"Time is a wheel of constant motion that's always pulling us along. Tell me, who wants to look back on their youth and wonder where those years have gone?"
Breakfast at the Morgendorffer house was usually a quick affair with everyone choosing their favorite, and either eating amidst a flurry of noisy , pointless conversation, or just a quick greeting before someone ( usually Jake or Helen ) rushed out the door.
Today was differant in that Helen was still there when Jake and Quinn left . Daria noticed by saying in her dry tone, "Don't tell me, let me guess. Dad took your keys and you're stuck at home. Isn't that like saying the dog ate your homework?"
Helen sighs and sits at the table opposite her eldest daughter. "Actually, Daria, I wanted to talk with you about something. Since becoming a partner at the firm, I've come to realize that I've been neglecting my family..."
"So you're going to go out on your own and make your mark on the world. Go get 'em mom."
"No, of course not." Helen replied adding in a lower tone, "At least, not yet." This caused Daria to raise an eyebrow. ' I'll beleive that when Isee it' She thought. Helen con- tinued. "Daria, I'd like to ask you a favor. One of my clients is a single mother and needs a sitter for her five year old. I thought maybe you would want the job."
"Mom, after my adventure in babysitting the Gupty kids, I've taken a vow to let Quinn handle all children close to her age. After all, she is the expert in the sitting department."
"I didn't ask Quinn because the job requires a drivers license and that means you."
Daria looked up from her breakfast asking, "Doesn't this five year old have Aunts and Grandmothers to do this? I preferr to do my sitting at home or the library with a good book."
Helen paused for a moment and quietly said, "No,Daria, she has no family other than her mother who as it happens, is chief of trauma at Cedars of Lawndale Hospital. She works long hours and often times stays well past Midnight. "
Daria now glares at her Mother. "So, you decided to ask your other daughter, the one with no social life. How thoughtful."
"It pays $175 a week."
Daria sighs, "Alright, you've found my weak spot. I'll give it a try just to make Quinn jealouse that for once I'm doing better than she is financially. When does this job start and when do I meet the little..(she hesitated for a moment) darling?"
"You start right after school today, but you must stop by my office first. I have a few papers that Dr. Hunter wants to sign at lunch today." Helen got up from her chair and started for the door. Before she went out, Helen turned to her daughter and said, "Thank you,sweety. I'll see you after school."
"Aren't you forgetting something?" Daria asked ,giving her mother that Mona Lisa smile.
Helen just stood there with a confused look. Daria put her dishes in the sink and, picking up her book bag, joined her mother, continuing, "To get to your office after school I'll need the car. Or were you going to pick me up ?"
Helen just shook her head and handed Daria the keys to her red Rover.
That afternoon in the lunchroom of Lawndale High, Daria was just finishing telling Jane of how Helen had 'hooked' her into a sitting job. "..and the best part is, it pays on a weekly basis. The bad part is I'm stuck with a five year old I know nothing about. It'll probably be like living with a smaller scale Quinn, but without the fashion club."
Jane smirked, "Look at it this way,Daria. Quinn gets her license next year, so you can probably pass the baton to her and resume your normal life of telling the world what you think it can do with itself."
"No way am I going to give her the opportunity to make a little version of herself out of a five year old. No child should go through that."
Jane chuckled and was finishing her drink when Daria added with a slight grin, "Besides, why should she make $175. a week?"
"WHAT?" Jane choked on her milk, "You gotta be pulling my leg. $!75? how can you even think of turning something like that down? " Jane reached out to feel Darias forehead, "Nope, no fever. "
"Very funny,Doctor. At any rate, if I did have a fever, I'd go see her mom. She's the Chief cut up in the hospital. That is assuming health benifits come with this job. I'll have to ask about that and what the co-pay would be." Daria sighed before going on. "Look,Jane, after what's been happening recently, this might be a welcome distraction. I need some time to think and maybe get a fresh outlook on life."
Jane knew what her friend was talking about and decided not to press it . Instead, she changed the subject. "Would you like it if I helped? It didn't hurt with the Gupty kids, or have you been trying to forget that misadventure?"
"No way they'll let me. They keep calling every week asking me to sit for them. After that damned parade, I just want to distance myself from anything that reminds me of my last encounter with Tad. The only reason I helped was out of a feeling of obligation..to Tad. Nothing else."
