Where No Light Breaks,
Where No Sea Runs
Text ©2004 The Angst Guy (email@example.com)
Daria and associated characters are ©2004 MTV Networks
Feedback (good, bad, indifferent, just want to bother me, whatever) is appreciated. Please write to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Synopsis: Sunday afternoons at the Kinsington Women’s Correctional Facility are very slow, and one lone inmate has nothing to look forward to—until her only friend appears, and everything changes.
Author’s Notes: “Where No Light Breaks, Where No Sea Runs” takes place during the year after Daria Morgendorffer and Jane Lane graduate from high school in the “Daria” TV movie, Is It College Yet? The reader is assumed to have a working knowledge of the characters from “Daria,” so few personal introductions are given in the story. This story is rated R for language, violence, and sexual elements.
The title, “Where No Light Breaks, Where No Sea Runs,” was drawn from the first two lines of Dylan Thomas’s poem, “Light Breaks Where No Sun Shines,” though modified to fit the tone of the story (“Light breaks where no sun shines; / Where no sea runs, the waters of the heart / Push in their tides. . . .”).
This tale was a chapter from an incomplete, unpublished work called “Bipolar II.” This early work is slowly being cannibalized, and this part was turned into its own story, modified from its original form. Three other fanfics, “April Is the Cruelest Month,” “The Omega Jane,” and part of “Smoking Mirror” (”Everest”) were also derived from “Bipolar II,” but they are not otherwise connected with this work. This particular story was modified to answer an Iron Chef fanfic writing challenge on PPMB, “Daria ‘Bad Dog’ Morgendorffer,” posted by Ranger Thorne in June 2003. In this Iron Chef, Daria was to be depicted as an unredeemed or unredeemable antagonist, a bad person who commits evil actions by her own choice. Earlier versions of this story appeared on SFMB and some fanfic websites from late 2003 onward.
Rhonda and Kinsington Prison appear in The Daria Database, under “Kinsington Prison, Daria’s E-mail to.” A PPMB Iron Chef ficlet by Angelinhel (“Never Enough,” from May 2003) filled in a missing piece of the tale, and a comic PPMB Iron Chef ficlet by Nemo Blank (follow-up to “Mixed Signals,” from May 2003) echoed elements of this story and brought another character to mind (Sandi Griffin). I also deliberated played up on the Skylar/Quinn element because of a previous fanfic by Martin Pollard, “Sins of the Past.” Daria’s nail-chewing habit was mentioned in Is It Fall Yet? Finally, Crusading Saint wrote a story with certain similar elements (“Shadows and Secrets”), that surprised me when it appeared, as I was already fiddling with this story; I am not sure if his story influenced mine, but maybe it did. The failings of this story are my own alone.
Acknowledgements: “Daria” fanfic writers Renfield and Galen “Lawndale Stalker” Hardesty planted the seeds that germinated the original work, “Bipolar II,” in PPMB messages concerning the future of Daria Morgendorffer. From that, the idea came to me for “Bipolar II,” a collection of alternate futures (good and bad) involving best friends Daria Morgendorffer and Jane Lane. Later commentary and encouragement from Renfield, Nomad X, Galen Hardesty, and THM greatly added to the original story’s development—and indirectly to this one—so my gratitude goes out to them all. The development of “Bipolar II” was also influenced by the works of Madeleine L’Engle, particularly her concept of “projections” from A Swiftly Tilting Planet, though the idea was taken in a different direction.
The beta-readers for this story were, in random order: Kara Wild, Brother Grimace, Thea Zara, Nick “Ranchoth” Gaston, Crusading Saint, Voiceofmy, Brandon League, Greystar, bkfriend, Angelinhel, Robert Nowall, and Steven Galloway. Please accept my apologies for taking seven months to fix this, and even longer to finally send it out to the Daria websites because of its controversial nature. I also understand that many beta-readers had strong reactions to this story and were not fond of its earlier incarnation, but for various reasons I left some of the most objected-to elements relatively intact. Your advice helped me even if I did not always take it, and I am grateful. Thank you.
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.
—W. H. Auden, “September 1, 1939”
Daria Morgendorffer, nineteen years old, sat in her favorite chair and gnawed her thumbnail to the quick. An ad for a mattress sale dominated the screen of the battered dayroom TV, delaying the appearance of “Twin Peaks.” She knew the value of patience in her present environment, so the wait did not bother her. She briefly inspected her nail, then continued to nip at it. Daria had weeks ago chewed all her nails down to nothing, out of boredom and nerves. Before the mattress ad ended, she felt a prick of pain and tasted blood in her mouth. A glance showed her ruined nail had nothing left on which to chew. She put her thumb in her mouth and looked at the screen again. The “Twin Peaks” rerun would be on in just a couple minutes, and she had the TV to herself. She rubbed her tongue over the ragged wound in the quick of her thumb to sooth it.
Quinn would have a fit if she could see Daria’s fingers now. Daria thought about her younger sister and idly wondered how she looked at that moment, what her face and hair were like, if she was still on the respirator, or . . . or whatever. Her parents had mentioned two weeks ago that they were thinking of taking Quinn off the respirator. Daria had become so upset at the suggestion that her parents’ visitation was cut short. Later visitations had gone better, including the one yesterday when her parents said they would let Daria help them decide what to do about her sister’s situation. Daria was comforted to hear this, though—she chewed on her thumbnail again, becoming anxious just thinking about it—there was something about her parents’ demeanor that did not ring true. She should have followed up on her hunch, she knew now. She wondered if her parents would actually tell her if Quinn had died. She was not sure they would. It bothered her to think about it, but it was out of her hands.
Thinking of Quinn prompted Daria to try to think of a fashion joke about her, something innocuous about getting bed hair, but it wasn’t possible to make it funny. It would have been amusing only if Quinn could have heard it. Could Quinn still hear? Daria’s best friend, Jane Lane, said she talked to Quinn every visit she made to her, but Quinn never showed that she heard. She still had brain activity, but her mother said there wasn’t much. Jane had reported the same. Jane, at least, would never lie. Thank you, Jane, Daria thought. She sat still for a moment and closed her brown eyes, her thumb in her mouth. Thank you for not forgetting her. Or me.
Daria’s eyes began to tear up, so she made herself stop thinking about Jane and Quinn. She sighed, raised her black, prison-issue glasses, and rubbed her eyes with both hands. Brushing her long brown hair away from her face, she knocked a bit of bread crust from the front of her bright orange jumpsuit, next to her name-and-number tag. The dayroom television droned on, displaying a cartoon commercial featuring two ducks arguing over a liquid detergent. Daria could recite verbatim the dialog in that commercial, she had seen it so often. She had even dreamed it once, ducks and all.
The dayroom was quiet; few inmates hung around there on Sunday afternoons, preferring the livelier company in the recreation room and visitation areas, or the open yard under the August afternoon sun. The TV’s channel was fixed in place for the day to prevent arguments, and “Twin Peaks” was too highbrow for the local viewing population. Three armed guards in the dayroom sat in the back and talked about how much their husbands liked deer hunting and getting drunk. Two other female inmates in orange jumpsuits played checkers in silence. Another looked out a barred window at prisoners playing basketball and talking in the yard below, the water tower and high light posts, the parking lot and razor wire, the rolling hills of blue-green pine far away.
Sunday was the low point in the dayroom, but it was when Daria liked it best. She was more of an outcast at the Kinsington Women’s Correctional Facility than she’d ever been at Lawndale High School. Except for Rhonda McIntyre, none of the other inmates talked to her except to make catcalls or snide remarks. Making fun of Daria was a kind of dare, poking at someone who came into the prison with a dreadful reputation but turned out to be a tiny little bookish nothing. Daria didn’t consider the other inmates worth communicating or associating with in any way, so it was no loss.
Daria’s right hand came up to her mouth, and she began to chew on the ruined nail of her thumb again. Sunday afternoons in Kinsington were very, very slow.
I should get together with Rhonda before dinner, she thought. I could use the company, and she’s always got good stories. She’ll shake me down for cigarette money, so I’d better have some handy so she doesn’t lose her temper and hurt me. And she might want me to meet her later in the laundry room, which I really hope she doesn’t, but it won’t kill me if she does. I’ll go. I know what to say and what to do. It’ll be over with before I know it. It doesn’t matter anyway. I can’t be hurt anymore. I’m nothing and no one, and nothing matters. Nothing will ever hurt me again.
