PART III


The doorbell rang.

Helen managed to lift her head from the kitchen table.

"If that's Eric, I swear that I'll castrate him on the spot," Helen gurgled through a glass of Alka-Seltzer. "Oh, God, my everything hurts…"

She hoisted herself up, trundled down the hall to the door - and froze as she opened the front door and saw a shaggy mass of shoulder-length, honey-blonde hair and hazel-green eyes on the other side; clothing that seemed to have fallen out of time from 1967, and a large, frumpy, comfortable shoulder bag.

Amanda Lane.

"Hello, Helen."

Helen turned away, shaking her head as she started to close the door. "I can't do this right now."

"Helen, we need to talk."

"Go away."

"I know that you've always harbored perhaps a slight resentment towards me -"

"I'm not doing this-"

With surprising speed, Amanda darted through the door and caught Helen as her knees suddenly unlocked, and she all but doubled over. "Maybe you should sit down, somewhere," Amanda spoke, leading her towards the living room and effortlessly shifting direction as she caught a slight whiff of the air within.

+++++

"Get that herbal tea away from me."

"We both know that it'll soothe your stomach, Helen," Amanda said, pushing the steaming mug back towards Helen. "Please, drink it."

Tossing a venomous glare that would have drawn respect from the old Daria, Helen lifted the mug from the kitchen table and sipped at the tea.

"There, now, isn't that better?"

"Why are you here?"

"I heard about what happened," Amanda sighed, sliding into a chair opposite Helen. "I was in a small village in Manchuria, and the local monks have a taste for FOX News and the Food Network. They also do some of the most amazing sculpting and glassmaking I've come across…" She focused herself and breathed in deeply as Helen splayed a second searing glare over her. "The story made the cable news channels after the President called Quinn to console her, and she is quite photogenic - the monks were all a-flutter over your little girl, and they wanted me to give her something."

Amanda drew a bundle from her shoulder bag and unwrapped it; roughly-hewn cloth and twine fell away, and Helen looked down at a beautiful figurine. It was about ten inches tall; a startling likeness of Quinn, resplendent in shining jade, immortalized in a delicate pose as she placed a flower in her hair, twin dragons circling about her as if to protect her from all harm...

As Helen stared at the statuette, she couldn't help but thinking what the old Daria might have said upon seeing it: 'She's got MONKS ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORLD falling all over themselves because of her. Her head will never be normal-sized again.'

"It's very beautiful."

Amanda placed the statuette over on the counter, and then returned to her seat at the table. "I only know what's been reported in the news about Jake - and that hasn't been much. I'd just like to know how he is."

Didn’t the harmonious vibrations of the world tell you all that you needed to know?”

The venom in Helen's voice, the raw, unsheathed bitterness that seemed to bubble up from unknown depths and all but spewed out across the room made Amanda physically wilt.

"I thought that you would have put everything behind you long ago," she said, wiping a tear away as she stood up and slid the strap of her bag over her shoulder. "I thought that you were better than this."

"Why are you even here…?"

"I needed to ask you a favor-"

Helen's bark of a laugh stung Amanda, but she continued on. "I… I'd like to go out to Adelaide Gardens; I was told that only family members have access, and other visitors have to have the family's permission. Helen, I know - I know now that you don't - that you've tolerated me all these years, but I really would like to see Jake-"

"DON'T YOU SAY HIS NAME!" Helen screamed. "You don't - it's not - don't you have a husband of your own? Don't you have your own family? I'm sorry that you don't have any children by him, but I do, and I have enough to worry about without having to give a damn about the past his parents screwed him up in or the future that he didn't have with you!"

Even through the waves of finely aged resentment, Helen felt a twinge of guilt flutter in her stomach as tears ran silently down Amanda's face. "I just want to see him one last time," she said quietly, and her voice came out as one's last words might.

Helen knew Amanda's story - actually, she knew it better than Amanda did, having heard it several times from a Jake drunk to the point of in vino veritas and not remembering a thing the next morning… She knew all about how they met at some stupid dance at Amanda's old Catholic boarding school, the stolen moments at some soda shop with Jake's hick roommate and his cow of a girlfriend… she even knew about the rainy night in a barn when they gave their virginity to each other, and how their love had created a child -

Should have, she corrected herself. The child was stillborn, brought without breath into the world under a cloudy night sky where Amanda, her 'instant husband' Vincent Lane, and her own friends Willow and Coyote had waited to see the Pleiades meteor shower. Years later, after hearing the story from different sides, she and she alone had deduced that at the time Amanda was giving birth, Jake had discovered that Amanda had been taken from him through the machinations of both his and Amanda's parents - and that she was carrying his child. People have a talent for remembering exact times that the unfathomable occurred, and what they were doing…

People remember their pain, a little voice inside her said. There's no reason for you to make someone else suffer more than they already do, especially with everything we've all been through… especially since there's not much time left… Especially since he left you with something to hold onto and all she has are memories - the memories of the son he always wanted and she tried to give him. She probably still hurts over that – even after all these years, and even though it wasn’t her fault.

She deserves to see Jake. Amanda deserves closure, and a chance for some peace in her life – she has a right to see the first man she ever loved, and who loved her – she deserves to touch his face one more time, and to remember her Jake.

It's time to let it all go, remember? It's the only way that you can move on… that we can all move on.

"I'll call right now," the words came out, as if they had escaped on their own. "I'll tell them to let you see him… that you can see him anytime you want."

With those words, it was as if a weight was suddenly pulled from her, as if she could breathe slightly better; the queasiness that had been with her since Jake's collapse seemed to withdraw just a bit, and she lowered herself to her chair. "Could- would you please hand me the phone?"

Amanda stood silently for a moment, as if studying Helen, then placed the phone on the table before her. "I've talked with Trent before I came back, about what happened-"

A pang of anxiety pierced through Helen for a moment; she would have never been able to look Amanda in the eye again if Jake had killed her youngest son, and she actually shuddered at the thought of what that would have done to her… Every ounce of resentment in Helen fizzled away, and she concentrated on dialing so as to not look up.

"…But for some reason, he thinks that they're not on speaking terms anymore," Amanda's lilting voice wafted into her awareness. "Jane's been so happy since she and your Daria became friends - it actually makes me sad to think what her high school years would have been like if she'd never met her. They fit so well together…"

"I think that she was here - I mean, last night, Jane, and she was talking to Daria while she was eating a sandwich - oh, God -"

Helen barely made it to the garbage can before she began to vomit, and Amanda held her as she heaved over and again, the foul taste making her quiver. "All right, Helen, easy, there we go, now you're sitting back down," Amanda cooed, leading her back and going to the sink for a glass of water and a large bowl. "Here, take this and rinse your mouth out - there, now put it in the bowl… the tea's not sitting well with you."

"No, I just thought of what Jane was eating, and I-"

A thin string of chalk-colored vileness hung from Helen's lips after she retched into the large bowl again, and Amanda wiped her mouth with a folded paper towel, emptied the contents of the bowl into the garbage, then washed out the bowl, got another and refilled her glass. "Rinse out your mouth again, and don't think of food," she told Helen, brushing her hair back and wiping at her face with another paper towel. "Just sit quietly for a moment, and you do need the tea – it will help calm you down.”

Helen sat for a moment. “Amanda…”

Yes, Helen?”

I’m sorry.”

Don’t be. You had to let it out somehow. I can tell that you have a great pain within you, Helen – and with what’s happened to you, I expected it.”

Amanda sat down at the table, and took Helen’s hands in her own. “Most people will tell you that you’re so strong to keep going, as if what’s happened is a reason to stop being the person you’ve always been. You’ve always been a person who can handle adversity, no matter where you’ve found yourself. You’ve always known the right thing to do, and to how to keep going no matter how dark your night may seem, so I don’t think anyone should have to think about forgiving you if you slip and lash out.” Her thick mop of blonde ringlets fell over her face, and she brushed them back as she smiled at Helen. “You know, lawyers are people, too…”

If it didn’t hurt my stomach to laugh, I would.”

I’ll laugh for you.”

+++++

Daria sat alone in the cafeteria at a small corner table, nibbling automatically at a ham salad sandwich and sipping from a carton of milk.

Isn’t that-“

Yeah – but be quiet, because you know how they are-“

I thought she’d changed!”

She has – her ‘friend’ just can’t handle it,” one of the girls said, as Daria observed with her peripheral vision. The speaker was a girl with thin, straight brown hair, and a somewhat unusual nose, talking to two other young women. Brooke, she remembered…

“…She was at the Pan-Hellenic Formal, up at Middleton College a couple of weeks ago, and she was with Skylar Feldman. I saw them about two hours later, and Skylar looked like he’d been riding broncos - not to mention that he couldn’t get that smile off his face with dynamite…”

I have more important things to think about than you ‘Gnat Pack’ social climbers, Daria thought, shushing away the more-than-blatant conversation less than twenty feet from her. I have to talk to Jane – soon – tonight – as soon as I can get up the nerve – I am not letting her ruin herself here by letting her make everyone think we’ve got something going on! She might want to actually go to graduation, or to a reunion here someday – she doesn’t need people pointing at her! ‘Jane, which is your favorite movie: ‘Henry and June’, or ‘Personal Best’? Lesbians and art, or track and art? Come on, Jane, you can tell us – after all, ‘gay’ is the new ‘black’!

Trent’s right – I owe her so much more than this. I owe her more than this blonde fashion heifer even saying her name aloud, or mine, even…

The main speaker, a stunning young beauty with butter-blonde hair falling down across her shoulders in thin, stylish ringlets, cast a deliberate look in Daria’s direction before continuing.

I don’t care what happened in her family that makes everyone think she’s changed. Nice clothes, new hair, no ‘man-stopper’ glasses anymore; I still remember how she showed up and just hooked up with her little art friend – and you know that those arty types will try everything. Why else would Lane hang around with her even though she and Evan could have been a couple?”

Yeah – they’d have knocked Kevin and Brittany right off the top of the ‘jock scene’ ladder!” one of the other girls spoke. “They looked good together in their running stuff – no overstuffed blonde bimbo and idiot-boy over there – plus you know he’s smart, and she’s really good in that art stuff… If they’d have stayed together, they could have ruled the school!”

