Synopsis: Daria makes a fateful, possibly fatal, decision. Will she be convinced otherwise? A literary rebuttal to Wraith’s story “Something Happened.”
Something Didn’t Happen
(With Apologies and Special Thanks to Wraith)
Daria had made the decision. Now it was simply a matter of carrying it through. The better angles of her nature had been mysteriously silent of late. Perhaps they were as emotionally exhausted as she was. She had managed to avoid Jane by being on a different part of the school roof than the two of them usually occupied, and therefore Jane didn’t see her by the school’s western side. That was a good thing, on some levels, because Daria couldn’t face her . . . not now. Her family she was able to tune out with practiced ease, so she supposed they would be no problem to deal with. Sad, really. And if she never saw Tom again . . . well, that wouldn’t be a problem afterward.
As the sun began to dip lower in Lawndale’s western sky, Daria collected her backpack and, with a tired sigh that belied her young age, she made her way to the stairwell that led from the roof. Not really paying attention to her surroundings, Daria tiredly opened the door to the stairwell . . .
“It’s the wrong decision.”
. . . And about had a heart attack when she discovered some guy leaning on the inside of the stairwell’s doorframe with his hands in his pockets.
“AHH!!” Daria yelped, stumbling back a couple of steps. “Who the hell are you?! And what are you talking about?”
Daria looked this guy over quickly as she took another step backwards. He was fully a head taller then her, dressed in a red nylon jacket, black pants and black shoes. His hair was either pulled or slicked back and he wore a pair of partial wraparound sunglasses with rubberized earpieces. He had sideburns that stopped where his earlobe met his jaw line and a moustache that looked like it might need trimming in a day or two.
“The decision you came to a few minutes ago,” the man in the red jacket said, straightening up. “It’s the wrong one.”
“I figured that using the stairway would be a little less conspicuous than the fire escapes,” Daria shot back icily.
“True,” the man in the red jacket said as he walked out on the roof and took in the vista of Lawndale. Daria noticed that his hair was tied back in a fairly long ponytail as he turned around and headed back the way Daria had come from. “However, that’s not the decision that I’m talking about.
“I mean the one that you’ve made to commit suicide tomorrow,” he finished as he passed by Daria.
Daria’s jaw couldn’t have dropped any farther if it had come unhinged from her skull. She stood there for a moment before shaking off the surprise, but the ball of ice that had formed in her abdomen was a lot harder to dismiss. Despite herself, she followed the man in the red jacket across the roof, not noticing that he had come to the exact spot where she had spent most of the afternoon. She caught up to him as he put his right leg up on the parapet and looked into the sunset.
Daria worked her mouth, trying to come up with a sufficiently acerbic line, but could only come up with a weak “How . . ?”
“How do I know that you spent the entire afternoon right here, turning the last few days over in your mind?” The man asked reasonably. “How do I know that you’ve spent the last five or six hours up here wondering how your sister could continuously deny the fact of your relation for nearly two years? How do I know that you’ve been up here since lunch, wondering how you could nurse an infatuation for a young man who, for a variety of reasons, is unattainable? How do I know that you sat up here for the better part of the school day chastising yourself for letting another young man in, only to have him say the one thing that couldn’t have possibly hurt you more if he had tried? How do I know that you’ve spent the last four periods avoiding the one person who has actually taken the effort to see past your cynical bulwark that you’ve built up and decided that she really cares for the real person behind it?”
He turned his head to look at her as the breeze picked up and tossed his ponytail up on to his left shoulder. Al Daria could do was gape at him.
“Feel free to stop me any time I’m off the mark, here,” the man said conversationally, shrugging against the breeze.
“Who are you??” Daria finally managed to ask, her brain forced back into activity. “Hell, what are you??”
“Well, now, those are two very interesting questions, aren’t they?” The man in the red jacket replied with a small smile as he turned and sad down on the parapet. He looked off into the distance as he formulated his answer. “Hmm . . . I am . . .”
“If the rest of that sentence is ‘that I am,’ I swear I’m gonna jump,” Daria said dully.
The man in the red jacket burst out laughing at that, seeming to Daria to be genuinely amused by her statement. He sat there and laughed for a moment, then took his hands out of his pockets for the first time and removed his glasses with one hand and wiped his eyes with the back of his other wrist.
“Oh, Daria,” he said, his laughter subsiding as he replaced his glasses, not really giving her a chance to see his eyes. He put his hands back in his pockets. “I’m a little crazy, to be sure, but I’m not quite that delusional! No, no.”
“No. For the purpose of this little encounter, lets just say that I represent some parts of yourself that you have needed to talk with for a while.” The man tilted his head for a moment before continuing. “And, conversely, they have been needing to talk with you, as well.”
“One of them being my masculine side, right?” Daria said with a dose of hostility. “Thank you very much for putting the capper on a perfectly crappy week, but I -- “
All of a sudden, she was looking at -- a woman?! The sideburns and moustache were done, the face now looked very feminine - it even had lipstick and a little blush. The more obvious details of a female form were suddenly visible, and the hair was suddenly fuller and supplied with an abundance of bounciness. Even the cut and hang of the clothes had changed, but the sunglasses remained the same.
Daria didn’t notice her backpack slide off of her shoulder and fall to the rooftop.
“Look, Daria, if you’re more comfortable having this conversation with a woman, I’ll be more than happy to oblige you,” she said, taking her right hand out of her pocket and to scratch the side of her nose with a red painted nail. Even her voice had become a feminized version of what his was.
The woman looked down at the fallen backpack and stood up. Daria took a frightened step backwards as the woman in the red jacket bend down and retrieved the fallen pack with her left hand.
And she was looking at the man in the red jacket again.
“Sorry, I believe that you dropped this?” He asked, holding out the backpack.
“What do you want from me?” Daria asked in a weak voice, her eyes locked on her reflection in his sunglasses and ignoring the offered backpack.
“First of all, I really want you to breathe. You’re looking a tad blue,” the man said smiling slightly as Daria obliged, albeit shallowly. When it became apparent that she had no intention of reclaiming her backpack, he shrugged and slung it over his own left shoulder. “Second of all, and more importantly, I need you to take a walk with me. If you are intent on going through with it, there are some things that you really need to know beforehand.”
The man in the red jacket made an ‘after you’ gesture in the direction of the stairwell. Daria looked blankly in the direction he was indicating, and then back at him.
“Shall we? I don’t bite, honest.”
It took Daria a moment or two, but she was able to manage to lift her boots from the rooftop enough to slowly make her way back to the stairwell.
Daria and the man in the red jacket stepped out of the roof stairwell and turned into the corridors of Lawndale High’s upper floor. Predictably, it was empty of students, but there was also no sign of the custodial staff, or Angela Li’s ever-present security prowling the halls, searching for imagined violations.
“This will work nicely, I think,” the man said as he looked up and down the halls.
“Is this what you wanted to show me? Badly colored linoleum and industrial lockers?” Daria asked with slightly more strength in her voice.
“It is pretty bad, isn’t it?” He replied, looking at the floor, then back to Daria. “Nope. Actually, I was commenting on the number of doorways that we have here. I think that this will be about the best way to do this. After all, there’s quite a bit that you need to see, and this way, it will be quite a bit easier than walking all over town.”
“You’re not worried about Principal Li’s security goons or cameras?” Daria asked as the two of them began to stroll very slowly down the corridor.
“Oh, they’re not going to be a problem, “ he said casually, waving his hand at the walls around them. “You see, I’ve . . . oh, shall we sayyy . . . taken us out of the loop, I guess would be the best description. We won’t have anything to worry about.”
“Say that again?” Daria asked, frowning.
“We needed time, and I’ve given us some. I’m not sure how it works, but it works,” the man in the red jacket said, looking at Daria’s glare. “Okay, okay, so this whole thing is something straight out of a bad Twilight Zone episode. If I could have thought up something that would have worked better, I would have, but you haven’t given me a whole lot of room to play around here, all right? An artist is only as good as his material.”
“Jane’s come up with some pretty good stuff, with some pretty bad material,” Daria commented normally, before realizing that this was nothing near normal.
“Ah! Jane, that’s the perfect place to start,” the man said with a snap of his fingers. “Have you thought about how Jane’s going to take all of this?”
“Actually, I have,” Daria replied. “But she gets her catharsis through her art. I suspect she’ll come up with some rather haunting works.”
“Mmm,” the man in the red jacket said absently as he looked into an empty classroom. “Here we are.”
“What do you mean? It’s an empty room,” Daria said as the man in red reached for the doorknob. “Besides it’s . . .”
