Disclaimer: This 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.
This is the fifth story in the Last Summer series
Comforting a Confused Soul
Jane Lane stepped back from the easel to take in the full composition. The subjects were roughed in, but recognizable. Jake and Helen Morgendorffer were placed in the center. Daria was placed next to Helen, and Quinn beside Jake, both slightly in front of their parents. Jake was painted wearing a tuxedo, Helen in a dark red evening gown, Quinn in blue, and Daria in black. Tacked across the top of the canvas were large scans of each in their formal attire. Beside the easel was a table with four artist mannequins, posed as a group that matched the family portrait. Swing-arm lamps were clamped to the table to give stable lighting to them. Hours of work still lay ahead before the painting would be complete, but Jane was happy with the progress made. Thumb on brush handle, she eyeballed the proportions and placement of the painting. While taking these measurements, thought back to the small party at Daria's a couple weeks ago.
Beside her, all the Morgendorffers, Jodie, and Mack were milling around the dining room table, munching on pizza and talking about Daria's first published story. Helen and Jake had momentarily disappeared and then reappeared with a cake topped with a small plastic easel and inscribed, "Congratulations, Jane."
Helen waved to get everyone's attention, "Daria tells me we have another reason to celebrate tonight. Jane made her first major sale this week. Congratulations Jane, best wishes on your budding career, too."
The only other Lane at home when she had made her first major sale was her brother Trent. To his credit, he convinced Mystik Spiral to take her out for pizza to celebrate, though she did have to help cover the tab. Jane's mother, Amanda, had returned from her latest artistic expedition only a week ago. She, along with her husband Vincent, had missed Jane's graduation, thus only Trent served as the family representative for Jane. Vincent, her brother Wind, and sisters Penny and Summer were scattered to the four winds, for some, whereabouts unknown. Except for Trent, Jane often felt the other members of the Lane household thought of her more as a boarder than as family. Despite creating a whole new definition of dysfunctional, the Morgendorffers had treated her like family more often in the last three years than had her own.
What had started out as an artistic poke at her friend had turned into something more involved. She had obtained photos from Helen of Daria and her family at the Bar Association Dinner. The original intent was a painting of Daria in a formal dress, since she was so easily embarrassed by how well she looked. However, seeing them bring out a cake to commemorate her success led to a change of plans.
Jane said to herself. "The chances of those maniacs getting together like this for a portrait without bloodshed are a million to one. I hope they like this gift for comforting a confused soul like mine." She remembered a comment she made to Daria the previous summer:
"Any kid who looks to you for nurturing is more than just lost."
She shook her head and said, "So what does that make me?"
Trent's voice called from the door, "Janey, something weird happened in the kitchen; do you know anything about it?"
Jane thought, Please don't let it be Mom doing glazes in there again. She turned to look at his approaching form. "Define weird."
"There are these boxes in the refrigerator; it looks like they might have food."
"Hit it in one Trent. The Food Fairy paid us a visit."
"I bought groceries yesterday. I was getting tired of Pizza Prince, Cluster Burger and Good Times Chinese."
"Cool. Where'd you get the money? Mom always hides the blank checks when she gets home."
"I sold another painting. Plus, I do get paid for the hours I put in at Gary's."
"Oh yeah, you've been, like, responsible lately." Trent reached the easel and was looking at the reference photos. "Whoa, Daria looks hot."
"I'm doing a family portrait for the Morgendorffers, using some photos of them from that formal dinner I had to help Daria shop for last month." Jane got a half-smile and said, "I'm sure she'd love to hear you say that. She is unattached again, you know."
Trent shook his head, remembering his long conversation with Daria early in the summer, "Don't go there. So, why the painting for the Morgendorffers?"
"For remembering me and my first sale at Daria's party. They had me over there helping decorate for her, and then they managed to completely surprise me. Brought out a cake and everything. Besides you, they are the closest I feel to a family."
"They're good people. The portrait's a nice thought. Say, does that food have directions?"
Jane laughed at her brother, "Yes, Trent. I made sure all the packages had cooking directions. Just to let you know, that food is for us, not the band. They can bring their own."
