The Erotic Mind-Control Story Archive

Advent Calendar

Evelyn opened the first window on the calendar. It was a charming family Christmas scene, but her attention was drawn to the mother; a buxom housewife, short-skirted, dressed as a 1950s fantasy, holding the turkey and smiling. Nothing about this seemed attractive, but somehow, something about the smile would stay with her throughout the day.

It was… genuine. Her body made it look like a posed photo, but the smile was that of someone having fun, delighted in their life. More fun than Evelyn could ever remember having. Which couldn’t be right in a devoted sexpot wife, could it?

Second day, second window. There was a photograph of an expensive, lavishly decorated blue bauble, but there seemed to be something wrong with the photograph.

As Evelyn studied the bauble, the picture seemed somehow to flicker. To sway, even, despite the fact that it was a stationary image.

She stood there, watching it swing, for much longer than she should have; when she turned around, it was after hearing her boyfriend say something.

He’d come down with her, but somehow he’d cooked breakfast, made coffee, and finished both while she’d studied the bauble. Evelyn didn’t think there had been enough time, but there was clear evidence now that it had happened.

She hurried through breakfast and went off to work, where in quiet moments she imagined a beautiful blue bauble hanging on a tree before her.

A taller window on the third day; the housewife from the first picture had returned, and in this photo she was decorating her tree, hanging the bauble from Monday on a branch in prime place. To reach the branch, she had stretched slightly, and her left foot was off the ground, her leg bent at the knee, calf out horizontally as a balance. Her short skirt had risen up on her from this pose almost but not quite to the point of indecency, and the smile was back as she gazed at the bauble she was setting in place.

Evelyn couldn’t help but think of her own focused staring the day before. It was starting to occur to her that this was strange.

“We’re still not getting a tree,” Evelyn told her boyfriend as she turned to the calendar. But this time there was a joking tone to the words. She was just as amused as he was.

“I’ll just have to be happy with the calendar I gave you,” he said, but she was already opening the window, and so her attention was elsewhere.

The 1950s homemaker aesthetic was still in full force; the man of the house sat in an armchair below the tree, in shirt, tie, and sweater; the only touch of modernity to the image was that he was reading a tablet, not a newspaper.

On the other side to the tree, the mother was smiling as she vacuumed. Nobody, Evelyn told herself firmly, would ever smile as they vacuumed, but she couldn’t deny that the smile was just as real, just as delighted, as in the first window. She studied the first image again.

Who could be so genuinely happy doing that? And how did a couple of paid stock photo models put across so much delight that Evelyn felt by proxy that she was having less fun?

She had dreamed of that smile. She’d been thinking about it when she went to sleep, and it had stayed in her head all night.

Evelyn waited until she’d made her coffee before looking at the calendar that day, hoping to clear her head of the smile before she looked at it again. She took a deep gulp, swallowed, and reminded herself that she was starting her day right, then opened the calendar.

The wife was bent at the waist to pour a cup of coffee for her husband, the Christmas tree visible in the background. The bauble almost seemed to be in the foreground, despite being so tiny; its bright colours seemed to dominate the image, and for a moment Evelyn would again have sworn that it was moving.

It took quite some time for Evelyn to realise the wife had bent the way she had to better display her cleavage. On display. Subservient.

“Where did you even get this?” she asked her boyfriend, only to realise (when she received no answer) that he had already left for work. Dishes left by the sink suggested he’d eaten, but she would have sworn that this time, there had been no lag.

And yet he wasn’t there.

It was the last day of the week, and honestly, Evelyn was in a hurry. She swept into the kitchen, she swept through breakfast, and she gave herself only seconds to open the window for the day. Which, she decided around lunchtime, had been a mistake, because she’d been unpacking ideas she thought she’d taken in during a fleeting glimpse all through the morning.

The smile, she decided, wasn’t really the problem, it was the way she looked just so goddamn happy. Like she was just better off than Evelyn.

At least this time she wasn’t being cosily domestic. No, this time she was at work, at a computer with a flatscreen monitor, another reminder that their outfits and attitudes were the anachronism in the world of the photos. She was, however, wrapping a present quietly on her desk. Evelyn felt instinctively that she’d bought it on her lunch break.

She was going to have to ask her boyfriend where he bought it.

“There were a bunch of them being given out at work,” he told her. “I think, anyway. Don’t expect me to have the right answer if I’ve only just woken up.”

