Synopsis:Quinn is on the hunt for a steady boyfriend, while at the same time trying to find out why Sandi has gone so cold towards the Fashion Club. Daria finds out that Trent and Tom have gotten in a fight, and discovers a side to “The Tom Thing” that she hadn’t before. And Helen plans a reconciliation dinner with Tom, only to have Jake and a squirrel bring the whole thing toppling down.
Author’s Forward: I am rating the following story PG-13 for content. The subject matter deals with teen pregnancy. I am not an advocate of teen pregnancy, and firmly believe that common sense should prevail in such cases. However, real life being what it is, this is not always the case.
The following story was written for entertainment purposes only, and should not be taken as educational material. I do not claim that the “technical” aspects of my story are even remotely accurate. If you have any questions, go to a responsible adult knowledgeable in the appropriate areas.
Other Notes: The author assumes that the reader is familiar with “Daria” and the characters therein, and has read my previous stories. This story is seventh in the series and takes place concurrent with the events portrayed in “One J At A Time.”
Legal Drek: Daria and her cohorts are property of MTV and Viacom.
This story is Copyright October 23, 2004.
A Tale of Two T’s
Finally, Daria mused as she sat at the kitchen table. Finally, finally, finally things are getting back to normal around here. ‘Normal’ being a relative term, of course. I’m pregnant, mom’s on a forced vacation, and dad’s only slightly less touchy than usual. It could always be worse, I suppose.
Daria glanced around the kitchen and hoped that her wandering thoughts wouldn’t be the catalyst that would incur one Mr. Murphy’s most famous law. So far, though, that didn’t seem to be the case. Jake was at the kitchen island, shoveling some kind of odd looking sauce from a pan onto a large bowl full of noodles, while Helen and Daria sat at the table, listening to Quinn talk about something she had seen on television.
Helen, for the first time in three weeks, wore her more casual clothes and looked more relaxed than she had in a long time. She seemed to be enjoying her leave of absence from the law firm, a leave taken when Eric put her on the spot, and asked which was more important: her job or her family. Helen had made the right choice, leaving Eric high and dry. She also figured that she deserved the time off, after coming out the victor in a hard-fought, and almost massively bungled, child-support case against the Sloane family. That case had also yanked up a deeply buried part of her sister Amy’s past.
Daria’s Aunt Amy, for her part, had returned home for a few days seeking a vacation from her self-appointed job assisting Daria when help was needed. She needed time to get her own head back together and deal with loose ends of her life had cropped up over the last few months back home. Amy promised to be back after ten days or so, and Jane had gave her word to look after Daria in Amy’s stead, which Jane would have done anyway.
“So, anyway, this new FashionVision series, Behind the Untold Stories of the Supermodels, reveals what their lives were like when they were just plain models,” Quinn was explaining to Daria and Helen.
Daria’s return comment was preempted by Jake proudly dropping the big bowl of noodles and sauce onto the middle of the table. Helen and Quinn looked at the concoction with trepidation. Daria felt her stomach curl up in a ball at the sight of . . . whatever it was.
“Thai Peanut Sauce a la Jake is complete-o!” Jake smiled with pride at his latest culinary masterpiece. “Who wants the first bite?”
“You pick, mom. It’ll be like Sophie’s Choice,” Daria said. Or maybe Schindler’s List would be more appropriate.
“Don’t worry, this is a whole different recipe from the last batch,” Jake said as he dropped a large spoonful of noodles and sauce on Quinn’s plate. She just regarded the pile with a wrinkled nose and scrunched eyebrows.
“Jake, I thought we talked about this. Daria can’t handle some of the things that you try to make.” Helen said with a critical look at dinner. “Besides, the last time you made this, it took three days to get the smell out of the house.”
“Experiment with a little wasabi and the whole world’s a critic,” Jake sighed, looking at the ceiling, then back at his wife. “Dammit, Helen, you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs!”
“Can I have an omelet?” Daria asked hopefully, though her voice didn’t show it.
“No, the last thing that you need is the cholesterol,” Helen said flatly.
“Then how about some eggs to break?”
“Anyway,” Quinn butted back in. “They were just about to show Veronique’s make-up bag from high school when the delivery guy rang the door bell with Daria’s package,” Quinn said with a dejected shrug. “What is with those brown uniforms?”
Daria looked up from the large helping of noodles and sauce that Jake had deposited on her plate.
“Quinn, this package? Did it run away by itself or hop a lonesome freight train west?”
“Oh, it’s out in the living room somewhere,” Quinn said with a wave in the general direction of that part of the house. “Now I’m never going to find out what was in that make-up bag!”
Daria allowed herself about a tenth of a second’s grief for her sister before she pushed herself away from the table. Jake was dishing up and sitting down as Daria walked away from the table. She noticed that it was taking more effort to pull herself up out of a chair recently. Sooner or later, she’d need assistance just to get up, and she didn’t want to think about what a typical day at school was going to be like at all.
Spotting her package on the table by the door, Daria went to pick it up. The return address was the Sloane’s, with Tom’s name on it. Her curiosity piqued, Daria opened the envelope with her thumb as she walked back towards the kitchen. Reaching inside she pulled out a large hardbound book, its title lettered in slightly battered gold leaf: Three Hundred Years of Verse,
Wow, Daria thought. He actually found it.
“EWWW! Dad’s sick!” Quinn yowled in disgust from the kitchen, breaking into Daria‘s thoughts.
Daria looked up and frowned. Apparently, Jake had tried to eat his own cooking. Daria then went back to reading her book.
Daria remembered seeing this particular book in a movie she had once watched with Tom very early on in their relationship. The next day, they had tried to locate the collection of poetry at the library and at the local book stores. Lawndale being what it was, they were unable to find anything.
“What is that?” Quinn’s voice once again intruded into Daria’s thoughts as she drifted back into the kitchen.
“My people call them books,” Daria said as she flipped open the cover and skimmed the title page. “Hunh. A first edition. Tom must have found it on the Web.”
“Oh, how sweet!” Helen exclaimed as she removed a rock-hard lasagna from the freezer. She put the frozen tray on the counter and looked at the book over Daria’s shoulder for a moment.
“He bought you a used book?” Quinn said. “What kind of boyfriend is he?”
“The kind of boyfriend who knows what’s important to Daria,” Helen said as she put the frozen tray in the oven and turned the heat to about four-fifty.
“Great, now I’m sick,” Daria groaned.
Behind the two women, Jake continued to pour the contents of his failed dinner into the trash. He had to bite the inside of his cheek to keep from going off at the mention of Tom Sloane. He had promised Helen that he would try and give the boy a break, but if was damn difficult. In his anger, Jake shook the bowl a little too hard and noodles splattered over the side of the trash can. Jake bit his cheek harder and picked the noodles off the floor without saying anything.
“Lots of guys care about me, you know,” Quinn was saying. “I don’t know why anybody would settle for just one.”
“Excuse me?” Daria looked up from her book and gave Quinn a cold stare. “Care to elaborate on that?”
“Uh, well, I don’t mean for that,” Quinn stammered, realizing what she’d just said. “I mean, well -- you know what I mean, Daria!”
“Fortunately for you, yes,” Daria said icily. Quinn sheepishly turned back to the table and took a sip of water to wash the taste of her foot out of her mouth.
“Quinn, it’s a special thing to find someone so compatible that you want to, uh, see them exclusively, among, uh, other things.” Helen got a cold eye from her eldest daughter, but continued. “Anyway, having a steady boyfriend takes maturity and perspective!”
“Really,” Daria said dryly. Helen slumped.
“But, I’m mature!” Quinn whined as she turned around in her chair.
“Yeah, and you’ve got the teddy bear earrings to prove it. Which reminds me, can I borrow them? They go so well with my lack of credibility around here.”
“Daria, you’re right. I’m sorry.” Helen sighed. “We really haven’t had a chance to make up to you and Tom for everything that’s happened. Why don’t you invite him over for dinner?”
“Because I haven’t taken complete leave of my senses,” Daria replied as she closed her book.
“Can I bring a boyfriend too?” Quinn asked hopefully.
In his corner of the kitchen, Jake let the bowl slip from his fingers and land on the counter top with a loud clunk! All three Morgendorffer women looked in his direction with varying degrees of curiosity. Jake frowned and made himself very busy tying the top of the trash bag closed.
“If and when you have a steady boyfriend,” Helen said slowly, turning back to Quinn. “We’d love to have him for dinner.”
“Do we have to dip him in that peanut sauce before we eat him?” Daria asked blandly.
“Hey!” Jake stood up, indignantly pulling the trash bag from the can.
“So, what night would be good for Tom?” Helen asked, ignoring Jake for the moment.
“Anytime after Armageddon is fine.”
“Sheesh!” Jake threw his free hand in the air and started for the laundry room door. “I slave all day over a hot stove and for what?”
Daria looked sidelong at her mother and waited until Jake had definitely left the room.
“It’s to keep him off the streets, right?”
“So, explain to me why we’re walking to school?” Jane asked as she and Daria were walking down the sidewalk the next morning. “I thought Tom’s been driving you these days, what with your condition and all.”
“He said his car was in the shop when I called him this morning,” Daria replied. “It ought to be fixed in a few days, which should be all the time I need to talk mom out of having him over for dinner.”
“What’s she planning to serve with him? White wine goes so well with human flesh.” Jane said with a smirk, then looked at the expression her friend was giving her. “Sorry. So your mother actually invited him over for dinner?”
“I know, some workaholic. I think this leave of absence is getting to her. She seems to think she has to make it up to Tom and me for all the crap they’ve put us through.”
“Once your father gets started on military school, the evening will be over before it begins,” Jane said with a shake of her head. It seemed that Helen might actually be coming around. Too bad the same couldn’t be said for Jake.
“What I’m afraid of is a blood bath, not just a spoiled evening.”
“What?” Jane looked over at Daria. “You’re worried about more than just simple embarrassment here, aren‘t you?”
“Any time the subject of Tom gets mentioned, you can see my dad‘s hackles go up.” Daria brought them both to a stop and turned to face Jane. “Up until recently, he’s been following Tom and me whenever he drives me to school. Every time Quinn goes out on a date, he’s on them like a KGB interrogator. I mean, you saw how he was on the stand in court.”
“Hmm, I guess I see your point.”
“Tom deserves better than a night of verbal abuse.” Daria resumed walking and Jane fell in step beside her without effort. “I know that mom’s trying to make things better, but . . .”
“You’re afraid that your dad’s just going to make things worse?” Jane asked.
“I’m afraid that he’s not even going to try,” Daria shrugged. “Tom’s been the one making all the effort and all Dad seems to be doing is trying to drive him off.”
“Don’t worry about Tom, he’s tougher than he looks,” Jane said, not believing that she was actually saying it. “Besides, he never had any problems at all with my parents.”
“He’s never met your parents,” Daria pointed out.
“Yeah, there is that.” Jane was quiet for a moment. “I don’t suppose that you could convince your father to go off to Greece for six months to sketch the sunsets?”
“You could be blowing this whole thing out of proportion, you know.”
“Proportion. I get it.” Daria looked down at her stomach, which she thought she could see pushing against the inside of her jacket, and sighed.
“Daria . . .”
“Maybe you’re right. Maybe my dad’ll be relatively calm and collected and the evening will go smoothly and a good time will be had by all.” Daria’s tone of voice, however, suggested that she expected pigs to take wing long before that happened.
“You’re going to ‘forget’ to tell Tom and hope this whole thing goes away, aren’t you?” Jane asked, though she suspected that she already knew the answer.
“Believe me, Jane,” Daria put her hand on her stomach. “If it was possible, I would have already forgotten.”
“So, what is the current situation with Ms. Morgendorffer?” Angela Li asked, looking up from the folder open on her desk.
Dr. Margaret Manson, psychologist and councilor for Lawndale High looked down at the last folder on her lap and opened it.
“The Morgendorffer girl seems to be dipping somewhat from her established baseline of behavior.” Manson pulled her glasses down her nose slightly. “Going by information gathered in our previous sessions, it would indicate that she is becoming less defensive than normal.”
“Could this signal a general shift in her attitude?” Li asked, making notes.
“Perhaps,” Manson said slowly.
“For the better?” Li asked with a pointedly raised eyebrow.
“Not necessarily, Angela.” Manson was cautious. Li’s ideas about what kinds of attitudes the students should maintain for the good of the school were rather specific. “While Ms Morgendorffer’s previous aberrant behavior --”
“Margaret, I’ll not have the harmonious learning environment that I’ve tried to establish around here be disrupted by non-conformists and malcontents.” Li made more notes in her folder. “Perhaps a trip through Mr. O’Neill’s Self Esteem Workshop would be beneficial to Ms Morgendorffer.”
“Are you sure that Mr. O’Neill is equipped to handle this?”
“Hm. Perhaps you’re right. Adjust your schedule to accommodate the workshop.” Li was about to continue, but stopped suddenly when she heard the door to her office open.
“I’m sorry, am I interrupting something?” Helen Morgendorffer asked as she stepped into the room.
“Good afternoon, Mrs. Morgendorffer! No, not at all!” Li quickly slapped the folder in front of her closed and stuffed it under the pile of similar folders off to her side. Manson closed her own and covered it with her hands, though more sedately. “Merely discussing school policy matters.”
“Yes, of course,” Helen said as she walked up to Ms Li’s desk. She didn’t buy her fake cheerfulness for a second. “If you have a few minutes, there’s something I’d like to talk to you about. Regarding school policy, actually.”
“Mrs. Morgendorffer,” Li said as Helen started going through her briefcase. “I am actually quite busy, as you can see, and matters of school policy are best brought up before the school board.”
“More specifically, having to do with your policy regarding students attending classes under special circumstances.” Helen went on as though Ms. Li had never spoken. She pulled out a folder and looked it over once as she took the empty chair beside Manson.
“Yes, for example, whereas a particular female student has become pregnant. There is a wide range of physical and hormonal changes that she would be going through that would make it inappropriate for her to be performing certain activities. Also her teachers would have to be advised that certain . . . assignments may not be appropriate material for a particular amount of time.”
“Really,” Li said again.
“You sound like you claim to be an expert in these things, Mrs. Morgendorffer,” Manson said, looking over her glasses at Helen.
