Stacy watched a familiar couple in the parking lot of Lawndale High School as they conversed. While neither smiled, exactly, Stacy was certain from their tone and subdued gesticulation that they were enjoying themselves. This confused Stacy a little, since she was strongly under the impression that boys and girls did not talk as a matter of enjoyment. Talking was what you did to cover up nervousness, or to kill time before a movie. Boys were supposed to be for kissing and buying you dinner and movies, not conversation. That's what friends were for.
She tore her eyes away from this strange couple and resumed walking toward her locker. She tried her best to quell the thoughts that were running through her head. Sandi had many times told her that thinking was a total waste of time, and probably caused wrinkles.
Well, as a matter of fact Sandi had never actually said it, but when Sandi hinted at things her meaning was usually as clear as if she had said it directly.
Or so Stacy thought.
Perhaps she had gotten the wrong idea.
Oh great, there was another thought to deal with.
Whatever Sandi's actual thoughts on thinking might be, the original set of thoughts Stacy was trying to quell not only refused to settle, they seemed to feed on her efforts to stop them. They were like football players at the refreshment table during a really popular party - and they invited the newcomer to party with them.
Stacy first tried to shoo away a few thoughts by reminding herself that the couple was a pair of geeks. This was self evident, as they had no fashion sense at all. The boy was dressed in some sort of greenish-gray tee shirt and cargo pants – although technically in style, they looked like they may have actually been bought at an army surplus store. Stacy shuddered involuntarily at that horror of a thought.
The girl – whom Stacy thought she knew from somewhere – was dressed in a big, green boxy top with a pleated skirt that was just exactly the wrong length for the tall, scuffed, military style boots that shod her feet. Those glasses she wore were just huge and out of style by at least five years.
Stacy paused in thought as well as her trek. Those glasses had never been in style. Come to think of that, glasses had never been in style.
In resuming her journey to her locker she quite accidentally resumed her thinking. The sense that she knew the girl from somewhere grew, developing and changing until she thought of Quinn.
That startled her, and it was fortunate that she was already at her locker so she had something to hide her face in for a moment. People always looked at her oddly when she suddenly looked surprised without any outside indication as to why.
As she put her books away – noting with a certain pride how crisp and perfect they still looked, being in the fashion club had that effect on schoolbooks – she smiled. She remembered that the girl was Quinn's sister, whom Quinn was forever claiming to be a cousin for reasons Stacy was not able to ascertain.
Stacy reflected that if she had a sister as brainy and geeky as that, she would use the relationship to full effect. The mileage she could get out of that sort of pity would be endless. Not that Quinn needed to be pitied, not by a long shot. Still, it was quite beyond her why Quinn would deny the relation. To Stacy, it made Quinn all the more special. To come from such a geeky family and managing to rise so far above it and enter the world of the attractive and popular as the vice president of the Fashion Club was a superhuman feat as far as she was concerned.
Another thought brought some chips for the ongoing party in her head. Stacy had never been able to date a guy more than two or three times before she found herself in need of a replacement for the coming weekend. Although this seemed to be what Quinn was always doing deliberately and more often – say, every night – sometimes several times a night – Stacy would rather simply stay with one boy for a good, long while. Meeting new people was something Stacy did not do well nor was it something she particularly enjoyed, and so she preferred to keep such activities to a bare minimum. Try as she might, she still had to go looking for a new boyfriend every few days. Her only consolation was that it seemed to sit well with Sandi, so her constant changing of boyfriends must be the right thing to do no matter how much she disliked having to do it.
Yet she'd seen this geeky sister of Quinn's with this fellow for several months, managing to do as a geek what Stacy could not as a popular girl.
Thanks to Sandi's expert tutelage, Stacy knew that for the most part no one wanted to be around a geek, including other geeks. If Quinn's sister knew how to hang on to a guy – even a geek – she must really know something about dating that Stacy had not yet learned. It had to be something good. The brainy girl was, after all, from the same family as Quinn.
As she entered the doorway to her first class, a feeling of some minor mental contradiction cropped up. However, seeing Sandi's annoyed look did a fantastic job of bringing all thought to a complete halt.
Sandi really was a master of the art.
"Uh. H… Hi, Sandi." Stacy was only just able to squeeze the simple greeting past that strange, all-encompassing fear she always had when she thought Sandi was angry with her.
"Stacy!" Sandi snapped at her, sounding unduly exasperated. "We had a meeting this morning. Where were you?"
Stacy's thoughts raced, now acting like their parents were in the driveway and they had to quickly clean up the party they just had. Stacy could not bring up anything even vaguely resembling a memory of a scheduled meeting. She checked every corner of her mind and a few corners of her skull she wasn't sure contained mind, just in case. There was no getting around it, there had been no meeting planned. Her coming in a little later than usual had simply put a crimp in one of Sandi's many impromptu meetings.
"I… I'm sorry, Sandi! I forgot." Stacy apologized, her vision blurring from the sudden presence of saline water in her eyes.
Sandi rolled her eyes in a very subtle way that somehow managed to be unambiguous at the same time, then turned back toward Tiffany and continued on one of her tirades about some small detail of the fashion industry.
Relived that she would not have to explain herself, Stacy sat in her usual seat and put a pad of paper on the desk in front of her. As the mathematics teacher began to drone on about some odd function of numbers and variables, Stacy started to doodle. She wished Quinn had this class with her, they always had fun in English with passing notes and sharing their doodles. In classes she shared with Sandi, she had to doodle by herself, and classes with Tiffany meant having to wait an incredibly long time for her notes to be read. Tiffany's replies didn't always make much sense, either.
Stacy looked up at the board and took in what the teacher had written. Her pre SAT score had been something of an eye-opener. The fact that her summer tutor – whom she didn't really want to deal with anyway – had nothing kind to say about her learning skills had been an even greater eye opener. Her father had really laid into her for it, too, but she didn't like thinking about that.
She knew that she remembered things easier when she took them in a little at a time and wasn't strictly paying attention to them. Sandi had pointed it out when she was assigned the position of secretary in the Fashion Club. She could take some very minimal notes, allowing her to participate, and later on – sometimes weeks later – she could write out the complete notes for that meeting with startling accuracy.
She found she could apply that same skill to even the most boring classes. If she looked at what the teacher was doing now and again, she remembered for tests. If she doodled while they spoke, she remembered what they said. Her last mid-semester grade seemed to prove it.
Bringing home a midterm report full of "Bs", one "C" and an "A" instead of her usual "Cs" with one or two "Ds" had made her mother very happy. It had also brought accusing questions from her father and that in turn brought the requisite nightly fight between her parents. But, she didn't like thinking about that, either.
This semester she had a real chance of bringing home a few more "As", and she did like to think about that. It meant a real possibility of getting into a good veterinary assistant's school.
All she had to do was pay attention in class, and those tests would be covered.
"Oh! Yes? Huh?" Stacy stammered, looking up at the math teacher.
Stacy blushed and looked back at her doodles as the class tried and collectively failed to hold back on their chortles and sniggers. She swallowed back a lump in her throat when she heard Sandi click her tongue and sigh.
"If you can tear yourself away from your… well… let's call it copious note taking," The teacher sardonically began, "would you care to solve for 'N' from the problem on the board?"
"Oh. Uh, three." Stacy answered, remembering the problem from her textbook.
Her teacher looked slightly shocked.
"Well, yes, Stacy, but I meant take us through the steps. Here. At the board."
"Oh." Stacy repeated, then stood slowly and steeled herself for the trek to that no-man's land at the front of the class. She faltered briefly when she saw Sandi and Tiffany staring at her.
She smoothed out her denim skirt and walked passed the rows of gawking students, wishing desperately that her night in shining armor would come crashing through the door. Or that the bell would ring. Or that the world would end. Anything to avoid having to do math in front of everyone.
Stacy accepted the piece of chalk from her teacher, treating it a bit like she would have a vial of filth, and stood before the board. Taking a deep breath, she quickly did the problem, repeating verbatim the description of the steps their instructor had given them the day before, pausing several times to do the multiplication and division in her head, counting on her fingers.
When she was done, she dropped the chalk into the gutter below the chalkboard and returned to her seat as quickly as she could manage while trying not to look like she was rushing, fearing concurrently that she had done the problem wrong and that she had done it right.
"Yes. Well, um…" The instructor fumbled for words. "Very good, Stacy. Well, it's pretty obvious that we've covered that well enough, let's move on." He said as he erased the problem from the chalkboard.
As he launched into the next part of the curriculum, Stacy looked up from her renewed doodling to see Sandi glaring powerfully at her. Stacy quickly dropped her eyes back to her doodling, but not before a tiny, timid little "Eep!" managed to squeeze past her lips.
