Heartbeat in Iambic
by Dennis

I'll always remember the day I realized... but wait. I'm getting ahead of myself. I should start at the Post Office, three weeks before. Or maybe I should start with my brothers and the stairs. But to understand that, I have to go back to Freshman year... so let's just start at the Post Office.

It was the first Saturday in December of Junior year. I headed out early because I had an errand to run. It wasn't my usual thing—getting up early on Saturdays or running my own errands—but this was something only I could do, and the earlier I got it done, the less likely someone I knew would see me. After all, the President of the Lawndale High Fashion Club shouldn't be seen doing anything as geeky as mailing a package, especially the package I was mailing that day.

The Post Office was nearly empty when I walked in. A blessing, I thought to myself, and slipped into line. I took the precaution of wearing a heavy jacket and a head scarf—in tasteful colors, of course—to hide who I was. The big sunglasses might have been a fashion don't, but they completed my disguise, so I was willing to live with them.

I held the package against my chest, label facing in, until it was my turn. My heart suddenly began to pound as I passed the package across to the postal clerk, but she just weighed it and asked for three dollars and ninety-four cents, as if the President of the Fashion Club hadn't just risked her position and her very status as a popular teen by handing over the package. I paid her wordlessly, when just as I turned, I saw Quinn's sister walk in.

Daria made me uncomfortable. She was a brain, and she was Quinn's sister. And Quinn had admitted that Daria was her sister, during the teacher's strike right before I broke my leg, which meant that Daria might tell Quinn if she figured out why I was here. But would it really be that bad if Quinn knew? Last year, I had no doubt. Quinn finding out would be the worst thing possible. But this year, I wasn't so sure. Still, I wasn't willing to bet my popularity on it. I had to decide what to do.

Before I could, though, Daria walked right past me, heading for one of the mail drop slots. If I didn't know better, I would have said she was as nervous as I was, but I didn't think Daria ever got nervous... or showed any emotions at all. Another reason she made me uncomfortable. Well, I'd either had a great escape or been caught red-handed, but either way, the damage was done, and it was time for me to go.

Unlike with Daria, I saw Mr. O'Neill before he walked through the clear front door. Rather than try to make it past him, I ducked behind one of the big stamp machines and let him walk by. Curious, I watched as he walked over to Daria, peeking around the corner of the machine like a spy in a James Bond movie. I thought being a Bond Girl might be cool, as long as I didn't have to sweat.

"Musings Magazine?" Mr. O'Neill asked Daria in his usual breathy whine. "Are you submitting a story? That's wonderful." I choked on a shocked gasp."I'd appreciate it if you didn't tell anyone about this," Daria said in her usual monotone.

Knowing O'Neill, he'd keep her there for a good five minutes, so I made a point of getting out of there right away. I'd found out enough to know that Daria was no threat. With O'Neill poking his nose into her business, she'd have no time to wonder what I was up to. I almost wanted to head back and tell her, "That's what you get for showing off in class," but I knew better, just like I knew better than to let the Human Handkerchief know that I was a talented poet. Or that I was submitting a poem for publication on the same day to the same magazine as his prize pupil, Daria Morgendorffer. Plus, I still had an article on aubergine to write.

Back in my room, I took a break from the ridiculous article to consider the irony of my predicament. Here I'd spent my entire high school career hiding my interest in writing from the Fashion Club, especially Quinn, and Quinn of all people had to bring it up.

I'd made up my mind that Wednesday to submit the poem, so I was really just focused on getting through the rest of the week. Of course, we had the Fashion Club meeting on Thursday, like we did every Thursday. That week, we were deciding how to finance a beautification project for the school—okay, we were going to replace a mirror in the girls' bathroom. But hey, it felt good to do something nice, like the models on FashionVision, and we all hated that mirror. How is a pretty and popular girl supposed to know she's pretty and popular if the mirror makes her look like she should be in a mumu? I exaggerate. But only slightly.

I'd just put Stacy in her place for making some silly suggestion when Quinn jumped in, "Why don't we do what we do best?"

"Quinn, no one is going to pay us to eat carrot sticks." I was proud of that line. My relationship with Quinn was complicated, to say the least. Admittedly, she had helped me through that horrible weight gain after I broke my leg, but there were still times I felt the need to put her in her place, and this was one of them.

Of course, one of the problems with Quinn is she never stays in her place very long. "I mean," I could swear I heard disappointment in her voice, "tell people what's wrong with their outfits.

