Synopsis: On a rainy night in Lawndale, two people connect. Old scores are settled, worries discussed and resolved, and an announcement made.
Gentle reader, this is a chapter in a series. It will make much more sense if you read what has gone before, starting with "My Afternoon at Tom's". If you haven't the time or the inclination to read the whole series, you'll find Bird on the Wire, Quinntessence Parts 1 and 2, and Tie Died, My Darling worthwhile background to the events that follow.
"Come in, Sweetie."
Rain squalls lashed the bedroom window. The light from the lamp on Helen's nightstand cast soft shadows on the wall behind Quinn as she slowly walked into the bedroom and sat down on the bed beside her mother. Helen put down the brief she was reading and, looking over her glasses, smiled gently at her younger daughter.
"I've been talking to Daria."
"Oh." Helen's face took on a shade so slightly different that only the trained eye of a Fashion Club member would have detected it. "I thought you might have been."
Quinn looked away, her voice soft. "She was pretty. What was she like?"
Helen took off her reading glasses, looked up at the ceiling and sighed. The corners of her mouth curved up in the hint of a smile. "Infuriating. Thoughtful sometimes--she gave me the book of sonnets you like so much. Very intense, very passionate, very possessive."
"Were you in love with her?"
Helen looked back towards Quinn, who was still not meeting her eyes. "Perhaps. I think she was in love with me, but I don't really know if I was in love with her."
Quinn turned and looked directly at her mother. "If you don't know, then you weren't."
Helen's heart missed a beat. There was more in what Quinn had told her than all that had passed between them in years. She resisted the urge to clutch her daughter to her, knowing that this had to move at Quinn's pace. It would happen if it happened. "You may be right." A gust of cold wind rattled the windowpane.
"Why did you let Daria tell me?"
"Because she wanted to." Helen returned Quinn's gaze. "I was going to tell you myself, but something she said made me realise that it was just as appropriate for her to tell you."
"What? What did she say?"
"That she thinks of you as a friend. A good friend." She waited, watching the conflicting emotions cross Quinn's face.
"I know." She smiled. "I was just as surprised as you. After all the animosity that you two have had for each other I thought that any opportunity to cement that friendship would be worth it." She reached out for Quinn's hand and took it gently in hers. "It means a lot to me to see you two getting close after so long."
"It means a lot to me too. I guess I feel different about a lot of things these days."
"How do you feel about...you know, me, Eric...?"
"At first it was strange. I felt...as if...as if none of this had happened, as if I should be shocked." She paused. "I thought that I should be reacting how I would have reacted before, before I realised that I like girls. But I didn't." Looking straight at Helen, she said "All of a sudden I realised..." She paused again.
Quinn turned towards at the rain-spattered window as a fresh gust blasted its burden load of fat raindrops against it. She spoke quietly. "It had all just been a game up until that day...that...I mean I'd never felt anything, you know, like..." She looked down. "I'm not expressing this very well am I?"
"You're doing fine, honey."
"All the feelings were new. I wondered whether all that...stuff...that I did, all the cuteness, the dating, the...bravado I guess you'd call it...was just a cover-up--something I did to block out the way I really felt."
She absentmindedly let go of Helen's hand, picked up the glass of water from the nightstand and gazed into it, holding it between her hands as if it was a crystal ball, able to tell her of hidden things, secrets. But it was just a glass of water. She stared into it anyway. "If that was what it was, then what was the real me? What if what I'd thought was me was just an act, just something I did to hide the real me? What if there wasn't any 'real' me? I was so scared."
Helen thought back to the start of her relationship with Erica. It had all been so easy then. There hadn't been any of this; no uncertainty, no concern. Different times, different people. She hadn't ever, in her wildest dreams, imagined this.
Quinn continued. "But that didn't stop me. Daria stopped me. Did she tell you that she threatened to rip my lungs out if I ever told Jane how I felt?" The ghost of a smile. She could smile about it now. But not then.
That makes sense, Helen thought, but she played the question. "No."
"Have you ever seen Daria really angry?"
Helen shook her head gently, not wanting to interrupt.
"She scared me more than I scared myself, but the silly thing is that, in a way, I was grateful. See? She'd given me an excuse to bury it, to let me be the old me again. The feelings didn't go away, but they stayed covered up and I could go back to being comfortable for while. Then that night, when Daria brought Jane home, Daria told me I could tell Jane how I felt, it all came to the surface again." Her voice, which had been getting quieter, was almost a whisper now. "But I knew I had to find out. I had to take the chance."
She turned to face her mother.
"Mom, you know I was grateful that you'd accepted it--me and Jane I mean, but I still felt...that, despite all you said, you really disapproved. I felt...guilty, as if it was something that shouldn't have happened, as if there was something wrong with it. But now I know for certain that you don't feel like that. I feel--I don't know--as if it's all suddenly...alright. I still don't really know who I am, but I'm starting to understand who I'm not, and that's a good start, isn't it?"
They looked at each other, silently. Walls fell, barriers tumbled. For the second time in a week, a mother and daughter who had known, but not known, each other for too long, fell together and hugged with desperate affection. The rain fell.
Cranberry Commons was crowded with afternoon shoppers; fish swimming in the bright neon timelessness of an artificial ocean, lured unquestioning into the gaping maw of the marketplace.
Among the shoals swam four who saw themselves more predator than prey, at home in their natural habitat. Far from being predators they were, in reality, the sweetest morsels on the menu. The Lawndale High School Fashion Club was hunting and, in nature's eternal tradition, the hunter was about the become the hunted.
One of them stopped, mesmerised by windowed bait.
"Er, guys, you go on. I just remembered that I have to pick up something. I'll catch up to you," eyes fixed on the shiny lure.
The lead remora turned. "Gee Quinn, you wouldn't be thinking of making any selections without the benefit of our advice, would you?"
"Oh Sandi, you know I wouldn't choose anything for myself without your help. It's just something I promised I'd pick up for my Mom."
"But Quinn, this store only caters for younger people. No-one of Helen's advanced years and fuller figure would find possibly find anything suitable in here."
"Yeeeaaaah. Advanced years." said the third.
A fishy smile. "Uh, well, okay. It's actually something for my sister, but she made me promise that I wouldn't tell."
"Wow Quinn--you mean Daria's actually taking your advice and getting something fashionable?" bubbled the fourth.
"Yes Quinn--perhaps we should arrange a makeover for your cous...I mean your sister. I mean with her being away at college and all, she'll need all the help she can get." the head remora offered.
