"Beautiful." Daria was being sarcastic.
"Isn't it?" Jane wasn't.
"Forgive me for a lack of artistic appreciation, Jane, but it's a pile of rusty metal objects you told me you'd glued together at random. I've heard of abstract art, but this is kinda stretching it."
"Daria, this will be my introduction to the Baltimore art community. A piece where Jane Lane stands proudly and proclaims 'I am.' The fact that I made the minimum of effort and that it means absolutely nothing will only improve things, since they won't be able to figure it out. Like that science project you told me about."
"Oh. Cool." She paused. "I hate to spoil your thunder, but it does look kinda like something. A big brain."
"Because nobody's a bigger brain than you, Daria." Deadpan. Thankfully, the shorter girl caught the sarcasm.
"Since the prize was getting humiliated every other day between five and twelve, there wasn't too much competition." Jane was genuinely surprised... if she didn't know better, she'd think Daria was showing emotion with that statement. Or maybe it was just that she knew what her best friend was talking about too damn well. Though having a big brother, scrawny as he was, around to stick up for her had helped back then.
"Now, what was Li going on about in assembly? The football player?" Daria was changing the subject. Apparently, she had been showing emotion and didn't particularly like the novelty.
"Long story. I'd tell you, but you'll never amount to anything in this world if you don't start finding things out for yourself!" She finished shaking her finger in mock anger. Daria just rolled her eyes, and made the mistake of looking at her watch.
"Shouldn't we be going?"
Jane looked at hers. They were ten minutes away from being late. School was an eleven-minute walk, and Morris in homeroom had a grudge. She ran.
"I'll take that as a yes."
"... how can one make sense of a tragedy, so tragic..."
"... shouldn't have died..."
Two nights later. Quinn is worried. Daria hasn't come out of her room, and her parents have sent her to go up and get her. Normally that's just a little annoying, but now... who is she kidding? She's scared. For herself and for Daria.
So are her parents.
Tentatively, she knocks at the door.
"Daria -- if you're awake, if you're OK... dinner's ready."
She goes back downstairs. She could do more. She could open the door, check on her sister. But... what would she see? She's too scared, that simple.
Jane comes into Daria's room.
"Hey, Daria. Not watching the show?"
"Nah, they've got on one of those stupid seafloor research episodes on."
"So, whatcha doing--" She gets cut off by a quiet knock on the door.
Who puts a finger to her lips. Her best friend takes the hint.
"Daria -- if you're awake, if you're OK... dinner's ready." And footsteps are heard, going down the stairs.
"Sorry about that. But you already know my sister." Pause. "So, how's the sculpture?"
"Not great. Have a look," Jane says, gesturing to a corner of the room. The intricate, if messy, network of metal was never held together that well in the first place, and it's come apart along a line, front to back, dividing it neatly in two pieces.
"Damn." Another pause. "Look, much as I've missed you, I'd better go down before Mom puts me in a real padded cell."
"No problem. Later."
Helen and Jake share a look of surprise when their eldest daughter comes down the stairs and starts on her dinner, with no less enthusiasm than any normal night. As if that's all it is for her.
Daria, while digging into her slightly overcooked lasagne, wonders why they're so nervous, quiet. Briefly. At least they're not getting intrusive.
"Daria..." That's what you get for trying to find the silver lining, she chides herself.
"Yes?" She keeps deadpan. It's safest.
Silence. She goes on eating.
"Daria... we worry about you, Daria." No, you worry about your father, Dad, she thinks. At least he didn't turn out like him.
"That's great, Dad. I worry about me too." She's finished, so she gets up, takes her plate to the dishwasher, and heads towards the front door. "I'm going to Jane's."
"Daria?" Her daughter stops, but doesn't turn around. "But you kn... what about the funeral?"
Daria goes on walking.
She walked to Jane's, worried about what was wrong, what the hell she was going to say. Six months they'd known each other for next week and this was the closest they'd ever been to a real fight; even Willow had stood up to her before that long.
She had a plan, of sorts -- simply walk in and explain herself. How exactly she would do that, she wasn't sure. Still, words came easily to her. Even when she wasn't being sarcastic... rare as that was.
Round a corner, up the driveway, past the one sculpture left on the property that wasn't Jane's creation. She knocked on the door.
Trent opened it. "Hey, Daria. Janey went running."
Damn. "Oh, well, I'll see her another time."
"Scary about Tommy Sherman." Oh hell, not him too. Then again, she couldn't exactly blame the guy...
"Yeah. You knew him, right?"
"We had a couple classes together. I mean, we didn't see him much. You know, he didn't show up too often."
