Chapter 3 - Someone to Care
Nat King Cole's voice crooned from the juke box. Hawkeye took Margaret in his arms and they danced without talking for a few moments.
"Your eulogy for Millie really was wonderful, Captain. I know it was difficult for you to be that open. Thank you..."
"You're welcome. Margaret, is something bothering you? You've been staring into space all night."
"No, I'm fine, really." She hoped that the line would work as well on Hawkeye as it had on Colonel Potter.
"Margaret, would you care to try that again? I think something is eating at you. It's not healthy to hold it in. I know I haven't always been the best friend but I do care. Is it that you feel responsible for Millie's death because you're the Head Nurse?"
She had been dancing with her eyes closed with her head resting on his shoulder. She jerked her head around to face him with a look of surprise.
"How did you know that?"
"I've seen the way you care about your nurses. They don't always realize that you do because of your tough Major Houlihan persona. I also know you don't push them any harder than you push yourself...too hard.
I remember how you reacted when Bigelow was hurt when the water tower was blown over in the wind storm. You were like a mother hen. Millie was one of yours and she wasn't just injured, she was killed. That has to bother you."
Hawkeye looked into her eyes with a look of concern. She looked away from him, fearing that if she allowed herself to be vulnerable she'd give way to tears in front of the whole company.
Another ballad played on the jukebox so the two continued to dance unaware that BJ was choosing the music. He saw that his two friends were having what appeared to be a serious conversation, perhaps finally acknowledging hidden feelings. He knew that his bunkmate had fought his own feelings for the head nurse for some time. He hoped that they would see that if they just let their guard down that they might become more that just good friends. Maybe, he thought, he was trying to play cupid where it wouldn't be appreciated but he was willing to take that chance. BJ liked happy endings. He thought that since he didn't have the pleasure of having his own dear Peg near him that he could enjoy a romance by proxy. Maybe it was a long shot but since there was nothing else to do he'd take his chances.
Father Mulcahy entered the officers club, looking around for the group. His eyes didn't miss the fact that Captain Pierce and Major Houlihan were sharing a dance. He saw Potter and BJ and went over to join them.
It was getting late and many of the crew had turned in for the evening, no doubt, many in pairs. Unfortunately, there wasn't much to do in the camp when there were no wounded to attend to. Father Mulcahy did his best to teach the Bible and be there to counsel. He often wondered if he made any difference. Not many attended his services and few sought his counsel. He consoled himself with knowing that he'd made a difference in the lives of many Korean war orphans. He knew that the faces of those sweet children would remain in his heart and mind forever.
"Have I missed anything, Colonel?" he asked.
"Well, Padre, not much has been going on, just the usual sin and debauchery. Oh, sorry..." the colonel answered, not wanting to offend the priest.
"That's okay, Colonel. The Bible is full of sin and debauchery."
"Yes, I suppose so. Major Winchester turned in earlier and Klinger, you can see, decided to simply pass out here." Potter laughed as he spoke.
Colonel Potter smiled at Father Mulcahy. Their chaplain was a walking contradiction. He could preach a sermon on love and deck someone with a left hook, almost in the span of a single breath. The sensitive man seemed to be some of the glue that held their 'family together.' He didn't know what they would do without him and didn't want to find out.
"What took so long, Father?," asked BJ as he fed another quarter into the jukebox, choosing a Bing Crosby ballad. "I thought you'd have joined us hours ago."
"I thought it would be a nice gesture to write a letter of comfort to the Carpenters. I know there's not much I could say that would ease the loss of their daughter but I felt that I should try."
BJ winced a bit at the priest's comment. His daughter was thousands of miles away in California. One day she would grow up and leave...he just couldn't imagine the pain of losing a child...and so far from home. He shook himself mentally. Erin was a toddler and he hadn't seen her since she was few months old. He'd not allow himself to think her life away. He turned his attention, instead to his friends on the 'dance floor.'
Hawkeye and Margaret had danced through almost two songs without uttering a word. He sensed that she was crying silently by the moisture on his shoulder. He held her tightly as one would do while consoling a small child. She felt strangely safe in his arms, of all places. Finally Hawkeye broke the silence.
"Is the death of one of your nurses all that's bothering you?"
She looked up and then lowered her eyes. "No, it's not."
"Margaret, what is it? I've told you before, two ears, no waiting."
