2005 Papa Bear Awards - Nominated
2005 Papa Bear Awards - Nominated
Best Original Character - Beth “Newton” Hogan
2005 Papa Bear Awards - Nominated
Best Overall Story
This Game will be a series of vignettes describing
each of our Heroes’ first day home after the war. Each chapter will be about a different
Hero’s homecoming. We have chosen to begin with the character of Colonel Hogan,
as we already feel we ‘know’ his family. We will continue to post vignettes
sporadically, as we continue to flesh out the families of our other Heroes’. So
please bear with us.
We again do not make any claims on the original Hogan’s Heroes’ characters. All other characters are ours. But again, those characters are free for anyone to use, if you so choose.
(Although, the Tender Loving Care requirement is again in effect for Toby in this chapter, for he makes his home in Bridgeport Connecticut)
Our rating for this story would be PG-13. Enjoy!
Opening Day, Bridgeport Connecticut
Where is Home?
Home is where the Heart can laugh without shyness.
Home is where the Heart’s Tears can dry at their own pace.
Excerpted from www.DailyCelebrations.com
On a train bound for Bridgeport Connecticut,
Thursday, July 26, 1945 11:30am Local Time
“Evers Station, Bridgeport Connecticut, next stop,” the train’s conductor announced through the loud speaker. “Fifteen minutes.”
Almost home, Major General Robert Hogan thought with a sigh, as it was all he could bring himself to do. The war hero now known world-wide as Papa Bear was excited, nervous, anxious, happy, worried, and a complete basket case. Today would be his first day home. Really home.
It had been close to five years since the man known as Robert Hogan had been back home in Bridgeport. Almost five years since the son, brother, and friend known as Rob, or even Robbie to some, had seen his family, friends, and neighbors. He so wanted to get there, but also didn’t want to face how things there have changed, for he could not deny how much that he himself had changed, and how much the world had changed since he had last set foot in his hometown. Again he sighed.
“Rob,” his fiancée said, offering a comforting hand in his. “Everything is going to be fine.” Beth knew Rob was anxious, and she was trying to be supportive, but she had no frame of reference, not having been in his shoes for the last few years. But, Beth just couldn’t imagine though, how a reunion could be this unsettling. “Your whole family and all your friends… everyone will be so excited to see you. It should be me that’s a nervous wreck. I’m going to walk into your family’s home a complete stranger, and not even two weeks later, leave as your wife.”
Rob took hold of Beth’s hand and squeezed tightly. “They’ll love you Beth, don’t worry,” he assured, pulling her hand to his lips and gently kissing the ring on her finger. And after returning their clasped hands to her lap, Rob glanced away, heaved yet another sigh, and fell silent once again.
“Rob,” Beth started a little testily. “You need to tell me what’s going on in your head. Please.” She grabbed his face and pulled it toward her so that she was looking directly into his eyes. “We can’t start our new life together with you keeping secrets from me. I love you, but I need to understand you if we are going to make this work.”
Her fiancée’s eyes lit with a certain devilish charm, “When did you get so tough?”
“The war will do that,” Beth stated purposefully, not falling for his ploy to change her train of thought. She knew him well enough to see that look in his eyes. “So…”
“So what?” Rob asked innocently, but was floored by Beth’s angry gaze. Shaking his head, Rob apologized. “I’m sorry Beth, you’re right… honestly, it’s a lot of things… I want to see my Mom and Dad, more than you can know, but I don’t want to see them as the now gray-haired elderly couple they’ve become. I don’t want to see all the creases in their faces that I know I caused. I want to see my brother John, but I can’t bear to see him in a wheelchair. And my baby sister, damn it, she’s a wife and mother. How did that happen? Oh hell I know how it happened, but I wasn’t there to see it. And then there are all those friends and neighbors that were supposed to be here when I got home – and won’t be. Beth, I can’t handle finding out about more tragedies and deaths, there’s just been too many already.”
“The war will do that,” Beth repeated quietly.
“But at least you got to live through the war,” Rob accused. “I locked myself away in that hell-hole, on purpose. We weren’t supposed to make it back Beth. We had to keep everything ‘outside’ our little world at bay, or we couldn’t have done what we did. None of us expected to live long enough to see our families again. And now three and a half years later I have to come to terms with everything that bloody war did to my family, my friends, and my neighbors… all at once. It’s killing me Beth, really it is.”
Beth saw the sorrow in Rob’s eyes, but couldn’t stop the anger in her from rushing to the surface, “This isn’t all about you… you know?” she accused in return, but after seeing Rob’s surprised and hurt expression, she continued more softly, “I’m sorry Rob, but the hurt this war caused isn’t exclusively yours. I’m trying to understand how you feel, really. And I know it must be hard, having been that out of touch. But think for a moment about the reverse. I’m sure your Mom and Dad are dreading how the war might have changed you. And I’m sure your brother doesn’t want you to see him in that wheelchair, and I’m even more sure your sister would have much rather had you here for her wedding and the birth of her child. And how do you think all the families of those friends and neighbors feel? You and your men managed to survive the war, doing the impossible, from smack dab in the middle of Germany, and their family members never made it back. This whole thing just isn’t one-sided Rob,” Beth again accused as her own anxiety reached a breaking point. “And,” she continued pointedly. “Don’t you dare assume that this has been easy for me. My life has been topsy-turvy since you returned from Germany. And now, all of a sudden, I find myself traveling half way across the world, to meet people I’ve never even seen before, to steal a son from parents who haven’t seen that son in years. Not to mention, showing up on their doorstep three days earlier than they even expect us to show up! And after all that I’m to traipse off, blindly following you and your job, to Germany of all places!”
“Beth, I….” Rob started to say, but got nowhere.
“Why would I do all this?” Beth continued not giving Rob a chance to break in. “Many people I respect and care about have asked me this same question Rob. And I won’t lie to you and say they were being supportive either. But in the end their opinion didn’t matter because every time I asked myself that question, I got the same answer… And that answer is that I love you and that’s because you’re a doer Rob, not a victim. But I need that doer Rob, so please don’t start acting like a victim now.”
Rob could make no response. He just smiled slightly, took Beth’s face gently in his hands, and offered a passionate kiss to his soon-to-be bride. Only the train’s breaks screeching and the conductor’s announcement of, ‘Evers Station’ caused the two to end their embrace.
And then, just a short time later, as Beth and Rob made their way from the station and onto Main Street…
Rob, who had followed after Beth, almost knocked her clean over when she stopped dead in her tracks. “Whoa Beth! What did you stop for?” he asked breathless, and tried to regain his balance without crushing his fiancée. As he recovered, he could only follow Beth’s gaze to a huge banner that hung stretched between two streetlights, directly in front of them, and just across the street from the station. “Oh brother,” Rob sighed.
Sunday, July 29th, 1945
Bridgeport welcomes home ‘The One and Only Papa Bear!’
Come one and all to welcome our Hometown Hero!
Major General Robert Hogan.
A parade starts here at 2:30pm and ends at Memorial Park with the park’s re-dedication ceremony at 4:15pm.
“Taxi folks?” a gruff voice asked, trying to break up what he could see had turned these two most recent arrivals into mannequins. Neither had yet moved completely out of the station’s doorway, which was now rapidly becoming congested.
“Umm yeah,” Rob choked out.
“Just this way then,” the gruff voice continued taking the bags unceremoniously from Rob’s grasp. “See you noticed that we’ve got big doings this Sunday. Yes sir, big doings…” the doorman continued, his voice trailing off as he began to walk away from Beth and Rob.
“Yeah,” Rob agreed taking hold of Beth around the shoulders and guiding her into the waiting taxi. “Looks that way.” Ah hell. I didn’t want this…
“Where to?” the doorman asked through the taxi’s open window, after having already stored the bags in the trunk, gotten his tip, and closed the door on his charges.
“2358 Meadow Brook Lane. It’s not too far from Bridgeport’s General Hospital,” Rob offered quietly and sat back watching as the doorman informed the taxi driver of their destination, though he couldn’t help himself and glanced out the taxi window to catch another glimpse of the banner heralding Papa Bear’s return. Wow.
Beth caught Rob’s look back at the banner, and couldn’t resist. “So,” she whispered very softly, so not to be overheard. “You still glad you made us arrive three days early? Look at all the trouble they’ve gone too.”
Rob just shook his head slightly and whispered, “I didn’t want this Beth.” Beth just kissed Rob on the cheek and both continued the rest of their journey in silence, until Rob had to give the driver a last few instructions to get them to their destination.
The taxi finally pulled to a stop in front of a two-story white Colonial home that shared the lot with another smaller white office-like building, designated as the workplace of one ‘Doctor Michael Hogan, Pediatrician’. Both buildings were partially enclosed by the same white picket fence, and only separated by a long doublewide driveway, that ended with a two-car garage. A small parking lot was situated just behind the office and off to the right of the garage, and appeared accessible only from that long driveway.
