Welcome to SmartMart, where crime pays minimum wage...
Busted. Alexis Dubois just got caught shoplifting a cheap tube of lipstick at the local SmartMart. She doesn't know what's worse—disappointing her overbearing beauty-pageant-obsessed mother for the zillionth time…or her punishment. Because Lex is forced to spend her summer working at the store, where the only things stranger than the staff are the customers.
Now Lex is stuck in the bizarro world of big-box retail. Coupon cutters, jerk customers, and learning exactly what a "Code B" really is (ew). And for added awkwardness, her new supervisor is the totally cute—and adorably geeky—Noah Grayson. Trying to balance her out-of-control mother, her pitching position on the softball team, and her secret crush on the school geek makes for one crazy summer. But ultimately, could the worst job in the world be the best thing that ever happened to her?
Related collections and offers
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Paper or Plastic
By Vivi Barnes, Stacy Abrams, Tara Quigley
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2015 Vivi Barnes
All rights reserved.
It was just a cheap tube of lipstick in a shade I would never wear, if I wore lipstick at all.
Which I didn't.
So I couldn't believe I was sitting here, staring at the frosted square of glass in the door, holding my breath every time a shadow moved past.
Court shifted slightly, but her expression was bored. Her mom had already appeared, popping her head in for a few seconds to click her tongue and say, "Courtney Ann," in that slightly disappointed way that made me wish I were going home with her instead of my own mother.
Why did I do it? All I knew was that Mom's pinched expression this morning as she looked from my superstar sister, Rory, to me, the meh daughter, had been fixed in my mind. Her words, Why can't you be more like your sister, were familiar enough by now. Then she had to add in the fact that I was throwing away my future on some ridiculous pipe dream when I could be so much more. And all because I asked to go to Space Coast Fastpitch Softball Camp at the end of summer instead of joining her boring League of Southern Women group. I remember my sole thought as I slipped the lipstick into my pocket: Take that, Mom.
Still. The first really wrong thing I did in my entire life, and I got caught.
The annoying ticks of the wall clock reminded me that we had been sitting here for an hour. I wanted to take the stapler off the desk and throw it at the clock as hard as I could.
"What's taking so long?" I asked Court, who was busy with her phone. Probably texting Bryce, her long-time boyfriend and one of my best friends. If it wasn't for Bryce, I don't know if I would've become friends with Court. She liked to live on the edge, way outside my comfort zone. I didn't even like shopping—that was her thing.
I wished Syd were here. As my softball teammate and forever best friend, Syd would be a whole lot better at commiserating. She'd know what to say to make me laugh instead of staring at her phone the whole time.
"I don't know," Court finally said. "I guess they're waiting for the cops."
My heart sank to my shoes. Cops? "But it was just a couple of lipsticks."
She shrugged and kept texting. How could she look so calm right now? Was it too much to hope that the store manager would talk to our parents and leave the police out of it?
"What do you think is going to happen to us?" I asked for the third time, trying to keep the shakiness out of my voice.
She sighed and looked up at me. "Seriously, Lex, stop worrying. It's not like they'll arrest us. We're only sixteen. Minors." She stuck out her tongue at the door. "My brother got in trouble for drinking vodka at a party when he was seventeen and got off with just a warning. We'll be okay."
I nodded, but that didn't make me feel better. Drinking vodka didn't exactly match up to outright theft.
The door handle turned, and both Court and I jumped to our feet. Ha! I wanted to say. You're not so cool about this after all.
The security guard stuck his head in. "Courtney?" He motioned to her. She slipped her phone back into her pocket and moved forward through the door, flipping her black curls and looking back to wink at me. Before the door closed, I could see her mother shaking her head. My throat clenched as I remembered my mother would be here any moment, and she'd be doing a whole lot more than just shaking her head. I wished my dad would show up instead, but I knew he was working.
Fifteen minutes later, Court still hadn't reappeared. My stomach churned and my throat was dry. I wondered if it would be okay to ask for water. Most of all, I wondered what happened to Court. Had she been arrested after all? If so, wouldn't they have taken me, too?
It was wrong.
It was wrong.
It was wrong.
If I repeated it enough times like a mantra, maybe I'd get out of this.
I'm an idiot.
I'm an idiot.
I'm an idiot.
Maybe they were using this as a scare tactic. Some kind of "freak the kid out so she'll never do this again" trick.
It was working.
The handle turned, breaking my thoughts, but instead of jumping up, I pressed my back against the wall. The perfumed air reached my nose even before the giant nest of blond hair breached the gap in the door.
Besides the heavy scent of gardenias that floated about her, the first thing anyone would notice about my mother was that she loomed above practically everyone. She could've been mistaken for a women's basketball player, except for the face so heavily made up that it was a wonder the foundation didn't slide off her face. I'd rarely seen her without makeup myself. I doubt my father ever had, either.
The balding, pudgy store manager who followed seemed in awe of her. Or maybe he was just afraid.