Now it was Tiffany's turn to say something stupid. I ignored her to concentrate on the sinking feeling in my stomach. I had my suspicious about what Quinn would say, and it made me very uncomfortable.

"Well," Quinn said, confirming my fears, "we could put it down on paper, sell our own newsletter offering advice to fashion victims...." Damn! She said it. Not that writing a fashion forecast was anywhere close to long-form love poetry in iambic pentameter, but I wasn't really comfortable associating writing with the Fashion Club in any way. After all, I'd been hiding my writing for so long, it had become second nature.

It wasn't something I wanted to be good at. I just am. I'd figured out by Middle School that I had a compulsion to write, but when you have a clueless jellyfish for a father, an ambitious control-freak for a mother, and two barely human pod creatures as brothers, you learn to hide anything that could be considered deviant.

So I wrote for myself and hid it from everyone else. Sometimes, I just tore the pages up after I finished. After all, I wasn't writing for anyone to read it. I wanted to be popular and date cute boys, rich boys, the right boys, not get stuck with the "sensitive" guys in the Creative Writing club. At least that's what I told myself at the time. Now, I think that's what Linda wanted for me; Sandi just wanted to write.

As Quinn wound down, I snuck a look at Stacy and Tiffany. Both of them had approving looks on their faces. At one time, I could have squashed any idea I didn't like, but since the weight-gain incident—let's face it, since the beginning of the school year at least—I didn't have the power I once did. Quinn's independence was having an effect on Tiffany and Stacy. Besides, I was tired of being in conflict with Quinn. It was much nicer to see a real smile on her face than the fake ones we so often showed.

So, I gave in. "A commendable idea," I said. "All in favor?" All three hands went up. I wouldn't be surprised, looking back, if Quinn had some idea of what went through my mind. And I knew she knew that there was no way I would have called for a vote if I didn't know all three hands would go up.

Suddenly, I was tired. I wanted to get back to my own writing. I let the meeting roll on around me, as Stacy and Tiffany exchanged vapid comments. I let them decide what each of us would be writing about. I got colors, a subject I could knock out in my sleep.

I was tempted to do just that—write the article in my sleep. I was drained from my adventure to the Post Office, but I had to have the damn article done for Sunday, which left Saturday afternoon. And the article needed more effort than it seemed. You'd think it would be easy to dumb down for a fashion article—it's how I spend most of my life—but it's not. For example, I can't describe aubergine as having "...the richness and depth of a fine wine or a life well-lived." Not even one of my best, but a little too descriptive for the Fashion Club, so I replaced it with, "like a fine wine, if wines were colors, aubergine is dark, tasteful, and goes well with fish." If there's a hell, I'm surely headed there.

Of course, the Fashion Club loved my article. Well, Stacy and Tiffany did, and I made appropriate positive noises about their articles, and Quinn's. I'm not totally sure Quinn liked my article, but if she didn't, she did a good enough job pretending. Ever since she'd been tutored over the summer, Quinn's self-confidence has grown. It made me uncomfortable.

Look, I'm not a nice person, and I know I'm not a nice person—like mother, like daughter—but I like knowing I'm in control of my friends—that I'm the smartest, the most sophisticated, the most desirable. And here's Quinn, taking all of that away. I could deal with her being more popular, because I always had a way to take her down a peg. Now, all of a sudden, she's not only more popular, but smarter, wiser, and starting to show more sophistication. And to top it all off, when I broke my stupid leg and gained all that weight, it was Quinn who helped me lose it. As if our relationship wasn't complicated enough.

I closed the meeting with what I hoped was a stirring statement, something like, "Fellow pundits, let's go to print." My mind was on other things, though. Fortunately, new Quinn or no, I could run Fashion Club meetings on autopilot, and often did when the Muse took me. Stacy said she could get copies printed overnight, and Quinn offered to help. Once upon a time, I'd have kept Tiffany around to vent about Quinn and Stacy, but I didn't feel like it anymore. Tiff took the hint after a few minutes and headed out.

I flipped open the laptop and logged in. I had an idea that I wanted to start on, but it was being difficult, so instead I took a look at "Lovelife in Amber," the poem I'd submitted to Musings. At that moment, I was wondering why I submitted it. I found it unsettling—the poem was full of obvious images of frustrated love and desire, and I preferred to handle those subjects with abstract symbolism. Heck, I didn't even know who the poem was about.

