"If this is family therapy, then where's my family?" Daria asked indignantly.
Doctor Moore didn't answer right away. He placed his hands on his desk and looked searchingly at the teenaged girl sitting across from him. In a calm voice, he finally spoke. "I'm sorry, Daria. I asked your parents to wait outside for now. I prefer to do separate interviews first, to see what each family member is looking to get out of this."
"Well, I'm looking to get out of this. Can I go now?"
"Good one," Moore said, chuckling. "But seriously, according to your mother anyway, you did agree to speak to me. Do you have any idea why your family came here?"
"That's a pretty stupid question."
"Agreed, but I have to start somewhere. Is there anything you'd like to talk about?"
"You're paid by the hour, aren't you?"
"I can't force you to talk to me Daria, and I have no desire to do so. Perhaps I should call your parents in here and we can have our first group session now," he said, starting to get up.
"I don't see what good that would do. It's not like we ever talked all that much before--" Daria abruptly cut herself off.
Moore lowered himself back into his chair and looked at her pointedly.
"--before Quinn died," Daria finished, staring directly at him.
"So do you think now might be a good time to start?"
Daria crossed her arms and looked away. " I know what's going on," she muttered.
"Oh?" he asked, innocently.
"This isn't a 'separate interview' for family therapy. I'm here because my parents think I've flipped out."
"Have you given them any reason to think that?" he asked, making an unobtrusive note on the pad in front of him.
Daria just gave him a sidelong glance full of malice and suspicion.
"Daria," Moore continued, "I don't have any reason to lie to you. Your family is here because all of you need help adjusting to your sister's death. But a family is composed of individuals. And as an individual, I think you have the potential to offer the most help to your parents."
"Well that was a lot of psychobabble," she said sarcastically.
"It's true, Daria," he said smiling, "I think your parents probably need a lot of help, from you. I would also like to propose that you may also need the most help. I did ask to meet with you first because your recent behavior has become a source of concern to your parents. And your friends."
Daria jerked at that last statement as if struck. She stared at him, her face lined with worry.
Daria was standing at her locker when Jodie walked up.
"Hi, Daria," Jodie said, "I know you're sick of hearing this, but how are you doing?"
Daria started to walk down the school hallway as Jodie fell into step beside her. "If there was a safe way to answer that question, I'd probably respond to it more often."
"I just want to know if you're doing okay," Jodie said earnestly.
"And if I am?"
Jodie stepped in front of Daria and turned to face her. "Look, Daria, I'll go away if you want. I just want you to know that I'm concerned about you."
Daria stared impassively at Jodie for a few seconds, then stepped around her. "Thanks," she mumbled as she walked by.
Jodie turned to catch up. "So do you need to talk about anything? Is there anything I can help you with?"
"I don't think you can help me Jodie," Daria said without looking.
"Because you're too smart and too sensitive," Daria replied quietly.
"To live in a world like ours at a time like this with a sis-- oh!" Jodie cut herself off, embarrassed. In her attempt to bond, she had maneuvered herself into a verbal trap from a previous heartfelt conversation. Not knowing what else to say, she stopped and watched Daria's back retreating down the hallway.
"My friends should mind their own business," Daria mumbled.
"Your friends consider you their business, Daria, that's why they're your friends."
Daria gave a mild snort.
"Disagree with that assessment, huh?" he said. When Daria didn't respond, he continued, "Tell me, how crowded did that hospital room get when you had that rash?"
"I bet Mom told you to throw that in my face," Daria muttered.
"Only half-right," he said, glancing at his notes, "Apparently, Helen was told by Jane that it should be brought up if necessary."
Daria looked up at him, wide-eyed. "Jane talked to Mom?" she asked quickly.
"Apparently she's been worried about you as well," he agreed.
"You didn't kill her," Jane said, catching up to Daria on the sidewalk.
"You're not a misery chick," Daria replied, without looking up.
"I'm serious, Daria. I think you're beating yourself up too much over the accident," Jane said, putting as much stress on the last word as possible.
"The last time someone died you got mad because I didn't care enough."
"Last time it wasn't your sister who died. Last time they didn't die right in your lap. And last time--" Jane stopped and lowered her eyes and voice, "last time I didn't do everything I could to make you feel worse than you already do."
"As I recall that's pretty much exactly what you did."
"Okay, so I'm two and oh. Cut me some slack here."
"Like give me a sign that you're still in there. That you're still actually you."
Daria stopped in her tracks. "I think you're still trying to push your high score."
"I'm sorry," Jane said, uneasily looking Daria straight in the eye. "Look, no one's surprised that you're acting different than normal right now--"
"You have a problem with the way I'm expressing myself?" Daria interrupted.
"No. No, of course not," Jane replied worriedly.
"Then let me express this: you can't help me right now, Jane. This is hard enough as it is. Just leave me alone."
Jane watched Daria's back retreat down the sidewalk.
"Jane just thinks I need to show my grief more," Daria muttered.
"Do you?" Moore asked.
"People express their emotions in different ways, Daria. As I understand, most of the time people would accuse you of not expressing any emotions at all."
"I've been expressing emotions all over the place," Daria mumrmured.
"Maybe that's what has your family concerned. You've been expressing emotions where you normally haven't. Perhaps they see that as a change in character."
"Everyone's telling me that I need to grieve, and that I need to be sad. So now they're all surprised that I'm acting different than normal?"
"Well, do you think you're emotional responses might give them cause to be surprised?"
"I don't know."
"Can you tell me about the funeral?"
