Hazy Shade of Winter

by Diane Long

This story picks ups immediately following the events of Too Much Ado About Everything. Standard disclaimer applies.

Chapter One

Daria squinted and rubbed her eyes. She had been reading for over six hours and was feeling the strain. She was working on a "special" project that Mr. O'Neill had cooked up just for her. She rolled her eyes, once again annoyed that she had landed Mr. O'Neill as her senior English AP * teacher. Wasn't once enough? And true to form, he always made sure she was challenged. Everyone else in her class got to write an autobiography, but she got the special assignment of researching a handwritten diary of one of Lawndale's founding fathers. That had necessitated her taking a trip to the county library so she could have access to the historic texts. And as this library was way out in the countryside, and since her car was in the repair shop, she had needed to have Trent give her a lift. She also was expecting him to pick her up when the library closed at six.

* Advanced Placement (AP) courses are college level academic courses that are taken by high school students in place of typical secondary level academics. After completion of the course is an exam. If a high enough score is obtained, the student will get college credit for the course. In other words, this is a way to get some basic college courses out of the way, allowing many students to graduate from college ahead of schedule. -Diane

illustration by Diana Morgan

She checked the time. The library was closing in half an hour. She considered calling Trent to remind him to come and get her, but decided against it. She didn't want to appear untrusting. Shaking her head, she read the last few pages of the diary and took some final notes. Satisfied that she had enough information to complete her project, Daria began to pack up. By the time she had straightened up all of her papers and tucked them away in her backpack, the library was closing up for the night. Glancing out the window at the falling snow, Daria put on her scarf, mittens, earmuffs, and heavy wool overcoat. She slung her backpack over her shoulder and walked out of the main entrance, expecting to see Trent waiting in his car. He wasn't there yet. Nonplussed, she leaned against one of the massive pillars supporting the library's porch and watched the road. It was snowing after all, and there was probably a delay on the highway. The librarian left right on her heels and locked up the doors. He looked at her closely.

"Will you be alright, miss?"

"I'm waiting to be picked up. Thanks."

"Good. It's awfully cold tonight. Below zero." With that, the librarian headed around the side of the building towards the back parking lot.

Cold indeed. This was one of the coldest, snowiest, winters Daria had ever experienced. It had hardly ever snowed in Highland, Texas, and up till this year, the winters in Lawndale, Connecticut had been mild. Daria wasn't coping with the cold very well. She just couldn't seem to stay warm, no matter how warmly she dressed. She was even cold inside most of the time. Of course, the fact that she had been fighting the flu all week didn't help any. She crossed her arms and stomped her feet in an attempt to keep warm. Her breath fogged out in front of her as she looked down the road for any sign of Trent's car. Hopefully, he hadn't forgotten, or even worse, fallen asleep. The county library was a good twenty miles from Lawndale and in an undeveloped, rural location. It was too far to walk home, and at this time of the evening, the few local businesses would all be closed for the night. There weren't any obvious pay phones around either. If Trent forgot her, she was stuck.

illustration by Diane Long

She checked her watch. It was 6:20. This time of year, that meant the bluish hues of the winter twilight were quickly giving way to a more saturated darkness. Daria was so cold it hurt. The snow was picking up too. She peered down the road hoping for any sign of Trent's car. She was getting worried now. If Trent didn't come for her, she was in serious trouble. She really didn't know the way back, plus it was dark now and the rapidly falling snow made visibility even worse. If she tried to walk home, she would probably fall off a cliff, or worse. No, she should just stay put, so someone could find her. That is, if anyone was looking.

Daria shook her head to banish that nasty little thought. Instead, she forced herself to think back over the events of the last few weeks. She and Trent had become a romantic item at the beginning of that time and were slowly adjusting to the changes this caused in their lives. She pursed her cold lips into a small smile. The first memory to come to mind was the awkwardness that she had experienced the morning after the 'big kiss'. She could see it now...

...After a night of serious smooching, Daria awoke to find herself on the basement couch in Trent's arms.

"Gahhh!" she yelped, bolting upright.

Trent continued sleeping, serenely oblivious to Daria's panic.

She had thought it was all a dream, a very nice dream, but a dream, as in not real. But here she was, in the Lane basement, with Trent right there. Touching her. She pinched herself just to be sure she was awake. Yes, it was real. In the abstract, or in dreams, kissing Trent was all well and good, but really doing it? What happened next? Were they going out? Was it a one-time thing? Could she ever look him in the eye again? What if they couldn't be friends anymore? She didn't know the rules of this game, and the more she thought about it the more she became convinced she had made a terrible mistake. Completely unable to cope with this new development, Daria decided that discretion was the better part of valor. She furtively disengaged herself from Trent and tiptoed up the basement stairs, intent on getting the hell out of the house as soon as possible. Hopefully he would think it was all a dream. With any luck, Jane would still be asleep, and Daria could make a clean getaway. Later, if she was clever, and lucky, maybe she could convince Jane that nothing had happened. This pathetic attempt at logic comforted her as, trying to be as quiet as possible, she unlocked the basement door and slowly pushed it open.

"Well, well, well," drawled an all too familiar voice.

