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A Charitable Woman

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On Christmas Eve, feeling generous enough after the boys were put to bed, Linda first embraced her husband between vermillion satin sheets and allowed him to kiss her as much as he pleased. There were a few trinkets for him in her closet, of course, but her affection was the greatest prize of all and on merry days such as these, she gifted it freely and abundantly. Gerald wasn't such a bad man after all, was he? She could have married any man in the world, yet day after day, she kept coming home to him and warming his bed. He was a most deserving husband if there were any.

"Merry Christmas, Lin," he whispered sweetly against her ear. "You're the best, most expensive gift of all."

"Of course I am," she replied cheekily. Her fingers dug into his shoulders. "Hurry up and be done, dear, you've got a Christmas tree to stack up."

Gerald huffed with some dry mirth, as though he had expected her to say this all along, but obeyed. He always did. Rolling off of her, he gazed up at the ceiling lazily, catching up his breath till she nudged him in the ribs.

"Well?" She said expectantly. "The gifts, Gerald! I'm not gonna ask the maid to stack them, Lord knows I don't trust her not to break anything. Besides, it's a man's job."

Gerald sat up and dropped his legs off the edge of the bed heavily. He yawned – she was sure that he was only putting on a little show of reluctance, as he always did too. Gerald was a quiet strength who hated being perturbed, but Linda considered herself a force above the rest of humankind, even such a fine specimen as her husband.

"Alright, fine," he relented. "But keep me company, at least."

Linda waved him away and Gerald meekly left their room to get started on splitting all the gifts for their sons in four big piles under the tree. She stared at her own reflection in the broad mirror above their bed and smirked. From her closet, she pulled out a thin paper bag. Gerald was a lovely husband. On this eve of all year, he deserved a little push.

"Are you done yet?" She asked when she made an entrance into the parlor where their main Christmas tree was standing, finely decorated and bright all day and all night for weeks now.

Gerald gave her a quick glance, glaring, but no sooner had he turned back to the tree that he really registered the sight and he swirled back around, eyes glinting with desire. Linda gave him a smile in corner and took a seat on the armchair by the fireplace, crossing her bare legs elegantly.

"You like it?" She asked, teasing. "You paid for this yourself last month."

She had expected Gerald might be so keen on new lingerie – when wasn't he? – though the wolfish grin at his lips never ceased to feed her ego. The moment he tried to approach her, however, she shook her head in disapproval and pushed him away with the tip of her toe.

"Nuh uh," she said. "I know very well how many gifts I bought our boys, and that’s not nearly all of them. Please make a neat pile. I don’t want them all shoveled in a heap like gravel."

A good leverage was the key to getting anything accomplished in this world. Given the proper motivation, even Gerald could do her bidding without his usual whining. From their bedroom and the pantry and several closets, he produced a mountain of presents for their beautiful sons, which he arranged neatly into straight piles under Linda’s attentive supervision.

“See? That wasn’t so hard,” she taunted.

Gerald shooed her away.

“Go back to bed,” he told her, “And I’ll put your shit under the tree too.”

He had been a good man tonight and Linda swayed her hips seductively on her walk out of the room to give him a foretaste of his reward to come very soon. Gerald had never been a creative gift giver ; he just bought whatever had the biggest price tag and called it a day. She supposed she could expect clothes, handbags, perfume, jewelry, of whatever brand he recognized from her vanity. Likely all of the above. And Linda wouldn’t have wanted anything else from him that he didn’t already give her all year round.

She woke up entangled in his embrace with the sound of pounding at their door in the early morning. Gerald, whom she shook awake, only groaned without much energy and insisted on holding her all the tighter, seizing the last bit of Christmas cuddling he could before it slipped away.

“They’ll find the gifts all on their own. They know where the tree is, they’re not complete idiots,” he grumbled. “Lemme hold you.”

But Linda tore from his arms and picked up the silken bathrobe wrapped on the back of her vanity’s chair. She put some order in her hair, pursed her lips for some lipstick.

“Mommy’s coming right along, dears,” she called out to her shrieking sons outside the door. “Wait for me.”

She glared at Gerald, who was still stretching his limbs in bed and muffling a yawn against the pillows.

“I cannot miss the happiness on our sons’ faces when they open their gifts, Gerald,” she told him coldly as she prodded the soft flesh of his side with her fingernails. “I’m a mother. It’s in my blood.”

“It’s in my blood to wanna have s... Oh, for fuck’s sake!”

Linda had grabbed the covers and pulled them off the bed, leaving poor Gerald naked and groaning in frustration, trying to roll up in a ball to keep warmth.

“Merry Christmas,” she retorted. “We’ll be waiting for you.”

