"Oh it wasn't a problem. Besides, it gave me a chance to talk to Honoria without you around." The two women exchanged an enigmatic smile.
"Mm-hmm. Should I be worried about that?" he queried, a little suspicious.
"Not at all. It was perfectly innocent. You're much too suspicious big brother." Honoria's statement was accompanied by a little smirk that did nothing to reassure Charles.
He sighed. "Mm-hmm. And now that you've had your little fun at my expense, perhaps we could change the subject?"
"Yes, why don't you show me this wonderful home of yours," said Margaret, craning her neck in order to peek around the corner into the kitchen. "It certainly is a grand sight nicer than that garbage dump you used to call home."
"I remind you," he protested. "The condition of that tent was hardly my doing. It was entirely the work of my two moronic cellmates."
"Of course it was, Charles." Honoria patted her brother on the back. "Now show Margaret the apartment so we can go back over to the parents' house for dinner."
Charles had the distinct feeling that he was being ganged up on, but sighed and complied anyway.
Later the Same Evening; Boston, Massachusetts
BJ sat in the bar at his hotel, nursing his martini. He'd been in Boston by himself an entire day now and he missed Peg and the kids. He knew there was good reason to be here, but he still wished he didn't have to be separated from his family again. Sighing, he finished off the last of his drink.
"Hey sailor. Buy you a drink?" came a voice behind him.
Hunnicutt turned. "Hawk! About time you got here!"
"Can I take that as a yes? Bartender, two martinis, painfully dry. In fact, completely desiccated, if you would be so kind." Hawkeye grinned. "Hey Beej! Been a long time."
BJ stood up and pulled his friend into a tight hug. "It's been way too long. God, it's good to see you!"
"You're not such a bad sight yourself." Seating himself on a barstool, Hawkeye continued, "I see you've lost that cheesy moustache. Peg vetoed it, did she?"
"Yeah, said it was scratchy. Can you imagine that? I never had any problem with it. Of course, I never tried kissing myself either."
Hawkeye laughed, "Nothing like being back under the wife's thumb."
"Nope, and I sincerely hope never to be out from under it again."
The drinks arrived, and Hawkeye took a sip. "Not bad, but it doesn't have that special taste of lighter fluid that the homemade stuff does. Can you believe it's been almost two years since we had any of that poison? Almost enough time for my liver to recover. So what are you doing in town anyway? I couldn't believe it when you called me."
"Oh, I got sent out here by the hospital. Wanted me to demonstrate a new arterial graft procedure at Boston Mercy."
"Boston Mercy? Isn't that where Charles is working?"
"Yeah, I think so. But I haven't seen him."
"Well we'll just have to make a point of looking him up. Can you imagine the look on his face if he were to open the door and find the two of us standing there? Why it'd give him nightmares for a week!"
Laughing, BJ commented, "Oh, I'm sure we'll run into him at some point during the next couple days. Don't worry." The two continued talking, all the while draining glass after glass of alcohol. An hour passed, and then two. It was getting late, and BJ decided he should feel Hawkeye out on one subject in particular. "So, any new conquests of the female persuasion recently?"
"Oh, maybe a few. For a doctor with my charms, there are always girls willing to let themselves be ravished. How could you possibly doubt my prowess?" Hawkeye drained his glass, and setting it down on the bar, signaled to the bartender for a refill.
"Still the same ol' Hawkeye. When am I going to convince you that marriage is a good thing?" BJ too got a refill on his drink.
Suddenly serious, Hawkeye answered, "You know Beej, maybe someday I'll find someone who means to me what Peg does to you, but I'm not counting on it. For me, it's like searching for a needle in a haystack, or a single grain of sand on a beach. I just don't think I'm cut out for marriage, or even for a serious relationship for that matter. I go through lots of women, but none of them ever really mean anything to me."
BJ regarded his friend for a moment before broaching the topic in a quiet tone. "Not even Margaret?"
Hawkeye shot a look at the other man, caught off guard by the question. "Margaret." It was more of a statement than a question.