She wanted to tut but, honestly, he had a pretty good point. The lie in had been good for both of them, but she thought especially for her. Out of what was, admittedly, petty spite toward that housewife she felt compared to, she’d taken it on herself to pull out all the stops both before and after going to be. She was going to have a better time than that bitch.

A leisurely, relaxed morning meant rising late, but an empty calendar for Saturday meant that she opened the window just after she’d started her laundry. She was immediately greeted by the sight of another woman doing her chores (in this case, preparing a turkey for the oven, bowls of vegetables awaiting peeling and chopping beside it), but with a much, much better attitude about it.

Evelyn certainly wasn’t going to admit to envy that day, but she decided, as an experiment, to see if she could get any benefit from acting like she enjoyed the laundry.

She got halfway through her boyfriend’s laundry too before she realised and told him he could sort, dry, and iron it himself.

She felt better waking up on Sunday. Maybe it was just knowing that she’d done all the chores that needed to be done before Monday rather than hold any off. Whatever the cause, she at least knew she was happy.

She was humming to herself as she wandered into the kitchen, earlier than she normally would. She made breakfast, knowing she’d have the place to herself for at least an hour before her boyfriend woke up.

She made it slowly and with care, cooking carefully and enjoying the fact she didn’t have to hurry. And she didn’t disappoint herself. The extra time taken had allowed her to season it better than she’d usually bother with, and it was worth doing.

She got up and sauntered over to the countertop where the calendar sat, and she opened it to see the wife hanging more baubles out around the blue dancing bauble. She was creating a pattern, a whirl on the tree, of looping red and blue baubles.

It touched Evelyn, in some way she couldn’t explain. She made breakfast for her boyfriend, set it on a tray, and took it upstairs to treat him to breakfast in bed.

“Christmas spirit,” she explained.

When she opened the calendar window that morning, Evelyn came face to face with the wife, her toothy smile replaced with a secret one. There was an elaborate gift box on the table, and she was engaged in putting what appeared to be a skimpy, virtually transparent lace teddy in the same royal blue as the bauble into the box. One eye was closed in a wink, and one finger touched her lips.

Inviting the calendar viewers into her confidence, and packing lingerie away—a gift for her man. And a clear promise with that gift.

Which was a tempting idea—she could definitely benefit from buying something for herself that was justified as being a gift for him. God knows her sexier bra and panty sets got pressed into the weekly rotation whenever the cheaper stuff started to wear.

But she felt like she was better than that.

On Tuesday, the wife passed her husband a brown paper bag which clearly had lunch prepared within it, planting a chaste kiss on his cheek. That infuriating aura of enjoying themselves more than the viewer was still there, still felt genuine.

Evelyn had moved on from wondering where her boyfriend had found the thing to wondering who’d shot these photos, and why.

The tablets and flatscreen monitors clashed heavily with the 1950s paterfamilias and sexualised 1950s housewife look, but the outfits suggested research and thought.

And that damn delight didn’t feel like a fraud, or even like something that could be a fraud.

But it did give Evelyn a thought; on the way home she bought some plastic sandwich bags and some nice, fresh salad and sandwich fixings. A pre-prepared lunch could be just the thing to cut her costs in the most expensive month.

A wide window held an image of the entire living room, the tree with its red and blue bauble swirl the centrepiece and focus. It was spotless; immaculately clean and highly aspirational. Evelyn spent a long while staring at the bauble swirl, but what she took away to work with her (along with her pre-made lunch) was the space itself.

Someone had to keep that clean, and it was clear it wasn’t the husband. Which was just another way of saying it was the wife.

But she worked, too, and the fact it was an office job said it was maybe not part time.

How did she have the energy to work, cook, keep the place not just clean but spotless, and still (because you knew it was happening) keep her man satisfied while putting that same smile on her own lips?

It didn’t seem possible.

Evelyn didn’t open the calendar that morning, thinking it might infuriate her. She handed her packed sandwich to her boyfriend as they left the house on some reflex she couldn’t imagine how she’d ever developed, and spent the morning being annoyed with herself over it.

Around lunchtime, though, that annoyance was replaced with another issue. An absurd, simply ridiculous frustration with herself that she hadn’t opened a window that day.

She was always impatient on the commute home, but more than ever that night.

She got in the door as her boyfriend was setting out what he needed to cook dinner for them both and, ignoring his greeting, scurried to the calendar.