The boys had not been waiting for either of them, of course. They might have been Gerald’s sons (or at least Linda had always hoped that they were) but first and foremost they had her blood. Murrays took what they wanted, seized it from the clutches of hell if they had to. When she walked into the living room, Trent, Seaton and Jordan were already counting presents and shoving their own heaps farther from the tree and from one another so that their brothers would be well away from them and there would be no theft. Of course, all three of them were already fighting that exact decision and gleefully pillaging the piles of the others. River, who had remained at Linda’s door and waited for her to come out, let go of her hand and sat by his own considerable pile where he picked up the first gift within reach. Jordan was just about done making inventory.

“Twenty-six, twenty-seven… Twenty-eight presents.”

Linda gave him a warm smile. Jordan had the misfortune of having been born three years after the two elder sons who, born within fifteen months of one another, were as thick as thieves, but three years before River whom he still thought of as a baby. He was therefore a little more needy than the other boys and she had always perceived this as very unbecoming for a growing young man. With time, she hoped, he would learn to toughen up and take his own space in this world without waiting to be handed it.

“That’s right, darling,” she told him and plastered a honeyed smile on her face for the sake of Christmas Day. “Isn’t Santa Claus such a generous man with beautiful boys like you?”

But Jordan was frowning and she saw his lips mouth numbers as he counted the presents from other piles, too. Seaton and Trent had been comparing their cartridges of whatever video games it was that Gerald had gotten them − hopefully the same, lest one of them got jealous − but perked up when Jordan walked up to their piles. They glared at him and scooted in front, so as to protect their prizes.

“Seaton got thirty-two,” Jordan declared. “And Trent got seventeen!”

“Trent is lucky to get that much,” Linda replied, now much more coldly. “Don’t think I forgot your little spiel at the swimming pool, young man. Be thankful your father just so happened to make a generous contribution to the charity work of that lady’s mother the next day. You’d think at twelve years old, you’d be well aware that there is such a thing as reputation in this town.”

Trent was ready to protest, but Jordan was once again irate when attention diverted from him and he interceded. He could be such a bothersome little boy sometimes. She ought to get a new nanny to teach him better manners. She feared he would get on her nerves far too often if he kept up this way.

“But River got sixty-seven!”

“Yes, he did,” she said, cooing at her youngest son who was cuddling the new monster doll he had just unwrapped and tickling its little fuzzy belly. “He was the nicest kid on Santa’s list this year. Weren’t you, my love?”

River hesitated. Linda’s preference for her younger son was often a subject of discord between the four of them and she made sure to shut down any of their protest on the matter. If they were more loveable, she reflected, then she might love them the most. Her father had certainly never respected people just for the sake of blood relation. You had to prove your worth whichever way you could to get anywhere in life.

“Maybe Santa made a mistake,” River offered. “We can all share, if you want.”

“I don't want any little kid toys!” Jordan cried, who was rapidly losing his temper as he was prompt to. Linda could have sworn the child whined more than he spoke. “They're boring, they're for babies!”

River's lip quivered. He had always had the tenderest of hearts.

“But… but it’s not my fault Santa gave me all those gifts…” He sniffed. “Maybe he thought I was nicer.”

Linda nodded approvingly. The older boys were watching the fight with a growing interest and Seaton was starting to look a little distraught at the disparity of gifts between his younger brother and himself. Trent was eyeing the rest of them jealously. He had always had a mean strike.

“You’re not nice,” he told River bluntly. “Mom just likes you more.”

Linda wanted to sew his mouth shut for good but, fuming, she could not find her words. Seaton touched Trent’s shoulder in support and spoke in defense of him. Of all the children, she thought, those two were the more likely to share their gifts with one another. She would have to drill in the evils of socialism a little more in them.

“Your gifts suck and they’re lame,” Seaton told River. With his foot, he kicked the box which contained the same monster doll that the younger child was presently still cuddling. It flew all the way into the fireplace where, little by little then all at once, the flames caught it. The room was rancid with the smell of burnt plastic. “We didn’t even get PS5s! And I’m sick of pretending Santa’s real just cause River’s too dumb to figure it out!”

If River had been upset before, it was nothing to the anguish that now filled him and he turned to Linda with big teary eyes. Her heart broke for him. She had hoped to keep him innocent for as long as she could.

“He’s not dumb,” she replied dryly. “He’s six. And he’s the smartest six year old in the world. Yes, sweetie, you are!”

The man of the house could not have chosen a less convenient time to make an entrance. Now fully presentable in his pajamas and a bathrobe she had bought for him from the same shop as her father always purchased his, Gerald walked into the living room scratching his neck lazily and yawning. He caught sight of the burning toy in the fireplace and his eyes widened with surprise. Mouth open, he stared around at the scene before him. He looked like he wanted to walk right back into the hall behind him all the way up to his office and hole himself up in there for good. The three older boys were furious, River was heartbroken and crawling onto Linda’s lap for cuddles and kisses of comfort.

“Really, Gerald, I can’t believe you ruined Christmas for our boys,” Linda told him in a stern, serious voice. “Boys, this is all your idiot of a father’s fault.”

Gerald yawned and sat into his armchair by the fire, resting his face on an elbow.

“Well, I’m the Grinch in my free time, what can I say?” He deadpanned. “What’d I do this time?”

