I am roused from my slumber by a ghoulish feeling of being spied upon.
At the far corner of the room, a shadow emerging from the murky twilight advances slowly towards me.
“Don’t be scared, Irene. It’s only me, Egon. I’m here to keep you company, of course only if you’d care for it. It’s up to you to send me away. Shall I phone the room service for a little refreshment? Then, when you are ready to go out, it will be my pleasure to treat you to a Christmas day dinner.”
“Dinner? What about breakfast and lunch?”
“You see, sweetheart, it’s later than you think. You had a long, resourceful rest. Won’t you unwrap your presents? Shut your eyes and wait for the chime of the bell.”
I follow gladly Egon’s suggestion, salvaging thus the fragments of my past from which he is one of the last survivors. My childhood-past, when angels used to descend on our villa to the rustling of my grandmother’s silk dress.
Reclining backwards, I draw in the sweet smell of the melting chocolate and the prickly odour of the Christmas fir. The tinkling of the golden bell calls me home.
“You may open your eyes, Irenchen. The Christ Child has arrived.”
Egon is kneeling by the bedside, winding our old Christmas music box... My dear merry-go-round, where all the creatures, big and small joined the angels, dancing about the Holy Family to the sing-song of the “O Holy Night.”
Egon holds open a slim satin box. A ruby heart in a cluster of diamonds is bleeding in the subdued glow of the candles.
I throw my arms around Egon’s neck and draw him to me. His lips touch airily my brow. He releases himself gently from my embrace.
“It’s a privilege to give you presents, sweetheart.”
“It’s exquisite, thank you, Egon! Would you clasp it on?”
He fastens a thread-thin platinum chain on my throat, refraining from any bodily contact.
“Shall I order you something to eat or would you prefer to get up, sweetheart?”
“I am not hungry, Egon, thanks. A glass of champagne would be nice.”
He sets a dressing gown upon my bed and leaves the room. I slip the gown on and go to the bathroom for a quick lick and a thorough brush of my teeth. Maybe my bad breath put Egon off. That’s one explanation. A merciful one. A cruel one is that he doesn’t care for me anymore. Yet this wouldn’t account for his princely present. A man gives his money where his heart is, doesn’t he?
To clear the riddle, I put on just a bathrobe, its neckline so bold that Egon has no chance to overlook my cleavage.
“I thought it better to let YOU decide what I’ll wear tonight,” I say innocently in answer to Egon’s puzzled expression.
“How very generous of you,” he remarks mockingly.
It looks as if he has made me out. What else could I have expected from a man who reads women like open books!
He passes me a champagne flute, looking through me as if I were a window pane. I sink down into a low armchair, hoping that he would have no recourse but to fall victim to my charms. He counterbalances my assiduous courting settling down at a footstool and handing me the next drink at arm’s length.
“Happy Christmas, Egon,” I toast him, leaning down to him with a naughty afterthought. He returns my toast with masterly composure, though the sparkle in his eyes tells me he rather enjoys my amorous advances.
“Would you like to check if your gorgeous present harmonises with my looks?” I offer him, fidgeting with the pendant in my décolleté.
“Thanks for your suggestion, sweetheart. I see it perfectly well from where I am. It suits you fine,” he says coolly and my blood starts boiling. So this is how he used to treat his conquests and won his reputation of a lady-killer! Watch your step, Egon! Not with me!
Now I feel really challenged! That’s no more a matter of getting sure if he still is like putty in my hands. Now my skills of a seductress are in jeopardy as well!
I get up and near Egon slowly. With a childlike innocence, I nestle down upon his knees, as if just changing places to sip champagne on a bed of roses.
“Stop it, Irene!” He sets me firmly on my feet.
“Else I let you finish what you have started. Though, be sure, this time I won’t let you leave me easily. Is that clear, Irene? No walking out on me! You’ll stick to me, here in New York or in any other place of your choice. I give you a fair warning, sweetheart: this time it will be for keeps!”
Champagne turns to vinegar in my mouth. What happened to Egon who used to be grateful for every mite of me? What now? One thing is sure. I want him. But not for ever, just whenever I feel like it. And now I DO! Yet, better not push things too hard and give him some time to think it over, and mellow. And he will!
“May I now unwrap my other presents, Egon?” I say brightly and kneel down under the tree in an idyllic postcard style.
“Of course, sweetheart. Another glass of champagne?” He offers with a poker face.
“Not just now. Thank you, Egon. Better not on an empty stomach. I could spoil our dinner-date getting sick,” I chirp sweetly, pleased with my masterly control of a tricky situation.
I reach after an elongated, much promising box. After a little struggle with its wrapping, I dig out a magnificent white-velvet sequinned gown. I cast Egon a furtive glance, undecided whether to thank him or pass over his generosity in silence. Peeved by his previous offensive lack of interest, I disappear wordlessly to change. Exposing me to Egon’s cool eyes “au natural” would be more a horrendous blunder than an act of seduction.
I let the dressing gown fall down on the floor and slip the gown on. I gasp, face to face with myself in the looking glass. Now I see what men see!
Slim as a willow, my shiny blond hair streaming upon my creamy shoulders innocent of the last remains of my summer tan, my bronze-coloured eyes setting the world aglow, I step out. Let Egon fight me!
He looks at me without moving a muscle.
“You look lovely, Irene,” he drops aloofly and kisses my hand. A perfect father-in-law, entertaining his absent son’s spouse.
“May I be excused to pass over to the Plaza and change into something more appropriate to your elegance?”
“I’ll go with you, Egon!” I say resolutely.
“Staying here alone with an open champagne bottle is too much of a temptation!” I throw at him, meaning offence, trying my best not to let my innuendo, this slur on his sexy reputation, be taken amiss.
“Anything you wish, sweetheart,” he says as if he failed to get it!
“In this case, I’d suggest you to open the remaining boxes, Irenchen.”
I gain following his hint! A girl’s wardrobe is an open secret for this man!
I collect all I need and go to round up my looks while Egon studies the snow-heaps under the Waldorf-Astoria windows.
In a courtly manner he assists me as I don my coat and, giving me his arm, escorts me to the limousine.