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.
Carefully checking addresses as she slowly drove down the street on a Sunday morning, Amy Barksdale searched for her destination. "Ah, 111 Howard Drive. That's it." She pulled her red Triumph Spitfire into the driveway of a pale yellow clapboard house.
The faded paint on the mailbox read, "Lane". Amy spent a few moments looking at the free-form metal sculpture on display in the front yard. The grass was in need of clipping, and the paint on the house was faded and chipped. The house looked aged and lived in, but welcomingly warm.
"Enough procrastinating," Amy told herself. She stepped out of the car and marched across the lawn to the front door. There, she again found her will fading as her finger hovered over the doorbell.
"I wonder if I'll even recognize her after all these years. She was just a child the last time I saw her. Hopefully I haven't changed so much that she can still recognize me."
Taking three deep breaths, Amy pressed the doorbell. Long seconds later, a thin young man with unruly black hair and a small goatee opened the door. "Hey."
Not expecting to be greeted by a handsome young man, Amy paused before she was able to say, "Good afternoon. I'm Amy Barksdale, Daria's aunt."
"Cool. I'm Trent."
He offered his hand and Amy shook it.
Trent said, "Daria's upstairs with my sister."
"Thanks. Are your parents around? I'd like to thank them for letting Daria stay here until I could arrive."
"Nah, they're not here."
"Come on up," Trent said as he started ascending the stairs. "We're doing the best we can, but I think she needs family."
Amy nodded and followed while thinking, Some family. She's sixteen and I thought she was almost old enough for college. That woman from Family Services must've thought I was crazy when she called.
Trent stopped at a door and knocked before calling, "Daria, your aunt is here."
The door slowly opened and a blue-eyed girl with black hair was behind it. Guarded, she said, "Hi. You must be Amy."
Trent said, "This is my sister, Jane."
Amy sadly smiled and said, "Hi, Jane. How's Daria doing?"
"Not good. Come on in."
Jane led Amy into a room cluttered with clothes on the floor and paintings on the walls. Next to a professional-grade easel, Daria lay on an unmade bed, staring at the ceiling. The small teen was wearing a mustard-colored t-shirt and a black skirt, along with a pair of gray socks.
Jane said, "Daria, it's your Aunt Amy."
Amy softly gasped as the girl sat up. Daria looked a lot like Amy's sister, Helen, did at sixteen, except with large, round glasses that matched those that Amy wore. Looking at a young version of her sister caused the sense of grief and loss to rise again within Amy. She rushed the rest of the way across the room and knelt in front of Daria, tightly hugging her as the tears started again.
Sitting cross-legged on Jane's bed, Amy listened as Daria explained, "By the time the search and rescue team reached our campsite, they were all unconscious." She rubbed her face and struggled to keep talking. "Even using the helicopter to get them out, it was too late. Dad…" Daria choked and grabbed a tissue from a box next to her, blowing her nose. "Dad didn't even make it to the hospital. They pumped Mom and Quinn's stomachs and tried to neutralize the poison, but…" Daria broke down in sobs.
Amy reached out and held her niece, feeling tears roll down her cheeks as well.
From the overstuffed chair pulled next to the bed, Jane said, "Trent and I had just gotten back from a family reunion when she called. After Trent pretended to be Dad on the phone, Family Services agreed to let her stay here."
Still holding Daria, Amy asked, "Your parents don't know she's here?"
"They're out of town."
Amy thought about the condition of the house and made a few guesses Looks like they're out of town a lot, leaving this kid alone with her twenty-something brother.
Amy gently moved Daria's head up. "I suspect your mother left some instructions in case…something happened; that's why her law firm called me. The only reason I can think she chose me was that I've given her the least trouble over the years. I need to visit them to find out what's going on."
Daria nodded. "I understand."
"While I'm gone, think about where you want to stay for now. Here with your friend, at home, or even a hotel. I'll make plans accordingly."
"I'll think about it."
Amy carefully let go of Daria and stood. She turned to the other girl and said, "Jane, thanks for letting her stay here. I can tell you're a good friend."
"It's not a problem," Jane replied.
"I don't know how long this is going to take, but I'll be back as soon as I can."
Amy finished reading through the complex papers and gazed up at Eric Schrecter. "I had no idea that Helen had all of this planned."
Eric sadly smiled, "At our law firm, we believe in being prepared. We drew these up with Helen soon after she started. Company policy."
"Small consolation for her, but between Helen and Jake's stock portfolio and their insurance, Daria's going to be set for life." Amy took a moment to steady herself. "There were times I thought Helen was so self-centered, but it takes guts and love to prepare something like this to protect your children."
"If it wasn't about work, her children were about the only thing Helen talked about."
Amy moved onto another page of the document set and took in a deep breath. "And this is a big one."
"You don't have to decide right away."
"Daria deserves to know what's going to happen. Leaving her in limbo during all this would be cruel." Amy clutched the paper tight as she thought, then licked her dry lips as she placed the paper on Eric's desk to sign. "If Helen trusted me this much, I can't say no."
By the time Amy returned, Daria had donned a green blazer over her t-shirt and had on a pair of black, laced boots. She was at the kitchen table with Jane, slowly nibbling on a slice of pizza. Amy paused at the door and said, "Jane, may I please have some time alone with Daria?"
Jane grabbed an extra slice and nodded. "Um, yeah." Pointing to the box, she said, "Help yourself. I'll be in my room."
Daria watched Amy as she crossed the room and sat down across the table. The older woman carefully reached across the table to take the younger's hands. Voice strained with emotion, Amy said, "Your mother and father…made specific plans in case anything happened to them."
Daria quietly said, "That sounds like Mom."
"Because you're still a minor, one of those plans was to appoint a guardian for you until you're eighteen. By your parents' wishes, I've agreed."
Daria's hands faintly trembled as she said, "Thanks. But, you hardly know me."
"Your parents knew me. If they thought I was the best choice, there must've been a reason."
"Maybe Mom was getting even with both of us."
"Maybe." Sarcasm. It's one way to deal. I wonder if that's why she picked me. "Have you been home yet?"
"No. When I left the hospital, the woman from Family Services dropped me off here. She didn't think it would be a good idea for me to be alone."
"Feel up to letting me in? I have Mother's and Rita's phone numbers, but need to find your Grandma Ruth and Aunt Carol's."
"Nobody else knows?"
"Not yet. That's the kind of thing the authorities leave to families. Looks like I've been volunteered."
"I decided to stay at home. I'm glad I had Jane close to me last night, but I need to…start facing what's ahead."
"I'll take a sofa, if you don't mind."
"We have a guest room that's right next to mine. Might be more comfortable."
And closer to you. So brave, and so frightened.
The house at 1111 Glen Oaks Lane was solemnly silent when they reached it. Jake Morgendorffer's blue sedan was parked where it had been left the Friday before. Helen's red SUV was backed into the driveway and parked at on odd angle. When Amy pulled in beside it, Daria said, "The Forest Service guys said that they'd load the gear we left inside and tow it back."
Hand on Daria's shoulder, Amy said, "Why don't we take care of other things first?"
Daria placed her hand on Amy's. "I'm in no hurry."
Amy opened her car door. "Do you know where your mother kept her address book?"
"Her Liferunner book should be in her briefcase. The combination is 1-2-3." Daria lifted her aunt's hand. "Please give me a couple minutes before you come in."
"Give me a wave when you're ready."
Amy watched as Daria went into the house, thinking how much she looked like a little girl. I'm going to have to be her mother at least until she turns 18 in a next year and a half, or over two years until she graduates. Do I even have a clue of what I'm doing?
A couple minutes later, Daria's hand waved from the partially open door. Amy trotted over and entered, closing the door behind her. The room was lit only by sunlight entering through the windows. Daria stood on the stairs in front of the door, leaning against the wall near a picture frame holding photos of the family through the years. She quietly said, "Mom's briefcase would be in her room. This way."
At the top of the stairs, Daria pointed directions. "Mom and Dad's room is over there, that's the guest room, the bathroom, my room is down that way on the left, Quinn's on the right."
Seeing Daria's hesitation to enter her parents room for the briefcase, Amy said, "I'll get it."
"Do you mind if I stay in my room? I have some homework I should finish for tomorrow."
"That'll help take your mind off things a little. Go ahead."
