©2004 The Angst Guy (email@example.com)
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Synopsis: Valentine’s Day in Boston has a twisted surprise for college freshmen Daria and Jane in this, the sixth story in the “Pause in the Air” series.
Author’s Notes: “Family Affairs” is the sixth of the “Pause in the Air” tales, taking place in an alternate universe in which Daria Morgendorffer and Jane Lane are in college, are gay, have gotten married to each other, and are expecting a baby. If this is too much to swallow, see details in the “Author’s Notes” in the previous story, “Shock and Aww,” which should clarify things. Previous “Pause in the Air” tales include (in order): “Pause in the Air,” “Thanks Giving,” “Moving Day,” “Silent Night,” and “Shock and Aww.”
This story grew out of a chance meeting described at the end of an earlier (unpublished) version of “Shock and Aww,” which was taken out of that story on the recommendation of some beta-readers, who were right about turning the meeting into its own tale. Appreciation also goes out to Galen “Lawndale Stalker” Hardesty for his inspirational Iron Chef contest of early July 2003, when he asked for stories about Helen Morgendorffer making Daria go on dates in her sophomore year.
Acknowledgements: Thanks go out to Thea Zara, who inadvertently gave me the idea for the “family affair” issue that appears in this story; to Galen “Lawndale Stalker” Hardesty for his Iron Chef challenge (see above); and Ruthless Bunny, from whose “Bed and Breakfast Man” series I stole the idea about Daria and milk equaling trouble. The beta readers were: Thea Zara, Crusading Saint, Brandon League, Greystar, angelinhel, Robert Nowall, THM, and RedlegRick. And thanks to all the PitA fans, both of you.
Jane Lane brushed stray black bangs from her eyes, concentrating on the slow-moving, slush-spattered traffic around her. “My original plan,” she said, guiding the silver Prius through the western suburbs of Boston, “was for us to cut classes and take a mental-health day today, so we could have a long weekend, too. I worked out four good excuses in case either of us missed a quiz or project turnover date, then Mother Nature dumped eight inches on us last night, and BFAC and Raft cancelled classes, so I put all that work into screwing off for nothing. Ticks me off.” Jane took a hand from the steering wheel and waved at the dreary white wonderland around them. “Look at this! In February, too! Who’d a thunk it?”
“We could stay in the apartment wrapped up in blankets until the heat comes on again,” said Daria Morgendorffer in the seat beside her. She took her glasses off to clean them on her coat sleeve. “We have a can of Noodle-O’s left that we could have for lunch, if you don’t mind eating it cold.”
“First of all, no,” said Jane. “Second of all, absolutely not. Third of all, you sound like you’re doing all right today. Good to see you looking so . . . well, perky’s not the right word. Maybe chipper isn’t, either, but you sound good. Would you say so?”
“Yeah, I’m okay. Sorry about being out of sorts last night. I just had to get over my damn cheap self.”
“I’d do that, too, but I’m not cheap.” Jane was relieved to hear Daria’s comments. Her partner’s moods were all over the place lately—mostly in bad places. Today, however, promised to be one of her better days.
“The roads are suckier than I’d thought,” Daria grumbled. “We should go home and watch the tube. ‘Sick, Sad World’ reruns are on at three.”
“Forget it. This is our Friday off, thank God for it, and the Cosmic Wheel of Karma owes us a break big time. Even if classes were being held, I wouldn’t go. I’d still cut ‘em.” Her voice rose. “Screw BFAC and Raft and all other so-called institutions of higher learning! It’s brainwashing, I tell you, not education! Up the revolution!”
“No more Sixties documentaries on the History Channel for you, kid.”
“We’re still going out. It’s the start of the Valentine’s Day weekend, and we deserve a break.”
“You probably deserve it. I haven’t been terribly romantic lately. Too much on my mind.”
“Too much on your mind? So that’s what that is!” Jane reached over and gently patted Daria’s huge, just-entering-the-third-trimester abdomen. “Everyone has a different name for it, I guess.”
“I can think of lots of names for you. Want to hear them alphabetically, or in random order?”
“How long’s this going to take? We’re almost to the restaurant.”
“I’ll save them for later, then. I hope the place isn’t closed because of the snow.”
“If it is, we’ll go somewhere else, but not back to our subarctic apartment. It’s our fate to go out today, Daria. It’s our destiny. It’s that French word I can’t think of. Today is Friday, our day of change, and we will rise to meet it. The Jane has spoken.”
“You win. My verbal skills are no match for your schizophrenia.”
“Here we are, Jane and Daria together in Boston, mired in college and loving it! One year, nine months, and . . . um, some days after it all started.”
“Seems like a lifetime,” Daria sighed. “A very long lifetime.”
“No, a lifetime is what I went through this morning waiting for you to get out of the bathroom. What was up with that, Sunshine?”
“I was flossing.”
“No, flossing my teeth.”
“Baloney. It took you twenty minutes to floss your teeth? I almost peed in the sink, I had to go so bad.”
“Why change your long-established habits?”
“Ooo,” Jane crooned, “ooo, you’ll be punished for that one. You will suffer.”
“You could have gone over to a neighbor’s to pee, you know.”
“You think? Which one? The old guy who wears nothing under his open bathrobe, or the lady with the pit bull?”
“It’s not a pit bull,” said Daria, “it’s a . . . um, mutant hamster.”
“Ooo, that rapier wit is just a little dull today, isn’t it? You’re not answering the question. Where was I going to go? And what were you doing in the bathroom that took twenty minutes?”
“Checking my voice mail?”
“I love it when you talk dirty.”
Jane turned her head toward Daria for a moment, her lips curving into a smile. “Oh, you want me to talk dirty, is that it? Well—”
“Not before lunch, no. I have enough trouble keeping my food down.”
Jane made a sulky face and looked away. “Ha, ha. I ought to make you drive, bad vision or no.”
