# Daria Makes a Deal, Chapter Two

Content note: Lightweight recreational drug use. Spells of melancholy. Video-game references written by a nongamer. At least one moment that is quintessential Somerville, Mass. Past Daria/Tom; past Jane/Tom; past Jodie/Mack; past Daria/a few OCs; current Tom/OC; current Trent/OC.

CHAPTER TWO

The rest of the week passed in a wintry mix with few distinguishing features.

On Tuesday, Daria pulled on the boots which Quinn had chosen for her and stomped through the standing snow to the Sullivan Square bus terminal. She rode the 86 bus to Union Square, which as best she could recall, she had seen only twice during her undergraduate years. It was an enduring, salt-of-the-Earth intersection, just beginning to be licked by gentrification, still too far from the subway lines to lie within a college student’s mental horizons. Their junior year, Daria and Jane had joined a convoy to try a Mexican restaurant here, and now, standing under the leafless trees in the dented-triangle plaza, Daria could not remember which of the restaurants on this block it had been. She had passed through once again the year after that, riding in a friend’s car back home after a party which had not gone all that well, and both she and the driver had gotten completely disoriented on Somerville streets, which turned one-way at the least convenient times and were never parallel or perpendicular when you expected them to be.

On Wednesday, Daria carried lunch down for Jane. “Figured you could use sandwiches,” Daria said. Jane was at a drafting table, examining a 3D-printed part under a magnifying lamp. The part was ash gray and resembled an index finger from a gauntlet. “Grilled cheese. These ones are plain. Those have tomato, those have peppers and those have avocado.”

“Aisha! Giulio!” Jane called.

And so Daria met the other two organizers of Moonbase Illyria, who descended upon the sandwich tray in short order and speedily divided the portions which Jane had not claimed. Aisha had come up with Jane from Providence, and Giulio had more or less married into the business. At the moment, they both smelled of sawdust.

“You and Jane want to chill with us some time later?” asked Giulio, starting in on his second sandwich.

“We have the co-op expansion for Zelda Starring Zelda,” added Aisha, swallowing a chunk of her third. “It lets the second player play as Xena!”

Wednesday evening, Jane got Daria out of the house again, for a jaunt in the Moonbase pickup truck: a short trip up the highway to the nearest Tools ‘n Things. Here, too, Daria realized she had been lost before. This must surely have been the big-box store where Digamma House ventured for construction and repair supplies. Not being mechanically minded, Daria had let others deal with buying the things needed to keep the various parts of the house from falling apart. But once, a need for PVC pipe arose in midsummer, on a day when Daria had sampled the latest from their local ‘pothecary, and one “sure, I’ll tag along” later, she was wandering wide-eyed up the Lighting Fixtures aisle, her vision swimming and pulsing, her body tense to the point of trembling.

—Damn, I was reckless then.

“You say something?” Jane rooting through plastic trays of pipe fittings.

“Oh, just… wondering if this is where they keep the Copper Female Adapters.” It had been a long while since she had indulged in a live back-and-forth of “But I just met ‘er” jokes, as little as they took.

Jane volleyed back: “While we’re here, we should check the automotive department for a Rubber Inner Tube.”

Cheap and easy wordplay. Familiar territory. “I think we can fix the one you have at home if we find a can of Tire Sealer and Inflator.”

Jane chortled and Daria smiled gently, and the week slipped past. And soon enough, it was Saturday.

* * *

Daria padded out of her bedroom, scratching her ass through the thick gray fabric blend of her Forever Lazy. She crossed the den and aimed herself at the kitchen fridge, catching the clock on the stove as she passed.

—Twelve-forty in the afternoon? Shit. And how long was I actually out for? Five hours, maybe?

She rummaged through the cabinet of miscellaneous drink containers, pushed past a couple shotglasses stamped with college crests, retrieved a mug and poured herself an iced coffee from the pitcher she had left to brew in the fridge in the small hours of the previous morning. With the drink clenched between her hands, she shambled back through the den and into the gallery.

Out the gallery windows, a featureless slate of sky, and the last flakes of a snowfall drifting down to mingle with the bits of secondary snow blown off the roof by an intermittent wind.

Jane had moved a new sculpture up from the workshop, a flowering metal thing, all petals and chrome. Daria drained her coffee and walked around the sculpture. One of the bits was a crisply clear magnifying mirror, and there, enshrined in the middle of a jubilant blossom:

“A hair. Growing on my nose.”

Daria recalled, vaguely, that she had a Swiss Army knife in one of the pockets of her backpack, and that she might not have lost the tweezers from it. She plodded back into her room, dug through pens and a spare eyeglass case and a tube of store-brand bacitracin, and found that the tweezers were missing after all.

—Where did I see… Kitchen. One of the utensil drawers. Still in blister pack—Jane must have bought in a sweep of household stuff.

Tweezers in hand, she shuffled back to the sculpture.

Twisting her nose to the side with her left hand, she took the tweezers in her right and sought out the hair amid the pores. It came loose with a quick, painless pull. Staring at the quabby white dot on the formerly buried end:

“Well, Jane always was the pretty one.”

She looked from the original hair to its magnified image.

“I guess I should be glad it isn’t gray.”

She looked over the sculpture to the window beyond and stared without focusing.

“Thirty-mumble years old,” she said, “jobless except for a gig complaining on the Internet four times a month. Single. A few failures and fizzles in college and after. A void for years. Then a fella I thought would be the one who made all the hurt not matter, and he goes behind my back to play Stern CEO and Bashful Secretary. Leaving me with… The relationship I thought actually worked… doesn’t even feel like it counts any longer. And I have nothing to look back on except a history of… I’m short and plain and look like a spinster librarian from Central Casting, and I can hardly remember the last time before him that I attracted anyone, and the worst part is that I care. For the first time in my life, I wish I could just have a… a… a goddamn one-night stand, just to convince myself it’s not all over. But all I am is a withdrawn, depleted bookworm, gone past frumpy into pure frump, and even worse, I care. I can’t appeal to anyone, I couldn’t please anyone, which means I don’t deserve anyone and I want to… And I hate myself for it.”

“Damn, Dariatron,” Jane said, and Daria nearly dropped the tweezers.

Jane was standing in the stairwell door. —How deep had my funk been that I hadn’t even heard her come in, dammit?

“Sorry,” Daria said. “Just, you know, thinking. Very loudly.”

“Leave something for the rest of us to tear down, won’t you?” There was a twitch of an attempted smile at one corner of Jane’s mouth, but much more worry in her eyes. She crossed the gallery and peremptorily wrapped her arms around Daria.

“I feel… weak,” Daria said.

“Here, let’s get you over to the sofa and you can sit down.”

