A Stranger in Lawndale
a multi-part story by Belle Book

Chapter Ten: Sandi's Secrets

Mall of the Millennium, one Saturday in late September --

Derek, Stacy, Quinn, Sandi and Tiffany were all walking through the Mall of the Millennium on their way to the Food Court (1). As they did so, Stacy was thinking about all the stuff that had happened since her first day of school.

She had joined the Drama Club and soon there would be tryouts for a school play. Stacy planned on trying out for a role, but since Derek wouldn't be in the play if the play was a romantic comedy she didn't plan on trying out for one of the lead roles. Her own relationship with Derek was progressing very nicely. During the weekdays they studied together in Stacy's house and this was helping her do better in many of her classes, especially since Derek tried to build up her confidence in her ability to learn. And on the weekends they went out, either to dinner and a movie, Chez Pierre, or C'est la Veal; usually to dinner and a movie since it cost less.

Quinn had tried out for the Pep Squad and had gotten in. She had to practice, so she had to budget her time when it came to studying and hanging out with her friends. This didn't make Sandi real happy, but since they could shop on the weekends Sandi didn't complain all that much. In fact, Sandi managed to find another way to occupy her time on weekdays -- she joined the Lawndale Lowdown as their fashion reporter, with Tiffany becoming a fashion photographer. Hopefully, this would help Sandi deal with the fact that although they were still friends, she & Quinn were branching out into different areas.

Finally, they arrived at the International Food Court A, where the four girls went to get food from Fries & Things while Derek went to get some food from Tofu Fighers, as he had a definite liking for Chinese and Japanese food thanks to his Japanese heritage and the time he spent there as well as in China and Korea. Once they got their food, they all sat down and began eating when a blonde woman with her hair in a ponytail arrived, along with two other guys.

"Hello, Quinn," the blonde said. "Hi -- Derek, right?"

"Lindy!" Quinn said excitedly. "What's going on?" Stacy realized this had to be the friend Quinn said had problems with alcohol.

"Hello, Lindy," said Derek. "And yeah, my name's Derek all right."

"I thought so," said Lindy. "Who are the others?"

Derek introduced Stacy while Quinn introduced Sandi and Tiffany. Lindy smiled and said, "Nice to meet you. The guys with me are Cain Iverson and Don Hall, friends of mine. Anyway, I'm throwing a party at my place tonight and I'm inviting you, Quinn."

"Can we go as well?" asked Sandi. Tiffany also seemed interested in the party, although Stacy wasn't sure if it was because Tiffany was really interested or if she was just following Sandi's lead. Derek didn't seem so excited about the idea, however.

"Are you sure you want to go?" asked Quinn. "There's a lot of alcohol at those parties."

"And I've heard that many of the parties are just an excuse for college kids to get drunk," added Derek. "And none of you are 18 yet."

"But... there will... be other... drinks at that... party, rigghhhtttt?" asked Tiffany, in her usual slow drawl.

"Of course," said Lindy. "And all of you can come if you wish."

"Then I'm going!" said Sandi, eagerly.

"Me too," said Tiffany.

"I'll come as well," said Quinn.

"I'll probably be there as well then," said Derek, more reluctantly.

"Well, as long as Derek's going to be there and I can just drink soda, I'll come too," said Stacy.

"Okay then," said Lindy. "Be there at 7 pm. I'll see you all there." She, Cain and Don all walked away. Derek then turned to Stacy and said, "Stacy, would you please come with me for a minute? You too, Quinn."

Quinn and Stacy looked at each other, then shrugged and joined Derek. They were some distance away from Sandi & Tiffany when Derek said, "I'm going to be watching Sandi to make sure no one offers her alcohol. I'd like you to do the same with Tiffany, please. Especially Tiffany."

"Sure thing," said Quinn. "But why are you so worried about Tiffany?"

"I think her slow speech is actually the result of her taking some kind of tranquilizers or barbituates," Derek explained. "And taking alcohol when you're taking any one of those other drugs can be lethal."

Stacy looked shocked for a moment, and then she remembered how Tiffany's voice had been relatively normal until during the summer between her freshman and sophmore years, when she began speaking really slowly. "Of course!" she exclaimed. "I should've realized that! Why didn't I?"

"I didn't think of it either," said Quinn kindly.

"Since her voice was relatively normal until during the summer between her freshman and sophmore years, do either of you know of anything that happened during that time that might have coincided with her slowed speech and presumed drug abuse?" asked Derek.