I started it the Friday after I was thin enough to go back to school, and by Monday it was finished, if still rough. There were definitely some strong feelings behind the poem, which shocked me, because the only strong feeling I usually have is anger. I'm angry a lot of the time. It comes out as contempt, which is probably why I treat Stacy and Tiffany the way I do, but I try not to worry about it. After all, Tiff and Stace get to be popular, and I get punching bags, so something for everyone.

But it doesn't come out as doomed love. I date boys because they're there and they're a sign of status; I already know that none of the ones at Lawndale High are worth it long-term. Mack's not bad, but he's attached to Jodie at the hip. Scoring the QB would be a huge coup, but Kevin's such an idiot that the popularity points aren't worth the trauma. None of the others had stirred anything more than vague interest, certainly not anything close to love. Since I wasn't going to do anything, I shut down the laptop and flipped on the TV—FashionVision it was for the rest of the night.

Stacy was as good as her word, and the next day we had two hundred copies of Fashion Club Forecast to sell to our adoring public. I wasn't sure how much of the public actually adored us, but since we are the most popular girls in school, I figured we'd draw a pretty good crowd. Ms. Li let us set up a table in the hall between classes and during lunch and study hall. I'm not sure why. I guess she thought the chance to have students running a successful fashion magazine would had to the honor and glory of Laaaaawwwwndale High.

A crowd had started to gather so I went into full-on President Of The Fashion Club mode. "Friends and followers," I declaimed proudly. I really wasn't that into the newsletter project, but I did want to see it do well. After all, it was a fashion magazine, and it would be a feather in my cap if we pulled it off. "As President of the Fashion Club, I am proud to announce the first issue of our cutting edge publication predicting upcoming trends in personal deportment, while providing underwriting to a deserving cause." I knew I was laying it on pretty thick, but I was having fun, and it wasn't every day I got to stretch my vocabulary. Of course. Joey blew it by asking what I was talking about, so I broke it down for him simply. And Jeffy figured out it was a fashion magazine, and they all started to back away. It was then I noticed that the crowd around us was all guys... and I started to smell disaster on the wind.

Quinn, of course, jumped in and got all the guys to buy multiple copies, so the disaster was averted. I couldn't help but feel disappointed—not with Quinn; I was starting to come to terms with her power over at least certain guys—but that none of the girls seemed interested. After all, we hadn't written the newsletter for a bunch of guys, even if it would be fun to see them try to follow our advice.

Looking around, I saw Daria and her art-friend—Jane, her name is—a little way down the hall. I wondered if they were talking about us, or about Daria's story. I wondered when it would get to Musings, and when my poem would get to Musings. I wondered how Daria would take it if I got published and she didn't, and how Quinn would take it. I wondered if Quinn even knew that Daria had tried to sell a story, or if she suspected about me. With a sigh, I went back to selling newsletters.

Over the next week, we managed to sell about half the newsletters. Of course, we were still selling them mostly to boys, because Quinn and Stacy persuaded them, Quinn by being Quinn and Stacy by begging. We did have a couple of interesting sales. That burnout girl, the one with the long blonde hair that covered her face, bought one and so did the goth chick, Andrea. I wasn't going to ask why they wanted one, though I did think I heard Andrea say something about "looking for the shortest road to hell" or whatever.

We were still short of our fundraising goal, and sales were dying off by the end of the week. Stacy, in particular, was upset about it. She nearly burst into tears at the table on Friday--hardly surprising for Stacy.

"We're never going to get the money," she wailed. "I'll be looking at a fat reflection in that mirror until graduation."

"Stacy! Calm down!" Maybe I was a little sharp with her, but I was still slightly sensitive to the F-word. "We'll make our goals. Waif is putting out its "What's Hot and What's Rot" issue at the end of next week. When everyone sees what a great job we did, the rest of this issue will sell out, and we'll have back orders for the next issue!"

"Do you really think so?" Stacy asked, her incipient tears drying up.

"Of course," I said. "After all, we're the Fashion Club. Who knows fashion better than we do?" I've been more wrong in my life, but not many times.

I spent the weekend worrying about my poem while pretending to worry about the newsletter, Or at least I thought I did. Honestly, that weekend's pretty much a blur. I don't even remember the Fashion Club meeting. I did do some more writing that weekend, but it was mostly short-form free verse, which was more my normal thing. I wrestled with the question of where "Lovelife in Amber" had come from. I wasn't in love. Was I? If I was, I think I would know, so I couldn't be.