The man reached out and grasped the knob, turning it easily and pushing it open. Beyond the doorway, however, was not an empty classroom.”
“ . . . locked . . .” Daria squinted into the open doorway, not quite believing what she was seeing. ”What the hell?”
Daria took a step through the doorway, the man in the red jacket leaning on the doorframe like he had been in the stairwell earlier. Before them lay the waiting room of the hospital emergency ward. Helen was crying her eyes out on Jake’s shoulder, who was looking more stressed than Daria had ever seen him in her life. If someone had tapped him on the shoulder and said “hi,” Daria suspected that he would have a massive coronary.
Quinn lay across a couple of chairs next to Helen, her head in Helen’s lap and curled up in a near fetal position. Her shoes were in a big zip lock bag on the floor in front of her, stained red. Quinn’s make up was smeared and her eyes were very red. In fact, she seemed almost catatonic. Sitting on a near by sofa, Jane was holding onto Trent or dear life. Trent sat quietly, an infinite look of sadness on his face as he gently stroked Jane’s hair. Tom Slone sat alone in a corner of the room. Whether or not his exile was self-imposed or laid on him by everyone else, Daria couldn’t tell.
“Where is . . ?” Daria started to whisper, but couldn’t finish the question.
“It’s the ER waiting room at Cedars of Lawndale,” the man in the red jacket said from his spot in the doorway. “It’s about . . . half an hour since you followed through with it.”
Daria noticed that he was using a normal tone of voice. No one in the room seemed to notice them. She turned to say something to him and noticed that the door they had come through was set into a conveniently blank part of the wall.
“Don’t worry, they can’t see us or hear us,” he said from his place in the door. “They couldn’t even if we wanted them to. All we can do is watch.”
“Like there’s anything I’d have to say to them by this point,” Daria said flatly, fixing her parents with a glare. She turned her gaze to Jane for a moment and her expression softened some. Then she turned to look at Tom, and it hardened again. “I don’t have much to say to you either.”
“He couldn’t hear you, anyway,” the man said in response.
“Well, still . . . “ Daria said with a shrug.
“I want you to go and take a closer look at Jane,” the man said. “What’s she doing?”
“She has her nose buried in Trent’s chest,” Daria said, looking at her friend again.
Daria walked over to where Trent and Jane were sitting and leaned in and took a closer look at Jane. Her eyes were screwed tightly shut, and looked to be somewhat swollen from her crying. In between sniffs Daria could just barely make out Jane whispering something into Trent’s chest. Feeling somewhat uncomfortable with the whole situation and half expecting to be discovered, Daria leaned in a little further to hear what Jane was saying.
“ . . . please, God, don’t let Daria die, I’ll do whatever you want, just please God, don’t let Daria die,” Jane inhaled with a quiet, wet sniff.
“She’ll be okay, Janey,” Trent whispered, barely able to be heard. “She’ll be okay.”
“She has to be, Trent, she’s my Best Friend,” Jane sniffed. “Please, God, don’t take my Best Friend, please, please . . .”
Daria stood up, unable or unwilling to listen to any more. She looked down at her friend for a few moments.
“I’m sorry, Jane,” Daria said to her friend. “But you’ll forget me in time.”
“Will she now?” The man in the red jacket asked from the doorway to Lawndale High.
“Yes, she will,” Daria said, walking back towards the doorway. “She’ll lose herself in her painting, throw a few hundred exacto-knives at her dartboard, and her grief will pass, and she will forget about me, and she will move on.”
Daria and the man in the red jacket watched as a paramedic delivered a large manila envelope to Daria’s parents. Helen took the letter from him, and she, Jane, and Tom stared at it for a time before Helen collapsed against Jake and started sobbing again.
“You seem awfully sure about that,” the man said. What about Trent? What about Tom? What about your parents and sister?”
“Trent will understand in his own way, Daria said looking around. “Tom will probably rationalize it into being his fault. I hope he goes broke on therapists. And as for my family . . . they’ll heal.”
“You think so don’t you,” the man in the red jacket said sadly. “Why don’t we see, hmm?”
The man gestured behind Daria, and she turned to see a doctor come out of the large doors that led to the trauma center. Jane spotted him first as he walked slowly down the corridor, removing his gloves, surgical gown, and other protective garments and depositing them in a trash can as he passed it. By the time he opened the door to the waiting room, every eye was on him. He walked in and sat down near Helen and Jake.
“Mr. and Mrs. Morgendorffer?” He asked, even though it was obvious. “Your daughter lost a lot of blood before she was found. I’m sorry . . .”
Helen came completely unglued at that, and Quinn sat straight up in her chair.
“NO!! You’re wrong!! SHE CAN‘T BE DEAD!!” Quinn wailed through her tears. The next moment she was on her feet, alternately pulling on the doctor’s arm and beating on his chest with her small fists. You gotta go back and try something else! She’s not dead! You gotta go back!! MY SISTER IS NOT DEAD!!”
As Quinn railed at the doctor, Helen and Jake held each other and poured out their grief with their tears. Jake tried to keep Helen from sliding off of her chair and onto the floor, but he was having a hard enough time not doing that himself. Jane held tightly to Trent for a few seconds before tearing out of the waiting room as hast as her runner’s legs could carry her.
“Janey, wait!” Trent called after her as he tried to follow her out, but he stood little chance of keeping up with her without a car.
Tom had gotten up out of his chair and went over to Quinn and tried to pull her off of the doctor, who was having little luck in dissuading her.
“Come on, Quinn, leave the man be,” Tom said quietly as he tried to take Quinn’s forearms in his hands. “He did the best he could.”
“YOU!!” Quinn raged, yanking herself away from Tom’s grip, clenching her fists at her sides. “This is all your fault! If you had never showed up in her life, Daria would still be here right now! This is all your fault, you son of a BITCH!!”
Quinn’s punch, even though there wasn’t a lot of power behind it, managed to stagger Tom back a pace from sheer shock and surprise. Daria wasn’t sure who looked more surprised - Tom, who was checking his lower lip for blood, or Quinn, who had both sets of knuckles in her mouth, amazed that she had actually thrown a punch.
“Nice punch,” Tom quipped sadly, knowing he probably had more than one coming.
“Omigod! Tom, I -- “Quinn stammered.
“It’s okay, Quinn,” Tom said as he put a hand gently on Quinn’s shoulder. Quinn took a step forward and collapsed into him. “It’s okay.”
“Oh God!” Quinn started crying again. Bawling, really. “Oh God, Daria, why? Why?!”
“I think we’ve seen enough here,” the man in the red jacket said as he stood up and took a step backwards into the corridors of Lawndale High. “Come on. Lots more to see.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Daria stood in the hall while the man in the red jacket closed the door behind her. The two of them started slowly walking down the corridor again, and the man in the red jacket slowly steered them across the hall.
“Grief is perfectly normal,” Daria was saying as they walked. “Give them time and they’ll get over it.”
“This kind of grief is a wound that can take a long, long time to heal, Daria,” the man said as they slowly approached the next classroom. “Sometimes, those wounds don’t heal at all. You just get used to them being there.”
Daria picked up on something in the time of his voice that told her that he wasn’t entirely talking about what they had just witnessed.
“Anyway . . . After Jane went running out of the waiting room,” the man in the red jacket continued, getting back on track. “Would it surprise you to know that she disappeared for three days? Tom, Trent, Quinn, and most of the students and teachers at Lawndale High tore the town and half of Lawndale County apart trying to find her.”
“Bet Ms. Li loved that,” Daria said flatly.
“For a couple of days, it was just her, the janitors and a partial security staff,” he said. “She had made the announcement about you the morning after it happened. By second period, Quinn had gotten word out that Jane had vanished. By around two in the afternoon, about half of the students had left to join in the search. The next morning, nobody worth mentioning had shown up for school.”
“Yeah, right,” Daria said, not really believing it. “So, did they find her?”
“Oh, yeah, they found her. She was in an old storage shack out by the quarry,” he replied. “She was a little rough around the edges, in need of a long shower, and very, very hung over. Your parents delayed the funeral a day to allow her to recover enough to attend.”
“How kind of them,” Daria said coldly.
“Jane and Trent thought so,” the main in red said as he looked through another classroom window. Daria looked as well, curious despite herself.
On the other side of the glass, a sea of familiar faces sat in row after row in some kind of church or chapel. Black seemed to be the predominant color, as well as a profusion of tissues and handkerchiefs. A large number of the women present wore some kind of black veil.
“Your funeral,” the man in the red jacket needlessly pointed out. “Quite the turnout, huh?”
