“A CONVENIENT PROPOSAL”
PART 5 – Regrets and Reunion
Saturday morning arrived brightly over the island of Oahu. Inside the two-story bungalow, four women bustled about, preparing for a picnic on the beach. Actually, three of the women bustled. The fourth remained seated on the living sofa and observed her busy roommates, while her hands rested upon her swollen abdomen.
“Did anyone get the umbrella?” a voice cried from upstairs. Sandra’s voice. “I don’t see it in the closet up here!”
Barbara shouted from the kitchen doorway, “It’s here! Downstairs, near the door!” Evelyn glanced at the front door. Sure enough, a large, green-and-white umbrella stood against it.
Heavy footsteps signaled Sandra’s descent on the staircase. The red-haired nurse appeared in the living room, wearing a white, one-piece swimsuit and a blue dirndl skirt. “Oh, I see it,” she said, glancing at the umbrella. Her gaze turned to Evelyn on the sofa. “Good. You’re ready. Very nice outfit, by the way.”
Evelyn did not doubt the other woman’s sincerity. Just her taste in clothes. The pregnant ex-nurse privately felt the opposite about her appearance. Since her pregnancy prevented her from wearing her favorite two-piece pink swimsuit, Evelyn had to contend with a white, flower-print dress. As far as she was concerned, she might as well wear a mummu. Or a tent.
“Is everyone ready?” Barbara asked. She and Martha entered the living room, dressed in their own beachwear. Whereas Barbara’s outfit resembled Sandra’s, Martha wore a white, short-sleeved blouse and tan slacks.
Sandra replied, “We’re ready. Only the boys and Clarice haven’t arrived yet.” She glanced at her watch. And it’s already after eleven o’clock.”
As if on cue, a car horn signaled the arrival of what sounded like more than one vehicle rolling to a halt on the driveway. Martha went to the window and peeked outside. “They’re here!” She then rushed to the door and opened it. “Hey! What happened to you guys!”
Less than a minute later, Clarice and five Army pilots tramped inside the house talking all at once. Red, Steve, Gooz, a pilot named Arnie Goetz and a very somber-looking Rafe. Evelyn drew a silent intake of breath at the sight of the Tennessee-born man. Deeply tanned and dressed in a T-shirt with a Hawaiian shirt over it and swim shorts, he looked good enough to eat. She barely noticed the other visitors. Or the jar in his hand.
“You’re late!” Sandra snapped. “Ten minutes late, to be exact.”
Gooz rolled his eyes. “Whacha gonna do? Dock our pay?” he responded in his most laconic manner. Sandra speared him with her most formidable glare.
“Now that you’re here, you can help us carry everything to the beach,” Sandra continued. “Except Rafe. He can help Evelyn.”
“God Almighty! I might as well be a slave on some cotton plantation!” Gooz protested, as he picked up a heavy picnic basket. “What the hell is in this thing?”
Carrying the large umbrella, Martha added, “Don’t mind Sandra. She’s been slowly becoming Miss Simon Legree for the past six months. Consider this change of personality as her contribution to the war effort.” She started toward the door.
While the others marched out of the house, carrying various equipment and food for the picnic, Rafe remained behind, looking increasingly self-conscious. Evelyn also found herself growing uneasy. “Ready to go?” he asked, staring directly at her.
Evelyn hesitated, returning Rafe’s gaze with her own. “You go ahead with the others,” she said, struggling to lift her large body from the sofa. “I’ll be right behind you.”
“Sure you will. In about an hour from now. That’s how long it’s gonna take for you to get off that sofa.” Rafe placed the jar on the table and reached for her arm. “Here, let me help.”
“It’s not necessary, Rafe! I’m pregnant, not an invalid!” But the pilot refused to heed Evelyn’s protests. He grabbed her arm and helped her rise from the sofa. “I could have done that on my own,” she quietly retorted.
Rafe shot back, “Jesus Evelyn! It won’t kill you to get a little help!” The former lovers exchanged glares filled with wariness and resentment. Evelyn shook off Rafe’s grip and headed for the door.
When they arrived on the beach, Evelyn and Rafe found the others setting up a picnic. Both Barbara and Martha were spreading blankets on the sand, while Red and Arnie set up the portable grill. Steve seemed intent on erecting the large umbrella – with no success. Clarice busied herself with unpacking the food from the picnic baskets. And Gooz had disappeared.