So ran her thoughts, though her heart called her a liar.
I wonder what Quinn looks like now. I hope her hair grew back. I wish Mom and Dad would bring me a picture of her. They never do. I wish they would just once—
Daria heard a distant door opening and footsteps on a hard floor from the hallway outside. She gave no outward sign that she’d heard. Instead, she watched the TV, the tip of her thumb still in her mouth, and pretended to be interested in the new line of oversized Ford pickups coming out in the fall. “Twin Peaks” was only moments away.
The door into the dayroom opened. Without looking, Daria could tell it was Jones, one of the male correctional officers at Kinsington. What was all this—?
“Morgendorffer,” Jones said. His voice was hoarse; he must have just gotten off his cigarette break. “There’s a visitor for you. Come on.”
Daria pulled her thumb out of her mouth and looked up, unable to contain her surprise. She wasn’t scheduled to see her parents again until next Saturday. Who could it be? Maybe it was Jane. Her heart jumped, but she tried hard not to show it.
“Let’s go, girl. Ain’t got all day,” said Jones, in a big-brother tone of voice. Two female guards with nightsticks and side arms were behind him. Jones held no club and ignored his other weapons. He had a soft spot for Daria and always looked out for her when he was on duty. She had no idea why. He never hit on her, cursed or bullied her, insisted she take a shower or use the bathroom while he and a few male buddies looked on with interested grins. Unless he had a good reason to bother her, he left her strictly alone, and she appreciated that. He was a lot nicer than any of the female officers.
Daria quickly got out of the threadbare, overstuffed chair. It was one of the few places in the dayroom where she could relax, and she never got that chair when the dayroom was full. For a visitor, though, she’d abandon anything, even a meal. She’d even abandon an unseen rerun of “Twin Peaks” or a new episode of “Sick, Sad World,” anything at all.
Jones and the two guards escorted her out of the dayroom and down the long hall to one of the visitation rooms. “It’s non-contact,” said Jones, not looking back at her. He stank of cigarettes. “She got in too late for space in the visitation area. We couldn’t get approval for anything else. It’s that friend of yours, the girl with the black hair.”
“That’s her,” said Jones. “She’s already in the phone room, booth on the end.”
Daria’s mind reeled. Why is she here now? Did something bad happen? “Thank you,” she whispered.
Jones waved it off. “Don’t mention it.” He stopped and opened the door to the non-contact visitors’ area, then walked in and stepped aside to let Daria and the other two guards pass by.
The non-contact visitation room was about forty feet by twenty feet, with a long window along one side showing a view of the distant pine forest. The visitors sat on that side, across a ceiling-high wall of unbreakable glass and steel against which sat a series of small open booths, like library carrels. On Daria’s side of the wall were three other prisoners, hunched up to the glass with phones to their ears and elbows on the short desktops before them, talking softly to spouses, family, or friends on the other side of the glass. The chair at the end of the row was vacant.
Accompanied by the two guards, Daria walked to the end booth and looked through the glass window to the other side.
Jane was there, looking back.
Dumbly, Daria took a seat. The guards moved back to talk in a distant corner.
A year fell away in the life of someone else named Daria Morgendorffer. This other Daria was eighteen, had graduated high school, and was two weeks from heading to Boston to start undergraduate studies. She ceased to exist on a Saturday afternoon in early August, when she and Jane walked into Daria’s house and found it empty. They were about to leave again when the phone rang. Daria picked it up, and she was no more. A new, second Daria was born into terror and pain.
Jane was right behind her as the new Daria shoved at the revolving glass door of Cedars of Lawndale Hospital and ran inside. Patients, walls, doctors, nurses, tables, and doors flew past. A desk was ahead, in front of the ER.
“My name is Daria Morgendorffer.” It was hard to talk, as she was out of breath from panic and her chest hurt so much. “My sister Quinn was brought in an hour ago. Quinn Morgendorffer, Q-U-I-N-N, M-O-R-”
“Come with me,” said a nurse.
Jane’s arm went around Daria’s shoulders. She hardly noticed it, but the part of her that did was grateful to the depths of her life.
Daria’s parents were already there, holding hands, their faces red and wet. Helen and Jake hugged their oldest daughter, who might with a few simple words from a surgeon become their only daughter. They had to wait to find out.
Half the night passed before a tired doctor sat with them. He explained what he had seen and done. Quinn was still in emergency surgery. The driver of the car, a rich-kid classmate of Quinn’s named Skylar Feldman, had only minor injuries—a joke of fortune on the laws of justice.
Quinn was a coin toss. When the car flipped over for the third or fourth time, it went over a guardrail and the top caved in. A steel guardrail post came through the roof and broke Quinn’s skull in the back. She was on life support. Her other injuries hardly mattered if her brain did not come back on line and keep things moving.
The doctor could promise nothing. He left, his face empty as the dead.
Daria and her parents waited in the emergency room for hours more. Dawn came and went. The hours turned to days, then to weeks. Daria waited.
Jane never left her.
And, in the most terrible of ways, neither did Quinn.
Daria’s vision blurred. She raised a hand and wiped her eyes, always keeping one eye open to see Jane. Jane looked strangely older than nineteen, her face lined and pale. Her black hair, uncut, reached to her shoulders.
She still wore cherry-red lipstick, though. She was still Jane.
Hesitantly, Jane picked up the telephone handset on her side of the transparent wall. Daria quickly did the same, shocked that she’d forgotten to do this before now. She was that unnerved.
“Jane? Hi!” Her voice cracked as she spoke.
“Hey, amiga. Good to see you again.” Jane wore a light windbreaker, blue and white striped, with long white pants. A gold t-shirt peeked from the top of the zipped windbreaker.
“Good to see you, too. You surprised me.” Daria sniffed, clearing her sinuses. “I have a cold. Sorry.”
Jane knew better. Her blue eyes searched Daria’s face. “How are you doing? You okay?”
Daria made her face impassive. Her self-control was not very good these days. She tried to think about how to answer Jane’s question. She took too long.
“Oh. Sorry.” She broke eye contact, looking down. “I’m okay.”
“I’m okay.” Daria took a deep breath and looked up again, trying to smile. “Good to see you. I didn’t expect—” She lost a beat, sensing that something was wrong “—you would be coming in today.”
Jane hesitated before answering. Daria knew from that moment on that Jane had come because something had gone very wrong, their world thrown off into a deeper part of Hell than the ledge where it had previously landed. Daria read it in Jane’s face like the words in a book.
“I missed you,” whispered Jane.
“Why’d you come? Did something happen?”
Jane searched for words.
“Quinn?” Say no, please God, say no, not Quinn.
Jane shook her head. Her voice was wooden. “It’s better if I come out and say it.”
Not Quinn God no not Quinn not—
Daria’s thoughts stopped. Her face slowly relaxed. Skylar’s gone. Skylar’s gone, not Quinn. She slumped back in her chair, shivering and wrung out. It was Skylar, thank God, not Quinn. She had never felt such relief in her life.
Jane nodded like a badly handled puppet. “His parents took him off life support about an hour ago, and he died right after that. I got a call on my cell phone from Sandi on my way over. They took him off about one-ten, one-fifteen, and he died just moments later. It was quick.”
The two were silent for a few seconds.
“He’s dead,” said Daria. It would sink in shortly, she knew, all the way in.
“I called your attorney as soon as I heard. She’s coming with your mom and dad tonight. They’ll stay in a hotel down the highway and see you tomorrow morning if they can get clearance.”
Daria thought this out. She was more used to daydreaming than thinking these days, so thinking felt unfamiliar and strange. “The D.A.,” she said. “Did the D.A. say anything about it?”
Jane shook her head. “I don’t know. I think it’s too soon. He might say something later this evening or tomorrow morning. I had to tell you first. I don’t think your attorney wanted me to see you tonight, but I had to tell you.”
Daria’s urge to cry was gone. Strange, how calm she was at the news about Skylar. But Quinn is alive. Quinn is still alive. “You came to tell me, then?”