Rob sat mesmerized staring out the taxi window, even as the driver got out to retrieve the bags from the trunk. “Been gone long son?” the older man asked, easily seeing the look of longing on the younger man’s face. It had been the same look the driver had seen on all the boy’s faces that he’d driven home since the war ended. Only at first he hadn’t been too sure about this passenger, as this young man wasn’t wearing a uniform.
“Yeah, it’s been a long time,” Rob offered as he exited the taxi and helped Beth out as well. “Thanks,” he continued, paying the fare and offering the driver his tip.
“No,” replied the driver. “You keep that. The look on your face when we pulled up in front of this house was tip enough for me. Welcome home son.” The older man patted his passenger on the shoulder and retreated to his taxi.
Putting his money away, Rob turned toward the front of his family’s home and sighed because he couldn’t help but notice the new wrap around porch and front entrance. He stood not moving, only staring at what he knew was the reason for the refurbished porch and front entrance… the partially concealed wheelchair ramp just off the driveway.
Damn John, I’m so sorry.
“Umm Rob,” Beth coaxed. “Are we going in? Or are we just going to stand out here till someone notices us?” Reaching out, she patted him softly on the shoulder to distract him, for she saw what Rob was staring at.
“Of course Beth,” Rob recovered, picked up the bags and carried them up on the porch. Quickly he rang the doorbell, as somehow he couldn’t bring himself to just walk in. Almost immediately though, a dog started barking. “That would be Toby, Beth,” he offered and stood waiting… for something, for anything.
When no more sounds emanated from the house, and Toby’s barking continued to fade toward the backyard, Rob offered sadly, “Nobody’s home I guess.” Except for good old Toby. Without saying anything more to Beth, Rob pushed the bags off to the side and into the corner of the porch and headed back down the stairs plopping himself down on the bottom one. Soon Toby made his appearance, as Rob had known he would after exiting through the doggie door around back. “There you are old boy,” Rob offered happily. “Do you remember me Toby? Huh? Come here boy.” Rob quickly found himself smothered by the affections of a very excited Labrador.
“So Toby, where are Mom and Dad?” Rob asked of the dog after the licking eventually stopped. By that time, Beth had already come down the stairs and was now sharing in Rob’s welcome home from Toby. “Let’s check in at the clinic, Beth. Dad’s always there,” Rob assured as he got up, gave Toby one last pat on the head, rescued Beth from his slobbery affections, and finally led his fiancée toward his father’s clinic, although not without Toby tagging along side.
As they walked down the driveway though, Rob became painfully aware that many of the rooms in the clinic were darkened with curtains drawn, and there was only one car in the small parking lot. “Damn it Beth, there are usually always more cars here. And hell, that car even looks like Maddy’s beat up old Ford.” Rob trotted ahead and peeked into the family garage. “My parent’s car is gone too. Where is everyone?”
“Maddy?” Beth asked, having not heard that name before.
“Oh sorry,” Rob offered. “Madeline Connors is my father’s secretary, nurse… you name it and Maddy’s it in terms of the clinic.” Rob sighed, took Beth into an embrace, offered her a small kiss on the cheek and said, “Well here goes nothing. If Dad’s not here, Maddy is sure to know where they all are.”
After the clinic’s door chime jangled when Rob opened it for Beth, and made sure Toby stayed outside, a face he didn’t recognize asked, “Can I help you?”
“Um yes,” Rob said a little disoriented, as this homecoming wasn’t starting off like he thought it would. “We are looking for Doctor Hogan,” he stated formally for no other reason than it just came out that way.
“I’m sorry,” this new face responded, “the doctor isn’t in. The office is actually closed for three weeks. Doctor Hogan, if needed, will be performing deliveries and helping with emergencies, other than that his patients are being referred to Bridgeport General for any regular checkups. I can give them a call for you, or if it’s something that can wait, I can certainly set up an appointment with the doctor for mid August,” the secretary offered, giving Beth an involuntary once over.
Rob looked at Beth, shook his head in utter embarrassment, and burst out laughing. “I’m sorry,” he said. “Maybe I should have introduced myself first.” Rob reached over the desk to take the new secretary’s hand in his. “I’m Robert Hogan, and this is my fiancée Beth Newton. Doctor Michael Hogan is my father. And I believe I just might be the reason that the office is closed for three weeks.”
“Sally Wor…,” the face replied trying to finish the introduction, but quickly her voice trailed off, and as if a light bulb went off she exclaimed, “Robert Hogan! Oh my God, you’re not supposed to be here until Sunday!” She jumped up from her seat, pulled her hand from Rob’s grasp, and headed immediately into one of the examination rooms, yelling “Maddy. Maddy, Come quickly! You won’t believe who’s here!”
Rob just gave Beth an amused shrug as Sally Wor… disappeared. Both didn’t have long to wait though, until a familiar face to Rob made an entrance into the waiting area.
“Robbie,” Maddy said with a smile. “Look at you!” she exclaimed, taking him into a warm embrace. “What are you doing here? Did we get the wrong day? Oh my goodness, that would be horrible. Everyone in town wanted to be there to welcome you home!”
“No nothing like that Maddy. I just wanted to sneak home a few days early,” Rob explained as Maddy released her hold on him. “To surprise everyone, but it sort of backfired. Where is everybody?”
“Oh you should have told someone,” Maddy scolded, shaking her head. “Every…,” she started to answer, but was completely distracted by the young woman standing just behind Rob. “Oh my goodness,” she offered again excitedly. “This must be Beth! Oh welcome honey,” she said with a smile and a big hug. “Welcome to the family!”
Beth withstood the smothering hug from Maddy with dignity, but in reality was overjoyed for the rambunctious and joyous welcome, as she was still pretty anxious about meeting Rob’s family, especially with all that has happened to them and her in the past few months. “Thank you Maddy,” was all she could say though.
When Maddy ended her embrace with Beth, she reached over and swatted Rob on the arm. “You and all your surprises,” was all she said and just stood back from the couple and smiled.
When nothing else appeared to be forthcoming…
Rob interrupted whatever she was thinking with, “Maddy, where is everyone?”
“Oh,” Maddy said after realizing she had been just standing there grinning like a fool at Rob and his fiancée. “Everyone is off doing last minute errands. Between your homecoming party and the wedding, everything’s been a whirlwind here. Your Mom should be home any minute though… she just had to run to the grocery store. Your Dad is off finishing up – some things – with Mickey O’Flynn. And Sue and John are at the Hartford VA for one of John’s doctor’s appointment.”
“Oh,” was all Rob could say as his disappointment reached an all-time high, for as much as he had dreaded seeing how everyone had changed, not once did he think they’d not be home when he got here.
Maddy, picking up on his mood, said quickly, “Well here Robbie.” She reached over the desk. “Here’s the key to the house. Go make yourself comfortable. Your Mom will be home soon.”
“Thanks Maddy,” Rob said and gave her a quick peck on the cheek. “Come on Beth, I guess we can get freshened up anyway.” Rob turned and started back toward the office door, only this time it was he who stopped dead in his tracks, with Beth trying to avoid the collision.
“What’s the matter Rob?” she asked, but could easily see that a car had pulled into the driveway, and an older woman was now rummaging through grocery bags in the vehicle’s trunk, all the while trying to assuage the attention of Toby, who seemed in the midst of a tail wagging and barking frenzy.
“Mom,” Rob said out loud to himself. Turning to Beth with a shit-eating grin on his face, he gave her a huge whopper of a kiss on the lips, and dashed through the door.
“Hey Mom,” Rob said as he quickly approached his mother from behind. “Let me help you with those bags.”
“Now John, don’t be silly,” Mary Hogan said, never once looking up from checking through the bags in the trunk, and never realizing that it was way too early for her youngest son to be home from his doctor’s appointment. “You know how tired you are after your appointments in Hartford. You can always help me unpack after I get all this into the kitchen. Now go on inside. Where’s Sue anyway, she should be out here, not you.”
Rob couldn’t help but smile. He strode up until he was right behind his mother, fended off Toby’s affection, reached down, and gave her a kiss on the cheek. “You know Mom, I’m pretty sure Beth and I can help you with those bags.”
Mary Hogan just stopped breathing… well almost. She gently let go of the bag she was holding onto and started to turn toward the voice, a voice she now could no longer mistake as John’s. It has to be Rob’s voice. It just has to be. Tears were already streaming down her face as she completed enough of the turn to look into her oldest son’s eyes. “Oh Rob,” she gasped.
“Hi Mom,” was all Rob said and took his mother into a huge bear hug, again kissing her on the cheek.
For her part, Mary Hogan kissed her son quickly in return, but her whole body had begun shaking and her tears kept coming, so much so, that her breath was catching in her throat and she couldn’t say anything more. She just let herself be held by Rob, who for his part didn’t seem to want to let her go either.
