The Puzzle

Strange things can happen when no one is watching . . .


Text by Parker-man

March 23, 2004


Daria and associated characters belong to MTV and Viacom



This story takes place several weeks after Christmas, during Daria’s senior year in high school. Additional notes at the end.


=     =     =     =     =     =     =     =     =     =


            Damn, Daria grumbled silently. I can’t seem to string two measly sentences together! She leaned back in her chair and stretched her arms above her head. With a small grunt, she exhaled, and looked intently at what she had written. Admittedly, it isn’t much, today. She read her words and her displeasure showed itself with a frown. She grasped the computer’s mouse. Back to headquarters, Melody, she grimaced, the Commies aren’t playing fair today. She erased this escapade of Melody Powers, Agent Extraordinaire. Then she closed the word processing program and shut her computer down.

She stifled a yawn as she rose from her chair. Stretching her back, she glanced at the clock next to her bed, surprised that it was late afternoon. Wow, four-thirty already! Time flies when you don’t know what you’re doing! She glanced around her room, comforted by its appearance. She almost cherished the padded walls, left there by the previous homeowner… apparently, a schizophrenic family member had lived in this room. It suited Daria well… it insulated her from the typical goings-on of her family. Or, she considered, does it insulate my family from me? A small smile appeared. Point to ponder.

            “Maybe a book…” She looked at her simple bookshelf, weighed down with volumes of classic literature. Every one a prize, every one an excellent story… every one having been read at least three times. She let out a sigh. Maybe I just need a break. Yes, that fancy tea Mom and Dad gave me for Christmas… that would do nicely. She turned toward the door, and was surprised to find it open; then she remembered that her parents were on another Marriage Enrichment seminar, and would be gone all weekend. This brought a smile to her face. Peace, she thought. And, judging by the silence, Quinn must be out, too. She headed downstairs.

            As she walked toward the kitchen, her mind on her tea – Which flavor to try first, Orange Melody, or Berry Blitz? – she received quite a surprise.

            “Hey, Daria.”

            “Aaah!” Daria jumped at the unexpected greeting. “What are you doing here?”

            “Gee, Daria, you’re not the only one who lives here, you know…”

            Daria frowned. “Sorry, Quinn… I just thought I was all alone today.”

            “That’s okay… to be honest, I thought the same… until I heard you coming down the stairs.” Quinn turned her attention back to what was on the kitchen table in front of  where she was sitting.

            Daria looked at her sister for a moment. No insults? No questions? “Umm, okay, but I’m just curious…” Quinn looked up. “Why aren’t you with your fashion fie--*ahem* friends?” I hope she missed that.

            “Ohh, well, you know that flu going around? Well, Stacy seems to have caught it, or something like it, from that guy she’s been seeing – not steady, you know, but he is kind of nice… nice smile… anyway , she’s reeeally contagious right now, and looks just terrible – puffy eyes, runny nose, eeeeew! - and I wouldn’t want to catch it, you know?”

             Good… she missed it. “Um-hmm…”

            “And Tiffany, poor girl, got dragged all the way to West Wethersburg for some family reunion – or maybe it’s a wedding… well, whatever it is, she didn’t even get a chance to prepare for it! I mean, all the way out in the country, and no chance to shop for the proper outfit! I mean, come on! Just because they’re distant relatives, most of whom you don’t even know, and probably will never see again – besides, who from West Wethersburg ever comes here? - doesn’t mean you don’t want to look your best, right?” She giggled that nervous little giggle of hers, the one that got the boys wound up, and irritated most everyone else.

Daria looked at her sister with an ‘Are you finished?’ expression. “Umm, what about Sandi?”

            Quinn stiffened, and stared straight into Daria’s eyes. Her face took on a slightly pained look. After a brief moment, she said, simply, “Let’s not go there.” The look on her face spoke volumes.

            With a slight smile, Daria merely responded “Forget I asked.” Quinn relaxed, smiling slightly. Daria turned, heading for the stove.

            “How about you? Why are you here today?”

            Daria stopped, and looked back at Quinn. “Well, Mystic Spiral has a gig tonight in Southfield, and Jane wanted to go along… something about an art museum… and, well, I’ve got this story idea…”

            “And you chose to stay behind to write...” Quinn finished Daria’s thoughts.

