Legal disclaimer: This story is in no way affiliated with MTV. Daria, Jane, etc. are copyright MTV and used here without express permission.

Author's note:
This story was originally intended as a personal writing excercise and is consequently somewhat rough in a few spots. I consider it to be about a first draft level. Any and all feedback is appreciated, and can be directed to
This story is not in the comedic-drama style of first season, but rather in the dramatic style of "Dye! Dye! My Darling!" It's not particularly meant to stick to canon, but I don't think I really diverged all that much. Feel free to comment on that too, but it wasn't my focus.
This story contains what may be considered adult subject matter.


Something Happened

By Wraith

The day began typically enough. Daria and Tom were planning to spend Saturday afternoon together, hook up with Jane at some point, and go have pizza. As often happens with plans, something happened and things didn’t quite work out the way they were expected to.

Daria had printed a copy of one of her stories, one she’d never shown to anyone before. She had taken it over to Tom’s and, implying she had simply found it on the Internet, asked him what he thought of it. Tom was less than complimentary. Daria got angry and told him it was her story. Tom got angry at Daria for “playing games.”

Jane showed up early, having finished her latest sculpture faster than she had expected. Daria and Tom had already worked each other into a slow boil, and Jane spent an uncomfortable afternoon in the crossfire. Finally working out what had happened, she suggested they go get pizza like they had planned, and wound up trying to mediate a peace.

“Damn it, Daria! Stop over-intellectualizing everything!” Tom said.

“What do you mean, over? If you had thought about what you were doing we wouldn’t be having this argument.” Daria replied.

“Tom, you’ve got to admit you were a bit thoughtless this morning. Daria, you’ve got to try to understand his…” Jane said.

“If he thinks he can improve it, I’d like to see him try,” Daria interrupted.

“I didn’t say…” Tom started.

“Quiet, both of you!” Jane broke in. “Damn it! You two have been sniping at each other all day! If you don’t both shut up and discuss this calmly…” she left the threat hanging.

Daria and Tom sat and glared at each other for a bit. Long enough for Jane to relax slightly. “That’s better,” she said, and took a sip of her soda.

She still had the straw in her mouth when Tom muttered, half in jest “If she wasn’t so intent on being a brainiac all the time…”

Daria froze in a way that called attention to all the normal little movements people make, even when sitting still, that had suddenly stopped. Jane turned white and started coughing so hard soda ran out her nose. Daria stood up and was out of the door before a startled Tom could react. Jane managed to look relieved even before she stopped coughing.

“What did I say?” Tom asked, sounding somewhere between puzzled and pissed.

Jane wiped her face and stood up, glaring at Tom. He started to stand, but she placed her hand on his shoulder and he remained seated.

“I don’t know what the hell made you say that to her, but if you like having your limbs attached to your body you better stay away from Daria for a while,” Jane said angrily, and started for the door.

“Are you threatening me?” Tom asked, just plain puzzled now.

Jane paused by the door and said simply “No. If you get near her, I’ll be the one scraping up the pieces. You really should know her better than this by now.”

Jane turned and bolted out the door, shouting Daria’s name in a voice that held more than a touch of fear. Tom sat, stunned for a moment by Jane’s flat, quiet pronouncement, then ran to the door. Daria and Jane had already disappeared from view.

Jane was a great runner, but would never have caught up with Daria if she hadn't already known her shortcuts. As it was, she caught up with Daria easily.

“Daria, are you…” Jane started, as she came up on Daria from behind.

Daria was walking quickly along, hugging herself tightly, staring at the ground. Her face looked its usual deadpan until Jane got close enough to see the tightness in her expression and a slightly furrowed brow.

“Daria, he didn’t mean….” Jane said, as she put a hand on Daria’s arm. Daria jerked out of her grasp.

“Yes. He did,” Daria said quietly, in a voice that managed to sound both angry and tired.

Jane started to say something else, but Daria shook her head and said, “Don’t talk. Not now.”

They walked together in silence, until they reached the last corner before Daria’s house. They turned the corner and Jane spotted Tom, waiting by his car in front of the house. Jane whispered “Oh, shit,” and put her hand on Daria’s arm, pulling her to a stop.

Daria hadn’t noticed Tom right away, and Tom was looking the wrong direction to see them thanks to the shortcut. Jane’s comment and her touch finally got Daria to look up. When she saw Tom, she made a noise that sounded to Jane like an angry growl.

“Um… maybe it’d be best if you stayed at my place tonight,” Jane suggested.

Daria shivered. The thought of dealing with her family tonight was just too much. She turned back around the corner, followed by Jane, the image of being chased from her home added to the night’s memories.

“Hello?” Helen had answered the phone, and not Quinn. Jane was thankful for small favors.

“Um… Mrs. Morgendorffer…”

“Oh, hello Jane. I’m afraid Daria isn’t here right now.”

“I know. She’s with me. She’s going to spend the night over at my place.”

“Oh?” Helen was surprised. Daria was usually pretty good about letting her know about things like this. “Why didn’t she just call me hersel…”

“I’ve gotta go,” Jane interrupted. “Talk to you later,” and hung up.

Helen looked at the phone in her hand. “That was odd,” she said to herself. She hung up the phone, and started to look worried.

Jane looked over to Daria and said, “I don’t know how long that’ll hold her.”

Daria was sitting in Jane’s comfy chair, a blanket wrapped around her. She didn’t seem to be paying attention. Jane sat on the bed facing her and said “Daria.” She had to repeat it a few times before Daria blinked and focused on her. “I called your mom, but I think she’s suspicious.”

“Okay,” Daria said, in an expressionless voice. Jane had been Daria’s friend for a couple of years now and was used to picking up the more subtle shadings of Daria’s voice. She found it disturbing not to hear anything at all.

Helen’s worry had worked itself up to the point of action. She grabbed the car keys and headed towards the door. She was nearly there when she noticed Tom through the window. She watched him looking around for a while, then sank down on the couch and said “Oh my,” quietly to herself.

It had been a struggle, but Jane finally got Daria ready for bed. Jane had needed to recapture Daria’s attention after almost every step. It had taken nearly an hour, but Daria was eventually in Jane’s spare nightgown, curled up in Jane’s bed. She had to admit that Daria had started to become more responsive near the end of the hour. Otherwise it would have likely taken twice as long.

Jane was in a sleeping bag on the floor. She could have put Daria in Penny or Summer’s room, but didn’t think that leaving Daria totally alone was a good idea. Jane reached up to turn out the light and paused, unable to think of anything to say. Good night was too little too late, and sweet dreams… well.

Daria wasn’t as unaware as she had seemed. “’Night, Jane,” she said flatly.

“Um… you too,” Jane responded, before turning out the light. The room was silent and still and dark. After a while Jane sighed, and made an effort to fall asleep.

On the bed Daria rolled onto her stomach and, shielded by the dark, cried noiselessly into the pillow.

Jane woke up and looked around blearily. She was vaguely wondering why she was on the floor when memories of last night intruded on her consciousness. That woke her up faster than a cold shower and she looked at her bed. Daria was still in it, eyes closed, breathing softly. She was curled up on her side, and more of the blankets were on the floor than on the bed. The rest were twisted up around Daria.

Jane wondered why she had woken up so early. Daria never got up later than she did. Jane checked the clock. It was 12:45. That wasn’t a good sign. After a long internal debate, she decided to just let Daria sleep. Jane crawled out of her sleeping bag, grabbed her clothes and headed to the bathroom.

Jane was sitting at the kitchen table, hunched over a cup of coffee. She just didn’t know what to do. Treating Daria like she would have treated Summer or Wind was probably not a good idea.

“Damn it,” she whispered, just as the front door opened. Trent came in toting his guitar case.

“Hey Janey. You made coffee? Cool. Save some for me to have later.”

“Mm,” Jane said absently, still staring at her cup. Trent looked at the clock. It was 2:00 PM.

“Late night?” Trent asked.

“”Mm,” Jane said. Trent sat down across from her.

“You look like hell, Janey.”

Jane finally looked up at him. “Trent, could Spiral practice somewhere else this afternoon?”

“No problem. I was just getting back from practice; we aren’t going to want to do that again for a while anyway. What’s wrong?”

“Daria’s upstairs. Asleep in my room,” Jane said. Trent cocked an eyebrow at this. “She and Tom had a fight.”

“Hmm,” Trent said, and stood up. “I’m going to catch some sleep myself.” He started to leave, then paused. “So why’s she here?”

“Tom was waiting outside her house, and she wasn’t in any shape to deal with her family.”

Something else registered with Trent. “She’s still asleep?”

“Last I checked,” Jane said. “This was bad, Trent. Daria and I have had fights, but nothing like those two last night. I don’t know what to do about it.”

“Maybe I can help. Monique and I, after all…” Trent grinned. “You know her better than I do, but I’m sure she’ll get over it.”

Jane looked up at him. “He called her a brainiac, Trent.”


“Any advice?” She looked hopeful.

“I don’t know, Janey. That does sound bad. Monique and I fight a lot, but we never get really nasty.”

“Thanks anyway. Guess I’ll have to wing it.” There was a short silence.

“I’m going to get that sleep. Wake me up if you think I can help.”

“Mm,” Jane said, staring back into her coffee. Trent paused in the doorway and looked at his sister. She was taking this pretty hard, considering it wasn’t her fight or her boyfriend. If she was this upset for Daria it must be really bad. She had finally been getting truly over the Tom thing, and now this… he shook his head and went upstairs.

Trent set his guitar down near his bedroom door, then walked over to Jane’s room. He paused outside, listening for a moment, then quietly opened the door and stuck his head in. Daria was still asleep in Jane’s bed, and she’d obviously had a restless night. Trent was very familiar with the after effects. He watched her for a moment, and realized how much different she looked when she was sleeping. Asleep she looked just like any other teenage girl. Awake it was hard to remember she wasn’t older, especially when she turned one of those “you’re talking to me so you better say something interesting” stares on you. But it wasn’t just the obvious intelligence and appraisal in her eyes; when Daria’s expression was under the control of Daria’s mind there was just something… greater there.

Trent pulled his head out of the room and carefully closed the door. Picking up his guitar, he went into his room. “What kind of musician would I be,” he thought “if I couldn’t make a song out of this?”

Jane took a sip of her coffee and made a face. She liked her coffee on the verge of scalding, and this had cooled to room temperature. She got up and dumped it into the sink and fixed another cup. She had just decided to go check in on Daria when the doorbell rang.

Tom was standing outside. When Jane opened the door he said “Um… Jane, is Daria here? We really need to talk and she wasn’t at home all night.”

Jane stepped outside and closed the door behind her. “What did you do? Stand outside her door all night?”

“No. It only seemed like all night. I called Helen a while ago, she just said that Daria was out,” Tom’s shoulders slumped. “I figure that either she’s lying because Daria doesn’t want to speak to me or Daria’s here. And if she isn’t here, maybe you’ll deliver a message.”

“I might. Depends on the message.”

“I want to apologize for last night.”