When the window opened, she saw mistletoe; husband and wife kissing, his head slightly above hers, and the mistletoe above.

Her head spun for a moment. She turned to her boyfriend with open lips and accepted his welcome home.

The tree conversation had come up again. After her Thursday night delights, Evelyn felt her boyfriend might think her guard was lowering somehow. It seemed like a lot of the topics he was bringing up now were ones where they’d had friction, as if he was testing ground.

She should probably be annoyed with that, but in total honesty, very few of them seemed as significant for debate this time around.

Still, she told him—gently this time—that she wasn’t interested in having to work around a tree, especially with their rooms being kind of tight as it was.

The window that day opened onto a happy family Christmas meal, husband carving the turkey while wife dispensed vegetables onto the children’s plates.

Despite having vowed once to deal with children only in her thirties, and with five years left on the clock, Evelyn spent the day feeling broody.

It was probably nothing.

When she opened the tall window for that Saturday she saw an image from outside work, outside the living room, outside the kitchen. Instead, it was a view of the bedroom door, from inside the bedroom—in fact, from the husband’s side of the bed, as he looked up on one elbow to see his wife pose in the doorway in that lacy lingerie, a large red satin bow tied around her neck and another around her flat belly.

The sexual politics of this calendar were out of the 50s, even if the images themselves weren’t. Evelyn was frustrated, and her irritation with a fictional character—the wife—she was just realising that she’d started to sympathise with, now the character clearly had even more different opinions on life, was huge.

She dwelled on it most of the day, and by the end of the day she’d had a minor revelation; it was the wife’s choice to give herself to her husband, her choice to offer herself up that way.

She could respect that idea, and in fact, she did respect that idea.

She tried the same pose when she came to bed, and she felt thoroughly rewarded by her boyfriend’s grin.

On Sunday her boyfriend took his car into town and she caught a bus out to the big shopping centre and they both went to deal with Christmas shopping. Reminded by yesterday’s calendar window, Evelyn bought herself something special, a soft red lingerie set, and set it aside as her ‘present’ to her boyfriend.

She spent the drive home entertaining herself with ideas for how he might be given the present.

She was surprised quite how much she’d gotten into the idea.

She went to bed that night forgetting that she hadn’t checked the calendar.

Evelyn woke up at about ten past five, nearly two hours ahead of when she normally would, after an hour or two of tossing and turning uncomfortably. She stared at the ceiling for a few moments, asking herself if her sleeplessness and her discomfort could really be connected to the calendar.

Then, grumpily, she got out of bed, stumping downstairs in the faded, worn, but soft and comfortable pair of sleep shorts she usually used.

This being December, she was less than halfway down the stairs before she realised this hadn’t been a wise idea—but as chilly as the house was before the heating started for the morning, she ploughed bravely on. It had to be done.

Sunday’s calendar window saw the wife working at a sideboard full of drinks, wielding a cocktail shaker with aplomb and a smile. There was only one glass in front of her, though, and her husband was visible behind. Evelyn took a few moments to imagine that she was making drinks for herself, letting her husband sate his own thirst, but she knew that wouldn’t be the case.

An intrusive thought whispered that perhaps taking care of him like that was the better way to behave anyway, but she ignored it.

She thought fleetingly of going back to bed, crawling under the covers into warmth, snuggling up against her boyfriend to warm up properly, but decided that, first, she might as well open the day’s window.

This time the wife was nowhere to be found. Instead, in Monday’s image the husband, puffing at a pipe he had clenched in his fist, was stood on a chair, having just placed an angel atop the tree.

The angel was wearing surprisingly skimpy outfits; thigh-high white boots, scant panties, and a white bodice, as well as the wings. She was tiny, barely visible, and yet somehow Evelyn could make her eyes out clearly, glassy beads conveying a vacant emptiness, a space of possibility waiting to be shaped and formed-

The next thing she knew, she was blinking rapidly to clear the water her eyes were suddenly filled with, as if she’d stared unblinking for some time. Her body was cold, likely chill to the touch, and she had been jolted back to awareness of her surroundings by the heat of her boyfriend’s hands as he fondled her bare breasts.

Had he got up and followed her down? She’d been pretty sure he was still asleep…

She moved to turn in his arms and her body responded creakingly. She caught sight of the kitchen clock over his shoulder.

She’d lost time. It was half past seven.

