Author's Note: This is set in the background of my series that begins with "Misunderstandings," although it is not a direct sequel. I've always wondered what an encounter between these two might be like, so here's my version. I would very much appreciate any feedback you might have on my work!
27 May 1963; Crabapple Cove, Maine
Margaret Pierce pushed open the door to the little diner on the corner of 7th and Ash. Although unimaginatively named The Ash Street Diner, it was known to locals as "The Tonies." The original owner, Tony Senior, had passed the diner (and the name) on to his son, Tony Junior, who had then, by a curious quirk of fate, married a woman named Toni. They had thought the coincidence to be a good joke and, in order to add to the confusion, dubbed their son Tony III and their daughter Tonia. Margaret found the whole thing ridiculous, but that didn't stop her from frequenting the place.
"Hi, Tony." She greeted the man behind the counter.
"Why, Margaret! Don't tell me you're all alone for dinner? That worthless husband of yours working late again?" His jovial smile belied the judgmental words.
"No, I'm afraid I was the one working late tonight. Hawkeye's picking up the kids and meeting me here."
"Daniel's not feeling well still." It was more of a statement than a question.
"He's doing a little better." Margaret gave a report on her father-in-law's uncertain health, understanding after eight years in a small town that things like this were everyone's business. "Told Hawkeye when they had lunch together that he damn well didn't feel like dealing with any of us this evening and we could eat dinner in town."
"Oh-ho! Then he is doing better! That's good to hear. Ol' Doc Pierce means a lot to us. Delivered both of my kids, you know."
"I know. He's a very special man to all of us." Margaret had never ceased to be amazed at just how much of the town's population had been brought into the world by Daniel Pierce. "But while I'm waiting, could I get a cup of tea?"
"Sure thing! You have a seat and I'll get it for you."
"Thanks, Tony." Margaret grabbed a newspaper off the counter and claimed the last free booth.
After her tea arrived, Margaret sipped it and perused the latest news. Her attention occupied, she didn't notice when the door opened again and an unfamiliar woman entered. Prim clothes hung on her bony frame with little grace. Her narrow face was dominated by large glasses and her mousy brown hair pulled back in a no-nonsense bun. With a little work she might have been pretty, but her face was twisted in the perpetually sour expression she had worn for the better part of thirty years.
The woman walked up to the counter. "Excuse me...."
"Yes ma'am. What can I do you for?" Tony greeted her with his customary panache.
"I'm looking for someone, and I wondered if you might be able to point me in the right direction."
"You came to the right place! Just about every man, woman, child and dog in this town passes through my diner sooner or later."
"The woman I'm looking for is named Margaret Houlihan." She regarded him expectantly.
Tony shook his head. "Houlihan...don't know that we've got anyone by that name in town. You sure it's not Howland? We used to have a Maggie Howland that lived up past Hermitage Hill. Course, she died a couple years back."
"No, I'm certain of the name." The woman started to get a bit impatient. "She would have moved here in the last ten years. She's maybe in her early forties..."
"Oh, I know who you're talking about! But she hasn't gone by Houlihan for years. That's her maiden name."
"You know who she is?" The woman became animated. "Can you tell me where I can find her?"
"You're in luck. She's sitting right over there in that booth." He gestured towards where Margaret sat reading the paper, oblivious to the conversation going on about her.
"That's her, in the black shirt?"
"Yup, that's her. You two old friends?"
"Thank you for your help." She turned away from him without replying, and in the few steps it took her to move from the counter to the booth her demeanor changed completely from the polite questioning of a moment before.
"You're not so much." The woman dispensed with a greeting and got right down to business.
"Excuse me?" Margaret looked up, surprised.
"Maybe not quite an army mule with bosoms, but you're no goddess either!"
"Do I even know you?" A small tickle of memory was starting at the back of Margaret's mind.
"Oh, that's right. Sure, pretend you don't know who I am. But then, maybe you don't. I suppose my marriage was just one of many that you were happy to step in and destroy, you tramp."
"Okay, I don't care who you are, you can't come in here and talk to me like that! And where you get off saying that I ruined your marriage? I've never even seen you before..." Her voice trailed off as realization set in. "Oh my god. You're Frank's wife."
"His ex-wife now, thanks to you. He may not have been much, but he was all I had." Her voice rose shrilly and people were beginning to stare. "You could have had any man and you just had to take mine!"
Margaret was torn between anger at the accusations and pity for any woman who would prize Frank Burns so highly. For the moment, pity won out. "Louise – that is your name? – Why don't you sit down so we can have a slightly more private conversation." She gestured to the seat across from her, unsure if she was doing the right thing, but needing to gain control over the situation.
Louise Burns stared back at her, baleful hatred oozing from every pore. But a quick glance at the curious eyes all around forced her off her feet. Pursing her lips, she waited for the blonde to speak.
"Frank really got a divorce?" As soon as the question was out of her mouth, Margaret thought of a hundred more appropriate things she could have begun with. But that thought was so ludicrous, after everything he'd done in Korea to hang onto his wife, that it just popped out.
"No, I divorced him. But it's because of you that it happened in the first place!"
"Wait just a minute." Margaret's head was beginning to hurt. One moment she'd been comfortably ensconced in the present, awaiting her husband and children for a family dinner and the next she was being attacked by an unhappy piece of the past. "What in the world are you doing in Crabapple Cove? How did you ever find me? How do you even know who I am?" Surely Frank wouldn't have told her, would he?
"My brother-in-law is a captain in the army. He was able to do some checking and found that your colonel husband was from this two-bit town. Your friend at the counter over there pointed you out tonight. And how do you think I know who you are?" The wire-edged voice dropped the syllables coldly onto the table.
"How should I know?....My colonel husband?" The explanations were not doing much to allay Margaret's confusion.
"What's the matter? You don't remember my Frank not being good enough for you anymore? Moving on to someone new, with higher rank, to sink your teeth into? I bet you were sorry you didn't just wait a few months until Frank was promoted. Then you could have gotten your colonel without even changing men!"
"Would you let me speak?" A very real sense of guilt prevented Margaret from blasting the woman. When she'd been with Frank, she had hated it when he mentioned Louise. Not only because it was obvious how tied he was to his wife, but at the reminder that her man wasn't really hers. Adultery was much easier to excuse when she didn't have to think of the third person involved. "I'm still not sure exactly what's going on here, but I'm not altogether sorry to have a chance to talk with you. First of all, I think you have a few of your facts mixed up..."
Hawkeye Pierce picked this moment to enter the restaurant. Unable to wave because of the girl attached to his left hand and the boy to his right, he called out a cheerful greeting to Tony behind the counter. Tony waved back and gestured in Margaret's direction. "She's over there!"
"Mommy!" Spotting her mother, the girl, B-Jane, broke away and ran towards her.