Amber sipped her champagne, again barely even wetting her lips. “I was hoping for the world, Jess. That’s what Christian was promising me. I’ll tell you a bit about my childhood since you ask. But first let me guess what your childhood Christmases were like. I expect every year you wrote a letter to Santa in the comfortable certainty that you’d get most of what you’d written on your list? And every Christmas you’d put up your tree and day after day more presents would magically appear beneath it. I saw you looking at my tree when you came in and thinking I must be weird for still having it up. I expect you took yours down on twelfth night, or possibly sooner, and packed everything neatly away for another year, didn’t you? Family baubles too, I expect - small bundles of precious memories which you bring out every year and tell your little boy the magic stories. And every year you know there’ll be another Christmas next year – bigger, maybe even better – and you’ll tell him bigger and even better stories.” Amber had finished her champagne and the waiter stepped forward seemingly from nowhere to replenish her glass, but Amber dismissed him with the merest flutter of her fingers and helped herself.
“Well my childhood Christmases were shit, Jess,” she went on. “Do you remember that song by Judy Garland from that film they show every Christmas practically all over the world – at least I think I’ve seen it in about fifty different countries! Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas the song goes. Well, as a child – you know how you mishear things – I thought the words were ‘Have yourself a very little Christmas’. I grew up hearing that in my head every Christmas. And it seemed perfectly normal to me because all my Christmases were very little ones. Very little ones indeed. When I told Christian, he vowed that in the future, all our Christmases would be very big ones. And that’s why I get the biggest tree I can find and why I hate to part with it too soon. There, Jess. I will allow you to put that in your little book – it’s a side of Amber that my fans don’t know about.”
Jess had not written anything down and sat with her hands primly folded across the notepad on her knee as she watched Amber’s dramatic performance. A part of her felt sympathetic. She didn’t doubt that Amber’s childhood must have been very difficult, but she couldn’t think why Amber would choose to tell her this now. There was clearly more to be revealed. Amber was priming her for bigger things to come.
“Shall we eat? These little canapés don’t look at all appealing to me.” Amber gave the slightest movement of her wrist and her two little maids scurried out to whip them away. Jess couldn’t help feeling disappointed because she thought they looked quite delicious, but had been too embarrassed to start eating while Amber was talking. However the maids reappeared almost instantly with plates and bowls which they set down on a small dining table that had been prepared nearby. One ladled out creamy soup from a tureen while the other set tiny bread rolls onto small side plates as Amber and Jess took their seats.
“You don’t mind eating in here, I hope? I thought it would be cosier than the dining room as it’s just the two of us. Soup is so comforting in winter, don’t you think?” Amber twittered with false chirpiness as she picked up her spoon.
Jess watched her bring two tiny drops to her lips before replacing her spoon in the bowl. She wondered if Amber ever actually ate anything. For her part, she thought the soup tasted delicious and happily allowed the maid to help her to more.
“I saw the photos in ‘My!’ magazine yesterday and wondered if you might like to talk about that,” Jess said tentatively. “I mean your surprise announcement, of course.”
Amber, it seemed, had finished with her soup and sat back in her chair as if replete. “Was it a surprise? You must know that Christian and I have unfinished business. We always shall – because we both know we belong together. We’ve tried to convince ourselves otherwise, but it’s time to face the truth and admit it to the world.”
“I see,” Jess said carefully, dabbing at her lips with her pristine white napkin. “No, I didn’t know that. I thought you were, as I told you before, engaged to Adam. And I believe Christian thinks the same.”
“I love Adam!” Amber said leaning forward across the table and speaking in an exaggerated stage whisper. “But of course, we all know - don’t we - that Christian and I are meant for each other? It’s what the whole world wants.”
Jess pondered that novel thought for a moment, seriously doubting that the romantic thoughts of a few hundred fans constituted the whole world. Amber’s face seemed to have taken on the look of a fanatic, her eyes shining as she gazed off into the distance.
“Do we? I mean, does Christian?” Jess’s confidence grew gradually and she held Amber’s gaze for a moment as one little maid hurried away with the soup bowls while the other brought in an enormous bowl containing a disappointingly small amount of green salad. “Only, you see, he led me to believe that there was no longer any romantic attachment between the two of you.” Jess helped herself to salad and then stared at the bowl in dismay. She had hardly taken any but the bowl was virtually empty. How could that be enough for two people? She didn’t want to appear greedy and contemplated putting some back in the bowl but wasn’t sure how to do it without making herself look foolish. Besides she was hungry. She made a mental note to refuse lunch with the next skinny superstar who invited her.