Ron set his BCW magazine and document bin, sized for comics from the Golden Age, on the counter in Jeremy’s comic book store. But he didn’t let go of it; not just yet. Then he looked up as Jeremy finished a sale and headed his way.
“What’cha got?” Jeremy asked with a smile. “Some more Archie and Jughead?” This was a standing joke between the two of them. Jeremy knew full well that Ron didn’t care for what they referred to as “funny books” instead of comics. He was a full-on dedicated collector of superhero comics. And while Jeremy was knowledgeable across many genres, and kept his store well-stocked with all kinds of graphic masterpieces, Ron felt they had a shared kinship with the superhero stories.
“It’s my Teen Titans collection,” Ron announced. Jeremy’s eyes grew wide as he stared at Ron.
“For reals?” Jeremy’s voice came out in a reverent, raspy whisper.
“For reals.” Ron went on. “It’s not complete, as you know. I never managed to score a clean copy of Teen Titans #1. Where Raven tries to convince the others to form a new Teen Titans team.”
“I know,” Jeremy nodded. “But you remember the Teen Titans were introduced in The Brave and the Bold #54. Unofficially, of course.”
“Wouldn’t I love to have that? But it’s almost as hard to get as Teen Titans #1, and way beyond my means.”
“And mine. But you’re offering me your Teen Titans collection, Issues #2 - #42?”
Ron looked down at the acid-free plastic bin. His knuckles whitened for a moment, then he removed his hands, dropping them to his sides.
“That’s right. I need to sell these. To you.”
“Are you sure? You could sell them through an online auction. Probably get more than I can offer.”
“I’m sure. I don’t have time to wait for an online auction and sale. I need the money today.”
Jeremy frowned. “Are you in trouble, Ron? How much do you need?” He gave the bin his own tender look. “Maybe I can give you a loan, and you can keep the collection.”
Ron raised his hands, reaching towards the bin. He gave Jeremy a hopeful look and half a smile. Then he lowered his hands again and shook his head. “You’re really the best, Jeremy. You know that, right? But I’m sure. I want to sell them. Today. To you.”
Jeremy didn’t need to look in the box to know that every comic would be there. Each with its own backing board, enclosed in an acid-free resealable plastic bag for grading. Ron was as meticulous in the care of his collectibles as Jeremy. Maybe even more so. He did a quick calculation in his head. Many of the issues would sell for around $5.00, roughly ten times their cover price. But a few of them would go for more than a hundred dollars. Issues #2 and #8 for several hundred.
“I’ll buy them, Ron, today. But only if you’re sure.” Jeremy was still coming up with a number in his head. He wanted to be fair to Ron. But he needed to make a profit, also. Ron knew two buyers looking to backfill their collections of later Volumes of Teen Titans with Volume #1. He should be able to get about $2,800 for these. Maybe a little more if the two buyers he had in mind got into a bidding war.
“I really appreciate that, Jeremy. I really do need the money today. How much can you give me?”
Jeremy normally offered 25% of the expected retail to sellers if they wanted cash, 33% if they would take store credit. He could add a charge for the protective materials.
“I can give you a thousand, Ron. Will that take care of this mysterious need of yours?”
Ron frowned. “How much more for the protection, Jeremy?”
“I’ve already included some for the bags, boards, and bin. That’s why I’m offering about a third.”
Ron’s eyes dulled and his frown deepened. “I don’t know, Jeremy. I was hoping to get . . . no, I need to get $1,135.”
“That’s pretty specific, Ron. What do you need to do? Buy a superhero cape? Post bail for someone? Maybe for Karla?”
That brought a smile to Ron’s face, at last. A brief smile. “It is for Karla, but not for bail.”
- - - - -
Karla stared at the salesman. “That’s all you can give me for her? Really?”
“Look around, lady. I’ve got five Toyota Tacomas on my lot already. One of them the same shit-brown color of yours. With less rust on it.”
Karla frowned. There were three more used car dealers in town, but she had already been to a pair of them. Their offers were lower than Trusty Tom’s here.
“But I have all the maintenance records. I was the only owner. And she doesn’t have that much rust, not really.”
“You wanna work here? You drive a hard bargain. OK, you talked me into cutting my nose off to spite my face. I can give you $850, and not a penny more.”
Karla looked even more dejected than she had with his first offer. She stared at Cassius, her first truck ever. She and Cassy had been all over together. Trusty Tom (so the sign over the dealer lot said) offered a suggestion.