Daria looked on, picking out those she knew personally. She saw Kevin and Brittany had actually managed to peel themselves out of their uniforms and wear something appropriate for the occasion. Kevin had even managed to ditch the pads and football. Daria saw Jodie Landon and Michael Mackenzie, consoling each other a couple of rows back from the front. A couple seats away, Andrea sat as well, dressed in a veil and black mourning dress, tears flowing silently. In front, she saw her mom, dad, and sister and thought that they looked ‘sufficiently mournful,’ as well as Aunts Amy and Rita, cousin Erin and her husband Brian, Grandma Morgendorffer, Tom, Trent, Jane, and the rest of Mystik Spiral. Trent and Jane looked to be wearing some rather expensive stuff that had been tailored just for them.
“Wow, I didn’t know that Trent and Jane owned anything like that,” Daria said.
“They didn’t, at least not until the day before the funeral,” the man in the red jacket said. “Trent pawned all three of his guitars and both his amps to buy those. Jane sold a couple of her earlier paintings to make up the difference.”
“But . . . why?” Daria asked, disbelievingly.
“They wanted to have something special to wear to your funeral,” the man shrugged, turning to keep walking.
“We’re not going in?” Daria asked.
“Afraid not,” the man replied. “Against the rules. Actually, I wanted to show you something else.”
Daria just followed him as he walked across the hall and opened another classroom door. Wondering where this one went to, she walked past him and through to enter . . .
. . .Jane’s bedroom, through one of her closets.
Daria looked around and spotted Jane asleep on her bed with her back to them Daylight was sneaking in around the drawn shades. Daria had always known Jane to be a late sleeper, but something didn’t feel quite right about the setting.
“Recognize that painting?” The man said, pointing to the partially completed canvas on Jane’s easel.
“No, I don’t I . . . ” Daria started to say, then looked a little closer. “Just a minute, she started this . . .”
“The day Tom put his foot in his mouth at Pizza King for the last time,” the man in the red jacket finished for her as he scratched his chin with his thumb. “That would put it at . . . almost two weeks ago, relatively speaking.”
“Two weeks?” Daria asked. She looked like she was going to say more, but wrinkled her nose at something. “What’s that smell?”
“I was wondering when you’d notice that,” the main said.
“Janey?” Trent’s voice came from the hall just before he entered the room. “Janey, you have to get up sooner or later. It’s almost four and . . .” Trent sniffed the air. “Aw man, Janey, not again.”
Trent walked over to Jane’s bed and rolled her onto her back. It was then Daria noticed a small puddle of something that had congealed into a battleship gray stain on the mattress. A small, flat bottle, mostly empty and with the cap screwed on was clenched in her left hand. The middle earring was also missing from her left ear.
“Oh, good lord, Janey, you’re worse than Nick!” Trent commented disgustedly as he looked between the bed and the wall. Apparently, that was where the real mess was. He gently took the bottle from her hand and put it on the bed, then slowly sat her up. “Come on, little sister, up and at ‘em.”
“Oh, go screw yourself,” Jane moaned as she tried to lay back down.
“No you don’t,” Trent replied, holding her up.
“Goddammit, Trent, let go!” Jane slurred. “I feel like shit.”
“I’m not surprised. This makes the third time this week,” Trent said sadly. “You know how she’d feel if she saw you doing this to yourself?”
“Well, she’s not here right now, is she?” Jane shot back. “And her name’s Daria, you moron.”
“Yeah, I know,” Trent replied. “Daria would want you to move on, you know.”
“Yeah, well, Daria’s not around to tell anyone what she wants anymore, now is she?!” Jane yelled at Trent, holding her head in her hands. “Right now, it’s a safe bet that all she wants is a bottle of worm repellant, so don’t you freaking dare to presume to tell me what she would want!!”
“Fine,” Trent sighed as he stood up, shaking his head. “I heard from Mom. I told her what’s going on. She’ll be home in a couple of days.”
“Oh gawd, that’s all I need right now -- butterflies and crystals,” Jane groaned as she snatched the bottle off the bed and opened it.
“Janey,” Trent said as Jane upended the bottle and chugged the last of its contents down. “Don’t do this.”
“Trent, just get the hell out of here, all right?” Jane said, looking at the empty bottle in her hand.
“Okay, Janey,” Trent said sadly as he turned to leave. He stopped at the door and turned back for a moment. “You need to move on, Janey. Daria would want you to.”
“SHUT UP!!” Jane shrieked, throwing the empty bottle at Trent, who expertly ducked out of the way. It exploded on the wall behind him, showering him with pea-sized bits of broken glass and a few drops of cheap whiskey. Trent brushed the glass out of his hair as Jane fell backwards on the bed.
“I’ll go and heat up the bathroom for you,” Trent said as if nothing had happened.
“Thanks, Trent, ” Jane mumbled. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Trent said as he walked off.
Daria watched as Jane dug the heels of her hands into her eyes and started sobbing.
“Oh God, Daria, why?” Jane asked the seemingly empty room, before starting to cry in earnest.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Daria stood in the middle of the corridor of Lawndale High, her fists clenched at her sides and her face contorted in anger. Behind her, the man in the red jacket closed the door that led to Jane’s room. When she heard the latch click, she spun around and laid into him.
“If all you intend to do is show me my friend suffering because of what I’m about to do, then this little tour ends right here!” Daria practically barked. “I already know that she’ll suffer because of it. But I also know how strong she is and I know that she’ll get past it!”
“Don’t worry, that’s the last I have to show you about Jane,” he replied. “But I am going to tell you this: Jane Lane never painted another picture again. She never finished that painting on her easel, she never picked up another brush, charcoal pencil, or sketchpad. The only time she ever picked up a pen or pencil was when it was absolutely necessary.”
“I don’t believe that,” Daria said flatly.
“Well, it’s your decision not to, but it’s the truth,” he said as he started to walk down the corridor again. Daria followed slowly as he continued. “You’ve convinced yourself that Jane is strong enough to actually withstand something like this, but you never did figure out where that strength would have to come from, now did you? You never figured that her strength came from the fact that her Best Friend was around for her to lean on, did you?”
“Are we through yet?” Daria asked coldly as they walked.
“No, Daria, I’m afraid not,” the man in the red jacket replied. “Remember you said that you didn’t have anything to say to your family?”
“What’s your point?” Daria asked. “They never had anything to say to me that didn’t end up in a rant against old ‘Mad Dog Morgendorffer’ or get interrupted by a telephone.”
“True, your parents and sister can be a little overly focused, but they do care about you,” he said.
“Well, now they can focus more on their favorite daughter, instead of the one that always settled for second best,” Daria said with a glower on her face. “And she can focus on being perfect and popular without her ‘cousin’ around to louse things up!”
The man in the red jacket suddenly stopped and turned to look at Daria. His shoulders slumped and a look of exasperation crossed his visible features, eyebrows climbing slightly from behind the sunglasses.
“Oh, come on, Daria,” he said with disbelief. “You can’t tell me that you actually believe that?”
“I have yet to see any evidence to the contrary,” Daria replied.
“Really? Come on, then,” he said as he hitched Daria’s backpack a little higher on his shoulder and walked over to another classroom door. “You need to see this.”
This time when he opened the classroom door, there was an actual classroom behind it. Daria and the man in the red jacket walked into Mr. DeMartino’s history class just as things were coming to a close. Joey, Jeffey, and Jamie, Quinn’s three sycophants, walked past them, grumbling amongst themselves about their usual lousy grades in DeMartino’s class. DeMartino stalked out behind them, mumbling something about renegotiating his contract with the union. Back in the corner of the room, Quinn, Sandi, Stacy, and Tiffany were collecting their schoolwork. Predictably, the workloads of three of them was somewhat light, so as not to interfere with their pursuit of fashionability, but Quinn’s consisted of a large binder and several papers. Daria was a little surprised to see that Quinn had one of Daria’s other jacket slung over the back of her chair.
“What’s all this supposed to be?” Daria asked as she watched her sister from across the room.
“You’re so sure that you sister doesn’t want you around, explain to me why she’s got one of your extra jackets,” the man in the red jacket asked, pointing at Quinn.
“Maybe she’s going to another fashion don’ts party,” Daria replied. “How should I know?”
“Why don’t we just go on back and see, shall we?” The man said as he walked around DeMartino’s desk and headed for the middle of the room, stopping part way down the aisle.
“Can we not and just say we did?” Daria asked with a sigh, but followed anyway. By the time she got back there, Quinn had finished collecting her homework and was in the process of pulling on Daria’s jacket.
