©2005 The Angst Guy (email@example.com)
Daria and associated characters are ©2005 MTV Networks
Feedback (good, bad, indifferent, just want to bother me, whatever) is appreciated. Please write to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Synopsis: A surprise visitor opens the door to chaos in the little world of two Boston college freshmen, two months away from the birth of their child.
Author's Notes: This is the eighth story in the Pause in the Air series, which tells about the lives of Daria Morgendorffer and Jane Lane as two college freshman in Boston—married to each other with a child on the way. The details of how this alternate universe came about are given in other Pause in the Air tales, which so far include (in story order): “Pause in the Air,” “Thanks Giving,” “Moving Day,” “Silent Night,” “Shock and Aww,” “Family Affairs,” and “Writes of Spring.” Readers are assumed to be familiar with the characters of the Daria TV show, so no introductions are used.
This being an alternate universe to the mainline Daria series, reasonable chains of consequences are employed, so that past situations referred to herein will not exactly match what happened on the show. For example, the “love triangle” with Tom Sloane here is not like the one everyone recalls, as here Tom and Daria both competed for the affections of Jane, and Daria (who in this world is and always has been gay) won out. “Family Affairs” gives the background on the affairs (ahem) of Daria’s Aunt Rita, but it is not necessary to read that story before reading this one.
Acknowledgements: The beta readers for this story were, in no particular order: Thea Zara, PolemArch, Richard Lobinske (good catch on Quinn and coffee, in “Pierce Me”), Deref (dang, it was a loupe), Kendra Steiner (don’t know how I missed all those!), Between the Lines, James “CINCGREEN” Bowman, Mike Nassour, Crusading Saint, and PolemArch. My thanks to everyone who bugged me over the last six months for another story. Again, it worked. And thanks to Natalie and Isabelle, who wanted their names used in a Daria fanfic. It is done. Now, pay up.
“Back here,” Jane Lane murmured, checking another negative.
Footsteps padded slowly down the carpeted hallway from the kitchen of the two-bedroom apartment. In moments, a short, enormously pregnant brunette with large round glasses appeared in the doorway of what had once been the spare bedroom, now a creative room outfitted for one artist and one writer. The brunette’s abdomen pushed her green Janis Ian nightshirt into a tent shape, almost hiding the badly worn slippers on her feet. “That was weird,” she said. “Not long-scream weird, just frowny-face weird.”
The lanky young woman she addressed continued to examine a roll of negatives on a light table, using a loupe magnifier. Her silky black bangs hung down and covered her face. “What was weird?” Jane asked without looking up.
“That was Quinn on the phone.” The brunette, her thick hair styled in a shoulder-length bob, pressed both her hands against the small of her back and winced. “She asked me some really strange questions.”
“Figures. It’s still April Fool’s Day today, right?” Jane glanced at a nearby clock. “Three more hours till midnight. Maybe she wanted to get in a last funny one on you.”
“It wasn’t that. She doesn’t do practical jokes, or never has to me. Not since grade school, anyway. Maybe she only tricks her boyfriends, and I didn’t mean that the way it sounded. Anyway, she just asked me some weird questions.”
Jane glanced up and fought to hide a smirk. “That’s what younger sisters are for, I suppose. Did she ask about your sex life?”
“No. She’d be too grossed out to ever ask about that.”
“My sex life?”
“Her sex life?”
“I’m going to put on my boots and kick you where you deserve it most.”
“Talk, talk, talk. You can’t even see your feet, much less reach them, so—okay, whoa. Daria? Come back. Daria, I’ll listen. What was the weird thing?”
The brunette reappeared, glaring and massaging her lower back. The taller girl put down the magnifier and walked over, giving her partner a wrap-around hug from the side, one gentle hand on the other girl’s bulging abdomen. She planted a kiss on her partner’s forehead, above her owl-eye frames. “Talk to me. I’ll be good, I promise.”
“You hate me,” mumbled the brunette.
“No, I don’t. I couldn’t even make an April Fool’s joke about that. I love you.”
“Liar. I’m fat and pregnant and we’ve been in Boston eight months and we don’t have any friends and we never have fun anymore.”
“Oh, you’re not fat. What did Quinn ask about?”
Daria Morgendorffer exhaled, her forehead pressed to the taller girl’s chest. “She asked if we keep in touch with anyone from high school, if we have any friends here we see on a regular basis, if we get out at all, things like that. I got ticked off and told her I have better things to do than be popular, but she keeps at it. It’s like she’s rubbing it in.”
“That we don’t have any friends?”
“Yeah, and that she has millions. She always did. Why is she making such a big deal about it now?”
“You know, truth be told, it’s not like we make a huge effort to get out and meet people. We’re both kind of introverted, mostly from all of our schoolwork and . . . well, being introverted, I guess.”
“You’re not that introverted. You go running, you talk to people . . .”
“I’m not a flaming extravert, either, but I’m happy where I am in the middle. And we do go places, when we’re not buried in school projects and studying and going to doctor visits for you and our kid-to-be.”
“Like where? Where’d we go last?”
“We went to that park down the street last Sunday, right?”
“Only for an hour, and we didn’t meet anyone there. It was just us.”
“Your back and feet hurt too much, Sunshine, and it got cold and rainy out. We had to come home early. Spring in Boston gets like that.” Jane pulled back and regarded the top of Daria’s head, in front of her nose. “This is really eating at you.”
Daria shrugged, her face still buried in Jane’s T-shirt. “I must be getting shallow in my old age,” she muttered.
“Why, because what she said bugged you?”
“You’re bugged that we don’t have a lot of friends?”
“Jane, we don’t have any friends, here or anywhere. Not real friends. There are people who like us, sure, at school and stores and restaurants and all that, but they’re not friends. I thought college would be different, that we’d meet more people we wanted to be around. Or maybe I thought I’d be different and get out more and meet people, but I’m not. I’m not asking for my own fan club. I just wasn’t planning on being an outcast forever. Present company excluded.”
“We have Trent.”
“He doesn’t count. He’s family. And he’s in Lawndale, half a day away by car.”
“He’s our friend, too.”
“Still doesn’t count.”
“Oh, come on, we have friends here. You’ve got your study groups, and I’ve—”
“They’re not real friends, just acquaintances. When was the last time any of them called us to chat about life or ask us to go see a movie?”
Jane tried to think of an example to the contrary. There was none.
“We wanted to have that videogame party, remember?” Daria prodded. “In the middle of January? We invited twelve people, but no one took us up on it.”
“We had a few friends in high school,” Jane countered, but her voice held doubt.