The mother and son embrace continued until Mary Hogan regained her composure. Stepping back, she began wiping the tears from her face. “Oh Lord,” she began. “I had promised myself that I would handle seeing you much better than that Rob. I’m so sorry I fell apart.” She reached out and took his hands in hers. “Let me look at you?” She took another step back, spread his arms apart to get a good look, and for what it was worth began crying again, because to her eyes, Rob looked terribly drawn and entirely too thin. But she knew, that now was not the time to bring all that up for the family had decided that Rob’s homecoming would be happy, and that they would not force their anxieties or fears on him when he first got home, even though they certainly had many more questions than answers about his over three years in Germany. “Oh it’s so good to have you home,” was all Mary said as she again fell into her son’s embrace.
Rob held on tight for a moment. Finally gently backing away, he took hold of his mother’s face in both hands. “It’s so good to be home,” he sad as he gave his mother a light kiss on the forehead.
Mary Hogan just stared at her son, until reality reasserted itself. “What are you doing home?” she asked disbelievingly. “You’re not supposed to be here yet? All the plans we’ve made… all the plans the city council has made… are for Sunday!”
Rob smirked and said, “So you’re saying, you want me to leave?”
Mary just stood facing her son, unsure of what to say. She knew he was being a wise guy, but couldn’t really bring herself to be upset with him, so she just swatted him on the arm and sighed, “Oh Rob, you’ll never change.”
Rob gave her another small kiss on the cheek, and as he did so saw Beth out of the corner of his eye standing on the walkway to the clinic. He took his mother by the shoulders and said, “Well Mom, as long as you want me to stay, there is someone else here you need to meet.” Rob turned his mother to face in Beth’s direction and whispered in her ear, “Please make her feel at home.”
Beth, who had stayed back by the office to watch the happy reunion, just waved sheepishly in her soon-to-be mother-in-law’s direction.
“Oh,” Mary Hogan said embarrassed that she had been so oblivious… especially since she knew full well that Beth was to accompany Rob. “Beth dear, please come here, let me see you.” Mary started toward Beth with outstretched arms and Toby trudging along side.
Beth made her way to meet Mary Hogan and reached out with her own hands to grasp Mary’s, saying formally, “It’s so nice to finally meet you Mrs. Hogan. Rob has not stopped talking about you and your whole family since he returned from Germany. I couldn’t wait to finally meet you all.”
Mary just smiled and offered, “Now don’t be calling me Mrs. Hogan. It’s Mary or Mom if it’s anything. I would expect nothing less from the woman who has stolen my son’s heart.” Mary Hogan embraced her new daughter-in-law. “Welcome Beth, please know that you are to call this place your home from now on, family deserves nothing less.” She gave Beth a kiss on the cheek and stood back, only to see tears appear in Beth’s eyes. “Now, now, we’ll have none of that.” Mary wiped the tears from Beth’s face, all the while trying to desperately hold back on her own. “This is a happy occasion. Only smiles allowed from now on. We have so much to learn about one another.”
Mary took hold of Beth’s hand again and walked her back toward Rob. Putting Beth’s hand in his Mary asked, “How long have you been here? You both must be tired. Have you even been into the house?”
Rob smiled at Beth, squeezed her hand, and answered his mother, “We just got here Mom. Only had time to check in with Maddy and Toby. I was kind of surprised when nobody was here though.”
Mary Hogan just looked at her son in amazement. “Surprised? You were surprised?” She shook her head as if she would never understand her son. “You could have told someone you were coming you know,” she reprimanded.
At her son’s taken aback gaze, Mary approached Rob, took his face in her hand, squeezed hard and said in earnest, “I love you so very much Rob. I’m so very glad you’re home. I’m so very glad you’re safe. I’m so very glad that Beth can be here to make your homecoming even more special. I couldn’t be any happier than I am right now.” Tears came to her eyes though as she continued, “But you need to know that everyone wanted to make your homecoming perfect… we’ve all been working so hard… and we all thought we had three more days to make everything right.”
“I’m sorry Mom,” Rob said sadly, having a real hard time coping with this new round of tears from his mother.
“Oh Good Lord,” Mary said as even more tears welled in her eyes, “don’t be sorry.” She hugged Rob again for a long moment, but when she finally released her hold on her son, she was smiling a devilish smile that quickly eased her son’s anxiety, but just as quickly, made him realize that he was now up the creek without a paddle for messing up everyone’s plans. “Just know Rob, that since you surprised us, we get to put you to work, it’s only fair.”
Mary walked over to her car’s trunk and instructed, “Okay Rob, these three bags here go into the garage, it’s stuff for the wedding. And Beth,” she said turning to their newest family member. “These two go onto the back porch. I’ll show you. It’s stuff for the welcome home party.” Mary handed one of the two bags to Beth with a smirk, “blame your fiancée,” was all she said to her son-to-be daughter-in-law. And then yelling to Rob who had already grabbed two of the three bags for the garage Mary said, “What’s left goes into the house, Rob. It’s all the perishables.”
As an additional thought, Mary offered, “Oh… and the car can go back in the garage too.”
After listening to her son’s rather sheepish, but also rather sarcastic, ‘Yes Mother’, Mary laughed for the pure joy of hearing Rob’s voice. It was almost as if she could pretend that the last few years never happened. Well almost. She quickly picked up the second bag for the porch, took Beth by the hand and said, “Come on in the house Beth. We’ll let Rob do all the hard work.”
At Beth’s confused look, Mary offered her some advice. “We have a lot to talk about Beth, but the first thing you need to learn about Hogan men… is how to keep those men from getting too big for their britches, regardless of the successes they may achieve in life.” Mary paused, smiled, and added for emphasis, “Rob needs that, always has.”
After Rob finished with the groceries, he returned to the yard to put the car away…
And noticed as he exited the garage, that a pickup truck transporting a Harley Davidson motorcycle, was backing into the driveway. Rob froze in place and his heart skipped a beat, as he watched his father and Mickey O’Flynn get out of the truck. Rob couldn’t help but smile to himself thinking, I’ll be damned. Joe was right, because he could see quite clearly, that the motorcycle had just undergone a major overhaul. The huge ‘Welcome Home Rob’ ribbon attached to the bike’s shiny exterior was a dead give away. His brother Joe had written to Rob early on at Stalag 13, letting him know that their father had taken to keeping up the maintenance on the Harley that Rob had kept stored at his parent’s house.
Boy, was that a shocker after all the grief Joe and I got for even owning motorcycles. Not to mention all the grief I got for crashing that motorcycle into Mickey’s front fence. And most especially after the grief I got when Mickey told Dad that he had seen me showing off for the Stimson twins… just before the crash. Oof.
When neither man, intent on getting the motorcycle out of the truck, had yet to even look in his direction… Rob decided that he needed to make the first move. “So what’s this I see?” he asked as he approached his father and Mickey. “The two men that would have, without hesitation, given me an ass-whooping for ever owning a motorcycle… are now giving that motorcycle some tender loving care. Who would have thought it possible?”
Rob traversed the distance from the garage to the truck in record time and had come face to face with his father, who had turned toward Rob’s voice, but was now just staring at his son unfocused. “Hi Dad,” Rob said taking his father into a huge embrace. He had to wait for the return embrace, as he could tell his father was shocked. Although when it happened, Rob could feel his father’s whole body shaking, and Rob had to fight to breath because his father almost strangled him as he grabbed hold.
“Is it really you?” Michael Hogan choked out through his tears.
Rob, whose own tears were threatening, gasped, “Yeah, it’s really me.” As soon as he could break the hold his father had on him though, Rob took his father’s face in his hands and gave his still shocked father a kiss on the forehead saying, “I love you Dad.”
Michael Hogan’s response to his son’s affection was the knee-jerk reply Rob was expecting. “So you’re not too old to give your father a kiss huh Rob?”
Rob smiled at his father’s well-rehearsed phrase and gave his own anticipated reply of, “Never Dad. Never.”
Michael Hogan grabbed hold of his son by the forearms and squeezed hard. “What are you doing home so soon? Oh my God, don’t answer that. You’re home, that’s all that matters.” Michael Hogan let out a huge sigh of relief. “Good God, you’re really home.”
Rob smiled, “You’re sure it’s okay Dad? You’re not gonna yell at me for being three days early, like Mom did.”
Michael just smiled back at his son. “Well you probably deserved that and you know it’s never prudent to argue with your mother about such things,” Michael laughed and took Rob into another embrace. “Welcome home son.”
“It’s good to be home Dad,” Rob offered as he returned the embrace.
