A CONVENIENT PROPOSAL”
PART 2 – Revelations
Evelyn leaned against the door, closed her eyes and sighed. Her body trembled from the furious outburst she had unleashed upon Rafe. Thoughts of the Army pilot produced another swell of anger. How could he possibly think she would accept such a proposal? Or think she would marry him out of convenience?
Well, you were prepared to do the same with Danny, weren’t you? Evelyn immediately balked at her inner voice. She tried to convince herself that Danny was another matter. Or that Danny would have never proposed to her out of mere convenience. You would have accepted his proposal for that very same reason. Who are you to castigate Rafe? Evelyn ruthlessly squelched her last thoughts and started for her bedroom. She was in no mood to feel guilty over her temper outburst at Rafe. Not when she had other guilty feelings to deal with.
A voice from the kitchen cried out, “Evelyn? Is that you?” Martha. She and the other nurses must have returned from the base at Pearl. “Hey, Evelyn!”
Evelyn turned toward the kitchen, where she found her three roommates and a fourth nurse, sitting around the table eating sandwiches. “Hi,” she greeted the quartet. “I thought you guys would still be at the hospital. Especially with so many wounded still coming in from Midway.”
Over two weeks had passed since the June 4th battle between the U.S. and Japanese naval forces near Midway Island. While the country celebrated its first major victory against Japan, many American military hospitals, including the one at Pearl, had to deal with the sudden influx of wounded sailors and pilots.
The blond and sharp-tongued Barbara stifled a yawn, as she reached for a pot of coffee. “You’ve been gone too long. Our shift had ended over a half-hour ago, thank goodness. It seemed as if we’ve been living at that damn hospital for nearly two weeks, now.”
“How is Rafe?” Sandra asked. The pretty, red-haired nurse removed her glasses. “Did his plane arrive on time?”
The mention of Rafe’s name brought upon an unexpected wave of anger and sadness within Evelyn. She immediately squashed it and eased her bulky form into an empty chair. “Yeah, Rafe arrived. And right on time.” Her reply drew stares from the other nurses. Evelyn realized that she must have sounded curt.
The oldest of the Navy nurses who shared Evelyn’s bungalow reached over the latter’s shoulder for a sandwich. Like Barbara, Martha was a working-class young woman from the East Coast who had developed a sharp tongue after years of dealing with life’s disappointments. However, unlike Barbara, she had dark hair, a pleasant face and weighed several extra pounds.
“Hey kiddo,” Martha began. “Is there something wrong? For a moment there, I thought you were gonna bite off Sandra’s head.” She gave Evelyn a shrewd look. “Something happened between you and Rafe?”
Evelyn blinked. Good old Martha. Never one to pull a punch. “No,” replied curtly. “Everything’s fine.” Evelyn bit her tongue the moment she spoke. Again, she had responded a lot more sharply than she had intended. For once she wished she would think before opening her mouth.
“Everything’s fine, huh?” One of Martha’s dark brows cocked upward. “If I didn’t know better, I’d swear you were pissed at him.” Her use of profanity drew gasps from Sandra and fourth nurse, whose name escaped had escaped Evelyn’s memory. “For crying out loud, you two! Grow up!”
Barbara added, “She’s right. It’s 1942 and there’s a war going on. Besides, you’ve heard worse in the hospital. Geez!”
Grateful for the distraction, Evelyn smiled and reached for the coffee pot. The fourth nurse, whose name Evelyn now remembered as Clarice, reached it first and filled an empty cup with coffee. She handed the cup to Evelyn, who thanked her.
“Pardon me,” Sandra retorted in her usual supercilious manner, “but not all of us are that worldly. My mother had raised me to be a lady. So, if you don’t mind . . .”
The exhaustion on Barbara’s face immediately vanished. She now looked as if she was ready to establish her own battleground. “A lady?” She snorted with derision. “Get her! I suppose you’re trying to say that the rest of us ‘worldly minions’ aren’t ladies?”
Sandra’s eyes blazed with anger. “You’re twisting my words! All I’m trying to say is . . .”
“Hey!” Martha’s outburst interrupted the verbal battle. “You two can go at each other’s throats another time. Right now, I’m more interested in Evelyn!” She faced the pregnant woman. “Well? Did Rafe say something to upset you?”
With four pairs of eyes riveted upon her, Evelyn realized she could no longer dodge the issue. Damn! If only Barbara and Sandra’s fight had lasted a little longer. Might as well tell the truth. Or the girls will hound her until she does.
Evelyn cleared her throat. “If you must know,” she began in a shaky voice, “Rafe had asked me to marry him.”
* * * *
The moment Evelyn slammed the door in his face, Rafe found himself frozen on the spot. Her actions had taken him by surprise. He had been certain that she would accept his marriage proposal.
Once the shock wore off, he felt an urge to bang on the door. Demand why she had rejected him. Yet, a mixture of uncertainty and fear prevented him. Nor did Rafe want to attract any unwanted attention, in case Evelyn’s other roommates happened to be inside the house. He leaned his forehead against the door, hoping that somehow, she would read his thoughts. When that hope vanished, Rafe heaved a deep sigh and returned to the Buick.
He drove all the way back to Hickam Field and the new barracks that now housed the Army’s pilots. When Rafe had first arrived in Hawaii over six months ago, he found himself homeless. He had arrived on a Friday night and most of the base’s personnel, including the Quartermaster, had disappeared for the weekend and Rafe ended up at a local motel. Upon his return from the Tokyo raid, he had better luck and was housed with the rest of the pilots in new quarters.
