Griffin's Flight.

(This story takes place after Is It College Yet)

I lay my head down on the pillow, and close my eyes, trying to get to sleep. That hasn't been easy for me for the past few months. I finally give up and hunch up on the bed, looking around my room. A lot happened in this room. This room used to be the center of my world - where I controlled the Fashion Club, where my influence was most felt. Now it's just my room. A room where I've been spending too much time by myself lately.

I've had a lot on my mind, and for once, it hasn't been fashion issues or trying to find new ways to upstage Quinn. No, it's been something that's never happened to me before.

I'm lonely.

There's, like, an old saying that says "You never know what you have until you haven't got it" or something. It's true. I didn't realize how much I valued Stacy and Tiffany until they were gone. People might have looked at us and thought I was just lording it over them, throwing my weight around, but it was different. We were a team. Together, we could do things, change things. I don't what's happened now. It's been a little over two months since the Fashion Club broke up, and I haven't heard from them in over six weeks. Damn it, ever since Quinn took that stupid sabbatical...

Stop. I can't blame Quinn for this, even though I really really want to. She hasn't been ignoring me. Plus, she says Stacy and Tiffany are just too busy to come over. I'm doubtful, but I want to believe her. I mean, why else would Stacy and Tiffany be ignoring me? Thoughts pop into my head, but I dismiss them.

Everything goes black, and I drift off to sleep.

At school, I walk inside, making a triumphant entrance to Lawndale High. I stride through the door, head held high, smiling radiantly. I know I look absolutely stunning. The first entrance into school is the most important one of the year. This way, the people that have forgotten how perfect you are, are reminded. We're seniors now, and I'll make the Fashion Club the elite...no, there isn't a Fashion Club any more, is there? I guess I could always make a new one. There certainly wouldn't be any shortage of new members. But no...I need to spend that time with my friends. If they want to spend time with me, that is. Stop. Why wouldn't they?

Before I can get all misty-eyed (so bad on the eyes), Quinn walks over. "Hi Sandi!"

"Quinn."

"Sandi, are you all right? You look kind of..."

"Puffy?" I say in panic. That would be crushing on the first day of school.

"No. Upset, kind of."

"I'm fine, Quinn." I adopt that haughty tone to let her know there is to be no more discussion of this subject.

"Okay."

"Where are Stacy and Tiffany?"

Quinn laughs nervously. "You know them, they're probably just late."

They're never late.

"Isn't that them?" I say, noticing two figures trying to sneak in. "Stacy! Tiffany!"

The two figures scurry off in the opposite direction.

"They probably didn't hear you," says Quinn, her tone sounding less than convincing.

It was them. And they did hear me. I know that because Stacy turned and looked straight at me, and then walked away as quickly as she could.

The rest of the day goes just as badly. Stacy and Tiffany don't sit anywhere near me and Quinn in class, or at lunch. Quinn still has her legion of admirers at the lunch table, but Stacy and Tiffany are nowhere to be seen. Quinn keeps trying to make reassuring comments, but it's no use. After school ends, I suggest going back to my house for an evaluation of fall fashions, but Quinn makes a feeble excuse and says she will see me tomorrow.

I trudge back to my house, and walk upstairs, past those bratty little shits I call my brothers, and slam my bedroom door. Flopping down on the bed, I think about today. I know what's going on. Stacy and Tiffany are avoiding me. They don't want to be with me, and now that the Fashion Club is no more, they don't have a reason to stick around. Am I that much of a bitch to be around?

No, that can't be it. There must be some other reason. I'll find out tomorrow. Quinn wouldn't lie to me, would she?

Of course she would. You'd lie to her.

Who was that? It's a male voice. Deep. It sounds familiar, somehow. "Who's there?" I whisper nervously. There is no answer. Very carefully, I look around my room. It's empty, apart from me. The door is locked. I must be hearing things. A little unsettled, I lie down on the bed. Sleep doesn't come easily tonight.

At school in the morning, I'm ready. Stacy and Tiffany can't get past me today. I'm waiting near the door. As soon as they come in, I'll be ready for them. Quinn walks in, wearing that usual sunny expression, and greets me. I ask her how her night went, and she looks kind of nervous, and says fine.