“Robbie,” Mickey O’Flynn said coming up from behind Rob and patting him on the shoulder. “Welcome home!” Mickey reached out his hand, and grasped Rob’s as Rob started to separate himself from his father, and continued barely taking a breath, “My, my. I guess I shouldn’t be calling a war hero, not to mention a Major General, Robbie. It just ain’t proper. So it’s gonna have to be Rob from now on.” Mickey began pumping Rob’s hand hard. “It’s good to have you home Rob. Your Mom and Dad have been worried sick… for so long. They…”
Mickey’s voice caught in his throat and he averted his gaze quickly when Rob’s eyes finally connected with his. He turned from his best friend’s oldest son saying quickly, “Well enough stalling, let me just get this here motorcycle out of the truck for you. Your Dad went to a lot of trouble getting this all fix up you know Rob.” Mickey continued with a non-stop and edgy rambling, “Wouldn’t do for me to get it scratched as I take it out of the truck. You should have been at the garage when…”
Rob, with sorrow ripping through his gut, stood quietly staring at Mickey’s back because all his fears about dealing with the things that had changed… hit him full force. I’m so sorry, he thought knowing that he had to say something to Mickey, but didn’t quite know how to start. Damn it, both Jeff and Chris gone. Rob knew that Mickey was trying to avoid their next inevitable conversation, but Rob also knew he couldn’t let this moment pass, because much as he would have preferred not to deal with it, it just wouldn’t be right. Glancing at his father, Rob could see the tears in his eyes. How could this happen Mickey and Patricia, Dad? They just didn’t deserve this. Rob walked up behind Mickey and put a hand to his shoulder.
Mickey shivered under his touch and fell silent, but never turned to face Rob.
“Mickey,” Rob began softly. “I’m so sorry. I don’t know what to say. I can’t believe that both Jeff and Chris are gone. It’s just not fair. And I know that it’s probably too late for this, but if there’s anything I can do… for you, for Patricia or Becky, even Deloris and little Derek… just let me know please.” Rob squeezed Mickey’s shoulder tightly. “Please. I’m so sorry.”
Mickey still chose not to look at Rob, but finally let out what was, most certainly, a grief-stricken sigh. After taking some time to compose himself, he turned toward Rob and put a hand on his shoulder. Mickey smiled, a sad smile certainly, but a smile never the less. “Thank you Robbie. Losing both boys…” Mickey broke off what he was gong to say and just continued with, “it’s been hard, harder than anything Patricia and I’ve ever… We miss them both… so much. A parent shouldn’t have to bury their children Robbie. It’s just not right.”
Mickey fell silent and shook his head sadly, but eventually moved his hand to squeeze the side of Rob’s neck and continued with a deliberateness in his tone, “But today Robbie, sorry Rob… today Rob isn’t the day to deal with grief. There’s been too much of that already. Today is a day to celebrate… to celebrate with my best friend, that his oldest boy is finally home from that bloody war.” Mickey turned toward Michael and said very adamantly, “Isn’t that right my friend?”
When Michael tried to force a smile, Mickey just continued, “So let’s get a move on then… both of you. We need to get this motorbike into the garage, because if I’m not mistaken Rob, there was supposed to have been a certain young lady accompanying you home. You don’t want to make us wait any longer than we have too, to meet your fiancé... now do you?”
Both Michael and Rob almost jumped to help Mickey with the motorcycle, with Rob saying, “Of course not.”
Meanwhile inside the Hogan family home…
Mary Hogan had been talking almost non-stop, trying to explain everything that was going to happen in the next few days to her soon-to-be daughter-in-law, while at the same time putting all the groceries away. “So after the park’s rededication ceremony, we’ll have a few people back to the house. Not too many, only some family friends. They are all so looking forward to meeting you Beth.”
Beth tried to break into the conversation politely, “Mary… Rob really didn’t want any of this.”
“Oh,” Mary offered, putting a jar of pickles into the refrigerator, and automatically pulling out a piece of cheese and tossing it to Toby, who had staked out his spot under the kitchen table. “Don’t be silly. Rob will be fine with it. Besides Michael and I weren’t able to keep the city council from organizing the parade and rededication. It was only proper for us to invite people back to the house.”
“But Mary, please understand,” Beth said. “That’s why Rob came home early. He wants to spend time with you, his family. And not with every stranger in town.”
“But you do realize Beth,” Mary countered. “That Rob came home early, knowing very well that there would be something planned.” Mary walked over to Beth and took her hands in hers. “We’ll have plenty of time together Beth. Michael and I made sure that other than the party and the wedding, that you and Rob have time to do as you please, and visit with whomever you like.”
“Oh,” was all Beth could say.
“Although,” Mary said with a smile, “the wedding in itself is quite a different story. We have thirty guests coming. It will be so much fun. We’ll be having…”
Beth just sighed and listened quietly to Mary’s explanation of the wedding, all the while still trying to help Mary sort groceries. Although she finally interrupted when she saw Mary get a very large pot out of the pantry and begin to fill it with water. “Mary, Rob wants to take everyone to dinner tonight. Please don’t start anything.”
“Oh,” Mary said finally becoming subdued. “That may not be a good idea Beth. Rob’s brother John is usually very tired after his all day appointments at the Hartford VA. We generally don’t plan anything for those nights. Ever since John started to walk with a cane, he has refused to go out ‘in public’ in his wheelchair. But he’s still not strong enough to take a full day of activity. He needs his wheelchair after he returns from Hartford. And most times, he just gets a quick bite to eat and heads to his bedroom.” Mary’s eyes fill with tears. She turned away from Beth, toward the sink, and continued filling the large pot with water.
Having seen Mary start to cry, Beth came up behind her and asked, “Please Mary, what’s wrong?”
“Oh Beth,” Mary sighed. “It’s just that John scheduled his appointment today to give himself a few days to regain his strength before Rob got home. He didn’t want Rob’s first vision to be of him in a wheelchair. Now I’m afraid…”
“Oh. We’ll work something out Mary,” Beth assured. “But whatever happens… I know Rob loves his brother and that’s all that’s important. It’ll be okay. And I’m sure staying in for dinner is fine as well. I know Rob just didn’t want you to have to bother.”
“Oh Beth. It’s been so long since I’ve cooked Rob anything. It would never be a bother,” Mary offered. “Besides, it’s Thursday and he’s always enjoyed our traditional boiled dinner.” Mary removed the full pot of water, put it on the stove and turned on the gas to get the water heating.
But as she went back to the counter and started sorting through another shopping bag, Beth again came up behind her. “Mary, I hate to do this to you, and I even think Rob will kill me when he finds out I’ve said anything. But if what you call a ‘boiled dinner’ even remotely consists of boiled potatoes and cabbage… my suggestion would be to change the menu for tonight.”
“What do you mean?” Mary asked confused still facing the counter, and not sure she wanted to hear what Beth was going to say.
Beth turned Rob’s mother to face her. “I’m sorry Mary, but the last things on earth Rob will eat now, are boiled potatoes and cabbage. Like I said, he’s going to be angry I said anything… but he and his men spent most of the last few years eating nothing but Nazi supplied, boiled potatoes and cabbage. Just the thought of boiled potatoes and cabbage now, makes him sick.”
“Oh my God. Oh my God,” Mary said quickly moving away from Beth, tuning off the gas, grabbing hold of the pot, and emptying it into the sink. As the water splashed into the sink though, Mary dropped the pot, quickly covered her face with her hands, and started to cry.
Beth took Mary into a huge embrace, trying hard to keep her own tears at bay. “I’m sorry Mary. So very sorry. We can still make this work, though. Rob will never know you know. We can bake the corned beef and have sandwiches. You even have enough bread, I saw it as we were unpacking. It will be fine, really.” Beth let go of Rob’s mother and went looking for the right pan to start the corned beef cooking.
It only took a minute until Mary, not saying a word to Beth, took over preparing the corned beef.
The quiet of the kitchen was soon interrupted by the sound of three men entering through the back porch. Neither Beth nor Mary had heard the truck pull up outside, intent as they were on their own conversation. So it was that when Michael and Rob entered, they were almost assaulted by both Mary and Beth whose emotions had them both still on the verge of tears. Mary took Michael into an embrace and began crying. The same thing happened with Beth and Rob. Neither man knew what to do, especially since their own emotions were still so close to the edge. So both men just held the women tightly, with no one saying a word.
Mickey O’Flynn quickly realized that too many emotions were simmering in the Hogan household… including is own. But it was he, who decided that something had to happen before those emotions boiled over. So turning on the best Irish brogue he could muster, he said, “What’s this now? Everyone gits a hug but me. It tisn’t fair ya know, to be leavin’ me standin’ ‘ere.”
Reacting as if neither man had ever been apart… both Rob and his Dad broke their embraces with Beth and Mary, smirked at each other, turned quickly with arms outstretched, toward Mickey.
Mickey backed away from the onslaught with his own smirk, but continued in his brogue saying, “Both of you be gitting away from me. Tis the women I be needing a hug from.” Mickey started toward Beth until Michael caught him by the arm.
“Now, watch your step, you dirty old man,” Michael threatened. “You won’t be getting a hug from my new daughter-in-law before I do.” Michael turned to Rob, who was standing beside him, and gave him a questioning glance. When Rob just stood quietly smiling... Michael said, “An introduction would be nice Rob.”
“Oh, of course.” Rob turned back toward Beth, took her hand in his, kissed it gently and said, “Beth I’d like you to meet my father, Michael Hogan.”
