And When Your Heart Begins to Bleed





Text ©2010 The Angst Guy (

Daria and associated characters are ©2010 MTV Networks



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Synopsis: Daria, Jane, Quinn, Stacy, Sandi, and other students at Lawndale High struggle through a brutal twenty-four-hour period of unforeseen challenges, in this alternate-universe tale created from a list of the “Top Ten Things That Never Happen in Daria Fanfics” (with a few extra ideas thrown in).


Author’s Notes: This story contains graphic and disturbing material; it is probably just below having an R rating. Other author’s notes were moved to the end of the story.


Acknowledgements: My sincere appreciation goes to Mike Xeno, who came up with the original list of “Things That Never Happen in Daria Fanfics,” and to WacoKid, who came up with the Iron Chef contest that sparked this story. All other contributors of ideas to this story are acknowledged in the “Author’s Notes” at the story’s end.










It’s like a lion at the door;

And when the door begins to crack,

It’s like a stick across your back;

And when your back begins to smart,

It’s like a penknife in your heart;

And when your heart begins to bleed,

You’re dead, and dead, and dead, indeed.


—from “A Man of Words and Not of Deeds,”

(English nursery rhyme, anon.)






Chapter One



       Daria Morgendorffer awoke on a cold Monday morning in May with her head full of things she wanted only to forget. Reaching for the off button on the alarm by her bed, she swung her legs from under the covers and sat up, weary despite her heavy sleep. She didn’t brush back the curtain of her brown hair and reach for her glasses as she usually did. Instead, she stared at the floor and did nothing for a length of time. She felt dirty with the knowledge of her stupidity. In a few hours she would face the consequences of a misguided impulse, and she could think of no way around it.

       Better, then, to meet her fate as soon as possible and get it over with—unless she could escape from it a little bit longer.

       She got out of bed and stumbled over several days’ worth of discarded clothing on her way across her bedroom, planning to take a shower. Her hand was on the doorknob before it occurred to her that the world was decidedly blurry. Grimacing, she went back to the TV stand, put on her glasses, and left the room, shuffling down the hall in her nightshirt. Her parents moved quietly around in their bedroom, preparing for their day at their separate jobs. If Daria hurried, she could get showered, eat, and miss them both.

       She opened the bathroom door to find that Quinn had beaten her to it. Her red-haired younger sister was wiping acne medicine over her face with a cotton ball. She wore a pink bathrobe, her long, wet hair wrapped in a towel. The air was full of steam.

       Daria was on the verge of making a remark about a mythical zit on Quinn’s neck, solely to get back at her sister for hogging the bathroom first, when Quinn said, “I’m done. Bathroom’s yours.”

       “Oh,” said Daria. “Okay.” Her expectation of exchanging witty barbs with her sister collapsed. “So, how did your date last—

       “Gotta run,” Quinn said, looking away. She threw out the cotton ball, picked up her hairbrush and hair dryer, and scooted past Daria to her own room down the hall.

       Daria stepped out of the bathroom to look after her, but Quinn hurried into her bedroom and shut the door, locking it. Daria went back in the bathroom, closed the door, and prepared herself for what she suspected would be a very long day. When her shower and toweling off were done, she hesitated before the mirror and looked at her face, examining every aspect of it with great intensity. An unsuspected truth settled over her, a burden that weighed down her shoulders as well as her dreams.

       I’m not beautiful, she thought. She turned her face from side to side, eyeing her image. I’ve always known I wasn’t beautiful, but I never really saw how ugly I was until now. I’ve hardly ever given my looks a second thought, except when I pulled off that stunt with Quinn’s boyfriends to get her to stop pretending to be a brain, or when I tried wearing contacts for a while. The reality is right in front of me. I can’t believe I never saw it before. I’m not beautiful or even good-looking. I’m not even handsome in a feminine way. My face has no character or sex appeal at all. None, zip, zero, nothing.

       Why did I think I could change that? I really believed the trip I made to the salon in Oakwood Saturday afternoon would reveal a beautiful me hidden under my glasses. I really thought it would. I wanted to look my best for my beloved (a part of her mind began to laugh at that phrase: my beloved). I went to the best salon Quinn knew of, and they did everything they could to bring out that beautiful inner me, but I came home looking like a desperate hooker. The eyeliner, the rouge, my hair, everything—I looked awful, like a nightmare, like a whore, and I washed it off before anyone else saw, the money wasted except to show me the truth of myself, the real inner me.

       I’m not beautiful. I’m not wise and thoughtful. I’m not kind. All I have to catch a partner’s attention is my intelligence, but even that sucks as a hook. It wasn’t worth a thing last night, when I took that big chance and said those three magic words to the one I loved. (The one I loved, ran her thoughts again and again, emphasizing the past tense.) I held out my heart, and my beloved looked at me as if I was a fool, because in that moment I was a fool. Daria, said my beloved (gently, carefully, trying not to shatter my heart completely), I don’t love you, not like that. We don’t have any chemistry. I care about you, but I don’t love you in the way you want. We were always meant to be friends. We can’t fit together in any other way, not like you want. Let’s be friends, Daria, let’s just go back to being good friends.

       The words were out, and my beloved did not take them back. My heart fell from me and died.

       Strange, that I did not cry when I went home. Strange, I lost everything I had inside me and did not cry. It didn’t seem to be worth it.

       Daria took off her glasses and leaned close to the mirror, looking over every pore on her nose and cheeks. After a long moment, she looked away, ashamed, and put her glasses on again.

       I was a fool for the one I thought was my beloved, and what have I to show for it?

       No one answered her.

       She left the bathroom to get dressed.

       Today would only get worse, she knew. It would get a lot worse. The analogy of looking into a bottomless grave was not inappropriate.




Chapter Two



       Quinn Morgendorffer sat on her bed and dried her long red hair, staring into space. She then brushed it out until it was a blaze of orange fire, but she didn’t look in the mirror to check. She knew what she looked like. More importantly, she no longer cared. Being beautiful was automatic. She no longer had to think about what makeup to put on or what clothes to wear. Her hands moved of their own volition and did all the work for her, leaving her mind free to think about anything she wanted.

       What is it that I want? Quinn thought. I finally have to choose. What is it I really want? She hadn’t a clue. Twenty-four hours earlier she knew perfectly well what she wanted in life. She was the most popular girl in Lawndale High, had all the clothing and accessories any teenage girl could imagine, and had enough dates to keep her in French food until she went to college. Quinn had not a care in the world, and then she went out for a second date with Skylar Feldman. Now, she knew nothing at all.

       Skylar on the surface was okay. He was handsome enough and knew his manners. His family was rich and had a boat, and he had all the toys a teenage guy could want, including his own sports car. However, over the last year, Skylar didn’t care about that so much. Lately, he’d not been quite so full of himself, not so inclined to act like he was hot stuff. Now he kept to himself and didn’t talk when he had nothing to say, and that made him sort of interesting. Last Friday, Quinn found an excuse to chat with him. After some hesitation he asked her out for dinner on Sunday night, which was what she wanted in the first place.

       Yet—it wasn’t exactly what she wanted, either. Skylar had taken her out once before, several years ago, but he’d dumped her when he discovered she was planning to dump him later for his best friend. Quinn didn’t see the harm in it. She never had any intention of going steady. Why limit your options when you’re on top of the world? Why limit yourself to one guy?

       But what if the guy was the right one?

       And how did you know if a guy was right, or only looked it?

       No one had a good answer for any of these questions. When asked the latter, Quinn’s mother ranted on about a stunt-car driver to whom she’d lost her virginity, God knew how many years ago, until Quinn escaped to the bathroom. Her friends in the Fashion Club had completely different ideas on what constituted a “right guy,” none of them helpful in the least to Quinn’s situation. Tiffany was the worst on the subject. She wanted only a guy who thought she was thin, as if her recent habit of running to the bathroom to throw up lunch would ever attract anyone except gastrointestinal specialists. Clearly, Tiffany needed help, but whether that help should be medical or psychiatric, no one in the Fashion Club could say. Quinn had decided to inform the high-school principal, Ms. Li, about it—anonymously, of course. Rail-thin Tiffany had no spare weight she could afford to lose.

       Quinn shrugged it off. Tiffany’s method of finding the right guy wasn’t the issue. The problem was, Quinn had not been looking for the right guy. It hadn’t even been an issue. He had simply shown up, unannounced.

       I’m not in love, Quinn thought. I know that for sure. I’m not in love with Skylar, but I do want to see him again. I wouldn’t mind if he came by today and asked me out again. It might even be worth bending my rule about slow dancing and see what he’s like up close on the third date instead of the fifth. If he doesn’t ask me out, I won’t be broken up about it—but I’m pretty sure he’ll ask me. I hope he will, anyway. I want that.

       Her hands hovered over her collection of perfumes, settling on her personal favorite. This had better work, she thought, and she was surprised because this was the first time she’d ever not been sure that a guy would ask her out again, the first time she’d ever questioned her ability to catch a guy’s attention and hold it. The difference was that during dinner the night before, Skylar had asked about the real Quinn, which Quinn had assumed would always stay hidden. When Skylar pressed, though, she finally let him see a little of what lay behind her bouncy orange hair and makeup—and Skylar had liked what he saw. He liked the real Quinn. That just blew Quinn’s mind. That anyone would like what was really inside her, that was just impossible.

       And that was a rush like nothing else in the entire world.

       Well, like almost nothing else.

       I’m not in love, Quinn thought, but Skylar listened to me and got me to talk about stuff that was really bothering me, like my grades and college and a career and all that futuristic junky stuff. He didn’t talk about himself or his family’s boat. He didn’t tell me how cool he was. He didn’t try to tell me what I should do about my problems. He just listened. When did guys start to do that, anyway? Maybe he’s a mutant or something.

       And—he told me I was intelligent. I couldn’t believe it. He said it like it was a good thing, not like it was a smart-like-Daria geek thing. He said I had a lot going on upstairs, and he said it like it turned him on. Not even my tutor David from last summer said I was really smart. I can’t believe I ever liked him anyway, though he did help me with my schoolwork and said he was proud of me, which was something, I guess. But Skylar also said he believed in me, which David never did. Skylar said I could do anything. When he said that, it made me think I could do anything, absolutely anything in the world. Something inside me went ping, and I felt really, really good. I can’t ever remember feeling good like that. It hit me all the way from my head down to my toes—and everywhere between.

       Quinn shivered, then got up from her dressing table and walked to her closet. She put on the first thing she grabbed, then put on the next thing she grabbed, then put something on her feet and went to her jewelry box and put on a few more things—and stopped. The small black box Skylar had given her last night held her attention. After deliberating, she took out the box and unwrapped it. Two gold earrings glittered within. Quinn carefully put them on and looked in the mirror, then left her room, looking her best without half trying.

       I’m not in love, but I think it’s time to try going steady for real, she thought. I’ll go steady with Skylar, if he’ll do it. I hope he does. I want that more than anything—even more than—well, maybe even more than that.

       Quinn knew she had crossed into a new territory in her world. She had left behind the old and safe and predictable for the new and frightening and exhilarating, traveled to a place where the payoffs and losses and the joy and pain would be spectacular. A new Quinn was in town, and there was no way to undo it.

       She never once considered what Jeffy, Joey, or Jamie would think about that. She did not even remember their names.




Chapter Three



       It wasn’t until Daria was already outside her home and on her way to school that she realized that she was walking to Jane’s house, as she always did. She stopped and stared down the street, unsure of which direction she should go. Do I really want to do this after last night? Can I possibly face the mess I made? Can I possibly face Jane?

       After a long moment, she tentatively kept going for Jane’s. She could have turned around and let Jane walk to Lawndale High by herself, which would have been less awkward than what she was about to do—but what was the point of having a best friend if you made a point of avoiding her?

       Unless your best friend wanted to avoid you. Jane probably wanted it that way, too, given what Daria had done last night. Daria could hardly blame her if so.

       The fifteen-minute walk to the Lane home seemed to take eons. Daria turned a final corner and looked down Jane’s street—and there was Jane, sitting on the front step of her home, looking back at her. She’d obviously been there for some time. Daria stopped dead on the sidewalk at the curb, focused on her only friend.

       After a moment, her only friend got up, brushed herself off, picked up her backpack, and casually strode across three neighbors’ yards to get directly to Daria. As Jane approached, Daria looked away, pretending to be interested in the building rush-hour traffic.

       “Wasn’t sure if you’d come around this morning,” said Jane without preamble. “Thought it was better if I came outside rather than have you come in.”

       Daria nodded, her face expressionless. “I didn’t know if you want to see me,” she said, looking at the ground.

       “Why wouldn’t I? Don’t answer that.” Jane began walking, Daria followed, and soon they were headed side-by-side toward the high school. After a reasonable silence, Jane took a deep breath. “Are you okay?”

       “No,” said Daria quickly. “No, I’m not.” She swallowed and added, “I’m sorry.”

       “Don’t be sorry.” Jane shrugged. “It’s not like the end of the world. I hope.”

       “It feels like it is,” said Daria. She rubbed her stomach as if in pain.

       “Maybe it’s not, though,” said Jane, squinting upward. “Sun’s up, sky’s blue, we’re not dead yet. That last part was supposed to be funny, by the way.”

       “That was so stupid of me,” Daria mumbled. She realized she was walking too quickly and forced herself to slow down. “It was just plain dumb. I can’t believe I did it.”

       Jane made no immediate response except to take another breath. “Don’t run away from me,” she said after a pause, “but I sorta can’t believe you did it, either. I mean, you didn’t do anything wrong, it’s just that—well, you surprised me, I guess. That’s all. You wanna talk about it, or should I pick up the rest of the story telepathically?”

       They walked together for an entire block before Daria said, “I don’t know what got into me. It started after Tom went off with his family to the Cove on vacation, and you and I were eating pizza in your kitchen. That was two weeks ago from yesterday, I think. Then Trent came in and had a piece with us, and I don’t know what came over me. You left the room to turn down the stereo, and I asked him—” Daria coughed in embarrassment “—if I could write a song for him. For his group, I mean. Spiral.”

       “So, the song was for Spiral, and not just for my brother alone?”

       Daria cleared her throat and walked another half block without answering. Jane walked patiently at her side.

       The words spilled out of Daria in a rush. “I’ve tried writing music a few times, and I can do lyrics, rhymes and things, just not the music, you know. I told him I wanted to find out more about what kind of music Mystik Spiral liked to play, because it would help me work out the lyrics, so I kind of asked him out, and we had pizza a few times, walked around town, just talked. It wasn’t like we were dating, but I guess we were, sort of. Nothing else happened. We just talked, you know? It was nothing.”

       “Trent didn’t talk about it much, but I got the idea.”

       “We were just talking,” said Daria again. “It was nothing.”

       “So nothing happened,” echoed Jane. She thought to ask what Tom had said about all this, but she was quite sure now that Tom was out of the loop regarding this little secret. “Slow down a little.”

       Daria forced herself to walk slower. “Sorry,” she said, still not looking up.

       “Daria,” said Jane, and she paused, searching for the magic phrase to make this better. “If I understand what happened correctly, things like this happen all the time.”

       “No,” said Daria flatly. “No, they don’t. Not to me.”

       “So, you and Trent went out last night and talked about the music business over pizza? He didn’t talk to me this morning about what went on last night, but I take it that’s what happened.”

       “Yeah,” said Daria in a small voice. “We came right back to your place afterwards. You know that, right? We just came in to talk a little more. About the song.”

       “And you asked him what he thought of it,” said Jane.

       Daria opened her mouth to speak, but she closed it after no words came out. She reached up and wiped her eyes under her glasses. “I didn’t know you were in the next room,” she finally said. Her voice broke. “I should’ve just shut the hell up and—and gone home and—”

       Jane immediately knew what was coming. She caught Daria by her upper arm and steered her away from the intersection that would take them directly to school, pulling her friend toward a side street. Daria followed like a robot, her face screwing up further with every step. Jane put her arm around Daria’s shoulders, over the top of her backpack, and pulled her close, matching Daria’s pace as best she could.

       Two steps later, Daria burst into tears. Her shoulders shook as she inhaled with a long, terrible wheeze, then covered her face and sobbed. She slowed but continued walking blindly, guided along only by the pressure of Jane’s body at her side.

       Jane swallowed and felt her own eyes burning. They walked down the side street for several minutes as Daria wept. Passersby on foot and in cars glanced at the two but looked away as if they’d suddenly become invisible.

