Alice in the Knowby Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
It’s the summer before junior year, and Alice is looking forward to three months of excitement, passion, and drama. But what does she find? A summer working in a local department store, trying to stop shoplifters, and more “real life” problems than she could have ever imagined: A good friend becomes seriously ill, Lester has more romance problems… See more details below
It’s the summer before junior year, and Alice is looking forward to three months of excitement, passion, and drama. But what does she find? A summer working in a local department store, trying to stop shoplifters, and more “real life” problems than she could have ever imagined: A good friend becomes seriously ill, Lester has more romance problems than even Alice knows what to do with, and the gang from Mark Stedmeister’s pool is starting to grow up a bit faster than Alice is comfortable with….Fortunately for Alice her family and friends are with her through it all, and by the end of the summer, Alice finds she knows a whole lot more than she had in June.
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Alice in the Know
By Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
Simon PulseCopyright © 2007 Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
All right reserved.
Chapter One: Hired
My knees were red from kneeling at my bedroom window, but I was obsessed. Elizabeth's family was having a reunion, and I couldn't stop watching.
For three days there had been a half dozen cars parked across the street. Relatives spilled onto the porch and steps, playing croquet in the side yard and badminton out front. A boy about twelve started a water fight with the hose, and all the cousins joined in, grandparents cheering them on from the porch.
I'd watched one of the uncles swing Liz's little brother around by his ankles. I'd seen an aunt braiding a new twist in Elizabeth's hair. Liz whispering to cousins under the linden tree at the curb. And I'd wanted it to be me surrounded by relatives. Me laughing and teasing and sharing secrets.
My mother's closest relatives were in Chicago. Dad's were in Nashville, and Sylvia's were out west. All over the map, that's what we were -- spread so far apart, we rarely saw each other. How sad is that?
Look what I've been missing, I thought, as Liz hugged everyone good-bye and people packed up to go home. I would have loved to have a gang of cousins to hang out with -- more siblings, at the very least.
"Why couldn't you have been triplets?" I groused to Les when I finally went downstairs. Les doesn't live here anymore, but he stops by for dinner whenever he can.
"What?"said Les. "Can't get enough of me, huh?"
We'd had a barbecue out back the day before, and I'd gone with Dad and Sylvia to watch fireworks at the Mall. I'd liked sitting there on the blanket between them, enjoying the July night, the Washington Monument lit with flood lamps against the dark sky. But Liz, I knew, was there in the crowd with several dozen relatives, and I felt a little cheated that the rest of the people I love -- my people, I mean -- lived so far away.
Grow up, I told myself. Dad and Lester had done their best to raise me, and now I had Sylvia to fill in for the mom I'd lost. I thought of the way Les and Dad and I used to cook dinner together; of Dad and Les teaching me to drive; of Sylvia helping me buy a dress and Dad letting me work for him during the summer. Small family or not, they were always there for me. So when I walked into the kitchen for supper, I said, "I just want to thank you, Dad, for letting me work at the Melody Inn. It sure saves a lot of hassle."
Dad smiled at me and stabbed a chunk of melon. "You're welcome," he said. "But you know...I've been thinking...it would be good for you to work someplace else for the rest of the summer if you can find something."
"What?" I choked.
"March to a different drummer," he said.
I could only stare. Dad is manager of the music store over on Georgia Avenue, and I'd been working there part-time ever since we moved to Silver Spring.
"You mean...I'm being fired?" I cried.
"Of course not. We could still use you some Saturdays and sale days if you're free, but it might do you good to work for someone else for a change."
"Why? Haven't I been doing a good job?" I'd been running the little Gift Shoppe there at the store all by myself on Saturdays. It's the counter under the stairs to the second floor where we sell all kinds of musical stuff -- Mozart mugs and Chopin scarves plus jewelry with a musical motif. I knew the merchandise! I could handle the cash register! "Are you hiring somebody new?" I asked.
"Yeah, Al," Les cut in. "He's outsourcing your job. Someone over in India's going to be running the Gift Shoppe on eBay."
"What?" I screeched.
"He's kidding," said Dad. "But you can't see what the rest of the world is like if you spend your spare time working for me."
"If you want me to see what the rest of the world's like, Dad, send me to Paris!" I said. "Let me work at a sidewalk café! Let me work at a bookstore in London!"
Dad smiled. "No such luck. But if you can find a job somewhere else this summer, go for it."
"Dad, it's July!" I protested.
"Yeah, it's a little late for that," said Lester. "She should have started looking in March."
"I realize that," said Dad. "If nothing turns up, you still have your job at the Melody Inn. But if you do find something, it won't be hard to get someone to take your place at the store."
