his offer. Why should he expect her to give up her dream?

Jeff remained in the studio as Ginger sang her song. "I'll be seeing you, in all the old familiar places." She crooned, her voice slicing at his heart. Tears streamed down her face as she belted out the tune. They gazed at each other through pain-filled eyes until he walked out of the studio. Ginger's sultry voice poured from the car radio as Jeff drove home. Why he continued to listen he wasn't sure. It was like a person who witnesses a catastrophic event who is unable to avert his gaze from the horror of the event. So he continued to listen to the radio all the while blinking back his tears as the melody of heartache tore at his very soul.

Some say that war makes a man out of a boy, robs him of his innocence by making him cynical and embittered to what the future might hold for him. They're probably right. But there are other kinds of war, too, wars that aren't fought in the trenches.

That night, Jeff had become a casualty in the war of the broken-hearted. And the melody of heartache would resonate within his soul long after the song ended.

The End.