Much like my story "Outside the Box" which took a deeper look at the episode Boxing Daria, this story takes a deeper look at Groped by an Angel. Without further ado then...
"Damn screwdrivers! Why can't they make one type of screw and one type of screwdriver? Would that really be so difficult!"
I watched as Jake struggled vainly with the light fixture. He owed me his life, though he didn't know it. The poor kid would have been char-broiled if I hadn't nudged the light switch into the "off" position before he'd gone to work on the lamp. That's Jake for you, though. Thinking things through was never one of his strong points.
"Um, Dad? The rest of the household is trying to sleep. Except for the lawyers, they're doing paperwork in bed."
It was Daria, of course. I chuckled lightly at her choice of words. She and I had a similar sense of humor, God help her. When I wasn't needed elsewhere, I always got a real charge out of listening to her banter with her friend Jane. Those kids just crack me up.
"Hm? Oh, Daria, I'm glad you're here. Hand me a screwdriver, will you?"
"I don't know! Just hand me all of them and I'll pick one."
"Uh, Dad, you did remember to turn off the switch before you started working on that lamp, didn't you?"
No, he didn't. But we've been through that.
"Um... yeah! See, it's off!"
"That's good. There's already enough mysterious odors emanating from this kitchen on a regular basis. No need to add barbecued Dad to the mix." She handed him a single screwdriver, which of course was the one he needed.
"Any time." Daria went to the refrigerator, stepping carefully around her father in order to avoid being hit by the fixture, which she wisely assumed would fall from the ceiling as soon as Jake got another screw loose. Like he needed another screw loose. Thinking about that made me chuckle a bit, with the result that I almost missed the moment when I had to give Jake a nudge to catch the damn thing when it did fall.
"Whoa!" Jake teetered on top of the chair, suddenly supporting the weight of the fan. Wires pulled from the fixture as he struggled vainly to keep it close to the ceiling to avoid that very thing. I'd have helped him, but there's only so much I can do when it's not actually a life-threatening situation. Eventually, he got the thing on the table. "Whew! Got it. Dammit, all the wires got pulled out! How the hell do I... say, Daria, do you know what all these wires do?" Jake reached up and started fiddling with the wires.
"They ignite the house if you reconnect them the wrong way," Daria yawned. "Come on, Dad, let's just leave it alone for the night. No one in this house enjoys breakfast anyway, it's not like we actually need the light on in the morning."
"Oh..." Jake hesitated. I applied a little gentle urging. "Oh, all right. I guess it can wait." He stepped down from the chair, his foot heading toward a small screw that was just barely large enough to roll under his foot and cause a potentially skull-cracking fall. Except that I stopped it.
"Good night, kiddo!" Jake called as he bounded up the stairs.
I sighed, and went to take a look at Jake's handiwork. Sure enough, he had two wires crossed over that would cause a really nasty short if I left them that way. I reached up and uncrossed them, then went to go check on Quinn. The next morning, I'd undoubtedly have to offer Jake some further assistance installing the new fan, or he'd likely kill himself in the process and likely burn his home to the foundations while he was at it. My work is never done.
Not that I mind. It's what I do. I protect them.
I'm their Guardian Angel.
It was pretty late by the time the entire house was asleep. Of course, I don't sleep. A good thing, too, because one of my most important tasks is undertaken at night, when I listen in on their dreams.
I started with Daria, not for any particular reason except that she happened to be pretty deep into REM sleep by the time I got upstairs. I took a moment just to watch her sleep. She'd be mortified to know it, but she's really cute when she's sleeping. I could feel a genuine, fatherly affection toward her at times like these.
Her dreams were troubled ones - they'd been getting that way lately, mostly due to her growing attraction to her friend's boyfriend. It was still on a level that her conscious mind wouldn't acknowledge, but her subconscious broadcast it loud and clear through her dreams. Sooner or later, I knew it was going to come to the surface, and then I anticipated a lot of work to do. This is the sort of thing that can tear friendships apart, and I didn't want that to happen to her.
It's easy to see why dreams are so useful to Guardian Angels. They often give something of a preview for what to expect, or insights that one couldn't normally get. Sigmund Freud was reading tea leaves compared to what we can divine from a dream.
I passed Quinn's room for the time being and moved on to Jake and Helen's bedroom. This was always excruciatingly difficult, but it was something I endured on a nightly basis. Jake's nightmares could get pretty intense, so much so that he usually didn't remember them. And, of course, I can't interfere with a dream. Jake was a man with a lot of pain in his past, but I could only help him through it in the waking world.
I steeled myself for the ordeal, and forged ahead. It would hurt, but it had to be done. It's my sacred duty.
The next morning, I was mulling about in the kitchen before anyone else was even awake - something told me it was going to be a busy week, though just how busy and for what reasons I never would have guessed.
The true sign of a good Guardian Angel is subtlety, getting results out of unnoticeable adjustments. I managed to keep Jake from doing any further work on the light fixture through the simple process of causing him to oversleep by ten minutes. He had to rush a bit and got a little chewed out by Helen, but it saved him from electrocution for the time being (I wanted to get a closer look at his handiwork before allowing him to do anything further). The rest of the day went fairly smoothly, though Quinn seemed to need my help more than usual. Sure, the kid's got her priorities mixed up, but I like to help her with the little things from time to time. What can I say, she has a special place in my heart. Don't get the wrong idea, I love both the girls, but Daria just doesn't need my help as much.