"Yeah, Margaret. Or was she really just another one of many?" If he really had misread Hawkeye, he needed to know it now, before he and Charles carried out the final stage of their plot.
"Margaret." Hawkeye repeated. "To tell you the truth, if there ever was going to be a woman who could replace medicine as my first love, it would've been her." He paused, staring into space for a moment. "Yup, she was something all right."
"So what ever happened with you two? A fight?"
"No, nothing like that. We parted after the war, and I would've liked to get back together, but she didn't want to, so that was that."
"Really, so it was Margaret's decision to end things?" BJ wasn't sure what to make of this news. Could Charles have been mistaken about her? Someone obviously had gotten their wires crossed somewhere.
"Yeah, in the end, it was her decision. Just wasn't meant to be." He straightened his back. "If you don't mind Beej, I'd rather not talk about that too much."
"Yeah sure, sorry to bring it up." He changed the subject and conversation went on, but while talking, BJ contemplated his friend's words. It seemed like the best thing to do was just go through with the plan. If it didn't work out, he and Charles could always just deny any knowledge and pretend it really had been a complete coincidence. Besides, he had flown across the country to try to make this work, and he wasn't going to give up now.
1 March 1955; Boston, Massachusetts
Margaret stepped out of the taxi in front of the restaurant, a quaint little seafood place in the middle of downtown Boston. Walking in, she was a little surprised that Charles had chosen this restaurant to meet at for lunch. It seemed a little plebian for his tastes. "I'm meeting a Major, er, a Dr. Winchester for lunch," she told the maitre'd. Funny how the military titles still slipped out naturally.
"Oh, yes. Right this way ma'am." The man led her across the room to a table by the window where Charles was sitting, waiting for her.
"Good afternoon, Margaret." Charles set down the menu he had been studying and rose to greet her.
"Charles." Margaret took her seat across the table. "This is a charming little place. Do you come here often?"
"It is something of a new, ah, find for me. Perhaps not what I would choose, but under Isabelle's influence, my tastes have broadened a bit. And I do have to admit, their seafood is simply divine." He reached for the bottle sitting on the table. "I hope you don't mind, I took the liberty of ordering the wine, a fine, full bodied white, straight from Chateau Neuf in France."
"Sounds good to me. I've never had true Boston seafood before."
"Well then, if I may say so, you're in for a real treat. If you will permit me to order for you?" Charles signaled their waiter, who came over.
Margaret glanced briefly at the menu, but then allowed Charles to order the lobster for her. Picking up her glass, she took a sip of wine, and then happening to look towards the front of the restaurant, came very close to spewing the mouthful across the table. "Charles," she gasped. "Look!"
"Whatever are you talking about?" He looked over his shoulder to see that Hunnicutt had arrived, right on time, with Pierce in tow. "Well, I'll be damned. If it isn't Pierce and Hunnicutt. I wonder what they're doing here." He watched for a moment and when BJ spotted him, waved them over. "Good afternoon, gentlemen. I must say, you're not the sight I expected to see here."
"Good to see you too, Charles," returned BJ. "It's been a long time."
"Has it? I hadn't noticed." Charles was in full form.
BJ ignored the comment and turned to Margaret. "Margaret, it's good to see you. You're looking wonderful, as always."
"Oh, you always were a flatterer." She stood up, only to walk right into BJ's arms, hugging him tightly. Her emotions were suddenly in turmoil. He was standing there, the man she had spent the past few months trying her best to forget. After her decision not to contact him after a year, a part of her had begun to hope that she would never see him again and so would never have to face all of the unresolved emotions. But here he was, and she couldn't avoid him any longer. Letting go of BJ, she turned to face Hawkeye for the first time in almost two years. "Hello Hawkeye." She stepped in and gave him a quick hug, feeling awkward as she did so, and then backed away.
"Hello Margaret." Hawkeye looked at this woman whom he had spent so much time trying to forget. He was unprepared for his reaction when they touched. All the old feelings he had tried so hard to repress came rushing back to the surface, and for a moment he felt his knees go weak. But what was she doing here with Charles? Could they possibly have hooked up? Margaret and Charles? It didn't seem possible, but then, stranger things had happened. Maybe he was finally learning the reason why she had never contacted him.
