One More River to Cross
©2004 The Angst Guy (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Daria and associated characters are ©2004 MTV Networks
Feedback (good, bad, indifferent, just want to bother me, whatever) is appreciated. Please write to: email@example.com
Synopsis: In helping Sandi Griffin through a difficult situation, Quinn Morgendorffer must make a decision that could determine her own nature, for good or for evil—but which choice is the right one? Story rated R for language and content.
Author’s Notes: The idea for this story had been with me for several years involving entirely different characters, but at some point it came together in this form and I began to write. This story began on PPMB in late September 2004, but was moved to and completed on SFMB in early October. The reader is warned that the issues involved are controversial, and the story is rated R for language and subject matter. As a side note, Chapter 31 of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn (on which this story is based) has always impressed me, and sometimes I read it without bothering with the rest of the novel.
It is assumed here that Daria Morgendorffer graduated high school in the spring of 2001. It is late September 2001 herein, during Quinn Morgendorffer’s senior year in high school. Swedesville and Alternapalooza appear in the episode “Road Worrier” and the MTV “Daria” book, The Daria Diaries.
Acknowledgements: My thanks go out to Samuel Clemens, wherever he may be.
Neither fear nor courage saves us. Unnatural vices
Are fathered by our heroism. Virtues
Are forced upon us by our impudent crimes.
—T. S. Eliot, “Gerontion”
It was seven twenty-nine a.m. by her pink wristwatch: time to go. Twelve hours, give or take, Quinn Morgendorffer thought as she zipped up her jacket, tossed her long orange-red hair, and left her bedroom. Twelve hours and it will all be over. She stopped in the hallway and held her breath, gathering her nerve. Today of all days, she had to be extra strong to do what had to be done. Cementing the alibi came first.
“Mom?” She looked down the empty second-floor hall. “Mom? Muuuh-ooom!”
“Quinn, you don’t have to yell! Your father’s still asleep! I’m in my bathroom. I might be a little late coming home tonight from work.”
“Whatever! I’m leaving! We’ll be back from shopping sometime this evening.”
“Are any stores open yet? It’s kind of early, isn’t it?”
“It’s a big sale day, Mom! Summer closeouts, new fall stuff! First come, first serve! We have to be there when the doors open!”
“Okay, then. Enjoy your day off from school. Your father’s walking to work again later. The doctor said it was good for his heart, so . . . oh, is Sandi staying over for the whole weekend?”
“Yes, Mom! We’ve already talked about this, remember?”
“Yes, dear, I remember. I’ve had a lot on my mind from work, that’s all. Are the other girls coming over, too? I can pick up some fat-free popcorn and diet soda at Food Lord if you—”
“No, that’s okay! Don’t worry about it! Sandi’s the only one coming over. It’s just the two of us. We’ll get something to eat when we’re out.”
“Does her mother know where she’ll be? I don’t want Linda calling here wondering where Sandi went.”
“Mom, Sandi cleared it with her mom to stay over, before she left for California. It’s okay!”
“Huh. I hope Linda likes San Francisco. She’s so lucky. What I wouldn’t give to be there at the Golden Gate. Maybe we can talk to your father tonight about a family trip there sometime. I don’t think we’ll get Daria out of college, but the three of us can go. Would you like that?”
“Fine, Mom, whatever! I’ve got to run now. Bye!” Quinn’s footsteps descended the stairs toward the front door.
“Wait! Quinn? Is Sandi’s father at home?”
“Yeah, he’s with her little brothers! He knows about Sandi staying here, too! I have to go!”
“All right. Drive carefully, sweetie! I love you!”
“Love you, too, Mom! Bye!” Downstairs, the front door slammed.
“Oh! Wait! Quinn? I forgot to ask what sale you’re going to! Are you going to—Quinn? Quinn! Oh, well, she’s got her cell phone. I’ll call her later. I can’t believe Linda Griffin gets a whole week in San Francisco at company expense. Marketing conference, my foot. I could use a marketing conference like that. I should have gone into television instead of law. Not that there’s anything wrong with law, of course. It’s important, too. Corporate law is . . .”
Helen Morgendorffer put down her comb and hairspray, then stood straight, fists on her hips, and glared at her reflection in the bathroom mirror over the sink. “San Francisco,” she grumbled. “San Francisco. That witch Linda is so lucky.” Shaking her head, she finished her hair and glumly picked a bit of lint from her magenta power suit. “What I wouldn’t give to be a teenager again,” she muttered as she headed downstairs to grab a Pop Tart and coffee before leaving for another long day at Vitale, Horowitz, Riordan, Schrecter, Schrecter, and Schrecter. “A senior in high school, and not a care in the world except shopping and dating. God, how I envy you, Quinn.”
Quinn drove the borrowed Lexus to Sandi’s and had just pulled in the driveway when the front door of the Griffin residence opened and Sandi ran out. The door did not close behind her. Sandi held a jacket and an oversized purse that didn’t quite match her two-piece outfit. The two pieces of the outfit did not match each other, either. She was clearly rattled. Sandi jerked the car door open and threw herself inside, slamming the door and snapping her seat belt shut in seconds. Chilly air swam around them. “Let’s go!” she shouted in a rush. “Chris and Sam are driving me crazy! Little bastards!”
A tired man in a bathrobe holding a newspaper peered at the Lexus from the front door, then shook his head and went back inside, closing the door after. Turning in her seat to see behind her, Quinn backed out of the driveway. “Your dad’s off work today?”
really. He’s telecommuting so he can watch Thing One and Thing Two. I was
hoping he’d take them to a park or something to get them out of my hair. I hate
the little jerks!” Sandi blew out her breath, trying to relax in the passenger
seat. “God, I will be so glad when this day is over.”
Me, too, Quinn thought. Twelve hours to go, at most. I can do it. “Do you have everything?” she asked, putting the car in gear and heading out of the subdivision.
“Of course I have everything!” Sandi snapped, picking her purse up from the floor of the car where she’d dropped it and her jacket when getting in. “I’ve been packed since Wednesday!” She began fumbling through the purse in near panic, her voice rising. “I’m sure I have everything! I must have checked it a million billion times, okay?”
Without a word, Quinn reached over and put her hand on Sandi’s arm. Sandi flinched but did not pull away. “I’m okay, all right?” she yelled. “I’m just a little nervous, all right? Do you mind?”
“I love you, Sandi,” said Quinn. She kept her hand on Sandi but looked straight ahead into the traffic.
“Oh, thanks, like that’s really going to help me! Like that’s really—” Her voice broke. She took a ragged breath and tried to finish. “That’s just—”
Sandi shook under Quinn’s hand as she began to cry. A traffic light ahead turned yellow. Quinn gunned the engine and made it through the intersection before the light turned red. The on-ramp to the Interstate was just ahead.
Quinn kept a box of tissues on the floor of the back seat in case she caught a cold or her lipstick smudged. She pulled out a handful and gave the wad to Sandi, who took it and blew her nose.
“I’m sorry,” whispered Sandi, pulling her wet face out of the wad. “I’m so sorry.”
The car eased into the long curve of the on-ramp.
“Don’t worry. Everything’s going to be okay,” said Quinn, but nothing was really okay. Not now. “I love you,” she repeated, to say something that was true.
“I love you, too,” said Sandi, then she covered her face and wailed.
