The Art of Seeing
©2003 Roger E. Moore (email@example.com)
Feedback (good, bad, indifferent, just want to bother me, whatever) is appreciated. Please write to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Synopsis: When Daria meets Jane in an alternate universe, they discover things that the eye will never find.
Author’s Notes: Brother Grimace posed a challenge to me on PPMB to write a “Daria” alternate-history fanfic in which a character from that show chose a second path in life, following up on another interest the character had. The story had to have a happy ending. Brother Grimace further asked that the fanfic be in the first-person, take place before episode #101 (“Esteemsters”), use only male characters, and make the reader want to cry. I worked on it for a time, but the first-person viewpoint defeated me. So did every other additional criterion, depending on your viewpoint. Anyway, this story was the result.
The story came to me after I watched “Daria” episode #308, “Lane Miserables.” Jane has a brief conversation with her father during which he warns her not to drink from a container of silver nitrate in the kitchen. The implications of their talk grew into this tale. The script can be found at Outpost Daria (http://www.outpost-daria.com/).
Acknowledgements: My thanks go out to Brother Grimace for the challenge. This story is respectfully dedicated to him as its spiritual grandfather.
The beta-readers for this tale were, in no particular order: Brandon League, Thea Zara, Steven Galloway, TerraEsperZ, Crusading Saint, THM, Robert Nowall, Voiceofmy, and Brother Grimace. My thanks to you all; I am in your debt.
Vision is the art of seeing things invisible.
Daria Morgendorffer first tried to get into the Zen on a Friday night at 7 p.m., which proved to be impossible. The line of people waiting for entry stretched two blocks down Dega Street. She rethought her strategy, skipped the weekend, and showed up on Monday afternoon at 4:10 p.m., walking directly there from her after-school self-esteem class. The cool mid-November breeze balanced the heat generated from her long walk, so Daria reached the Zen hardly breaking a sweat.
She pushed open the glass door, catching a momentary glimpse of her thick auburn hair, round glasses, green jacket, and black skirt. After wiping her boots on a ruined mat, she took a few moments to let her eyes adjust to the semidarkness before she went through the second set of doors to the main hall.
To her relief, the afternoon crowd inside was of manageable size. She paused to scan the large, poorly lit room in search of possible subjects for her English paper. About sixty older teenagers and twenty-somethings were present, sitting or standing in small, relaxed clusters with drinks in hand. A long wet bar ran down the wall on her right and a sandwich-and-popcorn kiosk on her left, with tables and chairs lining the edges of the room. The hardwood dance floor was newly swept, though badly scuffed; above the center of the room hung three glittering mirror balls. A faint whiff of pot was in the air, mixed with unidentifiable incense and a stale hint of body odor.
Daria saw no one who appeared to be a musician—no one carrying a guitar, at least—but she was not discouraged. The bartender probably knew where they were, she thought, so she wandered over to the wet bar to ask around and plot her next moves.
The only other people at the bar were a couple of teenagers on the verge of sucking face and a teen girl in black, sitting at the end of the bar on a stool with her back to the wall, looking at something in her hands. Daria took a seat between the couple and the girl. She had a bout of self-consciousness, aware that she looked every bit the high-school sophomore she was, as well as being one of the smallest people in the room and a lone female. Except for a few glances, however, no one seemed to care.
The bartender glanced at her. Daria raised a hand. “Cola. Anything with caffeine that isn’t diet.”
“Coming right up.”
Daria nodded and looked around the room again before turning back to the bartender, who was filling a small glass with Cola Blast. “Is a live band playing tonight?”
“Mystik Spiral’s on at eight. They’ll do a tune-up session about five-thirty or so, when the rest of them get here.”
Daria was expected back home by eight. “Some of them are here now?”
“Yeah, in back.” He put the Cola Blast on the wood-topped counter before her. “Dollar,” he added.
Daria had expected bar prices would be inflated, so she came prepared. She handed him a dollar and pulled her drink closer. “Is there a chance I could talk to one of them now?”
The bartender laughed and shook his head. “I wouldn’t hit on them till sometime after midnight,” he said. “They like to stay focused before a set.”
“I wasn’t trying to hit on them,” Daria said with a frown. “I’m here to ask a few questions for a class project.”
“Hey, whatever.” The bartender grinned in a way that showed he didn’t believe a word of it. “One of ‘em might walk out. Hang loose, see who turns up.”
Daria turned around on her stool and scanned the room again, sipping her cola and thinking dark thoughts about the bartender. She realized too late that groupies would be a big part of any scene with a rock band, even a small-time cover band like Mystik Spiral. The bartender had probably heard every excuse in the book.
“If you don’t mind my asking,” said the girl in the corner at the end of the bar, “what kind of class project is it?”
Daria looked at her. The girl wore black walking boots, a pair of black jeans, a red t-shirt with “Mystik Spiral” written on it in Gothic letters, and a black leather jacket. Her jet-black hair fell past her shoulders like a waterfall, shrouding her face. She wore sunglasses as well, which struck Daria as an odd but not unexpected affectation in a place like the Zen. In her long fingers, the girl carefully worked a lump of clay.
“It’s for English,” Daria said. “I have to write a paper on originality. An original paper at that.”
“On originality?” The girl’s head turned slightly, but she did not look up at Daria. Her fingers continued working the clay ball. “Oh,” she said after a moment. “The band, because they do covers.”
“Yeah. I wanted to find out if they write original music, too.”
The girl snorted lightly. “They do, but be glad they don’t play it. It’s been known to cause permanent brain damage. Some of the victims have even joined the band.”
Daria found the corners of her mouth turning up. “I assume from your shirt that you’re a fan of theirs?”
“I’m a fan by default,” said the girl. “The lead singer’s my brother.”
Daria felt a slight jolt run through her. “Oh,” she said. “Is that a good thing?”
“It’s good enough. This your first time here?” the girl asked. Her hands stopped working the clay ball, and her head rose slightly.
“Yes. I’m Daria. Daria Morgendorffer.”
“Jane Lane,” said the girl. Her head rose further, and Daria saw the girl smile warmly through the curtain of her hair. Light flickered from her sunglasses. “Trent might come out in a few minutes. He and his girlfriend are probably working out schedules with the manager.”
“No rush,” said Daria. “I can wait.”
“Well, I can’t,” said Jane with a sigh. She dropped the clay ball in a jacket pocket and slid off her stool, standing up with one hand on the wall behind her. “Be right back. This kid hears nature’s call.”
Daria nodded and looked away as the girl left. Someone was slowly setting up the stage at the back of the room, moving large speaker boxes into place against the wall. She watched until she got bored, then began looking around the room again, thinking about her paper and the annoying reason she had to write it.
