A Lane in Black
by Jon Kilner
Daria didn't let the phone's ringing hurry her as she worked her key into the lock. The phone machine would get it. Besides, with a full backpack over one shoulder and an armload of mail held in precarious balance, speed was not an option. Stupid door, she thought to herself as the stubborn lock added to her burdens. Don't New York apartments come with maintenance?
The lock finally surrendered and Daria swung the door open in time to hear the machine answer in Trent's voice. "Hey, this is Trent. I'm not here, so leave a message. Or call me back later. Whatever." Daria shook her head as the machine beeped the caller. Some things never changed, it seemed.
Daria listened to the call as she kicked the door closed and moved into the apartment. "Hey, Trent," said the caller, his voice tense. "It's Eddie. Hey look, I hope you get this message and call me back 'cause Ron is going apeshit over here. It's been six weeks, man. He's getting tired of having to use other guitarists to cover your studio dates. And don't forget, Peter Gabriel starts recording his new CD next Monday and he wants you on lead guitar. If you're not here, we could lose the contract."
Eddie took a breath, then continued under more control. "So Trent, how goes the search? Any leads on your sister? Let me know, man. If there's anything I can do to help . . . you know. And please call in soon. Ron and I are trying to cover for you, but all these no-shows aren't doing your name any good. Later."
Daria sighed and dumped the load from Trent's mailbox onto the coffee table. Eddie's concerns sounded all too familiar. Her agent had been leaving similar messages on her machine, bugging her for information on her latest book and promised articles that were coming due. Her London publisher was also pressuring for a promotional tour to coincide with the European release of her books. Things were really starting to stack up. That was why she'd made the trip home to Boston and then here on Trent's behalf, to try and stem the tide.
There was nothing she could do for Trent on the professional level. He'd deal with that the next time he called in for his messages, though she might mention it to him. From Eddie's tone, it sounded like Trent had been letting things slide. No surprise there. Jane's disappearance and their attempts to find her had pretty much swallowed both their lives. Until she spoke with Trent again, the best she could do was take care of things here. Daria sifted the mail for bills and put them in order. Reaching into her backpack, she pulled out the sheaf of blank checks that Trent had given her and set to work.
Three bills into the fray, the phone rang again. Daria pushed the recorded message and the upcoming answer to the back of her thoughts, retaining the better part of her attention on the task at hand -- until an unexpected voice rose from the tiny speaker.
"Hey, Trent . . . it's Miles. Listen, if you get this, tell Daria . . ."
Daria reached over and snagged the phone receiver. "Miles? It's me."
"Oh, hey Daria? What are you doing at Trent's place? I thought you and he were still . . ."
"I'm taking care of the bills and stuff for Trent," Daria said. "I'll be heading out again tomorrow. Why are you calling for me here? I have my cell phone."
"Tried that," Miles replied, a smile in his voice. Then he assumed the tinny tone of a phone company recording. "We are sorry, but your call cannot be completed as dialed."
"Well, that doesn't make sense. I have it right . . ." Daria pulled her phone from a jacket pocket and flipped it open. "Oh," she said. "The battery's dead. Damn phone."
"I told you," Miles chuckled. "Those things were invented by an over-achieving sadist."
"Funny. So, how's Middle-of-Nowhere, Spain? Dig up any new distant relatives?"
"Not as such," Miles answered, switching smoothly into anthropology mode. "We've pretty much dug up the early Homo sapiens site in the cave. But now we've found an earlier Neanderthal site buried beneath it. We're all pretty excited here."
"You would be," said Daria with a gentle smirk. "Does that mean you're staying longer or do they still want you back on schedule?"
"That's kind of what I wanted to talk to you about. I'm definitely going to be staying on another month or two, but I'm coming home next Monday for a few days. Long enough to present our new findings at a conference." Miles hesitated. "I wanted to know if you're going to be there."
Daria leaned an elbow on the sofa and rested her head on her free hand. "What's today? Tuesday? I'm going to be here until tomorrow, then I was planning on catching a plane and rejoining Trent. I don't know, Miles. I guess it depends on what he's found since I left."
Nothing stretched time like silence over a phone line. "Okay," Miles said at last. "I understand. So, how's it going? Anything new since the last time we talked?"
"Not really," Daria replied, her voice lowering in concert with her spirits. "We seem to have hit a wall. It hasn't been easy. Jane is obviously trying hard not to be found."
"Then I wish you luck, kiddo," he said, no doubt smirking at the frown he knew that epithet would inspire. "I've got to go. I hope to see you on Monday."
"Me, too. I'll try."
"I know you will."
They said their goodbyes and Daria hung up the phone. Damn. One more complication to pile onto an already complex situation.
Daria's frown set itself into place as she wrote up the last of Trent's bills and stacked them for tomorrow's mail. Then she let her gaze wander through Trent's apartment, a clean if somewhat cluttered home. The window drew her over and she looked down on Manhattan's twilit canyons. It was always so busy here. The traffic far below was its usual snarl, taxicabs dominating the flow like angry yellow corpuscles. Boston could be busy, too, but it was never like this. She could understand why Jane would pay the price of distance and seek silence in rural New York, a quiet place for contemplative art. But Trent loved it here and she had to admit that he'd really come to life since making the move from Lawndale. Breaking from Mystic Spiral and taking up life as a studio musician had been a good move. Now he was more than just modestly successful. He was in demand. But how much longer would headliners stay in the market for an absentee guitarist?
Daria turned away from the window and shook her head. She had more to do for Trent, but that could wait. Something about the canned atmosphere of an airliner always left her feeling in need of a wash. She set her phone up for charging, then headed for the bathroom. Poring over Trent's supplies, she found a bottle of strawberry-scented bubble bath -- Daria wondered briefly who he'd been sharing that with -- and added a measure into the running water. She let the tub fill as near to overflowing as she dared. What the hell? She deserved it.
