April Is the Cruelest Month
Text ©2003 Roger E. Moore (email@example.com)
Daria and associated characters are ©2003 MTV Networks
Feedback (good, bad, indifferent, just want to bother me, whatever) is appreciated. Please write to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Synopsis: Two junior undergraduates from Boston take their medical and emotional problems with them during spring break in the Rockies.
Author’s Notes: This story is rated R for language and graphic descriptions of traumatic and sexual situations.
“April Is the Cruelest Month” is an alternate “Daria” future taking place about three years after events in the TV movie, “Is It College Yet?” It is unconnected with any other fanfic. The reader is assumed to have a working knowledge of the major characters from the “Daria” series, so prolonged personal introductions are not given in the story.
The acronym for Jane Lane’s undergraduate school, the Boston Fine Arts College—BFAC—is pronounced “bee fak” when spoken as a word.
The spelling of “cruellest” in the fragment from T. S. Eliot’s poem is from the original version of “The Waste Land” (a British spelling).
Acknowledgements: This tale was originally a fragment of a chapter from a much longer work (“Bipolar II”), but for the sake of me getting something written, it has been turned into its own story. The seeds of the original longer work were planted by two talented “Daria” fanfic writers, Renfield and Galen “Lawndale Stalker” Hardesty, in an exchange of PPMB messages concerning the future of Daria Morgendorffer. From that bit, the idea came to me for “Bipolar II,” about possible futures of Daria and Jane Lane, then this marginally related story, the limitations of which are my own fault and no one else’s. Subsequent commentary and encouragement from Renfield, NomadX, Galen Hardesty, and THM greatly added to the original story’s development—and indirectly to this one—so my gratitude goes out to them all.
The excellent beta-readers for this story were (in random order): Ruthless Bunny, Brandon League, Deref, Ben Breeck, Galen “Lawndale Stalker” Hardesty, RedlegRick, THM, Steven Galloway, Robert Nowall, Wyvern, Thea Zara, Renfield, CharlieGirl (of the “Deserted Island”), Brother Grimace, and Crusading Saint. All contributed valuable feedback to me, in correcting the manuscript, expanding it, or giving me support when I needed it most. Thank you!
April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
— “The Waste Land,” T. S. Eliot
“I think we’re lost,” said Daria Morgendorffer, frowning at the roadmap. “What exit was that last one we passed?”
“We were lost the second we flew out of Boston,” said Jane Lane, at the wheel of their rented SUV and happy as a lark. “Look out the windows, Daria! Have you ever seen anything like this? Anything at all?”
“No,” Daria mumbled. She held the roadmap closer to her face. The scenery was spectacular—the naked grandeur and glory of the high Rocky Mountains under a gray, overcast sky, the crags and bluffs wreathed with wisps of fog. It was a magnificently gloomy Valhalla, fit for mortals to imagine ancient gods brooding in dark palaces among the peaks, but it would be infinitely more watchable for Daria if she could only gaze upon it without her rising terror that the SUV was about to crash through the Interstate guardrail on one of the highway’s twists and turns, flying off into the endless canyon on the right side of the car. Daria, sitting on the car’s right side, was intensely aware of her proximity to that abyss and did not under any circumstances want to see it.
“This is incredible,” breathed Jane. “All my life I’ve heard about the Rockies, but I never knew they were like this! You remember when we went to those mountains and got lost in the snow, our junior year in high school? What was that, Ms. Li’s stupid Lawndale Wilderness Adventure weekend? Man, those mountains were bumps compared to this! Widdle baby bumps!”
“Just keep your eyes on the road,” said Daria, striving to keep her voice calm and level, “or we’ll be widdle baby bumps at the bottom of a gweaaat big valley.”
“Ohmigosh!” Jane cried. “Oh, Daria, look at that!” Her right hand, outfitted with a black leather racecar driver’s glove, tapped Daria’s roadmap urgently.
“Fantastic,” growled Daria, concentrating on the map. “Breathtaking. It fairly—”
Jane leaned over and smashed the map into Daria’s lap. Daria gasped and jumped. “Over there!” Jane yelled. “See that? Do you believe that?”
Daria instantly saw more than she wanted to ever see. Her brown eyes grew to the size of teacup saucers as she looked ahead through the windshield.
“The road, the road!” she shouted. “Eyes on the road!”
“‘Rocky Mountain High, Colorado!’” sang Jane, grinning uncontrollably.
“Roadroadroadroadroooaaad!” Daria mashed herself back into her seat, her right foot involuntarily stamping down on an imaginary brake pedal.
The SUV leaned into a tight curve at over seventy miles an hour, skimming inches from the battered guardrail. Daria inhaled sharply as she turned her head to the right and looked down, down, down into the infinite depths on the guardrail’s other side. Her hands, clammy with cold sweat, gripped her seat and the door’s armrest; her stomach churned violently. God, she thought, too frightened to close her eyes, this is it. I know I suck at being religious and frankly I’ve been doubtful about Your whole existence up to this point, I’m sure you know why, but please do not be angry with me, because I’m a nobody, just Daria Morgendorffer, and my psycho friend is going to kill us both by driving off a cliff, and if by some microscopic chance we do make it to the ski lodge, I swear I will think of something nice to do for someone, somewhere, anywhere, only I can’t do any good deeds if I’m dea—
“There’s the lodge!” Jane screamed in triumph, pointing. “We found it!”
Daria jumped again, her face white and her heart in her throat. She then sank back into her seat. Her breath hissed out through her teeth as she muttered horrid obscenities.
“What?” Jane leaned closer to Daria, puzzled. “You talking to me?”
Daria covered her face with her hands and tried not to think of strangling Jane.
“You know, Trent said he was in Colorado once,” Jane said, unconcerned with anything but the view. “Denver, I think. Did I ever tell you about it? He liked it. He was bumming around after high school and came out here. I don’t know how he got here—hitchhiking, probably. He said he was looking for song ideas. He didn’t find any, but he loved it here. Couldn’t get around in the winter, though, so he came home. We should send him some postcards. Poor lad, stuck back in Boston with nothing to do but sleep in our apartment all day.” Jane glanced at Daria, saw no reaction to her comment, and changed the topic. “You remember your promise, right?”
“What?” Daria gasped through her hands. “What?”
“You remember your promise? You’re going to do it, right?”
“For God’s sake, Jane, just get to the lodge so I can get out of this goddamn car!”
Jane made a tut-tut noise. “You need to chill.” She grinned at Daria. “Get it? You—”
“Shut up, please, just shut the fuck up!”
This only made Jane smile more broadly. She hummed a few more John Denver tunes as she drove until Daria made noises indicating she should stop.
They turned off the Interstate at the next exit, took a secondary road for two miles, then climbed a long, weaving driveway to the lodge at the Snowcastle Ski Resort without further incident. Daria didn’t trust herself to speak until they passed the “Welcome to Snowcastle Lodge!” sign and turned into the vast, half-filled parking lot.
“Grab a handicap space close to the doors,” Daria said, her exterior calm restored. “They’ll send out bellhops for the luggage.”
“Too much ice on the lot,” Jane observed, glancing out the side window. “We’re getting valet parking at the main door. There won’t be any snow under the carport.”
“Let’s not blow our whole budget on the first day,” Daria grumbled. “I saved for six months for this.”
“I’ve got the money, I’ll spring for the valet,” Jane said. “Plus, I like having guys wait on me. Don’t you? Maybe some of them will be cute.”
“Your hormones are talking again.”
“Priorities, Daria,” said Jane, pulling the SUV under the carport and stopping by the valet booth. “You’re going to learn to ski, and I’m going to party my ass off.”
“That means we’ll both—” end up on crutches “—end up in intensive care. Why don’t you ski, and I’ll . . . find a quiet place to read.”
“Not a chance in hell.” Jane shut off the engine and brushed doughnut crumbs and candy wrappers from the front of her red sweater. “We’re gonna have some real fun.”
Daria sighed and slid out of the SUV on wobbly legs, murmuring a short prayer of thanks. It was getting harder to be agnostic with Jane’s maniac driving habits. She straightened her leaf-green sweater and black pants, checked her boots, and felt slightly more human. She also remembered her earlier prayer and recognized her obligation to do something nice for someone—right when she didn’t particularly feel like it. She would do something nice for Jane, then: She would resist the urge to kick Jane off the mountain.
“Get your bags, miss?”
Daria recoiled, startled. She hadn’t been paying attention.
“Oh, I’m sorry!” the bellhop said, genuinely contrite. “My fault!”
“No problem,” Daria said, looking him over. He wore an unbelievably bright red uniform with gold braids and buttons, like a high-school marching-band refugee. He can’t possibly be over seventeen, she thought, and she suddenly felt slightly old at the advanced age of twenty-one. Mature, she reminded herself, I’m mature, not old.
“Miss? May I get your bags?” he repeated.
At least he didn’t call me ma’am. “Oh—um, no, if we could just get a luggage trolley, I—”
“Sure, thanks!” shouted Jane from the driver’s seat. “That’s wonderful of you! The bags are in the middle seat.” She opened her door and looked down at the pavement for slick spots. A tall, green-suited valet who looked remarkably like Matt Damon walked up to her door as she opened it—then stopped short when he saw her from the waist down, and the special controls for the gas and brake pedals. “Oh!” he said, then pointed to the rear of the SUV. “Wheelchair or crutches in the back?”
Jane carefully swung her legs out so they hung free from the high driver’s seat. Under her wide black bellbottoms, the heavy braces on her legs gently clicked against the steel base of the door. She frowned at the frozen pools of ice on the asphalt all around the car. “Well, I can’t afford to fall down,” she admitted. “Maybe I’d better use my wheelchair until I get inside. I’ve popped the rear door, the wheelchair’s right in back. Can you get it for me, please? I just need to unfold it.”
“Will do!” the valet said warmly. The situation did not faze him at all. “Want me to get it ready for you, miss?”
“Sure, if you know how to work it. Thanks! I love big strong men who do nice things for me!”
The valet laughed. Daria groaned and rolled her eyes. Jane was way over the top, even for her, but it worked like a charm. Well, fine, it’s really her vacation. She needs it more than I do. Still—she grimaced to admit this even to herself—it does feel pretty good to know that college is over a thousand miles out of my reach, though I wish that Trent—but she slammed the lid on the rest of that thought. Keep that in its proper compartment, she ordered herself. Say nothing, think nothing, till you get home again.
Resigned to playing the straight man to Jane’s happy lunatic, Daria seized Jane’s elbow crutches from the space between the driver’s seat and front passenger seat, pulling them out of the car. She looked around carefully before shutting her car door, not wanting to be surprised again by someone else. The bellhop finished loading a wide luggage trolley with their bags and suitcases from the SUV’s center section, pulling the trolley onto the sidewalk to await further instructions.
The valet opened the rear door of the SUV and pulled out the collapsible wheelchair, bringing it to the driver’s door. He unfolded it like an expert and locked the wheels in place. Jane smiled sweetly as the valet stood by her side and helped her out of the car.
“Beautiful set-up you’ve got,” he said admiringly, getting her into position.
“Hey, thanks!” she said, her arms tight around him.
“Is it titanium?”
“Oh! Damn it, I thought you were talking about me.”
God, please, thought Daria, rolling her eyes. She walked around the SUV to Jane’s side, watching the ground for icy patches.
“Your wheelchair’s nice, but not as nice as you, miss.”
“Thank you! Yeah, it’s a custom job, titanium frame. You like the racing stripe and the ‘Sick Sad World’ stickers?”
The valet laughed. “Hey, yeah, that rocks! You’ve got class!”
“Thank you again! It weighs only fourteen pounds, can you believe that?”
The valet eased Jane into her wheelchair as if she were made of glass.
“You don’t have to let go yet,” Jane said softly into his ear, her arms still around his neck.
“Yes, you do,” said Daria, glaring at both of them. She tipped the valet with a ten, though, grateful that he’d been so good with Jane. Few people knew how to get her in or out of a car, and almost no one knew how to open or collapse her wheelchair. The valet must have seen a lot of wheelchairs to do the trick so neatly. Lots of people must leave ski resorts in wheelchairs, Daria thought—and immediately squelched the image. Not me, not me, not me. . . .
The valet laughed and, to Daria’s surprise, gave the ten back to her. “The pleasure was all mine,” he said, and he winked at Jane before he got into the SUV to drive it away. Jane grinned and blew him a kiss. Daria fought down a twinge of jealousy—but what do I have to be jealous of? I already have—Stop! Lock it up!
“Hot,” whispered Jane as Daria drew near. “Darryl—I read his nametag. He’s the head valet. I’m going to look him up later. Damn, he is hot. He better not be married.”
“We should eat before you start molesting the hotel staff,” Daria said, leading the way to the lodge doors. Jane’s black-gloved hands shoved her wheelchair wheels along with strong, skilled strokes, and moments later they and the bellhop were through the automatic sliding doors and into the immense, vaulted lobby of the resort—and into the theoretically relaxing part of the vacation.
The lobby of the Snowcastle Ski Resort looked as if a national forest had been felled to build it. Pine and cedar paneling, massive support beams, dark rafters and wooden chandeliers, and decorative carvings of wildlife were everywhere. Yellow flames flickered across the lobby in a broad stone fireplace surrounded by a cluster of chattering yuppies in sweaters and ski clothes, drinking wine coolers. Soft saxophone jazz flowed from hidden speakers. Daria heard glasses clink from a bar-and-grill down a wide, dark corridor to the left, the splash of a miniature waterfall near the front desk. She inhaled the odors of burning wood, damp clothing, and someone’s spilled drink—bourbon, she thought. Signs pointed the way to the ski rental shop, sauna, massage rooms, main dining hall, gift shop, secondary dining hall, adult ski lift, children’s ski lift, lodge post office, childcare room, ski shop, exercise room, Internet café, bus stop, TV room, snack bar, clothing shop, movie theater, bowling alley, wine-and-chocolate shop, and more. Through enormous windows on the lobby’s far side were a snow bank, pine branches, and the leaden sky above.
