A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
- Lao-tzu, The Way of Lao-tzu
Chinese philosopher (604 BC - 531 BC)
Quinn swept across the dance floor, weightless in William’s strong arms. He was tall and broad, with dark hair and eyes and a goatee that made him look dangerous and sexy. He was the perfect man, and it tore her heart to know that he didn’t love her. He was the perfect gentleman and a perfect friend, and he’d fought to defend her honor more than once already, but she seemed unable to lead him to that last step.
Still, the beauty and grandeur of the ball was balm to her injured heart. She knew she looked fabulous in her flowing sapphire gown, and William was dashing in his expertly tailored tuxedo. As they spun through the waltz she saw her friends from the former Fashion Club gathered near the buffet table. Stacy was watching her dance with a look of awe and joy, while Sandi studiously didn’t watch the perfect couple as they dominated the ball. Tiffany was checking her make-up in the side of the silver punch bowl.
The dance ended and William escorted her over to her friends and handed her a glass of punch.
“Thank you,” she murmured.
“Your smile is all the thanks I need,” he answered quietly.
“You two are so wonderful,” Stacy gushed.
“Thanks,” Quinn said with a smile, and then turned to William. “I’m going to get some air, ok?”
He smiled and nodded, and Quinn headed for the door. She stepped out onto the veranda and looked up at the stars, shining in the black velvet sky. She shivered, and a jacket draped itself over her shoulders.
She glanced around and William stood behind her, his white shirt gleaming in the dim light. Quinn stepped into him, wrapping her arms around his neck and lifting her lips to him, offering herself.
“Quinn, I mustn’t.”
“But, why?” she asked, opening her eyes to peer into his. She could see the darkness in his eyes, the flickering emotion, but couldn’t interpret what it meant.
“You are the spark that will set me ablaze,” he said, staring deeply into her emerald eyes. “I can’t let myself be touched by that spark, or the fire it begins will hunger for you forever.”
“Oh, William,” she sighed. “We can burn together, and our hunger will be filled.”
“That hunger can never be filled, only held at bay a little at a time,” he answered, and slowly lowered his lips to hers.
Quinn lost herself in the perfect kiss, trying to ignore the sudden high pitched beeping in her ear. She lashed out with one hand, knocking the alarm clock off the nightstand. It gave a couple of last, pitiful beeps and fell silent.
“Dammit,” Quinn muttered, tossing aside the romance novel she’d fallen asleep reading. “And people wonder why I can’t deal with real men.”
A couple of hours later, Quinn walked downstairs into the living room. Her hair was still damp from the shower, and she was dressed in a pair of shorts and a t-shirt. Helen looked up from the couch and smiled.
“There you are. I was thinking about cooking something nice for lunch, would you care to join me?”
Quinn frowned at her mother. “Sure, just as soon as I run down to the basement and check for pods.”
“Quinn,” Helen said in an exasperated tone, “can’t I want to spend a little time with you without being accused of being an alien? This is your last year at home before college.”
“I just figured you’d have some big case to work on,” Quinn said, and rubbed her chin thoughtfully. “Wasn’t there one? Something about a mother suing her daughter?”
“I am not suing you, your Aunt Amy and I are contesting mother’s will.”
“Then why does the judge keep referring to the case as ‘Helen Morgendorffer and Amy Barksdale vs. Rita Barksdale, Erin Danielson, and Quinn Morgendorffer’ when he opens court?”
“It’s legal terminology, sweetie. Rita and Erin are trying to block our attempt to have the will broken.”
“And my name is on there because?”
“Because Amy and I let our emotions get the better of us; we thought you were going to side with them,” Helen said sadly. “We can’t take your name off without refileing the case and starting from scratch, sweetie. I’ve told you all this already.”
“Since when can minors be sued, anyway?”
“Oh, there are ways.”
“And you, being the Queen Lawyer, know them all,” Quinn said, crossing her arms and staring down at her mother.
“God, Quinn. You sound just like Daria.”
“Then my next statement probably won’t surprise you. I’m going over to Jane’s.”
The door thumped behind Quinn and Helen sighed sadly to herself.
Quinn pushed open the door to Casa Lane, stomped through the living room, and dropped into a chair at the kitchen table. Jane and Trent exchanged glances, and Trent moved to the refrigerator while Jane moved to the stove.
