Revenge of the Nerd Ch. 21byrpsuch©
It's more difficult when you have almost unlimited money to spend on gifts. It can rob you of your imagination and distract your focus from what the recipient will really appreciate to how much you can acquire.
I made a conscious effort not to think of gifts in terms of money. For my family I would tap the bank account. But for Jeff's family I would tap my imagination.
At my house, we lit the Chanukah candles, whipped through the prayers and tore into the gifts. No sentimentality was wasted on this holiday.
My gift was in a very small package. It was a sizeable gift certificate to Bloomingdale's. However thrilled I might have been, and I wasn't, it wouldn't do to show too much enthusiasm.
"Thank you. How thoughtful."
There was no possibility whatsoever that they would suspect irony. I lacked the depth.
I left as quickly as I could and headed over to Jeff's.
I was bubbling over. I had never been so excited to give gifts.
I don't even think it would be spoiled for me if they weren't perfect because I had put so much thought into them that I would be the beneficiary of my giving.
I got hugs from everyone, even Louis. Sandy attacked me again.
Jeff gave me a yummy kiss and he wasn't even embarrassed to be doing it in front of his family, at least until they started making noises. Then he blushed.
They had waited for my arrival to light the candles.
Sam stood with his arm over Harri's shoulder. Her arm was around his waist.
Sandy leaned against Jeff, her arm around his waist. The body language was, "This is my big brother and he is the greatest." It made me want to hug them.
We sang the same prayers, but this felt more in the moment, part of the celebration of the holiday, not some activity to be gotten out of the way so we could move on to better things.
"I want to go first."
I was like a kid on Christmas morning, making a beeline for the tree, except there was no tree.
"Louis, I know you the least well of this family, but I hope you'll get a kick out of this."
I handed him a small package.
He tore off the paper.
"A DVD. My favorite movie?"
"I don't think so," I said.
"Revenge of The Nerds." He laughed. Yes! "I don't think I've ever seen it, although my kids tell me it is an important part of my education. Thank you, Ashley."
He kissed me on the cheek, reserved even in his excitement.
"Sunny and Sandy, you two are joining me for a day at the spa."
Sandy squealed. Sunny had a big smile. I don't know whether it was because she was delighted with the gift or delighted that Sandy was so delighted with the gift, but she was obviously happy.
"Harri and Sam," I handed them a brochure.
"Oh, my God," said Harri. "She's given us a Wagon Train vacation at the Harbaugh Ranch in Montana. How did you even think of this? Oh, My God. I didn't even know there was such a thing."
Sam was pawing at the brochure. "That is going to be so much fun," he said.
"It's a three-day minimum, but you can go longer if you want," I said.
"I hope the cooking is authentic. I could learn so much," said Sam. "Look, the train goes to neighboring ranches and we help them brand their calves. We can sleep in tents if we want." He said it with wonder.
"Not a chance," said Harri with no wonder at all.
Jeff just stood there with his mouth open.
"I finally found a way to shut you up," I told him. He just shook his head slowly forgetting to shut his mouth. "Jeff, I'm afraid I didn't spend anything on you." I reached into my purse, withdrew a card and handed it to him.
"You registered to vote. She registered to vote." Tears were dripping down his cheeks. "You're incredible."
He wrapped his arms around me and it didn't feel like he ever intended to let go, which was fine with me, but he eventually recognized this was not a position we could maintain forever.
I had been excited about this, but I was also relieved. This gift had been a big risk. I had put my heart into it, but there was always the possibility I could be viewed as cheap and my gift interpreted, therefore, as thoughtless. I had gambled big and I had won big.
Sunny came over, ran her hand over my hair and gave me a long kiss on the cheek. "You're very special."
"Yes, she is," said Harri, who came in for a kiss of her own.
"You're a real sweetheart," said Sam.
Louis just beamed. Sandy had a big smile and she was fidgeting, barely able to contain her enthusiasm.
I was floating.
Sunny stepped back, put her arm around Louis and leaned against him. Sam and Harri leaned into a passionate kiss. I guess it wasn't that out of the ordinary here.
"Get a room, you two," said Sandy. They broke apart.
"You, wow, I still can't believe it," said Jeff.
"You were very difficult to get a gift for, Ashley.
"You don't seem to have any hobbies or passions. You can afford anything you want. You can go places. You can buy things.
"We spent a lot of time talking about it and, especially after what's happened here, I think we made a good decision.
"One of the special things we've noticed about you is you seem to like to do nice things for people." He glanced at Sandy.
"You got us the tickets to the Fifths, even though you thought you wouldn't like it. You took me to that dinner where, uh, that wonderful dinner."
Don't be bashful, Jeff. Tell the whole family about my night of foreplay and seduction.
"And these gifts tonight prove you have an immense capacity for caring and giving. So we got you the gift of giving."
Come on, be a little more cryptic, you're making it too easy. What the hell was he talking about?
"Sam and Harri and Mom and Dad each got you a nanny goat from Heifer International."
"They got nanny goats in your name to be donated to two desperately poor families in a village where most families don't have enough to eat, let alone go to school or build a life.
