"You okay, Hawk? You look about ready to lose your lunch." BJ noticed his friend's glum face and slightly green complexion.
"Yeah, I'll be okay."
After a moment Hunnicutt ventured, "It's Margaret, isn't?"
"Of course it's Margaret! What else would my problem be?" The words began to spill out before he could stop them. "How am I supposed to face her? How can I go in there and act normal, like nothing ever happened between us, like we're nothing but old friends?
"You're still in love with her, aren't you?"
"You know Beej," Hawkeye mused. "Losing Margaret in the first place felt like someone had reached into my chest and pulled my heart out. And now, I'd finally gotten used to it and I thought I was over her, and then I saw her yesterday and it's like this big gaping hole opened up again where my heart is supposed to be. How do I look her in the eye and act like I don't care?"
"Maybe it would be better if you talked to her about it. At least that would get things out in the open, and hey, maybe Margaret feels the same way."
"Beej, what is this obsession you have with Margaret?! You keep bringing her up and talking like there's some chance we'll get back together! Give it a rest, would you? I promise you, whatever Margaret felt for me once, she doesn't anymore. It's over and was a long time ago!" Then, in a quieter voice, almost a whisper, he finished, "It's over."
Looking at his friend, Hunnicutt was very tempted to tell Hawkeye everything Charles had told him about Margaret. But, the simple truth was that although he trusted Winchester, he couldn't be positive of Margaret's feelings and to get Hawkeye's hopes up in the state he was in would be too cruel if they were wrong about her. So instead he simply replied, "Whatever you say, Hawk. But I still think you should just talk to her. Than at least you'd know for sure."
"Yeah, maybe you're right," muttered Hawkeye, although his heart wasn't in it. "Hey, looks like we're here." The cab pulled up in front of a majestic old building. "Charles really knows how to choose them, doesn't he?"
"Well you know my dear chap, only the best is good enough for a Winchester!" replied BJ, in a credible imitation of Charles' most pompous tone.
Hawkeye laughed, and momentarily in better spirits, got out of the taxi. The two walked up to the front door and rang the bell. A moment later, Charles opened the door.
"Gentlemen, glad you could make it." He invited them in. "Let me take your coats."
"What? No maid to do that? Charles, I'm shocked!" Hawkeye needled the man a little while at the same time removing his jacket.
"Unlike you derelicts, I am perfectly capable of surviving without assistance. Of course I do have a maid come in to clean once a week, but on the whole, I do quite nicely, thank you very much. I'm not quite the pig you two are." Noticing for the first time what his guests were wearing, he continued. "I must say, I'm a little shocked myself. You're wearing actual sport jackets! No Hawaiian shirts? No bathrobes? I didn't think either of you had it in you."
"Well, we decided to go easy on you for once." BJ explained. "But don't get too comfortable. The chances of it happening again are on par with the chances of us re-enlisting."
"Then I'm honored. Well, come into the living room; the ladies are already there." Winchester led the way, with the other two trailing after him. The three women were standing by the fireplace chatting, but turned when the men entered the room. "If I may make the introductions." First, gesturing to a petite young woman with burnished red hair and hazel eyes, he said, "Pierce, Hunnicutt, this is my sister Honoria Winchester. Honoria, these are my colleagues from Korea, Hawkeye Pierce and BJ Hunnicutt."
"I'm so glad to finally meet you!" Honoria enthused. "Charles has told me so much about you."
"And you still wanted to meet us?" queried Hawkeye in mock surprise. "I would think his stories would cause you to run away in horror."
Honoria smiled amusedly. "Actually, he generally spoke quite highly of you both. Believe me, I grew up with him and I can see through his sarcasm."
"It's a pleasure to meet you, Honoria," put in BJ. "And you have my condolences for having such a brother."
"Ah-hem," Charles cleared his throat. "You are aware that I'm still in the room?"