“You know, Quinn,” Sandi was saying in her snotty valley girl voice as Daria and the man in the red jacket approached unseen and unheard. “Don’t think that I haven’t noticed that you have been practicing some rather questionable fashion statements over the last few weeks. Like, you’ve been wearing that - ugh - jacket almost all the time. It’s like you've let your weird cousin’s bad fashion sense rub off on you ever since your parents, like, threw her out or whatever.”
Quinn’s cheeks flushed red, Daria saw, and she closed her eyes tightly against an emotional response, as she picked up her binder and headed for the door. Behind her, Stacy immediately picked up on Quinn’s change in demeanor. Even the usually oblivious Tiffany caught the change in ‘temperature’ and looked worried.
“Uh, Sandi, maybe we -- “ Stacy started, but was silenced with a glare from the head fashion fiend.
“And then there’s this sudden penchant for studying that you have suddenly developed,” Sandi pressed, following Quinn. She hat hit one of Quinn’s buttons and wasn’t about to let up. “Like, don’t you know that all that reading gives you wrinkles? It’s like you’re trying to take your weird cousin’s place as a loser brain around here.”
Quinn slammed her binder down on DeMartino’s desk and whirled on Sandi.
“Look,” Quinn barked at Sandi. “If you ever want to make a legitimate claim at being my friend ever again, you will shut up and back off. Understand?”
“Gawd, Quinn, lighten up,” Sandi responded, insulted by Quinn’s reaction. “Like, who died and --”
“ ’Who died??’ “ Quinn couldn’t believe her ears. “Where in hell have you been for the last month?! Daria died, you brainless idiot!!”
“Like, is that all?” Sandi scoffed, checking her nails. “If I was a loser like her, I’d go off and die, too.”
This time, the roundhouse punch Quinn threw was cold, calculated, and would have done a professional boxer proud, and Sandi never saw it coming. Quinn’s knuckles crashed right into Sandi’s nose, sending her sprawling on the floor in front of the teacher’s desk. Fortunately for Sandi, Mack Mackenzie walked into the room just as Quinn jumped onto Sandi and started pummeling her as fast as she could swing her arms. Jane, looking like hell, and Andrea were two steps behind him.
“Shit!” Mack exclaimed, dropping his books and heading for the two combatants.
Mack stepped in and grabbed Quinn around the middle, quickly securing her arms to her sides. He pulled her off of Sandi and held her a good foot off the ground. Even though he out-massed and out-muscled Quinn by a considerable margin, she was struggling and kicking so hard that he was having a hell of a time keeping a hold of her.
“Damn you, Sandi Griffin!” Quinn shouted, struggling against Mack’s grip. “Daria was my sister! If getting some piece of her back means I have to lose friends like you, then the hell with you! You can take your stupid Fashion Club vice-presidency and choke on it! Dammit, Mack, let me go!!”
Mack turned around and put Quinn down in front of a shocked looking Jane and Andrea, who immediately grabbed Quinn’s arms when she tried to get around Mack and go after Sandi again.
“Get her out of here,” Mack said as he grabbed Quinn’s binder off of the desk and shoved it into Stacy’s arms.
“What? I -- “ Stacy stammered, somewhat in shock.
“Just get her the hell out of here before one of the teachers shows up,” Mack said in his football team captain voice.
“What about her?” Andrea asked, nodding at Sandi as she restrained Quinn.
“I’ll handle it, now scram!”
“Gotcha, Mack,” Jane said tiredly as she and Andrea took Quinn out of the room, Stacy in tow. “C’mon, Xena, the last thing you need right now is to be getting suspended. . .”
After a moment, the room was empty except for Mack, Sandi, and Tiffany.
“She’s lucky that you came along,” Sandi said as she picked herself up off the floor, holding her bleeding nose in her hand.
Mack picked up his books and tossed them on a desk in the front row before spearing Sandi with a death glare.
“You’re lucky I didn’t let her pound you into the floor,” Mack said in a tone that lowered the temperature in the room twenty degrees as he walked out.
“Like, what did I do?” Sandi asked as she looked at Tiffany.
“Jeez, and you think I’m stupid,” Tiffany said in her glacially slow way, giving Sandi a disgusted look before she too, walked out of the room.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Daria walked into the corridor of the ‘real’ Lawndale High, half expecting to see the usual throng of students as well as her sister being hauled off for her own good by Andrea and Jane. But these corridors were empty, and Daria took advantage of it by leaning on the lockers on the opposite side of the hall and taking a few moments to collect her thoughts.
“You’re still convinced that your sister doesn’t want you around?” The man in the red jacket asked as he closed the door. “It looks to me like she was pretty clear about that particular subject back there.”
”She was also pretty clear about pounding Sandi, too,” Daria replied, massaging her temples. “What does that tell you?”
“It tells me that Sandi hasn’t got the common sense that God gave a gopher to know when to keep her big mouth shut,” he said. “But, we’re not supposed to be talking about Sandi here, you know.”
“I know,” Daria replied with a sigh. “But Quinn’s little revelation after the fact, relatively speaking, doesn’t give me any immediate reason to change my mind.”
“You ever think that you weren’t giving her enough time to come to it on her own?” The man in the red jacket asked.
“By the time she comes to that conclusion on her own, I’ll be on social security,” Daria replied with her characteristic deadpan.
“Actually, she’s already coming around to it,” the man said, leaning on the locker next to Daria. “And it just might surprise you how easily she manages to do it, too.”
“What do you mean?” Daria asked, genuinely curious.
Sorry, I can’t tell you any more than that. By rights, I shouldn’t have even told you that. But, it’s too late now,“ the man in the red jacket said with a shrug as he stood back up and gestured down the corridor. “I suppose we ought to get this show back on the road. Still a few things that you need to see, yet.”
“You know, you’re weird,” Daria said with a small smirk as she started walking slowly.
“Really? Thank you,” the man in the red jacket said with a smile and a slight nod. “You’re not the first to say so, by the way. How so?”
“You show me all of this and drop hints about things being one way or the other when it’s just as likely that they will revert back to their old patterns of behavior after the novelty of the situation has worn off,” Daria said with a shake of her head. “Quinn would never survive school without her vapid little clique, and it’s more likely that she’ll go running back to them, despite whatever Sandi tries to pull on Quinn in the meantime.”
“You’re not giving your sister enough credit,” the man in the red jacket said with a shake of his head.
“My parents do,” Daria said bitterly. “Green . . . gold . . . platinum. And when that’s screwed up, they just giver her plain old cash.”
“You know, you‘re not giving your parents enough credit either,” he said with a rueful smile.
“Oh, God, can we just not talk about them, please?” Daria said icily. “Mom and Dad and their part time parenting are one of the proximate causes of all of this. Odds are, neither one of them knew I was gone until they noticed a funny smell coming from someplace.”
“Proximate, maybe, but not primary,” the man replied. “On top of being baby boomers and going through the sixties, they had their own screwed up home lives. Something that I’m quite sure you’ve been told about time and time again.”
“The old ‘nature versus nurture’ argument?” She asked.
“Well, more like nurture versus history, really. Plus a few other factors. You’re dad for example,” the man in the red jacket said, seeming to warm to the subject. “I know he takes every chance he can get to rail at his father’s memory for everything from the price of a dozen eggs on up the scale. Jake’s problem was that his old man didn’t know how to be a father any more than he does, and with all respect to your grandmother, Stacy Rowe has more backbone. Your grandfather went to one extreme, sending Jake off to a military academy the first chance he got, whereas Jake goes the other way and is virtually a hands off kind of father. He’s not nearly as clueless as Helen thinks he is. He’s only scared he’s going to screw up if he tries even a little, he afraid that he’s going to go to the same extremes as his father did.”
“Dad would never send us to military school,” Daria pointed out. “Mom would flay him alive if he tried.”
“With a dull spoon, and Jake knows it.” The man in the red jacket finished for her. “You’re mother’s home life wasn’t all it was cracked up to be either. Helen’s old man married someone who had bought into the adage ‘keep ‘em in the kitchen, barefoot and pregnant.’ The mistake that they made was trying to sell that line to their kids too. Had the Barksdale sisters been Barksdale brothers, it would have been a different story.”
“Not to mention a medical impossibility, and probably illegal in this state,” Daria said with a smirk.
