Disclaimer: 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 plot copyright Richard J. Lobinske. 2005.
Nothing like being inspired to combine Iron Chefs...Mike Xeno's "Morning After" and The Angst Guy's redux of "Daria's Crash."
This story assumes the events of Is It College Yet? overlapped the events of the later episodes of season 5.
Daria couldn't believe the excruciating pain in her head as she woke up. Keeping her eyes closed, her mind went back to the last thing she remembered.
My fingers ached from clutching the steering wheel as I slowly drove down the interstate. My impulsive trip to the Cove to visit Tom Sloane had turned into a driving nightmare of heavy rain and wind. Suddenly, the cars in front braked and swerved, slamming into each other. Tapping the brakes to prevent a skid, I slowed and eased Mom's SUV to the shoulder of the road, missing the cars in front. Just as the rear tires left the pavement, one of the front tires hit a hole that jerked it hard to the right and yanking the wheel from my grip. The suddenly sharper turn cause the top-heavy SUV to roll to the side. I saw the ground rush toward me through the side window for a moment before things went black.
Okay. Accident with head injury, maybe a concussion. Probably in a hospital. She carefully opened her eyes and was surprised to see that she clearly wasn't in a hospital, but apparently a bedroom with an ornately paneled ceiling. Even more surprisingly, she could see clearly.
A man's voice softly said, "Back among the living I see. How's the migraine doing?"
Daria tried to face the voice and winced from the pain. A hand tenderly stroked her forehead. "I'm sorry you still have it. I'll get your medication and be right back."
The bed shifted as the man stood and walked away. Daria brought her hands up to rub her face and stopped cold when she saw the rings on her finger. Slowly, she rotated her left hand. One was a white metal band; the other was gold with a cluster of diamonds.
Fighting back the pain and the nausea it produced, she forced herself to sit up and look around the room. She was on a king-sized bed in a large bedroom. The matching furniture, dressers, armoire, nightstands and chairs of fine woods showed a refined taste and considerable resources. She was still dumfounded that all of it was in sharp focus.
"I must be dreaming or something," she softly said. Bowing her head to try to clear some pain, she saw she was wearing a white nightgown with lace edging and filled out the top much more than she ever had. "Did I get a boob job or something?"
Faintly, Daria heard a girl's voice from somewhere out of the room. "Is Mommy feeling better?"
The man's voice, what Daria now noticed was a cross between Tom and Angier Sloane's, quietly said, "Shh, Veronica. No, Mommy still doesn't feel well."
"She appreciates the thought. Go keep an eye on your baby brother and let me know when he wakes up."
Baby? She looked back down. That would explain you two. Daria closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Stop that. You're obviously dreaming or hallucinating. You've never been pregnant. You backed out of doing what's necessary to become pregnant.
She felt the man sit back down on the mattress next to her. She opened her eyes and her breath caught. It was Tom…the way she expected him to look around age thirty. He held a glass of water in one hand and a pill in the other.
He smiled and said, "Sorry for the delay. Veronica was worried about you."
Okay, calm down. This isn't real. Sit back and go along for the ride. She said, "Yeah, okay."
"Here's you medicine."
I don't know what's going on, but unknown medication is not what I need. "Look, I think I'll skip the pill."
"Humor me, please."
"Could I please have some time alone?"
"Of course. I'll be downstairs if you need me."
"I meant, completely alone. Could you please take, um, the children somewhere for an hour or two?"
Tom sighed. "Jacob's napping and should be fed in about forty-five minutes."
Her head throbbed and she took a moment to answer. "Okay. After he's been fed?"
"Are you up to feeding him, or should I warm a bottle?"
"I…" Feeding…Whoa! Wait a minute…No! I am not ready to even imagine doing that. "…um, I think a bottle would work better right now."
"Will do." He brushed his hand over her forehead and cupped her cheek. "Are you sure nothing else is bothering you?"
"I'm feeling a little disorientated and want some time alone."
"I'm just concerned. Your migraines always make me nervous."
"How do you think I feel?"
"Sorry. I'll start warming a bottle now and see if Jacob is hungry early. Then, I'll take them over to see my parents." He stood and looked at an alarm clock. "It's three-thirty now. I'll come back around six. How's that sound?"
"You're welcome, and I hope you feel better."
After Tom left, Daria slowly looked around and located a likely door for a bathroom. It took two tries to stand, but she made it and shuffled to the door, glad she was correct. The room was also large, fitted with separate full-body showers and a garden tub.
After taking care of her needs, she started to wash her hands and noticed the mirror. Her face was older, also about thirty. Leaner and cleaner sculpted. Her hair was shorter, barely to the middle of her neck in back. Finishing her hands, she pulled her lower eyelid out and timidly brought a finger close to her eye, fighting back the urge to flinch. However, no contact lens came out. She wasn't wearing any. What the hell is going on?
She moved around the room and tried a dresser. "Boxers. Not mine." She moved to the next. It was a woman's dresser. The contents were fancier than what she was used to, but manageable. "Good. Nothing really embarrassing in there." She located some undergarments, sweat pants and a pullover shirt.
After putting them on, she searched around the room quietly. The armoire contained several stunning formal gowns and several tuxedos. On a back shelf inside her walk-in closet, she found her cheese wedge and anatomical models, slightly dusty and packed in open boxes. After more searching she exited. "Maybe I keep my diary somewhere else? If I am married to Tom, this place is probably huge and I have my own office or something. Better wait until I'm sure he's gone before I start looking around like I'm lost."
About half an hour later, Daria faintly heard a door close. Still fighting the headache, she started to investigate the house. Immediately next to the bedroom was a nursery full of a crib and other baby supplies and toys. She found a photo album on a small desk and opened it. The front page had an 8 x 10 photo of a newborn and printed under it was, "Jacob Constantine Sloane. January 27, 2011."
"Twelve years. I haven't had a dream this vivid since that one about the holiday spirits."
Daria decided the next room must be Veronica's. It held a child's canopied bed, a dresser, a small dressing table, a computer desk and a bookshelf. Ponies and horses were the main decorative element in the room. A computer-printed photo was taped onto the shelf of the computer desk. A girl of about seven or eight sat on a saddled pony with Tom holding the reigns and Daria next to him. The girl had long, straight brown hair and small, round glasses. "At least you got a pony."
The upper floor held three more bedrooms, all prepared for guests by appearance. Moving carefully, she went downstairs and continued her investigation. The house was beautiful and comfortable. She found a cozy family room, large, formal dining and living rooms. A kitchen you'd expect on a chef's TV show and Tom's office. There was a small library with a reading desk. She looked through the desk and found odd papers and such. She sat in the chair and looked around. "Dammit. Where do I write? Where in the hell have I been keeping my diary?"
She stood in frustration and studied the books. "Must be stuff we've stockpiled for the children. I read most of these by middle school."
More confused, she went to the kitchen, sat on a stool and drank some water. "I can wake up any time now."
She was still there when Tom came back, carrying a sleeping Jacob and with Veronica skipping along behind him. The girl saw Daria and sprinted over, wrapping her arms around Daria's legs, happily saying, "Mommy's better."
Tom looked in briefly. "I'll put him in his crib and be back down."
Daria put her hand on Veronica's head, uncertain of the bubbly young girl. The shout had hurt, but not as bad as it would've a couple hours earlier. She placed a hand on Veronica's head. "A little better, but a little quieter, please."
"Sorry, Mommy. I'm just happy you're better."
"Daddy took us to the park to feed the ducks, and then we went to see Grandma and Grandpa."
"That's nice. How are they?"
"Grandma said I'm old enough to go to the Starry Ball this year! Can I?"
"Do you want to?"
Veronica stamped her feet. "Mommy! You know I do!"
"Don't yell at your mother," Tom admonished as he came into the kitchen.
Veronica looked contrite. "Sorry. Mommy was teasing me. She knows I want to go to the ball."
"And I warned you how dull they can get. But if your mother says yes, you can."
Daria said, "You can go."
Veronica jumped up and down, saying "Thank you, Mommy! I'm going to go look for a dress!" before she ran off.
Daria rubbed her head and Tom put his arm around her. "Any better?"