Margaret smiled slightly. She knew that he did care. She'd known that since they'd agreed to be friends last year after the incident in the abandoned hut. He admitted that he cared more than he cared to admit but that he didn't think anything would come of it because they were so different. She'd come to realize, however, that they really weren't so very different. Sure he wasn't concerned with neatness and she was, but when it came to the game of denial they were both star players. She held people at bay with her cool 'Major fašade' and he kept them at bay with his wall of humor. You could almost say that they were two sides of the same coin.
Perhaps, she thought, things might have worked out differently between them had she not acted like such a ninny the morning after they'd spent the night in each other's arms in that hut.
She'd been so hurt by Donald's letter to Darlene that he'd mistakenly put in the envelope addressed to her. She already knew that he'd been cheating on her. She was so lonely and wanted someone to truly care for her. She'd found solace in the arms of one that she'd seen before as an antagonist at best. She was so excited by this that she knew she'd pushed too hard. She'd been silly to think for even a moment that Hawkeye was a controllable fool like Frank Burns. She could understand in retrospect why the surgeon had backed off from her.
Unbeknownst to Margaret, Hawkeye's thoughts also were traveling back to that night in the hut that had precipitated the beginning of their friendship. He was sorry he'd pulled back from her. He'd been shaken by her advances and assumption that he would be the next man in her life. He refused to be the next Frank Burns or Donald Penobscott.
Since Millie's death, Hawkeye had to take a second look at his "Love 'em and leave 'em attitude. He had to admit now that his arrogance and womanizing didn't put him on a level very far above Frank. The difference between them was that Frank never admitted to the affair and was a poor doctor at best. Hawkeye's trysts were common knowledge and he made no attempt to hide them. Now he felt ashamed of his attitude. He wouldn't blame Margaret for not wanting to open up her deepest concerns to him.
"Hawkeye, where will you go once this war is over?" asked Margaret.
He was a bit taken aback by the question that shook him out of his thoughts.
"Margaret, you know the answer to that. I'll go back to Crabapple Cove, Maine to live with my dad for a while. Then maybe I'll move to Boston or New York and see if they need a top notch surgeon."
His egotistical remark caused her to smile slightly before continuing, "And BJ will go back to Mill Valley to Peg and Erin. Colonel Potter will go home to Mildred in Hannibal. Klinger will finally go home to his beloved Toledo. Radar has already gone home to Ottumwa, Iowa and his mother....and...and..." her voice cracked and she hid her face in his shoulder.
"...and Margaret Houlihan has nowhere to hang her hat and call home, is that it?" Hawkeye asked. She nodded her head without raising it from his shoulder.
He held her closer as they continued to dance. Slowly she raised her face and looked into his eyes. The intensity of caring she saw caused her to tremble. She wasn't sure she was comfortable with his openness. She took a deep breath.
"Hawkeye, I-I don't know what I'll do after the war. I thought I had it all figured out. The army is my family...or so I thought. I've been stationed different places during my military career. I guess it's really no secret that I've shared...moments... with a few officers. Before that I was an army brat...we never lived anywhere for more than 2 years. My parents are separated...." She couldn't seem to fight back the tears now. Damn! She hated being so vulnerable.
BJ threw another quarter in the jukebox and smiled. Colonel Potter had caught on to what he was doing and had contributed a few quarters himself.
"They do make a nice couple, don't they, Padre?"
"Oh dear me," Father Mulcahy mused. "They do seem to be 'closing ranks.'"
"Margaret, it's okay," Hawkeye encouraged her. "You don't have to go on if it's too much..."
"No, I need to...after what you said today...I want to say it. This place...the 4077...as awful as it is, the boredom, the blood. This is the closest thing to a home and family I've ever had. Hawkeye, I know this will sound strange to you of all people but I'm afraid for the war to be over. I don't know where I'll go from here. You, BJ, Colonel Potter, Charles and even that Lebanese Loony over there...you're my family."
Hawkeye didn't know what to say so he just held her close. There were things he wanted to say but didn't know if he dare. He kissed the top of her head and they continued to dance.
The crowd had thinned considerably as the clock had passed the midnight hour.
"Well, this old war horse needs to turn in. Word is there'll be load of casualties either today or tomorrow. I suggest that everyone else does the same. Good night boys and girls. Come along Max, bedtime for company clerks." Colonel Potter shook Klinger's shoulder.
"Mrphnufflebem, colonel plotcher shir...."
"Well said Max, " Potter said, taking Klinger's arm and leading him to the door. "Tell everyone nighty night."
BJ rose to leave, too. He smiled at the dancing couple.
"Colonel, do you think we should tell Pierce and Houlihan that the music has stopped?"