A Disclaimer: These characters are the property of MTV, and the intellectual property of the creators of Daria. I appreciate their indulgence in letting me build a world around them. I am doing this for love, not money, so please do not get your panties in a twist about it. Thanks.
Jane was doodling something in the margins of her textbook. It had a Munch quality to it, and perfectly suited the feelings of most of the class on that May afternoon. It was a crisp day, warm enough to be inviting, but not so hot that sitting in the sun would be a misery. The trees rustled, enticing trapped students to sit under them, to enjoy the sunlight made verdant by the canopy of leaves. Jane dreamed about being under that tree, leaning against the trunk, snoozing as a soft breeze wafted around her. She almost dozed off thinking about it.
Daria couldn't concentrate. She had an assignment handed back to her, with a "see me" and a smiley face on it. O'Neill. He couldn't leave her alone. It was nice, in a really twisted way. He took an interest. He drew her out, urged her to participate, he critiqued her writing. He was above and beyond as a teacher, at least as far as it pertained to her. He wanted to be her mentor. Daria wondered what was going to happen after class. The only thing between her and freedom was some touchy-feely conversation with Timothy O'Neill.
It wasn't that Daria disliked Mr. O'Neill, in fact, far from it. Daria had some weird urges in regards to him. She couldn't exactly put her finger on when it had started. One day she looked up into those blue eyes, and realized that she had a problem. She was looking forward to spending some time alone with him. She wondered what it was that he wanted to see her about. She looked at the smiley face, and thought about his face smiling into hers. Then she came back to reality.
After the minute hand on the clock did that thing where it went backwards two ticks, before finally resting on 3:15, the bell finally rang. Daria held up her paper, so that Jane would see that she needed to stay after. Jane nodded. She'd be napping under the tree.
"Daria, I wanted to talk about your essay with you. As usual, it's high quality work. I notice that you are getting into more, how shall I say it, mature subjects."
Daria had written about the sexual tension between Mr. Rochester and Jane Eyre. She had actually gone to town on it. In doing some research on-line, she had stumbled onto a thesis that talked about sexual tension in pre-Victorian era literature. She extrapolated some of that information and embellished it with her own insights. She knew it was far above anything she had ever written before. She also knew that it would raise his eyebrows.
"Oh? Is there a problem?" She tried to maintain her monotone, but she squeaked ever so slightly on the last word. Oh yeah, there was a problem.
"Well, no, it's really superb, and you sited your sources, so I know where the idea came from. It's just that frankly, I didn't expect anything more than a three page essay on your favorite character."
"Well, to be honest, that seemed confining, and rather limited to me. Do you want me to do it over?" She didn't know why she did it. She wanted him to notice her, to really notice her. In truth, she wanted him to want her. The only weapon she had was her brain. She tried to trap him with her genius. She could feel it backfire as she said it.
He sighed. He knew that she was bored. She stared blankly at him all throughout class now. She used to pretend to be interested, but now, her contempt was utter. She even recalibrated the assignment, so that it would be worthy of her intellect. He had never felt like such a failure. "No. It's fine, you earned an A." He looked down, avoiding her gaze. "I'm sorry Daria." He looked like he wanted to say something more and just gave up before the idea of it could even coalesce.
She turned to leave, wishing there were something that she could say. He seemed unhappy, and she caused it. That pained her. She used to take a perverse joy in it, but now, she couldn’t, she could see something else in him now, and she didn't want him to ache because of her. Or did she?
"Why?" She asked.
"Why what?" He was stacking papers on his desk, reams of mediocre ideas from mediocre students.
"Why are you sorry?" She tried her best to look him in the eye, without betraying her own feelings. Kiss me, kiss me, kiss me, is what her brain was repeating. She loved his eyes. They were so sweet, deep and clear. She thought she could look into them forever.
He broke her gaze. He could feel the tears welling, and he was embarrassed. Everything about this girl made him feel inadequate. Janet was right, he was too sensitive to teach high school. The kids ate him alive on a regular basis. He was used to it. He kept plugging away at it, knowing that they called him a wimp, a girl and worse behind his back. But he loved his job, loved what he did, and he lived for the rare moments when he connected. When the lights were on, when the elevator reached the top floor. At Lawndale High, these moments were few and far between, until Daria. There was something about Daria. He noticed it right away, only three years ago. He saw something of himself in her, the same sensitivity, behind a veneer of indifference. He longed to break down that wall. He felt that if he could reach her that he could heal something within himself.
