Found a hard copy of this story when I was cleaning out. It's something I wrote quite some time ago as it won the "Rupert Award for Best Tearjerker" in 2000. As always I do not own the characters. This piece was written in honor of those who served.
Maple's VE Day
Maple felt the euphoria of the crowds as she walked along the streets of Pittsburgh on her way to WENN. The rumors of an imminent cease-fire in the European theater had escalated to an almost palpable presence. No one thought of anything else. The trolley drivers and the steel workers were going about their daily tasks, but with an expectancy of a child on Christmas morning. They knew something wonderful was about to happen and the whole city could barely contain its elation. Maple walked among the citizens of the Steel City trying desperately to feel the tiniest bit of happiness the rest of the city felt. She watched as new mothers held their children, clasping their hands and telling them that Daddy would be home soon. She watched as the fathers of soldiers picked up their tired gaits at the thought of their sons finally being freed from the horrors they knew they were facing. She watched the wives of these fathers truly smile for the first time in years, their prayers for the safe return of their sons finally being answered. Maple watched all of this as she threaded her way through the celebrants, a solitary figure, alone in her thoughts.
Maple finally made it through the throngs of people to the safe hallways of WENN. She closed the door and put on her best smile for Gertie. Gertie had already been infected by the mood affecting the whole nation. She jumped up from behind the desk, grabbed Maple and started an impromptu jitterbug. Maple did her best to play along but it was hard to fit into a world filled with happiness when she felt so empty. On her journey to WENN she had clung to the vain hope the hallways would be a refuge from the mayhem threatening to consume the streets of the city at any moment. A couple of steps with a jubilant Gertie smashed that hope and sent it to the scrap heap of Maple's dreams to join the innumerable other shattered remains of secrets Maple never shared with anyone. The phone rang and a still dancing Gertie made her way to the desk to answer it.
Maple paused for a moment and stared at the Gold Star on the banner that was hanging by Gertie's desk. The hollowness she felt as she looked at CJ's memorial threatened to consume her and she had to walk away before she lost all semblance of professionalism. She peeked into Studio A and saw Mackie barely containing a grin as he let Colonel Moore recap yesterday's headlines. Mr. and Mrs. Foley were continuing their reign as the best sound effects team in Pittsburgh. Maple looked at the joy expressed in both their faces and knew that although some of that happiness was from the impending news, it was the strength of their marriage that kept them truly happy. She tried to quiet the sudden stab in her heart and pulled herself away from the idyllic picture before she was completely overwhelmed with the agony. The pain would not abate and Maple knew she had to find someplace to be alone, and fast.
She remembered Betty mentioning something about meeting with Mr. Medwick today regarding a new ad campaign and blindly ran to the writer's room wishing that Betty had already left for the appointment. Maple gratefully found the room empty and shut the door behind her to cut herself off from the joy that surrounded her. She felt so out of place. The world was oblivious to her pain. She didn't want to be pitied or to ruin anyone else's happiness so she kept her most private feelings locked so deeply inside her that sometimes she didn't even know what they were. It had always been like this for her. Cover the pain, don't let anyone know the devastation, pretend everything is all right. Try to fit in, try to find the one true place to call home. Stop running. Look for the answers to questions that poets and scholars could only comment on and never truly understand. Wonder why the world brought happiness to some and only more heartache to others. Maple had tried to live her life in a way that would someday bring her tranquility. She tried to understand the lives that most people led; the house, the marriage, the kids. But she knew she would never have those things that everyone else took for granted. Somehow they had been neglected in her life. Somehow the most wonderful mysteries of being alive had passed her by. She covered up the emptiness of her soul as best she could, continually telling herself that someday things would work out for her. Someday her sacred dreams would come true.
Today was the day she could no longer believe that. Somewhere along the line she had been betrayed. She leaned against the door of the writer's room and sobbed. The ache in her heart grew as she felt the twinge of pain pierce its way to the very core of her being. She sank to the floor and laid her head on her knees. The tears poured out of her as if she had an endless supply. She tried to control her misery but only succeeded in wiping away a small portion of the wetness. Her breathing became uneven and she had to catch herself from screaming out loud in case anyone happened to be passing through the hallway. Finally her eyes were cried out. She pulled a handkerchief from her purse and started the long road to making herself presentable. She was interrupted by six bells from the teletype. Maple dragged herself up from the floor and reached the machine before anyone else heard the ringing. She read the headlines with a shocked calmness. Peace in Europe. Peace. She laughed at the bitter irony for there was no peace for her. Maple took several deep breaths and finished wiping the remains of her breakdown from her face. She knew she had to bring this news out immediately and she knew she couldn't let on that this wasn't a joyous day for everyone.
Maple pasted on a smile and ran to Studio A to fling the news at Mackie. He announced it to Pittsburgh with the pride of a man who had just been presented with his first born son. After Mackie finished telling the best news of the century, Eugenia broke into "God Bless America". Maple ran to the green room to be alone but found Enid there baby-sitting Betty's daughter. This further reminder of Maple's ostracism from the human race sent another dagger through her. She bit her lip and kept her smile glued on as Enid looked up and smiled. Maple looked down at the sleeping child in Enid's arms and knew she would never know the joy of holding her own infant in her arms. Maple knew she had to get out of the green room and hide herself away again before she ruined everyone else's elation. She ran to the only other place in WENN where one could be guaranteed privacy – the storage room. Enid was perplexed by Maple's odd behavior, but since today was an unusual day, nothing really disquieted her.
Maple locked herself in the storage room and wished she had more handkerchiefs with her. She sat down in one of the stray chairs in the room and opened her purse. There were no more comforts for her, only the telegram she had been given that morning. She pulled it out of her purse and read it again to make sure she hadn't read it wrong earlier in the day. "The United States Army regrets to inform you Pvt. Mark Hopkins killed in action." She could read no more as the drops from her eyes obscured the rest. Her Mark. The one man who had truly loved her, and to whom she had given her eternal devotion. No one at WENN even knew about Mark. It was a secret love born and killed by war.
She met him at the Stagedoor Canteen as she was handing out donuts and cheer. They had spent all night dancing and talking with just each other. Maple knew she was breaking every rule in the book by spending so much time with him, but she had never met a man with whom she felt she could tell her most secret dreams and he wouldn't laugh. He saw through her "experienced" exterior to the woman within. Maple knew that night she would never love another man. Mark also knew his life would not be complete without Maple and without the knowledge of anyone at WENN they carried on a romance.
Maple reached into her blouse to pull out the chain attached to her bra strap. On the chain there was a simple gold band. She kept it hidden over her heart rather than wear it on her finger for the love symbolized by it was too precious to share even with her friends at the station. Maple clutched the ring and bent her head over her hands as the tears once again ran down her face. She heard the sounds of celebration ringing throughout the hallways but knew she could not join in. Perhaps later when she had tucked the ring back into the fabric and dried some more tears she would be able to put up a good front, but right now her thoughts were only with the man, and the other millions who would never come home.