Daria looked around with huge eyes. It sank in that she was on a real vacation. She couldn’t recall when her last vacation had been, or if she’d even had one before now.
Jane stopped her wheelchair on a dry patch of carpet. “Hey,” she called to Daria, “come back. I wanna get up.”
Daria turned, still dazed, then quickly scanned the carpet. “Looks okay,” she said. “We’re past the wet spots.” She handed the elbow crutches to Jane, then lifted her friend up by one arm, waited until Jane had her crutches on, and collapsed the wheelchair. The bellhop put it on the luggage cart with their other things.
“I’m gonna get lucky,” whispered Jane with an excited grin, loudly enough that everyone within twenty feet could hear her. “This is the time and place where I finally get lucky again.”
“Yes,” said Daria, walking at Jane’s side, “you’ll be very lucky if I don’t push your ass off a ski jump.”
The line at the front desk was blissfully short. Daria had done some checking, and coming in on a Monday had worked like a charm, avoiding all weekend travelers coming and going. They would have several days of peace before the weekenders ruined it, but after that were another few days of peace before they returned to the college grind.
Peace—that’s a really alien concept, Daria thought. I don’t know if I can take it. But of course I will. This is for Jane, not for me. She needs it. It’ll pass for me, but Jane is the one who really needs to get away. She needs everything I can possibly give her. I owe her that, at least.
Two older men at the rear of the line turned and saw Daria and Jane approach. Jane flashed a winning smile, and both men immediately stepped aside and waved them ahead in line. The next two groups of people also let Daria and Jane move up, until they were second in line. No one was in a hurry, and everyone was polite.
“Goodness,” said one woman, looking at Jane’s crutches. “Did that happen from skiing?”
“Nah,” Jane said easily. “Snowboarding. My sleeve got caught when I jumped out of the helicopter, and I fell down the whole damn glacier. I was lucky I didn’t end up in a crevasse. Aside from that, Alaska was pretty nice.”
Daria winced but said nothing. Everyone around Jane gasped and spouted exclamations on the dangers of snowboarding in general. They looked at Jane as if she were an Olympic heroine.
“You’re not going snowboarding here this time, are ya?” asked one gray-haired man in a silver-and-blue ski suit.
“Oh, no, I’m here for moral support.” Jane let go of one crutch handle and patted Daria on the back. “My friend’s going skiing instead. It’s her first time!”
“Jane,” said Daria out of the side of her mouth.
“Oh, you’ll love it!” said the gray-haired man to Daria. “You’ll go from green to double-black in no time!”
“Is double-black some kind of skier jargon for ‘emergency room’?” Daria asked.
Everyone laughed except Daria.
“Isn’t she cute when she’s not taking her Prozac?” said Jane, provoking more laughter.
“Jane,” Daria growled, her voice two registers below normal.
“Next!” called the cheery woman at the front desk.
Five minutes later, they were checked in. The bellhop followed them to the elevators, and shortly after that, they were in room 213, just one floor up and three doors down from the elevators. Jane immediately claimed the bathroom while Daria pointed out where to put the baggage. She tipped the bellhop and locked the door after him, weak with relief. She wandered over to the bed farthest from the windows—which looked out over a gigantic snow-covered valley that dropped downward forever—and collapsed on her back, eyes closed. Most of the tension drained out of her in seconds, and she yawned. She had no idea she was so tired.
Jane came out a minute later, the toilet running behind her. “Your turn,” she called as she went to her bed. Before leaving on their vacation, Jane had called dibs on any bed or chair immediately adjacent to any window; after their drive through the Rockies, Daria was in no mood to argue. Jane carefully let herself fall on her butt on the bed, set her crutches up against a chair, then flopped over backward, arms out, lying flat on the bedspread.
“We made it,” said Jane. She sounded tired, too. “We finally made it.”
“Unh,” said Daria. She lay still, half wishing she would just fall asleep for the rest of their vacation time. The long trip had been nerve-wracking even before the Rockies, thanks to severe turbulence on the flight into the sprawling, circus-tent Denver airport, located out in the middle of absolutely nowhere for reasons Daria could not fathom. Then there was the matter of Jane’s driving. . . .
No, that wasn’t it. Daria admitted to herself that Jane’s driving wasn’t that bad. Something else had Daria all keyed up.
What the hell am I doing at a ski resort? She stared up at the ceiling. I hate the thought of skiing. Jane can’t possibly ski. What am I doing here? How did she talk me into this? This isn’t at all where I’d go if I’d picked the vacation. I’d . . . I’d be in the Raft campus library, reading right now, lost in the stacks.
Even as she thought this, however, Daria knew it was a lie. She knew where she would be. She shook her head violently, clearing her mind. Her personal life was hidden from all, particularly from Jane. She couldn’t parade it in Jane’s face while Jane was still recovering—if Daria ever revealed it at all. She wasn’t sure she ever would.
Daria let out her breath in a long sigh. Why am I here? Because Jane talked me into it. It was crazy, but I said sure. She wanted to come here in the worst way, wanted to get away from everything and everyone, wanted to restart her own personal life. She wanted this in the worst way, and wouldn’t you know it, here we are, in the worst way: Jane the runner, crippled for life, and me the responsible one, the person who—
Daria heard fabric scrunching and metal clinking. She lifted her head and saw that Jane had shucked off her pants and driving gloves, and she was carefully undoing the Velcro straps on her upper and lower leg braces.
“What’re you doing?”
“What does it look like I’m . . . oh, man, it feels so good to have those things off.” Freed at last, Jane set the braces aside on the bed, then ran her hands down her thin, pale, wasted legs, restoring lost circulation. Daria saw the crooked lines of Jane’s once-strong athlete’s limbs, crisscrossed up and down with surgical scars and pressure marks from the braces, and she tried very, very hard not to remember the event that had caused them to be like that. The memory came back anyway, and black waves of guilt washed over her. Jane remembered none of it. Daria remembered every second.
Daria turned away and looked at the wall. She considered what to say next, then decided to say nothing about Jane taking her leg braces off. It would only provoke a fight, which she was determined to avoid at all costs on this vacation. She lay back and closed her eyes again. “So,” she said, “what are your secret plans while I’m in the hospital recuperating from my very first skiing accident?”
“You know what my wicked plans are, Morgendorffer.” Jane fell back onto the bed again and let out her breath. “I’m on vacation. I’m going to do anything I want . . . and anyone I want.”
Daria kept her mind blank. Test pattern. No reaction.
“I’m gonna get lucky.” She sounded more than hopeful. She sounded like she believed it. She was so very Jane.
“No,” said Daria automatically, filling in the old formula. “The guys are gonna get lucky with you.” Unless they’re jerks and I lose it and ruin everything.
“Yeah,” sighed Jane, her speech slurring, her eyes closing. “S’ gonna be fun.”
She was asleep within seconds.
“Fun,” repeated Daria in a whisper so low not even she could hear it. She lay awake, exhausted but unable to find peace. She entered a state in which movement was not worth the trouble, and thinking was the only activity left.
You want to get lucky again, she thought, seeing Jane asleep without turning her head. You used to tell me about your dangerous liaisons on and around BFAC, opening up your life to sex and adventure and your boy toys, the laughing young men who looked at you as if you were a goddess, a living flame, eager to touch you, eager for your heat, and you rode above it all, wild in your center, on top of the wave, in your element at last, and we walked outside the theater a year ago this month from a movie I can’t remember now and you wanted a newspaper to look up some art shows, you walked away from me just a handful of steps, and fate threw you back, and here you are now, the runner who wants back in the race, and I don’t even know why I’m here with you, the anchor to your balloon, it should be someone else and not me. Not me. Too much irony.
Jane snored once, then shifted on her bed. Daria’s thoughts shifted, too, and the images in her mind went blank. During the lull, she turned her face to the ceiling and examined the off-white swirls of plaster. Whirling lost in whirlpools, we lived for ages in chaos from hospital to hospital, schoolwork by the wayside, I moved in with you, your whole family drifted in and out but only your lazy brother stayed to help us, Trent the unreliable, but he changed and took charge when we were lost, he changed and could be relied upon at last, he became the Trent I’d always hoped was there, and we three made it work, day by day, you and I took our tests and passed our courses and got our grades like normal people, we three saw it through, and now the runner can almost walk, and that’s good enough if the alternative is no alternative at all.
And here you are too, Daria, with your best friend ever, your only friend ever, and you’ve blown so much energy on blocking the past and blocking the present and blocking the future that you’ve run out of steam, the energy’s gone, the power’s down, the current’s dead, the sun is off for the season, and what will you say to Jane next when she asks you something, tells you a joke, and she needs to hear the Daria she knew, the Daria who cared, and that Daria is gone? I’m tired, so tired, worn out with it all, and I give up. I could not care less. Could not care less.
Daria took off her glasses, laid them beside her on the bed, and folded an arm across her eyes. Her mind drifted back, as it always did, without fail, and even covering her eyes could not shut out those moments almost a year ago exactly, when Jane had left her side, two quarters clutched in her right fist, and walked down the sidewalk to a busy street corner in Boston to get the day’s newspaper from a paper box. Everything after that happened very fast, the memories spliced together by a bad film editor to make a jerky, chaotic jumble of scenes and perspective changes, no soundtrack to speak of except for the screaming.
Jane stirred and stretched. Her movements alerted Daria, who had not slept at all. She reached for her glasses and put them on as Jane sat up in bed. Daria still lay on her back, looking up, unwilling to move further.
“Whoa, I needed that.” Jane rubbed her face, then scooted over to the side of the bed by her crutches. She gently lowered her pale, crooked legs to the floor without putting her weight on them. “I slept for an hour. Must’ve been really tired. Lack of oxygen, altitude sickness, something. Jet lag, that’s it.”
“We have to drink lots of water,” said Daria, remembering her parents’ suggestions and information she’d gleaned from the Internet. “We’ll dehydrate fast up here. We’ll get headaches if we don’t drink lots of water every day.”
“Gotcha. You make a better mom than my own mom, you know that?”
“Put on sunscreen before we go outside. The UV is bad up here. And put on clean underwear so that when I’m sent to the ER, you can molest the doctors.”
“Right, Mom. Actually, that’s funny you mentioned new underwear. I brought some special panties with me. Wanna see?”
“Uh . . .” No.
“I got ‘em at Anne Bonney’s Pleasure Chest. You know that place out in Cambridge where they sell sex toys and things, about two miles—”
“Oh, right. Well, lemme get them out anyway. You have to see ‘em.”
“I keep forgetting you were a Girl Scout.”
“You’re always prepared.”
Jane laughed. It was a beautiful sound. She reached behind her and snagged one of her leg braces, then put it on. Daria got up, sat on the edge of her bed for a moment until her head cleared, then went into the bathroom and shut the door.
After using the toilet and washing up, Daria stood in front of the mirror and looked at herself. A nobody with brown hair and owl-eye glasses looked back. My hair has no color, she thought. It’s exactly that washed-out shade of brown that has no color, like a mannequin’s hair around a mannequin’s face. She took her glasses off and washed her face, toweled off, then put her glasses back on and left.
“Hungry?” asked Jane. She had her leg braces on again and was going through a small travel bag, wearing only her red sweater and her (bland yellow travel) underwear.
“I could eat a horse,” Daria said, going through another bag. “A very small horse, about the size of a bowl of French onion soup. Aspirin first, though.”
“Something like that.”
“The aspirin’s in here,” said Jane, handing the bag over. “You need to drink a lot of water up here every day to keep from getting headaches, you know.”
“Do tell.” Daria went through the bag and pulled out a clear plastic bottle full of white tablets. She turned to go to the bathroom again—and ran into a wall with a loud thump, knocking her glasses off.
“Oh, shit!” Jane almost got to her feet to come to Daria’s aid, but she stopped herself at the last moment, falling back on the bed. She grabbed for her elbow crutches. “Jesus! Are you okay?”
“I’m okay!” Daria snapped, hands clamped to her face. “I’m all right! Don’t worry about it, damn it!” She knelt down, peering through tear-dimmed eyes, and found her glasses. Her nose hurt atrociously.
Jane got to her feet and came over on her crutches, but by then Daria had escaped to the bathroom again and shut the door.
Daria forced her eyes open over the sink and looked at her nose. It was red and swollen but not bleeding. She dabbed at her eyes, washed off her face again, and blew her nose. She opened the aspirin bottle and emptied two tablets out, emptied out a third, then took them with a glass of cold water. She drank a second glass, then looked at herself in the mirror again. She felt like an incredible ass, running into the wall like that. The redness in her eyes was already going away. Her nose smarted like the devil, though. Stupid thing to do right at the start of a vacation. Just tired or something. Better watch it or I’ll be the one to fall off the mountain, not Jane.
“You okay in there?” Jane called by the bathroom door.
I’d deserve that, wouldn’t I, for what I did?
“Fine,” said Daria, sniffing. “I’m okay now.” She dabbed her eyes once more, checked her face—passable—then opened the door and . . . stopped.
Jane stood on the other side of the door, blocking her way. Her sweater was gone.
“See?” Jane said with a grin. She gently hopped forward, crutches at her sides, and thrust her chest and hips in Daria’s direction.
Daria looked Jane over for only a moment. She then backed into the bathroom and shut and locked the door.
“Hey,” called Jane in a peeved tone, “the bra and panties aren’t real tiger fur!”
