Daria tried to ignore the incoherent hoots and hollers of the students around her. As Brittany led her cheerleading squad through their paces, the gymnasium transformed into the exact opposite of the peace and quiet that Daria preferred in life. Beside her sat Jane, also trying to ignore the clamor around them. She had the advantage of a functioning Walkman, however. Dariaís had ceased to be useful weeks ago.
The Ďpep-rallyí was now in full swing. Daria stuffed her notebook and pencil back into her backpack, no longer able to concentrate on her theme. Even Jane had to pause, the cacophony managing to drown out the music she was listening to.
If only they had been able to sneak past the faculty and get onto the roof.
Dariaís frown deepened. Her life seemed to have become a model proof for Murphyís Law. Nothing seemed to work out, nothing around her seemed worth tolerating.
She felt her stomach twinge at the thought. What is the point of living like this? If her life was so devoid of merit, why live it?
She shook her head, discarding that train of thought. Daria took a deep breath and held it for a second, steeling herself against the ongoing barrage of sound. Pushing a piece of her cynicism aside for a moment to see behind it, she took a better look at her life - quickly, before her own defense mechanisms worked against her.
The little things were getting to her. In truth, she had some things to anchor herself to. Daria looked at the image forming on Janeís drawing pad - Ms. Li hung by a foot over a large cooking pot as the football team, dressed as cannibals, danced around her. Smiling very slightly, Daria reflected on the fact her first and only real friend was one significant reason she could go on with her life.
There were also her parents who, though they werenít always able to show it and they often seemed to forget while immersed in their careers, did let her know that they loved her.
It wasnít a perfect life, but it was just enough to keep living it.
For the first time in years, Daria felt vaguely satisfied.
Daria walked in step with Jane, their boots pounding out a steady beat. In the distance, rounding the last corner for home, Sandi Griffinís car turned. Quinn sat in the front seat oblivious to the fact she had just passed her sister.
"Want to come over later? I rented a really cool art film, ĎThe Forbidden Zoneí." Jane finally broke the silence.
"Sure." Daria answered, distant.
Jane looked at her friend from the corners of her eyes.
They walked on for a while, and Jane debated with herself the merits of breaking the silence again. As they rounded the same corner that Sandi and Quinn had minutes before, Daria made the debate academic.
"At the pep rally today, I had something of a cognition."
"Uh huh?" Jane looked at her friend curiously.
"My life isnít so damn bad."
"Who are you, and what did you do with my friend?" Jane said in feigned accusation.
Daria smirked at Janeís jest.
"You should be more worried what weíre going to do to you."
Jane chuckled and they both resumed their trek.
"Really, Jane, I was about to hit a new low when I realized that I have things many people donít."
Daria paused. It was obvious she was mulling over her next words.
"One of those things I have is you, Jane."
Jane raised her eyebrows in surprise.
"Thanks for being my friend." Daria said quietly.
They stopped in front of the Morgendorffer home.
Jane paused, cautiously testing this new ground.
"Thanks for being my friend, too, Daria."
"See you later." Daria said, turning to enter her home.
Jane watched her friend enter the house. As she turned to finish her walk home, a smile began to form on her face.
Daria was quite surprised to see that both of her parents were home and waiting on the sofa. Quinn sat on the love seat, looking annoyed. Daria smirked at her sister, knowing she wanted to be getting ready for her date rather than waiting for their parents.
Without saying a word, Daria set her backpack down behind the loveseat and walked around behind her parents - who looked a little bemused by their daughterís silent entrance and odd actions.
Placing one hand on each of her parentís shoulders, Daria gently drew them together and leaned down so she could whisper to them.
"Iím sorry I donít say this to you very often. Thank you. I love you." Daria spoke softly, if flatly.
Helen, smiling with surprise and joy, turned to look at her usually stoic daughter.
Jake was stunned for a brief moment, but quickly recovered.
"Thanks, Kiddo! What a wonderful daughter! Right, Helen?"
Helen, being cautious as not to spoil such a rare moment, chose only to look pleased and thankful. Daria displayed one of her diminutive smiles as she stood again.
"What? What did she say?" Quinn asked, her irritation growing.
"Never mind that." Daria said quickly. "What are you two doing home before five? This has the markings of a family meeting of some import."
"Import?" Quinn perked up, suddenly interested.
Daria took a seat beside Quinn, rolling her eyes skyward at Quinnís misunderstanding.
"Well, your father and I have reached a decision, girls."
"Yeah!" Jake interjected with his usual enthusiasm.
"After your father had his heart attack, I was worried that such a stressful life as weíve been leading might take him away from us." Helen took and squeezed Jakeís hand.
"He found a job coordinating the tourism board in a small town in New Mexico. We both think the job would be fun and low stress."
Dariaís face became wooden. Quinn shifted in her seat.
"Daddy? Isnít that kind of a long commute?" Quinn nervously asked.
Daria raised an eyebrow. It was at least six hours to the border, and who knows how long after that.
"Weíre moving! The house is up for sale, and weíve sent an offer on a nice place already. Isnít it exciting?" Jake answered, thrilled.
Quinnís mouth hung agape at his confirmation. Slowly her face changed from shock to panic.
"We canít move! Iíve only got two years of school left! I canít leave my friends now! What about the Fashion Club? They need me! Youíre ruining my life!" Quinn stood and ran up the stairs.
"Oh, dear." Helen uttered under her breath.
"There wasnít some low-stress option in Lawndale?" Daria asked.
"But Aldea Pequeña is a small town. Quiet, calm." Jake said.
"Dad, Lawndale is a small town - quiet and calm to the point of being dull. Certainly there was some other option besides uprooting us?"
"Daria! I thought youíd be more supportive of your father!" Helen snapped.
"Donít get me wrong, please. Iím all for reducing the stress in Dadís life. Iíd just have liked the opportunity to do it without increasing the stress in mine." Daria stood.
"As it is, I guess thereís nothing to be said. The decision has been made, I had no voice in it and neither did Quinn. Like last time."
Daria crossed her arms over her chest and glared at her parents.
"What is different is this time I have something to lose."
Daria headed up the stairs.
Daria stared at her ceiling and imagined she could actually see the cracks forming in the plaster. The timing of her parentís announcement struck that part of her that was pure cynic as expected and inevitable. The moment she decided her life was Ok, someone pulled the rug out from under her.
She lifted the phone again and heard Quinn prattling on again. Scowling, she set the phone back in its cradle.
Maybe Jane wouldnít mind her just showing up.
Anticipated pain of loss welled up in the pit of her stomach again. Losing Janeís friendship would be intolerable. Replacing it verged on incomprehensible. The idea of letters and occasional phone calls sounded empty and weak.
Daria lifted the receiver again and was greeted by a dial tone. Quickly, before Quinn demanded the phone back, she dialed her friendís number.
"Yo!" Jane gave her usual greeting.
"Jane? Um, I have some really bad newsÖ"
Daria stood in the middle of the cavernous space her room had become, now that it lacked any furnishings. She gripped the strap of her backpack hard, the stress of the day working on her. This moment marked the point of no return. All her campaigns to change her parentís minds laid waste.
She walked up to the wall where her bed used to be, taking a screwdriver from her pocket. She located the loose quilting button she often toyed with when she couldnít sleep and used the screwdriver to pry it completely off. Daria studied it for a moment, then pocketed it and the screwdriver.
Daria shut her eyes and swallowed hard, repressing a sudden need to cry. After a moment, she reopened her eyes and turned to leave.
"Jane!" Daria said in surprise.
Jane was leaning on the doorframe, smirking at her friend.
"Thought you could sneak away, eh?"
"Well, noÖ I justÖ" Daria stumbled on her words.
Jane walked up to her friend.
"Yeah, good-byes suck. So, letís not say any. Here." Jane offered Daria a framed drawing.
Daria took it and looked at it. It was one of Janeís masterful realistic works, depicting Daria and Jane sitting on the grass in front of Lawndale Highís library as they so often did. It managed to encompass with one scene their entire friendship.
A crack formed in Dariaís stoicism.
Daria found herself hugging Jane, tears welling up in her eyes.
"I am going to miss you terribly." She said quietly.
"I already miss the hell out of you, amiga."
Daria and Jane walked out of the house together. Helen had conscripted Trent, and he was standing on her SUV tying down the suitcases and boxes that were stacked there.
Daria placed the drawing carefully in the back seat of the SUV along with her backpack. Quinn sat in the passenger seat of the Lexus, fuming and refusing to help.
"Careful!" Helen called as Trent clambered down from the roof of the SUV.
"Yeah, Trent. Donít give yourself a reason to sue us." Daria said as he reached the ground.
Trent and Jane smirked, and Helen shot her a quick dirty look before realizing she was joking.
"So this is it, then." Trent said as he stepped up to Daria.
"Yeah, Iím afraid so." Daria said, watching her father come out of the house with the last suitcases.
"Letís not let this be final." Trent said.
"Definitely not, Trent." Daria agreed.
Trent reached out to hug Daria, and Daria found herself moving into it. Trent turned his head to kiss her on the cheek. Daria had intended the same, and their lips met.