Leaving her travel-funked clothing in a pile, Daria gingerly stepped into the water. It was perfect, just this side of scalding. Miles always insisted on the water being -- as he put it -- below the boiling point when they bathed together, but she liked it hot. If it didn't redden the skin, it wasn't hot enough. Daria lowered herself into the caldron and let it ease muscles cramped from flying coach. This is nearly perfect, she thought as she ducked under and soaked her hair. If I'd thought to raid Trent's wine supply before stepping in, it would have been perfect.
Daria sighed as thoughts of the past few weeks permeated her relaxing mind. Had it really been six weeks since that night at Jane's house? As she'd expected, Trent hadn't been satisfied with just reporting Jane's car stolen and they'd ventured out together on a fruitless search. It was late the next day when the police finally discovered Jane's car in a used-car lot outside Newark. They hadn't been happy to learn that the car had not, in fact, been stolen and they immediately dropped their interest in Jane, as she had not yet been missing for forty-eight hours. Trent had tried again when the two-day limit expired, but the police blew him off, saying that Jane had acted of her own volition and it wasn't their job to keep track of his family. After that, Daria'd had a hell of a time dragging him out of the station.
Working on their own, they'd eventually learned that Jane had hopped a Greyhound from Newark to Scranton. Not an easy task of tracking as Jane was operating on cash alone, having left her credit cards at home; deliberately it seemed. From the bus station personnel in Scranton, they'd learned that she'd taken another bus to Harrisburg. She'd gone no further after that, at least by bus, unless the station people had just failed to notice her. Of course, she might have taken a train, a plane, rented a car or even bought a clunker for all they knew. They'd spent days in Harrisburg chasing down the possibilities, knowing all the while that they couldn't cover them all. And they'd wasted a lot of time on dead-ends and misidentifications.
Two weeks had passed now without a single additional clue. If Jane was in Harrisburg, she had buried herself deeply. If she'd moved on, they had no way of knowing in which direction to look. The trail had grown cold, but Trent showed no signs of giving up. He was quite prepared to run his life into the ground if he had to, if it meant finding Jane. Daria had been too, at first.
Daria scooped up a handful of suds and sighed, then pursed her lips and blew them all away. Maybe it was time to move on and get back to their own lives. Jane was trying so hard not to be found, maybe they shouldn't find her. Maybe it would be better to let her be -- let her work things out for herself. It's what she wanted. Perhaps it's what she needed.
Daria grabbed a washcloth and scrubbed hard in sympathy with her thinking, turning the situation over in her mind. A long soak followed the scrub as she tried to order her thoughts. The warm water brought calmness and clarity to her thinking. By the time she wrapped herself into a warm robe, her mind was made up. Her recharged phone rang as she walked back into the living room. If it was Miles again, she'd tell him she would be home on Monday. In fact, she'd be home tomorrow.
She lifted the phone and flipped it open. "Hello, Miles?"
"No, Daria," answered a low, familiar voice. "It's Trent."
"Oh, hey Trent. How's it going?"
"I'm in Lebanon, Daria."
Daria closed her tired eyes. There was no way she'd heard that right. "You're where?"
"Lebanon, Pennsylvania," said Trent, a fragment of a smile in his voice. "It's a small town east of Harrisburg."
"Oh." Daria drew a long breath. No better time than the present to broach a difficult subject. "Look, I've been thinking and I . . ."
"I found her, Daria."
Daria's next word stuck in her throat. She paused, her mouth open. Then . . . "What?"
"I found Janey. How soon can you get here?"
Daria held the phone out and looked hard at it. Then she brought it back to her ear. "Trent," she said. "I'm on my way."
Trent stood by the windows and watched as the United turboprop taxied in and linked up with it's assigned gate. In moments the passengers came funneling down the boarding ramp. The first came out in a rush, the self-important business travelers competing for rapid dismount honours with the naturally impatient. Next came the middle crowd, the families and those with connections to make. Finally the horde filtered down to the stragglers -- the naturally laid back, those unwilling to enter the race and those too strung out from travel to care.
Daria came out with the last of the stragglers, prompting Trent to raise an eyebrow. It was hard to look rumpled in jeans and a sweater, but she managed somehow. Maybe it was her hair that gave the impression. It was a mess, as if she'd just rolled out of bed. And she was pale as well, with just a hint of green around the cheeks.
Trent met her at the base of the ramp and held out a hand to collect her backpack -- Daria's idea of an easy carry-on. She handed it over without a word. Not a good sign. "Hey, Daria," he said, taking note of her half-lidded eyes. "What's the matter? I didn't know that flying bothered you."
"Usually not," Daria replied, cutting her words short. "Buh . . . uh . . ."
Daria put a hand over her mouth. Trent laid an urgent hand on her shoulder and glanced around for the nearest rest room, fearing the worst. But Daria shrugged his hand away and drew a deep breath. "Bumpy air," she finished at last, meeting his gaze. "It was a rough flight."
Trent nodded in the direction of the twin-engine plane, it's now motionless propellers visible through the windows. "I guess those planes don't give the smoothest rides," he offered.
Daria turned and cast the aircraft a deadly glare. "That's not a plane," she said, her voice holding a depth of dryness that only Janey could hope to match. "It's a planelet."
Trent smiled. If Daria was feeling good enough to make a verbal cut, then she was going to be okay. It was only when she fell silent that he began to worry. "C'mon," he said, shouldering her backpack and pointing the way. "Let's get out of here."
Daria traveled light, so they passed the luggage pick-up area by and headed for the parking lot. She said nothing on the way, except for an offhand comment or two on the pilot's aerial skills -- or lack thereof -- but she was looking better. The crisp October air brought the colour back to her face and her stride gained confidence as her body came to realize that it was once again in contact with solid ground.
They left Grimes Airport behind and were headed off down the road before Daria broached the subject uppermost in both their minds. "So, what did Jane say when you talked to her?"
"Ummmm," Trent began. "I didn't . . . yet."
Daria turned to face him. He could feel her gaze, though he kept his eyes on the road. "You didn't? Geez, Trent. What are you waiting for?"
"I . . . didn't know what to say, so I thought I'd let it go until you got here. I've never had to deal with anything like this before."
"And I have?" Daria sighed and shook her head.
