LAST STAGE OUT
"I miss Link," Daria said in a quiet voice.
"I don't see why," Quinn piped up from the easy chair, "for all you know, he might not even be dead."
Daria flashed Quinn a dark look across the living room. The five of them were gathered in the Morgendorffer household. Helen was seated on the couch, facing Daria, while Jake was busy pacing from one end of the room to the other. Jane sat next to Daria on the love seat, leaning back against the cushions with her arms crossed and her head down.
"Yeah!" Jake exclaimed. "The little twerp probably arranged this just to make you feel bad."
"Oh, the two of you, honestly," Helen admonished. "Sweetie, maybe they have a point, though. If you can't prove he's dead, maybe it's best to think of him as still alive."
"At least you didn't wish he was dead before it happened," Jane muttered.
Daria clutched the soft fabric of her skirt in a tight grip, and let it go in a quick motion before responding. "Link wouldn't pull a trick as cruel as that, and what would be the point of "proving" he's dead? I expressed my condolences and that's all I can do."
Eight days before, Daria had received an e-mail from Link, except that it wasn't from him. His mother couldn't find him, so she went through the e-mails on his computer and sent messages to everyone he was corresponding with asking if they'd seen or heard from him. The next day Daria received another message from Link's mother through his account. His body had been found, dead from self-inflicted wounds.
Quinn spread her arms out. "All I'm saying is that people lie on the internet all the time. Even if he wouldn't fake that, it could just be his parents' way of getting you to buzz off."
"That sounds just like his rotten parents," Jake agreed, slamming his fist into his hand with a loud slap. "They're the ones that screwed him up in the first place."
"Jake, it's a complex issue and there's no way to know how big a factor his home life was." Turning to Daria, Helen added, "Sweetie, since you do only have limited information, maybe you could save all the correspondence the two of you shared. That way, if he does contact you again someday you can pick up right where you left off."
"Right," Jane snorted. "He'd definitely want to seek out the person who didn't talk him in off the ledge."
Daria shook her head. "It doesn't matter. He's dead and that's all there is to it."
"Well, even if he is, it's not like you had a close relationship or anything. It just means you get a few less e-mails, right?" Quinn asked.
"Speaking of the e-mails, perhaps there was something you said to him that he found offensive. If you can think of what it was and send him an apology, if he is alive maybe he'll talk to you again," Helen said in a reasonable tone.
"Do you think it was something you said, Daria?" Jane asked, peering out from under her dark bangs.
"That stinks, Daria!" Jake charged across the room and stood over his oldest daughter. "We tell you not to be so morbid all the time and look what happens."
"It's not her fault, Dad," Quinn said, leaning over to look at Daria from behind him. "She can't help being that way. Besides, it's not like anything important happened."
Jane stared at the floor. "It probably was something you said, Daria. It sounds like it, anyway."
"If you try to become as good a person as possible, it might even things out. Think how good you'd feel if he contacted you then," Helen said, showing a bright smile.
Quinn stared wide-eyed, a deer caught in a pair of large black-framed headlights as she sat frozen in the chair at Daria's computer desk. After a few moments, she glanced over at the computer screen, and then shifted a guilty gaze back at her sister.
Daria broke the stretching silence. "I'm sorry, Daria," she prompted, her heart hammering in her chest and her breaths coming loud and rapid. "I just came in to borrow a pencil, but tripped and caught myself in your chair. I didn't read your story. I'll be leaving now. Have a nice day."
Quinn looked down at the desk, and with a slow motion she wrapped her hand around a pencil that was lying next to the keyboard. Rising from the chair, she took a tentative step towards the door before stopping. She shifted her eyes back to the computer screen for a quick moment, before looking down at the floor. "I'm sorry, Daria," she mumbled. "I did read your story."
"I know, Quinn," Daria responded, holding her arm out towards the open door. "You can go now."
Quinn didn't move. She continued to look at the floor, her shoulders slumped.
Daria dropped her arm when it became apparent that Quinn was going to ignore the obvious request. Walking over to her bed, she sat down on the mattress so hard that she bounced a little and threw herself off balance; a simple act of righteous drama turned into a cause for annoyance, of which she was in no little supply. "Is there anything else I can do for you?" she asked the statue in the shape of her sister. "Want me to sharpen the pencil? You might not like how fast I hand it back."