Daria froze. Much to her dismay, she saw that Jane was seated at the kitchen table with a steaming mug of coffee.

Jane smiled smugly. "Have fun?"

Daria looked at Jane with wild eyes, then panned her gaze towards the back door. It was slightly ajar. Taking this as her best bet, Daria shot towards and through the door. Soon she was pelting home as fast as she could go, ignoring Jane's shouts behind her...

Coming back to the present, Daria stamped her feet some more, trying to get her toes warm. She wished Trent would hurry, just like he had hurried over to her house after Jane had told him of her flight...

...She was reclining on her bed reading, and trying not to think about Trent. Jane had tried to call several times, but Daria had refused to take any calls. The phone hadn't rung for the last twenty minutes, so Daria began to relax, figuring Jane had given up for a while.

There was a knock on the door.

"Mmmm?" she asked, wondering which family member had come to annoy her.

There was no answer, but she heard the door swing open. She waited for her visitor to make their demands and leave. Whoever it was, they didn't say anything. Annoyed by the continued silence, she kept her eyes focused on her book, and said dryly, "I'm sorry, the occupant of this room is currently unavailable. Please leave a message at the tone, and I won't get back with you as soon as possible. Beeep."

"Good one, Daria," said Trent's voice.

Daria made a little squeaking sound and dropped her book. She looked up to see him standing hesitantly in her doorway. She stared at him, feeling panicked. Unfortunately, as he was blocking the door, there was nowhere to run.

"Can I come in?" he asked quietly.

She nodded, her checks flushing.

He sat down at her desk, making a point not to get too close. He looked at her miserably. "I won't be here long. I just wanted to apologize for last night."

Daria arched an eyebrow questioningly. Speech didn't seem possible.

"When Janey told me how you ran out of the house, I realized ... anyway, I'm sorry."

Daria continued to stare at him.

Interpreting this silence as anger, Trent looked at her sadly and headed towards the door without another word. He had just left the room when Daria found her voice.

"Wait."

He paused just outside of her room and turned around.

Daria scooted to the edge of the bed and put her feet on the floor. "It's not like that at all. Let me try to explain. Come in ... and shut the door."

Trent did so and sat back down at the desk, his body language telling how much he was hurting. Daria cared for him way too much to allow him to blame himself for her emotional turmoil. She had to try to make him understand that this was her problem and not his, no matter how difficult it would be for her to articulate this.

She took a deep breath. "You don't need to apologize. I ..." here, she faltered. "I wanted you to kiss me. Very much."

"Yeah?" Trent looked a little hopeful.

"Oh yeah," she paused, toying with her skirt's hem. "But, I had never done that before, and..." she stopped.

"And?"

"It scared me." She looked at her bootlaces, unable to face him.

"Huh?"

"It scared me because it made me feel...you know..." she trailed off.

"Uh...no."

Daria struggled to find the words. She really didn't have words to describe how Trent's kisses had made her feel, but she approximated. "It made me feel...umm...important? Yes, important. "She got up and stood with her back facing Trent. "I've never felt like that before, and when I woke up this morning, with you, I was certain the joke was on me."

"What joke?"

"How could I ever be important to someone like you? How could I even face you knowing I had believed that for a second? Especially after we..." She gestured emphatically to indicate all of the kisses. "I had to leave. I had to get out of there before you woke up and realized your mistake."

She turned around and faced him dramatically. "I didn't want to see your regret."

A look of understanding softened Trent's face. "No regrets here, Daria."

"Oh." She looked deflated and confused. In her heart of hearts she had truly expected him to reject her.

Trent got up and went to her. He stood very close but did not touch her. "Do you know what your problem is?"

"What?" Daria stiffened. Now the axe would fall.

"You are important, but no one ever told you." He raised a hand and stroked her hair.

Daria looked at him dubiously. "You don't have to say things like that, just because you kissed me," she grumbled.

Trent frowned. "See? You don't believe me, because you don't believe it yourself." The hand that was in her hair slid down to the small of her back. "For a smart girl, you sure miss the obvious."

Daria trembled a little. Being this close to another person still felt very strange. It wasn't that she didn't like it, she just wasn't sure what she was supposed to do. She awkwardly placed a hand on his shoulder. "O-obvious?"

Trent applied pressure to her back and pushed her closer. "Yeah. Only important girls make me want to do this." He kissed her, trying to prove his words through action. Then he stared at her intently, willing her to believe him.

She smiled shyly. "I guess I can't argue with your logic."

"Then why don't you kiss me instead?"

"Trent. I ...um...just told you... that, umm... I haven't ...kissed ...anyone before. I don't know how to do it right," she admitted anxiously.

"You did last night."

"No," she said, her anxiety making her sound a little cross. "That was all you kissing me."

"Well, now it's your turn. I'll close my eyes so you won't be nervous."

Daria watched him close his eyes. She waved her hand in front of them to make sure he wasn't peeking. She hesitated, worrying that she would appear foolish. While she dithered, Trent comically puckered his lips as a hint. She laughed a little. Hell, how hard could it be? Moving quickly, while she had the courage, she darted forward and gingerly pressed her lips to Trent's in a quick peck. She pulled back and waited for a reaction.