"Oh that's right! You are. Forgot about that." Hawkeye answered easily. "Now aren't you going to introduce us to this other lovely woman?" The third woman had come to stand by Charles' side. She was about five and a half feet tall, a brunette with sparkling blue eyes. Although hardly slender, she had a decent figure with a magnetism about her that drew men's eyes.
"I was trying to. Gentlemen, this is my fiancée, Isabelle Brighton. Isabelle, the two jokesters are my erstwhile colleagues, Pierce and Hunnicutt."
"I'm delighted to meet you, Hawkeye, and you, BJ." Extending her hand, she shook first Pierce's hand, and then Hunnicutt's.
"It's more than nice to meet you," replied Hawkeye. "Although I can't imagine how someone with such obviously good taste ended up with Charles. Now if you wanted to reconsider, I'm always available."
"What makes you think I have good taste?" she returned, placing her hand her fiancé's arm to quiet him. "And I'm sure you're quite a catch, but I'm completely happy where I am, thank you."
"And I for one think they make a terrific looking couple." Margaret finally entered the conversation.
"Thank you, Margaret. At least someone supports me." Charles felt rather put upon, but managed to retain his patience. "Now, if I can get you gentlemen something to drink?"
"A martini for me. I believe you know the way I like them?" said Pierce.
"How could I forget?" Charles quickly prepared an extremely dry martini for Hawkeye and a scotch for Hunnicutt.
"So, do people ever call you Izzy? Or maybe Belle?" BJ took a drink of his scotch.
"Sorry, I'm afraid in that respect I'm just as stodgy as Charles. My name is just what it is, no shortened versions available." She smiled, taking the harshness out of her words.
"No nicknames?" Honoria broke in. "I wouldn't quite go that far. Seems to me I've heard my brother call you his..."
"Ah, Honoria, I don't think we need to discuss that. I'm sure Pierce and Hunnicutt aren't interested."
"Well if they're not, then I am!" Margaret was just as curious as the two doctors.
"Oh, relax Charles. You're too sensitive. Now come into the kitchen and give me a hand with dinner." Isabelle put her arm around his waist and forcibly guided him out of the room.
"So? Let us in the secret! What does he call her?" Hawkeye was dying of curiosity.
"Well, he tries not to do in front of others, but sometimes it slips out. Once I heard him refer to her as his petite plum pudding."
"You're kidding! Charles?" Both Hawkeye and BJ couldn't help their laughter, and even Margaret was grinning.
"Yup. And sometimes, Isabelle calls him her grumpy grizzly bear when he's in a bad mood."
"You know, Beej, this has a lot of possibility!" Hawkeye loved the thought of something else to harass his old nemesis with. "Although I have to admit, Charles seems pretty far gone on her."
"You're telling me! I never thought I'd see the day, but she really seems to have gotten under his skin." BJ had had a few previous hints of this, but still enjoyed seeing the results.
"Oh, you two behave yourselves! I think it's wonderful that Charles has found someone he can be happy with. He deserves it." Margaret defended her friend.
"No one's disputing that. Believe me, as happy as I am with Peg, I'm always glad to see someone else find their match." BJ noticed Honoria suppress a quick smile at his words, and wondered just how much she knew of what was going on. "Don't get your pantyhose in a knot, Margaret. We may get a few kicks out of tormenting Charles, but he's our friend too."
Honoria looked at the three for a moment and then gave voice to her thoughts. "I truly am glad to meet you all finally. When Charles came home from Korea he wasn't in very good shape. He didn't want to talk about it much, but he wouldn't listen to the music that had always given him so much joy, and he was changed somehow."
"The war changed all of us." Hawkeye's voice was subdued. "It took me months after I came home to be able to function normally again. For a long time I had nightmares every night. They're less frequent now, but I'm not sure they'll ever go away."
"Yeah. I can't tell you how many times I've woken up screaming and drenched with sweat. I don't know how Peg ever got any sleep."
"And it's hard to adjust to civilian life after so long in the army. No one really understands what you saw, what a horror war really is," contributed Margaret.
