Moving the Goalposts

by Kristen Bealer

"You suck!"

"Nuh-uh, you suck!"

My stupid brothers were fighting again. Even with my bedroom door closed, the noise was more irritating than a stain on a brand-new pair of jeans. Still, I tuned it out and kept scratching under Fluffy's chin as I listened to him purr.

"Don't worry," I told my snow-colored cat. "Those brats know better than to trespass in my room, and they have to leave for school soon, too. You'll be okay while I'm gone. I promise."

He sighed and rolled over so I could rub his belly. I smiled at his apathy. Fluffy had been living in this house for years, so he didn't really need me to reassure him anymore. I still told him that every morning, though. It made me feel better when I had to leave him behind.

"So, as I was saying, that D on my history test was, like, completely ridiculous. Mr. DeMartino put a bunch of trick questions on it! I mean, why would they call it the French and Indian War if it wasn't between the French and the Indians? Teachers are so stupid."

Fluffy sat up and began grooming his fur while I continued, "And then this morning at breakfast my freaking mother came really freaking close to grounding me over it." I leaned in to rest my cheek against his head, smiling as he nuzzled against me. "Thank God I managed to trick her into telling that stupid Rosalynn Carter story for the five billionth damn time and she forgot about it."

I took a few deep breaths, letting the sound of his purring relax me. Few things made me feel better after a fight with Mom than venting it to Fluffy. Even if he didn't understand, he at least seemed interested in me. That was more than I could say for anyone else in my family.

He abruptly batted at my hand, fur bristling slightly as he stared up at me with wide, expectant eyes. "Sorry," I said. "I don't have time to play. I have to leave now if I want to meet the Fashion Club before school."

Giving him one last scratch behind the ears, I stood up and reached for the lint roller. I enjoyed the few minutes of peace I shared with him every morning, but leaving the house with fur on my clothes would be wrong.

Finally, my outfit was pristine and my hair and makeup were perfect. As usual. "Good-bye, Fluffy." He gave me a reproachful meow as I left, but I knew he'd sleep for most of the day and be waiting eagerly for me when I returned. Also as usual.

"Sandi!" I heard my name as I approached the school, and turned to see Quinn wave. She was talking a mile a minute before I even walked over. "Did you order your photos yet? I haven't decided if I should focus on wallet-sized or get more five by sevens. I mean, with wallet-sized I'll have plenty to hand out to whichever guys want one, but my freckles don't look as good in those as they do in the larger sizes. What are you going to get?"

"Gee, Quinn," I teased. "I certainly hope you aren't planning to distribute your likeness to just any guy that asks, are you? Like, you've got to be discriminating in these matters."

"Oh, of course, Sandi!" Quinn amended, laughing. "I totally agree."

I nodded, satisfied, as she chattered away about the merits of "Nature's Precious Wonders" versus "Starlight over Yosemite." Quinn was very nearly as attractive and popular as I was, but I knew she relied on my superior insight for all important matters. There was some unpleasantness after Brooke's nose job--and the less said about that disaster, the better--but otherwise she was both a good friend and a dependable vice president.

Stacy and Tiffany soon joined us, and we held a brief meeting to make sure everyone was up to speed on gossip, fashion, and dating prospects before going to first period.


I had just turned a corner in the hall between classes when something slammed into me, hard. I only barely kept my balance by catching myself against the wall and glared up at the... person...who had almost knocked me down.

Charcoal-gray t-shirt. Honey-blond hair. Nose that would earn Dr. Shar a new summer house.

"Watch it, jerk!"

The jerk was scowling over his shoulder at somebody, but then he turned to look at me and smiled. Good. Let him appreciate the vision of perfection that he almost flattened. I put a hand on my hip and tilted my head just right so my hair would spill over my shoulder and frame my elegant cheekbones. Just as I suspected, the jerk's eyes widened and he focused all of his attention on me.

Still, he had very nearly caused me to fall, which could have given me an unsightly bruise. That had to be punished.

"Like, maybe you should wear glasses if you can't see people before you crash into them."

His face turned a really weird shade of red. "Glasses? Glasses are for geeks and misery chicks like--" He stopped and shrugged. "Whatever. Listen, maybe you and I can head out to my van and crash into each other some more, you get?"

