Disclaimer: Daria and associated characters are owned by MTV. This is fan fiction written for entertainment only. No money or other negotiable currency or goods have been exchanged.
Original characters and plot copyright Richard J. Lobinske. 2005.
This is the twenty-fourth story in the Falling into College series.
Daria Morgendorffer sat in her dining room, speaking on the phone. "Karen, my parent's twenty-fifth wedding anniversary is going to be the scariest family get-together in our history."
Daria's old Raft roommate, Karen Myerson, smirked from her bedroom in southern Georgia. "It can't be that bad. These people must have been together before."
"Not since Mom and Dad got married."
"You've got your grandmothers, your mom's two sisters and your dad's brother showing up. That's only five people. My folks get invaded by twenty or more on a regular basis for the holidays."
"Karen, your family is filled with saints compared to mine."
"Okay, your parents are a little high-strung, but not too bad. That one aunt I met was pretty cool."
"Even Amy can regress to childhood when exposed to her sisters. I don't even want to think about what exposure to her mother will do."
"Be brave, young Morgendorffer. It's only one weekend, and then you get to see Michael the next."
"Why can't I just time travel to that weekend instead?"
"Because that would be too damn convenient. Just like I can't travel to the one after that, when Derek is finished with his training at Ft. Benning and will come visit."
"Have you been able to see him?"
"No. He wasn't able to get any leave, so we have to wait."
"That's starting to sound like the story of our lives."
"Hey, at least we have somebody to wait for."
"Six hours. What a way to spend a Saturday morning. Just long enough of a drive to be a real drag, but not long enough to justify a plane ticket," Daria muttered as she braced her hands against the small of her back and stretched. "Better." She pulled a black travel bag out of the passenger seat of her black sedan. At the front door of her parents' home, she said, "Now I know how King Harry felt," and rang the doorbell. "Once more unto the breach."
Daria stepped back in surprise as Quinn snatched the door open and said, "Thank God you're here!" She grabbed Daria's hand to pull her inside and up the stairs.
They made directly for Quinn's room. Only after the door was closed did she release Daria's hand.
"Okay, Quinn. What's wrong?"
"Mom and Dad are going insane!"
"So? What else is new?"
Quinn's eyes were wide in panic. "Mom got clothes made for them to match their wedding photo!"
Daria looked up slightly and gave a small smile. "That's kind of sweet."
"Quinn, that's when they got married. It's not like they want you to wear the stuff."
Quinn backed up with her hands up in front of her. "Don't even joke like that."
Daria sighed. "This is their weekend, remember? Even if we find their taste in clothes questionable…let them be."
Quinn sighed. "Okay."
Daria smirked. "They could have gotten married in the sixties…"
Quinn's face became somber and calm. "I would have to kill them."
Daria rubbed the bridge of her nose. "Anybody here yet?"
"No. Hey, I like your new glasses. The rimless lowers set your cheeks off well."
"You still should have gotten contacts." Quinn winked at Daria. "Michael can see your eyes better that way."
"He can see my eyes fine, as it is." Daria rocked her head back to show the lower lenses. "With these things, I would still need reading glasses, so why go to the bother of putting in contacts when I still have to wear glasses to read?"
"Spoil another good idea, why don't you."
"I try. How're things going with you, otherwise?"
"I'm working full-time again at Cashman's. That honor society you got me into has met twice."
"I told you, I had nothing to do with that. You are solely responsible."
"Sure. Your roommate is a friend of the principal."
"I'll tell you what; I'll pull some of said roommate's strings to find out who was responsible."
"Okay. But I still don't entirely trust you. Did Mom fill you in on the sleeping arrangements?"
Daria ticked off on her fingers, "Amy and me in my old room, you and Rita get to share, both grandmothers in the guest room, and Uncle Bruce on the sofa."
"I hate using that sleeping pad."
"That's why I picked up an air mattress on the way here this morning."
"Good. I suppose we should get downstairs to greet our extended family as they arrive."
Amy Barksdale put her suitcase on the floor and greeted her favorite niece, who had opened the door. "Daria, it's so good to see you. The new glasses look cool." She gave her a friendly hug and said, "I promise, nobody followed me this time."
Daria chuckled to remember the incident on her last birthday. "Let's hope things go better than the last time the Battling Barksdale Sisters got together."
"I resent that."
Amy looked past to the others in the living room. "Jake, Quinn. Hi. Oh, Bruce, it's been very a long time."
Bruce Morgendorffer was a shorter, broader version of Jake, with a peppering of grey in his hair. He crossed the room and gave Amy a light embrace. "Hi, Amy. I just got here, too. Last time, you were between grad schools."
"It sure has. Doctor, right?"
She nodded. "Please, no formalities. Master Sergeant?"
He formally saluted her. "Yes, Ma'am."
"You can knock that off, too. You're out of the Army."
"That, I am. Hey Jake, remember back in sixty-six when I told Dad about my enlistment?
Nathan "Mad Dog" Morgendorffer sat on the front porch of his home to catch the fleeting Virginia summer breeze. He growled at his eighteen-year old son. "Army? What's wrong with the Marines?"
Bruce stood his ground. "Nothing's wrong with them. But, the Army offers the new airmobile forces I'm interested in."
"Bouncing around in them fancy helicopters? Well, I guess it gets you into the fightin' quicker."
"It does, and allows troops to be more precisely placed or removed."
"Rather you were a Marine, but I'm proud you're off to do your duty." Mad Dog turned to glare at the sixteen-year old Jake. "Now if we can just get this worthless piece of crap to do his."
Sixteen-year old Jake stepped back and stammered, "D…dad. I was planning to go to college."
"What the hell do you want to do something like that for? You need to get your butt out there and fight the stinkin' commies."
"B…b…but I can do that after college. Then I can be an officer. That's what they're asking us to do at Buxton Ridge."
"Officer? Bah. Bane of a true non-com's existence. But, you can't do without 'em." He glared at Jake. "Okay, boy. We need good officers instead of those jerks I had to work under. If the school says it's a good idea, fine. You can go."
