Chapter Fifteen: Maybe This Time
"Sure." He ruffled his daughters' hair. "Go wait for me in the car, okay?"
They ran out the front door, and he turned back to the adult woman. "What is it?"
She bowed her head, letting her long chocolate-brown hair fall over her face. "There's something I have to tell you. About the girls."
"Is something wrong?" he pressed, instantly concerned. "What is it?"
"N-n-not anymore." The stammer there was even more pronounced than what he'd come to expect. Whatever it is, it's bad.
"Tell me," he begged her.
She looked up at him, and he could see tears shining in her eyes. "It's about their stepfather. He - he mistreated them." The words tumbled out of her. "Badly. I'm sorry, I'm so sorry." She started to cry.
"It's okay," he said softly. "I already know, that's why they're with me now. I know what he did."
She calmed, but only a little. "I should have called the police, but Becky begged me not to tell. She was so scared, I had to promise her."
"I'm glad she trusted you enough to tell you," he replied kindly.
"I - I debated for a long time whether or not to tell you this, but I think you should know," she blurted out. "She was pregnant."
"Becky?" he replied. "Pregnant?" He had thought it couldn't get worse, but this almost knocked him over. "She miscarried?" That would be scary for any woman, but for an eleven-year-old girl it would be terrifying.
Honoria shook her head, tears falling from her eyes. "I - she had an abortion. I helped her get one. I'm so sorry, but she was afraid that she'd get in trouble and he'd hurt her, and I made sure I found her one that was safe, with a real doctor -"
She was abruptly cut off by a pair of lips against her own. After a few seconds, he pulled away, looking a little abashed. She was stunned. "What was that for?"
"For being an amazing woman, Honoria Winchester," he replied forcefully. "You looked after my kids, you were even willing to risk breaking the law to help my little girl out, and to go to all that extra effort to make sure she'd be safe."
"You don't know how many times I stopped myself just before I dialed the police line," she replied, "but she was sure they would believe him over her, and if she was right - I didn't even want to think about what could happen." She was crying again. "I know him, and he has the power to make something like this go away, even with me on the girls' side."
"He's not gonna get away with it," he promised her. "I'm only waiting until the paperwork to formally transfer the girls into my custody goes through, and then I'll be making the report personally, with medical evidence to back me up. I'd ask you to give me the number of the doctor who told you she was pregnant, but then we'd have to get into why she's not anymore and that's not a road any of us should be going down."
"No, I guess not." She looked a little uncomfortable now. "You shouldn't keep the girls waiting."
He started to turn for the door, then, finding his courage all at once, turned back sharply, looking her in the eye. "Honoria, would it be all right for me to see you sometime?"
She felt her heart skip a beat. Surely he doesn't mean ... "You've seen me every day for the past week and a half."
"Don't pretend you don't know what I mean," he replied without any bite. "I mean just you and me. Dinner, maybe dancing, what do you say?"
She looked away. He gently took her chin and turned her head back towards him. "What is it? If you don't want to go, just say so. I won't be offended."
"It's not that. I do want to. That's the problem."
"I like you, John McIntyre. You're one of the kindest men I've ever met. I don't want you to invite me out to thank me; it'll only remind me of what I can't have."
"Who says you can't have me?" As if to illustrate his point, he leaned forward and pressed another, shorter kiss to her lips. "I meant it when I said you're an amazing woman. I feel something for you, something I've only ever felt for one other woman. Come on, what do you say?"
A smile split her face. "I say yes."
"Next week Friday?"
"I'll be waiting."
"Can I ask you girls a question?"
They both nodded and he pulled them to sit with him on the couch, one on either side. "This is very important, and I want you to answer honestly. How would you feel if I started dating again?"
Becky and Kathy exchanged a nervous look that almost broke his heart. "I swear to you girls, I swear, that I will never, ever date anyone who would hurt you. And if anyone ever hurts you, even if it's someone I'm dating, you can come to me and I'll make it stop. Okay?"
