©2003 by Roger E. Moore (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Feedback (good, bad, indifferent, just want to bother me, whatever) is appreciated. Please write to: email@example.com
Synopsis: When Upchuck takes up modeling photography, things unexpectedly develop in a negative way.
Author’s Notes: This fanfic was written in response to an Iron Chef competition on PPMB in February 2003, announced by WacoKid. Entries had to make use of an overused cliché from “Daria” fanfic, putting a new twist on it. Thus, the following tale. As usual, it is assumed that the reader is familiar with the major characters of the “Daria” TV show, so explanations of who is who are not needed.
Acknowledgements: Thanks to WacoKid for the contest, and to Brandon League, Galen “Lawndale Stalker” Hardesty, and Deref for their encouragement.
Upchuck was at the appointed place ten minutes early, dressed nicely but comfortably. He and Mrs. Blum-Deckler had agreed to meet at the food court at Cranberry Commons, in front of the giant Italian chef statue holding a pizza aloft. He waited nervously for her, scanning the crowd for anyone who might possibly be . . .
“Excuse me,” said a small, round woman in a white silk blouse and blue skirt. She was a bottle blonde, wore large glasses, and had an unpretentious air about her. “Mr. Ruttheimer?”
“Yes, that is me,” he said with a suave air. Mrs. Blum-Deckler wasn’t at all as he had imagined her, but he rolled with it like a pro. “Charles Ruttheimer the Third, at your service. Charles, if you please. And you’re Mrs. Blum-Deckler?” He put out his hand.
“Yep,” she said, giving him a quick, firm handshake. “I am she. So, you’re Tiffany’s photographer?” She glanced down at the manila envelope he carried.
“I was.” He waved a hand around the food court, including the giant pizza chef. “Where shall we enjoy our gastronomic delights?”
“I ate at the company cafeteria before I came out,” she said. “I’ll just get myself a soft drink.”
“Allow me, please.” She agreed and took a seat at a table near the center of the court, where few people sat on this Friday afternoon in early August. He took her order and brought a drink back for each of them several minutes later. He was glad she didn’t order anything more. He did not have much of an appetite. Too much was on his mind.
“So, why are we meeting here?” she asked. “You’re not going to ask me out, are you? I am married.” She laughed—for one second.
“Ah, no,” he said, smiling without humor. He leaned forward in his seat. “This is about Tiffany.”
“My daughter,” she said, staring at him. Her smile went away.
“Yes,” he said. His smile was gone, too. “A week ago last Tuesday, Tiffany called me to ask if she could schedule a photo session. She heard that I was taking private lessons in photography over the summer—”
“Was that through one of the schools around here?”
“No, this was with Clicker’s Clinic, downtown. I know the owner, an excellent shutterbug. He knows his cameras inside and out. I wanted to do something to better myself, and what better to be bettered with than photography?”
Mrs. Blum-Deckler gave him a knowing smile. “What better to attract girls?”
He was not caught off-guard. “That’s true!” he said with a grin—but not too large a grin. “It does work. Highly effective in drawing the fairer gender.”
“And Tiffany was one of those you attracted?” Mrs. Blum-Deckler’s voice, though light, had a dangerous undertone.
He hesitated before answering. “It wasn’t like that,” he said, trying to be more serious. “I already have a girlfriend—a fiancée, actually. One is quite enough for me, though there’s no harm in looking, as they say.”
“And what does your girlfriend think of your hobby?”
She’s certainly blunt, he thought. “She likes it,” he said honestly. “Andrea’s my favorite subject. A natural in front of a camera, drives her quite . . . um, anyway, that’s not the issue.” He put the manila envelope on the table in front of him. “In fact, she was the one who talked me into meeting with you. She’s working today and couldn’t be here, but it was her concern about Tiffany that got me to call you in the first place.”
Mrs. Blum-Deckler nodded, looking patiently from Upchuck to the envelope.
He sighed, then opened the envelope. “Tiffany wanted to put together a swimsuit photo series. She said she was putting together a, um, photo resume, I guess it’s called—”
“Modeling portfolio.” Mrs. Blum-Deckler sighed, too. “She talks about nothing else, I swear.”
“Ah, then we are talking about the same Tiffany. Feisty one, that.” He did not say “feisty” as he usually did, with a leer. He did not have the heart. He pulled a stack of six-by-eight color glossies from the envelope and flipped through them without expression. He swallowed, then handed the photos to Tiffany’s mother, sat back, and waited.
Mrs. Blum-Deckler took the photos and began to go through them. The first photo stopped her cold, however. One by one, she went through the pictures, staring at each with increasing horror.
“Mrs. Blum-Deckler,” Upchuck said, hoping his voice would not carry beyond the table, “I’ve known your daughter for some years as an acquaintance and classmate at Lawndale High School, from which I graduated last spring. It struck me during the photo session that Tiffany looked . . . different. She’s always been a, um, petite size, if you don’t mind my saying so, but it seemed—”
“Excuse me,” Mrs. Blum-Deckler said, holding up a hand. She went through the rest of the photos, then put them face down on the table before her and stared blankly at the stack.
Upchuck waited five seconds before clearing his throat. “I—”
“Has anyone else seen these?”
“Just my fiancée. As I said she was the one who encourage me to talk with you and your husband.”
