After dinner, Prudence and Wally insisted that Mrs. Bates leave them to clear up. As she washed the dishes and Wally dried, they continued their discussion from dinner.
Wally began, “Look, Pru ... I know I’ve asked this before and ...”
She turned to him as she handed him a clean plate, “Wally, you know what my answer will be.”
“I know, but like I told you – you’re the only girl for me. You’ve been the only girl since we were six years old.”
“And I’m very fond of you, Wally. I always have been. I’m just not ready to settle down to a white picket fence, a couple of kids, and pot roast every Sunday.” She sighed and looked pensive. “Dad told me just before he died that the only regrets he had were for the things he didn’t do. He and Mother married so young, and then he worked so hard to provide for us. If it hadn’t been for us, he probably would have joined up in 1917, just to see Europe. He planned for them to travel when he retired and was saving toward that. He’d bought the house and started Mother’s annuity when they got married, and he got steady promotions and things were going well for us financially, but he got sick and the travel money went into a trust fund for my education. I don’t want to have the same regrets, Wally. I’ve still got some money left in the trust fund. The house is paid for and Mother’s annuity is plenty for her to live on and I will always be able to support myself as a librarian, so I’m going to use it in a way that I know he would have wanted me to.”
She stopped and stared out of the kitchen window, then continued in a different tone of voice, “Come with me, Wally!” She turned toward him, her eyes sparkling, “Come with me! Just for a few months! We could have an adventure together.”
“Now, Pru ... that’s not very practical. I’d have to give up my position at the motor company and I’m due a promotion before the end of this year. Besides, what would people say?”
“Oh, who cares what people would say?” She rolled her eyes. “Besides, we’d be in the company of other Detourists and Couriers. It’s not as if we would be going off into the wilds together, just the two of us. As for your job, you’re young, and you’re good at what you do. A few months wouldn’t be the end of your career ... and think how much fun we could have!” She smiled enticingly at him, inviting him to change her opinion of him.
He shook his head and changed the subject, trying to console her by offering her a bribe, as if she were a child who had been denied a treat. “Friday night, how about we go to that new speakeasy in Short Vincent that I’ve heard good things about?”
She smiled regretfully and looked back down at the sink. “All right. It’s been ages since we’ve been dancing.” How many chances was she going to give him to show that he was – that he could be – the kind of man she wanted to spend the rest of her life with? Or even that he understood her and what she wanted?
They talked about the speakeasy as they finished the dishes, then Prudence walked him to the door. Wally slipped on his coat and took his hat in his hand. “Look, Pru,” he said, in a low voice, “I know you want to do this and I know you’ve made up your mind, but, if you won’t think about us, think about your mother. You’re all she has. Leaving her all alone to go gallivanting after Indians ...”
Prudence glared at him. “I won’t be “gallivanting after Indians,” as you put it,” she hissed. “I don’t even know any Indians. I’ll be expanding my horizons. And when have I not thought of Mother? I wanted to go to one of the Seven Sisters, but instead, I went to Western Reserve, because it was close to home. I earned a master’s in library science because Western Reserve offered one and I could get a job here in Cleveland and I got one. I’m twenty-five years old, Wally, and I’ve never been farther from Cleveland than Chicago, and then only for a couple of nights. I wanted to be an anthropologist and study primitive tribes, like Margaret Mead, not just read about them. It’s too late for me to do that, but I could do this.”
She paused for breath. She refrained from adding that she had maintained a close friendship with Wally in part because her mother doted on him and he cared about her mother almost as much as she did.
“Ah,” Wally nodded. “So that’s what’s got you all het up. That woman’s book that came out last year.”
She gritted her teeth. “It certainly brought it all home to me how little I’ve done that I really wanted to do. And now I have this opportunity – possibly my last opportunity – and all you can say is “think about your mother.” When do I get to think about myself?”
He looked down at the hat he held in his hand. “I never realized you resented your mother so much, Pru.”
“I don’t “resent” my mother!” Prudence hissed through clenched teeth. “I love my mother and I’m grateful for everything she’s done for me. I just don’t see why that has to mean that I can’t have a life of my own!”
“Now, Pru,” Wally put out a hand to her arm. “We only want what’s best for you, you know that.”
“And this IS what’s best for me!”
“Are you sure?”
“The only way to know that is to do it, Wally. At least I have to try. And it’s not as if this is a permanent change. It’s only for a year or two.”
“Even if it means leaving your mother all alone for that year or two?”
“Mother is not “all alone.” She has her ladies’ club and her church group and the neighbors.” She paused in exasperation. “And she has you. You know you’re like a son to her.”
He looked at the ceiling. “Like a son to her, Prudence, not a son.” He shook his head in exasperation. “I could be a son to her, if you’d just say the word. Agree to marry me and you can go off on your adventure, leaving your fiancé to look after your mother. That’s the proper way to do it. And I won’t even ask you to set the date until after you get back.”
She moved closer and put her arms around his neck. “I might consider it,” she said and pulled him closer, pressing up against him, lifting her face toward his.
He brushed a chaste kiss on her lips, then pulled his head back and pushed her gently away. “Now, Pru,” he chided, “We both know you’re not that kind of girl. So, what’s it to be?”
“No, Wally, it’s no. Not even for Mother.” And never for someone who couldn’t see her as a woman, not a girl and a rather staid and colorless girl, at that.
He shrugged. “You’ll change you mind one of these days, Pru. Well, I guess you know that I’ll look after her, regardless, and I’ll still be here waiting when you get back.” He settled his hat on his head and opened the door. “Night, pumpkin. Don’t take any wooden nickels.” He grinned as he left.
She stared through the glass at his back as he walked down the sidewalk. “Not that kind of girl? You don’t know me at all ...” she muttered to herself. “That was your last chance, Wally Carver. Now I’m going to go out and find someone who is ‘that kind of boy.’ Or better, that kind of man.” And if she didn’t, well, Wally would still be there waiting for her when she got back. She hoped she’d be able to do better, but if not, she knew that she could do a lot worse.