Tamara Wolfe was in the middle of folding her third load of laundry when the doorbell rang. Still holding a pair of jeans, she opened the front door, a smile of greeting naturally lifting the corners of her mouth. The woman who stood on the wraparound porch was a stranger.
"Good afternoon," Tamara said. "Can I help you?"
"Well..." The older lady started with just a touch of nervousness. "You don't know me, dear, but I was walking past your lovely home, and I saw the baskets in the window." The woman pointed to the curved bay window at the front of the house which was Tamara's office and sunroom in the lower-floor turret. The many gift baskets she was working on for family and friends were displayed on the sun-drenched window seat.
Tamara started to explain her hobby, but the woman's headshake stopped her. "How much are they?"
Surprised, Tamara laughed at the idea. "Oh, I don't sell them."
"Do you design them yourself?"
"Down to the basket itself. But I've never sold any. I give them away to family and friends," Tamara told her. In all truth, she'd thought often about selling them and perhaps starting a small home business.
"That's so nice of you, dear, but, you see, my daughter is a corporate executive in Chicago. Her birthday is coming up in a few weeks...and, well, I saw your basket in the window. The one with all the loofahs and bath supplies. It's simply perfect for my daughter. Young women these days are so overworked. They make their own money so what do they need that they can't provide for themselves?"
Tamara nodded her understanding.
"I never know what my daughter will appreciate. But I think your basket is exactly the kind of gift she'd love and wouldn't purchase for herself. If it's not too presumptuous, my dear, would you allow me to see it?"
The woman's twinkling gray eyes and tentative, irresistible smile endeared Tamara. She ushered her inside the house.
"Mhm," the lady murmured on a deep inhale, "it smells simply delicious inside your home, dear."
Tamara smiled. "I make my own potpourri. Cinnamon this week."
She led her to her sunroom, where the lady pointed to the very basket that had caught her eye from the street. Tamara's relaxation basket, as she called it, had always been popular with friends and family. "That's it. That would be the perfect gift for my hard-to-buy-for daughter."
Spotlighted in the sunlight spilling in through the windows, Tamara admitted to herself that the basket looked even more irresistible. It hadn't been the first time someone suggested she sell the hand-woven gift baskets she designed, but never had anyone wanted one so adamantly. The woman wasn't interested in purchasing a similar gift basket from local shops or internet services. She wanted that particular basket, down to the color, the three-strand braided rim and the ribbon detail. Even when Tamara tried to offer one of the others she was working on, it was clear nothing else would do.
Even more astonished at having someone want one of her creations so aggressively, Tamara told her the final cost of the materials she put into the basket. Without hesitation, the woman pulled out her wallet and took out a hundred dollar bill.
"Can you duplicate that basket before next Monday, dear?"
Quickly, Tamara calculated the time she'd need to complete another basket. She didn't have another made exactly like that one, so she would have to start from scratch. Weaving the basket would take the most time, but she had many of the items to fill it on hand. If she weaved a few hours every day until Monday... "Yes, but I really couldn't accept--"
"I would pay twice as much. Please consider doing this. You'll save me so much distress." She handed over the money and a contact card, then turned on her heel and headed for the front door. "I'll be back on Monday for my basket!" she called out over her shoulder as she walked away down the driveway.
Tamara stood leaning in the doorway, staring at the woman long after she'd disappeared from Queen Anne Street. She couldn't shake off the feeling of shock. Someone was willing to pay as much as a hundred dollars for something she'd put together as a gift. Sure, her family and friends enjoyed her creations, but their over-the-top praise amounted to nothing more than appreciation.
Distracted, Tamara closed the front door.
Is it wrong for me to accept this money, to do this for a stranger? It isn't as if I paid anywhere near a hundred dollars for the whole thing. This has always been my way of ministering to those I love. Somehow making a profit seems wrong now.
The woman had been so insistent. How could she not agree? Was she cheating if she accepted such a generous profit over her material costs?
"I would pay twice as much," the lady had said, and Tamara couldn't help smiling in satisfaction. She'd just finished the basket that morning, planning to give it to Helen for her birthday when she brought the girls home from preschool. She'd been extremely pleased when she finished it. After taking digital photos of her creation for her scrapbook, she'd filed a printout of the photo with her receipts for materials.
For years, Tamara had thought about a custom-made gift basket business--whenever anyone commented on her newest creations. She'd thought about it but never considered it with anything resembling seriousness--what with family, the house, church activities, Boy Scouts.
Would I even have time? But then I've had gobs of free time I honestly haven't known what to do with since the kids went back to school and Cora started preschool. I might have time now. And we sure could use a little extra income...
Lord, is this something I should even be thinking about? Lead me, guide me, show me what You want me to do.
Tamara went back to her laundry and other chores, but her mind never left the hundred dollar bill or her prayers for wisdom for long. What if her loved ones hadn't been humoring her? What if she really could sell her baskets for a small profit without taking time away from the rest of her life? A year ago, she'd been the one to insist the Lord would provide without Robert having to take a second job, but things had been so tight since then. Maybe this was God's provision and could ease some of their financial burdens. If she did sell her baskets, nothing would change for the family. She could make them during the day. She could handle everything she always did and this! It was the perfect solution.
Tamara flitted from chore to chore, too excited to concentrate on what she was doing. What I wouldn't give to talk to Robert now! After the Lord, her husband was always the first person she wanted to talk with about anything. But, given his work situation at the moment... He might balk just because it was something new and unknown.
