Disclaimer: This Daria and associated characters are owned by MTV. This is fan fiction written for entertainment only. No money or other negotiable currency or goods have been exchanged.
This is the seventh and last story in the Last Summer series.
Something For You
Daria stood uncomfortably in the Morgendorffer living room, directly in front of the television. An empty pizza box sat on the coffee table, surrounded by soiled paper plates and drink cups. Two neat stacks of printed paper sat on heavy manila folders occupied the remaining table space.
"Now that we've accepted the charter, I'll pass this on to our executive sponsor, Ms. Murphey. Since she'll have the opportunity, Jane will deliver a copy of the charter to our school sponsors."
Seated on the sofa section to Daria's left, Mack gave Jane a questioning gaze. Jodie, leaning against Mack, added a raised eyebrow.
Jane looked a little sheepish from where she lounged on the right-hand sofa section. "Ms. Defoe hired me as her teaching assistant for the fall trimester and the first half of winter."
Jodie looked incredulous. "I pictured you as someone who would never set foot back in that school."
"Hey. It's full-time work, and I can really use the money for BFAC. Plus, it's hard to say no to Claire."
Daria looked a Jane. "Yeah, you're such a hard-nose." She turned her attention to Mack. "One final order of business. As our designated observer, are you of the opinion that our primary purpose has been achieved: to preserve the sanity of one Jodie Landon?"
Mack looked down at his smiling girlfriend. "It's my opinion that we've succeeded beyond expectations."
Jodie bowed her head in slight embarrassment as Daria and Jane lightly clapped. Daria spoke again, "With that excellent news, I hereby close the final summer session of the Lawndale High School Student Leaders Honor Society." Daria sat in the arm chair. "That's over with."
Jodie looked at the other three. "Everyone has been wonderful to do this for me. Thanks again." Smiling, she looked specifically at Jane and then Daria. "I can see how you two got used to having leisure time, I like it."
Jane grinned. "I see you're hooked. Our evil plan succeeded."
Daria gave a small smile. "We're the ones your parents warned you about."
Jodie laughed at the two. "Be careful, Daria. My evil plans worked on you." She pointed at the printed society charter.
"Got you there, Morgendorffer." Jane shook her finger at Daria.
Jodie turned a somewhat predatory smile toward Jane. "I'm sure Ms. Defoe would agree my plans have worked quite well."
Jane quickly turned toward Jodie and dropped her finger. "Damn you, and your insidious good example."
"I learned a few tricks over the years to convince people to do the right thing." Jodie had smiled.
Daria asked, "What are your plans now?"
Jodie sighed. "I hate to see the summer end. I leave this weekend for Turner. Because I'm a legacy, I've been invited to arrive early and get settled before the other freshman. It'll also get me away from my parents a week early."
Mack's mood dimmed a little. "Good for her, bad for me. I won't leave for Vance until the end of the month."
Daria added, "Same time I leave."
"Be glad you're not hanging around here another four months like I have to." Jane added with a grump. "But then, look at what kind of deep doo-doo I'd be in money-wise if I left the same time as all of you."
Daria grinned wickedly. "Think of how much fun you can have with Ms. Li as a school insider. I wish Ms. Defoe had a camera when she told Ms. Li that one of her favorite outcasts would be back as teaching staff."
"Kid, I like your thinking."
With a soft sigh of relief, Melody slowly eased herself into the almost scalding bath water. Overworked, bruised muscles relaxed as the heat soaked in. Melody thought as she drifted off to sleep, "Finally, I can finish my bath."
Daria looked up from the stack of papers as she finished reading the story to Mrs. Blaine. The older lady once again enjoyed the imaginative writing of the young woman who'd read to her every week for much of the last two years. The old habits of a literature teacher remained with Mrs. Blaine. Daria's writing was the kind that teachers yearn to encounter and savor when they read it. Enjoyable also was the creative interplay as they discussed the stories. She secretly enjoyed the envy of the other residents, who'd driven Daria away in favor of the more popular Kevin and Brittany. However, those two disappeared after only one week of "community service" while Daria had continued to visit. It started the week her old hearing aid had failed and before she had her new one. The joke to put the unpopular girl with the deaf woman had turned on all.