“Anything in particular, or just last night in general?” Jane asked.

“Both,” Tom shrugged. “It was a stupid fight to begin with. We never should have had it. And I shouldn’t have called her a brainiac.”

“Damn straight you shouldn’t!” Jane shouted.

Tom was taken aback by this outburst. “Hey, calm down. It’s not that big a deal…”

“Yes it is a big deal!” Jane interrupted. “The only way you could have hurt her more would have been to add that you had a date with Quinn next week!”

“But I’ve heard you two make jokes like that,” Tom said defensively.

“Never while we’re fighting, Tom. Never while we’re fighting. Even when we aren’t…” Jane looked exasperated. “Damn it, you may have heard us, what? Once or twice? Over a year?”

Tom just looked depressed. “I know it was a stupid thing to say. I came here to apologize, remember?”

“Right,” Jane calmed down some.

“Is she here?” Tom asked. “I don’t know why else we’d be standing out here.”

“Okay, fine, she’s here. She’s asleep. I wouldn’t let you in right now even if she wasn’t.”


“No, Tom,” Jane said firmly. “I’ll tell her you came by, and I’ll tell her why you came by. I’ll try to get her to call you, but I don’t know how long it’ll take.”

“Thanks. I am sorry, Jane,” Tom turned away and walked out to his car. Jane watched him drive off, then went back inside.

Upstairs Daria finally woke up. She realized she was in Jane’s bed; in Jane’s house. She opened her eyes and stared at the blurred wall. She missed the hushed silence of her padding, the broken sunlight through the sawed bars, and the smell of books instead of paint fumes. Her mouth tasted nasty, and it felt like her eyes were still slightly puffy from crying last night. Crying… she hadn’t cried since she was, what? Seven? Hell. That name had been following her all her life. She had thought she was used to it by now. She should be able to see it as a compliment, even when it wasn't meant as one. It shouldn’t hurt.

Coming from anyone else, it wouldn’t have.

Why hadn’t she recognized the hint? Jane’s relationship with Tom hadn’t exactly been smooth sailing. Daria had her stroke of luck in meeting Jane. That had probably used her quota of the good kind, why had she pressed it with Tom?

Well, she had made a mistake and paid for it. Pessimism wins again, with its unbeatable trump card: reality.

At least she could fix it. It would be easier to end than mend. Jane had been right. No boyfriend was worth risking their friendship over, and despite her protestations to the contrary Daria knew Jane was still somewhat uncomfortable around the two of them.

She lay there staring at the wall for a while. Her reverie was broken by the sound of the phone ringing. Daria sighed and crawled out of bed.

Downstairs, Jane answered the phone. “Yo?”

“Jane? This is Helen. May I speak with Daria, please?”

“She’s still asleep, Mrs. Morgendorffer.”

“Really? Jane, what happened last night?” Helen sounded pretty concerned.

“Um… I’m not sure I should say.” Jane answered.

“Now see here…”

“We’re not going to play Three Questions on this one. If Daria wants to tell you about it, she can. I’m not going to make that decision for her.”

“Look, I already know she and Tom had a fight, he’s already called here. And I saw him hanging around out front last night, so I know why she stayed over at your place. What were they fighting about?”

“Ask Daria,” Jane said, stubbornly.

“Will you at least tell me how bad it was?” Helen pleaded.

“I can’t. I don’t know yet. We didn’t really talk about it last night, and she really is still sleeping. That’s all I’m going to say, okay? I’ll tell her you called.” Jane hung up the phone.

Jane took a sip of her coffee, then remembered her earlier self-appointed task. She went upstairs and found her room empty. She called out “Daria?” and then heard the sounds of water running in the bathroom.

Daria had dressed and washed her face and now, coming down the stairs, Jane couldn’t see any signs of last night’s restlessness. Her face was her usual mask, and she seemed normal, for her.

“Coffee?” Jane offered. Daria knew what dining at the Lane residence was like, but accepted anyway. Jane fixed her a cup, and sat down with her at the kitchen table. Daria slowly stirred the coffee to help it cool to drinkable temperatures.

“I am really hungry. You wouldn’t happen to have anything with lots of sugar in it around here, do you?” Daria asked.

“Well, there’s the sugar jar, but I think mom was using it as a hummingbird feeder,” Jane replied.

“I should have known. Is there anything at all in the fridge?”

“Well, I think there’s still some film canisters, but I doubt you’re that hungry.”

“What format?” Daria asked. Jane arched an eyebrow at her. “Let’s go get something to eat before I have to break out a nice Chianti.”

“Okay. Where would you like to go?”

“Isn’t there a new burger joint near the Village Green?”

“Yeah. Trent says it’s pretty good, but I’ve seen the places he’s used to, so that’s probably not saying much.”

“We’ve survived school cafeteria food, not to mention my father’s cooking. Besides, I’ve been itching to try out my new stomach pump. Let’s go.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Jane paused as Daria stood up. “Your mother called, just a few minutes ago. She’s pretty worried.”

“Well, it is Sunday. Not being at work does that to her,” Daria said dryly.

“Maybe you should give her a call…” Jane suggested.

“And ruin my afternoon? She’ll just have to wait until I get home to do that. Come on, let’s go.”

“Well, she’s your mother,” Jane stood up and joined Daria in walking towards the door. “You might want to reconsider, though. She already knows you and Tom had a fight. Leaving her hanging might just let the pressure build. Like counting to ten when you’re angry.”

Daria paused with her hand on the doorknob. “How does she know?”

Jane heard the warning in Daria’s voice. “Give me some credit. Tom called her, looking for you. Your mother is a lawyer, remember? Able to leap to leap to conclusions in a single assumption.”

Daria opened the door and sighed. “Faster than a speeding rumor…”

Daria had looked askance at the joint’s name, The Broken Drum, but that level of humor was about the best that could be expected of a place in Lawndale. It was actually clean enough to meet most of the health codes, and the prices weren’t even up in the Starbucks range. Portions were based on the “quantity is better than quality” dictum, and neither girl expected to be able to finish their meal.

They spoke of pretty much everything except Tom; Sick, Sad World’s latest episode, CyberKron, Jane’s work-in-progress, schoolwork. They were both at the stage where they were too full to eat but not ready to leave before Jane dared to bring the subject up.

“Daria… Tom’s looking for you.”

Daria started slightly. “What? Where?” She started to look around. “How’d he find us?”

“Hold on a minute, he’s not here. I mean he was looking for you earlier.” Daria relaxed slightly. “He showed up at my place today.”

“Did I mention Tom?”

“Well, no, but… he’s trying to apologize.”

“I don’t want to talk about Tom right now. I’ll get enough of that at home tonight.”

“Daria, he…”

“If you’ll just drop it for now, I’ll pay for lunch, okay?” Daria offered.

Jane grinned. “Now there’s the girl I know. But we will talk about this tomorrow, okay?” Daria didn’t answer. “Okay?”

“Fine. Tomorrow.” Daria grinned slightly. “By then my book on medieval torture methods should be in. It’s got a good section on tongue removal.”

They wandered over to Mr. Fun’s World of Games and spent about an hour racing, fighting and blowing things up. Then they noticed a new attraction: Virtual World. It wasn’t like the other VR games, with the little goggles and stands, but was a group of several fully enclosed pods. Each had a joystick, throttle, several screens and lots of buttons. They spent entirely too much time and money there, but showed quite a bit of natural talent for the game.

“Maybe we should come here more often,” Daria commented as they left.

“Yeah! That new game’s pretty fun, especially after I figured out how to shoot in a different direction than I was moving.”

“Ah. Is that why you kept running into things? I almost suggested changing your call sign from Onyx to Blind Pew.”

“You’re one to talk. I saw you limping around on one leg. Long John.”

“At least that wasn’t self-inflicted,” Daria smirked at Jane. “I saw you kamikaze that Steel guy. Too bad they wouldn’t give me a copy of the replay.”

They reached the point in their walk where they’d need to split up to get home.

“Walk to school tomorrow?” Jane asked.

“Assuming my mother doesn’t inflict the Death of a Thousand Guilt Trips on me. Later.”

Daria opened the door to her house, hoping to be able to sneak quietly up to her room. No such luck, Helen had staked out the front room and was on her almost as soon as she opened the door.

“Daria, I’ve been so worried,” Helen said.

“Now mom, you know that Knuckles would never let anything happen to me.”

“Daria, I mean if you want to talk about it…”


“I’m a lawyer, Daria. I’m used to keeping secrets.”

“All right.” Helen perked up, and invited Daria to sit down on the couch by her.

“There’s this sadistic, killer clown…”


“One of King’s better works, not that that’s saying much…”

“Daria, that’s not what I meant!”

“Wasn’t it? Gee, look at the time, family bonding minute’s over, let’s try this again next year.” Daria went upstairs, leaving her exasperated mother alone on the couch.

Jake knocked on Daria’s door and said “Hey kiddo, dinner time! I finally had a chance to use my new wok!”

Daria closed the book she had been reading. Although she had greatly enjoyed Heller’s Catch-22, she was finding Something Happened a bit too accurate to be very amusing. Now for an amateur re-creation downstairs…

As she entered the kitchen she could feel her mother’s worried glances. Jake was going on about stir-fry and soy sauce, and Quinn was on the phone with Sandi.

The meal started typically enough. Quinn told everyone about her latest and upcoming dates, and only Helen really paid attention. Jake was wondering aloud if the dash of saki he had added to the recipe had been a good idea. Helen told Jake to pick something up for dinner tomorrow, as she would be working late.

Then it happened. Quinn was talking about one of her dates when Helen interrupted. “That’s nice, dear. Daria, how did your date with Tom go last night?”

Daria stood up. “I guess I wasn’t that hungry, after all.”

“It’s the saki, isn’t it?” Jake asked.

“No, the saki’s fine. Jane and I just had a big, late lunch.”

“It’s the chicken, then, isn’t it? I thought it smelled a little… funky.”

“Ew!” Quinn exclaimed. “Now I think I’ve lost my appetite.”

“It wasn’t the chicken, dad,” Daria started to leave, and delivered a final shot over her shoulder. “It could use a little less henpecking, though.”

“I don’t remember adding that,” Jake said confusedly. “Garlic, ginger, hoisin, red pepper…”

“Jake! It was a joke!” Helen vented some of her anger with Daria on Jake.

The next day, Kevin and Brittany approached Daria after art class. Jane had been held up talking to Ms. Defoe and Daria was waiting outside with nowhere to escape. Brittany was still trying to get wet clay out of her cheerleader uniform.

“Um… Daria…” Kevin started.

“Forget the way to the gym again? Just turn around and take your first left and head for the funny smell. Just remember to go left and not right, or you’ll end up in the science lab.”

“No, silly. We wanted to talk to you about that paper Mr. O’Neill assigned us today.”

“Did you forget what a eulogy is? Remember what Ms. Li said about Tommy Sherman? That’s a eulogy.”

Kevin looked really upset, and Brittany took over. “Daria, could you, like, give us some advice? I mean, you probably know all about what gets said to dead people, right?”

