"Hi Kelly! Come here, look at Cindy's new backpack!"
"My dad let me go with him to see Batman! You shoulda seen the Batmobile, and the Batplane, and all the cool bat stuff he had, it was just so awesome!"
"So, can you come to my slumber party? We're going to play dress-up and have a cake and everything!"
"Ewww! Michelle has a big wart on her nose!!"
"I bet if I took all my cars and crashed 'em all together, they would make a pile as big as a house!"
"Who's that over there? I've never seen her before. Why is she reading during recess?"
Daria looked up at the last comment. Usually she was able to tune all the other noisy kids out while she was reading, but today they just seemed louder and more annoying than usual. Besides, that last question had to be about her. She was the only one who used recess for reading.
"Oh, she's such an egghead, that's what she always does. Come on, let's go play on the jungle gym!"
Daria returned to her book without so much as a shrug. She didn't much care what the other kids thought. They were all just stupid kids, all they ever did was talk about nothing all the time. She remembered reading once that people could talk a lot without saying anything. The other kids were like that.
Daria looked up. A girl was standing in front of her, one she'd seen before but never talked to.
"Hi," Daria said, and nothing more.
The girl sucked on her finger a bit. Daria thought it made her look like a little baby, but didn't say anything.
"Did you want something?" Daria asked. She was impatient to get back to her book.
"Me and my friends are going to play house," she said. "Wanna play? You can be the mommy."
Daria raised an eyebrow. "Don't you live in a house?" she asked.
"So then, what's the point of playing something that you already do for real?"
"Um, it's fun."
"Fun? Why is it fun to pretend you're in a house? You could go home and really be in a house, but that isn't fun. So why is it fun to pretend?"
"I dunno. It just is."
"Well, maybe you should think about it." Daria went back to her book, not looking up until the little girl had skipped away to go bother someone else.Jake
"Morgendorffer! Get your ass over here now!"
Jake jumped with surprise, spilling hot coffee onto his hand. "GAHH!" he shouted, dropping the cup and spilling it all over the breakroom floor. The other men in the room glanced briefly over at him, their expressions ranging from contempt to amusement. The familiar lump rose in his throat as he realized that somehow, in some way, he must have screwed up again. He hoped desperately that this wasn't another foul-up like the time he'd accidentally sent ten catalogs to their distributor instead of ten thousand – he'd heard about that one for weeks.
This sounded bad. Jake left the coffee on the floor, pausing not even for a paper towel to clean the mess off his hands as he ran down the hall to Mortoni's office. He nearly plowed headlong into the water-delivery boy on the way, but managed to dodge him well enough to hit the wall instead. His face burned crimson as he heard the derisive chuckling in his wake. It was like that damned military school all over again, right up to the sadistic bastard who ran the place.
Jake realized a moment too late that he was running right by Mortoni's door. He grabbed the doorframe to stop himself at the last second, his watch catching the wood and pulling the hair out of his arm. It felt like he had a nasty scrape as well.
A moment later, he was standing in front of his boss. "You -pant- you wanted to see me, Mr. Mortoni?"
Mortoni shifted his stinking cigar to the other side of his mouth as he glowered up at Jake. "The difference between you, Morgendorffer, and anyone else I have working for me, is that I can practically make my schedule around your screw-ups. Ten thirty AM rolls around, and something is bound to come across my desk that's wrong as all hell and has your name written all over it." Mortoni held up a piece of paper. "Any guesses as to what it is this time?"
If I knew what it was, Jake thought, I wouldn't have messed up in the first place. Aloud, he simply said, "No sir." The military school training surfaced to deal with this latest blow.
"This, Morgendorffer, is the third request for product specs from Howser and Company, who I shouldn't need to remind you is giving us a lot of money in exchange for a new security system. Now, I have in my records that the first two requests for this information crossed your desk two weeks ago, then five days ago. Would you care to get on the phone with Mr. Howser and explain to him why he's being made to wait? Because this is how I now must spend my entire goddamn morning thanks to your little foul-up!"
