Synopsis:The collapse of the Lane gazebo is only the beginning. The Fashion Club is collapsing as well. Helen’s career and Amy’s emotional stability seem to be not too far behind. And what’s with Trent?
Author’s Forward: I am rating the following story PG-13 for content. The subject matter deals with teen pregnancy. I am not an advocate of teen pregnancy, and firmly believe that common sense should prevail in such cases. However, real life being what it is, this is not always the case.
The following story was written for entertainment purposes only, and should not be taken as educational material. I do not claim that the “technical” aspects of my story are even remotely accurate. If you have any questions, go to a responsible adult knowledgeable in the appropriate areas.
Other Notes: The author assumes that the reader is familiar with “Daria” and the characters therein, and has read my previous stories. This story is sixth in the series and takes place concurrent with the events portrayed in “Art Burn.”
Legal Drek: Daria and her cohorts are property of MTV and Viacom.
This story is Copyright April 2, 2004.
Seventeen weeks, and I’m already starting to show, Daria Morgendorffer thought as she ran her hand over the front of her T-shirt. I’m going to be a blimp.
Daria walked down the stairs as she pulled her jacket closed in front of her. Her abdomen had begun to distend as her baby grew within, making the fit of her jacket and skirt a little tight. She never had much reason to pay attention to her clothes, other than to make sure that they were properly cleaned and maintained. In another three or four weeks she would have to find maternity clothes.
Maybe Mom will have something that will fit, Daria thought as she zipped her jacket up over her stomach. It wasn’t uncomfortably tight, but it definitely felt smaller than it had a few weeks ago. How much longer am I going to be able to do this, I wonder?
“Well, at least Quinn will be glad to see you,” Daria said, placing her hands on her stomach. “She’s been itching to change my wardrobe anyway. Now she‘ll have an excuse.”
The jacket still managed to conceal her abdomen, even thought there was no real point in it now. Sandi Griffin’s backfired ploy to embarrass Daria and Quinn had forced Daria into revealing her pregnancy in front of the Junior Language Arts class. The whole thing had become common knowledge in a couple of days and, for about a week, Sandi had become an even bigger bitch than normal. Even after almost a month, Sandi still targeted Daria with dirty looks and the occasional insult.
Walking into the kitchen, Daria saw that her mother was at her usual place at the table, cup of coffee at her side and a variety of paperwork spread out in front of her. Daria hoped that it wasn’t the child support thing, but knew in her gut that it was. Instead of turning around and walking out, she walked over to the cupboard and pulled out a box of sugar tarts. After a moment’s hesitation, she pulled out the box of Oaty O’s and a bowl as well. Glancing at her mother as she quietly prepared her breakfast, and mentally figured the odds on what Helen was working on. For the last few months, her work had centered mostly around a big case against a major motor company. However, ever since Daria’s pregnancy had come to light, she had been splitting her time between that and figuring some way to wrangle child support out of the Sloanes, even though Tom was not, and had no intention of, fighting it. In fact, Tom had been going out of his way to make himself available whenever Daria needed him and had offered what savings he had access to for Daria’s medical expenses.
Helen didn’t look up when the kitchen telephone rang, automatically pulling her cell phone out of her suit pocket.
“Hellooo?” Helen said blankly, just as the telephone on the counter behind her rang again. Helen looked blankly at her cell for a moment, then noticed that Daria was standing there. Her ears started to turn red as she turned and picked up the cordless off its deck. “Hellooo? . . . Yes, Jane, she’s right here.”
Hearing Jane’s name, Daria was already part way across the kitchen when Helen held out the phone to her.
“Um, Daria . . .” Helen started to say.
“Don’t worry, I didn’t see a thing,” Daria said as she took the phone from Helen and went back to preparing her morning meal. “Hey, Jane.”
“Hey, you think you can slip your leash and come over after school?” Jane said. “Trent thinks that it’ll help the band’s prospects if they shoot a video.”
“Don’t they have to have prospects that need help first?” Daria asked as she opened the refrigerator door and took out the skim milk.
“Ordinarily I’d agree with you, but I think they’re serious. They spent all of yesterday scouting around town for good locations, and today they’re going to be checking out the few that they all managed to agree on. Trent even got up before noon.”
“Wow. Sounds serious, all right,” Daria said as she poured the milk on her cereal. “I don’t know if I ought to be carrying around stage lighting, though.”
“They just need someone to carry a boom box, and maybe a guitar or two, and I‘ll shoot the video. They recorded the song that they want to do, Milli Vanilli style, then we’ll patch it all together on my computer,” Jane said.
“Ooo, big budget production.”
“Tell me about it.”
“How about I talk to the warden about it and let you know on the way to school, okay?” Daria asked.
“Sure,” Daria heard the smile in Jane’s voice. “If it’s yes, I can let Trent know and he can pick us up after school and take us over to Casa Lane, that way you won‘t have to wait for Tom. The band wants to get a fog machine and use the gazebo in our backyard to shoot part of it this afternoon.”
“I’ll let Tom know about it,” Daria said, closing the milk and waiting by the toaster.
“Your Dad still tailing you guys to school?”
“Not so much any more. Either that or he’s getting better at it.” The two sugar tarts popped out of the toaster as she spoke. “I have to go. Tom’s going to be here in a little bit and I still have to eat.”
“See ya in a little while, amiga,” Jane said.
“Later,” Daria said before she turned off the handset and put it on the counter.
“What was that about carrying around lighting, Daria?” Helen asked from the table as Daria collected her breakfast. “You know you shouldn’t be doing a lot of physical labor.”
“It’s nothing like that,” Daria said, sitting down in her regular spot. “They just need someone to turn the boom box on and off while Jane shoots Trent’s band for an amateur music video.”
“Well, I don’t know if I like the idea of you hanging around with a band. They can get pretty excitable,” Helen said, sounding cautious.
“Excitable? This is Mystic Spiral, not Def Leppard. They only way to excite them is with a straight dose of caffeine into their carotid arteries.” Daria shoved a couple of spoonfuls of cereal into her mouth.
“Well, all right. But remember our deal, Daria,” Helen said.
“Right, home by nine.” Daria swallowed. “Thanks, Mom.”
“Morning everyone,” Aunt Amy said as she walked into the kitchen, her hair still damp from her shower.
“Morning, Aunt Amy. Sorry about breaking in on you earlier,” Daria said, looking a little embarrassed. “Dad was in the master bathroom and there was no way I was going to make it downstairs in time.”
“And the last thing that you wanted to do was vomit heroically down the steps?” Amy asked with a smirk while she went over to the cupboard and removed a coffee mug.
“What’s so heroic about throwing up?” Daria scowled, looking down into her cereal and absently picking up one of the sugar tarts and breaking it in half. “Fighting fires is heroic. Catching criminals is heroic. Rescuing damsels tied to the railroad tracks by evil robber barons is heroic. How many action movies are out there where the so-called hero gets the girl by puking?”
“Depends on the size of the bomb he’s defusing,” Amy replied as she poured some coffee and Daria took a bite of the tart. “If it’s anything in the multi-megaton range, and I don’t think people are going to argue too much.”
Helen looked her daughter over for a moment as she continued to eat, her cautiousness returning. “I thought that I heard something up there earlier. What happened?“
“Daria just caught me in the shower, is all. No big deal,” Amy said as she took Quinn’s traditional seat.
“Are you all right?” Helen looked at Daria, plainly worried.
“Just my morning sickness coming back, Mom. Why do you think I’m so hungry?”
“I would have thought you would have been past that stage,” Helen sat upright in her chair. “I mean it’s been almost a week.”
“No such luck,” Daria grumbled. “Dr. Nelson said I could go through this all through my pregnancy.”
“Maybe you should talk to Dr. Nelson again,” Helen suggested.
“I did when I went for my monthly appointment last week. She changed my prenatals, but it doesn’t seem to be doing any good.”
“Well, I do seem to recall a rather long stretch of it when I was pregnant with you, Daria,” Helen said, frowning in thought. “Though not so much with Quinn.”
“Figures. She saved it so she could make me nauseous all through grade school,” Daria said around a mouthful of sugar tart and cereal.
“Daria,” Helen warned as the doorbell went off.
“That’s Tom,” Daria said as she got up and started to leave the kitchen. She stopped and turned towards Helen. “Uh, Mom, about Dad . . .”
“Don’t worry, dear,” Helen said, patting one pocket of her suit jacket. “I’ve got both sets of keys right here.”
“Good,” Daria said as she resumed walking. “He almost caused an accident when he ran a red light a couple of days ago.”
Amy shook her head as she took Quinn‘s seat at the table. The past couple of months had definitely been an adventure. After finding out that Daria had become pregnant , Amy had finagled some freelance art appraisal work in Lawndale so that she could be nearby to help. Living alone had made her skills at living in a family unit a little rusty. There had been a couple of traffic jams at the bathroom, and Amy supposed that it was just bad luck that she had been the one that Jake had caught in a towel after Daria had left the bathroom. It was actually kind of funny in a way.
What wasn’t funny was the telephone message meant for Helen that she unintentionally intercepted last month. Thankfully, no one else had been around at the time to see her break down after hearing it. Amy could have sworn that voice had come out of a nightmarish chapter of her past that she had been trying to put behind her for good. Once she calmed down, she had thought a little more logically about it. A distorted voice on an answering machine could be anyone. Just because it was a man’s voice didn’t mean anything.
You freaked yourself out for nothing, Barksdale, Amy told herself. It’s been too many years, and this thing with Daria is stirring up old ghosts.
“Helen, have you seen my car keys?” Jake asked as he walked into the kitchen. When he saw Amy, he turned slightly red as she cocked an eyebrow at him. “Oh. Morning, Amy.”
“Jake, we talked about this four times,” Helen said as she held up a set of keys from her thumb and forefinger. “You have got to quit following Tom and Daria around like some kind of rabid hound! Tom’s trying to help Daria, and heaven knows he’s being more reasonable about this whole thing than his parents are. You, however, have been acting like a child from the day we found out.”
“Helen, I tried to explain it to you before! I just want to make sure our little girl is safe!” Jake said petulantly.
“By running a stop signal while you were following them to school?” Helen glared. “Jake, I swear . . .”
“All right, all right,” Jake groused as he walked over to the coffee maker, got himself a mug and poured. “I’ll . . .try and trust him.”
