The Trade, Chapter 5

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At the office Christmas party a week later, Ruth was surprised and relieved to open a card from the bureau department head and find a $100 bonus and a note that she had been promoted to bookkeeping. He had been observing her performance and work ethic and had reviewed her initial background check verifying her clean record, noting that her father was a long-time member and sometimes elder at his church. Though she was a little young for what amounted to a pretty responsible position in accounts payable, his personal interest in Ruth overshadowed any reservation he might have about highly recommending her. He was hoping she’d be so grateful she’d accept his proposal for a date.

Ruth was grateful and she thanked the balding, 40-ish state official for his recommendation, but declined as gently as she could his invitation to dinner. She knew he had had his eye on her and so was doubly grateful not just for the promotion and raise but for the move to a higher floor, away from his unwelcome gaze.

That Christmas Ruth bought some gifts for a few special coworkers and splurged on a few things for herself. A whole new batch of credit card offers had arrived just in time for the holidays, and Ruth felt confident that if the credit companies believed she could handle more debt, then with the raise she had gotten she definitely could. But by the following Christmas, it was clear to Ruth as well as the credit companies that she definitely could not. All her credit had been cut off and the collectors were hounding her night and day, some even threatening her with legal action. She was losing control of her life and she didn’t like it.

On Christmas Day, as she sat alone in her apartment, Ruth phoned her father again. I should at least let him know I’m still alive, she thought. This time the weight of her financial burden caused her to stumble a little and she let it slip that she was overwhelmed with debt.

“Please come home, Ruth,” her father gently implored. “I’ll pay off all your debt if you just come back home.” Ruth wasn’t prepared for this offer and for a second she felt the weight begin to lift. But though it caught her off-guard and she hadn’t a clue how she was going to get out of the mess she was in, her stubborn self-reliance quickly took over.

“No.  I can handle it,” she replied sullenly. She didn’t know how, but she did know that admitting failure and running back to daddy was not an option.

There was silence between them for a long moment, and then her father asked, “Remember Promise Publishing?” Hearing the name of the “company” Ruth had started when she was 12 brought back memories of a happier time. She had trained herself on a simple desktop publishing program and had dreams of creating and selling personalized stationery and business cards for friends and family. The name Promise Publishing, though suggested by her father, appealed to Ruth’s innate sense of commitment and faithfulness. Eager to encourage her budding entrepreneurship, her father had opened up a bank account for her and deposited some capital. But then adolescence came along and girlfriends, boyfriends, and clothes took unqualified precedence over her little business.

“There’s still a few hundred dollars in the checking account,”  he continued. “It’s your money. Your name’s on the account. Let me know where you’re at and I’ll have the bank send the statement to you.”

Ruth reactively refused this offer also, but as she mumbled a “Thanks, anyway” her father asked if she had a computer. “Yeah,” she replied quizzically. She had a laptop, and a printer, and a decent modem/router combo. But unless and until she can pay her cable bill…no internet.

“I’ll give you my log-in information,” he continued. “That way you can see how much is in there, and maybe pay some bills.” Another long, silent pause hung between them as he waited for her reaction and she considered what that should be. He went on, “The user name is Forgiven and the password is John316.”

Forgiven? she thought to herself. Kind of an odd user name. One that she would discover would be easy to remember, though. And John 3:16 was the only Bible verse she’d ever memorized. “Thanks,” she muttered again and said goodbye to her father for another year.

Setting down her phone, Ruth heaved a sigh and slumped in her chair as if the weight of her predicament had just landed anew on her slight shoulders. She thought about the checking account her father had mentioned. A few hundred wasn’t going to help a whole lot. But as she sat there feeling distressed yet defiant, she began to catch glimpses of an unfolding scenario taking shape in her mind…one that, though risky, might really get her out of the hole she had dug.