PART II


"He's an hirsute maker of earthenware - her Ph. D dissertation covered psychotropic drugs and Kant! 'Hairy Potter and the Philosopher's Stoned' - coming up NEXT, on 'Sick, Sad World!"

Jane lay insensate on the couch in the living room of Casa Lane, barely watching the television when a sound – a non-ludicrous sound – caught her attention.

"These your nachos?" Jesse Moreno asked, appearing from nowhere into Jane's line of vision. "Can I bum some?"

"Yeah," Jane replied, her voice tinged with sadness that drew Jesse's mind off the snack in front of them.

"You miss her."

Jane turned to face him as he sat down besides her. "Yeah."

"She took her dad’s thing bad.”

Yeah.”

Now she won't come around."

She nodded in agreement. "Yeah."

"She won't let you be there for her."

"Yeah."

"So now you're getting mad."

Jane blinked hard; it was as if a light went on across her face, and she sat straight up. "Yeah…"

"Friends let it go both ways."

Jane's voice regained its strength. "Yeah."

"I'm there for you, period."

"Yeah!"

"So how come you're here?"

Jane suddenly stood up and dashed out of the room; she reappeared moments later, her coat on and wrapping a scarf around her neck. Trent, seeing her flash by twice, came into the living room just in time to see Jane jerk Jesse up from the couch and sear him to the floor with a serious kiss before she catapulted out the front door.

The leather-clad young man stood transfixed as Trent came over and took Jane's seat on the couch. "So you helped her out with her problem with Daria?"

Jesse turned and gave Trent a smile that, on any other day of his life, would have earned him a spot in the Lane backyard… deep beneath the gazebo.

"Yeah."

+++++

Quinn and Daria lay against one another in the ravaged rumples of their parents' bed, the sweat cooling off their shining forms in the brisk air.

"Daria…"

"Yes, Quinn?"

Quinn turned around to face her, brushing scarlet and auburn hairs clear to see Daria's face. "What's going to happen to us…?"

"We're going to sleep extremely well tonight," Daria replied, smirking as she stretched herself against Quinn. "If you think you're up to it, I think we could probably manage to put ourselves out until late July."

"No, we need to talk," the redhead said. "Daria, about Dad-"

"He blew the mailman's head off, then he blew his own brain loose from inside, and he's been doing demolition work on us since we were born," Daria said curtly. "What really terrifies me is what would happened if we had been born boys… God, what would he have turned us into?"

She gripped the pillow under her head, and closed her eyes tightly. "I heard Mom talking on the phone a couple of days ago. The mini-strokes he had were only the beginning - he had a major one the day before her meeting with the legal types. They don't think he'll make it into summer."

What surprised Quinn about the news was that it didn't faze her. It seemed almost as if they were talking about someone on the news, someone who they'd never met and never would, and whose life really didn't affect them one way or another. She looked thoughtful for a moment, and then dropped down and snuggled up against Daria.

"The sad thing - the sad thing is… Daria, I just don't care," remarked Quinn, her voice small. "I don't know why, but it's as if Dad doesn't matter… like the part of him inside me that mattered so much just disappeared, and it was filled in with something that's just there, and he never meant anything. When he… when he…"

Quinn stopped speaking; they lay wrapped in soft cotton blends and each other, neither saying a word. She had never talked to either Daria or Helen about the day Jake had snapped or how he had treated her during the event… They both knew everything, and Quinn knew that they knew, because the police were quite insistent on grilling her for every detail - they had to have the interview conducted by female detectives. Weak and shaking for the interviews that took place immediately afterwards, Quinn’s ‘damsel-in-distress’ aura automatically ramped up to near-lethal levels, with her tears and quivering making male detectives balk at asking even the most simple of questions.

"He didn't recognize me. He just said that I was… Daria, I was nothing to him. I wasn't his daughter, I wasn't a person, and I was just… there. A thing. The detectives asked me if he'd tried… if I thought he was going to rape me, but he wasn't thinking like that. He-"

Her voice broke. "When I first tried to get away, he swung at me and missed, then he grabbed my- my left boob, and it wasn't like he got off or was grabbing it on purpose - it was the part of me that he could reach and grab onto. He twisted it as he pushed me down in the living room, and that's when the mailman kicked in the door - he saw Dad swing at me, and he kicked the door when I screamed - oh, God, it hurt so much, like he was about to tear it off - and that's when it sounded like something blew up in the house."

Daria let her talk. "I saw it, Daria. I saw the mailman's head come apart, like somebody threw a rock through a giant eggshell, with all the stuff inside…" A quavering tone fluttered through her voice. "It was like a big yellow flame came out from where Dad's hand was, and Mr. Ceedle's face wasn't there anymore - it all just came apart… and he… the mailman… Mr. Ceedle… he walked backwards a couple of steps - he took three steps back and started to turn around, like nothing happened, and then he just dropped down, out of sight. Dad just stood there, and I looked down - something caught my eye, and the mail was sprayed all like someone used a red squirt gun on it, but it was starting to run down the envelopes, and … I heard this screaming start up, like a crazy man just going on, and on, and on, and I looked up at Dad, and his lips weren't moving, and he just looked at me…"

Quinn shifted position, and lay in Daria's arms. " He smiled at me. I know why Dad didn't kill me, Daria. I know exactly why."

There was silence in cool darkness; silence, and two warm bodies. "It wasn't because he wanted to rape me, or I wasn't a threat to him, or any of the rest of the dumb shit that they're trying to say. Dad made a choice when he didn't kill me. It was the last real decision he ever made."

"Quinn…?"

"Dad didn't kill me because he wanted me to live. He saw something in me that he wanted to keep going - I saw it in his eyes. I saw it, Daria. I think Trent saw it, too… I think that, deep down, that's why he's still alive, too. Dad knew, somewhere inside, that he couldn't kill Trent because then they'd try to get him, and they might get me by accident…"

She shuddered. "That screaming I heard? It was me. When I saw what Dad had done, I went- I went somewhere in me I didn't know, and brought something back, and I was so… so… angry, and I was screaming because I couldn't let it out any other way… He thought I had his damage, and it made him so happy, but he was still so far gone that he couldn't bring himself back... I watched what he did, the way he, he - the way he removed me from his soul - and now, whatever it was that I had in me for him is gone. It's gone, and I don't care about Dad one way or another, and I know that this, whatever I am now… He wanted us like this, Daria. He wanted us ruined."

"Don't think about him any more," Daria said, cradling Quinn close to herself. "He's gone. We'll never have to see him again."

There was quiet, punctuated by breathing. "I think you're right about the bathtub - and God knows you could use a bubble bath."

"What did I say about the bathtub?"

"Well… you were thinking how much you'd like to see me all nice and smelling pretty, and I was thinking back that you should let me give you a good bath…"

"Promise to scrub me down properly, Quinn?"

"Only if you give as good as you get."

"We'll see how good you are at giving…"

Their lips met, and then they were both quiet for a long while, holding one another more for comfort than for any other reason.

A voice wafted through the stillness.

"What's going to happen to us, Daria…?"

An answer came through the dark minutes later… many minutes later, and the room seemed darker still.

"I don't think it matters, anymore…"

+++++

They broke into his house one night, it was so sad to say
But he who'd written children's books had a friend he called 'AK'
Who he handled with some skill as they found to their dismay
So the police found them bound quite nicely on the floor where they did lay
There's justice now in Whoville, and the Grinch should stay away
'Cause Dr. Seuss joins the NRA, on 'Sick, Sad World' today!

"I really can't believe that you actually watch that program, Anthony," Helen sighed, turning back from the TV in Anthony's office at LHS - as Assistant Principal, he rated an office of his own. "I really can't believe that I let you talk me into bringing take-out Chinese food here - or that we got it from that place. There's just something about the 'Good Times' chain that makes me antsy…"

"I LOVE that place!" Anthony laughed, pulling open the refrigerator and selecting a cola for himself. "There's a WEIRD vibe in that place that reminds me of kids and the way ANYTHING can happen when you deal with them! What's your pleasure, ma'am?"

"Got anything stronger than that cola?"

"Well, there's Janet's breath-" He stopped at the look on Helen's face. "I thought you could use a laugh. I've got a few bottles of this new beer Claire picked up - 'Bad Penguin Brew' - and there's also the STANDARD bottle of single-malt scotch that Angela always presents to her new BULLET-STOPPERS - "

He stopped, and deliberately calmed himself down. "I mean, her new assistant principals…"

Anthony shook his head. "I brought you here because it's actually comfortable here, and I didn't want to take you to a restaurant or my home - that didn't come out the way I wanted it to, either. Helen, I figured you'd like some privacy, you wouldn't want tongues to wag about you dating one of Jake's friends - and I didn't want you to think that I was trying to think I was getting you to my place so I could play on your pain and get you into bed! Now, just a moment-" He held up a hand as Helen seemed about to protest. "Look, people think that way. You can't deny that right now, most men see you as easy pickings - and the smart ones will try to lure you into a sense of security and THEN get into your pants!"

Helen looked him over dubiously. "You'd try to sleep with me-?"

"Of COURSE I would! Just what planet did YOU recently arrive from? Given a chance, I'd be a fool NOT to sleep with you!" Anthony barked. "I'd work you like a cotton field in the summer IF YOU LET ME! Now, since we've gotten the business of wondering what I think of you as a woman and the overall BOY- GIRL BULLSHIT out of the way, we can sit down like adults, eat, and you can talk to me about how things are going!"

Helen had her first real laugh in several months. "I bet Claire just LOVES being involved with you."

"Do you see any rings on these fingers? No? GOOD! That means I don't have to give any woman anything except the time of day if I don't want to - and I certainly DON'T have to wear a leash!"

"You actually care about her, don't you?"