Trent was heading out of the room, "Good thinking, Janey. Better make sure they don't go through the kitchen after practice tonight."
"Crap." Looking worried, Jane started capping paint tubes and securing loose objects.
The following morning in Jane's room, the buzzing alarm was abruptly stopped by a pounding fist. Jane crawled from bed on all fours.
"Eight AM. What I am I doing?"
Two-thirds of the way to her door, she managed to achieve an upright walk, but kept one hand on a wall for support. By 8:45, Jane was heading out the front door clothed in black jeans and a rumpled red dress shirt, carrying her backpack. A large travel mug of coffee was held firmly in her other hand. Tossing the backpack into the passenger seat of Trent's car, she started it and backed out of the driveway. Ten minutes later she was behind Gary's Gallery, unlocking the back door with her keys.
Jane was looking between one of the scanned printouts and a sketchpad, adding to the drawing at intervals. She gazed up at the clock: 12:45. Sighing, she carefully put a couple finishing touches on a detail drawing of Daria's face for the portrait, put the printout carefully into the sketchpad, and closed it. She traded it for an identical looking one from her backpack and started sketching an abstract of her house.
Daria walked in about five minutes later, wearing one of her black skirts and a green t-shirt sporting the image of a cockroach and the words "May the Metamorphosis be with you."
"Hi, Jane. About ready for lunch?"
"Starving. Just waiting for Gary to get here and we can go." Jane set the sketchpad on the counter and started to total up money in the cash register and check against the receipts. "You know, one of these days it'd be cool to be in here when one of my paintings sells." As she spoke, she nodded toward a side-room of the store where local artists displayed works for sale. Inside, Jane had half of one wall devoted to her works, not bad with over a dozen local artists also displaying.
"Get me a copy of the security tape; I want to see the look on your face, and the customer's, when you give them a wet, sloppy kiss."
Jane and Daria seated themselves in a booth at the Good Times Chinese Restaurant. One of the waiters quickly approached, poured tea for both, and handed each a menu before departing. Daria handed Jane a sheaf of papers from the folder she'd carried in. "This is for you and Trent. I was inspired by your general attitude toward holidays and the comment that you always feel something is a little out of place around here." Daria made a small, sweeping gesture to indicate the restaurant.
Jane read the title aloud, "Depth Takes a Holiday." She read a little bit, then cocked her head to the right and said, "Daria, they said don't take the brown acid."
"Not to worry, no brain cells were sacrificed for your entertainment, though I think some of them still aren't speaking to each other. It was an interesting change of pace to write something that absurd."
"If our lives weren't absurd enough, you write about it being more so?"
"Guess you could call it a gift."
"You know Daria, it's getting late in July. The summer is more than half over."
"Don't remind me. As much as I look forward to getting a real education, this has been the most enjoyable summer I've ever had. I don't want it to end just yet."
"You better be careful," Jane started counting on her fingers, "Conned your way out of a structured summer activity; shopped for and wore a formal dress, twice; wrote a speech for your mother; created an real honor society out of thin air: manipulated the four of us as the inaugural members; and assumed presidency of said honor society. Either that's six impossible things you've done before college, or we are just one sign away from the apocalypse."
"I don't plan on letting that happen before eleven AM, your move-in day to BFAC."
"Daria, you remembered. How sweet."
"Just do me a favor, I don't want photos."
Jane shook her head. "Damn, we are getting frustrated. How did we drift on to this subject? Anyway, I was going to suggest something we have never done before: road trip."
"Jane, doesn't that require a car first?"
Jane had begged off going to Daria's after lunch, explaining that she needed to help her mother find the new heat variations in her kiln. She was excited to get back to work on the painting. Daria was getting suspicious about Jane's evading her to spend time at Casa Lane; and the drop in time she spent visiting her. Therefore, Jane wanted to get as much time put into working on the portrait that night as she could. Her mother was in the kitchen when Jane entered the house.
"Jane, do you remember when I bought all this?" It's all so prepackaged."