The church was packed with mourners. Family, friends, students and faculty members from Lawndale High filled the pews to capacity. Daria sat in the front center row with her parents and Tom. His parents and sister were there as well, sitting further back.
Everyone was dressed in their most respectful mourning clothes. Daria was wearing her regular outfit, a green jacket and black skirt with boots. Those who didn't know her would say that she was dressed very appropriately for the occasion. Those who did know her would have agreed.
Daria hadn't gone to the "viewings" at the funeral home. All services, including this one, had been done closed-casket. Jake and Helen sat on one side of Daria, a constant stream of tears flowing from their eyes. Daria's face remained impassive throughout, although occasionally she would stare off at a random point, as if lost in thought. Tom sat next to Daria, a hand conspicuously extended for her to take for support, which she just as conspicuously never did.
When the minister began speaking, there was a swell of fresh tears from all parts of the room. He sometimes had to pause or talk over Jake and Helen, who would frequently break down sobbing. During one of the pauses, a look of curious concern enveloped his face. The look created a ripple effect outward, as everyone's attention was drawn to the source of his concern.
Daria was shaking violently in her seat. She had her face buried in her hands, but she was having little success in masking the hysterical shrieks she was generating. Unable to calm her, Tom eventually led her out of the church. No one else saw her for the rest of the day.
"So Tom took you home?"
"Yeah. We sat in my room the rest of the day. Everyone came over after... wards, but he stayed with me the whole time and kept people out, except when he was getting us food from downstairs."
"He sounds like quite a guy."
Daria's lips turned up in a brief flicker of a smile. "Yeah," she said quietly.
"I imagine he's been a big help through all of this."
"I guess," she said, looking off distantly.
"Did he help you right after the accident?"
"Daria?" he repeated.
"Daria?" Quinn repeated.
"Sorry, Quinn," Daria said, without looking at her sister in the passenger seat, "I was just thinking about being anywhere else right now."
"I know what you mean," Quinn agreed.
Daria glanced over at Quinn, and had just enough time to wonder why the grill of a giant truck was so close to the window before the impact. Daria was too surprised to know what was happening. The seat belt pulled against her tightly as the air bag did its best to smother her, all the while she was being bounced around amidst sounds so loud that she couldn't hear anything.
As suddenly as it started, the jostling was over. Pressing the rapidly-deflating airbag down, she tried to get her breath back. Her chest and waist hurt where the seat belt had dug in to her. Her arms hurt where the air bag had compressed them. Her legs hurt where they had banged against the floor and dash. Incredibly shaken up, she said the first thing that crossed her mind. "I'm fine, Quinn, thank you."
She didn't expect a response, really. In fact, it was the comment that made her remember that Quinn was in the car with her. She looked over at Quinn to check on her, and was utterly dismayed at the sight that greeted her eyes.
The passenger side of the car was a complete wreck. The door and the roof were both caved in. There was twisted metal, broken glass, and torn fabric everywhere. However, the utter devastation on that side of the vehicle absolutely paled compared to the sight of the occupant sitting in the center of that chaotic scene.
Quinn, unmoving, was sitting shoved over closer to Daria, but was held up off the seat by the remains of her seat belt and Daria's air bag. Daria couldn't see Quinn's face, as it was covered by Quinn's long hair. Daria couldn't really see Quinn's long hair because it was covered by more blood than Daria had ever seen. The blood was everywhere, actually. It covered Quinn's hair, her shirt, the seat, the remains of the airbags, and, as she came to realize, Daria herself.
As Daria's airbag deflated, the seat belt slowly lowered the broken marionette that was Quinn down to the stage floor of the front seat. She slowly watched Quinn's head leave a long, red smear against the bag's fabric. The smear formed a long, messy line that pointed straight down at Daria's lap. Eventually, her sister was lying quietly on Daria's legs, her long, beautiful, matted, blood-soaked hair forming a deep contrast against Daria's green jacket.
Daria brought her hand down to touch Quinn's head, to see if she was all right. As she touched her sister's warm, sticky hair, she thought she heard a small pop. As she lifted her hand away, the cloying hair that had wrapped itself around her fingers came with it. She tried to shake her hand free, but the tangled digits refused to free themselves. Bringing her hand close to her face to look at it, she could at first not identify the palm-sized piece of ceramic the hair was attached to. Slowly, she gazed back down at her sister.
Quinn's brains, loosed from her crushed skull, had spilled out onto Daria's lap.
"Daria, can you describe all that in one word?" Moore asked quickly.
Daria didn't answer right away, but eventually she mumbled something.
"Sorry?" he said, leaning forward.
"Fascinating," she whispered.
"Of course it was," the doctor said with a small smile.
"What?" Daria said, looking up at him with a note of surprise.
"Daria, would it be safe to say your tastes and interests are more eclectic than other girls your age?"
"Uh, yeah," she said slowly.
"I bet you have posters or models or books that depict human anatomy, or things that other people might label 'strange' or even 'gross'."
Daria didn't answer, she just stared at the doctor warily.
"You've always had such interests, haven't you?" he continued.
After a pause, Daria gave a small nod and looked down at the floor.
Daria looked back up at him, almost startled.
"Your interests are your own, Daria. You can like what you want. Your sister's death was horrible and tragic, but how often do you get to see something like that?"
Daria put her hands to the side of her head, her body language connoting equal portions of horror and relief. "But, it can't be what she wanted," she moaned.
"Of course not," he said sincerely. "Do you feel badly that your sister died?"
"Yes," Daria said, tears forming.
"Was Quinn's death interesting to see?"
"Yes," she replied, the tears leaking down her face.
"Both facts are separate and true, Daria. You don't have to feel badly about one just because of the other."