"I know, I know ! My god, Daria, it was only a nightmare. Nothing really happened! Can't you just let it go?"
Daria wished she could forget, but something was telling her to be on guard. To set Janes mind at ease she replied, "Look, I'll try and put that all behind me, but it's going to take some time for it to sink in that it didn't happen at all. I certainly won't look at Pizza the same way for a while."
Jane could not resist the opportunity to rib her friend. " So, I guess that means you don't want to go for pizza after school today? Damn ! I was hoping to get some inspiration from your trip to the spirit world."
Her friend just smirked, " Remind me to get you some ' glitter berries.' You can go to the spirit world for yourself. Besides, I have to go to Moms office after school, remember?"
"Oh yeah. The job starts today. Well, nothing like diving in head first, I always say."
"Good, you can dive in right beside me, if you can tear yourself away from Tom."
Jane had a look of frustration when she answered. "Oh don't worry about that! Tom's got some damned school function that's going to keep him out of town for a while." She was looking off in another direction, not at anything in particular befoe she continued. "This just came about after you told me about your nightmare. We discussed it the other day and he says he's worried about you....as a friend."
"Did he tell you about stopping over my house to talk to me about you?"
"Yeah, he mentioned something about it. You told him to stay in the car? What's that all about?"
Daria paused for a moment. She didn'twant to chance offending her only true friend. "Let's just say I don't want to tempt fate. If I do have a relationship with anyone, it's going to be on my terms and no one elses."
" That's the Daria I know, in charge of her own life. And soon in charge of a new recruit. "
"I'm not so sure I'd want to create a small version of me, either. I don't think I'd be able to stand the competitiveness."
"But just think of the possibilities. You could create a whole new dynasty and finally take over the world as we know it." Without thinking, Jane added, "Of course there are other ways to create a small version of yourself to consider."
The look that Daria gave Jane was one that cut to her very soul, a look Jane hadn't seen from her friend before. She knew she had crossed a line that would be difficult to recover from. She sighed as she apoligized. "Alright, I'm sorry. Just forget I said anything about it. If you want me to, I won't go with you today. It's kind of hard walking with one's foot in one's mouth."
"Apology accepted. Just don't forget to hop to the car after classes. You did volunteer,after all."
"Alright, both feet in the mouth!"
Arriving at Helens office, Daria ands Jane were greeted by Mary Ann, Helens secretary. For once she had a pleasant expression as opposed to every other time Daria had been there. She told the girls that it would be a few minutes, and then they could go in.
"Ten to one they're cleaning up after the little darling so's not to scare you off." Jane said with a wry grin. "Either that or the medication hasn't taken effect yet."
"If it's that bad, I'll renegotiate the contract. A 401K account doesn't sound too bad, does it?"
"I'd hold out for Gold bullion, something negotiable in a post- apocalyptic society."
Before either one could say anything, a little girl came around the corner carrying a notepad and pencil, noticed Daria and Jane, and walked up to them with a big smile. She stood in front of Daria and said, "You're much prettier than your picture on your mommys' desk. My name's Jennifer and you're Daria."
Jane snickered at her friends expression....that is ,until Jennifer looked in her direction with a confused look. "Why'd you change your hair? I think it looks much prettier red and long."
Now it was Daria's turn to snicker. "Touche' , partner."
"Honey, I'm not Quinn. My name is Jane and i'm a friend of Daria. I'm sure you'll meet her sister later on."
This seemed to settle Jennifers' confusion and she climbed into the seat between the older girls. No one said a word. Jennifer was drawing on the notepad and humming a tune as she drew. Daria did her best to ignore the annoyance while Jane watched the girl draw a surprizingly accurate rendition of a kitten. The more she watched, the bigger the smile got on Janes face. Daria glanced at her friend and wondered what had her so mezmerized. Then she looked at the notepad.
"Say, that's not bad."
Jennifer looked up at Daria and asked, "Do you like kittens?"
Before she could think, Daria replied, "I'm more of a dog person, myself. But Quinn likes all kinds of animals. If we see her you can show her the picture."
Jennifer went back to drawing. Jane gave her friend a curious glance. ' Now here's something she's never told me about. Or is she just saying that to see what the kid'll say?''