Jane took a half-hour to get ready to leave the room. Daria watched various news channels on cable while she waited, wearing the same outfit she’d had on when they’d left Logan Airport that morning. The world had not blown up during their trip to the ski lodge. Daria wasn’t sure if she was relieved or saddened to know this.
“We’re just having lunch, you know,” Daria called absently as she checked the Forecast Channel. Boston was having a spring shower. Trent is home from work right now, watching the rain through the apartment windows. “You don’t have to get too dressed up. It’s not like we’re—” She turned her head upon hearing the bathroom door open and Jane’s crutches thump out “—trying out for the Miss Americ—uh.”
Daria stared, speechless.
“Ready!” said Jane brightly. Bright red lipstick, royal blue sweater, blue eyes highlighted, a light cheek blush, coal-black hair fixed, polished silver earrings—three per ear, silver necklace with a lapis lazuli pendant in the gentle sweater valley between her breasts, fresh white bellbottoms wide enough to hide her leg braces, blue shoes (not so obviously orthopedic in design) with prominent toe cleavage . . .
Jane appeared to be waiting for a comment. Daria sighed and clicked off the TV with the remote. “Which state do you represent in the pageant?” she asked as she got up.
“Insanity,” said Jane, pleased. “Let’s roll.”
Darryl the valet was not in view when they got downstairs and passed the front doors in the lobby. Jane caught the attention of the concierge and asked about him, hobbling back to Daria with a glum look. “He’s off for the evening, and she won’t give me his phone number. Probably jealous, but I don’t blame her, seeing as it’s a hot little thing like me asking. He won’t come back until tomorrow. Bet he’s married or likes guys or . . . whatever.” She shrugged, resigned. “One down, a thousand to go.”
Bet he’s married or likes guys or . . . would not dare be seen dating a cripple on crutches, like some guys who used to go out with Jane back at BFAC. Daria kept her thoughts to herself as she followed Jane toward the snack bar, none of the other restaurants being open for dinner yet. Her stomach came to life when the smell of food reached her. The bowl of French onion soup immediately became inadequate.
The bowl of French onion soup had to wait, however. Jane grabbed Daria’s sleeve and guided her into a small souvenir shop immediately next to the snack bar.
“What? Jane, what’re you—”
“We’re getting postcards,” said Jane. Jane went past the postcard racks, however, and began cruising past the other people in the shop, eyeing the males—ring-finger checks, personality checks, who-won’t-ignore-a-girl-on-crutches checks, and so forth.
Daria stopped by the postcards, suppressing a groan. Jane and her damn hormones. Daria gave up and turned to see if there was something she could mail back to Trent—and her younger sister Quinn, and of course her parents. She eyed the prices. A dollar per postcard, with tax? Crap! Well, why not, at least I won’t have to worry about getting any change back. She reached for an interesting scenic card.
“Hey, babe,” said a male voice to her right. Daria looked at him and summed him up in one second: an 18-19 year-old horny white high-school senior who smells like he’s got two beers in him, eager for a one-shot, won’t use a condom, will probably steal my underwear to show his friends. Daria stared at him with no expression. She’d never gone out with his kind. It was too much like dating outside her species.
“Wanna have some fun?” he said with an earnest, trust-me smile.
“No,” said Daria.
“Hey, didn’t mean to light the fuse on your tampon,” he said, forcing his smile. “But if you change your mind and want eight inches, give me a call.”
“If you ever change your mind and want those eight inches removed, you give me a call,” said Daria in a matter-of-fact voice. “I do sex reassignment surgeries at Denver General.” She snapped her fingers and stepped closer to him. “Fix you up good, three seconds flat—longer if you want it done in an operating room. Wanna see my surgical tool?” She reached behind her for a back pants pocket.
“Oh, man,” he said. Eyeing her carefully—particularly her hidden hand—he left the souvenir shop and quickly headed elsewhere. He looked back at her once but nearly ran into a potted tree.
“Let’s go,” growled Jane a minute later. “Everyone’s here with someone else or has kids or is hiding a wedding ring or needs a booster shot for jerk-istis.”
“No rest for the wicked,” said Daria with a sigh. Despite Jane’s complaints, it was difficult not to smile. She decided to get the postcards later.
At the snack bar, they waited in line to be seated behind a couple with two small children. Both kids stared at Jane’s elbow crutches with open interest. Their mother noticed and started to say something to her children.
“I bet I look like an AT-AT Walker on Star Wars, don’t I?” Jane said to the kids. The mother smiled nervously, relieved that Jane didn’t seem to mind.
“What happened to you?” asked the boy. Daria guessed he was about seven, his sister a little younger. The father turned around and saw Jane, instantly looking away as if she were invisible.
“Shark,” said Jane. “Chewed me up while I was surfing in Honolulu a few months ago. I’ve got about five hundred stitches in both legs.”
Both parents were aghast. “Sweet Jesus!” said the husband, giving her his full attention at last.
“You’re not serious!” cried the wife. “A shark?”
“He bit your legs off?” The boy’s eyes were enormous. The girl shrank back to stand a little behind her mother’s nearest leg.
“Nah, but he tried to,” said Jane. “I guess I didn’t taste very good, because he let me go. Heck, you think this looks bad, you should’ve seen my surfboard.”
“What kind of shark was it?” asked the husband.
Daria’s eyes almost closed. Dope. Only a guy would ask a question like that.
Jane shrugged, a half-smile on her lips. “I wasn’t paying attention. Hungry one, I guess. He was big, I remember that.”
“Jeez,” said the husband, his face pale. “Great white, maybe.”
“You’re not here to go skiing, are you?” asked the wife.
“I’m trying to talk her out of it,” Daria said in a deadpan, world-weary voice. Everyone stared at her—even Jane, who clearly hadn’t expected the assistance.
“No way!” said the boy. “You’re gonna ski after a shark bit you? Wow!”
“Are you serious?” asked the husband, stunned.
“She is, but they’re not going to let her ski,” said Daria with finality. “I’ll kick anyone who even thinks about letting her do it. Kick ‘em straight down the mountain.”
“You do that,” said the wife with relief. “You keep an eye on her.”
“Always,” said Daria, with a trace of a smile. She looked at Jane, who gave her a sour look. “Whaaat?”
Jane rolled her eyes. “Nothing, Mom.”
“She’s your mom?” asked the little boy, stunned.
A waitress appeared and led the family to a table. The little girl followed her mother, but she looked back at Jane long after everyone else had turned away.
“You have a fan club,” Daria said.
“That’s a first.” Jane looked Daria in the eye. “And what if I did want to go skiing, Mom?”
“You heard what I said.” Daria’s right foot shot up a few inches in a brief kick. “Right down the mountain. And you’ll be right behind him.”
“You’re no fun.”
Daria snorted. “You’re fun enough for both of us,” she said. “Shark bait.”
Jane gave Daria a nasty grin, showing all her teeth. Another waitress, blonde and fortyish, appeared and led them to a booth near a window with a magnificent view of the surrounding mountains. Jane put her crutches aside as she sat down, then looked out the window with great contentment. They were able to order drinks, soup, and a mound of appetizers on the spot. Daria had not imagined she was really this hungry. She felt better now than she had earlier. Maybe she wasn’t as burned out on life as she had feared. She hoped this was so. It was about time their luck changed.
They talked about their flight out, the turbulence, the annoying things certain boorish passengers said, and the stores at the Denver airport.
“We really should move out here,” said Jane after a pause, looking out at the view. “I’m not kidding. We should do it.”
“You’re not getting enough oxygen at this altitude, I can tell.”
“Give me one good reason why we shouldn’t. I dare you. One good reason.”
“What’s money got to do with it? We can get jobs. Gimme another reason.”
“Right after the first big snow, they’ll find our bodies huddled around a television set for warmth.”
“Global warming’s gonna melt all the snow in a few more years. Gimme another reason.”
Would Trent come with us? “Money,” Daria repeated.
“No fair, you said that already.”
“Jane, the cost of living here is worse than living in downtown Manhattan. We’d have to build a igloo in the wilderness, eat snow for water, and take three jobs each as call girls just to afford a package of Ho-Hos for breakfast.”
“Okay,” said Jane. “What’s the downside?”
Daria gently snorted. She watched an eagle drift high over the valley between the ski lodge and the next mountain over. It occurred to her that she had never seen an eagle in flight before. She wondered what the eagle saw from that far up, sort of like a flying camera. . . . Stop! Don’t go there! She flinched and tried to think of something else.
“We should do it,” said Jane resolutely, not looking at Daria. “We should get a place to ourselves on a mountaintop, and I could paint and you could write, and screw everything else.”
“Did you mean screw everything in a figurative sense or a literal sense?”
“Yeah,” said Jane, staring out the window in rapture.
lag’s a bitch, isn’t it?”
“Here are your drinks,” said the fortyish waitress, handing things from her carefully balanced tray, “and the nachos el grande, the twice-baked potato skins, the fried mozzarella sticks and marinara sauce, the barbecue chicken wings, the chili con queso and chips, and the extra-large cheddar fries. Your soups will be out shortly.”
“Do you have a dessert menu?” asked Jane.
“Christ, I’d give anything to be a teenager again,” said the waitress as she left.
“What’s her problem?” Jane said, looking after the waitress.
“Same as my problem,” said Daria.
“I said, pass the potato skins.”
Jane did, and they dived in. Eating together was one of their oldest rituals. They went after their food as they went after the world, dividing all they saw between them.
The conversation died off as they attacked their food. Daria was wiping her hands on her fourth napkin (the chicken wings were extra messy) when Jane’s gaze drifted to the snack bar’s entryway, and she almost choked trying to swallow her food. She managed to point, and Daria looked in the direction indicated.
Darryl was back, standing at the entrance to the snack bar in nice casual clothes—gray sweater, slacks, brown loafers. God’s gift to women, on his time off. He was scanning the room, looking for someone.
Daria fought down a surge of resentment. This vacation is for Jane and me, not—oh, screw it, what’s the use? If it makes Jane happy, why not? As long as I get a little time with her, too, I should let it all go, just let it go.
Jane, her mouth still full, made “Mmm! Mmm! Mmm!” noises and raised a hand to signal to Darryl.
At that moment, a twenty-something longhaired blonde with a plain face and a nice brown outfit walked up behind Darryl and tapped him on the arm. They gave each other a friendly hug and began talking. The blonde carried an old black briefcase.
arm shot down to her side in an instant. “Damn it!” she said under her
breath, her food swallowed. “God damn it!” She turned her head to look
out the window, her face tight and slightly red. “It’s not important. One down,
a thousand more to—”
“Heads up,” said Daria. “He’s seen us. And he’s waving.” She straightened up in her seat. “They’re coming over.” Darryl, you son of a bitch, you rub this in her face and so help me, I will get up from this table and—
“It’s okay,” Jane said softly. “It’s okay.” She turned and gave Darryl and the blonde her best artificial smile.
The blonde checked her watch and did not appear happy as she trailed Darryl, who weaved his way with ease through the packed tables in the small restaurant. “Hey, good to see you!” he said when he reached Daria and Jane’s table. He had not a trace of shame as he spoke directly to Jane. “How d’ya like it up here? Isn’t this great?”
“It’s fine so far,” said Jane in a strained voice. The blonde at Darryl’s side raised an eyebrow as she examined the pile of uneaten food between Jane and Daria. Daria looked down at the young woman’s left hand and saw a gold wedding band—but there was no such ring on Darryl’s left hand. Not married? Family member? Cheating?
“Great,” said Darryl. He put an affectionate hand on the blonde woman’s nearest shoulder. “Hey, this is my cousin, Trina. She and her husband got in this afternoon on business, and I’m showing her around. It’s their first time seeing where I work. They don’t like leaving Denver. They hate the drive or they hate me, I can’t tell which. Family, what can ya do with ‘em?”
Trina cleared her throat and made a small hand wave without looking directly at Daria or Jane. “Hi,” she said, her part of the conversation over with. She looked ill at ease. Despite her nice outfit, Trina didn’t look—or act—like an executive or legal sort. In fact, she gave off nerdish, insecure vibes, clearly unable to proceed with her life until Darryl stopped talking with tourist chicks and went along with her to do . . . whatever.
“Yo,” said Jane to Trina, her tone uncertain but her depression clearly lifting. “Your cousin helped me out when we got in. I had a problem with a bungee cord a few months back—” She gestured at her elbow crutches, tucked halfway under the table against the wall “—and it’s a little hard to get around, but he was a real gentleman.” She gave Darryl a quick smile. Her gaze settled next on Trina’s neck, and her eyes widened. “Hey, I like your charm necklace. That silver? Where’d you get it?”
Trina’s hand went to her necklace. “Oh, I made it,” she said. After a pause, she added, “Thank you.”
“That’s nice work. You’re a silversmith? My sister Penny does that off and on—mostly off, these days.”
“I do gold, silver, other things,” said Trina. “It’s my business. I make and sell jewelry. That’s kind of why I’m here.” She cleared her throat again and gave a meaningful look at Darryl, who ignored her and kept looking at Jane.
Jane glanced at Daria with a trace of anxiety as she continued. “If my friend doesn’t mind and you have a few moments, maybe you two could join us for a little—”
Crap, thought Daria. I knew it—wait, it’s okay, it’s okay.
“Oh, no,” said Trina quickly, “we don’t have time. I have to talk to the gift shop manager before he goes home.” She glanced up at Darryl. “I need to get down there now,” she said with emphasis. “They might quit early.”
“Uh, sure,” said Darryl. He looked uncertain for a moment, then smiled and waved a hand at Jane. After a moment, he remembered Daria and gave her a half-second wave. “I’ll be seeing you around, okay?” he said, his eyes going back to Jane.
“Yeah, sure thing,” said Jane quickly. She suddenly raised a hand to stop Darryl from leaving. “Oh, wait! I’m Jane! Jane Lane.”