Daria didn't reply, but dropped her face into her hands and started to cry in earnest. Her shoulders heaved as she sobbed through her fingers.
Internally, the doctor was doing cartwheels. From what her mother had told him, he hadn't actually expected a major breakthrough in the first session. He suspected that she hadn't cried like this since the funeral.
After a while, he walked around the desk and surreptitiously handed her a tissue. After a while, her tears slowed and she blew her nose on the damp tissue. "Feel better?" he asked.
"No," she croaked out.
"Good," he said. To her surprised look, he continued, "I'm sorry, Daria, but your sister's death obviously hurt you a great deal. It's going to take a long time before you truly feel better. What's important is that you acknowledge that it does hurt, and try not to deny it."
"But I need to know now," she murmured, wringing the tissue in her hands.
"I'm afraid I don't have any answers for you right now, Daria. In time, though, you will find all the answers you need. Look, I think we've done enough for today. Why don't you go out and sit with your parents for right now? I'll be out in a minute and I'll reschedule their sessions for another day."
Daria got up trepidatiously and walked out the office door to the waiting room. Moore sat back down behind his desk and started scribbling notes frantically. He had made a few shorthand remarks during Daria's session, but he was so excited at the results that he wanted to get as many of his thoughts down as possible while they were still fresh.
He was interrupted from his writing by a soft knock on the door. Before he got up to answer it, the door opened and Helen Morgendorffer stuck her head inside. "Hello," she called.
"Oh, Mrs. Morgendorffer," he started, glancing at the clock. "I'm sorry, I only meant to be a minute. I guess the time just ran away from me. How's Daria doing?"
"That's what I was going to ask you, actually," Helen said, with a slightly cross tone.
"Well, we made a great deal of progress today, I think," he said, indicating she should take a seat. "I think she's ready to work through this and get on with her life."
"So what did she say?" Helen asked, sitting down.
"Well, I'm not at liberty to discuss what she actually said, Mrs. Morgendorffer, but I can tell you this : she's experiencing survivor's guilt, as I thought."
"Not at liberty? She's my daughter! I brought her here--"
"She's my patient, Helen," the doctor interrupted, "I would think that as a lawyer you should be aware of what I am required to keep confidential."
"Of course. I'm sorry," Helen said, and then added, "but is sending her home alone wise?"
"What?" the doctor said, confused.
"She left right after she came out of your office. She indicated that she had your permission to leave."
"Really? Do you remember what she said exactly?"
"She said that you would be with us in a few minutes, and that she was going home. We questioned her about that, of course, but she told us that you had said she was okay."
"Hm, well it's possible she misconstrued my intentions when I asked her to wait outside with you. More than likely, she just wanted some private time; we had a very emotional session."
"Really? Daria?" Helen asked, with a note of wonder.
"Oh, yes. My guess is she went straight home to rest. You'll probably find her in her bed when you get there."
"That certainly sounds like her," Helen agreed.
"Yes. Look, Daria's appointment went on longer than I expected and it is getting late. How about we reschedule for another time? After all," he said pointedly, "Daria is the main focus right now, isn't she?"
"Of course, but..."
"Yes?" he asked.
"Well, Daria took the Lexus."
"I see. Here, let me call you a cab."
Moore was finishing up some notes and getting ready to leave his office for the day when his phone rang. He was surprised when the caller turned out to be Helen Morgendorffer.
"Doctor, we've arrived at home and Daria isn't here," Helen said worriedly. "Did she give you any indication of where she may have gone?"
"I'm afraid not, Helen, but there's no reason to worry unnecessarily," Moore said reasonably. "She probably just went to a friend's house."
"Yes, well, we thought of that, but we called both of them and they haven't seen her."
"Now, Helen," he said amicably, "I know Daria isn't that close to many people, but we both know she has a wider circle of friends than she's willing to admit to."
"Look, doctor, we'll call everyone we can think of, but until she walks through our front door I am holding you personally responsible for her safety," Helen said, her hackles firmly raised.
Moore was beginning to regret postponing Helen's session. Until he was in a position where he could freely write out prescriptions for her, he really didn't want to give her an opportunity to play the lawyer card.
"Tell you what, Helen, let me get some phone numbers from you for some of Daria's friends that she mentioned during her session. I'll call them, and even if they haven't seen her, it will help me flesh out her case a little more. Meanwhile, you can call around to her other friends. I'm sure she'll turn up soon, though. Like I said, she probably just wants to be alone right now."
Helen gave him the phone numbers he asked for, along with several veiled threats concerning lawsuits. Normally he would never consider contacting a patient's acquaintances, for fear of violating doctor-patient confidentiality. However, a possible breach of ethics was preferable to a possible legal action.
He decided to call the boyfriend first. After running the gauntlet of an obnoxious younger sister, he finally was able to speak to the boy.
"Hi there, Tom. You don't know me, my name is Dr. Moore--"
"Oh, you must be Daria's therapist," Tom interrupted.
"Yes, well that makes this easier. She told you she was seeing a therapist?"
"Are you kidding? Her parents enlisted my help in convincing her to see you."
"I imagine she took a bit of convincing," Moore said matter-of-factly.
"You try telling your girlfriend that you agree with her parents and see how far it flies."
"So you believe she needs help?"
"Well, she has been acting really strange ever since the accident. And by the way, I do mean strange for her," Tom said dryly.
"Can you be more specific?"
Tom thought it over. "Well, she's been shutting me out a lot recently. Still, she's had a lot of, um, emotional outbursts where normally she exercises a lot of self-control."
"I understand, but don't you think that could be explained away by the circumstances?"