A green road sign went past: 82 miles to Swedesville, just over an hour. Quinn kept a hand on Sandi’s arm as she steered with her left hand, accelerating. The Swedesville Women’s Health and Wellness Center was on State Route 513, near what passed for downtown in that small farming burg. Quinn had studied the map on the clinic’s website and knew exactly how to find it. Sandi’s appointment was at nine-thirty; she’d made it a week ago to take advantage of her mother’s conference in San Francisco, as well as a weekday with no school and a long weekend for recovery. Lawndale High’s faculty was having an in-service training day on this, the last Friday in September. It was Sandi’s only chance to go, and by her figuring she was already in week ten. No one usually went to Swedesville except for concerts. No concert was there today, so no one would see the girls around. The clinic’s workers had a good reputation for their work and their discretion. And Sandi was nineteen and didn’t need a parent’s permission for a doctor’s appointment, though she would not have needed permission for this appointment anyway. All she really lacked in the end was someone to drive her there, then drive her back home.
What else are friends for, after all? Quinn heard Sandi blow her nose again and try without success to stop crying. It would be a long drive in an infinitely long day.
What else are friends for?
Sandi had told Quinn a week earlier, after using up two pregnancy test kits in a row in a gas station restroom. The news reduced everything else in the world to the trivial. Even then, from the panic on Sandi’s face and the crack in her voice and the slump in her shoulders and the trembling of her hands, Quinn knew how it would finally work out. It would not be all right. It would not be okay.
My mom will kill me, Sandi had whispered. Quinn had nodded once. It was true. Linda Griffin would destroy Sandi in any way she could, then throw her daughter into the street with curses ringing in her ears. And that would be only the start.
In the passenger seat, Sandi wiped her eyes a final time and dropped the wad of tissues on the floor between her white upscale sneakers.
“I’ll be with you, whatever happens,” Quinn said.
Sandi nodded, lethargic. She sniffed again. “Stacy called right before you got here,” she said, her voice almost inaudible. “She wanted to know if we could get Tiffany and come over to her place for the weekend, watch movies and talk and do stuff.”
Quinn managed a sidelong glance. “What did you tell her?”
Sandi brushed long strands of brown hair from her face. “I told her I had to go to the library and look up something for O’Neill’s class for that book report we have to write for next Friday, about that Huckleberry book. And she said, no, really, what are you doing this weekend? I said I just wanted some time to myself, I was sick of school and kind of out of it.” She sniffed again. The ghost of a smile wreathed her lips. “So then she said, is he cute? And I said, is who cute? And she said, just exactly like she’d discovered the atom or something, she said—” Her fragile smile broadened “—the guy you’re going to see tonight at the library. Is he cute?”
“Oh, God,” said Quinn. She was unsure if she should smile or look disgusted. She elected to smile a little and shake her head.
Sandi sighed, her smile fading. “She is so sweet, but she so needs to get a clue.”
No, she doesn’t, Quinn thought. Not about this, she doesn’t.
“She said she’d called you before me,” Sandi went on, “and you said you might have to help your mom tonight with something.”
Quinn rolled her eyes, feeling a pang of guilt. “I couldn’t think of anything else to say. It was enough coming up with something to keep Mom off my back.”
Sandi shrugged and licked her lips. “People will find out anyway. I bet everyone finds out before long.” Her voice trailed away at the end. “Everyone will know.”
“Not if I can help it,” said Quinn.
Sandi shook her head again. She rubbed her face and lay back in her seat, looking exhausted. “How far are we?” she asked.
“Maybe an hour now. I’m pushing it.”
“The clinic won’t open until nine. Don’t get us arrested, okay? That would be really great.”
“It won’t happen.” Cops rarely patrolled the Interstate between Lawndale and Swedesville unless a rock concert was going on at the Swedesville Amphitheatre, like the Alternapalooza festival every August.
Sandi shifted in her seat. She reached up under her blouse to adjust her bra and tried to get settled again. Quinn knew Sandi’s breasts were aching. Her clothes were too tight to be comfortable, she had to pee every hour on the hour, she had long stabbing headaches, and she had no energy for anything. And there was the morning nausea and crying, too. She had all the symptoms. A textbook case.
“Sam and Chris were being their usual selves?” Quinn asked, unable to think of a better topic.
“Jesus, yes.” Sandi tugged on her jeans, pulling them down. She stuck a hand under her waistband and moved it round. “God, look at me. My stomach. I look like I’ve been pigging out for a month.”
“No one can tell,” said Quinn.
“I can tell,” said Sandi. “I feel so damn bloated. God, this sucks.”
Should have kept your legs together, Quinn thought, and was instantly ashamed of herself. She hadn’t kept her legs together, either, that summer past. She’d just been more careful. Or, she feared, only luckier. “Want to listen to radio? CDs?”
“Not really, thanks.” Sandi appeared anxious. “Is there a rest area ahead? I have to pee. I just went before I left, and now I have to go again, damn it. Nerves.”
“There’s one about ten minutes ahead.”
“I hope I can wait that long. That would be great, having to pull over and squat somewhere like a dog.”
“Just think about freezing your butt off, and you’ll make it.”
Sandi gave a dry laugh. “I’d probably get bitten right on my ass by a snake. That would be my luck.” She stretched out in her seat, legs straight out like ramrods and heels together. “Boy, do I have to go. I hate this.”
They made it to the rest area in time. Sandi was out of the car and running stiff-legged for the rest-area building, without her jacket, before Quinn turned the engine off. While Sandi was in the restroom, Quinn wandered the lobby with her friend’s jacket in her arms, looking at tourist pamphlets and studying the road maps pinned to the bulletin boards. Swedesville looked too far away to be worth the drive. Except, of course, that there was no other choice.
Or was there?
Quinn shook off the question and looked around for Sandi, then wandered into the women’s restroom. “You okay?” she called, her voice echoing.
Someone blew her nose in a stall. Quinn leaned over and spotted a pair of white sneaker toes poking from beneath crumpled high-fashion blue jeans, in the handicap stall on the far end. “Fine,” said Sandi in a weak voice. “I’m a little sick. I’ll be out in a couple of minutes.”
Quinn went back into the lobby and wandered until she found herself by the pay phones. Who would I call, if I could call anyone right now? she wondered. I can’t call Sandi’s folks. That would be the end of her. Mom? She’s usually good with things like this, but lately she’s all wrapped up in work, and she might call Sandi’s mom. She might not, true, but she wouldn’t just stop with advice, and I can’t risk it. Daria? Call her at college in Boston? That’s what big sisters are for, I guess, giving wisdom. No, I couldn’t call her. She wouldn’t care if I got her out of class, but she wouldn’t understand what’s happening. She hates Sandi, too. And I promised Sandi I wouldn’t tell anyone, anyway. But . . . who could I call?
On the wall by the pay phones, someone had used a black dye marker to draw a cross using the words, “Jesus Saves.” Call a church? A minister or priest or someone, maybe a counselor? What could they possibly do to fix things? What could they say that would make any difference?
Should I say a prayer? Call my guardian angel?
Quinn stared at a wall phone without seeing it. She had not thought about her guardian angel in a long while. It had been so important to her once, believing that Someone Up There watched over her and protected her from harm. But what proof was there that angels really did that? Just over two weeks earlier, suicidal terrorists had flown two jetliners filled with men, women, and children into the World Trade Center in New York and laid waste to downtown Manhattan, driven another jet into the Pentagon, and still another into a field in Pennsylvania. Now there was anthrax in the mail and rumors of cropdusters spreading poisons and fears of dirty nuclear bombs hidden in car trunks. Why weren’t the angels looking out for those people who died that awful day? Thousands had suffered in agony and terror before they perished, and not one angel had shown up to stop it and save a single soul. Did the angels oversleep? Were they on strike or away on vacation? Whatever the reason, it was too late to fix things now, even for God. Now there would be a war, a big war, and more terrorists might strike at any second, and the twenty-first century had passed completely into Hell.
Why in the world did I imagine that I was so important in the order of things as to deserve my own special angel? Why would a single angel bother saving me, of all people, if it could not be bothered to save one innocent person on 9/11? What angel would ever give a damn about me or Sandi? How could I have been so stupid?
