Joy by Jean Patou (1929) is perhaps the most famous fragrance ever created. It was intended to convey “the Platonic idea of a flower,” and its main ingredients are jasmine and rose.
“Joy” is the perfume I chose to bring the story of Cynthia and Peter to its conclusion.
As they emerged from Peter’s white roadster in the Institute’s parking garage and made their way to the employees’ entrance, she said, “I’m working tonight, Peter. I’ll have to circulate a lot, and dance with other partners.”
“Of course, chérie,” he answered. “I understand completely. As long as you don’t dance with that douche Trevor Benson.”
She decided to borrow Peter’s own negotiation technique. “Certainly. But only if you promise not to dance with Leslie Favreau.”
“Done,” he said, and then added triumphantly, “I got the better deal.”
Cynthia took a few deep breaths as they entered the atrium, gathering her wits and her energy. Showtime. She wished she’d thought to have a cup of coffee before leaving. They found their table, which included Andy, her beau Max Desmond, and a number of “Myrrh” donors, whom Peter introduced. She chatted with each of them, expressing her thanks, and then as Peter went to retrieve some drinks and desserts, she began working the room, greeting the guests, with Andy by her side.
Without warning, Leslie appeared in their path. Her chic black cocktail dress, with one shoulder bare, emphasized her slim figure, and a pair of green gemstone earrings matched her glittering eyes. Black stilettos with peekaboo toes completed her outfit.
“Cynthia, how delightful to see you,” she said in her languid voice, though she made no move to bestow an air kiss. “And what an amusing dress. The Disney princess look is so very current.” Beside her, Cynthia heard Andy’s sudden intake of breath.
“Why thank you, Leslie,” she replied evenly. “You look gorgeous this evening.” She turned to face Leslie’s date, a tall man of about thirty, with the sensuous, pouting look of a Caravaggio Bacchus. “How sweet of you to bring your son! He has your good looks.”
Cynthia gave Étienne a warm, winning smile, and saw his eyes stray to her breasts. About to correct her misapprehension, he opened his mouth to speak, but Leslie touched his arm and hissed under her breath, “Tais-toi.” Looking daggers at Cynthia, she turned on her heel, and leading a confused Étienne, retreated.
“And here I was worried about what would happen if you encountered Leslie,” said Andy, shaking her head in wonder.
“Chalk it up to my early training,” said Cynthia. “You don’t attend a woman’s college without learning self-defense. And then, my mother is an Eaton. I’ve watched her deliver many a knockout punch over finger sandwiches and tea.” Feeling relieved now that the most dreaded part of the evening had passed successfully, she continued her rounds, beginning to enjoy herself.
Eventually, Peter caught up to her and guided her behind a potted tree, laying a possessive hand on the small of her back. “That’s enough work for now, Pussycat. Don’t you know what torture it is for me to see you across the room, talking to other men?” He leaned in closer. “You smell divine. I want to take you home, and peel this dress off you.”
“Peter, cut that out. This isn’t the time for… canoodling.”
He ignored her and whispered in her ear, “Remember that big full-length mirror in your room? I want you to stand naked in front of it, except for your shoes and earrings—you can keep those on.”
“And then I’ll stand behind you, and bend you over, so we can watch each other’s faces while I nail you.”
“That’s enough. I’m not sleeping with you tonight. Even if I weren’t still mad at you, I’m bone tired.”
“All right,” he said readily. “Then I’ll just hold you until morning, when you’ll be rested and refreshed. You look very sexy in the morning, with your hair all tousled. But come and have some champagne as a restorative. I got you a mini éclair and a pistachio buttercream macaron.”
She followed him reluctantly, yet in the event, she found the champagne and the tiny desserts pleasurably effective at boosting her energy. Soon it was time for the program to begin, and after Barbara introduced her, she went to the podium to acknowledge the Institute’s partners and sponsors. She had taken the trouble to memorize the long list, and she felt confident rather than timid as the crowd enthusiastically responded. At last she concluded, “Every museum exhibition depends for its success on three essentials: scholarly expertise, community involvement, and financial sponsorship. I want to extend our special thanks to Mr. Peter Noel, of Essence Parfums right here in Philadelphia, who has generously assisted us with all three.” There was a final burst of applause, and she invited the guests to walk through the “Aromas” gallery for a preview, or to enjoy the dancing, which was about to begin.
When she returned to the table, Peter was beaming. “Let’s dance,” he said. They danced the rumba to the first song, “Begin the Beguine,” and then she partnered a couple of the Trustees, while Peter led their wives around the floor. Finally, when it was time for the first slow dance, he returned to claim her hand. The male vocalist began to sing a tender version of “I’ve Never Been In Love Before.” In Peter’s arms, her duties for the evening complete, she was able to relax at last. It was so good, just to be with him. So satisfying. She leaned her head against his chest. Peter said, “You’ve been in love before, haven’t you?”
She nodded, looking up into his dark hazel eyes. “Yes, once. It didn’t work out.”
“In a way, chérie, you are less faithful than I, because I’ve never loved anyone but you. And I never will.” Suddenly he let go of her and dropped to one knee, seizing her hand. “Cynthia, will you marry me?”
She realized that people were smiling at them, and a few were rather rudely pointing. The music continued, but a number of couples had stopped dancing to watch the outcome of Peter’s proposal. “Get up!” she said as quietly as she could. “Everyone’s looking!”
He smiled, heedless of the scene he was causing. “Not until I have an answer.”
“We’ll discuss it later,” she said, pasting a smile on her face. Peter stood up and laughingly embraced her, whirling her around so that her feet lost contact with the floor. Out of the corner of her eye, she caught sight of Leslie and Étienne leaving the hall. There was a round of applause, and he set her down again as the band started to play “Embraceable You.” Peter shook hands with a couple of nearby men, while Cynthia shrugged at a broadly grinning Andy. Checking her boss’s reaction, she was relieved to see that Barbara looked benevolently amused. Then Peter turned back, pulling her close.
“See? You have to marry me now. If you don’t, it’ll be a huge social embarrassment.”
She shook her head, laughing in spite of herself. Peter was incorrigible. She could see now that graceful surrender was the only possible plan of action. But just to tease him, she asked, “And if I decide to brazen it out?”
Peter rubbed his chin, thinking. “Well, Pussycat,” he finally said, “in that case, there’s always the Twelve Days of Easter.”
Copyright 2014 by Linnet Moss
Notes: Both Leslie and Peter escape the sad ends meted out to their deliciously wicked models, the Marquise de Merteuil and the Vicomte de Valmont, in Choderlos de Laclos’ 1782 novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses. For a Valmont who will make your knees weak, check out the 1998 BBC radio version, with a seductive Ciarán Hinds as the Vicomte, and Lindsay Duncan as the evil Marquise.