In Love and Peace
By Kay Em
Disclaimer: The characters, alas, are not mine. They belong to Fox. But once I got the idea, I just had to write it down. By the way, spelling is in English English (not American English), 'cos that's where I am and that's how I write. Constructive feedback and comments welcome! Thanks.
NB – As my French is appalling, please just assume that the phrases written in bold italics are spoken in French! Ta.
"Charles! Good news!"
Charles looked up from the notes he was holding to see Margaret hurrying through the 8063rd Post-op ward towards him.
"Well, peace has broken out already, so I hope you're going to tell me that this little circus is finally folding its tents so we can go home?" he ventured, initialling the notes and clipping them back on the bed rail.
She nodded, smiling. "I just overheard Colonel Wheatley telling Major Parker that we should all be out of here by next week. They'll start shipping us out via Seoul just a soon as these last cases can be moved."
"That is good news. I'll have to see if there isn't anything else I can do to speed these recoveries," said Charles. "At the moment, Private Finian here needs a good three days more before he can go anywhere – and the boy over there with the spinal injury will probably need a day or two longer than that. Still, there are plenty of doctors around here, hopefully someone will realise we don't all have to wait around and compare notes."
"Excuse me, Majors?" Stevens, the 8063rds clerk put his head around the door. "There's a lady out here who's looking for someone from the 4077th – could you help her out at all, please?"
With a 'why not?' shrug, Charles followed Margaret out to the compound – and realised immediately that Stevens had used the word 'lady' advisedly. The young woman in front of them was both lovely and elegant. Her clothes, though practical, were well cut and set off by understated but beautifully-made accessories.
"Hello," he said, stepping forward and extending his right hand for her to shake. "I'm Dr Charles Emerson Winchester, and this is Major Margaret Houlihan. I understand you're looking for someone from our old unit?"
"The 4077th, yes doctor. Do you know Captain Pierce?"
Charles nearly fell over. What on earth could such an elegant and attractive woman possibly want with Hawkeye Pierce?
"Sure we know him," said Margaret, cutting in before Charles could say anything, "But he went straight to Seoul when the 4077th was disbanded – he's probably been shipped home by now."
"Oh. That is a pity. I would have liked to have seen him again, to say goodbye."
She looked so disappointed that Charles found himself saying, "Well – we could call Seoul, couldn't we? And find out?"
"Could you?" The disappointment was replaced by hope. "That would be very kind. Oh – please excuse me, I have not yet told you my name. I am Min Kyung Soon. Hawkeye – Captain Pierce – he tried to help my mother when she was very sick. He was… very kind to me."
"Oh wait, I remember," said Margaret, "You moved south when your mother died? This would be about two years ago?"
"Yes, that's right! Did Hawkeye mention me then?"
"He sure did!" said Margaret. "You remember, Charles? Hawkeye was back and forth to Kyung Soon's estate for about a fortnight while the old lady was sick."
"Oh yes – I do vaguely recall two weeks of relative peace and quiet in the Swamp," he said, "But I'd not been in Korea very long, I was still in shock at the time."
"Is that what you'd call it?" said Margaret, dryly. "Kyung Soon, it's a pleasure to meet you. Why don't we go talk to Corporal Stevens right now and see what we can find out?"
Stevens was almost as helpful as Radar or Klinger would have been in the same circumstances, and before long Margaret and Charles between them had managed to pull enough rank and call in enough favours to establish that Hawkeye was still in Seoul, helping out the Military Hospital there.
"He should have flown out last week," said Margaret, handing Kyung Soon a piece of paper with the Hospital details on it, "But he found out they were short on doctors there and he volunteered to stay on until more of the wounded have been evacuated."
"Always said his sentiment would be his undoing," muttered Charles, "Still, it does mean that Kyung Soon will be able to see him again. Though heaven alone knows why any woman would want to."
Margaret grinned. "I'll second that!"
"I doubt that," said Charles, "Given the way you kissed him goodbye. Ouch! You…"
"So sorry, Major, my foot slipped," she said, giving him one of her 'don't mess with me' smiles. "Kyung Soon, is there anything else we can do to help? I mean – if you're moving back to your estate, there must be things you need?"
"You have an estate?" said Charles, looking at the Korean with renewed interest.