"I'm sorry, Daria," he offered. "I didn't know what to do. I just found her yesterday, right before I called you. I . . . haven't even seen her yet."
"You haven't?" Daria's expression softened at his glance. "I'm sorry, Trent. I didn't mean to snap at you. The plane and all . . ."
"It's okay," he told her.
Daria sighed again, a deliberate 'let's start again' sigh. "So, how did you find her?"
"Her ATM card."
"What? But the bank told us they wouldn't give out that information. We asked them a dozen times."
Trent let a sly grin pull up one corner of his mouth. "That's where Penny came in."
"Yep. I thought of her right after you left for Boston the other day. Y'see, between the financing of her travels and her art friends who have gone conventional, Penny knows a lot of people who work in banks. As soon as I told Penny the whole story, she called in some old favours."
"And Jane has settled in this town . . . Lebanon?"
Trent nodded. "Uh huh. Every transaction she's made in the last four weeks has been in that town, as of two days ago."
"Here's hoping she's stayed put since then."
Daria fell silent, leaving Trent alone with his thoughts. They were less than comforting companions. Daria's words reopened his worries of the past day, his indecision over speaking with Janey alone or waiting for Daria. What if Janey had moved on? He'd have blown his best chance -- his only chance, so far -- since that night at Janey's place.
Trent set his jaw, his eyes on the road. It was no use thinking like that. Janey had been settled in place for four weeks now. She'd still be there. She had to be. And if she wasn't, he'd start over and find her again.
Daria seemed content to commune with her own thoughts, and perhaps to letting her stomach settle. Her eyes stayed locked on the road ahead until Trent finally slowed to exit the highway. Still, she remained silent, watching the buildings of rural Pennsylvania roll past. Finally, as Trent ventured into the town itself, Daria's gaze moved to him. "Where are we going, anyway?"
"Janey's at work right now," he told her. "That's where we're headed."
"How do you know where . . .?"
"She's been cashing her paychecks at one of the local banks." Trent smiled. "Penny's friend faxed me the address on the checks."
Daria turned to the passing buildings, watching each one go by. Wondering, perhaps, which one of them was hiding her friend. "It's just up there," he told her.
Trent slowed the car and parked it along the sidewalk. "Right here."
Daria looked up at the building, her eyes taking in the sign. "She's working here? In a bakery?"
"Yeah. And I think she's living right above it." Trent turned the car off and looked at Daria until she turned to him. Her colouring was back to normal. "Are you ready?" he asked her.
Daria nodded and they both got out of the car. Trent walked around and joined Daria on the sidewalk. He looked in through the window as they started for the door -- and there she was. Janey had a large metal tray balanced against the counter, holding it with her hip while she plucked muffins from it and arranged them in a glass case. Every third muffin or so, she'd stop and brush her hand on the white apron that covered her jeans and red T-shirt. A puff of flour dust accompanied each swipe, rising from the liberal coating that covered her clothing. Janey had never been a neat cook.
A hand on his arm drew Trent's attention back to Daria. She was waiting for him. Trent hadn't even realized he'd stopped walking. Daria's concern overshadowed her ghost of a smirk. "Are you ready?" she asked.
Trent turned back to the window. Inside, Janey finished with her muffins and turned for the back room. "I'm ready," he said. "Let's go."
"That's it for the muffins," Jane called over her shoulder to the plump grey-haired woman behind the counter. "I'll get started on that party order now." Mrs. Krupchek looked up and nodded, absently brushing flakes of chocolate icing - remnants of her latest sale -- from her flowered dress and white apron. She spared Jane a quick grin, a commodity of which she was never in short supply.
Letting the door swing closed behind her, Jane tossed the blackened pan into the sink and made straight for the kneading table. A man of impressive size and lightly peppered silver hair met her there, carrying an oversized bowl of risen dough. "Here you go, Jane," he said, his Slavic accent thick as ever. He smiled and held the bowl out to her. "Stick your finger in."
She met his merry gaze, though she had to crane her neck to do it. "Why?"
"Is test," he replied, his smile impossibly increasing. "Do so, please."
Jane suspected a trap of some sort, but Mr. Krupchek's jokes were always harmless. She lifted her left index finger and with a flourish, poked it down into the risen dough. The punctured puff of dough released a quiet sigh and deflated, sagging in the middle. Jane withdrew her finger and met his eyes again. "I hope this doesn't mean we're engaged or anything."
"Ho, no," Mr. Krupchek laughed. "If so, Fanya would make mince pie of me. It means luck. You a lucky girl, Jane."
Jane raised an eyebrow over her half-smile. "Maybe it means the dough is lucky."
"Bread does not need luck," he answered. Turning, he tipped the bowl over the kneading table and let the dough thump onto the floured surface. Setting the bowl aside, he grabbed a handful of flour from a smaller bowl and dusted the mound with it. Then he slapped the bread down with open hands, releasing the rest of the air. He had large hands, the legacy of a lifetime of hard use. Jane had seen those hands beat a resistant dough into submission, then moments later shape that same dough into surprisingly intricate forms. She always enjoyed watching him work. "Is good dough," he said at last. "I make."
"Do you ever make a bad dough?" Jane asked, unable to resist.
"Never," said Mr. Krupchek with a grin. He picked up his large bowl and turned for his mixing area, glancing back over his shoulder as he walked away. "Not today, at any rate."
Shaking her head, Jane spread another handful of flour over the dough and started kneading. A few minutes to banish the air and it was ready to work. Lifting a knife from the table, she carved away at the mound until she'd reduced it to a row of softball-sized lumps. Then she went to work on the first lump; pushing down with the thumbs, pulling up with the fingers, a twist here and another there, a few slices with the knife for surface detail and a judicious poke or two. With quick motions, she transformed the lump into a sitting dove, its wings spread just slightly, it's hollow middle ready to receive a ladle of soup. A singular work, it was soon just one of a flock. When the last bready dove was in its place on the tray, Jane took up a pan of raw egg and a pastry brush. She painted the egg onto the doves, using motions that had long ago become more than second nature, though learned with a different type of brush in hand. Then, with a crispy glaze assured, Jane reached over and opened the nearby oven.