Daria didn't say a word. Before jane could ask, Mary Ann came out to tell them it was time to go in. As they entered, Jennifer ran to her mother and gave her a big hug. Clearly she was happy to see mom, and mom was glad to see her. As Daria approached, Helen made the introductions.
"Daria, this is Dr.Hunter, Jennifer's mother. She's also the Doctor that treated you when you were recently hospitalized."
"Nice to meet you Doctor. It seems I owe you my life. Thank you."
"You're welcome." she replied, "But all I did was treat the sickness. It was your friends who saved your life by getting help when they did."
Daria looked over at Jane and smiled. "Yeah, I guess you're right. Thanks Jane."
"Hey, you know how hard it is to train partners." she replied with a straight face.
Daria just shook her head and turned to the adults. It was time to find out what Mom had gotten her into. "Okay. Anything in particular I should know about like diet, friends, enemies, affiliations with secret intelligance organizations?"
Dr. Hunter handed over a weekly planner with each day filled out. "This looks almost as bad as Mom's planner." she thought, "I hope I can keep up with this for $175 a week."
"Okay, first on the list is Dance lessons at....Miss Magruder's Dance Academy?"
Helen blurted out, " Maybe you could practice with Jennifer. You took dance lessons when you and Quinn were younger."
Daria slightly blushed and did not notice ( possibly on purpose) that Jane was looking at her with a wry grin. Before Jane could speak, Jennifer took Daria's hand and, with a wide eyed look of excitement asked, "You took dance lessons? Could we practice together, please?"
"The key word is took." Daria replied, "I wasn't very good at it, so I gave it up."
"But that's silly. Anybody can dance if they want to." was the little one's answer. It seemed logical to her, and she wouldn't believe otherwise. Not knowing what to say,Daria looked in Jane's direction. She stood there, arms crossed,and looking back, shrugged saying, "Hey, I'm not the dancer. You're on your own there, amiga."
Frustrated at the possibility of being outgunned by her young charge, Daria thought to herself, "I'll probably regret this later." and took a deep breath and spoke to the child in a calm, steady voice.
"I'm not saying yes or no, but I'll say maybe. Is that okay with you?"
The answer seemed to satisfy Jennifer's mind.She gave Daria an unexpected hug. Again, she felt herself blush at this display of unabashed emotion on the child's part. Not knowing how to respond, Daria patted Jennifer on the head,and she looked up at her babysitter,with a big grin.Daria in turn, gave her one of her Mona Lisa smiles.
"Okay, let's see what's on the agenda for today." She started to look at the Planner when Jennifer blurted out, "The Library! It's story day, today!"
"Good. while you're listening to the story reader, I can get some work done for an assign- ment in Mr.O'Neils class."
"Alright," Jennifer's Mother said, " Get your backpack and give me a hug before you go"
Jennifer hugged her mom and whispered in her ear. Dr. hunter smiled and asked Helen where the ladies room was. Mary Anne spoke up and said she would take her. As they left the room, Jane turned to Daria and asked a few questions that recently came to mind.
"So, how long ago did you stop dancing? It couldn't have been too long ago."
"What makes you say that?" Daria wondered.
"Oh, come on, Daria. You've got the dancer's walk. You glide instead of using the usual mechanical gait most people use. I'm surprized more people haven't noticed."
"There's quite a bit you don't know about me, just as there's quite a bit I don't know about you, I'm sure. When it's time, I'm sure we'll reveal whatever hidden secrets we have to each other."
"Just as long as you don't make me reveal my planet's plans for the eventual enslavement of earth."
As the exchange finished, Jennifer returned, backpack in place and ready to start her adventure with her new friends. She took Daria's hand and smiled up at her.
"Are you ready to go?"
"Ready as I'll ever be. Shouldn't you say goodbye to your mom before we head out?"
Running to her mother,Jennifer gave her another hug.Dr. Hunter brushed the hair from the childs face and smiled back at her.This would be the first time that her little one would spend the next few nights away from home. "Now, you be good and listen to Daria, and I'll see you next weekend."
"Next weekend? Excuse me, doctor, but just how long is your shift at the hospital? "
Helen spoke up before the doctor could answer. "Daria, I told you Dr. Hunter is chief of trauma at Cedars of Lawndale. That means she's on call 24 hours a day."
"And, it's a teaching Hospital." the doctor added, "I'm also responsible for the medical students that come through our doors."