He opened his eyes slowly and beamed at her. "That was an excellent start. All you need is a little practice." He leered. "Make that a lot of practice."...

Daria came out of her reverie when her teeth started chattering. She checked the glowing face of her watch. It was 8:00. Two hours had flown by while she mused. She was shaking violently now, and her arms and legs felt stiff. She couldn't move around very well anymore, and being still was only helping her body temperature drop. Seriously worried, she decided to take her luck on the road while she could still walk. Maybe she would get lucky and find a pay phone.

Meanwhile, Trent was driving as fast as he dared along the snowy country roads. Because of traffic delays caused by an accident, he was running two hours late, and he was worried about Daria. She was very vulnerable to the cold to start with and Trent was sure that she had been hiding flu symptoms for the past week already. She could get pneumonia. She could even get frost bite. It was dangerously cold. He squinted as he peered through the thickly falling snow. His headlights barely shone two feet ahead, and the visibility was horrible. As he fought the weather, he thought back to Daria's first kiss. She had been so nervous that she wouldn't do it right. So worried he would reject her. He had even closed his eyes so she would feel more comfortable. The soft flutter of her lips against his had been adorable. After all of the club chicks Trent had known (and kissed), the innocence of that kiss had tasted indescribably sweet. Of course, in the weeks that had passed since then, Daria had gotten in quite a bit of practice. The technique was improving but the sweetness remained.

It was clear that she still felt awkward about being touched. She always stiffened when he touched her. It had upset him at first because he had worried that she didn't like him touching her. Then he began to notice that she usually loosened up after a few moments, as if she was warming up to the idea. He had wondered why she was like that, and had asked Jane. After all the things Janey said about the Morgendorffers, he understood where Daria was coming from. It seemed like her family life hadn't included much expression of love, by word or touch. Showing and receiving affection was an entirely new experience for her, and she was trying to figure it all out. From then on, he made a point of touching her in small ways whenever possible, to keep introducing her to the sensation. It was working too, she no longer seemed so embarrassed when he held her hand or put a casual arm around her shoulders.

A flicker of motion caught Trent's eye and interrupted his thoughts. He slowed the car and looked carefully into the blowing snow. In an eerily sudden motion, Daria appeared in the car's headlights. Trent slammed on the brakes, causing the car to skid toward her in a sloppy arc. He sucked in a tight breath and pumped the brake pedals frantically. It didn't look like he was going to be able to stop in time. Why wasn't Daria getting out of the way? The car was slowing down, but he was still going to hit her. Trent held his breath. Here it came. Barely moving, the car lightly tapped Daria's shins before it stopped. This seemed to bring her out of some trance and she blinked dazedly in the glare of the headlights.

Trent leapt out of the car. "Daria!"

"T-t-t-t-t..." Daria's teeth were chattering too hard for her to speak properly.

"What are you doing? I could have really hit you!" Trent wrapped his arms around her and started chaffing her back to get her warm. "Oh, man. You look terrible. There was a huge wreck on the highway. Traffic was stopped for hours. I'm so sorry."

Daria just buried her head in his chest and tried to soak up his warmth.

"Come on, let's get in the car. I've got the heat cranked all the way up."

Trent led Daria over to the car and opened the passenger door for her, and she stiffly climbed inside. Trent grabbed an old wool blanket out of the back seat and wrapped it around her. Satisfied she was tucked in as snugly as possible, Trent shut the passenger door and trotted around to the driver side. Getting in, he looked at her worriedly.

"Daria?"

Still shaking, she turned to look at him, not saying anything.

"Daria, are you okay?"

She frowned at that.

Trent grimaced. "I'll take that as a no." He grabbed a thermos off the seat and shook it vigorously. "I hope this is still hot."

Daria watched with interest as he unscrewed the lid. A cloud of steam drifted out of the container as Trent poured some hot chocolate into the thermos lid and handed it to her. Unfortunately, she was still shaking hard enough to slosh most of it onto the blanket.

"Here." Trent cupped his hands around Daria's to control the shakes. With his hands still around hers, Daria raised the cup to her lips and took a long drink and drained the lid. Without comment, Trent refilled the lid. This time she drank it without his help.

"Mmmm." She handed the lid back to Trent. "Thanks," she said softly.

"You okay now?"

"Yeah," she lied. She was warming up, but she felt achy and light headed.

Trent arched an eyebrow. She was probably lying, but he deiced to let it slide.

"Cool." He leaned over and thumbed the tip of her nose. "Let's go."

Trent turned the car around and started the half hour drive home. Before they had gone a mile Daria had fallen fast asleep.

Chapter Two

Jane was sitting on the living room couch flipping distractedly through an art magazine. She looked up as the front door opened. Trent came in, carrying a sleeping and blanket wrapped Daria in his arms.

"Trent!" "She exclaimed. "Are you guys okay?"

"Shhh! She's asleep. Where should I put her?" Trent whispered.

Jane lowered her voice. "Sorry. Take her to my room."

Trent headed up the stairs with Jane following on his heels.

"What happened? You left to get her three hours ago. I was worried," Jane whispered.

Trent went into Jane's room and gently lay Daria on the bed. He sat by her and began unlacing one of her boots.