"What were you doing?" I ask.

"Studying." O'Neill wants to put her in some advanced placement courses now that she's all smart and stuff. I never would have stood for this before, but...

Stacy and Tiffany have just walked through the door. I quickly follow them. "Hello, and how was your summer?"

They turn, looking a little surprised to see me. Stacy looks nervous, as usual. Tiffany looks like Tiffany. "Um, hi, Sandi," says Stacy nervously. Tiffany drawls a hello that lasts far longer than it should.

"I can see that your summer must have been interesting, as you had no time to talk to me for any of it," I say haughtily.

Tiffany and Stacy share a glance, then Stacy looks at me with an unexpected forcefulness. "We'll talk about it later, Sandi." Taking advantage of my sudden and rare loss for words, the two of them walk off, leaving me gaping in the corridor.

"I'd better see what's wrong," mutters Quinn, and runs off after them. I recover my wits, and glance around, hoping no-one has seen this. I have a reputation to keep up, you know. No-one is looking at me. Good. What is up with Stacy?

You already know, though, don't you. I think Quinn agrees with them too.

That voice again! I look desperately around the corridor, trying to find the source. But there isn't anyone there. I sigh, and walk off to class.

Lunch comes, and after another morning of being ignored by my so-called friends, I walk to the cafeteria. As I walk inside, and head to my usual table, I see Quinn with Stacy and Tiffany. They appear to be arguing about something. I walk over and the noise drops off. There is an awkward moment as everyone looks at everyone else. I break the silence. "Well, Stacy. Since you seem to have some sort of problem with me, I suggest you explain yourself."

Stacy gets that determined look in her eyes again. She always used to be such a pushover. She looks me straight in the eyes and says "I should have known this would happen."

"What?" I say with surprise.

"You haven't changed one bit, have you Sandi?"

"Stacy, this is not the time for this."

Stacy's eyes flare briefly with anger. "I think it is," she says quietly. I start back with shock. I've never seen her look that way before. I glance over at Tiffany and Quinn. Tiffany looks vacant, as usual. Quinn has her head down, trying not to meet my gaze. "Stacy, I..."

Stacy looks like she's going to erupt with anger, then she regains herself. Now she just looks sad. Wistful, even. "Sandi," she begins, "you know, if you keep treating everyone like dirt, no-one's going to want to be your friend anymore." She pauses, and looks me straight in the eye. "As it is, I don't want to be your friend anymore. Come on, Tiffany."

They stand up and walk away from the table. Quinn turns to me. "Sandi..."

I stand up and begin walking away from the table as quickly as I can without running. No looks to the side. I don't stop until I leave the school. No-one is going to see me cry. I reach my house soon enough. There isn't anyone home, so I rush to my room, lock the door, and collapse on the floor. The tears flow easily enough now. I haven't cried like this for as long as I an remember. My mother says it's a sign of weakness. Fluffy hears my cries, and wanders over, meowing plaintively. I open my arms and he jumps readily into them, trying to comfort me.

I remember the last time I cried like this. It was when Fluffy ate the foundation and I thought he was going to die. I cried for weeks. I tried not to let mother see me, but she caught me once, and yelled at me again. "If people see you cry, they'll know you have weaknesses. Then they will exploit you."

So I haven't cried since then. Well, once when Quinn helped me out over that whole fat thing, but they weren't real. They were sympathy tears. Same when the Fashion Club broke up...

Damn it. Thinking about Quinn sets me off again. How could they!? Do Stacy and Tiffany really feel that way?

Of course they do.

I stand up in shock. "Who the hell are you?" I scream. "What are you doing in my bedroom, you sick freak?"

Fluffy runs for cover, meowing loudly.

Now look what you've done. You've scared poor Fluffy.

"Come out so I can see you."

You want to know where I am? Go to the mirror.

Nervously, I walk over to my mirror on the nightstand, and look at it. I see my face looking back at me. I look terrible. My eyes are blotchy and red, my mouth is still trembling from all that crying. "I don't understand."

I'm in there.

My...head?

Yes, your head.

That isn't possible.

Then how can I know what you're thinking?

I don't know.

Thinking isn't one of your strong points, is it?

