One sunny afternoon Sandi Griffin strolled downstairs to watch Fashion Vision, diet soda in one hand and Waif in the other. But what she saw when she arrived in the living room stopped her in her tracks...
Right there on the tv was Sandi's friend from so long ago: The same bouncy blond ponytail, big grin, and ocean-blue eyes. With a squeal the little girl ran to a man who was, but wasn't, her father.
The diet cola clutched in her icy fingers, Sandi squeezed her eyes shut and shook the image out of her head. It wasn't Heather, it was just some blond kid on the tv hawking tissues or grape juice or whatever. Sandi didn't know what the ad was for. It didn't matter. She found the remote on the couch and clicked the tv off with a shaky hand. No doubt one of her bothers had left it on.
In the silence that followed, a ringing started in Sandi's ears.
A pale oval face looked up at her, eyes wide and desperate. A hand that was so close yet so far away. Sandi grabbed for it but she couldn't get there she clawed for it but couldn't reach her and she was screaming, screaming, screaming….
With a sharp exhalation, Sandi sat down hard the couch, turned the tv back on, and cranked the volume. It didn't matter what show, she thought. Just something. Anything.
"Oh, no you di-n't!"
It was a trash-tv, humiliate-your-family-in-public show. Perfect. That was about as far from reality as it got and Sandi needed to forget reality for a while. She was supposed to meet her friends to go to the mall in an hour. Suddenly feeling claustrophobic, she jumped up and grabbed her purse and keys.
Quinn was surprised when Sandi showed up at her house, an hour early for their pre-viewing at Cashman's. They were supposed to meet at Sandi's but obviously she had changed her mind. Quinn tried not to think of it as sabotage since she wasn't at all ready to go. Sandi impatiently tapped her foot while Quinn carefully applied her makeup, and seemed oddly relieved when they headed out the door to pick up Tiff and Stacy.
"What's the rush, Sandi?" Quinn asked when Sandi's short-lived spurt of relief went right back to her nervously tapping the steering wheel with a fingernail. "The pre-view doesn't even open until nine."
"I just want us to be first, okay?" Sandi tried not to snap at her. "We may not be the Fashion Club anymore, but that doesn't mean we need to forget how to look good."
Internally, she winced at her tone, but Quinn wouldn't understand. She needed them all to be together, right now. Where she could see them. God, she thought, I thought I'd gotten past this. It's okay, just get Tiff and Stace and get to Cashman's. Then everything will be fine.
If they were talking about clothes and trying things on, she could forget Heather's pale face drifting away from her as she screamed… Stop it stop it stop it!
Why was this happening now? she wondered as another red light kept her from her two other friends. Deep breaths, she reminded herself. What had the psychologist said? People got more stressed out when they felt like things were out of their control and I had a lot of issues about it. Big surprise. When you're in control, bad things don't happen. Now with the Fashion Club gone, I don't have any control over my friends and I'm freaking because they might not listen to me anymore. But nothing bad is going to happen. I know. Not like with Heather. It's summer, anyway. It's summer.
"You okay, Sandi?" Quinn asked.
"Fine," Sandi tried to hide the quiver in her voice. Stupid tv commercial. Forget it. Forget it. Think about the mall. It's summer, anyway.
Tiffany was mildly surprised at their early arrival, but then again, Tiffany was never more than mild about anything. She shrugged and followed Sandi and Quinn to the car. On days when she knew she was going out, she always made sure she was ready well ahead of time, just in case.
Quinn and Tiffany mused about the sale they'd be going to and Sandi tried to focus on them. Just get Stacy and everything will be fine. She gunned it through a yellow light.
Not surprisingly, Stacy wasn't ready to go when they got there. Assuring Sandi she would hurry, she sat at her vanity and started applying her makeup. Sandi took a deep breath. They might not be at Cashman's yet but they were all together. Some of her tension ebbed away. Quinn idly flipped through Waif while Tiffany scrutinized her outfit in Stacy's full-length mirror.
"Can you believe Waif already has articles about the winter fashions?" Quinn exclaimed, rolling onto her back on Stacy's bed. "Can you really predict what'll be hot for Christmas in June? Fall stuff, sure, but winter jackets? It's way too early to think about that."
"I know," Tiff drawled. "I'm looking for a new bathing suit today. Summer just started, I don't want to think about heavy layers."
Stacy murmured something in reply, not wanting to move too much at a crucial point in applying her eyeliner. Sandi sat near Quinn's head on the edge of the bed.
Moving on to blush, Stacy said, "You know what I love about winter, though?"