Quinn looked back up. She had an expression on her face that Daria couldn't place right away. "Um," Quinn said, "your story was... interesting."
Daria realized why she couldn't place the expression Quinn wore. It was concern. She felt her face grow warm as she tried not to look directly at her.
"Do, uh, do you write lots of stories about us?" Quinn asked.
Daria noticed that Quinn's grip on the pencil was very tight. "Would you like to copy my entire hard drive so you could find out at your leisure?"
Quinn raised her shoulders once and turned the corner of her mouth up in what Daria assumed to be a half-hearted attempt to laugh off the barb. She gave up about halfway through, her gaze moving to settle back on the floor. "Do you feel bad about that Link kid?"
"No, I feel just peachy," Daria said, crossing her arms and laying down on her back. "What would make you think otherwise?"
"Well, you're writing a story about grieving, and people only grieve when they're sad."
Daria stared at the ceiling, for all intents and purposes she could have been counting all the cracks she had so long ago memorized. "I write lots of stories."
"Sure," Quinn agreed, "but most of those have spies killing each other or people dying horribly, although you did write that really sweet one where I was pregnant, which is kind of why I asked if you write about us a lot-"
Daria propped herself up on her elbows. "You know, Quinn, when someone is so seriously busted, it's generally not a good idea to give the prosecutor information on past infractions."
"The box with the card game story where you're pregnant has a padlock. What's the point of displaying enough ingenuity to get into it without me noticing if you're just going to admit to it now?"
"Oh, yeah." Quinn spun the pencil in her hands, clicking the ridges against her fingernails. Perking up, she exclaimed, "Well. I'm glad you know. I liked that story. I think it was great the way we all sounded like ourselves, even though we were supposed to be older."
Daria wasn't sure if she should feel flattered or annoyed, but decided to play it safe and stick with the latter when Quinn continued.
"Speaking of that, I don't think you really got me right this time."
Daria lay her head back down on the soft pillow. "How do you mean?"
"Well, I know you've always considered me, like, an airhead sometimes, but I don't think I'd really say things like that."
Daria sighed. "That's because you were Denial."
Quinn crinkled her forehead over her eyebrows. "Why would I be in denial? I didn't even know him."
"You weren't in denial, Quinn," Daria explained to the ceiling, "you were Denial."
"What does that mean?"
Daria let out an exasperated sigh before propping herself back up to look at Quinn. "The story's an allegory, Quinn. Each character represents one of the five classic stages of grief. I tried to tie each stage to an appropriate personality."
"So I was Denial?"
"Why not? You spent a long time denying we were sisters."
"Okay, I guess I get that." Quinn sat back down in the desk chair. She moved the mouse with her hand and peered at the text on the computer screen. "So each person in the story is actually one of these... stages?"
Daria sat up and swung her legs over the side of the bed. The cool metal frame felt good against the back of her legs. "Kind of. I had each character personify one of the stages, so all of their dialogue and actions were based on whichever trait I assigned them."
"So Dad was...?"
"Anger." Daria shrugged. "That one seemed like a natural."
"Oh, yeah," Quinn said in knowing agreement. "This is kind of neat. So, which one was Mom?"
"Bargaining," they said in unison.
Quinn smiled and gave the mouse several rapid clicks. "Okay, so Jane was... Depression, right?"
"That seems kind of an odd choice." Quinn turned in the chair to look over at the bed.
"Well, someone had to be depressed." Daria was shifting on the bed, not looking towards the computer desk at all.
"Sure, but I figured you'd-" Quinn cut herself off when she noticed Daria stiffen. "I mean, um, which one were you?"
"Really? You don't seem-"
"Why shouldn't I be Acceptance?" Daria snapped. She stood up and started pacing between the closet and the bed, her boots clomping hard on the floor. "He's dead and there's nothing I can do about it. I barely knew him so there's no reason it should affect me anyway."
