Shock and Aww
©2004 The Angst Guy (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Feedback (good, bad, indifferent, just want to bother me, whatever) is appreciated. Please write to: email@example.com
Synopsis: Two parents-to-be wrestle with attitude problems and a need for change at their first childbirth class in this, the fifth “Pause in the Air” tale.
Author’s Notes: This is the fifth in the series of “Pause in the Air” tales, taking place in an alternate universe in which certain fanfic conventions about the actual nature of the relationship between Daria Morgendorffer and Jane Lane are employed—meaning, they are gay and love each other. Further, they are in college, have gotten married, and are expecting a baby (Daria’s, with Jane’s brother Trent as the sperm donor). Other than that, attempts are made to keep them close to their original canon selves, at least in personality and mannerisms. The other “Pause in the Air” tales so far include (in story order) “Pause in the Air,” “Thanks Giving,” “Moving Day,” and “Silent Night.” The past situation with Tom Sloane is explained in “Moving Day”; reading it first clarifies events that occur herein, which would take too long to explain otherwise. Readers are assumed to be familiar with the characters of “Daria,” so no introductions are used.
The title for the current story comes from the military phrase “shock and awe,” used in the war in Iraq concurrent with the writing of this story. Also, none of the advice on prenatal care herein should be taken seriously, even if I did borrow it from Lamaze websites on the Internet. Talk to a real doctor. This is fanfic, for Pete’s sake.
Acknowledgements: The wonderful beta readers for this story were (in no particular order): Thea Zara, Deref, Brandon League, Greystar, Crusading Saint, THM, TerraEsperZ, Robert Nowall, and Marcello. This story mutated based on their feedback—the original shock ending (inspired by the writings of Thea Zara) is now being held for the next PitA story. You beta-readers know what’s coming, ho ho ho. 8)
The influence of the Tales of the City novels by Armistead Maupin, which I read and enjoyed a decade ago, is gratefully acknowledged, even if these stories don’t look like something Maupin would write. At least I tried.
“Your kid kicked me in the bladder again,” Daria Morgendorffer said through clenched teeth.
“Our kid,” said Jane Lane, eyeing the taillights of the car crawling through the snow and slush ahead of her. She didn’t like driving at night, and driving at night in suburban Boston traffic when it was snowing in mid-February was the pits. She bit her lower lip, gaze darting from one potential hazard to another.
“I meant your kid,” said Daria in a dark monotone. “This baby was your idea, remember?”
“Our kid,” said Jane, unperturbed.
“If I pee all over this car seat, you’re going to clean it up because your kid made me do it.”
“Mmm-hmm.” Jane was already accustomed to cleaning up and fumigating every time Daria threw up—which was less often these days than earlier in her pregnancy, thank God—so this could hardly be worse. Of course, if Daria waited until she got out of the car before she exploded, it would really help. Bitter experience had taught Jane to keep two extra changes of clothes for Daria in a travel bag stored in the car’s trunk, with an extra change of clothing for herself and three different bottles of stain remover.
Jane hunched forward over the steering wheel, trying to make out a street sign ahead. “That’s not the one,” she said, and she gently put on the brake as the taillights ahead of her suddenly became brighter and closer. “I think that’s the street we want, the next one up. Can you see it?”
“No, Jane,” said Daria with an edge in her voice. “I can’t see it because my eyes changed when I got pregnant. I can’t do anything anymore. I waddle like an obese hippo, my back hurts like hell, I’m flunking all my classes, we don’t have any money left for the rent, and I can’t even see or reach my feet and they’re killing me. Plus, I’m carrying your kid, who’s kicking my bladder around like a damn soccer ball.”
“That’s kinda cool,” said Jane. “I wonder if there’s a soccer class for toddlers. I should check at the Y.”
“Very funny,” Daria growled. “When I’m done having your kid and we’re out of money and we’re thrown out into the street and we live in a cardboard box in a drug lord’s back alley, you’re doing all the diapering, I swear to God.”
“That’s fair,” said Jane, who had diapered her oldest sister’s four kids and hated it, but only because Summer was too lazy to do it herself. “On the good side, you like living in boxes, so at least it will seem like home.”