"Alexis Jasmine Dubois!"
I cringed. I hated when she said my full name, especially in front of others. It always sounded like a bunch of crappy princess names thrown together. And it was a constant reminder of what she had expected me to be and what I most definitely was not.
She glared at me before turning her sweetest pageant smile on the store manager. "I don't know where she gets these crazy ideas. I'm sure it's all on her father's side. But we really appreciate the opportunity you're giving her, Mr. Hanson."
Mr. Hanson blinked. "Oh, of course, Mrs. Dubois. I'm only too happy to extend a second chance to Alexis. My own son got in trouble when he was sixteen, so I know how having a record can damage a person's future."
My mother nodded, still smiling, though it had an edge as she glanced at me. I knew she was going to let me have it later, but I almost didn't care. I wasn't going to get arrested. He was just letting me go. The "Hallelujah" song was reverberating in my head, and I felt like hugging him.
As my mother and Mr. Hanson talked, all I could focus on was the fact that no sheriff was being called in and no handcuffs were being snapped around my wrists. I was happily oblivious to their conversation.
Until a few words yanked me back to reality.
"Just bring her in Monday morning for the paperwork and uniform shirt, and we'll be good to go," Mr. Hanson said, smiling at me.
The happiness I felt inside whooshed out of me as if someone had punched me in the stomach. I stared at him. "Um, what?"
"Mr. Hanson understands that you were acting like a stupid teenager," my mother said. "He has kindly agreed to allow you to work your summer here at SmartMart. In return, you'll get to keep the incident off your record, not to mention a paycheck. That'll be a change."
"But I'm already working this summer. Remember Let's Have a Ball? And I'm supposed to go to softball camp in August, too."
My mother's eyes narrowed slightly. She definitely remembered, and I could see she cared about it as little as if I had said I was going to get a drink of water.
I turned to Mr. Hanson before she could answer. "I'm sorry, Mr. Hanson. I really appreciate the opportunity, but I already have plans this summer."
My mother took my hand in one of hers in what would look like a loving gesture if she weren't digging her fingernails into my skin. I tried to pull away, but she had a grip of steel. "Don't be silly, Alexis. You have plenty of time before your camp, and you don't make money playing ball with little kids." She laughed lightly. She seemed to have missed the point of volunteering. "SmartMart is offering an excellent opportunity here, and I think you need to take it."
"Mr. Hanson," my mother said without lifting her eyes from me. "Would you give me just a moment alone with my daughter?"
No, don't leave me with Crazy! I wanted to shout. But I just watched, helpless in her grip, as the store manager nodded and bowed out, giving me a sympathetic look before shutting the door behind him.
As soon as the latch clicked, my mother's pretense at charm and grace dropped. "I'm going to say this once, Alexis. If you don't accept this man's offer, you'll end up with shoplifting on your record that will follow you around the rest of your life. And think about what everyone will say about my parenting skills."
"This has nothing to do with you—" I started, but she pulled me closer. I got a strong whiff of her perfume and tried not to choke.
"This has everything to do with me, not to mention your sister. Can you imagine if this followed us through the circuit? I'd be criticized for being one of those mothers who can't control her kids, and Aurora's career would be over."
Aurora's career? It was true that my mother loved pageant life more than anything else—her claim to fame was being runner-up in the Miss Florida pageant when she was young. Pictures of her glory days hung in pride on our wall, and we endured story after story about how she should have won, and how the judges just felt sorry for the girl who actually won because of her poor background. She had even tried getting me involved in pageants when I was too young to know better, except I hated every single moment of it and finally refused to do it anymore. So yes, I knew she took the whole pageant thing seriously. But a seven-year-old's career? I knew better than to roll my eyes, but in my defense, they kind of moved on their own.
They could've at least waited until my mother's back was turned.
Her lips pressed together in a cold line. "Control yourself," she hissed. "Now, you are going to take this job and be glad about it. And if you don't, you can spend your entire high school career taking the bus instead of that car you want so badly, got it?"
She had me now. I needed that car, and my mother knew it. "Wait a second, that's not fair. I've been saving up—"
"Not even enough to fund the tires," she finished. "You're expecting us to foot the rest. Which we won't do if you don't get serious and take this job. And by the way, your camp is at the end of summer, so if we agree that you can go, it shouldn't interfere."
"But Let's Have a Ball camp—"
"You put in what, five or six unpaid hours a week there?"
"Eight," I mumbled. It would be more if I had a car to drive myself, but I didn't want to go there.
"Exactly. Plenty of time left for a real job."
"Your father will agree with me. You have your choice. Take it or leave it."
Some choice. I knew I would have to do what she said. The car and my softball camp were the only things she could really hold over my head. "Fine," I whispered.
She turned on a heel and opened the door. "Mr. Hanson?" Her voice sounded musical again.
He entered the room, his face politely inquisitive.
"She'll be delighted to accept the position."
Hanson clapped his pudgy hands together. "Wonderful! Welcome to the team, Alexis."
