TITLE: "THE BEST MAN"
AUTHOR: RFK
RATING: PG
E-MAIL: june_daley@rocketmail.com
FEEDBACK: Please feel free to send a little feedback. Please, no flames.
SUMMARY: Various reflections on the best man's reaction to a wartime wedding; Alternate Universe, set about six weeks after the Tokyo raid.
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.

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"THE BEST MAN" by RFK



PART ONE - RED

Another beautiful day in Honolulu, Hawaii. Or so Red Winkle told himself. To be honest, the weather was the last thing on his mind. Instead, he harbored on the upcoming wedding between two close friends. And how that wedding would affect the best man.

Red glanced at the figure on the bunk. A tall man with dark-brown hair groaned out loud, before sliding - very reluctantly - out of bed. Red stretched his lips into a grin and cried out cheerfully, "Hey sleepyhead! I see you finally got up!"

Rafe McCawley stared at Red with bleary eyes. Apparently, he had not recovered from last night's bachelor party at the Hula-La Bar. Not surprising, since he practically drank everyone else under the table. "What time is it?" he mumbled in his Tennessee accent.

"Oh eight forty-five," Red answered crisply. Which pleased him. He had stuttered one word in seven months. Not since he had proposed . . . The red-haired Army pilot immediately squelched all thoughts of a certain blond Navy nurse. Or that disasterous day in early December. After taking a deep breath, Red continued, "Everyone else is up and having chow in the Officers' Mess."

A heavy sigh escaped from Rafe's mouth. "Jesus! Eight forty-five! That means I have . . ."

"You have at least a little over two hours to get showered, dressed, fed and over to the chapel. Don't forget that the ceremony starts at 011:00."

"Yeah, the ceremony." Rafe's voice sounded mournful. Quite a contrast from the happy-go-lucky soul who had been the life of the party, last night. Once more, he sighed. Red suspected that a lot more will be heard before the end of the day.

The older pilot grunted, as he struggled to rise from the bed. "Having trouble there, Rafe?" Red frowned at him. "Need any help?"

"No, I uh . . . Maybe . . . maybe I do need help."

Red grabbed Rafe's hand and pulled the latter off the bed. Then the redhead led the other man to the bathroom for a shower. Seconds later, Red heard running water. Red peeked inside. "Say Rafe," he added, "don't you think you ought to get out of your skivvies, first?"

An olive-drab T-shirt flew out of the bathroom and landed on top of Red's head. A pair of boxer shorts followed. Fortunately, Red was able to duck in time. While Rafe showered, an enlisted man appeared in the barrack's doorway with a bundle of clean clothes and polished shoes. "Private Jancek, reporting as ordered, sir!" the latter barked. "With Captain McCawley's uniform!"

"Thank you, Private," Red responded. "Place the bundle on the table near the door." Private Jancek did as he was ordered. Just as he was about to leave, Red added, "By the way, is that jeep ready?"

Jancek replied in a crisp voice, "Yes sir, Lieutenant! Uh, do you need a driver?"

"No, that will be all, Private."

Private Jancek gave Red a salute and left the barracks. Two minutes later, Rafe emerged from the bathroom, wearing nothing but a towel. "What's that?" he asked pointing at the bundle on the table.

"Your clothes. After we got back, last night, I figured you'd need a fresh uniform for today. Especially since you'll be . . ."

Rafe gruffily interrupted, "You don't have to remind me about today. I remember. Thanks for the clothes." He began to remove his towel.

An embarrassed Red quickly glanced away. The last thing he wanted to see was Rafe in his birthday suit. "Um, when you finish dressing, I guess we can join the others in the Officers' Mess. That is, if they're still there. You weren't the only one who got drunk, last night. Poor ole' Gooz must have drunk so much booze . . ."

"Red." Rafe harshly cut into the other man's conversation. "Don't take this wrong, but could you please shut the hell up? You're rambling."

