Disclaimer: This Daria and associated characters are owned by MTV. This is fan fiction written for entertainment only. No money or other negotiable currency or goods have been exchanged.
Original characters and plot copyright Richard J. Lobinske. 2004.
This is the fourth story in the Falling into College series.
The ringing alarm on the right side of the windowsill was stopped by a well-placed hand rising and dropping directly on top of it.
"Oh me, oh my. A lovely day is dawning. Oh, what a joy I didn't wake up dead."
Daria shook her head. "I'm going to kill Trent for telling me about that dream."
She sat on the side of her bed and reached to the left side of the windowsill to pick up her glasses. Daria covered her eyes with her other hand.
"Okay, you can hit the room lights."
Karen sat at the new computer on her work desk. She had the desk lamp on; behind her was an oriental print, folding room screen. It blocked light from reaching the sleeping end of the dorm room. She reached to the other side of the door and flipped the switch for the main room light.
Daria softly groaned, blinked her eyes a few times, and then put on her glasses. "I agree to morning. Good has yet to be determined."
Karen folded the screen and set it against the wall. She was barefoot, wore short, cut-off jeans and a white t-shirt, emblazoned "Georgia FFA 1999".
Dressed in her typical sleepwear of a t-shirt, shorts, and socks, Daria made her way to the coffee maker atop her dresser. She spooned sugar and powdered "milk-like product" into a travel mug, added coffee, and stirred.
Capping the mug, she picked up a zippered toiletry kit from the end of the dresser and headed out the door.
"If I'm not back in thirty minutes, send a rescue party."
Holding the coffee mug before her like Diogenes' lamp, Daria slowly made her way down the hall to the communal bathroom. A passing woman in a pale yellow bath robe and waist-length black hair greeted Daria with a muttered, "Morning."
"Hm. Morning, Anna."
Once inside, Daria found the room contained three other floor residents: Jenn, a roundish girl with narrow glasses and brown hair; Carly, an African girl with severely short hair; and Robin, a tall brunette.
Daria muttered greetings, by name, to each, who returned the favor in various levels of coherence.
She went through her morning routine, finishing by carefully brushing her full, auburn hair.
Feeling human again, Daria returned to her room. She booted up her computer and opened an overhead cabinet to retrieve a box of toaster pastries. She pulled one out and began to nibble on it cold while waiting for the computer. Alternating between food and coffee, Daria checked her email, scanned her morning news page, checked the weather and followed a couple of online communities.
Karen looked up from the bowl of grits she was eating. "How can you eat those things?"
Daria smiled at her roommate. "Even though I lived in Texas more years than I want to remember, I can't figure out how anyone can eat that wallpaper paste."
"It's an acquired taste. Helps to make my own, you just can't get good grits in Boston."
"Figures you would try."
Daria finished her breakfast and moved to her closet. After opening the door, she removed her sleepwear and deposited them in a laundry basket within. Rummaging through her dresser, she located fresh undergarments and put them on, also dropping the used items in the basket. She pulled a pair of pants from a hanger and started to put them on.
"These jeans are tight."
"I must have gained some weight. My jeans are tight."
"So, you do notice your body."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Daria replied with annoyance.
"What it sounds like. Except for the care you lavish on your hair, you seem to ignore or hide your body."
"I just don't get overly concerned about my appearance."
"I don't think so."
"I dress simply and functionally. How does that define concerned?"
Karen was thoughtful for a moment. "Daria, you're concerned the other way. You go to a lot of effort and worry to conceal what you look like."
Daria replied irritably, "I don't like to be judged on my appearance."
"Really? I think you dress specifically so that people will judge your appearance as plain."
Daria's eyes narrowed, she tugged to pull up the zipper on her pants. She quickly located a light, slightly oversized sweatshirt, yanking it down abruptly over her head. Her face displayed deep frustration
"I'm not interested in discussing this."
"I can tell. But, I'll be here if you change your mind."
Daria put on some socks, and quickly added her boots. She tied with practiced speed, and then grabbed a backpack from the floor next to her desk and opened the door.
Daria's eyes were wide with anger. "See you later."
Daria swiftly walked along the sidewalk next to the central quad, her anger palpable to all around. Students passing by steered to give her a wide berth.
Daria thought about what had happened. Why am I so upset?...Freshman spread is a common occurrence…Students eat irregularly and with less care, and spend more time sedentary…Five to ten pound is the common amount.
Daria stopped outside Warner Hall, her destination.
Because it forces me to do one of two things I abhor, diet or shop. Damn. Daria walked up the stairs to face her first class of the day, Advanced Freshman Composition.
Karen sat at a booth in the main cafeteria, toying with her lunch more than eating.