A sudden rush of heat filled her, from what cause she could not have said. She flushed. “I gotta take a shower,” she mumbled in expiation, and hurried away.

Her thoughts had been confused and jumbled all through Monday, but one thing had been sure; it had to be the calendar, somehow responsible. Both for that irrational need to open another window and for the heat, even (somehow) for lost time.

She’d thrown it away when she got home, and so it was with some embarrassment, having left work early, that she found herself pulling it gingerly back out of the bin.

At least there hadn’t been anything wet or sticky for it to attach to. But by the time she got in, in mid-afternoon, the compulsion to open another window was there once again and quite irresistibly so.

For a fleeting moment, she wondered if she’d be able to get used to not doing this again by the 26th.

But before she could get there…

Tuesday’s window was big; not just tall, but wide as well, the first larger square she’d seen. Glancing over the remaining unopened windows, they all seemed to be much bigger than previous windows had been. When she opened it, there were two wide, shallow pictures, one atop the other.

On the upper picture, the wife, close to the tree, admired the bauble in place with that same wide, happy smile, the one which told Evelyn this fictional woman was happier than her, the one she had at first distrusted but now envied. The image was close in, only really showing her face and the bauble in close-up, with a hint of tree branch to set the scene.

On the lower picture, the image was almost reproduced, except that the bauble was suspended from a man’s open hand, the loop hooked around his middle finger. Instead of her happy smile, the wife had a slack jaw, glassy eyes, a hint of water building up as the eyes stared unblinking…

Evelyn went back to looking at the upper image. That bottom image just wasn’t satisfactorily Christmassy.

But the top one was lovely. As she looked at it, she could feel her concerns about the calendar just seem to drain away.

Evelyn’s boss wasn’t happy that she’d left work early, so she knew getting up she’d have to make the time up. To ensure she had the strength to get through it, she decided to steep herself in Christmas, going straight to the calendar.

Today’s window was tall and narrow, and when she opened it she saw the wife, that wonderful smile in place, in the lingerie gift, a ribbon still in a bow around her neck, kneeling peacefully in front of her husband, head tilted back to look up at him admiringly, contentedly.

More of how these two made each other happy seemed to click together in Eve’s head. It was a moment of epiphany. She’d made a gift of herself, and the gift was for life, not just for Christmas.

She no longer chose—her decision to become a gift had been her last.

But it was also the best decision she’d ever made.

Evelyn went off to work distractedly, mulling over what it might mean. She’d stopped asking her boyfriend about the calendar. It wasn’t so much that he was always confused she wanted to ask; it was more that she was no longer sure how she felt about it. She’d rather not either try to explain or face a barrage of “told you so” if she were to admit that not only was she now less opposed to its politics, she was actually quite enjoying it.

She made another decision at lunch. Spending a little bit of time online and then a lot of time cajoling the salesman on the phone to stay late, she made her arrangements and, when she finally left the office late, she drove an hour out of her way to collect a Christmas tree.

It would make her boyfriend happy, after all. Show him she was willing to listen to the voice of reason.

The calendar had been moved, and now sat close to the tree, which was undecorated so far. Her boyfriend had said he’d buy the decorations and she could put them up, which she’d agreed to before it occurred to her it wasn’t really a fair division of labour, especially with her having bought and fetched the tree too.

Still, it would make him happy. She was happy to do that.

She was comfortable now with the idea she could lose a lot of time to each of the beautiful pictures in the calendar, and she had decided to give up her breakfast to do it. She could grab a cardboard cup of not-horrible coffee on her way into work if she was willing to spend a little, and it would give her more time with the images.

It was already strange to her to think she’d tried to throw the calendar away just that previous Monday. What could she have been thinking?

Today’s calendar window showed the wife’s face and neck as she tied the bow around herself, smiling warmly, still glassy-eyed, with enough intensity even in a still image that there was a kind of ritual feeling to it.

As she left the house for work, she paused, glanced down, and adjusted her blouse—it looked like her boyfriend had undone it to fondle her as she stared.

Nowhere in her mind did it occur to her to be upset at that. It made him happy, after all. Showed him she was coming along nicely.

* * *

Showed him she was…


Friday was the start of her work holiday; somehow, Eve hadn’t got around to using much of her leave through the year, and with her department packed she’d been lucky enough to be able to use it all on holiday.

