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Damaged Goods

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Philip Lombard was on the terrace of a St. Moritz Spa, smoking what seemed to be his tenth cigarette of the morning.  He didn’t even realize he was doing it; it had become such an automatic motion.  He wasn’t even enjoying the intake of nicotine; it was just something to pass the time.  Since his arrival here, he had kept to himself, not wanting to see or interact with anyone. Today was the first time he ventured into an open area and he was quickly regretting it. Apart from the staff being overly attentive, the other residents, female mostly, seem to be keenly aware of him to the point of obsessive. The constant looks and whispers only reminded him of why he was there in the first place and it wasn’t for the skiing.  Since the death of his partner in crime and lover over a year ago, Philip had been on a bender of epic proportions that, to the surprise of his close friend and physician, didn’t kill him.   It did, however, give him an ulcer and put him in a constant state of depression.  Neither one was a condition he was used to. 

In his life, Philip had killed hundreds of people without regret or remorse.  Death was not new to him. This time however it was personal.  Vera was an unexpected obsession that got into his blood like a fever.  They were both good and bad for each other as they fed off the worst part of their personalities yet learned how to love unconditionally. Together they had traveled the world, taking what they could from innocent people who crossed their path and each other.  They were sure that if they were to meet their end it would be in some bloody confrontation with a jealous husband or criminal.  Instead, Vera’s demise came in the form of a simple trip and fall.  Unexpected and unsolicited.  She was gone immediately as Philip cradled her lifeless body.  It was the sight of her in his arms that brought it all home for him.  And finally, something inside him broke.  He was prepared to die himself and seemed to be on that course of self-destruction when he was sent to Switzerland. 

Now as the afternoon sun cross his face, he wondered why he let that foolish doctor talk him into this.  He still didn’t care what happened to him especially surrounded by vacuous and insipid women who were bad at hiding their intentions to try and seduce him.  Little did they know that he had no feelings or need for that kind of encounter.  He was done with women for now.  He motioned for the waiter, suddenly in need of a drink.   He ordered a whiskey, neat and then went to light another cigarette.  He didn’t hear or see the woman who sat down next to him.

“Excuse me, may I have a light?”

Her voice was soft and tentative which caught Philip’s attention.   Something in the tone reminded him Vera in those early days when they first met.

“Sure,” he said before turning to see who was asking.  

There at the next table was a gorgeous redhead, with alabaster skin and clear blue eyes that were tinged with sadness.  She held a cigarette between perfectly manicured fingers, tinted the same red as her lips. Momentarily taken aback by her unique beauty, Philip flipped open a silver Zippo lighter and leaned towards her.   The woman met him half way, putting the cigarette to her lips and inhaled as the flame touched the tip. Taking a deep puff, she blew the smoke up and away from them, her lips pursed and, from Philip’s standpoint, utterly kissable. 

“Thank you.  I’m sorry for being so rude.  My mother taught me better manners than that.  I’m Mary Durrant.”

“No need to apologize.  I am just as socially inept.  The name is Philip. Philip Lombard.”

“Philip? That’s my husband’s name,” she said slowly, as she brought the cigarette to her lips.

He watched her now, as she sat back in the padded chair with her hands dangling off the arms.  He noticed how that crimson that stained the filtered tip was a sharp contrast to her pale skin.

“Husband?  You’re married?”

Why did that bother him?  He let that off-handed thought go while he waited for her response. Without realizing it, he looked around for her spouse.

“Was.  He’s dead.  It’s a long story,” she said taking another drag.

“Seems we might have something in common, Mrs. Durrant,” he said.

“Mary. Please.  And what might that be Mr. Lombard?”

“Philip.  We’re both here alone after losing someone we loved,” he replied.

“Who said anything about love?”