She heard the door swing open and closed behind her as she lifted the tray. "Jane?"
Jane glanced at the clock. Mrs. Krupchek was a great boss, but she was a stickler for punctuality. "Don't worry," Jane told her. "These rolls will be ready in plenty of time."
"I know this," Mrs. Krupchek answered. "But there is someone here who wants to see you."
Jane smiled as she slid the tray into the oven. "Another customer with a special order?"
"No. These people say they know you."
Jane turned her head. Mrs. Krupchek was standing just inside the door, but Jane barely noticed her. Instead her eyes were for the newcomers. Daria and Trent stood at Mrs. Krupchek's side, their expressions somehow elated and subdued at the same time. Struck dumb, Jane gaped at them. Her left hand slipped unnoticed from the tray and came down on the oven's hot rack. "Ouch! Dammit!"
Trent rushed forward and took her hand in his. "Are you all right, Janey?"
Jane yanked her hand free and stepped back. "It's okay." Trent's eyes went wide, but he stayed put. Daria had yet to move from Mrs. Krupchek's side, but it looked like her restraint came at the price of considerable effort. "What . . . what are you guys doing here?"
"We came to find you," Daria answered. At the same moment Trent chimed, "We came to take you home."
"But how did you find me?"
"It's a long story," said Daria. She glanced at Mrs. Krupchek, then back to Jane. "Um, we really need to talk."
"So take a break," said Trent.
Jane turned to her brother. The intensity of his gaze was almost frightening. His eyes were wide and locked on her, as if he feared she might disappear in the space of a wayward glance. "Ummmm . . ."
"What is this, Jane?" Heavy footfalls sounded as Mr. Krupchek walked up and stood beside her, his arms crossed. "Is problem?"
Trent glanced up at the imposing baker, then looked back to her. "C'mon, Janey. Let's get out of here."
Mr. Krupchek drew a deep breath and glowered at Trent. "Jane does not have to go with you."
"Look, man," Trent said, his eyes beginning to smolder. "Stay out of this. It's not your business."
"Is my business," Mr. Krupchek replied. "Jane works for me, so I protect."
"Um, guys?" said Daria. "This isn't helping."
"Yes," added Mrs. Krupchek, her eyes on her husband. "Calm down, old goat. Can't you see? Is more here than you know." She lifted a hand and pointed. "Look to Jane."
Jane didn't know what her face was showing at that moment, but it was enough to drain the anger from Mr. Krupchek's face and replace it with concern. His wife took a single step forward. "You okay, Jane?" Then she lowered her voice, as if to sneak her next words past the intruders. "Who are these people?"
Jane lifted a hand. "This is Daria," she said. "My friend. And this is my brother, Trent."
"Brother?" asked Mr. Krupchek. He looked Trent over with new eyes. Then a hint of disapproval returned to his gaze, as if he were unwilling to banish it completely. "You should treat sister with more kindness."
"Look," said Daria, cutting off Trent's response. "The three of us really need to have a talk. Do you mind if we borrow Jane for a while? Will you talk with us, Jane? Please?"
Mrs. Krupchek seemed to take stock of all the faces around her, the light of a keen mind behind those usually-cheerful eyes. "It would be okay if you want to go, Jane," she said.
Jane looked to her. "But I've got to finish with these rolls . . ."
"Oh, we'll watch them. Go and have dinner with your friends." Then Mrs. Krupchek cast a sly look at Daria. "Offer Jane pizza," she stage-whispered from the side of her mouth. "She'll go."
"Yes. Go if you want," said Mr. Krupchek, though he still looked unsure. "We won't let your good work burn, at any rate."
Jane took a long breath. Daria's brows were tilted upward over wide eyes, her lips pressed together in a questioning slant. It was as close as she would ever come to pleading. Trent's lips were pressed together as well, but there was nothing of questioning about his expression. His gaze all but reached out for her, his eyebrow's low and drawn together. He wasn't going to leave this room without her.
Jane released the breath in a sigh and shrugged. "Okay," she said. "Let's go talk."
"I'm not going back."
Daria set her third slice of pizza onto her plate and sighed. Their discussion since leaving the bakery had been spirited, to say the least. Not that it had been a shouting match by any stretch of the imagination. Shouting just wasn't a part of any one of them. But what the conversation had lacked in volume, it had made up for in intensity. Worse, it had become circular, with Jane always returning to her same determined statement. Trent's response was likewise predictable.
"You have to, Janey," he said. "Your life is back there. Your art. You can't give that all up."
Jane's face remained a stony mask as she met her brother's gaze. "I already have, Trent."
"Dammit, Janey. I don't get you. You've never been the type to run away."
"I haven't run away," said Jane, her voice quiet. "I've just left it behind. There's a difference."
Daria shook her head. This was going nowhere. It was time to break the cycle. "Jane," she began. "The truth won't disappear, no matter where you go. Simon is dead."
Jane's eyes widened just a touch, a fleck of reflected pain that cut Daria to the bone. "I know he's dead," Jane replied, her voice tight. Her gaze fell to her sauce-spattered plate. "You guys just don't get it."
"No, I don't," said Trent, cutting Daria off. "I don't understand this at all. You can't give up your whole life, Janey. I won't let you."
Jane's mask slid back into place and she looked hard at Trent. "Don't tell me what to do, Trent. I make my own decisions."
"And you've decided to become a baker?"
"It's a living."
"Not for you, it isn't. It's dying. I know you, Janey. You've worked hard to make your life exactly what you've always wanted and never compromised on anything. How can you throw it away now? Yeah, Simon died and that was a waste. But you can't make it right by wasting everything that you are -- everything you might be."
"That's my choice to make."
"Oh, man." Trent slid out of the booth and stood up, his mouth a frustrated line. "I can't take any more of this."
Daria looked up at him. "Trent?"
"I can't talk to her, Daria. I need to get some air." Trent turned away. The bell over the doors jingled a merry farewell as he stomped out of the pizza parlor.