Jane nodded and swallowed. “You had to know. Better if it came from me, I thought.”
“So . . . they took him off life support, and . . .” She didn’t finish.
Jane nodded and looked down. “Sandi said he went right away.”
The implications of the news crept into the edges of consciousness, weighing her down. Daria fought it off a few moments longer. “Did you come to see me about anything else?”
Jane waved a hand. “Wasn’t important compared to this news, I guess.”
“But you came to tell me something else? You said you were already—”
“Oh.” Jane looked uncomfortable and ran a hand through her shaggy hair. “Yeah, I had something to show you.”
Jane took a breath. Her face radiated anxiety. “It isn’t about Skylar. That isn’t it, though that—that sort of wiped everything else out when I heard. I don’t know what to say. After the news about Skylar, everything’s . . .” She grimaced. “Well, it’s not going to change things, and I’m here anyway. It can’t hurt, I guess.”
“Can’t hurt what?”
Jane’s free hand strayed up to her windbreaker zipper. “You always tell me that you want to see Quinn.”
Daria nodded, still not getting it. “Mom and Dad won’t bring pictures of her. I don’t know what’s up with that. I just want to see her again. I guess they don’t want me to blow up or go crazy or anything.” She put a hand over her forehead. “I sort of went off a couple weeks ago, talking to Mom and Dad about her. I always get upset about it.”
“I know,” said Jane.
“And they won’t let you bring pictures of her, too, I know.”
Jane nodded. “I get searched here for everything.”
“So, why else did you come in?” Daria whispered into the phone.
Jane’s gaze went over Daria’s head. Daria looked up. The TV security camera was facing mostly away, aimed down the row of chairs and the scattered prisoners beyond where Daria sat.
“Okay.” Jane sounded tired as well as anxious. The fingers of her left hand played with her jacket zipper. “Just act normally, okay?”
“Act like—” Jane sighed. “Just don’t say anything.”
Jane shifted in her seat toward the wall, pulling herself further out of the camera’s way. She slowly pulled down the windbreaker zipper, still holding the phone with her right hand.
“Shhh,” Jane whispered into the phone. “Be quiet, okay?”
Daria’s eyes went to the gold t-shirt that was exposed as Jane’s blue-and-white jacket fell open. Something had been drawn on the gold shirt in fine black lines, from Jane’s throat down over her breasts and on down to her waist. Daria needed a moment to figure out what it was, then a few moments more to realize who it was. It was the oval face of a young woman, her eyes closed and lips parted, angelic and beautiful and serene. Short red hair floated around her face, five-pointed stars entwined in her locks. Jane straightened, checked the security camera, and stretched out the bottom of her t-shirt so the entire portrait could be seen.
The breath stopped in Daria’s throat. The image burned into her brain.
It was Quinn.
Daria missed the start of the fall semester at Raft College, missed it all the way past the last deadline for registering for classes. The admissions office accepted her plea to start in the spring, so Daria and Jane moved to Boston after Christmas and found an apartment halfway between Raft and Jane’s undergraduate school, the Boston Fine Arts College. They worked out a schedule for sharing Daria’s Lexus, once her father’s car, until Jane found a used Tercel. They began classes at the same time, struggled to keep their minds focused on their work. When school permitted, about every two weeks, they traveled back to Lawndale and saw Quinn.
And they saw Sandi Griffin.
Sandi had been Quinn’s best friend and worst rival, both girls one grade behind Daria and Jane. Quinn and Sandi were the potentates of teen popularity. They headed the Fashion Club at Lawndale High School, dated countless boys, and ran through countless piles of the latest clothing and accessories on their parents’ credit cards.
Daria believed Sandi to be as shallow as tissue, so she never expected to see Sandi in Quinn’s hospital room, sitting by her bed and holding her hand, but Daria several times encountered Sandi doing just this. Sandi always excused herself and left when Daria and Jane appeared, saying nothing to either of them.
In mid-February, on the weekend after Valentine’s Day, Daria went to Cedars of Lawndale alone. Jane’s entire family had come back to Lawndale, and Jane felt obligated to put in a few tortured hours with siblings and parents before looking up Daria again.
Daria pushed open the door to Quinn’s room and saw Sandi sitting by Quinn’s bed. Sandi was holding Quinn’s left hand, looking at her face, singing a pop song from Top 40 radio in a soft voice. A huge vase of red roses sat on the nightstand on the side of Quinn’s bed opposite Sandi. Sandi’s name was on the card.
Sandi started as if awakened, eyes darting to Daria. She stopped singing, let go of Quinn’s hand, and reached for her handbag to stand up and leave.
“Don’t go,” said Daria. She closed the door behind her and walked around to Sandi, pulling up a chair. “Stay for a minute.”
Sandi hesitated. Her dark brown hair was tangled, and she wore no makeup. Her clothing was nice, if wrinkled. She didn’t look like the self-centered, fashion-conscious Sandi that Daria had once known. The color had been bleached out of her.
Sandi sat down again and looked at Quinn. The respirator tube was still snaked into her mouth, taped in place so that her lips could not be seen. A feeding tube ran into her right nostril, also taped in. The back of her head was still bandaged, carefully laid on a white pillow. The skin on her face was dry, and Daria knew it would be warm to the touch. After a moment, Sandi reached for Quinn’s hand again and squeezed it.
“How often do you come to see her?” asked Daria.
Sandi swallowed. “Every few days,” she said softly. “Sometimes just once a week if things are a mess, usually more.”
Daria had never imagined this would happen. Sandi was the least considerate of anyone Daria had ever met, with the possible exception of . . .
“Where are Tiffany and Stacy?”
Sandi shrugged. “Stacy came for a while at first, but she cried a lot and said she couldn’t take it, so she stayed home. We had a big fight about it. She said she was too angry to deal with it, or something like that. It doesn’t matter now. She last came by before Christmas, then . . .” She shrugged. “Tiffany never came by. I don’t know why. We don’t talk anymore.”
Daria listened and thought. “But you came.”
Sandi nodded, looking at Quinn.
“I thought you hated her.”
Sandi turned and looked at Daria, her mouth half open. Her face was filled with an emotion that looked curiously like fear or shock. “Quinn?” she whispered. “No! Never! I never did!”
Daria digested this. It could not possibly be true, but . . . “Do you ever talk to her?” she asked.
Sandi swallowed again. “Sometimes. Sometimes I talk, tell her what’s happening in town, with me, whatever. Sometimes—” Her voice failed, then returned “—sometimes I sing.” She cleared her throat. “She liked music a lot. Still likes it, I hope.”
They both looked at Quinn for a long moment.
Sandi wiped at her eyes. Something was in her face.
“Did she—” Sandi began, then stopped.
Sandi wiped her eyes again. “Did she say that I hated her?” she managed to squeak out, her voice far too high.
Daria blinked. “No,” she said quickly. She had said the wrong thing, and she knew it and was sorry. “No, she never did. She liked you. She always said so.”
Sandi sniffed and covered her face. “I love her,” she said. Tears flooded down her face without warning. “She’s my best friend, my best friend ever, and she helped me when I broke my leg and made me get out of bed and made me live again, and she told me she loved me and I told her I loved her, too, and—”
“I never hated her! I—I always—”
Sandi let go of Quinn’s hand, then grabbed her purse and fled past Daria and out of the room.
Daria did not see Sandi again. She heard afterward that Sandi now checked with Daria’s parents to find out when Daria was coming back from Boston, and she would not see Quinn if there was any chance Daria would be there. Sandi did call or e-mail Jane if there was any news about Quinn.
Five days after she got back to Boston, Daria got a lavender envelope in her mailbox at Raft. It had no return address, but was postmarked from Lawndale. Inside was a single piece of white paper. On the paper were nine handwritten words.
Did you ever tell Quinn that you loved her?
“You have to talk,” said Jane into the phone. “Say something, not too loud.”
“Oh.” Daria shook her head. She had been staring at the portrait of Quinn’s face on Jane’s shirt, her mind completely empty.
“Sorry. I . . . my head is just . . .”
Jane carefully used both hands to zip her jacket up again, the phone wedged between her right shoulder and ear.