Stacy let out a very carefully controlled, quiet sigh. Once again lunch was being wasted by some strange argument that didn't look like an argument between Quinn and Sandi. She couldn't even talk to Tiffany since she was busy making sure the argument didn't end too quickly.
Having long ago finished the minuscule lunch of crackers, she returned to her doodling. This time she let it block out what was going on around her and the doodle grew into something of a drawing. A simple scribble had evolved into a horse grazing on her front lawn, a fantasy of hers since early childhood.
She paused to look at it and a hand reached from behind her and angled the drawing for better viewing, startling her.
"Not bad." The hand's owner said. "A little cutesy for my tastes, but not bad."
Stacy looked up at the senior who had complimented her simple sketch.
"It needs a little perspective, though. Like this…" The girl said, pulling a pencil from the interior pocket of the red jacket she was wearing. On a following page of Stacy's notebook, she replicated the horse, except with perspective and shading.
Stacy was astonished at the speed of the girl's work and the results of what seemed an insufficient number of pencil strokes to make such a realistic depiction. She looked back up at the artist and saw that Quinn's sister had come to stand beside her.
Quinn's sister picked up the notebook and looked at Stacy's drawing, and through the wooden non-expression she normally wore a very slight sign of appreciation came through.
As was typical, just as Stacy was feeling good about the whole thing, she became abruptly and totally aware of the silence from the rest of the Fashion Club.
"Stacy? Who are you talking to?" Sandi said, her tone saturated with disapproval.
"Um. Nobody?" Stacy said, weakly.
"You have that right." Sandi said, shifting her glare to the artist.
The girl in the red jacket focused a small smile on Sandi that managed to be derisive and nasty for all its appearance of warmth. "Hey, you have something green caught in your teeth, there." She reported, pointing casually.
Sandi pressed her lips together and wordlessly but with a piercing stare waved away the two seniors, who smirked as they turned to find themselves a seat for lunch.
After an uncomfortable moment, Sandi excused herself through barely parted lips, eliciting an apparently friendly offer of dental floss from Quinn, which was in turn rebuffed by a decidedly unfriendly glare from Sandi.
Stacy returned her attention to her illustration, not interested in a conversation with Tiffany and not wanting to bother Quinn while she smirked after Sandi. On the page, just beneath her drawing, she found the words "Keep drawing! Who cares what they think? - J. L.". They made her smile.
Stacy quietly closed the front door and began her daily stealthy journey to her bedroom. If she was quiet enough and lucky enough, her parents would not know she was home and would not care until it was time for dinner. She quickly made her way past the living room and then the kitchen and entered the hallway to the bedrooms.
She froze. Her father's voice was low and angry, again. Stacy forced herself to turn around and face him.
"Hi Daddy." She whimpered, trying to smile but managing only to look terribly worried. She glanced at the empty garbage bag he held in his left hand.
"Stacy, I got a call at work today from your english teacher." He said with a slight growl.
Stacy swallowed and her worried look changed to one of fear, but did not respond.
"What did I say would happen the next time he called me at work?" His anger seemed to intensify.
"You… I…" Stacy stammered.
Her father pushed past her and entered her bedroom. Stacy's eyes went wide as she remembered what he had promised her.
"No!" She wailed, and rushed after him, dropping her small backpack behind her.
He already had her collection of Waif and Style magazines in the bag, and he was reaching for the stuffed horses that were on her dresser. Stacy watched pleadingly through her free-flowing tears as he gathered up everything she held dear and stuffed it unceremoniously into the garbage bag.
He ignored her pleas and promises as he moved to her closet and selected some of her most recent purchases for inclusion in the bag.
"Oh, please Daddy! No!" She begged again, fearing that she would be ostracized for lack of recent styles.
"Oh, shut up! Stop whimpering like an infant, girl! You brought this on yourself." He growled leaning down to put his face menacingly close to hers. His cheeks blazed red and his eyes flashed with anger. "I'm sick and tired of it! Not only are you too damn stupid to make decent grades, but you don't even try!" He yelled.
"Buh… But I do t... try, Daddy!" Stacy stammered through the hiccups of her sobs.
"Don't lie to me, damn you!" He screamed, jerking forward slightly.
Spittle landed on Stacy's face and she flinched. Her father stood straight and donned a disgusted look.
"Oh, you are worthless!" He howled, and shoved her to the ground as he stormed out of her room with the bag in tow.
Stacy sobbed and covered her eyes; unable to look at the blank spaces in her room that did an exceptional job representing the empty, frightened feeling that festered in the pit of her stomach.
"God damn it!" She heard her father scream from the hall.
She cowered and covered her head with her arms as her book back flew into the room and struck the wall beside her.
"Do your homework, now!" He ordered. "Now! Now!" He screamed with irrational impatience born of fury.
Stacy scrambled to get a book out, it made no difference which, fumbling with the zipper on the bag.
Stacy began to write in a random notebook while still kneeling on the floor, not daring to move to her desk. Her father loomed in the doorway, trembling with anger. Wanting to vent further at his greatest disappointment in life but finding nothing else to criticize, he turned and stomped down the hallway.
Stacy stayed hunched over her schoolbooks for a while, letting her sobs subside. Wiping her nose with one of the many tissues available in her backpack, she gathered her books and pencils so she could creep back into her large closet where a quiet corner and a flashlight offered relative safety for the remainder of the evening.
Stacy woke with a jolt. On the floor beside her, her flashlight's dim yellow light suggested batteries in need of replacement. She carefully worked out the kinks and knots from her back and neck as she gradually pulled the energy together to move to her bed. She shed her clothes, tossing them into the hamper on the other side of the closet, and pulled on her usual sleepwear of sweatpants and tee shirt. She paused for a moment to look at the image of a sleeping kitten that adorned the tee.
As she pulled the shirt over her head, she wished for the thousandth time that she could be a kitten.
Everyone loved a kitten.
She looked at the empty dresser top as she slid herself under the covers of her bed. The empty pit in her belly was positively cavernous now.
She had no idea how she would earn the return of her horses.
She didn't know why her teacher had called.
She didn't know if her horses still existed.
Sleep scoffed at her for a while, and when it did come, it brought mirthless dreams.
She didn't want to wake up.
"Oh, Stacy! Sweetheart, time to get up!" The soft voice gently urged.
Stacy felt a small hand rub her back.
"Good morning, sleepyhead." The soft voice continued. "How's my little precious this morning?"
Stacy's eyes fluttered open and focused on her mother.
"Morning Mommy." She murmured.
Her mother smiled. Though her father called her 'tired, old, and haggard', Stacy thought her mother was still very beautiful. Her light brown hair shone and her blue eyes still sparkled. Her smile still elicited a wonderful warm feeling every time Stacy saw it.
Stacy sat up slowly, stretched luxuriously, then gave her mother a hug. She let herself come to full alertness as her mother combed out yesterday's braids, as was their usual morning ritual.
"Mommy? I want to send my pre-application to Areghetti Veterinary School today." She said, idly.
Her mother sighed softly.
"Sweetie, I wish you wouldn't get your hopes up so."
"But, I've been doing better in school!" Stacy protested.
"I know you earned better grades on this last report, Stacy, but it was just a mid semester report." She sighed again. "I just don't want to see your dreams dashed, sweetie. I think we should wait until the end of the year, just to be sure about your grades. Ok?"
"Ok" Stacy whispered dejectedly.
"Oh, oh! Don't put on a frown, my sweet. No one marries a frowner."
"Sorry, Mommy." Stacy said, then forced a smile.
"That's my girl. Now, go and get ready for school."
Stacy hugged her mother again and stood. Her mother smiled at her, and walked out the door.
As Stacy selected her outfit for the day, she heard her mother emit a startled "Oh!" from the hallway.
Her mother reappeared at the door, her hands behind her back.
"Guess who I just saw?" She said.
Stacy was confused.
Her mother smiled indulgently then showed Stacy the stuffed horse she had been hiding behind her.
"Maresy!" Stacy exclaimed.
She dashed up to her mother and accepted the hose back, tears filling her eyes again.
"Thank you, Mommy! Thank you!"
"Just remember to keep her in a drawer for a while, Ok?"
Stacy nodded, hugging the stuffed animal.
Stacy again found herself watching the same couple in the parking lot of Lawndale High School as they conversed. Neither smiled, as before, but Stacy was still certain from their tone and subdued gesticulation that they were somehow enjoying themselves. Stacy, still under the impression that boys and girls did not talk as a matter of enjoyment, faced her confusion. She decided to ask Quinn about her sister - or cousin, or whatever relation Quinn chose to admit to - and her ability to hang on to a boyfriend. She hoped Quinn could also explain the chitchat. Though, as she thought about it, it seemed it might simply be a geek thing.