“What?” Daria glared at Jane. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You had that refrigerator box in your back yard last year, in twelfth grade, remember? The one you wouldn’t come out of because of that thing with your dad and mom when you were a kid?”
Daria turned away and said something obscene under her breath.
“Sure,” Jane said. “That sounds like fun, but let’s wait until we get back home.”
Daria did not bother to answer.
“Bingo.” Jane hit the turn signal. “There’s our street. We made it.”
“Great,” said Daria. She winced and shifted her posture. “Damn this lousy car seat! It’s killing my back. And I really have to pee. I can’t stand to wait any longer.”
The little silver Prius made the right turn onto a side street and crawled along in search of a parking space. Jane spotted a parallel-parked car with its taillights on and smoke coming from its exhaust. She began to pray, her lips moving silently.
“Damn snow,” said Daria, scowling at the windshield. “I hate this snow. I thought global warming took care of that. I’m going to fall down and break my freaking neck if I don’t freeze to death first.” She jumped. “Damn it, stop kicking down there!”
“I won’t let you fall down,” Jane whispered as the car pulled out of the space. It was only three doors down from the health center. Perfect. There was a God.
“I have to pee!” said Daria with urgency, her hands gripping both the ceiling light fixture and door handle. “I really have to go! I’m going to freaking pee all over the car if I don’t get out of here right now and—”
“We’ll make it, Sunshine,” said Jane, backing into the space. “We’ll make it.”
“Don’t call me Sunshine! I’m not a damn Sunshine!”
Jane turned off the ignition, sighed in relief, looked for approaching cars, and opened her door. She smiled at Daria as she got out. “Let’s go meet the group.”
“To hell with this. Let’s go to the bathroom and then go home. Hurry! I really—”
Jane gently shut the car door, cutting Daria off, and walked around the Prius to the sidewalk while humming a song she remembered from her childhood, Pat Benatar’s “We Belong.” She opened Daria’s door and patiently helped her late-second-trimester spouse out, smiling through the stream of profanity that accompanied the operation. Jane buttoned the top of Daria’s coat (“Hurry! Hurry!”), then they walked together to the door of the Greater Boston Women’s Health Center. Jane kept one arm around Daria’s waist, and one holding her gloved hands in front. They waded through grimy slush in their high boots. A sign on the door said: CHILDBIRTH CLASSES—ROOM 109A.
“I love you,” Jane whispered in Daria’s ear.
“Hurry!” Daria said with a grimace. “I have to pee so bad I’m going to drown from the inside out!”
Luck was still with them once they entered the women’s clinic, as the restrooms were only thirty feet from the door. Daria hurried into the ladies’ room, while Jane leaned against a wall in the darkened lobby, holding Daria’s overcoat, and listened to the low hum of conversation from farther down the hall. Expectant mothers trading stories, no doubt. From this distance, they sounded happy and not crazy in the least. Jane closed her eyes and shook her head. Time passed.
“Jane?” came Daria’s faint voice from the women’s room.
Jane roused herself and pushed open the door. “You need a change of clothes?”
“No,” Daria called morosely from one of the stalls. “I want to go home.”
“We drove all the way out here in the snow for forty-five minutes to find out how to be good, healthy, brainless American parents,” said Jane. “We’re going to get our money’s worth, and then we’ll go home.”
“Why don’t we get our money back and then check out a stack of library books on parenting? We can’t afford to do this. We’ve got only three hundred and twenty dollars left, the rent’s due in two weeks, and we need groceries, but I don’t get paid for typing that guy’s thesis paper until three weeks from now, and you don’t get your check from the cafeteria until—”
“Daria, we’ve got enough to make the rent, and we just got groceries yesterday to last a week and a half. Stop worrying about it.”
There was a little silence. “I can’t help worrying about it,” said the unseen Daria.
“Everything’s going to be fine,” said Jane. “Trust me. Don’t worry about it.”
“How do you know?”
I don’t, thought Jane. “I have faith,” she said, “and we have lots of resources left. We’re the best and the brightest that Laaawndale High ever matriculated.”