"Thanks a lot!" I said, and glared down at the potato salad on my plate. The good jobs were already taken! Pamela was working at Burger King; Liz was helping out at a day camp; Patrick was doing grunt work for a landscaper; and all my other friends had found jobs at Montgomery Doughnuts or Sears or the Autoclean or something.
It was Gwen who had the choicest job of all, and she wasn't even getting paid: She was working as a student intern for a new program at NIH -- the National Institutes of Health -- a one-of-a-kind job due to her grades and her interest in biology. There was no way in the world I could do something like that.
After dinner I called everyone I could think of and asked if they knew of any job openings where they worked. Zero, zip, zilch. It was turning out to be the Horrible Summer of My Sixteenth Year. Little did I know that: (1) it would be a far worse summer for someone else; (2) there would be two trips coming up -- one happy, one sad; and (3) I would come to hate Brian Brewster with every cell of my body.
Partly because I was angry at Dad for even suggesting I get another job so late in the summer, and partly because I was sort of excited that he had, I got up early that Saturday, put on my best stretch top and chinos and a pair of string sandals, and drove to Wheaton Plaza. Scary as it was, there were sixty or more stores with dozens of possibili-ties. My new boss could be in his late twenties and single; I could be helping customers select from the latest novels; maybe I'd be working in a jewelry store with a uniformed cop at the door; or I could be dressing mannequins in a store window. Suddenly almost anything seemed more exciting and glamorous than selling underwear with BEETHOVEN printed on the seat of the pants.
I decided to start at one end of the mall and fill out an application at every store I'd consider working in -- twenty, at least. Part of me wanted about twenty rejections to throw in Dad's face; the other part wanted to get hired and earn a lot more than he'd been paying me. What I really wanted, I guess, was to have enough money to pay for my own car insurance and gas and oil, so I could persuade Dad to buy me a used car for my junior year.
The first store wouldn't even give me an application. "Full up," the manager said. "Sorry."
"Come by around April of next year," a woman at The Limited said. "We won't be hiring again till spring."
"You can fill out an application if you like, but we're not hiring," said a third.
This was such a waste! Dad just comes up with these ideas about what will be good for me without any consideration for what I feel about it. Like that sex education class at church, even though I ended up liking it. But this string of refusals wasn't just a waste of time; it was an embarrassment.
How dumb can she be? the managers must have been thinking, my applying in July. I could hear a couple of clerks laughing when I left a store. No way was I going to go through this twenty times. I decided to pick a couple more places and then go home and tell Dad to forget it. You just don't give an employee one day's notice to find another job when she hasn't done anything wrong. I had a notion to demand two weeks' severance pay and then quit my job. If Dad was going to be my employer, he'd have to act like one. I'd tell him that.
I took the escalator up to the employment office at Hecht's and began filling out an application. I'd completed about three fourths of the page when I became conscious of a woman in a gray suit passing through the room and stopping behind me to look over my shoulder. I could feel my cheeks start to redden, sure I must have misspelled a word.
"When can you start?" I heard her say.
I turned and saw a Hecht's name tag on her jacket. "Excuse me?" I said.
She reached for my application and gave it the once-over. "Are you willing to do rack work?" she asked. "We need someone to free up our salesclerks so they don't have to spend so much time clearing out the fitting rooms. When are you available?"
"Uh...anytime, really," I said.
I swallowed. "Well...yes! But I need to call my stepmom first. I've got her car."
"Will transportation be a problem?" she asked.
"No. I can always take a bus."
"Okay. Finish filling out the form and then meet me in the women's department. That's the section downstairs for extra-large sizes," she said. "They're having a big sale, and the fitting rooms are piled high with clothes that need to go back on hangers. You'll be a floater. We'll use you in whatever department you're needed. Lauren!" she called to a woman behind a desk. "She needs to call home, then have someone bring her to the women's department." She shook my hand, and I read JENNIFER MARTIN on her name tag. "I hope things work out, Alice," she said.
"Thank you, Miss Martin," I said excitedly. "I do too!" I couldn't believe it! Hecht's! The biggest store in the mall. I suddenly wasn't angry at Dad anymore and called Sylvia to tell her what happened.
"Really?" she said. "That's wonderful! How long will you be there?"
"I don't know. I didn't ask," I told her. "Do you need the car?"
"Not till tomorrow."
"Thanks. I'll take the bus most days. I'm really psyched!" I said.
I realized when I got to the women's department that the supervisor in the gray suit would probably have hired anyone who had been filling out an application that morning, because the place was a madhouse -- the annual post-Fourth of July sale.