Jake cringed as Mortoni raised his voice. The worst of it was that he remembered getting the second notice, and knew that if he checked his bulletin board, there was a very strong likelihood he'd find a reminder to himself to get the job taken care of. But, like everything else on his board, it had been quickly covered by dozens of other, similar requests, some of which he couldn't fill because the printing department wasn't churning out the necessary documents fast enough. This, like so many other things, had just slipped through the cracks.
"Look, Morgendorffer," Mortoni continued. "The rest of this department can't keep pulling your weight forever. You've got to put in some effort, or you'll be looking for a new job. Are we fairly clear on that?"
"Yes, Mr. Mortoni, very clear." Jake felt a lump in his throat. He couldn't be out of work now. His paycheck covered the mortgage and the car payment with very little to spare, and Helen's couldn't stretch to fit their entire budget, even though with her recent raise she made more than he did.
"Good. Now, since I need to pull Davidson off the floor to cover this mishap, I'll need you to take his calls for the afternoon. And I don't want to see this sort of thing going on anymore, understood?"
Jake swallowed hard. He wasn't sure he could safely say what he had to say next. "Mr. Mortoni, I… can't be in this afternoon after three o'clock. I have an appointment with my daughter's guidance counselor. But I can make up the time tomorrow by staying as late as you need me to."
Mortoni let out a sigh of exasperation, and walked around his desk to stand directly in front of Jake. Though a full head shorter, he still managed to look terribly intimidating. "Morgendorffer, if your kid is that important to you, you –" Mortoni jabbed a finger into Jake's chest – "might think of what she'll do if her father were to suddenly be out of work."
"S-sir, I –"
"Look, take your damn afternoon off, we'll probably get a lot more done around here without you. But you will stay here tomorrow until your desk is clean, understood? I don't care if it takes until midnight, I don't want any more of our customers put on hold by you."
Jake's heart sank. There went dinner out with Helen. They'd made those reservations two weeks in advance. But there was nothing he could do, unless he wanted to lose his job. "Yes, sir."
"Now get back to work. And try not to screw up any more, it's getting very old very fast."
His face crimson with shame and repressed anger, Jake made his way past his snickering colleagues back to his desk.Helen
"Mom? What are you doing here?"
Helen looked up from her legal briefs to see her daughter entering the classroom, along with her guidance counselor, Vivian. Helen paused for a moment, wondering when exactly she had started thinking of this woman by her first name. Four or five sessions ago, probably.
"Daria, didn't I tell you that your parents would be here today?" Vivian's voice had that bright, saccharine quality that seemed intrinsic to those used to working with young children. It was a sharp contrast to Daria's low monotone.
"No," Daria said. "Where's Dad?"
"Your father must be running a bit late," Helen said as she laid her work aside and stood up to shake Vivian's hand. "He'll be along shortly, I'm sure."
Vivian nodded. "Daria, why don't you go pick out a book to read? I'd like to talk to your mother for a moment."
Daria frowned as she looked around the classroom. "All the books in here are stupid. Can I go to the library?"
"Daria," Helen said. "I need to talk to Ms. Greenburg alone for just five minutes, all right? By the time you got to the library, we'd be finished anyway. You don't have to read any of the books here if you don't want to, but Ms. Greenburg and I need to talk for a moment alone."
Daria pondered that for a moment. "All right," she said, and wandered over to the bookshelf.
"Thank you so much for coming on such short notice," Vivian said, in a low voice that Daria would not hear. "Daria and I have been talking some more, as you know. I have to say, she's an amazingly bright little girl. She's already reading at the fourth- or fifth-grade level."
Helen felt a touch of pride in her little girl. She knew how smart Daria was, of course, but there was something to be said for having it independently verified. "Yes, and I wanted to talk to you about that. We were thinking that perhaps Daria might be able to skip a grade. After all, she's essentially mastered the first grade."
Vivian's smile faded a bit. "But, there are still the same problems we've been seeing all along regarding her interaction with the other kids. She still won't play at recess, or participate in group activities. She never raises her hand in class even though she always knows the answers when called on. The other children used to try to draw her out, but that's happening less and less. I'm worried about the extent to which she's withdrawing. It might make it even more difficult for her to be surrounded by older kids. While I don't deny that she's academically ready for the second or even the third grade, I don't think she's ready to take that step socially."
