10

Crabapple Cove, Maine

A blue Chevy turned off the road onto the gravel driveway leading to the house. Parking in his customary spot, Benjamin Franklin Pierce shut the engine off and climbed out. He'd been working late at the small hospital in town again, and was now getting home a full three hours after he had been supposed to get off. Hawkeye stretched as he walked up to the front door, reflecting that he was more tired than usual despite the fact that this had been a very routine day.

"Hi, Dad! Your prodigal son is home." He called out a greeting, glad he didn't have to come home to an empty house every day.

"Hey, Hawkeye. I was just about to eat without you. Although I'm afraid I haven't prepared a fatted calf. Will the wayward wanderer settle for my lamb stew?" Daniel Pierce came a few steps out of the kitchen.

"Are you kidding? I'm so hungry I'll eat anything just so long as it's not green!"

"No, no green anywhere. Just a little bit of orange."

"Orange? The lamb is orange?"

"Nah, there's carrots in the stew." Daniel laughed at his son. "Take your coat off, and let's eat."

"Oh, very funny, Dad." Grinning slightly, Hawkeye did as he was told. Coming into the kitchen, he found that his father had dished up two heaping bowls of stew. He seated himself at the table, eagerly digging in. "Good grub, Dad. I was so busy today I didn't have time to eat lunch."

"Oh? Anything interesting?"

"All of it interesting. It's funny how I don't even think about wanting the action of a big city hospital anymore. So much for all the ambition of my time in school and residency, but I guess a three year detour in a war zone will do that to a guy." He shrugged, accepting the state of things. "So anyway, Amy Clarke was in for another prenatal visit. I'm not her obstetrician of course, but I talked with her while she was in the waiting room, and she seems to be doing well."

"This is the Clarkes' second kid?"

"No, their third. They've got two girls already, so Amy says they're hoping for a boy this time." Since Daniel had retired and Hawkeye taken over at the Crabapple Cove hospital, the son was gradually supplanting the father in intimate knowledge of the community. "In other news, Logan Wilder fell off the jungle gym at school and broke his arm. Toby had to get off work to bring him in, and he was worried sick."

"Were there any complications? Logan's a good kid."

"Nah. It was a clean break, so I put a cast on and in six weeks he'll be good as new. He was more impressed with his cast than anything else. Toby was the one I almost had to sedate." Hawkeye chuckled, picturing his old friend's frenzy.

Daniel laughed too. "Parents are like that. I remember once, you must have been about seven, and you crashed your bike and came up to the house all scraped up and bleeding from a cut on your scalp. It's not like I didn't know how much head wounds bleed, but no one could have convinced me you weren't mortally wounded. Your mother was much better and stayed calm, though, as I recall, she went to pieces after the fact."

"Ah, well, that's one pleasure I'll never have. It's a good thing Aunt Eloise had kids, because otherwise I'd have the dubious joy of being the last of the Pierces." Hawkeye's tone was facetious, but underneath there was a tinge of regret.

This assertion didn't surprise his father, and he smiled slightly. "And it'd certainly be a great loss for Crabapple Cove to not have any more Pierces! Since the town is centered around us and all."

"And it has been since 1680!"

"Well, I can't say I would have minded a grandkid or two, but hell, half the town considers me an honorary grandfather of sorts!" added Daniel.

"But it's not the same, is it, Dad?" If there was any reason that Hawkeye regretted not ever having had a family, it was that he felt he'd let down his father.

"Oh, maybe not, but you're my first concern, Hawkeye. No theoretical grandchildren are more important to me than my son!" Daniel knew his son's limitations, and didn't want to make him feel that he was a disappointment in any way. He had enough pain to endure without any additions from his father. "I'm very proud of you, son. I hope you know that."

"Thanks, Dad. I do know it, but it means a lot to hear it again. And for whatever it's worth, I'm proud to have you as my father. There's been a lot of times where I don't think I would have made it if I hadn't had your support." A moment passed, and then, clearing his throat, Hawkeye scattered the remnants of the sentimentality. "It's not that I didn't want to marry, you know. I've just never met the right woman or maybe more accurately, I keep meeting the right woman over and over again."

"Nothing wrong with that. Though you never know. You're still young; you might meet someone you find you can't live without."

"Let's just say that's something I'm not willing to put money on. I'm not the marrying type, and as long as there are still plenty of women in line for a fling with yours truly, that's just fine with me."

"You know, if you're not careful you're going to have to start going out of state to find women that you haven't dated." He teased his son lightly.

Hawkeye took mock offense. "Why, sir! You wound me! You're lucky I don't challenge you to a duel for that remark! It just so happens that there are still women in this town who yet to have the honor of an evening with me."

"I meant women between the ages of twenty and fifty. And don't you threaten me with a duel, or you won't be getting any seconds on my stew!"

"Oh, age limits! In that case, I've already expanded to New Hampshire." He yielded jokingly. "You are a cruel opponent though. Threatening a man's food supply, indeed!"

The two men laughed together, and then concentrated on the stew for a few minutes. Daniel watched his son closely as he ate, trying to decide whether he should broach the question that was uppermost on his mind. "How are you holding up today, son?"

Hawkeye looked up in semi-surprise to meet his father's gaze. "Like a brick building. What are you getting at?"

"Well, it being the anniversary of the end of the war and all, I thought you might have a few things on your mind." His son was fully grown, but that didn't keep Daniel from worrying about him.