“Darryl Wilde.” Darryl reached for her hand and gave it a warm squeeze. Jane smiled, her glow returning. They held hands for several seconds longer than necessary.
“I’m Daria of the Apes,” said Daria, watching them.
“That’s great,” said Darryl with a grin, still looking at Jane. Trina jogged his elbow. “Hey,” he said, “we’d better go. Catch you later, okay?”
“Yeah,” said Jane, eyes bright. She was clearly trying not to grin too broadly.
“Bye!” said Trina, smiling but plainly relieved to be going.
Jane and Daria watched Darryl and Trina leave. Darryl looked back several times and ran into an empty chair once.
“I’m gonna get laid, I’m gonna get laid,” sang Jane softly. She glanced at Daria and her tone dropped. “I, um, apologize for trying to corral them at our table, but I—”
“It’s okay,” said Daria in her usual deadpan. Why fight it? Let her do it. “That’s why we’re here, right?”
Jane looked at Daria with unease. “I . . . I dunno, I thought you might be a little put out. I didn’t think before I spoke.”
Daria shrugged and looked down at her food. “A few years ago in high school, it might have bugged me.” Before the accident, maybe just a little now, maybe. “I’ve kinda gotten used to sharing you with the rest of the planet since then.” She took a sip from her drink, then put her glass down and stared at the plate of cheddar fries. “Besides, it’s your vacation, too. Have some fun. I mean it.” I almost sounded as if I did mean it. I wonder if I did. But what will I do, then? Ski? Who am I kidding about that?
Jane blinked at Daria, then glanced after Darryl. He and Trina were out of sight. “Okay.”
A strange thought went through Daria’s head: She cares what I think. And what she and I said just now, it was like I gave her permission, and she took it. I’m not her mother. What are we doing, exactly?
“You think she’s really his cousin?” Jane asked, looking at the meal again and bringing the dish of chicken wings closer to her plate.
“They have the same look, sort of,” said Daria. “They didn’t suck face when they hugged, so it looks that way, unless we get evidence otherwise. I’ll make some phone calls, get an investigator, see what the government has on him.”
“Why do you think he brought her over if they weren’t going to eat here?” Jane picked up a fresh, messy chicken wing and bit into it.
Daria picked up another potato skin piled high with sour cream and bacon bits. She studied it as she spoke. “He likes your boobs and wants other people to see them. That’s my first guess. Maybe he wants you to meet his family. Maybe he’s got plans. Let me know if you need the room for a honeymoon suite. I can sleep in the lobby near the giant-screen TV.”
“The honeymoon part would move a little too fast for me.” Jane dropped her gnawed chicken bones onto a separate plate. “Of course, if his cousin and her hubby are staying over, maybe you could stay in their room tonight while Darryl and I work the channel changer.”
“What if I want to use the channel changer myself?”
“Then you can take it with you to Darryl’s cousin’s room.”
Daria knew it would come to this. She elected to face the hidden issue head-on. “Jane, I have only one little favor to ask. Do whatever you want, but please don’t totally dump me for the whole vacation.” She was amazed that she actually said it, but she was glad that she did. “I can live with your adventuring, but I want us to spend some quality time together before I ski off a cliff. Other than that—have fun. I’ve got books to read, stores to stare at, all sorts of places to mope.”
“And skiing lessons.”
“Damn. Hoped you’d forget.”
Jane nodded as she chewed her food. “We’ll have lots of time here, you and me, I promise,” she said after she swallowed. “And I have a little favor to ask, too. Please don’t totally steal Darryl from me before I’m totally done with him.”
Daria eyed Jane with a sour look and feigned annoyance. The whole incident with Tom—first Jane’s, then abruptly Daria’s boyfriend—was long ago and far away. “Boy, one innocent little mistake and you’re all over me forever. You’re such a bitch.”
“No, you’re the bitch.”
“No, you are.”
They ended up jabbing index fingers at each other and trying not to laugh out loud because their mouths were full. The strangest part of it all, to Daria, was that she felt so good about having an argument with Jane—a silly argument, but it still felt good. She felt braver, felt their friendship was being tested and growing stronger, felt something new and good was happening. Maybe this vacation’s going to work out after all, she thought. Maybe it will work out, and we’ll be happy again. It’s been so long since Jane and I were really . . .
Daria stopped chewing.
It had been a year since the last moment that she and Jane were really happy, that moment on the street corner outside the movie theater in downtown Boston. That moment seemed like it had happened to someone else a thousand years ago.
Daria came to and saw Jane staring at her. “What?”
Jane pointed at her with her fork. “You okay? You just looked like—”
“I’m fine,” said Daria. Her mind grabbed at topics. “It’s just . . . it’s hard to believe that we’re really on vacation.”
Jane nodded and looked away, nibbling on a fried cheese stick thickly coated with sauce. “I know what you mean. I can’t believe it myself. I love it.”
The waitress reappeared a few minutes later, a crooked smile on her face. “Want anything else?”
“The valet who was working here a couple hours ago, Darryl Wilde,” said Jane without hesitation.
The waitress burst into laughter. “He’s a piece of work, isn’t he? He’s what I call eye candy for ladies. He’s an all-right fella, real sweet. You want him for dessert?”
“Yes,” said Jane, “with some chocolate on the side.”
“Later,” said Daria. “We’re saving dessert for later. We’ll take our check now, though.” She reached for the slip of paper the waitress produced, but Jane was faster and snatched it away in triumph. Jane handed the waitress a wad of bills from her pants pocket and continued foraging through the few things left on the table. Daria picked at her food, feeling rather full and with an annoying need to burp.
The waitress came back and handed Jane the change. Jane laughed and dropped it on the table in front of Daria. “It’s yours,” she said. “Don’t say I never gave you anything.” She turned to the waitress with more bills in her hand. “And here’s your tip!”
Daria looked down and stopped moving. In the background, Jane and the waitress were talking. Daria no longer heard them.
Two quarters lay on the table before her. That was the change Jane had given her.
The white sun blinded her as she came out of the theater. The sky was clear. It was an April Saturday in downtown Boston, unseasonably warm. They wore their old jackets anyway. The air smelled like the sea, and gulls mewed from high in the blue forever.
What really pisses me off, Daria said, is that I’ll never get those ninety-three minutes of my life back.
Yeah. That movie sucked like a Kansas tornado.
That movie sucked like a Lawndale cheerleader.
I wanted to use that line. You hungry?
No, the popcorn was enough. I didn’t like the butter.
It was okay. It took my mind off the movie. Can I wipe my hands on you?
No. Stop it. Stay back. My turn to chose the next movie.
Maybe. What’re you doing tomorrow afternoon?
I’ve got a paper due Thursday on Dante’s Inferno. My world lit grade rides on it.
Wanna go with me to an art show?
Good art, bad art, or your kind of art?
Real art. There’s a Rodin exhibition in town somewhere.
The flying reptile that fought Godzilla? That Rodan?
That’s him. He did the hand sculptures. I think that was during his Monster Island period.
I dunno. This Inferno paper is a major pain in the ass to—
I’ll buy dinner.
It’s a major pain in the ass to put it off until Monday, but I’ll do it. Sure, let’s go art around.
I need to get today’s newspaper. I know the exhibition’s here somewhere. Is there a paper box around? Shit, I don’t think I have any change left.
Paper box is over there.
Do you have any change?
Um . . . no.
Well, maybe—oh, here, I do have some. Two quarters, perfect. Wait here for me.
How long are you planning to be gone? Jane? Ja—
Something snapped in front of Daria’s face. She jumped violently and looked around, recognizing nothing.
Jane’s fingers snapped again. “Daria?” she asked loudly, looking into Daria’s face with wide eyes. Jane pulled her arm back, eye contact made. “Daria, what’s wrong?”
“Honey, you all right?” The fortyish waitress crouched, her gray eyes looking into Daria’s face with open worry. “You’re sweating, baby. You need to lie down?”
“No,” Daria croaked. She had to get up. She put her arms out and caught the edge of the table to pull herself to her feet, but her hands shook and so did her knees. Her legs were like cooked spaghetti. She let herself drop back into the seat and put a hand to her face. Her face was covered with beads of cold sweat. She shivered. It was so cold suddenly, so cold.
“Don’t get up!” said Jane, already on her feet, on her crutches, moving to Daria’s side. “Stay down and rest! Don’t get up. What happened?”
“Is she on medication?” asked the waitress.
“I’m okay, it’s all right,” Daria gasped. The flashback was over. “Wait, I’m okay. Sorry, I don’t know what happened. Long trip out. I’m just, just tired. I’m okay. I’m—”
She looked down and saw the quarters on the edge of the table, and she instantly swept her hand over them and flung them off the table toward the wall, away from Jane. She lurched forward and scooted out of her seat, standing on quivering legs. She made herself stand up to get away from the quarters that now lay on the carpeted floor by the wall. She had to get away from them. She had to get away. Now.
“I’m okay!” she said, louder than she wanted. “I’m really okay, I swear. Let’s go somewhere. Let me walk it off. I’ll be fine.”
“Baby, are you gonna be all right?”
“Yeah, I’m—thanks, thank you, but I’ll be okay. I just—too much traveling. I’ll walk around and be fine.”
Jane’s hand touched Daria’s arm. “Look at me, Daria.”
Daria raised her face and looked into Jane’s eyes, blue as a clear sky over Boston.
“Don’t bullshit me, Daria. Do you need to go back to the room?”
Daria hesitated—then shook her head no. “I’m okay now. Really. Let’s go for a walk. I’ll take it easy.”
Jane stared at Daria, lips compressed in a red line. “Okay,” she said softly. “If you feel tired, you sit down right away. I can’t catch you if you drop. We’ll take the elevator downstairs and window shop a while. That okay with you? You up to that?”
Daria nodded. She was better now. The flashback was gone. “Sure, Mom,” she said, her deadpan voice back. “Let’s roll.”
The lower level had only light pedestrian traffic. Once off the elevator, Daria and Jane looked straight into a brightly lit lingerie shop that snagged Jane’s attention until Daria promised to return with her later in exchange for just walking around first. Daria wiped her face now and then, saying nothing about what had happened at lunch. Jane, thankfully, seemed to have forgotten it.
“You think I would look good in a bustier?” Jane asked, stopping to look back at the shop.
“Excuse me, who are you talking to?”
“Yeah, I know, but what do you think? Tell me, Daria. You think guys would go for me if I wore a bustier?”
“Jane, we’re talking about guys, right? They don’t care about the packaging. They want the happy little surprise inside. They’re contents-driven.”
“Hmmm, you know this for a fact?” Jane turned and gave Daria a look.
Daria did not meet her gaze. “I read it in a book somewhere.”
“Uh-huh,” said Jane, almost smiling. “So, should I wear a bustier?”
Daria exhaled heavily. “Tell you what. Let’s call Quinn on her cell phone. She’s probably on spring break, too. She said she was going to Frisco. She’ll know.”
“Okay, that settles it. Quinn would say yes. She’s got all the fashion IQ in your family. Help me pick something out.”
“Can I go back upstairs and get really, really drunk first?”
“Uh-oh,” said Jane. She stopped and caught Daria’s arm. Her face was blank with surprise.
“What?” Daria looked around, confused. “What’s—”
“Chocolate shop,” said Jane. She hobbled toward it at a quick clip.
Daria groaned. “You’re such a slut.”
“I’m a fast slut, too,” Jane called back. Daria kept up her steady walking pace, arriving to find Jane sampling a dark-chocolate truffle with a mandarin-orange center. The look of ecstasy on Jane’s face was almost unspeakable.
“Do you want a cigarette and a nap when you finish?” Daria asked.
“Uh, Gaaawd!” Jane said, her mouth full and eyes shut tight. “Uh, muh Gaaawd!”
“She likes it, I think,” said the gray-haired lady behind the counter.
“We’ll take a half-dozen,” said Daria. “Be careful, though. She might try to break into your shop later, so make sure everything’s locked up.”
“How did she hurt her leg?” the little old lady asked.
“Airplane crash,” said Daria. “She was flying into Dallas/Fort Worth when she got caught in a thunderstorm downdraft. Lucky for her, she hit the only pine tree for a dozen miles around. Cushioned the impact perfectly. She was the only one on the plane, and it was just a little plane, so it turned out okay, considering.”
“Oh, my goodness,” said the little old lady. “She can have a bag for free, then. The poor dear.”
“Yes, the poor dear,” said Daria.
“Mmmmm,” said Jane, leaning on the counter. “Oh, God, that was good! I almost passed out. I’ve never even had sex that was that good!”
“Mercy,” said the little old lady, “neither have I!” She reached for a truffle.
“I’d better carry the chocolates,” said Daria.
They left the chocolate shop, briefly window-shopped contents of a children’s ski shop across the hall, then turned around and walked back to the lingerie shop, having reached the end of the hall and an exit door. Neither had a coat on, and the vast amounts of snow outside looked daunting in the evening wind.
The lingerie shop was every bit as boring as Daria feared it would be. The sales lady came out from the back, looked them over, and went into the back of the shop again.
“There’s gotta be a bookstore down here somewhere,” Daria muttered.
“Look, they have Beanzie Bears!” said Jane. “Does Quinn collect these?”
“Those stopped being fashionable years ago. Quinn had a couple, but she pulled the tags off so they’d be symmetrical. Don’t bother.”
Daria walked to a spot near the front door and sat down in an empty rattan chair, still clutching the sack of chocolate truffles. She heard footsteps from far down the hall. Heavy footsteps. Guys. The laughter sounded a little familiar. Voices became easier to distinguish as they got closer.
“. . . be some new tail coming in today.”
“There was the crip. She was upstairs eating just a while ago. You could do her.”