A large man walked past Daria with an unsteady gait, almost brushing against her. She turned to follow his progress, thinking he’d probably had too much beer and was seeking immediate relief. Sure enough, he was heading in the direction Jane had gone.
Jane came into view from around a corner then, returning to her place at the bar. Daria noticed Jane kept one hand out at her side, brushing her fingertips against the wall as she walked. Daria was thinking that the girl would do better to just take off her sunglasses when the man and Jane reached each other. The man staggered into the girl’s path and collided with her. The blow knocked Jane into the wall. She barely kept herself from falling. The man continued on around the corner and out of sight.
Electrified with horror, Daria jumped off her stool and hurried over. Jane stood with her back and arms pressed to the wall to steady herself. She appeared shaken but uninjured.
“Are you all right?” Daria called as she came up.
“Yeah, but I lost my glasses,” said Jane, her head down and long hair covering her face. “Who the hell hit me?”
“Some drunk,” said Daria. She spotted Jane’s sunglasses on the floor. “Wait, I’ll get them,” she said. “They’re by your feet.”
Daria retrieved the glasses and stood up at Jane’s side. “Here,” she said, holding them near Jane’s face.
Jane reached up with one hand and carefully felt the air for Daria’s arm. Upon touching it, she moved her hand up until she grasped her glasses by an earpiece and took them back.
“It’s really dark in here,” said Daria, about to add that sunglasses weren’t necessary.
Jane raised her head. The curtain of long, black hair parted.
The breath caught in Daria’s throat. She thought of dark brown lava splashed down over a heart-shaped face, the lava rippled and curdled where it touched the skin. The lowest part of Jane’s face was mostly intact—her pointed chin, pink lips, and lower cheeks, except for a dark brown streak down the right side. Above her lips, however, her face was a patchwork of keloids and skin grafts that reached to her forehead and above. Her streaked, wrinkled nose was obviously rebuilt. Her long silky hair shadowed most of the injuries, but hardly all.
Jane pushed her hair back with her hands to put her sunglasses back on. Daria watched the dark glasses slide into place over two skin-covered hollows where eyes were supposed to be, but no eyes were.
Say something, screamed a voice inside Daria’s head.
“Can I help you back to your seat?” she whispered.
“Yeah, thanks,” Jane whispered back, adjusting her hair—a wig, Daria realized, seeing Jane’s hair move and noting that the skin damage reached above the forehead. Daria took Jane by the elbow and walked slowly back to the bar with her, staying close as Jane took her seat in the corner again.
“I’m okay now,” Jane said once she was comfortable. She kept her head down, her long black hair once more covering her face and sunglasses. Her hands rested in her lap. “If you want to talk to Trent and the guys, I can introduce you, if you can stick around a little longer.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Daria said. “My paper idea wasn’t all that good, anyway.”
“The guys do write original music. They might even play a few songs for you, if you have the stomach for it.”
“Pass. I was going to ask them how they felt about singing other people’s music and not their own. It might stir up too much angst, now that I think of it.”
“Suit yourself,” said Jane. “If Mystik Spiral didn’t have angst, those guys would have nothing at all, except money on payday.” She suddenly stuck out a hand in Daria’s direction. “Good meeting you. Thanks again.”
Daria stared at her hand. “Are you leaving?”
Jane’s hand wavered, then dropped to her lap again. “No. I thought you were.”
“I wasn’t going anywhere. Mind if I get my drink and sit with you?”
“Uh . . .” Jane lifted her head toward Daria, taken aback. “Sure, if you’re not . . .”
“I don’t have to leave yet,” said Daria, going back to retrieve her cola. “I told my parents I’d be out this afternoon doing research. They don’t expect me back until eight.”
“Great!” Jane said after a startled beat. She turned her head in the direction of the bartender. “Fritz?”
“Cola, Janey?” he said quickly, filling a glass for someone else.
“On the way.”
“I’ll pay,” said Daria, reaching into a pocket of her jacket.
“Don’t worry about it,” said Jane. “I drink for free. It’s one of the perks of having a brother in a rock band.”
“Cool. Um, can your parents adopt me so I can get free drinks, too?”
“It wouldn’t be worth it. Fritz?”
“Janey?” he called back from the cash register.
“Can she be good for drinks, too?”
“Sodas only, like you,” said Fritz. He reached into the cash register, took out a dollar, and tossed it on the counter by Daria’s arm, then poured Jane a Cola Blast. “Be back in a sec,” he said, walking over to a new customer.
“Thank you,” Daria said, putting the money away. “I’m still hoping to be adopted. It would save me from communicating with my family later when I get home.”
“That’s where I got lucky,” said Jane. “Except for Trent, everyone else in my family took off. It’s just the two of us now, most of the time.”
“You can have my sister.”
“Is she good for anything?”
“Damn, you would ask.”
“Pass.” Jane’s face rose, but she was smiling. “You go to Lawndale High?”
“Yeah. Tenth grade. It’s not as much fun as the psychiatric nurses said it would be. You?”
“Home-tutored. Trent makes enough money to keep me from having to put up with big-mouthed dopes in crowds. I’m in tenth grade, too, give or take a few classes. I’ve got several tutors, but one of them’s about to take off for Chicago and get a real job.” Jane sipped her Cola Blast, then put it down. “Hey, you do okay in school, right?”
“I can find my way around a textbook.”
“I really need a tutor for history, if you don’t mind. I think Trent and Monique can pay you pretty well.”
“His girlfriend. She’s okay, but on the overprotective side. Maybe she’s trying out for mom status or something—like I really need it.”
“Hmmm.” Daria reflected. She had tutored a couple of kids back in Highland, the year before, and she excelled in history. “Sure, I think we can work it out. I have to check with my alien masters at home, but they’ll probably say yes. They’ve been trying to get me away from the TV set, anyway.”
“You can watch me sculpt.”
“You can listen to me burp up Cola Blast.”
“I bet I can burp louder than you can.”
“We’ll get my sister and let her be the judge.”
“You mean she likes that sort of thing?”
Daria could not keep from smiling. “No.”
Jane smiled back. “Deal.”
* * *
They compared notes. Jane hoped to become a self-employed sculptor, though her plans beyond that were vague. “It’s either that or be a roadie for Spiral for the rest of my life. If I didn’t have to listen to their music, I could almost stand it, but then they’d probably want me to work, too, and that would ruin everything. I won’t compromise my standards, even as low as they are.”
“Not to change the subject, but what do you like to sculpt?”
“Faces, definitely. Human faces, but I’m flexible. Don’t analyze the face thing, please. Everyone does it, and that drives me mad. I’ve tried making other things—ashtrays, pencil holders, doggies, garden gnomes, handguns, the usual kind of stuff—but faces really do it for me. It’s a shame no one likes the way they come out.”