Stacy began thinking long and hard. The summer between their freshman and sophmore year... "Wait a minute," she said. "I think Tiffany's uncle, a Jewish rabbi, retired from being a rabbi up in Pennsylvania and moved to live with Tiffany and her family at the beginning of the summer."

"Yeah, I remember Tiffany saying that her uncle was moving in," said Quinn. "Now that I'm remembering that, she wasn't too happy about it."

"Hmm," Derek said. "Maybe Tiffany's uncle has been abusing Tiffany somehow, at least emotionally and probably worse. It could be physical abuse, but if so he probably took care to hit her in places where normal clothes could cover her -- or in such a way that she could cover it up with makeup. It could even be sexual abuse. Either way, she could be using drugs to deal with the abuse, but I don't have any real proof that she's using drugs. And I want you two to see if you can spot any evidence of drug use during the party. It might help me find out what's going on and would definitely help Tiffany."

"I will," said Stacy. And she meant it. If Derek was right and Tiffany was taking drugs to deal with being abused by her uncle, then watching Tiffany carefully to find evidence of drug abuse would help a friend.

"I'll look as well," said Quinn. "I have one friend who's abusing alcohol. If another friend's abusing drugs, it's my duty to help her."

"Good," said Derek. "Now let's go back and inform the others that we'll be watching them at the party, okay?"

They agreed and headed back to join the others.

Derek returned to his apartment. He had a phone number to call -- Andrea's. Luckily, she'd given him her phone number; however, it wasn't the phone number of the house where she'd lived prior to attending college. She'd moved into an apartment.

Derek had a good reason for calling Andrea. She was an empath, which meant she could detect feelings and other intangible stuff. Thus, if anybody could tell if Sandi was attracted to girls or not attracted to either guys or girls, it would be her.

As he dialed the number, he reflected on the time he'd spent with Stacy, Quinn, Sandi and Tiffany as well as the meeting with Cain, Don and Lindy. Initially, he'd been very reluctant to go to a college party. He'd briefly posed as a college student over ten years ago and even then, he'd found college parties were just an excuse for most students to get drunk. And he'd never found drunk students terribly amusing or entertaining.

But when Sandi showed that she wanted to go to the party and then Tiffany volunteered to go, Derek realized that someone would need to keep an eye on both of them. So that's why he agreed to go. And that was why he enlisted Quinn and Stacy's support in watching Tiffany while he planned to watch Sandi. He thought Sandi would be more eager to accept an alcoholic beverage than Tiffany, so he thought it would be better to watch Sandi. Sandi was not happy to learn that Derek was going to be watching her, but when Derek refused to back down she reluctantly agreed. Tiffany was a little more accepting of Quinn and Stacy's deciding to watch her at the party, since Quinn told her that they were only concerned for Tiffany's safety.

He was a little surprised that Stacy hdn't figured out that Tiffany's slowed speech might be the result of drugs, but sometimes that kind of thing snuck up on a person and in any case, people were often very good at not seeing things they wanted to see.

During their time at the mall, they had gone to the Club House, which was a favorite spot of the Fashion Club when they went there (2). They also went to the Makeup Mill, but Derek had gone over to Books by the Ton while the others went inside. They agreed to meet at the Shop 'n' Scream Indoor Roller Coaster (3), where they'd all take a ride on the roller coaster. After that, they walked for a bit before going to the Food Court, and after being at the Food Court they went to a movie at the MegaMultiplex before Derek dropped Sandi, then Quinn and then Tiffany before dropping off Stacy at her house.

Once he had walked her to her door and promised to pick her and her friends up before going to Lindy's place, he kissed her good-bye and felt her melt into his arms. Her arms entwined around his neck, and she pressed her body against his, causing him to respond by stroking her back with one hand and stroking her a little more intimately with the other one. It took all his willpower to resist the temptation to go farther. But finally, he left and returned to his apartment -- where he was now listening for someone to pick up. Luckily, someone did.

"Hello?" asked a female voice. It was Andrea.

"Hi, Andrea," he replied. "This is Derek. I have a favor to ask of you, please."

"What is it?" asked Andrea, a little cautiously.

"Well, Lindy Armstrong just invited Quinn to a party at her apartment. Then Sandi wanted to go to it, followed by Tiffany. I agreed to go so as to keep an eye on Sandi and make sure she didn't get drunk at the party. Quinn and Stacy will be going as well and will be watching Tiffany, for the same reasons. Anyway, I'd like you to attend."