“Not weak like that, I mean…” Come to think of it, though, she did not feel all that steady on her feet. She let Jane lead her back into the den.

“Weak like you should be above all this?”

She sat Daria in the center of the sofa and took the cushion beside her.

“I thought… I mean…” Daria ran her tongue over her dry lips and tried to speak again. “I spent years at Bromwell, just working, lonely sometimes, not thinking of myself as… as all that great a catch, but not feeling like I was a horrible person on account of it. I was just being good at what I was good at. And now. And now, there’s this whole side of my life, this whole side of the human experience, where I’m a… A complete fuck-up.”

Daria shut her eyes. “And before that? I’d feel a little more optimistic about being able to move on if I had anything other than a history of failure to look back on.”

“Is that really how you see that side of your life?”

“Why shouldn’t I? Big failures, little failures. Boys who stopped being into me once they got to know me. Days when it hurt, days when I didn’t care. God, what I’d give now for a stretch of days when I don’t care.”

“I can see how that’d work,” Jane said. “So… You going to try keeping yourself busy again?”

Daria snorted. “Want to see how my job search is going?” She leaned forward, snagged her Encom tablet from the coffee table and handed it to Jane.

“Well,” said Jane, “you’ve been searching the Raft alumni site for job postings. That looks like a good beginning. And, oh look, five open tabs of fanfiction. I’d say you’re making progress.”

“Fantastic progress. Couldn’t be better.”

“What’s this, Harry Potter and the Masque of the Red Death? One of yours?”

“I wish.”

“And… Is this really A Study in Emerald redone with the characters from Sherlock?”

“It’s got a certain swing.”

Jane had bought, Daria recalled, the Absolute edition of A Study in Emerald when it came out: a great, thick volume, bound like a Bible, sturdy enough to brain an obnoxious ex-boyfriend. Just about the only product of the late-’80s turn to Grim, Dark and Serious comic books which held up in the present century, and one of the few stories called “steampunk” which seemed to care about the “punk.” No gentlemen adventurers having their dashing escapades in Her Majesty’s Royal Airship Navy—in its twisted, layering story of Holmes and Watson gone antihero to fight the Lovecraftian horrors which had subjugated humankind, the viewpoint and the sympathy were always with the preterite, with the face under the heel. Young women had been getting tattoos of Holmes and Irène Norton and Elsie Patrick for twenty years.

Jane scrolled text for a moment. “Heh. You might get a kick out of—oh, shit, is that today? Shit. Daria, I totally spaced on telling you—”

“Wha?”

“Some people are coming over this evening. We’re all getting ready for a science-fiction convention in town next weekend. You know, prepping our cosplay stuff. I’ve got a merchant booth, and we’re gonna try offloading some old movie props, and—shit. I should have given you more advance warning.”

“To do what, hide in my room while there are, shudder, other people?” Daria shrugged her right shoulder. “Eh. Had to happen some time. I’ll keep myself entertained in my room. What with forty more chapters of Harry Potter and the Masque of the Red Death to read, and all.”

“Daria, I’m so, so sorry.”

—Jeez. I haven’t had a crowd-induced panic episode in weeks and weeks.

“It’s OK.”

—And even that was understandable. I mean, I was within a fifty-meter radius of a retail establishment in the month of December. What could I have been thinking?

“Well…” Jane took both of Daria’s hands in her own. “Maybe… tomorrow we could go and do something together?”

Daria sighed and let her eyes fall shut. She waited for the tide of memory to ebb. Still years away, she asked, “What’s around here for me to do?”

A new voice: “Well, you could take a tour of a chocolate factory.”

Daria lurched back into the present to face a visitor from the past.

“Tom? Tom Sloane!”

—And so it was, true to life: coated and bescarfed against the January afternoon, pale under the wind-bite blush, an honest twinkle in one of those sea-green eyes—and sporting an Abe Lincoln beard?

Daria swung her feet off the couch and wobbled to a standing position. Tom set down the canvas shopping bags he held in both hands and shrugged a duffel carry-all from his back to the floor. They met midway, beside the coffee table, and lightly hugged.

“Fancy seeing you here,” Daria said.

“Likewise.”

“Hiiiiii!” A new voice, over the zrrr of a zipper and the squeak of a wet boot being unfooted, toe of one foot against the heel of the other. “Jane, I hope it’s OK that we’re early. Snookums here decided to drive up last night instead of this morning, and we—” The patter of socks against the gallery hardwood. “Oh, hello.”

She came around the corner through the accordion door, nodding and waving to Jane, smiling in general greeting, depositing the bags she carried beside those which Tom had brought.

“Daria, this is Saavik,” Tom said. “Saavik, Daria.”

“Like in the better Star Trek movies?” Daria asked.

—Dammit. You must get that a lot. Probably with comparable frequency as, exempla gratia, half-Japanese girls, do it to me every time.

“Daria… Morgendorffer?” she asked, quickly looking from Daria to Tom and back again. “I love your blog!” She made widening gestures with her hands at eye level, laying out an invisible headline. “How many years before your romance dies? Love Actuarily, next on #SickSadWorld!'” She dropped her hands to her sides, then quickly reached one up again to shake Daria’s. “It’s. Wow. Melody Glass is wicked. Oh, and your book—Tom bought me your book for my last birthday!”

“That explains the jubilant letter I got from my publisher,” Daria said. She squeezed Saavik’s hand and then released it.

Saavik wore a pinstripe vest over her blouse, a carnation in one lapel and a deeply violet silk tie knotted Full Windsor. The effect was, Daria judged, as if she had raided a museum hall devoted to a bygone era’s notions of upstanding masculinity and made it all her own.

“We came over to get ready for Aletheia,” she said. “Are you visiting?”

Daria felt very underdressed and very unshowered.

“She lives here now,” Jane said. She waved towards Daria’s room. “Can I offer you two anything?”

“Oh, right,” Tom said. “Aisha and Giulio bought a house.” He was peeling out of his coat and undoing his scarf.

“Let me take those for you,” Daria offered.

“Oh, thanks. Um, coffee?”

“Daria made a pot of cold-brew,” Jane said, beelining to the kitchen. “And a cake. And another cake. And muffins.”

“Oooh,” went Saavik.

Daria listened to Jane on her way to the coat-hooks. “This cake is chocolate with a hint of orange. That one is pear. And the muffins are—Daria! Are these cranberry or cran-apple?”

“Those? Pomegranate,” Daria called back.

She returned to the kitchen to find Jane distributing slices of cake. “Coffee for you both?” Jane asked.

“Mind if I fix myself a hot chocolate?” Saavik shook, lightly, a prescription pill bottle. “I need to, you know, wash down.”