Red's face immediately matched the color of his hair. "S-s-sor-ry ab-b-bout that. I . . ."

"Hey, forget about it, Red. Apology accepted. And I'm sorry for being such a grouch." Several uncomfortable moments followed. Then Rafe added, "Okay, you can turn around."

Which Red did. To his relief, he found Rafe dressed in his formal uniform - khaki, for the summer. Despite the haggard eyes and mussed hair, Rafe still managed to look handsome and tough. Red felt certain that many women will be all over him, now that he was . . .

'Let's not dwell on that, Winkle,' Red mentally castigated himself.

Ever since Rafe's miraculous appearance in Hawaii nearly six months ago, Red has experienced a lot of guilt. Why? Thanks to his advice, Rafe's best friend had decided to pursue Rafe's girl. And now seven months later, Danny Walker and Evelyn Johnson were about to become man and wife. Even worse, Evelyn was pregnant with Danny's child. And if that did not seem bad enough, Red harbored deep suspicions that Evelyn was still in love with Rafe, and not Danny.

Thinking of Rafe, Evelyn and Danny also reminded Red of Betty. His fiancée of nearly two months. In another year, he and Betty would have married inside the chapel at Hickam. The same location for Danny and Evelyn's wedding ceremony. Only the Japanese attack on December 7 had ruined Red's plans of matrimony. As much as he mourned Betty, he thanked God that he would never have to watch her marry another man.

"Hey Red. You okay?" Rafe frowned at the other pilot. "You look as if you're in another world."

Red responded with a weak smile. "Just thinking about the past. Ready to go?"

One last sigh left Rafe's mouth. "I reckon so. Let's go." He strode toward the door, with Red close at his heels.


* * * *


PART TWO - BARBARA

Always the bridesmaid and never the bride. It was a situation in life that Lieutenant Barbara Kurtz has always dreaded and found herself in. Yet, for once, she felt more than happy not to be the bride. At least not for today's wedding. Hell, she felt downright relieved.

Poor Evelyn. Poor Rafe. Poor . . . Well, perhaps not poor Danny. After all, not only did he barely managed to survive Doolittle's suicidal mission over Tokyo, he was also about to marry the woman he loved - namely Evelyn. And become a father in two months. Then again, Danny was also about to marry a woman, who was probably not in love with him. Barbara suspected that Evelyn loved Danny, but was not in love. Loving someone and being completely, down-in-your-guts in love were two different matters. At least to Barbara. And she thanked God that she was not about to marry the wrong man for the right reason.

"Barbara!" Sandra O'Connell's voice screeched in the blond woman's ears. Geez! "Are they here, yet?"

Here meant the little white Army chapel at Hickam Field. The bride, along with her attendants, stood inside a small room, adjacent to the chapel. Barbara's fellow attendants, Sandra and Martha Cole, fussed over the bride's wedding gown. And it was beautiful. Evelyn wore a cream-colored gown with puffy short sleeves and a square neckline. It looked elegant and hid her pregnant form very well.

"Will you all leave her alone?" Barbara groused. "She looks fine."

Evelyn heaved a deep sigh. "Barbara's right. I feel fine. And I'm ready to start. Is the . . . groom's party here, yet?"

"I'll check." Barbara left the small room. She found the groom standing in the back of the chapel, surrounded by his friends. However, two seemed to be missing - Red and Rafe.

Barbara cried out to them. "Hey! Why are you all standing around like suspects in a line-up? Evelyn's ready."

Danny, who looked downright handsome in his full khaki uniform, replied that they were waiting for Red. And the best man.

"What? You mean they're not here, yet?" Barbara demanded. Of course she did not blame Rafe if he decided not to show up. What man in his right mind would want to witness the wedding between his best friend and the woman he loved? Barbara had noticed something else. Evelyn did not strike her as radiant bride. Granted, the former nurse happened to be at least seven months pregnant. Yet, still . . .

