“A Convenient Proposal” [PG-13] 5/5

“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.”

“Oh.”

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?”

“Yes?”

“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?”

“Hmmmm?”

“About the baby . . .”

“Yeah?”

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 . . .”

“Yes?”

“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.”

THE END

“A Convenient Proposal” [PG-13] 4/5

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“A CONVENIENT PROPOSAL”

PART 4 – Advice From the Lovelorn

Evelyn sat back into her chair. A sharp pain stabbed her lower back. God! How uncomfortable she felt! “Before we start this discussion that’s making you look so earnest,” she said to Barbara, “would you mind if we move? My back is killing me.”

“Oh.” Barbara blinked. “Sure honey.” She sprung out of her chair and helped Evelyn stand up. The pair headed straight for the living room, where Evelyn slowly eased onto the large sofa. Barbara rushed back into the kitchen to fetch refreshments for the pregnant woman.

While the blond nurse was in the kitchen, the other three nurses descended the staircase and headed for the front door. Martha and Sandra had changed into civilian dresses. “Remember,” Sandra said to Evelyn, “if you need to talk, I’ll be back.” Evelyn thanked her and the trio left the house.

Barbara returned to the living room, carrying a tray filled with sandwiches, a pot of coffee and two cups. “Here you go, sweetie.” She placed the tray on the table, situated in front of the sofa. Then she piled two sandwiches on a napkin and handed them to Evelyn. “How do you like your coffee?”

Munching on a sandwich, Evelyn replied, “With lots of milk and sugar.”

Barbara prepared a cup of coffee, just as Evelyn had ordered. She placed it on the small table, next to the sofa and within the latter’s reach. Then, “Honey, may I ask you a question?” She reached for her own sandwich.

“Shoot,” Evelyn said between bites.

Blue eyes stared directly into dark brown ones. “Evelyn, what were you thinking?”

The blunt question took Evelyn by surprise. She stared at Barbara. “Huh? What are you talking about?”

“I’m talking about the late Captain Daniel Walker,” Barbara shot back. “And that.” She pointed at Evelyn’s swollen abdomen. “Just what in the hell were you thinking?”

Evelyn’s cheeks burned hot with embarrassment. She placed the remaining sandwich next to her cup of coffee. “Don’t you think you’re being a little too personal, Barbara?” she retorted in a cool voice.

“Personal?” Barbara’s blond brows shot upward. “Honey, we’ve been talking about your love life for the past hour or so with the other girls. You didn’t seem to mind then. Tell me,” she leaned forward, “did you love him? Danny, I mean.”

Evelyn shot back, “Of course I did! Danny was a wonderful man. Warm, sweet and compassionate. And very loving. Did you know that he wrote poetry?”

Barbara took a sip of coffee. “No kidding. I didn’t know you like poetry.”

“It’s nice,” Evelyn said with a shrug.

Silence followed as Evelyn found herself squirming under Barbara’s direct scrutiny. Then the older woman smiled. “So it’s nice, huh? Exactly what did you mean by nice? It’s okay or it’s grand?”

An impatient grunt escaped Evelyn’s lips. She retorted, “What are you getting at, Barbara?”

“It’s like this, honey. Were you in love with Danny?”

“Didn’t you hear what I said? I told you, yes!”

Barbara shook her head. “You said that you loved Danny. You never said anything about being in love with him.”

Evelyn’s patience snapped. “What’s the difference?”

“The difference is this,” Barbara began. Her face expressed a patience rarely seen on her face. “Loving someone is like feeling deep affection and warmth toward him. Or her. It’s a feeling you would have for a . . . a beloved relative or a friend. Or even an old boyfriend you had a lot of fun with.”

Evelyn stared at her friend. “Was that how you felt about Billy?” She referred to the pilot Barbara had dated, until his death during the Japanese attack at Pearl. Billy had been the victim of a delayed bomb that had landed not far from the pilots’ barracks.

Barbara shrugged. “Not quite. I guess I felt a little more.” She paused and glanced away. “After all, I had dated the bum for nearly a year. But I wasn’t in love with him.”

“I still don’t understand what you’re saying. What’s the difference?”

“Being in love,” Barbara continued, “is like having a soul mate.” Her eyes grew wistful. “Two hearts beating as one. Chemistry. Magic. Like Greer Garson and Ronald Colman in ‘RANDOM HARVEST’. You can barely breath when you’re around him. Or her.” She paused. “How did Danny make you feel?”

Certainly not like that, Evelyn immediately thought. Then she mentally castigated herself. How could she say that to herself? Those two months with Danny had been wonderful. She even managed not to think of Rafe. At least most of the time. And yet, she had to admit that she never felt any chemistry or magic around Danny. Quietly, she answered, “He made me feel nice. Loved.”

“Breathless?”

Evelyn paused. Might as well be honest. “No,” she finally replied. “He didn’t.”

Barbara nodded. “I’m not surprised. And Rafe? How do you feel about him?”

How did she feel about Rafe? Evelyn recalled that first moment her eyes had met his at Mitchell Field eighteen months ago. And the way her heart thumped rapidly at the sight of him descending the airplane just two or three hours ago. A deep heat washed over her body.

“You know, if only you could see yourself right now,” Barbara commented, interrupting Evelyn’s musing. “You’ve got this big, silly grin on your face.”

Embarrassment quickly wiped away Evelyn’s grin. “I do? I mean . . . oh! Never mind.” She took a sip of coffee.

Barbara continued, “You never answered my question about Rafe.”

Evelyn quickly responded under her breath, “I love him.”

“What? I didn’t hear you.”

In a louder voice, Evelyn repeated, “I said that I love Rafe.”

“That’s nice, honey,” Barbara said with her usual sardonic tone. “But are you in love with him?”

Evelyn’s eyes flew open. “I . . . I mean . . .” She sighed. “Yes,” she finally confessed. “I’m still in love with him.”

Barbara gave a knowing nod. “Thought so. And that’s why you were so upset over his marriage proposal. You wanted one that was a little more romantic. Especially from the man you love.”

“Yes,” Evelyn whispered. She stared at the tray of sandwiches and coffee. “Unfortunately, that won’t ever happen. Will it? Not with me carrying Danny’s child.”

Barbara let out a sigh. “Maybe Rafe is afraid that you don’t love him anymore. Like you said, there’s the baby to consider.” Silence fell between the two friends. Then Barbara continued, “You also forgot to answer my first question.”

“What’s that?” Evelyn asked.

Leaning forward, Barbara said, “What in the hell were you thinking? Dating Danny so soon after Rafe had been declared killed in action. Geez Louise, Ev! Three months!”

“I was lonely!” Evelyn cried in defense. “After you all saw me at the Black Cat Café with Danny, you kept telling me to move on. Get over Rafe. Live again. So I did.”

Barbara rolled her eyes. “Honey! I don’t know what the others meant, but my idea of moving on was go out every once in a while with Danny or us. Go to the beach or the movies. Go riding around the island on weekends. Not have a torrid romance with your allegedly dead boyfriend’s best friend! Who told you to do that?”

“Well, Betty thought it was a good idea.”

A heavy sigh burst out of Barbara’s mouth. “Oh my God! Why on earth would you take advice from a eighteen year-old girl? I loved Betty. And I miss her something awful. But Evelyn, she was not exactly qualified to give you advice on your love life. I don’t care how old she was when she ran away from home, she wasn’t that experienced.” Her eyes rolled toward heaven, Barbara muttered just loud enough for Evelyn to hear, “Betty, of all people!”

Evelyn looked away. “You don’t understand, Barbara,” she said quietly. “You don’t know what it was like after I heard that Rafe had died. I felt as if . . . I don’t know. As if a part of my soul had been torn away.” Tears pricked at her eyes, as a small burst of laughter left her mouth. “Golly! Listen to me! I sound like something out of some Joan Crawford melodrama.” She clumsily wiped away her tears.

Sympathy poured out of Barbara’s eyes. “I can’t say I really know how you felt, honey. But I understand.” She paused. “Danny helped you through a dark time in your life. But Ev, didn’t you ever stop to think that it all happened too fast? Or that you simply weren’t ready for another romance so soon?”

“Of course I did!” Evelyn protested. She closed her eyes momentarily. “After that night with Danny in the hangar, I realized it was all happening too fast. Only . . .” Memories of that moment in the garden with Danny rushed back to her. “Only, you should have seen his face when I tried to tell him, Barbara. He looked so . . . so desperate for some happiness. Like a little lost puppy who had finally found a home.”

Barbara shook her head. “And because you felt sorry for Danny, you ended up in some romance with him. What a mess!”

“I know,” Evelyn quietly acknowledged, as she dropped her head into her open palms. “Now what am I going to do? I’m pregnant, the baby’s father is dead and I just turned down a proposal from the man I love. Rafe’s never going to ask again.”

A shrug lifted Barbara’s shoulders. “You don’t know that. But if you’re right . . . well, you shouldn’t let it end like this.” Life glimmered in her blue eyes. “If Rafe won’t come to you, you’ll have to go to him. I’m not just thinking of the baby, Ev. You can easily get a phony wedding ring and birth certificate and tell people that his or her father is dead. Which is the truth.”

“Barbara . . .” Evelyn began.

The blond-haired woman leaned forward. “Look, Evelyn. If you love Rafe that much, fight to get him back. Make him fall in love with you again. Like Scarlett O’Hara in ‘GONE WITH THE END’.”

“Scarlett lost Rhett Butler in the end.”

“Not quite. Don’t you remember? Instead of giving up, she decided that she would get Rhett back, no matter what. That’s what you need to do with Rafe,” Barbara continued. “Because you know something, honey? This might be your last chance for some real happiness.”

* * * *

Rafe’s eyes swept over the half-empty beach. “Not many people here,” Red commented, as his eyes followed those of the other man. “You should have seen it last year, around this time. A guy could barely take a step without tripping over a body. Now look at it.”

“There wasn’t a war going on,” Rafe responded. “At least not here.” He paused, his eyes now fixed upon the waves crashing against the shore. “Now everything’s changed.”

The two men fell silent as they watched a bronze-skinned, middle-aged man deftly ride the waves on a surfboard. The Hawaiian managed to reach the shore without falling into the water. “It’s a good thing Gooz isn’t watching,” Red said. “He’d be bombarding that fellow about his surfboard.” Rafe stared at the red-haired pilot questioningly. “Gooz has plans for a new kind of surfboard. One that will make him rich.”

A grunt escaped Rafe’s mouth and the two friends continued their walk along the beach. “Okay Red,” Rafe said, “you got me alone. What do you want to talk about?”

“Do you love Evelyn, Rafe?”

Red’s question stopped the other pilot in his tracks. “What the hell are you getting at?” Rafe demanded.

Red sighed. “I . . . I just want to know if you’re still in love with her?”

Rafe snapped back, “Of course I am! Didn’t you hear what I told the others?”

“Then why did you ask her . . .” Red paused momentarily. “Why did you ask her to marry you like that? As if you were proposing a business deal?”

The sounds of crashing waves and voices on the beach filled the silence between the two men. Rafe took a deep breath and began walking. Toward what direction, he had no idea. It seemed as if his feet automatically needed to move, while he contemplated Red’s question.

“Rafe? Rafe, I’m sorry,” Red said in a breathless rush. “I d-d-didn’t mean for you to get s-s-sore.”

Rafe paused. For once, he wished he had developed a smoking habit. At least he would have something to keep his hands occupied. “No . . . I mean . . . well, yeah, I’m a little sore. But you’re right. I wasn’t exactly the most romantic joe when I proposed to Evelyn.” He sighed. “You don’t understand. I reckon I was afraid. Afraid that . . .”

“Afraid that Evelyn might not love you anymore,” Red finished. “Because of what happened between her and Danny.” Rafe remained silent. “Am I right?”

A small ball of anger formed within Rafe. His mind flashed back to that horrible night outside the hospital at Pearl. When he learned about Evelyn and Danny. As much as he loved them both, as much as he missed Danny with nearly every breath within him, he could not forget the feeling of betrayal from that night. Nor the shock he had received when Evelyn revealed her pregnancy.

“You don’t understand,” Rafe retorted. “Can you imagine what it was like to escape death in order to get back to the woman you loved? Only to find out that she’s moved on with your best friend?”

Red shot back, “No, I don’t, dammit! But I do know what Danny and Evelyn went through! Especially Evelyn.” He paused and a pink flush crept over his face. “I’ve known ever since Betty was killed, six months ago.”

Guilt hit Rafe like a sock in the gut. He had been so caught up in his own guilt and anger that he forgot the suffering of others. “I’m sorry, Red,” he began. “I didn’t realize . . .”

“It’s okay, Rafe. I don’t expect you to keep an eye on me every waking moment.” Red sat down on the sand. Rafe joined him. “I haven’t told this to anyone,” he continued. “Right after Betty’s death, I had been too busy to really have a chance to grieve. Especially with us training for Colonel Doolittle’s raid. But after we got back, it sort of hit me that I was alone. Betty was dead. Anthony had been killed in China. That’s when I met her. Just before you returned to the States to bury Danny.”

Rafe frowned. “Met who?”

“Margie.” According to Red, he had met a civilian nurse named Marjorie Gronowski at the Black Cat Café. She had been recently widowed after her husband, an Army infantry lieutenant, was killed during the Japanese takeover of the Philippines Islands. “Margie was supposed to join her husband right before Christmas, but the Japs struck Pearl. Four months later, she got word of his death from a buddy of his.”

Slowly, Rafe added, “And you two became . . . you know . . . lovers. Right?”

Red nodded. “Yeah. It happened a week after we first met. After talking about Betty and Jon – her husband, we started drinking a lot. One thing led to another and then . . .” Red ended his sentence with a shrug.

Curious, Rafe asked, “How long did it last?”

“Almost a month,” Red answered. “I just ended it two days ago. I realized our relationship was going too fast. And that I really wasn’t over Betty. At least not yet.”

A bitter laugh escaped Rafe’s mouth. “Too bad Evelyn and Danny didn’t feel the same.”

“I think Evelyn did,” Red commented. “You have to understand, Rafe. Both she and Danny were really upset when they thought you were dead. Danny used to drift away, time to time. And I once saw him staring at your picture at the bar.”

Rafe looked away.

Red continued, “As for Evelyn, Betty once told me that she used to cry herself to sleep nearly every night. At least until she and Danny started dating around October. I don’t know about Evelyn, but there was something odd in the way Danny went after her. Like he was desperate and needed her to keep him from going over the edge. Margie reminded me a lot of him. But I think Evelyn, like me . . . well, I think she began to regret dating Danny. Once I saw her staring at nothing, as if she had something else on her mind. Danny had to snap her out of it. I think he was a little upset.”

After a moment’s pause, Rafe asked, “Are you saying that she was thinking of me?”

“I don’t know. I can’t answer that.” Red stared at Rafe. “Only Evelyn can.”

“Meaning?”

Red sighed. “Maybe you and Evelyn need to talk. Have you two even bothered to talk, yet?”

Rafe recalled Evelyn’s visit at the motor court. If he had to be honest, he did most of the talking that morning. “Maybe it’s time I listen to Evelyn,” he mumbled.

Apparently, he had mumbled loud enough for the other man to hear. A smile appeared on Red’s face. “You were always a pretty smart fellow, Rafe.”

The Tennessee-born officer slapped Red’s back. “I reckon you’re the smart one, Red. And you know what else?”

“What?”

