“A CONVENIENT PROPOSAL”
PART 3 – A Little Help From Friends
“Say that again?” Barbara nearly screeched. Her blue eyes had grown wide with shock.
“Who said anything about me being upset?” a petulant Evelyn asked.
Martha rolled her eyes. “Honey, you should have seen your face when you came in. You looked as if you could take on Hitler, Tojo and Mussolini all by yourself. I’d say you were very upset.”
A sigh left Evelyn’s mouth. Her shoulders sagged in defeat. “All right,” she conceded. “I admit it. I am upset.”
Curiosity gleamed in Sandra’s dark eyes. “Over Rafe’s proposal?”
Evelyn glumly nodded.
“Why would that upset you?” Barbara demanded. “That’s something I’ve been dreaming of for years.”
In subdued tones, Evelyn described Rafe’s proposal, word by word. Both Barbara and Martha reacted with groans. A disapproving frown touched Sandra’s brow and the fourth nurse, Clarice, stared at Evelyn with confused eyes. “I don’t understand. Aren’t you glad that he proposed? I mean . . . well, at least your baby will finally have a father.”
“Which is why you should have accepted him in the first place,” Sandra added, still frowning. “You have to think of the baby, Evelyn. He . . . or she needs both a mother and a father.”
Barbara threw her hands in the air out of sheer exasperation. “Have you two been listening? Rafe proposed marriage to her out of pity. Or out of some dumb male obligation to a dead buddy.” Evelyn winced at the crude reference to Danny’s death. Barbara noticed and quickly murmured an apology.
“What Barbara is trying to say in her most subtle manner,” Martha continued in an arch voice, “is that Evelyn wants more than a marriage of convenience.”
Clarice shook her head. “I don’t understand. If Lieu . . . uh, Captain Walker was still alive, I can see why she would be upset. But isn’t that a moot point now that he’s gone?” She turned to Evelyn. “Right?”
Evelyn looked away. An increasingly familiar guilt tugged at her heart, as she answered, “Not quite, Clarice. It’s a little more complicated than that.”
Sighs from the other three nurses filled the kitchen. Sandra removed her glasses and used a napkin to clean the lenses. “What Evelyn meant was . . .” she hesitated, her narrow face forming another frown. “Well, to be honest, I’m a little unsure about how she feels.”
“For crying out loud!” Martha stood up and headed for the refrigerator. “I need a drink.” She reached inside the refrigerator and removed a bottle of beer. “Anyone else want a bottle?” she asked. No one answered.
Evelyn took a sip of her coffee. “You see, it’s like this, Clarice. About eighteen months ago, when we were stationed in New York, Rafe and I met and fell in love.”
“It was the funniest thing,” Barbara added, laughter bubbling on her lips. “Evelyn told us all about it. They met when we were assigned to give physicals for the Army pilots at Mitchell . . .” The words died under Evelyn’s direct glare. “Sorry, honey. Go ahead.”
Evelyn continued, “Thank you. Anyway, to make a long story short, Rafe and I had fallen in love and dated for about a month, until he left the States to fly with the Eagle Squadron in England. You’ve heard about the American pilots who fought with the RAF, right?”
Clarice nodded. “Yeah. I saw ‘A Yank in the RAF’.”
Americans, Evelyn decided, must be the only people who refer to movies in regard to history. She continued, “After Rafe left for England, the Navy shipped us to Hawaii. Rafe’s squadron also came here. Then Danny and I received word that Rafe had been killed in a dogfight over the English Channel. We . . .” Memories of those three miserable months following Rafe’s “death”hit Evelyn. She found herself struggling to fight back a wave of melancholy.
Sandra’s voice expressed concern. “Are you okay, Ev?”
“I’m fine. Fine.” Evelyn took a deep breath. “Well, after Danny told me about what happened to Rafe, the next three months were hard.” Her voice dropped to a whisper. “For both of us.”
Martha finished for her. “Three months after Evelyn and Danny learned what happened to Rafe, they started dating. Barbara saw them together, at the Black Rock Café.”
“That wasn’t a date,” Evelyn explained. “We had ran into each other at the movies. But after . . .”
Clarice continued, “But afterward, you two began dating. I understand. You wanted to move on. And you fell in love.”
Evelyn remained silent. She did not know how to reply to Clarice’s supposition. Had she and Danny really fallen in love? Or only Danny? She had wonderful memories of their two months together. And yet . . .
