Photo credit Xavier Lukins
Photo courtesy stock.xchng The Christmas Coupon Project is a 25-part story; one part each day through Christmas. Head HERE for past installments.
Chapter 24: The Star
Beth was leaning over the checkout lane, engrossed in a book.
“Slow night?” he asked.
“Charles!” she exclaimed, setting the book down. “What are you doing here? It’s Christmas Eve!”
He placed the champagne and cookies down on the conveyer belt. “Came to celebrate, I suppose.”
Beth considered the items he was purchasing. “Got a romantic night planned?”
“With your girlfriend…?”
“Ah, she’s not my girlfriend anymore…”
“Oh,” Beth lowered her eyes, and quickly added, “I’m sorry…”
“Don’t be,” he said. “It wasn’t meant to be.”
Beth tried to focus on scanning in the items, but Charles could see that a smile had crept across her face. How had he missed how pretty Beth was?
“I almost forgot,” she said, reaching for something under the counter. “I have something for you…it just came today.”
She pulled out a Manzer 3000 razor. “No kidding,” Charles laughed. “Why, it’s a Christmas miracle!”
“I was so excited when the shipment came in today, I just had to snatch one up and set aside for you…”
Charles reached into his wallet and pulled out the Manzer 3000 coupon he’d been hanging onto for weeks now. “Manzer coupon…meet Manzer razor,” he said handing it over the counter to Beth.
Beth finished the transaction and went to hand Charles his receipt. But as she did so, the little machine next to the cash register suddenly beeped its green light.
“The Catalina machine!” Beth and Charles said simultaneously. The little piece of paper spit out, and Beth ripped it off.
“Charles – you just earned $5 off your next purchase at Albertman’s – for buying the Manzer!”
“Seriously?” Charles took the coupon, reading it over. “An unadvertised Catalina! Go figure.”
“I haven’t seen that one print before. Must have just started today. Maybe it’s a good thing you didn’t get that Manzer until tonight!”
Charles folded the coupon carefully and put it in his wallet. He recalled the events of the past few weeks, and how Emo Tim had told him that sometimes the best deals were the one you didn’t find in the ad.
“What?” Beth smiled, tilting her head at Charles slightly.
“I have something for you.”
Charles took the package out from under his arm, and handed it to Beth.
“A Christmas present, of course.”
“Charles…?” Beth was both surprised and flattered.
“Open it!” Charles’ eyes lit up, eager for her to see what was inside.
Beth quickly worked through the layers of tissue paper. “The Coupon Project,” she read aloud. “Charles! It’s your photo coupon book! You remembered!”
“I did,” Charles said. “I loved your idea. I wanted to order a second one for you. To thank you.”
Beth was moved. Her face was soft, and radiant. “Thank you, Charles. It’s perfect!”
Charles motioned for her to read more. “See, Beth…look at this page. Here I share how to stack coupons…” he flipped a few more pages ahead for her. “And here’s how to find tearpad and blinkie coupons…”
“This is great,” Beth said. “Seriously…really great.”
“You think so?”
“Yeah, Charles,” her eyes scanned the pages, taking it in. “You should write a book.”
“I did…this one!”
“No,” she said. “You should have a book published. That teaches people how to do this.”
“Thanks,” he said. Charles couldn’t imagine doing anything other than what he presently did. Work in an office 9 to 5. Sure, he might climb the corporate ladder a bit. But doing something completely outside of the box like writing a book? The idea was both fascinating and terrifying at the same time.
“I know you could do it,” Beth was sincere, and Charles knew it. She admired him, and it was a feeling that began to awaken something new in Charles.
Beth was now on the last page of the photo book. “Charles, what’s this?”
Charles took the photo book from Beth. He could not believe what he was seeing. The caption read, “thanks most of all to my friend and faithful coupon mentor: Emo Tim.” The picture showed the sidewalk and the bench outside of Albertman’s. But there was one thing missing from the picture.
“How…” he muttered. “I don’t get this, Beth…”
“I took this picture…there was a kid in it…an emo kid…”
“I don’t understand…?”
Charles grabbed for his phone and began to scroll through his photos. “I took that photo with this phone. There is an emo kid doing a wacky pose. He’s the one that taught me how to coupon…”
Charles found the photo. It looked exactly like the photo in the book Beth was now holding.
“I swear, Beth, the photo had this kid, this emo kid, doing a crazy pose…he taught me how to coupon….”
Beth looked at him questioningly.
“Beth…he used to hang out in front of the store all the time, he rode a skateboard…”
“Oh, but there’s no skateboarding allowed out there! My manager makes sure of that!”
“Trust me, if there had been a skateboarder? We would’ve known…”
Charles put his phone back in his pocket, shaking his head. “I can’t believe this…”
Charles covered his face with his hands. Was he hallucinating? Had he gone mad? What was happening to him…and why? He felt as if the room was beginning to spin.
But Beth was unshaken. “Charles…” Beth said calmly. “Tell me, this emo kid…did he help you?”
“Yes, he did.”
“So, you would say your life is better, for having known him?”
“Well then, I think you encountered a Christmas angel.”
Beth hadn’t laughed at Charles. She hadn’t called him crazy. She hadn’t dismissed what he’d experienced. She’d believed in him.
“Maybe so, Beth,” Charles said nodding, trying to take everything in. “I wouldn’t know how else to explain it.”
Charles thought back to the first time he’d met Emo Tim. He’d seemed real enough. But maybe there was some validity to Beth’s theory. For instance, the little matter of how Emo Tim kept popping up at all the right times and places. And his uncanny ability to pinpoint virtually every deal in the store at a given time. Perhaps Beth was right after all.
Suddenly, something caught Charles’ attention out of the corner of his eye. He glanced up and out the store’s foggy windows. There, standing outside in the snow, was an emo kid, dressed all in white. His face was sad, yet he was smiling. He lifted a single hand at Charles, and cocked his head back slightly.
“Beth…Beth! There he is!” without thinking, Charles turned back, and grabbed Beth’s hand.
But when they got to the window, all that remained was the snow, falling silently and accumulating in soft piles on the grocery store parking lot.
“He was there…” Charles said.
But Beth wasn’t looking out the window. She was looking down at her hand, still clasped to Charles’. Charles looked down, too, surprised at how natural his hand felt in hers. Had Beth been here, all along? How could he have missed her?
Christmastime is here, happiness and cheer… the classic Charlie Brown Christmas song began over the grocery store loudspeaker. Fun for all, that children call, their favorite time of year…
“Hmmmm,” Beth said, closing her eyes and drinking in the moment. “I’ve always loved that song.”
“Me too,” Charles smiled. And he was still holding her hand.
Although they were unaware of it, there was a star that was shining a little bit brighter than the others high above Albertman’s grocery store that Christmas Eve night. And then in an instant, it exploded into light and blazed across the dark night sky.