Jake nodded, "Yeah, I remember. At least, he agreed to let me go to college that day. Though, he only paid for my first term. Boy was he angry when I ditched ROTC during Add/Drop." Jake's eyes went a little distant. "Yeah, that was the first time I really defied him." He slightly shook his fist. "The first time."
Daria looked at him in surprise. "Only the first term? How did you pay for the rest?"
"I helped a little bit," Bruce said. "By then, I was in 'Nam and knew I didn't want my little brother there. The Old Man always respected me more for going, but I respect Jake more standing up to him over that."
Jake nodded to his brother. "I worked odd jobs here and there. The money your mother got from her parents helped, too. After the first year, living in the group house was a lot cheaper. We scraped by. I remember my first day on campus."
Jake stepped off the bus and looked through the gate of Middleton College. "Well, it's not UCLA, but Dad said he'd only cover in-state tuition. Doesn't matter; it's not enlistment."
The open yard was scattered with young people walking on their business. Cars were pulled up next to the dorms and families were helping new students unload belongings. The bus driver opened the luggage compartment and tossed Jake's duffle bag on the ground. "Dere ya' go, kid." Moments later, the bus was back on its way. Jake picked up his bag and began to walk forward. He pulled the folded campus map from his pocket and oriented himself quickly. "That way."
Jake saw the counter-culture had firmly established itself among the students. He felt out of place with his crew cut, pressed pants, white shirt and red tie. Students read, threw frisbees, and some openly drank on the open lawns. A multitude of voices called from all directions. Music he was barely familiar with played. He was entering a world far, far removed from the strict discipline of Buxton Ridge Military Academy.
A pretty girl with blond hair and very pleasing curves rushed past him. "Very different." He smiled and stood straighter. As he approached his dorm, his shoulders slumped. "Who am I kidding? Someone like that will never be interested in me."
Amy said, "We know that wasn't true," and nodded toward Helen, who was entering from the kitchen with a platter of drinks.
Jake gave her a goofy grin. "I still can't believe my luck."
Amy quietly said, "Or Helen's."
Helen set the carefully balanced tray on the coffee table and whispered through clenched teeth, "You're one to talk." She walked over to embrace her sister. "How are you?"
"Looks like I survived another academic year intact."
"Amy, you're as bad as I am," Helen said. "I meant, how is life outside of your work?"
Amy shrugged. "About the same. A few dates here and there. Let's be honest, at my age, the pickings are getting mighty slim."
"The single ones seem to be fatally flawed, wrecked by divorce, or gay. No offense, Bruce."
Bruce said, "None taken."
She asked him, "How's your daughter…um…Alexandra, doing?"
Bruce smiled. "Pretty good. She and her husband moved to Arizona last year. She's expecting her second in October."
She nudged and asked, "How does it feel to be a grandfather?"
Bruce shook his head. "Very strange. But my ex, Tina, and her new husband seem to be reveling in it."
He looked at the two sisters. "I've got a question. It always seems like all three of you sisters are on edge when you get together. Is it me, or is something else going on?"
Helen shook her head. "No, it's not you. Growing up Barksdale was no picnic. Even something that should have been a happy occasion could turn into a battle."
Almost eighteen, Helen carefully parked her Dodge Dart in the driveway next to her sister Rita's MG and shut off the ignition. Her father had obtained both cars as repossessions. She frowned in frustration. "It doesn't seem fair. You'd think a bank owner could afford new cars for us."
She looked over at her silver salutatorian sash, bright against a black graduation gown. "Second place. By less than half a tenth of a lousy GPA point." The young woman's red hair flowed over a white peasant blouse when she reached back and removed the gown from the hook. "But, I did it on my own. I can be proud of that."
Inside the elegantly decorated house, she called out, "I'm home."
Simon Barksdale entered the living room from the back of the house. He was a small, slender man with close-cropped, red/brown hair and gold-rimmed bifocals. "Good afternoon. Ready for the big night?"
Helen held up the sash prominently. "Hi, Daddy. Ready as ever. At least Rita won't be able to butt in on this."
"You know she doesn't mean any harm, she just gets carried away."
Helen rolled her eyes. "Right, Daddy. And then, Mom just backs her up and that's the end of it."
A tall woman with bright red hair stormed into the room. Tess Barksdale snapped, "At least Rita knows how to show some respect for her parents."
Helen turned. "Respect? She's playing you like a cheap fiddle."
"You insolent little witch! You're grounded."
Helen angrily tossed her hair to the side as she headed for the stairs. "You'd better call the school to let them know I won't be giving my speech."
"Speech? Dammit! That is tonight. You're not grounded until tomorrow."
Helen yelled down the stairs, "Wow, thanks."
Nine-year old Amy sat at the top of the stairs. "Oooh. Good one. Get Mom wound up good and tight before tonight."
"Out of my way, Amy."
Amy scrambled to avoid the rapidly advancing big sister. "Hey, I'll let you know when the coast is clear."
"Thanks," Helen grumbled as she closed the door to her room.
Amy put an arm around Helen's shoulders. "Just be glad you weren't home alone with Mother for seven years like I was."
Helen rolled her eyes.
Amy continued, "But, I should talk. I left for grad school and disappeared for twelve, until Erin's wedding."
Helen looked at Amy. "I probably should have tried to stop by more often. But once I got to college, it was a completely different world, and I didn't want to go back."
Helen trudged her two suitcases down the hall toward her assigned dorm room at Middleton College. "It's not Bromwell or Crestmore, but it's college, even if I'm still in Virginia."
A brunette girl in blue and green tie-dye hugged Helen as soon as she opened the door. In a soft voice, she said, "Hey, I'm Willow. You must be my roommate."
Helen was temporarily dumbfounded by her new roommate's friendliness. "Hi, I'm Helen."
"That is such a pretty name. Let me help you."
Willow picked up one of Helen's suitcases and carried it to the center of the room. "I waited for you to get here. Do you care which bed you get?"
"You didn't already choose a bed?"
"It wouldn't be fair without you here."