“You’re also a good friend. I hope you’ll stay my friend for a long time.” The two men remained on the beach and watched the surfer dive back into the ocean.

END OF PART 4

“A Convenient Proposal” [PG-13] 3/5

pearl harbor nurses

 

“A CONVENIENT PROPOSAL”

PART 3 – A Little Help From Friends

“Say that again?” Barbara nearly screeched. Her blue eyes had grown wide with shock.

Evelyn quietly repeated her announcement. That Rafe had asked her to marry him. Barbara continued, “And you’re upset over that?”

“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

“A Convenient Proposal” [PG-13] 2/5

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:

“Rafe,

Welcome back. Meet us at the Hula-La.

Red”

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″

“A Convenient Proposal” [PG-13] 1/5

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The following is a “PEARL HARBOR” (the movie) story I had written some time ago. It is called, “A Convenient Proposal” and is set several weeks following the Doolittle pilots to Hawaii:

 

A CONVENIENT PROPOSAL

RATING: PG-13
SUMMARY: Rafe returns to Hawaii after burying Danny in Tennessee and asks Evelyn a very important question.
DISCLAIMER: Yadda, yadda, yadda! All characters pertaining to the motion picture, “Pearl Harbor”, belong to Jerry Bruckheimer, Michael Bay, Randall Wallace and the Walt Disney Company . . . unfortunately.

NOTE: Following Danny’s death, I’ve always wondered how Rafe and Evelyn managed to resolve their problems and become the happily married couple shown at the end of the movie.

——

PART 1 – The Proposal

Talk about déjà vu. Evelyn Johnson stood near a gate at Hickham Field and watched a B-25 aircraft circle over the runway. Her hand gently pressed against her swollen belly, as she sighed.

Just nearly a month ago, she had stood at this very same spot, awaiting the arrival of the Doolittle Raid pilots who had returned from China. Evelyn recalled feeling a surge of happiness at the sight of one Rafe McCawley descending from another plane. That happiness had soon transformed into dread when Rafe failed to return her smile. And when the other surviving pilots left the plane, carrying a coffin, Evelyn’s dread became grief. Draped over the coffin was Danny’s flight jacket.

Danny Walker. A wave of grief washed over Evelyn. Along with guilt. She had been carrying his child for nearly seven months. Ever since that evening inside the hangar, following a flight over Oahu. Evelyn considered that evening a magical time for her. Without it and other times with Danny, she would have never recovered from her heart-wrenching grief that had threatened to consume her, following news of Rafe’s “death” over the English Channel. Yet, Rafe did returned and Evelyn’s happiness soon became chaos.

The B-25 straightened out as it glided over the runway. The wheels extended and the plane finally touched down. Evelyn held her breath as it rolled to a stop. A minute passed before the plane’s doors swung open. Four Army officers – two men and two women descended the stairway. A fifth figure appeared in the plane’s doorway. Rafe.

Evelyn let out a gust of breath. Her heartbeat increased ten times its normal pace. A warm flush ignited her skin. Even after all that has happened between them in the past year-and-a-half, Rafe’s presence still managed to affect her, since that first moment their eyes met back in New York.

Brown eyes scoured the airfield, until they rested upon Evelyn. An invisible electricity crackled in the air. Evelyn longed to run toward Rafe and throw her arms around him. Unfortunately, her bulky form made that impossible. Instead, she waved. Rafe returned her wave with a smile. A rather dim one, in Evelyn’s opinion.

With one hand holding his overnight bag and the other, clenching his Army jacket, the Tennessee pilot strode toward Evelyn. “Hey,” he greeted quietly.

Evelyn replied in an equally quiet voice, “Hey, yourself.” She reached out to touch his arm. Rafe did not flinch from her touch. Nor did he seem to welcome it, either. His reaction disturbed Evelyn. To cover her feelings, her smile widened before she added, “Welcome back.”

“Thanks.” Rafe glanced around the field. “Where’s Red and Gooz? I had sent them a telegram to pick me up.”

“Yeah, Red told me. I asked him to let me pick you up, instead.”

A slight frown crinkled Rafe’s forehead. “Why?” he asked.

Doubt crept into Evelyn’s heart. She began to wonder if he still felt the same for her after all that has happened between them. They had went through so much lately – eleven months apart, her romance with Danny, Rafe’s return, the pregnancy, the attack at Pearl, her decision to marry Danny, the latter’s death in China. It was a wonder that they managed to carry on a conversation.

Rafe repeated his question. “Why couldn’t Red pick me up? I mean, considering your condition . . .”

An answer failed to reach the tip of Evelyn’s tongue. What could she say? That the last time Rafe was in Hawaii, grief over Danny’s death and the preparations for the burial in Tennessee kept them apart? That she longed to see him again? Remain longer than five minutes in his presence? Evelyn found herself unable to confess her true feelings to Rafe. Fear of rejection or outright laughter prevented her.

Evelyn finally replied, “I asked Red and Gooz to let me pick you up.” She gave her shoulders a shrug. “I just wanted to welcome you back.” The moment those words left her mouth, Evelyn regretted them. Her heart lurched as disappointment and confusion mingled in Rafe’s brown eyes. My God! How lame that sounds!

* * * *

Rafe found himself in mental turmoil. That’s it? She just wanted to welcome me back? What about I miss you? Or I love you?

He mentally castigated himself. What in the hell did he expect? An outburst of emotion? Hell, neither he or Evelyn have exchanged a word of love since she informed him of her plans to marry Danny right after the Pearl Harbor attack. Looking at her round belly reminded Rafe of that terrible moment at the motel court. When he learned that Evelyn was pregnant with Danny’s child, Rafe realized that he had lost her for good.

“Shall we go?” Evelyn said, interrupting Rafe’s thoughts. He stared at her dark eyes. Eyes that merely reflected friendly curiosity. Rafe let out a sigh and followed her away from the airfield.

The couple walked slowly – thanks to Evelyn’s pregnancy – to a parked car, a 1937 black Buick convertible. Danny’s car. Rafe spotted the bullet holes left by Japanese Zeroes on that unforgettable morning, over six months ago. A frown creased his brow, as he halted in his tracks. “I didn’t realize you had Danny’s car.”

Evelyn’s face turned pink. “Danny gave it to me, just before the both of you left for California. You know, when you reported to Colonel Doolittle. After he died . . . well, you and I never really saw much of each other and I found out that Danny left the car to me in a will.” She paused, as the pink in her cheeks deepened. “It helped me get around easier. But you can have it, if you want.” A slight wariness crept into her eyes.

“That’s okay,” Rafe murmured. “Danny wanted you to have the car. You should keep it.”

“Oh.”

Rafe added, “But I wouldn’t mind using it every now and then. At least until I’m sent overseas.”

A brief, sad smile touched Evelyn’s lips. “Hmmm, overseas. I forgot about that. But since you’re here,” she handed Rafe a set of keys, “you can drive.” Evelyn’s smile broadened. Looking at it warmed Rafe’s own heart and he smiled back. Forever the Southern gentleman, he escorted Evelyn to the convertible’s passenger side and helped her climb in. She murmured a quiet “thank you” before he climbed into the driver’s seat.

Within a matter of minutes, the Buick was speeding along the Hawaiian countryside. Evelyn instructed Rafe to drive toward a quiet, residential area near the beach, instead of the hospital base at Pearl. When her pregnancy had begun to show, she decided to rent a bungalow near the beach. “I would have rented a smaller house, but the girls decided they had enough of the base and moved in with me.” Rafe assumed the girls were Barbara, Sandra and Martha.

Evelyn continued with a detailed description of the bungalow. Rafe barely heard a word. Not even the lush, tropical countryside could grab his attention. His mind focused on the road ahead . . . and past memories.

Hearing Evelyn’s voice, seeing her smile and her pregnant state, produced a stream of regrets within Rafe. There seemed to be so many “if onlys” to choose. If only he had never volunteered to serve in the RAF’s Eagle Squadron. If only he had more than a month with Evelyn before leaving the States for England. If only he had not been shot down over the English Channel. And if only he had returned to Evelyn before she could recover from her grief with Danny. What Rafe regretted the most was the death of his best friend – the only man he had ever regarded as a brother.

“Penny for your thoughts,” a soft voice said, interrupting Rafe’s musings.

He blinked and shot a quick glance at his companion. “Huh? What did you say?”

“I was describing the bungalow,” Evelyn continued. “Yet, somehow I got the feeling that your mind was on something else.”

Rafe gave a nervous cough. “What made you think that?”

“You just passed the road that leads to my house. Even after I told you to turn.”

Embarrassed over his mistake, Rafe immediately made a U-turn. He then made a right turn on a small road and the convertible eventually came upon a two-story bungalow built out of whitewashed clapboards. “Well, here we are.” Rafe announced after he stopped the car and turned off the engine. “Home.”

The sounds of palm fronds rustling in the wind and waves beating against the shore filled the silence between the couple inside the Buick. Rafe would usually enjoy the shared silence with Evelyn. But not today. In fact, he wondered if he would ever learn to enjoy Evelyn’s company again. But he had to. Especially after what he had promised his dying friend back in that rice paddy in China.

“Would like to come in for a cup of coffee or another drink?” Evelyn asked, breaking the silence before Rafe could.

Rafe felt his palms grow moist. God, this was difficult!

“Rafe?” Evelyn continued. “Did you hear me? Is everything okay?”

The pilot nodded. “Yeah. Everything’s swell. Just swell.”

Evelyn frowned. “Are you sure? You seem rather quiet.” Despite her seemingly calm voice, Rafe thought he had detected a hint of nervousness.

“Don’t worry. I’m fine. I just . . .”

“Just what?” Evelyn added.

A heavy sigh escaped Rafe’s mouth. Memories of the past six months began to assault his mind. His arrival in Hawaii. Evelyn’s reaction to his appearance at the hospital at Pearl. Danny’s reaction. The fight at the Hula-La Bar. The Japanese attack, the following morning. Evelyn’s revelation of her pregnancy. His talk with Danny on that California beach. The raid on Tokyo. Danny’s death. Rafe sighed one last time. He might as well get it over with.

Rafe reached into the backseat for his jacket. “Uh, Evelyn,” he began. “I have . . . well, I have something to ask you.”

“Yes?” Dark eyes grew round.

A lump rose in Rafe’s throat. He had not felt this nervous since that last night in New York City, when he said good-bye to Evelyn. Rafe reached inside one of the jacket pockets for a small, dark blue velvet case. “I . . . uh . . . hell!”

Evelyn’s eyes fell upon the case. “Is that what I think that is?” Her voice projected muted emotion.

Rafe snapped open the case, revealing a small silver ring with a cluster of diamonds surrounding a small sapphire gem. A gasp escaped Evelyn’s lips. Rafe had purchased the ring at a jewelry store in Washington D.C.

“Evelyn,” he continued, staring into her dark eyes, “would you marry me?” Before she could answer, Rafe continued, “I realize you had expected to marry Danny, but with him gone and you expecting a baby . . . well, I’ll be more than happy to take his place.”

Evelyn’s eyes widened. “You will?” she whispered.

“Of course.” Rafe blinked at her unexpected response. Because I love you, he silently wanted to say. However, fear and pride prevented him from expressing his true feelings. Instead, he added, “Danny was like a brother to me. He would have wanted me to take care of you and the baby. And I swear, Evelyn, I’ll do just that.”

Rafe sat back into his seat, expecting a sign of approval from Evelyn. Instead, he found himself staring into a pair of very dark and angry eyes. Eyes that glared at him. Confusion whirled inside his brain. Why on earth was she angry? “Evelyn? What’s wrong?” he asked.

“Wrong?” Evelyn replied in a soft and deadly voice. Rafe felt even more confused when she opened the door and began to climb out of the car. Her large girth made it difficult, but she managed to get out before Rafe had the chance to help her. Then she marched toward the bungalow.

“Evelyn? Evelyn! What’s wrong?” Rafe cried as he rushed after her. It amazed him how a pregnant woman could move so fast. “Evelyn! Wait a minute! I just asked you to marry me!”

Evelyn reached the bungalow and inserted a key into the front door. Then she whirled upon him, her eyes flashing. “C’mon Evelyn,” Rafe begged. “Talk to me! Dammit, I just proposed to you and now you’re acting as if I had sullied your name!”

“You sullied a lot more!” Evelyn snapped, as she opened the door. “And by the way, you call that a proposal? As far as I’m concerned, Rafe McCawley, you know what you can do with your proposal! And where you can shove it!” She stepped inside the house and slammed the door on the face of a very bewildered pilot.

END OF PART 1

 

“The Many Loves of Rafe McCawley” [PG-13] – 6/7

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“THE MANY LOVES OF RAFE McCAWLEY”

PART 6 – “The Girl From Fifth Avenue”

LONG ISLAND, NY; DECEMBER 1940 . . . “Danny? Are you going to say something?”
The younger man stared at his friend in pure shock. What could he say? That he found nothing unusual about Rafe’s latest revelation? How could anyone consider a sexual ménage a troi, usual? Or normal? And how could Rafe even get involved in such a relationship? 

“Okay Danny,” Rafe continued, “I realize that you’re a little pissed at me.”

Danny frowned. “Pissed at you? Why?”

“I don’t know.” Rafe shrugged. “Because I broke it off with Julie before you could get involved?”

“I wouldn’t worry if I were you, Rafe. Right now, I’m feeling grateful.”

The older man gave Danny an understanding nod. “Gotcha. At least none of my girlfriends after Julie were that odd.”

A certain blonde with green eyes popped into Danny’s consciousness. He said, “I don’t know about that. Don’t forget Claudia Kingsley.”

“Danny.” Rafe shot him a warning look.

Resentment flared within Danny. “What? Are you telling me that Claudia was normal?”

Rafe sighed. “Trust me. She was.”

“Not for you, she wasn’t.”

Impatient whirled in Rafe’s eyes. “Look, just because you didn’t like her . . .”

Danny held up his hand to silence his friend. “Hey! Rafe, forget about it. I don’t wanna talk about Claudia.”

Wistfully, Rafe added, “Still, I have to admit that she wasn’t all that bad.”

Danny merely rolled his eyes in contempt, while Rafe reminisced.

* * * *

MANHATTAN ISLAND, NY; SEPTEMBER-DECEMBER 1940 . . . . “I can’t believe it!” Anthony Fusco bemoaned. “We go through all that trouble to get this furlough and it decides to rain.” He and the other four pilots of their squad, sat inside the famous steakhouse, Angelo and Maxie’s, one Friday evening. They had just finished dinner. “Anyone have plans for the evening?”

Billy groaned out loud. “Oh God! Not again! Why do we have to go through this, every time we’re in the city?”

Rafe gave a slight cough. “Actually, I already have an idea.” He paused. “The Waldorf-Astoria.” Cries of protest filled the booth. Interrupting the others, Rafe continued, “What the hell’s wrong with the Waldorf-Astoria? Xavier Cugat’s playing there. And we’re Army officers, for crying out loud! Not a bunch of hicks who don’t know their way around town!”

“Well, being from Tennessee,” Anthony began, “you . . .”

Rafe gave the Brooklyn-born pilot a withering stare. “Don’t even start, Anthony.” The other pilot fell silent. When the rest failed to offer more objections, Rafe considered the matter closed. “Okay, the Waldorf-Astoria, it is.”