       The weeping subsided before long. “I deed a hakerchef,” Daria mumbled, her nose stopped up.

       Jane dropped her hand from Daria’s shoulders and pulled a wadded tissue from her jacket pocket. Daria took it and blew her nose several times, stuffing it into her own jacket pocket.

       “What did Trent say?” asked Jane.

       Daria suddenly laughed through her tears, ending with another round of coughing. “He said it sucked,” she said, forcing a smile.

       Jane stared down at Daria’s face. “He didn’t put it that way, did he?”

       “No, he didn’t. He was nice about it, but he said the song... it just wasn’t the whatever, the genre or class or whatever kind of song that Spiral does. He said the other guys talked about it, and there were some things about it they liked, but they all thought it wouldn’t work. They really didn’t like it very much.” Daria sniffed hard, her smile gone. She struggled to resume her usual deadpan look. “He was nice about it, though, and he gave it back to me and I tore it up and threw it out when I got home, so that’s over with and I don’t have to do something stupid like that ever again.” She sniffed again. “Back to reality for this stupid girl.”

       Jane led Daria around another corner, taking her on a block-long circular detour back to the main road heading for school. “You didn’t want me to see your song?”

       “No!” said Daria, too loudly. She continued in a more normal voice. “No, I think that for the sake of future generations it should be left buried in that salt mine so no one’s harmed by the deadly radiation it’s giving off.” She nodded to herself. “I’m over it.”

       Jane waited. They reached the halfway point in their long detour.

       “Was that all Trent said?” Jane asked.

       “Was that all he said?” repeated Daria in a dead voice. She sniffed. “Was that all he said, you mean, after he said he didn’t love me?”

       Jane turned her head instantly. Daria’s face was turning red again.

       “Oh, no,” said Jane in horror. She slowed down.

       Daria’s eyes squeezed shut as she lowered her head. “You didn’t hear that part? I told him that I loved him, but he said he didn’t love me back and I said that was okay and I said I was sorry and he said—” Tears fell like a hot rain over her jacket front.

       Jane caught Daria by the arm again and pulled her to a stop. There was nothing else Jane could do but put her arms around Daria, as the smaller girl pressed her face to Jane’s chest and howled in her grief and shame. There was nothing else Jane could do, but nothing would be enough, and she knew it. The pain was too deep and wide.

       When Daria cried this time, Jane looked as though she might, too. She was close, but she stared at something over Daria’s shoulder, something beyond seeing that held her back from the edge. Daria wept, Jane stared at that distant thing, and the cars drove by.




Chapter Four



       Quinn arrived at Lawndale High in a daze. She didn’t recall putting on makeup before she left, and she stopped twice on the way to school to look in her backpack mirror to make sure she had done so. She wore a frilly white blouse over her skintight jeans, the proper amount of midriff showing, with her white leather cowboy boots and the usual gold bracelets and anklets and rings and necklaces—and the earrings that Skylar bought for her. She was aware of them with every step, all the way across town.

       Does he still want to see me? What should I do when I see him? What do I tell other people about us? I always knew what to do when going out with a guy, but if we really go steady, that means

       “Quinn! Ohmigod!” Stacy Rowe appeared out of nowhere from a crowd of students in the hall and ran to her, shaking her by the arm. Her pigtails bounced with excitement. “Quinn, you’ll never ever believe this!”

       Quinn pulled back and stared at her in shock. Something looked odd about Stacy’s hair, but she couldn’t pinpoint it. “What?”

       “Tiffany! Tiffany called me last night late and said she was in the hospital, at Cedars of Lawndale!”

       Quinn forgot Skylar entirely. “What? You’re kidding me! What is she doing there?”

       “You know how we were so worried about her last week because she was throwing up after lunch, and Sandi thought she was being anorectic or bulimic or whatever? Well, guess what? It was food poisoning! She was sick because she was eating this no-fat vegetable-substitute chicken salad that had gone bad in her parents’ refrigerator, and she didn’t know it was the chicken salad that was making her sick so she kept bringing it for lunch, you know? And—”

       “Well, how sick is she? Does she need to have an operation or something?”

       “No, I don’t think so.” Stacy was catching her breath now. “She said they were keeping her in for the night for observations, you know, to see if the antibiotics and everything they’re giving her work. I guess she might come home later today if she stops throwing up. Can you believe that? Ohmigod!”

       Just like Tiffany to make herself deathly ill when she thought she was making herself thin, Quinn thought. Stacy herself didn’t seen terribly upset about it; she seemed far more excited to be the one to tell the news. “We should get Sandi and go see her after school, then,” said Quinn, taking command. “Have you seen—

       This fired Stacy up a second time. “Oh! Oh! Sandi’s been looking for you! She said she had to see you about something really important but personal, and I asked her what it was but she said it was club business and I wasn’t supposed to know what it was, but that’s okay because I think it’s about Tiffany but it might be about something else, you know? I don’t know. Anyway, I’m so glad to see you! You look...”

       Stacy’s voice trailed off. She leaned closer, her eyes growing larger as she stared at the side of Quinn’s head.

       “What?” said Quinn, frowning. She reached up and touched her cheek. “Something wrong?”

       “Oh, Quinn!” Stacy gasped. “Those are so beautiful!”

       The earrings, of course. “Oh, thank you,” said Quinn. She held her hair aside. From her ear hung a bright gold earring in the shape of a smiling sun with a human face and wavy rays stretching out from it. The face had great character to it: the pleasantly jolly look of a person who has been showered in goodness and is content with the world.

       “Where did you buy these?” Stacy asked, a look of religious awe on her face. She reached over with care. Quinn felt fingers touch her ear, examining the earring in detail.

       “Um, I didn’t.” She swallowed, aware that she was blushing. “Skylar bought them for me.”

       Stacy’s gaze shot to Quinn’s face. “Skylar?” she repeated in surprise. “He got you these? Where did he get them? I... I could use something like these. They’re so cool!”

       “I don’t know. I didn’t even think to ask him.” Quinn moved her head, pulling away from the lingering pressure of Stacy’s fingertips on her cheek. “You said Sandi was looking for me?”

       Stacy dropped her hand and seemed to come out of a trance. “Yeah,” she said. She looked around. “She was... she was around here just a minute ago, before you came in. I bet she’s in homeroom. The bell’s about to ring.”

       “Well, let’s go then. Do you know anything else about Tiffany?”

       Stacy became animated again. “Oh!” she said. “Um, she hates the wallpaper in her room, and she said—” Stacy dropped her voice conspiratorially “—she was afraid she’d get fat from staying in bed all day, just like what happened to, you know—”

       “Sandi when she broke her leg, right. She’s only going to be there one night, I’m sure.” Quinn tilted her head looking at Stacy. Her hair looked... odd. “Did you color your hair? It looks kind of coppery-reddishy.”

       “Oh, do you like it?” Stacy grinned mischievously. “It’s a rinse, Crimson Highlighter. What do you think?”

       Quinn opened her mouth to say: It isn’t you, Stacy. It clashes with your skin tone and eye color and your blush, and you look like a B-grade sitcom actress on a television set with bad tint control. She didn’t say that, however. She realized that she was sick of playing fashion director for high-school kids, twenty-four/seven, telling everyone else what looked good when they should be able to figure it out on their own. Quinn liked being in charge, true, but she had a sense that her life was moving on, and the Fashion Club wasn’t necessarily one of those things that would be moving on with her. People should stand on their own two feet once in a while, and if they made a fashion mistake, so be it. It wasn’t the end of the world. Stacy couldn’t fix her hair at school, anyway.

       “Oh—it looks fine!” Quinn said. “I like it!”

       Stacy’s face became unnaturally radiant. “Oh!” she gasped. “You mean it?”

       For reasons she couldn’t fathom, Quinn had an eerie flashback to a time several years earlier when she had planned to stay overnight at Stacy’s house. Stacy had insisted on dressing like Quinn and acting like Quinn and otherwise turning herself into Quinn to an uncomfortable degree, and Quinn had left in a hurry. Stacy was not so pathologically dependent on others lately as she had once been, but still...

       “Yeah,” said Quinn. There was no way out of it now. “I mean it.”

       “Thank you,” Stacy whispered. Her eyes began to tear up. “I’ll be right back!” she said quickly, moving off. She bumped into another student but kept going. “I have to go to the bathroom—I’ll be right—” She turned and fled.

       What the hell’s gotten into her? Quinn looked after her, then shrugged and went on to homeroom. She would see Skylar second period, in Mr. DeMartino’s world history class, and that was sure to be a—

       “Raffle?” Quinn started, but it was only Jodie Landon with a handful of blue-and-yellow cardboard tickets. “It’s for the new school library.”

       “School library?” Quinn took a ticket and looked at it. “I thought we had one already, sort of. Or did the roof fall in on it again?”

       Jodie lowered her voice. “Ms. Li caught wind that reporters were coming to town next month to do a story on the state of public school libraries, and some insider told her Lawndale High was on the investigators’ list. She’s pulling a crash program to fix the place up after she looted the library fund to put up the metal detectors at the school entrances.” Jodie snorted. “I don’t trust her, but this raffle might actually work.”

       Quinn gave Jodie a quizzical look. “Is this one of those voluntary we’d-better-buy-a-ticket-if-we-know-what’s-good-for-us things?”

       Jodie nodded, her expression bland. “Smart girl. I bet you get handed your own stack of these in homeroom that you have to sell by Friday. We’re all getting them.”

       “Whatever.” Quinn fished a dollar from her purse and handed it over for the ticket.

       “Better buy ten at least,” Jodie advised, “but buy them out of your own stack. Our grades could be riding on this. She keeps track of sales on the school computer. Have you seen Daria and Jane around?”

       Quinn shook her head no. “I’m sure they’re here somewhere. Thanks.”

       “No problem.” Jodie wandered off in search of another wandering soul with a dollar to spare.

       Thinking about the library made Quinn think about Daria. Daria would appreciate knowing Quinn contributed to a library raffle. Maybe it would help the two of them get along better. It couldn’t hurt. She thrust the ticket in her backpack and headed for homeroom.

       The bell rang. Two periods to go until she saw Skylar. She couldn’t wait.




Chapter Five



       Half an hour after the first-period bell rang, Daria and Jane walked through the doors of Lawndale High School. Jane glanced at her friend and saw that Daria’s weary face was back to normal, no longer red and swollen. She sighed in relief, then glanced at the front of her red jacket. It was finally dry. Good.

       “Better go turn ourselves in to the authorities,” Daria muttered, almost her old self. “Let’s get our stories straight about the kidnapping, first.”

       “Black limo, possibly Mafia, locked us in the trunk but we found a crowbar and got out.”

       “And they wore ski masks.”

       “Black ski masks.”

       “Got it.”

       “You’ve got what?” asked Ms. Li, from behind them.

       Daria and Jane slowed and stopped. Their shoulders slumped, and they turned around as one. Principal Li stood in a recessed classroom doorway, a handful of blue-and-yellow fliers in her hands.

       “Um, good morning, Ms. Li,” said Daria. “We were just looking for you.”

       “Really?” said Ms. Li. “What was your excuse for being late? I missed part of it.”

       “The kidnapping part was a joke,” mumbled Jane.

       “It is now, anyway,” said Daria glumly.

       “What really happened was that we saw something in the sky,” said Jane. “It was kind of silvery with little flashing lights along the sides, and we were following it in hopes that—”

       “I broke up with my boyfriend,” Daria interrupted in her usual deadpan. “I had to talk to someone about it, and Jane helped me out. It’s my fault we’re late.”

       Principal Li looked from Jane to Daria and back. “Where did you see this silvery thing?” she asked Jane.

       “No, really,” said Daria. “I broke up with my boyfriend. I was having a bad time this morning, and Jane was the only person I could talk to about it.” She hesitated and added, “It was her brother.”

       Jane looked back and forth from Daria to Ms. Li, finally letting out a sigh and jerking a thumb in Daria’s direction, nodding agreement.

       Ms. Li stared at Daria with deep annoyance. “Even if I believed you, Miss Morgendorffer, breaking up with a boyfriend is no excuse for being late to school! The two of you are supposed to graduate in three weeks! What kind of example are you setting for the rest of the school, wandering in at whatever hour you please?”

       “A damn good example!” someone cheerfully called from down the hall.

       Daria, Jane, and Ms. Li looked in the direction of the voice. A young man with long, dark hair stood by the men’s room door. He wore a black t-shirt with a bloody skull on it, black jeans with a metal-studded black belt, and dull black military boots. He looked like a young Tom Cruise.

       “I don’t think we asked for your opinion, Mister Griffin,” said Ms. Li coldly. “Return to class.”

       “Call me Alex,” he said, sauntering over. He eyed Daria and Jane with a smile. “If it was up to me, I’d come to school from midnight to six. It’s easier to download porn and bomb-making handbooks when no one’s looking over your shoulder in the computer room. It’s all educational, right?”

       “Someone peed in the gene pool,” Jane muttered, looking Alex over with distaste.

       “That’s enough, Mister Griffin!” Ms. Li snapped. “That is not a socially accepted way to start your first day at Laaawndale High School! Report to my office at once!”

       “Sure thing,” he said. He looked at Daria and grinned. “Alex Griffin, cynic at large. My stuck-up cousin Sandi’s the head fashion bitch here. I heard you broke up with your boyfriend. Bummer—for him, I mean. What’s your phone number?”

       “Mister Griffin,” said Ms. Li in her best warning tone.

       “One eight-hundred buzz off,” said Daria with a glare.

       “When you get tired of playing hard to get,” said Alex with a smirk, “maybe you and I can get a pizza, watch some TV or something. What’s your name again?”

       Daria’s glare deepened. “I’m Reality,” she said. “I don’t think we’ve met.”

       Alex laughed. “That’s pretty good! Go out with me, all right?”

       “When I see you in Hell.”

       “Mister Griffin, go straight to my office now or face expulsion!” Ms. Li shouted in fury.

       Alex grinned and waved as he walked away in the direction of the office. He looked back at Daria and Jane before he disappeared around the corner. “We outcasts have to stick together, right?” he called.

       “If he wants to stick together,” said Jane darkly, “I’ve got a glue gun that will solve all his problems.”

       “Miss Lane, that won’t be necessary.” Ms. Li shot an angry glance after the departed Alex Griffin. “Though your idea is tempting, given that young man’s complex and potentially dangerous past. I’ll have to call his parents again.” She turned back to Daria with a severe expression. “As I was saying, you can’t use emotional instability as an excuse to—”

       “You’re selling raffle tickets for a new school library?” Daria asked, looking at the fliers Ms. Li held.

       “Um, yes, yes we are, but that’s not relevant to—”

       “Oh.” Daria reached in her jacket pocket and pulled out a handful of bills. She counted them out and handed them to Ms. Li. “Put me down for fifty dollars’ worth, please.”

       “Thirty for me,” said Jane, catching on and pulling her own money out.

       Her train of thought derailed, Ms. Li looked at the two girls with a flustered expression. “I—I don’t—this isn’t—um—” She hesitated, then gingerly reached out and took Daria’s money. “Well, then, why don’t we go back to the office and I’ll get those for you right away?”

       “That would be great,” Daria said with a straight face. “I promise to never again let my boyfriend problems interfere with my education.”

       “Same here,” said Jane, “whenever I get another boyfriend.”

       “Excellent!” said Ms. Li, collecting Jane’s contribution and leading the two girls down the corridor. “I won’t put this incident in your permanent record, given your much-appreciated support for bettering Laaawndale High! I tell you, school spirit pops up in the most amazing places!”

       Daria and Jane looked at each other and rolled their eyes. “Ms. Li,” Daria said, “Jane and I need to get our books for class. If we could stop by and pick up our raffle tickets in a few minutes—”

       “Not a problem!” Ms. Li sang, counting their money again as she walked away. Daria and Jane stopped and looked after her.

       “Fast thinking,” said Jane. “I’m going to call you the next time that guy from the power company comes by to turn off the electricity because Mom and Dad forgot to pay the bills.”

       Daria shrugged. She looked tired and drawn.

       Amiga,” Jane said softly, “are you up to this today?”

       Daria ran a hand through her brown hair. “That wannabe poseur just got to me, that’s all.”