"The way you look like you have on perfect blush after you walk from the car to school?" Tiffany supplied. She could never quite get her application to look as good as a two-minute walk in the cold. She loved those days.
"No, but that's a good point," Stacy said. "We used to go ice skating when I was little, It was so fun. I always wanted to wear the floaty skirts like on tv, but my mom always made me wear snow pants, so unfashionable." She rolled her eyes and laughed. "We should totally go ice skating this winter. That would be fun."
"As long as none of us have to wear snow pants." Quinn laughed, too.
Sandi's face went winter-white.
Let's go! I wanna skate!" Heather tugged Sandi's hand toward
the small frozen lake behind their houses. "We
don't even have our skates!" Sandi protested. She didn't like
the cold much and was regretting defying her mother by wearing the
cuter pink fleece jacket instead of the bulky blue down one. She was
not, in fact, warm enough, like she'd shouted back at her mom.
"We don't need skates to shoof around,"
Heather insisted. Sandi smiled. That was true.
'Shoofing', as Heather called it, only required sneakers and a
patch of sort of smooth ice swept of snow. They'd made a patch the
day before. "All right! Race you!" She
remembered her mom's warnings. Don't go on the ice without
telling her, don't go when it had been really sunny out, don't go
when it was warm enough for the pink coat. Well, it certainly wasn't
warm enough for her pink coat, Sandi thought. And it had been sunny
for a while, but they'd been out on the ice the day before and it
was fine. Technically, she hadn't said they were going to skate,
but her mom could see from the kitchen window so Sandi figured it was
fine. A year younger, Heather always followed
Sandi around. Sandi liked the little blond girl and she wasn't a
pain like Sam and Chris. Heather made her feel like a real big
sister, not like with her pesky brothers. "Remember
to stay where we swept, Heather," Sandi reminded her. They were
pretty sure the ice was thickest where the trees shaded it for most
of the day. Giggling, they shoofed and slid over the ice, sometimes
pulling each other along. When they needed a rest, they peered into
the almost clear sheet below their feet, trying to catch a glimpse of
a fish or stick underneath the ice. It had been cloudier and harder
to see through the day before, Sandi thought, but couldn't be sure.
Maybe the light had just been different. "Sandi
watch!" Heather called. "I'm gonna do a spin like the girls on
tv!" Heather spun around. Then there was the
oddest sound and suddenly she was gone. Sandi looked blankly at where
her friend had been. The deep, creaky noise came again and she felt a
shift under her feet. Sandi's heart skipped. "HEATHER!"
Panicked, Sandi lay flat on her belly like her
dad had taught her the first time they'd gone to skate on the lake.
Lay flat if it starts to crack and wiggle to the shore. Don't try
to run or walk on the ice, wiggle to shore and call for help. And
never, never go on the ice without someone on the shore watching you.
But what about Heather? She couldn't leave
her. Why hadn't she come up again if she fell through? Heather
could swim, they swam in the lake in the summer. A flash of white
under the ice caught her eye. Suddenly, Heather
was just below her, only a few inches of ice between them. Sandi
screamed as loud as she could, hoping her mom could hear. She wanted
to break the ice between her and Heather so Heather could get out but
it was too thick where she was. Desperate, Sandi tried to point the
direction where Heather had fallen in, but the other girl didn't
seem to understand. Bubbles flowed out of her mouth as she begged
Sandi to save her. Something grabbed Sandi by
the legs and dragged her away as she clawed and screamed for her
friend. The last thing she saw before her mom pulled her into her
arms was Heather's pale white oval face, eyes still wide with
horror as she drifted slowly down into the dark water below, a few
last tiny bubbles from her mouth making their way to be trapped under
"Sandi are you all right?" Quinn asked, concerned.
Blinking a few times to clear her head and dispel the rush of panic, Sandi said, "Ready Stacy? Let's go to Cashman's."
Keep them together, Sandi thought, at the mall. Nothing bad will happen to them at the mall. Clothes are safe. Just get to Cashman's and they'll forget about ice skating. It's summer, anyway. Remind them bathing suits are for being seen in, not getting wet.
They piled into Sandi's car. Sandi had the key in and the car started before Stacy had even gotten her door open. Barely waiting for the door to close, Sandi put the car in drive and turned to leave Stacy's driveway. Adjusting the rear view mirror, she glanced at Stacy and Tiffany in the back seat. Sandi swiped at a tear that had escaped and reminded herself they'd be at Cashman's soon and everything would be fine.
She didn't look before she pulled out of the drive and never even heard the crunch of metal and glass that sounded so much like the crunch of breaking ice.