So resolved, Stacy turned and entered the school building. As she rounded the first corner for her locker, she spotted Quinn, Sandi and Tiffany talking around Tiffany's locker. Stacy noted again that Tiffany's locker was completely empty. She pondered that she had never seen Tiffany with books. No, never once.
That made a certain amount of sense, of course. Those garishly colored books didn't go with any of the current styles, and Tiffany was the coordinating officer, after all. Still, it left the question of why she bothered to visit her locker every day.
"Hi Sandi! Hi Quinn! Hey Tiffany!" She greeted cheerfully.
"Hey Stacy." Quinn said, smiling.
"Stacy." Sandi greeted neither approvingly or disapprovingly.
Tiffany stared at Stacy for a moment, then looked like she remembered something slightly shocking. "Hey, Stacy." She spoke at a leisurely pace.
"Oh, that's nice." Quinn said, pointing to the small pin on Tiffany's dress. "It really matches your whole color scheme."
Stacy looked at the item that somehow managed to be tiny and garish all at once. The small stones (Stacy doubted they were just glass, considering Tiffany's parent's wealth.) did match the pastel turquoises and minty greens Tiffany usually chose to wear quite well. But it was an exercise in gaudy pretentiousness.
"Yes." Sandi said, "It is up to your usual high standards, Tiffany. You set an excellent example for the Fashion Club. One I wish was followed more closely." Sandi chided, looking out the corners of her eyes at Quinn but managing to insult and frighten Stacy as well.
"Look! We're being admired." Tiffany said, allowing Stacy a moment to control what was threatening to be a hyperventilation event. "He's cute." Tiffany added.
Seeing the admiring looks on Quinn and Sandi's faces, Stacy turned slowly and had herself a look, and saw him on the other end of the hall.
He was more than cute. He was gorgeous. Dark hair and amber eyes set off his olive skin. His face was chiseled like a classic Greek statue. He wore dark gray dress slacks and a black turtleneck in a way that could only be described as "crisp". His strong build held up the turtleneck in a most sensual way.
He was looking at them.
He was smiling.
He was with Joey, Jeffy and Jahmel (Or was that Jamie?), who looked a little nervous.
Stacy's blood rushed up to her eyes so it could get a better look, making her a little light-headed.
He said something to Quinn's admirers, and they all seemed to relax a bit while nodding their heads. He then started walking - striding - toward the Fashion Club.
Stacy sensed Quinn and Sandi donning regal poses. Tiffany drew a deep, relaxing breath. Stacy fought to keep from fainting.
"Greetings, lovely women." He called as he approached. His voice was rich and resonant, suggesting a possible future as a famous tenor or stage actor.
"My name is Augusta, you must be Quinn." He said, offering his hand to the redhead.
"Yes, Quinn Morgendorffer." Quinn said, taking his hand, which he caressed in a brief double-handed clasp rather than shook, making Quinn blush ever so slightly.
"You must be Sandi, the president of the esteemed Fashion Club." He offered his hand to the smiling girl.
"Sandi Griffin, pleased to meet you." She greeted him regally.
Augusta bowed over her hand with an equal regal flourish. "It is an honor to meet someone I have heard so much about."
Much to Stacy's surprise, she thought she saw a small blossom of red on Sandi's cheeks.
He took Tiffany's hand in a similar fashion. "And Tiffany, such a treasure to behold."
Tiffany also reddened but he didn't wait for her reply, instead he turned to Stacy.
He offered his hand to Stacy, who hesitated long enough to make everyone feel a little uncomfortable. When she finally took it, he bowed over her hand and brought it to his lips where he placed a gentle kiss on her knuckle.
"You, then, must be Stacy."
Stacy nodded, unable to tear her eyes away from where he was still holding her hand. She was vaguely aware of Quinn and Sandi asking him questions and receiving polite replies. Since he continued caressing her hand, it was impossible for her to concentrate on anything else.
His skin was smooth, but his hands had hard calluses, though they weren't rough or scratchy. It had the effect of making him feel strong and "manly".
Stacy startled when the first bell rang.
"Oh dear." He said, looking deeply into Stacy's eyes. "I'm sorry that we can't continue this conversation. I hope we meet again. Soon."
Stacy watched as he unfolded her hand and carefully turned it palm up. He bowed over it again, giving the palm of her hand a gentle-hearted kiss that sent ripples of mild pleasure through her.
Augusta turned, only reluctantly releasing Stacy's hand. For a brief but wonderful moment, their fingers intermingled and danced slowly in one another's embrace as one's eyes focused on the other's.
As the rest of reality intruded back into Stacy's perception, she turned to see the other three members of her clique looking at her.
"Wow! Stacy! He really likes you!" Quinn half whispered, her excitement tinged ever so slightly with envy.
"Yeah." Tiffany agreed torpidly. "And he's so suave."
Sandi's eyes darted a few times between Stacy and the corner where Augustus disappeared. Her lips were pursed as if she were making some difficult decision.
"We must find out more about him. Quinn, I want a report by the lunch period."
Quinn donned a derisive half-smile, looking at Sandi with something of an impish glint in her eye. "Oh, you bet, Sandi. Everything you want to know… and more."
Stacy trekked nervously toward the cafeteria. While she was anxious to hear what Quinn had learned about Augusta, she was also afraid she might run into him and his wonderfully smooth style without the backing of her friends. Without their support, she just knew she'd faint, and that would be a terrible fashion faux pas of the sort Sandi was unlikely to overlook.
As she turned the last corner she spotted Quinn waiting at the cafeteria doorway. Spotting Stacy, Quinn moved quickly toward her, using that smooth, fast gate she used in lieu of running, seeing as running was geeky and Quinn was clearly not going to be mistaken for a geek.
"Hey Stacy!" Quinn greeted with her usual enthusiasm.
"Hi Quinn." Stacy replied, her nervousness evident.
Quinn came to Stacy's side and spun on her heel expertly, managing the utilitarian act of turning around while taking the opportunity to make her hair bounce in that extra special and attractive way. It garnered several admiring looks from passers by. They both headed for the cafeteria at a leisurely pace.
"Um. So, what did you find out?" Stacy asked.
"Lots of stuff." Quinn grinned. "But you have to wait so I can tell Tiffany and Sandi, too. He's really going to boost your popularity! I mean, how can he not? He's got that really foreign look about him and his smile is just so cute you can't help but swoon in that 'OK, I'm interested but don't think I'm that interested' kind of way that really makes guys want to spend their last dime on you. Then there are those clothes! Talk about your fashion do! He wears neutrals so no matter what you wear, he's going to match! And those shoes look just like the ones I saw in Cashman's grand catalog for men a few weeks ago and wow were they expensive but they work so well with his overall look that they're definitely worth every penny and jeez, Stacy, it's so cool he's interested in you! I mean if you weren't in the Fashion Club I'd be so jealous of you and I'd just have to steal him away!"
Quinn paused as they picked up trays and perused the salads.
"Actually, Stacy, I've already heard good things being said around just from this mornings little encounter! Tori said that you are the girl of the hour because everyone wants a date with him, even some of the unpopular girls! Tracy was talking about trying to date him until - get this - she heard he was interested in you then she just gave up saying she didn't stand a chance against the Fashion Club! Isn't that great? I mean they really understand what we're about, I guess. The really good news is Andy said that several of the football players were talking about asking you out before Augusta does since if he's interested then you must be something special! Isn't that wonderful? I think it's really really romantic in an Uma Thurman in 'The Truth About Cats and Dogs' sort of way."
As they sat down at one of the free tables, Stacy discovered she was smiling. It felt very good to be talked about in a good way. She was far too accustomed to being described as a whiner, or as a crybaby.
Of course, Quinn might be embellishing.
"Did Andy really say that?" Stacy asked in a mousy voice.
Quinn gave Stacy a brief annoyed look that metamorphosed into something more closely resembling pity.
"Of course, Stacy! I wouldn't bother telling you something that I just made up! God, Stacy!" Quinn tried her best to sound exasperated and succeeded in comforting Stacy without actually convincing her.
Quinn appeared to spot someone behind Stacy and began to wave whomever it was over in dignified earnest. Stacy looked over her shoulder and saw Sandi and Tiffany already seated at their usual spot. Sandi looked at Quinn with aggravation, and appeared ready to call Quinn and Stacy over to her, but Tiffany was already on her way to where she and Quinn sat. Sandi glared after the oblivious Tiffany for a moment, then gathered her lunch back onto her tray and sauntered over, taking a seat across from Stacy and beside Quinn.