Entering the famous and elegant hotel on Park Avenue became a mind-blowing experience for the pilots. It certainly did for Rafe. One look at the lobby and well-dressed patrons inside, nearly caused him to lose his nerve for the first time in his twenty-four year existence on this Earth.

“Rafe, I wanna leave,” Red moaned in a low voice to the Tennessean. “We’ve only been here for less than five minutes and already I feel like dirt beneath their feet.”

Danny added, “I’ve gotta admit that I’m feeling a little uncomfortable, myself.”

Although Rafe shared his friends’ feelings, he refused to give in to his fears. Surrender had never been an option for him and he was not about to start now. “Look here fellas, you might be feeling a little scared right now, but remember . . . we’re officers and gentlemen. Pilots of the U.S. Army Air Corps. We don’t run off like a bunch of scared rabbits.”

“Unless we have no other choice,” Anthony muttered sardonically. Rafe decided to ignore him.

So, the five friends headed upstairs to the hotel’s lush Starlight Roof. They tried, unsuccessfully, not to gawk at the beautifully-gowned women and their well-tailored companions. Even the smartly-dressed waiters caught their attention. Best of all, there stood the famous Latin American bandleader, Xavier Cugat, leading his orchestra in a rendition of“Chica, Chica, Boom, Chic”, while singer Lina Romay provided vocals.

Billy ordered, “Okay everyone, shut your mouths. We look like chumps.”

“Speak for yourself,” Anthony shot back.

“I can’t. I think I’m in heaven.” Billy eyed a sultry-looking brunette in a strapless gown. “Rafe, you really know how to pick ’em. Holy shit! The Starlight Roof at the Waldorf-Astoria. If my folks knew I was here, they’d have a fit.”

Red added, “I’m ha. . .having one . . . right now.” He paused and pointed at the maitre’d bearing down on them. “E . . . e . . . especially wi . . . with that jo . . . jo . . . ker co . . . coming at us.”

The maitre’d halted before the five officers. His eyes regarded them as specimens in science lab. “May I help you . . . gentlemen?”

Rafe met the maitre’d’s stare with a direct one of his own. “A table for five,” he coolly ordered. He did not bother to add ‘please’ at the end. The maitre’d gave him a respectful nod and led the young pilots toward one of the large tables. Before they could reach their destination, Rafe caught sight of a pretty girl with shoulder-length blonde hair and green eyes, sitting with three other girls and a young man. Judging from the way she met his gaze, the blond seemed equally interested.

Once the song ended, a waiter appeared at the pilots’ table. The five friends only ordered drinks – a gin and tonic for Rafe. Cugat’s band commenced upon the next number, “Thanks For the Dream”. An idea – no, an urge overcame Rafe as he heard the song’s first bars. Forgetting his drink, he stood up from his chair and walked over to the table where he had spotted the green-eyed blonde and her companions.

Flashing his most charming smile, Rafe greeted, “Good evening ladies, sir.” He focused his gaze upon the blonde. “My name is Lieutenant Rafe McCawley and I wondered, miss, if you would like to dance.”

“Good God!” the tuxedoed young man snidely declared. “It’s Rhett Butler in uniform!”

The blonde regarded Rafe with admiring eyes. “Yes, but a very handsome and charming Rhett Butler in uniform. By the way, Lieutenant, I’d love to dance.” She stood and offered Rafe her hand. “My name is Claudia Kingsley.”

Rafe gave her a courtly bow. “Very nice to meet you, Claudia.”

“Hey! Wait a minute!” The young man looked outraged. “Claudia, you’re not going to dance with this Army yokel, are you?”

Claudia glared haughtily at her male companion. “Really Peter! You could learn a lesson or two from this so-called yokel.” She started toward the dance floor. Rafe flashed Peter a quick sneer and followed Claudia.

The Army pilot and the society debutante learned a little about each other, during their two-to-three minute dance. Not a lot, but enough to feel intrigued with each other. Rafe offered to escort Claudia on a night on the town for the following evening. Instead, she invited him to attend a party being held by her aunt and uncle at their Park Avenue home. Delighted that Claudia was still interested in him, Rafe accepted.

“Are you crazy?” Danny cried inside the privacy of their hotel room. He, along with Rafe and the others had gathered there for a few late night drinks. “All of us at some damn party for the muckety-muck?”

Rafe calmly corrected his friend. “They’re called Café Society, Danny. And what’s wrong with us going to one of their parties? Didn’t we just have a swell time at the Starlight Roof?”

“I always knew you were a high flyer, McCawley,” Billy declared, shaking his head. “But man! This time, you’re reaching for the moon.”

Rolling his eyes, Rafe shot back, “Hell Billy, if man was destined to stay on the ground, the airplane would have never been invented.” When his friends failed to respond, he cried out with exasperation, “Jesus fellas! Why are you so damn reluctant about this party? You sure as hell didn’t have any trouble finding girls to dance with you, tonight.” None of the other pilots could disagree with him. Not even Danny, whose own good looks had attracted numerous female attention. “Good. Then the matter is settled.”

Danny let out a long-suffering sigh. “I swear Rafe, one of these days you’re going to have your own way and it’ll turn out to be the biggest mistake you’ll ever make.”

As usual, Rafe ignored his best friend.

* * * *

The following evening found the five pilots inside a three-story limestone mansion on Fifth Avenue. Their experiences at the Waldorf-Astoria had taught them to refrain from gawking at their luxurious surrounding. Still, Rafe felt a little awed by the people around him. And he could detect his friends’ unease.

Claudia rushed forward to greet the newcomers. “Rafe! I’m so glad that you could make it.” She planted a wet kiss on Rafe’s cheek. Then she faced the others. “So, are you going to introduce me to your friends?”

Happily, Rafe introduced Claudia to Red, Anthony and Billy. Then he gestured toward his oldest friend. “And this is Danny Walker. He’s been my best friend since we were kids in Tennessee.”

Green eyes widened considerably. “Tennessee?” Claudia squealed with delight. “Oh my! Another Rhett Butler!” Danny’s face turned its usual shade of red. Something even Claudia noticed. “Oh dear. My mistake,” she added in a coy voice. “Perhaps I should have said, Ashley Wilkes.” The red coloring on Danny’s face deepened, as the other three pilots snickered.

“How many times have you seen ‘GONE WITH THE WIND’?” Rafe asked the blonde young woman.

Claudia giggled. “So many times, I cannot even keep count. Did I ever tell you that I had attended the movie’s New York premiere at the Capitol Theater? Very exciting!” She faced the pilots. “Well gentlemen, I hope that you enjoy yourselves. Plenty of refreshments for everyone.”

Red, Anthony and Billy scattered into the crowd with great enthusiasm. Only Danny remained at Rafe’s side, looking very uncomfortable. The older man glanced at his friend. “Something wrong, Danny? You look a mite uneasy.”

“It’s nothing,” Danny replied. His face turned a deeper shade of pink. “I just . . . uh, I mean . . .”

An amused smile curved Claudia’s lips, as she cooed, “Oh dear! I believe that poor Danny is shy.” She giggled, prompting a dark glance from the pilot.

“Nonsense,” Rafe quickly said in an effort to dismiss the awkward moment. “Danny ain’t . . . isn’t shy. Something is probably on his mind.”

“Perhaps the lack of a date?” Claudia added with more giggles. Then she lightly slapped Danny’s arm. “Oh gosh! I’m sorry. I was just joking.”

Danny responded with a wan smile. “Yeah. Sure. I . . . uh, I reckon I best mingle. See you later, Rafe.”

“Sure Danny.” Rafe returned his attention to Claudia, barely acknowledging his friend’s retreating back. He took the debutante’s hand and led her to the dance floor. “Would you care to dance, my lady?” he asked, giving her one of his most charming smiles.

Another burst of giggles left Claudia’s mouth. “Hmmmm! My lady. I like the sound of that. Do you know any more charming Southern euphemisms?”

“A whole barrel of them,” Rafe murmured. He drew Claudia into his arms and the pair began to glide to the tune of“Moonlight Becomes You”. At that moment, Rafe believed that tonight could not get any more perfect than this.

* * * *

“So, what did you think of her?” Rafe asked Danny, several hours later. The two friends each lay on a bed, inside the hotel room that they shared.

Danny glanced up from his glass of Cherry Coke. “Think of who?”

Rafe heaved a frustrated sigh. “Claudia. Claudia Kingsley.”

“Oh. Her.” Danny took another sip of Coke. “She’s all right, I reckon.”

A frown creased Rafe’s brow. “All right? That’s it?”

Danny shot him a quick glance. “What? Are you serious about her?”

The image of Claudia by his side, as Mrs. Rafe McCawley, flashed before the older man’s eyes. Rafe smiled dreamily. “Maybe.”

“Maybe?” Danny immediately shot up into a sitting position. He gave Rafe a hard stare. “You’re serious, ain’t you?” When Rafe failed to answer, Danny continued, “Jesus Rafe! You’ve only known her for two days! What am I saying? Less than two days! And already you’re planning your wedding?”

Rafe frowned. “What’s the matter, Danny? Haven’t you ever heard of ‘love at first sight’?”

Danny rolled his eyes and groaned. “God above! What makes you . . .? What makes you think that you and Claudia are gonna end up ‘happily ever after’? C’mon Rafe! She’s some Fifth Avenue society type, whose daddy is probably into steel or something.”

“Real estate and shipping,” Rafe corrected. “And sugar.”

“Whatever! And may I remind you that you’re just an Army pilot? Whose daddy happens to be a crop duster from Shelby, Tennessee! You gonna tell me that two people from such different backgrounds are gonna have a happy marriage?”

Despite the cold logic of Danny’s words, Rafe could have sworn he had detected a semblance of emotion in his friend’s voice. An emotion that reflected waves of negativity. He peered closely at the younger man. “You don’t like her, do you? You don’t like Claudia.”

“I never said that!” Danny protested.

Rafe shot back, “You didn’t have to. I could tell from the moment you had first laid eyes upon her!”

Heaving a sigh, Danny cried, “C’mon Rafe! You got it all wrong! I just thought that with your different backgrounds . . .”

“Fenton Marsh came from the same background as Claudia,” Rafe reminded his friend. “But that didn’t stop you from playing matchmaker.”

Danny’s mouth hung open for a moment. “But that . . . I mean . . .”

“What?” Rafe demanded.

Shaking his head, Danny mumbled, “Nothing. I guess . . . I reckon there’s nothing wrong with the idea of you and . . . Claudia.” He paused. “How do you think she’ll feel about becoming an Army wife?”

This time, Rafe found himself speechless. He remembered Fenton’s negative reaction to the idea of being an Army wife. Did Danny have a point? Would Claudia react in a similar manner? “I don’t know Danny,” he finally said. “Maybe you’re right. I just . . . I don’t know. Something inside me says I should take a chance with this girl. Maybe it won’t work out between us. But I reckon I have to give it a shot.”

Danny nodded. “I understand. I may not like it. And you’re right, I don’t like Claudia. But I understand how you feel.” But the expression on his face told Rafe otherwise.

* * * *

The romance between Rafe and his Café Society girl seemed to proceed smoothly. Every weekend, the two lovers met at Claudia’s Manhattan apartment – along with his fellow pilots and her friends.

After a brief period of drinks and music, the entire party would usually end up at a swank nightclub. On one occasion, they visited the famous Savoy Ballroom in Harlem. Although Rafe had personally enjoyed himself, they never repeated the experience. Claudia and her friends had seemed . . . nervous about the ballroom’s less socially acceptable clientele.

The only other blight in Rafe’s romance, was Claudia’s relationship with Danny. Quite simply, the two could barely stand each other. Or at least one of them – namely Danny – seemed to dislike Claudia. Rafe could not understand his friend’s attitude. It seemed as if the younger man had developed some kind of vendetta against the debutante. The situation strongly reminded him of his aborted childhood romance with Mary Jo Burnett. Only this time, Danny seemed to be keeping his hostility under control.

Rafe considered confronting Danny about this hostility toward Claudia, but decided against it. He did not want to find himself being forced to choose between his best friend and his girl. Besides, Claudia did not seemed bothered by Danny’s aloofness. In fact, she seemed rather oblivious to the younger Tennessean. But on a chilly night during the Thanksgiving holiday, Rafe discovered that he had been wrong.

As usual, the pilots left their quarters at Mitchell Airfield and boarded the train for Manhattan Island. Upon reaching the borough, they checked into their usual hotel, spruced up a bit and headed toward the Waldorf-Astoria to meet Claudia and her friends. And, as usual, while the others danced to the music of Xavier Cugat’s Band, Danny sat alone at their table.

Feeling contented, Rafe closed his eyes, as he and Claudia swayed to “Acercate Mas”. He felt more than surprised when she heaved a long sigh. He opened his eyes and stared at her. “Something wrong?” he asked.

A pause followed before Claudia answered, “No. I just . . . Well, I couldn’t help but wondered if Danny was shy. He seemed to be so alone.”

“Danny? Shy?” Rafe glanced over his shoulder and noticed his friend sitting alone and nursing a drink. Even Red was enjoying a spin on the dance floor with one of Claudia’s friends. “Naw, he’s not shy. He’s uh, . . . he just broke up with this girl.”

Claudia frowned. “When? He’s been like this since I first met him.”

“It happened last summer,” Rafe quickly lied. “They’ve been together for nearly a year and Danny took the breakup, pretty hard. He’s still hasn’t recovered.”

“Hmmm. Must have been a doozy of a fight.”

Rafe replied, “No, not a fight. She uh . . . she went back home to Ohio.” Which was partly truthful, the pilot told himself. What he had failed to mention to Claudia was that Danny’s relationship with Carrie Ann Vogel had ended over two years ago, upon graduation from college. Or that since then, the younger pilot never had trouble dating other girls. Simply put, the reason why Danny usually ended upon alone was the fact that he disliked Claudia’s friends just as much he disliked Claudia. Only he did not want to be left alone during the squad’s weekend jaunts.

“Poor fellow,” Claudia cooed. “Perhaps I should do him a favor and arrange for him to meet an old friend of mine.”

Rafe considered Danny’s reaction to any matchmaking attempt by Claudia and saw disaster. “Oh . . . uh, I don’t know if that’s a good idea, honey. Danny . . . well, he don’t react too well to folks trying to match him up with someone. Hell, I got burned twice for trying.”

“But . . .”

“Don’t you worry about Danny,” Rafe continued. “He’ll get over Carrie Ann. It’s only a matter of time.”

A sigh left Claudia’s mouth. “If you insist.” She smiled at Rafe, as if the subject of Daniel Walker had been forgotten.

* * * *

Once the music ended, the couple returned to their table and discovered that their friends had joined Danny. Everyone enjoyed their supper, while Cugat’s Band continued with a rendition of “Perfido”. Upon completing his meal, Rafe excused himself for the men’s restroom. As he left minutes later, he found his path blocked by two women who had emerged from the Ladies’ Room. One of them he recognized as Claudia.

Before Rafe could approach his paramour, he heard her say, “If only I could get rid of him!”

“Get rid of whom?” the other girl said. Rafe recognized her voice. It belonged to Anthony’s date, a redhead named Gloria DeWitt. “Rafe?”

Claudia lightly slapped her friend’s wrist. “Of course not, silly! The other one. The one who barely speaks.”

“Oh! Danny!” Gloria paused. “What’s wrong with him? He seems like a dreamboat. Even if he isn’t one of our kind.”

Claudia shot back caustically, “He’s a dreamboat who happens to be cramping my style! I can’t even enjoy myself with Rafe, without that Danny character mooning about.”

