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Shopping Spree

Written by Beth Bernobich
Illustrated By: Mo Starkey

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Stock Your Medicine Cabinet for Fall *Plus* Save $25 Today Only (Restrictions Apply). Start shopping with deals on . . .


Rhonda viewed the gaudy front page for the Amazing Living Online Pharmacy with dismay. Ads for dozens of herbal products crowded the screen, promising all kinds of miracle cures, and even with pop-ups turned off, the psychedelic graphics gave her an instant cluster headache. She almost regretted skipping lunch with her co-workers just so she could sneak in this shopping session. Still, if her girlfriend Denise was right, and those products actually did what they claimed, it would be worth any number of headaches.

So let's see what they've got.

She scanned past screaming pink buttons labeled Join Our Savers Club and Featured Products. Ah hah—there it was. A discreet box in the lower right-hand corner, just above the privacy policy: The Better Marriage Prescription Corner.

She clicked the link. The screen faded to a soothing dark blue splash screen with the company logo (a stylized A and L circled by a wavy line) above the words:

Thank you for visiting
The Better Marriage Prescription Corner.
Sex, please.

Rhonda blinked. Oh. Right. A survey. She checked the box marked Female. The screen did another fancy fadeout, and three columns of links appeared. Rhonda shook with silent laughter at product names like PleaseAndThanks, AfterYou, and YesDear. The descriptions were even better. ClutterNix promised to turn your husband into a neater mate. Memor-eeze claimed he would never forget an important date, from back-to-school night to the tenth wedding anniversary. (Some patients require multiple doses. Do not use in combination with alcohol.)

All the products came in single-dosage capsules, which you could dissolve into juice or soda to hide the after-taste. A bold-faced warning informed Rhonda that hot liquids such as coffee or soup reduced the drug's effectiveness.

Well, that should be easy. She could slip the capsule into Tony's orange juice at breakfast. And just as Denise promised, the prices were low, with discounts for large orders. (Though a ten-dose limit per product, per order, did apply.) Rhonda picked up several each of Memor-eeze and ILoveU. On impulse, she added something called SexyFriday, which came with a free sample of YesDownThere.

An unexpected burst of voice—loud and close—made her jump.

". . . and then she asked if I could make the deadline."

". . . with that friendly gleam of teeth, right?"

Carl and Bud. The next minute, Rhonda caught a whiff of Melissa's honeysuckle perfume. The office crew was back, which meant lunch break was nearly over. Damn. She snapped up a couple of LurveTheFlowerz and a trial size of YesDear, then clicked the check-out button.

A new page appeared, demanding all the usual shipping and billing information. Yeah, yeah, yeah, she thought, typing as fast as she could. Then, Damn, what's this?

User Address already exists in database. Login?

What the? Her stomach gave an uncomfortable lurch. It couldn't possibly be. Tony would never shop here. And yet, she remembered that funny survey screen. Maybe it wasn't a survey. Maybe they tailored the products to your sex. She could just imagine the kind of stuff guys would buy. Or could she? With growing dread—and a lot of curiosity—she clicked the login button and entered Tony's favorite password (yodaddy).

Welcome, Tony Delaney. Would you like to see your Account Status?

Damn straight, Rhonda thought. With another few clicks, she had Tony's order history. Not as bad as she feared—just three small orders over the past six months—but some of those items made her blink. SuppersReady, Fuggedaboutit, SportsNut, FootballFloozy . . . Heh. That explained why her morning cereal tasted off. And that episode during the college playoffs. Hmmmm.

There was one new order from last Wednesday—it included the maximum ten doses of Fuggedaboutit, plus a couple more like ReadyNow and NagBegone. According to the account status page, Tony's order would reach their house on Thursday.

Three days from now.

Rhonda clicked back to the check-out screen and chewed her thumb. Now what? She couldn't stop him from getting those products, or he'd ask her how she knew about But what if his products canceled out hers? All she wanted was a few "I Love You's" and maybe flowers now and then. Well, and the oral sex would be nice.

Hah. I know.

She created her own user profile, with the shipping address c/o her workplace, and for email confirmation, she entered the new gmail addy she got courtesy of Denise's invitation. Luckily, she had already planned to charge everything to her old Amex credit card, the one she used for Christmas presents and other surprise purchases. It was stretching the truth to give her workplace as her billing address, but then, she had to risk it.

Almost done. She paged back to the product list and read through the items swiftly. If she could just find the right couple of products . . .

