I’ve done it. I think I’ve done it. I hope that I’ll be understood. This is my last hope, and I’m betting everything, everything, that it will work. The messages will work their way down, one by one. I only hope that she...that I understand them. Now I’m going back myself. To see if it worked, and to see her one last time...
Daria stretched out on the couch, trying not to get too distracted by the unholy noise coming from below her. “They aren’t going to practice all night, are they?”
Jane looked round from the TV. “Depends who falls asleep first. If Trent goes, then they’ll stop. If it’s one of the others, they might not notice for a couple of hours.”
“I can see why. Or hear why.”
The noise abruptly stopped. Jane looked at Daria in surprise. “I guess Trent went out first. Come on, I want to make sure he didn’t fall asleep in his food.”
“Wouldn’t the others notice that?”
“You would think so, wouldn’t you?” Jane grinned and wandered toward the basement. Daria followed. When they reached the basement, the Spiral was in some disarray. The band was arguing. Daria couldn’t quite make out what they arguing about, but it was loud.
“Guys! Keep it down,” said Jane, in an annoyed tone.
“What’s the problem?” asked Daria.
“Muse issues,” muttered Trent.
“Muse conflict, more like,” snapped Max.
“Muse war,” said Jesse, in as much of a dramatic tone as he could muster.
Jane held her hands up. “Okay, tell us again, and this time, I want you to phrase it in a way that makes sense.”
“Tall order,” muttered Daria. Jane smirked.
“The Spiral has a conflict of interest, man,” said Trent. “We need a new direction.”
“But we don’t know what,” added Max.
Nick spoke up: “I know what...”
“Your ideas suck!”
“Not half as much as yours!”
“See,” said Trent, indicating Max and Nick screaming at each other. “We’re having some disagreements.” He looked at Daria and Jane. “Any ideas?”
Daria thought for a moment. “Polka will never die.”
Jesse looked thoughtful for a moment. “Hmmm.” Trent laughed and coughed. “You’re funny, Daria. Too bad you can’t sing.”
Jane smirked. “She’s an amazing singer. I’ve never heard anyone quite so expressive.”
“Really,” said Trent, his eyes going wide. “You mean it?”
“Oh yes,” said Jane, oblivious to Daria’s furious expression growing larger. “She’s a natural.”
Trent took Daria’s hand. “Okay, let’s try it out. Come on up, Daria.”
Daria frowned. “You know, I don’t...”
Jane looked alarmed. “Trent, you don’t think I was serious, do you?”
“Huh?” Trent didn’t hear her. “Come on Daria, it’ll be fun.”
Ten minutes later, the atmosphere in the basement was even worse than before. Daria was sitting, blushing furiously, and fixing Jane with an expression that could kill at fifty paces, and wound from any range. Trent and the Spiral were all looking kind of sheepish, and Jane was withering under Daria’s gaze and looking like she wanted to be somewhere else. Anywhere else.
Finally Jane spoke. “Well, how was I to know she was completely tone-deaf?”
“I tried to tell you,” muttered Daria in a voice cold enough to freeze a furnace. “Someone wouldn’t listen.”
“It wasn’t me,” pointed out Max in a nervous voice.
Trent tried to fix things. “Hey, you know, it’s okay. That you’re not a great singer, I mean. Max has no sense of rhythm, and we still keep him around.”
“It’s true,” said Nick.
“Take that back!”
Daria stood up. “I’m going home.”
Jane got up too. “I’ll walk you?”
“That’s okay. You might sign me up for the circus on the way home.” Daria left.
Jane turned to the band. “Thanks a bunch.” She turned and stomped out. Mystic Spiral looked at each other. “Maybe we should just stay with the same stuff we’ve been doing,” said Trent.
“Yeah,” said Jesse, nodding.
The next morning, Daria was on her way to school, when Jane walked up beside her. “Hey, amiga. Forget to stop by this morning?”
“Okay. I can still see you’re mad about this.”
Mad? thought Daria. Furious, more like. How could you do something so stupid? You know I hate performing in front of people. Hell, I even hate talking in front of people. Much less people I like. I’m not ready to let you off the hook just yet. Not by a long shot.
“You’re right,” she said, and walked off ahead of Jane, not glancing back.
Jane paused in her tracks. Ouch. Okay, you’re pissed.
That day at lunch, Jane was sitting by herself at their usual table. Jodie wandered over. “Where’s Daria?”
Jodie frowned. “Why?”
Jane told her the events of the previous night. Jodie’s eyes went wide. “Well, I can see why she’s annoyed.”
“Thanks a lot.”
“That’s not what I meant. Sure, she was embarrassed, but it wasn’t really your fault.”
“I should have known Trent would do something like that.”
“Well, you didn’t mean for it to happen.” Jodie paused. “I hope you guys work it out. If you ask me, Daria’s being a little unfair about the whole thing.” She got up and walked back over to Mack’s table. Jane sat back in her chair, and sighed.
In the library, Daria flicked through the history book she was holding, and began to write some more of her essay. She thought about Jane. She was probably in the dining hall, wondering where Daria was right now. Daria sighed. It hadn’t really been Jane’s fault, but Jane had to understand how much it had humiliated Daria. She had to be sure that Jane wouldn’t do something like that again.
Aren’t you being a trifle unfair?
Maybe. Had to be done though.
That night at home, Daria was lying on her bed, flicking through a book, when her father walked in, holding the phone. “Hey, kiddo! It’s Jane on the phone.”
“Tell her I died.”
“She died,” said Jake into the phone. “Yes, she’s upstairs, but she died. Um, just there now. Well, of course I’m upset about it. Yes, I’m a terrible liar.” He put the phone down. “She hung up. Hey, is there something wrong with you and Jane-O?”
“Girl stuff,” said Daria.
“Because I know what it’s like when your childhood friend stabs you in the back. Your dad likes me better, Jake! Of course he does! He doesn’t like Jakey at all!”
Daria sniffed. “Dad, did you leave the stove on?”
Jake’s eyes grew wide and he ran downstairs. Daria shook her head. Her father’s ability to turn any situation into a rant about his father never ceased to amaze her.
Jane flopped back onto her bed, and hung the phone up. She sighed heavily. Jake was a funny guy, but he was an appalling liar. One thing was clear. Daria did not want to talk to her. Jane silently cursed herself. How was she to know Trent would take her up on that stupid offer?
Maybe if you hadn’t made the stupid offer in the first place.
That wasn’t really fair, though. Daria had always done stupid shit when Trent asked. That whole navel-piercing incident came to mind. Daria would get over it eventually. All Jane had to do was sit things out till then. How difficult could that be?
Two days later, Jane found herself hanging up the phone, and flopping down onto the bed. Okay, Daria. I think I’ve learned my lesson. Now just freaking talk to me, okay? Jane frowned. Okay, she’d done a pretty stupid thing, and embarrassed Daria badly, but this was taking it a little too far.
I’m sitting in the machine. I’m tapping in a couple of dates into the console, and praying that they’ll come up right. I’ve never been a big believer in prayer, but now...if I can stop this, I’ll pray every day for the rest of my life. Please...
The helmet is digging into my skull. It’s pretty damned uncomfortable, but I’ll put up with the pain. If I even manage to get one message through...
Daria stirred awake at the sound of her alarm clock. She glanced at the time, and cursed under her breath. Time for school already, and she hadn’t gotten a lot of sleep. Stupid dreams. She couldn’t figure out what that one had been about, but she’d never had normal dreams anyway. That was the second weird dream she’d had recently. After dressing, she plodded downstairs to join her family at breakfast. Helen and Jake were looking unusually concerned, which couldn’t be a good sign. Daria sat down, and tried to hide behind the paper.
“Daria,” said Helen in a concerned tone. “Is everything okay with you and Jane?”
“I’m only asking because it’s stressing your father out to keep coming up with excuses for her not to talk to you.”
“I don’t think she bought the one about you joining the circus,” said Jake morosely.
“You’re getting better, Dad. It was a step up from the one about me joining the cast of ‘Cats’ for the next two years.”
“I liked that one,” muttered Jake.
“You should have talked to me,” said Quinn. “I’m an expert in fooling people with excuses.”
“Really.” Helen’s tone was firm.
“Um.” Quinn looked panicked. “Got to go. School!”
On the way to school, Daria wasn’t surprised to find Jane running up behind her. “Hey.”
“Hey,” said Jane. “Look, I’m really sorry about embarrassing you the other night. It was dumb of me.”
“No argument there. But I forgive you.” Daria was kind of relieved. She’d been missing Jane over the past few days. Things were awfully lonely without her around. Not to mention boring.
