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Excerpt from the Book
Chapter One: The King
For my seventeenth birthday, Simon and Wayne hosted a black-tie dinner-dance at the Auberge Bleue near the Giza Pyramids. They invited all my friends. Roland showed up despite my refusal to marry him. He had been offered a position in California with the Walt Disney organization and wanted me to accompany him as his wife.
One evening, on our way to art class, Roland had said very seriously, “Gaby, has your father spoken to you about my marriage offer? He never did answer me!” He finished sounding somewhat offended.
“Why, did you ask him to marry you as well?” I had said jokingly. But seeing him flush in anger, I hastened to add, “Oh, don’t be so pompous, Roland. There was never anything between us - I am truly sorry if I led you to believe otherwise.”
He had bent his head and apologized for his awkwardness.
For the party, my parents offered me an exquisite gown by Lanvin - simple and elegant. Simon was most impressed.
He looked stunning in his formal attire. All the girls were vying for his attention. Our table was superbly decorated with garlands of jasmine. And the music was perfect, with tunes like “Autumn Leaves.” We were all drinking and dancing merrily when, suddenly, the music stopped and the orchestra sounded the Egyptian national anthem. All eyes focused on King Farouk entering with his entourage of young men and elegant women. He smiled all around. We all bowed and applauded as custom required. As soon as the king’s party was seated, the dance resumed. Later, the Maitre d’Hotel gave orders that we be served champagne, compliments of the king.
Apparently, he had inquired as to the occasion of our merriment. His Majesty was famous for his gallantry. Though only 31 years of age, he was quite corpulent and looked a good deal older. After several dances, he sent his personal messenger to ask me on his behalf for the next dance. It was to the beautiful strains of Strauss’s “Tales of the Vienna Woods.” His Majesty said that he wanted to make my evening memorable. That he did, for when I returned to our table, I found that Simon and Wayne were no longer there, though nobody had noticed them leave. We were all bewildered and numb with shock! We waited anxiously, but to no avail. Claude suggested then that we all leave quietly. He took me home, kissed my hand, and left without uttering a word. I entered the house on tiptoe, not yet prepared to explain Simon’s abrupt departure.
“Is that you, Gaby?” cried Maman with a light yawn.
“Who else?” said Papa impatiently. They were sitting at the kitchen table, sipping cocoa, waiting to hear all about my special evening. For fear of interfering, they had declined Simon’s invitation to join us.
“Come on, Gaby. Tell us everything!” said Maman excitedly, now fully alert and curious. But Papa noticed my distraught look. He made me sit down, poured me a cup of cocoa, and led me gently to tell them all. I tried to place Simon in the best light, as a victim perhaps. I didn’t want to prejudice them against him, for I was sure in my heart that Simon would return someday soon. Shocked at the account of his sudden departure, they sat silent.
“But what can we do?” Papa finally wondered aloud. “We are not formally related to Simon! All we can do is wait and hope,” he continued calmly.
“Goodnight.” His tone was sharp this time. He went directly to bed. I didn’t know what to think! I kissed Maman and dashed to my pillow. I sobbed all night, assuring myself that there must be a good explanation. I knew Simon well enough to know that something quite important must have happened for him to behave as he had. But what?
At six o’clock the following morning, I was still asking “What?”