            “Yes… write…” Daria mumbled, and looked down at her boots. “Besides, Jane and I know that every now and then, a little time apart makes our time together…” she shrugged, “better, somehow.”

            “Yeah, I can understand that.” Quinn hesitated before she continued. “What about Tom?”

            At this, Daria flinched. Damn. She would have to mention…Daria raised one eyebrow. Wait a minute… “Umm…” She looked at Quinn, a slight smirk on her lips. “Let’s not go there.”

            Seeing the little smirk, Quinn instantly understood. A broad smile lit up her face as she replied, “Forget I asked.”

Daria’s smirk turned into a thankful – although small, and brief – smile. She moved to the stove, picked up the teakettle, and took it to the sink. She turned on the tap, holding her fingers under the stream of water to wait for it to get cold. She glanced over her shoulder towards her sister. Hmm. No comments. And her smile… “Quinn?”

            Without looking up, she mumbled “Hmm?”

            “Would you like some tea?” Did I actually ask her that?

            Quinn suddenly looked up at Daria. There was a little bit of surprise in her eyes, as if she was thinking the same thing Daria was… Did she actually ask me that? “Umm, sure… that would be nice.”

            Daria filled the kettle, turned off the tap, and placed the kettle on the stove. “I know you like your tea with lemon…”

            “Umm, yes, a 1/8 wedge of lemon and one half packet of artificial sweetener-“

            “How would you like to try one of my new flavored teas? There’s one called ‘Lemon Zap’…”

            Quinn smiled. “Sure, I’d like that.”

            Daria turned the stove on, and removed two teacups and saucers from the cabinet. She placed them on a small tray, along with a sugar bowl and two teaspoons. This completed, she stepped over to the kitchen table, where Quinn was intently studying a piece of a jigsaw puzzle, the entire border of which was complete. “A jigsaw puzzle…”

“Yeah, I got it with some of the money you gave me for Christmas.” Quinn glanced up at Daria with a smile. “Thank you.”

            “You’re welcome.” Well, don’t just stand there… say something! “What’s the subject?” Quinn picked up the puzzle container and handed it to Daria. Instead of the typical cardboard box, it was a collectible tin container, the shape being the same as the puzzle itself. Daria looked at the cover, and was surprised. “Lord Of The Rings, huh? I didn’t know you liked Tolkien…”

            “Oh, yeah… I saw the movie three times!”

            Well, there may be some hope yet…

            “That Orlando Bloom is SOOOOOOOO cute!”

Then again… maybe not. “Umm, Quinn,” Daria said as she pointed, “I think that piece goes over here… see the way that gold color goes?”

Quinn looked at the piece in her hand, and at the place Daria was pointing to. She tried the piece, and, although it did not fit exactly where Daria was pointing, it did fit very close by. “Thanks, Daria!”

“No problem.” The teakettle began to whistle, and Daria turned to get it after handing the puzzle tin back to Quinn.

“Umm, Daria…”

“Yes?” she replied, as she removed the kettle from the stove.

“Would… would you like to help me with this?”

Did she just ask… “Umm, sure..”

“Great.” Quinn moved another chair into place next to her own, and Daria brought the tray to the table, gave Quinn her tea, and sat down. “This puzzle is harder than I expected… the border went together okay, but…” Her voice trailed off, as she glanced at Daria.

Daria studied the pieces scattered over the table. “May I see the box again?”

“Sure…” Quinn handed it to her.

Daria studied the picture on the cover of the container, and again examined the pieces on the table. Then, she turned the container over, and looked at the back side. Once more, she looked at the pieces. “Ahh, I see…”


“This” Daria said, as she pointed to the pieces, “is not this,” indicating the cover art on the tin, “…but this.” Daria had turned the tin over, and pointed to a smaller photo of another puzzle: Number Four in a Series. “They must have had a bad day in the factory…”

“Oooh!” Quinn sighed, “that sucks.”

“Yes, it does.” Daria had to agree.

“Well,” Quinn began, in a cheerful tone, “it does make it more challenging, don’t you think?” She looked at Daria with a smile.

Pleasantly surprised, Daria returned the smile and repeated, “Yes… it does.”

Quinn took a sip of tea. “Mmmm… this is good. Thanks… again.”