“George, keep it down,” Jane said in a stage whisper, “Ginny is in a right mood today. Must have had a run in with the muggles.”
“Yeah, sure thing Fred,” Trent answered, not trying for the faux British accent that Jane was using.
“She wanted to cook me lunch,” Quinn seethed. “Oh, sorry for assuming you’d think money was more important than your family, have a sandwich.”
Jane and Trent exchanged another look, and he started handing her things out of the ‘fridge. Quinn had been using her Dad’s credit card to keep the Lane kitchen well stocked this summer, and they’d shown their appreciation with cooked meals and crash space. Jake had even called and spoken to Jane about the arrangement.
“I’m sorry that you’re having to take care of my baby girl, Jane-O,” Jake said over the phone.
“It’s no problem, Mr. M,” Jane answered.
“You’re an adult now, call me Jake. You’ve always been there for my girls, Jane. I think you might be a better father than I am.” Jake chuckled, but it was a sad sort of chuckle.
“I’ve never been called a Dad before,” Jane replied, smiling into the phone, “but you shouldn’t down yourself, Jake. Daria once told me that no matter what else, she always knew you loved her.”
“That means a lot to me,” Jake said. “I know Quinn is buying food for you and your brother. If there’s anything else you need, call me. Quinn really needs friends right now, and I trust you more than some of the other people she hangs out with.”
Jane smiled at the memory while she whipped together some Omelets a la Jane. The secret was in the bacon salt . . . everything was better with bacon salt . . . possibly even puppets.
“Daria has only been gone a couple of weeks,” Quinn said sadly. “I wandered into her room the other day and just sat on the bed, wishing she was here to help me deal with Mom.”
“You could always call,” Trent said, settling back down in his chair.
“No, I don’t want to be annoying and I know how rough things must be for her up there. I mean . . . double major. I’d never do that to myself.”
“The best part is that she’s earning two nearly useless degrees at once,” Jane said with a wry chuckle. “An English degree.”
“Would you prefer fries with that?” Quinn asked with a smirk.
“And Theater Arts,” Jane finished.
“Forsooth! Wouldst thou prefer fries with that?”
Jane and Quinn chuckled while Trent shook his head.
“She’ll make it work,” he said with a small smile. “That girl has her eyes on the prize.”
“I’m having some people over tonight, you guys want to come?”
“Can’t,” Trent said, “got a gig in Freemont tonight. Might be the big break we’ve been waiting for.”
“Oh,” Quinn said, slightly disappointed, “well, good luck.”
“What about you Jane?”
“Eh, I dunno how much of the Girls Formerly Known as the Fashion Club I can deal with.”
“Hello?” someone called from the living room.
“Wind?” Jane asked.
“Hey,” the tall, blond Lane said as he entered the kitchen. “We’re on our way to Florida, thought we’d stop by for the night and visit the old homestead.”
“We?” Trent asked.
“Yeah,” Wind said, smiling broadly. “I want you to meet my new wife, Cynthia.”
A somewhat bedraggled looking brunette came into the room. She was holding a baby, while a toddler and a slightly older child trailed behind.
“Hey, is that bacon salt?” she asked, as the baby began to cry.
“So, get together at your place tonight?” Jane asked, dishing out the omelets so she could start a new batch.
“Yup,” Quinn answered with a smirk.
“God, Stay-cee!” Sandi said, “I can’t believe you talked me into this geekstravaganza!”
“Sandi, you said you were gonna try to have fun!”
“For once I agree with you, Griffin.” Jane smirked at the younger girl, and then looked across the table at Quinn. “How exactly did you re-tune your girly mind control powers to convince me to try this?”
Quinn smirked back at the dark haired girl. “I think it had something to do with giving you a place to hide out from Wind and his . . . what? Fifth wife? And her three children.”
“Ah, yes. I remember now. So, what the heck are we doing, anyway?”
“I was trying to figure out all this freaky stuff,” Sandi pouted. She looked over the piles of paper and books scattered all over the Morgendorffer kitchen table and sighed dramatically. “It’s so complicated.”
“It’s not that hard,” Ted said with a smile. “Stacy and Quinn picked it right up. It’s too bad we couldn’t get your other friend to give it a try, though.”