“Well, it’s art. What do they know?”
“There, that’s what I tell them, but they get upset and claim they have only one nose or two ears, not six or seven. Philistines. They wouldn’t know art if it knocked on their door drunk at two in the morning and threw up in their living room.”
“Isn’t that what art is supposed to do?”
“I think so. How about you? What do you do?”
“When it’s not two in the morning, I mostly write stuff. Nothing publishable. I did a story for English about clones taking over the world and everything turning into a copy of everything else. It scared my teacher, so he stuck me with the assignment on originality. It’s due tomorrow.”
“Are you sure you don’t want to talk to Trent?”
“Nah, I’ll do it when I get home. I’m going to write about my sister’s worship of original fashion accessories and cosmetics.”
“Oh, sorry to hear about that. I didn’t know.”
“Eh, it’s okay. We keep her locked up, but she crawls out through the ductwork.”
At some point after five o’clock, Daria and Jane decided that the Zen was becoming too crowded and loud to be any fun. Jane invited Daria to her house, which turned out to be not terribly far from Daria’s.
“Fritz?” Jane shouted above the crowd noise to the bartender, “will you tell Trent and Monique where I went?”
“Sure, if I see ‘em!” Fritz called back, trying to fill a dozen drink orders at once. “Why don’t you stay and help me out behind the counter?”
Jane just laughed. Daria retrieved Jane’s white cane from behind the bar, and they took off. Daria held Jane’s left arm in her right, it being too crowded now to escape the Zen separately. They were almost out the door when out-of-tune guitar chords crashed through the air, tremendously amplified by the rear bank of loudspeakers. A ragged cheer went up from the growing crowd.
“Told you they sucked,” said Jane with satisfaction. “Actually, they do that for effect. They’re pretty good when they’re doing covers. They do a great Nirvana tribute.”
“Sure you don’t want to stay and cheer your brother on?”
“No, I don’t want to put my earplugs in.”
“Funny, nothing. I’ve got four sets of them in my pockets in case I drop some. The band’s way too loud. If I lose my hearing, I’m really up the creek.”
“Why do you hang around here, then?”
Jane shrugged as they walked. “It’s boring at home with no one to make fun of but me. They’re used to me in the Zen. I’m sort of the band’s mascot. I was thinking about getting a leather collar, maybe with spikes. Think that would go with my outfit?”
“Depends on the spikes.” Daria looked back for a moment at the Zen as they walked down Dega Street. A thunderstorm of noise poured from the Zen. “I bet the hearing aid specialists in this town subsidize that place.”
“I’ll never tell, unless you offer me a thick-crust, six cheese pizza. Then I’ll turn state’s evidence on all of ‘em.”
“That reminds me of a news story I heard once, about a guy who owned a car windshield shop and went out at night smashing car windshields to drum up business. Maybe ‘Sick, Sad World’ could . . .” She stopped.
“No, go on. I listen to that show on nights when I’m not at the Zen.”
Daria looked at her new friend. “That’s my favorite show.”
Jane pulled Daria’s arm closer to her. “The Force is strong in you, young Daria.”
“No, that’s the Cola Blast. I’m about to burp.”
She burped, and Jane rated it as a 3.5 on a scale of 1 to 10. They traded stories about television, tutors, and teachers. Daria bemoaned her inability to escape from her after-school self-esteem class until it ended in another two weeks, and Jane complained about her ferocious (but losing) battles with algebra using special Braille characters. “Tell me one thing that algebra’s good for, one thing!” she said heatedly.
“There, see? It’s totally irrelevant to everything I want to do in life.”
“Hmmm, I’m unable to contradict the logic of that. We’ll give history a shot anyway, just to get you past the high-school requirements.”
“That would be great if you could. All that ancient world crap is Greek to me.”
Daria gave Jane a sidelong glance. “Bah-dum-boom. Why are we slowing down?”
“Oh, we’re almost home. I was listening for this dog two houses down from ours. Um, there it is.” Daria heard a small dog yipping. “We have the two-story light yellow house on the left, unless someone’s gone and repainted it.”
“The house with ‘Lane’ written on the mailbox?”
“Sure, make fun of me now, but wait until I’m eating pizza and you’re not.”
“You want to order out?”
“I always order out unless I’m at the Zen. What do you like?”
“Anything but anchovies. Other than that, I’m good. My treat, okay?”
“I never take sympathy gifts, never never ever, except this once. Next time, however, I’ll let you pay for it.”
Daria did a double take. “Have you ever thought about selling used cars?”
“Hmmm,” said Jane, appearing to consider this. They reached the front door and stopped. Daria let go of Jane’s arm as Jane fished in a coat pocket and produced a small set of keys, selecting one by touch and fitting it into the deadbolt lock and turning it. She then opened the door and went in, leaning her white cane against the doorframe. “Make yourself at home.”
“That normally means I have to lock myself in my room.” Daria stepped in and closed the door behind her. The house seemed clean and well kept, though the living room furniture was worn. “Nice place. Does your brother vacuum and dust when he’s not rocking the house?”
“We have a maid service, if you can believe that. Monique insisted on it. She’s paranoid that I’ll fall over something.” Jane felt around until she touched a wall. Daria noticed that Jane appeared to get her bearings then, and she made her way to a cordless telephone on a nearby bookcase in moments. Jane thumbed in a two-digit number and put the phone to her ear, waiting. “You like that new Trashcan Special that Pizza King has out?” she called to Daria. “I can get it without the fishies.”
“Haven’t tried it, but I’m game.” Daria reached down and opened a book on a coffee table. It was filled with Braille characters, but with regular text written out below each line. It was a book on Norse mythology. She listened to Jane order the pizza and soft drinks—“Ultra Cola okay with you?” she called to Daria—then hang up.
“You like mythology?” Daria asked.
“What? Oh, the book. I had to read it for the history tutor before she quit. It was fun for a change. Gave me lots of ideas for projects. I was thinking of doing Odin’s face, beard and eye patch and horned helmet.”
“The Vikings didn’t actually wear horned helmets.”
“Trent says the ones from Minnesota do. That’s good enough for me.” Jane did not face Daria directly, appearing to keep her left ear at a 45-degree angle toward her friend. “Wanna see my studio?”
“You’ve got a studio for sculpting?”
“Not really. It’s just my room. Come on up.” Jane tapped the wall behind her with a hand, then walked unaided off to a stairway leading up. Daria followed, and a few moments later, Jane opened the door into her bedroom and went in. Daria started to follow, then realized Jane wasn’t going to turn on the lights. She flipped the switch by the door, and the room was bathed in illumination.
“Oh, sorry about that,” said Jane, going to a closet. “Should have thought of that when I came in. Not one of my habits.”