After a twenty minute drive, Hickam Field loomed ahead. Upon arriving at his new quarters, Rafe found a noted taped to the door:
Welcome back. Meet us at the Hula-La.
The Hula-La. The bar brought back memories of that last evening of peace, when Rafe had drank himself silly before getting into a fight with Danny. He even recalled seeing his own photograph on the wall behind the bar. Scrawled above were the words –KILLED IN ACTION. Rafe could only assume that his photo had been replaced with those of Danny, Anthony and other pilots who had recently died. He did not look forward to seeing Danny’s picture on that wall. Then again, he was not in the mood to spend a lonely evening by himself.
With a sigh, he entered his quarters, took a shower, changed into civies and after climbing back into the Buick, drove toward the pilots’ favorite bar. Rafe parked the convertible in front of a gazebo, topped by a thatched roof. Oriental and Polynesian knickknacks decorated the bar’s interior and large statue of a Hawaiian girl in a hula skirt rose above the structure. He could hear strains of the Andrews Sisters singing “Rum and Coca-Cola”, as he entered the bar.
“Rafe!” “Hey! Look who’s here!” “How was the mainland, Rafe?” The young captain smiled, as his fellow pilots cried out to greet him. His eyes fell upon the photographs pinned to the wall behind the Hawaiian bartender. Sure enough, there photos of those who had either been killed during the Pearl Harbor attack last December, or during the Doolittle Raid. Rafe recognized several among them – Billy, Joe, Anthony and Danny. His smile disappeared.
Everyone’s favorite red-haired pilot strode forward and slapped Rafe’s shoulder. “Welcome back, Rafe. Glad to see you.” There seemed to be no hint of Red Winkle’s usual stutter.
“Thanks Red, “Rafe murmured. The pair joined the others at the bar. “Hey, everyone. What’s buzzing?”
Gooz Wood replied in his usual laconic manner, “Nothin much. We just came back from another patrol. I guess you heard about Midway.”
“Who hasn’t these days? That’s all everyone was talking about, while I was back home.” Rafe grew silent. Again, his eyes shifted toward the photographs.
One pilot said, “Man, I would have loved to have been in that action. Midway!” His eyes gleamed with exultation. “Get another shot at the Japs after that Tokyo raid.” Rafe and several other pilots stared at him. He was one of the new replacement pilots assigned to fill Rafe’s squadron after the Doolittle raid.
“Midway was a Navy operation,” said a familiar gruff voice. The pilots stepped aside to reveal the tall, slightly bedraggled figure in overalls. It was Earl, the squadron’s chief mechanic, standing in the doorway. “After what you fellas did to Tokyo, naturally the Navy boys wanted their time in the sun.”
Rafe allowed himself a slight smile. Army versus Navy. Not even wartime could stop that age-old rivalry. “I doubt that publicity had anything to with that, Sergeant,” he said. “The Navy were simply the right people to stop the Japs at Midway. An Army operation probably would have been ineffective.”
“If you say so, Captain.” The mechanic joined the pilots at the bar. “I hope you don’t mind me joining you, sir.”
“Be my guest, Earl. Drinks are on me.” Whoops filled the air, as Rafe dug several bills out of his pocket. The others soon issued their orders to the bartender, who began serving drinks. Rafe ordered a straight bourbon.
Once the bartendder had served all of the drinks, Rafe, Red, Gooz, Earl and a fourth pilot named Steve McCormick, retired to an empty table behind a beaded curtain. Like the other three pilots, Steve was a survivor from the Tokyo raid. Rafe took a sip of his bourbon and said, “By the way, fellas, thanks for not picking me up, this afternoon. Where were you?”
Anxiety flitted across Gooz’s face. “Wasn’t Evelyn there to pick you up?”
“Unfortunately, she was.”
Red replied, “We ra. . . ran into . . . ran into E-E-Evelyn at the movies. When we told her a-a-abo. . . about you, she asked to p-p-pick you up in . . . instead.” His stuttering seemed to have returned with a vengeance.
A sigh left Rafe’s mouth. He had not meant to make Red that nervous.
“Evelyn?” Earl’s brows quirked upward. “Isn’t that Lieu . . . uh, Captain Walker’s girl? The Navy nurse?” The sergeant’s question drew a heavy silence from his four companions. He frowned. “Did I just say something wro . . .?”
Rafe interrupted. “No, didn’t,” he said curtly. “She was Danny’s girl.”
Another stretch of silence followed. Rafe barely paid attention to the tension from the other four men. Or the music blasting from the jukebox. “You okay, Captain?” Earl asked uneasily. “You seem a bit sore just now.”
“No,” Rafe said, shaking his head. “Everything’s fine.” His mouth formed a grim line. “Just swell.”
Earl gave Rafe a leery glance. “Uh huh. I, uh, I wondered what happened to her. Pretty lady. She must have taken Danny’s death pretty hard.”
Someone coughed. Red. Rafe poured himself another shot of bourbon. “Yeah,” he finally answered. “She did.” More silence followed. Rafe found himself wishing he had remained at the barracks. Hell, he regretted a lot of things. Including his marriage proposal to Evelyn.
“If everything is swell,” Red asked, “why are you looking so sore?”
Without even thinking, Rafe replied, “Because I had proposed marriage to Evelyn and she said no.” His mouth clamped shut the moment he spoke his last word. Dammit! When will he ever learn not to drink and talk at the same time?
END OF PART 2″