"Not like you, huh?"
He couldn't help laughing. One thing you could say for Daria, she could always make you laugh. Or at least do that smirk thing she did. Pity she never showed more of what she was thinking than that. Girl would wind up doing something she'd regret.
"I guess I might have missed a few classes, now that you mention it. Weird thing, freak accident."
"Would you say it really makes you think?"
"No." It didn't.
"Thank you for that."
That was weird. "Huh?"
"You know, it was a while ago that Janey went running..."
Around the corner, up the driveway, past the concrete sculpture, the door is left open. Trent is just inside.
"Hey, Daria." He appears devastated.
"Trent? Are you OK?"
"Yeah, I'll be fine. Don't worry about me."
"The band break up or something?" He looks at her. She is straight faced as ever, but drops her eyes from his incredulity.
"You... heading up to Janey's room?" Tear in his eyes.
"Yeah." A pause. "Trent, are you sure you're all right?"
"No. But don't let me get in your way."
She turns, looks him full in the face. Sees grief. Sees that he needs to get it out, before it consumes him.
She can't find words.
She turns back, and makes her way up the stairs.
"...I'm not miserable. I'm just not like them."
"It really makes you think."
"Funny. Thanks a lot." She turned to leave.
"No! That's why they want to talk to you. When they say, 'You're always unhappy Daria,' what they mean is, 'You think Daria. I can tell because you don't smile. Now this guy died and it makes me think and that hurts my little head and makes me stop smiling. So, tell me how you cope with thinking all the time, Daria, until I can get back to my normal vegetable state.'" Comforting words. Daria wondered why Jane's English grades weren't a whole lot higher. But there were more important things right now...
"OK. So why have you been avoiding me?"
"Because I've been trying not to think. About the way we were making jokes about him dying and then boom, it happened."
"We didn't have anything to do with the guy dying. It was a freak accident."
"Yeah, well I don't like it when I say people should die and then they do. I don't want that kind of responsibility. At least not until I've got a job in middle management." Daria tried to reconcile the image of the paint-splattered artist Jane with someone like her power-suited mother. It didn't work. Then she realised Jane wanted a reply. Time to get this reconciliation thing over and done with.
"You didn't make him die."
"You're not the misery chick."
"All right then."
"All right then."
"He shouldn't have died."
"But he wasn't a nice guy."
A pause. Now the argument, such as it had been, was over, there didn't seem to be anything to talk about.
"Did Trent know you were up here?"
"Told him to tell anyone who dropped by that I was out running. What a surprise, he forgot."
"No, he didn't."
Jane cocked an eyebrow at that, and looked like she was about to comment. Then she turned back towards her sculpture.
"You know, I think that's almost finished. Almost." A peace offering, gratefully accepted. "Help me out with this, will you?"
"So... what is it? That... huge grey thing?"
"It's a... I'm not sure what it's called. It's big, it's metal, it's damn heavy, and it'll look good in the sculpture, so pass me the glue gun and come over and help me out here, 'kay?"
"Whatever your wish, O Mistress..." Daria grabbed the infamous adhesive applicator from the floor nearby and walked over to Jane, who was already half-buried under her work, motor-mechanic-fashion. Her head was resting over a long, thin steel rod a few centimetres from the ground, obviously uncomfortably. Pushing herself further back, she winced at her position, took the gun, and looked at her position. Then she threw the gun away, scrabbled for an ordinary and half-empty-looking tube of glue from nearby underneath, and turned back towards her friend.
"OK... um... could you go over and get the... thing?"
Daria took a few steps and picked up the large metal object. Jane was right, it was heavy as hell and hard to get a good grip on.
"Jane, are you sure that this is sa--"
She tripped over the thrown gun and fell on the sculpture. Most of it collapsed under her weight. Amidst the clatters and crashes as various pieces hit the ground, there was a quiet crack and loud thump.
"Oh, shit, Jane, that was stupid of me..."
She looked up. Saw where the metal thing she had been carrying was. Saw the blood. Saw Jane, head resting on the floor, neck bleeding and bent back too far.
Daria comes into her late best friend's room. She sees the glue gun, kicked away near the bed. The bloodstains in the corner. The sculpture, a formless, collapsed pile of metal scraps.
She falls onto her knees and puts her head in her hands.
(Thanks to TAFKA and CB for betareading, the former's fic "A Phoenix for a Pet" for inspiration, and my school for dragging me out to a "Leadership Day" yesterday, with some nice long speeches from various authority figures, who were quite happy to let me take notes... on this fic's plot.)