This story is for anyone who thinks there could be more to Sandi than her tyrannical Fashion Club persona. What made her the way she is? Is there good inside of her, and what if she had no choice but to find out? Set in the FC girls' senior year after 'Is It College Yet?' All readers and reviews are welcome.
September in Neon Blue
Chapter 1: In Which I, Like, Make a Promise
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In my unappreciated and severely underpaid opinion, people like THIS poisonous young female are the chief inspiration for the conspiracy theory of REPTILIAN BEINGS living among us. She is a VICIOUS social animal who has been going at it WHITENED tooth and PAINTED nail since she started her OVER-PRIVILEGED life here, and seems to find happiness ONLY in the SUFFERING of others. I could be persuaded to give a more detailed evaluation in exchange for some PROFESSIONAL DIGNITY!
-May 2002 Report on Sandi Griffin, by Anthony DeMartino
Ω Ω Ω
It was a cloudy Sunday afternoon of drifting leaves and gusting winds, but this was Sandi Griffin's time to shine.
As president of the former Fashion Club, Sandi had scheduled a major shopping spree at Cashman's. Her senior year at Lawndale High started in two days and time was short. Spurred on by the promise of a Labor Day weekend sale and armed with her mother's platinum credit card, she was ready to spearhead this trip and judge her friends' clothing choices with a most critical eye. Not for any particular reason, but because Sandi was used to doing just that. The formal dissolution of the Club that summer should be no obstacle to the principles she had learned: take control, be the best and don't bother to be nice about it. Actually, don't bother being nice about anything.
The day had gotten off to a discouraging start; Quinn Morgendorffer was the first of the four fashion-crazed girls to get her driver's license and proudly showed it off by driving them herself to the Cranberry Commons mall. When Quinn pulled her father's Lexus up to Sandi's opulent house, a clueless Tiffany Blum-Deckler was already ensconced in the front passenger's seat—a place Sandi had naturally assumed for herself. This left her stuck in the back with a typically anxious Stacy Rowe, while Quinn prattled on about passing her test on the first try. (Sandi herself had made four attempts and failed, something none of her friends needed to know about.)
These minor annoyances only strengthened her resolve. Sandi reasserted her authority before they even parked—"Gee, Quinn, I hope you are turning this vehicle due to a previously undisclosed nerve disorder, and not parking us next to that Pontiac Aztek"—and began directing operations as soon as they walked in.
Quinn was struck with wonder by the huge crowds, Stacy vibrated with excitement and pointed in the direction of some new stores, and Tiffany appeared to be mesmerized by the ceiling lights. Sandi rolled her eyes. "Girls, if you are finished gawking like amateurs, I would appreciate a moment of your attention," she handed them each a copy of the shopping plans she had written up last night. "This is our schedule."
"We need a schedule for looking at clothes?" Quinn stared doubtfully at the paper. She had always been the troublemaker of the group.
Sandi crossed her arms. "Quinn, a sales event of this magnitude calls for extensive preparations. I cannot leave the former Fashion Club to flounder in an ocean of competitive shopping."
"Wow, Sandi! The font you used here is really cute!" Stacy gushed.
"It's soooo redddd," droned Tiffany.
"Well spotted. Now if you would care to read your directions…" Someone muttered something on her left. "Did you have something to add, Quinn?"
"Of course not, Sandi." The redhead tittered nervously.
"It is now three-thirty PM. We are to proceed directly to Cashman's, without being sidetracked by new stores like Spendster's Really Stupid Gifts or Sir Sav-a-Lot's Medieval Emporium, neither of which we will be caught dead in anyway—" A sharp glance at Stacy, who whimpered an apology. "—And stay together to ensure that proper selections are made. We will break for the fitting rooms in 45 minutes and go to the food court at half past four. Any questions or comments?" Sandi's raised eyebrow indicated this suggestion was not sincere.
Such nuance was lost on Tiffany. "Thiiis paperrrrr is soooo smoooooth."
"Um, Tiffany dear, just stay close to us and refrain from touching sharp objects."
The first part of the trip went according to plan, with Sandi leading the way into Cashman's Department Store and Quinn and Stacy making suggestions. Autumn-colored tops and pastel capris were snatched up; whites were naturally avoided. As they neared the middle of the store, Sandi scoffed at a new rack of distinctive dresses. "Honestly. Slip dresses, vertical stripes and metallic sheens are firmly out. Does this establishment believe three wrongs make a right?"