“Well, I have given birth to two daughters.” Helen cocked her eyebrow at Manson. “Actually, I’m surprised that you hadn’t brought these subjects to Ms Li’s attention, Dr. Manson.”
“I’m a psychologist, madam, not a teacher. I’m not privy to what the faculty assigns the students over the course of the semester.”
“Well, Ms Li is.” Helen turned back to the principal with a cold look. “And I would think that she would be a little more tactful in the special assignments that she hands out.”
“Now, really, Mrs. Morgendorffer,” Li began to say. “I don’t believe that --”
“For example, this assignment given to my daughter in order to maintain her physical education requirements.” Helen held up the folder and opened it up to the synopsis page on top. “‘Write an editorial article on the failure of the scholastic sexual education system to prevent teen aged pregnancy and reduce promiscuity among teens. Include your personal views on how these changes to the system could have assisted in preventing your current condition and preventing others from making similar mistakes in the future.’ Care to explain?”
“That assignment is meant to maintain the student’s grade point average in Physical Education, as well as educate the readers of our school newspaper to what may be gaps in our scholastic system.”
“‘Your personal views,’ ‘your current condition,’“ Helen repeated.
“It is an editorial, after all. The reporter is intended to include their personal opinions.”
“Ms. Li, this assignment was specifically tailored to draw undue, negative attention to Daria in what I believe to be the first moves in a blatant attempt to force her out of Lawndale High.”
“Mrs. Morgendorffer, I can assure you that is not --”
“I’ve spoken with Carrie Landingham. And her parents.” Helen fixed Li with a glare. “That is exactly what you are attempting to do. State policy forbids outright suspension in these circumstances, and you are trying to worm your way around it. Again.”
“Mrs. Morgendorffer,” Li said slowly as she drew herself up in her chair. “Your daughter getting pregnant sets a horrendous example to her fellow female students that must be quashed at once! I have no intention of seeing Lawndale High become a teenage obstetrics ward!”
“Let me put this another way, Ms Li,” Helen said, slowly standing up and leaning on the edge of the desk to look down at the principal. “Get off my daughter’s back. The Landinghams didn’t have the resources to bring a suit against you, but I do. If I get one, and I mean one, hint that Daria is not being treated in the same way as she was before she became pregnant, I’ll have you up in front of the Board of Education so fast you’ll have whiplash.”
“Wha --? How dare you threaten me!” Li stammered as Helen snatched the folder and her briefcase up and headed for the door.
“You think I’m bluffing?” Helen turned back to face Li. “This isn’t a poker game on some rickety river boat, Ms. Li, this is my daughter we‘re talking about. You just freaking try me.”
Quinn, Stacy and Tiffany sat at their usual table with their three salads and vinaigrette dressing on the side. The one thing that was out of place was Sandi. She was sitting one table away on the opposite side of the aisle, attacking her own salad with more anger than enthusiasm.
“Doesn’t she know we’re having a meeting?” Tiffany asked in her slow cadence.
“Yeah, she does,” Quinn said. She looked at her friend in her self-imposed exile and shook he head sadly. “She started acting like that when I asked her about having it.”
“Why is that, do you think?” Stacy asked.
“I don’t know, Stacy. I think that she might still be mad about what happened in that courtroom.”
“Buuuut, that was Friday,” Tiffany said with a frown. “Why is she still mad about that?”
“I wish I knew, Tiffany. I really wish I knew.” Quinn sighed and looked back at her plate. “Well, I suppose we should get this meeting started.”
“Without Sandi?” Stacy whispered.
“Well . . .” Quinn turned and looked at the Fashion Club President. “Sandi? We’re gonna start the meeting.”
“So? What are you telling me for?” Sandi said icily, then looked the other direction.
“Well, you are the club’s president,” Stacy pointed out, trying to be helpful.
“Oh really?” Sandi glared. “Looks like you’re doing just fine with your vice president. What do you need me for? Leave me alone.”
“Eep!” Stacy squeaked and shrunk in her seat.
“Um, well, okay then, I guess.” Quinn turned back to the other two girls. All three looked equally worried. “Okay, as the vice president of the Fashion Club, I hereby call this meeting to order, or whatever. I have an announcement that I want to make: I’ve decided to get a steady boyfriend.”
Stacy and Tiffany looked at Quinn blankly for a moment.
“You . . . You mean, you’re not joking with us?” Tiffany asked, looking confused.
“No, I’m not. It’s a special thing to find someone so exclusive that you want to see them compatibly,” Quinn said. Or something like that.
“You mean you’re only going to date one guy from now on? And not any other guy?” Tiffany asked with some surprise. “You’re not going to get pregnant too, are you?”
“Tiffany!” Quinn sputtered. “Of course not! This is just dating!”
”Yeah, don’t need another knocked up Morgendorffer,” Sandi muttered loudly from her table.
Quinn glanced over her shoulder at Sandi, then turned back to the meeting and glowered at the table.
“Um . . .Yeah.” Stacy and Tiffany exchanged a glance. “Anyway, Quinn, think of all the gifts and cash prizes you’ll be missing out on!”
“Yeah, “ Tiffany agreed. “Are you sure that you want to do this?”
“Yes, Tiffany, I am.” Quinn looked up from the table and nodded.
“So, who’s going to be your boyfriend?” Stacy asked.
“Uh . . . Gee. I haven’t thought about that.” Quinn looked surprised to be getting the question. “I just kind of thought I’d know, you know?”
“I know! Let’s make a list of qualifications!” Stacy pulled her note pad out of her coat pocket and started making notes. “Like he has to be at least three inches taller than you and drive a car with a leather interior.”
“No moles.” Tiffany put in.
“And no self-respect,” Sandi’s voice cut in from the other table.
Quinn turned and looked over her shoulder to see Sandi angrily pushing her salad around her plate with her fork.
“Sandi, I’m being serious here. I want to get a steady boyfriend and I want to pick the right guy.” Quinn decided it was time to try and offer an olive branch. “I could really use your help.”
“Okay, here’s a suggestion,” Sandi sneered. “Why don’t you start with the freshmen and work your way up. You ought to be through the whole class by the weekend.”
Sandi tossed her fork onto her plate, got up and stormed out of the lunchroom, leaving her tray behind. In her wake, Stacy and Tiffany were looking confused, while Quinn looked angry and hurt.
“That was just so . . . wrong,” Tiffany drawled.
“No kidding,” Quinn replied, watching Sandi leave. This isn’t just wrong -- it’s un-Sandi. And that worries me.
After school, Jane had returned from walking Daria home to find Monique, Max, and Jesse sitting in the Lane kitchen. Their discussion centered about Monique’s umpteenth rant about leaving the Harpies.
“I swear, I’m really gonna do it this time,” Monique said as Jane walked in the kitchen. “I’m gonna start my own band, and the Harpies can go fish.”
“How long have you been saying that?” Jesse asked. He looked up. “Hey, Jane.”
“Hello, random freeloaders,” Jane cheerfully replied. “What brings you here so early in the afternoon?”
“Waitin’ on Trent, like usual,” Monique said. “He’s asleep.”
“What else is new,” Jane said as she dropped her backpack on the kitchen table and walked over to the refrigerator. “Last night run late?”
“Or early,” Max put in.
“Whatever,” Jane smirked as she opened the door and started rummaging through what little was there. “Hey, something I’ve been meaning to ask you guys. Someone in school was talking about a fight at the Zon on Friday night. You know anything about that?”
“Oh, yeah,” Jesse said as he and Max started chuckling. “That’s got to be a new record for us. We didn’t even get tuned up.”
“Really? I’ll have to ask Tom if he saw or heard anything.”
“Your boyfriend?” Jesse asked.
“Ex-boyfriend, actually. He’s with Daria now.” Jane looked suspiciously at a stack of cold cuts in plastic wrap, then closed the fridge and went in search of bread. “By the way, did he get the lyric book there in time?”
There was a long, silent moment as Monique, Max, and Jesse exchanged looks that went from questioning to worried realization. The silence dragged out long enough that Jane turned away from her snack construction to see if she had suddenly become the only one in the room.
“What?” Jane asked, seeing the expressions.
“You mean that guy who brought the lyric binder was Daria’s Tom?” Monique asked.
“Ooo boy. That‘s why I recognized him,” Monique whispered.
“Man, no wonder Trent tore into him like that.” Jesse shook his head. “Probably a good thing the cops showed up when they did.”
“They still coulda waited a little bit, man,” Max chuckled. “You’d’ve both owed me money.”
“Uh, guys?” Monique looked from the two men to Jane and back again.
The expression on Jane’s face was a mixture of shocked disbelief combined with building anger. Her cheeks and exposed right ear were turning an angry shade of red as her mind put together a theory on what had happened that Friday night.
“Just exactly what the hell happened Friday night?” Jane demanded.
Max gulped audibly. “Ya know, maybe we’d better go and get Trent,” he suggested, sliding off his stool and heading for the doorway.
“Yeah,” Jesse agreed, following close behind. “He’s bound to be awake any time now.”
They almost made it to the doorway before Jane shot across the kitchen, grabbed each of them by an ear and started pulling them back into the kitchen.
“OW! Janey, c’mon!” Jesse whined.
“AHH! That’s my earring!” Max yelled.
“Get back in here!” Jane twisted her captive’s earlobes in such a way that they had no choice.
“Jane, maybe --” Monique started.
“Shut up!” Jane snapped, shoving Jesse towards Monique.
“Man.” Jesse rubbed his ear, wincing in pain.
“C’mere Francine!” Jane growled, yanking Max’s face close to hers. “Are you telling me that Trent started a fight with Tom?”
“Well, not really! I mean they were arguing inside first and --” Jane twisted his ear, hard. “OW!! Jane, come on!!”
“Jane,“ Monique calmly said. “Why don’t you let go of Max and I’ll try and tell you what happened, okay?”
Jane pushed Max in Jesse’s general direction and looked harshly at the other woman. Max just rubbed his ear and wisely kept his mouth shut.
“Okay, start talking,” Jane said flatly.
“All right,” Monique began. “Trent was already in a rotten mood by the time we had gotten to the club to begin setting up. It looked like he’d already had a couple, but he wasn’t saying anything about why he was so pissed. When your Tom showed up with the book, Trent just kinda . . .” She shrugged. “Well, he just kinda blew up.”
“Just ‘blew up,’ “ Jane echoed.
“Yeah. Tom tried to keep it cool, but, next thing they’re yelling at each other, and the bouncer tells ‘em to take it outside.”
“And someone felt obliged to start throwing punches, right?” Jane put one hand on her hip. “Who hit who first?”
“Uh . . .” Max and Jesse looked at each other, while Monique looked at the counter-top.
“Don’t bother.” Jane’s jaw ground as she stalked out of the kitchen. “I’ll freaking kill him!”
Jane thought she heard Monique call out behind, but she wasn’t about to stop. She knew Trent was having problems dealing with Tom and Daria’s situation, but she would have bet her eyeteeth that it would never have gone this far.
She stomped up the stairs two at a time, with every intention of waking her brother so he’d be fully conscious when she tore into him. She reached his door in four strides and shoved it open with a slam that should have had anyone else clinging to the ceiling. Trent, asleep on the bed, didn’t even twitch.
“Trent, wake up!” Jane yelled as she hit the light switch with the side of her fist.
“Hunh? Whazzit?” Trent mumbled from his bed.
“Tell me it isn’t true, Trent!” Jane yelled. “Tell me that what the guys downstairs said isn’t true!”
“Zizzntrue. Lemmesleep.” HE started to roll over, but Jane wasn’t finished. Oblivious to the junk on the floor, she crossed the room, grabbed Trent by the front of his shirt and yanked him upright.
“Whoa!” Trent blinked against the light.
The left side of Trent’s face was sported a large bruise around his eye colored with blacks, blues, reds, and greens. For an instant, Jane was glad that Tom had got in at least one good shot.
“You bastard,” Jane whispered.
“Janey, what the --?”
“Don’t you ‘Janey’ me, you moron! I ought to sock you in your other eye!” Jane shouted into her brother’s face. She let him go with a shove and started pacing around the room. “I don’t believe you! I just don’t freaking believe you!! Tom does a favor for me and you’ve got to turn it into an opportunity to start a bar brawl! How could you be so damn stupid!”
Aw, crap. “I didn’t start anything. It just sort of . . . happened.” Trent shrugged.
“Oh, it ‘just happened,’ did it? All of a sudden, for no reason, you guys are out in the street beating the crap out of each other?” Jane spun on Trent and threw her hands in the air. “You threw the first freaking punch and you’ve got the cojones to tell me that you didn’t start anything??”
“No, I didn’t start anything -- he did! Well -- it’s complicated. Look, Janey --”
“Don’t!” Jane cut him off. “Don’t you dare call me ‘Janey’ right now! You may have done the dumbest thing imaginable, you know that? Tom and Daria are having enough problems right now and you’ve just gotta throw another one on the pile, don’t you?” Jane started pacing again. “This is going to kill Daria, assuming she hasn’t found out already.”
“Jane, I’m sorry,” Trent said quietly.
“Sorry?” Jane gave a rueful laugh. “Trent, right now you are way beyond sorry! You know Daria and Tom are having problems with their parents! Hell, you were in the damn courtroom, and I’ve already told you how Jake and Helen blew up! Tom’s parents didn’t react any better than the Morgendorffers! Daria and Tom are looking for whatever kind of support that they can find, whether they admit it or not.”
“Tom’s got money.”
“It’s not money I’m talking about!” Jane stopped pacing and sat down on the edge of the bed. “I’m talking about emotional support! I’m talking about friends being there when they need them! What happened to ‘whatever support Daria needs, she’s got it?’ “
“I meant that, you know,” Trent said, looking at his sister.
“Then why did you get in a fight with Tom?”
Trent just looked away. He had thought he’d had good reasons at the time, but he hadn’t been thinking so much as acting on impulse that night. His instincts told him that Tom was trouble for Daria, that he had no intention of staying around anymore than he had to. Trent’s anger at Tom for screwing over Jane had been very close to the surface lately, too. It boiled over when he thought he saw the same thing starting to happen to Daria, only worse.