"Thank you so much."
"The section after Melody enters the power plant seemed a little choppy."
"Hmm." Daria shuffled pages to that point in the story. "You might be right. I've made a note."
"You might want to work on the chase; you lost me some in a couple places."
Daria sorted papers again. "Got it."
"Good thing you were able to finish the story before leaving for school. I wouldn't want to wait for the ending. Are you going to have a chance to stop by before you leave?"
"I'll be packing and getting ready to go the next couple weeks. I won't be able to read to you again until Thanksgiving break. I'm sorry I won't be able to keep coming by. After that, I'm only going to make it on holiday and intersession breaks. Like I mentioned to you, I want to attend the summer semesters."
"Don't worry, dear, I understand. I was a young woman going off to college once myself."
"I'm going to miss this."
Mrs. Blaine reached to the small table nearby and picked up a slender wooden box. She presented it to Daria. "I know you can't stop by much anymore, but please write me."
Daria curiously took the small box and examined the worn, well cared-for surface. Inside, she found a silver fountain pen nestled in a worn velvet fitted case. A faded note was attached to the inside of the lid.
Daria was quiet for a few moments before whispering, "Thank you. This must be very important to you. Are you sure?"
My fondest wishes this will serve you well in college.
"Yes, dear. I never had a daughter of my own to pass that on to. It wouldn't have meant the same thing to either of my sons. You've been a blessing to me, and it seems fitting to pass it on to a writer like yourself. You can appreciate how much more elegant it is."
"Wow, I don't know what to say."
"I'm sure the words will come to you eventually."
Daria stood in the center of her room wearing the clothes that helped her survive high school. Arms crossed in front of her, she stared forward emotionlessly. Jane snapped a photo, and then moved to the next wall while Daria rotated to face her. Jane took another photo. The process repeated twice more until all four walls of the room were photographed.
"No problem, your room is now preserved for posterity. Too bad the real thing won't survive; this is still such a cool place."
"Mom's tried to remodel since we moved in. Once I'm gone, there'll be nobody to stop her. I've resigned myself to it. In the meantime, I'll have to pack up and move everything out of here so the contractors can do their job. Once they're done, a part of me will be gone with it."
"You haven't been able to change her mind?"
"Have you told her about your plans to stay at Raft during the summers?"
"No. She'd see it as a threat to stop her remodeling the room, and react badly. Besides, the more I've thought about it, the more it makes sense. I can get so much more out of college if I take those opportunities. I have eight months to figure out a way to tell her and Dad."
"Knowing you, it'll take all eight months."
Daria motioned Jane with a nod and the two went to the hall and returned with boxes. Daria picked up a marker pen and wrote "Books - Storage box 1" on a box and "Books - Raft box 1" on a second, before setting both down on the floor next to a shelf unit. Jane took a seat cross-legged on the floor between them. Daria started slowly removing books from the shelves, examining them, pondering, then handing them to Jane, nodding to indicate the proper box.
She said after the first couple, "Feels like triage, trying to decide which will live with me and which ones go into the attic."
"So, what about the anatomical models?"
"Hey, let's keep our priorities straight, they come with me."
"I feel for your roommate."
"Probably won't be any worse than what they'll bring. At least after sharing a room with Quinn as a child, I'm ready to face almost anything."
"You two shared a room? When was this and how much bloodshed occurred?"
"Before we moved to the house in Highland. Not much blood, we were too young to reach the knives and Mom kept our fingernails trimmed short."
"You think I'd put my lips on that?"
"Hmm. Point. Hey, what about the poetry in the closet?"
"I made pencil rubbings of all the walls to preserve the original feel."
What about the padding? Too bad you can't save any of that."
Daria stopped pulling books and thought for a few moments. "You're right. I'll have to think of something."