“Didn’t Rafe say that he had recently broken up with someone?”

Contempt oozed from Claudia’s voice. “Oh please! I’m not an idiot! I wasn’t fooled one bit by Rafe’s story about Danny being heartbroken over some girl. I know the real truth. Which is Danny doesn’t like our crowd. Especially me. He thinks I’m all wrong for Rafe.”

“Are you sure?” a dubious Gloria asked.

Claudia retorted, “Of course I am! Can you imagine? Some lowlife yokel from Tennessee, who believes that I’m not good enough for his friend!” An exasperated sigh followed. “The nerve of him. From the moment I had first met him, I knew he would be trouble.” Rafe felt a surge of anger.

“If you have something against lowlife yokels from Tennessee,” Gloria began, “why are you dating . . .?”

“My dear Gloria,” Claudia interrupted, her voice encased in ice, “I’m not in the habit of dating yokels. Rafe McCawley may not come from any of the best families of the South, but he is no yokel. I assure you. His friend, on the other hand, strikes me as being pure white trash. Trust me, I can tell. Rafe once told me that his family had allowed Danny to live with them, after his father had died. I had Prescott, Daddy’s attorney, to check up on both Rafe and Danny’s backgrounds. It seems that Danny’s father had been a drunken reprobate who could barely support his family, before dying of a heart attack. And now his hayseed son is standing between Rafe and me.”

Gloria paused. “You’re serious about Rafe, aren’t you?”

“Of course, my dear. Aside from being extremely good-looking, Rafe is smart and very bold. With such traits, he could make something of himself.” Claudia continued, “All I have to do is convince him to leave the Army. And guide him in the right direction. That shouldn’t be much of a problem.”

“But Danny may not like the idea,” Gloria pointed out.

With great ferocity, Claudia replied, “Precisely!”

The two women walked away, unaware that their conversation had been overheard. Rafe slowly emerged from his spot, stunned by what he had just heard. He could not believe it! All this time, he had assumed that the hostility between Danny and Claudia had been one-sided – on Danny’s part. Apparently, he had been unaware that Claudia had regarded his friend as a threat. Or harbored such a low opinion of the younger man. Rafe realized that the situation between him, Danny and Claudia was not a rehash of the Mary Jo Burnett mess. Instead, this all reminded him of his troubles with one of his old high school beaus – Ellie Conway. Claudia had not been the first to label Danny as white trash.

Rafe stood rooted near the restrooms, as he allowed his disappointment to settle down. To his surprise, he felt nothing but anger at Claudia’s description of Danny. And annoyance that she would assume she could run his life. Why did he always seemed to attract such females? Claudia turned out to be the third. Or fourth. Rafe knew deep in his heart that it was time to cut the Fifth Avenue debutante out of his life.

Taking a deep breath, the pilot returned to the table. He found the others sipping their drinks and eating appetizers. All except for Claudia, who seemed to be missing. “Where’s Claudia?” he asked.

“Dancing with an old friend,” was Danny’s cryptic answer.

Rafe glanced at the dance floor. He spotted Claudia dancing with that whey-faced milksop, Peter Van Hagen. He waited for the flash of jealousy to hit him. Instead, he shrugged and said, “Oh well.” And he sat down, next to Danny.

The younger man stared at him in disbelief. “You’re not upset?”

“Over what?”

Danny replied, “Claudia is dancing with someone else. A fella you don’t particularly care for.”

Rafe reached for his glass of champagne and calmly said, “Better him than me.” The other man stared at Rafe, until realization finally gleamed in his eyes.

* * * *

Later that night, the end finally arrived for Rafe McCawley and Claudia Kingsley. After leaving the Waldorf-Astoria, Rafe separated from his fellow pilots and escorted Claudia back to her apartment. Outside her door, she gave him a coy look. “So . . . would you like to come upstairs for a drink?”

“I don’t know,” Rafe said, taking Claudia by surprise. “It’s been a long day and I’m rather tired. Maybe I should go back to the hotel.” He struggled to suppress his enjoyment of Claudia’s stunned reaction.

The debutante stared at Rafe, as if he had lost his mind. “Say that again?”

“I think we should call it a night, Claudia,” Rafe added serenely. “That’s all. What’s the problem?”

Disbelief clouded Claudia’s green eyes. “You always join me upstairs for a drink. What changed your mind, tonight?”

Heaving a loud sigh, Rafe said, “I don’t know. I guess it was hearing you describe my best friend as a . . . what did you call Danny? A lowlife yokel? White trash? It kind of took the joy out of my evening, if you know what I mean.”

Claudia’s pink mouth flapped uncontrollably – like a fish gasping for breath. “You overheard us!” she finally blurted. “I cannot believe that you would stoop so low as to eavesdrop on a private conversation! In my book, no gentleman would ever . . .”

“I’m sorry to disappoint you Claudia, but this isn’t ‘GONE WITH THE WIND’. And I’m not Rhett Butler and you sure as hell aren’t Scarlett O’Hara. So give it a rest, will ya?” The debutante sputtered briefly before Rafe continued, “I may be guilty of eavesdropping, but I don’t take kindly to folks insulting my friends. Behind my back.”

The young woman angrily shot back, “And I’m sure that your precious Daniel Walker has not hesitated to hold back an insult or two, in regard to me!”

“I think you would be surprised how restrained Danny has been!” Rafe retorted. “A hell of a lot more than you.”

Claudia took Rafe by surprise with a hard slap to his face. “You lowlife bastard! How dare you judge me, as if I’m some common reprobate!”

“Lowlife?” Rafe chuckled unpleasantly. “And to think, just a few hours ago, you had told Gloria that I had potential.”

Claudia sneered. “A serious miscalculation on my part!”

“Honey, that’s something we can both claim.”

Again, Claudia slapped his face. Without saying another word, she spun on her heels and marched toward her apartment building’s revolving door. As Rafe watched her stalked past a nervous doorman, he murmured, “Good-bye, Miss Kingsley.” Then he turned away and hailed a cab to convey him back to his hotel.

END OF PART 6

“The Many Loves of Rafe McCawley” [PG-13] – 5/7

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“THE MANY LOVES OF RAFE McCAWLEY”

PART 5 – “Three on a Date”

LONG ISLAND, NY; DECEMBER 1940 . . . Danny heaved a sigh and shook his head in disbelief. “What was I thinking? I can’t believe that I thought Fenton Marsh was the right girl for you.” 

“We all thought so, Danny.” Rafe slapped his friend’s back. “Hell, I even wanted to marry her.”

“At least you had doubts about her.” Once again, Danny shook his head. Then he noticed one of the nurses, a pretty redhead with glasses, staring at them. “Uh Rafe, I think we’ve rested long enough. That nurse is staring to give us the bug-eye.”

Rafe frowned at Danny. “Wha. . .?” Then he spotted the nurse. “Oh. Gee, I wonder how long she’s been staring at us?”

Danny shrugged. “Who knows? You know, she reminds me of someone. I . . .” The pilot paused, as memories of a restaurant in Manhattan came back to him. He recalled another pretty redhead, only this one had green eyes. Danny also recalled something else – Rafe’s nervous behavior whenever she was around.

The two friends walked over to the station where the red-haired nurse awaited them. “Say Rafe,” Danny began, “do you remember that girl you used to date over a year ago. What was her name? Uh, Julie . . . God, what was her name? Julie . . .”

A sigh left Rafe’s mouth. Julie Fisher. Yeah, I remember her.”

“She had seemed like a nice girl,” Danny continued. “Why did you two break up?”

Both Danny and Rafe reached Station 2, and joined the other patients in line. Danny noticed that same nervous look from the past year. “Rafe? You okay?”

“Danny, the story I am about to tell, you will find too incredible to believe. And when I finish, I don’t know if you’re going to be pissed . . . or relieved.”

* * * *

MANHATTAN ISLAND, NEW YORK; MAY TO AUGUST 1939 . . . The five pilots emerged from Grand Central Station and paused in the middle of the sidewalk. “Man-hattan!” Second Lieutenant Anthony Fusco declared with enthusiasm. “It’s good to be home!”

The fair-haired Billy Thompson rolled his eyes. “Home for you is Brooklyn, moron. So please spare us that shit-eating grin. You look like a hick.”

Oh Lord! Rafe heaved an inward sigh. Here it comes. Another fight. How could two men who were the best of friends, argue so damn much? “While you two are busy jawing over Anthony’s birthplace, why don’t we check into our hotel first, so we can find a place to eat? I’m starved.”

The pilots immediately agreed with Rafe’s suggestion and hailed two cabs that conveyed them to the St. Mark’s Hotel. After they checked in, Danny suggested that they eat dinner in the hotel’s restaurant. But the others wanted to go out on the town. Anthony suggested one of Manhattan’s most infamous restaurants – Lindy’s. “It has the best cheesecake ever,” he added. “And other stuff.”

“Sounds like a good idea,” Rafe commented. “Anyone got a problem with Lindy’s?”

Billy spoke up. “I do. Isn’t Lindy’s supposed to be a hangout for gangsters?”

“Ga-ga-gansters?” Red Winkle said. He was a gangly redhead, whose nervous disposition usually expressed itself in a stammer. M-m-ma-maybe we sh-should g-g-go s-s-s-som-mmewhere else.”

Anthony dismissed Red’s concerns with a wave of his hand. “Somewhere else? Forget about it! Gangsters or no gangsters, everyone goes to Lindy’s.” The others agreed and decided to accept the dark-haired officer’s suggestion. Still dressed in their uniforms, they headed left the hotel and headed for the nearest subway.

If Lindy’s was a hangout for gangsters, Rafe did not see any signs of them – much to his relief. He really did not relish the idea of eating dinner in the company of hardened criminals. But as an officer and gentleman of the U.S. Army Air Corps, he did not feel it was appropriate for him to skulk away from danger. Even if it came in the form of thugs. The pilots found a booth near the entrance and sat down. The restaurant seemed very busy. Fortunately for the five officers, they did not have to wait very long for service. Rafe ordered grilled pork chops with mashed potatoes, green beans, rolls and coffee.

“Where do we g-go from here?” Red asked his fellow pilots. “I mean, it’s only seven fifty-four.”

Billy spoke up. “How about the ’21’ Club? Or the Stork Club?”

“Why don’t we try the ballroom at the Waldorf-Astoria, while we’re at it?” Anthony retorted sarcastically. “Do you have any idea how expensive those places are? Maybe we should try the Savoy Ballroom.”

A nervous Red added, “Isn’t that in Ha-Harlem?”

“So?” Anthony stared at the redhead, who blushed profusely. “Gotta problem with that? I used to there all the time, when I was in high school and college.”

“Y-y-you mean, th-they don’t mind people like us be-be-being there?”

Anthony heaved a sigh and rolled his eyes. “If they did, do you think I would have been able to visit there in the first place? Geez Red! Think!” The other pilot’s face now matched the color of his hair.

The waiter finally returned with their dinner. Rafe enjoyed the delicious grilled pork chops, along with the conversation between him and his fellow pilots. They discussed the numerous nightspots in Manhattan, the pilot training course they were enrolled, the political calamities around the world, and the possibility of war. Rafe was among the first to finish his meal. Feeling the pressure to relieve himself, he headed for the restroom. Five minutes later, he left the Men’s Room and bumped into a couple engaged in a heated quarrel.

“The answer is no, Marty! How many times do I have to tell you?” She was a pretty woman in her mid-twenties. Lustrous red hair formed a shoulder-length bob. Her aquiline nose spared her face from the usual bland prettiness. Along with the green eyes that flashed angrily.

Marty, a brutish-looking man of medium height and obviously a low I.Q., sneered at the young woman. “C’mon Julie! Don’t play the shy young thing with me. We both know what you’re really like. Don’t we?”

“You don’t know anything about me!” the young woman named Julie retorted. “So I suggest that you let go of my arm!”

Unfortunately, Marty did not seem interested in releasing Julie. His meaty hand remained clamped around her slender wrist. Rafe, who had been raised to be a Southern gentleman, decided it was time to come to the young lady’s rescue. He stepped forward and tapped the hulk’s shoulder. “Hey buddy,” he said, “why don’t you let go of the lady’s wrist. She’s not interested.”

Both Julie and Marty slowly turned their gazes upon the Army officer. Laughter tumbled out of the young man’s mouth. “The lady? Oh brother! If you only knew!” He eyed Rafe’s uniform with derision. “Now get lost!”

Julie’s face turned pink and Rafe’s sympathy toward her increased tenfold. “I don’t care if she’s one of Polly Adler’s girls! She obviously don’t want you touching her, so let go!” Rafe glared at Julie’s tormentor.

An arrogant and smug smirk stamped on his face, Marty shot back, “Look here, Soldier Boy, I’m gonna count to three. And if you’re not gone, I’m gonna . . .”

Rafe’s fist snaked out and clipped the other man’s chin. Marty sank to the floor like a stone in water. And gave Julie the opportunity to free her wrist from his grasp. Rafe smiled at the fallen man. “Well, I reckon that’s the end of that.” He turned his smile toward Julie.

“I guess so.” Julie smiled back. “Say, do you have any plans for tonight?”

“Well, I’m with some friends at the moment. But we can’t decide where to go.”

Julie paused momentarily, giving Rafe a thoughtful look. “I know this little jazz club on 66th Street. Would you like to . . .?”

Rafe did not even give Julie a chance to finish. “That sounds swell. Let me tell the boys.” He started toward the dining room.

“Oh, wait a minute!” Julie paused. “I was thinking of us going together . . . alone.” Then she added. “If you don’t mind.”

If Rafe had to be honest with himself, he did not mind. Especially if it meant spending time alone in the company of this beauty. He shrugged his shoulders and replied, “Sure.” He started toward the dining room, with Julie close at his heels. They reached the table, where the other pilots sat. All eyes fell upon Rafe’s new companion. “Hey guys! This is Julie. Julie Fisher.” Rafe then proceeded to introduce her to Danny and the others. When he finished the introductions, Rafe continued, “If you all don’t mind, Julie and me are going out on the town. Alone.”

A sly smile creased Anthony’s mouth. “Hey, we all understand. Don’t we boys?” He glanced at the others, who nodded. Rafe tried not to pay attention to the slight disappointment on Danny’s face.

“Okay then . . . swell,” Rafe said uneasily. “I reckon I’ll see you all, later.” He shot one last glance at Danny and quickly guided Julie out of the restaurant.

* * * *

Miss Julie Fisher proved to be congenial company for Rafe. While they shared a table at a small jazz club in Soho, the couple exchanged life stories. Rafe told Julie about his Tennessee childhood, his friendship with Danny and their decision to become Army pilots. Julie talked about her childhood in upstate New York, her ambition to be a journalist, and her job at LIFE magazine.

“Which is?” Rafe asked. Sounds of Billie Holiday singing “Some Other Spring” filled the background.

Julie smiled. “Copy girl. But one of the editors think I have a chance at becoming a staff writer within a year or two. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.”

Rafe then brought up the subject of Marty. He wanted to know how Julie had met him. According to the redhead, she met Marty at a dance club in the East Village. “He was . . . fun, at first. But I . . .” Her face turned red. “I guess I simply got bored with him. He turned out to be a little too boorish for my taste. If you know what I mean.”