“Very true,” the man said with a chuckle. “Your mother was pretty well on her way to buying into the woman as housewife only thing, but she was doing it her own way. But as soon as she saw how fast Rita climbed onboard that bandwagon and how she sucked up to her parents, Helen decided damn quick that it wasn’t for her and started drifting towards for the Flower Power movements. Over the course of the years, she got it in her head that she could be a successful professional as well as a successful parent and homemaker. She also decided that she could change the system from the inside and started going to law school. First she started bucking the system, then she started working it to her own advantage. Hence, Rita, who followed along with the stereotype that her folks put down in front of her, started getting the supposed ‘better end of the deal.’ Your Aunt Amy actually wound up mediating more scraps among your sisters and parents because of it than she’ll ever let on, and got thoroughly sick of it to boot
“That explains a lot about Aunt Amy,” Daria said thoughtfully. “This is where you tell me Aunt Amy is really my mother, right?”
“Afraid not, kid,” the man in the red jacket said with a sigh. “You are the product of Jake and Helen, for better or worse.”
“Worse, I’d say,” Daria replied, dully.
“Now, Daria, I know you don’t believe that, either,” he said quietly. Daria just looked sullenly ahead as they walked, letting him slowly guide her to another classroom door. “This whole dissertation about your immediate relatives to one side, I want you to see something.”
“How did I know that was coming,” Daria said sarcastically as the man in the red jacket reached for the doorknob.
“Daria, exactly how stable do you think your folks are?” The man asked conversationally, folding his arms and looking down at the young woman before him.
“What do you mean?” Daria asked.
“I’m not saying that either one of them is going to go out and buy an AK-47 and start blasting holes in the Lawndale social structure. But I want to know - logically - considering everything that you’ve been through the last couple of days, and everything you’ve seen here in the last little while, “ The man gestured at the corridor behind them. ”Just exactly how do you expect your parents to react to what you’re going to do?”
Daria frowned and actually had to think about that one for a moment before she could respond.
“Knowing my mother like I do, I suspect she’ll throw herself into her work and will have made partner by the end of the month,” Daria said flatly. “My father will probably wimp out and give my college tuition to Quinn and turn my room into a walk-in closet for her new wardrobe, despite her beating the snot out of Sandi back there. However, it’s more likely that he’ll use it to pay off the house and mom’s SUV.”
“Ever the cynic,” the man in the red jacket said with a sigh and a shake of his head. “What about Tom?”
“I’m not thinking about Tom,” Daria snapped.
The man in the red jacket stood there for a long moment, regarding Daria with an almost expressionless stare that she found more than a little disconcerting. The added fact that she couldn’t see his eyes through his sunglasses made the effect downright creepy. Normally, she could automatically tailor her responses in just the right way to get someone to lay off in the fastest possible way, but not this . . . whatever the hell he was. So she decided to fall back on that oldest of standbys.
“What?” Daria asked nervously.
“You know,” the man said, looking at the door he was leaning on, and then at the one across the hall. Then he straightened up and unlimbered Daria‘s backpack from his left shoulder. “We’re gonna skip this one. I think that you need to see something else instead.”
“See what?” Daria asked, wondering what was going to happen next.
“That you’re going to have to find out for yourself, I’m afraid,” he said as he held out her backpack. “I’m not going through with you.”
“How come?” She asked, taking the backpack and slinging it over her shoulder. “Against the rules?”
“No, but I’m still not going through with you,” he said, pointing at the door across the hall. “Go through that door. It’s not locked. When you’ve seen what you need to, I’ll let you back in.”
“Let me back in?” Daria asked worriedly. “What’s in there?”
“Don’t worry, it’s safe. You need to see what’s in there more than you needed to see what was in the others, really. Besides,” the man replied with a small half smile. “It’s the only way off of this floor.”
Daria shot a look at the opposite door, and then back the way that they had came. Wherever there had been a door or stairwell, there was only now a blank and featureless piece of wall.
“What are you . . .” Daria started to say, turning back around. “ . . . talking . . . about?”
The man in the red jacket was gone, as was the door that he was leaning on. The frame where the door had been was now just a piece of blank wall.
“Okay, Daria,” she said to herself. “This little dream is now officially a full-blown nightmare. The only problem is that I’m pretty sure that I’m still awake. In which case, this wouldn’t be a nightmare, but some kind of hunger induced delusion, considering the fact that I skipped lunch. But . . . “She looked up and down the hall again. “Delusion or no, this looks like the only way through it.”
Daria slowly walked over to the remaining door in the corridor. She put her hand on the knob and snatched it back, fully expecting it to be either forging temperature hot or freezing cold. She was more surprised when it was . . . well, normal.
“All right, Morgendorffer,” Daria said to herself, straightening her back and summoning up her courage. “Chin up. Nose up. Let's go.”
With that she closed her eyes, gave the doorknob a deliberate twist, pushed the door open, took three steps forward, and opened her eyes to find herself . . .
. . . in her bedroom at home.
Jake Morgendorffer sat on his daughter’s bed, looking like he hadn’t shaved in quite a long time. With the exception of a couple of small patches, his beard had grown in quite nicely, but it didn’t look like he was taking very good care of it. Her room looked almost exactly like she remembered leaving it that morning. Her plastic cheese wedge and brain models were still intact and where they were supposed to be. The Kafka poster was on the wall over her computer desk, like it was that morning. Even the human bone replicas she usually left in the middle of the floor to freak out the unwary were still there. But there was still something that wasn’t quite kosher about the whole scene, her father and his beard not withstanding.
Daria looked around again and noticed that a wide swathe of carpet between the foot of the bed and the doorway was a different shade of brown than the rest of the rug was. Frowning at that, she knelt down and pressed her fingers into the stain to find it long dried, though a few particles clung to her fingertips as she lifted her hand and examined them closely. She had read enough research materials for her own stories to know with a fair degree of certainty what she was looking at.
“Blood,” Daria quietly said to herself.
Then she realized precisely whose blood it was.
“My blood,” she whispered, almost inaudibly.
Trying to maintain some kind of detachment, she walked around to look at her father. He was sitting on the edge of her bed, slowly turning Daria’s glasses over and over in his hands with infinite care. One of the safety lenses was shattered, but the bits still remained in the frame. Beside him, an open manila envelope lay on the bed, and one of Daria’s school photographs was propped up on a pillow at the head of the bed.
“Dad?” Daria said, looking into her father’s vacant eyes. “Oh, that’s right. I can’t be seen or heard. Damn.”
“Jake?” Helen’s voice came from the hallway. “Jake, are you up here?”
“I’m in here, Helen,” Jake called out hoarsely.
Daria listened to the footfalls in the hallway as her mother came around the stairs and down the hall. She walked over to her bookshelf and leaned against it, hooking her elbow over the corner near the plastic cheese wedge.
“Oh, Jakey,” Helen said sadly as she looked into Daria’s room. She stepped over as much of the stain as she could as she came in the door. “Why do you spend so much time up here?”
“You know, Helen,” Jake said quietly, holding up Daria’s broken glasses. “I should really take these in and get them fixed, but I . . . uh . . .”
“Oh, Jakey,” Helen whispered, tears in her eyes at the sight of her husband.
“I, uh, can’t quite bring myself to do it,” he said, his voice breaking, then clearing his throat.
“Jakey, she doesn’t need them now,” Helen said quietly, sitting down beside Jake and putting a hand on his shoulder.
“Yeah, but, ya know, she might, and,” Jake said, his voice cracking again. This time he took a deep, shuddering breath, blinking as he tried to hold back tears.
“Come on, Dad,” Daria said. “Lay into old Mad Dog Morgendorffer like you usually do. Let’s hear it.”
“But dammit, Helen,” Jake sobbed, looking at the envelope beside him. “Why’d she do it? I mean I know I’m not the brightest person in town, but I’ve read that letter a thousand times and I still don’t know why! What did I do? What didn’t I do? I know I’ve never been much of a father to either of the girls, but I didn’t think that I . . . What if I make the same mistakes with Quinn that I made with Daria? I mean I . . she . . .Dammit, Helen, she was my baby!”
“She was my baby too, Jakey,” Helen said, putting her arm around his shoulders, giving him a gentile hug. “I don’t know for sure why she did it, either. She always held the world around her to some pretty tough standards. I guess the world just couldn’t measure up to them anymore.”
“What do you mean ‘anymore?’” Daria muttered from her spot by the shelf, actually thankful that her parents were none the wiser to her presence.
Helen was looking around the room, her eyes falling on the various bits that had been her daughter’s life. She pointedly avoided looking at the darker part of the rug as she examined the room around her. It looked to Daria as though Helen as trying to bring herself to broach something with Jake and wasn’t happy with the timing. But she was never one to let bad timing stand in her way when it came to something that she felt she had to deal with.