Helen looked at the cover letter and manuscript on the kitchen table with pleasure. Daria had been writing and submitting to magazines all summer as her dedicated activity. Helen had seen the idea for what it was, a ploy to avoid a structured activity like counselor at Mr. O'Neill's day camp. But, as she'd hoped, it proved to be a wonderful experience for her daughter. After the trauma of her first rejection letter last spring, Daria had learned to deal better with them. She had one story accepted for publication, quite an accomplishment for someone her age.
Helen accepted the offered clipboard and pen to sign the attached paper. "Signed with a mother's pride, sweetie. I'm so proud of what you've done this summer."
Helen smiled. "You deserve it, even if you don't want to admit it."
"Deal, I won't admit to it." Daria looked down for a moment. "But I will admit to having a good time."
"If you say so." Helen still marveled at how confident Daria could be in so many situations, but remain so shy in cases like this.
Helen looked at the pen; she'd never noticed Daria use a fountain pen before. "Where did you get the pen?"
"The lady you visited at the nursing home?"
"That's her. I've been reading my stories to her ever since I had to do that community service work for the school. She's given me a lot of good advice on my writing. The pen was a gift yesterday as a reminder to write to her from college. Mrs. Blaine's mother gave it to her when she left for college. I get the feeling she thinks of me as a daughter she never had."
"That's quite a sentimental thought. I can see why she would think of you as a daughter. Kind of feel that way myself."
An explosion of noise erupted from the front door. Quinn arrived with Joey, Jamie, and Jeffy in tow, all carrying packages from Cashman's.
"Hi, Mom, Daria." Turning to her escorts, she said, "Just set everything down by the sofas."
A discordant chorus of, "Okay, Quinn"…"I'll take care of it Quinn"…"No problem, Quinn," arose from the three boys as the jostled each other to set down packages.
With her mother and sister in the kitchen, Quinn knew that the boys stampede to get her a soft drink would be disastrous. She walked to the kitchen and called over her shoulder, "You boys have been so kind, let me get each of you a nice cold drink."
"Cool."…"Anything from you is good."…"You're the greatest, Quinn."
"No need to get up Mom, I'll handle everything." Quinn looked at Daria's green shorts and black t shirt emblazoned with a galaxy and an arrow captioned "You are here." She shook her head. "Where do you get those shirts?"
Meanwhile, the three J's milled around the living room until Jeffy noticed the new family portrait. "Cool painting, Quinn, you look real hot."
Joey added, "Extra hot, Quinn,"
Jeffy looked over annoyed. "Hey, I saw it first."
Joey pushed back. "You just yelled first."
While the other two were arguing, Jamie looked at the painting; stepped aside some to see Daria, looked back at the painting, and again looked at Daria. Quinn looked hot in the painting; Daria was mesmerizing.
Quinn hurried back with a tray holding four sodas. After hearing the discussion heat up, she knew she had to act quickly to avoid a fight inside the house. Approaching, she noticed Jamie was gazing at the painting in something like a trance while the other two argued off to the side.
"Okay, guys. The drinks are here. Daria's little art friend did that for us. You know, I think that is my best side."
Joey and Jeffy stopped talking and turned their attention immediately to Quinn. Jamie slowly turned, looked over his shoulder toward the painting again, then back to Quinn. Distracted, he muttered, "Yeah, Quinn, best side," and followed the rest to the sofas to sit around Quinn.
Daria leaned over toward her mother and whispered, "Is it me, or was Jamie acting a little odd?"
"I think he just noticed you."
"Mom, those three have been hanging on Quinn's every motion for three years, why'd he suddenly notice me?"
"Boys can be that way. They can see you for years and then finally notice you out of the blue."
Daria was about to speak when she observed Jamie surreptitiously look over his shoulder toward her, then quickly away after noticing her attention. "Oh god, you're right."
The telephone ringing broke the conversation. Helen answered.
"Hello…Yes. A Daria Morgendorffer is here…Just a moment."
Helen passed the cordless phone to her.
"Yes, this is Daria…Yes, I have."
There was a long silence as Daria's eyes flashed open wide, then she slid back in her chair as all will to stay upright vanished and color drained from her face.