Helen sighed. It was nothing new, of course. Daria had never played much, even as a baby. Toys bought for someone her age level were quickly abandoned. Nothing seemed to hold her interest until she discovered reading, and at first she and Jake were thrilled to have such a precocious child, reading Dr. Seuss and similar books at the age of three and a half, and chapter books halfway through kindergarten. Daria started becoming more solitary right about when Quinn was entering the terrible twos, and Helen had been relieved at first that she could devote more attention to her youngest daughter, who seemed to need it more than Daria ever had.
"Vivian, I appreciate that Daria's a little quiet, but is it really such a problem? Many children prefer more self-directed activities. My younger sister always kept to herself, and she's doing just fine."
Vivian nodded. "Of course, some children will always be more inwardly focused than others. All the same, there are degrees. Non-interaction with others can be a sign of depression. The reason I called you here today is because I feel Daria may need some counseling beyond that which the school can offer her. I can only see her once every two weeks, and that's simply not enough time for me to be able to reach her in the way she needs."
"Ms. Greenburg," Helen said, feeling a bit less friendly, "are you seriously suggesting that Daria needs to see a psychiatrist? For heaven's sake, she's only six years old!" It was becoming difficult to keep her voice low enough for Daria not to overhear.
Vivian's answer was interrupted as Jake came charging into the room. "Am I late? I had a hard time getting a cab, and then there was traffic, and I couldn't find the room –"
"We're just getting started, Jake," Vivian said. Helen noticed that her voice took on the same tome when she spoke with Jake as when she spoke with children. It would have annoyed her, except that the tone actually seemed to help Jake calm down a bit. "I'm going to go speak with Daria for a moment – Helen, would you mind catching Jake up on what we've been discussing?"
Helen sighed, and thought about how she could phrase her thoughts in the way most suited to keeping her hair-trigger husband from flying off the handle.
"Now, Daria, I want you to tell me what you see when you look at the picture."
Helen glanced at the inkblot. A four-armed man with a pair of briefcases, she thought involuntarily. She wondered what a psychiatrist would make of an answer like that. Daria was a bright girl – Helen wondered what she would come up with.
"What do you mean?" Daria asked. "That's not a picture."
"Well, not the kind of picture we're used to seeing. This picture lets you make up what it's about."
"Then why don't I just draw my own picture?"
That was a typical Daria response. In a way, it made perfect sense. Of course, Daria never drew pictures on her own. It reminded Helen of the time Daria's kindergarten teacher had asked the class to draw a cat, and Daria had cut a photograph from a magazine and turned that in, explaining that it looked a lot more like a cat than a drawing would have.
"For instance," Vivian continued, "one little boy or girl might look at it and see a fire truck or a house. Another might see a herd of beautiful wild ponies running free across the plains."
"It's just a black splotch."
Helen knew that tone of voice. Daria had made up her mind and wouldn't be convinced otherwise. Helen wondered if maybe Daria really could see something in the inkblot, but felt that it was too silly or childish to say aloud. There was no way to know.
Vivian put the inkblot down. "Daria, what's your favorite game to play at recess?"
"I don't like games. I like to read."
That was exactly what Helen expected to hear, but it worried her nonetheless. She had hoped that Daria might have started coming out of her shell by now, but apparently nothing had changed since kindergarten. She still avoided the other children.
"Don't you enjoy playing with the other children?" Vivian pressed.
"Not really. They never understand what I'm talking about and then they make fun of me. I like to read."
Helen glanced at Jake, and saw her own concern mirrored there. They had a very bright, very intelligent little girl – but she was socially awkward, and she was already hurting because of it. Daria had never dealt well with her feelings. If she hurt, she wouldn't say so, she just avoided the cause of the pain as best she could. But she couldn't avoid the other kids forever.
"Do the other children have fun when they play together?"
"I guess so."
"Do they ever ask you to play with them?"
"Then, don't you think you would have fun if you played with them?"