“You say that all the time. You’re bluffing.”
“I’m bluffing, hmm? We’ll see, my pretty! And I’ll get your little dog, too!”
They crawled another block through the slush and traffic before Daria said, “Actually, that’s not true. What you said earlier.”
“About how long it’s been. You said a year and nine months and so on, but it’s been longer.”
Jane frowned at the young, brown-haired woman beside her. “What are you talking about?”
Daria exhaled, looking out the side window. “It was all my mom’s idea, sort of.”
“That started us going out
Jane’s jaw dropped. “No,” she said, then looked through the front window again and flinched and hit the brakes. The car skidded, but the antilock braking system worked, barely avoiding a rear-end collision with the panel truck ahead of them. Jane looked back at Daria as if nothing had happened. “No way.”
“I need a lawyer,” said Daria, rubbing the back of her neck and glaring at Jane. “Whiplash. You’re gonna be my indebted slave forever.”
“Your mother set us up?”
“In a way, yes. If you break my neck, though, I won’t tell you the rest of it.”
Jane forced herself to watch traffic as she drove. “That’s impossible! You’re kidding me, right? Tell me you’re kidding me.”
“I’m kidding you.”
“No,” said Daria. “Mom bribed me to go on a date.”
“No, that’s not what I said!”
Jane blinked. “What are you talking about? Spill it! You’re driving me crazy!”
“Better than walking, isn’t it?”
“Stop that! Tell me the story!”
“Okay, fine. Just watch the road.”
“Talk, or I’ll ram a snowplow!”
Daria sighed. “It was after my cousin Erin’s wedding, when you went off to your family reunion, and—”
“Yeah, yeah, right, I know.”
“—and somehow my mom got the insane idea that I should go out on a date.”
“’Cause you were being antisocial, I bet. Not that you’ve changed.”
“Antisocial, huh? See if I ever talk to you again.”
“I’ll give you a twenty if you talk.”
“So, you remember Ted, right? Ted DeWitt-Clinton?”
Jane nodded. “The nice home-schooled geek, sure. I once thought you kinda liked him.”
Daria snorted and rolled her eyes. “Anyway, my mom told me to go out on a date. It would be good for me, she said, and she’d even pay for it, so I said sure, and—”
“—and you took Ted DeWitt-Clinton on a date? Did I hear that right?”
“No,” said Daria with an irritated look, “you didn’t hear that right, and now it will cost you thirty for me to go on.”
“Okay, thirty. Talk.”
“So, you remember when I brought Ted with me to Pizza King that time?”
Jane frowned. “Um . . . yeah, sort of. You two were talking about the yearbook and—” She stopped, her expression assuming a profoundly puzzled look. “Wait, you paid for pizza that day. I remember because you told me the day before that you were broke, and suddenly . . . oh, I get it! You got all that cash from your mom, and you bought the pizza and drinks and breadsticks and everything! Oooh, so you did take Ted out on a date, while I was right there with you!”
Daria shook her head in annoyance. “No, Lane, you’re still jumping to conclusions and falling off the cliff. Ted paid for his own meal. Remember?”
Jane was wordless for a moment. She slowed and stopped the car at a red light, then looked at Daria with a strange expression. “You took me out on a date,” she said.
“Finally, the light dawns.”
“You’re saying that that was our first date? When you took me out for pizza that time, that was really a date for you?”
“The light continues dawning.”
“But that—Daria, we’d been going out for pizza together for months before then! I know you like to say we were really dating when we did that, but—”
“No, that was different. It’s hard to explain. Before the day Ted ate with us, we went out just as friends. That time, it was different—for me, anyway.”
“Because you actually saw it as dating me.”
The light turned green. Jane accelerated slowly. “And your mom paid for it, thinking all the time you were actually going out with Ted.”
“Yep. It was funny because Ted already knew about me. I don’t know how he knew, but he did. We were sitting around in the yearbook office talking about taking pictures of students for the ‘Couples on Campus’ pages, and he asked me if I wanted a shot of you and me in there.” She paused in thought. “I kicked him, but he took it well.”
“But how would he . . . forget it.” Jane shook her head. “I can’t get over it. Your mom actually funded our first date? Does she know that?”
“No, and don’t tell her, please. I want her to think that at least she tried to set me, um, straight.”
Jane glanced at Daria, who had her Mona Lisa smile on. “Okay,” said Jane, and she smiled, too. “But I still don’t get how eating pizza with Ted there was different from all those other times.”
“Well, that was the first time I ever realized how I felt about you.”
The words went through Jane like lightning. She kept her eyes on the snow-clogged road, but her lips parted in surprise.
“See,” said Daria, “before then, all I knew was that I liked being with you. A lot. Then Mom pulled her bribe thing, and I told Ted about it, and he said, why didn’t he and I have a mini-business dinner after school, about the yearbook, and I would bring you along, but he’d pay for his own meal, and I’d pay for yours. Thus, I’d have my sort-of date with a guy and everyone would see it, particularly Quinn, who would report it back to Mom, etcetera.”
“And then you kicked him for his presumption, right?”
“No. I started to, but I couldn’t. I suddenly realized that that was what I wanted. He was right. I wanted to go out with you on a date—a real date. And I did.”
“But Ted was there.”
“Only for a couple of minutes. He got a drink and left before the food came, remember? Quinn went home and told Mom he dumped me, so she gave me another fifty bucks to ease the pain, and I took you out for pizza for the rest of the week.”
“Oh! Oh, my God! I remember that! I always wondered why you did that! That’s what really happened?”
“Uh-huh. And that was three years ago today, exactly. Our first date was on Valentine’s Day.” Daria’s voice grew softer. “It was during that warm spell in February, when it was up in the sixties outside, and I finally knew how I felt about you. I wanted so much to tell you, but . . .” She shrugged and looked out the window. “We were in tenth grade, and I didn’t know how you’d take it. It . . .” She shrugged again.
