Don't Sweat the Mall Stuff

by Kristen Bealer

"Ewww! How can you eat that for breakfast?!" Quinn had just entered the kitchen, and immediately wrinkled her nose at the slice of cold leftover pizza in her sister's hands.

"Like this," Daria replied. She took a large bite, chewed with deliberate slowness, and swallowed with an exaggerated gulp. "Need to see it again?"

"Ugh, no." Quinn shuddered and went to a cupboard for a box of cereal.

Daria lowered her pizza and looked sideways at Quinn. "Wait. You're up and moving before noon on a Saturday. I promised Jane I'd go with her to an art show this morning, but what's your excuse? Was sleep declared unfashionable, or were you just out way past curfew last night?"

"If you must know, I'm going to the mall with the Fashion Club to shop for prom dresses today."

"Prom? You're still a sophomore. Two years of shopping seems excessive, even for you."

Quinn rolled her eyes. "Duh. I'll be going this year, with one of the senior guys."

"Of course." Another moment passed before she spoke again. "Um, you do realize that it's not even eight o'clock yet and the mall doesn't open until ten?"

"Gawd, Daria, do you really think I don't know when the mall opens?" Sitting down at the table with her cereal, she explained, "This is a very important shopping trip. I need time to prepare myself both physically and emotionally for the struggles I'm going to face today."

It was Daria's turn to roll her eyes. "We are still talking about shopping, not open warfare, right?"

Quinn smirked. "Like there's a difference."

Two hours later, Sandi's car pulled into the driveway. Quinn climbed in and greeted the other members of the Fashion Club, already in the car. The girls exchanged friendly chitchat and gossip until the car entered the parking lot. At that moment, a reverent silence fell over all four girls as they parked, exited the car, and walked through the automatic doors into the Cranberry Commons mall.

"Where should we start?" Stacy whispered.

Quinn and Sandi didn't hesitate. "Cashman's."

The girls strode through the mall, pointing out cute outfits and fashion don'ts to each other as they made their way briskly to their shopping Mecca.

"All right, girls," Sandi announced as they walked into the department store. "This is the prom, so we need to look our best. No settling for less than perfect. Let's spread out and meet in the fitting rooms in twenty minutes."

The other three nodded solemnly and moved out to scan the racks and displays.

Twenty minutes later, Quinn finished zipping up a dress and admired herself in the mirror. Dark green and slinky, the dress was floor-length with a halter neckline. "Perfect," she murmured. "Now all I need is a few accessories, cute shoes to match, some brand-new makeup, and a gorgeous hairstyle. Piece of fat-free cake."

Smiling, she stepped out of her stall and found herself face-to-face with Sandi, who had just stepped out of her own stall--wearing the same slinky, dark green floor-length dress with a halter neckline.

"Well, Quinn," Sandi remarked after she'd recovered from the initial surprise. "I must commend you for your good taste, but I'm sure you'll have no trouble finding something else."

With a sigh, Quinn slipped immediately into her accustomed passive-aggressive mode. "Oh, Sandi, I'm sure you'd be much better at finding another super-cute dress than me!"

"Perhaps, but I think you'll agree that this particular dress complements my eyes far more than it does yours." Sandi's voice was taking on a definite edge.

"Absolutely," Quinn said, quickly rallying, "but with my red hair, it would be harder for me to find another color that suits me this well."

Sandi's faux smile slipped down a notch or two. "Hmm. Much as I hate to bring rank into any discussion, I believe my status as President of the Fashion Club entitles me to take priority in this situation."

"That may be," Quinn shot back, eyes narrowed slightly, "but I believe the Fashion Club bylaws also state that the President is responsible for making sure all the other club members' clothing-related needs are met."

"Yes, but what about the Fashion Club bylaws that, that state that...look, I'm not giving up the dress!" Sandi snapped.

"Well, neither am I!"

Both girls folded their arms and glared at each other until another stall door opened and Tiffany stepped out in a different dress. "Does thiiis--"

"No!" both girls shouted, neither taking her eyes off the other.

"Oookaaaayy." Tiffany returned to her stall.

After a few more seconds of tense silence, Sandi finally spoke. "Fine. Then I suppose the only fair way to settle this is for neither of us to wear the dress."

"Fine. We'll both find new--different--dresses."


Each spun around and returned to their own stalls, slamming the doors behind them. The effect was ruined when the lightweight doors immediately sprang back open, forcing both girls to reclose and latch them more carefully.

Moments later, the door to a fourth stall flew open and Stacy dashed out, dressed in her own clothes. "ThisisgonnabebadThisisgonnabebadThisisgonnabesooobad," she muttered to herself as she escaped to what she hoped would be a safe distance before the inevitable carnage erupted.