I start to try to defend myself, but then realize he's right.

Of course I am. I'm in here. I know what you're thinking all the time.

So, like, why haven't I heard from you before?

You never needed me before. Now you do.

I don't need anyone.

That's your mother talking. You know, "Needing people leaves you open to being abused." Sound familiar?

Images of my mother flood back into my head. She's telling me that. I think I'm six, or seven - I can't remember. I'm upset. One of my friends said something mean about me, and I went home in tears. I went to my mother for help. She told me that.

What a mother, huh?

Shut up. I never asked for your help.

Fine. Bye.

And then all is quiet. Hello? No answer. That was weird. I wonder if that happens to everyone. Fluffy is under the bed, meowing plaintively. I walk over and grab him up in my arms and cuddle with him on the bed. Fluffy is always there for me.

I awake suddenly. I'm not in my room. Where am I? There's no bed - no furniture of any kind, in fact. The walls look different too. They're padded. They look like Quinn's sister's room. I move to get up, but I can't move my arms!

Then it's gone. I'm back in my room, and someone is knocking on the door.

"Sandi?"

It's my mother. I tell her to hold on, and check my reflection. All the redness has gone. You'd never know I'd been crying. I crack open the door, and let her in.

"Sandi," she says, "the teachers called me today, and said you were missing from school after lunch. What was wrong?"

"Nothing, mother." She isn't going to buy that. "I just felt a little queasy, and had to come home."

She gives me that look. "Sandi, I've told you. Never let people see you when you are weak. They'll use you." She glares to reinforce her point, and then she's gone. I sit on the bed for a while. That just makes things worse. Eventually, I decide to bite the bullet. I need to talk to someone, and I don't care if mother does chew me out. I walk downstairs. Sam and Chris behaving like brats again, and my dad is trying to calm them down. He's not doing a very good job, as usual. He's so ineffectual.

"Oh, hi, Sandi. Feeling better?" There's a crash from the other room. "Er, Sam, Chris? Maybe you should calm it down a little?"

"Where's Mom?"

"What? Oh, she's at that Lawndale Businesswoman's Association. She'll be back later. Something I can help you with?" Another crash. "Chris? Um, did you hear what I said?"

Something you can help me with, Dad. As if. I leave him to his pathetic attempts at parenting, and go back upstairs. Why does my mother put up with him? It must be because he's easy to manipulate. She's good at manipulating people. I used to be too.

Hours pass. I finally hear the front door open, and my mother walks in. I know it's her. She always walks in the same, confident, self-assured manner. I walk to the top of the stairs, and call out for her. When she gets to my room, she looks a little annoyed.

"What is it, Sandi? I've had a late night."

"Mom," I begin uncertainly, "I'm having a problem at school."

"Is that drip O'Neill giving you bad grades again? Do I have to bribe Li again?"

"No...it's Quinn, and Stacy and Tiffany. They won't talk to me."

She shakes her head. "So?"

"They used to be my friends. I, like, miss them."

She sets that steel gaze on me. The one that's set businessmen, teachers, and lawyers alike quivering to jelly. "Sandi, what have I always told you? Friends are just enemies who are pretending to be nice to you."

"Mom, I..."

She cuts me off. "You don't need them. I want you to forget this foolishness, and go to bed. In the morning, you will go to school, and you will hold your head up high. No daughter of mine will be a miserable wallflower. Understand me?"

"I..."

"This subject is closed." With that, she turns and walks out of my room. I slump back on the bed. I can't talk to my mother. What was I thinking? Biting back tears, I turn the light off, and fall back to sleep.

The next day, at school, I try to follow my mother's advice. I try to act the same way I always did. The confident, self-assured Sandi Griffin. She's a leader. People respect her.

It's not working. Who am I kidding? Word gets around fast in a High School. Stacy's little outburst yesterday has gotten around. Now people know that even my own friends don't want to be around me. Who wants to hang around with people like that? I never realized that people want to see me fail. Jealousy. That's all it is. I bet it was that cow, Brooke. Just because I totally ignored her and talked about her behind her back when she had that stupid surgery done...