Daria's voice was a hoarse whisper, "Thank you for calling" and cut the connection.
Helen couldn't remember seeing such a reaction in her daughter. This looked worse than the time Daria came to her after kissing Tom for the first time.
"Daria, what's the matter?"
Daria closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Slowly releasing it, she said in a carefully metered, controlled voice, "Mom, please distract Quinn and the boys while I go up to my room. Follow me up in a couple of minutes."
Helen silently nodded and walked to the living room. "Looks like you've had a busy day today, Quinn. Boys, how are you doing?"
Daria carefully and quietly skirted the wall to reach the stairs as her mother talked with the boys. Quinn recognized her mother's distraction tactic and watched out of the corner of her eye with concern as Daria moved up the stairs. She needed to get the boys out of the house quickly.
"I just thought of something. How about some nice frozen yogurt after being out in the hot sun? My treat."
"Great."…"You're so thoughtful."…"I'll drive."
She got up from her seat and started toward the front door. The three boys responded and moved to the door in front of her. Jamie lagged behind the other two when he noticed Daria was no longer in the kitchen. With the boys safely moving and looking away, Quinn looked at her mother and motioned upward with her eyes.
"I'll be back in an hour or so." She grabbed her purse and followed the boys through the door.
Helen slowly opened the bedroom door after softly knocking. Daria sat on the bed with her hands folded in her lap, staring straight ahead. Helen sat down beside her daughter and placed her hand on Daria's wrist.
"Take your time: I can wait until you're ready to talk."
Daria swallowed and softly said, "Mrs. Blaine's dead. Stroke."
Helen's voice was gentle and sympathetic. "There's nothing I could say to make you feel better right now. Losing someone you care for is too painful for mere words to help. However, if you want, I'll stay here with you.
Daria looked at her mother and gave a slight nod. She closed her eyes leaned against Helen's shoulder. Helen put her arm around her daughter and pulled her a little closer.
Daria arrived alone at the sparsely attended funeral wearing a black dress shirt and slacks fitted over her freshly polished boots. Unusually, she carried a purse, which partially concealed a black covered binder. Several residents and staff of the nursing home were there. Daria recognized a bald, mid-sixties man as Mrs. Blaine's surviving son. She thought she recognized a red-headed woman in her thirties and a rotund, fortyish man with gray hair as grandchildren. The others gave her little notice as she approached the coffin. She felt a great sadness at the slight unreality of Mrs. Blaine's appearance.
She leaned forward and whispered, "Sorry I won't have the chance to write you. But I brought you something."
Daria looked around to see if anyone was paying attention to her. Nobody was, so she slid the binder from under her purse and slipped it into the coffin, sliding it back out of sight. "Here are all of my Melody Powers stories for you. So you can have something to read if you need it."
Keeping tight control of her emotions, she found a seat by herself and settled in for some private contemplation.
The service was short and nondenominational. Mrs. Blaine's son Len gave a brief eulogy, telling of her life as a wealthy daughter, college student, teacher, wife, and mother. He told of how she had lost her husband and one son. He finished by mentioning her stay at Better Days Nursing Home and visits from a young woman Mrs. Blaine referred to as a fresh voice of life.
Minutes later and lost deep in thought, Daria didn't notice Len sit down in the chair directly in front and turn to face her.
"Excuse me. Daria?"
Startled slightly, she looked at Len. "Yes."
"Your visits meant a lot to Mother. She refused to leave Lawndale to be closer to me or my children in Oregon. After sixty years I suppose you do get attached to a place. So we rarely had the chance to come and visit. I'm not excusing our lack of visits, just appreciating yours.
"She mentioned where you were and said she couldn't stand the place. She never blamed you for the few visits. Your mom was always happy when you did visit. She stayed where she was happy; I don't think we could ask for much more ourselves."
"Mother wouldn't have been happy in Oregon. I am glad you were here for her."
"I'm glad I got to know her."
Len patted her arm and rose. "You are welcome to ride with us."