"I got caught in traffic for two hours."

"Before or after you got Daria?"

"Before." Trent pulled the boot off, and began unlacing the other.

"Oh, man. She waited in the cold that long? She's probably going to get sick."

Trent set the second boot on the floor then began massaging some warmth into Daria's icy feet. "I think she already is, Janey. She hardly said a word on the way home."

"That's not a surprise," Jane remarked while she pulled of Daria's gloves and scarf.

"Yeah, but I think she's been sick all this week. This couldn't have helped."

"Hmmmm." Jane was now sliding Daria out of her overcoat. "She does look a little flushed." She felt Daria's forehead with the back of her hand. "Yup. She has a fever."

At this moment Daria woke up and weakly tried to bat Jane's hand away.

"Stop touching me," she croaked painfully.

"Oh, and a sore throat too. Gee Daria, even your viruses are over achievers," Jane quipped.

"What?" Daria mumbled, sounding confused.

"How do you feel?" Trent asked, continuing his massage.

Daria yawned. "Cold."

Jane smiled wryly. "How about a hot bath?"

Daria perked up a bit. "Please."

Trent stood up. "I'll go run the water. You want bubbles, Daria?"

"No."

Trent looked thoughtful and sauntered out of the room. Soon Daria and Jane could hear the sound of water running. They exchanged glances.

"Don't worry," Jane assured Daria. "There isn't any bubble bath on the premises."

"That's a relief." Daria stiffly pushed herself up into a seated position. She rested her head against headboard. "My head hurts."

"Sinuses?" Jane asked.

"How the hell should I know?" Daria snapped half-heartedly.

Jane rolled her eyes and walked over to the closet and dug around in the clutter. "It's a good thing you were planning on spending the night. At least you don't have to go back out in the cold."

"Yeah. What are you looking for?"

"A bathrobe for you."

"I have my own sleepwear thank-you. Your grandmother can keep her damn night gown," Daria groused, fully awake now.

Jane pulled a wrinkled but substantial looking terry cloth robe. "You sure you don't want this? My parents stole it from a hotel."

"Hmmm."

"Come on, I'll fluff it in the dryer while you're in the tub. It'll be warm."

"Okay." Daria swung her legs over the edge of the bed and unzipped her jacket. "Warm sounds very good."

She stood up, fighting a wave of dizziness. Jane noticed and rushed over to support her.

"Whoa. Maybe you should go see a doctor."

Daria shrugged Jane's hand off of her shoulder. "I'll be okay, but I'm probably very contagious. Maybe I should go home after the bath. I don't want you to catch this." Daria started walking towards the bathroom, sliding one hand along the wall to keep her balance.

Jane followed closely, ready to lend a hand if needed. "No way. They wouldn't take good care of you. Then you really would need a doctor."

"Or an undertaker."

Trent had poked his head out of the bathroom door as they approached. "The bath's ready." He was obviously trying to hide a smile.

"What are you up to?" Daria asked suspiciously as she entered the bathroom. Then she saw it. There were bubbles in the bath. Lots of bubbles. So many in fact, that there was a steady stream of bubbles oozing from the tub onto the floor. Daria sighed and looked sideways at Trent.

Jane looked amused. "What did you use?"

"Dishwashing liquid," Trent said with a self-satisfied grin.

"At least it cuts grease." Daria smiled her thanks at Trent. She could have done without the bubbles, but it was a sweet thought.

"And smells lemony fresh!" Jane added. "Come on Trent, let's go, unless you want to watch."

"Out, both of you," Daria said firmly and closed the door behind them. Bubbles or not, she couldn't wait to be submerged in the hot water. Maybe she would get warm again. She hung her green jacket on a wall hook and carefully pulled her orange turtleneck over her head. Her joints were quite achy, so she was moving more slowly than she would have liked. Next came her black skirt and orange, ribbed leggings, and long underwear. Finally disrobed, Daria headed for the tub. She hissed as she stuck her big toe in the bath water. It was extremely hot. Good. She clambered into the tub and slid down until the water was at her neck. The bubbles were actually kind of nice. She felt very pampered. Jane was right. No one at home would take care of her like this. Even herself.

She grudgingly admitted to herself that she had been pushing way too hard recently. This was her senior year, and she wanted to keep her 4.0 average. Not that it meant that much to her personally, but she had kept a perfect average this long, it seemed worth while not to blow it at the end. Unfortunately, the harder she tried, the more her teachers wanted to challenge her. If she received one more "special project" from Mr. O'Neill, and if the AP exams were not over soon, she just might not make it.

On top of that, she had been fighting a cold all week. She didn't have time to take it easy, but she really needed to. Feeling gloomy, she swished around in the tub, causing more suds to slop over the edge and onto the floor. She just couldn't afford to get sick right now. She didn't have the time. She closed her eyes and tried to relax and think healing thoughts. This went on until the water had turned unpleasantly tepid. Daria was considering getting out when there was a knock on the door.

"Yo, it's me," Jane's voice came through the door. "Can I come in?"

"Wait a second." Daria climbed out of the tub and wrapped a towel around herself. "Okay."