By myself, there isn't any recognition. There's no admirers wanting to carry my books. I see Quinn walking towards me. She has followers. She has admirers. What does she have that I don't? Why is it that people are happy to see me miserable? I bet they'd care if Quinn had been chewed out by her friends.

I raise my arm to say hi, but Quinn turns to the side, and walks off. I look to see who she's going towards.

It's Stacy and Tiffany. Of course. Maybe she didn't see me. Maybe she isn't ignoring me.

Of course she is.

I told you to go away.

Sandi, I'm trying to help you. Why won't you listen to me?

You're not telling me anything I want to hear.

Truth hurts, Sandi. Like the fact that Quinn did see you. She just prefers to be with Stacy and Tiffany.

You're lying.

I tried to tell you before. Quinn agrees with them.

Shut up.

She does.

Shut. Up.

You know why they all wanted to see you fail? You know why they wouldn't do the same if it happened to Quinn?

"Shut up!" I look around me, and realize that I said that out loud. Loudly, too. Everyone is staring at me. "Stop staring at me, you freaks!" I can see O'Neill walking up to me. He's got that stupid concerned look he always has. I turn and walk away quickly, before he can sicken me with his nauseating sweetness. Loser.

After school is over, I'm walking home when Quinn catches up with me. "Hey Sandi."

"Gee Quinn, I see you're not ignoring me now."

"What do you mean, Sandi?" She sounds so innocent. She's good at that.

"You ignored me earlier to talk to Stacy and Tiffany. I guess you like your other friends a lot better now."

"Sandi, you're being silly. I didn't see you."

"Of course, Quinn. Admit it, you agree with them."

Quinn looks at me incredulously. "Sandi, where did this come from?"

"Admit it, you think I'm a huge bitch, and you like hanging out with them better." I look her straight in the eyes. "You're going to have to make a choice, Quinn. Me or them."

"Sandi, this is insane. I'm not going to choose between my friends."

"Then I guess I don't matter to you that much at all. I see how you are. Goodbye, Quinn."

Quinn stares at me blankly, then frowns. "Fine. You want it this way, you got it." She turns and walks off. She pauses, and turns back. "And what you said about me agreeing with them? Well, I do now." Then she walks off.

I stand in the street. What the hell did I do that for?

You did the right thing.

You! You made me do this. Who are you?

Who I am isn't important. I gave you the strength to do it. You needed to get rid of her.

But she's my friend.

She was your friend. They all were. But they've changed. Haven't you noticed?

What?

There's something going on in Lawndale, Sandi. I'm going to help you to find it.

What do you mean?

Your friends snubbing you. Your popularity vanishing. Your parents being so unsupportive. Does that sound normal?

I...

Let me help you. Let me help you find out what's going on. I'll give you a while to think about it.

Then silence. I walk home, deep in thought. Is that really it? Is there something weird going on? It would explain a lot. I reach the front door, and walk inside.

Then I'm back in the room again. The padded one. There's a man in front of me. He has a white coat, and he's looking at me. Why can't I move my arms?

It changes. It's gone again. My dad is standing in front of me, looking very concerned.

"Sandi, that Mr. O'Neill from school called. He didn't make a lot of sense, but he sounded very worried. Is everything..."

"Fine, Dad." I push past him and head upstairs. I hear him behind me. "That's great, dear. Um, just come talk if you need to."

Yeah, right.

I'm lying on my bed, flicking through an issue of Waif, and mentally criticizing a lot of their predictions.

Thought about it yet?

I don't know.

Did you know that your mother is going out again tonight to that Association of hers?

Yeah, I heard her mention it yesterday. So?

Aren't you even curious to find out what they do there?

No, it sounds all boring and stuff.

She's on the phone right now. The light's on. Pick it up, quickly, so she won't hear it.

I pick up the phone, and place it to my ear, trying not to breathe in case she hears me. My mother's voice filters through the phone. "Yes, I'll be there as soon as I can. I know we have a lot to do. A lot of people to get rid of."

Get rid of?

Sounds kind of sinister, doesn't it?

No. She's probably talking about firing people. There's nothing sinister there at all.

"And then there's Sandi. I can't talk about it right now, but I have to do something with her."

What? What's wrong with me? Do something? What's she talking about?