“Sure.” Jane nodded towards the row of syrup spigots. “You’re the one who got us the membership, after all.”

“Thanks!” Saavik chirped. While Jane poured coffees for herself and Tom, Saavik wiggled her fingers indecisively over the syrup taps. “Hmmm,” she said.

“I like the chili spice one myself,” Daria said. “But the plain chocolate would be the cup of a carpenter.”

Saavik looked at her and smiled, skewedly.

“Already dosed,” Daria replied. She saw that she had left her coffee mug on the counter during her tweezer-hunting expedition. She brushed past Saavik to retrieve it and heard her click the pill bottle against the countertop, muttering, “I guess mint goes with mint?”

Daria found a space for her mug in the dishwasher, decided it was crowded enough to justify activation, loaded in the detergent. “Warp factor three. Engage.”

Saavik was working the milk steamer. She shot another tilted grin towards Daria.

“Gonna go stand under hot water myself for a while,” Daria said, and scooped up a pomegranate muffin on her way to her room.

* * *

Her shower turned into a long one, but she felt slightly more human afterwards, and with one muffin inside her, she decided she had enough of an appetite for another. She dressed in the bathroom and rolled her Forever Lazy into a tight bundle.

When she emerged, Jane was kneeling beside the bags which the other two had brought in, rummaging through them. “Oh, this is perfect!” She started pulling out what looked to be a long coat, cochineal red. To Saavik: “This is perfect! Are you sure you’re willing to give it up?”

“To see what you can work with it? Definitely,” Saavik told her.

“Hey, could you find a reference to check against? The box set should be over with the DVDs.”

“Sure.” Saavik stepped over Tom, who was busy sorting clothes and fabrics into piles.

“Are other people coming over too?” Daria inquired.

“A few,” Tom said. “We’re early—I think we’d said four-thirty?”

“They’ll probably be fashionably late,” Jane said.

Saavik called over from the DVD shelves. “Hey, did you know you have seasons six and seven of Columbo mixed in with the fantasy section?”

Daria said, “He’s a cop who made his career by harassing rich white people. How much more fantasy do you need?”

All three of them laughed. Saavik said, “Oh, Lord, I’ve got another one on my hands.”

“Bitter snarky bastard, she means,” Tom said.

“It’s true,” said Saavik. “I can’t even keep up with one of you.”

Jane held the coat up by its shoulders and swirled it this way and that to examine it front and back. “Surely Daria’s fame preceded her in that regard.”

“Well, I don’t know,” Saavik replied. “Maybe just a little.”

“She thinks,” Tom told Daria, “my recollections are tinted by jade-colored glasses.”

“Oh, speaking of glasses,” Saavik said, dropping to a crouch in order to root through one of the canvas bags. “You’ll need… these!” She handed Tom a spectacle case.

“Whereas Daria here,” Jane pointed out, “probably hasn’t heard
any Saavik stories.”

“Really?” Saavik’s left eyebrow shot up.

“You’ve found a good fellow,” Daria told her, “but he doesn’t write e-mails very often. All I’ve heard since Christmas before last has been about the green-tech auditing company.”

“Which is important stuff,” Tom put in. “That and managing the GSP scholarship fund and donating to the Warren campaign are how I hope to avoid swinging from a lamp-post some day.”

Class lines had been a weird thing, one of the weird things, in the days when Daria and Jane had first known Tom. In high school, he had been Jane’s boyfriend for a while, and then Daria’s. The transition had not been among the finest moments for any of them, but they had survived it. The pairing of Tom and Daria had lasted until graduation, when it couldn’t last any longer. Both of them ached and stung after that, but then came Raft for her and Bromwell for him, friendly (at first, guardedly so) notes between their .edu addresses, and it turned out that nothing in high school could have prepared them for how different life could be after high school.

—And that is one of life’s little miracles.

Even one semester of college had meant a new environment, new people and novel confusions. —Come that first Christmas, Tom had been dating another Bromwell first-year for a few weeks, and I had, well, I had—

—I had erred, but even that meant moving on.

Jane and Daria had crossed paths with Tom at Good Time Chinese, the twenty-third of that December, and it had been, to an extent that Daria found amazing at the time, free of awkwardness.

Over a boothful of buffet plates, Tom went from “ex-boyfriend” to “ex from back in high school,” and that transition felt better than Daria had ever imagined it could.

“Well,” Jane said, “there’s also paying for the entertaining suite at the hotel next weekend. Don’t forget that.” She spread the coat out across the floor, dorsal side up. “Now,” she said, rubbing her hands. “Paint.”

Saavik rose. “I’ll go put this in my laptop and find some good frames you can work from.” She paused and turned to Daria. “So. What do you think?” The eyebrow rose again.

“Uh. Not having heard any stories, I…” Her thoughts were still ranged over their college years, the interval in which Tom had become “friend for longer than we had ever been dating each other.” She blinked and refocused on the present moment. “I mean, I don’t think I know anything important. You live in South Boston and commute to an office job on the Red Line, passing the long haul after JFK Station by reading library books. You’ve lived in the Boston area at least since you were a teenager. You and Tom have been together for not quite a year. You’re left-handed and use lavender shampoo. You ta—well, that’s not important.”

All three of them were staring at her.

—Jane has that “it’s happening again” expression.

“The way you pull a DVD off the shelf, the way you make hot chocolate, how you adjust the knot in your tie. Left-handed. Your nails are painted but trimmed short. Balance of probability: you spend a good deal of time typing. You wear an analogue watch on your right wrist. Also consistent with left-handedness, or just to spite Encyclopedia Brown—but you turn its face inwards. That’s Tom’s habit, to make it easier to surreptitiously check the time while sitting at a conference table. Maybe you picked that up for the same reason. The old coat you gave to Jane. There’s a fish logo sewn onto the tote bag you brought it in—the seal of Alewife Brook College.”

“Could be secondhand,” Jane said.

“Possible, but less likely once you factor in the shot glasses left in our kitchen. Alewife Brook was a commuter school. I know from looking for an academic job here in town that it merged with North Cambridge Community six years ago. Assuming you attended just or shortly after high school, your family was local then.”

All three of them were silent. She plunged on.

“When I put Tom’s coat away, I saw yours. There was a book half-sticking out of one of the pockets. A paperback, rebound in library buckram. You had used last month’s T pass for a bookmark. The ticket machines print the point of purchase on each pass. You had bought yours at Andrew Station. There’s no reason to buy a monthly pass during the middle of a commute, so Andrew is where you catch the train each morning. Jane said that you were responsible for the restaurant supply membership. You work at the restaurant supply company in Quincy, and you commute there on the Red Line.”

