Author's note: I've borrowed a few lines from Jo Dee Messina's song "Stand Beside Me" and the title from a Shania Twain song. However, the title and a few lines were originally Lilith's idea. Credit where it's due. Thanks for taking time to read this story!!
Medical Convention in Boston, MA 1958
Why do I bother? Each of these is almost identical to the last...and I should know, I've been to enough of them, Margaret thought. However, this one would be different. "What where you're going you clumsy fool," she heard a voice a few feet ahead of her say. The voice was unmistakable. "Charles!" she called. He stopped yelling at the young man who had ran into him and walked over to Margaret. "Margaret...how on earth have you been? I can't believe we haven't spoken in five years!" he said. "Yeah...five years already. I wish the members of the 4077th had kept in touch better," she said. "Margaret, you're the one who hasn't kept in touch...I've received letters from Hunnicutt, Potter, Pierce, and the others...except for you, that is."
"Oh. Do you want to go somewhere a little more private to talk?"
"Yes, I was just thinking that. Would you like to come to my place?"
"Sure...that sounds great."
So the two of them left the convention and went to Charles' house. Until late that night, they talked about their lives after the war. "It's getting late; I better go," Margaret said. It was about three in the morning. "Will I see you tomorrow?" Charles asked. "Sure; I'm going to stay here for about two weeks," she replied.
"Good night, Margaret."
"Good night, Charles."
Instead of leaving, she turned back and kissed him. He hadn't been expecting that. He pulled back. "I'll see you tomorrow," he said, pointedly. "Yeah...good-bye, Charles," she said a bit sheepishly.
Boston, MA, October 1959
How could he do such a thing? How could he just leave like that? They'd been together for a year - a year! That was longer than her marriage to Donald! - and out of the blue he announces that he has to go find himself. Since when does Charles Emerson Winchester the Third have to '"find himself?" These questions were foremost in her mind as she kicked a stone across the path in the park. Margaret thought that taking a walk would clear her mind, but all it did was make her think harder about Charles. She needed to talk to someone. As she walked back to the apartment they had been sharing for almost a year, she tried to think of who she would call. Her first thought was of her sister Kate, but Kate was still mad that Margaret and Charles had been together so long. Kate didn't understand why her older sister would ignore her because of a man. Especially Charles. She didn't like him at all. She'd try to tell Margaret that she thought he was going to hurt her, but Margaret was just to stubborn and wouldn't listen. Now she wished she had. Then, it hit her. She'd call Hawkeye. Hawkeye would understand.
October 3, 1959 Boston, MA, and Crabapple Cove, ME
Margaret held her breath as the phone rang once...twice.."Hello?" came a voice on the other end. "Hi, is Hawkeye there?" she asked. "Yeah, hold on a sec," the voice said. She could hear that person call for Hawkeye. "Yo," he said as he picked up the phone.
"Um...I have a problem."
"It's Charles...we were together for a year and two days ago he said he had to find himself and he just left me without any warning," she said, hurriedly.
"Whoa, Margaret, slow down...that's a year of your life in about a second."
"Hawkeye, he left me...Charles left me to - to find himself...why would he need to do that?"
"I don't know..."
They talked about it for a while longer until she was crying to hard to continue.
"Listen, Margaret, why don't you come up here next week? You'll love it. Anyway, I have to go. See ya then, I hope," he said and hung up the phone. Margaret hung up and just sat on the couch, crying. She couldn't go up to Maine and visit him. No, not now. Maybe never, she decided.
Clarks Summit PA, January 23, 1960
Margaret flopped down on the couch after finishing unpacking. She had move to a small town so there was little chance of anyone finding her or the town than there was when she had been in Boston. She lived about fifteen minutes away from Mercy Hospital where she worked. The hospital was in a city that was a bit larger than Clarks Summit. She thought back on that day's events.
Flash back to earlier that day
"Margaret!" called Jackie.
"Someone left a dozen roses for you at the desk. Boy, are you lucky!"
"Charles..." Margaret said in a whisper.
"Who?" asked Jackie.