Daria shrugged. "All the boys play sports that I'm no good at. All the girls play stupid make-believe games. It's not fun for me."
"What do you think would be fun for you?"
Daria fell silent.
Her child's continued silence was more troubling to Helen than any of her previous statements. It meant that she was really upset, so upset that she didn't dare speak for fear she might cry.
Finally, Daria looked over at her parents. "Can we go home now?" she asked.
Helen stood up. Maybe they could try to talk her out of her shell on the way home, and find out what was really troubling her. She would have to be careful about it though, and try to reason with her daughter. If Daria felt like crying again, she would go silent, and that would be the end of it.Quinn
"I like lots of kids!"
Quinn bounced happily in the back seat, excited to be on her way home from another great day at kindergarten. Oh sure, Billy, Bobby, and Bret (or was it Brad?) got into another argument over who would bring her milk for snack time, but it was kind of cute the way they all wanted to do things for her.
"They call me Egghead."
That was Daria talking again. Quinn didn't know why Daria seemed to be so sad all the time. Maybe it was because she always had to read. Quinn didn't like the books Daria read. They had no pictures. She wondered sometimes who was making Daria read them.
"Sweetie, it's a little hard for your father and me to keep taking time off from work to talk to the counselor. Why don't you meet us halfway and try talking to the other kids?"
"They don't say anything that interests me."
Was Mommy angry? It was hard to tell. She was using her voice that she used when Quinn did something wrong in front of company. The one where she wanted to yell but she didn't because there were people around, like the time Quinn had tried out Mommy's make-up kit while the Andersons were over for dinner. Maybe she was angry that Daria didn't talk to the other kids.
"I talk to lots of kids, and they talk back!" There. That should make Mommy feel better.
"Daria, how do you know they don't interest you?"
Why was Mommy still talking to Daria? Quinn was trying to tell her about the other kids! Daria was ruining everything.
"I'm tired," Daria said, and got out of the car. Oh, they were home. Quinn hadn't noticed.
"I'm not tired!" she said, hoping Mommy would talk to her now. Daddy still hadn't said anything.
"Quinn, please… I don't have time right now," Mommy said as she got out of the car.
Quinn was still bouncy. After all, Daddy was still here, and Daddy always liked to talk to her. "Daddy, do you want to know what happened in school today? I met this girl named Alexi and she has the cutest shoes –"
"That's nice, Quinn," Daddy said as he got out of the car.
"Wait, Daddy!" Quinn said as she followed him into the house. "I haven't told you about her hair yet!"
"And then Chloe came over and said how she had a pair of shoes just like Alexi's and then Tricia pointed at them and said they were just the same, and Chloe said that that's what she said, and then Bart came over and said how pretty my hair looked, and I said 'Thanks Bart' and he said his name was Brian or something, and then –"
"Can I be excused?" Daria asked.
Quinn glared at Daria. Why was she interrupting like that? The best part was coming up.
"Daria, you've hardly touched your dinner."
Quinn looked over. Daria still had most of her lasagna on her plate. Why wasn't she eating? It wasn't like this was one of Daddy's dinners that tasted all weird and everything. Even Mommy didn't finish her dinner on those nights.
"I'm not very hungry, Mom. Can I go upstairs now?"
"Daria, sit down and finish your dinner!"
Uh-oh. Daddy sounded mad.
"But I'm not hungry," Daria said.
Couldn't Daria tell Daddy was mad? Why didn't she just eat her dinner and make him happy again? Why didn't she talk to the other kids if that's what people wanted her to do?
"Daria, please try to finish your dinner," Mommy said.
Daddy got up and left the table. He hadn't finished his dinner. Quinn could tell he was very mad. Daria had to notice. Maybe she would finish her dinner now and Daddy could be happy again.
"Can I be excused now?" Daria asked.
Quinn woke up to the sound of yelling. Loud, angry yelling.
"Damn it, Helen, that's it! I go in there every day to face a psychotic boss in a job that makes me feel like a freakin' slave, then I have to come home and deal with this? How much am I supposed to take?"
