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.
The young doctor looked through the window of the waiting room door and watched the patient's family. Wife and two teenage daughters. She took a deep breath to steady her nerves and opened the door. This is the part that never gets easier.
All three looked up expectantly as the doctor walked to them. Hope and fear were clear in their eyes as the woman said, "How is Jake?"
"I'm so very sorry, Mrs. Morgendorffer. Your husband didn't make it; the damage to his heart was too severe."
"No!" Helen Morgendorffer sobbed, dropping back onto a waiting room bench.
"Daddy's gone?" Quinn Morgendorffer fearfully said.
"I'm afraid so," the doctor said, with genuine sympathy.
Quinn sat down and hugged her mother while burying her face against Helen's shoulder.
The remaining daughter, Daria, blinked her eyes and swallowed. "Did he suffer?"
"I don't think so," the doctor said. "He was unconscious the entire time."
Daria nodded. "He didn't deserve to suffer."
The doctor placed her hand on Daria's shoulder. "Nobody does. Is there anything I can do?"
Daria looked at her mother and sister. "Could someone call a cab? Mom's not up to driving and I only have a learner's permit that doesn't allow me to drive at night."
"The hospital has a courtesy van. We'll get you home."
Seated on a sofa next to Daria, Jane said, "It sounds a little weird coming from someone outside the family, but I'm going to miss your dad. He was a good guy."
"He was," Daria said quietly.
Helen walked over from the kitchen. "I know you want to help, but I can't give you an excuse for being late to school. I'm sure that Daria will appreciate a visit this afternoon."
"Yeah, I should be going. Take care, Daria, Mrs. Morgendorffer."
Helen said, "Actually, Jane, there is one more thing you could do to help."
"Please pick up Daria and Quinn's school assignments? Ms. Li is supposed to collect them for us."
"Will do. Anything else?"
"No, Jane. Thank you."
"Daria, I'll be back as soon as I can after school. Okay?"
"Okay," Daria replied.
After Jane left, Helen sat down next to Daria. "Thanks for getting the ride last night."
Daria nodded. "I didn't want to expose everyone to my driving."
Helen rubbed her puffy, red eyes. "I always figured you would be the strong one."
"I'm not feeling very strong."
"Others may not see it, but I know you're hurting like the rest of us."
"I can't believe that he's gone."
"And you're going to keep hoping, or expecting, to learn that everyone was wrong and that he'll walk through the door."
"It's not rational."
"No, it's not."
Daria glanced at the stairs. "How is Quinn?"
"She's taking it very hard. I think she cried all night."
"What about you?"
"Not much better, but I have to start taking care of things today. Can you help your sister while I'm gone?"
Daria looked down. "One condition."
Daria leaned over and rested her head on Helen's lap. "Don't start too early."
At the table, Quinn picked at her lunch with disinterest. "Why didn't we see this coming?"
Though almost as disinterested in her lunch, Daria mechanically ate it out of habit. Setting down the fork, she said, "I don't think it's something we could have seen. We're not doctors."
Quinn frowned. "Maybe we could have done something."
"I want to be able to do something."
"Like what?" Daria asked.
"I'm going to be a doctor. A heart doctor, and I'm not going to let this happen to anyone I know."
"Quinn, it takes a lot of hard work to get into a pre-med program, let alone medical school."
Daria looked at her sister and saw something different, a determination deep within her eyes. "You're serious."
"Yes," Quinn replied.
Daria rose from the table. "Follow me."
"Where? What for?"
"My computer, to look at college admission standards for pre-med programs."
Daria said, "There's not much you can do about this trimester, but if you get your grades up for the remaining two this year and keep them up your junior and senior years, plus get decent admission test scores, you may have a shot at a good pre-med program."
Seated next to Daria at the computer, Quinn crossed her arms. "You're trying to scare me off."
"No, Quinn. It takes brains, hard work and determination to become a doctor."
"Which, you don't think I've got"
Daria rotated the chairs so that she directly faced her sister. "You have the brains, though you hate to admit it, anyone who has seen your attention to fashion detail knows you work hard and your predatory shopping shows your determination."
"That means I think you can do it if you're willing to make some changes in your life."
"And I hope you make it."