"Even I, one of the most unmilitary captains ever to disgrace the uniform had trouble becoming a civilian again. Without Peg, I don't know what I would have done." BJ commented quietly.
"None of us could help but be different than we were when we went over there." There was a far away look in Margaret's eyes for a moment, and then she shook her head, as if clearing away the cobwebs. "I'm sorry, Honoria. Sometimes the memories come back rather strongly. What were you trying to say about Charles?"
Honoria smiled somewhat hesitantly. "I'm not sure exactly what I meant. It's just, ever since we were little kids Charles and I have been very close. When he came back, I wanted to help him, but there really wasn't anything I could do."
"Be glad you aren't able to understand what war is like." Hawkeye told her. "No one should have to know."
"That's the same thing Charles told me. More than once. He wouldn't talk to me about most of what he had seen. Isabelle was the only one who was able to bring him out of his depression."
"They're really in love aren't they?" Hawkeye found himself almost jealous of Charles. Not for Isabelle, but because he had found his true love, when the only woman he cared about was currently acting as if he wasn't even in the room.
"They really are. Of course, I had to give them a little push to get them to admit it. They can both be incredibly pigheaded."
"You pushed them together? That must have been what Charles meant..." BJ stopped, suddenly remembering who he was with. Honoria shot him a look that all but screamed for him to shut up, and confirmed she did know about the plan for Hawkeye and Margaret.
"What Charles meant when? What are you talking about?" Margaret demanded.
"Oh, nothing. So, Honoria, tell us more about how Charles and Isabelle got together." BJ quickly changed the subject.
"Well, I don't know if he's told you or not, but they've known each other for ages. Our father, Charles Winchester Junior, has been business partners with Mr. Brighton since before any of us were even born."
"So Isabelle was born with a silver spoon in her mouth too." Hawkeye wasn't overly impressed.
"Yes, if you really want to put it that way. I know Charles can be a bit overbearing at times, but being born wealthy doesn't automatically make you a bad person." Honoria was a little offended by his comment.
"I'm sorry, Honoria. I shouldn't have said that. Sometimes I just get a little carried away. Ask BJ, he'll tell you all about my bad behavior." Hawkeye was contrite.
"Charles said once that she used to hate him?" BJ again pulled the subject back on track.
"She really did, and to be fair, he detested her too. You see, they're the same age and went to school together for years."
"Ah, the classic grade school rivalry."
"Something like that. Of course, I heard about a great bit of this years after the fact, but I gathered that Isabelle thought Charles was a complete boor..." Both Hawkeye and BJ smirked, and valiantly resisted the urge to comment on this assertion. Honoria looked at them quizzically and continued. "He thought she was a conceited hussy, and let's just say they weren't exactly fawning over each other."
"Yes, but let us remember, sometimes being enemies leads to something much more chummy!" BJ silently congratulated himself on slipping in the not so subtle reference to two other peoples' relationship.
"And in this case it did." Honoria didn't catch the allusion and kept talking. "During the war, I spent a lot of time volunteering at the Red Cross. With my brother in Korea, I felt it was the least I could do to help out. And as it turns out, Isabelle was also working there. We'd met before, but at the time I was just a little brat, and in any case, it had been years so we had to get reacquainted. We became good friends, and after Charles came home, I reintroduced the two of them."
"And it was love at first sight?" guessed Margaret.
"Not quite. Oh, both were mature enough to let grammar school bygones be bygones, but it took a while before they really thawed out and became friends. It did floor me the first time they had dinner alone, but then they started spending more time together However, getting them to admit they were in love was a bit of a challenge!"
"We know all about Charles being stubborn. Remember the French horn incident, Beej?"
"Otherwise known as the week you two reeked," Margaret put in.
"Maybe so, but his playing was enough to drive anyone mad! And he wouldn't stop!" BJ jumped in to defend his side of the issue.
"Not until I fixed things, that is. And then you all stopped! Now can we let Honoria continue?"