It was the evening, around six-thirty, that things started to get interesting. Jake was back at it in the kitchen, and taking up virtually all my attention. I'd managed to turn one of the wires green to better match the instructions for the new fan, and this time he at least remembered to leave the light switch off.
"Dammit! Where does it say which wire is which?"
Okay, so my color coding didn't help. And Daria was coming in, which probably wasn't going to help the situation.
"Maybe a little light would make things easier." Daria went for the light switch. I stood back and let her - I'd learned a long time ago just to let her sense of humor take its course. Besides, Jake would have to be a real moron to think she was serious -
"No, Daria! Don't!"
"I was joking, Dad."
Jake let the incident go. Probably the smartest thing he'd done all day. "Was this green one always here?" he asked himself, going back to the ceiling.
Boy, you try to make things easier for a guy...
Well, Jake was confused enough for the time being that he wasn't likely to try anything stupid. And I was getting a funny vibe from the next room, so I went to have a look.
Quinn was watching TV with a box of tissues at her side. The show was - oh, that was interesting. It was about Guardian Angels. I sat on the couch next to her to watch, keeping one ear on the kitchen in case Jake suddenly got into trouble.
"The man who rescued Donna that snowy Christmas Eve was no ordinary roadside mechanic," the TV was saying. "The authorities have no record of his existence. But someone - or something - fixed the flat tire on her sport utility vehicle. To this day, Donna believes it was a Guardian Angel."
God, people will believe anything! Like any self-respecting Guardian Angel would show up as a mysterious roadside mechanic who just happened to be in the right place at the right time. That's about as subtle as a shotgun blast in a convent. And I loved how they make all that noise about how the authorities had no record of him, as if these mysterious "authorities" routinely keep records on the comings and goings of local mechanics. I glanced over at Quinn, who was swallowing this tripe hook, line, and sinker. Poor kid.
"Too bad the angel didn't fix Donna's brakes before she flattened that family in the hatchback," Daria said. I chuckled at that.
"You shouldn't make fun, Daria," Quinn admonished. "There are some mysteries that are just beyond our knowledge."
"Like the fact that the human ego is bloated enough to believe that the force that created the universe gives a crap about our blowouts."
Well, that's Daria the Skeptic for you. She might even appreciate the irony that it's when she's driving that she needs my help the most. Although I've never fixed a flat tire for her, there was that one time that I prevented her from flattening a dog with Helen's car, and during that wild ride out to Fremont I kept one hand on the wheel the entire time. Still, it's just as well she's a nonbeliever. It kind of makes my job easier that she doesn't feel the need to depend on me in any way.
"You wouldn't say that if your life were touched by an angel!" Quinn insisted.
"I'd be too busy suing for harassment."
Note to self: retain a good lawyer.
"Daria!" Quinn said. "Don't even joke like that! Angels are everywhere. They can hear you."
And this one frequently laughs his ass off at the stuff she comes out with.
"Then I'm going to my room so we can talk about you behind your back," Daria said as she left the room.
"Some people just won't listen to logic," Quinn said, going back to her ridiculous program.
I spent the rest of the evening helping Jake, though I did keep an ear on Daria's room in case she made good on her promise to talk to me about Quinn.
More nightmares with Jake that night, one which actually caused him to wake up in a cold sweat, shivering with terror. Helen calmed him down well enough, assuring him that his father was dead and that Corporal Ellenbogen was far away. I offered what help I could as well, calming Jake down and keeping a hand on his racing heart. After his heart attack the previous year, I was taking no chances - it had been all I could do to get his heart started again quickly enough to avoid any permanent damage, even death. Neither the family nor the doctors ever could have realized what a close call that was. The day I finally knew he would be all right, I learned that even angels can cry.
I didn't check on the girls at all that night, staying by Jake's side until the morning.
The next day was fairly uneventful at first. Jake actually managed to get the light fixture up, and without much help from me. Quinn shocked the hell out of me by going to the library. I followed her around just to make sure there was nothing I should know about, but it turned out she was just picking up books on Guardian Angels. I didn't attach much importance to it at the time, though in retrospect it might have saved me a lot of trouble if I had.
Daria surprised me as well, agreeing to go to a party at Brittany's house. There was an event I'd definitely have to attend, even though I dreaded it almost as much as Daria did - I'm not really into mind-numbing parties, I go to enough of them with Quinn. I really don't look forward to the day when she goes off to college and joins a sorority, and I have to worry about her getting drunk or something. But it's all part of the deal, so I take it as it comes.
Much to my horror, Jake had taken his successful swap-out of the kitchen light fixture and was threatening to turn it into a hobby as an electrician. Now there was something I didn't need.
"Well I'll be damned!" he said, looking up from his book. "So that's why they call it a male plug!"
It's times like these that I'm glad I never developed the habit of reading over people's shoulders.
"Where's Quinn?" Helen asked, wisely ignoring Jake.
"I warned you," Daria replied. "Remove those day-glo arrows from the floor, and she gets all confused."
Damn, that kid is a hoot. Quinn actually showed up right at that moment, showing no sign of having heard Daria's comment, as usual. And she was carrying one of those books she'd gotten at the library.
"Quinn!" Helen said with no little surprise. "Is that a book you've got?"
Daria smirked slightly. "Sorry to give away the surprise, but in the end, he eats the green eggs and the ham."
