Genre: PG13, romance, coming out, 50s, postwar, bad/real?sex
Timeline: March 1956
Part of the Gentleman Doctors series
B.J. expected that driving up to the little house in Mill Valley would be like going home. But like everything else this day, the town seemed . . . off. Smaller. The little post-war houses stood as faceless as colorless, wood Monopoly cubes. Residents' welcoming smiles seemed painted, their little dogs so much scenery. He felt claustrophobic navigating the Studebaker down the wide streets.
He parked at the curb. He didn’t know how Peg used her driveway these days.
She was on the front porch with the kid. As B.J. closed the gate and crossed the lawn, Erin took off on her chubby legs, calling 'Daddy Daddy!' in a full kid-voice. No more baby coos; she went to school three half-days a week now. B.J. swept her up and she clung to his neck and for a moment, he was okay. Erin smelled like she always did, baby shampoo and crayons; she still fit in the crook of his arm. He went away from her every week, just like he did for two long years, and she always greeted him with a kiss.
"What's this?" Peg said as he came up the walk.
"Came to see my daughter," B.J. said.
"You can't do that." Peg stood, abandoning her bean shelling. "It's in the agreement."
"Mommy, Daddy is here," Erin announced directly into his ear.
"Okay then," B.J. said. "I came to see you."
Peg looked him over. "Me?"
"Mommy, can I show Daddy how I shell beans?" B.J. set his child down.
Peggy installed Erin before the bean bowls and led B.J. by the elbow inside the house. She stood in the front hall glaring up at him. She seemed taller than he left her.
"You can't do this," she said. "Did you hear her? She thinks you're here to stay. I don't need you confusing her, we have a nice home, finally, it isn't easy by myself --"
B.J. put his hands up. "Peg, she's fine. Can we just sit, please? I'll make you a cup of tea and I promise to explain myself. The orange pekoe, right? Two sugars and milk?"
Peg crossed her arms, her expression unfamiliar. He didn't recognize the wreath decorating the wall over her shoulder. "I drink white peony now. No milk. Fix the tea, I'll get Erin."
She had replaced the old scorched kettle with an automatic and kept the cups where he preferred to put the bowls. With Erin distracted in her room, Peg sat in the breakfast nook and watched him look for things with her bare feet tucked under her skirt. The spoons were in the same place. The house smelled a little different; her bay leaf candles had been replaced by red tapers, a spray of eucalyptus hung over the fridge. The living room was cluttered but clean. He guess that, in her busy life, she still had time to scour the traces of him away. He knew she was dating that sociologist, but he didn't see signs of him anywhere.
So she was still angry. Well, he was angry too.
"How are things?" He poured the water.
"Fine," she said. "Sold a house in Marin last week."
"That's great," he said. "Congratulations, that's . . . I always said you had a talent for real estate."
Peg sipped her tea. "I don't believe those were your exact words, but thank you."
B.J. turned his cup in the saucer. The stuff smelled vile, but it was something to do with his hands. He liked her orange pekoe, what was wrong with that flavor? Maybe simply that he liked it.
"How's Hawkeye?" Peg said. She'd met him, of course, as someone who'd be spending a lot of time with her child. (Not that she'd granted B.J. the same favor with her new guy.) Hawk's infamous humor . . . hadn't gone over well. All that time in Korea, B.J. had thought Peg and Hawk would get along so well. But that Peg had been so much funnier, happier -- the girl who held the ladder while he and Leo snuck into their rival fraternity with a kilo of powdered copper sulfate.
"He's good," B.J. said. "Erin's been asking for a kitten. We're thinking --"
"She asks you because I told her no," Peg said. "She's got a dog. That's enough."
Waggles was nine years old and wheezed when he ate. The last time he ran for a ball, Erin's bed was a bassinette. B.J. decided right then to get his daughter a damn cat.
"Okay, you're right," B.J. said.
"Anyway, she's not over at your house very often," Peg said.
"Sure, only every other week." Creative editing, Peg? I have her as much as you do.
Peg watched him over her cup. "I suppose Erin would enjoy a kitten. I just thought that, since you said you said you were done with pets after Waggles, you wouldn't want one."
"Well, Hawkeye's the cat person." He sensed the fight hovering at the edges of his perception; from the corners of the house came whispers from the ghosts of their dead marriage.
"So he'll be caring for it," Peg said delicately.
B.J. sighed. This wasn't the conversation he made the drive out to have. "I said I agreed with you about the cat, didn't I?"
And then, for reasons he couldn't begin to fathom, Peg was crying. B.J. stared, rather rudely, shocked. He reached for her, but pulled back: they weren't a touching couple anymore.
"I can't stand how hateful you've become," she said.
B.J. rocked against the ladder-back of the chair. "How -- what? Peggy -- if I've done or said anything hateful, I'm sorry. Honey, please --" He touched her arm now. He couldn't stand to see her cry.
Peg blew her nose on a napkin. "I just hate the idea of you unhappy in that kind of relationship."