       “Li will handle him for us.” Jane suddenly looked uncomfortable. “Not to change the subject, and I hate to bring up another troubling male-related issue, but—”

       “Tom, I know,” said Daria. She stopped by her orange upper-tier locker, but she made no move to open it. “I don’t know what to do about that.”

       “He’s back from the Cove, right?”

       Daria took off her backpack and put it on the floor, then spun the combination dial on her locker. “He’s been back for a week. I’ve just been putting off seeing him.” Her face twitched. “Trent and all,” she added.

       “What happens next?”

       Daria opened her locker and pulled books from it. “I don’t have a clue. I just want to bury the last two weeks and move on.” She put her books in her backpack, then straightened and stared into the darkness in her locker. “Tom’s coming by the house tonight to talk. I was planning to break up with him if... if things came out differently, but now I guess I’m not. I don’t know why he still wants to go out with me, anyway. Nothing’s happening between us. Ever since he and his mother took me on that miserable trip to Bromwell, things have gone downhill. He and his mom pretended to fight all the way up and back, but they have a better home life than I do, so I don’t know who they were trying to kid. And no matter what I need from him, every member of his family comes before I do.”

       Daria looked down at her boots. “He doesn’t take me anywhere, he doesn’t act like I’m anything special, we just sit around and watch TV all evening. He has that irritating cynical-rebel act down pat, but you know he’s joining his dad’s investment company the second he’s out on the streets with a graduate diploma and a trendy idea in his head. Everything I do, he’s always right and I’m always wrong, and I can’t take it anymore. I’m sick of it.” She shut her locker, then leaned her head against the locker door and closed her eyes. “I don’t know what to do. Maybe we should break up. What do you think?”

       “Hmmm.” Jane scratched her nose. “I’m hardly the one to say, all things considered.”

       “He’s the only guy who’s ever shown an interest in me.” He’s the only guy who ever wanted to have sex with me, too, she thought. Imagine that. The metal was cool against her forehead.

       “There are lots of fish in the sea, Daria,” said Jane after a beat. “Trust me on this.”

       Funny that she said that, Daria thought. Don’t just lie there, he said that night we were in his room. You’re like a dead fish. Move around a little. I don’t know what to do, I said, I’ve never done this before. Jesus, Daria, you read books, don’t you? Just be natural, loosen up and be yourself. But I was being myself. I didn’t know what to do. I don’t think he did, either. It hurt, and we had to stop, and that was it. So I’m a lousy lay, and I’m ugly on top of it. Great. That’s just really great. I’ve really got it all together. I can’t imagine why he still wants to see me, after all that. Maybe I should just be grateful.


       “I wish I’d gotten into Raft,” Daria said in a low voice. “If we break up, I’ll be stuck at Bromwell with him for four years, and I don’t think I could take that.”

       “At least you’re going to college,” said Jane. “Just make the best of it.”

       “You could’ve tried again at BFAC.”

       “And wasted four years of my life.” Jane’s expression hardened. “My art doesn’t sell no matter what I do, so why bother? No one even wants to look at it. All that time I spent trying to get into Gary’s Gallery, and pffft! Two months of a big freaking nothing. I should’ve learned my lesson when I flopped at that Art in the Park thing. Better to just stay here and go in with Ms. Defoe on her crafts’ shop idea. I can make a pretty good concrete garden gnome, at least.”

       Daria lifted her head from her locker and looked at her friend. “That’s not right, Jane, and you know it.”

       Jane snorted. “You have a chance for a real life, Daria. Do something with it.”

       Daria frowned, her voice rising. “Don’t give me that crap, okay?”

       They stared at each other, bristling.

       “Let’s stop before we really screw this up,” said Jane, softening her glare. “Come on. Let’s hit my locker and get our tickets before Ms. Li breaks your charm spell.”

       Daria’s anger faded as well, though depression slid into its place. “Sure, whatever,” she said as she walked with Jane to her own locker. The day was not over yet, she knew. She had no idea what she would say to Tom. All she could hope was that he wouldn’t find out about Trent. That would be the end of everything.




Chapter Six



       There wasn’t time or opportunity to chat in homeroom, so Quinn waited until the bell rang and she and Sandi Griffin could head off to their first-period French class. “Stacy said you were looking for me,” Quinn said as they went out the door together. “I didn’t check my messages last night when I got in. Is this about Tiffany?”

       “Among other things,” said Sandi in her deep nasal voice, leading the way. She looked increasing irked as she negotiated the noisy, crowded corridor. “Let’s escape this cattle stampede,” she said, pointing toward an open janitorial supply room. They ducked inside, and Sandi flipped on the light.

       Quinn pushed the door shut to block out the stomping feet and shouting outside, then found and flipped the deadbolt knob. “Whew! It’s as bad as Cashman’s Labor Day Sale out there!”

       “But hardly as much fun,” said Sandi. She slipped off her backpack and dropped it on the floor by a wall, then knelt down and unzipped it. “I got something special from Mo-om!” she added in a singsong voice. “Just enough to see us through our busy day!”

       “Oh, cool! Thanks!” Quinn took off her backpack as well, setting it by the door. “Stacy told me Tiffany was in the hospital. What is up with that?

       Sandi snorted as she pulled out her overstuffed wallet and unzipped it, flipping it open to her makeup mirror. “Well, it seems that our dear Tiffany managed to find the only germ-filled diet food in her parents’ refrigerator, and that’s about all I know—except of course she was raving on and on when she called me that she’s on the verge of getting fat, and she had the marvelously bad taste to mention how bloated out like a water buffalo I got when I was bedridden with my broken leg. If she didn’t have such an instinct for color, I’d boot her size-two butt out of the club.”

       “We should go see her anyway, you know?” Quinn pulled a handkerchief from a pants pocket and blew her nose, then stuffed it partway back in the pocket, ready for instant use. “Maybe tonight, Fashion Club solidarity and all that?”

       Sandi sighed, pulling the mirror out of her wallet and putting the wallet back in her backpack. She stood, holding up the mirror to check her appearance. “Oh, fine, why not. We’ll take my car. I’m tempted to take pictures of her in one of those wretched hospital gowns and give them to the yearbook staff. It would serve her right for throwing up in my bathroom last Wednesday during our club meeting.”

       Quinn burst into wild laughter. “You can’t be serious!” she said. “Ohmigod, she would die!”

       “I’m teasing, of course, but it is tempting.” Sandi set the mirror face-up on an open shelf next to a row of bottles of window cleaner. She reached down and took off her right shoe. “That’s not the only cockroach in my consommé, though. My psycho cousin is here, the one I told you about on Friday.” She stood, pulling up the padded insert in her shoe and pulling out a very small white plastic bag. She dropped her shoe on the floor. “I’ll point him out. He’s one of those weirdo attention-depreciation types. He got evicted from Leeville High last week for fighting, and he’s this close to going back to juvenile court. The worst is that my moronic aunt and uncle want to get him into Lawndale because it’s close to home, but if they did, that would be a bigger disaster than that Thirteen Mile Island nuclear whatever that Ms. Barch keeps on harping about.”

       Quinn watched as Sandi held her breath and emptied a small pile of white powder from the bag onto the mirror. “They can’t really get him in this late in the school year, can they?”

       Sandi cut the white powder into four narrow lines with an index card from her backpack. She then folded up the little bag and put it back into her shoe, putting her shoe on again. “Oh, Aunt Kay talked Ms. Li into letting him come here on probation until the end of the semester, to see how he fits in, though it won’t count for anything until he goes to summer school.” She reached down into her backpack again, into the pencil holder. “I’m really steamed. He’s such an incredible jerkoid, you just wouldn’t believe.”

       “Can I do anything to help out?”

       Sandi sighed heavily. “That’s sweet, but no.” She straightened and handed a three-inch paper straw to Quinn. “Just avoid him. He’s ill mannered, to say the least. If he annoys you in any way, tell me.” She shook her head in annoyance. “We’ll survive, I suppose.”

       Quinn examined Sandi’s face. “Is anything else wrong?”

       “Yeah, but it can wait. You first.”

       “Thanks!” Quinn held her breath and stepped up to the shelf with the mirror. Carefully pushing one nostril shut, she inserted one end of the paper straw into her nose and placed the other end at the end of a line of white powder. Quickly, she sniffed in long and deep, inhaling the entire row. In three seconds more, she had switched nostrils and inhaled the other line. Sniffing and rubbing her nose, she stepped back, blinking madly. “Wow! Oh, wow, that’s—wow!

       “It’s from Mom’s desk at home. I took only a little. I don’t know where she gets it, but she gets the best.” Sandi repeated all of Quinn’s gestures to finish off the last two white lines. The two girls then stood back, faces turned up to the ceiling as they breathed in through their noses. The overpowering blasts roared through their heads and lungs and skin and veins, as if their eyes and minds had opened into paradise and they were now more than alive, newborn gods come down from Olympus.

       “Jesus, I love that rush,” Sandi moaned. She put her hands to the sides of her head, still looking up at the ceiling light. “I love it, I love it, I love it, I love it.”

       Sandi lowered her face and smiled at Quinn. Quinn smiled back. A moment later, they hugged each other in rapture.

       “I love you,” whispered Quinn.

       “I love you, too,” whispered Sandi. “I owe you so much. I thought I’d never be thin again.”

       “I think you’ve paid me back now,” whispered Quinn. They giggled, hugged some more, then kissed.

       Ick!” said Sandi abruptly, pulling away and wiping her mouth. “Thy nose runneth over, girl.”

       “Whoa, sorry!” Quinn pulled out her handkerchief and wiped her face. “Oh, well. I really hate to say this, but we’d better clean up and go before someone tries to get in.”

       Sandi was already at work on that. She wiped off and put away the wallet mirror, then put her short paper straw in her mouth, chewed it up, and swallowed it. Quinn did the same with her own straw, grimacing as she did. Within moments, the girls had eliminated all trace of their activity from the supply closet.

       “Too bad Ms. Li had to sell those drug-sniffing dogs,” Sandi said, zipping her backpack shut. “I thought those German shepherds were kinda butch.”

       Quinn made a motion to undo the deadbolt. “Are we off, or are we off?” she said, grinning.

       “Wait,” said Sandi, staggering slightly. She put a hand to a wall to steady herself. “Don’t leave yet. I have to tell you something else.”

       “Bad news?”

       Sandi nodded solemnly, sniffing back her own runny nose.

       Quinn wiped her nose again. “Okay, ready.”

       Sandi coughed and looked away. “I did not want to—whew!—I didn’t want to announce this in public, for reasons that will become clear, but when I was out last night, I saw your sister with a friend at Pizza King.”

       “Oh, that’s nothing. She goes out with Jane all the time.”

       Sandi looked up at Quinn, shaking her head. “She wasn’t with her. She was with an older guy, dark hair, kinda tall and thin, with blue tattoos on his arms. They looked quite animated with each other, in my humble opinion. They weren’t eating much of their pizza, anyway. Daria was looking at this guy like, you know, he really meant something.”

       Quinn blinked. “Oh,” she said, frowning. “That sounds like... oh.”

       “You know him?”

       “Yeah, I think. Black hair, kinda messy? Silver earrings and a black goatee? Sloppy clothes?”

       “That’s him.”

       Quinn put a hand over her face and leaned back against the supply-room door. “Oh, crap. That’s wonderful. That’s just peachy-pie perfect.”


       “That’s Jane’s older brother, Trent. I thought there was something going on, I just knew that something—” She dropped her hand. “She used to have a thing for him, but I thought she got over that, like, a year and a half ago. She’s—” Quinn stamped her foot in rage “—damn it! I can’t believe she’d do that! What is it with her?”

       “Wasn’t she going with that rich slacker kid from the Sloane family, Tim or Tom—

       “Yes, she still is!” Quinn snapped. “Oh, crap, I’m sorry, Sandi, I didn’t mean to do that. It’s just—I can’t believe her! This is so embarrassing!”

       Sandi shrugged, unconcerned. “No offense taken. Bearing bad tidings is one of my duties as club president.” She wiped her nose on a tissue. “I thought you should know ahead of time in case it got out.”

       Quinn shrugged, too. “Oh, well, what can you do. Thanks, Sandi. I appreciate it.”

       Sandi nodded. “When life sucks, it sucks.”

       Quinn nodded, too, eyeing her best friend. She made a decision. “I have some news, too,” she said in a whisper. “Good news, though, I hope.”


       “I’m going to ask Skylar if he’ll go steady with me.”

       Sandi’s eyes widened. “Kuh-winn!” she said in delight. She reached in and hugged Quinn a second time. “That’s wonderful! Tell me all the details at lunch!” she said into Quinn’s ear. She suddenly gasped. “Oh! Did he get you these earrings?”


       “Quinn, you are truly the loved and favored one. That is for sure. But we’d better go!” They gave each other an extra squeeze, then grabbed their backpacks, unlocked the supply-room door, and ran out for French class. They made it in the door three seconds before the second bell, just like always.




Chapter Seven



       “Okay,” said Jane, pointing a ketchup-dipped French fry at Daria, “explain to me about this transference thing again. I think I got the idea in class, but the way Ms. Barch was raving on about traitorous husbands chasing nubile belly-dancers, I sorta lost the thread of the discussion.”

       “Mmm.” Daria swallowed the last of her hamburger and thought about it. The high-school cafeteria wasn’t very noisy at the moment, allowing for normal conversation. “Okay,” she said slowly, looking over Jane’s head as if reading from a hovering book. “Transference is when you think you see things in someone, personality traits or attitudes or whatever, that are actually traits and attitudes belonging to someone else in your life, someone in the past who was important to you, like your parents.”

       Daria took a drink of milk, then put the carton aside. “The trick is, you aren’t aware, consciously, that you’re reacting to all the old issues you had with your parents or whatever. All you know is that this person you’ve met draws a certain response from you, but you don’t right away make a conscious connection with anything that went on in your past. You’re working through old issues, but you don’t know it. That’s sort of what transference is, but I’m not sure I’m saying it right.”

       “Sort of like Ms. Barch, maybe,” Jane said, chewing on another fry. “She looks at a guy, like Mack, and you and I and everyone else on the planet, we all know Mack is an all-right guy, but—”

       “I think you’ve got it.”

       “—when Ms. Barch sees Mack, she’s kind of like subconsciously thinking of her husband who ran around on her and dumped her, ‘cause they’re both guys, so she reacts to Mack in the way she reacted to her husband, being really pissed off at him and maybe getting into the same sorts of messes with him, and with every other guy, that she had with her husband. She thinks Mack’s doing to her what her ex did, only she doesn’t know it’s her subconscious making her do it.”

       “Yeah. Usually it’s all about the parents, like we react to certain people in a way that’s like we’re trying to work out old problems we had with our parents, but sometimes it’s a spouse or friend or whatever. Counselors use transference when they do therapy, getting the client to react to the counselor just like the client reacted to someone big in the past, and the counselor gets the client to see this and work out all the old junk consciously, if he can do that. Something like that.”

       Jane played with a fry, drawing something on her plate with the ketchup. Daria looked down and saw that she was making a portrait. After a few more seconds, it became clear that it was the Mona Lisa.

       “Leonardo would be proud of you,” Daria said.

       “I never liked the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” said Jane, finishing the picture. “They didn’t have a girl turtle.”

       “I meant Leonardo de Caprio,” said Daria. “Keep up with me.” Her budding smile faded as she watched Jane work. “I wonder sometimes if what’s going on between Tom and me is being screwed up by transference. I want him to notice me as I really am and treat me well, like I always wished my dad would do but never does, and maybe Tom reacts to me like he does to his mom—just someone who’s there in the background, caring for his needs and—” Daria stopped and reddened. She hoped Jane would miss the reference to “needs.” That would open up an ugly can of worms.

       “We talked about transference when I was at that art colony in Ashfield last summer,” said Jane. She put a handlebar mustache on the Mona Lisa and ate her fry. “I didn’t get it at the time, but I think I do now. There was this pseudo-big-name artist, Daniel Dotson, who had an ego larger than Asia but not quite as interesting, and he talked about artists transferring... how did he say that? He talked about artists using transference to put their reactions to the world at large on a canvas, or in a sculpture, or whatever. If something makes you want to scream, you paint it—but, like what you said, you don’t think about it while you’re painting it, you know? You just free your mind and paint. Dotson did this minimalist sculpture he called ‘Paper Plate Massacre,’ and he said it was his transference or something—I forget how he said it, but anyway it was his unconscious reaction to the genocide in Cambodia. Me, I just thought it was a bunch of paper plates stuck on big sticks. Shows you how much I really know about art.”