I reached out to shake his extended hand, trying to smile. I sucked at acting. My eyes dropped to the floor while he and my mother chatted.
SmartMart—Where Everybody Farts. That's what everyone called this place ever since some guy posted a People of SmartMart video on YouTube. It was a contest for whoever could take the funniest video or picture with their cell phone and post it on his blog. I sent in two—one of a woman walking around with a dressed-up dog in a stroller and another of an employee talking animatedly to herself. I didn't win, but the one that did showed a guy bending to pick up something and farting really loudly. The woman's puckered face behind him was priceless.
I felt sick to my stomach as my mother and I left the store. The fact that I wasn't going to jail should've made me feel relieved, but at the moment, all I could do was feel sorry for the situation I'd gotten myself into.
Grandma opened the front door as soon as my hand touched the knob. "Well, well, well," she said as my mother breezed past us into the house. Grandma looked unusually grim, her short red nails clicking against the wood frame. "I understand you've been doing time."
I swallowed hard, my stomach knotting inside me.
She held out her hand. "What I want to know is why you're holding out on your grandma. I could use a little more color in my lips."
I moved past her into the house as she laughed. "Funny. Mom told you, huh?"
"Well, I overheard her conversation with whoever called earlier. Let me tell you, I'd be surprised if the whole neighborhood didn't hear, loud as she was jabbering."
In the other room, I could hear my mother ranting on the phone to my dad. I could picture him on the other end, sighing and saying, "I know, dear, yes dear."
"She's pretty mad," I said.
"What were you thinking, Lexie? That's not like you to steal. Gamble and drink, maybe, but not steal."
"The gambling and drinking got old."
She cocked her head at me, one penciled eyebrow raised in a perfect arch. I sighed. "Court wanted to see if we could get away with it. It was stupid, I know."
She wrinkled her nose. "Oh, that girl. She's going to find herself in jail one day if she's not careful."
Grandma didn't really dislike Court. She even said she saw herself in her. Grandma considered herself a hell-raiser—being the only one out of her five brothers and sisters to have both a college education and a criminal record. If standing up for human rights during the civil rights movement in the sixties could be considered hell-raising. I was proud of her for it, though.
"I'm going upstairs," I said, kissing her cheek. "Try not to get in trouble while I'm gone."
My phone buzzed in my pocket as I walked up to my room. It was Court.
I typed my response. Yep. C U at SM Monday?
Um I got out of it.
My heart sank. I scrolled through my contacts to find Court's name, but before I could call her, the phone buzzed with an incoming call from Syd. I pressed the answer key and before I could even say anything, Syd said, "Oh God, Lex, are you okay? Court told me what happened."
I sighed. "Yeah, I'm okay."
"Girl, I can't believe you let Court talk you into stealing. Why do we even put up with her?"
"Because she's Bryce's girlfriend," I said, still annoyed at Court's text. It was true—I liked Court, she was usually a lot of fun—but crap like this made me wonder why I even liked her, other than the fact that she was dating one of my best friends. And now she somehow got out of working at SmartMart—figures. "But it was my fault, too. I didn't need to do it. And now I'm stuck working at crappy SmartMart for the rest of the summer." I explained about the deal my mother made with the manager. To which she had the obvious response: "Oh my God, you're going to be like those people on that video."
"Shut up, I am not."
"I think my great-grandma has some old slippers and a muumuu you could borrow."
"Shut up, Syd." But I was laughing now. Syd always made me feel better.
"You could've at least stolen from a better store," she joked. "Seriously, though, is there a way we can get you out of it? Cole and Ryan are gonna be in town, and I thought it'd be fun to hang out."
I rolled my eyes, glad Syd couldn't see me. Cole and Ryan were twins from our neighborhood who attended a school for the arts in New York. They'd always been obnoxious, but it'd gotten worse since they'd been accepted to that school. Syd had a thing for them since forever. "I don't know that I want to spend the summer watching you drool over those jerks," I said.
"Well, last summer Cole told me Ryan was totally into you. I thought you'd at least want to, you know—"
"No thanks. I don't speak imbecile," I said, inwardly gagging. Syd and Court had been trying to set me up with someone since I broke up with my last boyfriend several months ago. Most of the guys I knew were totally immature with a one-track mind. "I might consider making out with him if it'd get me out of this stupid job, though. It's not fair. Court said she didn't have to take the deal. How'd she get out of it?"
"Because Court does whatever Court wants. Her mom's easy like that."
I spent a few more minutes on the phone with Syd before hanging up. I had looked forward to summer so much—I adored the kids at Let's Have a Ball camp, and with college only two years away, volunteering was really important. Not to mention things I took for granted every summer, like playing volleyball at the beach with my friends and working on my pitch. Now that most of my friends had cars—except me, of course—it would've been an awesome summer.
Excerpted from Paper or Plastic by Vivi Barnes, Stacy Abrams, Tara Quigley. Copyright © 2015 Vivi Barnes. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.