Crabapple Cove Ch. 01byNigel Debonnaire©
(Author's note: this is a sequel to the TV series, particularly the episode "Comrades in Arms". I'm not claiming this is how Hawkeye and Hot Lips's relationship HAD to be after they got home, but a possibility. Incidentally, this would be a Romance more than anything else, so be advised.)
It was a placid day in the Maine coast: a calm April Wednesday with a few clouds sitting above a freshly greening seascape while the tide drifted out. Maggie McIntyre drove up the hospital hill and found a place to park that was closer than a city block for once. As she got out of the car, the breeze played with her long, blonde hair; she caught a glimpse of her face, and stopped to check her makeup. It was perfect, as usual, her blue eyes clear above high cheekbones, clear skin and soft lips. A moment's realization made her pause: it was almost a mirror image of her grandmother's face from a Korean War picture, when she and her unit posed wearing cheesy grins in front of a sign reading: "Fort Dix, New Jersey". Usually, that picture made her laugh, since it tried to convince Uncle Max's mother he wasn't in Korea, but the memory now gave her pause. Maggie felt a weight of history collecting on her, feeling she was taking up a baton she was uncertain about. Living up to the Major's standard as a granddaughter was tough enough; inheriting her mantle was something else entirely.
The small hospital looked clean and neat, a familiar sight to a newly certified doctor trained in Chicago. Her grandfather and grandmother spent many years operating on their patients here, and they maintained the highest standards. Several familiar faces smiled hello at Maggie as she marched primly in her heels: she grew up in that small town. The ICU was on the third floor, and signs took her there quickly and efficiently.
Before she approached the ward, she stopped in the rest room and checked herself thoroughly: her green business suit and light blue blouse still looked well pressed, her modest makeup was perfect, her long blond hair discreetly waved, her teeth clean and straight thanks to early teen orthodontics, her hose smooth and her black medium heels shone enough to make a Marine drill sergeant nod in approval. No one would suspect she'd flown overnight from San Francisco through Boston and Portland with her son, driving up in the morning and stopping long enough to put her exhausted child to sleep in the house she grew up in. He was so tired he didn't mind sleeping in the gingerbread room she and her mother once occupied. Little Ben had no tolerance for anything he thought was too "girly" except for his mother.
The ICU room was a typical tangle of monitors and wires overlooking the sea. The patient click and whirl of the breathing machine kept air moving through his windpipe, moving his chest up and down, IV's trailed up from his arm to three bags hanging above him. Maggie checked the monitors out of habit as she entered before looking at the weathered old face of Hawkeye Pierce. Her grandfather's face was more lean than ever before, a breathing tube taped into his mouth, with a tense look of pain behind his tightly closed eyes under mop of disheveled silver hair. "They don't comb it enough," her grandmother said, almost leaping out of her seat to run a comb through it. "He squirms from time to time, his hair's a mess, and they do nothing about it. I'll have to bring it up with Chester sometime."
"Hi, Major," Maggie said, crossing around the bottom of the bed to come to the older woman's side. Her grandmother fussed for a few moments before turning around; her face was the face of a woman twenty years younger than her eighty plus years, her bright blue eyes slightly bloodshot with fatigue and worry, her face creased and her mouth drawn into a thin line. For a long moment, Margaret Houlihan Pierce regarded her granddaughter cooly as if making an inspection before seizing her in a hard embrace that took the younger woman's breath away. Maggie felt tears on her cheek and neck and started to cry a little herself.
"I'm so glad you're here, Maggie, so glad. I think I can cope now." The older woman drew back and looked her over, and hugged her hard again. Breaking the embrace, she looked around her granddaughter frantically. "Where's Bennie?"
"He had to sleep, the trip wore him out. It's not easy for anybody making a Red Eye flight coast to coast, and he just got out of school when we went to the airport. Don't worry, he's at the house."
"Good. We'll pick him up later; Hawkeye will want to see him." She sat down quickly on her chair, tears streaming from her eyes, looking at her husband. Maggie waited for her, knowing from long experience when her grandmother was frazzled she would shift gears quickly and it was best to let her run through everything. "Hawkeye will want to see him," she echoed quietly.
"Major, has he opened his eyes today?" Maggie said after a slight pause.