I told you so.

You're wrong. You have to be.

I realize that Mom has hung up the phone. The front door closes. She must have left.

Follow her.

What?

Follow her. Go spy on the Lawndale Businesswoman's Association. You'll be able to find out what she's up to.

Against my better judgment, I grab a coat, and rush downstairs, ignoring my father's questions about where I'm going. Then I head downtown.

An hour later, I'm outside the office building where Mother holds her meetings. They've left a window open, so I should be able to hear everything that's going on. I glance through the window. Mother's holding court over the other women there, as usual. It reminds me of the Fashion Club. Every time there's a disagreement, or a threat to her power, she effortlessly shoots it down. Just like me in the Fashion Club...

Focus. You're here for a reason.

I listen as intently as I can. Mother is talking about the mayor, I think.

"This town is badly run, let's face it. The mayor is a corrupt, fat, bloating pig. This town needs leadership. I propose we get rid of the mayor, and his entire stupid staff."

"Linda, I don't know..."

"Gee, if you think you can do a better job than me, just say so."

"Linda, I would never say that."

"Good."

"But what do you propose we do?"

"If we can't get him out by legal means, I have a number of other alternatives."

I stumble on a stray brick, and make a noise. Every eye in the room turns in my direction. I run, before anyone can come and find me. What were they talking about? I know mother wants to be mayor. She's talked about it before. But what did she mean about alternative ways?

Killing him?

Please. My mother would never kill anyone. Let alone a mayor and his entire staff.

Are you sure? Are you sure of anything?

No...no.

The next day, in school, I'm walking through the corridors. I can see Quinn. She's with Stacy and Tiffany. They're laughing and joking together. They seem so happy. Quinn catches my eye, and I see something in her eyes. Sadness? Worry? I don't know. Everyone is looking at me funny, come to think of it. Is there something wrong with the way I look? Impossible. I check myself in the mirror at least every half an hour. More if there's unexpected weather.

She's probably just jealous. I glance around me. Everyone is trying not to meet my gaze. Idiots. Why are they all acting so weird about me? You would think I was shouting to myself in corridors, or something.

Then I'm back at the office building. It's weird. I have a vague sense of the time in between school and here, but it's mostly a blur.

Focus again. You're getting off the point.

My mother is talking again. About the mayor.

"...The city council will have to go as well. I've made provisions for that."

She hasn't mentioned me at all yet.

"You know, this is only the beginning. I don't want to stop at just a mayor position of some pissy small town."

"What if someone finds out about your methods?"

"Everyone can be stopped somehow."

Suddenly, everyone in the room stops talking, and looks directly at me. They can't see me. I'm mostly behind a brick wall. What are they looking at, though?

Then, everyone's eyes glow bright red. The color of blood. I'm looking at my mother, but she doesn't look like my mother any more. Her eyes are such a deep red, it seems like they could just swallow me up.

They can see you.

I'm behind a brick wall!

They can see you! Run!

Those eyes. Staring straight at me.

RUN!

I turn and flee. I don't stop until I get back to my room. I lock the door, and crunch down beside the bed.

What is going on here?

I think I know. Your mother and her cronies want they mayor's office, and they're going to do anything to get it. But they won't stop there. They want all the way to the top.

But the eyes...

They're not your mother and friends any more. They're something else.

What?

You heard me.

You mean, like possessed or something?

Yes.

Oh God. What am I going to do?

Just listen to me. I'll take care of everything. Okay?

...Okay.

It's the next day at school. I'm keeping my head down, so no-one will take much notice of me. It isn't working. People keep staring at me. I know they do. They just look back when I look at them. Classes go by in a whirl. Teachers ask me how I am, but I give them perfunctory answers. Nothing seems important any more. What is my mother up to?

After school ends, I see Quinn walking up towards me. Maybe Quinn will understand. She's always been a good friend.

Until recently. She's probably in on it too.

Quinn wouldn't do that.

Sure, like she'd never side with Stacy and Tiffany over you, right? Like Quinn's always been a good friend. She's been after your position since the start, and since she couldn't get it, she destroyed the Fashion Club.