“They fell in love,” Sandra said, repeating Clarice’s words. “And Rafe came back from the dead. He had been stuck in France all that time. Well, the Japanese attacked over a day after Rafe returned. Evelyn and Danny became engaged.” She paused. “You two were engaged, right?”
A brief hesitation followed before Evelyn could reply. “Well, I . . .” Someone interrupted before she could finish.
“Of course Ev and Danny became engaged,” Martha interjected. “Especially after he found out about the baby.”
Evelyn quietly added, “I never told Danny about the baby.”
“What?” Four voices cried out in unison. A silent pause then filled the kitchen. Evelyn found herself facing eyes that either expressed shock or surprise.
Martha finally broke the silence. “You didn’t tell him? Geez Louise! Evelyn, why didn’t you?”
“Because, he was about to leave for a dangerous mission,” Evelyn explained. “And I didn’t want him to become distracted.”
Sandra burst out with, “Golly Ev! I understand. Really, I do. But . . .” For the first time, she expressed signs of nervousness. “Your little noble act proved useless in the end, didn’t it? Maybe you should have told Danny. At least he would have married you before he left.” She paused. “Did Rafe know?”
Evelyn hesitated. “Yes.” Gasps burst out of the other nurses’ mouths.
“You told Rafe, but not Danny?” Martha demanded.
“I didn’t mean to!” Evelyn protested. “But I had to let Rafe know where we stood.” Murmurs of understanding followed.
Clarice stared at Evelyn with sad eyes. “Gee, you really must have had a difficult time, lately. The man you love is dead and you’re having his baby.”
“Poor Evelyn,” Sandra murmured compassionately. “We know it’s been tough for you. But you still have Rafe. You may not be in love with him anymore,” Evelyn glanced away to hide the bitter set of her mouth, “but at least he’s willing to help you.”
“How do you known that Evelyn doesn’t love Rafe anymore?” Martha protested. “For all you know, she had decided to stay with Danny because of the baby.”
The red-haired nurse dismissed Martha’s idea with a wave of the hand. “That’s silly. If she was still in love with Rafe, she would have never dated Danny in the first place.”
Martha’s eyes rolled upward. “Who are you suppose to be? Mrs. Sigmund Freud? Or some student of the human psyche?”
Dark brown eyes flashed with anger. “I do know Evelyn,” Sandra replied heatedly. “And she happens to be a decent woman.”
“Oh brother!” Martha snidely shot back. “Look what we have here! Our very own bastion of morality!”
Sandra gave the older woman a pointed stare. “Unlike Evelyn or myself, some people may be beyond help when it comes to leading a decent life. I wonder who.”
Martha retorted, “At least I’m not blind to possibilities other than moral ones. You know, the possibility that Evelyn may have dated Danny because she was lonely.”
All eyes turned to Evelyn. Sandra demanded, “Evelyn, who were you in love with? Rafe or Danny?”
The pregnant woman winced at Sandra’s direct question and the intense scrutiny from the other three nurses. “What is this?” she protested. “The Spanish Inquisition?”
“Yeah,” Barbara added, glaring at the others. “You guys are all over the poor woman like locust. Let her breath a little. Sandra, why don’t you give Martha and Clarice a ride back to the base. It’s almost time for curfew.”
Sandra replied, “We’re only trying to help. Besides, curfew won’t arrive in another three hours or so.”
“Three hours can go by pretty fast. Now am-scray!” Barbara ordered.
Grumbling to themselves, Sandra, Martha and Clarice slowly filed out of the kitchen. Sandra reminded Evelyn that she was available if the latter needed to talk. Once Barbara and Evelyn were alone, the blond nurse leaned forward and rested her elbows on the table. “Honey,” she said, “I think we need to talk.”
* * * *
Four pairs of eyes belonging to three pilots and a mechanic gawked at Rafe, following his earth-shattering announcement. “Uh Rafe,” Red began, “did you just say . . .?”
“I asked Evelyn to marry me,” Rafe repeated himself.
Earl added, “And she said no. Huh.” His thick brows formed double arches. “No wonder you seem pissed.” Rafe shot him a dark glare. Earl’s face turned red with embarrassment. “Sorry, Captain.”
“She said no?” Steve demanded. “Why?”
Rafe shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “I don’t know. Maybe she didn’t like the way I had proposed.”
His table companions mumbled their condolences. “Too bad,” Gooz added, “considering that baby will be here any minute. I reckon it could use a daddy.”
“That baby?” Rafe’s voice expressed irritation. “Evelyn’s baby is a ‘that’?”
