Shadows and Secrets.
Dark overcast clouds covered the entirety of the Lawndale skyline as far as anyone could see. No sunshine crept through them. It had been this way for days, but for Daria, it had seemed like this for months. At the moment, she was feeling like there wasn’t a lot of sunshine in her life.
The cold wind buffeted her face as she walked down the street. She pulled her coat up around herself as she walked, trying to keep the chill out. It didn’t work. A clap of thunder sounded, and rain began to drip out of the sky. Daria smiled wryly. Even the weather was making ironic comments on her mood.
She glanced up at the street names, checking to see where she was. Not far now. Only a couple more streets, and she’d finally be out of the rain, out of the cold, and into some light. A few minutes there, and hopefully her mind would be totally off the subject of her home life. Thinking about that, Daria snorted. Home life. She didn’t want much of a home life, not with how her parents had been acting.
Thinking about that only made her depressed, and she tried to concentrate on how close she was to some relief. After a few more minutes, she reached her destination, and walked up to the door. She rang the doorbell, and waited.
A few more minutes passed, and just when Daria was about to give up hope, Trent answered the door. He looked like he’d just woken up. Actually, that was pretty much how he always looked, but still.
“Hey, Daria,” he said, smiling slightly.
“Hi, Trent. Is Jane here?”
Trent nodded. “She’s in her room, painting. I think she has the music up loud. You know, like usual.”
Daria smiled. “Thanks.”
Trent nodded. “No problem. Hey, how are you doing?” There was a slight shift in his voice as he said that, an extra level of tenderness. Daria smiled. Trent could always tell when something was up.
“I’m okay,” she said. “Thanks, though.”
Daria walked past him, and up the stairs, into Jane’s room. Jane was indeed there, painting. She had a CD blaring beside her. As Daria entered, Jane turned and smiled, waving at her.
“Hey.” Daria indicated the painting. “New work?”
“One of my unfinished works. Trying to finish it, but nothing’s coming.”
“I know how that is.”
Jane sighed, and smiled. “Maybe unfinished works should stay unfinished.”
“That’s what Tom said about some of my stories.”
“Ah, what does he know? He doesn‘t even like Peter Greenaway.”
“Neither do I!” Daria frowned.
“Exactly.” Jane smiled. “How are you?”
“I was fine till I got here.” Daria affected a mock-hurt tone.
“All part of the service. Friendship, company, a little abuse.” Jane threw a sheet over the painting, and sat on the bed. “So what brings you here? Not that I have plans or anything, but I wasn’t expecting you tonight.”
“Had to get out of the house,” said Daria quietly.
Jane smiled sympathetically. “Sorry.” She looked over at the CD player. “Better turn this off. I don’t think Radiohead’s going to be helpful to your mood.”
Jane flipped the CD out. “Things still bad over there?”
Daria sat down next to her. “It’s...bad. I couldn’t take the yelling anymore. Even in my room, I could still hear it. That sort of thing wears you down after a while, you know?”
Jane shrugged. “I don’t know. I mean, in all my life, I can’t remember my Mom and Dad being together for more than a few weeks at a time. They never had enough time to argue.”
“You ever wonder why they got married?”
“All the time.”
Daria’s shoulder slumped. “Me too. God, I don’t know.”
Jane smiled in what she hoped would be a supportive way. “What are they fighting about, anyway? I always got the impression with your parents that they never really fought that badly. Now, from what you’re telling me, they can’t have a conversation without screaming at each other.”
“I think...” Daria paused. She laid herself back on the bed, and stared up at the ceiling. She was silent for a long time. She felt like if she said any more, she’d break down, and she didn’t want to do that with anyone, not even with Jane. Finally, she continued. “I think it’s just a few decades of hurt and resentment all coming out at once. They’ve bottled everything up for so long that now that it’s all coming out, it’s so much more intense.”
“I can see that.” Jane turned around on the bed to see Daria better. “How are they handling this apart?”
“Mom...she throws herself into her work. No surprise there.”
“And your Dad?”
Daria was quiet for a few more minutes. “He’s been sleeping in the guest bedroom for the last few weeks, you remember I told you that?” Daria fell silent again. “It’s like he doesn’t know what to do. Like he wants to love and support us, but he just doesn’t know how. He can be so screwed up sometimes. I think that’s another reason why him and Mom fight. She wants him to go get help, and he won’t...” She fell silent, closed her eyes, and lay there for a while. “I don’t know why he won’t, but he won’t...”
Eventually she opened her eyes, to find Jane sitting there, her eyes full of concern for her. Daria smiled. At least Jane was always there for her. “Thanks,” she said, a little awkwardly.
Jane, who must have sensed her slight awkwardness, didn’t ask what for. She just smiled, and changed the subject. “Glad to help. So, I thought you were going out with Tom tonight?”
“I was. After I heard the fracas at home, thought, I needed a little company.”
“Tom’s not company?”
Jane raised an eyebrow. “Tom’s not supportive? There’s a shock.”
“Knock it off, Lane. Tom’s just not one to just listen and be quietly supportive. You know that. He always has to chime in with his two cents on the matter.”
“Don’t I know it,” muttered Jane darkly.
Daria glanced over at her from her position on the bed. “Always figured you for the bitter type.”
Jane grinned. “You know me all right. I’m not bitter. I just have...less than wonderful memories of that chapter in my life.”
“Me too.” Daria’s voice dropped a little. “I’m glad we didn’t fall out for good. I don’t know what I’d do without you these days.”
Jane smiled. “Good thing I don’t have anything better to do.”
Daria scowled and hit her with a pillow. “Jerk.”
“That’s why you like me, isn’t it?” Jane’s smile fell. “How’s Quinnie O handling it?”
“I don’t really know. We don’t see that much of each other anymore. Probably because I’m always here, and she‘s always out with one of her fashion friends.” Daria shrugged. “Probably badly. You know how she reacted whenever my aunts were battling it out. This sort of thing stresses her out beyond belief.”
“I can imagine.”
“You know what I’m really dreading?”
Daria scowled. “I’m being serious, Jane.”
“I’m sorry,” said Jane sincerely. “I’m just trying to keep your spirits up.”
“Hell of a task.”
“Tell me about it.” They smiled at each other again. Jane put her hand on Daria’s shoulder reassuringly. “What are you dreading?”
“I’ve been reading about this. Whole slew of books on the topic, but that’s the modern world for you. I’m dreading the time when they start playing power games with us, trying to make us pick sides.” Daria shook her head. “I don’t know if I could handle that.”
“Daria, I’m sorry.”
Daria sat back up on the bed, took her glasses off, and rubbed her eyes. “And just when I thought my life was getting kind of bearable. This is what I get for being optimistic for a while?”
“You were optimistic?”
Despite herself, Daria smiled. “I was for about five minutes. That’s as optimistic as I usually get.”
“You know, we should do something to get your mind of this.”
Daria glanced at her. “Like what?”
Daria raised an eyebrow. Jane crossed her arms.
“Don’t make me force you, Morgendorffer.”
Daria shot her a look. “When did you get so dominant?”
“I’ve been practicing. Like it?”
“You need to work on the commanding voice. It’s a little weak.”
“So I’m not perfect.” She fixed Daria with a stare. “Are you coming, or do I have to get Trent to help me carry you out?”
“Good idea. By the time you get him roused, it’ll be tomorrow.” Jane kept staring.
Daria sighed. “Okay. Where are we going?”
“To the car, Morgendorffer! Set turbines to thrust, and atomic batteries to speed!”
Jane threw her arms up in the air. “What’s the point of me making all these clever references if no one gets them?” She took Daria by the arm. “Let’s go.”
A few minutes later, they were in Trent’s car, driving through the streets of Lawndale. Jane was beginning to think that this wasn’t such a great idea after all. Daria had done nothing since Jane started driving except stare out of the window. The rain had stopped, but the cloudy sky remained. Lawndale looked gray and overcast, probably matching Daria’s mood exactly. Jane glanced over at her. She was sitting, unmoving, just staring at the gray landscapes and gray houses passing by in the gray air. Jane didn’t blame her for feeling that way. Lawndale was not the best place in the world to be depressed in. That she knew from personal experience. Sometimes, the blandness of the town could seem so stifling, so miserable. Sometimes you felt like you were walking in a world without color, a world of misery and hurt. Jane felt like those thoughts were going through Daria’s head right now.
She sighed, and immediately hoped that Daria hadn’t heard her. She wanted to help Daria, she really did. Sometimes, though, she didn’t know quite what to do. All she could do was wing it, and hope for the best. She hoped that what she had planned for tonight would take her mind off the situation at home, if only for a few hours. Daria was her best friend, and she hated to see her miserable.
Well, of course, she always seemed kind of miserable to the casual observer, but Jane knew her better than anyone in the entire world. She knew that this was different from her usual apathy. This was misery. People rely on things. People rely on certain constants in their life to keep them sane. Jane had two - Daria and Trent. Daria had Jane, and whether she’d like to admit it or not, her family. Now that her family seemed to be rapidly disintegrating, Daria was suffering too. Jane didn’t want to have Daria’s second constant let her down as well.
She knew that although Tom and Daria were still dating, there was a growing rift between them. They couldn’t talk about things like this. Partly because, as Daria said (and Jane knew only too well) Tom couldn’t listen without adding his pearls of wisdom to any situation. Also because they just weren’t that close anymore. Jane felt, although Daria hadn’t said anything, that she was feeling like they should never have gotten together in the first place. It had all been so quick, so spur of the moment, that Daria had not given the idea a whole lot of thought, which was highly unusual for her.
Jane felt an old sting of hurt as she remembered the events leading up to their relationship. It had really hurt when all that happened, but she’d managed to forgive Daria for it. If she hadn’t cared so much for her, it was hard to say what she would have done, but Daria was definitely one of a kind.
Tom, though, could still go to Hell for all she was concerned.
She glanced over at Daria again. Daria turned away from the window, and looked at Jane. “Sorry. Zoned there for a bit. So where are we going?”
“It’s a surprise.”
“I hate surprises.”
“How...surprising.” Jane grinned at the terrible pun. Daria did not. “Out of town a little. Into the woods.”
“Oh, God. I knew it. You’re going to drag me into the woods, kill me, and hide the body. All for the Tom thing.”
Jane hit the steering wheel in mock annoyance. “Damn! Now I’ll totally have to change my plans. You suck.”
“Part of my charms. So why are we going into the woods? It’s not like I hate the great outdoors...” She thought about this for a minute. “Okay, I do hate the great outdoors. So what gives?”
“I’m doing some landscape stuff. Need some reference photos. I know you have a good eye for this kind of stuff, so...” Jane reached into the back seat, and pulled out a camera. “You’re doing the actual picture taking.”
“And this is supposed to cheer me up how?”
Jane sighed. “I’m doing the best I can, Daria.”
Daria’s face fell. “I’m sorry, Jane. I...really do appreciate this. Um, thanks.”
Jane smiled. “Besides, I’ve seen your stuff in the old Highland newsletter. Never knew you had such a great grasp of fashion issues.”
“I hate you. How did you find them?”
“They were in your room. Found them by accident when I was looking for a CD I lent you once.”
Jane smirked. “Don’t worry, your secret’s safe with me. For a nominal fee, that is.”
Daria smiled, and Jane could tell she was grateful for the distraction. She liked to see Daria happy.
