His arms crush you to him, your back against his chest. His lips are on your neck, sending shivers down your spine.
"I love you, Margaret."
It sounds like a lie of desperation to you. You flinch.
He lets you go. "Don't you want me to love you?"
"I don't want you to say it if it's not true," you whisper.
"It is true."
He sighs. "Since forever."
You shake your head. It is a nice answer. A safe answer.
An untrue answer.
"Just because I'm like you, Pierce, doesn't mean I can save you." You turn over, kiss his face gently because you don't want to hurt him, you just want to make him stop lying. "But I'll try. I'll try to save you, if you try to save me. And if you stop lying about loving me."
"I do love--"
You press your fingers to his lips, harder than you meant to. "Tell me later. When I can believe you."
You shrug. "When we're not drunk, and we've lasted more than a few hours together."
He nods. "I will."
He kisses you then, pushes you down, follows you. You and he have always fit so well together, bodies joining together as if molded for each other. He can give you pleasure and you can give him pleasure and the sex is addictive if only for that.
It is made more so by the comfort that follows the pleasure.
"Come back to Maine with me?" he asks.
You shake your head. "I have to get back."
He looks stricken and you are shocked.
"But if you really want me with you, I'll come as soon as I can."
He nods, his expression clearing as he kisses you again. He is more affectionate than you remember. He says your name more than you remember too.
It occurs to you that maybe he really does love you. Then you push the thought away. It will hurt too much if it isn't true.
"I'm thirsty," you say in between kisses.
He points to the table, to the bottles of booze, your old friends.
"No. Thirsty." You point to the bathroom. Maybe it is time to start trying other beverages. Less damaging ones.
He smiles, gets out of bed and goes into the bathroom. Comes out with two glasses filled with water. You drain the glass, he does the same. It quenches your thirst.
It doesn't touch the ache. He sees you glance toward the table, mutters something about tapering off and gets up to bring the bottle of vodka over to the bed. You hold out your glass, let him fill it up with that other clear liquid. It feels hot as it runs down your throat and you try not to shudder with relief.
You see that he is not making any attempt to hide how good the booze tastes to him. You wonder if that is a good sign or a bad one.
"I've been drinking since I got back," you say. You drank a lot at the 4077th too, but everyone did. You didn't stand out there. And compared to doctors that had a still in their tent, your little hip flask was positively restrained. But here, even in the land of the five o'clock cocktail party, you find yourself on the extreme side of the alcohol consumption scale.
"I never stopped drinking." He shakes his head. "I set up a still for fun in the garage when I got back. It wasn't the same and I let it run out. Bottles are too easy to come by."
You laugh. "And that stuff'll rot your insides out."
"Well, there's that too." He puts his glass down, reaches for yours and puts it on the bedside table. "Come here."
You lose yourself in him again, in his touches and kisses and murmured words that make no sense so you quit trying to figure out what he is saying. It's not because he's drunk, he's always done this. You find it comforting that some things don't change.
He holds you, cuddles against you and whispers, "My dad will like you."
You wonder if his dad drinks. Or what he thinks of all the booze. Somehow you doubt you'll be seen as a good influence.
But you don't argue. "I'm sure I'll love him too."
"And Maine is beautiful. You'll see."
You thought Georgia would be beautiful too. It's not. But then you don't have him there and maybe that will make all the difference.
"I'm afraid." You hear the words, wonder who said them. Then realize it was you. Vodka and Pierce are the perfect confessional inducements.
"Of what? Me?"
You nod. Yes, you are afraid of him. Of how it might not work out, probably won't work out, and then you'll both be left without your lifelines. The one person left to you who could save you, and you can't even make that work.
"It's our last chance, Margaret." He's agreeing with you. That's probably a bad sign.
You can see the two of you holding on long after it's feasible. Afraid to let go and face the nothingness that waits if you fail with your failsafe.
"Maybe we shouldn't..." The words are cowardly but you can't take them back.
"Maybe we should." He is not so afraid, you realize. Not so worried. Or maybe he has more faith in you than you do in him...or in yourself. You know how easy it is for you to screw up something good.
He silences you with a kiss.
You let him. It's easier to think when you can't think. Easier to plan for the future when now is all you can feel and see.
"We need to get some help, Margaret. With the booze, the dreams--you are having dreams?"
"Nightmares," you correct and see him nod in understanding. "And hallucinations during the day." You watch his face carefully. This is new, this is big. You could be psychotic.
You wait for him to pull away. He doesn't. "Me too. Every now and then." He snuggles in, pulling you close. His arms are warm and strong and you allow yourself to let go. To let down your guard and just let him protect you for a few hours.
Maybe for a lifetime.
"I think that may be the booze." His voice is matter-of-fact. "I think we need to stop drinking."
You've thought that for some time now. Unfortunately, your body and the booze disagree with that assessment. "It won't be easy. I've tried."
"Me too." He sighs. "Together, we'll make it." His voice leaves no room for dissent. For doubt.
"Right. Together we'll be fine." You don't want to remind him that no matter how much he loves you, he can't crawl into your brain. Can't fix what's broken inside you. Ultimately, you are still alone, even if the two of you last what's left of a lifetime.
"When can you come?"
It's a three day drive if you take it slow from Atlanta to Crab Apple Cove. You know because last summer you drove it. Parked on the street outside his house and just stared. You were exhausted and you had to go to the bathroom but you didn't get out of the car. All that way...to lose your nerve. You drove to Portland. Crashed in a cheap motel with an even cheaper bottle of wine.
You slept for a day and half only a few hours from the man you wanted to see more than anything. Slept and then got back in your car and drove back to Atlanta.
And cried the whole way home. Cried because you were such a coward. Because you wanted to turn around but something hard and practical inside you refused. Cried because you hated the life you were getting closer to with every mile you gained toward Atlanta.
Now he is saying that Maine can be home. That he can be home. You want to believe him.
"Margaret? You do want to come?"
You pull his face down to yours, let the kiss that lasts forever be your answer.
Your brain is too fuzzy to do complex calculations. Like figuring out how long it will take you to pack up your apartment or close out your affairs. "Two weeks." You pull the number out of the air. Probably because it is the amount of notice you should give and you can't afford to not get the reference from Atlanta General.
"Two weeks." He says it happily. As if that date would be Halloween and Christmas and some special Hawkeye holiday all in one.
"Two weeks," you repeat.
You have the strangest feeling as he pulls you even closer, as his free hand runs down your back, and strokes your hair, and touches your cheek. You feel as if he could become your new booze. The long tall bottle of emotion you cut off, of passion you refused to feel because it let in too many other dark sentiments, of love you gave up on a long time ago.
"We'll be okay," you murmur as you let your eyes close. "Together."
"Yes. Together." His voice shakes.
You smile. It is your turn to believe, apparently. That's fine. You can trade off having faith. If you can't save each other, then you can't save anyone. "Go to sleep," you whisper.
You feel his hand slow, then stop moving, lying heavily on your arm, warm and solid against your skin. His head rests against yours, his lips on your forehead.
You feel a rush of love for him, and you don't try to beat it back. You are smart enough to know that this time you will need that love if the two of you are to survive. You will need it badly. Both of you.
You look over at the table, smile gently at the booze. You'll have to go easy on it. Make the breakup gentle. Vodka has been a faithful lover, a staunch ally. A good friend. You imagine Pierce's bottles are equally loving. You'll have to take it slow, let them down gently.
Breaking up is never easy. Even if it is for the love of your life. You wonder what it feels like to love your life.
You hope you will find out.