"If the DALLAS COWBOY CHEERLEADERS ever showed up and wanted to run a TRAIN on my pale, SKINNY ass, well, Claire'll have to HIT the BRICKS! You, however, DON'T have to worry about my 'lil friend!" Anthony half-barked, half-laughed as he did a very bad 'Tony Montoya' impression. "Now, if you tell ANYONE I said that, I'll have to LIE and say that you're so good, you should do this for pay - and that the guy'd better check his limit on his PLATINUM account!

Anthony selected a bottle of 'BPB', picked out a couple of glasses, and brought them over to the table in the middle of the office. "It's a microbrew from up Wisconsin, or Michigan, WHEREVER! It's actually one of the best brews I've ever tasted-

Helen almost gagged on the scent that wafted upwards from the opened can like a mushroom cloud over Japanese soil. "-Once you get past the smell. It shames LIMBURGER- and you'd best NEVER let it get anywhere NEAR warm! I've heard that the senior M.E. keeps a six-pack in the county morgue to get past some of the more… fragrant visitors that are brought in."

"Are you deliberately saying and doing things like this to relax me?"

"Yes."

He poured the 'BPB', and it was an interesting color of dark brown-to-black, a touch darker than Guinness, with a truly impressive head of foam. "Unless you've kept your constitution from your twenties, you'll only be drinking ONE of those tonight!"

Bracing herself, Helen managed to hold her breath long enough to take a sip of the icy-cold brew - and it was as if someone had just clipped her with a dump truck. "My… God," she barely whispered, her eyes wider than wide. "That's so amazing… you're actually blurring as you move… but it's so… wonderful…"

"It's like drinking one of the better reds from the Simi Valley, but with a bouquet lifted directly from the BLACK DEATH!" Anthony laughed, scooping a healthy portion of broccoli beef onto a bed of fried rice, then biting down into a piece of crab Rangoon. "I love this stuff. Only part of being 'in country' that I enjoyed - the cooking that they had."

"You don't have a problem with Angela, do you…?" Helen asked, her head clearing. It was, she realized, a question that had never come up… some veterans of the past major U.S. conflicts had developed lifelong prejudices against any person of Asian ancestry…

"Only when she keeps trying to plant BUGS in here! I have a friend that comes in every once in a while to clear stuff up… Angela just DOESN'T REALIZE - well, she's got a part of her that can't accept that I won't keep things from her that she needs to know, and my private life doesn't count."

"Anthony - don't talk with your mouth full."

Anthony grunted in agreement, and devoured another piece of crab Rangoon.

They ate in silence for several minutes; Helen looked around the office. "Nice office. Almost as nice as mine."

"You're getting better."

Anthony took a moment to calm and focus - and Helen noticed that if he did that, he didn't put emphasis on certain words as he spoke, like he usually did. "Angela has a thing for appearances. It's why she didn't hit the big red button the first day your daughter walked into this building looking like she had a close encounter with the ghost of Nolan Miller. For the first time, she looked 'appropriate'."

Helen put her fork down. "You don't pull punches, do you?"

"It's obvious that something's severely wrong with Daria. Horribly wrong. Angela's ignoring it because now she's going to have three 4.0 students graduating, Daria included - Landon's still valedictorian because of her extracurricular activities and Ruttheimer's number two because he got into the Air Force Academy - but her score on that test had Angela dancing for days, and so she doesn't care that the girl's heading towards the edge."

"She could be just trying to adapt, and not end up like her father."

"If you BELIEVED that, you wouldn't be sitting here right now. You'd be at home with your daughters."

"I left them alone because I'm not worried about my girls."

"You've been leaving them alone because you're clueless about what to say to them," he retorted. "I see it every day, Helen. The parents don't know what to say to their kids when they see a problem, even if they see what's wrong happening right in front of them, so they don't say anything and just stop talking. The kids don't know how to say what's wrong with them - and they damn sure aren't going to go to their parents with something serious - they never do, until it's far too late.

Helen watched as Anthony's face became stone. "The kids don't think they have anywhere to let it all out, someone they respect enough to ask for help because they won't get screwed over in the process or anyone that they think cares enough to reach out to them, so whatever's wrong - it just sits there. It festers, grows like a cancer, and one day - it comes out in the worst way that you can see, or something so horrible that you don't want to see it."

From what I know about most men, you'd all love to see what's been coming out… Helen thought. You'd pop a chubbie the size of a Buick if you saw the girls the way I did… No. That's not fair to you, Anthony. Knowing you, you'd try to solve our problems and keep us out of the public eye while you're doing it, so we can actually get the help we need and keep living out normal lives without ever having everything about ourselves splashed over 24-hour TV and analyzed to death by all sorts of people, none of who give a damn about us trying to stay together and build a future…

Helen's eyes suddenly went wide.

Like you're doing right now, at this very moment.

Even though he was sitting across from Helen, Anthony was seeing into another time, and didn't notice the sudden flickering into darkness, or the apology that flashed across her face directly in its wake. "And then, at it's very worst - they always crawl home. Always. They want their mommies to hold them one last time…

"The signs are all there, Helen. I'm not preaching to you. I'm telling you what you've been ignoring as a parent but, as one of the best damn lawyers in the state, you've known all along. I like you, Mrs. Morgendorffer. Despite everything else, I liked your husband, and I think your Daria is one of the best students I've ever had!

He finished his cola in one gulp. "I'd like to think that I'd retire someday, rather than die in front of a class from a heart attack. If I do, they'll probably give me a crappy retirement party - and I'd like to see your daughter there. Kids like her… they make it easy to deal with the rest of the bullshit. They make it all worthwhile. Hell, I even like your other kid - she's starting to pull away from that Griffin girl and buckle down… the new math teacher is crazy about her!"

"Really? Quinn's good at math? "

"When it comes to numbers, the child is not without skills," he continued. "Some solid work over the next year might pull down a scholarship offer for her. Helen. Go find your girls - and look around inside yourself. Find the words that you need to say to them - and then, go and get some help for yourself."

"What makes you think that I need therapy?"

"I said 'help', not necessarily 'therapy' - and because for the first time that I can recall, you did not take charge of the conversation - especially since your girls were the main subject, and because I was just telling you what you should do in the area of parenting. If you were your normal self, you'd have chewed through half my ass by now."

Helen went quiet as she speared an exceptionally large broccoli floret, and she chewed as Anthony waited for her to talk; forgetting what was waiting, she reached for her glass and slammed its contents down -

+++++

Before that final moment of clarity exploded, fragments of self-restraint and hard-earned logical thought fluttering away through the suffocating blanket that her need had become, Helen noted that being with Daria was about touching, about feeling, about becoming; at the last, it was spiritual, ethereal… the connection that, someday, you prayed that you would make with someone, the bonding that made you feel like a princess in a fairy tale, swept up and away in Prince Charming's arms, and he'd never let you go…

Being with Quinn was savage reality. Quinn, so tanned, long and lean… Quinn, the screamer... Gripping and solid, wet, sliding, sticky and smell, scratching, pulling, flinching, giving just a bit… Being with Quinn - that was getting your freak on.

Red hair all over… scarlet and chestnut and softness and silk rolled together hard and hot and pin-lines of the thinnest blood, screams frying through the dark and the heat, the salt and the sweat, refusing to slow the fiery, headlong rush to drowning inside them, pulling wet, bridle-length hair, rough friction becoming sweet pain and sharp dullness; being pulled and crushing, the whimpers, the grunting - escaping squeaks of air as you can't want to stop the grasping and grinding from drilling straight through and pushing down to feel it all filling into you so full and fast and over and over and all around and oooh, nipping, nipping, nipping - scream, bitch! This isn't about love! Spread me wider and wallow - push in! Push IN! NOW!

FUCK.

ME.

God.

Now I can breathe.

+++++

you think its that easy to let go its more like a slight sunburn and it'll heal on its own but not right away and you'll have to scratch you'll want to scratch and you know that you shouldn't but it'll feel so good and who cares what happens tomorrow and you do because you'll have to live there but not right away and it'll sneak up one up on you and you're old enough to know better and why don't you let them lay you can't fuck your kids what's wrong with you wanting to feel that tongue over all your bendy places and they will point why is your ankle hurting he would fuck you but is that all you know from the books and he made you want to change and there's nothing wrong with money slathering all over you and lying in it while they kiss you all over i ache so much what about the i'll get there what does it mean when she goes guh i don't should cry more for him what about the radishes i have to be the daddy because he's a bitch with balls who else wants to be the mommy i'm so cold don't take my wings i can't yet smell the grass who's the liar you're both supposed to be better than me it binds us all down and the blood the blood the blood won't stop the bad blood he won't stop reach down for me I can't make it RIGHT-

get on your knees

jake lying in the marriage bed and the blood from his period flows you can't even hit me

what

its over.

+++++

eat the eggs

What?

they're good for you eat the eggs have some more

But I don't really like eggs!

eat the eggs

No.

it won't hurt no more

give me that ring and i'll give you some more eggs

It's my ring!

the girls like eggs they eat them every day

What about the girls?

there's more in the freezer there's always more eggs in the freezer

I'm telling you - I don't want any eggs!

you have to eat something

I'm - not - HUNGRY!

then when does it end

WHAT?

don't get the blood in the eggs

STOP THIS!

jake was always a breast eyes and egg man

+++++

Helen exploded back into reality; she leaped up from the couch where Anthony had placed her and covered her with a blanket - and groaned as she immediately fell back, her stomach rocking and threatening to unleash its contents…

"No, don't get up that fast, you'll ralph all over the floor!"

Anthony appeared at the door, a bottle of Pepto-Bismol in hand. "You might want some of this, and I've been trying to call your house - no answer from your girls. You won't probably want to drive yourself, and the IDIOTS that infest this town might get the wrong idea if they see you and me leaving here with you all NAUSEOUS!"