“That’s better,” Helen said, placing the keys on the table. Jake just glared out the window over the kitchen sink, unable to look at Helen.
“And on that happy note, I have to head off to the museum,” Amy said as she stood up and finished off the last of her coffee.
“How much longer?” Helen asked.
“Oh, another three weeks or so, and then I’ll have more time to hang out around here and lean on my sister’s last nerve.” Amy smirked as she walked over to the dishwasher and deposited her cup inside. She looked at Jake, who couldn’t quite look back at her.
“Oh, and uh . . . “ Amy said, her smirk turning evil as she timed her words carefully as Jake took another drink. “There’s another show tonight at about ten, if you’re interested.”
“PTFFT!!” Jake launched his coffee at the window and burst out coughing.
“Amy!” Helen exclaimed. “Jake, what happened?”
“Well, it is partially my fault, I suppose, I probably should have locked the door,” Amy said with faux innocence as she sashayed out. “But some people should knock before going into a closed bathroom in a house full of women.” Putz.
Helen impaled her husband on a sub-zero glare as she stood up and slowly walked over to where he stood. Jake looked up and winced at the expression on Helen’s face.
“Jake . . .” Helen growled slowly. “What did you do?”
“Heh,” Jake muttered weakly. “It’s really the craziest thing, honey. You see, I was out of deodorant, and . . .”
As Trent stood in the Lane family gazebo, he gazed across the yard and tried to concentrate on the music blasting out of the stereo by Daria’s feet. He tried to look serious and wanted to let the music take his mind wherever it wanted to go, only it wasn‘t going anywhere. Earlier, when the band was scouting locations for their video it had been easy to let the music give them ideas. It was more difficult now, for some reason. He turned his head slightly to see Daria and Jane as he tried to figure out what was bothering him. Daria didn’t give any indication that she knew that he was looking at her. She just looked down and adjusted the bottom of her jacket, and Trent realized part of what it was that was eating at him.
The whole situation that Daria and Tom had suddenly found themselves in had taken Trent completely by surprise. Trent dealt with Tom on a one to one basis well enough when he was seeing Jane, figuring that there really wasn’t much to worry about back then. True, Jane was a little impulsive, but she could definitely take care of herself. Besides, Trent saw the rift between Jane and Tom forming long before they did. Jane had begun to turn back to Daria and, sometimes with Tom tagging along, had begun spending more time with Daria again. Consequently, Tom and Daria began to get to know each other a little better while he and Jane grew steadily further apart.
When Jane told Trent about the breakup and that Tom was now seeing Daria, he didn’t know what to feel. Over the couple of years that he had known Daria, Trent had liked her from had began thinking of Daria as another little sister. It was that feeling that had set him looking for Daria during the end of Jane and Tom’s time together. Daria had reached out to him once before, at the beginning of Jane and Tom’s relationship, too, but he and Daria were on totally different planets, and Trent knew it.
Trent shook his head slightly. Once, he’d said to her that he’d take Daria out if she had been a few years older. Maybe if both of them had been a few years older, thing might have been different. There was no sense worrying about that now, though.
Water under the bridge, man. Concentrate on making the video, Trent thought, glancing at Max. “Max, can’t you look any more existential?”
“Existential? I thought you said nihilistic,” Max complained. He had no clue what either of the words meant in any case.
Trent just scowled. This video idea wasn’t turning out the way he intended it to.
“I feel like I should be doing something,” Jesse said from his place on the bench at the back of the gazebo. He stuck his arm in the and began waving frantically at Jane, who was holding the video camera. Trent tried not to groan out loud.
“Shouldn’t he have a sign that says ‘hi mom‘? “ Daria asked from a few feet away.
“Uh, Jesse?” Jane called out, glancing from behind the video camera she held. “Why don’t you, um, cue the fog machine?”
“Cool,” Jesse said, reaching over the back railing and hitting the switch on top of a machine about the size of a small canister vacuum cleaner.
Almost immediately, the little machine began pumping out a great cloud of grayish fog around the base of the structure. Trent didn’t think much of it until he actually got a whiff of what smelled like burned wiring. It had smelled a little like that when they had tested out in the basement that morning, so he didn’t pay it any mind -- but when the little machine made a sound somewhere between a bark and a cough, all of them jumped.
Nick leaned over the back railing to look at the fog machine as it started to cough and rattle. Black smoke began to mix with the grayish fog as Nick looked back with a panicked expression on his face.
“It’s gonna blow!” he shouted as he turned and made for the steps.
Nick was known to exaggerate from time to time, but the large amount of smoke mixed with what little fog there was prompted the rest of the band to follow at a mad scramble. After running a few yards, the band members stopped and turned to watch as the fog machine made a sound like a lawn mower running over a pipe wrench. For a moment, the machine went silent and the smoke and fog stopped filling the air, and Trent thought that they could go back to making their video.
That was when the fog machine exploded.
Everybody except Jane and Daria ducked as bits of plastic casing, motor, and other components were thrown about the back yard.
“Wow!” Daria said as the echo of the blast faded. “Real life drama.”
“Yep,” Jane said with a smile as she lowered her camera, patting its side affectionately. “And I got every second of it!”
Everyone in the yard turned and watched as two of the gazebo’s pillars bent inwards and a third fell away completely. A half a second later, the roof came crashing straight down, raising another cloud of dirt, dust, and dislodged shingles.
“Crap!” Jane said emphatically as the dust settled around the rubble. Her camera had been pointing the wrong direction and was turned off to boot. Nick, Max, and Jesse walked in front of her on their way out of the yard.
“Hey, come on back!” Jane called out. “Now it’ll have this whole post-apocalyptic Waterworld feel! Gills for everyone!”
“We just stared the reaper in the face, and you want us to keep working?!” Max asked with a shaking voice.
“Yeah,” Jesse said, backing up the drummer. “We’re, like, traumatized.”
The three other band members disappeared around the corner of the house just as Tom came from the same direction at a fast trot.
“Sorry, Janey, we’re gonna need to take a few weeks off,” Trent said, looking at the wreck.
“A few weeks off from what?” Jane glowered as Tom came up to them. “Hey, Tom.”
“I thought I heard a crash of some kind when I pulled up,” Tom said as he came to a halt next to Daria and the Lane siblings. Then he spotted the wreckage of the gazebo. “Whoa! What happened?”
“Come on inside,” Jane said as she turned and headed towards the back door. “We’ll tell you all about it.”
Trent glared at the back of Tom’s head for a couple of seconds, then followed along behind.
Amy expertly wheeled her little red Triumph Spitfire into her parking space behind the museum. After almost a month and a half of working there, she had kind of gotten used to the place. It hadn’t taken her very long to be able to pick out certain people’s vehicles in the parking lot. Right off she had spotted a beat up hatchback that belonged to a security guard that had a bit of a wandering eye. She had pulled into a space next to Mils’s grayish silver Volvo, which looked to be no less than twelve years old.
After getting out of her car and walking a ways, she spotted the luxury sedan that Kay Sloane usually drove. Amy shook her head as she passed it, trying to figure out why she had jumped to such a silly conclusion to begin with. There was no way that the guy she had heard on Helen’s answering machine was the same guy from her past, no way.
Sloanes were a dime a dozen around this part of the country. One of them was bound to be named Angier sooner or later. Amy thought. And a telephone speaker wasn’t the clearest piece of audio equipment in the world, either.
Amy strode into the museum and tried to ignore the logical part of her brain that was telling her how thin an excuse that was.
“Why Amy, good morning!” Kay Sloane’s voice came from up the hallway.
Crap! Not who I wanted to see! Amy thought as her current boss approached the door to her workroom. “Good morning Mrs. Sloane, how are you doing?”
“Quite well, thanks,” Kay smiled back. “You should be just about to the end of this little project of ours, hmm?”
“Just about. Maybe another three weeks, what with one thing or another,” Amy said as her mind once again began to churn on the subject of Kay’s surname. “Hopefully we won’t run into another big snafu like with the painting.”
“Yes, what a mess that was,” Kay agreed with a nod. “Say, do you have any plans for a few days from now, say around next Wednesday?”
“Not that I know of off hand. Why do you ask?”
“Well, we’re planning a little brunch to show off part of the new collection,” Kay explained. “Since you’re instrumental in authenticating everything in the collection, the board thought it only fitting that you be there to receive your share of the glory.”
“Well, I ought to be able to attend for a little while,” Amy said, not really wanting to go at all. She figured she could minimize her time there, all the same. “I still have part of a warehouse full of stuff to go through, after all.”
“Oh, I don’t think a couple of hours will hurt anything.” Kay started to head off in the direction of her office. “Besides, I’ve been dying for an opportunity to introduce you and Angie.”
“Angie?” Amy asked with a slight waver in her voice that, thankfully, Kay missed. “That’s the girl who’s picture is on your desk? That’s your daughter, right?”
“My daughter’s name is Elsie,” Kay said over her shoulder as she rounded a corner. “Angie’s my husband. It’s short for Angier. See you then.”
“Oh . . .” Amy’s throat nearly closed up for a moment. She swallowed hard and tried to keep speaking, but it barely came out as a whisper. “Sounds like fun . . . Can’t wait.”
Amy slid the door to the workroom open with a shaking hand and slowly walked into the room. Sliding the door shut behind her, she leaned on the door frame for a few moments and tried to control her ragged breathing.
Steady, Amy. It’s not him. It’s not him. Amy squeezed her eyes shut tightly and took a deep breath. It’s not him. The boy stood on the burning deck his feet . . .his feet were full of . . . Dammit, what if it is him? Part of my life gets ripped away from me and now I have to face one of the people responsible for it twenty odd years after the fact?
A tear slipped from the corner of Amy’s eye and made it part way down her cheek before she angrily wiped it away.
Quinn adjusted the hang of her dress around her thighs one last time as she checked herself out in her home made three-way mirror setup. Basic black was always good and the one piece dress was perfect with the faux diamond studs that were seated in her earlobes. She’d have to remember to get them back to her mother before she realized Quinn had borrowed them.
Hearing a vehicle drive up, Quinn glanced out her bedroom windows at the street below. Taylor’s black convertible almost blended in with the night around it. Never mind that his parents’ ski house had been a time-share, that Mustang was gorgeous!
