"The guys in this place will swallow her whole," was his first thought.
Amazingly she managed to look both virginal and sexy; her brown hair was scooped up in a saucy ponytail, and she wore snug fitting jeans and a pastel pink knit top that clung to her curves. Her smile was shy but sweet as her baby blue eyes darted around the room as if just discovering a new place to make friends. Unbelievable.
She came over to the L-shaped counter and took a seat a few stools away from Pres, looking over a plastic encased menu. Things were casual at Red's and the menu was hand-typed with a handwritten insert that listed "today's specialties".
Pres kept eating and listened to her talking with the waitress, Shirley. He couldn't believe the girl's voice; soft yet enthusiastic about everything. Like the fare at Red's was right up there with Four Seasons or something. Perky. That was the adjective people usually used for females like her, Pres decided. The kind of girl who had marriage and babies on her mind. Trouble.
He felt her glance over at him once or twice but he kept his eyes straight ahead. He was only half done with his meal and he usually had a hearty appetite. He considered taking her aside and giving her the word on Red's so she could beat a hasty retreat. On the other hand, what business was it of his? Maybe she wasn't all that innocent; he was only going by his first impression.
But then he saw one of the regulars at Red's sit down next to her and keep looking over at her. He was way too aggressive and way too ugly in Pres's opinion. The girl even seemed a bit nervous, sipping her drink. Suddenly the ugly aggressor pushed up against her and said,
"Hey, sweetheart, how about..."
Pres shook his head regretfully and laid down his fork. Crap. Getting up from his seat he was over by the girl in a flash, giving her his most charming grin, cutting the other guy off after those first four words with,
"Hello, miss, you're new at Red's aren't you?"
Eagerly the girl turned to him and smiled; she was obviously happy he'd interrupted,
"That's right--it's my first time. I'm Arlene...Arlene Jankowski."
"Hey, I was talking to her," Mr. Ugly Aggressor protested and Pres looked over at him.
"Not. Any. More," he said softly as in "make my day" and the guy meekly turned his attention to his own menu. He was ugly and aggressive but he wasn't stupid.
"Hey, wait a minute..." Arlene started to object to what she evidently thought was a rude remark from Pres but he interrupted her quietly,
"Can I talk to you for a few seconds?"
Arlene nodded but was clearly a bit surprised when he led her a couple feet away from the counter. He didn't particularly want Mr. Ugly or anyone else to hear him.
She looked at him expectantly.
"Look, Angel-face, I know I'm really just a stranger, but I want to give you some advice; this really isn't the kind of place you should be in at all. Don't you know Red's has a terrible reputation?"
"No," she blinked her big blue eyes at him and blushed for her ignorance.
"Well, it does, believe me, and with good reason. If you'd come with friends it would be bad enough, but to come here all alone--what were you thinking of? You need to leave right now. I'll walk you to your car to make sure you get there safely then you should go straight home. Or if you don't want me to do it, I'm sure your waitress, Shirley, would take a minute to walk you out there."
Shirley, currently stuffing the napkin holders on the counter, gave him a dirty look which Pres pretended not to see; obviously he was not speaking as quietly as he thought.
Arlene's mouth dropped open in shock as he spoke and then her brows flew together over her nose,
"I'm not going to leave just because you say so. Who are you to tell me what to do? I was supposed to meet my friend here, but she got called in to work and I didn't want to stay home on my night off. I have a right to be here if I want to!"
Pres wasn't sure why but that just flew all over him.
"Look, you're just a kid and it's obvious you haven't been around much. I'm telling you I'll walk you to your car, and I mean it. If you don't want to go home, then try the Galaxy Arcade in Bluewater or the roller rink in Pleasantview. But better you should just go on home to Momma until you get a clue."
"Oh!" she was outraged, "I'm going to stay right here as long as I want and you you should just go...go jump in the lake!"
"Jump...in...the...lake?" Pres laughed in amazement, "How old are you, anyway? 18? 20?"
"I'm 28 if it's any of your business, which it isn't," she replied defensively. Arlene knew she looked young for her age, but she'd also been told before that she was naive and had been sheltered. It was embarrassing.
"Really?" he was so startled by this that his voice broke in surprise almost like a a nerdy adolescent's, but then he countered, "It doesn't matter how old you are this is not the right place for you. It's not acceptable at all. If you're not finished eating you can move your plate over by mine and when you're done I'll walk you to your car."