Normally I might have laughed out loud at that one, but I suddenly realized something of far greater importance. Jake had screwed the new light fixture into the drywall instead of the wood beams, and it was giving way even as they spoke. I leaped up onto the table and held the fixture against the ceiling, even as I began urging Quinn with all I had to get out of the chair. But once she and Daria were into a verbal volleyball match, it was hard to get them to think about anything else. And I couldn't hold back a solid object from the force of gravity forever. We angels have considerable power when it comes to life-or-death situations, but unfortunately, basic forces of nature have even greater power.
"For your information," said Quinn, "I'm reading about real-life people who have had encounters with Guardian Angels."
Dammit, if she didn't move soon, she was going to encounter one in a fairly sudden and final way.
"Oh, I know that book. Chicken Soup for the Stupid."
"I just finished a story about a family whose house caught on fire, and the cat saved their baby's life!"
I considered letting the fixture slip a half inch to warn Quinn out of the way, but I wasn't sure I'd be able to catch it again if I did. And with all my attention on the fixture, I couldn't even throw any significant energy into getting her to move. My only hope was that Daria might irritate her enough to make her want to leave.
"Technically, that's a guardian cat."
Oh, come on, Daria, you can do better than that! Damn light fixture!
"You know, I wanted a cat when I was little," Jake put in, "but my father never let me have one. 'Dogs are for boys, cats are for girls!' Well you know what, Dad?? I didn't want a dog, okay?!"
Oh God, this was all I needed! I had enough distractions without one of Jake's rants about his childhood!
Fortunately, Helen came to my rescue. "Oh my, aren't those diagrams fascinating?"
"Yeah!" Jake said, his attention back on the book. Well, that was one problem less, but I really didn't know how much longer I'd be able to hold the fixture up, I could feel it starting to slip, and when it hit Quinn's head, the results could be... I couldn't let myself think about that!
"Quinn, I think it's wonderful that you're discovering your spiritual side," Helen said.
Dammit, don't draw her into conversation! Pretty soon, her spiritual side was going to be all she had left if she didn't get her ass out of that chair!
"Thanks," Quinn said. "I think I'm very spiritual."
"Yes, you take after your mother in that," Helen acknowledged.
"You work fourteen-hour-days helping giant corporations find loopholes to skim on their taxes," Daria pointed out.
The last screw slipped minutely, and the fixture was hanging completely free. If I dropped it, only the wires would be left to hold it up, and I knew that even if Jake hadn't done such a lousy job with them, they'd never hold the weight of the chandelier. I strained with everything I had to keep it against the ceiling.
"See, you said it yourself. 'Helping'. That's spiritual."
Daria and I just rolled our eyes at that one.
"It's okay Mom," Quinn said. "Daria just can't understand because she's so un-spiritual."
Oh God. This was it. The fixture was slipping and it would all be over in a matter of seconds.
"You know," Quinn said, closing her book, "I think I'll finish dinner in my room. I don't want to be disturbed."
"Too late," Daria inevitably said.
It almost was.
As Quinn got up, the chandelier finally slipped through my hands. It dropped heavily onto the very seat that Quinn had vacated seconds before, shattering into fragments.
You know, there are times when even Angels have to take a deep breath and sigh with relief.
"Dammit, my fixture!" Jake squealed. Count on him to miss the damn point entirely. I felt like smacking him, until I remembered where he learned that kind of attitude from. If I'd been there for him when he was younger... but I couldn't think about that. It dawned on me, as I looked at the busted fixture, Quinn's face, and the book in her hands, that I was about to have some serious issues on my hands.
"Oh, Quinn!" Helen exclaimed. "That just missed you!"
"I mean - yeah!" Jake chimed in. "Are you all right, sweetie?"
"Oh my Gosh! If I hadn't gotten up at just that second, that would have hit my head!"
"Or something vital," Daria said. That was good. Maybe Quinn would get upset with her and not stop to think that -
"Someone - or someTHING - told me to get out of that chair," Quinn said. "Don't you see? This is proof that I have a Guardian Angel!"
I suppose I should explain. See, there's very little that's worse for a Guardian Angel than to have someone in his charge figure out that he exists. Once they do that, your job gets harder and harder as they stop taking care of themselves and count on their Angel to solve their problems for them, until they depend on you completely. Then one day they step in front of a truck and BAMM! they've kicked the oxygen habit. It makes for an awfully awkward trip to the other side when you have to spend the entire time explaining that it's occasionally more than you can do to instantly stop ten tons of moving steel from turning them into street pizza.
See, Angels have some pretty impressive powers, but we're not the end-all, be-all shield against danger that we're sometimes made out to be. I think I mentioned that basic forces of nature have even greater power than we do, and that's a fact. It only makes sense - if that weren't the way things are, then nothing bad would ever happen to people. It's also a powerful truth that Angels help those who help themselves. I knew Quinn all too well; I knew how she would react to the idea that some presence was there watching her every move and helping her through the rough times. It wouldn't take long before she stopped watching out for herself.
I had to nip this in the bud.
The first thing I had to do was make a plan. See, this was a delicate situation. On the one hand, I had to get Quinn back to the point where she wasn't counting on being rescued from any given situation, but on the other hand, I didn't want to destroy her faith. Lack of faith can be just as damaging as too much of it.
Step one of any successful strategy is observation. It was vital that I determine exactly how seriously Quinn was now taking her new beliefs, and whether this was something that would really take hold or be tossed out like that $70 pair of shoes that went out of style the week after she bought them. Sometimes I can't believe her shopping habits. Oh well, we all have our vices.