I turn and walk away from Quinn, not looking back. I get home, avoid my mother, and go to my room. What am I going to do? Fluffy jumps into my arms, and I cuddle him, welcoming the warmth. At least Fluffy still loves me. I hear the phone picked up downstairs. Time to listen in again.

This time, I can't tell who mother is speaking to. But the subject is all too clear.

"It's Sandi. There's something not quite right with her. She won't talk to me about it, but there's something wrong."

What is she talking about?

"Do you think she might need to go away for a bit?"

"If it comes to that, then, yes."

Oh God.

They want to get rid of me.

They know. They know you know about them, and they want to get rid of you.

Rid of me where?

I don't know.

Thoughts course through my head. Me being dragged away, kicking and screaming. Being locked up. Not being able to move my arms. I can't live like that.

Focus. What are you going to do?

I...I don't know.

You haven't got much time.

I run out of the house, almost knocking over Chris on the way. I barrel down the street. Where am I going? Quinn's.

Are you sure that's a good idea?

Shut up. I don't have anyone else I can talk to. I reach Quinn's house, and knock furiously on the door. Quinn's idiot father opens the door. "Hi! Um, Sandi, is it?"

"Is Quinn here?"

"No, she's out on a date. Is there anything I can help you with?"

"Not likely." That comes out as more of a sneer that I intend. He doesn't seem to notice though.

"Say, are you all right? You look awfully..."

"Fine!" I turn and walk away, leaving him idiotically chattering behind me. What now? Home, I guess. I need to think about what I'm going to do. They aren't going to do anything tonight, are they? I sleep very uneasily that night.

The next morning, I'm awoken by my mother. She walks into the room, and throws open the curtains. I try not to act nervously, but the memory of those eyes is haunting me.

"Sandi," she begins. "There's something I need to talk to you about."

"If it's about those credit card bills...." I know it isn't.

"No, Sandi. Look, sometimes, people go through rough times, and they have to do things they don't want to. But you know, those things have to be done. It makes you stronger. Do you understand me?"

"Yes, mother."

"Good." She smiles, and walks out.

I understand, Mother, or whoever you are. You feel like you need to do these terrible things you're planning. Guess what? I'm on to you. You can't justify yourself to me.

I spend the rest of the day at the mall. I just needed to get out of the house. I need to think what to do. I can't. I'm not that smart. Damn it.

You know what I think you should do?

What?

You can't rely on anyone else to help you. Who knows who else is in on this. Maybe the cops. Maybe everyone. You need to take the law into your own hands.

What are you suggesting?

Find the people involved in this, and eliminate them.

What? Like, kill them? No freaking way!

Suit yourself. You'll see.

What is that supposed to mean?

Silence again. I pay for my purchases. Theresa gives me an odd look, and asks me if everything is all right. I reply snottily that it is. Why is everyone asking me that?

I return home, and dump the bags in the hallway. I can hear my mother talking on the phone again. Instinctively, I edge into the kitchen, and pick up the cordless. I'm in luck, again. She doesn't hear me.

"So, you think I'm right?"

"Yes, Mrs. Griffin." Stacy! What the hell is she doing on the phone with my mother? She continues: "She's been acting weird ever since...well, ever since I told her what I thought about her. I'm so sorry."

"Well, Stacy. I hope you're happy that you've caused all this."

"I'm sorry."

"Sandi is becoming quite unlike herself. I think she might have to go somewhere. For help, if you know what I mean?"

"Yes. I was talking with Tiffany, and she agrees. She needs it. Oh, Mrs. Griffin, I'm so sorry!"

I hang up before I can hear any more. Stacy. Tiffany. Those bitches! They're in on this. They're trying to get rid of me too. I have to get out of here. I rush out of the house again, and head to Quinn's. I bang on the door furiously, and her dad answers again.

"Oh hi Sandi! Quinn's in her room. Hey, if you want to stay for dinner, I've got..."

I push past him and head upstairs. I stop before Quinn's room, and realize she's on the phone. I push the door open a little, and listen in.

"Yes, Mrs. Griffin, I'll help you. Sandi needs help. I'll help convince her."

I slam the door open, and Quinn starts in shock, when she sees who it is. "Sandi, I..."

"Help, Quinn? Is that what they're calling it now?"