"I see," was Daria's reply, "So this is going to be a fulltime occupation and not like any other sitting job."
"It couldn't hurt to get some practical experiance for later, Daria."
This last statement from Helen took her completely off guard.For once,Daria did not have any kind of snappy comeback. Jane thought about what she had said earlier in the day and smiled to herself. This would be interesting to see how her partner would handle things after hearing her mother's hopes for the future. It gave Jane an idea that she planned on trying out. Daria was still in a funk, even though the nightmares had ceased. Maybe this child is what she needs to snap her out of whatever it was that bothered her.
The ride to the library was quiet. Jennifer watched the scenery as they drove, and the two older girls were lost in their own thoughts. Daria was glad that Jane hadn't said anything about Helen's quip.Sometime later she would confront her mother to find out what she was thinking. Right now, she had to muster as much control of herself to think practically when it comes to dealing with a child. She remembered what Helen told her once not too long ago.
"There is no Parenting 101, Daria. You just take it one day at a time and do your best."
When they entered the library, Jane startred for the stairs leading to the Arts section. She told Daria she wanted to pick up a few books on Picasso just to get some ideas for a project in art class. In truth, she wanted time alone to work on her plan for her friend.
"Picture if you will, Bartch as 'Nude falling down stairs', DiMartino as ' Guitarist', O'Neal as 'The Scream."
"That last one isn't Picasso.", Daria replied, "And I thought you were an art expert. Doesn't look good for this marking peiod, does it?"
"Just wanted to see if you were paying attention. Besides, O'Neal would be the perfect model. He's a natural for that portrait."
Daria just shook her head and strode towards the children's section to drop Jennifer off. Jane had reached the second floor which was set up in a balcony fashion. She was able to see the entire first floor from this vantage point and stood just back from the rail to watch the activity in the children's section. She counted at least 20 children, some with adults, all sitting semi-circle on the floor and waiting for whoever it was that would read todays story. "This must be a really popular activity," Jane thought. "I'd like to see what would happen if..." Jane's thought was interupted by sounds of disapointment. Something was wrong down there.
"I'm sorry," the librarian in charge said, "Miss Welch won't be in today and we have no one else to read. Hopefully,next week things will be back to normal."
A number of the children started crying, including Jennifer. She looked up at Daria, and through sobs, asked her a question loud enough for everybody to hear.
"Will you read to us Daria, please?"
"Great, just what I wanted to do ." she thought, "Reading to Seniors was one thing. This is something else." Daria was about to decline, but a chorus of 'please,please' from the rest of the children in the area got her thinking of the one time she said no to a pleading preschooler. The plea had come from her sister . That was a differant situation. She understood why she refused, but there was no reason to disapoint these children."What the heck, I'm getting paid anyway." She sighed and turned to the librarian. "Alright, I'll read to them today." A collective cheer went up from the excited preschoolers.
Jane had gone into the aisle to check on some books and hadn't seen what was going on. When she heard the cheer, she had to find out what was so exciting. When she reached the rail she couldn't believe her eyes. There was Daria, sitting on the floor, book in hand, reading to a group of wide eyed, facinated preschoolers. And from what she could make out, it looked to her like Daria was enjoying it." I've got to get down there and see this up close." Taking the back staircase, Jane quietly moved to a position behind her friend in such a way she wouldn't distract the kids, although they seemed enraptured by their new storyteller.
"...he was told not to touch the box. But George was..."
"Curious!" was the group answer.
"That's right." Daria said. Then with a grin she added, "Sounds like you're smart enough to finish the story yourselves. Shall I stop?"
Again, the answer was in unison. "NO!"
"Alright. I'll finish the story." she chuckled, and then went back to where she left off. Jane was amazed at what she was seeing and hearing. Daria, the one who previously said she didn't like kids, reading to a group of preschoolers and seeming to enjoy it. This was another side of her that hadn't been seen before. More and more, Jane knew there was truly alot she didn't yet know about her best friend. As she watched, Daria finished the story and was overrun by the happy little listeners who hugged her and asked if she would read to them again next week. It didn't take long for her to answer in such a way that both she and they were satisfied.
" I'll fill in when it's nessasary. I'm sure Miss Welch will be back, but I'll be here next week too, alright?"