Quinn turned to sit sideways in the chair. She draped one arm over the back and clutched her fingers together. Sad eyes peered at Daria.
Daria noticed Quinn's change in body language. Crossing her arms, she sat back down on the bed and glared at the floor. An uncomfortable silence filled the room.
"Um..." Quinn said after a minute. "It sucks that he killed himself."
Daria snorted. "Of course it does."
"I guess you're not okay with that."
A menacing glare focused on Quinn.
"I m-mean," Quinn sputtered, "you really feel bad about it, don't you?"
Daria returned her gaze to the floor. "Of course I do."
"Have you talked to Mom and Dad about it?"
"Sure. The day after it happened. Last Monday."
"Oh, yeah, I remember now. It was lasagna night."
"Mom asked how you were."
"Yes, she did."
Quinn didn't like the sardonic way Daria had just replied. "You said you were doing fine."
"Yes, I did."
Quinn liked the sardonic way Daria had again replied even less. "Were you?"
"Of course I wasn't!" Daria hissed, launching herself up and pacing back over to the closet. "A little boy I tried to help killed himself. Why would I be fine?"
"So why did you say you were?"
"Why did they believe me? How could anyone be fine with that?" Daria leaned her head against the smooth closet door. "Why didn't they ask me again?"
"I'm sorry, Daria, you know how busy and clueless Mom and Dad can be," Quinn said with trepidation. With small motions of her feet, Quinn started to edge the chair closer towards the bed.
"Yeah, Mom and Dad," Daria muttered with a quiet edge.
Quinn winced as one of the chair wheels gave a loud squeak. It was slow going over the carpeted floor. "Have you talked with Jane about this?"
Daria hugged herself, and turned to walk back towards the bed. "A little."
"What did she say?"
"Pass the lasagna." Daria sat down on the far edge of the bed closest to the wall and faced the padding. "Actually, she pressed me a little more than Mom and Dad did, but she hasn't brought it up again, either."
Quinn had maneuvered the chair close to the end of the bed opposite Daria, but didn't try to move closer. "Um, you could give us a little bit of a break, considering. If you don't tell anyone how you feel, how are we going to know?"
"He killed himself, Quinn."
"You know it's not your fault, right?" Quinn eyed the distance between the chair and the bedside.
"How do I know that?"
"Well, it's not like you ever talked to him about suicide..." Quinn trailed off as Daria turned a withering gaze on her. "You did?"
Daria turned back to the wall. "It was months ago. I could tell how frustrated and depressed he was, so I made an allusion to the topic so we could discuss it."
Quinn practically flew onto the bed. "You don't think you gave him any ideas, did you?"
"No," Daria said, trying to pull herself farther into the wall, "I just wanted to see if he was planning anything drastic, but he didn't indicate that he was."
"I would have alerted someone if I thought he was going to do anything."
"I know." Quinn inched a little ways down the bed towards the wall.
"I'm sorry, Quinn," Daria said, her words becoming muffled, "I shouldn't lay this on you. I don't know if I even have a right to feel this way."
"Of course you do," Quinn was moving closer and leaning in to hear.
"Why? Can you imagine what his mother must be feeling? Or his father? Either of them? Or his friends?"
"You were his friend, Daria, you loved him as much as anybody."
Daria whipped around and brought her face within an inch of Quinn's. "If I loved him so much, why didn't I notice how bad he was feeling?"
Quinn pulled back in surprise. Small tears started to flow down her cheeks. She looked back at the computer as she wiped away some moisture. With a sniff, she said, "Oh, Daria. I guess that's why you wrote that story. You needed to work out your feelings. I wish you had tried to say something again, though, or that we had realized that you wanted to. I mean, yeah, you did leave your door wide open, and you left your computer on, so anyone could have just walked in and started reading..."
Quinn's eyes opened wide. She looked at the computer again and then back at Daria, who had turned away.
A hoarse whisper creeped out from the wall, almost smothered by soft fabric and long hair. "Am I supposed to plan my own surprise birthday party, too?"
"Um, talk to you later," Quinn said, "bye." Jumping to her feet, she dashed from the room, pulling the door shut behind her.