“Only Jodie and Mack, really, but I haven’t heard from them in ages. Have you? They don’t even e-mail us anymore. Mack’s got a new girlfriend, and Jodie’s up to her eyeballs in work and school stuff.”
Jane elected not to probe Daria’s line of reasoning further. “Did Quinn ask about anything else when she called?”
“We talked about some other things, but she’s asked me about having other friends once before, about a month or so ago. I wish she’d quit.”
“Maybe she’s just checking up on us to make sure we’re, you know, getting out, seeing the world, whatever. I’m sure she doesn’t mean it in a bad way.”
Daria’s frown deepened. “Why are you sticking up for her?”
“Because she’s a good person, Daria. Quinn’s stuck up for us when almost no one else would. I bet she talked your mom into being more reasonable about the two of us being together, like last summer when we told your parents we were engaged and getting married in Vermont, and your mother started to lose it and yell until Quinn dragged her off. Your mother was a lot calmer when she came back, remember? Quinn’s our friend, Daria, probably our best friend. She certainly calls more often than Trent does. Maybe she’s just worried about you, Sunshine.”
Daria let out a long sigh. “I know. I guess it’s not like we’re sufficient company for each other, it’s just that . . . one or two more friends would be okay, someplace else to go once in a while.”
Jane sighed, too, holding Daria close. “I know.”
“I’m not a sunshine.”
“You’re the only sunlight in the world that there is.”
Jane felt the warmth of her lover’s breath through her T-shirt.
“Okay,” said Daria, pulling away at last. “Now my glasses are all steamed up, and I have to go back to studying.”
“Wait.” Jane held Daria by the arm until the latter turned around, then bent her head. Their eyes closed and their lips met. Jane kept one hand on their baby, the other around the smaller girl’s back, embracing them both.
“Love you,” whispered Jane when they pulled apart.
“Love you, too.” Daria sniffed and shuffled off, pressing on her lower spine.
Jane watched her go—and wondered why Quinn had asked her the very same questions only three weeks earlier. Why does Quinn care all of a sudden about who our friends are? What was going on with that? She shrugged and turned back to the light table. A lot of work remained in choosing the final photos to go into her “Handscapes” collection for her still-photography class, due at month’s end. If the project was good enough, Jane thought she might ask to exhibit it in a local gallery. It was worth a try.
What Daria had said was true, though. They weren’t having much fun lately. There had been a few high points, but a lot of low ones. Nothing disastrous, just a lot of day-to-day drudgery that couldn’t be avoided, and some tense squabbling over money issues. Once flush with cash thanks to a gift from one of Daria’s aunts, they again had to watch their finances after paying off their outstanding bills and putting most of the remaining money in savings, promising not to touch it.
There was the rent, though, and groceries, medical bills for Daria and the baby, school books and supplies, utility bills, repair bills, gasoline, car tune-ups, and, once in a while, dinner out for the two of them. Part-time jobs helped, but for how long? And Daria, unlike Jane, had never been in good physical shape. The baby was due right at the end of May or early June, and Daria was in constant discomfort or pain.
Fun was precious and rare—and there was no one else to share it with.
Why does it matter that we don’t have any friends here? Or that we never did? We’re fine company for each other. We were always outcasts—not actually of our own choosing at first, though we did get to like it. Or so we told ourselves. Jane frowned, trying to recall any moment at any time when she felt she had a true friend other than Daria or Jane’s brother, Trent. Well, maybe Tom Sloane, but she had dated him only briefly. They hadn’t become terribly close, and most of her conversations with him revolved around what Daria had said and done lately. Tom always got that glazed look when Jane started in about Daria. He had said once that Daria had no sex appeal, and he wouldn’t be surprised if she was gay.
Of course, he’d been dead right, but about the latter part only. Unknown to Tom, Jane thought Daria had enormous sex appeal, and it had scared Jane out of her wits until she surrendered to it at last. I guess I think nerdy cynical girls are hotter than rich cynical guys. Guess I got the nerdiest one of all, but also the coolest and the best—when she isn’t in such a bad mood. Can’t blame her, though, going through all that pain. Wonder what I’ll be like when I get pregnant. If, I meant if I get pregnant. Why did I think when?
Forget it. I’m way off topic. Must be really tired. Maybe we don’t really want friends screwing up our private life.
But one or two wouldn’t have been bad. That would have been okay.
Jane sighed, studying the light table, then bent down with the loupe magnifier in her fingers and began checking the next series of negatives. She wished she could have given Daria a little prank today, for April Fool’s sake. As stressful as things were for her partner, though, it was better to play it straight.
An hour later, getting ready for bed, she discovered Daria had soaped her toothbrush. Retaliation followed, and they went to bed laughing. The rest of the week, though, was quite dull and dragged by without incident—no good incidents, anyway.
Then came the weekend.
Jane jerked awake. The doorbell was going off. And it was a Saturday. She groaned and rubbed her eyes and glanced at the clock, in the dim light filtering through the closed blinds. Ten a.m.? Ten a.m.?!?! Who in the flaming hell was waking them up at ten in the morning on a bleeding—
“Shit,” mumbled Daria, rolling on her back. “What the f—”
“I’ll get it,” Jane interrupted, fumbling for the edge of the bed. “Stay in bed.”
“Get a knife, the big knife in the kitchen, and get rid of them.”
“I will, mia capo di tutti capi.”
Daria pulled the quilt over her head.
Wearing only shorts because their new quilt tended to get them overheated even in the coldest weather, Jane pulled on a bathrobe, then stumbled down the hall to the front door, trying to scratch her butt through the robe and wondering how she would ever get back to sleep. She reached the door and got up on tiptoe to peek through the spy hole.
In the fisheye view through the spy hole, a giant plush bear with blue fur rocked from side to side.
“What the—?” Jane said aloud, wide eyed.
A hand-lettered sign appeared in front of the bear: SURRENDER, EARTHLING! IT’S PARTY TIME!
“Who is it?” Jane called, completely confused.
The bear and sign moved aside. Someone stepped in front of the spy hole, only inches away, grinning broadly. This particular someone had long orange-red hair and the cutest nose to grace the halls of Lawndale High School.
Jane pulled back in astonishment. “Quinn?”
“No Quinn here!” said Quinn Morgendorffer. She ducked, and the giant blue bear reappeared and stuck a lifelike eye to the spy hole to peer back at Jane.
Jane pulled her robe belt tighter, then unlocked the door and opened it enough to peek around with the security chain on. “Quinn, what the hell . . . what is that?”
“A bear,” said Quinn, holding the giant bear. She wore a long beige coat, boots, and a colorful scarf. “Did I wake you up?”