"Heh, well, you know, what with college and everything, I suppose she felt that she needed something new."
"Alright then Quinn. If you say so. We'll see you at 'Fashions is We'. Don't be long."
They rejoined the school, leaving the red, pink and blue one to dart off alone, defenceless.
Jane opened the door. Quinn held out a shopping bag with Cashmans -- Life's a Beach in bright red lettering.
Quinn silently held out the bag, a smile of delight on her face.
A gift? She and Trent always exchanged something on their birthdays, though they tended to be practical things like paintbrushes and guitar strings. The Lanes were hardly ever together at Christmas so exchanging gifts just wasn't one of those things they did. It was no big deal, she didn't miss it. But all of a sudden, the thought of someone--this someone in particular--actually buying her a present was quite moving. And quite exciting.
"A present? For me?" She looked puzzled, uncertain that she understood.
Quinn nodded, smiling at Jane's surprise.
Jane looked down at the bag, then back to Quinn. "We've never really 'done' presents. Well, Trent and I usually give each other birthday presents, you know, guitar strings, paintbrushes. And there's never anyone here at Christmas." Her voice was becoming distant, but then she grinned, took Quinn's hand and led her, bounding, up the stairs. She hadn't felt like this since was a little kid. Images of a long-ago Christmas flashed fleetingly across her mind's eye.
Quinn pulled a wrapped box out of the bag. It was about a foot square and three inches high, store-wrapped with a blue ribbon and a small blue bow on the corner. She handed it to Jane, who took it and stood, looking at it, as if she wasn't quite sure what to do with it.
"Well..." said Quinn, smirking, "...are you going to open it or stare at it."
Jane's attention snapped back to Quinn. She grinned, a little sheepishly. "Oh, yeah."
Slipping the ribbon off, she carefully removed the wrapping paper, uncovering a foil-coated box, pale gold with diagonal silver stripes, quite elegant in a commercial sort of way. She slowly removed the lid to reveal a layer of blue tissue paper. Rather than just peel back the tissue paper she hesitated, and turned to look at Quinn to see a delightful, eager expression. She's enjoying this more than I am, Jane realised. "Nah." she teased. "I think I'll leave it for later".
Quinn couldn't stand it any longer. "Ooh--damn you. Here--give it to me!" She took the box and opened the tissue paper leaves.
There in the box was the skimpiest, bluest bikini that Jane had ever seen. She lifted the bikini top and held it up at arm's length by one of its ties, staring in surprise. She put the box down on the bed in a daze and lifted out the bikini bottom. It was nothing much more than a couple of small triangles of fabric with strings at the corners, not too dissimilar from the top. She turned to Quinn, a rueful smile on her reddening face. "You actually expect me to wear this?"
"No, I bought it for you to wipe the floor with! Here--let me see." She picked up the bikini top and held it up next to Jane's face. "Perfect. Look." She pushed Jane over to the mirror. It was exactly the colour of her eyes. "Well go on, put it on!"
"Not while you're watching. Wait outside." She half-pushed a giggling Quinn out the door and closed it behind her. Once Quinn was outside Jane was able to reflect that she was astounded. She looked at the bikini. Not in a billion years would she have ever considered wearing anything like this. She shook her head in bewilderment as she slipped out of her clothes.
"Can I come in yet?"
"No. Stay there. I'll tell you when you can come in."
She put the bottom on first, tying it tight in a vain attempt to make it cover more than it was designed to. She looked in the mirror. Uh-oh. No matter how she tried, some stray black hair poked out around the edges. She shrugged and put on the top, which tied in a single bow behind her back. It took a bit of fumbling before she got it right. For the first time Jane was grateful that she had small boobs--a size bigger and this wouldn't have...she caught sight of herself in the mirror and was transfixed.
There was a knock on the door. "Jane--what are you doing in there?"
The spell was partly broken. "Yo," she muttered. "You can come in."
The door opened. Quinn stood there, eyes wide, mouth open.
Jane turned slowly, staring at herself in the mirror, lean, athletic body, long legs, taut stomach, set off by a bikini that reflected perfectly the cobalt of her eyes and contrasted magnificently with the jet black of her hair. She could have been a picture out of Waif's swimwear layout. How could so little fabric look so good?
Quinn slowly walked into the room, blindly closing the door behind her, her gaze fixed intently on Jane. She'd known that Jane would look good. Why not? She had exquisite and finely-honed taste, didn't she? But this...
"Well? Aren't you going to say anything?" Jane turned, smiling, to see an unfamiliar, intense expression on Quinn's face.
"Take it off." Almost a whisper.
"What? But I've only just put it on..."
Looking at the red glow extending up Quinn's face, Jane smiled as she understood that this was no time to argue the point. She shrugged, reached up behind her back and pulled the string that undid the bow. "Chicks!" she muttered.
The Pizza king was unusually crowded for a Friday afternoon, but the usual chatter seemed muted. Perhaps there was a sense of foreboding on the part of the Lawndale High graduating class. Little time was left to while away the afternoons over a slice of pizza with familiar faces. Soon, for most, college would suck away the last glittering remnants of childhood, replacing them with the far brighter glitter of young adulthood. Whatever. They'd be scattered. Some were speculating about college, perhaps hiding nervousness behind details of courses first choices, rumours of college life, new freedoms, new experiences.
Others were more muted.
"So are you going to tell me what's wrong or am I going to have to beat it out of you?"
Jane held a slice of pepperoni pizza up to the fluorescent light. "You know, they say the streets of Heaven are paved with gold. Personally I think that it's just a trick of the light. See? If you hold it just right, the way the light glistens off the grease? Just like gold. With all those shafts of sunlight streaming down through the clouds you could be forgiven for jumping to conclusions."
"No, left over pepperoni pizza goes to Hell--the angels kept complaining about having to wash the grease out of their wings. The streets of Heaven are paved with Cashmans boxes, or so I'm told, and you should know. It sounds as if you were transported there for a little while. And stop prevaricating."
Jane smiled sadly. "It was so sweet, Daria. Do you know how long it's been since someone gave me anything?"
"I gave you a loan of my pen in English the other day."
"And I appreciated it. But it's not quite the same thing." Jane took a small bite and chewed absentmindedly.
Daria persisted. "Hey--just because I didn't make you get naked immediately afterwards doesn't cheapen the gesture. It's the thought that counts."