“Fuck, man, I don’t do handicaps. She’s probably got a brain problem. Drool on me or something.”
“Shit, she wouldn’t even know you were boning her, then. Do it, man! Ask her out! She’d prob’ly jump you. Nobody goes out with crips, dude!”
Both men laughed. They walked past the door of the lingerie shop. They were two of the group of twenty-something yuppies Daria had seen in the lobby of the lodge when she and Jane arrived.
“Oh, fuck!” said one of the men. He was looking through the window of the lingerie shop. He started laughing again. “She’s in there!”
“The crip, she’s in that store!”
Both laughed uproariously. “You asshole!” shouted one, laughing so hard he was stumbling instead of walking. “Go back and ask the crippled bitch out, dude!”
“No fucking way I’ll ask out a crip! You do it!”
Their footsteps and laughter ended moments later as they hit the exit door out. The door shut, and there was silence.
Daria was on her feet at the doorway, looking down the hall. They were gone. She had only a moment left in which to feel nothing. She stood there, not breathing, and when she finally had a thought, it was, How could something like this happen? How could it? How could something this awful possibly—
She turned around. Jane was not visible in the shop. Daria carefully pushed the door of the shop until it was almost closed, then walked slowly toward the racks and displays of women’s undergarments. There was an infinitely small chance that Jane had not heard a thing. Maybe, just maybe, she . . .
Jane stood before the Beanzie Bears display against the wall in the far corner of the shop. Her back was to Daria, her head down. One of her arms was in an elbow crutch; the other held a little Beanzie Bear, her other crutch leaning against the display.
Jane stirred as Daria approached, but she did not turn around. She cleared her throat. “Quinn might like this one,” Jane said in a low, rough whisper. “It’s sort of a fashion bear, I think. I think this is a scrunchie on its ear. Quinn would like that.” Her voice ran out and died.
“Jane . . .”
Jane put the Beanzie Bear back on the shelf and took up her elbow crutch again, leaning down on it. The Beanzie Bear with the ear scrunchie fell over on its side. “Daria,” Jane said in a dull tone, “how about you see if you can find that bookstore. It’s probably down here somewhere. Take a few minutes. I want to look at some things here for a while by myself.”
Daria didn’t move.
“I just want to be alone for a little,” said Jane, looking down at the floor.
“Are you okay?”
“Go away, Daria.”
Daria hesitated, then turned and walked out of the shop. She was closing the door when she heard a sob break loose from the corner of the shop where Jane was. No other sound followed it. Daria shut the door in silence.
She found herself walking up the dark corridor. She passed a number of other shops and scattered groups of people. She walked a long way until she reached the end of the corridor and stopped, turned around, and walked back. She’d almost reached the elevator when she recalled where she was and turned around again, avoiding the lingerie shop there.
She took off her glasses for a moment as she walked, and she ran her free hand over her mask of a face. Her horror was giving way to rage. Her fingers shook. How could this happen? How could this happen on our vacation, not three hours after we get here? How could this happen? Emotions ran wild through her. She kept her expression as blank and lifeless as it could possibly get, but it did not seem to be enough. I understand murder now, she thought, and it was true, she did, and it was a tide running high over her head, flooding her senses, filling her blood. I thought only guys felt like this. I never thought I could. I’ve never been this angry before. I’ve never been this angry ever, not even at the drunk driver who hit Jane, but that’s because it was really my fault, wasn’t it? Is this my fault, too? How am I ever going to handle this? What am I going to do to help her? I set her up for this, I got her crippled, and how am I going to handle this if all I’m about to do is kill them, kill them, kill with knife gun fists fingernails teeth kill them any way I can, it feels so right, it’s the right thing, kill them and—
She looked in a shop window and stopped in her tracks. She stared for a moment, then walked quickly to the door and pushed it open.
“Welcome to the Crystalline Palace,” said the prim sales clerk, his manicured hands resting lightly on the glass-topped counters of jewelry, gems, and decorative crystals. “Can I help you?”
Daria marched up to the counter, her face a rock wall. “Darryl Wilde,” she said. “A Darryl Wilde came down here a while ago with his cousin. She was selling some jewelry, I think—”
“Oh,” said the clerk. “They’re in the back. Do you need him?”
“Is this an emer—”
“Oh.” The sales clerk picked up a phone under the counter and pushed a button. “Hi, this is Bill. Is there a . . .” He looked up at Daria.
“Darryl Wilde,” said Daria.
“Darryl Wilde back there? Can you have him come out, please? There’s a young lady here who needs to see him. Okay, bye.” He put the phone down. “He’ll be right out.”
Daria nodded. She walked back to the door of the shop and looked out, down the hall. The distant door to the lingerie shop was still closed.
She came back inside as Darryl was coming through a back door. “Oh, hey,” he said, seeing Daria and grinning. “Wassup?”
“Come with me,” said Daria. “Right now.” She pushed the door of the shop open. “Come on.”
“Why?” Darryl stopped, half smiling. “Where are we going?”
“I’m not seducing you!” snapped Daria. “There’s a problem. We need you!”
The half-smile faded from Darryl’s lips. “What problem?”
“Come on, damn it!” said Daria, waving him out the door. Eyeing her curiously, Darryl went out as she asked. Daria set off down the hallway ahead of him, gesturing violently for Darryl to follow.
“Where’s your friend, Jane?” Darryl asked when he’d caught up to Daria’s quick pace.
“You seem like a decent sort,” said Daria. “I hate making spur-of-the-moment judgments like this, but I don’t have any choice. You like her, right?”
“What . . . Jane? Well, yeah, I do. Is—”
“Good, because someone hurt her, and I can’t do anything about it.”
Darryl’s pace suddenly quickened. “Someone hurt her?” His voice changed. “How bad is she hurt? What happened?”
“It’s not like that,” said Daria. She pointed to the lingerie shop. “Someone said something bad to her. I can’t help her. I know this looks funny, but this isn’t a damn joke or trick. She’s—there she is.”
Darryl stopped at the shop window, peering through the glass. Jane’s back was visible. She was still standing at the Beanzie Bear display. One of her crutches had fallen over. She leaned on the remaining one, her free hand covering her eyes, her head down. She sniffed as they watched. Darryl’s face relaxed, and his mouth fell open.
“What happened to—”
“Go!” hissed Daria. She pushed him. “Go on in, damn it!”
Darryl seemed to awaken, and he walked to the door of the shop and went inside. Daria backed up, fading into the darkness on the other side of the corridor. She saw Darryl go to Jane’s side. Jane looked up at him and wiped her eyes with the palm of her hand. Darryl’s arm came up and touched Jane on the back. She slowly leaned forward and buried her face in Darryl’s sweater as his arms encircled her. Her shoulders shook as he bowed his head over her.
Daria watched a moment longer, then turned and went back down the corridor again. She walked until she recognized a small bookshop, then went inside and stood in front of a shelf full of history books, unable to read a single title. She pulled books off at random, looked at their covers, and put them back. None of them made sense. They were in English, but her brain was in shutdown mode and processing nothing. After a few minutes of this, she looked around, found a bench for readers, and sat down.
She realized then that she still had the sack of chocolate-and-orange truffles.
She opened the sack and looked at them a long while. She ate one.
Jane was right. The truffles were incredible. She shut the sack and closed her eyes and chewed slowly and tried hard not to think of anything else but the truffle.
Daria eventually bought three books, carefully calculating their prices so that she got only a nickel and three pennies back for change. There would be no repeat of the lunchtime flashback. She was starting the third chapter of her first book when she realized someone was looking over her shoulder.
“Thief,” said Jane.
“I ate only one,” said Daria, relieved. She gave the sack of chocolates to Jane. Jane’s makeup was a little smudged, her eyes a little red, nothing else.
“Ate only one—did you hear that?” Jane handed the sack to Darryl, who held one of her crutches. “Try one. Tell me if you think it’s better than sex.”
Darryl looked at her with a raised eyebrow. “I dunno if I want to try anything that’s better than sex.”
“That’s what you say now.” Jane picked a truffle out of the sack. “Open up. Eat this.”
“But I don’t know where it’s been,” Darryl protested, trying not to smile.
“Eat it before I make you eat it.”
“She’ll do it,” said Daria. She peered up at Darryl’s plaid, long-sleeved shirt. “Where’s your sweater?”
“Someone blew her nose on it,” he said. “I left it under the counter at the bra shop. Damn eastern tourists. Brought up in a barn.”
Jane’s eyes flashed. She shoved the truffle at his mouth, and he took it in his teeth and ate it.
His eyes grew large. “Jesus,” he said after swallowing it, “that is good.” He grinned, looking into Jane’s eyes. “Not as good as you, though.”
“Tastes better than me, I’m sure.”
Darryl shook his head slowly. “I doubt that very much,” he said, his voice deepening.
Jane made a hmmm sound. “How would you like to find out?” she asked, leaning closer to him.
Daria shut her book, getting up from the bench. “I’ll be sleeping in the lobby by the big-screen TV,” she said. “Drop off the remote when you have a minute.”
Jane took her crutch from Darryl and gently rapped Daria on the leg with it. “She’s the one who was brought up in a barn. The stories I could tell you about her, and most of them are true.”
“What’d she mean about the remote?” Darryl asked.
“Never mind,” said Jane. “Daria, if it’s okay . . . well, even if it’s not okay, Darryl’s going to take me out for a bit. We won’t be gone too long.”
Daria looked at the two of them. “You’re not going driving, I hope. There was supposed to be snow tonight.”
“No, no,” said Darryl. “We’re just—uh, going out. We’ll be around here, somewhere. She needs a coat on, though. And boots. It’s a little nippy out.”
Daria nodded. It was okay with her after all. “Tell you what. I’m going back up to stash these—” She held up her three new books “—and give Quinn a call. My sister,” she added as an aside to Darryl. “I’ll bring your coat and gloves down.” She looked at Jane’s feet. “And boots.”
“Thanks. And Daria?”
Jane took a step forward and lifted one hand from a crutch to pull Daria closer. Jane pressed her face into Daria’s shoulder and gave her a gentle hug.
“Thank you,” Jane whispered into Daria’s ear.
“Sure,” said Daria. Her face reddened. “Anytime.”
Jane released her and smiled. “I was mostly okay, though. We Lanes have thick hides. Nothing gets us down for long.”
Daria thought of several past incidents to the contrary, but she wisely elected not to mention them. “You did take that self-esteem class seven times running in tenth grade,” she said. “Guess it finally sunk in.”
“True, although having low self-esteem does make me feel spe—”
“Oh, shut up.”
“You know what,” said Darryl, looking out of the bookstore windows, “I should check in on Trina. She’s probably wondering where I ran off. How ‘bout Jane and I walk over to the jewelry store and look around, and you can meet us there. Trina makes nice stuff.” He looked at Jane. His right hand came up and carefully brushed back the bangs on the left side of her face. Jane, who was turning to look at him, stopped moving. His fingers touched her large ring earrings, then traced a line from her ear down her cheek. Jane stopped breathing.
“I might talk Trina into letting you try on some of her things,” said Darryl softly. “She makes a lot of nice stuff.”
Jane’s red lips parted. “Sure,” she whispered.
His fingers brought Jane’s chin up. They locked eyes. Neither moved.
“Gosh, look at the time,” said Daria, looking at her wrist, her watch covered by her sweater sleeve. “I’d better get back to the room and call Quinn and get those things. I should complain about the thermostat in here, too. It’s getting way too warm.”
“It’s about to get one hell of a lot hotter,” murmured Jane, her eyes never leaving Darryl.
“That’s it,” said Daria, “I’m outta here.” And, without a look back, she was.
Daria took the elevator up to the lobby. She tensed as the door opened. The yuppies might have returned to their original place by the fire, and she still had a terrible impulse to do two of them harm. But what’s the point? she asked herself. She didn’t have the upper-body strength that Jane herself had from pushing wheelchair wheels and handling crutches. Daria suspected Jane was lifting hand weights, too, back at BFAC. Punching someone was right out.
And what would getting medieval on those guys accomplish, aside from filling her with the warm glow of vengeance fulfilled? It wouldn’t do Jane any good, and it would certainly wreck the vacation—especially given the kinds of revenge Daria could envision. She shoved her darker thoughts aside with vigor. Jane’s vacation enjoyment mattered most. And maybe Daria’s vacation mattered, too. She was starting to enjoy herself, the potholes in the road notwithstanding.
No yuppies were in sight in the lobby. Daria was relieved in spite of herself. Before heading upstairs, she wandered over to the abandoned concierge’s desk and selected a handful of colorful folders on sights and activities around the lodge. She looked at a folder on sleigh rides and decided to give it to Jane as a possible activity to do with Darryl. She caught herself then and marveled. I can’t believe I finally got over her dating and being away from me. God, I used to be so jealous of her time. She was the only true friend I ever had in high school, the only person who understood or put up with me, the only person I trusted, even now. Well, true, I trust Quinn. She turned out all right, maybe better than all right, someone I can talk to and listen to. And I trust Trent—Daria slammed the lid on that topic once again. And Tom, once, but I trusted Jane more. Tom and I made such a mess of things, there was no way anything between us could ever be right. I’ve always trusted Jane more than anyone.
She nodded to herself and collected a brochure on wildlife watching. This vacation might turn out to be almost perfect after all. This was a good time to get those postcards, too, as long as—
“Oh, there you are, honey.”
Daria turned, startled.
It was the fortyish waitress with blonde hair. She reached into her apron pocket and came out with two small, metallic items that clinked together in her fingers. She held them out her hand. “You left the change your friend gave you. Are you feeling—”
Daria dropped her new books and event handouts. She turned and ran, shoved her way through the automatic doors leading out from the lobby, and was gone.