“I was stupid,” she whispered aloud. Her voice startled her, and she looked around in embarrassment to make sure no one had overheard. The waiting area was deserted except for her. She had been stupid. No angel had saved anyone on 9/11, and none would come to save her or Sandi.
Or Sandi’s unborn baby.
Quinn raised a hand and felt the black handset of a pay phone with her fingers, traced the cool metal cord down. Can these things reach Heaven? What number would I dial to reach God? She let her hand fall. Her eyes closed as she slumped against the wall. What am I doing here, God? What am I doing here? Am I really going to help her do this? What am I doing? What am I doing, damn it? What?
A toilet flushed in the background. After a sink ran and a paper towel was torn off. Someone shuffled over a tile floor in sneakers and opened the women’s room door.
“Ready?” asked Sandi. Her face was as white as a freshly laundered sheet.
Quinn opened her eyes and nodded. They left for the car together. Quinn glanced in the rear-view mirror on her way out, but no angel watched them go or waved goodbye.
They drove for a few minutes in silence. Along the Interstate, as far as the eye could see, were dead leaves, brown grass, and bare trees. Quinn shivered. The day was getting colder, she could tell. A change in the weather.
“I never told him,” Sandi said. She turned her head to Quinn. “I don’t ever want to tell him. He told me he didn’t want to see me anymore and he didn’t care what I did, so I guess that makes it easy, doesn’t it?” She looked away. “Asshole. He got what he wanted, I guess.”
Quinn pressed her lips together and kept her eyes on the road.
Sandi settled back after adjusting her bra again. “I don’t know what he’d do if he knew. Give himself a medal, probably. He’s such an asshole. I can’t believe I ever liked him. I can’t believe I thought he was a nice guy. If he knew, he’d probably call Ms. Li and she’d make an announcement and tell everyone in the school. He’d take an ad out in the paper, too, just to rub it in. Call my mom and put it on TV. He’s such a jerk.” She took a deep breath, then exhaled through her nose, looking out the side window away from Quinn. “I can’t believe I did this,” she said in a low voice. “I cannot believe for one damn second that I got myself into such a mess with a creep like him. I cannot believe it.”
Quinn took her right hand from the steering wheel and reached over. After a moment, Sandi took her hand and squeezed once, then relaxed and let their hands sit on the armrest between them.
“I bet you’d never thought you’d see me like this,” Sandi said, her voice low. “I bet you never thought this would happen to me, of all people. I sure didn’t. If anyone at school ever found out, they’d have—”
“They won’t,” interrupted Quinn.
A pause. “They might.”
They won’t, Quinn almost repeated, but she didn’t. They might. “I’ll stay with you,” Quinn said instead.
Sandi’s brown eyes looked through the windshield at something that no one else could see but her. “Thank you,” she said in a hollow voice. They held hands a moment longer, then pulled back into their own worlds.
The countryside became rolling, though still brown and barren. They passed a horse farm with a white wooden fence.
“I wish we lived in Canada or something,” Sandi said.
“‘Cause, they have that pill, the morning-after pill. R-U-something, some number. That would have helped a lot if I’d had that.”
Sandi had told Quinn that she’d been using a diaphragm and spermicidal jelly. The Pill made her nauseated and bloated. Never did that to me, Quinn thought. Diaphragms were usually pretty good, too. Not enough jelly, perhaps. Who knows? “Don’t they have some kind of pill like that in America? Something you take when—”
“No, that’s not it. It’s not the same. The clinic said they could give me a kind of medicine that would . . . it would get rid of everything all at once, in a day or so, but it might come out at home or at school, and that was just—that wouldn’t work at all.” She shuddered. “And I’d still have to go in for checkups. This was better. Relatively speaking, you underst—”
A muffled electronic version of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” filled the car. “Damn it,” breathed Quinn. “Bet it’s my mom.” She started to reach behind Sandi’s seat for her purse to retrieve her cell phone—but then she pulled her hand back. “I’ll get the message later,” she said, settling back and focusing on the road again. “I’d rather not talk to her or anyone else but you right now.”
Sandi nodded. They waited until the phone stopped ringing. With a weary look, Sandi reached down and retrieved her oversized purse from the floor. “I went out last weekend and bought a box of sanitary napkins,” she said, looking in the purse. “They said I’d need them for a few days, for bleeding. I can’t use tampons for a while. I bought a hot-water bottle, too, just in case. And that stupid Mark Twain book. I should have just bought the Cliff’s Notes and read that. O’Neill would never know the difference.”
“You can borrow my Cliff’s Notes when we get back tonight. Daria left it behind when she went to Boston.”
That made Sandi grin for a moment. “So, brainy sisters have a use after all?”
Quinn gave a flicker of a smile. “Did you bring Tylenol or something? For later?”
“Oh. No, they’re going to give me some kind of like super-pain pills, something they’ve got, and some antibi—um, antibi-o-tics, whatever. I can’t use aspirin or anything ‘cause it might make me bleed more. It’s not like a surgery, they said, but when they use the little vacuum thing, it might . . . it’s not supposed to hurt that much, I think, but they said I’ll probably get cramps afterward for a while.” She swallowed. “Shouldn’t be too bad. Can’t be any worse than my periods.” Her voice faded. “I hope.”
Quinn’s stomach growled. She hoped Sandi didn’t hear it. “Did you want to get something to eat before we get there, or can you eat at all today?”
“I can’t right now. They told me not to. I haven’t even had breakfast. All I’ve had is like water since I got up. I don’t think I could eat if I tried.”
“Can you eat afterward, on the way home?”
“They said I could, but I have to like take it easy. My appetite’s been off lately anyway. The smell of some things gets to me, like . . . excuse me, like bacon, or—” She grimaced and waved a hand in front of her face. “Don’t want to talk about it. Makes me a little . . . ugh.”
“I can’t take a bath for a while, either, or drink anything with alcohol. Too bad about that, I guess. I was sort of hoping to indulge and kill a few brain cells when I got home. Maybe a little wouldn’t hurt, though.”
“Maybe we shouldn’t. I don’t want it to hurt you. Plus, my mom might find out.”
“And she’d tell my mom. That would be great. I’ll probably crash or something, then. I don’t have any energy. I don’t know. Don’t feel like going out. We’ll see.”
“Whatever you want to do, we’ll do it.”
“Okay.” Sandi exhaled, slumped in her seat. “I don’t know what I’d do without you, Quinn.” There was a pause before she added, “You’re the only friend I’ve got.”
“That’s not true,” said Quinn, though she knew it was true.
“No. It’s true. No one else likes me. I don’t know why you’ve put up with me so long. I’m not very easy to get along with. I want my own way so much.”
No response came to mind, so Quinn said nothing.
“When I found out about this, I thought about getting a cab and going to Swedesville by myself, but that would have cost a ton. And I wouldn’t have anyone to talk to on the way. They said I shouldn’t drive by myself, going home.” She looked out at the road ahead. “I wanted to go with someone I trusted.”
Her head rolled to the left. Quinn felt Sandi’s gaze upon her. “You’re the only person in the world I trust, Quinn. Remember when you helped me get back in shape when I broke my leg and got overweight? You stuck with me when I lost my voice, and you weren’t mean to me all those times I was being . . . just being myself, when I would have deserved having people be mean to me.” She made an odd noise. “I used to be so jealous of you, did you know that?”
The conversation was getting uncomfortable as well as weird. Sandi had never said anything like this before. And there was more to the broken-leg story than Sandi knew, namely that Quinn had been guilt-tripped by Daria and her friend Jane into helping Sandi recover from her injuries. Quinn would not have done it on her own. That part could never be revealed. Never. “No,” said Quinn, amazed that she would dare tell such a lie. “I never knew you were jealous or anything. You’re kidding me.”
