The Happy Store – Fair Exchange
Fiction by Shelly Reuben
Girl Scout Cookies meet glimmer lights in Clementine’s 36th adventure at The Happy Store.
As a rule, the sidewalk in front of The Happy Store was occupied only by employees on their way in or out, customers on their ditto, and rare maintenance personnel.
Which effectively meant that when looking through the showroom windows at the parking lot, no one was seen to be loitering outside. Solicitors dared not solicit. Beggars dared not beg. Salvation Army Santas dared not set up their collection pots and ring their bells.
The Happy Store’s corporate offices had a policy (page 36, section two, paragraph “e”) forbidding such activities. And in the mall rental agreement for the space, sidewalk solicitations of any variety (page 2, paragraph 14) were strictly forbidden.
Why, therefore, at 11:00 o’clock on a very nice day in June, was a folding table set up directly outside the doors leading into the store?
Clementine Fraile noticed it first, and knowing the Rules of the Sidewalk as well as she knew the Rules of the Road, she put on her “let’s get confrontational face.” Only to be defeated the minute she saw a woman – red hair carelessly bunched on top of her head, broad smile, dimples, and freckles – removing a carton from the trunk of her car and setting it on the table. The woman’s eyes flicked back and forth between two eleven-year-old girls standing on the sidewalk and waiting.
“Beth, line up the boxes across the front of the table.”
“Yes, Mrs. Bobbie.”
“Here’s the cash box. There are product descriptions under the tray. Match them up with the right cookies.”
And so on.
Of the girls, Beth was a perfect miniature of her mother, complete with Mrs. Bobbie’s red hair, freckles, dimples, and smile. Whereas Stella was a gangly assemblage of arms and legs, huge round black eyes with eyelashes as long as awnings, and a smile that was both timid and insistent, like a big, floppy puppy so smotheringly devoted, you didn’t know if you should kick it or cover it with kisses.
Over white shirts, the girls and their troop leader wore sashes adorned with colorful merit badges, and as they set up chairs and arranged their display, they were whirligigs of chatter and activity.
“You have the wrong sign on the Samoas,” Beth said to Stella.
“Right. Okay. Better?”
“Put the S’mores in the center of the table,” Mrs. Bobbie said. “They sell the best.”
“You think so?”
“Never mind. You know what you’re doing. Ignore me.”
Clearly, Clementine observed as all the hot air sputtered out of her confrontational balloon, these were Girl Scouts and they were about to sell cookies.
Seeing her, the red haired woman thrust out a hand and said, “I’m Alice Bobbie. This,” she pointed to her left, “is Beth. And this,” she pointed to her right, “is Stella.”
“Hi. I’m Clementine.” Our favorite sales associate cast an approving eye over the table. She added, “I used to be a Girl Scout. Let’s see what you’ve got here.”
Before she returned to her duties ten minutes later, Clementine had purchased two boxes of Trefoils for her father, two boxes of Thin Mints for Hyman Pease, her ex-boss, and for herself, one box each of the Caramel Chocolate Chip cookies, S’mores, and Toffee-Tastics.
As she headed up the aisle toward the cash registers, Walter Graybill, the store manager, jerked his head toward the front doors and raised a skeptical eyebrow.
Clementine shrugged and said, “Girl Scouts.” Then, knowing the store’s policy about vendors on the sidewalk, she raised an equally dubious eyebrow and said, “I dare you.”
Like most of us with strong likes and dislikes, Walter had a passion. His happened to be culinary. It was not for lobster and champagne or burgers and fries, but for Do-Si-Doe cookies with “crisp and crunchy oatmeal on the outside and creamy peanut butter inside.”
So that morning Walter made an exception to the store’s “no solicitors on sidewalk” rule, and allowed the Girl Scouts of America to stay.
At the same time that he was heading outside to surrender his will to his favorite cookie, eleven-year-old Stella was drifting inside to wander up and down the aisles. On her eighth birthday, her mother took her to The Happy Store to pick out a present, and ever since then it had been her favorite store. This year, it took her less than three minutes to find a new all-time favorite thing.
The object was easy to operate. It required two triple A batteries. And as soon as Stella saw it, she knew exactly where she wanted to put it in her bedroom. It was, Stella exclaimed delightedly, “The sweetest and prettiest thing I’ve ever seen!” As she said that, her big black eyes glistened, her boney knuckles were pressed rapturously against her cheeks, and anyone with a heart in his soul would have seen in that gawky, awkward child the beautiful woman she would one day be.
The box the item came in described the contents as FAIRY LIGHTS IN MASON JAR, but those five words couldn’t begin to convey its sheer magic. Walter had positioned it on a dark shelf in the lamp section so that the lights would glow brightly. The ingenuity of the product – on sale for only $8.99 – was that along with the AAA batteries tucked under the lid of the jar was a miniscule rotating fan. When the switch was turned ON, the glimmer lights inside danced like a bevy of fireflies captured on a summer eve.
“Oh,” Stella exclaimed in ecstasy. “I’m in love!”
“Oh,” Walter exclaimed in ecstasy taking a big bite out of a Do-Si-Doe, “I’m in love.”
After ordering two dozen boxes of cookies, Walter re-entered the store. Clementine hurried up and led him to where Stella was standing in worshipful silence before the fluttering fairy lights on the shelf. Seconds before, she had seen the girl take out a small change purse, shake a few insufficient coins into her palm, and sigh disappointedly.
“What are we going to do about it?” Clementine demanded.
“Do about what?”
“Can’t we just give it to her, Walter?” Clementine exclaimed. “It only costs eight dollars.”
“Eight ninety-nine. And this is a store. We don’t give things away. We sell them.”
Just then, the other Girl Scout in this scenario came rushing up the aisle. “Stella! Mom says to come outside. We got a lot of customers, and we need you!”
The rest of Clementine’s shift was unexceptional, and she was so busy, she didn’t have time to look out the window. But before she clocked out for the day, she noticed that the shelf where the fairy light jar had been was empty, and on her way out the door, she realized that the girls and their scout leader had folded their table and chairs and gone away.
What Clementine did not know was that when Mrs. Bobbie got home and unpacked the promotional items from the carton in her garage (all of the cookies had been sold), she also extracted a small gray box.
She handed it to Stella.
Stella quickly removed the jar, unscrewed the lid, flicked on the little switch, re-screwed the lid, and placed it on the hood of Mrs. Bobbie’s car, where she, Beth, and their scout leader admired the fluttering dance of not-quite-real (but who cared?) fireflies until Stella went home.
Two days later, Walter received a thank you note from Stella, which somehow found its way to the bulletin board in the break room.
After Clementine read it, she sidled up to her boss and whispered, “This is a store. We don’t give things away. We sell them.”
Walter looked at her deadpan. “I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about.”
Then she slapped her thighs, threw back her head and enunciated theatrically, “Ha. Ha. Ha.”
Copyright © Shelly Reuben, 2020. Shelly Reuben’s books have been nominated for Edgar, Prometheus, and Falcon awards. For more about her writing, visit www.shellyreuben.com