Daria turned back to Jane. "So, what don't we get?"
"You said we don't get it. What did you mean?"
Jane sighed, her mask slipping just a bit. "I meant that my leaving didn't have anything to do with Simon. I mean . . . it did, of course. But it didn't."
"Well, that clears it up."
Jane looked up in surprise, a bit of that old 'to hell with it' light in her eyes. She smirked and for a moment they were back in Lawndale, sharing a pie and trading cynical banter at the Pizza King. "I do what I can," she replied.
"And my appreciation knows no bounds," Daria finished with a hint of a half-smile.
Then Jane sighed and the moment fell away. "I've lost it, Daria," she said, her voice measuring the depths of her pain. "I can't paint anymore. It's gone."
"You've been trying?"
"No," said Jane, shaking her head. "I haven't touched a brush since I left."
"Then how do you . . .?"
"I know, Daria." Jane's true face emerged from behind the emotionless facade, a portrait of aching tragedy. She lifted a shaking hand and touched her heart. "In here. I can't feel it anymore. I did try, that one night. The red paintings . . ."
"That wasn't what I wanted to do," Jane continued, a tear starting in the corner of her eye. "I wanted to paint . . . something else, but I couldn't. I could only feel the red . . . the pain. It's still all I can feel. There isn't room for anything else."
Daria nodded. "Then let yourself feel the pain."
"I have." The tear ran down Jane's face, sketching another melancholy line into the portrait. "I felt it that night until I massacred a horde of canvasses and all but trashed my studio. I felt it as I cried so hard I couldn't breathe. And even after all that, I still feel it. There just isn't any end to it."
"There is," said Daria. "There will be, but first you have to let yourself continue to grieve. You have to feel the pain to get past it."
"But I thought I was going to . . . lose it . . . that night."
"You didn't, though."
"I'm not so sure, Daria." Jane glanced away. "I don't even remember that whole night. There were moments when I . . . didn't know where I was. If you hadn't shown up when you did, I might really have gone off the deep end. I can't take the chance of that happening again."
Daria leaned forward and laid her hands on Jane's. "It won't. We'll stay with you, me and Trent. As long as it takes."
"No. I'll lose it. I know I will."
"We'll be there, Jane. We won't let you get lost, I promise."
"No." Jane pulled her hand away and swiped at her tears, sniffing hard. She let out a long breath as her mask slammed back into place. "No," she repeated, her voice steady. "I can't take that chance. Better to feel nothing at all."
"You're not feeling nothing," said Daria. "Repressing your emotions doesn't make them go away. Believe me, I know."
Jane glanced up at the clock above the next booth. "Look, Daria. I've really got to get back to work. We've got an order for a wedding this evening and I have to . . ."
"Jane . . .?"
"Really, I've got to go." Jane slid out of the booth and started for the door. "We'll get together and talk later. Come by the bakery." Then she was out the door and gone.
Come by the bakery. Dammit, why did she have to say that? She should have told Daria to find Trent and go on home.
Jane huffed out a breath as she stomped down the sidewalk, making her way back to work. Not that it would have done any good, she thought to herself. Daria could be downright stubborn when she wanted to be. And even though Trent had walked out, she'd lay money that he still had every intention of taking her home. Well, that was just too damn bad for both of them.
Jane walked in through the bakery door and headed for the back. "Already finished talking with your friends?" asked Mrs. Krupchek as Jane passed her by. "Everything is okay, I hope."
Jane shrugged. "Yeah. I'll get started on that wedding order now."
"Okaaay." Mrs. Krupchek drew the word out as her eyes followed Jane across the room.
Jane walked into the back room and made straight for an oversized bowl that lay on the kneading table. Mr. Krupchek was working at his own table, mixing batter for the three-tier cake she would be decorating later. "You okay?" he asked, looking up.
"Mmmm fine," Jane told him as she gingerly lifted the towel from the bowl and looked beneath. "Is this ready to go?"
"All ready for your magic."
Jane set the towel aside and dumped the bowl out onto the table. A handful of flour sprinkled over the dough to prevent sticking and it was ready to be worked. It felt so good to beat it down hard that she was disappointed to see it reduced to fist-dimpled flatness. No matter. Considerable energy could be applied to the act of kneading. In fact, it wasn't at all counterproductive to haul off and give the dough a healthy smack once in a while. She didn't notice the concerned look her zealous industry earned from Mr. Krupchek every time one of her blows rattled the table.
The baking sheets made a satisfying racket when she pulled them out and slapped them onto the table for greasing. Once that was done, Jane wiped the grease from her fingers and set to rolling the dough out flat. She sliced the flattened dough into inch-wide strips and set each aside onto the floured table. Upending a clean bowl onto the table, she trimmed some of the strips and laid them out on the bowl's underside. Then with almost manic speed, she started weaving the strips together until a woven basket of bread lay on the upturned bowl. Soon eight bowl-supported baskets for eight wedding tables lay on the sheets. Jane then used eight more bowls and the remaining strips to weave handles for the baskets, which she would tie on with bows of peach-coloured ribbon when all was finished baking. Her weaving done, she opened the oven doors and started shoving sheets inside.
When she turned around again, Mrs. Krupchek was standing inside the door, her brows knit over narrowed eyes. "Jane? Is everything all right back here?"
"Yep." Jane looked to the other table. "Is the first dough for the rolls ready yet?"
Mr. Krupchek glanced at a row of three bowls he had set aside. The towels lying over them formed shallow domes. "Not yet," he replied. "Fifteen minutes for the first, I think."
"Okay." Jane grabbed up a baking knife and started scraping sticky dough remnants from the kneading table, unmindful of the anxious glance the Krupchek's exchanged behind her.
"Jane?" said Mrs. Krupchek, her voice low. "Something is wrong."
Jane swivelled her head around, taking in the room. Then she glanced at the clock. "No, we're okay," she said. "We'll be ready in plenty of time for the wedding."
"I think Fanya means more the banging of pans and your rough treatment of my poor bread dough."