"Some. But I'm still a bit out of it."
"Yeah, you usually are after one of your migraines."
"Please don't think I'm being weird or anything. This is kind of embarrassing."
"You've seen me in more than enough embarrassments."
"Where do I keep my diary?"
Tom's face suddenly became very serious. "Your diary?"
"Yes, my diary. I write in it almost every day."
Tom sat down, looking more worried. "Your diary."
"Yes! Please, don't tease me. I wanted to look something up in it and I can't remember where it is."
Tom took both her hands and held them, sorrow filling his eyes. "Daria…you haven't kept a diary since the accident."
Daria stopped a sarcastic retort. Tom is not that good of an actor. She carefully said, "Why haven't I kept a diary?"
Tom brought her hands together, still holding them. "Humor me a second. When did we first kiss?"
Daria snatched her hands away and stood, furious. "Humor my ass! You should damn well know how much it still bothers me!"
Tom also stood, but didn't react in anger. "Daria…I'm sorry I upset you, but that told me what I needed to know. I'm calling Dr. Alam." He removed a cell phone from his pocket.
"Why are you calling a doctor for me when you're being the insensitive clod? Maybe you should get your head examined."
Patiently, but with concern, Tom said, "Because you haven't remembered that kiss in over twelve years."
"How could I not…?"
"You were in an auto accident while driving to the Cove to see me after a fight with your parents. It resulted in multiple skull fractures and a massive concussion that had you in a coma for two and half weeks."
"I remember Mom's car starting to roll..."
"You also suffered retrograde amnesia."
Eyes closed, Daria said through her teeth, "Morgendorffer, you can wake up now."
Gingerly grasping her upper arms, Tom said, "You are awake. You're not dreaming. The accident happened on April 10, 1999. Today is Saturday, June 18, 2011. And, your name is Daria Sloane."
Daria stared at him, frozen in place. Tom continued, "The thirtieth will be our tenth wedding anniversary. Veronica will be eight in September and Jacob is almost five months."
Feeling behind her to locate the stool, Daria sat back down without taking her eyes from Tom. "I need a minute."
"I'll be in the family room, calling the doctor. Take your time; I'll be waiting."
Tom walked out and Daria remained on the stool. She pinched one leg hard, gritting her teeth against the pain. "Well, that didn't work."
Daria stood and slowly walked around the kitchen, her hand lightly dragging along the countertops on the way. "Twelve years. Gone. Taken from me like they never happened. College…I was looking forward to it. Damn."
She stopped at the refrigerator and looked at two crayon drawings held up by magnets on it. "And children. I never could imagine that. Though I suppose I should be glad I don't remember the actual childbirth. And that one of them is housebroken."
Resting her head against the appliance, Daria realized her headache was gone. "I should be grateful for small favors. I guess outright shock will do that." She turned and leaned back against the door. "Children also means that Tom and I…it was only a couple weeks ago that we agreed I wasn't ready for that kind of intimacy. What am I going to do?"
"Nine-fifteen, Monday morning. Thank you for fitting her in. See you then." Hunched forward on an overstuffed leather chair, Tom folded his cell phone and set it on the chair's side table.
"She's eighteen again. I could hear it. The girl I started dating is back. But…what about the one I fell in love with? The one who remembered a different first kiss." Tom remembered.
I was glad the last of the bandages were gone from Daria's head and that a thin fuzz of red-brown hair was already growing from her shaved scalp. Soon, Daria's hair would cover the scars above her left ear. I sat next to her on one of the sofas in her home, to try to help her remember or to comfort her. Just as I'd done every day that summer after her discharge from the hospital. She closed the book she'd been trying to read and leaned against me. I put an arm around her shoulder reassuringly.
Daria turned her head up and looked into my eyes. "You've been so good to me." I was unprepared when she leaned in and kissed me. It was soft, warm and unreserved. She hesitantly smiled. "I really like you."
The first kiss since before I'd gone for the Cove felt delightful. I touched her cheek and kissed her in return. "I like you, too."
Sitting up straight, Tom said, "We grew to love each other that summer." Tom looked at the kitchen door. "I hope…you can love me again."
To pass time, Tom had started reading a magazine and didn't notice Veronica entering the room, so he was a little startled when she said, "I'm hungry."
Tom looked at his watch before telling his daughter, "Mommy's not up to cooking tonight. I'll order some delivery. What would you like?"
The girl grinned and shouted, "Pizza!"
He rubbed Veronica's hair and said, "Pizza it is. You do have your mother in you."
The kitchen door opened and Daria stepped into the family room.
"You must've heard," Tom said with attempted levity.
Daria weakly smiled. "I was beginning to wonder what we were going to do about dinner. Sounds like an answer to me."
Tom picked up his phone and went to her, saying, "You always could sniff out pizza." After entering a few commands, he closed the phone. "Done."
Daria stared at the cell phone. "Did you just order it?"
"Okay, now I feel like I'm in a time warp. You didn't say anything."
Tom shook his head. "I'm sorry. I just sent a quick text message to Pizza Prince. They accept orders that way now. Yeah, you have missed a few things."
Veronica tugged at her pant leg. "Mommy, can I wear my fancy yellow dress to the ball?"
I…I have no idea of how to be a mother. "Um…I guess so."
Veronica looked down. "Oh, okay."
Dammit. What did I just do?
Tom squatted down to the child's level. "Mommy's still tired. She knows how much you like that dress and that you're excited to wear it."
The young girl smiled. "Okay." She looked up and said, "Mommy, feel better."
"I want to," Daria said in quiet reply.
Thank God I don't have that headache anymore. Daria stood at the door as Tom lifted the crying baby from the crib and gently bounced Jacob as he took him to Daria.
Jacob's crying slowed and he turned his head toward Daria, leaning in anticipation.
Daria's arms hung loose at her sides. "Tom. I have no idea of what to do. I've never even held a baby before, let alone…tried to feed one."
"You…well, the, um, other you, was a wonderful mother. I think that's something deep-seated and will come out when you have the chance."
"This is a real baby. I don't think on-the-job training is the way to go here."
Tom smiled. "Daria, how do you think you learned the first time?"
"I had to have…"
Tom stood close and said, "Hold your arms like I have mine."
Awkward, Daria tried to assume the same pose.
"Close enough. Remember to support his head." Tom lowered Jacob into Daria's arms. "Okay, now close your arms a little and hold him to your body."
Jacob's crying stopped as she followed Tom's instructions, though the child's excitement continued.
"Was that hard?" Tom asked.
"I'll back with his bottle; why don't you have a seat and get reacquainted with your son."
Sitting, Daria looked down at the brown-haired boy whose fingers clasped the fabric of her shirt. "You have me at a disadvantage. You definitely know me, but I don't know you at all."
I can't believe I'm thinking this, but I really wish I could talk to Mom right now.
Sheet pulled up to her chin, Veronica anxiously asked, "Mommy, aren't you gonna kiss me goodnight?"
Daria stopped and returned to the girl's bed, kneeling down to kiss her on the cheek. She stayed next to the bed as she collected her thoughts. "Veronica. You're a very bright girl."
Daria placed a hand on her daughter's shoulder. "I…" How do you tell a little girl her mother's body has been possessed by someone else? "I want to let you know a little more of what's going on with me."
Worried, Veronica's voice pitched higher. "Mommy?"
"I don't understand all of this myself. I'm remembering things that I forgot long ago and I'm forgetting others."
"What do you mean?"
"It's confusing me. Like kissing you goodnight. I didn't mean to scare you, I forgot about it."
"So I need your help."
"If I forget something like that, I'm not mad at you. Please remind me that I forgot."
"Mommy, you're scaring me."
Daria touched Veronica's forehead. "I'm scared, too."
Tom was waiting in the family room when Daria came downstairs. He said, "I know you must have too many questions to count. Go ahead and ask me anything and I'll bring you up to speed on it."
Daria sat down on the sofa at the distance from him that she was used to. "We're still in Lawndale, right?"
"Outside of town, but yes."
"So we're still close to everyone."
"How are my parents and Quinn?"