Even bigger than Quinn – or Quinn and Mack Mackenzie, if they had ever gotten together,” the blonde agreed. “THAT would have been a couple. But, that’s what happens…”

Can you believe it?” Brooke snickered. ”Dykes in love’ – I bet O’Neill wet his diapers over that sad, tragic little love poem, and you just know we’ll be all up to our necks soon in ‘gay pride’ this and ‘fags are people, too’ that-“

EXCUSE ME?”

Even the blanking reverie Daria was in shattered as Janet Barch appeared over a trio of gossiping young women like one of the Furies, her incandescent, shrieking rage now given an outlet. “I see that someone’s got a problem with people who aren’t JUST LIKE THEM IN EVERY STUPID FREAKING MANNER POSSIBLE! Maybe you three nasty, gossiping little girls NEED a GOOD, LONG, EXTENDED SERIES OF INDIVIDUALIZED CULTURAL AWARENESS AND SENSITIVITY TRAINNG CLASSES PERSONALLY TAUGHT BY MR. O’NEILL! GET UP! GET UP!

Every head in hearing range turned away just enough so that Janet, her face twisted with near-insane anger, couldn’t notice them watching the public flaying. Brooke and the other girl had broken into tears at the way Janet screamed at them, and Tori’s face had gone so white that her blonde hair now resembled a halo…


SINCE YOU’VE GOT ENOUGH TIME TO RUN YOUR FILTHY LITTLE MOUTHS AND SPREAD HATEFUL RUMORS ABOUT PEOPLE WHO ARE SO FAR ABOVE YOU THAT YOU MIGHT AS WELL BE WORMS, THEN YOU’VE GOT ENOUGH TIME TO GET INSIDE AND SEE PRINCIPAL LI ABOUT THE VILE HATE-SPEECH THAT YOU’VE BEEN SPEWING ALL OVER THE CAMPUS! MOVE!”

Wow – I wouldn’t be Tori Jericho now if you paid me,” Jodie spoke softly, sitting down unbidden next to Daria. “The way Barch’s been swinging the axe lately, they’ll be very lucky to get off with just two weeks suspension and some sort of torture to keep this off their records... nah. Somebody’s gonna get sent up for expulsion.” She shuddered, and drew a thick, meaty barbecued rib tip from the Styrofoam container in her hands. “Engaging in a little guilty pleasure. My mom’s so wound up about ‘not being Black stereotypes’ that she won’t let us buy even barbecue TV dinners at the store – and that ‘Rib Throwdown’ place is too good to let my mom’s hang-ups keep me out!”

Daria glanced over at her, and she reflexively kicked her lips at the sight of the heavy chunk of beef, dripping in a thick, fragrant sauce. “See, the secret to good barbecue IS the sauce – it has to be thick, and it needs to be dark,” Jodie said, dropping the rip tip on a piece of bread and passing it to Daria, who accepted it without reservation. “If you can see light through the sauce, give it a pass. If it runs off the meat instead of dripping off, pass. Oh, yeah – you have to eat ribs with white bread – well, you can eat it with wheat or any type of bread, but it’s just not tradition. Us Black folks know this stuff!”

"Isn't it supposed to have brown sugar in it - that's what makes it dark?"

"Wait a minute. A white girl from the suburbs like you is gonna tell me, a Black woman, how to make barbeque sauce?"

"Born and raised in Texas. Down there, barbeque is the official state food. If you don't know how to burn meat the right way and how to make something to slather over it that tastes good, they've got guys with Colt six-shooters on their hips ready to escort you to the state line and tell you 'Best not come back."

"If you're Black and can't barbecue, they revoke your 'hood privileges and tear up your ghetto pass."

"Please. The only 'hood' you've ever been in is the one on your terrycloth bathrobe."

Jodie had to laugh. "Finally - a flash of the old Daria. There's still hope for you."

A rare smile found its way onto Daria’s face, and she turned to Jodie. “Thanks.”

After what you’ve been through recently, a tiny moment of happy isn’t out of the question for you,” came Jodie’s half-understandable reply through serious chewing. “Anybody who’d say that you don’t deserve happy now – well, they’re just not someone worth listening to.”

Daria chewed for several moments. “You think so?”

A bottle of Perrier showed up from nowhere in Jodie’s hand. “Yeah. Want some fries?”

Steak fries?”

No, the long ones.”

Shoestrings?”

Nah – the long, regular ones. I guess the small restaurants have a special supplier or something; you never see them in the stores.”

They taste better from the greasy spoons, anyway. What’s with the Quinn-water?”

Quinn-water’ – that’s funny. My contribution to my mom’s never-ending quest to someday wake up as a white man.”

I don’t get it.”

That’s because you have your own problems. Steak fries?”

Place in Highland. Total greasy spoon. Everything came with steak fries.”

No regular fries, crinkles, or shoestrings?”

Nope. Only steak fries. Good, though.”

You’re a fry freak? Never saw it before.”

Came here and got hooked on pizza.”

They ate in silence.

Daria?”

Hmn?”

We all got it wrong.”

Got what wrong?”

Lots of stuff.”

There was a long silence.

Daria?”

Hmn?”

Jane’s a nice girl.”

Yeah.”

A tiny moment of happy isn’t out of the question for her, either.”

Daria reached over and took several fries from the tray. “I could learn to like these fries.”

You should try them swirled in pizza sauce.”

Jodie finally finished her rib tip, and started on another as Daria chewed slowly. “Maybe I should,” she finally said. “Can I get another rib tip?”

Hit ‘em,” Jodie replied, her mouth full as she motioned towards the bottled water. “Quinn-water?”

I’ll stick with the milk.”

+++++

Yes, please let everyone know that I won’t be coming in today, or on Monday, either,” Helen said, her voice seemingly back to normal as she finished her phone conversation. “Why, yes, thank you for your concern I didn’t realize that I was that under the weather, either. Yes, I will take it easy this weekend… goodbye…”

Helen’s head drooped as she hung up the phone… on her fourth try – or was that just the way she kept drifting off? Stupid telephone, stay on the hook, just beep-beep-beep-beep-SHUT UP, already!
Why-won’t-the-phone-just-stay-on-the-hook-my-damn-head-hurts-why-does-just-one-eye-keep-trying-to-close I’m-not-hungry-but-I-could-eat-EVERYTHING-I-see-TEA!

Ugh. Cold tea. But Amanda just left five minutes ago. I thought it was five minutes ago…

Her stomach churning just enough to be noticeable, Helen carried a handful of garbage bags with her through the hall and up the stairs to the master bedroom, where she slowly eased herself into the bed.

All other things considered equal, I’d rather be litigating or off having highly proficient sex, Helen thought, curling herself under the covers as the need to be warmer flowed slowly through her. God, and my knees are just so cold – now, that’s something that brings back memories…

Afternoon sunlight warmed the room, but not enough: Helen was suddenly aware that the clock radio was on and the volume was down, auto-tuned to one of the Top 40 stations that she despised and Jake listened to with a passion.

It’s not that I like this stuff, honey – it’s that by paying attention to what people listen to, or really, what THEY want people to listen to or are trying to get them to listen to – you get a good feel for what that demographic wants or doesn’t want! I listen to Quinn and her little friends, you know, and there’s the things they like, but there’s a couple of things that they’d never touch, even though the TV and the radio both say they’re big, and there’s the stuff Daria and her little friend like! You’ve gotta watch the real people – Daria hardly ever listens to Top 40, but…

Jake was not without skills; he just couldn’t follow-through on anything. The opportunities he let go - he's still kicking himself in the back of his head somewhere for letting the 'pet cigars' shtick get past him - and then dropping golden eggs right into Andrew Landon's lap…
Oh, but he'd have loved that penguin beer - it was a rare day that anyone came along that could out-drink my Jakey… I have no idea why that popped into my head.

Yes, I do - oh, my stomach -

The world started to return to normal for Helen as her cell phone appeared in her hand – where she’d had it, she wasn’t sure. “Hello? Yes, this is Helen Morgendorffer. I’m not feeling well, and I’d like to know if someone could see me today… four-fifteen? Well, I think that I can make that, I’ve got a few hours, and – what time is it now? Excuse me? Well, I guess that I’d better be on my way, shouldn’t I?”

Fifteen minutes later, Helen bobbled down the stairs and to the door. She missed the doorknob twice, and then sat down hard on the stoop after getting outside. I don’t remember being this disoriented before… well, time to call a cab…
+++++

Jane had never seen her mother cry before.

She moved towards the front door of Casa Lane as if in a daze, one she entered after reading her poem, and she could barely remember the rest of the school day afterwards; that daze was sundered by a heady, herbal fragrance that bludgeoned her as soon as she opened the door.

The sad tea, a little voice from a long time ago spoke. That’s the tea Mom brought out when something really bad happened, like Wind’s first divorce (before everyone knew him to be a compulsive weenie in the marriage department), the day Penny left after she graduated from LHS and told the other Lanes that she’d NEVER set foot in Lawndale again if she had anything ever resembling a choice, or when her friend Hilda (from Catholic school) passed away. There was also, if she was in town, a day around early December when she brought out her tea. She would sit out in the gazebo silently, sipping her tea and looking as if she wished she could just be put out of her misery; she once asked her father what was wrong, but he just told her to never ask about it again.

She walked inside to see her mother sitting on the couch, a mug of the sad tea in her hands, and silent tears falling down her cheeks.

Hi, Mom.”

The eerie feeling grew inside Jane: there was a haunted look in Amanda’s eyes as she looked at her youngest daughter, and then sipped lukewarm liquid from her mug.

I didn’t know that you were in the country,” she said, dropping her knapsack on the couch. “I thought that you were doing the gem working and glassmaking with the monks in Nepal or Tibet or something. Why didn’t you call, Mom? I’d have come to pick you up – Trent fixed up my minivan, or I could save gas and just use his car, he and the band are on tour around the area-“

Amanda turned away from Jane, and drank once more from her mug.