"The loan of a pen only gets you a brief glimpse of left boob. What do you think I am--a whore?"
"We've already established that. I'm just trying to negotiate a price."
A voice from beside them broke the flow. "The prices are lower in the next booth, or so they tell me." Mack flicked a glance toward Kevin and Brittany. Kevin, as usual, had straws stuffed up his nose.
Daria turned and sighed. "Have a seat, Mack"
"Sorry. I didn't mean to interrupt."
Jane grinned at him "Nah - we needed to be interrupted. So tell me, big guy, do you think Daria's a lesbian?"
Daria blushed, despite that fact that she saw through Jane's ploy like plate glass.
Mack slid into the booth next to Daria and shrugged "A lesbian? Sure. If you like. Why?"
"Told you." Jane smirked at Daria.
"So who's going to break the news to Tom, particularly since I just got this?" Daria deadpanned. She put a hand in her pocked and tossed a piece of paper onto the table.
Jane picked it up and unfolded it. Her eyebrows told the story. "Wow. Microgynon." Seeing Mack's incomprehension she said "It's a prescription for contraceptive pills."
"Oh--yeah. Hey, I think that's Jodie's brand. Oh damn! Forget that I ever said that!" He looked pleadingly at Daria and Jodie.
"Said what? But I'm serious, Mack. Did you ever think that Daria and I were, well, you know..." She made kissy kissy faces at Daria.
"You're serious, aren't you?" he said, clearly surprised.
"Well, there was some talk around the locker room, but no-one ever claimed to be sure. You know--locker room conjecture. Believe me, you don't want to know about some of the stuff that gets talked about in there. Anyway, once Daria started dating Tom it all went out the window."
"But I dated Tom before Daria did, and I'd been dating other guys before that."
"I didn't say it was logical--we're talking locker room here." Mack stopped himself and suddenly turned to Jane. "And you didn't ask me whether people thought you were a lesbian--you asked me about Daria."
"What's this about you and lesbians, Michael Jordan McKenzie?"
Daria threw Jane an unspoken "saved in the nick of time" look.
Mack looked up to see his girlfriend standing beside him. "Jodie! Um, Jane was just asking me if Daria was a lesbian."
Jodie spoke to Mack, but she looked at Jane. "And how would you know, pray tell?"
Jane smirked. "Relax, Jodie. It was just a ploy to get Mack to stop bugging Daria for a date."
Mack blushed, which, considering his colouring, was no mean feat. "Well, it's been nice chatting to you ladies, but we have to go now, wouldn't want to keep the President waiting." He stood, grabbing Jodie by the arm and dragging her away. As they walked out they heard Jodie ask "Have you really been pestering Daria for a date?"
Daria turned from watching them go. "Has anyone ever told you have a mean streak, Lane?" She retrieved her prescription from the table and stuffed it back her pocket.
"You. Constantly. That's why you like me."
"Of course. Now, to take up where we were before we were so rudely interrupted, what the hell is the matter?"
Jane slumped. "We sort of, uh, had a little fight."
"Aw, a lovers' tiff," she smirked. "What about?"
"She wants to rip my pubic hair out by the roots."
Daria looked at Jane and, for a rare, fleeting instant, laughed out loud.
"What are you laughing at, Morgendorffer? Like anyone's ever threatened to rip out your pubes!"
Daria blushed. "Um, actually, they have. More than threatened."
"You're kidding? This is some kind of weird pain thing that you and Tom are into, isn't it? Because if it is, I don't want to hear about it!"
"Actually, it was Quinn."
"Quinn?" Jane stared, her face blank.
Daria smiled. "I still can't believe she talked me into it, but she actually managed to convince me to let her do a wax job on me."
"Did it hurt?" Jane breathed.
"Like hell. You can imagine how much she enjoyed it."
Jane looked distant, her face flushed.
"Oh, sorry. I was just...thinking. Look, Daria, I've gotta go. I wanted to get some painting done. If I'm going to be alone tonight I might as well use the time profitably, okay?"
"Er, sure, okay. But I thought we might spend some time together, you know, like we did back in the good old days. Watch a little TV, eat a little ice cream, torture a little animal."
Jane's thoughts were distracting her, but she couldn't help smiling. "Yeah, that'd be fun Amiga. But not tonight, okay?" She got up to leave.
What the Hell was that all about? Daria thought. She was disappointed, but Jane clearly needed some time. "Okay, see you then." She said, watching her friend walk away, wondering if there was anything she should be doing, anything she'd missed. A tiny shiver ran up her spine. The last time she'd seen jane like this she almost hadn't seen her again. Ever. She leapt up and ran out of the Pizza King after her friend who was disappearing around a corner.
She caught up to Jane and grabbed her by the shoulder. Jane started and spun round.
"Dammit Daria--don't scare me like that!"
"Sorry, but I wasn't going to let you go in that...mood. Are you okay?"
"Sure. I'm fine. I just want some time alone, that's all."
"Crap. The last time I saw you in a mood like this I nearly spent the rest of my life alone. I'm not going to let it happen again."
Jane looked at her friend and felt a rush of emotion. She took Daria's hand and squeezed, smiling at her. "Thanks Daria. I really appreciate that. But honestly--I'm fine. I'm not depressed. I just need to think, that's all. You have to admit that a lot's been going on and I guess I just have some things to work through. But I promise--no rash moves. Okay?. Call me later if you want to."
"Well, okay. If you're sure." Her voice betrayed her uncertainty.
"Yeah, I'm sure, really."
"Is there anything you'd like me to tell Quinn?"
Jane sighed. "Yeah. Thanks." She whispered into Daria's ear.
Jane set up her easel and started painting. But it wasn't working. She couldn't paint her way out of this corner. She cleaned her brushes and palette, put them away and lay back on the bed. She thought about Quinn and a tight knot made its presence felt in her stomach. Well, if that's not love then all the songs are wrong. Dammit. What am I talking about? I know exactly how I feel about Quinn.
But what the hell happened back there?
She went back over Daria's words. The pictures appeared in her mind again, Daria laying on her bed, a towel under her, naked from the waist down, legs apart, Quinn applying the hot wax in strips, letting it cool, ripping it off, Daria's stifled yells of pain, goosebumps where the hair had been torn out. Daria in the shower after gym, soft where Jane was angular, water dripping off a small, pale nipple...
She suddenly noticed that her hand had involuntarily strayed.
"Hi Elsie, It's Jane. Is Tom there?"
