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The Pledge

By Susan Claremont-Smith
6th September, 2009

Firleigh House glowed in the early afternoon sunshine, matching the mood of its occupants. Fir-trees lined the quaint pathway and birds chorused merrily outside the open upstairs window.

  “Hurry up love!” Alistair bellowed up the stairs.
  “I’m going as fast as I can.” Libby rummaged frantically through her lingerie drawer, looking for another pair of tights. She had snagged the ones she was wearing just minutes before leaving.
  “The taxi will be here in five minutes.”
  “Okay. I won’t be long,” she said sifting through layers of silk and satin underwear that she no longer bothered to wear, looking good took a lot of effort lately.
  Life was such a drudge. Since the twins had been born, both she and Alistair were exhausted most of the time. Late night feeds and sleepless nights had taken their toll on their relationship. They adored the twins, but the last six months had been difficult. Abby and Declan were being christened today, their first special occasion.
  At last Libby pulled a pair of sheer glossy tights from the drawer, a small used perfume bottle of faceted glass tumbled out onto the floor. Empty that was of perfume; it contained a tightly rolled miniature piece of paper. Instantly her mind flew back to the time when the bottle and the pledge had been concealed.
  “No time now,” she whispered to herself. “I’ll read it later,” her heart beat rapidly and her hands became clammy. Fancy that still being there she thought. The bottle slipped from her hand onto the cream woven bedspread, where she slid it under her pillow. Later she would extract the contents, although she could still remember the text word for word.
  Quickly pulling on the new tights and smoothing her sky blue cotton dress over her hips Libby skipped down the stairs, taking a quick glance in the hallway mirror, she smiled discreetly to herself, remembering the little bottle.
  The taxi merrily tooted its horn. Alistair lifted Declan out of his pine high chair, and Libby picked Abby up from her red striped bouncing cradle. Both infants cooed happily, their tiny fists playing with the air, as they all set off for the church.
Back at home that evening Libby lounged, exhausted on her bed and looked back on the day. Everything had gone well, from the short meaningful church service, to the small and intimate lunchtime celebration at the nearby hotel. It had been a hectic day. Eccentric Uncle Bob had acted comedian and unassuming Aunt Flo became the unintentional cabaret with her sherry-induced antics.
  Abby and Declan were tucked comfortably under their snug quilts. Their mobiles tinkled tunefully above their cots and the voile curtains floated over them in the breeze.
  Alistair was showering. Libby was glad that he enjoyed lengthy showers. That would give her the time she needed to draw out the precious paper concealed in the sparkling bottle, whilst listening for when the water to cease gushing. She was afraid of being disturbed, especially by him. So sitting gingerly on the edge of the bed, with her back to the door she inserted tweezers inside the neck of the bottle. The paper wasn’t easy to catch hold of. At last the tweezers pinched it and Libby gently manoeuvred the fragile piece of paper as it floated into her lap… along with its spicy fragrance sending her back in time.

Our Pledge to each other, to meet again in ten years time whatever happens, at our special place, on the anniversary of our first date at 1 0'clock.

The crinkled paper was dated and signed.

Always and Forever. Libby and Mack.