"Hey. Is this seat taken?"
She looked up to see Derek, a fellow student in General Biology.
"Nope. Have a seat if you like."
Derek tore into his sub sandwich like it was the first thing he'd eaten in a week. About halfway through, he stopped and looked up.
"Anything I can do?"
Karen stared ahead for a while. "Do you remember my roommate, Daria?"
"Little thing, reddish hair, glasses, kind of quiet?"
"That's her. Please bear with me. How do you think she looks?"
"She has a nice face, hard to tell more with the clothes she wears." Derek suddenly looked concerned. "Ah, man. She's not having some kind of eating problem?"
"Like, not eating and hiding it with the clothes."
Karen gave a frustrated sigh. "She does look like she's doing that, with what she wears. To answer your question, no, she's not."
"So what's up? You wouldn't be asking if something wasn't bothering you."
"She really is nice looking, but seems to be afraid or embarrassed by the way she looks."
"Something scare her?"
"I don't know."
"Don't look at me; I want to be a gene jockey, not a shrink."
"But, you've still helped. I owe you one."
"How about dinner then?"
"I pick where we go."
Daria sat under a tree, picking at the sandwich she grabbed from the Raft Sandwich Shop. She dejectedly thought about her options.
A Quinn-like regime of diet soda and carrot sticks...Blech…Fighting my way into stores for more clothes shopping…Also blech.
Daria watched one the campus squirrels lope up close to her. It raised itself up to an upright position and struck a cute, begging pose.
"Sorry, nothing for you today. From the looks of it, you could stand to lose a little weight too."
Daria watched as the squirrel stared at her for a while, and then moved off toward some other students. A mix of worry and anger crossed her face.
Why am I so mad at Karen?...Because she was right?...No…I'm not hiding…I make an effort not to be concerned about appearance…Why do I do that?…Because you don't like to be judged that way…Why is that?...Because it is completely shallow…Completely?
Daria shook her head violently. "Time to stop that line of questioning."
Karen sat in the student union, by one of the pay phones. She stared at the two columns of notes she had jotted down about what might be going on with Daria. She shook her head and thought.
Her body image problem is sounding serious…She reacted badly real fast…I must have been close…This is too much like Laura…No, this can be stopped short if something is done now…But, I don't know what really is going on…I need more information…No chance of getting to her diary in that lockbox…She has a sister.
She fumbled in her purse and pulled out a phone card and an address book. Dialing, she muttered, "I hope I can catch her."
Quinn entered the empty house and gave a sigh. With how much her parents worked, and her friends now going off to separate interests, she was home, alone, more often. She found herself going on fewer dates now, too. Many of the boys she had gone out with before held no interest, and her reputation for appearance dates had caught up with her. Fewer boys were interested in taking her out, when they knew that there would be no future in it. Maybe if she attended a school with more than ninety seniors, she could find more dates. She thought of how happy Daria was for much of the time she dated Tom. Lindy and Trent seemed to be happy together, too. It was two weeks, and Lindy was still clean. The ringing telephone interrupted, so she walked to the kitchen to get the cordless phone.
"Hi, Quinn. It's Karen."
"Karen? Is Daria alright?"
"Physically, yes. Emotionally, I'm getting worried."
"She can be that way."
"Do you mind if I ask a few questions about her? This may get personal."
Quinn was uncertain. "Um. Why?"
"I'm trying to figure out what's bothering her. She won't talk."
"Quinn, you are currently my only source for good information."
"Why should I trust you?"
"I'm your sister's friend, and I'm worried. Please hear me out for a while. I'll back off if you ask me too, but could you please try to help me some?"
Suspicious, Quinn said, "Okay."
"How long has she been hiding her appearance?"
"She hasn't worried about how she looked for as long as I can remember. Not that I haven't tried to help her."
"I'm not talking about worrying; I'm talking about outright hiding what she looks like."
"What do you mean?"
"Exactly what I said. She wears shapeless clothes that hide what she looks like. The only people here that have a clue to her real appearance are the girls on this floor that she has to share a bathroom with."
"I never thought of it that way. I just pictured it as a kind of cluelessness on her part."
"Quinn. This may not be easy to talk about. Did somebody attack her?"
"Was she assaulted? Or something that would make her ashamed or afraid of how she looks."
"No. Nothing like that ever happened."
"Something happened. Nobody develops a self-image problem like this in a vacuum."
Quinn's face paled and she sat down at the table. "I think I know what happened."
There was a long pause before Karen asked, "How could you be responsible?"
"For as long as I can remember, everyone's considered me cuter than Daria. I always took attention from her, even for things like her birthday. By the time I started school, she'd stopped trying to compete against me for attention."