There. Almost the last item on the page. InnerChick. Yeah, she thought reading the product information. InnerChick promised to bring your husband in tune with his feminine side. Ever wished he would ask directions? Give you the remote? Stop leaving dirty dishes under the front seat of your car? Try InnerChick. Three doses and your husband will be more like the woman you always wished he would be.

Rhonda ordered the maximum of ten. That was sure to counteract anything Tony slipped her. Now she just had to figure out how to get him through a couple doses before his package arrived. She worried about that problem through the next few screens, unable to think of a solution, and all too aware that she had run well over her lunch hour.

"Hey, Rhonda."

Vivian, the department supervisor, peered around the cubicle wall. Rhonda hastily minimized the browser window and spun her chair around. "Right here," she said, trying to sound innocent and brisk at the same time. Vivian was squinting at her, but then Vivian always squinted, she told herself. "Um, what's up?"

"The budget spreadsheets, that's what. Meeting's been rescheduled for Wednesday, and I need all the numbers double-checked, pronto. Are they ready?"

"Almost. Give me ten minutes."

Vivian squinted harder, but she didn't say anything. Rhonda waited until her supervisor disappeared before she let out her breath. Too close. Too damned close. Might as well cancel the order and try again later. Reluctantly, she moused over the window close button.

Exit without checkout?

She hesitated. She might not have another chance today, and tomorrow was too late. Two minutes, she told herself desperately. I can get my order through and still finish those spreadsheets.

Rhonda surreptitiously glanced around. No one hanging over the cubicle walls, not after Vivian's visit. No one behind her in the corridor. And nothing up my sleeve, as Bullwinkle would say. Still nervous, she re-opened the browser window.

And gulped in surprise.

In defiance of all the corporate internet settings, a bubble-shaped pop-up floated past. Amazed, Rhonda watched as it danced a spiral path over the nearly-complete order screen. It looked like Casper the Ghost, but with more class.

How did they do that?

Then she forgot everything else as she read the text inside the bubble.

In a Hurry? Late for a Special Occasion? Use our Ultra-Express Delivery Option. Click Me and Find Out More.


Rhonda chased down the bubble with her mouse and clicked. It vanished in a cloud of smaller pink bubbles to reveal her shipping options filled out for Special Overnight Delivery. Ouch, but that option was expensive. She suspected the delivery charges more than made up for the low cost of the products themselves, but it was worth it. Just a few more buttons . . .

Order Confirmed. You will receive your package in One (1) Business Day(s). Estimated arrival date is Wednesday, a.m.

Rhonda closed the browser with a click and a smile. Humming with anticipation, she opened up Vivian's spreadsheets to double-check those numbers.

* * *

Wednesday morning, Rhonda found she could not stop humming. Or dancing. Or smiling at Tony. Oh sure, Monday afternoon had dragged, and Tuesday had proved even worse. But at last it was Wednesday. Wednesday! According to the latest email from Amazing Living, her package had an expected arrival time of 8:30. Rhonda had almost reset her alarm for an earlier hour just to make sure Murphy didn't tap-dance all over her plans, but she didn't want to make Tony suspicious. More suspicious, she amended.

"You look awful jumpy today," Tony commented as he poured milk over his Sugar-Frosted Crunchy Oats Cereal (the kind with the model fighter plane prize inside the box). "Whassup?"

Rhonda shrugged. "Oh, nothing. Nothing except Vivian and her everlasting Gobstopper of a budget."

Tony shoved a spoonful of cereal into his mouth and crunched loudly. "Yeah, well, she's a trick, that Vivian. So, you gonna work late tonight?"

Not if I can help it, Rhonda thought, her mind on the waiting package. Should she start him on the InnerChick? Or was that pushing things too fast? Maybe just a dose of YesDear, just to see how well these wonder drugs worked.

"I don't know yet," she told Tony. "I'm ahead of schedule, but the quarterly budget wars start today, so things might get hairy."

"Like Vivian," Tony said with a smirk.

Rhonda smirked back. Wait till tonight, Tony-boy.

Murphy and his Law were taking a permanent vacation she decided. That morning, she found none of the usual obstacles to her commute. No traffic. The lights in her favor. That hideous highway construction project cleared away. Rhonda zipped into her parking space and jogged through the employee entrance five minutes ahead of the crew.

"Good morning," she called out to Tina, the department secretary. "Any packages for me?"

Tina glanced up from sorting mail. "There was."

Rhonda's heart did a double skip-and-jump, and some of the joy leaked out of her day. Tina started her shift at 8:30. Usually the mailroom guys left any early delivery packages at her desk. "What do you mean was?" she said.