I didn't care that he still hadn't apologized. I didn't care that he was crudely propositioning the President of the Fashion Club. I didn't even care that he was leering at my breasts without a trace of shame.

That was all immaterial. The insinuation that Alexandra Griffin would be interested in doing anything in a van? Unforgivable.

Ready. Assess audience. Lean slightly forward. Soften voice. "Really? You're asking me out date?"

He nodded quickly, keeping the smug grin. Like a little boy on Christmas morning.

Aim. Confident posture. Disdainful expression.

The eager expression on his face started to falter.

And... fire. "What incredible optimism. It's adorable how you honestly believe that someone so obviously past his prime would stand a chance with someone like me."

He started to sputter, but I combined my mother's "where do you think you're going with the car keys at eleven o'clock on a school night?" glare with an artfully raised eyebrow. As predicted, most of the nearby students--just popular enough to matter but still dependent on staying in my good graces--started snickering at him.

Gathering up what little dignity he had left, he stalked off as fast as he could. As soon as he burst through the school doors, something crashed outside. Kevin Thompson started yelling about somebody named Tommy something-or-other, but I ignored him and continued on my way to Economics.

Oh, well. Another stupid day.

"...A young man, our hero, struck down in a freakish accident by the very goal post that was being put up in his honor..."

God. It was nice to get out of history class and all, but did the memorial service for what's-his-name have to be so freaking boring?

Might as well make use of the free time. I looked over at Quinn, sitting next to me, to suggest an impromptu Fashion Club meeting, but as soon as I saw her my mouth just hung open. She was sniffling and wiping her eyes. Fortunately, her mascara was waterproof, but that wouldn't save her from blotchy skin and bloodshot eyes. Poor, poor Quinn.

"Hey, Quinn, I think I have a tissue!"

"Don't take Jeffy's tissue; it's been in his pocket all day. I'll go get you some fresh toilet paper from the bathroom!"

"She doesn't want toilet paper, doofus. Quinn, I'll find you one of those fancy handkerchiefs like they use in old movies!"

Okay, now I didn't feel quite so sorry for her. Jeffy, Joey, and somebody were falling all over themselves for Quinn. At first I figured it was just because she was crying, but then I realized that Stacy was bawling as if grunge had come back into style yet no one was paying attention to her.


"Like, this is really sad. And stuff." I tried to think about sad things like orphans and cancer and designer knockoff jeans, but I couldn't conjure up any tears. It didn't matter. No one was looking, anyway. The guys were still hovering around Quinn with offers of every absorbent paper product they could think of. Tiffany was engrossed in checking her makeup. Stacy kept sobbing, although Kevin Thompson was easily drowning her out.

Ms. Li said something about singing and I rolled my eyes. This sucked almost as bad as that whole plastic surgery fiasco from a few weeks back. It was the first time Quinn and I really clashed on anything, but I'd had the rest of the Fashion Club as well as Brooke's fabulous new look on my side. Then, thanks to Dr. Shar's incompetence, Quinn had somehow come out on top.

Plastic surgery was out. Quinn was in. Brooke had quickly been relegated to "D-list" popularity status. Things had been okay between me and Quinn since then, but now I was starting to wonder if I was about to follow Brooke into obscurity.

"Thanks, guys," Quinn told the boys, smiling at them through her tears. How the hell can that girl make blotchy skin and bloodshot eyes look stylish? Ugh. I needed to get her out of here, now.

I leaned over to speak quietly to her. "Perhaps it would be best for you to adjourn to the ladies' room to compose yourself and touch up your appearance." Not even the three Js would follow Quinn into the girl's restroom. Um. I hope.

Unfortunately, the boys overheard me. "No, Quinn looks perfect!" said one of them. I didn't care which.

"Yeah, better than perfect!"

"Better than better than perfect!"

I turned to speak to Tiffany instead. "Are tears supposed to be the latest fashion statement?" I asked sarcastically.

"Quiiinn looks reeeallllyy pretty todaaay," Tiffany said without looking up from her mirror.

As the other students started half-heartedly singing "One Sweet Day," I slumped down in my seat, hating everybody.

"God, Fluffy, you will not believe--"

The moment I walked in, I could tell something was wrong. My room smelled vile. Fluffy wasn't waiting to greet me. My make-up collection was scattered across the floor, cases open and most of them empty.

And Fluffy was stretched out on my bed, surrounded by...eww...and breathing really weird.