"Jane? Sure. Hang on." Jane? She walked to the foot of the stairs and called out. "Tom. Phone. It's Jane."
The surprise in Tom's voice wasn't attenuated by either distance or soft furnishings. "Jane? Jane Lane?"
"Yes, that Jane."
"Okay, I've got it." He picked up the phone. "Jane?"
"One and the same. How are you, ex-boyfriend? This is just like old times, eh?"
"Jane--what's up--is it Daria? Is something wrong?"
"Don't panic. I just wanted to talk, that's all."
"Very good, now let's try to string two words together."
Tom smiled. Same old Jane. "What do you want to talk about?"
"Stuff. But not over the phone. Can I come round?"
"You want to come here?"
"Excellent. That was five words, though one of them was only a teeny widdle one."
"Well, I don't see why not. Sure, come on round. Or would you like me to pick you up?"
"No. I'll get Trent to drive me. I don't want anyone to see us together."
"You're that ashamed to be seen with me? Should I wear a paper bag over my head?"
"Hey--good idea. Have the paper bag ready, I'm on my way. Oh, make sure you tear a couple of holes to see through and one to breath through."
Tom hung up. He smiled again. What the hell? he thought.
She trudged reluctantly to Trent's room, trying not to think too hard about whether what she was doing was wise or just plain stupid. It had seemed like a good idea at the time. Hadn't it? Ah, good old reliable Trent. Comatose as usual.
"Trent. Wake up."
Trent grunted and reluctantly opened an eye. "Janie?" What's up?"
"I want you to drive me to Tom's."
"Tom's? You mean Tom? Tom Sloane Tom?"
"I'm not sure that he pronounces it exactly like that, but yeah, I think we're talking about the same person."
Trent looked more than ordinarily confused. "But, um didn't, I mean isn't, weren't you..."
"Didn't I break up with Tom? And isn't Daria dating him now? And weren't Daria's sister Quinn and I playing doctors and nurses? No, you must have been dreaming. Nothing like that ever happened. Tom and I are still a happy couple."
Trent looked even more confused. "Oh wow. Heavy!"
"Now come, you've been asleep for many years, Rip van Lane, and we must leave the hills and venture into the town."
Tom opened the door. "Well, this is an unexpected pleasure."
"Maybe, maybe not." She looked around, "Who's at home?"
He stared at her quizzically. "Only Elsie. If you want to talk privately we could go into the library, or..."
"Your room'll do." Jane walked in and headed straight for the familiar mahogany staircase. Tom followed, trying hard to keep up.
Without waiting for an invitation Jane sat on the bed. Tom brought a chair round to face her and sat down. "What's going on, Jane? You said there was nothing wrong with Daria but I get the distinct impression that this isn't just a social visit."
"Relax. There's nothing wrong with Daria." She looked straight at him, sheepish, uncertain. "I had to talk to someone and you're the only person who might...understand. Does that give you some idea of how desperate I am?" She shook her head violently and stood up. "Damn. This isn't going to work. Sorry. I shouldn't have come." She stood and walked toward the door but Tom stood and held her gently by the arm, turning her to face him. "Jane, please. Don't go. You don't have to talk if you don't want to, but don't go. Should I call Daria? Or Quinn?"
Panic crossed Jane's face. "No!" A pause, then, quietly, "No..." She slumped as if the weight of the inevitable had settled on her and shuffled slowly back over to the bed and sat down again, head bowed.
Tom stood up. "What's wrong with her, Jane?"
She looked up at him. "Sit down. Daria's fine. I meant it's not Daria, it's me, but it's about Daria."
He sat uncomfortably on the edge of his chair, staring down at Jane.
"This--thing, with Quinn. It all happened too suddenly. I mean one minute I was happily straight, confident about who I was, and the next I'm in bed with my best friend's sister. I haven't had any time to work out what it means, how I feel about it. I mean I know how I feel about it, but it's...it's complicated in ways I hadn't thought about."
"You're not having second thoughts about Quinn?"
She looked up at him and smiled sadly. "No. Oh no. She's the best thing that's ever happened to me. I can't believe how good it is, how good she makes me feel." The smile disappeared. "That's part of the problem." She sighed. "We had a little fight. Nothing serious, it was silly."
"Is that the problem? You want to know how to make up?"
"Stop jumping to conclusions. Daria told me how you make up. You do it by being so damn nice she melts." The smile returned. "No. I know how to make up. The problem is...it's...damn, Tom, this is really hard."
"Would you like a cup of coffee?"
"Yeah, I would, but later. I've started now so it's probably better not to interrupt it, I might not be able to start again. If you still feel like offering afterwards I'll accept. The fight was about pubic hair. See, she bought me this bikini, a really skimpy one, and it doesn't cover all that it might. She said that she'd have to wax my pubes--you know, rip them out."
Tom unconsciously crossed his legs.
"I told her not to be ridiculous and she...well, you know how these things escalate."
"Yeah, I do." He grinned. "You could always shave."
"Not good enough. As far as Quinn's concerned the 'plucked chicken' look just doesn't cut it. But that's not the point. See, I was talking to Daria about it and she told me that Quinn had talked her into a wax job."
Tom chuckled. "She told me. I thought it was hilarious."
Jane hung her head. "I didn't. I made an excuse and went home. But I couldn't stop thinking about it. I started to think about Daria naked and...I got...aroused." She blushed.
Slowly, comprehension dawned in Tom's face. He stood, speaking quietly though his thoughts were racing. "Is this some kind of revenge thing, Jane? You've come here to tell me that you're going to try to steal Daria from me--the same way she 'stole' me from you! Is that it? Is that what this is about?"
She looked up at him, a mixture of surprise and incomprehension on her face. "You're kidding?"
His expression softened and he slowly sat down again. "Oh. Damn. Sorry Jane. I just...I guess I...well, I guess I never quite got over the sense of guilt. I keep thinking that you still want to get back at me."
She laughed humourlessly. "It would be ironic, wouldn't it? Poetic justice. But I don't want to steal Daria from you. I told you how I feel about Quinn. See, that's the problem. That's part of the problem anyway. If I have these...feelings for Daria, does that mean that I'm being, you know, unfaithful to Quinn? If I really do...love her, how could I have those feelings for Daria?"