“No problem,” said Daria. She looked the room over and thought it was the oddest thing she ever recalled seeing. It had a barren, almost sterile look, despite the furniture in it. No posters hung on the nicely painted light blue walls, and a large round carpet covered the bare wooden floor between the bed and the doorway. The walls were lined with shelves on which numerous clay models rested, most of them of human-looking faces and heads. To Daria’s surprise, a few of the sculptures were painted or glazed in bright colors. A television set sat on a shelf across from the foot of a queen-size waterbed on the room’s far side, on which a wadded knot of blankets, sheets, and pillows rested in comforting chaos. A gigantic stereo system took up the top of the headboard of the bed; Daria thought it looked like a control panel from the Death Star. Mystik Spiral had to be doing a fine business playing covers. Originality obviously wasn’t everything when bills had to be paid.
Along a wall near Daria was a long worktable, covered with newspapers and sculpting tools, on which half-finished modeling projects rested in various stages of completion. All of the projects were of hairless human faces with exaggerated features. Some of them did indeed have more than one nose and more than two ears or eyes.
The room was as clean as the rest of the house, though Jane seemed to be fond of stacking or dropping odds and ends against the walls, like old underwear, socks, empty soda cans, and small used boxes of clay, putty, and other modeling compounds. Clots of modeling compound were stuck everywhere in the carpet, and odd stains abounded. An abacus leaned against the wall by the bed.
What was strangest of all, to Daria’s eyes, was that no printed words were visible except on the boxes of modeling compound or on the newspapers spread out on the sculpting table. Regular pictures and posters were noticeably missing, too. It was the kind of room in which it did not matter if the lights were off or on. After a moment, Daria also noticed that some of the boxes under Jane’s bed had black label strips on them. She squinted. The characters on the bright plastic labels were in Braille.
Jane took off her black leather jacket and tossed it into the doorless closet. A moderate pile of jackets, t-shirts, boots, and pants already covered the closet floor. “So, how do you like it?” she asked as she took off her boots standing up.
“Weird,” Daria said, “as in good weird. Mind if I look at your work?” Daria stayed by the door, worried about bumping into Jane if she started walking around.
“Hey, I’d love it.” She walked unerringly across the room and felt for the back of a wheeled desk chair at the table. Daria followed and crouched down near her, putting the sculptures at eye level. She studied them with fascination.
“These look kind of—” Daria searched for a word “—fairytale-ish. Otherworldly, maybe. It’s hard to describe.” She reached up to touch one, but changed her mind, thinking it might still be soft. “They almost look familiar, in a way, like a distant relative or someone I haven’t seen in a long time.” She looked at Jane. “Forgive me for asking, but do you paint these, too?”
“Some of them. Trent or Monique buy the paint or glaze, then I label the bottles and kind of feel my way around with the brush. If you’re careful, you can tell if the brush is making contact and go from there. Monique tells me if I’m off so I can correct something before I fire it. I use my mom’s old kiln out back.”
Daria shook her head in admiration. “This stuff is incredible.”
Jane smiled as she sat in her chair, hands in her lap. “Usually people are kind of put off, I think,” she said. “The tutors and the cleaning people are about the only ones who come in here, outside of stray family members.” She appeared to stare at the wall, her left ear in Daria’s direction. “You really like them?”
“Yeah, I do,” said Daria. The faces did have a strange, supernatural aspect to them, as if they’d been made using live models hailing from another planet or dimension. “You say you’ve done garden gnomes?”
Jane laughed. “I made one for my sister Summer a couple years ago, but her kids broke it. I don’t think she missed it. She sounded underwhelmed when I gave it to her.”
Daria refrained from comment. “I like this one,” she said, staring at another face. “The one with three eyes.”
“You do? He’s a favorite of mine, too.”
Daria was looking at another face when Jane pushed her chair back from the worktable. Daria turned to look at her. Jane appeared to be waiting or thinking.
“You haven’t asked,” Jane finally said.
Daria knew right away what she meant. She settled back on her heels, knees on the carpet. “I thought you’d mention it eventually, or not. I wanted to get to know you. I thought it was more important.”
Jane gave a mirthless smile. “Usually, it’s the other way around. Everyone wants to know what happened, and after the story’s over, they’re either bored with me or grossed out. I guess they get their entertainment quota and move on. Some people want to see the scars.” She exhaled. “Doesn’t matter, either way. Most of them drop me like a rock right after. No one calls back.” She stopped, then shrugged. “Doesn’t matter,” she mumbled.
“It was an accident,” Jane went on after a few seconds. “I was six. My dad was developing a bunch of film in the kitchen, and he had all these bottles of photography chemicals on the kitchen table. He used to be a photographer, sold a lot of nature pictures and exotic scenes to magazines and book publishers. So, there were all these bottles, and I thought they were sodas or fruit juice.”
Daria flinched, fearing what was to come.
“He went to the bathroom,” Jane continued in a steady voice, “and I remember I wanted to get the green bottle, because it was closest and it looked like an Ultra Cola. It was hydrochloric acid.”
“Oh—” Daria covered her mouth.
“I reached for it and bumped it, then it fell over and splashed all over me. It got into my eyes, my hair, everywhere. I don’t remember much after that except screaming. My face felt like it was on fire, just burning my skin off, and I couldn’t stop the burning no matter what I did. My parents had to borrow a neighbor’s car to get me to the hospital. They should have washed the stuff out of my face and hair first, but they were kind of panicking and not thinking at the time. I was in for a couple weeks. I don’t remember much of it, or what came after.” She exhaled. “That’s about it.”
“I’m sorry,” Daria mumbled after a long pause. “It’s useless to say that, but . . .”
Jane shrugged. “It was a long time ago. I got past it.” She rubbed her mouth. “So, you still want to hang around for a while?”
“Hmmm.” Daria chewed her lower lip, choosing her words. “Do you really listen to ‘Sick, Sad World’?”
“If I’m home, I do.” She gestured behind her at the television set. “Trent says the picture’s bad, but that’s why I wanted it. Guess it won’t do you any good, though. I could trade it for the set downstairs, I guess. I never thought anyone would hang out with—” Jane flinched and gestured as if to wipe away what she had said. She quietly rotated her seat slightly in one direction, then in another, and swallowed.
“If you want to be around me, I have to tell you something else,” Jane said. “Show you something else, I mean.”
“Okay.” Daria guessed at what was coming.
One of Jane’s hands strayed upward to her long black hair. She wound a lock of it around a finger. “This isn’t real. It’s a wig. When I’m working on stuff in my room, I take it off. The glasses, too. They get in the way. I only wear them around other people.” She was quiet for a moment again, then added, “I want you to see me, the real me, but only if you want to. I couldn’t stand it if you freaked out on me later and ran off. It’s happened before. Better to do it now.”
