It was late spring, and finals were just around the corner. The sun was shining and the day was very warm. It was perfect for relaxing on the grass in the quad, so Jane and Daria did so during their lunch break.
"So, since the Tank will be full of the band's stuff, Trent's taking his car, too." Jane explained. "I arranged it so you get to sit with him." Jane smirked.
Daria rolled her eyes. "Gee, thanks Jane."
"I thought you'd appreciate it. Anyway, I'll ride with Jesse in the back. Nick and Max will be in the Tank. Can you do ten dollars for gas? These aren't the most fuel efficient vehicles on the planet."
"Sure, I can help finance the EPA's worst mobile nightmare."
Daria looked over across the quad when she heard a familiar giggle. Quinn was joking about something with the rest of the Fashion Club.
"Aren't they out a little early?" Jane asked.
Daria was about to answer when a sharp 'crack' – like a big firecracker – made them jump. Daria could swear she saw a divot hop behind Quinn.
"What the hell was that?" Jane asked, looking around for the source of the noise.
Daria's eyes went wide and she scrambled to her feet, yelling "Quinn! Run! Run now! Gun!"
Jane shot to her feet, and the other students around the quad stopped and looked confused. Quinn turned to face Daria and glared – arms akimbo.
"Daria! Shut up!" Quinn barked.
A second loud crack made them all jump again. Tiffany yelped and fell backwards.
Quinn, Stacy and Sandi looked at their friend, bemused. Quinn looked at the splatter of blood on her arm and shirt, realization slowly coming to her. Daria had broken into a run, a look of stark terror on her face.
"Run! God damn it!" Daria shouted as she rushed at her sister.
All at once, Daria heard another gunshot, the sound of something whistling by her head and the sound of a window breaking. It almost made her falter. She was nearly there.
Crack! Crack! Please, don't let me die.
As Daria spun Quinn around and pushed her toward what she hoped was shelter, she became aware that the quad had exploded into chaos. Students were running everywhere, getting in each other's way.
She shoved her sister through the doors and stumbled after; she turned to see if Jane was still with her and a wave of panic washed over her when Jane wasn't there.
Daria went back to the door and looked out as Stacy pushed past her. Jane had Tiffany by her dress, and was dragging her toward the building.
Crack! Crack! Crack! No, Jane! Oh, please, please no.
Daria found herself beside Jane, helping drag Tiffany to the relative safety beyond the doorway.
"Daria!" Quinn called, honest concern filtering through her own fear.
Daria saw Sandi lying on the grass, unmoving.
Crack! A slug struck the door they had just come though.
Jane and Daria set Tiffany down and began trying to staunch her bleeding. Quinn knelt beside her friend, and Stacy cried hysterically.
"Go tell the office, Quinn. Use the hallways, run!" Jane ordered.
Quinn hesitated, not wanting to leave her friend, then ran toward the office.
Daria had her hands on Tiffany's wound. "Tiffany?" She called.
Tiffany looked at her, but said nothing.
"Hang on, Ok? Help is on the way, Ok? Tiffany?"
"I'm cold." Tiffany finally said, more protractedly than usual.
Jane took off her red shirt and used it to cover Tiffany as well as she could.
They could hear Ms. Li using her megaphone outside, barking evacuation orders. The gunfire had become steady, methodical, one round every second. Someone was screaming.
"Who is it?" Jane asked, her skin ashen.
"I don't know. Any of a hundred pissed-off, frustrated students with access to guns."
"I mean, who's screaming?" Jane clarified.
"I… I don't know." Daria concentrated. "Jeez, Jane, it sounds like Kevin."
Daria looked down at Tiffany. "Jane? Jane? Is she breathing?"
Jane leaned over and listened for breath as Daria tried to feel for a pulse along her carotid artery.
"No, she's not." Jane said, fearful.
Daria released the wound, and started to locate Tiffany's sternum. Jane angled Tiffany's head and gave her a couple of breaths. Daria began compressions.
"Wha… What are you doing?" Stacy stammered as she stared at her dying friend.
Quinn returned with the school nurse, who was carrying a hard-sided case.
"No!" Quinn howled when she saw Daria and Jane performing CPR. Stacy hugged Quinn, and they hung on to each other, not knowing what else to do.
The nurse quickly opened her kit and handed Jane a CPR mask. When Daria paused so Jane could breath for Tiffany, the nurse used a knife from the kit to tear open Tiffany's dress and brazier, exposing her wounds. Stacy yelped at the action.