Surprised, they held the accidental kiss for a moment, then backed off, each turning scarlet and feeling awkward.
"That figures." Jane griped.
"Letís go!" Jake called as he started his engine.
Daria cringed, then looked at her friends.
"Iím going to write the moment we get there. Please write back?"
"Guaranteed, amiga." Jane said.
Daria got into the SUV, and Jane closed the door for her. They clasped hands through the open window as Helen started the engine, then Jane stepped away.
As the vehicles moved down the street, Jane sighed and wiped at the moisture on her cheeks.
"Damn tear ducts."
Daria pulled the SUV into the long gravel driveway, following behind her father. After several miles of dirt road, Daria was thankful she was driving the SUV, the Lexus seemed to have a difficult time keeping its footing in the sand.
The house the approached was large and appeared like it was straight out of an old western. It was more an hacienda than a house, really. Daria parked the SUV in front of what looked like an old hitching post, and shut off the engine and set the parking brake.
"Is this the new place?" Daria asked.
"Yes! Isnít it gorgeous?"
Daria stepped out of the vehicle and stretched her stiff muscles, fetching her backpack and Janeís drawing. Quinn stepped from the Lexus and scowled, continuing the rant she had been subjecting her father to.
"Öand dirt roads! Do you know what the dust is going to do to my skin?" She barked at a downhearted looking Jake.
Daria donned a small wry smile at Quinnís whining as she followed her mother to the front door. The porch was large, lined with cactus and a few yucca plants. There were three benches around the railing and walls whose paint was dull blue and worn. Two hammered tin light fixtures hung under the porch cover, covered in cobwebs and dead insects.
The building was a work of art in itself, something Jane would no doubt love to paint.
Daria shrugged off the thought.
As Helen began to open the door, Daria was relieved to find that as antique as the place appeared the doors and locks were quite modern and well maintained.
Since the windows were small and most of the blinds drawn, the interior was dark. Helen flipped a light switch, illuminating a large living room like space with white plaster walls and a beautiful hardwood floor. It struck Daria that there were no hard angles anywhere. It was all rounded and uneven as if it were molded by hand from the local clay. The ceiling was exposed roof supports; rough hewn logs Daria heard were called vigas.
A stack of boxes sat in the middle of the room, on top of their living room furniture.
"The bedrooms are this way." Helen said, pointing to an archway at the back of the room.
The archway led to a long hall, lined on one side with windows that faced the back yard and with doors to large bedrooms on the other.
"This oneís yours, sweetie." Helen said, pointing to the second doorway.
Daria went in to find her boxes and furniture ready for her to unpack. She turned on the light to illuminate the large room.
It was very much larger than her room in Lawndale. Daria estimated it was nearly half again as big. The back wall had two windows on it, and the other three walls were just blank spaces save for the door and two niche-like shelves carved out of each bare wall - nichés.
Near the door, there was a nail already in the wall so Daria hung Janeís drawing there.
Daria looked at the drawing for a moment. She vowed to herself that she would not loose that friendship if there was any way she could help it. Turning to face the few boxes in the middle of the room, she set her jaw and went to work making her room livable.
Daria had most of her things unpacked and put away. The lack of closets meant her small dresser was stuffed full. She wondered where Quinn was going to manage to store her colossal wardrobe.
The sun was setting, and Daria quickly decided the single fixture on the ceiling was woefully inadequate to light the room. There were also only two sets of outlets in the room, making setting up her computer difficult.
Daria wandered down the hall to explore the house, stopping first to peek into her parentís room. If her room was large, then theirs was mammoth - and very beautifully built. Clearly intended as the master bedroom, it had a vaulted ceiling, all the vigas coming to meet at the center of the room, and some sort of red wood - probably cedar, judging by the scent - was used in a diagonal pattern to hold up the roof. The walls seemed a good foot taller than the rest of the house. The two outside walls had large, multi-pained windows that looked out over the back and side yards. There was a fireplace in the corner of the two outside walls. It was an interesting looking affair and quite different from the fireplaces Daria was used to seeing. Again, it was mostly round with no corners to speak of. The floor was some sort of brown tile that had a mildly opalescent quality. There was a doorway that Daria presumed led to the master bathroom.
Her parentís furniture looked lost and tiny in the room.
Daria turned to look at the hall bathroom. It struck her as a little primitive looking. The shower was a freestanding iron tub with claw feet and exposed plumbing. The sink was a freestanding pedestal with very little counter space. Quinn was not going to be happy to see that.
Daria wondered why she hadnít already heard Quinn complain about it or anything else. As she thought about it, she hadnít heard anything at all. Daria guessed that the walls were made of adobe. They were certainly thick enough, the interior walls being about a full foot and exterior maybe a foot and a half. Combined with being surrounded by empty land, one could enjoy true silence here.
Daria thought that Jane would love the quiet here. She smirked to herself at the thought that Trent could practice here without complaints from the neighbors.
Daria jumped, shocked out of her reverie by her motherís voice.
"Sorry! Didnít mean to scare you, sweetie. Iíve been calling you for dinner."
"I didnít hear you. Sorry." Daria said, following her mother down the hall.
"Can you believe it? The mayor and his family are here to greet your father, and they brought dinner!"
Daria cocked a surprised eyebrow.
"Different culture, I guess." Daria said to herself.
Helen led Daria to the dining room, which was happily free of boxes. Standing with Jake and Quinn and drinking lemonade were three strangers.
The man was a bit shorter than Jake, and powerfully built with olive skin, black hair and a thick moustache over a toothy grin. He wore jeans and a white shirt with a black leather vest and a string-like tie with a silver and turquoise clasp.
The woman was pretty, with long black hair that flowed over a frilly white dress. Her dark complexion and angular features gave her an exotic appearance. She smiled diminutively, and looked down a lot.
The boy was about Quinnís age, and built much like his father. He wore blue jeans and a black tee shirt with a Catholic representation of the thorn-punctured "bleeding heart" on the upper right chest. His facial hair wasnít yet as active as his fatherís and his scraggly moustache and goatee made him look overanxious to grow up.
"Daria, this is Mayor Alfonso Harameeow."
"Jaramillo." The man corrected, smiling at Daria.
"Buenos tardes. Beinvenidos a Aldea Pequeña"
"Gracías, Señor Jaramillo." Daria said, a tad self-consciously.
"And this is his wife, Linda."
"Hello." Linda said, offering her hand.
"Hi." Daria said, shaking it firmly.
"And this handsome young man is Stephan."
"Hey." Stephan greeted, half-heartedly.
"Daria, could you and QuinnÖ"
"Iím on it." Daria interrupted.
She motioned to Quinn to follow as she headed for what she hoped would be the kitchen.
It was another large room, with fairly new looking appliances. Stacked in the corner were boxes, one of which contained the dishes and flatware they would need.
Quinn wandered in after her, still looking annoyed.
"What?" Quinn asked.
"Help me find the dishes."
Quinn sighed and began reading the labels on the boxes.
"Figures." Daria said, pointing to one of the boxes. "Itís the one on the bottom."
Daria fought to move the containers, with only token help from Quinn. Thanks primarily to luck, she managed to get to her quarry without breaking anything.
"Thanks for the help, Quinn." Daria said sardonically, setting a stack of plates in Quinnís arms.
Quinn clicked her tongue in irritation and took the plates back to the dining area. Daria followed with flatware and linen napkins.
As Daria and Quinn set out the places, Linda started pulling off covers and tinfoil from the meal at the center of the table.
They all chose seats, with Jake at the head of the table. Linda quickly served them all a portion from each container, and one disk of tortilla flat bread.
After Linda sat down, the Morgendorffers prepared to eat. Daria noticed the odd look on Linda and Alfonsoís faces. Daria tapped her motherís shin with her boot under the table and tried to get her attention on their guests.
Helen sat her fork back down, and folded her hands, giving Quinn a pointed look. Jake, for once, noticed and set his fork down as well. After a moment of uncomfortable silence, Jake motioned to Alfonso.
"Would you care toÖ uhÖ" Jake stammered, not knowing what they were waiting for.
Alfonso smiled, and bowed his head. Linda and Stephan did as well.
"Dear Lord, we thank you for this food. We thank you for the safe journey of the Morgendorffers. We ask you to protect this house." The mayor began.
Daria cocked a surprised eyebrow at the prayer, and looked over at Helen who also seemed surprised. Jake had his head down. Quinn looked bored.
"We ask that you guide Jacob and his staff so that our aldea can be revitalized. We ask this in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Amen."
When Linda and Stephan murmured their "Amen", Jake and Helen followed suit.
Alfonso immediately began to eat, and so the Morgendorffers each picked up their forks.
Daria looked at the unfamiliar foods on her plate, chose one at random and put a forkful in her mouth. After a moment, she was washing it down desperately with her lemonade, her eyes tearing. The spices burned her throat, and she coughed and sputtered.
"Daria? Oh my god! Call 911!" Jake was already in a panic.
Daria held up her hand, trying to calm her father as she waited for the spice burn to subside.
"Itís just spicy." Daria said hoarsely. "Really spicy. Iím Ok."