“Fine,” Jane said when Trent said nothing for a long moment. “You just sit there until you come up with a believable answer. Meanwhile, I’ve got to figure out how to tell Daria that her kid’s father got clobbered by my brother.”
“I’ll tell her,” Trent offered.
“No, you won’t!” Jane snapped as she stood back up. “You won’t go anywhere near Daria until I‘ve had a chance to talk to her first.”
“I’m sorry, Janey,” Trent said as Jane walked towards the door.
“Don’t call me that,“ Jane said over her shoulder as she left. “And I’m not the one that you have to apologize to.”
That night at the Morgendorffer house found matters to be somewhat calmer than those at the Lane’s. Quinn was sitting at her usual spot at the table and poring over a list of qualifications that she, Stacy, and Tiffany had managed to work out for The Boyfriend Project. Quinn was still bothered by Sandi’s reaction during their lunchtime meeting as well as her behavior after that. Sandi had been totally closed off from everyone, only speaking when necessary, and then in short clipped sentences. Quinn had wanted to pursue the subject further, but with every attempt all she had gotten was the cold shoulder and a stony silence. When Sandi had stormed away for the third time that day, Quinn had decided to let the subject rest and approach it fresh in the morning.
Unfortunately, the current dilemma was proving to be equally as frustrating.
“Wow, I wish we could have found a way to break this down a little further.” Quinn sighed as she looked at the pages in front of her. “Looks, popularity, what kind of car he drives, his hair . . .”
“You know, Quinn, looks and popularity aren’t really what’s important in a relationship,” Helen said from her usual place at the table.
“Then what is?” Quinn asked.
“The ability to fix major appliances,” Daria said as she walked up behind Quinn. She popped the tab on one of Helen’s instant breakfast beverages and took a drink.
“Daria, are you sure you that you should be having that?” Helen asked with a cocked eyebrow.
“So far it’s the only thing that I haven’t wanted to throw up all day,” Daria said as she sat down at Jake’s usual spot with the vanilla drink. “The doctor said it was okay, and Junior isn’t complaining any.”
“Anyway, Quinn, what’s important is that you find someone that you enjoy being with,” Helen tucked her own newspaper off to the side. “Now, by ‘being with,’ I don’t necessarily mean ‘have sex with.’ Of course after the relationship has progressed for a few years --”
“Mom! Eww!” Quinn wrinkled her nose.
“Hey, don’t knock it till you’ve tried it,” Daria smirked from behind her can.
“What?” Daria tried her best to look innocent.
“I mean someone to enjoy doing regular, everyday activities with!”
“You mean like how I enjoyed Kyle taking me to Le Yeast last night?” Quinn asked.
“I mean someone who you can get along with for more than one evening. Someone who can share your hopes and dreams, your trials and disappointments. Someone who you look forward to seeing day after, week after week . . .” Helen’s voice changed noticeably, making Daria and Quinn exchange a glance. “Month after month, year after year, the same old complaining about his father! God! Is he ever going to get over --”
“Mo-oommmm!” Quinn cut in, having heard too much already. “That is so boring!”
“Uh, not at all!” Helen shook herself back to the present. “That’s compatibility!”
“I think I’ll finish this upstairs,” Quinn said with a disbelieving look at her mother.
Helen slumped back into her chair as Quinn walked out of the room. That had not gone the way she had initially wanted it to.
“Good job, Ann Landers,” Daria quipped. “Another satisfied customer.”
“Thanks a heap. Don’t you have homework or something?” Helen asked flatly.
Jane and Daria’s usual after school stop at Pizza King had taken a slightly more interesting turn than usual. They had had to push their way inside through a line of boys that stretched almost to the end of the block. Inside Quinn was in the process of interviewing prospective boyfriends, and going through them almost as fast as they could file in through the door. The two girls had just gotten settled into their usual booth as Quinn had gone through Joey, Jeffy, and Jamie, all three of them leaving them with doubtful looks on their faces.
“Wow!” Jane checked her watch. “Ten interviews in ten minutes. She really should consider a career in broadcast journalism.”
“Tonight on Sixty Seconds.” Daria smirked as she took a bite of her chicken and pineapple pizza.
“How can you eat that stuff?” Jane wrinkled her nose as she bit into her usual pepperoni and mushroom.
“Hey, this is the first meal in three days I’ve had where I haven’t felt like puking at the sight of.” Daria swallowed. “My dad’s cooking not withstanding, of course. Damn morning sickness has got to go away sometime.”
“Here’s hoping.” Jane bit off more of her own pizza, slowly chewed and swallowed. “So, heard anything from Young Thomas lately?”
“Nothing since yesterday. I guess his car is still in the shop. I was going to ask him about that fight we heard about at the Zon.”
“Yeah, I, uh, heard about that from the band last night,” Jane said slowly. “Actually, they were involved.”
“Really? What happened?” Daria asked. “Nick and Max finally try to kill each other?”
“Actually, it was Trent.” Jane hesitated for a long moment. “And Tom.”
Daria sat upright in her seat and stared at Jane for a long moment.
“What?” Daria asked with a surprised / calm sort of tone. “What do you mean Trent and Tom were involved? Did they break it up or something?”
“Not . . . quite.” Jane was really beginning to feel uncomfortable. “Actually, they were the only two involved.”
“Trent and Tom were in a fight with each other.” Daria’s expression may as well have been carved from stone, she was so unreadable. After one long, tense minute, Daria slid out of her seat and walked straight for the door.
“Hey!” Jane got up out of her own seat and quickly caught up to Daria.
She had plowed through the line, with Jane right behind her, crossed the parking lot and headed across the street. She was making a bee line for Crew Neck and, Jane knew almost for a fact, Tom’s house.
“What exactly happened?” Daria asked sharply after about a block and a half.
“Honestly, all I know is what Monique told me, okay?” Jane prefaced.
“Obviously, Trent’s been in a mood about something all week, judging from this it’s most likely about Tom. Evidently, he’d had a few drinks by the time the band started setting up for the gig, and, according to Monique, Trent started in on Tom from about the minute he’d shown up. Trent starts yelling, Tom yells back, the bouncer tells them to take their discussion outside.”
“Where they decide to fight it out,” Daria grumbled. “Wonderful.”
“Actually, I don’t think the decision was very mutual.”
“What do you mean?”
“Welllll, Trent threw the first punch.” Jane sounded angry and disappointed at the same time.
“Trent threw --?” Daria came to a screeching halt. “Why?”
“I asked him the same thing.” Jane sighed heavily. “Evidently it’s ‘complicated.’ “
“Complicated, huh?” Daria started walking again. “Well, let’s just find out how complicated things are, shall we?”
When the girls finally got to Tom’s house, it was Elsie that answered the doorbell.
“Oh, hi. I was kind of wondering when you’d show up.” Elsie stepped back to let them in, looking at Jane as she did so. “Your brother’s a complete nut job. You know that, right?”
“I’m beginning to find realize that,“ Jane replied ruefully.
“Where’s Tom?” Daria asked.
“Up in his room.” Elsie gestured at the stairs. “He told Mom and Dad he was sick and ditched school yesterday.”
“His car isn’t in the shop, is it?” Daria asked as Elsie led them upstairs.
“Nope, just his pretty face.”
“So he gave as good as he got?” Jane asked. Daria and Elsie looked back at her and she briefly explained about Trent’s black eye.
“I thought he got in a couple before the police got there,” Elsie said as the trio topped the stairs.
“Someone called the police?” Daria shot a stunned look at Jane.
“Guess I forgot to mention that?” Jane said with a forced cheery tone.
“Feeling sheepish, are we?” Daria glowered as she walked past Elsie.
“Baaa,” Jane bleated as Daria knocked on Tom’s door.
“Go away Elsie.” Tom’s voice was muffled by the door.
“Uh -- No Tom aqui! No habla ingles!” Tom’s voice shot up in pitch.
“Me placeré traducir. Ahora, abre la puerta, cerebro de burrito.” Jane said with a smirk. (I’ll be happy to translate. Now, open the door, burrito brain.)
“Huh?” Daria cocked an eyebrow at Jane.
“I’ll tell you later,” Jane said as the door slowly swung open to reveal a downcast Tom.
“Hi,” he greeted them quietly. The right side of his face was black and blue just under his eye and it looked like his upper lip on that side was somewhat swollen. He was carrying an ice pack in one hand.
“Whoa!” Jane’s eyebrows went way up.
“Tom, what the hell happened?” Daria asked, totally shocked. She couldn’t take her eyes of the huge bruise.
“I fell out of my ivory tower?” Tom joked lamely as he turned and walked back into his bedroom.
“Jane said you got into a fight with Trent.” Daria said as she and Jane followed him into his room. Elsie leaned against the doorframe behind them to watch.
“Well, it would be useless to deny it now.” Tom sat down on the edge of his bed and put the icepack back up against his eye as Jane sat next to him.
“A question I’ve been asking myself a lot the last couple days.”
“No more evading, Tom. Really, what happened?” Daria lowered herself into Tom’s desk chair. “Jane told me what she heard from Monique, now I want to hear your side of it.”
“Well, after dropping you off at home, I delivered the binder like Jane had asked me to,” Tom began, putting the icepack down and rubbing the uninjured side of his face. “Trent started getting in my face and going on about how my mother just threw money at the problem to make it go away. I guess he was talking about the child support settlement. Then he started in on how I’m supposedly going to either ignore or abandon you and the baby after it’s born. He wasn’t really making a whole lot of sense and, no offense, Jane; I think he seemed a little drunk.”
“That goes along with what Monique told me,” Jane said glumly.
“Anyway, next thing I know, we’re yelling at each other and a minute later, the security guy is telling us to go outside with it. Well, we go, and once we’re outside I turn around, hoping to talk some sense to him and . . .”
“Trent hit you,” Daria said flatly.
“Well, yeah. Almost knocked me flat.” Tom shrugged. “Anyway, we go at it for a few minutes and suddenly, the rest of the guys from the band are pulling is apart. The girl what’s-her-name -- Monique -- tells me to get out of there because someone’s called the police.”
“That would have been me, actually,” Elsie piped up from her place against the door frame.
“I thought as much. After that, I got back in the car and we took off.” Tom shrugged. “The rest is history.”
“Why did you hit him back?” Daria asked.
“Huh?” Tom looked confused. “What was I supposed to do, let him beat the crap out of me?”
“You could have turned around and walked away,” Daria said with a flat voice. “You could have cut your losses and not had your head handed to you.”
“He seemed to have given as good as he got,” Jane put in.
“That’s not the point, Jane. He could have got up and walked away and won the moral victory.”
“Daria, you don’t understand,” Tom tried to explain. “I don’t like fighting anymore than you do, but Trent started it and I wasn’t sure what he had in mind to finish it with.”
“But you didn’t have to get into a fight!”
“Daria, you aren’t getting it! It’s a guy thing!”
“A guy thing? What’s that supposed to mean?” Daria asked with a glare. “You felt you needed to defend your honor or something? What?”
“It’s not just that. It’s . . .” Tom tried to continue his explanation but was caught fishing for a word.
“Well, yeah. Look --”
“No, you look.” Daria stood up, her fists clenched at her sides. “You could have taken the hit, swallowed your male pride and walked away. You could have proven to him that you were the better person by not meeting him on his own level; then all this wouldn’t be happening. The only thing complicated I see about this whole thing is that you two decided you had to hose down the street with testosterone in a bid to see which one of you was the bigger idiot!”
Daria turned and walked towards the doorway, catching everyone in the room competently at a loss. Elsie smartly stepped aside before Daria got there.
“Daria!” Tom finally found his voice and stood up. “Wait I --”
“Don’t even talk to me,” Daria said in a voice that was pure acid. Then she disappeared out the door and down the hall.
“Well,” Tom said, sitting back down on the bed after a second. “I don’t suppose there was any way that could have possibly gone worse.”
“Not really.” Jane confirmed.
“I suppose I’d better go and apologize.”
“Actually, you ought to give her some space for a while, I think,” Jane suggested as she stood up. “Give her a day to settle down.”
“Probably a good idea, Tom,” Elsie said with a shake of her head.
“Don’t worry, I’ll keep an eye on her. Later.” Jane left the room at a fast walk to catch up with her angry friend.
“Thanks,” Tom said to Jane’s retreating back. He then flopped back on his bed and let out a long, tired sigh. “What a mess.”
“No kidding.” Elsie walked over and sat down by her brother. “You know, you’re going to make a wonderful father.”
“Are you going to be okay?” Jane asked, finally breaking the silence a few blocks into their trip home.
“Yeah, I’ll be fine.” Daria sighed. She was silent for a few paces, then sighed again. “I can’t believe Trent started a fight with Tom.”
“Neither can I,” Jane agreed. “I didn’t think he had it in him.”
“I really don’t think that Trent’s an idiot. Or Tom. It’s just that I wouldn’t have thought that either one of them would go so far as to get into a fight over, well, anything.” Daria’s shoulders drooped, as did her expression. “And then, they get into a fight about me, of all things.”
They walked in silence for another block before Jane broke the silence between them.
“Look, Daria,” she said, taking a deep breath. “I know there’s no excuse for what Trent did, but . . . In his own way, he really does care about you.”
“If it makes you feel any better, I gave him the same chewing out that you gave Tom.”
“It doesn’t make me feel any better, but thanks anyway.” Daria looked up as they came to the intersection where Glen Oaks Lane turned into Howard Drive. “Jane, I think I’d really like to be by myself for a while.”
“Yeah, no problem.” Jane looked at her friend for a moment. “You know, you can talk to me about anything, right?”
“I know, Jane. But right now, I just need to think for a while, okay?”
“Okay. If you say so.”
Jane walked backwards for a few paces, watching Daria as she walked up the street. The only other time that she had seen Daria like this was in the few days after she had just found out that she had become pregnant. She thought for a moment that she should have confronted Tom on her own, before involving Daria, but that probably would have made things more difficult in the long run. She realized that that may have been the same reason that Daria had come right out and told her about the kiss right away.
If I had found out about that on my own later on, things would have been a hell of a lot worse, Jane thought sadly. We may never have spoken to each other again.
Unbidden, Jane’s mind conjured up an image of herself totally alone. Not just an outcast, but totally unable to let anyone in ever again, drifting not just through school, but the rest of her life that way. Jane saw herself becoming so hard bitten that Penny would have looked like an old softy in comparison.