“Uh, doesn’t matter now. I’m up.”
“Jane?” came Daria’s voice from back in the apartment. “Who is it?”
“Shhh!” Quinn whispered. “Open the door, quick! Hurry!”
Too sleepy and confused to think of anything wiser to do, Jane undid the security chain and let Daria’s younger sister in. Holding the bear, Quinn rushed past her into the apartment, while Jane closed and locked the door.
Daria’s startled shriek sounded from the bedroom, followed by laughter. “Oops!” said Quinn. “Didn’t mean for the bear to catch you bare, sis! I brought this for Junior Morgendorffer-Lane. Here you go. He can sit on the blankets and protect your virtue, ha ha. Oh, I love your hair. When did you have it cut?”
“Quinn, what are you doing here?”
“Happy to see me? Wait, don’t answer that. Your hair looks like Mom’s, now. Nice. I drove in last night and got a room at that Super Sixty motel down the road.”
“Wait—can we talk after I get some clothes on?”
“Oh, my God, look at you! You’re what, eight weeks away? Let me see!”
“Quinn, please, let me get showered and dressed!”
“Come on, I’ve seen your belly before!”
“Oh, be that way. See you in a few minutes!”
Quinn came back out of the bedroom with a toss of her orange mane. “Jane, could you get the door for me when I get back? I have to get some stuff out of the car.”
“Sure.” Jane brushed her tangled bangs from her face, trying to get her thoughts in order. “Um . . . do you want coffee?”
“Oh, um, noncaffeinated herbal tea if you’ve got it, any flavor. Coffee gives you those dark eye circles, you know. Oh—” Quinn enveloped Jane in a brief but heartfelt hug. “Good to see you, sis-in-law. When I get back, I’ll pick up around here.”
“Pick up?” Jane scanned the kitchen and living room, across which were scattered used glasses and mugs, crumb-filled plates, school papers, books, newspapers, breakfast-bar wrappers, sofa pillows, pages torn out of magazines, photographs and sketches, afghans, CDs and DVDs out of their boxes, piles of socks and shoes, and an empty pizza box. “Pick up what?”
“Very funny. Be right back!” Quinn unlocked the apartment door and left.
Jane closed the door again and started making tea. She heard Daria stamp into the bathroom and slam the door, locking it.
Quinn kicked on the front door long before the tea was done. Jane let her in, staring at the assortment of large shopping bags Daria’s sister brought in with her. “Did you rob a mall, or what?”
“Just about. Where’s Daria?”
“In the shower.”
“Good. Let me pick up in here before she gets out. You two need a maid service.” Quinn set the bags aside near the door. “Where can I put my coat?”
“I’ll take it. Why exactly are you here? I mean, we’re glad to see you, but—”
“Tell you in a minute.” Quinn started throwing trash into the pizza box, moving through the living room like a snowplow. “Your apartment looks just like Daria’s room back home, you know? Except it’s more like a landfill now and there’re no pictures of skeletons on the wall.”
“Maybe you have something there,” said Jane, hanging Quinn’s coat in a closet. “Bones might brighten the place up.”
“Ha, ha. Do you have a trashcan?”
“Quinn, you don’t have to do—”
“Yes, I do,” said Quinn, all business. “Trashcan, please.”
Jane got the trashcan from under the kitchen sink. “Now, shoo,” said the redhead, taking the can and waving her off. “Go put some clothes on. It’s cold in here. You should wear socks on your feet, at least. Why aren’t you two wearing something more substantial at night, like flannel?”
“We bought a quilt, and it gets pretty hot under there,” said Jane.
The corners of Quinn’s mouth twitched upward in a smile. “I’ll bet,” she said. “Spare me the details. Now, away with you. Give me, oh, twenty, thirty minutes, then come back. Got it?”
“Well . . .” Still not fully awake, Jane retreated to the bedroom and shut the door behind her. She stopped, then. “What the hell am I doing?” she asked herself. “This is our apartment! She’s just a visitor! How can she . . . she can’t just . . . oh, forget it.”
Grabbing some clothes, she made her way to the bathroom and knocked until Daria let her in.
“What is she doing here?” Daria hissed, a long green towel pressed to her bulging front as her shower-soaked hair dripped everywhere. “And why are you in here?”
“She told me to leave,” said Jane. “I didn’t have anywhere else to go.”
“What? Damn it, she can’t do that! And you can’t do that! She has to—you—oh!”
Jane started to explain, but Daria turned and got back into the shower, shutting the curtains so hard they almost came down.
They finished dressing some time later in a calmer state. “The Spanish Inquisition can stay until lunch,” Daria said, keeping her voice low as she dried her hair with a towel, “but she has to go back to the motel right after that. I have to go to the library for a few hours before next week’s tests. Maybe we can do dinner out tonight, if she doesn’t mind going Dutch and eating somewhere cheap. Really cheap.”
“Maybe she could stay this afternoon, since I’ll be in the creative room working on—” Jane intercepted Daria’s glare “—okay, fine, whatever. We’ll work it out.”
“I can’t believe she would barge right into our apartment like it she was walking into my room back home,” Daria grumbled, and she snapped on the blow dryer and ended all further conversation.
Thirty minutes later, both girls emerged in their casual weekend clothes: jeans, blue sweater, and boots for Jane, rust-red maternity dress and comfortable sneakers for Daria. “I’ll take care of this,” whispered Daria, who took the lead as they walked up the hallway to the living room. “We’ll—”
“SURPRISE!” yelled Quinn, flinging a double handful of brilliant confetti. The glittering rainbow cloud covered the startled Daria and Jane in an instant and stuck to their clothes and hair. Quinn stood in a spotless living room, all cushions in place on the sofa and all CDs and DVDs back in their cases. Hanging on the wall over the sofa was an enormous paper banner: HAPPY BABY SHOWER DAY! On the wall across from it was another banner: EIGHT WEEKS AND COUNTING! YOU GO, GIRLS!
“What?” said Daria, mouth open. “What?”
“It’s your baby shower!” Quinn enveloped her sister in a hug. “Gawd, did you think I’d forget or something? I mean, really!”
“Baby shower?” said Daria, bewildered. “For what?”
“Duh! For the baby, genius, and for both of you!” Quinn reached over and pulled Jane into the hug as well, almost squashing Daria in a sandwich between the two taller girls. “Congratulations! He’s a very lucky kid to have parents like you.”
Jane and Daria both stiffened. “You said ‘he,’” said Daria in shock.