A pause came first in reply. "No, he hasn't. They've checked his eyes twice today, he's still in the coma. I expect this morning's test results any minute. I've been watching the monitors since 0600: it doesn't look good."
Maggie nodded at the monitors. "They don't look good now."
"That's the bad thing about being a medical family: we know too much directly." Margaret broke her gaze and turned, taking her granddaughter's hand. "Have a seat, Maggie. It's amazing you were able to get here this quickly."
"I had a some good luck, and Uncle B. J. got us to the airport in record time. He offered to keep Bennie for me, but Bennie insisted on coming and I know a third stroke usually means trouble." There was a pause; Maggie didn't want to say it might be Bennie's last chance to see him. "When did it happen?"
"Just before lunch. We were going over to the Hanson's, and Hawkeye was going to play a round with Jerry while Jill and I went to look at some new antiques downtown. He seemed normal all morning, but I think he knew something was up, because he suddenly reached down, touched my cheek and said: 'Thanks, Hot Lips' in that somber tone of his. Then it hit him right after he orgasmed."
Maggie shook her head for a moment, to clear her brain. "He orgasmed?"
Margaret smiled demurely. "I know you don't want to hear about such things, children never want to imagine their parents or their grandparents having a sex life, but you're an adult now, a mother, a doctor, and you understand from a clinical perspective. Yes, I think the blood vessels in his brain gave way just after he had his orgasm."
"Major. . .Grandmother? I can't believe. . ."
"Oh, come on, Maggie, you know that people in their 80's are fully capable of having an active sex life, and Hawkeye was just as good yesterday morning as he was back in Korea. He'd already taken me from earth to heaven twice and I had to finish him off to keep him from getting blue balls. Given the choice, I know he preferred the stroke."
"O my God, Major. I can't believe it. What did you say to him when he said that?"
Margaret put a hand on her granddaughter's shoulder and smiled. "I couldn't say anything. My mouth was full and I was busy." She looked at the clock on the wall, and then back at the younger woman. "Let's go down the cafeteria, you must be starving after your trip. The food's all right, and we can talk. I've been sitting here since daybreak and I know he wants a break as well. Candi will page us if anything changes."
Head Nurse Candi Fleming nodded at Margaret's request as they passed the nurses' station, and led them to the stairs. The older woman was lean and fit, moving gracefully and setting a good pace as they trotted downstairs. She wore a white turtleneck sweater and dark pants over sandals, a ring hanging from a gold chain around her neck that bounced with every step. The food concourse had three choices, and both women opted for the salad bar, taking a moderate amount of greens on their plates. They took a table overlooking the sea and sat, mirror images from different stages in life. As they ate, Maggie looked at the ring curiously: "I've never asked you, Major, where's the ring from? Is it your mother's?"
"Oh no, this old cheap thing? It's from Korea. My first wedding ring."
Maggie did a double take. "Your first what?"
"My first wedding ring. Didn't I ever tell you I was married before?"
"No, no, absolutely not," she said indignantly. "You didn't tell me all the Korea stories when I was growing up. A lot of them you said I wasn't ready for yet. You were married before Hawkeye?"
Margaret nodded. "Oh yes. His name was Donald Penobscot, Major Donald Penobscot. We met when I was on leave in Tokyo. . .well, you don't want to know all the details about that. Father Mulcahy did the ceremony, in fact, Donald was in a full body cast because Hawkeye and Trapper got him drunk out of his mind at the bachelor party and convinced him he was in an accident and broke both his legs. It wasn't funny then, but now it cracks me up every time I think about it."
The younger woman laughed out loud, putting down her fork to stifle herself, shaking and quivering. "My God, Major, they did that to you? I always thought Hawkeye always loved you."
The older woman giggled. "He had different ways to show it. Anyway, Donald and I weren't ever able to live together, thanks to the war, and within a year I divorced him. The jerk got a transfer and I cut him loose."
"Let me see it." Taking the ring in her hand, Maggie squinted at the inscription inside. " 'Over Hill, Over Dale, Our Love Will Ever Fail'? What kind of guy was he?"
"Oh, that's not the original ring. Hawkeye, B. J. and your Uncle Max got it for me after I lost the first one got lost during an ER session. That's why I've kept it, because of them. . ."
