1) The Courtship of Carmen Clayton, as told by herself
Carmen Clayton methodically plunked her arms in the swimming pool. Right, left, right, left went the arms, went the cadence in her mind. Her yellow swimsuit cut through the water steadily, steadily as one could get in a new pool filled with screaming kids, fellow lap swimmers and wave-making cannonball creators. Crabapple Cove, Maine had a brand new community pool, as well as a brand new second grade teacher. The summer of 1959 had dawned not so brightly on a new graduate of the Concordia Teacher's College. Jobs were not so scarce in her hometown, but she needed to spread her wings and leave some memories behind. Finally, an old roommate had heard of an opening in the town nearest her grandparents. A small town, climate not desirable, but she needed this job.
She pulled out of the pool after lap 32, congratulating herself on a mile well swam. The swim cap was more of a struggle; Carmen had lots of thick hair that did not take lightly to being contained. There were eyes on her, always watching. Dark hair and darker skin stood out in a small northern town. It was the same in her town, actually, even though Austin, Texas was larger than Crabapple Cove. People were friendly, of course, but with a catch. You watched the new people, made them prove themselves before you befriended them, almost rather wanting a slip-up in decorum and an opportunity to gossip than a successful integration into the community. Carmen could, no, would handle it. She could teach, and she didn't have a lot left in Austin.
A pair of piercing blue eyes caught her gaze. An older man was following her every move. He was certainly attractive, but definitely older than where she normally looked. She mentally checked herself, and continued to the ladies' locker room. First fit in, then worry about everything else. Especially men nearly 20 years older! Surprisingly, she stared back at him, dark brown eyes questioning him. Gosh, he seemed older to her, maybe near 40.
Carmen pulled her hair into a tight bun and applied some lip gloss; there was no need to make her self up properly when a night at home with partially completed lesson plans awaited her. She picked up her satchel and started out the door, her mind on flash cards and one minute addition quizzes. Her focus closed her eyes to the man leaving the men's locker room at the same time. It wasn't until she was on the floor until Carmen realized she wasn't walking anymore.
"Oh my goodness, I'm so sorry!" She sputtered. Oh dear, the man's belongings had spilled out of his bag. She frantically started picking things up and shoving them into the open bag.
"No, no, I wasn't looking, don't worry about it. Do you need a hand?" he gallantly asked.
It was him, the man with the blue eyes. Carmen blushed to her roots. He was quite attractive close up. What a way to meet people, make impressions and possibly cause a bruise or two. Not the best way to start the evening.
"Hawkeye Pierce. You're quite the swimmer, you know," offering his hand. "I'm here to exercise my eyes as well as my body. It's boring work walking in a straight line in a square pool with people crowding in and minding my business as well as everyone else's. It's quite the treat to the eyes, watching the delicious surroundings in a variety of swimsuits and color. You are quite the treat to look at, too." He gave her a grin than Carmen knew he had honed on every other woman in town over the past few years. She would be polite and on her way. No one would take her seriously if the first thing she did was get involved with the town Lothario.
"I'm Carmen Clayton. I lived right by a stream growing up. It was sunny and warm all year, so learning to swim was one of the first things I remember. No indoor pools, however." She picked up her bag, handed him his and began walking.
"Sunny and warm? The very definition of our one day of summer here in Crabapple Cove," he joked. "Tell me where, and do slow down."
"Oh, sorry," she shortened her gait a tad and continued on. "Austin, Texas. Our swimming hole was 68 degrees year round, which felt ice cool in the summer, and warm in the winter." Their strides matched up, moving across the grass. He was going to be harder to shake than she thought. "Wait, did you say your name was Hawkeye?"
"My dad's favorite book, Last of the Mohicans." Hawkeye stared into her eyes. "Listen, you seem a little skittish, which just wouldn't do. Hey, look, why don't I walk you to your car. We'll decide where to go to dinner from there."
Oh, boy, she had pegged him correctly; he had an advanced degree in smooth-talking. Carmen was not having any of this, not even if he was handsome. "No, thanks. My mother always warned me not to talk to strangers," she said with a grimace.