“Yeah! You’re having a boy, right? Mom thought you were because of all the questions you were asking about what it was like when she was pregnant. She didn’t think you were having a girl. Am I right? Do you know, yet?”
“We—” said Jane, pulling back.
“We don’t really—” said Daria.
“We—I thought that she—”
“Oh, boy,” said Jane.
“I am going to kick Mom right in the butt!” said Daria, her voice full of promise. “I never said that I was—”
“What, are you having a girl?”
“No!” said Daria. “It’s—wait! We’re keeping it a secret!”
“Forget about secrets when I’m around,” said Quinn, directing the two to the sofa. “Here, sit down. The party’s started, and we have to play a few games before you get—”
“Games?” Daria’s voice suddenly had a dangerous edge to it.
“—before you get your presents,” finished Quinn. “Sit. Sit down. There you go. Okay, now, I’m no good at Scrabble or any of that other dull dork-brain stuff, so we’re going to do something fun: charades!”
“Quinn—” Daria began, struggling to get up again.
“You still like peanut brittle, sis?” asked Quinn.
Daria immediately subsided. “What does that have to do with anything?”
Jane put a hand on Daria’s arm. “Maybe Quinn has some peanut brittle,” she said.
“Maybe Quinn does,” said Quinn. “You could stand to play a little game for that, right? Hmmm?”
Daria groaned in defeat. “You’d better not be lying,” she warned.
“Now, we’re not going to do regular old charades,” said Quinn. “Boooring. I’m going to act like the person . . . ah, the person in whose name each gift is given, okay? And you have to guess who it is!”
Daria looked confused. “The person in whose name—?”
“Just play along, Daria. It won’t kill you. Not this time, anyway.”
“Are you the only one here for this?” asked Jane. “Is anyone else outside in the hall or the parking lot waiting to get in?”
For the first time, Quinn’s self-assurance seemed to slip. “Uh, no. They, uh . . . everyone else was busy, and it was a long drive.”
Daria wrinkled her nose. “Not even Mom and Dad? I can’t believe that Mom at least wouldn’t come. On the other hand, if she had a big legal case to manage—”
Quinn shrugged and looked at the floor for a moment. “Lots of things are going on, you know. Tax time, that sort of—”
“Oh, no,” breathed Daria. She clapped a hand to her forehead, eyes squeezed shut. “Oh, crap! I forgot that we have to file—”
“You still have a week left!” Quinn said quickly. “I’ll even help you get your stuff together! Mom showed me how to do it years ago!”
“I can do it,” said Daria, struggling to get up, “but I have to—”
“No, sit,” said Quinn, her command self returning. “Stay here. Seriously.”
“I can’t believe I forgot to file our taxes!” Daria turned to glare at Jane. “And I can’t believe you didn’t remember, either!”
“I forgot, okay?” Jane snapped, feeling a prickling on the back of her neck. “We both forgot! We’ve had so much—”
“But if you had remembered, we could have—”
Daria and Jane broke off to stare at Quinn, who towered over them. Daria’s sister raised a fist from which bits of glitter fell. “One more word, and I’ll throw this at both of you! Okay, good. That’s better. I’ll do your taxes later! Tonight! Don’t argue! Right now, we’re having a party.” Quinn dumped the handful of glitter back into a sack behind her, then dusted off her hands and walked over to the apartment door to pick up one of the oversized shopping bags. Jane noticed that a huge black plastic bag sat by the door, filled with trash that had once graced the living room and kitchen.
“Okay,” said Quinn, her voice almost back to normal, “let’s see what we have here.” She began looking through the bag, then pulled out a large gaily wrapped package the size of a large boom box. She put this on the floor in front of her and straightened. “Here we go. See if you can guess who this is.” She began to pretend that she had something in the palm of one hand, which she picked up between the thumb and index finger of the other hand. Her fingers made back and forth motions, as if rolling something between them.
“A marble?” said Daria, looking as if she couldn’t believe she was doing this. “A cigar? A dried-up booger?”
Quinn looked disgusted and shook her head no.
“A coin?” said Jane. Quinn nodded rapidly. “A . . .” Jane began, then leaned forward, a look of shock on her face. “You’re kidding me, right? Penny? My sister?”
“Got it!” Quinn picked up the bulky package and handed it over. “Go ahead, open it. You got it!”
“Penny sent this?” said Jane, incredulous. “She was in Paraguay, I thought!”
“I didn’t say getting in touch with her was easy,” said Quinn in a guarded tone.
“But how did you get in touch with her? How’d you get the money?”
“As for the first—” Quinn shrugged “—that’s for me to know. And there are wire transfers, of course.”
Daria was already tearing the wrapping off. “God bless America,” she said in a deadpan. “Diapers. Ultra-Absorber Disposables, package of thirty, medium size, with tape-on strips.”
“We haven’t bought any diapers yet,” said Jane after a moment. “We were waiting another month until . . . well, that worked out pretty well. Thanks.”
“I didn’t know what size to get,” said Quinn, “but those should cover a good range. You weren’t going to go the cloth diaper route, were you?”
“No!” said Daria and Jane, repulsed.
“Then, there you go!” said Quinn in a cheery tone. “Haven’t you two gotten any diapers at all by now? You’re going to be crying for them in two months. My favorite nephew will be, anyway.”
“We’ve . . . we’ve not . . . we’ve been a little behind on things like this,” admitted Jane. “We’ve been focusing so much on her diet and schoolwork and all that, and we sort of, um . . . whatever.”
“Whew!” Quinn shook her head. “Good thing I’m here. Okay, next—”
“How much stuff do you have there?” asked Jane. “How many people were in on this little surprise party of one?”
That look of unease again crossed Quinn’s face. She licked her lips and cleared her throat.
“Wait a minute,” said Daria. “Was this why you were asking me about my friends, who we knew, all that stuff? When you called a few days ago?”
“Uh, yeah, that was it. You wouldn’t believe how many people I had to call.”
“How many people did you call?”
“Daria,” said Quinn, wagging a finger, “don’t pry.” She pulled out a smaller box from the shopping bag and put it on the floor by her shoes. “Okay, next one.”
“Wait a minute—” Jane began.
Quinn ignored her and began to pantomime wearing a big floppy hat, adjusting the invisible brim with her fingers.
“Hat?” said Daria. “Cousin Hat? Do we even have a Cousin Hat?”
“Someone who wears a hat?” asked Jane. “Big brimmed hat?”
“That would be Aunt Rita,” said Daria slowly, “but she—”
“Bingo!” yelled Quinn. “We have a winner! Hey, don’t look so surprised!”
