Death of a Secret
Daria sat in her car watching her father through the restaurant's large plate glass window. Even with the painted lettering obscuring part of her vision she could clearly see him embrace a young woman. The hug was a long one as the woman whispered into his ear. The smile on his face, the first Daria had seen from him in several days, was genuine when they finally broke apart.
Something akin to rage surged through Daria. Her father's furtive behavior when he accepted the phone call raised her suspicions. Now here was the proof. How long had this been going on? She was out of her car and halfway to the eatery's front door before she even realized it. Daria stopped. She nearly turned around but decided to get it out in the open. She could deal with it whatever her father's choices but he needed to know how she felt.
Seconds later she was beside their table.
"Daria," Jake exclaimed. "I thought you wanted to be alone?"
"Something you didn't want to be," she coldly replied. "Seriously, Dad, we buried Mom four days ago and you're all ready dating. C'mon, she's young enough to be your daughter."
"Kiddo," he said. "It's not what you're thinking but this isn't the place to talk about it."
"Its as good as any," she shot back. "So, arm candy, how long have you been seeing my dad? Should I start practicing calling you mommy?"
Jake looked around. Half the restaurant was staring at them, most pruriently hostile. The young woman glanced over to Jake for guidance. He shook his head in resignation.
"This is not how I wanted to introduce the two of you but you leave me no option," he said after a moment. "Daria, this is Tabitha Braun. She's young enough to be my daughter because that's what she is."
Daria's jaw dropped. For the first time she truly examined Tabitha. The resemblance between them was strong despite her blonde hair. She certainly looked more like her than did Quinn.
"Did mom know?" Daria weakly asked easing herself onto a chair.
"Yes," he replied simply.
Tabitha slid her glass of water over to her. "You probably need it," she explained.
Daria took a long sip. "Okay, chapter and verse," she said coolly.
"Daria, this really isn't..." began Jake.
"I want the whole effing story!" Daria angrily snapped. "Tabby and I looked to be around the same age. Were you cheating on mom while she was pregnant with me or did you knock up her mother then slink back to your wife?"
"For your sake, please, let's go home and talk about this," Jake said.
Daria abruptly stood. "You better be there in fifteen minutes," she said before spinning on her heel and storming out.
"I guess its a good thing we didn't get around to ordering," Tabitha said. "Let's go, Dad. I'll follow you."
"Are you sure you want to come?" he asked. "It probably will get loud."
"She wants to jump in without testing the water first," she replied. "Might as well oblige her."
Jake drove slowly both for the trepidation of telling Daria the truth and to make certain that he did not lose Tabitha trailing behind him in her pick-up truck. He silently prayed pleading to the Divine that no permanent ruptures were born and that all of his girls came to love one another.
Quinn's car was also in the driveway when he pulled up to the house. Jake groaned. He expected her to be with some friends that had not left Lawndale. Another complication to the whole production he thought but on the other hand having the sister that she knew all of her life might help Daria. With her, who knew? She was as much an enigma to him now as she was as a baby.
"Dad, you're not riding into the valley with the four hundred," Tabitha said noting the stricken look on his face when she walked up to where he was waiting for her in front of the house.
"Tabitha, I have wanted my three girls to know each other for years now," Jake replied. "But I wanted it to be under better circumstances."
"I understand," she said. "But, you know, best laid plans and all that."
"Yeah," Jake sighed opening the front door.
Quinn smiled when they entered. Jake hoped it was bona fide.
"Hi, I'm Quinn," she said. "Dad has a lot of explaining to do but can I hug you before things can get out of hand?"
Tears welled in Jake's eyes as the two embraced but the moment was dashed when Daria spoke.
"That's beautiful," she said. "But Quinn was right. Dad has some explaining to do."
"May I express my condolences first?" Tabitha asked.
"Thank you," Quinn replied. "Come sit down beside me."
Quinn and Tabitha sat down on the sofa. Jake took the recliner opposite from the chair Daria chose.
"I asked you a question in the diner," Daria reminded him as silence threatened to lengthen.
"A rude disrespectful question," Tabitha pointed out.
"An understandable one under the circumstances," Jake quickly said before Daria could speak. "But neither scenario was right."