After they had driven a considerable distance from Lawndale, they stopped at the nearest spot that could act as a reasonable parking place, and the two girls got out of the car. Jane grabbed a heavy overcoat from the trunk, and put it on. Daria zipped up her coat, and began to wish that she’d worn pants today, instead of her normal skirt. She checked the film in the camera, and glanced at her watch. It was five-thirty. “We don’t have a lot of time,” she said to Jane. “Probably only about an hour or two until it gets dark.”
“That’s cool. I don’t need that many shots.”
Daria gave her equipment a final going-over, and turned to the woods. “After you.”
Jane shrugged, and set off into the woods.
They walked through the woods. The trees were still mostly bare, spring having not fully blossomed yet. The gray sky was still visible through the branches, and it leant a cold, stark feeling to the surroundings. After a few minutes of walking, Daria tapped Jane on the shoulder. “You know, I’m not really sure this is safe. I don’t think we really thought this through.”
“Relax,” said Jane. “I’m used to this. I was in the girl scouts, remember? I know what to do in the woods.”
“I’m more scared of homicidal maniacs,” Daria said dryly.
“You watch too many movies.”
Daria glanced around at the landscape around them. “Admit it, this is pretty creepy.”
“You’re just not used to the outdoors.”
“Yeah. I like it that way.”
Jane shrugged. “Stick close to me, kid. I’ll take care of you.”
“Shut up, Lane.”
Jane grinned. “Take some pictures, will you?”
“You didn’t say exactly what type of shots you were looking for.”
“Anything interesting, really. Use your discretion.”
Daria frowned. “You know, I mainly did fashion photos. This is a little out of my area of expertise.”
“Go for it, Daria!”
Daria frowned. They walked a little bit further into the woods, eventually reaching a steep incline downwards. Daria shivered as the wind rustled through the trees, making an eerie whistle. This was beginning to freak her out. Jane had meant well, but in her current mood, this wasn’t helping. She opened her mouth to tell Jane, and then something caught her eye. It was the weirdest looking tree she’d ever seen. It almost looked like a screaming face. It disturbed her quite a bit, but she threw that off, and decided to take a picture of it. Jane would love it. She looked over at Jane, but she was glancing off at something in the distance. Daria raised the camera, and stepped backwards to get in all in shot.
She felt her foot catch in a root, and she suddenly fell over backwards.
As she fell, she could swear the tree wasn’t screaming anymore. It was laughing.
She felt herself hit the ground hard, and she began to tumble down the hill. She tried to steady herself, but to no avail. She yelled Jane’s name, and she saw Jane turn around, and rush down after her. She rolled over bumps and rabbit holes, the small impacts all hurting like hell. She felt the incline get steeper, and she began to panic, not wanting to roll the whole way down this hill. The world was spinning faster and faster now, and she could barely see Jane rushing headlong down the hill, trying for all she was worth to catch her.
And then the world fell out from under her.
She fell - maybe four, five feet, it was difficult to tell - and hit hard, the breath knocked out of her. She heard an anguished scream. Her name. Jane had no doubt seen her fall. Her terrible, painful journey continued, until the point when she just wanted to scream in anger and frustration for this stupid ride to stop.
Then she stopped.
She was finally at the bottom of the hill. She tried to get up, but her body kept telling her to stay down, to let it rest for a little bit. She ignored it, and stumbled to her feet, painfully and slowly. She stretched out, tried to see if anything was broken. Everything seemed to work okay, thankfully. Her ankle felt like she had twisted it, perhaps, but the rest seemed to be just bruises. Big, painful ones, but just bruises. The camera was shot, though. What was left of it hung limply from her neck. She pulled it off, and let the pieces fall to the ground. Her glasses were missing, and she began searching around for them on the ground. She eventually found them a few feet from where she had landed. One of the arms was snapped off, and one of the lenses was shattered, but they would do until she could get her spare pair from home. She awkwardly put them on, having to steady them with her hand so they didn’t fall off.
She glanced up at her surroundings. She was at the bottom of a largish hole in the ground. She didn’t know what else to call it, really. It was roughly circular, maybe about a hundred and fifty feet in diameter, a lot of steep inclines on all sides. She had only fallen about six feet or so, but still, all of her joints were aching, and there were small scratches over a lot of her exposed skin. She was also filthy, covered in mud and leaves.
The strangest thing about it was that there was a trailer there.
Not one intended to be lived in, but one that looked like it had been just picked up and dumped there. Part of it was embedded in the ground, the wheels having collapsed on one side. There was no skirting. This wasn’t anyone’s house. Looked like a derelict one, too.
As Daria stared at it in confusion, she heard a shout from the top of the hole. Jane appeared at the rim. Her face lit up as she saw Daria. “Daria! Shit, are you okay?”
Daria nodded gingerly. “Mostly. Bruises, I think. Camera’s shot to hell.”
“Screw the camera!” Jane, ever athletic, leapt down into the pit, and ran over to Daria and hugged her close, not caring about the dirt and leaves stuck all over Daria’s clothes. “I’m sorry. I’m really sorry. I’m so glad you’re okay. I shouldn’t have dragged you out here.”
A little uncomfortable at Jane‘s closeness, Daria hugged her back reticently, wincing as she felt her bruises again. “I’m okay, Jane. Really.”
Jane broke off. “Sorry. I saw you fall down over that, and well...you know.” She wiped the sweat from her brow. “I just don’t know what I’d do...” She tailed off as she saw the trailer behind Daria. “What the hell is that?”
Daria separated herself from Jane, and glanced over at it. “Beats me. Looks like it’s been dumped here.”
Daria began walking over to it. “Why would anyone do that, though?”
“I don’t know.” Jane began to follow her. “Thought you were nervous about this?”
“My curiosity is overriding my fears. How about you?”
Jane shrugged. “Sort of the same.”
They walked over to the trailer. Due to the set of wheels collapsing, the door was low enough to the ground for them to reach without a deck. Daria tried the door gingerly, and to her surprise, it was open. She glanced at Jane. “Scared?”
“Terrified.” Daria opened the door the whole way, and glanced inside. To her relief, there were no huge bloodstains or piles of dead bodies inside. Just a living room, with a corridor leading off to the right, and the kitchen area over to the left.
Daria stepped inside, and looked around cautiously. There seemed to be no furniture in the house, no appliances, nothing. The only things in the house were some assorted papers littering the floor, and bits of the paneling that had been damaged.
Jane stepped inside after her, and looked around. “This is weird, Daria. Why would anyone do this?”
Daria shook her head. “I don’t know, Jane.” She limped a bit into the living room, and glanced down past the kitchen area. There seemed to be a bedroom back there. “I’m going down there, okay? Going to see if I can find anything about the house.”
Jane nodded, and indicated down the other corridor. “I’ll check down here. Don’t stray too far.”
Daria shot her a look. “It’s a trailer, Jane. It’s only about seventy-five feet long.”
Jane shrugged. “Even so...” She set off into the corridor.
Daria walked into the kitchen, and glanced around. She opened a few of the cupboards cautiously. She didn’t want anything falling out onto her head. They were empty too. Daria glanced around the kitchen. What was this? Why was it here? Why had it been stripped? Who’d put it here? She was getting very curious now.
There was a sudden noise from the bedroom. It sounded like a sigh, almost. It hadn’t been Jane, she was over in the other side. Maybe it had been the wind.
There it was again. A sigh? Daria shook her head. More like a cry of some kind. Very faint. Maybe someone was trapped somewhere? Daria moved nervously towards the bedroom, sticking to the wall as she did so. If this was someone’s idea of a sick joke, she didn’t want to be caught unawares.
She pushed the door open slowly, and inched around the doorframe. She peeked her head around, and took a look at the room. It was a bedroom, all right, with a connected bathroom. Like the other rooms, it was empty, stripped of all furniture and appliances.
Except there was a photo in the center of the room.
Daria glanced at the photo. It was lying out in the middle of the room, just a single photograph. She couldn’t tell what the photo was of from this distance.
She heard the sound again. It was definitely crying, soft, faint, but crying. Daria couldn’t place it. There was a closet in the room, but it didn’t sound like it was coming from there.
She moved towards the middle of the room, towards the photo. As she did so, she could swear that the crying was getting louder. She reached the photo, and picked it up. Daria glanced at the photo, and the crying suddenly stopped.
Jane was in the bedroom at the other end of the trailer, when she heard a distant thump. It was from the other room, where Daria had gone. She called Daria’s name, but there was no answer. Worried, she rushed to the other side, to find Daria lying on the floor. It looked like she had just collapsed.
Jane quickly knelt down beside her. “Daria? Are you okay?”
Daria moaned softly, and stirred. She opened her eyes. “I’m okay. Just felt faint for a moment.”
“Damn. I hope you haven’t got concussion or anything. You did fall quite a bit.”
Daria shook her head woozily. “I don’t think so.”
“Well, I’m going to get you to the emergency room, anyway.” She helped Daria to her feet. “Steady?” Daria nodded. “Okay.”
They walked out of the trailer, and Jane helped her back up to the car. It was quite a long walk back, but they eventually made it, and Jane immediately began driving to Cedars of Lawndale.
“Where are we going?”
“Hospital,” said Jane. “Put my fears to rest.”
“I’m okay, really.”
Jane frowned. “I don’t know. You still seem kind of woozy. Just do it to reassure me, okay?”
Daria nodded. They sped back into Lawndale after a short while.
Jane sighed. “I’m really sorry, Daria. That was a crappy idea of mine. Guess I’m not such a great achiever at cheering you up, huh?”
There was nothing but silence from Daria. Jane turned to her. She was staring out of the window at something. Jane craned her neck to see what, but she couldn’t see anything of note. They were passing Crewe Neck, but Jane didn’t see anything out of the ordinary. “Daria?”
Daria turned to Jane with an expression Jane had never seen her with before. Her eyes were filled with such pain and sadness, like all her hopes and dreams had been crushed from her. Jane immediately pulled the car over to the side of the road, and looked at her. “Daria? What’s wrong?” she asked softly.
Daria didn’t say anything. Jane put her hand on her shoulder. “Daria, come on. This is me, Jane. Tell me, please?”
Daria remained silent, but she suddenly began to cry, tears running down her face. Jane had never seen her do that before, and she just stared at her in shock for a few moments. Then Daria broke down completely, sobbing uncontrollably. Jane drew Daria to her in a hug, and just held her. “It’s okay,” she said softly. “I’m here. It’s okay.”
She held Daria for what seemed like forever, Daria crying her heart out into Jane’s shoulder. Jane held on to her tight, not wanting to let go. She’d never seen Daria lose control like this before, and it scared her.
After a while, Daria calmed down. She broke off from Jane, and smiled a little. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay,” said Jane quietly. “What happened?”
Jane raised an eyebrow. “Nothing?” That smile Daria had given had not looked like her at all. That wasn’t like Daria, especially not after something as weird as that.
Daria looked away at the road again. Jane gave her a last concerned look, and drove on to the hospital.
Quite a bit later, Jane opened the door to the Lanes, and trudged on up to her bedroom. She pulled off her jacket, and boots, and slipped into bed. They’d spent forever in the emergency room, but when they had finally been seen, Daria had been given a clean bill of health, thankfully. Just a sprained ankle, and quite a lot of bruises.
Daria hadn’t mentioned anything more about her breakdown, and Jane hadn’t pressed her. She didn’t want to push her, or alienate her by forcing her to talk about stuff she didn’t want to talk about.