“No, really. I was so freaking jealous of you. I worked so hard to be popular and stay on top of things, like I was the executive director of all things fashion, with my own little fashionable entourage, and then you came along and just like that, you had everyone following you around instead of me, like it was nothing, like it was . . . there’s a better word, but I can’t think of it. Natural, I guess. It was natural for you to be cute and popular, everything I’d always had to . . . had to fight for. I worked so hard to look good and dress right and talk to people and stay on top, and you . . . you used to drive me so crazy.” Sandi gazed at Quinn. “I was afraid of you.” She closed her eyes and rolled her head away. She was silent for a long time.
Forty-eight miles to Swedesville, said a passing sign. A hawk hovered in the sky over the highway. Leaves blew across the fields.
“I love you,” said Sandi. “I realized this morning, when I was getting ready, that you were the only friend I’ve ever had, my only real and true friend, and I loved you. I would be so lost without—”
Sandi stopped abruptly. Quinn glanced over. Tears ran in broad streams down Sandi’s cheeks. Her eyes were squeezed shut, her fists clenched at her sides.
Quinn braked and pulled onto the shoulder of the road, well away from traffic. She snapped off the engine and turned, putting her arms around Sandi. Sandi leaned into her and sobbed.
“It’s okay,” Quinn said. “It’s okay.”
“I’m so scared,” Sandi whispered. A truck roared past. “Please don’t leave me. I’m so scared.”
“I won’t leave you, I swear.” Help me, God. Help me think of something to get us out of this mess.
Sandi wept. She felt strangely small in Quinn’s arms.
God, help us, please. Help me think of something to save us, to save her. Help us, God, I’ll do anything, anything You ask of me, just save us. Get us out of this. Make it better.
Ten minutes passed. No angels came. They got on the road again, stopped once more for a long bathroom break, and got to the Swedesville exit at nine seventeen a.m.
State Route 513 was a two-lane with narrow shoulders that wound through low hills past fields of corn stubble. Swedesville was only a couple miles from the Interstate.
“They said I might be here a while,” said Sandi in a dull voice. “I hope you brought a book, too.”
I knew I forgot something, Quinn thought, then shrugged. Out-of-date magazines in the waiting room, then. I’ll live.
“Having the procedure done will take like only a few minutes, I think, but they said I had to like fill out a lot of paperwork first and maybe pay for it, but I brought enough. It’s all in cash, of course. Then I have to get my blood drawn, and they have to do some tests and do that, uh, ultra-sonic—”
“Yes, ultrasound, and then I have to like talk with a nurse or something about what they’re going to do. I don’t think they’re supposed to try to talk me out of it, but they said they have to talk to everyone who wants this, to make sure it’s what they want, you know.” She nodded. “It’s what I want. It’s what I really want. I can’t do anything else. It would be the end of . . . the end of everything.”
A potential problem appeared in Quinn’s mind. “Sandi?”
“When you called the clinic . . . did you call from your room? Long distance?”
“Oh. Yes, I did, but don’t worry. It won’t show up on the phone bill.”
“I bought a phone card. You know, one of those plastic cards with a code number on it, and you punch in the code and get like an hour or whatever of calling time? The number you dial at first is an eight-hundred number, one of those free ones, and those never show up on the phone bill ‘cause you’re not being charged for it. I can call anywhere and my mom will never know.”
“Yeah.” Sandi sighed heavily. “My dad pays the bills, anyway. He’s a CPA. Mom never looks at them.”
Swedesville came into view when they crested a hill and started down the other side. Nestled in a shallow river valley, the community didn’t look as though it had more than a few thousand people. Road signs welcomed visitors and announced the presence of assorted restaurants, churches, businesses, and civic organizations.
“What’s that school bus doing there?” said Sandi, peering ahead. “There’s two of them. Three. I thought county schools were out today.”
Quinn took her foot off the gas and tapped the brake. Red lights flashing, three school buses were pulling up to the side of the street only a quarter mile ahead, beside a row of business buildings. One had opened its doors and was already discharging its passengers. The people getting off the bus were grown-ups.
One of the grown-ups had a sign. STOP ABORTION NOW, it read in large red letters that Quinn could see with no trouble at all.
She instantly looked at the building next to which the buses sat. She recognized it at once from its color picture on the website. It was the Swedesville Women’s Health and Wellness Center.
“Oh,” she gasped. “Oh, shit!”
“Kuh-winn!” Sandi looked from Quinn to the growing crowd ahead. “What—”
“Get the hell down! Put your head down now! Don’t let them see you!” Quinn slowed, looked for a side street, and took the first one she saw. She drove down a tree-lined residential street that could have come out of a picture book about the Good Old Days, white-painted houses with front porches and all.
“What’s wrong?” Sandi had ducked her head without arguing—perhaps the first time that she’d ever obeyed a direct order from anyone other than her mother. Her voice rose with panic. “What’s the matter?”
“Shhh!” Quinn had no idea where to go. She decided to turn around and go back to the intersection with the main road, then scope out what was happening downhill.
“Can I get up now?”
Quinn pulled into a driveway, then backed out with the car facing the way it had come. “No! There’s a protest at the clinic. I think those are church buses. Don’t get up!”
“A protest? There’s a protest? What are they—” Sandi must have answered her own question, because she next said, “Why are they protesting today? Why now?”
“I don’t know! Wait a minute!” Quinn pulled up to the intersection and peered down the road toward town, over Sandi’s hunched form. Many dozens of people now lined the sidewalk outside the clinic, all carrying anti-abortion signs and well dressed for the cool weather. Only thirty feet of parking lot separated them from the clinic doors. Quinn squinted. She thought she could see a security guard at the front door of the clinic, talking into a walkie-talkie or cell phone. The first bus pulled away, empty of passengers. The other buses were still letting people off. Quinn guessed that there could easily be over a hundred people present, even close to two hundred. And more might be coming.
“Damn it to hell!” she whispered. She spotted a department store across the street. SUMMER CLOSEOUT SALE! read the sign on the door. MAKE WAY FOR THE FALL! When no cars were coming, Quinn gunned the engine and shot the car across the road and into the store’s parking lot. She was careful to park on the side facing away from the clinic, so no one would see them. When she snapped off the ignition, she found her hands were trembling like leaves.
“You can get up now,” she said. “We’re behind a store. We have to talk.”
“What’s going on?” Sandi cried, rising. “They told me on the phone that there weren’t any protestors there! They said almost no one came by there, ever! This was supposed to be safe! And I have to go in there in five minutes!”
“Calm down! We’ll—”
“I can’t miss my appointment! Why are they doing this to me?”
Something snapped. Quinn reached out and seized Sandi by the arms. “Stop it!” she shouted, shaking her friend once. “Stop it now! Listen to me! We’re going to think this out and we’re going to get it worked out, okay? Get hold of yourself!”
Sandi nodded, fighting back tears. “Okay,” she said in a broken voice.
“Do you have the clinic’s phone number?”
When Sandi nodded again, Quinn said, “Do you still have that phone card you were using?”
“Okay. We’re going into the department store and we’ll call the clinic. Maybe they can think of something, okay?”
Quinn peered into her best friend’s eyes. “You still want to do this?”
Sandi nodded hard and without hesitation.
“You absolutely want to do this?”
Many more nods.
Quinn took a slow breath. “Okay, then,” she said, releasing her friend. “Let’s go inside. Put on your jacket first, it’s cold. Do you have a hat? Handkerchief? I’ve got one in the glove compartment. Put that on over your hair. I’ve got one for mine. We’ll go in that side entrance, not the front one.”
When they were ready, they got their purses and got out into the chilling wind outside. After locking the car doors, Quinn started around to Sandi. What next? she wondered. What am I going to do now? She had no answers, so she put her arm around her friend and guided her along.