Quinn actually did go up to her room to finish dinner, partly because the kitchen was a mess from the fallen fixture, partly because she wanted to study the Guardian Angel books she'd taken home from the library. Much to my dismay, she was even taking notes on them. I'd only ever seen her get that into studying anything once before, when she received her first Cashman's catalog.
And the stories in these books were the worst possible bunk. Angels flying babies from house fires, helping people overturn cars to release those trapped underneath, holding jumbo jets in the air for crucial seconds to avoid deadly crashes. Okay, we sometimes do all those things, but we do it in ways so that you'd never know we were there. We don't fly the babies out of the fire, we clear the smoke so the firemen can see them. Subtlety is our watchword. Otherwise, we get problems like the one I had now.
A sudden harsh throbbing entered my head, and I realized Jake was having another nightmare. As important as my problem with Quinn was, it had to take a back seat to this. I left her alone with her books and slipped back into Jake and Helen's room, sitting beside him so that I could be there to comfort him when he woke up.
I stayed with him for half the night. Dear God, listening to those dreams is the ninth circle of hell.
The next morning I walked to school with Quinn. I knew that as soon as she ran into her friends, she'd tell them all about me, and I wanted to be ready to do damage control right from the start. I still didn't have much of a plan, and that made me pretty uncomfortable, but sometimes you have to work off the cuff.
Quinn didn't run into any friends until she actually got to school, where she found Stacy and Tiffany by her locker.
"Hey Quinn!" Stacy called, waving.
"Guys!" Quinn responded, running up to them. "Guys, you are not going to believe what happened to me last night! Where's Sandi?"
"She's still at the mirror..." Tiffany drawled. "Something about her eyelash curler acting up..."
"Never mind, this is too important to wait. You're not going to believe this, but last night I actually had a near-death experience!"
Oh, swell. This was going to go great.
"See, I was sitting at the table organizing my lipsticks, and that girl who's been staying with us was being really rude and everything -"
Quinn tends to be a little creative when she tells stories. Unfortunately, that meant that she would probably overplay my role in it as well - and she'd believe her own retelling.
"- and we had just gotten a new chandelier in the kitchen and I was sitting right under it. Well, I was just sitting there minding my own business, and the light fixture came loose from the ceiling! And then something just pulled me out of my chair seconds before that light came crashing down!"
"Wow!" Stacy said, instantly impressed. "A real life miracle!"
"Like in that movie... about the Bible..." Tiffany added.
You know, as a side note, I really wish that Tiffany girl would just never talk again. I can think of very few things that get on my nerves as much as that agonizingly slow and stupid tone she has. But that's neither here nor there. In any event, an even more irritating presence was approaching on Quinn's left.
"I can't believe Ms. Barch banned phones in study hall," Sandi griped as she walked past Quinn and rudely barged her way into the conversation. "I mean, what am I supposed to do in there for an hour?"
The only good thing about Sandi happening along was that I could pretty much count on a change in topic.
"EEEK!!" Quinn screeched. "Your sweater!"
I smiled. Fashion. The one thing that might distract Quinn from anything else. For once, I was glad to have such a conversation to look forward to.
"Isn't it rude when people try to pretend they don't like something you're wearing because they're secretly jealous?" Sandi asked in that snotty tone of hers. Quinn could desperately use some new friends. I've tried to send a few her way, but so far nothing has clicked.
"No, Sandi!" Quinn said. "I almost bought that exact same sweater, but something told me not to!"
Uh-oh. I got a sinking feeling that this discussion wasn't going the way I'd hoped. It was time for some drastic action. I'm really not supposed to influence the actions of others besides my own charges, but in this case I felt it was called for. I gave Sandi a bit of a nudge to say something that might change the course of the discussion.
"Could that something be a mirror?" Sandi asked. "Because a sweater like this only looks good an a very tall and lean figure."
If that didn't get Quinn's blood up, nothing would.
"No, no, no! My Guardian Angel told me not to get the sweater. He knew you already had it!"
Well so much for that. And matters were worse than I thought. Quinn was already starting to credit me with the most trivial things that I had nothing to do with. That could be disastrous.
"Your Guardian Angel is a guy?" Tiffany asked irrelevantly.
"I think so," Quinn mused. "I mean, whenever I talk to him about low-fat yogurt flavors, he seems very detached."
Well, she had a point there.
"Quinn," Sandi said, "maybe you'd better stop putting your coats in storage until we know more about the effects of mothball fumes on the human brain."
Ordinarily it ticks me off hearing Sandi make thrusts at Quinn like that, but for once I was glad for it. Anything that got her sidetracked from the current conversation was fine with me.
"No Sandi," Stacy said, uncharacteristically disagreeing with Sandi, "Quinn really does have a Guardian Angel."
"He saved her life..." Tiffany added.
"And he found this earring I was missing since last September!" Quinn added.
"But if a Guardian Angel is supposed to help you, why would he find an earring that's so... eighties?"
"Gee, Sandi, that's a good question," Stacy agreed.
"Yeah..." Tiffany added, "It's relevant..."
Actually, it wasn't, but what the hell - Go, Tiffany!
"I guess there are some mysteries that are just beyond our knowledge," Quinn said with finality.
I sensed the presence of Daria down the hall, and thought for a moment that perhaps she might be the solution to ending this conversation before it got any worse, but I knew she wouldn't approach Quinn in school. Besides, I'd done enough observing. It was time to take some action.