Gooz shot back, “Well, hell! How am I supposed to know whether it will be a boy or a girl? Do you?”
A retort hung on Rafe’s lips. However, he remained silent. He could not argue with the truth.
“Say Captain, what exactly did you say to her when you proposed?” Earl asked.
Rafe recounted the exact words he had said to Evelyn. Both Red and Steve groaned aloud. Gooz rolled his eyes and Earl merely stared at Rafe with disbelief. “She actually got pissed off from that? Why?”
“Are you kidding?” Steve turned on the sergeant. “No woman in her right mind would accept a proposal like that. No matter how she feels about the guy.”
Earl demanded, “What are you talking about? Lieu . . . Captain Walker’s girl is expecting a baby. He’s gone and Captain McCawley here, has offered to help out. What the hell is wrong with that? He’ll give the baby a name and a father – if he survives the war. And it’s not like they have to stay married forever.”
Rafe wanted to slink away and die. Instead, he let out an audible groan. No wonder Evelyn had lost her temper. Jesus! Thinking about it now, his proposal did seem rather cold-blooded.
“Why don’t you tell us the truth, Rafe?” Red quietly said. His voice sounded unusually tired. “About Evelyn.”
Earl’s gaze shifted between the two officers. “What truth?”
Taking a deep breath, Rafe confessed. “Evelyn and I first dated over a year ago. Just before I left for England.”
“Say that again?”
Rafe told the mechanic the entire story. About how he and Evelyn first met, their separation, Rafe’s months in the RAF, news of his death reaching Evelyn and Danny, their subsequent romance, his arrival in Hawaii and Evelyn’s announcement about the baby. “Since she was carrying Danny’s baby, I figured it would be best for me to bow out. Only, Danny was . . .” His eyes riveted toward the half-empty beach beyond, as he tried to force away memories of those moments in the rice paddy. “Well, Danny got killed and now, Evelyn is alone and pregnant.”
“And you still love her,” Earl knowingly added. He shook his head. “Jesus! This all sounds like one of those Fannie Hurst novels my second wife liked to read.”
Red’s eyes became blank. Steve cried out, “Huh?”
“Fannie Hurst,” Gooz added in his usual laconic manner. “She wrote a lot of melodramas around ten or twenty years ago.“IMITATION OF LIFE”, “BACK STREET”. There was a new movie version of “BACK STREET” about a year ago. With Margaret Sullivan.”
Earl looked at the pilot as if the latter had lost his mind. “You read Fannie Hurst novels?”
Gooz’s face became rock-like. “Sure,” he mumbled. “What’s wrong with that?”
“Brother, if you don’t know the answer to that, you don’t deserve to be a pilot,” Steve said, shaking his head. “Fannie Hurst.”
Earl turned to Rafe. “So Captain, you’re still in love with this Evelyn. Does she feel the same about you?”
Rafe sighed. “Hell, I don’t know. She once told me that she would always think of me whenever she saw a sunset. I don’t know if she still feels the same. What do you think?”
“Hell, if she got pissed off from that proposal you gave her, I guess she does.” Earl paused. “Then again, what would I know? I’ve got two failed marriages under my belt. I’m the last person to give advice on romance. What about you, Steve?”
The dark-haired pilot swallowed the last of his beer. “I haven’t had a date since before the war, six months ago. Don’t ask me.” His glanced at Gooz. “Maybe you should ask the Fannie Hurst fan, here.”
“I may like Fannie Hurst, but I don’t know a thing about romance,” Gooz mumbled. “Sorry, can’t help you.”
The table fell silent. The other pilots stared at Red, who merely shrugged.
Rafe sighed. “Maybe I should just . . .”
A pilot burst through the beaded curtain, interrupting Rafe. His broad face was red with excitement. “Hey! Morley’s girl from back home has just agreed to marry him. Free drinks are on him.” He immediately returned to the bar.
Earl, Gooz and Steve immediately rose to their feet. “Free drinks Captain,” Earl said. “Plan to join us?”
“That’s okay.” Rafe shook his head. “Maybe later.”
The three men disappeared behind the curtain. Rafe reached for the bottle of bourbon. A hand grabbed the bottle from his grasp. Red’s. The red-haired pilot’s face looked serious. “Can we talk, Rafe?” He nodded toward the beach. “While we take a walk?”
A feeling struck Rafe that Red had something to say about his situation with Evelyn. He decided it was no time like the present. “Sure,” he replied and the two men descended the small staircase from the bar and headed for the beach.
END OF PART 3