No. No way, Jane thought as she walked up the sidewalk to her front door. I’d have dropped Tom like a hot potato before that happened! Daria would have never blown me off like that! Never!
Jane swallowed the lump that had formed in her throat as she opened the door and walked in. On the way up the stairs to her room, she let her mind drift back into recent history. First, there was that stupid parade -- she should have known something was off kilter right then and there. She knew Tom was looking back over his shoulder, but she didn’t say anything. Daria would catch up or she wouldn’t, Jane knew. Somewhere deep down, though, Jane had been hoping that Daria would have.
Holy crap. Where did that come from? Jane asked herself as she topped the stairs. Daria could take care of her self easily enough. I mean it was just a little paint. And yeah, it would have been cool if she would have tagged along, but . . .
Jane shook her head and went into her room. She had been so worried about Daria over the past few weeks that her concerns were coloring her recollections of what had happened. Chuckling to herself over how crazy it sounded, Jane reached behind her dresser and pulled out the canvas that was her special project. She set it up on her easel and removed the sheet that protected it, taking a step back and looking at the vaguely human looking shapes that were barely started. One was reclining, holding something in it’s arms, while the other stood by their side.
Jane could have realistically expected to have this painting finished in a couple of weeks if she had wanted to, but she was taking her time with it. It would almost be photo-realistic by the time she was done and she wanted it to be done right. She looked at the reclining figure on the bed, mentally superimposing the details of Daria’s face on the unfinished head.
Daria’d probably be totally exhausted by the time everything’s over and done with, Jane thought. She’d be a wreck. But that’s not how these kinds of things get painted. Tom’d be a wreck too. Jane’s mind put Tom’s face on the other figure. Exhausted, nervous, bouncing off the walls. Both of them would be, really, but they’d be together.
Jane frowned slightly at that one. They would be together.
Damn, I’m doing it again! What the hell am I doing? They’re more made for each other than Tom and I ever were.
Jane’s mind again drifted back to the few days after the kitchen fire at the Morgendorffers’ and all that crap about going out for pizza the night Daria had turned up on Jane’s doorstep. She could have almost have blown the whole thing off if Tom hadn’t brought up Daria’s mentioning an Italian film festival to him the day before. Jane wasn’t mad about going out for pizza, but she was angry that Tom was horning in. Jane had actually wanted to talk with Daria. She had thought that the pizza was a pretty good way to ditch Tom for a while and spend some “make-up-for-lost-time” time with her best friend.
Later that night, when she went to Daria’s room to apologize for being such a schmuck with the wood sculpture and the drill, Tom was there, and Jane slipped back into ‘girlfriend’ mode. Jane had meant what she said about Tom and Daria getting along better, but it was still upsetting, but she wasn‘t sure why any more.
Then, as summer was coming up, Jane set up her trip to the art colony that her mother’s friend ran out in the sticks. It wasn’t so much that she thought she needed the artistic influences, but it did put a fair distance between her and Lawndale. A couple of hundred miles of separation seemed to be just what the doctor ordered to objectify her point of view on things. It also served to get her away from what she had thought was the source of her problems -- namely Daria and Tom and their developing relationship. For a while it had worked; Jane was so busy getting settled in and set up that she hadn’t much time to think about either of them.
Well, that’s not exactly true -- I didn’t give myself any time to think about them, Jane corrected herself. Except when I went to sleep, and then I was too tired to care. Well, almost.
Her experience at the art colony hadn’t exactly gotten her away from her problems at home, but had actually dropped another one into her lap. Namely a slightly older brunette named Alison. (Jane winced at the thought. That name had been popping up far too much lately.) Their budding friendship had, at the time, been enough to get Jane to stop dwelling on the distraction of Daria and Tom. After a few days Jane had began treating Alison the same way that she had usually treated Daria and had actually started thinking of the other girl as a replacement for Daria.
Then Alison had hit on her, throwing Jane for a complete loop. After returning to her cabin as fast as her legs could carry her, she didn’t sleep worth a damn that night, the better part of two bottles of wine not withstanding, and ended up doing a lot of thinking. One friend had betrayed her by taking her boyfriend, and another new friend had betrayed her by trying to cross a line Jane had never considered before. Jane had felt trapped, just like the painting of the woman in the safe she had done at the colony.
Everyone had always seemed to want to butt in, Jane thought. Daria had butted in on her relationship with Tom, though Jane was now convinced that it wasn’t deliberate. Tom had butted in on her relationship with Daria, though Jane now thought that she had practically invited him to do so. Even Alison had butted in, wanting to . . . Well, best not to think about that. It all ended up leaving Jane very angry -- at Tom, at Daria, at Alison, even at herself. As she thought about it all again, she realized that she wasn’t angry because Tom and Daria got together, but because Daria and Jane had come apart.
I didn’t become a third wheel in my own relationship. Jane remembered her words from back then. I tried to change wheels for another one with the correct anatomical parts, but it wasn’t working because I already had . . . Oh boy.
“I wasn’t pissed about Tom seeing Daria,” Jane said to the empty room with a flash of insight. “I was pissed about Daria not seeing me.”
Glancing up at the painting, Jane replaced Tom’s face with her own in her mind’s eye.
Oh, come on! Daria would tell you that you’re tired and you’re projecting, or something, Jane thought with a huff. Ask her tomorrow! You’ll see!
“That may not be a good idea at the moment,” Jane mumbled in response to the last thought, remembering what the Daria figure in the painting would be holding when the painting was finished. “Not a good idea at all.”
Daria’s walk home turned into a slow trudge. Her thoughts bounced between the idea that Tom had gotten into a fight over her and the idea that Trent, of all people, had been the one to start it. Yes, he’d been acting more out of sorts for the past ten days or so, but that he would go so far as to start something like this just didn’t compute. And why would he have to do it now of all times?
She had long harbored a schoolgirl crush on her best friend’s brother. After their multimedia collaboration had gone downhill, the crush had abated somewhat. More precisely, it had transmuted. An unrequited crush had turned into a sisterly affection for the young man. Occasionally, though, her thoughts would turn to ‘what might have been.’ Now, there was a more disturbing tone to those thoughts.
Daria honestly didn’t believe that Trent had a temper, since it had taken him some time to get to this level. And Tom was more inclined to work out the core of a problem by debate and discussion. Now she had to believe that, if physically provoked, he would react in kind.
I have to figure out what really started this, Daria thought as her house came into view. There’s more to it than just male posturing, and I refuse to believe that this was about Tom blowing me and Junior off after. Trent would never . . .
Daria shook her head. That was definitely not a place that she wanted to wander into tonight. She resolved to get Trent and Tom together in the same place and find out exactly what their beef with each other was. After that, they’d work it out one way or the other.
With a deep breath and broad strokes of a course of action in mind, Daria walked the rest of the way home. When she got there, she saw that both of the trashcans had been knocked to the ground, their vile contents spread out over the driveway. Neither vehicle was in the driveway, so, unless someone had parked in the garage, no parents were home. That, in turn, meant Quinn was out -- and Daria was stuck cleaning up the mess.
Walking over to examine her involuntary project, Daria already figured that she’d need gloves and a broom at the very least. Wrinkling her nose at the smell of rancid Thai peanut sauce, Daria immediately noticed something that normally should not have been there: an empty cigarette package.
Quinn must have thrown it away, Daria surmised, having discovered that her sister had recently started smoking. She must have tried to hide it in the kitchen trash or something.
Daria picked up the pack with two fingers and tossed it deep into one of the overturned cans. From the other, she heard the sounds of something scrambling around inside and bent over to look. The soft brown eyes of a gray squirrel looked back at her for a moment before the animal went back to his foraging.
“Eat hardy, fella,” Daria said as she stood back up and started for the door. “The buffet is about to close.”
She had barely gotten in the front door when she heard her father’s car pull into the driveway, coming to a halt with a screech of the tires.
“Damn you kids!” Jake hollered as he stormed out of his car. “I’m gonna put up one of those hidden surveillance cameras!”
“Subtle, Dad. Real subtle.” Daria started to go and find some rubber gloves when Jake’s startled yelp brought her back to the door. She saw Jake standing under the tree next to the driveway, practicing every swear word he knew at the top of his lungs. The gray squirrel was sitting unconcernedly on the branch, munching on something and ignoring Jake.
“Yeah, real subtle.” Daria shook her head and started up stairs. Let him clean up his own mess.
Daria found Thursday evening in the Morgendorffer home seemed to be somewhat more tense than normal. It wasn’t so much that there was a lot going on, but more like Daria was radiating tension like a campfire radiated heat. Outwardly, she appeared to be her usual calm self as she made slow progress through the planning paperwork that Dr. Nelson, her OB-GYN, had given her several weeks ago. She found it very hard to concentrate in light of recently discovered events now occupying her mind. Her father contributed to the tension in his own way, dominating the kitchen’s workspace and assembling a large, live-capture cage trap and mumbling to himself the whole while. His reading glasses were perched on the end of his nose as he went from the instructions, then to the trap and back again. Daria figured he must have been serious if he was following the directions.
Thankfully, Helen wasn’t doing anything to add to the tension as she emptied the dishwasher.
“Daria, let’s pick a night for Tom to come over,” Helen announced as she closed the appliance’s door. “How’s Friday?”
“Sorry, no good. It’s the day after Thursday.” Daria did not bother to look up.
“Well, how about Saturday, then?” Helen asked, resigning herself to a long contest.
“I’ll be gearing up for Sunday.” Daria tried to concentrate on the paperwork in front of her. She felt her back teeth start to grind.
Well, now . . . Helen ‘s eyebrow went up slightly as she noticed her daughter’s jaw tense up. “Daria, is there some reason that you don’t want to invite Tom over?”
“Damn squirrels are nothing but rats with fluffy tails!” Jake interrupted, drawing Helen’s attention away from Daria so she missed the pained look that passed over her face. “Well, to catch a rat, you’ve got to think like a rat! Where’s the cheese?”
Jake turned and yanked open the refrigerator, sticking his head inside and rummaging around. Quinn walked into the kitchen just in time to see Daria angle a caustic glance at Helen.
“Mom, Dad, it’s official,” Quinn said formally, her hands folded together in front of her. “Jamie is my new boyfriend. Therefore -- “
Everyone jumped as Jake tried to stand up while still part way in the fridge, cracking his head on the shelf above. Items fell over noisily, but nothing fell out as Jake hastily freed himself. His reading glasses were somewhat off kilter and he rubbed the back of his head as he turned on his youngest daughter.
“When did this deadbeat get to be your boyfriend?” Jake asked loudly. “Who is he? Helen, did you know about this?”
“I heard about it just now, Jake. Just like you did.” Helen said with a frown. “Now just settle down and let Quinn finish what she was saying.”
“I’m not going to stand by and watch our other daughter ruin her life, too!” Jake slammed the refrigerator door behind him and grabbed the trap by its handle. “I want to meet this guy, Quinn. I want to know everything about him and I’m gonna break his fingers if he so much as thinks about going too far!”
Jake stomped out of the kitchen, still mumbling to himself, leaving Quinn and Helen looking worriedly behind him. Daria was doing her best to tune out the universe and refused to look up. Helen shook her head and started to turn back to Daria, but was interrupted by the telephone ringing.
“Hello? Amy, hi!” Helen answered the phone. She continued to talk to her sister as she stood up and walked out of the kitchen. Daria continued to frown into her paperwork as Quinn nonchalantly walked up to her.
“It was a very difficult decision,” Quinn said with a practiced casualness as she fished for a reply.
Daria wasn’t taking the bait, however, and frowned in concentration at her paperwork.
“I mean, picking Jamie for my boyfriend.” Quinn rocked from heel to toe. “Much contemplation was involved.”
“If he’s your boyfriend, how come you’re not with him right now?” Daria asked, barely avoiding snapping at her sister. She put her paperwork down. “You should be together all the time, that’s what girlfriends do, you know.”
“What?” Quinn was confused. “You’re not always with Tom, and you’re pregnant!”
“Thanks for reminding me,“ Daria said icily. “And, on that subject, Tom has a cold and we agreed that I shouldn’t be exposed while he’s still contagious. If he wasn’t sick, we’d be together all the time, before school, after school, between meals and after snacks, and then on the phone all night.”
“But -- “
“In fact, you should be with Jamie, right now, unless you want to cause problems this early in the relationship.” Daria picked her papers back up, frowned into them, and tried not to think about Tom.
“A girlfriend’s work is never done,” Quinn said with a sigh as she walked off.
About time, Daria thought as she stared at the papers without seeing what was on them. She wasn’t really concentrating on them anyway. Every time she tried, images of Tom and Trent leaked in around the edges of her concentration. This was not a side of Tom she knew, or wanted to know, for that matter.
“Well, if you’re sure you want to come back up after everything that’s happened,” Helen said into the phone as she walked back into the room. “Of course, Amy. We’ll have the guest room ready for you on Monday . . . All right. Bye.”
Helen turned the phone off just in time to hear Jake start hollering and screaming out in the back yard. She turned to the window and saw that her husband had gotten his arm, up to his elbow, trapped inside the cage, and was running around frantically trying to shake it off. She shook her head and realized how foolish Jake looked, running around the yard with that box on his arm.
“You’re worried about your father’s behavior,” Helen said, voicing the realization of Daria’s reticence about inviting Tom Sloane to dinner.
“Look, I understand him . . .” Daria started to reply.
“. . .And a couple of days ago, that might have been the only reason, but . . .”
“But what, dear?”
“It’s . . .” I can’t believe I’m going to say this. “It’s complicated, Mom.”
“Complicated? How so?”
“Well . . . I’m not exactly sure how to go into this.” Daria took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Yesterday I found out that Tom got into a fight over the weekend.”
“Oh my.” Helen sat up. “Was he hurt? Was he mugged?”
“He’s fine, just a few bruises. And no, he wasn’t mugged.”
“Well, who did he get in a fight with?”
“Jane’s brother.” Daria looked down at the table top.
“You mean Trent? That boy with the band? What would those two have to fight about?”
“From what I can gather . . . me.”