“Say, where’s Gooz?” Rafe demanded. He abandoned Evelyn’s side to help Steve with the umbrella.
Steve replied, “He went to get his surfboard. You know, the one he made improvements on. I guess he wants to test it before he can slap a patent on it.” He finally managed to erect the umbrella – with Rafe’s help. “Thanks.” Rafe nodded and then helped Evelyn into a beach chair.
Sandra unpacked Barbara’s portable radio and clicked it on. Strains of “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” filled the air. “For crying out loud!” Barbara exclaimed. “Turn to another station. Please! I’ve had enough of listening to that song!”
“I happen to like that song,” Steve protested. “What? You have something against the Andrews Sisters?”
Barbara retorted, “I have something against that song. Trust the Army to find a way to get a hit song about them on the charts. What did you guys do? Pay off some recording studio?”
It was not long before the old Army versus Navy feud flared up between Barbara and Steve. Evelyn watched the pair with interest. She realized a few things. One, the verbal spat seemed to lack any real hostility between the pair. And two, in place of any hostility, there seemed to be a playful sexuality. Apparently, Barbara had found a new man to attract her interest. Only she had not realized this yet. Before Sandra could switch to another station, the Andrews Sisters had been replaced with the Glenn Miller Band playing “Tuxedo Junction”.
Gooz returned, carrying his familiar surfboard. “Hey everybody! Ready to hit the surf?”
“What about the food?” Sandra asked. “Who is going to cook the burgers and hot dogs? Evelyn is certainly in no condition to do that, herself.”
Rafe spoke up quietly. “I’ll do it. Y’all just go and enjoy yourselves.” He began setting a fire in the grill.
“You’re sure?” Red asked. Rafe nodded. While the two men exchanged a few words, Red and the others removed their clothes, revealing their swimwear underneath.
Barbara leaned close to Evelyn’s ear and whispered. “Don’t forget. Fight.” Then she turned to the others and cried, “Last person in the water is a facist!” She, Steve, Red, Gooz, Sandra, and Clarice raced toward the water, whooping and hollering. Martha and Arnie began walking along the shore. And Evelyn found herself alone with Rafe for the first time in three days.
Rafe reached for a large platter from the picnic basket and removed the foil covering. Ground beef patties and hot dogs filled the plate. “What do you want?” he asked.
“What?” Evelyn stared at him. Rafe seemed calm. Collected. Maybe a little too calm.
“I asked what you want. A hamburger? Hot dog?”
A nervous Evelyn cleared her throat. She had to admit that breakfast had failed to satisfy her hunger. “I guess a hamburger would be nice,” she replied. “And a hot dog.” Rafe shot her a surprised look. “I’m eating for two, now.”
“I didn’t realize that unborn babies were in the habit of eating hamburgers and hot dogs,” Rafe muttered sardonically.
A smile touched Evelyn’s lips. It felt nice to know that Rafe had not lost his sense of humor. She watched him place a beef patty and a hot dog on the grill. The sound of meat sizzling made her mouth water.
“Do you want barbeque sauce on your food?” Rafe asked. He picked up the jar that he had carried from the bungalow.
Eyeing the jar of sauce like a hungry predator, Evelyn asked Rafe if that was the famous McCawley barbeque sauce. “You know, your dad’s recipe.”
Looking somewhat pleased, Rafe added, “Yeah. My dad gave me this jar before I left Tennessee, two weeks ago.” He paused and smiled. “You remember.”
Evelyn chuckled. “How could I forget? You’ve talked about it so many times. Frank McCawley’s Famous BBQ Sauce. Even Danny once men. . .” She paused, her cheeks growing hot at the mention of the late pilot.
Rafe averted his eyes. “Yeah, Danny was always crazy about Daddy’s sauce,” he said quietly.
Silence fell between the pair. Evelyn watched Rafe add more meat to the grill. Why did she have to open her big mouth and mention Danny? Just as she and Rafe were learning to grow comfortable with each other again. Evelyn sighed and realized that sooner or later, they would have to clear the air about Danny. Might as well get it over with now.
“Rafe,” she began, “about Danny . . .”