And, for the first time ever, Quinn Morgendorffer and Sandi Griffin walked into a department store and neither of them thought for a moment about buying clothes.
Once inside the two-story store, Quinn and Sandi walked deep into the women’s coats section to a spot behind a wide pillar. Soft country music played from hidden speakers. “Stay here,” Quinn whispered. “I’ll be right back. I’m going to check around.” Sandi nodded and leaned against the pillar, depressed and lost in her thoughts.
Trying to look nonchalant, Quinn took a short tour of the store’s first floor and spotted a pay phone near the pillar where she’d left Sandi. An elderly saleslady smiled at Quinn, who smiled back and waved but kept walking. She went back to Sandi moments later, telling her of the phone. “Let’s call the clinic and see what’s going on,” said Quinn. “They might know what to do. Maybe they have a safe way in.”
“That would be helpful,” said Sandi, more in control of herself. “Maybe they can call the police and make everyone go away so we can get in. The nerve of some people.”
They made their way to the phone, where Sandi produced her phone card and a slip of paper. After punching in many numbers, she put away the card and paper and held the handset to her ear, looking around to make sure she was not overheard.
“Hello?” Sandi said, almost whispering. She raised her voice slightly. “Hello? This is—” A glance around “—Sandi Griffin. I have a nine-thirty appointment. . . . Um, okay, but I can’t speak loudly where I am. My name is Sandi Griffin—S-A-N-D-I . . . that’s me. Yes, nine thirty. I’m here in Swedesville, just a few blocks up the road from you, but . . . no, we’re in a store, uh—I don’t know the name. Clothing store, looks like it’s for older people or something. That might be it, I don’t know. . . . Right, exactly. We saw them when we were coming in. . . . Yes, a friend drove me here. She’s with me. I was saying, we saw their buses when we came in and . . . okay, well, can’t you call the police or something? They don’t have the right to do this, do they? . . . But I have an appointment there! How am I going to get in?”
“Shhh,” hissed Quinn. The old woman across the store was looking with concern in their direction.
“I won’t miss my appointment with you, will I?” Sandi grew more agitated. “You won’t cancel it, will you? Okay, because we drove all the way out here from Lawndale, and I have to be there, you understand? . . . I am being calm!”
“Sandi!” Quinn reached over at once and forced the phone out of Sandi’s hand. “Let me!” she said, then raised the phone to her lips. “Hello? I’m Sandi’s friend. We’re in Olson’s Country-Folks Clothiers. Listen, do you have a back entrance, like for deliveries? Maybe we could get in through there. Sure, I’ll wait.” Quinn looked up from the phone. “They’re checking it.”
“Did they call the police yet?” Sandi asked, her voice too high.
“Wait.” Quinn raised the handset again. “I’m still here, yes. . . . They’re around back, too? Will they let us through?” She listened for a moment. “Okay, wait, let me go look. I think I can see what’s going on from outside.” She handed the phone to Sandi. “Wait right here. I have to go check on something.”
“Where are you going?”
“Outside for a moment. Don’t worry.” Quinn left the store at a quick pace, exiting to the side parking lot where the Lexus waited. She walked along the side of the store until she reached the corner at the main road, then peeked around the side and looked toward town.
The protestors outside the clinic had formed a long double line of marchers. They were walking a circuit around the entire clinic, two by two and close together, with their signs raised. ABORTION IS MURDER, read one sign. GOD HAVE MERCY ON US and ABORTION STOPS A HEART read others. Someone was starting to sing something that sounded like a hymn. Quinn noted that a few people had gathered outside other stores and offices in the neighborhood to watch in silence. To her surprise, several people walked over and joined the protestors, who quickly accepted them into their ranks.
The approaching roar of a large engine caused her to turn and look back up the road. Another school bus was coming. Quinn swore and strode back into the department store. She was running out of ideas for how to deal with this.
Sandi was listening intently to someone on the phone when Quinn returned. She looked up as Quinn approached and cupped a hand over the transmitter. “They said they could hold my appointment until two o’clock, but after that I have to come back on another day because there’s so much to do!” she said in a loud whisper. “This isn’t fair!”
Quinn held out her hand, and Sandi reluctantly gave up the phone. “It’s Sandi’s friend again,” Quinn said. “They’re walking all around your building in pairs, in a big circle. I think another busload of them is coming. I don’t know if they’d let us through. Have they done anything like that before? Stop people from going in, I mean?” Long pause. Quinn glanced at Sandi, then looked away. “Oh, but they really can’t do that, can they? Isn’t that like illegal? My mom’s a lawyer, and she said . . . oh.”
Sandi turned around with her arms wrapped around herself, too upset to speak.
“Listen,” said Quinn. “Can we just drive up to the doors so I can let my friend out? I’m afraid of what they might do if they knew we were going in there. . . . oh. But they’d have to move for a car, wouldn’t they? Well, can’t you tell the guard to make them move because we’re there for an appointment? Won’t the police . . . I don’t get it. If it’s illegal, why won’t the police . . . oh. Oh, well, that’s . . . I see.” A long pause. “Well, can’t you call in police from another city or something? What kind of town has only two police officers who won’t do anything about stuff like this? Can’t you call the county? The state?”
“May I help you, young lady?” asked a voice at Quinn’s side, making her jump. The elderly saleslady had walked up beside her.
“Oh!” said Quinn before Sandi could snap off a retort. “Oh, no, we had—we almost had a car wreck, and the police aren’t helping us!” She pressed the phone to her chest. “We were driving in to do some shopping, you know, and we had a haircut appointments, and then this truck almost ran us off the road! We were almost killed! Can you believe it? And the police said they can’t help us if we didn’t see the license plate! I mean, what kind of place is this, only two policemen around and crazy people in pickup trucks?”
“Oh, mercy!” said the old women, genuinely shocked. “Are you girls all right?”
“Yeah, we’re fine, just shaken up a little.” Quinn quickly raised the phone to her ear. “I’ll call you back in a bit, okay?” she told the clinic receptionist. “I have to go. Bye.” She hung up and gave the old woman her best smile. “Anyway, our haircuts aren’t for an hour. May as well look at some winter coats while we’re here, right?”
“Certainly! Can I show you girls anything in particular?”
“Uh, no, we’ll just look around on our own. Do you have leather coats?”
“We surely do! They’re over that way, behind the shoes. Let me know if I can help, all right?”
“Thanks!” Quinn grabbed Sandi’s hand and pulled her along through the store, keeping a smile fixed on her face until they were deep in the new department.
“I have to go to the bathroom again,” whispered Sandi.
“Oh. Uh, just ask, uh, whatzername, that lady. She’s over there, I think. Are you going to be a while?”
“I don’t know. I don’t think so.” She let our her breath. “This isn’t going to work. I know it.”
“Shhh. Don’t say that. Go on to the bathroom. Let me think.”
Sandi looked at the floor. Her shoulders slumped. “This isn’t going to work. What am I going to do?”
“Go to the bathroom. Take your time. I’ll be here when you come out. Give me time to think about this, okay? Just give me a little time, that’s all I want, okay?”
Swallowing, Sandi nodded, then walked away toward the saleslady. Quinn followed her progress until she saw Sandi leave the saleslady and head around a tall rack of pants. Moments later she heard a door squeak as it opened, then thump shut.
Feeling a need to spy out the situation at the clinic again, and having nothing else she could think of to do, Quinn walked out the side door and down the sidewalk to the street, then looked downhill. The wind had gotten much colder since morning, but the adult crowd around the clinic was visibly larger and apparently settling in for the long haul. Almost everyone was singing, from teenagers to white-haired people. It was difficult to make out the words at this distance, and some people were off-key, but the refrain was clear:
One more river, and that’s the river of Jordan,
One more river, there’s one more river to cross.