What’s wrong, Mom?”

I came to visit someone – I just came from seeing him - your friend Daria’s father –“

You came to visit Mr. Morgendorffer.” Her concern dropped away like a smart bomb. “Oh. That’s the way to get your notice.”

Amanda turned towards Jane, a heartbreaking look on her face that had absolutely zero effect on her youngest child. “I heard about what happened, and I-“

-Didn’t bother to call and ask Trent about how he was, or tell him he was either crazy, dumb, entirely TOO brave or a combination of all three to walk up into that house, save Quinn and talk Mr. Morgendorffer out of KILLING anyone else!” Jane snapped, her temper flaring up again. “Mom, you can’t even be bothered to call and see how we’re doing after I see my brother take the risk of getting himself sprayed all over my best friend’s front lawn on GLOBAL TV just like the mailman, but you came running to see HIM after they send him off to Squirrel Heaven?”

Amanda gave Jane a quizzical look.

Where all the best nuts are, Mom," Jane continued. "Drink your tea. I have to do… I have to do something. What? What have I been up to? Glad you asked. My English teacher – you probably passed him in the ether – he’s entering a poem I had to write for his class in some competition. I’d have let you read it, but you weren’t around. I need to get stuff from upstairs.” A snap of fingers. “Oh, yeah. How am I doing? Thanks for asking, Mom. I’m okay – and a big ‘hello’ to you, too.”

The tears flowed freely from Amanda as Jane turned away in contempt, and went up the stairs to her room.



+++++

My God – she just looks so much like Moonflower that it’s just frightening…

"You're not feeling well at all - I can tell," Stacy Rowe piped, perched in the driver's seat of Helen's Bentley. "Your color - it's so green - well, not green exactly, more like a sea foam, or a light-struck emerald, and it's not your color at all… have you ever considered getting a tan? A light tan would work wonders for you - just enough to put a touch of gold in your skin, and it wouldn't damage your skin if you did it right, and you have to watch out for those self-tanning lotions – and those spray-on tans – I don’t think so! In the next Fashion Club newsletter, we're doing a special report of tanning parlors, and how you have to watch out and make sure that they clean the tanning beds - OH! You know, a girl needs to take as much care of her hair as she does her skin when she tans, especially at the salons! People forget that they need to use extra moisturizers in addition to their regular hair care regimen when they're planning to tan; there's a world of things that you can do to keep your hair at it's best and looking as good as the rest of you - after all, they don't refer to our hair as 'our crowning glory' for nothing. Oh, there are lots of girls who say that we care most about our weight or the size or our boobs, but it's really our hair that defines us! You know, that's the first thing that they notice - 'look at the blonde with the rack,' or 'She's the redhead over by the window'; they always do that. Me, I've heard guys talk - I'm 'the one with the pigtails and the legs'… I've always had nice legs, I think, and they look great when I've got a nice tan, it’s why I almost always wear skirts…"

Okay, when she's talking - not so much. Hmmn… and I thought that Rita was bad when she was young, and so in love with herself that she serenaded herself in her sleep… at least she didn't have three psychic clones and matched their every move.

Her stomach started to quiver slightly, and reminded her of why she let the girl drive…

Thank you for driving the car, Stacy,” she said, looking flushed as she leaned back in the passenger-side seat. “I just haven’t been feeling well, and so…” Her words trailed off as she turned to watch Stacy drive.

I’m just glad that I was able to help, Mrs. Morgendorffer!” Stacy exclaimed, almost aglow at being able to drive such an incredible car. “I was coming over to go over some articles on the new spring skirt lengths with Quinn, and you just looked like you needed some help - I mean, you had your head down, and you looked so, so sick and such-!”

Helen glanced around the car absently, and noticed the title of the slightly worn hardback book sticking out of Stacy’s bag. A Wrinkle In Time…

Hmmn.”

Did you say something, Mrs. Morgendorffer?”

Oh – I was just noticing the book in your bag,” she replied, turning her attention back to Stacy. Back when I was in college, I had a friend who was a big fan of that novel.”

Really?”

Yes – I seem to remember how we spent an afternoon going through every bookstore in the Tri-Cities until she found a first edition copy, and she was just so happy…” Helen let her memories carry her backwards through time. “No, the reason it took so long was because she was looking for another book, too…”

Tri-Cities – That's right! Quinn said that you went to Middleton College!”

Stacy braked to let a minivan packed with squealing kids cut in front of her. “You had a friend who was into science fiction? Back when you were in college?”

Well, she was a physics major, so I guess she passed it off as research, and she could get her parents to buy the books because ‘she needed them for her studies’! Some of the best science fiction ever written was around… ‘In my time,” Helen laughed, seeing the way Stacy blushed. “Asimov, Heinlein – L. Ron Hubbard was a name I saw a bit of, I actually met Harlan Ellison-“

I actually got high with Harlan Ellison, Helen mentally corrected herself.

-I could tell you about the time I got dragged to a showing of ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’!”

You saw ‘2001’ when it first came out-?”

Some of my friends dragged me to the showing,” Helen told her. She let her mind skip quickly through memories of a three-gallon tub of popcorn, Forbes and Paige leaning against each other as they watched, and, and, and – what was that I recall –

The way I felt when Moonflower slid down into the seat besides me, or the way her fingers brushed against mine when she reached over and took my soda without even asking…

Mrs. Morgendorffer- Mrs. Morgendorffer! Are you all right?”

Helen realized that the car had stopped; she looked over to see a sign that read ‘Parking – Middleton College of Medicine at Lawndale/Family Medical Center’. “Are you all right? You were all spaced out, and everything – I was trying to get your attention, but you weren’t saying anything, and it was getting scary-!”

Yes… Yes, I’ll be fine,” she replied, stepping out of the car. “I’ll be fine.”

I’ll park the car, and I’ll come with you!”

Considering the alternative – my letting a seventeen-year-old drive around in a $150,000.00 convertible – yeah. I can see you tagging along until I’m finished, and I’ll give you a ride home.”

Eighteen.”

Pardon?”

My birthday’s on the fifth of November – I started school late, so I turned eighteen back in November, a few weeks before –“ She turned so red that she seemed to have a bad sunburn. “I’m eighteen.”

"Well, it's nothing to be embarrassed about - "

Stacy's lower lip began to quiver. "They all think that I'm younger than them… they all act like it..."

Something about the way Stacy seemed to shrink down into herself sent a thread of sudden anger through Helen, along with a thought - Moonflower would NEVER let other people make her into a shrinking violet like this…!

"Well, do you?"

"Do I what, Mrs. Morgendorffer?"

"Do you act younger - or do you act more immature than the other girls?"

"I don't understand-"

"Yes, Stacy, you do - I've SLIGHTLY noticed you for a couple of years with Quinn and her other little friends!" Helen said, wondering with an inner expression that perfectly mirrored the stunned expression on the girl's face as to why she had suddenly snapped at Stacy. "If you're going to be a doormat, then be a doormat - but don't go around crying that other people made you this way! It's YOUR choice, no matter what anyone else does to you! If you're going to be more than that, whatever the hell it is, then be good at it and be proud of whatever it is that you're doing! If you can't be proud of doing it and you're horrible at doing it then you need to work at being better at it, go do something else or at least shut up around everyone, because you're probably annoying the hell out of them, too!"

Helen turned and started towards the doors, then stopped and turned back; Stacy was clutching the steering wheel so hard that her fists were milky white.

"If you're angry at me for what I said - good. Use that feeling whenever you feel someone walking all over you and make yourself into someone that'll never have to deal with that feeling again. If you're mad because I said that, you want to say something back and now you won't - you've just proved that I was right. Make a choice. Either become something else or be the best damn doormat that you can be. They actually have a job for people that are very good at being doormats. It's usually called Vice-President - but, wait. QUINN'S not a doormat, is she? No matter what else she is or what she's done - she made a choice. She chose to be what she is!"

Stacy looked up at her, and Helen easily shunted away the force of the Daria-class glare. "Remember this feeling. Use it from now on. Make a choice and stick to it. That's what adults do - and since you're now eighteen, that includes you. In the meanwhile, park the car."

+++++

Jane came downstairs to see that Amanda had fallen asleep on the couch.

Whatever, she thought, going to the kitchen for a snack. I never did get to finish my peanut butter and ham sandwich over at Schloss Morgendorffer.

She fixed her sandwich, adding a slice of cheese and a large leaf of lettuce for variety, and was on her third big bite when Amanda walked into the kitchen, bringing a twinge of concern back into Jane’s thoughts. Amanda never ‘just walked’ – she glided, floated, swished, on one very happy day for her, she sashayed – but she didn’t just walk.

You’re a very close friend of Daria’s, aren’t you?”

Did that make the global news update, too?”

Amanda let the bitter comment pass. “She’ll need you soon.”

Jane looked up. “Pardon?”

Her father… he won’t be with us much longer.”

GOOD. The world can get back to being a better place once that bat gets out of the belfry and flies right back into Hell.”

Amanda laid Jane’s notebook, hidden behind her back, open before her daughter. “And become a spring thaw, warming the world from the winters of those gone before.’ I always knew you had a gift, but you always seemed to have a leaning for the more tactile studies…”

Jane rose from the table. ‘You read my poems.”

You said that you would have shown them to me, had I been here.”

You read my poems.”

I think you said that it – I assume this is the one – is being entered into competition. It’s by far the best of them, and that says a great deal, given the quality here – but about this ‘pet stew’ piece-“

You. Read. My. Poems.”

Her temper began to peak into the ‘divine’ category, but Amanda fixed Jane with a stare that – for the first time in many years – reminded her that her mother was raised Catholic.

Sit down, Jane.”

Jane sat down. Amanda sat down across from her. Jane refused to look at her.

Daria –“ She took a breath, held it for several seconds, and let it flow away. “The things he’s done, what he’s caused, you don’t know, you can’t know – he’s hurt so many people, he’s hurt Daria, and her sister… Mom, I wish-“

Don’t say it, Jane.”

I don’t want him to die, Mom.”