“Tiffany was afraid it would make her look fat,” Stacy said and rolled her eyes.
“Anyway, what do you not understand?” Ted asked.
“Well, I’m a sorcerer, right?”
“And I cast spells, right? Any of these spells?”
“Any of the ones on your character sheet.”
“Alright. I want to cast Magic Missile.” Sandi imperiously pointed at the papers in front of her.
“Um.” Ted glanced down at his notes. “Sandi, you’re standing by yourself in a dark corridor. You can’t see anything to cast it on.”
“Well,” Sandi looked thoughtful. “Can I cast it at the darkness?”
The entire table fell silent. After several seconds, Stacy started hyperventilating and fell onto the floor. The people sitting around the table could hear her choked giggles coming from the ground near her chair.
“Magic Missile,” she finally gasped, pulling herself back up to the table. “At the darkness!” She collapsed back onto the floor.
“I don’t see what’s so funny,” Sandi snapped.
“Quinn,” Jane said, getting up and walking towards the refrigerator. “Can I have a Mountain Dew?”
“And then Stacy started screaming something about an ogre-slaying knife,” Quinn said into the telephone. “It was pretty funny, but I was looking forward to playing the game and we never did get around to it.”
“You’ve all gone mad, haven’t you?” Daria asked.
“We’re all mad here,” Quinn replied with a smirk, “I’m mad, you’re mad.”
“How do you know I’m mad?”
“You must be, you came from here.”
“You’ve really been taking advantage of me leaving most of my books behind, haven’t you?”
“I don’t think you can understand it,” Quinn answered, suddenly serious. “Have you ever been hungry, Daria? I mean like, haven’t eaten in days hungry?”
“No, I’ve missed a few meals up here but nothing like what you’re talking about.”
“Imagine it. Your stomach knotting up, the acid in your throat, the desperate need for something, anything to fill up the emptiness.”
“Quinn,” Daria said hesitantly, “you haven’t developed an eating disorder have you?”
“Oh, God no. Those are so gross.”
“Then what’s the point of the tortured descriptives?”
“Well,” Quinn said, “you’re starving to death, but you don’t know what food is . . . never heard of it. Then somebody gives you a sandwich. That’s the way I felt, some after David’s tutoring and a lot after you taught us Romeo and Juliet.”
“Oh,” Daria said, blinking into the phone.
“Thank you, Daria, for everything.”
“Um, you’re welcome?”
“Tomorrow is the first day back at school, so I guess I better go. Good night, big sister.”
“Good night, little sister.”
Quinn looked at herself in her corner mirrors and smiled. The harvest gold button down really brought out the warmth in her skin, and accented the blonde highlights in her red hair. The black pleated skirt showed off just enough leg without being slutty. The finely cut forest green jacket matched her eyes and really made them pop, and the matching green velvet boots put just enough sway into her walk to keep any man’s attention.
“Daria, eat your heart out,” she murmured to her reflection and headed downstairs to the kitchen.
“Hey, kiddo.” Jake barely looked up from the sports section of the paper when Quinn entered the room. The arts section had been neatly folded and put in front of Daria’s old chair.
“Good morning, Dad.”
Jake looked up sharply at Quinn’s voice and then chuckled. “Had me going there for a minute, sweetie.”
“Thanks,” Quinn answered with a grin. “Now that Daria’s not here to stop me, I’m going to remake her image into a fashion trend setter. Who knew that her favorite outfit was going to become the head turning ensemble of winter two-thousand?”
“You girls,” Jake said, going back to his paper.
“Well, I gotta head. Bye, Dad.” Quinn waved and left, on her way to school.
“Hey,” Jane said, catching up with her about halfway there. “I brought Dad’s camera like you wanted and why the hell are you dressed like the ‘fashion victim’ Daria doll?”
Quinn laughed, turned and saw Jane’s face, and laughed even harder.
“Are you quite done?” Jane asked a couple of minutes later.
“Mostly,” Quinn answered, still stifling a few rogue giggles. “I need you to take pictures of me, so I can send them to Daria. Knowing that I’m turning her fashion don’t into a fashion plate is really going to burn her ass.”
