BURIED IN BARGAINS
“Mom, you need to get a grip,” Laura Gerber said as they trudged up the sidewalk through the center of St. Stanley, Virginia. “Summer Phillips is not worth getting an ulcer over.”
“I’m not getting an ulcer,” Maggie said. She noted that the small town was still quiet with very few people out in the chilly December morning temperatures.
She glanced at her daughter, home from Penn State for the holidays, who looked remarkably like she had when she was twenty years old with the same wrinkle free face, shoulder length red hair and upturned nose. Only the eyes were different. Where Maggie had green eyes, Laura had gotten her father’s chocolate brown eyes.
Maggie felt a pang, wishing her late husband Charlie, could see their daughter now. She had grown up to be a smart, confident and beautiful young woman. Maggie couldn’t be more proud of her.
“Yeah, right, no ulcer,” Laura said. “That’s why you’re popping Antacid tablets like they’re Pez.”
Maggie stuffed the roll of tablets back in her purse. “Let’s just focus on the mission, shall we?”
“Mission?” Laura asked and laughed. “I think you and the rest of the Good Buy Girls missed your calling.”
“Meaning?” Maggie asked.
“You should really be military strategists,” she said. “I’ve never seen such an organized assault for bargains.”
“It’s our gift,” Maggie said with a smile. “Now we have to hurry. We need to get to the stationary store as soon as they open. Janice Truman is selling last year’s gift wrap at 75% off and I want to stock up so we can offer free gift wrapping at My Sister’s Closet.”
“Yes, yes, I know,” Laura said. “Do you really think customers will go to your resale shop instead of Summer’s Second Time Around just because of free gift wrap?”
“If they have any taste they will,” Maggie said. “Did you see the hideous window display she has up? Giant cardboard cut outs of herself dressed in a slutty Santa’s helper outfit. Honestly, the woman has no sense of decency.”
“Don’t tell me, let me guess,” Ginger Lancaster said as she joined them at the corner. “We’re talking about Summer’s holiday window display.”
“Revolting,” Joanna Claramotta said as she stepped out from in front of her husband’s deli More Than Meats and joined their group. “I saw Tyler Fawkes standing in front of her store for about twenty minutes yesterday. I swear he would have licked the glass if he weren’t afraid of being seen.”
“Ew,” the others said in unison.
“See? It isn’t just me,” Maggie said to Laura.
Laura rolled her eyes. “Where’s Claire?”
“She’s meeting us in front of the shop,” Ginger said. “She has to get to the library as soon as we’re done.”
Claire Freemont was the fourth member of the Good Buy Girls, a self-named club of bargain hunters, of which Maggie and Ginger were the oldest members. Best friends since they were toddlers, Maggie and Ginger had grown up in St. Stanley and settled down to raise their families there. When they began having children, both had become avid bargain hunters and had begun the money saving club together.
Write On, Janice’s stationary store, was housed in a large brick building just off the town square. Maggie and her entourage turned the corner to Janice’s shop just in time to see Claire Freemont going nose to nose with Summer Phillips.
“Darn it! I knew I should have camped out last night,” Maggie said.
“Mom, 75% off wrapping paper is no reason to camp on a sidewalk,” Laura said. “It’s not like tickets to Springsteen.”
“Michael would kill for tickets to Springsteen,” Joanne said.
“Focus, people, focus,” Maggie said. “We’re thinking about wrapping paper, bows and tags right now not hot sixty year olds who can still slide across the stage on their knees.”
“I watched that on Youtube like ten times,” Ginger said. Then she fanned herself with one hand. “Waiting on a Sunny Day, indeed.”
Maggie gave her a quelling look. “As I was saying, look out for the cheesy paper that rips easily, we want the foil or reversible paper. Remember, we’re going for quality here.”
“Summer, I was here first,” Claire snapped. “You need to quit crowding me.”
“I’m not crowding you.” Summer tossed her long blonde locks. “You’re just fat.”
Ginger hissed in a breath through her teeth. She looked like she was gearing up to do some damage on Summer, who was tall and skinny with abnormally large frontal lobes, no, not her brain. Maggie put her hand on Ginger’s arm.
“Out shopping her will be the best revenge,” she said.
Ginger adjusted the bright blue knitted cap she wore on her close cropped hair. Her dark brown skin was flushed with temper but she gave Maggie a nod.