“No problem. I don’t really like lemon tea, so you can have the rest of them, too.” Daria lifted her cup to her lips, and gently blew on it, cooling it.

“What flavor did you try?”

“Berry Blitz.” She swallowed a mouthful of tea, and made a sour face. “Wow!” She shook her head, and smacked her lips. “It’s strong!”

Quinn giggled at her sister’s expression, and, much to her surprise, Daria chuckled – slightly. With a sideways glance, Daria said “Let’s get to work, shall we?” She moved her teacup aside and turned her attention to the puzzle.


*        *        *


As she placed the last piece into position, Quinn smiled. “Well, umm, thanks, Daria…” she said, sounding somewhat self-conscious. She looked at her sister.

Daria seemed to be at a loss for words herself, but she managed a smile, and said “You’re welcome.” They sat there for a few moments, looking at each other, into each other’s eyes, seeing each other in a new way. Breaking this reverie, Quinn got up from her chair, and turned away to go to her room.

“Quinn?” Daria asked, nervously.

Quinn turned back to look at Daria. “Yeah?”

“Would you—“ Her sentence was interrupted by the shrill rrring of the phone.

Quinn moved toward the telephone, saying “I’ll get it, it’s for me…” when she was captured by the look in Daria’s eyes: the look that said I was going to ask you an important question, but go ahead with your phone call. Daria wanted to lower her head, but could not stop looking into Quinn’s eyes.


Quinn didn’t move… she kept looking at Daria, seemingly torn between two actions.

“Aren’t you going to answer your phone call?” Daria said, with a hurt tone in her voice.


Quinn looked at the phone, then back at Daria. “No… let the machine get it.” She paused before continuing. “You were going to ask me something?” Her eyes returned to the phone. She was not impatient, but she did seem anxious about something.


Daria looked at the phone. “Well, umm… I was wondering…” Daria hesitated. Looking back to her sister, she could see her eyes were on the phone.

Rrri—  it stopped suddenly, startling them both. Quinn took a quick breath, and let it out with a quiet sigh. She looked relieved. Returning her gaze to Daria, she calmly waited for her to finish.

Daria swallowed nervously, looked at the clock. “… it’s 8:30, and…” She paused, unsure how to continue.

Seeming uneasy herself, Quinn simply responded “Yeah?”

“Well…” Daria continued, “there’s a good movie on at 9:00… it’s Casablanca… with Bogart and Bergman…”

“Really? I don’t think I’ve ever seen it… I know about it though…” She appeared interested.

“I thought…” Daria looked down at the table. Look at her! She looked back up. “I thought, maybe… we could order a pizza?” She looked pained, as if she was steeling herself for the expected rejection.

Quinn’s eyes briefly flashed, as what Daria said was sinking in. “Gee, Daria, umm…” Quinn hesitated, then decided that this was too good a thing to pass up. “Yeah… I think that would be great!” she concluded with a big smile.

Daria, relieved, smiled back. She looked down at the floor for a moment, then back at her sister. “Great. I’ll call in the order –“

“My treat” says Quinn. As Daria’s eyebrows went up, Quinn continued “As a thank you for helping me with the puzzle.”

Daria’s smile stayed in place as she said “We worked together. Now… what do you want on your half?”

“What are you getting?”

“Umm, I don’t know… something light, maybe just veggies…” Daria honestly hoped Quinn would approve.

“I’ve got a better idea…” Quinn said.

Daria looked at her, and wondered what she had in mind.

“Why don’t we get the Gut-buster special? The one with everything – except the dead fish, of course!” she said, with an impish twinkle in her eyes.

“Huh?” Daria smiled. “Yeah… okay!” Now it’s her turn to get an impish twinkle. “On one condition…”

“What’s that?”

“We split the tab, fifty-fifty. Deal?” Daria extends her hand; Quinn takes it with a smile.

“Deal… sis!






Thanks to Angel, Deref, Isa, and Kristen for beta-reading.

Additional notes:

The puzzle mix-up actually happened to me and my daughter. She wanted the puzzle with Legolas/Orlando Bloom’s picture, but we ended up with the one with Saruman/Christopher Lee. (You should have seen the look on her face when she found out it was the wrong puzzle…)

Yes, I know, the Lord Of The Rings movies were not out when Daria was on the air… so sue me. No- wait, don’t sue me. I’m broke this week.