It was after nine before Shannon was put to bed. While an hour before she would have been dozing, the excitement of seeing us allowed her the rare opportunity to stay up late. By the time the clock in the living room chimed the hour, she was already half-asleep in Hawkeye's arms on the couch and whining as she twirled in her Dreamland. Daniel picked her out of his son's careful watch and carried her upstairs. Hawkeye and I quietly followed Daniel to Shannon's bedroom, stepping over books and toys in the darkness. As Daniel laid her on the bed and covered her with a blanket, we kissed that sweet, innocent forehead and walked out.
Daniel closed the door behind him, the last person out. "Ok, now that the first child is showered and in bed, you two are next. Who's first?"
"Her," Hawkeye said immediately, pointing at me.
I was astonished by the choice. "Really?" Usually, I argued over the showers and he was my main antagonist.
"Are you sure about that?" Daniel asked Hawkeye.
Love shrugged his shoulders. "What harm is there?"
"She might take a while. It could be midnight before you get some hot water."
"Jeanie isn't that bad. She won't take too long."
I squealed girlishly in delight as a reply. Hawkeye and Daniel thought it amusing. The former mentioned how he never knew me to be so excited before and the latter told me he bought me shampoo and conditioner and some soap. However, I would need to prepare and get settled. Hawkeye walked downstairs with me to grab my bags and to sort my clothes in what would be our bedroom. I shadowed him, oddly not caring that I was silly.
From what I found out, it was next to Shannon's. Hawkeye flipped the light switch on, dragging his things in too and perching them on the bed. Daniel handled our footlockers and had them towed under the bed. I stood in the doorway as Daniel left, unsure if I could enter or not with Hawkeye. It wasn't that the feelings I previously had were childish. No, it was the opposite.
It was an oddity to have my own room with the person I love and for the first time too. The luxury was unlimited! There would be no Charles and BJ complaining about the noise. Frank would never say a word about my nakedness and stealing Hawkeye's underwear or acting like a fool. It was us and a door that separated the world from our privacy.
"You coming?" Hawkeye asked as he began to unpack on the bed.
I smiled. "Why wouldn't I?" I entered and claimed my side. While my footlocker had be dragged and tucked away for now, my luggage was easier to handle.
Hawkeye had me hang some of his things in the closet with mine (still claustrophobic). Daniel had put in an extra dresser and a vanity for my usage only (touching to me, an eyebrow-raiser for Hawkeye). Although I had little with the way of clothes, I attempted to fill the drawers of both pieces with what little I had left from Korea. Mostly, it was Army fatigues, the occasional boyish articles I used, patterns from Japan and Korea and some of Hawkeye's leftovers he hardly put miles into and didn't miss. The jewelry and makeup I gained over my tenure in Korea found a place too.
After a few minutes of fussing over placement, I snuck out to wash. Bundling a kimono, green shorts and a 4077th t-shirt in my hands, I tiptoed past Shannon's room and shut the bathroom door quietly behind me. I stripped myself of my uniform, tossing that into the hamper, and ran the water. Steam tickled through my fingers as I worked the mechanism to transform the bath into a shower. Then, I climbed in, closing the curtain behind me, and began scrubbing.
It didn't take long for me to realize that I was rushing through the motions. I half-expected some nurse or Tom peeker to knock on the door and claim their turn or have Colonel Potter announce that there was a water shortage. I slowed down, relaxing a little to enjoy the endless time I had without being on call. I found Daniel's choices perfect, using the scented liquids and cleanser to clean myself multiple times. By the third coating, Hawkeye was banging on the door and demanding what was taking so long. I had been in there for forty-five minutes.
"Can't a woman have some peace?" I shouted back, mindful that my daughter was sleeping nearby.
"Yeah, but not at the expense of those who await their turn," Hawkeye replied in a taunting manner.
I took the hint. Rinsing out the last of the soap, I shut everything down and dried off. I took my sweet time doing that too, wrapping my hair in the towel as I dressed. I emerged in a cloud and walked downstairs. I heard Hawkeye and Daniel talking about something quietly on the couch. When they saw me easing into their presence, they both ceased their conversation and looked at me. Chilled from the raw air, I wrapped myself tighter in the kimono and approached them.
Hawkeye pulled me towards him when I was within range and seated me in his lap. Daniel said nothing, picking up where they left off. Apparently, the two had been discussing some local business. While the clinic in the next town over (Belfast) had wanted Hawkeye upon his return from Korea, pressing matters in Crabapple Cove urged him to remain here because of what was at stake. Daniel (who worked there part time) was cautioning him to choose wisely since the clinic was now being run by someone who did not care for patient needs and solely spent his time collecting money and hounding ill people with bills, unnecessary care and a horrible bedside manner.
The politics made me sick. I had never worked for a civilian medical field like Hawkeye. I had been in military hospitals. While there were always procedures and paperwork one must go through, there was never a moment where somebody used their position for gain unless it was restraining a patient. Granted, the head nurses I worked for had been bitches who knew business and did not tolerate the crass comments from the sick and wounded men. This was purely disgusting.
Daniel noticed my discomfort. "I think we should put this off for now, Hawkeye. You just got home. There'll be another day to think about it."
I nudged Hawkeye in the shoulder. "Besides, it's your turn."
"If there's hot water left," he teased back.
"The hot water tank was replaced last year," Daniel offered. "There should be some hot water left, but not much."
"See?" I stuck my tongue out at Hawkeye. "I wasn't too bad."
"Almost an hour in there and I would have to call you a prune," Hawkeye said.
Daniel watched our exchange with amusement. Cutting into the biting as a moderator, he directed Hawkeye upstairs. Love agreed. I scooted off of his lap and allowed him to get up. Once he disappeared though, it left me with Daniel. The earlier conversation I had with him seemed to fade away. Indeed, the silence between us was a little awkward. However, I wanted to make the most of it and so did he. It was obvious that he loved me and did not mind me being around. The circumstances involving my joining the family did not faze him as much as the community did it seemed, but that was another story. I will discover more later.
"Hawkeye's told me a lot about you," Daniel began. "Yet, he likes to keep you all to himself. Where did you come from?"
"Bloomington, Illinois." I figured he did not seem to know about the endless moves I endured as a child before settling there.
"And you stayed in the Army for how long?" he asked.
"And you wanted to leave because of Hawkeye and Shannon?"
I stopped myself from telling him about my CIA dealings, Flagg and West Germany. The story itself was unbelievable. I decided to save it for another rainy day. "In short, yes," I answered honestly. "I had to jump through some hoops to make it happen, but yes, I did."
Daniel was quiet for a moment. He appeared to be thinking. "That must have been very difficult."
"It was," I admitted.
He wanted to tell me something. The features on Daniel's face resembled a man who desired to spill all of his secrets and all of them of loneliness and despair over his only son. The anguish he must have endured when Hawkeye was in Korea was astonishing. Other than taking custody of Shannon, glimpsing at us alive had been the one of the best days of his life. I did not see Daniel at the airport initially when Hawkeye ran to see him, but the joy I witnessed upon our union was enough to let me know that he had been so worried about us.
"I think you're due for a tour of the house," Daniel finally said, clearing his throat. He stood up.
I did the same, following him around as he explained each room on the first floor. I was familiar with the living room and adjacent closet and the dining room. Nearby was the kitchen, with a back room and hallway that led to the porch and yard (which had some grass, a small garden and a clothes line) and the beach. The door with signs asking for privacy and no entry had been examination rooms. If nobody could reach the clinic, Daniel allowed the residents of the town to drop in.
It was also a sanctuary for him too. He did not say it in so many words, but Daniel sought solitude in those rooms when nobody was around. He was aware that I am a nurse and requested that I only be there when required. Once he and Hawkeye had established a more normal schedule, I was given freedom to set up the appointments here whichever way I liked. As I learned, usually people in Crabapple Cove came at all hours with all sorts of ailments, especially since they knew Daniel to be alone and Hawkeye overseas, but since the routine had changed, I was now in control. Daniel also showed me a list (posted in the kitchen) of who can come and who is considered annoying as hell.
The power to control this household was scary, albeit exciting. Me, alone to make the decisions of this abode by the sea? To tell people off if I wanted privacy and redirect them to another medical facility if time demanded it of me and my family? To refuse service to people who are outright nasty and shocking in their demands? To not be taken advantage of in my first days here?
It was unheard of, outrageous and even ridiculous. But I loved it.
Daniel saw the delight and continued the excursion. He led me to the small basement, where there was a new washer and dryer. There were some boxes there too, labeled and dusty with age, but Daniel did not express an interest to discuss them with me. He skimmed over their importance, explaining instead how he used the financial means I sent him to support Shannon while savings most of it in a bank account with mine and Hawkeye's name on it. Eventually, after I nodded in approval for his prudence and appropriate use of the funds I sent (which was almost all that was promised to me monthly), he showed me the upstairs and the second set of stairs leading up to the attic.
There was so much to digest that my head spun faster. Daniel stopped when he droned into the neighbors and what to expect from the locality. Noticing how confused I was, he stopped and decided that we should navigate to our point of origin. I conceded, behind him as we strolled down to the living room. We were again situated in the same positions we were when Hawkeye went to take his shower. Only this time, I was studying the black and white pictures on the wall above the mantel and the rows that accompanied them on the other partitions as well.
There were so many of them, more than I realized. I recognized Daniel as a younger man with a woman who I knew to be his wife, nicknamed Annabeth because her Italian name was too hard to pronounce. Then, there was Hawkeye and a little girl who was similar in appearances to my own daughter except for the features that belonged to me. I deduced that she was Hawkeye's now-dead sister, Loretta. Their photos went for a few years before Hawkeye became the sole star in each shot. This continued for a while until one of Hawkeye stood out.
He was in uniform. It must have been before he was shipped to Korea and after basic training. He and Daniel were practically hugging each other in this photo, close to tears by the way their eyes shone. I was transfixed upon it, almost transported back in time over three years ago, when all the ROK had left to its name was Pusan and the bloody perimeter was moved along with us. Hawkeye never talked much about those days, choosing some nights to dedicate his drinking to the lonesome burden of Army training. BJ, Charles and I always toasted it, forgetting how tough it was to be in a camp where the only thing you had to listen to was a drill sergeant, teaching you how to save your own skin.
Daniel noticed where my attention was. "There's a few over there too," he said, pointing to another side, this time in the dining room. "I saved the best for last."
I obeyed his directions and was floored. I had to catch my breath. The ones he called the best had been of us. First, there was me and Hawkeye, maybe a month or so after we started dating. We were bundled up in the Korean autumn, smiling at a camera that did not show our mental anguish. Then, there was the three of us and Shannon, sitting in the Swamp together. I did not remember who took it (possibly Trapper or Henry, they both had cameras and little film). It was precious though and it brought tears to my eyes.
There was more from Korea, things I didn't think Daniel would proudly display. The Fort Dix one loomed large and recent. There were only a handful of us conducting random activities. Some had been of us actually posing or goofing around (depended on the moment) and others with our campmates. The last four had been our wedding, sent by Klinger as promised. Hawkeye and I had been dancing in one, stuffing cake in each other's mouths in the second, kissing in a corner of the Mess Tent in the third and waving goodbye in the jeep in the last.
The rest had been Shannon. While I could fill albums with that smile, Daniel had some that even I was envious of. Each month she marked a milestone, she grew larger and more like Hawkeye. The last few months, she had been the center of attention, drawn to the viewer as the prominent little lady of the house. There had been one of her outside or making sandcastles or even swinging on a bench on the porch. All of them, she was safe and quite happy. She was a very-much loved little girl.
Daniel broke me from my reverie. "I want to show you something else."
I was startled and only got up with Daniel as he pushed through to one more room on this floor. I thought he had shown me every nook and cranny in this house. This one I did not notice. He took a key out of his front pocket and opened a side door underneath the stairs. He excused himself for a moment, disappearing into the kitchen. He came back with a light bulb and vanished into the vast darkness ahead. When he popped his head out, a light flashed behind him.
He invited me in. "This was…my wife's private space," he introduced quietly. "She would come in here when she needed to be alone."
I entered. The room was chilly and practically bare. The walls were paled, the blue paint faded with age. Old boxes also graced the floor, crumpled down like accordions. There was an old secretary's desk next to a curtained window, sans a chair. Another window on the far left was covered. The rest of the room was empty.
"What do you mean?" I asked, flattered. "This is for me?"
"That's right," Daniel answered softly. He was speaking weakly, having to hold back his emotions. This was upsetting him more than he was letting on. "Everything your mother sends you, put it in there. Anything in here is yours. This is a room for you and what you used to be and do not want to show us. Outside, you're Jeanie Pierce, a wife and mother who needs to be strong and responsible. In here, you are Jeanie Morrison, a complex and multi-layered personality that nobody, not even Hawkeye, cannot see without your consent."
I was still amazed that Daniel had gifted me this. "What about Hawkeye though?"
"Don't worry about him. He'll understand that, in order to come into your world, he needs to ask permission." Daniel rubbed his arms with his hands. "You've come into his life and chose to leave behind your life. Sometimes though, a woman needs to remember where she came from and why she walked away from it. You're stronger than you'll ever know, Jeanie. I hope you eventually understand that."
When we heard Hawkeye coming down the stairs with promises of gags and giggles, we decided to close shop and not talk of this in front of Hawkeye for now. Daniel handed me the key and closed up when we exited that cold room, forever leaving me in control of something else. I didn't know how to take it. In the meantime, we had more important matters to contend with, namely Hawkeye. He saw our exodus and stopped dead in his tracks, his mouth hung over in surprise.
Hawkeye stuttered a few words of disbelief. I couldn't comprehend them because they ran on, one sentence after another that did not make sense. It was a tad different than what I was used to. The sadness behind his mother and sister's deaths was definitely fueling this latest display of shock. I would have retaliated and uttered an apology, but his father got there first. Daniel put a reassuring hand on his shoulder and smiled. He whispered something in Hawkeye's ear. I didn't catch it, but it ceased Love's insistent noises.
Afterward, Daniel declared that he was ready for bed. He kissed Hawkeye's forehead and then mine before climbing up to his room. When the click from his bedroom echoed, Hawkeye shuffled his feet uncomfortably and mumbled something. When he was finished acting like a scared schoolboy, he slicked back his wet hair and offered to escort me to bed in his own silent way. I accepted, taking the silent trip as a sign. Hawkeye was pondering this new development. It wasn't a bad one, but the way his Dad acted was a total change from before.
Once Hawkeye ensured that all of the lights were doused behind us, he too shut our chamber door. He faced me as I crawled to my side of the bed. "Can I come in?"
I was confused for a moment until it hit me. Hawkeye was requesting permission to enter my room downstairs. I thought for a moment. "Not yet. I need a few days to stew on that."
He accepted the answer. Taking his place on the opposite side, Hawkeye reached over to a lamp behind him and switched it off. He crawled closer to me and held on tightly, positioning my head underneath his. It was comfortable, but insomnia crept in. It was frightening in this new aftermath, full of terror and misunderstanding. Other than the relenting rain and waves outside, the only noise that could possibly lull us to sleep was the house creaking, swaying back and forth with the wind.
It was going to be another long night. If I wasn't going to dream of the war, Hawkeye will. If we were lucky, our surreal adventures would only consist of the innocent, walking hand-in-hand with avenues that did not have a bloodbath dirtying our boots and white gowns.
If only we were that fortunate…