Tiffany peered at a rack of dresses, forehead slightly wrinkled in concentration. After a minute or two, she turned and made eye contact with a clerk who was folding shirts nearby.

The clerk smiled and paused in her work. "Hi! Is there something I can help you with?"

"Yeeeaaah," Tiffany said with a slight nod.

After a few seconds passed, the clerk's smile faded slightly. "Okay, what can I help you with?"

She pointed to one of the dresses on the rack. "How much is thiiiis dress?"

The clerk glanced briefly at the large "All dresses on this rack $49.99" sign posted inches from Tiffany's face before replying, "Forty-nine ninety-nine."

"Which one? Are they forty-nine dollars or ninety-nine dollars?"

A sigh. "They're forty-nine dollars and ninety-nine cents."

"Ohhh." She pointed to a different dress on the same rack. "How much is this dress?"

"That's also forty-nine dollars and ninety-nine cents."

"What about this--"

"Forty-nine dollars and ninety-nine cents. Every dress on that rack is forty-nine dollars and ninety-nine cents."

"Okay." Tiffany turned back to study the dresses once again. Just as the clerk was about to escape, she spoke again. "How much is this dress?"

The clerk saw that she was holding up the first dress she'd asked about. "It's still forty-nine dollars and ninety-nine cents," she answered with gritted teeth.

Tiffany nodded and put the dress back on the rack. Picking up a dress that was identical to the first, she asked, "And how much is this dress?"

"I'm going on my break."

Sandi smoothed the fabric of the new dress as she checked the fit in the mirror. It was pale blue and strapless, with a full skirt. Nodding with satisfaction, she opened the door and walked out into the main fitting room area.

"Oh, no!" Quinn cried, stomping her foot beneath the full skirt of her own blue strapless gown.

After a moment of horror, Sandi smiled. "I don't see a problem," she said. "Why don't you keep this dress, and I'll go get the green one?"

"No way! Why should I have to settle for my second choice? Besides, we both agreed neither of us would get that dress."

"Then I guess we'll have to agree that neither of us will get this dress, either," Sandi snapped.

Quinn looked at her reflection wistfully in a nearby mirror. "I really hope I don't have to settle for less than perfect," she said. "I mean, I know I'm not going to accept anything but the best when it comes to my date. Why should something as important as my outfit be any different?"

"Don't be so sure," Sandi said with a smirk. "I happen to know who's going to ask me to the prom, and I suspect you'll just have to get used to second-best as far as dates are concerned."

"Oh, really?" Quinn asked, raising an eyebrow. "Who--"

Before she could finish her question, Theresa, the sales clerk, poked her head into the fitting room. Taking in the two identical dresses, she groaned, "Again?" As two angry faces turned her way, she switched gears and cheerfully suggested, "Why don't you each pick a different color so this doesn't happen again? Quinn always looks good in green, and blue is Sandi's best color."

Turning back toward each other, Quinn and Sandi nodded their agreement and returned to their stalls to change once again.

By the time she'd left Cashman's, Stacy was breathing almost normally. She began wandering the corridors of the mall, window shopping to distract herself from Quinn and Sandi's fight.

After a few minutes, she stopped outside a pet store and cooed in delight at a couple of puppies playing in the window. She looked past the puppies into the store, thought for a moment, and walked in. The Fashion Club had never entered Our Furry and Scaly Friends before, as it wasn't on their usual route between Cashman's and Junior Five.

After smiling and wiggling her fingers at the puppies some more, Stacy moved further into the store and looked at a cage full of canaries. "So pretty!" she sighed, letting the stress of the morning fade away.

A middle-aged man with a scar on his left ear stepped out from behind the counter and approached her with a smile. "Hello, young lady," he said. "I'm Mr. Matthews. Interested in adopting a pet today?"

"Oh, no," Stacy replied. "I love animals, but I'm not allowed to have pets." Lowering both her voice and her head, she explained, "My mom says I'm not reliable enough to take care of a pet."

Mr. Matthews looked skeptical. "I see. Well, why don't I introduce you to the canaries?" Pointing at each in turn, he said, "Mavis, Venus, Elvis, Cloris, Clovis, Posh, and Travis the Second."

She nodded at him, then turned back to the cage. "Oh, look! Clovis just flew away from Venus to sit next to Mavis instead. Poor Venus must be heartbroken."

He gave her an approving look. "You're the first person who's been able to tell the canaries apart," he remarked. "None of the employees could ever do it."

Stacy shrugged. "It's not like it's hard." She frowned slightly at the puppies, still in their fenced-in area near the window. "You know, you should probably put a mat down or something. It's probably not good for the puppies' soft little paws to touch the rough floor so much."