"Welcome to New Mexican chilé!" Alfonso laughed heartily, as did Stephan.
Daria ignored the laughter as she poured herself another glass of lemonade. Quinn eyed her food suspiciously.
"Eat it with some tortilla, to tone down the chilé." Linda suggested.
Daria nodded and thanked her for the suggestion then resumed eating. The rest of the Morgendorffers soon were cautiously working though the spicy meal.
"We know about you, Jacob, but what about your family?" Linda asked.
"Well, thereís so much to say." Jake said proudly. "Helen here just passed her New Mexico bar exam, and is lined up to work with one of the best law firms in Albuquerque."
"So youíre a lawyer?" Alfonso asked.
"Yes." Helen answered, smiling.
"Do you know water rights?"
"Alfonso!" Linda looked scandalized.
"Si, si. No business tonight. Soy reservado." Alfonso said apologetically.
"Tell me about yourselfÖ Qué nombre? Daría? Such a lovely name."
Daria smiled a little at Lindaís pronunciation of her name, with the little trill she gave the Ďrí and the extended Ďeeí she gave the Ďií.
"UmÖ thanks." Daria shrugged. "Iím just a high school student."
"How about your future?" Linda asked, smiling.
"Well, I donít have concrete plans, but Iím thinking I might be a writer or a journalist. Forensic science interests me as well."
"Youíll want to talk to Fernando. He prints the town paper, and heís always looking for something to put in it." Alfonso suggested.
Daria cocked an eyebrow at the idea.
"What a wonderful idea!" Helen gushed. "And a great opportunity for you, Daria."
Daria nodded agreement as Linda and Helen launched into a discussion about giving their children opportunities. Soon, Alfonso and Jake were holding their own conversation, and Quinn began to flirt with Stephan. Daria relaxed into her usual role as observer.
After dinner, Jake, Alfonso, Stephan and Quinn went out to sit under the porch - or portal as Alfonso called it - to talk and munch on bizcochitos while Helen, Linda and Daria cleaned up the dishes.
Once the Jaramillos said their good-byes and everyone headed for bed, Daria sat up for a while and wrote the whole days events down in a letter to Jane.
Jane reclined on the tattered couch, rereading the letter from Daria. The house sounded pretty cool - something out of an old "spaghetti western", really. She wished she could have been there for the chile burns, plenty of Daria ribbing material there!
Jane sighed; she was having a very difficult time adapting back to her old solitary lifestyle. It seemed every few hours she was picking up the phone, only to set it down again as she reminded herself that Daria was in a whole different state now.
Jane felt silly. Even her breakup with Tom - whom she had some very strong feelings for - hadnít had this level of effect on her. Dariaís absence was a big, gaping void. Damn near a wound.
Jane smirked at herself - she thought she had truly appreciated what she had with Daria. Her first and only real friend in her life, confidante, partner-in-crime. Yet, the old saying proved true again. "You donít really know what you have until itís gone."
Jane shuddered. "Gone" was a very strong word, and she hated to apply it to Daria.
"Hey Janey." Trent greeted her as he came out of the kitchen.
"Hey Trent. Whatís up? Besides yourself, of course."
Trent was about to answer, then got a concerned look on his face. He walked up to his sister and bent down a little, studying her face. Spotting the letter, he shook his head.
"Reading it again? Janey, youíre acting like sheís dead." Trent flopped himself down on the opposite end of the couch.
"I am not." Jane said, indignant. "I just happen to miss my friend. What, havenít you ever missed anyone? Donít you miss her?"
Trent got a wistful look on his face for a brief moment, then returned to his serene façade with some effort. Noticing the effort, Janeís eyebrows shot up in surprise.
"Well, well. I see that you do miss her."
"Of course I do. Sheís the coolest high-schoolerÖ"
"ÖHigh-schooler you know. Yes, youíve mentioned that more often then I care to recall." Jane said with a touch of irritation.
"Well, she is."
"And thatís all?"
It was Trentís turn to be a little irritated.
"Well, then letís talk about comment you made just after they left."
"You know, the one about wishing you had a pictureÖ"
"ÖOf your first kiss?" Jane was smiling maniacally.
"God damn it, Jane! Canít you learn to mind your own freaking business?" Trent barked, louder than he had intended.
"I think Iím hitting damn close to the truth to get you to actually yell. Yell at your sister. The sister who made you pancakes this morning. The pancakes you ate without thanking her. Again."
Trent had already felt guilty about barking at her, and the suggestion he took her for granted stung.
"IÖ Iím sorry for yelling. But itís really none of yourÖ"
"Give me a break! You get to discuss my relationships."
Now Trent felt really guilty. After Daria had suggested that Tom and Janey were moving too fast, he had begun to worry. And he had begun to meddle.
"All right, all right. Ok, Iíll come clean: I like Daria a lot. Sheís the only woman Iíve ever met who really understands me. Sheís smart - smarter than I am. Hell, sheís smarter than anyone I care to mention."
Trent sighed, wishing he hadnít just said that. There was no telling where Jane would go with it. Still, he did miss Daria a great deal.
Jane saw Trent scowl and frown, and she immediately regretted pressing the issue.
"Sorry, bro. Forgive your little sister?" Jane said in a small voice.
Trent patted the top of her boot.
"Donít worry about it."
Daria looked through the bus windows at the school: one run-down looking building surrounded by eight temporary buildings. There was no grass around the structures, the paint was peeling and the library was less than minimal, but the football field was in top shape.
The teachers were about the same caliber as those in Lawndale. Though they all seemed to consider her some sort of nuisance, ignoring her as best they could.
No students had been willing to talk to her. The best she could hope for was cooperation during class, and even then, there were one or two who refused to work with her once she had been labeled a "brain". In all, it wasnít that unexpected since she was used to being an outsider. What was unexpected was that Quinn was having similar problems. Her outgoing nature meant she had more people to talk to, but no one so much as made the pretence of being her friend.
The bus pulled up to the rag-tag set of buildings and stopped. When the doors opened the other students began to disembark - several giving Daria a scornful look. Quinn was with the last group, looking lost and lonely.
Daria quickly made her way to her locker. Opening it to put books and homework away, a crude note written in red ink marker on notebook paper waited for her.
"Gringa! Vaya a casa!" The note read, decorated with crudely drawn knives and skulls.
Daria sighed, folded the note and stuffed it into her jacket pocket. This was getting irritating now, every day since she and Quinn started school she had some sort of note in her locker telling her to go home.
She had asked Quinn if she was getting similar notes, and Quinn had produced a couple. Quinn didnít know what they said, but the primitive icons were all she needed to know they were not friendly.
She gathered her books and headed down the hall to her homeroom.
Daria sat alone at one of the cafeteriaís small tables, picking at what he loosely called her food and reading a book about forensic science she had found among her motherís reference materials.
Daria looked up to see four girls. The speaker was Dariaís age, more than a head taller, and at least twice her mass. Daria couldnít help but notice a large mole on the girlís neck. Three smaller girls, probably freshmen, flanked her. They all wore black baby tee shirts with "bleeding heart" icons.
"Abusada, fresa. Why are you still here?" The girlís tone and stance were menacing.
Daria lifted one eyebrow in mild surprise.
"Probably because state law requires me to attend school until I reach age eighteen."
"Un caraja." The girl smirked, speaking over her shoulder to her comrades, who giggled nervously.
"Listen." The girl said, turning back to Daria. "You and your camote sister need to go back home, comprende?"
Without waiting for an answer, the girl leaned over the table, pushing her finger painfully into Dariaís shoulder. Daria couldnít help but whimper quietly at the pain.
"Yo no estes maderiando. Iíll kick your ass."
With that, she and her comrades left.
Daria rubbed her shoulder, watching the girls leave.
"Iíll bet she likes to write in red marker." She muttered to herself.
Daria entered the house that she still did not think of as home and sighed at the stack of boxes that still dominated the living room. No one yet had the time to get more than the basics unpacked.
Well, that wasnít entirely true. No one who wanted to stay had the time. The two who wanted to go back home simply werenít interested in unpacking.
Daria took a few steps toward the bedrooms when she heard the front door open. She turned to see Quinn coming in, her face melancholy.
"Hi Daria." Quinn said softly.
Daria wondered if she should try to talk to Quinn. She wasnít used to this sort of isolation, but she may still not want to talk with her Ďcousiní.
"Daria? What does Ďkavronaí mean?" Quinn asked, her forehead lined with worry.
Daria almost winced. She had been called that several times, and hunted down the word on the Internet. It was not complimentary. Daria found she had a hard time fathoming the idea of Quinn not being well liked at school.
"Um, Quinn, itís notÖ uhÖ" Daria clamored for words.
"I kind of figured it wasnít nice."
"Oh, well, Ďcabronaí is like calling someone a son-of-a-bitch. Sometimes worse, depending on context."
Quinn sighed and shifted her book bag.
"If it makes you feel any better, Quinn, Iíve been called worse."
"It doesnít." Quinn said, honestly. "I donít understand it here, Daria. I mean, in Albuquerque everything I learned in Lawndale and Highland works, but hereÖ even my Spanish classes donít work."