"I believe you have a report ready for us, Quinn." Sandi said, trying to assert herself.
"OK." Quinn began in obvious earnest. "He's got a little mystery around him." Quinn announced with a dramatic flourish. "He's from Port Arthur, Rhode Island where he won several trophies for football. Several of the people I talked to there call him a football god. He was all set to be the next Heinemann trophy winner, but - and here's the mystery! - He had to leave. No one knows why! They couldn't talk about his girlfriends except to say he was the most popular guy there." Quinn paused a moment to let that sink in, looking at Sandi with a minuscule smirk. "He drives a BMW 350i which is less than a year old. It's black, again making it a perfect accessory for all our eveningwear. Someone saw him flash a gold card! Everything about him points to perfect."
Stacy's head swam. This fellow was interested in her? It was too good to be true. With both Quinn and Sandi always looking for the best date, it seemed impossible that there was any chance at all of going out with Augusta. Yet there the rest of the Fashion Club was, all talking around her about how wonderful it was that Stacy was his first interest, how it defined the club as the pinnacle of popularity, and how proud Quinn was of Stacy.
It was a little alien. Stacy racked her brain, but couldn't remember anyone every being proud of her before.
Stacy looked up at Quinn and received a second surprise in the form of a bright smile and a squeeze of her shoulder.
He was there, at the end of the hallway, hanging out with his friends from the football team. Stacy was oblivious to Sandi's strong suggestion she make herself obvious. It was unthinkable.
He turned to her and their gazes locked. If it were possible, Stacy's attention narrowed further. Butterflies puttered around in her stomach, and a hollow feeling formed in her head. She felt her breath quicken.
He started to stride purposefully toward them. Somewhere off in some rarely used portion of her mind she noted that the crowd of students parted for him, making a path straight up to her.
Right up front, in the part of her mind she was using right then, she became aware that she was going to faint.
"Hello, Stacy." He said, though it only barely registered for Stacy.
"Hello Augusta." Quinn answered after a moment.
Stacy felt a gentle nudge from an elbow.
"H... Hi." She squeaked.
She was still in some kind of nervous limbo as Augusta made greetings to the rest of the fashion club. He held out his hand and some gentle nudge moved her hand toward it. Blissfully, he took her hand and began that wonderful caressing. It made her feel wonderful and wanted and even loved. The feelings were almost alien and awoke a part of her that had slumbered for a very long time.
Stacy was surprised and a little shocked to discover her other hand had come up and begun to return the caressing. For a moment she considered retreating, but then noticed his smile had become somewhat larger, his gaze more intense. She couldn't retreat even if she had wanted to.
"Well?" She heard Sandi say in that commanding voice, snapping her out of her reverie.
"Oh, of course it's yes, Right Stacy?" Quinn said.
Stacy had no idea what she was talking about, but nodded in agreement anyway.
"Yes. Oh, of course." Stacy stammered.
"Wonderful!" Augusta exclaimed. "When and where would you like me to pick you up?"
Pick her up? What had she just agreed to? A date? A date? Panic threatened to invade her mind. Her mouth worked a few times, but no sound would come out.
Another gentle prod from Quinn helped knock loose the words. It was of major assistance to her that Sandi often drilled her in answering that very question, so her response was automatic.
"I will be there with gladness in my heart." Augusta said, then kissed her knuckle and reluctantly departed.
"Oh. My. God." Tiffany commented glacially. "We don’t have much time."
"You're right, Tiffany. I'm calling an emergency gathering of the Fashion Club immediately after school, at Stacy's house."
Near panic immediately hit Stacy. "Uh... No! We can't. My dad's going to be there. Can we do this at Quinn's? Please?" She begged frenetically, hyperventilation only one breath away.
"And what would we do about your clothes, then, Stacy?" Sandi asked.
"We're the same size! She can borrow from my wardrobe. I've got just the outfit in mind." Quinn answered, glaring at Sandi.
"I don't know." Sandi said, looking thoughtful. "Is it appropriate to borrow fashions?"
"Well, I suppose if we fit in them. I'd hate to see some people try and fit into my dress..."
"Ok, alright." Sandi said, cutting Quinn off with a hard glare. "At Quinn's at three forty-five. No one be late."
Sandi marched off toward her next class, followed by Tiffany who probably didn't realize her next class was on the other end of the building. Quinn and Stacy could hear Tiffany ask, "What did she mean by that?" followed by a stern "Can we talk about something else, please?" from Sandi as they headed down the hallway.
Stacy looked at a smirking Quinn and screwed up her minimal courage. "Are you sure I can borrow your clothes?"
Quinn winced at the thought, but didn't retract the offer. "Yes, Stacy! Gu-awd! You know you're my friend!" Quinn said, turning and heading toward her next class.
Stacy stood immobile. Two wondrous events at once, Augusta asking her out, and Quinn saying outright that she was her friend.
It was almost too much to bear.
Stacy looked at herself in Quinn's mirror, totally and completely impressed. With Quinn's incredible sense for fashion and hairstyle and Tiffany's impressive ability with makeup and a very great deal of criticism from Sandi that was totally ignored by Tiffany and Quinn, she had been transformed.
In the mirror was a young woman in a sharp outfit of dressy but comfortable slacks, stylishly large white blouse, and a sleeveless pullover sweater that was a perfect match for the pants.
Her hair hung behind her head in a soft single ponytail, with just exactly the right number of loose locks floating around her face, framing it and bringing out her features.
Tiffany, the ultimate accessory expert, fetched one of Quinn's purses and set it on her shoulder. The outfit was completed instantly.
"Perfect!" Sandi proclaimed.
Perfect? When did all these words start getting applied to her?
Stacy turned and faced the rest of the club, smiling diminutively. "Thanks."
"This was fun." Tiffany said.
"It was! Maybe we should do something like this regularly?" Quinn offered.
Sandi's acerbic reply wasn't heard as Stacy stepped into the hallway on her way to the bathroom. She took a few moments there to be alone and collect her thoughts. This evening felt odd. Usually it was Sandi or Tiffany who was the object of these attentions, each preparing for a date with some help from Quinn. Well, more Tiffany than Sandi.
Still, to be the center of attention like this was a little draining.
Stacy headed toward Quinn's room and was startled by that girl who lived with Quinn - and apparently startled her just as much as the girl's book nearly swatted her.
"Well, hello." The girl said in a flat, emotionless voice that somewhat gave Stacy the willies.
"You're looking rather dressed up. Had mannequin duty today?" The girl asked.
Stacy gave her a confused look. "N... uh... no." She stammered, disquieted by the impassive yet intense stare the girl was giving her. "I have a date."
Stacy waited for some signal that the conversation was over, but the girl did nothing.
"Uh. With Augusta." Stacy offered.
"The new football player."
Stacy was astonished that she would know about a popular guy. "Yes! How... how did you know?" Stacy answered, trailing off with embarrassment.
"You would have to be deaf and blind not to hear about him, Stacy. I assure you, I've considered both." She paused for a moment. "I take it you're happy about this turn of events?"
Stacy was again shocked. How did she know her name? Stacy's face crinkled in her effort to remember the girl's name, she didn't want to be rude.
"Never mind." The girl said. "Don't strain yourself." She then walked around Stacy, lifting her book back in front of her face.
Stacy chewed on a finger, watching the girl stroll down the stairs. She had wanted to ask her about her boyfriend like she had planned, but not being able to remember her name had gotten in the way.
"Stacy!" Quinn called. "Don't do that!" Quinn pulled her hand away from her mouth.
"It's almost time. We have to get you home." Sandi said.
With Tiffany following behind, Sandi and Quinn led a silent Stacy to Sandi's car.
The wait had been brief but harrowing.
But it had not been anywhere near as harrowing as the walk to his car. Without the Fashion Club to back her up, she was a big knot of nervous energy. She tried to say and do nothing for fear of making a total buffoon of herself.
Silently thankful Sandi had again drilled her while Quinn and Tiffany helped her get ready, she answered such questions as what movie she wanted to see and what burger joint she wanted to go to automatically.
She sat through the drive and movie both answering only direct questions and moving only when necessary.
She nibbled on her small 'Chef's Salad', listening to Augusta talk about the movie.
"Ok. I have to ask." Augusta startled her by shifting the subject so suddenly.
Stacy looked up at him, oblivious to the bit of low-calorie dressing that sat on her chin.
"Have I done something to offend you?"
Stacy's lips pursed and she sat up straight. "N... No! Not at all."