       Daria chose to ignore the last comment. “If he’d called it ‘Flying Saucer Massacre,’ it might have made more sense.”

       “Yeah, but then it wouldn’t be art, you know. It can’t be art if it makes sense.”

       “So, did you try using transference when you painted?”

       “At camp? Mmm, I tried, but every time I painted whatever came to mind, I painted people getting tortured or squashed or torn apart. I don’t remember my parents doing that to me, offhand.”

       “Your mom made you join the Girl Scouts.”

       “Yeah, that’s right. I bet that was it. You saved me ten years of psychiatrist bills.”

       Daria looked up, but Jane was smiling at her. Daria smiled back in relief. It had occurred to her only moments earlier that the source of Jane’s dark paintings last summer might have had to do with Daria herself—specifically, Jane’s feelings of betrayal when Daria kissed Jane’s then-boyfriend, Tom, and nearly destroyed their friendship. Jane had gone off to camp and somehow gotten over it, later encouraging Daria and Tom to date.

       However, given the state of affairs between Daria and Tom at the moment, Jane’s change of heart sometimes looked to Daria more like the first stage of a long-range revenge plot. You want my cheating boyfriend? Sure, here he is. I’ll even stick around and be friends with you, because I want to watch the fireworks when you get what he gave me. You earned it. Those explosions sure hurt, don’t they?

       Daria shook it off. Jane wasn’t that sort.

       She hoped.

       “What’s up, amiga?” asked Jane, looking at Daria with curiosity.

       “Oh, nothing. Just . . a lot on my mind.”

       Jane nodded and picked up the last of her French fries. “You remember Alison, that girl I told you about from art camp?”

       Daria looked up from scraping up her applesauce. “Alison? The one who tried to hook up with you?”

       “Mmm-hmm.” Jane toyed with the fry, rolling it over in her long, thin fingers. “She wrote to me a couple months ago. Must have gotten my address from Mom or her friend, the camp director. I didn’t give it out.”

       “What’d she say?” Daria cleared her throat. “Looking for a pen pal?”

       Jane shook her head slowly, still focused on the fry.

       Daria felt a sense of dread. “Trying to hook up again?”

       “Nah,” said Jane softly.

       After a suitable pause, Daria began to think of another subject. Jane didn’t seem to want to—

       “She wrote to tell me,” said Jane slowly, “that she was sorry for what she did.”

       “For trying to get into your pants?”

       Jane’s mouth twitched. “Well, for being my friend, using the friendship to try to get into my pants, then running around and whoring herself for her career afterward, like the whole idea of getting together with me didn’t matter to her at all. She just wanted to get laid, I was there, and that was it. Like I didn’t matter.”

       “Oh.” Daria swallowed. “Well, at least she said she was sorry.”

       “Yeah,” said Jane. She took a deep breath, then let it out as she sniffed her fry. “She was sort of trying to make amends for everything. Cleaning up her life. Tying up loose ends.”

       “That’s good, I guess.”

       “She’s HIV positive.”

       Daria stopped in the middle of a reply, eyes locked on Jane.

       “She got her results right before she wrote,” Jane went on. “One of her one-night-stands called her and said he’d tested positive, and she’d better go get tested, too, so she did, and there it was. She’s not feeling very well now, kind of like she’s got the flu—swollen glands, worn out, no energy, that kind of thing. Just like Ms. Barch said really happens, she’s got it. She picked it up sometime last year, if the guy who called her was the one who gave it to her. It was incubating in her when she got to camp.”

       Daria felt the blood drain from her face. “Oh, God.”

       “Yup,” said Jane, looking at her fry. “I just missed it. Well, sort of. I don’t think women catch it so much from women, really, so maybe I wasn’t that much at risk if I had spent the night with her, but still, you never know.”

       “What—” Daria coughed. “What did Alison want otherwise?”

       “From me? I think just forgiveness. She was really sorry, and she said she really liked me, and she asked if I would call her or write or visit sometime, anything at all. She doesn’t have any friends now. Everyone’s abandoned her, and she’s living in an apartment by herself with no job, no friends, nothing, draining off her college fund. She doesn’t paint anymore, just sits there or goes to the doctor or walks around wondering what it’s going to be like to die.”

       Neither of them said anything for half a minute.

       Daria managed to get her mouth working again. “What did you tell her?”

       Jane put the French fry in her mouth and chewed on it. “Nothing.”


       “Nothing. I tore up the letter and threw it out. I didn’t keep the return address, either. I made myself forget it, and now I can’t remember it for anything.”

       Daria stared at Jane. Words failed her.

       “She used me,” said Jane, looking down at Daria’s plate. Her jaw tightened and her blue eyes glittered. “She was my friend, but then she took advantage of me, like I didn’t mean anything to her, like she didn’t care how much I hurt as long as she got what she wanted. She and I could have been great friends, maybe even best friends, because she was smart and funny and I thought she really understood me. I thought she liked me, but she didn’t care. She didn’t care about me as much as she cared about her. The one time in my life when I needed her most, when I was at the bottom and I thought things couldn’t get any worse, she thought only of herself, and she threw everything we had away. Just threw the whole freaking thing away on a whim. Just like that.”

       The silence drew out.

       “I hope she rots,” Jane said, her voice low. After a moment, she looked up at Daria’s white face and pointed to the French fries on her plate. “Hey, you gonna eat those, amiga?”




Chapter Eight



       Stacy Rowe wandered late into the brightly lit Lawndale High School cafeteria, having returned from a critical errand. She wore her favorite blue-jean jacket and skirt with an egg-white blouse and stylish sneakers not meant for actual athletics. Her damp hair was back to its normal brown color, the red tint gone. As she came in, she looked around for Sandi and Quinn, as they were supposed to discuss a visit to Tiffany in the local hospital that evening, but she saw no trace of either. She was late, so it figured.

       Her shoulders slumped. Stacy was depressed, for reasons she didn’t want to face, but it wasn’t worth crying about at this point. She got into the lunch line, picked up a tray, and happened to turn around for a last scan of the cafeteria just as Quinn and Skylar came through the doors at the far end.

       Stacy stood stock-still, her gaze taking in the new couple, her visual universe narrowing down to their joined hands. That simple bond said all that needed to be said.

       In that moment, Stacy felt a terrible emptiness where her heart had been, as hollow as a cheap doll. She wondered idly if this was what it felt like to be dead.

       Quinn and Skylar dropped hands after a few moments to avoid gaining the notice of teachers alert for PDAs, but they continued walking together—toward Stacy. Quinn saw her, smiled, and waved.

       And Stacy, who loved Quinn more than she loved her own life, forced a smile, raised a hand, and waved back.



* * *



       What passed through the heart of Lancelot in that moment when he first set eyes on Guinevere? Was it joy, pain, or the two entwined? Did he know then that his life had changed, that both paradise and nightmare lay ahead, waiting only for him to act upon his forbidden love?

       Stacy Rowe, she of the pigtails and low self-esteem, hyperventilation and endless worry over what others thought of her, knew a fair amount of Arthurian legend. She read piles of it before age twelve, then her mind was suddenly taken over by alien forces. The lively girl in pigtails—once the tomboy terror who climbed trees, caught frogs, and raced her bike with neighborhood boys—then doubted everything about herself, everything she was. The fearless explorer who dreamed of becoming a knight turned twelve and attached herself to Sandi Griffin’s Fashion Club, allowing herself to be abused at every turn in the hope that she would be popular and normal, whatever any cost. She emptied her bedroom of her Arthurian storybooks but—curiously unwilling to throw them out, sell them, or give them away—hid them in her parents’ attic in cardboard boxes and forgot them.

       Yet there was something missing from this crazy hunt for the Questing Beast of Popularity and Normality. It wasn’t a new set of clothing, a different pair of earrings, or another pair of shoes. Stacy could not name the missing thing, she did not even know what it looked like, but she knew it wasn’t there.

       It remained missing until that September morning in her freshman year of high school when a blue Lexus stopped in front of Lawndale High School. A beautiful teenage girl with long orange-peel hair stepped out of the car and walked toward her, and Stacy Rowe felt both her heart and the world stop. The image of the girl with the orange-peel hair was burned into her mind forever.

       Guinevere, said a forgotten voice inside her mind. Driven by sudden impulse, Stacy seized the moment as she had not done in years.

       Hi! she cried. You’re cool! What’s your name?

       Quinn Morgendorffer, said the new girl with a brilliant smile.

       And thus the missing piece in Stacy’s world was found. She did not come to love Quinn right away, but the bright spark was there, as it surely had been for Lancelot, and after a certain length of time Stacy’s heart smoldered, and slowly it began to burn.

       She suppressed her feelings for as long as she could. Stacy was not a complete fool, and she knew the consequences of voicing her desires were unspeakable disaster. The most feared parts of her personality she could hide behind a sweet and disarming incompetence, but certain pressures grew worse no matter what she did. She tried sublimating her feelings, attaching herself to Quinn (she told herself) because Quinn had the best advice, the friendliest manner, the best eye for color. For a long time, she thought if she made herself more like Quinn, she might become as popular as Quinn (and cause Quinn to love her back), though it was Quinn’s easy confidence in herself that Stacy admired most. The harder she tried to imitate Quinn, however, the more it drove others away from her, including Quinn herself. Stacy eventually caught on and stopped. Almost.

       Yet, as time moved on, Stacy grew. If you love a thing strongly and deeply enough, you will become like it yourself. Stacy became less needy and clingy, more sure of her own mind, and more secure in her opinions. There were slip-ups and slide-backs, embarrassments and crying jags in the school restroom, but over time she advanced, trusted herself more than she trusted Sandi Griffin’s criticisms or the careless advice of others. She took chances, surprised everyone with her role in a magic show, and began to say what she really thought, even when it wasn’t necessarily safe to say it.

       Her biggest step was to accept what she was. She could not bring herself to label it, but she learned to live with it and make it a part of her. On a rainy afternoon one day, she went up into the attic and opened one of the boxes there, took out a book, and flipped through it until she found a picture of a knight on horseback killing a dragon and saving a maiden. That’s me, she thought. That’s who I am. She closed the book and put it away, but she came back another day, and on the third visit she took a few of the books and put them under her bed again.

       She was becoming complete, though for the sake of a trouble-free life that allowed her to remain in the company of her beloved, she had to make adjustments. She went on a few dates with boys, though they were of no interest except for a couple whose idea of a date was to challenge her at videogames, which she halfway liked. It happened that she came to like one boy in particular, Ted DeWitt-Clinton, because he taught her a good bit of martial arts. Ted was hopelessly naive with girls, but he was one hell of a teacher. Stacy dated him more often than anyone else because they spent all their time testing new judo throws and hand grips on the mat in his basement. He never once tried to kiss her. She liked him a lot for that, and they stayed good friends. If other people read more into the relationship than that, Stacy was content not to correct them.

       Her world was stable, though her heart bled. She was not threatened by Quinn’s dating, because she knew Quinn would not settle for any one guy and was, technically speaking, free for the taking. Stacy contented herself with touching her beloved only in occasional hugs or when fixing her hair during their periodic weekend makeover parties. In time, Quinn even privately allowed Stacy to massage her neck and shoulders, aching and weary from carrying around an overstuffed backpack. Stacy’s hands were flexible and strong from working out with Ted—but her hands never strayed to forbidden places when Quinn took off her blouse and bra, sat backwards on a chair, and happily let Stacy work on her back. It was the closest thing to ecstasy that Stacy knew.

       This stable world suffered a mild earthquake early that Monday morning when Stacy saw Quinn’s new earrings and sensed something different in Quinn’s manner. It was when Quinn blushed when she mentioned Skylar’s name, however, that Stacy knew something big was in the wind. She forced herself to ignore her fears and carried on a lively conversation until Quinn noticed the change in Stacy’s hair color. Hypersensitive Stacy could tell that Quinn did not approve, but Quinn said she liked it anyway.

       Stacy knew right then that she had been stupid. She was backsliding, trying to make herself physically like her beloved, and that was not going to work. Stacy fled in tears to the bathroom, grateful that Quinn had not chewed her out then and there for her gaffe. The coloring hadn’t really suited her appearance anyway. Stacy later faked sick in Mrs. Bennett’s Economics class, and she drove home, fixed her hair color, and—hair still damp and back in pigtails—she came back for lunch—

       —just in time to see Quinn and Skylar holding hands, which Quinn rarely did in public and certainly never at school, risking a reprimand or detention. Until now, no boy had been worth that. For a few seconds, there it was: a public display of affection that could not be missed.

       Stacy did not miss it. It gutted her and left her in a living death, but she was a knight, and even a dying knight never falls before her beloved.



* * *



       The Lawndale High cafeteria was of average size for a large school. From where Stacy stood at the end of the lunch line, it was about one hundred feet to the double doors at the end of the aisle. Quinn and Skylar came through the doors and started up the aisle past the rows of white tables and student diners, seemingly oblivious to the gaze of hundreds of students who gasped and whispered. A comet would not elicit half as much excitement from a nation of astrologers as the sight of Quinn and Skylar did among the student body of Lawndale High, who saw for themselves that the most popular girl and boy around were now a couple. The bright sun came through the windows as if casting its blessing over the event.

       Her hand raised, waving, Stacy watched the sun-blessed couple approach and desperately tried to think of something innocuous to say.

       She watched as a friend in another aisle hailed Skylar. He leaned close to Quinn and whispered in her ear, and she nodded and said, “Okay.” Skylar touched her on the small of her back, then left and made his way between tables to see what his friend wanted. Quinn continued up the aisle. She was now sixty-five feet from Stacy. Her gold earrings were plainly visible and gleamed in the sunlight.

       What would happen if I told you I loved you? Stacy thought, still waving at Quinn. She knew she was going to cry, and that would be the worst thing that could happen. What would you do? Would you laugh, or scream, or curse me, or say you loved me, too? What would

       A slight motion at a table forty feet from Stacy caught her attention. A boy with long black hair, black t-shirt, and black pants had scooted his chair around to allow him to get up quickly. His back was to Stacy. He was watching Quinn like everyone else, but something about him was different and in an instant, Stacy recognized him. It was Sandi’s cousin, Alex, the bad one she had warned Stacy to avoid. He was leering at Quinn, and he said to the other guys at his table, “Watch this!” in a voice Stacy heard clearly even through the rise in cafeteria chatter.

       Stacy’s hand stopped waving and fell. On impulse, she took a step toward Quinn, still holding her empty lunch tray.

       Alex stood up, blocking Quinn’s path up the aisle. Startled, Quinn stopped a few feet in front of him and tried to go around.

       Danger, cried every alarm in Stacy’s head. She picked up speed, moving quickly now, the tray swinging in her hand.

       “Hey, you’re a fine-lookin’ fashion ho’!” said Alex, sidestepping to keep Quinn in front of him. He grinned and gripped his crotch with one hand. “You wanna hot dog today? How’d you like to wrap those pink lips around—

       Stacy’s tray came up like an axe in her right hand, turned flat on its side like a Frisbee as it came on in a roundhouse swing,. The tray’s edge slammed into the back of Alex Griffin’s head, the blow flinging him sideways to land on his back spread over four trays of food and milk on a lunch table. Panicked students scrambled to get away. Stacy was on Alex in an instant, a winged Fury with lightning hands that bitch-slapped him one-two-three even as he fell off the table to the floor. She sat down hard on him, her knee crushing his chest, then jerked his head from the ground by his hair and slapped him in the face again and again and again, feeling her hand catch fire as a riot of screams and shouts raged around her.

       Powerful hands then seized her arms and dragged her away, though she kicked and fought back. Some of his hair stayed in her left hand. Alex’s head fell and struck the floor with a loud thump. He moaned and clutched his face. No one moved to help him.

       Stacy!” She turned her head to see who spoke, still trying to kick her way free to get to Alex again.

       Stacy, stop it!” Quinn shouted in her face. “Stop it! Stop it now!

       Shocked, Stacy stopped struggling, her breath roaring in and out of her. She slowly relaxed and stared red-faced at Quinn, who stared back in sheer amazement. The four football players holding Stacy’s arms and legs did not let go until someone helped Alex Griffin to his feet and moved him farther away.