"Afraid that they won't think you're much of a lover?"

"No, that you'll get a reputation as a woman who can't handle a REAL MAN!" Anthony laughed. "I didn't realize that you were such a cheap date, Helen! One beer, and you're all over the place!"

"I - I think I need to-" Helen turned an interesting shade of green, almost avocado, and bolted for the bathroom door.

As the sounds of retching and vomit slapping against porcelain and water oozed through the bathroom door, Anthony looked away, deep concern scratched into his appearance. He had sat through the slurred words and screamed descriptions a drunk, hallucinating Helen had brought out; he made a note to have the Chemistry teacher do an analysis on a can of 'Bad Penguin Brew'. He knew what an LSD flashback was… he'd seen enough of them.

But I can't help her until she asks, Anthony said to himself, a determined look overcoming his visage of concern, and I'll be damned if I tell anyone about what she's been spouting out when she was half-out of her gourd. The social-services types would swoop in, eager to get a 'hot case' that'll make careers, the media people would crucify them within a week - and the movie would be out by next summer… the TV-movie even sooner. Helen and little Quinn would just disappear, and Daria… He swallowed hard, and images of other young men and women flashed before his eyes.

Daria would be number seven. The seventh student I knew during my career that committed suicide. I have no doubt in my mind that she'd do it.

Not that I actually care, but the scandal would finish Angela. Her name would be connected with it forever, and she'd never work in this field again -’why didn't you see it? Why didn't you report it to the 'proper authorities'?" - why don't YOU report it to the 'proper authorities', Anthony? Well, I don't know - how about because I don't know who to talk to without destroying a family that's already been through enough and going through even worse now? I'll call - no, I'll GO and actually talk to someone… someone who knows how to help people in real need, and knows how to be discreet, so that someday, hopefully, they can go on with their normal lives again.

I owe Jake that much. The man was my friend. I'm not going to let the bastards put his eldest into an early grave, and permanently shame his woman's good name.

+++++

The sound of the doorbell ringing drew Daria's head up as she fanned her hair with the handheld drier, and she set it back on her dresser before pulling a peach-hued silken robe around her and heading downstairs.

She sighed at the top of the stairs, making sure her robe was fully closed. That Sloane boy just didn't know when 'no more' meant 'no more', and besides, once she really began to get into it, Tommy's gun started to shrivel up inside her… guess he was one of those types who has to have only the submissive types, and the 'I'll conquer and take my prize' attitude towards bedding a woman. Once Daria started to take charge of the sex - that's all it was, really - he all but fell apart, and only his parents' sudden arrival saved him from absolute humiliation.

If Mumsie and the Dad hadn't burst in, you'd have been nothing but a shell, hmn? What could you do - you can't overpower or humiliate me, and you can't prove how good you are horizontally - what else do you have but money?

Daria actually giggled as she went down the stairs. Tom Sloane wasn't ever going to see HER ever again - although, she was certain, he'd be abusing women for the next few decades, trying to prove for the rest of his life that he was a man… and soon enough, some girl would slice him open, blow daylight through him, or just poison the bastard. Maybe run him over and over, like that woman did her cheating husband… the video still made her laugh out loud, just watching the car roll around in circles, going over him again and again…

She opened the door.

"Well, look who it is - 'Invisible Girl'!"

Daria leaned against the door. "Hey…"

"Get outta the way!" Jane barked, pushing past Daria. "It's COLD out there, and I don't see you offering me coffee or cocoa - I don't see a single marshmallow around here, either -" Her eyes fell on Daria's slightly askew robe as she turned about, and the visible swell of her breasts. "Oh, THERE they are! Better cover those up - don't think you'd want those dipped in hot chocolate!"

You have no idea, a little voice laughed, and Daria savagely repressed an image from about a week earlier-

"Now, since it looks like you're in for the evening, maybe you can tell me just what the hell you CAN'T tell me about what's going on and what's wrong with you!" Jane chirped, plopping down on the couch. "Just run on into the kitchen, get something for us to eat - and while you're in there, plan out what lies and stories you're going to try to tell me BEFORE you actually get to the truth, because I'm planting myself in here on this couch - and I won't be leaving - until you tell me what's wrong and you let me help you!"

Daria looked at Jane without speaking for a long moment, then, as Jane's eyes went wide, she turned and went into the kitchen.

This one will be a bitch, Jane thought, letting out a long-held breath. She's not acting like herself… nice robe, though. I thought she was surgically linked to that stupid old pullover shirt - smells really nice and clean… smells really nice… that's that new V.L. Riley scented bath oil that Penny buys when she wants to smell good for whomever - did she exfoliate? You had your nails - you had your toes done? When did you get your ears pierced and start wearing diamonds?

WHERE THE HELL ARE YOUR GLASSES?

A peanut butter and ham sandwich landed without warning in Jane's lap, and Daria put a carton of milk unceremoniously on the table in front of her before sitting down on the other side of the table. "Hey, you finally learned how to set a table! Who taught you?"

Daria crossed her arms and looked away with determination as Jane bit into the thick ham and thicker swath of peanut butter, chewing with gusto as she waggled her eyes at her friend's shapely legs - something everyone had always agreed on as Daria's best feature. "Nice stems, toots," Jane smirked, waggling her eyebrows at Daria, who covered her legs and huffed in exasperation. "Shame that we don't flip for clam dip, like a lot of people want to think… you're a real cute lil' girl, over there…" She smirked, surprisingly unaware of the way Daria wanted to curl up inside and disappear as Jane attacked her sandwich. "I see you've been getting some work done on the airframe - what's the occasion?"

"Jane-"

"That's me name!"

"Go home."

"I'm not a singer - I don't take requests."

"The way you sing, the only request you ever get is 'please stop."

"Now that's the Daria I remember!"

Half of the carton's contents vanished in a couple of noisy gulps, and Jane set the carton down next to her sandwich; she winced as Quinn floated down the stairs in a frilly-over-lacy housecoat that seemed to come straight out of a fairy tale, the usual vaporous expression etched across her face.

"Hi, Quinn…"

"Oh, HI, Jane!" Quinn bleated, stopping as she passed to pick a hair off of Daria's robe. "Daria, you've got a hair…"

"Thank you," Daria said icily, not flinching or turning her attention away from Jane, who for her part waited until Quinn glided past again and up the stairs with a bowl of Chex Mix and a diet soda, then locked her gaze back upon Daria.

"Talk to me, Daria. Please talk to me. Tell me anything you want!"

"There's nothing to tell. Dad lost it, he's has some strokes, and now he's in the produce aisle with his expiration date coming up soon. Probably before the Fourth of July. We've got good money - it'll be a nice funeral. Lots of flowers. Grandma actually came through with lots of money. I can afford to go to almost any school I want now up through my Master's degree. Quinn'll be in designer clothes until she's thirty. They managed to clean up the blood and the bits of skull from Mr. Ceedle. The lady who did it was in 'Maxim' magazine - they brought her in specially. I needed a change, so I dress a little differently. I don't want to put this stupid crap on you, so I let those stupid boys buy me food and listen to me vent because they think they'll get to 'comfort-fuck' me later. I'm going to be all right someday. Not today, or next week, or I don't know when, but I will be because I know I will. I just need to be left alone while I think everything through, okay?"

Jane looked at her with an expression that would slag a moon.

"You've been practicing. You said three honest things in all of that, and the rest is total crap. Well, maybe four. You done lying about what's wrong, or should I just dig in and hold? You definitely look like you're doing just that."

Not for the first time, Daria wished swift and silent death on whatever it was in her that allowed Jane to all but read her mind.

"Jane, I-"

The sound of the door opening cut off Daria's next words, and she rose as Helen, supported by Anthony, came through and into the living room.

"Mom-?"

"I'm not feeling well," she said, sinking down on the couch as Anthony slowed her fall. "Chinese food and 'Bad Penguin Brew'… oh, God, the room's spinning… no. It's tumbling…"

"What's a 'bad penguin's brew'-?" Daria asked, and Jane smirked up at Anthony."

"What-?"

"Mr. DeMartino, the 'Rebound King'! His Royal Airness! 'Air DeMartino'!" Jane smirked, and Anthony felt his eye begin to bulge… "Trying to score on the lawyer-girl with the foul fowl ale! Trying to get a little 'woo-hoo' with the 'do-me-too' brew!"

"Miss Lane, stop INSINUATING or your new nickname'll be 'DEAD-END LANE!"

"Would you all - huukkk - "

"OH, GROSS!!!" Quinn bellowed, watching from the stairs as Helen caught a whiff of Jane's sandwich and vomited all over the table. "Mom, the table's RUINED! Oh, and it just SMELLS! Here, take this and cover it up-"

Anthony covered the table with the huge, fluffy towel that Quinn had been drying her hair with, and then turned to Daria. "Miss Morgendorffer! Kindly PROVIDE your mother with something to clean herself up with and another BARF BAG - if you don't have one, grab a GARBAGE BAG - the big, DARK ONES - so that we all don’t have to watch her RALPH on the floor again as we take her up to her BED or the BATHROOM!"

Daria started down the hall, and was at the kitchen door when a cold sensation gripped her and turned her slowly back around… She watched as Jane's eyes flickered from the heavy towel to Quinn's still-damp hair, and then, those ocean blue eyes shifted forward and locked directly on her, on her hair, on the still-dampened ends -

It was the first time Daria had ever seen someone's soul open up and explode with anger, an anger that reverberated through her eyes and made her visibly wilt under Jane's fire… She took a step back, then another, as Jane walked towards her, with a silent, unholy fury Daria would never have guessed Jane was capable of…

Jane looked back into the living room for a lifetime of a second, and then came almost nose-to-nose with Daria. "We. Will. Talk. Later."