As the kids let Daria know they were happy about this news, Jane came around to the front and caught her eye. Both were smiling as the group dispersed. Finally, only Jane and Jennifer were left, Jennifer hugging Daria tightly and smiling up at her.
"That was a nice story. Thankyou for reading to us,Daria. You read just like my mommy."
"I'm glad you liked it." Daria replied as she smiled back. "Now, get your backpack. It's time to go home. We don't want to be late for dinner."
Jennifer hugged her again and then said something that took Daria completely off guard.
"You're gonna be a nice mommy, I can tell."
As Jennifer went to get her pack, Daria stood there stunned, blushing. Jane stood there thinking about what she had said,jokingly earlier that day, and just looked over at her friend, not saying a word.
The ride back to the Morgandorffer house was as quiet as the trip to the library. When they stepped into the house, they found a note from Quinn saying that Jake and Helen were both working late. It also said that Quinn was shopping and she would cook dinner when she got home. '..of course, if you can't wait that long, there's Lasagna in the freezer. I'd rather have something differant so I'm at the store. I'll try to get something that's good and healthy, okay? See ya soon.'
Daria and Jane looked at one another and shook there heads. For some reason, Quinn had a domestic streak going on. She also seemed to be friendlier towards her sister. She hadn't called her a Geek or even avoided her in school which was the norm. Daria would just have to see what it was that Quinn was up to. Usually, she wanted something when she was being this nice.
"Care to stay for dinner? Or do you have other plans for this evening?"
"I can put my revolutionary plans on the back burner. I'd like to see what the galloping gourmet has in mind for a meal. Nothing too fancy, I hope. My formal attire is at the cleaners."
Just then, Jennifer came in from the kitchen and stood there, waiting to speak.
"Yes?" Daria said, "Would you like something?"
"Can I go out back and play on the swing?"
"What swing? We don't have a swing."
"The swing in your tree." Jennifer took Daria's hand and lead her to the sliding glass door in the kitchen. Looking out at the tree, Daria was surprized to find that there was indeed a swing on one of the branches. "I don't remember there ever being a swing there," she thought. Then again, she rarely went into the backyard.
"Alright, but don't go out of the yard without checking with me first."
Daria watched as the child happily went outside and climbed on the swing. The more she watched, the more she became wistfull for some reason. She leaned on the doorframe, crossed her arms and gave a sigh. Jane was sitting at the table watching this and said nothing for a few minutes. Then, she decided it was time to ask. She spoke quietly to Daria.
"What's up, amiga?"
Daria knew that eventually she would have to open up about herself. She didn't think it would be this soon,though. She took a deep breath and replied after a pause.
"I was just thinking. Jennifer reminds me of someone I knew at her age."
"She got to you, didn't she?'
"What do you mean, she got to me?"
"The nice mommy thing.It got you thinking about what I said this morning,didn't it."
Daria shrugged, "It got me thinking of something else, that's all. I still have no plans of making a smaller version of myself.....at least....not for a while.."
"Curiouser and curiouser." Jane thought. She was about to say something, when Quinn came into the kitchen, struggling with two shopping bags.Dropping them onto the table, the contents from one of the bags fell out in Janes direction. Surprizingly,it was fresh packaged food and not the usual frozen items.
"Pork chops? Chicken? Yeah, I guess I can stay for dinner."
"Good." Quinn replied, "The more,the merrier. I've got a few recipes I'd like to try out." Turning to Daria's direction, Quinn saw that she was watching Jennifer on the swing. "Oh good, Jeffy got the swing put up. I hope it's alright that I didn't ask Daddy first but I just thought that maybe you could use it to entertain her until we can find some of our toys where ever they are."
Daria didn't answer. She just kept watching the little girl enjoying herself on the swing. As she watched, she thought of the days when she and Quinn played together. Those days were shattered when she began Kindergarten, and she found herself wishing those days were back. Lately, the two siblings seemed to tolerate each other, as if both had the same unspoken desire for the kinship that had been lacking in their lives. Sighing,she turned towards the table and noticed the groceries in front of Jane.
"Where'd you get the money for all that? Don't tell me you finally broke into Mr.Piggly."
"Well, I was going to Cashmans for their 50% sale,but then I remembered Mom said you were babysitting Jennifer and she was going to be staying with us and I thought it might be nice to have something differant for dinner and anyway, I've got some recipes from Mrs.Jenkins in cooking class that I want to try out, so I went to the store and bought some fresh meat and vegetables. Do you think she'll like brocolli or brussel sprouts?"
