"Here, let me start at the beginning..." And she proceeded to unburden herself and told Rebecca the entire story from meeting Hawkeye, through all the ups and downs of their relationship, right up to their good-bye and then the note she had found.
"That is so romantic!" Becca exclaimed. "He stuck a note in your bag, not knowing if he'd ever even see you again. And it's been a year. Are you going to contact him?"
"I don't know if I can," started Margaret. "After his breakdown, he was so emotionally messed up. What if he wrote the note in a moment of weakness and has been kicking himself about it ever since? I can't just show up on his doorstep tomorrow and expect to pick up where we left off! Besides, he's probably moved on with his life. Hawkeye always was a womanizer. I'd be surprised if he hasn't had a dozen girlfriends in the past year."
"I've never met the guy, Margaret, but I'd say the real issue here is what your feelings are. And from the way you've been acting the past week, it sure seems like you still care for the man."
"Maybe I do, but maybe it's just that the note left things unresolved. I hate it when things are left unfinished." She paused, frustrated, and then half under her breath, "Damn you, Pierce! How can you be doing this to me when I haven't even seen you for a year!?!"
Rebecca wasn't sure what to say. She hated to see her friend so torn up inside. "Really though, what's a little humiliation in front of a guy you'll never see again when it also might bring you together with the love of your life?"
"I've thought about that, but then I'm not sure how much of my feelings for Hawkeye were brought on by the intensity of the war and how much was real. I've been in so many failed relationships, most notably my short-lived marriage. In fact, Hawkeye was the one who helped me to get through the breakup of my marriage, and I don't think I could handle it if he rejected me too. I just don't think I can do it." She finished the last few bites of her salad, seeming to come to a decision. "No, I can't keep living in the past. A year is too long, and too many things have changed. And I'm happy with the life I've built here. I am, and I wouldn't want to give it up." A voice in the back of her head asked how much of that was true, and how much she was just trying to convince herself, but she ignored it. "Thanks for listening., Becca. It did help to talk about it, and maybe I've got my head on a little straighter now."
Becca put her arm around her friend as they headed back upstairs. "I'm always here for you, you know. Hey, maybe Friday night we should give those two new doctors up in thoracics a try. I know that one, Michael what's his name, Gilbertson?, has been eyeing you ever since he got here. Getting out of your apartment will do you a world of good."
"Well, okay. Why not?" And with that, Margaret resolved to put all thoughts of one Captain Hawkeye Pierce out of her mind forever.
2 December 1954; Crabapple Cove, Maine
Hawkeye sat at the kitchen table, listlessly pushing his food around the plate. "What's the matter with you, Son? You haven't been acting like yourself," asked his father, Daniel Pierce.
"It's nothing Dad. Just something in the air, I guess," replied Hawkeye, not sure if he wanted to confess, even to his dad, about the real cause of his dejection.
His father eyed him, clearly disbelieving. "Something in the air, eh? I'd say what you need is a woman in your life. Do you know that you haven't gone on more than two dates with the same woman since the war? How are you ever going to give me grandkids?"
"That's not fair Dad, and you know it," retorted Hawkeye. "I'll get married when I meet the right woman."
Daniel got up from the table and began to clear away the dishes, remarking offhandedly, "Oh? And how long is that going to take?"
"I don't know. I thought I'd already met her, but I guess I was wrong," Hawkeye murmured under his breath.
"Okay, that does it. The dishes can wait." Daniel sat back down in his chair across the table from his son. "Now tell me what is going on with you. What woman are you talking about? And don't try to tell me it's nothing because I know you better than that."
He couldn't help but grin. His dad did know him pretty well. He started, "I don't know what's wrong with me, Dad. I've met a lot of women and I've tried since I've been home to get this particular one off of my mind, but she just keeps coming back like a bad cold."
"Since you've been home. I take it then, that this is someone you met in Korea?"
"Yeah, Major Margaret Houlihan by name. It's crazy. I haven't seen or heard from her in well over a year, and there's every reason to think I never will again. There's no reason to hang onto the memory of what we had."