“Cool.” They continued walking to school. Jane was kind of relieved that Daria and her were cool again, but one thing kept running through her mind. It was what Jodie had said. “Daria’s being a little unfair about the whole thing.” Jane couldn’t shake the niggling feeling that Jodie was right, and it bothered her. No, she was being stupid about the whole thing. “Hey,” she said to Daria. “You want to come over tonight?”
“So you can embarrass me again? Sure.”
Ouch. Daria’s tone was light, but it still stung. Okay, maybe Jodie wasn’t so far off target.
Throughout the rest of the day, things proceeded pretty much as normal. Kevin and Brittany acted like idiots, Jodie tried to get Daria to do something for the school, and the Fashion Club had their usual squabbles, so Daria could make amusing comments about them. Then, as usual, they ended up in Jane’s room watching Sick, Sad World.
Jane glanced over at Daria, who was sprawled over the edge of the bed, watching TV upside down. “Hey, Daria?”
“Do you ever feel like your life is a routine?”
“Like you keep doing the same things over and over again without much variation, and you think you could do with a change?”
Daria thought for a moment. “Every time I see the Fashion Club, and hope they’ll all mysteriously vanish from existence. But they always come back.”
Jane frowned a little. “Forget I asked.”
“What? Why?” Daria pulled herself up. At that moment, Trent walked in. “Hey Janey. Hey Daria.”
“Hey Trent. Ever get that muse war out of the way?”
“Huh?” Trent looked lost.
“The other night? When I tried out for the band, and Jane made an idiot out of me?”
Across the room, Jane winced. Couldn’t let me forget it, could you?
Trent scratched his chin. “Oh yeah. That. It’s cool now. Happens every couple of months. Healthy for the band, you know.”
Daria nodded, and glanced at her watch. “Damn. Got to go. See you in the morning.”
“Bye,” said Jane half-heartedly.
After Daria had gone, Trent glanced at Jane. “Glad you two are back together again.”
Jane smiled a little weakly. “Yeah, me too.”
I’m sitting in the room, glancing at the screens. None of them are telling me what I want to hear. A huge list of possible dates are presented to me, and they’re all too late. Damn it! I’ve come so close, and now I’m stopped by something so trivial. I guess this trip will end up being as pointless as my life has become. Listen to me. I guess you were wrong all those years ago. I am the Misery Chick. Or at least, I have been ever since that day. I thought I could fix it, but I guess I can’t. Stupid reality. I slam my hand down on the console, and slump down over it. I’ve cried in my life far too much already. I won’t cry now.
There must be another way. Something. Anything! I can’t bear going back to my life. I won’t give up. Not when I’m so close.
Wait. There is another way. Something in that file. If I can’t physically do it, I can mentally do it. Messages! I can send messages back. They’ll come in reverse order, as they go backwards through time, but that’s good enough.
Daria shook her head, to clear it. Her dreams were getting weirder and weirder lately. Oh well, just another amazing symptom of teenage life to go through. As if all the other wonderful aspects of it weren’t good enough. She glanced up to see the Lane house gradually coming up. She hadn’t said as much out loud, but she was glad that her and Jane had made up. Jane was a welcome respite from the gross idiocy around her. They’d been friends for a little over a year and a half now, and Daria still couldn’t get over having such a good friend in her life. Of course, there were still the occasional missteps, like all that business with Trent, or that whole Mystic Spiral audition - Daria winced at the memory - but she doubted Jane would be repeating that again.
Jane came out of the front door of the Lane house, and waved a greeting to Daria. She walked over, and they continued on their way to school. “You okay?” she asked Daria. “Getting a little baggy under the eyes there.”
“Like where munchkins come and force you to be their princess, but your tyrannical rule causes them to depose you, then force you to work in the salt mines?”
“Huh?” Daria gave Jane a look.
“Maybe that’s just me, then.” Jane smirked.
Or maybe it’s just repressed guilt from torturing me over the past three days. Jane mentally caught herself. Whoa. I did not just think that. She realized Daria was still talking.
“...they don’t make any sense, and they’re way too short.” Daria shook her head. “Never mind. High school is just warping my mind, that’s all. As if I don’t get enough mental torture from you embarrassing me in front of your brother.”
Jane bit her tongue. Okay, you’re still annoyed, Daria. I get it.
They reached Lawndale High and went inside. As soon as they got inside, Brittany came thundering up, a furious expression on her face. “Oooohh! Kevvie and I are through this time for sure!”
Daria gave Jane a glance. “What is it now?”
“He’s been seeing that German exchange student!”
“What, Dieter?” Daria looked shocked. “No wonder you’re surprised.”
“No! The girl!” Brittany fumed. “He said it was for language lessons, like I’m supposed to believe that.”
“Well, I’m fooled,” said Daria. “Maybe he’s looking for someone to broaden his intellectual horizons with.”
“My horizons are broad enough!” screamed Brittany, and stormed off.
“Wow,” said Jane. “Great advice there, Dr. Ruth.”
Daria smirked, and walked off. I wasn’t complimenting you, Daria, thought Jane, as she followed.
I sit at the table, idly stirring my coffee. ’Idly’ is probably the wrong word. ’Sluggishly’ would be a better choice. It would certainly describe my general demeanor over the past years. I glance up from the coffee, and see her staring at me. She’s scowling, in that familiar way. It’s less girlish now, but I can still see her old self poking through. Bits and pieces of her former self still exist, fused into a wholly new person. The self-absorption, all that energy, has been diverted into more profitable areas. She’s still as driven and committed as she used to be, of course. That’s one of the reasons she’s such a smash in the business world.
She smoothes out her business suit, and leans over the table, taking my hands. It’s a gesture she would never have made in the old days, but everyone changes.
I know that from personal experience.
“We’re worried about you.” The voice is deeper, less grating than it was. I can feel the emotion in it, the worry.
“I’ll be fine. I always am.”
Those piercing green eyes are digging into me. “No-one’s an island. We all need someone.”
“I had someone.” My voice gets a little more emotional than I want it to, and I stare down at the table again.
“I know.” Her voice goes soft, and her hands squeeze mine a little more tightly. “Look, how many years has it been?”
“I know what you’re going to say, and it doesn’t matter. Time does not heal all wounds. Whoever said that didn’t know what the hell they were talking about.” A gust of wind blows across the table, giving me a sudden chill. She pulls out a mirror, and checks that her perfect red hair isn’t mussed up. Some things never change, of course.
She finishes her inspection, and resumes staring at me. “I’d say let it go, but you’re never going to, are you?”
I shrug. She knows the answer to that one as well as I do.
She pauses for a moment, and then begins, tentatively. “What if you didn’t have to?”
It’s my turn to frown now. “What are you talking about?”
“Look, I know I shouldn’t do this, but I wouldn’t unless I thought it was absolutely the best thing for you to do, so I’ve gone ahead and made all the arrangements. I’d say it’s as illegal as hell, but since no-one knows about it yet, there aren’t any laws...“
“What are you talking about?” I’m lost.
She reaches under the table, and produces a thick folder, which she hands to me. I flick through it, and scowl. I look back up at her. “This isn’t funny.”
“It’s not a joke. God, you still don’t trust me?”
“Of course I do. This is just a little hard to believe.”
“Believe it. A little insider knowledge on my part.” She smiles. “See, I always told you, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”
“Quinn...why would you do this for me? It’s not like I was the nicest person to you at that time in my life.”
“You’re my sister.”
I sit back, and think about this for a few moments. “You can get me in?” I ask, finally.
She smiles enigmatically.
Daria tossed and turned. Her dreams were getting weirder and weirder, and it didn’t help that real life seemed to be getting weirder and weirder along with it. Jane had been acting awfully funny the past day or so. Daria couldn’t place why, but it was a discomforting feeling. Like the main source of normalcy in her life had been disrupted. She sighed and tried to get back to sleep.
Jane scratched her arm, and pulled the covers over her more. She couldn’t sleep, and that was unusual for her. The Lanes seemed to have developed a knack for falling asleep at any time, anywhere. Trent was easily the apotheosis of this. So Jane being unable to sleep was not only unusual, it meant that she had something on her mind and it was bothering her. She knew what it was, too. She still had some resentment from the way Daria had treated her. Okay, she’d done a stupid thing, but Daria hadn’t needed to be such a bitch about it. Plus, she didn’t have to keep bringing it up, to rub Jane’s nose in it.
Okay, I did something stupid. Just let it go. I’m sorry, okay?
Jane couldn’t figure out why she was so bothered by the whole affair. She wasn’t one to hold a grudge for that long. The whole thing was bothering her. Also, it looked like she was only going to get nine hours of sleep, and that meant she was going to be crabby for the rest of the day. Jane scowled, and tried to get comfortable again.