"Jane-"

The slender brunette's body trembled, and she leaned forward. "We are going to talk," she hissed. "It should have been me. It was supposed to be me. No matter how wrong it was, no matter where it went, no matter what anyone could have said… it should have been with me."

With a turn and stride any Nazi would have admired, Jane left without another word, leaving Daria standing in the hall, life drained away from her face and her world.

+++++

Although everyone concerned wished it otherwise, the sun rose that morning, and a new day began in Lawndale.

Helen woke up unsteadily, then somehow managed to get to the bathroom. "I… don't think that I'll be going in to work today," she murmured to her reflection, after washing her hands and drying them on one of Jake's 'His' towels. "Today can be a… personal day…"

She lumbered over to the bed, and somehow managed to sit down without missing the bed entirely. "I'll never touch a glass of anything ever again," she rumbled, rolling herself back upon the bed with some effort. "Please, God, just let me sleep for a few years… and give me a new stomach."

Even the dream that she'd awakened from was making her stomach shift. It was bad enough that she'd had fantasies about the girls, but now… She hadn't had dreams that she'd remembered in months, and she wished that she didn't recall this one, or with this amount of detail. Even now, she could still feel soft hair brushing over her, recall the slightly salty taste of sweat as her tongue moved over the nape of a shapely neck, and feel the slightly dull ache that seemed to trickle down through her spine and out through her body as she came down from an orgasm so intense, so forceful that it left her shaking and made her want to weep-

Helen covered the space between bed and toilet like it were nothing, and she spewed bile and half-digested food into the toilet; gagging, she vomited again until her sides ached. Her eyes closed, she turned the water in the sink on and dropped a washcloth in, then began to clean herself up. I can't believe I'm having dreams about them, I can't believe that I actually felt - I - it was so, and I responded, it was so real for me that I did, I can feel it, I actually managed to come-

She found herself dry-heaving over the bowl. Several minutes later, after downing a Vicodin and some Alka-Seltzer - and using mouthwash twice - Helen looked into the mirror to see something that might have been her own face…maybe.

This is getting worse - I have to actually talk to someone…

Helen curled back into the bed, buried her face into the pillow as she pulled the covers over her - and her eyes snapped open, senses flared into full activity that buried the effects of the previous night and her dream into absolute irrelevance; she breathed in, deeply, purposefully, letting a scent travel into her nostrils, known, but impossible, and yet still here, in all its horrid wrongness of being…

They changed the sheets. They redid the entire bed.

They were… they did… together - and in our bed. Jake's and mine. They had sex in our bed.

Quinn's perfume was faint upon her pillow, a scent so subtle Helen knew that she should never have noticed in her present state, but somehow she knew, she knew, she knew the changes in her bed, but the scent still lingered in the pillows themselves, languorous, a gentle caress of disappearing scent designed to imprint itself upon the minds of young men, a fond remembrance -

This wasn't just about getting off, or about forbidden desires. You did this on purpose.

You defiled the place where your father and I lay.

Do you both hate your father and me that much? Do you?

Without thinking, she reached across the bed, to touch, to find that form beside her, to find her source of comfort.

But there was no one there.

And Helen's eyes filled with tears.

+++++

Daria had long before learned how to be quiet, and yet, express herself more fully than most people who knew her could ever imagine. It wasn't even necessary for her to do that, now, in her room, but the instinct remained…

Once Mr. DeMartino had left, she and Quinn had gotten their mother safely tucked away in her room, where she fell into an unmoving, drunken slumber they had never seen - from her, of course. Jake had occasionally drunk himself into a stupor that held him in sleep far longer than they'd have believed possible….

As the door closed and they started down the hall, they looked at one another; Quinn's face took on the look of arousal and anticipation Daria knew well as she moved close to her and began to nuzzle at Daria's neck. Breathing Daria's scent in deeply, she reached out to caress Daria's neck, her hand moving over Daria's face as her tongue flicked about an earlobe, and her other hand slid between the folds of the robe to grasp at a breast…

Daria felt herself stiffen, and then become gel-like as Quinn fondled her. Her knees suddenly weak, Daria let herself be moved back against the wall as Quinn's fingers roughly stroked a nipple before sliding her hand down into the junction between her legs. Daria felt the rippling heat roll up the small of her back and down her legs as Quinn touched her in the way she loved being touched, the way they found out, together, what made each other squeal and scream. She barely remembered that they were standing not more than ten feet from their sleeping mother and bit back a cry, muffling it into a heated grunting through a tightly balled fist in her mouth.

Quinn pulled her hand free of Daria's robe, drew her closer and they kissed, deep and slow, Quinn's arms around Daria, Daria's arms around Quinn's neck, pressing in against each other, their bodies hot, almost shaking, remembering past liberties taken and quickly readied for more-

Daria suddenly stopped. Her lips came away from Quinn's, scarlet hair falling away from her face as she brought her head up.

"No."

Quinn looked at her and laughed, a happy, bubbling sound as she reached into Daria's robe and fondled a breast once again, enjoying the way Daria's breath seemed to skip as she tensed, then melted away at Quinn's touch. "Playing hard-to-get, are we? Well, that's okay - I don't mind if you want me to work for it-"

"No."

"Huh? Not here? Okay, Daria, but I thought you said that you didn't care! I'll run some water in the tub and we'll hop back in again - I want to feel you wet and rubbing all up against me right now so much-"

Quinn was stunned as Daria looked at her with her old glare, that disparaging glare, that cold, disdainful stare she saw on Daria's face all her life as she said just two words:

"Quinn. Don't."

Daria removed Quinn's hand, straightened her robe as Quinn looked at her with widened eyes, and started away towards her room.

"Daria-?"

She stopped at the sound of the voice behind her. "I want to go to bed."

"Okay-"

"No, Quinn."

"But you said that you didn't care- Daria, I don't understand-"

"Just go to sleep, Quinn."

"But, you don't want to - tell me, Daria, please, what did I do-"

"You didn't do anything."

"Daria-"

Daria went into her room, closed and locked the door, and lay awake in her bed until the rays of sunlight were bright and sharp through her window.

"It should have been me. It was supposed to be me. No matter how wrong it was, no matter where it went, no matter what anyone could have said… it should have been with me."

The face of Jane Lane stayed firm in her mind's eye, raven-black hair cut short and piecing blue eyes that danced with light, a playful air, and a touch of willfulness highlighted by those slightly, perpetually upraised eyebrows… That face, so beautiful, that she tried to force from her mind in every way she could imagine, but stayed with her even as she lay writhing with her sister in bed, fighting to escape the image of those eyes upon her, within her…

"It should have been me."

Jane, who she turned from when she needed her so desperately, who would have been there for her regardless of if she had wanted it or not. Even with her hands as stained with blood as her father's, as her grandfathers, as her mother's with the essence of the life their family might have had dripping away into the nothingness it all was, Jane would have been there.

Jane.

"It was supposed to be me."

Jane, to Daria, like Theseus to Heracles, who clasped pure hands to blood-sotted ones and in the eyes of all others, shared his crimes; Jane, who would put her arms around her, hold her, hold silent and let her find her way, and yet, be there if she needed, whatever she needed…

"It should have been with me."

Jane, who knew Daria better than anyone else ever would. Jane, who would look into her and know without being asked, without Daria even knowing herself what she truly wanted, what she truly needed. Jane, who pushed her brother at Daria, trying to help her find her way through the lonely mappings of her inner self, with the warm smile of her own brother to guide Daria's way… Jane, who gave her every chance she could find to make her happy, no matter how much she had to be hurting inwardly as she stood off to one side…

Jane, who would have been there on that night of the storm.

Jane, who loved her.

They say that the young can never know true love, to understand exactly what it is… True Love; spoken of as though the object of a quest. You're a child, and what you feel is the pull of the hormones running through you, driving you, consuming you, immolating you in the fire of your young bodies straining for some form of release… love is the key that allows you to unlock the door. You can't be truly in love. You can't know it for what it is. What you feel in your loins and your heart is puppy love. First love. Summer love. Playing at love. This isn't real. It's an experience. What you feel now is preparing you for what you cannot handle - not now, not yet. You're too fickle to experience it, too immature to treasure it, too inexperienced to handle it, too young to be bound by it, too ignorant to see it.

They are so wrong.

Jane, who loves her.

Without thinking, she reached across the bed, to touch, to find that form beside her, to find her source of comfort.

But there was no one there.

And Daria's eyes filled with tears.

+++++

Morning light fell through never-shuttered curtains to find Quinn, who had slept like a baby.

After returning to her room, and after two minutes or so of wondering if Daria found something unpleasant or unappealing about her, Quinn looked at herself in the mirror and smiled at the fashion-perfect beauty looking back at her.

'Not a chance in hell,' she smiled back at the mirror image, letting the robe she wore drop off her shoulders just enough to reveal her breasts. 'Men are gonna die to see me like this, so I am NOT worried about not being able to get someone up and running!'

She stepped over to her bed, and let her robe slide from her to become a formless lump on the floor. "But for now, a girl's gotta do for herself…" Her gaze fell over the light switch, but mischievousness came into her eyes.

"And I don't need to do it in the dark."