"Are you sure?" He asked, reaching across the table and wiping her chin for her. "You've been so distant and quiet."
Blushing at his attentions to her chin, she was only just able to form her words. "Oh... I was... I mean, I don't... I don't want to make a fool of myself." She found herself admitting.
"Ah." Augusta nodded. "Some of my friends warned me about the possibility." He said, smiling warmly.
He picked up his burger, and made a show of spilling the catsup on his hand, then played at not being able to get his napkin to work right. He stood, chasing the napkin, and tripped over his own two feet, rebounding comically from the floor and stumbling backward to land in his seat.
Stacy couldn't help but giggle. She couldn't help but relax.
"Ah! There, a smile. The greatest gift on this planet, Stacy, is a heartfelt smile from a woman - especially such a woman as yourself."
Stacy blushed again, and began to retreat into her shell.
"No, please." Augusta said, taking her hands in his. "You deserve such things said about you. Come, we're both too nervous to eat anyway. I want to show you something I found a few days ago."
Intrigued and unwilling to argue his point, Stacy allowed herself to be led back to his car. They drove for a while and Stacy became tense as they approached the quarry and thus make-out point, but relaxed when they passed it by. A few moments later, they pulled into a parking lot for a building still under construction... Stacy was tense again. She knew what this meant, and wanted it. She knew Sandi had told her what to do and how far to take it and Quinn had instructed her in how to make sure it went no further. Still, it seemed things were moving too fast.
He shut off the engine and turned off the car lights.
Stacy braced herself and undid her seatbelt.
He undid his.
She took a few deep breaths.
He got out of the car.
He got out of the car? Stacy watched him come around to her side and open her door.
"I think you will like this."
He took her hand and she followed. He carefully led her up to the roof of the partially constructed building, and with a sweeping gesture presented her with one of the most spectacular views of Lawndale she had ever seen. The lights of the small city illuminated the low-hanging clouds and offset the rolling hills around it, framing twinkling streetlights and the warm glow of home windows.
"Wow." Stacy whispered.
"It's the second most beautiful sight Lawndale has ever presented to me." He said, looking out over the city.
"What was the first?" Stacy asked, still enthralled with the view.
Stacy felt a terrible pang of dread. She blushed and stuttered and turned to leave. He caught her arm gently.
"I'm sorry. I don't mean to make you uncomfortable." He explained. "You do deserve such compliments, but I promise to keep them to myself until you tell me not to, Ok?"
Stacy couldn't look up at him, but offered an agreeable nod.
He led her over to a pair of folding chairs and sat her down. From behind one of the cooling vents he produced a cooler full of soft drinks, including her favorite diet soda. He opened her a can and took one for himself.
Stacy was struck with a rare thought. "Should we be up here?"
"It's ok, this is my father's building." He explained in warm and soothing tones. "I asked permission."
Before she could comment on how impressive that was, he began asking her about herself - little, easy questions that weren't hard to answer.
Soon she found herself talking about all sorts of things - things that she hadn't even told Quinn. Even more bizarre, she found she enjoyed telling him. And he seemed genuinely interested, encouraging her to keep talking, asking for little details, and offering the sweetest looks of pain when she complained about her father.
Just before he offered to take her home, she became aware of another, equally alien feeling in her belly. It wasn't a bad feeling though; it was warm and wonderful. It felt a bit like the feeling those women in her romance novels felt.
It felt a bit like love.
Stacy hugged her mother good-bye, and headed toward the high school with a slight spring in her step that was not normally there so early in the morning - at least not while she faced the prospect of school.
She reflected on her weekend as she approached her locker. After that wonderful date on Friday night, everything seemed to revert to depressingly normal. Saturday morning cartoons, homework, a call from Tiffany about Monday's meeting. Then, right after dinner, change. Augusta called, simply to chat with her.
He had said some very nice things, like he enjoyed the date, and he liked hearing her voice... and she didn't feel like hiding from the flattery!
The call had seemed so brief, but once they hung up the phone, Stacy had been very startled to see her clock claiming it was three thirty in the morning.
Stacy stood before her locker, totally enthralled by the thought.
"Stacy!" She was surprised to hear Quinn beside her.
"Have you heard?" Quinn said, smiling broadly. "Augusta can't stop talking about you!"
"This is a wonderful event for the Fashion Club, Stacy." Sandi said, again startling Stacy who had been unaware the club president had been standing behind her. "You're setting a high standard for the rest of the school to follow."
"He said he was in love." Tiffany reported, slowly. "I, like, heard him."
Everyone stopped and looked at Tiffany.
"He did." Tiffany reiterated simply.
"I see." Sandi said, a glare aimed at Stacy.
"Not that there is anything wrong with that, right?" Quinn said, aiming a glare at Sandi.
"It can lead to the sort of exclusive relationship that makes it hard to be seen, as the Fashion Club should." Sandi explained.
"Considering we're talking about Augusta, the most popular guy in school..." Quinn started.
"Aren't you going to be late for class?" Sandi interrupted.
"Aren't you?" Quinn made her rejoinder.
"He is pretty popular." Tiffany offered.
No one noticed that Stacy had slipped away.
She was nervous, but also a bit confident. For the first time in ages, she opened her semester's end report card knowing it would be good.
And it was.
She had managed two "As", one "B" and three "Cs". The best report card in her entire school career. She knew this time her father would be happy about it.
Augusta had been a major reason for it, she was certain. He was always inviting her over for study sessions and even though they often morphed into smooching sessions he always helped her come away with a better understanding of some part of her studies.
Stacy took a calming breath that immediately made her light-headed and plunged into her home.
"Mommy?" She called, preferring to see her first.
Her father stood from his lounge-chair and faced her.
"Report card, Stacy. Now." He ordered gruffly, holding his hand out.
She hesitated - out of habit - and then handed the card to him.
"I improved, daddy." She said in a hoarse whisper.
He read it - his face impassive - then turned it over and added his signature as he usually did.
He took a step toward her, and Stacy began to smile.
She found herself sprawled over the floor, the side of her head throbbing from the impact.
"You call this improvement?" He bellowed, standing over her and quivering with rage. "I call this an insult! Go to your room! I can't stand to look at you!"
Stacy slowly rose and took a step toward her room only to find herself on the floor again, this time her back throbbed from the impact.
"You useless little..."
"What the hell is going on?" Stacy heard her mother bellow.
Stacy stayed down, too terrified to move.
"Have you seen this?" Her father barked, undoubtedly meaning her report card.
Silence. A hand on her shoulder...
"Get up, Stacy." Her mother said, softly.
Stacy stood, trying to stay out of reach.
"I know you tried, honey." Her mother frowned in disappointment. "But, you know this isn't enough to get into Areghetti's. You said you'd try, but this just isn't enough."
"Oh, you are way too easy on the girl." Her father grumbled.
"What am I supposed to do, you lummox? Bat her around?" Her mother snarled. "When has that ever helped?"
"When has your god damn coddling ever helped?" He snapped.
They all looked to the door when someone knocked loudly upon it.
Stacy moved to answer, but was held back by her father's hand.
"I'll get it." He announced, and shifted to the door.
"Yes?" He said shortly.
"Hello, sir. I am Augusta Azios; Stacy may have mentioned me. I have come to ask your daughter if she would like to go and have something to eat with me."
Stacy watched her father look her boyfriend over, and over Augusta's shoulder toward the expensive car parked on the street. He looked back at Stacy, who was still cowering in the hall, then back to Augusta, who was a little confused by all the looking around.
"Are you sure you have the right house, son?"
"Harold!" Her mother warned.
"Sorry. Come in."
"Thank you, sir." Augusta said with a smile and entered.
"Have a seat." Stacy's mother offered. "Would you like something to drink?"
"No, but thank you for offering." He said as he sat politely on the sofa.
Her mother waved at her to sit down, and gave her the warning look she used when she thought Stacy was being rude.
She sat down by her boyfriend, feeling a tad lost. "Hi." She said, smiling a little.
"Hello my sweet." He said, quietly so only she could hear.
"Azios, did you say? Any relation to Maurice Azios?" Her father sounded hopeful.
"Yes, sir. He is my father." Augusta responded.
Her father's eyes went a little wide, though he tried to hide it he was impressed. "You know, Stacy, you haven't had the chance to get out off the house in a while. Why don't you two go have some fun?"
Stacy looked at her father, then at her mother who gave her a "Don't delay! Get with it!" look, then at Augusta, who smiled patiently.
"Pizza?" He said. "No cheese." He smiled.
"That would be nice." She murmured, and rose.
Augusta made pleasant good-byes and had his hand pumped heartily by her father.