"Will you join us?" invited Charles. "We've only just placed our orders, and I'm sure the waiter could bring over two more place settings." Without waiting for an answer, he signaled the waiter.
"That's very civil of you, Charles," responded BJ. "We'd love to, wouldn't we Hawk?"
Hawkeye wasn't so sure, but not really having a choice, he simply said, "Of course, what else could we possibly do?" The two seated themselves at the table.
There was a brief moment of silence before Charles took the initiative and asked, "So, what brings the two of you to Boston?"
"I had to be here for a medical consultation. At your hospital in fact, Charles, Boston Mercy." BJ poured himself a glass of wine before offering the bottle to Hawkeye.
"Is that so? And you Pierce?"
"Well, I'm living in Maine, just a couple hours north, so when BJ told me he was going to be here I drove down for a few days." Hawkeye paused a moment, wondering if he really wanted to know the answer to his next question. "And what about the two of you? Charles, I know you'd never deign to grace another city with your presence, but you don't live here, do you Margaret?"
"Me? I'm living in Oregon now, but Charles invited me to spend some time with him here and I accepted, so here I am." She looked everywhere but at Hawkeye, unwilling to meet his eyes, afraid that he would be able to see what she was feeling.
Hawkeye felt his heart sink straight down into his shoes at her words. She was here to visit Charles. They were together. All the more reason why Margaret should never know what his true feelings for her were. And Charles! To lose out to him, of all people. If he ever found out, the smug look on his face would be too much to bear. But hey, he could hide his feelings with the best of them. "You know, back in Korea, I never would've thought you two kids would make it together, but I guess there were some things I didn't know about."
All three of his dining companions stared at him blankly for a moment. It dawned on Margaret first what he was talking about. "No Hawkeye, Charles and I aren't together. Where in the world did you get that idea?"
"What?" Now it was Charles' turn to be thrown off guard, his eyes almost bugging out of his head. "No. Pierce, I'm engaged! To someone else! Margaret is staying with my sister."
Hawkeye stared at their shocked faces for a moment, reality slowly penetrating his brain, and he couldn't help the smile formed partly of embarrassment and partly of relief that spread over his face. "Oh, I get it. Sorry. Seeing you two here I just assumed...never mind." He closed his mouth before he said something else to make himself look like an ass.
BJ stepped in to save the situation. "You're engaged, Charles? Well Congratulations! Who's the unlucky woman?"
"Ha-ha. Your wit never fails to astound me, Hunnicutt. Her name is Isabelle Brighton, soon to be Isabelle Winchester."
"So when do we get to meet her?"
"I've met her," chimed in Margaret. "She's perfectly wonderful, and you should see how Charles acts around her."
"Oh?" asked BJ.
"He's like a schoolboy with his first love. Puppy dog eyes the whole time." At least this was a safe subject. But how could Hawkeye have assumed she was with Charles? He certainly hadn't seemed at all bothered by it either, obviously not caring enough who she was with.
"Puppy dog eyes?" BJ chuckled. "Our insensitive Charles? This I've got to see!"
Internally, Charles groaned. He had already undergone all three women, Margaret, Honoria, and Isabelle spending all of the previous evening comparing notes on him. He wasn't sure his pride could handle the addition of his two antagonists from Korea. But, already having committed himself to the scheme, he gamely replied, "Well, Hunnicutt, maybe you'll just get your chance. How long are you going to be in town?"
"Oh, another two or three days," answered BJ, knowing full well that Charles already knew the answer, and exactly what he was going to ask next.
"Then, if you're free, perhaps you and Pierce would like to dine at my home tomorrow evening?"
"Hey, we'd love to, wouldn't we Hawk?" BJ quickly agreed for both of them. "Why it'll be just like old times!"