"Wait, you're getting the wrong idea," Hawkeye protested, even though Carmen was sure she had exactly the correct idea. "You're new in town, right? I've lived here my whole life, and at the very least, let me show you around. Besides, I'm not a stranger. You know my name, don't you?" That brought a reluctant grin to Carmen's face. "What brought you to Crabapple Cove?"
The duo arrived at Carmen's little blue car. "A new job. I will be teaching second grade this year at the elementary school. I just don't want to get off on the wrong foot with the people in town."
"Don't worry at all," Hawkeye reassured her. "I'm the good doctor, well, one of the good doctor Pierces in town. Here, drop your bag off, and we'll walk. It's not far at all. Besides, I need a new swimming friend, especially one who is easy on the eyes."
Carmen through her satchel into the car and locked the door. "Well, I guess it can't hurt, especially if you keep your hands to your self." Hawkeye threw his hands up in the air. She smiled at that. "Hawkeye, tell me about Crabapple Cove." The two leisurely strolled on Main Street, casually talking. Carmen relaxed as the storefronts came into view. It would be nice to have a local show her around, and despite his leer and come-ons, Hawkeye so far had the behavior of a gentleman.
They paused at the glass panes of an appliance store, Carmen staring at the couple in the reflection. Her, with her hair pulled back but tiny wisps escaping every which way, hands stuffed in the pockets of her skirt. Him, more pepper than salt hair, gangly, taller than her by a head, slight hunch in the shoulders, leaning on the cane. His eyes were beautiful, though, a bright robin's egg blue. She stared at them in the glass until they met her back.
Hawkeye smiled at her in the mirror. Carmen realized he caught her and she blushed, dropping her gaze. She felt the warmth of a hand on the small of her back, and began walking forward.
"Just because I was watching you doesn't mean anything else, Hawkeye," she warned him. He removed his hand, but matched her pace.
"Don't worry about it," he reassured her. "It's nice to know I'm not the only one staring in this relationship." He gave her a cheeky grin, and they continued down Main Street, Hawkeye giving a running description of the shops and the owners. Several people said hello, but gave her a curious look.
"So, you have already found the new girl in town, surprising no one, correct?" she asked him.
"I'll admit I work fast," he said with a grin. "Look, here's the diner. Want a cup of coffee?"
Carmen and Hawkeye ordered drinks and rolls. He told her about working with his dad as the town doctor and surgeon on occasion. He briefly touched on the war, mentioning all that came out of it was his best friend, the ability to stand on his head and not a lot of wish to do anything else. She talked about her school, and growing up in Austin with an eccentric father. They compared books they had read, places they had visited and people they admired.
Carmen's first shock of the evening was when their waitress had asked them if she could go home. Night had fallen, chairs were up on the tables and the diner was empty. It was close to nine in the evening, and they had talked for four hours straight. Hawkeye paid the bill, escorted her back to her car, and asked her out for dinner, a real date, the following evening.
Carmen's second shock of the evening was that she said yes.
Carmen woke up the next morning wondering if she had dreamt last night's meeting with Dr. Hawkeye Pierce. He was attractive to her, and she enjoyed the easy banter between them. He made her think, and she loved his quick wit. At the very least, that was enough for a first date. Anything more would happen when it happened. She put on her dressing robe and went to the kitchen for breakfast.
Her landlord was at the table, most likely waiting for her. Carmen rented a room in a big, rambling Victorian a few blocks from the center of town. She had her own room, but the bathroom and common areas were all shared with four other boarders. Doris the owner, a good-hearted but rather nosy woman, made sure she knew what was going on in every room of the house.
"Good morning, Doris," Carmen rang out as she opened her cabinet. She plucked a banana from the bunch, and grabbed a jar of peanut butter. After grabbing a knife and plate, she made her way to the table and began dicing the banana.
"So, Hawkeye Pierce has already found you, hasn't he," was Doris' reply. "He's a little old for you, isn't he? You'll be just another one of his long line of broken hearts."
Another morning, another interrogation. This had been going on for the two weeks that Carmen had lived there. Normally, Doris expressed daily concern over Carmen's work habits, her need for a daily swim or her lack of local friends. A real man to talk about? This might keep Doris busy for the rest of the week.