“Yeah, I reckon I got a little glimpse of his ‘charming’ personality,” Rafe said with a chuckle. Julie joined in the laughter, and the pair resumed their easy camaraderie. The evening wore on. Rafe and Julie eventually left the club and ended outside Julie’s brownstone in the Village.

The warm May air surrounded them, as Rafe impulsively leaned forward and planted a firm, but light kiss on Julie’s lips. A stunned expression appeared on her face, leaving Rafe to wonder if he had went to far. Until a bright smile stretched her lips. Still smiling, Julie leaned forward, wrapped her arms around Rafe’s neck and kissed him. Hard.

A minute or two passed before the couple finally separated for air. Breathing heavily, Julie seared Rafe with a sultry look and whispered, “So, would you like to come upstairs for a cup of coffee?”

* * * *

The following Monday morning found Rafe, Danny and their fellow squad members, striding toward the airfield at Mitchell Field. “So, how was your date with Julie? Did you have fun?” Danny’s voice radiated forced cheerfulness.

Rafe glanced at his best friend and noticed the tight expression on the latter’s face. “Yeah, uh, it was great. Swell.” He paused. “I see that you’ve finally decided to talk to me.”

Danny rolled his eyes. “Well, you know Rafe, I’m trying to forget that you had abandoned the rest of us on Friday night,” he snapped. “So, why don’t you just tell me how your date went?”

“Aw, c’mon Danny! I didn’t mean to abandon you guys! It’s just I couldn’t pass up the chance to be with a girl like Julie!”

Danny abruptly halted in his tracks, causing Rafe to collide into him. “You could have called us, Rafe! Let us know that you would be with her for the rest of the weekend. But you didn’t leave a word or nothing! Just showed up at the hotel, three hours before we were supposed to check out!”

Rafe warily eyed his friend. “Uh, Danny? Not only are you beginning to sound like a jealous lover, you’re also giving me the heebie-jeebies.”

“Goddamit Rafe!” Danny glared at the older man. “It’s not . . . I’m not like that and you know it!” He let out a big sigh. “It’s just . . . well, excuse me for being a worry wart, but you didn’t leave a message, or anything. And by the way, we were all worried.”

Nodding, Rafe said, “Okay, I understand. I won’t do that again. I swear. Besides, Julie would like to get know all of y’all the next time we have furlough.”

“Oh?” The two friends resumed their walk to the field.

Rafe added, “Yeah. We were thinking of all of us spending the day at the World’s Fair.”

“Sounds great,” Danny replied. He paused. “Does Julie know any girls?”

* * * *

Fortunately for Rafe’s fellow pilots, Julie managed to find dates for them. Two weeks had passed since their last trip to New York City. They spent a glorious day at the fair grounds in Flushing, Queens. Later that evening, the group found themselves at the Shubert Theater, which featured the “Streets of Paris” revue and the newest sensation from Brazil, Carmen Miranda. Once the show ended, Rafe and Julie bid the others good-bye and headed for her apartment for more intimate entertainment.

After they enjoyed an hour or two of vigorous lovemaking, the pair laid back on the bed, breathing heavily. A light breeze from the open window cooled their warm and damp skin. “I never said this before,” Rafe said, “but you have a very nice apartment. Sort of big for someone working as a copy girl. LIFE magazine must pay you a nice salary. I wish I could say the same about the Army.”

“Actually, I can’t really afford this place on my own,” Julie replied. She propped herself on her left side, facing Rafe. “I have a roommate.”

Rafe rose into a sitting position. The moonlight beamed through the window and onto his broad chest. “Roommate? Strange, I didn’t know you had one, the last time I was here.”

“Carrie . . . her name is Carrie Menlow . . . is out of town, right now. She’s a secretary for a steel manufacturer,” Julie explained. “She’s in Canada. Montreal, I think. She’s due back in town, next week. I think. She’s . . . very pretty.”

A sly smile plastered on his face, Rafe situated himself on his left side. “Hmm, now I can’t wait to meet her.”

“Oh you!” Giggling, Julie slapped Rafe’s arm. Then she pulled him toward her. “Come here.”

“Yes ma’am,” Rafe murmured. He then lowered his mouth upon hers.

* * * *

Rafe’s introduction to Julie’s roommate came about on the following weekend. And it happened in a manner that took him by surprise. He and Julie were in bed that Friday night, enjoying each other’s company with passionate kisses and caresses, when the bedroom door suddenly swung open.

“What’s this?” a female’s voice asked. Both Rafe and Julie ended their foreplay and stared at the figure standing in the doorway. Rafe had to admit that she was one of the most beautiful women he had ever laid eyes upon. Shoulder-length blond hair curled into a bob, creamy white skin, wide china blue eyes and full lips. And had never seen so many curves on a figure that small. “Julie,” she continued in a voice that hinted East Coast aristocracy, “aren’t you going to introduce your friend?”

Julie sat up, allowing the sheet to slide to her waist. Rafe wondered if she realized that she was baring all to her friend. “Hi Carrie, this is Rafe. Rafe McCawley. You know, the pilot I had told you about. Rafe, this is my roommate and best friend, Carrie Menlow.”

“Oh yes.” Carrie stepped forward. Her eyes roamed lavisciously over the pilot. “The one from Tennessee. I really must visit the South, one of these days. Well,” a knowing smile touched her lips, “don’t let me interrupt you two. Nice meeting you, Rafe.” The smile still fixed on her lips, Carrie closed the door behind her.

Rafe let out a gust of breath. Julie stared at him. “Something wrong?”

“No, it’s just . . .” An embarrassed Rafe paused. “Well, with her barging in like that, I feel as if my mama had caught me with my . . . you know.”

Julie giggled. Then she pecked Rafe’s cheek. “Silly boy! I’m sorry if Carrie surprised you like that. She does have this habit of barging in. But don’t let it bother you. It’s just Carrie being herself.”

* * * *

Rafe could not help but feel bothered. But he kept his misgivings to himself. And when Julie began planting kisses over his face, he soon forgot about her disturbing roommate, Carrie. Nearly two hours later, the memory of Julie’s roommate struck back with the force of a tornado. Which would be Rafe’s way of describing the impact of a second warm body pressing against his right side. A body that did not belong to Julie.

“What the . . .?” Rafe’s eyes flew open. Shock overcame him, as he noticed Carrie’s body beside his. Her naked body. Jackknifing into a sitting position, he cried out, “What the hell are you doing here?”

His outburst awaken Julie. She sat up and rubbed her tired eyes. “Something wrong?” she asked in a sleepy voice. Then she saw Carrie. “Oh.”

“Julie, honey,” Carrie oozed sweetly, “do you mind if I join you two?”

Rafe protested hotly, “I mind, dammit!” Noting her nude state for the second time, he continued, “And what the hell do you think this is? Some damn whorehouse?”

Carrie assumed a wounded expression. “What’s wrong? Don’t you like me?” She glanced at her roommate. “I thought he liked me, Julie.”

Sympathy and a touch of anxiety mingled in Julie’s green eyes. Her hand reached past Rafe’s body to touch her friend’s arm. “Of course he does, sweetie. He’s just a little surprised. Right Rafe?” Her eyes pleaded with Rafe.

No! The word hovered on Rafe’s lips, but he found himself unable to say it. Especially with Carrie’s hand caressing his inner thigh. “This is wrong!” his mind screamed. By the outcry in his head quickly died down, as Carrie’s caresses became less subtle. And Julie began to kiss his face . . . again.

“Please Rafe,” Julie murmured between kisses, “let Carrie stay.” She gave him a lingering kiss on the mouth. “You won’t regret it. I swear.” Then Julie gently forced Rafe flat on the bed and kissed him once more. A gasp left nearly left Rafe’s mouth, as Carrie’s lips replaced the hand on his thigh. Oh well, he thought, whoever said that surrender does not necessarily meant defeat, knew what he was talking about.

* * * *

“. . . date with Bianca,” Anthony was saying. He and the other members of his squad sat inside the Officers’ Mess at Mitchell Airfield, eating dinner. The Brooklyn-born pilot wore a smug smile on his face. “It seems I got a letter from her, asking me if I was available for next Saturday night.”

Billy looked up at his friend. “Lucky bastard,” he growled. “I haven’t heard from Sheila at all. I’ve left her five phone messages in the last three days and haven’t heard a peep from her. Nothing. I mean, what does she think I have? The crabs or something?”

Anthony’s smile grew even more smug. “Well, do you?” he asked, earning a glared from the blond pilot.

Rafe ignored his friends’ conversation. His mind was fixed on something else. Namely, the last three weekends with Julie and Carrie. Rafe did not know whether to feel surprised or ashamed by the fact that he had not resisted the roommates’ suggestion of a ménage a trios. Did that mean in spite of his parents’ efforts to raise a decent Southern gentleman, they had begat a pervert?

“. . . have to wor . . . worry about a . . . a date.” Red’s voice interrupted the Tennessean’s thoughts. “R-Right Rafe?”

Rafe stared at his fellow pilots with bafflement. “Huh?”

A jab into his side by Danny followed. “C’mon Rafe, wake up! Red’s talking about Julie.” He frowned at the other man. “Something wrong?”

“Huh? Oh, no! Nothing’s wrong,” Rafe protested half-heartedly.

“Are you sure? You seemed distracted.” Danny paused. “You and Julie having problems?”

If you only knew, Rafe silently responded. Instead, he shook his head. “No, uh . . . I was . . . I was thinking of something else. About today’s flight maneuvers.”

Anthony shook his head, while he regarded Rafe with admiration. “Geez McCawley! When it comes to flying, you’re all business. A real ace.” Rafe barely heard him.

While the others continued talking, Danny leaned over and whispered in Rafe’s ear. “Okay – Ace – what’s the real problem?”

“Meaning?” a self-conscious Rafe hissed back.

Danny gave the older man a knowing look and murmured, “Meaning, if you’re really thinking about today’s maneuvers, you would be gabbing away. And not keeping it to yourself.”

Rafe shot his best friend a dark look. There were times he wished that Danny did not know him so well. Like now. “Look, it’s not . . .” He paused, longing to find a way to end this conversation. Glancing out of the window, Rafe spotted a familiar figure walk by. “It’s not what you think. Uh, look Danny, can we finish this later? I have . . . there’s someone I need to see.” He stood up and walked away, ignoring the stares of the other pilots.

Outside the Officers’ Mess, Rafe rushed after the man he was looking for – one Sergeant Lynn Greiger. “Sergeant? Sergeant!” Rafe cried out.

The sergeant paused in his tracks, spotted the approaching young officer and immediately stood at attention. He was a short, wiry man in his late 30s. “Lieutenant?” Greiger’s craggy face remained impassive, as he saluted. “May I help you sir?”

Breathing heavily, Rafe returned the salute. “At ease, Sergeant.” He hesitated, as he contemplated his next words. “Uh, may I have a few moments with you? Privately?”

Greiger frowned. “Of course, sir. Shall we walk?” He indicated the direction of the base’s Administration building. The pair continued walking. “So, Lieutenant, how may I help you?”

Rafe finally asked, “Uh, Sergeant, are you married?”

After a momentary pause, Greiger warily replied, “Divorced, sir. Twice. My former wives . . . they didn’t exactly like being married into the service.”

Nodding, Rafe continued, “Do you hang out . . . I mean, I guess you’re very popular with women. Right?”

“Uh . . . yeah.” Greiger’s frown deepened. “Look Lieutenant, what’s this all about?”

Rafe found himself unable to meet the sergeant’s eyes, when he finally blurted out, “Sergeant, have you ever thought about being with . . . more than one woman? At the same time?”

Greiger’s eyes popped out in shock. He stared at Rafe for what seemed like one long moment. Then a bright smile split his craggy face. “You must have heard those stories about me, Lieutenant. I’ll tell you this . . . they’re true. Hell, not only have I thought about more than one woman, I’ve had this happened to me on several . . .” His voice faded way. Greiger seemed aware that he was speaking to an officer. “What I meant was . . . I haven’t really experienced anything like that, but . . .”

Rafe sighed with frustration. “It’s okay, Sergeant. You have my permission to reveal your deepest and darkest secrets.”

“Yes sir! Anyway, as I was saying,” Sergeant Greiger continued in a matter-of-fact tone, “I’ve experienced . . . sex . . . with more than one woman on a few occasions.” Rafe stared at him. “Okay, on several occasions.”

The young officer urged the sergeant to continue. “What happened?”

“Well sir, I met these two women who sort of introduced me to the experience. It was enjoyable for a while. But in the end . . .” Greiger shook his head. “It just didn’t last. Maintaining a relationship like that is damn difficult, sir. With three people involved, one person is bound to feel left out sometime during the . . . uh, . . . you know, act. Soon, jealousies pop up and it’s all over in one messy fight. If you’re gonna have a . . . well, be with two women at the same time, make sure it’s a one shot deal.” Greiger gives Rafe a shrewd glance. “Pardon me, Lieutenant, but are you . . . uh, involved in a . . .?”

Rafe immediately cried out, “No! I mean . . .” In a calmer voice, he added, “I mean, not yet. But my girlfriend and her roommate . . .” He broke off.

Greiger nodded. “I understand, sir. But uh, if you’re planning to get involved with two women, remember what I had said about those problems, sir. It will happen. I assure you.”

A sigh left Rafe’s mouth. “Yeah. Right. Thanks for the advice, Sergeant.” He gave Greiger a quick nod, dismissing the latter.

“Yes sir.” Greiger saluted the younger officer and walked away.

Rafe watched the older man’s back recede into the crowd. He sighed once more, as his thoughts echoed Greiger’s warning. For the first time, Rafe wondered if he had allowed himself into one hell of a fix.

* * * *

Sergeant Greiger’s warning replayed in Rafe’s mind over the next two weeks. And it played havoc with his life. The Tennessee-born officer became more distant with Danny and the other pilots in his squad. In early July barely paid attention to his flight lesson one afternoon and nearly collided with Red’s plane the following morning. The incident resulted in a chewing out by Major Doolittle, the pilots’ commanding officer. By the time the next furlough arrived, Rafe decided to break it off with both Julie and Carrie. No matter how the two women made him feel, Rafe realized that he did not have what it took to be sexually adventurous.

The day of reckoning finally arrived on a wet Friday evening in mid-August. Upon arriving at their Manhattan hotel, Rafe and his friends were surprised to find Julie, Carrie and four other girls waiting for them in the lobby. “Rafe!” Julie jumped up from her seat and rushed toward the pilot. Carrie remained behind, regarding the couple with a benevolent smile.

“Julie,” Rafe replied in a stunned voice, “uh, wha . . . what are you . . .?”

Planting a kiss, Julie said, “Carrie, myself and the rest of the girls thought we would surprise you. There’s a nightclub Carrie and I had stumbled across it, last Wednesday. We’re here to escort you there.”

Rafe summoned up a wan smile. “Sounds great.” A long pause followed.

Then Billy asked, “Who’s Carrie?” Upon mention of her name, the blond-haired woman rose from her chair and joined the group at the lobby’s desk.

Suppressing a sigh, Rafe said, “Oh, yeah. I forgot. You guys never met Carrie, did you?”

“Hi,” Julie’s roommate greeted with a smile, “I’m Carrie. Carrie Menlo. I’m Julie’s roommate.” She said to Billy, “And you are?”

Rafe introduced his four friends to Carrie. He noticed how the blond woman’s eyes roamed appreciatively over Danny. The latter’s face turned red over Carrie’s close scrutiny. “Uh, hi. I’m Danny. Lieutenant Daniel Walker. Ma’am.”