The pilot immediately interrupted. “I know what you’re thinking, Evelyn. But you don’t have to worry. I’ve finally realized that my proposal was a big mistake. And I also . . .”
Evelyn heaved an exasperated sigh. “Look Rafe, may I finish . . .”
“. . . realize that I have some unresolved feelings about . . .” Rafe continued.
“For heaven’s sake, Rafe McCawley! Will you please let me finish talking for once in your life?”
* * * *
Evelyn’s outburst echoed along the beach. Her face flushed pink with embarrassment. Rafe had to admit that he shared a little of that embarrassment, himself.
He opened his mouth to speak. Only a soft, “Sorry,” came out of his mouth.
“No, I’m sorry,” Evelyn quickly apologized. “I didn’t mean to yell at you like that. I know you meant well. It’s just that . . .”
Rafe took a deep breath and finished for her. “I talk too much. I know and I’m sorry.”
“No Rafe.” Evelyn shook her head. “It’s not . . . well, you can be a little overbearing at times. But that’s you. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. I just . . .” She sighed. “Just let me get this off my chest, first.”
Rafe riveted his eyes on the meat cooking on the grill. “Sure. Okay.”
A pause followed before Evelyn continued. “When Danny first came to me with news of your death, I knew, you see. I knew even before he could open his mouth. It was . . . well, everything just went dark. I had trouble eating. Became obsessed with my work. I barely hung around the other girls during my off-duty.”
“Red told me that you used to cry every night,” Rafe added softly.
Evelyn stared at him questioningly. “How did Red find out?”
“Betty. Before she died, I reckon.”
A somber moment followed. Then, “Oh.” Evelyn pointed at the grill. “I think you need to turn the meat over, Rafe.”
“Oh yeah. Thanks.” Using a pronged fork, Rafe turned over the beef patty and hot dog. “You were talking about after . . . I mean, after I was reported dead.”
Evelyn nodded. “Yeah.” Then she revealed her life during the next three months after she learned about Rafe’s death. Those miserable months during the late summer of ’41. And how she encountered Danny at the movies, one afternoon in mid-October. “It didn’t take long for us to get comfortable with each other.” Rafe made an effort not to wince. “We mainly talked about you, of course. Our memories of you. Barbara, Betty, Red and Billy saw us talking inside the Black Cat Cafe. And when the girls commented on it later, they convinced me that I should move on.” A haunted look crept into Evelyn’s dark eyes. “What I didn’t realize at the time was that I wasn’t ready to move on. At least, not yet.”
A turmoil of emotions – embarrassment, sadness, anger, and jealousy threatened to overwhelm Rafe. “When did you . . .” He could barely make himself ask this next question. “When did you and Danny. . .?”
Evelyn’s face turned even pinker. “I . . . maybe we shouldn’t talk about this,” she hastily replied.
“No! I . . . No, go ahead. I mean, it must have happened some time.” It seemed to Rafe as if a hand had reached inside his chest and squeezed his heart.
A sigh left Evelyn’s lips. Her eyes focused on the six figures splashing about in the water. “A few after we first saw each other. Danny took me for a plane ride over Wakikki Beach. And later . . .” She broke off, as her face became even redder. “Never mind.”
Rafe found his heart rate beating even faster. “I bet it must have been a very romantic moment,” he commented in a caustic voice. He wanted to shrink away. Die. Rail against the gods. Hell, something. Most of all, he wanted to beat his best friend to a bloody pulp. Until he remembered that Danny was dead and just remembering that little fact produced a wave of sadness inside him.
He glanced at Evelyn and noticed that her body had stiffened. “God! I’m sorry, Ev. I didn’t mean . . .”
“Of course you did,” Evelyn quietly shot back. “Not that I blame you, considering what happened. What can I say, Rafe? I was lonely, depressed. And I thought you were dead. Gone. But after what happened in the hangar, I realized that Danny and I were moving too fast. So, I tried to break it off.”
“Why . . . why didn’t you?”
Evelyn heaved another sigh. “Oh Rafe! I tried. I really did. The day after our plane ride. I knew immediately that we were moving too fast. Only . . .” Her eyes grew wistful. “When I saw the look on his face at that moment, I realized I couldn’t do it. He seemed so desperately in love. I think he would have fallen apart if I had broken it off with him. Don’t forget Rafe, he took your death just as hard as I did. Maybe even harder. But it wouldn’t have worked in the end. We started dating for the wrong reason. I would have eventually broken up with Danny. Only I found out I was pregnant. And you had suddenly returned from the dead.” Her voice dropped to a whisper.