Tom tilted his face away from Daria to hide the momentary apprehension. "Quinn's in California now, doing fashion marketing."
"I'm not surprised."
"She's still the party girl and single. Made the tabloids a couple times dating some celebrities."
"Also not surprising. Probably hardly thinks of me at all."
Tom shook his head. "She calls every week. I still don't think she entirely trusts me."
Daria laughed. "How about Mom and Dad?"
Tom swallowed and his back stiffened. "She's a full partner at the law firm and still going strong."
Tom fidgeted and said, "Too bad you missed your parents' silver wedding anniversary. Getting everyone together for that was an unforgettable experience."
"Tom. What about Dad?"
Tom exhaled sharply and lowered his eyes. "Jacob…is named for him."
Daria's eyes widened in shock.
Tom reached for Daria's hand and held it. "He didn't survive his third heart attack."
A hint above a whisper, Daria asked, "When?"
"Six years ago."
Tears filled Daria's eyes and she whispered, "I was mad at him the last time I saw him."
Tom moved over and put his arm around her. Her normal resistance fell and she let him hold her for several minutes.
Finally, she said, "Thanks."
Tom took his arm back, but stayed close.
Daria wiped her eyes. "Jane?"
"She went to an art school in Boston."
"Boston Fine Arts College. I'm glad she got in."
"She's in upstate New York now. Married to a guy named Mike and they have a boy."
"Did she make it as a painter?"
"I heard she does the show circuit, but she also teaches art at a school for gifted students."
"Heard? We don't…she doesn't…"
"Jane…blamed me, saying that if you hadn't tried to drive to the cove, the accident wouldn't have happened and she wouldn't have lost her best friend."
"What do you mean, 'lost?' I'm right here."
"When you came out of the coma…you were almost childlike. It broke Jane's heart to see you like that."
"She ran away?"
"She couldn't bear what happened to you…even after you improved, she'd break down every time. But, she never forgot. She keeps tabs on you through various old friends. And some of them, like Jodie, let me know about her from time to time."
"What about me? Didn't I try?"
"Although you learned who she was, you…or, the amnesiac you, didn't become close, because you saw so little of her."
Daria bit her lip and fought back tears. "That…that must've been terrible for Jane. But, still can't believe she would give up like that."
"This has been hard on all of us."
"I guess. You said she's married?"
"A guy she met in college, student at Raft."
"Funny, Raft was my other first choice of schools. After I recovered, did we go Bromwell together? Veronica must've been born the year we graduated."
"No, we didn't," Tom said with a faint shake of his head. "You were in no condition to go anywhere that fall. I applied to Lawndale State and went there so I could stay close to you."
"I know you were looking forward to Bromwell and your family expected it."
"They were disappointed, but agreed with me in the end that I did the right thing."
"I take it I started at Lawndale State sometime later?"
Tom studied the floor. "You…didn't go to college."
"Why the hell not?"
"Your recovery was difficult and there were aftereffects."
"Daria, we did everything we could. We really did. At my insistence, my parents helped pay for you to be checked by the best neurologists in the country. But…like I said, you'd changed. Your functional IQ was about ninety-five."
Daria glared. "Someone with a ninety-five IQ would not be thinking of the half-dozen Shakespearean insults I am right now."
"The neurologists said that because adults are not actively growing new brain cells and synapses the way children do, your brain had to re-route connections to re-relearn everything. The result wasn't as efficient as your brain was before."
"But I feel, and think, fine."
"The doctors said that if you were to recover your old memories, that you would probably recover most of the old pathways and your intellectual capacity. But you could temporarily lose your memories from after the accident."
"I'll say that they were right on that." Daria let the information sink in. "A ninety-five. So that explains the library."
"You still loved to read and we stocked it with books you liked. Many of your old ones frustrated you." Tom held up is hand peremptorily. "Don't worry; they're safe in my office at work."
"And I stopped writing?"
"You tried for a while, but were never happy with the result. Hmm. Follow me, please." Tom took Daria's hand and stood, walking toward his office.
"To finish answering one of your questions."
Inside the office, he pulled on a hinge-mounted portrait of Franz Kafka to get to a safe behind it. He dialed the combination and swung the door open.
Daria tried to peek around him. "What's in there?"
Stepping aside, Tom pointed to a row of notebooks neatly held in place by bookends and a small stack of CD-ROMs. "Your diaries, notebooks and computer files."
Admit it, Morgendorffer, you're procrastinating. Yeah, it's late and it makes sense to let people know tomorrow about what happened, but you also don't want to deal with any more weirdness before going to bed. Because, hopefully you're going to wake up in a nice gray-padded room tomorrow. Or at least a nice hospital room.
Adjusting the fresh nightgown, Daria looked around the walk-in closet and breathed in the cedar fragrance of the paneling. In a back corner, she spotted a green jacket and pulled it out to discover her hunch was correct. "For somebody who used to not care for a bunch of 'corny crap', he's been rather sentimental about a lot of my old stuff."
She placed it back on the rack and noted the black skirt nearby. "Like he was trying to hold onto a part of me all these years."
You're still procrastinating, Daria thought as she looked at the door. She gritted her teeth and strode over to it, but froze when she touched the doorknob. Her hand shook and she brought it back, wrapping her arms around her chest. Tom promised not to try anything, but sleeping with him…
The memory of her parents' fight came back to Daria, the same memory that triggered her fight with them that resulted in Daria's drive to see Tom. She pictured herself as a frightened six-year old hearing her father leave. Unbidden, the imaged changed to Veronica in the bed. It's not fair to leave her wondering why her parents are suddenly apart. I'm not doing that to a little girl. Here goes nothing.
Patiently waiting, Tom, in full pajamas, sat on the bed with the blanket pulled over his legs. The blanket was also folded open for Daria to get under the other side.
Daria took a couple steps and said, "No 'coming out of the closet' jokes."
"Dammit," Tom said with a teasing smile.
The levity helped Daria cover the remaining distance, but it took several seconds before she was able to sit down on the bed. Tom placed a hand over hers and felt Daria shiver a moment. "If it helps, you can remember that I'm not the boy you were afraid to get intimate with."
"Yeah, you've…done a lot more with me."
"Daria." Tom shook his head. "You were right to not show up that night. We weren't ready and you aren't now. But, I've grown up a bit since then and you can trust me."
Willing her legs to obey, Daria moved them up onto the bed and pulled the blanket over.
"Can I kiss you good night?" Tom asked.
"I always enjoyed kissing you," Daria said and leaned toward him. "All right."
Once their lips touched, Daria instantly relaxed, as she so often had done. They slowly parted and she stole a moment to recover her breath. "You have gotten better in that department."
"A few years of practice helps."
Daria looked away for a moment before shifting back straight to his eyes. "Please don't take this wrong, but I'm still hoping to wake up tomorrow in my room looking at all the familiar cracks in the ceiling. But if I don't, I want to say that I'm impressed by all you appear to have done for me."
Following a nod, Tom said, "I guess I did get a little soft. I can understand how you would want to wake up in your old room, but I'll say that I hope you wake up next to me tomorrow." He put his hand on a baby monitor. "Though I suspect we'll be waking up before then."
Resting her head on the pillow and closing her eyes, Daria said, "One way or the other, I think I'll find out if I'm hallucinating or not."
Tom clicked off the light and settled down, careful to keep separate from Daria. "I'm not forgetting my promise, but if you do need me, I'm here."
Oddly reassured, Daria quietly said, "Thanks."
"What the hell is my alarm clock doing on?" Daria said as she slapped at the offending appliance, striking a pillow instead.
"Glad I got up first," Tom said, looking at where Daria had had struck the place his head had been.
Daria scrambled, trying to feel her glasses or the clock. "Tom! What are you doing here?!"
Jacob's cry blared out of the baby monitor. Daria bolted upright and looked around the room, seeing it in clear focus.
When her eyes met his, Tom said, "I'm sorry. This isn't a hallucination. Do you want me to handle Jacob?"
Shivering, Daria moved her head side to side. "I better go with." She sighed and stood. "It looks like there's a lot I need to learn."
"That was pretty disgusting," Daria told Tom as he finished closing the diaper on Jacob.