Michael came forward and took Beth’s face in his hands. Staring intently into her eyes he said, “It’s wonderful to finally meet you Beth. Rob’s letters to us have been glowing with his love for you.” Clambering elephants indeed. He gave her a kiss on her forehead saying, “Welcome to our family.”
Beth was breathless as she stood staring into Rob’s father face. She had earlier easily seen the resemblance between Rob and his mother. And even though on first glance Rob and his father didn’t look all that much alike, she couldn’t help but feel the same passion in his gaze as she did when Rob first looked lovingly into her eyes all those many years ago. Oh my God, their eyes are exactly the same… exactly. Catching her breath she finally said, “Thank you Michael. I’ve been so looking forward to meeting you. This couldn’t have been a nicer welcome.”
“Wonderful,” Michael said with a big smile for Beth, but when he heard the ‘ahem’ of his old friend, Michael took Beth’s hand and said, “And this old coot, is the best friend a man could have. Beth this is Mickey O’Flynn, an old old friend of the family… and Rob’s Godfather.”
Beth reached out to give Mickey his expected hug. “It so nice to meet you,” she said trying to remember the names of everyone Rob told her about. Mickey O’Flynn was certainly one of them and she had the feeling she was supposed to know something else about Mickey, but nothing was coming to mind.
“And I you Beth,” Mickey said releasing Beth, quickly losing the brogue, and finally taking her hand in his. Squeezing her hand, he continued with a glance over at Rob, “You better take care of this young lady Rob… or your Godfather is gonna whoop your butt. Understand?”
With a small smile, Rob replied, “I consider myself threatened Mickey. You have absolutely nothing to worry about.”
“Okay. Good,” Mickey stated and sighed. “I guess I should go now. Welcome home Rob. Patricia and I would love to have you come by the house. But if you can’t make it before Sunday… Patricia, Becky and I’ll be here after the parade, maybe even with Deloris and Derek too. And then we can work out some time to get together and talk before you have to leave for Germany.” Mickey reached out to shake Rob’s hand, and unexpectedly found himself in Rob’s embrace. He quickly broke away from his Godson, and left the house without another word, no longer trusting himself to say anything.
After an awkward silence…
Michael Hogan offered, what he thought would be a safe topic. “Well, what were you ladies up to when we came in? No, don’t tell me, because if I know you Mary, you must already have something cooking…”
As if some kind of dam broke, both Beth and Mary started talking nervously at the same time. Beth with, “Oh Rob, your mother and I talked, we’ll be having dinner here tonight.” And Mary with, “That would be corned beef Michael. We’ll be having sandwiches for dinner.”
Both men glanced at each other with the same unspoken thought… that it probably wouldn’t be a good idea to second-guess the ladies at the moment, but neither was quite sure why. So Michael just took the conversation in a different direction. “Rob, Beth, have you even gotten a chance to freshen up? I get the impression it’s been a whirlwind since you arrived. Where are your things? Let’s get them moved upstairs.”
“Thanks Dad,” Rob answered. “Our things are still out on the front porch. You’re right, things have been a little hectic around here.”
“Oh no,” Mary Hogan interjected, “just hold your horses. You come home three days early and expect your rooms to be ready. Give me a few minutes… then you can come upstairs.” Mary disappeared before Rob could even blink.
“Rooms Dad?” he asked his father with a weary sigh after realizing what his mother meant. “You can’t be that naïve Dad… that you believe that I haven’t been with Beth before now. It was one very long war.”
Michael gave his son a dirty look and said in no uncertain terms, “Neither mine nor your mother’s naivety is in question here Rob.” Michael sighed and glanced at Beth, “Please excuse this conversation Beth…” Returning his gaze to his son, he continued, “Whether you have or have not been together is not the issue. Your mother’s wishes are that you will follow tradition until your wedding night. And you know as well as I, that your mother’s wishes take precedent in this house. They always have and they always will.”
Beth was completely mortified that Rob just admitted to his father that they’d slept together before being married. But still, she could easily see that Rob was now very anxious about responding to his father’s stern pronouncement. And even though she honestly felt the same way as Rob, Beth went over to Rob wanting only to ease the tension between father and son. Taking Rob’s face in her hands she offered, “Please Rob, this is fine, we still have our entire lives together.” Beth kissed him passionately until she finally felt her fiancé relax, and offered quietly, “If a few days of following tradition will make your mother happy… then that’s what we’ll do.”
Michael Hogan couldn’t help but smile inwardly as he now stood watching Rob and Beth interact. He may have come down hard on Rob in this situation, but that was only because he and Mary had had some concerns about their son and their son’s soon-to-be bride. Both were worried that something less than love may have been driving this marriage. But in looking into his son’s eyes now… Michael easily saw that that wasn’t the case. He, still after all these many years, clearly remembered those passion-filled days after asking Mary to marry him. He couldn’t mistake that look in his son’s face, or his son’s fiancé’s.
So Michael was now actually just plain relieved to know that if a pregnancy already existed in Rob and Beth’s union, that it was not only that, that had brought them together. For he has seen too many instances, since the war ended, where that was indeed the case. His practice had almost double in the past few months, and he couldn’t say that he’d seen very many couples’ love for one another outweigh an unsteady commitment to their unborn child. It’s just that you need both to make a marriage work. And love is the only thing that will keep a relationship bound tightly as both people try to surpass life’s hurdles; especially with all that child rearing brings to test that relationship.
Rob finally turned from Beth and apologized to his father, “I’m sorry Dad. Please don’t tell Mom we had this conversation, okay?”
“Never Rob. Never,” his father said turning quickly to head for the front porch. And I will never admit to you that your mother already expected us to have this conversation. Michael was now desperately trying to hide a huge smirk from Beth and Rob, especially since his concerns about their relationship had evaporated. “Well, lets get those bags. Your Mom should be finished with the rooms by now.”
“Sure Dad,” Rob said and followed his father to retrieve the bags.
Michael preceded Rob and Beth up the staircase to the second floor. Mary met them at the landing half way up, as she had been on her way down to let them know the rooms were ready. Michael allowed himself a huge grin and a wink for Mary as he met her on the landing. It was enough for Mary to know… what she hoped was true, was. That Rob was in love, and that love was what was the driving force behind this whirlwind of a relationship.
Mary offered, “Beth, you’ll be staying in our daughter Sue’s old bedroom. Rob, you’ve got yours and Joe’s old room.” All four continued quietly up stairs together until Beth was shown to her room. “If there’s anything you need Beth,” Mary offered. “You just give a holler.”
Beth nodded and disappeared into her bedroom. And Rob did the same just a short distance down the hall in the room adjacent to Beth’s. Neither had said another word to either Michael or Mary.
Michael and Mary though… took a moment to stand outside Rob’s old bedroom, waiting on Rob’s return. For they both knew that Rob would quickly notice that the door that had always been closed-off between his and his sister’s room was no longer concealed, nor even locked. It had only been concealed, when years ago, as young teens, Rob and Joe had become un-merciless to their younger sister as she was ‘growing up’. And the only way to finally stop the harassment was to permanently close off the door between the two rooms.
“Mom! Dad!” Rob hollered as he exited the bedroom, assuming that his parents had already gone downstairs. When he almost collided with them he smiled, “You two! You’re the best! You don’t know how much this means to me. Thank you.”
“Whatever do you mean Rob?” Mary asked incredulously, quickly kissed him on the cheek, and disappeared down the stairs.
Rob just turned toward his father and stared.
“Far be it from me to stand in the way of a herd of clambering elephants Rob,” his father smirked, put a hand to Rob’s shoulder and said, “Welcome home son. You just make sure Beth knows she’s welcome here too.”
“Take your time to get settled Rob,” his father explained. “Sue and John aren’t going to be home for a couple hours yet. You have plenty of time before they get here.” And he too disappeared from view down the stairs as well.
Rob smiled to himself, and instead of heading back into his bedroom with his original plan of surprising Beth with a big entrance through the connecting door, he walked toward the other bedroom, hoping now to give Beth an official carry across the threshold. But as he opened the door to surprise Beth, he found her sitting on the edge of the bed… crying.
“Beth,” Rob said as he sat down to embrace her. “What’s the matter?”
But before he could get his arms around her, she stood a little shakily, saying, “Everything’s fine Rob. Really.”
“Everything’s not fine Beth,” Rob said as he stood and grabbed hold of her arm. “Crying does not make everything fine.” He pulled her to face him. “Please tell me what’s wrong.”
“Oh Rob,” Beth sobbed. “You…” Beth fell silent again and sat heavily on the bed.
“What? What did I do?” Rob asked panicked.
“You told your father…” Beth tried to say. “Now he thinks… I saw it in his eyes Rob.”