“And I’m Carrie. Nice to meet you.” She held out her hand. Danny shook it. Reluctantly.

Rafe decided to quickly step in. “Uh, listen, we need to check in and get ready. So why don’t y’all continue to wait here in the lobby?”

“And go to this nightclub?” Red asked, frowning. “Aren’t we going to eat, first?”

A sigh left Anthony’s mouth. “Yes Red,” he said in a long-suffering voice. “We’ll have dinner, first. Geez!” The last word came out as a whisper. Red overheard him, anyway.

Julie agreed to Rafe’s suggestion. “We’ll be waiting for you.” She pecked Rafe’s cheek one last time. Then she and Carrie joined the other girls in the waiting area, while the desk clerk proceeded to check in the pilots.

* * * *

The evening started on a pleasant note. The pilots, along with the five women, had dinner at a cheap, but clean restaurant in Lower Manhattan. Then Julie and Carrie led the others to a Cuban nightclub on 63rd Street. Decorated with a tropical theme, the club featured a Cuban band that performed songs like “The Peanut Vendor” and “Perfidio”.

Around one-thirty in the morning, the party finally left the nightclub, weary and slightly drunk. While the other pilots headed back to the hotel, Rafe accompanied Julie and Carrie to their apartments. The moment that the three young people entered the bedroom, Sergeant Greiger’s warnings immediately left Rafe’s mind. Instead, he allowed himself to enjoy himself with the two women, as they indulged themselves on Carrie’s large bed. But the pleasure of their early morning orgy did not last, thanks to a simple suggestion from Julie.

“Rafe?” Julie’s voice sliced through the heavy silence that surrounded the satiated trio.

The pilot heaved a slight sigh. “Yeah?” He lay between the slumbering Carrie and Julie, whom he faced.

“Carrie and I were talking, earlier this evening. About Danny.”

Rafe stiffened at the mention of his best friend’s name. “What about him?” Curiosity and suspicion mingled within him.

Julie hesitated. “Well, we were wondering if you would ask him to join us, tomorrow night. You know, as a foursome.”

“Foursome?” Rafe frowned. “You mean like a double date? I had noticed that Carrie seemed interested in Danny.”

A giggle escaped Julie’s mouth. “A double date? Well, I guess you can call it that. But Carrie and I were thinking of something different. Here at the apartment. You know, a foursome.”

Rafe finally understood. Images of him, Danny and the two roommates cavorting in the bedroom with limbs all akimbo sent him into a state of shock. He understood, all right. Julie and Carrie wanted an orgy that would involve Danny. It was the last straw. Rafe shot up into a sitting position and climbed out of bed. He snatched his pair of boxers from a nearby chair.

“What are you doing?” Julie demanded with a frown.

“Leaving,” Rafe shot back. “For good. It’s over.”

An anxious-looking Julie woke up her roommate. “Carrie! Carrie, wake up! Rafe’s leaving.”

Heavy-lidded blue eyes blinked open. “Wha . . . aa . . . at?”

“Rafe’s leaving. Now!”

The two women stared at Rafe, while he continued to dress. “What’s going on?” Carrie demanded. “Why are you leaving? It’s not even three, yet.”

Resentment tinged Julie’s voice. “It’s about his friend, Danny. Apparently, Rafe doesn’t want him to join in the . . . festivities.”

“Damn right,” Rafe added, as he knotted his tie.

Carrie sat up. “What’s the matter, Rafe?” she said in a condescending voice. “Afraid that we’ll like him better?”

Rafe reached for his jacked and put it on. “Nope. I’m afraid that Danny will like your new . . . arrangement. Or even worse, be disgusted with me. And I’m not ready to lose him as a friend.” He grabbed his cap.

A sneer formed on Julie’s lips. “I should have known. Underneath that uniform, you’re just another hick unable to handle life in the big city. Maybe you’re afraid that your friend might be different.”

Squarely facing the two nude women, Rafe coolly replied, “Trust me, Julie. Danny is as much of a hick, as I am. And I aim for both of us to stay that way. If you want an orgy that bad, why don’t you get in touch with your old friend, Marty. I’m sure he could supply you with another partner or two. Good-bye ladies.”

Rafe turned smartly on his heels and marched out of the bedroom. For the first time in over two months, he felt good about himself. Despite Julie’s cry of “Self-righteous bastard!” ringing in his ears.

END OF PART 5

“The Many Loves of Rafe McCawley” [PG-13] – 4/7

“THE MANY LOVES OF RAFE McCAWLEY”

PART 4 – “Daddy’s Girl”

LONG ISLAND, NY; DECEMBER 1940 . . . Danny sat on what he considered to be a ridiculous-looking chair. Beside him stood a dark-haired, Rubenesque nurse. She tapped his left kneecap for the last time. Danny’s leg shot up, confirming his quick reflexes. “Okay, Lieutenant,” she said in a nasal voice that hinted her origins as one of the five boroughs in New York, “that’s it for today.” She opened Danny’s medical file and stamped it. PASS

“Thanks,” Danny mumbled, as he stood up. The nurse handed him his file and he joined Rafe, who stood nearby. The pair resumed their conversation on Ellie Conway. “So, you knew all along that she was using you to become Homecoming Queen?”

Rafe grunted. “Hell, Ellie was always pretty easy to read. And when she asked me to help her campaign for Homecoming Queen, I knew.”

“When did you finally decided to break up with her?” Danny asked.

The two friends found empty seats for a few minutes’ rest. Rafe took a deep breath. “It was after you brought up Lila, I reckon. I just got tired of pretending that I cared for her, after that. In fact, I think I simply got tired of Ellie, period. And I noticed that I wasn’t the only one. Hell, she went through five boyfriends in one year.”

“Six,” Danny corrected. Rafe’s eyes narrowed. “Becky McPherson and I kept count. It was a hobby of ours.”

Rafe chuckled and shook his head. Danny smiled. It was nice to see Rafe relaxed for once. The older man had been on edge all morning and afternoon. “The only other girl I can recall who went through so many boys was Fenton Marsh,” Rafe continued. “Only she went through fiancés, not boyfriends. You remember Fenton, don’t you Danny?”

A groan escaped from Danny’s mouth. Of course he remembered Fenton Marsh. He had been the one responsible for introducing her to Rafe.

* * * *

KNOXVILLE, TN; OCTOBER 1936 – APRIL 1937 . . . A tall, lanky figure raced across the Knoxville campus of the University of Tennessee, oblivious of the others in his path. Rafe McCawley, who sat on one of the steps in front of Ayres Hall, averted his eyes from the book in his lap, as his best friend slid into a halt, before him. “Hey Danny, what’s shakin’?”

“Hey Rafe.” A breathless Danny Walker dropped into the empty spot next to Rafe. Despite his exertion, the younger man’s dark eyes glimmered with excitement. “Say, are you available for Saturday night?”

Rafe shrugged. “Not really. I was hoping you would help me with my English Lit class.” Although Rafe, along with Danny, had managed to complete two years of college and start his third year, English continued to be a major impediment in his education. It was a problem that baffled Rafe, Danny and many close friends and family. Everyone knew that Rafe was an intelligent young man. He had no trouble comprehending his other courses – especially those that dealt with mathematics and science. And he usually excelled in those subjects, as long as someone explained it to him. Or when he read mathematical figures. When it came to reading and writing, he usually encountered trouble. Thankfully, Rafe had Danny to help him. Just as he occasionally helped Danny with more complex mathematical and engineering courses.

Danny promised to tutor Rafe tonight. But he still had other matters to discuss. Like Saturday night. “What’s so special about Saturday?” Rafe continued.

“Do you have a date?”

An exasperated sigh left Rafe’s mouth. “You know the answer, already.” He referred to his latest girlfriend, a fellow Shelby native named Burdetta Foster. They had recently broken up after a summer romance. No hostile words or bad feelings had been involved. Rafe and Burdetta simply grew tired of each other.

“Well, Carrie Ann and I found the perfect date for you,” Danny continued. “Her name is Fenton Marsh.” According to the 19 year-old, he and his girlfriend, Carrie Ann Vogel, had met this girl in their English Literature class. Fenton Marsh. Danny provided a few other tidbits about this prospective date. She was 19 years old, who would turn twenty, next month. Fenton majored in History and her father happened to be a wealthy businessman with investments in coal, steel and cotton. According to Danny, she also enjoyed literature, art, dancing and parties. “She’s really swell,” Danny added in an enthusiastic voice. “The perfect girl for you.”

Perfect girl? Rafe did not believe such a person existed. At least for him. But if Danny thought otherwise (and the younger man rarely liked any of his girlfriends), Rafe decided that he would give this Fenton Marsh a shot.

* * * *

She was perfect. Rafe could not find no other words to describe Fenton Marsh. The moment this beautiful, chestnut-haired girl opened her mouth and laughed at one of his jokes, Rafe fell in love.

“You are so funny!” Fenton’s deep blue eyes sparkled with delight. “I bet you could put Fred Allen and Jack Benny to shame.” She leaned forward, her full lips stretched into a wide grin. “You ever thought of going to New York and performing on radio? Heck, you could probably try one of the stations, here in Knoxville.”

The quartet of college students – Rafe, Fenton, Danny and the latter’s girlfriend, Carrie Ann Vogel – occupied a booth inside a local dance club frequented by many students. A waitress appeared with their drinks. Other patrons filled the dance floor, as they moved to the music of an all-black jazz band.

Carrie Ann, a pretty girl with dark hair and almond-shaped brown eyes, took a sip of her beer. “Rafe on the radio? Well,” she gave him a fond smile, “considering how much he likes to talk, that’s not hard to imagine. But I think he would prefer to fly a plane than be a radio star. Danny too.” She planted a quick kiss on the latter’s cheek.

“A pilot?” Fenton’s brows shot upward. “You two are pilots?”

Rafe nodded. “Yes ma’am. I’ve been one for the past four years. Danny got his license three years ago. But we’ve both been flying for at least six years. My daddy taught us.”

Fenton asked, “And what does your daddy do for a living?”

“He’s a crop duster pilot,” Rafe replied. “And he also owns a flying school. He used to be an Army pilot during the War. You know, like Buddy Rogers and Dick Arlen in “WINGS”.”

Fenton turned to Danny. “And your daddy?”

The younger man’s face hardened momentarily. Before he could open his mouth, Rafe answered for him. “Danny’s pa was a farmer. He died of a heart attack a couple of years ago. Danny’s been living with my family ever since.” Rafe acknowledged his friend’s grateful smile with a small nod.

Meanwhile, Fenton continued to express interest in the boys’ career plans. “So you both plan to be pilots. Doing what, exactly? Flying crop dusters or one of those new Pan Am clipper ships?”

“No ma’am,” Rafe replied calmly. “Army pilots. Danny and I plan to join the Army Air Corps when we finish college.”

A smile touched Fenton’s lips. “How very patriotic.” For a moment, Rafe wondered if she was being patronizing. But her expression seemed genuinely sincere.

The band began to play another tune. A popular Irving Berlin tune called, “Let Yourself Go”. The band’s female vocalist began to sing:

“As you listen to the band don’t you get a bubble?
As you listen to them play don’t you get a glow?
If you step out on the floor
You’ll forget your trouble
If you go into your dance
You’ll forget your woe
So – come, get together
Let the dance floor feel your leather
Step as lightly as a feather
Let yourself go.”

Rafe stared at Fenton. “Well, you heard what the lady said. Shall we?” He eased out of the booth and stood up. Fenton gave him a happy nod, as she allowed him to help her do the same. Then the pair joined the others on the dance floor.

* * * *

“You were right about her, Danny,” Rafe declared later that night. The two friends entered the dormitory building, where they resided. “Fenton’s perfect.”

A triumphant grin appeared on Danny’s face. “What did I tell you?”

“She sure talked a lot about her daddy, though,” Rafe added reflectively.

Danny frowned as he paused near the staircase, inside the foyer. “Huh? What do you mean?”

“Her daddy. Fenton talked about him. A lot.”

Danny’s frown deepened. “And that bothers you? Maybe they’re close. From what Carol Ann told me, Mr. Marsh seems like a swell guy.”

The pair began ascending the staircase. “Well, if you say so. I reckon there’s nothing to worry about.”

* * * *

The more Rafe became acquainted with Fenton Marsh, the more enchanted he became. He felt that she was wonderful. The couple grew close over the next several months. When they were not engaged in the great college social whirl, both helped each other with their studies. Fenton tutored Rafe in reading and writing, making it easier for him to comprehend the lessons in his textbooks. And Rafe helped her tackle the Geometry course she needed to complete this semester.

“I swear,” she declared in a frustrated voice one chilly evening in early December. “If I ever have to read another science book again, I’ll go mad.”

The pair sat inside the study hall of one of the university’s libraries. Rafe reached across the table and brushed away a strand of chestnut hair away from her forehead. “Just consider this – if you pass Geometry this semester, that will only leave you with Physics for next spring. And then, you’ll be free to sign up for the courses that interest you during your senior year.”

Fenton grunted, which produced a smile from Rafe.

The Christmas holidays arrived in late December. Rafe, Danny and Carrie Ann received invitations to spend the holiday with Fenton’s family on their plantation in Tipton County. Carol Ann accepted, but Rafe and Danny had to decline. “I wish we could go,” Rafe said to his girlfriend, “but Danny and me had promised my folks that we would be home for Christmas.”

Fortunately, Fenton understood. “My daddy always said that Christmas was an important time of the year for family.” Rafe remained silent. He usually did whenever Fenton discussed her parent. Which was often. “But what about next April? During Spring Break? My family and I are usually in Florida during that time. Would you like to join us, there?” Both Rafe and Danny promised they would consider the suggestion.

Christmas and the New Year came and went. The students returned to the campus to tackle mid-year finals, before commencing on the second semester. Rafe did not realize how much he missed Fenton, until they reunited for a Saturday night date at the end of his first week back. The moment she joined him inside his car, Rafe drew her into arms and captured her mouth with a kiss.

“Hmmm,” he moaned, as the couple remained locked in a deep embrace. “I sure missed you a lot.”

Fenton began to nibble his left earlobe. “Oooh and I missed you too,” she murmured. “Even Daddy noticed that my attention was elsewhere. Christmas and New Year’s wasn’t the same without you. And I don’t know how I’m gonna get through the Easter holiday. Or summer.”

Rafe gently pushed her back against the car seat. “I don’t know about the summer,” he whispered, “but maybe I can do something about Easter vacation. Because right now, Florida is sounding very appealing.” He brushed his lips against Fenton’s cheek. “How about that?”

Another moan left Fenton’s mouth. She grabbed the back of Rafe’s head and drew it toward hers. “That . . . sounds like a wonderful idea. Just grand.” She captured his mouth for another deep kiss.

* * * *

When Rafe broached the subject of spending Easter vacation with the Marshes to his parents, he was surprised by their easy acquience of the idea. In fact, they seemed unusually thrilled.

“Maybe they like the idea of you being serious about a girl, for once,” Danny suggested. Rafe had just told him about the McCawleys’ reaction. The two friends sat inside the older man’s Cadillac convertible, as it sped toward the nearest airfield, where they planned to spend an afternoon of flying.

Rafe dismissed the idea with a wave of the hand. “What are you talking about? They’ve never met Fenton.”

“True, but you gabbed about her during the whole time we were home. Your mama practically ordered me to tell her everything I knew about Fenton.” Danny shrugged. “I reckon she liked what I told her.”