Amy slowly entered her sister's room and switched on the light. The bed was unevenly made and various items scattered around the room gave the feeling of a hasty departure. The briefcase on the large dresser opened to the provided combination. Inside, it was stuffed to capacity with legal briefs and notes. The daily planner was tucked into a lid pocket. Amy lifted it free and flipped through a few pages, each packed with appointments and notes. Most were work related, but others hinted at how Helen had tried, not always successfully, to balance her family with her overstressed work life. Feeling like some kind of voyeur, Amy skipped to the back and started checking for the needed phone numbers.
Knotted stomach muscles added to the uneasy nausea Amy felt as she set the phone down on the coffee table with a shaking hand. "That's done. I better go check on Daria."
The slender woman rose from one of the sofa elements and went upstairs to the door that Daria had indicated earlier. Not hearing a response to the knock, Amy slowly pushed the door open. The grey padding on the walls and sawn-off bars on the windows were a shock.
To Amy's left, Daria looked up from the homework spread on her student desk. "Hi. I didn't hear you."
"Concentrating pretty hard?"
"Yeah. Did you get in touch with everyone?"
Daria set her pencil down on her history textbook. "Amy…what are we going to do?"
"If you're up to it, you'll go to school tomorrow and I'll take care of funeral arrangements. Your parents have pre-paid plans, but I'll need to take care of everything for Quinn."
"Actually, I meant after that. You live several hours away."
"I haven't gotten that far, yet. I'm still coming to grips with my sister gone and suddenly becoming a mother."
Daria let her head fall. "Jane's the best friend I've ever had."
"We don't have to make any quick decisions. My editor gives me a lot of leeway. I'm sure I can swing staying here at least through the end of your school year."
"Really." A new thought dawned on Amy. "Oh, yeah. Really. I have a one-room apartment. No matter what we do, I have to move."
Daria looked around her room sadly. "I suppose I'm going to have to move, also."
Amy shook her head. "Actually…no."
Amy sat on the floor and looked up at Daria. "Daria, your parents wanted to make sure you were well cared for. We can go over the details after your mother's law firm files the trust documents tomorrow. Basically…you're set for life."
"Right now, that's not helping much."
"I'd be worried about you if it did."
Amy closed the front door behind her and looked at the small group of reporters and crew. "I'll answer your questions."
The closest reporter asked, "Who are you?"
"I'm Amy Barksdale, Daria's aunt. Once the paperwork is filed, I'll be her legal guardian."
"Amy Barksdale? Do you write for Living with Martha magazine?"
A reporter further back inquired, "How is Daria Morgendorffer doing? Is she here?"
"She's grieving at the loss of her family. She's inside, but you can understand why my niece was not up to meeting you this afternoon."
A third reporter asked, "Why didn't she get sick?"
"My understanding is that she wasn't that hungry and didn't eat the berries."
"Who picked the berries?"
"What did she try to do for them?"
"She used her mother's cell phone to call 911 and was able to keep her family together while they were actively hallucinating."
"Do you know if she tried to induce vomiting or any other standard first aid?"
"Daria is a small girl and was physically unable to restrain any of them before they collapsed." Amy paused to keep her tears at bay. "After that, she didn't for fear that they might choke. Daria treated her family for possible shock and kept in contact with the 911 operator about their condition until the rescue team arrived."
The first reporter said in a quieter voice, "It sounds like she did everything right…and still lost her family."
Amy nodded and asked, "Anything else?" The reporters were quiet, so Amy said, "Have a good day," and stepped back inside the house.
Daria was at the kitchen table reading the paper when Amy came downstairs the next morning. The box holding the previous night's leftover pizza was open and a few crumbs were scattered on a plate. She decided to keep things light and said, "They say cold pizza's not the most nutritious breakfast, but it does seem to keep a lot of college students going."
Daria lowered the paper. "To be honest, it required less effort than toast."
Amy motioned to Daria's glass and said, "At least that's milk and not beer."
"I can quit anytime I want."
Amy smiled, shrugged, and picked up a slice. "Waste not…I'll just have to do a few extra stomach crunches this afternoon."
Daria looked slightly worried about the comment. She took a drink and said, "Things are going to be hard at school today."
"You don't have to go in."
"I'd rather get it over with. If I stay home, I'll spend most of my time dreading tomorrow."
Amy reached for the front page of the paper. "How bad?"
"It was difficult to read, but basically correct."
"I'll go to your school this afternoon to take care of any paperwork that might be needed and I can drive you home after."
"Thanks, but I usually walk home with Jane. Speaking of her, I was planning on heading over to her house before school."
"But that's the opposite direction from school. I can drive you." Amy saw a touch of frustration in Daria's face. "Or, I can give you some time with your friend."
Relief brushed the frustration away from her niece's face. "Thanks for understanding."
Thanks for understanding. Too bad I can't say that about you. Daria irritably thought after spending most of the morning talking with the school counselor, Ms. Manson, to whom she'd been directed before she even had a chance to get to her locker.
The middle-aged woman looked over the top of her thin glasses. "Now Daria…"
Tired and irritable, she said, "Ms. Manson. Can I please go to class?"
"We're concerned about you."
"You haven't covered anything the hospital counselor didn't cover Saturday. I'm through Denial." Daria's voice rose in anger, "Watching my father die behind me in the helicopter pushed reality home real fast!"
"And I'm still very much in Anger and Depression! Okay?"
"That's why I'm here and why you're here."
"More like keeping me out of class so I won't be a disruption."
Ms. Manson sighed. "In a way, yes. More precisely, to try to give you the means not to be."
"Ms. Manson, reading and studying helps me deal. I know that everyone will act weird around me and things will be disrupted. That's going to happen no matter how much you delay me today."
Sensing she wouldn't make any more real progress that morning, Ms. Manson tapped the small group of pamphlets on the table between them. "Please keep these with you as reference." She next signed a slip of paper and added it to the stack. "And a hall pass to go back to class. But, please remember you can stop by here any time if you need to."
Daria accepted the pamphlets and rose to leave. "Um, thanks."
The hall was empty as she left the office and made her way to her locker, and then to her English class. The students fell silent as Daria entered and she went to the front of the room to hand the hall pass to the thirtyish, blond-haired woman at the front of the room.
The teacher accepted it and quietly said, "Please take your seat."
Sitting next to Jane, Daria whispered, "Where's Mr. O'Neill?"
Jane whispered back, "Rumor has it that he broke down during Freshman English when…you know."
"He saw Quinn's empty seat."
Ms. Li's voice grated on Amy's nerves as the school principal said, "This is such a tragedy for our school, losing one of our most popular students. Quinn was Vice-President of one of our clubs, a star fundraiser, I could just go on. Her presence will be missed."
Seated across the desk from Ms. Li, Amy concentrated on completing the school forms. "Thanks for the kind words."
"And we are doing everything we can to help Daria through this difficult time. Our school counselor had a very productive session with her earlier."
Amy finished the form. "I hope it helped her." I really hope so. School counselors can be so hit or miss. "Good school counselors can make a big difference in situations like this."
"Ms, um…" Ms. Li leaned forward to read from the form,"…Barksdale. We have our students' best interests at heart, always."
That sounded like a load of bull… "Good."
"We're planning a memorial assembly for Quinn this afternoon at two. Will you be able to attend?"
"I still have to go to the funeral home to plan things and let relatives know when the service will be. But, I should be here by then."
"Very well, Ms. Barksdale. I'll inform Daria that you'll be here."
Amy stood to leave. "Thank you, Ms. Li. Good day."
"Good day, Ms. Barksdale."
Daria was glad, more than ever, for Jane's company. An aura seemed to fill the air around her that kept everyone else away. Students looked and stared or talked quietly among themselves when she went by, but nobody had said a word to her all day. Sitting in the cafeteria and pretending to be interested in the alleged food, she felt a warm hand touch her shoulder.
Jodie Landon said, "Mack and I are so sorry to hear what happened."
Daria turned around to see her and Mack MacKenzie standing next to the table.
Mack looked down and said, "I can't imagine what you're going through."
Jodie tentatively asked, "Would you mind if we joined you?"
Nodding slowly, Daria barely got out, "Please."
The new arrivals sat on the opposite side of the table. Jodie told Daria, "I know you normally find it hard to ask, but if you need anything, we're here."
Jane silently mouthed, "Thanks," to Jodie and Mack.
Daria faintly smiled at Jodie and Mack. "I was starting to think my plan to repel everyone was working."
Red-eyed, Amy returned to Daria's home and slowly went to the kitchen table, grabbing the phone on the way. From memory, she dialed her phone card number, followed by work number. After several rings, she said, "Hello Tina, it's Amy Barksdale. Can I speak with Melissa?...Thanks." She waited a few seconds, ignoring the hold music, before answering, "Hi."