"You get used to it." He picked up his son and said, "Besides, they're worth it."
Daria backed up and sat down in a chair. "Tom…"
Still holding Jacob, Tom squatted down next to Daria, "Yes?"
"Even I can tell that you care for Jacob."
Sighing, she said, "I…I don't feel anything for him."
"I'm sure he'll grow on you."
"From what I understand, he grew in me."
Tom laughed. "Okay, yeah, he did. Look, why don't you spend some quiet time holding him while I get a bottle ready?"
"It can't hurt. I hope I don't fall asleep and drop him."
Tom transferred the infant to Daria's arms. "I'm sure you'll just look cute together."
"When have I ever looked cute?"
"Now and then, but never on purpose."
"Okay, I won't kill you." Daria looked at Jacob. "Hi, again."
Jacob smiled and gurgled.
"Back in a little bit," Tom said and stepped out of the room to go downstairs to the kitchen.
"Hey, watch that," Daria said as the baby grabbed her breast and pushed his face against it. "Figures; you act like a typical guy. Happy to get your hands on one."
The baby made a frustrated grunt.
"You must be hungry."
Sleepy and without direct thought, Daria shifted Jacob to one side and reached for the top button on her nightgown with almost practiced ease.
Tom stopped and leaned against the doorframe, whispering, "Like I said, cute."
Head bowed, Daria held the suckling child. Tom set the bottle down and leaned over to kiss her head.
"Looks like you picked up one thing fairly quick."
Daria faintly said, "Hmm?" The slow opening of her eyes became an instant look of shock when Daria noticed Jacob. She stammered, "He's…how?...when?"
Tom quickly put an arm around her. "It's okay. You've done this many times before."
Daria turned to face him, a retort failing to get out as a dim memory rose in her mind. Dim, but recent, memories of feeding Jacob. Not fully believing it, she said, "I have."
"Just a little. I know I've done this before."
"I think that's a good sign."
"Yeah, but there's one thing."
"It's still freaking me out."
With the library illuminated only by a reading light over her chair, Daria sat cross-legged, reading the last entry in her diary.
April 10, 1999
What is it about that stupid box that makes everyone seem to lie to me? Mom won't admit we had one when I was a kid and won't come clean on where Dad' is. Tom can't make up his mind if he wants me to visit or not. Adding to everything, there's a memory that keeps trying to show itself. The box is the key, like it's holding a part of me. Jane will be over soon; maybe she can help me through this.
"I wish I could crawl back inside that box now," Daria said before touching the pen to the next page.
June 19, 2011
Twelve years have passed in what to me seems like less than a day. Before I go into my Rip Van Winkle tale, I should write down what happened after Jane arrived and I discovered how comforting sitting inside the box felt.
Through the early morning hours, Daria wrote and thought, using her diary to sort through the confusion in her mind.
I remembered more than just feeding Jacob. I felt something that convinced me I'm not dreaming, that this is all real. I remembered how much I loved that little life and it stayed, I feel it just as powerfully now as I did a couple hours ago. I never could've imagined such intensity.
At the same time, I still feel my long-time discomfort around children. Veronica appears to be sensing it and it's unsettling for her. I like Tom, but I still don't feel more toward him, either. I must've had stronger feelings to marry him and have two children. What will it be like if those emotions return? Or, what if they don't?
Daria stared into the kitchen with apprehension. Breakfast. My idea of making breakfast is filling a bowl with cereal or sticking a Sugar Tart in the toaster.
"Be glad you don't remember my first attempts." Tom whispered to her reassuringly, "But don't worry, we have the world's leading expert on scrambled eggs with us."
"Mommy, come on," Veronica said, tugging on Daria's pant leg. She grabbed Tom's also, "You too, Daddy."
The smiling girl released them near a footstool. She carried it to the counter adjacent to the stovetop. Working methodically, Veronica got out a bowl and whisk that she placed on the counter. Next, a skillet was placed on the stove and she said, "Please, Mommy."
Tom whispered to Daria's ear, "Turn the skillet handle away from the edge and put the heat on medium."
She made the adjustments and whispered back to Tom, "We're not trying to turn her into Martha Stewart, are we?"
"Thanks!" Veronica said to Daria as she rushed to the refrigerator. Taking two trips, she ferried a carton of eggs and a milk bottle to the counter.
Tom whispered, "She's an A student at Fielding Primary with a stubborn self-sufficient streak, like someone else I know."
Though lacking in finesse, the girl broke four eggs into the bowl and added milk. With determined strokes, she whisked them together and slid the bowl close to the stove. Veronica stepped off the footstool and moved it in front of the heated skillet. She picked up a spatula and said, "I'm ready."
Daria poured the egg mix into the pan and Veronica waited patiently. Daria placed the bowl back on the counter and stepped away. Veronica turned and whispered, "Mommy, remember. I'm not allowed to hold the pan."
Yes. Yes, I do remember. Daria returned and held the skillet handle, quietly saying, "Thanks."
Veronica smiled and started to scramble the cooking eggs.
"Are you sure?" Tom asked.
"Positive. I have to know if she's still my friend, or if she's somehow blaming me," Daria said, looking up from the telephone in her hand. "I'm also sure that there's still some of the Tom I dated inside you that blames Jane."
"She did run away."
"She did, but you know as well as I do that was how she dealt with being hurt. The me that was her friend was lost to her, so Jane kept running. Now that I'm back, I'll reach out to her, like she reached out to me a lot of times."
Tom sighed in resignation. "I still know better than to get between you and Jane. I'll call my parents and Elsie to let them know."
"Thanks. I'll call Mom and Quinn after I talk with Jane."
"I'll be in the office."
Rereading the number from directory assistance, Daria punched it in and waited through five rings.
Daria immediately recognized the voice and nervously said, "Jane, it's Daria."
Caught by surprise, Jane said, "Daria? Sloane?"
"This is the real me, not the simulacrum that's been around the last few years."
Daria sighed in light frustration before saying in a deadpan, "Nocturnal emissions."
"Daria!" Jane shrieked with joy.
"I thought that would get your attention."
"You remember! You really remember!"
"Yes. I remember self-esteem class, my crush on Trent, Alternapalooza, getting my belly button pierced, your family invading…"
"My God! You're back!" Jane's voice caught and she sobbed loudly.
"I'm here." Jane regained some control. "I thought I'd never talk to you again. I've missed you all these years."
"For me, it's only been a day, but it would really help me to see you."
"I can drive to Lawndale tomorrow."
"Tom's taking me to see a doctor in the morning, but I'd love to see you in the afternoon."
Opening her wallet, Daria said, "I see my driver's license photo hasn't improved any. Tom, have there been any real changes to traffic laws?"
"I should tell Mom in person. It feels like the right thing to do."
"Makes sense, but I'll warn you: Helen will be grumpy if you don't take Jacob with you."
"That sounds like Mom."
"I'll keep an eye on Veronica while you're gone."
"Tom, I want her to come with so I can get to know her more, and I want her to hear what's going on. The accident and everything else was a result of something that happened to me as a kid that I didn't understand. This is already affecting her and I don't want her to feel excluded."
"Okay, but be warned. Lawndale has grown a lot since you last drove around here."
It was Daria's old house, but the furniture was completely different. She sat on a large half-circle sofa that had replaced the three-piece set. The entertainment center was gone; a large panel TV was mounted on the wall with ornate shelf units on each side.
Using her lawyer poker-face to hide her concerns about the immediately noticeable, to her, change in Daria, Helen sat holding and cooing at the baby, "My little Jakey's growing, isn't he?"
Jacob grinned and reached for Helen's face.
Daria went to her. "Mom, let me put him in the playpen for a bit. I need to talk to you."
Helen shrugged. "We can talk while I hold my grandson."
Daria sighed in a way that made Helen look at her in surprise. Daria said, "I don't want you distracted."
"At least let me put him in there."
Helen paused and looked at her daughter. "I'll just be a moment."
While Helen was busy putting Jacob in the playpen, Daria called to Veronica, who was perusing the books and knickknacks on the shelves, "Come over here; I want to include you in this."