"We're going to have to dress the wound on her back." The nurse informed them as she quickly dressed the wound on Tiffany's chest, trying to stay out of Daria's way.
She stopped Daria so they could quickly dress the exit wound on Tiffany's back. Jane checked to see if Tiffany's heart had restarted.
Jane shook her head, and Daria resumed. She could hear sirens.
"I'm getting tired." Daria said to the beat of her compressions, cursing herself for being so out of shape.
"I'll take over next round." The nurse said.
As the nurse took over, Daria scooted back and sat against the lockers. She looked at Quinn and Stacy, who were sobbing and watching Tiffany.
Daria closed her eyes, feeling overwhelmed. The screaming had stopped, as had the gunshots and commotion. Daria guessed the quad was clear now, no targets left to shoot at. The sirens had stopped; the police must be here now. She heard an unfamiliar male voice using a bullhorn, confirming her suspicion.
Daria could hear the paramedics arrive and the nurse tells them quickly what she knew of Tiffany's injuries.
A sudden, rapid series of gunshots startled Daria. When Daria opened her eyes, she saw paramedics lifting Tiffany onto a gurney and rushing her away. Daria looked at the floor where Tiffany's ruined dress sat in a shallow pool of blood. Daria stood and looked away, unable to bear the sight.
"Come on, let's go to the office." The nurse instructed. "Li will want everyone accounted for."
Jane and Daria followed the nurse, Quinn and Stacy stepping in behind them.
"Is she going to be OK?" Jane asked the nurse.
"I don't know."
Jane and Daria glanced at one another, neither wanting to speculate in front of Tiffany's friends.
"She'll be fine." Quinn said, insisting.
"Yeah." Stacy agreed, weakly.
Daria looked down, and saw she was nearly coated in Tiffany's blood.
Daria sat on the bleachers of the football field. Jane had curled up and fallen asleep once there was room enough to lie down. Quinn sat beside Daria, staring into the distance as if in a fugue state. Daria guessed she probably was. Stacy's parents had already picked her up.
After a brief interview from the police, they and the rest of the students had been herded out to the football field. Ms. Li announced that parents had been called and would be arriving to pick up their children soon. Ms. Li called Jane and Daria over and explained that she couldn't reach Jane's parents, and asked if Daria could provide transportation. Daria had, of course, agreed.
Daria knew Helen was in court, and would not be able to pick them up. Jake had his hell-ride on the freeway, and so would be quite late. Li refused to let them walk home. Their only choice was to wait.
The other students were avoiding them. Daria guessed it was the blood, since Jodie and Mack had approached them, then paused while staring – their expressions turning to shock and horror, then Jodie turned and hid in Mack's chest who guided her away.
The automatic timers rang the end-of-day bell. Daria wanted to read something, but wasn't allowed back into the school to retrieve her backpack. Instead, she watched Andrea and some of her gothic friends across the field as they discussed the day's events and gesticulated wildly. Several cried.
"Quinn! Daria!" Jake called as he trotted toward them. His face was full of anxiety.
"Are you OK? My God! Daria!" Jake was taken aback by the blood. His face paled and he looked ready to faint.
"It's not my blood, dad."
"Whose blood is…"
Daria cut him off with an agitated wave of her hand. Quinn didn't need the reminder. Jake nodded in agreement, if not understanding.
Jane stirred and sat up. "Hey, Mr. Morgendorffer." She greeted sleepily.
Jake was almost as shocked by the blood on Jane's leggings and shorts.
"Can I get a ride home?" Jane asked.
"Sure, Jill. Sure."
"Jane, dad." Daria corrected.
Daria guided Quinn to Jake's car. She was still running on automatic, oblivious to Daria's touch but not to her guidance. Jake spread newspaper on his seats before letting Daria or Jane in. Daria sat Quinn in the front passenger seat.
The ride to Jane's house was silent.
"Daria? Can I stay over? Trent's not going to be in till real late tomorrow and…" Jane waved her hand in the air ambiguously and looked pleadingly at her friend as Jake pulled into the Lane's driveway.
"Dad?" Daria appealed.
"Sure." Jake answered, absently.
"I'm going to go get a change of clothes." Jane announced and headed into the house.
Daria waited, listening to the engine idle, trying desperately not to think and having little success.
Jane quickly reappeared carrying a plastic bag.
Jake drove them home.
"Jane, you can use the master bath." Jake said as they entered the house, knowing she'd want to bathe.
Daria showed her where it was, then went to the hallway bath.