Jane came in bearing the robe, which was now fluffy and wrinkle free, and Daria's sleepwear. "I thought you would be ready for these," she said handing them to Daria. "When you're finished, come to my room. Trent and I are waiting with the bad movie of the week, and the infamous Lane cure all."

Daria quirked an eyebrow. "A home remedy?"

"Nah. Just chicken soup." Jane left the bathroom closing the door behind her.

Daria quickly toweled off and donned her thick flannel PJs. She wrapped the warm robe around her and tied the sash. She was feeling human again. The dizziness was gone and her headache was much improved. She looked at the wet mess of sudsy water on the floor and decided to let it go. The bubbles had been Trent's idea. Let him clean it up.

When she walked into Jane's room she saw Trent sprawled on the bed, laying on his back. Jane was no where to be seen. Daria paused in the doorway, feeling a little awkward. She was still new at this and suddenly felt unsure. Trent heard her and looked over. He smiled and held out a hand in silent invitation. Daria went over and shyly sat on the edge of the bed. Trent scooted over and put his arm and her shoulders. He drew her further onto the bed, and completed the embrace with his other arm and snuggled up against her.

"How are you feeling?"

"Better," she answered quietly in the soft voice the she only used when speaking to Trent.

"That's good." Trent moved in for a kiss.

His lips had barely touched hers, when Daria drew away. "Don't. You'll catch my cold."

"Daria..." Trent's voice was husky and low. He brushed a strand of damp hair from her eyes, running the back of his fingers down her check.

Daria leaned into his caress. "Hmmm?"

"I miss you. You've been busy for weeks."

He slid his hands behind her head until his fingers caught in her hair. Pulling her closer, he kissed her thoroughly. When he came up for air, Daria returned his kiss with an uncertain one of her own. Its sweetness and sincerity undid him completely. He shifted his weight and rolled Daria onto her back, raining kisses all over her throat, and face. She sighed deeply as he nibbled at her earlobes, and caught up in the sensation, she slid her hands under Trent's tee-shirt. This caused him to purr into her ear while he tugged at the knot holding her robe closed.

Jane stood in the doorway, one hand supporting a tray with three bowls of soup and the other fanning her face. It was getting hot in there. She cleared her throat.

"Get a room. That is, other than mine." Jane waggled her eyebrows in good humor.

illustration by Diane Long

Daria bolted upright, snatching her hands out from under Trent's shirt. Her robe fell open, revealing nothing more than her flannels. Even so, her face flared a bright red.

Jane chuckled. "Daria, You're still flushed. Trent, were you taking her temperature?"

Trent propped himself up on his elbow and shot Jane a warning look. "Knock it off, Janey." He was still touching Daria and could feel how tense she had become.

Jane took the hint. "Anyway, I brought up the soup." She handed bowls to Daria and Trent.

Daria muttered something that might have been either thanks or a rude comment and took a bite. Her eyes flew wide open. "What's in this?" she asked in a strangled voice

Jane took a bite of soup and swallowed calmly. "Campbell's chicken noodle soup with an added secret mix of habenero and cayenne peppers."

"This is your 'cure all'?" Daria sputtered.

"Yeah. It's been in the family for years. Works wonders for colds. I think it kills the cells lining your throat, taking all the germs down with it.

Daria had forgotten her embarrassment in the face of this bizarre chemical warfare. "Well, since that's just been accomplished, I'm not eating any more of this." She handed the bowl back to Jane.

"Suit yourself." Jane put Daria's bowl on the drafting table and then climbed on to the bed and wormed her way between Daria and Trent, being careful not to spill her own soup. "Move over a little, Trent, and give me some room."

Trent looked vaguely annoyed, but gave Jane some space. Daria rolled her eyes and smirked as Jane settled between them.

Comfy now, Jane took the remote and flipped on the VCR. "You guys will love this little gem."

"Why does that scare me?" Daria asked.

"Shhh... It's starting." Jane turned up the volume slightly.

Daria tried to watch, but before long she had drifted off to sleep and was snoring softly. Every now and then a phlegmy sounding cough broke through the snores, but didn't wake her up.

Trent looked over and frowned. "That doesn't sound good." Turning to Jane he asked, "Do you think we should make her go see a doctor?"

Jane shrugged. "Daria can take care of herself. She'll go if she really needs to."

"Hmm." Trent wasn't so sure.

"Sooo...things going well?" Jane asked playfully.

Trent smiled. "Yeah."

"How well?"

"Watch the movie, Janey."

"Aw, come on!"

Trent ignored her, and Jane gave up. She hadn't really expected to get anything good from him. They both turned their attention back to the movie. It really was quite bad. It was a shame that Daria missed it.

Chapter Three

The following afternoon, dressed in the winter version of her favorite outfit, Daria was lounging in her usual spot on Jane's bed studying her comparative politics textbook. She had her back propped up against the headboard, and her legs stretched out in front of her. A bootless Jane was seated at her desk attempting a trigonometry problem. She didn't look happy.

"Geesh, Daria, It's Sunday. Do you have to study today?"

Daria didn't look up. "Yes, the AP exams are next Friday. I have to be ready in four subject areas. I barely have enough time as it is."

Jane made a sound of frustration.

