“The Many Loves of Rafe McCawley” [PG-13] – 3/7

 

“THE MANY LOVES OF RAFE McCAWLEY”

PART 3 – The Homecoming Queen

LONG ISLAND, NEW YORK; DECEMBER 1940 . . . “Say Rafe? Are you still sore? That I talked Lila Deakins into driving you away, like that?” Danny glanced uneasily at his friend. 

The pair slowly made their way to the next station. Rafe seemed distracted. Almost sad. Danny knew who was on his mind. The Shelby Belle. “It’s okay, Danny,” he said softly.

Danny blinked. “Huh?”

A sad smile touched Rafe’s lips. “It’s okay. About Lila. Hell, I forgave you about two hours after I left the Shelby House. It didn’t take me long to figure out that you were simply trying to protect me.”

“You seemed distracted for a moment.”

Nodding, Rafe continued, “I guess I was remembering Lila on that last day. After I left the house, I had looked back and saw her staring out the window. Crying.”

“Maybe you should have went back and . . .” Danny said, feeling a sudden burst of guilt.

Rafe shook his head. “No. I did the right thing. Actually, Lila did the right thing. I was too young. Hell, Sheriff Crawford would have put her behind bars if anyone had ever found out. Besides, she didn’t stay around Shelby very long.”

Danny remembered. Two months after Rafe’s last visit to the Shelby House, the two friends had learned from local mechanic Farley Bates that Lila had departed for Memphis. Danny recalled that his friend had remained silent for nearly the rest of the day. Quite a feat for the usually talkative Rafe McCawley.

After the Shelby Belle’s departure, Rafe had turned to girls of his age with a vengeance. Danny remembered that he did not remain with one very long, during those last three years in high school. He usually dated a girl for at least four to six months. Except for one who barely lasted a month.

“Say Rafe,” Danny said out loud, “do you remember Eleanor Conway?”

A frown creased Rafe’s forehead. “Ellie Conway? What made you think of her?”

Danny shrugged. “I don’t know. I guess I was thinking of all the girls you’ve dated in high school. Then I realized that you didn’t stay with Ellie Conway as long as you did with the others. Not that I’m complaining.”

The two friends found themselves standing in line to have their reflexes tested. In a very long line. One of Rafe’s brows quirked upward. “Is this your way of telling me that you didn’t care for Ellie?”

Danny, in a rare moment of sarcasm, shot back, “Are you saying that you did?”

* * * *

SHELBY, TENNESSEE; OCTOBER-NOVEMBER 1933 . . . Coach McCuffie blew his whistle and the Varsity football team of Shelby High gathered around him on the field. “Okay boys! That’s enough practice for today. Don’t forget that a bus will be in front of the school, tomorrow morning. And it will leave precisely at 9:30a.m. Now, hit the showers!”

Rafe McCawley and his fellow players, streamed off the football field. Some ran toward the Physical Education building, whooping at the top of their lungs. The remaining athletes, including Rafe, slowly made their way off the field. “Hey there, Rafe!” A high, silvery-voice stopped the seventeen year-old in his tracks. Was that . . .? He turned around. Behind him stood a nubile, pretty girl with elfin features, and blond hair. Eleanor Conway.

Everyone at Shelby High knew about Ellie Conway. Cheerleader. The new president of the Chatelaine Society Club. And recently elected Secretary of the Student Body. Not much brains upstairs, Rafe recalled, but very shrewd. Especially when it came to her social position. Her father happened to be the head manager of a local mortgage company. Another thing about Ellie Conway that everyone knew – she happened to be an ardent Hollywood movie fan. She had especially developed an obsession toward one of Hollywood’s newest sex symbols – Jean Harlow. That explained why Ellie’s usual honey-brown hair had been dyed platinum blond.

Rafe gave the cheerleader a polite smile. “Hey, Ellie. What can I do for you?”

Pale blue eyes flashed at him. “I’m having a little party at my house, tomorrow night. You know, to celebrate our victory?”

“What victory? The game isn’t until tomorrow.” Both Rafe and Ellie referred to the football game Shelby High would play against a high school at a nearby town.

A coy Ellie lightly slapped Rafe’s chest. “Oh c’mon Rafe! This is Marshall High we’re talking about. I reckon we can beat them blindfolded!”

Rafe could not deny the truth. Marshall High School possessed one of the worst football teams in this part of the state. Like Ellie, he figured that Shelby High would easily come out the winner.

Ellie continued, “Since it’s certain our team will win, I decided to have a party, tomorrow night. Wanna come?”

“I don’t know, Ellie,” Rafe replied. “You see, I don’t have a date.” Just a week ago, his three-month relationship with Cora Hale had ended.

Ellie’s pert nose crinkled. “That’s okay. Why don’t you bring Danny along, instead? I’m sure he would love to come.”