Which meant she was going to be able to decorate the tree that day, and have plenty of time to herself. She could put the house right ahead of Christmas week, especially as her boyfriend hadn’t been so smart. He was working up until Christmas Eve.

Knowing she had all day, the pressure to look immediately was less, and she decided to save it as a treat for herself until after her boyfriend had left for work. He seemed a bit disappointed by something as she waved him off, which was sad, but as he hadn’t told her what it was, and as she was so keen for him to leave so she could look, she hadn’t asked and couldn’t fix it.

She made a mental note to do something nice for him before he got back, kissed him at the door and scampered back to the calendar.

She hesitated for a moment, licking her lips, and glanced toward the door before abruptly making the decision, and an agreement with herself.

Before she opened the window, she tentatively settled down to her knees, just as the wife had been in the picture on Wednesday. Then she reached up onto the table where it rested, instead of picking it up just to examine.

She was on eye level with her counterpart’s (delightful) rear, wearing a short skirt a little too short to provide effective cover as she bent to take the turkey from the oven.

The panties on display seemed authentically prudish; white cotton, pristine, and broad enough to hide even the hint of impropriety. Yet somehow, that was what made the image even more titillating.

That smile she wore had never seemed like a model’s affectation. (And nor, a quiet voice almost unnoticed within her said, did the blank, glassy expression she’d worn twice.)

Eve had, she now realised, considered her a rival. Now she considered her another real person, a woman with her own concerns. Someone who could be a confidant. Someone she’d like to meet.

The wife was her counterpart, and could be aspirational, or a friend, depending how she considered it.

When, after a long time, she noticed her knees were complaining and arose from contemplating the image, she unpacked the box of decorations her boyfriend had bought. It was a brown cardboard box, folded and sealed with Sellotape.

At the top of the collection, dead centre on a bed of tinsel, was an ornate, elaborate blue bauble.

Eve had had so many questions for her boyfriend, but they’d all been brushed off. “It’s a surprise,” was all he said, which didn’t give her nearly enough to go on. But she didn’t protest, didn’t pry. If he wanted to surprise her, that was his right; if it made her a little uncomfortable, that was hardly his fault.

He wanted to surprise her, and surprising her would make him happy, so she was prepared to go along with it.

On Saturday she got up early and went to visit the calendar before he got up, mostly so that she could kneel before it again without risking him making a comment. She really didn’t want this new indulgence, this little bit of play pretend, to be mocked, not be someone whose lead she could feel so comfortable following.

The window was wide. It showed the wife at work again, among a dozen or more desks, each also occupied by an attractive young woman. And standing by the side of each desk, holding a bauble in front of those women, keeping their attention from the computer screen, was an older woman, ranging from middle-aged to near-retirement. An armada of senior secretaries, each as glassy-eyed as the young women looking into the baubles.

Now she could see more of the room, she recognised the location as her boyfriend’s workplace. Darkness outside the windows might mean these images were happening at night, but they also might mean simply that it was daytime, late in the year.

She had even more questions now, but she knew what she’d find behind the final window was a surprise, so she didn’t ask.

Instead, she rose again, made breakfast, then prepared another, setting it on a tray, and went upstairs to give her boyfriend the surprise he’d want.

The decorations hadn’t made it onto the tree yet; well, all except one. The glorious blue bauble had pride of place. Evelyn looked at it often as she ironed her boyfriend’s laundry.

A tall window opened up to revisit the scene of the wife kneeling before her husband. This time, however, she was opening his fly, licking her lips, still smiling.

Eve was a little surprised by that. Even with the lacy nightgown earlier, Friday’s panties seemed a huge step forward from the early cleavage reveals, and this was another big jump. It was as if these had been put together for a different viewer than the early windows.

Still, her counterpart’s delight stayed with her, and as she spent a busy Sunday doing the house’s chores (after all, her boyfriend would be going to work tomorrow, and as he pointed out, it was only fair she did all the work today) she returned back to him to settle to her knees and tug open his belt every time, licking her lips and welcoming him in.

This had the added advantage that she got to kneel, got to practice offering herself on her knees, but without any risk he’d think about the kneeling specifically and question her presumption.

He was exhausted by the end of the day, but he seemed happy.

Eve had planned to do as she’d done on the Friday; see her boyfriend off, then kneel before the calendar and open it at her leisure, enjoying the experience, meditating on what her role model had to teach her.

But as he finished his toast and picked up his coffee, he asked “Are you coming like that?”