“Hmm,” Jane said thoughtfully. “Should I involve myself in this petty attempt of a younger sibling to score points on her noble, long-suffering sister?”
“Done,” Jane said. “Although honestly there was a good chance I’d have gone along with it anyway, just to annoy Daria.”
“I couldn’t risk it going the other way,” Quinn smirked. “Besides, if you’re as good with a camera as you are a paint brush I can probably use these shots as part of a modeling portfolio. You should get paid something, right?”
“True,” Jane said. “We’ve got a little time before school starts, let’s swing though the park and get some good outdoor shots.”
“It’s pretty cool that you’re going to be hanging around school,” Quinn said off-handedly.
“Eh,” Jane said with a shrug. “It’ll probably only be for a couple of weeks. How long can it take to paint a mural, anyway?”
“Still, it’ll be nice to see you at lunch for a little while. And the money will probably be nice when you head up to Boston.”
“Yeah,” Jane said, “I’m going to need every penny I can get, too. College is damn expensive and while I’ve got enough scholarship money to cover it, I think I’d like to eat sometimes and maybe have a place to live.”
“Daria let it slip that she’s missed a few meals,” Quinn said glumly. “I hate my grandmother right about now.”
“Because Daria could have really used some inheritance money?”
“No, because Mom has refused to send Daria any money, since she wouldn’t join in contesting the will.”
“What?” Jane asked, stopping on the sidewalk.
“She said that if Daria was so unconcerned about getting a fair share of her inheritance then obviously she didn’t need our help to pay for college. I think Dad is slipping her some money from his business accounts, but it isn’t enough.”
“Helen is letting Daria go hungry over a goddamn legal case?”
“It’s not just a case to Mom,” Quinn answered with a shrug. “This is the end-all, be-all epic battle between her and Aunt Rita. Every argument and cross word they’ve ever had is getting dragged into this. And Aunt Amy is right there, cheering Mom along every step of the way.”
“You know, I used to be jealous of your family.”
“Don’t be,” Quinn glanced at her watch. “If we’re going to get some pictures taken, we need to go.”
“Good morning, class.”
Quinn glanced around the room nervously and realized that she didn’t know any of the students she was sharing this class with. The instructor was a tall man, with thinning hair and a light British accent.
“Some of you may have noticed that we have a new student joining us this year. Miss Morgendorffer has decided to leave behind elementary school mathematics and join us here in high school appropriate classes.”
Several people in the class snickered and Quinn slumped down in her desk. She wasn’t used to being the least popular person in the room, and didn’t like the feeling one bit.
“I presume,” the instructor continued, “that many of you harbor doubts regarding her abilities. Take note that her mere presence in this classroom indicates that I do not. Welcome aboard, Miss Morgendorffer.”
“Thanks,” Quinn answered weakly.
“Now,” he said, pointing towards a large and insanely complicated looking problem written on the chalk board. “I’d like you to come up here and prove me right.”
“Welcome to a brand new year,” Mr. DeMartino said, giving the class a predatory smile. “I sincerely hope that you make more use of it than you did the last three.”
There was some nervous muttering in the class, but Quinn was actually feeling relaxed. Mr. DeMartino was going to be easy compared to the morning she’d spent jumping through hoops for her new AP Math teacher.
“I thought that since we were getting together for the first time in this wonderful new school year, that we might spend the hour discussing other firsts,” Mr. DeMartino looked around the class, then pointed and continued, “Miss Rowe, which two Americans are credited with the first controlled, powered, and sustained heavier-than-air human flight?”
Stacy’s eyes got huge and she made a small, strangled squeaking noise.
“Kevin? Would you like to try?”
“Um,” the former QB said, “Oh, you mean like an airplane?”
“Yes, Kevin . . . like an airplane,” Mr. DeMartino answered, gritting his teeth.
“Oh, yeah. It was Sherman and Peabody. I saw it on TV, they went back in time and helped the guy that makes that really good popcorn and his brother. It was cool.”
Mr. DeMartino made a harsh growling sound that slowly escalated into a harsh scream, while his eye bulged hugely.
“I thought I was free,” he muttered under his breath, “free, but no . . . Timothy has to have a little crisis of conscience at the last minute . . . should have just let that harridan have him.”