“You mean graduated. To matriculate is to enroll. We graduated.”
“Fine. I don’t know everything, but I do know that we will make it.”
Daria was quiet for a bit. “I wish I had your confidence,” she said at last.
So do I, thought Jane. “Let’s not forget everything we learned in Mr. O’Neill’s self-esteem class so soon,” she said. “We’re going to be great parents, and you know it. I can already see us ten years down the road, two soccer moms in a nuclear-powered SUV with a screaming soccer kid in back, maybe three or four screaming soccer kids. Hey, you could take fertility drugs, we could have Trent come over with a turkey baster, and you could have identical . . . what’s the word for eight kids at once?”
“The word is ‘nightmare.’ Don’t make me puke, too.”
Jane smiled. “You remember what you told me last summer, when we first talked about having a baby?”
“I said you were insane and I never wanted to see you again.”
“No, after that. You thought about it, and then you said it was your duty—you called it your ‘biological imperative’—to improve the human gene pool. You said—”
“I was delusional and hallucinating, and I caught it from hanging around you.”
“If I recall correctly, you said we were the perfect people to be parents. We knew every mistake ever made by our parents, so we could avoid them all. We would have the best baby in the universe because it would be ours and thus totally perfect, despite the obvious genetic and environmental failures present elsewhere in our families, by which I think you meant everyone but us. You said it, so stop worrying about it.”
“I can’t help it, Jane. I can’t stop worrying about it.”
“Oh, Daria. Even if everything screws up, we can always join the circus.”
“Jane,” said Daria from her stall, “just as soon as your baby is born, I’m leaving it with you while I take a two-year vacation in Maui, and you will be the official barf-and-poop cleaner-upper until I decide to come back, if ever. And in the meantime, you can take that turkey baster, fill it with napalm, and you can—”
The restroom door thumped shut as Jane left, snickering.
Leaning against the hallway wall again with Daria’s coat, Jane had to admit that Daria’s worries were valid. They were short of money—again—and life was turning into a daily struggle over minutia that was no fun at all. They didn’t get out as much as they once did, between homework and side jobs, and Daria was often tired and crabby in the evenings. The nine-month Morgendorffer-Lane project was two-thirds complete, but what they had started, they had to finish. They had two decades of work left to go after the baby popped out. What they were going through now, Jane knew, was the easy part.
The restroom door opened, and Daria came out. She looked tired and withdrawn. Her hair was a mess.
“You okay?” Jane asked, standing straight.
Daria nodded without looking up.
“Let me brush your hair out.”
“Doesn’t matter,” Daria mumbled, but she stood still while Jane produced a small hairbrush from her voluminous coat pockets and gently put Daria’s long brown hair in order. When she was done, Jane pocketed the hairbrush, then raised Daria’s head by her chin and looked into the weary brown eyes behind the large, round glasses.
“You look good,” said Jane. She kissed Daria on the forehead. Her arms went naturally around Daria, and Daria’s went around her. Jane felt the baby bulge between them. After a moment, she felt it move.
“Kicked me, too,” said Jane. “Girl or boy, it’s definitely got your personality.”
“You deserved it,” mumbled Daria, but she did not sound angry.
They set off together down the hall, Jane’s arm around her smaller partner. “I love you,” Jane whispered.
Daria said nothing. She stared at the floor, but her head rested momentarily against Jane’s shoulder.
A thin, twenty-something blonde sat at a table outside the large room in which the childbirth classes were being given. She radiated cheer from every pore in her body.
“Hi!” said the young woman with a perky smile. “Are you here for the childbirth classes?”
“Yes,” said Jane.
“No,” Daria grumbled. “I’m here for my methadone shot.”
“Metha-what?” the perky blonde asked.
“We’re Daria Morgendorffer and Jane Lane,” said Jane, pointing to their names on the clipboard paperwork in front of the seated blonde. Daria made a face, putting a hand on her abdomen and twisting her left foot to work a cramp out of her calf.
“When are you due?” asked the perky blonde.
“Not soon enough.”
“Oh, being pregnant is so wonderful, even if it’s a teensy bother sometimes!” said the young woman with a sympathetic shake of the head. “I know how you must feel.”