“That’s a medium, not a eulogy. If you want to learn about seances, buy a Ouiji board.”

Brittany looked confused. “Is that, like, French?”

Daria sighed. “Look, if you want some help just read the obituaries section of the newspaper.”

Kevin and Brittany brightened at this. “Hey, thanks Daria.” Kevin said.

“Yeah, thanks.” Brittany added, as she started to drag Kevin off to find a newspaper. Daria wondered briefly how long it would take them to find one.

Daria and Jane were walking home after school. “Maybe I should help you get started on that math homework you mentioned. It’s amazing how you’re getting Cs in a math class taught by someone who can’t subtract.” Daria said.

“Oh, was that you who made her run out of class in tears? I’ve heard about that…”

“It’s bad enough when the teachers don’t know what they’re doing, but when you have to correct their tests… Anyway, want some help?”

“Nah. C is for Competent, and that’s good enough for me. Besides, when am I ever going to use trigonometry? Talk about a waste of time.”

“Well, you can at least make correct change. You’ve got the job skills you’ll need to run a register until you can bludgeon a gallery owner.”

“Don’t think I haven’t been working on that, either. Trent’s given me a couple lessons in barroom brawling. I could use your help on that English paper, though."

“Not you too. This is going to be Tommy Sherman all over again.”


“Kevin and Brittany have already asked me for help. I don’t know why Mr. O’Neill gave us that damn project in the first place. He must have been reviewing the Junior High School reading list and reread I Heard the Owl Call My Name. But something about death or misery comes up and everyone turns to me.”

“Hey, writing your own eulogy… sounds like fun to me.”

“It’s almost as weird as that never-been-born paper, but at least that wasn’t part of English class.”

“Yeah. Now I’ve only got until Friday to find a good pun about dying for my art.”

“Or dying by your art. You know: turpentine, open flame, arc welders and scrap iron. Plenty to work with there. “

“I could even turn in an example piece… or maybe dying as art. Something about how I make my final moments a work of art.”

They arrived at Jane’s house. “Morbid. Could send Mr. O’Neill back into therapy… again. Yeah, I can help you with that.” Daria said.

Later, in Jane’s room, they were brainstorming for the paper and sitting on the end of Jane’s bed.

“Let’s go back to that death as art thing,” Daria said.

“We could maybe get some student volunteers? Hand out slips asking for people to pose naked in public and offer some poisoned Kool-Aid as refreshment,” Jane suggested.

“It has potential… but do you really want to see the student body naked?”

“Student body. Naked. Didn’t we set a limit on bad puns?”

“Only head related ones.”

Jane opened her mouth, then paused. “No,” she finally said.


“Never mind.”

“So how would you want your death-art preserved? Embedded in Lucite? Mummification? Coated in tar and stuck on a spike?” Daria asked

“How about behind glass?”

“Decomposition might be a problem.”

“Nah, it’d just be performance death art.”

“Not just dying, but dying with style. If I’m going to end up as a mortician, you’re going to end up as a crime-scene photographer, aren’t you?”

“There is that ride-along program… I could give it a try…” Jane sounded almost serious.

“I don’t think they’ll allow you to add props or pose the bodies,” Daria noted.

“Damn. You’re probably right.”

“Well, I think you’ve got your idea, and I know just what to do for mine. If you really don’t want any help with math I should probably get going.”

“Not so fast, Morgendorffer,” Jane turned serious. “You promised we’d talk about Tom, remember?”

“Damn. I did, didn’t I? Look Jane, I don’t want to talk about it.”

“That’s why I’m not giving you a choice.”

“Jane, you were there. You heard what he said.”

“And he wants to apologize. He meant it as a joke,” Jane noted.

Daria sighed and looked down at her boots. “That’s just it. Am I that bad at reading people, or did he really mean it? Even just a little?” Daria looked up at Jane, sad and tired and hurt. It was the most open expression Jane had ever seen on her friend’s face.

“That’s a good reason to talk to him right there, isn’t it? How else are you ever going to find out?”

“If he meant it at all it’s over. In seventeen years I’ve met one guy I could really like, but if he really thinks like that…” Daria trailed off.

“C’mon, give him a chance. It’s worked so far, right?” Jane pressed.

“Well…. Yeah,” Daria admitted.

“He’s about the only one around here who can hold his own with you intellectually, right? You think he could really see smarts as a bad thing?”

“I guess not,” Daria’s face slowly returned to her usual expression. “Either way, this doesn’t say much for my judgement, does it?”

“You’re still the most judgmental person I know,” Jane said cheerfully, receiving a glare from Daria. “You want to use my phone? I’ll wait in the hall.”

Daria shook her head. “Aside from whatever recording gear you have around here, I don’t think I’m up to that now.” Now it was Jane’s turn to glare. “Look, when I get home I’ll call and ask him to meet me somewhere tomorrow, okay?”

“Okay, okay. Just as long as you do.”


Daria went home and finished what little homework she hadn’t completed in class. She got a good start on Mr. O’Neill’s paper, alluding heavily to both Keats and Wilde. Whether or not Mr. O’Neill would notice this was another matter; the man was almost scared of his own shadow, he probably avoided other people’s. Tom was one of the few people she knew who might understand it. Maybe Jane was right... She picked up the phone and dialed his number.

“Sloane residence, Katherine speaking.”

“Hi, Mrs. Sloane. This is Daria.”

“Hello, Daria. It’s nice to speak with you again. We don’t see you around here much. Don’t let Tom’s stories scare you away.”

“Um… okay. May I speak with Tom please?”

“Of course. Hold a moment while I go get him.”

Daria listened to silence for a while, then Tom picked up the phone.

“Daria?” He asked, hopefully.

“Tom, could you…”

“Daria, I’m really sorry,” he interrupted. “I never should have said…”


“What I did, and we…”


“Shouldn’t have been fighting…”


“What is it, Daria?” Tom asked.

“I’m not ready to talk about this tonight. Meet me at the pizza place tomorrow at six, okay?”

“Sure. The pizza place at six. I’ll see you there.”

“Later.” Daria hung up the phone.

Daria sat and stared into her plate. She had shown up early and claimed the booth in the corner furthest from the door. Her pizza was cold and her soda was warm, but she had never minded either and hadn’t noticed now.

The day had gone pretty quickly. Mr. DeMartino had nearly bitten one poor girl’s head off – Stacy, Daria thought – and she had fainted and had to be taken to the nurse’s office. It had disrupted the next class, Daria’s, or she never would have known about it.

Kevin had approached her again about Mr. O’Neill’s project. It was totally unlike him to put this much aforethought into his homework, but apparently his ego had been working overtime.

She had been joking yesterday when she said this project was turning into another Tommy Sherman, but it was starting to look like she’d been prophetic. Charles had used asking for advice on the project as an excuse to hit on her again. Mr. O’Neill had taken her aside after class and told her how much he was looking forward to her paper. Hell, even Mack had asked her about it. He, unlike the others, didn’t actually say anything about her being morbid and miserable.

That he had asked Daria instead of Jodie said it for him.

What was wrong with these people? She knew this culture placed an emphasis on appearance; Quinn was a walking, talking, constant reminder of that. But it would be nice if they could see beyond the surface at all. No wonder politicians got away with so much these days.

A shadow fell over her, and she looked up to find that it was being cast by Tom.

“Hey Daria,” he said quietly. He had arrived a few minutes earlier, and had spent the time watching Daria. When he had first spotted her he thought she had chosen the seat so she could keep an eye on the entire restaurant and spot him when he came in, but she hadn’t ever looked up.

She had barely moved at all, in fact. She never touched her slice and barely touched her soda. This whole thing must be bothering her more than he had thought.

“Tom,” she invited him to sit down opposite her with a wave of her hand. He did so, noticing that she was as guarded now as when they first met.

“I really want to apologize for what I said. I shouldn’t have been arguing with you in the first place.”

Daria didn’t say anything in response. She was just watching him intently.

“Daria, I’m sorry I said anything about you being a brainiac, but it was a joke. You know me. How many of your classmates know that Stalin and Djugashvili were the same guy?”

“Yeah.” Daria looked down at her plate again, faintly embarrassed.

“You’re one of the most intelligent people I know. That’s one of the things I most like about you. I’m not like your sister.”

“No, you’re not,” Daria admitted, “and if you dye your hair red and put on lipstick it better be for Halloween.”

They fell to talking, and Daria slowly relaxed. Things were going pretty well, and talk eventually turned to the last couple days. Tom told Daria about a prank that someone had tried to pull at his school in chem lab that had backfired. Daria told Tom about Mr. O’Neill’s latest project.

“That man is crazy,” Tom opined. “How did he ever manage to become a teacher?”

“You do have to be certified,” Daria pointed out.

“Does he have the monogrammed white canvas jacket with optional extended sleeves?”

“If he does it’s probably not white. Maybe a nice chartreuse. You should see his apartment…”

“I think Jane mentioned that. How’d she describe it? Sort of like Disneyland if it was built by Maharishi Maheshi Yogi?”

“Yeah, that sums it up. And the faith that man has in herbs,” Daria shook her head. “Strain some weeds and call it herbal tea and he’s happy.”

“Let me guess… the only alcohol he drinks is dandelion wine.”

“He probably would except that he doesn’t have a yard.”

“At least his latest insane scheme is up your alley.”

“What do you mean by that?”

Tom was so pleased by the way the conversation had been going that he had relaxed. No longer paying close attention, he missed the tension in Daria’s question. “Reflections on death and all. Being and nothingness. Something you can really sink your teeth into.”

Tom had been looking down at his plate as he spoke, and the interruption in the flow of their banter caused him to look up. Daria was gazing past him with her head cocked slightly to one side. Tom glanced over his shoulder but didn’t see anyone there. It looked almost like Daria was having an argument with herself. “Daria?”

Her gaze snapped to him and studied his face for a moment. Then Daria sighed and said “I’m sorry, Tom. This isn’t going to work.” She stood up, leaving her barely touched pizza.

“What?” Tom asked, startled.

“Goodbye Tom,” Daria said as she went for the door.

“Hey, wait… Daria!” Tom got up and followed her out. “What’s wrong?”

“It’s just… not going to work.” Daria didn’t stop walking. Tom grabbed her arm and pulled her to a stop.

“What happened? I thought it was going pretty well.”

“It was.”

“Then why this?” Daria didn’t answer. “Was it something I said?” That’s it, isn’t it?” Daria still didn’t respond. “Whatever it was, you know I didn’t mean…” he waved his free hand vaguely in the air, “anything by it.”

They stood silent for a moment, then Daria finally said something. “It’s the things you say when you’re distracted that reveal your true thoughts. You don’t have time to think ahead and edit them.”

“Huh? Something about Mr. O’Neill’s project?”

“Just… let it go Tom.” The relaxation that had come over the course of the evening was gone; she was as guarded as she had been at the start of their talk. Tom let go of her arm, and Daria turned and walked off.