"Of course. I don't mind telling you though, the funeral was positively scary."
"Ah, yes, she told me about the funeral," Moore said, knowing exactly to what Tom was referring.
"Good. You know, I pride myself on being one of the few people who can make her laugh, but I've never heard her go off like that."
"Laugh?" Moore asked, not knowing exactly to what Tom was referring.
"Yeah. Eventually, I had to take her outside so she could calm down. She never did tell me what she found so funny," Tom paused, "you said she told you."
"Yes, of course she did," Moore said, still surprised. Laughing? "Has she done anything else to cause you concern?"
"Like I said, she's been shutting me out. Whenever I press her on it, she tells me that I can't help her. Maybe you should speak to her friend Jane, they go to school together."
"Thank you, Tom. Yes, I think I'll do that."
Moore hung up the phone and pondered what he had just heard. Daria had admitted that she had broken into hysterics at the funeral; he had assumed she was crying. Laughing wasn't an incredibly odd reaction, all things considered. The human mind under duress could respond in quite an unusual manner, after all. She had admitted that she found gruesome subjects interesting, it was conceivable that she could have found the situation amusing. Still, it nagged at him. Had Daria been purposely vague with him?
Curiosity more than anything else compelled him to pick up the next number and start dialing. Perhaps the best friend could shed some light on things.
"Yo," said a girl's voice upon answering.
"Hello, may I speak to Jane Lane, please," he said politely.
"I said, 'Yo.'" said the voice that was apparently Jane Lane.
"Hello, Jane, you don't know me. My name is Dr. Moore--"
"Oh, you must be Daria's therapist," she interrupted.
"Well, yes I am, but weren't you worried that you may have embarrassed your friend if I wasn't?"
"If you weren't her therapist, then you wouldn't know that Daria isn't my neurotic Komodo dragon."
It was said without missing a beat, and took him back a little bit. The crowd Daria ran with seemed very intelligent and self-confident. Recovering, he said, "Right. Anyway, how did you know Daria was seeing a therapist? Did her parents recruit your help in getting her to see me?"
Jane snorted. "Not really. Daria's been avoiding me since the accident. Helen has called me a couple of times, though."
"Well, withdrawing from friends and acquaintances is perfectly normal in a situation like this."
"That's what I tried to explain to Helen."
"You think her mother overreacted by bringing her here?"
"No, I think it's long overdue."
"But you agreed being withdrawn was normal."
"Exactly. She's withdrawn from me and her boyfriend, but she's been talking to everyone else."
This made him sit up. "Really?"
"Yeah. People she wouldn't give the time of day to before, she's been positively nice to now. Just yesterday I heard her giving the Fashion Club advice on eyeliner."
Moore remembered his initial assessment of Daria, and the guilt she must be going through. "Are you sure she's not just trying to be a better person? Oftentimes, when we lose someone close to us, we feel compelled to compensate for that person's absence by improving ourselves."
"I hardly think turning into a clone of her dead sister is an improvement."
"Sometimes an individual can overcompensate in that regard, but are you sure that's not an exaggeration?"
"If she wants to hang out with Quinn's friends, that's fine. It wouldn't bother me so much if she hadn't started dressing like Quinn, too."
Moore didn't know what to say to that. After making sure Jane hadn't seen Daria, he quickly ended the call. He slowly pondered the picture that was beginning to form, but he was at a loss as to what it meant. Shutting out her friends and seeking the company of her sister's acquaintances. Dressing like her sister. It didn't add up with everything else.
Daria might pursue her sister's interests as a way of dealing with her guilt, but would she go so far as to adopt her manner of dress, or even other habits? It was a fairly common reaction, really. Except that in their session, Daria didn't seem to be obsessing over Quinn, only the manner of her death.
He had one other phone number on his list. After dialing and speaking to her mother, whom he had to assure that he had no internships available, he was able to speak to Jodie Landon.
"Hi, Jodie, you don't know me. My name is Dr. Moore, I'm Daria's therapist--"
"Daria's seeing a therapist?" Jodie interrupted.
Moore mentally kicked himself. "Yes, I'm sorry. Her other friends already knew, so I just assumed you did as well."
"Oh," Jodie said brightly.
"Well, I guess it's nice to know that Daria considers me a friend."
"Yes," Moore said, making a note of her reaction out of habit, "Obviously, I can't share any personal information about Daria, but I was wondering if I might ask you a few questions to help me get a little background."
I assume you're aware of her family's recent loss?" he asked.
"Yeah" Jodie said somberly, "it was really sad how Quinn died."
"How would you say Daria has been taking it?"
"Well," Jodie said, pondering the question, "that's kind of hard to say. She's never really been forthcoming, except about stuff she doesn't like."
"Have you noticed her exhibit any unusual behavior recently?"
"Absolutely. Well, unusual for her, anyway."
"Could you elaborate?" he asked, trying to sound merely professionally interested.
"It's nothing much, really," Jodie began, apparently searching for words, "it's just, she has this one outfit she always wears. It's not a bad ensemble or anything, just not what you'd call... fashionable. Only now, half the time she is dressing fashionably."
"I see," he said, not seeing. "Is there anything else?"
"Yeah. See, she's also been hanging out with a lot of the... popular kids."
"Where she didn't before?"
"Yeah. See, she always sort of prided herself on being an antisocial outcast, but that's not the main thing."
"Oh? What is?"
"Well, it's what she talks to the other kids about that's pretty strange."
Moore sat up in anticipation. "Yes? What does she talk to them about?"
"Well, she talks to them about being popular."
"I'm not sure I understand."