“Please don’t!” said Daria. She reached for Jane. “I’m sorry! Let me see!”
“I will in a few minutes,” said Jane, looking around quickly. “I will. Don’t get upset, okay? Before I go, I’ll show you again. I came here because I wanted you to see it, to see her.”
“Okay.” Daria put her free hand over her mouth. “I’m okay. I’m okay.”
“I’m sorry if it upset you.”
“I’m okay.” Daria sniffed again, struggled to slow down her breathing.
“Okay,” said Jane. She put the palm of her hand against the glass between them. After a moment, Daria did the same, her hand pressed to the glass opposite Jane’s. She thought she could feel the warmth from Jane’s body, and soon she was calmer, breathing more slowly.
“She’s doing pretty well, all things considered,” said Jane soothingly. “She’s still breathing on her own. The doctors say she’s not having any problems. They think she could keep going for a long time, maybe long enough to . . . if there’s a chance, you know, for her to come back, so she’s doing okay. The feeding tube’s still in her nose, but without that, she looks exactly like . . . like what you saw.”
“Wait a minute.” Daria took away her hand. She shook her head violently, absorbing what Jane had said. “Is she off the respirator? Quinn?”
Jane froze, staring at Daria. “Your parents told you yesterday, right? They had the doctors take out the respirator tube last week, Monday morning.”
“They took it out?” Daria’s voice was much louder than she intended. “But, she could have died! Why did they take it out? Was there a problem? Didn’t they know—”
“Shhh! Keep it down! Keep it down!” Jane hissed into the phone. She looked around with nervous eyes. No guards came over. “Damn, please, Daria! You can talk with your folks when they come in tomorrow, but don’t talk to me about it! I can’t explain it for them, okay? I think they wanted to see if Quinn could breathe on her own. Don’t blow up at me, or they’ll make me leave! Okay? You got that?”
Daria’s fingers gripped the phone until she thought she heard the plastic crack. “But do you know? Do you know why they did that?”
“No! Daria, look, I don’t really know anything. I was as surprised as anyone else. Your mom told Sandi’s mother Monday night, and she told Sandi and Sandi called me. I don’t think your parents wanted me to know right off, but I don’t get their reasoning why. They know I check in on her. I just saw Quinn this morning, too. I finished my shirt right after that and came to see you, then Sandi called me about Skylar, and that’s all I know!” Jane leaned forward, almost to the glass, and tapped the desktop with a long fingernail. “Stay with me, okay? I need to talk to you. Just stay with me and don’t go off.”
Daria raised a hand and covered her eyes. “Okay. Sorry. I’m okay now.”
“Daria.” Jane’s voice was softer. “Daria, I’m still in this with you. I’ve got one more month before I go back to Boston, and I’m coming back every weekend after that, or as often as I can, whatever happens. You know I will. Whatever happens, anything, I’ll come back.”
“Okay.” Daria felt she was a robot. The implications of Jane’s news had sunk in at last. If Skylar was dead, the D.A. would add it to the many other charges against her, and everyone knew where that would go—the same place it was already going, only delayed a little longer.
Does it hurt when they put that last needle in?
“You don’t have to come see me all the time.” Daria could not believe this was really happening. She let out her breath, her thoughts dark and dull. “It’s really a long way here. Just, if you can, check on Quinn. You really—”
“I’ll be back to see you, Daria.”
It was true, Jane would do that: drive all the way to Kinsington from Boston just to see Daria, and to Lawndale just to see Quinn. Thank you, Jane. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I don’t deserve it, but I am so glad for you.
“How is Quinn?” Daria finally asked.
Jane seemed relieved at the change in topic. “I saw her this morning. I helped the nurses give her a sponge bath and brush her hair. Nothing’s changed except about the respirator. I talked to the nurses, and they said—” Jane waved a hand aimlessly “—she’s still . . . she’s like she was, but if she’s breathing on her own, maybe things’ll change, maybe something will happen. You never know. We have to keep our hopes up, because you never know.”
Quinn’s gone, Daria thought. You’re feeding me hope when I know she’s gone.
“And guess who came to see her, too?” said Jane in a lighter tone.
Daria had no idea. “Sandi?” It was a lousy guess. Sandi always came to see Quinn, and both of them knew it.
Jane shook her head. She tried a smile. “You remember Tom?”
“Tom? Tom Sloane?”
“Yeah, That Tom. Name ring a bell?”
“Really? Tom wanted to see her?”
“Yes, he did, and he did. This morning, too.”
Daria blinked, lost in reverie. “I lost touch with him before the accident. I haven’t seen him at all since the three of us got together for pizza that night in June, last year.”
“Well, he’s back for the summer from Bromwell. He came to the hospital this morning as I was leaving. I couldn’t talk to him for long, but I let him know what was going on. He said he spoke with your parents and got an okay to see Quinn.” Jane cleared her throat, eyes lowering. “He said he might want to see you, too. Here. I mean, if it’s okay with you.”
Daria ran out of things to say. She sat back in her chair, aware of the phone handset in her hand. She lowered the phone from her ear and stared at Jane. Finally, she raised the handset to her mouth again. “Why would he want to see me? Now, I mean?”
Jane raised an eyebrow, a faint smile on her face. “Well, I don’t know. Maybe it’s because you two dated for a while.”
“I mean, why now? He never came to see me before.”
Jane looked into her best friend’s face. “You don’t seem terribly excited about seeing him.”
Hadn’t I been looking forward to any visitor in the world just a few minutes ago? Daria thought. “I don’t know. It’s too weird. I don’t know why he’d . . . how is he?”
“Looks about the same. He dresses like he’s from a millionaire family more than he used to.” Jane took a deep breath. “He’s engaged.”
Daria felt surprise, then was angry with herself for it. “Well, I guess it figured that would happen sooner or later. It doesn’t bother me.” She shrugged. “I wonder what his fiancé thinks of him having an ex in prison. That can’t look good on the social register.”
“His fiancé wasn’t around this morning when I saw him. He met her at Bromwell, I think.”
“She might not be thrilled about him coming to see me.”
“Uh, I sort of got the impression he wasn’t going to let her know.”
Daria make a face. So, Tom wanted to see her in secret? That figured, too. Can’t have rumors going around about the two of them. And did she really want Tom to see her like she was now, in a prison outfit? With Skylar gone, things would only get worse—and it would happen soon, too.
“Maybe that wouldn’t be a good idea, him coming here.” Daria shook her head. “That would be a bad idea.”
“Think his fiancé would blow a fuse?”
“No. It’s just not a good idea.” She hesitated. “I don’t see what good it would do. And why now, I don’t know. He didn’t know about Skylar, did he?”
“No. That happened after I left him there. I don’t know his motives. Maybe he just wanted to touch base, see how you were. I think he does care about you.”
“Not enough to have seen me before this. Maybe his dad said no, and he’s sneaking around the old man. I dunno.”
Jane nodded, looking at Daria thoughtfully. “Okay. You make the call.”
“Let’s don’t talk about Tom anymore.”
“Quinn’s all right? I mean, you said she’s breathing—”
“She’s breathing on her own, yeah. Her color is good. Her hair’s growing out again. You know about the metal plate, in the back of her—”
“Well, it seems to be healing over really well. Her hair’s covering up the scars, all of them. It’s sort of funny—I meant weird, not . . . anyway, it’s weird that her hair’s growing out kind of coppery-red. It’s not that orange-peel color it used to be. She looks good, though. Peaceful.” Jane put her left hand on her chest, on her windbreaker. “Like this. Peaceful and beautiful.”
Daria scooted closer to the desktop. “Can I see her, please?” Her eyes went to Jane’s and pleaded for mercy.
Jane looked up at the camera, considered, then nodded briefly and slowly unzipped her jacket again, holding it open.
Quinn’s angelic face came into view. The picture on the t-shirt looked exactly like her—stylized, doubtless retouched from life, but perfect. Daria drank the image in.
“I talk to her whenever I see her,” said Jane, watching Daria. “I tell her how you’re doing, how much we want to see her, how much we miss her.”
Long seconds passed.