She starts to say something, but I turn and leave as fast as I can. Back to my house. Things are falling apart. I don't know who to trust. I can't trust anyone.

You can trust me.

Can I?

Of course. Let me handle things.

"Go away!"

Silence.

I reach my house, and go upstairs quickly. I can hear the phone ring. It's going to be Quinn. She's going to tell my mother that I heard, and that I know everything. Then they're going to take me away. What am I going to do?

Shit!

Fluffy is meowing. "Come here, Fluffy." He stays where he is. He hisses at me. "Fluffy?" He shrinks back from my touch. Him too?

Everyone, Sandi. Let me help you.

I slump back on my bed. Fine. Help me. Tell me what to do.

Just let me control things for a while.

I'm back on the room again. The padded one. But this time I can move. I can move my arms, and there's a body lying beside me.

The it's gone. Back in my room. I hear the phone being hung up downstairs. I don't have a lot of time, so I head to my parents' room. Straight to the closet. To something no-one knows that I know about.

My father's gun. Mom doesn't know he has one. I found it by accident searching for her car keys last month. I think he has it to feel like a man. God knows, Mother doesn't let him feel like one. It's pathetic. I bet he even plays with it in front of the mirror.

I find it. With purpose now, I walk downstairs. Mom and Dad are there waiting for me. My hands are behind my back, so they can't see the gun.

"Sandi," says Dad. "We're kind of worried..."

"Let me handle this," says Mom. "Sandi. You need help. You didn't listen to me, and we have to take different measures now."

"I know al about your measures, Mother. You and your stupid plans."

"Sandi what are you talking about?"

"Getting rid of the mayor. Killing his cabinet. Working your way on up."

She seems confused. I know better. I'm just as good of an actress as she is. She can't hide from me.

"Sandi, I want to oust him, but I'm not going to kill anyone. That's not my style."

"Right. Who are you? What's with the eyes?"

Dad looks lost. "Eyes?"

"Shut up!" Mom looks at me sternly. "Sandi, I don't know what you're babbling about, but you should have listened to me. I said there were some things you had to do, but you didn't do them. Now I'll have to force you to get help. If you come with us, we can get you someplace safe, where you can rest."

"Rest? Get rid of me, that's what you mean!"

"Sandi, I'm trying to help you. This is for your own good."

"That's what you always say!" My voice is cracking. I'm trying to keep it level, but I can't. "Everything you do, you say it's for my own good. You've made me exactly like you, and people hate me!"

"That's not true." She begins to walk towards me. "I've tried to make you strong. I've tried not to let you depend on people. People will always let you down in the end. You can only rely on yourself, Sandi. That's what I've tried to do with you." She shakes her head. "But you can't. You need help. You're not as strong as I'd liked, and you need help. I need to get it for you."

I'm pouring my guts out to her, and all she can say is how disappointed she is in me? How screwed up is that? "You're wrong, Mother. I'm not relying on you or dad to help me any longer." I pull the gun out from behind my back, and aim it straight at them. "Get out of my way."

For once, my mother is speechless. My dad looks like he's pissed himself. Then he looks at the gun, then me. "Wait, Sandi..."

"Shut up." My mother cuts him off, as usual. "Sandi, please. Let me help you."

"So you can tell me some more about how much of a screw up I am? Get out of my way, mother."

She moves out of the way, and I rush past her, out the door. Into a corridor. It's blank. Nothing but a featureless wall and windows. Windows with bars on them.

No, I'm on the street, outside my house.

Keep moving. Don't stop.

I run. I don't know where. I have to run. Run from my parents, my friends, everyone. No-one is who I thought they were. I'm the only one left. What can I do?

You should have killed them when you had the chance.

No...I can't kill my parents!

They're not your parents anymore, remember?

I...don't know. I need to think.

But where? Where can I go that's peaceful?

I end up at that stupid giant strawberry. I'm inside it. I don't think anyone would think of looking for me there. I'm curled up against the back of the room, trying desperately to think what to do. Everyone must be looking for me. Once they find me, they'll put me away, and no-one will believe me. No-one can stop what's going on here. No-one but me.

I know what you should do.

Go away.