Jane bitterly responded, "Mom, you didn't buy it, I did."
"Why did you do that?"
Jane's bitterness was starting to turn to anger, "Because I wanted something to eat in the house! I am tired of finding strange things growing on what is supposed to be food. I am tired of having to go out someplace to find something safe to eat. Mom, you haven't had the kitchen stocked this well since the last time everybody was home and you bought food for family dinners. You bought enough for a week and everyone was gone within a day."
"Helen was right that it would get me the house back; I just didn't expect it to work so fast."
"Well, that's wonderful. Why haven't you been keeping up with it, at least when you are actually home?"
"You and Trent have been doing so well, I didn't worry about it."
"Great. Things have been like that for I don't remember how many years now. Trent and I seem to survive, so you don't feel the need to put in much effort. I feel like you barely know I'm around. Do you even know how old I am?"
"Well, you were born in '81, so that would make you 18. Say, shouldn't you be graduating soon?"
Jane's anger merged into rage, "That was a month and a half ago! You were too damn busy with God only knows what to even get back!" Jane turned and quickly exited the house.
Amanda lightly clasped her hands in front of herself. "I better make sure Trent doesn't lock the door tonight so she can get back in."
Jane had jogged to the railroad tracks along the side of town. When she reached them, she followed along at a walk. She passed the station on the opposite side of the tracks to avoid the small waiting crowd, crossing back once clear of the station. She cut over through a parking lot and reached the end of Dega Street. Traffic was light in the afternoon heat, which suited Jane's mood better than a large crowd. Slowly and randomly, she wandered along the street, occasionally stopping in stores or just window gazing. She stopped in front of the Funky Doodle momentarily.
"Ack. Who'd want to wear that? No wonder it's been in the window for over two years now."
Shaking her head, she continued on toward Axl's. "Not that I need any more holes in my head, but maybe something new to put in them."
"What have we here? The lean and luscious lady in red, Miss Lane."
Jane felt her stomach lurch at the sickeningly saccharine and decidedly undebonair voice of Upchuck.
"And where, pray tell, is the striking and mysterious temptress in black, Miss Morgendorffer?"
Figures he would actually read the local news, Jane thought as she looked at the red-headed boy approaching from the side. Revulsion mixed with annoyance at the interruption to her wanderings.
With eyes flashing an icy blue, Jane spoke through clenched teeth, "Upchuck, you have five seconds to remove yourself from my sight if you want any of your appendages to remain attached to your body."
"Grr, Fies…ty." His voice dropped from normal to a hoarse whisper as he saw the cold fury reflected in those eyes, something he didn't want directed at him. He backed away three paces, then spun on his heel and sprinted down the nearest alley.
Not waiting to give him a chance to reconsider, she broke into a jog and was quickly at Axl's.
"Afternoon, luv. Cool news about your painting." The accented voice rose from behind the counter, followed quickly by the owner's head.
"Huh? Oh, thanks, Axl. How'd you hear about it?"
"Trent told me the last time he was here. He was real happy for you."
"He was almost as happy as I was. At least there's somebody in my family that notices anything."
"Things not going well at home? Let me guess, you've had other family members return."
Jane sat down on a stool across the counter from Axl, relieved to have someone to talk to. "Mom made it back last week. She and my Dad missed my graduation, later; she came home as if nothing had happened. Spends almost all of her time down in her kiln bunker. Then she got all weird on me for actually buying some food to have in the house. In the middle of everything, it finally dawned on her to ask if my graduation was soon. That's when I lost it and left."
"No offense luv, I'm happy to be a friendly ear. But don't you think it'd be better to talk this out with a good friend, like Daria?"
"Well, she's also part of the problem, or at least, she and her family are."
"Daria's been my best friend for three years now. Her family is basically a bunch of lunatics, but they mean well and have good hearts. In their own ways, they have accepted me and I've felt more like a family to them than my own, except Trent. I was planning to work on something for them today when things hit the fan with Mom. I want to keep this as a surprise; if I talked to Daria today, I'd probably spill the beans. Besides, I kind of feel like my loyalty is split." Jane paused, and then said, "Did that make any sense?"