Helen stood still, not knowing what to say.
Simon entered the room. "Good morning, Miss."
Simon set two more suitcases on the floor and hugged Helen. "Looks like you have a nice roommate. I promised your mother I'd be home by dinner, so I better get going."
Helen found she was more emotional than anticipated. "Bye, Daddy. I'm going to miss you."
"I'll miss you. Try to stay out of trouble."
Helen smiled past the tear she felt. "I'll try."
Simon looked around. "I think you are going to have a fascinating time."
"Hi, Grandma Ruth," Quinn greeted her paternal grandmother at the door.
"Quinn, you're looking prettier every time I see you."
Ruth stepped in more and smiled. "Jakey, Bruce. How wonderful."
Both men quickly embraced the diminutive woman and said, "Mom."
After returning the gesture, she looked past. "Helen, you look nice. And I remember you; you're Helen's baby sister, Amy."
Amy frowned and whispered to Daria, "You don't know how much I hate the term, 'baby sister', at my age."
Daria whispered back, "I'll have to remember to use that on Quinn in twenty years or so." In a normal voice, she said, "Hi, Grandma."
"Daria, you look nice, too."
Ruth looked around the living room. "I see you still haven't redecorated the place. But, someone with your busy schedule probably doesn't have the time."
Helen started to speak, held up hands and shook her head in frustration. She muttered under her breath, "I'm not going to let them get to me. This is our weekend."
A few minutes later, Helen stood at the door and steeled her nerves. "You can do this." She opened the door and saw her sister, Rita, and her mother, Tess. "Mother, Rita, I'm so glad you made it."
Rita hugged her. "Helen. Happy anniversary," she said, and proceeded past to make way for her mother.
Tess's red locks were slightly out of place on someone in her seventies. She very formally embraced her oldest daughter and only said, "Helen," before going inside.
Helen turned and stared daggers at both women's backs.
Various greetings were exchanged between those already present and the new arrivals. Tess stopped before a family portrait of the Morgendorffers on the living room wall. "Helen, this is beautiful. I'm glad to see you're finally spending money to get things like this done professionally."
Daria lightly snickered and leaned against Quinn.
Tess abruptly turned toward Daria. "What is so funny about that, young lady?"
"Mom didn't spend any money on that. It was a gift."
"A gift?" Tess turned toward Helen. "Then your clients are starting to show some sign of belonging to proper society."
Tess turned back. "You, too? Your manners have become abominable."
"Daria's friend gave it to us."
"Daria? I know you dated that Sloane boy last year, what other friends like him have you cultivated?"
Daria gave a Jane-like one shoulder shrug. "The artist is my roommate. I'll be happy to pass on that you thought it was a professional job."
Tess looked back at the painting in a huff. "At least you look like a young lady in this, for a change."
Helen stopped next to her mother. "Both of them are lovely. Jane did a wonderful job."
Tess looked around the living room. "Still, this looks so much better than that wretched rat-hole you two lived in during college. I was so happy to see you leave that place."
Helen slightly smiled. "It was a learning experience, but we were also glad. It was time to move on."
Helen and Jake stood facing Coyote and Willow. Behind was the rustic group house they had lived in since the end of their freshman year of college. Two weeks after graduation, their few belongings were packed in the trusty Dart and they were ready to leave.
Coyote said, "Man, are you really sure you want to do this?"
Willow held Helen's hands. "We've managed to make a new world here. Why would you want to go out to the madness?"
She smiled at the warmth of her friend's hands. "We may have made a new world here, but we aren't changing the one out there. I know that's where my calling is."
Jake hugged Helen. "We're going out to make a difference."
Coyote and Willow hugged both of them. Coyote said, "Be careful, man. The corporate running dogs can suck you in before you know it."
Helen said, "We know to keep true to our goals."
Jake spread his hands wide. "Sure do."
Quietly, Willow said, "Farewell."
Helen brushed a tear away. "Thank you. Goodbye. Both of you have been the most wonderful friends."
Helen and Jake got into the car and slowly pulled away from the commune. Helen looked forward as she drove. "I'm never kneading bread again."
Jake looked disappointed. "But, I like your pumpkin seed loaf."
"Jake, if we're going to save society, I can't spend more time in the kitchen than my mother did."
"Aw, you're right."
"We need to find some decent jobs. I already applied with the state social services agency. You should be able to find something, too. Put your business degree to work. You said we should work from inside the system, here's our chance."
"Gotcha." After a few minutes, Jake said, "You know; it'll be kind of nice having more than three sets of clothes."
"Having hot water for regular baths will be wonderful."
"Maybe, we can sell out a little."
"I don't see where it will hurt. The new place will be ours, after all."
"Having our own place has another advantage; a lot more privacy."
Helen smiled, "Oh, Jake!"
Quinn squeezed her hands over her ears. "Eww, Mo-om! That is way too much information."
Daria smirked at her sister's discomfort.
Helen picked up a tray from the coffee table and said, "I'll get some more drinks, back in a moment." Jake followed her out into the kitchen, with a grin on his face.
Ruth said to Daria, "I understand you have a nice young man in your life."
Tess leaned forward. "Well, Daria. Tell us about this gentleman."
Quinn excitedly started talking. "He's almost cute, reasonably tall, green eyes that Daria has a weakness for…"
Daria looked down at her feet.
"…and he has an impeccable hair color."
Daria eyed Quinn. "It's the same color as yours."
"Like I said." Quinn gave Daria a wicked grin, "And, she has him so wrapped around her finger."
Daria scowled. "Quinn."
"Daria. You do. I mean, the guy drove all the way here from Detroit just to apologize to you."
Ruth smiled. "Now what did he need to apologize for?"
Daria blushed and rubbed her hands together. "We…um, had a big disagreement. We broke up and got back together."
Ruth asked, "Does he go to school with you?"
"Yes, he's a history major, wanting to go into archeology in grad school."
"Did you meet him in class?"
"Kind of like Jakey. He met your mother in a college class. Did you know that?"
Slightly blushing, Daria nodded. "They've told me about it."
