“Look,” Melissa ran a hand over her damp brow and swallowed back a growing lump of desperation, “I don’t want to beg, but honestly, you’re my last chance at this point. If you don’t hire me, I’ll be reduced to …” she rapidly blinked tears from her eyes, “I’ll have to,” she continued with a firmer tone, “file for government assistance.”
She resisted the urge to shudder. She had always been fiercely independent and had always taken great pride in the fact that she had never once asked for help, even when she was homeless and living out of her car shortly after high school graduation. Her parents had tried to help her but she had refused, wanting to make it on her own. And after several long years of being hungry and dead tired, she had finally made it – she was a successful Real Estate agent.
Life had been great, she had been on top of her game … until the market crashed and suddenly, she couldn’t give her houses away or find a lender that would actually lend anyone any money.
She had earned her Real Estate license shortly after she kicked Timothy out of the door. Of course, the economy took a nosedive shortly thereafter and since she was one of the last to be hired, she was one of the first to be fired.
It was bad timing. The story of her life, actually.
“But,” the woman squirmed uncomfortably in her chair while looking back down at her resume, “you made so much money at your previous job. I’m afraid there is no way I could offer you anything even remotely close to the same figure …”
Melissa leaned forward, sensing the woman’s reluctance to turn her away. “That’s okay. I’m willing to take anything you can offer me. I …” she cleared her throat before continuing, “I have two children at home.” She shrugged lightly and appealed to her, woman-to-woman, mother-to-mother, “I don’t really have a choice. You understand, don’t you?”
She felt bad for playing the mother card, but she was beyond caring about nursing her pride at this point – her children were hungry, the mortgage was due and if she skipped one more car payment, they would likely take it away from her. She had been in difficult situations before; she would dig her way out of this one, too.
The woman smiled and Melissa allowed herself to relax, but only a little. She was making headway, but she wasn’t in the clear yet.
“Well,” the woman hedged and Melissa tensed right back up again. “You don’t really have any managerial experience.”
“Actually, I do,” she responded back with a smile. “Well, indirectly,” she hurriedly continued as she noted the woman’s brows arch. “I’m very used to dealing with people, all sorts of people. And I’m very good at reading people. I can sell them something before they even realize they want it.”
The woman chuckled and nodded her agreement. “I’m sure you can. You’ve sold me, that’s for sure.”
Melissa sat up straight and looked the woman in the eye. “Does this mean …?”
The interviewer stood up and Melissa followed her lead by also standing.
“Alright, Ms. Snodgrass, we’ll give you a shot.”
“Oh, thank you, Mrs. Tindle. You won’t be sorry, I guarantee it.” She firmly clasped the woman’s hand and placed her other hand on top of the woman’s wrist to show her gratitude. “When do you want me to start?”
“Can you come in tomorrow? I know it’s short notice …”
Melissa held up a hand. “Done. I’m at your disposal.”
Mrs. Tindle nodded her satisfaction and pushed a fat manila envelope across the desk top. “Here is your paperwork. I’ll need you to return these to me when you come in tomorrow. I’m afraid I can only offer you $25,000 to begin with.”
Melissa could feel her grateful smile freezing at the corners upon hearing the amount, but she pushed her disappointment to the back of her mind. That was a whole $30,000 dollars less than she had been making at her previous job. She did a quick mental calculation, it would be very difficult to make ends meet, especially at first, but she would make it work.
She had to. What choice did she have?
“If everyone who worked for me was like you, I could retire.”
Melissa smiled before placing her pen down and glancing over her shoulder to look at her boss. She could feel a slow, pleased blush filling her pale cheeks.
“Well, thanks,” she chuckled.
“I’m serious,” Ruth Tindle took the chair at the end of the counter and stretched out her legs. “I can’t tell you how much I appreciate all of your hard work, Melissa. Hiring you was the best decision I ever made.”
With her face now burning brightly, she held up a hand and pretended to check a quick fact on her sheet so she wouldn’t start tearing up. She didn’t know what was wrong with her these days – every little thing made her cry.
“I’m just grateful for the job, Ruth. You’ve saved my family.”
It was Ruth’s turn to wave a flippant hand. “You’re smart. You would have figured something out. I’m not …” she paused for long seconds and Melissa looked over at her. Ruth wet her lips before continuing. “I just wish I could pay you more. You’re worth so much more than the peanuts I pay you now.”
Melissa also wished she could get paid more. Her life was so stressful now. She had to cut out so many luxuries and though she didn’t really mind for herself, it killed her to have to say no to the children all the time. She had never been one to spoil her children to begin with, but now, she found she couldn’t even afford to take them out for ice cream any more. Money was simply too tight. Every last cent she made went to her house payment. If something didn’t happen soon, she would be forced to sell their home and move to a different part of town. She had listed her car in the paper just that morning, perhaps that would buy her a bit more time. She would be relying on public transportation for a while.
Melissa placed a hand over her nervous stomach and pasted a brave smile on her face. “At least I have a job. There are so many more people I know who are still looking.”
“True,” Ruth agreed sadly.
The phone rang and both women jumped before giving self-depreciating chuckles.
“I’ll get it,” Ruth said and reached for the receiver.
Melissa nodded and returned her attention back to her paperwork. She heard her boss speaking, but she wasn’t really paying attention. She was concentrating on whether they would have enough food to make a fresh meal that night, or if they would need to eat leftovers, again.
“Yes?” She pushed the food worry from her mind and turned her attention back to the job at hand.
“It’s for you.”
“It’s the school.”
