License to Shop
waiting for her to say
something about me being a mystery shopper. To my surprise, she
didn’t look at me. Instead, as soon as I pulled my cart up behind
her, she loaded her items onto the counter.
    When her cart was empty,
she turned to me, as if I were a stranger, and said, “Excuse me, I
forgot something.”
    I tried not to gape as she
slipped past me as silkily as Mata Hari.
    Who knew my mother had a
little spy in her. Maybe I hadn’t fallen as far from the tree as I
had thought.
    My checkout experience was
a little sad—the girl forgot to ask for my shopper’s card and she
didn’t say thank you and use my name (from the shopping card, which
I gave her since it offered me savings on several
    This wasn’t a reveal shop,
so I just smiled at her and thanked her as I made a note of her
name and the fact that she was not wearing the uniform jacket she
should have been.
    I don’t know what happens
to those employees whose names I carefully document after my report
goes in. Sometimes, like today when someone like Cheri doesn’t pass
with flying colors I’m glad she’ll never know I’m the one who
ratted her out.
    “ One store down,” I said to my mother, who was
waiting for me by the car.
    “ That was more fun than I
thought.” She was almost gushing. “I hope you don’t mind, I picked
up some things I thought you might use for your dinner
    “ Thanks,” I said,
wondering what she’d bought. I had paid little attention to the
actual groceries I’d bought because I’d been documenting the area,
and the checkout clerk’s actions.
    “ Do you think you could
drop me off at your house, though?” she asked as we climbed back
into the car. “I need to freshen up before my
    I made an ‘I’m sorry’
face. “I can’t. I’ll make it as quick as I can, though,” I
promised. I didn’t mention that unless time moved backward, we’d
end up having to stop to pick up the kids at school before we made
it home.
    Taking out one of the
little clean-wipes she carried with her everywhere, my mother wiped
the dust off my dashboard as she asked, “How often do you do one of
these little shops?”
    “ I try to do at least six
a week. Sometimes I do three in one day, so I don’t shop every
day.” It felt odd having my mother treat me as if she were
interested in what I did, even if she was cleaning the inside of my
car at the same time.
    “ And they paid you fifteen
dollars to do this?” She wadded up the now very dirty clean-wipe
and put it into a small trash bag that — again — she always carried
with her.
    “ They did.” Well,
technically, they would, once I submitted a report, Sue approved
it, and then — eventually, the paperwork made it’s way through the
company snake-like gut and my payment was disgorged. “It’s how I
make the grocery budget stretch,” I defended myself.
    I chose a close parking
spot at the fancy new grocery store Paradise Farms, in the pretense
of trying to hurry. I liked shopping at Paradise Farms, even though
I couldn’t afford to shop unless they were paying me.
    Mom said, “Don’t worry
about me, I’ll just wander around and meet you outside when you’re
done, Nancy Drew.”
    “ Thanks” I grabbed the
second list Penny had helped me make. I had to supply cupcakes to
Anna’s class tomorrow. I had planned to bake them, but Paradise
Farms made cupcakes that doubled as works of art. Buying them would
save me an hour and probably delight the kids since I could get a
variety, rather than make all vanilla (which you had to do nowadays
because so many kids were allergic to chocolate).
    Paradise Farms also had
gorgeous looking sugar-free treats for the kids who were allergic
to sugar. Easy on the eyes, hard on the pocketbook, we joked as we
made the list.
    Despite my cleverly
scribbled list, things did not go as smoothly as I’d
    First, the meat department
had no London broil out on the rack. Part of the shop required

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