Tom sat for a minute before answering. "Um, Jane, I'm flattered that you wanted to talk to me, really. But honestly, I'm not experienced in this stuff. I mean you and Quinn are the only lesbians I've ever known. I think. And apart from that, it's kind of hard for me to think about someone else having feelings for Daria, even if it's you. I think you know what I mean."
"Uh, yeah, of course." She stood up again, but without urgency this time. "I'm sorry Tom. Come on, let's have that cup of coffee."
Tom sighed. "No. Sit down, Jane. I'm the one who should be apologising to you. You came to me for help and I'm just thinking of myself. I'll try, really."
A little smile crossed her face. "Daria's right. You really are quite a guy, Thomas. Past activities notwithstanding." She sat down.
"You know," he said, "sometimes I think that I'm an outsider in all this. There's something about your relationship with Daria that goes way beyond anything that I'll ever have with her no matter how hard I try. I'm envious and, right now, a little jealous and a lot threatened."
"But that's the problem Tom. I don't want any kind of relationship with Daria except the one I already have." Jane's voice had a rough edge to it and her eyes glistened. "I don't want to have these feelings for her. I want us to be friends, just like we've always been. I'm terrified of how she'd react if she knew, but I don't want to keep it a secret from her. It's probably been hard enough for her to accept this change anyway, and she's saved me more than once. I'm damned if I'm going to let anything come between us." She swallowed, and continued more quietly. "And Quinn. I'd slit my throat with a palette knife before I'd hurt Quinn."
Tom could see that she was holding herself together with a very tenuous grip. "Uh, Jane, that thing I said about not knowing any lesbians except you and Quinn? That was really dumb. And insensitive. It doesn't matter what your preferences are, it's what you feel that's important. And I think I understand how you feel about this--I can put myself in your shoes."
Jane looked surprised. "You can?"
"Do you remember my friend Chris?"
"How could I forget? I've still got the scars to prove it."
He grinned. "Yeah, she's a bit like that. But you have to admit, she's cool. She's a lot like Daria in some ways. I mean she's sexy."
"Oh. Yeah. I guess. Blonde too."
"Look, the guys I hang out with all think she's hot, but that's not why we hang out with her. She's just one of the gang. But we wouldn't be guys if we didn't fantasize a little now and then. You know, imagine what she'd look like naked?"
"How do you think Chris'd feel about that if she knew?"
"If she knew? Don't you think she does know? How could a girl like Chris hang around with a bunch of pathetic losers like us and not realise that we were getting off on her every now and then? Of course if any of us dared to suggest anything to her we'd crawl away bleeding and with our voices several octaves higher--and that'd be before she'd even touched us."
"I can imagine. Tongue like a scalpel, that girl. But Daria...?"
"Do you mean do I feel like I'm cheating on Daria because I wonder what Chris looks like naked? No. You think I wasn't serious when I asked you and Quinn if I could watch?" He was smiling, and Jane wasn't really sure how to take it. "I was only half joking. I don't know any guys who wouldn't be turned on by the thought of watching you and Quinn...well, you know." He unconsciously rubbed his shin where Daria had kicked him. "Daria knew that there was some truth in it. But I think she knows that I'd never do anything about it. I feel the same way about Daria as you do about Quinn. But just because you're on a diet doesn't mean that you can't look at the menu."
Jane smiled at his simile.
"I think it's normal to think these sorts of thoughts. As long as that's all you're doing, I don't think there's any harm in it. I'd be surprised if Daria didn't think about other guys from time to time, but I'd only be hurt if it was more than just a fantasy. I think it's normal to be--aroused--by someone who's attractive. It's just a physical thing. But that's not the same as being in love with them."
Jane smiled and sniffed as she wiped the back of her hand across her eyes. "So...you think it's okay?"
Tom chuckled. "Do you see the irony in this? Me? Giving you advice on relationships?"
"Beggars can't be choosers," Jane said quietly. Instantly Tom regretted his little joke.
"Well, relationships are complex things. Little subtleties can become big issues. If it makes you feel uncomfortable then Daria and Quinn will probably both pick it up. If you can think of some way of just...I don't know, letting them know but helping them not to feel threatened by it, I guess it would help to clear the air, for you as much as for them. I don't mean that you should make a big issue out of it. I guess Quinn must be going through some of the same things. It's all new to her too, isn't it? And Daria's anything but dumb. She must realise that there are things you're having to come to terms with. She might surprise you."
"She always does." She looked at him with a little smile of gratitude. "Thanks Tom."
One more try. "Well, at least you have excellent taste in women."
A little smile lit her face. "Yeah. I do, don't I?" The smile turned into a grin. "I guess that's one thing--at least when I get horny in the showers after gym no-one else knows about it. I can always just claim that I'm cold."
Tom blushed. "When I think of that I thank the gods I'm not gay."
Jane chuckled and stood up. "Now how about that coffee? Oh, there's just one more thing."
"What? Hey - what the...."
She leaned over and kissed him passionately. He fought it, but she hung on.
If he'd worn glasses he would have straightened them. "What the hell was that about?"
She looked at him, waiting for it to sink in before squatting in front of him and taking both his hands in hers. She looked up at him and spoke quietly but intensely. "You kissed Daria, Daria kissed you. Now I've kissed you. That's it. No more talk about who stole who from who, no more doubt, no more revenge. Okay?"
He looked at her with new respect, and breathed "Okay."
She let go of him and stood up. "Good. Now lead me to the coffee."
Quinn sat in the living room staring out the window, a blank expression on her face, as Daria opened the front door and walked towards the stairs. Something attracted her attention. Red hair just visible over the top of the couch. She stopped, her foot on the bottom stair, turned, and slowly walked round to where Quinn was sitting.
Quinn looked up, saw Daria, and turned back toward the window. "Hey." she croaked, so quietly it was almost inaudible.
Daria sat down next to her. "I know." she said. "She told me."
Quinn's expression didn't change, but a tear ran down her face.
"She gave me a message for you."
Quinn turned, afraid of what it might be.
"She said to tell you she loves you."
Quinn's veneer of control disappeared and all the fear, all the imagined horrors, had their release in a flood of tears. She buried her face in Daria's shoulder and flung her arms around her sister's neck. The unfamiliarity of the situation struck Daria as funny, but she returned Quinn's hug, if a little uncertainly. "Um, Quinn, you're getting my shoulder all wet."
Quinn lifted her head and looked at Daria to see the faintest hint of a smile. Despite herself she grinned back, just a little, her face wet.
Daria felt in her pocket and produced a handkerchief. "Here."