Amanda let her own held breath escape.

I want to kill him myself.”

The temperature seemed to fall in the kitchen. “You don’t understand about Jake,” Amanda told her, rising and heading for the teakettle. “You don’t know what brought him to this point-“

And I really don’t care!”

Yes, you do,” she replied. “That’s why all of this makes you hurt so badly.”

Amanda brought her teakettle to the table. “I knew what was going to happen when I came back here, to see Jake,” she spoke, turning to retrieve two mugs. “I knew that Helen – Daria’s mother – wouldn’t be in the most welcoming of moods when I turned up on her doorstep-“

Wait a minute. You and Mrs. M are good friends-“

She tolerates me – and she’s wonderful at keeping up appearances. I never thought that I’d see either of them again, but when they moved here… the universe loves its ironies…”

Something tells me that you’re about to start spilling soap-opera-style secrets.”

There’s no need for that, Jane. Your poem says as much.”

Someone needs to back up on this conversation.”

Jane – all that matters is the here and now. I could tell you about the past, and how there was a young man that I loved more than my own life. I could tell you how, twice in my life, something happened that everyone else thought was horrible, that I felt that we could work through, but the choice was taken away from us. I could also tell you how the young man was so damaged inside by what happened that he swore that he’d never have children – and when he did, he was so afraid of damaging his children the way he was that he all but let them go through their lives without any semblance of a father figure. That took him to the point where he realized that he did as much, if not more, to hurt his children as his father did - and that took him to a place from which he can never return.”

Every single hair on Jane’s body seemed to stand up on end as she listened to Amanda speak. This was the longest statement – and the most coherent – that she’d ever heard from her mother.

My mother and Mr. Morgendorffer were together when they were young...?

I could tell you another story – a story about December 10th. I could tell you about why, every year, I just sit on that day, and sit, and look into nothing. I could tell you why I can never seem to just stay in one place, or why your father and I don’t seem to move in the same circles, let alone the same hemispheres… but I don’t need to tell you that story, or any other… do I?”

The hairs on Jane’s body felt as if they were made of ice. Something told her that, no, she didn’t want to hear that story, and she nodded her agreement, because she didn’t trust herself to speak.

You wrote a beautiful poem, one that comes from something deep inside you, something that finally found its way out,” Amanda told her. “That’s what’s important, now. You have to let the love come out, and you have to let the rest go, so it won’t control what you do.”

Amanda stood up. “You probably think that this conversation is somewhat late in coming – that a lot of the conversations we should have are late, or the time for them has passed... That’s probably true, because you’re a woman now and you don’t need a mother anymore, but if you’d like to talk – if you need someone to talk to, I’ll try to be there.”

She ran a finger over the mug. “Heavens knows that’s why you’re probably angry with your friend – because she’s acting like she’s one of us Lanes. Instead of coming to you, or just being there when things are bad, she ran away from you instead of coming to you so that you can sit down and talk things out. I didn’t talk much with Helen, but that came up – that you hadn’t been around as much, and she’s been worried… “ She moved around the table and smoothed Jane’s raven bangs away from her eyes, slightly surprised and grateful that Jane didn’t shrink away from her touch. “Helen may have not said as much to you, but she knows that you’re very important to Daria, and how your friendship has brought her through so much grief. As close as you are, she may as well be family… she’s certainly part of your heart.”

Mom… Daria and I aren’t – we’re not -”

Amanda held up her hand. “The relationship that you and Daria share, whatever it is, is your business and Daria’s alone. Do you think that it matters to me, Jane? Do you believe that what you two have for one another really matters to anyone who truly cares for you, or for Daria? You’re a woman, who you choose to share your body with is your own matter… and you’ll find out for yourself who’s in your heart.”

You don’t already know?”

What’s important is that you know – and if you don’t know, then what’s important is finding out.” Amanda blew a ringlet of hair away from her left eye. “You already have a place in each other’s lives. She’s an anchor for you – she keeps you grounded in reality, aware of what has to be done in the cold, real world – and when she sees the world as you do, she learns how to be free. From her surroundings, her beliefs, her own fears, to just let go and accept the great adventure of Life itself; through your eyes, Jane – she knows what it’s like to fly.”

Jane looked up at her for a long while, then shrugged and reached for her sandwich. “You know I’m still mad at you.”

Can you look at me and strike me dead with that glance?”

Jane blinked hard. “Not in this universe.”

Then someday, you’ll stop being mad at me and I’ll be here to enjoy it,” she sighed, looking around the kitchen. “And I didn’t fix any tea.”

Thank you!” A slight pause. “Can I have some milk?”

Amanda’s lip turned upward in the most interesting fashion as she went to the fridge, and came back with a jug of milk. “I see that you and Trent have made an effort to keep the kitchen very nice.”

Monique helped Trent with that.” She held up her mug, and Amanda filled it to just below the rim. “Oooh, calcium head-rush!’

The little dark-haired girl who always helped Trent with his math homework?” Amanda beamed, putting the milk back. “Monique. She was such a delicate little thing, and I once heard her play viola with the Lawndale Symphony – she was barely in her teens - does she still play?”

She’s still into music,” Jane said. “Mom – you were wrong about one thing you said…”

Oh?”

I’ll always need my mother. So I have to do a time-share deal with the folks in Chile, Ireland, Fiji and Madagascar to see you – we’re Lanes. We do family the long-distance way. I’m still mad at you, though,”

For the first time since she had heard about Jake’s breakdown three weeks ago, Amanda Lane smiled.

When I see Trent, I’ll make him feel guilty about worrying you, after I smother him in kisses for being so brave and fearless.”

Jane half-grimaced and half-smiled at the thought of the upcoming spectacle. Amanda Lane, when she actually did it, took the ‘mother hen’ image to a level that would make Carol Brady tell her to turn it down. I’m going to have to make popcorn for this performance, she thought, a snickering trickle of evil mirth wiggling in the back of her head. I think that I need to call Trent and tell him to come back home tonight…

Sucker. Teach you about banging on my door at unholy-o’clock in the morning… and to ice the cake even more, I’ll show Mom the news clips. She won’t stop hugging him and crying for an hour.

Next time, you WILL remember to make me biscuits.

+++++

As far as I can see, Mrs. Morgendorffer, it looks like you've just had a 24-hour bug - nothing to really worry about. I see that you’re a lawyer – between your work and … recent events, it looks like stress is going to be the big thing that you’ll need to avoid... or do you enjoy the concept of ulcers? You're not there yet, but it could be a problem. Oh, and you'd do well to avoid drinking like you were back in your sorority house in your junior year in college - in fact, you're now off the sauce and any other meds unless you check it out with me first - end of story. I can recommend a good therapist or crisis counselor if you feel that you need to talk to someone…”

Right, Helen said, looking down with distaste at the open-backed hospital gown she’d worn during her exam. Avoid stress. Don't drink. Now tell me how you’ll solve that ‘eternal youth’ thing… Bastard. I had one beer.

Buttoning her blouse with one hand, Helen reached down for the gown and tossed it into a corner. Like most people, she hated the ‘dignity reducers’ with a passion, and firmly believed that the main purpose for the garment was to keep patients off-balance and thereby, more docile and compliant during visits and procedures.

And they just HAD to do a full workup… how long have I been here? It’s almost six-? The girls – I didn’t leave them a message!

Mrs. Morgendorffer, I’ve got a number of things for you,” a young, eager RN piped up, coming into the room. “The doctor wants you to…”

The rest of the RN’s comments flowed in one ear and out the other, and Helen found herself with a handful of forms, notes, and several prescriptions as she allowed herself to be led back out to the waiting area-

Mom?”

Helen looked up to see Quinn heading towards her, Jamie White following behind. "Stacy called, and I checked my messages a few minutes ago - Mom, are you all right?"

"Yes, Stacy was nice enough to drive me over, and -"

She left as soon as we got here,” Quinn finished – somewhat bluntly, Helen thought. “I told her that I could take care of you. How do you feel – why didn’t you say you weren’t okay?”

Helen let Quinn’s verbal dribble flow past as she turned to see only empty chairs in the waiting room. "I guess she felt that she wasn't needed," she continued, a pang of guilt streaking through her as she picked up Stacy’s copy of A Wrinkle In Time from a corner table. “I’ll have to do something nice for her. I might have been a bit blunt earlier…”

"Oh, you don’t need to worry about Stacy - she's always like that!" Quinn said, helping Helen to her feet. "She’s happy just because she got to help you! Stacy's always been a big fan of yours… big, powerful lawyer, who can stand up for herself and stomp all over people who try to get in your way - and after all, you're MY mom! Now, I'll drive you home, and we can stop for some juice or something, and get your medicines – I’ve been waiting to get to drive your new car, it is just so cool…"

+++++

Years from now, when you’re happy and with everything you’ve ever dreamed of coming true, I’m going to show up for the payback,” Trent said, wiping his face clean with a wet dishtowel. “Mom wouldn’t stop kissing me on the face and hugging me. She pulled me down and tried to hold me like I was still a baby. Max got pictures with that Polaroid he always keeps around. I’m gonna get you for this, Janey.”

The best part was when she called you ‘her brave little man-child,” Jane snorted, unable to keep the cackles of laughter out of her words. “Do you want a good little cookie, my brave little man-child?”

The ringing of the doorbell cut off what promised to be a truly memorable retort, judging by the uncharacteristically annoyed look on Trent’s face as Jane dipped a cookie in milk and shoved it into her older brother’s mouth before retreating to the living room. “So, who’s at the-“

Jesse Moreno had gone silent at the look that appeared on Jane’s face as her eyes fell on Daria, who stood just inside the doorway. Max Taylor, who had let Daria in, realized that he’d probably just made a mistake of monumental proportions, and was slowly slinking backwards when Jane’s eyes slid across from Daria’s presence to his own.

Hey,” said Jane, parboiling the drummer with her gaze before turning back to Daria.

Hey,” replied Daria.

There was silence in the room for an uncomfortable period - when the sound of a creaking floorboard beneath a boot seemed to squeal straight through everyone there. Everyone turned and looked at Max, who blushed so deeply that his head reminded Jane of a pomegranate with piercings.

