Love doesn’t cost a thing.
My girlfriends call me, Mrs. Dr. Graham. Hmmm. I smile when they do but I don’t like it much because Daddy named me Maddy. It was Mama who wrote Madeline on my birth certificate.
“Mrs. Graham. Here’s your receipt.”
“She’s Mrs. Dr. Graham,” says my dearest friend, Phoebe. She gets a kick out of the fact that I am wealthy now. She gets a kick out of going shopping with me, too. I know why. Phoebe always gains additions to her wardrobe—a hat, a dress, a pair of shoes—on this visit, a teddy bear coat, a silk scarf, and wool gloves. Winter is around the corner and quite honestly, I owe her.
I fold my receipt in half and place it inside my wallet.
“Tricia, please call me Maddy.” I know the salesclerk. I know all the salesgirls in this store. I used to be a salesgirl and I find it important to acquaint myself with the people who make me look and smell my best.
“Yes, ma’am,” Tricia says and asks, “Would you like anything gift wrapped?”
“Wrap my things,” says Phoebe. “Minus the coat.” Then she giggles.
I nod and Tricia takes the scarf and gloves to a side table. She’s a skilled gift wrapper. Some of the clerks don’t know the art of tightening the corners. I was superb, in my day. My packages were folded with precision and care. I knotted the best bows too. Each holiday season, the manager gave me a bonus and customers slipped me tips because I was so talented. Tricia is almost as good as I was.
We wait for Tricia to finish garnishing the boxes and Phoebe is still gabbing about the trip I took to the tropics six months ago. It was fair, I say but it was undoubtedly the best beach trip Gabe and I have taken thus far.
Gabe and I stayed two weeks this time. Usually, he gets a call while we are vacationing and must return to the states to operate. He loves it–surgery. More than me, I believe, and I don’t complain. I have no reason to complain. I enjoy seeing him happy.
Phoebe does the complaining. Her husband lost his job and took up beating her. He’s always been a bully and I know bullies. My first live-in boyfriend was a bully. I thought his hard squeezes on my arm and pushes against the brick wall were passion. I loved him to death as they say, but he was killing me. That’s how me and Phoebe met. Long story but she was on top then. Her husband had a lucrative job in sales, and she dressed a lot like a showgirl. Just the way he liked her. Big hair, ruffles everywhere, hems above her thighs. Then his company folded. Something about unscrupulous business practices and that’s when he started keeping Phoebe, locked inside the house with him. He bragged, “she’s too beautiful to work.”
She is beautiful. I’m plain. But Phoebe is stunning. Even in a $20 dress and bedhead, Phoebe is gorgeous.
She knew the power of beauty well, especially back when she helped me land that fancy job in the high-end department store. Fancy because it only catered to rich people. Phoebe gave me the dress I interviewed in and many others to wear. She did my makeup and she drove me to work until I could afford a car. All of this she did after my big bully was arrested for drugs. Thank God for big blessings. They would not arrest him for pulling a gun on me, but they finally took him away for selling drugs near the school. Thank God for schools.
“It’s perfect,” says Phoebe to Tricia. “Almost as good as Mrs. Dr. Graham’s gift-wrapping skills. Here.”
Phoebe hands Tricia a tightly folded green bill. I don’t know how much, and I will not pry. Phoebe’s a natural-born giver. She just does not have much monetarily to give.
“Thank you, Tricia. I’ll see you in a couple of weeks or so.” That’s when Gabe and I return from another trip. This time to France. It is a medical conference, but Gabe wants to recreate a romantic moment for us. He is so thoughtful.
“She’s going to relive her wedding, at the Ritz Paris. I’ve been there once,” says Phoebe to Tricia. “Her husband’s a keeper. Did you know she met her him in a store like this one?”
Phoebe’s right. Gabe walked up to my counter with a gift for his mother that needed wrapping. My heart jumped when I saw him, and my heart never jumped. After the bully, I avoided men like I avoided bill collectors. Daddy was the only man to treat me like royalty, and he died when I was in the 7th grade. Momma became depressed and reclusive, so I admit, I tried to find love everywhere but home.
At first, I tried to ignore Gabe, but he was always coming in, needing gifts wrapped for an aunt, a coworker, a friend. He was as easy to look at as he was to talk to. I became comfortable with our short conversations while I taped the corners of boxes and twisted loose ribbons into brilliant bows. Then he asked me out for lunch. He said he was tired of buying all those packages just to see me.
That first lunch with him far exceeded those chats. He was fascinating. A medical doctor. I’d never met a doctor before unless you count my dentist. Gabe’s daddy had been a dentist. His daddy had died in the 7th grade too. His mother did not become depressed though, she raised her children alone, and she did a fine job. Gabe was kindhearted and he took an interest in me–not overly pretty like the women I imagined vied for his attention.
Later he told me he had prayed for a kind wife, a woman who wanted to help others. That’s what he said he saw in me. On our first date, I told him I wasn’t interested in becoming a fancy manager at the store. I told him my dream of starting a shelter for battered women. Right away, he introduced me to an organization who offered free business training at the local chamber of commerce.
Things took off between us and before long we were meeting for dinner, mostly medical education dinners, but the meals were tastier than anything I’d ever cooked. Surprisingly, Gabe often ignored the speaker, “I’ve heard all this before,” he’d say. Then he’d ask me questions about me and my business plans.
When Gabe offered to be a silent partner, I turned him down flat, but we kept dating. And then one day he said he understood if we could not be business partners, but he thought I might be interested in being a life partner. He said this in front of my mom, Phoebe, my other girlfriends, and a room full of other people I cared about. He said it on my birthday. He said it while on one knee and holding a gift box I had wrapped for him hours earlier. To that offer, I said yes.
Phoebe retells the story with added emotional dribble. Tricia looks fascinated but she’s young and polite, we could be boring her.
“C’mon Phoebe. Let’s allow Tricia to get back to work.” I pull Phoebe away because she can talk all day. Plus, I want to treat her to lunch before I take her back to her temporary home. A safe, transitional apartment complex I named Maddy’s Place.
Let me be clear, I wanted to set my dearest friend up with a job, any job, and move her in with me, if need be, but Phoebe is proud. She jokes that I owe her the fancy clothes, as for the rest, she declares, “You made it, Mrs. Dr. Graham and so will I.”
I believe her.
A Word of Wisdom from Romans 13:8 (NIV)
Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.