Daria stopped and drew in a breath. “And you left your hat here. I think I have it in my room.” She smiled weakly.

—Also in that coat pocket, scrunched in with the book? Plainly for use during your commute? An old pair of earbuds, the jack end uselessly bent. If a man keeps old earbuds, he might just be disorganized or a packrat. If a woman does… You use them on the T every day, to make it appear that you are listening to music, but you’re not. You don’t want men trying to talk to you. But are you afraid you’ll miss a sign of danger if you actually block out your surroundings?

—You take spironolactone.

Daria lifted her shoulders for a deliberate moment and then let them drop again. “See? I don’t know anything important.” She turned to glance down at Tom. “Why don’t you make up for your boyfriend here and tell me about yourself?”

* * *

—I am remembering, for some reason, not the events, but recounting them to Jane on the way to pizza afterwards. “I just looked at the two of them, and somehow I took everything in and knew exactly what to say. The stains on Bing’s teeth, the trash in the DJ van, the wrapper for nicotine gum, the Cheeto dust on the Spatula Man’s fingers. One mention of heart disease and they both just cracked.”

—“You got your father out of bed and jumping for joy, and you saved our school from morning DJ inanity. Promise me that you’ll temper your powers with wisdom.”

—“I vow to use my Sherlockian talents for good. Or, more precisely, for evil.”

“You’re right about the family and college and my job,” Saavik said. “I’m a keyboard jockey for the restaurant supply company. I guess I’m just lucky you couldn’t deduce that I was once in an a capella group.” She jestingly clapped a hand to her lips. “Oops!”

—Did she really break through to me? Am I seeing again?

“So… How did you and Tom meet?”

At this, Jane let out a bark of laughter, and Tom, sighingly, pulled out his phone and began doing something complicated with its touchscreen.

“What?” Daria asked. “I thought that would be an innocent enough question.”

“It was a party for burners,” Saavik said.

“Pardon?”

“Burning Man people,” Jane filled in. “Forgive Daria here. She’s been living in trackless Midwestern wastes.”

“I didn’t think you’d ever gone to Burning Man,” Daria replied.

“Me? Hell no,” Jane said. “An unsustainable city of illusions thrown up in the Nevada desert? Thanks, but I’ve been to Las Vegas, and I hated it. And it had showers.”

“I was there,” Saavik said, “I mean, at the party, because a friend from my acting troupe was there. I’m in this group, we do live performances of classic radio plays. Like, last year, I was several terrified civilians in War of the Worlds at the Somerville Theatre. But, the party. Tom knew some people because Jane knew some people—”

“I wanted to build replicas of the Mars rovers,” Jane said, “so you could drive them around the playa from the comfort of your own Mission Control.”

“And,” Saavik continued, “some people were YouTubing, as one does. Lots of nostalgia, lots of clips transferred from VHS, you know? Then somebody switched from MathNet to Sick, Sad World.

“Oh, no,” Daria said. —Surely this can’t mean—

“Somebody found—well, the video said it was a lost episode’ which never made it to DVD. There was this poor kid who claimed to’ve been abducted by aliens, who later came back and made him lose his job.”

“Alien Love Goddesses,” Daria said, and buried her face in her hands.

Saavik said, “And then Tom here looks at the artist’s recreation and yells, Holy shit, I think I dated both of them in high school.'”

“I had stepped outside,” Jane said, “so I missed the fun.”

Tom said, “Which meant that nobody was there to back up my story. But I had saved all my high-school stuff to my college computer, and what with one transfer and another and then cloud storage—”

He handed the phone to Daria.

It was a pretty good photo, as far as group shots went. Inside a gymnasium, with the bleachers folded up and pushed to the walls, a corral of sorts, filled with construction toys and the children and parents playing with them. Jane, Tom and Daria were crouched over an extemporaneous robot, built from clear, palm-sized plastic spheres with gears and linkages within. Daria was caught in profile, gravely attaching a miniature propeller. All about them, children scurried.

“That was a good day,” Daria recalled. “Jane, you remember, just after you dumped that Nathan jerk on his ass?”

—And Tom and I felt like we were in a rut and needed something to do, and Mack Mackenzie suggested—

“And I wanted to go somewhere Nathan wouldn’t be seen dead,” Jane said, “and Mack said that Jodie’s parents were making her volunteer at the science festival at Lawndale State. Hey, are they in that photo?” Jane stepped over the piles of sorted fabric and took the phone from Daria’s outstretched hand. “Neat. You can almost see Mack rescuing Jodie’s sanity.”

Trent Lane had taken that picture, Daria remembered now.

“Tom showed off that photo,” Saavik said, “and we got to talking, and one thing led to another, as things sometimes do.” She smiled at Tom, and Daria thought, —Oh, right. That’s what people can do for each other. Contentment. Satisfaction. Happiness. Dammit.

Tom took his phone back from Jane. To Daria, he said, “Want the pictures? I can share the folder somehow with the mobile app, I think.”

“Uh, sure,” Daria said.

“Now then,” Saavik said, rubbing her hands together, not a little gleefully. “Tom has never quite been able to explain how you and Jane ended up on Sick, Sad World.

* * *

“Let me get this straight,” Saavik said to Daria. “You introduced Trent Lane to DJ Qiana?”

“She rented a room one summer in the uh, off-campus living group where I stayed my first two years of college.”

Jane wondered aloud: “Ah, the frasority. Whatever happened to them?”

“Didn’t I read,” Tom began, “about a frat up at Raft which flooded when someone tried to use a sprinkler head as an attachment point for bondage play?”

“Qiana was doing her thing with live coding of electronic music,” Daria barrelled on. “Trent was in town to get away from the Lane house in Lawndale.”

“My other brother Wind had moved back in,” Jane explained. “With his third wife. And the kid he hadn’t known about from his second.”

“Trent met Qiana,” Daria said. “Sparks flew.”

“I believe,” inserted Jane, “that her exact words were, Sweet Jesus, it’s Jane in a guy edition.'”

“Then,” Daria continued, “in 2008 or so, they got the contract to record the new soundtracks for the Sick, Sad World DVDs.”

Daria said, “That’s one reason why the DVDs took so long to come out at all. Then one day, Qiana introduced me to Myron Eldridge, the producer, and he goes, Season four! Artie and the UFOs!’ I gave him a copy of my book, and he read it and offered me a paid blogging gig on their new website.”

Saavik interjected, “I never saw on the website where it said you were an Alien Love Goddess, though!”

“There were crazy legal issues with that whole season,” Daria said. “That episode still hasn’t come out on DVD. And, to be honest, I didn’t really want that to be seen as the reason I got the job. Myron’s a pretty cool guy. He understood.”