Amy nodded a couple times, weakly smiled and felt fresh tears on her cheeks. "Thanks. The funerals will be on Thursday…Thanks again. Melissa, things have gotten a lot more complicated than when I left that message for you. My sister left a request that I take care of my niece, and I've agreed…It might be, but it's also scaring the hell out of me…She's sixteen…She's trying to be strong, but I can see she's hurting…Yeah…Yeah…Damn, I hadn't even thought of that. Melissa, can you have Tina overnight the forms to me at the address I gave you in the message? Thanks."
Amy pitched her head back in frustration as she remembered something else. She said to her boss, "Damn, I'll also need to revise my W-4. Please ask Tina to throw that in the package, too…Yeah, I'm sure I'll think of something else I've forgotten…Um, that's one of the things I need to talk about. I'd like to stay here several months to let Daria finish this school year. I can email my manuscripts…I'll have to buy a fax machine, but that could work…New York's only a couple hours up the interstate from here, so I can make face to face meetings when I need to…I can understand you having doubts, but have I let you down before?...I'll take a trial period, if it doesn't work out, I'll face the consequences. Thanks for giving me the chance. Bye."
Amy turned off the phone and looked out of the window into the back yard. "I hope this doesn't blow up in my face." She went to the counter to pull a paper towel from a roll and wipe her face. "If this keeps up, I'm going to look like a zombie before the day's over."
Daria was mildly surprised when her history teacher took her aside as the class exited for the assembly. Mr. DeMartino said, "Sudden losses are sometimes the most difficult to bear. There are those who have a good idea of what you're feeling."
Daria held her backpack in her hand and nodded. "Thanks, Mr. DeMartino."
"You better get to the auditorium. You know how Ms. Li gets if she's delayed."
"I'm going," Daria said.
Waiting outside the classroom, Jane asked, "What was that?"
"A little unexpected support."
Jane nodded, afraid to think about the possible details behind Mr. DeMartino's understanding. "Are you up to this?"
"I don't know."
The background roar of students talking in the auditorium dropped sharply when Daria and Jane entered the room. Waiting near the door, Ms. Li said, "Ms. Morgendorffer, there is a place reserved for you on the front row."
Not relishing the attention, Daria muttered, "Uh, thanks," and walked past to find the set-aside seat. Next to it was one with a small sign that read, "Ms. Barksdale." Daria looked sadly at the empty chair and sat down.
Jane followed and sat on the other side of her friend. "You can't get rid of me that easily."
"I need to quit leaving the bread crumbs."
Stepping up to the podium on stage, Ms. Li said into a microphone, "Settle down, everyone. Settle down."
The principal gazed at the empty chair next to Daria and shook her head. Ms. Li muttered, "Must run in the family."
Daria oddly found herself in rare agreement with Ms. Li.
Amy cursed and downshifted to bring up the engine RPMs and swerved around the old, overloaded pickup truck, gunning the engine harder in the process and shifting back as she gained speed. "Dammit. First big show of parental responsibility and I'm running late."
She pulled into the school parking lot and desperately searched for a space, finally finding one at the far end. The car engine was barely off when she hopped out and started jogging toward the school building. Along the way, she ran past a student loitering near the parking lot and asked, "Where's the auditorium?"
The shaggy-haired boy pointed to a large building in the center of campus. Amy shouted, "Thanks!" and swerved to head that way.
I wish contacting everyone hadn't taken so long. Or that each call didn't tear my guts out. Just outside the door, she could hear Ms. Li over the public address system saying, "Quinn Morgendorffer was one of those bright stars that brought honor and glory to Lawndale High."
Amy quietly opened the door and slipped inside, hovering near the back as she searched the sea of student heads for her niece. She has to be in here somewhere.
A brunette girl with her hair pulled into two braids began loudly crying. Amy noted two girls sitting with her attempt to comfort the girl. Must be one of Quinn's close friends. The sound drew the attention of most students and they turned as a group to look. A conflicting motion up front caught Amy's eye and she saw Jane turning to look back toward the entrances. Next to Jane, Amy saw Daria was staring straight ahead. That looks bad.
Seeing Amy running down the aisle, Jane waved for her to hurry. Amy came around the corner of the seats, ignoring the students that suddenly saw her and started whispering.
Ms. Li warned from the podium, "No running in the auditorium! You'll get detention for interrupting such a solemn gathering."
"I'm glad to see you," Jane blurted out, loud enough to carry through the front of the auditorium.
"What's…oh God," Amy said as she stopped in front of her niece.
Daria hadn't noticed Amy's arrival. Instead, she sat, unmoving, with her eyes fixed on the unadorned edge of the stage.
Gazing past where Jane cradled Daria in the passenger seat of her car to the two black teens that had helped get her niece from the auditorium, Amy said to Jodie and Mack, "Good thing Daria has friends like you."
Scraping her foot on the ground, Jodie said, "Uh, yeah."
Amy said, "Anyway, I want to get Daria home. Being in her room comforts her. Thanks again, um, Jodie?"
Amy got into the car and buckled in. "We'll call you later to let you know how she's doing."
Before Jodie or Mack could answer, Amy jammed the car in gear and drove away. Jodie looked at Mack. "She doesn't have our phone numbers."
"She must be figuring that Daria has them."
"Then she doesn't know Daria that well."
"How well do your aunts or uncles know you?"
Jodie rolled her eyes. "If they read Mom's Christmas newsletters, my shoe size."
"How many people do you think really read those things?"
"Hmm. Good point."
Mack put his arm around Jodie's waist. "I hope she'll be all right."
"Yeah, me too."
Amy stopped in the driveway in front of Jake's Lexus and checked her passengers. Jane still held Daria, stroking her long hair to soothe her soft sobs. Jane made eye contact with Amy, showing fright at her best friend's collapse. Amy hurried around the car and opened the door for Jane. "I'll help you get Daria inside."
Together, they led Daria up the stairs toward her room. At Quinn's bedroom door, Daria made them stop and croaked, "She's gone."
Amy moved her face in front of Daria. "But, we're here for you."
The grieving girl slowly started forward to her room. At the door, Daria got out her first clear sentence since the assembly began, "I'd like to be alone for while."
Hesitant, Jane said, "Okay, but be careful."
Amy touched Daria's cheek before nodding in agreement. Daria went inside her room and closed the door, leaving Amy to guide Jane swiftly away from the room.
Amy's hand hovered near a leftover wine bottle in the refrigerator. Jane looked past and said, "I don't mind. Kind of wish I could join you."
Cheeks prickling with shame, Amy moved her hand away and picked up a diet soda instead. "I better not."
Jane snagged a cola from the refrigerator and followed Amy to the living room, where they sat down on opposing sofas. "Do you really think it's a good idea to leave her alone? She's breaking down a lot more than she did on Saturday night."
Amy rolled the can between her palms. "She's been holding it in, trying to be strong and keep going. Helen and I both did that when our father died. If anyone's around, she'll keep trying to keep her grief in, even if not always successfully. Give her the chance she needs to cry freely."
"I'll bow to your experience. This is all new territory for me."
"You've done a damn good job."
Jane hunched forward. "Daria's the best friend I've ever had."
Amy took a drink and said, "As much as we really do love each other, my sisters and I couldn't be in the same room more than a couple hours without fighting. So…I haven't seen Daria in years. I remember a smart, bookish and shy girl. What's she like, now?"
"That's a still a good description. She also has a great talent for sarcasm."
"I've seen a little of that."
"She'll fight for what's right, in her own way."
"Like her mother at that age. What do you two normally do?"
"Overall, we kind of keep to ourselves and everyone's happy that way. Eat pizza, watch Sick, Sad World and try to survive high school."
That confused Amy. "From the way Jodie and Mack helped, I thought they were good friends, too."
Jane half-smiled and said, "Those two are the most understanding and kind-hearted people at Lawndale High. I honestly think they'd do that for anybody."
"But, they are probably the closest to being other friends that we have."
"Okay. I haven't heard any mention of one, so I guess Daria doesn't have a boyfriend."
"No, but she has a thing for my brother."
"The one I met?"
"He is cute, in a scruffy kind of way. He seemed concerned about Daria. Does he know?"
"Him? He might notice if Daria did the Dance of the Seven Veils on his chest, but I wouldn't bet on it."
"What about you?" Amy asked. "Boyfriend?"
"Nah. Not that I haven't tried, mind you. What about you?"
"Not currently. Engaged once, it fell through - real messy. Couple relationships since, but the choices are getting fewer now that I'm over forty."