       What have I done? Stacy thought through the haze in her head. She felt dizzy and leaned back against a lunchroom table, watched closely by nervous jocks. The look on Quinn’s face stole away any small joy she might have taken in her victory over Alex. Quinn gave Stacy a final open-mouthed look, then turned and walked away with Skylar, who was at her side. She did not look back.

       What have I done? Dear God, what have I done?

       Ms. Barch, Lawndale’s muscular, man-hating science teacher, shoved her way through the crowd. “That’s enough of that!” she snapped. “Both of you pit fighters, come to the office with me!” She pointed at Stacy and Alex, then at two of the guys nearest to Stacy. “And I want you testosterone-charged drones to help Mister Griffin down the hall, and then you can go back to your lunch. Come on!”

       Stacy followed dumbly. Her hand ached, but that was not her real pain.

       Guinevere is gone, and I am undone. There was no possible way Quinn could have missed the meaning of what had happened. No one could have missed it. The world knew what she was now. Her head still spinning, Stacy stayed with Ms. Barch, who kept her close at her side while the two male students struggled to keep the dazed Alex moving ahead of them.

       I have lost my beloved, thought Stacy. I am disgraced before the entire school, and I will be expelled for fighting—me! Stacy Rowe the mouse! Expelled for fighting! But nothing matters because I have lost my beloved. I am damned and alone, forever. She lowered her head and closed her eyes. She was very close to crying, but she fought it back as best she could. A knight should not cry in defeat.

       After a moment, though, she took a deep breath and opened her eyes. Was it worth it? She swallowed, then nodded. Yes, it was worth it. My beloved is safe. She will not be harmed. That was worth my destruction. I am nothing now, but I would do it again if I had to for you, Quinn.

       She raised her head. They had reached the office, and someone had opened the door for them. She waited until Alex had been led in, then she followed Ms. Barch through the doorway. Principal Li was there to meet them, livid with anger.

       It was worth it, thought Stacy Rowe. She straightened her shoulders. I love you, Quinn. She put a hand on the office door and carefully pulled it shut behind her.




Chapter Nine



       The last bell rang at Lawndale High. A subdued rumble filled the corridors as students prepared to leave.

       “Got an opening in your schedule for some ‘Sick, Sad World’?” Daria asked her companion as they walked past Mr. O’Neill. He smiled benignly at his departing class in a way that reminded Daria of Humpty Dumpty, from Tenniel’s illustrations in Through the Looking Glass.

       “Nah, not today,” said Jane. “I’m going home with Ms. Defoe. She wants to show me what she’s got in mind with this crafts shop she’s starting this summer. It might work out if she branches out into handmade jewelry. She can do a little goldsmithing, and she’s pretty good with copper wire.”

       The hallway was noisy but didn’t hamper conversation. “Is she going to keep teaching?” asked Daria.

       “I think that’s where I come in. If I can handle the shop weekdays, she can run it afternoons and weekends. We might need a third person to handle the counter if I start making a lot of garden gnomes, though.”

       They stopped at Jane’s locker first. Daria felt a sadness creep over her as Jane spun her combination dial. “Jane... I really wish you’d think again about college. I wish you’d think again about your artwork, too. I don’t mean to be—”

       “Let it go, Daria,” said Jane, without looking up from her spins of the dial.

       Daria closed her mouth and looked down. Jane opened her locker and began emptying her backpack into it. Unwilling to let things rest on a low note, Daria tried a different topic. “Quite a day, wasn’t it? Tiffany poisons herself, the Fashion Club runs riot in the lunchroom, Ms. Li runs a raffle that will actually help the school—assuming she doesn’t use the money to put up guard towers around the campus—and some kind of mess breaks out in P.E. and all the cheerleaders are threatening to quit over it, whatever that was. That must have been good. Oh, and Quinn gets a steady boyfriend.”

       “That last one threw me, too.” Jane shut her locker. “I’d start looking for the Four Horsemen about now. You didn’t see that coming?”

       “No. She went out with Skylar last night, after not seeing him for a year or two, and bam, there it was. She wouldn’t talk about it with me this morning. Maybe she was making up her mind.”

       “I’ll walk you to your locker before I see Ms. Defoe.”

       “Thanks.” They set off together. Daria was aware of how good it felt to have Jane at her side, but how terrible it would be when Jane was gone. “Do you mind if I call you during work hours, when I’m at Bromwell?”

       “Call away. We might get an eight-hundred number, so you can call for free.”

       “That would be great.”

       “Yeah. I have a feeling the shop isn’t going to be overrun with business. Concrete garden sculptures don’t have a wide audience.” Jane cleared her throat. “Daria, I gotta ask you something. What—oh, maybe we should save this for another time.”


       “Um, it’s about Trent.”

       “Oh.” Daria looked around. The halls were emptying quickly. “It doesn’t matter, I guess. Just ask.”


       No one was nearby. “Why’d I want to see Trent when I was seeing Tom?”

       Jane nodded.

       They reached Daria’s locker. She turned her combination dial slowly. “I always thought he was cool. I don’t know why. I’ve thought about it for ages, why I thought it clicked between us, but I can’t explain it. It just happened.” She opened her locker but turned to Jane. “My head took over for a long time, after he sort of stood me up on that music project last year, and I just gave up. I knew it wasn’t going to work. I knew it intellectually, but I guess in a way I never gave up on it.” She swallowed. “When things went bad with Tom after our trip to Bromwell, I dunno, I just started... thinking about Trent again.” She shrugged. “I can’t explain it. It was stupid.”

       Daria took off her backpack and began putting books from it into her locker. “I know it wouldn’t have worked out, but a little part of me wishes it had.”

       “So you could stay here in Lawndale with me?” asked Jane.

       Daria stopped what she was doing, hovering over her backpack in the middle of pulling out more books. After a moment, she straightened and tossed her books into her locker, then bent down and wiped her eyes with her fingers.

       “I’m sorry,” said Jane. She reached in her pocket for another tissue, handing it to Daria.

       “It’s okay,” Daria said, blowing her nose. “This has been a really crappy semester.” She stood up and stuffed the tissue in her jacket pocket. “You know what’s really funny? I got a makeover last Saturday. Can you believe that?”

       Jane tilted her head and raised an eyebrow. “Say what? The acoustics are bad here. I thought—”

       “I went to Oakwood and got a makeover at this salon Quinn likes. It—” She forced a laugh. “I looked horrible. I could have been a hooker on crack in a really bad movie. And you know what kills me? I did it for Trent. I’m hopeless. This was worse than that time I got the navel ring, remember?”

       Jane’s look of surprise softened. “The things we do for love.”

       “Yeah.” Daria shut her locker and spun the dial.

       Jane snorted softly and smiled. “If you want, I can talk to Trent and tell him what a deal he’s missing out on.”


       “You could take care of the house, Trent could sleep all day, and I can work at the crafts shop and bring in the paycheck. It could work.”

       Daria knew Jane’s grin was a teasing one. She gave a weak grin back. “I could take money from high-school students who want me to write their papers for them.”

       “And we could be call girls after six and have all the sex we want, plus get paid for it.”

       Daria nodded, but then she looked down and her smile faded. “I don’t think I would be very popular.”

       Jane laughed. “Oh, I don’t know. Tom said that you—”

       And she stopped, frozen in the middle of her laugh.

       Time ceased to exist inside Daria’s head as Jane’s words registered. A million years went by in the seconds that followed.

       Daria looked up, her face empty. She was aware of a ringing in her ears. “Tom said what about me?” she asked.

       And then it hit her. Daria’s face went slack. She stepped back, her mouth open.

       Jane’s mouth closed, her laugh gone. She watched Daria with eyes of blue stone.

       “Tom,” said Daria. She took another step back. She raised a finger and pointed at Jane. “You’re seeing Tom,” she said. It was a statement of fact. She searched Jane’s face, saw it tighten, saw her swallow. “He told you... he told you everything about...”

       Neither of them moved for several seconds.

       Jane’s lips parted.

       “How does it feel, amiga?” she whispered, her voice hoarse. “How does it feel?”

       Daria took another step back, eyes widening as she looked into a nightmare.

       A moment later, she turned and ran.

       Jane watched Daria disappear down the long corridor and flee out a side door at the end. Jane then looked down and noticed that Daria had left her backpack behind.

       With a sigh, Jane reached over and turned the locker dial, entering Daria’s combination. She opened the locker, put Daria’s backpack inside, and carefully shut it.

       She then looked down the long, empty corridor. Her blue eyes glittered.

       “Enjoy Bromwell,” she whispered. She turned and walked away toward Ms. Defoe’s classroom, her blue eyes open and seeing nothing.




Chapter Ten



       “Shut the door for me, would you, Janet?” Angela Li said from her chair at her desk. Janet Barch, who was walking in, did so before taking a seat in a comfortable chair on the side opposite Angela’s. The principal of Lawndale High was looking through a large side drawer of her desk. Knowing Angela, Janet figured she was looking for a drink. It was four-thirty and school was out, so it didn’t matter to Janet. Angela never drove when she drank, too. Janet figured Angela would sleep on a cot in her office as she often did, showering in the girls’ locker room early the next morning and changing into one of the spare outfits she kept in her office closet. God knew what Angela did here at night. Janet certainly didn’t want to find out.

       Angela pulled out a bottle of Irish whisky and set it on her desk next to two small shot glasses. The bottle was half empty. She left the desk drawer open.

       “Nothing for me, thanks,” said Janet. “Got papers to grade tonight.”

       Angela refrained from comment. She already knew that Janet was going to Tim O’Neill’s apartment this evening. He was cooking dinner for her, and then she’d cook for him—so to speak. Angel knew far more than she wanted to know about fraternization among the faculty, thanks to the monitoring system on internal e-mails through the school’s computer. She poured herself a shot of whisky and capped the bottle, setting it back in the drawer.

       “You wanted to see me about that black-dressed hooligan, the Griffin boy?” Janet prompted.

       “That and a few other things,” said Angela. She settled back in her chair. “Tony DeMartino had to leave school at two-thirty with some kind of flu bug, and—”

       “Always the weaker sex, aren’t they?” Janet said, shaking her head.

       “—and you’re the secondary for the teachers’ union. I need to talk to you about Ms. Morris.”

       Janet sat still and bit her lower lip.

       Angela picked up her shot glass and looked at the amber fluid. “She tried to seduce one of the cheerleaders this afternoon in the athletic supply room. Got a little physical with her, too. It was the smart blonde one, Angie.” Angela drained her shot glass and set it on a pile of papers on her desk with a thump. “Angie ran out into the gym, screaming for help, and the other cheerleaders took her out of school. Brittany called here at two-fifteen and said all of the cheerleaders were quitting the squad and transferring to another school unless we did something about Morris.”

       Janet looked at her in shock. “Aren’t you supposed to say this was all ‘alleged’?”

       Angela looked at her steadily and made no comment.

       Janet groaned and rubbed her face. “Is it at all possible that there was some mistake, that—” Her words faded as she watched Angela open another drawer in her desk, pull out a black VHS tape, and stick it into a video machine on a wheeled TV stand behind her.

       “Okay, okay,” said Janet quickly, as Angela reached for the button to turn on the TV. “That won’t be necessary. We’re not going to fight for her if this is like you said.” Knowing Li’s resources, however, it would be like she had said. Janet glared at the floor. “Damn her!”

       “There’s more,” said Angela, turning away from the TV. “The cheerleaders have a lawyer. Brittany’s father retained a guy named Horowitz, from the same firm as Helen Morgendorffer works.”

       “Huh. I thought they only did corporate law.”

       “Horowitz takes civil cases, too. The police came and went through Morris’s things, but they didn’t find anything worth taking except the original of this security-camera tape. Horowitz will probably subpoena a copy, too. I sent Beth Morris home on paid leave, but I’m going to resolve this very quickly.” Angela leaned forward, hands clasped on her desktop. “Janet, I’m going to come down on her like napalm on a grass hut. It’s not like I have any damn choice about it. We’re going to be on the news tonight, and all day tomorrow, and the day after that and so on for weeks to come.”

       “I can imagine,” said Janet.

       “Get ready for some changes,” said Angela. “I’m ordering another round of those damned teacher-student sensitivity classes over the summer and fall—I have to call O’Neill about that tomorrow morning—and we’ll pull in a replacement P.E. teacher for the fall. We’ll use substitutes until then. We’ll have extra counselors working with Margaret Manson in the psych office for the cheerleaders and anyone else who wants them, starting tomorrow, and you can trust me that I’ll do anything else I can think of to placate Horowitz and the cheerleaders and their families and the newspapers and all of goddamn Lawndale and Carter County, or else the state will get involved, and then we’ll really have some fun.”

       “I got it, I got it,” said Janet glumly. “I can’t believe she did that.”

       “It happens,” said Angela. She reached aside and picked up a handful of papers, shuffling through them. “Enough of that. Damn crazy day. Now... Mister Griffin and Miss Rowe.”

       “I saw that happen!” Janet interrupted, eyes burning. “That smart-aleck thug attacked Quinn Morgendorffer, and Stacy pulled him off her!”

       “I’ve heard about fifty different versions of this story, but I’m having trouble setting the security-camera film from the cafeteria to run. There’s a glitch in the recording system, and the recording might be lost. I’ll call the security people tomorrow about it. Most of the witnesses agree that Mister Griffin stopped Miss Morgendorffer and made certain lewd remarks to her, but he hadn’t actually attacked or harmed her.”

       “That’s not what I saw!”

       “And other people say that, too, Janet, but you’re in the one-third minority. Miss Morgendorffer herself says she thought that boy was going to hurt her, but he never touched her. It could still be assault, though, given the circumstances and our zero-tolerance anti-bullying policy. The bad news is, Miss Rowe’s the only one we can definitely pin for assault. She’s suspended for three days, but she’s looking at expulsion and starting the fall in Carter County High with the other JDs.” She sighed. “Damn shame, too. She really nailed that rotten little bastard. Couldn’t believe it was her that did it, though, not in a million years. Such an innocent little angel.” She snorted.

       “She was protecting Quinn, Angela!”

       Angela looked at Janet over the top of her eyeglasses. “She beat Alex Griffin until he couldn’t remember his own name. At least there’s no permanent damage. He got x-rayed at Cedars of Lawndale, had a nice concussion, but he’s back in the county’s hands. We won’t see him again.”

       “So,” said Janet with disgust, “is that scumball’s family going to sue us, too?”

       “They might, but he’s already got a juvenile record longer than our cross-country trail. More likely the Morgendorffers’ll sue ‘em, knowing that psycho, Helen. She’s probably on the phone to Johnnie Cochran now, unless they can resolve any conflict of interest and get Horowitz to take it, too. Just pray she doesn’t decide to sue us, too. She’s got a mind like a rabid wolverine when it comes to this stuff.”

       Janet leaned forward in her chair. “Angela,” she said, “listen to me. If you don’t expel Stacy Rowe, we could stay with the suspension and stick her with some kind of public service duty in addition, maybe something school related. If she goes into juvenile, she’s gone. God knows what’ll happen to her then. I can sponsor her for summer classes at Judy’s Jujitsu downtown, where the Women’s Center is—”

       “And teach her how to beat up other students more efficiently?”

       “No, damn it, to teach her to use self-control! To teach her to subdue opponents with less violence—unless it’s some macho hormone-crazed scuzzbucket who deserves it, of course, but—”

       “Janet, this isn’t at all—”

       “And she can try out for the Lawndale/Carter County all-women’s martial-arts team, when it goes to state in November!”

       Angela stared at Janet for several long seconds. “For the glory of Laaawndale High, of course.”

       “Of course.”

       Angela shook her head. “It’s too much of a stretch. Besides, we don’t even have a martial-arts group here at school, unless we changed the charter of the Debate Team.”

       “We could start one.”

       “We’d need a new P.E. teacher for that, and we just lost ours, remember?”

       “Angela!” Janet Barch was on the verge of getting down on her knees. “Stacy was defending her friend! Please, I beg you, don’t throw her away!”

       Angela sighed and tossed aside the papers she held. “And another thing. I want students from other schools to stop coming by here to see or pick up their friends. It’s bogging down the office staff. Young man from Fielding Preparatory Academy came by this afternoon to see Daria Morgendorffer. Tom Sloane. I think he’s the son of that investment broker, Angier Sloane, who lives at the end of Crewe Neck. I told him we didn’t allow visitation during school hours, and Daria had just broken up with her boyfriend, too, so she probably wasn’t in the mood to talk to anyone. He wouldn’t buy any raffle tickets, either, so if he expected a favor, he didn’t get it. If any of the teachers know of students coming by like this, pass the word on to me.”

