From Chicken Soup for the Girlfriend's Soul

The Birthday Present

If we build on a sure foundation in friendship, we must love our friends for their sakes rather than for our own.

Charlotte Brontë

The minute Jenny and I got to the mall, I knew I shouldn’t have come with her on this shopping expedition.

“My mom said she thought I’d have more fun shopping with you for my birthday present, so she gave me her credit card and told me to ‘be reasonable,’” Jenny said, as we entered the clothing store.

I tried to smile at Jenny’s remark, but I could tell my effort left something to be desired. I could feel my facial muscles tightening with forced cheerfulness as I imagined what “reasonable” meant. You’ll probably only buy three new outfits instead of five, I thought, and each one complete with shoes and other accessories.

Before I could stop it, the green-eyed monster was rearing its ugly head.

Jenny and I had been best friends since the sixth grade. Over the years, we’d done everything together—got short haircuts that we hated, discovered guys and complained about school.

At first, it never bothered me that Jenny’s family was much more well-off than mine. Now that we were in high school, though, I began noticing the things Jenny had that I didn’t—a fabulous wardrobe, her own car, membership at a fitness club. It seemed the list could go on forever. More and more, I was envious of her lifestyle and the things she had.

I couldn’t help comparing this shopping extravaganza with birthdays in my family. We weren’t poor, but four children in the family meant budgeting, even for birthdays. We had a good time, but my parents put a twenty-dollar spending limit on presents.

I remembered my last birthday. In our family, it’s a tradition that the one who’s celebrating a birthday gets to pick the menu and invite one special person to the celebration. I invited Jenny, of course, and ordered my favorite meal complete with chocolate cake for dessert. It was fun, but nothing like this credit-card shopping spree.

I was brought back to the present when Jenny held up a white sweater and matching skirt.

“Do you like this?” she asked.

“It is gorgeous,” I said. Jenny nodded and continued looking while I moved from rack to rack, touching the beautiful clothes. “I’m going to try this on,” Jenny headed for the dressing room. After a few minutes, she reappeared in the outfit she’d just shown me. She looked beautiful.

I sighed. While part of me wanted to tell her how good she looked, another part of me snatched the words back before they were uttered. Jenny was in such good shape that she’d look good in a potato sack. Sometimes, I doubted my judgment in choosing a best friend who was so pretty. Lord, why can’t I be the one with the rich parents and the great looks?

“Well, Teresa, what do you think?” A question Jenny had asked me more than once. “Do you like it?”

The outfit looked great on her, but the green-eyed monster struck again. “Not really,” I lied. “I think you need something with more color.”

“You think so?” Jenny said doubtfully. “I don’t know.”

“Just trust me. We’ll find something better,” I told her pushing her back into the dressing room. “You just can’t buy the first thing you see.” I would have said anything to get Jenny out of the store and away from that outfit. As we left, Jenny gave the sweater one last look.

Just down the mall, we passed a frozen yogurt place. “My treat,” Jenny said, pulling out her wallet. “The Taylors stayed out late Saturday night, so I’ve got a few dollars to spare.”

I never could resist chocolate frozen yogurt, so we got our cones and sat down at a table. As Jenny chattered away about a million things, I thought about the feelings I’d had toward my best friend lately. Those feelings weren’t very kind.

As I sat there, I began to see Jenny in a new light. I saw that Jenny was attractive not just because of her good looks, but more so because of her kindness. Treating me to yogurt was far from her only show of generosity. She took me to the fitness club she belonged to every chance she got. She also let me drive her car and borrow her clothes.

I also realized this wouldn’t be a shopping extravaganza: Jenny only intended to buy one gift. I’d let envy take over my vision until it distorted the picture I had of my best friend. With that thought, the green-eyed monster seemed to shrink in size.

After we finished our cones, we headed for the next clothing store. “Look at that red sweater,” Jenny said, as we passed the window. “It would be perfect for you, Teresa, with your dark hair. How are you doing saving your baby-sitting money? Soon maybe you’ll have enough to buy something like that.”

A few minutes ago, all I would have heard was the part about saving my baby-sitting money. I would have resented the fact that all Jenny had to do was ask her parents for the sweater, and they’d buy it for her. This time, though, I heard more. I heard my best friend complimenting me and saying how good I’d look. I heard the voice of someone who loved and cared for me for who I was. I needed to express the same to her.

“You know, Jen, I’ve been thinking,” I said, linking arms with her and pulling her back to the first store, “that white skirt and sweater really was beautiful on you.”

Teresa Cleary

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