"When she was twelve, I started calling her cousin because I was embarrassed by how she looked. I openly insulted her and tried to give her makeovers every chance I had. I wore her clothes to a Fashion Don'ts party. I didn't publicly admit she was my sister again until last year."
"Ouch. Quinn, you may have contributed, but you're not the only reason. You weren't around her all the time, particularly in school. What about that?
"Starting in first grade, the other kids called her egghead or four-eyes. She's had glasses for as long as I can remember, and has always been bookish. Mom and Dad got called into school a lot because she wouldn't associate with the other children. By high school, she was the brain with ugly clothes."
"From the time I've known her, it's clear she's brilliant. I take it she was quite advanced as a child."
"She was reading things like Black Beauty in first grade."
"Wow. I'm starting to get a picture now. Was she always small for her age?"
"As much as I can remember."
"How often did she get complimented on how she looked when she was growing up, compared to compliments on her intelligence?"
"Um…Um…I can't really think of her getting complimented for anything but her intelligence. She also got picked on for that. But it was also the way she fought back.
"How does this sound? She was a small, intelligent girl with glasses, who was often picked on by other students and felt alienated from them. At home, she couldn't compete with you for attention. So, in defense, she withdrew into her books and tried to separate herself from the world that hurt her. As she got older, she developed a body that attracted the kind of attention she no longer knew how to accept, and associated with people that caused her emotional pain. Therefore, she began to hide her appearance so she wouldn't have to deal with it."
"God. That makes so much sense. That would explain why she avoided her prom, or why she was so freaked out at that award dinner."
"Fill me in."
"For her prom, she called it an overpriced high school dance. She and Tom spent the night watching Carrie. Last summer, Mom had some big, black-tie function with the Bar Association; the entire family had to be there. We got Daria fitted for a gown and she, well, my Dad almost fainted. Mom insisted she take it with her, you should see her in it some time. She was the center of attention for the young men, I would have loved it. She was looking really freaked out, until she fled with some author lady.
"If I'm right, she must have been almost in a panic, or total disgust."
"But when she had to wear it for some honor society function with several of her friends, she seemed to be more comfortable."
"Those were people that knew her for herself and not her looks."
"That's right. How come we never saw what was going on?"
"I speculate that you were too young to understand what was occurring, and the process was probably so gradual that your parents made the same assumption you did. I guess because I saw things from the outside, it was more obvious."
"But why didn't her friends see it?"
"I don't know. But I suspect because I'm seeing her fresh, but still in fairly intimate situations that even her close friends, or you, wouldn't see her. It was one of those that finally made me worry."
"We have to get dressed in the same room every morning. Well, I've known from the beginning that she didn't dress to impress. But, I saw that she cared about herself some, her hair takes a lot of tending to, and she's meticulous about it. So, it's been dawning on me that she was hiding more than not caring. A couple weeks ago, I said how pretty she was, and that I had been worried about her being followed by a bunch of guys. Her reaction was one of disbelief and sarcasm."
"I can see that, she wouldn't want to be compared to how I used to behave."
"Actually she did make a snide remark about you. Back to my point, that started to get me worried. Any other girl I know would have appreciated the compliment; Daria was noticeably uncomfortable with it. Not just that she intellectually didn't want to. Something deeper emotionally disturbed her about it. She made a comment today about her jeans being tight and that she must have gained some weight."
"Daria was worried about her weight? Now that's news. I could never figure out how she ate the way she did and didn't gain weight."
"Gaining a few pounds during your first semester of college is common. I've probably put on five pounds myself. The important thing is, when I made a crack about her actually paying attention to her body, she got very upset. The idea hit me then that she might be trying to hide her appearance, when I mentioned that, she stormed out of the room."
"Oh. You know, you mentioned her hair. I think some part of her was trying to show off a bit. You saw what she was wearing when you arrived?"
"Green jacket, black skirt, and boots."
"She wore that through most of high school, weather permitting. The jacket hid her upper body and hips well, it was so bulky. But the rest, a short black skirt and form-fitting boots. Shows a lot of leg. Everyone at school knew how nice her legs were. But nobody said anything, didn't want to be at the receiving end of her sarcasm. Over time, the effect of the jacket and her attitude made people forget about them, unless you asked."
"I see. Thanks for answering things for me. I still have a lot of thinking to do before I talk to Daria again. Could you keep a lid on this with your parents? Until we have confirmation of my hypothesis, I don't want them going psycho on us. Even after, it may not be a good idea."
"You can trust me on that."
"Quinn, I'm not going to sugar-coat this. It looks like you did contribute a lot to her problem. But probably no more than she contributed to some of yours, or that I contributed to my brother, or he shared with me. Siblings traumatize each other; it's what they do best. Instead of blaming yourself, worry about helping her."
