Mill Valley, California
"Good morning, Peggy." BJ Hunnicutt entered the kitchen, still adjusting his necktie.
"Morning, honey. Here, let me do that for you." Setting down her mug, she stood up and expertly fixed his tie.
"Thanks. I hate having to wear these things. Feels like I've got a noose around my neck."
"Uh-huh." Peg Hunnicutt was used to hearing her husband complain and didn't think anything of it. "Now, there's toast and oatmeal for breakfast. Let me get you a cup of coffee." She went over to the counter to pour a cup.
"Can I have coffee too, mommy?" Erin Hunnicutt piped up from where she sat stirring raisins into her oatmeal.
"No, sweetie. You wouldn't like it."
"Yes, I would!" Chestnut curls bounced as the seven year old nodded her head enthusiastically.
Before Peg had a chance to say no again, BJ spoke up. "There's no harm in letting you try. Here." He picked up Peg's mug from off the table and handed it to his daughter. "It's hot, so only take a small sip."
Eagerly, Erin did so. But as soon as the liquid reached her mouth, she grimaced and started to cough. "It doesn't taste like it smells!" she protested.
"Nope. Not everything is how it appears at first glance. And that's just one of the reasons life defies all logic." Her reaction didn't surprise BJ much, but a slight smile appeared anyway on his notably mustache-less face. "Drink your orange juice, sweetheart. It will take the taste out of your mouth. And don't worry if you don't like coffee now; in a few years you'll be drinking the stuff by the gallon."
"Oh." Slightly dampened by her coffee flop, Erin nonetheless quickly recovered. "Can I put sugar in my oatmeal then? It's lumpy."
Surprised to hear this pronouncement, Peg checked her daughter's bowl. "Erin, those lumps are raisins." Getting only an innocent look in reply, Peg rolled her eyes and handed the girl the sugar bowl. "Only one spoonful."
BJ took his chair at the table, having grabbed only a piece of buttered toast to eat.
"You aren't going to eat anything else..." Peg started to ask, but then, noticing her younger child, cut herself off. "Oh, BJ, grab that from him!"
Ryan Hunnicutt, who up to this point had been absorbed in consuming his jam sandwich, had discovered that when his older sister had finished with the sugar bowl she had left it within his reach. He was preparing to dump the contents into his cup when BJ was able to take it away from him. "No! It's mine!" The three year old was not pleased to have his fun ruined.
"Sorry, bucko. Not this time."
Ryan fussed for a minute, but was comforted by the fact that wherever he'd already had jam on his hands, he now had sugar stuck to them as well. For a few minutes, the family was able to eat without mishap. BJ buried his nose in the morning paper, not in the mood for conversation.
Finished with breakfast, Erin got down from her chair, taking her bowl and glass to the sink. "Erin, wait a second." Standing again, Peg picked up Ryan and quickly wiped the worst of the mess off his face and hands. He squirmed, but didn't holler much. "Here, take him with you. I'll be there in a minute to help you guys get ready."
"Okay, mommy." Erin happily accepted charge, however temporary, of her younger brother. He was much better than any of her dolls. Grasping his hand, she led him out of the room.
Having gotten her children out of the way, Peg turned to her husband. "BJ, are you feeling alright? I couldn't believe you gave Erin coffee, just like that!"
BJ replied without looking up. "It didn't hurt her, and this way she'll quit asking all the time."
"I suppose." She wasn't completely convinced, but didn't press the point. "At any rate, she's had her first taste of coffee now."
"Yep. Chalk up one more to the column of firsts I actually got to see." He was muttering under his breath, but his wife still caught the words.
"That's why you gave it to her? So you could even the score on your little tally of firsts?" Her tone was incredulous and bordering on upset.
"No, I wouldn't do that. Though sometimes I'd like to." Finally, he looked up to meet her eyes. "I'm not any more agitated than I get from the usual reminder of how much the damn war stole from me."