Daria steeled herself. Her guess had been right. “Okay. I knew it was a wig, anyway.”
Jane half turned her head toward Daria. “Really? When did you know?”
“When I gave your sunglasses back to you.”
“Oh. Then you . . .”
“I saw you.”
Jane was quiet at that. She then nodded and took a breath. “You still need to see the rest of me,” she said. “Here goes.” Her hands reached up. She slowly took off her sunglasses and carefully laid them on the bed behind her. She then reached up and pulled her wig off, setting it on the bed as well.
Time froze. Daria only stared, aghast.
Jane sat motionless for half a minute, except to turn her head from side to side. “This is the real me,” she said simply. “I keep my hair cut short in back for the wig, what little hair I’ve got.”
Daria started to breathe again. Part of the horror wore off, but only a small part. “Does it hurt?” she whispered.
“The skin is sensitive in a few places.” Jane’s hand came up and gently touched several spots across her head and ruined face. “Some places I can’t feel anything at all. My hearing’s not so good on my right side.” She turned her head. “Some of that stuff got on the outside of my ear. I was lucky none of it got inside my ears or in my mouth. I was lucky none of it got on my hands, too. I had mittens on at the time because it was cold in the house. I think my parents forgot to pay the heating bill or something. It happened in a February.”
Daria took a deep, ragged breath, recovering. Seeing Jane’s face earlier had prepared her, though only a little, for the shock of the full view.
“You okay?” Jane asked.
“I’m okay.” Daria inhaled slowly, then said the first thing that came into her mind. “This wasn’t part of a plot you had to scare me away so you could take the pizza for yourself, was it?”
Jane gave a nervous smile. “It didn’t work?” she asked with faux innocence. “Damn.”
“After living with my family all these years, I’m kind of immune to a lot of things.” Daria swallowed. “And, no one has yet dragged me away from a Pizza King dinner, even if I paid for it.”
“You must be crazier than your family is.” Jane reached for the bed and felt for her wig and glasses. “I’m sorry now that I did this to you. Maybe I needed to do it more than you needed to see it.”
“It’s okay. I think it was good that you did it, but don’t ask me why.”
Jane put the wig on again and straightened the fit. “You know, if you ever tell me that you have nightmares about this, then—”
“No,” said Daria flatly. “I won’t. I’m booked solid for decades with nightmares about my own family, especially my sister.” She looked around the room. “New topic?”
“Okay,” said Jane in relief, and she thought. “Did you catch that ‘Sick, Sad World’ episode last week about England’s royal family being robots controlled by alien invaders?”
The evening passed far too quickly. Jane walked Daria to the door when the pizza was gone and it was time to go. “Thanks for coming by,” she said. “I feel the creative muse poking me in the back. I’m going to work on something for a while. Something with three noses, I think.”
“You should make an extra-large clay handkerchief to go with it,” Daria said. She turned to go—then turned around again. She reached in an inner pocket of her jacket and produced a pen and notepad. “I need your phone number.”
Jane gave it and added, “I need yours, too. Wait here.” She went back upstairs and returned a minute later with a handheld label printer. She quickly printed out a strip in Braille as Daria gave her home phone number, then stuck the strip in her pants pocket. “Thanks, amiga.”
“And thanks back. I’ll check on the tutoring thing tonight. Call you tomorrow after classes?”
“Sure. Mrs. Foster leaves at three, so anytime after that is fine. It’ll save me from spending time at the Zen. I lose too many earplugs there.”
* * *
Daria opened the door to her family’s new home just before 8 p.m. She hoped she could get to her room unnoticed, but Quinn spotted her right off, sitting in the living room watching a fashion show on the TV. “Muuh-OOOM!” she yelled, her gaze returning to the screen, “Daria’s home!”
“Come on in the kitchen, dear!” called their mother from another room. “Tell us about your evening!”
Daria groaned and walked toward the kitchen. As she passed Quinn on the couch, however, she stopped and gasped, looking at a spot on the couch near her sister’s left shoulder. She leaned closer for a better look, her movements followed by Quinn’s suspicious gaze.
“What?” said Quinn. She turned to look at the couch, leaning away from it.
“Nothing,” said Daria with a sigh. “It’s gone now.” She walked on into the kitchen, hearing Quinn jump to her feet behind her and move to another chair. Daria smiled in triumph.
“Tell me about your evening out, sweetie!” Helen Morgendorffer called from the kitchen table. She was surrounded by a pile of legal paperwork from her new job at a firm specializing in corporate law. Daria’s father, Jake, sat across from her, engrossed in the business section of the evening newspaper.
“It was okay,” said Daria, mulling over what had happened. “I went to the Zen, had a soft drink, met a friend, came home, and now—”
“A friend?” Helen said. A startled look crossed her face, and her mouth fell open. “You found a friend?”
Warning! shrieked every neuron in Daria’s brain. “Uh, yeah. She—”
“Jake! Jake, listen!” Helen snapped her fingers at her husband. “Daria found a friend!”
“Mom,” said Daria, reddening, “it’s not like I—”
“A friend?” Stunned, Jake lowered his paper to stare at his oldest daughter. “This is a joke, right?”
“Jake!” yelled Helen.
“I mean, that’s great, kiddo! I’m proud of you!” His expression grew anxious. “He doesn’t ride a motorcycle and wear a chain for a belt, does he?”
“Helen, damn it, I have to ask!”
“It’s a girl, Jake! Daria’s friend is a girl!”
“Daria has a friend?” Quinn screamed from the living room. “She’s not going to bring her over, is she? God, I’ll be ruined if my friends see them here!”
“Quinn!” yelled Helen. “Of course she can bring her friend over! We’ll all get to meet her! Ask her over for dinner, and I’ll make lasagna!”
“Mom, be reasonable!” Quinn screamed from the other room. “My popularity can only take so much!”
“Kiddo, listen—your friend’s not into drugs or mail bombs, is she?”
“If anyone needs me,” Daria said as she walked out of the kitchen, “I’ll be eating lye in my room.”
Daria was halfway up the stairs, mortified beyond words, when she heard her mother at the bottom of the steps. “Daria!” she called. “Your birthday’s next week. Invite her over for that! I’ll look in the stores for a special party lasagna!”
Daria shut and locked her door, then walked over to her bed. She took off her glasses and lay face down on the covers, her arms around her head. She lay like that for twenty minutes in complete silence.
“Birthday party,” she said at the end of the twenty minutes. It was possible. It would be the first time in memory that she would have a friend over for a birthday party. Little chance existed of selling Quinn to the Gypsies beforehand, but you took the bad with the good.
She would ask Jane to the party.
