Perry had come over for supper and after hearing Pres worry out loud for a while he asked him,
"So, all things considered, what are you going to do about Arlene now that you've finally realized it's Sofia you love?"
"I didn't say that I love Sofia. But about Arlene I don't know. She expects me to propose. She's a wonderful person. Naive for her age, it's true, but then she's been very sheltered her whole life. At least until she met me. Now I can finally be the man she can have a future with; Pres Everhart instead of Ray Nolan.
It's just that, Sofia is so vulnerable, so sweet and I've kind of been looking out for her for three years. It's hard to walk away. Oh, damn, the truth is, I'm used to seeing her and I miss her a lot. I'm going to see Arlene tomorrow around 5 pm and then I've decided I'm going by Sofia's place and check on her, whether she wants to see me or not. I'm thinking I can ask Dana to kind of take her under his wing. He helped me out before with Lenny the creep and he lives in the trailer right next to hers."
"You sure that's a good idea?" Perry looked skeptical, "To sic a healthy, combustible adult male on the beauteous and kindhearted Sofia and expect nothing to happen? Kind of like the Red Riding Hood story if you ask me."
Pres sighed, not meeting Perry's eyes,
"Once I know Sofia will be taken care of I'm going to ask Arlene to marry me. I guess I owe her that much; I feel bad about lying to her for so long."
"Let me get this--you owe Arlene a proposal of marriage? I assume you then mean to follow through and marry her and stay by her side the rest of her life? All because she expects it and it's supposedly your duty now? I can't believe I'm hearing this. What a bunch of bull. Little brother, you can't marry a woman because you feel responsible for her unless you also love her."
Pres's eyes flashed fire at his brother,
"I do love Arlene!"
Then his anger fled,
"At least I thought I did. I've been seeing her for months now, I was convinced we should be together. That's one of the reasons I gave up undercover work; to be suitable as husband material for a girl like her. Perry, I have to do the right thing, whether you want me to or not."
"The right thing for...who?" Perry asked, "I suggest you go over to Sofia's place before you go see Arlene. End the relationship with Sofia--if you can. Don't go see Arlene until you've talked to Sofia one last time. If you can walk away from the woman you really love you're stronger than me, kid."
"I never said I love her."
"Give me a break, will ya? Sofia has always been a favorite subject of yours, but you really haven't shut up about her now in several weeks, and it's been worse the last couple days. Just this side of obsession. But you go ahead; you lie to yourself if you must. But when you're married to the wrong woman some day, don't come crying and belly-aching to me."
When Perry left Pres heeded his advice and headed over to Sofia's trailer. To his chagrin it was obvious that she didn't live there anymore; no curtains at the windows and when he peeked in through one of those windows the place was completely bare. Suddenly he felt empty; he'd never not known where she was since he met her. And he was more worried than ever about her circumstances. He looked to his left at Dana Conadera's trailer thinking he might get answers there, but it was empty too. So much for asking him to take care of Sofia.
As he drove to Lalique's house to see Arlene his mind began to consider where Sofia could have gone--she didn't have much money.
When he arrived at her house in Bluewater Lalique had taken her two oldest kids to the park and only the napping toddlers were at home with Arlene. When she greeted him at the door she was stunned and somewhat perturbed,
"My gosh, you cut all your hair off! And it's curly!"
He brushed a hand over his short locks and gave her a rueful smile,
"Yeah, it was a day or two before I got used to it again. I'd look in a mirror and do a double-take but now it feels right. It was always curly, I just blew it out straight when it was long."
They sat down in the large foyer.
Arlene had been frowning but then seemed to relax again as she came to some inner conclusion and shrugged,
"Oh, well. It will take a while, but you can grow it out eventually."
"Why would I want to do that?"
"You know! So you'll look like yourself again, silly."
"I can't have long hair as a detective. Anyway, I've had short hair all my life--I did athletics a lot in school and it was easier--and the long hair was only for my work. This IS me, angel."
"I've been thinking about that...is there any reason you can't go back to being undercover?" she asked slyly and then pointed out, "I wouldn't mind living with you downtown. And I could help with your work!"
He was incredulous.
