My betas are the best in the world that there are
Without them my writing would never get far
Because Marcy and Wendi fix all my errors
My stories are free from gramatical terrors
These characters don't actually belong to me
But to a world class genius named Stephanie
So sit back, dear readers and enjoy the fun
As Alice shops in the Valley of the Sun
"Alice! Look at these wonderful flashlights!" Renee gushed. "They're so neat! You don't have to buy batteries for them…ever! All you have to do is shake them and the energy from your arm's motion creates electricity! Aren't they brilliant?"
"Actually, this one's on the dim and unbrilliant side," Alice said, her flute-like voice laced with incredulous irony. For indeed…dim and unbrilliant it certainly was. Renee, trying to prove a point, shook it several times and pressed the "on" button. The flashlight let out a dismal glimmer of something that could very nearly (but not quite) be mistaken for light. The weak silvery beam faded and went out more quickly (and with less flair) than last year's lemon-mint-herbal-toothpaste fad. Renee, however, refused to stop being impressed.
"Look at this! The package says that it has a special kind of light bulb…one that never burns out! You could use this flashlight from now until Jesus comes back!"
"Spending eternity with a bad flashlight is not something to be taken lightly," Alice said, her words riddled with cryptic vampirish meaning. "Forever is a long time to be stuck with a cheap LED light, especially when you're awake at night a lot."
"But still…it runs forever! Perpetual energy!" Renee said persistently. Alice sighed.
Perpetual energy my foot, she thought. She hadn't hunted in two weeks and her energy was lower than it had been in years, putting her in a foul mood. Worse…she hadn't shopped since the stop in L.A., which put her in an even fouler mood. She didn't know which was worse: her unmet thirst for blood or her unmet thirst for new designer clothes. But she had to remain calm…for Bella's sake. The girl had been chased across the country, beaten to a bloody pulp, bitten by a vampire, and worst of all…had done it all without proper jewelry or make-up on. The least Alice could do to make up for Bella's loss of dignity was to humor her eccentric mother for a few hours.
"Do you want one?" Renee asked, shaking the flashlight again, completely ignoring the increasingly annoyed undead girl's subtle hints that no person in their right mind would buy the stupid thing. "I could buy three! One for you, one for Bella, and one for myself." Alice's voice remained kind, yet firm.
"Renee…these things don't really work. They don't give off enough light to actually see by. They only give off enough light so you can see them," Alice explained gently. In an attempt to be polite and give Renee the benefit of the doubt, she took the flashlight from Renee and shook it again, this time at superhuman speed, out of Renee's line of sight. After eight thousand, one hundred, and thirty-two shakes, she pushed the "on" button again. The flashlight lit brightly for about ten seconds, shining out a brief dashing beam of hope before quickly dying out once more. "What did I tell you?" Alice said, tossing the flashlight aside. "Worthless American crap technology at its finest. Let's get Bella something else."
"But it's only $2.99!" protested Renee, picking it back up with an expression of irrational longing. "I saw one on an infomercial for five easy payments of $9.00. If I bought one now I would be saving…" the kindergarten teacher frowned as she struggled to come up with the mystical number that was the answer to The Question.
"Forty-two dollars that never should have been spent in the first place," Alice quipped, calculating quickly. "Besides, Bella wouldn't want one. She likes the dark. It's comforting to her," said Alice.
"That's funny. When she was a kid she hated the dark. She was afraid that scary monsters would come through the window and eat her in her sleep. She always kept a night light on," Renee said with a puzzled look on her face.
"Err…I think she's realized that that kind of stuff isn't real by this time…don't you?" Alice asked quickly. Renee sighed and put the flashlight back down.
"Okay…okay. What do you think she'll want then?" Renee asked, moving down aisles haphazardly stocked with random items ranging from toaster ovens to shovels to cheap art that people only bought for the frames. She picked up a pink polka-dotted padded under-wire bra that was marked down to $2.00 and threw it in the cart.
"I don't think a bra would make a very good 'I'm sorry about your multiple fractures and concussion, please get well soon' gift…" Alice said, wisely. She was right, of course. The last thing a person in the hospital ever wants to think of as they lay in a flimsy gown with IV tubes going everywhere is the state of their cleavage.
