Porch Swings

by Katie P.

BJ Hunnicutt sighed as he sipped his martini. He rarely drank anymore but today, a martini was all he could think to have. For the first time in years, he was alone at Thanksgiving. How had he gotten to this place? he thought to himself, as he swung slowly on his porch swing. He let his eyes close as he thought back over his life. Ironic, he thought, that so many of the defining moments of his life took place on this very porch swing. He remembered the first night he and Peg had spent together in this house, swinging on the swing, talking excitedly about their future lives together. He remembered the extreme joy he had felt hearing that Peg was pregnant with Erin, and later, with his son Mike. He even managed a grin as he thought about the argument he and Peg had had over his wanting to call his son Hawkeye. As his thoughts floated through the early years of Mike's life, he began to cry as he thought of those same years in Erin's life, the years he had missed when Uncle Sam had sent him camping in Korea. He had thought he would never experience a worse moment than when he had opened his draft notice on this swing. They had just brought Erin home from the hospital and he was being ripped away from her. The thoughts still brought him pain. How much those years in the war had changed his life. He thought then of his first night home after the war. He had been so excited to come home, expecting just to fall into his regular life. What he hadn't expected was to feel so much a stranger in his own home. He knew it would hurt to leave the people of the 4077th, he just didn't think it would hurt that much. He hadn't been able to sleep that night, and Peg had found him crying in this swing at 1 in the morning. He wanted to tell her why he hurt, but he wanted to shield her from the horrors he had seen even more. But when he saw the pained look on her face, he had broken down and told her of his immense longing for the familiarity of the Swamp, and Hawk's snoring, and the "meals" in the mess tent. Peg had been the one that had made him call Hawkeye that night. It was during that conversation that he and Hawk had pledged to spend every Thanksgiving together, alternating who would visit whom. Just knowing he would see his long distance best friend again had helped him so much. But now BJ knew he would never see Hawk again, and that thought brought tears to his eyes. It had been a rough year for BJ, and it had all started on that awful day in February, when the mailman again brought bad news to the Hunnicutt porch swing. Hawk had been treating a sledding accident at the Pierce family practice he had once shared with his dad in Crabapple Cove, and was very tired when he was driving home. He had never seen the car that hit him. Damn that drunk driver! Damn him to hell! thought BJ. He had robbed him of his best friend. Giving the eulogy was one of the hardest things he had ever done, that is, until he had to bury his beloved Peg. Peg. My god I miss you, he thought. The trip home from Maine had been rough on Peg, and when she was still feeling sick after a few weeks, she had gone to the doctor. She had cooked an amazing dinner that night, and was sitting on the swing with BJ when she had told him the saddest news he had never wanted to hear. It was cancer, she said. Cancer. The word made him shudder. In his heart, he knew they had made great advances in the treatments of cancer, but in his head he was still a doctor. He knew just from looking at her that it had progressed too far to be helped. She had made it until August, but by the end, she wasn't even herself anymore. She was in pain, and BJ knew it. It had hurt him so much to see his beloved wife hurting so badly, and it hurt him even more to know he could do nothing about it. Abruptly, he shook himself from his thoughts. They just hurt him too much. He again realized how very alone he was. Erin was spending the holiday with her husband's family in San Diego, and Mike was too busy with his residency in Boston to come home. BJ had thought about tagging along with either of his kids, but he knew there was only one place that he needed to be that Thanksgiving. And with that thought, he finished his drink, got up, and went inside to finish packing.

I can't believe how dumb I was to tell Beej to go skiing with his college buddies, thought Margaret as she pulled the afghan tighter around her shoulders. It was very cold outside, as is usual in Maine on Thanksgiving, but she couldn't bring herself to go in from the porch swing. If only Ben was here. Then I wouldn't be so alone. God how she hated that drunk driver. And to make matters worse, she knew that awful man was out of jail and was probably still as drunk. She needed to be with someone this Thanksgiving, but she knew there was no one. Both of the girls had gone to spend the Thanksgiving holiday with their husbands, promising her to bring the grandkids for Christmas. And Beej had wanted to go skiing so badly that Margaret hadn't the heart to beg him to stay with her. She had been alone before, but she hadn't expected to be this lonely. If only they still spent Thanksgiving with the Hunnicutts. She couldn't remember when they had stopped, but right now, she wished they hadn't. Sure, they had remained in touch, seeing each other for births and graduations, weddings, and most recently, funerals but she missed the Thanksgivings they had spent as a makeshift family. I hope BJ is holding up. I'm sure Erin is with him though. He'll be fine, I'm sure. Better than I'm doing. She remembered with melancholy fondness how the two couples had frequently retreated to their porch swings after the big dinner just to talk. Initially they had shared memories of the war, but those conversations quickly turned to kids and careers, among other things. If only this porch swing could tell the stories it had heard and the things it had seen, Margaret thought to herself. All the times she had sat here with Ben and his dad, listening to stories of Hawkeye growing up and what his mother had been like. How Ben had almost broke the swing when he had jumped up on it after he had proposed and she had said yes. How he had broke the swing and had to rebuild it when she had told him she was pregnant with twin girls. All the times Ben and his dad would sit and discuss tough cases at work. All the neighbors that had come by over the years to spread the gossip of Crabapple Cove. How she had held Ben here after his father had died of a heart attack in his sleep. If only someone had been there to hold her after Ben had died. So many people thought she was the strong one, but without Ben there to hold her up, she knew she wasn't. The house had been so full of life, even as they grew old together. But now, it just felt lonely. At the thought of how alone she was, the tears began to fall.

Her back was to him as he pulled up to the house he knew so well, and he could tell she was crying. He knew right then that he had made the right choice. She had needed him as much as he had needed her. They were the only two people on earth who knew how each other felt. He dropped his bag on the sidewalk and ran up to her. He didn't say anything as he put his arms around her. They sat there crying and holding each other for what seemed like hours before either of them spoke.

"God, I must look awful. I'm sorry BJ, you must be so disappointed to find me here like this," Margaret said quickly as she wiped her face.

"Margaret, you look as beautiful today as the day you married Hawkeye."

"Did I know you were coming? I didn't even prepare any food. How irresponsible of me!"

"No, you didn't know I was coming, because until last night, I didn't even know. But I realized that I needed you, and I had a feeling that the tough Major Houlihan might just need a friend today too. Now come on, lets go clean up and find some food." Together, they walked inside, and an hour later, they were enjoying burgers and fries at the only restaurant open in town, a McDonald's that had opened just last year, despite the opposition from the townspeople of the Cove. They talked and supported each other as both dealt with the losses of best friends and lovers over the last year. After their dinner, as they had done so many years before, they again retreated to the chilly porch swing and made a new pact. They would never again spend Thanksgiving alone. At that thought, both of the swing's occupants closed their eyes and thought of their lost loves. And for a moment, the Pierces and the Hunnicutts once again were together on the porch swing.

The End