School went as well as it usually did. Jane and Daria were standing by their lockers, when Jodie came up. “Hey guys. I’m glad you made things up.”
“Well,” said Jane, a little less jovially than she had intended, “it’s not like I have a lot of other people to hang out with.”
Daria frowned a little at this. “Then you probably shouldn’t humiliate what friends you do have.” She tried to make her tone a little lighter. “You’re lucky I’m so forgiving.”
Jane tried to ignore that.
Jodie continued: “Hey, I was wondering...”
“If this is about getting me to do something for the school, forget about it.”
Jodie frowned. “Damn.”
Daria cocked her head. “Why do you keep trying to get me to do something for people I hate?”
Jodie smiled. “Maybe I’ve decided to make it my life goal. If I can influence you, I can influence anybody.”
“Most people’s goals are somewhat believable. Sorry, Jodie. Try brainwashing some other willing volunteers.”
Jodie shrugged. “Fine.” She walked away.
“You know, you might at least given her a chance to explain,” said Jane.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Daria looked at Jane. “Are you all right? You’ve been acting awfully funny today?”
Jane shook her head. “Fine.”
“Okay.” Daria looked at her quizzically. “You want to go get some pizza later?”
“No, I’ve got some sculptures and stuff to finish up.”
“Okay, well...I’ll come over and watch you work.”
“No, that’s okay. I wouldn’t want to bore you. I mean, I‘m sure you have a lot of other interesting places to be.”
“Not really,” said Daria.
“Ever wonder why that is?” asked Jane.
Jane shook her head. “I’m sorry. I’m tired, I’m not in a good mood.”
Daria took a step forward. “Jane, are you sure you’re okay?”
“Fine.” Jane left.
Daria looked after her for a moment, then turned back to her locker. She continued to take glances after Jane as she walked out of the building.
Jane fidgeted on the couch, deep in thought. What was up with her lately? Ever since that fight with Daria, she’d been acting weird. Maybe that was it. Daria. Jane still harbored a lot of resentment about her treatment, and she’d been noticing a lot of things about Daria lately. Things she didn’t like. It seemed to her that Daria wanted their friendship to be on her terms and her terms alone. “You hurt me, I’ll show you. You’ll never hurt me again. And don’t ever think about doing something that dumb ever again, or else.”
Jane sighed heavily. Daria was a pretty high maintenance person. She demanded the best from herself, and everyone around her. If you didn’t live up to that, you were fair game in her eyes. Kevin and Brittany’s cluelessness, Jodie’s enthusiasm for the school, etcetera.
Well, wasn’t that the reason Jane had gotten together with her in the first place? They were two principled girls against the system?
Yeah, but it isn’t much fun on the outside, looking in, is it?
Daria was Jane’s best friend, and she loved her a lot, even though Daria would shrink away if she ever heard those words, but Jane didn’t know if she could go on. It was a very high maintenance friendship, and Jane didn’t know if she had the perseverance to go on. She sighed.
What am I thinking? Breaking up with Daria, so to speak, just because she’s a bitch sometimes?
That wasn’t just it, though, was it? It was the whole thing. The feeling of being unappreciated, the feeling of being taken for granted. Occasionally, the kind of smug sense she got that felt like “hey, I’m letting you be my friend, so you’d better be damned grateful.” Jane felt like it should be the other way round. Sometimes Daria should be grateful because Jane put up with her shit. God knows, a lot of other people wouldn’t.
At that moment, Trent walked in. “Hey, Janey.” He glanced around. “Where’s Daria?”
“Somewhere else.” Before Trent could pick up on that, she went on: “Trent, have you ever had a friend you thought wasn’t worth the effort?”
Trent thought about this for a while. Finally, he said: “No. If they weren’t worth the effort, they wouldn’t be my friend, would they?” He wandered into the kitchen, to search for something to eat.
Jane pondered this. “So what you’re saying, is, all friendships have to go through a growth period, and they have to grow and mature or they won’t last?”
Trent stuck his head out of the fridge. “Huh? Oh, yeah, whatever.” He wandered back into the living room. “Hey, is this about you and Daria? Is there something up between you guys?”
Jane thought, then shook her head. “Nothing that can’t be fixed, I think.”
I finish dressing, and look in the mirror. I guess I look presentable enough for lunch. I already know what she’s going to say. “You need to live your life. You need to put all this behind you.”
I can’t. Everything I do, everywhere I look, I’m reminded of what I had and what I did to screw things up. All I had to do was admit that I was wrong about some things. Admit that maybe I could stand to change a few things. Not for school, or someone that I hated, but for my best friend. Someone I...
“You and me, we’re friends, right?”
Of course we were friends. The best of friends. Two steadfast crusaders against a stupid world.
“Friends would let it go.”
Yes, they would. I should have. Why didn’t I? I was young, I was proud. I didn’t want to admit that maybe for once I was wrong.
“You have such high standards, and I guess I just don’t live up to them anymore.”
That’s right. I let the greatest friend I ever had walk out of my life because I was too damn stubborn to change. True friends are the people who keep you honest. They’re the people who help you. Not by being a suck-up or never questioning, but by getting you to be totally honest about yourself, and if you need to, changing. Usually for the better. I was too young, too dumb, and too stubborn to see that.
And now it’s too late.
I sigh and begin to head out. I’m late for lunch, and my sister hates to be kept waiting.
Daria scowled her way through breakfast. Her parents and Quinn couldn’t help but notice that something was up. “Daria, sweetie, is everything all right?”
“Fine, Mom. Just having a little trouble sleeping.”
“Oh, I know how that is,” said Helen, shooting an annoyed glance at Jake. Jake missed it, of course. “Is everything all right at school.”
“No, but that’s not any difference from normal.”
“Funny, Daria. Have you and Jane made up yet?”
“Oh yes. I couldn’t stand to have a friendship where I just spent all my time sniping at and undermining the other person.” Daria shot a look at Quinn while she was said that. Quinn just scowled in return. Helen sighed.
All throughout school that day, Daria sensed a certain tension from Jane. She couldn’t figure out why, so when it got to lunchtime, she seized the opportunity. “Jane?”
“Anything wrong?” Daria paused for a moment. “It’s just, you’ve been acting awfully weird for the last few days.”
Jane looked at her for a second. “No, not really.” She paused and looked her in the eyes. “Daria?”
“Can I ask you something?”
Daria shrugged. “Sure.”
“Have you ever felt the need for a change in your life?”
Daria tilted her head. “I don’t understand.”
“You know, a change in the way you act around and towards people.”
“No. I just hope that the people around will suddenly start acting a little bit smarter.” She looked at Jane. “Where is this going?”
“I’m just wondering if sometimes, the way a person acts can be harmful.”
Daria shook her head. “I don’t think so. I think you have to act the way you are, and just let people deal with it.”
“Even your friends?”
“If they’re really your friends, they’ll respect that that’s who you are.” She looked at Jane pointedly. “What’s this really about, Jane?”
Jane waved her hand dismissively. “Nothing. Never mind.”
Daria looked at Jane, a doubtful expression on her face. Jane refused to meet her gaze.
The rest of the day passed much the same as usual. Daria made several cutting remarks about the Fashion Club, but they failed to get a reaction from Jane. After school, They walked outside. Daria turned to Jane. “Well, I’d better be getting home.”
Daria took a breath. “You don’t want to do anything else? No pizza, no Sick, Sad World?”
“Not tonight, thanks.”
“Okay.” Daria turned and walked away. Jane watched her go. So much for Trent’s theory. Daria wasn’t about to change any time soon. Not even with her best friend (hah!) making less-than-subtle hints about her need to. Not a huge amount, just enough to recognize that, yes, Jane was her best friend, and she might be a total ass sometimes, but Daria wasn’t ever going to find anyone who would care for her as much.
Jane sighed heavily. She felt that her life was starting to go into places she didn’t want it to. She turned and began walking home.
Daria hit the keyboard in annoyance, and slumped back in her chair. It was obvious that her writing was not going anywhere. Her life was starting to change and she didn’t like the changes. Jane had been acting awfully strange lately. Ever since the Mystic Spiral thing.
Maybe you were a little harsh on her.
Maybe. Daria scowled. No sense in trying to flog a literary dead horse. Her story was not going to be worked on this night. She lay down on her bed, and tried to get to sleep.
After that day, my life was never the same. Oh sure, I went to college, got my degree, and set out to make a career for myself, but there was always something missing. Everyone could tell, my family most of all. I was definitely not living up to my early potential. Why? Because I was incomplete. The most important part of my life was gone, and here’s the kicker - it was my fault.