If Jane said yes, it was time to talk to the family about her.
* * *
The following afternoon, Daria went to her room after school and took the portable phone with her. After making sure that Quinn was not on the line, she dialed Jane’s number and waited.
The phone picked up after two rings. “Hello?” came Jane’s voice. “Trent?”
“We’re sorry, but that was not the right answer for today’s $25,000 question. We’ll try back next decade.”
“Hey, amiga! What’s up?”
“Classes over for the day?”
“Yeah, a half hour ago. What did your folks say about your tutoring here?”
“Um, we kinda got sidetracked last night. I won’t say that weapons of mass destruction were used, but I won’t say they weren’t, either.”
“Oh. This wasn’t about me, was it?”
“No. It was about my family being . . . my family. Listen, are you, uh, doing anything next week, on the twenty-second?”
“Wait, let me check my calendar. Hmmm, no, I guess not. Why?”
“I have this thing, a birthday you could call it, and I was wondering if—”
“Your birthday’s next week? Wait, this isn’t some kind of plot to get your money back from buying pizza last night, is it?”
“I deny all allegations. Anyway—”
“I’m older than you? Thank God, finally I have someone to pick on.”
“Oh, you wish. Anyway, if you’d want, I’d like to have you come over.”
“Ah, ha! I knew this was a trick to get your money back! Okay, what size flamethrower do you want?”
“I’m a size six, according to Quinn. So . . . you’ll come over?”
Daria heard Jane sigh on the other end of the line. “I . . . I really appreciate the offer, but I have to tell you I don’t do well in big groups. Too much like being in the middle ring of the circus, I guess. I will get you a flamethrower, though, as soon as they go on sale. Trent can bring it over.”
“Except for me and certain individuals who claim to be genetically related to me, there won’t be a crowd. It’s possible my sister won’t even be there. On the other hand, my mom wants to make lasagna, and—”
“Lasagna? Daria, why didn’t you say so? What time’s the party?”
Daria blinked. “You are kidding about the lasagna, right?”
“Kidding? I love lasagna! Trent and Monique don’t cook, so I never get it. They almost always get takeout Chinese.”
“Well, my mother doesn’t really cook, either. She buys lasagna frozen in bulk and lets Reddy Kilowatt do the rest.”
“Hey, I’m your friend, so I can’t be too picky. I’m on it. Can I be there right after my tutors leave?”
“You understand you might have to meet my parents, right?”
“As long as there’s only two of them, I think I can handle it. Um, your sister won’t be in?”
“Probably not. She mentioned a desperate need to date the football team that night. It had nothing to do with you. It was just the idea that she might have to meet someone who hung around me, and that could damage her popularity rating with the student body.”
“Huh,” said Jane, her light tone changing. “That kind of explains why none of my older sibs except Trent ever wanted me around when their friends were over. Too creepy for them, I guess.”
Daria found her ability to banter suddenly strained. She went in a new direction. “We might have cake, too, but no promises that it will be edible, unless I buy it. You have a flavor preference?”
“Well, it’s your birthday, but if I had to choose, I’d choose ‘lots.’ That’s my only cake preference. Make sure there’s lots.”
“Done. Doing anything now?”
“Sculpting, but company is welcome. Bring some homework and sit around.” Jane hesitated. “If you want.”
Daria checked her bedside clock. “I’ll kick on your front door in fifteen minutes.”
The relief in Jane’s voice was unmistakable. “Great! I’ll be here!”
“Over and out.”
“Over and out.”
Daria laid the phone on her bed and thought. After she got home again, it would be time to talk with the family. Dinner was the only time to catch them in one place, so it would have to be then.
* * *
Daria waited until everyone was seated and reaching for the food. “I have something to tell you,” she said.
“Preg-nant,” said Quinn in a low, singsong voice.
“What?” shouted Jake at Daria. “You’re what?”
“Jake!” yelled Helen. “Let her talk!”
Daria glared at Quinn, who smiled to herself as she spooned a small amount of lasagna onto her plate. “It’s about my friend,” Daria said.
“She’s pregnant?” Jake asked.
“No,” said Daria, wondering if she could empty all of the lasagna onto her sister if she moved quickly enough. “I’d like for her to come to my birthday party.”
“That’s wonderful!” Helen said, looking daggers at Jake and Quinn. “We’d love to meet her!”
“I’ll be over at Sandi’s,” said Quinn.
“No, you won’t, young lady!” said Helen. “You’ll stay here and celebrate Daria’s birthday if it kills you!”
“Is that a promise?” Daria asked.
“Quinn Louise Morgendorffer, don’t you start—”
“Actually,” Daria put in, “I wouldn’t mind if Quinn didn’t want to stay. No need to make her watch everyone else eat birthday cake and get fat.”
Quinn gave her sister a strange look, momentarily at a loss for words.
“Daria,” said Helen, “don’t you want your sister to be here for your birthday?”
Daria took a breath. “It’s about my friend. She doesn’t like big crowds. And there are some other things I have to tell you about her.”
“It’s bad enough that she’s your friend, isn’t it?” said Quinn.
“Quinn,” said Helen in a warning tone.
“She’s not pregnant, right?” asked Jake.
Everyone turned to look at him. He cleared his throat, comprehension dawning. “I think I’ll just eat now,” he said, and put a forkful of lasagna in his mouth.
“Daria, what is it you wanted to tell us?” Helen said, with a last look at Jake.
“Um . . . she’s blind.”
looked at Daria.
“Blind?” said Helen.
Quinn opened her mouth to speak.
Daria’s gaze went in her direction. “Careful,” said Daria in a tone that Quinn knew well.
Quinn slowly closed her mouth.
“There’s more,” said Daria, wanting to get this over with.
“Enough.” Quinn held up both hands. “I won’t be here. You can have your party in peace and quiet, and I will do the same at Sandi’s.”
“I appreciate that, but I need to talk to Mom and Dad about this.”
“Go on, Daria,” said her mother. There was an odd note in her voice.
With a final glance at Quinn, Daria spoke. “She was blinded when she was six. It was in an accident.” She sorted through what to say next, finding no good and tactful way to put it. “A bottle of photography acid spilled in her face, and—”
Quinn stood up, knocking her chair over. “Sorry!” she gasped, and she fled the table as quickly as she could.
“Quinn!” called Helen, standing up. “Quinn!”
“It’s okay, Mom,” said Daria. “Let her go.” Quinn was not likely putting on an act. Any mention of disfigurement frightened her, particularly if it involved the face. Daria winced, wishing she had remembered that before speaking. Why am I sorry about that, though? she wondered in surprise. Don’t I like tormenting Quinn?
Helen sat down again. “I’m so disappointed in her,” she said in an angry tone.