"My heart's fine," Carmen said. "We met at the pool, had coffee and just talked. I'm a big girl, you know."
"He's twice your age! What would your parents say about that?" Doris scolded her.
"My parents were unconventional, to say the least. I'm 21, and he's 38. It could be worse," even though she silently acknowledged Doris' point. Carmen knew she needed a way to end the conversation. Maybe psuedo-confiding in her would help. "Just to let you know, we're going out to dinner tonight, nothing fancy. And I'll be home at a reasonable hour." She pulled away from the table, and began washing her utensils.
"I'll be keeping on eye on the clock tonight, Miss Clayton," Doris stated as Carmen made her way to the kitchen door. "Nothing fishy under my roof!"
"I promise, Doris, there will be nothing fishy tonight," Carmen sighed. Then she gave a grin. "It's Italian, so not even fish for dinner."
The rest of the day went slowly. Carmen made flash cards, planned her first science unit, and went to the pool. Hawkeye was going to pick her up at 6. She was primed and ready, waiting in the front by 5:45 with Doris at her side. Doris was chattering away about her hair and make-up, and Carmen gave non-committal replies. Why was she nervous? Yes, they had a good time last night, but there were so many differences between the two, not even counting their ages.
Hawkeye knocked on the door, perched on the porch with a daisy in his hand. Doris jumped up to answer it.
"My, my, Hawkeye. I thought you brought every girl a rose. Isn't that what you brought me?" Doris flirted with him. She leaned in a little to close for comfort. Carmen grimaced. Hawkeye caught her expression and smiled.
"My dear Doris, Carmen is more than just a rose, does she?" he replied. Carmen grabbed her sweater for a quick exit. Hawkeye stuck the flower behind her ear, and held the door open for her. "Don't wait up, dear Doris. I'll have her back safe, sound and snug as a slug on your doorstep by dawn."
"I've got an eye on you, Hawkeye!" Doris exclaimed as the couple made their way to Hawkeye's gold sedan. He held open the passenger door as Carmen slid in.
"I'm sorry about that, Carmen," Hawkeye apologized as he started the car.
"When did you bring Doris a rose?" Carmen asked, incredulous.
"I'll admit I did ask Doris out, once, when I was a freshman in high school, and yes, I did bring a rose. However, seniors generally did not look at freshman, much less take them to homecoming. I believe it was for the best, seeing as I get to take her comely boarder out to dinner tonight instead." Hawkeye grinned at her. "Italian still okay?"
"Well, I'd rather have Mexican, but I don't think we would make the drive down to Texas and back before bedtime this evening," she grinned. "Burritos, enchiladas, salsa and queso are all so delicious."
"Queso?" he questioned her. Carmen began happily chatting about all the delicious things one could add to melted cheese. They compared favorite cuisines, Hawkeye telling her about Korean and Japanese foods.
They arrived at the restaurant and a waiter escorted them to a table in the back, complete with red-checked tablecloth and a dripping candle. Violin music played in the background.
"Laying it on kind of thick, aren't you, Hawkeye?" Carmen surveyed the room. "I feel like I'm in a movie."
"All for you, my dear. Humphrey and Ingrid will be making their appearances soon for our evening's entertainment," he mockingly assured her.
"I take it you've already ordered then," she said with a raised eyebrow.
"You've guessed incorrectly, Miss Clayton. Someone who knows several different foreign words for 'cheese' will always get to order whatever she wants." Hawkeye opened her menu with a flourish. "All of Italy, at your fingertips, minus the boat ride over the ocean."
Carmen perused the menu and selected a simple pasta with tomato sauce. Salads and soup came with the meal, as well. Surprisingly, Hawkeye didn't order a bottle of wine, but a glass of lemonade. He caught her expression.
"Let's save trouble and taxing explanations for later, shall we? I only drink when I want to, not when I need to, anymore, but don't let that stop you. I want to do other things," Hawkeye said with a waggle of his eyebrows after the waiter left. Karen shook her head no, grinning with amusement. "First let's decide to not like each other, then we can yell and call each other names and bring up skeletons in our closets."