Jane had been quite surprised by Daria doing that, though. Even though they were close, Jane knew there was still a barrier between them. There was a barrier between Daria and everyone - it was just that the one between her and Jane was smaller than the others. That’s why she’d been shocked at the blatant display of emotions. If Daria ever did that (and Jane knew she did) she preferred it to happen in private, where no-one could see.
Maybe this meant Daria was breaking down her barrier between her and Jane. Jane was pleased at that, and she probably knew why. There weren’t a lot of other people Daria could be close to. Her parents were at each other’s throats constantly, Quinn was keeping to herself more and more, and Tom was...Tom.
Jane sighed as she remembered Daria’s parents at the hospital. She hadn’t wanted to call them, but she knew it was the law. They’d shown up, acted a little worried about their daughter, and then used it as an excuse to start another argument. It had been very stressful for Jane - she could only imagine what it had been like for Daria. Quinn had been there, too, but she had kept to herself, a resigned look on her face, as if she knew that this was going to happen, no matter what. She didn’t seem to have the vitality that Quinn used to have.
Jane hadn’t been able to take too much of it, and so after Daria had been given a clean bill of health, she’d skipped out of there, and come home. Trent was at the Zen playing, so the house was empty. It reminded her of the trailer they had found.
Jane and Daria hadn’t told her parents about that, and Daria had begged her not to tell them about her breakdown either. Jane felt she should mention it, but Daria had made her promise not to.
Jane sighed heavily, and turned over to get to sleep. It had been an interesting day, all right. With any luck, tomorrow would be a bit more normal.
Jane rose the next morning, and took a shower. She dried herself off, and dressed, and went down to the kitchen. To her surprise, Trent was up, making himself some breakfast.
“Morning,” he said laconically.
“Yes it is. So why are you up?”
“Got into a big bust up with the band, and we split up.”
“Really.” Jane had heard this one before. “How long for this time?”
“About an hour. So then we decided we really needed to change our direction to stay fresh. So we spent all night trying to think of one.”
Trent shrugged. “Nah. Why mess with success?”
“How was your photo thing in the woods last night?”
Jane sighed and sat down. Trent looked at her. “That doesn’t sound good.”
“Sighs are never good, Trent.”
“Contented sighs are.”
“Well, that wasn’t contented.”
“True. So what happened?”
Jane briefly relayed the story of what had happened in the woods the previous night. She left out the part about finding the trailer, and the part about Daria breaking down. She knew Daria hadn’t expressly told her not to tell Trent, but she assumed it was kind of implied. When she had finished, Trent smiled supportively.
“Sounds like she’s taking it pretty bad.”
Jane shrugged. “And they haven’t even split up yet. I hate to see what happens when they do.”
“At least she has a really good friend to keep her sane.”
Jane smiled. “And Tom.”
Trent shrugged. “And him.”
“Why, you sound like you don’t like him, big brother.”
Trent smiled a little. “Why should I? You know he’s not the most caring guy on the planet.”
Jane smiled. “And how would you know that?”
“If he was, you wouldn’t have had to come to me with all your problems during that time.” Trent paused. “Not that I minded, of course.”
“I know.” Jane sighed. “I just hate to see her like this. She pretends to be so unemotional, so self-reliant, you know? But she isn’t. None of us are, I guess.”
Trent nodded. “She needs you, you know. I don’t think she’d ever say it, but she does.” He glanced up at the clock, and frowned. “Aren’t you going to be late?”
Jane shook her head. “No way. Daria always comes round with enough time left.”
Trent looked at her. “You’re going to be late, Janey.”
Jane glanced round at the clock. Trent was right. There was only about five minutes left until school started. “Crap!”
Jane ran like crazy to school, and made it with only a few seconds to spare. As she sat, out of breath, she glanced round and saw that Daria was indeed at school. Jane frowned. She’d thought that the reason Daria hadn’t come round as usual was that she was off school today - maybe still feeling rough from yesterday. But she was here, seemingly in good shape. Daria caught her eye, smiled and waved.
Jane turned back round, and frowned. That wasn’t normal at all. Were the doctors sure she didn’t have concussion?
As they walked between classes, Jane ran and caught up with Daria. “Daria?”
Daria turned and smiled again. “Hi, Jane.”
Jane shivered a little at Daria’s smile. She wasn’t used to her smiling so much. Open, friendly smiles, too. “What was up this morning?”
“I don’t understand.”
“You always come pick me up from home. Then we walk to school together. Remember?”
Daria stared at her for a few moments, then smiled. Again. “I’m sorry, Jane. I forgot.”
The smiling thing was beginning to unnerve Jane. “Why are you smiling so much? This isn’t like you.”
“No!” Jane frowned. “Daria, what’s wrong? You aren’t acting like yourself.”
“Is it concussion? I thought the doctors said there wasn’t any.”
“I guess,” said Daria. “I do feel a little strange. Sorry.”
Jane sighed. “No, I’m sorry. I overreacted a little. Sorry, I’m just worried about you, Daria. I know things are rough for you at the minute, and I’m trying to be the best...” She tailed off when she realized that Daria was looking off into the distance at something else. Jane followed her gaze, and saw nothing down there except Kevin and Brittany. They were engaged in their usual arguments.
“Babe, I swear it was only that one time! Then that other time. And the other few times. And that weekend you don’t know about, but that’s it! Mostly!”
They vanished down the corridor, Daria staring after them. Jane walked round in front of her. Daria was still staring off after them, her expression unreadable.
“Daria?” said Jane cautiously. “What were you staring at?”
Daria was silent. The silence hung in the air for a few moments, Daria lost in her own thoughts, and Jane trying to reach her. Eventually, she looked at Jane and simply said, “Nothing.”
Jane looked at her, worry racing through her mind. Something was going on with Daria. Something she didn’t understand. Jane didn’t know what to do.
After a few more minutes, Daria said, “Excuse me,” and walked away into the bathroom, leaving Jane standing alone in the corridor.
After school, Jane began the walk to Daria’s house. Rain was beating down on the sidewalk, but Jane didn’t make much of an effort to cover up. She liked walking or running in the rain. She liked the feel of it beating against her body.
She hadn’t seen Daria at all after the incident in the corridor, and she suspected that she had skipped the rest of the day. Jane sighed to herself. This was beginning to get stressful. Daria was not an easy person to stay friends with at the best of times, and now she was starting to get seriously weird. The toll of a deteriorating family, and that incident in the woods might be starting to take effect on her. Jane wasn’t sure what she was going to do, but she had to do something. She just had to.
Daria’s Mom had let Jane in. It was obvious that she had stepped into a tense household. The air was thick with unsaid insults and the memories of spoken ones. Jane hated to be in Daria’s house these days. She could see why Daria spent so much time at her house. Better to run, and try to believe that all this wasn’t happening than deal with the reality of the situation.
She reached the top of the stairs, and walked towards Daria’s room. One the way, she passed Quinn’s room, and glanced inside. Quinn was staring at the wall, oblivious to everything around her. Her expression was one of someone trying to lose herself, but being unable to block out reality.
Jane shivered, and walked over to Daria’s room. The door was cracked open a little, and light was streaming out. Jane walked over, and pushed the door open a little, letting her see into the room.
The lights were out - the only source of light in the room came from Daria’s television. She was running what looked to be home movies. Jane peeked in a little more, and saw Daria on the bed, staring at them with studied interest.
On the screen, Jane recognized the time when she and Daria had followed Quinn around with the camera for a few days, trying to make a student film. Jane smiled at the memories. Then she glanced over at Daria to see how she was reacting.
Daria was watching her own actions on the screen intently. She was repeating everything she said again and again, for no reason Jane could grasp. She was totally absorbed in it.
“Daria?” said Jane quietly.
Daria glanced round sharply. “Jane?” She flicked the video off quickly. “What are you doing here?” Her voice had taken back on some of its usual qualities.
Jane blinked in surprise. “I...was worried about you, Daria. You vanished from school today, and I didn’t know where you were.”
Daria glanced away. “I needed to get out of there. I wasn’t feeling so good.”
“Oh.” Jane scratched her head. “It’s just that...normally when you do that...we go to the Pizza King together.”
Daria didn’t look at her. “I just needed to be alone.”
Jane chewed her lip. “Daria...” she began. “If there’s anything you...”
The sound of a car pulling up was heard.
“Daria.” It was Quinn. “Tom’s here,” she said dully.
“I’d better go, I suppose,” said Daria, still not looking directly at Jane. “I’ll see you.” She walked quickly past her, and left.
Jane stood in Daria’s room, alone, wondering what the hell was going on. She walked out onto the landing, and paused briefly by Quinn’s room. She idly considered asking Quinn if she’d noticed anything wrong with Daria. But Quinn was on the phone, talking to someone without much enthusiasm. So she left.
Tom and Daria walked out of the movie theater, into the cloudy night. Tom turned to Daria. “What did you think?”
“Hated it,” she said.
Tom frowned. “I thought you loved Tarkovsy?”
“It was boring.”
“No it wasn’t. It was absorbing.”
“Whatever.” She paused. “I mean, yes, absorbing.” The sarcasm in her voice was not hard to miss.
Tom shrugged. “Is this because you’re still depressed about your family?”
Daria didn’t say anything.
Tom smiled. Did he know people, or what? “Daria, I know you’re depressed about that. But you have to accept that sometimes families break up. It happens all the time.”
Daria remained silent.
“I mean, it’s almost a given, these days. So many families divorce.” Tom smiled in what he hoped was a conciliatory way. “You’re not alone, you know.”
Daria was silent for a few more seconds. She finally said, “What do you know about families breaking up?”
Tom blinked in surprise. “What?”
“You heard me.”
Tom shrugged. “I’m a smart guy, I observe things, you know.”
“I just want to go home, okay?”
Tom was confused. Daria didn’t normally act like this. Normally she was a lot more open to his advice. She was being awfully belligerent tonight. It happened, sometimes, though. She’d apologize in a day or two. She always did. “Okay. Let’s go.”
Jane lay in bed, staring up at the ceiling, and wondering what was going on with her life. Or more specifically, with her friendship with Daria. Daria had been in a funk, with good reason, for a while, but now she was shutting Jane out. That made Jane feel a little unwanted. It was not a good feeling.
With a pang of guilt, she realized that she’d done that with Daria when she and Tom were dating a year ago, but Daria wasn’t one to bear a grudge for that. So it had to be something else.
Jane sighed, and pulled the covers up over herself. She had said earlier that people had constants in their lives that they relied on. She knew that Daria was one of hers. She needed her as much as she hoped Daria needed her. But if Daria was really shutting her out, what was Jane going to do?
Jane tried to block those kinds of thoughts from her head, and tried to get to sleep.
The next morning, Daria didn’t show up at the door again, but Jane was less surprised this time. It didn’t mean it still didn’t hurt, though. She walked to school by herself, and when she got there, she found Daria by her locker.
“Hi.” Daria didn’t even look at her.
Jane’s stomach fell. “Daria, what’s going on?”
“Then why are you ignoring me?”
“Daria, please look me in the eyes? Please?”
Daria turned around, but as she was doing so, she noticed something off to the side, and walked off.
Jane looked over to what she was looking at, and saw only Brittany. It looked like Daria was rushing to catch up with her. Dumped for Brittany? she thought. The sinking feeling in her stomach was getting lower and lower, and she didn’t know what to do. She decided to leave, there and then.
Brittany stormed through the corridors, fuming. How dare Kevin cheat on her like that! Again! She really didn’t know why she kept giving him so many chances. As she walked, she heard someone calling her name. She turned, and saw that it was Daria.