“Rita?” Daria turned to Jane. They had discovered only weeks earlier that Daria’s Aunt Rita was having a secret affair with another woman—who had turned out to be Jane’s oldest sister, Summer. Rita had paid the girls off to keep the affair a secret, and the remains of her bribe were now in the Morgendorffer-Lane joint savings account.
Jane shrugged. “Some gifts just keep on giving, I guess.”
“What do you mean?” asked Quinn.
“Nothing,” said Jane and Daria together. Jane opened the present. “Oh!” she said, showing the bottle to Daria. “Massage lotion!”
“For me or you?” said Daria. “Or is this massage lotion for the baby? And how are you planning to put it on him right now?”
“It’s for both of you!” said Quinn. “You can give each other foot rubs! Don’t tell me about anything else you do with it. Read the label first.”
“Foot rub.” Daria looked meditative. “Foot rub. Foot . . . rub.”
“You first,” said Jane, “but I want one, too.”
“You’re not the one carrying your baby,” said Daria, giving Jane the eye.
“But I might give you one if you’re good,” Daria added. “Really good.”
“As in good for nothing?”
“Play to your strengths, I say.”
“Ready for another?” asked Quinn, who didn’t wait for an answer. She pulled out another gift and began to pantomime again.
An hour later, Quinn sat on a chair pulled in from the kitchen while Jane sat on the sofa and rubbed Daria’s bare feet. Daria lay on her back on the sofa, with an arm over her face, confetti in her hair, and peanut brittle crumbs on her dress. Her eyeglasses had been tossed onto a side table. The three were surrounded by nineteen opened presents, mounds of torn-up wrapping paper, extra confetti, and several empty soft-drink cans.
“How’s Lawndale?” Jane asked, working on Daria’s tiny right foot. It was easier to massage than her left, given Daria’s position on the couch.
“Eh. Same old, same old. I can’t wait to get to Pepperhill in the fall. California’s going to rock. Sandi’s going to Lawndale State and major in business, Stacy decided to go to a technical school and help out her dad at his car shop, and Tiffany’s undecided, as always. She’s trying to get some modeling gigs in Baltimore, but not much has come up.”
Jane shrugged, deep in thought. “Was Penny doing okay when you talked to her?”
“Oh, yeah, she was fine.”
“That’s so weird. I never hear from her—or anyone else. She still in Paraguay?”
“Uh . . . yeah.” Quinn coughed and looked away. “Still there. Loves it. She goes down to the beach every chance she gets. Sure loves the ocean!”
Jane looked at Quinn oddly and was on the verge of saying something when she changed her mind. “Teachers at high school still the same?” she asked instead.
“Same as always. DeMartino had another heart attack a month ago and he hasn’t come back. Ms. Li said he had a bypass. I think they’re going to replace him.”
“Damn. He was just about the only smart one, except for Ms. Defoe.”
“Yeah. You’ll be seeing a lot more of her soon, won’t you?”
Jane cocked her head. “What? Why?”
Jane’s look of confusion deepened.
Now Quinn looked puzzled. “You didn’t hear? No one called you?”
“Called about what?”
Quinn sat upright. “Steel yourself. Ms. Defoe’s getting married.”
Jane radiated amazement. Her hands stopped massaging Daria’s feet. “No shit. I can’t believe it. Well, good for her, I guess. Who’s the lucky guy?”
Quinn coughed again. “Your big brother. Wind.”
There was exactly one second of silence, during which Jane’s eyes grew to the size of dinner plates. “WHAT?!” she shouted, waking Daria. “HE WHAT?!”
“Calm down!” said Quinn, half rising from her chair.
“CALM DOWN?!” Jane continued, her shouts audible on the street outside. “CALM DOWN? THAT BASTARD!!! HE’S GOING TO MARRY CLAIRE DEFOE? OVER MY COLD, DEAD, STARVING ARTIST BODY HE WILL!!!”
“Jeez Louise!” yelled Daria, grabbing for her glasses and putting them on. “What are you screaming about?”
“HE’S NOT EVEN DIVORCED FROM KATIE YET!!!”
“Yeah, Jane, he is!” said Quinn. “Calm down, okay?”
“AUGH!!!” Jane grabbed the bangs above her eyes with both hands and pulled, her head back and teeth clenched in a horrid grimace.
“What’s going on, damn it?” Daria yelled. “Talk to me!”
“Her brother Wind is marrying Claire Defoe,” said Quinn. “Don’t freak on me.”
Daria looked as though Quinn had grown two new heads, right in front of her. “No way. Tell me this is an April Fool’s joke, please. I’ll kill you for it, but at least it will be a joke. Please tell me—”
“Daria, I’m sorry, but this is the truth. They’re getting married in June.”
“Oh, my God.” Daria fell back on the sofa pillows. “Oh, my God. When did they decide this?”
Quinn gave a half laugh. “They announced it right before I left home last night. It was in the Lawndale paper, Dad told me. I thought you two already knew.”
“Quinn . . . Quinn, no one ever calls us except you and Mom and Dad and Trent! That’s it! We don’t hear from anyone else!”
“Oh.” Quinn looked quite sad. “No one called you at all?”
“Forget it.” Daria put her arm back over her face. “Doesn’t matter.”
Jane dropped her hands in her lap, on top of Daria’s feet. “What the hell,” she said in defeat. “It’ll probably be good for her.”
“Getting married?” asked Quinn.
“No, getting her first divorce. Wind can’t keep a marriage going to save his life.” Jane rubbed her mouth. “I can’t believe Trent didn’t call me. Maybe he didn’t know, either.”
“I don’t think he knew,” said Quinn. “He didn’t say anything to me—” She flinched and shut her eyes.
“You talked to Trent?” said Jane, pouncing. “Trent was in on this party, too, wasn’t he?”
Quinn opened her eyes again, making a face. “Yeah. He wanted it to be a secret. He helped me pick . . . I mean, he helped collect—”
“It was just you and Trent doing this, right? Just the two of you, and no one else?”
“No. There were other—”
“Quinn,” said Jane in a gentle but firm voice, “I don’t know a lot of geography, but I do know that Paraguay is nowhere near the ocean. It’s landlocked in the middle of South America. And Penny never talks to anyone when she’s away, unless she needs money. She never gives it.”
Daria moved her arm and eyed her sister, puzzled.
“Oh,” said Quinn. Her shoulders slumped, and she buried her face in her hands, elbows on her knees.
“You said these gifts were in honor of people in our families,” said Daria, “and a few people we knew, but you never actually said . . .” She suddenly regarded her sister in astonishment. “You bought all these things with your own money, not theirs.”