Rafe lowered his head and murmured. “I guess everything just went downhill after that.”
Shaking her head, Evelyn replied, “I’m sorry, Rafe. I thought this would be easy, but it’s not. I’m so confused right now. A part of me is so angry right now. Angry that you had volunteered for the RAF. That I’m not carrying your child. And I feel so guilty about Danny. I can’t even mourn him the same way I had mourned you. And it’s not fair! It’s not fair that a sweet and wonderful man like him had died before he had the chance to meet a woman who could have loved him unconditionally. The same way I love you.”
Evelyn’s rant left Rafe’s speechless. Had he heard right? Did Evelyn just said that she loved . . .?
“Uh, Rafe?” Her voice cut into his thoughts. He saw Evelyn wipe tears from her eyes. “Shouldn’t the barbeque be ready by now?”
“Huh?” Rafe glanced at the grill. “Oh! Shit! I mean . . .” He nearly jumped out of his skin as he tended to the meat. “Hand me one of those clean plates near your . . .” Realizing that Evelyn was in no condition to reach for one of the plates near her foot, Rafe snatched one up, himself. “Do you want your bread grilled?”
Evelyn shook her head. “There’s no need.”
Rafe fixed her a hot dog and a hamburger, dripping with his dad’s sauce. Then he handed the plate to Evelyn, before placing more hamburger patties and hot dogs on the grill. The latter took one bite of the hot dog, closed her eyes and emitted a groan of deep pleasure. “Oh my God, Rafe!” Evelyn exclaimed. “This sauce is absolutely divine!”
“Thanks. I hope I did justice to the hot dog, too,” he joked. Evelyn responded with a smile. Then she finished her hot dog in three bites and started on her hamburger. As much as Rafe enjoyed this relaxed moment, he felt the need to finish their conversation. He waited until she finished the hamburger. “Evelyn? About Danny . . .”
Evelyn allowed the empty plate to slip from her lap and onto the blanket. Her dark eyes focused upon Rafe’s face. “What about him?”
“Uh . . .” God! This was difficult! “I just want you to know that I understand what you went through. Both you and Danny.”
Rafe continued, “I’m . . . Look, I’m sorry for putting you two through so much. Jumping up to volunteer for the Eagle Squadron like that. God! What an idiot I was!”
“You can’t blame yourself what happened, Rafe,” Evelyn said in a quiet voice. “You had volunteered before we even met.” She paused. “Okay, I admit I was upset. But I was angry because . . .” She sighed. “I was angry that fate took you away from me so soon after we had met. We only had one month together. And when Danny and I heard that you were killed . . .” Tears formed in her eyes.
Rafe tossed the empty platter on one of the blankets and knelt beside Evelyn. “Hey! Hey! C’mon Evelyn, don’t cry!” He took hold of her hands. “Please don’t cry. I’m still here. See?”
“I know,” Evelyn replied in a wavering voice. Rafe gently wiped away her tears. “I still find it a little hard thinking about that time.”
Stroking her hair, Rafe whispered, “It must have been a difficult time for you. Wasn’t it?” Evelyn nodded. “Yeah. Red told me that it was also difficult for Danny.” He sighed. “God! Now I know how both of you must have felt.” He felt tears pricking his eyes. “Shit!”
“Oh Rafe!” Evelyn held her arms out, inviting Rafe for a hug. An invitation he did not hesitate to accept. Teary-eyed, he hugged Evelyn, relishing the feel of her arms.
Still crying, Rafe continued, “I miss him, Ev. God! I miss him so much. It’s like my brother had died and took a part of me.”
“I know,” Evelyn murmured. She began to stroke his hair. “I know.”
A comfortable silence settled between the couple. Feeling Evelyn’s arms around him, Rafe felt a sense of belonging he had not felt in seventeen long months. At that moment, he realized that he never wanted to do without Evelyn again. He wanted her. Needed her. Not only to help him deal with Danny’s death, but also because he loved her. Rafe could not imagine life without her.