Melissa’s eyes widened and her stomach plunged. Was one of the kids sick? Had there been an accident? Something wild and raw clawed at her heart and she reached out to take the receiver with shaky fingers.
“Hello?” She kept her eyes trained on Ruth. Somehow, Ruth’s presence kept her grounded and she spoke with more calm than she was feeling.
“Tyler?” She lifted her brows as her son’s small voice came on the line.
“Hi mom! Can I have a ball glove?”
“What?” She blinked and shrugged up at Ruth.
“A baseball glove, mom. The school just started a team and I want to play. But I don’t have a glove and they said I couldn’t play if I didn’t have a glove.”
She released a long breath of relief. No one was sick. No one was hurt. Her built-in emergency switch board went dark once more. “Honey, I can’t really talk about this right now. I’m working. Let’s talk about this when you get …”
“But today is the first day of practice!” her son whined. “If I don’t show up today, they won’t let me on the team!” His voice raised an octave or two in his panic to make her understand the situation.
“I’m sure they will let you be on the team, Tyler,” she said with a tolerant smile up at Ruth.
“Mom!” He yelled. “This is important! If I don’t go to practice today, all of the spots will be taken and they won’t have room for me!”
Melissa’s shoulders slumped as she grasped the urgency of his request. She did a quick mental calculation of her finances and knew, even before she opened her mouth, there was no way she could afford to buy him a ball glove.
“Tyler,” she said in her best placating voice. “I can’t talk about this right now.” Though Ruth knew she was struggling, she didn’t feel comfortable admitting that she couldn’t afford something so important to her child.
She suddenly felt so inadequate.
Ruth, sensing her discomfort, moved across the room and Melissa lowered her voice.
“Tyler,” she began, her voice becoming drowned out by his protests. “Tyler,” she repeated sharply. She turned to gauge Ruth’s whereabouts and lowered her voice once again. “Honey, we’ve talked about this. I can’t afford to buy you a new glove right now. I barely have enough money for food.”
“So, I won’t eat,” came his childish response.
“You have to eat, silly,” she answered back, her mind racing to try and find a solution. Tyler wasn’t exactly the most sociable person and she had been worried that he wasn’t making friends. She hated to say no to an opportunity for him to interact with his peers. And she knew how much he loved baseball. “Maybe we could talk to your dad …” her voice trailed off. She hated to ask her no-good ex-husband for anything, but this wasn’t for her, it was for their son.
“I already tried that, mom.” Tyler said and Melissa blinked in surprise.
“When did you talk to him?”
“I called him right before I called you.”
Small needles of irritation poked into her spine. She wasn’t sure what she was more annoyed with, the fact that Tyler called Timothy first or that he didn’t buy his son a baseball glove.
Such an innocent request. One stupid glove. It couldn’t be more than $50.00. And yet, she couldn’t do this one simple thing for her son. She felt like such a loser.
“I’m really sorry, Tyler. I just don’t have the money for a new ball glove right now. Please understand. We talked about this, remember? Money is really, really tight right now and we just can’t afford …” she paused to swallow the tears back down her throat.
Long seconds passed. His sigh was poignant and sad.
“It’s okay mom.”
Melissa wiped the tear from her cheek and sat up a little straighter. “I’ll make this up to you, Tyler. I promise. Maybe next year, okay?”
She told him that she loved him and then hung up. She turned around to try and make light of the situation to Ruth and save herself further embarrassment, but she was gone.
“Thank you, ma’am. Have a great day.”
Melissa bagged up the customer’s purchases and handed them over with a small smile. The last thing she felt like doing was smiling. But she forced herself to stop feeling sorry for herself and signed herself out of the cash register.
“Okay Susan, she’s all yours,” she said while stepping aside to make room for the girl.
“’Thanks for taking over for me, Ms. Snodgrass. I really needed that break.”
“My pleasure. And please, call me Melissa. I feel like I’m a 100 years old when you call me Ms. Snodgrass.”
The girl giggled and nodded before turning her attention to the next customer.
She turned to see Ruth motioning for her to join her by the front office door.
She had a ready smile as she walked toward her boss. “It’s been busy today,” she said. “I think this warm weather is putting people in the mood to shop.”
Ruth nodded, but looked distracted. She opened the office door and held it open long enough for Melissa to walk through.
“Look,” she said, her back to her. “I don’t want you to say anything. But I have something for you.”
Melissa felt a little push as the door slammed shut behind her.
Ruth turned around and held out a brand new ball glove. “I feel so bad that I can’t pay you more and you do such a good job for me …” she trailed off and offered a soft smile in place of finishing her sentence.
Melissa blinked down at the glove. “What’s this?”
“It’s for your son. For Tyler.”
“Oh no,” she shook her head. “I can’t accept this.” Her fingers itched to reach out and touch the soft leather. She could smell the glove’s earthy aroma.
“Please Melissa. Take it. I really want you to have it.” She pressed the glove into her hands. “You know, children are only young for so long. He deserves to play ball and be with his friends.” She paused and looked into her eyes. “Please. You’re important to this company, to me. You do so much for me. It’s the least I can do for you.”
Pressure began to build just behind Melissa’s nose and she could feel moisture gathering at the corners of her eyes.
“If you leave now, you’ll have just enough time to drive over to the school and give it to him,” Ruth said.
Melissa sputtered a chuckle and accepted the glove. Tears of joy slowly slid down her face and she offered a watery smile. “Thank you so much, Ruth.” She hugged the glove close to her chest. “So much.”
She gave her boss a quick hug and dropping the store’s keys into the basket on the desk, she grabbed her purse and rushed out. She couldn’t wait to see the look on her son’s face.
The future was suddenly looking a little brighter.