That was not the answer he expected but it did pique his interest. Perhaps this quiet, demure, and sophisticated woman wasn’t what she projected after all.  What was that phrase?  ‘Still waters run deep’.  Perhaps Mary Durrant was one of those deep wells that men find themselves in before realizing they’ve even fallen.   Vera was like that and lord knows he wasn’t looking for another relationship to jump into.  Yet this lanky woman, with perfectly coiffed hair and bright, sad eyes intrigued him. 

“I see.  So perhaps we shouldn’t discuss love.  Tell me, Mary, did you come to St. Moritz for the waters?” Philip asked.

Mary appreciated his attempt at humor and rewarded him with a broad smile. The waiter returned with his drink so Philip waited until it was placed in front of him before speaking again.

“Would you like something?” he said to her.

“Thank you I would.  What are you drinking?” she asked.

“Whiskey.”

“Fine.”  Mary turned to the waiter and said, “I’ll have the same.” she said.

Philip’s was fascinated by the cool and collected demeanor of this woman, yet he believed that she was hiding something.  As she brought the cigarette up to her mouth, he wondered how those fingernails would feel on his back, gripping him while he took her.  A sudden wave of desire rushed over him, seemingly out of nowhere, making him squirm in his seat.  He took a long sip of his drink while he diverted his attention to the scenery.

“So, Philip, to answer your question, no, I’m not here for the waters.  I’m here because my family thought I needed time away to finally come out of mourning.”

Her voice was calm and definitely not that of a weeping widow.  She relaxed and crossed her endlessly long legs, another trait that caught Philip’s attention.  He was silently berating himself for having these feelings.  On the other hand, Vera was gone almost a year and in that time he hadn’t sought for or found solace in anyone else.  Once or twice, during a drunken night, he’d let himself get a physical release in the bed of some floozy.  He pushed thoughts of Vera out of his head during these times and regretted them at first morning light.   Since his time at the spa, he had no urge to seek out female companionship until now.  This young widow with her sad blue eyes and beautiful face was reaching him in ways he wasn’t used to.  He needed to know more about her and how she became a widow.

“I see. So you were sent here to forget as well,” he said, taking a puff of his own cigarette.

“You could say so.  How long have you been here Philip?”

“About a month,” he answered. 

“I see. And you said you lost someone you loved.  Who was that? Your wife?”

******

Mary kept her eyes on the man at the next table, looking for some sign as to what type of person he was.  She was on her guard since her marriage since that connection was not what she expected nor did she wish to be taken in again by a handsome face.  And there was no denying that Philip Lombard was indeed handsome. Molten brown eyes that had hints of green flecks when the light hit; brown hair that was slightly unruly and gave him a little boy look; and chiseled features that were as close to perfect as she had ever seen. She thought her Philip was good looking, but this version of Philip was much more.  His beauty, for that, is what it was, seemed to hide some darkness that she found attractive.  While she was only a widow for just a year, she had been celibate for longer than that as the last year of her marriage was far from loving.  Of course, the main reason was her husband’s accident. But even before that she and Philip had stopped sharing a bed. They never discussed it; it happened as though it was just a fact of life.  Mary couldn’t remember the last time she had felt the touch of a man and now, glancing at this specimen next to her, the long-dormant desire to share a bed with someone was returning.

She was so distracted by her thoughts and her body’s reaction that she didn’t hear his response or see the waiter returned with her drink.

“Mary?” he called gently.

Looking down she saw the glass placed in front of her and a hand on her wrist.  Her gaze traveled up to meet his eyes, now darker than before.  Her mind was telling she should be frightened of him but her heart was saying something else. She hesitated before answering, taking a sip of her drink first.

“Yes, I’m fine.  Just thinking,” she said.

Philip could tell there was something more to this woman than just a widow on holiday to cure her. If there was one thing he could decipher in human nature it was when someone lied.  Vera hated that about him because she could never keep anything a secret from him.  Especially if it concerned him.

“About your husband?”

She bristled at that comment because her husband was the last thing on her mind.  On top of that, he was turning the conversation back to her when she was trying to find out more about him.