The girl came over quickly. "You want me to stay?"
Daria had Veronica sit next to her and she hugged her daughter. "Yes. This may be a little hard to understand, but I don't want to hide any of it from you."
Helen sat on the other side of Veronica. "Daria, what's going on?"
Daria said, "Let me explain something to Veronica first." She took her daughter's hand. "Many years ago, I was hurt real bad in an accident."
"That's why the side of your head is a little bumpy," Veronica confirmed.
"It was more than that. I forgot a lot of things and had to relearn them."
"Kind of like you talked about last night?"
Helen reached over to Daria's shoulder. "Are you sure you want to tell her about this?"
Daria nodded. "Mom, yesterday, I remembered everything before the accident."
Helen's hand went to her mouth. "Oh, Sweetie."
"And…" Daria held Veronica's hand a tighter. "I only remember a little of what's happened since."
Upset and worried, Veronica looked up at her mother. "Is that why you wanted me to remind you of stuff?"
"Yes, it is."
Almost crying, the girl asked, "Did you forget me?"
"For a while, and I have to relearn things about you."
"You forgot me!" the little girl cried and burst into tears.
Oh, no. Now what? Daria tried to hold the girl, but she squirmed away. Daria told her, "I didn't mean to. Veronica, for a while there, I forgot I was married to your Dad and I didn't even know where I was."
Tears still streaming, Veronica looked at Daria. "You forgot about Dad?"
"I couldn't remember anything. Remember I told you I was scared?"
"I'm still scared. I'm trying to remember. Things are coming back, but I can't get everything yet. Will you still help me to remember things?"
Veronica sniffled and looked lost. She sensed her mother's vulnerability and didn't know how to deal with it, but she nodded her head to say, "yes."
Daria brought Veronica's hands up and said, "But, I remember how much I love you and your brother."
Suddenly relieved and trying to be supportive, Veronica hugged Daria. "I love you, Mommy."
Daria held her child in return. "Keep reminding me if I forget anything, okay?"
"I wish we'd done that for you all those years ago," Helen murmured. "Our last discussion has stayed with me as much as the call from the highway patrol that you were hurt. Your father and I didn't get the chance to say that we were never mad at you. We knew how intelligent you were, just like your daughter. Even then, you made more sense than most adults. Jake and I were upset that you were unhappy, but like so many parents still learning how to be parents, we took our frustration out on each other because we couldn't take it out on those that upset you. We should've told you long ago."
Daria gave her mother a small smile. "I'm getting the crash course in learning to be parent." She placed her hand on Veronica's head. "I know I was a challenging child to raise and I suspect you successfully gave me the Mother's Curse."
Helen looked to the playpen. "And Kay did the same to Tom."
"Great." Daria patted Veronica's back. "I need a little time alone with Grandma now." I can't believe I just called her that. "Why don't you go back to looking at books?"
After Veronica had stepped away, Daria reached for her mother's hands. "I wish I could've said all that to Dad. My last memory of him is when I left the house before the accident." She half-laughed and half-cried, saying, "I was acting just like him, storming out in anger to spend the night somewhere else."
Helen slid over to catch Daria falling toward her.
Daria sat in the new model luxury sedan while Tom got behind the steering wheel. She said, "At least Dr. Alam confirmed what you'd been told before. Though the possibility of it taking years to fully return doesn't sound like fun."
"Hopefully, you'll find some of the memories fun."
"Was that as loaded of a statement as it sounded like?"
Tom sheepishly smiled. "A bit."
"Tom," Daria warned.
He held up his hands. "I know. But please consider that for me, we've been active since our honeymoon and made little jokes like that. It's hard to fight the habit."
"You waited until then?"
"While you were recovering, it would've been very wrong. Once we did start to date again, it seemed like waiting was the right thing to do."
"That really says a lot about you. Thanks."
Tom faced her. "Daria. I almost lost you because you were coming to see me. Because you were willing to drive four hours through heavy rain. It hit me how much you meant. After that, I couldn't do anything that would hurt you or were even make you uncomfortable."
"Then please be patient. I have to deal with a lot all at once."
"Deal." Tom started the car and pulled out of the parking lot onto a busy street.
"That was kind of your mother to watch the kids for us."
"Like you had to twist her arm for that."
"If my mom didn't have a court date, they probably would've fought over them."
"Nah, they'd have ganged up and taken them out somewhere to spoil them."
"So they're both getting revenge on us."
"We're the only target since Quinn and Elsie are both still single."
"Something has to be done about that."
Inside her closet, Daria said, "I hope this works. Jane will get a kick out of it if it does."
Daria removed her slacks and blouse before she took the black skirt from the rack. When the skirt reached her hips, they stopped and Daria had to tug to get them over. "Okay, another effect of age, childbirth, or both."
Daria looked at the orange-tan t-shirt and shook her head. "Okay, I'm not even going to try." After a short search, she found a looser tan shirt that looked passable and put it on. The green jacket came next and, as she feared, it was much tighter than she was used to.
Lastly, she dusted off the old boots and took them out, stopping at the bed and putting them on. The stiff leather creaked as she laced the boots, but they still fit.
She went down the stairs and stopped at Tom's office. "I'm heading over to Pizza Prince to meet Jane. Um, how do I look?"
Tom was speechless, seeing both the Daria he first dated and the Daria he'd lived with for ten years brought together. Finally he said, "Like a dream come true."
Except for a new generation of names scribbled and scratched onto the table tops, Pizza Prince was almost unchanged. A few teens on their summer break were scattered around the room in unfamiliar clothes that Daria assumed must be the latest fashion. A lean woman in black denim pants, a blue shirt and with black hair pulled into a ponytail stopped at the door. Daria held her breath as Jane opened it and looked around the room.
Spying Daria, Jane dashed over and pulled her up from the booth in a bear hug. "Amiga!"
"Ack! Easy there."
Jane stepped back and looked at Daria. "You wore those for me, didn't you?" She hugged Daria again, saying, "Thanks."
Grateful to see her friend, but still stinging that Jane had stayed away for so long, Daria returned the hug and said, "I picked up a couple slices for you."
"Just like old times. Damn, this is great."
They stayed like that for long seconds. After the shocks of the past two days, Daria felt better to be with her friend and Jane was ecstatic to have her best friend back. They eventually slid apart, sat facing each other and started on the pizza slices.
Jane simply stared for another minute before saying, "It's so good to see you again."
"It's good to see you, though like everyone else, it's strange to suddenly see you older."
"Sudden from your point of view. I had to go through the long way."
"No thanks, not if I end up as a thirty-something woman dressing up like a teenager." Jane grinned. "Sound familiar? Dar?"
Daria buried her face in her hands. "If I say 'jiggy', please do the right thing."
"Not a chance. I just got you back and have years of teasing to make up for."
"Jane, even that threat sounds good. The last couple days have been weird beyond belief."
"I can't even imagine." Jane bounced and grinned, pounding on the table. "But, you're back!"
"I get the idea you missed me."
Serious, Jane said, "Daria, losing you tore me up. It was like seeing a pod person: it was your body, but you weren't in it. I'm sorry I didn't stay around, but I just couldn't."
"I…it felt strange hearing that you'd stopped trying to see me. But, I…I think I understand."
"I was so afraid that you'd be mad at me."
"Not so much mad as hurt."
Jane slumped in her seat. "Damn. Daria, I'm sorry, but…it was too hard on me. I'm sorry."
Daria felt a lump in her throat and she shook her head to try to clear her mind. "Jane, I need you. Like never before. Please, still be my friend."
"I never stopped. You've got to believe me."
"I believe you, but don't stay away so long any more."
Immensely relieved, Jane said. "You need to come visit me, too. That's a six-hour drive, you know. I can't do all the work."
Both women took several moments to regain their composure.
Jane asked, "So, are you regaining any more memories of your second life?"
Daria nodded. "Here and there. Mostly with my children." Daria gently laughed. "The old me is still trying to come to grips with that, while the newer me can't imagine life without them. I understand you've reproduced, also."
"Danny's certainly a handful at times, but I know what you mean."
"Tom didn't know that much about you, obviously. Fill me in."