“Hey! Daria…” Tom let her go, very confused again. Maybe he could find out from Jane what he had done wrong and find a way to fix it.

Daria walked home lost in thought. Tom wasn’t any better than the rest. No, Tom was better. Just not enough. Maybe her standards were too high. Was it asking too much to want someone who would judge her for herself and not by how much she smiled? She’d only met one person like that in her entire life, why did she ever think she’d find another so soon? Maybe if she hadn’t been so standoffish with Tom from the start she would have realized what he was like earlier… maybe even before it caused problems with Jane. Come to think of it, hadn’t he said something about needing to laugh out loud at the homecoming parade? She should have known then. She never did have any good sense when a crush was involved.

Daria reached home and went inside. Jake was watching the Iron Chef competition on TV and looked up as she entered. “Hey kiddo! How’d the date go?” Jake had finally caught up with events, more or less, and was trying to put a little parenting practice in. Daria was too distracted to notice, and just walked upstairs to her room. Jake called out “Daria?” again.

Helen came in from the kitchen. “Was that Daria? Did she say how her date went?”

“Hmm? Oh, you know Daria.”

“Maybe I should go talk to her,” Helen said, but Jake was already absorbed back into the show.

“Jake, you’re hopeless,” Helen went upstairs to Daria’s door and knocked.

“Daria? Can I come in?” Helen asked through the door.

“I don’t know,” Daria responded. “Did you forget how to work a doorknob?”

Helen opened the door and went in. Daria was sitting at her computer, waiting for it to boot. “How did your date with Tom go?” Helen asked.

Daria shrugged and said, “Quickly.”

“Honey, If you…” Helen started, but was interrupted by Jake yelling at the TV downstairs.

“Sounds like he’s about to burst another blood vessel,” Daria noted, as she started to rummage around her desk. “Now where’d I put that camera?”

“I’m always available for you talk to, Daria… but I better go calm down your father before he has another heart attack.” Helen left the room.

Daria knocked on Jane’s door the next morning. Jane opened it, backpack on, and said, “There you are! Come on, there’s not going to be much time for you to fill me in on last night.”

Daria didn’t respond to this, and they started to walk towards school.

“So…” Jane prompted, “how’d the date go?”

“It was more of a prune.”

“That bad? What happened?”

“Tom and I broke up.”

“What? Why?”

“Let’s just say his mouth runneth over.”

“What’d he say this time?”

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Remember what I said last time you tried that?”

“You broke up with him too. I shouldn’t have to explain this to you.”

“All right, so he can be a bit insensitive at times,” Jane considered for a moment. “What did he call you this time? A brain again?”

Daria shook her head. “I said I don’t want to talk about it. How’s your paper for Mr. O’Neill coming?”

“It’s done, but I’m not going to let you change the subject.”

“Jane, drop it. Or that paper will be needed sooner than expected.”

Joking aside, Jane could tell that Daria had dug her heels in on this. It was going to take a bit to coax it of her, so she left it alone for now.

Later, after classes, Daria was at her locker putting up books when Mack and Kevin approached. Jane was nearby at her own locker.

“Hey, Daria. Jodie was looking for you a little while ago.” Mack said.

“And what expensive extra-curricular activity has my power of invisibility spared me from today?” Daria asked.

“She’s not selling tickets to anything this time. She just wants to ask your advice on something.”

“She didn’t say anything in class.”

“I think she wants to talk in private.”

Kevin finally spoke up. “Girl stuff, Mack Daddy? Ew, gross!”

“Don’t call me that. Come on, we’ll be late for practice. Later, Daria.” Mack started down the hall.

“I’ll be right there, bro.” Kevin shouted after him. “Daria, can you really turn invisible?”

“Only when no one is watching. Aren’t you going to be late for practice?” Kevin, disappointed, started off down the hall. “Um, Kevin… other way.” Daria said.

“Oh. Thanks, Daria.” He turned around and jogged off down the hall.

“How long do you think he’ll take to realize he was going the right way the first time?” Jane asked.

“I give it eighty days.”

“Oh, look. Here comes his hot air balloon now.” Jane observed.

Brittany had entered from a cross-corridor, and walked past Jane and Daria without looking at them. She was headed to the gym.

“Which also doubles as a handy flotation device.” Daria commented.

As they left the school Jane said, “You were in fine form today.”

“Thanks. What did I do?”

“Raised tongue-lashing to a new high, even for you. This must be a personal best. I mean, Mr. O’Neill is easy, but I don’t think anyone’s set Ms. Barch back like that. If you were a guy she would have had you suspended.”

“Are you going somewhere in particular with this, or are you just trying to build up points for later?”

“Just admiring an artist’s work.”

Daria turned a disbelieving glare on Jane. Jane raised her hands in mock surrender.

“Okay, okay,” Jane said. “Building up points. Let me know when I’ve got the high score. In the mean time, we can talk about your date with Tom last night.”

“I said I don’t want to talk about it. You’re running out of continues, Lane.”

“Since when do we have secrets from one another?”

“Since you found a rumor monger who pays in cash.”

“You want to split fifty-fifty? Come on, I didn’t say a thing all day.”

“We were in class for most of the day. You weren’t allowed to say much to me. Do I at least get to watch Sick, Sad World in peace, or do we go straight to the red-hot pokers?”

“Fine, I’ll give you until after Sick, Sad World.”

“Gee, thanks officer.”

“Meet the man who’s always gold-digging in all the wrong places… The Incompetent Grave-Robber, next week on Sick, Sad World.”

Jane turned the TV off. “Is it my imagination or did that seem familiar?”

“I think they’re running short of story ideas this season.”

“Must be why they’re offering money for story submissions. We’ll just have to send more in.”

“I think life in Lawndale is too twisted, even for them.”

“Speaking of which…” Jane prompted.

“Yes, mother.” Daria said archly. “Do you remember how I said Mr. O’Neill’s project was turning into another Tommy Sherman?” Jane nodded, and Daria continued. “I was right. Tuesday just about everyone in class wanted to talk to me about it.”

“What does that have to do with your date?”

“Tom apologized and we got to talking. I told him about the paper and he called me a misery chick.”


“Not in those words. But that’s what he meant.”

“He can’t have meant it that way, Daria. What were his exact words?”

“He’s hinted at it before. Remember Homecoming?”

“I got some great shots of flaming wreckage, and that picture of you kept me in paint for a month. How could I forget?”

“He was hinting about it even then. He said something about my needing to laugh out loud at the horribleness of it all.”

“What did he say this time?”

“That reflections on death are right up my alley.”

“Tom said that?” Jane asked. Daria nodded, eliciting a “Wow,” from Jane.

“Yes. If he can’t see past my lack of smiling this just isn’t going to work. And now that I’m thinking of last words, I should go and finish mine.”

“Mm, okay. See you tomorrow then.”

“Later.” Daria picked up her backpack and left. Jane waited for Daria to leave the house, then she picked up the phone and dialed Tom’s number.


“Tom, this is Jane.”

“Jane? Great! I was meaning to call you tonight. I messed up with Daria again, but I don’t know how or why.”

“I do. Remember what I told you about Tommy Sherman?”

“Some football guy killed by a goal-post, right.”

“Yeah. Only when he died half the class went running to Daria for advice.”

“What does that have to do with me?”

“Did you say something about death being right up her alley?”


“It’s important, Tom.”

“I may have. I really don’t remember exactly what I was saying right before she left.”

“She got upset that time because everyone assumed that since she never smiles she must be miserable and gloomy. And now she thinks that’s how you feel.”

“That’s crazy!”

“Not to Daria. She thinks you’ve been hinting about this since the parade.”

“Is there anything I can do to make this up to her?”

“I don’t know. She’s acting different this time.”

“What do you mean?”

“Last time she was angry and upset, like anyone would be. This time she’s just… acting like normal.”

“If she’s acting normal there must be a big problem.”

‘Who’d believe a wit like that could get you in trouble? She’s been acting like nothing at all is wrong. If she thought there was any chance at all for you two to get back together, I think she’d still be upset. It’s more like she’s already written you off.”

“Damn. Jane, if you can think of anything, anything at all, that I can do, let me know. I’ll see what I can do, but I don’t know if she’ll even talk to me now.”

“Even if you can, it may not be the best idea, not right away. Her tongue-lashings are getting pretty good.”

“Jane, thanks for helping on this. I know it’s putting you on the spot, but you know her better than I do, and I really do want to make this work.”

“Oh, you know me, anything for a friend.” Jane sighed. “Look, I’ll call you back if I think of something.”

“Okay. Do you think some flowers might help?

“With Daria? You’re kidding, right?”

“Well, I was thinking more Flowers for Algernon. I might be able to find a first-edition.”

“She is pretty open to bribes on some things, but I doubt that’ll help much.”

“Still, it’s worth a shot. As long as it won’t make things worse.”

“Right. Just be careful what sort of message you’re sending there. Implying that she needs experimental surgery to increase her intelligence wouldn’t go over well.”

“But implying that I need it might…”

“Yeah, could do. I’ll talk to you later.”


Jane hung up the phone. She was definitely feeling a little weird about all of this. Daria was her best friend, but Tom was her ex-boyfriend, and she wasn’t sure that she didn’t feel a little… satisfaction about all this. Revenge was something she usually went in for. She might as well be honest with herself and admit she was getting at least some amount of enjoyment out of their problems. Not that it would stop her from helping – it hadn’t before – but she shouldn’t lie to herself either.

Quinn walked in to Daria’s room and started saying “Daria, can…” she looked around. “Ugh! Your room still looks like this?”

Daria was sitting at her desk, putting the finishing touches on her paper for Mr. O’Neill. Without looking up she said, sotto voice, “Enter Quinn, one village idiot.” She looked up at Quinn and asked, “Isn’t it about time for you to come up with a new entrance line?”

Quinn looked confused. “Huh?” She asked.

“Never mind,” Daria sighed. “What question do you seek to set before the great Oracle?”

“Are you getting that ‘brain fever’ thing? Look, I just have a little business proposition for you.”

“And what class is the homework for?”

“Gee, Daria, do you think the only reason I ever come to see you is so you can do my homework?” Quinn sounded offended.

“Why did you come to see me, then?” Daria asked.

“Um… so you could do my homework,” Quinn quietly admitted, then continued in a rush. “But I’m trying to do better, really I am, I’m just a little over-committed on dates this week, I didn’t know we were going to have to do a paper when I made them, and I can’t back out of my dates Daria, I just can’t!”

“And why should I do this thing for you? Sisterly kindness would dictate that I decline, so that you might do it yourself, both learning and improving yourself as a person thereby.” Daria intoned.

“Look, if I miss this paper I'll lose my C. I’ll pay you twenty bucks.”




“Sixty?! What! You’re supposed to go down!”

“But I realized that this was a great opportunity to teach you about the laws of supply and demand.”

“All right, fifty.”

“I believe the price in question was sixty.”

“Damn it, Daria!”

“Going once… going twice…” Daria counted.

“Okay, okay, sixty.” Quinn gave in.

