WHAT IF DARIA WAS AN UNRELIABLE NARRATOR?

"Daria? Is that you?"

"No, I'm a decoy to flush out assassins," said Daria, a little brusque.

Amelia laughed at the joke anyway. "I was afraid you weren't coming. What's new?" She became aware she was rubbing her arm a little too much.

"Daria, when I met you, you said you were a big outcast who nobody liked," said Daria's friend in red. "Has our whole life together been a lie?"

"Oh no, she was-" Amelia stopped talking fast. "Um."

There was some small talk before Skip Stevens came over, swaggering with assumed power and status, barking a joke about how Daria's friends must be Camp Puma spies. A few people snickered at the putdown. Skip always was able to get a laugh at her and Daria's expense. Suddenly she felt twelve again, afraid of the strangers and knowing she was right to be afraid, 'accidentally' knocked into the thorns or dunked under or her food knocked out of her hands because, what, she was a nervous girl with glasses and some puppy fat and liked reading? She smelt vulnerable? All of that.

But at least Daria had been there, another soldier in the foxhole. A girl who knew the right barbs to say and the smarts to do it when nobody was listening but Amelia. Someone else who read Orwell. Someone who ate shit too but used it to power contempt rather than internalise it. A girl who once got fed up and rode off on a horse rather than hang around listening to people, even if the horse had thrown her.

It'd be nice to catch up with Daria. It would be nice to show people she was almost a woman and wasn't broken nor bowed, though Skip was rapidly grinding that back down. Maybe Daria could help. Daria had friends who seemed half-cool, had a cold confidence she hadn't had back in the day.

As the hour went on, Amelia could hear half-muttered comments from a few people and could 'hear' the comments that would once have been made by some others, who didn't seem to recognise her. Well, why would they? It was five years ago and she hadn't mattered.

Daria heard neither, as far as she could tell. Daria also seemed distracted when Amelia made small talk. How was school? Bad. That Jane girl seemed nice? She was. And so on.

"WHO'S READY TO TAKE A HIKE?!" bellowed Skip, getting a few cheers.

"I wish Skip would take a hike," said Daria.

Amelia laughed at that. "Hey, where's your camp t-shirt?"

"I'm not wearing it."

That had been brusque again.

"I guess we better join them?"

"You go ahead. I don't want to scare the other hikers with my limp."

Go ahead and hike with them? Without Daria but with Tracy, who'd once spat in her hair and laughingly claimed she was giving it a wash? Christ no. No, she'd join her old friend reading.

"This reminds me of the time you boycotted the End-of-Summer campfire by the lake," said Amelia, chuckling. "That was so cool."

"I wasn't invited."

"Well, yeah, I know, but you could have just walked in like I did." She was rubbing her arm again. "I wanted some food. When I realised what you'd done, I left too. Heck, I wish I'd left on a horse too that time like you. Nine stitches might've been worth it!" She realised she was rubbing more and speaking faster to fill a void that Daria was leaving. "Pity we didn't boycott that stupid watermelon game, right?"

"Mm."

That was all she said. Amelia continuing filling the void but a void it remained. She made an excuse and left.

Had she upset Daria somehow? The girl had always been a grouch at camp but she'd talked to her before, carried on private jokes, shared books. They had been friends, right? Weren't they still friends? Oh god, did Daria think she was hitting on her? Was that - no, Daria didn't seem like that sort of person. But Amelia had thought this before.

She was scratching her arm now. She'd stopped when the hikers came back and the burgers were up. She starting rubbing again when she realised she'd have to speak to Skip to get hers.

"Wait your turn, Amelia, there's a system - and you only get one burger."

She wasn't even fat anymore. But she'd been slightly so five years ago, not even the fattest, but that didn't matter as long as people could kick her.

Then Daria, bless her, just took a burger from Skip.

"Hey! What are you doing?

"Hunting for my dinner, and I only kill what I plan to eat."

"No-one takes a burger until I say so! I've got a system timed to-"

"I didn't realize the burgers were landing at Normandy," said Daria, walking off and leaving Amelia to trail in her wake.

"Wow, Daria. Aren't you afraid you'll make him mad?"

Her friend snorted. "What do I care? He's a self-proclaimed dictator of a non-existent empire. He can't do anything if I don't follow the rest of the herd."

She hadn't thought about it that way. This was their only day back at the camp, they'd leave in the evening, Skip wasn't going to be around when she went to sleep and neither was Tracy. What was he going to-

"And speaking of following, if I don't want part of a crowd, why would I want my own crowd behind me? Why don't you go find a quiet corner somewhere and practice being an individual?"

It took a few seconds for the words to register. It was the whistle of the doodlebug before it hit and left London weeping smoke and blood. Left you staggering about in the ruins, trying to understand what had happened and where it had all gone.

Daria hadn't even looked at her.

"I-I-I thought we were friends," said Amelia, sounding whiny even to herself. "I thought - no, you don't like anybody."

No, not whiny. What was it Daria had been back then? Angry. She'd been angry and had contempt. And she'd seemed so strong. Okay, okay, anger was good.

"You don't like anybody and nobody likes you, you-you bitch!"

That got a jolt out of her, oh yeah. Anger worked. Anger was good. Fine.

Amelia turned round, walked back the way she came, yanked the spatula out of Skip's hands, and, in two ragged movements, swept all the burgers off the grill and onto the floor.

" Fuck you, Skip! Fuck you to Hell!"

And that done, Amelia left Camp Grizzly and the anger sustained her all the way home.