The sound of a jeep screeching to a halt caught Barbara's attention. Gooz poked his head outside the chapel's door and announced, "The best man is here. And Red."

Barbara heaved a relieved sigh. "Great. Now, the only person that's missing is Doc Hayes. Let us know when he arrives." She returned inside the chamber. "Hey! Rafe and Red are here."

Evelyn stiffened momentarily at the mention of her ex-boyfriend's name. Barbara noticed. Then the bride-to-be asked in a placid voice, "What about Commander Hayes? Has he arrived?"

"Not yet. I asked Gooz to let . . ." Barbara bit off her words when a head poked inside the room. It belonged to Rafe.

The pilot's eyes met the bride's. Electricity crackled in the air. Even a blind person, Barbara decided, would have noticed the chemistry between the former lovers. And Barbara was not blind.

"Hello Rafe," Sandra finally greeted, cutting the tension. "Is there something you want?" Anxiety filled the eyes behind her gold-rimmed glasses.

Rafe continued to stare at Evelyn. Whose face turned pink. Martha coughed slightly, snapping the pilot out of his trance. "Uh, I just came to tell you that Commander Hayes has just arrived. So the wed . . ." He took a deep breath. "The ceremony will probably start in five minutes."

Silent tension filled the air. Martha finally responded. "Thanks. We'll be . . ."

A second figure appeared in the chamber. Relief flooded Barbara's body. It was the nurses' commanding officer, dressed in a khaki naval uniform. Commander Hayes glanced at Evelyn and smiled. "Is everyone ready?" he asked.

Barbara smirked. "Now that you're here, sir." She nodded at Rafe. "You can tell the others that we're ready."

Rafe tore his eyes away from the bride and left. A deep flush colored Evelyn's cheeks. Barbara sighed for the second time this morning. This promised to be a long day.

* * * *

PART THREE - DANNY

'How long does it take to walk down the aisle?' Captain Danny Walker pondered silently.

As he waited for his bride in front of the chapel's altar, an assortment of emotions besieged him. One, Danny felt nervous as hell. After all, he was about to become a married man - and a father in less than two months. A father. He could not believe it! Somehow, he and Evelyn managed to create a new life during that passionate evening inside the hangar at Wheeler Field.

Recalling that particular event brought upon another emotion. Happiness. Danny felt as if he could walk on air. Evelyn Johnson was about to become his wife - Mrs. Daniel Walker. Never did Danny imagine he would find someone special in his life. Especially someone as kind and beautiful as Evelyn. And to think that it took a sad period . . .

Danny's thoughts came to a screeching halt. The happiness he felt gave way to anxiety. Seeing Evelyn's slightly pregnant form, Danny began to wonder how she really felt about him. Did she really love him? Or did she merely agreed to marry him, because of the baby? Danny fervently hoped the former. Yet, a small and dark suspicion niggled in the back of his mind. A suspicion that his bride might still harbor feelings for her former love . . . and his best friend.

The idea induced Danny to give the best man a quick glance. Rafe seemed . . . well he seemed fine. Calm. Danny frowned at the other man's expressionless face. An odd expression for someone to have at a wedding. But this was Rafe. Who was about to witness the marriage between his best friend and former girlfriend.

A wave of guilt washed over Danny. He tried to fight the feeling, but the guilt refused to vanish. Okay, so he had pursued Evelyn. Danny did not believe he had committed a crime. After all, Rafe had been dead. 'Yeah, for only three months.' With a single-minded ruthlessness, Danny squelched the silent retort. This was no time to feel guilty over certain events that he had no reason to feel guilty about.

His eyes focused upon the woman who glided down the aisle with the Naval officer. Despite being over seven months pregnant, Evelyn looked downright beautiful in her cream-colored gown. Considering her present physical condition, it would have been ludicrous for her to wear white. Then Danny quickly dismissed the thought. He only wanted to focus upon the moment. And on the bride. Her flushed skin and glittering dark eyes. Danny felt thrilled that she seemed to be as focused upon as he was upon her. Ever since Rafe's return, he had feared . . .

