Title: "Weary World Rejoices"
Genre: PG, short, romance, holiday, 60s
Summary: Midnight confessionals at Christmas under an old quilt.
Part of the Gentleman Doctors series.
Timeline: late 60s
"Weary World Rejoices"
= I'll tell you mine if you tell me yours.
= That's so juvenile.
But then Hawkeye did that thing with his fingertip and B.J. wriggled.
= You know mine, you were there, B.J. said. But Hawkeye doesn't want to know first-first. This is a conversation about the moment of change.
Hawkeye tut-tutts a staccato beat, puffs of air in the hollow behind B.J.'s ear. The boy in college may as well be in bed with them; they could be smelling fall leaves and Aramis on a wet wool letterman sweater. B.J. told.
= He was part of our group. Leo, Peggy, Kalama Sue, Ed the Cheese. Everyone had a nickname except him, he was just Christopher. Do you really want to hear this?
The sky in the window over their bed is full of winter, the same dark grey in Hawkeye's eyes. He traces a figure eight on B.J.'s forehead. Once upon a tent, far away, he met a man from California with more hair on that head and fewer wrinkles on that brow. He wants to know.
= We studied together, B.J. said.
= Anatomy? Hawkeye teases with the kind of innocence that gets him in trouble with women.
= He was a kind, gentle boy from a small town.
B.J. came to Korea all of those things, but his best friend and lover wouldn't insult him with such a simplistic characterization now.
= Sounds like you cared about him, Hawkeye said, because he knew B.J. didn't take people at face value.
= He graduated and I got married. End of story.
They both knew that stories don't end on the final page. Sleeping Beauty gets pregnant, the butler's victims stay dead while the survivors go on living, Scarlett O'Hara goes hungry again. Every life has a coda. B.J. hasn't seen his parents for five years. It's Christmastime in a drafty family home and they're under Hawkeye's grandmother's quilt while Dr. Pierce, Sr., snores in his plaid armchair downstairs.
B.J. puts his arms around Hawkeye in the dark and Hawkeye moves all sharp knees and elbows atop him. When he speaks, his voice vibrates against the side of Hawkeye's head.
= Your turn.
= It started with a book -- as do all falls from grace.
= Fruit of knowledge.
There are little yarn tails where the quilt pieces join that tickle Hawkeye's cheek, as they always have done. Some of them are still braided from when he couldn't sleep as an adolescent. As he spills his guts, his nimble surgeon's fingers undo the work of one sleepless night.
= I told you some of this. Once upon a time, little Hawkeye went fishing with an older boy and got his cherry popped.
= You make it sound like -- like an assault.
= His or mine?
= You're telling the story.
It's hard for Hawkeye to tell the truth. It's been a sticking point of their long relationship. He waits for the wind to stop whipping the willow branches against the eaves before he tries again.
= I liked him, I guess. I mean, he was older than me . . . plus he was my cousin Billy's best friend, which made him a sort of lieutenant to God --
= How old were you? Sorry -- continue. I shouldn't interrupt.
= It's okay -- fourteen. Harvey was eighteen. He was home from his first year of college, I was bored because all my friends were in high school and had outgrown me -- I know it's astonishing to think, but I was very briefly weedy, skinny, and repulsive to girls.
= And there was a book.
A strand of moonlight cuts through the venetian blind and makes a long triangle on the carpet; if Hawkeye winks one eye, he can make a glitter star pivot in the darkness. It's the heavy foil wrapping paper department store put on Dad's Christmas gift. He's hoarding it upstairs to present it after the smaller gifts from Santa have been opened, after breakfast, when Dad is lulled into a sense of gift receiver's lassitude. The shock of the extravagance will knock him out of his slippers.
= More like a magazine.
B.J.'s chuckle causes a tiny earthquake under Hawkeye. It's easier to lay down his past when the listener is softened up, like steak taking to a layer of spice.
= He had it in the tackle box. We both pretended we didn't see it all day, and -- and I noticed, he kept going into the bushes to pee a lot. So whenever he'd go, of course I took it out and looked at it.
= And what warped perversions did our young Hawkeye espy?
= It looked like a homemade thing, so it was -- I mean, it had it all in there, everything we do together and then some.
= Mmm, maybe we need to expand our repertoire.
A brief pause, a detour, laughter, nuzzles. Heat and sheets shifting against sheets. They lande upended, Hawkeye flat, B.J. propped above him.