Quinn slid into bed, and she looked at the six-foot-tall plush giraffe that sat next to her vanity table, let a teasing, exploring hand play over her firm, flat abdomen. Her breathing became measured, shallow as her hand slowed to a crawl while her pinky finger stroked around the edges of her navel slowly, deliberately; Quinn took her time as she brought her fingers to her mouth, moistening the tips, then letting them traverse back down again… the feeling of her tiny finger moving about her navel's edge, the slight pressure of the fingernail as she moved her pinky slightly, allowing a touch of prickly sensation over soft stroking as anticipation made her salivate; a liquid filament, gleaming and instantly cold across her cheek, appeared as Quinn shifted her head away from her smiley-face pillow…

Oh, Daria, and Mom's just down the hall, too… you just don't know what you're going to be missing tonight… hey, giraffe, shame you can't go back and tell the J's what you've gotten to see. Make them all drop dead from no blood to the brain… the coroner-guys on TV would come in and say 'first fatal cases of blue-balls we've ever seen!'

Well, maybe not Jamie.

Maybe I'll just stay away from him… and from Stacy, too.

Maybe.

Hey, Sandi… maybe I'll give you a call this weekend, and have you drop by for a sleepover… Friday would work… I've seen the way you look at me when you think I'm not paying attention - you hate me so much you can't stand it, but you want to bed me just as bad… I can relate to that. If you're nice to me beforehand, maybe I'll let you take charge, and let you just do whatever you want to me. I can get into that, too.

Maybe I'll give Tiffany a call and do the same for her on Saturday night, and the Fashion Club meeting for next week would be a scream! 'Sandi - we need to pass a resolution that everyone in the Fashion Club should wear silk panties. They're easier to tear off someone than cotton ones, you see, and they ARE more fashionable - but then, you've already know that from this weekend - right, Tiffany?

Oh, and Tiffany? NOTHING makes you look fat. Your body is perfect, just the way it is… and speaking of perfect bodies - I wonder if all that under Brittany's sweater is really straight from the factory. Something to consider for the summer, or for spring break - or for the next time Kevin screws around on her, and she needs a shoulder to cry on… and speaking of shoulders to cry on, poor Mack - no, poor Michael. A good guy, no, a good man - he's so into Jodie, and she hardly has time to be a proper girlfriend… Let me take up the slack, Jodie. I'll take good care of him.


Oh, but I can't do that to Michael. Stacy likes him… she really does…


I wonder if Miss Barch hates men as much as she lets on? I could find out… she'll marry the eunuch someday, maybe, but that's only because she wants a dick for herself, and that's the only way she'll get close to having her own… so, tell me, Janet - you like girls, or do you just like hating guys? You'll hate them all before I'm done, because after you see me riding your little Timmy - and you just know he IS 'little Timmy' - you're going to hate everybody in sight… Not my fault, either. Hate makes you ugly, and you should have screwed your ex's friends - and then him, in court.

I bet Timmy loves to be on the bottom - that way, he finally gets to 'support' someone, and - Oh, God, I'm gonna come? - I'm coming - oh, fuck, it's happening, how did you get here-

Quinn bit straight through the nose-horn on her stuffed dino as she crammed it into her mouth to muffle the sounds of her sudden, unexpected climax.

Well. That was good.

Oh, yeah.

I can do that again.

+++++

As Jane walked through morning sunlight and into the kitchen, the flaming curtain of her anger slowly began to part as she saw what was on the perennially barren table, and on the strangely cleaned and operational stove...

Breakfast.

Trent had cooked breakfast. He had cooked a real breakfast, with no fast-food wrappers anywhere in sight. Well, somebody had cooked breakfast… and it smelled good. Man, did it smell good!

"Oh, yeah," Jane said, her nose pulling her along at a fast clip. "Oh, yeah!"

Jane had awakened less than five minutes earlier to the sound of heavy knocking on her bedroom door. Beating on her door, actually - and well past the point of no return, she erupted through her door… but no one was there. Footsteps going down the steps caught her attention, but before she could get to the door, the sound of a car speeding away only magnified her nova-class temper. She had planned to smash something just to do it, but then, the smells from the kitchen caught her attention…

As far back as she could remember, breakfast in Lane homes usually consisted of whatever you could find that was readily edible, not necessarily in need of preparation, and fresher than average ('puking during daylight hours - not done', Jane once joked at the Morgendorffers, making Quinn go red). A lunchmeat sandwich, something sitting on a saucer that doesn't look ready to walk off on its own, usually leftover pizza or Chinese… If a good day started with a good breakfast, Jane reflected, there's no wonder our family life sucks eggs through teeny-tiny straws.

The anger she felt truly began to drop away as the other details of the kitchen began to come into focus, and Jane managed to draw her attention away from the sausage links, potatoes O'Brien, and MORE sausage links staying warm in the covered pans on the stove. .

The kitchen was clean.

The kitchen smelled clean.

There were groceries in the refrigerator. REAL groceries. Two heads of cabbage, milk, bacon, brown spicy mustard, longhorn cheese, grape jelly, and cans of cranberry sauce (keep it in the refrigerator; it's easier to slice, and tastes better cold). There were things in the freezer, and in the cabinets. Flavored rice. Applesauce - the regular stuff, not that gunk with the chunks in it. Macaroni & cheese. Corned beef hash. Several types of canned vegetables - including that corn with red and green peppers. Potatoes O'Brien, and pork steaks & pork chops in the freezer. Cans of ravioli, canned chili, crackers - and five or six types of soup, including chicken and wild rice. Breaded fish portions, and catfish fillets. Chopped beef for stew. Coffee. Flour; white sugar, brown sugar (the light brown type). Two roasting chickens, a pork roast - no beefsteaks - well, no pricey, fancy cuts, but some round steaks for making rice and gravy, and a serious beef roast, at least twelve pounds. (Jane grew up hating steaks, because every time the parents or anyone else left, the last meal was a steak of some sort.) A couple of pies - a sweet potato pie, and an apple cobbler. (Jane was NOT a fan of peaches.) Bacon - there was sliced bacon for breakfast, and a hunk of jowl bacon to slice up for the cooked cabbage. Canned yams. Sticks of butter. Eggs.

Sports water. Okay, Trent - now, you've just taken it way too far… but you do know me. Damn, somebody's going to tell everybody I know that I'm the cheapest date they ever had, and I'll spend the night in a heartbeat. Just promise me a big breakfast - lots of bacon and sausage, some waffles and hash browns, an egg or a dozen, make me an omelet the size of a truck tire or a big stack of pancakes with a chunk of melting butter and warm syrup - oooooooh, look, somebody made me a big waffle…

I may just decide to let you and all of your partners in musical crime live another day, Trent, and even Monique, too - I remember you talking about how she had a thing about making big, big waffles… I can't even remember the last time I saw something that looked as good as that waffle does.

Yeah, actually, I can remember the last time… saw something that looked that good… okay, none of that now, I'm eating!

A smile reemerging upon her face, Jane left the stove and kept probing around the shelves. There were spices and other things for cooking. Bay leaves. Meat tenderizer. Sage, nutmeg, crushed red pepper, poultry seasoning. Jane couldn't even remember the last time she saw a bottle of Worcestershire sauce or a can of shortening in the kitchen.

A bottle of dishwashing soap sat on the sink next to the handle for the hot water, and Jane's eye caught the little purple 'Post-it' stuck there. She moved closer, and read it:

Hey.

Made you real food before we left. Got some more for later. Made the guys do a special gig last night and kept the money to go shopping. Let them go after groupies in return. DO NOT go in the basement until I say it's okay. Monique came over and helped clean up while you were asleep last night. Nicholas and Jesse cooked most of the stuff; Monique made you the waffle. This morning. We waited until she'd just finished it to wake you up. No - I didn't do that with her. She heard that you were down and wanted to do something to pick you up. Next time she comes over, don't chase her around the house with the wooden stake. Put the blessed oil away, too.


Jane smirked. Trent always had the smallest handwriting… of course, it looked like ants had been square dancing in ink, but it could be read. Eventually. Most of it.


When you want, talking is good. I'll hang at Jesse's until you're ready - we've got shows in Oakdale and Middleton this week. There's about a couple of hundred or so in my pillow. Go get some new colors, or check out the display at the mall. Meant to tell you about it earlier. Fixed up your minivan so you can get around - there's gas in it. Call me when it's time. I'll explain and apologize in person for not saying anything.

Later.

P.S. Don't go back mad. Just go back.


Jane shook her head. Of COURSE Trent would know about what… about Daria and Quinn… what was happening…

She found her way to a chair.

Daria and Quinn are sleeping together.

No. I am not going to think about it right now. I'm going to eat. I'm gonna eat my real breakfast - Trent, no biscuits? You are a tool! - And not think about Daria dancing the light slutastic with Quinn… Forget the incest thing - as if you could! Forget that she didn't open up to me like she just had to if something like this could have happened, or should have before it ever did. Forget even that she's been doing it with her again, and again, and again, and that she's letting herself be touched like she's… what, you didn't think I'd pay attention to you getting groomed and preened over by Miss Fashion-Do-What-I-Do like a kitten too long off from the mama cat? Hate to tell you this, girl, but what makes you high-maintenance ISN'T that you're all that hard to figure out - and trust me, you're not - but that someone has to keep coming in and tuning everything back up all the frakkin' time! We love you, Daria, how many times do you have to hear it before you finally, actually believe it? Geez!

Quinn.

I just don't believe this.

Quinn?

QUINN?

You SLEPT with QUINN?

You've been sleeping with QUINN! What the hell planet did I just get sucked through the Stargate onto that things would be anywhere close to hellish enough that YOU would in ANY WAY turn your back on me and feel the need, or the desire, or have a damned BRAIN TUMOR BIG ENOUGH TO MAKE YOU THINK THAT HOPPING INTO BED WITH THAT IGNORANT, BUBBLEGUM-BRAIN-POPPING, SOMEDAY-RUNWAY-WALKING, GOOD-FOR-NOTHING-BUT-FUCKING REDHAIRED BITCH WAS IN ANY UNIVERSE ANYWHERE ANYTHING REMOTELY NEAR A GOOD IDEA ON HOW TO DEAL WITH WHATEVER THE HELL IT IS THAT'S WRONG WITH YOU!