“You couldn’t have known.” “It wasn’t your fault.” “She wouldn’t have wanted you like this.”
I hear those sentiments every day, I always have. The truth is, I should have known. It was my fault. It never gets any easier. I know this isn’t healthy, but I can’t help myself.
The phone rings. I walk over and glance at the caller ID. Great. Another therapeutic lunch date with my sister.
Daria wiped her eyes, groggily. She was not getting any comforting sleep these days. Those stupid dreams kept interrupting her. Were dreams supposed to do that? She didn’t know. One thing was certain, she was at the end of her patience with a lot of things, including Jane. Today, she was going to go to Jane’s house and sort things out once and for all.
Trent walked to the door, sleepily. He’d been dreaming of the Spiral’s eventual success when the door bell had rung, and not stopped ringing. That always happened at the good parts. He opened the door to see Daria standing there, an odd expression on her face.
“Hi Trent. Is Jane here?”
“Yeah, she’s up in her room, painting or something.” Trent narrowed his eyes and looked at Daria. “Hey, is everything okay with you two?”
“Fine, Trent,” said Daria, in a voice that didn’t sound very convincing. She walked past Trent, and headed upstairs. She walked into Jane’s room, and found Jane working on a drawing. Jane immediately covered it up.
“Oh, hey!” said Jane. “I wasn’t expecting you.”
“I think we need to talk,” said Daria.
Jane looked at her for a long while, then dropped her head. “You’re right,” she said unhappily. Daria took this as a cue to sit down beside the bed.
Jane sat on her bed, and looked at Daria. Daria looked back impassively. “What exactly is the problem here, Jane? You’ve been acting funny around me for the best part of a week.”
“It’s you, Daria.” Jane shook her head. “No, it’s not you. It’s you and me.”
Daria tilted her head in confusion. I don’t understand.”
“No, you don’t.” You never will.
“Jane, what the hell are you talking about?”
“You and me. We’re friends, right?”
Daria stared at Jane for a second. “Of course we’re friends. Jane, what’s wrong with you?”
“It isn’t what’s wrong with me, it’s what’s wrong with you.”
There was a long silence. Finally Daria spoke up. “I don’t have to sit and listen to this. You aren’t making any sense, Jane.”
“Then listen to this. I make a mistake, and I’m sorry. You tortured me for days over it. It was a stupid mistake, Daria, and I was sorry for it. But you overreacted way, way too much.”
“Is that what this is all about?”
Not by a long shot. “Not just that. I’m not sure I can keep up with you anymore, Daria. You have such high standards, and I guess I just don’t live up to them anymore.”
“What are you saying?”
“I think you know.”
“Are you saying you don’t want to be friends any more?” Daria couldn’t believe this was happening.
“No!” Jane’s tone was firm. “Look, Daria, maybe we should just look at our friendship and see what we need to change...”
“Who the hell says we need to change anything?” Daria’s voice was getting more and more angry.
“I do!” Jane stared at Daria. “Look, Daria, you’re the best friend I’ve ever had, okay? But we can’t go on like this. Something needs to give.”
Daria stared at Jane. “Look. I don’t know what got you so uptight about this, but I don’t think we need to talk about this any longer.”
“Fine. Get out, and come back when you’re ready to talk. I still want to be friends with you, Daria. Just not like this.”
There was a long silence. Finally, Daria got up from her seat, and walked out the door. Jane watched her go. Then she flopped back on the bed. My God, she actually did it. I didn’t think even she was that single minded, but...all she had to do was admit that maybe some aspects of our friendship could change, and she couldn’t even do that. Maybe she’ll change her mind.
Jane hoped like crazy that she would.
Daria stormed down the stairs, past a shocked looking Trent, and walked out the front door. She began walking down the street, not caring what way she went. She was mad. How dare Jane suggest that this was her fault! As if she was the one who had started this whole mess. Jane was the one who’d made that stupid suggestion.
You were a little harsh on her, though.
Well, maybe. But still, to take the whole incident, and say that it was a clear sign that she needed to overhaul her whole personality? Ridiculous. To hell with her. Daria didn’t need Jane right now. She’d leave Jane to stew, and Jane would be begging for her to come back.
Jane flipped back over the sheet covering the painting, and stared at it. Suddenly she didn’t have the heart to finish it tonight. She sighed and flopped back onto her bed. Things hadn’t exactly gone the way she wanted them to.
You were bitching about her being too harsh. Weren’t you being a little harsh there too?
Maybe. But things couldn’t have gone on the way they had been going on. Jane hated being taken for granted, and that was the way she felt.
She heard a noise, and glanced over to see Trent standing in the doorway. “Hey, Janey.”
“What do you want, Trent?” she asked wearily.
“Nothing.” Trent looked around. “Um, I was just wondering if I could kind of hang around here for a while.”
“Trent, I’m really not...” Jane paused and smiled. “Sure,” she said softly. “I’d like that.”
The ceremony is over. Everyone is milling around, making small talk, trying desperately not to talk about what has happened, and mostly succeeding. I can spot my family over in the corner, chatting with someone. I don’t know who.
Of course, I can’t forget what happened. It’s still there inside me, like a huge numbing effect. Someone is talking to me now. It’s her mother. Blathering something about death being a part of life, and how we shouldn’t be too upset, because it’s all part of the same process. I don’t know if I believe that, and I’m not sure she does either from the sound of things. I’m not going to burst her bubble, though. Whatever gets you through, I suppose.
This was getting intolerable. Daria had been getting these dreams for the best part of a week now, and they were beginning to freak her out. She wasn’t a suspicious person, but she could have sworn that elements of her life were popping up in the dreams. Like the argument with Jane. She had had major deja-vu during it, and she couldn’t figure out why. Then she had realized some time later. It had been an element of the dream a few nights before.
Daria shook her head. What was she doing? This was arrant nonsense. She was still pissed about the fight with Jane, and her mind was playing tricks on her to distract her. She was still hurting from the fight with Jane, but she wasn’t going to go groveling for her forgiveness. No way. And she was definitely going to do something about those dreams.
“That’s excellent, Jane!” Ms. Defoe looked up at the mural Jane was working on.
Jane turned from her perch on the scaffolding. “I know.” She climbed down the scaffolding, and joined Ms Defoe at the bottom. They both gave the mural a once-over. It showed the Lawndale Lions in triumphant poses, with the team mascot above it, topped off with the team motto.
“I have to admit,” said Ms Defoe. “I was a little surprised that you volunteered to help us with this.”
Jane shrugged. “I had a lot of free time over the past few weeks.”
“Well, I’m glad you came on board. You’re easily the most talented...” She paused, and squinted at the mural. “In the distance, is that Kevin Thompson getting mauled by a lion?”
Jane smirked. “Ah crap.” She lifted a pot of green paint, and covered it over. “Can’t blame a girl for trying, can you?”
Jodie walked into the gym, and looked over at the far wall. “Wow, that’s awesome!”
Jane took a mock bow. “Thank you, I had a good team. We’re just in putting the final touches on it.”
Ms Defoe glanced at her watch. “I have to be going. My roommates like dinner to be on the table by seven.” She walked out.
Jodie glanced over at Jane. “Hungry? My treat.”
Jane shrugged. “Sure. I have a tendency to forget to eat when I’m working. Or is that because there’s never any food in the house when I’m working?”
Jodie smiled. “Pizza King?”
Jane shook her head, a little more vehemently than she had intended. “No! I mean, I’m not in the mood. For pizza, that is.”
“Okay.” Jodie looked at her. “Sorry, should have realized.”
“That’s okay.” Jane shrugged. “You in the mood for Chinese?”
Daria sat in her booth at the Pizza King, a book in one hand, a slice of pizza in the other, trying desperately not to get any grease on the book. She was not doing a very good job. She frowned, and put the book down. This sucked. In fact, life sucked. Even more than usual, and it was all Jane’s fault. She’d expected her to come and apologize after a few days, but it had now been a few weeks and still no apology. She’d seen her around at school, helping Jodie out, and doing a lot of projects with Ms Defoe, but she hadn’t talked to her, or gave her a second glance.
You know, maybe you should apologize.
For being a gigantic bitch about the whole thing. She does have a point, you know.
Daria picked up her book again, and tried to get into it. She didn’t want to apologize, and she didn’t want to change. Not for anyone.
At least one thing had been sorted out. She’d gone to the local Drugs N Stuff, and picked up some regular over-the-counter sleeping pills, and the dreams seemed to have vanished. That was good. She hadn’t wanted to go to her parents about it. Knowing them, they would have wildly over-reacted.