"No. Well, until now. I never wanted it like this, but I'll get to be a mother for a little while."
"Where's Amy?" Daria asked while resting against the stair rail. She'd made no attempt to hide the telltale signs of crying.
Jane spun around on the sofa and said, "She went to Food Lord for some groceries."
Continuing down the stairs, Daria said, "I thought we had some lasagna in the freezer."
"Uh, Amy wanted something…healthier."
"I think there's going to be a period of adjustment needed around here."
Jane said, "You had us worried."
"Sorry, but it all hit me at once." Daria sat on the adjacent sofa to Jane's. "I know I complained a lot, but I still loved them."
Jane took a deep breath and nodded. "This did make me think. As much as I get annoyed at how much they're gone, I love my parents, too."
"I don't remember the last time I told any of them."
Jane stopped, eyes unfocused, and thought for a moment. "I can't, either. But the next time I see them, I will."
Exhausted by the day's events, Amy and Daria sat on the floor in front of the television. Their hastily purchased black dresses were slightly rumpled and wilted as they leaned against each other.
On the television news, a brief segment showed the funeral as a newscaster said in voiceover, "…were laid to rest at Ivy Gardens Cemetery. Numerous local business and law professionals were in attendance, plus many students and faculty from Lawndale High School."
Daria said, "Well, the ceremonial closure is over."
"Yeah, though they are ceremonial, they really do give people a chance to say goodbye."
"I'm not good at public displays. Amy, can we go there tomorrow so I can say goodbye?"
"I have a few more things I'd like to say to Helen. We'll go after you get home from school."
As the man with her carried Helen's business suits out to a waiting minivan, a sharply dressed woman completed a receipt and gave it to Amy. "Dress for Success appreciates the donations. I'm sorry for your loss. I hope it is some comfort to know how much these donations help women gain or regain their self-sufficiency."
Amy took the offered paper. "Self-sufficiency was something my sister believed in, so this seems like the right thing to do."
"Have a nice day."
"You, too." Amy closed the door and soon after, heard a thump upstairs. She followed the sound to Quinn's old bedroom, where Daria was wresting with a stack of boxes.
Amy asked, "Those are all Quinn's clothes?"
"We're going to have to use your mother's SUV to take all that to the thrift store."
Amy noticed a pink t-shirt on the bed. "You missed one."
Daria said, "That was her favorite. I'm going to keep it."
"Are you sure?" Amy asked Daria.
Standing in the door to the master bedroom of the house, Daria said, "I'm sure. It just makes more sense for you to use this room."
"The trust is in your name, so this is your house."
"So if this is my house, you have to live by my rules. Rule number one is that you can stay in the master bedroom, if you want to."
Amy surrendered. "Okay, I'll stay here. But, I have to bring in my own bed. I just can't sleep on Helen and Jake's. I'm used to small spaces. I can also put my office in there."
Daria hugged herself for a moment. "Amy, how long does it take for this sick feeling in the stomach to go away?"
"I don't know. I'll tell you when I find out."
Daria looked into the empty room that had been her sister's. "I know it makes sense, but it also, somehow, feels wrong. Quinn used to tease me about turning my room into a spare closet when I went off to college, and here we are turning her room into a library."
From within Daria's room, where she was stacking books to carry, Amy said, "It's not too late to change your mind."
"No." Daria leaned against the door frame. "Leaving her room alone was a way of wishing she would come back. I've kept what's important to remember her."
Amy looked at the bed, where a soft, yellow pillow with a smiling face sat. And hold.
Amy placed the small packing box on the floor and looked back into the empty apartment. Five years. I'm going to miss this place. I can almost hear the vultures waiting to swoop in to grab it. With a sigh that sounded like she was leaving an old friend, Amy closed and locked the door. She picked up the box and walked down the stairs.
At the ground floor, a middle-aged man with a thin fringe of brown hair waited. "Miss Barksdale. I'm going to miss you as a tenant."
Amy gave the man a friendly smile as she gave him the apartment keys. "Mr. Gerhrig, you're going to miss having a tenant that pays rent on time."
He laughed and said, "That too."
"I bet the place is already rented."
"Got somebody moving in tomorrow."
"Good thing I left the place clean for you."
"Only because you want your deposit back."
"Damn right I do, with how much you charge."
Mr. Gerhrig politely hugged Amy. "Good luck with that girl. She seems like a good kid."
"Thanks. Goodbye, Mr. Gerhrig."
"Goodbye, Miss Barksdale."
Daria was waiting in the car when Amy reached the small parking lot behind the apartment building. After placing her box in the trunk, Amy got in the car. "We have a couple hours before we really need to drive back to Lawndale. Anything you'd like to do while we're in New York City?"
Daria shifted in her seat and buckled the seat belt. "You must have a favorite bookstore."
Over the sound of the engine starting, Amy said, "Okay, New York Novelties it is."
Daria lightly groaned. "That's horrible."
"Horrible name, great bookstore." Pulling into traffic, she said, "One of the few places I prefer driving than using the subway."
Amy was chatting with the cashier, a brunette in her late twenties, when Daria walked up with a small stack of books. The cashier was saying, "I can't see you living in suburbia."
Daria replied, "One advantage is not hearing your upstairs neighbor's nighttime gymnastics."
The woman looked at Amy, questioning, "Is that the ones with…?"
Amy shrugged and rolled her eyes. "Yeah, they were at it again. Great timing."
The cashier starting ringing up Daria's books. "Hmm. Good taste in books."
Daria took her wallet from her jacket pocket and said, "Thanks."
"I'll get this," Amy said to Daria, "You're my guest this weekend."
"Um, okay. Thanks, Amy."
As her aunt completed the transaction, Daria looked around the crowded bookstore and followed her out after. Getting into the car, Daria said, "You're giving up your life here for me."
"I prefer to think I'm making changes in my life."
"Lawndale's going to seem dull as dirt. Well, because it is dull as dirt after living here."
Amy settled in and said, "Lawndale might be comparatively dull, but I have a feeling that living with you won't be."
Amy took the stack of pages from the fax machine and started going through the editorial marks on her latest manuscript. "Um…okay…okay…yeah…oh, come on." Amy shook her head as she went to her computer.
Soon, she had the file open and was making changes. She had to admit this part of her new lifestyle she enjoyed. Barefoot and wearing sweat pants plus an old Bill the Cat t-shirt, Amy enjoyed not having to play dress up for every work day. Only when she went to investigate stories and conduct interviews did she dig into her business attire.
Privately, she cringed at the thought of some of her coworkers or subjects seeing where she lived. To Amy's practiced eye, Helen's choice of interior décor left much to be desired. Daria seemed oblivious to what the house looked like and mainly viewed it from a functional viewpoint.
Daria. In the last couple weeks, the teen had proven much less stressful on some levels than Amy had anticipated and they had grown closer. She was honest, trustworthy, and to Amy's relief, not boy crazy. Amy could see some of herself in Daria, the sharp wit, keen intelligence and love of literature in all forms.
On the other hand, Daria was quiet and often barely communicated. Amy wasn't sure how much was her natural disposition, and how much was continuing grief. Left alone in the morning, Daria was content to eat breakfast in silence while reading the paper, though always leaving the business section untouched on the table in front of the chair next to her.
Amy remembered her high school days and living in the shadow of her sisters, Helen the hard-working achiever and Rita the prom queen. In response, Amy had become the outrageous rebel. She ran for student council president as the Pogo Party candidate with the slogan, "We have met the enemy, and he is us!" Her sarcastic standup routine at the senior talent night almost got her banned from graduation. Amy's mother once remarked that the school office should have a revolving door, considering how often Amy ended up there from her antics.
"Looking back, I know that gave Mother fits. At least Daria doesn't go further than causing insults with her sarcasm. Though that Principal Li sure seems to be a control freak. Daria mentioned an assembly today; I wonder what she's up to this time?"
The twentyish man with the misshapen nose said, "You know what Tommy Sherman's going to do now? He's going to go out onto the field and check out his new goal post. He's going to read the plaque and think of all the people who admire him. But you wouldn't know anything about that. You're one of those misery chicks. Always moping about what a cruel world it is, making a big deal about it so people won't notice that you're a loser."
He turned to strut way from Daria and Jane. Daria grabbed his arm and used the momentary surprise to spin him around. Her voice pierced his ears with anger, "You're right. It is a cruel world. My family died because of a small mistake, but you're rewarded for continuous gross stupidity."