“Daria? Were you calling my name?”
Daria nodded. “I was just wondering if you wanted to go somewhere, you know, after school?”
“You and me?” Brittany frowned. She’d always thought Daria was a nice person, but not someone she could hang out with. Jodie was busy, though, and Kevin was still in the doghouse. “Okay!” she said brightly.
Jane walked down Dega Street, her mind racing. Why was Daria acting like this? It wasn’t anything she had done, she knew that. Maybe she was buckling under the pressure of her home life. But if that was the case, wouldn’t it make sense to run to the one person in your life you cared for most, and who you knew cared for you the same? Jane sighed. Of course, Daria’s actions didn’t always make sense. But this was a little over the top.
She reached Axl’s Piercing Parlor, and went inside. Trent had said he was coming down here this morning to see if there was anything that interested him. She was assuming he’d be here. She’d tried the house and there was no answer. Dega Street was empty this time of the morning. She walked down the sidewalk, Dega Street empty apart from her.
She walked in, and looked round the store. Empty. That meant that he had to be in the back. She walked in, and saw Trent with Axl. She smiled when she saw Trent.
Axl frowned. “No-one’s allowed back here, love.”
“Axl, chill. It’s Janey.” Trent frowned. “Shouldn‘t you be at school, Janey?”
“I need to talk to you, Trent.”
Axl walked forward. “I need to ask you to wait outside, love. Strict regulations, you know.”
Jane frowned. “Knock it off with the accent, Axl. Everyone knows you’re not English.”
“No they don’t!”
“Really?” Jane grinned. “What part of England are you from, exactly?”
Axl thought for a second. “Um, Glasgow?”
“Glasgow’s in Scotland.”
Axl’s face drooped. “Scotland’s in England, right?”
“Give it up, man,” said Trent, walking over to Jane. “Everyone knows.”
“They do?” Axl’s accent had vanished.
Trent nodded, and walked out with Jane.
When they got outside, Trent turned to her and raised an eyebrow.
Jane smiled. “Sorry, Trent. Needed something to cheer me up.”
“What‘s wrong?” Trent’s voice was soft and sympathetic.
“Not here. Come on.”
A few minutes later, they found themselves in a small cafe in downtown Lawndale. Trent had been broke, as usual. Jane had questioned the wisdom of going to get pierced with no money, but Trent hadn’t seen this as a problem.
They sat opposite each other, Trent waiting for Jane to start. She gave a heavy sigh, and told Trent the exact details of what had happened two nights ago, leaving nothing out. She also filled him in on what Daria had been doing after that. When she had finished, she fell silent, and Trent took a deep breath.
“Whoa. Sounds like things are bad.”
“Looks that way,” said Jane miserably. “Trent, am I overreacting? I do have a habit of doing that, you know. Tell me I’m crazy. Tell me this is all in my head, and my best friend is not totally blowing me off for no reason.”
Trent didn’t say anything.
“Damn. There goes that hope.”
Trent took her hands. “Janey, I don’t know what’s going on with Daria. I’m worried about you, though. You’ve been trying to keep her mind off things for so long, I think it’s taking its toll on you.”
Jane shook her head. “I was fine, Trent. Fine up until this. God, am I that needy? Do I really go to pieces when my best friend acts weird?”
“You’re not needy. You two are just so close that any upset between you has really bad repercussions. For both of you. Remember the Tom thing?”
“Don’t remind me.”
“I never thought you two would be friends again after that, and remember how depressed you were?”
Jane nodded. “I just couldn’t not forgive her, though. It’s like...I can’t imagine my life without her, you know?”
Trent nodded. “I know.”
“But I’m not crazy. Right?”
Trent shook his head.
“She is acting weird. Right?”
“Looks that way.”
“So I have to find out why?”
Jane got up. “I think I have an idea how. Hey, thanks, Trent. Damn, what would I do without you?”
Trent grinned. “What would I do without you? Never eat, probably.”
Jane smiled, and wrapped her arms around Trent. “Thanks,” she said softly.
Jane waited outside Lawndale High, waiting for Daria to come out. Okay, Daria was acting weird. Jane had to find out why. She was going to forgo the roundabout approach and just ask her. That way, Daria could just tell her exactly what was going on, and things could be back to normal.
Jane still didn’t understand why Daria couldn’t tell her whatever it was directly. And she didn’t understand why she had run off after Brittany, but she was going to find out. She was going to be there for Daria, be the best friend she could ever hope for.
The doors opened, and a throng of students rushed out. Jane kept a lookout for Daria, and she spotted her, walking down the steps. Jane rushed over to her.
She looked up. She didn’t seem that glad to see Jane. “What is it?”
Jane stopped in front of her. “Daria, I don’t know what’s going on, but if there’s a problem, you know you can talk to me about it.”
“There’s no problem, Jane.”
“Daria, come on. We’re best friends. We tell each other everything, right?”
Daria glanced off to the side. “Brittany’s here. I have to go.”
Jane was stunned. “Daria...”
“It’s not you, Jane,” said Daria quietly. “Bye.”
She walked off, leaving Jane standing in front of the school, staring up into the cold gray sky, wondering why her friend had left her.
Brittany walked down the street with Daria. Much to Brittany’s surprise, Daria had asked if she could walk her home, and Brittany had quite liked the idea. Daria was a really interesting person, and even though it was kind of odd she suddenly wanted to spend time with her, Brittany had agreed readily. She liked hanging around with interesting people. Jodie was like that too. Sometimes she wondered why she and Jodie were such good friends, when Brittany knew she wasn’t nearly as smart as Jodie. She didn’t mind, though.
Although, as with Jodie, she really didn’t know what to talk about though. She decided to start on common ground. “I’m really sorry about your folks,” she said.
“What about them?”
“Well, Jodie told me that they’re going through a really rough time, and they might divorce, and I know how bad that would be for you, so I’m sorry.”
“Oh. That’s okay.” Daria was quiet for a bit. “Your parents are...divorced, aren’t they?”
Brittany nodded sadly. “Yeah.”
“Sorry,” said Daria quietly.
“Oh, it’s okay. Sort of. I mean, my step-mom’s cool and all, but still...”
“You miss your Mom?”
“Why...” Daria paused again. “Did they divorce?”
“I don’t really know. Daddy said that they just stopped loving each other. He doesn’t like to talk about it. I guess it hurts, or something.”
“She doesn’t stay in touch?”
“She used to send letters...”
“Really?” said Daria, a air of total surprise in her voice.
Brittany looked at her strangely. “Um, yeah. But she doesn’t any more. I don’t know why...” She tailed off, and stared at the ground.
Daria began to talk, and was suddenly cut off by a car driving up. Brittany glanced up, and saw that it was Jane’s boyfriend, Tom. No, wait - Daria’s boyfriend Tom. That was confusing sometimes.
Tom rolled down the window. “Aha. The blonde leading the blind. Or at least the half-blind.”
Brittany thought that was a joke, but she didn’t get it. She smiled for politeness’ sake. “Hi, Tom!”
Tom waved a general greeting. “Daria, did you forget we had a date tonight.”
Daria paused, then nodded. “Yeah. Sorry.”
“That’s okay. Hop in.”
Daria shook her head. “I’m kind of busy, Tom.”
Tom frowned. “With what?”
Brittany watched this exchange and frowned. It looked like they were about to have an argument, and she didn’t really want to be involved in that. She decided to get herself out of the situation. “I really have to go,” she said.
Daria looked at her. “Don’t go. We were talking.”
Brittany was confused. Daria didn’t usually enjoy talking to her that much. But she felt she really had to go. “I’ll see you tomorrow,” she said brightly, and walked off.
Daria stood and stared after her. Tom leant out of his window. “Are you getting in?”
Daria turned to him, an angry expression on her face. “No.” She began to walk down the street, away from him.
Tom stared after her, confused beyond belief. What was going on? What had he done now? This was another one of those stupid times when she got mad at him for nothing at all. He pulled the car over and got out. He walked quickly after her, and tapped her on the shoulder. She turned to face him, the angry expression still there.
“Excuse me,” said Tom, “but what exactly did I do?”
“You wouldn’t understand.”
“Understand what? I come to pick my girlfriend up for a date, and she gets mad at me and storms off. What’s to understand?”
“I was in the middle of something.”
“In the middle of talking to a vacuous, bubble-headed cheerleader. I know you don’t enjoy that.”
Daria crossed her arms. “Don’t talk about her like that.” Her tone had an edge of pure venom to it that Tom had rarely heard.
He threw his arms up in the air. “Who are you, Daria? What’s going on the past few days?”
She stared at him. “We’re breaking up.”
“What?” Tom was speechless, for a change. “Why?”
“Because.” She turned to leave, and he grabbed her shoulder.
“Daria, I need more of a reason than that.”
She looked down at his hand on her shoulder, and then back up into his face. “You remind me of someone.” Then she broke free, and walked off, leaving Tom standing alone on the sidewalk. He looked after her as she went, wondering what the hell that had been about.
Jane walked up the stairs of Daria’s house. She didn’t really want to do this, but she figured it was the best course of action. She needed to find out what was going on with Daria, and what better way to do that than with her own family. She reached Quinn’s door, and knocked. There was no answer. She knocked again, a little more forcefully this time. “Come in,” said Quinn’s voice dully.
Jane walked in, and saw Quinn lying on her bed, facing up at the ceiling. She looked round, and reacted when she saw Jane. “Jane?”
Jane nodded. “Last time I checked.”
“Are you looking for Daria? Because I think she’s out with Tom.”
“No.” Jane looked at her awkwardly. “I’m actually looking for you.”
Quinn raised her eyebrows, but didn’t say anything.
Jane pressed on. “I need your help.”
Quinn looked back up at the ceiling. She was silent for a while.
“It’s about Daria.” Jane paused. “Look, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but she’s been acting really weird lately. I don’t know what’s wrong, and I need your help.”
“You know her better than anyone except me.”
Quinn sighed and looked up at the ceiling. “Maybe I used to.”
“What does that mean?”
Jane began to think she wasn’t getting anywhere. “Please, Quinn.”
Quinn sat up on the bed. “Let’s go somewhere.”
“We can’t talk here?”
Quinn shook her head. “It’s quiet now. I...don’t like it when it’s quiet these days. Then there’s just this weird atmosphere of bitterness and resentment around, and they both want to argue and scream at each other and they’re waiting for any excuse to...” She tailed off, and stared at the floor. Then she got up, grabbed a coat, and walked out of the room. “Come on,” she said to Jane as she walked. Jane followed her.
Quinn hadn’t wanted to be seen out in public for some reason. Jane thought she just didn’t want to be seen with her, but Quinn insisted that that was not the case. She just didn’t want to be bothered with anyone.
They found a small cafe downtown, and took a booth over in the corner. Jane sat down, and Quinn sat opposite her. She pulled a packet of Camel Lights from her pocket and lit one. Jane stared at her in surprise. Quinn looked at her pointedly. “Don’t ask.”
Quinn took a deep inhale, and asked Jane to tell her exactly what Daria had been doing for the past few days. Jane filled her in. When she had finished, Quinn just looked at her.
“Well?” said Jane. “Don’t you think that’s a little odd? Daria acting that way, you know?”
“People do funny things when they’re under a lot of stress,” said Quinn
“I know that,” said Jane, glancing at Quinn’s cigarette. “But this is different, okay? I know Daria. This isn’t normal.”
