Sofia was so grateful to see him and for the dinner at a fancy restaurant that he couldn't bring himself to tell her, even when he brought her home. It was a stupid move, he realized later, to follow her inside her place. He should have just kissed her at her door and left, even if he couldn't get the guts up to tell her goodbye. Of course when he came in it just led to other things. She was still a curvy beauty, with her peaches and cream complexion, huge brown eyes and long golden blonde hair. And she was still a gentle, loving woman who was always thinking of others first--especially Pres. He felt comfortable with Sofia, she was familiar and they'd been close for a couple of years when he thought about it. Almost from the first she'd offered companionship and awesome sex with no strings and had seemed to accept that he was not making any promises. She was never combative; always soft and accommodating.
On the other hand, Arlene was a vivacious, sweet girl, but somewhat assertive, sometimes difficult and thus far sexually untouched. From the beginning Pres had been "hands off" with her. She didn't seem to want to change the status on that. He assumed she was saving herself for marriage; a miracle in this day and time, but he had to respect her ideals if that was true. She'd never really said because he'd never pushed the matter. Since he was unable to commit to her while being undercover it helped him distance himself a bit. And, whether or not he wanted to admit it; that way he didn't have to feel so guilty about his association with Sofia. However; he was only human and on this night he stayed once more with Sofia. Okay, he decided, he'd tell her tomorrow before he left. But the next morning he again kept silent. He just couldn't find a way to tell her he would never see her again. Pres told himself he wasn't dragging his feet because he was unwilling to let her go, that could not be it; no, he just did want not hurt her.
Meanwhile, Sofia's neighbor, Dana Conadera, had become a friend to Sofia since he helped Pres give her former pimp the heave-ho back when she quit hooking. He'd been working to get his life straightened out, too; getting a real job at the local garage while going to school part-time.
"You shouldn't put yourself down so much," he told her one day as they chatted on her little porch, "You're a knockout and you're a lot of fun. And you're working hard to become a hair dresser. Besides, you're a friend to everyone, doll. You're just a good hearted person."
"Aw, thanks, Dana, you are so good for my ego. I just don't even realize when I'm doing it, I guess. It's automatic, or maybe a bad habit. Hey, when are you gonna grow some hair so I can give you a new hairstyle?" she dimpled, rubbing her hand over his ultra-short black hair.
"I'll start growing it out today, just for you," he grinned and then grew serious, trying to sound offhand, "I guess you're still seeing Ray Nolan, huh?"
"Yes...at least for now."
"What does that mean?"
"Oh, nothing--are you going to the Apple Festival in Bluewater Village next week? I'm going and I'd love company."
"Yeah, I'll go with you, but don't try to change the subject. Is he treating you bad? I mean, I like the guy, he's always been straight with me, but what do you mean when you say 'for now'?"
Sofia looked down and, using a long pink fingernail, she began tracing little circles on her jean-clad thigh,
"I think he's getting tired of me."
"Why do you think that?"
Still looking down she shrugged and continued tracing,
"It's just a feeling I have. In fact, I'm guessing there's someone else. And has been for several months," she looked up, "I mean, he never promised I'd be his exclusive interest or anything. I guess it's more like friends with benefits?"
He cocked one eyebrow deciding against making a comment on that, but he asked,
"Have you seen him with another woman or something?"
"No, I don't know how to explain but, well, I can feel a distance between us sometimes. And he doesn't call or come by as often. I really think he wants out."
"Maybe you should just ask him if that's what he wants," Dana said quietly.
She shook her head and then met his eyes for a couple seconds,
"I'm afraid he might say yes."
There was a long silence.
"Well, please remember I'm here if you need me, doll. And you don't have to promise me any benefits," Dana put one hand over hers and Sofia smiled again,
Lenny, Sofia's former pimp, had not forgotten Sofia and late one night he paid her a call. He made a last attempt to "convince" Sofia to go back to work for him. When she wouldn't he resorted, once again, to using physical means to force her to reconsider. He told her she'd better show up for "work" the next night or he'd be back.