Miss Martin met me there and introduced me to a woman named Estelle, who led me back to the fitting rooms. A line of women, size fourteen and up, were already waiting to get in, heaps of clothes draped over their arms. Dress hangers tried to snag me as I passed by in the narrow hallway, and I stared as a woman in pants and bra darted out of a fitting room, snatched another shirt off a rack, then hurried back to her cubicle.
Estelle waved one hand at the rack, almost hidden by clothes. "All of these need to go back in stock, the sooner the better," she said. "Button the buttons, reattach belts, straighten collars -- make them look presentable. I'll come in from time to time to get the clothes you've finished and put them back out on the floor. Every time you get a chance, go into a fitting room between customers and bring out all the items that are piling up in there. Let me know if there's anything you don't understand."
"Okay," I said. What's to understand? I wondered. Anyone could button buttons, fasten belts. I reached for a shirt and began.
It was warm in the fitting room hallway. The air didn't seem to circulate, and it smelled of new fabric, old carpet, and perspiration. I wished I'd worn a tank instead of the stretch top, sneakers in place of sandals. I'd wanted to look older, more sophisticated, but every step in my string sandals let me know the straps were there.
I pushed the first shirt to one side and reached for a dress with a zillion buttons down the back, tiny cloth-covered buttons that were difficult to push through the holes. One...two...three...Pants were next...clip to the hanger. Sundress...secure the straps.
Estelle came back a little later. "You'll have to work faster than that," she said. "When we're this busy, just do a few of the buttons and keep checking those fitting rooms. We're drowning back here!"
I'd been working only an hour when I thought I knew the meaning of the word sweatshop. My scalp was damp beneath my hair, my feet hurt. There was no place to sit, and women constantly jostled me as they shoved past with loads of garments to get the next fitting room.
"Honey, could you find me a size twenty-two in pink?" someone asked, handing me a shirt, but I didn't know where to look and wandered out to find Estelle.
"Tell them to ask a salesclerk if they want another size or color," she said. "You don't have time for anything except getting clothes ready to go back on the floor."
I had started work about eleven, and it was now almost one thirty. I hadn't even gone to the restroom. I hadn't had a drink, hadn't sat down....
For a brief moment I felt tears welling up in my eyes. This wasn't what I'd had in mind. I couldn't see anyone here in this hot hallway except women in their underwear grabbing things out of my hands. If I were Pamela, I'd be talking to friends who came along. If I were Elizabeth, I'd at least be outdoors. How could I spend my whole summer back here in this smelly hallway? I hadn't even asked what salary I was getting. Hadn't asked my hours. What if they wanted me to work evenings and I never got to see my friends at all?
I turned to see a pretty twenty-something blonde. "Lunchtime," she said. "The super asked me to come get you. We've got forty minutes. I'm Ann."
"Oh, am I ever ready!" I said, and got my bag from beneath the cash register out front.
We went to the food court and got Chinese.
"My feet!" I said, kicking off my sandals. I could see the red lines left in my flesh.
"Ouch! That must hurt!" Ann said, wincing. "Wear comfortable shoes. That's the first thing I learned on this job."
"How long have you worked here?" I asked.
"Four years. I'm in evening wear. Taking business management and fashion courses. I'd like to move up to buyer eventually. Are you going into your senior year?"
She looked surprised. "Jennifer usually hires only seniors. More responsible, she says. But as you can see, we're desperate."
"That's supposed to make me feel good?"
Ann laughed and gave my arm a quick squeeze. "I just meant you're lucky. If you work fast and you're dependable, she'll probably keep you on. And once you start moving about the store -- other departments -- you won't feel so claustrophobic."
"I hope so," I said.
I tried to work faster that afternoon. I darted into each fitting room ahead of the customers, grabbed the clothes dropped on the floor or hanging on hooks, and was out again in seconds. Estelle gave me a full smile when she came back to collect what I'd finished.
"Now you're cooking!" she said. In more ways than one, I thought, wiping my sweaty forehead. Then she noticed I was working barefoot. "Uh-uh," she said. "There are straight pins on the floor. It's against company rules to go without shoes."
"Sorry," I said, and put my sandals back on my tortured feet.
It was about four when I sensed something going on. I had just taken a load of dresses out to the floor when a look passed between Estelle and one of the salespeople. A man in a blue Windbreaker, a walkie-talkie tucked in his belt, came striding up to the counter, exchanged a few words with Estelle, and went quickly over to a side entrance. Moments later he came walking back, gripping the arm of a woman who was protesting loudly. In minutes two security officers arrived, one of them a female who ushered her into a fitting room while the other one, a male, stood guard outside. I thought I recognized the red-haired woman -- thought she'd been in a fitting room a half hour earlier -- but I remembered her as a lot thinner.
I stared at Estelle.
Shoplifter? I mouthed, and she nodded.
