This story will make a lot more sense if you read Chapter 15 (Night 32) of Fifty-Eight Nights first. :)
Hooray for my betas - Tersaseda and Darth Ishtar! A special thanks goes out to Ish, whose shopping skilz made my version of Alice actually cool. (I'm such a Bella when it comes to fashion; Ish is an Alice.) :)
I'd been laying on the couch with my head in Jasper's lap, doing the daily forecast and checking for any sunny weather we'd need to avoid. Completely boring, but necessary for the good of the family. We were all planning on staying nearby over the next three days, with the exception of Esme's and my run up to Seattle for Bella's "before car," and the entire peninsula would be under cloud cover that afternoon.
So why did I suddenly see myself in Silverdale?
I pulled the focus in closer. I was in the Porsche, and Bella was with me.
Jasper gave me a curious, sidelong look when I let out an earsplitting "squee." Road trip plus Porsche plus Bella! Of course! I'd been keeping an eye open to see what she would do with that credit card.
I watched eagerly as we pulled off the 303. The mall. How disappointing. I mean, really. Everything there was so predictable. Then we turned right instead of left. Wait! What? Target? Target?!
Jasper touched my shoulder just as I let out a shrieking snarl of frustration. Bella was bringing me and my Porsche on our first sisterly shopping trip with our petty cash cards to TARGET!?
"Calm down, Alice." He traced soothing circles on the inside of my elbow. "Tell me what you saw."
"No," I wailed. "You don't understand. I can't let this happen. I won't!"
"What, Alice? I'm not a mind-reader."
I narrowed my eyes, scowling at the surreal future of me wandering among mass-produced uniquely-uniform garments under fluorescent lighting. "What is she looking for? Why would I allow this?"
We dodged a host of potential hazards, from teenagers racing shopping carts to a dropped bottle of pickles to a toilet-training toddler who had an "accident," finally making it safely to the infant section. I could feel my face twisting with disbelief. Infants? Maybe… I desperately fished about, trying to think of a good reason that Bella and I would be looking at baby stuff. Maybe… one of her classmates did get knocked up? A cousin or someone was having a baby? I briefly checked Renee's future, wondering if perhaps she and Phil… Nope. I wouldn't have to worry about human sisters distracting Bella from Rosalie and me. Whatever we were looking for, we didn't find it there.
Next we went to furniture. What on earth would we find there that wasn't in infants? We walked past generic picture frames and trying-to-be-trendy lampshades, apparently unsatisfied.
By now I was genuinely intrigued. The others joked and were occasionally annoyed that they could never surprise me. What they didn't realize was that I was surprised, all the time. I was just surprised in advance, and by the time a decision was made, I was surprised many times over. It was much more fun than being "normal," I was sure of it.
We doubled back, making a brief detour through toys, to home improvement. I tried to put the pieces together and figure out exactly what we were after.
I was probably making Jasper dizzy with the way my emotions were flip-flopping. I wasn't frustrated anymore with Bella, I was grateful. Delighted. This was the best sport I'd enjoyed in I don't know how long.
This was the essence of shopping.
People who could afford to say "money is no object" almost never meant it. Money was precisely the object, and everything they bought was for the purpose of proclaiming just how much money they had. They were like bees, busily laboring through the short time allotted them, never caring about anything more than showing off their tablespoon of honey. Silly hive humans.
The irony was they were so close. Money wasn't the object; perfection was. The perfect shade wed with the perfect cloth, made with the perfect cut into the perfect fit. And then add the perfect accessories for the perfect occasion. The object was to make, from the chaos of so many possibilities, a reality worth the sweat and labor of the hive.
The problem was perfection almost never came cheap.
And Bella and I, through some odd future twist of fate, would apparently find perfection in the home improvement section of Target. Or at least seek it there. I wasn't sure what we were after yet.
We turned down an aisle full of nightlights. Rows upon rows of them. In vision, I pick up an atrocious orange Harley-Davidson bubble-lamp and offer it to her. My sister rolls her eyes. But it gets hazy after that. She doesn't know what she wants, and she won't until she sees it.
Jasper chuckled with the relief I felt. I smiled up at him. "Nightlights. Bella will want me to help her find a nightlight."
His mouth twitched as if he finally understood the emotional yo-yo. "Why?"
I waved away the question. As if there had to be a "why." Men! I bounded off the couch to the computer desk, impatiently shaking the computer mouse to wake up the dormant monitor.
My dear, unpredictable, human sister had thrown down the gauntlet with this one. Nightlights! I'd never even thought of buying one. That's why we were destined to go to Target right now. This was Bella's decision and she had no concept of the possibilities out there. Well, she was in for an education, starting now! Where to begin, where to begin? Where else? Bloomingdales.
But after five minutes, I'd sifted through the websites of Bloomingdales, Saks Fifth Avenue, Barneys, Neiman Marcus, and (to my secret shame) Pier1. After ten, I'd perused the limited home décor collections of my favorite foreigners. Not one of them carried nightlights. After fifteen, I'd even stooped to eBay. Trust Bella to come up with an item that wasn't even carried high-end. In desperation, I googled "designer night lights," but they were mostly lack-luster, too.