River of Jordan? There wasn’t a Jordan River around this county. It sounded Biblical. She thought she’d heard the phrase before somewhere, maybe something her sister Daria once said. What was it?
As she watched, Quinn saw a lone woman walk across the street toward the protestors. The woman had a professional look, perhaps a doctor or nurse at the clinic. The marchers nearest her saw her and slowed. The woman stopped short and said something to the marchers. One of the marchers shouted back in a shrill voice: Murderer! Angered, the woman started forward and tried to get through the line. The nearest marchers immediately blocked her way, arms extended; the moving line came to a stop. The woman retreated. As she stomped away, she pulled out a cell phone and made a call. One marcher shouted after her: Baby killer! You’ll burn in Hell!
The protestors really would keep people out, then. What they were doing had to be illegal, but Quinn knew they could care less about that now, especially if the police here were reluctant to get involved with the protestors, as the receptionist at the clinic said. Getting through the line of marchers would be difficult, if not impossible—and Sandi was in no condition to get into a wrestling match with several adults at once. She could be badly injured, and Quinn wasn’t sure the protestors would care.
The conclusion was inescapable. Sandi and Quinn would have to go home.
A sudden sense of relief flooded through Quinn. The problem was solved by default. Sandi’s unborn baby would live. They would go home, Sandi might eventually see reason and decide to keep the baby, and this awful day would be put behind them. Maybe Sandi would even see the light on the way home. She liked babies, loved how cute and cuddly they were. Perhaps the problem of the unwanted pregnancy was turning out to be no problem at all.
Quinn leaned against the outside wall of the store and almost smiled. The horror was over. Thank you, God, she thought. Thank you so much.
After a moment’s rest, she pushed away from the wall, feeling light on her feet. All that remained was to get Sandi out of the bathroom and into the car, then head back to Lawndale. Maybe they would do a little clothes shopping for real on the way back, and have lunch somewhere now that Sandi would not be getting the abortion.
Abortion. Quinn blinked. She had avoided thinking of the word ever since Sandi told her she did not want to have the baby. Well, that wasn’t an issue any longer.
“Not any more,” Quinn said to herself in a whisper. Thank God.
She walked toward the store’s side entrance, one hand out to push open the door. It was over.
Sandi likes only other people’s babies. The thought flashed through Quinn’s head. She slowed and stopped just short of the door. Sandi likes babies only when she does not have to care for them or clean up after them. Sandi is revolted by baby poop and vomit and drool and changing diapers. She gags and flees from any room in which a baby is being changed. She is a terrible babysitter.
Quinn stood frozen outside the store. Sandi did not have any mothering instinct, at least not one that Quinn knew of. Sandi could be lively and fun and even witty at times, and she was a fair leader and competent manager, but she did not like little kids and could not stand crying babies. How many times in the mall had Sandi snapped, Can’t someone shut that little brat up? Isn’t there somewhere they can take that little monster, like outside?
Perhaps that would change when Sandi had her own baby. Quinn nodded to herself. All women changed. Give them a baby of their own, and . . .
And now Quinn remembered the Great Baby Experiment. It was in a social studies class in their sophomore year at Lawndale High. The teacher had given every student an egg on Monday and said, Bring this egg back on Friday. For the rest of this week, this egg is your own child. If your child is unharmed by week’s end, you pass. You will have demonstrated good parenting instincts. If your egg is broken by accident, you will have to do the experiment over again. Anyone who is reported to have harmed someone else’s egg will fail, and anyone who harms their own egg on purpose also fails.
That Friday, Sandi’s egg came back undamaged. Most of the eggs were unharmed, and some students had even decorated them with faces or made paper clothes for them. Quinn had made pink clothing for hers from felt scraps and yarn, then glued a rattle to one side. It won the award for cutest egg. Sandi’s egg, however, was still a plain old egg.
How did you keep your egg from breaking? Quinn asked her after class, when the teacher collected the eggs and handed out grades.
Duh, said Sandi. I stuck it in my locker and forgot about it.
Didn’t you do anything to care for it? asked Quinn.
The raised eyebrow Sandi gave her in return was purest contempt. Grow up, she had said, and that was the end of the subject.
Quinn came to in the cold wind by the doorway. She was starting to sweat.
Maybe Sandi would be a better mother someday, but she didn’t have it in her now. And once the pregnancy was discovered, Linda Griffin really would turn Sandi’s life into a living nightmare. She really would throw out her only daughter, cut her off with no support, just like that. Quinn knew Linda, who had a cold streak that frightened her. Sandi would never get out of the pit her mother would put her in.
“No,” Quinn whispered, “this isn’t how it will turn out if people will just be reasonable. I can’t let her do this. Coming here was a big mistake. I don’t care what I promised her before, I just can’t—”
You’re the only person in the world I trust, Quinn, Sandi had said in the car on the way over. I love you.
“But helping you when you broke your leg, that wasn’t my idea. I’m a terrible friend to you. I’m not who you think I am, not at all. We have to—”
I love you. I realized this morning, when I was getting ready, that you were the only friend I’ve ever had, my only real and true friend, and I loved you. I would be so lost without—
“No! We can’t do this. We have to get out of here. Things will work out if you just try, I know they will. Maybe my parents could—well, maybe if you got a place in another town, you could—”
I’m so scared. Please don’t leave me. I’m so scared.
“Sandi, I can’t—wait—I meant—I meant that I won’t . . . I can’t . . . this is—”
Heaven or Hell? Quinn could almost hear her guardian angel whispering inside her head. She was paralyzed with terror. She saw everything around her in vivid relief: the cracked sidewalk under her feet, the uneven asphalt of the parking lot, the dust on the Lexus. Heaven or Hell? It’s up to you.
You’re the only person in the world I trust, Quinn.
Heaven or Hell? There’s no third alternative.
I love you.
It’s your choice.
My only real and true friend.
Heaven . . . or . . .
Quinn shook violently, then gave a guttural cry and ran for the door and threw it wide open so it banged against a shelf and ran deep into the store until she was hidden among racks of shoes and boots for fall and winter fashions, gasping like an asthmatic. For a moment she could not remember where she was. Her limbs shook, and she could barely walk straight. Steadying herself against a shoe rack, she caught her breath, then pushed away and let her feet wander until she was out of the shoe section and heading for a jewelry counter. She stopped there, looking but not thinking. The jewelry was mostly cheap and of mediocre quality. Prominent among the pieces were crosses on chains, gold and silver plating over base metal with colorful paste jewels.
She picked up one of the larger and gaudier crosses, held it in her palm, then looked up and saw herself in a mirror on the counter. She stared, then held the glittering cross against her chest and studied the effect in the looking glass. Long seconds passed.
Heaven or Hell, Quinn.
She looked into the mirror, at the cross against her chest, and saw reality.
She lowered the cross and chose.
Hell it was.
She put the cross back on the counter with nerveless fingers, turned stiffly, and walked in the direction she’d seen Sandi go minutes earlier. She found the restroom and went inside. It had only one stall and an overpowering smell of antiseptic.
“Sandi?” Her voice cracked as she spoke.
A cough came from the stall. After a moment, the toilet flushed and Sandi opened the door and came out. Her face was red and wet from crying. The sour odor of vomit clung to her.
Quinn took her friend by the arm and got her cleaned up at the sink. As the water ran, Quinn spoke, keeping her voice low and steady. “I figured it out,” she said. “Here’s what we’re going to do.”
Putting Quinn’s plan into action took another phone call to the clinic to fill in the staff on what was coming. While Quinn made the call and worked out the details, Sandi had the saleslady take her up to the children’s department, ostensibly to find gifts for her little brothers—gifts she of course had no intention of actually buying.