He didn't move except to turn his eyes toward me. He recognized me, but he didn't get up or meow or anything. He just looked miserable.

I scooped him up in my arms. "Mom!" I tried to yell, but it came out as kind of a gasp. I tried again. "Mom! Fluffy's sick! We have to take him to the vet!" Why was he shaking so much?

Somewhere else in the house, I heard my mom yell back, "Sandi, I just got home from work. Can't it wait?"

Fluffy was making strange noises. Part of me knew he might throw up again while I was holding him. The rest of me didn't give a crap. "No!" I ran out of my room, still clutching him. "Right now!"

She sighed. "The keys are on the end table. Don't take too long."

I got Fluffy into his carrier, loaded him into the car, and drove to the vet's office. I didn't remember actually doing any of it, but I know I somehow ended up in Dr. Ellis's office, watching him examine my cat. At some point, my face had gotten wet.

"Is he...?" I didn't know how to finish that sentence.

Dr. Ellis gave me a smile, but it wasn't the same smile he usually gave me when everything was okay. "I'm not sure, Sandi. The tremors have eased a bit, but he's still breathing very fast and he's more lethargic than when you first brought him in. I think we should keep him here overnight to watch him. I'll call you as soon as anything changes, okay?"

I nodded and gently stroked Fluffy's head. "Don't worry," I whispered. "Dr. Ellis knows what he's doing. You'll be okay while I'm gone. I promise."

Fluffy blinked slowly at me, and I tried to smile. "Good-bye."

My face was wet again when I pulled into the driveway at home.

"Sandi," my mother said as I walked in. "You received a phone call while you were out."

"Dr. Ellis?" I demanded.

"No, it was Quinn Morgendorffer. She asked that you call her back when you returned. Dinner will be ready in half an hour."

I picked up the phone, still numb, and started toward my room before remembering that I hadn't cleaned it up yet. Instead, I took the phone outside to sit on the back porch. I dialed Quinn's number, still thinking about Fluffy and wondering when I'd hear from Dr. Ellis. Thank God for call waiting.


"Hi, Quinn." My voice slid neatly into its accustomed aloof tones, even though I felt like screaming.

"Oh, hi, Sandi! Thanks for calling me back! Listen, I was thinking..."

As Quinn prattled on, I looked around the backyard. This was where I'd had my ninth birthday party. I'd invited all of the girls from my third grade classroom except for Karen Miller, because she'd tried to tell everyone my brand-new Cashman's sweater came from a clearance rack at J. J. Jeeters.

We were almost done eating our cake--I'd scraped the frosting off mine, of course--when my dad came out from inside the house with a big box. It was way too big for the suede shoes I'd asked for, but I thanked him anyway and pulled the top off it.

"Mew!" I almost didn't hear it amid the dozen girls all saying "Awww!" at the same time, but I could see the tiny pink tongue as he opened his mouth and cried out imperiously. I picked him up and felt his warm little body vibrate softly against my arms as he purred.

Stroking the soft white fur, I smiled at the haughty kitten and decided that suede shoes could wait until Christmas.

" what do you think?"

I snapped back to the phone conversation. "Could you repeat that?" I asked weakly. "Um, my brothers were fighting and distracted me."

"Do you think it would be a good idea for the Fashion Club to take up a collection and buy new goal posts to honor the memory of Tommy Sherman?"

Who? "Oh. Um, sure. Sounds good."

"Great! Stacy and Tiffany agreed, too."

Warning bells. I shook off my stupor. "You already talked to Stacy and Tiffany?"

"Uh-huh. I called them while I was waiting for you to call back. I don't think Tiffany actually understood what I was talking about, but Stacy seemed really excited."

"Quinn, I really think you should have waited to hear back from me before charging forward with this. There's probably a rule about it or something, you know?" I tried to sound calm and professional, but my voice came out just sounding tired.

"Is everything okay, Sandi?"

No! It's not! You've only been at this school for a few months and already you've got all the guys wrapped around your finger, you're stealing my club out from under me, and I can't figure out how to stop it because all I can think about right now is my cat!

"Yeah, I'm fine."

"Are you sure? I mean, it's no big deal if you're freaked out about the dead guy. Like, the whole school is upset about that, y'know? Hey, if you want to talk about it, that girl who lives with us while her parents are in Antarctica is really good at this sad stuff."