Danny shot a quick glance at his best man. Like everyone else, Rafe seemed focused upon the bride. Yet, another glance revealed that Rafe was not looking at Evelyn, but past her shoulder. At the pew, beyond. Danny did not know whether to feel relieved at not detecting any embarrassing emotions in Rafe's eyes, or annoyed that the latter was deliberately ignoring Evelyn. And what about Evelyn? Was she straining not to sneak a glance at her former love? If one could regard Rafe as former. But the moment Danny clapped eyes upon Evelyn, he could see that she had eyes for no one but him. His body nearly sagged with relief.

That relief soon became anticipation as the bride finally reached the altar. Commander Hayes handed over Eveyln's arm to Danny. The latter smiled at his future wife. She returned the smile. Evelyn's dark eyes glittered with the same anticipation that he felt. Then Danny shot a second glance at the best man. Rafe's eyes had shifted from the pew to the altar. Again, those eyes avoided Evelyn. Squelching another flash of guilt that threatened to overwhelm him, Danny focused his attention to the minister, who began the ceremony. "Dearly beloved, we are gathered here in the presence of God, and of this company . . ."

The minister droned on about love and marriage during perilous times. Obviously, the man had decided to ignore Evelyn's pregnant state. Finally, the minister came to the first important question. "Daniel Walker, do you take Evelyn Johnson to be your wedded wife, to live together after God's ordinance in holy matrimony? Do you promise to love her, to honor and cherish her, in joy and in sorrow, in sickness and in health, and to be to her in all things a good and faithful husband as long as you both shall live?"

Danny stared deeply into his bride's dark eyes. "I do." His voice resonated throughout the small chapel.

Then it became Evelyn's turn to answer the same question. For a second, Danny feared an embarrassing pause that would follow - indicating the bride's doubts and possible true feelings about this wedding. But she did not hesitate. Evelyn quickly and firmly answered, "I do."

Collective sighs filled the chapel. Repeating the minister, Danny added, "I, Daniel Walker, take thee, Evelyn Johnson, to be my wedded wife, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part. According to God's holy ordinance, and thereto I pledge thee my faith." Evelyn, following the minister's words, pledged the same vow.

The minister continued with a wedding prayer, as his voice filled the chapel. When he finished, he turned to Rafe. "The ring please?"

Danny watched Rafe dig immediately into his trouser pocket for the wedding ring. The older man's hand trembled as he handed it to the groom. Despite the blank, almost bleak expression on his face.

"Repeat after me," the minister said to Danny. "With this ring, I thee wed. With my body, I thee honor. With this ring I give to you in token and pledge of my constant faith and abiding love." Danny repeated the minister's words. He smoothly placed the ring on Evelyn's finger. Then he watched as she retrieved a ring from Barbara and repeated the same words. Her hands trembling, she inserted the second ring on Danny's finger.

The minister concluded, "What therefore God hath joined together, let no man put asunder. Forasmuch as Daniel Walker and Evelyn Johnson have consented together in holy matrimony, and have witnessed the same before God and this company and have pledged their love and loyalty to each other, and have declared the same by the joining and the giving of rings, I, therefore, by the authority of the state, pronounce that they are husband and wife, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ." He gave Danny a flourished smile. "The Groom may now kissed the Bride."

Danny stared deeply into Evelyn's eyes. She smiled. Then he leaned forward and kissed her with as much passion as he could muster. Once their lips parted, everyone inside the chapel rushed forward to congratulate the newly wedded couple. Everyone, except for the best man.

* * * *

PART FOUR - EVELYN


"Congratulations . . . Mrs. Walker," the Army pilot said with a cheerful grin. "Danny is sure one lucky guy."

Evelyn smiled at the latest well-wisher, as she shook his hand. "Thank you, uh . . .?"