Surprise overwhelmed Rafe. Although a popular guy himself, not many have been willing to include Danny in their parties. Being the son of the dead Lucas Walker had done nothing for the younger boy’s popularity. “Well, that’s really nice of you, Ellie,” Rafe replied. “We’ll be there.”

“Good. I’ll see you tomorrow.” Ellie further surprised Rafe by planting a quick peck on his nose.

* * * *

“She invited me to her party?” Danny eyed the older boy suspiciously. “Ellie Conway?”

The two friends sat on the porch, outside the McCawley farmhouse. Rafe and Danny had just finished eating supper with Rafe’s parents. While the latter remained inside the house to listen to the radio, the two adolescents had decided to sit outside for some fresh air.

Rafe nodded. “Look, I know you find that hard to believe . . .”

“You can say that again!”

Shooting his friend with a dark look, Rafe continued, “Well, believe or not, you’ve been invited.”

“Why?” Before Rafe could answer, Danny continued, “I can’t help how I feel. Aside with a few like Dick Hobbs and Rebecca McPherson, I’m not exactly a popular guy at school. The only reason I can think why Ellie is willing to invite me to her party is . . .” His brown eyes narrowed. “She’s after you, ain’t she?”

“What?”

“Ellie. I heard she just broke up with Johnny Shaw. Caught him with Ginny Welland. And with Homecoming just a month from now, she needs a date. A Homecoming King. And who better than Rafe McCawley, football hero, member of the Shelby Science & Math Club, Student Body Sergeant-At-Arms and one of the few people in this whole damn county that can actually fly a plane. She’s after you.”

Rafe shot to his feet. “You got some kind of beef with me, Danny?” he growled. “Cause, I don’t see no reason why you should be shouting at me.”

A moment passed. Strains of Fred Allen could be heard from inside the house. Danny sighed. “No, I . . . I guess that sometimes, I get so tired of being treated like a second-class citizen at school. All because my daddy was a drunk. And now I have this feeling that Ellie only invited me because she wants you.”

“I don’t know what Ellie wants,” Rafe said, as he sat back down. “But after Cora, I really feel like a party. And if you can be there. . .”

Danny let out a heartfelt sigh. “All right, I’ll go.”

Rafe smiled.

* * * *

The football game against Marshall High ended as Ellie had predicted. It ended in victory for Shelby High. Later that night, Rafe and Danny arrived at the Conway residence for the celebration. The party was already in full swing. Bing Crosby singing, “You’re Getting to Be a Habit With Me” blasted from a phonograph. The two friends squeezed their way through the crowd.

“Rafe!” Ellie’s high voice squeaked above the music. “You made it!” She threw herself into Rafe’s arms and gave him a hug. After she stepped back, her eyes fell upon Danny. Ellie gave the latter a friendly smile. “Danny. Glad you could come to my party.” To Rafe’s relief, Danny responded with a friendly nod.

It wasn’t bad as parties go. The food seemed pretty good to Rafe. Everyone seemed to be on a high, following the football team’s victory over Marshall. Rafe noticed that the guests’ good mood had spilled over to Danny. Aside from a few malcontents determined to shun the latter, most seemed as friendly as Ellie.

At least an hour later, Rafe found himself in a good mood. Of course, several cups of punch spiked with brandy from the liquor cabinet helped. Along with Ellie’s company. A new song blared from the phonograph – “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes”. Rafe’s own eyes blinked through an alcoholic haze, as he watched Ellie sauntered forth. More like danced. She leaned forward and whispered in his ear, “Why don’t we go outside for some fresh air?” Rafe immediately agree.

The pair made their way through the crowd. Rafe spotted Danny staring at him through narrowed eyes. Which he ignored. Once outside on the Conway back porch, Ellie again threw herself into Rafe’s arms. “Hey,” she whispered. Her breath smelled of fruit punch and brandy.

Rafe whispered back, “Hey yourself.”

“You look a little drunk. Maybe you’ve drunk one too many glasses of punch.”

“Don’t you mean spiked punch?” Rafe added playfully.

Ellie giggled. Then her mouth inched closer. “How else can I get you out here, alone?” The small, pink mouth now hovered inches away from Rafe’s. “Lord, you sure are one tall drink of water. Aren’t you gonna kiss me?”

Why he hesitated, Rafe had no idea. After all, Ellie Conway was considered to be one of the prettiest girls at Shelby High. And one of the most popular. So why did he feel so reluctant to kiss her? “Well, I . . . uh . . .” Rafe began. Before he could say anything further, Ellie pressed her little pink lips against his.