Turning from the window, she grabbed the small, matching purse off the bed and began collecting a few, last-minute items. Her wallet and house keys went in first, immediately followed by backup lipstick, blush, perfume, eye shadow and mascara, followed by a couple of feminine items. Her pack of cigarettes was sitting on the bed too, and she hesitated. Nobody knew she had started smoking a couple of months back, at least nobody that mattered much. Still, it wasn’t something that she wanted to get back to her parents.
“Eep!” Quinn jumped as her mother knocked at the door and called her name, stuffing the cigarette pack into her bag as she turned toward the opening door. “Yeah, Mom?”
“That boy, Taylor, is here to pick you up,” Helen said as she stepped into the room. “Now you remember what we talked about regarding your curfew?”
“Yeah, Mom, I remember. I’ll be home by ten and I’ll call if I’m going to be later than that.” Quinn rolled her eyes and sighed. It had taken weeks of begging and negotiating with her mother to get her to agree to the later curfew. “How could I forget?”
“Quinn, really, I wish that you wouldn’t take this so badly,” Helen sighed. “We’re only doing this because we worry about you and we want to protect you. We --” Helen looked a little closer at her daughter. “Quinn, aren’t those my diamond earrings?”
“Um, yeah?” Quinn put her right hand to her ear self-consciously.
“Well,” Helen cocked her eyebrow at Quinn and decided to relent. “Just don’t lose them, all right?”
“All right, Mom. Don’t worry,” Quinn said. “You didn’t leave Taylor alone down there did you?”
“Don’t worry, your father’s keeping him company,” Helen said as they started out of the room.
“Oh no! Don’t you remember what happened the last time?” Quinn groaned as she picked up her speed and passed her mother.
“But, he said he wouldn’t -- Oh, what am I saying, of course he would!” Helen lengthened her own stride and followed on Quinn’s heels.
“Our little Quinn’s a very special girl. You know that, don’t you, son?” Jake’s voice was heard to say as the two ladies quickly descended the stairs.
They found that Jake had cornered Taylor against the back of one of the sofas and was between him and the door. Taylor, for his part, was weathering his exposure to Jake rather well.
“Yes, sir,” the dark-haired boy said, with a polite nod. “He spotted Quinn and Helen descending the stairs. “Hi, Quinn! You look great!”
“Her mother and I wouldn’t want anything to happen to our little girl, now would we?” Jake asked the boy with a tone that spoke less of fatherly concern and more of the possible consequences involved.
“No sir, not a thing,” Tayler said with a shake of his head.
“Now, just what, exactly, do you have planned for tonight?” Jake asked in a low voice.
“Jake, we’ve held these two up long enough, don’t you think?” Helen said as she stepped off the stairs and walked over to her husband. She wrapped her arm around Jake’s and gently pulled him back a pace. “Now, you know that Quinn has to be home at a certain time, right?”
“Muh-oomm!” Quinn said, grabbing Taylor by the arm and aiming him towards the door. “C’mon, we’re going to be late for dinner!”
“It’s okay, Mrs. Morgendorffer,” Taylor said as he was led out. “I have an eleven o’clock curfew myself.”
“Eleven! But you said -- Never mind. Bye Mom! Bye Dad!” Quinn said as she shut the door behind her. ”You told me that you didn’t have a curfew!”
“I don’t,” Taylor said as they walked down towards the car. “But by the way your Dad was acting, it’s going to make them feel better if they think I do.”
“Oh, I guess I hadn’t thought about it like that,” Quinn said thoughtfully.
“Besides, Skylar and Ronnie were telling me about the grilling that your old man had given them when they came to pick you up last week.” Taylor chuckled as he pulled the passenger door open for Quinn. “I guess I just had to see for myself if what they were saying was true or not.”
“What?” Quinn put her hand on the door and looked at Taylor with a little shock in her eyes. “What are they saying?”
“Relax, Quinn, it’s nothing to worry about. They made it sound a lot worse than he actually was. Though I have to admit that, as much as they were carrying on, I was thinking that they were trying to scare me into canceling.”
“Oh, thanks,” Quinn said dryly as she slid into the passenger seat and Taylor pushed the door closed. “You wouldn’t have, would you?”
“On a beautiful girl like you? Not hardly! They were just trying to bug me. That’s all.“ Taylor shut Quinn's door, then walked around the car to the driver’s side. After closing his door and pulling his shoulder belt on, he looked over and saw that Quinn wasn’t reassured. “Relax. Everything’s going to be fine. We’re going to have fun, don’t worry. I’ve got reservations at Governor’s Park. It’s going to be great!”
Easy for you to say, Quinn thought as Taylor started the car and pulled out into the street. You don’t have people saying that your Dad is some kind of nut who gives your dates the fifth degree. I’ve got to wonder what kind of stories are going around. They can’t be doing my popularity any good, that’s for sure, and Sandi’s got to love that.
She glanced over at Taylor for a moment and smiled when he looked over. For a moment, she hoped that Governor’s Park had a smoking section but decided that it would be all right if it didn’t.
Tom, Jane, and Daria stood in the kitchen of the Lane house, looking through the window at the wreck of the gazebo in the backyard as Jane finished her account of it’s destruction. Trent paused in his digging through the refrigerator and looked at the three younger kids for a second. He felt bad enough that his idea of making a video had, literally, gone up in smoke a little while before. The fact that it had happened in front of Jane and Daria didn’t help matters, but that Tom had shown up to witness its aftermath really bothered him on a certain level.
“ . . . So then, the next thing we know, crash!” Jane concluded her tale. “The whole thing just collapses down on itself.”
“Wow,” Tom said, looking from the window to Jane. “Good thing no one got hurt.”
“Yeah,” Daria said. “I hope your parents appreciate deconstructionism, though.”
“Ah, they won’t even notice.” Jane waved dismissively. “They’re in Greenland doing the walrus tusk fertility fetish carving thing.”
“The wha-?” Tom looked confused.
“Always keeping up with the Jonses,” Daria quipped.
Tom was about to add to Daria's commentary when the sound of the front door opening interrupted them. Footsteps preceded the arrival of a tall, young man with long light hair and the angular features of the Lane men. He had a backpack slung over his shoulder and a searching look on his face.
“Trent! Jane! You are here!” Wind Lane dropped his backpack by the table and rushed across the kitchen. He first grabbed Trent, then Jane, up in quick hugs that got dubious looks in return. He was about to do the same to Daria, but pulled up short.
“Penny??” Wind asked in confusion, thinking his older sister couldn’t have changed that much since he saw her last.
“My name is Oliver Twist, sir,” Daria said flatly.
“Oh. And who are you?” Wind looked in askance at Tom.
“Jack Dawkins,” Tom replied, exchanging a smirk wit Daria. “Pleased to meet you.”
“Wind, what are you doing here?” Jane asked her oldest brother before he could be confused any further.
“Katie’s locked in our kitchen taking some . . . um . . .private time, and our Life Consultant says I should respect that. But I’m hungry,” Wind said, looking a little sheepish. He started to turn towards the refrigerator when he caught sight of the rubble in the back yard and rushed to the window. “Oh no!! What happened to the gazebo??”
“What gazebo?” Jane didn’t miss a beat.
“That’s where Mom and Dad took us to when we were born to decide our names!” Wind explained grievingly. “You’ve got to fix it!”
“He’s kidding, right?” Tom whispered to Daria, who shrugged.
“Um, Wind?” Jane said as gently as she could. “I don’t know how to break this to you, but I don’t think Mommy and Daddy will be bringing home any new brothers or sisters.”
“Mmm, bummer,” Trent said. He just cocked his eyebrow at the dirty look Jane gave him.
“You don’t get it! I couldn’t stand to loose such an important part of my identity!” Wind started to sound even more upset. “Oh, what chance does love have in a world where even the Naming Gazebo falls to pieces?”
“ ‘Naming Gazebo?’ “ Daria asked. Jane just shrugged.
“Promise me you’ll fix it!” Wind pleaded.
Jane looked at her overemotional sibling for a moment and shook her head. She had a pretty good idea that Katie’s so-called ‘private time’ in their kitchen meant that she was in the process of drying out yet again. Wind always did pick basket cases to fall for, and he’d be emotional enough without having him going on about that stupid gazebo, too. That left the path of least resistance.
“Trent, how much money do you have?” Jane turned to the younger of her two brothers and waited for a response. When none came, she frowned. “Trent?”
“I have none, so I said nothing,” Trent replied reasonably.
That was too much for Wind, who broke down crying at the prospect that the old structure was gone forever.
“You know, I have a little money,” Tom spoke up, taking pity on the blubbering Lane. “Maybe I could --”
“No, you couldn’t.” Trent cut Tom off with a glare, then looked back at Jane, who arched an eyebrow at her brother. “Hey, what if you sold some of your paintings at that Art in the Park thing they’re having?”
“Hmm . . . The harvest of my inner torment on display right next to the falafel cart,” Jane said, pondering the thought. “I like that. But -- if I get the money, you have to handle all of the sludge work: calling contractors, getting bids, scheduling the job, everything.”
“Uh . . .” Trent was a little taken aback. This was actually starting to sound like work, something he tried to avoid. “I don’t know, Janey. The band and I are going to be pretty busy practicing these next couple of weeks and --”
“Trent,” Jane said dangerously.
“Oh, yeah. We’re traumatized.” Trent got the message loud and clear. “Okay, I’m on it.” He looked at his brother. “We’ll get it fixed.”
“Thank you,” Wind gushed. “You don’t know what this means to me! We can’t lose such an important piece of our family traditions.”
“And on that note, I believe Tom and I will make our exit,” Daria said. “You’re going to need to get your inventory together, and I have homework I need to finish.”
“Come on by the park tomorrow and check it out,” Jane said as her friends started to walk out of the kitchen.
“Wouldn’t miss it,” Tom replied as they left. “Later.”
“Oh, I almost forgot.” Daria stopped and took out a small manila envelope from her inside jacket pocket and handed it to Jane. “More ultrasound shots from my last trip to the doctor.”
“Great!” Jane said as she took the envelope. “You didn’t look this time either, did you?“
“Nope,” Tom said, looking sidelong at Daria with one eyebrow raised.
”You guys are going to want to see these, I guarantee it.” Jane smiled as she pocketed the envelope.
“Just what kind of agreement do you and Dr. Nelson have?” Daria asked.
“Well, now if I told you that, you wouldn’t be surprised at the baby shower, now would you?” Jane smirked.