"Oh, no! This is for me! Phil will love it!" Renee breathed. Alice winced as the woman loaded up the cart with ten bras, eight pairs of panties, a stretchy camisole, and a slip. Finally, she could take the insanity no longer.
"If we're hunting for undergarments, can we at least go to Nordstrom's?" Alice asked. "We're walking distance from the mall." She was flipping through the future to figure out what time the building would cast a shadow over the sidewalk, making a safe passageway to guard her from the glaring Phoenix sun. Getting to even this one store without revealing her secret vampire identity had been quite an ordeal. She'd spent the morning experimenting with different brands of SPF "wool sweater" to no avail. Sparkly, sparkly, sparkly. In New York or Chicago she might have passed for one of those silly street performers who stand perfectly still with lots of silver paint all over them, looking like statues until people felt sorry enough for them to drop money in their hats, at which point they start dancing around. In Phoenix, however, no one would dream of doing that sort of work. If they didn't die of heat exhaustion, they'd starve to death. People in Phoenix, as a rule, don't really care enough for mimes to sponsor their careers. Besides that…the sun would melt their makeup.
"Please, please, please?" Alice begged. "You have no idea the kind of department store withdrawal I go through in Forks. Could we go to Macy's at least?"
"Heavens no!" said Renee. "Bella would never dream of allowing someone to spend that kind of money on her." Alice chuckled, knowing full well that Edward was paying for Bella's medical bill with cash. Between her ICU time and paying for sub-acute rehab, the bill was going to be close to $12,000.00. What would a few pairs of high heels and a shimmering blue-green mermaid-style dress be compared to that?
"Please?" Alice repeated, attempting to "dazzle" Renee with her pitch-black eyes. Unfortunately, the perpetually distracted woman was already being dazzled by some gigantic plush pillows.
"Just four dollars!" Renee said happily. "Wouldn't this be perfect?" she threw a plump purple pillow in the cart.
"Wonderful," Alice muttered. "Can we please go to a different store? I mean…this place is great and all, but it's so not my style. Even Wal-Mart would be an upgrade from this." Renee threw her an amused look.
"But you haven't even seen the best stuff yet," Renee said in a hushed whisper. She grabbed Alice's small hand and dragged her to the back corner of the store where a row of ceramic gnomes stood. "Aren't they beautiful!" she cried.
"Except that they're…not," Alice said, pointing out the obvious. One was missing his nose. Another had only one eye painted, while the other glared out at the world with particular malice. They were all covered with some sort of grimy dust. She shuddered. She'd rather take on a young werewolf than be caught dead, alive, or anywhere in between with one of these things anywhere near her yard. Renee, however, was fascinated.
"I've always wanted one. I think I'll buy two. A he-gnome and a she-gnome. They can guard the garden together!"
"You garden?" Alice asked, attempting to make light conversation. Renee's face fell.
"Well…it never went over too well here. All the plants I ever tried to grow got scorched by the sun."
"Like mother like daughter…" Alice mumbled. Renee's eyes lit up.
"I know! I could take them to Florida and use them in my garden there!"
"You're going to take two ceramic gnomes on the plane with you to Florida?" Alice said, scratching her head. "How are you going to fit them in your bag?" She gave Renee a wary look. "You're not going to carry them on…are you?" The thought of the bewildered woman trying to make it past airport security with a gnome under each arm was more than she could handle. Disgruntled airport employees would most certainly seize them, claiming that they were weapons of mass destruction…which…they very well could be.
"Oh…I suppose you're right," Renee said sorrowfully. Her eyes suddenly lit back up. "If I can't have them…I'll give them to Bella!" Alice, perplexed, watched her toss the hideous things in the cart. One cracked. Renee didn't notice.
"I'm sorry. I must be unfamiliar with Phoenix culture," Alice said slowly. "I've lived my whole life in the north. Is it really customary to give people garden gnomes when they fall out of windows?"
"No. However, my daughter and I have a very special relationship!" Renee said with a chuckle. "She can take the gnomes home with her when you guys ride back in the Mercedes.
"I suppose that will work," Alice said, trying to sound pleased with the new arrangement. "Edward driving, Bella in the front seat, and me squished in the back with Bella's wheelchair and two cold, hard, ceramic gnomes. Sounds wonderful."