There’s meat loaf, California-style vegetables and macaroni in the kitchen,” she finally said, her searing gaze ratcheting down as it settled back down on Daria; Max visibly relaxed and Jesse realized that he’d been tensed to leap up and stop Jane if she’d gone for anyone’s throat. “Save me a couple of slices, and don’t drink up all of the pink lemonade.”

A stampede for the kitchen made the house vibrate as Nicholas leaped off the couch after Max and Jesse, and Daria closed the front door. “Nancy boys,” Jane scowled. ”Wanna sit down somewhere?”

Cries of ‘I want the end piece!’ ‘You got the good piece last time – let go!’ pelted through the air as Daria and Jane stood in the living room, neither seeming to want to move. “Oh, hell, I’ll sit down.” Jane said, flopping down on a well-worn Queen Anne chair, it’s threadbare high back like a throne as Jane sat back and looked across at Daria. “Want something to eat? Trent and the Boys of Spiral did a gig and actually used the money for something worthwhile-“

Collective vasectomies?”

The look that Jane gave Daria made her heart skip a beat, and then, made her feel warm and good inside… the first time she’d felt like that in months. “I haven’t heard you make a crack like that in so long… TRENT!”

A laconic voice oozed calm from the kitchen. “Yeah, Janey?”

Fix Daria a plate – and tell Max that if he doesn’t stop drinking out of the pitcher, I’ll come over to his house one night with my old track shoes on and stomp on his hands!”

The sound of something being dropped and splashing made Jane smile. “Trent? Somebody better mix another pitcher of lemonade because I’m NOT going without!”

If that’s your problem, I could help you out –AAAUUUGGHHH! Hot baby carrots! Hot baby carrots-!”

Hey, new idea for a band name!” Jane said, leaning back in the chair and smirking at the sound of Max’s squealing. “I like your clothes. That’s a lot closer to what you usually wore, before-“ She glanced away, mentally screaming hellish curses upon herself for THAT slip-up – and more than ever before, feeling the gulf that had appeared after Jake’s collapse and divided them. “It looks nice. I can do a painting of you in that – of course, it’ll have to go into my Dadaist works…”

Thank God someone around in my life didn’t change, Daria said silently, absently fingering one of the tiny, dangling opal-and-platinum earrings that Tom Sloane had given her the night she’d slept with him – before, of course, the P’s showed up for the floor show. She’d promised herself on the way over that she’d never tell anyone, least of all Jane, that it took her almost four hours to go through her recently-overflowing-with-clothes-closet and find something to wear over to Casa Lane. Something reminiscent of the outfits she’d always worn before –

She snapped off any thought of Jake. Not here. I won’t bring HIM up in here or anywhere near Jane. Forget him.

What was I thinking of beforehand? Oh, yeah – the clothes. She’d tease me for months about picking through outfits – no, she’d tease me for caring about what other people THINK about my wearing different outfits. She’d tease me for trying so hard to try and look anything like I used to, like she really cares about that. That’s Jane. She’s gonna be true to herself and not sell out to anybody or for anything… and that’s how she kept me all straight-and-narrow all this time.

God, why didn’t I just come running over here through the storm…?

Why am I here now – oh, that’s right… you know that already…

I liked your poem.”

To her credit, Jane didn’t make any unusual shows of emotion. “Eh. I’m branching out into new areas. You should see what I’ve got planned for the next Karaoke Night at school – you think they’ll be able to appreciate a reading of Yemenese camel calls with a salsa beat?”

Hmmn. Dodge the issue much, Lane?”

Jane cocked her head as Daria finally eased herself down on the couch, and the sound of the phone made her frown. “Trent! Get the phone!”

Why don’t you just hit him with a bullwhip, while you’re at it?”

Nah. Sleep deprivation works better. I did deserve that crack a moment ago, didn’t I?”

In your defense, you offered me food as soon as I got here,” Daria said. “Jane – I want to talk to you- no, I need to talk to you. I have to. I want-“

To not talk here – not now,” Jane said. “First, we get food. We eat the food. Then, we get rid of the Four Flops and my mom-“

Your mom’s in town?”

Yeah. She came all the way back from Manchuria so she could see-“ A lead weight suddenly appeared in place of her tongue.

Huh? She came to see who?”

Jane’s gaze seeped away from Daria.

She came to see your dad.”

Daria suddenly felt sick to her stomach. “You mean, she came to see Trent after she heard how he saved Quinn from my dad.”

I think that I’m safe in saying that your dad was first on the list of my mom’s things to do when she got into town…” The bitterness in Jane’s tone, while still there, had lost most of its intensity. “On the bright side, you should have seen the way she babied Trent as soon as she saw him – her ‘brave little man-child…”

A howl of a laugh escaped from Daria. “She said it like that-?”

She actually pulled him down on the couch and tried to cuddle him like he was fresh out of the cradle!” Jane laughed. “Somebody needs serious workouts to get that upper-body strength back – Trent got pulled in like a one-pound trout! ‘Oh, you were so brave and so fearless, I love you so much, my brave little man-child…” She rolled in the chair as she laughed. “You GOTTA see the pictures – Max got Polaroids, you’re gonna cry laughing…”

Just tell me that she didn’t try to give him a bottle…”

She wanted to fix him dinner and feed him – Jesse nearly got a guitar over the head when he said he’d run out and get Trent some strained peas and carrots! She was just combing his hair and kissing him all over his face – ‘Oh, my brave, brave little Trent, my brave little peace warrior…”

Daria began to laugh so hard that tears ran down her face. “Peace warrior?’ I guess someone DID spend just a little too much time in the sun during the Summer of Love-!”

What are you sniping about – I had to listen to Mom interpret the sounds of the universe ever since I was born-!”

Daria stopped laughing long enough to wipe her face dry. “I haven’t laughed like this in a while,” she said, hiccuping and then coughing. “I wish I had seen his-“

Little peace warrior?”

They both were practically writhing with laughter when Trent stepped out of the kitchen, and Jane stopped laughing immediately as she saw the look on his face. She had seen that look only once before on Trent's face – just a few months before.

Daria.”

Yes, my brave little ‘peace warrior?”

Daria. You have to go home. They need… your family needs you there.”

The full weight of meaning came down hard inside Jane’s stomach as she saw it impact and shatter Daria’s once-impervious mental shields, punching through her entirety and leaving her a stiffening, vacated husk upon the couch.

Jane looked past the eerily static expression on Trent’s face to her mother, who wept silently on Max’s shoulder. She turned back to Daria, who couldn’t find any words to speak – she had become a blank slate, with a single scrawl coming to life upon it, as a line of teardrops began to stain her blouse…

She crossed the room, and took Daria’s hand in her own as she pulled her best friend into a comforting embrace; she was slightly surprised and grateful that Daria didn’t resist, but curled up against her, trembling as they began to rock back and forth slowly.

Max had finally found his criminale soul; he seemed somehow larger, more than he was before as he held Amanda, allowing her to cry against him for a time before he led her to Jane’s seat and sat her down, never letting go of her hand.

Trent’s voice came from somewhere at the edge of Jane’s awareness. “Jane and I… we’ll take you home, Daria.”

+++++

God, Jake’s just going to love it up here-

A swell of emotion mushroomed up through Helen as she looked out at the beautiful, moonlit forestland passing outside the elegant limousine that the firm had provided for her and the girls. She sat back in her seat, forcing a sound of anguish back before either of the girls noticed…

There isn’t a Jake anymore. Oh, God, my Jake’s gone – Why couldn’t you fight it, Jake? I’d have made it through to the top at the firm, or we could have waited until the girls came out of high school – do you know – did you know – I HATE that I keep changing tense whenever I think of you…

Jake, I miss you – I want you back here with me so much, I’d rather be arguing with you, I’ll never get to see you making food inedible in your ‘kitchen sink stew’, if I could only get to feel you holding me one more time -

Mom, it’ll be okay,” Quinn’s voice came from nowhere, and Helen slipped back into the now to see the inside of the limousine she and her daughters were in. “It’ll all be okay.”

Helen watched Quinn look out at the unspoiled landscape, and turned back, a smile on her face. "Daddy would have liked this a lot. That’s what you were thinking about, wasn’t it?”

Quinn glanced over at Daria, who had actually managed to fall asleep. “Some people can fall asleep during an earthquake,” she said, reaching over and pushing Daria’s glasses back up onto her nose; surprising everyone, she’d started to wear them again. “She’s back to wearing the boy-repellers… I don’t know why…”

Something about Daria wearing the glasses seemed reassuring to Helen.

It was a nice service, Mom," Quinn continued. "I didn’t know that Daddy knew so many people…”

Neither did I, Helen thought quite loudly. The service shocked me – who knew Jake would have more than a handful of folks to see him off? There were so many… Anthony and Claire DeFoe came, along with an appearance from Angela Li herself, delivering a spectacular floral arrangement. Those two radio show hosts that Jake always hung around with came, actually dressed appropriately and looking sad – and speaking of looking sad, that intern of Jake’s – her name’s Horizon, right? – just couldn’t stop crying, and the redhead with the British accent that sat with her, she was staring daggers at me through the entire service; wonder what her problem was?

The big surprise for me – I don’t know if it was that the senior partners came for the service, or all of the business types who came and actually seemed as though they were sad about Jake, or some of the people who just didn’t seem to fit into Jake’s world but showed up and spoke to me like he was important to them. That Army colonel with all the decorations - Davers, I think – I bet Quinn knows his name, and the look she gave that tiny Asian woman who was with the colonel, if I hadn’t seen Quinn and Daria together, I’d say that woman had better get ready for a fight, he did look as handsome as Errol Flynn… How did Jake know any military people? He hated the military, but the colonel really seemed to feel bad about what happened… like he actually knew Jake, and cared about him

The shadowed world passed by the window, unnoticed by Helen… The look on her face made Quinn decide to leave her mother alone in her thoughts.