"I'll do what I can. I've always kind of looked up to her, even when I thought she was embarrassing me. Now I realize just how much I was hurting her. When did life get so complicated?"
"The day we were born, we're just now noticing. Look, thanks for your help. Don't be too hard on yourself."
Quinn turned off the phone and returned it to the base unit. Her hand went to the answering machine, stopped, and then moved away. She methodically turned and walked upstairs to her room. Once inside, she locked the door, and set her books down on the floor.
"Daria, I'm sorry." She covered her face with her hands and began to cry.
Daria stared up from her bed. It was early evening and she had little motivation for anything.
"No cracks, what a boring ceiling."
Daria sat up and turned to look out the window.
"I've been thinking about things all afternoon…Let's analyze the situation and settle it……I've gained weight due to simple chemistry and biology…Caloric intake has exceeded caloric expenditure, the difference converted to fat…Have I significantly changed my eating habits?...Sugar tarts or toast for breakfast: no change…Generic school lunch: again, no change…In-dorm cooking or cafeteria food for dinner: probably better for me than frozen lasagna or Dad's cooking…Minimal exercise in mandatory PE class: same…No involvement in sports: also no difference…Primary transportation: on foot…Same again."
Daria looked back and forth some at the interior quad. "I'm not walking halfway across town or more twice a day. That's the difference."
Satisfied at finding the probable cause, she stood and went to her desk. She pulled a local map from the shelf, opened it, and sat down. "Walking for exercise, the danger has arrived. I'm turning into my mother."
"Now the other problem…Why am I so mad at Karen?...She only made a simple wisecrack and I took it too seriously…I was mad at myself and took it out on her…Everybody has to deal with weight issues, I'm just not used to it…I should apologize."
Daria nodded. "I really do need to. She was being observant and having a little fun."
Daria leaned back in the chair and continued. "That's not all of it…Oh, yeah…The hiding thing…Which I don't do…Then what else can you call it…Rebellion against conformity…Then why the terror?...It was only a case of nerves…Oh, really?...What about how much you hated yourself for dressing like Quinn?...That was a special case…Why change back so soon?...Why stay dressed like an airhead idiot?...What about the poster?...You know, beauty has an ugly price…What motivated…"
The door opened, and Karen walked in.
"Hi. How're you doing?"
Daria jumped at the interruption; then looked down. "I owe you an apology."
Karen closed the door and sat at her desk seat, resting her arms on the chair back. She rolled the chair close to Daria, conveniently in front of the door. "I'm listening."
"Karen, you may not believe this, but I've never had a weight gain like that before. I've always considered myself inactive, but I realized that I walked miles a day for years, first around Highland, then in Lawndale. Everything is closer here, so I haven't been walking as much, hence the weight. It scared and upset me; I took it out on you. I'm sorry."
"Apology accepted. Anything else?"
"What really got you upset."
"What do you mean?"
"That you're hiding how you look."
Daria was suddenly angry. "I am not."
"Daria, you are. I'm going to have to use your main weapon against you, logic. The only way for me to be convincing is to present my hypothesis to you as clearly and factually as possible. I can't soften this any, either. I've spent most of the day on this. You're probably going to get more upset, but I called and got some background information from your sister."
"What! How dare you start snooping around like that?"
"Because you're my friend"
"You have a strange way of showing it."
"I'm worried about this self-image problem of yours. I've already had one person ask me if you were anorexic and hiding it. That's not a good sign. I don't want you hurting yourself."
"When did you become a psychologist?"
"I'm not. I'm a concerned friend trying her best. You don't have an eating disorder now, but, you know as well as I do, that something like that can be easily triggered when somebody has a low opinion of their own body. I've already been through one friend doing that."
Karen stopped and choked slightly, before covering her face for a moment. She inhaled and said, "I don't know if I could live through a repeat."
Daria abruptly stood. "Get out of the way! I want to leave." Her voice was filled with hate.
Firmly, Karen responded. "No. Not until you've heard what I have to say."
Daria backed up a step in frustration. "You're bigger, stronger and more physically fit. I don't have a choice, do I?"
Daria sat down, folding her arms in front. "Fine. Talk."
"I learned that you were picked on from a very early age for your glasses and your intelligence. Other children called you names and took advantage of you being smaller and weaker. Your sister hogged attention at home, and was perceived as prettier. You've mostly lived with your books and learning. You were perceived as a brain."
Daria winced at some of the memories the comment sparked. "Okay, primarily correct."
"You came to associate an attractive appearance with those that hurt you."
Daria turned away from Karen. "Yes."
"While what satisfaction you had came from your intelligence."