"Any talk of marriage?"
Daria paled and sputtered, "I…we…um…" She gulped and started again. "We decided not to discuss anything like that during the foreseeable future."
Disappointed, Ruth said, "Oh, that's too bad."
Tess said, "He'll probably take forever to ask. Let's face it. Jake took six years to ask Helen to marry him. Even then, if Helen hadn't nudged him during Rita's first wedding, I doubt if he would've at all."
With a wry grin, Rita said, "It wasn't Helen."
Helen looked out over the kaleidoscopic dance floor with a pang of jealousy. Mostly for the gross amount of money spent, but secretly, for the reason of the celebration. She said to Jake, "Rita sure knows how to go overboard. This must have cost Mom and Dad a fortune."
Just beginning to show her pregnancy, Rita came up to them in a stunning gown, set with hundreds of pearls. "Helen, Jake. I hope you're having a good time."
Jake grinned. "We're having a great time. These snacks are delicious."
"Thanks, we had them custom catered."
Helen weakly smiled. "That's nice. I'm sure Mom had a wonderful time planning all this."
"Oh, you know how she gets. I don't think I've ever seen her have so much fun."
Helen sighed. "I bet she did."
Fifteen-year old Amy sneaked up next to Jake and put a hand on his elbow. "I bet Helen would love something like this."
Jake jumped. "Huh?"
"I don't think so. We've already given in to society's norms enough as it is. What does a piece of paper mean?"
"If that wasn't a concern, would you ask her?"
"I would've years ago."
"Hypothetically, what would you say to her?"
Jake closed his eyes in concentration. "Hmm."
Amy began small movements to rotate Jake to face Helen. Rita saw Amy's maneuver and suppressed a smirk. She began a slight shift to turn Helen toward Jake.
Amy stepped behind Helen and released Jake's arm just as he said, "Helen, you truly are the love of my life. Will you marry me?"
Helen started at the question. Jake's eyes were still closed, but he held a dreamlike smile that Helen recognized as a sign of him imagining something he wished he could do, but couldn't quite bring himself to do. She also noticed Rita's widening grin and Amy's satisfied smirk. She whispered, "Only one thing to do now," put her hands behind Jake's neck, said, "Yes," and kissed him.
Quinn looked at Amy and Rita. "You tricked them?"
Amy said, "More like, encouraged them in the right direction."
Rita said, "Sometimes, people need a little push to do what's right."
Quinn looked at Daria. "Tell me about it."
Daria grumbled something inaudible.
Mischievously, Rita looked toward the kitchen and said loud enough to be heard in that room, "I don't think Helen quite got over the fact she owes her marriage to the two of us."
Ruth said, "Six months later, they were married. It was a pretty, but simple affair. But, not without some problems."
Jake was speechless to see his mother exit the car, his father nowhere to be seen. He walked over and asked, "Where's Dad?"
Ruth looked at her son. "He couldn't make it today. The dog needs to have its nails trimmed."
Jake looked like he had been punched in the stomach. "Fine." He turned and walked back to Helen.
Bruce and his wife, Tina, escorted Ruth toward the small group of guests waiting near the seashore. "I knew Dad still held a grudge, but isn't this a bit much?"
"You know how your father is, once he gets in one of his moods."
Bruce grimly shook his head. "It probably is for the best he isn't here. Does he still blame Helen for turning him into a hippie?"
Ruth nodded. "Yes, he does."
They joined the small crowd. Simon, Tess, Rita, her new husband Ray, and Amy stood with a small knot of people that neither Bruce nor Ruth recognized.
Tess leaned over to Simon. "What the hell is going on here? His own father didn't show up. Is that psycho bastard too ashamed to be related to our little girl?"
Ashamed, Simon waved his hand for her to lower her voice. "Tess, please."
Ruth glared at Tess.
A local notary officiated, a co-worker of Helen's from the social services office was the maid of honor, and a fellow accountant where Jake worked was best man
With the last arrival, the notary said to Jake and Helen, "On this happy day, we are gathered to join two young people in marriage. You may begin your vows."
Tess looked down at her drink, "They say, pretty is in the eye of the beholder."
Before Ruth could reply, Helen and Jake returned with a fresh tray of sodas. Helen said, "It was the best we could afford."
Tess complained, "I hadn't planned on paying for two weddings, six months apart."
Helen sighed, "Mother, you only paid for one wedding, remember? We only asked for some help for a honeymoon and didn't even get that."
"Oh, yes. You said you didn't want any of my bourgeois influence on your ceremony. Still, if you two had waited another six months, I could have helped with the honeymoon."
Helen placed the tray on the table and sat. "Mother, by then, Jake was in his MBA program. His going back to school was the reason the wedding was simple and why we asked for help to pay for a honeymoon."
Jake slammed his fist down on the paper ledger. "Dammit, Helen! We just aren't getting anywhere. Once we pay for the wedding and honeymoon, we're flat broke again."
Helen sat down at the table. "I know. We're working harder than ever before, and we still don't seem to be making a difference."
"What good is making a difference if we can barely afford to eat?"
"At least we aren't being part of the problem."
"Yes we are, we're the victims."
"And we won't change anything this way." Helen gazed off in the distance for a while. "We've talked about going back to school. You for that MBA and I still want to be a lawyer."
"Helen, how can we do that?"
Disappointed, she said, "The wedding just got simple, and we ask Mother to help on the honeymoon."
"But, we still can't afford for either of us to quit our jobs."
Helen sat in thought again. "It's still a male-dominated world out there. You get your MBA first. It'll give us more earning potential, faster. Then, I can get my law degree. We'll have to make do and take out student loans. It'll take us into our thirties, but we can do it."
"Helen, that's brilliant. Then, we really can go out and take on the world."
The evening wore down with more minor sniping, but no serious detonations. Relieved, everyone eventually drifted apart to prepare for bed. Rita and Quinn talked about dating disasters as they closed the door to Quinn's room. Ruth and Tess were silent as they prepared to share the large bed in the guest room. Bruce joked, "I've slept on much worse," as he spread sheets on the sofa.