Rafe shot his best friend a grateful smile. “You know what, Danny? You’re a true friend. But I’ll tell you something you don’t know.”

“Like what?”

The airfield loomed ahead. Rafe steered his Cadillac to one of the hangars. He put on the brakes and faced Danny. “I plan to ask Fenton to marry me. I’ve already bought an engagement ring.”

Pure shock lit up Danny’s dark eyes. “Marry? But Rafe, you’ve got one more year of college to finish before we join the Army. Isn’t this a little soon?”

“Yeah, it is,” Rafe said. “However, if Fenton says yes, I plan to suggest a year long engagement. Wait until we graduate.”

Danny remained silent. Rafe began to wonder if his friend regretted introducing him to Fenton. “Look Danny, I still plan to join the Army Air Corps after graduation. If you’re worried about that. And if Fenton doesn’t agree . . . well, I reckon that would be it for us.”

“I’m sure that Fenton won’t mind being an Army officer’s wife,” Danny finally said. Rafe detected a note of doubt in his friend’s voice. But he remained silent. Only time would tell.

* * * *

The following weekend, Rafe took Fenton to a formal dance being held inside a ballroom, at a local Knoxville hotel. To his delight, she accepted his marriage proposal. She even agreed to a year-long engagement, along with a wedding after graduation. And she did not seemed to have no qualms about becoming an officer’s wife. “I suppose it will be difficult at first,” she admitted, “but I’ve always loved a good challenge.”

“I reckon that’s what I’ll be facing when I meet your folks. Especially your daddy,” Rafe responded with a chuckle.

Fenton let out a squeal of delight. “Does this mean you’ll be coming to Florida for spring vacation?”

Rafe nodded. “Yep. You don’t mind if I bring Danny along, do you?”

“Of course not! Heck, I plan to invite Carol Ann, as well.” Fenton threw herself into Rafe’s arms. “Oh Rafe! This is gonna be just wonderful! I can’t wait for you to meet my folks! Daddy’s gonna love you! You two are a lot alike.”

Rafe remained silent, while his fiancé continued to ramble on. Despite the delight he felt over his engagement, Fenton’s words about her father reverberated in his mind. He did not know whether to feel complimented by the comparison. Or alarmed.

* * * *

Spring vacation finally arrived. After Rafe and Danny spent the Easter holidays on the McCawley farm, they met Carol Ann in Memphis and began a bus trip to Florida. After a connection in Atlanta, the trio finally arrived in St. Augustine, on the following afternoon.

A uniformed chauffeur conveyed them to an elegant, three-story villa located not far from the beach. Upon their arrival, they found Fenton waiting for them inside the foyer.

“Rafe!” She threw herself into her fiance’s arms. Rafe responded with a long kiss. Danny, Carol Ann and the Marshes’ servants pretended not to notice. Fenton broke away with a sigh and added, “Everyone’s upstairs, changing for supper. You might as well freshen up, as well. Supper will be ready in one hour.”

House servants escorted the guests to their rooms. Rafe noticed that Fenton had made sure that each had his or her own room. To guarantee a little late night privacy? Rafe did not have time to wonder. Instead, he showered, changed into one of his nicer suits and joined Danny and Carrie Ann, downstairs. The trio found the Marsh family sitting around a dining table on the verandah. Beyond it laid the beach.

Fenton shot out of her chair to greet her guests. “Hey everyone! I’m glad that you could make it.” She grabbed Rafe’s hand and dragged him toward the handsome, middle-aged man who occupied the seat at the table. “Rafe, I’d like you and Danny to meet my father, Hunter Edward Marsh.”

Like his daughter, Mr. Marsh possessed chestnut-hair and deep blue eyes. Only his hair was sprinkled with gray and lines stretched from his eyes. He stood up to shake Rafe’s hand. A tall man, but not as tall as Rafe or Danny. “So, you’re the young man who’s captured my girl’s heart,” he boomed in a deep voice.

A grin split open Fenton’s mouth. “Oh Daddy! This is Rafe McCawley, your future son-in-law. And this is his best friend, Danny Walker. You already know Carrie Ann.”

While he shook Rafe’s hand, Mr. Marsh gave the other two a polite nod. “Nice to meet you all. This is my wife, Delphine Fenton Marsh.” He nodded at a handsome, dark-haired woman with pale skin and dark-brown eyes, sitting opposite him. “And that young snapper over there,” Mr. Marsh pointed at a young boy who seemed to be the spitting image of Mrs. Marsh, “is my son, Putnam Hunter Marsh.”

After the introductions were made, the three guests settled into empty seats around the table. The meal, Rafe had to admit, was delicious. Crab, shrimp, rice pilaf, green salad, roast duck, corn chowder and sourdough bread. He found himself growing comfortable, while Danny and Carrie Ann described the trip from Tennessee. Rafe would have added to the conversation, but he was too busy observing Fenton’s family.

It amazed him on how much Fenton resembled her father. And not just physically. Both daughter and father seemed to possess the same gregarious nature – talkative and at times, almost opinionated. Father and daughter also shared a taste for company, especially parties. Mr. Marsh seemed more excited than everyone else about the party he planned to hold in honor of Rafe and Fenton’s engagement. “We can also celebrate your birthday as well, Rafe. Fenton tells me that you just turned twenty-one.”

“Yes sir,” Rafe replied with a nod. “Just over a week ago.”

Mr. Marsh nodded. “Twenty-one, huh?” He sighed. “Why I remember when I was twenty-one. Going to college. I’m afraid that I spent more of my college years indulging in leisure, instead of my studies.”

“But you still managed to turn out perfect, didn’t you, Daddy?” Fenton crowed. She smiled indulgently at her father. A smile that left Rafe feeling very uneasy.

Mr. Marsh smiled back. “If you say so, darling. If you say so.” Rafe’s eyes focused first upon the father, and then the daughter. Finally, he stared at Mrs. Marsh, who merely rolled her eyes in disgust. That uneasy feeling now formed a tight knot in Rafe’s stomach.

* * * *

“Danny, you ever get this feeling that you’re about to make a mistake? Or have already made one?”

Rafe’s question pierced the silence inside his bedroom. Danny had joined Rafe for a late night snack of chiffon cake that had been served for dessert. The younger man stared at the older one. “Rafe, what the hell are you talking about? What mistake?”

Sighing, Rafe rolled over to meet his friend’s eyes. “I’m talking about Fenton. I got this feeling that marrying her might turn out to be a big mistake.”

“What?” The word came out of Danny’s mouth like a deep whistle. He lowered his voice. “What do you mean? You and Fenton are perfect for each other. It’s not like you two plan to get married right away.” After a moment’s pause, he added, “Or have you simply changed your mind?”

Rafe took a deep breath. “No, we still plan to get married, next year. It’s just . . .”

“What?”

Another paused followed before Rafe added, “I don’t know. It’s Fenton and her daddy. Don’t you think that they seemed a bit . . . close?”

Danny’s eyes flew open with alarm. “Wait a minute! Are you saying that Fenton and Mr. Marsh have some kind of . . . that their relationship is more than . . .”

“I’m not talking about incest, Danny!” Rafe retorted. Then he sighed, while the other young man’s shoulders sagged with relief. “It’s just . . . well, I think Fenton is what one might call a ‘daddy’s girl’. You know what I mean.”

Danny nodded. “Oh.”

Rafe continued, “Jesus Danny, I hope I’m wrong. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life competing against my father-in-law for my wife’s attention! Or even worse, agreeing to everything he says.”

“Don’t you think you might be exaggerating? So, Fenton’s close with her daddy. Hell, you’re close with both of your folks.”

A sigh left Rafe’s mouth. “I don’t have some mutual admiration society going on with either of them. Then again . . .” he sighed, “I don’t know. Maybe I am imagining things.”

Danny smiled. “Does that mean I can leave and finally get some sleep?” He slid off Rafe’s bed and headed for the door. “See you later, Rafe.” And he left.

* * * *

Perhaps Danny had been right after all, Rafe decided two days later. Maybe he had seen too much in Fenton’s relationship with her daddy. Since that first evening in St. Augustine, neither daughter or father have shown any signs of what Rafe feared. In fact, he has barely seen Fenton or Mr. Marsh together – except during meals.

On the fourth evening, Rafe, Fenton, Danny and Carrie Ann returned to the Marshes’ villa, after spending a day visiting some of St. Augustine’s tourist spots – including the famous Castillo San Marcos. The quartet found the household preparing for an early supper. They quickly headed for their bedrooms to change into less casual clothes.

Dinner started on a pleasant note. The young people enthusiastically described their day about town. Rafe had found his mood growing steadily positive since his late night conversation with Danny. But the good mood finally disappeared when Mr. Marsh decided to change the subject that evening.

“Say Rafe, mind if I ask you a question?” the older man said.

The hairs on the back of Rafe’s neck began to rise. There seemed to be a hint in Mr. Marsh’s tone that gave him a foreboding air. Rafe smiled dimly at his future father-in-law. “Yes sir?”

Mr. Marsh coughed slightly. “It’s about your plans for after college. I understand that you and Danny plan to join the Army, following graduation. The Army Air Corps. Is that right?”

Oh oh, Rafe thought. Trouble. He answered, “Yes sir, that’s right. Danny and me have been planning this for a long time. Ain’t that right, Danny?”

The younger man nodded, warily eyeing their host.

“Uh huh.” Fenton’s father speared a piece of roast chicken and popped it into his mouth. He chewed. Slowly. “You know, it’s fine thing that you want to serve your country,” he added, after swallowing the chicken. “Only, why now? We’re not exactly at war with anyone right now. And I can think of a better way to utilize that fine education of yours.”

Rafe glanced at Fenton. His heart nearly sank at the hopeful expression, imprinted on her face. “Exactly what do you have in mind, sir?”

Mr. Marsh went on to explain that he had contacts with the Lockheed Company, located in Los Angeles. “I told them about you and Danny. And the good news is that they would be more than happy to hire you two boys as civilian test pilots. And once you earn your Masters, you can become aviation engineers. Now, how do you like that?”

How did he like that? It almost seemed like a dream come true for Rafe. To become a top test pilot at a prestigious company, along with the chance to design new aircraft seemed like a great opportunity. Well, almost. He still longed to be an Army pilot above anything else. Nor did he care for the idea of getting ahead in the world, due to marriage with Fenton. So, he had only one answer. “Thank you, Mr. Marsh, but I’m gonna have to say no thanks. I can’t speak for Danny, but I’d prefer to go ahead with my own plans.”

Danny’s shoulders sagged with relief. Mr. Marsh looked at Rafe as if the latter had gone mad. Even worse, Fenton’s expression seemed to crumble with disappointment. “Look here boy, I’m handing you the opportunity of a life time!” Mr. Marsh cried. “And you’re turning me down?”

Rafe shrugged. “Like you said, sir, I want to serve my country. Besides, some of the best pilots have received military training. And there’s a good chance that we might be at war within the next few years.”

“With whom? Hitler? I suspect that Roosevelt and his cronies tend to make a big deal out of nothing. Hitler’s no danger. He’s only trying to help his country.”

“By taking over the Sudenland, in Czechoslovakia?” The outburst came from Carrie Ann, who immediately blushed after everyone stared at her. “Excuse me,” she mumbled.

Mr. Marsh’s eyes lingered upon Carrie Ann for a moment. Before they returned to Rafe. “Now listen, boy. You better grab this opportunity, while you can. I’m not about to stand around and watch my daughter become some Army wife. She deserves better than that. So, I suggest that you accept this offer. Or . . .”

“Or what?” Rafe’s voice assumed a slight, belligerent tone. “Look here, Mr. Marsh, I love your daughter very much. And I hope to make her my wife. But I also have every intention of leading my life in the way I see fit. Fenton has known about my plans to join the Army, since we first met. And she has no problems with it. Right Fenton?” Rafe faced his fiancée. To his shock, she turned pale. Then she let out a slight sob, slipped out of her chair and fled the dining room.

* * * *

“Why in the hell didn’t you tell me that you had problems with me joining the Army?” Rafe bellowed at Fenton.

Following her flight from the dining room, Rafe found Fenton on the back veranda, sitting on the wicker sofa and staring at the ocean, beyond. Now the engaged couple faced each other, wearing grim expressions.

Fenton replied in a defiant voice, “I didn’t mind. At first. But after Daddy and I talked, I realized that I didn’t want to be an Army wife. Why can’t you accept his offer?”

“Because I don’t want to work for Lockheed! Not if your daddy arranged the whole thing.”

“What’s wrong with Daddy getting a job for you?” Fenton shot back. “You should be grateful!”

Rafe wondered if he had heard his fiancée right. “Grateful? Why the hell should I be grateful? If I give in to this, he’ll be running our lives forever! Even with us in California and him in Tennessee!”

“You’re just jealous! That’s all. Like the others before you! You’re jealous that he’s a lot smarter. And you just can’t bear the thought of him knowing better than you on what to do with your life! Our lives!”

At that moment, Rafe realized that he had fallen love with the wrong woman. A daddy’s girl. He stared at her in disbelief. “I can’t believe you’re saying this to me.”

Nodding furiously, Fenton added, “Well, believe this. If you want me, you’ll have to give up the Army. You can’t have both.”

“I’m only surprised that your daddy doesn’t come with the deal,” Rafe replied sarcastically. The moment those words came out of his mouth, Fenton’s slim hand slapped him hard across the face. Rubbing his cheek, he added, “I reckon that tears it, then. Good-bye Fenton.” He turned his back on his now former fiancée and returned inside the house.

The following morning, Rafe, Danny and Carrie Ann packed their bags and left the Marsh house for good. The trio boarded the first Greyhound bus bound for Tennessee.

END OF PART 4

“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

“The Many Loves of Rafe McCawley” [PG-13] – 2/7

 

“THE MANY LOVES OF RAFE McCAWLEY”

PART 2 – The Shelby Belle

LONG ISLAND, NEW YORK; DECEMBER 1940 . . . The two officers walked away from the station, desperately trying to resist the urge to rub their painful backsides. “Why in the hell do they have to stick those damn needles there?” Rafe grumbled. “Haven’t they ever heard of the arm?” 

Danny glanced warily at this friend. He recognized that disgruntled voice anywhere. It was a sign of Rafe’s bad mood. And Danny suspected that the older man’s present mood had nothing to do with the shots they had just received.

“Okay Rafe, what’s your beef?” Danny demanded. “And don’t tell me that it’s the shots. You were already pissed before you received yours.”

Rafe responded with a glare. “Oh really? And what exactly am I pissed about?”

“Mary Ann.”

“Her name was Mary Jo, Danny!” Rafe retorted. “Not Mary Ann! Godalmighty! Did you dislike her so much that you can’t even remember her name?”

Danny took a deep breath. Amazing. Nearly fourteen years had passed and Rafe still bore a grudge. “Dammit Rafe! I was almost ten years old at the time! I didn’t know any better and I was feeling insecure about the whole thing. Besides, you didn’t have to dump her.”

A heavy sigh left Rafe’s mouth. “I guess you’re right.” Both he and Danny stepped into the line for the next station. Ahead, a youthful-looking nurse with blonde hair, wrapped a black blood pressure band around a soldier’s arm. Rafe continued, “I guess I shouldn’t have abandoned Mary Jo like that. But I wouldn’t have done it if you hadn’t turned on me, like that.” Brief hostility flared in his dark brown eyes.