The next school week dragged terribly. Each grain in the hourglass seemed to treat its falling like a momentous occasion requiring due consideration and ceremony. After a year, I looked up and it was still only Tuesday morning. I saw Daria in the halls a couple of times. She looked even twitchier than I must have felt. I don't think I would have noticed if I hadn't been in the same place, but since I was, I was almost tempted to talk to her. But I couldn't imagine she'd appreciate my sympathy, or the fact that we shared an interest.

Daria doesn't have much use for anyone in the Fashion Club. If I didn't know that before, having her teach our English class drove the point home. I was sorry to bag her Romeo and Juliet essay—taking Stacy and Tiffany with me—but there was no way I was going to show talent in front of Daria. She was way too perceptive when she chose to be, and as Quinn's sister, she was a double threat. Anyway, I don't much like Shakespeare's plays—a bunch of morons blundering around and falling in love by accident if they're lucky, or getting killed if they aren't. On the other hand, his sonnets are magnificent.

Finally, Thursday came, when the new Waif was supposed to arrive. The meeting this week was at Quinn's house. Sure enough, when we got there, the issue was waiting on the Morgendorffers' coffee table, pristine in its brown shipping wrapper. Time to show the haughty, I thought. "This is a major moment for the Fashion Club. Today, we go from being fashion forward to trendsetters." I like to think my Queen Bee act is mostly a put-on, but sometimes I wonder. "As President of the Fashion Club, I will do the honors."

"Oh, Sandi," Quinn said, "no one deserves the honor as much as you." I also wonder how much of Quinn's act is artifice. Actually, I wonder whether all of it is. Stacy wore an eager smile, and Tiffany had her wide-eyed look that passes for interest.

I gently opened the paper to reveal the precious magazine within. I held it up so we could gaze at the cover, and four identical gasps of horror escaped simultaneously from four stunned mouths.

Quinn was the first to speak. "I can't believe all of our newsletter predictions were wrong. Hems hike up, heels fall down, tweezing isn't pleasing!" Having stated her, Stacy, and Tiffany's failures, she looked at me, her doll face showing disappointment and hurt. "And dark colors, like aubergine, are over." Stacy and Tiffany wore similar looks of sadness.

I'm sure I was no picture of joy either. I hadn't really cared about the newsletter, but no one wants to be so wrong about something they consider themselves an expert in. I hoped it wasn't an omen for my poem. "Who would have thought that brightly comic tones like peach and lemon would suddenly come into vogue."

Meeting Quinn's eyes, with all their hurt and shock was too much. I looked down, when out of the corner of my eye, I saw an envelope from Musings. I wondered if mine had arrived. I'd gotten a post office box to receive it, to reduce the chance that my weasel brothers would find it and rip it up. All of a sudden, it was too much—our failure, Quinn's pain, the worry about the poem, my own confusion of the past few weeks. "I need to be alone," I said, and left.

Once home, I headed straight to my room to think. My problems seemed to be multiplying, with a threat to the Fashion Club's popularity added to all the others. I hadn't considered that failing so egregiously at predicting fashion trends could hurt our reputation and standing, but it was obvious to me now. Of course, I could always hold the failure over Quinn's head, since it was her idea, but I was tired of holding things over Quinn's head.

After considering the problem from all angles, I decided the best thing to do was offer a recall and pretend the mistakes weren't our fault. The sooner we got the copies back and destroyed them, the sooner the whole debacle could be made to disappear. When I called Quinn about it, she agreed.

Convincing Ms. Li to allow us class time to recall the newsletter wasn't as easy as convincing her to let us sell it in the first place, but we managed. As President, I again got to address the halls, but this time wasn't nearly as fun. "Attention!" I said, raising my arms for quiet. "Due to a senseless act of sabotage under investigation by investigators, the articles in our newsletter were altered prior to publication, and without our knowledge. We are therefore rectifying the situation by issuing refunds." As I finished speaking, all the boys began clamoring for their money back.

"So, everyone, just ignore what you read," Stacy added, unnecessarily, I thought. The blank stares that met her words reinforced the point.

"You didn't read it at all, did you?" asked Quinn with a little catch in her voice. The boys looked guilty.

"Being an author sucks," Tiffany drawled. For an irrational second, I wanted to hit her.

Much more rationally, and for much longer than a second, I wanted to hit Jeffy too, when he asked, "Want us to read it now?"