“What? You?” Helen blinked in surprise at Daria’s revelation. Then she blinked at the acidic expression on Daria’s face and realized what she had just said. “Omigod, Daria, I’m sorry! I didn’t mean that like it sounded! Honestly!”
“Really? Thanks a heap.” Daria started to get up.
“Daria, wait, please!” Helen held out a hand and Daria stopped for a moment, then sunk back into the chair. “I apologize.”
Daria just mumbled something that sounded like “Apology accepted.”
“It’s just that, well, I can’t imagine either of them getting into a fight about anything, never mind with each other.” Helen balanced her elbow on the table and rubbed her chin with her thumb and forefinger.
“I’m not sure what the real reasons were, but from what Tom told me, Trent might have thought that Tom planned to leave after the baby comes, if not before.” Daria looked off into the distance. “It’s actually kind of a logical assumption when you think about it. Tom and I got together after he and Jane started to have problems. It would make sense that he would want to find someone else eventually. And Trent probably thought that he was doing me a favor.”
“Doing you a favor? How?”
“I honestly don’t know.” Daria looked back at the table. “I don’t know why Tom didn’t just walk away from it when he had the chance. I don’t know why Trent felt like he had to start a fight to prove whatever point he was trying to prove, and I don’t know why I’m so mad at both of them right now that I can’t see straight.”
“Because you care about both of them, that’s why.” Helen looked at Daria with a slight smile on her face.
“What?” Daria shook her head, not sure what she had just heard. “What are you talking about?”
“The reason you’re so worked up about this is because you care about both of them,” Helen repeated. She had to chuckle at the look of consternation on her daughter’s face. “Daria, it was obvious you felt something for Trent since you and he went shopping for Jane’s birthday present last year, maybe even before that for all I know. As for Tom, the obvious reasons aside, seems to me that he’s one of the few people that comes close to measuring up to your standards.”
“My standards don’t include a willingness to start or participate in fights,” Daria snapped.
“I know, Daria. But like you said, it’s complicated,” Helen said with a sigh.
Daria shook her head. “But none of that tells me how to un-complicate this mess!”
“I’m not sure that you can. This is something that Trent and Tom will have to work through in their own way.”
“So, what do I do in the mean time?”
“All you can really do is wait. Beyond that, I don’t know.”
There’s no way those two will work this out on their own. Their own way, maybe. But not without a push in the right direction, Daria thought as she stared at a point on the kitchen table and processed what her mother had told her. This was not going to be easy, and she no longer had the emotional stamina to wait the two boys out. I guess that means I’ll have to take matters into my own hands. Quinn was right. A girlfriend’s work is never done.
“Mom, can I have the phone?”
Trent woke up, sputtering at the sudden deluge of cold water that had hit him in the face. Coughing, Trent sat up and wiped his face with his hands and blinked rapidly to clear his eyes. As he wiped the last of the water away, he saw Jane standing next to the bed with one of the jumbo soda glasses that usually sat by the bathroom sink.
“Wake up, sleepyhead,” Jane said in flat voice.
“Jeez, Jane, why’d you have to go and do that for?” Trent asked, knowing full well that Jane was still angry at him. He gently rubbed the bruised side of his face.
“Because the firecrackers from the last Fourth of July were all duds.” Jane crossed her arms. “Daria wants to see you. She wants me to get you to Pizza King by six thirty.”
“Apparently, she wants you and Tom to work out whatever it is that has you trading black eyes.”
That brought Trent up short. “Tom’s going to be there?” .
“Yes, he is,” Jane said. “And, so help me, if you try and throw even one punch, I’ll be the one who puts your lights out for good.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Trent said with a sigh as he bent over to look for a dry shirt. “That kid’s got a right hook that’d flatten a horse.”
As Trent rummaged through the clothes on his floor for a semi-clean shirt, across town in one of the richer estates beyond the Crewe Neck community, Elsie Sloane walked up to her brother’s door and knocked.
“What is it, Elsie?” Tom’s voice came through the door.
“How’d you know it was me?” Elsie asked as she pushed the door open and leaned on the frame.
“You’re the only one that ever knocks,” Tom said, not looking away from his computer monitor. He finished typing the line he was working on before turning around. “What is it?”
“Daria called. She wants you to meet her and Jane at Pizza King.”
“Six thirty.” Elsie took a deep breath. “She said that Jane’s brother is going to be there, too.”
Tom was silent for a long moment.
“Oh?” Elsie echoed. “This guy practically knocks your block off and all you have to say is ‘oh?’ I knew you were thick --“
“Elsie, Daria’s setting this up, so I suspect that she’s getting us together to talk, not duke it out again.” Tom turned back to his computer. “At least I hope not. Trent’s got a killer left.”
By six thirty-five, four young adults were sitting across a booth from each other. Two young men, both sporting the remains of black eyes and bruises on their faces, looked glumly at the slices of pizza sitting untouched in front of them. A young woman was alternately speared the older of the men with a harsh glare and looked with disgust at the pizza, consisting mostly of vegetables and white sauce, that the other young lady ate with undisguised gusto.
“Daria, just exactly how can you stomach that stuff?” Jane asked, cocking an eyebrow at her friend as the last of the pizza disappeared.
“You try being five months pregnant and see what kind of strange things you start craving,” Daria said as she wiped her mouth with one of the restaurants too thin napkins. Time to get to the business at hand. “Trent, Tom, by now you two obviously know why we’re here, and it’s not for the pizza. I want to know exactly what the problem is between you two and why it had to boil down to a fight in the middle of the street.” Tom and Trent started to speak at the same time, but Daria cut them off. “And if either one of you says ‘It’s complicated,’ Jane and I are going to knock your heads together.”
Trent and Tom looked at each other, their expressions seeming to say So much for that idea, and then both looked back down at their plates.
“Well?” Jane prompted after several long moments of silence had passed.
“It’s honestly not that easy to explain, Jane,” Tom said, finally looking up.
“Well, somebody better try,” Daria said flatly.
“It’s a guy thing, Daria,” Trent said with a shrug.
“Funny, that’s what he said.” Daria pointed at Tom with her thumb. “I don’t buy that any more than ‘it’s complicated.’ Whatever problem you two have with each other, we’re going to work it out tonight.”
“Hey, I don’t have any problem.“ Tom pointed at Trent, who simply frowned at him. “He threw the first punch.”
“Yeah, and you threw the next one. Care to tell me why?”
“He hit me! What was I supposed to do?!”
“I think the bigger question should be why Trent hit Tom in the first place?” Jane said, looking at her brother.
“That is a good question.” Tom looked at Trent. “Why did you hit me? I never did anything to you.”
“You did something to Jane -- you went behind her back with her best friend,” Trent replied, glaring back at Tom.
“Trent, we worked all that out months ago!” Jane exclaimed with a sigh. “Hell, you helped us work it out, remember?”
“Yeah, it worked out so well, look what happened.” Trent looked back down at his untouched plate, than back up at Daria and Jane. “Instead of trying to fix what was wrong he decided to go after Daria like nothing ever happened.”
“Oh lord,” Tom groaned, slumping back in the bench then sitting back upright. “Trent, we got bored with each other! No amount of fixing was going to change that. We ended up on a sour note, and while I wish that could have gone better, we’re still friends.”
“And what’s going to happen when you start getting ’bored’ with Daria, huh?” Trent made finger quotes as he spoke. “You still going to be friends while she tries to raise your kid?”
“This isn’t even remotely the same thing!” Tom said defensively.
“Yeah, I noticed. Too bad your bright idea for a good time backfired, ain’t it?” Trent sneered. “You shoulda kept your pants on, smart guy.”
“It wasn’t just Tom’s idea, Trent,” Daria said quietly. “It was mine, too.”
“Excuse me?” Trent coughed in surprise.
“What we did wasn’t just Tom’s idea, Trent.” Daria looked up, seeing the look of disbelief on Trent’s face.
“You mean it was your idea?” Trent practically sputtered, not sure he had heard right.
“Careful, brother o’ mine,” Jane chuckled as Daria’s eyebrow rose.
“But I thought . . .”
“You thought Tom somehow talked me into having sex with him, didn’t you?” Daria asked. “That’s why you hit him, isn’t it? Trent, with the exception of Jane, when have I ever ‘let’ anyone talk me into anything? Willingly?”
“What?” Trent was still processing what he had just heard. “You and . . .What?”
“Trent, Daria doesn’t do anything she doesn’t want to do, even if it takes her forever to decide that she wants to do it.” Jane looked at her brother, watching the play of expressions across his face as he worked out what he just heard. It was when he slumped back in his seat that Jane finally made a connection she wouldn’t have necessarily made before. “Oh my god.”
“What?” Daria asked.
“Oh my god!” Jane exclaimed, looking at her brother with wide eyes. “You had a crush on Daria!”
“What?? No! Jane, she’s practically another sister!” Trent was totally flabbergasted. “Besides there’s that whole age thing and --!”
“Well, if this is the way you treat your sister’s lovers, remind me never to bring home the first guy I have sex with.” Jane was practically laughing.
Daria’s face went white, then red all the way down to her collar as she watched the byplay between the Lane siblings. Something began niggling at the back of her mind, and she momentarily tuned them out. Tom just sat back and shook his head.
“I knew it!” Jane’s grin was almost overwhelming. “You’ve got a thing for Daria! I knew it!”
“I do not have a crush on Daria!” Trent’s voice rose and he started coughing.
“Methinks you doth protesteth too much,” Jane said, still grinning.
“You hit me because you have a crush on Daria and you saw me as an outside threat,” Tom theorized. “I was encroaching on your territory.”
“I belted you because you’re a too-rich little punk who doesn’t know enough to keep it in your pants, that’s why!” Trent coughed again. “You should have been smart enough to know that Daria wasn’t ready for any of this and got the hell out before it went too far!”
“Too far? And just who the hell are you to define what’s too far?”
“...it’s too bad you’re not a few years older, or I could have taken you out...”
Trent, Tom and Jane all looked at Daria, her softly spoken sentence bringing the conversation to a halt.
“Say what?” Trent blinked, knowing that line from someplace.
“It’s too bad you’re not a few years older, or I could have taken you out,” Daria repeated. “You said something close to that right after you and Jane spent the night at my house when your family all came home at once. Remember?”
“You did?” Jane asked.
“I guess I did,” Trent replied as he racked his memory for exactly what happened. “Monique and I had broken up --”
“For the seventieth time,” Jane put in.
“And my mom wanted to ground you for breaking curfew,” Daria filled in.
“Yeah,” Trent confirmed.
“And after Jane and I asked you to help with that multi-media thing, you told me that it probably wasn’t a good idea for us to get together.” Daria was making a leap, but it was one that made sense.
“Uh, yeah. But I meant on the project.” Trent pointed out.
“A point that you tacked on almost as an afterthought,” Daria said, thinking back for a moment.
Maybe we just have different ideas about what a commitment is.
I suppose we do.
I guess it wasn't such a great idea for us to get together... on this.
No, I guess there was no way it could have worked out.
“Trent,” Daria started hesitantly, then looked him in the eye. “Were you trying to break up with me?”
For a moment, Daria wasn’t sure if Trent was even breathing, but she could tell from the look in his eyes that he was mentally replaying the conversation that Daria was talking about. It was a long moment before he spoke again.
“I don’t know, Daria,” Trent said slowly. “I guess . . . maybe I was.”
“Trent, you have got to be the only person in the world I know who would break up from a crush.” Jane arched her eyebrow at her brother, and then saw the expression on his face for what it was. She looked over at Daria and saw a similar expression. “Then again, maybe not.”
“Yeah,” Tom said, also looking from Daria to Trent and back.
“Okay,” Daria shook herself back to the here and now, looking at Tom. “So why did you hit him back?”
“Something slightly more primal and not nearly as romantic.” Tom shrugged. “He blindsided me and I got pissed.”
“That’s all?” Jane asked.
“No sob story about an unrequited crush on his devastatingly beautiful, younger sister?” Jane smirked wickedly and batted her eyes at Tom.
“Oh, shut up.” Tom chuckled amsuedly.
“Tom, I’m sorry,” Trent said honestly. “This whole thing got completely out of hand and . . . Well, you know.”
“Yeah, I know.” Tom nodded. “Apology accepted.”
“And Daria, I should apologize to you, too. Not just for the fight, but . . .well,” Trent sighed, trying to search for the right thing to say.
“It’s complicated?” Daria asked with her own little smirk.
“Yeah.” Trent nodded. “Complicated.”
“And on that note, I think it’s time we got out of here,” Jane said as she slid out of the booth and stood up. “I don’t think that these people need anymore of our little dinner theater.”
“Probably not, but I do need to talk to Tom for a minute,” Daria said as Trent slid out of the booth as well.
“Is it complicated?”
“No, just unavoidable.”
“Okay, we’ll catch you later then,” Jane said as she and her brother turned to go. “Oh, Trent?”
“Now you can call me ‘Janey’ again.”
Tom and Daria sat quietly for a moment as they watched the Lane siblings leave the restaurant.
“What do you suppose that was all about?” Daria asked Tom.
“Beats me. It’s probably complicated.” Tom smirked and Daria groaned. “What did you want to talk to me about?”
“Well,” Daria said, taking a deep breath. “Do you have any plans for dinner Sunday night?”
Sandi Griffin is just impossible! Quinn thought as she slammed her handbag down on the girls’ bathroom counter. God, how could she say that!
Over lunch, Quinn told Stacy and Tiffany about her telephone call with Jamie. Once again, Sandi had sat at the table across the aisle and one down and listened in on the conversation. Quinn was saying that Jamie couldn’t keep his attention on a topic as simple as eyeliner, when Sandi’s voice had cut through the conversation like a knife.
“God, Quinn, I hope you’re better in the back seat than you are on the phone.”
Quinn was mortified, to say the least, and could only sputter in shock while Sandi glared -- then smiled in triumph. Grabbing her handbag, Quinn left the lunchroom before Sandi could say anything else or think up something more hurtful. She wound up in the girls’ room, looking for a few moments to herself before she would inevitably have to face the rest of the school again. Digging roughly through her handbag, she searched for eyeliner, blush, mascara, something to do in front of the mirror for a few minutes in case someone came in. She stopped suddenly when she felt the crinkle of cellophane under her fingers.