Quinn sighed but did not look up. “Trent helped. He couldn’t come because he caught the flu two days ago. He has another present for you, but it was too big for me to bring this time.”
Daria turned her head to scan the abundance of riches around her: new fleece-lined slippers, a baby photo album with camera, flavored lipsticks and art supplies for Jane, a framed picture of Daria and Jane together in high school, baby clothes and shoes, and gift certificates for free gasoline, dinners out to local restaurants, books, groceries—
“Oh, my God,” Daria whispered. “You must have spent—”
“Let it go,” said Quinn tiredly.
“But why?” Daria took her feet from Jane’s lap and managed to sit upright on the sofa. “Why all this now?”
“Because you needed a baby shower,” said Quinn, raising her head. Her eyes were wet and red. “You’re supposed to get a baby shower. All mothers do.”
“Didn’t anyone else help out?” said Jane. “Or am I asking a really stupid question?”
Quinn exhaled heavily and dropped her head.
“How many people did you call?” asked Daria. “Really?”
Quinn shook her head.
“Come on, Quinn. Tell me.”
After wiping her eyes, Quinn took a breath but did not look up. “About sixty-five. Except for family, it was almost impossible to get any of them. They don’t answer their phones, they don’t write back even with e-mail, nothing. A couple said they might send something, but they never did. Jodie, I think, put something in the mail to you, or she will after she gets back from her student conference in San Diego. Everyone’s got their own lives, school or work or whatever. Some are still doing their taxes.”
Jane and Daria stared at her. “What about our families?” asked Jane. “You said Trent did, but . . . didn’t anyone else contribute?”
Quinn wiped her eyes again and glanced at her watch. “Anyone hungry for lunch?” she said, getting up from her seat. “You both still like pizza, right?”
“Well, yeah,” said Daria, “but we don’t have anything in the frig, and I was . . . I was going to go to . . . oh, screw it, I can study later. Want to go out? Um, our treat?”
“That won’t be necessary,” said Quinn. She reached into her back pocket and pulled out a miniature cell phone, which she flipped open. Keying in a speed-dial number, she put the phone to her ear and turned away. “Hi,” she said after a pause. “This is Quinn Morgendorffer. Bring it on, we’re ready. Right, same address I gave earlier. Great, see you then.” She snapped the phone shut and turned back to Daria and Jane. “Lunch is on its way.”
“What?” said Jane and Daria in unison.
“It’s being catered,” said Quinn. “They’ll be here in fifteen minutes. Would you excuse me? I have to go to the bathroom and fix my makeup.” Without waiting for an answer, she left the room. The bathroom door shut behind her moments later.
Daria and Jane looked at each other, then looked around at their gifts.
“There must be over a thousand dollars worth of stuff here,” said Jane in an awestruck voice. “Did she loot her college fund?”
“It’s more like twelve hundred dollars,” said Daria. “I was keeping count. I can’t believe she did this. It doesn’t make sense.”
“What, that she’d spend all that money on us?”
“Yeah, but it’s more than that.” Daria turned and looked in the direction Quinn had gone. “Something’s wrong.”
“Is Quinn okay?”
“I meant in a bigger sense. Something’s big-time wrong. The last time Quinn was this nice to me, really being nice, was when . . .” Daria struggled again to get off the sofa. “Help me up! Quick!”
With Jane’s assistance, Daria got to her feet and waddled at a quick pace down the hallway to the bathroom door. She raised a fist to knock—
—and stopped. Behind the door, Quinn was crying.
“Quinn?” Daria called. “Quinn, can I come in?”
There was no response. Twelve minutes later, the doorbell rang.
Conversation was subdued while Natalie the caterer was present. Lunch was magnificent: Daria’s current favorite pizza, Jane’s all-time favorite type of breadsticks, and every sort of appetizer the two had ever liked. The wealth of leftovers barely fit into the refrigerator afterward.
As the caterer cleaned up, Jane looked at the business card she was handed: Natalie and Isabelle’s Anytime Anywhere Catering. She made a mental note to use them for Daria’s birthday that fall and put the card away.
“I’d better go back to the motel and change,” said Quinn in a subdued tone, looking at the front door after the caterer was gone. “We have dinner reservations at seven, if that’s okay with you. I’ll drive. I’ll do your taxes when we get home, if you have the forms. Maybe we can download them from the Internet.”
“Quinn,” said Daria. She took her sister by the arm. “It’s time to talk.”
A headshake from Quinn. “No. No, it isn’t.”
“You have to talk to us. Something’s going on, I know it.”
“I don’t want to talk.” Quinn pulled free and started for the door. “I’ll take the trash to the dumpster on my way out.”
Daria caught Quinn by the hand and gently pulled her back. She then planted the palm of Quinn’s hand flat against her pregnant belly.
“You wanted to see it,” Daria said in a quiet voice. “Here it is.”
Mesmerized, Quinn looked down at Daria’s abdomen. Her hand pressed against it, and her face changed. “I can feel him moving,” she said. Her face worked. Tears ran in streams down her cheeks.
Daria took one arm, Jane got the other, and they pulled Quinn to the overstuffed sofa and sat her down between them. They waited until Quinn’s sobs had ceased and she wasn’t using up all the tissues.
“The last time you were really nice to me, the overboard sort of nice,” said Daria, “was last year when Mom and Rita were fighting, and you called Aunt Amy and she came over and they all started fighting like buttheads. You told me you were afraid you and I would turn out that way, but we didn’t. And we won’t. And Mom and Rita and Amy made up and everything came out okay, right?”
Quinn stared at Daria with a drawn, empty face.
Daria frowned. “Right? They made up, right?”
Quinn shook her head slowly from side to side.
“Oh,” said Daria, her face falling. “Oh, no. What happened?”
“I don’t want to say it,” Quinn whispered. “It’s really bad.”
Something in her sister’s voice made Daria shiver.
“It can’t be that bad,” said Jane. “Look at my family. Everyone’s run off to the corners of the earth, except my idiot oldest brother whom I am going to kill the next—”
“Don’t say that,” said Quinn, turning to her. “He’s still your brother.”
“He’s . . . okay, I was kidding. I was. Sort of. What’s wrong, Quinn?”
Quinn leaned back on the sofa and ran her hands through her long hair. She took a deep breath. “Grandma Barksdale is dying,” she said.
Jane looked up at Daria in horror. To her surprise, Daria merely looked puzzled.