Jake, I’m glad you didn’t live to know about any of this. It wasn’t your fault that you – no, we both failed the girls somehow. How could we let things happen that – what did we do that made them turn to each other like that… how did we let things go so wrong with our family? How could we be so alien to our children, and allow them to grow up in any way thinking that this could be in any way acceptable, even in the worst circumstances…? You can’t really believe that anything physical will make the pain go away – aren’t you old enough to know that it doesn’t work that way, no matter how much pain there is? Didn’t we teach you any better – or did we teach you anything worthwhile in the first place…?

How can I be such a hypocrite? I’m thinking how they should know better, and it seems that every time since I saw them together, every time I start to feel horrible about Jake, and the girls having sex – just even saying it makes me taste bile – every time I start to hurt and think that I want it to go away and that I’m tired of being the strong one, I think of – and I think of – I feel my body, and I, I’m not supposed to feel like that, how can I think of my daughters and – so I had relationships in college with women, and I would have stayed with Erica or Moonflower if I could have, but that’s my past, and I can’t – Is THAT what I’m doing? Oh, God – I’m trying to relive my past by fantasizing about making love to my daughters? Well. I might as well just give the therapist a line of credit hooked to my personal account – and tell him that if he even MENTIONS my family in a book or a research paper before we’re all dead, then he won’t survive the first week the book is out, let alone his career…

All right – let’s settle down and reacquaint ourselves with the concept of ‘focus’. Helen – you’re not twenty anymore, these aren’t the ‘60’s, you’re NOT dealing with the girls from school – you can’t go back to that time again. Helen, you’re hurting now, just like you were back then – the reasons don’t matter from then – but you can’t just… indulge. You have to face up to the present – you have to remember five words. ‘Of your own free will.’ You made choices, Helen – freely and of your own will - and just because of the horrible things that have occurred around you, you can’t just try to go back and relive those days when hopping into bed with whomever let you get away from the big, bad world … you can’t be ‘Lavender’ any more. You are an adult now, and you have to be the adult and the mother that your kids need – and they do, right now, more than they ever will in all of their lives. When you have a child, you are no longer a child, remember? - and it’s not only wrong of you to try to escape her own pains and responsibilities by fixating on her daughters as a means of escape, but it’s selfish!

Well, wasn’t I? Selfish, back then. Hell, that’s really why I kept Jake around, especially during my time in law school… he was excellent ‘in-house dick’ – he was reasonably cute, not the type to stray, and you didn’t have to worry about trolling through the clubs or wherever for guys whenever you got the urge (and chasing after girls had to be put away permanently; one confirmed story about a relationship with a woman and it’s ‘…and she’s a lesbian’ for the rest of my career). I also kept him around because, well, he does have the goods to get the job done right, oh, yeah… he was always ready to go at a moment’s notice, and he could go so long… Maybe that’s why I wasn’t as supportive of Jake as I could have been – because it was just easier to have him around… because it was easier for me if he wasn’t successful… successful men run off and get younger women, and Horizon was apparently there and waiting for just a word from him… maybe that’s why the redhead was looking at me like she wanted me in that casket.

You are so pathetic, Helen.

I am not pathetic.

You are! Come on; let’s look at the facts. You’re already on the edge with the overwhelming pressure at work (it is, don’t lie, you want that partnership – if not there, then somewhere) and with all things Jake. He screwed up his business, if you hadn’t seen it yourself at his funeral, you’d have sworn he didn’t have more than a handful of friends, and he bottomed out as a husband. Especially in bed, and be honest -the sex was always a big thing between us. Throw in Jake’s flipping his lid and his strokes… seeing Daria and Quinn was the step that started you over the edge.

See? I’m not pathetic.

What’s pathetic is that you won’t admit the obvious. You’ve worked for most of your life to show that your brains and skills are what’s important - and since you got on that kick, totally ignored that you’ve always had a very strong sex drive. Sex has always been a major part of who you are, and as long as you’ve had an acceptable outlet (in terms of gratification as well as socially), you’ve been able to deal. That’s why you didn’t stay with Erica – and by the way, how do you think Jake felt about being second choice, and to a woman, no less? (Well, actually, third choice, because you’d have sworn allegiance to Satan to be with Moonflower.) How do you think a man with self-esteem problems felt – that there’s a very good chance that his wife would have rather been with a woman instead of him, but since she wanted the spotlight more, she married him because it would look better for the cameras, the partners… and the potential voters? He loved you, but imagine how he felt; wondering if some night, you’d call out some woman’s name in bed?

Then it all went away. No Jake to hold onto, no one to make love to, and there’s no ‘let’s just go find someone to scratch the itch’ – can you imagine what Daria would have been like? Hell, she all but hates Eric because she’s seen him staring, and she knows that there’ll never be anything there! You could never cheat on Jake, so you went without - and you don’t even have a vibrator to take up the slack… Once that started to slip away, you started to try to sublimate, and with the emotional upheaval that occurred, you fell back into a mode that you subconsciously felt would bring you comfort. Free love. No considerations about afterwards, no judgements about who or what you are, just doing whatever makes everyone feel good with whoever shows up and wants to play – unfortunately, you’re intellectually honest. You know there’s no way that this could be right.

I would NEVER touch my daughters like that.

I know.

Even the fan- I can’t even say it anymore – even thinking about them like that was wrong.

I know.

If I hadn’t seen them like that – I’ve never thought of them like that – They’re my little girls!

I know. You know that even having those moments in your mind were wrong – and that making those fantasies real would be supremely wrong, because you’d be taking advantage of them on so many levels - and you know that your children need their mother. They need someone to show them the way out of the cold and the pain.

That’s the lawyer in me. I have to be honest – well, I have to work with facts. I can do that – I can do this. Now I can. I think I can, but it’ll be so hard, and I’m not sure how to do this… Well, at least I’ll try my hardest, and after we spend a few days up here away from everything, and I get to talk to them honestly and openly about what’s happened, we’ll get some professional help.

It’s a start.

I’m still so – God, what I’d give for a good horseback ride through the country right about now… You know, there’s so many young men out there, so full of energy, like little bunnies, and they can just go, and go, and go… That Black player, the captain of the LHS football team – he does look… really fit…

Oh, stop it. At least wait until you get a bit of therapy before you start thinking about going after someone – and then, try for someone a bit older. At least stay above thirty. Give Jean-Jacques a call once you’ve been through a few sessions, and stop comparing Quinn’s friend to Moonflower… yes, I know that she’s eighteen.

Yeah. I kind of wondered why she brought that up the way she did…

I thought I said to stop it. What are we – a character on late night cable?

All right.

Good.

Are we getting better -?

Well… it’s a start. A small one. You’re nowhere near out of the woods – but you know that you’ve got a problem and you want to get better. It’s a start.

Somehow, Helen managed to fall into a peaceful, dreamless sleep, and slept the rest of the way with a tiny smile on her face.

+++++


Trent. I need some help from you.”

Janey, I’ll talk to you later, I need some sleep –“

Trent. Get up.”

Something in his sister’s voice began to push sleep away from Trent. “Yeah. What’s wrong?”

I need you to drive me up to that private resort, or retreat, or whatever they call it – the place that Daria’s mom’s law office has up north. They went up there early this morning.”

It’s still dark outside…”

Trent. Focus.”

They probably just wanted to get away from town after the funeral yesterday. Man, that was the biggest one I’ve seen for somebody around here who wasn’t rich, in politics or in the Mob.”

Trent, I need somebody to ride with me – come on.”

Janey, it’ll be okay – Daria and her people will be back soon, and –“

NO.”

Hmmn?”

I have to be there, Trent. I have to go. Now. I’ve had this bad feeling – I couldn’t sleep most of the night.”

Trent looked into his little sister’s eyes, and shook his head.

Okay. I’ll get dressed, and then we’ll get going. Did you check the fluids in the van?”

What do you think I did since I couldn’t sleep? I also fried a chicken and got some other food for the trip up there.”

How long have you been awake?”

Long enough so that you’ll do most of the driving,” she replied. “When we get up there, I’ll ask Mrs. M if you can crash in one of the bungalows. They’re supposed to be huge beds all over – it’s one of those places where people go to fool around in peace and quiet.”

The thought of a large, comfortable bed brought Trent fully into wakefulness. “That place up there… that’s about a two-hour drive, right?”

You weren’t listening. Mrs. Morgendorffer said that it’s a five-hour drive.”

I’ll call Max – you want the guys to come along and take turns driving?”

Jane gave him a look that cleared that idea out fast. “Uh…. Never mind.”

Trent started to pull himself out of bed; Jane began to leave, but turned back.

Trent?”

Yeah, Janey?”

Thanks for not… thanks.”

It’s cool. This is something you have to do. It’s bigger than just you… I can respect that.”

+++++

The morning sun was high in the sky as the limo moved briskly along a gently winding road, and Quinn was overjoyed as she saw a pair of does cantering easily through the thinning trees that lined the road. “Look!” she squealed, pointing to a smaller form that followed alongside one of the does. “It’s her baby!”

Daria, didn’t you want to see the fawn?” Helen asked, tapping her eldest on the shoulder. “I was told that this area is something of a nature conservatory; they haven’t allowed hunting on these grounds in decades, and so the animals feel comfortable about humans moving about.”

The people at your law firm did that? Decided to keep people from hunting here?”

Yes, Daria,” Helen said tiredly, ‘this area was set up by lawyers. We do our killing of the defenseless only in courtrooms.” My God – that’s the first time I’ve spoken to Daria in that tone of voice since before – in a long time…

I was only going to say that I read about the retreat, and how the animal rights people usually mention it when they talk about how business types can get it right,” Daria said, her tone identical to Helen’s. “Excuse me. How long until we get there?”

Ma’am?” the driver asked. “Oh, we’ve been on the grounds for about a half-hour. It’s about fifteen or so minutes to the main residence, but there are cottages about the grounds – one’s just a minute or so in that direction, up that path-“

Stop the car.”

Excuse me-?”

Please stop the car and pop the trunk.”