Quinn pinched the bridge of her nose and sighed. So much for her second period class being a smooth one.
“At the end of last year I handed out a list of books for summer reading,” Mr. O’Neill said, “I’d like a volunteer to tell us which book you read, and what you learned from it.”
The class sat and stared woodenly at the English teacher. After a moment, he sighed and nodded to the goth girl sitting near the front of the class.
“Cathy, what did you read?”
“My name is Katrina,” she growled. “I read Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, and I learned that the arrogance of human knowledge frequently leads to evil.”
“Oh, well.” Mr. O’Neill chuckled nervously and glanced around the room, then down at his seating chart. “Sandi, what did you read this summer?”
“Didn’t you read anything off the book list?”
“I believe you neglected to give me a copy of the list, Mr. O’Neill. A simple oversight on your part, I’m sure.”
“Oh, um, yes. I’m sorry Sandi. I’ll try to remember to give you a copy of the list for next summer.”
“Are you implying that I won’t be graduating?”
“What? Oh, no . . . of course not,” the teacher stammered, “You are a senior this year, aren’t you? Good work, Sandi!”
Sandi rolled her eyes and started buffing her nails with an emory board.
“What about you, Quinn? Which book did you read?”
Quinn answered, but her mutter was low enough that no one could understand her.
“I’m sorry, what?”
“I read all of them,” Quinn repeated.
“That’s wonderful!” Mr. O’Neill said, clasping his hands together enthusiastically. “Which one was your favorite?”
“I’ve been put on display like a freak, forced to tolerate a raging maniac, and then publicly humiliated,” Quinn sighed, “and now I find out the cafeteria isn’t serving salads.”
“Welcome to the full high school experience,” Jane smirked. “Do you wish you’d kept your head buried in the sand?”
“No,” Quinn answered, “but I’m starting to understand why Daria was so bitchy all the time.”
“Oh, school had nothing to do with that,” Jane said with a smirk, “that was just your sister’s natural charm.”
“What is this outrage?” Sandi demanded, dropping to the seat next to Quinn. “That hairy-armed woman that serves the food told me they don’t have salads.”
“They’ll have them in a week or two,” Jane sighed. “there’s some kind of lettuce shortage or something.”
“Quinn, why is your sister’s weird art friend sitting at our table? I thought Kevin was pathetic enough without another failure hanging around.”
“Jane is cool,” Stacy said, putting her tray down and taking a seat. “She likes my drawings.”
“Don’t get your thong in a knot, Griffin. I’ll only be ‘hanging around’ a few weeks, and then the mural I’m painting will be done. In the mean time, free lunch is part of the deal I worked out with Li.”
“Tanstaafl,” Quinn said with a smirk.
“And God knows I’m paying for this one,” Jane answered as Tiffany joined them.
Quinn sat in the library, staring at the newspaper but not reading it. She had a free period after lunch, and had elected to spend it as a library assistant. In theory, she was supposed to be running errands for the librarian, shelving returned books, and other drudge work. In reality, the Lawndale High library saw stunningly little traffic and she was free to spend the hour as she saw fit.
“My life is hell,” she muttered. Quinn turned and frowned when she heard a snort of disdain from behind a nearby shelf. Standing, she walked over and looked down the aisle. The goth girl from her English class glanced over at her and smirked.
“What’s so funny?” Quinn asked.
“You,” the girl answered, her smirk growing. “Pampered suburban princess, once and future prom queen, the pinnacle of the whole beautiful people subset, and you have the brass ovaries to claim your life is hell.”
“My big sister just left for college,” Quinn said, her eyes narrowing.
“My big sister never got a chance to go to college, and now she plays in a crappy girl band,” Katrina shot back.
“Most of my friends are snotty, backstabbing bitches.”
“I don’t have any friends.”
“I’ve dated most of the guys in school and all they cared about was getting to third base.”
“I dated one guy when I was a freshman and I had to mace him and walk home.”
“My Dad stays late at his office because he doesn’t want to come home and deal with our family problems.”
“My Dad stays drunk all day because he doesn’t want to deal with our family problems.”
“My Mom is suing me.”
“My Mom is dead.”
Quinn opened her mouth to continue, and then realized how petty she was being. “I’m sorry,” she said instead.