"You've really got me pegged, don't you?" Hawkeye acknowledged that the war had been on his mind as well. He'd spent half the previous night tossing and turning, his mind unable to shut off. "The five year anniversary. Just consider that number. Five years. The entire war was only three years, give a month or two. Felt like a hundred. But hey, I think I've done pretty well since the war, all things considered." He tapped his temple. "All parts in working order, if a bit banged up."

"So you're doing okay, then? I thought the anniversary might dredge up some unpleasant memories."

"Like it has before?" Hawkeye finished the thought for him. "It was the first anniversary that was the worst. Picturing that baby as the toddler he should have been, but knowing it would never be. I still do that have been doing it all day: seeing the kid that should be running around, driving his mother crazy, but he isn't. In twenty years I'll probably be imagining what the kid's wedding would have been like. That's never going to go away, only now I can think about it without becoming a candidate for the funny farm."

"Do you still have the nightmares?"

Hawkeye chewed and swallowed another spoonful before answering. "You know, the fact that you can even ask that has to mean things are getting better. I'm not waking you up anymore, then?"

Daniel shook his head, no.

"That's good. Sure, the nightmares still come. I had one the other night where it was the staff of the 4077 on the operating table. All of them lined up out the door and no one to work on them except me, and instead of surgical whites, I was wearing red, and the blood was white. I look down, and the patient on the table right in front of me is BJ Hunnicutt. He has a bad neck wound, so he's spurting up this white blood all over the place. And I freeze until I look over at the next table and Charles Winchester is sitting there and he's missing both his arms and bleeding all over the place, but he doesn't seem bothered by it, only looks at me and says, 'Get on with it, Pierce!' Then my nurse gives me a clamp, only it's not a nurse, it's Henry Blake, and the funny thing is, he's not hurt at all, but he's wearing that ridiculous Adolphe Menjou suit we gave him right before he left Korea. Then it gets kind of fuzzy, but I remember trying to operate, but I can't because the wounded have climbed off the litters and are wandering around the O.R. Margaret Houlihan keeps trying to assist me except she can't because her head is bleeding white all over her red hair, and Radar comes in and says he has a message, but then he moves his hand away from the bandage on his stomach and his guts fall out onto my shoes. That's about when I woke up."

"I'm surprised you didn't wake up screaming."

"Sorry. Next time I'll try to get in a couple good shouts of terror before I wake up." The sarcasm was without malice. "That was a pretty tame dream by comparison though. The white blood thing was weird, but the dreams I had those first few months home were much worse."

"I guess there are some things about the war that you'll never be able to shake." Daniel ached for his son, wishing, as every parent did, that he could take the pain away from his child.

"Hell, I don't think I'll ever be able to shake anything about the war. Except maybe the food. Your cooking has gone a long way toward erasing the memory of all that Spam and burnt, World War Two surplus toast." Theatrically, he shuddered at the memory. "But for better or for worse mostly for worse those memories are here to stay. Part of me would love to forget that the entire police action ever took place, but then if all the survivors forget, it's a betrayal of all the people that were killed. Never going to Korea in the first place would be the ideal solution, but unfortunately I don't have a handy little time machine at my disposal."

"What do you think of as 'better' memories of the war?" Daniel wasn't used to hearing him describe anything about his involuntary military service in a positive light.

"The people. That group at the 4077 was one of the few good things...no, scratch that...they were the only good thing about that butcher shop. I've never been closer to a group of people in my life. Not that we didn't fight, because we did. Like cats and dogs. But we'd have gone insane or more insane anyway if we hadn't let off some steam once in a while. I wonder..."

"You wonder what?"

"If we had all kept in touch after coming home, if the friendships would have been able to transfer. It's kind of a moot point at this stage, but as much as I'd like to think otherwise, I can't help getting the feeling that things would just be awkward if we all got together now. I mean, you reminisce, tell some old stories, have a few laughs, and then what?"

"So you don't think there'll be a reunion? Say in another five years or so? There was that reunion for the families in New York that one time. I guess I kinda thought I'd be seeing those people again eventually."

"I know, but that was under very different circumstances, namely that we were all still together then. Not to mention that it was all BJ's doing." Hawkeye had spent enough time thinking about the subject to be able to easily answer his father. "Who else would organize something like that? But BJ'll never do it now. Despite all his bluster about not saying goodbye, he disappeared off the map almost as fast as Trapper John did."

"You never did even try to keep in touch with him, did you? I always thought, knowing what good friends the two of you were, that you wouldn't lose contact, at least not so fast."

"BJ was the best friend I ever had, that I'll ever have. More than anyone else, it was his support and friendship that got me through the war in one piece, or at least pieces big enough that they could be easily glued back together. But we shared a cramped tent for a little over two years. How do you go from that to living on opposite sides of the continent and expect things to be at all the same? BJ was the one who cut off ties first, but I don't blame him for doing it. Better to have a clean cut and the memory of the incredible friendships that were, than have things drawn out until they get uncomfortable and you start wishing you'd never met the people."

"You've got a point there," Daniel conceded. "It's still a shame."

"Yeah, that it is. But all I can do now is hope they've each found the peace they were looking for." Hawkeye stood up. "You done eating, Dad? I'm gonna clear the table."

"Yep, thanks." He handed his bowl to Hawkeye. "You up for a couple hands of gin when we're done with the dishes?"

Hawkeye grinned, accepting the challenge. "Always. But you'd better be prepared to have the socks beaten off of you, because I don't plan to take any prisoners!" Continuing to rib each other, father and son went about the business of cleaning up the kitchen.

The End

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