"I'm sorry that you aren't getting anything out of this class anymore." He gulped, feeling the tear roll down his cheek. Damn, this is pathetic. He thought, trying to decide if he should wipe it away, or try to pretend that it wasn’t there.
Daria felt terrible. This always happened. She had no idea how to relate, so she said something sharp, and now Mr. O'Neill was in tears. She had made a grown man cry. She didn't know what to do. She was conflicted. The whole idea about crushes is that they are supposed to be on unobtainable objects. They are safe, fun and harmless, as long as nothing happens. Her crush had managed to manifest itself into a weapon against the object of her affections. Before she knew what she was doing, she wiped his face for him.
"Don't say that. Of course I'm getting something out of the class." She let her hand rest on his cheek.
"Daria!" He said, shocked. He was shocked, not only did she express sympathy, she did so with an extremely intimate gesture. She turned to dash out of the room, but he was able to grab her sleeve before she made it to the door. "Wait. Stop. It's okay."
"Lawsuit." She said, in a panic. She wanted out, she wanted away from the situation. They were about to have a moment, and she wasn't ready to go there.
"You touched me." He said, smiling. There were so many meanings in that one simple phrase.
"Okay. You're right. I apologize." Daria wrenched herself from his tenuous grasp. "I need to go." This time she made it out the door before he could say anything else.
Her head throbbed as she dashed out of the building. She made her way across to Jane, who was sketching the cheerleaders as they practiced. "So what's your punishment?" She asked as she packed up her stuff into her portfolio. "A thousand words on the symbolism of rain?" She had no idea how close she had come to the mark.
"No, just the usual." Daria did not want to discuss it. She wanted to be home, alone in her room, to listen to sad music and to ponder her unrequited love. But she knew that first, there would be pizza. They walked towards the Pizza King.
"Oh, just his half-assed attempt to get you involved in something?" Jane didn't have any idea how uncomfortable she was making her friend.
"Yeah, something like that. He liked my essay."
"He always likes your essays. If I didn't know better, I'd say that he liked the essayist as well." It was an off-hand remark but like so many off-hand remarks, it was amazingly accurate. Perhaps the things that are said off the top of one's head are truths intuited before blunt proof of the obvious is apparent.
"Jane, he's a teacher." Daria tried to sound scandalized, but ended up sounding resigned.
"Hey, he's not that much older than we are, and we're legal now, or you will be next week." Jane had no idea the thin ice she was traveling. "Besides he's cute in that effeminate way."
"Shut up." Daria growled.
"What? What did I say?" They had reached the restaurant and she held the door open for Daria.
"Nothing. Just, let's change the subject." Daria said as they went inside. "Let's talk about the situation in the middle-east, something easy, and non-threatening."
Wisely Jane let the subject change, but she did make a mental note.
The next week passed quietly. Daria sat in the back of the English class, and kept her participation to a minimum. Mr. O'Neill avoided calling on her. It was hard for him. He almost never got the right answer from the rest of the students. He found himself staring wistfully at her. Wondering what she thought about. How is it that he had a hard time remembering her name at first? He sure as hell knew it now.
He didn't think of her like he thought of other women, he considered her a partner. He fantasized about helping her write her first novel, thought of seeing his name in the dedication. Every now and then, he would think about how her hair would feel under his hands, her head on his chest, confessing her deepest fears to him. He tried to exorcise those demons from his soul. He wrote poems about his feelings for her. Every time he wrote it down, he hoped that the tight feeling in his chest would go away, but it wouldn't, it got worse.
He went to the crystal shop on Dega Street and bought a candle, some sage and to his everlasting shame, a piece of pink quartz. He didn't know what he was wishing for, did he want her out of his life for good, or was he hoping to bring her into it?
Daria plodded along. The last weeks of senior year are a waste. She skipped most of her classes regularly, preferring to read on the roof. Finally, the last day of class. Yearbooks. Rehearsal. The commencement. Jodie as valedictorian, giving her speech. Daria, as salutatorian, was required to speak as well. She looked like a doll as she gave her address to the class, most of whom were too busy drinking beer and cheap champagne to pay any attention.