"Just what I said. Was here. As in, past perfect tense, indicative and not subjunctive, and that's what I get for being a goddamn English major." Tina punctuated every syllable by slapping down an envelope into a different pile.

Clearly her day had not started well. Rhonda tried again.

"Um, sorry, Tina. Is Vivian being a PITA?"

"Yeah, she is," Tina snapped. "It's that goddamn budget meeting today. Either she showed up at dawn, or she never left, because she was already at her desk when I came in. Chewed me out for no reason at all. Five goddamn minutes," she added in a mutter. "You'd think the world ended."

Rhonda peered around Tina's desk to Vivian's office. No lights showed underneath the door, which was closed. "So, um, about my package. What happened to it?"

Tina scowled. "Vivian happened to it. Johnny-Boy from Receiving came by five minutes—okay, maybe fifteen minutes—before I got here, and needed a signature. And before you ask, no, I don't have the damned thing. Vicious Vivian must've locked it in her office. Come by at lunch, why don't you?"

Rhonda closed her eyes, feeling sick. Murphy had screwed her but good. Served her right for being so cock-sure this morning.

"Thanks, Tina," she whispered. "I'll do that."

No big deal, she told herself, walking back to her desk. Vivian won't care about a stupid package. She popped a couple antacids with an aspirin chaser, then dove into the day's workload.

Twelve o'clock came at last. Rhonda hurried past Tina's desk and knocked at Vivian's door. No answer. She jiggled the handle, which refused to budge.

"Don't even bother," Tina said, looking up from her typing. "All the managers went out for lunch. Say what's in that package, anyway?"

"Rat poison," Rhonda snapped. She left before Tina could snap back.

She spent the afternoon fruitlessly haunting Vivian's office. No luck. The only good point was finding out that Tina wasn't mad at her. "You looked peaked," Tina said when Rhonda made one last circuit around five o'clock (pretending to visit the supply cabinet). "No wonder you're cranky."

"I'm sorry," Rhonda started to say.

Tina waved away her apology. "No problem. It's that Vivian. She's enough to make anyone snappish. And speaking of the Vicked Vitch, she called to have me order in pizza for dinner. I'm betting those guys won't break until midnight or someone draws first blood. So go home. You look awful."

* * *

"You look awful," Tony said the next morning. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing is wrong!" Rhonda snapped. "Not one goddamn thing."

Tony's eyebrows climbed up to the top of his forehead, and crouched there like two hairy caterpillars. "Geezuss Aching Christ," he said. "What got into you?"

Rhonda closed her eyes and sighed. She had spent a miserable night, unable to sleep, her stomach doing flip-flops while she tormented herself with what-ifs and if-onlys. She sighed again and opened her eyes to find Tony looking genuinely worried. "I'm sorry, honey. It's just that goddamn—"

"—budget. Yeah, I know, babe. But you do look a bit ragged today. Maybe a few vitamins would fix you up. You want me to stop by the drug store and get you some?"

Rhonda suppressed a start. That's right. Today was Thursday. Tony's package was due today. And now she remembered how sleepy-head Tony was up and making coffee long before the alarm went off. Her stomach did another flip-flop and she regarded her cereal with suspicion.

"Thanks, honey," she said. "But don't bother. I'll be fine."

She waited for Tony to leave, then made a quick search of the entire house. Not in the laundry hamper (as if he knew what a hamper was, she thought). Not in the utility closet, and not in the attic. Not anywhere, she thought, rubbing her aching forehead. The hall clock chimed eight thirty. Damn. She had to get going, and fast, or Vivian would toast her on a stick and have her for brunch.

Wait a minute. I know where.

She hurried into the bathroom and threw open the double doors to their medicine cabinet. Ages ago, they had agreed that one side would be hers, one side his, but surveying the shelves, Rhonda noticed how Tony's growing collection of half-used ointment tubes, Mega-Sports-Vitamins, and Gold Bond Powder encroached on her half. No time to get irritated. She started rummaging through his junk, not entirely sure what she was looking for.

"Hey, babe!"

Half a dozen bottles and tubes crashed into the sink. "Hey, honey." Rhonda hurriedly stuffed items back onto the shelves. Just as fast, most of the items spilled out again. "What's up? I thought you were off to work?"

"Forgot my cell phone. What about you?"

Rhonda opened a drawer and swept Tony's junk in there. "Had a headache, sweetheart." Just as Tony poked his head around the door, she grabbed the nearest aspirin bottle from the shelves. "Ah, here they are," she cried. "Just what I was looking for."