“Mom, it’s okay. I have to finish.”
Helen’s expression relaxed as she looked at Daria. “You said she had an accident with chemicals,” she repeated.
Daria nodded. “It scarred her badly. I wanted to warn you before you see her. She wears dark glasses and a wig. Just . . . don’t do anything that . . .”
“We won’t,” said Helen. She looked at Jake, who sat motionless, staring at his plate. “How did you meet her?”
“She was at the Zen. Her brother’s in a rock band that plays there.”
Helen sighed, her gaze wandering down to the steaming lasagna. “Is there anything else you wanted to tell us about her?”
Daria looked at the lasagna, too. “She has the weirdest tastes in food,” she said.
* * *
Helen and Jake approved Daria’s tutoring idea, with the stipulation that Daria produce a lesson plan and follow it as a real teacher would. Daria made a mental note to talk with her history teacher, Mr. DeMartino, who was on the strange side but appeared to take his job seriously. She could use good advice from an expert, even a strange one.
“We’re good to go,” Daria told Jane that night by phone. “Give me until next Monday to cook up some things for you to study. I should find out where they sell Braille books around here, too.”
“They don’t,” said Jane. “You have to order them. We’ve got loads of addresses, though, so don’t sweat it. Some of them you can get online, too.”
“Oh,” said Daria, looking at her computer. “Good point. I’ll—”
Someone knocked on Daria’s bedroom door.
“I’m on the phone!” she called, moving the portable phone away for a moment. “That’s about it. I’ll call back if anything else develops.”
“Sounds good,” said Jane. “I’m feeling inspired tonight. Something with lots of ears will do it, I think.”
“You go, girl,” Daria said in a deadpan voice. “Later.”
Daria clicked the phone off. “Come in, if you have to,” she called to the door.
After a beat, the doorknob turned and the door swung open. Quinn looked in.
“You have a moment?” she asked.
Quinn stepped into the room, then pushed the door shut behind her. She leaned back against the door, staring at her sister with a narrow look. To Daria’s surprise, Quinn’s face was red and her eyes were bloodshot.
“I have to know one thing,” Quinn said, her voice hoarse.
“I want to know,” she said, “if you said that—that—what you said at dinner, that thing, just to get back at me.”
Oh, thought Daria, I didn’t think of that. Her urge to tease Quinn evaporated. This just wasn’t the time. “No. She really is my friend. And she is blind. That is the truth.”
“Th-that other p-part,” Quinn said, looking away. Her face was white, and she struggled to get the words out. “The p-p-part about th-the ch-ch-ch-chem—”
Quinn closed her eyes and covered her face with her hands. She leaned against the door and breathed in and out through her nose. She made an odd noise that Daria could not identify. When she could, Quinn whispered, “Why do you like her?”
Daria took time to think about it, disturbed by Quinn’s reaction. “She’s funny. She’s creative, and smart, and she likes a lot of the same things I do.” She thought a little more. “She’s real. She’s exactly who she says she is. She doesn’t pretend to be something else.” She stopped there, waiting for her sister’s response.
“Okay,” said Quinn. She dropped her hands, turned, and quickly left the room, pulling the door shut behind her.
Daria stared after her sister. For a moment, Daria thought she had seen tears on Quinn’s face. That wouldn’t have been like her, though. A trick of the light seemed more likely. Daria shrugged and got off her bed, walking to her computer. It was time to check the Internet for textbooks in Braille.
* * *
Daria’s birthday came quickly. By that point, Daria had begun working with Jane on world history, borrowing extensively from Mr. DeMartino’s own class notes and a parade of books in Braille that Daria found on the Internet. Three days before her birthday, Daria met with Trent, who offered her a startlingly generous salary for working with Jane in the evenings. She took the offer on the spot. To her embarrassment, she also developed a major-league crush on the tattooed, twenty-one-year-old Trent, a situation made worse by the presence of Trent’s beautiful girlfriend, Monique.
“Don’t sweat it,” Jane told her later. “One day Monique will be a hag, and he’ll be all yours.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” said Daria, her face as red as it could get. “You should stop doing so many drugs. You’re getting delusional.”
“You breathe funny when he’s around. You do this quick little gaspy thing that sounds like you’re—”
“You’re going to memorize the names of all the Roman emperors tomorrow unless you drop this now.”
“And you talk funny, too, like you’ve got this horrible—”
“And the names of every Roman senator and general, too, I swear it. Stop.”
Jane could not stop grinning. “Hey, just trying to help.”
Trent brought Jane to the Morgendorffers’ on the birthday night. Quinn was gone, as she said she would be. Daria felt a twinge of regret at that, and she was surprised at herself. Hadn’t she hoped for years that Quinn would just disappear and stop spoiling her birthday parties? Still, she felt a sense of loss that her sister wasn’t there to share it with her and Jane.
Daria walked to Trent’s van and came back with Jane. Jane wore a jeans skirt with a bright blue t-shirt and her usual black jacket and boots. Her white cane was in her right hand.
“Hi, Jane!” Helen cried. She caught herself waving and quickly dropped her hand. “Glad you could make it!”
“Me, too,” said Jane. “You made lasagna, right?”
“As much as you want!” Jane was almost at the door when Helen caught a glimpse of the face hiding behind the coal-black hair. She lost her smile, but just as quickly forced it back into action. “This way!”
The evening went surprisingly well, from Daria’s viewpoint. Jane was animated and cheerful, almost as eager to talk with Daria’s parents as she was with Daria, which Daria found disconcerting. It seemed clear that despite Jane’s hanging around at the Zen, she did not get out much. Helen and Jake did not severely embarrass themselves, though Helen apologized too often for Quinn’s absence, and Daria gritted her teeth and looked at the ceiling when her nervous father told Jane, “You should see how good those glasses look on you!”
Talk was put off when dinner was ready. Jane pulled her hair back to eat, and Helen and Jake kept their eyes on their plates while Daria and her friend chatted away.
“You know,” said Jane, “what I always wanted for my birthdays when I was a kid was lipstick. My sisters wouldn’t show me how to put it on.”
“Lipstick,” repeated Daria, raising an eyebrow. “You’re scaring me.”
“No, seriously. Bright red lipstick and fingernail polish, like Summer and Penny used. It was all I could think about in first grade I wanted to be grown up so much.” She smacked her lips as she scraped her fork across her plate several times, meeting no resistance. “Can I have more lasagna, please?”
“Certainly,” said Helen. She could not look up. “Daria, would you . . .?”
“If I must.”
“Just pile it on,” said Jane. “This stuff is great.”
“Now you really are scaring me,” said Daria, reaching for the serving spoon.
“Daria,” murmured her mother in a friendly tone of warning. Helen almost looked up. “Any chance your parents will want to drop by and visit, Jane?”