“We could have had four PlayStations for your sons, but you just had to go and sell the last three, didn’t you?”

“River’s got one?!” Jordan cried. He looked like he was about to throw fists and Linda held River all the tighter, who was now in tears. “Why’d he get one and not us?!”

Gerald shrugged.

“Eh, some guy offered me two thousand for each. It was a great deal. Your mother told me to just keep one for River and…”

Linda’s blood chilled and she winced. She had been hoping he would keep that part silent. Gerald always did have the knack for saying the wrong thing in front of their boys. He was a brute and an idiot.

“So it’s not Santa who’s giving me all this?” River asked desperately. “It’s just… It’s you and mommy?”

The three older boys groaned in frustration. Jordan was showing a lot more bravado than he ought to, Linda reflected, considering the boy had only made the math on the whole Santa situation a few months back. It was just like him to act bigger than he was.

“Yes it is, you dumbass!”

Bored by the whole situation, Gerald made to leave for the kitchen, probably to get some coffee into his tired veins, but Linda jumped to her feet to bar his way.

“And where do you think you’re going? You’re running to the store and getting PS5s for our sons immediately!”

He sighed in the very way she disliked, which made her feel like he thought himself above her and indeed the rest of humanity with his all-encompassing knowledge. Linda did not suffer being felt like less-than, especially not in her own home. Not anymore, not with Gerald.

“They don’t have them at the store, baby,” he explained. “That’s the whole thing about them. The kids can just share and…”

“I will not have our sons scrape for the same console they’d have to share like beggars! Go to the store and get them something!”

He was losing his patience, which ran thick and heavy otherwise.

“What d’you want me to get ’em?” He asked, resolved.

She poked a finger on his chest accusingly.

“I don’t care!” She retorted. “Get them something!”

Of course, the mother always had the toughest job of handling her children’s emotions, of nurturing them, of caring for them. Gerald footed the bills and that was just about as far as Linda trusted him with the boys and with herself. Already, she was thinking of all the ways she could deprive him of her affection if he did not fix this mess he had created. Certainly the lingerie would stay packed and forgotten at the bottom of her closet for a long, long time, if she ever wore it again at all.

It took much wheedling, cajoling and coddling for River to get out of his funk and only then did she get to the older boys. They had barely touched their piles of gifts by then, too focused on the perceived paucity to enjoy them. Trent and Seaton were sulking together, Jordan was pretending not to cry, River was obediently unwrapping the rest of his mountain of presents but Linda could tell he was only pretending to fawn on them for her sake.

“Daddy’s here!” Jordan shouted after some time.

He had been sitting by the window and indeed, not long after, the rest of them heard the sounds of his Tesla pulling into the garage. They were rushing towards the side door by the time he made his entrance with shopping bags.

“I got you guys MacBooks,” he said and sounded as unemotive as usual. The boys were excited enough to compensate. “The new ones with the M1 chip, 16 inch Pros, you’ll like those, right? You can play some decent games on those bastards.”

“Yay!”

“Thank you, daddy!”

A moment later, the boys were laying on the ground and testing their new laptops, customizing everything that could be, greedily keeping at an arm’s bay whichever brother was looking like he could lean a little too close to the prize. They were as happy as they had ever been on any other Christmas morning. Reluctantly, Linda had to admit to herself that Gerald had saved the day − after sinking it.

“C’mere,” he told her and Linda allowed him to pull her to his lap in the armchair. He wrapped an arm around her waist and kissed her cheek. “Looks like the idiot father saved Christmas after all.”

“He has his moments,” she admitted.

One by one, the boys did eventually open every gift, though none were as interesting to them as the computer now inspiring them with opportunities. River was the sweetest boy and cared more for the toys than the device, but all four of them made sure to comment on their gifts as they opened them.

“His belly’s so squishy!” Jordan said affectionately, holding his new monster doll. Linda would have to go back to Toy Zone and get another one for Seaton. “I love it, mommy!”

He took the monster’s paws and pretended to type on the MacBook, making Gerald chuckle.

“This screen is so big and bright,” Trent said. “I should start a YouTube channel.”

“We could do pranks together!” Seaton offered, already excited by the prospect. “We’d get a million subs!”

Her arms around Gerald’s neck, Linda rested her head against his shoulder and sighed contentedly. It would have been so unfortunate for Christmas to be truly spoiled.

“You’re still the greatest gift of all,” Gerald muttered against her ear in a soft voice. “To me and the kids.”

“Make sure you don’t forget it.”

But she was smiling. In a moment, she would have to ask Gerald to carry all the toys to the boys’ bedrooms and arrange them at their will. He would complain, she was sure, but he would obey eventually. The maid would handle all the wrapping paper and boxes just fine on her next shift. For the moment, there was nothing in the world to be done but to admire her happy sons filled with the magic of their parents’ generosity. Linda kissed Gerald’s cheek and in his arms thought that this might just be their best Christmas yet.