She dropped the bottle into her purse, and dodged around Tony. Once in her car, she let out a long shaky breath. That was two close calls this week. And surely Tony would notice the mess she'd made in the medicine cabinet. On second thought, knowing Tony, maybe not. Anyway, maybe she could sneak out early and make a second pass tonight, before Tony got home, plus straighten things up a bit.

But bad luck continued to spit on her that morning. A jack-knifed tractor trailer tied up the highway for miles. When she tried her favorite shortcut, she got stuck behind a student driver. By the time Rhonda slid into her chair and flipped her monitor on, the clock showed nine-twenty.

You Have Mail!

Rhonda's mouth went dry with apprehension, as she clicked the Read Mail button. Sure enough, it was a memo from Vivian, dated 6:35 a.m. Come to my office at 11:30. We need to discuss personnel matters.

Oh crap. Oh crap oh crap oh crap. She was sunk. Vivian must have opened the damned package. Strictly speaking, it wasn't against the regs to have personal items delivered here, but these days, with all the layoffs and outsourcing and general weirdness, who could tell?

Her head throbbed. And throbbed harder. Wincing, Rhonda swallowed a couple aspirin from the bottle in her purse, then opened up the files for the Navy contract bid that Vivian and the other department managers were screaming for . . .

" . . . where the hell were you?"

Rhonda jolted awake to the terrifying sight of Vivian looming over her. Vivian's face had turned an unhealthy shade of red, and she was squinting harder than ever.

" . . . no time for this stupid shit now . . ."

Vivian on a tear was worse than six dragons with PMS, Bud always said. Right now, Rhonda thought that comment was an understatement. "Um, Vivian. Sorry. I was . . ." A frantic glance at her computer screen nudged her panicked memory. "Um, double-checking the latest government reporting requirements. For that new contract bid for the Navy."

Vivian's face tuned down a couple shades. "Oh. Right. I see." She bit her lip and appeared to consider a stay of execution. "Okay, but we still need to talk. Get your ass to my office at four o'clock. Do. Not. Forget."

She stomped away. Rhonda let out a shaky sigh. Nearby, she heard Bud and Melissa whispering excitedly. They weren't the only ones, Rhonda guessed. Everyone on the whole damned floor must have heard Vivian's rant.

The clock on her computer showed twelve fifteen. Three hours lost. But how? What had happened? Vaguely she recalled getting in late. Vivian's emphatic email. The onset of a truly murderous headache. Downing a couple of her extra-strength aspirin . . .

The aspirin.

With a muttered exclamation, Rhonda dug the bottle from her purse. Just an ordinary bottle of generic aspirin, warehouse-club variety. She unscrewed the lid and sniffed cautiously. Nuttin, as Tony would say. Okay, time for inspection, boys, she thought, pouring the bottle's contents onto her desk.

The pile of aspirin made an impressive heap on her desk. Rhonda counted fifty capsules in all, the slow time-release kind that she and Tony liked. She flipped a couple over with a pencil, and noted the familiar off-brand logo stamped in the center.

I'm going nuts.

So maybe HR would be kind to the nice crazy lady.

Fat chance. Not with Vivian barking at them.

Feeling foolish, she inspected a couple more. Same size, same color, same logo . . .

Not the same logo.

If she squinted, she could make out a stylized A and L, surrounded by a wavy swirl. A row of tinier letters ran beneath the logo, nearly illegible, but Rhonda would bet her next winning Lotto ticket on what they spelled.


Cursing her husband, she examined the rest in turn. All but eight were ordinary capsules. Tony had ordered the ten-dose maximum, which meant she had consumed two. But something didn't make sense. Why would Tony spike her aspirin? Wasn't the point to make her forget something at home? And he knew how awful Vivian could be.

Rhonda groaned as the realization hit her. Tony was trying to hide the stupid tablets for later. He probably stuck the bottle on his side of the medicine cabinet. She must have grabbed the bottle in the mixup that morning.

I spiked myself, dammit.

Two cups of hot coffee washed away the last effects of the Fuggedaboutit. For lunch she had a bagel-antacid sandwich, with more antacid for dessert and one carefully selected aspirin—the real kind—then settled down to work.

Over the next few hours, Rhonda tidied up the spreadsheets for the Navy contract proposal and formatted everything just the way Vivian liked it. At four o'clock precisely, Rhonda showed up at Vivian's office, still rehearsing her explanations.

I'm sorry I forgot about our meeting. I bought a different brand of aspirin this time, and I think I had an allergic reaction. Really. And about the package. See, it's a surprise for Tony. He's been feeling a little low, if you know what I mean, and a friend told me about this special pick-me-up.