"As you grew up, you started to hide yourself more and more to avoid the fact that you were becoming attractive, like those hurting you. As you developed as a woman, this exacerbated the problem."
"Now, you've reached the point where you fear or hate your own looks. You feel like a traitor to yourself when you do allow your attractiveness to be seen."
Daria remained silent and motionless. Karen had built the case well. Daria's mind ran the logic against her self-perception, and found her perception flawed in the face of the theory Karen presented.
"But a small part of you still wants to be appreciated for how you look. Hence, the way you care for your hair, or how much you would show off your legs in high school. You wanted somebody to see through and say you were pretty, without hurting you."
More silence. Daria barely allowed herself to think, Who doesn't?
Daria's analytical mind grasped the truth of the situation and cast down the illusions she had lived with. The resulting shock struck deeply and painfully. Her shoulders shook slightly. Karen gently spun the desk chair around so she could see. Daria's eyes were tightly closed and wet. Her face was strained as she fought back tears.
She choked out a whisper. "Jane said it, particularly in her paintings. Trent did, too. Mom and Dad tried."
"What about your boyfriend last year?"
Daria opened her eyes, looked straight at Karen. "A few times."
Karen shifted nervously in her chair. "You know I'm not doing this to hurt you?"
"Am I right about what's been happening to you?"
"I don't have any fast answers. I'll stay here as long as you want me to. I've lost one friend before, I don't want to loose another. I think you should talk with your sister; this is probably upsetting her as much as you. Talk to Jane. See if your friend's diaries have any wisdom. Finally, consider some professional help."
Daria managed a small smile.
Karen rolled her chair next to Daria and put an arm across her shoulder. "As for the weight problem, go for more walks. Diet soda tastes nasty."
Daria smiled again.
"Do you want to leave now?"
Daria managed a very quiet, "No."
Do you want me to leave?"
Daria sat on her bed, propped up on folded-over pillows. She still wore her clothes from that morning. Her eyes were sad and moist behind her glasses. Other than "2:47" glowing red on the alarm clock, the only light in the room was the small light clipped to the book she was reading. Karen breathed softly where she lay on her bed. The book had a green, cloth-cover, with "1933" neatly written on the spine. Beside the bed, an old steamer trunk, full of similar volumes, sat open. The set of diaries were from Theresa Blaine, a woman Daria had read to at the Better Days Retirement Home during high school. When Mrs. Blaine had died, she willed it to Daria, as the one person she thought would appreciate it.
Mark arrived for our date tonight holding a single rose, as he put it, "For the most beautiful woman I've ever known." That felt like a sunbeam shining through the window on a chill, February morning. It warmed the soul, as well as skin. He is such a thoughtful, caring gentleman. I'm so glad I took a chance to say hi to him.
Mrs. Blaine's diary entry made Daria think about the advice she gave Quinn over a year ago.
"I guess because, um, you got to give people a chance. Otherwise, there's no point to the whole being-human routine."
"I guess I need to start listening to my own advice."
She closed the book and removed the light. Holding it as a small flashlight, she gently returned the diary to its place in the trunk. "You seem to think so, too."
Daria closed and locked the trunk, and pushed it under the bed. She turned the light off and placed it on the window sill. Her glasses followed to their usual spot. Daria crawled under the blanket and tightly hugged her pillow.
Karen's eyes opened to narrow slits and she watched the barely visible, rhythmic shudder of her tormented friend. She whispered, "I hope you slay your demons."
Karen awoke and looked at her clock. 5:50. The slight glow in the room told her a desk lamp was on at the far end, behind the folding screen. She looked over at Daria's bed and saw it was empty. She forced a long yawn, of slowly increasing volume, to announce her presence.
She gently walked to the screen. Daria was writing in her diary, using the silver pen she favored for that activity.
"Hmm." Daria looked up through strained, red eyes. Her voice was lifeless.
"I'll fix you some breakfast."
After folding the screen, Karen prepared and started some coffee, located some sugar tarts and started heating them in the small microwave. She pulled one of her small bottles or orange juice from the tiny refrigerator between her bed and closet. Once everything was ready, she placed all on a notebook and used it as a tray to carry it to Daria.
"I think you need to take the day off."
Daria looked at the presented items, then up at Karen. "Mmm." She nodded and then silently started to eat and drink, continuing to write in her diary all the while.
Karen quickly dressed herself and assembled her books for the day in her backpack. She tossed in her toiletry kit and walked to the door.
"I'll get some breakfast out this morning; it looks like you need some time alone."
Daria looked up. Her eyes showed fear and relief at being left alone.
"Don't forget what I said about talking to people."
Karen grabbed a microcassette recorder from the shelf over Daria's desk.
