Paula's scent lingered in my car for eighteen months, two days and I guess about five hours. It was the Las Vegas sun that baked it out one afternoon while I lost sixty three bucks on keno. Once I discovered the loss of her aroma I snuck back to the bed in our deluxe two bedroom suite. I faked an illness and told my friends to stay away for their own health. Most people hold their nose at the thought of a twenty year old dating a fifty-eight year old.
On my third day of voluntary house arrest a wisp of Paula floated in along with the plate of herb crusted cod brought in by room service. She was there, in Santa Fe, or she'd been there. The smell on sixteen slot machines downstairs told me Paula had gambled a little, probably taking a break from visiting bank branches. Her life as an exec meant she traveled all year long, which was one reason I never bumped into her around Denver despite my working as a teller at the local branch. I hated that job, but there was always the chance she'd drop by.
A trip to the Vegas bank branch was a winner for me as I detected traces of her on the door bar of the front entrance. I texted my friends that I was headed to the Grand Canyon. I didn't care how they got home.
My phone told me eastern Nevada had a branch. I got lucky when I smelled her on a bank manager's stapler. I kept going east and picked her up on a conference room chair near the Arizona border. Six hours later Paula's odor screamed at me from a bank manager's keyboard. A guard's hand in Flagstaff and the entire lead teller's body in Albuquerque told me she'd been giving out handshakes and hugs.
It was Santa Fe where her scent screamed at me from the stall of a women's restroom. I drove around the city for hours with my windows down. The heat poured in, causing my shirt to stick against my seat even when I leaned forward to scan a hotel parking lot.
The historic district set my nose on fire. I continued my search on foot. An hour later I spotted her mocha colored pants suit in the middle of the trees, lampposts, benches and people, all delicately but efficaciously crammed into the middle of the Plaza. It was her favorite suit, worn by her when she first walked into my branch. Worn on our only date.
After taking several dozen pics she walked to her car parked outside a museum. I kept a good quarter mile distance until she landed at a hotel in the northeast part of the city. A quick run up and down the stairs and I tracked her to the third floor, Room 328. She was alone.
My room, two floors above Paula, had its own assortment of fragrances. One of the former occupants had even washed a dog in the bathtub. But I stuck to Paula's smell and went into strategy mode.
The next day she drove two miles to a shopping center. I went straight to the jewelry store. Her walking into the store to find me would look a lot less creepy than me walking up to her. She had trinkets from Mexico, Tahiti, the Black Forest in Germany, British Columbia and all over the U.S. We were certain to cross paths.
After checking out almost every single earring, bracelet, ring and watch in the place, and being asked twice if I needed any assistance, her smell grew so strong I could barely concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other. I parked myself at the cashier counter near the front of the store, my back to the door. The sales clerk manning the register performed her duty once more.
"We have several catalogs – if you're just not finding what you're looking for."
"No thank you."
"Are you from around here?"
"She must be really special."
I looked up from the display. The woman had a self-assured grin and a magazine that was now resting on the counter.
"You've been looking for what – an hour? She must be hard to shop for."
Behind me heels clicked on the sidewalk and then changed tone on the store's tile floor. I knew that sound from anywhere. She loved those heels. Wore them all the time. My guess was she wanted to project authority. In our dinner conversation she had hinted at being self-conscious over her height. But it never bothered me. Everything about her was perfect.
I needed to get the clerk off my back so I went with the first grand idea I could think of.
"You don't happen to have any snake skins?"
"Or those snake heads with the fangs?"
For a few seconds there was silence. I could have sucked the entire store through my nasal cavities. The last thing I remember was turning around to see half her body emblazed by the sun as she took a hard right outside the store's entrance. I don't even remember falling. I do recall the ends of the long, dark hair from the clerk tickling my arm as she knelt over me.
"I'll pay you a thousand bucks if you tell me what you did to run her off." The guy – he never gave his name and I didn't ask - leaned into a railing across from me as a pair of skiers clomped up, one ski after another, to stand between us. He wore no coat or hat. The ski patrol part of me wanted to tell him to get his butt out of the cold but I knew what obsession does to a person. In spite of the driving wind, and my face covering, I caught a trace of Paula.
"So that's the reason her smell is so strong on you."
"You can smell her?" he asked.
I held the four-seater chair lift as the skiers sat down and then took off. "I'll tell you the answer to that if you tell me how you found me."
He rubbed his hands a few times and I continued loading chairs. After pressing his hands into his ears he finally answered my question.
"The banks employment records show your present place of employment."
"You work in the home office?"
"No, a branch in Wyoming."
I snorted out a laugh "So she doesn't just hound after the young tellers?"
He crossed his arms and rubbed them with is hands. In the process he pushed his shirt sleeves up exposing the image of a woman on his upper bicep. The long jacket collar meant she was sporting her pants suit.
"Your tattoo must annoy management."
"I've got more." He lifted his shirt. Paula's name was scrolled across a banner spiraling a large red heart. "Or this." He pulled up the bottom of his pants until I could see a calla lily on his calf.
"Her favorite flower?" I ventured.
"Yep." He crammed his jean pockets and nodded at a chair swinging around to pick up a load of riders. "I see you're still working entry level stuff."
I ignored his comment.
"So you can smell her?" he asked.
"The smell is the whole reason you can't stop thinking about her Bucco. It's how she gets you."
"She made me…? How?"
I waved a set of skiers forward. "Yeah, I figured out how her power works, and figured out how she gets you hooked on her smell. But that'll cost you a thousand?"
"How did you get over her?"
I shook my head. "I kinda feel for you so that'll only cost you three hundred."
"Could you at least tell me how you lost her?"
"You wanna know why she ends up breaking up with every guy she dates?"
He leaned forward, taking a few steps before jerking his torso back as the side bar of a chair missed his face by inches. Over the wind that had just picked back up he yelled out "Why?"
"You see that woman? Against the wall."
Sitting alone in one of the outdoor tables of the restaurant next to the ski lift was a young women. She occupied the table right beside the eating establishment, leaning into the wall to escape the clouds of snow swept up by the heartless wind. Under the drooping oversized hood and behind the mirrored lenses, I could feel her stare.
"Obsession gets old," I said.
He had rubbernecked to see the woman but now his head slowly turned back to face me. "You…smell?"
"But dating without rejection – that never gets old."