Mrs. Blum-Deckler stared at the facedown photos. “Dear God,” she said softly.
Upchuck pushed the manila envelope and its contents toward her. “Here are the rest of the series, and the negatives. And, um, Tiffany’s money back.”
“Her money?” She looked up at Upchuck in confusion. “How much did she pay you?”
“Not much. Thirty dollars. I freely confess I like working with female subjects, so I don’t charge very much. I believe she was trying to keep her own costs down, too, so it was a natural fit. So to speak.”
“Oh.” She looked down at the photos. “Are you the one she calls ‘Upchuck’?”
“The very one,” he said with a rakish grin. “A pet name that those of the female persuasion had for me at Lawndale High.”
Mrs. Blum-Deckler shook her head in slight amusement, but that faded a second later. She reached for the photo stack and picked up the top picture, turning it over to look at it. A stricken look settled over her face, mixed with a dreadful helplessness.
“I can see her whole skeleton,” she whispered. “Every rib, everything.”
Upchuck swallowed again, feeling ill. “She’s lost weight since I last saw her,” he said. “It was my thought that she never had any weight to lose in the first place. Nothing she could afford to lose, I mean.”
She put the photo back, then shielded her eyes with a hand as if covering her face from bright sunlight.
“I’m worried about her,” Upchuck added. He made a face. “I’m not accustomed to saying that, but I am.”
She let out a long breath. “I bet you were expecting something different when she showed up for the photo session.”
He nodded. He was not going to tell her that Tiffany had overcome her normal aversion to Upchuck after seeing some of his photographic work, and she had asked for a nude photo set to go with the swimsuit one. The nude set was for herself—no doubt to show her how much weight she’d lost, and perhaps remind her how much further she needed to go before she finally had no fat on her at all.
He remembered that he had to fake a major camera malfunction to cancel the extra session and stop Tiffany from removing her swimsuit. He was too frightened of what he would see.
“You’re not what I’d expected, either,” she said. “I’ve heard a little about you from Tiffany. You . . . I’m just surprised, that’s all. No offense.”
He shrugged. He knew that nothing flattering about him would have been communicated, but in the end, Tiffany was a practical girl where her modeling career was concerned. Practical and blind.
“I’ll have to talk to my husband,” Mrs. Blum-Deckler whispered. She indicated the photos. “Can I have these to show to—”
“They are yours, all of them. They’re copies; Tiffany’s already picked up the originals. Please take them. No charge.”
“Thank you, I think,” she said after a pause, then looked pained. “No, I’m sorry. I am grateful. Thank you very much. I mean it.”
He looked at the tabletop. “I don’t know what to say. I’m sorry to show you this.”
Mrs. Blum-Deckler did not look at Upchuck as she slowly collected the pictures. “I think you said all the right things, Mr. Ruttheimer. I don’t know if anyone else would have. I’m the one who doesn’t know what to say. I never dreamed . . . I swear, I had no idea she’d gone this far. She’s worn slacks and long-sleeved blouses around the house this summer. I haven’t seen her in a bikini since . . . since I don’t know when.” She stopped and stared at one photo in particular. “She just looks like . . .”
She looks like she walked out of Auschwitz, Upchuck thought, looking at that picture too. He remembered then what it had been like to see her in her swimsuit, the stomach-churning fear that Tiffany would soon be dead of what she had done to herself. Soon, as in weeks or days. From what little he knew of anorexia, it was merciless.
“I put my card with my home phone in the envelope,” he said at last, “in case you or your husband need to call me.”
“Thank you.” Mrs. Blum-Deckler stood, envelope in hand. Upchuck stood up with her. “I’m sorry, but I don’t think I can finish my drink.”
“No trouble at all.”
She threw her soft drink in a waste container. She then turned back and held out a hand. “Thank you for telling me, for doing this. It couldn’t have been easy for you.”
He shook her hand. Melancholy settled over him like a blanket. “It wasn’t.”
“I have to see my husband,” she said. “And then Tiffany, of course. I don’t know what we’ll do, but . . . this can’t go on.”
“No,” he agreed. “If there’s anything else I can do, please—”
“No, I think this was enough. Thank you again. And please thank your fiancée for me, Mr. Ruttheimer.”
“I will. You’re welcome.”
“Goodbye.” She turned and left quickly, clutching the package. Her face was tight and devoid of color.
Upchuck stared down at his own drink. He took a sip of it and looked around the mall. He had a terrible urge to escape.
“Homeward,” he said to himself. He walked out of the food court doors for the parking lot. He almost threw his drink out as he left, but he saved it. The summer air was hotter than he’d remembered. He stopped on the sidewalk, on the verge of crossing the street to the aisle where his car sat.
Andrea gets off work from that wretched discount store at five, he thought. I have a few hours to kill. No need to go home just yet. He looked reflectively back at the mall. Perhaps it wouldn’t hurt to get the Queen of the Goths a token of his affections, something in appreciation of her . . . natural charms.
The familiar leer of the old Upchuck came to his face.
She wouldn’t mind a gift that accented those natural charms, he knew. She liked that. Beautiful things should always be properly wrapped.
“Lane Bryant, here I come,” he said under his breath, and he took his drink back inside where it was dark and cool, like his beloved Andrea.