WELL?

A sausage link died screaming as Jane chewed through it as if it were Quinn's neck. Her anger had returned, and the look on her face would have killed flies in midair.

Half of the giant waffle, two cups of hot cocoa and ten sausage links later, Jane had calmed down. Hot breakfast foods had that sort of effect on her.

Okay. Maybe this would go a little better if I didn't sound so much like someone who just found out that they were being cheated on, and with the person they said that they couldn't stand the most.

You know what I mean.

But I DO feel like I got cheated on. Damn you, Daria, you're supposed to come to me! Did what happened with your dad screw you up that bad? How did you end up - I don't want to know - Damn you! Couldn't you just - why couldn't you go off and get drunk, or get high, or get humped QB-style by Kevin Thompson and then worry about being pregnant by him like any other girl in Lawndale with major emotional problems? But oh, no, you're Daria Morgendorffer, the Misery Chick - you ALWAYS have to come up with something new - a big show-stopping way of screwing yourself over that'll leave everyone's mouths hanging open or ready to riot!

Daria… Daria. If that's what you needed…we could have worked something out. And in, and out, and around a little bit, until you got your own rhythm down… and knowing you like I do, we'd have to get you some K-Y jelly, and some of your mom's Vicodin, at least for the first couple of times - that's the problem with having a real friend, some one closer than a sister to you, because you find out everything about them… everything… and it would have been okay, because I'd have… I'd take care of it, Daria, if that were what you needed. I'd want to.

I love you. Maybe I do love you like that - God knows some people think that already - maybe it's true, and I do, I don't know, I don't know yet and you don't either, but you do know that there's nothing that you can't come to me with, and that's what hurts me the most.

You did betray me.

There's no one else that you should have even thought of before me, and I don't care how selfish that sounds. You think I actually care about what anybody at that pissant school would think if I kissed you right out beneath the flagpole, or walked right past Ms. Li with your hand in mine? Hell, they'd probably throw me a parade, thanking God that I saved several people from the minefield of dating you, let alone actually letting you become a part of someone's life! Of course, they'd make jokes about how the sex'll probably be world-class - and I'd deserve it, because anybody who's crazy enough to love a woman like you has to get something in return!

I can see the looks on their faces when I answer them. 'I did get something in return. She loves me back. And by the way… the sex is in a class of its own.'

But do you?

Do you love me in any way at all? Is that why you didn't think to come to me? Is that why you let this happen with her; you think that you can just bury any feelings you have for me, or for anybody else, by getting dirty with Quinn; by just breaking each and any and every single rule, nothing else matters, so your hurting doesn't matter, so you can just ignore it as long as you keep on doing it with her… and if - when - I found out, then I'll turn away from you, and that'll be your punishment for going this way in the first place? Oh, yeah - this is just so you… Quinn's probably got the same type of thought rattling around in that space-for-rent between her ears, too… didn't it ever occur that people would be there for both of you? Do the both of you feel that lost in the ether?

I'll just bet that neither of you even bothered to try and talk to your Aunt Amy about this. Not the sex - I mean, why didn't you talk to her about the stuff before that? Telling her how you feel about your dad; about how your perfect little 'Quinn-world' of crystal and rose petals got blown apart like Dan Ceedle's head? My God, Quinn, your father went insane and killed a man you both knew right in front of you in the foyer of your own house! I think that people would be a little understanding about some slight emotional baggage sticking around for a bit after that, no matter who you are! Why didn't you let your mom hire the psychiatrists for you - I know, because I heard Dr. Manson talking about it - what possessed you into thinking a late-night clambake with your sister would make it all go away? I mean, come on, Quinn, we've all seen the stuff on cable; if THAT'S the way you wanted to go, why didn't you just get the Fashion Club together with a couple of bottles of wine, put some stupid 'Best of Romance' CD on down low, start trying on clothes and telling each other how good you all look even without them, and let every forty year old fat man's supreme fantasy take its course?

Why did the two of you decide to drag yourselves and everyone around down into the pit with your dad - unless that's exactly why you're doing it?

No.

You are not your father, Daria Louise Morgendorffer. You are not damaged goods.

I am NOT going to stand around and let THAT sorry song start playing in your head, or Quinn's, either. You are worth something. You both are - and just because I can't appreciate you because I think you're an air-headed little bitch, Quinn, well, it doesn't mean you're still not worthwhile. After all, Stacy Rowe actually likes you - and any high-school girl who joneses for sci-fi like she does and still gets to hang with you after you found out… maybe you're not that bad. I guess not. Maybe I'll let you design my wedding gown someday.

But Daria comes first. Always. Before everyone else… before ANYONE else.

I have to talk to her - I've got to make her let me in again.

I don't want to be here in this world without her.

Jane came out of her thoughts, and looked down at the empty skillet on the table in front of her. "Damn," she grunted, licking her greasy, sticky fingers, and wincing at the reddened, slightly sore tips of her index and ring fingers. "Next time I zone out, pick up a fork first…"

+++++

Timothy O'Neill all but danced through the morning sunlight into the teacher's lounge, the sincerely painted-on smile he wore making Anthony force himself not to stand up, walk over to him, and kick his testicles up into his throat.

Fucking empty-headed, tear-spewing, cotton-candy education pushing Nancy-boys like you are the reason that modern education sucks, he thought, cramming down the last of his sausage biscuit, and made the last couple of generations into nothing but a waste of skin and air. Look at you - the Morgendorffers get to go rolling through hell, and instead of realizing that something's wrong, you take the warning signs and see it as a 'triumph of you reaching one of your students!' I want to kick your ass so badly it makes my eyes water…

I can just see what you'd do if you knew - run straight to social services and those worthless psychotherapists and psychiatrists, tear their lives up in the name of helping them out, go on every talk show in the damned universe and brag about how you JUST COULDN'T SIT STILL AND DO NOTHING - YOU HAD TO HELP BECAUSE THAT'S WHAT A REAL TEACHER DOES! - And then sit back and cry so hard that you piss on yourself after it explodes in your face and they lose everything so you can get the idea that the next time, you'll work harder and do more so you don't lose that one to 'the horrors of growing up'… you won't even realize that people like you are the reason that the kids ARE so fucked up.

And me, too. I don't think I can even reach them… I can't connect anymore… I don't know how. We've got so many rules, so many do's and don'ts, and the parents are too nothing in their kids lives to mean anything, leaving it all up to us but screaming if we get close to talking about anything that they should be teaching their kids at home by just keeping their asses AT home and letting their cubs know how to be a better person - by watching THEM do it the right way, every day! It used to be easier - sit your ass down - ASK QUESTIONS - LEARN - if you opened your word hole and smarted off, you got cacked right there on the spot or in the office with a paddle. I still remember Mr. Kuznof's paddle… kept it in the freezer part of the refrigerator in the office, and it had holes drilled in it, to suck out the meat when it hit… nobody with brains got it twice with that paddle, and NOBODY went three rounds with it.

I don't miss that. I miss the fact that there was fear and respect for teachers (but the good fear, that you'd disappoint them if you screwed up) - and once you knew that acting like a fool in class bought you trouble here AND at home, you settled in and got down to the business of learning. It used to be an honor to be a teacher - you were someone who KNEW STUFF - but even more, you were WORTH putting up in front of kids, because kids know who they can listen to and trust. I can still hear Mr. Bowers reading 'Tom Sawyer' to us… 'Don't ask for it unless you want it…. But Peter signified that he did want it. 'You'd better make sure.' Peter was sure.'

Don't you know that you're nothing but a dumb-ass running joke? Even as screwed up as Janet is, at least she's still one hell of an educator!

"You seem in an especially pleasant mood today, Timothy," Claire DeFoe observed, pouring hot tea into a Russian-style teacup - clear, with an ornate silver handle. "Anything that we should know about - a gift of a ring for someone we know, perhaps?"

"Well, no, but almost as good!" Timothy gushed, prancing over to her and breathing the heady, thick essence of the tea in as steam rose from the kettle. " Mmmmm… orange blossoms, chamomile, and… no. Some spices I don’t quite recognize… Is it a new blend from Ceylon?"

"The Caribbean," she said, and motioned towards the kettle. "It's quite a relaxing blend, actually. Anthony purchased it for me on his last trip to the Mall of the Millennium. I told him that it was quite thoughtful of him. Would you care to try a cup?"

"Yes, thank you!" he gushed. "Oh, today's going to be just the most wonderful day! The students in my senior English class are turning in their latest works, and I'll be selecting pieces to represent Lawndale High in the district writing competition!"

"You've been very pleased with Miss Morgendorffer's work lately, I've heard," Claire spoke, sipping again from her cup.

"Oh, yes! Her work's always been far above the rest, but after the terrible things that have happened with her family, she's seen that violence is something that isn't to be glorified in any fashion whatsoever, and she's turned herself and her works about in a way that just makes every part of my soul just want to sing!"

Anthony suddenly had a vision of himself rushing towards Timothy, a huge sledgehammer in his hands…

"You're right - this tea is delicious, and so calming!" Timothy exclaimed, savoring the tea in a manner that made even Claire think he was being too dramatic. "Daria's work over the past semester has been just so uplifting, and so inspirational - in every word, she just pours out her reaffirmation towards the sanctity of life and her newfound dedication to living, to becoming a part of something greater than just the sad, withdrawn person she was! It's as though she's found the deeper meaning in life; as though she's just read the works of Ayn Rand and chose to embody them, to give those wondrous beliefs flesh in her own form! She understands now, can't you see? She has found the One Truth In Life - that in order to serve the cause of Good, you must let your actions be LIFE-AFFIRMING. Good is LIFE-AFFIRMING, Evil is LIFE-DENYING!"