“Really?” said Daria in a dangerous tone. “Then, do you feel like a big bloated walrus that’s about vomit on everything within twenty feet of you? Because that’s how I feel.” She put a hand over her mouth, looking queasy.
The blonde stared at Daria in horror. Stirred into action, she quickly checked off their names and handed them stick-on nametags.
“Thank you!” Jane called to the blonde as she escorted Daria to the classroom.
Daria muttered something under her breath that ended with “you” but did not start with “thank.”
Jane looked at Daria with concern. “You okay?”
“It started out as play acting,” said Daria, still uneasy, “but it almost turned into Technicolor reality. I’m okay now. I think.”
Twelve pairs of chairs were arranged in two semicircles around the classroom. These chairs faced two chairs where a man and a woman sat, surrounded by stacks of booklets and papers in plastic bags. Almost all the seats were already taken by attractive male-female or female-female couples who watched Daria and Jane with mild curiosity. Jane stuck her nametag to her red sweater and handed the other nametag to Daria, who wadded it up and dropped it on the floor.
After Jane hung their coats on hooks near the door, they headed for the thickly padded chairs. Daria wore a long black dress with a high, elastic waistband and a light, forest-green vest. Her gold necklace displayed a small gold owl charm. In addition to her bright red sweater, Jane wore black pants and had a colorful silk scarf knotted loosely around her neck. Both had black boots that tracked melted slush over the tile floor.
“Hi, there!” called the woman who appeared to be a group leader. “I’m Jane. Welcome to the Greater Boston Women’s Health Center. You look wonderful tonight!”
“Thanks!” said Jane. “I’m a Jane, too. Small world.”
“Great! And you are . . .” The new Jane looked in vain for Daria’s nametag.
“Knocked up,” said Daria tensely.
The new Jane smiled. “Yes, there’s a lot of that going around. Did you get a nametag?”
“This is Daria,” said Jane Lane. “We drove in from Raft. She goes to classes there, and I go to Boston Fine Arts College.”
“Daria and Jane. That’s great,” said the new Jane. “My husband Tom and I have run childbirth classes for—”
“What?” said Daria suddenly, looking from the new Jane to her bald, bearded male partner.
“Oh,” said the man, who grinned and waved. “I’m Tom, Tom Slone. That’s funny, you know. I got my degree at Raft just—”
“Tom Sloane?” Daria said in shock.
“Yes,” said the man. He looked puzzled. “Do I know you from somewhere?”
“No, no!” Jane spoke quickly, though she was taken aback as well. “We knew another Tom Sloane, but it wasn’t you. It was a different one.”
“Tom and Jane?” Daria said, looking from one to the other. “Tom and Jane Sloane? S-L-O-A-N-E?”
“Not really. It’s S-L-O-N-E,” said the man, confused. “There’s no A in it.”
“Daria,” said Jane urgently and quietly, “please be rational. Don’t—”
Daria turned on her heel and waddled out of the room. Jane ran after her while the other couples in the room watched them go and whispered, shaking their heads. Arguing voices echoed down the hall.
A half-minute later, Jane brought Daria back. Daria’s dark expression could have been set in concrete.
“Here we are,” said Jane lightly, not looking at anyone as she led Daria to a pair of chairs far from the Slones. “We’ll sit right here.”
“Would you rather I left the room?” asked Tom Slone with visible concern.
“Yes,” Daria hissed softly.
“No, no, no, it’s okay,” said Jane, sitting on Daria’s left. “It’s fine. We just knew a Tom Slone somewhere else, and it . . . it, uh, turned into a stressful situation. It’s okay, because you’re not the same Tom.” She turned to Daria. “He’s okay, all right?”
Daria glared at the floor, her jaw tight.
“Happy Valentine’s Day tomorrow, everyone!” said the leader Jane, eyeing Daria longer than she did the other parents-to-be. “I don’t know if the other couple that was suppose to be here tonight will make it, but we’ll go ahead without them. Let’s go around the room and introduce ourselves. I’m Jane Slone and this is my husband, Tom.”