"Why?" asked Andrea. She seemed very curious, naturally.

"I've spent enough time with Sandi to suspect that she's not physically attracted to me," said Derek. "And considering how gorgeous kitsune are, that's very unusual. I think Sandi is either asexual or a lesbian. And since you're an empath, I want you to be present and to determine if Sandi is attracted to girls or not."

"What do you plan to do about it if Sandi turns out to be a lesbian?" Andrea asked.

"I don't really know," said Derek. And it was true. He wasn't quite sure what he would do if he found out that Sandi was a lesbian. He had no problems hanging out with lesbians, but gay guys would be a problem since they'd definitely be attracted to him and try to hit on him as a result. However, he believed that if he told them flat-out that he liked only girls and had a girlfriend, they'd get the message and not bother him again -- unless they were drunk, in which case he might have to be more forceful. The real problem was that Sandi might not be willing to tell him the truth.

He then said, "Her being a lesbian wouldn't make a difference in my relationship with her. But Sandi might be in the closet about it. I'd have to tread gently on that subject. But I'll cross that bridge when I get to it. So, will you please help me?"

"Give me Lindy's address and I'll help," said Andrea.

"Great!" Derek said. He gave her the address and then said, "Please arrive a little bit early -- say, 6:55. I'm going to arrive right at 7 pm, and that should give you some time to find a place to stake out Sandi. I'll call Lindy and let her know you're coming. And thanks, Andrea."

"Don't mention it," said Andrea. She hung up as Derek prepared to call Lindy.

Around 6:45 pm --

Sandi came downstairs to see her mother, Linda, waiting for her.

"I'm glad you're going to a college party," Linda told Sandi. "Just remember that although you'll be 18 in October, you aren't 18 yet, so you shouldn't accept any alcoholic beverage."

Sandi scowled. That sounded a lot like what Derek told her when she protested that she didn't need someone watching over her. "I was already told that, by Stacy's boyfriend," she retorted. She didn't add that she believed her mother would allow Sandi to drink sooner if Chris & Sam wouldn't have demanded a drink as well -- and fought Sandi for it.

"Sounds like a sensible young man," Linda said, coolly. "Which reminds me, why haven't you found a guy like Stacy did? I thought that at least one of the guys you've dated would go out with you more than just once or twice?"

Sandi said, "They're more interested in Quinn." But that wasn't entirely the truth. Sandi just didn't want to admit the full story -- that even if Quinn wasn't as cute and popular as she was Sandi just couldn't muster up any attraction to guys -- even Derek, gorgeous though he was. She knew what her mother would say if she even admitted it -- that Sandi could learn to be attracted to guys if she only wanted to be. Sandi wanted to be attracted to guys, she really did -- she just wasn't.

She remembered her elementary and middle school years. Back then Sandi, Stacy and Tiffany had another girlfriend, Renee Kepler. Renee had always been a pretty girl but as they started going through puberty, Sandi became increasingly aware of just how pretty Renee was. Sandi became attracted to Renee, and when they both were in their final year of middle school, she found out Renee returned her interest. Neither of them did anything more than hold hands or hug -- until her mother caught Renee giving Sandi her first kiss.

This outraged her mother to the point where she intially refused to let Sandi see Renee -- or Stacy and Tiffany -- ever again. Sandi pleaded with her and finally her mother relented -- but only if Sandi promised to date only guys. Sandi agreed, but it was hard having to hide her feelings for Renee. But it didn't last long -- Renee's father was let go from his job and he took his family and moved away to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania after their final year in middle school.

Sandi was miserable that whole summer and in the early part of her freshman year in high school. She went out with guys as she'd promised her mother, but none of them satisfied her the way Renee did, even if Sandi had only held hands with, hugged and kissed Renee. Then Quinn had come, and the instant Sandi saw her, she was instantly attracted to Quinn. Unfortunately, she didn't know how Quinn felt about her, especially since Quinn started going out with a lot of guys. She wasn't sure if Quinn would reject her if she found out about Sandi's attraction to her. Worse, she still had to date guys because of her promise to her mother, and she was also afraid that if the truth came out, her social standing would be ruined. Sandi sometimes wondered if this was why she behaved the way she did towards Quinn but thinking that always brought up painful feelings that she felt she had to repress, so she shied away from such thoughts.