Now the female officer inside the fitting room was handing out garment after garment to the officer in the hallway. The shoplifter had two more pairs of pants under the baggy brown trousers she'd worn, four more tops under her navy blue shirt.
Two Montgomery County policemen arrived on the scene, and the woman sat on the stool in the fitting room, arms folded defiantly across her chest, and only pressed her lips tightly together and shook her head as the police questioned her. Finally they led her away as customers stared.
"How did she think she was going to get out of the store without tripping the security sensors?" I asked Estelle.
"She didn't, but she had an accomplice waiting for her in a car just outside the entrance. They'd talked to each other by cell phone. A security guard got suspicious and nabbed her when she came out."
"Wow!" I said.
"A little excitement to liven up your first day," Estelle told me.
Dad and Sylvia were out for the evening when I got home, so I called Liz and Pamela to come over and have dinner with me. I was soaking my feet in a basin of water when they arrived, and I propped them one at a time on Liz's lap while she massaged lotion into all the dents left by my string sandals. With her long dark hair and eyelashes, she looked like a storybook figure in a sultan's harem, rubbing her master's feet. Pamela, on the other hand, with her short blond hair, could have been Peter Pan as she boiled tortellini on the stove and opened a jar of sauce.
"I work on the lower level, Alice! The Burger King's just outside of Hecht's!" Pamela said excitedly. "We can have lunch together!"
"Wish I worked at the mall too!" said Liz.
"No, you don't," said Pamela. "You wish Ross had gone back to Camp Overlook this summer and that you were both counselors there again."
Liz was quiet for a moment. "I guess that wasn't meant to be."
I studied her. "What do you mean?"
"We sort of agreed it's over."
"Liz!" said Pamela, turning.
"It's unfair to both of us, and we know it. He can't come down every time there's something special going on, and I can't go up to Philly. We're still going to e-mail and everything, but...Well, he purposely took that construction job this summer instead of applying for camp, and that made it pretty final."
"Oh, Liz," I said.
"I know. He's still probably the nicest guy I ever met. And maybe someday...Well, who knows?"
I sighed. Everything was changing. It was the first summer we were all working at different jobs. We wanted to do new stuff, meet new people, but at the same time we wanted to keep the old crowd going. When someone didn't show up for a night swim at Mark Stedmeister's or a game of miniature golf or for anything else we'd planned, we'd think, Why did he have to take an evening job? or Didn't she know we were going to the movies? Like they were traitors or something. And then, maybe next time, we'd be the ones who missed.
I put on my favorite CD, and we took our plates to the living room and ate on the rug around the coffee table.
"It's a big, scary year coming up, you know?" Pamela said. "We've got to start thinking about SATs, college, sex...."
"What?" I said. "You've got a timetable for that?"
"No, but I don't want to reach eighteen, either, and find out I'm the only virgin on the block," she said.
Liz and I broke into laughter. "So what are you going to do? Take a poll?" asked Liz.
Pamela leaned back against the couch. "I just have the feeling that there's all this living to do, and I might be missing out on something. I want to squeeze in everything I can. Let's all plan to meet at Mark's pool every Monday night for the rest of the summer. That'll give us a chance to check up on what everyone's doing, and if anybody's got a wild and wonderful idea, we'll try it."
"Not necessarily!" Elizabeth said with a laugh. "But it would be great if we could all get together at a definite time once a week. We're so scattered." She glanced at me. "Maybe Patrick will show up too."
Patrick, my ex-boyfriend, the brain, was on an accelerated program and would graduate a year early. Not only was he going to summer school, but he was working for a landscaper, too. You never forget your first boyfriend, they say. But now that he and Penny -- the girl who had stolen him from me -- had broken up, he'd been going out with a new girl, Marcie, and I wondered if they were still an item. Of course, I'd dated and broken up with Sam Mayer since then, and Penny was dating Mark now, so I suppose anything could happen. There were changes going on all around us, and Mark's pool was our anchor, the one place we'd been meeting since seventh grade.
Couples had met there and split up. Kids had been celebrated, mortified, terrified, and yet we kept coming. Pamela had had potato salad dumped down her bikini bottom; I'd had to face my fear of the deep end; Liz had developed anorexia because of something a boyfriend said; Patrick had embarrassed me by putting lemon halves on my breasts when I fell asleep on Mark's picnic table; Liz had learned to insert a tampon in Mark's bathroom.... We could almost write the history of our gang from all that had gone on at Mark Stedmeister's house.
"To summer!" I said, raising a glass of Diet Pepsi.
"To us!" said Liz, clinking mine.
Copyright © 2006 by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
Excerpted from Alice in the Know by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor Copyright © 2007 by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. Excerpted by permission.
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