"Yeah, the local dialect is more of a pidgin, sort of a variation on Calo."
Quinn gave her sister an odd look.
"I know, I know. More than you wanted to know." Daria smirked at her sister.
Quinn tossed her backpack on one of the cardboard boxes and sat on the exposed corner of one of the couches.
"Where do you learn this stuff, Daria? I mean, like, arenít you at all worried about being a geek?"
"Geekiness aside, Quinn: Itís readily available at the library or on the Internet. It can be useful to know these things."
Quinn seemed to contemplate that. Daria started again for the bedrooms.
Daria stopped and turned around.
"Stephan did something today I didnít understand."
"What was it?" Daria asked, concerned.
"Well these four girls were harrasing me, and he showed up. He put his hand on my shoulder and said something to the girlsÖ umÖ Ďcorn suffersí, or something."
"Yeah, that was it."
"Itís slang for Ďleave this aloneí." Daria smirked. Quinn sure did have a way with the boys.
"Oh." Quinn said, perking up a little.
Daria shook her head as slightly as she smiled, then completed her trek to her bedroom.
Daria crumpled the standard note she had found in her locker and tossed it toward the trashcan at the end of the hall where it fell at the feet of the large girl who had confronted her in the cafeteria.
"Oh, great." Daria mumbled to herself.
Daria gathered her books as quickly as she could without looking rushed so she could avoid having to deal with the thug. She closed her locker and the girl was already there.
"Hey, fresa." The girl said with a sneer.
Two others gathered on either side of Daria, corralling her against her locker.
"I hear youíre familia is too good for our church."
Daria raised an eyebrow at her.
"No, weíre just notÖ"
One of the girls reached over and pulled at the collar of her jacket, looking down her back.
"What theÖ" Daria said, surprised.
"Where are your beads, fresa?" The girl asked.
"What the hell are you talking about?" Daria asked, shoving the girlís hand away.
The large girl used her fist to shove Daria against the lockers by her shoulder. Daria gasped at the pain.
"You watch your language, enfer destiné!"
With that, the girls walked off, leaving Daria slightly confused.
Daria rubbed at her bruised shoulder for a moment as she watched them leave.
"Enfer destiné?" Daria asked herself, looking up the words in her translation dictionary.
Daria frowned as she served the prepackaged dinners to her family. For what was supposed to be a stress-reducing move, it sure seemed to have caused every family member tremendous increases in their stress levels.
Helen had several depositions in front of her, and was reading furiously as she picked at her food. She was instantly labeled the star associate at the firm she joined and was given several difficult cases. Eric hadnít driven her this hard.
Quinn had actually taken to reading to kill time. She was able to find dates for most Saturday nights, but not all, and there was simply no dating the rest of the week. She was bored and worried that she was no longer the "attractive and popular" teen she struggled to be. It had done wonders for her grades, but was eroding her self-esteem.
Jake had it the worst. Helen came home at about seven every evening, with an hour commute. Jake tended to arrive at seven thirty, and his office was only a few miles away. Even now, he was pouring over contracts and offers.
"Daddy?" Quinn tried to get his attention.
"Not now, honey." Jake said absently.
"But I just wanted to askÖ"
"Not now, Ok?" Jake snapped.
Daria looked up from her meal at her father in surprise. Helen, too, gave her husband a curious look.
Daria reached over and pulled the contract out of his hand.
"Damn you, Daria!" Jake barked.
"No, Dad. Damn this. Damn this stupid move, this town, and your job. Dad, this was supposed to be a relaxing change for you. Yet, here you are working at the dinner table - something you never did in Lawndale. Worse, youíve just brushed off Quinn, and youíve damned me. You would have never considered that for a moment back in Lawndale.
"Admit it, this was a mistake. Weíd be better off moving back to Lawndale, even if we take a huge hit on equity. This is just too costly, financially, emotionally and physically."
"Oh, Daria. Arenít you over-dramatizing a little? I can understand why youíd think it was costly emotionally - we all have some adjusting to do - but physically? Really." Helenís tone was dismissive.
Daria stood and removed her green jacket, then pulled her tee shirt down to expose the ugly purple bruise that had taken shape on her shoulder.
Helen gasped, and Jakeís jaw dropped.
"I wish I were simply being dramatic, Mom. There is an element at school that doesnít want Quinn or I there. Thereís at least one who is willing to resort to violence to get her point across." Daria stated flatly as she put her jacket back on.
"Why didnít you mention something before?" Helen asked.
"She only started the brutality today. Up to this point she just left notes in my locker and called me names."
"Mom, I donít like it here. None of it makes any sense!" Quinn interjected.
"Besides, Iíve gotten some nasty notes, too." Quinn added quietly.
Jake gathered his papers and trotted out of the room, quickly returning with a box of family documents and his big calculator.
"Jake? What are you doing?" Helen asked.
"Iím going to figure out how to get us out of this mess."
Helen looked ready to argue for a moment, then looked resigned and finally relaxed.
Quinn wore a broad smile.
Daria had a letter to write.
"Uh! Huh?" Trent exclaimed as he was awoken with a start.
He blinked away sleep as he tried to remember what had woken him up. A loud banging on the door reminded him.
"Damn it, Janey - if the house isnít on fire I swear Iíll rip out your earrings!" Trent barked half jokingly.
Jane burst into the room wearing a comically tremendous grin. She ran over, jumped onto Trentís bed and put a letter in his face as she stood over him.
"Sheís coming back! Her parentís got a clue! Theyíre going to come back!"
Trent read the letter as Jane hopped off his bed and dug up a seat.
"Oh, man, Janey. Did you read the whole letter?"
"No, I didnít get past the first paragraph where she said her parents decided they should come back here."
"Janey, sheís been attacked several times at school - physically. Some gang wants them gone."
Jane leapt from her seat and grabbed the letter.
"Oh, man. Oh, man oh man." Jane mumbled as she read. "I canít believe sheís actually experiencing racism."
Trent shrugged and looked disappointed.
"Thatís humanity for you, Janey."
Daria walked through the halls toward her locker. School had become slightly more bearable since her parents had decided to move back to Lawndale. Still, the few weeks since had plenty of scares and unbearable moments. She hoped they would be able to get everything together soon.
She stopped in front of her locker and stared at it impassively for a moment. The paint around the door and top vent was blackened with soot, and the paint near the bottom of the door had bubbled slightly.
Daria sighed, and cautiously touched the locker. It was still warm, but no longer hot. She opened the door to see that most of her stuff had burned quite completely. Pulling a pen out of her pack, she sifted through the ash and debris to see if there was anything worth saving.
"Hijolé!" Someone exclaimed, startling her.
Daria turned to see a shocked looking Stephan looking at her locker.
"Oh. Hi Stephan. Sorry you missed the barbecue."
Stephan smirked at Dariaís sarcastic humor, then frowned again at the mess.
"I told mi vatos not to do this, man. Some pachucas donít want to listen."
Deciding there was nothing in her locker worth saving, she closed the door.
"Iím curious, Stephan. What did I do to get this sort of attention?"
Stephan shrugged and motioned toward her homeroom. They walked together for a moment while Stephan thought.
"At first it was just cuz youíre a gringa."
"What, just because Iíve got lighter colored skin?"
"Yeah, and you and your familia never show up in church." Stephan said.
Daria raised a surprised eyebrow.
"And no crucifix." Stephan held up his to make his point.
"Ok. And I assume by Ďbeadsí people would be referring to a rosary?"
Stephan nodded affirmative.
"Ok, so not only am I a Ďgringaí, Iím a Ďgringaí who has a different religious - or non-religious - point of view. So Iím seeing racism and religious bigotry?"
Stephan shrugged noncommittally.
"Josephina just doesnít like brains."
Daria smirked at the thought.
"So, itís really just one person with influence and sheís playing off of everyoneís xenophobia."
Stephan looked at her like she had just grown antennas.
"Um, fear of outsiders."
"Oh. Yeah. I guess."
"And Josephinaís the big one with the mole on her neck?"
"Sí, y ella mi ruca. Que linda! But, not the smartest girl." Stephan stopped and looked down the hall where Josephina was glaring at him.
"I gotta go. Ay te huacho."
"Um, pela chicharro." Daria said.
Stephan smiled and gave her a thumbs-up, then headed down the hall. Daria watched him go for a moment, then turned to go to her homeroom.
Daria sat on a log that had been carved into a simple bench under an old cottonwood tree. She had discovered it weeks ago and had taken to eating her lunch on it, seeing as most of the students preferred to be on the other side of the school or in the cafeteria. It was forty-five minutes of peace and quiet.
Quinn wandered over and sat beside her sister as had become her habit.
"Hey." Quinn greeted.
"Hey Quinn." Daria said, looking up from her book.
Daria thought about Quinn and her newfound familial attachment. It was nice to be getting to know Quinn and spend time with her without fighting. It still irritated her some that the only reason it was happening is Quinn didnít have much choice.
Quinn pulled a bottle of lotion from her backpack and began rubbing liberal amounts into her hands and arms. She offered a dollop to Daria, who accepted enough to soothe the skin on her hands.
