The next morning Phoebe awoke to the irritating beeping of her cell phone alarm. She had set it before going to sleep for the first time since her return. That’s all it’s good for, she thought, Here in Middletown it’s nothing but an alarm clock. She sat on the side of the bed desperate to return to sleep, but soon the good news of the day before washed over her like a wave. Life seemed to be moving very fast, just the way she like it. This was the kind of world she had dreamed of, and she intended to make the most of it.
Phoebe considered her clothes for the day, realizing that she wouldn’t have time to change before the party. To her surprise Penny was still asleep. Phoebe took advantage by stepping into Penny’s closet and borrowing a nicely ironed button-down navy blue shirt to go with her clean pair of jeans and black high top sneakers. It almost feels like silk. I hope Penny’s not mad. But tonight’s the party. I need something nice.
On her way out of Penny’s bedroom she noticed two bodies under the covers arranged like spoons, with Jim’s forehead and dark hair just behind Penny’s brown hair. Phoebe glided out of the room without a sound.
Am I the only one who knows about this? More likely I’m the only one who doesn’t know. I can’t believe she didn’t tell me!
Before ten o’clock Phoebe was out of the house and walking toward town. At the store Gilligan showed her the opening of the daily routine, and by eleven they were ready for business. But for hours no business came their way. It was a Saturday in beautiful weather, and not a single person came into the store. Gilligan read a book behind the cash register, looking depressed, and Phoebe felt a twinge of panic. There’s got to be something I can do.
She descended to the basement and inspected the surprising quantity of toys and art materials remaining from when her parents owned the store. She brought up the best of the toys, cleaned them, and displayed them prominently. She also cleaned the rows of folding chairs and folding tables, and imagined how she could organize groups for art projects, storytelling, and book readings.
Finally a family walked in the door, mother and father and four children. “Adventure stories,” said the father. “That’s what we need around our house. A copy of Treasure Island, haven’t read it in years. I want the old illustrated edition, like the one in the window.”
“Daddy, Daddy, look at the tiny chairs and tables!” said a small girl, wandering over to a set of low shelves.
“Glowcolor Markers!” exclaimed an older boy, wandering off in a different direction. “The stores in Half Moon don’t have these!”
“Here’s the classic Treasure Island illustrated by Wyeth,” said Phoebe. “Absolutely the best. By the way, this doll furniture is handmade, by my father actually. And those markers you’ve got there,” she said to the boy, “are real art materials. You’ve found some of the best things in the store.”
Phoebe hurried about, helping a wide variety of items over to the cash register. The family left in a state of delight, as if they were making off with buried treasure.
Half an hour later Phoebe heard the little bells attached to the front door jingle, and looked up to see Jeremy walk into the store. He stopped and looked about, hands in his pockets, thin shoulders slouched forward.
“Jeremy!” cried Phoebe.
“Well, well,” said Jeremy, gazing here and there. “So this is the toy store. Nice. Nothing quite like it anywhere.”
Phoebe scrambled out from behind the counter.
“Geraldine asked me to pick up some tables,” Jeremy told her. “Party business, she said.”
“Ah, of course. I didn’t realize you were in on this.”
“I asked for the job,” explained Jeremy.
Gilligan reluctantly gave Phoebe permission to borrow a few folding tables, and Phoebe and Jeremy descended to the basement. In a moment they were each maneuvering a long white folding table up the narrow stairs and out across the courtyard. Jeremy stopped on the sidewalk and looked proudly at the enormous blue and white tow truck parked in front. A few young boys were also admiring it, and one had the daring to climb aboard for a closer look.
Phoebe stared at the truck in surprise. “Hasn’t that been in Jim’s back garage for years?”
“Well, just two years he tells me. But we need that garage for a car wash now, and this truck will help us pick up more jobs, so I decided to get it going. This is my very first test run. You know, it’s an ex-River City police tow truck. Nice, huh?”