Jane tried to swallow past the lump in her throat. She reached over, and their hands rested together on Daria’s expanded lap, fingers entwined and gold wedding rings only inches apart.
“Ted was okay for a geeky guy,” said Daria at last. “I sometimes thought if I’d come out differently, you know, I might have gone out with him.” She shrugged. “Of course, I’d have had to pry Stacy Rowe off him with a crowbar, but maybe he’s into threesomes, who knows.”
“And I could have gone out with Tom Sloane, and we’d have a fivesome!” said Jane brightly. “Think of the possibilities!” She gave Daria’s hand a squeeze.
Daria’s face took on the look of someone who has found a dead fly in her salad. She withdrew her hand and crossed her arms with a frowny pout. “You promised you would never say that name again.”
“Oh, so it’s okay for you to say you’d go out with a guy, but if I say it, it’s a war crime. Come on, get over it, please.”
“I’m not talking to you.”
“Fifty? Come on, Daria, it’s Valentine’s Day! Please?”
Daria was silent for a moment. “Fifty,” she finally said.
“Okay, and there’s the restaurant.” Jane parked the car in a snow-covered space and turned off the ignition. She reached in the pocket of her red coat and pulled out a wad of bills, which she dropped on Daria’s elevated midsection. “There,” she said.
Daria picked up the crumpled money and looked at it. It was all the cash they had that wasn’t going to bills, groceries, or school supplies. It was just enough for lunch out for two, if they were careful with the check and tip.
She gave the money back to Jane, who put it back in her pocket. “I’ll collect later, promise,” Daria said in a low voice.
“I want to collect something now,” said Jane. She leaned in Daria’s direction, one hand on the steering wheel and one arm over the back of the seat, holding the car keys.
Daria stared down at her lap. “I’m sorry I brought up Ted.”
“Oh, forget it. That was pretty funny. I guess I owe him one. And I’m sorry I said the T-word. Anyway, I’m glad you told me about your mom’s part in all of this. She’d have a total cow if she knew she helped bring us together.”
“She would. She’d have a herd of cows that could fill Wisconsin.”
Jane’s face softened. “Families are weird, sometimes.”
“If you’re talking about you, then yes.”
“I love you.”
Daria looked up. “I love you, too.”
“Happy Valentine’s Day.” Jane leaned in close, avoiding Daria’s glasses, and turned her head just right.
“Mmmm. I have something special for you tonight,” Jane whispered.
“I have something special for you now,” said Daria.
They aired out the car before they went in the restaurant.
* * * * *
The restaurant was small, dark, elegant, and not very crowded. Eddie, the curly-blond maitre d’, spotted Daria and Jane when they entered, and a cheery battle was joined at once.
“God,” Eddie groaned, “there goes the neighborhood. Oh, I’m sorry—did I say that aloud?”
“I thought Harry fired you,” said Jane, grinning. She stepped over to an open office door and looked inside. “Harry? I thought you fired this bonehead!”
“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph! Is he back again?” a man shouted back with an Irish brogue. “Throw the bloody bastard out!”
“The pleasure is mine,” said Daria. “Flee or be vanquished, knave.”
“Oooh, scary,” Eddie sniffed. “It’s Princess Daria and her prenatal clone army. What are you planning to do, smother me with your butt?”
“After I put my boot up your skinny little butt, yeah.”
“I bet you’re not even pregnant. You stuck a bong up your dress and six bricks of hashish. Prove me wrong.”
“You want proof that I’m knocked up?” Daria had a wicked smirk.
“No proof, no service. Hurry up.”
“Sure!” Daria slipped off her brown overcoat and handed it to Jane. Then she started to unbutton the front of her black, full-length maternity dress.
“Daria!” Jane cried, falling victim to the giggles. “We’re in public! Stop!”
“He wants proof,” Daria said reasonably, “so he’s getting proof.” She was halfway down the front buttons, ready to pull her blouse out.
“I want to see a gross, swollen belly,” said Eddie, inspecting his manicured fingernails. “This is going to be a hands-on thing. I’m from Missouri. Well, central Illinois, actually, but it’s close.”
“What the devil’s going on out there?” Harry roared from his office. “What’s this about a belly?”
“Daria’s stripping!” Jane shouted back. “Eddie said she wasn’t pregnant, so she’s proving it!”
“Eddie!” yelled Harry from the office. “In the name of God and all the Christian saints, make her stop! Get her clothes back on and give her a table, fer the cryin’ love o’ Jesus! The girl’s a troublemaker! She’ll drive away our business! Go and hide ‘em away from our good customers, would ya, lad?”
“Oh, very well,” Eddie said with a petulant look, picking up two menus. He gave Daria a mock glare. “If I catch you chugging anything stronger than fruit juice, Wide Load, I’ll slap you silly.”
Daria made a half-hearted effort to kick him. She and Jane happily followed Eddie to a secluded booth screened by fragrant, fresh-cut roses. The heavy snowfall had chewed into midday business, as few other diners were in evidence.
“If I remember correctly, you want a pint of milk, right?” said Eddie to Daria, handing out the menus.
“No, don’t do that!” said Jane quickly. “It screws up her digestion. She’ll stink up the whole apartment like she just did our car.”
“And that was the perfect Valentine’s Day gift, wasn’t it? The gift that keeps on giving and giving and giving. Black coffee for you and water for you, then?”
“Yeah,” said Daria and Jane together.
“Fine.” Eddie pointed at Jane. “You’re responsible if she breaks anything.”
“I don’t know how they put up with you here,” said Daria after Eddie left. “The way you act is shameless.”
“Me? The way I act? Oh, boy, are you in denial.”
“No, I’m in Boston—”
“—denial is a river in Egypt,” they finished together.
“I’ll stop saying that,” said Daria. “It’s getting old.”