"Arlene, I thought you understood; I don't want to go back to it. I can't live the rest of my life like that. Do you think I actually liked hanging around Crystal Creek and pretending to be a loser all the time?"
"I just thought you were kind of a rebel--you seemed like such a 'bad boy'. I really liked it. Don't you miss living life on the edge?"
Except for the night they'd met and that first week when she'd hounded him, Arlene never irritated him. But he was growing annoyed now. She was acting almost obtuse in his opinion and he felt like he was talking to a stranger. The way she looked at him he guessed she felt the same.
"No, I don't miss it. And what's more I'm not going back to it."
Suddenly any thought he'd had of proposing to her evaporated. He had no idea what to do. He didn't want to hurt Arlene. One of the reasons he left undercover work was so he could marry her. But another reason was because he'd begun to feel like Pres Everhart was disappearing for good and Ray Nolan was taking over. Being a delinquent had begun to feel like the norm.
"I would think you'd want to go back to your old job just because I asked you to. Doesn't what I want matter at all?"
It occurred to Pres that Arlene was a little more selfish and shallow than he'd thought. He realized she didn't want him the way he really was--she wanted the 'bad boy'. He was shocked to feel relief flooding through him. He never would have made her happy and he said,
"Evidently what you want matters as much to me as what I want matters to you; not at all. I'm never going to be Ray Nolan, the one you really care for. He doesn't exist anymore, Arlene."
She blinked a couple times and then told him doubtfully,
"I suppose I can try to get used to you like this. I just don't know."
Pres was amazed to feel the sarcasm well up in him as he thought, " Well, hell, honey, don't get your knickers in a twist or anything." She made it sound like he was a defect to be endured. He shook his head and said gently,
"You know, Arlene, suddenly I don't think we're gonna make it. I thought you wanted me, but you really want someone else and I have no intention of pretending to be Ray Nolan again."
She didn't really argue about his statement that she wanted Ray and not him. After a couple of seconds she ventured,
"So, it's goodbye?"
"I think it's best. Don't you?" he answered.
"I guess so; if you're going to get all stuffy and traditional on me and don't care a thing about what I want," she replied pulling a sulky expression, "I'm certainly glad to find out in time that you're so selfish."
He didn't even know what to say to that. He was selfish? He did have to admit that they had both been blind and neither of them had really known the other at all. If she'd been paying attention he had been revealing bits of the real Pres all along. And if he'd been alert he would have seen that she was a pretty shallow and spoiled girl all along. He remembered that after the first week they'd met, when they'd been clashing it was pretty much because she'd been trying to control him. To manage him. Once he'd given in and they'd begun dating he pretty much did everything her way so there was no longer any reason to snipe and complain to him about anything. Evidently their relationship had been quite surface and he, for one, had not recognized that. Now she had a peevish, petulant quality to her voice and manner that struck him as unattractive and quite irritating. He used to talk about her "brat factor" to Perry when he first met her, and it had given him a laugh actually. He'd seen it occasionally peep out, but now it seemed to have taken her over.
Nothing was turning out as he had expected. Nothing.
"I'm sorry you've been disappointed, angel. And I hope you find the happiness you're looking for. Can we say goodbye under good terms?"
She put on her cheerleader face as she walked him out the front door,
"Of course. Thanks for all the fun we had. I'm sure we'll see each other again."
He hugged her--a chunk of his life was over and gone--but he considered that he had just made a fortunate discovery and lived to escape.
Arlene really didn't look or act all that upset so he let a little of the guilt roll off his shoulders. But it was hard to tell--did she not feel anything or was she covering up her true feelings? When he looked back once as he was getting in his car he discovered she had indeed been hiding her feelings; now her expression showed her to be both heartily disgruntled and even derisive. It was plain she didn't like the real Pres Everhart one bit and she was infuriated that she wasn't going to get her way; that she had not convinced him to be Ray Nolan again to make her happy. But that was all.
Now there was still the question of Sofia's whereabouts. If he was a good detective at all, he ought to be able to find her--right?
Next blog update: The Brothers Everhart - Pres Ch. 11 Some of Pres's Blues