It was hard to understand all the words, but Quinn could tell that they were very angry, very bad words. She had heard Daddy use words like that when he talked about his daddy. Quinn wondered if that was what he was talking about now.
"Jake, this isn't about you, it's about her, having a little trouble fitting in!"
Who were they shouting about? Was it Daria? Was Daddy still mad at Daria because she didn't finish her dinner?
"She doesn't want to fit in, damn it! Why can't you admit that?!"
More bad words. Daddy must be very mad at Daria. What did she do? Was this about how she didn't want to talk to other kids?
"Jake, she's a child, she doesn't know any better!"
"That's what she wants you to believe!!"
Quinn felt tears going down her face. Daddy was so angry, all because of Daria. Why was Daria making everyone so upset? It wasn't fair!
"Where are you going?"
The door slammed. Hard. Quinn crawled quickly under her blanket and hid, shivering.
The car started. It was really late. Where was Daddy going?
Was he ever coming back?
Quinn felt so scared. Sometimes when she was scared, she would go peek into Daria's room, and if Daria was sleeping, Quinn knew it was safe. Daria was smart, she knew when everything was all right, and so Quinn would know. But this time, Daria had started it all. If Quinn went to Daria's room, would Mommy and Daddy be mad at her too? She didn't want Daddy to yell about her like that! She wanted Daddy to come upstairs, and tell her everything was okay, like he did when Quinn had bad dreams. But this wasn't a bad dream, even though it felt like one, and Daddy wasn't coming.
Quinn curled up tightly in one corner of her bed; it felt better that way. The house was very quiet. She thought she heard Daria moving around in her room, but it was hard to tell. Mommy wasn't coming up the stairs. She was still there, Quinn knew, but she wasn't coming up. Quinn wished she would. She wanted a hug right now.
It was all Daria's fault.
Well, if Mommy and Daddy were mad because Daria wouldn't talk to the other kids, Quinn would talk to the other kids even more. She would be everybody's friend, and all the boys and girls would like her. She would start by making sure she got even cuter shoes that Chloe and Alexi had. After that… well, she would do something else.
But she could never tell anyone that Daria was her sister, or they might not talk to her anymore…Helen
Helen looked at herself in the mirror by the door, where she had watched her husband drive off in a rage. Her eyes were still red from crying, a long, soul-cleansing cry that had left her physically exhausted.
She had never seen him like that before. Of course, she knew Jake had a low frustration threshold – she remembered the time he'd gotten upset at the Pentagon and had actually run up and kicked the building. Or the time the squirrels had gotten into their tent on their honeymoon, he'd spent half the night chasing around the forest with a large stick, swiping at everything that moved and cursing the universe. But this… this was different.
Thinking back, Helen realized what it was that frightened her about it. One time, before they were married, Helen had insisted on meeting Jake's parents. Jake had hesitated at the time, but went along with it. When they showed up on the doorstep, Jake's mother had greeted them warmly enough, even though Helen could tell she didn't quite meet this woman's "standards" of what a perfect wife should be. When Jake's father got home, though… well, Helen had been yelled at before by her own parents, but that was nothing compared to the torrent this awful man had unleashed over her poor Jake. They'd gotten out of there fast and never went back until Jake's father was safely dead.
Helen used to wonder how such a wonderful, gentle, loving man like her husband could ever have been spawned by that… that monster. But tonight, she had seen that the monster lived in Jake as well.
She knew – absolutely knew, without a doubt – that Jake would never physically harm her or the children, or deliberately hurt his own family in any other way. For his to have let his anger out like he had, things must be going worse for him than Helen had realized. Whether it was stress at work, or his old fear of being unable to raise his kids properly without having had a decent role model to follow, Helen didn't know. But she needed to help him.
She shook her head. It was too hard to think about this, and there was so much work she still had to do. When she took time off, the work didn't just go away, and the briefs on the Pendleton case had to be prepared by the next morning, domestic crisis or not. Besides, the work would help clear her head.
Helen crept into her office, unwilling to disturb the silence that had settled on the house. Her little girls would need comforting, but she couldn't offer it right then. She certainly wasn't up to facing Daria and what were sure to be difficult questions, and to go to Quinn and leave Daria alone would just make things worse. It would have to wait until morning.