The fact that Quinn had started to assume I was responsible for such things as finding her earrings made the situation ten times worse. Life-or-death situations I'd been prepared to handle for a bit while I got this mess straightened out, but her new ideas were actually even more dangerous.
See, if Quinn started giving me credit for every positive thing that ever happened to her, it could easily have the effect of eroding away her own self-esteem. People have to be able to take some pride in their own accomplishments, even if it's something as trivial as finding an earring. If Quinn decided that I was responsible for everything good in her life, it wouldn't be that big a leap for her to decide that everything negative was a sign that I'd abandoned her. And while that would accomplish my goal of keeping her from depending on me, it wouldn't do her soul any good. And I was charged with the protection of her soul as much as her life.
It occurred to me, however, that here might lie the solution to my dilemma. Perhaps if I caused Quinn a minor inconvenience here and there, she would eventually come to believe that she couldn't depend on me for absolutely everything - but she might not lose her greater faith. There was a lot that could go wrong with such a plan, and it's very, very difficult for an Angel to deliberately harm his charges, even in a small and necessary way. But I'd done a lot of difficult things since I got this job, and the prospect of one more wouldn't stop me.
I got an idea for a plan during lunch, while Quinn was telling some other friends about my grand and noble deeds, like preventing her history teacher from embarrassing her in front of the class. I happened to be in a position to overhear Sandi talking about how pathetic and desperate Quinn was being, making up stories for attention. It occurred to me that Sandi might actually be my salvation for once. Her next move would undoubtedly be to steal Quinn's thunder by conjuring up her own Guardian Angel and ascribe various deeds to him.
And before anyone asks - I'm sure Sandi does actually have a Guardian, but we don't tend to talk amongst ourselves. We Angels discovered long ago what the U.S. Government and the business world has yet to do, which is that meetings are inherently counterproductive. We concern ourselves with our own charges, nothing more, and in fact I've never even seen another Angel directly. That's one reason why going outside one's own circle is discouraged - I wouldn't want to mess with another Angel's designs.
But there was no need to influence, only observe. I could tell that Sandi had that very thing in mind. All I had to do was wait.
After lunch, all Quinn's friends could talk about was me. Some of them were having semi-intelligent discussions over whether Guardian Angels really existed, but most of the conversation was on the lower side of asinine. Like that Corey kid, who was actually praying to me to grant him a date with Quinn that weekend. Or those three pathetic morons who stumble after her all the time, who had become convinced that I was some kind of stalker and that they should kick my butt. Ooh, that was going to keep me awake at nights. Yes, I know I don't sleep, it's just an expression for God's sake.
True to form, Sandi was deep into describing the worthy accomplishments of her own Guardian Angel. I listened closely, ready to help the situation go my way if needed.
"I don't understand why you're making such a big deal out of this, Quinn," she said. "I mean, I have a Guardian Angel too, I just don't brag about it all the time."
"Really?" Quinn replied. "That's great, Sandi! What kinds of things does he do for you?"
"Well, today in the cafeteria, my Angel told me to have the raspberry/vinaigrette dressing because it will make my hair extra-luminous."
So far, so good.
"I had the same dressing!" Stacy enthused. "I wonder if my hair will get more luminous."
Tiffany looked. "It didn't."
Sometimes, I really feel sorry for Stacy. But she's not my responsibility, and I have a feeling that whoever is watching out for her is preparing something big for her. But I digress -
"But you always eat salad with vinaigrette dressing," Quinn pointed out.
"I'm sorry, Quinn," Sandi said, turning her nose up. "Maybe you should tell my Angel to stop being so consistent."
Uh-oh. I sensed a sudden, major change in Sandi's aura. Quinn sensed it too, from the more direct evidence of Sandi turning suddenly very green and putting a hand to her mouth.
"Sandi?" she asked. "Is everything okay?"
"Uh... I gotta go!" Sandi said as she ran off to the girls' room.
Whatever was going on, it suddenly hit Stacy and Tiffany as well. "Ohhh... I feel really sick..." Tiffany said, even more protracted than usual.
"Me too!" Stacy said, clutching her stomach.
"That's weird, I feel fine." Quinn remarked.
"I think it was the salad dressing..." Tiffany said as she and Stacy bolted as well.
Quinn was left alone, and I could already tell that this plan was a bust. "Someone - or something - stopped me from eating that dressing."
Down the hall, I heard Daria remark to her friend, "I didn't have it either, but I still feel like I'm going to be sick."
That made two of us.
Well, plan A was a bust. It seemed that this was going to take more than just standing back and letting events run their course. It was time to try something more direct.
I had noticed that Jake had left a number of tools in his pockets when he threw his clothes into the laundry. Of course, removing otherwise lost items from the laundry pile isn't the sort of thing that an angel generally bothers with, but I thought I'd see if there was anything there that I could use to my advantage.
What I found was a black roll of electrical tape. Normally it wouldn't do any damage just sitting in Jake's pocket, but that was before I got involved. I took the roll and wrapped up Quinn's favorite new jeans (the ones she had spent three or four hours searching for in three different malls) to stain them as they went through the wash. It was hard to do - even though having some clothes wrecked was an incredibly trivial thing that wouldn't really hurt her, Angels have a powerful instinct to do no harm. I was fighting everything I had to do what was necessary, and the only thing that made it possible was keeping the thought firmly in mind that for her to continue with her delusions about what I was there for would lead to disaster.