She nodded, and briefly explained to him how she had been forced to move away from her house and land during the worst of the fighting. "But now I come back, hoping to start again," she said, "Though I do not know if it can ever be the same. Right now, I am not even sure if there are landmines in my fields. It will be… difficult."
"I should say that's understating it," said Charles, folding his arms and leaning against Stevens' desk, "Can't the army give you any idea where they buried those things?"
"Which army?" said Kyung Soon, "There have been British, American and North Koreans all over this area. Sorting out who has mined what is going to take a long time, I think."
"I'm afraid it'll probably take a few lives too," said Margaret, "You take care, Kyung Soon – and tell your people too."
"I will," she said, "Thank you. And thank you for finding Hawkeye for me."
"Are you sure there's nothing more we can do to help?" said Charles, as she turned to leave.
She shook her head. "Only if you have a recording of Beethoven's second violin concerto to spare," she said, with a smile, "I'm afraid my copy got smashed somewhere between here and Changnyeong."
The lady was full of surprises, thought Charles, beaming at her. "Would you like the 1946 recording by Yehudi Menuhin and the London Philharmonic, or the 1950 one by the New York Symphony Orchestra?" he said.
Kyung Soon tucked a stray strand of dark hair behind one ear, and gave him a sideways look. "Are you being serious?" she said, doubt edging her voice.
"Perfectly," said Charles, moving across the room to open the door for her, "In fact, if you'll follow me, I'll see what else I can find that hasn't been shipped home yet. Tell me, do you like Mussorgsky at all? Or Mahler…?"
As Charles braked the jeep to a halt outside the broken remains of Kyung Soon's house, she came out into the yard to meet him.
"Hello, Major! It's nice to see you again, but I was not expecting a house-call."
"Well, I've been going through my things, trying to sort everything out in readiness for our imminent transfer to Seoul," he said, swinging out of the jeep and walking around back of it, "And I found a few more bits and pieces that I don't really need to take home with me, and which I thought you might be glad of."
"Cognac?" she said, lifting a bottle out of one of the boxes he lowered to the ground, "Major, this is a good brand – one of the best. Are you sure…?"
"My name is Charles," he said, "And there'll be plenty of that at home. Actually, I'm hoping that once I'm back there, I won't feel the need to drink quite so much of it anyway. Besides, if you look closely, you'll see that it's been opened!"
She returned his smile. "There is plenty left," she said, holding the bottle up to the light. "And what is this? Wine too? Oh – Chateau Margeaux! Wonderful! Thank you, Charles."
"You are entirely welcome," he said, "I brought some rather more practical things too." He lifted another cardboard box from the jeep's back seat. "Major Houlihan and I put together a little First Aid kit for you – and, ah, the Major looked out some clothes, they're in that box over there?"
"Please – take the medicines into the house," she said, pointing the way, and following on with the wine and cognac. "I will find some glasses for this, if you will join me? I would like to offer a toast to you. I do not have anything else to offer but my thanks – and a little kimchi, if you would like some?"
Charles nodded, admiring her fortitude – and the way her dark hair blew in the breeze. "I'd be honoured. I'll just fetch the rest of the things in first," he said, glancing around at the bare, ruined walls, lone wicker chair and broken table. "I'm sorry – I thought medicine and food would be useful, but none of it is going to be much help repairing your roof or your walls."
She smiled. "'We are never either so fortunate or so misfortunate as we imagine'," she said, in flawless French.
Charles responded in kind: "'Our wisdom lies as much at the mercy of fortune as our possessions do'."
Her face glowed with delight. "You know La Rochefoucauld!"
"Why certainly," he said, "Though, if you'll forgive me, I'm a little surprised that you're familiar with his work."
"I studied in Paris many years ago," she said, "I would like to go back some day."
"So would I," said Charles, "Although…" He stopped, bit his lip.
"Although..?" she prompted.
He sighed. "I wouldn't want to go anywhere near the Boulevard St Michel," he said. He looked away, not wanting to explain any further, and headed the conversation in a different direction: "Surely it could not have been too many years ago that you were there? You look far too young for it to have been before the war in Europe, surely?" Remembering why he was there, he shook his head. "I'm sorry, I'm forgetting my chores," he said, heading for the door. Carrying in the rest of the boxes, he placed them in the corner furthest from the holes in the walls, while Kyung Soon busied herself with the cognac and kimchi. She rummaged in one of the boxes and found a tin of artichoke hearts and some paté – as well as a can-opener. By the time Charles had emptied the jeep, she had a small repast prepared on the cracked remains of her mother's best china plates, and had fetched what looked like a milking stool in from the yard.