“Beth please,” Robbed offered still anxious. “What did I…”
“You told him we’ve been together Rob. He probably thinks you’re marrying me only because I’m pregnant,” Beth sort of yelled. “I’m sure he thinks that I’ve forced you into this. He probably thinks I’m a whore. And now even your mother probably thinks…”
“Oh Beth,” Rob said with a relieved sigh. “I know that’s not what they think. Trust me. Granted I wouldn’t put it passed my father to worry that you’re pregnant… that is what he does for a living after all.” Rob sat back down beside her and took her hands in his. “Beth, everything is fine. Don’t worry. I’m sorry I said what I did. The whole thing kinda caught me off-guard. I just couldn’t stand the thought of being apart from you…” Rob paused, kissed Beth, and offered despondently, “And besides… we both know that you’re not pregnant.” He sighed. “Though not from lack of trying.”
“Rob, that is not funny,” Beth accused, somewhat angrily.
“You know… you’re right Beth,” Rob retorted even more angrily. “It’s not very funny at all, now is it?” Rob got up and moved away from Beth to stare out the bedroom window and into the back yard.
Beth followed him. “Rob, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that.” Beth took hold of Rob around the waist from behind and rested her head on his shoulder. “Everything will work itself out Rob. Rodney Ballister assured us that after you recover completely… everything will return to normal.” Beth kissed Rob on the cheek. “Your whole body has gone through the ringer Rob… between the injuries, the stress, the surgeries, and the malnutrition… you just need time.”
Beth hugged Rob tightly and continued, “I’ve never made wanting your baby a secret Rob. And you know I’ll wait for as long is it takes. But if something happens that keeps us from having that baby together… there are still a lot of little babies out there that need a Mom and Dad because of this war. We will raise a family together Rob, I have no doubts.”
“You’re too good for me Beth,” Rob offered quietly, and then suddenly relaxed, turned, and scooped Beth up in his arms. “But that’s why I couldn’t love you more.” Carrying her, he walked over toward the connecting door, and offered… “And to prove to you that my Father and Mother have accepted you without reservation,” he continued in a wise-ass tone while trying to balance Beth in his arms and reach down to open the door at the same time. “You’ll be happy to know, that after all that show downstairs… they gave us adjoining rooms.” Rob swung open the door and swept his fiancé over the threshold and plopped her on his bed.
“Did you know?” Beth asked suspiciously.
“Actually no,” Rob offered. “That door had been closed off for so long… I never had an inkling till I walked into the bedroom. And honestly, knowing my parents, I’m now sure that this whole thing was only their way of keeping up appearances… for when company comes.”
“Oh,” was all Beth said with her eyes sparkling as she continued to lie vulnerable where Rob had plunked her onto the bed.
Rob couldn’t help but grin at his fiancé, and before Beth could react, he plopped himself on top of her, took hold of her shoulders, blew her hair lightly from her face and gave her a long, deep throaty, and passionate kiss. When Rob finally ended the kiss, he could see that Beth was flushed and breathless, so he rolled off to one side and offered seductively, while slowly messaging her upper thigh, “We do have some time Beth. We could take a whack at making that baby. Even Ballister wasn’t sure when things would work themselves out. Actually his advice to me was ‘work at it’ whenever the mood strikes. So what do you say? Huh?”
“Oh don’t be ridiculous Rob,” Beth chastised. “Not with your Mom and Dad just downstairs.” Beth wiggled to get out from under Rob’s grasp and off the bed. “Besides, I need to freshen up. And so do you…” Beth took to smelling the air near Rob. “Most definitely you need to freshen up. Long train rides don’t agree with you,” she smirked and escaped from Rob’s bedroom just as he started to playfully chase her.
“Okay, getting freshened up it is,” Rob agreed stopping at the connecting door. After finally retreating, he yelled from his room into Beth’s… “Hey I meant to ask… how’d my mother get you to agree to eat in tonight?”
Meanwhile downstairs in the Hogan family kitchen…
Mary embraced Michael as he entered the kitchen after returning from upstairs. “Can you believe he’s home Michael? I need someone to pinch me, so I know I’m not dreaming.”
“Heck, I’m still waiting for the credits to roll,” Michael offered in return. “It feels so unreal. It’s like being in a movie theatre, watching everything as if I’m one stepped removed.”
Mary released her husband and continued very seriously, “But for real Michael… how do you think he looks? I know I can overreact, but Rob looks so thin, so tired, and… so old.” Mary shook her head despondently, “He’s even gone gray at the temples… he’s only 36. That never happened to you until you were in your fifties.”
“Mary,” Michael tried to console. “Remember that we agreed that if Rob came home, healthy and happy… we’d leave it at that.”
Mary tried to break in, “But…”
“Please Mary,” Michael said to stop her from going any further down the road she was heading. “I understand completely how you feel. He looks the same way to me, but we both know that the conditions he was living under in that POW camp would take a toll on any man, regardless of all his assurances to us.” Or make that all the lies he’s told us. “And add that to the fact that he was in charge of that massive intelligence operation and responsible for the lives of so so many…” Michael sighed. “A little tired, a little thin, and a little gray… is okay.”
“So… you’re saying you’re sure he’s healthy?” Mary asked anxiously.
“Oh Mary,” Michael sighed. “The only thing I’m sure of is that he’s happy. I can easily see that he loves Beth. You should have seen the look in his eyes when I confronted him earlier. He loves her, and I know Beth is going to be good for him. Healthy though… is a whole other kettle of fish. But I’ll take what I can get at this point. And you should too. Honestly just the fact that I’ve physically touched Rob makes him healthy enough in my book. He’s alive and he’s home. That’s all that really matters.”
“But you promised me you’d…” Mary started.
“I’ll keep my promise Mary,” Michael interrupted. “I’ve already talked to my colleagues. If I can get Rob to see a doctor here in the States before he goes back to Germany, I will. Only now, we just may need to try and get Beth to see one as well.”
“Oh!” Mary offered anxious, as well as a little excited, for she already knew what Michael meant, because it was not as if the subject hadn’t come up between them before.
“Well not that I got any real information Mary,” Michael cautioned. “But our concern that Beth might be pregnant… is a distinct possibility. It may not be a reality yet, but most definitely a possibility.”
“Then you need to talk to them both,” Mary stated firmly.
“I will Mary. Don’t worry,” Michael assured. “With the situation as unstable as it is in Germany. I most certainly want my grandchild to get a good start. And having Beth seen by a doctor here in the States, is the best start I can offer. Rob, is an adult on the other hand… I may not be able to get him to do anything. But I’m going to try… Like I said, I’ve already talked with my colleagues and they’re all willing to fit Rob and Beth in, if and when it’s necessary.”
“Alright,” Mary agreed and then demanded, “Just make sure you keep on top of it Michael.”
Michael just nodded, taking the unintended command in stride. But decided to change the subject, hoping to keep the peace. He walked over to the stove, opened the door, and took a smell of the corned beef cooking. “Hmm, smells good… So what brought this change on Mary? We’ve always had a boiled dinner on Thursdays. Why just sandwiches tonight?”
Almost an hour later…
“Sorry that took so long Dad,” Rob offered as he entered the kitchen and came up behind his father. Patting him on the shoulder Rob said, “You can’t even get a long hot shower in England these days. It felt great on these tired old bones.” Rob turned immediately toward the refrigerator, suddenly feeling like he did as a teenager when he’d just gotten back from football practice. He got the milk out and grabbed a glass from the cupboard. “Beth will be down soon, she’s just getting dressed.”
It wasn’t until he heard an ‘ahem’ that he actually looked across the kitchen to where his mother now stood smiling… and holding a toddler. “So Rob,” Mary began with a huge grin. “There’s someone here who wants to meet you.”
“Well,” Rob said with a smile, putting the milk and cup down on the kitchen table. “There’s no mistaking Stephen… he looks just like his Dad.” Rob walked over to where his mother was standing, and asked, “Is Ed here? How did…”
“Oh no,” his mother offered. “Grandma Kathy was babysitting today. I just went over and picked Stephen up so he could meet his uncle.” Mary bounced little Stephen on her hip and asked, “Can you say hi to your Uncle Rob, Stephen?”
Stephen for his part just stared at Rob and said nothing.
“Hi Stephen,” Rob offered quietly and reached out to touch his nephew’s hand. When that didn’t seem to go over well, Rob stood back, and seeing Toby under the table, asked about the only thing he could remember Sue writing to him about Stephen recently, “So I heard that you’ve been taking swimming lessons with Toby here. He’s kinda hard to swim with… I remember always getting a big old paw in my face. Does he do that to you too?”
That subject clearly eased Stephen’s nervousness, because he blurted out, “No Uncle Rob! He just gives me big kisses.”
“Oh, you’re lucky,” Rob replied. “That means he really likes you. Can I come watch you swim with Toby sometime?”
“Yup,” Stephen said nonchalantly, but began to wiggle out of his grandmother’s arms. When he reached the floor, and made a move to avoid Toby, who had just gotten up to give him a slobbery kiss… Stephen went immediately to Rob, took his hand, and pulled him toward the living room. “Grandma has a picture of me swimming with Toby.”
