The fragrance of expensive perfume mingled with the sickening scent of stale cigarette smoke. Sheila knew she reeked of cigarettes, which was precisely the reason she was there. She circled the cosmetics counter, trying to decide which perfume to use this time.
If she'd been paying more attention, Sheila might have noticed the sales girl nervously arranging fragrance boxes in the glass display. Or possibly even the man hiding inconspicuously behind a tuxedo-clad mannequin. But she didn't see those things because she didn't have time to notice. She was due home in exactly twenty minutes and if she were late, her husband, Mark, would suspect something.
And Sheila could not risk suspicion.
Today it would be Liz Claiborne. Sheila picked up the tester and gave herself four spritzes. She breathed in the lavender scent and set the bottle down. Satisfied, she turned to leave. She hadn't taken two steps when someone grabbed her from behind.
"Excuse me, Ma'am, but you'll have to come with me."
"Wha---?" Sheila stared at the beefy security guard as he firmly held her elbow and led her through the store. Embarrassment stopped her from protesting. She buried her chin into her chest to avoid eye contact with the gawkers. The answers would come soon enough.
Inside a small room, the Hulk let go of her elbow and motioned for her to have a seat. She sat down hard onto a metal folding chair.
"What did I do?" Sheila asked, on the verge of tears.
"You've been visiting this department store every afternoon for the past three months, isn't that true?"
"I guess it's been about three months."
"Have you ever purchased anything during those visits?"
Sheila furrowed her brow. "No…."
"But you have been using the products."
Sheila stared at the guard in silence.
"We have you on tape, Ma'am. For ninety days straight, minus weekends, you have been coming in and using various perfumes. Sixty-four of those days you spritzed four times. Twenty-six days, you spritzed five times."
"So? I was testing perfumes. Isn't that what they're there for?" Sheila was dumbfounded. What was this meaty man's point? She had never heard of anyone being detained before for testing perfume!
"You have spritzed our products a total of three hundred, eighty-six times. That would be the equivalent of one entire bottle of perfume. We've averaged out the cost of the seven bottles you seem to prefer and have figured you to owe the store fifty-seven dollars. I can't let you leave until you pay up."
Sheila burst into tears.
"Would you like to explain yourself, Ma'am?"
"Okay," she sniffed, not noticing the guard's glance toward the door behind her. "I quit smoking two years ago when my daughter was born. I promised my husband I wouldn't touch another cigarette. But then things got stressful at work and I took up the habit again. But only at work! I never smoke around my daughter." Sheila paused to accentuate her point. "I didn't want my husband to be disappointed in me. I knew he would smell the smoke on my clothes when I got home so I stopped here to spray on some perfume to cover up the odor. I know it's wrong...I'm sorry!" Sheila pulled a tissue from her purse and dabbed at her eyes.
"Ma'am…" the officer nodded toward the door behind her and Sheila looked over her shoulder.
Sheila stared at her husband, more confused than ever. "What are you doing h---"
"Sheila, did you really think perfume would disguise the cigarette smoke?" Mark asked, leaning against the door jam. "If anything, it made it worse. I've been wanting to gag every night for the past three months. Why do you think I've been suggesting a shower when you get home from work?"
"Oh! Well, I thought maybe---" Sheila glanced at the officer, her face turning red.
Mark grinned. "I haven't said anything because I wanted you to come clean about the smoking. And since you were taking so long, I thought I'd scare the truth out of you."
"It worked," Sheila said sheepishly. "You're not disappointed in me?"
"We'll talk about the smoking thing later. I'm just disappointed that you tried to hide it from me. Don't let it happen again," he mock-scolded, wagging his finger.
Mark shook the beef-man's hand and draped an arm around Sheila. "Let's get you home and into the shower. To rinse off the smell, of course," he added with a wink.
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