After they closed the door, Stacy's father turned to his wife. "Damn it all if she didn't finally land someone worth it."
"We can only hope she keeps him, Harold." She replied, watching the car pull away.
Augusta pulled into the parking lot of the incomplete building, as was their ritual for dates. This time, however, the sun was still up and he carried a pizza box with him.
Stacy sat on the roof, leaning against an open duct. Augusta sat beside her and gave her ear a little nuzzle before setting the pizza box down. She laid her head on his shoulder and stayed there for a while, silent and enjoying having her hair stroked.
"They acted so nice." She finally said. "Not like they usually do."
She felt rather than heard a little chuckle from Augusta. "They always act nice, Stacy. I've met a few others in with parents like yours, and they are always nice to everyone else."
"So you don't think I was lying?"
"Why would I think you were lying?" He asked.
Stacy didn't know what to make of that. "Lots of people do."
Gathering her up in his arms, he whispered in her ear. "Not one of them count. Not one of them knows you for who you really are, my beautiful."
Stacy looked up at him, their lips met and she lost herself blissfully in his kisses. She purred when he began to nuzzle her ear and kiss her neck. Her hand explored his powerful chest and arms. His stroked her back and her hair. She found his mouth again and their tongues swirled around each other. She guided his hand to her breast and he gently massaged and cupped it, eliciting moans of pleasure from her. She felt a terrible burning desire for him and reached down and felt...
They both paused, looking at her hand.
"Eep!" She squeaked and retracted her hand. "I... I'm sorry. I didn't... I mean, I'm not..." Stacy's breathing quickened as she panicked.
He gathered her into his arms again and cooed: "Shhh. It's Ok, Stacy. Calm down."
Stacy concentrated on breathing, and the sound of his voice.
"Stacy, my sweet. I will never be angry with you for not being ready." He purred into her ear. "I don't have to be."
Stacy bit into her third cracker, wishing she had something more substantial on her plate.
"People, the Winter Paradise dance is fast approaching." Sandi announced. "As you know, this dance is second only to the Prom for it's importance, and an excellent opportunity for us to once again be the center of attention."
"Oh!" Tiffany looked surprised. "Are we going to coordinate our outfits again?"
"Uh, we didn't last year." Quinn said, worried. "Or the year before that."
"Tiffany, as much as I respect your talents, we just don't do that."
"Oh." Tiffany mooed.
"Anyway..." Sandi started again, annoyed at the interruption. "I think the first order of business is dates. I feel this year we should all take someone from the football team, seeing as they are doing very well and their popularity is at an all-time high." She looked at Quinn. "Who are you going to have ask you?"
"Joey, Jeffy and Joshua." Quinn answered.
"Which one?" Sandi asked, irked.
"All of them. Duh!"
Sighing, she turned to Tiffany.
"Who do you plan on asking?"
"Thomas." She said protractedly.
Sandi looked surprised. "He's on the football team?"
"Football?" Tiffany inquired.
"We'll have to work on this." Sandi sighed again, and turned to Stacy.
"Augusta, I assume, has already asked."
Sandi's eyebrows shot up.
"He hasn't asked yet?" Quinn queried in total shock.
Stacy ducked her head a little, then shook it in the negative.
"That's so wrong." Tiffany observed.
Sandi looked off toward the football team. "I wonder if that means he's availa... Ow!"
Sandi turned and glared at Quinn, who was resolutely not looking at Sandi, instead she was looking at Stacy.
"Not to worry." Quinn smiled. "He still has time, I mean; it's no problem until at least... oh... tomorrow."
Stacy nodded as the period bell rang. She automatically followed the Fashion Club to her locker - their usual post-lunch stop.
Stacy was getting her notebooks from her locker when she realized the hall had gone quiet. As she began to turn around, she felt Quinn tapping her urgently on her shoulder.
"What? Oh!" Stacy saw four men setting up music stands, small stools and their string instruments - all facing her.
They began to play some soft and gentle tune as Augusta came from around the corner and knelt before her, offering a small bouquet of winter flowers around a single red rose.
"My dearest Stacy; For these many weeks I have had the extreme pleasure of your company and the great fortune of getting to know you. Your beauty has humbled me. Your warmth has awed me. Your presence has lifted my heart. I ask, if you would have this miserable wretch before you, that you might attend the Winter Paradise dance with me."
Stacy's eyes nervously darted to her friends and to the other students standing around them.
Even Sandi was awed.
Stacy took his hands and coaxed him to his feet, then embraced him. "Yes!" She whispered into his ear. "Thank you."
She felt him squeeze her gently, then turn to the quartet.
They began a minuet, and he took Stacy in the traditional waltzing embrace. As he began to dance with her, she discovered she was something of a natural at following his lead. As if it were a taste of what was to come, Stacy fell into his eyes - the rest of the world, for once, unimportant.
"What is going on here?" A shrill voice called, snapping Stacy from her reverie and causing her to trip, though Augusta caught her long before she fell.
"I was just asking her to the dance." Augusta explained.
"Oh, really?" Ms. Barch glowered. "And making her late for class, you man! Shoo! Off with everyone! You're late!"
Everyone but the quartet scampered off. Stacy paused to give Augusta a quick kiss.
"You!" Barch barked, pointing at Augusta. "Detention!"
Stacy found herself doing a little homework, then staring at the bouquet, then doing a little more homework, and playing with the bouquet... Finally, she decided to focus her attention on what was really important, and picked up the bouquet.
The budding rose was sweet smelling, and felt wonderful against her nose. The other flowers, all light colors and small, set off the rose brilliantly. Stacy stroked their petals, enjoying their silky feel.
"Augusta." She whispered to herself. Exactly what she needed - a fellow who had helped on all fronts. She felt more confident with him. Her grades improved with him. Sandi was actually jealous of him. It was as if he somehow completed her.
She was sure he loved her, and even more sure she loved him. Nothing else seemed to matter.
"Oh! Hi, daddy." Stacy said, setting the bouquet down.
He pointed to it. "From the Azios boy?"
"Good, good." He paused, considering something. "Stacy, I'd really like it if you would talk to your mother about... you know, being safe."
Stacy angled her head, not understanding. "I wear my seatbelt."
"Oh, for god's sake." He grumbled. "That's not what I mean. I mean when you're... you know... with him."
Gritting his teeth, her father waved his hand, encouraging her to think about it. "With him."
"With... Oh! With him." She said, and blushed furiously. "We've ne..."
"Hush! I don't really want to hear it. Talk to your mother." He said as he quickly left.
Stacy noticed he hadn't yelled at her when she missed his point, like he usually did. Come to think about it, her mother hadn't recently given her one of those pitying looks like she usually did when she said something stupid.
Quinn treating her like a friend, Augusta in love with her, Sandi jealous of her, her grades improving, her confidence increasing, and her parents acting as if she was being better... her life was finally getting good.
"Here she comes!" Stacy's mother's voice was full of barely contained excitement.
Stacy came in from the hallway dressed in an evening gown hand picked by Quinn, with accessories designated by Tiffany and a hairstyle suggested by Sandi. The overall effect was very pleasing to her, and by the look on Augusta's face, very much pleasing to him.
"Oh my god. I'm dating an angel." He complimented, causing her to redden.
Stacy and Augusta tolerated her mother's insistence on photographs. Stacy wondered how bad she would be come the Prom. She finally let them go after her father warned several times that they were going to be late.
Stacy nearly let out an excited squeal when instead of his car, a long black limousine waited at the curb, an uniformed driver holding the door open for them. Unfortunately for everyone, her mother lacked even that level of self-control and squealed for her. Her father suggested her mother take some of her 'calm down' pills as he shut the door.
As the limousine pulled smoothly from the curb, Augusta opened the door and helped her in. He leaned over the wet bar and offered her a drink.
"Oh, well... I mean I can't really... dad would never let..."
"Stacy." Augusta called.
"I mean, I'd like to and all but I..."
"Stacy, look closer: No alcohol. My father would surely hang me from a very tall tree if I ever tried such a thing."
"Oh!" Stacy colored again, and she accepted his offer of a small glass of a soft drink with bright red cheeks.
Idle chitchat and handholding as well as a few well-told jokes relaxed Stacy and made her feel really ready for the dance. It would be their first time being a couple in front of the school, besides when he had asked her to join him. She looked forward to it very much. She found that it wasn't her popularity that she was thinking of, instead she merely wanted to show off just how happy she was.
When she told him this, he laughed aloud, and hugged her.
"That's what I like most about you." He said, and she melted.
She felt importance and some celebrity as she disembarked from the limousine on his arm. The crowd parting before them added to that feeling. The fact they were approaching a school gymnasium diminished the feeling in no way whatsoever.