"Yes, because that will mean that I won."
Daria gently smiled. "Take some time and think about what you want. If that is becoming a doctor, I'll help."
"Thank you, but "
"You're wondering what I'm up to."
"Nothing." Daria rubbed her eyes. "Losing Dad made me realize some of the things I never said to him, or never did with him. And Mom, and you."
"We've been brats, haven't we?"
As she parked in the driveway, Helen noticed Jane leaving the house. She got out and said, "Good afternoon, Jane."
"Hi, Mrs. Morgendorffer. I just dropped off the schoolwork for Daria and Quinn."
"You're welcome to stay for a while."
"I know, but no thanks. Besides, I think they have family stuff in mind."
"See you tomorrow."
"Okay, Jane. Tomorrow."
Enticed by an unexpectedly delicious aroma when she stepped inside, Helen walked around the corner to see the kitchen in a moderate level of disarray. "Girls?"
Wiping some sauce from her forehead, Quinn said, "We made dinner."
"Dinner?" Helen said.
Daria returned from setting a dish on the table. "We decided to give you a break after everything you needed to do today."
Helen quickly sat down and wiped tears from her eyes.
Quinn said, "Are you okay, Mom?"
She smiled and nodded. "I am now, thank you."
"Were you able to get everything done that you'd planned?" Daria asked.
"Yes, Sweetie. The funeral will be the day after tomorrow. All of the insurance paperwork has been filed. I hired an answering service to inform Jake's clients and picked up all of the personal items from his office. It's been a long day."
"Take it easy, Mom," Quinn said. "We'll take it from here, right Daria?"
"We've got it, Mom."
Daria was about to crawl into bed when Helen opened the door and poked her head in. "May I?" she asked.
"Come in," Daria replied, sitting on the edge of her bed and inviting her mother over.
Helen joined Daria and said, "Thanks, again, and dinner was very good."
"Dinner was Quinn's idea."
"And you had nothing to do with it?"
"I'd mentioned how much I never said to Dad, or Quinn, or you. We agreed that we, well, that we have been rather brat-like."
Helen placed her hand on Daria's shoulder. "That's your grief talking. You girls are actually pretty good, all things considered. That's why you were able to think of making dinner, or giving me a rest."
"I do feel guilty, Mom. I can't even remember the last time I said that I loved him."
"He knew you did."
"That's not the same."
Helen sighed. "No, it's not. But in your defense, not too many teenagers say it, either. You've got a lot going on."
"You're trying to make me feel better."
"Returning the favor."
"I think that Quinn could use a visit."
"I will, when she's out of the bathroom. I figure I have at least ten more minutes with you."
"So, what did you and Quinn do today?"
"A lot of thinking."
Jane said, "Hey, Daria," as her friend opened the front door. "More fun and exciting homework for you and Quinn."
Daria stepped aside, saying, "Thanks."
"Feeling any better?"
Daria shrugged. "I guess."
Unsure of what to say next, Jane followed Daria to the kitchen, where Jane set two folders on the counter. "You know, except for Mr. O'Neill, the teachers have been honestly sympathetic."
"What about O'Neill?"
"He just bursts into tears and melts into a puddle on the floor."
"Figures. The first time he sees me or Quinn, he'll probably be worse. That's something we don't need."
"Not something I'd look forward to." Jane said, Though that might be way Ms. Li won't excuse anyone to attend the funeral. Jodie and Mack asked me to send their condolences. Same with Brittany and Kevin, well, after Brittany kind of smacked Kevin to agree. He couldn't understand why you got to stay home and have schoolwork brought to you."
"That sounds like Ms. Li and Kevin. Anything else particularly stupid going on?"
"Those two lame morning DJs from Z-93 have been broadcasting from the parking lot."
"Let me guess; another one of Ms. Li's money-making schemes?"
"Glad I'm missing it."
Up in Daria's room, Jane said, "I was a little surprised at how much Quinn was looking for her homework."
Flipping through her packet, Daria said, "All of this scared her. Right now, she wants to become a cardiologist. She doesn't want anyone she cares about to have a heart attack."
"Quinn, a doctor?"
"I don't know if she'll make it, but right now, Quinn's studying. Honestly studying. I think it's helping her deal and I'm not going to stop her."