Jane swirled the Lo Mein noodles on her plate around. Jodie looked at her, an air of concern in her eyes. “Jane?”
“It’s been really great having you help me out for the past few weeks...”
“But nothing. I’m just wondering why you and Daria haven’t been talking.”
Jane looked up. “That noticeable, huh?”
Jodie nodded. “I think even Kevin noticed something was up. It might take him a few weeks before he notices exactly what, but still...” Jane grinned. Jodie glanced at her watch. “Hey, I have to go. I have to go meet Mack.”
“Sure. Hey, thanks for dinner.”
“Anytime.” Jodie got up and left. Jane glanced down at her plate, and fiddled with the rice some more. She felt kind of weird, and she didn’t know why. Life hadn’t been so bad lately, had it? Sure, she wasn’t talking to, or even seeing Daria, but she was sure she was better off for that. Plus she was keeping busy with stuff at school. In fact, she hadn’t been this busy for as long as she remembered. Everything seemed fine.
So what was the problem?
Daria frowned, and hit the delete key on her keyboard. Phew, Morgendorffer, it’s a good thing your frustrations aren’t coming out in your writing. Her latest Melody Powers story had been going steadily downhill lately, degenerating into a plotless bloodbath, featuring some distressingly familiar people getting killed. She shut down the computer, and grabbed some Orwell from the shelf. A bit of light reading, instead, perhaps.
However, she found herself unable to concentrate on the book, and it wasn’t just because she’d read it about three hundred times before. This whole thing with Jane was still preying on her mind, even a few weeks after the event. There was a knock on the door. “I can’t stop you from coming in, can I?”
Her mother’s voice came from outside. “No.”
Daria sighed. “Come in, then.”
Helen came into the room, a look of worry across her face. “Daria, is there anything you want to talk to me about?”
“No.” Daria’s tone was final.
“Not even about this?” Helen held up a bottle of sleeping pills. “Is this yours?”
“Yes.” Daria didn’t look up.
Helen sat down on the bed. “Daria, is everything okay?”
“Why wouldn’t it be?”
“Well, I haven’t seen Jane around lately...”
“I don’t want to talk about it.” Daria was trying her best to ignore her mother. “It isn’t like I’m on drugs, or anything. I’m just having a little trouble sleeping.” She didn’t want to mention the dreams.
“Daria, this isn’t going to help you in the long run. It’s just a quick-fix. If you’re really having a problem, we should go to the doctor. You haven’t been yourself lately, you’ve been drowsy, you’ve been drinking far more soda than you used to, and you’re grouchy.” Helen thought about it. “Well, more grouchy than usual. And now I know why. What else is wrong? I think this is more than just side-effects.”
“I don’t think I need to go to the doctor.” Daria’s tone was less than convincing, and the change of subject was badly noticeable.
“We’ll see.” Helen moved to leave, but she turned just before she reached the door. “And Daria? Please promise me that you’ll stop taking those. They aren’t good for you.”
Silence. Helen gave Daria one of her looks. Daria sighed. “Okay, I promise.”
Helen smiled. “I just want to help, sweetie.” She sat down on the bed. “Daria?”
“Are you sure that you don’t need to talk about anything?” Her tone grew softer. “I’ve noticed that Jane hasn’t been around at all lately.”
“So?” Daria’s tone was harsh.
“Well, are you two still having a fight? Maybe it would help if you...”
“I don’t want to talk about it!” Daria’s tone stated that there wasn’t to be any more talk about the matter.
“All right,” said Helen. “But Jane’s a good friend, Daria. Probably the best friend you‘ve ever had. Remember that.” She got up and walked out.
Daria scowled, and threw the book down. Now what was she going to do? The dreams would come back, she was sure of that. She’d been tempted to dismiss them as her psyche making her feel guilty about the fight with Jane, but she didn’t know if the mind actually worked that way. It wasn’t her mother’s fault, though. She really was just trying to help, and she was right. The OTC stuff had just been a quick fix. The problem was still there.
The funeral was surprisingly tasteful, given the family. A somber, quiet affair, with just a few close friends and family. I’d expected it to be some kind of weird celebration of life and death ceremony. They actually managed to assemble the family from the four corners of the world, which amazed me. And for once, they managed to all get together without killing each other. Shame it couldn’t have been under better circumstances.
I’m sitting near the front, listening to someone saying all the usual stuff. “Always a tragedy with one so young, etc.” They wanted me to say something, but I couldn’t. I just couldn’t. What was there to say? “When she died, we weren’t on speaking terms, because I was too much of a bitch to change? The closest person in my life died, and I’m going to spend the rest of my life hating myself because it’s my fault?”
Stupid tears. I’ve never been one for crying, but some things, it seems, even I’m not immune to. I glance over to the person beside me, her brother. He looks shattered. Empty. Like I’ve never seen him before. They were the only ones in the family who were close, and now his closest companion is gone. I know exactly how he feels. I look back down into my lap again. I can’t stand to look at him. Not when I know it’s my fault. Oh, maybe not my fault in a direct sense. I didn’t kill her. But if we’d been together, she wouldn’t have been there. Or I would have been there with her. I could have saved her. I could have done something! But I turned away.
And now I’ll never forgive myself.
Daria jerked awake. She had known this would happen. It had only been a couple of days since she’d made that stupid promise, and they were back. They were getting way more morbid too. That one had been kind of depressing, and she felt really disturbed now. The dreams seemed to be following some kind of sequence, but a backwards one. Someone had died. Who? She glanced at the clock. Time to get up, go for another deeply fulfilling day of school.
Deeply fulfilling? Try lonely and depressing. It was true. Being with Jane was the only thing that had made the day bearable. Without her, she was just going through the motions. Her schoolwork wasn’t suffering that much, but her enjoyment factor had sure plummeted through the floor. She grimaced, and went to shower and dress.
After school, Jane started heading home. She’d been talking with Jodie and the student council, and proposed a couple of art-related ideas, that they’d seemed to love. Jane was excited - this was a chance to get her art seen on a larger level than before. As long as they respected her artistic integrity, things would be fine. She didn’t think that would be a problem though. She wasn’t going to draw massive orgies or bloodbaths or anything. She smiled at the thought of unveiling that in front of Ms. Li. Maybe they’d all get lucky, and she’d have a heart attack or something.
Jane enjoyed doing the art stuff for the school. Ms. Defoe was tickled pink about it, and kept raving enthusiastically about her work, which Jane got a kick out of. She thought that Jane had potential, and loved to encourage her. Her art team was pretty cool as well. Jane was sure one of the guys was flirting with her, and that was kind of nice. In the past, every time a guy had talked to her, Daria had shot him down, or made some cutting remarks behind his back. Which usually sent the guys scurrying away. Jane wondered what that was all about. It was almost like she was jealous.
She rounded the corner onto her front path, and walked up to the front door. She idly wondered what Trent was doing tonight?
Same as usual, probably. Sleeping, or practicing. His life was pretty uncomplicated when you got down to it, really. Jane frowned a little. She enjoyed all the new stuff she had to do, but she still felt like there was something missing, and she knew what it was. Daria, for all her faults, was the best friend Jane had ever had. Jane couldn’t believe that Daria had gone this long without at least calling. She was missing her. But she still didn’t want to go and apologize first. Then she’d be right back at square one.
Ms. Defoe had broached the subject about Daria once, but had been sensitive enough to realize that Jane didn’t want to talk about the subject. Ms. Barch had noticed too, and had given Jane some spiel about women needing to stick together in a male-dominated world. Jane had wanted to tell her something about sticking things in places. She sighed. It didn’t change the fact that she missed Daria, though.
Daria closed her book, cleared the Pizza trays away, and started to put her stuff back into her bag. Someone slipped into the seat across from her. She glanced up and saw it was Upchuck.
“Piss off, Upchuck.”
“But my sweet, I’m here to help you.”
“You brand of help I can do without.”
Upchuck grinned. “My dear, you misunderstand me. While normally I’d be eager to pleasure you in my unique way, I can see that you don’t really need that at the minute.”
“What are you talking about?”
He leant over the table. “It has come to my attention that you and the delectable Miss Lane aren’t exactly on speaking terms.”
“That’s not recent news.”
“And I hate to see such lovely ladies unhappy.”
“I am not unhappy.” Daria was getting annoyed now.
“I beg to differ, ma cherie. I’ve seen the way you’ve been in school. You aren’t yourself.”
“What do you suggest, oh guru?”
“You need to make up with the feisty Miss Lane.”
“Go to Hell, Upchuck. I don’t need your advice on how to live my life.”