"You two were pretty close, weren't you?" Daniel watched his son in sympathy. He knew a little bit about his son's relationship with Major Houlihan from the letters he had written while in Korea, but since he had been home, he had said very little about her, not wanting to talk much about anything having to do with the war.
"We were really close. I thought she was the one I'd been looking for all my life."
"So what happened. You fought?"
"Not exactly. Dad, you know how messed up I was when the war ended. When I saw Margaret the last time we agreed to go our separate ways. I thought it was for the best."
"Maybe it was. If you were able to walk away, not thinking you'd ever see her again, maybe it wasn't meant to be."
"That's part of the problem. A big part. Thing is, I wasn't able to just walk away." Hawkeye stopped, meeting his father's eyes for the first time that evening. "I left her a note. In the bottom of her bag so she wouldn't find it until she unpacked in the States. Dad, I told her I loved her. Maybe the dumb thing was that I said to wait a year, see what happened and to contact me if she still felt the same. She never did."
"You asked her to wait a year?" Daniel asked, a little surprised. With few exceptions, he'd never known his son to keep a relationship going for more than a few months, tops. For him to think things still might work after a year apart meant this woman must have been something really special.
"I don't know why I thought she would contact me. Hell, she's probably married by now. If any woman ever wanted to be married, it's Margaret. It's just..."
"How do you know for sure she found it? Maybe it got lost."
"I've thought of that, but I don't see how it could have happened. No, she found it all right."
"You still love her, don't you?"
"I'm not sure I'll ever stop."
"So why haven't you contacted her? Surely someone from your old unit would know where she is."
"Don't you see? If Margaret wanted to see me, if she still felt the same, I would have heard from her months ago. She doesn't want me anymore, and I guess I just have to accept that." He slumped down in his chair, with his head in his hands. "I guess it must be some sort of poetic justice for all the women I've tossed aside. The ones I really care about don't want me. First Carlye and now Margaret."
It grieved Daniel deep down to see his son hurt like this. He knew Hawkeye had been through things in Korea that no man should ever have to go through. And although he'd long since realized that he couldn't protect his son from the world, at times like this he still wished with all his heart that he could keep him from having to suffer any more pain. He reached across the table to put his arm around his son's shoulders. "I'm sorry Hawk. I wish..." His voice trailed off.
The two men sat silently for a few minutes, Hawkeye finally letting out his grief at losing Margaret and his father mutely trying to comfort him.
Finally, Hawkeye straightened and looked at his dad. "I guess you were right. I needed to get that out."
"Are you going to be okay, Son?"
"I will be." He managed a bit of a grin. "Don't worry too much. I always bounce back." He stood up and began clearing away the last remains of their dinner, all the while swearing to himself that from now on he would be a new man. Margaret was in the past and by god, she was going to stay there! He turned to face Daniel, "Besides, there's a real cutie down at Ballinger's Drugstore who I think might need a house call this weekend. You never know, maybe she's the future mother of those grandkids you keep asking about."
Daniel chuckled at his son. "That's right, can't keep a Pierce down for long! You know, if the drugstore one doesn't work out, there's always Sam Wildman's daughter."
"Who? Naomi? Nah, I tried her once in high school and I try not to have re-runs. Besides, I don't think she ever forgave me for showing up to the prom in a Hawaiian shirt and straw hat. I could never understand why. The theme was Malibu Summer."
He laughed, and then clapping Hawkeye on the back, Daniel steered him towards the sink. "C'mon. These dishes can't wait forever. You wash and I'll dry."
8 January 1955; Crabapple Cove, Maine & Mill Valley, California
Hawkeye had just walked in the door when the phone rang. He picked it up, "Hello."
"Hawk? Is that you?" came a man's excited voice.
"Beej?!?" exclaimed Hawkeye. "Hey! How are ya doing?"
"I'm better than you would believe," said BJ. "I'm a dad! Peg just had the baby!"
"That's great! Does Erin have a brother or a sister?"
"A brother. I'm the proud father of a bouncing baby boy! We named him Eric Joseph."
"That must mean I'm an uncle. Honorary, at least! How's Peg?" Hawkeye listened to BJ ramble on about all the glories of his new son, making all the appropriate comments, and genuinely delighted with his friend's news. Finally interrupting him he asked, "So when do I get to meet this little bundle of joy?"