“What is this paper, anyway?”

“It’s for Mr. O’Neill’s class, the creep. We have to write what we want people to say about us after we’re dead.”

“He gave you guys the eulogy assignment too?”

“Eulogy, yeah, that’s what he called it. I figure you’ll have no problem with it. An easy sixty bucks.” Quinn spoke the last sentence bitterly.

“Deal’s off.” Daria went back to her own paper as Quinn gasped in surprise.

“Daria, you already agreed!”

“I changed my mind. Sixty bucks isn’t enough to make me forget that sisterly kindness.”

“Seventy?” Quinn offered desperately, but Daria shook her head. “Damn it, Daria! That’s not fair!”

“You’re right, It isn’t. However, it is your cue to exit, stage left.”

Quinn left, muttering to herself and waving her hands in the air. Daria got up to close her door, then returned to finish her paper.

The next day at school Jodie approached Daria after their first class. “Daria, can I talk to you some time today?”

“You mean besides now?” Daria asked.

“I mean I need to talk to you in private sometime today. Do you have plans for lunch?”

“I was planning to eat my lunch…” Daria noted.

“How about we have a little picnic on the roof?” Jane suggested. “Nobody goes up there.”

Jodie wasn’t very pleased about Jane inviting herself along, but accepted anyway.

The three of them met after the bell and headed up to the roof. They started eating and Jodie talked nervously about various activities she was involved in. Daria’s supply of patience, never large, had been sorely tested over the day by numerous worse-than-usual acts of stupidity and ignorance in her classes, and Jodie wore out the remainder quite quickly. Daria asked “Look Landon, what’s the point of all this? Don’t tell me you asked us up here just to tell us about French Club.”

Jodie glared at Jane and said, “I didn’t ask both of you up here at all.”

“I’ve been not wanted by far more important people than you, Jodie.” Jane said.

“Sorry, but we come as a set. If you don’t like it, we can leave.” Daria started to get up.

“Wait. I didn’t mean it like that. But I’m not supposed to tell anyone about this, and if Ms. Li finds out…” Jodie sighed. “You know what they say about secrets? That three people can keep one if two of them are dead?”

“Don’t get any bright ideas,” Jane said, “Seppuku’s not my style.”

“Jodie, look who you’re talking to. Since when have we told Ms. Li anything except ‘I plead the Fifth’?” Daria asked, sitting back down.

Jodie grinned weakly. “Yeah, I know. But I think Ms. Li would suspend me if she found out. I know you two wouldn’t do anything on purpose, but just be careful not to let something slip for the next couple weeks, okay? My parents would kill me if I got suspended.”

“So what’s this big secret, and why are you blabbing?” Daria asked.

“I could use your help, Daria. I have to give a speech, and there’ll be some major big shots in the audience. My father has been calling in favors left and right, getting people he knows to come. I can write good speeches, but you’re a better writer than I am, and I'd like you to help me with it. If I can impress this crowd I’ll be able to pick up a major scholarship and my parents will stop bugging me about my college applications for a while.”

“Sounds like a worthy cause.” Jane commented.

“Noble sentiments. But what’s in it for me?” Daria asked.

Jodie looked slightly surprised. “I guess I should have expected that. Um… I’ll never try to sell you or Jane tickets to something again?”

“It’s a start.” Daria said.

“Or bug you about extra-curricular activities?” Jodie added.

“She’s on a roll.” Jane approved.

“So you’ll help me?” Jodie asked.

“I don’t know. This is the last year you can do that anyway. Mr. Jackson might help your case.”

Jodie sighed. “All right, and twenty bucks.”

“Just think of it as a professional consulting fee. So what’s the speech about?” Daria asked.

“There’s going to be a big alumni benefit for the football team.”

“What’s so special about that? Hardly sounds like it needs to be kept secret.” Jane said. “Rather the opposite, in fact. Shouldn’t she be publicizing this as much as possible?”

“The benefit isn’t the secret. That’s just the usual student council stuff. It’s going to be a big $100-a-plate benefit, with the money going to improve the school’s field and stands.”

“Yeah, why waste all that money on useless things like textbooks or teacher salaries?” Jane asked.

Jodie ignored her comment. “The big secret is who’s going to be talking at the dinner. Ms. Li is trying to make it a big surprise, she’s playing up the suspense. Ms. Li managed to convince Mike Tyson to give a speech, and she made it my job to give his introduction. Something about how great his career was and how he can be an example for us all. You know, persevering against great odds and public sentiment…”

Daria and Jane stared at Jodie in disbelief. “You’re kidding, right?” Daria asked.

“I wish I was, but you know Ms. Li.”

“”Why’d she pick him? I mean, there are plenty of sports stars who aren’t actually criminals. Well, some anyway.” Jane said.

“Or at least haven’t been caught yet.” Daria added.

“You think I’m happy about this? Apparently she knew him growing up.”

“If you’re not happy about it, why are you giving the speech?” Daria asked.

“I told you. I was as much as told that if I impressed the audience I’d…”

“Get the scholarship.” Daria finished for her. “My, the bottom must have dropped out of the market for souls. You used to at least get knowledge and power.”

“Hey! I didn’t come up here to be criticized for trying to get ahead in life.” Jodie said.

“No, you came up here looking to make me your accomplice. You can keep your thirty pieces of silver, I’m not going to work on the speech.” Daria stood up and started gathering her things, as did Jane.

Jodie stood up. “That’s pretty rich, coming from someone who just accepted a bribe to work on a speech."

Daria just blinked at her. “Don’t tell me you can’t see the difference…”

“No, I don’t. I shovel some BS and I get into a good college. You write some BS and get some cash. What’s the difference?” Jodie stomped off to the staircase.

“Gee, that went well.” Daria commented to Jane.

“What day would be complete without a little selling out?”

“The ends justify the means… Ms. Li has taught her well.” Daria said, as they headed for the stairs.

“She must have some major blackmail files. Any other principal pulling this stuff would have been investigated by now.”

“What really gets me is that Jodie knows what she’s doing is wrong, but she’s going to do it anyway. She wouldn’t be so touchy about her rationalizations being challenged otherwise.”

“Not everyone is as principled as you are.”

“Principal. Principled. Was that another one of those puns?”

Daria and Jane walked out into the halls of Lawndale High. “It wasn’t mean to be, but I’m just so good at them.” Jane said.

They were interrupted by Charles, who draped an arm over each of the girl’s shoulders. “Ladies… want to see my… stamp collection?” he asked with a grin and a wink.

Jane shrugged his arm off and took a step away from him. “Upchuck, how many broken toes has that line earned you?”

“Gr.… feisty!” Charles growled. “But what about you, Daria my sweet?”

Jane smirked in anticipation. She could feel the anger coming off of Daria, and waited eagerly for Daria to verbally thrash Charles.

Daria didn’t say anything. Jane watched in shock as Daria pivoted on one foot and, putting her entire body behind it, swung her knee up between Chuck’s legs. Charles fell over groaning, then lived up to his nickname all over the floor.

“Daria!” Jane gasped. Daria simply stood and glared down at Charles. “Come on, we better go.” Jane said.

Ms. Barch was at the other end of the hall and had seen the whole thing. She nodded in satisfaction and silently forgave Daria for the remarks she had made in class the other day. It had obviously been because Upchuck was bothering her.

Jane grabbed Daria’s arm and started pulling her down the hall, but it was too late. Ms. Li came around the corner and stepped right in the puddle of vomit.

“What the hell is going on here?” she shouted. Seeing no one nearby except Jane and Daria, she added “Ms. Lane, Ms. Morgendorffer, in my office. Now!" Spotting Ms. Barch down the hall, she added “Ms. Barch, you too.”

The first thing Ms. Li did upon entering her office was to clean her shoes off. Then she called the school nurse and told her to deal with Charles. Next she questioned Ms. Barch.

“…And that’s what happened. It was clearly all Upchuck’s fault.” Ms. Barch concluded her explanation with a grin of satisfaction.

“Hmm. Thank you very much, Ms. Barch. You may go now. Ms. Lane, since it appears you were not directly involved you may leave as well.”

“But…” Jane started to protest.

“No arguing. You don’t want to be any later for class.” Ms. Li stated.

“Come along, dear. I want you to describe the look on his face for me.” Ms. Barch took Jane by the arm and practically dragged her out of the office.

“Well, Ms. Morgendorffer, since it appears you were, um, provoked I can’t suspend you. However, you must be taught that violence is not an option in this school, so I’m going to give you detention for the next four weeks.” Ms. Li paused to allow Daria to comment, but Daria just sat there and stared at her. Something about Daria’s stare was getting on Ms. Li’s nerves. “I feel I must also inform your parents.” Daria still didn’t say anything.

Ms. Li first called the school nurse to check on Charles, then she started to dial Helen’s work number. Halfway through dialing the number she paused, remembering the last time she called Helen. Ms. Li hung up the phone and dialed Jake’s number instead.

“Mr. Morgendorffer, this is Principal Li. I have some very bad news about one of your daughters.” Ms. Li winced and held the receiver away from ear. Jake’s screaming was audible but incoherent.

“Sir, please calm down, they’re both fine. I regretfully must inform you that your daughter Daria was involved in a fight with one of her classmates.”

Again Ms. Li held the receiver away from her ear. Jake’s screaming was perfectly clear this time. “Oh my God! Daria! I’ll be right there, kiddo!” This was followed by a thump and silence.

“Hello? Hello? Mr. Morgendorffer? Hmph.” Getting no response, Ms. Li hung up the phone. “Well, it appears that your father is on his way. It is probably a good idea for you to take the rest of the day off anyway, while I… that is, while the school considers further punishment.”

Daria well relegated to the hall outside Ms. Li’s office to wait for Jake. Class was in session, leaving the halls empty. Daria rediscovered the secret of peace in high school: not being where everyone else was.

Jake entered like a hurricane, all blustering fury. Seeing Daria sitting on the floor in the hall, he ran over to her shouting, “Daria! Are you all right? Where is he? I’ll rip his arms off! I’ll tie his legs in a knot behind his head!”

Daria stood up and tried to calm him down. “Dad, I’m fine.”

Ms. Li heard the commotion and came out of her office. She and Daria together calmed Jake down enough for Ms. Li to offer her explanation of what happened. Jake managed to stay mostly calm until he got Daria out and into his car, at which point his anger flared up again, this time with Daria as its focus. Daria offered no replies and spent most of the trip staring out the window, ignoring both Jake’s shouting and his driving.

As soon as they got home, and were off the road, Jake calmed down considerably. Enough to recall what Ms. Li had said about being provoked, at which point his anger switched to Charles. Daria kept up her stubborn silence and was banished to her room to wait for Helen to return home.

Daria spent the time finishing the last section of Something Happened. Helen, for once, didn’t stay late at work. She received a rather confused tale from Jake and went to speak with Daria, who gave her a flat and emotionless description of what happened. Helen, although sympathetic to the sexual harassment angle, gave a long speech about how violence isn’t the answer, and how Daria should have come to her so they could have filed a big fat lawsuit. Helen finished by grounding Daria for the duration of the detention.