“Perhaps. But you didn’t answer my question.  Who did you lose? Was it your wife?”

“No. Vera wasn’t my wife.  I don’t particularly believe in marriage.  She was someone I cared deeply about. We shared a life that others couldn’t understand.”

His explanation, while vague, made total sense to Mary.

“Sounds like my relationship with Philip,” she said, now taking a gulp of her drink and putting out her cigarette. 

She opened up the gold case and took out another. Philip instinctively pulled out his lighter again and clasping her hands, lit it for her.  There was an instantaneous connection between the two of them.  Mary looked up at Philip’s face, now so close to hers she could smell the mix of cologne and tobacco.  A slight grin crossed his lips.

“Thank you,” she said as she let go of his hands.

“You’re welcome.”

They sat quietly, assessing the situation and each other.  Mary made a pretense of brushing her skirt for lint while Philip stared out at the mountains in the distance.  It wasn’t until another round of drinks appeared that they spoke. He picked up the fresh drink and watched her over the rim of the glass.

“How long were you married, Mary?” he asked.

“A few years,” she said cryptically.

“Well, I hope your husband appreciated you while he was alive.  You’re breathtaking,” Philip said, his eyes staring straight at her.

Mary’s eyes narrowed, her inner voice telling her to put her guard up around this man.

“You can save any sweet talk for one of these other women who might be interested.  I fell for that once.  I won’t fall for it again,” she said her tone turning hard.

Philip didn’t expect her to flip so easily but admired her forthrightness.

“I wasn’t trying to sweet talk anyone Mary,” he said.

Philip tried to sound apologetic but seeing that she wasn’t receptive to this line of discussion, changed the topic.

“By the way, you never mentioned how your husband died.”

“No, I didn’t,” she said.

She swirled the amber liquor in her glass before bringing it up to her lips again.  Philip watched her intently, again feeling a stirring he didn’t want.  Her aloofness was alluring. 

 “And how did you're wife, I mean Vera die?”

Philip stared at her, taking one last drag of his cigarette before dropping it in the ashtray and stamping it out.

“I’d rather not discuss that either, “he said.

“Well then it seems we are at a standstill,” Mary said. 

She swallowed the last of her drink and put out her cigarette before standing up.  Gathering her purse and wrap, she pushed her chair in and started to walk away.

“It’s been nice meeting you, Mr. Lombard.  I’m sure we will run into each other again while we’re here,” she said and quickly walked across the patio to the main building. 

Philip found he didn’t want her to go. He hadn’t realized how much he missing having someone to talk to until he met Mary Durrant.  Leaving his drink but grabbing his own cigarettes, he maneuvered through the tables and bounded up the short flight of stairs into the resort.  He looked around until he spotted her at the elevators, her red hair a stark contrast to the sea of blondes and brunettes milling around.  He saw that the car was making its way down to her so he wasted no time crossing the room to reach her.

He came up beside her with less aplomb than he usually had and startled her.  She smirked at him, the sight of one wayward curl falling over his brow boyishly attractive as he tried to catch his breath.

“Would you care to have dinner with me?” he said.

She let her eyes travel the length of him, seeming to size him up. Yes, there was no denying that Philip Lombard was a perfect specimen of a man.  Mary rationalized that there was no harm in sharing a meal with him.  Besides it was better than eating alone and possibly opening herself up to long-term patrons who were all about gossiping and finding out about her family.

“That would be lovely,” she said,

Philip smiled at her, something he did so infrequently, and took her hand.

“Well then, shall we say eight o’clock in the main dining room?” he asked.

“I’ll be there,” Mary replied.

“Good.  I look forward to it.  I’m glad to have met you, Mary Durrant.”

“We’ll see about that Philip Lombard,” she said.

The elevator appeared and the doors opened.  Stepping inside, Mary turned around and gave Philip one last smile as the attendant pulled the gates closed.  He waited until he saw the lift rise before going to the desk to make arrangements for dinner.  For the first time in a year, Philip was looking forward to something other than the next drink.  He hoped this night didn’t disappoint.