Eve blinked and looked down at her dressing-gown-and-fuzzy-pyjama-clad form. “Am I… what?”

He gulped down his mug. “You’ll have to. No time. Get your shoes on.”

She was already reaching for her shoes as she asked “What’s going on?”

In little time, she was whisked out of the door and into the passenger seat of the car, clutching at the calendar, having grabbed it along the way. She fastened her seatbelt and looked to her boyfriend again. “What’s going on?”

“Didn’t I—fuck, I didn’t tell you, did I?”

“No, but I’m looking forward to finding out,” she said, realising it was true as she did so. Still, he looked at her oddly from that, like he was testing the words for sarcasm.

Before too long, though—and, critically, before the working day started—he was parking in his office’s car park. There were plenty of cars, but there was still a lot of empty space. It was pretty clear that everyone senior had finished early for the holidays.

A whole bunch of her boyfriend’s fellow employees were ushering women (or a couple of men), mostly half-dressed or less, into the building. Eve was carried along with them, shown to a desk in a wide room full of empty desks. An image of the wife smiling and waving—an animated image, barely more than a widescreen .gif but still striking in how much more clearly it was moving—was projected on the wall the desks faced.

Eve smiled and sat down.

Her boyfriend collected her at the end of the day. Something had properly happened during the day, but she didn’t know what.

She opened the day’s window in the car on the drive home. The wife was blowing her (and she realised now, all those kindred spirits she’d sort-of-met during the day, all the partners of her boyfriend’s co-workers) a kiss.

She smiled, blushed even, and felt good for their kinship.

This woman had shown her the way, and it made her so happy.

Tuesday was the last day that Eve had to herself, before her boyfriend and she got to spend the holiday together. In mid-November, when she’d first realised she had two days to herself, she’d planned to sit down with some box sets, some snacks, and take it easy. She’d specifically planned to lie in until after her boyfriend left.

Honestly, Eve didn’t understand what had been wrong with her before she got Christmas spirit.

She got up and breakfasted with her boyfriend. As he was getting ready for work, she gave him a perfunctory kiss on the cheek and drifted over to the calendar.

The final window, as in the traditional calendar designs, was today’s. And it was another large square.

She prised it open tentatively, knowing that once this was done, there would be no more windows to open.

The remaining image was quite a surprise. Someone had incorporated her own face into it, with the bauble also present. It was more clear than ever that these calendars had been customised at her boyfriend’s work.

She smiled. How thoughtful it had been of him to arrange for her to be corrected like this!

With that in mind, she rose from her knees. Showing her decision to submit was all very well, but there was plenty of work to be done. She had to buy and prepare all the trappings for a proper Christmas meal.

She couldn’t believe she’d originally planned for them to use this as an excuse for three straight days of takeout. Especially not before flying out to visit his parents.

She’d be embarrassed to look after him so badly. He should be pampered!

She hurried. She knew now she would always need to hurry to both keep her job and keep her man happy.

Eve was accustomed to waking earlier than her man now, from looking to open the calendar without his attention. She knew now, too, that she would need to go to bed at the same time or later, too, if she was truly to pamper him as he deserved.

She slipped away from the darkened room, down into their shared study where she’d hidden his present. Carefully, and with shaking hands, she took out the lingerie she’d bought him, and the ribbon she’d bought yesterday. She set out the makeup she’d hidden away.

In the light of the study’s armchair lamp, she dressed in the lingerie. She applied her makeup more carefully even than before their second date, when she’d known she might want to make something of this man. Now, of course, she knew she wanted to become something for him—much more important.

Tying the ribbons was the hardest job. It took her several attempts to get it right, and she was very glad she’d woken so early. She was going to need all of that time.

She climbed the stairs in darkness, her mind on the first image from the calendar she’d truly wanted to recreate. She’d already trialled the pose. But this was no trial. This was her final choice. Her gift to her man.

Her decision.

She wanted it to be perfect. She wanted it to be right.

She paused a moment, just before the door. Not in hesitation, not in concern, not in doubt. Just wanting to make sure she remembered the next moment clearly, for the rest of her life.

She opened the door and turned on the light.

He was already awake, in the position she’d hoped for, propped on one elbow, waiting for her return.

Waiting for his gift.

She smiled the broadest, happiest, most natural smile she had ever made, crossed the room to the side of the bed and settled to her knees.

“Merry Christmas, Master,” she said.

* * *