“Jakey, do you remember how we talked about redecorating in here after Daria went off to college?” Helen asked. “I know it’s difficult to consider, but it’s been nearly two months. Don’t you think it’s about time that we moved on to . . .well, don’t you think that we ought to . . . “ Helen looked around the room. “I mean it’s not exactly like we need the space, but . . .”
“Oh gee, thanks mom,” Daria said, fixing her mother with a dirty look.
“No, Helen,” Jake said flatly. “Absolutely not.”
“Jake, be practical,” Helen said, looking into her husbands eyes. “It’s about time we did this.”
“No, Helen,” Jakes voice broke again as he met her gaze. “All we managed to do is throw away whatever chances we had before. I’m not about to throw our memories in the garbage as well!”
“Jake, that’s not what I’m talking about -- “ Helen started to say, but was interrupted buy the telephone on Daria’s nightstand ringing.
“Ah, saved by the law form of Vitale, Davis, Horowitz, Riordan, Schrecter, Schrecter & Schrecter,” Daria said flatly as Helen got up to answer it. “Gee, Eric, what a surprise - not.”
“Hello?” Helen said. “Oh, hello Marty.”
“Who the hell’s Marty?” Daria asked, incredulous.
“Yes, I could come in and cover . . .” Helen said into the receiver, looking back at Jake. “Could we make it in about an hour? . . . I see . . .Well, it’s a bit of a family crisis . . . Okay, about an hour then. Thanks, Marty.”
“Another big case?” Jake asked quietly, putting the glasses on the bed and picking up the envelope.
“Now, Jakey, you know I quit the firm after, um, well, after,” Helen said gently. “The other manager at the store is sick and they need someone to cover for her.”
“Quit the firm? Store?” Daria was really confused now. “Who are you and what have you done with the real Helen?”
“At least it’s not those shysters anymore,” Jake said flatly.
“Well, it was a little hard to keep my job after you punched Eric out at the wake,” Helen said.
“Should have done it years ago,” Jake said, slowly fingering the envelope as he got up and walked towards the door.
“Maybe,” Helen said as she followed him out. “Look, Jake, I really think that you should get some rest today, okay? You haven’t slept the night through in I don’t know how long. It’s not healthy.”
Daria debated about following them out the door for about a half a second, then decided to take the chance. For some reason, she was careful not to step on the long dried stain as she left her room. She followed her parents downstairs as Helen guided Jake to one of the sofas in the living room. A brightly colored jacket was tossed over the back of the other one, and Daria walked over and examined it, noticing a nametag on one lapel. Her mother’s name was stamped on it in white, next to the logo for the Food Lord grocery store down town.
“Mom’s working for Food Lord??” Daria said, surprised that her mother couldn’t have done better, or that she didn’t go into private practice. “What happened, mom? Eric blackball you?”
Daria stood there and watched as Helen got Jake settled, then stepped out for a few moments. She returned with a large glass of water and a pair of bright green pills. She took jakes empty hand and placed the pills in it, then put the envelope on the table and gave him the water.
“Now, the doctor said it’s all right for you to take two of these, but you’re not supposed to have any alcohol with them, okay?” Helen explained quietly as Jake stared at the two green BBs in his hand. “They’re to help you sleep.”
Jake looked at them for a moment or two before he popped them in his mouth and washed the down with about half of the water. Then Helen helped him lie down on the sofa and covered him with the blanket from the back.
“Now, I’ll be back as soon as I can, all right?” Helen told Jake as she picked up her jacket from the back of the other sofa.
“Mmmookay,” Jake mumbled.
Daria had to wonder just what kind of tranquilizers those were. Whatever they were, they had to be pretty serious to take effect that quickly. But, if what she had overheard was true, then it probably wouldn’t really need much for him to be knocked out. Keeping him out was probably another matter, though.
Daria watched as Helen kissed Jake on the forehead and then headed for the door. She looked at the envelope that Jake had taken with him from her room. Their names were on it in large, handwritten letters and she recognized as her own handwriting. She debated for a moment about trying to pick it up, wondering if she even could and if she could, how her father would react to whatever the effect might be. Finally, when she heard her father snoring, she summoned up her courage and reached for the envelope.
She was surprised that the envelope was solid to her touch. As she lifted the envelope, she wondered what the effect would be of her reading something that she hadn’t even written yet.
“I can’t read this,” Daria said to herself, looking at the envelope she was holding at arms length. “Dammit.”
Daria swallowed once, sat down on the other sofa, reached in the envelope and pulled out the single page that was within and began to read.
“Mr. and Mrs. Morgendorffer:
I feel compelled to try to make you understand something. It can really make no difference to me now, but this is still important to me, perhaps the only thing still important to me. You never really understood it, and consequently have never really understood me, all my life. My last act makes it even less likely that you will be able to comprehend this now. Nevertheless, I must try.
I am not the Misery Chick. At least, I wasn’t, not before this last week. I have always been different. I have always been aware of that. However, I was not miserable. I have seen normal, and I want no part of it. I was always content to take my own path, and willing to let others do the same. I have even been happy, particularly during these last few years.
But the world stands on absurdities. Some of them provide amusement; some do not. Conspiracy theories flourish and we all want them to be true, knowing they are not. We want to have someone to blame, some mysterious force, an Azazel. We never want to admit that it is just us, being our stupid human selves.
Humans are connected to no one. I have felt the illusion of it, as others have, but we remain disparate. Few of us bother to look at things from another’s point of view; it is too depressing when we try. So we ask for and grant each other simple displays, outward signs. Few can cope with those rare refusals of topical reassurance. This, also, I learned long ago, a knowledge not generally granted to children. They say if you know too much, you’ll grow old too soon. I cannot speak for old, but it can certainly make you cynical about the world. And I think I have finally become cynical about myself.”
Daria stopped for a moment to digest the last couple of lines that she had read. That holdover hippy friend of her mother’s, Willow Yeager, had said that Daria had a “very old soul” when they had first met. Daria had immediately categorized her as someone who had done far too many illegal substances back in the sixties. She had never put much credence in that sort of thing. Now she started to wonder if there wasn’t something that she wasn’t considering, or at the very least that Willow knew more than it appeared.
Daria took a deep, deliberate and continued reading.
“I think I understand now what Ayn Rand must have felt, emerging from Atlas Shrugged to find she could no longer project her heroes on the society around her. I am as out of place now as John Galt was then. This is not my place or time, and in the end I cannot forgive myself for being human.
I live in Gehenna by choice. I don’t need to stay here. I could join, at any time. Give reassurance, ask questions I do not want or expect an answer to. Smile emptily. However, the price for that is high, for all that few notice that they pay. We all hug our chains, but I am aware of mine, forged in a different fire, paid for in another coin.
Perhaps I am not being clear enough. You cloak yourselves in sweet nothings. I cloak myself in thought and irony. To Quinn, the outer garments are the person. Can you, now, see past that? I think you can if you try. The potential has always been there.”
Daria had to stop again to consider what she had just read. From what this fellow in red had shown her, it took the trauma of losing her sister for good to make Quinn turn a corner. But the guy had also said that she would start to turn that corner on her own. All she needed was a little time.
She looked down at the more for a few moments, trying to decide if she wanted to continue reading. Unconsciously, her eyes picked up where she had left off, and she continued.
“I have just reread what I’ve written. So much for my swansong. I am no more eloquent now than ever. I have no new persuasions to offer you now, no new insight.
I have fought the trolls, but I grow weary of the battle. As I sit in judgment for the last time, I can speak plainly. Perhaps more openly than before. Perhaps not. I have long defended myself, and the habit goes deep. I try not to attack, for a blow struck at the outside world is always a blow at oneself, but to expose. I am not always successful, and sometimes it is the success itself that causes problems.
There are many things people do not want to hear, and they refuse to listen. The things people do to protect their absurdities… and so I must respectfully return my ticket.
I am out of place, here and now. Perhaps, eventually, there will be a place for me. Eventually, it does not matter. I have been reminded what to expect. Ours is an age proud of machines that think and suspicious of people who try to. What is there, in this, that I desire?
And so I pass into oblivion with my armour on.
Daria sat back on the sofa and closed her eyes, pondering the entirety of her suicide letter, ignoring the fact that her backpack was pressing into her back in an uncomfortable way. She had hit almost every nail right on the head when she had written this, or would when she did. It was true, she was sick to death (she winced at her own bad choice of words) of everyone trying to force her into a mold that she was not cut from. She saw things as they were and had said as much on innumerable occasions, but no one else seemed to want to look past their own illusions of what the world was. Jane had the wonderful ability to see both sides of that coin, and then presented it in her paintings, sculptures, and sketches.