"I've talked to some of them about it, and apparently when she's dressed nice, she'll approach them and start talking about stuff. They say they like talking to her, and that she's usually real nice. However, she eventually turns the conversation to why certain people are popular, and if, well, "smart people" could be popular."
"'Smart people'?" he asked, catching the inflection.
"Ah, of course," Moore said, trying to absorb this new information. "Tell me, what strikes you as the strangest aspect of this behavior?"
"It sounds like she's trying to, I don't know, be Quinn." Quickly she added, "But maybe that's a little strong. Maybe she just wants to try to be like her a little bit, and that's why she was so worried about the "brain" thing."
"Tell me, why do you thing the "brain" thing is such an issue?"
"Well, Daria is real smart. She's always been called a brain. Maybe she's worried that Quinn's friends won't like her because Quinn wasn't a brain. Not that Quinn wasn't smart or anything. As a matter of fact I heard that recently she had turned her grades around and was becoming a better student. Still..." she trailed off.
"Yes?" he prompted.
"Well, if Daria was trying to figure out how to be smart and popular, I don't know why she didn't come to me. I mean, I'm smart and popular, and she knows that, but every time I've approached her about it she's chased me off."
After that, he quickly thanked Jodie for her time and asked her to call the Morgendorffers if she saw Daria. He wasn't alone with his thoughts for long before his phone rang again.
Helen Morgendorffer was very upset. "We've called everyone we know that knows her and they haven't seen her. We checked the library, the pizza parlor, even the mall and we didn't see her anywhere. I'm about to call the police, but I'm sure they won't be any help--"
"Helen," he said soothingly, "I think it's a bit premature to call the police. Look, would it be okay if I came over? I'd like to see Daria's room, maybe get some personal details that may help me as her therapist. Besides, depending on what she's been doing all this time, she may be ready to talk some more when she does get home."
"I suppose that would be all right," Helen said uneasily.
"Good, good. I've got your address, I should be there shortly. In the meantime, there is one more place to look that you haven't mentioned yet."
"It's possible she may have wanted to... spend some time with her sister," Moore said delicately.
"Oh! Oh my, of course," Helen said excitedly. "I'll have Jake drive straight over to the cemetery right away."
"Oh, and Helen?" Moore asked, a thought occurring to him.
"If you can, see if she did stop at home first before leaving again."
"Oh, we didn't think of that. But why?"
"Maybe nothing. I just want to know if she changed clothes."
After hanging up, he wondered if that was a wise thing to ask her. The situation was getting out of hand, and could completely spiral out of control if the worst happened. Helen was right earlier, though. He did have a commitment to his patients' safety. He quickly gathered up his things and left his office.
He spent the drive over to the Morgendorffer household lost in thought. Everything he had heard from Daria's friends pointed to a deep obsession over her dead sister. Yet, in cases like this, the object of the obsession is usually placed on a very tall pedestal. In his session with Daria earlier, she didn't seem to hold Quinn in that high regard. She felt badly about her sister's death, though. In fact, she seemed to be tormented by guilt over it. That sort of guilt could easily trigger this type of obsession.
It still felt wrong. The girl who cried in his office today knew the source of her guilt. She didn't blame herself for the accident; she was tormented by the pleasure she took from seeing it. But maybe she did blame herself for her sister's death. Would she have purposely held that back from him? What reason would she have to do that? Compared to admitting the enjoyment she felt, accepting blame for the accident would seem practically minor by comparison. It was that piece of logic that truly bothered him.
There had to be something else that she hadn't shared with him. The pieces of the puzzle didn't fit together because he didn't have all of them. There was definitely something tormenting her, driving her to -- what? Mimic her sister? Talk to her sister's friends instead of her own? Run away? He didn't have enough information. He hoped that he would have a chance to obtain it.
Parking in the Morgendorffer's driveway, he got out of the car and approached the house in what he hoped was a calm manner. Helen Morgendorffer threw open the door before he had a chance to knock. "Oh, Dr. Moore!" she exclaimed. "I thought you were Jake or Daria."
He flashed Helen a reassuring smile. "I'm sure they'll both be home soon, Helen. May I come in?"
"Of course," Helen said, stepping aside.
Once he was inside and she had closed the door, she turned to face him again. He knew she was about to launch into a boisterous tirade, and he debated whether or not to let her vent her feelings or to interrupt her before she laid into him. Before he had a chance to make his decision, her cell phone rang.
Putting the phone to her ear with a quick fluid motion, she said, "Hello? Not now Eric!" Crossly striking the button to disconnect the call, she turned a viscous scowl back to Dr. Moore. This exchange gave him a pretty good indication of how worried she was about her daughter. Helen struck him as someone who practically lived on her cell phone.
Before she could utter a word, he turned and walked upstairs. "I assume her room is up here?" he called over his shoulder.
"Yes," Helen replied, following behind him.
Moore stepped quickly into the first bedroom he came across. It looked like a typical teenaged girl's bedroom. There was a canopy bed, a vanity mirror, stuffed animals strewn about, and posters of boy bands on the walls. A thought struck him just as Helen came up behind him.
"This is Quinn's room," she said softly, confirming what he had just been thinking.
"I see. Did you check and see if Daria came home and left before you arrived back?"
"I checked her room, but I didn't notice any sign that she may have been there recently."
"So you didn't check in here, then?"
"No, but why--" Helen stopped when she realized where Dr. Moore was looking. His gaze was locked on a skirt and jacket lying on the floor in front of Quinn's dresser, right next to a pair of black boots.
Moore walked over to the dresser, and peered in a half-opened drawer. "Tell me, did they often wear each other's clothes?"