"Danny is a five-year old Tasmanian devil on speed. But I wouldn't have it any other way."
"The opposite of Trent, huh?"
Jane studied her pizza and muttered, "Exactly."
"That doesn't sound good."
Jane sighed and looked up. "The whole slacker musician thing was kind of cool and cute back then, but it's not now. Trent and the band are going nowhere and the last time I checked, he was lying around Mom's house with a pot belly and talking about 'eyes on the prize.'"
"I'm sorry. I always hoped he would outgrow that."
"How about your parents?"
Jane's mood didn't improve. "They never even made it to my high school graduation and never prepared for any of us to go to college. I was on my own from day one and came out with a buttload of student loans. I don't see them much, either."
Changing the subject, Daria said, "Um, I understand you met your husband in Boston."
"Yeah. That's something I really need to thank you for. If you hadn't pushed me into sending in my portfolio, I never would've gotten into BFAC. If I hadn't gone there, I wouldn't have met Mike."
"Anyway, he was a student at Raft. Kind of funny, considering that was one of the schools you were thinking about."
"That was only about a week ago for me. So tell me, what's your husband like?"
"Can you believe I hooked up with a chemist? Between my right brain and his left brain, we end up with a whole one between us."
Daria laughed. "And you're teaching?"
"I always did get along with kids better than you. I took an art education class at BFAC and got hooked." Jane pointed to Daria's eyes, "Do you remember what happened to your glasses?"
"Not yet, but Tom told me that I got lasik surgery when Veronica started walking and I needed to run around after her. Apparently, I kept knocking my glasses off."
"So, no contacts?"
"That was one of the first things I checked when I woke up."
"All that kid chasing must've kept you in shape."
"I'm hoping that's it and not something like chasing after Tom."
"Speaking of Tom, what do you remember about him?"
Daria set her slice down. "That's something that bothers me. I've remembered almost nothing about Tom and me together."
"Ouch. How's he handling that?"
"He's been patient, so far."
"How are you handling it?"
"I'm still freaking out. I mean, we're married, we have two great kids, and I don't feel any different toward Tom than I did a couple days ago."
"So you're sleeping in another room?"
"No. I didn't want to upset Veronica. Last night was a little easier than the first night. It's not like I don't want to be with Tom. I do, but…"
"But, that's one of the big things freaking you out?"
"Why don't we take your mind off things some and do a grand tour of Lawndale? We can see how far downhill the town has gone."
"Sounds like a plan."
"Wow, it has grown," Daria said as she and Jane looked at Lawndale High School.
Jane smirked. "Just imagine how much money Ms. Li would've needed to divert to provide 'security' now."
Daria leaned against the fence. "I wish I could've gone to my graduation."
"I wish you could've been there, too. You know, you were pretty popular among the faculty. They rallied together for you to graduate without penalty."
"Jane, I still don't believe that Ms. Barch and Mr. DeMartino worked together on anything."
"Daria, they did. They all did."
"I'd have thought they'd be glad I was gone."
"Daria, you meant a lot more to people than you thought."
Looking down the well-maintained sidewalk facing trendy storefronts, Daria said, "This is a visual contradiction in terms. An upscale Dega Street?"
Jane pulled her along. "It is a shock, but some places managed to survive the transition." She pointed to a store. "For example, the Funky Doodle is now FD's Antique Apparel."
"Too bad Axl didn't make it."
"He didn't get a chance; the health department closed him down."
"And to think…"
"Hey, I had six holes done there, how do you think I felt?"
As they neared a Paris-style coffee shop, a black woman in a very expensive, tailored business suit looked up in surprise. "Jane? Daria? You're out together?"
Jane whispered to Daria, "I won't spoil your fun."
Daria said, "Jodie, it's great to see you, too."
Jodie's gaze switched back and forth. "No offense, but I'm really surprised to see you two together."
Daria sat down at the table. "Jodie, I'm back."
"Both from memories that have come back and from talking with Tom, Kay and Mom, I've been a housewife and mother. Something I never pictured myself doing in high school."
Jodie sipped her coffee. "That must've been gone over well with your mom. I know mine would've hit the roof."
"In some ways, but in others, she said she was envious. I've been able to, well, the me I'm trying to remember, spend more time with Veronica and Jacob than she was able to spend with Quinn and me. With Kay, it kind of feels like I'm being groomed as the next family matron. Also a very odd thought."
"Mom was so glad to go back to work," Jodie said, while gesturing with her arms, "That she almost threw Evan at the preschool."
Jane said, "I bet that left a mark."
"In more ways than one," Jodie replied. "Mom never got along well with Evan. He's now a mean-spirited jock at Lawndale High. I can hardly stand to be in the same room."
"Lawndale has yet other jerk jock named Evan. You really have my sympathy now," Jane said. "I'm starting to see why you didn't have kids."
"Well, that and lack of a man in my life."
Daria asked, "What ever happened to Mack?"
Jodie's mood faltered. "He enlisted in the Army after 9/11 and was killed in Iraq three years later."
"I'm sorry. I'll go chew on my foot for a while."
"Daria, you didn't know. I grieved him and still miss him, but that was seven years ago. He would've wanted me to go on."
"I'm sure he did. I'm still dealing with losing my father and now, hearing about Mack…" Daria closed her eyes. "This is a lot to take in over a short time."
All three stopped in silence for a few moments.
To lighten things, Jane gently pushed Daria, "Be glad you don't remember our ten-year class reunion."
Jodie shuddered. "Brittany with a boob job."
"I'm sure Kevin was happy with them."
Jane said, "Um, Kevin flunked and didn't graduate with us."
"Will miracles never cease?"
Jacob squirmed and babbled in Daria's arms and Veronica intently watched a mantis on a shrub branch. Daria, Jane and Kay were gathered near the cars parked in Kay and Angier's driveway.
Daria told Jane, "You're welcome to stay with us tonight."
She said, "I wish I could, so we could stay up all night watching old Sick, Sad World DVDs. By the way, don't even bother with the last season, it should never have occurred. But, I have a continuing-ed class for my teacher's certification tomorrow and they get real nasty if you miss one."
"Damn, you're being responsible?"
"I had to find a unique way to stand out in my family."
"I still have some more head-settling to do, but I will be out to visit you and to meet Mike and Danny, Fourth of July weekend."
"You better." Jane wiggled a finger on Jacob's nose. "Nice to meet you, little guy." She nodded to Veronica. "Nice to meet you, too. You have a lot of your mother in you."
Veronica looked up. "Thanks, Jane. I liked meeting you."
Jane winked at Daria. "And, she has good taste."
Kay hugged Jane. "Jane, it's been wonderful to finally see you again."
"Thanks, Mrs. Sloane, and next time I hope I can see Tom." Jane checked her watch. "Look, you two. It's getting late and I have a long drive. I will stay in touch." Moist-eyed, Jane went to Daria and hugged her. "I'm not letting you go again."
In the early morning quiet a couple days later, Daria looked at Jacob nursing and said, "Moo." When he didn't respond, she said, "You'll get the joke later."
I wouldn't trade what I have with my children for anything. But I know I wanted more from life. I wanted to go to college. I wanted to write.
Daria felt tightness in her stomach when thinking of the others in her life. Jane's made something of a name with her art and she's teaching at what sounds like a great school. Jodie has the consulting business she dreamed of, with clients up and down the mid-Atlantic states. Tom is slated to be the Sloane of Grace, Sloane and Page when Angier retires in a few years. For all my old promise, what have I done? I've been on hold for too long. It's time I started looking to my future again.
Full, Jacob stopped and snuggled against Daria's warm skin. She told him, "Don't worry, nothing's going to happen until you're on a different diet."
She shifted a small towel over her shoulder and brought him up to it, gently patting his back. First step is finally going to college. She smiled at Jacob. "Having a handsome study partner like you will make that part easier."
She gazed at the window and thought, My old SAT scores are probably out of date. I'll need to retake it. Daria laughed. "With an extra year of school behind me, that should boost the score a bit."