“Fine. Just stay in between me and her,” she said.
“I can do that,” Joanne said with a toss of her long brown ponytail.
She was just five months pregnant and had finally started to show. It had taken her a long time to get pregnant, and she had been so excited she had started wearing maternity clothes since the day she made the announcement. Maggie was pleased to see that her clothes were finally fitting her gently rounded belly.
“No, if there is a ruckus, you and the baby skedaddle,” Ginger said. “Maggie and Laura can run interference.”
En masse they approached the front door where Claire and Summer were jostling elbows.
Claire spotted them and sent them a beaming smile. Maggie knew she must be relieved to have her posse arrive just in time to save her from the bully.
Summer followed her gaze and her eyes locked onto Maggie and then shifted to Laura.
“Oh, god, there’s two of you,” she said. “Because one wasn’t bad enough.”
For some reason this delighted Maggie and she threw her arm around Laura and hugged her close.
“Double the fun,” she said.
Summer’s lip curled back, “More like a double hernia.”
Laura glanced between them and frowned.
“Don’t you think you two should get over this? You’re both women in business, you need to work together not tear each other apart. If women were more supportive of one another, instead of always shredding each other over their appearance or a man’s attention, we’d be getting a lot further in the world than having only three percent of the CEO’s in the United States being female. ”
Summer and Maggie looked at her and then each other and then they both shook their heads.
“Normally, I would agree with you,” Maggie began but Summer interrupted.
“The truth is that your mother has never gotten over the fact that I stole her high school boyfriend. It’s a pity because I really think we could have been friends, you know, if she wasn’t so jealous of me,” Summer said. The she turned back to the glass front door and started examining her reflection.
“Argh,” Maggie growled. She wasn’t aware that she had reached out to grab a fistful of Summer’s blonde extensions until Ginger smacked her hand away.
“Out shop her, remember?” she hissed.
Maggie’s growl became a low rumble in her throat. She knew she should let it go, but somehow, she just couldn’t.
“Laura, dear,” she began, “just so we’re clear. I was dating a very nice boy back in high school and, yes, I did think that Summer had hooked up with him, but it turned out she had gotten another boy to wear my boyfriend’s football jersey to trick me into thinking he was cheating on me.”
“Ah!” Laura gasped. “That’s vile.”
“Oh, no, that’s nothing,” Maggie said. “Seeing Summer buck naked that was vile.”
Summer whirled around and glared daggers at Maggie while Ginger snorted trying to keep from laughing. Maggie saw Janice, the owner of the shop, approaching to unlock the door. Knowing she could lure Summer away from the door, she took a step back. Summer followed just like she knew she would.
“Why you—“ Summer began but Maggie interrupted her.
“What?” Maggie said, stepping back from the others. Again, Summer followed and Maggie watched as the GBG’s closed ranks on the door. “Did you really think Sam and I wouldn’t figure it out?”
“Oh, so you admit that you are “Sam and I” now,” Summer said. “Do not tell me that fabulous hunk of man is interested in you again.”
Maggie maintained eye contact with Summer but she could see over her shoulder that the door had opened and the GBG’s had filed into the shop.
“It’s none of your business,” Maggie said.
“Oh, please,” Summer said. “Your shop is right across the street from mine. Do you honestly think I haven’t noticed that Sam stops by your shop regularly? What is going on between you two?”
“He’s the sheriff. He’s just doing his job,” Maggie said. Now that the girls were in the shop, she didn’t want to be out here in the cold debating her love life with Summer. “Oh, look at that!”
She scuttled around Summer toward the shop. She knew Summer was going to have a fit and she braced herself to be taken out at the knees.
“Oh!” Summer cried as she hurried to catch up to her. “You distracted me on purpose.”
“You think?” Maggie asked.
Summer’s longer stride overtook her and she gave Maggie a hearty shove to the side. Maggie let her. She trusted her peeps to have already scored the good stuff, leaving the dreck for Summer.
“I loathe you, Maggie Gerber!” Summer cried as she yanked open the door and stormed into the shop. The door slammed in Maggie’s face and she smiled. The feeling was entirely mutual.
“Maggie, what are you up to now?” a voice asked from behind her.
Maggie turned around and felt her chest get tight. Speak of the devil, Sheriff Sam Collins was standing behind her with his arms crossed over his chest and a small smile playing on his lips.