"I suppose not. What are you doing?"
"Helping Mom when I can, otherwise, writing."
"Like I would paint."
"Exactly. And I have a friend who comes over and helps me out."
Jane made an "I don't know" shrug. "What did I do besides deliver homework and watch TV?"
"Being here. It helps."
"Well, okay. That's fairly easy. Do I have any more tricks up my sleeve that I don't know about?"
"Don't let it go to your head."
"But seriously, if there is anything more I can do, let me know."
"Keep on holding the insanity of school at bay."
"You'll be back on Monday, right?"
"Then I can keep it at bay tomorrow while you deal with the funeral."
Daria's voice dropped. "I suspect that I'll need more help after that."
"I'll be here."
The funeral over, Helen opened the SUV door, but stopped to wipe her eyes. She turned and said, "Daria, could you, please?"
Daria nodded and said, "I think I can. We won't need to parallel park."
Going around to the other side of the SUV, Helen said, "Thank you, Sweetie."
Daria sat down and adjusted the driver's seat. After Quinn had climbed in back, she said, "Be patient. I'm not feeling my best, either."
"You'll do fine," Quinn said. "I have faith in you."
Daria turned at the unexpected compliment. "Thank you."
Once Daria had the vehicle moving, Helen said, "So far, so good. No family outbursts, but we have one more to go."
"Mom, do you really think something will happen?" Quinn asked.
"I'm sorry, girls, but when have you seen our family get together without something happening?"
Daria said, "Never."
"I hope this time will be different," Helen said. "For all of our sakes."
Daria stayed with Quinn at the front door while Helen stayed in the kitchen to accept covered dishes from their guests.
Just what we need, another plate of fried chicken, Daria was certain her mother thought as she accepted the gift from Ruth Morgendorffer and set it on the kitchen counter, next to several other identical offerings.
"Thank you so much," Helen said, keeping a small smile on her face.
"I hope it helps," Ruth said before she joined Helen's mother Tess and sister Rita in the living room.
"I made some of my green bean casserole," Jake's sister Eva said, giving Helen the foil-covered dish.
"Thank you," Helen said, glad for some kind of vegetable.
Last in line was Helen's sister Amy. "Hope you don't mind a Key Lime pie."
Helen smiled in relief. "Thank you for remembering a dessert."
"Knowing our family, I guessed that there would be plenty of fried chicken, and I see that I was right. That's why I brought two."
Watching Helen and Amy join the others in the living room, Daria said to Quinn, "It's probably a good thing that none of Dad's clients showed up. With this much family in place, we don't need any more volatility."
"Maybe you and Mom will be wrong," Quinn said.
Another knock on the door surprised them. When Daria opened it, Jane said, "They were all out of incense and myrrh, so I brought homework instead."
"Aren't you a little early?" Daria said.
"I actually got Ms. Li to sign off on me skipping last period to bring things over."
"Ms. Li, really?" Daria said.
"I'm as surprised as you are. Hey, can I come in now?"
"Oh, yeah. Sorry," Daria said. "We're still not at our best."
"Anything I can do?"
"Hang around. A non-family member in the house may defuse some things."
"I have a lot of experience at hanging around."
In the living room, Helen sat with the others and softly said, "The girls and I appreciate all of your support."
Ruth reached out and held Helen's hand. "My Nathan was only a little younger than Jakey when he passed away. I know what you're feeling."
Tess also reached out. "Your father was only a couple of years older."
Amy whispered to Rita, "I think that's the first time I've seen them agree on anything."
Rita nodded to Amy, then also added her hand. "I know I wasn't with Roger as long as you were with Jake, but I'm here, too."
Feeling her grief hit again, Helen leaned forward and placed her head on the gathered hands. "I miss my Jake," she sobbed.
Feeling the odd couple out, Amy and Eva stepped away as the others comforted Helen. Going to the teens, Amy said, "How are you guys holding up?"
"Holding on," Daria said.
Eva said, "Who's your friend?"
"Hey, I'm Jane. Artist extraordinaire and homework gofer," she replied.
"It's nice that you could make it."
Quinn said, "Amy, you couldn't have been much older than us when Grandpa died."
Amy said, "I was 18 and two months into my freshman year of college."