She closed the door to her little office behind her, and sat at her desk with a long sigh. Within moments, she was absorbed in her work, and the bad feelings of the evening were tucked away behind a tightly closed door. This was the answer, this was what she would have to do. Climb the corporate ladder, make herself a success at work and at home, and take some of the pressure off of Jake. She could do it. She was already the best attorney at the firm, even though they seemed to have a problem promoting women. She would find another firm where she could rise to the top.
And when the girls had their crises, Helen would be there to take care of them. She would make sure Jake didn't have to worry about it anymore…Jake
Jake drove the car straight out of town, his shoulders tight with rage. How the hell had he gotten where he was now? How had his life become such a monumental goddamn screw-up?
His job, there was a great place to start. If the Jake from ten years ago could just see him now, working his tail off for a lousy mini-Mussolini, sacrificing what little was left of his pride on a daily basis – no, make that an hourly basis! He'd almost lost himself in that damned military school. He'd found himself again with Helen. That beautiful day of their commitment ceremony was the day he finally knew he was his own man, living his own life on his own terms.
Helen hadn't wanted children right away, which suited Jake fine. He was scared to death of them. All that responsibility, having to raise an actual person… well, Jake just wasn't up for it. It came as a hell of a shock years later to learn that Helen was pregnant, but he'd smiled and pretended to be as overjoyed as she was.
Then little Daria came into his life… well, Jake couldn't say that holding her wasn't wonderful, or that those tiny little smiles she made him work so hard for didn't melt his heart. But God, she still terrified him. Her tiny life in his hands… the idea that he'd just been handed someone who needed him to grow and learn, who needed his guidance and example… how to do it? How to be a father?
And she was never what he expected. Daria hardly ever cried, but she never laughed much either. Her eyes seemed so intense and focused, like she was watching the world around her and daring it to make its next move. Other babies seemed to annoy her. Especially Quinn, once she came around. Quinn had been another surprise, they had planned to stop with just one. Jake couldn't remember why, it had something to do with their young ideas about not contributing to overpopulation. He could hardly identify with that man he was then, with all his youthful idealism and enthusiasm. It seemed like a hundred years ago.
All of a sudden, Jake had found himself with a family to provide for in every way. Helen stayed home with the children, even though they both knew she had a higher earning potential with her law degree. There had simply been a silent agreement at the time – Jake couldn't bear the responsibility of raising the kids. So he took the first job he could find that paid a sufficient wage, and to this day he kept a stiff upper lip and took whatever Mortoni threw at him. He was a provider now. His family had to eat.
He was trying so hard! Why was Daria so unhappy? Was it something he did? Did he screw this up like he did everything else?
Jake's vision blurred as he fought back tears. He pulled off the highway, into a truck stop. He felt like he'd been awake for ten years. He'd get some coffee before going home.
Could he really face going home tonight? The rage had passed, leaving behind a hollow, gut-wrenching feeling he knew very well from years of experience – shame. What had made him fly off the handle like that? His little girl was having trouble at school, and he had hollered and raved as if she were doing it to him deliberately. It was when Helen had said she didn't know what to do; that had hit hard. If Helen didn't know what to do, then how was he supposed to know? Dammit, he went in there every day to face a psychotic boss and a job that made him feel like a friggin slave –
Suddenly Jake's heart dropped into his shoes.
She'd heard him.
She must have. Jake had yelled loud enough to wake the neighborhood. He had stood there in his house, screaming about his daughter, and poor Daria must have heard every word. What must she be thinking? How could he go home and face her now?
My God, thought Jake.
What have I done?
The television was broken, just like everything else in the miserable flophouse they somehow tried to pass off as a motel. Jake could have really used the distraction from his own morose thoughts, but there was none to be had. He lay in the lopsided bed, unable to even close his eyes, let alone sleep.
"I'm a lousy father," he whispered into the darkness.
