The Gift

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The roast was cold. The homemade gravy was beginning to congeal. Wax dripped from the freshly polished antique silver candlestick, forming an impressive stalactite that was a hair's breadth from kissing the ivory lace table runner. Jessica yanked the diamond clip from her hair and threw it onto the table, letting her soft red curls fall around her shoulders. "It's three days before Christmas. It's the season of joy. I am not going to cry." Her statement was a firm declaration made to an empty room.

She stood, blew the candle out, and stomped out of the room, not bothering to clean up the food. Let him deal with it when he got home. Maybe he'd be there in time to eat it for breakfast.

When you lived in a castle, it took a while to make your way from the dining room to the bedroom. It was, quite frankly, too far to stomp. The burning embers of fury still glowed hot in her belly, but perhaps they'd dimmed just a bit. Upon opening the door, however, the fire was instantly stoked to a blazing inferno.

She'd had the room all ready. Strings of white Christmas lights lent a soft glow to the opulent room. A fire crackled softly, the smoke drifting lazily up the chimney and away to the heavens. The bed was made with new sheets; 400 thread count combed cotton in kelly green. It was his favorite color. It was the same color as the silk underthings she'd worn just for him. A bottle of champagne sat in an ice bucket next to the bed.

Taking some satisfaction from the violence of the action, she slammed the door shut so hard the magnificent paintings in their gilded frames rattled on the walls. She flipped the switch for the bright, overhead light, yanked the cork from the bottle in an act of pure anger-fueled strength and drank deeply, straight from the bottle.

A pair of faded cotton pants that might have once been pink, or perhaps orange, were buried in the very bottom of her very deep pajama drawer. A black tee-shirt, four sizes too big with multiple holes seemed the perfect accompaniment. There would be no display of silk and lace for his benefit on this night.

She climbed into the feather-down softness of their king sized bed and covered her legs with the thick duvet. Another long draught from the champagne bottle drained it nearly to midpoint. The bubbles made her eyes water a little but, as she almost never drank alcohol, it was quickly doing its work of quieting the beast that had awakened in her. She picked up the Nora Roberts book on her nightstand and read and drank until she couldn't hold herself upright any more.

Morning came, according to the clock, but in this place, at this time of year, darkness reigned. Too miserably hungover to be angry any more, the young woman padded to the bathroom in her bare feet and stood before the enormous mirror upon which was taped a note.

Sorry I was so late last night. Work was nuts. You know how it gets this time of year. Hope you went ahead and ate without me. Not sure what time I'll be home tonight.

Love, K

She pulled the paper down. Sadness filled all of the holes drilled by last night's self-destructive rampage. Giving in to the tears now, she shed her ratty old clothes and stepped into a shower that was a single degree away from scalding and she cried as she had done too often in these past months. Great shuddering sobs were wrenched from her. It didn't matter. No one was there to hear. No one was there to judge her. In the exquisitely crafted bathroom that was larger and more expensive than the houses of three quarters of the world, set in the upper corner of a castle that was the stuff of legend and fairy tales, surrounded by a lovely, rare, splendid collection of belongings that would make any museum curator groan with longing, Jessica was crushed by the weight of unbearable loneliness.

Finally, raw from the blistering heat, empty from the purging of the hateful tears, ill from her over-indulgence, she halfheartedly dried off, went back to the bed, flopped down on her stomach and drifted off to sleep once more.

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