"Oh…that will be mighty uncomfortable for you," Renee said, sounding concerned for the first time that day about something other than Bella and the low prices on the tags. "You're sure you don't mind?"
"I'm used to cold and hard," Alice said ruefully. She smiled up at the woman, who looked so much like the girl she longed to have as a sister. She kissed Renee's hand.
"What is that for?" Renee asked, dazzled.
"For caring so much about Bella. For traveling all this way to see her. My family loves her very much…it's good to know that she has other people in her life that love her as well."
"Isn't that nice, dear?" Renee said, a happy tear falling from her eye. "You kissed me!"
On the way to the cash register, Renee added a set of hot rollers, a Darth Maul figurine, a mini crock-pot, a pair of running pants, a bottle of soy sauce, a troll doll, and a pregnancy test to the cart. All of those items were found in the same aisle.
"Please tell me that none of these are for Bella," Alice said, eyeing the pregnancy test with a certain level of apprehension.
"Oh no. Just things that looked like they'd be good to have around the house," Renee explained. Her gaze suddenly shifted to the pregnancy test. "Unless…of course…you think her and Edward…" She raised her eyebrows. "Not that there's anything wrong with that…but you don't really think…" At that moment, some toddler in the front seat of a cart began to wail. That wail set off another wail, somewhere from the other end of the store. Before long, dozens of tantrums were coming from all directions. The father nearest them was egging his kid on, saying something that sounded vaguely like "Come on! You can be louder than that!" as the kid yelled "Mine mine mine mine MINE!" Alice grimaced.
"I assure you that Bella and Edward are most certainly not attempting to conceive," Alice said, glaring at the howling two-year-old, whose tear-streaked face was contorted beyond cuteness.
"Oh! I didn't mean that! I meant…well…you know…if they're…well…accidents…"
"Not a chance."
"You're sure that…"
"Impossible. They haven't. Trust me."
"Right." Renee put the pregnancy test back where she found it and moved to the check out aisle. A skinny man in his early twenties with a gauged earring, frosted hair, and a goatee was working the cash register. He stared at Alice as Renee began to scan her items.
"This bra has a small rip in it," Renee said suddenly. "Do you think I could get a discount?" Alice's involuntary spell over the cashier was abruptly broken.
"Urm…uh…uh…" His face turned the color of boiled lobster.
"Please?" Renee asked. "I'll give you half price for it." Alice shifted her weight back and forth…mildly embarrassed that a person who had grown up in America was attempting the types of bartering that would be acceptable in Hong Kong…Timbuktu even…but certainly not here.
"I'll page my manager," the clerk said, staring at the bra as though it would bite him. After a few minutes, the manager came, and she and Renee went off to a desk in the corner, where they could haggle over the price of the already too cheap bra, leaving Alice alone with the store clerk.
"Hey…" he said, looking over her inhumanly beautiful face, inhumanly beautiful body, and inhumanly beautiful hair.
"Hey…" she said, looking over the inhumanly large hole in his ear, the inhumanly slumped posture of his shoulders, and the inhumanly ugly style of his facial hair.
"You're the most beautiful woman I've ever seen in my entire life," he said.
"Thank you," she said tersely.
"Can I have your phone number?" he asked.
"Can I take you out to dinner?"
"Will you marry me?"
"Oh. Okay…sorry I bothered you."
"No problem. I get that all the time."
"Will you at least…"
"No," she said quickly, before he could say the phrase "bear my children."
"Oh. Sorry again." The man's face turned an even brighter shade of red. Alice had a sudden desire to eat him for lunch. The two of them stood there in awkward silence for a few minutes before Renee returned, bragging about her new one-dollar bra discount. Alice, feeling a little bad for not buying anything, grabbed the first two items within her reach: a high-temp curling iron and a travel-sized laser laptop mouse with a retractable cord from their respective places next to the tabloid magazines and candy bars. The cashier rung up her items and she forked over twelve bucks. She looked into the boy's future and saw that in five years, he would still be working at Big Lots and would still be spending all of his off-work hours playing World of Warcraft. How pathetic…she thought, as she wheeled the cart out of the store, carefully holding a garden gnome up in just the right way so as to block the sunlight from making her face sparkle.