“I love this place.” Jane leaned back in her seat and picked up her menu. “This is the most relaxed I’ve felt in days.”
They were quiet for a minute as they decided on their lunch orders. Eddie brought their drinks but left to see another customer before he could get off a wisecrack. Mind made up, Jane put her menu aside and picked up her coffee. She held it to her nose and inhaled, but hesitated before she sipped it.
Strange how, in that moment of peace and relaxation, so many bad memories of the night before flooded into her mind. The peace changed to sadness and edged toward depression.
“Daria,” she said at last, “I was thinking—”
“If it’s about last night,” said Daria, still looking at her menu, “let it go. It’s over and done. We won’t let it get us down.”
Jane stared at her coffee. She was indeed about to say something about the fiasco the night before, when their visit to an introductory childbirth class was cut short by a nasty argument with a group leader who didn’t care for gay marriages. Jane still felt the words of the argument turning inside her like so many knives.
Let it go, whispered her wiser side. Live without it. If you let them get to you, you let them win. Live and be happy, for her if for nothing else. Nothing else is that important. It is so hard to do it, but so necessary. She is right. You have to rise above your enemies to be free of them.
Besides, last night we made that wish for today to be different, really different. Let’s see what this day brings. We’ve got a good start on it so far.
Jane nodded to herself. The coffee cup met her lips and she drank. It was hot enough to burn, and strong enough to fry every taste bud in her mouth. Perfect.
“You know what it is?” said Daria softly, still looking at the menu.
“What what is?”
Jane said nothing. She’d not expected this. She waited, coffee cup by her mouth, smelling its powerful aroma.
Daria lowered the menu. It was clear that she wasn’t looking at it anymore. “Ever since I was a kid, no one understood me. I know you’ve heard me go on about that before, so I’ll spare you the usual yadda yadda yadda.”
Jane waited, coffee hovering.
“Then we moved to Lawndale, and the first day of school, I knew I was doomed. I remember I was sitting in history class and I answered a question from Mr. DeMartino, and I tried to answer another one, and he told me to stop showing off, and then I knew I was really alone. No one wanted to hear me, no one understood me, there was no one around like me. It was just like being back in Highland. I just couldn’t see any point in going on any longer. I wanted to end it. It was too—”
Jane put her coffee down. It spilled when it hit the saucer. “Okay,” she said, her voice too high. “I’m sorry, but this—when you said that you—” She reached for Daria’s hand and took it, too shaken to think clearly. “Please don’t say what I think you were going to say.”
“Ab-b-b-bout not going on.” Jane shook her head to clear it. She’d never stuttered before. “That—when—I don’t want to hear you say that, that you didn’t want to go on and wanted to end it. That—I’m sorry. Don’t say that. Don’t ever.”
Daria nodded, staring at Jane’s white face. “Okay,” she said softly. “I’m sorry.”
Jane flashed a smile she didn’t feel, not looking at Daria. “I’m sorry, too. Forget it. Go ahead. What were you saying?”
Daria thought before continuing. “The short form of what I was saying was, meeting you was the only moment of good luck I’ve had in my entire life. You’re the best thing that ever happened to me. The only good thing.”
Jane’s gaze stayed on the tabletop as the revelation washed over her. I was the only good thing that ever happened to you, you’re saying, but we were talking about Tom, so what you were on the verge of saying was that when he came along and I sort of left you high and dry to go out with him, me being on the bi side and you not, you thought you’d lost the only good thing you’d ever had, and you didn’t see any point in going on—but this time you meant it. And I never knew, until now, just how close you came to—
“Ah—oh, sorry. I, um, let my mind wander and it lost its way.”
“That’s all I wanted to tell you.”
“Okay.” Jane took her hand back and reached for her coffee again.
Eddie walked over, notepad ready. “Looks like decaf for you, dear,” he said, looking at the cup quivering in Jane’s fingers.
Daria ordered low-fat chicken salad on whole wheat, with side orders of a green salad and a bowl of sliced pineapple. (“I hate eating for two on a diet,” she grumbled.) Jane asked for a burger but no fries, so as not to tempt Daria. Eddie noticed that Jane suddenly wasn’t in a bantering mood, and he left to get their food with only a snide remark about making Daria prove her pregnancy the next time they came in.
“I’m starving already,” Daria said. “You?”
Daria frowned. “Are you okay? You look distracted.”
“Yeah, m’okay. I was just—” Jane shook her head, unable to say any more.
In the silence afterward, footsteps approached. The new arrivals were concealed by the cut flowers when they stopped by Daria and Jane’s booth.
“Oh, this looks like a nice place!” said a woman’s voice.
“It is,” said another woman. “This is one of my favorite little haunts in Boston. Look, I got snow in my hair. Is my makeup okay?”
Bright laughter. “You’re gorgeous, as always.”
“As are you.”
Speechless with shock, Daria and Jane stared in the direction of the women’s voices—which were familiar. After a moment, the two carefully scooted around the boot’s curved seat to keep the flowers from blocking their view. That done, they spied two beautiful older women standing by their booth, locked together in a passionate kiss.
One woman was in her mid-forties, with golden Farrah Fawcett hair and the face and body of a supermodel, wearing in an expensive black fur coat.
The other woman was in her mid-thirties, with wavy light gold hair and a distinct Meg Ryan look about her. She wore a simple blue overcoat.
The kiss ended with a smack. The Farrah Fawcett clone opened her eyes—and spotted Daria and Jane.
“AHHH!” she screamed, breaking away from her partner.
The Meg Ryan clone spun around.
“OHMIGOD!” she shrieked, clamping a hand over her mouth. She took her hand away a second later. “What the hell are you doing here?” she yelled at Jane.
“Aunt Rita?” Daria said to the Farrah Fawcett clone.
“Oh, no,” said Aunt Rita, putting a hand to her forehead. “Damn it.”
“Summer?” Jane said to the Meg Ryan clone. “My oldest sister is going out with Daria’s aunt?”