Daria shifted uncomfortably at the offer. "Thanks for the offer. I need to be alone now, if you don't mind."
Len noticed the slight crack in her voice. "I understand." He silently stood and joined the other family members at the coffin. When Len noticed a pall bearer reach toward the partially hidden binder inside the coffin, he softly stopped the hand and gave a slight nod.
She sat silent and still until everyone was gone. Slowly, she let down her control and allowed the tears to come.
The next couple of days were occupied with Daria preparing to leave. She was at her desk filling out change-of-address cards, with the dorm address Raft assigned to her last week, when the doorbell rang. Daria walked downstairs and opened the door to reveal a well-groomed man in a black suit and dark blue tie. Resting beside him was an aged steamer trunk on a red hand truck. The man looked at a clipboard and asked, "Good morning. Are you Ms. Daria Morgendorffer?"
Daria warily answered, "Yes. I am."
"My name is Ellis Baker. Mrs. Theresa Blaine left this bequest to you in her will. Could you please provide some form of photo identification?"
Daria gave Mr. Baker a confused look. "One moment." She closed the door and walked to the living room to retrieve her wallet. She opened it to her driver's license as she returned.
After looking at the presented evidence, Mr. Baker handed Daria the clipboard. "Please sign to confirm the bequest was delivered directly to you."
After she signed, Mr. Baker handed her an envelope. "This goes with the bequest. Would you like me to bring this inside?" He waved his hand over the trunk.
"Oh." Daria stepped aside and waved the man in.
He wheeled the trunk to the living room and gently set it down. After pulling the hand truck away, he leaned the trunk over to rest on its bottom.
"Please, have a good day." With that, he quietly exited the house.
Daria saw her name written in flowing ink on the envelope. Mrs. Blaine had always used a fountain pen if she had the option. This was probably written with the one she had given Daria last week. With a mix sadness and curiosity, she opened the envelope and unfolded the letter.
Daria gently set the letter on the coffee table. She knelt in front of the trunk and slid the catch open.
After hearing your lovely stories every week for the last year, I realized that you would appreciate this gift the most. I have kept a diary since I was twelve; every volume is here. I give you the story of my life because you have cared enough to include me in yours, and to share your imagination with me. Perhaps these words will give you insight to what life was like through so much of this century. Maybe they will give you insight to yourself if you see something familiar. I know you will care for them well.
"Your diary. What did I do to deserve this kind of trust?"
She slowly opened the lid and looked inside. Numerous books of different shapes and colors filled the box. Each was marked for the year, reminding Daria of how she labeled her diaries. Examining them, she found the volumes to be in order, from the first dated 1923 to the newest marked 1999. The latter volume she removed and thumbed through the pages to the last entry.
Aug. 13, 1999
Daria enjoyed the gift today. I think she'll put it to good use. I won't have the chance to see her again until her Thanksgiving break. I've been spoiled by her attention and will miss her greatly. It will be interesting to see what she writes about from college. That will give me something new to look forward to.
Daria pushed the bedroom door open with her foot and entered, both arms filled with boxes and shopping bags. Jane followed behind with a similar burden. The room was very different from usual. The bookshelves were eerily empty. The familiar cheese wedge and reproduction bones were nowhere to be seen. The desktop computer was boxed beside the work desk. The Kafka poster was gone from the wall, along with the half-exhumed skeleton print. A few boxes were placed along the wall, all marked "Raft", with a caption of the box contents. Along the wall next to the closet door was the steamer trunk. Daria's packing was almost complete and the room looked to be losing its soul.
Jane was taken slightly aback. Her friend was leaving soon and the proof was in front of her. Not wanting to think about that, she decided it was time to needle Daria about their shopping trip.
"Let me guess. Biggest shopping spree you've been on in your life?"
"You're not kidding. I didn't realize I would pick up so much stuff."
"Well, that proves it. You are the Material Girl."
"Jane, just for that one comment, I hope the Mother's Curse hits you with full effect."
Jane backed away, warding Daria away with two armloads of packages. "Okay. No more comments about She Who Must Not Be Named."