Pleasantly surprised, Mr. Matthews smiled at her. "Would you like a job?"

Quinn resisted the urge to scream as she stepped out of her fitting room stall in a lovely green silk sleeveless dress that fell in layers to mid-calf. True to her word, the dress Sandi had found was blue. It was also silk. And sleeveless. And layered. And the hem reached to just about the middle of her calves.

Cowering behind a nearby clothing rack, Theresa timidly offered, "Well, technically they aren't identical, right?"

Sandi snorted. "On a dimly-lit dance floor, I assure you the difference will be hardly noticeable."

"Right," Quinn agreed. "Besides, the Fashion Club's entire existence is built around standing out from the crowd. How can we look better than everyone else if we barely look better--I mean, different--from each other?"

Sandi's eyes darted over to Quinn as she heard the near-slip. Lifting her chin, she said, "Anyway, I've decided this dress isn't quite up to my standards of elegance. It's all right for you, Quinn, but I'm sure my date will be expecting me to wear something far more sophisticated."

"On second thought," Quinn shot back, "I think my date will be expecting me to wear something even more sophisticated than what your date will be, uh, be worn."

"We'll see," Sandi sniffed before whirling away into her stall.

Tiffany approached another sales clerk with a can of hairspray in her hand. "Will this hairspray style my hair for me?"

The clerk just blinked at her for a moment, but recovered quickly. "No, I'm pretty sure you have to style your hair yourself. The hairspray just holds it in place."

"Oh." Tiffany looked disappointed. "I saw on TV that this girl had reeeeally bad hair. And then she sprayed it with this, and right away her hair curled itself and it was reeeeally pretty."

The clerk suddenly nodded in comprehension. "You mean the commercial for this hairspray. That was just a dramatization."

"A whaaaaat?"

"A dra--it was just a way of making the product look good."

"Yeah, that's what I waaaant. I want it to make me look good."

"And it will make you look good," the clerk reassured her. "But you have to do the work yourself."


The clerk twitched a little. "Okay, let's try again. In the commercial, that girl also flew up into the air and danced on a cloud. Doesn't that make you think maybe it's not real?"

Tiffany looked at the clerk, then at the hairspray, and then back at the clerk again. "Soooo, this hairspray will make me flyyy?"

"I'm going on my break."

Sandi took a deep breath and closed her eyes before stepping out of the fitting room stall. After a few seconds' effort, she finally willed herself to look.

The dress Quinn was wearing was entirely different from hers.

She let out the held breath in a dramatic sigh, noticing that Quinn did the same. Her relief was short-lived, however, as she realized that Quinn looked pretty in the dress.

Too pretty.

She fixed an appraising look on her face as she slowly examined the other girl's dress, using the long silence not only to put together a strategy but also to knock Quinn slightly off balance. At last, she spoke. "Hmm. Well, I have to say that you've made a very brave choice. Not many people would try something so...interesting."

The briefest flicker of a glare fell across Quinn's face before resolving into a very insincere smile. "Perhaps, but I could never pull off a dress as simple as that one."

Both girls glanced self-consciously at their own dresses, then back at each other. Sandi recovered first. "Fortunately, I'm sure my date will be mature enough to appreciate the pure elegance of a dress like this."

Quinn flinched, but rallied quickly. "Perhaps, but the guy who's going to ask me to the prom appreciates my more adventurous fashion sense."

"So you haven't actually been asked yet?" This was said with a triumphant smirk.

"Crap," Quinn muttered under her breath. Out loud, she amended, "Well, not officially, but I already know he will. He hasn't even been dating anyone else, so it's pretty obvious who he'll ask." She tilted her head. "So, does that mean you've already been asked?"

Sandi waved a hand. "A mere formality. Besides, I know better than to accept an invitation from any prospective date too soon. Even one as popular and attractive as mine."

"Oh? Who?" Quinn asked suspiciously.

Sandi stalled slightly. He hasn't actually asked me yet, so I can't risk the humiliation if he doesn't. "I'd, um, hate to ruin the surprise." Before Quinn could argue, she turned the question on her. "Whom are you expecting to ask you?"

Sandi was pleased to see Quinn's face turn slightly pale as she answered, "Uh, same. With the surprise and all. So, are you going to get that dress?"

"Hmm." Sandi jealously eyed Quinn's dress one last time. "On second thought, I don't think this dress is exactly right for me."

Quinn's eyes stayed on Sandi's dress as she spoke. "Yeah, I think I'm going to keep looking, too."

Both girls returned to the stalls, frowning at their own dresses.

Stacy stood behind the cash register, wide-eyed with a friendly smile frozen in place.