“You frighten me, sometimes,” Daria sighed as she and Tom left the kitchen.
“Thank you so much, Janey,” Wind practically gushed once the other two had left. “You don’t know what this means, really!”
Jane looked after Tom and Daria, waiting until she was sure that they had left the house before saying anything.
“Don’t mention it, Wind. Please.” Jane turned and frowned at Trent. “Now, what’s with you?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean what’s with the hostility at Tom a minute ago?” Jane put her hands on her hips. “You never used to be that mean to him before. What gives?”
“I really don’t know what you’re talking about, Janey,” Trent said as he turned and started to leave the kitchen. “I need to find the phone book.”
Jane stood there and said nothing as Trent left. This was not like Trent at all, and she was curious to know what was going on in his head. He’d always been pretty decent to Tom when he and Jane were going out, though Tom did have an interesting time dealing with Trent a time or two. Trent never had much to say about Tom and had never brought the subject up when he started going with Daria last summer.
But then, Trent’s never really talked about much of anything, Jane thought. I’ve got to wonder what’s gotten under his skin about Tom.
“Hey, Jane, what’s this red stuff?” Wind asked from over by the open refrigerator. “Raspberry sauce?”
We really gotta clean that fridge, Jane thought with a sigh.
The next day, High Hills Park had been turned into a maze of booths and displays that covered almost half of the area. Artisans from all across the state had rolled into Lawndale for the day-long sales event. Wares of every type were on display -- paintings, carpets, and sculptures made from a dizzying variety of materials. Wood carvings, blown glass, assemblages of crystals, and wall hangings of hammered metal were set out for everyone to peruse and purchase. It seemed as if most of the population of Lawndale had turned out for the day, and the four members of the Fashion Club were no exception.
The four teenage fashion mavens threaded their way through the labyrinth of various booths, stopping occasionally to examine what was offered. Certain types of handmade jewelry were purported to be coming into vogue and, according to Sandi, the club had to maintain its standards by being on the cutting edge of what was in. Sandi, however, was ‘quite disappointed’ that the items they found for sale were created with little regard for compatibility with the current fashions.
“Well, that was a waste of our valuable time,” Sandi said as the four girls continued their exploration of the displays. “Speaking of which, Kuh-winn, how did your date with Taylor go last night?”
“Oh, it went all right, I guess,” Quinn sid with a sigh. “Dad was acting a little weird when he was talking to Taylor. It kind of made things a little uncomfortable afterwards. We just did dinner and called it a night.”
“Gee, Quinn, that’s too bad,” Sandi said with faked disappointment. “I’m sorry that your father had to ruin your date before it even started.”
“I wouldn’t exactly say that he ruined it, Sandi,” Quinn responded dryly. “Dad’s just been a little . . . I don’t know, difficult these last few weeks.”
“Weren’t you telling me that he’d been getting worse than usual ever since he found out about Daria?” Stacy asked.
“Yeah, I know.” Quinn said. Actually, he’s been that way ever since I can remember.
“Faugh,” Sandi sneered. “You don’t have to make such a big deal out of it, Stacy.”
“Hunh?” Stacy and Tiffany exchanged a glance. “What do you mean, Sandi? I just said --”
“I know what you meant, though. That girl Daria probably had the whole thing planned from the beginning.”
“What?” Quinn asked harshly, bringing the whole group to a halt. “Are you saying that Daria went and deliberately got pregnant?”
“Well, she did it with that Tom guy, didn’t she? It was probably the only way that she could keep him.” Sandi jammed her hands on her hips. “Then she, like, did one of those brain things just to make me look bad when she told everyone that day in Language Arts class.”
“She diiid?” Tiffany drawled.
“No, Tiffany, she did not,” Quinn corrected disgustedly. “Sandi, Daria did not deliberately get pregnant just so she could make you look dumb in Language Arts! You did that all by yourself.”
“God, Quinn, keep up will you?” Sandi said angrily. “She got knocked up so she could keep her guy! She just set me up in Language Arts because she could!”
“But . . . That doesn’t make any sense,” Tiffany said slowly, eyebrows lowered in thought.
“I’ll say it doesn’t,” Quinn said, fixing Sandi with a glare.
“Well, if you’re so sure my logic is faulty, maybe you don’t think my fashion sense is worth anything either!” Sandi growled. “Maybe I should just find someone who appreciates my advice!”
Sandi stomped off back the way the four girls had just come, leaving the other three members of the Fashion Club in her wake. Two of them were looking after Sandi, confused over what had just happened, while the third was downright angry with who she had thought was one of her best friends.
“I don’t get her. I mean I love her to death, but I just don’t get her lately,” Quinn said to the remaining two girls as she watched Sandi disappear into the crowd. “What is it with her that she has to be so mean about Daria all the time?”
“I don’t know, Quinn,” Stacy said with a shake of her head.
“Me either,” Tiffany said.
“Maybe we should just keep walking, or something?” Stacy asked, looking between her two friends.
“Yeah, let’s go,” Quinn said as she turned and continued on. Stacy and Tiffany followed along after a second, and they walked in silence until a booth that offered caricature drawings caught Quinn’s eye. “You know, Sandi would have looked really good in a caricature.”
“I know, why don’t we get one done of all of us,” Stacy suggested. “We probably could use some cheering up.”
“Yeah, cheering up,” Tiffany smiled slightly. “And it could show how, like, fun we are, too.”
“Yeah, that’s a good idea, Tiffany,” Quinn smiled, turning to the bored looking artist who was sitting in the booth. “Could you, like, put ‘Best Friends’ on it?”
“What a lovely sentiment,” the guy said as he flipped his pad to a fresh clean sheet of paper. “Please, take a seat.”
“Big smiles, everybody,” Quinn said as they sat, Stacy and Tiffany on either side of her.
“Well, we are in the park, but I’m failing to see the art portion,“ Daria said as she, Tom, and Amy made their way through the busy expanse.
“Evidently you’re not the only one,” Amy said, glancing over her shoulder with a cocked eyebrow. “I think I just saw some woman pounding on a clamshell mouse with her purse.”
“Where?” Daria glanced back in the direction Amy was looking. “Oh, that’s just Ms Barch, science teacher and resident male hater.”
“Then, who’s that guy with her?”
“That’s Mr. O’Neill, our Language Arts teacher. I’m not sure he qualifies, exactly. He’s more of a poor man’s Kathy Lee Gifford,” Daria replied. “It’s kind of a love / hate relationship. He loves, and she hates.”
“They’re an item?” Amy asked, looking back at her niece. “How -?”
“Don’t ask. I’m still nauseous from this morning.”
“Gotcha. Sorry,” Amy said. “I’m going to go and do some looking around. Meet you back here in a little while?”
Tom looked at the stand that they had stopped at, which Amy was indicating as a meeting place.
“Clowns? Crying?” He said in mock confusion. “Why I’ve never heard of such a thing!”
“Maybe they’re sad because they lost all their money to that poker game with the dogs,” Daria theorized.
“Yo! Art lovers!” Jane’s voice suddenly cut through the air, causing all three of them to turn in the direction that hit had come from. At the end of the row of booths, Jane stood waving at the trio, backed by her collected art works, as well as a painting on an easel beside her.
“One of these things is not like the others,” Daria said dryly.
No kidding, Amy thought as she saw the paintings behind Jane. “On second thought, I’ll meet you at Jane’s booth.”
“Okay, see you later,” Daria said as she and Tom headed over in Jane’s direction.
God, I hope she sells something, Amy thought as she took a turn and headed off into the park.
“Hello, sell-out,” Daria said when she arrived at Jane’s booth.
“Wouldn’t I have to sell something for that to be the case?” Jane said, returning Daria’s smirk.
“What are you asking for these?” Tom asked, looking over the displayed works. There were a fair number that he didn’t recognize. He figured that she had painted them after they had parted ways.
“Well, most of them are twenty-five bucks, except for the topsy-turvy van Gogh,” Jane nodded to an inverted copy of the artist‘s Starry Night painting on the easel that she was standing by. “That one’s ten million.”
At that point, a woman with her son walked up to the booth and looked over the displayed paintings. From her expression, Jane could tell that the mother didn’t think too much of what she was looking at.
Her loss, Jane thought. Those who can, do, and those who can’t criticize those who can.
“Do you know you’ve hung this van Gogh copy upside down?” the mother asked when she spied the painting on the easel.
“No, I painted it upside down. I hung it right side up.” Which she had. Half the work on that painting had been done in art class.
“Come on, honey,“ Mother said, obviously not amused and leading her kid away. “Let’s go and find some pretty barn paintings.”
Bitch, Jane thought at the woman’s retreating back.
Moments later, Clare Defoe appeared out of the stream of passers-by and walked up to Jane.
“Jane, these works of yours are among the most inspired and original I’ve seen all day,” Defoe said with genuine enthusiasm.
“Thanks,” Jane said gratefully.
“Do you realize this van Gogh is upside down?” Defoe asked.
Jane rolled her eyes.
Trent sat in the kitchen, tiredly flipping through the yellow pages of the third telephone book he had managed to scrounge up from the cluttered depths of the Lane household. He had spent most of the morning trying to find someone who would rebuild the wrecked structure in the back yard. Unfortunately, none of the listings he’d looked at had said anything about gazebos.
“None of these numbers are gazebo numbers,” Trent grumbled. If I can’t find someone to fix that thing, we’re going to be in real trouble when Mom and Dad get back.
Trent looked at the cordless phone sitting on the table in front of him for a second, trying to figure out what to do. The way Wind had reacted, one would have thought that it was a real emergency. He picked up the phone as a thought struck him and, figuring ‘what the heck,’ dialed a three digits number with his thumb.
“Nine one one emergency,” a male voice responded after one ring.
“Hello, paramedics? Do you fix gazeboes?” Trent asked, figuring he had nothing to lose.
“What?” the operator asked after a stunned second.
“Do you fix gazeboes?”
“Call a contractor, buddy, this number is for real emergencies,” the operator said flatly before hanging up.
Trent looked at the now dead phone with a cocked eyebrow for a second, then hit the off button. Leaning back in his chair, he rubbed his eyes with his free hand.
Contractors . . . Oy, Trent thought tiredly. That’s what I get for getting up early. ‘Course, it’s not like I slept last night anyway.