Daria's mouth was full of toothpaste when Ruth quietly approached her in the upstairs bathroom and said, "Daria, thank you for calling me to talk about Nathan, last winter. That meant a lot to know that you understood how he was changed by that horrible war. You also helped your father and Bruce."
Daria set aside her toothbrush and spit out the white foam as quietly as possible. "You're welcome, Grandma. I figured they should know, too."
Ruth looked uncertain how to continue. Finally, she said, "And, I'm so glad your mother finally redecorated your old room."
Daria ground her teeth together, but nodded.
"Good night, Daria."
Moments later, Tess entered the room. "Daria, it was very nice seeing you dressed like a lady, for a change, in that portrait."
"Um…thanks." Happy now?
"Although, I still think you need to do something with your hair."
"I like it this way."
"You must, you've worn it like that for years."
Daria rinsed off her toothbrush and put it into a travel case. "Speaking of hair." She picked up a brush and began to carefully run it thorough hers while pointedly not looking at Tess.
"You said the artist is your roommate. Does she attend Raft with you?"
"No, she goes to Boston Fine Arts College. I guess you can figure out why."
"I want a portrait of Erin and Brian done."
"And you want Jane to do it?"
"That is professional work down there."
"I agree, but I'm curious. There must be professional portrait artists closer to you."
"Yes, but they're known."
"I'm not following you."
"It looks good to find and display new talent to my associates. It's also a smart investment. Her work has the potential to increase in value. Even if not, I'll still have the portrait."
Daria looked at her in mild surprise. "Okay, I'll let Jane know."
"I'll call within the next couple weeks to make the accommodations."
"Daria, don't let anyone else know." Tess abruptly turned and walked away, leaving a puzzled Daria still quietly brushing her hair.
Amy looked around Daria's old bedroom. "It looks like Helen did do a nice job. But, I can see where you would've preferred the padding, especially on weekends like this."
Daria moved toward the air mattress on the floor. Amy waved her off. "You sleep in your bed, I'll take the inflatable. I hated having to give up my bed for visitors. I won't make others do it."
"Thanks. A good-will gesture?"
Daria opened her bag and pulled out a nightshirt and Amy retrieved a nightgown from hers. Daria shrugged and said, "Can't be any worse than changing the in girl's locker room in high school."
Amy giggled slightly at the comment. "Now, that was something I hadn't thought of in a while."
"Someday, I will put the horror out of my mind."
Pulling the dark blue garment over her head, Amy said, "You and Michael seem to be getting along well."
"Do you think you'll be together, years from now?"
Softly smiling, Daria said, "I hope so," as she sat on the bed.
Amy crawled onto the air mattress and lay propped on one elbow. "You mentioned he planned on grad school, are you still planning on it?"
"Yeah. I'd mostly planned on it from the start, but now, definitely. College has been such a change from high school." Daria had a narrow smile. "I can understand now how some people can become career students."
"A little friendly warning. If you two make it together through grad school, you'll have to face the two-body problem."
"Well, I would expect we would maintain separate bodies."
"No, the problem a couple with advanced degrees face when they try to find relevant employment in the same area. Your parents have been lucky in dealing with it."
Daria sat on the bed and slowly exhaled. "In a way, we already have."
"Oh…oh, that problem you two had a couple months ago? You didn't go into much detail at the time."
Nodding, Daria said, "He almost went to Rome for school."
"Ouch. But, it sounds like he won't."
Daria looked at the floor. "He gave it up to stay with me, although I was trying to figure out how to see him there."
Amy looked down at her pillow. "That's sweet. I hope it works out with you. I wish my story ended that well. I'm outside D.C. and he's in Louisiana. Neither of us would give, so we both lost."
Daria and Amy were surprised to find Bruce in the kitchen when they wandered down in search of coffee. He was almost finished preparing breakfast for the entire crowd and looked up at them. "Morning, folks. Hope you don't mind me helping myself."
Daria scanned the counter. "You've been awfully energetic first thing in the morning."
As he scooped scrambled eggs onto a serving plate, he said, "Those sofas. When I said I'd slept on worse, I was wrong."
Amy poured coffee while Daria started getting plates ready. Amy said, "Bruce, where did you learn to cook?"
"Trial and error, after my divorce."
"Oh, I'm sorry."
Bruce sadly shook his head. "Don't be. Anybody in their right mind would have left me."
Daria quizzically looked at him. "You've always been so nice around us, I never understood that."
"Oh, I learned to behave in polite society. Boy did I learn."
Bruce nodded. "But I learned to explode in private. Violently."
"Oh. I never knew Grandpa Nathan hit you two."
"Dad didn't hit us; he was an expert a psychological abuse. But, I did. Can't blame Tina at all for leaving and taking Alexandra with. They were much better off that way."
Daria looked away. "Um…"
"Tina was a good woman and could have really screwed me over, but didn't. All it would have taken was her pressing charges and my career was over with a dishonorable discharge. She left me with that, and I made sure every check was on time until she remarried."
Daria continued to stare in surprise at Bruce.
Jake and Helen walked into the kitchen, each still in robes. Helen looked at the busy scene. "What a surprise, and I'm supposed to be the hostess."
Bruce pulled some toast from the toaster and placed them on a tray. "I was awake and thought I would repay some hospitality."
Jake looked at the still dumbstruck Daria. "Honey, are you okay?"
She shook her head. "Oh, yeah. I'm fine. Just a little surprised about something."
Bruce said, "I figured she was old enough to know what really happened with me and Tina."
Helen's hand rose to her mouth. "Oh, my. That was so long ago."
"It took me a long time and to get over it and a lot of counseling to control my rages. I still don't entirely trust myself." He nodded toward Daria. "Thanks for those recordings. It helped to learn that Dad wasn't always like that."
Amy tilted her head toward Daria. "What recordings?"
Daria said, "While doing transcriptions for a history professor, I found some recordings of Grandpa Nathan. Before and after his experiences in Korea. He went through a lot."