Claire stopped in mid-sip, her eyes becoming larger than normal, and Anthony followed her gaze over to Dr. Margaret Manson, the school psychologist - who was looking away from Timothy… and gripping a fairly large desk reference hard enough to crack the spine. Anthony knew that Rand was one of her favorite authors, and her reaction probably meant that Timothy was probably mangling the meaning of those works…

Timothy turned around to face the other teachers, almost all of who had learned years ago to tune his new age bleating out. "Don't all of you see - don't you understand what we've done?" he cried out, looking about the room. "We've won! We've won a soul back from the Dark Side - we've brought a sad, hopeless girl back into the light! We've done a good thing!"

He took another sip of tea, then set it down on the counter. "Oh, I'm so happy - I need to get ready for class! It's going to be such a wonderful day-!"

The English teacher actually skipped out of the room, and a collective rolling of eyes commenced as the door closed behind him. “Lotus-eating son of a bitch”, Margaret snarled, slamming down the last dregs of her triple expresso latte. "He really needs to change the seeds for whatever he's growing in his root cellar… and learn to talk what he knows about Rand."

"Dr. Manson - that's not the way we're supposed to talk about our colleagues," Claire reproached, her voice still kind. "I admit, Timothy may seem a, well, perhaps he's a bit positive in his thinking and in his teaching methods…"

"You should listen more to how the students talk about us," Margaret hissed, coming to her feet. "Most of those kids would rather have a rectal exam than spend time in O'Neill's class."

As she left, Anthony finished his sandwich and started on another.

Better watch him…

+++++

Scribbling furiously in a notebook as she sat on a bench on the lawn in front of Lawndale High School, Jane chomped away at grapes from a small bag beside her when she saw Mack Mackenzie and Jodie Landon walking around from the LHS parking lot. Both of them waved, which she acknowledged with a nod, and as she turned back to her notebook, she saw Jodie push Mack in her direction.

Jane smiled. Mack and Jodie were two of the few students who still talked to Jane on a regular basis (not that folks did before, anyway). Not many wanted to be seen around her - after all, Daria didn't hang with her anymore, and SHE could have easily brought Jane up into the popular cliques. Besides, whenever track season came close, a lot of the sporto types remembered her as 'Jane the jock queen' and didn't make faces when she went by. Hey, if her best friend didn't want to know her anymore, well…

"Hey, Jane."

"Hey, Mack."

"Finish up those poems for Mr. O'Neill?"

"Oh, yeah. Seven poems, each designed to get flower-boy off my case. Wanna hear one?"

"Sure - but then you'll have to suffer through one of mine."

"Deal."

Jane pulled a sheet of paper from her folder and began to read:

Roses are red
Violets are blue
Puppies and kitties
Can make a great stew.
Oranges are orange
Redbirds are red
The secret to pet stew
Is to make homemade bread.
Cabbages are green
Ultraviolet you can't see
Pet stew and fresh bread
Is a treat for everybody!

"So, what do you think?"

"I think that you should stop swinging the 'Sword of Cynics' around and stick it back into the stone before Daria decides to be herself again and comes looking for it."

Jane smiled. It was good to know that other people were also uncomfortable with the 'new' Daria.

"Oh, yeah. Don't let Kevin see that before class. He'll swear you plagiarized that from him."

"He couldn't have done it - Brittany would have flattened him once he got to 'kitties'."

"She'd nail him at 'roses' - 'KEVVIE! Why didn't that make you think of buying some for ME? You NEVER think of getting me anything nice-!' 'But, babe - when I wrote it, I was thinking of you and roses, and that counts, so I really did give you roses, only I didn't, really, because I didn't bring them here, and I didn't spend the money, but I thought of roses FOR you, so you DID get them from me!' 'DIE, you JERK!' 'But, babe - OW! That HURTS-!"

Jane laughed hysterically at Mack's dead-on impressions of Kevin Thomphson and Brittany Taylor. "Oh, you're doing time in the upper rings of Hell for that one!"

"You looked like you could a laugh," Mack told her. "Uh, Jane, I wanted to ask you - we, I mean, well, Jodie and me - have you gotten to talk to Daria?"

So, is that why Jodie scampered away instead of coming over and saying hello – you won the toss or lost?”

Hmn?”

Jodie got Daria and you got me. Who won and who lost?”

She lost. Daria’s got a look that shreds stuff, and unless you hit below the belt, I can take you.”

Jane tossed a look at Mack, who hit her with his own smile – a lady-killer smile soon to emerge from the cocoon, she noted. Stupid Jodie – not paying enough attention to someone like him and the fact that he’d be eye-deep in girls if he wasn’t so into wanting to make her happy… hell, even Daria's sneaked a look in his direction every now and then, and I've seen him check her out once or twice. Jodie - if Daria were just a touch more normal, you'd have been in a war…

You should have taken Daria.”

I could have – but I want my women to have more meat on ‘em.”

A grape sped past Mack’s left ear. "You both should try anyway. If Jodie had ever gotten one of those 'semesters at sea' or foreign exchange programs, you two would have. Talking to Daria, I mean. Hey, you're more popular than me - you'll have a shorter wait in line!"

"Not from where I've been sitting."

Jane looked up from her perch, her grapes momentarily forgotten. "Say again?"

"Jane - can I ask you something? I mean, it's personal and everything, so if this is in the 'None of your damn business and don't ask me again' drawer, that's cool…"

"Okay-"

"When are you going to make up with Daria and get back together?"

The question rocked Jane. "Excuse me?"

"Hey, if I overstepped -"

"Never mind that - 'me make up with Daria'? You make it sound like we - HEY! Did you think that we were-"

Jane went quiet, and the myth that African-Americans can't blush died a quick and painless death as she watched Mack's face. "Me and Daria? You thought that we're a couple-"

"How could anybody with eyes not?"

Ignoring the comment - and letting Mack off the hook - Jane chomped a handful of grapes. So, that's another reason why you never made a move on the Cynical One… "Now, about this 'me making up' stuff. What makes you think I'm the one that doesn't want to talk to her?"

"Well, you never look over at her when you're both somewhere like the cafeteria, and when she looks at you, she seems all sad and everything, so I guessed - well, Jodie was thinking that Daria wanted to get more serious than you did and you didn't want to get tied down to anybody, especially since we all graduate in June and head all different ways-"

"Guess you pulled the drawer all the way out, hmn?"

"Huh? What - oh, well, I guess that-"

"You know, most nice guys are really cute when they get all flustered," Jane cooed, and watched Mack turn as pale as he ever could - well, some of the color drained from his face. "Gotcha."

"Don't do that, Lane - you try to be funny like that, and I try to be good, but we've got satellite TV, all right? Guys think up stuff like that - it's weird but we do - it just pops right in there-"

"And things just pop right on up with it, eh?"

Mack couldn't even look directly at her.

"So… Mack," Jane said, suddenly turning the allure-switch up to maximum force as she tossed her hair and crossed her legs in a manner that would have done a Fashion Clubber proud, "Do you ever think about me and Daria together like that? How about Jodie and me, or Jodie and Daria-"

She suddenly cut herself off in mid-phrase, and Mack saw a pinhole-thin view straight to Hell open up and lock back down within an instant on Jane's face; the expression she wore made him back up a step and silently thank God that he wasn't the person Jane just thought about.

That wasn't funny, he flashed. She was about to keep making jokes to skirt the issue, but it cut way too close to home… Another thought clicked right onto the tails of the last. Someone else got to Daria before she did, and Daria broke it off. She's pissed because she didn't even get a shot. I know that look.

She is in love with Daria, and she doesn't even realize it yet.

Daria did something to her. That's what happened.

At that moment, Mack proved that he was no dummy.

I know EXACTLY what happened. Only one thing could piss off someone who's in love like you are with Daria…

The two of you were getting closer, but after Mr. Morgendorffer lost it, Daria went off the ranch because she couldn't deal with the hurt inside, didn't she? She wasn't thinking straight, probably wasn't thinking at all - and her first time was with someone else. Oh, damn, Jane, she did that to you? No wonder you don't even look in her direction-

Mack was suddenly, blisteringly aware of three things:

Jane was looking at him with a chalk-white face and eyes wider than he'd believed possible.

He had spoken his last couple of thoughts aloud.

He was nowhere as intelligent as he would have liked to believe.

They were both silent for several minutes, both just looking down at the ground, when Mack did the only thing he could think of. He sat down, reached over, and pulled Jane into a hug.

Jane didn't resist, and as Mack held her, an animal-like sound of grief and pain came out of her like a wellspring as she finally broke down, her sobbing making Mack hold her even closer.

Like students in American schools are trained to, no one attempted to come close to find out what was wrong; they passed by when they saw it was Jane, and not really something they needed to be concerned about.

At the front door, Anthony was watching Mack console Jane when he heard a commotion from behind, and he turned to see Timothy rushing towards him with Dr. Manson close on his heels. "Where are YOU headed to so fast, Timothy?"

"Anthony, someone told me that Jane Lane is having a crisis out front!" Timothy gushed, more excitement than concern in his voice. "She must be having some problems concerning her relationship with Daria Morgendorffer! I'm going to go and talk to her, so I'll be able to pass on some comforting words and show her that all of us here are ready and able to help her in her time of need -!"

He started to pass Anthony, but was stopped by a surprisingly powerful arm that blocked the way. "Oh, OF COURSE!" Timothy exclaimed, his eyes shining as he looked up into an unreadable face. "Anthony, that's a WONDERFUL idea! You SHOULD come out with me, and together - we can all present a united show of support! That would be the perfect thing to do, and perhaps, it would even start her on that wonderful road that Daria's now on-"

Anthony stepped close to Timothy, and leaned in so that he could be just barely heard:

"If you ever say one word to Miss Lane – or Miss Morgendorffer, either of them – ever again, they will be the last you ever say as a teacher… comrade."