“Grandma Barksdale is always dying,” Daria said. “That’s all I ever hear about her, but she still has the time to call everyone on the phone and moan about—”
“She went into a vegetative coma Tuesday,” said Quinn woodenly. “Mom and Rita and Amy are with her. Mom didn’t want to call you because she was afraid of how you’d take it, with the baby and all. She called me on my cell phone last night from the nursing home and said this is it. Grandma Bee’s vital signs are falling.” She inhaled again. “Grandma had a DNR order written for herself. They didn’t put in a feeding tube.”
“DNR?” asked Jane.
“‘Do Not Resuscitate,’” said Daria. “I’m sorry to hear this, Quinn, but you and I have hardly ever seen Grandma Bee, and it’s not like she’s been the best influence on the family. Mom and Rita and Amy still fight over all that crap they went through in childhood, claiming Rita was the loved and favored one. Why is this such a . . .” Daria stopped, her face clearing in shock. “Oh, no. Don’t tell me. The will.”
Quinn nodded. “Grandma Bee goofed up and left a copy of her final will on the bedside table, after meeting with her lawyer two weeks ago.” Her voice dropped toward a whisper. “Amy found it and called Mom. Grandma Bee changed her will.”
“Oh, shit.” Daria put both her hands over her face. “Oh, shit.”
Jane looked on, aghast. “I get it now,” she said.
“Let me guess who she left most or all of her money to,” said Daria. She fell back against the sofa. “Let me try to guess. Name begins with an ‘R’?”
“Yes, but there’s more,” said Quinn. “I’m sorry, I really am.” She reached over and put a hand on Daria’s belly, staring across the room at a bookcase.
Daria’s hand came up and covered Quinn’s. “There’s going to be a will contest,” Daria said. “Mom and her sisters are going to tear each other into bloody pieces in court like hyenas fighting over a dead antelope.”
“Yes,” said Quinn. “It’s already started.”
“I’m sorry to ask this,” murmured Jane, looking embarrassed, “and this is probably going to make me look like a totally heartless ass, but how much money are we talking about here?”
Daria looked at Quinn, who shrugged. “About three and a half million,” said Quinn, matter-of-factly. “Before the lawyer’s fees, taxes, and other bills get paid.”
Jane jammed a fist into her mouth, biting down before she could say a word.
“I thought it was two and a half,” said Daria.
“She picked some good stocks in the nineties,” Quinn said.
“Three and a half. They’ll kill each other for that, especially if Rita gets the lion’s share.” Daria lay with her eyes shut. “This is really bad. This can’t possibly get worse.”
“Yes, it can,” Quinn whispered.
“Don’t say that. How could it possibly get worse than this, Quinn?”
“Grandma Bee . . . she cut you out of the will.”
Daria pulled her hand away from Quinn’s and opened her eyes.
Quinn immediately grabbed for Daria’s hand again.
“She what?” said Daria.
“She cut you out,” Quinn said in a high, tense voice. “Spouses aren’t accounted for in the will anyway, because Rita got divorced so often, but Grandma’s leaving forty percent to Rita, twenty to our cousin Erin, fifteen each to Mom and Amy, and ten to me.” She drew an immediate breath. “And I’m splitting my share with you. I’ve already told Mom that. I’m giving you half of my share, but she said—”
“She cut me out?” Daria repeated. “And the baby?”
“Yes.” Quinn’s face was white. “Both of you.”
Daria tried again to pull away from Quinn’s grip, her voice rising to a shout. “Why, because I’m a pregnant dyke? Is that it? Because I’m a goddamn pregnant dyke who married her best friend and got inseminated and is just trying to be happy? My baby and I are abominations to her, and this is her revenge, to throw us out? Is Grandma Bee also the one who gave Mom her big attitude problem about Jane and me?”
“I’m giving you half of my share!” Quinn yelled, not letting go. “You’re getting the goddamn money! I’m not letting her tear us apart, do you hear me?”
Daria was off the couch in seconds, without help from anyone. Quinn stood up as well, but Daria jerked her hand away from her sister and left the room. The bedroom door then slammed down the hall.
Jane saw the life run out of Quinn’s slim frame. She got up as well. “Quinn—” she began.
Without warning, Quinn picked up a soda can and threw it across the room. “Shit!” she screamed. The empty can banged harmlessly into the wall over the dining table and rolled into the kitchen. Quinn then ran to the closet, grabbed her coat, and was out the door and gone.
Jane was alone for an hour. After doing nothing for the first ten minutes, she carefully cleaned up in the living room, took out all the trash, saw no sign of Quinn in the parking lot, and arranged all of the baby-shower gifts on the dining table when she got in again. Calling Quinn’s cell phone proved useless, as it was turned off. She left three messages for Quinn to call back, tried without success to get Daria to come out, then sat down in a chair. She could think of nothing else to do.
“Damn all of this,” she muttered. “Damn it to hell.”
Restless, she got up and got into the refrigerator, picking at the leftovers of the giant-sized pineapple-and-barbecued-chicken pizza, one of Daria’s more pronounced cravings. It wasn’t bad. It didn’t help, but it wasn’t bad.
The bedroom door opened.
Jane shut the refrigerator and waited.
“Where’s Quinn?” Daria said, coming around the corner. She looked as if she’d aged years in the last hour.
“She left. I tried calling her, but she won’t answer her phone.”
Daria eased herself into a chair at the table. Taking off her glasses, she tossed them onto the tabletop by the gifts and rubbed her eyes. “This can’t be happening,” she said. “It can’t.”
“Are you okay?”
“I’m okay now.” She put on her glasses, reached for the phone, dialed, listened, then hung up. “Did she think I was mad at her?”
“I don’t know. She was pretty upset when she left.”
Daria rubbed her eyes again. “I was angry, but I shouldn’t have been angry with her. I wish I hadn’t done that, but I couldn’t help it. I was so . . . so . . . oh, forget it.”
Someone knocked at the front door.
As Daria tried to get up again, Jane shot past her and opened the door. “Qui—”
“Hey,” said the tall, twenty-something man there, who raised a hand and waved. He wore a jean jacket over a dirty black T-shirt, old jeans, and heavy shoes. A thin mustache and a goatee, uncombed black hair, and pierced ears completed his look.
“Trent,” said Jane. She ran into the hall and hugged him, burying her face in his shirt as he hugged her back. He smelled like sweat and a little bit of pot.
Moments later, Daria joined her and put a hand on Trent’s shoulder. “Good to see you. Bad time for a visit, though.”
“I thought you were sick,” said Jane, suddenly pulling away. “Daria can’t be—”
“Food poisoning,” he said. “Something in the refrigerator at home, I think. Might have been the chicken salad. Didn’t know if it was supposed to be greenish looking.”
“So, you don’t have the flu?” said Daria. “You’re sure about this?”