I rolled my eyes. Antarctica this time? Really?

"What? Oh. Hey, Sandi, I've gotta go. Dinner's ready."

Thank God! "Sure. I'll see you tomorrow." I hit the "Off" button on the phone and sighed. Quinn must have really been concerned. She almost never talked about her sister if she could possibly help it, especially since she still believed I didn't know she was her sister.

The next day, I saw Quinn's sister on my way to Language Arts. I was super tense because I was going to pick Fluffy up from the vet's office on my way home and it already felt like I'd been at school forever. That's probably why I decided to give Quinn's advice a shot.

"Hello? Quinn's cousin or whatever?" I wasn't really in the mood to play the stupid guess-the-relative game, but habit took over.

She stopped and looked at me. "Yeah?"

"Quinn said you were really good with, like, bummed-out stuff?"

"Yeah?" She looked annoyed.

"My cat," I began, keeping my voice even, "he got into my makeup or something and, like, ODed on foundation, and he spent the whole day puking--"

Someone nearby said something, and I could tell that it was a joke at my expense. Fine. Cut this short. It was a stupid idea, anyway.

"--and I've been feeling really bad about it, and I was wondering if you had, like, some advice or something."

"I'm afraid that inflation has forced me to institute a small fee for my services."


"Ten dollars. In advance."

"Oh. Uh, sure." I reached into my pocket and pulled out a bill, handing it to her. I felt like just walking away, but I couldn't let myself be seen as too cheap to spend a measly ten bucks.

"What is the animal's name?"

Animal?! More like friend, comforter, and family member! My face felt warm, but I shook off my irritation. "Fluffy."

"I see. Fluffy." She stood there, thinking, until I wondered if she'd forgotten I was even there. Maybe she had.

"So, like, what's your advice?"

"Find some other way to feel," she finally said. "Then you won't feel sad."

She stared at me with a tiny smirk. I couldn't believe it. I hadn't expected anything special from her, but to make me pay money just so she could insult me? The frustration that had been building steadily since yesterday afternoon suddenly exploded.

"That's what I get for ten dollars? Are you kidding?!"

"See? It's working already."

I froze, confused. The anger was still there, but a tiny voice was telling me to think. I had been wallowing in depression ever since the stupid memorial service. What would my mother say about that? "Find a different tactic. Don't just sit around feeling sorry for yourself; make other people feel bad instead!" I'd felt powerless and useless right up until I finally let myself get angry at Quinn's--

--Quinn's sister. The sister she didn't want anyone to know she had. The weapon I didn't even realize I had.

Now that I'd snapped out of my self-pity, new ideas were coming to me. I had to figure out a new strategy. First a stop at Ms. Li's office for a little research, and then...oh. Quinn's sister was still watching me. "Thanks," I said simply, then turned and walked away.

"I knew it!" I exclaimed, looking at Fluffy in triumph. "According to Fashion Club protocol, all club-related activities are supposed to be cleared with the President before being discussed with the other members."

I stretched out on my now-clean bed with the Official Lawndale High School Fashion Club Charter in front of me, obtained earlier that day from the Principal's Office. It turned out the Fashion Club had a hell of a lot of rules and by-laws--two pages alone on hair color--and many of them would be useful in keeping Quinn in check.

"There's even one in here about calling a vote on any member's standing in the Fashion Club. I bet that'll come in handy, huh, Fluffy?"

Setting aside the charter, I stood and walked over to my dresser to pick up the framed photograph I'd been talking to all afternoon. I'd been looking at it often since late last night, when Dr. Ellis had called to break the news. He was very nice to me when I came to collect Fluffy's body, but by then I was done feeling sad. Grief could wait.

I had buried Fluffy in the backyard after I got home. Glancing at my hands, I realized there was dirt under the nails. I was definitely giving myself a manicure before I started looking through my closet to put together new outfits. If I was going to take the school and my club back from Quinn Morgendorffer, I needed to step up my look immediately.

I looked back at the photograph and made my decision. I opened one of the drawers and set the photograph inside. "Don't worry," I said. "I'll be okay while you're gone. I promise."

I pulled out my manicure kit before sliding the drawer closed, then went to work cleaning the dirt from under my fingernails.

Thank you to RLobinske for beta-reading.