"Thank you, Margaret." Honoria laughed. "As I was saying, neither wanted to own up to their feelings, at least not to each other. Isabelle did finally confess to me that she thought she was in love with Charles, but swore me to secrecy. I knew my brother well enough to recognize the lovesick look in his eyes, but he wouldn't do anything about it."
"Don't you just hate it when two people act like that?" BJ casually dropped another unsubtle comment, this one provoking a quickly suppressed grin from Honoria.
"It was certainly annoying in this case," she said, while giving him a reproving look. "After it dragged on for close to three months, I decided I needed to take things into my own hands. So, one evening I told Charles that Isabelle had told me she had a hot date that night and that I was sure this guy was going to sweep her off her feet. You should have seen the look on his face! It would have been funny if it wasn't so pathetic."
"And I assume the grand knight rushed right over to his lady's home and pledged his eternal devotion?" Hawkeye guessed.
"Pretty much. I kept after him, dropping hints and praising this mythical guy until he finally blew up at me, ordered me out of the apartment, leaving himself to go straight over to Isabelle's. Suffice to say, she was a bit confused when he showed up on her doorstep, telling her she was making a huge mistake with this other man and that he loved her. They won't give me exact details, but they have been able to manage things quite nicely since then."
"He just couldn't let anyone else have her. That's Charles for you."
"Oh hush, BJ. I think it's sweet," protested Margaret.
"How long ago was this?" Hawkeye asked.
"They finally got together back in July of last year, and then Charles proposed on Christmas."
"Honoria, are you telling tales about me?" Charles entered the room.
"Oh, maybe a few. But they're nice ones, I promise! The not so nice ones I'm saving for later." She teased her brother lightly.
"Well, as much amusing as I'm sure this is for you all, I have to interrupt. I'm afraid we have a little problem. Nothing serious, but dinner may be delayed a bit."
"Anything we can do to help?" BJ had been expecting this, and promptly offered his part.
"Well perhaps there is. We seem to be missing a few key ingredients. I don't suppose you could run to the store?"
"Your wish is my command! No sooner said, than I am off!"
While Charles was talking, Honoria had slipped out, and now she came back in waving a piece of paper. "Here, Isabelle gave me the list. Apparently more than one thing slipped Charles' mind."
"Do you want me to go with you, Beej? I'm an expert shopper, you know," offered Hawkeye.
"No, don't worry about it, Hawk. You just stay here, and I'll be back before you know it."
"Why don't I go with you, BJ, since I know the area and all." Honoria volunteered.
"Hey, that's not a bad idea. C'mon, let's go so we can get back and eat!" BJ and Honoria quickly exited the room, grabbed their coats and made the escape out the door.
"Charles brought you in on the plan to get Margaret and Hawkeye together, did he?" BJ asked.
"I do hope this doesn't take them too long. We should be eating before too long. In the meantime, let me get you another drink." Charles was heading towards the bar when Isabelle came back in.
"Charles, I seem to have forgotten my glasses at my house. I hate to do this, but it's really important that I have them..." Isabelle looked quite worried.
"Mm-Hmm. Well, this evening is not going quite as smoothly as I'd planned. Margaret, Hawkeye, we will be right back."
"Hey wait! You're both going?" Margaret protested.
"I'm afraid we have to. Charles' car is a stick shift, and I only know how to drive an automatic," explained Isabelle. "It's silly really, but I so rarely need to, it just never seemed important."
"I trust you two can amuse yourselves without help for a bit? We won't be long." Charles and Isabelle left the room without giving them any more time to protest.
A thick silence filled the room. Margaret remembered only too well the last time she'd been alone with Hawkeye. "Well, it looks like it's just us," she remarked nervously.
"Yeah, it does," he responded, not sure what to say to this woman. He knew very well what he felt for her, as much as he might try to deny it, but what to say to her was a different matter entirely. "So, you're living in Oregon."
"Yes, I am." Margaret grasped eagerly at the topic. "Portland is a beautiful city."
"Yeah. I hear it rains a lot." He began to pace.
"That's true. A lot of rain." She racked her brain for something else to say. "You're still living in Maine?"