Trent got up to make some coffee, shaking his head to try and clear away some of the cobwebs. Normally, Trent could sleep like an old log whatever was going on, but last night sleep just wouldn’t come at all. The reason why was obvious -- Tom and Daria. But the fact that it was bothering him as much as it was served to confound him all the more.
Trent was so easy going that he could usually put up with pretty much anything. Max and Nick’s spats during practice were easy enough to blow off, so they never bothered him at all. Max had his own family problems, and mandatory rehab to boot, and while Trent felt for him he had never lost sleep over it.
But Tom and Daria, well, he just couldn’t see it.
Tom, he knew, came from a family that had more money than they knew what to do with, as far as Trent was concerned. People like that really got on Trent’s bad side. Whenever they got bored with something, they just moved on when something more interesting came along. That was pretty much what Tom had done right before he and Jane had split up. Now, not only was he going out with Daria, Tom was responsible for getting her pregnant.
As long as she held his interest, he’d stick around and do the responsible thing, Trent reasoned as he set the coffee kettle on the stove. But, sooner or later, something else would come along and take his attention away from where it ought to be.
Trent’s expression turned darker as various scenarios played through his mind. He felt himself getting decidedly angry at the concept of Daria, fresh out of high school, left high and dry with a kid. At best, her life would have to be put on hold for a couple of years until the baby was old enough to be left with a sitter or nanny or whatever. The other side of that would be that Daria would be left to raise the kid on her own, which would be awfully hard on her, but not impossible. If that were to ever happen, Trent knew that he and Jane would do whatever they could for Daria and her baby, but it would not be the same thing. A kid needed a full-time father, and Trent only had to look at his own upbringing for proof enough of that.
That’s not going to happen, Trent swore to himself. No way. Not if I have anything to say about it. Not at all.
Trent walked back to the table and grabbed the first telephone directory that he had gone through. He still had a little bit before the water was hot enough, and he figured that he could use the time to go through part of the yellow pages again.
The caricature artist put the finishing touches on the piece he was doing for the three members of the Fashion Club and, with a flourish, turned it around for them to see. All three of the gasped when they saw what the artist had come up with.
“Wow!” Stacy exclaimed, wide eyed.
“That’s great!” Quinn put in.
“We look like those three girls from that movie,” Tiffany drawled happily.
“Yeah, that one where they’re always talking to that guy Charlie on the phone!” Quinn said as the three of them stood up. She presented the artist with payment for the work and took it from him. “This is great! Thanks!”
“But, who should get it?” Tiffany asked.
“Maybe we can each keep it a week and then pass it on to the next person,” Stacy suggested.
“Hey! How about we take it down to Print’s ‘n’ Stuff,” Quinn suggested. “They make colored copies, and then we can all keep it!”
“Yeah! That’s a great idea,” Tiffany and Stacy agreed as the three of the set out on their mission.
The three chattering teens walked right past a solitary figure standing unobserved behind the canvas partition of a glass sculptor’s booth. Sandi Griffin stood there and watched the three other members of the Fashion Club as their picture was completed. She couldn’t quite believe what she was seeing, but it had finally happened -- Quinn had shut her out of the Fashion Club.
Stacy, Sandi, and Tiffany had done everything together for years, ever since Middle School. One of the teachers had even called them the three ‘Mousekateers,’ whatever that had meant. Then, not two weeks after high school started, Quinn show up with that geeky sister of hers and everything began to go down the tubes. The guys around school went after Quinn like bees went after the stuff they got out of the flowers. It used to be that Sandi had her choice of guys to date on the weekends in middle school, and she was looking forward to the same in high school, but now Quinn had first pick, leaving Sandi with the leftovers.
Sandi hated leftovers.
“When the going gets tough you have to get tougher,” her mom always said. It must have been true, because she had gone from an on-air reporter to the Director of Sales and Marketing at that television station where she worked in the time it took for Sandi to get through middle school. So Sandi had gotten tougher and held on to control of the Fashion Club as hard as she could, but it all began to slip through her fingers. It had all started after she had recovered from the enforced bed rest that her broken leg required, when she was forced to cede a point to Quinn and the rest of the group. Then there was that flop that the Fashion Club news letter had become. That had been Quinn’s doing as well, Sandi felt, but like any good president she had stepped forward to hold up the high standard of the office.
After that, Sandi had been maneuvered into embarrassing herself in front of the Language Arts class. The Fashion Club had a higher social office to maintain, after all, and social outcasts like that Daria chick had to be kept in their place. Teachers were losers to begin with -- if they weren’t, they’d have jobs where they could actually make some money -- and being promoted from one class of loser to another was beneath notice.
But Quinn and her sister had gotten together to publicly humiliate me, and that can’t go unresponded to, Sandi thought darkly.
Looking up, Sandi saw Daria and that guy who got her knocked up standing at a booth a few dozen yards away. Sandi was about to turn and leave when she spotted a familiar girl in a tube top and flair cut jeans a couple of booths beyond Daria.
Brooke, Sandi identified the girl. Her botched surgery had been successfully fixed quite sometime back, and she had occasionally asked about openings in the Fashion Club. Sandi had kept telling her that there were none, but maybe there could be -- for a price.
Sandi looked from Brooke and back to Daria, then looked in the direction that the other F.C. members had gone. The seeds of a malicious little plan took root in Sandi’s mind. This would take some careful thought and a little bit of planning, but it really wasn’t any less than Daria or Quinn of them deserved.
Sandi set off in Brooke’s direction, the phrase ‘killing two birds with one stone’ in the forefront of her mind.
Tom and Daria watched as Defoe had left the booth after going over several more of Jane’s works. It had taken a little prompting, but Defoe had finally remembered Jane working on the Starry Night painting a couple of times in class. A valid technique in art existed where images were inverted to facilitate their reproduction by other painters, and Defoe had mistaken that for what Jane was trying to do. After going over several more of Jane’s works, Mrs. Defoe had left. No one else had come by the booth, and Tom was looking rather bored.
“Well, I guess we should head out,” Daria said, giving in to the fact that there was nothing else happening in her friend’s booth.
“Yeah. Have fun kids,” Jane said, waving as Tom and Daria started to leave.
At that moment, Sandi passed the booth at a fast walk. She deliberately cut close to Daria and, in a badly disguised “accident,” caught the older girl’s shoulder and hip with considerable force. The impact knocked her into Tom, who was unprepared for the sudden collision himself, but he managed to keep his feet as well as assisting Daria in keeping her own. Her glasses were knocked askew as Tom caught her.
“Why don’t you watch where you’re going, preggo,” Sandi sneered over her shoulder as she passed.
“Hey!” Tom shouted angrily as he helped Daria back to her feet. “What the hell was that for?”
“Daria! Are you all right?” Jane was immediately at Daria’s side and lending her own hand to her friend’s balance.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” Daria said as she straightened her glasses with one hand. “God, I didn’t think even Sandi could carry a grudge this long.”
“Or this far,” Jane agreed with a nod.
“What, she’s still mad about what happened a few weeks ago?” Tom asked. “What the hell is with her?”
“Got me,” Daria said, looking over at Jane, who was looking like she was about to go after Sandi with the intent to do a large amount of bodily harm. “Take it easy, Jane. If Sandi wants to behave like a belligerent idiot, that’s her prerogative. It‘s kind of pathetic, really.”
“Maybe. I still want to give her a ‘prerogative,’ right in the mouth.” Jane shook her fist in Sandi’s direction.
“You know, looking like you’re threatening your customers isn’t really a good way to attract potential sales,” Tom said with a smirk.
“I suppose not.” Jane had to chuckle at that. “Ah, it’s no big deal. van Gogh hardly ever sold anything his entire life and it never bothered him. Well, except for that whole going-insane part. But he didn’t have Sandi Griffin to deal with either.”
“Hey, did you paint this?” asked a man in a rather expensive-looking jacket and turtleneck shirt as he came walking up to the booth. He was looking over the copy of Starry Night on the easel.
“I know, I know, it’s upside down,” Jane sighed tiredly. I might as well flip the thing over and be done with it.
“Of course it’s upside down,” the fellow said. “Hanging a famous masterpiece upside down allows the viewer to see its beauty totally independent of its content. I love it.”
“You do?” Tom had to ask, and immediately wished that he could take it back.
“Sure, and I know talent when I see it. I hire artists to recreate the works of the Old Masters for my gallery.”
“Well, I’m asking ten million bucks but, since you’re in the business, I’ll let it go for fifty,” Jane said with a smile.
“I’ve got a better idea,” the man said as he walked up to stand next to Jane. “I’ll take as many of these van Gogh copies as you can paint and I’ll only take, say, sixty percent commission. Here’s my card.”
Jane took the offered business card and read the legend on it. “Your place is called ‘Gary’s Gallery?’ “
“ ‘Larry’s Louvre’ was taken,” Daria quipped, then glanced over her shoulder when she thought she heard someone coming up from behind. “Hi, Amy.”
“What’s going on?” Amy asked, watching Gary and Jane talk. She adjusted the sacks that held the few bits that she had actually purchased on her sojourn through the park.
“Looks like Jane might be getting a job,” Tom said.
The three watched for a moment as Gary and Jane concluded their business arrangement with a handshake. Gary took the Starry Night copy with him, leaving Jane with a hundred dollars instead of fifty, saying even that was a bargain compared to what he might be able to get for her other works if they were as good.
“Hey, Amy,” Jane greeted her Best Friend’s aunt. “Looks like I finally have a way to pay for that new gazebo.”
“Copying the Old Masters’ stuff? Not a bad gig, when you can get it,” Amy said, nodding. “Um, you did know that Starry Night copy was upside down, didn’t you?”
“Oh . . . nyah,” Jane stuck her tongue out at Amy and pushed the hundred dollar bill into her pocket. “Looks like you didn’t do to badly for yourself either.”
“Not too shabby. There‘s a booth on the other side of the park where this girl‘s got some dynamite pastels,” Amy said as she reached into a bag and pulled out an eight by eight inch painting of an orchid to show Jane.
Amy couldn’t understand why Jane started coughing when she saw it.
“This kicks butt!” Jane said later that evening as she worked on one of her first pieces for Gary, a copy of van Gogh’s Sunflowers. “I’m finally getting real money for my artwork!”