The grin became wider. "Adam. Lieutenant Adam Zelinski. I'm with your husband's squadron."

"Oh yeah."

Lieutenant Zelinski shook Evelyn's hand one last time before moving on. She sighed with relief. He was the last one to come up to Evelyn to give his congratulations, thank goodness. With another heartfelt sigh, she glanced around the living room. She had just given the performance of a life time and did not have an award to show for her efforts.

Evelyn now looked forward to some refreshments after a long and difficult day. Actually, the day was not over yet. The clock on the wall only read 12:55, in the afternoon. With all of the wedding preparations and emotional turmoil she had endured, the day seemed to have dragged since the moment the alarm clock woke her.

The phonograph inside the beach house that she now shared with Barbara, Sandra, and Martha, blasted "Blueberry Hill". Evelyn winced. Not exactly one of her favorites, especially in her present mood. But the song happened to be a favorite of Sandra's. Which meant that after today, Evelyn would no longer be forced to hear it whenever the urge hit the red-haired nurse.

Tonight. The implications of that word finally hit Evelyn. Starting tonight, she and Danny will share a bed together for the first time as husband and wife. Dear God! Evelyn closed her eyes for a brief moment. How did she ever get into this predicament? What had she been thinking during that evening inside the hangar at Wheeler Field?

"Evelyn!" Barbara's voice cut into the bride's thoughts. "Honey, why are you standing around like a lamp post? Shouldn't you be mingling around? Having a good time?"

Evelyn took a deep breath. "I am having a good time. After all, I'm a married woman, now. Right?"

Barbara gave the other woman a hard stare. "Yeah," she said in a lackluster tone. "Right. Say, why don't we try . . .?"

The sound of a giggling female caught the attention of the two friends. They glanced at the direction from where the sound originated. Barbara frowned. Evelyn's heart leapt about ten inches. Next to the refreshment table stood one of the Navy nurses who had been invited to the reception - Ensign Lara McColl. And the very attractive nurse seemed to be enjoying the attention of one Captain Rafe McCawley. The best man. Even worse, Rafe seemed to be enjoying Ensign McColl's company, as well. Another fit of giggles left Ensign McColl's mouth. Evelyn struggled to fight the rising anger and despair within her. And the urge to punch the young nurse in the jaw.

"I wonder what they're talking about," Barbara muttered.

Evelyn tried to sound nonchalant. "Who knows? Knowing Lara's IQ, probably the latest edition of 'The Cat in the Hat'." Unfortunately, her words came out more bitter than she had intended.

Barbara gave Evelyn another one of those long looks. "Ev, honey, you're not jealous, are you?"

"Whatever gave you that silly idea? Or have you forgotten that I'm now a married woman?" Evelyn flashed the gold wedding ring on her swollen finger. "Happily married."

More giggles from the refreshment table punctuated Evelyn's words. She saw Rafe lean forward and whisper into Lara McColl's ear. Hot jealousy rose within Evelyn. Then she saw the silver flask in Rafe's hand. Probably filled with alcohol.

Barbara coughed slightly. "I don't mean to rain on your parade, Ev. But isn't 'happily married' a bit premature? Especially since you've only been married for . . . oh, almost two hours?"

An exasperated sigh left Evelyn's mouth. She shot a quick glare at her friend. "Thank you for pointing that out, Barbara." Glancing at the refreshment table, she added, "I think I need a drink." She started toward the table.

Barbara followed closely behind. "Uh, Ev . . . what are you doing?" But Evelyn did not bother to listen.

The two friends reached the table, where they found Rafe regaling the strawberry blond nurse with tales of his exploits in England, last year. Now, why would anyone find that topic, funny? Evelyn didn't. "Hi," she greeted the pair. Lara nearly jumped two inches off the floor. Rafe gave Evelyn a polite smile. "What are you two talking about?" As if she did not know.

