The Promise - A Short Story
Nothing jogs a memory like a scent, and as soon as Mark Steele stepped into the hotel corridor from his room, he was transported back six years. She was here. He knew it, certain as the sunrise, as her faint, but unmistakable scent wafted through the air.
It was the same scent that caught his attention six years ago, in the dining room of another hotel down in Saint Louis. She had long auburn hair, and smoky green eyes which were boldly looking him over. He stopped so fast that his waiter escort walked off without him. She smiled and indicated the chair beside her with a small wave of her hand. He bowed slightly and accepted, taking her small hand in his own and brushing it with his lips. She smiled again.
The waiter returned with raised eyebrows, but quickly composed himself after a warning look from Mark. He ordered wine, and introduced himself. She smiled and replied. “I’m Audrey.” She offered no last name.
Her scent was a combination of a light perfume and her own womanly fragrance. It was delightfully airy, and overwhelmingly seductive. His mother had long ago warned him that a perfume must compliment the wearer, and that no two women were alike. His gift to a female friend of a vial of the same perfume his mother wore was a disaster. She despised the odor it produced, and he admitted to himself that it did indeed reek on her. Lesson learned.
He ordered for both, but the food was almost forgotten as they talked. Despite the conversations, he learned little about her, but her secrecy made her all the more alluring. They sipped more wine, and talked until Mark noticed the time and the impatient waiter. He signaled for the check, signed it, and they left the dining room.
For the first time in years, Mark Steele was unsure of himself as he escorted Audrey down the hallway. He was deciding what to say when they heard the strains of music coming from the hotel’s ballroom. Audrey looked up at him and smiled gaily.
“Oh please, can we go in? I haven’t danced in ages and I love it!”
The party was for a couple Mark knew, so he found a table and ordered another glass of wine. The next dance was a waltz, so he stood and offered his hand to Audrey. He was a fine dancer, and he quickly realized that Audrey was his equal or more. They swooped gracefully around the floor, drawing the admiring glances of the rest of the party.
They stayed on the floor, and danced every dance for the next hour. Finally and exhausted, they sought their table, sitting out the next two dances. Then a young man Mark knew came to their table and offered his hand to Audrey, who glanced at Mark with a question in her eyes. For the first time in his adult life, Mark Steele felt a small pang of jealousy, but he nodded his approval. Audrey studied him for a moment and made up her mind.
“Thank you sir, for your generous offer, but my time is short, and I wish to spend it with my handsome escort. I hope you understand.” She smiled up at the young man, who bowed slightly and smiled back. He left, and she turned her green eyes back to Mark. “If that is acceptable?”
He nodded. “Of course.”
They danced several more dances before returning to their table, where Audrey once again turned her smoky eyes to him. “I believe my urge to dance has been satisfied, my dear. Perhaps we should go.”
They were back in the hallway when he turned to her, smiling. “I will now resist my manly urges, and escort you to your room like a gentleman.”
She hesitated, and her hand went to his sleeve. “I am not staying at this hotel, Mark. I came here because I was told the food was excellent.” She smiled up at him. “But I have to admit that I scarcely touched my dinner and have no idea how it tasted.” She bit her lower lip, and made a decision. “I’ll know you’ll think me bold and perhaps a loose woman, but I assure you I am not. I want to spend the night with you, Mark Steele. Will you please take me to your room?”
He closed the door and she came to his embrace, kissing him searchingly, her slim body pressing against him, and her scent filling his nostrils. She pulled away, gasping for breath, her face flushed. “I am not at all a harlot, Mark. In fact, I am a virgin, so please be very kind and gentle.”
She was telling the truth. They made love, and it was over quickly. He held her in his arms until their breathing subsided, and when she kissed him again, he quickly responded. The second time was far less urgent, and she relaxed in his embrace, gasping with pleasure. They slept and then made love, again and again. At last, Mark fell into an exhausted, deep slumber, with a sleeping Audrey nestled in his arms, the atmosphere full of her lovely scent.
When he awoke, the sun was shining through the lace on the windows, and Audrey was gone. At first, he thought she had gone to the bath at the end of the hall, but then he saw the note on the dresser, lying beside a folded handkerchief.
I’m afraid that I have been less than honest, not in what I did say, but in what I failed to say. You see, I have long ago promised myself to another, and I must now journey to keep that promise. But when I saw you in the dining room, I realized at once that you were the handsome knight of my dreams, and I was helpless to resist my own temptations. So, I simply had to know. I had to experience the joy of being with you, even if it was just for the one night. You were all I ever thought love could be and more. I have no regrets.
I will never forget you, and I will love you forever.
Please don’t try to find me. It would be better that way.
I am, forever, your Audrey”
He respected her wishes, and despite his longings, he did not initiate a search. The handkerchief was rich with her scent, and he kept it. A thousand times in the ensuing years, he thought he caught a glimpse of her on a street in some city, but it was always another. He also caught the scent of her perfume, but it was not the same on another woman.
Two years ago, he met and married Martha. She too was a beauty, and he loved her dearly, but she was not an exciting woman like Audrey, and she never would be. They had a son, and now, Martha was once again carrying his child. He was a loyal husband, and on his business trips, he never sought the company of another.
But Audrey was here. He recognized her scent, although her perfume was very faint.
He saw no one, so he went down the corridor and then down the stairs where her scent disappeared. He attended his business meeting, and had dinner, always looking for Audrey, but she was nowhere to be found.
The next day, he walked the streets, thinking perhaps he might glimpse her, but he saw no one. He was torn between his love and loyalty to Martha and his memories of Audrey. At last, he returned to his hotel, vowing to remove Audrey from his mind and heart. He opened the secret compartment in his valise, and took out a small handkerchief, now turning yellow with age. He sniffed it for the scent that was no longer there, and dropped it into the wastebasket. Feeling somewhat relieved at his decision, he blew out the oil lamp, and went to bed.
The following morning, he was coming out of the bath down the hall, freshly shaved and dressed when he saw Audrey. She stood not five feet away, and he caught her scent instantly. She was with two other women, and her eyes went wide with recognition. A brief, joyous smile crossed her face before she caught herself and glanced at the two women with her. Her eyes went back to Mark, and this time there was an unmistakable plea on her face. All three women were identically dressed in solemn black and pure white, so Mark smiled, bending at the waist in a bow.
“Good morning, sisters.”
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