"How did you cope?"
"Not very well. Dad and I were not on good terms. I ended up regretting a lot of things and wished I could do them over."
Eva said, "I was older, but I was in the same boat."
"We always seem to wait until it's too late," Daria said. "I wasn't on bad terms with Dad, but I wish I had done things differently."
Quinn said, "Me, too."
"As someone on the outside, your dad seemed like a good guy," Jane said. "A little goofy and clueless, but at least he was always here. Unlike other fathers."
"Jake was a good little brother," said. "I'm going to miss him."
Amy said, "Follow me."
"What for?" Quinn asked.
"I think we need to continue this discussion over pie."
"What about everyone else?" Eva asked.
"I brought two."
"I like the way you think," Jane said. "Daria?"
"Might as well."
Quinn shrugged. "I'm in."
Unexpectedly seeing Daria already at the kitchen table, and munching on a bowl of cereal, Quinn said, "You're up early."
"Didn't feel like sleeping in," Daria said.
Quinn prepared a bowl of cereal and joined Daria at the table. "This feels weird."
Daria glanced at the unopened newspaper sitting on her father's usual chair. "Yeah."
Quinn also looked. "We should read it. For Daddy."
"You know, you're right." Daria picked up the paper and opened it. "Preference?"
"Give me the entertainment section."
Daria handed it over and took the front page. "Time to catch up on the rest of the world."
After several minutes of reading in silence, Quinn said, "Daria?"
"Are you ready to go back to school Monday?"
"I'm not looking forward to it," Daria replied. "I remember how everyone reacted to Tommy Sherman. I'm afraid this time will be worse."
"But everyone oh," Quinn said, also remembering how the other students had acted around her sister.
"Maybe they won't be so weird."
"I could hope, but I wouldn't bet on it." Daria shrugged. "I'll get past it, like I usually do."
"You don't have to do it alone; I'll be there." Quinn looked down at her breakfast. "Um sorry about the cousin thing, I won't do it anymore."
"We've both done things to hurt the other. Truce?"
Quinn smiled. "Truce."
Hearing the voices, Helen carefully looked around the corner to see her daughters. Jakey, I wish you were here to see this.
On the phone, Quinn said, "I'm sorry, Sandi, I can't go to the mall after school tomorrow. There's still a lot to do at home. Thanks, I knew you would understand. See you tomorrow. Bye."
"Argh," Quinn said as she set the phone down.
In the living room, Daria said, "I take it Sandi wasn't as understanding as implied?"
"I could tell from the sound of her voice that she thought I was making an excuse to get out of the trip."
"We don't have that much to do here, so you were making some kind of an excuse."
"Oh, you're right," Quinn said. "Shopping doesn't seem as important. Besides, if I'm going to be a doctor, I need time to study."
"That, you do."
"I'm glad you're not making fun of me."
"It wouldn't be right. You're not going to be able to make excuses forever. What are you eventually going to tell Sandi and the rest of the Fashion Club?"
Quinn sighed. "I don't know."
"Quinn, you're dressed plainer than usual today," Helen said as she saw her daughter Monday morning.
"I know. Being in top fashion doesn't seem as important, so I'm trying something different."
"Okay," Helen said, unsure of anything else to add. Changing the subject, she said, "Girls, would you like a ride to school today?"
Daria said, "As long as you don't mind Jane tagging along."
"Jane is more than welcome," Helen said in return.
"Okay," Quinn said. "It's better than walking."
"All right, girls. As soon as you're ready."
"I only need to finish breakfast," Daria said.
Helen looked at the cereal that Daria was eating. "That's not your usual morning fare."
"I decided to try something a little healthier."
"Good for you."
"Maybe, but it sure doesn't taste as good as my old stuff."
Helen sighed in sympathy. "A bit of the price we pay."
Daria nodded. "I suppose so."
Jodie met Daria outside the English classroom. "Daria, I'm so sorry. I can't imagine what it must be like, but you have my sympathy."
"Thanks, Jodie," Daria said.
With Jodie, Mack said, "My sympathies, too. I hope people aren't driving you too nuts today."
"Actually, they've been well behaved, for Lawndale High."
Jane said, "So far."
