When Lalique and Arlene arrived at the Eden House Restaurant and Ray Nolan met them there Lalique liked him right away. His clothes were clean and neatly pressed (he'd left the leather vests and torn Levis at home), his hair was clean and shiny, too, and he looked directly into her eyes. This was the acid test of a man according to her mother, Olivia.
"If he can't look you in the eyes, he can't be trusted," she always said.
Of course, Lalique had to admit there had been one or two men in her experience who could easily meet her eyes and yet manage to lie like a rug. However; it was still a good rule of thumb, along with Olivia's proviso that any man should should have a firm handshake. In fact, she maintained, any woman should be likewise and not offer a limp hand as if the man should kiss it. Not that there was anything wrong with hand kissing; Lalique's father excelled in the art.
They had finished their dinner and were just relaxing when Ray got a call, he apologized as he answered. After a few moments he hit "end" and turned to them,
"I'm sorry for interrupting. That was an old friend of mine who's in Crystal Creek for a few hours and looking for me. He needs to drop something off and I told him it would be okay to come by here to do that."
"Oh, is it Perry?" Arlene asked with enthusiasm.
"Yes, it's Perry. I hope you don't mind, Lalique."
"That's fine, no problem, Ray."
"I've met Perry, but just once," Arlene told her, "He's a lawyer."
"Really?" Lalique was somewhat surprised. Ray seemed to be a great guy but it was hard to imagine that he numbered attorneys among his friends. Maybe the man ran a storefront law office. Well, that's what she got for judging things by their appearance.
"Yeah, he's pretty well known in this area, actually. He's in family law now but he used to be in criminal law. Got burned out. Anyway, he's a good friend I've known for years even though he's older than me by about seven years. His last name is Everhart...Perry Everhart."
Lalique was impressed,
"Yes, I have heard of him, by reputation only, I've never met him."
"He's a real talented guy," Arlene said and urged, "Tell her, Ray. You know, what you told me."
"Well, Arlene is right...I brag on him a lot, but I do look up to him. He can do just about anything; he's a gourmet cook, for one. He's also an ace mechanic. Sometimes he helps me with car restorations. Just in his spare time, of course."
"Remarkable," Lalique said quietly. Perry Everhart was beginning to sound like an executive she'd once dated who'd been accomplished at many things, but turned out to be a consummate heel as well as morally bankrupt.
"He plays guitar some times," Rad added, "I'm talking classical guitar."
"You play, too, Ray--and you're good!" Arlene insisted.
"Yeah, well, it's not the same as the way Perry plays, believe me," Ray grinned at Lalique, "She's prejudiced, that's why I'm crazy about her."
"That's something I've noticed; you both seem to have a mutual admiration society going."
He winked at Arlene and said,
"I just have to convince her it will take some time before I can be the man I'd like to be for her. It took a while for me to convince myself that I should even hope she will wait."
Arlene was already holding his arm and she leaned in to kiss his cheek,
"I think you're fabulous now, but if you want me to wait, I'll wait."
So, this guy is a gourmet cook, a mechanic, a musician and a lawyer?" Lalique asked slyly, "Anything else?"
"No that's...oh, yeah; he's quite an athlete, just good at any sport really."
Of course he is.
"He sounds too good to be true," she said to Ray.
“It might seem like that, probably I’m not saying it well, but really he’s the nicest guy you’d ever want to meet. He’d give you the shirt off his back. I can’t figure out why some woman hasn’t snatched him up; he’s real good looking, too. I guess he’s too fleet-footed,” Ray shrugged with a smile.
“I guess,” Lalique nodded and gritted her teeth. She hated the guy already.
Ray looked out the window,
“Oh, there he is.”
Lalique didn't want to crane her neck too much but couldn't help herself. She saw a man dressed casually in the kind of understated, well made clothing that announced "class". He was getting out of his car and then reaching back in for a large manila envelope. She ducked back as he turned and headed to the restaurant.
"Perry!" Ray stood to give him a quick knuckle bump and a grin, "Hey my man--what it is?"
Without waiting for an answer he motioned Perry into the booth, right alongside Lalique. He handed the envelope to Ray and they sat down.
During the introductions Perry turned to Lalique and looked straight into her eyes. It hit her like a bolt out of the blue.
"Nice to meet you, Lalique; I've been hearing good things about you for a while now secondhand from Ray and supplied by Arlene," he smiled.
Devastating. His smile was devastating. Thick brown hair with red glints in it waved away from his face, which was angular and clean shaven, with a very slight cleft in his chin. He had green eyes the color of sea glass and they made electric pulses flash across her belly when they looked into hers. The wire-rimmed glasses he wore didn't seem to stop their power at all. The balmy scent of Acqua di Parma whispered to her of money and seduction. Mommy!
"Thank you," she replied, relieved that she could actually form words since her throat had closed up while he was speaking, "And I've been hearing good things about you, too, but only for the last twenty minutes or so.
"Oh, no!" he laughed, "Twenty minutes of me; that probably was something you could have lived without. Ray should be my publicist."
He seemed genuine but Lalique was loathe to give up her earlier conviction that he had to be a pompous ass if he was as perfect as Ray claimed. Besides, his effect on her mind and body made her extremely uncomfortable and that translated to resentment on her part.
He claimed he'd already eaten, too, but could stay for a bit to talk.
"Ray said you're practically a sous chef," she ventured.