Quinn took it and wiped her eyes. "Thanks...Sis." she said, a little timidly.
Daria looked down at her shoulder. "Damn, I'm going to have to get this dry cleaned now to get the dissolved mascara out of it."
"I use waterproof mascara, Daria." Quinn smiled. "It'll brush out when it's dry." She blew her nose on Daria's handkerchief.
"Well what are you waiting for? Aren't you going to call her?"
"I thought you'd never ask." Quinn made a bee line for the kitchen.
Bleah. Thought Daria. That was so mushy!
"Oh. Hey Quinn."
"Is Jane there?"
"No. She went to..." Whoa.
"Went to what?"
The front door opened. Trent looked round to see Jane turn and wave.
"She's just come back. Hang on."
He put the phone down and walked across to where she was standing, watching Tom drive off.
"Hey Janie. Quinn's on the phone."
She turned suddenly and grinned. "Great."
He held her arm, stopping her. "Just a dream, was it?" He smiled.
"The best kind of dream, brother dearest."
"Well it nearly turned into a nightmare. I almost told her where you'd gone."
'Shit. You didn't did you?"
"No. Janie, you're not, um, you know, cheating on her are you?"
Jane looked genuinely shocked. "Damn Trent. No! I'll tell you later, but thanks for not spilling the beans. Now let me talk to her." She walked off towards the kitchen.
"Jane! Jane--I'm so sorry! I was so stupid and so thoughtless and so selfish. I promise I'll never bring it up again. I mean I don't know what I was thinking. It doesn't mean anything. And I made such a big deal of it. How could I be so dumb. Please can I come over? I feel so bad and..."
"...and I just thought of how awful I'd been I thought you'd never want to see me again and...and..." her voice was starting to give away her emotion.
Sniff. "Uh huh."
"Shut up. How soon can you be here?"
Another tear broke through her smile. "As soon as I can." She hung up.
I'm really taking on a dominant role, aren't I? Jane asked herself as she slowly put the phone back in its cradle. I guess I'm the boy she thought, silently answering a question that Jake had posed some time ago. She smiled.
When Jane opened the door Quinn's usual smile of happiness was entirely absent, replaced by an expression of rank fear. It was just like it had been in those first few days--uncertainty, doubt. Jane realised that what, for her, had been a minor tiff had been much more than that for Quinn. She took Quinn's hand and gently pulled her through the door, closing it behind her. In one smooth motion she pulled the redhead close, bent, and kissed her. She felt Quinn trembling in her arms at first, then relaxing into the kiss.
"It's late. I guess we don't have much time. I'm sorry, Light of my Life."
Quinn looked up at her. "I told Mom that I'd be back tomorrow." It was only then that Jane noticed she was carrying a small bag.
"Wow. How was she about that?"
"She told me to make sure I brought my toothbrush."
"I can't believe your Mom and Dad."
Quinn grinned. "I can't believe them either sometimes. But let's say that Mom and I understand each other a lot better these days. I don't think she'd have let me stay if tomorrow wasn't Saturday."
They walked up the stairs hand in hand.
Jane sat on the chair beside her bed, staring, watching the gentle rise and fall of the covers as the girl sleeping there breathed slowly. What did I do to deserve this? she wondered. If nature dishes out pleasure and pain in equal measures then I'm in for some serious punishment one of these days.
An eyelid fluttered.
"Quinn? Are you awake?"
"Mmmf." Quinn rolled over and opened her eyes to see Jane, wearing a t-shirt, shorts and running shoes, leaning over her. She stretched languidly, yawning, and looked up at Jane with a half-asleep smile that made her feel as if all her Christmases had come at once. "Are you going for a run?"
"Been. The best part of the day's over." She looked down at Quinn and smiled. "I felt so good. I could have run forever." She leant over and kissed Quinn on the cheek.
"Eeew! You're all sweaty!"
"I was all sweaty last night and you didn't complain."
Quinn sat up, ignoring Jane's comment. She looked serious. "Jane, can we talk?"
"As long as it's not the 'let's just be friends' talk." She sat down on the bed. "I want to talk to you too. Shower first, then coffee and talk."
"Okay," said Quinn, leaping out of bed and flashing her that smile. "Let's go."
"Wow! Bonus!" Jane walked to the closet and threw a towel at Quinn. "You'd better wrap this around yourself. It's only eight, but Trent might be up."
They looked at each other. "Nah," they chorused.
* * *
"What have you got in there?"
Jane stared deep into the bowels of the Lane refrigerator. "Pizza."
"Vegetarian, no cheese?"
"Pepperoni. Extra anchovies. Oh wait--there's milk!"
Jane peered at the carton in the door. "How about that! We do have unsweetened yoghurt! Or cottage cheese. Take your pick."
Quinn sighed. "Bread?"
"Yeah, sure, and...hey, there's ice cream and chocolate syrup but I don't suppose you'd..." She paused, picking up the bottle of chocolate syrup and contemplating it, like Aristotle contemplating the bust of Homer.
"Toast then. How about something to spread on it." No answer. "Jane?"
"What? Oh, sorry. Yeah, um, there's some honey I think, and peanut butter."
Quinn smiled. "Just toast. Maybe a little honey."
Jane had a far away look. "Honey," she muttered, staring into space.
Jane returned to the present. "Sorry." She took two slices of bread out of the freezer and put them in the toaster. "So--what did you want to talk about?"
Quinn spun round her chair, watching Jane scoop four large spoonfuls of coffee into the pot. "I'm going public. On Monday."
The spoon in Jane's hand hovered over the pot as she turned to face Quinn. "You mean..."
"I'm coming out of the closet."
Jane emptied the spoon into the pot, put the pot on the hotplate and took the toast out of the toaster. "When you first talked about it I wasn't sure if you'd thought about the consequences." She put the toast on a plate, took a yellow Disneyesque Whinnie the Pooh-shaped jar of honey out of the cupboard and out them down in front of Quinn. "But you have, haven't you?"
Quinn picked up the knife and smeared a tiny scraping of honey onto the toast. "I'm sick of it. I'm sick of having to lie, sick of having to hide it, sick of having to ignore you at school, sick of having to put up with Jeffy and Jamie and Jeramiah, sick of the whole thing." The strokes of the knife on the toast had become more violent as she spoke and, by this stage, the toast and honey were forming a molecular bond. "The last straw was when I was shopping for your bikini. I had to tell Sandi, (scrape) Tiffany (scrape) and Stacy (scrape) that it was for Daria." She looked up from the battered slice of toast and made eye contact with Jane. "I've made my mind up. Yes I've thought of what might happen and I don't care."