“Great!” Rob said with a smirk at his mother, as he let himself be lead toward the living room. Rob bent down near the coffee table that Stephen had lead him too. He put his arm around Stephen and said, “What a great picture! I bet your Mom and Dad are proud of you… I never learned to swim until I was older.”
“And I still don’t like to swim,” Beth’s gentle voice chimed in as she entered the living room.
Both Rob and Stephen turned toward the voice and Rob who was still holding Stephen’s shoulder said, “Stephen… this is your Aunt Beth.”
“Hi Aunt Beth!” Stephen said without any hesitation, all his nervousness gone.
“Hello Stephen. It’s so nice to meet you,” Beth offered as she also bent down to look at the picture of Stephen and Toby. “Oh wow. What a wonderful picture!”
“Yeah. And let me tell you… his parents aren’t the only ones proud of him,” Michael Hogan offered like a bragging Grandpa. “His grandparents are pretty impressed too.” Michael walked over to where the small group was still squatting together on the floor. “Stephen actually helps me at the clinic. He makes sure all the other boys and girls aren’t afraid when they come to see me. He shows them all the ropes… isn’t that right, Stevie?” he asked scooping up his grandson.
“Yup,” Stephen replied beaming.
“Oh,” Rob started sarcastically as he stood up. “So I can certainly see where Stephen stands in the Hogan family…” Turning to Beth and helping her up off the floor, he continued snidely, “I seem to remember that if Joe and I wandered over to your clinic Dad, we were threatened with an ass-whooping if we ever touched anything.” Rob quickly pushed Beth right passed his father and back into the kitchen.
“But Beth,” Michael retorted quickly. “What Rob conveniently forgot, was that both he and Joe were known neighborhood-wide as the ‘terrible twosome’! If trouble followed anyone, it would be them. I was afraid I’d have no clinic left!”
Beth laughed and came back with, “That doesn’t surprise me Michael? I realized that Rob and Joe could be trouble in tandem… very shortly after meeting Joe for the first time!”
“Hey,” Rob said dejectedly, “you’re supposed to be on my side here!”
Beth and Michael laughed together at Rob’s demeanor, while Mary who hadn’t been privy to the entire conversation just smiled at the easy interaction of the three. It seemed that some of the ‘first meeting’ tension had dissipated. Although she knew more of it was to come, and now dreaded what was to come, for she still didn’t know how either John or Rob were going to react to one another. Mary knew that John so looked up to his big brother that he had always tried to emulate him… and she knew that John couldn’t bear ‘to have’ Rob see him as an invalid. But Mary also knew that Rob had always felt responsible for his little brother growing up and that it would probably kill Rob… ‘to see’ his brother as an invalid.
Mary sighed to herself, not really knowing how to deal with what was to come, because she knew that she wasn’t going to handle seeing the expected pain in her sons’ eyes any better than they would. But she had to agree with Beth… she knew Rob and John loved each other, and had to believe that that was going to have to be the answer. Everyone will just have to face their feelings in this case, instead of trying to avoid them.
As the laughter died down, Mary offered the only thing she could think of, “Well, the corned beef is almost done. And since Sue and John won’t be back for another hour yet, if Rob, you and Beth are hungry… I can certainly make you up sandwiches now. John and Sue can eat when they get in.”
“No Mom,” Rob answered. “That’s okay, we can wait…. but that brings up something I wanted to talk to you and Dad about… Beth told me about John’s long days at Hartford, and that he doesn’t want me to see him in a wheelchair… Honestly, I have to admit, it would kill me to see him in a wheelchair.”
Rob sighed. “So… I did have this idea that might…”
Just short of an hour later…
“Rob, remember to support John’s left side,” Michael offered anxiously. “That’s his weak side. The additional injury to that leg…”
“Dad,” Rob interrupted softly and grabbed hold of his father’s arms and squeezed. “Dad. It’ll be fine. I’d never let John fall. Really. I’ll carry him, if it comes to that.”
“But, it’s just…” Michael blurted out, the doctor and the father in him clashing after having taken care of his youngest son for months. And even though John was doing much better than ever expected, he just couldn’t get rid of the anxiety of trying to keep him safe from harm.
“Dad,” Rob interjected again. “I understand.” Rob gave his father’s arms another squeeze. “It’ll be okay. You told me everything I need to know about John’s injuries.” Actually you told me way more than I need to know…I’m so sorry John. “And besides, Sue is gonna be there too… she knows everything there is to know. I promise to get him in the house quickly, or as quickly as possible. Okay?”
Mary came and took hold of Michael’s arm. She was surprised that it was he who was the anxious one in this. Usually he let that be her prerogative. “Michael, it will be okay. And it will let John keep his promise to himself. You know how much being able to stand on his own two feet, when he first sees Rob, means to him.”
“Yes I know,” Michael agreed. “But Rob you need to…” Michael cut himself off, rubbed his face with both hands and repeated, “yes I know,” as he turned from Rob and removed himself from his wife’s grasp. He walked across the kitchen and stood facing out the window above the sink and staring into the back yard. He mumbled almost inaudibly, “Please just be careful.”
Then a short time later, just as the car pulled into the driveway…
Rob positioned himself, just concealed enough beside the house, so that neither Sue nor John would see him until the time was right. Here goes nothing, he thought to himself making his way to in front of the car as it pulled to a stop. “Hey! What’s this?” he yelled loudly as he banged even louder on the front hood of the car. “What are you two trying to do… kill your older brother after he just gets home?”
With that, Rob pretended to roll off the hood to John’s side of the car, and was actually happy – in that unabashed older brother way – to see that he had shocked the shit out of both his siblings. “I can’t believe you even let Sue drive John! If I remember correctly, she was never great behind the wheel. Ugh, I remember those learner permit days!”
Because John and Sue were still just staring dumbfounded, Rob had gotten all the way to his brother’s door, opened it, leaned quickly in over John, and grabbed hold of his sister’s shoulder. “Hey there little sister. You gonna get out of the car to give your big brother a proper welcome!”
“Of course Rob,” Sue said still shocked, but immediately opened the driver’s side door, and got out.
“And that goes for you too baby brother,” Rob said in a command tone, and patting John on the chest as he retreated, only slightly, from the vehicle. “Hey what’s that on the floor?” he asked calmly, never looking into his brother’s face. “Gotta move your feet John, so I can get a good look,” Rob said as he gently took both of his brother’s legs and swung them out of the car.
Sue had finally made it over to John’s side of the car, and stood quietly, and still bewildered, while Rob finished positioning John’s legs on the ground.
“Guess there was nothing there. My mistake. Maybe it was on the seat. Move your butt John, so I can see,” Rob offered as he went to put his arms around his brother’s waist, and still never once looked into his brother’s face. But before he could start to lift John, he was finally forced to look up, when he felt John’s firm hand grip his shoulder.
“Hey big brother,” John offered with a knowingly sly smile. “I get what you’re trying to do. I just ain’t that stupid… but thanks.” John glanced over at Sue, who was also smiling at Rob’s transparent ploy.
“What are you talking about?” Rob asked incredulously as he stood and looked innocently from one sibling to another. “I just thought I saw something. It wouldn’t pay to lose change under the seat or in the cushion… you know.”
“Yeah okay,” John said to appease his brother and willingly offered Rob his left arm. “Just give me a hand up, will ya? And I can give you your proper welcome home.”
Rob, saying nothing more, just took hold of John around the waist, and helped him stand.
Sue, almost by rote, had gone immediately to retrieve John’s cane from the back seat. But as she turned to hand it to John, she saw that both her bothers were sharing a silent bear hug. “Hey you can’t leave me out of this…” she complained and was drawn into the hug by Rob.
After a brief silence, Sue finally offered a little disorientated, “I’m so glad you’re home Rob… but I thought you weren’t coming home until Sunday.”
Rob broke the embrace and positioned himself to support John’s walk into the house, but sighed… “Is anyone in this house gonna forgive me for coming home early? Huh?”
As John took hold of his cane from Sue and continued to lean on his brother, he offered. “I will Rob, I will.”
“Great. Thanks John. I knew I could count on you,” Rob exhaled heavily but grinned and winked at his brother.
“You’re welcome Rob. I guess though… I should have remembered that the reverse is also true.” John patted Rob’s shoulder. “Thanks for this,” John offered seriously, “really.”
“Well… you’re welcome,” Rob said embarrassed getting caught in his ploy, but only a little embarrassed. “Okay… let’s get a move on then. Mom has supper almost ready. Wouldn’t do to be late, now would it?”
“Now that’s an understatement, if I ever heard one,” John offered with a smirk that both his siblings easily understood.
And then at the end of a very long day…
Beth was lying in bed, on her side and to the right of fiancé. Her head was resting on his shoulder, and her arm was draped across his chest. Rob was lying on his back, his left arm encircling Beth, and his right hand propped behind his head. He was staring quietly at the ceiling. They had been this way for more than an hour now. No noise. No nothing.