Chapter Text

“Although if you asked him, I was nothing more than a whipped dog.  It made me an easy target for his mistreatment.”

“Why do you call yourself a whipped dog, Mary?”

They were sitting opposite each other in the dining room, sipping cognac, neither in any rush to end their evening. When Mary appeared for dinner, Philip was gobsmacked by her beauty.  The daylight and her simple outfit of earlier didn’t do her justice. Tonight she wore a cool white dress trimmed in black that accentuated not only her perfect skin and glorious red hair but also a figure that he somehow overlooked before.  On top of that, her eyes shone like sapphires, while her lips, now a dusty shade of pink, were even more kissable than before. 

Dinner was a low key affair with non-descript idle banter about the weather and places they’ve lived so when the conversation turned to her life, Mary was caught off guard.  Yet she automatically blurted out the statement about a whipped dog which gave Philip unsolicited insight to her marriage.  She wasn’t expecting that topic; she assumed he’d ask how her husband died.  Everyone else did. Instead, Philip Lombard was interested in her alone; something else she was not used to. Taking another puff of her cigarette she fingered the crystal glass then tried to answer as leisurely as possible.

I didn’t consider myself that. I never really thought of myself as anything in particular.  You’d really have to ask my husband why he thought of me that way, but of course, he’s dead.  Perhaps the fact that I was adopted and never really felt loved gave my husband the notion that he could add to my insecurities by reinforcing that fact.”

Mary became emotional remembering how her mother would never let her get close and how Philip, feeding off of that dysfunctional relationship, used her for status and money despite the fact that she loved him. Or she thought she did.  As time passed Mary realized she married Philip not for love but for her mother’s approval.  In her mind, if Mary made a good match, she would be more acceptable to her mother and thereby, loved.  Instead what she got was a loveless marriage where she ended up being a caretaker to a man who didn’t make any pretense about loving her.  Before his accident, Philip performed the obligatory duties of a husband leaving Mary questioning her abilities as a wife and woman.  Then after his accident, he was more than content to live in a marriage of ‘name only’ while having her administer money and morphine.  Mary nonetheless still tried to make the marriage work.

“I am finding it hard to believe that anyone would consider you a whipped dog Mary.  Or, for that matter, not be totally taken by you,” Philip said.

“And thank you for saying that.  The flattery is lovely, but you should know I’m not looking for any kind of male attachment just yet,

“Have no fear, Mary.  I’m not looking for any kind of attachment either.  I know a year should be long enough to get over someone but I’m finding it difficult. And that is saying a lot for someone like me.”

“What do you mean?  Someone like you?”

He caught himself before revealing too much even though he just opened up the door to his life that he wasn’t ready to share with anyone.

“Never mind.  I just meant that I’m still bandaging the wounds of losing Vera.”

“I see,” Mary said, not quite believing him now.

She went back to her drink, her eyes now perusing the room, which found that there was just one other couple still seated aside from her and Philip.  Her gaze traveled back to her companion who seemed to be studying her.  Mary gave him sly smile and looked at him from beneath her lashes, coyly playing the upper hand. Feeling emboldened, she called him out on what he said earlier.

“I think you’re lying, Philip Lombard,” Mary said.

He was in mid-sip when he hastily gulped his drink and put down the glass.  What was this enticing redhead about now?

“I beg your pardon?  What exactly do you think I’m lying about?” Philip asked.

Lighting another cigarette, he leaned back in his chair, waiting for her to explain.

“Oh, I believe you are still trying to mend from the loss of Vera.  However, I think there is something else about your past you are trying to forget. Or at the least, trying to keep from me,” Mary said in a cool tone.

“Is that so? And what, pray tell, do you suppose it to be?”

He took a drag of his cigarette, blowing the smoke out slowly then motioned to the waiter to refill his glass.