Tom was her intellectual equal in a lot of things, but he seemed to be developing the same problems as the rest of the world. He fought to maintain a carefully constructed illusion of what things were supposed to be when someone strove to pierce it. He hadn’t deliberately been acting like a total cad, he was just reacting in the way that he had been . . . well, trained to. She could have dealt with being angry with Tom for his comments on the story that she had originally shown him. She wouldn’t have talked to him for about two weeks, but she figured that she would have recovered with Jane’s help. It would have been a damn long time before she ever showed Tom another story, that was for sure.
Then there was that idiot O’Neil’s eulogy assignment. Ever since that accident with Tommy Sherman and the goal post, everyone seemed to come to her when something involved misery, sadness, and death. Daria had been the focal point of half her English class, O’Neil included, and had managed to survive it by tricking the lot of them into engaging a couple of brain cells and thinking for themselves. Easier with some, harder with others, but successful none the less. She had to smile slightly at the fact that she had even came out ten dollars ahead, thanks to that airhead Sandi. She figured that she could have dealt with O’Neil too.
Daria put the suicide letter back in its envelope and tossed it back onto the coffee table, the letter landed in about the same place that Jake had put it. He’d never notice that it had been moved, Daria was sure.
Daria stood up and adjusted her backpack. Had the events of the last few days come in on their own, they would have just bounced off her armor, and she could have dealt with it all. The one other person she had let through that armor had, either deliberately or accidentally, hit her with two devastating blows exactly where they could have done the most damage: her intelligence and her detachment. Then Jane had betrayed her with that phone call to her mother, telling her everything that had happened between her and Tom over the previous week. That had been, and was still, the final straw. Then there was the prospect of the oncoming weeks of bungled attempts at parenting sandwiched between calls from the law office. She didn’t want to even imagine what Jake’s attempts would be like. She loved her father, but she had to agree with what he had said up in her room: he had all the subtlety of a tap dancing elephant when it came to parenting.
No. Her decision stood.
“You might as well let me out of here now,” Daria said to the air around her. “I don’t know what else you wanted me to see around here, but I’ve seen all I care to, thank you very much.”
“No, you’ve seen what you were supposed to see,” the man in the red jacket said as he came down the stairs. “I was hoping it would have been enough to make you change your mind.”
“Sorry to disappoint you,” Daria said as she watched him come to the bottom of the stairs.
“It seems that you are just as stubborn as I’d been told,” the man said as he opened the front door. Beyond it was the roof of Lawndale High. The shadows were no longer or shorter than when they had left, and Daria suspected that the sun still hung in its same place in the western sky.
“What, no corridor? No more doors?” Daria asked with a trace of sarcasm in her voice.
“Nope, we’re pretty much done,” he said, making his ‘after you’ gesture. “Shall we?”
“What about Tom?” Daria asked as she stepped out of the front door of her house and onto the roof of the high school. “You’ve shown me just about everyone else, why not him?”
“Because you’re afraid to,” the man in the red jacket said as he closed the door behind them. “Everything that I’ve shown you about Quinn and Jane and your folks you have wanted to see. Anything that you want to see about Tom, you’re afraid to see. Hell, you’ve got your plans locked in so tightly that you can’t see anymore. You’re afraid that what you might see concerning him might just change your mind.”
“What are you talking about now?” Daria asked as they slowly started walking to the spot in the western side of the building that she had been sitting at all afternoon.
“ ‘A blow struck at the outside world is always a blow at oneself.’ You wrote that in your note, or rather you will write it,” the man in the red jacket said as he looked into the hovering sun. “There’s a small corner in the back of your mind where you are beginning to realize that the inverse is also sometimes true.”
“You’re nuts,” Daria stated flatly as they came to the parapet.
“Am I?” The man in the red jacket shot back, his frustration slowly beginning to show. “After everything I’ve just shown you and told you, don’t even pretend to claim that I’m wrong about that. We both know it’s true, just as sure as we’re standing here.”
“I’m not even sure that we’re standing here, so that really does little to convince me,” Daria said, putting her backpack on the roof once again. She sat down cross-legged in front of the parapet and crossed her arms on it in front of her. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to put an ending on this miserable week.”
The man in the red jacket slid his hand under his glasses and rubbed his eyes, grumbling a little in frustration, and stood there for a long moment studying the girl on the roof in front of him. He knew that he had to be getting through to her on some level, but trying to gauge this girl’s reactions was the next thing to impossible. He knew a few people who would have given a vital organ to have a poker face like that. He’d only seen her react twice through their little foray: when he had initially arrived, and when she let him have it over what she saw in Jane’s room. Well, he still had one more card to play.
“Daria,” the man in the red jacket said as he sat down on the roof next to her with his back to the sun. “What do you think I am?”
“You said that you were supposed to be representing parts of myself that I needed to be in contact with,” Daria replied.
“That’s what I said, yes. But what do you think?”
“To be honest, I don’t know,” Daria said, looking at him sidelong. “One of Quinn’s celestial middle managers, maybe?”
“No, I’m not a guardian angel,” the man said with a slight smile. “Nor am I one of those who’s supposedly trying to tempt you to the depths of hell, either.”
“So then, what are you?”
“Well . . .” the man said, and then was quiet for a moment before continuing. “There’s a theory out there that goes something like this: For every decision that you make, at least two new universes are created, one where you choose A and continue, the other where you choose B and continue. That’s where we come in. We deal with what might or might not happen and keep an eye on things and keep them on what looks like the right track. We can influence, but aren’t supposed to interfere directly. Unfortunately, it’s not an exact science, so to speak, and has resulted in some pretty monumental screw-ups over the years.”
“Like what?” Daria asked absently.
“Look at your history book,” the man said with a chuckle, before turning to look Daria in the eye. “We deal with what might and might not happen, kind of like thumbing ahead in a book to see what happens next. Every once in a while, we come across something that might, but must not happen. Sometimes it’s something little, sometimes it’s something horrendous. And, every once in a great, great while, one of us has to interfere directly. . . Like now.”
Daria didn’t say anything, but just turned and looked at him with a cocked eyebrow. He had her attention now, at least for the moment. Now he had to keep it.
“As disturbing as this sounds, Daria,” the man in the red jacket continued as he slowly took off his sunglasses and look Daria right in the eye. His eyes were quite an interesting shade of blue. “I’ve been watching you for quite some time, and I have seen a lot for you.
“I’ve watched you live. I’ve watched you die. I’ve seen you live through Y2K disasters come horribly true. I’ve seen you ride fire through the stars, and command a nuclear submarine through the depths. I’ve seen you mourn the loss of friends and family and I’ve seen you come to the defense of friends and family with an unbelievable fervor. I’ve witnessed you dealing out revenge the likes of which would make the classical authors shudder. I’ve seen you hold your family together through sheer willpower, and I’ve seen you survive its breakup. I’ve seen you rescue your friends and be rescued by them from situations that would make your hair stand on end, or make you sick to your stomach.
“I’ve even seen you fall in love,” he finished quietly.
“Oh, yeah? With who?” Daria asked rhetorically.
“With Trent . . . With Tom . . .With Jane,” he said, eliciting a look of total shock from Daria. “Yes, we even see that stuff. Though I do try and avert my eyes at the squishier parts.”
“I’ll just bet!”
“Well, most of the time, anyway,” he said with a shrug. “The point that I’m trying to make is this, I suppose; I don’t see anything else. Ever since Tom said what he did a week ago, I’ve been trying to. Before, I had seen you and Trent raise two beautiful, talented, and incredibly intelligent girls in world turned on its ass because of that Y2K bug. I’ve even seen you and Tom reconcile your differences ten years after a fight worse than this. But I cannot see beyond what is going to happen tomorrow morning.”
“Sorry to spoil your fun,” Daria said levelly. “Good thing there’s plenty of alternate me’s to follow.”
“Not after tomorrow, there won’t be,” the man in the red jacket said sadly. “Every branch has to come off of that central source. Cut that source off and the branches, as well as the support they provide, will collapse. That isn’t even the saddest part of this whole thing.”
“What is?” Daria asked, not really wanting to know and just wishing that he’d go back to wherever it is he came from.
“I have to work around a set of fundamental rules, and I’ve broken damn near everyone of them showing you what I have today,” the man said, propping his arms up on his knees and twirling his glasses between his fingers. “There’s still one thing that I can’t get around however, and that is how much, or what parts, of this you’ll retain. In the end, it’s still even money one way or the other. But, hopefully, it’s enough to make you stop and think for that extra second, and make the right decision.”