Quinn didn’t say anything. She took another drag on her cigarette.
Quinn stared at Jane for a while. Finally, she spoke: “Do you know what I wanted to tell you when you asked for my help?”
“I wanted to tell you to go to hell.”
Jane blinked in surprise. “Why?”
Quinn was silent for a while. She watched the smoke curl off her cigarette. “Because I was jealous.”
“Jealous? Of what?” Jane was quite confused now.
Quinn sighed. “It hasn’t been easy in the house lately. You know that.”
“My whole home life is just...” Quinn paused. “Just...you know. And all I really wanted was someone to talk to, someone who I could pour my heart out to...” She wiped her eyes angrily.
“What about Daria?” said Jane quietly.
“She’s never there! She always runs out to be with you, and I was jealous because she got to have a friend to rely on and you got to spend time with her. When you walked in and asked for my help, all I wanted to do was tell you to go to hell, that now you knew what it felt like!” Quinn fell silent, and inhaled again.
Jane didn’t know what to say. “I’m sorry,” she said awkwardly. “I’m just trying to be her friend. But something’s wrong with her, and I have to help her.”
Quinn exhaled. “I know. I’ll help you. She is my sister, after all.” She looked at Jane. “Just...if we find out there is something wrong, and help her, just try to convince her to spend a little time with me, okay?”
“What about your little fashion friends?”
Quinn grimaced. “I can’t talk to them. They wouldn’t understand. They wouldn’t help me.”
“Not very good friends, then, are they?”
Quinn stubbed out her cigarette, and glared at Jane. “Do you want my help or not?”
“Sorry,” mumbled Jane.
Quinn sighed. “What do you think we should do first?”
Jane thought about it. “I have an idea.”
Trent’s car pulled over to the side of the road, and Jane and Quinn got out. Quinn stared at the foreboding woods in front of them, and shivered.
“We’re not going in there, are we?”
Jane nodded. “I have something to show you.”
“It’s going to ruin my shoes.”
Jane shook her head. “Come on. This is important.”
Quinn looked at the trees. Cold wind swept through them, making an eerie rustling sound. She shrugged. “Why not?”
Jane and Quinn made their way down through the woods, following the path that Jane remembered Daria making that day. She sighed as she remembered how she had felt when she had turned at Daria’s cry, to see her friend, her best, only friend, falling headfirst down a steep hill. She had ran as fast as she could, trying with all her strength to catch her before it was too late. Then she remembered the sheer emptiness she had felt when she saw her fall over the edge, how she feared she had lost her best friend forever, how much she wanted to scream over and over again. She smiled a little as she remembered the sheer relief she had felt when she reached the edge and seen her alive, and well.
He face drooped as she thought about how much it felt like her friend was falling away from her again, and this time she would fail to catch her again. But this time she wouldn’t look over the side and see her well. This time she might be gone.
Jane shook her head, trying to get those fatalistic thoughts out of her head. That wasn’t going to help anyone.
Quinn, picking her way down the slope very gingerly, glanced over and saw Jane’s expression. “Thinking of Daria?”
Jane didn’t say anything.
“Come on,” said Quinn. “It’s obvious. You two never seem to think about anything, or anyone else. It’s like you’re the only two people that matter in the world.”
“It’s not that,” said Jane.
“Then what?” Jane looked at her. Quinn shrugged. “Come on, I want to know. Please?”
Jane sighed. “I don’t know what we have. I just know that I won’t find it again.”
“There’s other people you could be friends with. You know, most people at school kind of like you.”
“It wouldn’t be the same.”
Jane shook her head. “I don’t know. It just wouldn’t!”
“Okay. I get it.”
Jane looked at her. “Sorry. Didn’t mean to snap. I’m a little on edge recently.”
Jane frowned. “You know, you don’t act like this at school.”
“At school I have to keep up my old act.”
Quinn didn’t say anything. She looked down at the ground, and kept walking.
“Look,” said Quinn, then paused. “You know how I said I couldn’t talk to anyone about...home? That my friends weren’t real friends?”
Quinn sighed. “If I acted like this...like how I normally am these days, I wouldn’t have any friends, real or otherwise. I couldn’t handle that. Okay?” She looked straight ahead, and started walking with more purpose. Jane glanced after her, then quickened her pace to keep up.
Quinn and Jane were silent for the rest of the walk, just staring at the tall, foreboding trees, lost in their own thoughts. After a few more minutes, they reached the pit that Daria had fallen in. They helped each other down, and Jane pointed out the partially sunken trailer. Night was beginning to fall, and the setting sun was behind it, lending it a red glow.
Quinn shivered, although she did not know why. The building had a strange feel to it, one that she didn’t want to disturb. She told Jane that.
“Me either,” said Jane. “But I think this is where it started. There has to be something inside here that can help us.” She rummaged in the pockets of her coat, and produced two small flashlights. She handed one to Quinn. “Let’s go.”
Quinn followed Jane inside the trailer, and they split. Quinn questioned the wisdom of it, but Jane pooh-poohed the idea, saying they would cover more ground that way. Quinn sighed, and walked down the corridor to the bedroom. She stood, watching the red light of the setting sun filter in through the window, bathing everything in a scarlet glow.
She sighed and lit a cigarette, feeling the smoke coating the inside of her mouth. She exhaled, and wondered why she kept doing this to herself, why she couldn’t get a healthier crutch to rely on. She also wondered how she had let herself get talked into this. Was Daria acting odd? Quinn hadn’t seen enough of her in the last while to say. It was entirely possible Jane was over-reacting. She had a habit of doing that when their friendship was threatened.
Still, Jane had said that if she helped her, she would try to convince Daria to talk to her more. Quinn didn’t want to suddenly start hanging out with her all the time. Just an occasional conversation - a chance to vent or complain or anything. She was so lonely these days, anything would do.
Quinn didn’t want their relationship to deteriorate like their parents’ had. Or, for that matter, like their parents’ relationships with their siblings. It was no secret that Mom and her sisters didn’t get along, even after that hugfest not so long ago. Dad had a sister, but as far as she knew, they hadn’t talked since her wedding all those years ago. Quinn sighed. That wedding was a whole other story - one that she didn’t want to revisit any time soon. Maybe it was something in their genes. Maybe their family just didn’t get along with each other, no matter what.
Quinn didn’t want that. It was bad enough that her parents seemed headed to an inevitable divorce, but she didn’t want to lose touch with her sister too.
She heard someone come walking down the hall, and ground out her cigarette. Jane came walking through the door, waving a sheet of paper.
“Found what?” said Quinn.
“Something that says who lived here,” said Jane excitedly.
“What is it?”
Jane showed her the paper. It was a letter, written on blue scented paper. The handwriting was florid and detailed. It looked very much like a love letter.
I wish that we could be together right now, but S. has returned from a business trip unexpectedly, and I think he’s getting suspicious. I’ll call to let you know when we can meet again.
I love you.
Quinn frowned. “This doesn’t tell us anything.”
Jane held up an envelope. “It was in this. Has a full name and address on it. James Fitzpatrick. That’s who lived here. And I know where this used to be, too. Whoever cleaned this house must have missed this. It was stuck in the skirting at the back of the closet.”
“Cleaned the house out...?”
Jane looked around. “I think this house was dumped here. I think whoever did that cleaned this house out to get rid of any trace of who lived here.”
The fading sunlight in the room was now a deep blood-red. Quinn shivered, and crossed her arms to stay warm. “You think whoever lived here moved out and wanted to cover their tracks?”
Another thought struck Quinn. She shivered again, harder this time, but covered up the thought.
“What is it?” asked Jane.
Jane glanced round the house. Quinn did the same. It suddenly seemed more eerie than it had a few days ago. It was shot through with red, lending it a morbid air.
“Let’s get out of here,” said Jane quickly.
They reached the car, after the long arduous trek back through the woods. Jane unlocked it, and got in. Quinn did the same.
Jane started the car. Quinn glanced at her. “What now?”
Jane thought for a moment. “We have to find out what we can about this Fitzpatrick guy.”
Quinn sighed. “Shouldn’t we tell the cops? This is a little out of our league.”
Jane paused. Should they? It might be the right thing to do. But, if there was something illegal involved, and Daria really was involved, it might be bad for her, and Jane couldn’t stand the thought of losing her.
“Not yet,” she said. “We don’t even have anything yet.”
Quinn shrugged. “True. So where now? The library?”
“To find out what we can about this guy.”
“Oh yeah. Is it still open?”
Quinn glanced at her watch. “Late opening tonight. Doesn’t close until eight.”
“Oh.” Jane started the car and began the drive back into Lawndale.
Brittany lay on her bed at home, flicking through the latest issue of Cheering Today. She sighed, and tossed it away. Didn’t look like there was anything happening in the world of cheerleading this month.
The phone beside her bed rang, and she picked it up.
“Hi!” she said brightly. “This is Brittany.”
“Um, hi. It’s me.” It was Daria. “Sorry about today.”
Brittany waved her hand, before realizing Daria couldn’t see her. “It’s okay! You guys had a date and everything. I’d hate to ruin your plans.”
“Don’t worry about that.” A pause. “We broke up, anyway.”
Brittany frowned. “Why? You seemed so happy!!”
“Never mind. Um, can we pick up where we left off?”
“Pick up what?”
“Our conversation!” said Daria brightly, as if she was looking forward to it.
“Sure!” Something buzzed into Brittany’s mind. “Oh, wait. I can’t. Kevvie’s coming round tonight. We have a date.”
“Oh.” Daria sounded kind of crushed.
Brittany chewed her lip. She hated to let people down. “But we can talk after school tomorrow! Okay?”
“Okay.” Her voice brightened again. “See you then.” The line went dead.
Brittany hung the phone up. Something about this situation seemed odd, but she couldn’t put her finger on it. Oh well, it was nice that Daria wanted to spend more time with her. She was so smart, and Brittany really enjoyed talking to her, even if she didn’t understand everything she said.
Quinn walked through the library, a nervous look on her face. She walked over to Jane, who was sitting in the reading area, looking drained.
“I think they frown on sleeping in the library,” said Quinn quietly.
Jane yawned, and stretched. “I’d no idea you spent any time here.”
“Shh. There’s a lot about me you don’t know.”
“True.” Jane looked at her. “Find out anything interesting?”
Quinn glanced around nervously. “We shouldn’t talk here. I think they’re about to close anyway.”
“What did you find out?” asked Jane warily. “You look kind of nervous.”
“Not here,” whispered Quinn.
Jane shrugged and they went outside to the car. They got in, and Quinn lit a cigarette. Jane frowned. “Do you have to do that here?”
“I’m an addict. I’ve got to get my fix. Besides, I need one.”
“What did you find out?” Jane looked at her. “I’m guessing it wasn’t good.”
Quinn took a drag. “He’s dead. Died a few years ago.”
“How?” Jane was starting to get a bad feeling about this.
“Car accident.” Quinn exhaled. “This all doesn’t sound right, Jane. You find a house, stripped of everything and dumped far from anywhere. We find out who owned it, and then learn that he’s dead. Even Tiffany could see that something’s not right here.”
Jane glanced out into the lights of Lawndale. This was all getting a little out of hand. “I still don’t get what all this has to do with Daria’s behavior.”
Quinn inhaled again. “Me neither. I think we should go talk to her.”
Jane shrugged. “But she won’t....talk to me.” It kind of hurt to say that.
“We should try. I can be very persuasive.”
“I believe you,” said Jane.
