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Chapter no 41 – Recommit

Lesson, in Chemistry

“Hello,” Elizabeth said. “My name is Elizabeth Zott, and this is Supper at Six.

From his producer’s chair, Walter Pine closed his eyes and thought back to the day they’d met.

She’d stormed past his secretaries in her white lab coat, hair pulled back, voice clear. He remembered feeling stunned by her. Yes, she was attractive, but it was only now that he realized it had little to do with how she looked. No, it was her confidence, the certainty of who she was. She sowed it like a seed until it took root in others.

“I’m starting today’s show with an important announcement,” she said. “I’m leaving Supper at Six, effective immediately.”

From the audience came a gasp of disbelief. “What?” people asked one another. “What did she say?”

“This will be my last show,” she confirmed.

From a ranch house in Riverside, a woman dropped a carton of eggs on the floor. “You can’t be serious!” someone in the third row shouted.

“I’m always serious,” Elizabeth said. A wave of distress filled the studio.

Taken aback, Elizabeth turned to look at Walter. He looked back with an encouraging nod. It was all he could do without falling apart.

She’d driven over to his house last night, unannounced. He almost hadn’t answered the door; he’d been entertaining. But when he looked through the peephole and saw her standing there, Mad asleep in the car at the curb, Six-Thirty wedged behind the steering wheel like a getaway driver, he’d thrown open the door in worry.

“Elizabeth,” he’d said, his heart pounding. “What’s wrong—what happened?”

“It’s Elizabeth?” said a worried voice just behind him. “Mother of god, what is it? Is it Mad? Is she hurt?”

“Harriet?” Elizabeth said, drawing back in amazement.

The three of them said nothing for a moment, like in a play when no one can remember the next line. Finally Walter managed, “We were trying to keep this quiet awhile longer,” and Harriet blurted, “Until my divorce comes through,” and Walter reached for her hand, and Elizabeth cried out in surprise, startling Six-Thirty, who accidentally pressed hard against the horn

—repeatedly—which in turn woke up Madeline, then Amanda, then every other person in the neighborhood who’d made the mistake of going to bed early.

Elizabeth remained glued to the doorstep. “I had no idea,” she kept saying. “How could I have had no idea? Am I that blind?”

Harriet and Walter looked at each other as if to confirm, well, yes.

“We’ll tell you the whole story soon enough,” Walter said. “But why are you here? It’s nine o’clock.” Elizabeth had shown up without an invitation, something she’d never done before. “What’s wrong?”

“Everything’s fine,” Elizabeth said. “It’s just that now I feel bad about my reason for being here. Your news is so positive and mine is—”

“What? What?

“Actually,” she said, as if amending her response on the spot. “My news is positive, too.”

Walter waved his hands impatiently as if to push her along.

“I’ve…I’ve decided to leave the show.”

“What?” Walter gasped. “Tomorrow,” she added. “No!” Harriet said.

“I’m quitting,” she repeated.

It was the tone in her voice, the kind that made it clear that even though hers was a snap decision, she would not be snapping back. Negotiation was futile; there was no use bringing up trivial matters like contracts or unmade fortunes or what was supposed to fill that space if she wasn’t in it. Her decision was final, and because of it, Walter started to cry.

Harriet, too, recognized the tone, and proud in that way a mother pretends to be when her child announces she’s decided to dedicate her life to something that pays very poorly, she started to cry, too. Using both arms, she drew Walter and Elizabeth in close.

“I’ve very much enjoyed my time as the host of Supper at Six,” Elizabeth continued, looking steadily into the camera, “but I’ve decided to return to the world of scientific research. I want to take this opportunity to thank you all not only for your viewership,” she said, increasing her volume to be heard over the hubbub, “but also for your friendship. We’ve accomplished a lot together in the last two years. Hundreds of meals, if you can believe that. But supper isn’t all we’ve made, ladies. We’ve also made history.”

She took a step back, surprised, as the audience rose to its feet, roaring its agreement.

“BEFORE I GO,” she shouted, “I THOUGHT YOU’D BE

INTERESTED TO HEAR—” She held up her hands to quiet the audience. “Does anyone remember a Mrs. George Fillis—the woman who had the audacity to tell us she wanted to become a heart surgeon?” She reached into her apron pocket and pulled out a letter. “I have an update. It seems that Mrs. Fillis has not only completed her premed studies in record time but has

also been accepted to medical school. Congratulations Mrs. George—no, I’m sorry—Marjorie Fillis. We never doubted you for a second.”

With that news, the audience instantly regained its vigor, and Elizabeth, despite her normally serious demeanor, pictured Dr. Fillis scrubbing in and could not help it. She smiled.

“But I’m betting Marjorie would agree,” Elizabeth said, raising her voice again, “that the hard part wasn’t returning to school, but rather having the courage to do so.” She strode to her easel, marker in hand. CHEMISTRY IS CHANGE, she wrote.

“Whenever you start doubting yourself,” she said, turning back to the audience, “whenever you feel afraid, just remember. Courage is the root of change—and change is what we’re chemically designed to do. So when you wake up tomorrow, make this pledge. No more holding yourself back. No more subscribing to others’ opinions of what you can and cannot achieve. And no more allowing anyone to pigeonhole you into useless categories of sex, race, economic status, and religion. Do not allow your talents to lie dormant, ladies. Design your own future. When you go home today, ask yourself what you will change. And then get started.”

From all over the country women leapt from their sofas and pounded on kitchen tables, calling out in a combination of excitement for her words and heartache for her departure.

“Before I GO,” she shouted over the din, “I’d like to thank a very special FRIEND. Her name is HARRIET SLOANE.”

From Elizabeth’s living room, Harriet’s jaw dropped. “Harriet,” Mad breathed. “You’re famous!”

“As you know,” Elizabeth continued, again quieting the audience with her hands, “I’ve always wrapped my shows by telling your children to set the table so that you might have a moment for yourself. ‘A moment for yourself’—that was the advice Harriet Sloane gave me the first day I met her, and that is the advice that has resulted in my decision to leave Supper at Six. It was Harriet who told me to use that moment to reconnect with my own needs, to identify my true direction, to recommit. And thanks to Harriet, I finally have.”

“Holy mother of god,” Harriet said, turning pale. “Boy, Pine is going to kill you,” Mad said.

“Thank you, Harriet,” Elizabeth said. “Thanks to all of you,” she said nodding at the audience. “And so for the last time, I’d like to ask your children to set the table. And then I’m going to ask each of you to take a moment and recommit. Challenge yourselves, ladies. Use the laws of chemistry and change the status quo.”

Again, the audience rose to its feet, and again the clapping was thunderous. But as Elizabeth turned to go, it was obvious the audience was not going anywhere—not without one last directive. Unsure of how to proceed, she looked to Walter. He motioned with his hand as if he had an idea, then scribbled something on a cue card and held it up for her to see. She nodded, then turned back to the camera.

“This concludes your introduction to chemistry,” she announced. “Class dismissed.”

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