Tommy pulled his arm away, "Hey! Just because…"
"Don't you get it? This whole school is putting up a memorial to the fact that you were too stupid to watch where you were going!"
Tommy stopped and made an effort to think. "Huh?"
"This isn't about you playing football. This is about you running into goal posts while playing football."
"Everyone's going to look at that goalpost and think about 'The Guy That Ran into Goal Posts,' not about Tommy Sherman.''
Tommy's eyes suddenly grew. "Yeah! That…they can't do that to Tommy Sherman!"
The former football player ran at a sprint to the school's main office.
Scattered claps emerged from the crowd gathered around. The volume grew as more students joined in.
Jane said to Daria, "I think they like you."
Shaking as the adrenaline hit late, Daria said, "I think everyone was already tired of him. I just happened to be the one to lose their temper first."
Sitting on the floor during a break in her exercise routine, Amy heard the door open. She saw Daria and asked, "Was the assembly as mindless you expected it to be?"
Daria shrugged. "It was cancelled."
"Man of the Hour a no-show?"
"He showed - his ass. He got in an argument with Ms. Li about the memorial and left."
"He sounds like a real loser."
"You could say that."
"Let me finish up and get out of this," Amy said, tugging at her purple leotard, "and we'll start dinner."
"Knock yourself out," Daria quipped as she started up the stairs. "I'll go exercise using a TV remote."
Amy called after, "Just you wait. You can't eat like you do forever."
"I'll be at Jane's all night," Daria said, standing in the door after dinner. "Bad movie night."
Two months after arriving in Lawndale, Amy was glad that Daria was showing further signs of recovery. Amy asked, "How bad?"
"Laser Blast, Star Crash, and Metalstorm."
"Eww, those are bad. They can kill brain cells."
"Only the weak ones," Daria said. "Are you doing anything tonight?"
Sensing the chance to tend to herself for a couple hours, Amy said, "I thought I might take a look at what passes for a nightlife around here."
"Good luck. If it's anything like it is for teens, there's not much."
"I can understand your frustration, Amy," the red-headed man smoothly said. "I have a son of about the same age, he's also named Charles. I believe that they know each other."
Seated next to him in one of Lawndale's few nightclubs, Amy said, "Maybe. I don't remember Daria mentioning anyone by that name."
"I know I've heard him mention your niece."
Amy sipped from her rum and cola. "She doesn't talk a lot about school. I guess some things about teens never change."
"It truly is sad about what happened. Suddenly being responsible for a teenager must've been a tremendous shock." The man placed his hand high on Amy's thigh and added, "Sometimes, a little advice from an experienced parent can help."
His roving hand put Amy on guard. She said, "I'll, uh, keep that in mind."
Amy felt a shiver as the man squeezed her thigh and said, "I'll be more than happy to help, if you ever need it."
"How generous. Could you please excuse me for couple minutes? I need to use the ladies room."
"I'll be waiting."
Ducking amid the crowd to stay out of sight, Amy made her way out of the building and rested against the hood of her car. "What a creep. Some guys will use anything as a pickup line."
Daria and Jane were sprawled on Jane's bed, a large, near-empty bowl of popcorn between them and empty soda cans stacked on the floor nearby. "Oh yeah, a skimpy costume is just the thing to wear while saving the galaxy," Daria said about the lightly clad heroine of the movie she and Jane were watching.
Jane said, "But I bet that would get Trent's attention," taking the chance to lightly tease Daria.
Daria allowed a short smile. "With everything that happened, it's made me think about how I really feel about people. What I felt for Trent was a crush, nothing more. But, I still think of him as a friend. Sorry to disappoint you."
Jane shrugged and said, "I kind of knew, but it was fun to tease you about it. I'll just have to find something else."
"I have every confidence that you will."
Changed out of her business clothes and into something more comfortable after spending the day at a nearby interior designer's office, Amy entered the kitchen. "Hmm. How energetic do I feel for dinner tonight?" she asked herself. Noticing the blinking light on the answering machine, she hit the "play" button.
Following a beep, the recording said, "Hello, Ms. Barkstail. This is Mr. Timothy O'Neill at Lawndale High. I'm Daria's English teacher. She has a wonderful opportunity and I'd hate to see her squander it because she was…uh…a tiny bit reticent about some editorial changes that we requested. It's nothing substantive, just a change in tone is all that's…" The message was cut short with another beep.
The next message started with a nervous laugh and then, "Oh, dear. This is Mr. O'Neill again. I'm so sorry I was cut off. We're having a 'Student Life at the Dawn of the New Millennium' poster contest at school. Daria's friend Jane made a very nice picture and Daria wrote a, um, kind of unpleasant poem to go with it. All we are…"
The machine beeped and the third recording started. "Me, again. Dratted short message answering machines. Oh! I'm sorry, I don't mean anything against you, Ms. Barkstail. Sorry. Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, could you please have her consider revising the poem so we can enter the poster? Ms. Li and I would hate to see her miss such a wonderful…" The machine beeped and ended the playback.
Amy hit the erase button and said, "Call me that again, and I'll teach you the meaning of unpleasant."
Tending to a simple one-skillet dish of diced chicken and herbed rice, Amy heard the door and called, "Daria, could you come here a minute?"
Rounding the corner, Daria swung her bookbag onto the breakfast bar and said, "Let me guess; somebody called you from school."
"That Mr. O'Neill. I'm surprised the students haven't eaten him alive, yet."
"A few have nibbled. I suspect his bad taste is what's keeping him alive. Basic story: Jane did a painting of a thin, pretty girl. I wrote a poem that shocks the observer into realizing that the price she's paying for the beauty is an eating disorder."
"Damn. Sounds like a powerful piece."
"But, they wanted me to rewrite it. I said no and Ms. Li graciously gave us a day to reconsider."
"And time for Mr. O'Neill to call me." Amy paused for a moment in thought, and then asked, "Where's the poster? I'd like to see it."
"It's at the school, with the other entries."
"I was planning on writing tomorrow, so I can break free to take a look, if you'd like. And lend a little amoral support if you want it. Why don't you tell me about it?"
"Well, we got the idea while brainstorming over too much pizza."
"Ms. Barksdale, what a pleasant surprise," Ms. Li said as Amy entered the principal's office behind Daria and Jane.
Amy said, "Mr. O'Neill's call made me curious."
Standing next to the covered poster, Mr. O'Neill proudly said, "I believe you'll be pleased with what I've done to preserve your message while…" He made "quote" motions with his fingers while continuing, "smoothing out the rough edges."
Daria sarcastically asked, "Did you stone wash it?"
Amy glanced at a flyer she picked up on the way into the office. "Mr. O'Neill. These rules state that all entries must be entirely the work of the entering students. I hope you're not implying that Daria and Jane 'bend' the rules."
Mr. O'Neill gulped and said, "I, uh, no. I'm not…"
Amy gave him a predatory grin. "Good. It's unfortunate that so many schools are willing to tarnish their honor in the quest for a little more glory."
Talking quickly, Ms. Li said, "Oh, no, Ms. Barksdale. He only had a few stylistic suggestions that are well within the rules."
Jane struggled to withhold her laughter.
Amy gestured to the covered poster. "This was all done at Jane's house and I haven't had a chance to see the painting. May I?"
Behind her desk, Ms. Li made desperate pulling motions with her hand, trying to tell Mr. O'Neill to remove the altered text. She said to Amy, "In a moment. I'd still like to talk to you about the content of your niece's poem. It was very negative and we were hoping that you could convince Daria and Ms. Lane to revise the text themselves. All completely within the rules, mind you."
"Actually, I agree with their message and think altering it would destroy the integrity of the total composition."
Daria saw Mr. O'Neill fumbling under the cover and whispered, "Let me help you."
He smiled in thanks as Daria felt under the cloth to grasp the paper taped over her poem. She carefully peeled it away and pulled it out to read.
Ms. Li said, "Ms. Barksdale, I can't for the life of me understand how you could support such a negative message."
Mr. O'Neill put his hand over his mouth and said, "Eep!" while Daria pulled the cover away from the poster. It featured a slender, pretty girl gazing into a mirror. At first glance, all looked perfect, but a closer look revealed a subtle sadness in her eyes. Attached near the bottom was a card that read:
All know she's a winner
and couldn't be thinner.
Lost, she goes in the bathroom
to vomit up dinner.
Even having heard the description the night before, Amy paled at the sight and then leaned forward into Ms. Li's face. Her voice was cold as she said, "How? Because I've been there."