Helen looked at Daria. “Daria, I’d like for all of us to stay up at the main residence-“

People in hell would like icemakers and digital cable – we all get used to disappointment,” Daria growled as the car slowed to a stop and she opened her door. “I’ll walk up there later. I want to be by myself right now.”

Quinn waited until she saw Daria walking away with her bag in hand, then turned to Helen. “The glasses, the attitude… She’s going back to the way she was, Mom.”

I wonder if that’s such a bad thing? Helen thought, as the limo started back on the road. At least I won’t worry that they’ll hop into bed out here – Quinn’s idea of a ‘nature hike’ is walking across the lawn to the ice cream truck…

She watched Quinn toss her hair before she settled back into her seat. "Well… at least she's still dressing nicely… thank God I torched all of those HORRIBLE outfits she used to wear."

Helen sighed, and turned back to the window.

A couple of days of peace… some time to let things decompress… that’s all I ask…

+++++

Quinn bounced around the main foyer like a rabbit on happy drugs – or so the chauffeur thought as he sat the last of the luggage down. He winced as she turned to him…

Tell me again about this place…”

Yes, ma’am,” he said, groaning inwardly. “About the retreat. It’s seated on about forty square miles of beautiful forest, with several log cabin-styled cottages situated through the area roughly about ½ miles apart - so people can have their privacy - from each other and the main residence. Each cottage is set up so that it’s completely unnecessary for the guests to need to congregate for any reason except socially. Each cottage even has a little golf cart in an adjoining garage, so they don’t have to walk around unless they want to.”

Cool!”

There are six bedrooms in the main residence, each very luxurious and –“ The chauffeur blinked hard as Quinn zoomed up the large main staircase to the second floor, and Helen moved close to him.

I trust Mr. Schrecter had the door to the master bedroom locked?”

As per your request, Mrs. Morgendorffer. Here’s the key.”

Thank you,” Helen said, slipping the chauffeur a crisp one hundred-dollar bill. “We’ll move the bags up to the rooms ourselves. You’re welcome to rest for a bit before you leave – or if you’d like, please take one of the cottages…”

No thanks, ma’am – I’m going to get back on the road,” the chauffeur said. “There’s supposed to be bad weather in the next day or so, and I’d rather not have the limo up here in the woods. They said that you were spending a few days up here so you could have some time alone…”

He saw the look on Helen’s face. “If there’s a problem and you need to leave, the firm keeps two SUV’S, a Suburban and a pickup in the main garage at all times, fully fueled and ready to go.”

A pickup-?”

Mr. Horowitz is a big fan of the outdoors…”

He’s a redneck with a law degree.”

The law degree is from Oxford, ma’am. He’s allowed anything he wants - even if it’s chitlins, black-eyed peas and cornbread with his blush Chablis.”

A sharp, warbling cry came echoing down from the second floor. “NO FAIR! That locked door means that HAS to be the best room in the entire place! MO-OOOM!”

The chauffeur turned to Helen, his look surprisingly smirk-free. “Enjoy your stay, Mrs. Morgendorffer.”

+++++

Daria was awakened by a strangely familiar sound.

After blowing Helen and Quinn off, she had trudged up a small walking trail to what the chauffeur had described as ‘one of the cottages’. In actuality, it was a beautiful log cabin-style house that could easily appear on the cover of ‘Better Homes and Gardens’ or ‘Traditional Home’.

The door was open, and Daria spent the next ten minutes looking around the split-level home – ‘er, cottage’, she kept reminding herself. A wonderful kitchen stocked with plenty of food and a wine cooler – nice wine selection, by the way. A living room with a serious fireplace and furniture that seemed as if it just begged to be lounged upon, a jumbo-sized whirlpool spa that someone could almost swim in, a California King-sized bed in the bedroom, along with a nice sound system, an interesting selection of CD’s (and an interesting assortment of condoms in the nightstand). The liquor cart was also excellent, and there were even several types of medicines in the medicine cabinet in the bathroom, along with all the necessary toiletries for any man or woman spending several days in the house.

If this is what all the ‘cottages’ are like, let alone the main house, Quinn’ll be in heaven… God knows she could use some pampering – I guess we all do –

A wave of shame and self-loathing swept through Daria; she retreated into the bedroom, crawled into the bed, and curled up upon herself. When I go back home, I have to tell Jane what’s been going on. She knows. I know she knows – but I have to say it out loud, and face the music from her.

I don’t know how it happened, Jane! All right, that’s not exactly true – I was in my room on the night of that storm, and Quinn came in, all sad and wanting to sleep in my bed because she was sad, and scared, and just plain off-course because of what happened to Dad. I let her climb into bed – I made her pay a hundred bucks, and I got the cash up front… We started to talk – she was wearing that see-through gown, and I was kind of jealous, because you know what kind of body she’s got, I mean, Quinn’s got a great body, and – oh. Too much information; well, unnecessary to the conversation. She started running her mouth, and somehow we made it went to ‘Truth-or-Dare’.

Well, that bit me on the butt, now didn’t it?

I don’t know what made me actually go through with the kiss-dare – I guess I thought I was going to show Quinn that I wasn’t going to back down from her and her fashion-plate body or be intimidated by her, not in my own bed – and then, I don’t know why we let it go on so long, that kiss, or why we did it again… After that bolt of lightning lit up everything, it was as if that line was so far behind us that we couldn’t go back… and I didn’t want to, because there was someone right there that could finally understand how I felt, what I’ve always felt, so alone and so scared and just so angry all at once, and I want to do something to let it all out but I didn’t know how… I felt her tongue sliding around in my mouth, and she felt me up, her hands were all on me, and it all felt so good that I didn’t want it to go away, I couldn’t say no or stop it because she might have, don’t you understand? I’m so tired of knowing that no one ever wanted to touch me like that, nobody ever wanted to hold me down and make me want them to never let me up – I hurt, Jane. I hurt so much, and it’s always been there, and even though it’s wrong, I could feel something every time Quinn touched me… I felt… it made the emptiness in me go away, just for a moment; I couldn’t expect that from you… could I? You came into my life, and you made the pain go away. You just knew me as me and didn’t want or expect or ask for anything more; do you know how much I love you for that? I couldn’t ask you for anything more than that – and besides, I looked at Trent and I thought I could get that from him, but still get to be around you…

I don’t know a damn thing about anything, do I?

I’m so stupid… so damn silly. Why didn’t I go to you at first, Jane? Why haven’t I been totally open with you?

For everything I’ve done over all of this time, for the way I’ve defiled myself and all those people around me, for every time I’ve made myself impure, pushed myself into the dark and further away from you - I’m sorry, Jane. Oh, God, Jane, I am so sorry.


I’ve done so much that isn’t right, and nothing so much as not letting you in. You’ve got every right to be mad at me… I let you down in so many ways, but you didn’t throw me out or scream at me when I came over. I’d have told you and prayed that you’d forgive me – that you’d be there for what’s going to happen…

When we get back to Lawndale, I’m going to tell you everything. I’m going to – I’m going to be open with you. If you ask me – anything you ask me – I’ll tell you. We’ll figure out what’s going to happen afterward. I know I shouldn’t even think like this, God knows I don’t have the right to, but somehow, I know that you’ll at least listen to me.

The light in the room faded around her; Daria wasn’t sure if she had been thinking or dreaming or wishing, but the light from the sun was now a brilliant amber and burnt-cinnamon, sharp and yet low in the sky, and she heard a familiar rumbling off in the distance…

She sat up. How did my shoes end up on the pillow like that? she wondered, and slipped them on as she rose from the bed, somewhat rested, and –

Her stomach rumbled. Oh, yeah. NOW you want to eat-

Daria actually jumped as the phone on the nightstand rang. She looked at it like a rabid dog in a cage, and it rang again; she picked it up.

Hello-?”

Did you tell your little friend and her scrubby brother that they could come up here and sponge off all of Mom’s lawyer friends' stuff?” a familiar voice screeched in annoyance through the receiver, and Daria pulled away for a moment.

Quinn? What are you talking about-“

Your FRIEND, Daria. She’s here! Her AND that dirty brother of hers AND that stupid fake tribal tattoo!”

Jane is here?”

YES. Come on up here to the main residence – I guess they came to see you.”

+++++

Hey, Daria.”

Hey, Trent.”

Daria closed the door of the main residence and walked into the living room; Trent rose from the couch. “So, finally decided that the life of Lawndale wasn’t for you?”

That, too – the ‘music for whatever we can scrounge afterward’ thing’s getting old. Looking into doing something else. Not right off, though. There’s still music that I need to write – music that I need to play someday.”

Quinn said that you and Jane both came up,” Daria said; Quinn scowled at the expectant tone in her voice. "Where did she-"

Uh, she had to, well, you know, Mrs. M said that there’s a bathroom around the corner that way, second door on the left.”

I can wait,” Daria said, plunging down on the couch and finally taking in the surroundings. “Oh. Wow… this is really something… this is very nice…”

Yeah… it's not bad,” Trent chimed in, now very aware of just how impressed Daria was with the house – and the way she reacted to the house left him suddenly feeling very small…

That is the COOLEST bathroom I’ve ever seen!”

Trent turned back to see Jane come around a corner, and the way life came into Daria’s eyes and smile as she saw her. “Hey, amiga – where’s the food around here? I’m starved – and can we make some pancakes?”

It’s almost six o’clock!” Quinn protested. “You CAN’T eat pancakes at six in the evening!”

Ah, tell that to the folks at the International House of Pancakes!” Jane said, going in small circles as she looked around. “Man, I didn’t know that they made places like this for real – I thought these were only big soap opera sets! So, when’s chow?”

Jane?” Helen said, stopping at the top of the stairs. “Trent? What are you doing – I mean, it’s nice to see you – no, what ARE you doing here? HOW did you get here – how did you know where here IS? It’s a FIVE-HOUR DRIVE TO GET HERE, why did you – oh.”

She had the good grace to look slightly ashamed as Daria lifted her head into view. “Oh, well, you’re practically family anyway-“ Daria’s eyes rose and Quinn looked sickened at that turn of phrase. “-And you’re probably both tired from the drive up. Why don’t the both of you just relax for a bit? It’s about time to fix something for dinner anyway?”