"She's your daughter," countered Daria. "Obviously, you had to sleep with her mother while married to mom. Last I checked that's the definition of adultery."
"Yes it is," Jake said. "But its not as black and white as that."
"It seems simple enough to me," Daria replied. "You have two daughters by two different women. To continue the theme, two-timer is the kindest phrase that comes to mind."
"Except your basic premise is wrong," Jake said.
"Enlighten me," Daria replied bluntly.
He took a deep, calming breath.
"Kiddo, Helen loved you with all of her heart," Jake said gently. "But the truth is that Tabitha is your twin sister."
Daria's mind went blank refusing to process her father's words. "You and mom gave her up for adoption?" she asked hopefully.
"No," he replied.
Daria slowly lowered her face into her hands. The shock of her mother's death still a raw gaping wound ripped wider. The woman she butted heads with for twenty years yet loved so deeply was stolen from her first by a drunk driver and now again by this. Who was her mother?
"At this point, just lie to me," she said not bothering to raise her head. "I need bunnies and sunflowers, not drug-fueled orgies in a commune."
"Daria, I don't have to lie to you, its not sordid," Jake replied in a soothing tone. "Everything about your conception and birth is awash in love and compassion."
"What's my mother's name?" she asked leaning back into her chair.
"Helen," Jake answered.
"You know what I mean," Daria said.
"You know what I mean, too," replied Jake.
"Elsbeth Edwina Sadler Braun," Tabitha supplied.
"Elsbeth Edwina Sadler Braun," Daria snorted. "Was there a great-grandmother with a fortune to be flattered?"
"A favorite great-aunt actually but without a fortune to leave anyone," chuckled Tabitha in reply.
"Okay," Daria slowly acknowledged. "Who was Elsbeth to you, Dad."
"At the time, one of mine and your mother's closest friends," he replied. "She still is."
"How cliché. Tap the best friend," Daria nastily said. "Did you confess after you got Elsbeth pregnant or did mom catch you in the act?"
Jake heaved a sigh. I don't want to discuss the past. Can't she see how much pain I'm in? Yes, she lost her mother but dammit I've lost the woman I loved for over thirty years. I don't know how I managed to get out of bed this morning.
"Helen and I had somewhat more open views about sex back in those days," he began. "We, well, look just accept that your mother knew what was going on."
"She was just hunky dory about you cheating on her with her friends," Daria said in sarcastic dubiousness.
Fine let's just cut through the knot Jake thought angrily. She's not going to let it go. Just tell the truth and get it over with.
"Kiddo, on the night you two were conceived, your mother was in bed with Elsbeth and me," he said a tad more sharply than he intended. "It was dynamite as it was every other time the three of us made love together."
"Whoa, Dad," Quinn groaned. "I mean, TMI."
"She wanted the truth," Tabitha replied.
Daria stared at her father in shocked disbelief. Yes, they were hippies. Yes, they lived in a commune but she thought that they had to have been poseurs. All of her life they had been so conventionally bourgeois. Her getting a boyfriend freaked them out.
"Did you know about this?" she asked Tabitha.
"No, the threesome angle is new to me," she replied. "But knowing mom, not too surprising."
"How..." Daria started. "I don't even know what question to ask first."
"That's easy," Quinn answered. "How could you three be so cruel as to break up sisters, to keep them apart for twenty years? Not to be a father to one of them?"
"Do you think that I liked it?" Jake snapped. "Having a daughter that I could only see once or twice a year. Missing out on so much of her life. Depriving the two of you of her? Christ Almighty, it killed me but that's how Helen and Elsbeth wanted it."
"Wait a minute," Daria said. "You saw her growing up? When?"
"Think about it," Jake replied. "Did any of my jobs really require business trips? A long weekend here and there. It wasn't easy to swing financially sometimes but I had to see her occasionally. It was easier when we lived in Texas. New Mexico, of course, is the next state over..."
"You live in New Mexico," Quinn interrupted.
"Yes, outside of Taos," Tabitha replied.
"Okay," Daria said tossing a peevish glance Quinn's way. "I can understand that but why did Elsbeth give me up to Mom?"
