A few hours later, Abby left the Draft office in a new uniform, with a duffel bag slung over her shoulder containing all her fatigues. She was to be posted to a MASH unit whose chief surgeon was a local doctor. That gave it away – that and the unit number, 8042, same as Hawkeye’s. She was due to leave in a month.
Abby went back to her hotel, to change into civilian clothes before she went back to the Pierces’ house. As she walked to Maple Terrace, she rehearsed what she was going to say. “‘I’m going to look for work in Boston. I don’t want to be a burden, so I’ll be self-sufficient...’ no that’ll never work. ‘Hey! You’ll never believe what I’m about to tell you! I’ve joined a bikie gang, and we’re going to cross America!’ No way, I’d get killed for saying or doing that. What am I going to tell them? Nothing, I’ll just leave a note for Margaret explaining the situation. Yeah, that’s the best way to do it,” she mumbled.
Three weeks later:
Hawkeye stood and squirmed uncomfortably in his dress uniform as they waited at the airport. “I never got used to this thing, and I probably never will,” he complained.
A teary Margaret responded, “You hardly ever wore it, except when you were in trouble.”
“If that’s the case then I should’ve lived in the stupid looking thing,” Hawkeye retorted, half-heartedly.
Abby stood silently, while pushing Michelle back and forth in her stroller, contemplating her actions. Hawkeye put his arm around her and kissed the side of her head. She looked up at him and for a moment they just spoke with their eyes, all the things a father and daughter want to say but never get the chance.
“Flight 212 to Vietnam now boarding at gate 12,” came the announcement.
Margaret lifted Michelle out of her stroller for a cuddle from her father. Hawkeye held her for a moment, then kissed her and put her back in the pram. Adam was next, and Hawkeye knelt for a hug and some whispered messages in Adam’s ear. Adam’s response was a fierce hug and an exploding wail. Hawkeye unwound Adam’s arms and stood up again. Margaret flew into his arms for a kiss; one so long and intense Abby turned her attention to the kids. Then it was Abby’s turn for a good-bye. Hawkeye opened his arms up to her and she rushed into his warm, fatherly embrace.
“Look after them kiddo, or I’m gonna come back and kick your butt!” grinned a choked-up Hawkeye.
“No worries. I love you, so you better come back to us!” She tried to smile, but couldn’t stop the tears.
Hawkeye hugged them both one last time, then headed up the ramp towards the plane and out of sight.
That night Abby sorted through her belongings for Vietnam. A note fell out of her duffel bag with her name on it. Curiously, she picked it up and started to read:
I know you’re up to something – call it fatherly intuition if you want. I’d prefer to call it ‘connections’. See, the draftboard major is an old doctor that I know, and when he saw you he got in touch with me and I put two and two together. I’m not mad at you for doing this, I just wish you wouldn’t. You’re only a baby, my baby, and if anything should happen to you then I’d be devastated. See you in a week kiddo.
PS: Margaret knows the full story, so don’t tell her any stories.
Abby tucked the note in her duffel, smiled to herself and went to bed.
The following week, they were back at the airport, only this time it was Abby who was going. Margaret hugged Abby tightly and whispered, “I love you as if you were my own. Look after yourself and him as well. See you soon!”
“Not if I see you first!” grinned a teary Abby. She turned and walked up the airport ramp towards the plane and out of sight.
The chopper touched down at the 8042 MASH unit rather joltingly. Abby stepped out and looked around her in amazement. A corporal ran up to her and grabbed her bag and her hand and pulled her away from the chopper. “Lieutenant Pierce, ma’am? Come with me, I’ll take you down to the C.O’s office,” he said, saluting.
Abby awkwardly saluted back and followed him.
“Colonel McCarthy, this is Lieutenant Pierce,” introduced the young corporal.
Abby gave her best salute to the elderly colonel, who returned it half-heartedly.
“We don’t worry too much about formalities here, Lieutenant. Have a seat,” said the colonel warmly.
“That’s a relief sir, I’m not big on formalities myself,” grinned Abby, sitting down.
“Now, I’ve looked at your record sheet and it says that you’re 18. That’s rather young to be a nurse don’t you think?” said Colonel McCarthy.
“Well sir, I’m a bush nurse at home. I work at the hospital and help with everything, but being a scrub nurse is what I’m best as,” replied Abby a little nervously.
The colonel studied her for a minute, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. “I suppose I better level with you. My chief surgeon told me the whole story so there’s no use hiding the fact that you’re Captain Pierce’s daughter.”
Abby blushed, then said, “He hasn’t told anyone else, has he?”
“Not that I know of, but I don’t think he would anyway. So why don’t I show you to the tent you’ll be sharing with a few of our nurses, then you can grab a bite to eat? You must be starving!” said the colonel, holding the door open for her.
Opening the tent door, the colonel said, “This is your home for the duration.”
“Um... nice?” said Abby, looking around her.
“Actually it’s really dodgy, but you get used to it in no time,” spoke a female voice from behind them.
Abby got out of the road to let this other girl in.
“Hi, I’m Amy-Lee, one of your bunkies,” the girl said, extending her hand.
“Abby. Nice to meet you,” said Abby, shaking the offered hand firmly.
“Likewise. I’ll take it from here colonel,” said Amy-Lee, firmly.
“No problems, I’m on duty in 20 minutes and I want something to eat beforehand,” said McCarthy. “Abby, I’ll leave you in Amy-Lee’s competent hands, and I’ll see you both later.”
“He’s an old softie,” smiled Amy-Lee, after the colonel had gone. “Come on, you wanna get out of your formal uniform and put some fatigues on? I’ll turn my back.”
“That’d be great, I hate this stupid old thing,” said Abby, kicking her shoes off. “So where’re you from?”
“Memphis, Tennessee. What about you?”
Australia originally, now Crapabble Cove in Maine.”
“Wow, Australia! What, kangaroos in your back yard and all that?”
“Not quite,” laughed Abby, and proceeded to tell about her hometown of Einasleigh.
Amy-Lee sat transfixed as Abby described the torrential wet seasons and the droughts, the locals, the animals and the lifestyle.
“Wow,” said Amy-Lee, “I’d love to go there.”
“Come home with me sometime when I go back. In the meantime can I grab something to eat? I’m famished!” groaned Abby.
“Come on then, lets go,” said Amy-Lee, jumping up and grabbing Abby’s hand.
As they walked into the Mess Tent, Abby spied Hawkeye sitting with a few other officers. Deciding to have a bit of fun, Abby poked Amy-Lee in the ribs and whispered, “Who’s that spunky doctor sitting over there?”
“Oh that’s Captain Pierce, our chief surgeon. Forget about him though, he’s a happily married man,” drawled Amy-Lee.
“Well at least introduce me!” pleaded Abby.
“OK, OK,” said Amy-Lee, walking over to where he was sitting. Tapping him on the shoulder, she said, “Excuse me, Captain Pierce? There’s a new nurse that is going to be assigned under you, so I thought I better introduce you. Captain Pierce, may I introduce Lieutenant Abby Pierce.”
Abby winked slightly at Hawkeye when he looked at her, then said, “Pleased to meet you Captain.”
Standing up, Hawkeye saluted her and said, “The pleasure’s all mine, Lieutenant,” before grabbing her in a bear hug and swinging her around.
Squealing helplessly, she hugged him back just as tightly before being put down.