"He's just a - a friend," Margaret replied. Jackie didn't dare press her for more information. That's probably why they were such good friends. Jackie knew enough to leave Margaret alone when she didn't want to talk. After reading the note that was with the flowers, Margaret knew they weren't from Charles. This is what the note said:
You didn't think I'd find you, huh? Well, anyway, meet me in front of the Casey Inn at six. I have tickets for a play that's at the Masonic Temple...that's at seven o'clock. That gives us an hour to talk. In front of the Casey. Six o'clock. See you then.
Margaret was sitting on the couch debating if she should go or not. It was already quarter after five so if she wanted to go, she'd have to hurry. Unless she showed up at quarter to seven so she wouldn't have to talk to who ever it was that she would be meeting. Just meet him in front of the hotel, then walk to the Masonic Temple, see the play and leave. It wouldn't hurt to go, she decided. So, she stood up and went to get ready to meet this mystery date. She'd have to hurry if she wanted to make it on time. She looked through her closet trying to find something to wear. Ah-ha! She grabbed the plain black dress that Charles had given her about eight months ago. Charles...why couldn't she seem to evade memories of him? She reminded herself that she didn't have time to ponder over this mystery and proceeded to get ready to meet this mystery date.
Scranton, in front of the Casey Inn
She had made it with five minutes to spare. Nervously, she waited outside. A few moments later, she spotted a familiar face. He walked over to her and hugged her. "Why didn't you come that weekend?" was the first thing he asked.
"I couldn't, Hawkeye. I couldn't bring myself to do it," she said.
"I'm glad I came now...I almost didn't. I was afraid..."
"Afraid of what?"
"That it might have been Charles...I couldn't take that."
"I'm sorry you had to go through that," he said, looking into her eyes.
"Yeah," she said, turning away from him.
"Hey...do you wanna skip the play?" he asked.
"If you want to," she didn't add that whatever it was, she'd probably seen it several times. Tickets weren't that expensive and there was always something to go see.
"Okay...we can just talk then."
"Yeah...do you want to go back to my house?"
The fifteen minute drive was quiet. Very quiet. However, what went on at her house was anything but quiet. Months of anger, regret, fear, and love that didn't have anywhere to go until then, spilled out. Along with this came tears. It felt go to shed that tough exterior and show that she was just like everyone else. They fell asleep on the couch around midnight.
January 28th, 1960
Hawkeye would be leaving in a few days and he stopped by the hospital during Margaret's lunch break. He spotted her walking the other way and walked quickly to catch up with her. "Ya know, Margaret, you should be finishing up here. I have to leave in a few days. Dad can't wait forever. I'm ready when you are," he said.
"Hawkeye, honey, God love ya, but I'm stayin' here."
"Margaret, c'mon, this ain't time to fool around...I gotta split soon."
"Go ahead. I'm not holding you back. Oh my God! That's Charles!"
Sure enough, Charles was walking down the hall. Margaret quickened her pace, but Charles had already seen her he ran to catch up with her. "Margaret! Hi, honey!" Charles exclaimed as he tried to kiss her. She stepped away, though. Margaret looked at Hawkeye. Her eyes begged him to help, but he just stood there, pretending not to notice.
"Margaret? What's wrong?"
"Okay, you left me crying in Boston; you said you had to find yourself out on the road. I guess when love goes wrong, you've got to learn to be strong. So, I switched jobs and moved. I ended up just north of here. Okay, so I may not be so lucky in love, but the one thing I'm sure of: I want a man who stands beside me, not in front of or behind me. Give me two arms that want to hold me, not own me, and I'll give all the love in my heart. Charles, Hawkeye, it's hard to tell you no when I want you so bad, but I've got to be true to my heart, this time," she answered.
Margaret sat at the table paging through an old photo album when she came across a wedding picture. No, it wasn't from the day she married Donald. It was when she married Jack Scully. She sighed. Those were forty five terrific years. It would have been forty six wonderful years if he hadn't died the day before their forty sixth anniversary. Jack and she had gotten married exactly fifty years ago. She turned the page in the photo album and found a dried rose and a yellowing piece of paper. In his handwriting it read:
I don't have the nerve to ask you this in person. Please, will you marry me? I swear by the stars above that I will not treat you like you're first husband, nor will I treat you like Hawkeye and Charles did.
The letter came in a bouquet of roses he sent her one day. That's where the dried rose was from. Margaret leaned back and the image of her husband's tombstone popped into her mind. She couldn't shake the image away. The writing on it was a vivid as if she was standing right in front of it: