M A S H Fan Fiction ❯ Theatre of War ❯ A Fresh Beginning ( Chapter 7 )

[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]

The sound of Klinger knocking animatedly on my door woke this tired priest up with a jolt. I had only slept a wink so I was pretty groggy when he came in, brandishing a tray full of M*A*S*H's finest. The smell made my stomach remember its previous nausea, the bright room spinning in protest.
I managed to pull myself into a seated position just as he slid my desk chair over. Setting the tray down, the man in the dress gave a little nod and smiled.
“Brought you some lunch, Father. Heard about what happened. That's too bad. But, it seems like you are better now.” He straightened the hem of his green ball gown and looked apologetically down at me. “Hope this stuff doesn't make you relapse; I have handbags that taste better.”
He made a face and waited for me to respond. “Oh, yes, that wouldn't surprise me at all, Klinger.” That you have handbags, I wanted to add. My eyes drifted momentarily toward his white lace gloves, but fell to the tray respectfully. “Thank you, Klinger. I admit that I do feel...a bit hungry. Food would do me some good.”
“Shame you have to settle for this then.”
Without another word the man sashayed from my tent, leaving me for other KP duties I suppose. He was constantly on one job or another, Colonel Potter kept him fairly busy. With all his crazy schemes I guess it was for the best; keep him preoccupied and there would be no time for Section Eight proposals.
Although I do admit some of his ideas were quite funny to witness. Ah, well.
I took up my fork and proceeded to eat against my better judgment, dizziness slipping away to reveal a massive headache. I was almost through what tasted like rubber tire, when another knock came from my door.
It was softer than the first, and for that I was grateful. Not many people would be so subtle, so I ran down the list of potential names guessing who it was.
“Please, come in.”
My pulse raced at the hope it might be Lena. Maybe Hawkeye had talked to her, told her about the next two days. Maybe she had forgiven me. I was giddy as a schoolboy, besides the raging headache.
“Are you still there? You may come in.”
The door cracked open a notch and a teddy bear passed through. I thought that was odd, until Radar O'Reilly followed close behind, holding onto his bear by the waist.
“Father Mulcahy, sir?” The man came in and shut the door quietly, affectionately clutching his stuffed friend. “Oh, good, you're up sir. I was afraid I'd wake you.” He respectfully stood near my desk, shuffling his feet.
“How are you doing, Father?”
I smiled, setting down my fork. “A bit better, thank you Radar.” My eyes kept wandering to the teddy bear, wondering where that fit in. “Um...how are you?”
“Who, me? I'm real good, sir.” He rocked awkwardly in place for a second, looking rather uneasy. “Um, Father Mulcahy, sir? Sir, I know it isn't much, but...” The man made a face and hesitantly offered the bear to me.
“He's been my friend for a while now sir, and - and....he's always taken good care of me when I've been sick.” Corporal O'Reilly hastily reclaimed his bear and squeezed it protectively against his chest, “I thought, I mean...I was wondering - if you might need a friend too...well...”
I could tell that Radar did not really want to give his friend to me. The intention was nice, and I appreciated it, but I didn't have the heart to part a man and his bear. I smiled as best I could and shook my head slowly.
“Thank you Radar, that means a lot to me. But I think your bear would be happiest with you, don't you agree?”
The man immediately sagged into a more comfortable position. “Oh, yes sir! I mean...are you sure, sir?” A question that was almost a plea; yes I was sure. And I stated as much with a simple nod. “Well, thank you sir. I hope you get feeling better. After you helped Fluffy get better, boy, you just have to!”
“How is Fluffy doing?” I thought it was a safe question to ask, and Radar grinned approvingly.
“She's just great! Your blessing really did the trick, Father Mulcahy.” He squeezed his bear again, softening his grin into a thin line. “Bongo was happy to see she was better, too.”
The name sounded familiar, but Radar had so many pets it was hard to keep them straight. “'Bongo', Radar?”
“My rabbit, sir. My other rabbit, sir. I keep Bongo and Fluffy in separate cages because he's a he and she's a she, Father. Otherwise - you know what they say about...you know...” He gave a little fit, looking quite embarrassed, speaking so low I strained to hear. “...rabbits...”
“Ahh, yes.”
I knew what he was getting at. Even a priest knew about such things. A thought struck me, watching the man hold his teddy bear dangerously close to himself. He'd be a safe person to ask, seeing as he knew where almost everyone was at all times. It was part of his job.
“Um, Radar? Do you happen to know where Lieuten -“
“- Lieutenant Trepp is on Post-OP duty, sir. She won't be off `til around dinnertime.”
How did he do that? I straightened and nodded, just in time to catch a wave of goodbye as the man disappeared from my tent. Odd. Now I knew how Colonel Potter must feel. I went back to eating, dwelling on his words.
That was hours from now, I had to do something to take my mind off of things. I couldn't explain why, but the worry that Lena wouldn't forgive me was alarming. Yes, she was from my home town - or close by, at least. I wanted desperately to catch up on life outside of Korea, which I really had yet to do. And yes, she was a devout Catholic - something I couldn't say about too many other people in this unit. She'd be a good person to converse with and maybe help out on my sermons from time to time. Heaven knows I had writer's block most days.
But that didn't explain the anxiety. I had hurt her feelings and felt rotten, maybe that was it?
I shook my head and frowned. I was dreading the hours to come.
I couldn't bring myself to eat anymore so I set down my fork and slunk further into the cot, examining the sun dappled ceiling above. It had to be past noon by now. My eyelids felt heavy and dry, brain still pounding in my ears.
Sleep wouldn't be a hard thing to accomplish today, I decided, sluggishly counting the unfinished nails holding my tent together. I closed my eyes and let go.
A few hours later another round of knocks interrupted my rest and BJ came in to check on me. He and I talked briefly about my aches and pains, and then moved on to take my temperature and blood pressure - both of which had remained normal, more or less.
I asked about the wounded and BJ informed me most, if not all, were being dispatched today. Some severe cases had to wait to stabilize of course, but the mess tent had been reclaimed and Post-OP had all but vacated. The Christmas Rush was over, or so BJ promised.
As time went by we even discussed Peggy and Erin, BJ's family back home. I could tell the man had been worrying for quite some time, but he bottled it in well.
I guess with me bedridden for the day, now was the best time to uncork those troubles.
“- and she couldn't understand why I was upset! I tried to talk to her on the phone about it, but you know these signals - I was lucky to reach her at all.”
He shook his head and collapsed onto my chair, the tray suspiciously gone. Briefly I pondered over who might have snuck in to fetch it while I was asleep. Probably not Klinger, as his stunning entrance before had woken me up forcefully. Hmm.
“Got halfway through the fight and the line disconnected before I could tell her how much I love her.” BJ sank into his palms, sighing deeply. “I just hate this war. If I hadn't been drafted I'd be home - holding Erin in my arms, kissing Peggy; being a father and husband, working in a clinic with sanitary conditions. No fighting over the phone, no mail-to-mail relationship - no worries, just...living the life I wanted for so long.”
I gave him a sympathetic frown and patted his shoulder. “My son, I know this is difficult for you. It is difficult for many. But your wife knows how much you love her, and she is lucky to have such a devoted husband.
“The war won't last forever, you'll be home again. All in due time.”
“I know Father, it's just - I don't want Erin growing up without knowing me. I don't want Peggy forgetting me, or missing me, or finding solace in another man.”
“She's been faithful to you for so long, BJ; have a little faith in her, too.” I did well to sound gentle, and the man seemed to appreciate the effort.
He considered my words for a moment and nodded. “But she keeps talking about her `new friend', Paul Dellar. He's our neighbor so I guess that might be a factor, but -”
“Do you trust your wife, BJ?” I cut him off deliberately, since I could tell this was going no where. As long as the man had doubt he'd never be fully happy or at ease. Perhaps I could get him to see past all that and remember what was important.
“Of course! But sometimes -”
“Your wife knows you love her, and she loves you too. Don't let the war ruin that trust, my son.”
I coughed a bit, my lungs feeling weak. Hawkeye claimed they were safe from harm earlier, but that was hours ago. BJ took note of this and got out his stethoscope, making sure to puff some hot air on the end before putting it to skin.
“Symptoms can manifest anywhere from eight to ten hours after exposure,” he explained with a light frown, listening to me exhale. “Over the next twenty four hours, expect a few house calls.”
He asked me to inhale deeply and I obeyed. A dull pain ached when I did, and I told BJ accordingly.
“Pneumonia can be a deadly disease if not taken care of properly. Actually, without an X-Ray and a few tests, I'm not even sure that's what you have. Leave it to Korea to get someone sick.” He deposited his tool into his bag and got up to leave, returning the chair to my desk. “Your breathing seems to be normal for the most part, but there are a few areas that sound fainter than others. I'll have Nurse Kellye come by a little bit later and get a sample of your blood. You will get some rest in the mean time.
“Right now, most of the staff are loading up wounded for Seoul. I should really get back myself; we need to get the majority packed before dark or they will be at the mercy of Guerrilla. No worries Father, we'll take good care of you. Get some rest.”
With a quick goodbye, the man left me alone to sleep once more.
It was funny but I hadn't been this popular since the war began.
The darkness my eyes met when they opened once more startled me, I must have been so tired dreams never came. Seemed like only a moment had passed but that was obviously not the case.
Nurse Kellye had never come by, and I wondered what had happened. Perhaps the medical staff had been so busy they simply forgot about me?
I had been rather scarce these last few weeks, maybe I slipped their minds.
My stomach growled at the thought of food - even food of the inedible kind. It must have been close to dinnertime by now, if not past it. Where was Nurse Kellye? Where were Hawkeye and BJ - Klinger and Radar? My worry encompassed all sorts of ideas, ranging from more wounded to simple poor memory.
Not once did my mind touch on Lena, so imagine my surprise when a knock on the door turned out to be her. She carried a tray of food, and for that I was intensely grateful. My breath caught in my throat as I watched her light my lamp and pull a chair over to my bedside.
My stomach showed its loud appreciation before I could, and the woman grinned brightly down at me.
“Good evening, Father.”
Had she forgiven me already? Lena looked a bit more tired than before, the skin around her eyes taking on an ashen hue. Dark hair wound in her bun was dangling in places, no doubt from working hard all day, and with a hand she carefully brushed some from her mouth.
I looked away timidly, removing my hungry eyes from the tray. “Good evening, Lena. How are you?” With a voice so soft, I hoped she heard me. I dared a glance and saw her lips drawn into a tiny smile.
“I'm just fine, Father. How has your Christmas been going?”
No anger was present, no sadness or woe. Lena was exhausted but seemed to be just as kind as always. With a pang of guilt, I suddenly registered her question. It was still Christmas. I was so tired it hadn't even occurred to me.
“Merry Christmas, Lena.”
My hasty blurt was so unexpected she raised her eyebrows and grinned. “Merry Christmas to you, too, Father.” The woman looked puzzled, but shook it away. “Does that mean you're feeling better?”
I nodded, wondering why in God's Name she was sitting here with me. What had Hawkeye told her exactly? I was about to inquire when Lena spoke instead.
“I know you must be hungry, here -” she gently rested the tray on my lap and helped me sit up. “If you're lucky, the food will still be warm. Cold imitation turkey is worse than hot imitation turkey.” Fixing the pillows behind me, Lena gave a tender smile and pulled away.
I noticed her perfume had faded with the day, its usual bouquet now barely a whisper. “Thank you.”
She nodded and plopped unceremoniously back down into the chair, looking determined to talk despite her tired eyelids. “I wanted to apologize, Father. I shouldn't have acted the way I did.”
I almost choked on the gray mash. “What? Lena, I should be apologizing to you. I'm the one who -”
“I know you were avoiding me - but that's alright; I'm sure you had your reasons. I'm afraid I allowed homesickness to affect my judgment. If anything, experience should have taught me members of the clergy keep to themselves.
“There was a priest back home who I was quite fond of. Grew up as friends actually. When Maurie elected to...enter the priesthood, I believed our friendship would remain the same. Why shouldn't it, we were inseparable for ages. But...to say he avoided me afterwards would be an understatement at best. Towards the end...I think he even began to hate me.
“My constant pushing - I ignored the obvious discomfort I was causing him. Sometimes I don't know when to quit I guess. I...I had to accept that he and I would never have that sort of relationship again and move on. It was difficult, but -” She sighed, shrugging.
“I should have realized, and I'm sorry. You'd think I would learn.” Lena glanced at me and shook her head earnestly. “No need to apologize, you've done nothing wrong.”
She pulled the corners of her mouth up with regret, taking her eyes off me so I could resume eating in peace. A thought struck and I dropped the fork, startling Lena. Katherine's letter! Of course!
The crisp parchment still lay at my side where I had abandoned it earlier, crumpled in places from being gripped too hard.
“Lena, I want to show you something -” offering it to her, I smiled reassuringly. “- please, here; take it.”
She hesitantly accepted and cracked open the letter. I waved my encouragement, wanting the woman to read. Her blue eyes flickered back and forth slowly, taking in the words. Every few lines she'd look up over the paper at me, but I'd urge her along with an enthusiastic hand. Any second now she would find the section that concerned her, or at least, I hoped concerned her. Any second now.
“Father -?” those blue eyes found mine once more, an unspoken question lingering within their depths. She pressed a hand to her mouth and continued reading.
I couldn't contain my excitement, I had to tell her. “My sister Katherine is a nun,” I began, no longer able to hide my smile. “She was recently transferred to Saint Cecilia's in -”
“Fox Chase,” Sudden interest erased all signs of fatigue on her face. Lena looked younger, vibrant, that wonderful childlike spark returned full force. She reread the words to herself, face spreading into a wide grin. “Father! This is -”
“I know,” I nodded quickly, the eagerness from the day before once again filling my heart. “And that visiting priest - Father Maurice, I believe was his name - he comes from Saint Joachim's. That's where you said you attended, wasn't it?”
Happiness had softened the woman's features, Lena's eyes distant and dancing with light. “Maurice, my goodness.” She exhaled slowly and read Katherine's words aloud, “`Father Maurice says she was a great girl, a doctor even. They were all sad to see her go.' A great girl, did Maurie really say that?” Lena looked up and gave me a tear-filled glance. “Oh, Father...”
Another watery smile graced her lips and I felt my face flush. Was my fever back? Lena didn't seem to notice, rereading the letter for a third time, shaking her head in amazement.
I nervously rubbed my hand. “I do feel awful about avoiding you, Lena. Not many people talk to me unless they wish to make a confession, I wasn't sure if I'd be a good friend or not. I was afraid of...well, I was afraid.
“I'd like to try again, start anew.” My ears were tingling, eyes downcast. I was too worried to look up and see her response so I studied my blanket instead. “That is of course, if you will still have me.”
Out of the corner of my eye I saw the slightest of movements. Was she smiling? I couldn't tell, though I hoped she was.
“Merry Christmas, Lena.” I whispered again, soft enough to go unnoticed.
In one fluid motion, Lena stood and embraced me, burying her head into the crook of my neck. She was crying soundlessly, warm tears swimming down her face and onto my chin. I was so surprised I couldn't react, sitting there helpless while the woman held me tight.
It took a few moments to register the softness of her skin against mine, the aroma of her wilted perfume drifting in the air around me. Even Lena's hair smelled nice, notes of citrus spiced with cinnamon making me blush. My mind turned dizzy listening to the hum of her breath near my ear, a wisp of hair sweeping my clavicle.
It took a second for me to recognize I had slanted closer, stretching towards her warm scent.
I heard a whisper that brought me back to earth though, muted against the fabric of my robe.
“Thank you, Father. I'd like that very much.”