"...because I'm the customer and the customer is always right! Now, are you going to help me or are you just going to be a useless, stupid little teenager who can't do anything without screwing it up?"

As she struggled to maintain her fake smile, Stacy felt her eye twitch slightly and wondered if this was how Mr. DeMartino felt all the time. "Well, sir, I--"

"I don't want to hear any excuses, all right? Now go get me what I want or else I'll just have to take my business elsewhere!"

"Sir," Stacy finally interrupted, voice louder but also squeakier than usual, "I'm telling you the truth. We really, honestly, truly don't sell elephants here!"

The purple-faced man threw his hands up in the air and yelled, "I hope you're happy! You just ruined my son's birthday party!" before storming out.

Stacy took a few deep breaths as the next person in line stepped up to the counter. She hoped Mr. Matthews would be coming back from his lunch break soon. When she asked him why there weren't any other employees to help cover the store, he'd muttered, "I ask so little, yet every one of them seems to quit within days."

The new customer, an elderly lady with a friendly face, folded her hands and smiled at Stacy. "Hello, dear. Tell me, does this store sell rats?"

Stacy gave her a relieved smile in return. "Yes, ma'am, we do. Would you like me to show you where--"

The woman's face instantly twisted into a furious scowl as she shrieked, "How could you allow such vile, disgusting creatures into this store? Don't you know they used to carry the plague? They're filthy things and you're going to be responsible for killing us all!"

With that, the woman stomped out of the store. Stacy whimpered and checked the clock once again.

Next, a tall man carrying a large birdcage approached. "Hello," he said as he placed the cage on the counter. "I wish to register a complaint."

Stacy peered into the cage and saw a large and very dead bird inside. She closed her eyes and groaned, wishing she could be anywhere else.

Quinn swung open the stall door once again and stepped out into the fitting room. She saw Sandi standing nearby, then turned to inspect herself in a mirror. Less than a second later, her head swiveled back to stare at her friend.

"That's, um, certainly going to get everyone's attention," Quinn said diplomatically, covering her mouth to hide a small smile.

Sandi looked at herself in a mirror and chuckled. "Okay, maybe the head-to-toe sequins were a little over the top," she admitted.

Quinn moved her hand to reveal a grin. "Sequins? I didn't even notice the sequins. I was too busy looking at all that fur trim!"

"Okay, so this one definitely isn't a winner. But, really, any dress would look flashy next to that!" Sandi gestured at Quinn's dress, which was high-necked and plain, with long sleeves and a skirt that brushed the floor. "If it was black, you'd look like a nun!"

Unable to suppress a giggle, Quinn said, "At least they aren't identical."

Sandi nodded, and both girls were smiling as they returned to their stalls. As soon as the doors closed, Theresa poked her head up over the counter and breathed a sigh of relief.

The clerk finished arranging a display of sweaters and turned around to find Tiffany directly behind him, staring blankly. "Oh!" the clerk gasped, startled. "Um, did you need--"

"Do you have those thiiiings?" Tiffany asked, oblivious to the clerk's surprise.

"Um, could you be more specific?"

"You know, thiiiings."

"Jeans? Shoes? Pantyhose?"

Tiffany shook her head slowly. "No, the thiiiings. That you wear."

"Okay..." The clerk looked around to confirm that they were, in fact, completely surrounded by wearable items. "Can you tell me anything about the type're looking for?"

" fasten them?"

At this, the clerk brightened a little. "Okay, well, at least that leaves out T-shirts, sweatpants, and slip-on shoes!"

"Ewww...sweatpants," Tiffany replied with a wrinkled nose. Then, after a moment, she added, "I think sometimes they don't fasten...sometimes you just slip them on."

The clerk choked back a reply that his manager would no doubt have disapproved of. "Fine. Let's try this: where do you wear these 'things?'"

Tiffany tilted her head. "Weeelllll, I wear them to the mall, and to school, and at home, and on dates, and--"

"Where. On. Your. Body?"

"Yeesss. Of course I wear them on my body." Tiffany frowned at the clerk. "You aren't very smaaart."

Just as the clerk had reached his boiling point, Tiffany turned to see a rack of belts that had been prominently displayed next to her during the entire exchange. "Ohhh, here are the thiiiings." She plucked one from the rack and turned back to the clerk. "Do you have those other thiiiings?"

"I'm going on my break."

"!" Sandi called out before swinging open her stall door. Across from her, Quinn opened hers at the same time.

"Oh, wow," Quinn giggled, seeing Sandi's outfit.