“Well, isn’t this cozy!” said Eddie, standing behind Summer. “We can put all of you in one of the party rooms, if you like. Are any more of your families—” He cleared his throat “—coming?”
* * * * *
Rita Barksdale and Summer Lane decided to sit with Daria and Jane, and Daria and Jane let them. Sitting anywhere else was pointless, now.
“I didn’t know you were in Boston, sweetie,” said Rita to Daria. “I mean, I knew you were in college here, because Helen mentioned something about that once in passing, but I didn’t know . . . you know . . . that you were, you know, here. In this area.” She cleared her throat. “So . . . how’s college?”
“Fine,” said Daria, still looking from Rita to Summer and back. She was far into the Twilight Zone of family relations, and there was no doorway out.
“When’s your due date?” Summer asked, eyeing Daria’s midsection. “You look close to poppin’ fresh any day now.”
“Not quite. Middle of May, maybe a week or two late.”
“And Trent’s the father?” Summer was incredulous. “Seriously?”
“Jane and I are the parents,” said Daria, a little louder than she intended. “Trent was the donor, yes, but Jane and I are—”
“But why Trent, Daria? I mean, how did you keep him awake long enough to, you know, stick—”
“We went to a clinic and had it done,” Jane interrupted, looking nettled. “Trent didn’t pork her, if that’s what you meant.”
“Well, I didn’t know!” snapped Summer. “I didn’t even know you two were married! No one tells me anything!”
Jane glared. “We sent you an invitation to the wedding, sis. And even if you didn’t get it, didn’t you ever think to call Mom or Trent and ask what was going on with the rest of the family, once in a while?”
“Call Mom? Are you kidding? Which continents are she and Dad on this week? I have a lot going on in my life, Jane! I’ve got kids, wherever the hell they are this week, and I’ve sometimes got a job, and it’s not like I can just drop everything and call—”
“What made you two decide to have a baby?” interrupted Rita.
Glad to stop the bickering, Daria and Jane looked at each other and gave little shrugs. “It seemed like a good idea at the time,” said Daria. “We weren’t drunk, so I guess we were insane.”
“Boy or girl? Or more than one?”
“One, but we don’t know the sex,” said Daria. “We wanted it to be a surprise.”
“I can’t believe it!” exclaimed Summer. “You don’t want to know? Don’t you even care?”
Stung, Daria felt her face flush. “We do care!” she said. “We just didn’t—”
“Ah, family!” announced Eddie, walking up with drinks for Summer and Rita. “Isn’t it great? Last time I was home, my sister threw a clock at me and my oldest brother got drunk and threw up on my bed. My stepfather got out of jail for the weekend, though, so it evened out. Never a dull moment in Normal, Illinois!”
The conversation subsided until Eddie left. “Careful, sweetie,” Rita said in a low voice to Summer. “You’ve had that six pack already. Let’s not—”
“Yeah, whatever,” Summer interrupted crossly. “Don’t bug me with all that.” She pointed at Daria and Jane. “What are you two gonna name your love child?”
Again Daria and Jane hesitated, though each appeared irked at hearing the term “love child.” “We haven’t really discussed it much,” said Jane. “We sort of agreed not to use family names currently in use—”
“Thank God,” breathed Rita. “I mean, you have to branch out. One Helen or Amy is enough, I agree.”
“Or Rita,” said Summer. “How’d you like their kid to be called Rita?”
Rita’s expression made it clear she didn’t like the idea. “Go on,” she said to Daria. “Did you think of any possibilities?”
Jane looked at Daria, and Daria looked at Jane. “Well,” said Daria slowly, “we liked some of the mythological names, Greek and Roman ones, like, you know, um . . .”
“Athena,” said Jane. “We liked that one, and Apollo, the sun god, or maybe Diana or Minerva or—”
“Diana, maybe,” said Summer sourly, “but don’t stick your kid with some dumb-ass name like Wind or Penny Lane. Jesus, Mom and Dad were probably stoned all the way to Mars when they handed out Penny’s name. She caught all sorts of crap over that, and man, I don’t think Wind ever got over his name. You wouldn’t believe what the other kids used to call him. It was horrible. He’s been trying to change his name ever since, but he keeps chickening out thinking it would kill Mom and Dad, and he keeps talking about the gazebo in Mom and Dad’s backyard for some reason. Hell, he should change his name and let it kill ‘em, I say. Now, Summer—that wasn’t bad at all. I did okay with Summer. Everyone likes it.”
“Wasn’t there a wrestler named Apollo?” said Rita, frowning. “I saw him on TV once, I think.”
Summer put down her rum-and-Coke, halfway through it. “No, that was the spaceship that blew up and killed everyone,” she said. “That’s a stupid name right there. And that other one, Athlete, I can’t believe you’d call your kid that.”
“Athena,” corrected Jane. A tic was developing in her right cheek. “Not Athlete, Athena.”
“Same thing,” said Summer, waving it away. “Pick a name that doesn’t suck ass, like, um—”
“Meredith,” said Rita.
“Yeah, or Jennifer, or Melissa, or—”
“Mmm, Melissa’s a little dated now,” said Rita, deep in thought. “Rachel’s good, like that girl on ‘Friends,’ or Ashley.”
“Ashley!” said Summer brightly.
Daria shivered. Jane winced and covered her eyes.
“What were those twins?” said Rita. “Ashley and, um—”
“Mary-Kate,” said Summer. “Either one. Perfect.”
“Now, for boys, Bible names are the best. Jacob, Matthew, Sam—”
“Moses,” said Daria automatically.
“Leviticus,” said Jane.
“Thessalonians,” said Daria.
“Christ, take this seriously, okay?” said Summer. “What kind of a name is Levimicus, Lebiti—whatever you said, or Tassel-whatever? Where’d you get that?”
Daria sighed. “Off the Internet.”