“I guess you’ll find out, won’t you?” Daria said, staring off into space.
“I guess so,” he said, replacing his sunglasses and standing back up.
“I do have one question, however,” Daria said, turning to look at him. “What was behind that door you changed your mind about?”
The man in the red jacket looked as if he was deciding whether or not to answer that one.
“Tom,” he simply said after a moment.
“Oh,” Daria replied quietly, before turning back to her original position.
“Farewell, Daria,” the man in the red jacket said. “I hope you make the right decision...”
And with that . . .
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Daria had made the decision. Now it was simply a matter of carrying it through. The better angels of her nature had been mysteriously silent of late. Perhaps they were as emotionally exhausted as she was. She had managed to avoid Jane by being on a different part of the school roof than the two of them usually occupied, and therefore Jane didn’t see her by the school’s western side. That was a good thing, on some levels, because Daria couldn’t face her . . . not now. Her family she was able to tune out with practiced ease, so she supposed they would be no problem to deal with. Sad, really. And if she never saw Tom again . . . well, that wouldn’t be a problem afterward.
As the sun began to dip lower in Lawndale’s western sky, Daria collected her backpack and, with a tired sigh that belied her young age, she made her way to the stairwell that led from the roof. Not really paying attention to her surroundings, Daria tiredly opened the door to the stairwell . . .
. . . and about had a heart attack when she discovered when she discovered Jane Lane pushing the door open from the other side.
“AHH!!” Daria yelped, stumbling back a couple of steps. “What the hell are you doing up here??”
“That’s a hell of a thing to say to a person who’s been tearing the Alcatraz of Lawndale apart trying to find you,” Jane said with a concerned look on her face. “I’ve been looking for you since lunchtime.”
“Jane, I’m tired, and I really don’t want to talk right now, okay?” Daria said, slipping past Jane and heading down the stairs. “Besides, I’m pretty angry with you as well for making that phone call to my mother.”
How the hell did she know about that? Jane stood there dumbfounded for a moment, blinking in the afternoon sun. She has a phone in her room, you dummy!
Jane turned and headed down the stairs and caught up to Daria just below the second floor landing. She quietly followed her out of the school, keeping her peace and trying to formulate how to talk to her Best Friend.
“Daria,” Jane said as she followed her down the sidewalk. “I’ve known you for two years now, and I know you are as stubborn as The Tank’s engine on a cold morning. I’ve seen you happy, sad, pleased, pissed, and even stoned out of your gourd on NyQuil!”
“Oh, god, don’t remind me,” Daria muttered with an embarrassed wince.
“Now, short you of tying me to a tree and shooting me, mi amiga, I am not going anywhere until I know what you’ve got going through that auburn haired head of yours,” Jane said in a tone that brooked no arguments.
Daria, however, was not in the mood. She took a deep breath and turned to tell her friend exactly what she could go and do with her self and . . .
. . .A blow struck at the outside world is always a blow at oneself. . .the inverse is also sometimes true. . .
. . . “It’s okay, Quinn,” Tom said as he put a hand gently on Quinn’s shoulder. Quinn took a step forward and collapsed into him. “It’s okay.”
“Oh God!” Quinn started crying again. Bawling, really. “Oh God, Daria, why? Why?!”. . .
. . . Jane dug the heels of her hands into her eyes and started sobbing. “Oh God, Daria, why?” . . .
. . .Quinn shouted, struggling against Mack’s grip. “Daria was my sister! If getting some piece of her back means I have to loose friends like you, then the hell with you! . . .”
“. . . Dammit, Helen,” Jake sobbed, looking at the envelope beside him. “Why’d she do it?...”
“. . .I hope you make the right decision. . .”
. . . and let out a long tired sigh.
“All right, amiga,” Daria said, using Jane’s Spanish term for friend for the first time that she could remember. “You win. You can help me deal with Helen. Then there’s some stuff from the kitchen that I need to take out of my room. . .”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Balanced on his toes on the apex of a nearby rooftop, a man in a red jacket squatted, his elbows on his knees and looking like a gargoyle in black slacks and red nylon. If anyone could have seen him, that is. He remained there as Daria and Jane walked off into the distance below, nodding to him self in approval, small smile on his face.
“You might as well come on out, I know you’re there,” he said to the air around him.
Walking up the slope of the roof behind him, a woman with long blonde hair pulled back into a severe bun on the back of her head came into view. She wore a white trench coat, white sweater with a thick turtleneck, and white slacks and boots, as well as deep blue, spectacle-type sunglasses. Her hands were in her coat pockets, but her balance was perfect.
“So, what did you think?” The man in the red jacket asked the woman in white.
“What did I think? Do you have any clue as to how much trouble you’re in?” She asked, sounding slightly displeased.
“Probably no more than usual,” he replied.
“No more than usual, he says,” she muttered with a shake of her head. “You have gone out of your way to change things some times, but this takes the cake. You have, very literally, broken every rule in the book with this one, do you know that?”
“Really? Cool, I made a clean sweep of it this time,” he said.
“Oh, for crying out loud, I’m serious!“ She said hotly. “You don’t show them their own funeral, in any way, shape, or form. You know that!”
“Oh, don’t give me that. It’s not like I took her inside and showed her the body,” he replied defensively, still watching Daria and Jane in the distance. “Besides, you were there the whole time. You could have cut me off any time you wanted to, and we both know it.”
“That’s not the point.”
“Really? Then why didn’t you?”
“It wasn’t my place to.”
“Bull,” he said, standing up and keeping his place on the apex of the roof. “That young girl is going to be alive and kicking, come Monday morning. You wanted to see her live, just like I do. You know it. I know it.”
“I want to see them all live, but it doesn’t work that way,” she said sadly.
“No, but there’s no hard and fast rule that says it has to work that way, either,” he replied.
The lady in white had no response for that one. None that would hold water, anyway.
“By the way, I do have one question,” he said, turning to face the woman in white now that Daria and Jane were out of sight. “Who sent Jane back to the roof? I know I had my hands a little full at the time, but . . . “
“Okay, okay, so sue me,” she said with a chuckle. “You’re not the only one who plays fast and loose with the rules every once in a while.”
“I knew it,” he said with a smile. “Careful, you’ll get to like it.”
“Now I have a question for you,” she said. “What was behind that door? I know you told her that it had something to do with Tom, but with everything that that you were doing, I almost thought that you were going to show her going through with it.”
“Well, we’ll never know, now will we,” he said with a small smile. “Besides, I’m not quite that crazy.”
“Yeah, right,” she said knowingly, and then was gone.
The man in the red jacket turned back around and looked in the direction that Daria and Jane had went. He removed his sunglasses and blinked against the breeze for a moment.
“Good Luck, Daria Morgendorffer. Not everyone gets a second chance at their first time around. Use it well.”
And with that, he was gone as well.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
First off, I really have to apologize to Wraith, writer of “Something Happened,” the Daria Fan-fiction that inspired this found at ( http://www.ssw.net/ssw/fansub/fanfic/tz/wraith/something_happened.html ). Call it a literary rebuttal, if you will, but I have read a few Daria fics where she has met an untimely end at her own hand, and finally felt that I had to step in. Literally. Technically, Wraith should probably be receiving co-writer status with this one, as his (or her) story provided a wealth of information for this story, including the letter that Daria wrote to her parents at the end, which I had to copy directly, as well as the scenes from the hospital waiting room, which I embellished on some.
From start to finish, this story took me about four days to write, a personal record considering the emotional weight of the material. You wouldn’t believe the headache I had when I was done, let me tell ya. There are various in-jokes that are spread through out the story, so if you are a Daria fan, you ought to find all of them. The reference to Daria being “stoned out of her gourd on NyQuil,” harkens to Bob Marley’s “A Mid-Spring Day’s Delirium,” (sorry, don’t have the address for that one). I also make a lot of references to various fan-fics spread across the Outpost Daria site, as well as a vague reference to a couple of stories at Mistress Daria’s Dungeon, another fan-fic site. (Please be over 18 if you’re going to read these!)
Thank you for reading my story. And to everyone whom I may have inadvertently ticked off . . .>whimper< Please don’t kill me! I have a kitty to take care of and a house payment!
Legal Drek: Daria and her cohorts are property of MTV and Viacom.
Copyright November 2002
Questions? Comemnts? Even better - a route to Lawndale??
Send ‘em to Greystar@Hotmail.com
And Fan Art! I’d really really really really really really really love it if someone drew some fan art! Really!