Tom heard a persistent knocking on the door and went to answer it. Opening it, he was surprised to find Jane outside. “Jane! What are you doing here?”

“We’ve got to talk. In private,” she answered.

The two of them went around back and sat down at an old picnic table. “What’s up?” Tom asked.

“Tom, have you talked with Daria since Tuesday?”

“No, not yet. I still don’t know what to say. I’m going to call her tonight anyway, see if she’ll let me try and make it up to her tomorrow night.”

“It won’t happen. She’s grounded. Helen won’t even let me talk to her on the phone.”

“Grounded? Daria? What happened?”

Jane described the way Daria had been acting over the last few days; her sharper than usual tongue, the argument with Jodie, and finally her fight with Charles. The last bit startled a chuckled from Tom, who had heard all about Charles from both Daria and Jane.

“Damn it, Tom! I’m not telling you this for your amusement! If this had been anyone but Upchuck she’d be facing charges! The only reason she isn’t is because her mother is a lawyer, and he’s vulnerable to a sexual harassment counter-suit. I’m worried about her. She’s never been physical like this before. You’ve got to do something; whatever you said is really getting to her.”

“But what can I do? If Helen isn’t even letting people call Daria…”

“You’re a Sloane, remember? The woman puts stock in that sort of thing.”

“I’ll see what I can do,” Tom promised. They sat in silence for a moment, then Jane stood up.

“Call me after you talk to her, okay?”


Jane picked up the phone. “Yo?”

“It’s Tom. It didn’t work.”

“What happened?”

“Helen’s pretty upset over the whole thing. To tell the truth, I think she’s blaming me for it, so she wouldn’t let me talk to Daria no matter who my parents are,” Tom sighed. “I can’t say she’s totally off base, either.”

“Damn. I didn’t think of that.”

“Maybe you should try talking to her again.”

“She can be pretty stubborn, but I’ll give it a try. I can always talk to Daria at school tomorrow if that doesn’t work.”

“Hey. I could head over and give her a ride home. We can talk in the car.”

“She’s got after-school detention. Tell you what, come over here first and we’ll both go meet her after.”

“Okay. I’ll see you then. And give Helen another try.”

“I will, but I really don’t think that’ll help.”

“Maybe if you told her what’s been going on?” Tom suggested.

“I’m not sure that’s a good idea.” Jane said.

“What could it hurt?”

“Well, if Daria found out I doubt she’d be pleased,” Jane noted wryly. “She’s not exactly open with her parents, as a rule. Neither are you, for that matter.”

“I am about the really important things. Besides, it’s for a good cause. And if she never talks with her mother how will she find out?”

“Helen’s not much of an actress, and Daria’s pretty sharp.”

“Well, at least give Helen a call and try to talk around her.”

“Yeah. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Okay. Bye.”

Jane hung up the phone and thought for a while. She didn’t really want to talk with Helen, but she did want to talk to Daria. And she knew Daria wouldn’t respond very well if she found out that Jane had told Helen much. Still, Helen already knew Daria and Tom were fighting, and even Helen knew that kneeing people wasn’t Daria’s usual behavior. Helen would know well enough that something was wrong. She could say quite a bit without actually giving anything away… and maybe Tom was right, and hearing it would help. Jane picked up the phone and dialed.

Helen was in the upstairs hall with the cordless phone having just finished a conversation with Eric when it rang again. “Hello? Jane, I told you once, she’s grounded.”

Helen was walking past Daria’s room as she said the last, and Daria heard Jane’s name. She knew Jane had tried to call her earlier, and her mother was enforcing the phone ban, something Daria felt she was being subjected to only because her parents were used to dealing with Quinn.

However, Helen had neglected to confiscate Daria’s phone. Daria had tried to call Jane earlier, but no one answered. She had been fighting with everyone, which wasn’t really unusual, but the incident with Upchuck had forced her admit to herself how much Tom’s words had been bothering her. She needed to talk to someone, and that someone was Jane. Not wanting to miss talking to Jane this time, she gently lifted the receiver from the cradle. She held the phone to her ear, hoping Helen would be the one to hang up first.

“Mrs. Morgendorffer, this is important. I don’t know why you’re keeping her off the phone anyway. It’s not like she’s Quinn,” Jane said. It was obvious to Daria that their minds were working the same way, but she also knew this wasn’t the right way to go about this.

“Jane, she’s got to learn…”

“Oh, come on. She’s never done anything like this before, right?” Jane interrupted.

“Well, no,” Helen admitted, “But I don’t want her to do it again. What else could I do? Take away her books?” Daria hadn’t looked at it that way.

“And just grounding her wasn’t enough?”

“No, it wasn’t. I expect she’ll talk her way out of it in a week or two anyway,” Helen said with surprising candor. “So it has to be more than just grounding, understand?”

“Look, can you just let me talk to her this once?”

“No, Jane. How often do I have to repeat that?”

There was a short pause, then Jane said, rather hesitantly, “Mrs. Morgendorffer, I’m really worried about her. This isn’t the time to cut her off from her friends. You know she and Tom had a fight, but…”

Daria listened for a short while in shock as Jane started to outline the events of the past few days, then she reached down and unplugged the phone from the wall jack. She dropped the receiver and stared blankly at the wall for a minute before fumbling for her CD player looking for a distraction, any distraction. She hit play, but knew immediately that it had been a mistake as the opening chords of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata filled the room.

Daria had long ago realized something that Trent and his band, for all that they made music their career, had never figured out and would likely never know. Music with lyrics could be great for making people think, but pure music, shorn of lyrics, could evoke emotion. Without any words to engage reason the music could simply be.

Always before the Moonlight Sonata had inspired in Daria feelings of peaceful solitude, the quiet seclusion of a moonlit walk by a lakeside. Now the quiet, stately tones of the first movement suggested nothing but lonesomeness.

For the first time in her entire life, one of Daria’s emotional barriers crumbled into nothingness.

For the second time in days – the second time in years – Daria cried. As the tears started to form she knocked her glasses off and buried her face in her pillow. Her tears this time were not silent, but accompanied by the deep, racking sobs that were released only painfully. Punctuated by deep shuddering breaths, it was enough to make her ribs feel like they were breaking.

Such intense emotion could not long sustain itself. It soon burned out, leaving a residue of numb emptiness behind. She found that she held no hate or anger. It had all been her fault, after all, her mistake. She had known once that being vulnerable, lowering your defenses, meant being hurt. How could she ever have forgotten that?

Eventually she got up, found her glasses, and went over to her desk. She grabbed her paper for Mr. O’Neill and threw away all but the first page. Then she sat down and quickly typed and printed a new one. Leaving her glasses on her desk she went back to her bed and lay down. She pulled her pillow down beneath her shoulders and rested her forehead on her crossed arms. A dull heaviness began to spread throughout her body as she turned inward and lost herself in thought.

Helen came and knocked on Daria’s door to tell her it was dinner time, but Daria was so absorbed that she didn’t notice, even when Helen opened her door and peeked into the room. Helen, seeing her stretched out on the bed, assumed she was asleep and left her alone.

Daria had been called a lone wolf many times in her life. Like many common phrases this one was usually used improperly. She knew that the phrase came from the Indians, who understood wolves far better than people raised on Disney. To them the lone wolf was a figure of great sadness. Wolves are pack animals, the regular course of their lives inscribed within the pack. A lone wolf was one who had been driven out from the pack; outcast; dejected. Daria had always been the willing outsider, The Stranger, the cat who walks by herself. Until now.

She and Jane had formed a pack. A pack of two, but a pack nonetheless.

Over the last couple years she had lost the habits of solitude. She could recover them, in time, but the process would not be quick or easy. She was already dreading tomorrow’s classes and the distant proximity they would impose. She had been through something similar before, when Jane first met Tom, and again later when they broke up, but this was going to be worse. How many weeks left until summer, until graduation?

Daria made no claim to prescience, and in fact looked upon mystics and mysticism with scorn or amusement. But she could think and see clearly, and she could see the shape of her tomorrows, passing in their petty pace. The weight of the future was oppressive.

Quinn’s shrill complaints outsider her door sent Daria’s thoughts briefly spinning off on a new course. Daria didn’t know Quinn’s friends well; she avoided them as much as possible, as any rational person would. She had formed certain impressions of them anyway and knew that these friendships were but cheap, pale imitations of the real thing. Yet Quinn seemed happy with them. Was that Paradise? Never knowing the difference? Contentment came at quite a price then, one she wasn’t willing to pay. Even if she could edit her memories and excise the past she’d always know that she had lost something, something important she had wanted to keep.

These thoughts all spun through her mind, a circle in a spiral. The moon, gibbous and waning, cast a cold light over Daria’s prostrate form. Eventually, unmarked, she fell into a light, restless sleep.

Daria trudged along an unfamiliar path to school, chosen in the hopes of avoiding Jane. She needn’t have worried; as late as she was, there was almost no chance of running into Jane on any path. She had slept late that morning, and would be sleeping still if she hadn’t been wakened by Helen. If she hadn’t fallen asleep fully dressed she never would have been able to make it to school on time. She was going to be late as it was, as she had seen no real reason to hurry and was too enervated to force herself to care.

Daria paused outside the school and almost turned away. Yet she had nowhere else to go, and any delay was only going to make things worse. The mistake was made long ago; the consequences were inevitable. Better to get it over with. As she entered the school she couldn’t help remarking “Now we descend into the blind world.”

She went to her first class and took her seat. Mrs. Bennett was drawing her usual X’s and O’s on the board and made no mention of Daria's tardiness. Jane tried to strike up a conversation, but was silenced by Mrs. Bennett asking her if she had a question.

The class went slowly, in more than one sense of the word. Mrs. Bennett had to resort to Daria more than usual, even though the class was mostly a review session. Daria’s responses were correct but totally devoid of her sarcastic and ironic spin. The class ended with the reminder of a unit test next week and the admonition to read the next chapter over the weekend.

While they were at their lockers Jane asked “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you late before. What happened?”

Daria dropped a book into her backpack and slung it over one shoulder. “I overslept,” she said as she turned to walk to the next class.

“Overslept? Guess you’re turning into a Lane again. Must be a new strain.”

As they moved through the halls, Daria realized that news of her attack on Charles yesterday had spread. She also noticed that although most of the guys were avoiding her more pointedly than usual most of the girls weren’t. All of them had been subject to Upchuck’s attentions at some point, and most of them had had similar impulses. With some of them it even gained her a sort of cachet, and she even received a couple expressions of sympathy. Apparently, attacking the unpopular was enough to increase your popularity.

As Daria sat down for the next class she noticed Jodie approaching. “Daria, I was in a bad mood yesterday. I wasn’t happy about it, and I’m still not. Sometimes you just don’t get a choice, you know?”

Daria looked up at Jodie and said, “There’s always a choice, Jodie. You just have to be willing to take the consequences.”