The receptionist passed the call to the clinic’s director, who listened to Quinn outline her plan and discussed its problems. The clinic entrance had a metal detector in front of it, and the clinic staff did not want anyone to enter without passing through it. The girls each needed a picture ID like a driver’s license to show to the guard at the front. If they planned to enter in a hurry, they had to get rid of all metal objects on their persons to prevent being sent through the metal detector a second time; the protestors’ reactions would not be predictable, and speed would be essential. Leaving their purses behind was recommended, as clinic rules required the guard to search all handbags, backpacks, and briefcases to prevent the clinic from being bombed, which had happened in other cities.
“It’s not that we don’t trust you,” began the clinic director, “but—”
“I know, I know, I know,” Quinn interrupted. “Don’t worry about it. Can you tell the guard what’s up?”
“We can, but I have to say that what you’re planning to do has some risk involved. I definitely don’t recommend you do this, and it would be much better if you came back another day when conditions are a little more under—”
“We can’t. This is it. We’ll be down there in about half an hour.”
The director sighed. “Be careful, then. I don’t want either of you hurt.”
Before Sandi went off with the saleslady, the girls had agreed that neither of them would buy anything in the store using credit cards, which would reveal their true location on the following month’s bill. Sandi would have little cash left over after paying her medical fee, so Quinn bought the necessary items at the jewelry counter with her own money, once the saleslady returned. She then left with Sandi and went to the car to start the second part of the plan, which was to remove everything they had that might trip the metal detector, locking those items and their purses in the car trunk. Cell phones, fingernail files, lipstick cases, everything metallic was discarded. Quinn was relieved to see that Sandi’s mood improved as they worked; the crying had stopped and some of the old, in-charge Sandi came back.
“Crap,” said Quinn once they had finished. She had locked up the car and was now looking at the car keys in her hand. “I have to have the car keys to get back in, and we can’t take them to—”
“Which one’s the main car key?” Sandi said. When Quinn showed her, Sandi took that key off the ring, opened the trunk, tossed the rest of the keys inside, then slammed it.
“Sandi!” Quinn gasped.
“Watch and learn,” said Sandi. Making sure they were alone, Sandi went to the front of the car and knelt, then carefully laid the key on top of the front left tire where it could not be seen by anyone idly walking by. She stood up and motioned to Quinn. “Let’s go.”
Quinn had put the two items she’d purchased at the jewelry counter on the car roof, and she retrieved them and handed one to Sandi, who put it on. They then looked at each other and studied the results.
“A cross is a cross, I guess,” said Sandi. She reached over and picked up the four-inch-long gold cross that hung from the heavy chain from Quinn’s neck, comparing it to her own. “I think mine is cuter than yours,” she said at last.
Quinn glanced up in surprise, then saw the twisted smirk on her friend’s face. On impulse, Quinn leaned forward and gave Sandi a long hug, which Sandi returned. Neither could think of anything more to say. When they were ready, they set off into the wind.
As the girls turned the corner and started down the sidewalk toward the clinic, they could tell the situation in town had not improved. A lone police car was parked a block away from the clinic, which was now at the center of a crowd of protestors that looked to be in the low hundreds. The protestors had stopped marching and were listening to a loud argument going on between the town’s two police officers, accompanied by the professional lady Quinn had seen earlier, and a half dozen protestors who seemed to be in charge of things. The guard remained at the clinic door, pacing and watching the crowd, which was spilling over into the clinic’s parking lot.
“Oh, boy,” muttered Sandi, watching the goings-on with narrow eyes. Despite her pale face, her jaw was set.
“Smile,” said Quinn, who forced her own smile.
“Riiight.” Sandi’s smile appeared. It looked no more natural than Quinn’s.
As Quinn looked down at the protestors, a memory surfaced in her mind. It was a breakfast conversation at home a year earlier, on a school day. It was one of the times when Daria was talking about gross things, and on this particular morning, Daria was talking about the ways in which people talked about death. It grew out of their mother’s comment that a great aunt of hers had passed away.
Died, you mean, said Daria. She died.
That’s what I said, said their mother, nettled.
No, it isn’t, said Daria. You said she passed away. No one likes to talk about death. They make up hundreds of words and phrases to hide it, but it all means the same thing: death.
Daria, said their mother, her patience wearing thin, it isn’t polite to talk about things like this so, um, baldly.
Old Baldy? asked their father, looking up from his plate in surprise to touch his receding hairline. Are you saying I’m getting bald?
Eat your breakfast, Jake, said his wife.
So, Daria went on, ignoring her father, if I say that someone’s kicked the bucket, or bought the farm, or cashed in his chips, that’s better than just saying that he died?
Bought the farm, said their father, buttering a piece of toast. Where do you think that phrase came from? What sort of farm was it, I wonder?
A dead one, I bet, said Daria.
Daria, warned their mother, your levity is inappropriate.
But I’m saying it in a deadpan, said Daria with a straight face.
And everyone’s grossing me out! Quinn had shouted, unable to hold it in any longer. Just stop talking so I can eat, okay?
There was a moment of blissful silence. Then Daria began to hum, and after a moment she began to sing in an off-key tone: One more river, and that’s the river of Jordan / One more river, there’s one more river to cross.
Daria was sent away from the table on the spot. Her choice of song had puzzled Quinn until this very moment, when she suddenly put it all together. “Crossing the river of Jordan” meant to die.
In her mind as she approached it, the crowd winding around the clinic became the equivalent of the Jordan River of hymnal fame. When I cross that river before me, she thought, I am going to die. My body will probably not die, unless someone shoots me or sets off a bomb, but my immortal soul will die for sure. I will burn for eternity. The possibility sounded quite real. She swallowed. So be it. I will not abandon my best friend. I would rather go to Hell and burn forever. Bring it on.
“What?” said Sandi, smiling through her teeth.
Quinn was startled from her reverie. “Huh?”
“You were mumbling about bringing something.”
“Uh . . . sorry.”
“Smile,” Sandi prompted. “You told me to smile, so you have to smile, too.”
“Uh, right.” Quinn looked down and made sure the gold cross was clearly displayed on the outside of her jacket. “Here we go,” she whispered.
The girls automatically linked arms, gaining courage from the contact. Many in the crowd closest to them looked them over as they approached. Quinn steered away from the police-protestor argument. “Hi!” she said as they walked up. “Are you here because of—” She gestured in the direction of the clinic.
“That’s right,” said a man dressed in farming work clothes. “We’re from the Carter County Christian Church. Where are you from?”
“Oakwood,” said Quinn, but Sandi at the same moment said, “Cumberland.” Quinn laughed aloud as if there had been no mistake at all. “We’ve been friends since we were kids, but her family moved away,” she added quickly. “My name is Daria Mor—” She coughed “—Morten, and this—” She indicated Sandi “—is Jane Lane.”
Several people nodded to them and put out their hands. Everyone shook. Sandi rolled her eyes but accepted the name change.
“How old are you girls?” asked a woman in a heavy woolen coat.
“Nineteen,” said Sandi. “And, uh . . . Daria is seventeen.”
“Seventeen and a half,” corrected Quinn. “Jane was born in August and held back a year, but I was born in May and—”
“Whatever,” said Sandi with a mock glare. “We’re high-school seniors. We came in to do some shopping, then saw you here and thought we’d see what was going on.”
“What is going on?” Quinn asked, keeping up her smile.
“We’re doing the Lord’s work,” said another man. “Keeping people from using the services of this evil place where they kill babies.”
Sandi’s smile froze.
“What if people want to leave there?” asked Quinn, stepping into the silence. She noticed that they were drawing a crowd. Too late, she remembered that being a cute, attractive teenager drew strangers like mad—even among adult protestors. And now the crowd had two cute, attractive teens to look at.
“They can leave,” said a woman, “but no one can get back in. We’re shuttin’ it down for the day, and maybe tomorrow, too.”
“Oh,” said Quinn. “Um, is it okay if we look around, talk to some people?”