Daria’s mouth opened. “D-did you tell that I . . .d-did you tell her that I—”
She broke off. Tears appeared from nowhere and ran down her cheeks in twin streams. She put her free hand up to hide her face from the guards.
“Daria?” Jane quickly zipped her windbreaker shut. “Amiga, what’s wrong?”
“D-d-d-d . . . d-did you tell her that I love her?”
A week after Daria got the purple envelope, she received a white envelope. Her mother had called three days earlier to warn her that it was coming. It was on a Saturday at the end of February, and snow fell across Boston as she pulled the envelope out of the apartment mailbox and read the return address.
It was from Skylar Feldman, in Lawndale. A snowflake fell on Daria’s name and melted, blurring the handwritten ink.
Daria had never asked or pried into the legal workings between the Morgendorffers and the Feldmans. She didn’t know if any settlement was coming, if anything else would happen after Skylar was sentenced to a year’s probation, loss of his driver’s license, and a variety of community services. It was impossible to care. It didn’t matter if it didn’t bring back Quinn.
Daria took the envelope inside and dropped it on the coffee table in front of the battered sofa she and Jane had found at a garage sale. She then went to the bathroom, came out, looked in the refrigerator, then looked out a window at the falling snow. At last she walked back to the letter, picked it up, and opened it with her thumbnail.
I am writing to you to tell you how sorry I am for what happened to your sister, Quinn. It was my fault that she was injured. We were on a date, going to a concert in Oakwood. I was driving way too fast, and I got distracted when I was talking to her. I cannot believe this horrible mess happened, but I know it did happen, and I know it was my fault that Quinn is in the hospital and—
Daria threw the letter back on the coffee table. She got her coat, put it on, and left the apartment. She was gone four hours. When she returned, Jane was cooking something in the microwave. The letter was in a different position than Daria had left it.
“Hi,” said Jane. She stared into the microwave window, not at Daria.
“Hi,” Daria mumbled. She went to her bedroom and shut and locked the door.
Just before eight o’clock that night, Jane knocked on Daria’s door. “Amiga? Do you want some dinner?”
There was no response. Jane sighed in defeat and walked back into the kitchen to get her bag of popcorn, then to the living room again. Some of Daria’s schoolbooks were on the sofa in Jane’s favorite TV-watching spot, so she picked them up to move them elsewhere. The books slid and fell to the floor. Jane scooped them into a pile under the coffee table, then noticed the bookmarker for the text for Daria’s writing class was a folded white paper with handwriting on it. Glancing up to make sure Daria wasn’t out of her room, Jane opened the book, unfolded the paper, and read the lone sentence there.
The sentence on the paper was composed of nine words. She read them all.
“She knows, Daria,” Jane said softly. “She knows you do. I always tell her that you love her.”
The week before spring break, in mid-March, Daria felt an increasing sense of tension and nerves. Most of the time, she couldn’t place what was causing it. Midterms, she told herself. It wasn’t visiting Quinn, for sure. She’d seen Quinn twice since February. She wondered why she was feeling so rotten and upset.
If Jane was around, they’d talk about school, people they knew, family news, little things. The little things helped a lot. Talking with Jane did not make the nerves go away, but it made living with it much better for a little while. They had plans to head home during spring break, to see Quinn, visit a little with family, and try to have a little fun.
Later, though, Daria would drift back to her room and pull out Skylar’s crumpled letter to her, reading further into the three wrinkled and flattened handwritten pages.
I will give a speech at Lawndale High School on March 16th about the accident, and what happened to Quinn and to me. I want other people to hear about it and maybe kids at school won’t do the stupid things I did, driving recklessly and hurting someone I cared about. I can’t do anything to fix what I did to Quinn. I hurt the best person I ever knew, and I have to live with that for the rest of my life. I only hope I can stop other people from making the same horrible mistake I did.
You remember Stacy Rowe? She was a friend of Quinn’s, too. She’s going to give a speech with me on the same day, about forgiveness. I don’t know if I deserve forgiveness for what I did. I want to ask your forgiveness for what happened, but I don’t think it would be right. What I did can never be made better or fixed back the way it was, though every night I pray it can be. Stacy has helped me so much since the accident. She said she hated me at first, hated me more than anything in her life, but then she realized her life had stopped because of it. She said she had to move on and bring good into her life again, and she could only do that if she forgave me. I did not deserve it, but she did forgive me. She has helped me turn my life around and become a new man. I am a different person now than I used to be. I used to be a jerk who cared only about money and fun and nothing else, and now I just want to do the right thing in the world, to fix the world where it is broken and keep any more of the world from breaking up worse than it has.
Stacy saved me when I was at rock bottom, after the accident. I couldn’t ask for anyone better than her. I asked her to marry me after we graduate high school, and she said yes. We’re going to do everything we can to keep things like this from ever happening again. If you have a chance to come to Lawndale High School on March 16th and hear us, please—
Daria’s arms would shake at this point, the letter wrinkled and crushed between her fists. Her breathing would be shallow and fast and hard, her face flushed, her eyes narrow and her gaze burning through the lenses of her glasses like the sun on a hot summer day. Sometimes she said things as if talking directly to Skylar or Stacy or, more often, both. Her voice never got very loud when she did this, but the words came out quickly and without stopping. What she had to say to them both was a secret, something boiling out from the molten core inside her heart, her heart that had been cold and dead for ages before. The words came out like jets of steam blasting from the top of a lonely mountain that no casual observer ever imagined might turn into a volcano.
“We don’t have a lot of time left. Okay?”
Daria wiped her eyes and nodded. “I’m all right. Thank you.”
“F-for taking care of Quinn.”
“They take good care of her there. Forever popular, I guess. She gets moved a lot, so she never gets any of those pressure sores. The nurses give her a light massage every day with a skin cleanser and some kind of lotion, a moisturizer, so her skin doesn’t get too dry.” Jane tried again to smile. “She’d never forgive us if her skin got dry.”
Daria nodded. She was empty inside, empty forever. “Yeah.” She stared at Jane’s windbreaker, at the face behind it. “How often do Mom and Dad see her?”
“I thought they’d tell you.”
“I wanted to hear it from you, what you know.”
“Oh. Your mom’s there every day or every other day for a while. She usually comes in the morning. Your dad says he goes about two or three days after work. I try not to come in when he does. It’s—I can stand your mom, but when your dad tries to talk to me, and I just—I’m sorry, it just—”
“It’s okay. Don’t apologize.”
Jane exhaled heavily. “He wants to talk to me about Quinn, but I can’t talk to him and be with Quinn. He doesn’t cry all over me, but it’s just too much. I’m really sorry, but I can’t handle it, what he’s going through between Quinn and—and everything else. Sorry. He’s still going to counseling with your mom twice a week, but I can’t tell if it’s doing any good.” Jane flinched. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said that.”
“Well, fuck. I don’t know what they’ve said to you about it.”
“Nothing. Nothing at all.”
“Maybe I should leave it at that.”
“They don’t tell me anything. I get nothing from them except questions about how am I doing, how am I eating, am I getting beaten up, that kind of crap.”
“Getting beaten up?” said Jane.
“No,” said Daria quickly.
Jane stared at her. “Is that Rhonda person still around? The one you talk to now and then?”
Daria nodded but looked away.
Jane frowned. “Daria, are you really okay?”
“I’m fine. I’m okay. Nothing going on.”
“I mean, with you and Rhonda. Don’t lie to me, Daria.”
“I said . . .” And Daria stopped. She found herself looking away from Jane’s gaze, staring down at the desktop. She pressed the phone handset against her ear hard enough to hurt. Neither said anything for several seconds.
Jane closed her eyes and put a hand to her forehead. “Oh, shit.”
Jane looked up. “Daria, for the love of God, what is going on? What is she doing to you? What is she making you do?”
“Stay out of it, Jane. Just—”
“What is going on?”
“Don’t you dare lie to me!” Jane hissed. “Don’t you dare!”
Daria stared at the desktop before her. She held the phone and thought of nothing else but the voice from the phone.
“Never mind,” Jane said, her voice flat. “I can guess.”
Long seconds passed. Jane sighed and lowered her phone handset to the desk, toying with it in her hands. Her blue eyes were on fire. Daria looked up and eyed the phone in Jane’s hands, and she prayed.