"Oh, no. Daria and Quinn have two completely different ideas of... style."
"Daria doesn't normally wear clothes like Quinn's?"
"Daria's never really been into clothes and fashion," Helen said, almost wistfully, "I mean, she has some outfits, but not as many as Quinn."
"Have you noticed Daria wearing Quinn's clothes? Since after the accident, I mean."
"A few times. I didn't think much of it, though," Helen said weakly.
"Oh?" he replied, with a searching look.
"Well, she looked so nice, and I suppose that some of Quinn's outfits may have been a little tight on her..."
But all the better to show off the assets of a proud mother's daughter, he finished in his head. Just then they heard the front door open downstairs. Jake entered and called for Helen. She ran downstairs to see if he had found their daughter.
Moore didn't think the sounds downstairs were proof of success in Jake's mission, so he decided to continue to investigate the upper level of the house. Walking down the hall, he found another bedroom and stood transfixed.
The room looked like it must have once belonged to a schizophrenic shut-in. The bars on the window had been filed off and removed, but the walls were completely padded, and there was even a support bar near the bed. There were anatomical statues and posters scattered around, amidst books and papers on the floor and almost every surface. This was Daria's room.
Moore now knew why her family and friends were so concerned. If the person who lived in this room acted anything like the person who lived in the other, eyebrows wouldn't merely raise, they'd be torn entirely off their foreheads.
Helen and Jake came upstairs and joined him in the hallway. "I looked everywhere that Daria might go, and I haven't seen a trace of her," Jake said.
Jake had obviously been crying. Privately Moore wondered if it was due to the situation in general or the location of the last place he checked. "I'm afraid that might be part of the problem, Mr. Morgendorffer, you've been looking for Daria," he said. When he saw Jake's and Helen's confused looks, he continued, "I think Daria's looking for Quinn."
At first, Joey couldn't believe his luck. When he was leaving school with the guys after football practice, Daria Morgendorffer was standing there in the parking lot. He knew she was a brain, but lately she'd been dressing really hot, and today she looked incredible. Instead of that geeky outfit she usually wore, she had on tight jeans and a tight shirt. She wasn't wearing those freaky glasses, either, and she even had some makeup on. She looked prettier than any girl he had ever seen, even Quinn, and she was her sister, so this really rocked.
He was thinking of ways he could impress her more than Jeffy and whatshisname when she walked right up to him and asked if he would like to take her out. Inside, he was pumping his fist in the air and yelling, "Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!" Then he stopped and realized he was doing that on the outside, too. A little embarrassed, but still ecstatic that she had picked him over the others, he asked her if Chez Pierre on Friday night sounded good. She said it sounded fine, but she meant that she'd like him to take her out right now. His fist was on it's way back up before he caught it and redirected his arm into opening the car door for her.
Trading victory thumbs-ups with the rest of the team, he leaped in the driver's side and tore out of the parking lot. He didn't want her to think he was cheap, so he didn't just take her to a fast food place. He didn't have enough money on him for Chez Pierre anyway, so he settled on one of those things-on-the-wall restaurants. He liked those places since the potato skins they served could either be an appetizer or a meal, depending on how many you ordered.
After eating, they went to see a movie. He nearly kicked himself when he realized he automatically bought tickets for an action movie instead of one of the chick flicks, but she didn't seem to mind. In fact, she was really agreeable about everything. He started to apologize about the movie, but she said it was okay since it was all part of the whole date thing. He didn't really get what she meant, but just figured it was something a brain might say.
He offered to take her home after the movie, and again he drew an ace. She didn't feel like going home yet, and asked him what he felt like doing. He knew he was a guy, and there was only one way he could answer that question. He also knew that she knew he was a guy, so she must have known what his answer was going to be. He therefore felt safe enough to give her an honest answer, since it was the one she was expecting. He was impressed with his reasoning, and wondered if her braininess was rubbing off on him.
That's how he wound up on Lover's Lane with Daria Morgendorffer. After setting the parking brake, he threw his arm over the seat and turned to look at her. He tried to give her his best "I'm-macho-and-I-know-what-I'm-doing" look, but he was worried that might be a little strong, so he quickly added his "I-think-you're-hot-but-I-still-respect-you-as-a-person" smile. She didn't seem to respond right away, so he inched closer in order to put his arm around her. When she put her hand up to stop him, he was afraid he was in for a "You're-pressuring-me" speech, so he was completely taken by surprise by what she did next.
"Do you want to kiss me?" she asked.
"Yeah!" he responded, enthusiastically lurching forward.
She stopped him with her hand again. "Why?" she asked.
"Huh?" he responded, obviously confused by the question.
"Why do you want to kiss me?" She asked more intently, staring at him.
"Well, 'cause you're real pretty," he said weakly. He thought he was getting dragged into some romance thing, so he added quickly, "I mean beautiful. You're beautiful."
"But I know you think I'm a brain. Are you sure you want to kiss a brain?"
Joey thought he was home clear. "Daria, you're beautiful, cute, pretty, and gorgeous. Why would I care about anything else?"
Daria just continued staring for a few moments, but he got the idea that she was staring past him at something else. "Maybe that's it," she finally said, softly. She turned and let herself out of the car, and started walking away towards the quarry. He didn't like how close she got to the edge. That was something he and the other football players would do to impress their dates. It wasn't supposed to happen the other way around.
Now he was starting to get a little freaked out. She had climbed up onto the little safety wall and was standing right at the edge, looking out over the quarry. He tried calling her name a few times, but she just ignored him. He was still wondering what he should do when he noticed several pairs of headlights coming down the lane.