Quinn sat on her bed, leaning against a canopy post.
Helen flew into the house, then stopped at the sight of Quinn asleep in Jake's arms, her head on his shoulder. She looked at the dark spots on Quinn's tee shirt, wondering what they were.
Jake put his finger to his lips, then pointed upward.
"Jane and Daria are in Daria's room." He whispered.
Helen hesitated for a moment, wanting to help with Quinn, then went up to Daria's room.
Daria was on her bed, writing furiously in a notebook. Jane was sitting cross-legged on the floor by Daria's dresser, using a wet paper towel on her boots. Both were in their usual bedclothes.
Helen saw the towel was tinged with blood.
"Daria? Jane? Are you girls alright?"
Jane shrugged. "As well as can be expected, I guess."
Daria looked up at her mother, her face wooden. "Fine."
Helen sat on the foot of Daria's bed where she could see both girls.
"I hear you two acted the hero's part, dragging a girl out of harm's way and tending her wounds."
"Tiffany." Jane said. "Do you know if she's ok? No one would answer us at school."
"I'm sorry, Jane. I don't think they've made the casualty list public." Helen looked thoughtful for a moment. "Tiffany? Isn't that one of Quinn's friends?"
"Yeah." Jane answered. "She was in the Fashion Club."
"Mom? I think that she's probably dead, and… and…" Daria stopped and fought to regain control.
Helen stood and picked up Daria's phone and dialed. She bullied her way through several receptionists and secretaries, and fought with someone in charge for a while, mentioning Tiffany several times. It quickly became obvious she had called the hospital. Finally, she thanked the person and hung up. She stood silently for a moment.
"She did die, didn't she?" Daria finally said.
Helen didn't want to answer, but knew better than to be evasive with her perceptive daughter. Finally, she nodded.
"I'm sorry." Helen said, regretting having made the call in front of the girls.
"Thanks for finding out for us." Daria said, her voice lifeless.
"Yeah." Jane agreed.
"I'm not sure, but I think that… that Sandi…" Daria started, again choking on her words.
Jane looked at her friend, worried at her emotional state.
"Yes, dear?" Helen prompted.
"I think… Sandi's dead, too."
"She is." Jane said quietly.
"Oh, my God. Sandi Griffin?" Helen asked.
"Yes." Daria answered.
"Poor Quinn!" Helen said, looking toward the door.
"Yeah." Daria and Jane answered in unison.
Helen stood and headed downstairs.
Helen found Jake dawdling in the kitchen. Quinn was still asleep on the sofa.
"Jake! Quinn lost two friends today. We need to think about getting her some counseling."
"For both Quinn and Daria." Jake said.
Helen looked at Jake quizzically. "Why does Daria need counseling? Did she loose a… oh" Helen suddenly made the connection.
"You should have seen them, Helen. Her and her friend were covered in blood! I mean covered in it. I had to throw away Daria's favorite outfit." Jake said, perturbed.
"Daria told me about some of it. Her and her friend fought to save a life today, Helen, and they lost the battle." Jake was entering a fervor.
"They were in the thick of it. Daria was shot at, so was Jean. I think Jean saw another girl get shot in the head. She mentioned something, but she was mumbling. Did you see the blood on Quinn? She was right beside her friend when she was shot. Quinn hasn't said one word since. Daria said something about a flue state. Helen, our poor daughters!" Jake covered his face melodramatically.
"Jane." Helen corrected, idly.
"Daria's friend, her name is Jane." Helen clarified. "What is a 'flue state', Jake?"
"Oh, uh, I don't know. I was going to look it up, but I got busy."
Helen sat at the table and looked thoughtful. Jake pulled down plates and silverware.
"I wonder if Jane will be able to get help. I don't think her parents are home all that much." Helen sighed. "Jake, I think we should help her, if she needs it. Perhaps we could send her and Daria to the same counseling sessions."
Jake nodded as he pulled a pan out of the oven.
"What are you making, dear?" Helen asked as the aroma reached her.
"Just some lasagna. I wanted to make something special for the girls."
Helen shook her head almost imperceptibly. "That's nice, dear."
Jake prepared portions enough for five, then went to fetch the girls.
Helen looked at her plate and wondered what they should do for their children. Daria isn't any good at showing emotion. If she bottles this up for very long…
Quinn shuffled in and sat at the table in her usual place.
Quinn failed to answer. Helen chose not to push.
Jane and Daria found seats at the table, both looking tired and defeated.
Jake sat in his chair and began to eat.
