The Last Minute Shopper, Christmas short story

The Last Minute Shopper
By R Patrick Hughes

The mall was crammed with last minute shoppers. I always waited to the last day to do my Christmas shopping, because I can find some really good deals. And I was hoping the diamond engagement ring Jenny, my girlfriend--soon to be fiancée--had been admiring would be on a deep discount. When I finally shoved my way to the glass counter, the ring was still there. It was now 50% less than retail.
            “Hey, girl,” I shouted, waiving my hand at the sales clerk. “Over here. I know what I want.”
            She came over, some of the other customers staring at me and her angrily.
            “Right there; that ring; I want it.”
            She unlocked the counter door and pulled out the ring. “This is a beautiful ring you’ve chosen. You can’t beat the price for a ¼ carat diamond.”
            I gave her my credit card. “Do you have gift wrapping?”
            “Yes, Sir. Second floor: Customer Service area. Just show your receipt.”
            I dodged people as I hurriedly ran up the up escalator. I almost knocked one little old lady over.
            “Pervert!’ she said.
            “Not really, but I don’t have time to talk about it right now.”
            I dodged a woman pushing a baby carriage, another woman scolding her wining 4-year old brat (I know, because I heard her call the child ‘brat’), and three thuggish looking guys with pierced tongues and spiked hair-dos loaded down with bags of presents for their mothers.
            When I reached Customer Service, if you want to call it that (there was one exhausted woman wrapping for every five idiots like me waiting in line), I hunkered down for the long wait.
            “What color paper would you like, mam? What color ribbon? Pink looks good with gray, don’t you think? No, you like the blue ribbon with the green paper. That is unique. Oh, you changed your mind. You want the white paper with purple polka dots and yellow ribbon. I like that too.”
            So it went, the wrapping-ladies crisscrossing back and forth behind the counter, ripping paper, scissoring ribbons, slashing tape, shoving packages around, flipping boxes, for what seemed like an hour before my turn finally came.
            “Thank God,” I said. “Your store is closing in five minutes.”
            “Thank God,” said the lady with thick glasses and a perky hairdo that had fallen hours ago. “Just tell me what you want and you got it.”
            “Oh, my, it’s so hard to choose. What do you suggest?”
            “This is a beautiful ring. An engagement ring for your sweetheart?”
            “Yes. I wouldn’t buy it for my mother.”
            “I know just the right combination to fill your girlfriend with anticipation.” She ripped off some pretty pink paper and laid it on the table.
            “Oh, I want that paper,” the man next to me said. He wore a Brooks Brothers suit and a Rolex watch.
            “There isn’t any more of that paper,” his wrapping woman said.
            The man scowled.
            “Oh, I’m in the holiday spirit,” I said. “He can have it.”
            “Thank you, Sir.”
            The wrapping lady pulled the paper over to her, knocking my ring and several other packages on the floor.
            She and the other ladies scrambled a bit picking up the presents and placing them back on the counter and continued their wrapping.
            “I bought a ¼ carat diamond ring for my girlfriend,” I said to the man.
            “I got my wife a $10,000.00 1 carat diamond ring.”
Nice to be rich, I thought.
            “Here’s your ring, Sir,” said my wrapping lady.
            “That is really pretty,” I said. “I can’t wait for Jenny to see it.”
            My shopping finally done, I came home with my arms loaded with gifts. It was Christmas Eve and I’d pulled it off again. I placed the presents under the tree with the other presents, took a shower, and waited for Jenny to arrive.
            When Jenny came, we could hardly wait for midnight, the time we always opened our gifts to each other.
            “I love that package,” she said. “Did you wrap it yourself?”
            “Oh, yeah, I majored in package wrapping at Harvard.”
            I held my present, which was nicely wrapped with a huge blue ribbon. I shook it. It rattled a bit. What the heck could it be?
            Jenny shook her package. “It’s very quiet,” she said. “I wonder what it is? Give me a hint.”
            “Come on, Jen, we’re not children.”
            “Please. One little hint.” She kissed me on the cheek.
            “Oh, all right. It’s bigger than a grain of sand, and smaller than a bread box.”
            “I can see that. Come on, give me good hint.”
            “It’s something you can wear for the rest of your life.”
            “Now that’s a hint.” She puzzled for a moment. “Let me guess. It’s a piece of jewelry.”
            “Can’t fool you, can I?”
            “Oh, please let me open it now. I can’t wait.”
            “We’re not breaking tradition. It’s only a couple of hours till midnight. You can wait.”
            “I’m not saying another word till midnight.”
            So we sat and waited. “Oh, all right. Go ahead and open it,” I said.
            “Open yours first,” she said.
            I ripped the paper and ribbon off. The store name on the package was, ‘Everything’s A Dollar.’ “I wonder what this could be?” I opened the box, and inside was a watch. My watch had conked out months ago, and it was the perfect gift. “Thank you, Jen.” I gave her a lingering kiss.
            “Oh, I can’t wait.” She carefully slid the ribbon off her package and pulled the tape away and unwrapped the present. It was a larger box than the ring-sized box. I knew the lady had put my smaller box inside the larger box. Jen opened it.
“I love it!” She pulled out a gigantic 1 carat diamond ring. “This is better than the one I wanted. Oh, I love you so much.”
            She threw herself all over me, kissing me wildly. “Yes, I’ll marry you. Yes, I’ll marry you. Yes. Yes. Yes.”
            I was bewildered to say the least. Shocked! Puzzled! Dumbfounded! How could this be? Damn. What a good turn of fortune. Like I said, waiting to the last minute can get you some good deals.



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