She spied the rest of the Fashion Club in their usual position just off the dance floor, more or less at the center of things. Quinn raised her cup in greeting, Joey, Jeffy and Jason waiting for their next command behind her. Sandi nodded curtly, and made sure she saw what appeared to be a big, handsome college man on her arm. Tiffany stared off into the distance, as her handsome and well-dressed date looked terribly bored.
Chance allowed her to hear Tori proclaiming her meteoric rise to the top of the popularity list while talking to some of the less fortunate girls in her class. Stacy felt faint - if Tori said you were popular, you certainly were. She knew these things.
"You ok?" He asked, detecting her falter.
"Fine. Wonderful!" She answered, looking up at him.
He smiled and caressed her hand.
The evening spun by with such speed that she felt a little disconnected, almost as if she were watching the dance rather than participating in it.
Augusta noticed several other students getting drunk, few of which seemed the type.
"That," he said, "is why I brought the soft drinks." He smiled.
Stacy felt protected.
He proved to be as good at dancing to the contemporary music as he was to classical minuets. Unlike Sandi's date, who seemed to be imitating some sort of jumping beetle. Joey, Jeffy and John all seemed to be having conniption fits as Quinn posed among them.
Upchuck made an effort to cut in several times only to be turned away by a piercing glare from Augusta, and finally changed his mind entirely on the matter after he whispered something into Upchuck's ear. When Stacy inquired as to what he'd said, Augusta replied by telling her it wasn't polite to repeat such things to a lady.
Stacy found herself back in the limousine soon after, relaxed in the spacious and comfortable seats with his arms around her.
"Let me make you something. It's what an old friend called the only mixed drink you can serve at an AA meeting."
Stacy sat up to watch expectantly, feeling lightheaded and thirsty.
He started with simple cola, and added what looked like several fruit sauces to it, mixing slowly to avoid making it flat. He put an orange wedge on the side and offered it to her with a flourish.
Smiling, Stacy took a sip, and her face registered some surprise. The drink had a strong and very sweet flavor, but was almost irresistibly delicious. She took a couple of mouthfuls before commenting.
"This is good." She said. "Really good."
He hefted a cup of his own, and toasted. "To my Stacy, may you enjoy this as much as I."
Stacy lifted her cup and they touched brims. She finished the drink.
She heard herself ask for another, the funny, disconnected feeling increasing. He put the cup in her hand and she downed the whole thing at once, the flavor too attractive to resist.
She felt sleepy, and cuddled up to him and closed her eyes. She heard him encouraging her to sleep, saying things she didn't really pay attention to, instead she just followed along.
Stacy sat up in bed with a loud gasp. The nightmare was already fuzzy and hard to remember.
A quick glance at her dressing table let her know that it was almost eleven in the morning, and that she looked terrible. Her eyes had dark circles around them, her hair was a mess, and she was still wearing her evening gown.
As she crawled out of bed she became aware that she hurt. They were odd hurts, one that was between her legs; one that felt like it was her behind. Stacy took off her dress, then her panties in order to inspect herself.
She was surprised to see evidence that her period was very early. There was also something else; a starchy, slightly sticky something...
Stacy chose not to think about it since her head was starting to throb. She wadded up her soiled underwear and tossed it in her hamper along with her bra. She threw on her robe and went to take a shower.
"Morning Mommy." Stacy said, quietly, as she eased herself into a chair at the breakfast table.
"Morning Stacy." Her mother said as she placed a light breakfast in front of her daughter. "I'm sorry last night didn't go perfectly. It's nice, though, that Augusta brought you home. He was carrying you, it was almost romantic."
Stacy looked confused. "What?"
"He said someone had spiked the punch. You had a bit too much of it and he brought you home, dead asleep. I'm not too happy about it, I've already called Ms Li to complain. Neither your father nor I blame you, dear. You didn't know you were getting drunk."
Stacy tilted her head, trying to remember. "Oh, I guess so. I did feel kind of funny." She thought some more. "I can't remember most of last night. My head really hurts."
Her mother nodded knowingly. "It's to be expected."
Stacy closed her locker, unhappy about being back in school. Her weekend had been profoundly dull having slept through most of it, and she still felt the effects of what her mother called a monster of a hangover. She was certain that she'd never get drunk again if she could help it. Stacy had even had a hard time remembering her locker combination.
Given her overall feeling of ennui, she was very bothered by not seeing any of her fellow Fashion Club members. She thought they might be mad at her for not having joined them like she usually did at dances. Augusta had kept her going throughout, so she never really had the chance.
The worst part of her weekend, and the detail that weighed most heavily on her mind, was that there had been no call from Augusta on Saturday or Sunday evening, as was his habit. She had considered calling him, but she didn't know his phone number - she hadn't needed to know it, he always called her.
"Rrrower!" The familiar irritating call came from her left. "Way to go, Stacy! But, next time, call an expert!" The disgusting little redhead mocked.
Stacy looked at him as she passed by, having no idea at all what he was talking about. It didn't much matter, she knew that Quinn always said he made no sense and he was better ignored.
Stacy approached her homeroom only to be stopped by someone in a football jersey - she didn't know who right off, since all she could see was his jersey, such was his proximity.
"Hey babe!" The quarterback said as Stacy took a quick step back. "Lookin' good!"
Stacy was struck dumb. Kevin had never stopped to talk to her before, never mind hand her one of his rather insipid compliments.
Stacy was relived to hear the squeak of the head cheerleader call him away. He winked at her as he went to see what she wanted. Confused again, Stacy entered the classroom.
Sandi and Tiffany weren't there.
On many days, this would not be unusual, but on a Monday it was unheard of. There simply weren't any good stores having sales on a Monday. Perhaps they were out sick.
Nervously, Stacy approached the Fashion Club's usual table. They were all there, but this marked the first time she had seen them all day. It made no sense.
Sandi was sitting with her back to Stacy, while Tiffany and Quinn sat opposite. Quinn looked up at Stacy, her face a jumble of conflicting emotions. Tiffany was scrutinizing an eyebrow brush.
"Don't bother to sit." Sandi said, still facing away and her voice thorny with what sounded like hate.
"Sandi!" Quinn nearly yelled. "Be fair! At least we tell her why."
Stacy was rooted to the spot.
"Oh, like the little hussy doesn't know." Sandi retorted, then turned to look at Stacy.
"You know very well that where we of the Fashion Club are supposed to be as desirable as possible, none of us are supposed to be sluts. We don't put out, Stacy. To distance ourselves from you and your kind, we are forced to eject you from the club. Do not associate with us any further, any attempt to make such an association will be severely rebuked." Sandi snorted in disgust, and turned back to her lunch.
Stacy's mouth hung open breifly. She was ready to bolt, but a look from Quinn seemed to revive a little of that newfound confidence.
"I... I'm not a slu... hussy, Sandi." She tried to say, but murmured instead.
"Augusta told everyone." Tiffany chimed in with her usual glacial pace. "You know how boys are."
Doubt invaded Stacy's thoughts with a potency that they had never before possessed.
"The spike was punched!" Stacy stumbled in her haste. "I couldn't help it, I didn't mean to get drunk. But we didn't do anything! I fell asleep! He took me home!"
"I told you we shouldn't talk to her." Sandi said offhandedly to Quinn.
"But, it's true. I didn't do anything." Stacy pleaded, her knees threatened to buckle and it was getting hard to breathe.
"Stacy, drop the pretence. We know better."
"He has pictures." Tiffany admitted, earning a very nasty look from Quinn. "He passed them around at practice on Sunday."
Pictures? No, that was impossible. She had been asleep. It was the punch... that she never drank. The cafeteria spun. Somewhere close by someone dropped a lunch tray. Augusta loved her too much for this. Something hit the side of her head. Quinn called her name. What was the floor doing up here?
The cool breeze felt good. She really needed it and it seemed to help calm her stomach.
Stacy wasn't sure what it was about the school nurse's office, but it always felt like a sanctuary for her. Whenever things got going to fast, or the pressure seemed too much, a quick trip to have your temperature taken and a minute or two on the couch gave her the moment she needed to regroup and face the world again. At least, for a while.
Of course, fainting dead away meant getting to stay even longer, and she needed that right then.
Quinn stepped surreptitiously though the door, mindful of the trouble she could get herself in by being in the nurse's office without permission. Stacy watched her check for the nurse, and seeing her gone, glide up to her side to take a seat on the rolling stool near her.
"You Ok?" Quinn asked.
Quinn's face did a little emotional gymnastics, then settled on something akin to despair.
