PART IV

Morning came and went, blending seamlessly into afternoon.

Jane ran.

She stopped to catch her breath when a slight commotion caught her attention. About thirty yards further ahead, there was a bird feeder on the side of the path – a very sturdy statue of a young woman holding a lantern and a deep bowl; the lantern held seeds, and the bowl was actually a birdbath.

Having run about the entire area and stopping at the beginning of her second lap, Jane had stopped at the statue/feeder to look it over closely. The deep bowl had three small lights in the bottom, and when she put her finger in the water, she was surprised to find that the water was lukewarm… and bubbling near the center. They built a heater and a circulator into the statue – they built pipes all the way out to this, hey… this is built kind of low to the ground, and check out the tracks – they built this as a watering hole … even deer can get a drink, even in the winter…

The people who did this place actually were into animals.
A squirrel was sitting on top of the lantern, idly nibbling at a pilfered sunflower seed when an annoyed bird landed next to him and registered a complaint; moments later, the bird and the squirrel were working their way out of the bath, still tossing nasty looks at each other.

Serves you both right – there’s more than one seed in there.

After one really great breakfast, Jane had decided to do a few miles, just to clear out her head. ‘A few miles’ gradually became longer and longer, and Jane happened to look down at her miles-counter to find that she’d run almost ten miles – several laps around the entire walking path.

Yeah, better get back. They have food.


“So, you’re going to run all day, or what?”

Jane looked over to see Daria pacing alongside her in a little golf cart.

“Finally putting that driver’s license to good use, hmm?”

“We were all wondering where you were, and then someone said, “Hey, there’s trees and nature stuff, it’s forty-some degrees outside and the temperature's dropping, there’s a miles-long path around the entire area, and she’s a bit whacked in the head. Naturally, she’s off running.”

“Just for that, I’m never going to let you meet any of the famous people that I’m going to hang out with. Not one single introduction, and I don't hook you up with one single person – especially the cute guys who think that you’re charming and cuddly, like a kitten that tries to claw at everyone that comes close.”

“Speaking of kittens with claws – better come on up and show your face. Quinn’s making it seem as though Mom should give the two of you a grape apiece and send you packing.”

“Not exactly a fan of mine, is she?”

“If Mom says that you two have to go, I’ll be going back to Lawndale with you.”

Jane glanced over at her. “You said that?”

“Yeah. The amusement level went subterranean almost immediately.”       

“The Divine Mrs. M doesn’t like people throwing monkey wrenches into the works, does she?”

“She usually doesn’t.”

They were both quiet for a couple of minutes, Daria’s cart easily pacing alongside Jane as she to a slow jog. “This isn’t much different from the parks in Lawndale,” Jane observed. “There’s just more of it, and the animals are bigger.”

“Hopefully, the mountain lions won’t eat us.”  

“They won’t get you. Remember, they eat meat – and you don’t have enough on your bones to cover a Ritz cracker.”

“They wouldn’t try for me anyway – with your speed and your bony little legs, they’ll think that you’re some king of mutant deer that walks upright – Hey! I’ll write a superhero flick starring you as a superhero with superspeed and camouflage abilities like the ‘Predator’, out to save the forests  - I’ll call it ‘Jane Doe.”

“Okay, stop the cart. I want you to not be moving when I hit you into next week.”

“Somebody’s not getting a ride back to civilization.”

Jane slowed to a walk.

“Jane, since you’re going to keep doing your running thing, I’m going to –“

“Head off to what you REALLY want to use your Montana Cabin Fund for?”

“I hate you.”

“You know you love it up here.”

Daria shot her a glare and rolled away as Jane trotted off in the other direction.

Minutes later, Jane came to a decent-sized clearing. She stopped to rest for a moment, pulling the hood of her sweatshirt over her head – and as she looked up, her eyes went wide at what she saw…

“Oh, man.”

It was as if someone had actually placed a curtain across the sky. On one side of the sky it was daylight – a blue sky, and the early afternoon sun; on the other, a line of clouds so thick and dense that light couldn’t get inside, and the result was a wall of pure darkness crowned by white fluffiness.  

“That is one mother of a squall line,” Jane said aloud, remembering how Daria told her stories of bad storms and tornadoes down in Texas. “I need to get going. That’s going to be a hell of a storm.”

+++++

Fifteen minutes later, Trent was closing the door to the attached garage as Jane came running up. “Jane. There’s a real big storm coming up.”

“You think-?”

Trent looked up to where Jane pointed, and drew back. “Whoa. Inside’s our best bet. Good thing I put the minivan in the garage.”

Almost as he spoke, a wave of sleet seemed to drop from the sky, and the world around them began to go white; sharp, pelting sounds filled the air as the sleet seemed to freeze in mid-air…

“Man, I’m glad the beds have big blankets and there’s stuff to eat. We might be here a while.”

The way Trent said that made Jane dart inside the cottage and back out in an instant, pulling her coat on and swinging her bag over her shoulder. “Janey, where are you going?”

“Daria’s place.”

“See the way it’s coming down out there? Not a good plan.”

“Love you, Trent, but I’m out!”

“Hey, after this stops coming down, we’ll both hike down there. If you go now, you might get lost in the blowing snow. You won’t be able to see much in front of you. Daria won’t want you to come down now and end up - ”

“Color me real stupid. I should have gone over there – I shouldn’t have stopped trying to get through to Daria, I could have done something!” She pulled the shoulder straps tight. “I’m going down now. I have to – I don’t want Daria to be alone – not now, not here…”

“Janey-“

“Trent. This is why I’m here.

A heavy gust of wind made the pouring sleet seem to blow sideways; Trent shifted his attention back to his sister. He started to step off to one side, but stopped and looked at her…

“Hold up.”

Jane watched Trent disappear into the cottage, and reappear moments later.

“Here… put my scarf on,” he said, pulling a heavy woolen scarf into view and wrapping it around Jane’s neck. “As soon as you get up there, get some warm soup into you and bundle up – and stay bundled up.”

Jane looked at her brother, and Trent felt a little sad as she squeezed his hand. “Don’t spend all day sleeping!”

She stepped off the single step to the porch – and she seemed to disappear into an ocean of shifting, flowing white…

Trent Lane stood for a long time on the porch before he spoke, staring out into the ever-increasing storm after his sister.

“Bye, Janey.”

+++++

Helen was fast asleep in the master bedroom when a loud, strange, eerie sound filled the entire area and awakened her.

“MUH-OOOM!”

“What the hell-?”

Her head rose; she could just barely make out the face of Quinn directly in front of her.

“There’s a HUGE storm outside!”

“What – a big storm… that’s what the chauffeur mentioned…” She got off the bed and went to the window – and her eyes went wide as she saw that it was already coated with ice. “How long has it been like this?”

“It’s been coming down like this for about a half-hour – you should see what it looks like out front!”

“Where’s Daria…?”

“Probably off somewhere with her friend,” Quinn huffed. "The snow’s at least a foot deep already, and-“

And you didn’t even bother to see where your sister is – I don’t care who she’s spending time with – what the hell is the matter with you?!” Helen exploded, grabbing for the phone. “Quinn, you have to grow up and – oh, I’ll yell at you later! Go to your room!”

Quinn actually looked chastised as Helen ran her finger down the list of numbers for the various cottages and then started to dial. “Damn – if something’s happened to Daria, I knew that I should have made her stay here with us…”

The phone rang three times and then picked up. “Hello?”

“Daria?” Helen’s relief was obvious. “Daria, I just woke up and saw how hard it’s snowing; now, I want you to stay right where you are and not try to walk up here to the main residence-“

“Mom, there’s at least a foot of snow out there and it’s just started,”
the trademark drollness of Daria’s voice came back through the receiver. “First of all, this is almost exactly what I’d want in a home, nicely done, off in the woods, very hard for the rank and file to get to, and quiet. As in no one bothering me - 'hint, hint'. Second – Mom, how far out do you think I am? You’d have to be crazy to try to walk around in this kind of weather- what the hell?”

The sound of loud banging on a door was easily heard through the phone, and Helen waited as she heard more banging, and then, a good sharp BANG! “Daria, what was that? Daria – Daria, are you there? Answer me right now, young lady!”

“Mom – let’s try to embrace the calm,”
Daria’s voice came back to her.

“What was that horrible banging?”

“Oh, nothing. It was a crazy person at the door, but I know her.”


A light went on in Helen’s eyes. “Jane’s there?”

“Yeah. Mom, its Jane.”


“That’s good. Then I know that you’ll be all right out there.”

In the foyer of Daria’s cottage, Jane peeled off her ice-stiffened coat and scarf as Daria looked down at the receiver, like it was a pet gone wild; Helen’s comment was both slightly bothersome and calming.

Mom, I gotta go – I need to dunk Jane in some warm stuff before she catches cold.”

“Call me later, Daria – I want to know that you and Jane are both all right.”


+++++

"Well, I'll just have to wait for the big talk until the snow stops - if it ever does…"
Helen looked out the window of the kitchen, shaking her head at the sound of the snow, mixed with sleet, continuously rattling and smacking against the building and the windows. "Next time I decide to get away from it all, remind self to check the weather so I can get back without a snowplow."

Sighing, she went back to the cutting board and finished slicing a tomato. With only Quinn and herself in the house (and determined not to repeat the Great Microwave Lasagna Blunder of the night before), Helen had gone down to the kitchen. Armed with a VERY handy book of quick and easy dinner selections from a small bookshelf over the toaster oven, Helen had prepared sandwiches and salad for Quinn and herself, along with a turkey and wild rice soup so savory that the aroma actually drew Quinn down from her room earlier to see what was on.

Minutes later, Quinn bounded down the stairs and into the kitchen; finding it empty, she turned, started into the hall towards the den and nearly ran Helen down. "Sorry, Mom," she said, helping Helen back to her feet. "I thought-"

"That running me over was a good idea? Oh, never mind - come help me bring the soup into the den."

"We're eating in there?"

"We might as well - we can watch some television, seeing as how we're snowed in here all be ourselves."

"I was flipping through the channels upstairs - one of the weather people said that they're predicting heavy snow and ice until tomorrow afternoon for the whole state, and that they're warning people to get indoors and stay there!" Quinn told her. "God! It looks like Alaska or something out there already - it'll take DAYS to dig out of here!"

Helen handed her the soup bowls, spoons and a small ladle, then lifted the soup pot off the warmer and carried it into the den, where she placed it on a glass-top table in front of a couch. "Oh, you made a fire!" Quinn squealed, right behind her. "That is so cool - this is just like a ski resort or something, with the huge fireplace, and the waiters bringing you hot chocolate after you ski, and wearing your best ski outfit so you can get the cutest boys to notice you and offer to make you s'mores in the fireplace - not that you'd eat them - I mean, the chocolate would be murder on your complexion!"

That explains the ski outfit, Helen thought. Stupid thing looks like she airbrushed it on - what; you forgot your underwear at home? - Thank God that Trent isn't in here, because if he was, he wouldn't be able to not look at her with everything just sticking out up front, and then I'd have to kill her for wearing the damned thing like that and him for looking on general principle! Wait a minute - when did you get that -WHERE WERE YOU PLANNING ON WEARING THAT - DID YOU BUY THAT MAN-MAGNET ROLL-ON WEAR TO TRY TO OUTDO THAT SANDI GRIFFIN AGAIN IN YOUR LITTLE COMPETITION TO -

Oh.

Now, just how stupid do I feel right about now? Do they have instruments that measure that high? She's been sleeping with her sister, and you're worrying about her in a clingy outfit and flaunting herself in front of young men! Can you say, 'If only-?'

Quinn attacked the roast beef, tomato and lettuce sandwich with a gusto that Helen wasn't accustomed to seeing in her younger daughter; after all, 'cheeseless pizza' was her unofficial middle name. "Take it easy on that sandwich, Quinn. It's not going anywhere."

A half-smile slid across Quinn's face. "Sorry, Mom - it's just that - this is just so good!"

"Yes, it is, isn't it?"

"I wish Daddy could have cooked stuff like this."

There was a moment of silence. "I wish he could have, too."

Later, after the dishes and the crumbs had been cleared away, Helen came back into the den to find Quinn sitting against a huge, heavy cushion on the floor, watching television and sipping at a diet soda. "What's that you're watching?" she asked, sitting back on the couch and leaning against the armrest.

"Ice skating," came the reply.

They watched TV quietly for a while.  ‘Mom’, Quinn said as she turned to Helen, seeming to pick out her words carefully, "What did you want to talk to me and Daria about…?"

That caught Helen totally by surprise. "Pardon?"

"Yesterday, I was going out on the front porch to tell Daria something and I heard Jane tell her that you wanted to have some sort of big family meeting tonight. She said that you asked her and Trent to stay over in their cabin until it was over… what did you want to talk to us about?"