“I don’t think you’ve talked to a single person in school for the past few weeks. I’m not even sure you know how.”
Daria couldn’t believe this. Was she actually getting life advice from Upchuck? “That’s ridiculous.”
“Oh yes? Would you have actually talked to anyone, say, in here, if I hadn’t come up to you?”
Daria refused to dignify that with an answer. “I’m leaving now.”
Upchuck sat back in his chair. “Just remember my advice, Toots. And if you two do get back together, I’d wouldn’t be remiss to a sensual afternoon with the both of you as payment.”
Daria walked out, giving him an offensive gesture as she went, and not even waiting for the inevitable “Feisty!” What was it with the unsolicited advice? Mr. O’Neill had tried that as well, until a look from Daria had shut him up. Why couldn’t people mind their own business?
Daria walked in through the front door, and paused a little at the bottom of the stairs. Quinn and the Fashion Club were having a meeting in the front room.
Quinn held up the issue of Waif she was reading. “Isn’t this just the cutest little top? Stacy, I think it would go so well with those shoes of yours.”
“Yeah,” drawled Tiffany.
“Gosh, Quinn, you’re so perceptive,” sad Stacy, beaming.
Daria suddenly found a pair of eyes locking in on her. It was Sandi. “Gee, Quinn. Your cousin, or whatever, seems to be lost.”
Quinn frowned at Daria, the meaning of which was clear. Go away. Daria turned and trudged up the stairs. She could hear Quinn behind her. “Don’t mind her, um, sometimes she gets a little confused because of the steel plate in her head. Er, from the accident.”
“Ewwww,” said Tiffany.
Daria walked into her room, and slammed the door behind her. She sat down at her desk, and put her head in her hands. She was lonely as hell. Sandi might be a backstabbing cow, but at least Quinn had friends to hang around with. To do things with. To be with. Daria missed Jane. She was quickly growing to believe that maybe her pride was not worth losing her friend for.
I could always make some new friends.
Yeah, right. She was appalling at making new friends, always had been. If she hadn’t lucked into that self-esteem class, she probably would still be essentially friendless at Lawndale High. Upchuck had been right in his own way. That was annoying enough, but even more annoying was the fact that she didn’t know what to do.
An hour later, there was a knock on Daria’s door, and it opened. Quinn stepped in.
“I’m busy,” said Daria.
“Yeah, right,” said Quinn. “You’ve barely stepped out of the house since you and Jane had that bust-up.”
“Go away, Quinn.”
“Look,” said Quinn. “I don’t care about you and Jane’s problems, but when you start hanging around my friends, I have to step in.”
“What are you going on about now?”
“You don’t think anyone’s noticed how you’ve been for the past few weeks? Mom’s worried about you, and even Daddy’s noticed. You need to get back to Jane, quickly, or find some other friend to hang around. You need it.”
Daria frowned. “What the hell would you know about real friendship, Quinn? You think those Fashion Zombies are your friends?”
Quinn scowled at her, her nose crinkling up. “Fine. Don’t say I didn’t try to help you.” She stormed out.
Daria dressed for bed, and tried to get to sleep. She began to think that perhaps she’d been a bit too harsh on Quinn. At least she had people to be with. She sighed, and tried to get to sleep.
I’m running down Dega Street. People are standing around, slack-jawed. What just happened? All I heard was a noise, a terrible crunching, grinding noise. I have to find out what happened. Whether she’s okay. I turn the corner into Dega Street, and push my way past all the people that are standing around. They’re all muttering things like “I can’t believe that just happened.” What? What just happened?
I finally push my way past the crowd, and get a clear view of the area. What I see stuns me. There’s a truck, a smallish delivery truck, opposite the Zen. It’s on its side. Looks like it flipped over and crashed into the wall. The driver is trying to get out of the truck. He looks fine. More mutterings from behind me. “Speeding...” “Swerved to avoid someone...” “Lost control...”
Paramedics are coming now, rushing to the scene. Wait. The truck. It’s not up against the wall. It crashed into the steps there. The steps...
Daria awoke to a start. She felt funny. She reached up and touched her face. It was wet with tears. She just felt like crying. Why? That dream...it was her. She was the one in the dreams, and she was at Dega Street. Why was she crying? What had happened? Why were the dreams like this? Daria felt empty inside, like she had lost something. She hadn’t felt that way in a long time. The dreams...they went together somehow. She felt like they were trying to tell her something. Daria curled up in her bed. She suddenly felt very lost and alone. Who had died? Someone she cared for. Someone she loved. Jane? What was her subconscious trying to tell her?
Another school day passed. Daria was resolute now. She was sick of sitting by herself at lunch. She was sick of going through an entire day without speaking to someone socially. She may be anti-social, but even that had its limits. She was loathe to admit it, even to herself, but she needed people. No, not people. Jane. There was another reason why she didn’t want to make any new friends. It was true that she was bad at making friends, but the real reason she didn’t want to make any more was that she already had the best friend she could ever have. And she’d spent the past while either ignoring that friend or treating her like shit. Quinn had been right. Her mother had been right. Even Upchuck and Mr. O’Neill had been right, which really pissed her off.
She needed Jane.
Daria grimaced briefly. Time to bite the bullet, and do something she was appalling at. Apologizing. Jane was going to lap this right up. But it was worth it.
She walked down Jane’s front path and knocked on the door. There was a long pause. Daria knocked again. There was an even longer pause. Finally, a sleepy looking Trent opened the front door, and stared at Daria for a moment. “Oh,” he said finally. “Hey, Daria. Haven’t seen you around much lately.”
“No. Um, is Jane there?”
Trent shook his head vaguely. “No, she’s at school, um, doing some art thing. Or something. Whatever.”
“Oh.” Daria’s face fell.
“But I’ll tell her you called,” Trent added. He looked at Daria for a second. “Are you two making up?”
“I hope so. Just...tell her to call me, okay?”
Trent grinned. “Good. I’ll see you, Daria.”
Daria walked away from the Lane house, feeling a little better about things.
Jane waved goodbye to the other members of her art team, and made her way home. She had finally figured out what had been bothering her for the last few weeks. She missed Daria. It wasn’t that she needed Daria as the be-all and end-all of her life, but she was missing something. She had plenty to do, and she genuinely enjoyed the work at school that she was doing, but she missed a genuine friendship. The other people were nice, but she hadn’t clicked with any of them. Jodie was a great person, but she barely had time for Mack, let alone anyone else.
The truth was that she felt like her and Daria had a real connection and bond, and she didn’t think that she was going to find that with many other people. She might have been driving her crazy for the past few weeks, but she was still a good friend, if only Daria would let her know that she was willing to be a little flexible with their friendship. That was the only problem she could see. She didn’t even mind the constant criticism of other people. The only people she was ever truly horrible to, usually deserved it. But until Daria came to her, Jane wasn’t going to go to her.
She walked into the house and wandered into the front room. Trent was sprawled over the couch. Jane shook him. “Hey, Trent. Any calls?”
“Mmmm?” Trent opened an eye. “Oh yeah. Daria called. Wants to talk to you.”
Jane’s eyes went wide. “Daria? Guess she had a change of heart.”
Trent nodded vaguely. “Yeah. Wants to patch things up, I think.” He collapsed back to sleep.
Jane went upstairs. Daria had a change of heart? Who would have thought? Guess she misses me as much as I miss her.
Well, she wasn’t going to call right away. Daria had kept her waiting, and Jane was going to do the same. Not for quite as long, but still. Fair was fair. She figured that tomorrow afternoon would do. She had plans for Saturday morning. Jane laid down on the bed, and drifted off to sleep, thinking that things seemed to be looking up.
Trent said that she was down on Dega Street, sketching. I’ll go find her, bite the bullet, and start groveling. I hate apologizing. That’s probably why I’m so bad at it.
I reach Dega Street, and being looking along the side of the road for her. I’m moving a lot more slowly now, I note. I guess I’m trying to delay the inevitable. I’m almost up to the Zen when I spot her. Jane’s sitting on the steps opposite it, sketching something. She hasn’t seen me yet. I pause some distance away, trying to work up the strength to go over and talk to her. God, Morgendorffer, what’s the problem? All you have to do is walk over and say “hey Jane, sorry I was such a jerk, let’s get some pizza.” That’s all. What’s the problem? Is it that hard to swallow your pride and admit that you’re a jerk sometimes, but you don’t mean it? Even to the most important person in your life?
I’m turning now, walking in the opposite direction. I need a little more time to prepare for this. Or maybe I’m just chickening out. It doesn’t matter, I’ll go psyche myself, then come back later. There’s no hurry. Jane will still be there when I get back.