What, no hug? Daria thought. Damn, I'm pathetic. Oh no, what have I done? I can't believe I said all that to Quinn. I need to talk to somebody, though, or I'll go crazy. But now she's going to go get Mom, and now I'll have to deal with her. She'll understand, though. She'll help me feel better. But how can I tell her how I feel? I don't even know how to talk about any of this. I write about stuff like this all the time, but I can't talk about it when it really happens? What will she think of me? What's wrong with me?
She wasn't sure how long she sat alone with her thoughts running in circles before the expected knock at her door came. "Daria, can I come in?" Helen asked.
Daria ran over to the computer, and with a brief moment of hesitation she clicked off the monitor. Her mind racing for a sarcastic reply to shout at the door, she finally settled on, "Sure."
When Helen opened the door and stepped in, Daria stood by her computer desk holding her hands awkwardly at her sides. Helen eyed Daria up and down with a small frown on her face.
"Did Quinn send you?" Daria asked.
"Actually, she did," Helen agreed. "She said you wanted a soda."
"Oh," Daria replied, taking a proffered can from Helen. "Um, thanks."
"Call me a concerned mother Daria, but would I be wrong in saying that you seem inordinately unhappy?"
"Why, what did Quinn tell you?" Daria asked. No, I shouldn't antagonize her. I want to talk about this stuff. I need to. Don't chase her off.
"That you wanted a soda," Helen shrugged. "I just noticed that you've been quieter than normal lately."
"Is there anything you'd like to talk about?"
Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes, please. Link. Let's talk about Link. Please. Please. Please. "Not really," Daria said.
"Okay," Helen replied. "Well, dinner won't be ready for a while. Would it be okay if we talked for a while anyway?"
"Um, all right," Daria said, surprised at her mother's forthrightness. Are you going to drag it out of me? I hope so. I need you to. "What about?"
"Oh, anything you like." Helen sat down in the computer chair by the bed.
Daria settled back down on the bed. Here it comes. She's going to maneuver me into talking about it. Good, but why is this so hard?
They talked about what had been going on in their lives recently, about college, about novels, movies, cooking, the civil rights movement, current events, the weather, and several other topics except the one Daria was both hoping and fearing Helen would bring up. She was as relieved as she was disappointed.
After more than an hour, Helen looked at her watch and said, "Well, dinner should be ready by now. Shall we go?"
With mixed feelings, Daria got up to leave. While the subject she needed to talk about most never came up, and although she would never admit it out loud, it had been nice to just talk with her mom about everyday things.
Preceding Helen down the stairs, Daria stopped and took a step back when she turned towards the living room. There were several pizzas laid out in their boxes on the coffee table. Jane had already helped herself to a slice, and she was sharing the couch with Trent, Jodie, and Mack. Jake sat in the far easy chair wearing a nervous grin. Quinn leaped up off the love seat when she spotted Daria and ran over.
Daria's immediate instinct was to run back up to her room, but the way was blocked by Helen behind her. She threw an accusatory stare at her conspiratorial mother.
"Don't blame me, dear," Helen said holding up a hand. "Quinn just asked me to keep you in your room for an hour."
"I know this isn't exactly like your story, Daria," Quinn whispered into her ear, "but we're all really here and we all really want to help you work through your grief. It doesn't matter how you say it, or what anyone else thinks, no one's going to judge you, we just want to be here for you. Please come tell us how you feel."
Okay, Quinn, I may need to talk about it, but not like this; I can handle it some other way. And how dare you put me on the spot, I'll never be able to talk in front of everyone like this! But you whispered, so that means you didn't tell any of them what this was about, so I can just make something up and deal with it - and you- later. It doesn't matter anyway, it's not like anything will bring him back, and maybe I deserve to feel bad. While Daria's glare had softened from when she first threw it at Quinn, her sister had not flinched or backed off while Daria's mind raced from thought to thought.
Quinn held her arm out to indicate the empty love seat. Her lips silently mouthed the word "Please."
Unable to look anywhere but the floor, Daria took small steps over to the love seat and sat down. Helen and Quinn followed behind her, Quinn taking the seat next to her and Helen moving to stand by Jake. Daria looked up once at her family and friends, and then closed her eyes shut as she felt tears form.