"I'm not unhappy." Did he sound unhappy? "Wait -- what kind of relationship?"
Peggy gripped his wrist. "How can you be happy with him? You started a family here, you had a life. I don't understand what you think is out there that you couldn't find here."
B.J. looked at the kitchen, down the hall that led to Erin's room. It would be so easy. No more lying, a real family, someone he could hold hands with in public.
"We're not the same people we were," B.J. said.
"We could have relearned together."
B.J. shook his head. "We tried, Peg. God knows, I didn't want to break up our home. I wish you could understand."
Peg stood. He'd made her angry. "I'm so sick of hearing that I don't understand. I'm not some dumb little housewife whose opinions aren't worth anything because I didn't go to Korea!" She upended her teacup into the sink, splashing the hit liquid against the tile.
"Peg, I can't help if the war changed us --"
"Is that what Hawkeye does for you? He was there, he saw you change, he got to be the one who -- who changed you!"
B.J. blinked. "I meant you and I changed."
Peg turned away from him and looked out the tiled glass window, into the back yard. He followed her gaze. Overripe lemons hung heavy on the overgrown branches.
B.J. got up from the table. He pushed in his chair and put his teacup in the sink. Peg didn't look at him.
"It's more than just changing," he said. "Life is about more than one or two things. There's all these shades of grey, all sorts of other influences."
His words jangled in his mind. Shades of grey. The woman from his past. The man waiting for him at home.
Peggy shook him off. "Don't lecture, please. I married a man who I knew was attracted to other men -- I know about the shades of grey."
"Listen, Peg," B.J. touched her elbow. Peg looked at him reluctantly, only half receptive. "I really wanted to talk to you because I still want to see Erin just like we agreed. I just wanted to be sure that if Hawkeye sticks around, you won't change your mind. Because -- I love her and I don't want anything --" he stopped, unable to continue.
Peg turned away from the window, a softer, kinder expression changing her whole bearing. "Oh, B.J. I wouldn't keep her from you. No matter what we argue about. She's separate from our problems."
"She's the best thing in my life," B.J. said.
Peg smiled. "Me too. She's my good stuff."
Peg said, "I think you and Hawkeye should come to dinner with me and Curt."
B.J.'s heart jumped. Oh, dear Lord, there will be blood.
Peg was pulling out her datebook. "-- considering the stories you used to write me about him, he sounds like a perfectly delightful dinner companion."
B.J.'s eyes lost focus. God, it was late -- after business hours. He kissed Peg on the temple.
"Sure, honey, it's a date. Look, I gotta go --"
And with a kiss for Erin, he was driving across the Golden Gate bridge into town, back to where this long day started.
Hawkeye was reading in the den when B.J. pulled up. He checked the time: seven p.m. He hadn't chosen to wait in this spot, with its view of the street, because he was worried his lover was leaving him tonight. It was simply the most comfortable room for reading. He'd already colonized the bookcases and established dominance of the desk chair with that bump that supported his wobbly thoracic discs. He wanted to stake his fortress in Hawkeye-land tonight, should that rat B.J. show his face.
Door opened. Closet door. Hangar. Hat on the hook inside the door. Keeps his shoes on because he fastidiously doesn't leave his accessories around the house like some sort of cleaning-accursed elf. Heels click in the hall.
The voice of the guilty without. Hawkeye set down his book and kicked his legs off the desk. Several stacks of medical journals joined them. He winced, tried to catch them, and banked a few into the metal trashcan, sending up echoes like he'd invited Thor the God of Thunder for a drink.
"Are you in the den?" Brilliant deduction skills, that one.
An overly tall form blocked out the light from the hall.
"Um, hi," Hawkeye said sheepishly.
B.J. was trying to make himself smaller. He had something in his hand.
"I, ah, stopped at three grocers before I decided to just buy these. I don't know, it's probably stupid, I just thought . . ."
Hawkeye turned on the desk lamp. B.J. had bought him flowers. Not roses, he'd found a store selling wild-looking things -- red and yellow. Hawkeye grinned. B.J. cringed. Hawkeye crossed the room and took them before they burned up by force of Hunnicutt humiliation.
"They asked me if I was apologizing to the wife." B.J. followed Hawkeye into his pit of brooding.
Hawkeye dumped the last of his martinis into two glasses and put the flowers in the pitcher. They made the place look less like a room to hang oneself in. Not feminine. Carnations and sticky-curly things. B.J. knew his flowers.
"I made dinner," Hawkeye said as he pulled off the ribbon that held the bouquet together. "Chicken a l'orange and mashed potatoes."
He could sense B.J.'s amusement. "Oh?"
"She's coming this weekend," B.J. said.
Hawkeye nodded. He couldn't turn around. B.J. was either going to say it or he wouldn't, but Hawkeye wasn't going to make it easy. He didn't just sleep with any best friend with whom he'd been through a hellish war.