The first, old Daria would have hung up by now and marched out of the room. The old Daria believed in principle. No one messed around in the hidden places in her life. No one at all, not even Jane. The old Daria was sufficient unto herself.
But the old Darias were all dead and gone. This last Daria watched the phone in Jane’s hands and prayed to any Power that would listen that Jane did not hang up and walk out of the room and leave her sitting there, phone in hand, alone for another week.
The phone went back to Jane’s ear. Jane’s burning blue eyes bored into Daria’s rabbit-brown ones. “Answer me this—are you in any danger?”
“No,” said Daria, after a moment’s hesitation. Almost true, not in any danger right now, this moment, none at all.
Jane’s eyes narrowed. “I warned you not to lie to me.”
“Not much,” whispered Daria, looking up. “Not really.”
Hesitation. Daria rubbed at her mouth without thinking. “A little.”
“Has she hurt you?”
“N-no.” Almost true, almost, except for the times she—
“Rhonda’s the one you used to send e-mails to, right?”
Daria nodded very fast.
“How old is she?”
A moment of thought. “Thirty-three.”
“She’s the one who killed her parents and older—”
“—her parents and her older brother with an axe—” Jane’s voice dropped to a violent whisper “—she killed them with a fucking axe, and you tell me that you’re safe?” Jane raised a finger and pointed at Daria. “You bullshit me just once, and I walk.”
It was a tomahawk, technically speaking. She used a tomahawk when she killed her mother, father, and older brother, who were sexually abusing and torturing her. “I’m okay,” said Daria quickly, quietly. “I’m very careful around her. She has a bad temper, but she likes me, I think, and she doesn’t hurt me. She doesn’t really hurt me. I’m okay. All we do is talk, most of the time. Almost always. Please don’t leave me.”
“We talk a lot, we talk about all kinds of stuff. She’s not like everyone else here. We can talk about movies and books and—”
“And what do you do when she doesn’t want to talk?”
“Jane.” Daria’s voice was very soft. “Jane, please. No. Please. Please, if you’re my friend, please don’t. Don’t. Please.”
Jane stared at her.
“Sh-she protects me. Sh-sh-she protects me from . . . from everyone. She helps me. And I don’t have—there isn’t—”
Daria’s lips moved, but nothing came out. Jane watched her and waited.
“Please,” Daria whispered into the phone, “I don’t have anyone else to really talk to here. Just you, when you come. I can’t talk to anyone like I can to you. Rhonda’s not you, she’s not like you at all, but I’m really—it’s really lonely here, and I don’t . . .”
She stopped. They stared at each other for long seconds that threatened to draw into centuries.
“Please. Please believe me. It’s okay. It doesn’t matter. It just doesn’t matter.”
It was Jane who dropped her gaze at the end. “God damn it,” she said. She took a long breath, let it out, and picked at a spot on the desktop before her with a fingernail.
“I swear I’m okay. I swear it.” Daria shivered. Please don’t leave me for this.
Jane didn’t answer. When she finally looked up, it was as if she saw Daria for the first time in her life. She said nothing at all.
Brian Taylor answered the door on the morning of March 16th, chewing on a bite from a beef stick in his right hand. He looked up at Daria as if he saw her for the first time in his life. He said nothing at all. Behind him, in the family room, gunshots and squealing tires rang out from a movie soundtrack.
When Daria had called the Taylors’ house a few minutes earlier, she got only Brian. His dad was at work. His stepmother was out shopping. His sister Brittany was in Daytona, partying her brains out on spring break. Daria hung up and came over at once, driving past the deserted guard shack at the entrance to Lawndale’s elite subdivision, Crewe Neck.
“I called about the package Brittany said I could have,” she said.
“Britt’s not here,” said Brian, repeating himself from earlier. “She’s in Daytona or somewhere.” Brian was almost as tall as Daria, a young teen with long, dirty blond hair and cold gray eyes. He looked like a cross between Dennis the Menace and Charles Starkweather, all of the trouble and none of the humanity.
“She said last night I could come over and get it.” The lie flowed off her tongue more easily than she’d feared it would. “Do you know anything about it?”
“Nah. Where’s it?”
“I don’t know. It might be in her room. It was a box, a little cardboard one. I don’t know what was in it. A blouse, I think.”
Brian did exactly what Daria had hoped he would do. He stepped back from the door and walked off. “Go look,” he said, heading back to the family room.
Daria stepped into the Taylors’ mansion home and closed the front door. She remembered the house well from the party Brittany had invited her to attend, back in their sophomore year in high school. A fellow classmate named Upchuck had taken Daria and Jane on an impromptu tour of the house, which was hosting a riotous class party while Brittany’s dad and stepmom were out of town.
A sleeping pang of guilt awoke inside her. She had told Jane to look after Quinn at the hospital while she took care of some personal business for a couple hours. Jane trusted her. But I didn’t lie to Jane, she told herself, I didn’t tell her I was doing this, I just said I had business to attend to, and this was it. Get over it, and keep moving. I can tell her about it later, if I want to, later, after it’s over, maybe.
Daria ascended the nearby staircase. Her sweating right hand gripped the railing as she went up. I should not be doing this, Jane would kill me, but I will do it. I could turn back at any moment, but I will go a little farther and see what’s there. If I don’t see what I came for, I will leave, and I’ll forget I was ever here. I’ll never tell Jane if I leave now.
On the second floor, Daria ignored the hallway to the right, where Brittany and Brian’s bedrooms lay. She turned left instead, where Upchuck had once led her to Mr. Taylor’s study. She put her left hand on the doorknob.
The master’s study, said Upchuck all those years ago, peeking inside. Daria would still see his smarmy smile, curly red hair, and freckles. We should stay out of here. He’s not very careful with his big-boy toys, if you get my drift. And he locked the door and shut it. Good old sex-crazed, well-meaning Upchuck. Thanks, Upchuck.
The door was unlocked and swung open at once, the hinges squeaking. Her heart beat like a jackhammer.
Beyond the door was Steve Taylor’s private study. The heads of a deer, moose, antelope, and bear looked out with glassy eyes from the dark wood-paneled walls. Daria ignored them and the bookshelves, sports trophies, hanging pictures of Steve, his new wife, his kids, and his buddies. Some of the pictures showed Steve holding hunting rifles or target pistols. Daria ignored those, too. She went instead to the closed cabinet behind Steve’s leather executive-style chair, looked back at the door and listened, then slowly opened the cabinet.
No alarm went off. No hinges squeaked. Brian did not come in and catch her. Jane disappeared from her mind.
Daria looked inside the cabinet at Steve Taylor’s pistol collection, unlocked and unguarded. Boxes of ammunition sat in clumsy stacks along the bottom of the cabinet space. She stared at the weapons for a long time, judging, gathering her courage.
The pistols she saw were too large and too heavy for her grip. She didn’t even bother to touch them or pick them up. Steve Taylor, she decided, must have huge, strong hands to use guns like these. They were useless to her.
All but the dull black pistol on the lower left.
Daria reached for it.
Should have worn latex gloves. Fingerprints.
No. Doesn’t matter. Let them know.
She picked up the dull black pistol and held it close to her glasses.
ASTRA, said the stamped print on the side of the pistol. A-75. In smaller print: Guernica, Spain. She thought of Picasso’s mural of the bombing of Guernica, marveled at how ironic this was turning out to be.
She turned the black pistol over in her hands and got used to its weight and feel. It fit well in her grip, though two hands worked better. It used a magazine, thoughtfully placed just below the pistol on top of some red and yellow boxes of 9mm Parabellum ammunition. The bullets were bright and shiny, copper and brass. They seemed small and large at once—small for their size, large for what they were meant to do.
She played with the empty pistol, figured out how to put the magazine in and take it out, how to click the manual safety on and off, how to fire it. It fit in the large pockets of her jacket, too. It was too perfect.
I can still walk out of here and away from this. I can still be a coward.
But I can never tell Quinn that I love her. She’ll never know that I loved her.