“It was a long time ago,” Katrina said with a shrug, “I barely remember her. I’m sorry too . . . your life is more screwed up than I thought it would be.”
“I wept that I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet,” Quinn said, and then smiled slightly. “Not that I’ve ever actually been without shoes.”
“You seem different than you were last year,” Katrina said with a frown. “I’m not sure how to put this . . . .”
“I’m not pretending that I’m an idiot?”
“Clever, blunt, and honest; you’re shockingly likeable.”
“I know,” Quinn answered with a smirk, “it’s a gift.”
“And humble,” the other girl said, rolling her eyes.
Quinn sat quietly and read through her biology text as Ms. Barch screamed at Joey for being born male. This class was going to be a free ride, and for the first time Quinn realized what a bad thing that was. She had a lot of catching up to do if she was going to be able to take a college level science class and not totally blow it.
“And what are you doing, Miss Morgendorffer?” Ms. Barch asked, looking down at Quinn.
“That’s good, I like to see young girls apply themselves to the sciences. It’s a field with altogether too many men in it, don’t you agree?”
Ms. Barch headed off to her desk and Quinn shot Joey an apologetic look. He gave her a slight smile in return and shrugged.
“Ah, Miss Morgendorffer. I see we meet again, morning and evening.”
“Hi, Mr. Phelps.” Quinn answered, pausing in the classroom’s door. “You teach economics, too?”
“It’s all math, Miss Morgendorffer,” he replied with a thin smile, “whether it be theoretical or practical.”
“I was quite pleased by your performance this morning. I have much for you to learn, and having an able mind will be requisite to the task.”
“An able mind?” Quinn asked with a small smile.
“Indeed, have you been told otherwise?”
“I once was otherwise,” Quinn said, “but thankfully someone showed me the error of my ways.”
“That person is a friend in deed, then. Always stay close to people who push you to exceed yourself, Miss Morgendorffer . . . they are the truest friends.”
“Take your seat.”
Quinn walked home in the crisp fall air, thinking over her first day back at school. Things were so different now, but in so many ways things were just the same. She felt more perceptive, more aware of the things that were going on around her.
I wonder if this is how Daria and Jane always felt. God, I missed out on so much by just not paying attention. She sighed and looked sad for a moment. But so many of the things I notice now are so depressing. Stacy has really serious issues and I just never saw it before. Sandi too, but hers are completely different. And now I’m worried about Tiffany, I think she may have some kind of learning disability and she’s going to graduate high school without ever being helped.
She turned into her driveway and stopped, watching her father place a pair of suitcases into the trunk of his Lexus.
“Business trip?” she asked. Jake looked at her, and the guilty expression on his face told her volumes.
“I love you, sweetie.”
“You’re leaving us, aren’t you?”
“I can’t support what Helen is doing to our family, Quinn. She and I talked about it, and she respects my decision even if she doesn’t understand it.”
“She pitched a screaming fit, didn’t she?”
Jake chuckled sadly.
“Are you getting a divorce?”
“No,” Jake answered. “I’m just staying with a friend until her mother’s will gets settled. One way or the other . . . as soon as it’s over with I’ll be back. I promise.”
“Ok,” Quinn said, and gave her father a hug. “Do you have Jane’s number? I’ll probably be over there more than I’m here for a while.”
“I do,” Jake said. “I’m sorry, sweetie.”
“It’s ok, Dad.”
Quinn watched her father pull onto the road and drive away. She calmly went into the house and walked upstairs to her room, pushing the door shut behind her. She picked up her telephone and dialed a number from memory.
“Joe’s Roadkill Café,” Daria said, answering the phone, “you kill ‘em, we grill ‘em. How can I help you?”
Quinn was quiet for a second, and then wailed miserably into the phone.
Disclaimers: Stereo Hifi font is ©1997 by Cathy Davies. This story based on characters and situations created by Glenn Eichler and Susie Lewis. The Daria TV show is a trademark of MTV Networks, a division of Viacom International Inc. and is referenced here without permission, and without profit. Original characters and situations created by the author are under (K) – all rights reversed. Hail Eris.
Mr. Phelps was borrowed from Kara Wild, and if you haven’t read her Driven Wild series you really should.
Author: the NightGoblyn