"Only if you let me go home first," she smiled. "I haven't had time to dress my skeletons in the proper outfits."
"My skeletons are bare to the bone, so no worries. But leaving before the salad course? What would the town gossips say? I guess our fight must wait." He replied.
They slipped into easy banter, talking about their families. Hawkeye lived with his father, his mother having died when he was younger. Carmen, too, had lived only with her father. Her mother had taken off when she was a baby, her father's unconventional ways and ideas being too much to handle.
"He protested the war, you know." Carmen knew Hawkeye had served in Korea, and hopefully would not be too upset. "He refused to go, and he left me in Austin with friends. Last time I saw him was when I was 13."
"He did what?" Hawkeye yelled in outrage. "Who would ever leave a child, especially one as wonderful as you? I hated war, and I still went to Korea. How could one shirk their duty to their country, and their family?"
"I think he loved me, and wanted me in one spot, and didn't know what to do with a teenager," Carmen answered calmly. She had made her peace with her father earlier. "I was starting high school, and Austin was the only home I knew. He was on the run, and having a teenager with him, racing around the Southwest and Mexico? Sure I was upset, but he did what he thought was right. I stayed with friends, and he sent money occasionally for expenses. That's how I went to school. After a few years, I stopped hearing from him. He may still be alive, but I knew he wasn't coming back, so I needed to have a career, to support myself."
Hawkeye looked at her, unconvinced. "I couldn't ever, ever imagine leaving a child. Aren't you upset?"
"I am, but I'm not, in a way, if that makes any sense." She looked at him earnestly. "That's why I left Austin, because if I stayed there, I would always be waiting for him to show up every morning, and disappointed every night when he didn't. I didn't expect to end up as far away as Maine, but that's where fate, and a job, took me. My heart's there, and at some point I will want to return, but not yet."
"Tell me more about teaching, then," he looked at her, noting her discomfort and her heightened posture. They swapped stories, him of young patients who were more savvy and aware then nervous parents, her of students who challenged her in every way when she student taught.
They talked over soup, salad and pasta, and Hawkeye ordered her a tiramisu even though she protested fullness. The two of them finished the last bite as the candle blew out. Hawkeye grabbed her hand over the table and squeezed it. He didn't let go. She didn't want him to.
"Mr. Romantic, my landlady already warned me about you," Carmen teased him. "Lights dimmed low and we're in a back corner by ourselves, no waiter around. Are you going to make me a damsel in distress?"
"I'm already in distress, thinking about the best thing that has ever hit Crabapple Cove is suspicious of little old me," he said, rubbing his thumb in circles on her hand. "Yes, I have been on a few dates here and there. I have a few relationships in the past, amazing women who I met in the wrong place, at the wrong time." Carmen could see the line of women from his past cross his mind. "But I like you! You fight back!"
"I like you, too, Hawkeye," she smiled at him. "Now let's go back before Doris turns into a pumpkin."
He held her hand the car ride home. She held it back. When they stopped at the old Victorian, Doris' shadow in the window could be seen from the car.
"Don't you think she looks pumpkin shaped?" Hawkeye asked her.
"Be nice, Hawkeye. I don't have a lot of friends here, so it's nice to have someone watching out for me," she stated shortly.
"Carmen, you've got me," he said as he reached out and touched her cheek. She stared at him. "Can I end this true first date with a kiss?"
She smiled and leaned in. It was a really nice way to end the evening.
As she walked up the porch stairs, he called to her. "Can I see you tomorrow?"
Carmen turned around and smiled. "Yes, but an early night, please. I start teaching in a couple of days, and I need to get my classroom ready."
"My chariot will be waiting at 6 o'clock sharp, my lady-in-teaching," he joked.
Carmen waved as he drove off, and floated up the stairs to her room, bypassing all of Doris' queries with a smile.
The days blurred into a happy week for Carmen. She worked, set up her classroom and welcomed her new students for the year. Every night that week, she and Hawkeye had dinner. One night, it was peanut butter and jelly in her little communal kitchen. He returned the favor with macaroni and cheese the next night in the little house he shared with his father. They went to a diner another night, feasting on fries and malts.