Sandi did a brief pirouette to show off the short leather skirt, slit nearly to her hips, and the barely-there tube top she'd chosen to go with it. Gaudy fake jewelry rattled around her wrists and neck as she turned back to face Quinn. "Thanks," she said, then pointed at her friend. "But there's no way I can top that!"

Quinn struck a demure pose. Her dress was extremely ornate, with lots of beading and a very full skirt. It was also white and came with a veil. "Why, thank you, Sandi! Although I think my date might get the wrong idea if I showed up looking like this."

"Your date might get the wrong idea? What do you suppose my date would think?"

"I bet I can guess," Quinn replied with a wink.

Both girls dissolved into giggles as they dropped to the floor. "Well, certainly no one can say these dresses look alike," Sandi pointed out.

"Ha! Far from it," Quinn agreed. "Although I'm pretty sure they're both serious fashion 'don'ts' for the prom!"

"Oh, but Quinn," Sandi said with a slight chuckle. "We do want to be the center of attention, right?"

Quinn grinned and pointed to Sandi's prominently displayed cleavage. "I don't think that's the kind of attention you want!"

Sandi gasped in mock horror. "But no one should be looking at me! It's rude to ignore the bride on her special day!"

"And don't you forget it!" Quinn said in between fits of giggling. "Oh, wow. Can you imagine Blake's face if I wore this to the prom with him?"

The laughter died in Sandi's throat. "Blake?" she asked. "Blake Worthington?"

Quinn paled. "Yes," she answered slowly. "Why do you ask?"

"Because he's going to ask me to the prom, that's why!" Sandi got to her feet quickly, staring down at Quinn with her arms crossed.

Standing up to look her in the eye, Quinn stared right back. "I'm sure there must be some mistake. Blake has been dropping hints about the prom for weeks."

"On the contrary, Quinn," Sandi said haughtily. "He has made it very clear that I'm the one he's interested in."

Theresa sauntered into the dressing room with an armful of dresses. "How is the search going?" she asked cheerily. When she saw the looks on the girls' faces, the smile froze on her face as she resisted the urge to drop the dresses and run away.

"Fine," Sandi answered sharply. "We got a little sidetracked, but now I think we both know how important this shopping trip is."

"Absolutely," Quinn replied without looking away. "Finding the best dress just became top priority."

As the girls returned to their stalls, Theresa sagged against a nearby counter and groaned. "I deserve so much more than minimum wage for this."

"So, for the last time," the man said as he shook his finger only inches from Stacy's nose, "I'm a paying customer, and if I want a green puppy with pink polka dots, then I'm going to get a green puppy with pink polka dots! I don't think your boss would appreciate it if I had to take my business elsewhere, do you?"

As he continued to rant, Stacy struggled to keep from hyperventilating. I can't do this, she thought. Why did I think I could handle a job? Why did I think I could do anything right? It's like Sandi always says--

She froze. Sandi.

Just as the customer's tirade finally came to a halt, Stacy tilted her chin up and sniffed. "Gee, sir," she said in an all-too-familiar tone. "I'm sure an intelligent man like yourself would realize that pink and green are clashing colors, and therefore completely unsuitable for human or dog. But I'm sure you already knew that, didn't you?"

The man blinked in confusion, unsure how to react to her haughty tone.

"And since no such dog exists, this is of course just a joke that you're playing on me," she continued. "How funny." Her no-nonsense attitude, learned from years spent on the other end of it, won out as the man mumbled agreement and hurried out of the store.

She fixed a cold stare on the remaining customers. "Did anyone else have a complaint?" she asked. They all quickly shook their heads, eyes wide.

Stacy smiled pleasantly. "Good."

Peeking out of her stall, Quinn watched Sandi enter another stall with a dress. She bolted out of her own stall and quickly located the rack of dresses Sandi had chosen. She flipped through the dresses until she located her prize, then raced back to the fitting room with it.

After checking under the door to see that Sandi's feet were facing the other direction, Quinn quietly reached over the door to pull out the dress Sandi had brought in with her. She then very carefully lowered the new dress over the door to replace it. Tossing the first dress behind the counter, Quinn waited patiently for the door to open.

"What the--" After a brief exclamation, Sandi carefully stepped out of the stall, staring down at herself in confusion as she approached the mirrors.

"Wow, Sandi," Quinn commented. "That looks a little snug."

Sandi tugged at the too-tight material around her waist and thighs. "But I've been trying on fours all day!" she protested.

"Isn't it weird how suddenly weight gain can sneak up on you?"

With a suspicious frown, Sandi twisted to examine the tag on the dress. "Not as weird as this dress changing from a four to a zero while I was in the stall," she replied as she glared at Quinn.

Theresa cautiously poked her head up from under the counter, where she'd been hiding until a dress had flown over it and landed on her head. "If you need a size four," she offered, "there seems to be one over here."