“Yeah. I’m okay, sort of.” He looked into the apartment. “Long as you have a bathroom. What’s up?”
They took him inside and explained everything.
“Oh,” he said, sitting at the kitchen table. He picked up the flavored lipsticks. “What’s this taste like?” he asked. “Sort of hungry.”
Jane took the lipsticks away from him. “We have to find Quinn,” she said. “She went through a lot of trouble to throw this party for us, and—”
“—and I blew up and drove her away,” Daria finished, looking miserable.
“That’s what she said, too,” said Trent, picking up a gift card for fifty dollars to a Books by the Ton outlet store. “Bookstores,” he said. “I’ll never go into a—”
“What she said?” Daria repeated. “Where did you see her?”
“At the motel, in the room next to mine,” said Trent. “She was packing.”
Daria and Jane reached for the telephone at the same time. “Get the number!” Jane yelled. “We have to stop her!”
“She’s not there now,” said Trent, putting down the gift card.
“She left?” cried Daria, stricken. “Damn it, I have to talk to her!”
“She didn’t leave,” said Trent mildly. “She’s downstairs in my car.”
“Wha—” Daria lurched out of her seat. “Then why the hell didn’t you bring her up here?” she shouted.
Trent winced at the noise. “She didn’t know if you wanted to see her.”
Daria and Jane ran out of the apartment and down the hall, Jane far in the lead. Trent sighed and got up to follow them. “You’ll need me to get the crib out of the trunk,” he called, but they were already on the way to the parking lot. He shrugged and shook his head. Women were like that, all emotional all of the time. He didn’t get it.
“She needs to sleep for a while,” said Jane, closing the bedroom door. “The thirty-meter dash to the parking lot wore her out.”
“I can reschedule the dinner for eight,” murmured Quinn, sitting at the dining table. “I have to call anyway to add Trent into it.”
“Mmm,” said Trent through a mouthful of cold leftover pizza. “Thanks.”
“Save some of that for Daria, dope,” said Jane, slapping her brother lightly on the back of the head. “And thanks for the crib. It looks great.” She took a seat across from Quinn and ran a hand through her bangs. “Let us pay for dinner, okay? You’re about to go broke from this nonsense.”
“That’s okay. I’ll just call in a favor from you later on.”
“Oh, great. Daria will be tickled pink to hear that we’re in debt to you, too. Speaking of trouble, I’m glad that we got that bullshit sorted out about the will.”
“It’s not sorted out, really,” said Quinn, resting her head on one hand and staring at the floor. “Mom and Amy are going to fight for equal shares among the three sisters, the way the will was at first, with smaller equal shares for us kids. I don’t know about your kid, though, not being born yet. Mom’s got the edge in legal stuff and she thinks she can get the last will voided, but Rita’s got a ton of money to throw around. And Mom and Amy started fighting before I left home. I don’t know what it was over.” Her expression, already downcast, fell further. “Grandma Bee’s not even dead yet, and already we’re wading through the mother of all family fights. Dad’s about to lock himself in the garage forever. And I was thinking that I used to get along so well with my cousin Erin. Daria couldn’t stand her, but I liked her. Guess that’s over with, too.”
“You never know,” said Jane.
“I’m not betting on it. I was going to tell Daria about Mom and Amy, but now I think I’ll just skip it. She and Amy got along okay. Now everything sucks.” Quinn raised her head and looked at Jane. “Oh, I wanted to tell sis congratulations on selling that science-fiction story of hers. She’s finally made the big time.”
Jane nodded. “We’ve got our hopes up. She’s started a new story, a weird one.”
“It would have to be, wouldn’t it?” said Quinn.
Jane smiled, and Quinn looked up and returned it. “Yeah,” said Jane. “It would.”
“Got any names picked out for Junior yet?”
“We thought Thessalonians was interesting for a while, but—”
“Oh, Jane! Eww!”
“You know,” said Quinn, sitting up and becoming more animated, “Quinn is a boy’s name, too.”
“So is Trent,” said Trent, swallowing more pizza.
Jane coughed delicately. “I’ll bring it up to her, but we’d decided a while back to avoid family names. We thought it would cause too much friction.”
“Can’t get any worse than it is now,” said Quinn, looking glum again.
“Maybe it won’t turn out that badly,” said Jane, but she saw Quinn shake her head and silently mouth the word no. “Hokay, fine, whatever,” she said. “As long as we have the two of you around, I think we’ll make it.”
Quinn cleared her throat. “If you don’t mind, I’d like to do your taxes tomorrow before I leave, instead of tonight. Too much going on right now.”
“You don’t have to do that. Daria said she’d do our taxes . . . although I think you would probably swear and yell a lot less than she would.”
Quinn’s smile broadened. “You two still file separately, right?”
“Right. Until the day they make gay marriage legal in this state, separate filings. That’ll be the day.”
“Ah, ah, ah, it might happen. You never know.”
“Hmmm. Trent, stop it. I told you to save some of that for Daria. Listen, did you know before you came up about Wind and Claire Defoe getting married?”
Trent shook his head. “Wind,” he said. “I dunno, man.” He kept shaking his head, thinking about their oldest brother, then reached for another pizza slice in the container in front of him. Jane slapped his hand and took the container away.
“Oh, let him eat,” said Quinn. “I can get more pizza anytime. No problem.”
Jane rolled her eyes and put the container back on the table. “Leave a little for your sister-in-law, okay, big brother?”
“He earned it,” said Quinn. “He really helped me get the shower together.”
“Nah,” said Trent, waving the praise away. “It was your idea.”
“I don’t know what we’d do without the two of you,” said Jane suddenly. The intensity of her tone made both Quinn and Trent look at her. “Honest to God, I don’t know. I can’t tell you how—” Her face tensed, but she rubbed her eyes and relaxed again. “Thank you, both, from the bottom of my heart.”
“You’re stuck with us,” said Quinn. “Weirdness and all.”
“Good. Speaking of weird, how’s your sex life?”
“Eww! I am so not talking to you about any of that!” Quinn got up. “Mind if I use your bathroom? Thanks.” And she was off down the hall.
Trent regarded his little sister with anxious foreboding. Swallowing a stolen bite of pizza, he said, “You’re, uh, not going to, uh, ask me about my—”
“No, no, no. I have my limits. Trent?”
“Do you love me?”
He looked embarrassed. “Uh, yeah. Sure.”
“Good.” Jane picked up the bottle of massage lotion and placed it in front of him, then slipped off her shoes and socks and stuck a bare foot in his lap. “Prove it.”
Original: 01/10/05, modified 01/30/05