“I know.” Danny hung his head low. “I’m sorry I did it, Rafe. It’s just that . . .”

“What?”

Danny shrugged. “I don’t know. I reckon I was jealous.”

Rafe took a step forward in line. So did Danny. The former heaved another sigh. “It sure took you a hell of a long time to admit it. Oh well. I guess Mary Jo and I weren’t meant to be, after all. Especially, after her family moved, later that summer.”

Danny remained silent. He decided that the less said about Mary Jo Burnett, the better.

“Besides, Mary Jo ain’t the only one you stopped me from seeing,” Rafe continued. “Remember Lila Hopkins?”

Memories of lilac perfume, a bedroom, decorated in canary yellow, and a voluptuous chestnut-haired woman in a creamy yellow silk robe, flooded Danny’s thoughts. Oh yes. Lila Deakins. He doubt there was a young man around his age in all of Shelby County, who would not be able to remember the Shelby Belle.

“Yeah, I remember Lila,” Danny replied. “And if you expect me to feel guilty for what I did, you might as well hold your breath. Because I don’t. You were out of control, Rafe. Remember?”

* * * *

SHELBY, TENNESSEE; JULY-SEPTEMBER 1931 . . . Strains of “I’m Through With Love” poured from the two-story frame house, situated in a hollow, off Shelby Road. Two adolescent boys, one fifteen years-old and the other, fourteen, stared at the house from behind an Oldsmobile, parked several yards away.

“That’s it,” Rafe said with breathless anticipation. “The Shelby House. C’mon.” He stepped from behind the Oldsmobile and started toward the house. Seconds passed before he realized that Danny had not moved an inch. “Hey Danny! C’mon!”

Anxiety flared in his best friend’s brown eyes. “I don’t know, Rafe. I’m not sure about this.”

Rafe heaved an exasperated sigh and grabbed Danny’s arm. “C’mon scairdey-cat! She ain’t gonna bite you.”

“How do you know?” Danny demanded. “You haven’t been here, before.”

Which was the truth. Rafe had first heard about the Shelby House, two months ago – when he had spotted a woman leaving the local bank in town. It took one glance at her heart-shaped face – just once glance – for the fifteen year-old to fall in love. Well, perhaps fascination would be the best word . . .

Rafe heard his mother’s disdainful sniff at the young woman. “So, that’s the Shelby Belle,” Brewton McCawley declared in a disapproving tone. “Looks more like trash to me.” Her eyes brimmed with hellfire and righteousness. A look Rafe had never seen in his mother’s eyes. “Rafe, I hope you never have anything to do with women like that. They’re nothing but trouble.”

The wrong words for anyone to say to a curious and lovesick fifteen year-old. Mrs. McCawley’s warning had only increased Rafe’s interest in the beautiful woman. And his determination to meet her. To learn the true identity of the “Shelby Belle”, he asked several men around the county. Men who would never say a word to his parents. Or hesitate to answer. He received his answer from a local mechanic named Farley Bates.

“Ah, the Shelby Belle!” the stocky man had declared in a wistful tone. “You must be talking about Lila Deakins.”

An impatient Rafe demanded, “Who is she?”

Farley gave the fifteen year-old boy a knowing look. “Probably the most infamous whore in this here parts. The most beautiful . . . and the most expensive. ‘Course, after one gander at your pretty face, Lila just might give you a discount. Or let you stick your carrot in for free.”

“You think so?” Rafe bit back his tongue, when he realized how hopeful he sounded.

A smile creased Farley’s grimy face. “Boy, you are really smitten over that gal. Tell you what.” He dug into the pockets of his overalls and retrieved a handful of bills. “Here. Why don’t you use this money for a visit to the Shelby House. There’s enough for your friend, Danny. You two are practically brothers.” After Jake Walker’s fatal heart attack, three years ago, Danny had moved in with the McCawley family.

“Hey, thanks Farley! I really appreciate it!” Rafe had beamed at the mechanic, before stuffing the bills into his pockets . . .

Danny said, “You mean it was Farley who gave you the money for this? What if your daddy finds out? After all, Farley does fix his airplane.”

“C’mon Danny! What do you think Farley is gonna do? Confess? Not if he wants Daddy to continue hiring him.” Rafe grabbed his friend’s arm. “Now, c’mon! You act like we’re going to a hanging.”

The two boys slowly approached the house. A tall, black woman, holding a broom, stepped onto the porch and peered at the new arrivals. “What are you two boys doing here?” she demanded.

Feeling more nervous than he looked, Rafe cleared his throat. “We’re here to see the Shelby Belle,” he declared. Did his voice crack?

The woman scrutinized the two boys with world-weary eyes. “Uh huh. Ain’t you boys a little young to be coming to a place like this?” Before Rafe or Danny could respond, she added, “Never mind. Miz Lila likes ’em young, anyway. C’mon in.” She stepped aside, while the pair entered the house.

Nice place, Rafe thought. His eyes drank in the old-fashioned furnishings and well-stocked bar at the other end of the parlor. Aside from the bar, the interior of the Shelby House reminded him of the McCawley residence.

The housekeeper set aside the broom and started toward the staircase. “Have a seat. And I’ll let Miz Lila know that she has company.” As she started upstairs, Rafe and Danny nervously sat down on the nearest sofa.

A minute later, two scantily clad young women entered the parlor. Both Rafe and Danny stared at the abundance of flesh that stood before them. Giggling, they approached the two boys. “And who might you be?” asked a leggy blonde with bright blue eyes and heavy make-up. Still staring, neither boy seemed able to respond.

A throaty voice said, “They . . . are my customers.” All eyes riveted upon a shapely woman, whose heart-shaped face not only possessed delicate features and hazel-green eyes, but was also framed by wavy auburn hair that bobbed near her chin. She wore a yellow Oriental gown over a pale-green full slip and stockings held up by green garters. Yet, none could hide the curves that made the other two women resemble schoolgirls.

“If you two girls don’t mind,” the Shelby Belle continued, “I suggest you scram! I assume you have other things to do.” The two women scowled at their colleague and left the parlor. Hazel-green eyes focused on Rafe and Danny. “Now, who’s first?”

Rafe shot up from the sofa like a bullet. “Me!” he crowed.

The Shelby Belle gave him a sultry smile and indicated the staircase.

* * * *

“First time, young man?”

“Huh?” Inside the yellow-and-white bedroom, Rafe sat on a large bed and gawked at the prostitute. Who was in the process of removing her robe.

The Shelby Belle smiled and stepped forward. Grabbing one arm, she gently forced Rafe to his feet and began to unfasten his shirt buttons. “I said, is this your first time?”

Rafe nodded, “Yes ma’am.”

“Oh honey, you don’t have to call me that. Makes me feel like an old spinster. My name is Lila. What’s yours?” She slowly removed his shirt, following his undershirt.

Trembling, Rafe remained rooted to the floor. “My name is Rafe. Rafe . . .”

“That’s okay, honey. No need for last names.” Lila slid the green slip off her body. The fifteen year-old Rafe found himself staring at the prostitute in all her naked glory. His entire body grew immediately hard.

Rafe gulped. Aloud. “Did you say something, honey?” Lila asked.

“No ma . . .” Rafe paused and took a deep breath. “I mean, no. No, I didn’t.”

Lila slowly walked toward Rafe and gently shoved him on the bed. “Well Rafe. Let’s see about getting you out of those pants. Shall we?” Slender hands reached for the fastener to Rafe’s trousers.

* * * *

Rafe knew that for as long as he lived, he would never forget those first thirty minutes with Lila Deakins. She had introduced him to a world of sensuality and passion he had never thought possible. He almost had to fight a surge of jealousy when time for Danny’s minutes with the Shelby Belle arrived.

Twenty minutes had passed when Danny finally returned downstairs to the parlor. Only a blind man would not have noticed the dazed expression on the fourteen year-old boy’s face.

“Well?” Rafe demanded. “How was it?”

Danny took a deep breath. “It was . . . I, uh . . . Gee! I’ve never been through anything like that before,” he finally declared.

Rafe grinned and threw an arm around his friend’s shoulders. “Thought you might feel that way. Hell, I feel as if I just had the best day of my life! I’m gonna come back here, if it takes me a year.”

* * * *

It took Rafe, exactly two weeks to pay a second visit to the Shelby House. Reluctant to ask Farley for extra funds, he saved enough from the money he had earned from his paper route.

Much to his delight, Lila greeted him like an old friend and proceeded to teach him more on the joys of sex. “Oh honey, you seemed to be real good at this!” Lila declared breathlessly, after their bout between the sheets. “For a youngster, you sure do put many of my other customers to shame.” She drew a long fingernail along the middle of Rafe’s bare chest. “I’d like to see you again.”

Rafe let out a heartfelt sigh. “I wish I could, Lila, but . . .”

“But what?”

“I, uh . . . I probably won’t be able to see you for a while.”

Lila’s voice oozed with disappointment. “And why not?”

Rafe replied in a low voice, “Money. I . . . I won’t be able to afford to see you for at least a month or two.”

“Hmmm.” Lila pressed her soft, warm body against Rafe’s. “Tell you what. I usually don’t start work until two o’clock in the afternoon. If you can make it over here before then, maybe we can spend some time together – free. How do you like that?” She gave his left thigh a squeeze.

It took all of Rafe’s self-control not to throw himself on Lila’s body and plant it with a thousand kisses. Instead, he cried out in delight, “Hey, that’s swell of you, Lila! Thanks!” He kissed one of her cheeks.

A pink flush crept up the prostitute’s face. “My pleasure, honey,” she warmly replied.

* * * *

Rafe could not wait to tell Danny, after leaving the Shelby House. He had meant to convince his friend to join him for his second visit, but the latter had a doctor’s appointment in nearby Memphis. Rafe had to wait until after his mother and Danny’s return, to reveal Lila’s delightful proposal.

“You think that’s wise, Rafe?” Danny’s voice expressed concern. The two friends sat on their beds, inside the bedroom they shared. “I mean . . . I reckon it’s okay for that one visit. But every day?”

Rafe could not believe his friend’s attitude. “It won’t be everyday,” he protested. Just once in a while. Hell, how many fellas can claim they’ve been with the Shelby Belle that many times?”

“Anyone with enough money,” Danny calmly replied. “Like Carl Jordan’s daddy.”

A snort escaped Rafe’s mouth. “Lance Jordan couldn’t buy six minutes with Lila! At least, not anymore. Especially since he lost all his money after the stock market crash, nearly two years ago.”

“Well, there are other men with . . .”

Exasperated by what Rafe saw was his friend’s stubbornness, he cried out, “Good Lord, Danny! What are you getting at?”

Danny sighed. “What I’m trying to say is that Lila Deakins isn’t the type of gal you should waste your time with. Dammit Rafe, it ain’t healthy being involved with a whore like that!”

“She ain’t no whore!” Fearful that his parents may have overheard his outburst, Rafe added in a lower voice, “Lila happens to be a lady.”

Danny shrugged. “Maybe she is to you. But she ain’t to other men. And if you keep seeing her, maybe you’ll catch something. Like the crabs.”

“Lila makes sure that both of us are clean before we . . . well, you know.”

To Rafe’s surprise, Danny’s face turned red. Even after a trip to a whorehouse, his friend managed to remain shy about sex. “Okay, what about this?” Danny continued. “What if someone who knows your folks, sees you there? I reckon there are a few of your daddy’s friends who drop by the Shelby House, every once in a while.”

Rafe barely heard Danny’s words. “Maybe,” he murmured. “Then again, maybe not. Lila wants me to visit before she starts work around two. I reckon no one would see me, if I do that.”

“Rafe . . .”

Mrs. McCawley’s voice rang from the hallway. “Rafe! Danny! Time for supper!”

“Yes ma’am!” Rafe shouted back. He shot his friend a reassuring grin. “Don’t worry, Danny. Everything will turn out fine. You’ll see.”

* * * *

Rafe and Lila only had another six weeks together. Whenever the opportunity arose, Rafe usually found himself at the Shelby House, anywhere between eleven and two o’clock. The housekeeper, Velma, would allow Rafe to enter the house through the back door and from there, he would make his way to Lila’s bedroom. The back door was the only impediment to Rafe’s otherwise perfect month. Lila had insisted that he use it – in case of a close call with an unexpected visitor.

That close call eventually happened, one afternoon in early September. After Velma allowed Rafe through the back door of the Shelby House, he immediately sprinted upstairs. He made his way along the second floor hallway, when the door to Lila’s bedroom swung open. Rafe immediately assumed it was the love of his life. He started toward the open door, when the sight of a familiar figure stopped him in his tracks. The figure turned out to be one of his father’s poker friends – Mr. Bateman. Rafe quickly darted into an empty room nearby and waited for the man to head downstairs. Later that evening, Rafe told Danny about his close call. Two days later, his relationship with Lila screeched to a halt.

* * * *

He stared at the auburn-haired woman with disbelieving eyes. “Say that again?” he demanded.

Inside her bedroom, a scantily clad Lila heaved an impatient sigh. She retrieved a cigarette from a tin box on her dresser and stuck it between her teeth. “You heard me, Rafe. It’s over. I don’t want you here, anymore.”

“Why?”

Hands on hips, Lila glared at him. “Because it’s over. Dammit boy! Are you deaf? It was fun for a while, but not anymore. I need to be with someone new.” She struck a match and lit her cigarette.

“Like that fella who was here, two days ago?” Rafe demanded.

Hazel-green eyes rolled upward in disgust. “Good Lord! He was right! You really are too young for me.”

“He?” Rafe’s eyes narrowed suspiciously. “Who’s ‘he’?”

Lila took a puff on her cigarette. “No one in particular. Just forget it.”

“Does that mean I can . . .?”

“No!” Lila’s harsh response came as a slap across the face. Rafe blinked. “No, that doesn’t mean you can come back. I don’t want you here, anymore! Period! How many damn times do I have to tell you?”

“Why?”

Lila retorted, “Because you’re too young for me! And I don’t want to go to jail for messing around with fifteen year-old boys!”

Rafe’s eyes widened in shock. “I never told you I was fifteen years old,” he murmured. “How did you . . .?”

“Never mind on how I found out,” Lila shot back. She paced back and forth across the room like an angry tigress, puffing on her cigarette. “All that matters is that you stay the hell away from this place, until you’re old enough. Maybe you can come back in another two or three years from now. I suggest you stick to girls around your own age. Miz Enid and the rest of us don’t need a spell behind bars for statutory rape. Now get out of here!” Lila pointed an angry finger at the door.

His head hung low, a defeated Rafe dragged his feet toward the door. All sorts of thoughts and emotions whirled within him. How could Lila throw him out like that? And who exactly was this ‘he’? Certainly not his daddy’s friend. Mr. Lammers had not even seen him. And who told Lila that he was fifte . . .

An ugly suspicion immediately formed in Rafe’s mind. A suspicion that projected in the image of his best friend. “Danny!” Rafe paused and confronted Lila. “It was Danny who told you I was fifteen! When did he talk to you?”

A guilty expression flitted across Lila’s face, before the latter hardened. “It doesn’t matter who I talked with!” she snarled. “Just get the hell out! You’re bad for business!”

“And you’re bad for me, lady!” Rafe retorted. “If a fella can call you one!” Filled with anger, he marched out of Lila’s room, slamming the door shut. It would be his last visit to the Shelby House.

END OF PART 2