"Hmn? Oh! Oh, nothing, really - just about the money situation - now don't worry, nothing's wrong… it's just that, with the life insurance policies, there'll be a bit more money coming in, and your father did leave instructions on how things were to go…"

"Then why did you want the Lanes to stay so far away?"

"Quinn, I really don't like talking about family matters with other people around - things might be said, and people accidentally hear things - they see things that are better discussed by family alone. You're practically an adult, Quinn - you know that there are things that family members talk about and do in the family meetings in the living room or the bedroom or on the front porch that don't go outside the family, no matter how close you are to other people. "

Quinn seemed to digest the words slowly, nodding slowly. "What they do in the bedroom," she parroted. "Okay…"

She finished the last of her soda. "You know… don't you?"

Helen leaned forward. "What?"

Quinn placed the glass over on a small table, then shifted position on the floor. "You know, don't you? You know about Daria and me… you must have seen us."

"Quinn - I really think that we need to turn in for the night, and any family discussions that we need to have can wait until Daria's here, so we can all-"

"You did."

Helen forced herself not to react as Quinn stood up and sat down on the couch next to her - in her opinion, much too close - and the look that Quinn gave her made a part of her inside wish that she'd worn the biggest, frumpiest, most formless outfit that she could find.

"You know…I'm glad."

"Quinn. We don't have to do this now. In fact, it's better that we wait - that Daria be here - we all need to face things together, not a piece at a time."

"Mom, have you looked outside? Daria's not going to come running up to the door for a little while. We should talk. We'll bring in Daria later - so, if you want to talk to me, go ahead."

"I'm going to bed," Helen began, starting to rise. "When we're all together, we can-"

"The first time was on the night of that really bad thunderstorm, just after Daddy had his breakdown."

The casual, straightforward tone of Quinn's voice broke through Helen's resolve as if it were mist; she watched her mother sit back down on the couch, looking away from her, her shoulders sagging and head drooped, life seeming to drain away in a visible manner. "I wasn't able to sleep much after what happened with Daddy; I went into Daria's room, and we couldn't sleep, she couldn't sleep, either. She said that she'd been sleeping in class. We ended up playing 'Truth or Dare' and Daria thought that she'd win by daring me to kiss her. I wasn't going to lose, but I was going to make her pay, so I went and gargled with that really strong mediciny-tasting mouthwash, and so I let her kiss me… and… we liked it. We liked it a lot. Then, there was this big flash of lightning, and after that… it happened…"

For the first time in her entire life, Helen Morgendorffer felt like a complete failure. Tears silently fell down her cheeks as she listened to her daughter calmly talk about making love to her sister; this made it all the more real, even more than seeing them entwined in bed. At least, she'd always told herself, there could be the tiniest chance that this could all be an illusion, or a horrific nightmare that she'd have to ride out to the end in order to awaken, or maybe, if she were lucky, she herself had suffered a nervous breakdown, too, and there's no way that any of this had happened, and that in reality, Jake was sitting beside her hospital bed with her hand in his, crying and begging her to wake up, because her and the girls needed her…

But not now, Helen admitted, the taste of defeat sour on her tongue. Not now, with Quinn talking about it, as calmly as asking about the lettuce in her sandwich. Now, it was all too real - and there was no going back.

"It made the world go away, even if it was just for a few minutes - even if it all came rushing back in like water, but it was good while it lasted. It was - it was not having to think, or feel bad about what was going on, or the anger that just seems right there - just behind that little point that your eyes can't see when you don't turn you head to see something and you just look with your eyes. When we closed the door, everything went away. When I lay down on my bed, it all went away. When Daria… when she - when Daria touched me and let me touch her… it all went away."

Helen turned away from her child, trying to will the tears to stop.

"The weird thing is, I don't understand why Daria went along - well, I didn't at first. I mean, you'd think that she'd have gone running off to Jane. Oh, by the way, they're not doing anything - I mean, they never were. Not like that, in case you were wondering. I know. Still, I wondered: 'why not Jane?"

Helen opened large, wet brown eyes, and stared into the fireplace. She just couldn't look at Quinn any longer…

"I knew you'd find out sooner or later. I thought that you'd say something right away -especially on the night that you saw us together. I thought that you'd burst in with the broom - yeah. I saw you watching us on the night that you had that meeting with the doctors. You just stood there and watched… and, I let you. I didn't mind if you were watching, and Daria didn't know... she was kind of busy then. She still doesn't know. I didn't tell her."

The first words that Helen was capable of fell lifelessly from her lips. "She doesn't know that I saw you together-?"

"No. I didn't tell her. She's trying to find her way back to Jane - but when we need her to come back, I'll tell her. She thinks that she can go to her and be better, but she can't, but let her try. She's trying to pull away, but that's okay - for now..."

Horror wrapped arctic fingers around Helen's spine and stroked upward slowly as she heard a tone in her daughter's voice - a tone that made something inside her scream out warning as she felt Quinn's hand touch her forearm. She turned slowly, saw the direct, studying way her daughter's eyes moved up her body to connect with her own, and it was as if darkness had descended over the room.

+++++

"Do I start by telling you just how stupid I think that you are, or how glad I am that you really are here?"

"Start by giving me some more of that tea," Jane called out, her teeth still chattering even though she was floating in warm, bubbling water - and a constantly-building sea of soap bubbles so thick that she thought she could probably lay on top of them. "Love this tub… LOVE all of these water jets! How many of them are in here?"

Jane dunked herself under the water in the large hot tub, and bobbed back up through the foam. "Add some Southern Comfort to that tea, make sure it's nice and hot - and don't skimp. I'm a sick person, here!"

Daria's voice echoed from another room. "One- there's a hundred and fifteen jets in the tub. It's a custom model, made for water therapy.  Two - you're an idiot person. What the hell were you thinking?"

"Get to Daria. I don't want her out here alone."

Jane ran a heavy washcloth over her arms as she bobbed about in the huge tub, and she looked up as Daria came into the huge bathroom with a mug of steaming liquid and a bowl of chili. "You're so annoying when you're direct," Daria snipped. "Drink your drunkety-drunk tea, and eat some of this."

"Wait a minute - is that some of…?"

"If you don't load it down with the peppers, it's not that bad."

"You made chili with your dad's military school recipe?"

"It's not that bad - besides, you need something warm."

"That's what the tea is for."

"Look, I gave you a bowl of just the broth. Eat it."

Daria placed the bowl of chili down, sat next to Jane on the side of the tub, and noticed that Jane had opened the large heating vent into the room. "Wouldn't it have been easier if we had just bundled you up in one of those huge robes and started a fire in the fireplace?" Daria asked, holding the cup up so Jane could sip. "It would have been a bit warmer-"

"I'm a child of the modern age - as long as they've got generators and hot tubs, let me sit next to the thermostat with it turned up so the water's all nice and warm, with lots of fragrant bath salts and bath liquids - so I can stay dunked in this slice of heaven, and maintain my delicate, feminine modesty."

Daria smiled. "If you're such a child of the modern age, then why am I holding the cup for you?"

"Well, you're NOT holding it - you almost spilled!"

Daria shot a touch of a glare downwards as Jane sipped her tea. "Yeah, now that's good."

Daria held the mug until Jane signaled that she'd had enough, and then set it aside. "Jane, I want to tell you what's been -"

"We can wait until later on for that - right now, let's just be warm and kind of happy, okay?"

"But I need for you to know-"

"Daria - why do you work so hard to hurt yourself?"

"EXCUSE ME -?"

Blinking hard behind the glasses, Daria actually stepped away from the hot tub until Jane locked her in place with her gaze.

"Come back here, Daria."

The room was silent for a moment.

"I know what's been going on with you and Quinn."

Daria had never been more ashamed than she was at that moment.

"I think I know why it happened, when it started, why you suddenly decided to turn into the Fashion Club's version of Frankenstein's Monster, and why you tried to shut me out. Guess what: I'm here. I know what you've done - I'm still here - and I'm always going to be here. I've put up with a couple of years of jerks making lesbian cracks and other snide remarks, I've put up with the absolutely insane things that you've done just to show that you're different from the pack, I've kept myself from smacking you in the mouth on occasion or just doing a Dale Earnhart on you-"

"What?"

"Putting you into a wall, Daria. You, amiga, are not the easiest person to get along with, let alone be friends with, and as for a relationship-" Jane stopped, and held up her hand. "Out there in the world right now are several young men and probably a couple of young women, somewhere between the ages of ten to thirty-five. They're living their lives right now in peace and harmony, blissfully unaware of the F5 tornado named Daria Morgendorffer heading their way in a few more years!"

Daria crossed her arms tightly as she turned her eyes to the floor. "Then why are you here…?"

"Well, I'm not here to feed into this thought bounding around in that head of yours that for some reason, you deserve to have all sorts of pain and anguish in your life!" Jane barked. "I'm sure as hell not here to be a part of it, and there's definitely one thing that we can both be sure of - I am not about to do anything to hurt you more than you already are."

Daria glanced up. "And what's that supposed to mean?"

"You know exactly what that means. It's not going to happen. It's certainly not going to happen here, like this, with - oh, damn it, Daria, don't you see that you deserve better than this?"

"I'm not…"

"If you even try to go to pieces, I'll scream. Stop it - right now."

Daria stared down at her shoes. "Jane, why do you even bother with me?

Jane exhaled tiredly. "Because you're worth it," the reply came, and Daria looked up, tears suddenly in her eyes. "Daria, come here…"

Daria blinked hard. "I don't…"

"Oh, just peel off the clothes and hop in here - you're a warm body, and I could use the extra heat!" Jane looked at her, and smirked. "We've all seen the movies that say you're supposed to do stuff like this, and it's not as if I haven't seen you all nekked before, amiga. Drop 'em and climb in!"

Jane snorted in mock annoyance, and turned her head as Daria reluctantly stripped down, climbed into the tub, and gasped as Jane playfully threw the washcloth at her head. "Stop that!"

"Oh, shut up and come here."

Daria sat down next to Jane, and didn't resist as Jane pulled her into a hug. "I just walked through one wild-ass storm to get to you, Morgendorffer… doesn't that tell you something about yourself?"

"That I've got a crazy friend?"

"Well, yeah, that too, but it should tell you that you've got a friend that'll be there for you. I will, Daria. I'll be there for you, no matter what's happened. I love you; don't you know that?"

"Jane, I don't know-"

"Daria, I didn't say that I was in love with you. There's a difference. Maybe I will be someday, maybe I am right now, and maybe we'll just experiment - who knows? I just want you to know that I won't be running away… and I'm going to make sure that you don't run away from me anymore."

They were both quiet for a long time, Daria with her head on Jane's shoulder. "Jane, about that poem you wrote…"

"I already told you that I don't have all of my feelings straight about you, Daria. That poem came from one part of me. Someday, you might catch a good sharp mouth-shot or a left hook - that'll come from another part of me. "

Silence.

"Jane, I feel so lost…"

More silence.

"I was watching this TV show once, and the younger guy was kind of messed up inside - he got shot, and they made him see a shrink- okay, back to the point," Jane said, sniffling a bit. "The older guy he worked with at the White House told him a story - they tell a lot of short stories to get their point across on that show. Anyway - this guy one day falls down into a hole and no matter how hard he tries, he can't get out. A doctor walks by and the guy says, 'hey, Doc, can you give me a hand?' The doctor writes out a prescription and tosses it down into the hole. A while later, a priest walks by and the guy says, 'hey, Father, can you give me a hand?' The priest writes him a prayer and tosses it down into the hole. Finally, one of his friends walks by and the guy says, 'hey, Joe, can you give me a hand?' The friend jumps down into the hole, and the guy says, 'Are you crazy? Now we're both down in this hole!' The friend tells him, 'Yeah - but I've been down here before, and I know the way out."

Daria turned her head to see Jane looking down at her. "I know what it's like to be that lost - and as long as I'm breathing, I'm here for you, Daria Morgendorffer. As long as you need someone there for you, I'm there. Don't let that out of your head ever again, okay?"

Jane began to stroke Daria's hair, and she relaxed like a cat in Jane's embrace. "A few days ago I told you that we'd talk; I've been thinking, well, we don't have to do that. You talk - as little or as much as you feel you need to, whatever you feel comfortable with, when you want to - and I'll listen. I'll just be here for you, and listen."

Daria lay in Jane's arms for a moment, and then reached past her to pull a fresh washcloth from a bar above the tub. "Damn stupid emotionally-activated lachrymal glands," she sniffed, removing her glasses to wipe her eyes and wincing as Jane picked up a giant bath sponge and rapped her lightly on the head with it. "Ow. Was that necessary?"

"Well, yes. How dumb is it to get into a hot tub wearing glasses?"

"I'll know better, next time."