Amy grimaced. "I'll skip filling in the blanks."
Daria looked at Jake. "I guess I'm glad you didn't hit us. Although when we were young, your angry rants were scary."
Jake stepped back and stammered, "Th…they were?"
"Very scary, Daddy," Quinn said as she entered the kitchen. "But we learned that you would calm down."
Jake looked down as his hands. "I'm sorry."
Daria moved next to him. "And, that you would never hurt us."
Wearing a pale yellow robe, Rita joined Quinn. "Morning, everyone. Boy, you all look depressed."
Bruce said, "Oh, just talking about my wonderful interpersonal skills and how they wrecked my marriage."
Rita groaned and said, "At least you only wrecked one marriage. I've had three go to hell on me. The really sad thing is, Ray lasted the longest."
Quinn asked, "He was Erin's father, right?"
Rita nodded. "She was the only good thing to come out of my first marriage."
Amy said, "Well, besides getting those two hitched," pointing to Jake and Helen.
Rita idly picked up a slice of toast and buttered it. "I've never been good at marriages."
Daria looked at Rita and thought, I think we better keep you away from Jane's brother, Wind.
Rita went on to say, "I'm sometimes afraid for Erin. She and Brian are still having problems."
Helen muttered, "If you hadn't spent your life trying to appease mother, or your idiot husbands and boyfriends, she may have learned to cope with things better."
Rita snapped, "Appeasing?"
"Yes. You have always gone out of your way to please Mother, and she always rewarded you. But, Ray and the others just used your compulsion to please to get what they wanted."
"I…I..." Rita looked down and shuffled her feet.
Helen looked at Rita and slowly closed her eyes. At a whisper, she said, "Damn. I wanted to avoid bickering this weekend. I shouldn't have said anything."
Everyone went quiet for a while
Desperate to change the subject, Rita looked around and noticed Bruce wearing an apron. "You made breakfast?"
"Guilty. Help yourself, everything's ready."
People slowly began to fill plates and little was said.
Daria stood by Helen and said, "When I think of all that happened; those first few years of your marriage must have been a rough time for everyone."
Helen bowed her head for a moment before speaking. "It was. Jake's father died less than a year after we were married, mine another year after that. First Jake was in school and we had to squeeze by on my salary to live on and pay tuition. Then, we switched places in seventy-eight. To be honest, we fought a lot, but we always made up after."
"With all that, I'm surprised you decided to have children."
Helen leaned against the counter. "It was difficult and frightening. The economy back in seventy-nine and eighty was bad. Even with his MBA, you father was in a fairly modest paying job. We'd stayed close to Middleton for me to go to law school. Rita and Bruce's divorces at the same time scared us."
Jake said to Daria as he dished up his breakfast, "I think I was more concerned than your mother. In the end though, it was the right decision."
Jake and Helen lay cuddled in the cramped bed of their apartment. Helen softly stroked Jake's chest. "Tell the truth: despite the problems your brother and my sister had, you want children as much as I do."
"Yes, but I'm still spooked by what happened to them."
"Don't be. You know we love each other enough to get through our problems, just like we've always done."
"What if I can't control my temper?"
"We'll be there to help each other. I'll help you with your temper, just like you'll make sure I don't play favorites, like my mother did."
"You know, we're approaching thirty. This will be the best time for us to try."
"But Honey, you're still in law school."
"I'm not saying it'll be easy. But, once I graduate and join a firm, taking time off to have a child will be even more difficult."
"Money is going to be tight."
"We've made it through before. Besides, we're better off now than when you went through grad school."
"But, won't it interrupt your studies?"
"Not too badly, if we time things right."
Helen looked at Daria. "Both of you were a little early. I'd hoped to have you over winter break and Quinn after graduation. But, I was so happy to see you, it didn't matter."
After breakfast, Daria, Quinn, Bruce and Amy were appointed to put out flowers and apply garlands and decorations to the living room, under the watchful eyes of Ruth and Tess. Helen recruited Rita to help her get into the replicated wedding dress, and Jake anxiously prepared in the upstairs bathroom.
Bruce steadied the chair Quinn stood on to hang a garland, while Amy held one for Daria at the other end.
Ruth said, "Quinn, you need to raise your end a little bit."
Tess shook her head in frustration, "No, Daria needs to lower her end."
Ruth looked at Tess. "I know what I'm doing."
"Clearly not. Daria needs to lower her…"
"That would bring the garland too close to the window. You want to frame the window with it, not line the edge."
"So you think you know something about home décor?"
"That is the only way I had to support myself after I lost Nathan. Unlike others, who could rest on their inheritance."
Daria and Quinn looked at each other and shrugged, then each moved their ends halfway to line the garland up.
Amy looked up for a moment and then at Daria and Quinn. "Bruce, I was thinking. It really has been a long time. I last saw you when we helped Jake and Helen move to Texas back in eighty-four. Quinn was only two and Daria not quite four."
"They were cute little girls."
Daria and Quinn gave an excellent performance of synchronized eye rolling.
Jake came down the stairs in a billowing white shirt and black slacks. "Boy, that trip to Texas was an adventure. We really did appreciate the two of you helping."
Helen carefully buckled Quinn into the child seat in the back of a green sedan. Daria was already seated and buckled into the other back seat. Done, she turned to face Amy and Bruce. "Thanks for taking the time to help."
Amy shrugged. "I've got a few weeks to kill before I start my doctorate in the fall and had nothing else to do."
Bruce said, "I don't have a lot else to do with it, might as well burn my leave helping my brother."
Jake approached. "Okay, I've got the Haul-R's truck closed up and ready to go."
Helen looked at an open map. "We should be able to make it in three days." She looked over at the car. "We won't be able to push as hard with our little darlings along. Amy, you ride with me to help with the children and Bruce will drive the truck."
Amy pulled her glasses down and peered over the top. "You want the two of us bottled up in a small space for two days…in front of your children?"
"I was hoping to catch up with you a little more. With us out in Texas, I won't be able to see you as often."
Amy whispered to Bruce, "This is a problem?"