Somewhere out there in the world was the perfect nightlight for Bella, and together, she and I would find it. The thrill of the hunt made my arms itch and my feet restless. I felt like Emmett must when he hears the word "game."
I was sitting on the porch when Edward pulled up with Bella in the passenger seat of his Volvo. "Okay, Bella," I said, opening the car door for her before she even reached for the buckle of her seatbelt. "I've only had twenty minutes, so if you can put this off another day or two, I'm sure we can come up with better options. The designer ones leave something to be desired; I bet Esme could do worlds better. She'd love to help…"
"Alice," Bella said firmly, interrupting me. "What are you talking about?"
I double-checked that she was still going to buy one. Yep. "Nightlights."
"Alice," Edward warned.
"I'm not trying to talk her into anything she wasn't going to buy anyway. Besides, she's going to ask me to help."
Bella let out a defeated sigh. "You've been spying."
"Spying!" I huffed.
"Uh-oh," Edward muttered.
"I don't spy. That's what Edward does." I stuck my tongue out at his scowl. "I plan. And people who know me for any length of time or who know what's good for them trust me. Spy!"
"Fine. Planning. Whatever."
"So go on," I cut in. "Ask me what you were going to."
She sighed. "I need your help finding a nightlight. It doesn't have to be a big thing; it just can't be some nondescript nightlight from Thriftway. Any little change is starting to make Charlie suspicious. You'd think he was part werewolf and could smell Edward sneaking into the house."
I grabbed Bella's hand, all but pulling her up the stairs of the front porch.
"So what are the parameters, Bella?" Edward followed with a stern expression, no doubt trying to rein me in. "Spell it out for her."
She asked me, I reminded him.
She blushed, darting a glance at Edward. "Something pretty that I could justify buying just because it's decorative. The last thing I want is Charlie thinking that I need to be able to see at two in the morning."
Ah. So that's why she wanted my help. She needed something tasteful. Something perfect. Well she'd come to the right vampire.
Edward smirked at that.
I sat her down in the computer chair and opened the window for the designer night lights. "This was the most promising one I found."
"Thirty bucks? For a nightlight?"
"I'm sorry I couldn't do better, Bella. But I checked everywhere. Nobody makes them for more than fifty." I felt ashamed that her first purchase on the petty cash card would be for so little. It was like writing a check for a twenty-five-cent pencil. Why waste everyone's time?
"Can't we just run up to the Wal-mart in Port Angeles and see what they have there?"
I was so grateful for my foresight, otherwise I would have never agreed to this. "If we can take my Porsche."
I foresaw Edward and Bella cuddled up on the back seat and narrowed my eyes at him. He was not ruining Bella's first step into a larger world by dazzling her.
"This is a sisterly bonding-time thing. You are not invited."
Her mouth opened in protest, but I dragged her out toward the garage. "Absence makes the heart grow fonder." Over my shoulder, I called to Edward, "We'll be back in about four hours."
"Four hours?!" Bella echoed.
I'll remember to feed her, I promised my brother.
He beat us to the Porsche and opened the passenger door for her. I saw what he was planning and rolled my eyes as I slipped into the driver seat.
"You brought this on yourself," he reminded Bella and then kissed her. A lot. He got her pulse up to an RPM that would rival my yellow 911 kitty on the open road. When she seemed about to pass out, he buckled her in and shut the door. His parting shot to me was a firmly affectionate, "Be good."
We found the perfect nightlight at Walmart — if your idea of perfect was a little magenta figurine that was a throwback to the Sta-Puff Marshmallow man in Ghostbusters. I was so proud of her when she put it back down on the shelf with an appropriate "Nnnghnnh" and finally turned to me. "All right, Alice. What else have you got?"
"Just a hunch. Let's try Target."
Her eyebrows rose in surprise. "Where's the nearest one?"
"Silverdale. Let's go!"
As promised, we stopped for lunch along the way in this droll little diner. They had honey-pecan chicken, which didn't sound at all appetizing to me but Bella seemed to really enjoy it.
I took her straight to the home improvement section of Target and offered her the orange Harley-Davidson nightlight as an inside joke. She rolled her eyes, and delighted, I stood back to watch my vision find resolution. She touched a stained-glass Mariners' nightlight and her lips twitched.
We were close, I could feel it. The fulfillment of our quest was at hand. The tension made me still with anticipation. Her fingertips brushed a Winnie the Pooh nightlight and then my vision snapped into sharp focus. Several little, stained-glass butterflies perched delicately on the shelf two feet down from us. Bella closed the distance and picked up a deep-blue and purple one. "Isn't it pretty?"
"It's perfect," I corrected. The packaging even described it as "Tiffany-style." Not bad for her first try. Give me a few decades, and I'd really be able to hone her tastes. I put my arm around her waist and she threw her arm over my shoulders. "Mission accomplished."