Quinn flicked out her cigarette. “Let’s go.”
Jane started the car, and pulled out of the parking lot. She began to drive the familiar route to Daria’s house. She glanced over to her side, and saw Quinn wiping off her fingers with scented wipes. Then she sprayed some breath freshener into her mouth, and checked her teeth in the mirror.
Jane raised an eyebrow. “You do this every day?”
Quinn sighed. “Things are bad enough at home without Mom and Dad finding out I smoke. Then you know Sandi would give me a hard time about it, and...” She tapered off.
Jane pursed her lips. “Um, I’m really sorry. About your parents, I mean. I know they’ve always been kind of...”
“Um, yeah. But I never figured it would come to this.”
Quinn sighed heavily. “Can we stop talking about this. I mean, I don’t want to be rude, or anything, but all this Daria stuff was taking my mind off things, and that was kind of a nice feeling. So, let’s drop it. Please?”
Jane looked forward to the road. “Okay. Sorry.”
“It’s okay,” said Quinn sadly. She glanced down at her lap, and was silent for the rest of the journey.
They reached the Morgendorffer house in a short while. It transpired that Daria was out. Jane wondered where she could go at this time of night, but she didn’t want to ask her parents. She suspected that Quinn didn’t either.
They made their way to Daria’s room. Quinn suggested that they search it. Jane wasn’t thrilled at the idea, but she had to admit that they had a perfect opportunity. Of course, if Daria came home in the middle of their searching, it would probably seal the door on their friendship for a very long time, if not forever. Of course, Jane couldn’t really blame her if that happened.
Quinn and her began their search. They were careful not to disturb anything too much. They didn’t want it to be immediately apparent the room had been searched.
Jane looked through the drawers, and stumbled on a small hardback book that could only be her diary. Jane held it in her hands. Quinn took it from her and looked at the cover.
“It’s her diary,” she said.
“Maybe you should...look through it,” said Quinn, in an embarrassed tone.
“Not her diary!” Jane took it back. “That’s such an invasion of privacy that it’s not funny. You know how Daria is about privacy. If she found out, she’d never speak to me ever again.”
Quinn sighed. “I can’t believe I’m suggesting this, but it might be the key, you know?”
Jane paused. She was right. But it was a diary, for God’s sake. But it might hold the answers. “Why me?” she asked.
Quinn turned away. “You’re closer to her than I am. It should be you.”
Jane looked at it again. She took a deep breath and opened it. It was an entry from about a week ago:
Mom and Dad fighting again. Damn it. Why does this sort of thing happen? You’d think that if they had figured out they were wrong for each other all those years ago, like Mom keeps yelling, they would already have already have done something about it. It would have spared me a lot of trouble.
Hmm. I’m one to talk. I figured out that Tom and I were wrong for each other months ago, and I’m still with him. Like parents, like daughter, I guess.
Naturally, Tom’s no help. You would think he would take the hint that sometimes I don’t need advice, but no...of course, dear diary, you’ve heard that part a thousand times before. You don’t need to hear it again.
Speaking of things you’ve heard before, here’s one for you. Thank God for Jane, I know I say that every day, but I don’t know what I’d do without her. She’s my stability, my sanity...
Jane stopped reading, and brushed tears away from her face. If Daria really felt that way, why this behavior now? Why was she doing this?
She was shaken from her thoughts by a loud crash from downstairs. That was followed by some angry yelling and screaming. Jane glanced over at Quinn in alarm. She was sitting on Daria’s bed, her face turned away from Jane, staring down at the floor.
“Don’t worry,” she said dully. “This happens every night. You learn to block it out after a while.”
Suddenly the phone rang. Quinn frowned, and picked it up. “Hello?” She frowned, and handed it to Jane.
Jane took it. “Hello?”
“Jane? Trent told me you were there.”
“Tom?” Jane frowned. “What are you calling me?” She really wasn’t in the mood for talking to Tom right now.
“What’s going on with Daria?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean she dumped me!” said Tom, in an annoyed voice. “She’s been acting so weird lately. I thought you could explain it.”
“Oh.” Jane rubbed her forehead. “No, I can’t explain it. I’m trying to find out too.”
“Well, what have you found out? This is kind of bugging me.”
“I can’t explain right now,” said Jane. “It’s...complicated.”
“Maybe I should have found someone a little less high-maintenance,” said Tom, trying to sound jokey.
Jane, however, was not in the mood for that. “That’s not funny.”
“I was only trying to lighten the moment,” said Tom defensively. “What is it with everyone lately...”
Jane didn’t hear the rest of what he said. She hung up the phone quickly. Tom had a way of getting to her - bad memories from before. His presence was definitely not needed right now. Maybe he’d take the hint, and stay out their lives. She wouldn’t mind that at all. She looked over at Quinn. “Don’t ask.”
Jane turned back to the diary and tried to ignore the shouts and crying from downstairs. She could see now why Daria tried to stay out of the house for as long as possible. She flicked a couple of pages ahead in the diary, and tried to find the most recent entry. She frowned. The most recent entry was for the day before the accident in the forest.
Jane swore to herself. This had been another dead end.
She sighed heavily, and set the diary down. As she was doing so, a picture fell from it. Jane leaned over and picked it up. She glanced at it for a few seconds, then tapped Quinn on the shoulder.
“Quinn, check this out.”
Quinn turned and looked at the picture. It was of a man and a woman, obviously deeply in love, holding onto each other in front of the trailer they had found. There was some writing on it. It said: “J. and V.”
Quinn scratched her head. “I guess that’s the late James.”
Jane nodded. “And that’s V.” She looked at the picture more closely. “She looks kind of familiar, doesn’t she?”
Quinn nodded. “Now that you mention it, yeah.”
Jane looked at it, then shook her head. “Damn. Can’t place her.”
Quinn stood up. “We’d better get out of this room before she gets back.”
Jane nodded. They went out onto the hallway. The furious argument downstairs seemed to have clamed down for the minute.
“I’m going to head home,” said Jane. “Sleep on this.”
Quinn nodded. “Okay. I’ll see if I can talk to Daria when she gets home, okay?”
“Right.” Jane paused. “Um, I guess I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Be discreet, remember,” said Quinn. “I still have an image at school, okay?”
Jane nodded. “Quinn? Um, thanks.”
Quinn nodded slowly. “Night.” She went into her room. Jane walked down the stairs, and tried to avoid the Morgendorffers. The argument seemed to have finished for the time being, and that awful silence was hanging over the house again. Jane hurried out, and went home to rest.
Quinn lay at home in bed, listening out to see if Daria was home yet. It seemed awfully late for her to be out. In fact, her Mom thought that as well. The arguments had started up again after Jane had left. Helen had accused Jake of not caring where Daria was, and Jake had tried to defend himself without much success.
Quinn had just rolled over in bed and tried to block the noise out. She was feeling a definite craving for a cigarette, but she couldn’t smoke in the house. That would cause all kinds of new arguments, new weapons to use against each other.
She heard someone come up the stairs and Daria’s door opening. She hopped out of bed quickly, and walked into Daria’s room, not knocking. Daria frowned when she saw who it was.
“Daria,” began Quinn. “I need to talk to you.”
“Jane and I were...are really worried about you. We really need to know what’s going on.”
“I can’t tell you.” Daria turned away.
“Look, we found the photo, Daria.”
Daria turned to in, her face blazing with anger. “What were you doing in here?”
Quinn stepped back a little, surprised by how angry she was. “We were worried, okay? You’ve been acting really weird. Jane just wants her friend back, and I want my sister.”
Daria was silent.
“Look,” Quinn’s voice faltered. “I thought we’d been getting closer, but ever since Mom and Dad started...this, you’ve been running from the house. I know you need Jane, but...” She paused. “Look...I need you too, sometimes.”
Daria turned away from her.
Quinn sighed. “Daria, please.”
“Go away, Quinn,” said Daria quietly. “Don’t get involved with this, okay?”
Quinn blinked at her in surprise. “What?”
“Go away.” It was said with more force this time.
Quinn stared at her back for a few minutes, then turned and walked back into her room. She sat on the bed, wondering why her sister had just basically told her to stay out of her life. That hurt. A lot. She really though that they’d been closer these past few months. Quinn had even come clean about Daria being her sister, not her cousin. And now Daria was completely shutting her out. What was wrong?
She grabbed her Camels and lit one quickly. She didn’t care about the fact that she was in the house now. She needed this. She sat back against the wall, and tried to figure this whole thing out.
The following day at school, Jane looked around for Quinn at once. She wanted to know if she had managed to talk to Daria.
Then she saw her.
Daria. She was walking right towards Jane. Making a beeline for her, even. Maybe this was the start of their friendship being renewed. Maybe. Of course, she didn’t look very happy. Jane got a sinking feeling in her stomach.
“Daria?” she said as she approached.
“Quinn told me you were in my room,” said Daria angrily.
Oh crap. “Um, yes?” said Jane nervously. “We were worried, Daria. We wanted to know what was going on.”
“And you found that photo.”
Double crap. “Daria, come on. You have to admit that you’ve been acting pretty weird. Then there was that photo we found. Where did you get that? What does it mean? I‘m sorry we had to look in your diary...”
“Forget the diary!” She glared at Jane. “Forget you saw that, Jane. Please. You don’t want to be involved with this, believe me.”
Jane was lost. “With what? Forget the diary? I thought you’d be more mad about that...”
“Forget it, Jane. Please. I know that you two...that we were friends for a long time. Stay out of this, please.” She gave Jane a last look, and then walked away. Jane stood in the hall. What had that meant? What had Daria meant when she said you two? Jane and Quinn, maybe. She looked up to see Daria walk over to Brittany to say Hi, and all of a sudden, a light bulb went off in her brain.
Quinn was standing by her locker with the rest of the Fashion Club. She was trying to keep up her usual persona, but she had so much on her mind that it wasn’t easy. Sandi was blathering on about some kind of new pumps, Stacy was hanging on her every word as usual, and Tiffany was in blissful ignorance, off in TiffanyLand.
Suddenly she heard her name being called. She looked up to see Jane running through the halls, calling her name. Great. This was going to be hard to explain away.
“Quinn!” Jane stopped, out of breath. “You have to come with me. Now.”
“Ex-cuse me,” said Sandi indignantly. “We are having a meeting here. You’re interrupting us.”
“Sandi...” Jane looked like she was about to say something rude, but she stopped. “I need Quinn. It’s important.”
Quinn laughed nervously. “But what could be more important than a Fashion Club meeting?”
“Exactly,” said Sandi. “It’s good to see you have priorities intact.”\
Jane glowered at her. “It’s about Daria. I know who the woman in the picture is.”
Quinn’s eyes went wide. She turned to Sandi. “Um, Sandi. I have to go. Really.”
Sandi moved to say something, but Quinn and Jane were away before she could. Stacy and Tiffany just stared blankly after them.
As they walked down the corridor, Quinn turned to Jane. “This better be important. I’m going to have to do a lot of explaining after this is all over.”
“It is,” said Jane. They reached a secluded area.
Quinn glanced at her watch. “Class is starting now, you know.”
“I know. Forget that.” Jane leaned in closer. “The woman - she’s Brittany’s Mom!”
“No!” Jane shook her head. “Her real Mom. Vivian. I saw a picture of her when I was in her house. When I painted those copies, remember? Oh no, you wouldn’t would you...”
“I thought she moved to California.”
“That’s what Brittany said.”
“S...” Quinn looked up. “Steve! Steve Taylor. Brittany’s Dad!”