“Yeah,” Saavik said. “No reason to borrow trouble, when you’re already a woman on the Internet.”

* * *

“You’re kidding,” Daria said to Saavik. “Super Smash Bros.

“Yep,” Saavik replied. “I always played as Samus. And my boyfriend at the time, he was pretty much a jerk, said to me, Heh heh! Maybe you’re really a girl.’ And I thought, wow, that would make a lot of things make a lot more sense. For starters, it would explain why trying to live as a gay teenage boy wasn’t making me feel any better than trying to live as a straight one. I turned that corner, and—modern medicine to the rescue!”

* * *

“My parents grew up on opposite sides of 495,” said Saavik. “He called fizzy sweet drinks sodas,’ and she called them tonics.’ And yet they’re together to this day!”

Tom pondered this. “I guess on a scale from one to Montagues versus Capulets, that’s pretty survivable.”

“See, now that’s a thing which bothers me,” Saavik exclaimed. “Everybody gets that wrong, I guess because none of the movies do it right. The feud between Romeo and Juliet’s families is dying. It’s old news. Everyone would be happy enough if they found a decent excuse to end it while saving face.”

Jane was skeptical. “Really?”

“Read the play! The only person on either side who takes it seriously is Tybalt. The heads of the families are all,” and here Saavik closed her eyes and tapped the index finger of a splayed hand against her temple, “Tis not hard, I think, for men so old as we to keep the peace.’ Sure, there are some ruffians in the ranks, but they’re petty brawlers who’d have themselves a riot if you passed them a football.”

“Or,” Daria said, “as they call it in Europe, a soccer.'”

Saavik pressed on. “That’s why Juliet has to be so young, so she can idolize her cousin Tybalt and soak up all his stories, without any maturity getting in the way. You know what her father says about Romeo, at the party? He says Verona brags of him to be a virtuous and well-governed youth.’ And he’s supposed to be talking about the only son of his sworn enemy? Pull the other one!”

“For that matter,” Daria said, “when Romeo’s friends want to go to the party, and he says they shouldn’t, his reason is that he had a bad dream about it. Hence the whole Queen Mab speech from Mercutio. But you know what Romeo doesn’t say?”

Jane suggested, “When motherfuckers go to the wrong party, that’s when motherfuckers get shot’?”

Saavik yelped: “Exactly! He’s not concerned about a fight to the death, only that Rosaline will be there.”

“Rosaline,” Daria added, “is a Capulet, and none of Romeo’s friends say that it’s a problem.”

“So,” Tom said, “MTV lied to us.”

Saavik replied, “That’s what makes it a tragedy. Everything could have worked out fine, with the feud ending in a great big happy wedding. But no, all the wrong people were dunderheadedly romantic at the wrong times.”

Daria commented, “Looking at you, Lorenzo.”

“And it ends in misery instead.”

“This reminds me,” Tom said, turning to Daria, “didn’t you once completely fluster your English teacher by insisting that Hamlet was neither mad nor indecisive?”

“Mr. O’Neill was easily flustered,” Daria responded.

“Like ohmigod!” Saavik jumped in. “I have so had that fight. I mean, isn’t it obvious that Hamlet can’t just go and kill Claudius? He needs proof that Claudius bumped off his father. Nobody else even heard the Ghost say so, and they don’t know it’s really his father’s spirit. Hamlet out and out says that. He wants to be made King, not get drawn and quartered for murdering Claudius. He doesn’t really screw up until he misses the chance to stab Claudius after the mini-play, and that’s because he thinks Claudius is praying, and he wants to make sure the man is damned on top of being dead—”

Saavik broke off and looked around the room.

Daria stepped into the gap. “The way I see it, Hamlet and Claudius should be played like L and Light in Death Note. Their soliloquies and asides are internal monologues where they try to outthink each other.”

Saavik clapped in delight. “And the Ghost is the Shinigami!”

Tom and Jane caught each other’s eyes. “Are we ready for this?” she asked.

He sighed. “As long as they both didn’t have to memorize the
Canterbury Tales or something.”

Saavik began, “Whan that Aprille with his shores soote…'”

“The drooth of March hath perced to the roote,'” Daria continued.

“Enough!” Jane yelled.

* * *

Other people began to filter in. Some brought clothes, and some brought beer. Daria soon lost track of their names. There was a David and a Diana and a Liam, along with others besides. Jane introduced her to a Morgan, a young genderqueer fire-spinner with floppy indigo hair. Saavik came by to explain the varieties of cake and muffin available in the kitchen, and she told Daria that Morgan was the only member of her old trans support group who she still kept in touch with.

“The only one?”

“Watch out for her,” Morgan said. Ze smiled, a little crookedly. “Daria here is a writer, and writers are always gathering new research material. You get to know that gleam when they make smalltalk.”

“I’ll be careful,” Saavik assured zir, faintly wryly.

“Look, a distraction,” Daria said, pointing at the pomegranate muffins.

Chuckling, Morgan turned to Saavik and asked, “Are you going to be in the radio play this year?”

“Eh, sadly, no,” Saavik said, launching into a story of overlapping time commitments that Daria lacked the context to follow.

Tom found her a few minutes later, leaning against a milk-crate DVD shelf. “You OK?” he asked.

“Lots of people,” Daria said. “I may have to make good on my threat of hiding in my room and reading. I just… didn’t have time to psych myself up for an actual event.

“This’ll probably go on until all hours,” Tom predicted. “It’s not the most coordinated of planning meetings.”

“I’ll be fine.”

“If you’d rather take a break from them all, you could crash at my place instead.”

“I rent an apartment over in Back Bay country for when I’m in town,” he said. “I could drive you over there. You could lay low until tomorrow, have some peace and quiet. Then maybe tomorrow we could catch up, without the madding crowd?”

“Peace and quiet, you say? But surely you have stuff you need to do here, with the things and all.”

“Not so much that I can’t take a break.”

Daria considered. “Fine. Let me find my toothbrush and things.”

Saavik and Tom exchanged a quick peck at the elevator doors. Then she clasped Daria’s hand. “Hamlet with Shinigami,” she said. “It has potential.”

* * *

Tom’s car looked to be the first hybrid ever driven off the assembly line. —All these years under the bridge, she thought, and he still drives a rust buggy—just an environmentally aware one, now.

“Were all these dents the result of trying to park in Boston?”

“The dents are from up and down the I-95 corridor,” he said. “That missing paint on your door is from dropping Jane off one night in the North End.”

“Oh.”

Tom guided the car into the Sullivan Square rotary. “A new life awaits us in the Off-World Colonies!” he declared, taking in the concrete expanse with a wave of his arm.