Taking the partially empty pack of cigarettes out of her bag, Quinn looked at it for a long moment. She had been trying to keep her new habit a secret from her friends and family, and getting caught smoking in school would be the surest way for them all to find out.
Deciding at the moment that she didn’t care, Quinn leaned against the last toilet stall and pulled a cigarette out, put it between her lips and lit it with the disposable lighter that was stuck in the side of the pack. She leaned back against the wall and blew the smoke towards a vent that took the place of one of the ceiling tiles. Quinn closed her eyes for a moment and was about to take a second drag when she heard the door open and the footsteps of someone coming in. She froze, knowing she was busted, for Barch, or Defoe, or worse -- Li -- to come around the corner and catch her in the act.
Up until that moment, Quinn had never thought that she would be glad to see Andrea.
“Oh! It’s you!” Quinn said with a sigh. “I thought you were a teacher.”
“Only in my nightmares,” Andrea said as she dug into a pocket in her dress, then into the pocket on the opposite side. “Dammit.”
“Forgot my cigarettes at home,” Andrea started to turn around and leave.
“Wait. Want one of mine?” Quinn held out her pack to the Goth girl.
“Uh, sure.” Andrea took one form the pack, along with the lighter. “Thanks.”
Andrea lit her cigarette with a practiced motion and handed the lighter back to Quinn.
“Aren’t you afraid of getting caught?” Quinn asked as Andrea took a drag.
“Not really.” Andrea blew the smoke from her nose. “I’ve been caught a couple of times before. A couple hours detention. My folks don’t care.”
“Mine’d kill me.” Quinn took a puff and blew her own smoke.
“So, what’s the beef with you and Sandi?” Andrea asked after a minute or so of silence.
“I wish I knew.” Quinn said. “She’s been acting this way ever since the court thing.”
“So I’ve heard.”
“From who?” Quinn cocked an eyebrow at the other girl as she took another drag.
“People do talk to me, you know.” Andrea replied, blowing smoke at the same time. She looked at the cigarette in her fingers, thinking that it was weak compared to her usual brand.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it like that.” Quinn’s eye caught her reflection in the mirror and she cocked her hip slightly before taking another drag on her cigarette.
“I know.” Andrea looked Quinn’s reflection in the eye. “She’s not going to come to you, ya know.”
“What do you mean?” Quinn said, forgetting about practicing her ‘smoker’s pose’ and turning to face Andrea.
“She’s just like her mother: a stone hearted, control freak bitch with a stick up her ass. Only now, she’s got no control.” Andrea says. “Sandi, Tiffany, and Stacy were the three musketeers around Lawndale for years. You forced her out of her own clique, and she doesn’t know how to get back in.”
“I don’t understand. How do you know?”
“Quinn, I went to kindergarten around here. So did Sandi. I’ve practically watched her grow up.” Andrea took another drag on her cigarette. “She’s been the one in charge for as long as I’ve known her.”
“But I didn’t want to be the one in charge! I just wanted a friend.”
“Sandi doesn’t really do friends. She never has.” Andrea dropped the remains of her cigarette on the floor, ground it under her toe, and kicked it under the stall behind them.
“But why?” Quinn asked, crushing out her own cigarette.
“Her mom’s convinced her that you have to be the one on top or you’re nothing.” Andrea shrugged as she turned to leave. “Kind of pathetic, really.”
“But, she’s my friend.”
“She used to be my friend too, once. Go figure.”
“I said she used to be my friend too,” Andrea repeated, turning around to face Quinn again. “Then she decided that she had to be the one calling all of the shots all of the time. Finally, I went my way and she went hers.”
“You and Sandi used to . . .?” Quinn was really getting confused.
“Let’s just say that playing dress-up wasn’t my thing. Look, Quinn, if you want to try and get back in Sandi’s good graces, then good luck.” Andrea turned, pushing the bathroom door open and looked back over her shoulder. “But don’t hold your breath, either.”
Sandi pulled her handbag over her shoulder as she walked out of the school’s main entrance, wishing for the hundredth time that her tightwad father would get her car fixed. He had said something about not doing it until her grades were brought up, so he obviously didn’t understand that someone in her position had an image to uphold. She decided that she would have to have a talk with her mother about all of that, since she understood such things as social status.
“Sandi! Wait up!”
Turning around, Sandi saw Quinn come out of the doors and weave her way through the crowd of students departing the school. As Quinn made her way in Sandi’s direction, Sandi frowned and kept on walking. Quinn was the last person she wanted to talk to.
“Sandi, hold up,” Quinn said as she finally caught up with Sandi.
“What do you want?” Sandi snapped as Quinn fell in step beside her.
“I want to talk to you about something.”
“Yeah, right.” Sandi refused to look at Quinn. “Don’t you have a date, or something? Like, with the defensive line of the football team?”
“Sandi, that’s not fair! I’m trying to be serious here!”
Sandi could hear how angry and hurt Quinn sounded. Good, she thought. “All right. Talk.”
“I want to know why you’re so angry at me,” Quinn said, trying to get Sandi to look. “You’ve been acting like this ever since Daria’s court thing. What happened?”
“What happened!?” Sandi stopped suddenly and spun on Quinn. “You undermined my authority as president of the Fashion Club and you stole my friends from me! That’s what happened!”
“Is that what you thought Andrea tried to do?” Quinn asked.
“What do you know about Andrea?” Sandi hissed. “What did that bitch tell you?”
“Just that you two used to be friends once.” Quinn said with a shrug.
“She was never my friend. I don’t know why I ever put up with her in my club.” Sandi started walking again.
“She was in the Fashion Club?” Quinn asked.
“She just hung around us while we tried on clothes,” Sandi grumbled. “There wasn’t really a Fashion Club back then.”
“So, what happened?”
“I don’t mean with Andrea, I meant what happened to get you so mad at me!” Quinn knew that she wasn’t going to get anymore about Andrea. She didn’t really want to know about that anyway.
“You had to go and admit that -- that pregnant girl is your sister!”
“She is my sister, Sandi.”
“I know she’s your sister, dammit! I’m not stupid, you know! Do you think I admit that my geekoid brothers are really my brothers in public?” Sandi rolled her eyes. “People like that just aren’t normal.”
“Her, too.” Sandi glanced at Quinn and then looked back in the direction they were walking. “I hope she’s happy, now. She’s got all the popularity that she could ever want and got to make me look bad in the process.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean I can’t go anywhere without hearing someone talking about poor preggo Daria and how she’s going to have all of her bills taken care of by her rich boyfriend’s parents and how a judge thinks I need therapy. That judge needs her head examined.” Sandi frowned as she recalled that afternoon in court. Then she glared at Quinn again. “If you would have just kept your mouth shut in Language Arts, none of this would have ever happened, so it’s all your fault.”
“My fault? For admitting that Daria’s my sister?” Quinn was confused. “You’re mad at me for admitting Daria’s my sister?”
“No, for turning my friends against me!”
“What? I never turned your friends against you, Sandi!”
“Oh? Then how did you get Stacy to say what she said in court?” Sandi asked harshly. “I’m her best friend! She would never say something like that against me on her own!”
“Stacy told the truth in court! That’s what you’re supposed to do!”
“Well, what about in class? About her mother?”
“Sandi, we’ve both met Stacy’s mom,” Quinn pointed out with a sigh. “You’ve seen her. She’s barely thirty-four.”
“Hmph. Plastic surgery.” Sandi dismissed the explanation.
“I’ve done the math, Sandi, it works out.”
Quinn shook her head and sighed. “Sandi, the point is, no one’s turned against you --”
“Oh, so I’m just delusional, am I?” Sandi started to speed up, but was stopped by Quinn’s hand on her shoulder. She tried to push the other girl’s hand away, but it wouldn’t move.
“Sandi, stop it. That’s not going to work this time.” Quinn turned Sandi so she could look her friend in the face. “You’re not delusional, but the only one who thinks that your friends have turned against you is you. We’re worried and we want to know what we can do to help.”
Quinn looked into Sandi’s face, seeing an almost desperate need to be the one in control of everything in her eyes. She recognized it easily, having seen it in her mom’s eyes a lot over the years. But there was something else behind that, too.
“Then, like, give me back my friends,” Sandi said flatly. “Give me back the Fashion Club.”
“I never took your friends, but I am one of them. And I never took the Fashion Club either, Sandi, you made me the vice president. Stacy and Tiffany just went along with what you said.” Quinn finally hit on what the look was and where she had seen it before -- in her sister‘s eyes. “What you’re angry about is that Daria’s getting more attention than you are.”
“Bull.” Sandi started walking again. When Quinn started to follow her, Sandi turned and put her hand out to stop Quinn. “Look, Quinn, you’re wrong. Completely wrong. So just leave me alone.”
No, I’m not, Quinn thought as she watched her best friend walk away.
Quinn trudged through the front door just in time to hear the television mention something about running livers. She really wasn’t paying much attention as she dropped down onto the sofa next to Daria, who was watching her usual after school dose of Sick Sad World.
“If Jamie calls, I’m not speaking to him,” Quinn said dully as she picked up the remote.
“How about if he doesn’t?” Daria asked rhetorically, giving her sister a sour look as the channels started rolling by.
“You can put Joey through. He’s my new boyfriend.” Quinn kept flipping channels, not seeing what was on the screen.
“Shouldn’t you be watching your new boyfriend at football practice right now?”
“Yeah, probably,” Quinn mumbled, finally putting down the remote. “Daria, I . . .”
“You were mad at me ’cause I got all the attention when we were kids, weren’t you,” Quinn said without looking.
“What?” Daria looked over at Quinn. “What brought this question from out of the blue?”
“Sandi and I talked a little after school.”
“And she was mad because you got all the attention when we were kids?” Daria asked, not knowing where Quinn was going with this.
“No, you dope.” Quinn looked with a momentary expression of amusement. “She’s all mad because everyone’s talking about you being pregnant and what happened in that court thing. She also thinks because of what Stacy and I said in court, that I stole her friends and the Fashion Club away from her.”
“Tell her to give it a week and they’ll be talking about something else.” Daria took the remote and switched the channel back to the one she had been watching. “As for the other thing, have the Fashion Club give her a special Accessory Coordination Award or something.”
“I don’t think that’s going to work,” Quinn sighed. “She’s been mad before, but not like this.”
“Then the three of you need to sit Sandi down and convince her otherwise,” Daria said. “In the meantime, cheer up. Go hang out with your new boyfriend at practice or something.”
“It’s too humid. My hair might frizz.”
“Brittany’s out there supporting Kevin.” Daria crossed her arms and looked at the television set. “She’s got hair, too.”
“Yeah, but she’s a cheerleader. She has to go,” Quinn pointed out.
“I’m not a cheerleader, but I still go to all of Tom’s luge races.” Daria cocked an eyebrow at the television. “But, I guess if you want to be one of those unsupportive girlfriends--”
“Then shouldn’t Tom be over here? Wouldn’t that make him an unsupportive boyfriend?”
“He’s still contagious,” Daria improvised quickly, using the Tom’s-got-a-cold excuse from earlier in the week. “What’s Joey’s excuse?”
“Oh, all right. Maybe they have some frizz-proof conditioner at the drugstore.” Quinn got up and started to walk out.
“Hey, Quinn?” Daria turned to face Quinn as she turned. “To answer your question . . . maybe I was a little mad. But I worked it out.”
“So, you’re not mad anymore?”
“Haven’t been for a long time,” Daria said with her Mona Lisa smile.
“Thanks, sis,” Quinn said with her own smile slipping through.
Helen stood in the doorway of the kitchen watched Jake as he was examining the contents of the refrigerator. Once again, that damn live-capture trap was on the kitchen counter, this time sporting a dent in one side. From what Daria had told her, Jake had kicked the trap when he accidentally captured the neighbor’s cat and got scratched in the process of releasing it. Ever since the court proceedings had concluded, Jake’s temper had been far volatile.
Taking a deep breath, Helen walked up to Jake as he began working deeper into the fridge. Hopefully, she could keep his mind off that squirrel vendetta he had seemed to develop and on the upcoming Sunday dinner.
“Jake, dear, I want to talk to you about Sunday night,” Helen said as Jake continued searching for whatever he was searching for. “Tom’s coming over and it would mean a lot to Daria if we were both on our best behavior.”
“The cheese didn’t work,” Jake muttered, totally absorbed with his quest. “Do squirrels like salami?”
“Jake, this is important!” Helen said exasperatedly. “I want you to give this squirrel hunt a rest while Tom is here!”
“Tom’s coming here? When?” Jake stood up and glared. “Hasn’t he done enough, now he’s got to come over here and freeload, too?”
“He’s not freeloading. He’s coming over because I asked Daria to invite him over.” Helen tried to stay relatively calm. “I want to try to make him feel welcome after everything that’s happened.”
“You want him to feel welcome? Well, he’s not welcome, Helen. Not by a long shot.”
“Jake, it would be a lot better for everyone, especially Daria, if we put all this behind us and tried to include Tom! At least a little!”
“Fine. You include him.” Jake turned back to the open refrigerator.
“Jake, you promised me that you would at least try, remember?” Helen put her hand on Jake’s shoulder and made him turn back to face her. “None of this is making things any easier. We’ve been saying that we want to make things easier for Daria, but we‘re not doing anything about it. Amy’s volunteering to stay and help out is one way, and you trying to make peace with Tom is another.”
Jake turned away from Helen and closed the refrigerator door. He looked into the gun metal colored surface for a long moment, his expression slowly softening. Helen couldn’t tell what was going through his head, but she figured that it was a good thing that he hadn’t gone off on a rant. Probably.
“I guess I’ve been kind of acting like my father, huh?” Jake walked over to the kitchen table and slumped down in Quinn’s usual seat. “If any of his kids had gone through this, he’d have tossed them out on their ear and locked the door behind them without looking back.”
“You’re not your father, Jake,” Helen said soothingly as she walked up behind him and put her hands on his shoulders.
“If I was, I’d have been dead two years ago.” Jake looked up at Helen. “I don’t like what Tom’s done to our little girl, Helen. Not one damn bit. But I will try to be nice, for Daria’s sake.”
“Thank you, Jakey,” Helen said, kissing him on the top of his head. “That’s all I ask.”