"Put cheese on 'em." Jane piped in, "It worked with my sister's kids."
"I never thought of that. Thanks."
Surprizingly, dinner went well. When all had finished, Jennifer asked if she could watch cartoons until bedtime.
"Alright, but 8 o'clock and it's bedtime, okay?"
This revalation excited the child. " Oh,thank you! Mommy always says I have to go to bed at seven! Thank you, Daria!'' And off she ran to the living room. Daria just shook her head wondering how she would correct the bedtime without disapointing the child, when she noticed her partner sitting across the table smiling like a cat that ate the canary.
"You do realize that you're becoming increasingly popular with your apprentice, don't you?
Before she could answer, they heard the beginning theme from 'South Park' coming from the living room, and as one, Daria, Jane and Quinn said, "Not that!" Almost immediately and without protest the theme for "Pinky and the Brain" replaced the offending show.
"And you have to realize that I've only had one other babysitting job, and you know how that turned out." Daria sat back in he chair, and after a pause continued, her voice subdued. "I just hope I don't screw this up too much. The funny thing is, I actually like the kid for some reason."
"Don't kid yourself, you already said she reminds you of someone you knew once. Yourself perhaps?"
Daria didn't answer. She just bit her lower lip and held back from saying something that would possibly hurt her one true friend. She got up from the table and motioned for Jane to follow.
"Come on," She sighed, "Let's go see which of Brain's plans Pinky's messing with this time."
Jennifer sat on the floor in front of the TV laughing. Jane glanced at the screen and said, "This one's a hoot. A spoof of Winnie the Pooh." and promptly joined the child on the floor. She couldn't contain herself at the site of Christopher Walken as a character in the story. Her laughter was contagious to Jennifer who laughed along with the older girl. Daria, however, was not impressed. In fact, she was not even paying attention to the show. Instead, watching the two laugh made her...sad. Again, she thought back to when she and Quinn were both preschoolers and they spent time playing together. They were both happy once. But then, things changed for her drasticly that December when she started school. One incident, and her chances for a normal childhood were taken away.Because of one person, her whole attitude, the one that worked for her currently,began to take shape. It was only recently that her life began to have some resemblance of normalcy. Little things like worrying about Dad's health, telling Mom she's not a neglectful parent, even assuring Quinn that she needn't feel weird about her spirituality. She decided to go back to the kitchen and get herself a cup of coffee just to put some distance between her and the happy sounds from the living room. Quinn was still in the kitchen cleaning up after dinner and for once not complaining. Instead, she was humming as she rinsed the dishes and put the leftovers away, aparently pleased at the impression her meal had on everyone. Quietly, Daria poured herself a cup and left. Back in the living room, she paused in front of the photo gallery that lined the back wall and looked at each portrait from differing times in her families life. The ones on the table were of happy, smiling children and proud, loving parents. Daria's christening, with all the relatives, her first Christmas, birthday photos of both girls, the photo of her and Quinn sitting on Grandad Barksdale's lap as he read them the Grinch story. As the memories came back to her, a tear ran down her cheek. ' I've missed so much and I'll never have those times again.' She was still standing there when she felt a little hand take hers. Looking down, she saw that Jennifer had a look of concern.
"Why are you so sad,Daria? Didn't you have fun today?"
Wiping her eyes, the teenager picked the girl up and hugged her. After a few minutes, she answered in a slightly shakey voice.
"Yes I did. And I promise you that as long as we're together, we will have as much fun as possible."
Jennifer hugged Daria, and through a yawn, said, "You will be a nice mommy, I can tell."
As far as Daria was concerned, that was the nicest thing anybody could say. Quietly she said to the now sleeping girl, " I think it's time to dance off to dreamland for you."
With that, she began slowly twirling, doing dance steps she hadn't done in years. Jane watched her friend in wide eyed fasination as they headed for the stairway. And as she stood at the bottom of the staircase watching Daria carry the sleeping child to her room, in that moment, Jane knew that her friend would be alright.
Quote from "I Hope You Dance" by Lee Ann Womack
Pinky and the Brain, copyright WB
South Park, copyright Comedy Central
Story, copyright RangerLou