Jane looked to Mr. Krupchek, then to his wife. Both were watching her closely, as if they expected her to bolt. She smiled and tried to shrug it off. "Hey, I'm sorry if I got a little loud. I was just in a hurry."
"Was more than that," said Mr. Krupchek. He turned to his wife. "Is more than that."
"I have eyes," his wife replied, not taking her gaze from Jane. "You are upset, Jane. Easy to see this, but why? Your friend and brother say they come to take you home. Why does this upset you so that you must rattle shelves from walls?"
The corner of Jane's mouth quirked up at her words, but it only lasted a second. Setting the knife aside, she looked down at the table and scraped at a bit of dried dough with her thumbnail. "I left my home a few weeks ago," she said in a quiet voice. "Left everything behind. I'm not going back."
"Why do you leave, if I may ask?"
"My life ended."
"Your life still is," said Mrs. Krupchek. "You stand here, still alive."
Jane lifted her eyes and met Mrs. Krupchek's gaze. "I'm breathing, but I'm not who I was. I'm alive, but Simon isn't."
Mrs. Krupchek nodded. "Husband?"
"Yes." What an effort it cost her to squeeze out that simple word. Jane blinked quickly to hold back unshed tears and swallowed hard.
"So you left your life?"
"I had no reason to stay."
"What was your job back home? You were not baker when you came here," said Mr. Krupchek, his words softened by an encouraging smile.
"I was an artist."
"Ahhh," said Mrs. Krupchek. "Yes, easy to see that."
"What do you mean? I'm not an artist anymore. I've lost it all."
"Have you? Look to your work." Mrs. Krupchek lifted a hand and pointed to the oven where Jane's bread baskets were baking, and to the table that held her cooling bread-dove soup bowls. "Everything you've done since coming here has been with hand of artist."
"But that's not art. Not really."
"Is sculpture," Mrs. Krupchek countered. "What matters whether you sculpt clay or bread? Is still art that is inside you, coming out." She nodded toward her husband. "Better than he can do, and he is born baker."
Mr. Krupchek affected a hurt look, a grin hiding beneath. "I'm am pretty darn good . . ."
"Oh, be quiet, old goat," Mrs. Krupchek replied, glancing him a smile. "Point is, you are still artist, Jane. You are having trouble now, having pain at loss of your Simon. Can't outrun the pain. Better to endure it than deny it, and come out stronger in the end."
"It's too much," Jane muttered. "I . . . tried to deal with it before. I almost went crazy -- really gone-and-not-coming-back insane."
"Almost? What stopped you from doing so?"
"Daria. She flew in as soon as she heard, all the way from London. If she hadn't shown up when she did, I don't know what might have happened."
"There you have your answer, I think."
Jane looked up, meeting Mrs. Krupchek's eyes. "What do you mean?"
"I mean you tried to deal with pain alone and that was bad," she explained. "You needed people who care for you, to mourn with. And your friend came, as you say, knowing that you would need her."
"They both did, really," said Jane, her voice low. "Trent showed up the same night, a little while later."
"And did you share your pain with them?"
"At first I did." Jane lowered her eyes again. "But not for long. By the time Trent arrived, I was trying to bury it."
Mrs. Krupchek stepped up to Jane and put a hand on her shoulder. That simple motion of sympathy brought out the tears that Jane had been holding back. "Can't bury it," said the older woman. "Not for long. Feelings are still there, waiting to be felt."
Jane smiled a bit as she wiped her eyes. "That's kind of what Daria was just telling me."
"Then you have a smart friend," said Mrs. Krupchek. "Now go find her. Find your brother, too. Gather your things and go home, back to your life. Back to who you are."
Jane met the older woman's earnest gaze. "But what about my job here?"
"It's over," said Mrs. Krupchek. "Time for you to go home."
Jane thought for a moment. "Yeah, I guess it is. But I don't want to leave you guys in the lurch."
"We'll be fine," said Mr. Krupchek as he stepped up and added his reassuring bulk to their circle. "We were before you came here, at any rate . . . which is not to say we haven't enjoyed . . ."
"Oh, she understands what you mean," said Mrs. Krupchek with a smile. "Now go, Jane."
Jane looked from one to the other, tears blurring her view. "Thank you," she said. "Both of you. For everything."
By the time Daria paid the pizza tab and walked outside, there was no sign of Jane. Probably she was back in the bakery by now. Daria wanted to go in and talk to her, but that really wasn't a good idea. Jane had closed up and it would be a while before she would be receptive to -- well, anything. A better use of her time would be to find Trent and see how he was doing.
Daria turned the corner. Great. Trent's car was gone. He'd always been one to drive off when things got heavy, preferring the serenity of an empty car to the messy tangles that sometimes were the only way to settle a misunderstanding, or a conflict. What was she going to do now? Well, it wasn't as if he was heading home. He'd be back. Hell, maybe he'd just driven a little way and parked again. Maybe she could find him.
She gave up on that plan forty-five minutes and an unknown number of blocks later. What was it about the Lanes that made them so damned hard to find? Huffing out her exasperation, Daria turned on a heel and strode back in the direction -- she hoped -- of the bakery. Something about her stride or her expression seemed to ward the other pedestrians away, clearing them from her path. Whatever. So long as they stayed out of her way.
Naturally -- for fate would not possibly have it any other way -- she found Trent had returned. He was parked only a few doors beyond the bakery.
Daria walked up to the car and leaned down to peer into the passenger side window, ready to ream Trent out for leaving her. The words died aborning when she saw him. He was just sitting there in the driver's seat, his hands on the wheel, staring out the windshield with large, unseeing eyes. It was a good thing he'd stopped driving.
Daria opened the door and lowered herself into the passenger seat. "Hey," she said quietly as she pulled her legs in and closed the door.
"Hey," he replied, his voice a distant ghost.
Daria watched him, expecting him to turn and look at her. He didn't. His gaze remained on the world beyond the windshield, his thoughts turned inward. "Ummm, Trent?" she began. "We need to talk."
"Don't ask me to leave her behind, Daria," he said. "I just can't."