"This tape clear?"
Daria vaguely shrugged.
Karen pulled the tape out and set in on the shelf where the recorder hand been. I'll pick up a fresh one to be safe. I've got your schedule, so I can record your classes, or get someone to."
Daria gave her a questioning look.
"You're a friend. I'll see you later."
Karen closed the door quietly. After a couple moments, she heard the lock click.
That afternoon, Jane's face showed worry and shock as she sat on her bed, talking on the phone.
"Damn, Daria. I knew you had blind spot about your looks that made you uncomfortable about them. But, I didn't realize things got that bad. I'm, I'm sorry, I didn't notice."
Daria sat on her bed. Her glasses magnified the dark circles under her red eyes.
"Don't be hard on yourself. I did a good job of covering my tracks. Even from myself."
"I'm your best friend, I should've seen it."
"Jane, it took somebody seeing things fresh, and watching me get dressed every day for almost two months, to notice."
"I watched you change in gym class for three years."
"No, like me, you paid attention to yourself. So you wouldn't see if anybody else noticed you."
"Hmm. I guess you're right."
"There might be another reason."
"You also hid your looks in a way. The only times you seemed to wear something more flattering was when it was some kind of costume. Though in your case, it wasn't fear that motivated you, but rebellion against conformity. I think you projected that onto me."
"I always pictured us as the outcast writer-chick and art-chick. Two girls rejected by society and rejecting their looks. It didn't occur to me to think there was something more."
"Fortunately, you could take chances on how you looked, and with meeting people. Please don't lose that."
"I promise. I'll be careful."
"You better. You also may not have realized it, but you were helping me. I would not have been able to stay at the beach last summer if you hadn't been with. I certainly could not have stayed around in a wet swimsuit. Without you here, I seemed to have gotten worse again."
"Well kid, hang in there. Auntie Jane will be there in a couple months to keep an eye on you."
"I miss you. I will be happy when you start school, too."
Jane chuckled a couple moments. "Now might be a good time to tell you something Mack said to Jodie and I last summer. But was afraid to tell you."
"What does he have to do with this?"
"Toward the end of school, the senior boys privately held some interesting votes."
"I don't like the sounds of this."
"You will. Mack was proud, because Jodie was voted to have the best looking legs of the senior girls. Brittany was number two. Though he suspects Brittany's other assets inflated the vote"
"I can see that."
"You were third."
Daria laughed. "Good one, Jane."
"I was fourth."
"I'm not kidding. Mack showed us the numbers."
"Yes. Hold on a minute."
She went to her dresser and rummaged around in the top drawer. She pulled out a folded sheet of paper, with most of it blacked out with marker.
"I found it. Twenty-six point two percent of the vote for Jodie, twenty-three point eight for Brittany, twenty-one point four for you, Sixteen point seven for me. I reckon we had a lot of hidden boot fetishists in the class."
"Jane, thanks. I think I needed to hear that. Wait a minute, if they voted on legs, what else did they vote for?"
"I don't know. Mack had blacked everything else out on the sheet except that. Pleaded the fifth and wouldn't provide any more details, even under threat from Jodie."
"We probably don't want to know."
"Jodie and I agreed."
There was a pause as both mentally digested the conversation.
Jane broke the silence. "Have you talked to Quinn yet?"
"She's next. If Karen was right, she probably blames herself. I wish I'd been up to calling her last night."
"I can't say I entirely feel sorry for her, but she's your sister. She wasn't in study hall today."
"I was afraid of something like that. This isn't going to be easy."
"Hey, please give Trent my thanks too."
"I should get going. Good bye."
"Take care Daria. Good bye."
Half an hour later, Jane set a framed painting on a sheet of bubble wrap. It was a view of Daria at the beach, the previous summer. She wore a blue swimsuit, sat on a beach chair and rested against the arm, apparently in conversation with a young, blond man wearing glasses. He sat upon a towel on the sand next to the chair and looked up in admiration. Jane set a photograph on top, showing the exact same scene. She folded the bubble wrap around the pair and taped it closed.
"It's a little early for your birthday, but I think you need to see this."
Daria sat on the edge of her bed, looking at the telephone in her hand.
"This is going to be the tough one."
She punched in her old home phone number and listened to the rings.
There was a slight electronic clatter before Helen's voice said, "Hello. You've reached the Morgendorffer residence. We're not able to answer right now, please leave a message at the tone and we'll get back to you as soon as possible." The tell-tale, irritating 'beep' followed.
"Hi, Quinn. It's Daria. I…um…managed to check on that stuff in the library for you. Give me a call when you get in and I'll go through it."
Daria hung up the phone. "Dammit."
