When she woke it was Christmas morning and her bed was empty. Or rather, Paolo was gone and she was alone. She heard Christmas carols, the Vienna Boys’ Choir or something like that, traditional carols in Latin. Wafting down the hall she could smell something incredible–spicy, vanilla, maybe, a warm, holiday scent. Buttery. And then coffee, richer and darker. She opened her wardrobe and selected her most festive robe–a red and black embroidered kimono Alessandro had brought her from Hong Kong after he first moved there. She still had light red marks on her skin where the boning had dug into her. The silk robe felt divine–soft and smooth and cool on her skin.
She padded down the hallway barefoot, following the promise of breakfast. Paolo was standing in her kitchen, wearing his D&G shorts and his wool sweater over his bare chest, barefoot. He was concentrating on a small pitcher of frothed milk and a white cup and saucer.
“What are you doing?” Francesca asked, walking up to him.
“I’m trying to make a damn heart in this foam,” he said quietly, as if speaking any louder would disturb his art. “I’ve already had to drink two of them because I messed up.” He gestured towards the dirty cups in the sink.
“You’re adorable,” she said. “Especially in those,” she added, slapping his ass playfully.
“Hey! I almost had that one!” She had upset his cappuccino efforts.
“I’ll drink it anyway,” she said. “What else smells so good?”
“I toasted some panettone,” he said, abandoning the idea of designer foam and dumping the remaining frothed milk into his cup.
“Where did you find panettone?”
“I brought it from Torino.”
“When? Last night?”
“Yeah, I had a big bag that I brought in when we came home. I guess you didn’t notice because you were too busy devising your evil plan to make me your sex slave.”
“But look, now you’re a free man.” She kissed him. “Buon Natale.”
Merry Christmas, everyone. For more of the holiday with Paolo & Francesca, visit this compilation of Christmas excerpts.
Her doorbell rang, three quick pulses, just after six in the evening.
“Does this mean I have to put pants on?” Paolo asked, lifting his head from her lap.
She nodded. “You’d want your sister’s boyfriend to be wearing pants, wouldn’t you?” she replied, standing up from the couch. She kicked some wrapping paper under the coffee table.
“Good point,” he said.
Three more rings on the bell. “Coming,” she called down the hall. She opened the door to her brother. Michele was the middle child, a curious combination of Ricci’s business acumen and Francesca’s artistic side. He worked as a consultant in Hong Kong, a transfer he had resisted five years ago. As the managing partner at his firm, he now claimed he’d never move back to Italy, he’d fallen in love with Asia so much. Or, Francesca gathered, with his girlfriend, a curator at Gagosian Hong Kong.
“Esselunga was open,” he said, holding up two grocery bags. She hugged him around his neck and kissed both his cheeks.
“Come in, come in! You’re so cold,” she said, pinching his red earlobes.
“You kept me waiting outside,” he countered. “Is Paolo here?”
“He is,” she said, and as if on cue, her bedroom door opened and he walked out, wearing jeans and a Nike t-shirt. He jogged down the hall to greet her brother.
“Good to see you, man. Buon Natale,” he said, clapping an arm around Michele’s shoulders.
“I hope you like Vietnamese,” Michele said shyly.
“Love it,” Paolo answered.
“You’re kidding, right?” Francesca asked. They both turned towards her. “You really know how to cook Vietnamese?” she asked Michele.
“It’s just a fish stew,” he said. “We went on holiday last year and spent a week at a resort with a cooking school.”
She raised an eyebrow. “You guys are so cultured,” she said.
“Min had wanted to do it for a while. She sends her love, by the way. Asked if you were going to come out for work any time soon.” He turned to Paolo. “Min’s my girlfriend,” he explained. “We should probably put this fish in the fridge,” he continued, carrying the groceries into her kitchen. He shrugged off his Loro Piana jacket and hung it over the back of a chair.
Francesca helped him unpack the bags, while Paolo stood in the doorway watching them. “You know her well,” he remarked as Michele unpacked a carton of vegetable stock and a bottle of fish sauce.
“What? Oh, you mean that she doesn’t have anything in her kitchen,” Michele said, opening the refrigerator. He shook a half-empty carton of milk. “She’s always been like this.”
“I’m right here,” Francesca interjected. Michele tossed a lime at her.
[before this: Buon Natale]
She straddled his waist and leaned in to kiss him, letting her hair fall over him, enveloping them both. He squirmed a little, accustomed to being able to move freely. “Stop being so restless,” she said. “We’re going to do this slowly, and you’re going to love it. I promise.”
He sighed. She tossed her hair back and sat up on her knees, flicking his nipples with her fingernails. “Cesca,” he said through gritted teeth.
“Oh,” she replied, looking over her shoulder. “I forgot you were still wearing pants.”
Through his dress pants his erection was huge, and she rested a hand on it casually. He grimaced.