"Quinn? Aren't you going to eat?" Helen asked.
Quinn didn't move.
Daria leaned over to her mother and whispered. "Mom, I think she's in some sort of fugue. I don't think she'll respond to much for a while."
Helen's face fell. A fugue state, not flue. She began to stroke Quinn's hair. "Oh, Quinn."
The phone rang and Helen answered.
"Hello? Calm down! Who is this? Oh, yes. Yes, she's here. She's fine. Yes, Daria's fine, too. Why don't you come over? We're having dinner, why not join us? Ok, bye!"
Helen set the phone down.
"Jane, that was Trent. He's on his way over."
"Trent? He wasn't due back until tomorrow." Jane said, puzzled.
"I'd guess he came home early after seeing the news." Helen speculated.
The phone rang again, and Helen answered.
"Hello? Who is this? No! How dare you? I said no! You will do no such thing! No, you do not have that right, and neither does the public. Do not threaten me, young man! I assure you I will happily litigate you and your little so-called newspaper right out of existence if you force me to. Yes, I'm that Helen Morgendorffer. Good bye."
Helen hung up the phone and placed it back in its cradle.
"Reporter?" Jane asked.
"From that damn shock-rag." Helen growled. "Of all the nerve."
Jane opened her mouth to reply, but was interrupted by a knock at the door.
"I've got it." Daria stood and went to answer the door.
"Hey, Trent." Daria greeted, impressed with the speed of his arrival.
"Daria! I'm glad you're Ok!" Trent said, and gave a surprised Daria a quick, firm hug.
"Hey brother." Jane greeted as she came out of the kitchen.
Trent trotted over to his sister and gave her a solid hug.
"Thank God you're alright." He said.
"I thought you weren't due back until tomorrow."
"I had to come back and make sure you were Ok, Janey. Nothing else was important."
Jane smiled, then began to cry. Trent stroked her hair and back, comforting her. Daria turned and looked out the window, a tear running down her cheek on an otherwise expressionless face.
Daria sat up in her bed with a gasp, the nightmare already fleeing her memory.
As she brushed her hair from her face, she could hear Jane quietly snoring in her sleeping bag.
Daria climbed out of her bed, trying to be stealthy, to go fetch herself some water. She stepped over Jane and opened the door to the hall and headed toward the stairs. She paused in front of Quinn's room, hearing soft sobs.
She hesitated, her hand hovering near Quinn's doorknob. She screwed up her courage, and entered her sister's room.
Quinn was gripping her smiley pillow, her face stuffed into it. She was crying unreservedly.
Daria snuck over to the bed and sat beside Quinn. She placed her hand on her sister's shoulder. Quinn startled and looked up.
"Daria! I had a horrible dream!" Quinn cried and hugged her sister. "Tiffany and Sandi were dead, and you and Jane were covered in blood, and someone wanted me dead and I was so scared!" Quinn babbled.
"But it wasn't… I mean… I was going to go get some water or tea, Quinn. Want to come with me?"
"Ok." Quinn agreed, and clambered out of her bed, holding her sister's hand.
Quinn led the way to the kitchen, refusing to let go of Daria's hand. She's really scared. Daria thought. How is she going to take it when…?
Quinn finally released her and sat at the dining counter as Daria prepared some chamomile tea. They sat together and sipped the soothing brew silently.
Daria woke to the sound of scratching. She opened her eyes and blinked away the cobwebs as she looked for the source of the sound. Jane was leaning against the padded wall across from her bed and sketching intensely, her pencil making the scratching sound. Daria sat up and stretched.
"Hey." Jane said.
"Hey." Daria answered.
Jane set her pad down and looked at her friend.
"Daria?" Jane started, then paused.
"I'm glad you weren't hurt, or killed yesterday. I mean really glad. I don't know what I would do without my partner in crime." Tears began to form in her eyes. "Last night I dreamt that I had lost you. It terrified me; I couldn't get back to sleep. I mean, I'd rather face my own death than face yours. I…" Jane caught herself rambling.
"I couldn't stand to loose you, either." Daria said flatly. "Thanks for not getting shot."
Their conversation was interrupted by a yelp from Quinn. Daria shot out of bed and down the hall to find Quinn standing in the middle of her room, holding her pink smiley face tee shirt away from herself.
"Dar… Daria! Look!" Quinn trembled as she held out the bloodstained item. "I don't understand!"
Helen ran into the room.
"What's wrong?" Helen asked. Her expression of concern deepened almost to despair when she saw the shirt.