Tom waved at the group with a winning grin. Daria looked up and bared her teeth at him. He quickly looked at someone else.
“I’m Alice Weatherington,” said a friendly pregnant brunette to Daria’s far right, “and this is my husband Alan. We’re having a little future football player, Kevin!”
“Christie Mittleman and Brad Kendall,” said the next pregnant woman, tall and blonde and thin except around her middle. “We’re having a little girl, Brandy Lee!”
“I am Svetlana Klein, and this is my sister, Katya Willett. She helps me out so much. Oh, a boy. I am having a boy. His father is away working for his company.”
“Daria Morgendorffer,” said Daria in a deadpan voice, “and this is my spouse, Jane Lane. We’re married, I’m having her baby, and I don’t know what sex it is.”
Jane put her right arm around Daria’s shoulders, smiled brightly, and waved at the group. Everyone turned around and stared at the two of them with stunned expressions.
“We asked the nurses not to tell us the baby’s sex,” Jane added. “We wanted to be surprised.”
“Like we don’t have enough surprises,” Daria mumbled.
“Her baby?” one woman whispered to her husband. “Did she say she was having that other girl’s baby?”
“You’re married to whom?” asked Jane Slone from the front of the room. She looked very confused.
“Each other,” said Jane, before Daria could answer. She caught Daria’s left hand in her own and raised both, showing the backs of their hands to the rest of the group. The identical gold bands on their ring fingers riveted every pair of eyes in the room.
Jane thought it was her imagination, but the room seemed to get distinctly colder.
“Oh! I thought you were, you know, friends or—something,” said Jane Slone uncertainly. “A lot of women come here with friends or family, so I thought—”
“Oh, we are!” said Jane. “We’re best friends. And married to each other, which is perfect, isn’t it?” She smiled broadly and shrugged. “We wanted the best, so we got it!”
“Were you married here in Boston?” asked Christie in disbelief.
“Vermont, last summer,” said Jane. “It was a blast. I took a ton of pictures.”
“Oh!” said Christie. “Oh, that’s right. I forgot about that. Vermont allows civil unions for gay—” She broke off, looking embarrassed.
“Are both of you pregnant?” asked a woman on the other side of the semicircle.
“Oh, no, no,” said Jane with a half-laugh, “just her. We thought about having me get pregnant, too, but then we’d need to hire someone to follow each of us around and clean up the vomit, and we didn’t have the money.”
“And she didn’t want to have sex with her brother,” Daria added. “I didn’t want to have sex with her brother, either, so we went to this clinic where—”
“Too much information, Daria,” murmured Jane, still smiling. “Stop now.”
There was a long pause.
“Okay! Great!” said Tom with excessive cheer. “Who’s next?”
After introductions, everyone had to tell how many weeks pregnant she was. (“Twenty-four weeks,” said Jane, just as Daria said, “Twenty-four wretched years.”) The Slones then talked about proper maternal health, diet, and exercise. Packets full of prenatal care information were distributed. Jane took the packet from Daria after Daria glared into it and muttered, “What’s all this junk?”
Daria listened to the proceedings with a steel face, her lips compressed in a flat line as if she were being forced to listen to the goings on as a kind of punishment. The talk about the importance of milk, fruit, and vegetables took eons.
“Also, it’s very important to not try to maintain your old weight, if any of you were thinking about dieting,” said Tom. “Many women try to diet during pregnancy, but attempting to lose weight at this time is a bad idea. You need—”
“I read a book once in which a pregnant woman did succeed in losing weight,” interrupted Daria.
Everyone looked at her. Jane sighed and reached into her pants pocket.
“That can’t be right,” said Tom, frowning. “What book was that?”
“Rosemary’s Baby,” said Daria. “It’s about this woman who gets pregnant by Satan, and her baby—”
Daria’s attention was suddenly distracted by the sound of plastic crinkling in Jane’s hands. Jane was unwrapping a piece of peanut brittle. Daria grabbed the entire piece and immediately began eating it. Jane pocketed the wrapper.
“Go ahead,” said Jane to the Slones. “You were talking about not dieting.”