"England," Rafe answered shortly. "I was telling Ensign McColl here, about the time I served with the Eagle Squadron."

The Eagle Squadron. Every time someone mentioned it or England, Evelyn wanted to rant against fate. Scream at the world for snatching away any chance of real happiness, when Rafe volunteered to fight with the RAF. A polite smile formed on Evelyn's lips. "You must have some very interesting stories to tell."

"Yeah, I do." Rafe's dark brown eyes penetratred Evelyn's. A wave of heat engulfed her body. "There's one about me being shot down over the English Channel. Now, that's a real hoot."

Evelyn felt her lower lip tremble. 'I will not cry,' she told herself. 'I will not cry.' Taking a deep breath, Evelyn calmly continued, "Was that the story you were telling Lara?"

"Actually, Rafe was talking about this little pub in England," Lara answered. "Where he met this real wacky guy."

Rafe interrupted, "Tom Finch."

"And this Tom Finch used to tell him some of the nuttiest stories," Lara finished. The young nurse never looked more prettier than she did at that moment, Evelyn brooded. Her green eyes sparkled with delight. And her cheeks flushed deep pink. She made Evelyn feel even more gauche.

"Sounds like a delightful guy," Barbara murmured sarcastically.

Rafe shot her a dark look. "As a matter of fact, Tom was a pretty swell guy," he shot back. "Makes me wish I was back at the Blue Swan." His remark caused further discomfort for Evelyn.

Discomfort became jealousy when Lara patted Rafe's arm. Then she planted a light kiss on his cheek, causing more consternation within Evelyn's breast. "Oh, you don't mean that, Rafe," Lara cooed. "If that had happened, we would have never met. And I would have never heard about the wonderful Blue Swan."

A wry smile twisted Rafe's mouth. Evelyn looked away - and saw Barbara roll her eyes. Which brought a smile on the bride's lips. A figure appeared before the group and Evelyn's smile disappeared. So did Rafe's. "Hey everyone," Danny greeted the four people. "What's going on?" He leaned forward and pecked Evelyn's cheek. Instead of the usual warmth any bride would feel toward the groom, Evelyn only felt acute embarrassment. Especially with everyone, including Rafe, looking on.

Evelyn briefly closed her eyes and heaved an inward sigh. It was time for another performance.

* * * *


PART FIVE - GOOZ

Rafe stood in the middle of the living room and raised his champagne glass. The other occupants did the same. "Here's to Danny and Evelyn," he announced in a too cheerful voice. "May they have many happy years to come! To Danny and Evelyn!"

"To Danny and Evelyn!" the others repeated, and everyone sipped their champagne.

Gooz Shannon watched the best man gulp the contents of the champagne glass in one swallow. It seemed like watching a performance, the laconic pilot thought. The too cheerful voice, the wide smile and the warm words to the bride and groom. And yet, Gooz noticed the pain in Rafe's eyes. He shook his head. Poor bastard.

While he continued to sip his champagne, Gooz saw Rafe reach for the bottle and pour more liquor into his glass. That poor bastard had been drinking steadily for the past two days. Even before the bachelor's party, last night. Gooz feared that Rafe's personal problems would lead him to alcoholism. That would be a crying shame for a talented pilot like Rafe. What the poor bastard needed was another woman. A serious relationship with a woman who could help him forget Evelyn John . . . Walker.

Gooz's eyes strayed toward Ensign Lara McColl. He recalled seeing Rafe flirt with the strawberry-blond Navy nurse. Personally, Lara did not strike Gooz as his first choice as a companion for Rafe. She seemed too vacuous and shallow for the more solid pilot. But she could be that perfect first step for Rafe to recover from Evelyn. If only one could lure the Tennesseean from the nearest bottle.

The bride and attendants started upstairs for the former to change into traveling clothes. It was Red who had discovered a small beach hotel on the other side of Oahu. Both the pilots and the nurses pooled their resources to offer a romantic getaway for the bride and groom to spend their honeymoon. Gooz took this time to approach Rafe. "Hey there, buddy! How you holding up?"