"And no offense, Morgendorffer - but if you're going to crawl all over me, the least you could do is ask. Well, at least wait until I'm feeling better, or just not so in need of cold pills. Belgian waffles with warm cinnamon apples on top first would be pushing in the right direction, too."

"What is this thing with you suddenly being into breakfast?"

"Always have been. We never do breakfast, so it never comes up - besides, I'm usually too busy eating pizza and living 'la Lawndale loco' to complain about sucky pre-game meals at Casa Lane."

"I'm sorry."

"Words are cheap. Buy me a waffle iron."

"If I did that, you'd probably cook your left hand."

"If I did that, I'd lose half of my dating schedule."

They were both quiet for a while, just lying together in the steam, bubbling water and mounds of foamy bubbles.

Daria sneezed. "Great. Now, whatever it is you've got, I've got it, too."

"Daria - it's been a couple of hours, I'm in great physical shape, and you're floating around in enough perfumed and scented soap to scrub down the entire cast of a soap opera. Could it be possible that you've just got something in your nose?"

"When you're feeling better, I owe you a pillow right in the face."

They snuggled close.

"Uh, Daria?"

"Hmn?"

"I know that this is gonna sound really dumb and tacky and all 'ABC Afterschool Special' and everything, so don't take it the wrong way…"

"Okay…"

"Your hair… it smells really nice."

"Jane?"

"Yeah…?"

"Make that two pillows to the face."

+++++

Trying to ignore the horrible taste of bile that filled her mouth, Helen pulled away from the touch of Quinn's hand on her forearm - a touch that made her feel as if she needed to hack her arm off and burn it…

"... You could have said something before," Quinn said, her voice seeming to come through from a million miles away as the svelte redhead curled up on the other end of the sofa like a snake. "You didn’t want to. I saw you watching, and it made me feel so much better, I felt so good – we can both feel good. I didn't mind that you watched - but it means so much more if you just join in…"

Quinn stood and walked slowly to the fireplace, very aware of Helen's eyes upon her, and she knelt upon the huge, soft animal pelt that lay before the fireplace grate; she turned back, her body silhouetted against the flames…

"There's no one to get in the way of whatever choices we make here. No one can judge us, or tell us what to do, or say it’s wrong or we are for even thinking about it, because it’s my body... I can share it with whomever I want – I don’t need to hear about their rules…"

Helen turned her eyes away from the sight of her daughter's erect nipples, obscenely visible through the flimsy fabric of her outfit as Quinn stretched herself out on the rug. She turned back to face Helen, her hair falling over her face like a scarlet shroud as she lifted her head.

"Tell me that you want me to stop."

Quinn started across the floor on all fours, stalking slowly towards Helen like a cat, her every move exuding overt, barely controlled sexuality. "Tell me to sit down and act like a lady; tell me to go to my room."

She stopped directly in front of Helen, and then lifted herself up onto her knees.

"Take my hand," Quinn whispered, stretching out to Helen. "Touch me… feel how warm my hand is. You can touch me… I don’t mind… I want you to… Tell me to stop, and I will…" She continued forward, moving closer, very slowly, but ever closer… "Tell me that you didn’t say anything because you were thinking about how to stop Daria and me from doing it again, and I’ll stop. Tell me that you never thought about what it would be like with Daria or with me, and I’ll stop. Tell me that you’ve never wanted to throw away all the rules - and do whatever you wanted to make you just feel good. I’ll stop."

Helen, her mind awash in dark waters of conflicting emotions, backed herself up onto the couch. She pulled her legs in hard against her chest, terror and desperation side-by-side as Quinn looked her directly in the eye and stood up, her face combining childlike need, an alluring, feminine beauty and a barely restrained, bestial sexuality as she held her hand out.

"Take my hand."

Helen clamped her hands down upon her knees as Quinn withdrew her hand, and brushed her hair back.

"Why should we care about somebody else’s rules?"

It was as if Helen was seeing another Quinn; a older, worn and weary Quinn, a Quinn polished and sparkling for the world, but opening herself up to someone important to show her own vulnerability, the hairline cracks and inborn flaws in the burnished shields and armor of the beauty she put forth for the world, the hot sensuality that kept the eyes of men on her and their hands away, like a modern Psyche.

In this moment, even her voice was hers but different, changed slightly, slightly smoothed out and more direct, with a smoky timbre that just brushed against being sultry…

"They’ve never been anything but a way for everyone else to hold you back while they’ve gotten everything that you’ve wanted," Quinn continued, "and you know that better than anybody else. I want you to feel something more than the hurt that everybody's given you… and even if it's only for a little while, you deserve to just escape… you deserve to be free of all of it. The law firm that doesn't care about you as much as they do their own image or their pocketbooks, the way Daddy didn't give you the life you deserve, the way everybody acts as though Aunt Amy and Aunt Rita are so much better than you… and because Daria and I haven't done anything to make you proud of us… you never had to say anything for anyone watching to know that it hurts. Every single day, the way you have to live, the way you have to carry yourself… I know that it must hurt you inside so much that sometimes, you want to just stand up somewhere and scream."

Quinn sat down on the couch, and Helen could see the fine, sculpted details of her daughter that made her such a beauty… She saw the flawless bronze tone of her unmarked skin, the perfect lips… the way Quinn's eyelashes were full and long, without any cosmetic help, the way she didn't need makeup and how it only enhanced the beauty already there… the perfect emerald gleam of her eyes, and how, when the light struck them, they were so difficult to turn away from, as they were now…

In this hideous, surreal moment, Helen noticed how her daughter seemed older, more experienced, her face tempered and brushed with what could only be life experience; transfigured somehow from coy, girlish potential into a glorious womanhood… She looked into the face of Quinn, and somehow knew that it was what Quinn was meant to have been… and that this moment - this Quinn Morgendorffer - was to be the Quinn that would be forever denied…

Helen reflexively flinched as Quinn extended her hand again. She pulled back slowly, then reached out again to stroke the right side of Helen's face, and felt the wetness of tears roll down across her fingertips as Helen didn't even try to turn away.

"Let me help you; I'm not like any of them," Quinn said, her voice all but pleading.  "I - I'm not smart and determined like Daria, or have money or have places like this house or any of that, and I'm not a snake like your boss Eric, trying to get you for bragging rights - I only know how to help you leave all of this behind. I know how to let you escape it all… and I'll always be here to help you get away from all of it, and all of them, anytime, and anywhere, that you could ever want. I don't have anything else… this is all that I am. This is the only thing that I have to offer."

A tear dropping from her left eye, Quinn held out her hand a final time.

"Take my hand. Even if it's only for a moment, just one tiny, beautiful, wonderful moment that'll never come again… let me do this. Let me do this one little thing for you, so I can get to see you happy again. Just this once, Helen, please…take my hand. Let me help you smile again. Let me help you be free."

Helen looked into Quinn’s eyes, and for a brief splinter of time, she could see herself doing exactly what Quinn wanted, yes, what Quinn was begging for her to do…

It would be too easy to give in right now, Helen knew. She could have Quinn's hands running across all of her; feeling those full, moist lips upon her… She could allow Quinn to let her tongue slither across her own body, and drink the pleasure in.  She could feel the hunger, Quinn's ravenous hunger for her, everything that she was, and it made her go soft and warm and liquid, even as she felt her insides lurch and she could taste bile on the roof of her mouth…  Helen could almost feel Quinn's hands on her, inside her, bringing her to the plateau and throwing her to the fire inside that almost seemed to cry out for her… and then again, and again, wallowing in it, as much as she could ever want…

I am - I could, it would push away all of the pain, and it would just feel so good, I could forget for a moment, and - and - and -


"NO."

Helen pushed Quinn's hand away, and sat up, straight and steady, on the couch.

Quinn was stunned. "But - why not…?"

"WHY NOT? Because we can’t, Quinn. Because it’s twisted… it’s sick and it’s wrong!"

Quinn set herself back, a spoiled, pouting child-woman once again. "So Daria and me are twisted, sick and wrong…?"

"As of right now – yesWe ALL are. "

Anthony was right,
Helen thought. I didn't know what to say, I was embarrassed - I let my own head get screwed up - and I keep saying 'we need help'. It's time to stop bleating like a sheep and do something!

"When we get back home - IMMEDIATELY after we get back home - the three of us are going into counseling. SERIOUS therapy, Quinn. I'm going to call Amy and ask her to come stay with us until May, and then, we'll arrange for Daria to continue her therapy at whatever university she'll be attending. This all ends. Now."

"But-"

"Damnit, Quinn, what DON'T you understand? We're doing it because what's happened is WRONG! We're doing it because I’m your mother and I said so, because you and Daria sleeping together-

Quinn flinched as if she'd been slapped, and Helen went pale; that was the very first time that she'd said those words aloud.

She gathered herself and plunged back in. "Because you and Daria having sex is against the laws of man and Nature… and for you, and me - for us to even THINK about doing this means that everything is so wrong between us that it’s as if we’re not even a family anymore!"

"Just because someone else says they think it's wrong doesn't mean that it is!"

"Are you really that far gone? Do you realize just how infantile and self-serving that comment is? People don't sleep with family members like this because they don't want the next generation to have screwed-up genetics - but also because kids should be able to grow up knowing that there's someone that they can go to who'll love them, care about them and help them make their way into the world without ulterior motives like wanting to screw them as soon as they turn fourteen! Normal, healthy people don't sleep with the people in their families, Quinn. It's against the law, but just as important - it's just not done."

"I don’t care about the stupid law!"

Quinn stopped short as Helen drew ‘the finger’ down on her. "The only difference between the animals and us is The Law."

A predatory look appeared on Quinn's face.  "But we are animals, Helen-"

"Don’t say my name like that," Helen replied sharply. "I am your mother."

Quinn ignored the comment. "But we are animals," she repeated, "And sometimes, we want to be. Sometimes, we need to be…"

Helen gave her daughter a look that combined sadness and pity as she began to rise from the couch. "As soon as the snow melts enough, we'll head back to Lawndale. It's far past time, and I've let this go entirely too far-!"

"No-!"

Before she could react, Helen gasped as Quinn reached out, pulled her down, and drew her into a fiery kiss that caught her completely off-guard!

Oh, my God, no - this CAN'T be happening-!

Stunned beyond rational belief, horrified like never before, Helen didn't - she couldn't - react immediately… and her horror mutated into abject terror as she felt herself responding… She felt her lips part, her lower lip slowly move downward, and the frightful thrilling as her body failed to respond to her wishes, but instead to the feel of Quinn's tongue against her own… her mind seemed detached from body as she found herself being lowered back to the couch… was that what was happening…? No… oh, no…

All sanity fled screaming away from Helen as she felt a hand working the buttons on her blouse, fighting to keep desire from igniting fully as the scent and feel of Quinn, now fresh and intoxicating, invaded her senses… the feel of Quinn's hands moving, softly grasping, and the cool air against her exposed torso made quick, sharp spasms of excitement fly up and down the length of her body.

Helen's vision blurred, obscured by scarlet, and she felt her hips quiver once, again, and then begin to gently move in rhythm with the slender, silky hand that began to move downward in a slow, stroking fashion, making her breath skip. Quinn pulled away only barely, her tongue brushing feather-soft across Helen's lower lip as she took a breath and knew that Helen had as well before she pressed back again, giving her no time to think, or reason… The kiss deepened, grew until it seemed all in the world that could ever matter to Helen Morgendorffer was the warmth, and the wet, and the lightning that struck down through every fiber with the stroking of each delicate fingertip upon her, within and throughout her body; the rapturous scent in her nostrils of woman that was just so, so right - the delicious perfection of those kisses, and the smooth softness that made it all just so real, so unbelievably, unspeakably heinous - but so wonderfully real…

Her own hands somehow found themselves on Quinn’s shoulders; the feel of a shapely, young form soft and firm against her own invoked treasured memories as Helen's own hands abandoned her and started to move slowly downward… As an entire universe of morality shattered and dissolved into quantum foam, a final, pleading thought managed to penetrate the smothering fog of Helen’s mind…

No… no, don’t, we can’t ever - ohhhh… no… it doesn’t matter what my body is trying to do, even if it is so… if we do, we can’t ever go back, I won’t do this, this is so wrong, it is wrong – we’re better than this, I thought… and I can feel everything inside me, all quivering and wet, I'm so ready…

Oh, God, please… forgive me…


Without warning, Helen pushed Quinn away as hard as she could and leapt from the couch, propelled by a wave of self-revulsion!

