"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 Memphis 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."
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 . . ."
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