Axl grinned, "How many years have I been doing piercings for Mystik Spiral? I've learned to deal with their convoluted logic; your situation actually makes sense."
Jane breathed out a short laugh. "Thanks."
"Trent also mentioned some award ceremony or something; did your mum make it to that?"
"She was a bit confused by it, but yeah, she did."
Axl lightly patted Jane's hand. "So, she does care when she remembers, or you remind her."
"I guess you're right; I just wish she remembered better."
"Kind of like a child doesn't remember. From what Trent told me, the two of you have been the real adults around there for a couple years now. You've been forced to grow up fast around your home, but at least it sounds like you've had another place to stay young at."
"That just about sums things up."
"Maybe now you need to talk to your mum again."
"You're right; I need to talk to her, but not quite yet. Got any new earrings in?"
By early evening, Jane found herself back to an empty and unlocked home. She went to the kitchen to fix some dinner. Held to the refrigerator by a magnetic clip was a small stack of money and a note.
I found the grocery receipt in one of the empty bags. Next time, please let me know so you don't have to use your money. By the way, the ramen noodles heat up very nicely on the kiln.
Jane went to the back yard and descended into the pottery shelter. Amanda was seated at one workbench applying glaze to a series of thrown vases.
"Hi, Mom. Can I talk with you?"
"Of course. Communication is what keeps us together."
Jane stopped herself from rolling her eyes. "Mom, how much have we been communicating lately?"
"Oh, not much, really."
"I wanted to try to finish what we started this afternoon."
"I thought you would be back to talk about that. If you try to hold a..."
Jane cut off her mother abruptly, "Don't even bring up the freaking butterfly. Mom, you missed my graduation. Everyone else had their families there, I only had Trent. That hurt." Jane's shoulders slumped and her eyes were moist.
"Oh, you went to your graduation? I'm sorry, I didn't think you would since none of your brothers or sisters did."
"Oh. I knew about Trent and Penny, but I was too young to remember about Summer and Wind. Still, it would have been nice if you had checked with me."
"I guess I should have. You and Trent have always been such free spirits; it seems more like you are my equals instead of my children."
Um, yeah. Jane mentally added, Or of us as your parents. She decided to move on and try a little more reconciliation. "At least you were there for the Honor Society ceremony."
"That does make a little more sense now, knowing that you graduated. Somehow, I got the sense that there was something else going on there."
"Just a few in-jokes between the four of us." Jane was also thinking, I hope she buys that.
"Okay." Amanda gave Jane a slightly scrutinizing look.
"I still wish Dad could've been there, too."
"He was never comfortable with those kinds of things, but I'll let him know about it."
Jane decided to drop that line of discussion and move on to another. "Mom, we haven't really had a chance to talk about this before, but how much can you and Dad help me with college?"
"I thought you decided against college."
Jane thought back. The last time Amanda was home, Jane had only just sent her portfolio to BFAC and was maintaining the cover of no interest. Realization dawned suddenly and a little harshly.
"Mom, I changed my mind. I've been accepted for mid-year admission at Boston Fine Arts College." Jane's voice became quiet, "I forgot to tell you."
"Oh." Amanda gave Jane a gentle smile. "I think Vincent and I will be able to help you some." With a slight change in voice and demeanor that Jane had never encountered before, Amanda said, "Why don't we take a look at what you will need and what you have worked out already?"
Night had fully fallen by the time Jane finally reached her bedroom and prepared to paint. She felt better about her relationship with her mother than she had in years, and realized that she had more financial support for college than previously thought. Jane recognized the energy and motivation she felt now and relished it. There would be no sleep tonight; her muse was screaming and she would soon enter that dreamlike state of creation that only came infrequently, but always resulted in her best work. There was one last thing to do before starting, so she picked up the phone and dialed.
Helen answered with her sweet sounding "Hello."
"Hi, Mrs. Morgendorffer, it's Jane."
"Hi, Jane. Daria is in her room, just a second."