“Well,” said Rita with authority, “if you pick names off the Internet, you’ll get weird names like that. Moon Unit—now there’s a name you’d find on the Internet.”
“Are you finally ready to order,” asked Eddie, walking up, “or should I come back after Labor Day?”
Rita and Summer both ordered salads, which Daria expected. When Eddie left again, Summer killed the remainder of her rum-and-Coke in three gulps, then waved for another. “So,” she said, putting her glass on the table, “are you going to tell everyone you saw us here, sucking face?”
“Oh, it doesn’t matter,” said Rita, stirring her cherry-red drink with its little umbrella. “Like it really matters these days. Go ahead and spill it. Helen will—”
“I don’t think—” Daria began.
“I just can’t believe you’re married!” Summer said, looking from Daria to Jane. “I mean, why did you bother?”
“Why?” Jane growled. “Because we love each other and we wanted to start a family, so we got married. Who wouldn’t?” She appeared on the edge of saying more, but she restrained herself and finished off her coffee instead.
“I see your point, sort of,” said
Rita, “but—well, a baby! When Helen told me, I’m afraid I almost went
into shock! I said, Good Lord, Helen, are you joking? A baby? I
mean, Erin’s not even having a baby yet, not when that twit she married went
and lost his job right after the wedding and can’t bring home a tenth of what
my Erin can!”
“You did this in Hawaii or that other state, New Hampshire?” asked Summer. “They do that fake marriage, the civil union whatever, I think. Can’t have been Hawaii, you don’t have the money for a rowboat, do you?”
“It was Vermont,” said Jane, her eyes blazing. “And we think we’re married.”
“Vermont. Thought so. God, that is just too much. Married.” Summer covered her mouth to burp, then picked up her new drink. “Look at us, now! We see each other every other week, and we’re not married!”
“Wouldn’t go through that kind of hell again,” said Rita, sipping her drink. “Especially all the damn legal paperwork to get my maiden name back.”
“That’s the truth,” said Summer, nodding. “We’re having fun!”
Daria took off her glasses and rubbed her face, trying to relieve her tension. “Look,” she said, putting her glasses on, “it’s fine with me if you’re seeing each other. I’m not telling anyone about this. You can trust me on that. What would be the point? It’s no one’s business but yours what you do. I guess I just can’t . . . it’s just that this is so weird, running into the two of you like this, and I can’t quite—”
“You want to know weird?” said Summer abruptly. She burped again, then went on. “I’ll tell you what weird is. You know how Rita and I met?”
“No,” said Daria, glad for the topic change. “Tell us.”
Rita and Summer gave each other secretive smiles. “It happened during the preparations for Erin’s wedding,” Rita said. “I called Helen to ask if she knew someone who hand-made table decorations for parties and weddings, so she called your mother—” She pointed to Jane and Summer “—who gave her your number—” She now pointed at Summer “—and Helen gave that to me.”
“I was working for a caterer in Merrillville at the time,” Summer interrupted, “but they went out of business last year, so I—”
“—so I called and had Summer come over and show me some of her work—”
Summer smiled at Rita. “And we hit it off, really well. Then, after the wedding, Rita came over to my place for a little visit, and things—”
“—oh, things got way out of hand!” Rita finished, and she and Summer burst into gales of laughter.
“That was so much fun!” Summer rocked forward and almost knocked over her depleted rum-and-Coke. “My God, you wouldn’t have believed it! That’s the way to do these things! Blonde on blonde, oh baby! Wheee-ooo!”
Jane began to chew hard on her thumb, all her teeth showing.
“Wait a minute,” said Daria to Rita. “You’re saying that my mother helped get the two of you together?”
Jane stopped chewing her thumb and stared at Daria in astonishment. “Oh, no!” she gasped. “Oh, my God!”
“Yes, she did!” said Rita with glee. “Wouldn’t she have a cow if she knew?”
“Enough cows to fill Wisconsin,” said Jane with feeling.
“I’m thinking the entire Midwest now,” said Daria, “and probably Canada, too.”
“God, you would not have believed it!” said Summer, grinning at Rita and wagging her eyebrows. “Rita came over and it was really hot outside, a scorcher, so she changed into this tiny little bathing suit, and she was gorgeous—I mean, wow!”
“Oh, now,” said Rita, giggling with self-conscious delight, “just stop it! You’re gorgeous, too, you know!”
“Oh, and she was sooo hot! I mean, I just couldn’t believe it! There was this perfect goddess in my back yard, sunning herself in my lawn chair, and I said, ‘Screw it!’ and went outside with a bottle of sunscreen, wearing just a beach towel, and I said—”
The fable of the first romp was suddenly derailed when Daria began a violent coughing fit that threatened to have her sent off in an ambulance. Once given a glass of water and many pats on the back, she was able to recover and take her seat again. The ambulance was not summoned, though Eddie the maitre d’ appeared quite close to needing it. That over, Eddie brought extra drinks, and the table conversation moved on to other things—to Daria and Jane’s overwhelming but only temporary relief.
“I have to tell you two a secret,” said Rita, halfway through her second umbrella drink. “It’s something that Helen told me. She didn’t want me to say anything about it, of course, because it was sort of between the two of us, but I thought it was rather funny. And complimentary,” she added, nodding at Jane.