= So, it held my attention as it would anyone's. But he kept leaving and coming back just when I got to a good part and I'd have to hide it again. And then he said, 'Bet you didn't know boys could do that.' And I said, 'No, I sure didn't.' I mean, I hardly knew what boys and girls did except from my father's lectures about birds and bees and how not to get anyone pollinated. So I asked him where he got it and he told me all about Greenwich Village and if I wanted to know more, he'd show me.
= And did he?
If Hawkeye told this story to anyone else, he'd smirk. But then, to whom could he tell this story? Hawkeye has slept with dozens of people but he'd only told the truth to a scant few, the ones to he'd granted his ultimate esteem. The whole world was shaking, or maybe just the antique bedstead, with the enormity of his honesty.
= I think that first time, we just talked. Talking is . . . eye opening.
= Christopher and I did a lot of talking.
Shared experience, three thousand miles and two lives apart.
= And then the next day we went fishing again and stuck our poles in the mud and he showed me how to kiss. By the next week, we weren't even bothering with bait. He was the first -- my first . . . everything. We did it all.
= And how was . . . ?
B.J. was habitually polite. So polite his manners sometimes weren't for his own delicacy, but to give another person an escape hatch.
= Good. . . . Okay. . . .
B.J. pulled the quilt over his shoulders. He twirled one of the braided yarnstays, tugging at Hawkeye's decades old vandalism curiously.
They both barely remember fourteen. Barely out of childhood, suddenly tall, awkward, out of control over your own body. Pleasure with another human was as alienating an experience as a new pimple or a croaking voice.
= I'm glad I did it. I mean, we. I'm glad he, that I let -- that I went with him. I wouldn't be who I am now if . . .
Hawkeye never regretted anything sexual. B.J. is almost frightened by the thought of a Hawkeye who hadn't been confident enough in his sexuality to pursue his old army friend romantically, across the country, into his house, into his bed. He kisses him, chasing away the 'what if.'
= You don't know that, B.J. said.
= We are our experiences, Hawkeye said.
It had been unpleasant, Hawkeye thought. Painful, messy. They jumped in the lake to clean up. The second time, they were better prepared, brought suntan oil. They started in the lake that time, with the cool water and Hawkeye's own fingers for an overlong amount of time before he let Harvey near him again. It was painful again that time, but they just kept doing it. He caught gonorrhea and Dad found out everything and sent him to Ezra in New York and there were more boys there and then the war happened in Europe. But always, there were girls to date and boys to . . . enjoy.
= Yes, that's true, only . . .
Hawkeye's history is one of flight. He has left this town more times than he has planned to stay, yet every time he has left, all he could think about is coming back -- except the last. First to explore the big city, and when that big city wasn't big enough, he found another; then he left again to become a doctor and learn how a man should make a life for himself. Then he was ripped away, sent to war. Finally, love coaxed him, coddled like an egg from his shell, and placed him in a little house so far away the sun sets on a different side of the ocean. And yet, as his name implies, he has never taken his sharp-eyed stare from the place he began.
= Do you think Dad will like the clubs?
Dr. Pierce, Sr., does not golf, but his son feels he ought to pick up a sport.
= He'll love them, B.J. said.
B.J. has taken a softer path in life, from a gentle home to a top education, and then to see it shatter in the years he was removed from bright California and sent to war. His second life was populated by questions that he, ever the scholar, could not answer from books, but from his own heart.
B.J. wants to ask, Did you think you were sick? but doesn't. Nothing they did was sick or wrong, so why speculate about it. It is Christmas and B.J. is a religious man; he asks himself, how much of this life have they been given and what right do they have to take the rest? He lost his parents but received the knowledge that he had never had them to begin with, as their love had been surface-based, conditional, given only with approval. He gained Hawkeye's family, difficult, noisy, a demanding love that requires work and honesty. It's a real family he comes home to every Christmas.
= We should sleep, Hawkeye said. Or Santa won't come. Did you send him your Christmas wish? Don't tell me -- it won't come true.
It's so warm in this room, B.J. thinks. He doesn't to move ever, doesn't even want to fall asleep. He skritches his fingers in Hawkeye's soft, grey hair and watches those dark eyelashes brush the pale cheeks. Maybe if he stays awake, he can make it be midnight on Christmas morning forever.