"This dry air is just murder on my skin." Quinn complained quietly.
"It is rather arid out here. Must be why they call it a desert."
"Um, sure. Desert." Quinn was incredulous.
"You donít have to have sand dunes to have a desert, Quinn."
"Whatever." Quinn said.
They sat quietly for a while, Quinn rooting through her backpack for her compact.
"I canít wait to get home." Quinn said as she touched up her rouge.
"I have to agree. If I thought I didnít fit in at LawndaleÖ" Daria let the sentence trail off.
"Of course, now you know how it feels, perhaps youíll be a little nicer to us outsiders?" Daria smirked at her sister.
Quinn opened her mouth to answer, but several sets of hands grabbed her, one covering her mouth.
"Quinn!" Daria called, standing.
Behind the log bench was Josephina and her cohorts. Three smaller girls were holding Quinn against the bench as the large girl and four others walked around it to face Daria.
"I warned you, Sangrona! Now youíre still here and youíre bothering my man." She said, her voice threatening as she advanced menacingly on Daria.
Daria started moving to the side, trying to stay out of reach. She wanted to run, but she was not willing to leave Quinn alone.
"Look, weíre kind of stuck here, Josephina. It wasnít even our choice to come here in the first place."
"Yeah? So what?"
"So, just give us a break and weíll be on our way as soon as we can, Ok?" Daria noticed she was being flanked now, all routs of escape covered.
"Te voy a joder." Josephina said in a low grumble.
"Oh shiÖ" Daria finished the translation in her head just as she was tackled from behind.
She hit the ground hard, getting the breath knocked out of her. She struggled to all fours, amazed her glasses were still on her face. Someone grabbed a handful of her hair and yanked her head up. A blinding flash of pain let her know her face had been kicked. Her vision went blurry without the aid of her glasses. She tasted blood in her mouth.
Daria centered her attention on a blurry leg and lashed out with her boot, and was rewarded with an ugly crunching sound and a scream. Another kick caught her in the stomach, knocking her to the ground again. She curled up, trying to protect herself as the four girls began hitting and kicking her in earnest.
A searing, white-hot shaft of pain formed in her stomach, and she heard Quinn scream.
The world began to dim.
Helen collapsed into her office chair and swiveled around to look out the window at downtown Albuquerque. She was tired, but happy with how life was going right now, and very proud to be married to Jacob Morgendorffer.
She had just finished her last case, and not only managed to win but to crush the defense on what was billed as a tremendously difficult case. She achieved a much larger settlement than her clients had expected. It was quite a feather in her cap, one that made Eric call her and offer her old job back, at higher pay and an offer for partnership in a year.
Jake had used his contacts in the tourism business to find someone to buy their house in Aldea Pequeña. A real sucker, by the looks of it. Jake had already received a check for several thousand dollars more than they had paid for the hacienda. To top off his achievement, he had already found a good house in Lawndale - one that Daria would like especially, since it was directly adjacent the Laneís, their back yards meeting.
A little luck and a lot of hard work managed to turn this big mistake into an advantage.
Helen swiveled her chair around when she heard her office door open.
"Julieta, call me Helen, please."
"Um, Helen thereís a phone call for you, from Presbyterian. They said itís urgent."
"Presbyterian? The hospital?" Helen looked confused.
"On line three."
Helen picked up the phone as Julieta returned to her desk.
"Hello? Yes, Iím Helen Morgendorffer. What?"
Helenís face went white.
Daria tried to open her eyes, but her left eye refused and her right eye only managed a slit. Her whole body ached and her head throbbed. There was a sharp pain in her chest every time she inhaled.
She looked around as best she could. There was some sort of loud wailing sound that she couldnít quite place. The room jostled her every so often and seemed to sway, as if they were in motion.
A stranger looked down at her. He was very handsome, reminding her of Trent with a mustache.
"Stay still, donít talk."
Daria looked past him and saw Quinn sitting by her, holding her hand. Daria thought she saw a terrible set of scratches on her sisterís cheek and that her clothes were scuffed and dirty. Her vision was too blurry to be sure.
"Itís going to be Ok, Daria." Quinn said, her voice trembling.
Trent sleepily signed for the "next day" envelope and closed the door behind him. Tearing open the cardboard he discovered a regular mail envelope with a law firm return address. It was addressed to Jane.
"Hey, Janey?" He called.
"Yeah?" Jane replied from the kitchen.
"Lawyers want you." Trent smirked.
Jane came into the living room, a curious look on her face.
Trent handed her the letter.
"Huh. You know what itís about?" Jane asked.
"No idea. Hey! Maybe itís Dariaís momís stationary."
Jane ripped open the envelope. She read a few lines, then scowled in concern.
"It is from Helen."
She read some more, her eyebrows raising in surprise.
"Good news so far, theyíre moving into the Williamsí place."
"Thatís gonna be cool."
"Oh, jeez! Trent, sheís in the hospital!"
"Someone beat the hell out of her." Janeís voice began to tremble. "Sheís hurt pretty bad, cracked ribs, dislocated kneeÖ Oh my god! A stab wound to the stomach."
Jane looked at Trent, dropping her hands to her sides.
"We have to go see her. Come on, Iíve got enough money to pay for gas." She pleaded.
"Come on! Sheís hurt, she needs a friend."
"My car would never make it, Janey."
"Weíll use Momís."
"No way, Mom would kill us."
"Oh, come on! She didnít so much as bat an eye when Summer took it last spring when Adrian and Courtney headed to Pennsylvania!"
Trent sighed. That was true. He did want to go to Daria; not that he could do anything for her.
"Ok, what the hell. How much money do you have?"
"Ok, Iíve got some money stashed for emergencies, letís get packed."
Jane came out of the hospitalís lobby bathroom washed up and ready to hunt for Daria.
"Come on, Trent." She said, shaking her brother awake.
Trent stretched and got up from his seat. They both headed up the hallway toward the elevators. Jane pressed the button and they stood there quietly waiting.
When the doors opened, Jane smiled.
"Hi Mrs. Morgendorffer!" She called.
Helen looked startled, and Jake looked confused.
"Jane! You came all the way out here on your own?" Helen asked as she led Jake out of the elevator.
"Well, no." She pointed her thumb over her shoulder at Trent.
"Howís Daria?" Trent asked.
"Well, the doctors say nothing vital was damaged, thank God, so sheíll fully recover in time. I have to warn you, though all the swelling and bruising makes her look much worse than she is, and sheís on so much painkiller that sheís very groggy and sometimes incoherent." Helen pressed the button to the elevator.
The doors opened instantly and the four boarded.
"I remember you now." Jake said, looking at Trent.
"Werenít you dating Daria or something?"
Trent blushed at the idea, Jane smirked at Trent and Helen glared at Jake.
"Jake. He was there so he and Daria could get a birthday present for Jane. Daria explained it to us, remember?"
Jake looked befuddled, then nodded.
The elevator opened and Helen led the group out. They passed a waiting room and Jane saw Quinn asleep on one of the couches. She looked terrible - for Quinn, anyway - and had a cotton dressing taped to her right cheek.
Jane focused her attention on Jake and Helen, finally noticing how disheveled they looked. Jane figured they must have been living in that waiting room.
Jake paused in front of a doorway as Helen entered. He motioned for Jane and Trent to go on in, but did not follow.
Jane and Trent were shocked by what they saw. Daria lay in a standard hospital bed, her arms and shoulders were covered in purple and black bruises and her face was still swollen in many places. There were dressings all over, and plenty of naked abrasions. She had a nasal cannula providing extra oxygen, and several IVs dripped into her arms and left hand.
Jane walked up to the sleeping and battered form of her best friend, her eyes glistening with tears. She wanted to touch her to give her comfort, but was afraid to. Ultimately, Jane gingerly took Dariaís right hand.
Dariaís eyes opened and she looked over to see who had a hold of her.
"Jane?" A weak voice asked.
"Hey Daria." Jane replied in a trembling voice.
Trent stepped up to the bed as well, and Daria shifted her focus to him.
"Hey Daria." Trent greeted, his voice a soft purr.
"Iím so glad to see you two." Daria said, her voice sounding uncharacteristically expressive.
Jane smiled and chuckled at the emotion.
"Weíre here to make sure youíre going to be Ok." Trent said.
"Oh good. Thanks." Daria mumbled.
Jane felt Daria squeeze her hand.
"Iím sleepy." Daria said. "Night, Jane. Night handsome."
As Daria closed her eyes again, Jane looked up and smirked at her brother who was blushing mightily.
Helen was surprised, but kept her composure and her silence.
They watched Daria sleep for a short while. Trent stroked her hair, but stopped when he saw Jane was trying to stifle a grin.
"The painkillers make her sleep a lot. Jake and I were going to get something to eat in the cafeteria, would you two please join us?" Helen said.
Jake had woken Quinn, who sleepily followed along.
Jane fidgeted nervously during the elevator ride while Trent just studied his shoes. Helen looked thoughtful, and Jake looked lost. Quinn was still trying to wake up.