"No," we chorused. Best to bury this newsletter fiasco as soon as we could.

And that's what we did. Well not quite literally. We didn't dig a grave for them—manual labor is totally geeky, and we'd have been sweating within minutes. But we did collect all the magazines and toss them the dumpster. Well, Stacy did the actual tossing, with Quinn and Tiffany's help. As President, it was my job to supervise. Plus, there was no way I was going to wear the bright yellow sanitary gloves Stacy wore.

The pile that marked our failure grew smaller, and Stacy and Tiffany exchanged empty babble. Well, Stacy did catch my attention when she asked, "What do you think this stuff is that looks like vomit?" Stacy was a tomboy when we were kids, and she's still got a pretty wide streak in her, which I tried to discourage. I could reprimand her just by saying her name. I did, and got the requisite apology.

After a moment, Quinn said, "I guess we aren't going to make our fundraising goal." Quinn was really taking this hard, I noticed. I think Quinn had felt this was really an opportunity to show her stuff, and she'd—we'd all—gone down in flames. Part of me wanted to reach out and give her a reassuring pat, stroke that long red hair and tell her everything was going to be alright. It was a very un-Sandi-like emotion, and I quashed it quickly. Quinn was tough; she'd get over it.

"It's just so unfair that you have to do something to get a plaque," Stacy said, and in a flash I had an idea how to put this ridiculous magazine fiasco behind us. It was easy, quick, and would free my mind for more important matters. And I'd be downtown tomorrow morning to hit the Post Office anyway. I decided I'd let the others in on it later. For now, I just urged them to finish more quickly so we could get away from the dumpster before the smell settled in our clothes.

Saturday, I woke with a start. My heart was pounding, my head was throbbing, and my body was soaked with sweat. For a split second, everything seemed strange, lost in shadow, and I was terrified. Then my eyes adjusted to the light, and the familiar surroundings of my room came into focus—the swan picture, the pink dresser and matching bookshelf, the flower print on the carpet.

A vivid dream had prompted the reaction, but I couldn't remember what it was. I took a deep breath to get my racing heart under control. A tide of strong emotion, emotion I didn't know I was feeling, seemed to wash away, taking the fear with it. Another deep breath, and then I got out of bed. The dream, whatever it was, would have to wait. After all, I had a busy day today.

I headed over to Cranberry Commons to commission a plaque. I figured we could make a plaque and commemorate ourselves. That way, at least everyone would feel better about themselves and we'd have some closure. We wouldn't have a new mirror, but beggars can't be choosers. I figured I could make a shopping day of it, and pick it up just before I headed home.

But first I had the important business. Today, I'd decided to forget the disguises. I'd just get in and out quickly, and not worry about anything but whether the letter was there and what it would say. I walked briskly into the Post Office. There was no Daria this time, no Mr. O'Neill. Just me and the interminable wait until I could hand the Post Office Clerk the key and say, "Box 610, please."

It was the same woman as last time, and she came back with a large-sized yellow envelope, not too different from the one I'd used two weeks ago. My heart leapt. Daria had only gotten a regular-sized envelope. Not wanting to draw attention in public, I sped from the Post Office, hopped in the car, and headed to Cranberry Common, all without opening, or even looking at, the envelope. It wasn't until I'd found a secluded spot in the far corner of the mall lot hidden between two SUVs that I felt safe enough.

Trembling, I grabbed the envelope from the passenger seat and took a long look. An ordinary yellow envelope with a stick-on address label filled my eyes. The words Musings Magazine in ornate type drew my eyes. I tried to get ahold of myself, but the trembling grew worse. As I struggled to open it, my hands jerked in time with the pounding of my heart. Finally, the pages fell out. And the one on the top...

Dear Miss Joy,

Your poem, "Lovelife in Amber" has been accepted for publication in the February issue of Musings Magazine. Please sign the enclosed contract and the Revise and Return agreement. All revisions must be returned within fifteen days.


Miranda Pellino
Editor, Musings Magazine

I read it again. I couldn't believe it. I, Sandi Griffin—well, Alexandra Joy Griffin, minus the Griffin for sanity purposes—was a published poet. Part of my wanted to shove the letter in Linda's face, to let her know that yes, I'm a writer; yes, writing is worthwhile; and this is the first step in a future, in my future, Mrs. I Interviewed Rosalyn Carter Once and Refuse to Admit I Haven't Done Anything Worthwhile Since Then. Another part of me wanted to wear the letter next to my heart and never tell a soul. This was mine, for me and me alone. I worked hard, I deserved this, and I didn't need to share it with anyone.