Sandi took the dress from Theresa without looking away from Quinn. "That's very convenient," she sniffed before returning to the stall with it.

A clerk looked up from the jewelry counter to see blank eyes looking back at her. "Hi!" she said brightly. "How can I help you?"

Tiffany blinked once, then said, "I want a red necklace."

Smiling, the clerk reached under the counter to pull out a ruby pendant necklace. "Do you mean something like this?" she asked.

"Nooo," Tiffany said, shaking her head slowly. "It should be waaayyyy bigger." She held her hands in a circle the size of a baseball.

The clerk laughed slightly. "I'm pretty certain we don't have a ruby that size, and if we did, it would cost more than the rest of our stock put together. Perhaps you're thinking more along the lines of costume jewelry?"

"Whatever," said Tiffany. "As long as it glows."

"Glows?" Then, with a flash of understanding, she walked over to a display of children's dress-up jewelry. "This necklace has a battery operated light in it." She pressed a small button on the necklace and the red plastic center flashed several times in succession. "Is that what you're looking for?"

Tiffany wrinkled her nose. "I don't know. Does it kill draaaagons?"

The clerk paused to see if she was joking, but realized she was serious. "Um. Well, I can say with almost complete certainty that you won't be bothered by dragons when you wear this necklace."

"Ohhh, good. It lets you travel around in time, too, right?"

" It's a kid's toy."

"It lets kiiiids travel around in time?"

The clerk leaned against the counter and stared at Tiffany in confusion. "No. Listen, have you actually seen a necklace like that before?"

Tiffany nodded. "There was this girl who wore it, and it glowed all the time and she fought dragons and traveled back and forth in time with it."

Something clicked. "You saw this in a movie, didn't you?"

"Yeaaahhhh. Do you have one like that?"

"There is no such thing as a glowing necklace that kills dragons and travel in time. It simply doesn't exist. It was a movie, and the movie wasn't real."

Tiffany frowned slightly. "'s like that hairspray?"

Too tired to feel confused anymore, the clerk sighed and shrugged. "Sure."

"Heeyyy, do you have any necklaces that will style my hair for me?"

"I'm going on my break."

Double-checking the size tag one last time, Sandi slipped on the next dress and stepped out of the stall. Quinn was wearing an attractive green dress and admiring herself in the mirror.

Sandi, instantly jealous of the flattering dress, commented, "You know, I think it's good that we decided to go with green for you and blue for me. I just remembered that blue is Blake's favorite color, so that'll work out perfectly."

Quinn's shoulders tensed. She looked away from the mirror and said, "Oh, I don't know. If you knew Blake like I do, you'd realize that he isn't the type to be impressed by something as simple as color."

"But, Quinn," Sandi replied with a smirk, "if you truly understood Blake, you'd also know that it's exactly those little details that make a difference to him."

"Maybe the boys you're used to dating are like that," Quinn shot back, "but Blake is too mature to care about silly things like dress color."

Sandi just fumed for a minute, then glanced again at Quinn's dress. "Oh, look. There's something on your dress. Let me just get that for you."

Reaching over, Sandi yanked hard on a plastic tag attached to Quinn's dress. Red ink appeared in a garish stain against the green material.

"Oh, no!" Quinn cried. "It's ruined!"

"Oops," Sandi said calmly. "But don't worry; it's just a bunch of red ink. Blake isn't the type to be impressed by something as simple as color, right?"

Quinn only glared at Sandi's smug face as she returned to her stall to remove the damaged gown.

Humming quietly, Stacy checked her watch. "Time for your water!" she told the iguanas as she measured out precisely three and a quarter teaspoons. On her way back, she examined Joanne to make sure a recent customer hadn't aggravated her sensitive scales when he'd handled her. Satisfied that Joanne was quite healthy, she continued on to feed the canaries.

"How's everything been for you?" Mr. Matthews asked as he walked in the store, back from lunch.

"Fine," Stacy said with a tiny smile. "I let the puppies out to play for a while because they were getting antsy." Seeing Mr. Matthews open his mouth to speak, she added, "Don't worry. I put a blanket down to protect their paws."

"Oh! Good," he replied, surprised.

"I also noticed that Jimbo--the goldfish with the black spot on his left side--looked a little bored so I put one of those castle things in his aquarium to play with." She paused and glanced around the store. "Let see...the gerbils need new bedding in their cages, so I'll go take care of that now that you're back. But I'll make sure I'm back in forty-five minutes to give Maria and Pedro more water."

Mr. Matthews stared at her in shock for a minute before he finally spoke. "You appear to have everything covered," he commented. "You're very organized for a high school student."