“I can’t quite tell but I don’t think you were just the devoted lover who is now alone.  I think you have a darker side that might have contributed to Vera’s death.  And that maybe you’re feeling guilty about it.”

Now Mary took a sip of her drink as the waiter came with a decanter which Philip told him to leave on the table.  The waiter glanced from Philip to Mary, then departed.  She smiled at her companion as she waited for him to refill her glass.  Once there was a fair amount in the snifter, she held it in both her hands, caressing it as if it were the most precious of items.  Taking a sip she looked across at Philip who had been staring at her the whole time she was performing this ritual.

“So you think I’m here out of guilt?”

“Perhaps,” she replied.

“And is this coming from a person who might also be carrying some guilt?” he stated.

Mary put her glass down and sat back, folding her arms across her chest. Philip kept his eye on her and didn’t back down from expecting an answer.

“What do you presume I am guilty about?” she asked.

“I don’t know Mary.  You haven’t told me how your husband died.  Could you have had something to do with that?”

Philip’s tone was smug and as soon as the words were out of his mouth, he regretted them.  Mary’s eyes widened at the comment then dropped down to look at her lap.

“My apologies.  I didn’t mean anything by that.  Sometimes my mouth works of its own accord.  I wasn’t insinuating that you…”

He was cut off by Mary before he could continue.

“But you were insinuating just that,” she whispered.  “What? Do you think I killed my husband?”

Her voice was clipped as she tried not to raise it even though they were now the only ones in the room except for the wait staff.

“No! Of course not.  I can’t imagine that you are capable of that,” Philip said trying to apologize.

With a sip of her drink, Mary held out another cigarette for Philip to light. She watched the tip catch the flame then raised her eyes to catch his gaze.

“Really?  Perhaps your assumptions aren’t too far from the truth Mr. Lombard for it seems even those closest to me thought that I…”

She didn’t finish that statement but Philip could imagine what she was going to say.

“You’re not serious?  Why would they think such a thing?” he asked.

“Why did you?”

Sipping slowly Mary kept her composure. She didn’t want Philip to see he’d touched a nerve.  She didn’t want to admit to someone she just met that her family thought her capable of such a thing. And yet she got the feeling that the man opposite her was no stranger to such things nor would he judge. 

“Mary, I was only teasing.  Please forgive me. I have no wish to ruin an evening, which up until my attempt at humor, has been most pleasant and something I’ve sorely missed,” he said.

Philip seemed genuine in his apology so Mary did not want to let this issue mar the rest of the night.  For all their dancing around the truth, there was some kind of instantaneous connection between her and the suave Philip Lombard.  It was because of this link that Mary felt the that she might be able to clear the air and tell this man just what happened with regards to her husband.

“Fine.   I accept your apology,” Mary said.

“Thank you.”

They continued drinking and smoking in silence until the maitre ‘d appeared at the table with a sheepish look on his face.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Lombard but we must close the dining room,” the man said softly.

The couple exchanged glances before both of them grinned.  Mary lowered her eyes as she finished her drink then began to gather her belongings to stow away in her purse.

“I’m sorry, Henri.  Madame Durrant and I must have lost track of time.  Thank you for your hospitality,” Philip said as he rose, then walked around the table to hold Mary’s chair.

“Of course, it is no problem,” the waiter said.  “I hope you and…Madame Durrant enjoy the rest of your evening.”

Philip held Mary’s wrap for her as she draped it over her shoulders then offered his arm to lead her out of the room.

“I’m sure we will.  Thank you,” Philip said as they walked past the maitre’d. 

He tightened his grip on Mary and felt her stiffen. She turned to look at him and Philip saw a flicker of what could only be described as trepidation.  Feeling he’d overstepped some unspoken boundary, he released her and let her walk in front of him, with just his hand lightly grazing the small of her back.  They walked slowly through the lobby of the hotel, the conversation temporarily was forgotten. Mary glanced over at Philip, once again taking in how perfect his features appeared.  Flawless even. The rakish way his hair fell over his brow tempting her to brush it aside. Feelings came forth that had been dormant for so many years, even during her marriage.  Mary was rarely the recipient of the kind of tender, physical relationship couples should have. While she made the best of it and in fact, ignored her body’s needs, now she could not; the yearning she felt for this stranger was strong.