“I said we were going to go slowly.” She smiled. She stood up and got down from the bed, walking towards the door. “I really do want that champagne after all,” she said, glancing back at him. “Do you want yours? I’ll bring it anyway.”
“Cesca!” She could hear him calling after her as her heels tapped down the hallway. “It’s Christmas, dammit!”
Champagne flutes in one hand and Moet in the other, she reentered the bedroom. She set the bottle and glasses on the nightstand. “I’ll pour,” she said.
“I don’t know what kind of present you think this is,” he said edgily, shifting his shoulders and tugging against the bedposts. She stood next to the bed, her left hand on her hip, legs slightly spread, and downed a glass of champagne.
“You don’t like it? You should have some champagne, it’ll make you feel amazing.”
She sat on the edge of the bed and brought a glass over to his lips. He tried to drink from it and she poured the champagne heavy-handedly; it streamed down his cheeks.
“You’re humiliating me,” he said.
“I am not.” She leaned in to whisper in his ear as he twisted uncomfortably. “You are going to come so hard the neighbors are going to think Santa Claus is coming down the fucking chimney.”
Paolo popped the cork from the Moet bottle. “Open the other one,” he said.
She looked at the little box and was suddenly terrified. It was too small to be anything but jewelry. He never got her gifts. He had just given them a trip to St Kitts. He was serving champagne. She felt dizzy, like she was hovering over the scene and watching herself.
He nudged her. “Open it,” he repeated.
She tore through the paper and lifted the lid on the box to reveal another, smaller box inside. Red leather with a little gold edging, it looked like a Cartier box. It was a Cartier box. She felt certain that she was hyperventilating. This type of thing was not supposed to happen, not after barely three months, not after a night of fierce sex during which she told him if he gave her head like that he’d never have to give her another gift again. She’d just introduced him to her family. She had promised to go to Napoli and meet his for New Year’s. He was a football player; she didn’t even know if he had a secondary school diploma. There was obviously some impediment limiting the oxygen traveling to her brain.
He looked at her expectantly.
Her fingers felt numb as they opened the red leather box, and even once she had opened it she blinked several times before she could register a reaction.
“Now may I open my present?” he asked, grinning.
“I suppose so,” she said, sipping her champagne.
He untied the red satin ribbon, letting it drop to the floor, and slid his finger under the glossy black paper, opening the package methodically at the seams. She had never seen anyone open a present so neatly. Under the wrapping he revealed a black and pink box with the letters “A P” embossed in gold script.
“Are you sure this is intended for me?” he asked.
“Oh, I’m sure,” she said.
He lifted the lid of the box and unfolded the black tissue paper. Inside he found a black French leavers lace demi-bra, waspie, and high-waisted panties, spangled with miniature crystals and tiny copper threads. “I don’t think it’s my size…” he began.
“This piece,” Francesca said, taking the panties from him, “is called an ‘ouvert.'”
“Is that supposed to mean something to me?”
“I think you’ll catch on once you see it on.”
“I don’t mean to be rude,” he said, “but what are you waiting for?”
He handed her the box and its contents and she ran into her bedroom. She heard him walk into the bathroom, whistling a little bit of The Barber of Seville, splashing water on his face and brushing his teeth. She stood in front of her mirror and adjusted her Agent Provocateur ensemble. The waspie, in particular, seemed somewhat pointless–a combination garter belt and corset, it was just something extra to put on and take off. But, she supposed, that was the whole point. The lace, for all its structure and adornment, was soft, without all the boning and underwires, the outfit would probably be relatively comfortable. She smoothed her black stockings and stepped into a pair of vertiginously tall Dior black satin d’Orsay heels. Merry Christmas, Paolo.
She walked out of the bedroom and down the hall towards the living room. She could still hear him whistling Rossini in the bathroom as she picked up the red satin ribbon from the oriental rug and coiled it in her hand. As she passed the bathroom again she knocked on the door.
“Come on,” she said. “I’m waiting.”
He opened the door a fraction and stuck his head out. “Sorry, just a minute,” he said, but she was already back behind the closed bedroom door.
Francesca set the ribbon on her bedside table and looked in the mirror again. Pretty good. The sheer black stockings emphasized the contours of her long legs, the waspie drew attention to her slim waist, and her breasts were creamy and full above the demi-cup of her bra. Admittedly, she thought holiday knickers were a little ridiculous, and she couldn’t remember ever having worn lingerie embellished with crystals, but in the low candlelight of her bedroom it looked amazing. And she hoped, at least, it would make up for the lack of decor in the rest of her apartment.
She heard Paolo’s footsteps outside the door. “Ready or not,” he said, turning the knob.
He stopped short when he saw her.
“Wow,” he said quietly. “Wow.”
She walked towards him, slowly and deliberately. “Buon Natale, baby,” she whispered.