When I got back upstairs, I saw that Helen was reading Quinn's book. At first I was worried that I'd have another case on my hands, but it was easy to tell that she wasn't taking it all that seriously. Helen's a practical woman. I'm glad Jake married her, he needs her. I have to admit I had some doubts about their relationship at the start, but after twenty-five years they're doing better than I might ever have hoped. Shows what I know.
With little else to do, I sat on the couch and read the book with Helen. It was entertaining enough - some of the stories were downright ludicrous. I particularly liked the one about the tiny little high school basketball team that won the state championship with a miracle shot right at the buzzer, which was contributed to the assistance of Angels. Never mind that the other team must have been devastated. Okay, for the record: Angels don't give a flying damn about who wins the Superbowl. Hope that settles that question.
After a while, Daria came home from her after-school pizza. "You know," she said, getting a look at the book her mother was reading, "the neighbors can see you reading that through the windows."
I chuckled, and scooted over on the couch to make room for her to sit down.
"I wanted to see what your sister's so excited about."
"Why?" Daria asked with scorn.
"Oh, Daria, must you be so quick to judge?" Helen asked, closing the book.
"You're reading a book about cats with wings."
"All right, some of the stories are a little farfetched," Helen admitted.
"Carrying an amputated animal foot for good luck is farfetched. Celestial middle managers changing the course of human events is ludicrous."
I had to agree with her there. You really need to be in upper management to make a real impact. Of course, someone like Daria in the right place at the right time can be an even greater force to change things. All I can do is help her get there.
"Okay," Helen said, "Guardian Angels aren't for you, obviously. But what's the harm in Quinn thinking someone special is looking out for her?"
Oh God, now I was really starting to feel guilty about the tape on her jeans. It's for the greater good, I kept reminding myself.
"Like a heavenly personal shopper?"
"Daria, why does this bother you so much?"
I sat up and listened. Getting insight on Daria is hard, even for me. Any opportunity I could get was worth taking advantage of.
A moment later, I seriously regretted sitting up and listening as Quinn's shriek ripped through my ears. Dear lord, that kid can scream. She'd obviously found her favorite jeans. It's for the greater good, it's for the greater good...
"Someone just mixed Fall and Spring fashions," Daria observed. Normally I would have found that pretty funny, but knowing I was the cause of the distress made it impossible for me to find any lighter side in it.
"Mom! Mom!!" Quinn ran down the stairs, jeans in hand. "I took my new jeans out of the laundry and they have black gunk all over them! How could this happen??"
Dammit, she was really upset. I wanted to go over and give her a hug, any kind of reassurance, but forced myself to stay where I was. She had to learn a lesson.
"Has anyone seen my electrical tape?" Jake asked, walking in at just the wrong moment as usual.
"I think your Guardian Angel forgot to check Dad's pants pockets," Daria suggested with her usual remarkable insight. If she knew how close to the truth she was, she'd have been flabbergasted. Of course, "flabbergasted" for Daria generally manifests itself as her raising two eyebrows instead of one.
"But why?" Quinn wailed. "Why would my Angel just desert me like this?"
Just rub it in, why don't you?
"Maybe the next book you read should be, 'When mildly inconvenient things happen to shallow people.'"
Daria had a great way of putting things in perspective. I started to feel a little better.
"Aw, you can still wear these!" Jake said, ever the optimist. "There's only a couple of stains!"
"Dad, I'm not Daria!"
"Jake," Helen said, taking charge as usual, "why don't you tell her you'll replace the jeans since you're the one who ruined them?"
Jake scowled, but pulled out his wallet and extracted a twenty. "All right... here."
"You can't buy pants for twenty dollars!" Quinn insisted.
"Hey," Daria spoke up, "why can't I get money for new jeans?"
You don't wear jeans, I thought.
"You don't wear jeans," Quinn said.
"Well, then I need money so I can bribe a dead guy to be my Guardian Angel."
Helen spoke up. "Jake, give them each fifty and don't negotiate!"
Jake emptied his wallet into his daughters' waiting hands.
"So there was a reason for this after all," Quinn said, her eyes turned skyward. "Thank you."
You know what I said before about feeling better? Forget I mentioned it.
"There's no commission involved here, is there?" Daria asked, coincidentally looking right at me.
Real funny, Daria.
Obviously, this was going to take some more direct action. It was vitally important that I straighten Quinn out and get her off this idea that I, or any supernatural force, was there to watch and guard her every move. Sooner or later, something would come along to hurt her that I couldn't stop, and it would be better if that something were an inconvenience instead of a freight train.
I decided to keep attacking the problem on a level that would get her attention, but wouldn't do any sort of lasting harm - namely, her clothes. Naturally she decided to wear her new jeans to the party that night, and they became my target. I thought about simply spilling some nail polish on them or something, but it had to be public or it just wouldn't work. I was going to have to embarrass her. It hurt me even to think about it, but it had to be done.
Meanwhile, it hadn't escaped my attention that Daria was starting to feel a little neglected. She didn't know why, of course, but on some level she was sensing that I was spending far more time on Quinn than I was on her. There was nothing I could do about that right at the moment, but I made a promise to myself to make it up to her later. Fortunately, she was going to the same party that night, so I was at least able to keep tabs on her easily.