Daria took the tee from her sister and tried to think of how to tell her that it wasn't a dream.
"What's on my shirt?" Quinn cried.
"Honey, that's from when you friend was…" Helen began.
"No!" Quinn yelled. "No! It was a dream! Right Daria?"
Daria shook her head, looking at the floor. "I'm sorry, Quinn."
Quinn's face went ashen and she sank to her knees. Daria and Helen rushed over held on to Quinn as her grief overcame her.
Jake and Jane turned and walked away from the door.
Jane handed Daria the paper.
"They released the list."
Daria quickly read the article.
"Oh, man. Eight dead, six wounded. Teachers too?"
"Yeah. I was thinking, school is out for the next few weeks because of all this – we should visit some of the injured."
Daria looked uncomfortable. "I don't know."
"I have to, Daria. This is still freaking with my brain, and I need to see survivors or something. I don't know."
Daria sighed and shrugged.
"Ok, I'll go for your sake."
"Christopher Leiberman was the shooter." Daria commented, looking at the article. "I don't remember him."
"I think I recognize him from math class. He's all the clichés. Loner, quiet, kept to himself, the works."
Daria sighed. "At least he wasn't wearing a black duster."
"We offer the body back to the earth."
Tiffany's family members lowered her coffin into the earth. Daria stole a glance at the Blum-Deckler family. Mr. Blum-Deckler was a handsome man of what looked to be Romanian decent, and Mrs. Blum-Deckler was definitely the source of Tiffany's oriental good looks. He sat and had a very strained stoic look, and she leaned against his shoulder, a handkerchief constantly drying her tears. Daria felt a cold pit in her stomach.
Jane shifted in her seat. Daria had come to the funeral at her behest. Jane thought it might help bring a little closure.
Quinn hung on to Helen throughout. Once she had seen the coffin, she hadn't been able to stop crying. Nothing had made it so real for her.
Daria looked behind her. Proving that Tiffany was truly popular at school, there were roughly a hundred students standing there. Daria noted that while a few cried, most looked bored, several to the point of yawning and chatting amongst one another. It irritated her that even here – at an event marking all of their mortality – so many could manage to be shallow.
Daria turned back to see the Blum-Decklers walking toward them. Jane stood, and Daria followed suit.
"You are Daria and Jane?" Mr. Blum-Deckler asked.
"Yes. I'm so sorry." Daria consoled.
Mrs. Blum-Deckler took a hand from Daria and one from Jane into each of hers.
"Thank you. Our Tiffany did not have to die alone, because of your caring. It helps to know she was…" She could not continue.
Her husband gathered her into his arms and held her silently for a moment.
"Bless you both, and thank you." He said to Daria and Jane, and led his wife toward the waiting funeral limousine.
They paused by Quinn, and Mrs. Blum-Deckler set a hand on her head. Helen said something that Daria could not hear, and it elicited a thankful nod from Mr. Blum-Deckler.
"You want to go do something?" Jane asked.
"No. I need to think." Daria answered in a tremulous voice – a worried look on her face.
Daria looked up from the notebook she had been writing in on her desk.
"Can I talk to you?"
Quinn closed the door behind her and sat on the end of Daria's bed. Daria raised a surprised eyebrow.
"I… uh…" Quinn looked like she didn't know where to begin.
"Go ahead." Daria encouraged, after a moment.
"I don't really know if… I mean, were they really…"
Quinn looked surprised.
"I know you were wondering if they were really your friends, Quinn. You had been doing that long before they d… well, for a long time."
"Oh." Quinn mumbled.
"They may not have been perfect. I know they played a lot of crap politics with you, but that didn't mean they weren't friends, and it certainly doesn't mean you shouldn't mourn them." Daria sighed. "I wish the Griffin's had let you go to Sandi's funeral. It hurt, but participating in Tiffany's helped you some." Daria sighed. It helped me some.
"Yeah. Yeah, you're right." Quinn said, standing.
"One thing, before you go."
"Call Stacy. Better yet, go visit her."
Mrs. Rowe opened her front door and found Quinn standing there with a plastic wrapped platter in her hands.
"Hello, Quinn. Please come in."
"Hi Mrs. Rowe. Is Stacy in?"
"In her room, go on up." She said, curiously eyeing the platter.
Quinn headed up the stairs and knocked on the closed room door.
"Come in." A tired voice said.
Quinn opened the door and entered.
"Quinn!" Stacy exclaimed, her voice raspy.