That's when she heard the doorbell ring. She went to the front door and opened it. There stood Derek, Stacy... and Quinn. She fought hard against the surge of hormones and instead said, "I wondered when you were going to show up."

"We're on time," said Derek. "We have to pick up Tiffany and then we can go to Lindy's apartment. You, Quinn and Tiffany can sit in the back seat. Stacy and I will be up in the front, if that's okay with you."

"It's fine with me," said Sandi, though she was planning on having Tiffany sit between her and Quinn. At least with Tiffany between them, Sandi wouldn't be tempted to act on her attraction to Quinn. However, she didn't say this to Derek, let alone to Quinn or Stacy. Instead, she followed them out to Derek's car.

7 pm --

Derek pulled his car up outside Lindy's apartment. He let out Stacy, then the other three young women before they all walked to Lindy's apartment house. He knocked on the door, and a moment later Lindy opened it. She looked happy to see them and invited them all in.

As they came inside, Derek noted that Andrea was already there before he was distracted by Quinn talking about how Joey, Jeffy and Jaime had all tried to get a date with her tonight and when they learned she was going to Lindy's place, they fell all over themselves offering her a ride. Sandi made a snide comment about Quinn's popularity, unsurprisingly. Then as planned, they all separated; Quinn and Stacy went off with Tiffany while Derek went with Sandi.

Sandi looked very sulky, presumably over not being able to drink alcohol. Derek realized that if he wanted to convince Sandi that it was best not to do so, he should be honest yet relatively gentle with her. So he said, "I guess I could understand how you might feel about being watched by someone you'd view as an overprotective big brother or big sister if I was in your shoes. And a lot of young people think they're invulnerable -- that bad things won't happen to them. But I've learned that bad things can happen if you take foolish risks."

"Like?" asked Sandi.

"Like drinking enough alcohol affects your coordination, judgment and reflexes. So if you drink too much, you're more likely to do things you wouldn't normally do -- like engaging in risky sexual behavior. Or you might be a victim of rape." Sandi gasped at that. "Or if you decided to drive when drunk, you'd be more likely to get into an accident. You might get hurt or killed -- or someone else might get hurt or killed."

"You really think that might happen to me?" asked Sandi.

"I do," said Derek. "Of course, since I drove you all here and have no intention of drinking alcohol, it won't happen here -- but it might happen to you at a later date. Right now what you have to worry about is someone offering you an alcoholic beverage. You're most likely just to get sick, engage in risky sexual behavior or be a victim of rape. But if someone offered you one here, that person is at risk for being prosecuted for giving alcohol to minors. Once you're 18, you can drink all you want -- although you still should have someone who isn't drinking drive you around if you do -- and I won't care. But you're still 17."

"So until then, I can't drink," said Sandi ruefully. "I wish I could convince you otherwise, but you are being sensible, as my mother would put it. And speaking of my mother, she asked me why I didn't find a guy like you."

Derek thought for a good long moment as to how to answer Sandi. And then all of a sudden, the answer came. But before he could answer, he heard Sandi say, "Once Quinn thought she needed to have a steady boyfriend. I helped her make up a list of suitable qualities. They included looks and popularity (2)."

"Popularity isn't really important, believe me on that," said Derek. "Looks also help, but you shouldn't go on looks alone either. I've seen quite a few 'popular girls' who are nothing more than total bitches. And I've also known a few girls who were beauties on the outside but not so pretty on the inside!" He was telling the truth there -- he just wasn't going to tell her that he'd met them over a couple hundred years.

"Then what is the most important thing in a relationship?" asked Sandi.

"Love," said Derek, simply. "Not just passion, although that's also pretty important. Love also involves caring for another person -- as much as, if not more than, yourself. If you truly care about your boyfriend -- or partner if you're gay or a lesbian -- as much as or more than yourself, then you're really in love."

"I know that my mother never felt that way about my father," Sandi reflected. "And I don't think my father really loved my mother, either. He saw her as beautiful and she was ambitious. Also, both of them were socially acceptable to each other. But I guess that's not important, either."

"Well, being compatible is a good thing, but you should have more things in common than just being compatible socially," said Derek. "You really should have at least a few things in common. But as I said, the most important thing in a relationship is love."

"You may have something there," said Sandi. "After all, you seem very happy with Stacy. None of the guys I went out with really wanted to go out with me more than a few times, at most. Anyway, I'd like a soda, please."