Quinn frowned. “Vivian must have been having an affair with this James guy. That’s why she couldn’t see him. Because of Brittany’s Dad being back in town.”
“Yeah. And now he’s dead.”
Quinn shivered. “You don’t think...”
Jane shrugged. “I don’t know, Quinn. It is kind of suspicious.”
“And no-one’s seen Vivian for years...” Quinn leaned up against the wall. “What are we mixed up in?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know how Daria’s mixed up in it either. I should have guessed the Brittany connection earlier. She’s been hanging around with her an awful lot lately.”
“I don’t know.” A stray thought came to Jane, but it was too insane to even give any pause to. She dismissed it. “Come on.”
Quinn looked at her. “Where are we going?”
“Crewe Neck. To talk with Steve Taylor.”
“And school?” Quinn indicated the time again.
Quinn frowned. “Aren’t we just a little over our heads here? I mean...”
“Please, Quinn. This is important.”
Quinn sighed. “Okay. I’m in this deep enough as it is.”
Jane smiled wearily, and they set off.
After they reached Crewe Neck, they had a brief spot of trouble with the guard. He remembered Jane from the party all those years ago, and he didn’t want to let them in. He only relented when Jane promised to give him drawing lessons.
They reached Brittany’s house, and rang the doorbell. Steve Taylor answered. “Yes?” He frowned a little, then he gave a look of recognition. “I know you! You’re that artist friend of Brittany’s. She’s not here at the moment.”
“Um, I know,” said Jane nervously. “We want to talk to you.”
A look of confusion. “Why?”
“It’s about your wife,” said Quinn.
“Vivian,” said Quinn. “And James Fitzpatrick.”
Steve got a shocked expression, then it clouded over. “Go away.” He slammed the door in their faces, leaving Quinn and Jane standing in front of the house, deeply confused. Jane tried ringing the doorbell again, but there was no answer.
Thy walked back to the car in a daze. They got in, and Jane turned to Quinn. “That was a bust.”
“He’s hiding something,” said Quinn. “Definitely. We need to go to the cops.”
“With what? A lot of wild guesses? The fact that a guy doesn’t want to talk about his wife leaving him? That’s definitely suspicious.”
“There’s no need to be so sarcastic.”
Jane sighed. “I’m sorry, Quinn. I...this is all just beyond me. I’ve no idea what’s going on anymore. I’m no good at investigation.” Jane thought she still knew what was going on with Daria, but she didn’t want to say it out loud, afraid of how ridiculous it sounded.
“So what now?” said Quinn. “He was our last lead.”
Jane glanced at the road ahead of them. Dark clouds were covering the sky. It looked like it might rain. “Let’s go to the school. Find Daria. Tell her we know exactly what happened, and...” Ask her if what I think is true, is true. God, I can’t believe I’m even thinking that.
Quinn nodded, and the car roared into life.
Brittany walked out of the front door of the school, and began the walk home. She glanced up at the sky and shivered. It looked like it was about to rain. She wished she’d bought her coat today. She heard her name called out, and turned around. It was Daria rushing up behind her.
She waved cheerfully. Daria came up to her. “Where are you going? School isn’t over yet. We were going to meet after school.”
Brittany thought about that. She did remember saying something like that.
“I forgot about tonight,” she said apologetically. “Ashley-Amber is taking me and Brian to Oakwood tonight. Their cheerleaders are having a display tonight. I had to get off school early to make it in time.”
She hadn’t thought Ms. Li would let her, but her Dad had made her bring in a large envelope stuffed with something, and Li had suddenly become very keen on the idea. It must have been a persuasive letter.
“Oh,” said Daria. Then she glanced up at Brittany. “What’s your father doing?”
Brittany shrugged. “I don’t know. Staying at home, I guess. He didn’t want to go.”
Daria smiled. It was a strange smile, and Brittany thought it was rather strange.
“I’m sorry we can’t hang out,” said Brittany.
“That’s okay,” said Daria. “Um, have a nice time, okay? And thanks for taking to me these last few days.”
“That’s okay,” said Brittany, a little confused.
Daria suddenly hugged Brittany and held her tightly. “You’re a great person, Britt. Take care of yourself.”
Brittany was shocked. She hugged Daria back, and watched as she broke off, and walked away, looking back at her every few seconds, until disappearing round a corner. Brittany stared after her for a few moments, then walked home.
Quinn and Jane waited outside the school doors for the students to come out.
“I don’t see why we can’t go inside,” mumbled Jane.
“We both cut school,” said Quinn. “Li would have us in chains for that.”
The doors opened, and the students began streaming out. Quinn and Jane kept a close watch for Daria, but they couldn’t see her. After a few minutes, the stream of students gave way to a trickle, then to a few drops, then nothing. Jane glanced at Quinn.
“Where the hell is she?”
“I didn’t see Brittany either,” said Quinn.
They glanced at each other then back to the school. Kevin was walking out, behind one of the cheerleaders. Jane and Quinn got out of the car, and ran over to him. He was trying to convince Angie to go home with him.
“Anyway, Angie. Brittany’s out of town tonight, and I can tell that you want me, so...”
“Kevin, for the last time, Britt’s my friend. Piss off.” Angie stormed off.
Jane tapped Kevin on the shoulder. He turned and frowned when he saw her.
“Jane? I know I have a free night, but let’s be realistic here.”
“Knock it off, Kevin,” said Jane. “Have you seen Daria today?”
“Brittany?” asked Quinn.
Kevin thought about it. “She left early,” he said. “Had to go to Oakwood tonight with Ashley-Amber and Brian.”
“What about her Dad?” said Jane, getting more than a little concerned.
“I don’t know. I guess he’s staying at home.” Kevin frowned. “What’s this all about?”
Jane rushed back to the car. Quinn stared after her for a few minutes, then followed, leaving a very confused Kevin standing on the side of the road.
Jane started the car. Quinn ran up to the window.
“Where are you going?”
Jane looked at her, a tense look on her face. “Go home. Find Daria. If she’s not there, look for her anywhere you can. We have to find her.”
“Where are you going?”
“To make sure that a stupid hunch isn’t right.” Jane drove off.
Steve Taylor watched the car pull away from the house, and begin to make the journey out of Crewe Neck. He remembered those two girls that had been round earlier. He wondered what they wanted, wondered if they had known something.
He dismissed the thought. There was no proof, he’d made sure of that, and he wasn’t going to risk everything to make sure that two silly girls hadn’t found something. He wasn’t going to let anything slip. Ever. You never knew who could be listening.
He walked back into the house, back into his study, and picked up the phone. He dialed a familiar number, and waited.
“Hello. Yeah, it’s me. Look, I’ve got an empty house and I’d love it if you’d come over. We have so much fun usually, and I hate to be alone.”
He smiled as he heard agreement from the other end of the line. He set down the phone and smiled to himself. Tonight was going to be a fun night. Ashley-Amber was very capable in that department, but a bit of variety never hurt anyone.
A pang of guilt ran through him again as he thought of Vivian. Those stupid girls had brought up some bad memories. He really hadn’t meant to do anything like that that day. But some insults just got his blood boiling, and he lost control. That was all. He had been thinking of ditching her anyway. He got tired of women so quickly. The fact that she had dumped him before he had done the same to her was another sticking point for him.
Thinking of the girls again, he thought that perhaps he had better get someone to keep an eye on them. Nothing blatant, just some insurance. If they did know something...well, he’d have to take steps then. But the less contact they had with him directly, the better.
He heard a sudden noise and turned to face the door.
Jane drove past the gate to Crewe Neck, and drove a little but further down the road. She thought it wasn’t a great idea to go in through the front way tonight. Not if what she was thinking was actually true.
She shook her head. It couldn’t be. It was insane.
But it fit.
That was the problem. It fit all the facts. The crying in front of Crewe Neck, the taking of the photograph, the talking with Brittany, everything. It all fit. And if it was true, Jane had to find her before she did something stupid.
She pulled the car along the side of the road, and got out. The sky was dark and overcast. That was good. Visibility was terrible, so no-one would be able to see her. She walked over to the wall, and scaled up it quickly. She leapt over the top, and landed in Crewe Neck. Picking herself up, she got her bearings, and headed for the Taylor house.
“Who’s there?” Steve flicked on the main light in in his study. He couldn’t see anyone there. He frowned, and turned around to get the phone.
“Put it down.” It was a quiet voice, full of menace and anger.
Steve turned. In the doorway was a short figure. She stepped forward into the light. Steve looked at her, and blinked in recognition.
“You’re Brittany’s friend! Darla, or something?”
She didn’t say anything.
Steve cocked his head. “What are you doing here? Brittany’s gone for the night. And how did you get in?”
“You never changed the codes.” She was staring straight at him now, the look in her eyes downright scary. “From when we were married.”
He stared at her. “Married? What the hell are you talking about?”
No answer. He looked down at her right hand, and took a step backwards in fear.
She was holding a large kitchen knife.
Jane made her way through the streets, working her way to the Taylor’s. A clap of thunder sounded, and it began to rain. Jane smiled wryly. Talk about cliche. She quickened her pace slightly until the Taylor’s was visible ahead of her.
Steve stumbled backwards. He knew that he could probably subdue her easily, but there was something in her eyes...something that spooked him. The girl took a few steps forward. “Scared? You should be, after what you did to me.”
Steve shook his head. “Kid, I don’t know you. I’ve met you like twice in my whole life. I’ve never done anything to you.”
She smiled. “Don’t worry. I’m going to tell you everything. Everything you did to me. Then I’m going to kill you.”
Another smile. Then, she began walking towards him.
Jane jogged up to the back door. Surprisingly, it was cracked open. The alarm system seemed to have been shut off. She walked inside, praying she wasn’t too late. She heard voices coming from the study, and rushed into it.
There was an interesting sight there.
Daria was walking slowly towards Steve Taylor, a large kitchen knife in her hands, and he was stumbling backwards, clearly terrified. They both glanced round as she came in.
Jane took advantage of the brief pause, and got in between the two of them.
She stared straight at Daria. “Don’t do this, Vivian.”
Daria blinked in surprise.
Jane looked at her. “It is you, isn’t it? I thought I was being crazy, but it’s really you in there.”
“Vivian?” It was Steve Taylor. “My ex-wife? What are you talking about?”
“Shut up!” Jane turned back to Daria. “Please don’t do this.”
“Get out of my way,” snarled Daria. “You don’t know what he did to me.”
Jane nodded. “Yes I do. He killed you, didn’t he? He killed the man you loved. He ruined your life. He’s a worm. But that doesn’t mean you can kill him!”
“Give me one good reason not to! He ruined my life!” Tears were streaming down her face now. “I had hopes. I had dreams. He took those all away from me! I thought I’d never see my children again. That’s what he did!”
“What the...?” Steve sounded completely lost. “I don’t...”
“Shut up,” said Jane desperately. “Vivian, please. I don’t know what you went through, but I know what I’ve been going through. That girl who’s body you’ve been using. You’re going to get her sent away. This is going to ruin her life.“ Jane paused. “She’s my friend, okay? She’s the most important person in my life. If you do this, you’ll ruin her life and my life, too.”
Daria paused. Jane thought she might be getting through to her.
“Her life is rough enough as it is these days. If you do this, she won’t have a life. Please. Think about this.”
Daria looked into her eyes. “You’re really this close to her?”
Jane nodded. “I love her. More than anything. She’s my best friend.”
