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From age three Stacy Rowe had used fashion to connect with others. Her older sisters wanted nothing to do with her aside from dressing her up like a doll and would send her away if she became too fussy. By the time they both left for college when she was in the fourth grade she had developed a keen eye to clothing detail and an inferiority complex that their infrequent visits did nothing to ease. That same year her pet lab Hershey made his escape under the backyard fence and into the path of an oncoming Dodge. She was lucky enough to miss it, as it had happened during school hours. Rather than tell her the gruesome truth Stacy's parents left the mystery open with a white lie: Hershey had gotten out, never to be seen again. It was the final act that left the young girl feeling perpetually sub-standard and alone. Some nights she lay awake, gazing into the starred void outside her attic bedroom window, wondering if her sisters and her dog would ever come home for good.

It was about this time Mr. & Mrs. Rowe noticed an all-time high in their daughter's anxiety. They were normal people to the point of obsession., raised with the notion that problems were to be dealt with individually and quietly. Sweep it all under the rug, such as the case with Hershey. They did not know how to reach their daughter, nor did they think anything worthwhile of therapy. And so they went on worrying, lost, until one day when Meredith Rowe noticed Stacy enraptured in a televised ice skating exhibition. With a bit of questioning she gave her daughter the encouragement to try skating lessons herself, and the next day following a telephone call to the ice rink they were off to the sporting goods store. There Stacy selected her first pair of skates, a delectable shade of robin's egg blue. She looked up at the vibrant rhinestone outfits, wanted one, was told she would have one when she had learned a bit.

Stacy took to the ice naturally. Her balance was graceful from the beginning, she handled turns and spins with little difficulty, and it was not long before she was in the occasional exhibition for amateurs. At last she had earned three uniforms, and she skated and she spun and she sparkled.

It wasn't long before the anxiety began to creep back in. Stacy agonized in her mind though these skate gatherings held no official competition. Watching other girls at practice was bad enough, now this exhibition. She judged the moves of her peers, looked on enviously at the older and more experienced girls. By the time she was eleven she was watching couples skate and longing for a boy's hands on her waist.

Stacy had existed unaware of social structure until fifth grade when kids began showing favoritism in picking teams for sports. Boys asked out girls; their 'relationships' involved nothing more than increased friendliness at school and the rare playground kiss, but Stacy had none of it. She began to wonder if she was pretty, began to study model hairstyles in magazines to try for herself.

Middle school followed its typical hellish course. First week of sixth grade was a rude awakening among the integrated classes of neighboring elementary schools, most of all during the forced social mingling of the lunch room. Here everyone eyed each other. Groups eventually gravitated and formed like small galaxies while lone students drifted along unclaimed territory. She found herself under constant scrutiny for her clothes, what she said. Being called to answer a question in class was painful, especially if she didn't know the answer. Twice the math teacher attempted to walk the girl through the steps of problems and ultimately gave up when she began to weep in anxious terror. The other students found humor in this. After a while Stacy began faking stomachaches to escape and take a nap in the nurse's office.

All the while, she had her ice skates.

Until late in seventh grade. She had been insinuating herself into the fringes of middle school's higher social circles with little contributions to celebrity gossip and this season's colors thanks to a slew of fashion magazines. The cheerleaders liked her, the jock girls liked her. She could make her way along the lunch tables unscathed.

Relatively so. The heartless Sandi Griffin judged and ridiculed all. Stacy was certainly no exception. Her abrasive nature challenged Stacy's subconscious need for acceptance, which drove the meeker girl to work toward any avenue of friendship. That pivotal day revealed itself in the form of a verbal jab at the substitute teacher.

"Ugh, those Mary Janes are the worst," Sandi remarked with an eye roll to Tiffany, her slow-witted cohort. It was her usual running commentary broadcast loud enough for others to hear.

Tiffany opened her mouth to say something but Stacy leaned over from the next aisle and giggled, "Yeah, doesn't she know chunky heels are out this year?"

"And that shade of brown!" Sandi shook her head with her arms crossed over her chest; a bizarre form of approval. That little comment led to an invitation to sit with her and Tiffany at lunch, where they all sat appraising student body outfits. That night Stacy collapsed on her bed in a giggling fit, thrilled to have real friends at last.

Within a week the new 'friendship' began to settle. The Griffin girl began to comprehend how well-liked her new minion was. Her meddlesome mind dreamed of different ways to divert popular attention from Stacy, but no situation could be played out without Sandi coming out looking like the villain.

Instead she struck out in another way. Mall meetings were possible only on certain days due to Stacy's practice schedule. The sport was never discussed among the three of them until the day Sandi made her move. With the help of a TV Guide she discovered a skating competition being televised on the Sunday Sports Showcase. The TV channel was set with the volume on low during their afternoon gathering in the Griffin household. They gushed over new fabric prints, and Sandi couldn't help noticing Stacy's eyes floating to the television again and again. She turned and watched too, fighting back the urge to say her bit too soon. At last she smiled her malicious little smile and said, "Wow, those girls are so talented. It's too bad they dress them like show ponies. It's tragic, really."

Stacy's face crumpled with a gasp.