Naked, shrieking fear blossomed in Timothy’s eyes. Stunned by the quiet, even disclosure of his hidden political affiliation from a colleague – and from Anthony DeMartino, no less - he stared out at the two huddled forms on the bench for a long time before he turned to walk away, his body language radiating total defeat.

+++++

"KUH-winn, would you please hurry up? We DO have to be there before the tardy bell!"

"Well, I forgot the new skirts that we're going to go over at the meeting this afternoon, and we have to start right after school or the Lawndale High Junior Knitting and Macramé Coalition will grab the big meeting room in the library like they've done the last three weeks!"

"But… I… thought-"

"Since when?" Quinn barked savagely, hopping out of the Lexus and leaving Tiffany Blum-Deckler confused in the back seat. "I'll be back in a minute!"

"What's… Quinn… talking… about…?"

"Nothing important, Tiffany," Sandi Griffin seethed, watching a red mop of hair disappearing through the front door of Schloss Morgendorffer. "I think we need to re-think the current membership of the Fashion Club… after all, family tragedies are so not trendy."

"I… know - paramedics'… uniforms… they're… so… ugly…"

"You would think that, like, the way that most of them have such good bodies because they have to stay in shape to rescue people and lift fat people up and stuff, they'd still have better looking uniforms, like they do on TV."

"Maybe… we… could… help," Tiffany suggested. "After… all… they… do… SO… much… “

"You're right - a Fashion Club makeover of the paramedics - NO. A makeover of ALL of them - we could, like, do ALL the firemen and the paramedics, and the police, and the Sheriff and the deputies, even the security guards at Lawndale High!" Sandi looked back to see Stacy looking at her with admiration. "Stacy - what are you looking at? You've got such a big smile on your face-!"

"That's such an incredible idea, Sandi!" Stacy bleated. "I was just thinking about how lucky we are that you'll ALWAYS be President of the Fashion Club!"

"Sometimes you're so right, Stacy," Sandi told her, her own smile becoming serene. "We're very lucky to have things just the way they are…"

+++++

Lugging a traveling bag full of clothing out into the hallway, Quinn closed the door of her room and started down the hall when a thought came into her head.

Maybe I need to check in on Mom - she didn't go in to work, and she was so trashed last night… Guilt that she didn't think about her mother earlier made her turn back to Helen's door and peek inside.

Helen was still sleeping, splayed out over the bed and surprisingly peaceful-looking as Quinn peeked inside. Wow. How can you look so carefree after everything that's happened? I don't know how you do it, Mom -

Quinn suddenly went sober. I don't know how you do it, Mom. I guess you're tougher than I ever thought - not that I ever thought about it… or about what this did to you.

We've never even really talked about what happened to Daddy, she thought, going in suddenly and taking a blanket from the closet. You lost your soul mate. You lost the only man you ever loved. Oh, Mom…

The little redhead turned back and noticed how Helen was laying in bed - like a queen in a fairy tale, under a spell, she thought. I bet you drove them crazy back in college, didn't you, Mom? Yeah, you did - I've heard stories when I've gone over to Aunt Rita's, when she's had old friends over and she talks about what you did in school…

Quinn took a step back, and began to examine Helen with the critical eye the Fashion Club had helped her sharpen. Mom's really not that bad-looking at all - but she really needs to upgrade her wardrobe if she wants to be seen as somebody who belongs on the next level (I mean, who wears shoes like THAT and expects to be taken seriously?) - after all, if you're good enough to represent those types, you have to look it! It's like that professor from that 'Special Projects in Sociology' seminar Stacy was in always told her: 'It's all about perception – no. It’s all about respect.’

And you're not ugly, Mom… no, you're not ugly at all…

She stopped and leaned against the wall, letting her eyes move over Helen; the way her hair still shimmered as the sunlight played over her, the unblemished complexion that - to Quinn's surprise - was still untouched by wrinkles (Damn, Mom, keep going like this and you'll be the hottest grandmother around!), and the figure that was still as curvy and immune to gravity as it was twenty-five or thirty years earlier...

Mom must have cut a side deal with some lesser demon for continued hotness when she sold her soul after passing the bar, Quinn grinned. Excellent hips - if you're into the Victoria's Secret look rather than the standard supermodel, better legs than I have AND better lips, I never see you with anything but regular lip gloss, how do you keep them like that? - How do you keep your tummy so flat, I hardly ever see you exercise, does regular sex do that? God, if you and Daddy were going at it THAT much, how did the two of you manage to NOT give us any more brothers and sisters? I wish I had boobs like yours - not as attention-getting as Brittany's, but those would catch anybody's eye the way they're shaped, and - oh, my stars, Mom's not wearing her bra, I wish my boobs were like those, were you doing it with Mr. DeMartino? MOM!

A resigned sigh passed Quinn's lips. Well, if you were - you can't be blamed. If anybody needs a release and some time just letting go and having somebody make her feel good, it's you. If anybody needs a release from her LIFE, it's you.

A strange look went over Quinn's face; she sat down in a small chair next to the wall, and watched Helen as she slept. I heard what you were like in back then, Mom; Aunt Rita and her friends got a lot of mileage out of gossiping about your trip to Europe. Being honest, you can tell just how jealous they were, not to mention how hot they were getting, hearing about you, your two friends and those guys you met.

Did you and your friends really do every graduating high school senior at some fancy private school in some itty-bitty little French town? Mom-!

She shook her head, went over and covered her mother with the blanket. And this is what you ended up with. I hope you're having happy dreams of French boys with their eyes popping out as you said 'yes', Mom. I hope you're having happy dreams of what it was like before it all started to go bad with Dad, long before Mr. Ceedle. I hope you're having dreams that are just about nothing at all, just stuff, simple stuff that doesn't mean anything.

I hope you're having the dreams I don't get anymore, Mom - and I won't look at you like that - I won't think about you like that - You can have a better life after all the rest of us are gone. No more Morgendorffers. You can be a Barksdale again, and be happy.

It's like in those bad movies. Somebody has to escape the haunted house, and get to see the sun come up the next day, and have the good guys rescue her. You could have done things differently, maybe, or done more or even better than you've done now - but with Daddy the way he was, you didn't have that choice. He wouldn't be a man, so you had to be for him. He couldn't be anything, so you had to try to be everything, and it didn't work, but at least you didn't blame anybody but yourself.

Somebody has to go free. That'll be you. Please - this time, be happy… She leaned forward, hesitated for just a moment, and kissed Helen on the forehead.

"Goodbye, Mommy."

I'm saying it now, because I don't think - just in case I don't get the chance to say it later.

Quinn turned to the door just as the Lexus' horn started to blare. Oh, shut up and wait, Sandi. Your turn will come.

A sad smile on her face, she picked up the clothes and closed the door behind her.

+++++

"Welcome, everyone!" Timothy gushed - the way he preferred to project himself on others recently, someone observed. "Today's class should be especially stimulating, since your poetry portfolios are due! I just know that everyone's done especially well and worked very hard on their selections, because as you know, I will be selecting the ten best works and submitting them for the Twin-County Scholastic Writing Competition!"

The class turned as one and looked at Daria, who was flipping through her folder; Timothy stared eagerly in her direction. "Now, while I'm SURE Miss Morgendorffer has some exquisite works in store for us, let's see what some of the other students have. Mister Thompson?"

Mack shook his head as Kevin leaped from his seat; neither Kevin nor Mr. O'Neill will ever learn, he thought.

"Okay - here's MY poem!"

The class mentally braced itself…

In a tall glass
I see the colors, and they all spin around
The white stuff, and the brown stuff
And a little bit of yellow, it tastes good, too
Spin the ice with a silver spoon
I can see everything mixing together
And when it stops, there's nothing left by itself
It's all mixed together
But it's all mixed right
That's why tea makes me think of the U.S.A.

The class stared at him.

Kevin looked around at a sea of widened eyes and gaping mouths; the dim, goofy smile that hung eternally on his face slowly faded away, and he slunk down into his seat…

Shock slowly wore away from Timothy's face, and he found his voice. "Ah, well, let's continue on…"

About fifteen minutes later, Jane pulled her head up from her Poetry Appreciation Desk as she heard her name called… a second time. "Miss Lane? Your selection from your portfolio, please?"

Shrugging, she opened her folder and flipped through her sheets when she caught a glimpse of Daria out of the corner of her eye. Blinking the image away, she placed a paper on top of her folder and began to read:


They reach for one another
But can never touch each other
Once and perhaps and forever beautiful
Chambered within themselves behind poses
Shielded in ice, like sculptures, so regal
Captured, held forever in storms never theirs
To suffer the winters of those gone before
And forgo their own fires within.
Weakening, for days of frigid white will soon be done
Unwilling - but your last will not be sung
Reach out your hand, take warmth from me
And I will be your sun.

Jane closed her folder and looked around; the same stunned silence that greeted Kevin now assaulted her.

She looked up at Timothy; a single tear appeared at the corner of his eye, and trickled down his face. He stared at Jane for a very long moment, turned his gaze across the room to focus on Daria, then put his head down on the desk and began to sob uncontrollably.

Jane sat stock-still in her seat; she refused to look over at the large brown eyes that stared at her with confusion and disbelief, while Jodie looked about the room, her mouth opened wide with stunned revelation, and Mack took her hand in his own. She turned to him, still shaken; he motioned for her to be still and mouthed the word 'Later'.

No one in the room said anything until Andrea Hecuba-Thorne suddenly leaped from her seat, turned to point at Kevin and cried out, "HEY! He wrote a REAL POEM!"

+++++


END OF PART II