Alcohol and lust overcame Rafe’s reluctance and he drew Ellie into his arms. He gently forced her mouth open. What had begun as a small kiss, soon became a torrid meeting of tongues. At that moment, Rafe knew that Ellie had hooked him, line and sinker. And quite frankly, he did not care.

* * * *

Three days after Ellie’s party, Shelby High’s faculty announced it would accept nominations for the Homecoming court. Rafe had no interest about Homecoming or who would become its Queen. He only felt grateful that he had a date for the dance. Apparently, Ellie did not share his feelings.

“Say that again?” he demanded. Rafe and Ellie shared a table inside the school’s cafeteria. He had been eating his lunch when she surprised him with a bombshell.

Ellie took a deep breath. “I said that it would be nice if you helped me campaign for Homecoming Queen.”

Rafe stared at her. “What the hell for?”

“I thought it would be fun for me to run for Homecoming Queen.” A pout formed on Ellie’s lips. “And I thought you could help me.”

Right. A dark suspicion entered Rafe’s mind. Despite her words, he suspected that Ellie took this whole Homecoming business, seriously. Even worse, she needed to be associated with a popular man-on-campus, someone like Johnny Shaw or himself, to get elected Homecoming Queen. Ellie may be familiar on campus, but not even her popularity had reached the heights of Annabelle Parker, another cheerleader. But, he kept these dark thoughts to himself.

“Fun huh?” Rafe grunted. Then he sighed. “I reckon there’s no harm in helping you. Maybe it would be fun.”

A smile curved Ellie’s lips. “I’m sure it will.”

* * * *

Danny stared at Rafe with disbelief shining in his eyes. “You’re gonna help Ellie Conway run for Homecoming Queen? What the hell for?”

Annoyance surged through Rafe. He sat behind the wheel of his 1927 Ford convertible. Danny sat next to him, in the passenger seat. The convertible sped along a rural road that led to the McCawley Farm. “Because I thought it would be fun,” he snapped back. “You got a problem?”

An exasperated sigh escaped Danny’s mouth. “C’mon Rafe! You gotta be kidding me! You, help Ellie Conway run for Homecoming Queen? What are you, her publicity manager?” He paused momentarily. Then, “Wait a minute! This is all Ellie Conway’s doing, ain’t it? She talked you into it!”

“Yeah Danny, she did. So what? It’s just a goddamn dance. Nothing to get excited over.”

“Nothing to . . .” Danny signed again. “Dammit Rafe! Can’t you see? She’s using you!”

“Using me for what?”

Danny rolled his eyes. “You know why! Johnny Shaw dumped her for Ginny Welland. And she’s using you as a substitute for Johnny.”

Now brimming with anger because he knew that Danny had hit close to the truth, Rafe drove his convertible off the road and stopped. He switched off the engine. “And why does she need me as a substitute, Danny? What’s the matter. You can’t say it out loud?” Rafe pierced his friend with a hard glare. Danny’s eyes cast downward. Rafe heard him mumble under his breath. “What’s that? I didn’t hear you.”

His face turning deep pink, Danny spoke louder. “Ellie needs you to become Homecoming Queen. Like Johnny, you’re a popular guy in school. Ellie may be popular herself, but she hasn’t a chance against someone like Annabelle Parker. She needs you.”

“You’re a real smart fellow, aren’t you?” Rafe asked quietly. When Danny failed to respond, he sighed. There were times he hated facing the truth. Like now. “Has it occurred to you, Danny, that I may be using Ellie?

Danny frowned. “Using her? Why?”

Rafe stared directly at his friend. Then he murmured, “Lila.”

Realization lit up Danny’s eyes. Just a week before Rafe had ended his relationship with Cora Hale, the two boys had learned from Harley Bates that an obsessive customer had stabbed Lila Deakins to death, during a violet brawl in a Memphis whorehouse. “Is that why you and Cora . . .?” Danny began. He paused. “Did Cora know about you and . . .?”

Rafe snapped back, “Of course not! It’s just . . . well, things weren’t the same after Harley told us . . . told us about Lila.”

“Oh.” Again, Danny fell silent.

Rafe continued, “I know what you’re thinking. Why would I raise a fuss over a dead whore. It’s just that Lila was dif . . .”

“I understand, Rafe. I understand. Hell, I reckon you were the only fella in the whole county who didn’t have to pay to see her after the first time.” Danny added. “But how long can Ellie help you forget? Ever ask yourself that?” Silence fell between the two friends.

* * * *

Homecoming 1933. It was a magical time for the students at Shelby High. The night began on a high note, when the school’s Varsity football team won a difficult victory over Boone High. The game ended with a final score of 21 to 17, after quarterback Rafe passed a 30-yard touchdown to a Shelby fullback name Donnie Cole. Both Rafe and Donnie became the heroes of the day.