Stacy giggled. "Trust me, I've done much harder jobs than this. Have you ever had to coordinate four dating schedules, cross-reference wardrobe choices to avoid accidental duplication, and catalog every dateable boy at Lawndale High School according to car type and tooth whiteness--all while trying to keep two psychotically competitive high school snobs from killing each other in the most passive-aggressive way imaginable?"

"I, uh, no. I can't say as I have." Mr. Matthews turned toward the cash register, then paused and called over to Stacy, "Once you're done with that, would you mind feeding Joanne? Her food is in the back room."

"Sure," Stacy replied. "What does she eat?"

He told her. Five minutes later, she regained consciousness.

Quinn sighed as she put a hand on the stall door. "Last one," she muttered. "I've tried on every single freaking dress in this entire store, so it's down to this one." She opened the door and stepped out.

Across from her, Sandi's door swung open as she stepped out. "Oh, come on!" both girls cried at once.

Each girl was wearing the exact same blue-green dress with fringe trim.

Sandi glared. "So, it's not enough that you want to steal my date for the prom. Now you insist on trying to steal my dress, too?"

"Blake is not your date!" Quinn snapped. "He hasn't asked you, and he isn't going to. He's going to ask me."

"It's so cute that you think so," Sandi replied with a smirk.

"Don't talk to me about cute when you're wearing a dress that makes you look like a turquoise nightmare of a lampshade!"

Sandi jabbed a finger back at her. "You're wearing the exact same dress!"

Quinn tossed her hair. "Right, but I look good in it."

"If by 'good,' you mean 'pale and washed out,' then I totally agree."

Staggering back half a step, Quinn replied, "I'd rather look pale than frumpy."

Sandi clenched her fists. "Frumpy?! The only thing that's frumpy is your two-seasons-ago haircut!"

"According to Waif, my hairstyle is in right now," Quinn said through gritted teeth. "Perhaps you should borrow my copy, though. It has a great article that might help you get rid of those zits."

"I do not have zits! Besides, you have split ends!"

"You have uneven tan lines!"

"Ragged fingernails!"

"Chapped elbows!"

"You look fat in that dress!"

Gasps rippled through every customer within earshot. Horrified faces poked out of stalls. Customers from outside the fitting room leaned in to see what kind of person would drop the fashion A-bomb.

The two girls in the middle of it all just seethed at each other in silence for a moment. Then, with a high-pitched roar, they sprang toward each other with hands outstretched for blood.

The clerk at the makeup counter gave a friendly smile to the girl standing in front of her. The girl stared back for a moment, then pointed at some eye shadow.

"I want to try this," Tiffany said.

"Sure," the clerk replied. "We've got a sample of it right here." She picked up the trial version of the eye shadow and held it out to Tiffany.

"Nooo, I want to try this one."

"It's the same eye shadow," the clerk explained. "This is just the trial one. We let everyone use it to try it out so we don't have to open the rest."

Tiffany wrinkled her nose. "Ewww."

Shaking her head, the clerk added, "It's okay. Everyone uses a new brush, so it's sanitary."

"But it's still used."

The clerk sighed, then shrugged. "All right, I guess I can make an exception." Picking up a new container of eye shadow, the clerk opened the plastic packaging and gave the container to Tiffany.

Tiffany brushed on the makeup and admired her face in a nearby mirror. "Yeaaaahhh," she said. "I'll buy it."

"Great!" the clerk said. "I'll just scan the package and you can take it."

"No, I don't want this one. It's been used."

The clerk froze. "Well, yeah. You used it."

Tiffany nodded. "I don't want to buy used eye shadow."

Gritting her teeth, the clerk picked up another unopened container of eye shadow and scanned it. The moment she finished the transaction and closed the register, Tiffany turned to look at a new display. "Oooh, this lip gloss looks pretty. Can I--"

The clerk spun around on her heel and walked away. "I'm going on my break."

Theresa jumped between Quinn and Sandi, belatedly realizing that this could be a fatal mistake. "Stop!" she cried, nerves shot. She was completely overworked, now that every other clerk in the vicinity had apparently gone on break at the same time.

Fortunately for her, both Quinn and Sandi stopped, lowered their hands, and turned her way.

"Look," Theresa began, silently praying that she wouldn't become the new target of their rage. "I think you both should know that I just overheard another girl talking to someone." She took a deep breath. "She said Blake Worthington asked her to the prom."

"Asked who?" the girls demanded.

"I think her name was Melissa," Theresa replied, talking quickly. "I didn't catch her last name, but she was very skinny and had kind of stringy blond hair."

"Melissa Stewart?" Sandi screeched.

"He asked Prissy Missy to the prom?!" Quinn added, disgusted.