She went to her desktop computer, started Cannibal Fragfest - Millennium Edition, and lost herself in mindless, virtual violence.
About an hour later, Daria rushed to answer the ringing phone, leaving her game in mid-play.
Helen answered. "Daria, what's going on?"
Daria thought, Damn, why is she home early? All she managed to say was, "Huh?"
Helen spoke in a voice half dominated by anger, half by worry. "Quinn's been locked in her room since yesterday, and hasn't even checked her phone messages. Including your phony one about the library. I got off work early to check on her. Is she in some kind of trouble? Are you covering for her?"
Daria braced herself. She hadn't wanted to face her mother with this right away.
"Mom, I'll talk with you later about this. Quinn is not in trouble. Please let me talk to her, I'm sure she'll take the call."
"Mom. Later, please."
"I don't like what's going on."
"Trust me, I don't either. Let me talk to Quinn."
Helen said each syllable crisply and clearly. "Young lady. Do not think we are through here. We will talk when you're done with Quinn."
In a hard voice, Daria said, "Yes, we will."
Helen marched up the stairs to Quinn's room. She knocked on the door.
"Quinn! Daria is on the phone."
Moments later, Quinn peered through a crack in the door. Her eyes were red and puffy, hair in disarray. Helen was startled by her daughter's appearance.
"I got it."
She watched until her mother switched off the cordless phone.
She closed the door.
"Oh my God! Daria. Are you okay?"
"I feel like I've had half my mind twisted out, thrown on the ground and stomped on. Otherwise, not bad."
"Daria! I'm serious!"
"So am I. I've had a very bad day, a worse night, followed by a gut-wrenching, mental health day. I've had a big part of my concept of self turned upside-down. Karen was right. I haven't been uncaring about my looks, I've been hiding. That kind of screwed-up self-image was a bomb waiting to go off. I think I would have dodged the bullet this time, but the odds were against me continuing to. It's been hard admitting how much I was fooling myself."
Quinn sniffed back a sob.
"It was very lucky Karen noticed something wrong, and wanted to help. I was also lucky to have a sister to help. Thank you very much."
"How can you thank me? Look at how much I messed you up."
Daria forced herself to think. The healing will come from the truth, not the blame.
She swallowed hard. "Quinn. Did you notice how long I treated you like an idiot?"
"I've spend too much of the night, and all day today, thinking about this. It started when we were little, when I stopped trying to compete against you for attention. Like you calling me cousin, I called you cretin. Only I started earlier, and I also didn't stop until last year."
"Daria, I was acting like I didn't have a brain."
"For the same reason I acted like I didn't have a body; you didn't want to be hurt. We were both wrong, and we were both victims. You hurt me for being smarter; I hurt you for being prettier. How about we both agree to apologize and forgive?"
"Quinn, I'm exhausted, and I want to get things cleared up. I bet you're probably not doing much better. This is the best way to do it. Any further mental anguish can wait until later. I apologize, and I forgive you."
"Sis, so do I, I'm so sorry. I forgive you, too."
There was almost thirty seconds of silence before Daria spoke again.
"So, how're you doing?"
"About the same as you, I think."
"Wrung-out, tired, but a little better?"
"Exactly. My mental health day wasn't a joy ride either."
"I know how you feel. I need to talk to Mom next. I'm not looking forward to this. Wish me luck."
"Good luck. Bye. I love you, Daria."
Daria choked a bit. "Bye. I love you, Quinn.
Quinn pressed the hold key on the telephone and walked to the top of the stair. She called down, "Mom. Daria wants to talk to you."
"It's about time." Helen marched to the kitchen and picked up that phone.
Quinn shut off her telephone and returned to her room, closing the door. She lay down on her bed, closed her eyes, and allowed some of the previous days' tension bleed away.
"Daria! Are you going to tell me what the hell is going on?"
"Yes." Daria sighed. The fatigue of the last two days was starting to overcome her. Her vision was slightly blurred, and she felt somewhat dizzy.
"Because of something that happened up here yesterday morning, Quinn and I have been dealing with the fallout of how we used to treat each other."
"What do you mean?"
"The way I used to treat Quinn as a moron, and she treated me as a visual embarrassment."
"Well, Look at Rita and me. Siblings do things like that."
"I wouldn't use the example of you and Rita's running fights. They are the exact reason Quinn and I are trying to deal with things. We don't want to spend the next thirty years at each other's throats. Mom, we were much worse than normal siblings."
"Oh." Helen realized that was a bad example. The rest of the statement sunk in. "What do you mean, much worse?"
"Major contributors to the self-image problems we both developed."
"What self-image problems? You had to go to that self-esteem class, but you graduated so quickly. You seem a little shy, but that's all."