Jake was the first to leap out of his car. "All right you little punk! Where's my daughter?" he screamed, running over to Joey's car. He reached through the window in an attempt to throttle the boy, who was now backing frantically away towards the other side of the car. Helen was right behind Jake, futilely trying to restrain him.
Moore got out of his car slowly. He had noticed the girl's outline in the headlights when he pulled up. Once they started calling Quinn's friends, they were able to quickly get a picture of where Daria had gone, once they were able to sift out the details of a teenage rumor mill that was in high gear. Since he knew that she and the boy had not run off to Vegas to get married, a few pointed questions led them straight here.
"Jake, this isn't helping," Helen said, trying to pull her husband away from the boy's car. "Let me question him. I'm sure--"
Helen cut herself off when she felt Dr. Moore's hand on her shoulder. Turning to him, she then looked where he nodded, towards the quarry. Her heart nearly stopped beating when she saw where her daughter was standing.
"Let me," Moore said quietly. "You two stay here for now." As he walked up towards the quarry's edge, he tried to remember everything he'd ever learned about talking someone down off a ledge. It was one of those things he'd read about, but didn't think he'd ever actually have to do. He approached from the side, so that she could definitely see him with her peripheral vision. He stopped well away from her, but close enough to talk. "Daria?" he asked, trying to sound calm.
Daria made no response. She continued to stare straight out over the quarry, her gaze fixed on a point he couldn't see. Moore realized that, depending on the depth of her fixation, calling her by her own name might not be a good idea. He still refused to believe that she could have gone so far as to believe she was her sister, however.
"Look, maybe you can just step back from the edge there, and we can all talk about this," he said. What was that word kids used these days? Lame. Yes, he definitely sounded lame.
There was still no response from Daria. As much as he wanted to, he didn't dare try to grab her and pull her away. She was right at the edge, her toes almost hanging over the lip. If she tried to jerk out of his grasp, or struggle at all, she could easily send herself right over and down to the quarry floor. He had to think of something to say to her that would get her attention. The best way to do that would be to figure out exactly what she was thinking about that brought her to this spot.
He knew there must be something she didn't tell him during their session, but what could it be? Did she hint at it, and he somehow missed it? She didn't say anything that he didn't deal with, particularly when she broke down and cried. He paused in his thinking. She said something about Quinn then, that now that he thought about it, sounded a little odd.
"What did Quinn want, Daria?" he asked.
Daria blinked noticeably. Slowly, she turned her head to face him. "What?" she said, finally.
"During our session, when you talked about the accident, you said that it couldn't have been what Quinn wanted. So what did she want?" Moore tried to surreptitiously move forward a few inches.
Daria looked away again. "She wanted to die," she said sadly.
"Daria, you're smart, right?" Quinn asked.
Daria sighed. That was always Quinn's lead in to a heavy discussion. Daria didn't really mind, in fact she was a little flattered, but these conversations usually wound up with her compromising her principles in order to make Quinn feel better. "Well, I've never forgotten how to not stop breathing," she finally replied.
Daria only noticed Quinn give a small nod to indicate she heard the response. There was obviously something weighing on her mind. That was probably the reason she asked Daria for a ride to the mall in the first place. She wanted to talk with Daria, and wanted to do so without any chance of their parents overhearing. Now Daria felt a little bad about charging her twenty bucks for the ride, but it explained why Quinn didn't haggle.
"I've been thinking about killing myself," Quinn finally said.
"What?" Daria exclaimed, taken completely by surprise at her sister's statement.
"I know," Quinn nodded, apparently anticipating a reaction like that, "but I have. That's why I need your help."
"Quick and messy or slow and beautiful?" was the retort Daria nearly said but clamped down on her tongue without saying it. Quinn sounded way too serious. "What do you need my help with?" she finally asked, staring straight ahead.
"Well, I know you don't really think about this stuff all the time, but I was hoping you'd know a way that was quick, but not too messy," Quinn said.
Daria continued staring straight ahead. Quinn was serious. Daria didn't know what to do or say. She desperately wished that their mother was there, but that was exactly why Quinn was having this conversation with her now. "May I ask why?" she said slowly.
"You know how I got tutored by David?"
"Yeah," Daria said, unsure of where this was heading.
"And now I've been doing better at school, and maybe I can get into the college I want?"
"Well, lately I've realized a few things."
Daria waited a few beats, but Quinn didn't continue. "What have you realized?" she asked, trying to lead it out of Quinn.
"It doesn't matter," Quinn muttered.
"Great," Daria thought to herself, "Quinn drops a bombshell in my lap and now she decides to clam up." Daria didn't know what to do or say. Here she was, the misery chick, and the princess with the perfect life was the one who wanted to kill herself.
"So will you help me, Daria?" Quinn asked.
Daria continued staring straight ahead. The fact was, she knew she could easily think of a dozen ways off the top of her head that a person could die painlessly and leave a pretty corpse. She also knew that she didn't actually want to think of any of them right now.
"Daria?" Quinn repeated.
"Sorry, Quinn," Daria said, without looking at her sister in the passenger seat, "I was just thinking about being anywhere else right now."
"I know what you mean," Quinn agreed.
And then a truck hit their SUV, killing Quinn instantly. Moore was horrorstricken. It answered so much. Daria was not wracked with guilt because she survived the car accident and her sister didn't. She was not full of self-loathing because she found the sight of her sister's dead body fascinating. Perhaps these were factors to consider in the larger picture, but they weren't the main problem.