  That was just one month away. Where had the time flown to? Libby reminisced. She wondered if he would remember and if it was still worth keeping their pledge of so long ago.
  Libby and Mack had met when they were both nineteen; instantly hitting it off they had fallen in love, becoming inseparable. They looked perfect together and they felt wonderful, but life wasn’t going to allow them to stay that way.
  Mack’s Army career had always been important to him, but a two-year draft over seas, was no longer a welcome option. The news was devastating to them, neither wanted to be in a long-term relationship with distance between them, at such a tender age. Coincidentally both sets of their parents had had marriages in their teenage years and both couples were divorced. Mack and Libby agreed that staying together with so many miles between them wouldn’t be the makings of a lasting relationship. Understanding each other completely; they bravely decided to split.
  The day that Mack left arrived all too soon; Libby travelled with him to the airport to wave him off. Their last day would be memorable. His flight was scheduled for the early evening, leaving them time to visit their favourite Chinese restaurant for lunch. Neither of them really tasted the food, their conversation stilted and constrained. Trying to make light of their impending parting they wrote out their extraordinary pledge. When they planned to re-unite and catch up on each other’s lives.
  That was ten long years ago.
  After a tearful farewell at the airport they had parted physically and emotionally. Mack folded his paper and slipped it into a pocket of his black leather wallet. Libby rolled hers nervously into a scroll, squeezing it tightly into her palm.
  Returning home she had found the used perfume bottle of Mack’s favourite fragrance and prised the paper inside. Tears streamed uncontrollably down her cheeks, her vision blurring. Saying goodbye was so very hard to do, but they had….
  Jolted from her thoughts, Libby realised that the shower had stopped running. But when? Libby didn’t know. She had been so engrossed in memories of yesteryear, she hadn’t noticed. How embarrassing, if Alistair caught her. She quickly slid the bottle under her pillow again just in time.
  “Fancy a cup of hot chocolate Love,” Alistair popped his head around the doorway making Libby jump. “Are you Okay Libby you look white as a sheet?”
  “I’m fine. Yes please,” she said out aloud, but quietly as Alistair descended the stairs she murmured, “hot chocolate, what’s happened to us?” heaving a great sigh.
  The days, then weeks passed by and Libby thought about the future rendezvous with Mack. She knew that she couldn’t resist going to their special place, as arranged all those years ago. Would he remember though? She would be devastated if he had forgotten, but she would go and find out anyway. Ten years seemed a long time and a great deal had changed since then.
  Libby lay in bed waiting for the radio alarm clock to click on. It was the morning of the secret meeting. Alistair always had an early morning start for work, but this morning Libby pretended to still be fast asleep. Facing Alistair would be unbearable; he might guess her plans for the day. The shame would be too much.
  Whistling quietly, Alistair placed a cup of sweet weak tea on the bedside cabinet, then routinely kissed Libby on the cheek. She supposedly stirred, turned over and muttered. As the front door clicked shut Libby sprang up. Twitching the bedroom curtain, she slyly peeped out of the window to ensure that Alistair had gone; he had. She watched his silver car turning out of the avenue.
  Libby took the twins to her mother’s later that morning, as previously arranged. Her mother understood how difficult her daughter found shopping with the twins, and was looking forward to spending time with her adorable grandchildren. Libby felt terrible though about lying, especially to her mother, she would like to have confided in her, but she just couldn’t risk being discovered; she would feel so naïve. Dishonest y wasn’t easy. Feeling extremely guilty, she blew a kiss goodbye to the three figures waving from the doorway, as she jumped nervously into her crimson mini.
  Back home, Libby excitedly began to prepare for the special date, enjoying a bubble bath of Ylang-Ylang. She took special care applying her make-up, then gelled her hair and dabbed perfume behind her ears. It had taken a while to track down the fragrance of times gone by, but eventually she had found it. Next she slipped into some especially selected satin underwear, feeling delighted with the silky cool texture as it ran over her skin.

Would he be there? Would he remember? Was she still important enough? So many questions raced through her head…

  From the back of the wardrobe where it had been stealthily hidden, Libby took out a new outfit. Purple suited her colouring well, so the heathery toned gypsy skirt and matching bolero jacket boosted her lagging confidence. At last she finished dressing. There was only half an hour left before the meeting and she was very jittery. Would he be there? Or had he forgotten? There was only one way to find out.
  Traffic buzzed and the town hall clock struck one o'clock as Libby walked towards `The Jade Garden’ restaurant. Would he remember? Was she still important enough? So many questions raced through her head…
  And there he was, handsome and as sensational as ever, in black sweater and beige trousers. They didn’t speak but clung tightly to each other reassuringly.
  Ambling, hand in hand into the subtly lit restaurant, Alistair beckoned to the waiter. “Mr. and Mrs. Mack, our table for two please.” Gently squeezing her husband’s hand tenderly, Libby murmured, “I’m glad that we never parted for long all those years ago.”
  “Me too Libby,” Alistair whispered dreamily, as the waiter showed them to a secluded table, where red and gold oriental lanterns festooned the ceiling, bobbing in the breeze.
  “Alistair Mack, you really are full of surprises, I wasn’t sure that you would remember and be here, but I just had to come and find out.”
  “I’d never forget,” Alistair laughed, as he drew his crumpled and creased piece of paper, the pledge, from his wallet and dropped it into Libby’s hand, before clasping her hand in his.
  “Do you remember that old Army nickname, Mack that you used to call me when we first met?”
  “Of course I do. How could I forget but I prefer calling you Alistair,” she whispered, leaning over and kissing his ear.

The End

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