"Hawkeye." Soft voice. Tentative hand on his shoulder.
Hawkeye turned. B.J. looked miserable. (Good.)
B.J.'s arms went around him and held so tight. . . . Hawkeye felt his anger melting inside his cynical shell. He wound his fingers in the ends of B.J.'s hair and pressed his forehead against his neck.
"I thought you were going back to your wife, you jerk," Hawkeye said.
"What?" B.J. held him by the shoulders to look him in the eye.
"You called me up in a twitch and said you were going back to the suburbs!"
"Because you left me this morning."
"I had a patient!"
"You could've woken me up."
They stood in an air-searing staring contest.
"I'm sorry," Hawkeye ground between his teeth. "I'm an asshole at relationships."
B.J. stepped away. "I'm sorry too. I was not in a 'twitch.'"
"Oh, you were a worm on a hook, my friend." Hawkeye headed to the kitchen to heat up dinner.
B.J. sat in one of the mismatched kitchen chairs and watched Hawkeye stick the foil-covered plate in the oven, then hitch himself up onto the counter across from his . . . 'boyfriend?' B.J. looked the opposite of comfortable on the vinyl chair that Hawkeye liked best for its thick cushion. His arms were folded, he looked like a kid protecting himself from a scolding. Head bowed ponderously, he spoke from the depths.
"Hawk, I'm a homosexual."
Hawkeye stared. Giddiness was bubbling up that he knew was deathly inappropriate but he always did this. His twisted sense of humor always got him in trouble. He laughed. He howled. He dragged B.J. down into shameless mirth with him.
"So," Hawkeye gasped, "how many queer bars and how many guys you've made out with -- but not until one night with me --! Well." He affected doctorly pride. "I believe my work here is done."
B.J. cracked up again -- but his palms were sweeping at his cheeks. Hawkeye got it, he understood the fear and the shame. He dragged the wood chair around beside B.J. so he could pull the big guy against him while his body hitched in soft sobs.
"It's okay," Hawkeye whispered while he rubbed his back, cradled his head against his shoulder. "We all go through this. It's like a queer Boy Scout badge."
B.J. nodded into Hawkeye's jaw.
"You get one for your first blowjob," Hawkeye said into his hair. B.J. was smiling even as errant tears fell. "One for the first person you tell." Hawkeye thumbed a teartrack from B.J.'s chin. "And one for your first crying jag."
"I guess I missed that at orientation," B.J. said. "Did you? Get all those?"
Hawkeye smiled. "Are you kidding? Dad found me crying into my teddy bear. I was thirty-two."
B.J. laughed. He grabbed Hawk by the scruff of the neck and kissed him. "I'm sorry."
B.J. shrugged. "I didn't mean to scare you, or give you any idea other than that I love you, and I want to be with you."
The oven timer went off. They didn't move for a moment, taking a moment.
"I know," Hawkeye whispered.
The oven buzzed again. Life keeps happening. Hawkeye stood and fished the plate out of the oven without potholders. He felt B.J. watching him with restraint, not bothering to scold him for being a stupid surgeon endangering his hands. He brought it to B.J. on a dish towel.
"Something to drink?"
While Hawkeye bustled around the kitchen, B.J. tucked in. The l'orange was dried out and the mashed potatoes had a crust, but Hawkeye didn't apologize like a wife and B.J. didn't make any complaints like a husband. They weren't Ward and June and they didn't have to play by any rules.
"Peg wants us to have dinner with her and her new guy," B.J. said out of the clear blue chipped paint sky.
Hawkeye turned around so fast he sprayed dishwater. "Beej . . . I will suffer your ex-wife as Erin's mother, and she will put up with me as your 'special friend.' But do we really have to co-mingle?"
B.J. propped his fist on his chin. "Hawk, we're a family now. It's inevitable that we're going to have to get along."
"Why is she so tolerant, anyway? Her husband left her for another man, for Christ's sake. When does she come over here with a melon baller and make less of a man out of you?"
"Hawk, she's always known."
Hawkeye turned the soapsuds in his hands over and over like a fluffy, weightless ball. He considered that: B.J. Hunnicutt, evident lifelong homosexual.
"Maybe I'd like to sit down her, too," Hawkeye said.
B.J. raised his eyebrows. "Now you're scaring me."
Hawkeye snickered. B.J. sat back and watched his lover do the dishes, basking in being taken care of. There would be plenty of tomorrows and tomorrows to make up for favors. This was a life together, whatever they decided to make of it. People would find out; they could choose to contain the knowledge or divulge it to selected friends. And there was Erin to consider; eventually she'd grow old enough to ask questions. How do you 'come out' to your own daughter?
For now, they were two men who loved each other, in a kitchen, quietly putting the day to bed, in their yellow house upon a hill.
A/N: One more part in the arc left! I'm so excited, but I can't tell you why. Just don't be surprised if I'm singing Bowie that goes like: Cha-cha-cha-CHAR-ruls . . .