Daria was trying to deal with the fact that Quinn told her she wanted to die, and then she did. Before Daria could do anything to prevent it. Before she could find out why Quinn wanted to die in the first place. Perhaps she could have talked Quinn out of it. Perhaps she could have found some help for Quinn. The point was, she never had the chance. She didn't have the closure she needed, and until she got it, she couldn't let Quinn go.
It was no wonder Daria laughed at the funeral. Quinn was suicidal, and wanted to know a fast way to kill herself. The universe then provided her exactly that. It was funny, if you could look at it a certain way.
But Daria never found out why Quinn wanted to kill herself before the accident. The mere fact that she wanted to was disturbing, but to not know her reasons for desiring that in the first place, and to never be able to find out, well... it was enough to drive a person crazy.
It must have truly nagged at Daria. She had to deal with the tragedy after the accident, weathering the gauntlet of concerned and grief-stricken relatives and friends. All distraught over Quinn's death, and not a one that she could tell about Quinn's last words. How could she tell that to anyone, even someone she trusted? Maybe it was something she could have shared with a therapist, if he hadn't been so proud of his textbook achievements that he couldn't see that he was asking the wrong questions.
Daria desperately needed to know why her sister wanted to die. Her own friends couldn't help her, because they didn't know Quinn well enough. In fact, if her friends knew what was bothering her, they may have stopped her from finding out. Daria knew Quinn wanted to kill herself because of something to do with her recent academic changes. Quinn's friends were the only source she had that would help her find out exactly what it was.
But Quinn's friends related to Quinn, not to Daria, so she had to act like Quinn in order for them to give her a real picture of what Quinn was going through. That meant dressing like Quinn, talking like Quinn, and not associating with Daria's friends. It would be easy to lose your identity doing something like that, but whether Daria was in danger of that or not, there was a more pressing concern.
Moore knew why Quinn had wanted to kill herself. What was more, he was pretty sure Daria had finally figured that out as well. Now that she had that answer, would she be able to let her sister go, or would it drive her to follow Quinn into oblivion?
"Daria, I really think you should step back from the edge now," he said calmly.
"She was right," Daria said, unmoving.
"About what?" he asked, knowing the answer already.
"It doesn't matter," she replied, matter-of-factly.
It doesn't matter. Quinn's exact words. She hadn't been ending the conversation, she had been telling her sister the conclusion she had drawn. She was making the transition from a fashion-obsessed airhead to an intellectually driven student, and came to realize that no matter how smart you were, people would always judge you on your looks and nothing else.
Of course it wasn't completely true, but he had to get Daria to believe that. At the same time he couldn't belittle the anguish Quinn had been going through, for fear of Daria's reaction.
"Should it matter?" he asked. He was trying to edge closer, just in case.
"It doesn't matter if it matters or not. It's always going to be true," she said, edging away from his direction.
Moore noted her reaction and stopped. "I'm sorry that she drew that conclusion. I'm also sorry that she died before she got the chance to see the flaw in her reasoning." It was a risk, but if she was willing to argue, she was willing to keep talking.
"There is no flaw to that reasoning. I've lived it all my life," she said looking at him squarely. "No matter how smart you are, people are only going to judge you based on your appearance. What's on the inside doesn't matter. People only look at the outside."
"Daria there's a saying that goes, 'That which is beautiful is not always good, but that which is good is always beautiful'. Appearance is more than what fashion magazines tell you it is. How you present yourself--"
"That's not the point," she interrupted.
"It isn't?" he said, perplexed.
"You don't understand," Daria said mournfully. "I never liked Quinn. She was always shallow and only cared about superficial things. The worst part was that I also envied her, because she was beautiful, and social, and driven. I hated the way she wasted those talents on all those brain-dead activities of hers."
Daria paused, her shoulders slumped. Moore was intrigued. She hadn't sounded this sorrowful when she cried her eyes out in his office. He only hoped that she would continue without prompting.
"But then she changed," Daria said, after taking a deep breath. "She realized that she wouldn't get anywhere in the world if she didn't start using her brain. She got herself a tutor and started applying herself to her schoolwork. I was really proud of her. I once had to grade an essay she wrote. I was as critical as I could possibly be, and the worst grade I could give her was a B plus. Then she found out the truth, that looks are everything, and she couldn't handle it. It didn't just make her sad; she wanted to kill herself."
Moore was speechless, but Daria continued quietly.
"I was finally able to love her," she said, pausing to inhale a sob, "and she wanted to die because of it."
Moore was about to cry himself. He knew he should remain emotionally detached from his patients, but the events of the day as well as these revelations were catching up to him. Daria had turned away from him again, and was looking down into the darkness of the quarry.
"Daria," he said, swallowing a lump in his throat, "I know It must really hurt. I know you want to hold on to Quinn, and I'm not asking you to do otherwise. I think it's a good idea to hold on to those who have deeply affected our lives. But joining Quinn is not the answer. If you want to hold on to her, you need to step back from the edge and give me your hand."
Daria didn't reply. She took a large, audible breath and nodded her head. Then in one fluid motion she stepped off of the wall. Moore lunged for her.
Doctor Moore held on to Daria for a very long time.
Well, there it is. My sixth Daria fanfic, completed at last. I would love to hear what you thought of it. Please send feedback to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Disclaimer: Daria and all related characters were created by Glenn Eichler and Susie Lewis and are trademarks of MTV Networks, Inc., a division of VIACOM international, Inc. All rights reserved by trademark holders U. S. National and International Law and Convention.
"Holding On" is a work of fiction produced solely for fun, and is not meant to be distributed for profit. It may be distributed to Daria fans everywhere, provided the author's name and e-mail address are left intact.