Jake sat there for a long moment while Helen walked out of the kitchen.
“But don’t hold your breath,” he said the moment Helen was out of earshot. Standing back up, he returned to the refrigerator. “I wonder if squirrels like bacon bits?”
“I really miss you too, Stacy!” Quinn lamented into the telephone as she paced the width of the living room. Joey was due to show up at any time and she was starting to get impatient. “It’s so hard to see your friends and go shopping when you’re forced to be with -- when you have a boyfriend. But commitment is very important to me.”
“Hello, Bellevue?” Daria muttered from the sofa, reading yet another book on child care. She had kind of wished that Quinn would take her conversation someplace else, but decided to tough it out.
“So, what did Sandi say when . . .You mean she’s not talking to you either? Maybe we can get Tiffany to talk to her for us.” Quinn rubbed her forehead as she began another circuit of the living room, then came to a sudden stop. “Sandi’s been dating Kyle? But I thought he liked me! Yeah, I know, boyfriend blah blah blah.” Quinn sighed. “So, what are you guys doing tonight?”
“Oh, the usual,” Daria deadpanned to herself. “Cast a few spells, then a quick broomstick ride before bed. Maybe pick out a labor coach in the morning.”
“But I love Guys-to-Guys!” Quinn almost wailed into the phone. “I can’t believe Joey’s not taking me to that concert.”
Daria just rolled her eyes. I can’t believe that I’ve sat here and listened to this for as long as I have.
“There he is,” Quinn told Stacy as the doorbell rang. “Got to go!”
Putting the telephone down on the table next to the front door, Quinn pulled the door open and was confronted by what appeared to be a huge bouquet of flowers supported by human legs. Upon taking the flowers, she revealed Joey, dressed in a sport coat and slacks.
“Hi Quinn!” Joey said with a huge smile.
“Uh, hi. Change of plans,” Quinn said quickly. “You’re taking me to the Guys-to-Guys concert.”
“But you said you wanted to go to Margé La Cuisine!” Joey stammered. “Tonight’s their open --”
“Well, forget what I said, I want to go to the concert!”
“But Quinn, it’s sold out!”
“Fine! If you won’t take me then you obviously don’t care!” Quinn shot back accusingly, making Joey blink in surprise. “You’re one of those unsupportive boyfriends!”
“Forget it! It’s too late! It’s over!”
“Quinn, wait!” Joey yelped just as the door slammed in his face.
Quinn grabbed the phone off the table and stalked back into the living room. She could feel her face beginning to redden under her foundation.
“Wow. A whole day,” Daria said as she looked over her shoulder at Quinn. “At least you’ll have the memories.”
“I give up!” Quinn tossed her hands in the air then started dialing the phone. “All this boyfriend stuff is too time-consuming.”
Both girls looked up at the sound of Helen’s voice. She did not look as confident as she was trying to sound.
“I, um, spoke to your father,” Helen said slowly. “He’s agreed to behave, so we’re all set for Sunday night.”
“Swell,” Daria mumbled. Damn.
“And Quinn! Why don’t you invite your boyfriend, too?”
“Boyfriend?” Quinn’s voice broke slightly. “Invite my boyfriend?”
“Why not? I think it’s great that you’re in a steady relationship.” Helen beamed. “It shows a lot of personal growth!”
“Uh, okay. I’ll invite him,” Quinn said hesitantly. As soon as I figure out who he is.
“That’s great!” Helen turned to go. “I’ll go and break the news to your father.”
“Daria, what am I gonna do!” Quinn whispered desperately after Helen left the room. “I just broke up with Joey!”
“And I can see you’re beside yourself about it, too,” Daria said as she slowly lifted herself out of the sofa. It was getting a little harder to do that as time went on.
“What am I going to do?” Quinn asked again.
“Eeny-meeny-miney-mo?” Daria suggested as she walked past her sister and started up the stairs.
“But I already did that!” Quinn looked up the stairs after Daria. “That’s how I wound up with Jamie!”
Daria lowered herself onto her bed, propping her back up on her pillow and setting the phone on the bed beside her. Unzipping her jacket, she wasn't sure how to feel about the binding feeling it gave around her midsection. Running her hand over the small bulge in her abdomen that held the baby beneath it, Daria let out a slow sigh. She wondered why she had to go through all of this now instead of ten or fifteen years from now, when she thought that she would actually be prepared for it.
She looked up as she heard a door thump shut across the hall. Apparently Quinn was in a snit about missing her sold-out concert, and Daria figured that her sister would be stomping around the house for about twenty four hours.
Making everyone miserable in the process, Daria thought as she picked up her phone and began dialing. Since misery loves company . . .
“Yo,” Jane answered after her phone rang four times.
“Hey,” Daria said.
“Hey amiga, what’s up?”
“Yet another poor heart has been broken by the Zsa Zsa Gabor of Lawndale,” Daria said. “Two down, and seven to go.”
“As long as she hasn’t slapped a policeman yet.”
“I think she has a few more boyfriends to go through first.” Daria heard something over the connection. “What are you working on?”
A few blocks away, Jane shifted the sketch pad that was sitting across her knees. Holding her own telephone between her shoulder and ear, Jane had been starting on a freeform series of S-shaped lines that weren’t really going anywhere yet.
“Oh, nothing special. Just doing some sketching.” Jane made another line, letting her hand go where it would. A curve turned back on itself, and Jane examined it briefly. “Not up to dealing with sister-dearest tonight?”
“Not especially,” Daria looked down and picked a fuzz ball off of her shirt. “Mom’s expecting her to bring a boyfriend over for dinner Sunday night.”
“Couldn’t she just bring a casserole?” Jane asked as she made a few more strokes. A curve had become a jaw line and a few more were beginning to resemble facial features. This could be interesting. “I take it Quinn’s back on the hunt.”
“After the appropriate grieving period has passed, yeah. I give her half an hour.”
“Sounds about right.”
“We got a call from my Aunt Amy a couple of days ago. She’s supposed to come back sometime Monday.”
“Even after what happened with the Sloanes?” Jane asked.
“I guess,” Daria replied. “I only heard part of mom’s side of the conversation.”
“You don’t sound very excited about having your favorite aunt coming back to Lawndale.”
“Well, she has been through a hell of a lot more than she expected when she found out I was pregnant,” Daria said with a slight sigh. “I mean, running into the guy who happens to be ultimately responsible for her inability to have children was not on the agenda.”
“Never mind that he turned out to he Tom’s father to boot,” Jane put in. “Hell, I’m surprised she’d want to come back at all.”
“Which reminds me, any word on what’s going on with his parents?”
“None. I can’t imaging that it’s been good if Aunt Amy’s reaction is any kind of benchmark.” Daria made a mental note to try and talk to Tom about that. He couldn’t be having an easy time of it.
Jane put a few more lines down on her sketch before continuing. “Speaking of your aunt, you know that orchid pastel that she bought at the art fair a few weeks ago?”
“Yeah, the one you said was done by that chick, what’s-her-face?” Daria asked, pushing herself up on the bed slightly. “What about it?”
“Alison.” Jane winced as she put down her charcoal pencil and looked at her ceiling. “Amy didn’t, like, give her a business card or anything, did she?”
“Not that she told me. Of course it’s not like I asked, either. Why? What’s wrong with her?”
“I’ll make you a list, but the top of it is she’s a barracuda who’s out to further her art career on her back instead of --.”
“Wait a minute, isn’t this the girl who --?”
“Yeah yeah yeah. That one.”
“Okay, Jane, what exactly happened at that place?” Daria asked. “You’ve brought her up a couple of times before, but never really said anything.”
“Daria I . . .”
“All right, all right,” Jane sighed. “We had a couple of bottles of wine, she asked me to sleep with her, I ran like hell. End of story.”
“She asked you to sleep with her??”
“She thought I was a lesbian. Who knew?” Jane answered, resuming her sketching with a slashing line. “Anyway, nothing happened. I saw her a couple of days later and she’s getting her butt grabbed by that Dodson goon I told you about.”
“Did you report it to someone?” Daria asked.
“To who?” Jane asked as she formed a couple of lines into a hand. “Daria, everyone there was an adult, or at least pretending to be. And besides, it was an Art Colony. Do you know how many people I saw doing things that would make people around here have a stroke? If I couldn’t have handled it, I would have left, and that would have been that.”
“But Jane --”
“Daria, really, I’ve blown it off. Alison and I made our peace, such as it was, and we forgot about it,” Jane lied. “Case closed.”
“All right, case closed,” Daria said with a sigh.
“Tell you what, amiga,” Jane said as she put the finishing touches on a couple parts of her sketch. “Next year, you can go to the Art Colony and see for yourself.”
“Okay, but you get to baby-sit for the summer.”
“Thanks? For what?” Jane’s eyebrow went up.
“Talking about nothing for a while,” Daria said.
“I don’t consider my abortive sexual misadventures ‘nothing,’ but . . . you’re welcome.”
“I’ll see ya.”
“Later.” Jane waited a moment for the line to go dead before she turned off her phone. Even though it was mentioned only briefly, Jane knew Daria was nervous about Sunday dinner. The way she dived head long into Jane’s problem when it was presented proved it. Daria was always one to deal with someone else’s problems before she could look her own in the face.
As Jane was about to slide off the bed, she took one last look at the sketch that she had completed while talking on the phone. She didn’t notice that she had knocked her telephone off the bed, because she was too stunned at seeing what she had actually drawn. The sketch in front of her was of Daria, sort of. Daria’s glasses, jacket, and hair -- more or less -- were there, but the facial features -- ears, eyes, nose, lips -- were Alison’s. The expression was a smoldering smirk-like look that said ‘I know something about you that you don’t.’
Jane blinked once at the picture, then tossed the pad off of the foot of her bed, hearing it hit the floor with a plop.
“Oh yeah,” Jane said as she rubbed the bridge of her nose with her forefingers, leaving a charcoal smudge behind. “Totally over it, my ass.”
Daria stood looking out of the living room window, waiting for Tom as patiently as she could under the circumstances as six o'clock crept inexorably by. For a few moments she actually hoped that Tom wouldn’t make it for dinner, but, at three minutes after he pulled his battered Jaguar up to the curb in front of the house. Taking a deep breath to summon her courage, she walked out the front door and to the curb.
“Hey,” Tom said as he got out of the car. His black eye looked like it had faded considerably over the past few days.
“Hey. Did Elsie put something on your eye?” Daria asked. Living with Quinn had enabled Daria to spot a make-up job rather easily.
“Nope, just a fast healer, I guess.” Tom smiled slightly.
“If you say so.” Daria could smell the concealer that someone had put on Tom’s bruise as she walked up to him. “Just keep telling yourself that someday you’ll look back on tonight and laugh.”
“Isn’t that what they said to Lincoln?”
“Tom, I . . .”
“Daria, I don’t mind. Really.” The pair started slowly walking to the door. “I want to try and make things right, here. In some way that doesn’t involve a judge.”
“This is just fair warning, but my father’s been a little . . . touchier than usual about certain subjects lately.”
“So you’ve told me,” Tom said as he opened the door.
“Look, Tom, I know that you’re not going to intentionally say anything to upset him,” Daria said as she walked past Tom and entered the house. “It’s just that he been kind of overly sensitive about you lately. He’s trying, he really is, well, for him anyway.”
“So no bright lights or loud noises?”
“Tom,” Daria warned.
“Don’t worry, I want him to like me too, you know. And like you said, at least he’s trying.” Tom put a hand on Daria’s shoulder. “My folks haven’t exchanged a single unnecessary word all week, so your dad’s been doing better than they are.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
“Excuse me,” Quinn’s voice said from the stairs. Tom and Daria looked up as she came down the stairs behind them. “My new serious boyfriend, Joey, will be here any minute and I’d like it if you two didn’t do anything to embarrass me.”
“I guess the bear suits are out,” Daria said dryly.
“Hey, I’d heard you’d gotten a black eye.” Quinn looked critically at Tom. “Good job with the concealer. Who did it?”
“My sister, all right?“ Tom said, quickly changing the subject. “How long have you and Joey been a couple?”
“It’s not the quantity of time, but the quality,” Quinn said.
“You’ll make a great neglectful parent someday,” Daria said, deciding that her sister needed a little mental nose tweaking. “Speaking of which, thanks for agreeing to catch the baby when it‘s born. Now I know you care.”
“Hm?” Tom saw Daria nod in Quinn’s direction. “Oh, my pleasure.”
“That’s gross!” Quinn scrunched her face in disgust.
“No, that’s commitment,” Tom said as he took Daria’s hand. “Right, Snookels?”
“Oh, you!” Daria said with a faux-embarrassed wave of her free hand.
The two started to walk towards the dining room, leaving a somewhat confused Quinn in their wake. As the turned the corner, Tom leaned over to whisper to Daria as the doorbell rang behind them.
“I don’t really have to catch the baby, do I?” Tom asked. A second later, pain shot up his arm as Daria tried to mash his hand in her grip. “Ow! Okay, okay, okay! I‘ll do it!”
“Thank you, Snookels.” Daria smirked, relaxing her grip. “And Junior thanks you, too.”
Despite Jeffy and Tom’s assisting Helen with setting the dining room table in an effort to score some points with Jake, Jake was doing his best to glare in two directions at once. He had insisted that Tom sit just to his right and, though wary, Tom complied. Jeffy lucked out, when Helen offered him the seat on her right. This put Quinn on Jake’s left, and she wasn’t all that happy about the possibility of getting caught between Jeffy and one of her father’s anti-boyfriend rants. Quinn almost felt sorry for Tom, being stuck right next to Jake as he was.
“We’re so glad that you boys could come over,” Helen said as she spread her napkin in her lap.
“Thanks for inviting us, Mr. and Mrs. Morgendorffer,” Tom said cordially, looking between the two adults.
“Umm, yeah,” Joey said, also looking in Jake’s direction, though only for a moment.
“Hmph,” was all that Jake had to say. This earned him a glare from Helen. “I mean, no problem. It’s . . .” Jake tried to say something else, but couldn’t quite bring himself to go on. “It’s no problem.”
Daria and Tom exchanged a quick look, and Tom decided to try and break the ice again.
“So, what’s new, Mr. Morgendorffer?” Tom asked after a moment.