“Sure,” said Tom in a relieved tone. “Thanks. That brings up an interesting point. Has anyone else experienced unusual food cravings?”
“Pineapple-and-barbecued-chicken pizzas, with a jar of bread-and-butter pickles on the side,” said Jane, nodding her head in Daria’s direction. Daria glared at her but continued eating the peanut brittle. Most of the people in the group shuddered and made gross-out faces—most, but not all.
“Hey, that sounds good,” said Alice. She poked her husband. “I want one of those delivered when I get home. Order it on the cell phone when we get in the car.”
“I want M&Ms,” said another woman. “Red ones. The others taste like crap.”
After a short side trek through the topic of food cravings, the session progressed to available resources for expecting women. “Your packets have lists of books that we strongly recommend,” said Jane Slone. “You don’t have to get all of these books, of course. If you get even one of them, you’ll find a wealth of information you can use.”
Daria frowned at the book list in her hands. She had just finished the peanut brittle. “I don’t see ‘The Breathing Method’ here,” she said.
Jane Slone looked at Daria with a trace of anxiety. “Is that on breathing techniques for childbirth, like we’ll be doing next hour?”
“Sort of,” said Daria, still looking at the book list. “It’s a story by Stephen King. This young pregnant lady learns this breathing method for having her baby, but then she gets hit by a car, and it cuts off her—”
The sound of crinkling plastic interrupted her. Daria abruptly lowered the list, looked to her left, and compulsively grabbed for the peanut brittle Jane held. It was in Daria’s mouth a second later.
“I hate you,” Daria grumbled, not looking at Jane. Shiny brown bits from her two snacks decorated the front of her black dress.
“Okay!” said Jane Slone with forced cheeriness. “The last thing I want to cover in this hour, before we get to breathing practice, is support systems. Pregnancy is a stressful time. Mine certainly were, even though I had the best of help.” She smiled and put a hand briefly on Tom’s shoulder. “I want to go around the room one more time and find out what support systems each of you have, the people you can rely on to help out when the going gets tough. The broader your support system, the better able you will be to get through crises and manage your mental and emotional health. If you have someone you can talk to, someone who listens when you need to share what’s on your mind, that can be the most wonderful resource there is. Let’s start with you again, Alice.”
“Oh, well, other than my husband, there’s my family and his family, which is about two dozen adults all together. If I’m having a bad day, I can call on any of them. They’re very reliable. And I’m on two committees at our church, and some of those people might help. Father McConnell would, I know. He’s very good, he listens to everything I blather on about.”
“That’s great. Christie?”
“Well, Brad, of course, he’s the best. He’s always there for me. I also have a daughter from my first marriage; she’s seventeen but very mature, and we can talk about anything. Brad’s parents are super, and they’ll do about anything. If I really needed someone right on the spot, I could call my neighbors, too. We live in a really close-knit area, everyone knows everyone else, and they’ll do anything to help you. I love them.”
“That’s excellent. A support system is more than family, that’s true. Svetlana?”
“Only my mother is here out of my family, everyone else has passed on or is still back in Ukraine, but I have many, many friends here, so many friends. Some of the people I work with downtown said that they would help out in any way. It is amazing to me so many people have said they would help. I am very blessed.”
“Wonderful. I’m really glad to hear that. Um . . . Daria?”
Silence. Daria stared at a spot on the floor near Jane Slone’s foot. Jane Lane looked at Daria, then gently touched her on the knee.
“What?” said Daria, blinking and looking up. She seemed fearful for a moment.
“I was asking, who you know around here who would help out if you needed it? Other than your partner, I mean—people who would listen if you needed to talk or come over if you needed help with—”
“No one,” said Daria in a low voice. “No one around here, I mean.”
Several people in the group shifted in their seats. It was very quiet.
“Anyone you could call and just talk to? Your family?”
After a beat, Daria shook her head. “Not really.”
“Her parents are mostly supportive, but they work a lot,” said Jane. “They’re hard to reach by phone. My family’s on the road all the time, so I can’t get any of them. Her sister is our best support, but she’s usually on a long call with someone else, so we just leave messages and hope she calls back before too long.”