They joined the queue in the cafeteria, Jake taking last place so he could pay for all the meals. They silently selected the elements of their lunch and sat at a table to eat.
"Ok, so what exactly happened?" Jane asked, breaking the silence.
Helen drew a breath to answer, but Quinn started first, her voice unsteady and tired.
"There was this one total bitch of a girl at school who hated us. Daria told me that it was because we were green-gals or something."
"Gringas?" Jane asked.
"Yeah, that was it. She and some of her gang saw Daria talking to her boyfriend and I guess she got jealous. They grabbed me and held me out of the way while five of them beat Daria."
Quinn took a shuddering breath.
"She didnít stand a chance, Jane. Daria did break one girlís knee, but that just made the others angrier. I couldnít get free in time to help her, until the one pulled out a knife andÖ andÖ"
Quinn shuddered at the thought.
Jake reached over and rubbed his daughterís back, trying to help calm her down.
"Apparently Quinn managed to break free and tackle Dariaís attacker before she could strike a second time." Helen said, her eyes tearing. "My poor babies." She mumbled.
Jane was impressed - the idea that Quinn took such a risk for Daria belied her years of denying that Daria was even her sister.
Jane reached over and put her hand on Quinnís
"Thanks, Quinn, for saving my best friend."
Quinn shrugged her acknowledgment, but said nothing.
"How long until she can move?" Trent asked.
"Maybe as soon as a week." Jake answered. "Depends on how well the stab wound heals."
Jane drummed her fingers on the table, frowning with concentration.
"Mrs. Morgendorffer? Would you like me to stay and help out? I mean, since Dariaís not going to be much help packing and all."
Trent looked surprised. Helen looked knowingly at Jane.
"What a lovely offer, Jane. But Iím sureÖ"
"What about school, Jane?" Helen asked.
"I can catch up later. Trent can get my homework assignments and stuff. Right, Trent?"
"Sure Janey." Trentís answer was resolute.
"And your parents?"
"Already asked. Itís Ok." Jane lied.
Trent tried not to look surprised.
"Ok, Jane. We can put you up in Dariaís room for now."
Jane smiled, but looked more relived than joyous.
Daria opened her eyes, her stomach complaining about being empty. Something it hadnít done in a long while. As she came fully awake, she realized her head was clear. She looked at her arms and saw the IVs were gone, and the bruises were starting to clear.
"Good morning, sleepyhead." Jane called from the doorway, carrying a tray of food.
"Jane! You werenít a dream. What are you doing here?"
"Nice to see you, too, amiga. Iíve been helping your family pack up your stuff for the move back to Lawndale." Jane explained as she sat the tray down in front of Daria.
"Here, itís all soft stuff like Jell-O and broth. Plus itís hospital food. But, the doc says youíd just barf up pizza. You havenít digested anything in over a week."
Daria looked startled.
"Over a week?"
"Yeah. They really kicked the crap out of you." Jane made the bed lift Daria into a sitting position.
"Youíve been on some killer drugs, girl. They took you off of them this morning. Doc says youíll be out of here day after tomorrow, assuming you cooperate and donít reopen you wound."
It was Janeís turn to look startled.
"Um, Daria? How much of the fight do you remember?"
"Well, I remember Quinn being dragged off, and being tackled." Daria concentrated for a bit.
"I think I remember kicking someone in the knee." Daria paled.
"God, Jane, this is scary. Itís all so fuzzy and dreamlike."
"Donít worry about it, Daria." Jane said, placing her hand on her friendís shoulder.
"Easy for you to say. What wound?" Daria looked down at herself, trying to figure out what Jane meant.
"You were stabbed in the belly." Jane pointed.
"Yeah. Youíd have at least a pair, but apparently Quinn managed to join the fight at that point and bowled over your attacker."
"Quinn? Fought for me?"
"Yeah. Apparently thereís more to the little ditz than she lets on."
Jane uncovered the bowl of broth and put the spoon in Dariaís hand.
Daria took a tentative taste of the liquid, and found her hunger made it palatable.
"So, looking forward to living next door to Trent?"
Daria gave Jane a deadly look, which changed to one of confusion.
"What are you on about?"
"Oh-ho! I get to break the cool news to you. You father managed a great real estate deal. Soon after they let you out of this joint youíll be moving into the house directly behind ours. Your Dad and Quinn went on ahead with the movers to get it all set up." Jane donned a calculating look.
"Imagine the potential for midnight rendezvous." Jane pumped her eyebrows at Dara.
"Imagine all the sniper opportunities Iíll have." Daria snarled.
"You are feeling better." Jane chuckled.
"Would this be a good time for me to mention that the painkillers made you awfully damn talkative?"
Jane ducked flying Jell-O.
Jane hooked one of Dariaís arms around her neck and guided her out of the SUV. Daria couldnít help but whimper at the pain of moving, her stomach and knee were both still very tender.
Helen went around the vehicle as fast as she could manage to help Jane half carry Daria into the house.
They sat Daria down on the sofa in front of the television. Daria closed her eyes and gritted her teeth, waiting for her knee to stop hurting. After a moment, she adjusted the brace that held it in place.
Daria looked around at the large living room. Their furniture was all in place, and a stack of folded boxes occupied a space by the door, ready to be taken to the recycling center. The walls were painted a soothing shade of tan, with cinnamon trim. The curtains perfectly matched, as did the new covers on the sofas.
It was clearly Quinnís handiwork.
Jane reappeared in the front door carrying several suitcases. Pausing only long enough to acknowledge Daria, she headed up the stairs to deliver her burden.
Quinn came in from the kitchen carrying a glass of lemonade, and handed it to Daria along with a pill.
"Here you go." Quinn said as she handed the items to Daria.
Daria took the pill, glad to have some of the pain deadened for a while.
Quinn sat down beside her sister and turned on the television set.
"Anything but ĎFashion Visioní, I beg you." Daria deadpanned.
Quinn smirked and immediately located her favorite show, tossing the remote onto the loveseat.
"Damn!" Daria complained.
"Live with it, Daria, Iím not watching your sicko show."
Daria closed her eyes for a moment, not willing to watch the worldís shallowest television program. Sipping her lemonade, she relaxed, gathering her strength for the trek to her room.
"Hey!" Quinn yelped.
Daria opened her eyes to see the Sick Sad World logo on the screen, and a smirking Jane holding the remote out of Quinnís reach.
Daria chuckled quietly at Quinnís predicament. Finally Jane relented and handed the remote to Quinn.
"Want to go see your new room?" Jane asked Daria.
Jane handed Daria the cane she had brought down.
"Time to start using this."
Daria sighed as she took the cane. She didnít like the idea of having to use it to get around, but it beat having to use peopleís shoulders. She used it to help herself out of the couch. Jane offered a hand, but Daria refused it, needing to know if she could manage on her own. Successfully managing to stand, she limped toward the stairs and wondered what sort of teasing she was going to get about her cane once she returned to school in a few days.
"Quinn didnít decorate my room, did she?" Daria asked quietly as she negotiated the stairs.
"I donít think so."
"If thereís any pink, Iím just going to have to go postal."
Daria was relived to see the room was unencumbered by Quinnís decorating skills. It was about the same size as her old padded cell, and the walls were a plain matte white. The windows had some plain looking dark blue curtains and the closet door was painted the same color as the walls. Her posters sat in a mailing tube, waiting to be put up.
Daria sat herself on her bed, and Jane took a seat at the desk.
"Well, this is uninspired." Daria said.
"Think of it as a canvas, ready for your art. I know I do." Jane said, seeing a thousand things to do to the plain white walls.
"So, what do you say? Care to have your best friend play interior decorator?"
"No." Daria said flatly. "All I can imagine is ending up with a variation on your Jackson Pollock decorations. I have my limits."
Jane chuckled and the two got down to the serious business of idle chitchat.
Daria was making her way across the Laneís backyard to give Jane a visit. After some mild arm twisting and no small amount of whining Jane had convinced Daria to let her help decorate her new room. Jane would have some sketches done this afternoon and Daria wanted to see them.
The back door opened as she reached it. Trent stood aside and motioned for Daria to come into the kitchen.
"Um. Hey Trent."
"Janeyís out to get some art supplies or something. Sheíll be back in about an hour."
"Oh." Daria scowled slightly. She wasnít looking forward to limping back home, but turned toward the door anyway.
"Want to stay and wait? Maybe watch some TV while you wait?" Trent asked, trying to find some way to get her to stay.
"Um, sure. Thanks." Daria was relived. She would have accepted sitting in a closet rather than suffer the walk. Her knee was taking itís own sweet time healing.
Trent pulled out a kitchen chair and Daria gladly sat down.
"Iíll be right back."
Trent disappeared into the basement and returned lugging his guitar and a small practice amplifier. He quickly set it up and began to play. Daria enjoyed the little mini-concert, noticing there was something different about the sound. His playing seemed better, but that wasnít all. She couldnít place it.
Trent finished up with a small flourish, then looked expectantly at Daria.
"What do you think?"
"Your playing has improved, Trent. And there was something different about your sound. What are you doing different?"
Trent pointed to the tuning machines, smiling.
Daria felt a real smile form on her face.