“Probably not right away. My mom’s in Ireland, learning how to build a better kiln. She should be back before Christmas, I think. I’ll send her over ASAP.”
“And your father?”
Jane’s animation faded. “Uh, I don’t know where he is. He, uh, sort of left, after the accident. He wasn’t very comfortable around me, because of . . . everything, I guess, and he blamed himself a lot for it. One day, he just . . .” She made a gesture with her hands of something flying away into the air. “Haven’t heard from him in a long time. Oh, well.” She dug into her lasagna.
Helen glanced at Daria, then poked at her food.
“Presents,” said Daria. “In case anyone forgot, we’re gathered here so that I can get presents.”
“No,” said Jane. “We’re here so I can get lasagna.”
“That’s it, Lane. I’m having you committed first thing in the morning.”
“Do they serve lasagna at asylums? If you could call ahead and check for me, that would be great.”
Daria rolled her eyes.
“You know,” said Jane, poking her fork in Daria’s general direction, “it just occurred to me why you’re so good at history.”
“No, I meant the people hiding behind you. You were born on the day that that guy Kennedy was shot, um—”
“November twenty-second, nineteen sixty-three,” said Jake and Helen in unison. They looked at each other.
“Uh, yeah,” said Jane, “but twenty-some years later, on the same day. You think that got your history jones going?”
“You may be right,” said Daria. “The assassination’s fascinated me for quite a while. I’ve read a lot about it. There was this one book that said that the Mafia hired these Soviet sharpshooters to—”
“Cake, anyone?” Helen interrupted brightly.
Jane waved a hand over her head. “Here, please! Guests first!”
“I’ll fill you in on the various conspiracies later,” Daria said, accepting defeat.
“Weren’t all the assassins clones of each other, like that ‘Sick, Sad World’ episode said last month?” Jane asked.
“They were?” Jake said, startled.
“Jake?” Helen broke in, getting up from the table. “Jake, dear, come help me with the cake in the other room, please.”
“Oh—sure! Excuse me, girls!”
After he left, Jane leaned over toward Daria. “I said ‘lots,’ right?”
“The cake! Lots of, right?”
“Yes, your input was passed along to the proper authorities. You’ll get a formal response in six to ten working days.”
“Monique won’t let me have cake. Cavities. Like she knows anything about dentistry.”
Daria shook her head. “I thought my parents were bad.”
“Trade you Monique for your mom and dad.”
Daria did not dignify the offer with a reply.
“Happy birthday, sweet sixteen!” shouted Helen and Jake, marching in with Daria’s cake illuminated.
“And no Quinn to blow out the candles for me,” said Daria—and promptly felt that twinge of regret again, redoubled.
Jake, Helen, and Jane sang the birthday song, and Daria inhaled loudly.
At the same moment, Jane inhaled, too, and leaned forward pretending to blow the candles out. This caused Daria to panic and blow them all out in one second flat.
Jane smiled sweetly afterward. “Quinn wasn’t here,” she said, “so I thought—”
“Wait till tomorrow’s lesson,” Daria murmured. “I weep for your brain.”
Jake retrieved a stack of presents from a back room, time was spent opening and commenting on them, and Daria admitted to herself that her sixteenth birthday had worked out well indeed.
“My turn!” said Jane, turning in Helen’s direction. “Do you have it?”
“Right here, dear. Trent brought it by earlier.” Helen picked up a box wrapped in silver foil and carefully handed it to Daria. It weighed several pounds, she discovered.
Inside the heavily padded box was a fired clay sculpture of a woman’s head, her expression lively and smiling. She had a heart-shaped face, blue eyes, black bangs, and bright red lips.
“It’s me,” said Jane. “It’s . . . it’s what I imagine sometimes I might have looked like. I thought you would like it.”
Daria fought to get out any words at all. “I would comment on it if I could see it better,” she said, wiping her eyes. “Thank you.”
Helen cleared her throat after an appropriate pause for Daria to return to her normal sarcastic self. “Two more presents, dear,” she said to Daria. She picked an envelope from her lap and handed it to her oldest daughter. “From Quinn.”
“Here in spirit,” said Daria, and opened the envelope. “Hey,” she said in surprise, “it’s a gift certificate for Books by the Ton. That was . . . unexpected. I’ll have to stop tormenting her for a day or two.”
“And,” said Helen in a softer tone, “one for you, Jane.”
Daria looked up. “What?”
“What?” echoed Jane. “Me?” She put out a hand, and Helen gave her another envelope.
Daria felt an uncomfortable tweak deep inside her. “She got a present for Jane?”
“Yes,” said Helen. “She bought them with her own money at the mall in town.”
Jane felt the envelope, then handed it to Daria. “Would you open it for me?”
Daria took the envelope. Was this a trick? It didn’t seem like something Quinn would do. She ran her thumbnail under the flap and opened it, pulling out a brightly colored card. She read it in silence.
“It’s a gift certificate from an art store at the mall,” said Daria quietly. “Thirty dollars worth, just like mine.”
“Oh,” said Helen.
“She what?” asked Jane. “She got me that?”
Daria stared at Jane, then handed the envelope back. “Here,” she said.
Jane reached out and Daria put it in her hand. “She got this for me?” Jane said.
“May I see that?” asked Helen. Jane held the card out, and Helen took it. She flipped the card over. “She wrote something on the back.” She read it, then quoted, “‘To Daria’s friend, Jane. I’m sorry I wasn’t here. Maybe one day I can meet you and see for myself why Daria thinks the world of you. Make something pretty with whatever art things you get. All the best, Quinn.’” Helen blinked and swallowed.
Jane kept her face turned toward Helen. “Why couldn’t she come?” she asked.
“She was afraid,” said Daria in a monotone, breaking the silence. It was hard to talk around the lump in her throat. “I told her what happened to you, and she cried when she heard it. It frightened her, and I think she was afraid she’d cry if she was here and saw you.”
Helen picked up her napkin and dabbed at her eyes. “Excuse me!” she said, her voice breaking. She quickly put the gift card back into Jane’s hand, got up from her chair, and hurried out of the kitchen, clutching the napkin. Jake followed, calling her name.
Daria stared at her lap. “I never thought she would do something as nice as that. I never imagined that she would, I said all those bad things about her to you, and now I’m ashamed. I should have gotten something for you, too.”
“You did,” said Jane. “You did. More than you know.” She tilted her head down as if looking at the card in her hands. “Your sister is lucky. She has you, of course, but Quinn can do something that I can’t, and I wish more than anything that I could.”
Daria grimaced. “She can see, you mean,” she whispered.
“No,” said Jane. She took off her sunglasses and lifted her head. “She can cry.”