Daria lay on Jane’s bed, reading a book like she normally did. Jane had been up since the middle of the morning, which was early for Jane, working on her first commission for her new job.
“You’re not worried about becoming a hack?” Daria asked with a raised eyebrow.
“Not as long as I’m only in it for the cash,” Jane turned towards her friend. “Money. Money money. I love money. I’d shovel it down my throat if I could.”
“You’re kidding, right?”
“Of course, Daria. I’d chew it slowly and stop when I felt full.” Jane smirked and selected a narrow brush from the easel’s tray.
Daria rolled her eyes and looked back at her book, turning the page. Glancing over the top of the book, she spotted a clean white sheet covering the unmistakable corners of a fairly large canvas, tucked safely away in the corner of Jane’s room between the wall and her dresser.
“Starting a new masterpiece?” Daria asked, nodding in the general direction of the covered painting.
“Yup,” Jane said, glancing where Daria was looking. “I started if before the gazebo blew up, but I haven’t really figured out what it’s going to be yet.”
“Can I take a peak?”
“Nope, work in progress and all that,” Jane said as she squinted at her canvas and carefully touched up a bit of detail work. “Besides that, I want to keep it a surprise until the big unveiling.”
“Ah,” Daria said, figuring that she could get a look later. It normally wasn’t like Jane to keep a work in progress under wraps. “Speaking of surprises, what was so disturbing about that flower picture that Amy showed you in the park?”
“Hunh?” Jane pulled her brush away from the painting as her hand spasmed slightly. “Oh, nothing. It’s kind of stupid, really.”
“And when has that stopped either of us?”
“Well, it’s just that I think I’ve seen that picture before, and unfortunately I think I know the artist,” Jane said, switching back to her broader brush. “It was last summer when I was at the art colony.”
“Oh.” Daria looked at her book for a moment. That really hadn’t been a very good time for either of them, and Daria didn’t want to bring up any freshly buried ghosts.
“Yeah,” Jane said, her own memories turning back to that summer. “Her name was Alison.”
Daria frowned in thought for a second. “Was this the girl you said got fresh?”
“Uh . . . well, if you’re insisting on historical accuracy, yes,” Jane said, concentrating harder on the painting.
“You never did tell me about what happened out there.”
“Yeah, I know. This isn’t really the best time to do that, though. I’ve got to get this thing finished.” Jane loaded up a new brush and set to work on the painting’s background.
“You mean it? There’s a spot opening in the Fashion Club?” Brooke asked Sandi excitedly, looking about her bedroom. “No way! This is too cool!”
“Yes, it would seem that a certain position is no longer being handled satisfactorily, and a replacement is necessary,” Sandi said as she walked to the bed to where Brooke sat. Getting her to come over to Sandi’s house was easy enough. It just remained to be seen how badly she wanted the position.
“What do you mean? Which one?” Brooke asked. “I’ll bet it’s Stacy’s, isn’t it? She’s so wishy-washy --”
“It’s not Stacy’s. Or Tiffany’s.” Sandi sat down on the bed and looked Brooke in the eye. “How would you like to be the next Vice President of the Fashion Club?”
“Quinn’s position? Really?” Brooke looked like she was about to scream for joy, but pulled up short. “Wait, what did she do wrong?”
She stole my friends, that’s what. Sandi frowned for a moment, then her expression softened as much as it ever did. “That is Fashion Club business and, as you’re not part of the club yet, it is still classified.”
“However, if you’re willing to perform a small service, then, once the position opens, it is yours.” Sandi smiled slightly.
“Service? Like what?” Brooke asked. “A makeover or something?”
“You’ve heard how Quinn admitted that that pregnant girl, Daria, is her sister, right?”
“Yeah, I heard about her,” Brooke said. “Didn’t she, like, get drunk at some party with two guys or something? Gross! I didn’t even know geeks like her had parties!”
“From what I hear from my own sources, there were, like, four guys involved,” Sandi shuddered in mock disgust. It was her story, after all. “The details are quite disgusting.”
“Four? I’m gonna be sick,” Brooke groaned, suppressing a shudder of her own.
“Thanks to Quinn’s constant yammering about it, I know that her mother is taking the family of this rich guy she’s gotten her geeky little hands on to court for child support.”
“Is he the dad?” Brooke asked.
“Obviously not! If he was, that Daria would have said so when she and her sister embarrassed me in front of everyone.” Sandi’s expression grew very determined as she sat up straight on her bed. “It is the duty of the Fashion Club, in this case, to see to it that the truth comes out.”
“So, why don’t you just tell the guy what’s going on?” Brooke asked.
“Unfortunately, it’s not that simple,” Sandi slouched theatrically. “This guy she’s with is so whipped that he wouldn’t recognize what kind of person she is if someone slapped him in the face and showed him a picture.”
“She’s into whips?” Brooke looked pale.
“Some people. Go figure.” Sandi shrugged. “Anyway, her mom is a lawyer, and you know how lawyers are. They have to hear the same thing from two different people before they’ll even believe half of what you tell them.”
“So, what are you going to do? Talk to this Daria’s lawyer mom?”
“Actually, Brooke dear, what we need to do is get this information to this guy’s mom,” Sandi said with a cocked eyebrow and a slight curl of her upper lip. “Then, once they see what kind of a money grubbing little back stabber that Daria chick really is and how their son is being maliciously slandered, they can force them to drop the case.”
“Yeah, slandered,“ Brooke said. “But, I don’t understand. Why isn’t Quinn doing this?”
“Let’s just say that there are times that family loyalty is woefully misplaced, and this is one of them,” Sandi said, straightening up again. “Though our first loyalty as a member of the Fashion Club must be to the dress and deportment of ourselves and, secondarily, to those around us, there are times when, in heinous situations such as these, it falls to us to see that the truth comes out for what it is, or whatever. True, sometimes it is a hard thing to do, but accepting these duties is what sets the Fashion Club above those around us who would keep it to themselves.”
“Oh, that’s so true!” Brook almost sobbed. “The truth must come out! What do we have to do?”
“Brooke Wannamaker, you are truly Fashion Club material” Sandi smiled. “This is what we have to do . . .”
Jane walked down the streets of Lawndale towards downtown. As much as she enjoyed painting, it felt good to get away from the old easel for a little while and clear her head, jokes about paint fumes notwithstanding. She had her nose buried so deeply in her copies for Gary she hadn’t gotten any work done on the special piece that she had tucked in the corner of her room. Ordinarily, a smear of paint on the canvas and she was off, but this project she had taken quite some time to plan out. So far, all she had done was layout the elements on the canvas with hard artist’s graphite.
That had been kind of bothering Jane since yesterday, when she and Daria had gone out for pizza. She had almost not expected Daria to accept, her preferences being so on again, off again ever since her pregnancy had gotten into full swing. Tomato sauce was still out, but her latest culinary interests were centered around ranch dressing for some reason, and Pizza King did have a couple of selections with white ranch sauce. Jane thought the grilled chicken was all right, but she could have really done without the pineapple.
Eww, what a way to ruin a pizza, Jane thought. Daria had eaten three slices of the stuff, including Jane’s pineapple. I know she’s eating for a family now, but jeeze.
“It’s not often I get treated to this kind of a feast,” Daria said after they had started on their third round. “What’s the occasion?”
“Well, now that my ship’s come in, I figured why not spread the wealth around and help the little people? Even those eating enough for a third world country,“ Jane said, handing over the half a dozen bits of fruit that had come on her pizza.
“Hey, I’m eating for two now, remember?” Daria said around a mouthful as she spread the extra pineapple on her slice. “So how big of a ship? Or is it more if a dingy?”
“Large yacht, maybe.“ Jane had pulled her check out of her pocket at that point. “My first commission: two hundred dollars.”
“Try to contain your exuberance,” Daria said after she swallowed.
“You know, I did think it would be more exciting. Maybe if it was for my own work.” Jane had looked at the check for a moment, then cheered up. “But, hey, it’s not like I’m going to be painting copies forever.”
“Just don’t say you can quit any time,” Daria said, taking another bite of her pizza.
Actually, I can quit any time. That‘s the beauty of it all, Jane thought as she replacing the check. “Your offspring going to be full soon? I have to hit the bank before it closes and cash this.”
“Yeah, I suppose,” Daria said, eying her pizza slice, and then looking over at Jane’s. “Um, are you going to finish that?”
Jane shook her head at the memory. If all it took to get Daria back into pizza in her current state was a little ranch sauce, then she’d be a bottomless pit as time went on. Jane had barely been able to repress a chuckle as she handed over her pizza to her friend. She hadn’t said a word when Daria wondered what was so funny.
If only you knew what I know, young grasshopper, Jane thought as she turned a corner and started to cross the street.
Gary’s Gallery was in the middle of the next block. He had left a message that afternoon, asking her to come over to the shop when she got out of school. Gary had mentioned earlier that sometimes his customers would have a request for a specific painting or other piece of work once in a while. If that was the case, she hoped that it was something van Gogh did. He was one of her very favorite artists and she really enjoyed reproducing his work.
Well, we’ll find out, Jane thought as she pushed the door to the shop open.
On the opposite end of the room, Gary sat behind a counter, framed in a copy of Georges Seurat's A Sunday on La Grande Jatte on the wall behind him. He looked up as the small brass bell gently rang over Jane’s head. The shop was an ‘A to Z’ display of artists and artworks, with sculptures and stacks of paintings lining the walls. Classic works and modern art hung side by side as a few customers perused the inventory.
“Jane Lane!” Gary said as she crossed the store. “Your Sunflowers sold this morning, which means I’ve got something for you.”
Gary picked something off a stack of computer printouts as Jane walked up to his desk and held it out to her as he stood. She took the commission check form him and looked it over.
“Three hundred and fifty! Wow!” Jane would have to figure out what the painting really sold for when she got home and could find a calculator. “Okay, I quit.”
“Quit??” Gary looked shocked. “You can’t quit Gary’s Gallery!”
“No, that’s the Mafia,” Jane frowned. It was supposed to be easier than this. “Sorry, but this pays off the workmen at my house and my Girl Scout cookie debt.”
“I can’t just let you go! You’re the best artist I have!”
“Thanks, but I don’t feel much like an artist unless I’m working on my own stuff,” Jane explained, thinking of the canvas sitting on the floor in her room.
“I understand that, but paints and canvases are expensive, you know,” Gary pointed out. “Build your nest egg now, while you have the chance. Then you can afford to work on your Jane Lane Originals.”