As Quinn began to pick herself up from the floor, Helen looked about, her eyes now widened with fear and nausea as she looked at Quinn; she then looked down to see herself, her opened blouse, in the reflection of the glass-top table, and then, at her own hands…

"No, I didn't, I just - no… oh, what was I thinking - I wasn't, I couldn't - I WAS ENJOYING IT - I didn't want it, but I - I let you kiss me, I let you touch me like that, and I - all of this is wrong - but I was… oh, Lord, I was going to… I was going to let you…"

"Helen, that's okay. It's all okay-"

"Oh, my God… oh, God, I just – I can’t believe that I was about to - AND I LET YOU, I WANTED YOU TO - this isn’t – it's NOT okay - you’re my DAUGHTER – "

Before Quinn could speak another word, Helen exploded out of the room.

+++++

The door of the master bedroom blew open as Helen rushed inside, barely stopping to slam it closed, and threw the heavy deadbolt lock in position before she staggered into the huge adjoining bathroom.

Her eyes wide, searching, just on the verge of madness, Helen spun about as though she were looking wildly for something, and she began to scream, her shrieking cries of horror and self-anger filling and echoing through the area. Stumbling, Helen's eyes locked on something; moments later, a torrent of icy water cascaded down upon Helen as she started the huge shower and entered fully clothed - and she grabbed a bar of soap and began to scrub at herself in a maniacal manner.

Helen's hands found a bottle of bath gel and poured it over herself, followed by a bottle of shampoo, all the while scrubbing herself madly, ripping away her clothing and scrubbing her skin beneath, scrubbing and then beating herself with a bath brush until it snapped over her left shoulder, screaming until she could literally scream no more.  She finally slumped down to the shower floor in a waterlogged mass of ruined clothing, livid red welts on her arms, torso and shoulders, a long scratch on the left side of her neck, a thin cut on her left earlobe, sobbing and shrieking incoherently in the punishing flow of water as a myriad of soap products swirled about her and down the drains.

+++++

"Helen? Please, let me in… it's okay. It'll all be okay…"

Quinn let her hand fall away from the door as she remembered that the rooms were soundproofed, and tapped at the little button next to the door - when pushed, it flashed a light inside the room that acted as a doorbell.

After five minutes, Quinn gave up and headed back downstairs. She went back to the front room, making a diet soda stop on the way, and sat back down on the couch. Looking into the flames as she sipped the soft drink, she began to go over things in her head…

Why wouldn't she? I mean, she needs it; she needs to let someone make her feel good!

Psychiatrists. Who needs those quacks? I sure don't - not me. I just need someone to cut loose with, to get that sensation, so they can make me scream and get it all out… and that'll help me be calm. Is it too much to ask, especially after everything that's happened, that I get something that makes my head right and makes everything just a little stable?

Mom - Helen - I don’t want you make me feel better about all of this, I need you to make me feel good, right here and right now – I don’t care about what happens an hour from now.

And you wanted to do it, too. I could feel the way you were starting to move under me, and how you just went all soft and gooshy... You started giving me tongue, and oh, man, you must have kept Dad going like fire all these years if that kiss is even a little, little, tiny part of what you’re like when you’re with someone you can cut loose with! You've got great boobs; if you didn't want to do it with me, then why'd you let me feel you up like that? I mean, where you walking out in the cold beforehand, or do you just really like kissing, kissing with a lot of tongue like Daria does - is THAT where Daria gets it? - God, you've got great boobs!

What does it all matter – why shouldn’t you want to – where was all of this ‘rule of law’ you're so worried about when Daddy killed that guy – when Daddy just went crazy – where’s the rule of law that says my daddy can’t go crazy because he has to be there for me – I need him – I need to know he’ll be there - he’s got to disapprove of my boyfriends except for one or two, so I’ll know that those guys are either real keepers or real losers – You have to walk me down the aisle! You can’t be insane – you aren’t supposed to die – you’re my daddy – you’re supposed to be here for me forever…

That's the way it's supposed to be - my daddy buys me clothes and stuff and makes bad food, my mommy puts on the lawyer-clothes, talks on the phone all the time, lets me buy more clothes and stuff - and my big sister's supposed to be there if I really need help, or get into real trouble, but if everything's going good, then she should stay away and go be with her geeky friends, friend, whoever it is she does things with-

I'm not supposed to have sex with my family, but okay, yeah, they'd fuck me, and it would be so good, but what would they want to talk about afterwards with me? Has Daria ever talked about anything important to her or anything she does outside of us having sex and how messed up we are with me?

She doesn't - she DOESN'T!


Quinn froze with surprise; it was as if she was hearing her own voice, but different, slightly older, with a sad, resigned timbre in its tone. The - her - other voice seemed to come from all around her, and yet, through her, clear as her own thoughts, but feeling as though someone was standing in the same room and speaking to her…

But she loves it when I-

IT DOESN'T MATTER!


Sex doesn't matter?

Not that much, even if you have it every night and do a hot three-way on Saturday! My God, girl - sex is EVERYWHERE! If you want sex - if you REALLY want sex - it's not that hard to find! Yes, even sex with someone other than your self (not that I'm trashing that at all - after all, that freaky New York guy said not to knock masturbation, because it's sex with someone you love). Bottom line. You can get sex if you really want it, it doesn't matter who you are (yes, even YOU) and for the most part, if you're a woman, all you need to do is whistle!


But sex is the most important part of a relationship!

Yeah - when you're nineteen! You can't spend all your time rolling around somewhere - sooner or later, clothes have to come back on!  Oh - and take a shower first. Ewwww.


But I'm GOOD at sex!

And what else?


Well… I've got other things that I'm into! Fashion!

Fashion and having sex. Now, unless you want to talk about the vile bastard child of earrings that we call nipple piercing, you want to blow this line of thought? Well, get past it.


I know movies!

Do you want to continue to where THAT one could lead to in this conversation?


Good point - Math! I'm good at math!

Really? You want to show me an equation that shows how you plus your sister and your mom minus all of your clothes equals anything sensible - or is that one of those imaginary numbers? Accept what you are. By your own choices, you're all about sex. Helen won't sleep with you and the only reason Daria did was because she felt that she had to hurt herself. If things had been different, if Jane had come over that night instead of letting Daria wait to come to her, well… after all, Daria was NEVER going to cry out and scream for Jane in bed - well, certainly not in YOUR bed!


Why not?

Well, some of it's because deep down, no matter how matter how much she wants to hurt herself, she'll never give you that memory to hold up like a trophy - and you would - but mainly because she IS in love with Jane. What do you have in your hand to compete with that?


She's not in love with her - if she was, then why…?

How else better to hurt herself than to do - THAT - with someone else other than Jane - someone who Jane can't stand, someone who's so totally opposite Jane, someone who's so different that it could only be about sex! That's it, girl - she's only letting you touch her because even the scent of you is enough to torment her… because with the smell of YOU all over her, how could Jane even stomach looking at Daria?


Am I really that horrible?

You are. You use your body for what you want - first your looks, then the promise - and the actual privilege - of being allowed in the presence of your 'perfect form', then the 'wonder' of actual touch (Oh, God - I actually got to hold Quinn Morgendorffer's hand on a date!), and finally, the pleasures of the flesh. You have other things that are of worth, but as usual, the first thing that comes to your mind is 'Use my body - then they'll give me what I want.' Ah, temptation. I have named thee, and thy name is woman. In body, yes; but with the spirit of a petulant little girl-child, and the maturity of a newly hatched egg. Quinn, you've used teaspoons that are deeper…


But - but I can't be that -

I refuse to list what you've done. You don't have that kind of time left.


I don't understand.

When the news of this gets out - and it will - you lose. You lose everything. Your adoring masses, the boys who would kill to get you in bed, anything you could remotely call a friend, your so-called 'popularity'… all gone. You'll go to sleep at night with the lights from TV camera trucks coming through your windows, and you'll never walk through the halls of Lawndale High ever again.

'The indelible tarnish of your unholy acts will be seen as a darkening stain that has FOREVER diminished the glory, and the honor, that is - LAWNDALE HIGH. We deny you! We turn our eyes away from the blight that is your image! We cast you out! Away with you! You shall not pollute the purity of the innocent students here with the very presence of you and your perversions! Get away from our door!'

Are you familiar with the word 'pariah'?


They wouldn't, I'm still, I know that - but they wouldn't just turn their backs and walk away from me, would they? I'm Quinn! I'm QUINN! I'M QUINN MORGENDORFFER!

I CAN DO ANYTHING I WANT TO!!!

But who would be there for you a second time? It's only going to be you, Quinn Anne, you and you alone, lost and without hope, awash in the dwindling eye of the storm, the one within yourself.


And Quinn felt the world darken around her, a sudden, sharp chill to the air making her shiver. She reflected that, were she with a boy, this would be the perfect moment for him to wrap his coat around her and them to snuggle against him - and if she actually liked him, she'd let her breasts rub full against him…

Remember that ride with Skylar, how he put the blanket around me… and how he nearly broke his zipper when I pushed up against him?

Right… and we still think that there's hope…


But there is - that was just girl stuff - come on, every girl teases just a little bit, everyone flirts some, everybody wants to think that they have a chance with someone they know they've no chance with, and has a few fantasies about it? You don't think that Jane's brother hasn't gone into the bathroom, got a handful of toilet paper ready, and spent a few minutes jacking off to his fantasy of doing me in the back of that nasty van his friends have and thinking about how squeaky my voice is when he makes me come? You don't think that Daria doesn't smile just a touch longer than she has to when Mack's around - you don't think Daria hasn't ever taken a long shower and fantasized that she's a cheerleader and she's celebrating 'the big game' in the boy's showers with him after everybody's gone? Hey - I read her diary - even she gets weak and horny and flirts!

That's her - but this is you.


What does that mean?

This is what you are. Is it any wonder David wanted nothing to do with you?


But I am worth something.

You are. You can serve as an example.


An example?

Yes. 'Don't be like me.'


Quinn suddenly stood erect. She turned, turned as if something snatched her head about, facing the fireplace and the huge rug-

The image blossomed before her eyes, like water poured over sand and washing it away, revealing what lay beneath, and it was of herself, entwined with Daria and her mother on the floor, unnatural sounds of lust and maddened fornication polluting the air as they gratified themselves upon one another-

She wished that she were struck blind.

There was no inkling of beauty, or gentleness, no love in that accursed trinity of physical perversion that writhed before her; Quinn felt her earlier, pleading words to her mother rot in her stomach, seeing the wild, tortured soul deep behind Helen's eyes burning into fluttering ashes as she allowed her animal nature to engulf her. Daria held the same look in her eyes as well, and she lay with her mother and Quinn, grappling and soaring and dying within herself as she fought and rutted against her own flesh and blood, unwilling to stop, for she knew that there was no return. They all knew that, for no faux words of love or affection were spoken, only foul grunting and obscene words of direction were used…There was only a vile abandon in their copulating, no soft touches, no pretension of any possible affection-

Quinn stood in witness over the carnival of obscenity that never was, unable to turn away from the mutual degradation of the Morgendorffer women.

As the image flowed away, Quinn was unable to speak.

This is what would have been, had your wishes been reality. Had Jane not been here, there would have been no way for Helen to resist. The touch of you and Daria both would nave been impossible for Helen, in her current state, to turn away from - and this is what would have been. The following week would have been nothing but searing moments of physical gratification, stitched between periods of isolation from each other. What could you talk about now? You knew that what you've all done is horrible and wrong, and you'd severed yourselves from ever having normal family relationships ever again, but still - it's the only way to get away from the pain you all share now. And so, you lead each other to the bedroom again, and again, over and over and over, a never-ending circle until it all explodes into the public destruction of a family.


No… no, that's not what - I love them - I want them to feel good -

But you don't want them to be happy. You don't want them to have actual lives. You want them to be where you are now, and feel the way that you do. You feel as though you've died yourself - that when your father lost his mind, he destroyed your innocence… he took away the life that you loved - a life of blissful ignorance, a life that bordered upon some authority but no real responsibility, a life that allowed you to look at those you pass by every day and feel no need to help nourish those hungry souls. Tell me, Quinn; now that you've feasted upon the cake - how does it taste?


Is that… is that what it looks like - it that what Daria and I look like when we -

No, Quinn, don't answer that… instead, why don't you ask your mother her opinion?


It was as if she was moving through spiritual quicksand, unwilling and fearful of what she'd see, trying to paddle away from the forming image behind her and still being drawn towards it, drawn into the image-

-And in that moment she saw into Helen, through her, her thoughts, her dreams, her living nightmare given passing form, and felt how her pain was now beyond the combined suffering that her life had provided beforehand, sliding further down into a world that was now all blades and sharp edges, tearing, slicing inside her with each movement, every decision, every word… and still, Helen never surrendered.

Quinn saw all the times of her mother's life.