Mack glanced at the door. "However "
"Let's get it over," Daria said, leading the way in.
Mr. O'Neill immediately rushed over to her. "Daria! You must feel horrible today."
"I've been better."
"To be touched so personally by tragedy must be overwhelming."
"It hasn't been easy, but I'm managing."
"This must be driving you further toward the darkness."
As Daria glared at him, Jodie said, "Mr. O'Neill, you're not helping."
"I'm here to help," he explained.
Jane said, "You're doing a lousy job of it."
"Daria's in a fragile state and needs someone to help her through this crisis."
Through clenched teeth, Daria stepped forward to be face to face with Mr. O'Neill. "That would be my mother, my sister, and my best friend."
Shrinking back, he said, "Im here for you, too."
"No, you're not. This is just like with Tommy Sherman. You're feeling bad and projecting onto me. Stop it. Just, stop it. I do not need this."
Mr. O'Neill took two steps back, sobbed, covered his face and then bolted out of the door.
Mack said, "You broke him."
Jane said, "He deserved it."
"I'll go tell the office that we need a substitute," Jodie said.
At his desk, Kevin said, "Mr. O'Neill was really uncool. No wonder you didn't want to come to school, Daria. I'm sorry."
Daria said, "Thanks, Kevin." After going to her desk, she said, "Why don't we talk about something, anything, else?"
"Sure!" Kevin said. "We really smoked Cartersville last Friday."
Brittany shook her head before burying it in her arms on the desk. "Oh, Kevie."
Wadding up her paper napkin and dropping it on the empty lunch tray, Daria said, "After a rough start with Mr. O'Neill, the day hasn't been that bad. Mrs. Bennett kept things in hand and Mr. DeMartino was surprisingly supportive."
Jane said, "You're one of his few sane students. He wants to keep you around."
Both of them stood and carried their trays to the return window. Daria said, "Now we have the afternoon."
"Ms. DeFoe should be cool," Jane said.
"I'm not too worried about her."
Noticing Quinn and the Fashion Club at the incoming food line, Jane said, "Hey, there's your sister. I wonder how she's holding up?"
They could just hear Quinn say, "I don't have the energy, guys."
Sandi said, "You don't have the energy to look your best?"
"No, Sandi. Between the shock, helping Mom, and keeping up with school work, I'm tired."
"I heard you were getting stuff sent home," Stacy said.
"That was cruel," Tiffany said. "You should be excused from homework."
"I don't mind," Quinn said. "With all that I need to do to bring up my grades to get into a good pre-med program, I think it helped."
Sandi harrumphed. "Pre-med, huh?"
"That's right, Sandi. All this made me think, and I want to really help others."
Watching, Jane said to Daria, "It looks like trouble is brewing."
"Wait here," Daria said before moving closer to the others.
"So you think we don't help others?" Sandi said. "What about all the fashion advice we give?"
"I mean I want to help in another way."
"Oh, are you too good for us now, Quinn?"
"Sandi, that's not what I meant."
"Well, it sure sounds like you think school is more important."
Quinn's shoulders slumped, but then she noticed Daria watching. She sighed, straightened and then looked directly into Sandi's eyes. "It is."
Sandi glared back in anger. "In that case, I'm afraid that I have to place you on sabbatical from the Fashion Club until you get your priorities straight."
Stacy gasped and Tiffany said, "Sorry, Quinn."
"Don't be sorry, Tiffany," Quinn said. "This is for the best. I don't have the heart to keep doing what we used to do. That doesn't mean that you have to change, or that we can't be friends. It only means that I've changed directions."
Sandi said, "Stacy, Tiffany. Come along. We can leave this loser with her brainy sister. I knew all along that something like this would happen and Quinn's true colors would come out."
Quinn said, "Go on. I'm not feeling hungry anymore."
As the other Fashion Club members moved on, Quinn went over to Daria. "You heard?" she asked.
"Yes, and I'm proud of you."
Quinn looked again at the Fashion Club. "You know, I think we've made it through the worst part."
Jane smiled, folded her arms and said, "I think Lawndale is going to have to get used to dealing with the Morgendorffer sisters."
Thanks to Louise Lobinske and Kristen Bealer for beta reading.
October 2013 January 2014