"Okay," they chorused.
"I guess it would be okay," Becky hedged. "As long as she's nice."
"And if you don't pay all the attention to her and forget about us," Kathy added.
"I promise," he said again. "What about somebody you already know?"
"Who?" Kathy asked, eyes wide.
But Becky suddenly smiled, all hesitancy gone in the blink of an eye. "I know who!" she said brightly.
"Who? Who?" her sister wheedled.
Some children might have enjoyed dragging this out, forcing the child in the dark to guess the answer, but Becky, apparently, wasn't one of them. Either that or she was too impatient to wait. "It's Nora!" she said delightedly. "Daddy's dating Nora, aren't you?"
Kathy's hesitation faded as quickly as her sister's had, her own face lighting up enough to illuminate an entire house as she hugged him. He hugged her back, opening his other arm to Becky, relieved beyond words that they were taking the whole thing so well.
"How did you know?" he asked his oldest.
"You talked to her for forever on Thursday when you came to pick us up," she replied. "And then you got in the car and you looked really happy."
"I'm glad you two are okay with it."
"Daddy?" Becky asked softly.
"What is it, baby?"
"If you and Nora are dating, does that mean you're going to get married?"
"Whoa, there," he replied, a little taken aback. "We're not nearly there yet."
"It's just, if you did, it would be okay. I would be okay with her being my mom. For awhile there, it was almost like she was already."
He hugged his children, struggling not to cry. He had no doubt Honoria loved the girls, but no child should have to seek out a mother's love in another woman's arms. Especially not two who had their mother readily available but so completely unwilling.
"Hey, Hawk! It's BJ!"
"Hey! What's going on in good old Mill Valley?"
"It's not what's going on in Mill Valley," he replied. "It's what might be going on in New York."
"Sorry, Beej, you lost me."
"I've been thinking -"
"Never a good sign."
"Let me finish, will you? I've been thinking about that party we had for all our relatives a few years ago. It started with the idea of a reunion, remember? So I was thinking, why not make the second half of that dream a reality?"
"You mean, have a reunion?"
"Why not? I know I've missed all of you, and you've missed all of us, except Margaret of course. I've called the hotel where we had the party for our relatives and they're able to host us the last weekend of July."
"Just after the anniversary of the war's end," Hawkeye said even though he didn't need his friend to confirm that.
"Can you do it?"
"I think so."
"Great. What about Margaret's parents?"
"She hasn't talked to them in awhile. Never even told them she was pregnant."
"Okay, so you guys, us, Radar and his mom, the Potters, Klinger's family - I don't know if he and Soon-Li are back in the States or not yet - Charles and his family, and Father Mulcahy and his sister. Am I forgetting anyone?"
"Well, not exactly."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, I had a thought. What about inviting some of the earlier crowd? Oh, don't get me wrong," he rushed to add, "I'm not saying invite Burns. But Trapper, and Henry's family."
"Makes sense, except I thought you were still mad at Trapper over the whole letter thing."
"Well, not exactly. I mean, it wasn't exactly what I thought. Remember when the Army declared me dead?"
"How could I forget?" It took him a second to follow what Hawkeye was saying. "He heard it too?"
"Yeah. Except in his case, I didn't know, so I never called him to clear it up. We ran into each other by accident last month, and he was shocked to see me alive. I can't be mad at him for a mistake, especially one that hurt him more than it hurt me."
"All right, we'll invite him and the Blakes. How many is that from each?"
"Three from Trapper's family, and Henry's wife plus four kids."
"We should invite some of the nurses too," Hawkeye added. "At least Able, Baker, and Kelleye, and their families. They were as much a part of the family as we were."
"I'll tell Peg to add them to the list."
At that moment, a cry sounded. Hawkeye started to jump up, then realized it was coming though the phone. "Sounds like you're being summoned."
"Yep, sounds like it. I'll see you soon."
Hawkeye couldn't help but smile as he hung up the phone.