Jane walked over to Quinn and put a gentle hand on her shoulder.
Quinn looked down at the plate in front of her. "I'm doing this for me. No-one else. There's only one thing that could change my mind." She looked up "If you didn't want me to."
Jane sat down on the opposite side of the table, reached over and took Quinn's hand, realising too late that she was holding the disintegrated remains of the toast. She stood up and walked over to the sink to wash the slightly sticky remnants off her hand. "If it's is what you want then it's what I want too. How are you going to do it?"
"There's a fashion club meeting at Sandi's on Monday night. I'm going to announce it there." She smiled. "It'll be all over the school by lunch on Tuesday."
"Beautiful and devious. And rich. I've lucked out."
"So what did you want to talk to me about?"
Jane blushed. "It's not important."
"It's a little.... Finish your toast. Maybe we can go for a walk and talk about it."
Quinn smiled. "I'd like that."
They walked slowly. It was still early Sunday morning and the streets were quiet except for the muted roar of the occasional lawnmower, paying for disturbing the peace by spraying a hint of new-mown lawn scent into the breeze. Jane held her cup of coffee and had bought Quinn a bottle of orange juice at the store on the way to the park. They crossed the road and sat on the swings, feet on the ground, slowly pushing the swings back and letting them return in unison, not speaking, from time to time turning to look at each other and smiling. It was a moment.
Jane looked at the ground.
"I was just wondering..."
Quinn stopped swinging and looked at her.
Jane stopped too. "You know I love you, don't you?"
Quinn just smiled.
"I was wondering, well, you've been...used to this longer than I have. Do you ever, you know, get, um, I mean do you ever think about other girls?"
"What? When we're..."
"No, I mean, say, in the shower after gym. Do you ever get...turned on?"
Jane took a deep breath then let it out. "Don't answer that, Quinn. I'm just trying to make you say what I'm too nervous to. The thing is that I do get turned on sometimes and I just needed to say...to tell you."
Quinn looked surprised. "Is that all? You were worried about that?"
"Well, yeah. I was worried about telling you."
Quinn giggled. "You're so cute. Of course I do. Doesn't everyone? But it doesn't mean that you should be jealous about it. You're not, are you?"
"But what if it was someone, you know, um, close to us both?"
Quinn's eyes widened. "Oh."
"NO! Damn. See what I mean? But it's awkward. And I can't just leave it there."
Quinn stopped swinging, stood up and turned to face Jane, reaching up with both hands to hold the chains of the swing, stopping it motionless. "Do you want her?"
Jane looked up into Quinn's eyes. A rush of emotion. "No! But I don't want to lose her as a friend--that's what I'm afraid of. If I tell her, will it change the way she thinks about me? I was just shocked to realise that I could think of her, you know..." She loosened Quinn's grip on the chain and held her hand. "There's nothing for you to be jealous about."
"But she's my sister!"
"And you're her sister and she's my best friend. And that's exactly the way I want it to stay." Jane stood up and looked down at Quinn. "I didn't want to tell you because I thought you'd be hurt, but I'm not going to screw up our relationship with secrets, even harmless ones. No secrets. That's what I said to your Mo...Helen and I'm saying it to you too. And it has to be the same with Daria. No secrets."
Quinn thought for a minute. "Crap. Until a few months ago Daria and I were too different for any of that sibling rivalry stuff. I mean it's not as if she was going to win any popularity contests, or I was going to challenge her for the position of school brain. But now I'm feeling jealous because you think of her...like that."
"Don't. It's not like that. If it'll make you feel better I'll stay away from the showers."
Quinn blushed again. "Um, I guess I'd have to stay away from the showers too."
Jane looked up at her in surprise. "So do you think about..."
"Jane, I fantasized about you for six months, and now I have my fantasy in real life. When I'm in the shower, I think about you."
Jane smiled. "Oh."
"And when I have to switch hands, sometimes Stacy."
They burst out laughing. The laughter turned to smiles, the smiles turned to a hug and the hug turned to a kiss.
Behind a window across the road, a pair of eyes doubled in size.
Sandi, Stacy, Tiffany and Quinn sat in their accustomed places on Sandi's bedroom floor. Fluffy, Sandi's Burmese cat, sat in Sandi's lap purring contentedly.
For the second time in weeks Quinn was certain that they could hear her heart beating. Why was she so tense about this? She didn't care whether they approved or not; it wouldn't make any difference. But it was still a big deal. And it was no good denying it, she did care. Sandi, Tiffany and Stacy had been her best friends ever since she arrived in Lawndale and you can't just let that go, can you? What should she expect? Shock? Horror? Meanness from Sandi? Blank incomprehension from Tiffany? Stacy? How the hell would Stacy react? She felt the heat of an embarrassed blush to realise that she had no idea how Stacy would react. Probably wait to see how Sandi reacted first and follow her lead. But Stacy wouldn't be mean, would she? How would Stacy react away from Sandi? What if she decided to tell them individually instead of tonight? That wouldn't work--she'd have to separate them somehow until she'd told them all, or else they'd know at the speed of telephone. No, this was the only way to do it. She didn't want to lose their friendship. She was becoming less obsessed with the things that the four of them had devoted their friendship to obsessing about--there were more important things now. But they were still her friends. Would they still be her friends after tonight?
Quinn's reverie was interrupted by Sandi's command. "This meeting will come to order. Stacy, would you please read the minutes of the last meeting?"
"Minutes?" Stacy shuffled the papers in her lap, then looked at Sandi, panic in her eyes. "Oh God, Sandi. I've forgotten the minutes." Stacy covered her mouth with her clenched fists and started hyperventilating. Normally Quinn would have smiled inside, but her attention was completely focussed on the announcement she was going to make.
"Stop that, Stacy," barked Sandi. "You will record in the minutes of this meeting that the minutes of the previous meeting were dispensed with until the next meeting. I assume that you haven't forgotten the agenda too?"
Stacy pulled herself together and read from the agenda. "Agenda item 1. Suspension of Agenda for announcement by Vice President."
"Thank you Stacy. Well Quinn, what's this announcement that you have to make that's so important that we have to defer discussion of important things like our scheduled lipstick comparison and accessory exposition."
"I won't take long." Quinn's heart raced.