Maggie shook her head and cut her grandmother off. "Major, I want to hear that story, too, but you never tell stories about home. I grew up listening to stories around Crabapple Cove going back to the Revolution, even stories about Hawkeye when he was a kid, but I never heard the story about how you got married, or what it was like raising my Mom and Uncle Alvin, or how you came to live here at Crabapple Cove. I always thought you weren't happy here."
"I've always been happy here, Maggie, ever since I got to Maine. You know that, I could never live a lie."
"But we always called you Major, all of us grandkids, even your son Alvin calls you that. Hawkeye would call you Margaret. I thought we had to call you Major because you always wanted to stay in the Army, and you missed it. It always made me a little sad."
Margaret touched the younger woman's cheek and smiled. "No, that wasn't it. Hawk always called me Major when the kids were little, teasing me about being in charge, and I thought it was cute when they called me that, too. Never expected to be a mother, thought the Army was my life and would always be my family. I don't think Hawk ever expected to be a father after being a lothario who wouldn't settle down, so we didn't take well to being called Mom and Dad or Mother and Father. So our family knows us as Hawkeye and the Major."
"Hawkeye was a lothario? No, wait a minute. . .how come you didn't stay in the Army?"
"Well, that's a long story. . ."
The summer of 1954 was hot, hotter than most living memories. Late July saw a medical convention in downtown Kansas City at the elegant Muehlebach Hotel. Doctors and nurses from across the country came, including Dr. Benjamin Franklin Pierce of Crabapple Cove, Maine, and Major Margaret Houlihan, currently stationed at Fort Sam Houston in Texas. They found each other the first day and arrange to have breakfast at a nearby diner the next morning. Coming into the diner, she found him at a table toward the back: he wore a bulky grey suit with a black tie and smiled broadly in greeting; she wore her dress uniform. They embraced on meeting and sat. "Well, well, well, Hot Lips, it's been a long time," he said, giving her a full look up and down. "You're a sight for sore eyes."
She nodded gravely and said through pursed lips: "Yes, Hawkeye, the feeling's mutual, but I'd rather you didn't call me Hot Lips any more. I thought we settled that back in Korea."
He smiled. "Had to needle you a bit for old times' sake. What are old enemies good for?"
She arched her eyebrow and gave him a disbelieving look. "We were less than enemies when we parted."
"I know." The waitress brought her a cup of coffee and took their breakfast orders. When she moved away, he continued: "How's life in Texas?"
"Hot like a Korean summer. Knew it was going to be like that since Dad was stationed there when I was a teenager. People around here are fainting in this heat, but it's worse where I am."
"It's warm in Maine, but not this warm. Lots of folks come up from Boston and New York to escape the heat."
"I remember. Dad was stationed at Hanscom Army Air base for a while when they set it up in 1943; we spent the summer there and he took us up to the Maine coast a couple of times for the weekend. Beautiful country."
"Finest kind." They took a sip of coffee and looked around before he continued. "You terrorizing your nursing staff sufficiently down there?"
She chuckled. "My nursing unit is fantastic. Kellye came with me, you remember her from the 4077?"
"How could I forget?"
"We've got that unit's efficiency up 65% on our last report, and we'll do better by the end of the year."
"That sounds like the Major we've come to know and love. Always after better evaluations."
She shook her head and frowned at him. "They're wonderful girls, and I love them all. I've been teaching them how to play poker."
"You mean the rules of the game, or the way we played it as the 4077?"
"How do you think?" she said with a Chesire cat grin on her face.
He shook his head. "Remind me not to play with them. I've kept my techniques a closely guarded secret since I got home. A doctor struggling to put his practice together needs all the help he can get."
She sipped her coffee and nodded. "Tony and Mickie Baker had a little girl, their second."
"Tony and Mickie Baker?"
"Damn it, Hawkeye, you set up a conspiracy to get them together for a night's sex using my tent with a lame excuse about a quarantine patient. She got pregnant and had to ship out two months later. I could have killed you."
"I bet you could have a dozen times." He smirked and stared at him with little boy caught eyes. "Of course, I remember them. Tony wrote me a letter telling me they wanted to name their girl Hawkeye. Of course Mickie had more sense than that."
They giggled after a moment and picked up their coffee cups, settling back in their chairs. "So how is life back in Crabapple Cove?" she asked, a concerned look on her face. "Sometimes I envy you, having a swell hometown to go back to."