Bruce rubbed his forehead. "Why don't Amy and I alternate driving the truck and helping with the kids. We can also trade off driving the car to give you a break."
"Oh, I suppose that will work."
Jake looked up at their old second-floor apartment. "Going to miss this place. Both our little girls were born while we lived there."
Helen looked up at the stairs leading to the front door. "I won't miss worrying about the girls falling down those stairs. Or the upstairs neighbors stereo, or the neighbors to the right with their loud nocturnal activities."
"Jake, we're moving on."
"It's going to be a little hard to find a new job in Texas. What was the name of that town again?"
Sighing, Helen said, "Highland. I wrote all the information down for you. Please, don't lose your plane tickets."
"Honey, I won't do that. Two weeks alone finishing up those last contracts is going to be miserable." He looked skyward and yelled, "But I should be used to that by now! 'Why don't you spend spring break at the academy, son. The janitorial staff are getting used to you being there.' Not like my family was used to me being home!"
Helen jammed her hands to her hips. "Jake! We don't need that now."
"What! Oh, sorry."
Helen took Jake's arm and began walking toward the apartment. "Amy, Bruce, we need to get going soon. I can't afford to be late for my first day at the law firm. Why don't you get in the cars and I'll be back in a bit."
With nods from them, Helen escorted Jake upstairs. "Jake, I know this is tough for you."
"I was finally starting to get somewhere with the company."
"I know. But, this new firm specializes in defending tax-exempt groups and social activists. I can make such a difference there."
Jake slumped. "You're right. All I'm doing in my job is making money for a greedy company. Where did I go wrong?"
Helen kissed him. "You got a little sidetracked to keep me in school. Now, we can go out and do something different."
"Besides, this new firm likes my background and thinks I can make partner quickly. Won't that be great?"
"It sure will. I'm starting to have a good feeling about this move."
"So do I. This can really be our big break."
Quinn scrunched her face. "Eww. You thought Highland was a good move?"
Jake looked downcast. "We thought it was at the time."
Task complete, Daria and Quinn stepped off the chairs. Daria said, "I'm sure they didn't mention the uranium tainted drinking water in the new resident brochures."
Quinn added, "Or that it created those two…things…that Daria used to torment."
Bruce half-smiled and Amy raised an eyebrow at Daria.
Daria looked over at Ruth and Tess, who were still in an animated discussion and pointing at the hung garland. She gave a slight nod of, "Best to leave them alone," and said to Amy, "Two utterly moronic boys I knew in middle school and my one year of high school there. They were…entertaining. Like two train wrecks on legs, with hormones."
Jake sat down in and gave a heavy sigh. "Two train wrecks. Sounds like our careers after a while." Jakes voice rose as he continued. "I was working for a Mussolini clone that gave never had a good thing…"
Daria and Quinn moved up. Quinn said, "Dad, no stress this weekend, remember?"
He turned with eyes wide open. "Oh! Oh, sorry Quinn. Just got a little worked up. Helen's law firm failed after two years. She was out of work for several months before her tax-exempt experience landed her a position at another partnership."
Daria said to her father, "I remember them; they had all the ethics of a parasite on the backside of a bottom-feeder."
Quinn shuddered. "They always seemed so creepy."
Jake frowned. "There went all of our grand ideas for changing the world. We had to take care of you two first. I kept at it with my job and Helen bit her tongue to work for those people."
Ruth and Tess stopped talking and looked at Jake, joining everyone else.
"We wanted the best for our girls, but Highland wasn't a good place for them. I wish we'd noticed sooner."
Daria said, "Dad, I remember how hard you two worked. It would've been easy to miss."
"Finally, we saw what that place was doing to you. I seriously worked up my business plan, and Helen started looking for a new law firm, far away from Highland."
Helen beamed as she talked on the telephone. "Yes…oh, yes…October fourteenth…I'll start taking care of things immediately…good bye."
She excitedly said to Jake, "I start in one month."
Jake returned the enthusiasm. "One month, wow. Hey, we need to get cracking on stuff."
"No kidding. It's a good thing I did some house hunting while I was in Lawndale for the interview." Helen pulled a file folder from her briefcase and started removing pages, each with a Polaroid photo of a house. "I really liked this one, gorgeous red brick, four bedrooms, two car garage, and in a good neighborhood that's an easy walk to the high school."
Jake looked off in the distance and yelled, "Free at last! Okay, you bastard, I'm on my way out! Jake Morgendorffer Consulting, here I come!"
Helen quietly sighed. "Yes, dear. The new firm has promised a fast review for partnership because of all my previous experience. With the pay increase I'll be getting over the skinflints I work for now, we should do well while you build up your business."
"Oh, we'll need a new house."
Jake. I said I'd looked." She put forth the one she had discussed before. "How about this one?"
"What? Oh…hey, that place looks pretty good. Do you want to get it?"
"Yes, Jake. I'll call the realtor tomorrow. We can Package-Air the forms back and forth and close on it by the time we move."
Helen held Jake's hand as they faced Daria and Quinn, who were just finishing dinner. Helen said, "Girls, we have some important news."
Daria looked up with unrestrained disinterest. "You're replacing us with low-maintenance androids and shipping us across the border to a sweatshop."
Jake blurted out, "We're moving to Lawndale, Maryland next month!"
Quinn looked at him. "Maryland? What's there?"
Helen said, "I've accepted a position at a law firm in a small town north of Baltimore. I start in one month. You girls need to start preparing to move."
Quinn's eyes widened, "I have to pack?"
Daria smirked at Quinn. "Only if you want to bring your overstuffed wardrobe with. I'll be just as happy if you don't pack and we leave it all here."
Helen pinched her nose in pain. "Girls. We'll be leaving here in three weeks. I expect both of you to help."
Daria thought for a moment, "Do we have a place to stay, or will we be homeless for a while?"
Helen swallowed. "Daria. Yes, we will have a new house, one much nicer than this."
"Then, I don't see a downside."