She knew she'd slipped up when the others stopped and looked at her. "Um, actually Sandi, that's…" Quinn hemmed and hawed. Stacy held out the new issue of Waif while Tiffany needlessly said "Looook." It was an article on these same dresses, suddenly back in vogue.
Sandi turned pink. "Naturally I knew that, Stacy. I was simply making conversation to distract the rest of us from your wildly inappropriate eyeliner."
"Eep!" Stacy cringed and covered her eyes. "B-but this is the kind I always use!"
"More's the pity," Sandi smiled at her friend's embarrassment and led on.
Quinn stared after her a moment, then took one of the new dresses and passed it to Stacy. "Never mind that. It'll look good on you." She whispered.
Stacy brightened. "Even with my eyes?"
"Your eyes are fine! Don't let her get to you."
"Are you coming?" Sandi glared in their direction and continued past the rack, upset with herself for missing the article. She had that magazine right in front of her last night, but it went unread with the distractions of typing the schedule and her mother's heated argument over the phone with her father.
The back end of the store was less interesting; they already owned several of the rhinestone belts and pairs of flare jeans on display, and Sandi had to divert them from summer leftovers that were no longer season-appropriate. Her hawkish gaze scared off any lightweight shoppers nearby as they commandeered the fitting rooms. By the time they were finally done sampling, adjusting, swapping and comparing, a small crowd was waiting outside.
The fashion slaves ignored the angry grumbling on their way out, but were momentarily accosted by a heavyset old woman with a yellow housedress and a walker. She scowled at them for a moment and then loudly proclaimed, "You are most certainly too young to be wearing those clothes!"
The other girls examined the floor. Sandi glared back and gave a snide reply. "Why, thank you, madam. We are always grateful for unsolicited fashion tips from people in girdles."
"You're quite an unhappy little person, aren't you?" the woman sighed. She looked more disappointed than angry as she shuffled on.
Sandi fumed as she made her way to the checkout, too angry for words. Who did that woman think she was? Quinn and Stacy had to scurry to catch up with her. Tiffany went at her own pace.
Unfortunately, the only open register lay between two large boxes of 99-cent panties. Sandi grimly set her jaw. "There is nothing to see here. Do not look to the left or right." The others murmured in agreement.
"How y'all doin'?" The countrified checkout girl shouted at them.
"Wonderful, until I heard your voice," Sandi handed over her few dozen selections, turned back and froze. Tiffany was staring blankly into one of the dreaded bargain bins, a helpless human being suddenly confronted with the void.
Time seemed to slow down as Sandi went to stop her, knowing she would be too late. "Tiffany! Noooooo…" The fashionista's hand reached down into the bin.
Quinn pulled her back just in time to avert the crisis. "Ewwww! Tiffany, I can not believe you almost touched those!"
"Sorryyyy. I wasn't thinkinnnng."
"How unlike you, Tiffany," Sandi muttered.
Finally they all escaped Cashman's with their purchases. Sandi was as bothered by her fashion mistake and the old lady as anything else, but her friends were there to blame. She turned on them and whipped out her copy of the shopping plan. "Very unfortunate. Thanks to someone's little foray into bargain bin purgatory, we are now 17 minutes behind schedule."
"I'm really sorry! It won't happen again!" Stacy squeaked out of habit.
"Stacy. For once, your incompetence was not the problem here. Kindly stay out of this."
"Um, Sandi, I think you're taking this schedule thing a little too seriously. I mean, we accomplished our goal, right?" Now Quinn was butting in.
Sandi felt really cruel today. Something in the back of her mind told her to stop, but she had learned to ignore that voice a long time ago. "Did we? Gee, Quinn. I wish I were gifted with your baffling optimism after losing nearly 20 minutes of food court time we will never get back. Although come to think of it, it looks like you've already been there."
Something inside the cute redhead seemed to snap.
Instead of her usual placatory response, she retaliated. "Sandi, the freakin' mall doesn't close until six, okay? We'll ride the elevator to the fourth floor so you can criticize how I push the buttons. We'll order our food and you'll say stuff about Stacy's waistline until she freaks out and won't even drink water. Then we'll go home and you can call Tiffany later and yell at her for one mistake! How's that for a schedule?"
Sandi blushed furiously, astonished at Quinn's rebellion. "Gee, Quinn! How unusually perceptive of you! Have you thought of bringing your sudden gift to the rest of the world?"
"Have you ever thought about being nice for once in your life?" Stacy shouted. She clapped her hands over her mouth, but the damage was done.