"Then proceed, but make it snappy please."
Quinn sat upright, faced the wall, took a deep breath and said "I just...I wanted to say..." She gathered herself. "I'm a lesbian."
There. It was over. What would be would be.
Stacy looked at Quinn with her most innocent and charming smile. "Oh Quinn, you're so cute. Did you really think we didn't know?"
Quinn's eyes widened.
Tiffany stared down at her fingernails and frowned, clearly thinking hard. "Hhmmm." She said. "I wonder if Iiiii'm a lesbian?"
"I was mortified! Ooooh! I mean why didn't they tell me?"
Jane had tried everything she could think of to distract herself from thinking about what might have been going on while Quinn was spilling her guts to her friends. Friends? Those airheads? But they were her friends, so Jane controlled herself when Quinn talked about them. It hadn't been all that long ago that she'd though the same thing about Quinn, had it? She'd tried painting, but that didn't work. Television was just ambient light and sound--she couldn't focus on it. Reading--hah--she'd known that wasn't working when she realised that she'd been reading the same line over and over for twenty minutes. The sound of the phone had been blessed relief.
But she had no idea how to react to that. Of all the things she'd imagined, of all the reactions she'd anticipated, this was right out of left field.
"So do you still think it's going to be all over the school by tomorrow?"
"I don't know. I don't care." Quinn's pout was visible over the telephone.
"They just went on like I'd been talking about the weather! It was just like when I finally admitted that Daria was my sister and Tiffany said they'd just been being polite!" Her voice was a mixture of anger and frustration, the fear of consequences overshadowed for the moment.
Jane was lost for words. "Did they ask about whether you had a girlfriend?"
"No! They just ignored the whole thing and carried on with the agenda." She studiously neglected the fact that the second item on the agenda had been The Bikini Line: Waxing, Shaving or Electrolysis?
"Tell you what--let's keep that part of it a secret for a little while longer. Okay?"
"If that's what you want."
"But Sandi--you said..."
"I know what I said, Stacy, but it wouldn't have been, like, polite for me to have said that I was surprised, would it?"
"If you say so, Sandi. But you really didn't know?"
"No, Stacy, I really didn't know. What I want to know is how you and Tiffany knew."
You're kidding, Sandi? It's been so obvious! "Well, I don't know, it just seemed obvious. I mean she didn't like guys. She never really, you know, liked them liked them--she never said anything even vaguely romantic. And remember that business with Ramonica? I just think it's been obvious that she liked girls. I suppose Tiffany saw it too."
"Gee, thank you Stacy. I should have realised a long time ago that you and Tiffany are so much more observant than I am."
Stacy controlled the urge to panic. Think, fast!
"Oh no, Sandi! You're so much more observant than Tiffany and me! I mean it just goes to show how unobservant we must be! If we were as observant as you we would have been fooled by--I mean we would have been smart enough to be be convinced by Quinn's, um, act--and it must have been a really good act because if it hadn't been good then you wouldn't have been convinced by it yourself, and you're so observant, so Tiffany and I must be really, really unobservant not to have noticed how good it was, right?"
"Um, yes, Stacy. Of course. Quinn is an excellent actor--she had me completely convinced."
"So, Stacy, does she have a girlfriend?"
"I don't know. I mean she seems to go all gooey when she sees that friend of Daria's, you know, Jane."
"Thank you, Stacy. That's very interesting."
"Um, you're welcome Sandi, I guess."
Stacy hung up. Oh no! Did I do the right thing? she wondered, breathing rapidly and shallowly.
Quinn swallowed nervously as she walked out into the corridor at recess.
"Hey Quinn! I hear you're a lesbian! That's so cool!"
"Yeah, Quinn. I know a lesbian bar in Dega Street. Can I drive you there after school?"
"Hi Jeffy, Joey, Gerard. Um, thanks guys, but I don't want to go to a lesbian bar. Anyway, I don't drink, remember?"
"Have you got a girlfriend, Quinn? My cousin's a lesbian too!"
"Yeah, Quinn, I'm thinking of becoming gay!"
"Can I get..."
"GUYS! Please." The chatter stopped. "You're sweet, but really--you have to understand that I'm not interested, okay? I'm sorry if I gave you the wrong impression. I probably had the wrong impression myself, but you'd be better off being, um, nice, to someone who'll appreciate it, like Sandi, or Tiffany, or Stacy. I'm sure they'd just love to have their books carried to class, and sodas bought for them, and all those, er, sweet things that you used to do for me. But please, stop doing them for me. Okay?"
"Sure Quinn, anything you say."
"I'll go look for them Quinn."
She watched as Jeffy and Jamie ran off up the hall in search of other victims. She sighed, wondering whether she'd done Sandi, Tiffany and Stacy a favour or not. It was only then that she realised that Joey hadn't left.
"Joey? Was there something that you wanted?"
"Um, Quinn, I, I just wanted to say, I mean, that is..."
"What, Joey? I'm not available for dating any more if that's what you want."
He smiled sheepishly. "No, that's not what I want. I just wanted to say that, um, I hope it all works out well for you, Quinn. I mean I hope you're really happy." Quinn saw that he was genuinely embarrassed. "I guess you're serious about it, aren't you? I mean, it's not a joke or anything?"
Quinn looked at him with a glimmer of affection, and smiled. "No, Joey. It's not a joke. And thank you."
Joey looked around and, seeing the hall empty, quickly gave Quinn a quick peck on her cheek. "'Bye, Quinn. And good luck" He turned and walked off.
Quinn put her hand to her cheek where he'd kissed her and smiled. That's the nicest thing that any of them ever did for me, she thought, a little chuckle escaping as she turned to go and find her friends. Perhaps it wasn't going to be so bad after all.
To be continued.
Thanks to the usual suspects: Renfield, C.L. Basso and David Falkayn for inspiration, support and friendship. Thanks also to Galen (Lawndale Stalker) Hardesty for the use of the bikini waxing story and to The Alchemist for the use of Chris. Thanks to beta readers Crusading Saint, Mistress Thea-zara, Voice of My, Poenix Feet and Marcello, to whom also thanks for inspirational versification. You guys rock.
Disclaimer: All characters are copyright MTV.
Quirks: I'm an Australian, so I've used Aussie English spellings and grammar conventions. I may also have inadvertently used some Aussie idioms though I've tried to keep in culture. There are references to other fanfics in this. I hope their authors will take them for what they are -- sincere flattery.
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