"I am sorry, I have only one chair," she explained, gesturing toward it.
"No, no, you take the chair, my dear, I'll make do with – er – this," said Charles, eyeing the stool warily before carefully lowering himself onto it.
Kyung Soon giggled. "Perhaps you had better have some cognac," she said, handing him a glass, "A few sips of good brandy and you won't care that that is not an armchair!"
Charles raised his glass to hers. "To you," he said, "May you keep well and stay safe."
"Thank you," she said, sipping the liquor and setting down her glass. "Tomorrow I travel to Seoul," she said, "I need to find out what is to happen with the land – whether anyone will help clear the mines, and how long it will take; whether we will ever be able to farm again without fear, and if we cannot… how we are expected to live."
"And you'll be seeing Captain Pierce while you're there?" said Charles.
"I hope I will," she said, passing him the kimchi. "If only to say a final goodbye."
The jeep squealed to a halt outside the Hotel which Kyung Soon had recommended to Charles. With a sigh of relief he climbed out, and helped Margaret move from the back seat to the front passenger side.
"Sure you're not going to stay here?" he asked, "Kyung Soon said it was used by the top brass, and all the rooms are en suite."
"Charles, I can't afford this!" she said, "The army quarters will be fine, it's what I'm used to after all."
"Well, if you're sure…." A uniformed flunkey from the Hotel came over, and Charles told him which cases to take from the back of the vehicle, before turning his attention back to Margaret. "You know where to find me," he said, "Don't you dare leave town without saying goodbye."
"Likewise," she said, with an affectionate smile. With a wink, she added, "See you around, soldier," and told the driver to "Move it out, Corporal."
Charles stood for a moment watching her go, then turned and followed the porter into the Hotel lobby.
Charles took a very long soak in a tub filled to the brim with hot, soapy water, had a pot of real coffee delivered to his room, and stretched out on the sofa for a couple of hours to revel in the sheer luxury of being able to read in peace. He toyed with the idea of having dinner sent up, but decided he might as well put his uniform back on and try the dining-room, and was pleased that he had when he walked into the restaurant and saw Kyung Soon sitting alone at one of the tables. She was wearing a pale peach suit and wore her hair up. He thought it looked very fetching.
"Perhaps you would ask the lady over there if she would mind my joining her?" he said to the waiter who came over to seat him.
He could see Kyung Soon nod her assent, and crossed the room to pull up a chair opposite her.
"I have only just ordered," she said.
"Then I'll make it easy," said Charles to the waiter, "I'll have the same."
Kyung Soon smiled. "But you don't even know what's on the menu!."
He shrugged. "You are a lady with impeccable taste, how can I do worse than follow your lead? Did you order any wine to go with it?"
"No. I don't like drinking by myself."
He handed her the wine list. "Since you know what we just ordered, perhaps you'd better choose?"
She did so, and he nodded his approval of her choice, an excellent French red of distinctive vintage.
"You know your wine too," he said.
"Of course. How could I spend two years in France and not learn something about their best export?"
"I'll drink to that – when it arrives," said Charles, "But tell me, didn't you find Captain Pierce? I would have expected you to be dining with him."
Kyung Soon looked away, and fiddled with the stem of her wine glass. "I found him," she said, with a sigh, "At the hospital, just like you said. He was talking to another doctor – a lady doctor. She was blonde – foreign, I think. I heard him call her 'Inga'."
"You know her?"
"She… visited the 4077th for a few days last year."
"And got to know Hawkeye?"
He gave an apologetic shrug. "So rumour had it. I'm sorry."
"Yes, I thought so. Hawkeye looked sorry too, when he saw me – once he stopped looking panic-stricken that is." The waiter arrived with the wine, and she waited while it was served before resuming. "It was only for an instant – but I could see that for a moment he was expecting me to hold him to some promise he never made. And I knew that he had forgotten all about me and moved on. It was strange though – I found that I did not really mind." She smiled at Charles, shyly. "Not as much as I think I would have minded a few days ago anyway."