She saw Erica, beautiful with corn-silk hair, her face half-buried in a pillow as Helen told her that it had to end, and forcing herself not to run and throw her arms around the sobbing young woman in the Middleton College sweatshirt. She saw Helen at nine, crying in her bedroom, watching through the slightly-opened door as her mother screamed for her father to try and understand that she needed more than being someone's wife and mother… She saw Helen at seventeen, being told that she wasn't going to receive the scholarship to that Ivy League school, or any scholarship  - you're just a girl, and some young man's going to need that scholarship to go to school, study, not worry about money and excel - so someday he can make the money he needs to raise his family like a man should. Besides - you'll just get married, and take care of the house for your man anyway… She saw Helen looking into the happily vacuous face of Jake Morgendorffer, the wind blowing through his long hair as they stood before their friends in their commitment ceremony. A festering lump sat at the bottom of Helen's stomach as she recited her vows, and the words that escaped her lips were like the scent of posies, wafting their scent outward to mask the smell of her dying soul.

There was the face of Stone Harris; the wonder of her first time shattered as she heard him in the next room, laughing to his stunt driver friends over a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon how he'd just popped some little rich bitch's cherry… no, I don't remember her name - who cares? I got what I wanted!  The face of Jake came into view again, contorted by inebriation and inner turmoil, telling Helen about confronting Vincent Lane and hearing aloud what he'd known all along; that his child - his only son - had died at birth… and he never even knew his son's name. Daria's face came into view, and she held up her hands to gesture 'I love you' in American Sign Language; she couldn't find it in herself to say the words out loud to Helen. She saw Jake's face a final time, pale and almost unrecognizable, bloodless lips thin and pressed obscenely tight as his eyes flicked about to see in madness what no one else would ever see, unaware of Helen standing before him… The face of Amanda Lane was there, the torment of many lives burned into those large green eyes, and a pain her soul could never give voice to except through that gaze…

She saw the way Helen's world took a crippling blow as she kissed Moonflower for the final time. Through the blur of her tears, Helen watched as the girl walked towards the forest where they'd met only seven days before; Quinn saw hope rise in Helen's eyes as Moonflower hesitated for a moment - and then, the light within Helen dimmed just a touch, but permanently, as the brunette disappeared into the foliage…

But Helen Morgendorffer never surrendered.


Unable to bellow the outrage and disdain with herself that she felt, unable to whimper out even a single word to plead for help, Quinn watched the image of her mother as she tried to cleanse herself - how she abused herself with the bath brush - how she sat bleeding and spent in pouring, frigid waters, trying to make herself clean again…

What could she possibly have to tell Helen about suffering?


Quinn saw into Daria. She saw her sister, into her, inside her…

Fear.

Cold, mauling fear - the constant that defines the life of Daria Morgendorffer. Fear has fashioned for her a world of darkness, a fortress of imposed solitude without hope of release, a dungeon within herself where she lingers in darkness, peering out sadly at the persons who walk about without seeming cares in the world - or at least, not in the here and now. As Daria watches, they walk, play, dance, live and love in the day, taking their places in the sun-


'Nobody likes me.'

Daria's voice was like a blade of hellfire, and Quinn cried out soundlessly as she saw her sister, watching from the front window of their Highland home as their parents drove away to take Quinn to a friend's birthday party… Daria said she didn't want to go because she didn't feel well; she lied. No child ever wanted Daria around, and she knew Quinn would never stand with her against the other kids…


'Nobody wants me.'

Quinn stood besides Jane; they watched Trent and Monique retreat down the sidewalk and speed away in Trent's car, oblivious to the mournful gaze Daria held on them until they were out of view…


'Nobody loves me.'

Daria writhed furiously against Quinn as they lay entwined in the canopy bed, constantly reaching out to her, not necessarily grasping at her for pleasure's sake, but to touch, to feel, to not have her touch rejected, but welcomed… Daria's soft moans reached her ears:

I love you… oh, God, Quinn, I love you…

Quinn never said the words back to her - not even in the most blinding moments of climax, not even in the most gentle of embraces. Being honest - it was never about love.


Quinn saw into Daria.

Trapped so long within a prison beneath her soul, peering out with sad eyes, longing to be just a face in the crowd and move about without being seen as different - the sad truth, Daria, is that they don't deserve you. Those people you see, who walk about and seem so happy? They are but sad souls, draining light and life, happiness and warmth from everything around them, keeping them from the chance to find their place in the sun.

People like me.

The way I've done to you.

The way I've held you back by keeping Jane from you.


She also saw into Jane.

Someday, there may be more. Someday, there may be intimacy, and romance, but now - there is already a bonding of souls, a love that blossomed into life like stellar ignition, dampened for a time because of my pain, by what I've done - but now… but now

And Light began to fill the world.

In the clarity of divine epiphany, her mind’s eye now somehow opened wide, Quinn saw the way she held Daria - the night Helen saw them - and she told Daria that someday, she’d inspire someone to write poetry about her. Those words - the words of Jane's poem - seemed to form in the air like fire - no, like figures of light, like an angel tracing along the fabric of reality, and she saw those words flowing through Jane, through Daria, and how they blossomed into a freeing luminance, tearing through the dark dungeon of Daria’s fears once and forever, bringing her back into the world…

Perfect love casteth out fear,
Perfect light casteth away darkness.

And Quinn knew that she was the darkness.

Buffeted away within the light of twin suns exploding into existence, Quinn was blinded and screaming, tumbling away from that world of light and warmth she had ignored and derided mercilessly, falling away into the icy darkness that welcomed her, seeming familiar… Eight times she felt herself falling, striking solid ground and still falling, feeling the touch of fingers on her as she fell, grasping at her as if grasping for the fading warmth within, touching her to savor the feel of life and light passing by; thousands upon tens of thousands of millions of hands, tens over hundreds of millions upon billions of wriggling, probing fingers, brushing and grasping at her, offending with each unwanted stroking, falling through them like a sea of unending, writhing, chilled maggots rushing over every inch of her form, recoiling and yet thrilling at the sensations... She finally struck and fell into a solid, icy darkness like none she’d ever touched, and yet, could sense an open vastness greater than she could have envisioned in her most hideous of dreams.

In her last conscious thought, before the gates of reason were barred behind her passing, Quinn Morgendorffer saw the final pinpoint of light begin to quiver into nothingness, even though she somehow knew that she could fight to reach it. She was glad; she was glad for her sister and her mother, glad for David Sorenson, glad that the final, horribly wrong part of Jake Morgendorffer was going to be sealed off forever:

Someone has to stay, so everyone else can make it out. That’ll be me. I’m sorry I wasn’t strong enough for anything else. I wasn’t strong enough to not go bad like Daddy did, or to not let my sickness reach out and, and –

Desecrate.

That’s the word. ‘To divert from a sacred to a profane use or purpose.’  Why I would remember that from the dictionary now…

Desecration.

That’s what Daddy did to the family. That’s what Grandpa Morgendorffer did. That’s what I did. I wasn’t strong enough to choose to turn away. I wasn’t strong enough to actually fight it, or keep from enjoying it when I wouldn’t try to fight anymore. Every time I reached out for Daria… and when I touched - the way I touched Mom… I made everything we had dirty. I made it dirty – I made it wrong – I enjoyed every single moment of it… and I’ll probably do it again. If I get the chance.

I would do it again.

I’m not strong enough to keep from doing it… but I do have enough strength for this.


Quinn reached out, and blanked out the light.

+++++

Helen opened her eyes, curled up into a huddled ball on the bathroom floor as agony cascaded throughout her body.

Somehow, she managed to focus past the pain and get to her feet; Helen then went into the bedroom and peeled the ruined clothes she wore off before she sat down on the bed, her face clear of any emotion.

There's nothing that I can say to get past last night - nothing.

Thank God that that I didn't skimp on the insurance coverage. Good thing Quinn never bothered to actually read the fine print - she could have had that plastic surgery she wanted a couple of years back free and clear.

Damn. Last night guarantees that some headshrinker's having a good year because of the therapy we'll be getting, and I'm thinking about Quinn and a nose job.

I hurt so much all over… now, I have to - I can't let Jane and Trent come up here now-
She winced as she felt the cut on her earlobe. They'll think that Quinn attacked me for some reason… that she had a breakdown like Jake and went psychotic, I can't let Quinn get accused of that - wait a minute, they'll be snowed in like we are, and they won't be able to get out for a couple of days, no one else will be able to get here either, the little cuts and bruises will heal by then-

Helen's eyes fell on the clock next to her bed.

It was 11:48 a.m.

She had slept for over twelve hours.

I need to clean myself up and go downstairs - there's no point in putting off the awkward stuff any longer, and I'll be here alone with Quinn for at least a couple of days…

I wanted to. There's no getting past it - I barely managed to stop myself from giving in, I have absolutely no idea how - but a part of me wanted to sleep with her. Part of me wanted to keep going; having her kiss me over and over, feeling her hold me down so I can't get away, I wanted to have her mouth on my breasts, just sucking and making me squirm - oh, God, my nipples went hard just thinking about it.

God, please, just strike me down. Just - what am I going to say… what can I say… why couldn't -


Helen leaned against the headboard and began to cry.

+++++

Daria stirred, and then opened her eyes as she lifted her head.

She felt surprisingly good about herself - not just in her head, but physically; she felt very warm, and for some reason, safer and more secure than she had in months.

There was a soft sound just behind her ear; Daria realized that she was lying on the couch in the living room… that she was lying next to a gently snoring Jane, with Jane's arm draped over her, and they were both wrapped in a colossal wool blanket.

A small, 'Mona Lisa'-type of smile appeared on her face - the first time that smile had graced her face since before her father's troubles- and Daria snuggled back next to Jane.

Three minutes later, she was fast asleep.

+++++

Helen trudged down the staircase, heading towards the kitchen when she saw Quinn in the den. She stopped, considering her options, adjusted the lapel on her jacket, and then started forward…

Quinn sat on the couch, in the spot she occupied before she grasped at - Helen put that aside and moved closer to her daughter.

"Quinn… you're still in that outfit - have you been down here all night?"

No response.

"Quinn - we're going to be alone here for at least the next couple of days. It won't do either of us any good if you're going to act like a child and give me the 'silent treatment'.

Silence.

"Miss Morgendorffer, you are going to at least speak when you are spoken to, and -"

Helen's breath caught in her throat as she stepped in front of Quinn, and saw the look on her face. Her eyes were open, her face, beautiful as ever - but there was no light behind her eyes, and her face was blanked of expression. Her breath came in normal inhalations, but as Helen stood over Quinn for a long moment, she noticed that Quinn hadn't blinked.

"Quinn, are you feeling well?"

Reaching out, Helen touched Quinn's right cheek - and gasped audibly as she jerked her hand back. Quinn's skin was strangely cool to the touch - not clammy, but strangely cooler than normal…

"Quinn…? Quinn, can you hear me?"

She gave Quinn's shoulder a slight shake; Quinn wouldn't respond. Helen took Quinn's hand in her own, the touch of that hand the night before momentarily forgotten, and it felt as though she were holding the hand of a statue, or a mannequin. Perfect in every way, to be sure, but strangely cool, and soft like a silk scarf.

Helen released Quinn's hand and stepped back; the hand dropped back to her side, and there was no response. She took another step back, waiting for movement, anything besides that constant, mechanical breathing that filled her ears and her head like the constant ticking of a stopwatch.

She waited.

Quinn breathed.

Helen waited, watching.

A dying ember in the fireplace crackled.

Quinn continued to breathe.

Helen turned away from the catatonic form of her daughter; no tears came forth from her eyes, already red and aching from the night before. She reached into her pocket for her cell phone, but looked at it for a long time instead of dialing, then set it down on the table. She went over to the couch, sat down, and pulled her child close, Quinn's head on her shoulder as she held her in her arms.

***** 

And winter bled through into spring….

*****

Helen poured the last of the spaghetti sauce into the serving bowl when she heard the front door open; she turned and glanced down the hall to see Daria closing the door.

"Daria! I'm glad you could make it tonight!" 

"Hi, Mom."

Daria walked into the kitchen, and seemed mildly surprised at the waiting dinner. "Who's the caterer?"

"Anthony - Mr. DeMartino - he's got a touch for Italian food. Actually, it's the only thing that he can cook." Helen noted the questioning look on her daughter's face. "No, there's nothing romantic between the two of us - we're just very dear friends. My therapist asked the same question, and-"

"Mom… can we not mention those people… at least not tonight, or, at least not much?"

Helen decided telling her that having dinner tonight and having a talk was her therapist's idea wouldn't be a good thing. "Of course, Daria. Sit down, and let's dig in! I was so glad to hear about your early admission to Raft, and your speech at commencement, well…"

"You did come - Jane said that she saw you."

"I wasn't going to miss seeing you get that diploma," Helen said, a warm glow going through her at the sight of her daughter walking across the stage. "At last, you've been paroled. How does it feel, getting out of Ms. Li's gulag? Oh, that's right - you let everyone know when you gave that little speech."