Jane Slone leaned forward in her chair. “Were there family issues about the two of you . . . you know, being together?”
“No,” said Jane Lane. “Everyone was fine with that, for the most part, but they’re just . . . not available very often. When they are available, they usually aren’t any help, except Quinn, and it would take her hours to get here by car. Everyone else is a little—” Jane glanced at Daria, then continued “—clueless.”
“What about your friends? Do you know any people around here?”
Jane and Daria both shook their heads. “We don’t know that many people,” Jane said. “We’re both so busy with our schoolwork and part-time jobs, we don’t have time to go out much, except with each other maybe once or twice a month.”
“We’re fine,” said Daria in a low tone. She did not look up.
“But,” said Tom Slone, looking directly at Daria, “if your partner, Jane, were gone—if one day she wasn’t around, and you really needed to talk to someone or just have someone be with you, who would you call?” He forced a smile. “Who would give you your peanut brittle if Jane wasn’t there?”
The expected laugh did not come. Daria slowly looked at Tom with large round eyes. The color ran out of her face. Her mouth opened, but she did not speak or breathe, though it seemed she was trying to do so.
Jane stared at Tom, too, but her gaze was merciless. She reached for Daria’s left hand and took it in hers. The gold band on Daria’s ring finger glittered in the light from the fluorescent fixtures above, held gently next to the gold band on Jane’s ring finger.
“I will be around,” said Jane. “I will always be around.”
“Oh,” said Tom, “I didn’t mean if you ran off. I only meant if you were, you know, gone on business or . . . whatever.”
“I’ll be around,” said Jane flatly.
Daria looked down at the front of her dress. Her right hand came up and picked at a peanut brittle crumb, which she put in her mouth. Her hand remained raised to her lips.
“Are you all right?” Tom asked uneasily. “I apologize if my question bothered you. I was just . . . anyway, I’m sorry.”
Daria nodded and lowered her hand. She whispered a word that no one could hear, then looked down at her hand in her lap.
“Okay!” said Jane Slone crisply, looking at her watch. “Let’s take a fifteen-minute break, then we’ll get started on our breathing exercises. Tom and I have to get out the mats. Soft drink and snack machines are farther down the hall. See you in fifteen!”
Jane sat with Daria as everyone stood and stretched. It was obvious that everyone was avoiding them. Everyone left except Jane Slone, who stood by her chair looking away until the room was empty except for the three of them. Jane Slone then walked over and sat down next to Daria.
“You okay, sweetie?” Jane Slone asked, leaning forward in her seat, hands clasped before her. “Sounds like things were a little rough there. I apologize for that.”
Daria nodded slightly.
“That’s good.” Jane Slone took a breath. “Are you sure you want to be here?”
Jane and Daria looked up, puzzled. “What do you mean?” Daria said.
“Well, it’s just that, I don’t know, everyone seemed a little uncomfortable when you were talking about being married—to each other, I mean. That’s . . . that seemed a little awkward, if you know what I mean.”
“That’s their problem,” said Jane Lane, frowning. “They’ll have to deal with it.”
Jane Slone made a frowny face, too. “Well, that’s not . . . it’s not just their problem. You know, when you two said you were married, I thought at first you were joking.”
“It’s not a joke,” said Daria crossly. “We really are married.”
“Well, no, you’re not,” said Jane Slone, as if patiently explaining a complex but important legal point. “Marriage is an act conducted before God, and God joins a man and a woman together, but not a woman and a woman, or a man and a man. You’re not married. You may think you are, but you’re really not.”
Daria and Jane stared at Jane Slone.
“You’re wrong,” said Jane Lane in surprise. Her voice hardened. “And it’s not nice to say things like that to people. It makes you look bigoted.”
“It’s also not nice to go against the will of God,” said Jane Slone. “I’m trying to help you. You don’t understand what you’re saying.”
“We’re not going against the will of God,” said Jane, her jaw tightening. “I can’t believe you’re saying that. I believe in God, too, but not in the same way you do, obviously. Neither of us can prove we’re right, so what does it—”
“No,” said Jane Slone, “that’s not true. I am right. You can’t claim to be married, because what you’re saying are words put into your mouth by the Devil, and—”
“What?” Jane gasped, her eyes wide. Daria stared, mouth open.