Charles returned her smile, delighted to discover that she liked him too. Then he sighed. "I wish I had a couple of weeks to get to know you better." He shook his head. "Just my luck, I spend two years in the purgatory of a war zone, and just as I'm about to leave I meet someone who might have made those years more bearable, if only we'd met sooner."
"How long before you leave?" she asked.
"I haven't had my papers come through yet," he said, "But I'm sure it will only be a matter of a few days. In any case, won't you be going back to your own home before then?"
She tilted her head as though considering her answer. "I think perhaps it will take longer to sort out the paperwork for my estate than I originally thought," she said, "Maybe even several days."
Charles smiled, and lifted his glass in a toast. "To bureaucracy," he said.
"I wish you could have seen the city before the war," said Kyung Soon, taking Charles' arm as they walked along Seoul's main street the following morning. "It was a lively, happy place, lots of shops, a theatre, cinemas." She pointed to a ruined building on the corner. "I used to go to concerts in there."
"I'm afraid it does rather bear the scars," said Charles. The allies had retaken Seoul from the North two years ago but he could see that more than buildings had been destroyed by the fighting. Everywhere there were signs of an economy in ruins – boarded-up shops, smashed windows, shanty houses leaning precariously against the walls of what had once been much grander structures. Children swarmed around allied soldiers begging for money and food, offering shoe-shines for pennies - or, worse, offering themselves. A half-dozen or so grubby urchins scrambled in front of him now, pushing each other out of the way, vying for his attention, squawking in broken English. Charles resisted the urge to empty his pockets of coins. If he gave money to these, they would be replaced by a dozen more equally pathetic youngsters, and a score more after that.
"They need more than money," said Kyung Soon, as though reading his thoughts.
He nodded. "I know."
Their walk had taken them down to the river. It should have been a sight to lift the heart, a ribbon of silver and blue with lush greenery on the far bank, boats bobbing on the water and sea birds crying overhead. But the broken remains of the bridges that had once spanned it served only as another reminder of battle and bloodshed. On the bank beneath the nearest bridge, Charles could see women washing clothes in the river, hear babies wailing, and smell the smoke from the camp-fires over which tiny fish, and what might have been the odd rat, were cooking. To his surprise, Kyung Soon called to one of the men on the riverbank and waved.
"His name is Kwa Fong," she said, "Before the war, he ran an electrical shop in Pyongyang. But it is in the north, and he does not want to go back. He would like to start again in Seoul, but he does not have money even to feed his family. How is he to start a business? And there are hundreds - no, thousands - like him. They want to work. They want to provide for their families. But they do not know where to start."
Charles looked at her, quizzically. "Kyung Soon, did you bring me here deliberately?" he asked, suspicion creeping into his voice.
Her expression was all innocence. "Of course not! What good would it do to break the heart of a rich American with sob stories about poor Korean families?" she replied, "I wish I could help them more myself, but almost all I have left is my land, and even that it not worth much until I know it is safe. All I can offer is a little food and shelter for a few of these poor people who can help me work the soil," she added, before bending down to say a few words in Korean to one of the children still standing nearby looking hopeful.
He sighed. "Kyung Soon..." He gestured at the ramshackle boards and boxes that served as shelters, spread like a so much litter along the riverbank. "The whole of Korea is like this! It's going to need..." He stopped, suddenly understanding, seeing the opportunity Kyung Soon was showing him. "It's going to need millions," he finished, quietly.
"Yes," she agreed, "But it would be an investment in hard-working, intelligent people who will one day repay you tenfold."
"Or more," said Charles, already multiplying figures in his head. He smiled. "Alright, Kyung Soon, you win. I suppose you have a nice little shop in a good location all picked out for Kwa Fong too, don't you?"
She giggled. "Well, now you mention it..."
When they arrived back at the hotel, there were messages waiting for Charles at the reception desk.
"It's from Margaret," he said, reading the first one, "Uh, Major Houlihan I mean. Her papers came through, she's leaving..." He glanced at the clock, "Good Lord, in an hour! Trust the Army - make you wait years, and then don't give you time to pack! I'm sorry, Kyung Soon, I'll have to skip our lunch. May I buy you dinner later instead?"
"Of course. But perhaps you should check your other message before you rush off? Maybe her flight has been cancelled!"