Daria smiled in spite of herself, and took a seat. "I decided to let everyone know that even with everything that's happened - well, you know - I decided that I still needed to let them have a taste of the old Daria one last time. You should have seen the look on Jodie Landon's face - I think that it might be a good idea for me to skip the ten-year reunion."

"Well, that's your choice. They'll miss you, though. Iced tea?"

*****

The dinner went easily. The two Morgendorffers somehow managed to talk about little things, and the awkward pauses were few, and far between.

After dinner, they moved into the living room. Daria had a soft drink, and Helen, a cup of coffee.

Helen opened up, and told Daria everything.

*****

Daria stared down at her shoes, her eyes almost blank.

"You knew. You knew what was going on with me and Quinn."

Helen nodded, unable to speak.

"You saw us in bed one night - and instead of stopping us, or yelling at us, or trying to move some headshrinker into the highest tax bracket by tossing us to him face-first the very next morning, you started working more and more so you wouldn't have to deal with it… that is, when you weren't fantasizing about the both of us late-night cable style. Especially about me. Oh, my God."

Helen shook her head.

"I can understand us getting out of town after Dad's funeral, but instead of taking us somewhere where we could forget for a moment, you take us to your firm's own private Overlook Hotel, where Quinn makes a play for you because Jane made a trip up to be with me, we're all snowed in, and because she knows that you were watching us - after all, she set it up so you'd catch us. I guess I didn't wonder too much about Quinn saying that you'd be working late time after time - I guess I didn't care what happened to me…"

"Why not, Daria? Why did you… why did you do - this? Why didn't you ever come and talk to me?"

"When? When you were off hiding in your corner office and your new in-house suite, or while you were so busy feeling sorry for yourself and betrayed that you didn't notice that your two daughters were so screwed up by their dad blowing the kindly old mailman's head off in the foyer, they were comforting each other and ruining every sheet in the house in the process? Did I try? Maybe not as much as I should have - all right, I didn't try - but then, have any of us been thinking straight lately?"

Daria sat back in her chair. "I don't get it. You wouldn't have gotten caught, and Quinn's great at hiding this kind of stuff, well, she's great at this kind of stuff, period - why didn't you do it? If you were that messed up that this was turning you on all of the time - that's how it seems - why didn't you?"

"I couldn't."

"You could in your head. You did in your head. You didn't have any problems pawing on Quinn then."

"When… when Quinn… when she pushed me back onto the couch, I was just - I was shocked. I was caught off guard, I couldn't believe that it was happening, t-that Quinn was, that I was letting her do it - it was just too real, and I just couldn't handle it."

"Let's forget about how you just sounded like you were sixteen years old for a moment, and focus on how that has to be one of the biggest half-truths you've ever let come out of your mouth… and being a lawyer, that's saying something. Could you please not lie to me? Wait until I'm gone and lie to yourself, if you have to, but could you please be straight with me?"

"I just didn't want to cross that line with her. I saw that she wasn't well - she really wasn't well. She tried to justify sleeping with me as a good thing; that it was the only way she had to support me, to make me happy with her, the only thing that she had that could-" Her voice broke. "She made it sound as if her body was the only part of herself that I'd possibly think was worth something."

"Nobody ever said Quinn wasn't a good judge of character."

Helen's temper flared. "I didn't want to do that with her."

Daria suddenly sat up straight; Helen saw the wheels turn, and Daria locked eyes on her.

"So, who did you want to 'do that with?"

Helen and Daria's eyes met.

"Oh."

Neither of the two women could break eye contact.

"It all makes sense, now. Why you didn't confront us right away; why you didn't say anything about the way I changed suddenly after everything that happened - it especially explains why you were so happy to see Jane back around me… and why, I think, you probably were hoping that the two of us actually were a couple. It explains why you took out to the middle of nowhere, why you were so happy when Jane showed up - and why you didn't give in to Quinn… although I bet you just barely dodged the bullet there."

Daria sat ramrod straight in the chair.

"It was me. You wanted to be alone with me…you wanted to be with me."

"That is the most warped thing that has ever come out of your mouth. "

"Not making the obvious jokes, not even close. Think about it. You know it's the truth."

Helen's eyes managed to fall away from her elder daughter's smelter of a glare

Is it true? Is it - is that what I've been doing all along?

Helen started to go over things in her mind, and a thought kept coming back to her: 'What's between a man's legs makes him stupid, and what's in a woman's heart makes her stupid.'

Is that what's happening? Am I that far gone - am I being stupid - am I actually developing feelings, romantic feelings, for my daughter? How? How did - Why is this happening?

The fantasies are - were - whatever - more about Daria than Quinn. They've always been about Daria, and the only time I thought about Quinn like that was after that horrible super-beer… and I remember just how close I came to being named 'the cheapest date at Middleton College'. After a few beers and a little weed, I'd ride with almost anything… thank God for Mook and Serenity in my first year, and Jake from that time on.

When I thought about Daria, it's always been more ornate, more sensual, and more emotional; why don't I, why didn't I fixate on Quinn like that? She seems far more sexually adventurous and aggressive; what is it about Daria that makes me think about her? What is it about the way she makes love that draws me more towards her-

That's it. 'The way she makes love.' She was making love, not having sex. She wasn't making love to Quinn; she was sharing it with her. She was making an emotional connection to Quinn… the type of connection I've always wanted with her. Emotional, I mean. I hope. I always wanted to be there like that for Daria; and that's what Quinn was trying to do to me. Connect like that to me - and I pushed her away. My baby was on the brink, and I pushed her over. I rejected her on every level when I pushed her off me and ran from her, when I should have made a stand right there. 

Is it that simple? Is this fixation on Daria my version of trying to deal with everything, of trying to have someone to feel close to, because I need someone to reach out to; someone strong enough to deal with all of the problems? The
one reason that I rejected Quinn (and probably wouldn't have rejected Daria, if she'd been there in the main house) is that Daria is the type of woman I'm sexually and emotionally attracted to? Daria's my type?

Well, they say that you meet someone when you're a teenager, and for the rest of your life, you date that same type of person. Oh, sure, you sleep around with anyone that you can manage it with (that's where falling for good looks or a line comes from), but you only share your inner self with a certain kind of person.

Erica.  Moonflower. Serenity, if Forbes hadn't have come along, or Jake.

Daria's just like them. Each one was incredibly intelligent, tough as nails, and definitely had some degree of cynicism that they let loose on anything that got in their path - but they all had softness within, like they're hiding it from the world. Feminine beyond belief, but they'll share it with only someone they trust totally, and then, there's a fire inside them that'll seem to burn you alive and make you new, like a reborn phoenix…

Jane really doesn't understand just how lucky - no, how blessed she is. Yet.

That's it. I think I understand now. I wanted all of it - the release, the intimacy, and the gratification that I haven't had in my life or my bed for so long, and when I saw Daria like that - every button that shouldn't have been pushed inside my head was.


Rocked back by that quiet revelation; Helen felt herself growing sick inside as she realized a truth she never noticed… that Daria was absolutely correct. She looked at Daria, at the way she was seated, the way she held herself, the way she moved, and suddenly felt total shame as a wave of sexual desire for Daria washed through her…No! I won't think like that - I won't do that! Not with Daria… no with her!

The shame within Helen grew more intense as she recalled a quote from a long-forgotten English literature class: 'What I would, I do not; what I would not, I do constantly…'

"I think that what's happened has unbalanced all of us - but no, I don't feel that way towards you, Daria."

"Really? Okay, then…"

For the first time since Jake's collapse, Helen saw Daria smirk. "You know, this all began - with Quinn and me, I mean - because she wouldn't tell me the truth. We were playing 'Truth or Dare', and since I knew that she wouldn't tell me the truth, I set up a dare that I knew she couldn't take. I remember thinking, 'Another victory for cynicism in America.' Yeah. Some victory."

"What was the dare you didn't think she'd take?"

"That she had to kiss me."

Helen shook her head. "Just what, pray tell, was the truth she wouldn't admit to that she chose kissing you over?"

"The truth over why she wore a micro-mini that time Kevin Thomphson came over to work on a lab project with me."

"SHE WORE A WHAT?  WHEN THAT IMBECILIC FOOTBALL PLAYER WHO CHASES DOWN EVERYTHING IN A DRESS WAS OVER HERE, SHE PUT ON ONE OF THOSE BARELY STRIPS OF CLOTH AND PARADED HERSELF IN FRONT OF HIM-" Helen suddenly realized the madness of her rant and closed it down on the spot. "I guess getting upset about the way Quinn liked to dress around boys is a moot point, for the moment…"

"What are you going to do, when Quinn gets better?"

"I don't know," Helen admitted. "I'll try to help her understand that what happened - I don't know what I'll say. I'll tell her that I love her, and that I'll help her through this."

"And what about us?"

"What about us?"

"And they always said I was in denial. Us."

"I'm lost."

"That's your choice. 'Truth or Dare."

"The game you and Quinn were playing. "

"Now, it's us. Truth - you tell me exactly how you feel about me. No editing yourself, no stumbling about for the right words, no legal wordsmithing. You tell me exactly how you feel."

"And if I refuse to tell you?"

"The Dare is simple. Like Quinn - you have to kiss me."

Helen stood up and reached for the plastic glasses on the table. "This is ridiculous. I'm not going to do-"

"Anything but run away from your problems and the people who needed your help, needed you to just be there… just like you've always done."

Helen froze in mid-step, then froze and turned around; Daria saw something she'd never seen in her mother's eyes before.

Helen was afraid.

"I… I can't do that."

"Then tell me the truth. How do you feel about me?"

"Daria, you know how I feel about you-"

"No, I don't. All of our feelings and our heads are so turned upside-down and about, and there's only one thing that I am sure of - that no matter what happens to me, Jane will be there for me. I've got an anchor. You need to find yours. Mine is a person. Yours… yours is what it's always been, ever since you wanted to be a lawyer. It's the one thing that I've always respected about you. Your anchor is the Truth."

Daria looked down at her shoes, lost in thought for some time, then lifted her head up, stood, and looked directly into Helen's eyes. "Okay."

"Pardon me?"

"Okay."

Helen stood as well. "I don't understand…"

"We should do it."

"Daria, what do you mean -"

"You - me - we should do it, and get it out of the way of everything. We have to; so we know what the truth is…"

Daria looked at Helen for a long time, studying her, then slowly stepped forward, giving Helen every chance to pull back or turn away. She moved in closer, breathing in Helen's scent gently, feeling Helen's warmth without touching her. Helen could see every detail of Daria's image up close and turned away, but Daria reached out to turn Helen's face back to her own.

"If you want to, I will…"

Tears of shame ran down Helen's face as she looked into Daria's eyes, and gave the barest of nods.

Daria stepped into her arms, and before Helen could prepare herself, Daria's lips met hers in a gentle, downy kiss that simultaneously shamed her to the core of her being - and yet, awakened something deep inside her, something suppressed and hidden away.

As she kissed Daria, Helen was aware, totally, perfectly aware of something that was missing in her world; that at that moment, she felt alive, alive like she hadn't felt in years - no, decades… it was a kiss that felt as if it could last forever, a kiss that could shatter curses, and hold a lifetime of loving in a single embrace…

They moved apart, and Helen, opening her eyes as if she's been awakened from a wondrous sleep, looked at Daria to see a look of similar rapture on her face. "Oh," Daria sighed, her voice a whisper through the deep breath she took. "Talk… that's… déjà vu…oh…"

"Stop… talking…" Helen echoed, her voice becoming raspy as her own breath flowed inward through slow, ragged gasps. "I- no… I don't want to… think…"

For Daria, it was déjà vu; wild-eyed amazement compressed down into pure, unbound need to express everything that she had repressed through her life. Her feelings of joy, her desire to connect with others - that primal need to just be touched by someone, anyone, to let everything inside her come screaming, raging, crying out and be understood… to reach out to someone who understood, to feel someone touch her the way she reached out and touched, oh, God, to just let go, and not care about what anyone else thinks, and just ride it until I can feel something more than the pain - until I feel good, and it's okay to feel that way…

And she feels it, too… she feels the same way… and just being in her arms sets me free - it sets us both free…


Neither Helen nor Daria was actually aware that they were embracing again until the need to breathe separated them. Their lips separated as they parted slightly, still in each other's arms, close enough to see the dark, perfect eyelashes Helen had flutter as she blinked, and the huge, dark brown eyes of Daria, soft and wondrous, so easy for someone to fall into and never want to leave…

"Let's go upstairs…"

Helen's mind was on another world; she heard something, and tried with some success to clear her mind, she was sure that someone, somewhere, something had been said, and it was, maybe, directed at her… maybe, perhaps, some time ago, she might have said something…

"Did…mmh… ah, did you say something to me… Daria…?"

"Yes. I did."