As they approached the elevators, Philip, felt a pair of eyes on him.  He turned towards Mary and gave her a small smile. It wasn’t lost on him that her cheeks had taken on a slight pink hue which made him feel uncomfortable.  It seemed like it had been a lifetime since a woman had found him attractive in this way, however, Mary made no move towards him. Philip was back to being a young, awkward man who needed to find another avenue to woo a woman he was interested in.  That thought, of pursuing a woman, came easily; perhaps too easily. But he realized he wanted to see where this might lead.  Philip Lombard wanted to get to know Mary Durrant as more than just a mutually depressed resident of the St. Moritz Spa.

“Mary, may I ask you a question?” he said.

The tall redhead paused, just shy of the elevator bay and turned towards him.

“Only if it doesn’t concern my husband or his death,” she answered.

Philip thought a moment about how he would broach the topic on his mind and determined that it might be a good idea to turn this serious night into something more whimsical.

“Actually it does in a roundabout way,” he admitted.

She smirked and said, “Then I may not answer it.”

“Fair enough.”

Taking her elbow, Philip guided Mary to a settee situated to the side of the elevators and motioned for her to sit. Mary held her wrap tight against her breast, her eyes downcast. Philip saw her demeanor change which made him rethink his question. Suddenly he didn’t care about her dead husband.  He found he cared only about her.

“Do you dance?”

Mary’s head shot up to look at him. She saw him smiling at her with a twinkle in his eyes and knew that it wasn’t what he truly wanted to know.

“That’s what you wished to ask me?”

Philip hesitated before answering.

“No. But my other question isn’t important.”

She was immediately taken with him and was grateful at this change of tactic. Impulsively she kissed his cheek. The doors to the elevator opened and she moved to catch it, stepping inside with grace. Turning around Mary saw Philip standing with his hands in his pockets, a look of wishful anticipation on his face.

“Thank you,” she said. 

As the doors closed she quickly added, “Yes. I do like to dance.”

Philip watched as the doors closed, satisfied that the ice had truly been broken with Mary Durrant.  Not quite ready for bed, he went back to the bar for a nightcap. Ordering a whiskey neat, he sat a corner table, lit a fresh cigarette and leaned back, the smoke curling into the air. His mind flashed to images of Vera; her dark hair and eyes slowly becoming a memory. He tapped the ashes off the cigarette then idly pushed them around the ashtray. As he stared at the gray and white powder another image came to him. This one of a long, lithe redhead and he became angry.

His anger was twofold. One for the fact that Vera was gone, leaving him to continue on living half a life. The second reason was that even more than the loss of his lover was the fact that he found himself unexpectedly distracted by a new woman. Mary Durrant’s insistence to keep him at arm’s length made her intriguing. She was a lot like Vera but yet something told him that Mrs. Durrant was not really the shy and coy woman she presented.  She seemed to be calm on the surface but he surmised that underneath was a hot spring ready to bubble over; a woman who was used to being alone but now might be open for some kind of relationship. But was he? Was Philip Lombard ready to let someone reach him again? Make him feel again? His head said no but his heart rebelled, forcing Philip to feel something other than grief after so long. He found that he was nervous. Could he risk opening his heart again? The answer came quickly: yes. Philip never turned his back on a challenge and he wasn’t going to start now. Determined to take a chance with Mary, he downed his drink and put his plan in motion, starting with something simple. He went to the front desk and scribbled a note on hotel stationery. When he was satisfied with the message, he asked the clerk for Mary’s room.

“I’m afraid I can’t give out that information, sir. Rules you know?”

Philip thought for a moment and contrary to his usual reaction thought of another plan. 