"Your controoool issues are soooo uglyyyy." Tiffany followed.
The snowball had become an avalanche, and silence fell in its wake.
Sandi wanted to cry, or panic, or apologize. Her pride allowed for none of those. "Well, then. If that is how you really feel, then you are excused from suffering through the rest of this trip with me."
Quinn frowned. "How will you get home?" No 'oh, Sandi' this time.
"I will 'control' someone else into giving me a ride," the fallen idol snarled. "Now, goodbye."
She stepped into an open elevator. The doors closed and she was gone.
The other girls took a long look at each other, and a silent understanding was reached. They picked up their full shopping bags and walked out.
Ω Ω Ω
Sandi stepped out into the food court. The weekend crowds were thinning, but she wouldn't have noticed if the place were empty. Gathering storm clouds could be seen through the skylights, as if in sympathy with her mood.
With nobody she knew around to see her, Sandi ordered a cheeseburger and tried to process what had just happened. Her so-called friends chose to be totally uncooperative with her attempt to organize things, and sabotaged her well-intentioned plans…no, that wasn't honest at all. But she wasn't ready to face the ugly truth.
To regret is to be weak. To apologize is to admit weakness. People like you are above these things.
Were these her thoughts, or her mother's? The difference had not previously been clear. She was everything Sandi wanted and expected to be.
So why did her heart feel like it was going to burst?
The burger was gone before Sandi realized it. She grimaced and crumpled up the bag. That was all she needed, to get fat again-and this time she would have nobody to whip her back into shape. Lightning flashed in the evening sky as she trudged back to the elevator. Still lost in her thoughts, she did not immediately notice who was inside with her.
"Fancy seeing you again," a gravelly voice coughed. She looked up to see the old woman from Cashman's, walker and all, studying her with a dubious expression.
"Did you, like, take a wrong turn back to the nursing home or something?" Sandi tried to ignore the woman's labored breath and perspiring face. Was she sick?
"Hmph. No respect these days, no respect at all…" the lady trailed off into a hacking cough.
Sandi flinched and was about to make another remark—'change that dress and then we'll talk,' perhaps—when the elevator went dark and stopped. A terrible clap of thunder outside indicated what had just happened. "Great. The perfect end to a perfect day."
"It's going to get even better," her companion wheezed.
"My pills are down there. And I'm up here."
"…Oh." Sandi's eyes widened.
The woman grabbed her shoulder and sank back against the side of the elevator, breathing harder. The thunder crashed again.
"Um...just try to stay calm. Breathe, and stuff!" Sandi had no experience with medicine or helping others, but she knew enough to call someone who did. "I'm calling 911, okay?" By the time she was done stuttering into her cell phone, the lady looked worse. "Hey. They're coming. You just have to hang in there until someone opens the elevator. Do you have someone in your family we can call?"
"Hmph! You're as good as any family I have now," she half-laughed, half-coughed. "Except for my grandson. Don't trouble yourself, child."
What came next was a blur. Some people in white pried the elevator open and put the lady on a stretcher. Sandi didn't think; she followed them as if she had nowhere else to go. When they reached an ambulance waiting in the parking lot she yelled "she's my great-aunt or whatever" and was allowed to ride in back. The woman was hanging on, but definitely in trouble. Sandi glimpsed her own reflection in the window. She didn't even think to check her hair.
"Miss," the paramedic yelled, "Your aunt. What's her name?"
"Um…Ms. Walker," Sandi mumbled. It was the only thing she could think of.
The old woman opened her eyes and lifted a corner of the oxygen mask so she could talk. "You're still here?" Sandi thought she would cry if she said anything, so she just nodded. "That's a surprise."
"Don't die, okay?" there came the tears. She'd never done something like this, but suddenly it meant everything to her. She didn't even hear the siren or see what the paramedic was doing.
"My, you're a confusing girl," Ms. Walker's voice was growing faint. Sandi leaned closer. "So you want to help me?"
"Gee, old lady. What else would I be doing here?" She sniffled.
"Then help yourself. I saw…you arguing with your friends. Promise me something," Ms. Walker rasped. She reached up and grabbed Sandi's wrist. "If you can't say anything nice…you won't say anything at all."
Sandi stared down at her, trying to see if she was serious. She was.
"Try it for a week. You never know." The woman closed her eyes again.
Through Sandi's angst came a daunting certainty that her life was about to change. "I…I promise."