Helen looked down as Daria reached out and offered her hand to Helen. She looked at the slender hand, looked at it - and a feeling of sudden cold shot through her; the same feeling that she had when Quinn first touched her at the retreat.

No, no, no, don't say it, don't do it, don't, it's all right, people expect you to slip up, you can make mistakes we all do don't let this moment get away you can have it all just tell the therapist what happened and take some medication afterward and Daria will still have Jane and Jane'll forgive her because she'll forgive Daria anything she'll already let her go for the kisses and it's just a little bit more she kisses just like Erica and Moonflower did and it makes me feel like I'm nineteen all over again she even smells like Serenity, all spotless and clean, but with not a trace of perfume or manmade scent, just what you have to have to be presentable in public and not a touch more, but oh, God, the scent of her as a woman is just so strong in my nostrils, I don't want to think and I don't have to-


Daria studied the expression on Helen's face for a moment.

"Or… can we?"

"We can't," said Helen, letting the words free themselves as simultaneous pangs of longing and relief flowed through her. "Daria, we can't."

"Why not?"

"Because I want to."

As the words left her lips, Helen felt as if a weight had been lifted from her - the way she felt when she allowed Amanda to see Jake-

-It's gone because, finally, I'm being honest with myself.


"Because I want to - God forgive me, more than I want the things that I should - but I know it's wrong. Wrong because you're my child, because there's something wrong in me, and fixating on you is a symptom of the problem. If we do this, it becomes another problem, and I haven't taken care of the first one. If we do this…" She swallows hard. "I've lost almost everything else - your father, Quinn, my reason for waking up in the morning, my purpose - and if we go upstairs, I'll lose you, too."

"What are you talking about?"

"We don't have much of a family left, barely any, but if we -" Helen's voice caught in her throat. "If we go up there and - God, I can't even say it! - If it happens, then I'll never see you again, will I?"

Daria looked away. "I'm not sure what you mean-"

Helen looked her directly in the eye. "Say my name."

"I'll call you whatever you want-"

"Then do it now. Say 'Come with me, Helen."

Daria shook her head. "That doesn't make any sense. Come on - I know you want to -"

"It's easy. Say it. 'Helen, let's go upstairs and make love."

Daria stood and crossed her arms, tapped her foot, and glanced away from her mother.

"Yes. Despite everything that's happened, some things never change."

"I don't know what you're talking about."

"I'm not absolute poison to you - yet."

"What are you talking about…?"

"I know you, Daria. Obviously, not as well as I should - this all wouldn't have happened if I had - but I finally figured out what happened. Most of it, anyway. I don't know how it all began, but you were trying to hurt and punish yourself by sleeping with Quinn, I don't know, maybe you thought you were to blame for what happened to your father, that you saw something, and maybe if you'd have said something -" She stopped to take a breath. "You probably thought that you didn't have much of a life, but it was something - and because you didn't do anything, it's all your fault. Mr. Ceedle, Quinn - the possibility of what could have happened to Trent - what it would have done to Jane if your father had killed him…"

Daria dropped to the couch like a puppet with cut strings at Helen's words.

"-I don't know if you two - Jane and you - were together before Jake's collapse.  God, I wish you had been, or were, but either way, what happened with you and Quinn made you want to push away from Jane - and the worse you thought you were, the more you wanted to stay away from her. If we do this, I'll be just as horrible in your eyes as you thought you were with Quinn, and you'll never come near me again. After that kiss - " Helen's voice broke, but she recovered and continued. "After all of this, we need to be apart, and get everything straight. I certainly do. After today, it's going to be a long time before we spend time alone…"

Daria stood silently, and then looked over at Helen. "I would have done it," she said. "I would have, and I would have made it good for both of us. I would have, so you'd always remember - because it would have been the last time you would ever have seen me. I would have hated you. What's adding one more screwed-up part to my life matter, anyway? So much has happened, and you'd want to make it all better by making me come. After the stuff Quinn and I've done, us being together wouldn't make any difference. I grew up trying to not hear you and Dad doing it, and Quinn's not even nearly as wild or as loud as you are…"

"Daria-!"

Daria let her eyes pass quickly over Helen, and shame pierced her… She remembered sneaking from bed as a little girl and peering through the doorway of her parents' bedroom to see Helen, writhing and shrieking as she and Jake (Daria sadly noted that she didn't - she couldn't - even think of them as 'Mom' and 'Dad' at this point) made love in the thin light of several large candles. Daria looked at the way Helen filled out her outfit, and berated herself for thinking that Helen still had an incredible figure… that she's got a much better body than Quinn does… that the feel of Helen on top of me, holding me down so I can't get up until she lets me, and those soft, soft breasts pressing against my own - I know it would be so good - and I'm standing here trying to poison myself against my mother.

I won't make her dirty, like I did Quinn and myself. I love her - she's my mother. I need her back in my life someday… Jane, please forgive me for all of this…


"This is so screwed up," she spat out. "I'm standing here, comparing what the sex with my sister and my mother would be like. There are so many things wrong here - I don't know what to say - I'll tell them to my new therapist. I'll see him on Monday, after Jane and I finish dumping everything in the apartment."

"So, Jane's sharing the apartment with you? She's going up to Boston now? I thought she was waiting until January!"

"She can afford it now - scholarship."

"I see you forgot to mention something."

"I'm sorry. Between getting all hot and heavy here with you, Quinn going catatonic after doing the same and staving off my own mental breakdown after everything that's happened, the subject of Jane running track for Raft sort of slipped my mind."

"Oh. So Jane is going to Raft now. How did that happen?"

The way Helen looked at Daria made the young woman wonder, quite seriously, how she was still alive, sane, and in working possession of all of her extremities.

"Long story short. We went up to Raft two weeks ago to get all of my stuff in order for the summer. While I did forms and stuff, Jane hung out at the stadium, ran laps, and pissed off some of the runners. Lots of bets, lots of trash-talk, lots of running. One of the coaches saw Jane run some of their best long-distance people into the dirt. They spent a day talking to Jane and gave her an athletic scholarship two days later. She's majoring in art history, minor in law enforcement. Did you know that she wants to be an FBI agent someday? Never told me…"

"Maybe she was afraid that you'd ridicule her dream between bites of pizza, like you do almost everything else that you hear other people say."

From the glare Daria tossed her way, Helen was surprised the side of the house she was on was still intact.

"I guess this means that we still have something of what used to be our relationship," the young woman said, her voice surprisingly normal. "At least we'll be able to say things to make each other snap."

Helen just looked at Daria. "I should go," Daria said, and was surprised at the way a pang of regret went through her, as she thought of the bed upstairs. "Jane and I are flying out early tomorrow, so we can visit Quinn at the sanctuary before classes start back on Tuesday." 

"I'm going up next week - Dr. Armalin calls daily to let me know what's going on," Helen told her; she told herself that she shouldn't be surprised by the way the conversation had gone - after all, denial of what's happened or what was happening at the moment had, unfortunately, always been the type of relationship she'd had with Daria - occasionally punctuated by moments of honesty and revelation.

Like moments ago, when she saw how Daria had looked at her - and saw the deepening blush that had always signaled an interest in someone… Helen knew that they had to be apart, and make the therapy work. Really work.

Because if she'd had asked again… she knew, somehow, that Daria would have gone upstairs with her…

"You know what the funny thing is?" Daria said, stopping before she opened the front door. "The really ironic thing about all of this? All my life, I always believed that you liked Quinn - that you loved Quinn - more than you loved me. I always thought that that's why she got more attention from you than I did, especially once we got into high school. I always thought that you felt closer to her than me. Boy, did I call that one wrong."

Helen stood alone, quiet, thinking, and then looked up at her daughter, the woman standing across from her. "I'm sorry, Daria. I'm sorry for everything that's happened. One day, we'll be able to rebuild something from this - and one day, maybe - you can forgive me."

Daria raised an eyebrow.

"One day, you can forgive me for what I've done to you, and what I didn't do for you - not just now, or in the past few months, but all your life, and for not being a better parent. Hopefully, you can forgive me for what I've - for the things I've - for today, and -"

"I can't forgive you for that," Daria replied bluntly as she opened the door, and Helen felt ice drop through her. "What's done is done."

Helen turned away, so Daria couldn't see her face.

"I'm responsible for what happened to me after Dad had his collapse. I could have gone to someone and tried to talk to them. I could have gone to Jane, but I chose to push her away and keep hurting myself, and Quinn, too. I did exactly what I've always done - been so afraid of everything that I closed myself off - but this time, when Quinn and I…" Her voice trailed off for a bit. "I could have stopped it after that very first time, when Quinn came back to my room the next night, but I didn't. I could have said 'No' a hundred times, but I kept going back, kept crawling into bed with her, kept letting her touch me…"

Daria took a deep breath. "I remember the very first time; I remember thinking that, 'hey, it's all Quinn's fault, she was the one that wanted to keep going…' That's lying to myself - I know that now. Every time we were together, every time I looked towards her door, every time I heard the sound of the doorknob turning or Quinn knock on the door in that way she did when she only had one thing on her mind… it was my fault, too. I'm the stupid bitch who didn't stop it and kept having sex with my sister who I knew was on the brink.  I'm responsible, too. I let it all happen."

Helen couldn't look back at Daria.

"Quinn let it happen. The last year of her life threw so many shocks at her that she finally lost it and hasn't come back… and if she ever does - what then? Dad caused it to happen - why couldn't he have had a normal life and not had mental problems, a whacked-out dad and deal with bad mail delivery service by giving the guy a chintzy present at Christmas-time? You weren't around to keep it from happening because you're too busy trying to be a super-lawyer… and, by the way, off spending so much time making enough money to keep this family up and running that you haven't had anything remotely resembling a personal life since we came to Lawndale. If Jane had been more of a friend, she wouldn't have let me push her away so that it could happen. If Jane was the lesbian everyone wants to believe she is, she'd have 'somehow turned me into a lesbian with her', and it wouldn't have happened. Maybe, if you had figured that spending time at home with us was a good idea after Dad's collapse, instead of hiding at the office and away from everything that reminds you of how sad and empty your marriage with him was, then maybe Quinn would have spent the night over with one of the Fashion Drones, and it would have been you and me upstairs."

Helen felt dead inside.

"There's so many 'what-ifs' there that it doesn't matter what could have been, only what happened. I made my choice. I did it. I kept going on with Quinn and pushing Jane away until she showed me that she wasn't leaving, and then, I made another choice. I chose to let her help me. I chose to stop hurting myself. I made my choices. Quinn made hers. You made yours. There's nothing for me to forgive."

Daria leaned on the door. "You have to forgive yourself. That's how we'll all get past this."

Helen watched as Daria started to close the door, but then turned back. "One more thing. All of this time, I could have sworn that you and your boss Eric were having a thing at work. I really thought that. Maybe, if you'd had a thing with him, or your assistant, or somebody, then perhaps this wouldn't have gone so far, and you'd have stopped Quinn and me. Maybe you should find somebody to be - to just cut loose with, and stop worrying about what people will say when they see you with her."

"Her?"

"It's not as if I haven't talked to your friend Willow since she was here with her family, and I read through your college letters and stuff when I was little. I'm surprised that you stayed married as long as you did."

"I loved your father."

"But you didn't love sharing your life with him. You didn't love yourself enough to be honest about who you are inside… and it affected all of us. Before you can forgive yourself - maybe you should think about what you're asking forgiveness for."

Helen's head drooped slightly, and Daria sighed sadly. "For what it's worth… I hope that someday, you can forgive me."

The sound of the door closing brought Helen's head up, and she saw that she was alone…

Alone.

Helen looked around, at the empty house. It wasn't the trap, the prison she'd always considered it to be - and she felt her spirit lighten even more as she realized this. It was just a place - and she made it what it was.

It was my fault, too.


Daria was right, she admitted to herself, and there was no malice or anger in those words.

I made choices. Now, I have to make new choices. I have to make better ones…

I can start by following her example.


Her hand reached towards the ever-ready cell phone in her jacket, but she stopped. Stopped, and considered…

I can start by letting someone in… someone who won't judge me for - Somebody who won't judge.


Helen walked over to the couch, sat down, and picked up the telephone. She hesitated for just a brief moment, and then dialed a number. "Hello… Anthony? Yes, it's Helen. How are you? Well… no, that wouldn't be the truth. I'm not fine." She listened for a moment. Anthony… I need - I need a friend. Someone that I can talk to."

She paused. "Anthony… I need someone that I can tell everything to."

The words over the line made the tension visible in her posture flow out and away from Helen as she listened. "After work will be soon enough. Yes, barbeque ribs sounds great. Oh, very funny, penguin boy. Fruit punch will be just fine. I'll see you around six. Oh, and Anthony-? Thank you."

+++++

One year had almost passed.

*****

"So, you finally made your decision."