“Very well. Can you see that this is delivered to Mrs. Durrant? It’s rather urgent.”

He waited for the clerk to call a bellhop who took the note and placed it on a silver tray.

“Take this to Mrs. Durrant. You know the room,” the clerk said.

“Yes, sir.”

Philip kept his eyes trained on the boy then turned back to the clerk.

“Many thanks,” he said.

As discreetly as possible, he followed the bellhop, looking over his shoulder to make sure the clerk wasn’t watching him. He then slipped into the elevator with the bellhop, lingering in the back of the cab. He looked up at the floors as they lit up when the car stopped on the 5th floor. Philip waited until the boy was walking down the hall then peered out to see where he stopped. He was holding the door open when he saw Mary emerge from her room. Her red hair was loose and brushed the shoulders of her blue silk dressing gown. Once he saw her take the note, he didn’t wait until she read it but instead pushed the button to his floor, making his escape before he was seen. When the doors closed he leaned against the back of the car. While he hoped that his proposal would be agreeably met, there was a small part of him that wasn’t that sure if this move was the right way to approach Mary Durrant. Yet he didn’t want to dwell on the negative because for the first time in a long while he felt something that could only be akin to happiness.

******

Mary was getting settled in bed with one more glass of brandy when there was a knock on the door.  She was surprised by the late-night intrusion but even more shocked at the reason.  When she saw the envelope she didn’t recognize the handwriting but surmised only one person could be sending her messages. No one she knew would care enough to contact her so that left her new acquaintance as the author.  She climbed back under the covers, relaxed against the pillows and picked up her drink, all the while her eyes trained on the note that she dropped on the quilt.  Why would he be writing to her?  Was it his way of telling her he was leaving? That he really couldn’t get past his lost love and that a friendship with a woman who was as damaged as she was an impossibility.   For some inexplicable reason, Mary was nervous, upset even.  Despite coming to St. Moritz for no other reason than to escape her family and circumstance, she was glad she met Philip Lombard.  His nonchalant attitude and actual interest in who she was, touched her in a way she hadn’t expected.

Taking a deep sip of the amber liquid, Mary picked up the envelope and slid a bright red nail under the flap, easily opening it.  She pulled out the small piece of paper and scanned to the bottom of the note first, confirming the author.  With a small smile, her eyes went to the start of the missive and read it once, then read it again.  Her hands shook as she put it down and lifted a cigarette from her gold case, putting it to her lips and lighting it. The glow of the tip seemed brighter in the darkened room, reflecting her mood in comparison to her life.  She never thought an invitation to spend the day with someone would lighten her heart. But it had and Mary wanted to respond to the gesture immediately.  Leaning across the bed, she pulled the phone towards her and called the desk.

“Can you ring Philip Lombard’s room?” she asked with a slightly shaky voice.

As it was with her new friend, so had it been with her that it had been years since she felt the need to make any kind of overture towards the opposite sex and now she found the idea exciting.  This was not the kind of behavior she was raised to demonstrate and her mother would be appalled. But Mary didn’t care.  Meeting Philip Lombard, a man so unlike anyone in her family and most assuredly unlike her deceased husband, seemed to be freeing; as though whatever connection they made had unlocked a part of her that she’d kept secreted away to please others.  It seemed Philip went through life doing what he pleased and now Mary thought that might be what she needed as well.  She was contemplating that when she heard someone pick up on the other end.

“Philip?  I’d love to meet you for breakfast. See you at nine,” she said quickly.

Before she got a response, Mary replaced the receiver in the cradle of the phone and returned it to the nightstand.  With a final puff, she put out the cigarette, drained her glass and slid deeper under the covers.  Thoughts of what tomorrow could bring filled her mind as she drifted off to sleep. The last vision she had was of this mysterious, charming, dark-eyed man, who found her interesting enough to want to spend time with her.  A smile crossed her face as slumber set in and for the first time in a long time, she slept peacefully, looking forward to a morning could bring the start of something new.