Keeping her distance from the black sheep, Mary pours me another cup of coffee. Luckily for me nobody, except her, noticed I had spent the night away from home. Strangely enough, Beda’s unfeeling behaviour hasn’t spoilt my appetite and I feast with relish on crisp croissants and Mary’s famous coffee.
“It’s sinful to be so greedy, Liebchen! If you swallow your food without chewing it properly you’ll have indigestion. Shame on your fiancé that he didn’t treat you to a hearty breakfast, all things considered,” Mary adds meaningfully, implying she is ready to hear my confession and give me her absolution. I overlook the olive branch and get up.
“We have a written exam. I can’t be late.”
After having checked in the classroom in vain, I go down to cover the entrance. As always, Bessie races in at the last call of the bell.
“When shall I see him?” I grab her sleeve decided not to let her escape without an answer.
“Later! I can’t afford to attract that old dragon’s attention and give her an idea to grill me.” Bessie shakes me off mercilessly and runs the stairs up.
“Tell me just “yes” or “no”, Bessie, please!”
Without a backwards glance, Bessie bolts into the classroom and falls onto her seat the very moment our mathematics teacher enters.
How absurd to fear an exam, a mere joke if set against a tiny square of flight ticket hidden in the secret drawer of my writing desk! Harrowed with an evil premonition, I ponder about my losses: Egon, Beda, maybe even Milan, in case I don’t succeed to get him back!
“Irene!” Mirka touches my shoulder, “Miss Milner is calling out your name.”
“Sorry to disturb you, Miss Fila,” the teacher wheezes mockingly, “come nearer and show us how well you’re prepared!”
Without turning a hair, I advance straight into the dragon’s jaws. Somewhere in an unreachable distance, Mirka’s lips articulate the answers that I don’t bother to read. After a few moments of awkward silence, Miss Milner asks me to be seated.
I survive the lesson on hope of meeting Milan, and run to Bessie not waiting till Miss Milner gets out.
“Well, he told me to mind my own business and when I insisted he gave me this!” Bessie rolls up her sleeve and flaunts on me a black-and-blue mark on her arm.
“I’ve never expected Milan is such a brute! Be glad to have got rid of him before being beaten up! Can you believe that he did it to me without wiping that irresistible smile of his off? A real Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde! You had a narrow escape, my dear Irene! You see I did all I could, so don’t expect any further help. Why don’t you take another lover? As far as I know for you it has always been a child’s play.” She turns her back on me and becomes absorbed in a textbook. I drag my feet to my seat, so down that Mirka’s heart softens.
“I wish I knew how to cheer you up, Irene!”
“That would need a miracle worker! I’m going home. Ask the teacher to excuse me, please.”
“I won’t let you on your own. In your present state of mind you’ll be run over by a car.”
“It isn’t that bad, Mirka. Thanks anyhow.” I gather my belongings and leave.
Lingering about the exit, I wonder where to go. As if I wouldn’t know! If caught unprepared, Milan may let me in.
“Irene! Wait!” Bessie catches up with me.
“I know where Milan keeps his spare key,” she says half-heartedly, as if in doubt to do me a favour.
“It is under a flower-pot on the window of the last floor.”
Stabbed right through my heart, I stare at Bessie voluptuous mouth voicing the fatal message. The ultimate horror! Going halves on Milan with HER!
“Thanks, Bessie,” I hear myself say and contain my urge to strangle her. Beggars can’t be choosers. I would die without Milan, even if he was shared!
I jump out of the taxi and run flat up the stairs. I lift the plant off the windowsill and grab hold of the key. Jumpy as a burglar at his first break-in, I turn the key in the lock and sneak in. Until now all has been fabulously simple. I push my luck, tiptoeing through the corridor towards Milan’s bedroom. At this time of the day Milan used to be at home, sleeping off the last night tuition.
The blinds are shut. I grope my way along to Milan’s bed, listening to his restful breathing. I strip down, slip in next to Milan’s heavenly warm body and press my lips against his. Dreamlike, as if we had never parted, we make love the only way it can be done, rubbing off the gymnastics we made with anybody else.
“I love you, Milan!” I commit myself to the flames, “I have never loved anybody but you. I shall never love anybody but you,” I swear and my body is sealing my oath.
Milan’s arms fence me in, so tight it seems unbelievable we could ever have be disjoint.
“What time it is?” I ask when the light of the street lamps pierces the blinds.
“I’d better call home. They must be worried.”
“Certainly, babe, it seems only fair to tell them you aren’t coming home tonight. Neither tomorrow. Nor the day after. Never ever. We can always marry to pacify them,” holding me in a vice-like grip, Milan says lightly.
“But Milan! Aren’t we perfectly happy as we are? It won’t get any better by marriage!”
His arms fall from me, severed by his recognition of my old self, the practised escapist.
“So you got me once more, Gnadiges Fraulein! I must be a real jerk to have let you fix me up with your womanly wiles!” He shrieks, folding with laughter.
“She loved him and got married. To another man!”
“Stop it, Milan! Now you’re going too far! Don’t you see you’re hurting me?!”
“I am hurting YOU! That takes the cake, Gnadiges Fraulein! Why don’t you swear me another oath of eternal love? This time, point blank, on the Bible?”
“Of course I love you, you idiot! How can I make you understand that marriage is no synonym for love but its very negation?”
He watches me undecided whether to believe me that all this fuss was just over us being married longing with all his heart to be coaxed into taking me back.
“I see your point of view, babe. Believe me I’ve only tried to make things easier for you. Of course I don’t give a damn about some marriage! The matter is closed. Let’s turn our attention to vital things: you must be starved! Poor babe! How could I let you live on fresh air and love! It’s dinner time and you haven’t eaten your lunch yet! No wonder we’re both on edge. Shall we explore the fridge or eat out?”
“But Milan! What about Mirak? Won’t you be awfully late?”
“To Hell with Mirak! I’m committed to nobody else but you. So, abandon all hope to get rid of me and decide the first thing first: where shall we dine: in or out? By the way, didn’t you want to phone home?”
“So I did, if I only knew what to say!”
" Plain truth will do. Shall I take the surprise development off your hands and break the news to your father man-to-man? He knows a thing or two about love and he’s fair and square.”
“I agree, do it! But don’t you think that all would be much simpler if you hadn’t broken your promise and minded your studies? There are other ways to prove a girl your love than in bed!” Burning the bridges to our shared life, I hit Milan where it hurts most.
He gives a start and reels back:
“You never miss a trick, do you, Gnadiges Fraulein? Be sure this was the last time you got me there!” He jumps out and strides to the bathroom.
“Wait! If I were you I’d think twice before playing a saint! Aren’t you interested how I got into your flat?” I pull my last trump out off my sleeve.
“Bessie blurted out how one can enter the castle! So don’t put on airs and be grateful that I’m a sport and let you get out of it without a scratch. Come back to me immediately and repent! If you try hard, I may forgive you and take you back!”
Rooted to the floor, he turns to me his bloodless face: “How dare you! I stopped seeing Bessie ages ago, the very moment I understood I loved you and you became the only woman of my life! My only love! The very reason of my life! Must you smear everything, Irene?”
He gives me one last glance and walks out of my life. I put the clothes back on my lifeless body and set off to learn by heart how it feels to stay alone.