Considering his habit of falling into moody frames of mind on a regular basis, Peg accepted his answer as truth. BJ's festering anger had almost cost the Hunnicutts their marriage back when he first returned from Korea, and although the couple had gotten past that and his moods came less often now, they were still not uncommon. But, a known entity or not, Peg didn't have to like them. "BJ, I've told you this before, but by dwelling on that, all you're doing is poisoning the present. You're never going to be able to change the fact that you spent the first two years of Erin's life in Korea."
"Don't you think I know that?!" He snapped at her, the anger that had been simmering now coming to the surface. "I've tried so hard to forget I ever knew a place called Korea existed. But how do I help being reminded? Everywhere I look, there's something. When Ryan took his first step all I could think was that I'd missed Erin's!"
"I know, honey." Peg knew his outrage wasn't directed at her, and letting him get a little of the resentment and bitterness out had proved to be the only thing that calmed him at all.
"And then today's the anniversary of the signing of the peace treaty. Damn, Peg, it's been five years since I got home and I still can't shake it. I was robbed of two years of my life, Peg! Two years of Erin's life." In a sudden show of rage he slammed his fist down on the table.
"Careful, the kids will hear you."
"Accepting the warning, BJ lowered his voice. His wife might unfairly bear the brunt of his anger, but he was careful about never letting it out in front of his two children. "How the hell am I supposed to be a good father, to Erin or Ryan, with that hanging over my head. What do I do if Erin asks me someday what happened the day she said her first word? Say, 'Oh, I'm sorry, Erin, but I wasn't around then. You'll have to go ask your mother'?"
"BJ, you're not the first parent to have had to be away from their kid for a while. You couldn't help being drafted, and it doesn't mean you're a bad father."
"Doesn't it? I should've been out there with Klinger trying for a Section Eight, to get out any way I could."
"Now you're not being logical. Wearing dresses didn't work for Klinger, after all."
"The point is, I didn't even make the effort. No, not good ol' Hunnicutt! He made friends, tried to make the best of the situation. Didn't try to escape."
"You know, BJ, why don't you give Hawkeye a call? Today would be a good day to do that since he's probably thinking of the 4077 too. It might be good for you." Peg didn't expect him to go for it but made the suggestion anyway.
"Call Hawkeye?" It wasn't what he had expected her to say. "No, I can't do that. He's probably married with a couple kids by this point, and I'm sure he's moved on."
"Well what about one of the others then? Charles Winchester? Or Margaret Houlihan?"
"I wouldn't even know where to find Margaret. She could be stationed anywhere. And I'd be lucky if Charles even remembered my name."
"You're just making excuses."
"Maybe," BJ admitted. "But I want to forget the war, Peggy. And talking to Hawkeye, or anyone else from then, isn't going to help me do that."
Peg was disappointed at his resoluteness. She loved her husband still, but he was no longer the man she'd married. "Why haven't you kept in contact with any of the people from that time?"
"Why? Because I was trying to get my life back here! Don't get me wrong, they were the best bunch of people you're ever going to meet, but there were times I hated them all because the only reason I knew them was as a side effect of the damn war. You can't continue a friendship that only reminds you of something you hate. Thinking of them now, it's as if they were barely even real, just elements in a horrible nightmare. You and the kids, you're all that matters to me." The bitterness welled up inside him, spilling over.
"Okay, BJ. Listen, honey, I have to go check on the kids. They're being too quiet, but we'll talk more later, alright?" Peg left the kitchen without getting a response. Unlike her husband, she had yielded to the reality that life would never again be the idyllic way it had been up until Erin's birth. There was no sense fighting fate and, being a practical woman, she made the best of her lot in life.
On the other end of the spectrum, BJ watched his wife walk out of the room, feeling as helpless as he ever had. Part of him recognized that the only viable route lay in acceptance, but he didn't want to admit that, not yet. He'd been robbed, and someway, somehow there had to be a way to exact retribution. There had to be. So for now, until next time, he bottled everything back up into storage and finished his coffee.