"Congratulations, Trent. A major goal met, and met well."
Trentís heart skipped a beat. A real, tangible, overt and unhidden smile from Daria was much more of an accomplishment than learning to play the open-D.
Trent began to strum some soft tune. He looked thoughtful and somewhat pleased with himself.
"Daria? Iíve been meaning to ask you about something you said when you were in the hospital."
Daria froze. Her eyes locked on Trentís face and her breath became ragged. Jane had teased her about being talkative while she was on intravenous painkillers. The last thing she wanted was to be cornered by something she said while in a drug-induced stupor.
"I just really need to know if itís true. You know, now that youíre not floating in drugs and all."
Daria gripped her cane for balance. She felt like she was going to faint. She wanted to leave, but she couldnít make her limbs move.
"You were talking to Jane at the time. Iím not even sure if you knew I was there."
Some part of Daria noted this was how it must feel to be a rabbit who canít take their eyes off the headlights as the car barrels down on them.
"ItÖ itÖ itís true."
Daria was shocked to hear her voice betraying her like this.
Trent looked up at her, looking serious.
"Iím really glad to hear you say that. I was hoping it was true, because Iíve felt that way for a long time now. I was just too scared and uncertain to say anything."
"Really?" Daria said, bemused.
"Yeah. Itís time for me to do something about it."
Daria swallowed hard.
"What are you going to do?" Daria asked, combining anxiety and anticipation.
"Iím going to enroll in the local community college."
"Yeah, time to get that degree. Music will always be my life, but I have to be prepared for all the other details, like you said. Iím thinking a business degree, or a management degree. That way if my music career takes off Iíll have the skills to survive it. And if not, well, I have something I can fall back on that will let me stay in the music business."
Trent smiled at Daria.
"I couldnít do this without youíre having said I was plenty smart enough to manage it. Iíd kind of thought that I was stuck either playing guitar or flipping burgers."
Daria nearly fell out of her chair in relief. Trent quickly reached out and caught her arm to help her back into her seat.
"Woah! You Ok?" Trent asked, still holding onto her arm.
"Um, fine. Sorry, dizzy spell." Daria covered, blushing.
Trent carefully leaned his guitar against the amp, stood and in one swift and fluid motion lifted Daria out of her chair.
"Gah!" Daria yelped, hooking one arm around his neck to hang on.
"I donít want you falling and hurting yourself." Trent said as he carried her to the living room sofa.
Trent gently tucked her into the corner of the sofa where she could sit without fear of another "dizzy spell".
Trent started to stand, and their faces came even for a moment. Their eyes locked and there was a brief uncomfortable moment.
Neither knew who started it, but both knew the kiss they were sharing was wonderful.
Daria had been worried about peopleís reactions to her bruises, cane and leg brace, but the comfortable and familiar surroundings of Lawndale High School put her at ease as soon as she laid eyes on it.
She had never expected to react to the school that way. It was an odd feeling to say the least.
She was still largely ignored by the student body, which also helped.
Her spirits were strangely lifted when Mr. DeMartino gave her an enthusiastic greeting when he spotted her in the hallway.
It bothered her when Mr. OíNeil wept when he saw her. He hadnít been told about the beating, and was unprepared for the sight of his favorite student in such a state. The sneers and snickers from the rest of the class didnít help any.
Quinn had managed to reinsert herself among the most popular during the previous week. Sandi had reinstated her as vice-president of the Fashion Club, and Joey, Jeffy and Jamie had dropped their girlfriends the moment they saw Quinn back on campus.
Daria was impressed when Quinn waved at her between classes. It bode well for their closer sisterly relationship.
Daria struggled with her lunch tray. Having to use the cane meant only one hand available for carrying and Daria hadnít planned her voyage to her usual table very well. She was thankful when Jane showed up and took the tray from her.
They sat and began to eat.
Daria looked up to see Jodie and Mack taking seats across from her and beside Jane.
"Hey Jodie, Mack."
"Welcome back." Mack said.
"What happened?" Jodie looked worried.
"Letís just say some droogs were all sharpened up for a little of the old ultra-violent."
"Are you Ok?" Jodie asked.
"I will be."
"What did they doÖ umÖ I mean if itís Ok to ask." Jodie stammered.
Jane pulled a piece of paper out of her pocket and handed it to Jodie. Jodie took it, and lifted a curious eyebrow.
"Get asked this a lot, huh?"
"Oh yeah." Jane said.
Jodie and Mack read the list together, wincing involuntarily several times.
"Oh my God. You got stabbed?" Jodie was mortified.
"Why would anyone do that? To you especially?"
"I wasnít born with the correct skin color or religious affiliation." Daria said flatly.
Jodie and Mack looked the most shocked they been since they sat down.
"Racism?" Mack was floored.
"Been there, done that." Jodie said.
Daria looked at her blankly.
"What?" Jodie asked nervously.
"Look at my face, Landon, then say that again."
"Oh, yeah. Well, I guess Iíve never been there. Sorry."
"Donít be sorry, be damn happy."
Daria was headed to her room when she heard Quinn grumbling to herself, so she went to look in on her sister.
"Hey sis." Daria said, leaning into Quinnís room.
"Hey." Quinn said, fighting with the dressing on her cheek.
Daria went over to her, set her cane against the wall and started to help remove the dressing. Once it was off, she used some hydrogen peroxide to dissolve the leftover adhesive. Quinn sat quietly and watched through the mirror.
"Thanks." Quinn said as Daria tossed the cotton ball into the trash.
Daria picked up a jar of Carmex and, putting a good bit on the tip of her finger, reached for Quinn.
"Hey! What are you doing?"
"I assume you donít want these to scar."
"Of course I donít want them to scar!"
"Then a little camphor, vitamin E oil and beeís wax will help your scabs stay soft so the wounds can heal well."
"Oh." Quinn said, offering her cheek.
Daria started to dab the mix onto the scabs.
"How do you know this stuff?"
"Like I said before, Quinn, knowing things tends to be useful. Imagine Sandiís chagrin when these scabs go away and donít leave evidence that they were ever there."
Quinn donned a plotting smirk.
"Thatís too, too bad." Quinn said, mocking Sandiís favorite tone.
"See? You never know when some obscure fact is going to come in handy."
Daria put the cap on the little jar and set it back on the "Temple of Groom".
"There you go." Daria said, picking up her cane.
Daria paused for a moment, watching Quinn brush her hair.
"Yes, Iím still here." Quinn smirked.
"IÖ uhÖ Iíve never thanked you for saving me." Daria said in a small voice.
Quinn stopped what she was doing and turned to look at Daria.
"Thanks for saving my life, little sister."
Quinn stood and hugged a startled Daria.
Daria hobbled into the courtroom, flanked by Helen and Quinn. They took seats behind the prosecution, ready to hear the jury.
Daria found herself ambivalent. Josephina was guilty and deserved to be punished. But still, she was just acting out of ignorance and animal instinct. Since Josephina had chosen to do this after her eighteenth birthday, she may well have thrown away her own life. Daria wondered if throwing her in prison for the next thirty years would really change anything.
The bailiff announced the court was to resume, and Daria was about to struggle to her feet with the rest of the occupants of the room, but Helen put a hand on her shoulder and shook her head. Daria chose not to resist her motherís suggestion.
The other girls involved had all pleaded guilty to aggravated assault and battery. Being children under the law, they would see at most two years in a correctional school for juveniles, and then freedom with a clean slate.
Josephina, however, was an adult facing aggravated assault, battery, and attempted murder. She had chosen - unwisely, Daria thought - not to plea bargain.
The jury foreman stood when asked and announced the unsurprising verdict of guilty on all counts. Josephina, true to her nature, threw a fit and had to be restrained by her council and one bailiff.
She had to spend her sentencing hearing in handcuffs.
The judge heard pleas from Josephinaís family, asking for leniency for their poor, misguided child. Helen asked the judge to make her an example in an impassioned plea. Helenís experience in speaking in court and her overall professional eloquence served her well.
Daria chose not to say anything. She was still uncertain what would be appropriate to ask for and knew the decision was better left up to those who did this every day.
Daria found her self saddened somewhat when the judge sent the girl to prison for the next twenty-five years - ten if she behaved herself.
Daria worked her way down the courthouse stairs toward Helenís SUV amid some glares from Josephinaís family.
What environment was it that spawned such people? Not only was she attacked and damn near killed simply for being different, now there were those angry with her for the consequences. They acted as if she had forced Josephinaís hand.
Did that all come from xenophobia?
"Ready to go home?" Helen asked as she started the SUV.
"I was never ready to leave it in the first place."
Helen gave her an odd look, and Daria put her hand on her motherís shoulder for a moment.
Understanding now, Helen pulled out of the parking spot and began the long trip back to Lawndale.
Daria sat at the kitchen table, totally immersed in her studies. Behind her, the sliding glass doors were open and the fresh spring air wafted in on gentle breezes. Her cane rested against a neighboring chair.
Daria jotted down another note, and rubbed away an itch on her nose.
A shadowy figure appeared in the doorway, completely unnoticed. It caught sight of Daria and grinned when it saw she was preoccupied. The tall figure snuck up behind her and put its hands around her eyes.