“Yeah, totally! I see you’re drumming up some business.”
“Absolutely. I can’t let you get too far ahead. Got to keep up with your pace, you know. You move fast.”
Phoebe smiled. “I never thought I’d see this old monster running. Just an impractical idea of Jim’s, I thought. It’s been collecting dust way more than two years. Nice. I can’t believe it.”
Jeremy beamed. A small crowd had collected around the truck. “Okay you guys, back off there.” Jeremy swung his table to lay it down across the back of the truck on the metal platform covering the four huge back wheels, and then reached for Phoebe’s table and did the same.
“Now what’s this all about?” asked a voice.
“Chester Peterson! Good to see you again. We’re moving tables to my sister’s house for the party tonight. I hope you’re going to be there. Bring your family and friends, 12 Main Street.”
“We’re all coming. Fred’s market wagon is already there. We’re selling vegetables and peaches and eggs and chickens in your yard!” Chester paused and looked around suspiciously, and said in a low voice: “I wouldn’t pass up the chance to see your father again. I’ve got a few questions to ask him.”
“Okay…” said Phoebe slowly, not sure how to handle Chester’s conspiratorial air. “So tell me, what brings you to town these days?”
“I’m helping Sammy, of course. We’re expanding the shelves, reorganizing the coffee shop.”
“That’s great! I’m glad to hear it. Well, we’ve got tables and chairs to carry. It’s going to be a busy day.”
As Phoebe turned to walk back inside a voice called out to her. George Thompson was approaching from across the street. He jogged over to the tow truck, coming up to Phoebe.
“I just heard you’re working at the toy store again. Is it true?”
“Yup! I started yesterday.” Phoebe gave George a smile and another quick survey. He looked good in dark jeans, thin at the ankle, and a short-sleeved button-down white shirt with a ‘Scutter’s Market’ logo. He smiled in a charming way, but his voice was hesitant, and like the day before, there was something about him that seemed sad to Phoebe.
He looked right into her eyes and said, “I just want you to know that I’m so glad to hear it. Congratulations.” He held up his hand for a high-five.
“Oh! Thanks!” Phoebe felt herself blush. She wanted to say she knew he’d been working in the toy store, but then she was afraid George would take it as a reference to his being laid off, and in the confusion of her thoughts a few moments went by where they just stared at each other. Finally Jeremy, standing next to Phoebe, shifted his weight, and gently, almost accidentally, nudged her with his elbow.
She grabbed the opportunity to introduce him as if it were a life preserver in the open ocean. “George, I don’t know if you’ve met Jeremy, Jim and Glenda’s cousin? Jeremy, this is my old friend George. His parents own Miracles Gift shop.” They shook ands and smiled.
“So, what are you guys up to?” asked George. “I’m on my lunch hour.”
“We’re carrying tables to my tow truck for tonight’s party,” returned Jeremy.
“Let me help you. I’ve got time.”
“Sure,” said Phoebe, but she found herself outside the conversation as George and Jeremy continued talking.
“Nice wheels!” exclaimed George. “You fixed it up yourself?”
“I did,” nodded Jeremy, accepting the admiration of the small crowd as his rightful due. “You know, Jim mentioned to me someone named George who plays guitar. Any chance that’s you?”
“You play?” They looked at each other in a new light, and slapped hands. “I’m in between bands,” said George with enthusiasm. “College and jobs broke us up. Let’s get together!”
Phoebe stared at them hitting it off with mixed feelings. It was hard to be ignored, and she was the one on the clock with a boss inside.
“Hey, let’s go,” she said. “We’ve got work to do.”
Passers-by continued to collect, and some of them spilled into the courtyard and finally into the store. Gilligan was ringing up a sale as Phoebe, Jeremy, and George walked through on their way to the basement.
“Phoebe!” called Gilligan. “I need your help over here.”
“Sorry guys,” yelled Phoebe. “Keep it going, I’ll be right back.”