Well, it wasn't like he'd had anyone to show him how. He wished he could be more like Helen. She always seemed to know what was best, and even when she didn't know, she still seemed to handle things better than he could. They both wanted only what was best for their girls, it was just that Helen seemed to be so much better at providing it.
Perhaps it would be better to let her take the lead from now on, at least until Jake could find his way and learn how to be a better father. Perhaps it would be better if he just didn't worry or talk about the important things, and let Helen deal with them. Things were already tending that way anyhow.
One thing Jake was sure of. The first opportunity he got, he was leaving Mortoni and his slave-driving outfit behind. And once he did, he was opening his own business. Jake would prove that he could give the customers what they wanted – hell, he'd tell them what they wanted!
To be my own boss, Jake thought. That's what I need. And I'll do it, too, no matter what Mortoni or my lousy father would have to say about it!
As Jake finally slipped off to sleep, he thought about his poor little girl. He swore to himself one more thing, one thing more important than anything else. She would never, ever see him so angry with her again. There were always other things he could get angry about instead…Daria
The morning sun cast a glow on the cardboard, the birds chirped outside as dawn broke. It was the light that awoke Daria.
At first, she was only aware of how uncomfortable she was, slouched up against a hard wall, half on the worn cushion, half off. The world around her was a dim blur, and as she reached up to rub her eyes, she noticed her glasses were missing. She must have had them, though, because there was a book in her lap and she couldn't read without them.
Suddenly Daria remembered what had happened the night before. She dropped her book and got up on her hands and knees, feeling for her glasses. Once she found them, she started toward the slightly open end of the box.
Then she stopped.
Turning around, she saw her books, her pillow, her blanket. All she really needed was there, it seemed. Why leave the box at all? She could just stay there forever. Or until she got hungry. Or had to go to the bathroom. She couldn't really stay at all.
Suddenly, she didn't want to stay in there for another moment.
Quickly she picked up her books, tucked them under one arm, made her way out of the darkness into the lighted room. Everything seemed more cheerful in the light, with the sun shining, and the fresh air coming in through the window. Daria almost felt like she could forget about how scared she had been, how worried that she had done something wrong.
It was still very early, she could tell by how the sun was just starting to come up. Quietly, Daria crept into the hall, tiptoeing past Quinn's room. Quinn was still sleeping, all curled up in one corner of her bed. Daria was glad of that – she didn't want to talk to Quinn. Quinn was like all the other kids, she didn't understand. But at least she didn't make fun like the others did.
The door to her parent's room was closed. Daria wanted to open it, wanted to make sure Dad had gotten home okay last night from wherever he went. As quietly as she could, Daria tiptoed up to the door and carefully opened it. Her mom was there, sleeping on top of the covers, still dressed. Her dad was not there.
Daria closed the door as quietly as she had opened it, and went back to her room, where the box was. She sat down in front of it, looking inside. The box was darker than the room, and looking in it made Daria think of how bad she felt, how much she wanted to hide, but she couldn't hide in the box anymore. She didn't want the box anymore. She didn't want to even think about it.
Daria went to the room where her mother kept all her law books and files, and borrowed a large pair of scissors. Quinn wasn't allowed to use them, but Helen had told Daria she could. She took the scissors back to the box, put her books down beside it, and began to cut it up into pieces she could take downstairs and throw away. From now on, she would need to figure out how to hide within herself, and outside the box.
But she wished… she wished so hard that there could be one person, that she had just one friend, from whom she would never, ever have to hide.The End
For this story… no end notes. Anything that wasn't explained in the story was meant to be left hanging. If anyone is really interested in how and why it was written, send me a mail at MikeYamiolkoski@cs.com.
For those who haven't seen the episode "Boxing Daria", and even for those who have, I recommend Adam Spradlin's novelization of the episode, which can be found at http://www.outpost-daria.com/fanfic/ep513_boxing_daria.html.
Thanks to Glenn Eichler and all those who make Daria possible, the webmasters who post this story, and my wife Rachel for doing her usual superb job in beta-reading.
Daria and other characters are owned by MTV.
This story Copyright 2001 by Mike Yamiolkoski.
This story may only be reproduced in its entirety with the above notice intact.