"I miss Link," she said in a quiet voice.
Well, there it is. My tenth Daria fanfic, completed at last. I would love to hear what you thought of it. Please send feedback to me at
Disclaimer: Daria and all related characters were created by Glenn Eichler and Susie Lewis and are trademarks of MTV Networks, Inc., a division of VIACOM international, Inc. All rights reserved by trademark holders U. S. National and International Law and Convention.
"Last Stage Out" is a work of fiction produced solely for fun, and is not meant to be distributed for profit. It may be distributed to Daria fans everywhere, provided the author's name and e-mail address are left intact.
I miss Sarah.
In late 1999, while the show was still on the air, a new fan found their way to the Daria message boards and introduced herself as "Danielle #3." (There were two Danielles on the board already, and it was her middle name.) She was a fourteen year old girl, and her posts were of the sort any young girl smart enough to enjoy Daria and find her way to the boards would be.
Shortly after she joined us, she left a post titled "I'm so scared." Her mother had just been killed in a car accident. The loss had devastated her and she was very confused and hurt. The thread of course generated an outpouring of sympathy from the community, but she was an infrequent poster after that.
Worried about her, I sent her a private e-mail a few weeks later to see how she was doing. The answer was about as good as you'd expect. I kept up the correspondence in order to lend support, but given our age difference I was always careful not to come across as a cyber stalker, and I didn't want to annoy her with frequent e-mails from a creepy stranger. The show was a great excuse to talk, and I was always sure to send her an e-mail after a new episode so we could talk about it. I found it tough to find an excuse to send e-mails at other times, but I tried not to let intervals go too long.
After the last episode aired, there was a point when I realized I hadn't e-mailed her for several weeks. Vowing to correct the situation, I made a point to do so directly, but forgot the thought long before I arrived home that day. In August 2001, I did get an e-mail from her, except that it was from her father. She had not come home the previous night, and he was going through her e-mail correspondence asking anyone if they had heard from her or knew her plans. I hadn't spoken to her recently, but put a message on the Daria boards asking if anyone there had heard from her. The next day, her father e-mailed me again to let me know that her body had been found, dead from self-inflicted wounds.
Needless to say, my feelings were in turmoil. I had lost a friend, however tenuous the relationship. Worse, I had established the relationship in the first place because I knew she needed help, and I hadn't done enough. I hadn't been in recent contact with her, so I didn't know her exact frame of mind, but I didn't think she was a suicide risk. I once felt her out on the subject early on to try to establish that fact, and while I knew she was prone to depression, she didn't indicate that her thoughts ran in that direction.
At first I hoped it was a joke - after all, on the internet anyone can say anything. Then I was mad that I hadn't tried to contact her recently, and that I hadn't established a strong enough friendship for her to want to contact me first. I kept wondering if things would have been different if I had invited her to accompany us to WorldCon that year; not a completely bizarre notion, but sadly not one I thought of before then. Eventually I settled into a long-lasting depression.
I told my wife and friends, and they expressed their condolences, but that's all they did. Not their fault, they're not grief counselors, they didn't know her at all, and I didn't give any real indications about how bad I felt. But I needed to express my grief, and as I thought about it, a fic seemed a perfectly apt way to go about it. I've taken experiences and used them in my stories before, and the parallels with Daria and Link were rather obvious.
Eventually, though, I established another on-line relationship. This time with a fellow fic author whom I encouraged, and eventually he became one of my best friends. While talking about all things Daria, the subject of Sarah eventually came up. I told him the whole story, and he was incredibly supportive. After that, I found I didn't have a pressing need to write the story anymore. But the idea didn't go away, and coming back to my notes one day I felt inspired to complete it.
Sarah liked school. She thought I had the coolest wedding she had ever heard about. She read fan fic, but we didn't talk about that much - given her history, I didn't really want to encourage her to read some of my stories. She didn't consider Daria a role model, but liked the funny things that the character said. She hated "Boxing Daria", thinking it a weak ending to the show. Ultimately, she was a teenaged girl, and my friend.
Sarah Danielle Miller