Jacob burped and Daria shifted to cradle him in front of her chest. Probably won't be able to take it until sometime this fall. If I'm lucky, I might be able to get a start next summer. She softly stroked her son's hair and said, "I probably won't be able to go full-time without giving up my time with you."
Jacob wore a faint smile and was already asleep. Daria gently placed him in the crib and whispered, "And I'm greedy enough to want every minute with you that I can get."
The following week was a continuous whirlwind for Daria. Often with Veronica at her side, she learned and relearned how to cook. On Saturday, they went to a stable so Veronica could ride her pony, Luna. Every afternoon, Veronica would go to the library, choose a book, and sit in Daria's lap to read. With each day, Daria cherished the bright girl more and more.
From time to time, Daria called her mother for advice on dealing with Jacob, often finding the advice triggered memories of asking before. The maternal revelations brought home even more how much she felt she owed her parents, how challenging she had been to raise. More parental help came from Kay, including advice on dealing with a boy that Helen couldn't give. Daria marveled to think Jacob was a part of her, and how close and connected she felt to him.
Daria adjusted her nightgown and stared at the closet door. But some memories are still not coming back. I wish I knew why. I had to get Veronica to help me with an anniversary gift for Tom.
Reading a book in bed, Tom looked up when Daria opened the closet door. He put a marker in the book and placed it on the nightstand before pulling the bedding back to let Daria get under them.
She sat down and covered her legs, saying, "Thanks."
Tom held her hand and kissed her. "Good night. I love you."
Faintly blushing, Daria looked at her hand and said, "Good night, Tom."
Though he tried to cover it, the disappointment in his sigh was obvious. "Ten years ago, I was as happy as I could be and just as nervous, hoping I would be able to keep you happy. I still want you to be happy, especially now."
"I appreciate that."
"I want to try something that I hope will help. You used to enjoy being held while going to sleep. Will you let me do that tonight?"
That is tempting. I'm so tired and feel so frustrated about not remembering. "I think that will be nice."
Pushing down her anxiety, Daria rested her head on the pillow, closing her eyes. Tom gently encircled her with his arms and kissed the top of her head. Feeling warm and secure, she quickly drifted to sleep with a memory frustratingly on the edge of her consciousness.
Daria read through the web page and whistled. "That's certainly not the SAT I took." She faintly smiled. "But, the essay should give me an extra edge. Hmm. The next test is in October and they'll have the results available online within a couple weeks after that. Having the printed results in early November could get me into Lawndale Community College for the spring semester."
Opening her wallet to remove a credit card, Daria smiled at the slender piece of plastic. "I bet you have a credit limit the old Quinn would've killed for." Daria placed it next to the keyboard and pulled up the registration screen. "Wow. Talk about inflation."
Minutes later and almost done, Daria heard Jacob start to cry in the family room. She quickly finished the transaction and gave the print command for the registration confirmation before heading over to check on the baby.
Wrinkling her nose, Daria dropped the soiled diaper into a pail and let the lid drop closed. "No offense, Jacob, but I'll be glad when you don't need those anymore."
Sharp baby-talk came from Jacob as Daria picked him up to a gentle embrace. She said, "Point taken. You'll be glad, too."
The telephone ring caused Daria to sigh. "I wonder who that is?" She walked to her bedroom and answered the unit there. "Hello."
The voice on the other end replied, "Happy anniversary, Sis."
"Thanks, Quinn. I'm still getting used to you calling me that."
"And I've been saying it for years. How's the big day going?"
"What? Oh, um, so far, quiet. Tom helped Veronica make breakfast for us. He's working half a day and will be home any time now."
"Do you have plans for tonight?"
"Mom and Kay are coming over to watch Veronica and Jacob. Tom has something planned, but won't tell me what."
"Oooh. I bet it's a nice surprise."
Subdued, Daria said, "I bet it is, too. I wish I felt like I deserved it."
"I feel strange celebrating something I don't remember."
"You still don't remember your wedding?"
"No. Even after looking at the photo album and watching the videos, it feels like I'm looking at a stranger. This has become one of life's big ironies. I got mad at Tom for not remembering the six-month anniversary of our first date, and now I can't even remember getting married."
"Daria, you'll keep getting better. Look at how much you remember about your kids."
"I'm remembering things about them most of all."
"You really love those two."
"No doubt about that." Daria was sadly thoughtful for a moment. "Unlike how I feel about Tom."
"What did you say?"
"I don't know how I feel about Tom."
"How can you not know how you feel?"
Daria's anger flared. "Because I damned near had my brains smashed out of my skull! I have the same confused feelings I had about him for months before the accident! Hell, I broke up with him as often as Trent used to break up with Monique! I don't know if I'd have continued dating him through college." Daria stifled a sob and her voice shook as she went on to say, "I don't know how I fell in love with Tom. I don't remember anything like that. Nothing! I don't remember him proposing, I don't remember the wedding, or the honeymoon. Nothing!"
"Daria, please calm down. I didn't mean to upset you."
Jacob whimpered and looked frightened at Daria's outburst. She held him tighter. "Sorry, little guy." Daria shifted back to the phone. "I'm sorry, Quinn. I don't really know what to do or how I feel."
"I guess it is still a lot to deal with."
"That's the understatement of the year. "
"Daria. Tom has been really good for you all these years. Remember that."
"I see him with the children and know he's a good person. I'm still trying to connect with the person I'm living with instead of the guy I dated in high school, and I don't know how."
"I wish I knew how to help."
"I wish you did, too."
"You said Tom should be home soon, so good luck, Sis. I can't wait to see you again."
"I hope I survive until then."
"Have a happy anniversary."
Daria switched off the phone and swung around to put it away. Tom stood in the doorway, holding the printed registration and a worried look on his face.
He said, "Were you going to tell me?"
"That's just the SAT registration; no big deal."
"You're planning on going to college?"
"I've always planned on going to college. I was making the preparations."
"Were you going to tell me?"
"Do I need your permission?"
"Considering what I just heard you tell your sister, I'm really wondering what you're planning. I never knew you had such doubts about us. That, along with how reluctant you've been around me…"
"You think I'm trying to leave you?"
"It's a possibility."
Daria felt her anger returning and said through her teeth, "I'll be right back." She stormed to Jacob's room and placed him in the crib. "Please don't be scared; this has nothing to do with you."
Tom was waiting in the hall as Daria closed the room door. She said, "Tom. I'm trying to get my life back together and figure out what in the hell has already happened in it."
"Hearing that you don't know how you feel about me and not knowing if you'd even wanted to keep going out with me…no damn wonder you act like you're going to bed with the enemy."
"That's because I still don't remember anything about us together after the accident. Dammit, I'm scared! What I do remember of us is the problems we had before the accident. Hell, anyone watching our relationship would've gotten whiplash. Is that what we've been like since? Have I been happy? I don't know!"
Tom tried to approach her. "We have been happy. I want us to continue to be happy."
"Then why are you even worried about me going to college? Are you worried I might show some independence after all these years? That I might stop being the proto-matron of the Sloane family and go back to being the Misery Chick?"
"Just don't say anything. I'm going out for a while."
"Somewhere that I can think."
She raced down the stairs to grab her wallet and keys. Tom followed, saying, "Why are you running out?"
Daria turned. "Tell me this. Did you marry me? Or, did you marry some other person?"
"It's a simple question. Did you marry me? Is it really me that you love, or the person I was?"
"The fact that I've hoped you'd return should say something."
"It didn't answer the question." Daria flew out the door, slamming it.
Tom reached the door and looked out in time to see Daria driving away. Timid, Veronica came over and tugged on his pant leg. "What's wrong with Mommy?"
"She's frightened by some of her memories."
"Is Mommy coming back?"
Tom sat by the open door and guided Veronica to his lap. "She loves you and your brother too much to stay away."
"But what about you, Daddy? Does she love you?"
The digital representation of the interstate moved past the triangular icon of the dashboard display. Daria checked it and said, "On-board GPS navigation. There are some useful things about the future." Noting the proximity of an exit, she added, "Almost there."
"This is getting too much for me to drive in. The road signs said that there should be an exit soon," I said to myself while trying to navigate Mom's SUV through the heavy rain. "Once I find a place to stop, I'll call Tom and let him know I'll be late." I focused her attention on the traffic and controlling the vehicle. Suddenly, the cars in front of her started braking and weaving.
