Suburb of Columbus, Ohio
“Hey, Gabby, what are you doing?”
Even after all their years together, the sound of her husband’s voice could still make Gabrielle Phillips’s heart skip a beat. She pressed the cell phone closer to her ear. It had been such a long week without Tom at home. “I’m running into Hirscham’s to pick up a shirt for Dad’s birthday.”
“Running? You’re running?”
His overly cautious tone brought a smile to her face. “Not running, silly, although I could run, you know. I’m walking briskly. Hurrying. I have to be back at church by 1:30 for a meeting with the other directors.”
“Is everything…?” His hesitancy to finish the sentence told her everything he feared. How many times had he asked the same question only to hear the worst? No wonder Tom could barely ask anymore. Only fools got too close to a fire after getting burned time and again.
But at least today she had good news.
“Everything is fine. Absolutely fine. Wonderful. Really.” Closing her eyes, Gabby whispered her thanks to God. Tom’s audible sigh and then silence made her think he might be doing the same. “Except for…I miss you terribly.”
“When does your flight get in? Soon, I hope. It’s supposed to storm today.”
Dressing for work this morning, she’d seen the weather report on the small television sitting on top of the dresser in their bedroom. The meteorologist hadn’t just predicted rain; he’d more like ranted about it, threatening a downpour, pointing to patches of colors ranging from alarming yellow to raging red on his Doppler 10 radar screen.
“My plane gets in around five. But I looked online. I don’t think the rain’s supposed to start till later tonight.”
“Oh? Well, good.” That concern dismissed, she thought ahead. “Pizza for dinner?”
“Should you eat pizza?”
Smiling, she rolled her eyes though no one was nearby to notice. “How about half-veggie, half-pepperoni?”
“Perfect. Just like you. Love you, Gabby.”
Somehow through all the pain and drama and disappointments over the years of their marriage, they had survived, shakily at times, but together just the same. And now they’d been rewarded.
So rewarded! She let out a contented sigh.
As her boots scuffed against the dry parking lot pavement, Gabby had to admit she must’ve heard the weatherman wrong. At the moment, nearly white clouds with only hints of gray streaked a blue-brushed sky, looking far too benevolent for any monstrous storm to crackle through the heavens anytime soon.
But Gabby still felt glad she’d decided not to take any chances before she’d left home this morning. No way she wanted to risk slipping and falling on a rain-slicked floor. Not with their baby growing inside her --- the baby she and Tom had waited for for so long. So painfully long.
Instead, she’d tossed her black ballet flats back into the closet she shared with her husband, opting for ragged but sure-footed snow boots from the garage. Not so attractive, but luckily she worked at a historic stone church and not in some glossy corporate tower. Everyone at work dressed neatly but casually. No one at Graceview cared as much about her fashion statements as they did about her dedication as head of the church’s children’s ministries.
When Gabby reached Hirscham’s entrance, she held open the door for a young mom struggling to push a baby stroller while tugging on the hand of a squirming toddler.
Not exactly an idyllic Norman Rockwell scene, but still Gabby could feel the jealousy. Rearing. Scratching. Trying to catch hold. Wanting to seep in and creep through her like a heart-strangling vine.
But it couldn’t control her anymore. These days she refused to let it. Now hope wasn’t just some fuzzy mirage in the distance. It had become more of a reality. On days when the green monster reared, she could more easily shoo it away with a genuine smile, not a false one. With positive thoughts, not negative ones. And by counting blessings, not subtracting them.
Heading for the men’s department, Gabby already knew exactly what to get her father. Her mother had been explicit about the size, brand, and color of shirt Gabby’s dad would like from her and Tom. Even though Gabby thought a shirt sounded less than exciting, she and Tom couldn’t afford much more than a shirt anyway. Tom’s new job with a national nonprofit organization had been a step up, but they still didn’t have a lot of disposable income, especially not with all the medical bills from the past --- or the present.
Besides, next year would be different. By the time her father’s birthday rolled around again, she’d already have given him a special gift. A precious one.
Something money just can’t buy!
The salesperson couldn’t have been more efficient, and package in hand, Gabby glanced at her watch. She could slow down a bit. She still had ten minutes to kill before she had to head back to Graceview.
Strolling through the store, she took in the new spring fashions. It looked as if pink might be a big color again this season. But the women’s clothes held little interest for her, so she meandered over to the baby department and stood at the edge, looking in. Did she really want to venture into that sea of heart-tugging adorability?
Then a sleeper caught her eye. A pale yellow sleeper, almost the color of the underside of a lemon peel, with the cutest fuzzy lamb embroidered on the chest. Even from a distance it tempted her, seeming to promise a high cuddle factor.
Could the sleeper really be as soft as it looked?
Inching her way over, Gabby tried not to notice the endless racks and shelves of pastels, the cotton candy pinks and hushed baby blues of the infant clothes, the girlie lavenders and boy-bold navies of the toddler outfits. Instead, keeping her eyes focused on the sleeper, she made a straight path. She just wanted to touch it and feel its softness. That was all.
She took the foot of the sleeper in her hand and rubbed it between her fingers. Exquisite. Addicting. As soft as a downy feather but not feathery at all, of course. Holding it up to her cheek, she could almost imagine she smelled the unmistakable scent of baby powder. Could almost swear she felt the weight of a tiny foot wrapped in the velvety fabric.
“Soft, isn’t it?” A salesperson appeared out of nowhere and smiled at her knowingly.
Gabby attempted to let the fabric drop from her fingers, but she couldn’t let go. “Unbelievable.”
“And they’re on sale.”
Glancing at the price tag without really seeing it, Gabby tilted her head, pretending to do a mental calculation. But really her decision --- or rather indecision --- had nothing to do with money.
Not this time.
As she clasped the material tighter and tighter in her fingers, she already knew there’d be an aching sadness that would spread to her limbs and then, without a doubt, find her heart if she let the fabric slip from her hand. Oh, how she didn’t want to let go.
But should she? Should she really buy it?
But then …
It had been ten weeks. She’d almost made it through the entire first trimester. She had never, ever, carried a baby that long before. Not in all the eight years since she and Tom had tried to conceive.
Even though everything indicated the in vitro fertilization had worked, even though her belly had the slightest protrusion and her breasts felt more tender than usual, still, after so many years, so many tests, failures, and tears, it seemed too hard to believe, too good to be true.
But Gabby couldn’t go on thinking that way. This baby --- their baby --- was real.
The thought made her tremble with a thrilling excitement that lifted her heart sky-high.
Until the other tremors came too, clutching at her throat, bringing fear and trepidation. Sadness of remembered losses. Feelings so easy to give in to, such a familiar place to be.
Her baby couldn’t thrive in shadows and fear. A protective feeling, stronger than anything she’d ever felt before, surged through her. She needed to shove those feelings away. Her baby needed light and love. Positive thoughts and prayers. Nourishment. Gentleness. And softness.
“I-I want it,” Gabby stammered. “I want it,” she repeated, taking the sleeper, handing it to the salesperson. “I’m going to get it.”
But as she watched the salesperson wrap her precious purchase in white tissue paper, horrible thoughts struck again. What was she doing? Something wrong? Something that might possibly jinx their baby?
No, she wouldn’t let herself believe it. After all, she’d bought baby clothes ahead of time for friends before. And had anything awful ever happened to their babies?
Besides, if she’d learned anything through the trials she and Tom had endured together, it had been that there were no signs. No spells. No talismans. No right words to chant. No fairy godmother’s wand. Nothing that could create a baby.
Nothing beyond the ability of her body…and God’s gracious will. Every minute of every day, Gabby prayed they were one and the same.