"Considering how much you contributed, it's not surprising you didn't see it either."
"Contributed to what?"
"Things like Quinn not trying academically, because of me."
"But we always encouraged her to get better grades."
"No, you told her to. You held my success up to her as an unattainable goal. The simple fact is, I have a greater innate intelligence, and spent almost my entire life learning. Quinn couldn't compete with me academically, so she avoided it. We didn't treat her like she had intelligence, we just told her to find some. That hurt her. Similarly, Quinn was always more attractive and personable than me. I could never compete with her for attention, so avoided it. You never said I was attractive. You told me to become more attractive, like Quinn. You gave me an impossible goal, too. To the point I began to fear and loath what I looked like."
Helen paused in silent thought. She scanned her memory and could not find fault in the logic. All the parts fit into place so well. Helen's heart sank to a stunning low as she realized, once again, that she had done what she'd sworn never to do. She had treated her daughters like she and her sisters had been treated. Dark thoughts rolled in.
What kind of other damage have I done to my children without knowing?...Why couldn't I get free of my own problems long enough to avoid giving them to Daria and Quinn?...Why was I such a failure?
Helen's brusque tone evaporated to a faint voice. "I'm sorry. I thought we were helping. I'm…we…damn."
After two days of personal turmoil and the sleep deprivation, Daria was not prepared for another emotional rollercoaster. Her mother would be in the throes of blame and the belief she was a terrible parent. Daria knew she had to get her mother into problem-solving mode, quickly. Another trait she shared with her mother, if she could kick-start the problem-solving, Helen could compartmentalize the rest until later.
"Mom, I know. I'm not trying to punish anyone. You once told me that there's no Parenting 101. You were trying to address the problem, but you made mistakes. We all made mistakes in this situation. That's over. Blame will do us no good. Now we try to overcome the damage."
Helen's mind latched onto the offer. She couldn't undo the past, but she could make things better. "How can I help?"
"Be there for Quinn. We made our peace, but I still don't entirely trust her to not blame herself more. For her problem, she got over a lot of that with David's tutoring. I'm proud of how much of that she did on her own. She did well in school last year, and from what Jane tells me, she's still doing fine. She's even tutoring Tiffany during study hall."
"Good." Daria could almost hear the gears turning in her mother's head as she shifted from self-blame to problem-solving.
"I didn't know she was helping Tiffany."
"You probably weren't supposed to. Please keep quiet about it."
Helen's voice rebounded in concern. "What about you?"
"I'm going to look into getting some professional help. In addition, Jane and Karen are more than willing to apply a swift boot when needed. They'll have the annoying habit of keeping tabs on me for a while." Daria hoped the injected levity would help to disarm her mother's renewed concern.
Helen sighed. "Okay. But, don't forget that I'm here."
"I won't. I'm sorry to bring you in so late to this. It's a real long story; I'll fill you in some time in the next couple days, when I'm a little more stable. I'm really tired after the last two days. Please take care of Quinn. I'll be fine here. Good night."
"I'll take care of Quinn. Bye, Sweetie."
Helen put the phone down on the table and rushed up the stairs. "Quinn! Quinn! Do you need to talk?"
Daria returned the telephone to the wall cradle. The full weight of her exhaustion insisted on being felt. "Turning in early sounds like a real good idea."
She staggered some as she carefully moved to her dresser. She removed the clothes she had worn since yesterday morning, and changed into fresh sleepwear. She picked up her toiletry kit from the desk and opened the door. Karen was sitting on the floor outside, filling out some kind of form. Her open backpack was beside her. She looked up at Daria with concern.
"Hey. Done with your mental health day?"
"Um. Yeah. Have you been waiting out here long?"
Karen held up several filled-out pages. "A little while"
"What is that?"
"I'm applying for a part-time job at the Franklin Park Zoo. Good experience, and I can use the cash."
"Thanks. How're you doing?"
"I feel like the Gordian Knot after a visit by Alexander. It's going to take time to really come to grips with this. Don't expect me to go shopping for new clothes soon, I still hate that."
"I'm not too fond of it myself."
Daria knelt and hugged Karen with one arm. "Your boot-print has joined the honored collection on my backside. Thanks, friend."
Daria! By Glenn Eichler and Peter Elwell
Is It Fall Yet? By Glenn Eichler and Peggy Nicoll
Thanks to advice and support by those at PPMB: Mike Nassour, Kristen Bealer, Mahna Mahna, Lawndale Stalker, Parker-man, Isa Yo-Jo, Between_the_Lines, Steven Galloway, and qwerty.
Special thanks to Kristen Bealer and Robert Nowall for beta reading and commentary.
Revised January 2005