She let go of a sigh. She'd have to wait until after dinner tonight. How would she control herself until then? She was bursting to tell someone. Maybe once she talked to Robert, she could decide if selling her baskets qualified as insane or actually viable.
Robert Wolfe groaned inside his head. Would the months of agony, since the plant manager had announced his upcoming retirement, end tonight? After Wayne mentioned that Dave wanted them to join him at The Mill for a drink following work, Robert couldn't help wondering if the torment would ever abate.
Looking at Wayne's retreating back and his cocky swagger, Robert shook his head before moving in the direction of the disinfection building to get an effluent sample.
The wastewater treatment plant in Peaceful, Wisconsin was city-run and all decisions about the plant were made by the city council. Glen Hargrove had managed the plant for over forty years. Robert himself had worked at the plant part-time as a teenager in high school, then full-time after graduation. With over twenty years of experience, he felt he should be a shoo-in for the plant management position. After all, the other full-time employee--Wayne Schumaker--had only five years of experience. But Wayne's leg up was his degree in wastewater treatment. Robert had all the necessary certifications and credits but no degree. Although he and Wayne were both qualified to manage the plant, Robert's solid seniority should have given him the edge, should have made it a non-issue.
Unfortunately, the plant manager tended toward wishy-washiness, and the city manager was an opinionated guy who liked to throw his weight and power around. Glen didn't have the fortitude to make the right choice, and Dave Kowalski would do it with a glad heart for him. Dave didn't know the first thing about wastewater treatment, but he enjoyed pretending he did. Any decision he made would be based solely on who he liked better. The city council would go along with anything Dave decided.
When his break rolled around in the afternoon, Robert headed for the break room. He dialed his home, hoping to get a few minutes of privacy before Wayne ambled in and started his ribbing.
Feeling warm, he unzipped his uniform jacket while waiting.
"Hello?" Tamara's husky, sweet voice made a shiver go through him from ear to toes.
"Robert," she greeted him personally.
"I'm gonna be late tonight. Dave wants me and Wayne to come out for a drink."
Her reply, "Oh," seemed slightly hesitant. Disappointment laced the simple word. Robert assumed it was because she didn't like him going into taverns like The Mill. But there were far worse places in town they could go. He didn't like it any more than she did. "I know. I'll conduct myself the way the Lord directs. Dave likes to play his little games. But you know I wouldn't cross that line, even for the promotion."
"Of course I know you won't, honey. I just wish you didn't have to go through this nonsense."
"Yeah." Robert let out a sigh. For the most part, he'd enjoyed his job. Until Wayne Schumaker had been hired.
"How late do you think you'll be?"
"I'm not sure. Probably six. Maybe seven, if he draws it out."
"I'll keep dinner warm for you."
The sound of footsteps coming down the hall drew Robert's attention, and he turned his back to the open door.
"I gotta go. Love you, Tammy."
"I love you, too. I'll see you later."
Robert hung up and turned in time to see Wayne's jeering grin as he feigned kisses. "Talkin' to your mistress, Wolfe?" He punched one of the buttons on the soda machine with more macho power than necessary.
"Don't have one, don't need one," Robert said on a shrug.
More times than he could count, Robert had endured Wayne's bad-natured taunts about his happy marriage and loving family, not to mention his Christian principles. After cheating on his wife, Wayne had lost his family and now lived his life with the gusto of a gigolo, including a stint in jail for not paying child support. Robert bit back words resting on the tip of his tongue and pressed his lips together. He'd always forced himself to get along with everyone, whether he liked them or not.
Once Wayne sauntered away from the soda machine, Robert moved over to it.
"So how is that fine wife of yours, Wolfie?"
"Oh yeah, I've seen that."
Robert ignored the lewd comment, complete with the leering smirk on Wayne's boyish face. Instead of sitting with him at the table, Robert leaned next to the microwave counter.
"You s'pose Dave's gonna put one of us outta our misery tonight?" Wayne's tone made it clear Robert would be the one put out of the managerial position. Wayne took a long swig of his soda, then let out a loud belch followed by his usual cursing. Robert masked his disgust.
Robert had no illusions that Dave would use any excuse to give Wayne the position when Glen retired. He was looking for Robert to cross the line. But Dave couldn't discount his long years of service and experience, even if he wanted to. At least he continued telling himself that, and Tamara reassured him of it every time he faltered in his convictions.
He shrugged at Wayne, who finished off his drink in one gulp.
"Yeah. Probably just wants to buy us a beer," Wayne said with a smirk that turned to laughter. He stood and sent his crushed can soaring into the recycling bin before leaving the room.
Robert couldn't have been happier to see his retreating back. Grimacing, he opened the break room fridge and got the soda he'd brought with him.
Robert needed the promotion and the raise. Never mind that he deserved it. He needed it. At almost forty years old, he'd expected to be managing the plant long ago. Matt, his oldest son, would be going to college next year. Living paycheck to paycheck the way they did had never bothered Robert so much until Glen announced he would retire on October first.
The Lord had always provided for them, and Robert believed He always would as long as he remained steady in his obligations. But a raise--a true raise with a manager's salary instead of an annual increase of fifty cents or less an hour every paycheck--would keep them from feeling so stretched every month, especially after Matt went off to college next year.
After taking a deep breath, Robert let it out in a slow rush during his count to ten. He hated the games he had to play just to get what, by all rights, belonged to him.