"Ha! Wouldn't surprise me in the..." He stopped speaking as the message's contents sank in, then re-read it, twice. "I can go home," he said, "The day after tomorrow." He closed his eyes, letting the relief wash over him - then opened them to see Kyung Soon's face and realised it would be harder to leave than he had imagined it would be just a few days ago.
She ducked her head. "You had better get your taxi if you want to get to the airfield," she said, reminding him that he was supposed to be finding Margaret to say his farewells.
He dropped a kiss on the top of her head, promised to see her later and recrossed the lobby to find some transport, wondering why he had to remind himself that he was happy to be going home soon.
At the airfield, Charles found Margaret sitting on her case, surrounded by solicitous junior officers. When she smiled at him and stood up, they all made their excuses and left.
"Would you like me to call them back and explain that I'm just a friend?" he asked, picking up her case.
She laughed and linked an arm through his. "A very good friend," she said, "And I was glad to be rescued." Slowly, they headed toward the exit doors to where Margaret's plane was waiting.
"Where's Pierce, isn't he here?" said Charles, looking around, "I can't believe he wouldn't come to see you off – especially after that kiss he gave you."
"Yeah, well, that was supposed to be 'goodbye'," said Margaret, "But I must admit I thought he'd be here too. Do you suppose he got the time wrong?"
"Possibly," said Charles, though he doubted it. There were plenty of things he could fault Pierce on, but timekeeping wasn't usually one of them. "You have a few minutes yet though – I expect he'll turn up at the last possible moment. You know how he likes to make an entrance."
"Just so long as he's alright," said Margaret, "If he doesn't show, will you check on him for me? Make sure he's okay?"
"Yes. I promise."
Her flight was being boarded and a sergeant with a clipboard was yelling for everyone on his list to get on the plane. Charles handed Margaret the case. "Got your book?" he asked.
"Course I have – right in here." She tapped the case, then dropped it and threw her arms around his neck. "Thanks for everything," she said, her voice sounding choked.
"You too," he said, hugging her tight and not trusting himself to attempt anything more than a whisper. "Take care of yourself, Margaret."
He felt her lips brush his cheek, and he let her go. "Got my address?" he called, as she picked up her case and started across the tarmac.
She looked back. "I don't need it," she called back, "You're in the Boston Yellow Pages, right?"
When she got to the bottom of the steps, she turned around one last time, and Charles snapped her the smartest salute he could muster. She returned it, added a wave, and climbed into the plane.
Charles watched it taxi, take off, circle and climb. "Bye Margaret," he said.
From the airfield, Charles made his way to the Military Hospital and found an orderly with his feet up on the reception desk, his nose buried in a magazine which, from what Charles could see of it, Pierce would heartily approve of.
"When you've quite finished stoking your libido, Private," said Charles, revelling in the effect his rank insignia had around here, and hoping his enjoyment didn't show on his face, "I need to see Captain Pierce. Is he here?"
"Ummm. Major. Sir!" The orderly dropped his magazine, stood up and began to riffle through the paperwork on his desk. "That would be Doctor Pierce?"
"He's in OR, sir. Right along the corridor and..."
"I know where it is, thank you. I also know I cannot just wander in there." He tugged on his left lapel to show the medical insignia. "See? Doctor!"
"Uh, yessir, Major. I just thought..."
"Obviously not your strong point. When Captain Pierce emerges from the Operating Room, tell him that Major Winchester would like to see him. I'll be in the Library till seventeen-hundred hours."
"And..." Charles leaned across the desk a little, letting the orderly know he'd seen the non-regulation reading matter, "Don't forget."
"No, sir! I'll let him know right away sir, as soon as he's finished!"
Charles nodded, satisfied that the man would not let his attention stray until after he'd delivered the message, and went across the compound to the Base's little Library. He found a copy of 'Stars and Stripes' he hadn't read and had got as far as page five when the paper was snatched out of his hands and a grinning Hawkeye said: "What the hell did you do to Thompson? I've never seen him gibber before!"
Charles shrugged. "You mean the dis-Orderly at the desk over there? Bright lad - he and I reached an understanding in no time!"
"You mean you pulled rank on him."
"Well, it's such a pleasure to be able to make my rank count for something," said Charles, with a chuckle, getting to his feet, "I won't have it for much longer anyway, and God knows I didn't get much use out of it at the 4077th."