Never, never, never, never, never, never—
Bringing the folded-up cardboard box in with her, hidden under her jacket in back, proved to be a waste of time. Brian Taylor never saw her leave. He never mentioned her visit to his dad or stepmom when they called later, either, but he did enjoy his beef stick, his new Game Boy, and the twenty-fifth replay of his Matrix DVD.
Jane checked her watch and looked back at Daria. She appeared drained from the conversation. Drained or fed up.
“So, you’re saying, don’t mess with anything. Don’t ask, don’t tell.”
Daria hesitated too long before shaking her head no.
“She’ll hurt you if I mess with things.”
Daria didn’t know whether to nod yes or shake her head no. “I don’t know,” she said. “It doesn’t matter.”
“It does matter. You matter to me, so it does matter.”
Daria shook her head. “It doesn’t matter anymore,” she whispered. “You matter. Quinn matters. Please take care of her for me, Jane. Please.”
Jane leaned back in her chair and looked at her friend. After a long moment, she rocked forward and put her elbows on the desktop, her face up to the window between them, the phone at her mouth, her eyes on her friend.
“Daria,” said Jane, “I love you. You’re the best friend I have ever had or will ever have. I will always love you, no matter what happens.” She raised her free hand and put it to the window, half covering her face, reaching for Daria. “You do matter, amiga. You will always matter to me. I love you.”
Daria stared at Jane, her eyes wide as moons.
The phone fell out of her hand. She reached for Jane with both hands, pressed her palms to the unbreakable glass, and began to cry.
At two-thirty in the afternoon of March 16th, Daria sat in her dark-blue Lexus in the parking lot of Lawndale High School. It was cool and windy out, the sky gray with clouds. Old leaves blew across the lot under the sea of vehicles. A few students could be seen running laps near the parking lot, dressed in athletic uniforms. Geese called from the sky on their migrations. It was a quiet, average day.
Daria looked exactly as she always did—green jacket, black shirt, black boots, glasses, everything as always—no trace of a disguise, not even sunglasses. She did not get out of her car. She was losing her nerve, because she realized that if she did get out of the car and anyone noticed the bulge in her green jacket pocket, her life as she knew it would be over. She’d be on the fastest possible legal track into the lowest circle of Hell with the other school shooters of infamy, no turning back and no second chance.
Daria kept her attention focused on the back doors of the high-school gymnasium. Skylar and Stacy were giving their speeches now, at the end of school, and soon the assembly would be dismissed and the whole student population of Lawndale High would pour in an endless flood into the lot. Daria was parked four cars over from Stacy Rowe’s white Firebird. Skylar had no car and no license now, so the chances were that when he came out, Stacy would drive him home. It was logical. It made sense.
And when Skylar and Stacy came out to go home, Daria had decided she would start her car and leave, too, and nothing bad would happen.
She swallowed and peeked down at the butt of the Astra A-75, partway out of her jacket pocket. The safety was still on, so she wouldn’t shoot herself by accident. She was fearful someone would walk up on her car from behind and see it, and that would be it.
I could start the car and get out of here, she thought, but I’ll just wait here. I have to see them. Maybe I can drive off after they come out and see me, just to scare them. I just want to make them think. I almost can’t believe I’m doing this, but I can’t believe they’re getting away with it. The two of them are engaged to be married because Skylar killed my sister. Quinn can breathe, but she has no working brain left. She’s dead, and his reward for killing her is to have Stacy hang on his arm and fuck his brains out, Stacy who said she was Quinn’s best friend, Stacy who couldn’t stand to see my sister in a coma but could easily stand to wrap her legs around the very guy who—
People were leaving the gymnasium.
Daria leaned forward up to the steering wheel, lowering her head.
It was Skylar and Stacy, with two security guards from the high school. The two guards walked them down to the parking lot, the four of them talked, and then the guards waved and watched them walk away.
Toward Stacy’s white Firebird.
Daria’s right hand went to her jacket pocket, fingers curling around the handle of the Astra A-75. It had a full magazine of eight gleaming 9mm bullets, ready and waiting to go. Daria’s fear vanished. She thought of nothing but Skylar and Stacy and Stacy’s car and her comatose sister who would never know she was loved.
Skylar and Stacy walked against the March wind with their heads down, hair blowing, hunched up in their identical yellow and blue Lawndale High jackets. Stacy had apparently forsaken her pigtails, and her light brown hair now blew long and free. Skylar’s face was hard to see through his dark brown hair, which hung over his equally dark, haunted eyes. They walked closely together and in perfect step. Anyone would know at a glance that they were a couple, especially when Skylar put his arm around Stacy’s waist, and she let him pull her close for a hug.
Daria’s left hand pulled up slowly on the door handle, opening the Lexus’s door just enough so that it would not make a noise when she opened it fully and got out. I’ll just say something to them, she thought. Just to let them know that I’m around. I’ll say something they’ll remember.
They got to Stacy’s Firebird and stopped at the driver’s door. Skylar put his arms out and held Stacy’s arms above the elbows, talking directly down to her. Stacy kept her head lowered for a few moments as he talked, then looked up. Daria could hear Skylar’s voice, but she could not tell what he was saying.
Stacy talked next. She put her right hand up to Skylar’s tormented face and stroked his cheek. She said something aloud. Daria heard and understood it.
I love you, Stacy said to Skylar.
He bent his face down to hers. Their mouths met.
Daria slowly opened the door of the Lexus and got out, her right hand still in her jacket pocket. She stepped around the car door and left it open. She walked toward Skylar and Stacy, staring right at them, saying nothing.
She was two cars away when Skylar opened his dark eyes and saw her.
His gaze dropped to her hidden right hand and the outline in the pocket around it.
“No!” Skylar shoved Stacy to one side away from him, away from Daria. “Run!” he screamed at Stacy. “Run for the building!”
“What?” Stacy shouted, regaining her balance. She looked at him, then at Daria.
“RUN!” screamed Skylar, but he looked at Daria’s right hand as it came out of her green jacket pocket with the A-75. He raised his arms and held his palms out at Daria, warding her away.
Giving Stacy time to run.
“God, no!” Skylar’s eyes were locked on the gun. “Don’t do it! Just wait a minute! Don’t do it, Daria!”
The dull black pistol came up in her right hand. Her left hand clamped onto it as well, supporting it, aiming it at Skylar’s upper chest—then right at his face.
Screams filled the air. They did not come from Skylar.
“Daria! Daria, don’t do it!” Skylar put his hands out as if they could stop the bullets from her gun. “Please, in the name of God, don’t do it! I’m sorry! I’m sorry for what happened to Quinn! I swear to God, I’m sorry I hurt her! Don’t hurt anyone else, Daria! Don’t hurt anyone! Listen to me!”
She held that pose, the black gun aiming into his face, both her hands gripping it, two fingers struggling to pull the trigger back.
“Talk to me, Daria! Say something! Talk to me!”
Daria gritted her teeth, hands trembling.
“Daria! Please, for God’s sake!”
The gun wavered in the air, her nerve going out. Speak, hands, for me!
Stacy ran up behind Skylar and shoved past him. She ran at Daria screaming NO! with both her hands out, running for Daria’s gun.
Daria pulled the trigger.
But the trigger didn’t pull. The safety was still on.
Daria twisted the gun around and snapped the safety off with her thumb and turned it forward as Stacy grabbed the gun with both hands
gun jumps screaming ears ring white smoke pink cloud Stacy face red spray head back stumble hit Daria fall down side smear bloody hair jacket smell blood Stacy hit pavement down still hair cover face Daria boots wet smeared red still Stacy red splatter brown hair red masses entangled long hair brains outside head tangled hair soundless ringing ears screaming ringing ears all still red drops all red all
Daria hears someone scream. She looks up.
Skylar walks toward her. He is covered with the rain of Stacy’s brains and blood. He looks down at Stacy and screams her name, then screams at Daria, his words mixing with the maddening whine in her ears. Arms out in his pleas, he walks toward Daria with hands stretched before him, reaching for her
stab pain deaf ringing dark red hole left palm Skylar stop red mist blow back over cars behind stumble back fall red spattered face hit car hood slide fall tumble ground still pool spreads red face smell burnt gun smell blood lower gun down ears ring screaming red all red all stop all red stop stop stop
Daria does not breathe. She stares at the motionless Skylar, then at Stacy by her feet. Her ruined boots stand in a wide pool of blood leaving Stacy’s silent body. Daria’s glasses are speckled with dots of red from a mist falling over her clothes, face, hands, and all things around her. She stares at the silent bodies who were once lovers. She cannot remember why she shot them. She looks down at her boots in the gleaming pool on the dirty blacktop, the gun at her side in her fingers.