Daria stood up and started toward her room. "Guess I better get started; I have so much to pack." As she closed the door to her room, a very rare, broad smile spread across her face. "We're really getting away from here."
With the decorations complete, everyone dispersed to change for the ceremony. Slowly, they gathered again in the living room in various semi-formal ensembles. Daria came down in a long green skirt and white blouse, Quinn in a red-wine colored dress, Bruce in a dark gray suit, Rita in pale blue pants and shirt, and Amy in the same black and purple she wore to Erin's wedding.
Daria smiled at her parents standing on top of the stairs. Her mother wore the simple white gown, her father wore a white, billowing shirt and black pants. They walked down holding hands and stood in front of the large corner window of the house. The guests joined together in a half-circle around them.
Though the ink on the parchment paper was slightly faded, Jake and Helen held the framed vows between them.
Both of them recited:
"Under an open sky and upon sacred ground
I acknowledge the ones of the universe.
May the cosmic forces bless our union and
make it a journey of enlightenment."
"I pledge my commitment to your growth and
self-realization. I respect your beingness. I
recognize your personhood. I promise to get
out of the way and let you discover who you
are. I will not get on your case or nag."
Jake placed a circlet of flowers on Helen's brow and responded with:
"I place this garland on your crown as a
symbol of the never-ending circle of life and
death - a journey we shall take together.
Merging lives is a pretty big deal. I pledge
that I have thought this thing out and
really want to do it."
Together, they finished with:
"We will raise our children to be independent
spirits, free from oppressive rules and society's
expectations - an organic expression of our
Let us begin this karmic adventure. In the
presence of friends and trees, we take each
other as man and woman. The revolution
begins with us!"
Tess grumbled, "I couldn't believe it the first time you used those vows, and I really can't believe you used them again."
Helen and Jake stared at her.
Ruth turned toward Tess, "I don't care how badly it sounded. My Jakey and your daughter wrote that."
"Ah, you're showing the same taste you had in hanging the decorations."
"You've been riding on my Jakey ever since you met him."
"Well, look at him. They're still only celebrating a wedding they were pushed into."
"I seem to remember that Rita was five months pregnant when she got married. Talk about being pushed into something."
Rita's face flashed red. "We were already engaged before I got pregnant. You don't think a wedding like my first comes together in less than five months, do you?"
Ruth snapped back, "I wouldn't know, I've never had that kind of money to throw away."
Tess rolled out, "Perhaps if you had married a man of means instead of that psychopath."
Bruce barked at Tess. "Look, Dad had his problems, but those came about after they were married. Don't say Mom married someone like that." His hands clenched into fists.
Rita said, "But she stayed with him. At least your ex had the sense to get the hell out of Dodge."
Amy added, "Like all three of yours?"
Tess growled at Amy, "Whose side are you on?"
Amy fired back, "My own, just like I've always been forced to. You were certainly never on my side, especially in high school."
Tess stepped back, "Well, I never…"
Ruth added, "Even your daughter won't back you up."
Amy turned to Ruth. "You didn't do such a great job yourself; look at all the crap Jake and Bruce have had to deal with in their screwed-up heads."
"SHUT THE HELL UP, YOU IDIOTS!" Daria stood with fingertips pressed to her temples.
Silence filled the room as everyone turned to face Daria.
"My God. Mom and Dad just renewed their wedding vows, and you start fighting within seconds. What is wrong with everyone?"
Ruth, Tess, Rita, Amy, and Bruce all stared at the floor.
"Mom and Dad don't have a perfect marriage; trust me, I know. I've lived with them longer than any of you. But can't you at least behave for one freaking weekend?" Daria walked to her still-stunned parents. "Happy anniversary."
Helen and Jake both embraced Daria. Helen said, "Oh, Sweetie."
Blushing, Daria briefly hugged them back. Eyes still aflame in frustration, she turned to face the rest. "Okay, change of plans. Everyone is clearing out of the house, now. Mom and Dad are going to have a peaceful and quiet day to themselves. Quinn, call around to find a place to stay tonight. All the rest of us, we were planning on leaving today anyway, we'll just get an earlier start."
Everyone still stood around in surprise at Daria's outburst. Quinn stepped beside Daria and made shooing motions with her hands. "You heard her. Get moving."
After seeing everyone's abrupt departure, Daria and Quinn went upstairs to prepare their exits. Quinn quietly closed the door after following Daria into her room. "I was really surprised by what you did down there."
"Mom and Dad may have their faults, but they didn't deserve that."
"They weren't perfect parents, but they did try in their own way."
Daria replied, "When they met during the sixties, they were so busy trying to save the world, they forgot to save themselves."
"You know, in a way, they did save each other. I don't think either one would have made it alone."
Daria gave a brief laugh. "Quinn, that's quite an observation, and you're right. They are the supports that keep each other going."
"It's too bad that life didn't treat them any better."
"They did make the most of what life gave them. They've been married for twenty-five years, and together for almost thirty-two. None of their siblings came anywhere close to that. All things considered, they've also made a good life for us."
"I wish we could do more for them."
Daria placed a hand on Quinn's shoulder. "We can. By making sure we lead good lives."
Quinn looked in confusion. "Aren't you usually giving me a hard time about being self-centered?"
"They sacrificed a lot for us, we owe them. What they want most in return is for us to be happy."
"I think I can do that."
The seemingly endless miles of interstate passed by Daria as she traveled back to Boston. That could have gone better, but I learned a lot.
Daria sipped from a cup of convenience store coffee and continued thinking and driving.
Mom and Dad did go through a lot in their lives. I've never thought of just how much, or what they gave up for Quinn and me.
You have to admire how their love held them together through all the problems.
Daria smiled and said out loud, "Like the way I hope Michael and I love each other."
Daria reached over to adjust the radio to a new station and continued on her way. She felt a tug at the corner of her mind that something important had happened.
Five minutes later, she pulled into a rest area, wide-eyed, as she realized what she had said.
Jake and Helen's wedding vows from The Daria Diaries by Anne D. Bernstein.
Thanks to Ipswichfan and Kristen Bealer for beta reading.