The party itself was a fairly standard high school affair - loud music, sodas, chips, people hanging out in cliques. I'd been to dozens of them with Quinn, hated them all, but it's part of the job so I try not to complain. Upon her arrival (fashionably late) Quinn's first order of business was to compel one of her many admirers to get her a soda. That was a habit I'd like to break her of - I mean, more than half the time she doesn't even drink the damn soda, but aside from that it would be dangerous for her to let strange guys get her drinks once she got to college. However, tonight wasn't the night to do it. I had bigger fish to fry.
I figured that if I just waited long enough, an opportunity would present itself, and sure enough it did. While Quinn's friends were having one of their usual idiotic conversations, in ran Brittany's little brother in full football gear and shaking Brittany's pompoms. He rounded a corner in the living room and headed straight for Quinn.
Silently asking her forgiveness, I lowered Quinn's hand slightly so that -
Brian's helmet struck her diet cola with lemon and splashed it liberally over her front. It was a perfect bulls-eye. I'd have taken pride in it if I could, but the guilt set in even faster than the stain.
"My new new jeans!" Quinn said in despair, looking over the damage.
Sandi, of course, was pleased as punch. "Gee, Quinn... I hope no one thinks you had an accident."
Quinn gasped as the implications hit her.
"Brr..." Tiffany said.
"Yeah!" exclaimed Stacy. "That's so humiliating, you just want to die! Um... I imagine."
"Maybe your Guardian Angel better give you a ride home," Sandi said. "That is, if he hasn't deserted you."
Quinn's face fell. "No, he'd never do that," she insisted. "He's probably, um, just testing me."
I could tell her faith was shaken. I only hoped it would be enough, but not too much. I wasn't sure how much more of this unpleasant business I could take.
I went to go sit down for a moment, keeping an ear out for trouble but getting away from the party so I could gather myself back together. It may seem like a little, insignificant thing, causing Quinn's jeans to get splashed with soda. Intellectually, I knew that. But a Guardian Angel's mission is Sacred, in the highest and most literal sense of the word. We are sworn to protect, to do only good, to help and not hinder. For me to even cause the slightest harm was like a blow to the stomach.
I'll try to explain - suppose you were trapped in a burning building with one of your children, and the child was pinned under something heavy, and the only way to get him free was to break his leg. Now, if it was a life-or-death situation, I'm sure you'd do what you had to do, but it would be excruciatingly hard nonetheless. I'm not saying that hitting Quinn with a beverage was quite that difficult, but it's difficult in the same way. Even though I knew it was for her own good, it's hard.
Once I'd had a chance to collect myself, I went back to the party to see how Quinn was dealing with her crisis. She had slipped away from her friends with a handful of paper towels, and was looking for an out-of-the-way place to clean herself up. She was lucky in that all the attention in the room was on Steve Taylor and his presentation of a stupid crystal bullhorn to his bubbleheaded daughter, so it wasn't hard for her to go unnoticed.
Then she sat on the band's sound equipment.
I knew what was coming, but it was happening so fast I couldn't stop it. Like I said before, our powers are strongest when it's a life-or-death situation, and this didn't qualify. All I could do was grab the attention of one of the band members and turn his head to see what Quinn was doing.
"Hey! You're leaning on the mixing board!" he shouted, even as the feedback through the speakers hit the resounding factor of near-crystal.
The bullhorn shattered in Brittany's hands.
"My bullhorn!" Mr. Taylor shouted.
Suddenly, all eyes were on Quinn, stained jeans and all. I felt her humiliation as if it were my own.
"Sorry," she said lamely. "I'll buy a new one... I promise..."
Just when I thought things couldn't get any worse, along came Sandi to pour salt on the wound. "Some Guardian Angel," she said. "He didn't even stop you from destroying that... item."
"I... I..." Quinn couldn't find the words. "Oh! Where's my Angel?" she squealed, leaving the house in tears.
I hung my head in shame over what I'd done. I wanted to slap that self-satisfied smirk off Sandi's face. But even if that were the sort of thing I could ever bring myself to do, it wouldn't be the right target. This was all my fault.
I followed Quinn out of the party and walked beside her all the way home, feeling the weight of her anguish with every step. Her faith was crushed, her beliefs shattered like that tacky glass bullhorn. I had failed her.
That night, I stayed by Quinn's side for as long as I could, focusing all my power on reassuring and comforting her. None of it did any good. It was a long while before she was even able to fall asleep, and when she finally did, her dreams were of sad and desolate places, where she wandered lost and lonely through a cold world. All I could do was stay by her side and will her to understand, but it did no good.
A person like Daria, who has little confidence in things outside her direct experience, is easy for an Angel to deal with. "Just because they don't believe, it doesn't mean they can't receive" - that's an old rule of thumb among Angels. But there's a world of difference between a lack of faith and a broken faith. Staying on the ground doesn't hurt; it's when you try to climb and fall that you suffer.
Her suffering was due to my actions. There is no greater torture for an Angel to endure.
It was about three o'clock when I finally had to leave Quinn's bedside. It was Jake, of course, trapped in another dreadful nightmare from his youth. Quinn's dreams were troubling, but for the moment, Jake needed me more than she did. I kissed her on the forehead and wished her the sweetest dreams I could before going to Jake to offer what comfort I had left to give.
I never did make it back to Quinn that night.
The next morning, it was all I could do to get Quinn out of bed before noon, but even once she was up and dressed, she just went downstairs and dropped in front of the TV. She wasn't even watching it really, it was just something to keep her conscious mind occupied while the rest of her sat in despair. I felt just awful, but there was nothing for the moment that I could do. Sure, she was out of danger in the sense that she no longer depended on me to get her lipstick on right, but at what cost had this security come? Too high a price, to be sure.