"Um, yeah, sure." Hawkeye wasn't quite as thrilled about the prospect. Even if he had misunderstood why Margaret was in Boston, nothing had changed between the two of them, and he preferred not to have to face her if he didn't have to.
For her part, Margaret wasn't sure this dinner was such a great idea either, but not having a valid reason to oppose it, she acquiesced as well.
"Well good, then that's settled. I look forward to it." Just then the waiter brought their food over. "Ah, true Boston lobster. If I may say so, you out-of-towners are in for a treat."
"Oh no," Hawkeye protested. "If you want real lobster you have to come to Maine. This may be better than what you get on the West Coast, but it can't hold a candle to what they serve in Crabapple Cove or Portland."
Charles made a sound resembling a snort. "My dear Pierce, you're deluding yourself. No one does seafood better than Boston."
"Yeah, you just come up to Maine, and then we'll see what you have to say. I'm telling you, you haven't lived until you've tasted true Maine lobster. I've had it both places, and this is definitely inferior."
Charles made a sound resembling a snort, but dropped the subject. "So Pierce, what have you been doing medically up in that hick town of yours? Just the usual skinned knees, I suppose?"
"You know, I would be thrilled if the only medical problems were skinned knees and scraped chins, but believe it or not, I also perform the occasional surgery. Crabapple Cove may be small, but we've got a decent little hospital." Hawkeye went on to describe the work he was now doing, and the four compared the various conditions and work in their respective hospitals.
Margaret surreptitiously watched Hawkeye as he spoke. There was more and more gray interspersed among the black of his hair now, and a few lines in his face that she didn't remember. But he still had the same piercing blue eyes, and the same mischievous smile that he had always had. And just hearing his deep, sexy voice sent shivers up her spine. Automatically, her mind recalled a time when she had heard that same voice murmuring other things, his hot breath on her ear and neck, and his hands....She sternly ordered herself to stop it. That stage of her life was over and done with, and there was nothing that could be done to bring it back.
The four stayed in the restaurant for some time, catching up on each other's lives since the war. Although both Margaret and Hawkeye were quite chatty, BJ and Charles both noticed that they refrained from addressing each other directly.
As they were leaving, BJ managed to hold Charles back for a moment. "Have you noticed that they aren't speaking at all?"
"As a matter a fact, I had. I don't believe they've made eye contact a single time either."
"So how do we handle that? I'd say we were right about them still being in love, considering how awkward they're acting."
Charles nodded his head in agreement. "Of course, we were already sure about Margaret's feelings, but from the way Pierce reacted seeing her here with me and the way he was watching her when he didn't think anyone noticed, I'd say we can be sure about him too."
"Nice Charles. If you'll recall, I was already sure about Hawkeye. You just wouldn't listen." Receiving a blank stare from the other man, BJ sighed and moved on. "But regardless, we're sure of them both now, and we need to get them talking."
"I'd say what they need is some time alone."
"You know, you're probably right. After all, we can't exactly expect them to jump into each other's arms while we're standing here."
"You never know, they've done it a time or two before." Noticing BJ's exasperated look, Charles continued more seriously, "Calm down. Tomorrow night we'll have dinner and conspire to leave them alone for an hour or so. I'd wager they'll be able to talk things out."
Just then, there was an impatient call from the front of the restaurant. "Hey Beej! Are you coming or not?"
"Hold your horses!" he yelled back. "Okay Charles, I'll see you tomorrow and we'll see what we can do."
"I look forward to it."
2 March 1955; Boston, Massachusetts
Hawkeye wasn't sure he could remember a time when he'd had this many butterflies in his stomach. He was in a taxi with BJ, heading to Charles' place for dinner, and that meant seeing Margaret again. Yesterday had been bad enough, but that had been a surprise. By now, he'd had well over twenty-four hours to think about it, to realize that as much as he dreaded seeing this woman again, he also couldn't wait. It had been so long, and to even be in the same room as her was like heaven. But to see her and not be able to take her in his arms, to kiss her thoroughly, to tell her how much he loved her, how much he wanted her; it was torture. Talk about conflicted emotions!