Thanks, Mrs. M,” Trent said, and a sudden yawn slid out of his mouth. “Maybe I could get a raincheck on the food, I am sort of tired…”

Oh, no – if you go to sleep now, there’ll be no waking you up for a week!” Jane told him. “Eat first, and then-“

Then, you and your brother can take one of the cottages,” Helen said, feeling strangely comforted that Jane had come all the way from Lawndale to be near Daria. “You’re welcome to stay as long as you’d like – in the meantime, I think that I’d like some help in the kitchen!”

We have to help cook?”

Yes, Quinn – I’m not about to put a pan of lasagna into the microwave here, and even though there’s all sorts of wonderful appliances and ingredients in there, I’m not about to let your father get in there and cook up some atrocious concoction that’ll –“

Helen sat down hard on the stairwell, her eyes blank, and the four young people below her tried to look anywhere but into her eyes… her eyes, which tears started to drop from.

Mom-“

Jane took one look at Helen and cut Quinn off. “Daria, why don’t you guys show Trent and me where this super-kitchen is, and we can start on fixing something reasonably cheap and easy to find… I could handle a hamburger, or it’s the season for one of those thick, rich chicken and wild rice soups – they’re so good, and I haven’t had a bowl of that in a while-“

Jane, could you stay for just a moment?”

Um, okay."

The raven-haired teen’s curiosity began to build as she climbed the stairs and sat three steps beneath Helen; the others looked at each other, and started away. “I’m – I’m still not at the point of accepting… I can still go into the closets at home, and pick up some of his clothes… they still have his scent on them, and I can just hear him calling me –“

Helen took a handkerchief from her jacket, and wiped the tears away. “I didn’t get to see Amanda – your mother – I thought that she’d attend the funeral before she left-“

She was in the very back,” Jane replied. “She left as soon as the service was over – I guess that she didn’t want to intrude on you, and… I guess she didn’t want to intrude.”

She wasn’t,” Helen sniffled. “She wasn’t intruding… you and your brother, you’re not intruding, either.”

Thanks, Mrs. M.”

Why did you come up here, Jane?”

The bluntness and the question threw Jane for a loop. “I wanted to come up – Daria’s my best friend. I wanted to be here with her, so she wouldn’t…” Her voice trailed off. “So she wouldn’t spend a lot of money on long-distance calls back to Lawndale.”

You don’t lie well. That’s a good thing. You wanted to be here with Daria so she wouldn’t be alone.”

Jane didn’t answer. “You and Trent are welcome to stay, but tomorrow night, Daria, Quinn and I are going to have a family meeting - and it’s tremendously important that we not be disturbed. I’ll call to tell you when we’re about to have our meeting – probably after dinner, I’d say.”

We can do that – disappear for a while. I’ll talk to Trent – knowing him, he’ll want to just crawl up in a bed somewhere and sleep until we wake him up.”

The closest cottage is a nice walk away from here – about a half-mile up the walking path. You and your brother can stay there.” Helen wiped at her face again. “I know that this may sound strange and demanding, but the girls and I have things that we need to talk over. I know how close you and Daria are, how she seemed to disconnect from you after everything that happened… I was glad to see you back around the house these past few days –

And part of me actually wishes that you and Daria WERE lovers - because then, this wouldn’t have happened, Helen thought quite loudly.

-But I need to be with my daughters, so we can talk. I know you want to spend time with Daria – and I will call you after we’ve finished. Is that acceptable to you?”

Yeah."

She’ll need you tomorrow…”

Huh?”

Oh, just thinking aloud. Pancakes for dinner?”

I’m strange that way.”

Good. Let’s go help with the food.”

They both stood up. “Jane…”

Mrs. M-?”

Thank you for being here for her.”

+++++

Hot tea?”

What is it with your family and tea?”

What is it with microwaves, frozen dinners and yours?”

Daria turned from her spot on the front steps of the main residence and just looked at Jane.

Take a picture, they last longer. As for my family, well… tea, weed, you can grow them close together and folks think they’re the same, dumb folks do, I don’t know,” Jane said, the twin mugs she held trailing steam in the cold twilight air. “Oh, stop staring. It’s good for you, girl, drink it.”

I think that Mom’s psyching herself up for something big,” Daria replied. “She’s been kind of distant this evening, the way she is when she’s getting ready for court – even ‘Family Court’ – and that’s something she’s always enjoyed way too much. There’s gonna be some sort of big ‘Family Meeting’ real soon.”

Tomorrow night.”

Uh, rewind?”

The big sit-down’s going to be tomorrow night – sometime after you guys finish evening chow,” Jane said, pushing a mug at her. “Your mom asked me and Trent to stay out at our squat while you guys commence to chew Ye Old Fat. Are you taking this or not?”

Thank you.” Daria sipped at the tea, and then made an awful face at Jane. “GAAAAK! Blackberry tea and rum! This is horrible!”

Oh, stop it. It’s not blackberry tea, it’s boysenberry tea, and the rum is ‘Captain Morgan Private Stock."

Jane hoisted herself up onto the rail of the wheelchair ramp that led up onto the huge front porch, and looked down at Daria. "Add in a few other things and -voila! Hot Toddy, coming right at ya!”

But I’m not sick…”

And if you drink that, you won’t get sick!”

More like I won’t feel as bad if I do…” Another sip. “GAAAAK! Did Mom see you put the hemlock in this?”

No, she was watching Quinn make devil-eyes at Trent when I slid a shot of the Captain in the mix. She really doesn’t want us up here, does she? Quinn, that is.”

She’s just being Quinn – with everything, I guess I’m glad that she’s acting like a twit.”

Hmm… is it that she doesn’t want us here, or she doesn’t want me up here around you?”

The air seemed to grow colder around Daria. “Jane-“

We've got plenty of time to snap at each other later, Daria. Right now, we’ll just sit here and drink this tea.”

Yeah. More painful.”

Wait until you hit the dregs.”

I think I’m past those, now.”

Jane gave her a lopsided smile, and then lifted her head to look out over the landscape. “Excellent view. I always knew you’d realize I’m good for something.”

Daria looked at her for a long time. “Yeah. You are.”

The two sat quietly, and drank their tea.

Tomorrow night… if you want… I’ll be up all night. I brought a few ‘SSW’ tapes, and I’m sure they’ve got pizza around here somewhere… I’ll kick Trent out, and we can just lie around and eat.”

Okay.”

+++++

I don’t believe this crap! What the hell is Jane doing up here – why is she around anyway? I thought Daria just blew her off – she acted like she didn’t even want me to mention her name since we got things started after that storm… Hey, I know for certain that she and Daria weren’t doing anything, because as hard as we go for it, and the way I’ve made her scream, she’s never called out to Jane. Not even once.

Hey, Jane – I wonder how you’d feel if you saw the way Daria and I do it - and how she’s loved every moment of it? Do you know what she really likes, Jane? She really likes it when you hold her down; when she has your weight on top of her, when she’s bucking and wriggling and trying to get away but she can’t, and she has to ride it out until she comes? Damn, and she loves to kiss – she loves it when you French her, she’ll stay on you forever as long as you keep giving her tongue and she can use hers – let her use her tongue as much as she wants, and anywhere she wants… I love the way she goes at my nipples… do you really think you’re coming back into her life? It’s just the two of us now – she came to me when we were both hurting over what Dad did, and I gave her something nobody else ever did. I gave her a chance to just let go – I gave her a chance to feel something besides the nothing good she’s always had when she was just moping around. What did you two ever do worthwhile beforehand but sit around, eat pizza, watch stupid TV and cut down everybody who passed in front of you – why didn’t you try doing something that would make her happy?

Quinn locked the door of her bedroom, jumped up on the huge bed, and kicked her shoes across the room. Just go away, already. We’ll spend some time up here because Mom needs some time away from everything – and while she’s relaxing, Daria and I can try out the stuff they have here. I love the hot tub they have in this room – it’s more than big enough for me and Daria to move all over when we’re in it, and I love those handrails… gives you something to hold onto and keep yourself steady.

The best thing about these bedrooms? Mom said that they’re soundproofed… even if she were standing right next to the door, we could just cut loose, and God knows that we both need it right now – I know I do.

Tomorrow, after we finish dinner, I’ll ask Daria up here, and I’ll get her to forget all about being around the track toad… if Mom gets really busy or breaks out her cell phone, we can come up here after lunch. Yeah. Feed Jane and her brother, get them back on the road, and then us Morgendorffer women can be alone together.

She noticed how there was a mirror on the ceiling over the bed. Oh, that’s going to be a lot of fun tomorrow, when we break this bed in right… I have to remember that for the next time I do it with Tiffany… she’ll love seeing the way she looks when she’s doing it…

A smile crossed her face as she remembered the events of days earlier, and how Tiffany had come over with a large floral arrangement. Apparently, Stacy was being thoughtful and actually got Sandi to cough up F.C. money for flowers and a nice card; Sandi found some reason that she couldn’t do it and Stacy said that she couldn’t – for some reason, she now thought that Helen didn’t like her and flatly refused to go.

That left Tiffany.

Quinn asked her to come upstairs and look at what she thought of the outfits she would wear to the memorial and to the graveyard. Helen was at the office, working on the insurance forms and settling Jake’s affairs, while Daria had very bluntly said that she’d be spending the day at the public library and wouldn’t be back until after nine, when the library closed. Quinn tried on the outfits, asked Tiffany her opinion, asked her if she’d like to try one on… and then she arched herself on her bed, and asked Tiffany if she thought she had a nice body – and was it better than Sandi’s?

Tiffany was always far more curious that anyone would have believed, more adventurous… and the way she talked was the exact opposite of the way she moved…

She can come over any time she wants, mmm; I can handle that… The memory of Tiffany’s perfect body, unblemished gold-kissed skin pressed against her all slick and soft as the Asian beauty whimpered and sighed through her orgasms, made Quinn smile as she slipped out of her clothing and then curled up under the covers.

Tomorrow’s going to be a great day…



END OF PART III