       “Will do,” said Janet sourly.

       “Good,” said Angela. “On your way out, pick up that box of raffle tickets and pass them out to the other teachers tomorrow morning. I want to see a lot of school spirit from the union, if you get my drift.”

       Janet stood up. “Please think about what I said about Stacy Rowe.”

       “See you tomorrow,” said Angela, pouring herself another drink.

       After Janet Barch was gone, Angela leaned back in her seat, sniffing her drink. Maybe Janet had a point about Stacy Rowe. Margaret had a long file on the kid, but it was all the usual teenager stuff, worries about everything. Stacy had stopped going by Margaret’s office in January, though. Maybe she was getting her head together at last. Of course, today’s incident was no help at all.

       Angela opened a drawer and pulled out a penny, looking it over. “Heads,” she said, “Stacy’s expelled. Tails, she stays, and Janet gets her way.” She flipped the coin and caught it, slapping it on the back of her free hand.


       Angela drained her glass and turned her chair to face her computer. She called up the files she’d need for Stacy’s expulsion and prepared to start entering her personal data.

       The phone rang. Angela glanced at the caller ID, then snatched the handset up before the recorded message took over.

       “Laaawndale High School, Principal Li speaking,” she said with gusto. She smiled broadly. “Missy, hello, hello! I’ve missed hearing from you. Calling about our next meeting of the Lawndale Asian Women’s Nexus?” She paused. The smile vanished from her face. “What are you talking about?” Another pause. “She was? Who?” A pause. “Yes, I do know her,” she said. “She’s a student here.” She reached for a notepad. “What was the cause of death?” She grabbed a pencil and made a series rapid shorthand notes across the pad. “My God. When did this happen?” She added more notes. “Are you at Cedars of Lawndale now? How did you find out about this?” A pause. “Does her family know?” A long pause. “Okay. Thank you, Missy. I’m coming right over. Yes, I’m sorry, too. Bye.”

       Angela Li hung up the phone and got up from her desk at once. She put her whisky away, then picked up the phone and punched in a number. “Lawndale Taxi?” she said quickly. “I need a cab at Lawndale High School. I need to get to Cedars of Lawndale at once. Angela Li. I’ll be out in front.”

       She grabbed her purse, made sure her cell phone was charged and a copy of the school phone directory was inside, and headed for the door. She stopped there, looking back at the still-active computer and the expulsion-order file on the monitor screen. Shaking her head, she left and locked the door behind her.




Chapter Eleven



       At four o’clock that afternoon, traffic in Lawndale was well on its way to its rush-hour peak.

       “God, I still can’t believe it,” said Sandi, wincing as sunlight flashed in her eyes from the windows of the cars in front of her. She took a hand from the steering wheel to press on her right temple. “Stacy trashed Alex out, and I missed it. Damn. You’re sure it was our Stacy and not a clone?”

       “I know, I know, I couldn’t believe it, either.” Quinn made a face, squinting at the cityscape through the windshield of Sandi’s car. She sat hunched up in her seat in the foulest of moods. “God, what is wrong? I feel like crap. It’s like all my energy’s sucked out, and I can’t get comfortable or anything. My skin feels like it’s jumping or crawling or itching, and I’m just so sick of it!”

       “I’m under the weather, too,” said Sandi. She glared at the traffic. “My head is freaking killing me. Hey, what is it with these people? Can’t any of them drive? It’s like some kind of freaking demolition derby out here! There, look! Look at that dude over there, talking on his cell phone!” Her voice rose to a shout. “You’re gonna cause an accident, you stupid butthead! Jeez, look at him!”

       “Not so loud, okay? I’m really beat!” Quinn covered her mouth and yawned, then resumed her sulky look. “Maybe going to see Tiffany right now isn’t such a good idea, you know? I feel like I could go home and crash for a week.”

       “Well, I know what’ll get us going again,” said Sandi with assurance. “I’ll give us a little pick-me-up when we get to the hospital parking lot.”

       “Oh, that would be sooo sweet. I could really use that. I’ve been like running down all afternoon.”

       “Yeah.” Sandi gritted her teeth against the pain in her head. “Let’s talk and take our minds off it. We’ve only got a few blocks left. You were going to tell me something about Skylar, so tell me.”

       Quinn slumped back in her car seat. “Oh, boy. You’re going to freak when you hear this! Are you ready? You won’t believe it!”

       “What, already? Just tell me!”

       “I am! You don’t have to get all pissy about it!”

       “Just tell me!”

       “Well, I am! I was talking to Skylar after Stacy smacked Alex down—”

       “Oh, God, I wish I’d seen that! I would’ve kicked the snot out of him, too! I’d have kicked him right where it counts!”

       “Yeah, well, Stacy probably would’ve done it for you if the whole football team hadn’t jumped on her first. There must have been eight guys holding her back. I’m telling you, she was wild!”

       “She should get a promotion,” Sandi said with feeling. “We should make her sergeant-at-arms in the Fashion Club for this. Chief bodyguard, maybe. I mean it.”

       “What? Sandi, she was fighting in school!

       “Look, do you know what kind of crap I’ve had to put up with from Alex the last few years? He’s the most obnoxious ass in the world! I’m club president, and I can promote her if I want!”

       Quinn threw her hands into the air. “Whatever, okay? I’m sorry! Whatever! Look, anyway, I was talking to Skylar afterward, and he told me that his half-brother in Swedesville is a narc.

       Sandi turned her head to stare at Quinn. “What?

       “Sandi!” Quinn pointed at the windshield in panic. “Look out! Look out!”

       Sandi looked and instantly swerved right, moments before a pickup truck went past in the oncoming lane to the left. “I’m driving just fine!” she shouted. “You don’t have to yell at me! I knew what was happening!”

       “You almost hit that truck!”

       “I did not, damn it! Just tell me about Skylar and his narc brother!”

       “Do you want me to drive?”

       “No! Damn it, just tell me about the narc!”

       “Well, be careful, okay?”

       “Quinn, stuff it and talk!”

       “Okay! Skylar’s half-brother in Swedesville is a narc! He mostly runs around looking for pot in cornfields and stuff, but he does a lot of narco work all over Carter County, and he comes to visit Skylar a lot. He’s like twenty-six or something, from his mom’s first marriage, and he’s got like this big dog, and I don’t know if it’s a drug-sniffing dog or what, but when Skylar told me about this, I thought, hey, there is no freaking way that I am ever going to see this guy and let my purse or clothes or anything get around his dog, you know? I mean, we’ve got to be really careful about this! I knew this was going to happen and I said so, right?”

       “Quinn, it’s not like the end of the world, okay?”

       “Sandi, I’m telling you, I don’t think I can keep on seeing Skylar if I’m going to run into his narc brother or half-brother or whatever! I mean, what if—”

       Sandi groaned. “Quinn, yes, you can keep seeing him! Make him come and take you out, so you don’t go over to his place! Or you can call ahead and just not go over there when his cousin’s around.”

 “Whatever! Okay, listen—we’ll cut back on how much we’re doing, okay? I mean, we’ll do some when we get to the hospital, but we’ll cut back and we won’t do any of it when you have to—”

       “That’s Daria!” Quinn lurched at her side window, pointing to a solitary figure in green and black walking along the sidewalk in the same direction they were heading. Quinn turned her head to keep the figure in sight for as long as possible. “That is Daria! What the hell is she doing on this side of town? She should be home or over at Jane’s house. Hey!”


       “I think she’s crying!”

       “Daria? No way!”

       “Yeah! Her face is like all red and everything, and she looks like she’s crying. Her face is wet. I wonder what the hell happened.”

       “Oh, hell, what do you want me to do, drive around and find out what’s going—”

       “No, no, forget it! I was just wondering what was up, that’s all.” Quinn turned around in her seat. “Oh, I bet I know. I bet Tom found out she was seeing Trent or something, or Trent broke up with her, or whatever. I bet that’s it.”

       “Serves her right, if you ask me. That’s the hospital ahead, over there.”

       “Well, she should’ve known better, you know?

       “Yeah, she should’ve.” Sandi massaged her forehead. “Maybe they’ve got some aspirin or Tylenol or ibu-whatever at the hospital. Jeez, my head feels like it’s going to split open.”

       “Maybe Daria’s going to the hospital, you know? Maybe something happened to Jane or something.”

       “I don’t know, I don’t care.” Sandi turned the wheel and entered the hospital parking lot.

       “Can you drop me at the entrance?” Quinn muttered. “I’m just beat.”

       “What? I thought you wanted a pick-me-up. What’s wrong?”

       “I’m beat, okay? I don’t want anything right now. That thing about Skylar’s narc brother sort of freaked me out. Let’s just see Tiffany and get out of here. We can do some lines somewhere else on the way home, but not right now. I mean, what if there’s a narc dog waiting inside there, you know?”

       “Oh, get real, Quinn! There’s not going to be—”

       “Well, it could happen! Just drop me at the entrance, all right?”

       Sandi rolled her eyes and sighed. “Yeah, whatever.” She steered toward the main non-emergency entrance to Cedars of Lawndale, stopped, and let Quinn get out. “Find out if they have a gift shop where they sell flowers, okay?” Sandi shouted after her. “And see if they have something for a headache!”

       Quinn shut the car door and headed through the revolving door on wobbly legs. She did not remember feeling this bad since Ms. Morris forced her P.E. class to run a lap around the high school’s outdoor track. What a sadist.

       Several inquiries later, Quinn knew that the hospital gift shop was still open, and yes, it did sell flowers and a variety of headache medicines. She bought a packet of aspirin for Sandi. Tiffany liked orchids, but she was going to have to settle for white carnations, which was all that the shop had left. Tiffany’s room was number 348, and she could have visitors. To Quinn’s vast relief, she did not see any dogs in the lobby.

       Unfortunately, Quinn realized she was developing a headache just as bad as Sandi’s. She bought another packet of aspirin and took them with a drink of water from a fountain. Pressing her fingertips to her temples to lessen the pain, Quinn made her way back to the lobby. Sandi was not there.

       Oh, right, Quinn thought, she was going to get a snort in the car and then come in. Maybe I should’ve done that, too. I feel so rotten. She pressed her nose against the large window overlooking the parking lot, searching for Sandi’s blue car. After a minute, she spotted it at the far end of the lot. She waited for Sandi to finish her snort and get out, all the while thinking unkind thoughts about her best friend, who was no doubt feeling a hell of a lot better than she was at that moment.

       Her resolve to avoid two more little white lines held out only thirty seconds longer. “Oh, screw it,” she muttered at last, and she headed for the revolving door.



* * *



       Sandi flinched in her seat, feeling the blissful explosion of light and energy blast through her head. Her headache was gone in an instant. Taking that extra-large hit of coke was the ticket. The rush flooded down into her body, and for a few moments she lay back in repose, relieved that the pain was gone and she could get on with her business. She found refreshing ideas popping into her head about what she would say and do when she saw Tiffany, and all the news she had to tell her. This was the right way to do it.

       Sandi felt pressured to get going, so she threw everything into her purse, even the empty packet of white powder from her other shoe. Too bad for Quinn, she thought. She should’ve hung around for her share, but I drove here so I deserved the extra snort. I’ll give her more tomorrow to make up for it. Sandi fumbled with the car door, thinking she was moving much faster than usual, which was great except that it was hard to keep up with things.

       As she got out of the car, her mind rapidly filled with images of things she wanted to do tonight once she got home, starting with a Fashion Club review of all the hot styles from the last six months and a review of everything that would be in style for the summer and the next school year. She shut the car door and began walking toward the Cedars of Lawndale entrance. The second she got home, she would call up all the top designers and get their opinions on future fashions right over the phone—why didn’t anyone ever think to do this before?—and maybe she could even talk one of the hottest designers into letting the Fashion Club jet over to Europe or New York and get their own private showing. It would be easy! Sandi grinned at her genius as the spring air washed over her. She fanned her face. Strange that it was getting warmer out so quickly.

       This idea about jetting to Europe—Paris, it had to be Paris—was really the best idea Sandi had ever had. She was sure of it. She’d be put on the covers of all the teen magazines, instantly famous. She’d have to get some good photos taken of her for the publishers to use, of course, and buy a ton of new clothes. Had to be done right away, tonight, but she could handle it.

       Sandi raised a hand to her head. That damn headache was coming back, probably from the heat. The heat was incredible now. Maybe the headache would just go away—no, it wasn’t going away. Sandi shivered. It was roaring hot out—no, it was her skin that was roaring hot—but she was also chilling to the bone, freezing right there in the parking lot under the bright sunlight of May. This is crazy! she thought. Do I have the flu? What’s happening? In moments, she heard her pulse pounding in her ears, louder and louder and louder until it drowned out every other sound. It was very hard to think about Paris, very hard to think about anything at all except the horrid pain in her head and her flaming skin and the unstoppable shivers in her muscles and bones, and now her stomach felt really bad and she was breathing much too fast.

       Sandi staggered toward the hospital as she rubbed her aching temples hard with both hands. The agony in her head was pounding in rhythm with the thundering in her ears. She began shivering so violently she could barely walk, yet her entire body was on fire, radiating heat like yellow lava. Sweat ran down her face and dripped from her hair. She stopped and leaned against a parked car to keep from falling as she shook uncontrollably from head to foot.

       Fear rioted inside her. She knew she was terribly ill, but she didn’t know why or how or anything else except the immediacy of her danger. Her vision was turning gray from the intolerable stabbing of her headache, but she saw Quinn running toward her, running for her like mad up the aisle in the parking lot. Sandi raised a hand to hail her, then grabbed at her abdomen. An unpleasant lurch of her stomach signaled extreme distress. No no no no God don’t let me throw up in public no please NO—

       Sandi doubled over and vomited on the pavement as hard as she could. She coughed and hacked and fought for breath, then vomited again and again until she was empty and thought she would vomit up her insides if she did it once more. She was hunched down now, one hand holding on to the bumper of the parked car and the other hand clamped to her forehead to keep her brains from exploding. She sobbed and gasped for air, and she struggled to stay balanced on her feet and not fall down. It then came to her that she might be dying.

       Helpless with terror, Sandi Griffin raised her head to see Quinn Morgendorffer reaching for her, shouting her name. Help me! Help me! Sandi thought, and she tried to say it, tried harder than anything to say it, but a sun-bright bubble of pain blew up in the back of her head, a blood vessel rupturing among the neurons that controlled her respiratory system, and her lungs stopped and it was suddenly impossible to breathe.



* * *



       Screaming Sandi’s name, Quinn grabbed for her friend, but Sandi twisted in her arms and fell backward, her body straightening out like a board before rolling and thrashing on the asphalt in violent convulsions. Quinn quickly knelt beside her, heedless of the filth, and she tried to steady Sandi’s seizure by holding hands with her. Sandi gripped back with terrific strength, pulling Quinn toward her chest. Her convulsions became less dramatic, but now she was rigid, trembling and straining, her face turning bright pink.

       Quinn realized then that Sandi was trying to breathe. She couldn’t imagine what had gone wrong, and she had no idea of what to do about it. She had a sudden mental image that in holding Sandi’s hands, she was trying to pull her free of an infinite and lightless abyss. Stay with me! Quinn cried without words, gripping Sandi’s hands. Stay with me! Breathe, Sandi, breathe, for God’s sake! Breathe! Breathe with me! Why won’t you BREATHE?

       Sandi’s face turned brilliant red, her mouth open and her terrified eyes locked on Quinn. Through their hands they became a single being, hearts beating in perfect time, focused on escape from that abyss—but even as she pulled with all her might, lifting Sandi’s upper body clear of the pavement, Quinn knew her best friend’s life was slipping through her fingers, and she knew no way to stop it. Sandi was dying right in her hands. Sandi’s face turned purple as she fought for air but found none, and then her face turned black, and Quinn screamed and screamed as she had never before screamed in her life.

       At a moment Quinn could not pinpoint but knew instantly when it had past, Sandi’s struggle to live peaked—and failed. The blackness in her face faded to a waxy, yellowish tone. Her rigid muscles softened. Her hands eased their death grip on Quinn’s, and her body slipped back to lie flat against the ground, her head cushioned by her thick brown hair. Sandi Griffin’s dark eyes stared into the infinite vault of blue above her, and she did not move again.