“I like these,” Jane said, pointing to a set of round, flat earrings in the black velvet box. They were smaller than her plain-ring earrings, but the outer ring was actually a crescent moon, three-quarters complete, with a small silver cat sitting on the bottom curve of the crescent, its tail dangling.
“Can she try them on?” Darryl asked.
“That’s fine,” said Trina. “I’ll do it for you.”
“Thank you,” said Jane. She held back her hair and sat quietly on the high stool as Trina removed her lower set of earrings and replaced them with the crescent-moon-and-cat ones.
“How about something different for the top ones?” Trina said, studying Jane’s ears. “What you’ve got on is going to bang into these. Something smaller, I think, not so dangly.”
“That’s okay,” said Jane, “you don’t have to—”
“Those,” said Darryl, pointing. “The stars.”
“These?” Trina picked up two of several star-shaped earrings. Jane saw them—brilliant five-point stars of silver, simply fashioned, with clear, cut gemstones in their centers. The clear gemstones cast off rainbows of light.
“Wait,” said Jane, “are those diamonds?”
“Let’s try ‘em on,” said Trina, and she had the old earrings off in seconds, and the new ones on. “Keep your hair back—yeah, like that,” she said at last, and she stepped back.
Darryl stepped back, too. “Jeez,” he breathed.
Jane turned her head and looked into the mirror on the counter. “Oh,” she said, and she couldn’t think of anything to add to that. She had never imagined having earrings like these before. They looked as if they’d come from another world.
“Trina,” said Darryl, and he gestured at Jane.
“You want ‘em?”
“All right,” said Trina. “We’re even now.” She pulled her battered briefcase back and carefully closed it on the remaining silver jewelry on the black velvet background.
Jane turned around, eyes widening. “Whoa,” she said. “What? I wasn’t—I mean, he wasn’t buying these for—”
“They’re yours, honey,” said Trina with finality. “Deal’s done. See you later, cuz. Take good care of her.” Trina nodded in Jane’s direction and headed for the door. “Better see if Gary’s done looking through the ski shop. I can’t believe I married him.”
Trina walked out, and Jane turned to Darryl, her mouth open. “Darryl, what’s going on?”
Darryl shrugged it off. “Oh, I talked the manager into selling her stuff here. She’s coming back tomorrow with all her jewelry, and they’ll take it on consignment, everything she’s got. Wasn’t that hard, really. She does great work. Plus—” He grinned self-consciously “—the manager’s another one of my cousins, but on my mom’s side, not my dad’s, like Trina. Plus, I fixed her husband’s pickup truck and their water heater, and I strung barbed wire for them last fall. This settles us out, so don’t worry about it.”
“But . . . I can’t take these.” Jane touched the earrings. “You and I, we—”
He sighed, but not as if the situation bothered him. “Okay,” he said, “we’ll talk about it—but not now. We’ll talk about it later. Just wear them for me tonight. I’d really like that if you would.” He raised a hand and touched her cheek. “Just for tonight, and we’ll talk about everything else later. You look so good in those.”
Jane looked in the mirror. “Are these diamonds in the stars?”
“Probably. Trina doesn’t use glass. You like the cat sitting on the moon? Told you she does good work.”
Jane turning her head from side to side, examining the jewelry. “So,” she said, at last, “does the lodge have any rules against staff fraternizing with guests?”
“Yeah,” said Darryl. “We have to report it to the head valet.”
Jane looked at him.
He shrugged and smiled.
Trying not to grin, Jane looked in the mirror again. She reached up and touched one crescent moon earring. “You’ve given me the moon and stars, and you probably expect something in return, right?”
Darryl blinked. “Uh, now, that’s not really—”
Jane got her crutches and slid off the stool. She hobbled to the door of the jewelry shop, but Darryl opened it for her before she got there.
“Let’s get your sweater first,” Jane said, and headed out the door on her crutches at a swift pace. “Race you.”
Five minutes later, Darryl stood in the lingerie shop rubbing his face. He checked his watch, looked around at the generous array of bras, panties, and other intimate feminine apparel, and sighed heavily. He checked his watch again.
“Darryl?” came Jane’s voice from inside the dressing booth on the end.
“You ready to go?” he asked hopefully.
“I am here,” he said.
“No, I meant, open the door.”
“Oh.” He opened the door—and stared.
Jane sat on a stool against the back wall of the dressing room. Her sweater and blouse were draped across a chair nearby. Her crutches leaned against the wall near her.
In front of her chest, Jane held up a strange undergarment of fine lace. It looked like a bra and corset merged into a single item: a bustier.
“Daria and I had this discussion earlier,” Jane said, “and maybe you can resolve it. You’re a man, so tell me this: Do men like the packaging—” She lifted the bustier slightly, making sure he saw it clearly, then lowered her hands so the bustier settled into her lap “—or the surprise inside?”
He looked her up and down. His mouth went dry.
“Looks like tiger fur,” he said.
“You like it?”
He studied her a little longer. “Yeah. Nice surprise.”
Jane shook her head slowly. “That’s not the surprise.”
Her right hand went behind her back, made a movement, and the bra strap popped loose. She shrugged her arms, and the tiger-fur bra fell into her lap on top of the bustier.
“The packaging . . . or the surprise?” she asked in a low voice.
He was riveted. “I’d have to take a closer look,” he said after a pause.
“Then come closer,” she said.
He stepped into the dressing room and quietly closed the door behind him. He walked over and stood as close as he could to her stool. Her knees parted so he could stand between them. She still wore her white bellbottoms, but her shoes were off. Raised bands were visible across her legs through the stretched fabric of her bellbottoms—leg braces from thighs to ankles.
Her face turned up to his, her eyes half-closed and her red lips parted. His mouth covered hers. One hand pressed to her bare back, the other reached down to hold her right thigh. Her arms came up and encircled his neck. They kissed.
The galaxy turned once.
More kisses followed the first, in slow order. One of his hands began to explore the territory recently covered by realistic-looking tiger fur. Jane’s breathing picked up rapidly. She broke off a kiss and pressed her forehead to his shoulder, eyes closed, letting him touch her. He seemed to have some experience at this. His hand was warm, and he was very skilled. She was grateful for that. Experience counted highly in her book.
He kissed the side of her neck and pulled back slightly. His wandering hand dropped again to her thigh. His fingers ran over the top edge of one leg brace.
“I should have asked about this earlier,” he said. “I don’t want to do anything that might hurt you.”
“It’s okay,” she said, catching her breath. She felt very flushed. “I should have said something. Not your fault.” She swallowed. “Everything works except my legs. You have to be very careful with my legs. I can halfway stand up only because they have steel pins all through them. Oh, and I’m not a paraplegic. There’s no spinal-cord damage, thank goodness. I can feel everything, and I mean everything, with no problem. Trust me on this. Everything works fine except my legs.” She hesitated, then continued in a softer voice. “My legs used to look okay. Some people thought they looked pretty good. I was a runner.” Her voice dropped further. “They don’t look so good now.”
“Bungee jumping,” he said after a moment.
She shook her head once. “No. I’m sorry I said that earlier. I was hit by a car.”
He groaned and kissed her hair. “Jesus.”
“It’s okay,” she said quickly. “I don’t remember any of it, nothing at all. It was a year ago. Daria and I were . . . anyway, it happened back in Boston.”
“You don’t remember anything about it?”
She shook her head again. “I had a concussion. I haven’t even seen the videotape.”
“Oh, there was a traffic-control camera high up that took a movie of the whole thing. I’ve never seen it. Don’t think I ever want to.” She was silent for a moment. “I was in and out of hospitals for months. I still get physical therapy twice a week, and one of my brothers had to move in to help with things in our apartment. This is my first time out. My first vacation since—since it happened.”
He kissed her hair again.
“Um,” she said, inhaling, “I know I’m supposed to say this, just in case, so here goes. The last time I had sex was March a year ago. I’m okay. Didn’t pick up anything.”
A little silence followed.
“My last time was three months ago,” he said. “Girlfriend moved to California. We don’t have to go into it. I haven’t seen a doctor for any tests, never noticed anything different. We used condoms, anyway.”
“I didn’t think anyone used condoms anymore.”
“She was very picky.”
“She was.” Jane turned her head and kissed his cheek. “She obviously had high standards.”
“Then why is she in California?”
“Oh. Sorry. Guess her standards dropped.”
He shrugged. “I’ve said the same thing.”
Jane cleared her throat. “I’m on the Pill.”
He looked uncomfortable. “That’s good, but I don’t have any condoms with me. Wasn’t expecting this.”
“Oh, that’s okay. I have some in my back pocket.”
He coughed and laughed at the same time. “Were you ever in the Scouts?”
“Ha, ha, ha. You’re very funny.”
“You know we’re in a changing room.”
“I can be quiet. Can you?” She looked up at him, smiling. Their eyes closed and their lips met.
When the kiss ended, he whispered with some urgency, “I want you.”
“I want you, too.” She looked down. “I don’t know what to do. I’m so afraid of what to do with my stupid legs.”
“Well—” He kissed her neck again “—we’ll have to be creative.”
“I like creative. I’m an artist in real life. Are you creative?”
“You tell me.”
“Stupid question. I think you’ll have to be creative for both of us. My brain isn’t working anymore. You smell too good and I’m too turned on.”
They kissed. His hand rose from her leg and touched her skin. His hand was very warm, and he knew what to do. She shivered and groaned.
“Keep this up,” she said in a husky whisper, “and I’m going to explode.”
“That was the idea.”
Their lips met.
They got creative.
Daria stumbled out into the cold, windy evening air. The sky was a dark gray ceiling under which no color remained in the landscape. She tried to slow her pace but could not suppress the urge to escape the waitress and what she carried.
This is nuts! She tried to reason with her panic. It’s just change! It’s just bits of metal that I saw lots of times before the accident, like nickels and pennies and all that! Why now? Why here? Why is this happening to me? It’s our vacation! We’re finally free! God damn it, Jane and I are finally free! It’s over! She can walk, sort of, and she’s got a new boy toy, she’s back to being her old self, and why am I fucking running like this? Stop it! Stop it!
She slowed down finally because it was so cold out her lungs hurt. Her legs ached abominably. She wasn’t used to running any distance. She staggered down a long row of cars, slowed to a walk, and made herself turn around once. The ski lodge was several hundred feet behind her, a stone and timber castle of a thousand yellow lights that promised warmth. She was close to the far edge of the parking lot. Behind the lot was a steep tree-covered slope upward, illuminated only by scattered pole lights at the lot’s rim. No one was out but her and a few couples closer to the lodge.
Why am I doing this? What am I running from? She stopped and bent over, trying to catch her breath. Razors of cold air stabbed deep into her lungs. Everything has finally worked out, so why am I so screwed up?
She suddenly laughed, which hurt so much it turned into a racking cough. At least I’m not having another flashback, she thought. The one during lunch had been extremely realistic. She shivered thinking of it. I should never have seen the videotape, she thought, I should never have done that. I thought I had to see it, I had to see what happened because I still couldn’t believe it happened, but it made everything a million times worse. The flashbacks weren’t half as bad before I did that, and they were starting to go away just a few months ago when Trent came to help us out, when Jane and I got back into our schoolwork, and I’ve been working like a dog for months and Jane’s done better and the flashbacks were getting rare, and now we’ve come all this way and I’m falling into it again! I can’t stop it! This isn’t what I want, I want to be free of this, but it’s after me and I don’t know why or how to stop it! How can I stop it?
She inhaled and covered her face, still bent over. She realized she was crying. Why is this happening? Why won’t it stop? Why won’t it stop?
It was hard to cry after a few minutes because she was shivering too much. She was frozen down to the bone. She looked up at the castle of warm yellow lights. I have to go back inside. I have to get up to the room and get warm, take a long hot bath. If Jane and Darryl are there, I’ll go somewhere else, but I need to get warm. She stood for another minute before she could make herself walk back toward the lodge. She took small steps and slow ones, but she was going back.
I’ve got to get control of this, she thought, before it screws up everything. That waitress must think I’m insane. I must be. I’ll think of something to tell her—if she keeps away from me with those quarters.
The white sun blinded her as she came out of the theater. The sky was clear. It was an April Saturday in downtown Boston, unseasonably warm. They wore their old jackets anyway. The air smelled like the sea, and gulls mewed from high in the blue forever.
Daria threw up her hands to ward off the flashback. She almost stopped it, but a car came through the parking lot ahead of her, passing the lodge before it turned down the aisle where she was walking back along a row of vehicles. The car turned the corner, came around, and pulled into an empty space. However, it came around the corner in exactly the same manner that the drunk driver’s car had turned the corner, in her memory and in the videotape. The turning car’s headlights flashed in Daria’s eyes for a fraction of a second. Dazzled, she backed up a step onto a patch of ice, and her legs went out from under her. She fell, not even feeling the asphalt when she landed because her mind had gone elsewhere. She went through the guardrail that kept her from the flashback, over the edge and down into the bottomless memory, more vivid than the day it happened. There was not even time to scream.
The traffic-monitoring camera had been aimed at the intersection close to the spot where Daria and Jane took their last, very short walk together after leaving the theater. It was mounted on a pole atop a small diner, next to the theater that the two college sophomores had visited. The camera’s wide-angle lens was focused in such a way that it caught all the traffic activity at the intersection, plus some traffic and sidewalk activity on the street below it.
Daria was not supposed to have seen the videotape from the traffic camera. Jane’s lawyer had been very clear about that. Daria was a material witness in the lawsuit against the drunken driver who hit Jane, and her testimony could not be compromised. As it turned out, the insurance company of the driver of the car that hit her settled long before the trial ever started, for an enormous sum that would be paid out in annual installments. What money did not go to Jane’s lawyer went to pay her medical bills and college tuition, with some left over for the lifetime of physical therapy she would need.