Every warning bell in Daria’s head rang at full volume. “You know,” she interrupted, “I think that maybe—”
“I have to tell you,” said Rita, sipping her drink and paying no attention, “Helen wasn’t entirely in favor of the two of you getting together, much less getting married or—my, oh, my!—having a baby, however you did it. I think it drives her crazy, in fact, because she’s told me so several times, but that’s my holier-than-thou sister for you, the big smart ass, excuse my French. She always has something rammed up her—”
“Rita! Rita, wait!” Jane appeared extremely anxious. “If what Mrs. Morgendorffer said was kind of personal, I really don’t have to hear it. Maybe we should let it go and—”
“Oh, foo,” said Rita, waving her off. “She said, and I’m quoting, ‘That daughter of mine will drive me to the Betty Ford Clinic one of these days, and I’m ready to check in this minute, right after I finish this gin-and-tonic, but thank God,’ she said, ‘thank God she had the pure dumb luck to pick a nice, decent, intelligent person like Jane, and not some leather-wearing, knife-carrying, tattooed ex-convict bull dyke with a chain for a belt, a social disease, and a big, loud motorcycle.’ She said that to me, Helen did.” Rita smiled at Jane and winked. “She thinks a lot of you, dear.”
Daria turned beet red and hid her face in her hands. “Kill me now,” she muttered.
Jane put a hand on Daria’s leg in sympathy. “Well,” she said, feeling a need to fill the silence, “I do have a leather jacket, and I use Exacto blades, which are sort of like knives, and I was in jail once, two years ago in Fremont for a couple hours. I was with Trent and his band, and we got—”
“Oh, who cares,” said Summer, her voice slurring. She took another drink from her third, nearly empty rum-and-Coke. “Geez, the worl’ dudden revolve around you, li’l Jane. You had it easy bein’ the youngest. Stop complainin’.”
“What?” Jane leaned forward, her blue eyes frosting over. “Excuse me?”
“Oh, like you’re really sufferin’ here in Beantown, goin’ t’ college an’ all. You doan have four kids who do nothin’ but run away on you, an’ two good-for-nothin’ deadbeat exes, an’ three student loans you haven’ paid off, an’ credit card bills out th’ wazoo, an’ a therapist who wants t’ make out with you allatime, an’ your car needs a new whatchacallit on the gizmo—like you really got it bad, you know?”
“Your credit cards are paid off, now,” mumbled Rita into her drink. “And I had your car towed to the shop yesterday. You can say ‘thank you’ at any time.”
“Yeah, well, the student loans are still hangin’.” Summer picked up her rum-and-Coke and drained it, then put it down with a loud bang, looking at her younger sister. “Plus, you got a stupid name. Jane. Plain Jane. Plain Jane Lane the pain. Stupid name.”
Jane’s mouth opened, her face red with anger. After a dreadful moment, she covered her mouth with a hand and looked away.
“Dear,” said Rita, putting a hand on Summer’s shoulder, “you didn’t tell me about the therapist.”
“Oh, iz nothin’. He likes my feet. He’s a toe man. Likes my li’l piggies. Piggy wiggy woo!” Summer laughed, took another drink, then pointed at Daria. “An’ whaz all this ‘bout not lettin’ Trent do it to you? Whaz wrong with gettin’ a little male action now an’ then, huh? I do it. Rita does it. Iz great! Unless he gives you somethin’ bad an’ you hafta see the doctor, but I’m mos’ly careful, sometimes.” She laughed again. “Hey, that’s what guys’re there for, right? Getcherself one and see! Iz great!” She turned to Rita. “Ain’t it? You tol’ me you once did five guys at once, but I can’t see how you—”
“Summer, honey,” said Rita quickly, “you have a little something on your cheek. No, it’s still there. You’d better go check in the ladies’ room mirror.”
“Hokey-dokey, be right back!” Summer stood up and knocked her chair over, staggering slightly. “Uh-oh!” she said, and she tried to reach for the chair but kept missing. She shrugged and headed off to the restroom, calling “Gotta go!”
Rita stood up and took her coat from the hook by the booth. “Well!” she said with forced cheer. “It’s been lovely, and I’m sorry we have to run, but we could only stay a minute. I’ll take care of the check and tip, don’t worry about a thing. Oh, and I should give you something for the baby, whatever it is.” Rita picked up her purse and reached in, pulling out a pink checkbook. She scribbled a check, tore it out, and thrust it at Daria. “If it’s a girl, don’t name her Rita, please.”
Daria took the check. Her eyes bugged out and she gasped aloud when she saw the amount. “Oh, my God!” she cried. “Aunt Rita!”
“Oh, it’s nothing,” said Rita quickly. “That should cover a few diapers. And tell Helen kiss-kiss from me! I owe her one for helping me find, uh, Summer, but you don’t have to tell her that. Please. And don’t tell anyone else that either, if you wouldn’t mind. Just keep it to us four, if you would. Well! I guess I’d better go get my sweetie out of the bathroom, hadn’t I?” She picked up Summer’s purse and coat and leaned over to give Daria and Jane each a good-bye peck on the cheek. “Bless you both, stay healthy and happy, and good luck!” she said. She waved as she left in search of her partner.
Daria and Jane sat transfixed, watching Rita hurry away. Then they looked at the check Rita had given them.
“I’m sorry,” said Jane, “but my eyes aren’t working right.”
“No, that’s what it is,” said Daria in a whisper.
“That’s ten thousand dollars. She’s bribing us with ten thousand—”
“That can’t be right,” said Daria. She started to get up from the table.
Jane snatched the check from Daria’s hand and jammed it into a pocket of her black pants. “It’s right!” she cried. “I know it’s right! We’re going to the bank right after lunch! I owe you fifty bucks anyway for talking to me in the car on the way over.”
Daria settled back in her seat. Her head swam. “I feel like I owe you something just for putting up with me.”
“Fine, then, we’ll give it to the baby to eat.”
“Our baby,” said Daria, and they looked down at Daria’s bulging middle. Their trembling hands curled around each other.
“I can’t believe this is happening,” said Daria. “My head is about to explode.”
“That’s you, always making a mess. Ten thousand dollars, my God. I never had that much money in my life.”
“You and your damn wishes. I bet that’s what caused this.” Daria swallowed. “We should go home right after we drop by the bank. I’m expecting something there.”
“What, the baby? Or more gas?”
Daria gave Jane a mildly disgusted look. “No. I ordered flowers for you. That was why I was in the bathroom so long this morning. I had to whisper when I called it in, and they couldn’t hear me at the shop.”