       In the background were shouts and footsteps running toward her. Quinn heard nothing. She put her arms around Sandi and lifted her just enough to hug her. Quinn held her best friend in her arms and kissed her still face and wept, as Sandi cooled in the sun of a beautiful May afternoon.





Chapter Twelve



Monday, 5:44 p.m.

[phone rings two times]


STAFF: Cedars of Lawndale cafeteria, Carol speaking. May I help you?


PATIENT: [slowly] Yes. I’m in room three four eight. Please send up an order of no-fat, vegetable-substitute chicken salad and a glass of skim milk at six o’clock. Thank you.


STAFF: Excuse me, ma’am?


PATIENT: [slowly] What?


STAFF: Are you a patient here?


PATIENT: [slowly] Uh... yes?


STAFF: Okay, you have to discuss changes in your meal menu with your doctor. Another department handles that. This is the public cafeteria. We don’t deliver meals directly to patients’ rooms from here.


PATIENT: [slowly] Oh. [pause] What if I was visiting?


STAFF: Ma’am, I’m sorry, but you need to talk with your doctor about your menu. You might be on a special diet, and we’re not allowed to interfere with the meal you’re prescribed.


PATIENT: [slowly] Oh. [pause] How incon... inconven... that sucks.


STAFF: (brief laughter) Well, maybe. Listen, people who are visiting can come down to the cafeteria and pick up an order that they can eat in your room, if the doctor doesn’t mind. Do you get my drift?


PATIENT: [slowly] Oh. [pause] So... if I’m not staying long, could I still be a visitor?


STAFF: [pause] Can I speak with someone there in the room with you?


PATIENT: [slowly] I’m alone, I think. [pause] Yes.


STAFF: Are you on some kind of special medication?


PATIENT: [slowly] My diets are always special.


STAFF: [sigh] You’ll have to ask your doctor. I’m sorry, but we can’t help you.


PATIENT: [slowly] Oh. [pause] Can you send my doctor in?


STAFF: Ma’am, just push the button on the remote by your bed. Do you see it?


PATIENT: [slowly] Oh. [pause] Thank you.


STAFF: Bye. Jeez, some people. [click]


PATIENT: [slowly] Goodbye. [click, then several more clicks] Hello? Can you send my doctor in? [pause] Hello? [pause] Hello? [pause] Must be broken. [click]




Monday, 8:03 p.m.

[phone rings four times]


AMY: [soft jazz music in background] ‘Lo? Mike?


DARIA: Aunt Amy?


AMY: Oh! Who—oh, fiddle diddle. Wait a minute. [music shuts off] Damn it.


DARIA: Amy? Are you okay?


AMY: I spilled m’ drink. S’okay, clean it up later. Whozis?


DARIA: This is Daria.


AMY: Oh, Daria! Wassup?


DARIA: [pause] Am I interrupting something?


AMY: No, no. I was... sitting around. Like always. Tryin’ to unwind.


DARIA: Are you drinking?


AMY: A li’l. Don’ worry ‘bout it. Wassup?


DARIA: Amy, I need to talk to you. It’s an emergency.


AMY: Um... how bad of an emergency?


DARIA: It’s really bad. Look, maybe I should call you tomorrow.


AMY: No, I’ll be at work all day. I have to go in early for a meeting. You wan’ me to talk to your mom and get you outta trouble?


DARIA: No, it’s not like that. Things are really bad here. Something terrible happened to Quinn. One—


AMY: She wore colors that clashed? Neon and—


DARIA: Amy, no! One of her friends died!


AMY: Oh. Um, I’m sorry. Sorry to hear that.


DARIA: Her friend overdosed on cocaine and died while they were together this evening. My problems don’t amount to anything compared to that, but it’s a nightmare here, and we need your help. Tomorrow, could—


AMY: Cocaine’s bad. I’m a martini person, myself.




AMY: Daria, you don’ have to yell! Look, I’ve had a really rotten day—make that a rotten month, thanks to the damn layoffs and alla work I got dumped on me, and I’m prob’ly gonna lose my job if I don’ get in early and kiss somebody’s butt—and I’m a li’l drunk at the moment. I’m smashed, actually. I’m sorry to hear ‘bout Quinn’s friend, but I don’ know what else I can say. Isn’t your mom there? She could help you. Helen should be all over it. She still married to your dad?


DARIA: Amy, we need your help! Everything’s just—it’s just—damn you! What’s wrong with you? Why did you have to get drunk now, tonight?


AMY: [pause] I felt like it, I guess. I just needed to unwind. Sorry I couldn’t—


DARIA: [click]


AMY: —be more helpful with... your problem. Hello? Daria? Are you still on? [pause] What was that all about? [click]




Monday, 10:47 p.m.

[phone rings one time]


DARIA: Hello.


TOM: Daria?


HELEN: Hello?


DARIA: I’ve got it, Mom.


HELEN: Oh, sorry. I thought it was the police again. [click]


TOM: The police? Daria, is everything okay there?


DARIA: Forget it. Why are you calling?


TOM: I thought it would be better if I called instead of driving over.


DARIA: You were right about that.


TOM: Listen, I came by your school today to talk to you for a few minutes, but your principal, Mrs. Stalin, said I couldn’t pop in because of some school policy change. Then she said you had just broken up with your boyfriend and probably wouldn’t want to talk to anyone right now. I asked her what she was talking about, and she said you’d been going out with Jane’s brother, Trent. [silence] Daria?


DARIA: What?


TOM: What was that all about?


DARIA: [pause] We broke up.


TOM: What, you and Trent? You broke up?


DARIA: [pause] Last night.


TOM: What?


DARIA: Tom, I was seeing Trent while I was seeing you, too.


TOM: [pause] Daria, what—listen, I don’t understand. You were dating Trent? How long was this going on?


DARIA: Oh... two weeks.


TOM: Why did you do this?


DARIA: [pause] Because I loved him. I thought I did, anyway.


TOM: But what about me? Us?


DARIA: I dunno.


TOM: You don’t know?


DARIA: Yeah. [pause] I dunno.


TOM: Well, if this is what’s going on, you’ve been seeing someone else, then I don’t think we should see each other anymore. Daria, I can’t believe this! How could you?


DARIA: [pause] Eh.


TOM: That’s it? That’s all you have to say? No cynical remarks, no clever wit, no Daria Morgendorffer sarcasm? Just ‘eh’?


DARIA: [pause] Yeah. [pause] Tom?


TOM: What?


DARIA: Next time you’re slamming it to Jane, try to think of me while you’re doing it, would you?


TOM: What— [pause] What are you talking about? [pause] Daria?


DARIA: She told me.


TOM: [pause] Told you what?


DARIA: She told me today about you and her.


TOM: [pause] Jane did?


DARIA: See you at Bromwell, Tom. And pack your long underwear. I hear it’s cold up there. [click]


TOM: [pause] [click]




Monday, 10:55 p.m.

[phone rings twenty-one times]


JANE: [loud alternative music in background] Yo.




JANE: [loud alternative music in background] Oh. Wait. [pause, music shuts off] Okay.


DARIA: [pause] Good one, today. Right on target.


JANE: Okay. [cough] Anything else?


DARIA: [pause] No.


JANE: Okay. Um, no walkie together to school again, I take it.


DARIA: Correct.


JANE: You know, I walked you to school last year after—


DARIA: You shouldn’t have done that.


JANE: [pause] Ah. Yeah, I can see that.


DARIA: Why did you do it, then? I don’t see how you could—oh, never mind.


JANE: Why’d I do it? [cough]


DARIA: [pause] Yeah.


JANE: [pause] I don’t know. I didn’t want to be around you at first, you know, but after a week, I was too lonely. I hated myself for doing it, going back to you, but I really wanted to see you even if you had kissed him. I could kinda convince myself it was all just a mistake. And—[cough]—and then, when I realized it wasn’t a mistake, I sort of wanted to prove that I was above it, that we could still be friends and do things together even after that, but... after a while, I realized it wasn’t working. I wasn’t above it. I wasn’t big enough to get over it. It didn’t work. [pause] I wanted something more.


DARIA: And today you got it.


JANE: Yeah. I did.


DARIA: I see. I see it, now. Right on target. [pause] Seventeen days.


JANE: What?


DARIA: Seventeen days of school left before we graduate.


JANE: Oh. I wasn’t counting. [cough]


DARIA: I am. I can’t wait.


JANE: I know that feeling, amiga.


DARIA: Don’t say that word to me. Don’t you ever say that word to me again.


JANE: Um, sure. But I know that feeling. One year ago. I still remember it. You’ll remember it, too.


DARIA: [pause] Yes.


JANE: Okay. [pause] That’s it from me.


DARIA: And me. Goodbye, Jane.


JANE: Goodbye, Daria. It was good while it lasted.


DARIA: No, it... [voice breaking] Goodbye. [click]


JANE: [pause] [softly] Goodbye. [pause] [click]




Monday, 11:01 p.m.

[phone rings seventeen times]


JANE: [loud alternative music in background] Yo.


TOM: Jane? Look, why did you tell Daria about us?


JANE: [pause, music shuts off] [cough] Get an interesting phone call? [cough]


TOM: Why did you do it? Why did you hurt her?


JANE: [weak laughter] God, Tom, you kill me.


TOM: Jane, I want to know!


JANE: You are such a—[cough]—such a... you don’t get it. You never did.


TOM: Get what? Did you do this on purpose?


JANE: I can’t believe Fielding is letting you graduate. Jeez, you’re dumber than our quarterback. [cough] You start messing around on me with Daria, now you’re messing around on Daria with me—what does it take, Tom? What does it take to get through that lead-plated concrete skull you’ve got? You think—


TOM: Jane, you didn’t have to tell her anything!


JANE: Shut up and go to hell! Why do you think I handed you a little nookie in the first place? Do you know why, Tom? I fed her back what I got a year ago! I spilled the beans a little early, so my bad, but she had it coming! She got what she needed to grow up! She won’t pull that crap again, no matter where she goes or who she’s with. She’ll probably never date again anyway. That would be like her. She’ll be a bitter, hardened recluse and die alone. I know it. And you helped, you stupid bastard.


TOM: I... I can’t believe you’d do this. This isn’t like you at all.


JANE: [pause] You never did really know me. She got to know me, Daria did, but she screwed me over anyway. I don’t know which of you two is dumber.


TOM: You set this whole thing up to get back at Daria.


JANE: No! I set this whole thing up to get back at Daria and you! I can’t freaking believe you’re graduating high school.


TOM: Cut it out!


JANE: No, you cut it out! You know what I was planning to do to you? You remember what I told you about Alison?


TOM: [pause] The girl with HIV.


JANE: Yeah. One of her old one-nighters was in Leeville a month ago—that artist, Dotson. I thought about seeing him and giving a freebie from me, just so I could pick up something and give it to you. Only I—


TOM: You did what?


JANE: I didn’t do it, you moron! I only thought about it! I didn’t do it. You’d just turn around and give it to Daria anyway, and I didn’t want that.


TOM: What? Isn’t that what you really want?


JANE: No. I couldn’t do that to her. She doesn’t deserve it. You might, though. And you know what else? You know those brownies I made for you a few days ago? Trent knows some guys who deal, you know? You could have been eating black-tar heroin brownies. That would have been great! God, I would have loved to have seen your ass crawling around my door, begging for another one! I would have loved that! [laughter]


TOM: You’re crazy. You’re totally—


JANE: No, I’m just sick of you! You’re not even a good screw! That I do know. You suck in the sack, Jack. But I gotta tell you, your sister, Elsie, she’s something else. I never thought I’d try that, doing another girl, but lemme tell you, Elsie is hot. You remember that night last month when you came back from seeing Daria, and Elsie and I were laughing it up in the kitchen? Guess what we were eating before you got there? Come on, Tom, guess! Oooo, she is sweet, Tom, she is—


TOM: [click]


JANE: —just the sweetest... thing. Hello? Tom? Are you still there? Do you know what I like best about you, Tom? You’re gullible! You’ll believe anything! I love that about you. I do now, anyway. You’re going to choke on that one for years. [cough] That was a good one, Jane. Mister Garden Gnome says you get another toke for that. [click]





Chapter Thirteen



       Stacy Rowe sat on the family room sofa with the curtains drawn, the sofa pillows piled around her like stones in a burial cairn. It was Tuesday morning. Her mother was a receptionist for a local church, and her father was in Alabama until the weekend on business. Her mother would not be back until late. It was quiet in the house.

       Only Stacy’s head from her nose up showed over the cairn of pillows. She had no interest in the television, quadraphonic stereo, or anything else in the room. She was barefoot and wore an old pair of jeans she used only when her parents made her do yard work. Her yellow t-shirt, also for yard work, came from a church picnic in which Stacy ran a game booth for children. She wore no makeup, nail polish, jewelry, or perfume. Her pigtails were undone, leaving her brown hair loose and uncombed to the bottoms of her shoulder blades. Her thoughts on this dreary, sunny morning were of Sandi’s death and Quinn’s suffering, and her inexcusable failure to prevent either.

       Her gaze went to the coffee table, piled high with fashion magazines to which she had a personal subscription. She couldn’t imagine now what good they had ever been. So many other things in the world were of so much greater importance, things so simple and basic she could hardly believe she’d missed them before now: life and death, love and friendship, responsibility—and the consequences of an irresponsible impulse, multiplied to horrifying levels and then multiplied again, and then again.

       At the core of her bleak thoughts, she was accursed beyond measure for not being there for Quinn or Sandi. She knew now that when she attacked Alex, she lost her chance to go with the other girls to see Tiffany at the hospital, and thus prevent every part of the tragedy that followed. Ted had called at eight the night before to give her the news as well as his heartfelt support for her, which Stacy felt was gravely misplaced. She slept only three hours that night and awoke feeling she’d had no rest at all.

       The living nightmare only continued. Ms. Barch phoned that morning to tell Stacy of her fate in the educational system: she would not be expelled, but only because Ms. Li felt Sandi’s death had been enough of a black eye for the school. After her suspension, Stacy would be entered into special classes and would remain on probation for the remainder of her time at Lawndale High, facing the juvenile justice system for any further acting out. The news of Linda Griffin’s arrest for cocaine possession did not trouble Stacy overmuch, but poor Tiffany, still in Cedars of Lawndale, had not been told until late in the night what had happened. She had looked forward to a visit from the rest of the Fashion Club, and her suffering was Stacy’s fault as well, as was the torment of the three girls’ families and Stacy’s own parents, and everyone at Lawndale High School, and everyone everywhere connected in any way with the disaster that was Monday. It was a miracle to Stacy that God had not yet taken the time to strike her down, though perhaps “miracle” was the wrong word. That she lived was to her a greater punishment than death. There was no relief from the shame and guilt, nor would there be for the rest of her life, and likely not even afterward.

       Under this colossal weight, Stacy lost all will to do more than breathe. She had not showered and thought she smelled worse than a locker room, but it seemed fitting that this be so, so there was no point in cleaning up anyway. It would make her look better than she deserved.

       A car drove by on the street, the bass rumble from its stereo vibrating the windows. Stacy thought about Quinn and wondered what she was doing, how she was handling things. She tried to imagine the hell through which Quinn had gone, but it was too far beyond her experience to grasp, and she knew it. She felt a dull, aching impulse to cry, but she was worn out with crying in the depths of her grief.

       If I had only known, she thought for the thousandth time. If I had only known this would happen—but I should have known. I should have been ready. I should have behaved differently. If I had, I would have saved them. Now they are lost, and I am lower than damned. She looked down at the pillow on her lap, studied the weave of the fibers, then let her gaze wander slowly around the darkened room to the framed landscapes, the stylish bookcases, the off-white shag carpet, the ugly wire sculpture of a bird that her mother bought at a yard sale and placed over the fireplace mantle.

       It occurred to her that she had never really thought out the consequences of loving Quinn. It had been a secret love, something she could romanticize as she liked because it never had to face reality. It was a fairy tale, like fighting dragons or rescuing maidens. Real love had to do with being honest and open with your beloved and with other people, and dealing with real-world things like parents and schoolmates and jobs and money (always money) and screwing up and making good and forgiving, arguing and connecting, everything the fairy tales left out. Why had she not considered that? Could a fairy tale love survive the bruises of real life? It was mortifying that she had held on to her dreams of Quinn for so long.