“Listen to her,” said Steve nervously.
“Shut up!” said Jane irritably. “Vivian, please. Put the knife down.”
Daria looked at the knife, then nodded, and lowered it. Jane sighed, and relaxed. She let out the breath she’d been holding.
Then she felt the breath being knocked out of her. She felt Daria punch her in the stomach, and throw her to the side. Jane was completely caught off guard, and fell into the wall. She’d no idea that Daria was that strong. She turned, tried to get up, and saw a sight that would haunt her for the rest of her life.
Daria plunged the knife into Steve Taylor’s chest. He yelled in pain, and tried to push her off. But she appeared to be too strong. She did it again, again, again. Jane watched in horror, fixed to the spot, unable to move in sheer shock. Blood sprayed from his body, splattering over Daria. The knife plunged down for a final time. Steve made a horrible gasping sound, gargled out blood, and plunged to the floor. He didn’t move again.
Jane, stunned beyond belief, pulled herself to her feet. Daria stood over the body, dropped the knife, and smiled. Then, it was as if a switch had been turned off, and she fell to the floor.
There was an icy silence in the room. The only sound was that of the rain beating on the windows. Jane stood, immobile, not knowing what the hell to do. Steve Taylor was most definitely dead. There was blood everywhere. Jane resisted the urge to run and puke her guts out.
What the hell am I going to do? Daria just murdered someone!
Not Daria. It wasn’t Daria. She didn’t have any control. Daria wasn’t that strong, anyway. How had she managed to throw Jane aside and kill a man who was easily a foot taller than she was? Jane shook her head, still in a daze. It was like she...Jane couldn’t help but laugh involuntarily - like she was possessed.
Is that what you’re going to tell the cops? That she was possessed? Good idea, Lane.
She had to do something. Her friend, her best friend, her only friend, was going to go to jail for this. She’d be gone from Jane’s life forever, probably. And all Jane could do was stand here, laughing at the whole situation.
What can I do?
Jane made a decision. She walked over to Daria, and felt her pulse. She was alive all right. She grabbed the knife, and tried to scoop her up in her arms. She was a little too heavy, though. Jane let her go, and put her hands up to her face. This wasn’t going to work.
Jane turned off the outside lights, and wiped down every surface she thought Daria and her might have touched. She hadn’t seen her come in, though, so she knew she wasn’t getting them all. She tried to put that out of her head, and continued.
This is crazy. You’re never going to get away with this.
Jane shook her head. She would. She had to.
She decided to drag Daria , and took one final look at Steve Taylor’s body. Shivering, she half-carried, half-dragged Daria outside. Looking out for anyone watching, Jane made her way to the wall. The heavy rain washed away most of the trail of blood that she was leaving, but not all. Coming to the wall, she managed to push Daria over the top, and climbed over herself.
Bundling Daria into the back seat, she drove as fast as she could to her house. She prayed that the Spiral weren’t practicing tonight. Pulling up outside, she grabbed Daria, and carried her into the house.
“Trent?” Jane felt her voice cracking.
Keep it together, Lane. Daria needs you.
“Trent!” Jane yelled as hard as she could.
Trent appeared from the living room. “What’s wrong, Janey? You woke me up.”
“Are the Spiral here?”
Trent shook his head. “No, why?”
Jane indicated the blood-soaked Daria. Trent’s eyes went wide. “Shit! What the hell happened to her?”
Jane placed her hands on his shoulders. “She’s fine. It’s not her blood.”
“What?” Trent looked very stressed. “Whose is it?”
“Don’t worry, Trent.” Jane tried to sound calm. She didn’t make a good job of it.
“Of course I’m worried, Janey. What the hell happened?”
Jane’s voice went to a frightened whisper. “Trent, you love me, right?”
Trent looked at her. “Of course. Janey...”
Jane cut him off. “And you care for Daria, right?”
Trent nodded. “Yeah. You know that. Janey, please...”
Jane looked up into his eyes. “Don’t ever ask me what happened today. Please, Trent.”
Trent looked at her doubtfully.
Trent nodded slowly. “Okay. Just promise me you’ll tell me one day, okay?”
Jane nodded. On the verge of breaking down, she pulled Trent to her and held him close for a few moments. He held onto her as well.
She pulled herself together, and broke off. “Okay,” she said tersely. “Let’s get these clothes off.”
“Trent, please. Help me get her clothes off.”
Trent looked at her, then helped her pull Daria’s clothes off. He flushed as they did so. Jane walked over to a closet and pulled two bathrobes out. She pulled off her own clothes off, and put on one of the bathrobes. She put one on Daria too.
She picked up the two bundles of clothes and handed them to Trent. “Here. Take these downstairs and burn them.”
She nodded. “Use Mom’s kiln, the furnace, anything. Please.” She glanced outside. “There’s blood on the inside of the car too. We’ll need to clean that as well.”
Jane knelt down beside Daria. “I’m going to get her upstairs. Hope she comes out of this soon. I’ve got a spare change of clothes for her upstairs.”
Trent reached over and held her tight. “It’ll be okay, Janey. I don’t know what’s going on, but things will be okay, I promise.”
Jane smiled at him through tears. “Thanks.” She hugged him back. “I love you, Trent.”
“Me too.” Trent gave her a last squeeze, and walked away.
Everything was black. Then, slowly, everything came back into focus. Daria blinked. She was lying in Jane’s bed. Jane was sitting beside her, watching over her. Daria tried to sit up, but felt weak.
“Jane,” she said quietly. “What’s been going on? I don’t remember anything of the last few days. The last thing I remember was finding that trailer...”
“You’ve been sick,” said Jane. “Real sick.”
“Must have been,” mumbled Daria. “I must have been out of it.” She looked around. “Why aren’t I at home?”
“You...” Jane paused. “You were out of it.”
Daria looked at her. Jane’s eyes were red-rimmed. “Have you been crying?”
Jane paused again. Then she nodded. “I was worried.”
Daria was touched by this, although she didn’t say so. “Um, thanks.”
Daria glanced round at her surroundings. “Why am I here, and not at home again?”
Jane seemed to be searching for an answer. “Figured here would help your recovery better,” she said finally.
“Oh. Thanks,” she said awkwardly.
“Hey,” said Jane. “I’m your friend. I’d do anything for you. Anything.”
Daria looked at her. “Jane, are you okay?”
Jane nodded. “Fine. You look tired. Try to get some rest.”
Daria sat back. She was totally drained. Within a few more minutes, she was asleep.
Jane sat back in her chair, and sighed heavily. This was insane. What was she doing? Was Daria worth all this? She looked at her sleeping form, and knew the answer.
She got up, leaned over Daria and kissed her gently on the forehead. “Get some rest,” she said quietly, and walked out of the room.
As she walked down the stairs, there was a furious knocking on the door. Jane opened it.
It was Quinn, looking extremely stressed. “Jane! What the hell happened?”
Jane shook her head and walked into the living room. She flopped down on the couch.
Quinn followed her. “Jane, you told me she might be going over to Brittany’s house, and I went over there, and there were all kinds of cops and everything there! What the hell happened?”
“Calm down, Quinn,” said Jane sadly.
“Calm down?” Quinn threw her arms up in the air. “God!”
“This isn’t going to help anything.”
Quinn shook her head, pulled out a cigarette and lit it. “Are you going to tell me what’s going on?”
Jane shook her head. “No,” she said quietly.
Quinn stared at her. “What?”
Jane looked down at the floor. “The less people that know what happened the better. This way you can’t be blamed if...someone found out?”
Quinn didn’t say anything. She took a drag, her fingers trembling. “So something did happen.”
Jane didn’t say anything.
“Oh God.” She glanced up. “Is Daria okay?”
Jane nodded. “She seems to be back to normal.”
Quinn nodded. “Good.”
Jane glanced away. “I have to go out for a while. You want to stay here and keep an eye on Daria?”
Quinn exhaled, and nodded. “Okay.”
Jane took a last look at her, and left.
Jane drove out of town, going past Crewe Neck on the way. Through the gates, she could see that there were still a bunch of cop cars outside the house. Jane stopped, and looked at them for a minute. She saw Jodie standing across the street, taking some deep breaths. She spotted Jane and walked over.
Jane steeled herself, and tried to act as if she did not know what was going on.
“Hey, Jane.” Jodie had a sad expression on her face.
“Hi, Jodie. What’s going on in there?”
“Murder investigation,” said Jodie.
“What?” Jane put on her best shocked look. “Who?”
“What happened?” Jane had no choice but to act like this.
Jodie shrugged. “Looked like someone broke into the house and stabbed him. The cops told me to wait out here since I’m not a family member. I just came over to support Brittany.”
“Whoa. How’s she taking it?”
“About as well as can be expected. Kevin’s actually being supportive for once.” Jodie sighed. “She’s a mess. She didn’t see the body, thank God - Ashley-Amber found it and had enough sense to get the other two out of there.” She shook her head. “Brittany took losing her Mom really hard when her parents separated. But she wasn’t killed...I don’t know what she’s going to do now. This is totally different.”
“Weird,” said Jane. “They, um, have any idea who did it?”
“I don’t know,” said Jodie. “Brittany told me that the security system was disabled, and only the family members know the code. It’s a weird one.”
“What’s going to happen to Brittany and her brother?”
“I don’t know. They tried to call her Mom, but no-one seems to know where she is.” Jodie sighed. “I hate seeing her like this. I can only imagine what would it would feel like to have my Dad murdered. I’m going to do what I can for her, though.”
Jane didn’t say anything. Inside, her stomach was churning.
“I have to go,” whispered Jane.
“Okay.” Jodie was staring over at Crewe Neck, so she didn’t see the tortured expression on Jane’s face.
Jane, feeling dead inside, started the car, and drove out of town.
The flashlight shone throughout the dark, foreboding forest as Jane made her way down to the pit. In one hand, she held the flashlight, in the other, a gasoline container.
Gingerly, she climbed down into the pit, and stood facing the trailer. She wished she had never brought Daria here. If she hadn’t insisted on going out for photographs, none of this would ever have happened.
She walked through the trailer as fast as she could, splashing gas in every room. The rain had stopped now. That meant this would be a lot easier.
After she had finished, she walked outside, pulled out a lighter, and set the house on fire. It went up pretty quickly, helped a lot by the copious amounts of gas in there. It was dark, pitch-black this far out of the city. No-one would see this, probably. And if they did, by the time they got here, there would be nothing left.
As the flames spread over the outside, Jane pulled the bag with the murder weapon out of her pocket, and tossed it into the blaze. Could she really get away with this? Wouldn’t someone, somewhere, figure this all out and find her? Take Daria away? They’d never believe her story. They’d take her away, then put Jane inside for being an accomplice.
Jane wasn’t about to let that happen without a fight. She had gotten Daria into this, she was going to try her damnedest to get her out of it. No matter what.
But there was still the fingerprints she had missed...her boot prints...the trail of blood...maybe even witnesses...Jane couldn’t get those out of her head.
“I’m your friend, Daria,” she said quietly to herself. “I’d do anything for you.”
Jane stood and watched the trailer burn, the smoke rising into the night sky, every last piece of evidence that she could destroy vanishing into the flames. It wasn’t going to be enough. But Jane was going to try. No-one would split them up. No-one.
Thanks to my wife.
Thanks to MTV.
Thanks to my Beta-Readers: Brandon League, GreyStar, Steven Galloway, THM, Thea Zara, TerraEsperZ, Robert Nowall, and Roger Moore.