"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."
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."
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?"
"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