Carmen had enjoyed Hawkeye's father, Daniel. The same caustic wit, the same sparkling blue eyes. She knew he had raised Hawkeye by himself after the age of ten, with some help from the town. She imagined how difficult it must have been to watch Hawkeye spend those years in Korea, but lightness prevailed all evening. He teased Hawkeye about robbing the cradle, yet complimented Karen on her fine taste in aged gentlemen. At the end of dinner, Dr. Pierce the elder had toasted her, with firm instructions to Hawkeye 'not to screw this one up.'
After school ended on Friday, Carmen finished organizing the supplies needed for the next week, and straightening her desk. The classroom, with its bright posters on the wall and big windows, seemed oddly quiet after the bustle of a new school year. She and Hawkeye had plans for this evening; well, when he kissed her goodnight the evening earlier he had spoken about Friday night, but had not made anything concrete. No need to worry about it, however. The two Dr. Pierces worked at the town clinic, with them taking on call shifts alternate evenings. It was a quiet town, and not a lot of need for a doctor or a surgeon. The time was hers until 5:30 or so, when he left the hospital.
A loud clunk in the hallway knocked her out of the daydream. Carmen ran over to the door, and gasped. Crumpled, Hawkeye splayed on the floor, a chair askew next to him.
"Hawkeye! Are you okay?" she gasped, leaning over to pick him up. She staggered under his weight, then he bounced out of her arms and quickly set the chair right.
"My darling Carmen, your carriage awaits!" Hawkeye swooped his arms out over the now upright chair.
She gave him a kiss, and cradled his face in her hands. "Hawk, look at me. Did you hit your head?" She searched his eyes, looking at his pupils.
Hawkeye responded by picking her up in his arms, and sitting in the chair. "You see, I have always wanted to taking a rolling chair down the hallways of my old elementary stomping grounds. And now, with you as my willing..."
"You mean unwilling," Carmen interrupted.
"Willing," he answered with a kiss to her nose. "Willing accomplice, I will do just that." He pushed off, and they went gliding down the hallway. Carmen wrapped her arms tight around his neck, and giggled as they banged into a row of lockers. He spun the chair around, and they headed the opposite direction.
As the two of them whisked up and down the hallway, fellow teachers of Carmen's glanced at the giggling girl and the man holding her tight. All of them, native to Crabapple Cove, knew Hawkeye Pierce and his tendencies to love 'em and leave 'em. It was a shame it would happen to Carmen, who seemed so kind and sweet. At least she was enjoying herself now.
After they had careened back to Carmen's classroom door, Hawkeye tilted back, resting his head against the frame. "Ready for a nice night?" He asked her, slightly breathless.
"I am, I am," she replied. "I've never done that before. It's so lucky the principal wasn't around." Carmen glanced around self-consciously, realizing most of her fellow teachers were still in school, and would be happy to report to her supervisor anyway.
Hawkeye saw the slight frown cross her face. "Don't worry about it, Car-a-mel."
"Car-a-mel? What kind of nickname is that?" She looked at him.
"It's the one I gave to you." He kissed her on the tip of her nose. "C'mon, CC."
"Now CC?" She asked. "Oh, I see. Carmen Clayton. Hmmm, what can I call you? Everyone already calls you Hawkeye. What's my special nickname for you?"
"Loverboy?" Hawkeye wiggled his eyebrows at her. Carmen threw her head back and laughed. He pouted and murmured, "Not the reception I was seeking."
"But it was the one you got," she smirked. "Let me lock up, Loverboy." They had a good time that evening.