"Sure thing," said Derek. "But please don't accept any drink that someone offers you. It might be spiked with alcohol -- or worse, someone might have slipped a drug which would make it easier for someone to sleep with you without your consent. I'll be back with your soda."

Derek got a soda for Sandi and one for himself. But as he was doing so, he felt a hand pluck his sleeve. Turning, he saw Andrea. "Oh hi, Andrea," he said. "I take it you found out something already."

"Sandi's got a huge crush on Quinn," Andrea told him. The sodas in his hands almost slid out of them; he was that surprised by what Andrea told him. He wasn't so surprised that Sandi was a lesbian -- he thought that might be the case -- he was stunned by the news that she had a crush on Quinn since Sandi tried to undercut Quinn a lot. But he knew better than most that looks were deceiving, and that caused him to recover quickly.

"I guess Sandi's in the closet about her sexuality," said Derek, reflecting. "No doubt she fears it would ruin her social standing, and maybe her parents disapprove -- or one of her parents, most likely her mother. And if Quinn found out -- that reminds me. I don't think Quinn's a lesbian -- I've sensed that she's attracted to me, but maybe you know for sure."

"Quinn's heterosexual," Andrea said. "I've seen her several times and I can tell from her aura that she's attracted to guys."

"So Sandi fears Quinn would reject her. I don't think Quinn would reject Sandi as a friend, but she would be unable to reciprocate. I think I'm beginning to see why Sandi treats Quinn so badly. She wants Quinn's friendship and love, but isn't sure how Quinn feels about her and is afraid of being rejected. And her mother probably makes it easy for her to be a bitch. Poor girl."

"I've never thought of her as being somebody you should pity, but maybe she is," said Andrea.

"If I hadn't met Stacy and gotten to know her and her friends, I wouldn't have pitied Sandi either," Derek admitted. "Maybe spending this much time in a human form is affecting me somewhat. Anyway thanks, Andrea."

At that point, he could clearly smell alcohol. He turned and saw an average-sized young man about his own age leering at him. The guy had curly brown hair and gray eyes and his posture indicated that he was already drunk. And the fact that this young man was leering at Derek told him one thing -- the guy was either gay or bisexual. In either case, he had to get the sodas, get over to Sandi -- and possibly fend off some advances.

Sandi saw Derek return with the sodas. He handed one over to her, saying "Here."

"Thanks," said Sandi. That's when a young man stumbled over to them. He had curly brown hair, gray eyes and was average-sized.

"Hey there, gorgeous," he said by way of introduction. Sandi would've spoken, except the guy seemed to be looking at Derek.

"What's your name?" asked Derek.

"Bob Yates," said the stranger.

"I'm Derek Powell," said Derek.

"So how about I take you on a real private tour of the place?" said Bob, leering as he did so.

"I'm straight," Derek said.

"Yeah, right. I don't think so," said Bob.

"I'm not gay," Derek said, his voice cool with the effort to keep his temper. Sandi couldn't blame him for being mad that someone won't take his denial seriously.

"Where have I heard that before?" asked Bob, laughing. Sandi began to suspect either the guy was drunk or thought Derek was an easy mark.

"Perhaps from guys who really were in the closet," said Derek. "But read my lips: I prefer girls."

"You say that, but I know better, since you're hanging out with her," he said, nodding at Sandi. Sandi began to get really angry at this, but before she could say anything, Derek intervened.

"I'm not dating Sandi, if that's what you think," he said. "I'm dating one of her friends, Stacy Rowe. And if you were sober, maybe you'd get the message that I'm not interested in men sooner."

"Where is this girl that you claim to be dating?" said Bob, clearly proving that Derek was right when he said that Bob was drunk. Or else he had a really thick skull, Sandi thought.

"She's right over..." Derek began, and then he stopped. Looking over in the direction Derek was staring, Sandi saw Quinn and Stacy confronting Tiffany over something, she wasn't sure what.

"Something's wrong," said Derek. "I'd better get over and check. And btw, Bob, Stacy's the brown-haired girl in braids. Come on, Sandi."

Derek ran off, with Sandi following. Whatever was wrong, they had to find out -- and fast.

1. A reference to "Malled".

2. A reference to "One J at a Time".

And Bob's hitting on Derek is reminiscent of Alison's hitting on Jane in "Is It Fall Yet?" However, Alison didn't have the excuse of being drunk to hit on Jane.

To be continued,
Belle Book