"This big plastic sparkles are so, what's the word? Gaudy. I'm sorry, but that electric pink and that ivory white do not match."

"Ewww," Tiffany offered in agreement.

Stacy kept her face turned away as she scrambled to her feet. "I have to use your bathroom. Be right back."

The psychosomatic reaction was beginning to manifest. Any vague feeling of rejection brought on stomach flutters, cold sweats and weak knees. Soon she would be hyperventilating. Now it was just a matter of getting to the privacy of a bathroom in time. Once inside the room she shut the door and sank down against the wall, trying her best to breathe with her knees drawn up to her chest.

Sandi hadn't directly called her a show pony, but she might as well have. Surely she had seen the professional photos hanging on the walls at the Rowe house. Surely she had seen her skates hanging in the closet. Stacy closed her eyes and imagined how she must look to spectators: whirling around like an idiot dressed in obnoxious colors. The thought of her favorite blue plume headband made her wish for death to escape the embarrassment. She really did look like a show pony! All at once her dreams crashed down around her in a paranoid delusion of judgment.

She rocked back and forth, crying and trying to catch her breath.

So, the question was, now what? The answer was simple to Stacy. Rather than get up and walk away from Sandi's sniping comments forever, she left abruptly under the pretenses of a stomachache while trying to hide her runny mascara, waited until returning home to announce tearfully that she had come to hate ice skating and would not go to another single practice. Her parents sensed her decision was not entirely justified and met this news with insistence that she finish out the year. She wouldn't budge, however, and she left her mother the burden of calling the coach to cancel practices mid-season.

Stacy never said a word of this to Sandi. The only way Sandi knew was from the sense of melancholy hanging around her friend for several weeks. Without truly comprehending what she had done, Stacy had resigned herself to following Sandi's orders, taking Sandi's abuse.

It was somewhere in this haze when Sandi began insisting on a hierarchy complete with a title: The Fashion Club. Stacy was designated secretary when she discovered she was quite good at taking minutes and organizing notes for future reference. After a while she forgot about skating.

Life brightened when Quinn Morgendorfer made her Lawndale debut in ninth grade. She was sweet if not rather self-centered (a notion that never entered Stacy's conscious thoughts), the amalgamation of redheaded teenage good looks and optimistic approachability that earned Quinn the oft-heard title of 'cute.' She served as a buffer between Stacy and Sandi, usually checking the latter with comments set to diffuse even the tensest situations within the Fashion Club.

Stacy sailed on an even keel for quite some time, rocked once by her breakup with Bobby Brownstein, but otherwise went on trying to live contentedly each day. In April of junior year the melancholia began again. She wouldn't have been able to name the cause if she had thought about it. Perhaps it was tedium, perhaps it was typical low-grade teen angst, perhaps it was a growing awareness of domination from her oldest friend. Whatever the cause, she had trouble finding joy in anything. Some days the routine of life was a march through the hours. She stepped on, unaware of her own depression.

"Beauteous maidens, may I show you something that will astound and amaze?"

The Fashion Club had been trooping up the sidewalk to Cashman's past a folding table and vibrant cardboard sign. Upchuck was wearing some obscene spandex affair and hassling passerby for attention. It was no surprise he had called out to them; they knew they were irresistible.

"Only if it's a disappearing act," Sandi stopped to pose with one hand on her hip and a disdainful look over her shoulder.

"No, a feat of illusion," Upchuck smiled wanly.

"Like contouring your nose to make it look thin?" Tiffany struggled to understand what he meant. When Quinn and Stacy gasped at the idea, she shook her head, "Not me."

"Please! Spare just a moment to behold my astonishing magic skills."

"Make it fast, Charles. I don't want to be caught in the midday cosmetics counter crush."

"Observe! Genuine American currency, which I shall now tear into tiny pieces!" Here Upchuck held Mr. O'Neill's conned ten for all to see just before ripping into it.

"That is most certainly illegal." She simply could not go without making a remark.

"But wait! By the commanding of my virile presence, the bill is restored!" And with a flick of his wrists and a fan of his fingers, he held up the intact money.

It was the strangest thing Stacy had seen in a long time.

"Truly astonishing," Sandi had already taken on a dismissive pose with her arms crossed.

"But how did he do it?" Stacy couldn't stop staring. Upchuck noticed this genuine curiosity and let loose one of his lecherous smiles.

"Oh Stacy, you are so gullible. He obviously used mirrors or something." Sandi's tone was more patronizing than ever, but her underling barely noticed. She was still trying to figure out what had happened.

"Besides, it's just a ten. It's not like it was a fifty or anything," Quinn wasn't impressed either.

"C'mon," the Fashion Club president turned on her heels and started for the building, "let's go make some real money disappear."

She cackled with Quinn and Tiffany as they headed inside. Stacy stood where she was a moment longer, looking at Upchuck working his charm on a new crowd.

He had learned to look into the eyes of his audience as they cast their unguarded gaze to the distraction he played out before them. In this quartet he saw three of them rooted by the sight of shredded money. One pair of eyes, doe-like and cornflower-blue, watched the flow and roll of his hands, trying to determine what was actually happening.

++To be continued++