Tina's desk was deserted. Beyond, Vivian's door stood open, and the overhead lights were on, but Vivian herself was nowhere in sight. Taking a deep breath, Rhonda ventured into the office and perched on the rickety visitor's chair. One hand gripped the bottle of aspirin, the other held a thumb drive with all the documents for the Navy contract proposal. The bottle itself was a good touch, she thought, and the contract bid might even distract Vivian if she played it right.

Five minutes ticked by. Ten. Rhonda grew more and more anxious. A couple moments ago, her explanations seemed so reasonable. Now that she was here, she realized even a summer intern wouldn't believe her.

Another five minutes ticked away, still with no sign of Vivian. Rhonda stood up and paced the cramped office. Stacks of printouts covered both desks and the filing cabinet. Empty styro-foam cups occupied the spaces in between, all of them with fingernail-shaped punctures. Bad sign, Rhonda thought. A very bad sign.

One cup next to Vivian's monitor looked nearly full, but the artificial creamer had clotted into pale lumps, and the oily-looking coffee looked and smelled hours old. Rhonda shuddered. She hated cold coffee. Good thing, or Tony would probably dose her with something horrible tomorrow morning, and then—

Rhonda stopped. Glanced from the coffee cup to the bottle in her hand. Hmmmm . . .

She glanced around to make sure no one was coming. All quiet, all clear, but Tina might return any moment. Moving quickly, Rhonda set the thumb drive aside and popped open the aspirin bottle. She sorted through the capsules and extracted two Fuggedaboutits. These she dumped into Vivian's cup, then stirred the mess with a pencil. Eeuw. Weird pink and blue smears floated on the surface. No way Vivian could miss that.

"Sorry I'm late."

Vivian stalked into the office. Rhonda jumped back from Vivian's desk and plopped into the visitor's chair, her heart thumping wildly. "No problem. I, um, brought the spreadsheets for the Navy project. That's why you wanted to see me, right?"

"Not exactly." Vivian slugged down the coffee and made a gagging face. "Damned machine coffee. Tastes worse every week, I swear. Okay, where were we?"

Rhonda watched Vivian root around in her filing cabinet with growing apprehension. Something had gone wrong. Either the coffee had killed the Fuggedaboutit, or she'd grabbed a couple real aspirin by mistake.

"Ahah. Here it is."

Vivian flung a small square package onto her desk. Her face wore the expression Bud called "Extreme Management." Forehead wrinkled. Lips thinned. Jaw twitching. Rhonda dropped her gaze to the carpet and braced herself for a dressing down.

And waited.

And waited.

The clock ticked over another minute before Rhonda dared to look up.

Oh. My. God.

Vivian was grinning, slack-jawed, at a point just above Rhonda's head. Hardly daring to believe what she saw, Rhonda leaned forward and waved a hand in front of the woman's face. No change. Not even the flicker of a fake eyelash.

It worked.

Rhonda eased up from the visitor's chair. No reaction. She glanced through the open door. Tina had returned, but her attention was on Johnny-Boy from Receiving. Both of them were in heavy flirt mode, and thoroughly engrossed with each other. It was now or never.

She tucked her package under one arm, casual-like. The aspirin bottle went into her jacket pocket. The thumb drive she left beside Vivian's computer, with a post-it note saying, For your review, as we discussed.—R.

* * *

Friday. Fabulous, splendiferous Friday. Rhonda lay in bed on her back, a puddle of warm happiness. Wow, ran through her brain. Like, y'know, wow.

Right now she could barely recall anything horrible about the week. Oh sure, as late as Thursday evening, she thought Murphy might screw her over one last time. A frantic, over-the-speed-limit dash got her home ahead of Tony, but then she let herself get sidetracked, comparing her products to his, and when Tony showed up, she dropped everything onto the floor. Luckily, she had the third Fuggedaboutit to distract him until she could sort everything out.

Nearly everything. There were a few items she wasn't sure about. Luckily, she had located the SexyFriday and YesDownThere. Both of those had lived up to their names, and then some.

Of course, Tony had managed to dose her as well. She had pretended not to notice him dropping a couple tablets into her white wine. She giggled now, remembering the bubbly sensation from just one swallow. That ReadyNow stuff sure worked fast.

Next to her lay Tony, apparently equally sated, because he was making cute little grunts of satisfaction. It was like years ago, when they first started dating.

"Hey, babe."

"Yeah, Tony?"

"I love you, babe."

Rhonda sighed in delight. Denise was right. That Amazing Living Pharmacy was pretty amazing. And who knows? Maybe next time she'd order a round of FootballFloozy herself.

* * *

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