“You’re committing a sin by claiming to be married before God, and you’re committing a sin by the very act of the two of you living together, civil union or not. Do you understand what I’m saying?”
The silence lasted three seconds.
“Go . . . to . . . hell!” said Jane Lane, her words white-hot. Her eyes burned into Jane Slone and did not blink.
Jane Slone looked back at Jane, but in sadness, not in anger. “It won’t be me who goes to hell,” she said softly. She then stood up and walked away, and the room was empty except for Daria and Jane and their nine-month project, two-thirds complete.
Jane stood up then, and she walked over and got their coats. “Come on,” she said. “Screw them. Let’s go home.”
Daria stood. Jane buttoned up her coat, threw on her own coat, and took Daria by the arm. “We’re out of here,” Jane said, heading them both for the door out. “I’m getting our money back, too. And I’m going to file a complaint and call the newspapers and sue them until they go blind. Screw these people if they want to be pissy about everything! Screw them! Piss me off, and see what happens! Screw them all!”
Daria said nothing. They were almost to the end of the hall when Daria came to a stop. Jane stopped and turned to her. Daria looked up with haunted eyes.
“I know you’ll be with me,” Daria said, “but I don’t know how you can stand me. I’m sorry I was being such an ass tonight. Everything’s getting to me. I’m not any fun anymore. I wouldn’t blame you if you dumped me and left tomor—”
“Hey!” said Jane sharply. She struggled with a sudden rush of anger and shock, then reached out and pulled Daria to her, burying her face in Daria’s thick hair. They stood in the hall like that in silence for a minute, the baby bridging the space between them so they formed the letter A. Jane smelled the scent of Daria’s shampoo mixed with the peculiar fragrance that only Daria’s hair had.
“I love you,” Daria whispered. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s not your fault. It’s them and it’s everything else, but it’s not you.”
“Don’t leave me.”
“I’ll never leave you.” Not like my family left me. Not like everyone but Trent left me there alone in the house, not like they did. Never.
Jane caught Daria by the chin and gently raised her head. Their eyes closed and lips met for a long kiss. Afterward, they hugged in silence in the hall. From far away came echoes as the other parents-to-be wandered back to their distant room.
“We need a break,” whispered Jane. “Everything is wearing us down. We need to break out of our rut.” She pulled back slightly so she could put her forehead against Daria’s. “Maybe tonight I could put body paint on you again. That was fun.”
Daria groaned. “You’re nuts. You’re steaming up my glasses, too. I can’t see.”
They gave each other a hug. Jane felt a little better, though in the back of her mind was a seed of worry. The other Jane had successfully poisoned the night and possibly the next day, too. She couldn’t let that happen, not on Valentine’s Day.
“Let’s make a wish that something will happen to get us out of our rut,” said Jane softly. “Maybe if we sue these people and clean up, that will do it.”
“We’re not going to sue them,” said Daria tiredly. “We’ll get our money back and just forget them.” She sighed. “You’re right, though. We need out of our rut.”
“Let’s make that wish, then.” Jane took Daria’s hands in her own. “Close your eyes, Sunshine.”
“This is dumb.”
Daria sighed and closed her eyes. Jane leaned close.
“Don’t lick my nose,” Daria warned.
Jane was on the verge of doing that, but she changed her mind. “One, two, three, wish,” she whispered. She made her wish and felt Daria go motionless as she did, too.
Give us a break, Jane wished. Give us a different day tomorrow, something new, something good. We need that so much. Please help us out this once.
They stood in silence, hand in hand. Their arms went around each other again.
“You know what tomorrow is?” Jane whispered.
“Clean Off My Glasses Day,” said Daria. “Get Library Books on Parenting Day.”
“Valentine’s Day,” said Jane.
“I said that.”
“Happy Valentine’s Day, Sunshine.”
Daria swallowed and hugged Jane tightly. She raised her mouth to Jane’s ear.
“I have to go pee,” Daria whispered. “Bye.”
Original: 5/2/03, modified 12/08/04