I headed into the mall to shop, but couldn't settle to it. My earlier elation had be replaced with uncertainly, and even dread. I wasn't worried anyone would figure out that the poem was mine. The likelihood that anyone who knew my middle name also read Musings was small, and even if someone did, the idea that the poet Alexandra Joy and Sandi Griffin, President of the Fashion Club, were one in the same would never occur to them. No, the anxiety was something deeper, maybe even something subconscious. I swung by the engravers to pick up the plaque and cut my shopping short. I suddenly longed for the security of my room. Besides, I had forms to fill out and revisions to do.

I worked on the poem all the rest of that day and the day following. Almost all the editorial suggestions were excellent, including removing an entire passage focusing on "Steam, swift flowing lava, torrents of red/Love flowing squandered, a heart that is dead." What the hell was I thinking? When I was done, the poem had a new strength. It was still unsettling, but its desire was more focused, allowing the pain to come through. I considered the last four lines again:

          Frozen in amber, bound to my yearning,
          Never to touch you who are always near.
          Unwilling to admit my heart is burning
          With love. Trapped in this cage I built of fear.

Suddenly, my heart started pounding. Images from my dreams, images I thought buried came rushing back to me: Quinn, her face above mine, long read hair falling over me; Quinn straddling me, her hands moving up and down my sides as I shuddered with pleasure; Quinn pulling off her butterfly shirt and stretching languidly before she leaned in to kiss me....

Oh shit! The poem's about Quinn. I'm in love with Quinn. Now it all made sense. My equal, my partner, the one I'm always with, but forever divided from, because we're both women, because we're who we are, because neither of us will change. How the fuck could this have happened? My first thought was to burrow under the covers and bury my head under the pillow until the world went away. My second was to burn the poem and the acceptance letter, and never write another word. After a minute, I calmed down. The world wasn't going away, and I'd come too far to surrender my first sale because I didn't like where the inspiration came from.

I tried to put it out of my mind, but I kept coming back to it. I'd never been attracted to another girl before—well, that I knew of. I dated boys—but seldom more than once. I just... I tried very hard to convince myself over the course of the night that I was wrong about my attraction to Quinn, and thought I had succeeded—right up until I saw her the next morning at school and turned into a teen movie cliché. My heart started pounding, my mouth dried up, and I ran out of the bathroom where we did our early morning make-up check without saying hello to Quinn, Stacy, or Tiffany.

What the hell was wrong with me? It was just Quinn, Quinn, who I'd seen every day of my life for the last two years, Quinn, whose red hair was begging to me stroked, whose rosebud lips... I shook my head to clear it. I was going to have to focus if I was going to act normal. I took a deep breath and headed off to class.

Somehow, I made it through the day without making an idiot of myself, though I did call off that afternoon's Fashion Club meeting. I spent that afternoon and night hiding in my room, obsessively reading and rereading "Lovelife in Amber," trying to find clues about what I was feeling. I even ignored my mother's call for dinner. None of it did any good.

After a sleepless night, I resolved to act as if nothing had changed. I just wasn't going to think about whether I had those feelings for Quinn. Even if I couldn't get rid of them, I could hide them. After all, look how long I'd hidden my poetry.

I mostly succeeded over the next few weeks, but then I had other concerns. The Fashion Club has a routine—meeting, shopping, FashionVision—and it used to be easy for each of us to stay in our roles. But over the last few weeks, those roles had started to break down. Quinn's always been a problem, but Stacy and Tiffany are slipping out of their roles, too. It probably started when I broke my leg--I heard Stacy really blew up at Tiffany the day I came back--but it was getting worse. Stacy started saying hello to Upchuck in the halls, and then she ended up assisting him in a magic show. She even called me naive!

So fixing things with the Fashion Club took precedence over my own issues, until the magazine came. A month to the day from when I returned my revisions, I headed down to the Post Office, and there is was, February's edition of Musings, with the name Alexandra Joy right on the cover. I was incredibly, intensely proud for a long moment, until a wave of a sadness broke over me. My greatest triumph, and I couldn't share it with anyone—not my friends, not my family, not anyone. For a fleeting moment, I wondered how Daria would react if she were in my place. She only had one friend to share with, but she'd be able to. And she'd be able to use her own name. So much of my life felt like hiding. I sat in the car for fifteen minutes before I could see well enough to drive.