It was fortunate that they settled, as the driver got drunk again a week after the settlement was reached, and he drove his car into an oncoming dump truck that compacted his vehicle to a total length of five feet. Daria was at the attorney’s office collecting materials for Jane on the afternoon that they got the news. The attorney left Daria alone in a conference room to make some hasty calls from the privacy of her office. Daria wandered around the conference room, found the videotape on a VCR under a TV set, and—knowing full well what it was—turned it on. It didn’t matter any longer for legal purposes if she saw it or not.
The movie was very short, clipped from the daily traffic logs at the police department. She watched the movie through seven times before she put it away. She didn’t remember anything else that happened after she saw the movie. She didn’t even remember how she got back to her dorm. She only remembered the movie.
As a result, Daria’s memories of the incident were greatly enhanced, though they were also merged with everything she saw on the videotape. When her flashbacks came, the events jumped back and forth between a perspective from twenty feet above the sidewalk and a second perspective on the sidewalk at eye level, sometimes both at once.
The scenario that played out either way was the same. She remembered perfectly what Jane never would. She knew now it had been a mistake to see the videotape, a very bad mistake, but at the time she had to see it. She had to see what happened.
She lay on ice and snow in the parking lot, paralyzed and blind, and saw it again. It began on a television set.
Traffic is normal for a spring Saturday in downtown Boston. At the bottom of the videotaped screen can be seen pedestrians on the sidewalk below the camera. Two particular pedestrians walk into view. The TV image is black and white, but in Daria’s mind, the left figure, a brunette with short hair, wears a red jacket over a black shirt and black pants; her boots are ash-gray. The right figure, a few inches shorter with long brown hair of a shade that is almost colorless, wears a green jacket over a yellow t-shirt and a knee-length black skirt; her boots are black, and she wears round-frame glasses.
The two figures stop. The left one feels at her red jacket’s pockets.
I need to get today’s newspaper. I know the exhibition’s here somewhere. Is there a paper box around? Shit, I don’t think I have any change left.
The right figure points to the left, toward the street corner.
Paper box is over there.
Do you have any change?
The right figure raises her right hand to feel at her right jacket pocket. She almost steps forward, but stops herself and drops her hand without reaching inside the pocket.
Um . . . no.
The left figure checks the inside pockets of her red jacket.
Well, maybe—oh, here, I do have some. Two quarters, perfect. Wait here for me.
The left figure starts off toward the street corner, leaving the other figure behind. At the street corner is a newspaper box sitting next to a mailbox, and a public trashcan. The newspaper box is turned so that in order to get a paper, you stand in front of it with your back to oncoming traffic in the intersection. The mailbox is bolted to the cracked concrete sidewalk. The trashcan is made from wire mesh with an industrial-strength trash bag inside. A short distance from the can is a large plastic sack containing the trashcan’s previous contents, waiting for pickup by sanitation workers.
How long are you planning to be gone? calls the figure in the green jacket, trying to be funny.
The scene shifts to eye level from the sidewalk. It zooms in on the brunette.
The brunette in the red jacket reaches the newspaper box. She stands in front of the newspaper box, reading the headlines, her right hand out, ready to put in the two quarters.
Behind the brunette, a white midsize four-door car rounds the far corner of the intersection. It does not slow down as it enters the intersection, passing through a red light, and it makes a very wide turn to go down the street where the two figures are standing. The turn is so wide that the car clearly will not stay on the street.
The figure in the green jacket starts to raise a hand, seeing the white car come up behind the figure in the red jacket.
The oncoming car frames Jane Lane dead center.
The car hits Jane and pins her legs to the newspaper box. The box instantly lifts from the ground and hits the bolted-down mailbox, which flattens out as it is torn free from the concrete. Her legs trapped, Jane’s body falls back over the hood of the white car and her head slams into it, erasing all memory of the last twelve hours of her life. Every major bone in her legs is broken, her knees crushed.
Car, Jane, newspaper box, and mailbox hit the garbage can, which bounces away but causes the split-open mailbox to move aside, freeing the newspaper box. The split mailbox spills a cloud of white envelopes across the highway.
The smashed newspaper box falls under the front of the car, dragging Jane down with it. Her body rolls off the hood of the white car on the right side, her arms flailing over her head, and her lower legs go under the right front tire of the car, which shatters the bones a second time.
Jane’s head and upper body do not hit the sidewalk directly as her legs are run over. She slams instead into the large sack of trash left for sanitation workers, which absorbs most of the impact as it bursts. Free of the car, Jane’s body rolls over the sidewalk away from the trash and comes to a stop, lying on its back, arms out at her sides. Jane’s empty blue eyes look up into the frozen eyes of Daria Morgendorffer, at whose feet Jane lies.
Aware of nothing else, Daria kneels by the head of her only friend. She doesn’t notice the white car skidding to a stop on the sidewalk some distance behind her, pedestrians fleeing to escape it, or the would-be helpers running to her side.
Daria looks down the length of Jane’s body. Jane’s legs zigzag in every direction. Bone ends are visible under her ripped black pants. Blood pools over the sidewalk from a dozen places. The sole of Jane’s left foot, missing a sock, faces Daria at the end of an impossibly broken leg. One of Jane’s empty boots lies nearby on the sidewalk.
Daria cannot tell if Jane is breathing. She touches Jane’s hair.
Her hand comes away red and wet.
The soundtrack of screams begins at this point.
The kiss was supposed to be their last for the evening, but it turned into a dozen more until they pushed away from each other, totally drained. Darryl held her upright in his arms, her crutches leaning against the wall.
“I can’t believe I can still move,” Jane muttered into his shirt. “God, that was incredible.”
“Only because of you,” Darryl said.
“Yeah, right. I hate it that you have to go. I hate this. I want you so much.”
“I’ll be back in the morning.”
“But we’re going to ski, and then you have to work. Oh, and I have to watch Daria ski, too. I have to do that. I made her promise to go skiing. Oh, well. Help me get these back on.”
He held her up while she got on her crutches again.
“Next time,” said Jane, steadying herself, “we need a bed. A big bed. It would help to lie down and stretch out. A bathroom would be nice, too.”
“Works for me. We can be more creative.”
“Yes. Good. Maybe . . . oh, Daria would have nowhere to stay. Damn.”
“You can come to my apartment. It’s right in town at the bottom of the mountain.” He frowned. “I should clean it up tonight first. It’s sort of a mess at the moment.”
“Like I really care.” Jane sighed. “I can’t abandon Daria. I did that before with some other guys, long time ago. She’s stuck with me through all this crap, through everything I went through after the accident. She’s my best friend. I can’t dump her.”
“We’ll work something out.” He sounded very sure of that.
Jane nodded. “Yes, we will,” she said. She leaned toward him, and they kissed again.
“I want you,” he said when the kiss broke.
“I want you, too, but I’d better go. Daria’s going to kill me for leaving her in the lurch like that. Maybe that’s why the waitress said she ran off. I dunno. I’ll talk to her.”
Darryl nodded. “Let me know what happens. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Yes. And the day after that, I hope.”
“As long as we can.”
They took their final kiss, and he left. Jane pulled her plastic key card from a pocket and stuck it in the slot by the doorknob. The door clicked, and she pushed it open.
The room was dark. Jane hobbled in and flicked on the hall light—
“Oh, shit!” She involuntarily stepped back, her heart in her throat—then let out her breath in a rush of relief. “Daria! You scared the hell out of me! What are you doing here with the lights out?”
Daria sat on the edge of a bed, facing Jane with her hands in her lap. Her face was pale, her hair mussed, her glasses crooked. Dirty wet spots with bits of slush dotted her sweater and pants.
“Daria?” Jane came a step closer. “What’s up?”
Daria looked up at Jane, her face rigid and emotionless.
Great, Jane thought. She’s really pissed. She groaned. “Daria, look, I’m really sorry I ran off on you like that. Don’t be angry about it, please?”
Daria’s mouth opened, but no words came out. She trembled in the low light from the short entryway.
Jane eyed Daria carefully and realized then that her friend wasn’t angry. For reasons Jane could not fathom, Daria looked terrified.
“Daria?” said Jane softly. “Hey, amiga, what’s wrong?”
“It was m-my f-f-fault,” Daria stuttered in a hoarse voice. “M-my fault.”
“What? What are you talking about?”
Daria took a breath, closed her eyes for a moment, then opened them and tried again. “I should have gotten the paper instead of you,” she said, still hoarse. “I was going to get the paper myself, but I was s-s-saving my change for a candy bar.” Her voice fell and was hard to hear. “I did have the money for the newspaper . . . but I wanted the candy bar more.” She swallowed. “I lied. It was my fault that it happened. I’m so sorry.”
Jane stared at Daria, understanding none of this. “Am I missing something?”
“The newspaper money,” Daria said, looking more frightened at having to explain this. “I had it in my pocket. I lied to you. I was going to get the paper myself, I had it in my head to go get it, but I didn’t. I should have done it.” Her voice fell to a whisper. “I should have been there. I did the wrong thing, and I’m . . . I did it, and—”
“Daria, what paper—” Jane gasped as the light dawned. “Hey, this is about the accident, right? You’re talking about the accident?”
“Y-yes.” Daria’s whisper could hardly be heard. She leaned back as if expecting to be struck. “It was my fault, my fault you got hit.”
Jane stared down at Daria in disbelief. “Your fault?” She couldn’t keep her voice from rising. “I don’t understand what you’re talking about!”
Daria flinched, her hands leaping up to shield her face.
“Daria, stop that! I don’t remember anything that happened when I got hit! What are you telling me? No, stop it, Daria! How could the accident have been your fault? You didn’t run over me, right? Right?”
“I should have gotten the paper for you!” Daria cried from behind her hands. “I should have done it! I wanted to do it, but I didn’t do it because I wanted to get a candy bar! I let you get hit by a car for a lousy rotten little candy bar!”
Jane could not believe this was happening. This is crazy, she thought, crazy and mad and dangerous. She tried to control her reaction, but too much was slipping through her brain and out her mouth. “Daria, I know for a fact that you had nothing to do with my getting hit by that car! There was nothing, not one damn thing that you could have done to stop it! Nothing! Nothing, do you hear me?”
“You should’ve gotten the newspaper instead of me? You wish that you had been run over instead of me, is that it?” Jane wobbled on her crutches, furious that she could not stamp her feet. “Damn you, Daria, I could knock your fucking block off for this! I’m glad you didn’t do it! Do you hear me? If that’s what really happened, you wanted a candy bar so you ended up not getting hit and I did, then I’m glad you didn’t get the newspaper! God damn it, I would never let a thing like this happen to you! Never! You didn’t do this to me! You are not responsible! Not responsible, get it? A damn stupid drunk driver did it, and he’s dead now, it’s over and done with, and you didn’t do it!” Jane jabbed an index finger at her legs. “You didn’t do this to me!”
Daria face was a tight mask. Her eyes watered and became very bright.
Jane saw this and forced herself to calm down. “Daria, why are you going on about this now? Why now? We’re on vacation, amiga! Why all this crap now?”
“Because . . . I c-can’t stop seeing it,” said Daria, her voice breaking, “I can’t stop seeing it. I see it all the time. I see you . . . I see you . . . I could have . . . I can’t . . .”
Tears fell from Daria’s eyes into her dirty green sweater. She fought to stop them, but the tears now fell in streams. She covered her face with her hands.
Jane looked on in sudden horror. Daria was crying. Daria never cried. Jane reached for one of Daria’s hands, but she pulled away.
“Daria,” said Jane, her voice softer. She dug into her pants pocket and pulled her hand out again. “Look at these.” She pulled one of Daria’s hands away and held the two quarters before Daria’s eyes. “Our lunch waitress gave these to me downstairs. She said she tried to give them to you with your books, but you ran off. Did these remind you of all that stuff in the past? Don’t let it do this to you, amiga. You’re my best friend. You aren’t guilty of anything. I’m not even mad at you. The past is all done with, okay? It’s not your fault. You’ve gotta believe me. I don’t care about the candy bar or the newspaper or anything. I don’t care about anything but you. I just . . .”
Jane’s voice ran out. She blinked and looked closer at her friend. “Daria?”
Daria stared at the quarters. Her face had relaxed but was very pale. The tears stopped falling down her cheeks.
“Hey,” Jane said softly, “are you all right?”
Daria’s lips moved. Jane leaned down as best she could on her crutches. She caught only what Daria said when she whispered again: “Um . . . no.” Daria’s right hand made a motion toward her hip, then moved away.
“No, what?” said Jane. “You mean you’re not all right?” She looks like she did when she freaked out on me during lunch. What is this? Jane jammed the quarters back into her pants pocket, then waved her right hand in front of Daria’s face. Daria looked through them. Jane snapped her fingers, but Daria’s vacant expression did not change. “Daria?” Jane snapped her fingers again. “Hey, amiga, stop it. Wake up.”
Daria’s head turned slightly to the left. Her lips moved again. “How long . . . planning to be gone?” she whispered to someone unseen. She looked through Jane’s midsection at something beyond her, not far away.
“Daria!” Jane slapped her hands together in front of Daria’s face. “Daria, damn it, snap out of it!”
I can’t stop seeing it, she had said. I see it all the time.
Flashback. She’s having a flashback. She must be seeing—
“Daria!” Jane shouted. “Daria!”
Daria’s face changed. Her mouth fell open. Her eyes were dark pools surrounded by white. Her right hand came up. “Jane?” she said, her voice loud and rising. Then she shouted, “JAY—”
An invisible wave swept over Daria’s face. It took with it all that was Daria and left behind only two enormous eyes and a mouth in the shape of a wide, perfect O.
She must be seeing—
“Daria!” Jane screamed in her friend’s face. “Daria, wake up!”