As school started, everything fell into place. Teaching was challenging, but fun. The children responded to her lessons, and she found she learned almost as much from them as the other way around. She and Hawkeye deepened their romance. He left occasional weekends to moonlight at Boston General, as a favor to an old friend, but most of the medical duties in town were light. If she had a parental figure, and Doris didn't count, she would be getting advice to take things slow and step off the fast train. She didn't, and it was not in either her or Hawkeye's nature to go slow. Both dove first and asked questions later. Carmen figured that the questions would come, and did they ever. The first hitch in the relationship came the night Hawkeye didn't show up for dinner. Carmen waited patiently for forty minutes, then went back into her room, changed and started making dinner in the communal kitchen. She worried but at the same time knew Hawkeye was a talented doctor and it probably would be worse if she had heard from him. She fixed and ate a quiet dinner, and retired to her room with a book. Her alarm woke her the next morning, and she quickly readied for school. The above the fold of the front page of the paper contained a grainy picture of a car crash. She didn't recognize Hawkeye's car, and put it out of her mind. She wished he would have found a way to get a word to her, but that could be addressed later.
The day passed not quickly enough, and Carmen ran out the door as soon as she could to the house Hawkeye shared with his father.
"Hawkeye!" She ran into his arms when he answered the door. He seemed to stand many miles away, even in her arms. She looked at him, curious.
"Are you here to yell at me?" Hawkeye accused her, pushing her arm's distance away. "Do you know what I did last night? I did not mean to stand you up, things just come up. I'm a doctor, and I can't turn a patient away who needs my help."
"The car accident is my guess. I'm glad you are okay." Carmen saw the pent-up energy in his question. She didn't understand why he was so upset, but tried to stay calm. Knowing her temper, the calm would be fleeting. "I understand, Hawk, I do. If you get a chance to call, please do. It doesn't matter the time."
"You don't understand!" Hawkeye roared. "The patient has to come first! Life always have to come first! There was no time to call. I can't always put your needs first." The lion in Carmen's heart roared at that. How dare he think she would stand in the way of an emergency patient?
"I do understand!" Carmen's temper roared up. She got up in his space and pulled on the sides of his shirt. "I would never stand in the way of life. You are a doctor. You save people's lives, and don't you dare think less of me by suggesting otherwise. All I ask is that I come first the rest of the time. Can you do that, Hawkeye? Can you put someone else in front of you, in front of your need to be the hero?"
Hawkeye silently stared at her, chest heaving and eyes furious, right hand reaching up to make a point. He opened his mouth to reply but she beat him to it.
"I mean it, Hawkeye," she warned him. "I've been left before, by my mother and my father. I can handle being by myself. I can take care of myself. I can handle being stood up. I can not nor will not handle being with someone who will not put me first. My parents already tried that, and I know what it feels like." Carmen felt the pain and fear of being left, that gnawing feeling in her stomach that had last appeared those first few days after her father left her in the care of a friend. Those fears dampened her anger, and she issued him an ultimatum. "If you can't handle my emotional baggage, better get him out of my life now." Hawkeye stood, silent. The air felt heavy, and Carmen started turning around, grabbing her bag. She felt her eyes water, but refused to let any tears fall in front of him. She would be the one leaving this time.
Quiet chuckling halted her. She whipped around, almost ready to throw her bag at him. Hawkeye saw the anger in her eyes and held up his hands. "I never thought I'd see the day someone asked if I could handle their emotional baggage. Me! I was in the loony bin in Korea, you know."
Carmen had heard about his instability from Doris, but had taken it with a grain of salt. "So? I don't care. We're not in Korea, or in Texas. We are right here, now. You haven't answered my question." She paused, bag in hand.
Hawkeye quickly crossed the distance between the two of them and took her into his arms. "I will put you in front of me, always. I will be your hero, and I will not leave you behind." He gave her a kiss on the forehead, and brushed the tears that had started falling on her cheeks. "I think we may have enough baggage between the two of us to furnish a house."
Carmen gave him a kiss. Both of them were hot-tempered, stubborn and saddled with boxes of emotional baggage. They would be okay.
"Listen, Carmen, I have a call to make. I think you need to meet my best friend." Hawkeye put his arms around her shoulders and opened the porch door. "Come on in, I'll call Beej, make us some cocoa and we can compare crazy. I will have you know I'm the craziest deemed-sane person you will ever meet."
She leaned in. "Make your call, and I will call your crazy and raise you. I'm crazy in Spanish, too." They kissed, and entered the living room. Carmen had never heard of love at first sight. Maybe love at first fight.