This time Daria did look up. "Why is my studying bothering you?"

"Because you're corrupting me. I want to paint, but watching you work makes me feel guilty enough to work on my Trig instead."

"Go ahead and paint." Daria wished Jane would be quiet, maybe painting would occupy her for a while.

Jane really didn't need any prompting. "If you insist. Will you help me with the problem set later?"

"Mmm-hmm," Daria answered vaguely, already immersed in her text again.

Jane got up and stretched. "You know, I think I'll walk to the art supply store first. I need some things."

Frowning, Daria kept reading.

Jane slipped her feet into her boots and tied up the laces. "In case you're still listening, I'll be back in an hour or so."

Daria looked annoyed, but didn't respond.

Jane was familiar with Daria's moods by now and stopped talking before she managed to really piss her off. Without further comment she slipped out of the room.

Daria enjoyed the peace and quiet for about a half an hour before the next disruption came. She sensed rather than heard Trent hovering at the door.

"Yes?" she asked looking sideways.

"Hey, Daria. Want to hear my new song?"

"I really need to study right now. Later?"

"Oh. Umm, sure." Trent looked disappointed. It was hard having Daria in the house and to not be able to spend time with her. She had been studying all day. In fact, she had been studying intensely for weeks. She wasn't spending much time with him and despite his best efforts not to, he was feeling neglected. "Do you need anything?" he asked hopefully.

"I'm fine, thanks," she said sounding impatient.

"Cool." He looked at her longingly. "If you want to take a break, I'll be in the basement."

"OK." She smiled at him then returned her attention to the book. It seemed only minutes before Jane came back, even though it was nearly two hours.

"Hey. Check out the haul," Jane said, coming in with a large bag full of art supplies.

"Uh-huh," Daria murmured, still reading.

"You didn't even look," Jane complained as she dumped the bag's contents right next to Daria on the bed. She started to nosily sort the assorted supplies into piles.

Daria put the book down and made a big effort to be civil. She knew she was too used to isolation, and interacting with others, even when you didn't want to, was the price of companionship. "Wow. You did get a lot. That must have really set you back."

"No, big sale on old materials." Jane quickly put the supplies away. "Look, I know you're trying to study, so I'm going to go make some dinner. Maybe you can take a break to eat it?"

"I guess," Daria said reluctantly.

"Cool. I'll call you in about an hour or so." Jane left the room and headed downstairs.

She passed Trent on her way downstairs. He looked as if he were intent on visiting Daria. "I wouldn't bother her if I were you. She's in a study frenzy," Jane warned.

Trent frowned. "She won't mind. I've left her alone all day."

Jane sighed. Given Daria's mood, this wasn't going to be pretty. "Just remember, I warned you." Jane continued on to the kitchen. He would just have to learn the hard way.

Trent crept into Jane's room as quietly as possible. Daria was still reading, it looked as if she hadn't moved since the last time he was up here. That couldn't be healthy. Daria needed to take a break, and he was just the person to help her do it. She didn't appear to notice him as he crept behind her. He grinned. This would be funny. He positioned himself behind her, and darting forward, snatched the book out of her grasp.

She jumped, obviously startled and not at all happy. "What the hell are you doing?"

Trent felt his grin slip a little. This wasn't going as he had planned. "Shouldn't you take a break?" he asked lamely.

She rolled her eyes in exasperation. All of these interruptions were getting on her nerves. "I don't take breaks," she snapped.

Trent was getting defensive. "Well, maybe you should."

"What's that supposed to mean?" She got up and made a lunge for the book.

Out of sheer perversity, Trent took advantage of the difference in their heights and held the book out of her reach. He didn't say anything, but just glared at her.

"Give me my book back!" She stood up on her tiptoes and reached for it with no success. "Go take a nap or something," she muttered crossly.

"I stayed awake just to spend time with you today, but you were too busy to notice," he said accusingly. It was true, but Trent hadn't been planning on telling her this, especially not attack her with it as he had just done. Things were getting out of control. He took a deep breath and tried to calm down.

"Oh that's great, let me bomb the AP exams because you were able to stay conscious for more than five hours." Daria had stopped trying to grab her book and was standing with her arms crossed. Her relationship inexperience blinded her and she didn't even notice the situation going out of control. She let herself be carried along by strong emotion, and, before she knew it, incredibly hateful words were spilling from her lips. "What do you want me to do? Maybe I should lose all my ambition too? Then we can waste time together - happily ever after!"

illustration by Diane Long

Trent looked stunned. The arm holding the book over his head fell limply to his side.

Daria felt all of her anger rush out of her. She felt very tired and vaguely guilty. "Can I have my book please?"

Trent handed it to her without a word, looking wounded.

Taking the book, Daria spun on her heel and left the room. She certainly didn't know how to deal with this. She was going home where no one cared enough to bother her. Which was exactly what she wanted right now.