“Thank you.” Jane lifted Daria’s hand and kissed it. “The flowers I ordered for you should get there about the same time, then. I called it in between classes at BFAC two days ago.”
“I did. I’ve read ‘The Gift of the Magi,’ too, you know.”
Daria glanced at Jane’s bangs. “I’m glad you didn’t cut your hair off.”
“You might look good bald. Hmmm. You remember wotzername from the first Star Trek movie?”
Daria pulled Jane’s hand to her lips—and licked it. “Gotcha back for licking my nose last week,” she said sweetly as Jane wiped her hand on her red sweater.
“You know,” said Jane, not in the least bit annoyed, “it wasn’t from dumb luck that you and I found each other. I just want you to know that.”
Daria nodded. “And I want you to know that your name is perfect the way it is.”
“Hey, was there ever any doubt?”
A shriek went out from the direction of the bathrooms, followed by Rita’s scream: “You puked on my new fur coat, damn it!”
Daria and Jane grinned.
“Isn’t codependent love beautiful?” said Jane.
“I wouldn’t know,” said Daria. “I wouldn’t have any idea at all.”
“Get ready, you hogs, it’s slopping time!” cried Eddie, walking up with a huge tray of dishes balanced on his left hand. He stopped short in surprise. “Hey, where did the B-movie bottle-blondes go?”
“One of them had a little too much of her drinkie,” said Jane.
“And now the other one is wearing it,” added Daria.
“Oh, what a shame,” said Eddie. “And I hear beaver is so difficult to get clean. Not that I would know.”
* * * * *
“That was the best lunch I’ve ever had,” said Daria, stretched out in her pushed-back seat in the Prius. “Too much leftover salad, but still great.”
“The entertainment was superb,” said Jane, driving home. “Five stars. Left me positively perky.”
“Downright chippery, too.”
“Happy Valentine’s Day.”
“Happy VD to you, Sunshine, and happy third dating anniversary, too.”
Content, they watched the traffic around them for a minute. Fewer cars were out now that lunch was over.
“Not Ashley,” Jane finally said.
“Amen,” said Daria, “not Ashley, for sure. And not Leviticus, either.”
“Oh, I liked that one. Hey, I got a question.”
“Your mom and my mom. Do you think there’s ever a chance that they might—”
Daria jammed her fingers in her ears. “OLD MACDONALD HAD A FARM!” she shouted at the top of her lungs. “EEE-I-EEE-I-OH! AND ON THIS FARM HE HAD A STUPID IDEA AND HE SHOULD NEVER SAY IT AGAIN! EEE-I-EEE-I-OH!”
When the serenade finally stopped, they drove in peace for a time before Daria reached in the pocket of her overcoat and pulled out her cell phone. She flipped it open and punched in a speed-dial number.
“Who’re you calling?” said Jane.
“It’s my revenge,” said Daria crisply, “not yours. She likes you. Hey, Mom? It’s Daria. How are you? We’re okay. Uh-huh.” Daria nodded absently. “Yeah, crunch time, I know. Mom? Wait, I have something to tell you. It’s important. No, it’s not about money. We’re fine. No, the baby’s okay too. And Jane’s okay, too, yeah. Mom? No, really, it can’t wait. Listen—Mom, I love you. I love you with all my heart. I don’t know where I’d be without you. I just called to say thank you for everything you ever did for me. You really made my life better. You’ll never know how much better you made it, but you really did. I called to say I love you, Mom.”
Daria paused, listening. “No, it’s not a joke, I swear,” she said. Another pause. “No, Mom, I don’t want money. No, that’s really why I called. I mean it.” A long pause. “Well, there should be a tissue box around there somewhere. Look under the papers on your desk. You keep tissues around for clients, right? Okay. Tell Dad I love him, too. Well, tell him anyway. Thanks, Mom. Have a good day, okay? Right. I know, Mom, I know, crunch time. I’ll call later, promise. Happy Valentine’s Day to you, too. Bye.”
Daria closed the cell phone with a snap and dropped it back into her pocket. “That’ll teach her,” she said with grim satisfaction.
“Wow. Was she crying?”
“Yeah. Maybe this’ll finally put her in the Betty Ford Clinic. I can always hope.”
“Thank God you’re not mad at me for anything!”
“Nah.” Daria sighed. “Jane, I’ll never be mad at you ever again for mentioning Tom. It doesn’t matter. I’m really over it now.”
But I’ll never be over it, Jane thought. I’ll never get over what I almost did to you, and I never will say his name again. Never.
“Wonder if the heat’s back on at the apartment,” Daria said. She yawned. “I might crawl under the blankets and crash for a while. We’ve got Noodle-Os for dinner, too.”
“I have a better idea,” said Jane, “a much better idea. We’ve got a whole weekend ahead of us, with nothing to do, si?”
“Well, I have a paper on Dorothy Parker due Wednesday.”
“Can it wait until Tuesday night?”
“’Cause we’re checking into a hotel for the weekend, right after we go to the bank and get the flowers at home.”
“What? Are you kidding?”
“We’re not going back to an apartment with a bad heater just to hide under the blankets! We’re going to the Four Seasons Hotel and check in—”
“—for the whole weekend, just you and me and Thessalonians, courtesy of your Aunt Rita!” Jane’s voice became pleading. “Let’s do it, okay? We really deserve it!”
Daria was silent for a long moment as she looked out the side window at the dirty snow and sluggish traffic.
“Okay?” Jane pressed. “Please?”
Daria sighed. “You really think we should?”
“I know we should. It’s either that or die of the cold.”
Daria thought for a moment more, then turned to look at her dark-haired spouse. “That might be okay,” she said softly. The faintest hint of a smile crossed her lips. “Will you talk dirty to me tonight?”
Original: 07/31/03, modified 12/08/04