By unspoken agreement, they headed for the Officers' Club, and Charles waited until they'd ordered their drinks and found a seat before he said: "Didn't you get Margaret's message?"
"Sure! Her papers came through, she leaves lunchtime tomorrow," said Hawkeye, "What about it?"
Charles sipped his cognac while he tried to decide whether Pierce was genuinely mistaken or merely in some sort of denial. He couldn't tell. "Today she left," he said, "She is presently about halfway to Honolulu I should think."
"You wha... She got on a plane?"
"No, of course not, she's swimming there!"
"Don't fool with me Charles, you're kidding me, aren't you? She hasn't really gone! She wouldn't leave without saying goodbye!"
"She said goodbye, Pierce - to me." He pulled his handkerchief from his pocket and rubbed his mouth. "Hope I got all the lipstick off," he teased.
Hawkeye thumped the table, making the drinks shake. "Dammit! I've been in OR most of the day, but I could have gotten over to the airfield...I really missed her, this isn't one of your stupid jokes?"
"My jokes are never stupid, and in any case this isn't one of them." Charles sat back, cradling his drink. "She made me promise to come and find you and make sure you were alright. I expect she thought you might be face down in the mud outside this place or something."
"I'll write and thank her for her concern," said Hawkeye, dryly.
"Well you did get a goodbye kiss, Pierce, you can hardly complain!" said Charles, "And if you'd got on the plane you were scheduled to fly out on, you'd have been home by now anyway."
Hawkeye acknowledged the first comment with a grin, then flapped a hand when Charles mentioned going home. "There's still work to be done here," he said, "Know who I was operating on today? Children. Kids who've been playing in the wide-open spaces we left for them around here - otherwise known as minefields. I can't..." He shook his head and took a slug of drink. "It's all such a mess," he finished, quietly.
"You can't rescue them all," said Charles. "And what about your father? What does he think of your staying out here?"
Hawkeye glared at him, as though angry that Charles had dared bring his father into this; then his gaze softened a little and he nodded. "I didn't tell him I was due back last week. I've got a seat on another plane next week and he's meeting me off of that one. Of course I want to go home, Charles it's just..." He flung out his arms, helplessly. "There's so much to do here. We've thrown an entire country into chaos and now we're all just leaving these poor people to tidy up after us. That might not bother you, but it sure as hell bothers me!"
"Of course it bothers me, Pierce, but there are other ways of helping that don't involve hanging around this hellhole any longer than I have to," retorted Charles, stung. "My plane leaves here at 10 o'clock on Thursday, and I intend to be on it. Nothing on earth would induce me to stay here one minute more than I must!"
"Well don't expect me to be there to wave you off," said Hawkeye.
Charles drained his cognac and stood up. "I wouldn't wave to you if you were there," he said. "And you'll have to excuse me now, Pierce - I've got a date."
He set down the drink and turned to go, then turned back as he heard a call of "Charles, wait!" Quietly, Hawkeye added: "Safe journey, okay?"
Charles nodded, understanding that Pierce had known those whose journey hadn't ended happily. "You too," he said, "And... give my regards to your father."
"It looks like Hawkeye is going to miss your leaving too," said Kyung Soon, looking around the airfield terminal.
"I think he really hates goodbyes," said Charles, putting his case down on the tarmac and turning to take both her hands in his, "So do I."
"Then we should say 'adieu', as they do in France," suggested Kyung Soon. They looked at each other for a long moment; then she said, "Will you write me?"
"Yes, I will. And maybe – once you've got your property sorted out here, you'll come visit me in Boston?" he suggested.
"I would like that – very much," she said, with unmistakable sincerity, her fingers squeezing his. "Bon voyage, Charles."
Then she was in his arms and he was kissing her, with a hopeless, passionate longing he could feel being returned as she pressed against him and pulled him closer.
"Major? Sir – sorry, sir."
Charles pulled away from Kyung Soon with deep reluctance and glared at the sergeant who had brought him back to reality.
"Sorry to break it up, sir, but your plane's ready to leave," said the man, with an apologetic shrug.
Charles nodded, turned back to Kyung Soon, touched his palm to her cheek. "'The wind blows out candles but kindles fires'," he said, softly, and gave her a last, gentle kiss before picking up his case. "Adieu," he said, backing away.