Reacting to something else, Daria gasped and recoiled. Her mad gaze followed the path of an unseen thing that came across the floor, up to her feet. Her hands flew up, palms warding a nameless thing back, face frozen in a soundless scream.
Jane shook off her right crutch. It fell to the floor. “God damn it, wake up!” Jane’s right hand shot out and slapped Daria across the face. Daria’s head snapped aside, her glasses were knocked off, her hair flew, but she still looked down. She bent over, brushing past Jane’s legs, and her hands reached for something at her feet. Daria brought her left hand up, her fingers spread, and stared at her palm.
She can’t stop seeing it.
Daria made a horrible gasping noise. Her mouth opened wider.
Jane whirled and landed on the bed by Daria’s side. She flung her left crutch away to clatter against the wall. She grabbed Daria by her shoulders and turned her around halfway. Jane was stronger than Daria from the waist up, so she got what she wanted. Daria’s eyes met Jane’s.
Daria screamed. It cut through the universe.
Jane grabbed Daria by the back of her head and quickly pulled her face into Jane’s blue sweater, below her right shoulder. Daria struggled and screamed again, the sound barely muffled. “Stop it!” Jane shouted. “Stop it, stop it, stop it, please, stop it!”
The screaming stopped. Daria began to shake until a wail forced itself out of her. The wail peaked and broke into great sobs and cries. She stopped struggling and fell into Jane’s sweater, blind and deaf, howling her grief.
With all her strength, Jane hauled Daria’s body up on the bed, then lay down with her on the bedspread, locking her arms around Daria in a bear hug. The cold wet spots on Daria’s sweater and pants soaked into Jane’s clothing. Daria’s skin was like ice; even her hair was cold.
Jane bowed her head against the side of Daria’s face. Her hand pressed into Daria’s thick hair, holding her head as terrible cries rang out of Daria’s body and into her own. She ran out of options. There was nothing left she could do.
Help us. Please help us. Tears that were not Daria’s fell on Daria’s hair and face. Please help us, if any being can hear me, God or anyone, please hear me. Have mercy on us. Take this thing away from us, take it far away, save us from this. It is too much. Save us from this terrible thing, take anything from me you wish, my legs, my arms, my life, anything, but save us. Save her, I beg you, have mercy on us, let us go free.
Jane pressed her face into Daria’s shoulder and wept with her.
Save us, I beg you. Have mercy. Let us go free.
Daria’s breathing grew slow and regular. Her head rested on Jane’s upper right arm, her face still buried in Jane’s sweater. Jane’s arms were still locked around her, their legs twined together. Daria’s arms were crossed over her chest like the carving of a dead queen on a Dark Ages sarcophagus, pressed between her and Jane.
Jane had pulled a pillow down to rest her head. The screaming and weeping had stopped a long while ago.
I bet I have to send my sweater down to the laundry, Jane thought absently. I probably don’t even want to look at the front of it. I feel like a big handkerchief, just like Darryl felt. Ironic. She flexed her right arm to chase away the pins and needles.
Daria moved and tensed up.
“Stay with me,” Jane whispered. “Don’t get up.”
Daria relaxed again.
“You did everything right,” Jane whispered. “You kept me going when I was all but gone. I don’t want to lose you. You saved me. You did everything right. Don’t go to pieces on me now.”
After a long pause came a low, bare voice. “I’m sorry.”
“You did nothing wrong,” Jane whispered into Daria’s hair. “I’m glad you didn’t go to get the paper. I could never have stood it without you in my life. You saved me when I gave up, when I was in the hospital and wanted to die. You kept me going more than anyone did. You fought for me. You are my best friend.”
Daria sniffed and swallowed. “I’m so ashamed,” she said into Jane’s sweater.
“Let it go.”
Daria sniffed again. “Those guys . . . they said those awful things about you. I couldn’t stand it. I thought it was my fault all of this happened I thought—”
“I don’t care what those idiots said. You saved me, Daria. You never gave up on me when I was in the hospital or when I needed help with my therapy. You’ve always been there for me.” Her voice became lighter. “And bringing Darryl to see me was nice, too. That worked out pretty well. Good medicine. Thank you.” Jane sniffed herself. “I can’t believe you were so cold. You’re warmed up, now, anyway. What happened?”
Daria was silent.
“Did you stay outside after the waitress . . . um . . .”
“It was an accident,” said Daria in a low voice. “Sort of. I can’t explain it. I couldn’t help it.”
“You told me that you’re still seeing what happened, is that right? The accident?”
Daria tensed in Jane’s arms, but she nodded. Jane made a face, feeling ashamed. She knew she had accidentally triggered Daria’s flashback with the quarters the waitress gave her. “Flashbacks?” she asked cautiously. “You’re having flashbacks?”
Daria’s body knotted.
“Ssh, it’s okay,” Jane whispered, afraid again. “Relax. Stay with me. Stay with me. It’s just the two of us. Stay with me. I’m sorry I caused what happened just now. It’s okay, amiga. It’s okay.”
Daria slowly relaxed, if not completely.
It all made sense now. Jane closed her eyes and listened to Daria breathe against her. “How long has this been going on? The . . . you know.”
“S-since about a month after it happened.”
Jane groaned. “Oh, Daria. And you didn’t tell me? Why didn’t you tell me?”
“How could I? You were in so much pain, it wasn’t worth talking about. It just wasn’t important.”
“Did you tell Trent? Have you talked to him about it?”
Daria tensed at mention of Trent’s name, then shook her head no.
“Daria, I don’t know what to do about this. This is bad.”
They were quiet for several long seconds.
“Maybe we should go home,” said Jane.
“No,” said Daria immediately. “No. I’ll get over it.”
“But if you can’t control what’s happening, then—”
“No. I . . . I can find something to do about it. I can buy stuff as long as I . . . as long as I’m careful about my change. I can read. It never happens when I read. I can watch TV.”
“You could ski.”
“Damn it. I guess.”
“Do you think staying here is a good idea? You scared the living daylights out of me. I’m worried about you. I wonder if we shouldn’t go home and get you to see—”
Daria shook her head vigorously. “No. No, please, let’s don’t do that. Not now. It can wait. Please, Jane. I . . . I think it will be a little better now. I can find some way around it. I can find some ways to keep it away from me.”
Jane’s voice was low and soft. “You think?”
Daria nodded and sniffed again. “Please, let’s don’t go home yet. I want us to have this. We’re already here, so let’s make the best of—let’s make it good. We can do it. I want this to work for you. I want you to have a good time.” She swallowed. “Me, too. I want a good time, too. We can do it.”
They listened to a group of people walk past their room out in the hall, chattering about skiing. Their footsteps faded into silence.
“I’m sorry, Jane,” Daria whispered to her sweater.
Jane hugged Daria closer. “If there was anything to forgive you for, and I don’t think there was, you were forgiven long ago. Let the bad stuff go, as much as you can, okay?” Her tone lightened. “It’s almost funny now, but when I came in, I thought that you were pissed off at me for running off with Darryl.”
Daria sighed. “I thought you’d be mad because I didn’t come down right away with your coat and boots.”
“Eh, that wasn’t really an issue. Darryl and I, we, um, we sort of . . .”
“You and Darryl what?”
Jane sighed. “We got to know each other in a Biblical sense. I’m glad you didn’t come looking for us, although if you had, you might have learned something.”
Daria almost looked up. “You are kidding me.”
Jane smiled. “No, not a bit. We played warm the weasel, and it was goooood. Not to rub it in.”
“What, here in the room?”
“No, that was in the fitting room in the lingerie shop.”
“Oh, no. No way. I don’t believe that. No way. You are so lying to me.”
“I am so not. We did. Did it twice.”
“Twice? And you didn’t get caught?”
“No one needed lingerie, I guess. Storekeeper was asleep in back.”
“But how, with your—oh, forget it. I don’t want to know.”
Jane grinned. “I can tell you if you want. He was very creative.”
“No, don’t. All this time I was . . . going nuts, and you two were off boinking your brains out. I should have known. You are such a slut.”
“Yeah. I don’t have many brains left after Darryl finished with me, that’s true.” Jane hesitated, then said, “As long as you’re vulnerable, mind if I tell you something?”
Daria shrugged and sniffed.
“I know about you and Trent. I’ve known for months.”
Daria stiffened in Jane’s arms. She pulled slightly away from Jane, though Jane’s arms tightened and prevented her from escaping. “Know what?” Daria asked, but her off-key voice betrayed her.
“It’s not a problem for me,” said Jane. “In fact, if I had anything at all to be happy about, all those weeks I was laid up in the apartment, before I could walk again, it was seeing the two of you grow closer. That was one of the few things that cheered me up, some days.”
Daria let out her breath in resignation. “I told him not to tell.”
“He didn’t. He never said a word.”
“Then how did you . . . I don’t get it.”
“I can read body language. The two of you sit so close together, if you were any closer, you’d share the same underwear.”
Daria snorted. “He’s a good friend. He’s changed so much, and we . . . he’s . . .” She licked her lips. “We have so much to talk about now, mostly about you, but—”
“And your bed squeaks, always after eleven p.m. or before seven a.m., for about twenty minutes, give or take—”
Daria gasped. “Oh! Oh, no, please don’t tell me that . . . that you . . . oh, shit.” She pulled away from Jane and lay on her back on the bedspread, hands over her face.
“You may as well get over it,” said Jane, still smiling. “The floors squeak a little, too, so if two people go into the same room together, I can tell in a heartbeat. I didn’t sleep regularly for a long time, because of the pain, but listening to you two really helped me feel better. You kept my spirits up, boinking your brains out, and you still do.”
“I am so going to throw you off the fucking mountain tomorrow morning, crutches and all. I swear it. Get ready for the trip.”
“Were you afraid to tell me?”
“Well, it wasn’t your business, first,” said Daria, though her voice was not angry. “Second, it wasn’t your business, and third, I’m throwing your ass off the mountain.”
“You thought it would bother me?”
Daria sighed heavily. “I just didn’t want to stuff it in your face. You always had such a . . . such a wild life, and I couldn’t bring it up to you, about Trent. I couldn’t, not after the accident.” She sighed again. “I am so embarrassed. I’ll never get over this.”
“Daria,” said Jane, her tone changing, “if what you and Trent have together is good, if it’s good in any way, then hold on to it. If that’s good for you, it’s good for me, too.” And if you turn out to be my future sister-in-law, I’ll be on such a fantastic high that my head will explode. Jane and Daria Lane. I like it.
Daria rubbed her face. “At least I don’t have to worry about you stealing him from me,” she said.
Jane laughed. “Trent and I are close, but we’re not that close! You are such a bitch!”
Daria choked on a laugh, but she kept rubbing her face. “No,” she said flatly, “you’re a bitch.”
“No, you are.”
Daria stopped and took a deep breath. “I don’t deserve you.”
“You know what?” Jane said softly. “You probably do. You probably do deserve me. Doesn’t that just kill you?”
“I’ll be the one who kills you. I’m going to throw you off the mountain and feed your body to dogs. Ugly dogs.”
Daria dropped her hands to her sides. “What?” she said to the ceiling.
Jane grinned from ear to ear. “The next time you and Trent do it, can I watch?”
Daria turned her head and gave Jane an intensely annoyed look. She rolled away from Jane then and gently sat up on the far side of the bed. “Ugly dogs with bad breath,” she promised. “Now that you’ve spoiled the mood, I’m going to go take a bath and warm up. I was out too long.”
“Do that,” said Jane. “Daria?”
“What?” Daria still sat on the bed, looking at her feet.
“We’re gonna make it.”
Daria sat still a long moment before she nodded slowly. “I hope so,” she whispered. Louder, she added, “Where are my glasses?”
Jane sat up on one elbow. “Over in the corner, I think. Don’t ask me how they got there. Oh, and they’re holding some books for you at the front desk. You dropped them when you ran off.”
Daria got up and felt around the floor until she located her glasses. She then got up and walked around the bed toward the bathroom, favoring one leg.
“Hey,” said Jane, sitting upright. “Why are you limping?”
“I fell on my ass in the parking lot,” said Daria from the bathroom. “I slipped on some ice.”
“You’d better not get sick from this,” Jane warned. “You’re going skiing tomorrow at ten a.m., no matter what. And you’re going to watch me ski, too.”
There was a second of silence before Daria stomped back out of the bathroom to face Jane. “You’re what?”
“Darryl’s going to show me how to ski. We’re—”
“No! Absolutely not!”
“Wait, calm down, calm down. It’s not what you think. It’s not on a slope, Mom.”
“Calm down, okay? Darryl was going to show me the equipment earlier, before we got distracted. The lodge has a special set of skis I can sit down on, like with a chair or something, made for people with this kind of thing.” She pointed to her legs. “I don’t get how it works exactly, but he’ll show me how. The lodge has two handicapped ski instructors and medics and medical-evacuation helicopters and everything, so don’t worry about it. Just take a chill pill and cool out.”
“Oh, bite my ass,” said Daria, and went back into the bathroom and shut the door. The door opened again a few seconds later. “I meant that in a good way,” Daria called. The door shut again. After a pause, the bathwater came on with a low roar.
Jane shook her head and sighed. That Daria, she thought. This flashback thing will have to be taken care of as soon as we get back. We’ll have to look up the campus counseling services and go from there. Insurance should cover it.
She lay back on the bed and wiped her eyes. She was happy for the first time in almost a year—truly happy. Whatever it takes, we’re going to do it. In the meanwhile, Daria is going to have her vacation and enjoy it, even if it kills her. This is for Daria, not for me. She needs it. It’ll pass for me, but Daria is the one who really needs to get away. She needs everything I can possibly give her. I owe her that, at least.
Original: 11/19/02, revised 8/4/03