Several people turned to eye the confrontation with the police, which was becoming louder and more heated. “It might be best if you two went somewhere else,” said the first man who spoke to them. “Things might get out of hand here shortly.”
Shit! Quinn looked around. “I see. Well, okay—oh! Uh, Jane! Look!” Quinn took Sandi’s arm and pointed. “It’s Veronica! Over there, in back!” Remembering to smile, she moved forward into the crowd, dragging Sandi with her.
“What?” said Sandi, stumbling along. “Veronica?”
“Yeah, Veronica! There in the back!” Quinn looked directly at a middle-aged lady standing in the parking lot and waved to her, still moving through the crowd. The lady, carrying a sign that said END ABORTION FOREVER, looked at Quinn in surprise and confusion. “Hey, Aunt Veronica!” Quinn called. “It’s us! Daria and Jane! How are—” Quinn faked a double-take as she got within ten feet of the woman and cried, “Oh, my gosh! I’m so sorry! I thought you were my aunt!”
“Oh, I don’t think so,” said the lady, looking her over. “I don’t believe I know you young ladies.” She glanced over Quinn’s shoulder with a trace of anxiety. The shouting match between the police officers and protestors had reached a nasty crescendo.
“No, of course not,” said Quinn brightly. She put her right hand in her pocket and clutched her driver’s license. She needed to get a little farther from the crowd, and then she’d run for it. “My name is Daria Morten, from Oakwood. I’m so sorry, I was sure you were my aunt! You look just exactly—”
Without warning, Sandi bolted for the clinic door, racing across the parking lot like a whirlwind. She tore the cross from her neck as she ran and flung it away. The cross and chain slid across the parking lot and wedged themselves under a car tire. A split-second later, Quinn sprinted after her, pulling her own necklace over her head with her left hand. Surprised shouts arose behind them.
As she ran, Sandi reached into her jacket pocket for her driver’s license. She pulled out her hand—but the license slipped from her fingers and bounced across the pavement behind her. Whirling, she looked for the fallen card but did not immediately notice it. Quinn saw it and slowed, leaning down to grab for it—then someone, an older man, grabbed her jacket from behind and shouted, “Hey! You can’t—”
Quinn spun, the necklace swinging whiplike in her fingers with the cross at the end. She was across the river and forever done for; she felt she could do anything now. The heavy cross hit the man in the face; he recoiled with a cry and released her. She dropped the cross and chain, snatched up Sandi’s license, and drove on for the clinic entrance at top speed. Sandi was already there by the guard, who had pulled a stun gun from his holster and held it at the ready. “Don’t shoot me!” Quinn screamed, holding out the two driver’s licenses. She shoved them at the guard’s face for a second, then snagged Sandi and dragged her through the metal detector gate after her. The detector did not go off. The guard quickly followed. Someone in the clinic pulled open the door. The screaming girls flung themselves inside, and the guard came in after them, slamming the door hard and snapping two deadbolts into place as he did. Moments later, violent pounding began on the outside of the door, mixed with shouted threats and curses.
Quinn clutched Sandi to her as both burst into tears, their faces buried in each other’s jackets. I’m dead, thought Quinn. I’m dead and damned for doing this.
Strange, she thought, that she did not regret it.
The receptionist, clinic director, and two nurses met them, checked their IDs, and let an exhausted Sandi sign in. Police sirens howled outside, coming into town. The pounding on the clinic door subsided, but the shouting outside did not. More sirens joined in the fray.
“County sheriff and his deputies,” sighed the director, a short, middle-aged woman with a tired face. “Took him long enough. Guess he’ll get my vote next time he runs for office.”
True to form, the clinic waiting room had no magazines more recent than November 1999, and the television set would get only the Forecast Channel. Simultaneously bored to tears and worried to death about Sandi, Quinn wandered aimlessly on her feet until the receptionist asked her if she wanted some herbal tea. Quinn accepted and sipped from her cup as she waited, staring at the clock. They had been in the clinic only half an hour.
“Did you have a long drive in?” asked the receptionist. With no other clients likely to come in that day, she had little to do herself.
“About an hour,” said Quinn. “We stopped a lot for bathroom breaks. She was pretty tired.”
“Have you been her friend long?”
Quinn held the cup with both hands below her chin, bathed in the tea’s aroma. “Three years now. We moved here from Texas. I met her on my first day at school. We hit it off right away.”
“Well,” said the receptionist, “she’s lucky to have someone like you in her life.”
Quinn thought about that, then absently said, “That’s what friends are for.” She looked over. “Will she be in long? Is she doing okay?”
“I’ll check.” The receptionist left Quinn with her thoughts. She looked at the television. No rain coming to Lawndale and vicinity until the following week.
The receptionist came back. “She’s finished her paperwork, and she’s had blood drawn. She got a little sick, so they have her resting for a while. You want to see her?”
Quinn put down the cup of tea and got up at once. “Yes, sure,” she said. “If I can go back there.”
“Sure, you can. The nurse said it was fine.”
The receptionist spoke with a nurse, who left Quinn down a clean, white hallway to a gray door. Sandi was lying under a light sheet on an examination table in a room with the lights turned low. The nurse let Quinn in, leaving the door partly open.
“Hi,” said Quinn. She walked over. Sandi raised a white hand toward her, and Quinn took it and found it chilled. She pressed the hand to her chest to warm it. “How are you doing?”
“Tired,” Sandi whispered. Her grip on Quinn’s hand strengthened. “Do you mind staying with me for a while?”
“Of course not.” She stroked Sandi’s face. Her skin was cool and damp. “It’s more fun to be with you than in the waiting room. TV set’s broken.”
“You should have brought a book.”
“You didn’t bring your book, either,” Quinn pointed out.
“I forgot it.” Sandi stared up at Quinn. “I can’t believe we did it.”
“Neither can I,” said Quinn.
They were silent for a while.
“Should have brought the book,” said Sandi.
“I could call Daria and ask her what it was about.” Quinn smiled. “It might piss her off, but it would be sort of funny, you know.”
“Yeah. Maybe you could read the Cliff’s Notes to me when we get back tonight. A bedtime story.”
“Huckleberry Finn? Well, I could read only the exciting parts, if there are any.”
“Okay.” A pause. “Just don’t use the N-word, okay? What they called black people. I hate that part.”
“No problem. I won’t.”
“That book is so awful. I can’t believe the way they speak. It’s worse than gangsta rap. And riding a raft around just because they feel like it, that’s such a . . . guy thing.”
Quinn snickered. “It is. Maybe someone made a movie of it. We could rent that.”
“Whatever’s quicker.” Sandi yawned. “Tired,” she said.
“I’m not surprised.”
Sandi looked up. “Quinn?”
Her friend hesitated. “Would you . . . will you stay with me through the . . . when they do the . . .”
Quinn could see the relief run through Sandi’s face and body. “Thanks,” she said. “Thank you.” She closed her eyes. A moment later, she pulled Quinn’s hand to her mouth and kissed it. “I never had a friend like you.”
“Everything will be all right,” said Quinn. She had not believed this would be true, before now, but she began to wonder if it were possible after all.
“Okay.” Even in the faint light, Quinn could see the tracks of tears running down from Sandi’s eyes into her hair and ears. She reached down and brushed them away.
So much remained to be worked out—how the procedure would go, how they were to get back to the car, would the car even be there when they returned, what would Sandi’s condition be like on the way home, would they be able to keep this a secret from everyone else, how would the weekend go with Sandi staying over . . .
Somehow, the details did not seem to matter anymore. Even the ultimate issue of what was happening to her soul was less important than this. Maybe even that would be okay, too.
“I love you,” whispered Sandi.
“I love you,” Quinn whispered back, and they waited together for the door to open again.
Original: 10/02/04, modified 10/28/04