We were both sitting there, down in the dumps, when Daria happened by.
"Um, Quinn? You're watching an educational program."
"What's the difference?" Quinn replied. "My Angel's gone."
I felt about two inches high.
"Maybe he's just stuck in the engine of a jumbo jet," Daria offered.
"Right," Quinn sighed. "You know, I know Guardian Angels sound like a dumb idea, but once I started believing in them, it felt really nice. Like there was someone put here just to do things for me."
I'm here, Quinn, I thought. But she couldn't hear me.
"You mean, besides the entire male population of Lawndale High."
"It's not the same thing," Quinn insisted. "Daria, you're smart, right?"
"Well, I'm no Brittany Taylor," Daria said, "but the occasional electric impulse does shoot through my brain."
I almost smiled. Almost.
"So if there are no Guardian Angels, what do you believe in?"
In spite of my own melancholy, I sat up and paid attention. This sounded like it might be important.
"I guess I believe in treating people the way you'd want to be treated," Daria replied.
"But there's nothing watching over us?" Quinn pressed. "Nothing keeping track?"
"Well, there's the IRS," Daria said. "And those guys with the black helicopters. Quinn, until I see some pretty convincing evidence to the contrary, I think we're on our own."
"But... but... that's so sad!" Quinn said.
I was inclined to agree. I dropped onto the couch next to Quinn and shook my head.
"Um, then again," Daria continued, "I don't have any proof that there isn't something out there."
"But what about the bullhorn?"
"Maybe the Angel didn't think that saving an overpriced, undeserved knickknack was the most efficient use of his time."
I looked up in astonishment. Dammit, the kid had a point! What was I beating myself up over? I glanced over at Quinn, and to my further surprise saw that she was smiling!
"Yeah!" she said. "Maybe Angels only get involved with really big stuff. He was probably playing his string thing when the bullhorn broke and didn't even hear it! That makes sense, right?"
"I think what makes sense is to believe whatever makes you feel best," Daria said.
I felt the heaviness lift from me like fog in the sunlight. More importantly, I could feel Quinn glowing with happiness and hope once again.
"You know what?" Quinn said, "I'm going to stop relying on my Angel so much for little things and let him do his important stuff, and just know that if I need him for anything really critical like a complexion crisis or an unanticipated weight gain, he'll be there!"
Well, Quinn has her priorities, I guess.
"Thanks, Daria!" Quinn said in conclusion as she left with her head held high and her faith restored.
"Don't mention it," Daria said flatly.
"No, Daria, I think I will mention it," I said warmly, my arm around her shoulders. "Thank you."
She couldn't hear me, not in a real sense. But somewhere deep inside her, she knew she had done something good.
It's like I said before... we Angels have considerable power, but it takes someone like Daria to change the world. And I'm sure someday she will. After all, if she can restore the shattered faith of an Angel, who knows what else she might be capable of?
That night, I went to Daria's side and eased her mind into a deep and restful sleep. I owed her far more attention than I'd been giving her of late, and I promised myself that I wouldn't let her take second place in my heart ever again. Sure, she had her independent spirit, but she needed me too. Almost as much as I needed her.
Then I went to Quinn. She had already gone to sleep, a sweet smile on her face as she dreamed of some new boy that had caught her eye. I left her to herself - everyone deserves some moments of privacy.
Then I felt the sharp stroke of Jake's dreams stab into me again. Gathering up my resolve, I left the girls to their peaceful slumber and went to Jake's side. He was twitching, moaning, ducking away from the onslaught of his own subconscious. I reached out and took his hand, steeling myself for the onslaught of another nightmare.
But then... and I'll never know how... it somehow didn't happen. Instead, Jake squeezed my hand back, the terrifying images fading from his head into a vision of pricelessly rare happiness from his youth.
"Daddy," he mumbled in his sleep, and smiled.
Even Angels can cry.
I knew the nightmares would be back, and I would there to help him through them. They would always be a part of him. So much pain... so many regrets. And it was all my doing, my fault for not understanding. I never gave Jake the support and love he needed. He hates me, and I can't blame him for it, as I gave him every reason to. But no matter if it takes an eternity, I will atone for my sins.
I was never there for my son, but I will always be there for his
No end notes for this one. I do ask humbly that readers do not give away crucial plot elements in the reviews.
Glenn Eichler and all the other people who brought us Daria.
Jonathan Greenburg, the writer of the Daria episode "Groped by an Angel" which was the primary inspiration for this story. Much of the dialogue in this story is taken directly from that episode.
My lovely wife Rachel, who provided her usual outstanding service as a beta-reader.
All the webmasters who post this story.
All those who read this story and provide the feedback which is my payment for this effort.
Daria and associated characters are the property of MTV which, in turn, is the property of Viacom. Characters are used without permission. The fact that MTV and Viacom are aware of Daria fan websites with fanfic content and choose not to take action against such sites is taken as implicit permission to use their characters in stories such as this one.
This story is Copyright 2002 by Mike Yamiolkoski and may be distributed freely only in its entirety and with the above notices intact.
Is Summer Over Already?
Outside The Box
The Next Step
The Blues Others
Also check out my website, Daria-Online, at http://www30.brinkster.com/quadstar/Daria-Online/Daria-Online.htm
Contact the author at MikeYamiolkoski@msn.com.
Comments, reviews, and particularly ILLUSTRATIONS are always welcome!