Chapter Four

After a week of intense study and self denial, Daria was finally taking her AP exams. As all AP students in the greater Lawndale area were taking the same tests, the exams were being administered centrally in the basement of Cashman's department store at the mall. Daria had taken AP Art History, AP Comparative Politics, AP Calculus, and AP English courses. That meant four exhausting exams in one day. Luckily, she was finishing up with the last exam. Her head was pounding, she felt feverish, and her breathing was strangely constricted. There was a stabbing pain in her chest every time took a breath, and her coughing was worse too. These were not optimal test taking conditions. Even so, she felt that her performance had been adequate. If she got decent scores on these exams, she would get college credit for these courses. This would help her graduate almost a year early, and get her to her isolated Montana cabin all the sooner. She looked over her rows of filled in scantron bubbles one more time, checked the grammar on the essay portions, and then turned in the exam to the proctor.

Moving slowly, she put on her winter gear and headed out the door. She was feeling rotten. Maybe she should ask her mom to make her an appointment with their primary care physician. Then again, she was exhausted. Maybe she should just go home and sleep and then decide about the doctor. Satisfied with her plan, she headed for the escalator, which would take her to street level. To her surprise, she saw Trent leaning against it. He stared at her evenly as she approached him.

Her pulse quickened, making her feel even weaker. The last time she had seen him was the fight. That had been a week ago. He hadn't called, but then neither had she. She had been so ashamed about the things she had said that she had buried her feelings in a frenetic race to be prepared for these exams. Now that they were over, the repressed emotion came bubbling back to the surface. She felt guilt over her words, annoyance at him for not giving her space, and anxiety that she had blown it for good. She tried to read his face without success. He looked completely neutral.

It looked like it was up to her to make the first move. Great. "Hi, Trent." Her voice betrayed her exhaustion.

"How did the exams go?"

"I think I did okay. How'd you know they were today?"

"Janey told me. I'm sure you were a great success. You never seem to have problems with that," he sounded bitter, despite himself.

Illness and emotion had Daria's mind spinning. "I didn't mean the things I said." She swayed a little as she said this.

"I know..." Trent's hand shot out to steady her. "You okay?"

"Yeah..." Daria's next words were cut off by a racking cough. It boomed from deep within her chest with an odd hollow sound.

"How long have you sounded like that?" he asked sharply.

"It's nothing. I have something to tell you." She really wanted to get back to making up.

"Uh-huh. Time to go." Trent put pressure on her shoulder and steered her towards the escalator.

"What? Wait!" Daria struggled against his guidance. They were on the escalator at this point, and Daria twisted to face him as they rode up. "Go where?"

"The hospital. You are very sick," he said firmly.

"No way." Daria squirmed in his grip.

Trent's grasp remained firm. "Daria," Trent said patiently. "I had pneumonia once. My coughs sounded just like yours."

Daria's eyes went wide. Well, she couldn't argue with that, given how rotten she was feeling. She trusted Trent too. Rather than fuss further, she just leaned against him quietly for the rest of the escalator ride. Taking her easy acquiescence as an indicator of how poorly she was feeling, Trent put a protective arm around her. He brushed her bangs out of her eyes with his other hand.

"Man, you're burning up," he sighed. They stepped off the escalator and headed for his car.

Chapter Five

The trip to the emergency room proved Trent to be correct. Daria had walking pneumonia, a fever of 103, and was severely dehydrated. After a chest x-ray, she was admitted at once for observation and IV hydration. She was not happy about it at first, but felt awful enough to acquiesce at Trent's urging. After a prolonged admissions proceedure, she was now settled in bed with a glucose solution slowly seeping into her bloodstream through a hand IV.

Trent sat quietly while the attending doctor spoke with Daria.

"I just had a chance to re-read your chest scans, and I must say I am surprised you walked in here under your own power."

"It was more like I was dragged here against my own will," Daria said dryly.

The doctor looked over at Trent and winked. "I see. In any case, you are going to need plenty of fluids, antibiotics, and rest."

Daria scratched at the skin surrounding the IV needle insertion point on the back of her hand. "I still don't see why I can't go home and do that."

"For one thing, you need continuous hydration for the next 16 hours. For another, you are seriously ill, your condition could have turned life threatening at any moment. I want to keep an eye on you for the next few days."

"I don't feel that great, but I don't feel like my life is threatened."

The doctor smiled wanly. "Walking Pneumonia is tricky that way. Though, most people usually notice before you did. Or maybe I should say before your friend here noticed for you."

The doctor jotted some notes on Daria's chart. "You should be out of here in a week or less." He looked over at Trent. "Well, I should go and you should come with me young man. Only family members after visiting hours." The doctor left the room but waited in the hall for Trent to follow him.

Trent rose out of his chair reluctantly. He really wanted to stay. "Can I get you anything before I go?"

"No, thanks. I'm going to call Mom and then go to sleep." Daria looked at the phone with distaste.

"Ok. Bye, then." He shifted his weight uncomfortably. They still hadn't officially made-up, and there was an akwardness between them.

"Bye." She looked sad and very weary. The pale blue of the hospital gown stole what little color she had left, causing her to look even more ill.

Trent started to go to her then decided against it. He wasn't sure what she wanted from him right now. "I'll come back as soon as I wake up tomorrow."

She brightened a bit at this. "Good."

Trent left the room and followed the doctor towards the elevator, wishing the whole way that he had kissed her good-bye.

