All those mid-Decembers, I went with him to choose something for her; browsing around John Lewis and picking out a cute black Elle jacket which I knew she'd love, leading him to the perfume counter and making sure he sniffed more than the first bottle he laid his eyes on. I desperately wanted him to pick something for his wife which said, 'I know you. I love you. I chose this for you, because it's something which represents all you mean to me.' That was all he had to do.
I eyed the present suspiciously all Christmas morning. Then after lunch, when the living room carpet had been almost entirely covered with multi-coloured Christmas wrapping paper, the present found its way into my Mum's hands. She opened it, and I swear to God, the following present happened:
L arrived on Christmas Day, and within a matter of minutes, my little brother had arranged his bag of presents under our tree, whilst my Mum fussed about him and threw a Jack Daniels his way.
It was a couple of hours after he'd arrived, just after dinner, before we managed to get some time together, just us.
I'd gone for a bit of a lie down, a combination of too much sparkling wine, and hundreds of children running around. I'd barely closed my eyes, before L, who had followed me upstairs, poked his head around the door and said coyly:
"Bth, don't kill me... I wanted to get you just a little something for Christmas. You see, I got a bonus, and you didn't. And I thought you deserved just a little present."
He was holding a small box wrapped in gold paper with a matching tag, half hidden behind his back. I wasn't sure whether I wanted to kill him or hug him for how thoughtful he was.
He dropped the little box into my hands.
I turned it over a couple of times. Thoughts flew through my head.
- It's got to be a ring with a box that small.
- Oh my God. Not an engagement ring?
- No, don't be stupid. He's not on his knees.
- Damn - he got me a ring! I hadn't got him anything.
- I wonder if this means the holiday's off...
I slowly undid the golden ribbon and opened the box. I saw him looking at me - expecting - scanning my face for any response. It was a ring. It was silver. But I was surprised. The time had passed when I should have squealed "I love it!", but I couldn't find the words. It didn't have soft feminine curves, or see-through crystals set in gold and silver. It looked strong and dark, almost masculine.
"It's just really different... nothing like I'd expected." I mumbled, my cheeks flaming red.
You idiot. Shut up now and say thank you.
I was horrified I didn't love it. But this was a present, not something I'd chosen myself.
Just be grateful.
Flashes of my Mum's expression flew through my mind. Specifically the time one Christmas when she had opened a Boots own brand of Evening Primrose Body Lotion and a pair of nail clippers from my Dad. Oh God. Please don't let my face resemble that look. I scolded myself. This wasn't my Dad we were dealing with, and this present was obviously no last minute disaster. It was from the man who had thought of me, of what I'd like. As if to prove my point, L piped up:
"I thought it looked Arabic and unusual... a really strong piece."
I took the ring out the the box, running my fingers over the smooth underside of silver. It had a thick band, and across the top was a strong silver ridge. Down the two sloping sides, it was covered in tiny sparkling marcasite crystals. L was right. It was unusual. It was nothing like anything I'd ever loved in a ring before. But there was something strangely beautiful about it. It spoke differently to my other rings.
I put it on my finger. It fit perfectly.
"I really liked it in the shop." He said. "But don't worry, we can take it back and choose you something else together. It was just something little I chose which reminded me of you."
I felt like a real fool. I looked at the silver ridge. It reminded me of a backbone; strong, secure. The marcasites although set deep, glittered at me beautifully. They sparkled and spoke to me more than a solitaire diamond ever could. A unique kind of glittering.
I saw a real present on my left hand. One from someone who really knew me - apparently better than I knew myself.
One by one I took all the other rings off my fingers and popped them into the little ring box, looping the golden ribbon into a bow.