Quinn was mildly shocked. Stacy sat in the middle of her unmade bed and looked terrible. Her eyes were dark and sunken, and she was wearing no makeup to hide her splotchy, pale skin. Her hair was uncombed and threatened to mat in several places. She was dressed in torn jeans and an oversized, grungy sweatshirt. Her room was a mess, and a soiled dinner plate sat on her desk.
"Hi. I brought some cookies." She said, holding up the platter.
Quinn sat the platter on the dressing table by the dinner plate, and sat down on Stacy's bed.
"Sorry I didn't call…"
Stacy waved her hand in a dismissive gesture.
"It's Ok." She said.
"No. No, it's not Ok." Quinn started, tears again forming in her eyes. "Stacy, I… you're my friend. I should have told you that I was glad I still had you around and…"
Stacy lunging forward and hugging her friend cut off Quinn's statement.
Quinn found herself hugging back, letting Stacy bawl into her shoulder.
Mrs. Rowe quietly left the doorway, her face showing relief.
"Daria? Are you Ok?" Helen asked as she sat in the kitchen chair across from her daughter.
"Fine." Daria said, still hidden behind the newspaper.
"Is that what you call it?"
Daria set the paper down.
"Well, you've been moping more than usual, you hardly eat, you don't watch TV, I haven't seen you read more than the newspaper, and you've not been over to see Jane since the funeral. That's not 'fine', even for you." Helen looked concerned.
"I'm… I'm just sorting it all out." Daria replied flatly. "You know I'm better prepared for this sort of thing. Remember the Tommy Sheridan thing."
Helen looked unconvinced, but knew pressing wouldn't help. Jake wandered into he kitchen.
"Hey! There's my daughter, the heroine!"
Daria looked surprised, and frightened.
"I'm not a heroine, dad."
"Sure you are! I heard what the Blum-Decklers said at the funeral. And Quinn told me the story. I mean, helping Jane drag that girl into the hallway, binding her wounds, CPR…"
"I… AM… NOT… A… HEROINE!" Daria barked each word, pounding her fist on the table. Her cheeks were red and her eyes glistened with tears.
Jake was taken aback.
"I… but… Helen?" Jake looked pleadingly at his wife.
"Daria, you did…" Helen began.
"No!" Daria screamed, any self-control long gone. She stood to leave, but tripped over herself in her haste. Jake reached down to help her up but she batted his hand away. Scrambling to her feet, she ran to her room. Helen and Jake heard her door slam.
"Oh, dear." Helen whispered.
Helen stood in front of Daria's door and knocked upon it.
"Daria? Do you want some breakfast?"
The doorknob rattled, and the door opened slightly.
Helen hesitated, then opened the door and went in. Daria sat on her bed in her nightclothes; her glasses were on her dresser. Helen sat beside her daughter.
"I… mom, I'm sorry."
"It's Ok, sweetie." Helen said, rubbing her daughter's back.
"Mom, what if I didn't do it right? What if I killed her?" Daria said, so quiet Helen had to strain to hear it.
"So that's what's been eating at you. Come with me." Helen stood, taking her daughter's hand.
She led her to her briefcase. Helen opened it and took out a letter, which she handed to Daria.
"What's this?" Daria asked.
"It's a letter from the chief of police, the city council and the mayor. Now, you're probably going to get mad, so please just listen. You and Jane are going to be commended for your actions, as will Mr. DeMartino. Now, do you think that they'd commend someone for killing their patient?"
"I know they wouldn't. Daria, you can't blame yourself for this. It wasn't you who killed Tiffany. It was a bullet fired by a crazed child from the top of the school library that killed her. You saved Quinn; you tried to save Tiffany. You did more than most." Helen lovingly put her hand on Daria's shoulder. "I am very proud of you."
Daria opened and closed her mouth a couple of times, unsure what to say, then hugged her mother.
DeMartino looked irritated at the knock on his door.
"I do NOT need ANOTHER tranquilizer. Thank YOU!"
Daria and Jane entered the room.
"Saving those for class, right?" Jane joked.
"Well, Ms. Morgendorffer and Ms. Lane. What a PLEASANT surprise." DeMartino smiled slightly, setting down the book he was reading. "To what do I OWE this social call?"
"Well, first and foremost Jane and I were concerned and wanted to make sure you were going to recover."
"Why?" DeMartino said flatly.
"Because – interspersed with your belittlement, fits of pique and overall scariness – you have this annoying habit of actually teaching us something." Jane replied, smirking.
DeMartino offered a wry smile to the girls.