"I understand that, Trent. But it really isn't our decision to make."
"She isn't thinking straight. I can't believe she still isn't letting herself grieve over Simon. Nothing has changed for her since the night she left."
"Maybe that's so," said Daria. "But our pushing her isn't going to bring her home."
Trent finally turned to face her, his lips pressed together, his eyes full of disbelief. "You were going to ask me to leave her behind, weren't you?"
"I don't know, really." Daria took a deep breath. "But listen, Trent. Right before you called me at your place, I'd come to the decision to leave Jane be. I was planning to go home to Boston and give up our search."
The disbelief didn't fade from Trent's eyes, but it made some room for anger. "I can't believe you, Daria. I thought you were Janey's friend."
"I am her friend," Daria countered, her voice a sharper blade than she'd intended. His words had stung. "But sometimes being a friend means knowing when to give somebody space."
"That's bullshit, Daria. You're just walking the path of least resistance to get out of an uncomfortable situation. It's not like you haven't done it before."
"Come on. How many times have you just clammed up and walked away to avoid something you didn't want to deal with?"
"Trent, you're talking about things that happened a long time ago."
"If you want to bail, then bail." Trent motioned toward her door. "Just walk away and pretend you don't care about Janey. That'll make things easier, won't it?"
Daria turned away, then didn't move another muscle. Instead she sat and stared out the windshield, letting Trent stew. Silence was a resource she had long ago learned to cultivate. It could be by turns an escape or a solace; a time of thought or a time of healing. But it could also be a weapon, one that could be wielded with devastating effect against those uncomfortable in its presence. Even against those intimate with its ways, silence did not lose its power. It was not for nothing that Daria had been the quietest kid in Lawndale High.
Daria waited for the proper moment. Then . . . "I can't believe you said that, Trent."
"Yeah, well . . ." His voice softened. "Neither can I."
She turned and faced him. "Do you really want me to . . .?"
"No, of course not," Trent answered, his words coming fast. Then he slowed down. "I don't want you to go. Look, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to . . ."
"It's just that . . ." Trent's eyes clouded over. "I don't want to lose Janey."
"I don't want to lose her either, Trent." Daria reached out and put a hand on his arm. "And maybe she'll heal herself and come home, after a time. Or maybe she won't. Either way, she's still my friend and your sister, and we haven't lost her. The only thing our making demands will do is push her away. If we push hard enough, we really could lose her."
"Yeah. I know." Trent huffed in exasperation, or possibly in appreciation of the irony. "I can't think of anything that would make her more angry."
"So, what do you think we should do?"
"Talk to Janey again." Trent raised an eyebrow and looked sidelong at Daria. "More calmly this time. Do you think we should go talk with her now?"
"No," Daria answered, shaking her head. "I don't think she'd be very receptive tonight. Tomorrow would be better. We can take her to lunch, or something."
"Yeah, you're probably right." Trent put a hand on the keys, ready to turn. "So, do you think this town has a decent motel?"
"With our luck, I really doubt . . . eep!" Daria jumped as a face suddenly appeared in the open passenger-side window.
"Yo, Trent!" said Jane, leaning in a little further. "Think you can give me a ride?"
"Wha?" Daria sputtered. Trent didn't even get that much out.
Jane smiled at them both, apparently getting a kick out of their expressions. "Well," she said, leaning back away from the window. "If you can't give me a ride, then I guess I'll stay here."
"Yes." Trent finally managed to get out. "I mean . . . I'll give you a ride Janey. Where to?"
"Home, Trent. I want to go home."
"Okay," Trent replied, his voice still subdued by the surprise. "If that's what you want."
"Geez," said Jane with a smirk. "Contain your enthusiasm. And while you're at it, pop the trunk, will you? And can you give me a hand with these bags?"
Trent was out the door in an instant and Jane turned to join him at the trunk. Daria opened her own door and followed. Two black suitcases lay on the sidewalk, a blue backpack resting across both of them. Jane stood beside them while Trent keyed open the trunk. "Not that I'm complaining," Daria began. "But what changed your mind?"
Jane nodded toward the bakery. "They fired me."
"God, Daria," said Jane with a chuckle. "When did your leg become so easy to pull?"
Trent turned from the open trunk and put a hand on Jane's shoulder. "But you're really coming home, right?"
"Yeah, Trent. I'm really coming home. I guess I just decided it was time." Jane looked up at him, then caught him up in a hug. Daria watched until Jane reached a hand out to her, pulling her into a three-way hug. "I've missed you guys," Jane said through sudden tears.
Daria couldn't resist the opening. "And we missed you," she said, her voice fogged by her own threatening tears. "We missed you in Newark, and again in Scranton, and again in . . ."
"Oh, shut up."
So they hugged in silence for a moment. Finally it was Trent that spoke again. "I'm glad you decided to come back with us, Janey."
"Yeah, me too," Jane replied. Then she broke the hug and stepped back, keeping a hand on each of their shoulders. "But I'm gonna need some help from you guys. Do you think you could stay at my place with me for a couple of days? Maybe through the weekend?"
"Sure, Janey," said Trent. "Whatever you need. But ummm . . . you're going to have to let me call my agent, if I still have one after missing all those studio dates."
"Deal," said Jane. Then she turned. "What about you, Daria? I've still got a lot to deal with and I don't want to do it alone. I can't promise anything except that I'll be a teary, depressing mess most of the time. Will you stay with us?"
"Well," Daria said with a smirk. "Since you put it that way, how can I resist?"
"Great." Jane reached for her backpack and tossed it into the trunk. "Then what say we get out of this town?"
Trent took care of the suitcases, then they all climbed in. Jane hopped into the front seat before Daria could reclaim it, so she turned toward the rear door. "Hey," said Jane. Daria turned to see her looking back with a pensive expression. "C'mon in, Daria," Jane continued. "There's plenty of room for three."
Daria smiled and got in. Sitting in the middle, Jane bumped shoulders with her, then with Trent. "Thanks for the ride, you two. And for everything else. I really do appreciate it."
