Promise Me

By: Shelby Gates


The smell hit me first. I walked through the sliding doors that led me out of the San Diego airport, my backpack hitched over my shoulder, and breathed in.

It smelled liked home.

Ocean. The subtle scent of flowers. A little car exhaust, too, but I didn’t focus on that. There was no stench of rotting garbage, of unclean bodies, of disease or poverty. Mexico might be a mere thirty miles to the south but it was worlds away by the smell of things.

A horn honked twice in quick succession and I searched the curb. Grant’s spotless, white BMW idled a few yards away. I maneuvered my way to his car, sidestepping out-of-towners as they loaded cartfuls of luggage into waiting SUVs and hotel busses.

Grant pushed open the driver’s side door just as I got to the curb, a smile plastered on his face. He crossed the pavement in three quick steps and reached for me.

His arms enveloped me but he didn’t kiss me. “Hey, babe.”

I snuggled into his chest, my lips almost touching the place where the collar of his t-shirt ended and the smooth expanse of tanned skin began. I didn’t want to kiss his neck. I wanted to bury my lips against his, sink my teeth gently into his lower lip, thrust my tongue into his mouth.

But Grant didn’t kiss like that.

I pulled away and planted a kiss on his cheek and then, before he could stop me, brushed my lips across his. I opened my eyes as I did this and smiled inwardly when he didn’t frown. Maybe three months apart had made him less of a germaphobe.

He disentangled from my arms. “Come on, Emma. Not here,” he said quickly.

Or maybe not. I sighed. It wasn’t like I expected anything different. Years of off and on with him since junior year had taught me a lot. Sex was more than fine with him. Deep throat kissing was not.

He lifted my backpack off my shoulders. “How are you?”

“Tired,” I said. “Hungry.”

He opened the back passenger seat and set it on the car’s pristine carpet. I stole a glance at him, at his sun-kissed hair and sea-green eyes and I felt desire bubble up inside of me. Tired and hungry and horny, I thought. But I kept that to myself.

He nodded. “You look like you’ve lost about twenty pounds.”

I was pretty sure I had. And I hadn’t needed to lose any.

I slipped into the front seat. The air conditioner was on full-blast and I shivered. I’d spent the last three months living in an adobe-walled, tin-roofed shanty just outside of Puerto Vallarta. No one had air conditioning there. No one had cars.

Grant eased the BMW into gear and pulled away from the curb. His hand found my thigh. “You want to grab something to eat first? Or head home?” He hesitated. “Or my place?”

I thought for a minute. I was starving. I’d spent weeks living on beans and rice and tortillas. Most days, just tortillas. I’d be happy to never eat Mexican food again. I wanted a hamburger and french fries and a massive diet Coke from In-n-Out.

But I also hadn’t had sex in ninety-one days. Not like I was counting.

More than anything, though, I was filthy. I ran my hand across my ponytail, my fingers sliding easily across the greasy strands. A shower with hot water and scented soap and clean, fluffy towels sounded better than an entire tray full of burgers and fries. Or a romp in bed.

I decided. “Home.”

Within minutes, we were northbound on 5, cruising past Bay Park. Grant chatted about people we knew and what he’d been up to, bringing me up to speed on the summer I’d missed out on. We’d only talked a few times during my impromptu trip and I’d wondered what it would be like, coming home. I’d asked him when I’d called the night before, finally able to recharge my cell phone as I waited for my flight out of the airport in Puerto Vallarta. He’d assured me that he still loved me, that there was still an “us,” that nothing had changed.

I watched the sailboats bob in the bay, focused on the jet skis whizzing through the water off Fiesta Island. Bikers and joggers clogged the sidewalks that meandered through the park, passing the Hilton resort where I’d gone to my senior Prom. Palm trees lined the cobalt blue bay and seagulls soared overhead, squawking and searching for food. Children played and flew kites and teetered on bikes and scooters.