Daria gave Jane a quick glance, and then surveyed the booty before her. A small microwave, compact cookware, small eating utensil set, towels, bed linens, and more normally unthought-of items that she would need for even the limited housekeeping in a dorm. "Why don't we just dump the bags in the packing boxes? I really don't need to see these things until I'm in the dorm, so why pull them from the bags just to put them in a shipping box?"
"Sounds kind of like a plan, or plain lazy."
"Most great plans and inventions arose from the desire to get things done with the least amount of effort. In other words, laziness."
"The Logic of Lethargy. I like that."
"Thought you would."
Jane walked to the steamer trunk. A small padlock had been put on the catch.
"So this is it."
Daria looked over at Jane standing next to the trunk. "Mrs. Blaine's diary. Seventy-six years of a person's life recorded in detail."
"Locked too. Before you freak out, I'm not going to ask to see any of it."
"Good. Letting somebody else read it would be like letting someone read mine."
"And we know how likely that is to happen."
"I've read some. She wanted me to, but I feel like some kind of voyeur peeking in a window."
"Well, I guess that means you won't be logging onto any more webcams."
"Once is curiosity, twice is perversion. Since the only one I looked at was yours, I'm not a pervert yet."
"I bet. I've observed you people watching before to get story ideas. You can't resist."
"But that's a case of watching people in interesting situations, not like a webcam."
"I'd think that some of those would be considered interesting."
"I'm not interested in writing that."
"At least until you get desperate enough." Jane smirked.
"Jane, I'll start writing stuff like that about the same time you get me to pose nude."
"Is that a challenge?"
"Think. You've previously made the comment about experiencing six signs of the apocalypse this summer, do you want the seventh?"
"Damn your logic."
Daria smiled at the verbal victory.
"Seriously though, are you going to read more?"
"In time. Reading about so many historical events from the viewpoint of somebody writing at the time will be interesting. Almost like having a time machine."
"Hey, I could paint the trunk to look like a London Police Box"
"You're no fun."
"Remember, I don't do fun."
"Oh, yeah. I'll ask Will about that."
"You got me. I do fun on a special order basis." Daria smiled a little at the reminder of their trip to the beach a couple weeks ago.
"Back to the diary, why you?"
Looking toward the trunk again, Daria answered, "I think she gave it to me because I was close enough to her to appreciate it, but not so close that it could cause problems with something I read."
"In other words, somebody who could read it and not get ticked off about her opinion of Great Aunt Matilda."
"As well as somebody who could keep a confidence."
"I presume you would. Thanks for helping with all this." Daria sat on the bed, picked up the remote and turned the television on. "I left the TV hooked up to the cable for now. How about we order in a garbage pizza with a side order of cheese fries and sit down to a final night of intelligent viewing?"
Jane sat beside her and leaned back. "Now that sounds like a good plan." She grabbed the cordless telephone and hit the speed-dial for Pizza Prince.
The television flickered to life with the familiar bull's-eye logo. "They get together for a wild time, and end up splattered on your car! Flying insect orgies invade our highways. Next on Sick, Sad World!"
The next morning was a jumble of activity. Helen insisted on a home-cooked pancake breakfast before leaving, one that took twice as long to cook because of Eric's persistent calls.
"Okay, Eric…I have to go…Yes, I really do…I will talk to you Monday…Good bye."
Helen set the phone down on the table. "Sometimes that man is as helpless as a baby."
Jake, Quinn and Daria sat around the kitchen table as if it were any other morning, each engrossed in their own reading. For nostalgia's sake, Daria had dressed in her black skirt and green jacket of high school days. Somehow, arriving at college dressed the same way seemed appropriate. Hearing the cell phone set down beside her, Daria watched her mother move back into the kitchen. She snaked her hand out to the offending communication device and pressed the power button. After thinking a few moments, she set the paper down on the phone and walked toward the kitchen, quietly removing the line for the cordless phone base unit from the wall jack. Nonchalantly, she continued into the kitchen.
"At least you don't have to change his diaper."