“Oh, not too much, Tom. Not too much.” Jake looked up for a second, then back at his food.
Helen loudly cleared her throat, getting Jake’s attention. He saw her look over at Tom and then back at him with an expression that clearly wanted him to keep talking to the boy. He looked back down at his plate for a moment and tried to think of something else to say, but nothing came to mind.
Except . . .
“Except, there’s this damn squirrel,” Jake said as he looked back up. “He’s been terrorizing the neighborhood! Digging up yards and knocking over trashcans with a flip of his tail! Damn thing’s a menace!”
“Jake, remember what we talked about,” Helen said in a level warning tone.
“Well, he asked,” Jake grumped.
“I’m with you, Mr. Morgendorffer,” Tom said, trying to bridge the gap. “Some squirrels got into our cellar last winter and ate up all the Wheat Thins.”
“Tom!” Daria exclaimed, her fork half way to her mouth. For God sake, don’t get him going now!
“What? They did.”
“Jeffy! What are your favorite subjects at school?” Helen cut in. She looked at Jeffy, hoping against hope that she might be able to head the conversation in a safe direction.
“I caught a squirrel once,” Jeffy said as though Helen hadn’t said a word.
Helen closed her eyes and tried not to swear. At least, not out loud.
“You did!” Jake perked up, showing some life for the first time that evening. “How?”
“They really like peanut butter!”
“Peanut butter! Yeah!” Jake’s eyes narrowed as an idea began to form. “I’ll bet Thai peanut sauce would work great! And I whipped up a new batch just last night!”
“Oh, Jake, you didn’t!” Helen was now actively considering swearing out loud. “Jake, you promised me you’d --”
Helen started to chastise Jake, but was cut off by the ringing of the telephone. She had forgotten that she had put the cordless receiver on the china cabinet while she had been getting the dining room ready. Helen snatched it up and turned it on with one smooth motion. “Hello! Mom? Uh, this really isn’t a good time, we’re in the middle of a family . . . Yes, I know Erin and Brian are . . . No, mom, I really don’t . . .”
Helen sighed as she stood up and left the room with the phone, occasionally getting a whole third of a sentence in.
“Hey Jeffy, do you think you could help me set the trap?” Jake asked as soon as Helen was out of hearing range.
“Sure!” Jeffy responded enthusiastically.
“Jeffy! What’s more important?” Quinn glared at her boyfriend-du-jour. “Our commitment to compatible exclusivity, or some stupid squirrel?”
“Look! There it is!” Tom yelled, pointing through the picture window.
Jake turned around in his chair to see where Tom was pointing. Sure enough, the little terrorist was sitting right in the middle of the lawn. When it started digging through the grass in search of something, Jake saw red.
“Lets go!” Jake pushed himself out of his chair and made for the dining room / kitchen door. Jeffy and Tom responded to the call to arms and were hot on Jake’s heels.
“Tom?” Daria was confused.
“Jeffy!” Quinn was shocked and embarrassed.
Suddenly, the two sisters were the only ones in the room. Both looked at the door, and then out of the window. Daria stood up and walked over to the glass wall, watching as Tom and Jeffy carried the live capture cage out to the yard, followed by Jake and a container of his putrid peanut sauce.
“I guess that answers the ‘what’s more important’ question,” Daria said sourly as she watched the three males through the glass. “Well, this has turned out even more ridiculous than --”
“AUGH!! I can’t believe Jeffy just deserted me like that!” Quinn screamed in frustration, hitting the table with her fists. “I’ll never have a boyfriend! I’ll never be in a relationship like you and Tom! I’m a complete failure!”
Quinn bolted from the room before Daria had a chance to respond with more than a raised eyebrow.
“Hmm. Do I do the sisterly thing and console her?” Daria asked the empty room rhetorically. She glanced down at the food on the table. “Oh look. Rolls.”
Daria picked a roll off the top of the pile and bit into it as her mother walked backed into the room, totally oblivious to much else other than the phone.
“All right, mom. You have Erin call me when they’re back in town and I’ll give them a couple of names, okay? Good bye.” Helen turned off the telephone, looking like she wanted to throw the thing in the trash. She started to put the phone back on the cabinet, stopped when she noticed the empty room. “Oh my, where is everybody?”
“Well,” Daria said, swallowing as she finished off the roll. “Dad, Tom and Jeffy are outside, trying to catch a squirrel, and Quinn’s in her room crying.”
“Why? What happened?”
“Oh, male bonding, I guess.”
“I meant with Quinn.”
“Oh, she said something about failing at relationships,” Daria said with a sigh.
“What?” Helen was surprised. “Just because Jeffy joined your father on some ridiculous squirrel chase, she thinks her relationship is over?”
“Well,” Daria said slowly. “She might have had slightly unrealistic expectations about what having a boyfriend entails.”
“Uh-huh,” Helen crossed her arms. “And just what would some of these expectations be?”
“Oh, you know, being together twenty-four hours a day, hanging on each other’s every word,” Daria said, hesitating for a second, knowing the next one would set her mother off. “Who’s going catch her baby when it‘s born. . .”
“What?” Helen exclaimed. “Daria, how could you mislead your sister like that?!”
Helen spun around and stalked out of the dining room, shaking her head as she made her way to Quinn‘s bedroom. She thought that she should have known something like this was going to happen. What ever was going on at the time, Daria never could resist the opportunity to cause mischief with her sister. Helen had hoped that the urge would have gone away some now that they were getting along a little better, but no such luck it seemed. Walking up to Quinn’s open door, Helen looked in and saw youngest daughter lying across the bed and looking absolutely miserable.
“Quinn?” Helen announced herself softly as she walked into the room. Quinn didn’t look up. “Daria said that you were upset.”
“Of course I’m upset! I tried and I tried to get this boyfriend thing right and I just couldn’t! I don’t know who’s going to catch my baby!” Quinn buried her face in her folded arms. “My whole life has been a lie!”
“Well, maybe you’re just not ready for a steady boyfriend yet,” Helen suggested as she sat down next to Quinn.
“All right! I admit it! You were right!” Quinn took her face out of her arms, and if anything, seemed to look worse. “I’m not mature enough to have a boyfriend!”
“Me??” Helen blinked. “I never said that you weren’t mature enough to have a boyfriend.”
“But you said that Daria was really mature to be in a relationship,” Quinn said as she rolled over and sat up to face her mother. “So, if I’m not in a steady relationship, that makes me un-mature.” That didn’t sound right. “Or ‘im?’ “
“Quinn, having a boyfriend doesn’t make you any more or less grown up,” Helen explained. “And neither does having a baby, despite what Daria may have led you to believe. Dating Tom exclusively is what makes Daria happy, and if dating a lot of different boys makes you happy, than that’s what you should do.”
“But Daria and Tom --”
“Their situation is a little different, Quinn. They really don’t have much of a choice anymore. At least Daria doesn’t.” Helen sighed, then looked at Quinn with a raised eyebrow. “And if you were thinking of going out and --”
“Mom! Eww!” Quinn said with a wince. “Trust me, not even in this lifetime!”
“Well, hopefully you’ll change your mind on that someday.” Helen looked at Quinn. Her other baby was growing up so fast too, and there wasn’t a thing she could do about it. “Just promise me that you’ll get your birth control from a doctor and not a dispenser in some bathroom, okay?”
“Deal.” Quinn looked at her mother, trying to place the expression on her face, but couldn’t. “I better go and dump Jeffy now, hunh?”
“Only if you want to, sweetie,” Helen said.
“Yeah, I’d better,” Quinn said as she got off of the bed and left the room. “Thanks mom.”
Helen slowly stood up and followed Quinn out of the room. Instead of heading directly downstairs, she went into the master bedroom and over to her dresser. She picked up a framed picture, a professionally done portrait photo really, that had been taken almost seventeen years ago. Helen sat back on the bed and looked at the picture for a long time.
Quinn was only a few weeks old, and wrapped in a pink blanket, while Daria was about a year and a half and wearing a small, green sleeper. Both seemed impossibly tiny back then, though Daria looked extremely serious about everything even then, and little Quinn’s face was ever so animated.
Seventeen years, Helen thought. Funny. It seems like it was only an hour ago.
“Hey Jeffy, I --” Quinn started to say as she walked back into the dining room, but found it empty, save for her sister, who was eating. “Where is everyone?”
“Apparently it takes three people to return a squirrel to its natural habitat,” Daria said as she cut her ham steak with the side of her fork.
“Tom went too?” Quinn asked with disbelief as she walked around the table and sat down across from her sister.
“I guess part of me always knew that he’d return to the wild someday.”
“Daria, do you think that guys and girls will ever understand each other? Like it’s all part of some big, unfunny joke on us that we’ll be struggling with for the rest of our lives?” Quinn immediately got Daria’s full attention, knowing that Quinn very seldom got this serious. Daria was about to answer when Quinn looked down at the vegetable tray. “Oh look. Celery stalks.”
Daria couldn’t help but smile. She knew that her sister was going to be all right, at least as far as guys were concerned.
“Quinn, there’s something that I’ve got to tell you,” Daria said.
“I know you were pulling my leg about all the boyfriend stuff,” Quinn said before Daria could go on any further. “Mom and I had a talk.”
“It’s not about that, though I am sorry.”
“What then?” Quinn pushed Jeffy’s plate away and retrieved her own.
“You’ve started smoking,” Daria said.
“What?” Quinn glanced at the door, hoping that their mother wouldn’t walk in at the wrong time. “I do not.”
“Yes you do, Quinn. I saw you leaning out of your window one night with a cigarette,” Daria said. “And I found an empty pack in the trash the night the squirrel knocked the cans over.”
“Crap,” Quinn whispered, knowing there was only one way out. “Okay, Daria, how much?”
“How much for you not to tell mom and dad I smoke,” Quinn asked.
“I’m not going to tell them that you’ve started smoking, Quinn.”
“You’re not?” Quinn was shocked. Daria never acted like this unless she had something up her sleeve. “I’m almost scared to ask, but why not?”
“Because, you’re going to quit.” Daria looked at Quinn as she raised an eyebrow.
“Daria, if you’re worried about the baby, I’ve never smoked around you and you know it,“ Quinn said quickly. “I’ve only had two or three here at the house since I started and I‘d never smoke around the baby!”
“And you’re still going to quit.”
“Why?” Quinn asked, getting defensive.
“Because Junior’s going to want to see his Aunt Quinn to grow to be a ripe old fashion maven,” Daria said, looking in to her sister’s eyes. “And so do I.”
Quinn shamefacedly looked down at her plate. She didn’t have a come back for that one.
“All right, I’ll quit,” Quinn said, not looking up. “They’re too expensive anyway.”
“Good,” Daria said with a smirk. There’s going to be better things to spend your money on soon enough, anyway.”
“Yeah, you’re right.” Quinn smiled back. “So, where do you think dad, Jeffy, and Tom went to release the squirrel?”
“Whoomp there it is!
“Whoomp there it is!
“Whoomp there it is!”
Jake, Tom, and Jeffy sang along with the blasting radio as they headed out to the relative wilderness with their captive squirrel.
“I love this song!” Jake said over the music as they passed a sign that said ‘Leaving Lawndale County.’ He bopped along with the song for a few more beats before he started looking for a wide spot in the road. “Think we’re far enough out of town, fellas?”
“Let’s give it a shot,” Tom suggested from the passenger seat.
Jake spotted a place to pull off the road and brought the Lexus to a smooth stop. As soon as Jake put the car in ‘Park,’ Tom and Jeffy opened their doors, climbed out, and unloaded the cage trap from the back seat. Jake got out and walked around the back of the car, conscientiously closing Jeffy’s door as he passed it. Tom and Jeffy carried the cage a few paces out towards the middle of the roadside clearing and put it on the ground.
“Turn him loose, boys,” Jake said, leaning against the car for a moment.
Jeffy got down on one knee and pulled the release levers for the cage doors. Both he and Tom watched as the little gray squirrel hesitated for a couple of seconds, then dashed off into the forest.
“And there he goes,” Tom said as the squirrel disappeared form view.
“You know, this would be a great place to go paint-balling,” Jeffy said as he stood up and looked around.
“Yeah, or go camping,” Tom said as he looked around as well. “What do you think, Mr. Morgendorffer?”
Tom’s answer was the slam of a car door behind him. He and Jeffy whirled around as the tires on Jake’s Lexus spun on the shoulder of the road for a moment, throwing gravel out behind it. The boys covered their heads with their arms as Jake turned the car hard and made a U-turn in the middle of the road.
“Hey!” Tom shouted as he ducked the spray of gravel. “Mr. Morgendorffer! What --?”
“Wait! Hey!” Jeffy called out as Jake sped of down the highway and back towards Lawndale. He ran to the highway to try and catch Jake, but all he could do was watch him drive off.
“Dammit!” Tom swore as he jogged up to where Jeffy stood.
“Dude, he ditched us!” Jeffy complained. “We’ve gotta be fifteen miles from town!”
“Well, not for long, hopefully,” Tom said as he reached into one of the pockets of his cargo pants, pulled out his cell phone, and flipped it open. He looked at the small screen, and saw that the signal strength sucked.
“Why would he ditch us all the way out here?” Jeffy asked as he looked at Tom, and suddenly had the answer to his own question. “Hey, you’re that guy who got Daria. . .”
“Yeah, yeah,” Tom said, sounding disgusted as he hit the speed dial on his phone.
“Man, he must really hate your guts,” Jeffy said as the two started walking.
“You think?” Tom said as he held the phone to his ear. “I just hope --oh, hello? Mrs. Morgendorffer? This is Tom Sloane . . . Well, yeah, you could say that. Listen, you’re not going to believe this, but . . .”
to be continued
Author’s notes:As always, first I have to thank all my Beta Readers, in no particular order: Angelinhel, Ajzin23, Kristen Bealer, Roger E. Moore, PolemArch, RLobinske, Steven Galloway. Thank you all for your suggestions, encouragements, reminders, the odd threat, and above all, patience. You all have been taking time out of your busy schedules to read and edit my work, and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it all.
As usual, questions and comments can be sent to Greystar@Hotmail.com, and the invitation for artwork based on this or any of my stories is always open.
Stay Tuned and Enjoy!