I round the corner, and from behind me, I hear a deafening grinding of metal, and a huge crash.
Daria sat bolt upright in bed, sweat dripping off her. She knew. She knew now. She knew what the dreams were telling her. Jane was going to die, and it was all her fault. If she had been there, she could have stopped it, she could have saved her, she could have done something..!
Daria clutched her chest. She was hyperventilating. She closed her eyes, and tried to calm down, to try to make some sense out of the situation.
Jane pulled on her shirt, and grabbed the bag of art supplies. She’d enjoyed working on the school stuff, but she had been kind of neglecting her own muse lately, and that wouldn’t do. She needed some fresh inspiration, so she figured she’d head down to Dega Street and do some sketches. There was always plenty of inspiration there. Plus, it was early on a Saturday morning. People were just starting to go home from the night before, and Jane had a special liking for truly pathetic looking subjects. She headed out the door, and went to tell Trent where she was going.
Daria had finally managed to calm herself down, and stop hyperventilating enough to get her bearings. This was absurd. What did she think, that her dreams were warning her about Jane’s eventual death? She was a pragmatic person, she didn’t believe in things like that. This was just her guilt playing up, and she was going to take care of that this afternoon. She was going to make things up with Jane and then everything would be tolerable again. Right? Why hadn’t Jane called her last night? Trent had probably forgotten to give her the message.
She couldn’t shake the horrible feeling that had came over her, though. She felt nervous, shivering, and uncomfortable. She felt like something terrible was about to happen soon. Something involving Jane. The dreams seemed to form some sort of sequence now. It couldn't be a coincidence, could it?
Daria took a deep breath. What had the dream said? That Jane was sketching down at Dega Street. Okay, here was what she was going to do. She would go over to Jane’s and talk to her. Then she would see that Jane was not down at Dega Street, and that the dream was not real. Then she would grit her teeth, and say she was sorry.
Daria paused. Why was she trusting what a dream had told her? The idea of dreams telling her the future was absurd. This was nonsense. But what if it wasn’t? What if Jane is really going to die, and you do nothing. That sent a shiver through her spine. That was reason enough to check it out.
She thought for a moment. Maybe she should use the phone. No, Trent might not hear it, and if she had to apologize over the phone she’d chicken out. She would go over there.
She dressed quickly, and walked downstairs, past her family at the dining table.
“Morning, kiddo!” Jake glanced at her. “Hey, are you okay? You seem kind of pale.”
“I can fix that,” said Quinn.
“Fine, Dad,” Daria said quickly. “Have to go. Bye.” She grabbed a slice of toast and left.
She walked down the street, a little quicker than usual. This whole thing had left her rattled, and she wanted to prove her visions wrong as quickly as possible.
Visions? What am I, Joan of Arc? Least I got the virgin part right.
Or had Joan of Arc been voices? She couldn’t remember, which was unusual for her.
What if the visions were real, and Jane...
She couldn’t even bring herself to think it, and she picked up the pace considerably.
After a few minutes, she reached the Lane house, and knocked on the door. No answer. She knocked a little harder. Still no answer. After a few minutes of pounding, she decided to let herself in. “Hello?” No answer. She walked up the stairs, and peeked tentatively into Jane’s room. It was empty. She walked down to Trent’s room, and peeked inside. Trent was lying sprawled over his bed, headphones on. She walked over and shook his shoulder. “Trent?”
Trent stirred and rolled over. His eyes opened lazily, and he stared at Daria for a moment. “Daria? What are you doing in my bedroom?”
“Doesn’t matter. Where’s Jane?”
Trent thought for a moment. “Sketching, I think. Yeah, she’s sketching down at Dega Street.” He looked at Daria. “Are you all right?”
Daria went completely white. She turned and ran as fast as she could downstairs. She barreled out the front door, and ran for Dega Street as fast as she possibly could.
Jane walked down Dega Street, and stopped opposite the Zen. She glanced at the sign. They’d changed it back to the Zon. She raised an eyebrow. The owners kept getting into arguments about the name, so it ended up getting changed every so often. Jane was positive no-one but her had ever noticed. She glanced around and saw some steps opposite. They would be perfect for sitting on to sketch. She sat down and began to get her pad out.
Daria stopped for a second to catch her breath.
Stupid, stupid, stupid! She should have gotten a lift from Trent, instead of running off like that, but she hadn’t been thinking. She had just been in too much of a hurry. Jane was going to die if she didn’t do something, she was sure of it. She took a deep breath and kept going. She was in terrible shape, she knew. The combination of too much pizza and not enough exercise was taking its toll. Sure, she was as skinny as ever, but her athletic prowess was pretty awful. It didn’t matter, though. She had to get there in time, and she wasn’t going to let anything stop her. She should have done this weeks ago, but she was stubborn, too stubborn. If anything happened...
Nothing was going to. She was going to make sure of that.
She rounded the corner into Dega Street, and made her way down the sidewalk. There was no evidence of an accident, so it seemed like she was early. Thank God, she whispered to herself. She looked around for Jane, and then remembered the dream. She was going to be sitting opposite the Zen. She quickened her pace slightly and walked to the Zen. When she reached it, she looked around for Jane, and spotted her. She sat on some steps, sketchpad in hand, drawing something. Daria felt dizzy and light headed. The dream was true! If Jane didn’t get away from that spot, she was going to...
Daria took a very deep breath, and walked over to her. She didn’t know how much time she had, so this had to be quick.
Jane looked up, and blinked in surprise. “Daria? What are you doing here?”
“Um, just in the neighborhood, you know.”
Jane frowned. Daria sighed. “Okay, I came to talk.” She began glancing around her nervously.
What’s she looking at? thought Jane. “Okay, talk.”
“Not here, though. Can we go somewhere else?” I don’t know when this is going to happen, and I want to be as far from here as possible when it does.
“I’m kind of busy,” Jane said, indicating the pad.
“This is important.”
Jane looked at Daria for a moment. This was just like her, waltzing in and expecting her to drop everything for her own reasons. Well, not this time. This time, Jane was going to handle this on her own terms, and if Daria Morgendorffer didn’t like that, tough. “I said I was busy.” She went back to sketching.
Daria stared at her. What was she going to do now? For all she knew, they only had minutes, or even seconds left. She could try dragging Jane out of the way, but that would only make things worse. Plus, Jane worked out. She was probably much stronger than Daria. Daria felt like panicking. Her best friend was going to die, and she didn’t know what to do. She was sure she could hear a truck somewhere approaching, and she began to sweat nervously.
Then she thought of something
“Jane,” she began tentatively. “I want to go somewhere and apologize to you.”
“It can wait.” Jane looked up and saw the beads of sweat running down Daria’s face. “Are you okay?”
“Fine.” Daria looked at Jane. “But that’s not all. I just want to spend time with you. I’ve missed you like crazy, and I don’t want to spend any more time moping around by myself. I want to spend time with my best friend, the only person who makes my life bearable. I want to spend some time with you.” She was scared, and the words were coming out fast, and nervously.
Jane looked up from her sketchpad in surprise. “Really?”
Daria looked sheepish. “Yeah. I like spending time with you. Believe it or not.”
Jane smiled. “Well, for all your faults, at least you have excellent taste.”
Daria looked at her. “Please?” she asked sincerely. That truck noise was getting closer and closer. They couldn’t have much time left.
Jane thought for a moment. “Okay. But these better be some damn good apologies. And you’re buying.”
Daria smiled, a truly happy smile, some of the tension melting away. “Okay.”
Jane finished putting her art stuff away and they began walking down the street, away from the Zen. Just before they reached the end of the street, they heard a deafening screech behind them. They turned, and saw a smallish delivery truck overturn, and scrape its way down the street, before crashing into the steps opposite the Zen.
Jane went pale. “Wow.” She stared at the scene. “It’s a miracle no-one was hit. If I’d have been there, I think that...” She tailed off.
Daria went pale. It had all been true. The dreams, everything. If she hadn’t come down here, Jane would be dead. She felt dizzy again, and sat down on some nearby steps. Jane sat down beside her, looking equally pale.
“You saved my life,” said Jane. “Thank you.”
“You’re my best friend,” said Daria quietly. “I’d do anything for you.”
“Well, it was accidental.”
“Yeah,” said Daria, smiling to herself. “Accidental.”
“Now, about that apology.”
“I still have to do that?” asked Daria.
“Maybe I‘ll let you off. Plus, I remember something about pizza.” Jane smiled.
Daria sighed. The color was beginning to return to her face, and she stood back up. “Come on then. Let’s go.”
Jane stood up, and glanced towards the accident. “Wonder if the driver’s okay?”