Daria tried to put a call in to her parents, but only got the voice mail. Big surprise there. Quinn was probably on the phone, and would be for the rest of the night. She left a brief message and hung up. She then turned off the light and tried to get to sleep. She lay in the dark wistfully wishing that Trent had kissed her good-bye.

Trent woke up uncharacteristically early the next morning and, guitar case in hand, headed straight for the hospital. The moment he stepped off the elevator he heard a familiar voice speaking heatedly from down the hall. It sounded like Daria's mom had gotten there first.

"Daria, really! How could you be this sick and not tell me? Do you have any idea how this makes me look?" ranted Helen's annoyed sounding voice.

Trent frowned. That didn't sound very nice. He softened his steps as he approached Daria's room. He paused in the doorway and watched the scene in front of him with distaste.

Daria, was sitting propped up with pillows, and looked much better. Her expression was impassive and she seemed to be ignoring Helen who was pacing around the room.

"The whole town must wonder what kind of mother I am!" Helen stopped, arms akimbo, her back to the door. "Do you try and make me look bad, sweetie?"

Trent's frown deepened. Here was Daria, recovering from pneumonia, and instead of comfort or concern she was getting a guilt trip. He felt his temper rising.

"Daria, did you forget I am defending a very important client against child neglect charges? You can bet opposing council will use this to undermine my credibility."

Daria gave a gusty sigh which turned into another one of her booming coughs. Recovering, she told her mother, "I'm eighteen. You can't neglect me anymore, at least not legally."

Trent almost chuckled at that one.

Helen, however missed the subtle barb. "Obviously you aren't 'adult' enough to take care of yourself, sweetie. Just listen to that cough. I am your mother you know. I worry about you. If only you were more like Quinn, maybe you could find some nice young man to take care of you, then I wouldn't have to worry about things like this."

Trent could tell that one had hurt Daria. Her expression hadn't changed, but her shoulders had slumped a little, communicating the pain quite eloquently. Fed up with this conversation he strode into the room, determined to give Helen a piece of his mind.

Daria started when she saw him, and Trent could read the dismay in her eyes. It was obvious that having him witness this scene embarrassed her. Because of this, Trent bit back his angry words and glowered at Helen's back.

"What are you looking at?" Helen snapped, turning around. "Ohhhh, hi Trent!" She said with her patented false enthusiasm. "Are you here to see Daria? Isn't she a trooper? Well, I'll just leave you to talk!" She rushed out of the room and the sound of her cell phone's ringing could be heard receding down the hall.

Ignoring Helen, Trent stepped into the room. "You look better."

Daria smiled. "I am. Much. Thanks to you."

Trent sat down in a chair next to the bed and opened the case. He took the guitar and began tuning it. Given Daria's reaction, he decided not to comment on what he had overheard. Besides, he had other things to say. "We never got to finish making up. You got to apologize, but I didn't."

"Trent, you don't have to..."

"Yes I do. I started the whole fight, because I didn't give you the space you needed to get your work done. I was being selfish." He took her hand being careful of the IV.

"I did have a lot to do," Daria acknowledged.

"Too much. The things we said to each other were partially true, Daria."

"How so?"

"I don't work hard enough, and you work way too hard."

She smiled ruefully. "Maybe we can meet in the middle?"

"Works for me."

"And, now that my AP exams are over, I won't need to study quite so hard."

"Oh, that reminds me." Trent pulled a tiny cardboard box, no more than an inch square, out of his pocket. "I got you something to celebrate the end of all those tests."

Daria took the box. There was an 'Axl's Piercing Parlor' sticker on the lid. "Axl's?" she asked nervously.

"Don't worry, no piercing required. Open it."

Daria opened the box to find a plain silver band laying on a bed of cotton. She took it out of the box and held it to the light. Its highly polished surface glimmered. "Thank you." She started to slide it onto her right ring finger.

"Wait. It's a toe ring, Daria."

"A what?"

"A compromise. Something a little alternative, but also pain free and very private." Trent slid back the bed covers to reveal Daria's bare feet. He took the ring from her and slid it on the second toe of her right foot. He observed the final effect for a long moment. "That looks really hot, Daria." He kissed the arch of her foot, and pulled the covers back over her.

Daria's cheeks flushed, as she was both flattered and a little embarrassed. She was about to retort gamely, when a huge yawn crept up on her. "Sorry," she said through her hand.

"That's okay, you need to rest so you can get better." He began strumming the guitar softly, playing a lullaby. "Go ahead and take a nap, I'll be here when you wake up. Janey will be probably be here too."

Daria snuggled down in the blankets and let the music lead her into sleep. She wiggled her toes around and savored the feeling of the toe ring. Drifting off, she murmured, "Thanks for taking care of me."

"My pleasure, Daria."

Trent kept playing softly until he was certain she was asleep. He set the guitar on the floor and settled into the chair. He had gotten up way too early this morning and there was no reason why they both couldn't catch some Zs. As sleep overcame his senses, he wondered who would wake up first.

The End

Diane Long

Special thanks go to Jon Kilner for his advice and support.

I would also like to send further thanks to everyone who has written me with comments and critiques on my earlier stories.

Update: 12/19/2010 getting these fics back on !