"I'm sorry Tiffany told you about his passing out the pictures." She sighed. "I wanted that to just go away. Stacy, I know you loved him and I can see why you wanted to have sex with him - I mean I see the romantic part and all - but why pictures? Without the pictures, maybe this wouldn't be more than what Upchuck did to Tiffany last year. Augusta had proof."
"No, Quinn." Stacy said, her tears free flowing now. "Nothing happened. He's lying. Someone's lying."
Quinn looked at Stacy, who was once her friend but now seemed different. Nothing was clicking right about anything in this nasty turn of events. Quinn had once been worried that Stacy would agree to sex simply because she often gave away anything else she had in her desperate attempt to be liked. But she and Sandi had drilled it into her head that one simply did not do that with sex. It was destructive, dangerous and stupid to play that game. Quinn had been sure, until that call on Sunday night, that Stacy wouldn't have ever made this mistake.
She had resolutely refused to believe it until she had browbeaten Joey into turning over the photo that he had. It had been an awful shock to see Stacy doing that... thing... with Augusta. It was a clear photo, on regular photographic paper. She couldn't even hope it was a computer-altered image.
Quinn immediately began 'damage control' but she had found out far too late. All she could to was to try and save Stacy a little humiliation, and Tiffany had robbed her of that.
Now there was even a rumor about a web site.
Quinn watched Stacy cry for a moment. Stacy's protesting was almost certainly genuine, but it didn't fit.
"Stacy, I'm sorry. I have to go, but call me, Ok?"
"Thanks Quinn." Stacy said in a tiny voice.
Stacy leaned against her locker, feeling dead tired. She had nearly called in sick again, being nauseous once again. With the admonition it was just her spineless fear, her father practically... no, literally kicked her out the door.
She spun the combination dial for the third time, angry that she couldn't get the combination straight. She jumped when she felt a hand on her shoulder. She turned to face the hand's owner, only to take a sharp breath when it was Augusta and a small troupe of his friends.
"Hello Stacy." He smiled. "How would you like to go get something to eat?"
Through her fear, she managed only to shake her head.
Augusta's smile transformed into something almost sinister. "Aww, I thought you loved me." He said, eliciting a chuckle from his buddies. "But, that's Ok, Stacy. There are plenty of other fish in this little pond." He swept his hand around to indicate the school.
He turned to direct his next statement to his friends. "Though, I doubt many are quite as talented." He pumped his thumb toward his mouth rhythmically, poking his tongue into his cheek in step. The meaning was obvious, and it mortified Stacy to see it.
She ran for the exit, their laughter wafting after like a wraith, rending what little spirit she had left.
Stacy sat, alone, and ate what was at least a real meal.
It had been hard to get used to, but being alone all the time did have a few advantages, like no one to bug you about eating too much. Not to mention that it was far easier to deal with isolation that in was to deal with many of the other problems she was having.
The test in history that morning had been a disaster. With all the straight facts one had to know to pass those tests, History had been one of her better classes. Her memory had seen to that. Today, though, she was lucky to get today's date right. The rest of the test was filled out in the last five minutes, every last answer a raw guess. She'd be lucky if her score showed on the scale, never mind be passing.
Since this was the third quiz she had totally blown, she figured she could kiss any hope of getting into Areghetti Veterinary School goodbye. The most she could hope for, if she didn't freeze on any further tests, was a "D" for most of her classes.
It wasn't as if she didn't try. Now that no one would touch her with a five-meter pole, she had plenty of time to study and do homework. When she didn't forget an assignment in her locker, it was all done, including any scrap of extra credit she could find.
Her ruminations were interrupted by a pair of trays being set down on the other side of the table, across from her.
Quinn's sister and her artist friend sat.
Stacy looked at them with frightened eyes, not sure if she should say hello or slink away.
The girl in the red immediately dug into her lunch, her eyes focused solidly on Stacy. Quinn's sister, in her usual green jacket, looked at Stacy differently than she had before. She still seemed impassive, but there was almost sympathy there this time.
"Stacy, as much as I hate to admit it, and as much as I will later deny it, I'm here because Quinn and I had a talk about you." She seemed to reconsider her words. "That is, I'll deny ever speaking to Quinn." She amended.
Stacy didn't understand, and so didn't reply.
"I think I know why the two versions of the story don't match, and it explains why the pictures exist. I don't like this theory, because it suggests a crime that it's probably too late to investigate." She paused to let Stacy absorb what she had said. "Stacy, have you ever heard of a drug called 'roofies'?"
"Yes." Stacy answered, taken aback.
"Among the side effects of flunitrazepam - the technical name for roofies - is slowed memory retrieval, short term amnesia, and headaches. Quinn tells me you've been having a hard time remembering things like your locker combination, and that you don't remember much about the dance."
Stacy nodded shallowly.
Quinn's sister sighed and looked at the table, then back at her.
"Stacy, I'm sorry, but I think he used the drug on you. While a person is under its effects, they can be highly suggestible. It would explain why you appeared to be consenting in the photos, while its effect on memory explains that you don't remember any of it happening."
"Please, no." Stacy protested weakly.
"At least it means it wasn't your fault." The artist amended. "It's all his doing."
Stacy's world began to decay again. Everything that hadn't made sense now made sense. It meant all the wonderful things that Augusta had given her were nothing more than lies. The same manipulation every other boy had tried on her, only this time with complete success. Tears again trickled over her cheeks.
She heard the monotone voice again, off in the distance. "You may want to consider getting a pregnancy test."
Stacy felt her legs stand her up, and begin to take her toward the bathroom. Some isolated portion of her mind told her she shouldn't be rude to them; they were trying to help. Her legs paid it no attention.
She stared at the little white stick; her gut in a knot so tight she thought it would kill her.
Once she had stopped crying and was so emotionally drained she could - for the first time in weeks - think with some clarity, she had followed Quinn's sister's advice and bought a pregnancy test. It was a little gross to have to deal with your own pee, but the prospect of pregnancy was so terrifying that she'd have been willing to deal with any number of disgusting things to know for sure.
It was an eternity, waiting to see if a little blue line formed on the stick. No matter how much she wanted to, she couldn't take her eyes from it.
What if she was?
She would be dead. Her parents already believed fully that she had chosen the path she was on. They praised the boy in all things, attributing great things to him because he was the son of a wealthy and powerful man. Nothing she had said had been given the slightest credence and they were disgusted with her for being irresponsible enough to have sex without taking the proper precautions. She dared not suggest that it had been date rape, they would never believe it for the slightest moment.
A faint blue line seemed to be on the stick.
Stacy's breathing quickened, and she felt light-headed. If that line fully formed she had no idea what she could do about it. Her family would disown her, probably after beating her senseless. They would never consider allowing her to have an abortion. She had seen the girls at the other school, the ones with kids. They were always looking terrible and gaunt, stressed to the limit.
The line darkened.
"No, please, no." Stacy put her hand on her chest, heaving breaths wracking her. The idea that she would be among them, living hand to mouth on state funds was intolerable. Her life was over.
The line was solid and unmistakable. She was pregnant.
"No!" She moaned tremulously. She was hyperventilating, the worst case of it she had ever had. It was difficult to see, and she felt like everything was fifty feet away. She needed to calm down and call Quinn's sister, or someone who could help.
The harder she tried to control her breathing, the more out of control it became. Desperate, she opened the medicine cabinets and pulled down the little plastic prescription bottle of "calm-down" pills her mom kept there. She fumbled with the bottle, spilling a few pills, and popped what was in her hand into her mouth and swallowed.
She waited, looking at the test, the line staring back at her reminding her that she was in terrible trouble.
Maybe another pill would help, this time with water. They were tiny things, so maybe another two.
She took the pills and downed a Dixie cup full of tap water. This time it seemed to help. Slowly, her breathing calmed.
She gathered up the pills she had spilled back into the bottle, hoping that her mom wouldn't notice the missing four or so. As she put the bottle back on the shelf, she noticed it was Plendil, her father's blood pressure medication. No matter, Stacy figured, they did the job. She felt very calm now.
Stacy went back to her room, ignoring the test stick on the bathroom counter. It made no difference anymore. She was tired, too tired to care. Her parents would know about the pregnancy anyway, eventually. She lied down on her bed, intending to sleep. She decided than when she woke she would call Quinn or even her sister. One of them would be able to tell her what to do.
She felt so relaxed now that it seemed like she was slowing down, or the world was speeding up. She felt her breathing slow, her heart slow, and her eyelids became terribly heavy. She almost managed a smile, knowing she was going to manage a good, deep sleep for the first time in ages.
Stacy closed her eyes and released a long, slow sigh - then breathed no more.