“He is.” Daria saw Jane’s odd look. “I can see him moving.”
Jane looked back at the accident, and then followed Daria to the Pizza King, eyeing her oddly the entire way.
Two days later, Daria sat on a bench in the park, watching from a distance as Jane sat in the middle of the grass, sketching something she had spotted. She hadn’t said exactly what had captivated her, but she’d been dead set to capture the moment. Jane was like that. She got up, and vanished over a ridge, no doubt to capture some other event.
Daria smiled inwardly to herself. Things had been so much better lately. She and Jane had managed to work their differences out. Daria had been appropriately sorry, and even Jane had recognized that she was being a bit unfair in some of the areas. She’d kept up with some of the art projects for the school, and warned Daria not to accuse her of selling out or anything just for doing that. Daria had agreed, and she didn’t even mind the slightly decreased time with Jane that much. It was just so refreshing to be able to talk to someone again, to have fun (as fun as Daria got) with someone again, that any amount of time was welcome.
Also, the dreams had vanished, and Daria was once again able to sleep soundly again. That was the one aspect of the whole affair she still did not understand. However, she was grateful, no matter the source.
She heard a noise, and looked up to see her Aunt Rita, of all people, standing over her. “Hello, Daria.”
“Aunt Rita?” Daria frowned. “What are you doing here?”
“Um.” Rita looked a little self-conscious. “Can I sit down?”
“Sure.” She did so. Daria looked at her. She didn’t look like Rita, somehow. Daria couldn’t put a finger on it, but she seemed different. More alert, less flighty. Daria was just getting a different vibe from her than she normally did.
“Daria,” said Rita. “Prepare yourself. What I’m going to tell you is going to seem a little unbelievable.”
“Go ahead,” said Daria, nervously. She couldn’t figure out what Rita would have to say to her, of all people.
“I’m you, Daria. From the future.”
Daria remembered Rita and her mother’s drinking spree at the wedding. “Aunt Rita, have you been drinking again?” She’d always thought her relatives were weird, but they’d never claimed to be alternate future versions of herself before. For a moment, she thought about the dreams, and wondered if they were connected. Don’t be stupid. This is insane.
“No! Listen to me, Daria...”
"I'm going to go call Mom now. She can help you." And lap this up, probably.
Rita sighed. "Daria, I know you're skeptical. Try this - you've been having weird dreams now for a couple of weeks. They've been about Jane dying. After you figured this out, you went and saved Jane's life from the events shown in one of the dreams, showing that they were true, somehow, and you haven't had any dreams in the two days since."
Daria sat back on the bench, her eyes wide. She didn't say anything for a while. Finally she stared at Rita, and whispered: "How did you know that?"
"I'm you. From the future. Just not quite as good looking as I used to be."
"No shit." Daria stared at her. "If you're me, then..."
"You're not going to go through lots of tedious questions to which only you know the answers, are you? Because then I'll get them all right, and you'll feel kind of stupid for bringing all kinds of personal stuff up you didn't want to say out loud."
Daria stared at her for a while, trying to absorb this. This was a weird situation, capping an already weird couple of weeks for her. “How?” she said finally.
“First of all, let me clarify. I’m not physically you. I’m in Rita’s body. It’s a personality transfer thing. It only works on ancestors, or relatives. I’m not sure how it works exactly.”
“But how did you...?”
“Qu...” Rita paused. “Someone helped me get inside, and use it.”
“To help...” Rita tailed off. “I tried to get back sooner, but I couldn’t. All I could do was send messages to you.”
“Exactly. You almost lost me with those pills. Lucky for you, Mom helped you.”
“Guess I should buy her a bigger Christmas present, huh?” Daria was trying to stay flippant, but this was blowing her mind. “This is insane. It can’t...I mean, this has to be...”
“It’s real, Daria. Trust me.”
Daria looked at Rita. “Why Rita? Why not Amy?”
“I tried, but I couldn’t find her.” Rita cocked an eyebrow. “You think I like this? Listening to Erin whine about herpes all day?”
Daria looked at her. The voice, the mannerisms. It was her. This was creepy beyond belief. “Herpes?” she said finally.
“You’ll find out soon enough.”
Daria took a deep breath. “Then why come back? You...I...we succeeded. Jane’s safe. Won’t that change the future?”
At the mention of Jane’s name, Rita visibly paled. “No.”
“This won’t change my future. It’s set. Yours will change though.”
Daria frowned. “You came back even though you couldn’t change your life? Why?”
“Because.” Rita looked downwards. “Because, Daria. You...we...can be fucking stupid sometimes.” She practically spat the last few words out.
“We threw away the best friend we ever had because we were stupid. If I didn’t intervene, it would have happened all over again, and I can’t let you...us go through that again.” She fell silent again.
Daria looked at her for a long time. “Thank you,” she said finally.
“Don’t let her go again, okay?”
Daria nodded. There was a long silence. “What now?”
Rita looked at her watch. “I don’t have a lot of time. This is strictly a temporary thing...” She tailed off, and went totally white. “Oh my God,” she whispered.
Daria looked to see what she was looking at. It was Jane, walking back into view, carrying her sketchpad. “Are you okay?” she asked Rita.
Rita didn’t respond. She just kept looking at Jane, who was walking towards them. “Do you know how many years it’s been since I saw her?” she whispered, almost to herself. “She hasn’t changed a bit. Oh God...”
“Maybe you should...” Daria tailed off. She didn’t know how to handle this.
Jane walked up. “Yo.”
“Hey,” said Daria uncertainly. “Um, Jane, this is my Aunt Rita. I think I’ve told you about her.”
“Oh yeah. Hi. I’m Jane.”
“Hello....Jane” whispered Rita.
Jane gave Daria a quick look. Rita seemed to recover herself, and straightened up in her seat. “Hello, Jane. Daria’s told me a lot about you. You two are pretty good friends, right?”
“Most of the time,” said Jane, shooting a look at Daria, and grinning.
“You know,” said Rita slowly. “You kind of remind me of a friend I used to have.” She seemed to be having some trouble getting the words out. She glanced at her watch quickly.
“Really?” said Jane. “What, um, happened to her?”
“She died,” said Rita, her voice cracking slightly as she said it.
Jane shot Daria a glance. It was obvious she was feeling slightly uncomfortable at this. “I’m sorry,” she said.
“Me too,” whispered Rita. “It was partially my own fault. I was...stupid. I didn’t want to admit I was wrong. I...” Her voice cracked again, and she fell silent for a moment. “We got into a fight, just before she died. It was about me, but I...didn‘t work to fix things. I just stormed out. I was such a fool. Sometimes, we hurt the people we love so badly, and we don’t want to admit we’re wrong. I was like that. I...didn’t apologize, and I never got the chance to...” Her voice lowered. “I was so stupid. I should have apologized...”
Jane shot an uncomfortable look at Daria, who just lowered her head.
Rita continued: “I never told her how much she meant to me. I never even told her. I thought she knew. I wanted to tell her how much she meant to me. I wish I could have just thanked her for being my friend. I wish...I wish I could have said goodbye.”
“I’m sorry,” said Jane finally.
“Me too,” said Rita. “She was the best friend I ever had, and I...loved her. I just wish she could have heard that before she died.” She closed her eyes.
There was a silence. Rita opened her eyes, and looked at her watch. “I have to go,” she said quietly. She got up, and hugged Daria. “Thank you,” she whispered.
“You have to go right now?” asked Daria in a quiet voice.
Rita nodded. “I wish...I didn’t have to, but I do.” She turned to a surprised Jane, and wrapped her arms around her. “Goodbye, Jane,” she whispered, her voice cracking as she said it.
She let go reluctantly, and began to walk away, still keeping her eyes on Jane. Finally, with what seemed to be a final push of will power, she turned, and left.
Daria and Jane sat back on the bench. There was a silence for a while. Finally, Daria broke the silence. “Thanks.”
“Putting up with me. I know it isn’t easy sometimes.”
“Hey, thanks for putting up with me,” said Jane, smiling at her. “Daria?”
“When you came to apologize, I put it off until the morning to go get you.”
Jane paused. “If you hadn’t gotten me from Dega Street, I might be dead because of that.”
Daria nodded. “I know. But if I hadn’t been so much of a...”
“Thank you,” she said dryly. “You wouldn’t have been there in the first place.”
The two friends sat on the park bench, looking at each other for a couple of minutes.
“Pizza?” said Daria finally.
Thanks to my wife for all her help.
Thanks to my beta-readers: Brother Grimace, Roger Moore, THM, Thea Zara, Robert Nowall, Brandon League, and Steven Galloway.
Thanks to MTV for creating all these characters.