Sofia's older sister, Thalia Giallelis, called Pres the next morning and didn't mince words.
"Ray, I've been trying to call you for a couple hours--Lenny went over to Sofia's late last night and beat the hell out of her. Where have you been?"
He'd been in a meeting with his superiors and then having breakfast at the diner, but that was neither here nor there. The important thing was Sofia.
"Is she okay?"
"Well, she'll live, but she really needs you. He said she has to report to work tonight--or else."
"I'm going out the door now."
"Well, make it snappy!" Thalia crabbed, but Pres had already ended the call.
"Thalia! Does Sofia know you called Ray?" blurted her housemate, Jerri Rasmus.
"No, she told me not to--but she needs him."
"Well, at least call her and warn her he's on his way there. She's going to be upset you did this; she said didn't want him to see her face all messed up and as for Ray he's gonna kill Lenny."
"Yeah, I hope he does but first he needs to be with Sofia."
Reluctantly she phoned her sister and let her know she had spoken with Pres.
"How could you, Thalia?" the usually soft-spoken Sofia cried, "You had no right!"
When she hung up with her sister Sofia ran to the mirror; she couldn't get rid of the bruises and cuts, but she'd try to lessen their severity before he got there. She hated Ray to see her looking this way, but, on top of that the worse her face looked the angrier he would get. She was afraid he would go after Lenny in the heat of the moment and something terrible would happen. Hurriedly she began to pile on the makeup even though it was nearly impossible to hide a black eye.
Pres came to her front door, took one look at her and hissed a couple of particularly vulgar swear words. Then he cupped her face and said,
"Baby, I'll be gone for a while."
"Ray! Come back!"
"I'll be back, I promise," he said over his shoulder as he went down the steps. Sofia saw Dana come from his own house and join Pres with a nod. She realized he must have called Dana on the way over. They drove off in Pres's car in the direction of Crystal Creek.
It was a few nerve-wracking hours later when Pres and Dana returned. It was dark and Sofia ran to the door and opened it. The two men spoke quietly to one another; but it was so low she couldn't make out what they said. Dana looked up at her quickly and then turned and walked toward his own front door while Pres came up her steps.
She looked at him questioningly, but he silently took her arm and guided her back inside.
Once they were in the living room he pulled her to him tenderly, kissing her forehead. He'd always been so gentle with her but never more than now.
"Everything's okay, baby. I don't want you to worry anymore."
"He won't bother you again."
Her brown eyes were wide and fearful.
"No, he's still alive," Pres said, "I wish he wasn't but don't worry. I thought Dana and I had convinced him last time, but I guess he needed a reminder. We gave it to him. Anyway, I...well, afterward I decided we needed to reinforce the message so I went to see Prince Everhart. He has many contacts and people who owe him favors and he'll keep Lenny from even thinking about harassing you. Ever. Believe me."
"Prince promised me, Sofia--he's good for it."
He took her into his arms, cuddling her, and then kissed her softly.
Pres knew he shouldn't stay but Sofia was so frightened and so fragile at the moment it tore him up. He couldn't leave her right now. And he couldn't end things between them either, at least not yet. He spent the night with her but when he kissed her goodbye in the morning, in spite of their passion, Sofia was heartsick and afraid that this time his goodbye was forever.
A few weeks later her bruises and cuts were healed, but Sofia had a secret. She wondered if she could tell Dana; he'd become her best friend; even closer than her sisters, Thalia and Anneliese. And he wouldn't yell at her like they would. Pres/Ray had even told her that Dana had promised to protect her whenever he happened to be gone. But she hesitated. She would wait a while.
She'd been trying to get and stay healthy and learn to pamper herself a bit. She took naps everyday and was religious about taking vitamins and eating right. No one was allowed to smoke around her now, she'd become insistent. And then there was the daily, short spells of nausea that had begun to plague her...
Next Update: The Brothers Everhart Ch. 7 Sitting On The Fence