“Ev?” Rafe withdrew from her arms and wiped away his tears.
Her dark eyes penetrated his own. Evelyn reached out and began to stroke his cheek. “Yes Rafe?”
“Would you marry me?”
A sudden intake of Evelyn’s breath indicated her surprise. She stared at Rafe, wide-eyed. “Rafe!”
He continued, “I’m not just asking out of some obligation to you or the baby. Or even to Danny’s memory. Mind you, I’ll love that baby like he or she was my own. It’ll be like having Danny with me, again. But the main reason I want to marry is . . .” Rafe took a deep breath. “Hell! I love you, Evelyn! I’ve loved you from that first moment I laid eyes on you in New York. After this war ends, all I want for us is to spend the rest of our lives together. So, will you marry me?”
Tears streamed from Evelyn’s eyes. A radiant smile lit up her face. At that moment, Rafe knew he had won her back. “Yes,” she whispered. “Yes, I’ll marry you!” Defying the laws of gravity, she managed to throw herself into Rafe’s arms. A grunt escaped his lips. “Oh, I love you so much!”
“I love you too, honey!” Rafe maintained a tight hug. “Uh, Evelyn?”
“Sorry about the lack of an engagement ring. It’s back at the barracks.” Rafe withdrew from Evelyn and peered at her. “Would a kiss be sufficient for now?”
Another smile touched Evelyn’s lips. “More than sufficient,” she murmured. Then she leaned forward and planted a light kiss on Rafe’s lips.
He blinked. “Is that it?”
Evelyn let out a surprised, “Huh?”
“You call that a kiss?” Rafe smiled. “I reckon I can do better.” Despite both of them being on their knees, Rafe drew Evelyn into his arms and kissed her. Deeply. It became a deep kiss, the moment she opened her mouth and allowed Rafe’s tongue to meet hers.
“Hey!” a voice cried out. “Are you two going to kiss all day? Because I think these burgers have been cooking a tad too long.” Rafe and Evelyn reluctantly parted lips, glanced up and found a wet Barbara standing above them. Along with the others.
Rafe rose to his feet, before helping Evelyn to hers. “Sorry about that. We, uh . . .”
“You two have some news for us?” Red asked. A smile lit up his face.
Rafe smiled back. It was his first, genuine, from-the-gut smile that had formed on his lips in a long time. “Evelyn and I are getting married.”
Cries of joy and congratulations greeted the couple. Martha and Arnie appeared. The former demanded to know what was going on. Sandra told her. “That’s swell,” Martha replied in her usual dry tone. “Now is someone going to do something about our food before it burns?”
Rafe uttered a curse, ignoring the horrified look on Sandra’s face. He raced toward the grill. “Everything’s okay. It’s not burned. I just need to get more burgers and hot dogs.”
“It’s in the fridge,” Evelyn replied. “I’ll help you get them. Barbara, could you . . .?”
The blond woman shrugged. “Yeah, sure. Okay, everyone! Line up for the grub!”
The others scrambled for their barbeque. Rafe and Evelyn linked arms and started back toward the car. “So,” Rafe said, “when do you want to get married?”
“How about the next weekend you’re free?” Evelyn suggested. “We can spend our honeymoon at that motor court you had stayed at, when you first arrived in Hawaii.”
“Why not the bungalow?”
Evelyn shot back, “With three other women?”
“They can stay at the motor court,” Rafe explained. “Or find some quarters at the naval base.”
“Tell that to Barbara.” Evelyn’s head rested on Rafe’s shoulders. It felt good. “Rafe?”
“About the baby . . .”
Rafe heard a deep intake of breath from Evelyn’s mouth. “If it’s a boy, why don’t we name him after Danny?”
Daniel Walker McCawley. The sound of that name warmed Rafe’s heart. “I like that,” he said. “A lot. And if the baby is a girl . . .”
“How about Danielle?”
A quiet pause followed. Evelyn patted Rafe’s arm. “That’s a matter I think we need to discuss some other time.”
In other words, no. Rafe, however, also had other plans for the baby. “Of course, whether the baby is a boy or girl, he or she is gonna be a pilot. Like his daddy. Hell, like both of his daddies. Or hers.”
“Whatever you say, Rafe,” Evelyn replied, her voice radiating warmth. “Whatever you say.”