"Holding up?" Rafe gave the other man a hard stare. Then he broke into laughter that left Gooz feeling very uncomfortable. "Am I holding up? Hell, I'm doing just fine and dandy. Can't you tell?"

Gooz could tell. Rafe's voice had begun to slur from too much booze. He cleared his throat, as he contemplated his next words. "Say Rafe, why don't we leave and head back to the barracks. Maybe a little rest would do you some good."

"I'd say a good shot of bourbon or whiskey might do the trick," Rafe slurred back. He wiggled the bottle of champagne in his hand. "This bubbly ain't doing much for me."

Gooz gently removed the bottle from Rafe's hand. "Drinking yourself into oblivion ain't gonna help you forget about Evelyn, Rafe."

The other man shot Gooz a dark look. "What the hell are you get . . .?"

"C'mon Rafe! I'm not blind. None of us are. The Hula-La has been your second home since we got back from China. Let her go. Evelyn made her choice - even if circumstances forced her to make it. You gotta accept that."

A Latin beat followed the swing number that blasted from the gramaphone. "Perfido". Nice tune, Gooz thought But not exactly one of his favorites. "Huh," Rafe grunted. "That's sounds like 'Perfido'. Did you know that it's one of Evelyn's favorite tunes?"

Gooz sighed. Trying to get Rafe to forget about Evelyn seemed like a hopeless task. Then again, he had not been in New York to witness the beginning of the romance. Not until that fight between Rafe and Danny at the Hula-La on the night before the Japanese attack, did Gooz realize how serious Rafe had been about Evelyn.

A strawberry-blond in a Navy uniform loomed before Gooz's eyes. Perhaps it was time to test that theory about a new woman in Rafe's life. He only hoped that Ensign McColl will not have a problem in dealing with a drunken pilot.

"Say," the laconic pilot began, "isn't that the girl you were talking to, earlier?" Gooz pointed at the beautiful nurse.

Rafe weaved slightly. "That's the beau . . . beautiful Lar-r-r-ra McColl," he slurred. "Well, not as beautiful as Evelyn." Gooz suppressed a frustrated sigh. "Then nobody is more beau . . . beautiful that Ev . . . Evelyn."

Gooz decided to go along with this line of conversation. "True. But at least . . . Lara, is it? At least Lara is available. You know?"

Dark brown eyes bored into Gooz's. For what seemed like forever. As Rafe opened his mouth to speak, someone announced the reappearance of the bride and groom. Both Gooz and Rafe turned around and watched the newly married couple descend the staircase. The guests cheered and threw rice at the pair. Gooz glanced at the happy couple. Well, the groom looked happy. Not even the sun has ever looked as bright as Danny's smile. When Gooz stared at Evelyn, he noticed that her happiness did not exactly match her husband's. In fact, her smile seemed . . . strained. Forced. Then Evelyn's dark eyes fell upon Rafe. If Gooz had not kept his focused upon her's, he would have never caught the flash of deep love and regret. At that moment, he realized that Evelyn's feelings for Rafe matched those of the Tennessee-born pilot's.

"Well I'll be damned!" Gooz muttered under his breath.

Rafe turned to Gooz. "Did you just say something?" Gooz shook his head and watched the couple head for the front door.

Some of the guests followed Danny and Evelyn outside, bombarding the pair with more rice. Neither Gooz or Rafe bothered to follow. Instead, the latter faced the former. A sickly smile stretched Rafe's mouth. "You know what, Gooz? You were right! Lara is a . . . avail . . . able, and I reckon I should ask her to join me for a late night drink."

Gooz watched Rafe take a deep breath and stride toward the strawberry-blond nurse. He shook his head and muttered under his breath, "Life can sure be a mess. Just a goddamn mess!"



THE END