The last of the leftover turkey had been crammed into the fridge, the relatives had departed, and the kids were finally asleep. Janie settled back in her chair with her computer on her lap and a collection of catalogues and circulars spread around her. It was her guilty, favorite part of Thanksgiving – the end-of-holiday browsing for Black Friday deals.
Her husband, Jason, had no interest in her task and she was happy with that. This was her private adventure into clever shopping – her annual challenge to beat the money drain of the holidays through clever planning, a carefully constructed list, and a rigidly organized schedule designed to hit the early morning, limited time, limited number sales.
It actually gave her a thrill.
“Going shopping in the morning?” Jason asked.
“Mmm…” Janie murmured cautiously.
“You don’t need me, do you?”
Janie fought back the smile. “No…sleep in a little and keep an eye on the girls.” She tried to keep the note of relieved triumph from her voice.
This was a solo mission.
The next morning, Janie was in her car at 4:45 a.m. In the cold, misty dark she pulled out of the driveway. Ice skates were on sale, sixty percent off for two hours at the sports store. The girls had begged for figure skating lessons, and good skates were expensive. Very expensive.
Along with surprisingly few other bargain hunters, Janie scooped up two pairs of skates for less than the cost of one pair at regular price. Smugly, she added a very cool sweatshirt, forty percent off, for Jason. Damn she was good.
She deserved a latte.
Pulling out of the parking lot on her way to the coffee stand, she spotted a gaunt man holding a sign, shivering in the pre-dawn mist. It wasn’t even daylight yet. Janie wondered uneasily where he had slept. If he had eaten…
“Bugger,” she muttered. Rolling down her passenger window, she thrust a twenty toward him. He took it, with a mumbled, “Thank you. Bless you.” She could see the grime that crusted his cheeks and guessed he’d been on the streets for a while.
Driving away she pushed away the thoughts that maybe he’d use it for drugs, maybe she should’ve given a donation to a shelter…but he’d looked so incredibly miserable.
Instead of going through a drive through, Janie went into the coffee shop and, while she sipped her latte, tapped some commands into her phone. With a rueful mental shrug, she donated the amount she’d saved on the skates to a homeless shelter. Then she realized that despite the discount on Jason’s sweatshirt, she’d given away everything she’d saved.
“’Tis the season…” she told herself and felt a flush of embarrassment at her lack of money sense. Determined, she pulled out her list and with narrowed eyes, planned the next stage of her odyssey. “But wait, there’s more!” she muttered.
Back in the car, she hit the mall. This was a madhouse, even though it was barely 7 a.m. Jockeying around other frenzied shoppers, she grabbed the cutest sweaters for the girls. The line was painful and long, but she’d scored a bargain.
Next stop, the luxury toy store for some cool building kits (guaranteed to develop STEM learning) and had just made a dive for the prize – a $150 advanced collection at half price, when she stumbled over a very short person. A preschooler in fact. Who was crying.
What in the name of all that’s insane was a little kid doing out at the mall at this time of the morning?
“Where’s your mommy?” Janie pulled the little boy aside, out of the free-for-all.
But he was sobbing too hard to answer her. She wasn’t even sure he understood the question. Gripping his hand tightly, Janie saw the last bargain kit grabbed off the table. Well, there were other bargains, Janie told herself. Sighing, she led the child to the counter where heavy-eyed sales people were frantically ringing up customers and trying to answer shouted questions.
“Excuse me,” she said. No one paid any attention.
“Excuse me!” She said more loudly. One young man glanced at her and turned his back.
“Hey!” Janie shouted at the top of her voice. She slammed her hand on the counter. There was a moment of silence. “This little boy is lost!” she yelled.
The sales people stared at her blankly, and then the manager rushed over. “Ma’am…” he began, but then a woman, clutching a large bag containing the bargain-priced, deluxe kit barreled over.
“Danny,” she shrieked. “I told you to stand still!”
She led the crying boy away. Janie and the manager stared after her.
“You don’t have any more kits left, do you?” Janie asked weakly.
The manager shook his head. “Sorry. That’s it. I can give you a twenty percent discount on that one.” He pointed to a kit clearly intended for much younger children than her own.
“No,” Janie shook her head wearily and trudged out of the store. Maybe she could find some kind of sale on-line.
It was past 8 a.m. now and the super bargains were mostly over. One store in the next strip mall had their amazing sale going until nine and so Janie decided to at least try that. There were some books and movies that Jason and the girls had asked for. Not a huge savings, but worth the trip.
She was pulling out onto the street when she saw it happen. A small grey car hit a patch of black ice and skidded, doing a full 360 before slamming into a light pole. When other vehicles streamed by, Janie yanked her car into the shoulder lane and scrambled out. A teenage girl stumbled out of the car, her face white with shock. Another driver pulled over and a man hurried toward them.
“Call 911,” Janie ordered. The man yanked out his phone as Janie reached the girl. “Are you okay?” Gently, she touched the girl’s arm.
“My mom is going to kill me!” The girl had a held-back, hysterical catch in her voice.
“It wasn’t your fault,” Janie reassured her. “I saw the whole thing. Now, are you okay?”
The girl squinted as if trying to process the question. She felt her shoulder gingerly, then said, “I think so.”
“You should call your mom,” Janie suggested.
“My battery’s dead.” She stared helplessly. Janie nodded, pulled out her own phone and handed it to the girl. Once on the phone, the teen started crying so hard, Janie took the phone back and filled-in the girl’s mother.
“I’ll be there as soon as I can get a ride,” the woman gasped. She was clearly crying too. Janie wondered how many crying people she would meet today. There was a definite blackness about this Black Friday.
The teen sat in the car shivering, the police arrived, and Janie described to the officer exactly what happened. She gave her contact information, and when the girl’s mother showed up in what were clearly her pajamas, Janie smiled, shook her head and got back in her own car.
She walked into her own kitchen just as Jason spooned another ladle of pancake batter onto the griddle. Sinking gratefully onto a chair, Janie breathed in the sweet aroma of her home.
“How was the shopping?” Jason asked, putting a plate in front of her.
Janie sniffed happily and poured extra maple syrup over the pancakes. “Kind of a bust,” she told him. “I don’t think I saved hardly any money at all.”
“So your Black Friday shopping frenzy wasn’t worth the trouble?”
Janie stuffed her mouth with a huge bite. Once she’d swallowed, she shrugged. “Didn’t save so much,” she admitted. “But it was an adventure.”
“There’s always next year,” Jason offered.
Janie laughed. “Yup. There’s always next year.”
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