Daria and Jane looked at Amy in shock. Ms. Li rolled her chair away from Amy, sputtering, "Well…I…um…"
"So, either enter it as is, or remove it from the competition. Or do you want me to read what Daria has in her hand to see if you were going to violate the poster contest rules?"
Daria held up the revised poem, quickly folded in half.
Ms. Li recovered and glared in anger at Amy. "If Ms. Morgendorffer and Ms. Lane won't consider changing it, then get that poster out of my sight."
Daria and Jane exchanged glances and Jane said, "Let's go."
Amy stood as Jane grabbed her poster from the easel, tersely saying, "I'm sorry we couldn't come to an agreement, Ms. Li."
The three walked out of the office and closed the door. Ms. Li's voice faintly carried through, saying, "What in the world were you thinking when you called that woman?"
In the corridor, Daria asked, "Were you serious?"
Almost imperceptible, Amy nodded.
"I'm sorry. We didn't know."
"Nobody in my family knew. You'd be surprised at how well someone can hide things."
Jane said, "I hope you're not upset."
Amy stopped and turned to both. "That's a demon I have to face. Don't feel bad for making a mirror that shows it."
They stood in silence, looking at each other. Finally, Daria said, "We better get back to class. With Ms. Li in such a bad mood, we don't want to be caught out in the halls."
Jane said, "Crap. I can't take this into math and Ms. DeFoe has class right now. I don't have any place safe to leave it."
"I'll take it home with me," Amy volunteered. "You can pick it up after school."
"Thanks, Amy," Jane said. "You really came to our rescue like a lioness protecting her cubs."
Eyes showing her gratitude, Daria said, "Yeah, thanks. It meant a lot."
"You're welcome. But, you're also right that you better get to class."
Amy stood alone while watching the girls walk away. Lioness?
Amy looked out of her boss's office window at the New York skyline. It seemed odd that the city's pace was unsettling after the slower one of Lawndale. However, it felt good to be back in the magazine offices, a place that had almost been a second home.
Behind her desk, Melissa brushed her platinum blond hair away from her eyes and scanned the page layouts before her. "I was nervous about your idea to telecommute, but you're making me change my mind. If anything, your writing seems to have gotten better."
"Thank you. I'll admit that I was nervous about everything, too."
"Well, you can make the arrangement permanent."
"Wow. I really appreciate that."
Smirking, Melissa said, "That is, if the suburbs aren't driving you insane."
Although she was Amy's boss, Melissa was also a good confidant and it felt good to chat, and the change of subject was the signal that business was over. Amy said, "I'm getting used to it. Not as much to do, but I'm enjoying the quiet. The biggest downside is a lot fewer datable guys."
"I hear you."
"I even tried a personal in the local paper. Daria's history teacher answered it. I'm sure he's a nice guy, but I wasn't about to freak her out like that."
Melissa laughed. "I would've been mortified if my Mom had done that to me. Instead, she ended up marrying one of her night class teachers. Speaking of weddings, your other niece has one this weekend, right?"
"And I'm nervous about it. I'm hoping that after Helen's death, things with Rita have improved. The seem to when we talk on the phone, but you know how things can change in person."
"I know what you mean, but asking your niece to be a bridesmaid sounds like she's trying to be nice."
"Or that Rita's showing off how much money she's getting from Mother to throw this thing." Amy rolled her head back. "Oh damn, there I go again."
"Could it be both?"
Bringing her attention back to Melissa, Amy said, " Maybe. Rita's just as messed up as I am."
"I suppose I deserve that."
"Any time. What's your niece think about being in the wedding?"
"I believe Daria wants to get closer to what family she has left. That's another reason I hope things are better."
"To be honest, Mrs. Danielson, I'm glad Daria accepted," Amy told the groom's mother, a woman a little older than her with a pageboy style brown hair that reminded Amy of Jane. "It's good to see her reaching out after all she's been through."
"She seems to be doing okay," the other woman said. "I hope my nephew's odd sense of humor doesn't cause any problems."
At a nearby table, Daria held a hand over her glass and said to the blonde maid of honor, who was pouring wine, "No thanks, Daphne. I'm driving."
Amy said to Mrs. Danielson, "I doubt it."
Daphne asked Daria, "You're not staying here tonight?"
"Sorry, we have to get back to the Bat Cave. You just can't take your eyes off those villains in Lawndale for even one night."
Daphne laughed and said, "You are so funny!" She moved to the tall boy seated next to Daria and asked, "Luhrman, wine?"
He shook his head. "I want to see them in their costumes."
"I see what you mean," Mrs. Danielson told Amy. "But I'm also curious. Why not stay here?"
"With my line of work, I've spent a lot of nights in hotels. If I have a choice, I prefer to sleep in my own bed. And for me, the hour and a half drive isn't that big of a deal."
"But you're welcome to change your mind," Rita said, stopping to sit in an empty chair across the table from Amy.
"Don't have a choice now," Amy explained. "We didn't bring anything to wear tomorrow. I bet Erin doesn't want Daria showing up in something we picked up from S-Mart at the last minute."
Rita chuckled. "You were always funny like that."
"Lots of practice."
Rita changed tone a little. "Mother could stand to hear it. She's disappointed the doctor won't let her travel anymore and really had wanted to be here."
"Rita, with my work…damn, that's not an excuse. We'll go to see her next weekend."
"Come on, dudes!" The best man yelled from his perch on a table. "Time to take Brian out and remind him of what he's giving up!"
Luhrman pushed his chair back and stood. "This I have to see, and photograph. See you tomorrow, Daria."
"Happy extorting," she told the young man as he joined the group of rowdy men.
Amy said, "We should be going. Don't worry, I'll remember to bring Daria back tomorrow. Might even remember to bring myself."
After saying goodbye to Rita and Mrs. Danielson, Amy stopped by Daria's table and said, "Ready?"
"Yeah." Daria stood and told the other bridesmaids, "I'll try to get you passes to the cave."
On the way to the parking valet, Daria said to Amy, "I never realized drunks could be so entertaining."
"You've only scratched the surface." Amy then told the valet, "Amy Barksdale."
"Be here in a minute, ma'am," the young man said as he removed her keys from a small board and tossed them to a second valet. "The red two-door convertible."
"Sweet," the second said as he jogged to the parking lot.
Amy followed Daria, who took a couple steps away from the valet station. The teenager said, "Fortunately, nobody asked me about what happened. I'm glad my 15 minutes of unwanted fame is over."
Good thing Rita made it very clear to those that remembered not to say anything to you. "I only had a little bit of curiosity to deal with, when I explained to Mrs. Danielson that I wasn't your mother."
After the car arrived and Amy tipped the valet, she drove off, aware of Daria silently looking out the side window. The teen said, "Thanks for wanting to stay at home. I'll sleep better on my own bed and pillows."
This is reminding you of how much you miss them. "A good night's sleep usually makes the extra effort worth it."
Amy checked her watch and called up the stairs. "Daria, we need to get going!"
"Coming!" Daria replied. "Last minute adjustment." A few seconds later, she came down the stairs.
Amy looked at the shapely, two-tone blue dress Daria wore and said, "You really look good."
She faintly blushed and said, "Thanks. The girl at the bridal shop was really patient. I'm glad I didn't get that hag that Jodie and Brittany had to deal with."
"But you still wore your boots. I could hear the thumps."
At the bottom of the stairs, Daria explained, "You can't see them, and they're a lot more comfortable."
Laughing, Amy said, "Fine. Let's go."
Following Daria to the car, Amy noticed the single strand of pearls her niece wore. She asked, "Didn't the dress come with a triple-strand necklace?"
The teen stopped at the car and slowly faced Amy. "Mom always wore these."
Amy's voice caught. On her second try to speak, she said, "Good choice."
The hypnotism of the interstate, the soothing combination of the car's speed, the wind along the closed convertible roof, and music on the radio, was broken when Daria said, "Amy, you're a good mother."
"What was that?" Amy asked as she turned down the radio.
"You're a good mother."
"Oh," Amy said in surprise. Feeling a chance, she said, "You're a good kid."
Daria gave one of her soft smiles and said, "Thanks."
After another couple miles without conversation, Daria said, "I never told Mom."
"It's sadly a human condition that we forget to tell people important things that seem so obvious."
Daria had turned to the left and rested her head on the top of the car seat. "I think it would've meant a lot to her."
Reaching over to gently place a hand to Daria's shoulder, Amy said, "It meant a lot to me. I'm sure it would've meant even more to Helen."
After another mile, Daria said, "Dad was under a lot of stress. We went camping to help him relax."
Time to be quiet and let her talk, Amy mentally told herself.