"Soon, soon! Peg and I would be thrilled to have you visit, and Erin and now Eric too are waiting to meet their Uncle Hawkeye." BJ paused and then in a more serious voice continued, "Hey, Hawk? I'm sorry it's been so long since I talked to you. Almost six months I think. Things got busy, you know how it is..."
"Yeah, I do. Don't worry about it Beej. I could've called too, but didn't. It's like you say, things get busy, and before you know it it's been six months. Or nine in this case!" Hawkeye could practically see the cheesy grin plastered on BJ's face at the reminder of his new son. "So what else have you been up too?"
"Oh, not too much, building up my practice, paying off the mortgage, a little time on the golf course..."
"Ah, all the hallmarks of the great suburban lifestyle."
"That's right, and I wouldn't have it any other way," stated BJ proudly. "So, what about you? Have you seen Margaret lately? Or no, wait, let me guess, she's there with you right now."
Hawkeye fell silent, feeling the elation at talking to his friend drain out of him, and not knowing how to respond. Finally he said in a strange voice, "Margaret Houlihan? No, I haven't seen her since Korea. Why?"
Now it was BJ's turn to feel awkward. "Oh. I'm sorry Hawk. I guess I put my foot in my mouth there. I just thought...the way you were talking before, and from what she said...oh hell, forget I said anything."
"No wait just a minute. What did she say?" Hawkeye knew he probably shouldn't ask, but he couldn't help but want to know. "When did you see her?"
"About five months back she called me and then came down to Mill Valley and spent a week with me, Peg, and Erin. You should have seen the way Erin took to her Auntie Margaret. Anyway, she talked like she planned to see you again before too long, and the last time I spoke to you, you sounded the same. And with how close you guys were before the war ended, I just assumed...But I guess I was wrong." He fell silent, not sure what Hawkeye's reaction would be.
"Don't worry about it, Beej. It just caught me a little off guard, that's all. So where did Hot Lips end up anyway? In California?"
"No, she's in Portland..."
"Portland!!" Hawkeye exclaimed.
"The one in Oregon, not Maine. She's the head nurse on a children's ward at some hospital up there."
"Oh, in Oregon...Well, it sounds like she's done well for herself," he said, while thinking how she was on the other side of the country after all, just like she'd promised.
"I think she's doing great. Of course I haven't talked to her since she was here." Then, in an effort to make things more casual again, BJ asked, "What about the other members of the 4077? Kept in touch with anyone?"
"I've heard from Radar a couple times," responded Hawkeye automatically while his thoughts were elsewhere. "He's gotten married to some girl named Patty who sounds like a real catch. Can you imagine our little Radar with a wife?"
"Maybe just a little hard to believe, but it couldn't have happened to a more deserving..." He stopped in mid sentence, and Hawkeye could hear someone shouting something unintelligible in the background. BJ came back, "Listen Hawk, Erin's crying and Peg's with the baby so I've got to go. It was really good talking with you, and I promise not to let it be so long between calls next time."
"Okay, you go attend to your fatherly duties, and I'll talk to you later. Give my congratulations to Peg. Bye, Beej."
BJ hung up the phone and moved to go comfort his daughter, his mind still on the conversation with his friend. If only he hadn't made that stupid comment about Margaret! But how could he have known they wouldn't get back together when it had seemed so obvious how they felt about each other? And he couldn't help but wonder after Hawkeye's reaction if he still felt the same way, but just wouldn't admit it. It would be an awful shame if two of his closest friends refused to admit their feelings for pride or something stupid like that. Maybe this called for a little discreet meddling.
30 January 1955; Seattle, Washington
Charles walked into the ballroom of the King City Hotel, not looking forward to the next few hours. He had just spent the weekend in Seattle for a gathering of thoracic surgeons from across the country, and this was the closing reception. Although he could schmooze with the best of them, he wasn't in the mood for making chit chat with strangers, and was only here to make an appearance at the dinner, have a few drinks, and then retire gracefully to his hotel room. It had been a trying few days, he was ready to get back to Boston, and he'd never much liked wearing a tuxedo anyway. At least he had shown up late enough to avoid the majority of the pre dinner mingling and so was seated almost immediately.