Calming down, Sandi rolled her eyes. "Ugh. It looks like we may have to reexamine Blake's dateability in light if his recent lapse in judgment."

"Definitely." Quinn nodded as she glanced into a mirror to smooth her hair.

"Wait," Theresa interrupted, curiosity overriding her survival instincts. "Just, like, a minute ago you were going to tear each other apart. Now everything's fine?"

"Well, duh," Quinn replied. "He's not worth it anymore."

"But aren't you at least angry at him? I mean, he did lead you both on and then go after someone else!"

"Yes, and we're going to utterly destroy him for it," Sandi said calmly.

"Of course," Quinn agreed, "but right now we've got more important things to worry about: dress shopping."

"I'm sorry it didn't work out, sir," Stacy said, apologizing for the seventh time. "And I really hope the canaries weren't too traumatized when I knocked their cage over." She rubbed the sore spot on her head where she'd connected with the cage as she fainted, then shook Mr. Matthews' hand and walked out of the store.

As she strolled through the mall corridors, it occurred to Stacy that she hadn't been paid for the short time she'd worked at the pet store. She mulled her options: keep walking and accept the situation as a lesson learned or go back to the scene of her trauma and humiliation, initiate a confrontation, and stand up for her own rights.

She kept walking.

"Oh, no!" she gasped in realization as she walked into Cashman's. "I don't have a dress for the prom! I can't go back empty-handed or they'll wonder where I've been."

Glancing around, she approached the nearest clothing rack and picked up the first dress she found in her size. "They'll pick apart my choice no matter what I get, so why bother looking any harder?"

Whistling softly, she made her way to a cash register. "I wonder how everyone else's day has been?"

"Friends again?" Sandi asked Quinn as they put away their discarded dresses.

"Sure," Quinn replied. "And, you know, sorry about that stuff earlier."

"Don't mention it. Oh, and me too."

The arduous task of reconciliation now complete, Quinn's attention returned to more important things. "Now, what about the prom? I mean, we've been searching for hours and neither of us even has a 'maybe' dress yet. Aside from the dresses we both want, of course."

Sandi nodded thoughtfully. "And that's such a shame, isn't it? That first green dress was just perfect."

"Totally," Quinn agreed. "And, really, one of us should wear it. It would be, like, a crime not to."

"Hmm." Sandi sat down in a nearby chair and considered. "What about a compromise? We could flip a coin for the dress, and then whoever wins has to help the other find an equally attractive dress next weekend."

"That...could totally work," Quinn replied. She dug a quarter out of her purse and held it out. "Heads or tails?"


Quinn flipped the coin, caught it, and revealed it on the back of her hand. Heads. "Son of a bi--I mean, congratulations, Sandi!" she said with fake sincerity.

"Theresa!" Sandi called over her shoulder.

Theresa, leaning against a nearby wall with her eyes closed, looked over at them with dread. "Yes?"

"Do you still have that green halter dress back here? Size four."

Theresa shook her head. "No, I put it back half an hour ago. You'd better hurry, though; it was the last one."

Sandi dashed out of the fitting room, with Quinn close behind, only to come face-to-face with Stacy.

"Hey, guys," Stacy said casually. "Did you find your dresses yet?" Slung over her shoulder was a newly-purchased dress. It was dark green, slinky, floor-length, and had a halter neckline.

Theresa looked at the expressions on Quinn and Sandi's faces and shuddered. "I'm going on my break."

That evening, Quinn staggered into the house and collapsed face-down on a couch in the living room.

"You missed dinner," Daria called from the kitchen. "But I took the leftovers out of the fridge for you."

Unable to move, Quinn responded with a cross between a grunt and a groan.

"Better hurry, unless you want your pizza to get warm." Daria came to the kitchen entryway and shook her head at her unmoving sister. "It must be truly exhausting to try on clothes and spend Mom and Dad's money all day. I'm sure you were lucky to escape with your life."

Face hidden by the couch cushions, Quinn had only enough energy to smirk.


Tiffany sat a tidy desk, face illuminated by a computer screen. Her vacant stare was now replaced by intense concentration as she put her fingers to the keyboard and began to type.

Research notes, Day 429:

Initial observations while acting alone in a commercial shopping environment indicate that subjects in the "employee" sample react to affected stupidity with confusion and avoidance tactics. This differs from subjects in the "friend" sample, who react to affected stupidity with annoyance and inattention.

Further field study is required in order to determine whether such reactions are a product of socialized defense mechanisms or more inherent evolutionary characteristics. Controlled experiments may also reveal whether or not the application of operant conditioning will duplicate these same behaviors.

Thanks to RLobinske for beta reading.