Helen looked up from her desk as Marianne brought a large envelope to her desk. "The realtor sent the papers over. Five-fifteen, at your house."

"What time is it now?"

"Four-thirty."

"Thank you."

The slender blonde handed Helen the envelope. "Does Daria know about the sale?"

"She's busy at school, Marianne - I'll tell her when she calls this weekend."

Marianne nodded and turned to go. "Oh, and Marianne? Could you get Dr. Armalin's office on the line?"

"Yes, Helen - oh, and Miss Blum-Deckler is on line six… again."

Helen sighed. Quinn's ex- Fashion Club cohort had made a career of pestering her for news on Quinn's condition (and her appearance - 'does being crazy make you look fat…?'). Tiffany was the only one to call, although Stacy sent cards every week up to Quinn - and from the way she kept going on, Helen suspected that she and Quinn might have had a little bit of a flirtation… better to just let sleeping doge lie, she'd decided. "Tell her that Quinn's getting better - and I won't have any news about her until next week."

"Right away, ma'am."

The door closed behind Marianne, and Helen opened the envelope. Funny, how one more door to my past will close - just as soon as I sign this…

She looked over the documents - the contracts for the sub-let of Schloss Morgendorffer, and a home in the Crewe Neck section of town. Definitely moving up in the world - or at least for the next three years, while the Bowmans are in London. God help the British, once they start doing those fire-and-brimstone literary reviews for the Times… Well, they can just consider those two a little remembrance from the Colonies… The deal was for one year, with an option to renew annually for each of the following two years; both homes came fully furnished, which suited Helen just fine and made the old house even more attractive to potentials. I just hope they're not too put off by Jake's cooking things - who really needs the means to make haggis in Lawndale? Who really wants to?

I wonder how Daria's going to react - 'Well, Mom, I guess Stalag 17's under new management…?'
Helen smiled, looking at the photo of Daria and Jane on her desk. Daria, Jane, now finishing their freshman year at Raft. Daria, being herself, making the Dean's List and doing well in her sessions with her therapist - so well, in fact, that he'd cut her sessions from every weekday to twice a week.  Good for her - Oh, that's right. And speaking of sessions…

Helen's hand hovered just over her phone when the sound of Marianne on the intercom made her jump. "Yes?"

"Dr. Armalin on line three, Mrs. Morgendorffer."

"Thank you, Marianne."

Helen picked up the receiver and pushed a button. "Doctor? Is everything all right with - yes, of course, you'd let me know at once if anything has happened. She's doing better, isn't she…?" Her voice trailed off as she listened. "Really? Sidney Friedman? Well, if you can get him to consult on Quinn's case - Well, when can he see her? I can fly up this weekend… oh. He wants to see me first. Does he think that - it's the way he works, I see… He'll be coming to Lawndale. Would you please ask Dr. Friedman if he could hold off on his visit for a few days?  Oh, only until next week. I'll have things taken of by then. Thank you, Doctor.  Goodbye."

Marianne was in the door before the phone settled back upon the receiver. "Mrs. Morgendorffer, you might want to leave now."

"Marianne-?"

"I mean, if this is the day you sign the papers… you might want to get there early. You know, so you can say goodbye… well, it was your house…"

Helen smiled. "Thank you, Marianne."

+++++

Yes. I guess I did want to say goodbye to the house. This is the last time I'll ever walk through…


Helen sat down on the second step from the bottom of the stairs, a hairbrush in her hands and the jade figurine of Quinn and the dragons on the steps beside her. She picked them up from Quinn's vanity table many months ago, as she, Erin and Amy packed up Quinn's things for storage, and decided to keep them - a memento of her daughter from before things went so wrong, and a reminder that someday, her child might be returned to her…

At least she's in a peaceful place, getting the help she needs…


Helen had walked through the house, taking in memories. As she came to Daria's room, she hesitated for a moment, considering how she'd come very close to having the house torn down, or just getting a permit to level it and setting it on fire… the only thing that stopped her, she thought, was the feeling that she had when she sat at the kitchen table over a year ago, and agreed to let Amanda see Jake before he died. Time to let it go… time to move on… It was a good feeling, to let the pain go, and not cause more pain in the effort.

She had also walked around Quinn's room, now plain and empty except for the full-length mirror on the wall. As she left, she saw herself in the mirror. There was a sense of relief that flooded from her eyes and smoothed her face like a blemish cream, as if she'd never realized just how frightened she truly was by the events of the past year. Not out of the woods yet - but now, on the right track.

The darkness is gone from Daria now, from me… from this house. It's time to let someone else have it, and bring light, and love, and life into it, the way it should be.


"Mrs. Morgendorffer - I didn't think that you'd be here for another half-hour or so!"

Helen looked up at the sound of the voice, and she saw Mrs. Kalva, the realtor, as she opened the door.

"My assistant said that you'd be here at five-fifteen."

"I said six-fifteen," Mrs. Kalva said, shaking her head as she sat a bag of groceries down. "The new tenant's going to move in tonight, and these-" She motioned to the bag. "She's getting some things in; she's of a mind that it isn't her place until she cooks a meal here. I was just going to meet you outside after you got off work and heading over to your new place so you wouldn't have to - I didn't think that you'd want to meet her - you know, avoid unpleasant questions about Mr. Morgendorffer, God rest his soul. If you've got the papers signed, I'll take them, and you can leave right away, I actually have the keys to the Bowman place in my car-"

"That won't be necessary," Helen said, coming to her feet and moving towards her. "I don't mind meeting the new owner-"

"PLEASE open the door before I drop all of this!"

Mrs. Kalva yelped as she flung the door open, and Helen was nearly run down by a large blur of burgundy, bronze, and blue plastic bags as it swooshed through and down the hall! "Are you two okay - I didn't run anyone over, did I, the bag with the jalapenos was tearing and I didn't want to break any jars in the front room or the hall…"

Helen stared as a beautiful Latina in burgundy slacks and a matching blouse began to move back down the hall. She started to stand up from the stairs when she realized that she'd done that earlier - My God, she actually is that tall - and stumbled a bit. "Are you all right?" the woman said, and Helen got a good look at her. "You're Mrs. Morgendorffer, isn't that right?"

"How… just how tall ARE you…?"

The shocked gasp from Mrs. Kalva caught Helen's attention, and she realized that she was staring. "Oh! I - I mean, excuse me, I'm sorry, that was very rude of me!"

"I guess you don't get many Amazons around these parts, do you?" the woman said as she extended her hand. "I'm Lauriel de la Ribas… and you're Mrs. Morgendorffer-?"

Helen was still caught up in the height issue. "Six-three," Lauriel said, her face understanding. "I get that a lot."

"I'm sorry," Helen said, returning back to Earth and not noticing the way Mrs. Kalva shook her head. "Helen. Yes. That's me. I'm Helen Morgendorffer."

Lauriel extended her hand again. "Pleased to meet you."

"Uh, Mrs. Morgendorffer, if I could have those-?" Mrs. Kalva sighed, taking the envelope from Helen. "And yes… hmn… everything seems to be on the up and up… I think we have a couple of sales! I'll be right back - your keys are out in the car…"

Lauriel walked into the living room, doing a slow circle as she looked about the room. "You have a beautiful home," she said.

"Actually, now you do - well, as long as you keep up the payments," Helen said, a wryness in her answer. "If not, I'll just have to come back and sit you out on the stoop with a basket - but don't worry, I'll put hay in the bottom, so you'll be warm at night."

Lauriel smiled. "A sense of humor. They said that you really didn't have one, being a lawyer and with-" She turned, her eyes going wide. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to bring that up."

"It's in the past."

Helen shrugged, and then walked into the kitchen; Lauriel followed behind. "I guess that I should tell you about some of the peculiarities in this kitchen. The first one is that I never cooked in it."

"Your husband cooked?"

"He was an amateur chef," Helen admitted, motioning around the room. "Jake - well, he liked to experiment. He tried a few interesting things-"

"Like curry and peanut butter in some kind of sauce?"

Helen's eyes widened. "How did you know-?"

Lauriel touched her nose with one of those impossibly long, soft fingers. "You can always tell what a chef's got a thing for - the scents linger in the kitchen. He was into spices - the hot foods, wasn't he?"

Helen winced without realizing it. "He picked it up from his time in military school - it was the special recipe of some cook who was so nice to him. Jake spent his entire life trying to get that stew right, but it was always way too hot for anyone to eat-"

"I was raised on jalapeno pickle juice," Lauriel said, sitting down at the table and pulling things from the bags. "My grandpa had a talent for cooking, and he loved everything so fiery that when you hugged him, your eyes would go blurry because of the heat!"

"Jake and his obsession with all things hot was how I learned to keep cold milk around at all times."

"You do know the tricks."

There was a suddenly uncomfortable moment of clumsy silence in the kitchen; Helen looked down at her shoes, and Lauriel started to pull the rest of the things out of the bags. "I'll help you with that," Helen said, taking a bag from the floor and putting its contents on the table.

"Thank you, Mrs. Morgendorffer."

"It's Helen."

"Lauriel."

"Mrs. Morgendorffer, you are now the newest resident of the Crewe Neck subdivision!" Mrs. Kalva exclaimed, coming down the hall to the kitchen and interrupting any further comments from either woman. "Here are your keys, and now - I have to go back to the office and get my commission!"

"Glad we could help," Helen said sourly, but the woman had already stuffed a set of keys into her hands and was down the hall before the words could register. "Well, I should be going, too. Enjoy your new home-" 

"Helen? Would you like to stay for dinner?"

"Pardon?"

"Well, I'm something of a chef, too. I've got a cooking show, but it's only local for now, on cable access - maybe I could - maybe I can cook a good meal for you in your kitchen."

"It's your kitchen now."

"Consider this a passing of the torch, " was the reply. "I think I can promise you that I won't use peanut butter in any of my recipes. Please, stay. I'd enjoy the company."

Helen looked over at the younger woman, at the foods on the table, and her face went scarlet as her stomach rumbled loudly. "I'll take that as a 'yes', Lauriel said, smiling as she placed a small bag of oranges in the refrigerator. Could you hand me that bag of onions-?"

"Oh, we don't put onions in the refrigerator, they go over there, in the-" Helen reddened again as Lauriel gave her a look that could only be construed as a smirk. "I'm sorry. You put things where you want them to go."

"I'd say you have a definite idea of how things went in this kitchen, for someone who never cooked in it."

"I've never been much of a cook. I've always been better at making money by arguing with people."

Lauriel shrugged, but a smile made her features sparkle as she began to cut thin slices of cheese from a block she'd set out on the table. She turned the plate so Helen could sample the slices, and took one as well.

"By the way - I wanted to ask you about that jade statuette," she said, filling two glasses from a bottle of mineral water as she motioned towards the kitchen door. "The one on the stairs. It's very beautiful; where did you get it?"

"It's for my daughter," was the reply. "I mean - it belongs to my daughter. I have two little girls. There's Quinn, my baby - the statuette's hers - and then, my firstborn."

Helen took another sip of the water Lauriel poured for her. "Her name is Daria…"

END OF PART IV

THE END



AUTHOR'S NOTES:

To start off, the big question that people are probably wondering about - why? Why did I write this (especially after the way I flamed 'Night Of The Storm)?

Some things will just have to remain in the realm of mystery. So there.

I'll also take the time here to send out thanks, and a big measure of gratitude, to my beta readers. They were bold, nay, courageous souls, and trust me, they did their job. They were brutal, they were NOT kind, and they let me know in horrifying (yes, my new favorite adverb) detail when I was really screwing up or heading into that quite large area called the 'What the hell are you doing?' zone. There are some parts of the story that they REALLY wanted me to lose (including the original title) or change, and I'm happy to say that I used a good 90% of their suggestions. The suggestions I didn't incorporate - it's not the fault of the beta-kids; it was me, who just didn't know when to quit…

(In fact, there's so much leftover material and sequences from discarded scenes and altered storylines that I'll be sending off that material over to 'Lawndale Leftovers' soon. Among the leftovers: material concerning alternate endings, Sandi evil like you've never seen before, Trent having deep thoughts, and Ms. Barch doing the unthinkable (no, nothing to do with sex).
As I was saying - to my beta-readers: Thank you. I wrote this story over the past year, and your help has made it into something hopefully worthwhile. I may have not always taken your advice, but I always listened, and I always appreciated the time and effort into undertaking a beta-read that most people wouldn't have even touched. (A couple of people I approached were VERY blunt in saying that they wouldn't get near this work.)

Again, thanks. When I actually start writing for real cash (as in, people actually pay me and THEN they read it) I'll remember you. Dedications, free copies, a box or two of New York strip steaks - maybe I'll pay to have a DariaCon of my own in the Midwest, and fly you guys in. I'll be able to afford it, then.

Well, that's all. I'll let the fanfic speak for itself. 

December 16, 2004