“If you expect an empathy response from me,” Daria said, “that transport jumped into hyperspace a long time ago.”

Tom just grinned.

He drove Daria south, across the river, and then west along the curve of it, weaving through taxis as the early nightfall closed upon the city. He took one turn and another and another, and suddenly the Public Garden was going past on their left, posh brownstones on their right, the trees potted everywhere all gingercaked with snow.

“I never really got to this part of town,” Daria said. “Except, I think, there’s a bookstore on Boylston or Newbury. And another one in the Pru, and one… uh, I guess I tried all of them in between Raft and BFAC at least once.”

“Borders imploded a while ago. You missed the descent of the vultures for their clearance sale.”

“Oh, I was a vulture too, when they cleared out of Evanston. Bought myself a stack of manga and two spinny book-rack things. Those stayed with… um…”

“Ah.” They were stopped at a light. “The indie place with the café is still here. Books by the Ton, too.”

“Lot of New Age stuff at the indie place. I liked their pancakes, though.”

“Tell you what,” Tom said as the car hummed into forward motion again. “Tomorrow morning, we go out for brunch. And pick up a how-to guide for getting your chakras rotated while we’re at it.”

“I did let my quantum crystals go 3,000 miles without a tune-up.”

Tom parked the car with the unfazed confidence of someone who had endured the ordeal many times before, and who had a resident parking permit to back up his decisions. “Welcome,” Tom said, opening the passenger door for her. “To Boston’s answer to Madison Avenue, and the home of the 66-dollar cheesecake!”

“Not quite my speed,” Daria said.

“Perhaps a stroll down Commonwealth Avenue, Boston’s attempt to answer the Champs-Elysées? You could pay your respects to the statue of William Lloyd Garrison.”

“They have such a thing?” Daria asked. “Maybe later. How about… dinner?”

They ordered carry-out at a Japanese noodle place around the corner from Tom’s apartment.

“No, this is on me,” he insisted. “It’s time for my soaking.”

“Well, we broke-ass academics have nothing to lose but our girlish waistlines. So, fine.”

Daria was thankful for the Quinn’s Choice winter boots she wore, as she plodded through the standing slush on the sidewalk. The wind picked up and she shivered. “Supposed to get cold again tonight. And all of this will freeze solid.”

“There’s that Morgendorffer optimism!” Tom said. “Remind me to get online and check into zamboni rentals.”

Daria shot dagger-eyes at him.

“What? Oh,” he added, remembering. “The thing with the thing never to be spoken of again.”

He held the door open for her, the bag of carry-out in his other hand, and then he led her up the stairs.

His “Boston place” was not large: a nook of a dining room, an excessively poofy sofa facing a TV on the wall, a kitchen somewhere between cozy and cramped, and behind a bead curtain doorways to bedroom and bath.

“Silverware! Music! Drinks!” Tom exclaimed, setting the food on the table and sallying forth into the kitchen.

“Only the best in awkward-pause-filling technology,” Daria said.

“What was that?” he asked, his head in the refrigerator. “Something about filling the inevitable awkward silences born of our tortured pasts?”

“Something like that.”

—He looks good, Daria thought as they removed dinner from the sack and sorted it across the table. —Growing up gave him… some character. Definition. Around the eyes. Those sea-green eyes. They look better for having seen.

She gave herself an inward shake. —Yes, he looks good. She lucked out.

They listened to Wendy Carlos’ Switched-On Brandenburgs while they ate.

“You know,” he said, “You could come to the convention with us next weekend. Write it down for #SickSadWorld. And Jane would love the amoral support in the artists’ hall.”

“Oh, Tom, I haven’t a thing to wear.”

“Given the route some people go with cosplay, that might be exactly… well, isn’t covering this kind of thing your beat?”

“My beat,” she sighed, “is Ninja Turtle movies. Oh, and the perennial struggle between Aliens and Predator.”

“Xenomorphs versus Ninja Turtles,” he said. “I’d watch that.”

“It would still be better than Prometheus.

He laughed, and she smiled.

“Maybe I’ll go,” she said, surprising herself.

“Really?”

“Well, if we can find a schoolgirl uniform which fits me, and a giant plush squid.”

“Kind of last-minute, but Jane does have resources at her disposal.”

She smiled again.

They finished their noodle soups without speaking. Daria looked about the apartment. A game console, a few generations behind the bleeding edge, was plugged into the TV. On the floor beside it were a few jewel cases for game discs. Cannibal Frag Fest 3000, a compilation of one hundred one arcade classics, and a billiards simulator which looked like it had been packaged with the console.

—How do you play billiards, she wondered, with a cue the size and shape of a VCR remote?

—Tom and pool, she thought. A memory arose unbidden.

“Oh, it’s just… you remember the time Jane and I visited you on spring break?”

“Spring break? At Bromwell? Freshman year?”

“Yeah. We drove down from Boston, and—”

“And crashed at my dorm, yes.”

“And for some reason which rhymes twice with Cain,’ we got kicked out of that frat party, and we ended up in the basement of the student center, which was almost deserted on account of the vacation and all.”

“And I was talking with… some upperclassmen from my go club, and you and Jane were playing pool on the ratty-ass table there… ah!”

His Christmas-new TiVo, which he had pulled apart and souped up with a redundant hard-drive array, a sizzling-fast WiFi interface, a flux capacitor and dilithium-crystal regenerator and so forth and so on. “Why,” he had said, “it makes my nipples hard just thinking about it.”

Just in time for the last sentence, Daria had walked into earshot, pool cue over her shoulder. “Is he talking about his TiVo again?”

They broke into giggles over the memory.

“And when… and when…” Tom collected himself. “You guys had left back to Boston, the older boys on my hall were like, Dude, this is the first time a freshman has brought his own babes.'”

“I remember that,” Daria said. “You e-mailed me about it.”

“Really?”

“Mm-hmm. And I wrote back—”

The recollection struck Tom, and they said in unison, “Jane is a babes’?!”

And they tumbled down into giggles again.

“Oh God, oh God, I had forgotten all about that,” Tom said. “How do you remember an e-mail from, Jesus, from 2001? And with all of them you wrote back then!”

“Two hundred sixteen pages in the first year,” Daria said. “I gathered them all into a book to… to keep them from getting lost.”

“Do you still have it?”

“The file must be on my computer somewhere. I think my print copy… ended up with Jane’s stuff. Maybe it’s at her place. She might have mis… It was Cendrine who printed it up nice.”

“Oh.”