Helen cringed a little at the mental image. "Oh. I suppose."
"Would you like a little help with breakfast?"
"I'm glad to have you."
"Since I'm going off to college, I figured now might be a good time to learn how to cook."
Helen gave Daria a slight smirk.
Daria reached over to the small television. "Mind if I turn on the weather report for our trip?" She thought, That should generate enough noise to hide the upstairs phones for now.
Daria stood next to Helen. "Okay, where do we begin?"
After breakfast, the carefully planned loading of the SUV quickly dissolved into chaos. Soon after the post-breakfast activity started, Daria's trick with the phones had been discovered.
"Mom. Dad. What do you mean I can only take one suitcase?" Quinn yelled from her room. She looked at the gift-wrapped package nestled to one side of her suitcase, How am I going to take enough clothes to look good on a college campus and still sneak Daria's present with? Quinn thought about how well she got along with Daria now, after long years of rivalry. She would miss the sharp humor and commentary. What she was going to miss the most was the gentle nudges to harsh kicks Daria used to motivate Quinn to help herself. Daria still had problems openly showing her emotions. However, Quinn knew those apparently emotionless prods from her sister were rooted in how much she cared. Despite years of calling Daria "cousin", Quinn was not looking forward to a year as an only child. Having her parents' undivided attention worried her. Quinn knew that Daria would only be a phone call or an email away. She hoped that would be enough. Quinn forced herself to pay attention to the current crisis of packing enough clothes in a partial suitcase. She pulled two pairs of jeans from the suitcase and a couple of shirts. Sitting down on her bed in frustration, she looked out the window. The bright sunlight reminded her of the summer's heat and she said , "Hot weather clothes take up less space!" With a renewed vigor, she started packing light shirts and shorts into the suitcase. "I'm going to really look cute for the guys in these."
Jake shouted in frustration as he attempted to organize Daria's packages in the back of the SUV. "Why can't they make boxes and suitcases in a standard size?" Jake stood at the open tailgate of the vehicle, facing a confusing array of odd shaped boxes and luggage. He continued to try to get the boxes to fit, and thought about how these boxes had become a metaphor for his life. He never seemed to be able to fit all the things that were precious to him into his life properly. Life always appeared to be frustrating jumble of cares and responsibilities. Trying to keep them together used up almost all of his time. Little was left to enjoy those things and people he strove to keep close. Now, he was helping one of the most precious of those people to leave. He remembered his transition to college and harbored no illusions. He saw the look in her eyes and knew she would only be back to visit, she would no longer live under his roof. The thought of less responsibilities to juggle comforted him none. His sole comfort over the subject came from how she would blossom and grow in the coming years. Holding that thought, he crawled into the SUV to continue the packing.
Helen held a checklist in her hands as she shuttled back and forth between Jake at the SUV, Quinn preparing in her room, and Daria bringing her belongings down. She cradled the cell phone between her ear and left shoulder.
"Eric, you will have to find somebody else to take care of that this weekend…Because I will be in Boston…We're driving Daria to college…No. I can't delay the starting date…I will talk to you later…Good bye."
"Damn that man." Helen crossly dropped the cell phone in her pocket and scanned the checklist again. Helen mentally assessed the situation. She had packed luggage for herself and Jake, so she knew that was taken care of. Quinn was yelling about her one suitcase. Jake was a basket case trying to pack the SUV. Daria once again proved to be the calm eye of the storm. Quietly and efficiently bringing down her boxes as if there nothing unusual was happening. Helen sat down on one of the sofa sections and watched her daughter. She thought about how much of an enigma her eldest daughter was. A hard, almost cold, facade protected a soul sometimes as fragile as crystal. That same facade could appear indifferent, while the woman within was tremendously caring and capable of going to great lengths to help a friend. Helen watched somebody incredibly confident in her intellect, but shy about herself and how others see her. Daria was heading off to a life on her own terms. Facing it with her unique suite of strengths and weaknesses. Helen sighed; her time of guidance was over. She found herself facing this change with her own mix of confidence and concern.