"I have information from Heifer International you can look at to understand the incredible effects this will have for the two families and the whole village.
"I got you a billy goat for the same village, so he can knock up the nannies at the right time."
"Jeff." Sunny glanced at Sandy.
"How much of a child do you think I am?" Sandy wasn't taking any crap.
"Sorry, mom," he said. "I was just having a little fun.
"The nanny goats have been bred to produce a lot of milk the families can drink and sell.
"When they get together with my billy goat, the families will give the offspring to other families in the village.
"I know it's not a lot, but we thought you would appreciate making a start at helping some people get out of extreme poverty."
"I got you bees," said Sandy. She was beaming. "Heifer will see that the recipient gets trained and he can earn a living from the honey and from bringing in his bees to fertilize the crops."
Now I had tears dripping down my face. It wasn't because I appreciated their gifts to me of helping other people, though I certainly did appreciate them.
It was that they thought so highly of me; they were absolutely convinced I would receive the most satisfaction from helping somebody else.
They had complete faith in me. I had nowhere near that kind of faith in myself. It was a priceless gift.
They had put themselves on the line, just as I had. They were willing to risk being thought badly of, to get me gifts they thought I would most appreciate.
"Gee, I hope those tears aren't because you think our gifts sucked," said Jeff.
I smacked him in the chest and buried myself in his arms. I was incapable of speaking without blubbering.
When the kids are younger, families often give smaller gifts and stretch them out over the entire eight days to maintain the anticipation and the interest. When you're giving goats and bees and covered wagons, it's okay to do it all at once.
I maneuvered away from the others and spoke to him in a very low voice, almost a whisper. "Did you really like my gift? I was a little afraid not to spend any money on you."
"You spent some Ashley on me. That's far more valuable."
Maybe he had a little social savant in him after all. Probably it was how he felt, which was even better.
The family sat down for dinner. I included myself in that concept. Perhaps it was presumptuous, but that's how I felt.
Okay, I was family and a guest. When we finished, Louis, Sandy and Jeff were assigned to clear, clean and do the dishes since they had no part in preparation. As a guest, I was spared.
Harri and Sam went off to look up the covered wagon trip online. Sunny and I wandered into the living room.
"We expect a lot from you and still you continue to surprise," she said. There was much more affection in her voice than I had ever heard from a family member.
I think I blushed. I had received so many compliments about superficial things, but this said I was a valuable person and that was not from any obvious visual inspection. It was new, and I liked it, but I was not yet comfortable with it.
"Well, it, I just, I don't know, I wanted to get things that fit." Aw, shucks, ma'am. I am so articulate.
"You are a paradox. When someone tells you you're beautiful, what do you say?"
"This was just another compliment. You didn't need to explain; I understood why you did it. That was what impressed me.
"I'm sorry. It's the teacher in me. I'm always approaching situations like they are lessons. I just wanted to say you already know how to handle a compliment."
"Thank you." That wasn't hard at all.
"Louis really liked your gift. He appreciated the combination of the sense of humor and that you feel comfortable enough to do it because of your relationship with Jeff.
"I figured I better tell you because it can take years to get to know Louis. He has so much depth, but often it's silent. It took my friends years to understand what I saw in him.
"You affected him. I saw it in his eyes."
Harri wandered in to join us.
"He gets so carried away when he's online. He wants to know about every blade of grass." She waved it off. "I caught the tail end of that. Sunshine, you have a good man with a kind heart and a generous spirit."
Sunny sighed. "Thanks, Mom. I knew you understood."
"It's funny how much you say without words. The way you called her 'Sunshine' expressed volumes about your relationship and the depth of your feelings for each other," I said. "It was beautiful."
Harri pinched my cheek. "This one's a keeper."
It wasn't long before Jeff and Sandy drifted in from the kitchen. They said Louis was finishing up and they were in the way.
Harri left to find Sam and Sunny and Sandy left to, well, probably to leave us alone.
Jeff and I could have gone to my house and enjoyed a wonderful evening full of naked enjoyment. But I preferred to remain here on the couch in his parents' living room, snuggled tightly against him, my arms around him, my cheek against his chest, feeling it move up and down as he breathed, feeling his heartbeat, his warmth, inhaling his aroma. I felt safe, content, where I was meant to be.
We talked and cuddled for a long time, mostly cuddled.
It was too long. I had time to start to think. I started to worry.
This was too good. People can't stay this happy, can they? What would happen to screw this up?
It's funny. A short time back I thought I was happy. I thought I had it all and never worried that something could happen to mess it up.
Looking back, I realized I wasn't happy, just content, or more likely, complacent.
But at the time I thought I had it all. And when I thought I had it all, I didn't worry that anything would happen to jeopardize it.
Now I was truly happy, or was I? Would I look back on this, too, and realize I was just misinterpreting the situation again?
Now that I might be truly happy, as I thought I was before, why should there be any greater chance of losing it?
Why, oh, be still. Breathe in his scent. Just enjoy being where you want most in the world to be, with the person you most want to be with. So I did.