She never hears it coming.
A train impacts Daria from behind and slams her into a black van. Her head smacks a window, almost knocking her unconscious. The Astra A-75 is knocked from her hands. She is forced down to the pavement into Stacy’s blood, crushed down with her arms pinned, pushed down too hard to breathe, paper flat. She howls and tries to get up.
“God damn it!” screams an athletics student, one who was running laps. He screams into her half-deaf ears, through the gunshot whine: “What the fuck are you doing? What in the holy fuck are you doing?”
What did I just do? Daria tries to escape, but more feet run up, more hands grab her and hold her down, and she hears through the whine in her head even more screams and wails, sounds that grow louder and never cease. She hears them later in her dreams to the end of her life.
The second Daria dies. The third and last Daria is born.
The guards took Daria back to her cell, ending the visitation ten minutes early. She wept on her mattress alone.
At four o’clock, Jones came by to check on her. She sat on the edge of her mattress, quiet and dry-eyed, and asked to go back to the dayroom. Permission was granted. She was escorted back, and she was allowed to enter the dayroom alone. It already had enough guards. Daria started for her seat in front of the TV.
Sitting in her seat was an older woman in her thirties, six feet tall with long black hair pulled into a ponytail. Her scarred face was handsome, if not beautiful, and her tattooed biceps were enormous from frequent weightlifting. She glanced up at Daria as she approached.
“I was lookin’ for ya, baby,” said Rhonda McIntyre. Her blue eyes glittered like a winter sky. “You all right?”
“I’m okay,” Daria mumbled. She looked for another seat and started toward it.
“Let’s take a walk, darlin’” said Rhonda, getting out of the comfortable chair and stretching. “Nothin’s on TV, anyways. Need the exercise. Don’t wanna rot my brain.”
“Sure,” said Daria, her voice barely audible. She followed where Rhonda led, out of the dayroom and down the corridor in the direction they were allowed to go unescorted. They walked under security cameras and past guard stations, past cigarette machines and soft-drink machines, past the weights room.
Rhonda pushed open the door to the laundry and held it for Daria as she went in.
“You want me to get you some cigarettes?” asked Daria. Not this, not now.
“I wanna know ‘bout your visitor,” said Rhonda in a friendly tone. She let the door fall shut. No one else was in the laundry room. Rhonda walked toward Daria, and the room got very, very small.
“An old friend,” said Daria. She backed up and bumped into a dryer. “From Lawndale.”
Daria nodded. “Friend from high school. No one special.”
Rhonda was very close, a foot away. She smelled of sweat, fresh from working out. “She was special enough to make you cry,” she said, looking at Daria’s eyes.
Daria tried to frame an answer. “I just lost it,” she finally said. Her gaze wandered to a spot on Rhonda’s orange prison suit. “I just wanted out.”
“We all want out, baby,” said Rhonda gently. “Jane, was that her name? One you used t’ tell me ‘bout by e-mail?”
“Uh . . . yeah, Jane. She—”
Rhonda’s right hand came up faster than thought.
Daria fell to the floor, the left side of her face exploding hotter than a blast furnace from Rhonda’s roundhouse slap. When she could think through the mad haze of pain, she realized her heavy-frame glasses were gone. She felt for them by instinct.
A heavy shoe came down in front of her. Something snapped beneath its heel.
“Uh-oh,” said Rhonda. The boot moved. Daria stared at the remains of her glasses on the laundry-room floor. She pulled herself closer. The frame had snapped in several places, popping out both of the unbreakable polycarbonate lenses and snapping both earpieces in two.
“She your girlfriend?” Rhonda asked, kneeling next to Daria’s head. “That Jane?”
“No,” Daria whispered, voice shaking. “No.” She put her right hand out to the ruins of her glasses to scoop them up.
Rhonda put a broad, heavy hand over Daria’s small one and pushed down gently.
Daria jerked and gasped as something sharp stabbed into her right middle finger. “Ow! Ow! Stop!”
“She your girlfriend, baby?”
Daria couldn’t pull her hand free. “Ow! No! Stop!”
Rhonda lifted Daria’s hand but held it tight by the wrist. Drops of blood ran down her palm and fell to the floor.
“Don’t hurt me! She’s just a friend! Please—”
“Please! Don’t hurt me! Please don’t!”
“Shhh, baby. Be quiet for me.”
“Don’t hurt me!” Daria gasped, crying. “Please, God, no!”
Daria closed her eyes, weeping. The fingers on her right hand tried to close, but she spasmed with pain. A long sliver of broken plastic from an earpiece had cut into her middle finger. It was as sharp as a knife.
As a knife.
She fought her tears and forced herself to be calm. She flexed her hand. The sliver stayed in her middle finger.
Daria looked up at Rhonda. Her eyes and nose ran. “Don’t hurt me,” she gasped softly. “Please don’t hurt me.” A pause, a whisper. “I love you.”
Rhonda drew back. Her eyes widened and her mouth fell open.
“I love you,” Daria whispered. “Don’t hurt me. I love you.”
Rhonda stared at Daria in disbelief. “I love you, too, baby,” she whispered back.
Daria tried to rise, but Rhonda was too close. “Kiss me,” Daria said, her face wet. “Please kiss me.”
Rhonda let go of Daria’s wrist. Her broad hand gently came up under Daria’s head and held it steady as she got on her knees and bent her face to Daria’s. Daria’s left hand went to Rhonda’s arm, touching her orange jumpsuit, the great muscles and scars and tattoos beneath it, the skin and smell and taste that Daria knew too well.
Their eyes closed.
Their mouths met.
Daria’s bleeding right hand came up gently to touch Rhonda’s cheek, then lowered until the side of her hand touched Rhonda’s collarbone.
The sliver of plastic from her middle finger was now gripped between her nailless thumb and forefinger.
In a quarter of a second, the inch-and-a-half shard went into and through the left side of Rhonda’s throat, through the layer of muscles down to the left carotid artery, and through that and a few other arteries and veins as well.
It was over in less than a minute. Rhonda punched Daria down and struggled to her feet. Her hands tried to clamp off the massive bleeding, which proved to be impossible. Bleating in terror, she tried to get out of the laundry room, bumping into the machines in blind panic. She got to within a few steps from the closed door, then fainted and fell on her back beside the first row of washing machines. Her struggles ended a few moments later. Her body bled out in silence.
Daria pushed herself up, clutching the left side of her face. She watched Rhonda’s orange jumper turn to a dark, wet color down her front, across her left arm and shoulder, and dark pool around her widened and touched everything it could reach.
It was very quiet. Daria wiped off her face and mouth on her orange sleeve. Her skin was sticky with Rhonda’s blood, but it didn’t matter. She soon scooted across the floor and settled herself against the washing machines, sitting upright. With infinite care, she lifted Rhonda’s head to her lap and pressed her injured right hand against the larger woman’s neck, covering the wound that still gently bled. With her left hand, she closed Rhonda’s eyelids and stroked her long black hair.
Daria tried to say “I love you” again, but the words were not there. Rhonda would not reply anyway, just like Quinn. It was still possible that Rhonda could hear her, but Daria hadn’t said those words to Quinn when it mattered, so she said nothing now.
What goes around, comes around, Daria thought absently, stroking Rhonda’s hair. Only blood will wash away blood. We are links in a chain of evil, joined to the past and future. She wondered what Quinn was doing at that moment. Jane was on her way home—Jane, who would take care of her sister, whatever happened. They would be safe from the chain that bound Daria. Jane would keep Quinn safe.
I love you, Daria thought to Jane and Quinn. I love you.
Closing her eyes, she waited for someone to walk into the laundry room. She knew the value of patience in her present environment, so the wait did not bother her. With luck it would be Jones, but it did not matter. Nothing did anymore.
Original: 5/28/03, modified 12/21/03, 10/28/04