"No problem," Daria told her, echoing Trent's words precisely.
Trent started up the car and put it into gear. In moments they were pulling onto the highway and mingling with the eastbound traffic. "Hey," said Jane, her lips bent in an impish grin. "I know how we can pass the time on the way home. Let's have a sing-a-long."
"No!" Daria and Trent shouted in unison. Jane slumped her shoulders and pouted, playing it up to the hilt. Then she sat back and matched their smiles. "Y'know," she said. "It sure is good to be back with you guys."
Jane leaned a shoulder on the doorjamb, watching as Trent's car pulled down the drive. The car stopped at the roadway and a hand, barely visible in the evening light, raised from the driver's side window and waved. Another hand arose from the passenger side. Jane waved back. Then the car's brake lights blinked out and Trent pulled away.
Jane watched the tail lights recede into the distance. They were on their way to the airport, where Daria's flight would be leaving in a couple of hours. Tomorrow was Monday and Daria was going home to be with Miles when he arrived in Boston. She'd offered to stay longer, but Jane insisted that she go. Daria had her own life, one that she'd been neglecting in the name of friendship, and she deserved to get back to it. Trent needed to get back to his life as well, while he still had a name in the recording industry. After dropping Daria off at the airport, he was heading home as well. Via con dios, she silently wished them as the tail lights vanished behind intervening trees. Adios, my best of confidants. See you later.
Closing the door on the coming night, Jane turned and looked around at the family room. It had all been straightened up, but over the last few days it had seen some wear, in the emotional sense at least. It was a miracle that Trent and Daria had been able to put up with her, what with all the tears. Of course, the fact that the tears had been shared made it all so much easier. God, she was so lucky to have the two of them. How had she ever thought that she could face such a loss without them?
Jane walked across the family room, flicking on lights as she went. She made her way into the kitchen and set to making a pot of coffee. It wasn't easy, as things were still a bit messy from dinner. They'd so hated to break up their last talk together that they'd run short of cleanup time. Really there was only the last straightening up to do. Once she had the coffee maker humming, Jane gathered up the clean pots and dishes and put them in their place.
Something caught her eye as she straightened up from the pan cupboard. "There you are," she said, smiling. One of Simon's stone gargoyles was sitting -- or rather, lying -- in the corner wedged behind the last of the dishes. Jane reached out and lifted the sculpture, holding it easily in both hands. She'd found it only yesterday, when she'd been spending some time alone in Simon's basement studio. He'd made dozens of these things years ago to pay the rent while he worked on getting his art career started. Later, he'd made them just for fun, giving them away to friends or people he'd worked with. This one was his last. A few rough patches gave evidence that he hadn't finished with it. Now he never would.
Jane carried the gargoyle back into the living room and looked around. She looked to the polished wooden mantle over the fireplace. Yes. That would be the perfect home for it. Jane lifted the piece up and settled it on the mantle, arranging it so the turned head looked out onto the room. Then she stepped back. Perfect.
When the coffee was ready, Jane made herself a cup and carried it upstairs. She stopped at her bedroom door and looked inside. Then she walked in. The bedspread was rumpled, but then she'd never been good at making beds. At least she was sleeping in there again. It seemed unthinkable now that she had ever avoided the place. Well, that was in the past. This was her room again.
Funny though, how when she closed her eyes she could still detect Simon's scent in here.
Jane turned and walked down the hallway to the open door of her studio. The place sure looked different. It was clean now, though it had taken hard work from the three of them and a professional rug cleaning service to do it. It was too clean, really -- home to stacks of fresh canvasses, unopened tubes of paint, pristine brushes and an empty easel. There was only one painting in the whole room and it was sitting under the window with its face to the wall. That just didn't seem right in this place of her creation.
She set her coffee on the worktable and walked to the window. Reaching down, she lifted the painting and turned it around. It was her last work, the landscape. Jane looked it over with a critical eye. The painted reflection still rippled in the water, the image of two people standing hand-in-hand, but those two people no longer stood at the streamside. They'd both been painted out.
That just wasn't right at all.
Jane carried the painting to her easel and clamped it into place. Then she squeezed new oils onto a palette, lifted a brush and went to work. Old motions combined with fresh thoughts to move her hand with practiced ease. A new image appeared, created with sure and rapid strokes. When it was finished, Jane stepped back and looked it over.
A female figure now stood alone at the streamside, looking down into the water. At her feet, her reflection still stood hand-in-hand with the reflection of the man who had once been by her side. But even though he was gone, her expression was not one of sadness. Instead, she looked down on the representation of her past joy with quiet reflection and kind remembrance. The woman had been fortunate. She'd found her one true love in this life. Her time with him had not lasted forever. Nothing ever does. But they'd made the most of the days they'd had together. That's what truly mattered.
Jane sniffed and wiped her eyes. Setting brush and palette aside, she unclamped the painting and set it against the wall to dry. It felt good to paint again, too good to stop so soon.
Jane chose a fresh canvass and set it on the easel. Her thoughts churned with experiences and feelings yet unpainted as she filled her palette with colour and selected a brush. Then she set herself before the easel. A slight smile came to her lips as she touched brush to canvass and the strokes began to flow. At long last the landscape was finished.
It was time to start something new.
** My thanks go out to Diane Long for her input on an earlier draft of this story, and to the many people who encouraged me to finish this so they could read it.
** And thanks to the folks who took the time to share their thoughts my past stories. I value every message and e-mail.
** I welcome all feedback, comments and constructive criticism. You can reach me at Sehala@Aol.Com
(Disclaimer: Daria and her cartoon cohorts 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 under U.S. National and International Law and Convention.)
("A Lane in Black" is a work produced purely for fun, not for profit. The author will be quite vexed if it is distributed in any way that creates a profit for anyone. This story is copyright © 2000 by Jon Kilner. It may be distributed freely to Daria fans everywhere, provided that it is distributed in unaltered form and the author's name and e-mail address remain intact.)
(This is a work of fiction. All characters, settings and situations are fictitious. Hence the name 'fiction.')
(Whew. That should about cover it.)