       She wondered for a while if she was being divinely punished for her love of Quinn, but this made no sense and she abandoned the thought. That so many should suffer for such a small thing was an affront to her view of world and of God. Her parents were liberal in their attitudes, though Stacy had never wished to test the limits of their tolerance with an admission of her own feelings. She did not believe God particularly cared who she loved, so long as she devoted herself to doing the right thing in any circumstance. It was responsibility that interested God, and her ability to live up to it.

       Being responsible, she knew, was what she had failed to do, which is what led to this pit from which she would never escape. It was not even possible to pray for forgiveness. To even think of doing that was a presumption against the powers of righteousness and justice. There were some acts to which forgiveness did not apply. This was her life, as it was now, forever.

       Stacy buried lay on the sofa for several hours as all of this passed through her mind. In time, she became restless. Her lack of sleep made her uncomfortable no matter what she did. After the rumble of a truck passed through the house and all was quiet again, Stacy pushed the pillows aside and arose from her burial place. She looked around at the pillows fallen on the floor, and she was in the process of listlessly putting them back on the sofa when the doorbell chimed.

       Stacy looked at the front door without interest. It was probably her mother, who never liked digging out her house key from the chaos inside her oversized, unfashionably bulky purse. Stacy walked to the entry hall and turned the doorknob without bothering to look through the peephole and see who was on the other side.

       When she opened the door, her dead heart jumped.

       Quinn Morgendorffer stood alone on the front steps of the Rowes’ home. She wore sneakers with no socks, blue shorts, and a pink t-shirt with a butterfly on it. Her orange-peel hair was tangled. She had no makeup on, and her sun earrings had been removed. She stood with her arms hanging at her sides and her lifeless eyes peering at Stacy through the veil of her uncombed bangs. If Stacy had had little sleep, it was clear that Quinn had had none.

       Stacy dropped her hand from the door and stared. She did the first thing that came to her mind, the thing she had most wanted to do for all those years.

       “I love you,” she said.

       Quinn made no sign at first that she heard. After a moment, however, her eyes watered, her face crumpled, and she threw her arms around Stacy and wept.

       Stacy put her arms around Quinn and hugged back so tightly there was no room between them. She became instantly aware of how fragile and small her beloved felt in her arms, aware of the tears soaking into her shirt and the smell of her beloved’s hair and skin, aware of how warm her beloved’s body felt pressed against her own, aware of how terrible it was to think things like this at such a moment.

       And she was aware above all that what happened next would either save or destroy the person she loved most in the world. It seemed that destroying her beloved was the likeliest outcome, given the infinite damage she had already done. All she had to do was to be careless once, and it would happen.

       She did the only thing she could think of to do.

       “Come on,” she said, and she led Quinn inside and closed the door.



* * *



       Quinn told Stacy everything, between periods of sobbing and silence. She lay on the sofa, covered by an afghan, with her head on Stacy’s lap facing across the room. The pillows were thrown on the floor. Except for Quinn’s voice, it was quiet in the house.

       Quinn told Stacy what happened when Sandi died, how the emergency-room doctors tried to bring her back but could not, how Sandi’s mother collapsed in the ER, how her father and brothers cried as they clung to each other, overcome with horror. Quinn told how she lied to her hysterical parents and the grim Lawndale police about her own involvement with drugs, out of miserable terror of being sent to jail. She talked of the guilt she felt for lying and for not staying with Sandi and stopping her from doing more coke, her guilt for leaving her best friend to die in a hideous way, just because Quinn was tired and didn’t want to walk across a parking lot. She talked about all the things Sandi said and did that day, what it was like to be Sandi’s best friend and to have Sandi as a best friend, and what it was like to hold Sandi and watch her die.

       Stacy listened and stroked Quinn’s hair with one hand, holding both of Quinn’s hands in front of her with the other. Quinn became calmer as the hours passed, her voice lower, her tears fewer, and her manner more weary and depressed.

       “I don’t know what to do,” Quinn whispered. The sun streamed in the dining room windows next to the family room. Where Stacy and Quinn were, it was still dark. “It’s so terrible I can’t stand to think of it. I feel so bad about what happened, watching her and holding her, and I can still see her like it’s happening now, but I feel even worse because... this is so awful I can hardly say it, but I have this urge—I feel like I need to take more of... more of that coke. I can’t stop thinking about it. It’s killing me that with everything that’s happened, even after all that, I still want it, and I feel so terrible I can’t even describe it. I’m scared to death of what it will do to me. I think I have that withdrawal thing, where you can’t stop wanting it no matter what, and it’s messing up my mind so much I can’t think straight. I’m scared that this will get worse and worse and I’ll go crazy, I’ll do anything to get it, but if I do, it will kill me just like... I’ve never been so scared of anything in my life. I don’t know what to do or who to tell.”

       Stacy silently stroked Quinn’s hair and ran her fingers down her cheek. She knew more about her beloved now than she ever had, and her fairy tale image of Quinn was burning to ashes. Quinn stared across the room and said nothing for perhaps a minute.

       “I don’t know if I’ll ever be happy again,” she said. “I feel like all the joy I ever had in my life is gone. I feel like I’m empty inside except for wicked, worthless things. I’m so tired and scared, and I wish I was dead.”

       Don’t wish that, thought Stacy, don’t ever wish that. She stroked Quinn’s hair and said nothing.

       “I’ve lost everything. I lost Sandi, I lost my life, and I think I’ve lost the person I might have loved. I don’t know what to tell him. Skylar’s tried to get me to talk about it, he’s been so good to me, but I can’t talk to him. I can’t talk to anyone about it.” She sniffed. “He said he would do anything to help me, anything I asked. I really want him to help, but my life is so awful I could never face him to talk about it. I’m afraid he’d tell me he never wanted to see me again. He’s the only guy who ever listened to me, the only one who liked me for who I was, but I don’t know what he would do if he knew what really happened, that I was doing stuff with Sandi. His half-brother’s a narc, and I’m scared he’ll find out about me, and then I’ll go to jail. I probably belong there. I know I do. I’m such a coward, and my best friend’s dead because of me, and I don’t know anymore why I’m still alive.”

       Quinn’s voice became thick, and her face reddened again. “I thought Skylar could be the one for me. I really thought he was the one. Now no one will ever want me, no one will ever love me—”

       She closed her eyes and shook. Stacy felt tears soaking into her jeans under Quinn’s head. She pressed her free hand to Quinn’s head, holding her hands with the other, and listened to her beloved cry.

       Her beloved who would never love her back.

       I’ve lost the person I might have loved. Stacy’s heart sank. Quinn wanted Skylar, not her. Guinevere had chosen Arthur and not Lancelot. The ashes of the fairy tale became dust and blew away.

       She will never love me. Stacy stroked Quinn’s long hair with an automatic hand. But why did I ever expect that she would? Why did I think I deserved it? All this happened because of me, because I failed her. What else can be done to me now, God? What else am I to bear?

       When her sobbing eased, Quinn took her hands from Stacy’s, wiped her face, and rolled her head to look up at Stacy. “Do you think I should tell him?” she asked.

       Stacy was numb. Her life no longer had meaning, but she answered anyway. “You mean, tell Skylar the truth?”

       Quinn nodded.

       Stacy looked away and meditated. “Do you think you could hide what happened, all the rest of your life?” she asked.

       Quinn thought, sniffing, and shook her head no. She turned her head and looked across the room at a bookcase. “I don’t think I could ever hide it, even if no one else knew. Could you?”

       Stacy shook her head. “No.”

       Quinn swallowed. “Did you ever have a secret you couldn’t tell anyone?”

       Stacy was not prepared for that, but after a moment she nodded. I wanted for years to tell you I loved you, but now I’ve done that, so it’s not a secret anymore. You didn’t understand what I really said, but at least I said it.

       “When I was a little kid,” Stacy said softly, “I always wanted to grow up and be a knight—a knight on horseback, riding around doing good deeds, like in fairy tales.”

       Quinn looked up at Stacy in surprise. The ghost of a smile curved her lips. “A knight like in storybooks? I can’t believe that.”

       “It’s true. I wanted to fight dragons and rescue maid—people.” Stacy coughed. “Rescue all kinds of people. Be heroic and brave. That’s what I always wanted to do.”

       Quinn turned her head away again. “You mean like yesterday, when Alex...”

       A stab of pain went through Stacy. “Yes, like that,” she replied.

       Quinn was silent for a few moments, and then said, “Thank you.”

       Stacy looked down. “For what?”

       “For protecting me from Alex.”

       You have no clue what you are saying, no idea at all. “You’re welcome,” Stacy dully whispered.

       “Are they—what’s going to happen about that?”

       “To me?”


       “Oh.” Stacy sighed. “Ms. Barch called about it this morning. I’m suspended, and Mom has to come in with me when I return on Friday.” She paused, wondering when Sandi’s funeral would be, wondering how she would handle it, how Quinn would handle it, how they would live through it. She shook herself. “Sorry. Then I have to see Ms. Barch about a special program. I didn’t get what she was saying, but I think I have to go to classes after school and learn how to deal with people without using violence.”

       Quinn looked puzzled. “But, you’re never violent. I mean, except for what happened, but I can’t believe anyone thought you were, you know, dangerous or something.”

       I destroyed so many lives in one day’s time—how could you even think that? “It was enough. I think the program Ms. Barch wants me to go to is a martial-arts class to learn self-control, some kind of—”

       Quinn looked up from Stacy’s lap. Her face showed animation for the first time that day. “You’re kidding!”

       “No, really. I didn’t believe it, either. Ted taught me—” Stacy stopped herself, but it was too late.

       “Ted? Ted DeWitt-Clinton? He taught you martial arts?”

       Stacy turned a little red. “Yes. That’s what we’ve been doing all this time when we were supposed to be dating. We weren’t doing anything but practicing throws and holds and stuff we got out of books.” She hesitated. “Remember when I came to school two months ago and I said I ran into a door at home, when my eye was swollen and looked so bad?”


       “I got that from wrestling with Ted. His elbow hit me in the eye. He felt really bad about it, but it wasn’t any big deal. It was just an accident.”

       “You are so kidding me. I thought—I thought you and he were, you know...”

       Stacy slowly shook her head. Careful, careful. “No, we’re just friends. We were always just friends. He knows a lot of unarmed defense techniques, and he showed me how to do them. It was sort of fun. He said I was doing okay with it.”

       “Huh.” Quinn looked thoughtful. “Now I know how you whipped Alex like you did. I couldn’t believe it.”

       Stacy winced. “I don’t want to think about that too much. He was Sandi’s cousin, and I don’t want to think of what she thought of me for doing it.”

       Neither said anything for a long moment. “I have to tell you,” said Quinn, “that Sandi... she was glad that you did it. Maybe that wasn’t right, but she really was proud of you. She said she wanted to promote you in the Fashion Club. She never liked Alex; he was always bothering her and making fun of her, and sometimes he hit her. She was glad you did what you did. He deserved it.”

       So I did what I did, and Sandi is dead as a result. I can’t take too much more of this, God. I really can’t. Please help me. I’ll have to leave Lawndale and move away from my beloved, to save us both, but I can do it. I have too much to bear. Hear me, God. Please help me.

       “I miss her,” said Stacy, and she was surprised that after all the years of abuse she’d taken from Sandi, she really did miss her. Sandi could be loving as well as dominating, and she cared about her friends and they knew it even when she was being a pill. The world was empty without her.

       “I miss her, too,” said Quinn. She slurred her words. “I’m so tired. I couldn’t sleep at all last night, and I’m so tired.”

       “Your mom and dad know where you are?”

       “Yes.” The slurring became pronounced. “Dad’s home today in case I need him.” Quinn appeared to be on the verge of sleep, but she roused herself for a moment. “You’re right,” she said. “I’ll talk to Skylar and tell him the truth. I can’t live with this by myself. I want him to help me, and I think he can. He might call here or come by after school today. I’ll go home with him.”

       The pain in Stacy’s heart redoubled, but she fought it back. “Okay,” she said, and then she asked a question before she thought it through. “Why did you come to see me?”

       “Why you?” Quinn’s voice was slurred again. “‘Cause I knew I could talk to you. I knew you would listen.”

       “I’m glad you came,” Stacy said, though it hurt.

       They were quiet together for several long minutes. Finally, Quinn roused herself again and said, “Please don’t leave me.”


       “Please don’t leave me. Please help me. I really need you.”

       “I will,” said Stacy, holding Quinn’s hands and stroking her hair—and then she saw it all. It came into her mind as clearly as sunlight. She saw her path.

       You seek an end to your suffering, but there is only one path to that end. You must bring the one you love up from the bottom of her life and carry her into the light again. You can do this only if you never waver in your love for her—real love, not fairy-tale love. If you waver, if you turn away from her but once, your beloved will perish, she will die and you will watch it happen with your own eyes, and the hell you are in now will seem like paradise in comparison.

       Do only this, and you will save her—but you will never have your beloved for your own. She will not love you as you want, but she will reach the light again and live in peace, in her own way.

       Do this, and she will be saved, and you will be redeemed.

       Do you take this path, Stacy Rowe?

       “I love you,” said Stacy. The words stabbed into her heart, but Quinn was already asleep in her lap and did not hear. “I love you. I will do it.”

       She laid her head on the back of the couch. The tears fell like rain. She kept completely still as she wept so her beloved would sleep, but she ached with pain so great it seemed she would explode.

       Stacy would take the path and save Quinn.

       She was, after all, a knight, and a knight never fails her beloved.











Author’s Notes: In August 2003, WacoKid proposed an Iron Chef contest on PPMB in which each story had to use of one of the following “Top Ten Things That Never Happen in Daria Fanfics,” a list created by Mike Xeno.


·         A female character starts vomiting on a regular basis, and it turns out to be food poisoning.

·         Daria writes a song for Mystik Spiral, and they all think it sucks.

·         Jane displays her works of art in a local gallery, where they attract no particular attention.

·         Quinn goes on a date with Skylar Feldman, who turns out to be a really decent and caring guy.

·         Tom justifiably breaks up with Daria because she did something selfish and inconsiderate.

·         A female character reveals herself to be a lesbian and confesses her love to the object of her desire, who reacts with disgust and vehement rejection.

·         One of Ms. Li’s fundraising schemes is revealed to actually be a means to better educate the students.

·         Daria dates Trent, and after a while they realize they’re not really compatible, mutually decide to break up, but remain friends.

·         A new character shows up, makes a few sarcastic remarks, and is immediately rejected by Daria and Jane as a poseur.

·         Daria gets a makeover, and it turns out that under that drab, unfashionable shell she’s built around herself, she’s just plain ugly.


       This story was my entry, published in a less edited form on PPMB. The story used all of the above points, in addition to several other “Things That Never Happen in Daria Fanfics” from a related thread on PPMB’s Creative Writing forum. New never-happened ideas were contributed by WacoKid (“A new character with a complex and potentially dangerous past shows up in Lawndale, yet this character’s own story doesn’t take over the lives of the regular Daria characters”) and Ned (“How about Daria has sex with either Tom or Trent, and it turns out they’re utter **** in bed?”). WacoKid’s idea, of course, was merged with one of Mike Xeno’s ideas (“A new character shows up, makes a few sarcastic remarks, and is immediately rejected by Daria and Jane as a poseur”).

       In addition, Kemical Reaxion added “One of the characters goes through a traumatic, life-altering event that, instead of making them a better person, causes them to become a bitter, hardened recluse,” and Brother Grimace added a never-heard conversation: “‘But, Aunt Amy-!’ ‘I’m sorry, Daria. I don’t know what to say. Sorry I couldn’t be more helpful with your problem.’” Thanks for partial inspiration for Chapter 13 goes to Kara Wild, for Wild’s First Law of Daria Fanfic: “In the world of fanfiction, Jane’s work is always brilliant (and leads to her becoming famous) and confessions of lesbian love spur the object of desire to respond in kind.” This was in PPMB’s “Fun with Daria Top Ten lists!” thread. Reversing these two laws led to two important developments in this story. Thanks all!

       In addition, I added my own list of never-happen things, but rather than list them here, I will let the readers find them on their own.






Original: 10/7/03, modified 04/07/05, 06/16/06, 09/22/06, 10/02/06, 12/23/06, 03/18/08, 10/31/08, 05/06/10, 05/10/10