“Money’s not the issue here --”
“I’ll increase your cut to sixty percent,” Gary said without missing a beat.
“Money is the issue here.”
“And if you’re that bored, you don’t have to do van Goghs any more. Any artist you like.” Gary looked at her earnestly. “What do you say?”
Daria was right, Jane thought. Damned mafia.
“But how can they? I’ve answered every motion that those people have put forward!” Maryanne winced, trying to type at her desk, as Helen practically yelled into her telephone. “I know the burden of proof is on the plaintiff, but this is ridiculous -- we’ve met the burden twice over!” Helen paced to the end of her receiver cord before walking back to her chair and dropping down into it. “A paternity test? But he already freely admits that the child is his! How can they not believe their own son??”
The sound of someone clearing his throat made Maryanne turn around. Eric Schrecter stood in the door, watching Helen as she spoke on the phone. It was obvious that Helen hadn’t noticed him yet.
“What do you mean they have evidence to the contrary?” Helen exclaimed with a shocked look. “How the hell could they?”
“Helen,” Maryanne whispered urgently, finally getting her boss’s attention and nodding in Eric’s direction.
“What is it?” Helen hissed, then looked at Eric. “Oh . . . I’ll have to call you back. And I want to see this evidence, whatever it is!” Helen hung up the phone with a sigh. “What can I do for you, Eric?”
“Have you had a chance to go over the latest motions from ATC’s lawyers?” Eric asked as he walked into the office.
“Uh,” Helen looked confused for a moment. Actually she hadn’t even glanced at them. It wasn’t very often that she was caught this unprepared. “Some of them, yes. I haven’t had a chance to go through them all yet. Something came up while I was working on them, you see.”
“So I noticed. You’ve got the junior associates more terrorized than usual,” Eric said with a smirk.
“Terrorized?” Helen frowned. “Who said that??”
“Ah ah ah, Helen, I’m not finking,” Eric said with a wave of his finger. “I do want to know, though, why you’re ram-rodding a family court case when the ATC commission could mean a fortune when we win it.”
“Eric, it’s . . .” Helen leaned back in her chair and shook her head. “It’s complicated.”
“It’s distracting is what it is. What happened to my sure-fire go-getter, hmm?” Eric asked. “I’ve seen you juggle six cases at once. What’s so special about a case that won’t net peanuts?”
“It involves my daughter, Eric,” Helen said with a frown.
“I know, I’ve read the paperwork. You’ve also got a couple of the J.A.s downstairs running around like chickens with their heads cut off over it, too.”
“Well, it’s not exactly like that,” Helen started to say.
“Helen, cases like ATC are the meat and potatoes of this firm,” Eric said as he turned to leave the office. “The juniors know what they’re doing. Leave this thing with your daughter to them and get me the reports on those motions, okay?”
“Yes, Eric,” Helen slumped in her chair. “I’ll have them for you this afternoon.”
“That’s the spirit,” Eric said as he left.
Helen watched Eric leave, then looked over the files spread across her desk. Eric was right -- normally she could juggle several cases at a time. However, none of those cases concerned her as much as this one did.
“Maryanne, would you get me the last batch of depositions from that underwriter ATC used?” Helen asked as she picked up a thick folder from the center of the mess.
“Sure,” Maryanne said as she went over to the filing cabinet, stopping a moment after opening the drawer. “Um, Helen, if there’s anything that I can do . . .”
“No, thank you, Maryanne.“ Helen looked off into space at nothing for a moment. “Eric’s right. I’m usually more focused than this.”
“With all due respect to Mr. Schrecter, you should consider the source. When it comes to relationships, he‘s no where near an expert,” Maryanne said as she walked her fingers across the folder tabs. “I’ve been here a lot longer than you have and I can tell you from direct observations that he couldn’t hold a personal relationship together with superglue. Besides, it involves your daughter, so you’ve a right to be a little distracted. It’s normal.”
“Nothing’s normal when Daria’s involved, Maryanne,” Helen said as she closed the folder and deliberately put it off to the side.
“So I’ve noticed,” Maryanne said as she pulled a file out of the drawer and put it on Helen’s desk.
“And what’s that supposed to mean?” Helen asked, cocking her eyebrow at her assistant.
“Um, I mean, uh,” Maryanne stammered for a moment.
“Oh, forget it,” Helen sighed as she opened the file. “Listen, would you go down stairs and make sure that they have all the current work for Daria’s case ready for me when I leave. I want to go over it tonight.”
“Of course,” Maryanne said as she left the office.
Quinn walked up to the door of her parents’ bedroom and peeked around the corner. Helen was sitting back in bed and going over a pile of paperwork as Jake lay snoring obliviously beside her. She thought her mom usually got more work done in bed than she usually did at the office. Quinn had tried to do her homework in bed, but usually never got anything done and, more often than not, woke up with a sore back.
Sandi had been acting strangely all day, and it was beginning to get to Quinn. In fact, she had been acting strangely all week, but today it had finally become too much. There was no explanation that Quinn could think of that made sense, and Stacy and Tiffany weren’t much help, though they were as confused as Quinn was. That left Mom.
“Quinn? Come in,” Helen said, looking up and seeing her youngest daughter at door.
“Mom, I need your help,” Quinn said as she walked over to her Mom’s side of the bed and sat down. “Sandi’s been acting really weird almost every day this week, ever since the art fair.”
“Weird? How so?” Helen said, putting her paperwork down.
“Well, she hasn’t told me about two Fashion Club meetings in the last couple of days, and I think she’s dong it deliberately because Stacy and Tiffany have known about them when I asked. Stacy and I have even seen her talking to Brooke, that girl who got all that free surgery from Dr. Sharr when she messed up her nose, and Sandi’s always said that she couldn’t get into the club because of all the ‘artificial enhancements’ she’d gotten out of the surgery, whatever that meant.”
“Maybe Sandi’s decided that it’s time for the Fashion Club to expand its membership,” Helen said.
“But Sandi’s the one who sets the membership standards,” Quinn replied. “She’s very strict about them. She even had to step down as President when she was recovering from that broken leg because all the time in bed made her gain weight, remember?”
“I think so,” Helen replied. “Well, what do you think is going on?”
“That’s just it, I don’t know.” Quinn sighed. “I mean, yeah, Sandi’s always been a little hard to get along with, but she’s, like, my best friend. Every time I ask, she either changes the subject or blows me off.”
“She could be having problems at home, you know,” Helen said. “Linda isn’t the easiest person in the world to get along with, either. It’s not surprising that there could be some friction between them.”
“I don’t know. They are a lot alike.”
“Look, Quinn, if there’s something and she needs some kind of help, she’ll come to you when she’s ready. You said it yourself, she’s your best friend. She knows you’re there for her.”
“Yeah, I guess,” Quinn said as she stood up. “Thanks, Mom.”
Quinn walked out of the room feeling that their short little conversation hadn’t helped any and, it looked like her Mom really wasn’t in a frame of mind to give much in the way of advice. She’d done nothing but pour over the paperwork she bad brought home with her since dinner, and it looked like it was getting to her.
Mom’s right, Quinn thought as she closed the bedroom door behind her. If Sandi wants me to help her, she’ll come out and ask. She’s always gotta do things her own way.
She stood in the hall for a moment, debating with herself over asking Daria or Aunt Amy about the situation, but the doors to her sister’s and the guest room were both closed. As late as it was, it was a good bet that both of them were asleep, so Quinn decided not to bother. She could always talk to them in the morning easily enough. They both got up disgustingly early, anyway.
Her mind on the problem with Sandi, Quinn slowly changed clothes to her pajamas and went about the business of getting ready for bed. Normally she could just let problems go for the night, but this thing with Sandi just had its hooks in too deep. Quinn had always thought that the competition between them was a little dumb but felt that she had to try and keep up because of her position in the Fashion Club. Now it seemed that Sandi was actively trying to knock her out of the club. Quinn couldn’t understand why, and that bugged her no end.
With a sigh, Quinn pushed open one of the bedroom windows that overlooked the stretch of lawn between their house and the neighbors. Quinn thought, that with the breeze that was blowing towards the back of the house, it would be safe enough to risk a cigarette if she stayed at the window. It was becoming a reflex reaction when her stress level hit a certain point, Quinn had decided a few days back. She wasn’t quite sure how, but it helped her concentrate on the problem at hand, at least enough to file it away for later.
With cigarette and lighter in hand, she set her fuzz-covered phone on the floor and took its place on the footlocker so she could lean against the window sill.
I suppose I could blame Sandi for this, but I really can’t, Quinn thought as she lit the slim cigarette and blew the smoke out into the night air. What is it with her, anyway? The last time she got this mad was that big dance last year where Jane did all the decorating. So what is it this time? Is she jealous about something? I know she acts all superior, but I can’t see her as being just plain mean.
Quinn took a drag on her cigarette and slowly blew the smoke out, watching as the breeze took it towards the back of the house. Unbeknownst to Quinn, the windows on that side of the house in back were open as well, and those windows opened into Daria’s room. Inside, Daria rolled over in her bed, dueling with a case of insomnia brought on by a craving for another chicken and pineapple pizza.
Daria’s nose twitched slightly at the unfamiliar, smoky odor that mixed in with the scent of the outdoors on the night breeze. Sitting up in her bed, she picked up her glasses and turned to look out of the open window to try and locate the source of the smell. She knew that the neighbor on that side had occasionally smoked outside, indulging in some pretty rancid smelling cigars, but this was awfully late for that. Seeing no one on the grass between the houses or in the back yard of the neighbor’s place, Daria looked around for the source of the smell, and saw Quinn leaning out of her window and looking in a different direction. Daria was about to call out and ask Quinn if she had been awakened by the same smell when Quinn lifted her hand and brought a cigarette to her lips.
Wonderful. My sister’s a closet nicotine fiend, Daria thought as she pulled her head back into her room and slid the window down. She debated about slamming the window so Quinn knew that she was busted, but decided against it. Quinn looked pretty intense about something. Besides, a little blackmail material never hurt.
Damned cravings, Daria thought as she kicked the covers off, and gave in to her grumbling stomach. Daria quietly padded out of her room on a general course for the kitchen, thinking that there had to be something down there to satisfy her. Wonder if Mom’s still got those pineapple chunks.