“Yes, well, working in the kitchen relaxes me and I love good food,” he nodded, “I wouldn’t say I’m a gourmet or a chef, but I am a bit of a foodie. Are you?”
"I like to eat and eat well, if that's what you mean. Mine is mostly comfort food, though."
"She's a wonderful cook," Arlene put in, "She's been teaching me to know my way around a kitchen."
“I actually came here tonight to know more about Ray,” Lalique changed the subject, “Since I feel somewhat responsible for Arlene, she’s not only my children’s nanny, but my friend.”
“She’s checking me out,” Ray said, unashamed, “I don’t mind at all.”
“He cleans up good,” Perry grinned briefly at Ray, “I’ll say that for him. And he should get points for healthy living. Doesn’t smoke, only drinks socially and as far as I know his cholesterol’s in good shape.”
“I guess it seems old-fashioned of me to be vetting him,” Lalique said stiffly. Really she couldn’t think why she was so awkward in this conversation. She sounded like a self-righteous prig.
“Not at all,” Perry objected, “That only shows you’re someone who cares about the welfare of the people she loves. I would say that’s commendable.”
“I’m so glad it meets with your approval.”
There was something about him that seemed to raise her hackles. She waited for him to come back with some withering remark and when he didn’t she was perplexed and disappointed. She wanted to be able to dislike him; she needed a reason and so far she didn’t have one.
Meanwhile, Ray and Arlene got up to dance. Their obvious regard and affection for each other only made the animosity between Lalique and Perry more obvious. Or at least Lalique’s animosity; Perry seemed perfectly relaxed and friendly. She noticed that not only was Arlene crazy in love with her blonde boy, but it was now evident he felt the same way. Ray didn’t seem to be fighting her any more.
“Looks like they’ve worked out any kinks in their relationship without help from us,” Perry observed.
“Yes, well, I still don’t know much about him,” Lalique countered, “Arlene is a very well brought up but naïve girl.”
“Yes, she’s kind of a breath of fresh air to him I believe. He’s had to be around some tough people and places in his life.”
“What does that mean? Is he…involved in criminal activity or something?”
“I suppose he would worry you that way, since you don’t really know him and appearances are deceiving, but I can say in all honesty he is not in trouble with the law. He has just had a rough life. Looks to me like it could be on the upswing and I hope it continues. I think Arlene is part of the reason.”
"But why won't he let her see where he lives? He's not married is he?"
"No! He's single, I can assure you. It's not really safe for her there, though. It's a little house, but he needed the small yard to work on cars. However; it's in a very bad part of town. If she just wants to see it he'd probably drive by there with her to show her, but he doesn't want her to be subjected to the place and the people there. He won't be there too much longer, he really does have a future away from that place," Perry looked sort of passionate about this suddenly, "He's a good kid, really. Just trying to get his act together. Especially since he met Arlene."
Lalique relaxed for a moment,
“I’m so glad to hear you say that. My impression so far has been along those lines, but still it’s reassuring. Arlene would like to have him to the house but I had to make sure; I have four children.”
“You have four children? I'm sorry, somehow you don't look like you could have four children. You don’t look old enough.”
“Ha ha. I’m afraid I’m plenty old enough. Anyway, they are two sets of twins so I economized on time. And it's all come about in a very short period to say the least.”
“So I guess you're divorced? Or?”
“I’m ‘or’. I’m not married, and I’m on my own. That's the way I want it.”
Of course that wasn't really the way she had originally wanted it; she's just had to accept it.
“I’ll bet you’re very independent. But it seems you know lots more about me than I do about you. You never said what you do for fun during the day.”
“Right now I run after my children but before I became a mother I was a high school teacher. English and music.”
Arlene and Ray had become aware of the time and were making with the goodbye murmurings and kisses. Perry and Lalique ignored them.
“Ah, you’re a music lover, and do you play or sing?”
“I play piano and I used to dance. I understand you play guitar?”
“Some say I do. Anyway, I get a kick out of it.”
Lalique nodded, thinking over the last bit of conversation.
“Well, it’s been great talking with you, but I should hit the road,” Perry said, getting to his feet.
Lalique looked at her watch and then back at him. She’d actually been enjoying the conversation.
“We need to be on our way, too," she stood up, sliding out of the booth to stand across from him.
“I was wondering," he pulled at his lower lip, "Do you ever go to the concerts in Crystal Creek? I can usually get tickets…”
“Oh. Well, not in a long time, but I’m afraid that’s impossible right now anyway,” she suddenly had gone cold on him, “Arlene, are you ready to go? I’m sure Mom and Dad are tired by now and want to get home.”
She turned back to Perry,
“It was very nice to meet you,” and then, since Arlene had actually let go of him, Lalique reached out to grab Ray’s hand, “And I certainly am happy to get to know you at last, Ray. We’ll have you to dinner soon; Arlene is dying for you to taste her newest dessert.”
Perry accepted her rebuff with good grace and stood with Ray as the valet brought Lalique’s car and the ladies got in and drove off.
Then, his eyes still looking in that direction, he nudged Ray,
"One hundred bucks says I see the pretty lady again within a week."
"She's a feisty one so it ain't happening without my help, bro. Anyway, I'm only a starving mechanic; make it twenty and you're on."
Next blog update: Lalique Flynn Ch. 8 Protesting Too Much Part 1