"That was a winding road," Jake answered. "Elsbeth's first inclination when she discovered that she was pregnant was to have an abortion. Helen and I wanted children but the doctor told us that she couldn't conceive so..."
"Stop right there," Quinn interrupted again. "Mom couldn't conceive? I'm adopted too?"
"No, you're not," Jake reassured her. "The doctor was wrong."
"And by the time you found that out you were stuck with me," Daria said.
"Yes, I was stuck with my own daughter," Jake exasperatedly said. "Don't play the martyr, Daria. It doesn't become you. Anyway, as I was saying, Helen convinced Elsbeth to carry the pregnancy to term when we would then raise the child."
"So why didn't Tabitha come along with me?" Daria demanded.
"As the pregnancy progressed, Elsbeth began to have a change of heart. She wanted a child after all," Jake replied. "But she didn't want to hurt Helen because she knew how much it meant to her so when she found out that she was carrying twins, she and Helen struck a bargain."
"One to each," Daria said. "But why..."
"Because they thought that raising you two separately but knowing about each other would be too stressful for the both of you and for us," Jake replied guessing her question. "I disagreed but, at least, I was able to see Tabitha as long as I didn't mentioned you."
"When did you find out?" Daria asked.
"Three days ago when Dad called," Tabitha replied. "I guess my mom felt that it released her from the pact. We spent several hours going through a couple of photo albums with nothing but you in them."
"Every picture you ever took, I sent her a copy," Jake added. "I have some albums of Tabitha squirreled away."
"Did she have any of me?" Quinn asked.
"Sorry, no," Tabitha said.
"We'll have to correct that," she replied.
Tabitha smiled before turning back to the group at large. "I'd like to get to know both of you, be a part of you lives but if you don't want me around, I'm not going to force myself on you."
"Of course, we want you to be a part of our lives," Quinn exclaimed. "How could you think otherwise?"
"Thank you," Tabitha replied grateful for her younger sister's reaction but noting that her twin had not spoken.
Daria rubbed the bridge of her nose trying to force her sudden headache to recede. TMI Quinn said. Yeah, that wrapped it up neatly with bow on top.
"I need to be alone," she said as she stood. "Tabitha, nothing against you but for now I don't want to see you. I've got to sort all of this out."
"I hear you," she replied. "Life has punched you in the gut. If or when you want to talk, Dad knows how to get hold of me."
"Dad," Daria repeated as she walked from the room. "Yeah."
"You said that you had some photo albums of Tabitha," she heard Quinn say as she ascended the staircase to her old room.
"Thanks for coming all the way from Boston," Daria said as she and Jane walked down the neighborhood streets.
Both were bundled in heavy jackets as a sharp March wind with no hint of spring continuously buffeted them in the back. Errant leaves and scraps of litter whirled passed them.
"Hey, no problem, it's the least I can do," Jane replied. "I'm sorry I wasn't in Virginia for the funeral but I couldn't blow off midterms. I'm glad that Trent was there for you."
"He was a trooper. Took one look at us and grabbed Dad's keys," Daria said. "None of us were in any shape to drive or do much of anything for that matter. He drove all the way there and back, arranged a hotel, made sure we ate a little something. He even managed to stay awake during the day. Very unexpected."
"He's slacker personified but he does have his moments," Jane proudly responded.
"Yes," Daria said before lapsing into silence. Jane also remained quiet allowing Daria to set the conversation's pace. She had an inkling that it was something more than grief that prompted Daria to call asking for her to come to Lawndale. Daria would talk when she was ready.
"I have a sister," Daria finally announced.
"Yes, I've met Princess Grace once or twice," Jane replied.
"No, I have another sister, a twin sister," Daria clarified. "I found out about her just a few days ago."
"You're kidding," Jane said. "That sounds like something from a soap opera."
"Except she didn't seem to be evil, bent on mayhem," Daria replied.
Jane chuckled. "That's because you all ready have that base covered."
Daria almost smiled. The world was a little less bleak with Jane around. The story and the emotions came spilling out afterwards. Jane listened sympathetically her only comment until Daria finished was handing her a small packets of tissues she prudently brought along when the tears began to flow in earnest.