"This looks like the place." Daria guided the car off the pavement and well clear of traffic. She stopped and stepped out, scanning the tall grass and line of trees. About fifty feet way was a small weather-stained white cross leaning to one side. Daria moved closer and saw faint writing on it. Examining close, she could only recognize the first name of Eleanor, but the date stood out. April 10, 1999.
Daria dropped down on both knees and touched the cross. The physical connection made her think of that night.
Delirious, I tried to figure out why my left shoulder, neck and the side of my head were resting on a warm, wet surface. With a sustained effort, I managed to crack open my right eye, but the left one hurt and refused to open. All I could see was the confusing mass of wrinkled, white fabric from the deflated airbag. Numerous sharp lances of pain shot through the left side my head when I turned enough to see the dashboard of the SUV. Blue and red lights randomly flashed outside, illuminating the shattered safety glass of the windshield. The SUV was lying on its side and I realized that I hung from the seat against the shattered side widow and door.
My vision dimmed as I thought of the person I'd been reaching out to. I truly wanted to open up enough to let him help. I muttered, "Tom, Tom, Tom." The effort seemed to help keep me awake as I waited for an answer.
Somewhere, a voice called, "Miss? Are you all right?"
"Sorry, I'm not Tom. Oh, my God! Look at all that blood."
Deep despair tore through my mind and I barely whispered, "Not Tom?" Closing my eye, I soundlessly mouthed my feelings, "I am too much of a misfit. Maybe I should just go away…"
Daria placed her hand on the ground to steady herself.
The side of my head throbbed with pain and my mouth was dry. An antiseptic smell filled the air as I breathed in. My body felt stiff and sore when I tried to move. That motion made me aware of soft warmth around my right hand. A voice cautiously said, "Daria?"
Weak, I blinked her right eye open, while the other remained bandaged shut. I was able to see the blurry shape of a young man holding my hand. Other shapes clustered close by, all saying the same strange word, Daria.
The young man pressed his lips to my fingers and said with relief, "You're back. I was so worried I'd lost you." The words meant nothing, but I felt the emotion behind them.
The bright lights, the crowd of people making strange noises and the pain were terrifying. I cried out in fear and attempted to crawl off the bed to get away, falling into the arms of the young man. My fear faded as I looked into his green eyes and held onto him as tight as I could.
Tom softly said, "Don't worry. We're here for you."
I didn't know what he said, but his warm caress told me that I could trust him.
More people arrived and the first group left. The newcomers turned, poked and did other things I didn't understand. Desperate, I kept reaching out with my hand, wanting to feel the warm touch around it again. One of the new people brought in the young man to hold it. Once comforted by that simple gesture, I felt secure enough to let the others continue their work without a fuss.
Daria swallowed and felt a tear at the corner of her eye.
Hoping the black-haired girl wouldn't cry, I fought hard to remember her name and to say it. "Jane."
The girl crouched next to the wheelchair in the hospital lobby and said, "Well, Amiga, time to get you home."
"Aameega?" I tried to sound out the strange word. "No. My name is Daria. I don't know Aameega."
Jane's face dropped and she backed away.
I was worried that Jane was crying again, so tried to help by saying, "I would like to meet Aameega. She can be my friend."
Jane covered her face and sprinted away.
Looking at Helen, Quinn and Jake nearby, I said, "I'm sorry. I didn't want her to cry. Why does she always cry? Am I doing something wrong?"
Pushing my wheelchair, Tom rested a hand on my shoulder. "She's very worried about you."
"I wish she wouldn't run away."
"Be patient; she's also scared."
"I don't want her to be scared of me."
"She not scared of you. Jane's scared for you."
Sitting back, Daria rubbed the tears from her eyes.
Frustrated and disturbed that so many words didn't make sense, I closed the book and leaned against Tom, grateful that he had been there every day since I'd come home. The short fuzz of my regrowing hair felt funny against his pullover shirt as he put an arm around my shoulder, instantly comforting me.
I turned my head up and looked into his eyes. "You've been so good to me." On impulse from an idea I'd seen on TV, I kissed him. It felt a little strange, but certainly pleasant. Hesitant, I smiled and said, "I really like you." I hoped we would do it again.
Tom touched my cheek and kissed me in return. "I like you, too."
Something inside me created a comment and I smiled inwardly as I said it, "Only because I kissed you."
"Were you being sarcastic?"
The feelings associated with the memories grew and took hold. Daria felt the hope and attraction of that new, first kiss, and the sly joy of renewed sarcasm.
Tom removed his hands from in front of my eyes. On a platform in the Sloane's garden was a small table with two chairs. A light dinner, complete with tall candles, was set upon the table. Tom went forward and pulled a chair out for me.
I asked, "Trying to hide me again?"
"Just a little privacy, if you don't mind."
"I'll trust you," I said and sat down.
Tom took the opposite seat, lit the candles, and smiled, saying, "Please, enjoy dinner."
"Tom, what are you up to?"
"It's been a year since you were released from the hospital."
"And you've always been with me. I was so scared. I don't know what I would've done without you."
"I'm sorry you haven't been able to remember anything from before."
"I wish I could remember being a child."
"I hope you can, some day. I hope you can remember it all."
"I hope so, too."
After the meal, Tom silently came over and knelt beside me. "I love you. No matter what happens. No matter what you remember or don't remember. The real you is still there, and that is the person I love."
"Tom, that's sweet."
He took my hand and held a ring to the tip of my finger, asking "Will you marry me?"
I looked at the diamond-cluster ring and my heart melted. Without hesitation, I placed my other hand on his and slipped my finger into the ring. "Yes."
"My condolences," a woman's voice said behind Daria. She turned to see a highway patrol officer standing a couple feet away. The officer said, "I was just checking to make sure you were all right when I saw the memorial."
Daria shook her head and stood. "I don't even know who she is, but I was almost remembered beside her."
"It was a multi-car pileup. I almost died that night. Part of me did, for a while."
"I got better, but it's taken a long time. And, I owe someone for their patience."
The car door closed with a modest thump and Daria faced the house. "That makes twice I've run off to think in the middle of a big emotional blowup. I can say without a doubt that I'm my father's daughter."
She didn't get a chance to open the door before Veronica surged out and slammed into Daria at full speed, grabbing her mother in a hug. "Mommy!"
"That's quite a welcome."
"I want you to be happy here."
Daria reached down and, with a grunt of effort, picked her up. "With you around, you can bet on that." Carrying her inside, Daria told Veronica, "And I won't be running off like that again; don't worry."
"I promise. I'm here to stay."
Veronica hugged Daria's neck. "I love you, Mommy."
"I love you, Sweetie."
Tom waited, hands in his pockets. Daria set Veronica on the floor and said, "Give me a minute with Daddy."
Veronica grinned and raced upstairs.
Daria slowly approached Tom. "I should've told you about my college plans. How many times have I chewed you out for not including me in decisions?"
Tom tried to sooth her. "Daria, I'm just glad you're safe."
"I was acting the same as I did several weeks ago, my time. If you remember how I was, it's no wonder you thought I was about to leave or something equally impulsive."
Tom looked down. "That might have been part. But I was also lashing out. I'm sorry."
"It's our anniversary and I heard you say you don't know how you feel about me. I was upset."
Daria's eyes widened. "Oh, crap. I never thought about…damn."
"And I should've expected you to look at college." Tom half-laughed. "Feels like old times, doesn't it? The two of us stumbling around each other's feelings like an ox in a china shop."
"That's one way of putting it. On top of what I remembered during the last couple hours, I owe you. I really owe you."
"Well, I hope you feel a little better after your trip, at least."
I looked out to see her gathered family, all smiling in anticipation. The graceful white dress rustled as I faced Tom, who was dressed in a long-tailed tuxedo. My hand faintly shook as he held it and the minister spoke.
Daria wrapped Tom's hand around her ring finger and lovingly said, "I do."
Thanks to Kristen Bealer, Ipswichfan and Mr. Orange for beta reading.