“That’s just it. You know my parents. If I don’t do this they’ll make my life a living hell.”

“Mm.” Daria was interrupted by the arrival of Mr. DeMartino. Jodie quickly returned to her seat. “And who will you blame when it becomes one of your own choosing?” Daria asked softly.

Jane had overheard Jodie’s remark, but only caught part of Daria’s question. “What?” she asked.


This class passed as slowly as the first. After a pop quiz they were pretty much left to their own devices, although Mr. DeMartino made several nasty remarks about using the time to study. He was slightly surprised when some of the students did, but he would have been less than pleased if he had realized that the homework they were doing was due later the same day. Jane tried to talk to Daria, but Daria feigned an interest in her math book and avoided talking to her.

On the way to English they passed by Quinn and the rest of the Fashion Club standing in the hallway. They were all listening to Quinn, who was saying “I told you that’s why her room looks like that.” Jane glanced at Daria, but she didn’t seem to have heard Quinn’s remark.

In class they handed in their papers, and the rest of the period passed as did the first.

Next was study hall. Daria pulled out her math book again, but Jane wasn’t going to let her get away with it this time. The room was noisy enough to allow them a fairly private talk. “Not this time, Daria. What’s bugging you?”


“Oh, don’t give me that. You haven’t been yourself all morning.”

“Then who have I been? You?”

“Ha ha. C’m on, what’s up?”

“Not the stock market.”

“Look, cut the crap. Are you okay, Daria?” Jane asked insistently. “Lately it seems you’ve been… slipping away again.”

This remark was sufficiently strange to catch Jodie’s ear. She looked curiously at the duo.

“You gave yourself a mental health day over Tom, grant me the same. Or do I need to skip school?”

“Letting it sit just makes it worse, Daria. Trust me on this.”

Daria barely managed to conceal her wince at Jane’s last line. They both sat quietly for a moment before Daria trusted herself to speak. “I won’t. But first I have to decide what to do, and I simply don’t have the energy to choose right now.”

Jane could tell Daria was telling the truth about that. She seemed to be dragging herself through the day on pure will power. “Just don’t take too long. Okay?”

“Right,” was Daria’s only reply. Jane took pity on her and let her hide herself inside the textbook.

Study hall ended and they headed out of the room. Jane said, “Hey, any guesses on what today’s Mystery Meat will be? My money’s on Soylent Green, but…” she turned and noticed Daria wasn’t anywhere in sight. “Damn!”

Jodie was nearby and heard Jane’s outburst. “What’s wrong?” she asked.

“Oh, Daria’s just pulling her disappearing act again. She’s getting pretty good at them, maybe she’s channeling Houdini.”

Jodie wasn’t exactly friends with Jane, but she did like her. Jane was almost as upset as the time she had ripped a canvas in Ms. Defoe’s class. “Hey, I know a little place behind the school, behind some trees. Hardly anyone goes there. Want to catch lunch?”

Jane thought about it for a moment and looked up and down the hall. “I guess. Give me a few to look for Daria.”

“Okay. I need to go tell Mack to stick with the team today. And if you find her, invite her along.”

Daria sat cross-legged on the school’s roof, knees against the parapet, crossed arms resting on top of it. Resting her chin on her arms, she stared out over the town. The sounds of students in class or at liberty drifted up to her. Jane had come up looking for her, but Daria had expected that and had chosen a vantage point far from their normal spot. She wasn’t visible from the stairs, and Jane hadn’t found her.

Daria had spent most of the morning with the persistent feeling of immanent tears. Alone on the roof she stopped fighting them. Alone, they didn’t come.

The weariness that had come upon her last night had not been in the least alleviated by a night’s rest and the quiet morning. It was taking all her energy just to maintain her façade. She had nothing left to shore up her defenses. And she had heard Quinn’s comment clearly. Daria had managed to not think about it during study hall, but only because of Jane’s nearness. As a greater physical pain drives out all thought of a lesser, the constant reminder of what had been worked to keep Daria from thinking of it.

Now, trying not to think about Jane, Quinn’s comment presented itself for further consideration. Daria had to admit to herself a certain fondness for her sister. It had always rankled that Quinn would never admit their ties. Over two years now, and Quinn kept it up. Even Quinn’s friends couldn’t be that stupid. Maybe they were only keeping up appearances for Quinn’s sake, but that didn’t make it any less incredible. The amount of effort Quinn spent on it… and why? So she wouldn’t be closely associated with “that brain.”

Why was it even an issue? There was just something about this culture that Quinn was such a victim of that looks down on intelligence. The weird thing was how it was expressed. You could be clever, or slightly intelligent, and still be admired. But at some nebulous point it suddenly became seen as a liability. The message was everywhere; magazines, television, movies, and even – or perhaps especially – in the crumbling institution of her perch.

No, that was unfair. Daria knew enough to know that this disgust was a feature of many cultures. Throughout history most had held this view to greater or lesser degrees and more or less openly. The associations between the subject and Tom even called to mind an example, Anna Karenina. A certain degree of anti-intellectualism was present even there, and presented in such a way as to make it a major moral of the novel. And it wasn’t the only such example she could think of.

All the numb places within her were swept with a cold chill. Even the literary greats were against her. Daria’s listlessness grew. Seized by a weariness that denied sleep, she gradually stopped wrapping her thoughts in words.

Daria’s reverie was broken by the afternoon sun shining in her eyes. The school was mostly quiet, most of the students gone. Daria stood up and, not bothering to stretch her tired muscles, slowly headed home.

Mr. O’Neill had managed an unusually productive week, and was home getting ready to celebrate in his own quiet way. He was wrapped up in his favorite blanket, sitting in his favorite chair. A nice, hot glass of herbal infusion sat on the end table. He had been looking forward to his Special Treat all week, and his anticipation had surged in class when he noticed Daria had done a cover-sheet for her paper. She only bothered with that for her best work, so tonight was sure to be grand. Of course, Daria being Daria, he had taken the precaution of a larger than normal dose of St. John’s Wort earlier in the evening.

Daria’s paper was on the coffee table, on top of the pile of student papers Mr. O’Neill would have to grade this weekend. Settling in, he took a sip of his tea and picked up Daria’s paper. One last moment of savoring the anticipation, then he threw back the cover page and was immediately confused.

Maybe her printer had broken, or she had mistakenly stapled the wrong papers together? He was greatly disappointed. Then he remembered something one of his students had said, “Having a thing is not so pleasing as wanting; it is not logical but it is often true.” Mr. O’Neill had as of yet had no luck in tracking down exactly which great sage had said this, but had taken the words to heart. He’d clear this up with Daria on Monday, and now he had something to look forward to for next week.

Getting up to prepare some soothing aromatherapy oils, he left Daria’s paper on the coffee table. Face up, exposed, it showed two lines centered on the page.

“Everything passes. That’s what makes it endurable.”

There was a soft knock on Daria’s door. “Honey, can I come in?” Helen asked.

“It’s a push,” Daria replied.

Helen entered the room. “I swear, sometimes I think you make lists of things like that to say,” she said lightly, with a smile. Daria was stretched out on her bed, propped up on one arm with a book of short stories open in front of her. She made no response.

“When did you get home today? You didn’t stop by to let me know.”

“I would have stopped by to see you but I was afraid you’d want to talk to me, or something.”

“Daria…” Helen sat down on the end of Daria’s bed. “I just want to know what’s bothering you. It’s not good to keep everything bottled up.”

Daria flipped the page.

“Honey… would you at least listen to me on this?” Something in Helen’s tone caught Daria’s attention, and she looked up at Helen. “I only want to help.”

“By locking me up in my room and cutting off all my contact with the outside world?” Daria paused. “Oh, you are. Thanks. Now if you’d just reconsider what I said about selling Quinn to an organ bank…”

“Daria… you just don’t relate to people,” Helen said tiredly. Half to herself she added, “Maybe I should have let Jane talk to you. I sure can’t.”

Daria went back to her book. What little openness Helen had been feeling from Daria disappeared. Helen was starting to get irritated again. “Daria, if you’re not going to talk to me, I’m going to talk to you.”

“It’s your house. I’m sure I can’t stop you. Unless you’ll sit still long enough for the duct tape…”

“Do I need to lecture you about your attitude problem again?”

“I don’t have an attitude problem. It’s supposed to be like this.”

“And were you supposed to kick that boy too?”

“You’re the one always telling me to stand up for myself, and you’re always complaining about sexism.”

“Yes, but there are better ways to handle that…”

“Like suing their pants off?” Daria interrupted. “How convenient, you can be my lawyer and the legal fees can be kept within the family.”

“That’s better than violence, Daria. Violence never solves any problems.”

Daria finally looked back up at her mother. “God, what a stupid thing to say. Violence has solved almost every problem in history. “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.” Wasn’t Chairman Mao one of your idols?” These words, spoken in heated tones, would have pushed all of Helen’s buttons, but Daria delivered them in a curiously detached manner. The comment still got on Helen’s nerves, but she wasn’t flat-out angry.

“Daria, things were different then. I was different then. People change…”

“Yeah. Now you spend all of your time and energy helping people leech off the legal system.”

This comment did push all of Helen’s buttons. “What I do, Daria, is put food on the table and buy your books.”

“The ends justify the means? You and Ms. Li have a lot in common. And it sounds like Jodie is in training to complete the trio.”

Helen got fed up, and stood up. “You want to be that way? Fine, I’ll leave. Dinner is in an hour.” She headed for the door.

“I’m not hungry.” Daria said as Helen closed the door.

Daria returned to the story she had been reading. Alice Sheldon was one of her guilty pleasures, and there had always been something about “Beam Us Home” that had spoken to her. It was doing so even more now, the feelings of alienation and homesickness finding their match in her. She recalled her childhood thoughts of the world having been taken over by idiots and the nights spent star-gazing, waiting for one to move towards her, the sounds of her family muted by the walls of their house in Highland.

Daria finished reading the story and closed the book, setting it aside. She didn’t have the concentration or, disturbingly, the desire to read more. Instead she turned out her lights and sat on her bed, staring out the window at the sky but not seeing it.

Today had been worse than she had expected, and it hadn’t even been a full one. A short respite, then five more. Not much to look forward to. Why does it have to go on and on?

Well, Jane was right on one thing. Letting it sit was only going to make it worse. She’d better think of something to do, and when she did, ‘tis best it were done quickly.

The moon, previously obscured by clouds, was revealed a perfect half, illuminating Daria’s room. Something about the room was suddenly distasteful to her. The homesickness wouldn’t go away, and yet she couldn’t think of anywhere that felt more like home to her. Certainly none of the other places she had lived qualified. Still, as she had told her mother, it was Helen’s house. And as Helen had pointed out most of the books had been purchased with her money. The only thing Daria could be sure of as hers and only hers were the stories in the box under her bed.

Not just hers, some of them were a part of her. Thoughts and feelings made tangible, shared with none. Even Jane had never seen most of them. What had ever possessed her to show one of them to Tom? She glanced at the poster over her desk. Kafka was right about writing being a dangerous comfort.