"I can ASSURE you, Ms. Lane, that – interspersed with your SARCASM, hyperbole and overall OUTCAST-like behavior – you have this ANNOYING habit of learning something. That goes TWICE for you, Ms. Morgendorffer."
DeMartino sighed and looked serious.
"The fact is, there is no such thing as teaching, only learning. All I can do is offer the information." He said, solemnly.
Daria and Jane traded nervous glances.
"You suggested there was a SECOND reason for this visit?"
"Yes." Daria answered, anxious to change the subject. "We heard you were being commended for your actions during the shooting. It seems you returned to the quad several times to drag students to safety."
"These would be the same students you refer to as 'preprocessed sausages'?" Jane asked.
"For these spiced meat products, you repeatedly exposed yourself to the sniper." Daria continued.
"And took a bullet through the shoulder for." Jane commented.
"Why?" Daria asked.
"I would love to give you the BIG flowery SPEECH about life being PRECIOUS, or perhaps talk about the HOPES I have for the students I saved. HOWEVER, the truth is…"
Daria and Jane looked expectant.
"I have no idea."
Jane broke out in a laugh, then covered her mouth. Daria smiled her diminutive smile. DeMartino looked slightly embarrassed.
"So, what is YOUR explanation, Ms. Lane. As I hear it, you entered the very area BULLETS were FLYING though to drag Tiffany away. And you, Ms. Morgendorffer, RETURNED to the quad YOURSELF to help."
"I haven't a clue." Jane said, still laughing.
"I know why I did what I did."
DeMartino and Jane focused on Daria. Jane stopped laughing.
"I wanted Jane the hell out of there as fast as possible. Nothing altruistic, no impulsive heroism, pure selfishness."
Jane smiled at her friend. DeMartino scowled.
"Ok, then. Daria, I have but one comment for you."
"SINCE it would have been FAR easier to DRAG Ms. Lane away from danger, leaving Tiffany to DIE on the GRASS like an ANIMAL. AND since you took the time to GET your SISTER out of harms way, exposing yourself to those SAME bullets as Ms. Lane did – YOU TOO are in the same boat as Ms. Lane and I. It reduces to the one fact. You ran TOWARD the danger and SOMEONE ELSE benefited."
Daria looked at the floor.
"But… uh… she died."
"No, she didn't. Your SISTER is quite ALIVE."
Daria looked stunned.
"Assuming she PASSES, next year I get to SUFFER her presence in my CLASSROOM. I will have only YOU to thank for THAT fact."
"Can you ever forgive me?" Daria said, smirking.
After polite good-byes and wishing well, Daria and Jane left Mr. DeMartino's room and headed to their next stop.
"Room 3224." Jane announced.
The door was open, so they went in.
"Hi Kevin." Jane said.
Kevin's left leg was cast and in traction. His right arm was bandaged.
"Hi!" Kevin said in his usual cheery manner.
"How's it going? Healing OK?" Daria asked.
"Yeah! The doc says I'm right on track!"
Daria studied the leg cast for a moment.
"Uh, Kevin? Did you get shot in the knee?"
"Yeah!" Kevin said, again impressed with Daria. "And my… uh… lemur."
"Lemur?" Jane asked, arching an eyebrow in surprise.
"Kevin, you don't happen to mean 'femur', do you?" Daria asked.
"Oh, yeah! Wow, you brains really do know about everything, don't you? Anyway, I can't wait to get back to school. This late in the season, we've got a bunch of big games."
Daria raised her eyebrows in surprise.
"You're going to be out in time to watch the games?"
Kevin looked confused.
"No." Kevin snorted. "Jeez, Daria, you were smart a second ago. I'm the QB, remember? I gotta play 'em."
"Kevin, do you know how long it takes for a broken bone to heal? And a shattered bone, and knee?" Daria asked.
Kevin shrugged and smiled.
Jane and Daria looked at each other, obviously neither wanting to break the news to him.
"Kevin, tell you what…" Daria started.
"We'll see you later. We just wanted to make sure you were Ok." Jane interrupted and shooed Daria out into the hall.
"His football days are over." Daria said as they walked.
"I know, and he doesn't know it."
"Shouldn't we tell him?"
Jane stopped and looked at her friend.
"Come on, Daria, I'll bet he's been told a hundred times. Even Kevin isn't that stupid. It has to be denial."
They turned to leave and nearly bumped into O'Neil.
"Hi Mr. O'Neil. What're you doing here?" Jane asked.