Not that Rafe really cared. He had another matter on his mind. Namely, tonight’s Homecoming dance. Rafe made sure that he was dressed perfectly in a black tuxedo he had rented for the evening. Since Danny also had a date, Rafe allowed his friend to borrow his Ford convertible, while he used his dad’s Pontiac sedan. At exactly 6:30 p.m., he drove to the Conway residence to pick up Ellie. He had to admit that she looked beautiful in a slinky, pale pink gown that looked like something out of a Hollywood movie.

“You look very beautiful,” he greeted Ellie, smiling. She responded with a peck on his lips. “Ready?”

Ellie nodded and the couple headed for the Pontiac. It took them five minutes to reach the high school. The Homecoming dance was being held inside the school’s largest gymnasium. When Rafe and Ellie entered, a loud applause broke out. Looking like a cat with cream on its whiskers, Ellie squeezed Rafe’s arm. “Oh Lord!” she nearly squeaked. “Isn’t this exciting?”

Seeing the estatic look on her face, Rafe’s pleasure in the evening immediately began to dim. The evening was beginning to look perfect. Maybe a bit too perfect. And Ellie seemed to be eating it up. Everyone gushed over her dress and congratulated Rafe in winning the game. Even Danny seemed to having a good time. Rafe spotted his best friend dancing with Rebecca McPherson. And both seemed lost in their own little world.

The evening’s celebrations ended in triumph for Rafe and Ellie. Much to no one’s surprise, Ellie was declared Shelby High’s Homecoming Queen for 1933. She practically squeaked when the principal placed a small, plastic tiara on her head. Rafe expressed delight at Ellie’s triumph. Or at least tried. If anyone had paid close attention, they would have noticed a subtle, yet lackluster expression on his face.

In fact, the evening went downhill for Rafe, after Ellie’s crowning. He struggled to maintain a happy smile, while a photographer took photos of the “Court”. Rafe felt a deep relief every time someone danced with Ellie. Including Johnny Shaw. His relief increased tenfold when the time arrived for him and Ellie to go home. Danny and Rebecca, he noticed, had already left.

Twenty minutes later, the McCawley Oldsmobile pulled up in front of the Conway residence. Ellie let out a sigh. “It’s been such a wonderful evening, Rafe. Don’t you agree?”

“Yeah,” Rafe quietly replied. “Swell.”

“Rafe?” Ellie gave him a quizzed look. “Is there something wrong?”

Rafe’s gaze focused on the oak tree that rose from the Conway’s front lawn. “No, everything’s fine.” He paused. Then he opened his mouth to continue, but Ellie spoke first.

“By the way, I’m organizing a hayride for next week. It’ll start at the McBride’s Farm. When can I expect you to pick me up?”

Rafe sighed. Long and hard. “Sorry Ellie,” he finally said, “but I’ll be busy, next weekend. Flying. You’ll have to find someone else to take you. Why don’t you try Johnny Shaw? You two seemed to be friendly.”

Disbelief shone in Ellie’s pale eyes. “What?”

“I said that you’ll have to find . . .”

“I heard what you said!” Ellie screeched. She rounded on Rafe. “What the hell’s the matter with you, Rafe McCawley? You’ve been a sour puss all evening! Don’t think I haven’t noticed!”

A smirk appeared on Rafe’s lips. “Say Ellie, does your mama know that you use such language?”

“Stop it, Rafe! What’s gotten into you?”

Rafe paused. He had started this. Might as well finish. “I’m bored, Ellie. With you.” A gasp left her mouth. “Normally, I would feel mighty guilty for this, but in your case, I don’t. In fact, I don’t really care.”

Ellie snarled, “What do you mean by that?”

“You don’t need me anymore, Ellie,” Rafe continued. “You got what you wanted. You’re the Homecoming Queen. You even got the chance to rub that into Johnny Shaw’s face. Let him know what he had missed. Why don’t you be honest? You needed someone like me – ‘a big man on campus’ – to help you get the crown. And the only reason I let you use me is that I was using you to get over Cora.” And Lila, he silently added.

A slender hand roundly smacked Rafe’s left cheek. SMACK!! “You son-of-a-bitch!”

“Now that’s certainly not proper language for a young lady such as yourself.”

“You wouldn’t know a lady if you met one, you scum!” Ellie screeched. “You and that white trash friend of yours!” She opened the car door.

Rafe sighed. “I guess this means you’re leaving?”

“Just as fast as I can!” Ellie climbed out of the car. “And I swear to God that I’ll never speak to you again, Rafe McCawley!”

Rafe playfully shot back, “Is that a promise?”

Ellie slammed the door, shut. She speared Rafe with her most withering glare and stalked toward the Conway front door. Rafe realized that if he was lucky, Ellie just might never speak to him, again. He never did like that squeaky voice of hers.

END OF PART 3

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