"And he was having a good time, even if he was up before dawn and driving Mom a little crazy."
Amy gave a reassuring squeeze to Daria's shoulder to continue.
Her voice soft and touched with sadness, Daria said, "It might've been the berries, but Dad was starting to open up to me. I think I saw a little of why he was so stressed out."
And you're starting to open up to me. Drying her eyes while scanning the road ahead, Amy was frustrated by the lack of nearby exits or rest stops.
Sliding over to rest her head against Amy's shoulder, Daria said, "When things started…" She swallowed hard before going on, "…Quinn called and looked to me for help. Me."
Amy's arm went around Daria's side as she laid her head on Amy's lap. Barely whispering, Daria said, "But I couldn't help them. I tried. But, it was all too late."
Blinking her eyes to keep them clear, Amy kept driving as Daria quietly cried herself to sleep. Along the way, she thought of her mother and Rita. And things that had long been left unsaid.
After rolling to a stop in an empty corner of a parking lot, Amy gently shook her niece awake. "Daria. Daria."
"Hmm?" Daria blinked her eyes and asked, "Where are we?"
"On the outskirts of Leeville. Windsor Hills Resort is about fifteen minutes away."
Embarrassed, Daria sat up, saying, "I guess I fell asleep."
"I guess you did." Amy offered Daria a tissue. "You might need this."
She weakly smiled and accepted it with a "Thanks."
After Daria was done drying her eyes, Amy pointed to the chain department store at the other end of the parking lot. "Might be a good idea to pick up a little concealer. People are expected to look like they've been emotional at the end of a wedding, not the beginning."
"I look that bad?"
"It's not that noticeable behind your glasses, but it is just enough for some people to see and ask."
Daria nodded. "I want things to go well today. Concealer it is, but Jane must never find out I bought makeup."
At the resort entrance, Rita embraced her sister. "Amy. How'd you sleep after all that driving?"
"Fine. How about you?"
"Not that good. I think you had the right idea about going home."
"I have good ideas occasionally."
Rita said to her niece, "Daria, you look lovely. But, didn't you get the matching necklace?"
Daria looked down and quietly said, "They're Mom's. I hope you don't mind."
Rita's lip trembled momentary as she smiled. "No, my dear. I think it's a wonderful gesture for your mother."
Rita turned to her current boyfriend. "Paul, would you please show them in?"
"Sure, Rita." He smiled at the two arrivals. "This way, ladies."
Amy watched Rita, one hand holding her hat in place, jog ahead of them toward the garden where the ceremony was planned to take place. I owe you one.
"What a dignified display of ladylike charms," Daria said to Amy as they backed away from the women clustered around the maid of honor, who was triumphantly holding up the bouquet.
"Hey, the whole garter thing is even classier," Amy replied as they took positions to watch the next act in the day's activities.
The single men gathered as Brian knelt on one knee before Erin, seated on a chair. As he removed the garter from her leg, Daria whispered to Amy. "Good thing they don't reverse that tradition. I can't see women wanting to catch some guy's used sock."
"Or jock strap," Amy whispered back.
"That was a visual I didn't need."
Brian pulled back the garter and shot it over his shoulder. One of the guests leapt high to grab it as others reached unsuccessfully or jumped away. The winner landed, did a quick victory dance and spiked the garter like it was a football. "Yeah!"
"I can just see Kevin Thompson doing that," Daria said.
Amy said, "You've mentioned him. He's the football-obsessed guy, right?"
"Now that all the planned activities, except the rice pelting, are over, I'm going to mingle a bit."
"I guess I can continue the 'Adventures of Batwoman and Robin' to keep me busy. Two of the bridesmaids wanted more."
"See you in a bit."
Amy looked around and spied her sister. Steeling her nerves, Amy walked over.
"Rita, can I talk with you a little bit?" Amy asked. "In private?"
"Uh, sure Amy," Rita replied with a hint of uncertainty.
They stopped in a hallway just outside the ballroom. Amy started by saying, "Thanks for keeping a lid on questions to Daria. I really appreciate it."
"You're welcome. Sis, I know you well enough that there's more on your mind."
"I've thought about what you said yesterday about visiting Mother."
"You're not trying to back out on your promise, are you?"
"Oh, no Rita. No. Between that, Helen's death, and everything Daria's been through, it made me realize that I need to set aside my old jealousies."
"Who were you jealous of?"
"You and Helen."
"Us? Mom and Dad were always easier on you. How were you jealous of us?"
"All through school, I lived in your shadows. I kept hearing about how smart Helen was and what kind of grades she got. Then, I'd hear about how pretty and popular you were. I was almost never 'Amy.' I was 'Helen's Little Sister' or 'Rita's Little Sister.' I resented both of you for it. That's a big reason I stayed away so long."
"Oh. So that explains why you studied so hard. You wanted to outdo Helen."
"That's right. Now, I'm trying to come to peace with what I didn't say to Helen by being there for Daria."
"It was wonderful that you were willing to step in like that," Rita said, and then added, "But I don't see how you were jealous of me. Amy, for years, I was jealous of how slender you stayed."
Amy held herself tightly and said, "I hurt myself keeping that thin and I blamed you. But, I can't anymore. You had nothing to do with it."
"Hurt yourself?" Realization came to Rita. "Oh, dear."
Erin came up to the table where Daria was storytelling to the other bridesmaids and said, "Daria, can I get your help?"
Erin desperately motioned for Daria to follow. Daria shrugged and said, "I'll finish later."
When they were away from the others, Erin pointed and said, "Mom and Amy disappeared down that hallway twenty minutes ago. I'm worried."
"I thought they were getting along."
"So was I, but…"
Both had to pull up the edges of their skirts to move faster, in Daria's case, revealing her black boots.
Eyes across the ballroom followed them as they reached the hallway and closed the door behind them. Inside, Rita and Amy were sitting on the floor, hugging and crying.
Erin said, "Mom?"
Daria said, "Amy?"
Both women looked up. Amy was the first to speak. "Just, um, a little overly emotional sisterly bonding."
"Today was a good day," Daria observed as Amy's car traveled down the highway back home.
Amy reached over and squeezed Daria's shoulder. "That it was, though rather emotional."
"Good thing I still had the concealer."
"For all four of us."
"I'm starting to think that we might just make it."
"We just might."
Tired, Erin placed the finished thank-you note on the stack and said, "Next."
Brian handed her a small package in gold wrapping. "Your cousin Daria."
"Daria? Didn't she and Amy give us the writing desk set?"
"Yeah. Guess she slipped in something extra."
Inside the box, Erin found a framed photo, taken about eleven years before. Erin dimly remembered it was at her grandmother's birthday, when her Uncle Jake rounded everyone up, calling out, "I want a picture of all the ladies." She ran her finger over the images of herself, her grandmother, mother, Aunt Amy, Aunt Helen with Quinn in her arms, and Daria.
"What is it? Brian asked.
Returning home school a late spring day, Daria unceremoniously dropped a note on the kitchen counter. "Well, the Ms. Li finally decided to do something about the library roof. They're putting a medieval faire…with the usual mandatory participation or ticket purchase."
Stirring the contents of a crock pot, Amy said, "I remember when I used to play in renn faires. Sounds like fun."
"Yeah, right." Daria's disgust was unmistakable. "Li's gonna dress us up in funny costumes and parade us around speaking faux-Middle English."
Amy admitted, "Some of it gets pretty hokey, but you can learn a lot, too."
"You forget that this is Ms. Li's brainchild. Education is not an option."
"Then be subversive about it."
"Why waste my time?" Daria said in mild irritation.
Amy snapped, "Dammit, Daria! You don't have to play the misfit outsider all the time. Let yourself live a little and it won't be a waste of time."
Daria snapped back, "I'm not interested, all right? I'll buy a ticket and toss it in the trash. I don't care about your old, lame hobbies, and I'm not interested in living in a fantasy."
"Daria, you're missing a good chance."
"To make a fool of myself, along with the rest of the cretins? No thanks. I'm not hungry, so I'll just head up to my room." Daria spun and walked away, leaving Amy seething and frustrated.
Staring at a manuscript displayed on the computer, Amy felt a complete creative blank as her thoughts kept going back to the evening's events. "I'm not getting anything done," she said, closing the file and the word processor program.
She scratched a minor itch on her bare leg along the frayed edge of well-worn shorts emblazoned with her old college logo. Still at the computer, she brought up her current game and clicked through to her last save. Amy watched the animated island form and tried to concentrate on how to get past the latest puzzle.
