Bargain Boy! by Donna Gamache

My mom is the one who got me hooked on garage sales. She's crazy about them. But she's a part time nurse, and sometimes she has the early shift, so she can't always go. Since I turned twelve, I've been going on my own. Mom's started calling me “Bargain Boy.”


There are just the two of us in our family—my mom and me, Jared. We live in the suburbs, and every spring our street and the two next to ours hold a gigantic garage sale. It's usually one of the best days of the year, almost like my birthday or Christmas. Every other year Mom had managed to arrange her shift to be off work for the street sale, but not this year. “Sorry, Jared,” she said. “It'll be up to you to find the bargains this time.”


“I'll do my best,” I said. “I'll ask Ed to go, too.”


Eduardo's my friend from two houses down. He's not a garage sale freak like me, but I figured I could talk him into going.


Saturday morning I set my alarm, and by 8:30 I was ringing Ed's doorbell. It was still cool, but the sun was bright. It was going to be a perfect street sale day.


“Hi, Ed,” I said. “You ready? How much money have you got?”


“Only six dollars. How about you?”


“I've got ten of my own. And Mom gave me five more in case I see something she wants. Shall we make it a contest? Whoever gets the best bargain wins, and the loser has to buy the other chips and a drink.”


“O.K.,” Ed agreed, “but you've had more practice.”


“Practice doesn't really count at this,” I said. “It's partly luck and partly knowing when something is a good deal. And remember, if you see something you want, buy it right away, because it might be gone later.”


We set off down the street, stopping at every sale sign. As usual, some houses had plenty of neat stuff, and others had mostly junk. “One person's junk is another's treasure,” Mom always said.


By ten o'clock I'd bought three brand new tennis balls for a dollar, two hockey cards for a quarter each, and a Michael Jordan T-shirt for fifty cents.


“I'm winning,” Ed announced when we stopped to compare. He held up several items, including two Star Trek creatures. “I've seen these for $10.00 each at a secondhand store, and I only paid fifty cents for the two.”


On the second street I saw something Mom wanted: mystery books by Dick Francis. I bought two, using her money, and also a skirt for the Christmas tree that I remembered we needed. Ed picked up a ping pong paddle and some old basketball magazines.


“I've spent all my money, Jared,” he said. “I'm going home. Bring my chips and drink over later.”


“O.K.,” I agreed, “but I'm doing the next street first. Maybe I'll beat you yet.”


The third street had four signs out. At the very last one I saw something for Mom: a leather purse—the Mexican kind—with flowers and birds and swirls carved into the leather. Mom had been watching for one for a long time, and this was only $10.00. I knew it was worth a lot more.


“It looks new,” I said to the man behind the table. “Is it genuine leather?” The man was tall, with white hair and a white mustache. He reminded me of my grandfather, except he was a lot older.


“Oh, yes,” he said, smiling. “It's genuine. We bought it in Mexico last year for my wife, but she hardly used it.” He pointed behind him to a small, white-haired woman hunched in a wheel chair, with a blanket around her shoulders. “She just loved it. But then she wound up in that chair, and she can't handle a big purse.”


“I'd like it for my mom,” I said. “Her birthday's in two weeks. But I've only got eight dollars left. Would you sell it for that?”


The old man hesitated. “O.K.,” he said finally. “We have to get rid of stuff. We're moving to a smaller place.”


We made the exchange and I headed home. Ed was raking leaves as I passed his house. “Let's compare what we've bought,” I said, and we spread everything out on his picnic table.


I opened up the purse to show him. It still smelled new, and the lining was clean. It would make a great birthday gift for Mom.


There were two main zippered pockets, and a smaller one on the side that I hadn't noticed before—good for keys, I thought, or change. I unzipped it and there, folded into a small square, was some money. I pulled it out.


“Wow!” Ed said, as I unfolded two fifty-dollar bills. “I guess you won the contest after all.”


“You better believe it!” I crowed. “You owe me a cherry soda and barbecue chips.”


Leaving him to rake, I hurried home and hid the purse in my closet, so Mom wouldn't see her present. I wasn't sure how to tell her about the money, but that could wait.


I made myself a peanut butter sandwich for lunch and sat out on the porch to eat it. Somehow, it didn't taste as good as usual. The sun wasn't as warm as I'd thought, either, and I didn't feel so excited any more. I kept thinking about the old couple—the way the man had smiled, and the way he looked at his wife in her wheel chair. I remembered he reminded me of my grandpa. Finally I went back inside and dug out the purse.


The old man was putting things away into boxes when I got there. There was no sign of his wife. “Yes?” he said, starting to smile, then saw the purse in my hand. The smile disappeared. “You want to return it? Your mother doesn't like it?”


“No—yes—” I stuttered, then opened the purse and handed him the money.


“What's this?” he asked.


“It must be yours. It was inside.”


The old man's eyes seemed to light up. “My wife thought she'd lost that, months ago, just before she took sick. I thank you for returning it.”


He didn't offer me any reward, and I wouldn't have taken it if he had. The smile on his face was bargain enough.


I knew there'd be another smile when I told Ed he'd won the contest, after all.
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