"Its like losing Mom twice," Daria said. "I know that she loved me and no matter what she will always be Mom but...right now I'm so angry with her and Dad and Elsbeth and feel horrible that I am."
"Who's Elsbeth?" Jane asked.
"Elsbeth, my birth mother," Daria replied sharply. "Weren't you listening?"
"Sorry, you didn't mention her name before," said Jane. "Just Tabitha."
"Oh, I thought I had," Daria said contritely. "Elsbeth Edwina Sadler Braun. And I thought Daria Morgendorffer was a tough moniker to have through school."
Jane stopped in her tracks. "Elsbeth Braun is your birth mother?"
"Anecdotal evidence points that way," replied Daria. "Why? Do you know her?"
"You've never heard of her?" Jane asked in surprise. "She's one of the great artists of our time. She works in metals. Incredible, intricate works. Beautiful. My God, you're Elsbeth Braun's daughter."
"I'm Helen Morgendorffer's daughter," Daria snapped.
"Sorry, Helen's your mom, I know that," Jane said as they resumed walking. "Believe me, I know that."
"What do you mean by that?" Daria asked.
Jane peered over at her friend. "You never figured out my family structure?"
"Mom, dad, two older brothers, two older sisters," replied Daria. "No dog but other wise typical nuclear family at the turn of the millennium except that no one's ever around."
"For a would be writer you're not as observant as you should be," Jane jokingly chided.
"What dark secrets lurk inside stately Lane manor than?" asked Daria.
"Trent and I are the children of Vincent and Amanda," Jane explained. "Summer, Wind, and Penny are Amanda's but the dad or daddies, who knows, but Vincent never treated them any differently then Trent or me. When he married mom as far as he was concerned it was instant family, her kids became their kids. If they ever did married, that is. I never could find out if they did or didn't."
"No commitment ceremony on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean?" Daria asked alluding to her parents unorthodox marriage rite.
"Knowing those two if it happened it was some aborigine ritual involving invocations to the Earth Mother and ceremonial dishes made with sheep's blood," Jane laughed before growing serious. "Daria, you've just lost your mother and I'm not going to pretend that I know what you're going through. Me and my parents aren't anywhere near as close as you and yours but I do think that you'll lose out on something good if you don't reach out to your sister and birth mother. "
"For all I know Elsbeth might be a total self-absorbed bitch," Daria replied.
"Who kept every photograph of you," Jane said. "Yeah, she probably is. And that Tabitha; drove all the way from New Mexico the moment she discovered that she had a twin sister. Bitches times two. Steer clear of them."
"You're not very good at reverse psychology," Daria replied.
"I'm not going to tell you what to do," Jane countered. "Just don't shut doors just because you're grieving and I'm not saying that because Elsbeth Braun is an artist that I admire. You're my friend, my only real friend and I want you to be happy."
"Happy," Daria snorted.
"As happy as a cynical antisocial loner who just discovered that she's an evil twin can be," Jane replied lightly.
"Hey, Jane," the RA said poking her head into Jane's dorm room at Boston Fine Arts College. "You got a phone call down at the front desk."
"Thanks, Leanne," she replied looking up from her notes and textbook.
"Have you ever considered joining the twenty-first century and getting a cell phone?" Leanne asked rhetorically.
"When the price comes down I will," Jane said.
Moments later she snagged the waiting receiver. "Jane Lane, artist extraordinaire."
"How are classes going?" Daria asked.
"Good. Got my finals next week but I'm pretty confident believe it or not," replied Jane. "I miss having you in Boston, though. Last couple of months have been boring without you."
"Going back to school immediately just wasn't in the cards," Daria said.
"Yeah, I get that," answered Jane. "How are you doing?"
"Better," Daria said. "What are your plans for the summer?"
"Taking the summer off this year," she replied. "I'm caught up so after eighteen straight months of classes I think that I earned a break. What about you?"
"Feel like riding out to New Mexico with my Dad and Quinn and meeting one of the great artists of our time?" asked Daria.
"So you decided to see your birth mother?" Jane asked.
"Yeah," Daria replied. "And I'd like you come along."
"You can stop twisting my arm, I'll go," Jane laughed.