The office was empty and dark – the only light, the blue glow from her computer screen and the sad flashing of the small string of coloured fairy lights she had twisted around her pen pot. Christmas Eve, 6pm, and Julia was just wrapping the last of her boss’s Christmas presents.
“Lots of love, from Daddy,” she wrote on the gift tag, in the perfect Mont Blanc imitation of Simon’s signature that she had perfected over the years. She reflected ruefully on the countless cheques she could have forged in the 20 years she had been running his life, while she tapped out a quick text to her endlessly tolerant husband Tom.
“Just dropping present now, will be home by 8.”
“Ho, ho, ho,” came his reply. “Please give the ungrateful oaf a Christmas punch in the ribs from me.”
Simon’s street – one of the finest Georgian crescents in London – was almost as empty and lifeless as his office. No doubt all the other residents were abroad or in the country. Two large Range Rovers were purring in the misty gloom outside Simon’s house, ready to take him and his family to their Gloucestershire mansion.
“Ah, there you are Julia,” he said, as he came down the steps behind his five children of various ages, all plugged into iPads and bickering about who got to go in which car. “Just put it in the boot, thank you.”
“Merry Christmas to you too,” she muttered at the departing red tail lights, waiting until they were out of sight before mounting the steps and taking the enormous wreath off his shiny front door.
As she walked up to her own front door an hour later, she felt a small, sharp stab of guilt as she removed the fake wreath they had had for years and replaced it with Maple & Moss’s £300 finest. But then she reminded herself that this, after all, was the man who had spent more on school fees over the past 15 years than she could earn in two lifetimes. And she should know, because she made sure they were paid every term. She had even had a Christmas card from the bursar, which was more than she had had from him. Mind you, she would have had to sign it herself.
Opening the front door, she was greeted by a wall of warmth. The children were all in front of the television and hadn’t heard her come in, but she could see that two out of the three were holding their stockings in their hands.
“Hello, Bob Cratchit,” said Tom, planting a kiss on her cheek and a glass of wine in her hand. “What’s with all the enormous presents under the tree?”
“Oh, you know,” she said nonchalantly.
It was time, she thought the next morning, as she watched her family unwrap their presents in a state of open-mouthed awe. After all, what was a MacBook Pro here and a Jaeger-LeCoultre Polaris there to a man who thought nothing of flying his own six‑year-old son first class to New York to watch a baseball game to celebrate losing his first front tooth?
It was nothing really, was it? Just a drop in the ocean for him, she tried to convince herself as she watched her youngest son staring at the iPad in his hands as if it were some sort of illusion.
She downed her glass of prosecco – she had thought better of adding a case of Dom Pérignon to the Berry Bros & Rudd order she had placed on his behalf – and watched as her eldest daughter Sophie stared at the unwrapped present she was holding. “This doesn’t look like the trainers I asked for,” she said rather nervously.
She was right. It really didn’t look like the pair of trainers she had asked for. Julia had made a point of buying her the neon-striped Adidas Superstars – it was all she had wanted – but had stuffed the box with vouchers for all her favourite clothes shops, as a little added extra.
Watching the mortified blush rise up her daughter’s cheeks as she unwrapped a complicated piece of Victoria’s Secret underwear Simon had requested Julia buy for his new million-dollar girlfriend, she felt a wave of nausea pass over her. She could even recall the lascivious smirk Simon had given when he’d sent her out to buy it.
Outside the front window, a Fortnum & Mason van hoved into view. “That’ll be the Christmas dinner,” she whispered sheepishly, as her family goggled at her in disbelief. “Oh, come on,” she said, steeling herself with another glug of fizz, “After all, Tiny Tim did say, ‘God bless us all.’”