Beth was getting anxious.
She hated when Rob was so quiet, even though she knew that it had become his way of working through whatever was bothering him. But tonight, this long period, harked back to when he first returned from the war. There were very many nights of quiet contemplation then, and Beth had accepted it at first. Rob certainly had the right to his quiet time. But Beth realized fairly quickly, that pulling what was bothering Rob, from him, always helped him cope. Beth knew that this quiet contemplation was one thing that had changed in Rob because of the war. He now tended to bury his feelings, instead of dealing with them.
Most times now though Beth could just confront him, and he would respond, either happily or not, but she always got a response. Today though had been so stressful and so emotionally ridden, that she was worried that he’d just clam up, say nothing, and she would lose any headway she’d already made. So instead of being confrontational, she decided on the quiet and more comforting approach of a little foreplay, knowing that once she got Rob’s attention, she could ask him what she wanted.
Beth took her hand and began gently running her index finger, slowly and deliberately, over the nipple closest to her. When Rob didn’t respond, she shifted her weight so she could perform the same message of the other nipple. She was rewarded only with Rob’s shifting position to accommodate her. Beth couldn’t accept that as a response though, as Rob had taken to accommodating Beth with whatever she wanted in their bed. His shifting now was automatic just to make her comfortable. Beth messaged the second nipple and finally kissed Rob gently a few times on his chest. Glancing up into his face, she saw that he was still staring quietly at the ceiling.
Beth sighed inwardly… although she did know of a way to up the ante a bit. Only with the stress of today, she really wasn’t sure what Rob’s reaction was going to be. The first time she did what she was planning, Rob recoiled from her, as if he had been struck by lightning. Since that time, it had slowly, very very slowly, become a comforting bit of foreplay between them. But today may be a different story. Still Beth knew she would get a response from Rob, and that was what she needed most, if she was to help Rob back from wherever he was tonight. Beth took her hand, gently placed it on his stomach and traced her hand tenderly along the prominent scars on his torso.
Rob stiffened at her touch, took a sharp intake of breath, and grabbed her hand… gently. “Please Beth? Not tonight, okay?” Rob almost begged while still breathing heavily, “I’m sorry, not tonight. Please?” Rob quickly released his hold on Beth. “I’m sorry,” he repeated.
“It’s okay Rob, not tonight,” she offered, pulling herself up to kiss him on the lips. “Please, don’t be sorry.” Beth knew that this was her chance to keep him talking, so she decided changed tactics completely. And guilt works quite nicely. “But I need to know why this afternoon I was the object of your desire, and tonight… nothing.”
Rob sat up in bed, and took hold of Beth by the arms, “Please don’t feel like that Beth. You know that I love you. Please, it’s just…” Rob stopped talking as he saw the ‘gotcha’ look in Beth’s eyes. “It’s just that I’ve been ignoring you, huh?” Rob admitted sheepishly. “I’m sorry Beth. It’s just been one very long day.”
“Yeah, it certainly has been,” Beth agreed sympathetically. “I’ll accept being ignored occasionally Rob, but you know as well as I do, that you can’t keep everything bottled up inside of you.” Beth sat up next to Rob and gave him a kiss on the cheek. “Tell me what’s bothering you or neither of us are going to get any sleep tonight.”
Beth watched Rob get up and start pacing the small area at the foot of the bed. She just sat up and leaned against the headboard, clutching a pillow in her lap, and waiting on Rob to start explaining. She was just about to prod the conversation, when he stopped pacing and turned to face her.
“Beth,” Rob offered. “It’s just… I mean… ah hell.” He came around sat on the edge of the bed and fell silent.
“You have to start somewhere Rob,” Beth stated adamant, knowing that an aggressive posture usually broke his silence.
“Fine,” Rob replied giving Beth a knowing dirty look. “My parents lied to me Beth. They never told me about John’s leg. All I ever got was that his spinal cord was crushed under the wreck of his plane. If that wasn’t bad enough. No one Beth. No one ever mentioned that his left leg was almost severed and if it hadn’t been for the weight of the wreckage stopping the blood flow to that area, he would have bled out long before he was rescued.” Rob picked up a pillow and flung it across the room. “They lied to me.”
“Rob,” Beth offered trying to calm him down, “listen. I know how much you care about John. But you’re just gonna have to get past this. John looked like he was doing great to me. Certainly tired today, that’s expected. But you heard the same thing I did, that his doctors expect a full recovery. And you heard John… he’s going back to school in the fall. Be happy for him Rob.” When Rob didn’t respond Beth continued forcefully, “But you also have to realize that by they time your parents could tell you anything, his leg was no longer the biggest issue. They didn’t lie to you Rob.”
“But they should have told me,” was all Rob said.
“And that statement comes from a son who has told his parents everything about the injuries he sustained, right?” Beth asked.
“Beth you know I didn’t want them to know. It was bad enough that I had to keep what I was doing, from them, for three years. It just would have given them more to worry…” Rob paused and then somewhat surprised said, “You know Beth, for weeks I’ve been worrying about how I would respond to my family’s concerns. Every letter they sent to me in England was full of anxiety about my health and curiosity about my operation at Stalag 13.” Rob sighed. “Not once did they mention any of that today.”
“Rob, were you in the same house I was today?” Beth asked sarcastically. “What I managed to figure out… was that your family loves you, and were just plain happy they could be with you, touch you, and talk to you. Nothing else seemed to matter.”
“But…” Rob offered.
“But nothing Rob,” Beth interrupted. “More than likely those questions will come. Just accept that today was a day for family. And that’s all.” Beth was surprised, but happy to watch Rob’s whole demeanor change. Almost as if a champagne bottle popped, Rob went from quietly controlled to gossip gushing.
“So tell me,” Rob proposed with a smile. “What did you think of Ed and Sue? Do you think they look happy? Huh? I wasn’t so sure. I’ve known Ed for ages, but he wasn’t quite the same. I mean they both certainly loved Stephen. I could see that, but did they look happy together?”
“Whoa Rob.” Beth smiled. “I talked to Sue for a little bit today. She and Ed seem very happy from what she told me. But she also told me that Ed, for a long time now, has had to act as a son, a son-in-law, a brother, and a husband, not to mention – in her words – a ferryboat captain for your entire family.” Beth sighed. “I’m sorry Rob. But with you three boys gone, and John getting injured, that left your parents alone with Sue. You should just thank Ed for being the kind of man willing to fill in for you all. He’s probably just as tired as you are. But from what I saw, he’s a good husband and father. Just be happy for them Rob.”
Rob sighed, “I guess Ed gives me an ideal to work toward huh? How come you put up with my neuroses Beth?”
“Because I love you Rob,” Beth assured. “You already have the makings of a good husband. Granted Ed’s got you beat with the father part, and Sue’s got me beat with the mother part. I only hope you think I’ll make a good wife.”
“Oh Beth,” Rob assured. “That’s not in question. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
“So,” Beth supposed. “We’ll just have to depend on each other to be good parents when the time comes. Agreed?”
“Agreed,” Rob offered quietly, as he got up, walked over to the window, and looked out in the darkness.
“Oh Rob,” Beth said coming up behind him, having seen his mood deteriorate. “It will work out. You know…”
Rob turned back to Beth, “I know Beth, that’s not it.” Rob sighed. “I can live with however our family comes into being. I was just thinking of Mickey and Patricia O’Flynn. They were good parents and look what happened…”
Beth said nothing, as she knew she had forgotten something that Rob had told her about Mickey O’Flynn. She just waited for Rob to continue, because she now dreaded to be reminded of what that was.
“…I’m not sure I could handle it Beth. As a matter of fact, I know I couldn’t handle it. Losing both Chris and Jeff has been hell for them. I could see it in Mickey’s eyes, regardless of his putting on that stoic face in front of everyone.” Rob sighed and took Beth in his arms. “Is having children… worth the pain of maybe losing those children, in the world such as it is? I don’t know.”
“Rob,” Beth said. “I can’t answer that. I saw too many sons and daughters die in this war.” She kissed Rob. “But what I think… is that experiencing one minute of love from a child, will be enough to carry me through whatever life throws at me, because the alternative is to live an empty life. I couldn’t do that.”
Rob smiled at Beth, scooped her up in his arms, and carried her back to their bed. This time though he placed her gently on the bed and said as he bent over her… “One day Beth, one day we’ll have that family. Never would I want an empty life for you.” Rob kissed his fiancé. “I love you,” he said. And then smirking down at Beth, he propositioned, “We could always get to work on that family now you know…”
Beth just smirked back at her fiancé. “Yeah. We could,” Beth replied, taking Rob around the waist and pulling him close. “Guess that means though, that neither of us are going to get any sleep tonight…”
Opening Day, Bridgeport Connecticut.
Stay tuned for the Opening Day Home Games of our other Heroes…
Thanks for Reading
Patti and Marg
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