He shuffled across the threshold, stumbling over the worn entry mat emblazoned with the hotel logo. Hoping no one noticed his weakness, he set his ancient suitcase on the floor by the reception desk. His muttered greeting was met with the usual warmth and friendliness.
“Hello, Dr. Green. It’s good to see you again this year.” Mary had worked at the hotel for as long as he had been coming here. She was an attractive woman, almost as pretty as his Esme.
From the moment he met Esme, his heart had sought no other. Her bright hazel eyes and chocolate brown hair had matched the warmth of her servant heart.
“Evening, Miss Mary. Is my room ready?”
“Yes, sir, as always. Let’s get you checked in.” Efficient as always, Mary completed her task with a smile and a flirty wink. “Is there anything else I can get for you?”
“No, I can’t think of anything.”
His heart paused at the sight of her dimmed smile. “I have some bad news for you, Dr. Green. The Bayou Hotel might be closing after Christmas. The building has been sold, and we expect it to be torn down to make room for a shopping center.”
His breath held. “I see. That’s terrible.”
Mary’s eye watered. “It is, isn’t it? All the effort to save this bit of history failed. The owners got tired of dealing with complaints about ghosts and guests leaving the in the middle of the night. Carl and I tried to raise the money to buy it, but my mom’s health problems put a stop to that.”
He offered her a weak smile. She didn’t need to know—yet. “I guess all things must come to an end. But there is always a new beginning for those that work hard and keep the faith.”
With those words, he declined to use the elevator and headed up the stairs to the second floor. He paused at the landing to catch his breath. The rest gave him a moment to consider Mary’s concern. He decided nothing had changed and continued to lug his tired body up the steps. At the top, he stopped again; his heart was willing, but his old legs refused to take another step. A grumble rose from his chest. There had been a time when he and Esme danced the night away.
He missed those days.
Sheer will and determination forced his stubborn, aching knees to move down the hallway. He was gasping for air by the time he reached the ancient door labeled with a tarnished brass 27.
He took a moment to recover before finger-combing his fine, silver hair and straightening his robin’s egg-blue tie. Esme loved the pale shade of blue saying it matched his eyes. He never wanted to give her less than his best.
The door creaked as it opened. He didn’t blame the door; he creaked, too.
Fifty-two years. Fifty-two times he had visited this same room. The years faded as he stepped across the threshold. The room had changed, but his memory had not.
In place of the standard queen-sized bed and white linens, he remembered the four-poster bed with a reddish-wood stain standing in the center of the room and a matching nightstand on one side. Esme had called it a cherry bedroom set dating from the late 1800’s. She’d fallen in love with the bright, handmade quilt covering the mattress. He hadn’t known what kind of wood it was, nor cared whose grandmother had made the blanket. All he knew was that he would make love to his beautiful bride in that very bed. Nothing else had mattered.
The antique bedroom set and the handmade blanket were long gone, but his vision of the room would never change.
“Esme-Belle! I’m here,” he called out as he turned to shutter the windows from the bright, afternoon sun.
It was early, so he took the time to hang up his suit jacket and moved to unpack the white, Samsonite case Esme had bought for their honeymoon. The faded, pink satin inner lining was little more than shredded ribbons, and one hinge broke away from the plastic as he opened the case.
He stared at the damage in dismay. With a heavy sigh, he forced himself to put his few belongings away and prepared for the evening. After a quick wash and shave, he combed his hair, splashed his face with a little aftershave, and donned his newest pajamas. He placed a glass of water and a small amber bottle on the bedside table. After taking a dose, he pulled out the book of poetry which Esme had loved. He propped himself on the bed and selected one of her favorite verses to read. His eyes grew heavy as his exertions caught up with him.
The room was dark when he woke, but he knew she was there, lying next to him.
“I thought I might find you here,” she teased.
He smiled back, relieved that she had come. “Happy anniversary, Esme-Belle.”
She giggled. The sound brightened his soul. “And happy Halloween, Danny Boy.”
“I can’t believe you talked me into getting married on a holiday. Especially Halloween!” No matter how many times they had this conversation, he never regretted it. He would have married her no matter when or where.
Her laughter filled his lonely heart as they read and talked the night away, until light leaked through the closed shades to reveal the first sign of sunrise. He sat up to take the medicines which would take away his suffering. With a sigh, he laid back. Her hand covered his and he savored the coolness of her touch.
“Is it time, my love?”
He reached a trembling hand to stroke her fading features. “Yes, it is, dearest. Happy anniversary.”
“Happy All Saints, Danny Boy.”
Her face dimmed as the light from the window brightened. His eyes closed against the glare and the vision of her smiling eyes led him into the dream-like state he longed for.
It seemed no more than a few minutes had passed when he felt a tap on his shoulder. He rose from the bed, pleased to feel lighter and more fit than he had in over thirty years. He glanced at the still form lying alone on the bed. He would not miss it.
“Come, Danny Boy.”
He smiled at her familiar tone. Turning to face her, he held out a hand. When Esme took it, he pulled her into his embrace.
And—for the first time in twenty-two years—they danced.