"Hi Daria! Hi Jane! I'm here to visit Anthony."
Daria noticed his left arm in a sling.
"You, too?" Daria said, pointing to his arm.
"Saving students, too, eh?" Jane smiled.
"Well, no, actually. My classroom faces the yard." He said, becoming quiet. "It was probably just a ricochet."
"Oh." Jane sounded embarrassed.
"It really makes you think. I mean, I was just sitting there, grading papers. A completely random occurrence left me bleeding. I mean, just a few inches to the right…" His eyes began to tear. "It's very frightening to realize how tenuous life is."
O'Neil began to cry.
"I can't take it anymore! I'm never going back to that place again!" He turned and ran down the hall toward the elevators.
Daria and Jane gaped after him for a moment.
"Poor guy." Jane said.
"Well, I guess it was to be expected. He hardly had the emotional fortitude to survive being insulted, much less being shot."
"Do you think he meant it, about not going back?"
Daria sighed. "I hope not."
They started again for the elevators.
"You'd miss him?" Jane wondered.
"Oddly enough, yes."
"Why?" Jane asked, incredulous.
"For all his faults, he cares. Yes, maybe he cares too much, but with so many teachers just going through the motions people like O'Neil and DeMartino are nice to have around."
Jane pressed the 'down' button.
"This is so stupid." Daria said, an angry look forming on her face.
"What, you'd rather take the stairs?" Jane asked, smirking.
"How can one person make such a dramatic and negative change in peoples lives – including ending eight of them – so easily while it takes teams of people fighting incredible odds to make small but positive changes?" Daria fumed, ignoring her friend's sarcasm.
"No matter. It's all crap anyway."
Daria turned to her friend, surprised.
"All this – it's crap." Jane made a sweeping motion with her hand. "None of it particularly meaningful outside of what meaning we choose to give it. We're born, we live, and we die. Out of billions of lives, only a few hundred are even remembered for very long, much less having made a significant impression on life in general. It's smoke and ashes, Daria. You know it as well as I."
Daria's face softened.
"You're angry she died, too, aren't you."
"Yes." Jane's eyes were watering.
"It's easier to be nihilistic about it, isn't it?"
Daria sighed, trying not to cry herself.
"No matter how you slice it, it sucks." Jane said.
Daria, Jane and Mr. DeMartino fiddled with their new medallions in surprisingly similar ways. Around them, the reception was winding down, and people had stopped coming over to congratulate them.
"Does all this strike anyone else as a waste of taxpayer money?" Daria asked.
Jane nodded and DeMartino chuckled.
"The people at large NEED this sort of SHARADE. Putting us up on PEDISTALS makes them feel SAFER – or at LEAST takes their little minds off their FEAR."
Jane removed her medallion and put it in her pocket.
"Smoke and ashes." She mumbled.
Daria removed hers and pocketed it.
"Tenuous existence." She murmured.
DeMartino straightened his out and sat up straight.
"TAKE what you can GET." He said.
Jane and Daria found themselves laughing with DeMartino.
Jane and Daria walked ahead of Trent toward Tiffany's grave. In front of the headstone, two familiar figures knelt in such a deep reverie that they didn't notice the three approaching.
"Hi, Quinn, Stacy." Daria greeted them quietly.
Quinn startled slightly and looked at her big sister. Stacy turned to them and smiled a bit.
"Hi Daria." Quinn stood. "What're you doing here?"
"We brought something." Jane said, holding up a clear cube.
Quinn and Stacy looked closely at the item. It was made of clear acrylic, and inside were the girl's medallions. Etched deeply on the top were the words "Thank you for reminding us to care."
"I don't understand." Stacy said.
"Life only has as much meaning as you give it, Stacy." Jane started.
"We didn't want to let Tiffany die in a meaningless way, so we found some meaning for her." Daria finished.
Trent walked around them and drove a metal stake into the ground. Jane sat the cube by it and they attached the two together. It sat handsomely by the headstone.
"What about Sandi?" Stacy asked.
"I don't know, maybe the same lesson." Daria answered.
"It's hard to find meaning in death." Stacy commented.
"It is, and you shouldn't let it distract you from finding meaning in life." Trent said.
Everyone focused on him.
"You and Quinn still have each other as friends. I still have my little sister and a good friend in Daria. Jane still has her best friend, and Daria still has her best friend and her sister. You can't ignore that."
Trent wandered back toward his car.
Struck dumb by Trent's reminder, the four girls stared at the headstone and acrylic cube, pondering.