—That crazy sentimental idea was how I met Cendrine in the first place, thought Daria. —Thanks to the first nonawkward conversation in months I’d had with… yeah. And so I met Cendrine, and so she came to my birthday party that fall, and so she met Jane and so and so. Down into the great attractor of emotional shit I can’t handle.

“Earth to Daria?”

She tried to pull herself back into the conversation.

“Uh, just wait until they send you up here, Major Tom.”

She sighed.

“Look, Tom, I… I’ve been through… altogether too much, and it’s all still pretty fresh, and I never know what will lead me down the wormhole into memories I’d rather not live through. But because I never know in advance whether a given trigger will send me into a funk or for how long, and so much of it is associations other people don’t know about and could hardly follow if they did…”

She trailed off. He waited.

“Just don’t blame yourself if something you say seems to poke a hole in me, OK?”

He nodded.

“I’ve been in a place like that, too,” he said, serious. “Jane and I will be here for you, however long it takes.”

“And… and Saavik?”

Tom smiled and looked down. “I’m pretty sure you made a good first impression. And she’s had… her share of troubles. Grounds for empathy will not be a problem.”

“Do you think she and I could be friends?”

“Wow! The years have changed you.”

“To-o-om…”

“I hope you can. Really and truly.”

His unguarded sincerity made Daria smile slightly, then bite her lip, look down at her interlaced fingertips, then look up to catch his glance again. “OK… OK then.”

The music filled their silence for a little while.

Tom sprang into action and scuttled to the refrigerator. Looking into the freezer, he said, “I’ve always wanted to say this—but we really do have purple stuff, Sunny D—”

“Come again?”

“Saavik must have left a bottle in here to see what it would turn into.”

“And the purple stuff?”

A pint of black raspberry ice cream from Emack & Bolio’s. They spooned it into a pair of coffee mugs and returned to the dining table.

“Was it the summer after that when you came back to Lawndale and we all got stoned in that field they were digging up to put in the new strip mall?”

“Must have been. With the giant concrete pipe things, and—”

—Me crouching inside a concrete tube, Jane popping out of another singing the Super Mario theme, then leaning over the mouth of my artificial cave and being all “just like old times again?”

“And the Caterpillar equipment for tearing up the field, and—”

—Jodie Landon of all people climbing up into one of the damn machines and a great diesel rumble and Jodie calling down—

“Guys, I don’t know how to turn it off!” Tom and Daria laughed.

—Then five of us squeezing into my car for what turned out to be a low-speed getaway, back to Casa Lane where we probably smelled less of pot than everything else present, and Jodie fell asleep in Jane’s lap…

“That took me for a loop,” Tom said. “Daria Morgendorffer, baked as a pie.”

“Caution: Contents Lukewarm.”

—That was the fourth time for me. The first, the summer before. The second, the first Friday of term, 4:20. The third, the…

Mercifully, Tom’s voice overrode her thoughts. “Was it the summer after that when we went to the Books by the Ton they put in there and moved all the copies of Naked Lunch into the high school summer reading section?”

“No, we did that at a different store, when… No, you’re right, because Lindy was the café manager there, and I remember I never met her while you and I were dating.”

“That does sound like one of our dates, now you mention it.”

“Well, it was… it was Lawndale. What was there to do?”

“Point.” Tom paused momentarily in thought. “Hell, I think my third or fourth date with Jane was her coming over to my house to use our scanner on her portfolio.”

Daria stirred her ice cream about in the coffee mug. “God, it’s like… multiple layers of the past… annual floods of Lethe, or something.”

“In what way?”

“Well, they buried all those concrete pipes, whatever they were for, right? So that’s that anchor of memory gone. And I never went back to that mall after the next summer, because my parents moved to the other side of town.”

“That’s right—that did happen about then, didn’t it? After your mother finally made partner to fill that abruptly vacated spot.”

“That took me off my feet, when Dad called. Hey, kiddo, guess what? Mom’s promoted, I’m retiring and we’re moving. That’s right! No need to be near a school now, with you and Quinn making your own way out in the great big world.’ But Dad, all the good times we had in that house? Like, uh…’ When I set it on fire?'”

“Word on the country-club circuit was that Schrecter popped that blood vessel while he was on the phone with your mother.”

“Law of averages. He was overdue for a serious health problem, what with that credenza drawer full of uppers and all.”

“You’re kidding—that story is true?”

“Everyone at the firm knew.”

“Wow.” The ice-cream mugs were empty. “Want to play a dungeon level of Cannibal Frag Fest 3K?”

“No, I’m… not really up for serious social commentary tonight. And you should get back to the costume party.” She rose and gathered the remains of her dinner. “There’s a young woman waiting there who wants to work on your cape with you.”

“My… oh. Thanks.”

They migrated the remains of dinner into the kitchen and disposed of what couldn’t be saved.

Tom added, “You sure you’ll be OK staying by yourself tonight?”

Daria nodded. “Since everything went down last November, I’ve been with Quinn, with Quinn and Stacy, with Quinn and my aunt and my parents, with Jane… I’m ready for a little alone time.” She paused. “But I’m holding you to that brunch promise.”

Tom grinned. “Hug?”

“Definitely.”

They held each other, not tightly, but with relaxed familiarity.

“You hang in there,” Tom said, quietly.

“Mmm.”

They pulled apart.

“I’ll text you when I’m up and around,” Daria said.

“Two p.m.?”

“Is my name Lane?”

“I hear even Trent keeps better hours these days.”

“The mind recoils at the image.”

“Take care, Daria. Help yourself to whatever you need around the apartment.”

“Thank you. See you tomorrow. And… backup hug?”

They held each other a second time, and then Daria let go. They told each other “Tomorrow” once more, and then Tom waved from the stairs.

And Daria was alone.

—This will be, she told herself, the longest solid stretch of undiluted Daria-time since Quinn found me in Ilium.

“And I haven’t a clue what to do with myself.”

She paced from the kitchen to the sofa and back.

“Is there a problem with that?”

She packed to the sofa and plopped herself down into it.

“Damn it. You really fell into the memory fugue pit, didn’t you? Damn it. And you’re going to make your best friends walk on eggshells until the unspecified future date when you somehow get better? Bad plan.”

She closed her eyes and pushed up her glasses to rub her lowered eyelids.

She opened her eyes and stared dully at the inert TV.

Her gaze dropped.

“You should have nailed him.”

She inhaled, slowly, and exhaled, puffing out her cheeks.

“You should have jumped his damn bones thirteen years ago. You should have deflowered yourself upon him. You would have been a terrible lay. A no good, horrible, very bad piece of teenage gloom cookie. You would have sucked, or rather, failed to suck with any dexterity.” She sighed. “And he would have accepted it. He would have explained in his Reasonable Voice that nobody is great their first time. And you would have gotten better. A bit. Maybe. And you could have gone off to Raft with a bit of experience and understanding instead of an insecurity you were too intellectual to admit and a perfect psychological setup for disaster. A long, slow-burning disaster.”