By late morning, everything had been transferred to the SUV except her last suitcase, which contained immediate need clothes and supplies. She surveyed the room to make sure everything was taken. Satisfied, she moved to one side of the padded walls where a few items were stacked.
"One more thing to do."
Daria used pliers to carefully pull a couple of the securing upholstery nails from the wall, setting them aside in a cup. She placed a square of plywood against the wall; using a craft knife, she cut the fabric around it and carefully peeled it and the padding from the wall. Setting the square against the plywood, she stapled the edges down. She placed the removed upholstery nails into the padding with a small hammer to recreate the original look and feel. Reverently, she placed the board in her suitcase and closed it. She picked it up and walked to the door, where she turned and looked around a final time. Except for the empty shelves and stripped bed, it looked the same as when she first saw it: the padded walls of gray fabric, bars in the windows, television fixed to the ceiling corner, and the hand rail near the door. A place most found cold and forbidding. This room had truly been her home; it had comforted and sheltered her as none of her previous rooms had. When she next looked through this door, all of it would be gone.
"I will miss you, old friend."
Daria dropped her head, slowly turned away, and walked to the stairs.
The red SUV pulled into the driveway of a house on Howard Drive a little after noon. A young woman in green and black exited from the back seat and walked to the front door of the house. Just before reaching it, the door opened to reveal a young woman in red and black and a tall mid-twenties man in torn jeans and an army surplus khaki t-shirt. The three talked for a couple of minutes. The woman in green hugged the man for a few moments. She pulled away while holding his hands, and spoke a little longer. She turned to the young woman in red and they embraced for a much longer time. The two continued talking as they did. Finally, they separated and said a few final words. The woman in green turned and walked back to the SUV.
As Daria opened the door, Helen turned and asked, "Did you have enough time?"
"Yes." Sadness was clear in her voice
Jake also turned. "I know you'll miss Jane, but it'll only be for a few months, and then both of you will be in Boston."
"I know. I just have to get through those few months."
Quinn smiled a little at her sister. "So, what did they say?"
"They're words said in private. I'll let them stay that way."
Quinn nodded. "I understand."
Daria looked out the window and watched Trent and Jane's receding forms. As the SUV crossed town, Daria watched familiar landmarks slide by.
She removed the silver pen from its box and wrote in her diary:
I lived in Highland for many more years than Lawndale, but I've never missed it. I've been here for a little less than three, and will miss calling this town home. I wonder what it will be like to return here as a guest instead of an inmate? Before leaving, I mounted some of the bedroom padding on plywood to take with. I guess it will go over better than taking the front doorknob again.
Daria watched the outskirts of Lawndale fade into the distance as the SUV climbed the on-ramp and sped down the interstate toward Boston.
The sun is shining bright on the places that have come to be so familiar. The houses and trees along Howard Drive and Glen Oak bring a feeling of warmth. How many times have I walked past them? Not unexpected, I felt nothing when we drove past the high school. There goes Pizza Prince, nourishment for our souls. There had better be good pizza at Raft. The mall. I hardly recognize it. The thought occurs to me how much Quinn will miss it this time next year. We're approaching the interstate and my residency in Lawndale comes to a close.
I made true friends here; that will always mean a lot. Friends that pulled a better person out of me. I am no longer a complete outcast. But, those friends are scattering away even as I am. In a couple months, only one will remain in town. Another will meet me in Boston. One is with me now. I have Mrs. Blaine's entire life to explore as I begin to explore my own. What a wonderful gift. This town did have something for me after all.
It's time to start a new stage of my life. I hope it will be as fulfilling as my stay here has been.
Thanks for running commentary from Declaraptor, Isa Yo-Jo, Ranger Thorne, Mike Nassour, kish, Lawndale Stalker during the serialization at PPMB.
Additional thanks to Kristen Bealer, Galen Hardesty, and Robert Nowall for beta reading and detailed commentary.
My thanks to all who have read this series and provide support, comments and suggestions. I hope I have provided a laugh or two and some enjoyment with these.
Revised January 2005