He'd unthinkingly put his hand on her forearm and she jerked her arm away angrily,
"I most certainly will not--you're not the boss of me!" with that she stomped back to her seat and sat down. Since Mr. Ugly Aggressor had decided he wasn't all that hungry anyway and had left the joint, currently there was nobody on either side of Arlene at the counter Pres was relieved to see. He leaned over her briefly and spoke with emphasis,
"Believe me, little girl, you're lucky I'm not the boss of you or you'd get the spanking of your life."
She flicked her ponytail with her hand so that it swung back and forth and looked away from him as though bored.
He sat back down to his meal, absolutely furious and still totally aware of her pushing her food around on her plate with disinterest. Well, dang, she was on her own. That's what he got for trying to be a good Samaritan. His food was cold but it didn't matter since, in point of fact, he'd lost his appetite, too. He put a generous tip for Shirley down on the counter and glanced around the room, supposedly to see whether he wanted to play pool or a little poker. In reality he was checking on Arlene, of course, who also left a tip and was just getting to her feet. Pres fervently hope that meant she was finally on her way home. If she wouldn't let him take her to the car he'd watch from the window. Someone was always feeding the jukebox and as a fast number came on Pres saw an older gentleman who he knew as Ed come up to Arlene obviously to ask her to dance.
For crying out loud, the guy is 60 and he thinks she wants to dance with him?
So what does she do but say okay.
They'd barely begun dancing when Ed did his usual thing which was to stop his partner and show off his tap-dancing skills. No one was sure if Ed was nuts or backward, but he was pretty much harmless and most of the regulars called him "Taps", though not to his face. He always wore shoes with taps on them even though Red had told him a couple times to leave his freaking tap shoes at home because he was ruining the dance floor. Arlene was startled to say the least when Ed suddenly stopped her from dancing and cried softly ,"Now, wait!" and did a shuffle-off-to-buffalo step. She smiled uncertainly wondered if she should applaud and with that Ed saluted her, "Valinda McCoy!" he called. Pres was leaning against the counter and trying to smother a laugh. Then Ed pulled her back into his arms and slow danced with her even though it was not a slow dance. A few minutes later he stopped once more, saying, "Now, wait!" and he tap danced another few seconds which left Arlene just standing there looking perplexed. Evidently "now wait" meant "stand here and watch me" was all she could deduce.
"Valinda McCoy!" he said to her again.
"Sir, that is NOT my name," she pointed out rather insistently.
"Ed," Pres was suddenly there and he put his arm on the older man's shoulder and said warmly, "Ed, you're looking great tonight, good to see you, my man, but the thing is you're dancing with my date."
"Huh?" Ed stopped.
"Arlene is with me," Pres assured him. He glanced at Arlene and she silently agreed to back him up.
"I'm sorry...er, Ed...I should have said something but I enjoyed the dance," her smile seemed to convince Ed that all good things must end.
"Oh, well, sorry, Ray. Didn't mean to move in on you," he cackled, "Nice to meet you, Arlene." Then he went over to demonstrate his dancing skills for a luckless and slow-moving regular named Beverly on the other side of the room.
A slow song came on and Pres held out his hand to Arlene. She stood there a moment looking at him with doubt, but then she walked into his arms. His heart actually gave a little lurch even though that was what he intended her to do.
"So, your name is Ray?" she asked after a moment.
"Ray Nolan," he nodded, "And you're Arlene....what was it?"
"Jankowski. That's all right; nobody ever gets it the first time."
"Well, Arlene, you're evidently more stubborn and willful than I thought. Since I can see you're not going to take my advice to leave I figure I'll just have to run interference for you until you ARE ready to go home."
He was exasperated and he couldn't figure out why he was getting himself involved in this situation. But he was in it now and he just couldn't walk off and leave her to a likely unhappy fate. So far it had been a peaceful Saturday night at Red's but that could change at any moment. And if she was all alone here it would definitely be bad news.
She huffed, insulted,
"Oh, excuse me for being so much trouble. And so stubborn. And so willful."
"I admit you are a cute little package, but you are also a major pain in the butt. I'm not taking it back; I bet I'm not the first person to ever say you are stubborn, that's for sure."
She said nothing, surprising him somewhat. In fact she had her eyes closed as they danced.
It was ticking Pres off that she felt so right in his arms. Her big baby blue eyes were framed by a tangle of dark eyelashes. Up close he could see a sprinkle of tiny freckles on her cute little nose and that she wore no lipstick on her full luscious lips making them even more kissable. Danger, Will Robinson, danger!
Next blog update: The Brothers Everhart - Pres Ch. 2 Her Bodyguard Pt. 2