Ten minutes later he was ready to go mad listening to the old coot seated next to him going on about his grandchildren. He ruefully wished he had managed to convince his fiancée, Isabelle, to accompany him, or at least Honoria to give him someone intelligent in the midst of the unwashed masses. He seethed with irritation and as a way to avoid actually seeing pictures of the adorable grandchildren turned to the man across the table and introduced himself. "Good evening. I don't believe we've been introduced. I am Doctor Charles Emerson Winchester III, chief of thoracic surgery at Boston Mercy Hospital."
"Good to meet you. I'm Michael Gilbertson from Good Sam Hospital in Portland. Boston is it? I was there once, went fishing on Cape Cod. Never liked the place much myself. All that clam chowder, and the accent! Can't understand why everybody doesn't just speak plain English like we do here in the Northwest." He stopped for a second to take a swig of his drink and Charles stared at him, disbelieving. It was incredible how he managed to run into these idiots no matter where he went. Boston was light years ahead of that frontier town, and this man had the temerity to try to criticize it? Still, in comparison to grandchildren stories...
"Did you ever consider, my good fellow, that when meeting someone insulting their home first thing might not be the best way to make a good impression?" he queried.
"Oh, you know I'm just yanking your chain. Hey, you married? My girlfriend's trying to get me to propose, but I'm not so keen on the idea. After only a few months I'm not quite ready to give up the bachelor life. But you never know, this one's got more than just looks going for her, if you know what I mean. She's off powdering her nose, but should be showing up pretty soon here."
Charles stared at the man, wondering if he had some sort of medical condition that made him so annoying. How could he possibly think Charles would be interested in the sordid details of his personal life five minutes after meeting him? "Is that so?" he said noncommittally .
"Yeah. Hey, here she comes now." Gilbertson stood up and planted a quick kiss on a woman in a gorgeous blue strapless evening gown. "Hi babe. Meet Chuck Winchester from Boston. Chuck, this is my girlfriend Margaret."
Charles gaped at her, struck dumb with surprise. Margaret on the other hand, had no such problem. "Charles!" she cried. "I can't believe it's you. It's so good to see you!" Working on recovering his composure, Winchester got up and went around the table to greet her. He reached out to clasp her hand with both of his before Margaret pulled him into a hug. "Don't you dare try to get off with just a handshake, you jerk! What are you doing here?"
"Surely you wouldn't think I would miss the national conference?" he replied, finally recovering his powers of speech. "I think the real question is what are you doing here?"
"Oh, Michael had to be here for the conference and he asked me to come along for the weekend, so here I am. I'd introduce you, but it looks like you've already met."
"Am I the only one who's confused here?" interrupted Gilbertson. "Just how do you know this guy, Margaret?"
"Charles is an old friend from the war. We were both in the same M*A*S*H unit. Here, let's sit down. They should be serving the food any moment."
They sat, Gilbertson eyeing Charles a little suspiciously. The three made small talk among themselves, the older gentleman with the grandkids having abandoned Winchester for a more receptive audience. As the first course arrived, Gilbertson asked, "So, Chuck. With all the excitement you never did tell me if you're married."
"No, I'm not. Although I have recently become engaged."
"Really? Oh that's wonderful! Who is she?" Margaret was quite thrilled at the prospect of her friend getting married.
"You wouldn't know her of course. Her name is Isabelle Brighton, and we actually met when we were both about six years old. Our respective fathers were in business together, and although I do believe she used to despise me, somehow things were a bit different when I ran into her after the war. One thing led to another and last month I proposed."
"I'm so happy for you, Charles. I don't suppose you brought her with you?"
"No, I'm afraid not. She remained in Boston."
They ate, Margaret pressing Charles for details about his fiancée and his life in Boston until Gilbertson, in an attempt to reinsert himself into the conversation, changed the subject to the recent convention and medical matters. This was something all three could converse on, and did so. Charles used this as an excuse to test the other man's knowledge, and came to the conclusion that however much of a boor he was, he at least appeared to be a competent doctor.