Tim was paying attention. Vivid attention. He feared that this would be the last time he would ever see her. He was torn, on the one hand, it was good for her, she could move on, go to college, live her life. On the other hand, he was devastated, how could he face the next year, without her around?
During the long reading of the graduates, he thought about the times that they were together. In the classroom, outings, the night he drove Daria and Jane home from the movies. The day they came to see him in his apartment. Every moment was precious to him. She was precious to him.
Jake Morgendorffer looked over and saw Daria's English teacher. He looked awful, poor man. He looked like he lost his best friend. Did the poor schnook always fall apart at graduation? He knew that his mind was wandering, and turned his attention back to his daughter.
There is a time after a commencement ceremony where people mill around aimlessly, loathing to leave, but not having a legitimate reason to stick around either. Quinn and Helen were talking with Trent. Jane was discussing something with Ms. Dafoe. Jake had gone off to find a restroom, so Daria was just standing alone, watching everyone interact. Observing as usual.
"So Daria, what are your plans now?" He asked her. She was startled and jumped when she heard his voice.
"Oh you know, bank robbery, arson and a bit of racketeering, to keep my hand in." She said this to sound casual, but her heart was slamming into her ribcage. There was nothing keeping them from whatever it was that they wanted to be to each other, except their insecurity and fear.
"Daria. Why do you always do that?" He sounded disappointed. This was probably the last time that they would ever see each other, and he wanted something to remember her by.
"I don't know. What do you want to hear?" She was scared. She knew that he liked her, she suspected that there was more behind it. But what to do about it? Would he risk his reputation, his JOB just to make her schoolgirl fantasy come true? She had to make the first move, and she was too afraid to do it.
"You know what I want to hear." He couldn't believe he said it. It wasn't like him. But he knew that he had to say something, do something, to make her understand.
Daria shook her head. She couldn't believe it, he was coming on to her. Or whatever the teacher/student, but not anymore, version of it was. She motioned for him to follow her back to his classroom. They both went in.
"Mr. O'Neill…" She started.
"Tim, you can call me Tim." He smiled at her. He wanted to kiss her. He wanted to hug her. He mentally reviewed other career options, he knew he was playing with fire.
"Tim, I have a huge crush on you." She was ashamed, but she figured, what the hell, they might laugh about it one day at the twenty-year reunion.
"Daria, I have feelings for you too." He admitted. He didn't exactly know what they were going to do about it, but at least it was out in the open.
"You do?" Her eyes widened, she thought she might faint.
"Of course I do, you're smart, you're talented, you're beautiful. How could I NOT feel something for you?" He hadn't ever really considered where this would lead, could lead.
"Oh. But you don't have romantic feelings for me." She got it. He was letting her down easy. He wanted her to open up to him, he had been trying to get her to do it for three years. She fell for it.
"Yes I do." He avoided her astounded gaze.
Her first instinct was to run. She was alone, with a man. A teacher, or more precisely, former teacher, and they had both just declared that they had romantic feelings for each other. Yet what she wanted more than anything was to be in his arms. She moved toward him slowly, not having a plan, but thinking that they needed to be closer together. She went to hug him, always an awkward thing for her. It came more naturally to him. He embraced her and kissed the top of her head.
It didn't last long. It couldn't, not here, not now. There were voices in the hall, unmistakably Helen and Quinn.
"Oh HERE you are." Helen gushed as she barged into the classroom, with everyone else in tow. "We're just off to the ice cream parlor. Mr. O'Neill, do you want to join us?" She asked, to be polite.
"Oh, thank you Mrs. Morgendorffer, but I've got to get home. Good-bye Daria, I know we'll see each other before the end of summer. I still need help at the day camp."
"Um, right. Thanks, Mr. O'Neill, I'll think about that." She left with her family and friends. Lagging behind, as she stole one last glance back at him.
"So he wants you to do the Day Camp thing again?" Jane asked her.
"Something like that." Daria answered, smiling to herself.
"Do you want to do it?" Jane asked incredulously.
"I think I do." Daria answered. "It could be interesting."