That was too much for her. She couldn’t stay in the room, not at this moment, but she wasn’t allowed to leave the house, and she certainly didn’t want to visit with her family. Instead she got up to go take a shower.

She let the blood warm water run over her body, absorbing its heat. She tried to let the hot spray relax her muscles. It didn’t really help, but it did feel good. Steam filled the bathroom and Daria considered the last week. She hadn’t meant to, not at first, but found she couldn’t avoid it. For a short while she was able to forget the homesickness, the feeling of being out of place. The numbness remained, but the heat drowned it out, allowing her to think clearly. There was always a choice.

She remained there until the water begun to cool. Never noticing she had missed dinner, she dried herself off and returned to her room. She climbed into bed and lay for a while in restless thought. She stared out of the window, watching the starts shine through a thin layer of clouds. The clouds gave the sky a surreal effect, like watching the stars shine through a desert’s dunes, a beautiful desolation. She made her decision and fell asleep.

Daria stood looking out her window again the next morning. She had woken early, finally granted a restful night. The sounds of strings came softly from her stereo.

A rare fog had covered Lawndale. Daria was watching the distant lights, the way the fog made things more distant, detached. She reviewed her decision of the past night, confirmed it. All remained unchanged.

Daria sat down at the desk in her room and pulled out a pad of paper. She arranged her thoughts and carefully set them down. It took quite some time but she finally had it completed to her satisfaction, or at least as much as she was likely to. She gathered up the pages, set some aside, and put the rest in a large manila envelope she had taken from Helen’s supply. She wrote her parent’s names on the front in large letters, then propped it up on her dresser. The letter had taken her longer than she had expected, but her family had been fairly well trained to leave her alone when her door was closed, and although it was noon no one had come to offer her lunch.

Daria reached under her desk and pulled out a second-hand paper-shredder. Helen had given it to her after buying a bigger, faster model upon being put up for partner at her firm. It had briefly provided Jane with some not-so-quiet amusement as a tool for several art-projects, but since then had been simply collecting dust. Daria fed her recent notes through it, then pulled out her box of stories. She fed them singly through the shredder, a fitting end for one reality after another.

She rooted under her bed, and pulled out the stainless-steel mixing bowl she had taken from the kitchen earlier. Her medical trivia was coming in handy today, and she knew the bowl was more than big enough for her purposes. Inside the bowl was a knife.

Say what you like about Jake’s cooking, he kept his tools in good shape.

She sat on the floor at the foot of her bed, legs folded below her, and pulled the bowl close, slightly between her knees. She spent some time studying her arms, watching the pattern of the veins. Here’s where the medical trivia was really going to help. She took the knife in her right hand, and placed the point on her left arm, near her elbow, on the vein. She pressed the knife in until blood began to flow, and quickly dragged the knife down the length of her forearm, following the vein. It didn’t hurt as much as she had expected.

Daria watched the blood run down her arm and over her fingers, falling into the bowl. Rain in pain. It was coming fairly fast, but she hadn’t managed to get down to the artery. Well, it wouldn’t really make that much difference. She moved the knife to her other hand, and repeated the motion on her other arm. Weaker this time, although she tried to push deeper, she still didn’t get the artery.

She dropped the knife into the bowl and hunched over, letting her hands fall to the bottom of the bowl, watching them get slowly covered.

She was getting very tired, but oddly enough her thoughts were still as lucid as ever. Her slouch had been growing more and more pronounced, and now she noticed that her glasses were starting to slip off her nose. If they fell now they’d end up in the bowl and out of some vague respect for their symbolism she found this disturbing. She leaned forward a little more, to let them fall past the edge of the bowl, but didn’t quite get far enough before they fell.

The glasses dropped, one lens impacting on the bowl’s rim. The must have hit just wrong, because the lens fractured as it bounced, leaving the glass with the peculiar white-cracked pattern of safety glass.

Daria found that she could no longer stop herself from leaning even further, and further, until she started to fall over. She landed on her right side, her arms catching the side of the bowl and tipping it over, sending its contents in a wave towards the door.

Daria was conscious enough to regret that her final act of drama had been ruined, and that Jane would never get the chance to paint her pale, lifeless body hunched over a bowl of blood. She probably wouldn’t have had the chance to paint it direct, but someone would have described the scene to her. Left something to grow old now that she would not. But what’s one more thing that didn’t go right, at this point?

The light intensified, brightened, flickered, began to grow dim.

Quinn had been getting dressed for her date, and was very proud of her new suede shoes. She had always been fond of the things, but after that party a couple years ago it was always so hard to convince her parents to buy them for her. She came out of her room and was heading for the restroom when she felt something funny on the floor. The carpet in front of Daria’s room was wet. “Ew!” She exclaimed. She lifted up a foot, and noticed that her nice, new suede shoe was stained red on the bottom. “Oh no! My new shoes! They’re ruined!” She turned towards Daria’s door. “You’re going to pay for this, Daria! What the hell are you doing in there anyway?” Quinn threw open the door.

Her high-pitched shriek echoed throughout the entire house. Jake and Helen came running as Quinn screamed again, and again. Helen and Jake reached Quinn at almost the same moment.

Through the door they saw Daria, lying on her side and breathing shallowly, in an enormous red stain, arms covered with blood. Her hands were resting in a bowl, a knife on the floor, with her broken glasses lying nearby.

“Oh my god!” Jake shouted. “Daria!” was all Helen could say. They raced into the room.

Sirens soon dopplered towards the house. Daria’s room was full of bustle and noise. Quickly the sirens went on their way, and the room was again as it had long been, quiet and calm. Full of the absences of people, and countless lives trapped between covers.

On the floor, forlorn, a pair of glasses, one lens shattered and white, both reflecting nothing, dulled by a coating of blood.

Helen and Jake were sitting in the hospital’s waiting room, Helen crying on Jake’s shoulders. Jake was incredibly tense and agitated, Helen’s grief holding him anchored to the chair. Quinn lay across the chairs next to them, her head in Helen’s lap, her shoeless feet tucked close. Her shoes were on the floor in a plastic bag that had been provided by a polite but insistent intern who complained of the footprints.

Trent sat nearby, with Jane’s arms wrapped around him and her face pressed against his chest. Trent had been giving Jane a ride over to Daria’s so she could try to talk her way around Helen in person, and they had arrived just as the ambulance had left, Jake’s Lexus following. Trent had joined the parade when Jane saw three heads, none of them Daria’s, in the car. When they arrived at the hospital, Trent had managed to get Tom’s number from Jane, and had called to let him know.

Tom sat alone in the corner, convinced he had no right to let his grief intrude on anyone else’s.

Everyone in the room looked like they were in shock, except for Trent. He simply looked sad and gently stroked his sister’s hair. Trent moved in a different world than the others, and this could no longer shock him. He had known too many people who had set themselves on the Long Walk, some of them friends. He knew many more taking a slower path to the same destination. Sex, drugs, alcohol; if there was a way, he knew someone on it.

He guessed he was going to find an ending for that song soon. One way or the other.

One of the paramedics from the ambulance entered, carrying a large manila envelope. “Helen and Jake Morgendorffer?” he asked softly. Jake nearly started out of his skin, and Helen looked up at him, worry and hope in her eyes. “I’m sorry to intrude, but when I was in your daughter’s room I noticed this,” he held out the envelope, “and I thought you might want to have it here, so I brought it along.”

Helen reached out and shakily took the envelope, holding it out at arm length. She, Jane and Tom were staring at it. Daria’s handwriting was clear on the front, her parents names writ large. Helen collapsed sobbing into Jake again, the envelope pressed tightly against his back. Tom and Jane were clearly disappointed, but didn’t say anything. They quickly sank back into their gloom.

Some time later Trent was studying his feet when Jane’s grip around him tightened painfully. He looked over to see her staring down the hall. He followed her gaze to see a doctor walking towards them, shedding his plastic coating as he approached. By the time he opened the door he was already the center of attention. He looked over at Helen and Jake, and sat down near them. “Mr. and Mrs. Morgendorffer?” he asked, but didn’t wait for their response. “Your daughter lost a lot of blood before she was found. I’m sorry…”

Much later the letter was remembered, opened, read.

Mr. and Mrs. Morgendorffer:

I feel compelled to try to make you understand something. It can really make no difference to me now, but this is still important to me, perhaps the only thing still important to me. You never really understood it, and consequently have never really understood me, all my life. My last act makes it even less likely that you will be able to comprehend this now. Nevertheless, I must try.

I am not the Misery Chick. At least, I wasn’t, not before this last week. I have always been different. I have always been aware of that. However, I was not miserable. I have seen normal, and I want no part of it. I was always content to take my own path, and willing to let others do the same. I have even been happy, particularly during these last few years.

But the world stands on absurdities. Some of them provide amusement; some do not. Conspiracy theories flourish and we all want them to be true, knowing they are not. We want to have someone to blame, some mysterious force, an Azazel. We never want to admit that it is just us, being our stupid human selves.

Humans are connected to no one. I have felt the illusion of it, as others have, but we remain disparate. Few of us bother to look at things from another’s point of view; it is too depressing when we try. So we ask for and grant each other simple displays, outward signs. Few can cope with those rare refusals of topical reassurance. This, also, I learned long ago, a knowledge not generally granted to children. They say if you know too much, you’ll grow old too soon. I cannot speak for old, but it can certainly make you cynical about the world. And I think I have finally become cynical about myself.

I think I understand now what Ayn Rand must have felt, emerging from Atlas Shrugged to find she could no longer project her heroes on the society around her. I am as out of place now as John Galt was then. This is not my place or time, and in the end I cannot forgive myself for being human.

I live in Gehenna by choice. I don’t need to stay here. I could join, at any time. Give reassurance, ask questions I do not want or expect an answer to. Smile emptily. However, the price for that is high, for all that few notice that they pay. We all hug our chains, but I am aware of mine, forged in a different fire, paid for in another coin.

Perhaps I am not being clear enough. You cloak yourselves in sweet nothings. I cloak myself in thought and irony. To Quinn, the outer garments are the person. Can you, now, see past that? I think you can if you try. The potential has always been there.

I have just reread what I’ve written. So much for my swansong. I am no more eloquent now than ever. I have no new persuasions to offer you now, no new insight.

I have fought the trolls, but I grow weary of the battle. As I sit in judgement for the last time, I can speak plainly. Perhaps more openly than before. Perhaps not. I have long defended myself, and the habit goes deep. I try not to attack, for a blow struck at the outside world is always a blow at oneself, but to expose. I am not always successful, and sometimes it is the success itself that causes problems.

There are many things people do not want to hear, and they refuse to listen. The things people do to protect their absurdities… and so I must respectfully return my ticket.

I am out of place, here and now. Perhaps, eventually, there will be a place for me. Eventually, it does not matter. I have been reminded what to expect. Ours is an age proud of machines that think and suspicious of people who try to. What is there, in this, that I desire?

And so I pass into oblivion with my armour on.


Daria Morgendorffer