Their food arrived, and Hawkeye sniffed every bite before eating it. "Some habits I can't break," he said as she looked at him quizzically. "Dad's been meaning to slow down for years, but he struggles with it even though he trusts me to help him with his patients. Had that cancer scare with him last year, and he had an episode last month that seemed like a heart palpitation, but he wouldn't tell me about it and swore his doctor to secrecy. I'm finding enough work to get by, and I should be secure financially by the end of the year."
Margaret smiled around her forkful of eggs. "And the women of Crabapple Cove have welcomed you back with open arms? Or maybe they remember the Don Juan too well from before?"
"Margaret, you can be so devious. I've only had a couple of dates this past year, mostly to reconnect with old flames, but I don't have anybody in my life right now." A wry smile crept over her face and he slammed down his fork. "Stop it, Margaret, I know what you're going to say, 'I've never really had anyone in my life,' and you're wrong." He calmed down. "I mean, I haven't had any kind of date for months. Been worried about work, and I'm not interested in anybody there. I don't know, it's not like that time I was impotent, but cruising for nurses isn't as much fun as it used to be."
She put her hand on her chest and put her cup down in mock surprise. "Goodness gracious, stop the presses: Hawkeye Pierce may have grown up after all."
He smirked grimly. "Yeah, that's a painful thought, isn't it? After what we've seen in Korea, life here isn't just the same any more."
"That's what Colonel Potter used to say. That's what Dad used to say after he came home from the Pacific."
"Of course, being an adult back in your hometown is a strange transition. When I left for Korea, I was still a boy even though I'd just gotten certified and was starting in practice. Crabapple Cove used to be a place of wonder, there was a new adventure every day, not just in town, but out on the lakes, going on fishing cruises out to sea, crabbing, beach parties, hunting deer in the woods in the fall. Still do that, but it isn't the same. I don't know if all my friends have changed or if I have. It's still dear to me, and if we get into another stupid war with the Russians or the Chinese, I'd fight for her, but there's something missing there. Can't put my finger on it."
"I can relate to that. I've been an Army nurse a long time, I know how peacetime duty at a Stateside base goes. The only emergencies we have now are weekend fights, and we rarely have anything more than elective surgery. The people I work with are wonderful, my CO is a great officer, but the only one I'm really close to is Kealani Kellye, and that's because of what we went through together at the 4077. If I wanted a transfer, Dad would get me one in a heartbeat. But there's something else missing. . ."
They ate and watched the people emerge from the steamy morning, seeking cool relief as well as breakfast. "How's B.J. doing?" she said.
"He's good. Got a letter from him just before I left: he and Peg are having another baby any day now."
"Yes, I think it's due almost nine months after he got home. Happens a lot." They chuckled knowingly and he continued: "He's doing well back in Mill Valley, like nothing's changed. Radar is still working the farm in Iowa, taking care of his mother, barely making it but making it. Charles is settling into his new kingdom and by all reports they're happy with him. His family is concerned about his fiancee: he looked up that French Red Cross worker who went through the 4077. . ."
"The one he had the hots for, and then she threw him aside? Or was it the other way around?"
"Yes, seems like he's gotten some balls after all. Anyway, he went to Europe after the war, found Martine, wooed her and brought her back. Mummy and Daddy were not at all pleased, called him a Bohemian and a traitor to his breeding, but they haven't disowned him. Guess they're hoping for Roman Numerals from him and this seems like the best shot."
She took a sip of coffee. "Good for him."
"The Colonel got back here to Missouri; I tried to get him to come to this conference, but he said he had some important fishing to do."
"Father Mulcahy's in South America after a short stint with Potter in St. Louis; Trapper's in San Francisco, having another kid soon; Max is working for the VA in St. Louis."
"Did you ever hear from Frank Burns?"
"Who?" They chuckled again, and he grew very serious. "The toughest thing I did was on the way out here. I stopped in Illinois and visited Lorraine Blake." She touched his hand. "Lorraine's doing all right, soldiering on. A strong woman, trying to raise three children on her own. Henry's insurance came through, they're doing all right, the kids will get to go to college if they want, and the whole town's looking after them." A tear crept into his eye, and he brushed it away after a snivel. "I got her address if you want it."