By Monday, I felt enough like myself to brave school. The magazine was safely hidden, as was some very dark verse I'd written in the deeps of Saturday night. I wasn't sure what I was going to do with it--it reminded me of something that goth chick, Andrea, would write--but for now it was hidden, along with my turmoil, and that was what mattered.

Early morning mirror time went fine. Stacy and Tiffany were acting more themselves, and if Quinn seemed a little chattier than usual, it wasn't really that surprising. Quinn chattered when she was excited, when she was tired, when she was worried, pretty much all the time.

I drifted through the school day, thinking everything was fine. When Quinn asked in English if we could talk after school, I didn't think anything of it. I continued to be oblivious as I walked up to her locker right until she took the copy of Musings out. My face fell, and before I could recover, Quinn pressed her advantage. "It is you!"

"What are you talking about?"

"That poem, "Lovelife in Amber," is yours, Alexandra Joy Griffin." Her voice was accusatory.

"How did you...," I stammered. "Where did you get that magazine?"

"Daria picked it up." Quinn shrugged. She was so adorable when she shrugged. "I guess she wanted to see who beat her out."

"She told you about that?" Quinn had mentioned that she and Daria were getting along better--hell, she'd called Daria her sister for the first time in two years--but I had a hard time thinking Daria would confide in Quinn.

Quinn gave a Cheshire Cat smile. "Of course not. But I always like to know what Daria's up to. Besides," she added, "she and Tom had a huge fight about it and he came over to make up. They weren't very quiet about the conversation."

I smiled briefly before the weight of discovery collapsed on me again. "So now you know," I said heavily. "The Fashion Club is yours, if you want it."

"What do you mean, Sandi?" Quinn said, sounding puzzled.

"I'm an egghead now. As soon as you tell Stacy and Tiffany, they'll know I'm not Fashion Club material anymore."

"I would never tell on you, Sandi," she said, sounding like she meant it. I started to brighten just a little. "As far as I'm concerned, you're the President of the Fashion Club until we graduate."

I felt tears welling in my eyes and quashed them. "Thank you, Quinn. That means a lot to me."

"What I don't understand is why you want to hide this, Sandi. It's beautiful. Daria must be eating her heart out reading this."

"Seriously?" I was incredulous.

"Seriously." Quinn nodded. "It's so passionate and loving. And frustrated. You should tell him right away."

I'd been thinking that this wasn't so bad, that maybe I would have someone to share my work with, when Quinn's last words jerked me out of my reverie. "I should ... tell him...," I stammered again.

"Well, if you haven't already." Quinn looked uncomfortable for a second. "But I'm sure you haven't." She smiled again, "There's a difference between breakup angst and not going out yet angst, and I think this is definitely not going out angst. And you should totally ask him."

"Uh, yeah," I said, still confused. Way to go, Griffin. Always with the silver tongue, except when you need it.

"Mind if I ask who it is?"

I just stared at her. Oh, Quinn, if you only knew.

"On second thought, maybe not," she said. I guess she saw my expression, and thought I was mad at her for prying. "But you'll tell me if he asks you out, right? Oh, Sandi, whoever you wrote this about is so lucky. I really hope he appreciates it, and you."

The bottom of my world dropped out as Quinn spoke. I felt myself falling, drifting through endless cold, lost forever for a timeless moment. I could hear my heart beating, loud enough to awaken the universe. Pain threatened to engulf me.

Quinn didn't notice, or chose not to. "You will tell him. Won't you?"

"Sure, Quinn," I said, convinced that Quinn could hear, as I heard, the rushing in my ears, the pounding of my heart, in time to the poem, beat after beat, line after line, verse after verse. "When the time is right." Three days after never, my love.

She nodded. "When the time is right. It sounds so romantic." The beating of my faded and silence stretched until with one last smile, she left, taking my heart with her.

Author's Note: I've been kicking this idea around for a couple of years. It started out life as a third-person ficlet, then decided it wanted to be a full length fic, and then decided it wanted to be first-person. The story is set during and after the fifth season episode "The Story of D," and makes reference to the episodes "Fat Like Me," "Lucky Strike," and "Life in the Past Lane."

Disclaimer: All dialogue, except the exchange at the end of the story, taken from "The Story of D" by Jacquelyn Reingold. Daria and all characters are copyright MTV 1997-2002. I own nothing and am merely along for the ride.