Daria exploded. She shoved herself backward, screaming in total panic. Jake stumbled and fell over, not understanding want was happening.
Daria tried to run, but her knee could not support her without the aid of the cane and it buckled under her.
Dariaís panic gave way to the influx of pain.
Helen ran into the kitchen to see her husband and daughter on the floor on either side of the kitchen table. Jake looked confused and frightened, and Daria was gripping her knee and moaning and whimpering in pain as she tightened the brace, trying to make the pain stop.
"Jake! What happened?" Helen demanded as she rushed to her daughterís aid.
"IÖ I donít know! I wanted to play ĎGuess Whoí with Daria and sheÖ"
"What? Jake, you idiot!" Helen scolded as she helped Daria adjust the brace.
"I didnít know, Helen!"
"You would if you paid any attention at all, Jake!"
"Stop arguing!" Daria sobbed. "Get me some of my Vicadin."
Jake picked himself up and rushed to fetch the powerful painkiller.
Helen held on to Daria, wishing she could make the pain go away.
"He didnít know, Mom."
"I know, sweetie. What happened?"
"I donít know. Dad covered my eyes and I panicked. I donít know what I was thinking. I tried to stand up without my caneÖ"
Quinn rushed in, carrying the prescription bottle. She handed it to Helen and quickly filled a glass with water.
Daria swallowed a pill, then drained the glass.
"Whereís your father?" Helen asked Quinn.
"Heís getting pillows."
Helen cocked an eyebrow.
Jake came in, carrying pillows from the sofas.
"What are those for?" Helen asked.
"To prop up Daria."
"You are not moving me!" Daria barked.
Jake shifted on his feet his feet and looked lost.
"Jake, put those back. Here, let me go with you. Quinn?"
Quinn nodded and crouched by her sister.
Helen and Jake retreated to the living room.
"Jake, calm down." Helen said once the pillows were back on the couches.
Jake sat down and buried his face in his hands.
"I am such a screw up."
"Now, Jake. We all make mistakes." Helen said, sitting by her husband and putting an arm around his shoulders.
"I should have known better. I knew that sheís still so jumpy."
"Jake, stop it. You were just playing and you made a mistake. Daria already forgives you."
"No, Helen. I brought all of this about. I was being so selfish, wanting to move the girls to Aldea Pequeña. They both didnít want to go. You resisted until I started that crap about my heart attack."
Jake began to weep. Helen gathered him to her in a comforting hug.
"We almost lost our daughter because I was going off half cocked. Itís all my fault."
Jake began to sob uncontrollably. Helen wanted to say something, anything to help, but she couldnít think of the words.
Daria had her back against the wall and Quinn sat facing her, her feet against the same wall. Quinn supported Dariaís leg against hers, pulling slightly on her foot to take pressure off the knee. The support and warmth seemed to help.
"Did I tell you about this cute new guy whoís taking me out to Chez Pierre? Heís got this cool car, one of those sporty ones, and itís a perfect mach for my new red halter-top. And his dad lets him use his gold card, plus heís really good with choosing clothes." Quinn said, trying to make idle conversation.
"First of all, Quinn, I thought you hadÖ" Daria paused, wincing.
"Öhad dated every guy in school. How can he be Ďnewí?"
"Jeez, Daria. Thatís what school transfers are for."
"Ok, then second: You described everything except the guy himself. Have you reverted to shallow so quickly?"
Quinn looked a little hurt.
"I donít really know him yet, Daria. He hasnít taken me out yet."
"So why are you dating him?"
"Oh, what do you care? What do you know about dating?"
Daria was about to hit her sister with a scathing reply when she realized her pain was driving her. Dara took a breath to calm herself.
"Ok, you got me there." Daria said.
Quinn looked genuinely surprised.
Daria smiled a little.
"Yes, you do. Actually, Iíve been meaning to ask you about dating. Iíve sort of met this guyÖ"
"Ohh! Who? Is it that guy in your math class? The one with the really cute earring? Iíll bet he can afford a good restaurant. I havenít seen which car he drives yet, though. But he has expensive shoes."
Daria stared impassively at her sister.
Daria waited for her sister to come to her own conclusion.
"Ok, so heís not exactly your type. So, who then?" Quinn looked thoughtful.
"Oh! I know. Itís your little art friendís brother." Quinn smiled wryly.
Daria raised her eyebrows in surprise.
"Oh come on, Daria. Heís almost all you talked about in the hospital. Trent this, Trent thatÖ"
Daria felt her face flush.
"I didnít think he was your type, either. Not at first anyway."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, I just thought youíd find yourself another geeÖ umÖ braiÖ" Quinn looked flustered.
"You thought Iíd find another brain. Like Ted."
"Well, Iíll have you know that Trent is really quite smart. Heís in a band, so he tends to be up all night, sleeping all day, so he can seem a littleÖ lethargic."
"Heís in a band?"
Quinn looked dreamy for a moment then shifted her focus back to Daria.
"So what did you want to ask me?"
"WellÖ umÖ what do you do on a date?"
Quinn drew a breath to answer, but reconsidered. She thought for a few seconds, looking up at the window.
"Daria, what Iím about to say doesnít get told to anyone. Anyone."
Surprised and very curious, Daria nodded her complete agreement.
"Dating is usually so boring. You eat something, maybe watch a movie, and drive around, all the time you have to fend off his roaming hands and tolerate his innuendo. If this Trent guy is worth it, then all your dates with him should be about getting to know one another. It doesnít matter what you do, as long as you both want to do it together."
Daria stared at her sister for a few moments, stunned.
"Quinn, I take back everything Iíve ever said about you being shallow."
"Oh, please donít. If anyone heard about it, Iíd be ruined." Quinn pleaded, meaning every word.
"Donít worry. I doubt anyone would believe me anyway." Daria said with a smirk.
Dariaís face softened.
"Thanks, Quinn. That really helps."
"Wow. Last time you asked me for advice I really screwed up. I got too excited, I guess. I mean, I like knowing something you donít know. So when you askÖ"
"Donít sell yourself short, Quinn. We both came from the same parents. Youíre plenty smart."
Quinn looked down, trying to remember that from Daria, that was complimentary.
"Why do you hide yourself, Daria? I mean, youíre really pretty and all - I mean, maybe not as pretty as I am - but why not show it off?"
"Why do you hide your mind? I know that with minimal studying you could have a comfortable B or C average instead of always squeaking by on Ds and the occasional C. It probably wouldnít even interfere with your dating."
"But, itís just not me."
"There you go. Same answer here."
Quinn frowned, thinking about it. They both sat silently for a while.
"Daria? Iím sorry I kept calling you my cousin."
"Forgiven, Quinn. My kneeís feeling better. Help me up?"
Quinn stood and offered her hand and a smile.
Daria walked with Jane, her boot-and-cane cadence marking an odd sounding beat. In the distance, Sandiís car made the last turn before home. Quinn waved at Daria from the passenger seat.
"Hey, want to come over later? I want to show you my latest painting, I think youíd really appreciate it."
"Sure." Daria answered, sounding distant.
Jane looked over at her friend.
"Whatís up, amiga?"
"Iím just amazed at how things turn out. A few months ago I thought everything was falling apart, and that Iíd only manage to hang on to parts of my life if I was lucky. To make it worse, it all happened just after I came to realize I had something to lose."
"Oh, yeah. I remember that."
"Well, after I hit bottom, I guess I bounced. Now, things are better than they were. Iím back where I can hang out with my best friend, my sisterís treating me like a sister and not a cousin, and Trent finally noticed me and took an interest."
"And all you had to do to get all that was damn near die."
"Sorry." Jane apologized.
"Oh, it was the truth, so donít apologize. What worries me now is, when is life going to take all this away again?"
"Oh, Daria. For a brain, you can be such a goofus."
"Did you just use the word Ďgoofusí?"
"Never mind that now. Let me tell you something about lifeís little twists and turns."
Daria tugged on Janeís sleeve and pointed to her house, wordlessly inviting Jane into her home. Jane delayed her story until they reached Dariaís room. Daria sat herself on her bed, propping up her knee. Jane took at seat at the desk, propping her boots up on it.
"Ok, what about lifeís meandering?"
"Letís see if I remember thisÖ umÖ Ok, so this guy has a wild horse just roam into his corral."
"It gets better, now hush. Anyway, his neighbors all praise his good fortune, but he just brushes it off, saying Ďweíll seeí. The next day, his son mounts the horse to train it and the horse throws him, breaking the kidís leg. His neighbors all console him for his poor fortune, and he blows all of it off, saying Ďweíll seeí. The next day the army comes through, conscripting people for the war. The manís son canít go because of his broken legÖ"
"Öand the neighbors all praise that good luck, but the man blows them off again. I think I see your point. The worst luck can have advantages and the best luck can have drawbacks."
"Bingo. So, the best way to live is moment to moment, adapting to what comes."
"And what of the future?"
"I didnít say you should stop thinking ahead, just stop worrying about your luck."
"Ah. You know what, Jane?"
"I am glad youíre my friend."