After all I've done for you? Cold. You need to take matters into your own hands. These people need to be stopped. You said it yourself, you're the only one who can do it.

I'm not going to kill all my family and friends.

What choice do you have?

They're my family.

Two bratty siblings, an ineffectual drip of a father, and your mother. Let's talk about your mother for a minute, shall we? Controlling, cold, critical. That's just some of the things I can say about her. She's never encouraged you. She's just tried to make you like her. And then, when you can't be like her, she chews you out. She deserves to die, let's face it.

Why are you doing this? Why are you trying to get me to do it?

Oh my God.

What?

It's you, isn't it? You're the evil one. You're trying to get me to kill all these people for your own sick reasons?

Don't be stupid.

No. You're twisting things! You're making me think and do these things, aren't you?

Remember the eyes? You saw that! Trust me!

I can't. I can't kill for you.

Fine, if you won't do it. I'll make you. I can do that.

Please. Don't...

You can't stop me.

Maybe....

I raise the gun to my head. Very slowly.

What are you doing?

I can make you stop.

And what? You think after you do this, people will find you, give you a wonderful burial, and wax lyrical about how much you were loved and didn't know it? You think that's what's going to happen? Get real, Sandi. People hate you, you said so yourself. People aren't going to change their minds because you blow your brains out. This isn't going to help you!

Please stop...

What do you think it'll be like? An open casket funeral with you looking radiant and peaceful in death? Going to be hard with your pretty little head splattered over the wall back there!

I just want it to stop...

And it will. Do as I say and it will!

I lie back. I'm not in the strawberry any more. I'm in a closet, I think. I can hear footsteps. People are calling to each other, saying I'm in here.

"Sandi?"

I look up. It's Quinn. She's standing in front of me. I'm back in the strawberry. I get up. Quinn notices the gun, and takes a few steps back. "Sandi, what are you doing?"

Start here. Kill her.

No.

You've always hated her. Kill her!

"NO! Shut up!"

Quinn takes another step back. "I didn't say anything," she says nervously.

"What do you want, Quinn?"

"To help you. Sandi, look at yourself! You're sick, you need help."

Look at myself? I pull a mirror from my pocket and glance at myself. I look the same as ever. "I still look the same."

"You can't see it? Sandi, you look like shit."

"You'd like that, wouldn't you?"

"Sandi, you're not making any sense. Look, I'm sorry we went behind your back, and I'm sorry that I called you a bitch, but I want to help you. Please come with me."

"Why should I trust you?"

"I'm your friend, Sandi. I care about you."

Tears are running down my face now. I don't care any more.

Kill her!

That's the problem. What she said. About caring. The voice is right. I do hate Quinn. At first it was because I thought she was going to take all my popularity, but then it changed. It changed, and now I hate her because I know why she's taken it. She's me. Or rather, she's the me I want to be. She's smart, she's pretty, she has amazing fashion sense. But most of all, she cares. She cares about people, and that's why people like her.

She cares, and I don't know how.

"Sandi?" I look at Quinn, and see the fear in her eyes, the genuine worry there. The voice in my head pounds more and more, and suddenly, I know what to do.

I point the gun at my forehead, grit my teeth, and pull the trigger.

There's a loud click. It isn't even loaded. Quinn is frozen in front of me, too tense to even breathe. Suddenly the ridiculousness of the situations comes to me, and I begin to laugh. I drop the gun to the ground, and laugh uncontrollably. The laughter turns into tears, and I sink to my knees, sobbing. Everything I've kept bottled up in my head for so long comes right out, and I sit there, my head in my hands, crying like a scared little girl.

I feel someone lift my arms from my face. It's Quinn. She wraps her arms around me, and holds me. She doesn't have to say anything, or do anything. She's just there for me, like no-one has ever been. She sits there, with me in her arms, rocking me and telling me everything will be okay.

I want it to be.

End Notes

First of all, I hope no-one gets the idea from this that I am advocating suicide as a solution to anything. Suicide solves nothing and can't be romanticized in any way. If anything, I hope I got that message across.

Thanks to my wife.

Thanks to my beta-readers: Brother Grimace, Robert Nowall, Thea Zara, Dennis Higbee, and THM.