"I will see you in Boston," she called, putting up a hand to wave.
Charles reminded himself that he was going home – home! – turned, and walked away.
Kyung Soon watched him climb the steps into the plane, waved as he turned one last time to throw her a salute. She didn't want to see his plane leave, and turned to go – only to find herself looking straight at Hawkeye Pierce, who was standing by the doorway.
"Oh," she said, wondering if he'd seen…
"Yeah – oh," he replied, his demeanour telling her he had. He gestured toward the taxi-ing plane. "Didn't even see me, did he? Not that I blame him."
"Hawkeye – I'm sorry. I…"
"It's okay." A sigh. "I've been squiring Inga Halvorsen around town for the last fortnight, I can hardly complain about you finding somebody else. It just gave me kind of a shock seeing you kissing Charles as though you wanted to climb into his uniform with him." She giggled, blushing, and he smiled at her, a little sheepishly. "Actually, now I think about it, you're perfect for each other. If I'd known Charles better when I first met you, I might even have introduced you. Uh, no – scratch that, no I wouldn't. 'Cause then I wouldn't have got to know you, and that would truly have been my loss."
"Thank you Hawkeye."
He proferred his arm and she took it as they strolled through the terminal.
"Can I buy you a drink? Or lunch maybe?" he suggested.
She shook her head. "Thank you. But I must go back to my hotel and finish my packing," she said, "I have already stayed longer than I should. Now I must go home too."
"I'll see you safe back to the hotel then," said Hawkeye, steering her over to a double-parked jeep and helping her climb in, "Then I guess I'll have to say goodbye too." He grinned. "Be nice to actually manage to catch someone in time to say it, for once!"
He chatted while they drove, but Kyung Soon's thoughts were at 20,000 feet, and she was only half-listening to him.
"Please – don't come inside," she begged, when he pulled up outside the hotel, "I do not think I could bear another long goodbye. Just… just let me wave you off as though I will see you again tomorrow. Please."
Hawkeye leaned across and placed a kiss against her cheek. "If you're ever in New England," he said, "And I think perhaps you will be - you be sure to come say hi, okay?"
"I promise," she said, "Thank you, Hawkeye. You were such a good friend when I needed one, and I will never forget that."
She jumped down from the jeep and blew him a kiss. Tears blurred her vision as he drove away, but she waved anyway, hoping he could see better than she could. Then she wiped her eyes, blew her nose and made her way up to her room, telling herself to focus on the job in hand instead of wondering how far Charles' plane had gone by now. When she opened the door to her suite, she thought for a second that she had got the wrong room, for it was not exactly the way she had left it. On the coffee table in the middle of the room, and on the dining table by the far wall, were huge bouquets of flowers. Next to the vase on the coffee table was a square package, wrapped in shiny paper and ribbons. Only her name was inscribed on the card – though she knew that the writing was Charles'.
Sitting down, she drew the package onto her knee, untied the ribbons and unwrapped it. In the box sat a brand new tape recorder, a tape already set on the spools, and another note that said simply: 'Play me!'
Throwing the packaging aside, Kyung Soon found a wall socket and plugged the machine in, clicked the main switch to 'on'.
"My dear Kyung Soon," said Charles' voice, "I trust the Hotel staff have delivered the flowers by now, and hope that you like them. I can't tell you how wonderful these past few days with you have been. Suffice it to say that, thanks to you, my memories of your country will not be entirely unhappy. I hope that we will be able to maintain our friendship, even though we'll be thousands of miles apart – and that you'll make use of this recorder to play the messages I intend to send you, and perhaps record some of your own to send to me. By the time you get home, there will be a generator in the shed, and Kwa Fong assures me that the wiring in your house will be finished within the next day or so. It's my parting gift to you. I'm not sorry to be going home, Sooni, but I am sorry to be leaving you behind.
I can only hope that one day, in the not too distant future, I will see you again. Until then – adieu."
The tape ran off the spool and Kyung Soon switched off the player and wiped her eyes again. Once – it seemed a lifetime ago – Hawkeye had said they should write to each other; then he had snatched back the idea almost before it was made, as being a hopeless gesture, not worth the making.
But this time, she thought, getting up and moving across to admire the flowers on the side-table – perhaps this time she had found someone who truly meant what he said.
To be continued..