She crumpled forward and buried her face in her hands.

“It would have been nice to make somebody happy by wanting them. Ever.”

She felt for a while like she might cry, but the bleakness kept tears from flowing. She sat, no longer speaking, waiting to be able to stand and move again.

A while later, her phone rang.

“Jane?”

“Yo! Saavik says she has a black pleated skirt—sorry, skort!—which you can borrow, and we can scrounge up a blouse, hit the Garment District for a blazer—”

“Jane, what are you on about?”

“I don’t quite know how we’ll handle the squid, but I’m sure we can improvise—”

Daria felt her face turn red.

“Jane—”

“This writer knows the plural of octopussy, next on #SickSadWorld!”

* * *

Daria stood at the door of Tom’s bedroom.

“No,” she said aloud. “That would be… well, he did say I could help myself.”

She pushed the door slowly open with her right index finger.

A dresser, with one drawer not slid all the way closed. A nightstand, its top drawer likewise. Two paperbacks and a crumpled soda can atop it. A bookshelf running the length of the wall. Two other books atop the quilt at the foot of the neatly-made bed.

Inherent Vice and The Deeper Meaning of Liff,” she said. “Well, if I just want to veg out…” She extended her arm, then let it fall back. “Maybe TV would work better.”

Tom had a dinged-up laptop plugged into the TV set. Its screen showed the playlist they had listened to over dinner. Daria looked over the three remote controls from different manufacturers, chose the one whose brand matched the TV set and pushed the power button. The flatscreen glowed into life, showing the same still image as the background wallpaper of the laptop screen. She was willing to bet the image was a Jane Lane: a team-up of superheroes posing in the ruins of a city, their faces obscured by floating fruit. Futzing with the computer trackpad, Daria quickly realized that she could drag windows from the laptop monitor to the TV and back again.

“Okaaaay… I suppose I could call and ask how to get the TV to show anything else, but then Jane would just belittle the value of two degrees from Raft and a doctorate from Bromwell. Hmmm…”

The laptop was also running a movie-player program. Daria found its list of recently-viewed files. Tom and whoever else had lately been over had watched three episodes of Serial Experiments Lain and after that Evangelion 2.22.

Daria shrugged. “Good and twisted enough for me.” She set Evangelion to playing, dragged the window over to the TV monitor, hit the key to fullscreen the video and wandered into the kitchen.

Anime hadn’t really been a thing when she was younger, she reflected, sipping a glass of cranberry juice. Back in Lawndale of dubious and questionable memory, she and Jane had rented Venus Wars and Project A-Ko from the good old Lackluster, but apart from a few such VHS tapes, the medium hadn’t really been represented.

—The night before room-selection meeting at Digamma House, she thought, as the movie mayhem kicked in. —How did they explain it? Choosing rooms at 6:00 in the morning cut down on combativeness. Best to do such things late… or early. Some houselings had set an early alarm, but she chose to pull the all-nighter option in the common room, joining the others who found it easier to stay up until morning. That was the night she encountered Urusei Yatsura and Bubblegum Crisis and Neon Genesis Evangelion. Six or seven episodes in, her head was glassy and her thoughts fogged and the dawn breaking.

“I didn’t think it could be done,” she said as the credits rolled. “That was more disturbing than the original show.”

She checked the time on her phone. (No texts. No missed calls.) It was still early enough to take a walk, maybe explore the neighborhood, snark inwardly over Back Bay fashion victims… but in the cold and the slush?

“Why not make an early night of it?” she asked herself.

Unzipped her backback, withdrew the brown plastic bottle. Two pills rattled within as she lightly shook it.

“Early evening,” she said.

She carried her pack into the bathroom, dropped it by the door, rooted through it for loose sleeping clothes and turned on the bathtub taps.

“Looks like I get my rose petals and candlelight from Big Pharma tonight.” Standing at the sink, she swallowed the pills with a cupped handful of cold tap water. She left her day clothes on the floor and her glasses atop her flannel sleepwear beside the sink.

“Damn it,” she said later, watching the bubbly water lap just below her kneecaps. “This really works.” She chuckled softly, then more loudly. Her glasses were too far away, and the world was too blurry to bother with. She let her hands trail back and forth near her shoulders, feeling the waves of warm bubble-bath which their motion created, waves passing over her chest and reflecting off her folded legs.

“You’re mellowing, Morgendorffer,” she told herself.

It had been a long time since she’d tried a drug, she realized. Too long? Dalliances with frivolous diversions, set aside as childish things? Or enriching experiences, some of them, pushed back and away as she’d tried to follow a path which by now was pretty plainly not working?

“I’m not sure,” she had told the woman.

Caitlin, one of Quinn’s friends from that waitressing job, a student at Lawndale State. Holding a ceramic pipe and a Bic lighter in the fingers of one hand, offering them to Daria while her other hand held a bag of marshmallows ready to be immolated by the snapping and popping campfire in the forested hills outside the Lawndale where high school had just recently become part of the blessed past.

“I just don’t know if I should do anything which would help me relate to my parents.”

They had all laughed, Caitlin and Quinn and Jane and Tiffany (whom she’d never met before—but there was always bound to be a Tiffany).

“Daria, you’re a riot.”

Daria had smiled and almost blushed, and then had taken the pipe with its packed bowl after all.

“I tried to gather more firewood,” she recalled, splashing herself with abrupt flicks of her fingers. “But every time I reached down for a stick, it turned out not to be there.” Remembering how strange it had felt, as if the machinery her brain normally used for filling in gaps and shadows had thrown its gears.

Jane had found her, grunting and humpfing, a dead tree trunk as thick as her neck over her shoulder. “Damn it, this one’s not getting away!”

“I was stoned out of my gourd,” she said to herself, naked in Tom Sloane’s bathtub. “Hmm. I appear to be stoned out of my gourd right now. Not being able to stop smirking would probably have been a good clue.”

Her fingertips had begun to prune.

“That was fun,” she admitted. “And the first time at college wasn’t bad, either. Nor was the time after that, if I’m honest with myself. I mean, getting my head skritched felt pretty nice. It was the dumb decisions I made after I sobered up which hurt. And when the weirder stuff was around, like the time Trent and the band came up to play Longfellow Tech…”

She pulled herself out of the bathtub, eventually, and redressed in her loose flannels.

“Mm-hmm-mmm. I wish I could hug someone while I felt like this. Must find a willing victim somehow…”

She slept that night more peacefully than she had in months.