"No need, could you do me a favor tomorrow?"
"Jane, are you in trouble?"
"No, Mrs. Morgendorffer." Jane smiled at the automatic reaction. "I have a surprise for everyone I want to bring over, could you try to keep everyone tied down around the house at dinner tomorrow?"
"I guess so, what is this about?"
"That's a surprise. Can you do it?"
"I'll make sure everyone is here."
"Thanks, bye." Jane shut off the phone and prepared to paint without waiting for Helen's response.
Helen looked at the phone. "What a strange girl." Her smile indicated no real concern in the comment.
All four Morgendorffers were seated around the kitchen table for dinner. Jake was reading the paper, as was Daria. However, she was only lightly skimming the paper while listening for the doorbell. Helen and Quinn were conversing, both looking frustrated.
"Mom, my date will be here at any time. So what is this big deal we are waiting for?"
"I don't know, Jane would only say it was a surprise that she would bring over at dinner."
"That's what I'm worried about."
The ringing doorbell broke the conversation. Daria rose. "I'll get it."
Daria opened the door to reveal Jane and Trent carrying a black draped easel that obviously held a fairly large painting. In the driveway, she could see that the tank had been borrowed for the purpose. "Come on in, Jane. Hi, Trent."
Daria's family had gathered behind at was they considered a safe distance.
Jane gave a quick "Hi, everybody," and Trent simply said, "Hey."
After setting down the easel, Jane climbed underneath and made a few minor adjustments before coming out from under the drape.
Jane fidgeted and looked down a few moments, coughed lightly and looked up. "When you took the time out from Daria's publication party to surprise me with a cake for making my first big sale, it really meant a lot to me. Outside of Trent, I haven't been able to share a lot with my family. I know they love and care in their own way; my creativity and independence come from their hands-off approach. However, there were times when more support and closeness are needed. For the last three years since I met Daria, you have done that for me. Since I know you would never get together to have something like this done on your own, I made this as a gift to say thank you."
Jane pulled away the cover to show the portrait. A tear slid down Jane's cheek as she did. This was one of her best works and she was proud to give it to her second family.
Daria knew her friend's talent and skill, so she wasn't surprised by the artistry of the finished product. Knowing Jane's relationship to most of her family, Daria stood still in awe at what she knew was a great emotional investment on the part of her friend.
Jake and Helen were both surprised and pleased. In all the activity and confusion, they'd never succeeded in getting a good photograph of all four of them that night. Instead, their daughter's dear friend Jane had given them the family portrait they had long wished for and never achieved. They saw not only the physical appearance of each family member, but could feel the essence of each through the painting.
Quinn was understandably pleased that she looked good. Jane had captured her appearance quite well. However, she was exceptionally pleased with how well her sister looked. Quinn thought Daria should be able to see her beauty, just as I can see my intelligence.
Quinn felt a twinge of sisterly evil and was the first to speak, "Wow, you even managed to make Daria look good in that."
Daria started to glare at Quinn when she saw her sister wink, then quickly ad-libbed, "And Quinn looks like she's about to say something comprehensible."
Helen was about to rebuke both her daughters for their rude comments when she noticed the smirks passing between them and Jane. She ignored them and walked up to Jane, giving her a hug. "That is so beautiful, thank you Jane. I didn't realize how much we meant to you, but you are always welcome in our home."
Jake slapped Jane on the back, "That's really cool, Jane-O. No wonder you've been making sales of your work." Jake remembered the time he looked into having a portrait painted as a gift for Helen and shuddered at the price. At the same time, he knew such prices reflected the effort required, and was happy his daughter had a friend who thought so highly of the entire family.
Daria approached last, gave Jane a hug, and whispered, "Thank you."
The quiet emotion in that simple statement told Jane she had done the right thing.
Glenn Eichler and Peggy Nicoll, Is it Fall Yet?
Thanks to Ranger Thorne, Isa Yo-Jo, Parker-man and Mahna Mahna at PPMB for comments.
Thanks to Kristen Bealer and Robert Nowall for beta reading and detailed commentary.
Revised January 2005