Ten minutes later, Amy muttered, "Damn," clicked off the game and pushed the mouse away. "I can't believe it, I sounded like Mother. But, dammit! I though Daria was opening up more at the wedding, but she's still closed up around her classmates."
She stood and tugged at her t-shirt. "I guess I can't force things. It won't work any better on her than it did with me."
The house was quiet as Amy walked to Daria's room. After a single knock, Daria said, "Come in."
Daria was sitting on the bed with her legs drawn up to her chin. A couple paces put Amy next to the bed, where she squatted down and said, "I just realized that I was sounding like my mother. It's a somewhat disconcerting realization."
"Actually, you sounded like Mom. She was always trying to get me to participate."
"I'll take that as a compliment. I can't force you, any more than my mother could force me. But, can I ask you to consider participating, instead?"
"Um…I kind of enjoyed storytelling at the wedding, but I don't know where to start."
"You could do the same for the faire."
Daria shivered and said, "I can't dress up like that. I just can't."
"It's too close to one of the hallucinations Mom and Dad had."
Several seconds passed as they considered what to say. Daria was the first, with, "Amy, I'm sorry I called your old hobby lame."
"Daria, I shouldn't have told you live a little."
Daria lowered her knees. "Okay, I'll go to the faire and try not to make too many smartassed remarks. Although, with Kevin playing Palomon in The Canterbury Tales, it'll be a challenge."
"They'll probably deserve all the smartassed remarks you can make. But, also try to enjoy yourself in other ways."
"Deal." When Amy developed a far-away grin, Daria asked, "What are you smiling at?"
"Picturing you in an Elizabethan dress."
Daria faintly laughed and said, "Now you've got me picturing you in one."
"Nah, I always liked the Italian Renaissance style better.
Amy's mood improved as she pulled into Lawndale from the interstate. At the first gas station, she stopped and lowered the roof. Back on the road, the early June warmth helped her hold back the last week's fatigue as she drove through town to Jane's house on Howard Drive. Except for the taller grass, it looked the same as it did when she first arrived.
She parked behind Trent's blue car and his bandmate's black van. The sound of bird calls in the trees told her the band wasn't actively practicing. Amy went to the door and knocked.
It was opened by a soft-spoken woman with light brown hair. "Hi, Amy. The girls are up in Jane's room."
Amy entered, saying, "Hi, Amanda. Thanks again for letting Daria stay here while I was out of town."
"My pleasure. She's so quiet; you hardly know she's here."
Amanda, you're a sweetheart, but sometimes I wonder if you're here. "Let me guess, they're up in Jane's room."
"I think so. Why don't you go check?"
Amy trotted upstairs and poked her head into Jane's open door. "Is my wayward charge in here somewhere?"
"Argh!" Daria grumbled as she threw a wad of paper at a trash can.
"That sounds like a yes," Amy replied.
Daria looked over. "Sorry. Writer's block. Nasty case."
"Ah. Hi, Jane. How are you?"
Jane was searching through loose items on her dresser and pulled out a letter. She held it up and said, "I got into a summer art program at the community college. You were right; the poster Daria and I made was a big splash in my portfolio."
"Hey, that's great."
Daria closed her writing notebook and slid off the bed, grabbing an overnight bag in the process. "See you in the morning, Jane. Maybe I can write something between now and then."
Jane said, "Good luck. But, if you're going to have me break up a wedding, at least let me end up with somebody cool, like Mack."
Daria cocked her head. "Should Jodie be worried?"
"Don't give me that. I've caught you eyeing him."
Daria blushed at the comment and Amy said, "Am I going to have to keep an eye on you two?"
Jane laughed and said, "No. Just a little window shopping."
"I have to admit to being guilty of that, also," Amy said. "Take care, Jane. Not trying to be rude, but I really want to get home and out of these shoes."
"I don't want to be around when you do, if they smell anything like Daria's boots. Catch you later," Jane said and waved.
Home-fed, back into casual clothes and barefoot, Amy unpacked her luggage. After the dirty laundry had been tossed into a hamper and her toiletries returned to the bathroom, Amy picked up a flat package in brown wrapping paper. "I better give this to Daria before I fall asleep."
She walked to Daria's room, knocked and waited. Not hearing an answer, Amy slowly pushed the door open, to be greeted by a paper wad flying over her head. Amy ducked down instinctively and said, "I'll knock louder, next time."
"Oops, sorry Amy. Just another masterpiece being hidden away from the world. It's safe; I promise not to throw anything else at you."
"That's good. I went to Florida and couldn't even find you a lousy t-shirt, so I got you this instead." Amy gave Daria a flat package wrapped in brown paper. "I managed to get away from the convention one afternoon and went to Winter Park and the Morse Museum. I also picked up an art book for Jane."
Daria unwrapped the gift. It was a reproduction of all four panels of L.C. Tiffany's Four Seasons, made to be hung in front of a window or other light source. Daria said, "Trying to tell me something about my room?"
Amy laughed. "I've accepted that you're not going to allow anything to be done to this room and it will never be featured in Living with Martha, but I thought you could use a little more color. Besides, it spoke to me."
"It's not telling you to kill and kill again, is it?"
Daria held up the reproduction stained glass to the light. "Wow."
Amy said, "I need to drag you down there some day. That reproduction doesn't do them justice."
"Amy, thanks." Daria placed the reproduction on a sill and leaned it against a window. "I'll hang it later, this story is due tomorrow and I have nothing."
"No. I've come up with story after story, and they've all sucked. I wanted to write something meaningful, but all I've produced is drivel."
"From my experience with Mr. O'Neill, drivel would probably get you an 'A'."
"This isn't about the grade. If it was only about the grade, I'd have kept my mouth shut and written a report from a book I'd already read."
"Oh, sorry." Amy yawned deeply. "Damn. I really hate hotel beds. Is there any way I can help?"
Daria shook her head. "Maybe if I pound my head against the padding a while longer, I might come up with something. Thanks for the offer, but it looks like you need to crawl into bed before you drop."
"Are you certain?"
"Yeah. I'll get something together."
Amy's next yawn convinced her she would be of little or no help. "Okay, you win. I'm going to bed. I wish you luck."
Still in her nightgown and brushing her hair, Amy heard the knock and stepped out of the bathroom to see Daria peering into Amy's room. Daria said, "Just wanted to let you know I'm on my way to school."
Still brushing, Amy asked, "Did you get a story written?"
Looking pleased, Daria said, "I think I ended up with a lot more than I expected. Comfort was good middle name for Mr. Louis Tiffany."
"Now you have me curious. Do you have time for me to read it?"
"Sorry. But, I'll make a copy for you to read tonight."
"Guess I'll have to be patient. Anything you want me to say to Mother when I call her today?"
"Tell her that I've made it through fall, winter and spring. Now, I'm ready for summer."
Typing at her computer, Amy heard the commotion at the front door and Jane loudly saying, "Come on, Daria. You turned Mr. O'Neill into a gibbering mass of jelly that they had to take away on a stretcher. You've got to let me read that story."
Amy rose and started for the stairs as Daria said, "Okay, but only after Amy gets to read it."
"Damn, you gave in easy. Are you losing your touch?"
"I can still touch these boots to your butt. However, writing this helped me finally make a big step forward. I suppose I should thank Mr. O'Neill for the assignment, when he recovers."
Amy neared the bottom of the stairs. "You've got my curiosity up, too."
Jane said, "Amy, trust me, check for pods."
"And electrodes. I know the drill."
"Okay. I'll wait. But if I see any strange lights around this place, I'm getting out of town." Turning to leave, Jane added, "I better get going; need to wake Trent up for band practice an hour ago."
Amy watched Jane jog away and said, "That would only make sense coming from her, and only about him."
Daria set her backpack on a stair step and pulled out a stack of papers. "Here's the copy I promised to make for you."
"Sounds like you wrote something pretty emotional."
Daria quietly said, "Only if you know me. Please don't take anything personal, but I decided to write about something I really wish could happen."
Amy accepted the story and began reading. "Everyone's allowed to make wishes."
"And you wished me good luck last night," Daria reminded her.
About ten minutes later, Amy finished reading:
As the summer sun shone in through the window on him, Dad held up the deck of cards and asked, "How about it, Daria? Hearts?"
I took only a moment to decide before saying, "Deal me in."
Eyes tearing, Amy said, "I wish that could happen for you."
Daria placed her hand on the pages. "It will. Every time it's read."
Dress for Success
Thanks to Kristen Bealer, Ipswichfan and Mr. Orange for beta reading.