“Why don’t I take it on consignment? You can ask whatever price you think you can get, and it’ll only cost you $20/day while the truck’s on my lot, plus 15% of your sale price. You might get a little more for the Tacoma that way. Especially if you bring me the buyer. I’ll do all the rest.”
“But I need the money today.” Karla looked at Tom with her puppy-dog eyes and batted her lashes. She added a cute little pout, puckering her lips, and cocking her head.
“I must be outta my mind.” Tom shook his head. “I’ll give you $900, and that’s my final offer.” He knew the FMV was a little over $2,000 for the Tacoma. And he had a couple of buyers in mind. The truck really was in great shape, and had less rust than any of his others, to tell the truth. Not that Tom liked to do that often.
“Deal.” Karla straightened up and stuck out her hand, a big smile on her girl-next-door face.
- - - - -
“I have a surprise for you.” Karla beamed, holding Ron’s hands in hers. They stood in their studio apartment, in between the ragged couch and the Formica topped table.
“And I have one for you.” Ron gave her a broad smile of his own. His eyes sparkled, dimples deepened.
“Me first.” Karla bounced up and down on the balls of her feet, eager to give Ron his present. It was their one year anniversary, and she had the perfect gift of paper.
“OK, you first,” Ron agreed. “Always.” She was always first in his mind. She was his first girlfriend, his first kiss, his first . . . everything. He didn’t know how someone as wonderful as Karla could love a geek like him, but he was glad she did.
Karla released his hands, reached up, and gave him a chaste kiss. “Close your eyes, hold out your hands, and wait right here.”
Ron did as she asked. He trembled with excitement, eager to see the look on her face. At his gift to her, not her gift for him. Weird. He wasn’t used to this feeling. But he liked it.
“Don’t open your eyes yet.” She placed something in his hands. He could tell by the weight and the feel of it that it must be a comic book, with a backing board, in a protective sleeve. “OK, you can open them now.”
Ron opened his eyes and goggled. There, laid across his palms, properly protected thank God, was a pristine Teen Titans #1. “Karla, where did you . . . how did you . . .” He couldn’t say anything. Instead of talking, he opened his arms wide and gave her a hug. Careful to hold the Teen Titans flat against her back. He squeezed as hard as he dared, and she squeezed back.
“Happy Anniversary, darling.” She didn’t need to ask how much he liked it. She knew all about his passion for comics, and how long he had wanted to complete his collection of Volume #1 of the Teen Titans.
They finally broke apart. Ron laid the comic down. “Now I have a surprise for you.” Ron smiled and blinked tears from his eyes. “Close your eyes and hold out your hands.” Karla did as he asked. Ron reached into his jacket and pulled out a piece of paper. When he laid it across Karla’s palms she could tell by the feel and weight it must be a couple of pieces of paper. But what could it be?
“Keep your eyes closed, and come with me,” Rong directed. Puzzled, she followed as he guided her out the door and around the corner. “Now. Open your eyes.”
Karla opened her eyes, squinting against the sunshine. Fortunately, it was cloudy, and she didn’t really need to squint. Especially to see the adorable, round travel trailer parked against the curb. She turned to look at Ron, wearing a puzzled expression. She looked at the piece of paper in her hands. She held the title and registration to a travel trailer. The Cassius II. Her travel trailer.
“Oh, Ron. Where did you . . . how did you . . .” She stopped talking and wrapped her arms around him. They gave each other another warm hug. She held on for a solid minute. When they broke apart Ron spoke first.
“Where’s Cassy? Let’s hook this thing up. And make plans for going to see your parents.”
“Or comic-con. We could go to comic-con in Cassy II. If I still had Cassy.”
“What happened to Cassy? Were you hurt? Are you all right?” He could only think Karla had been in an accident. She loved that truck. He had a fond spot in his heart for the thing, as well.
“I sold Cassy. So I could buy Teen Titans.”
“Oh, Karla. That is so sweet. I know how much you loved that Tacoma.” Ron gave her another long, warm embrace. Shortly after they started hugging she could feel him shaking. He was laughing. They broke apart again.
“I sold my Teen Titans to buy Cassy II,” Ron admitted with a chuckle.
Karla stood there for only a moment, looking at Ron with tears in her eyes. Tears of joy. “I love you more.” She gave him a big smile, followed by another great big hug. Then a kiss. A long, warm, precious kiss. Arms around each other, they walked back to their apartment. Where they could decide what to do with their new treasures. This was a first anniversary they would never forget.
[Author's Note: Inspired by O. Henry's "Gift of the Magi"]