“So with the gazebo paid off, I’m in pure profit territory,” Jane was saying the next morning in Art Class. “And I’m only painting these ‘in the style of’s’ --”
“You mean ‘copies of‘s‘,” Daria interjected around a yawn. She hadn’t slept well the night before at all.
“Fine,” Jane said, turning away from her easel to glower at her friend for a moment. “I’m only painting them so I can support myself while I’m doing my own stuff.”
“And based on your recent workload, you’ll be getting to your own stuff about the time you start clipping coupons for denture paste,” Daria pointed out.
You would point that out, wouldn’t you? Jane thought as Ms Defoe came up behind the two of them on her usual rounds of the classroom.
“Jane,” Defoe said as she stopped between the two girls. “Your exploration of the class assignment looks remarkably similar to a van Gogh . . .”
“You might want to keep those safety scissors away from her ears,” Daria quipped as she loaded up her brush.
“Okay, I admit that this is somewhat extracurricular,” Jane tried to explain.
“You don’t have to explain it to me, Jane,” Defoe said. “I just hope that you never lose your own unique style.”
Yeah, my own style, Jane thought as Defoe walked away to check on what Brittany and Kevin were doing.
“She didn’t even say anything about my horsey,” Daria said in a dry, mock pout.
Jane finally took a good look at Daria’s canvas and cocked her eyebrow at the painting that she was working on: a rather primitive rendition of a horse’s skeleton.
I wonder why, Jane thought with an inner smirk. “I think Ol’ Paint’s seen better days, there, Festus. Y’all might want to feed ‘im once in a while.”
Daria’s dry reply died on the tip of her tongue as the door to the classroom opened and Ms Li walked in. She was carrying a manila file folder and walked straight across the room to where Daria was sanding.
“Can I help you, Ms Li?” Ms Defoe asked from Brittany’s easel.
“No, Ms Defoe, I merely have something for Ms Morgendorffer,” Ms Li said, dismissing the art instructor. She held out the folder to Daria, who looked between it and the principal. “I have a ‘special project’ for you, Ms Morgendorffer. In order for you to fulfill those academic requirements that your, ahem, condition prevents you from completing, I want you to write an article for next week’s school newspaper.”
“An article for the Lowdown?” Daria asked.
“That is what I said. A synopsis on the article’s subject matter, as well as some research materials that I have gathered, are in this folder. Feel free to supplement it with your own research, if you wish.” She thrust the folder into Daria’s brush hand. A bit of gray paint got streaked across the folder as Daria tried to hold on to both items. “Five hundred words, minimum. And I expect it no later than Wednesday morning, nine a.m.”
Ms Li started to turn away to leave when she caught sight of Daria’s painting. Pausing for a moment, she pulled her glasses down her nose and looked at it over the square rims.
“M-hm,” Li sniffed, before turning again and walking out.
“Well, that wasn’t awkward at all,” Jane said as soon as the door was closed. “What did she give you?”
Daria set her palette and brush down on the milk crate that was between her and Jane’s easel. Opening the folder, Daria found a stack of printouts topped of with a sheet that had a single, typewritten paragraph more or less in the center of the page. After reading the synopsis, Daria frowned more harshly than Jane had ever seen her do, and flipped through the rest of the folder. Several articles, either printed from the internet or copied from other publications, were included.
“What?” Jane asked, and Daria handed her the synopsis page in reply. Jane read the first sentence and was unable to get any further. “Oh, she has got to be freaking kidding!”
“ ‘Write an editorial article on the failure of the scholastic sexual education system to prevent teen aged pregnancy and reduce promiscuity among teens?’ “ Jodie Landon read as she, Mack, Daria, and Jane commiserated over their lunch trays. If the industrial entree wasn’t enough to kill her appetite, what she was reading did it in full. “Damn, Daria. I didn’t think even Ms Li could sink that low.”
“Let me see,” Mack asked, and Jodie handed over the sheet of paper.
“It gets worse,” Daria said, glumly pushing her green beans around her plate. “Keep reading.”
“ ‘Include your personal views on how these changes to the system could have assisted in preventing your current condition and preventing others from making similar mistakes in the future?’ “ Mack looked repulsed.
“I take it back,” Jodie said sadly.
“What are you going to do?” Jane asked.
“What can I do?” Daria asked in return, dropping her fork on her plate. “Mom’s already on the warpath with Tom’s parents, despite the fact that he’s not fighting this at all. This would be all she needs to send her right over the edge. Dad would just go into another rant about Tom and teenaged boys in general talking girls into doing things that they wouldn’t ordinarily want to do in the first place.” Daria frowned. “I’m just going to have to write the article.”
“Why not go to your Mom, anyway?“ Jane asked, looking among the three others. “Or that violation of civil liberties thing, would that apply here?”
“I don’t see how,” Daria replied. “Li could argue that it’s a legitimate assignment to fill in for the physical education credits that I won’t be getting. The subject of the assignment wouldn’t have anything to do with it.”
“An assignment is one thing, but this is asking you to fall on your sword and parade yourself as a walking example of how the education system screwed up.” Mack put the synopsis sheet back on the folder next to Daria. “It might not be a violation of civil liberties, but it sure as hell’s a violation of good taste.”
“Mack’s right,” Jane said. “Legal or not, this is just plain wrong.”
“Well, then what am I supposed to do?” Daria asked. “Even if Mom doesn’t go completely ballistic, all that fighting Ms. Li on this will do is make things worse in the long run. It’s just a stupid, disgusting, narrow-minded assignment in order to make up for a few days of class.”
“Daria, this is the same thing that she did to Carrie Landingham. Remember, we told you about her?” Jodie said. “Li forced her to commit social suicide, harassing and badgering her the whole time on how what had happened was a black eye to the whole school. She had self-esteem problems -- real problems that should have been treated by professionals, but instead she ended up being stuck in O’Neill’s esteem workshop.”
“I remember her,” Jane said, looking at the table. “She’s the only person I knew who had taken it more times than I did.”
“That’s next. You just watch, you’ll see that I’m right.” Jodie tapped the table with her finger. “Look, my parents know some people on the Board of Education. I’ll have to fall on my own sword, but maybe they can do something.”
“Yeah, right,” Daria sighed. “This is ridiculous. Not only does Li want my life, she wants my virginity on top of it.”
“Hey, we all do,” Jane replied with a shrug.
“Why Jane, if only I’d known sooner.” Daria tried to keep up her end of the banter, but it was very strained.
“Attention students. This is Dr. Manson,” the public address system crackled, causing the conversation in the lunch room to die down. “Daria Morgendorffer, please report to my office. Daria Morgendorffer, report to my office. At once. Thank you.”
“Crap,” Daria mumbled as she got up from the table and walked out of the lunch room, a few hoots and jeers following in her wake. Her three friends could only look on helplessly.
“Dammit to hell! What sociopathic paralegal keeps stealing my ‘sign here’ post-its?”
Maryanne sat at her seldom used desk outside Helen’s office and screwed her eyes shut as her boss’s voice penetrated the walls. This day hadn’t started out very well, and was progressively getting worse. Helen was trying to concentrate on both the ATC Motors suit and still ride herd on the Junior Associates who were handling the child support case that Helen was bringing against the Slones. It was obvious to everyone on this side of the building where Helen’s energies were focused.
“Sounds like she’s in a bit of a mood,” Maryanne heard someone say. She looked up and saw a young man with light, short cropped hair come walking up to her desk carrying a file folder. Judging by the rumpled state of his shirt and tie, he’d been working all night.
“Oh, tell me about it, Ian,” Maryanne said to the Junior Associate. “You sure you want to go in there?”
“I’ve got a choice?” Ian asked with a nervous chuckle. “You might want to hide under your desk when I tell her what I’ve got. She is going to flip her wig when she hears this.”
“Wonderful. You really know how to make my life difficult.” Maryanne picked up the receiver from her phone and pressed the intercom. “Helen, Ian’s here . . . Okay.” She hung up. “Go on in.”
“We who are about to die, salute you,” Ian said theatrically as he drew his back straight and twisted the door knob.
“Ian, come in,” Helen said from behind her very cluttered desk as Ian entered and closed the door behind him. “What were you able to find out?”
“Well, I finally managed to wrangle copies of the depositions that Mr. Moore, the Sloane’s lawyer, had been sitting on,” Ian said as he pulled the chair from the computer desk over in front of Helen’s and sat down. He opened his folder and flipped a couple of pages. “It seems that a couple of witnesses have cropped up that say your daughter Daria was attending a pretty wild party around the time that she would have gotten pregnant.”
“What? That’s ridiculous!” Helen slapped the paperwork she was looking at down on her desk and glared at Ian. “Daria doesn’t go to parties! I have to practically get physical just to get her to leave the house, sometimes!”
“I just read them, Mrs. Morgendorffer, I don’t make them up,” Ian said, glancing up and then back at the page he was working from. He swallowed once before continuing, knowing it wasn‘t going to be pretty. “Now, allegedly, your daughter had propositioned several boys over the course of the evening and was seen disappearing in to various back rooms at least four different times that night. Each time with a different escort.”
“What?! Who the hell came up with that load of crap?” Helen’s face turned about the same shade as her maroon suit.
“According to my information,” Ian said as he swallowed the lump in his throat. “Mr. Moore was approached by one Linda Griffin when her daughter heard Daria talking about the case in school. Evidently, the daughter and one of her friends were supposedly at this party I was talking about.”
“I know the Griffins. Linda’s a witch and her daughter Sandi is a chip off the old cauldron. What’s the friend’s name?” Helen asked through clenched teeth and wondering how she could justify strangling Quinn for being involved in this.
“A girl by the name of . . .” Ian flipped a page. “Brooke Wannamaker, evidently.”
“Who?” Helen asked, reaching out for the file, which Ian handed over. Not Quinn, thank Heaven. “Wannamaker. I know that name, I think.”
“The plastic surgery suit a couple of years ago that Riordan handled, remember?” Ian prompted.
“Oh yes. That’s the girl who . . . Wait, Quinn knows this girl. Sandi Griffin’s her best friend, so why the hell . . .?” Helen quickly glanced over the papers as she tried to assemble the seemingly unrelated pieces of the puzzle that had been happened on. Linda Griffin was a bitch and a blowhard, but this wasn’t really her style, though Helen wouldn’t put it passed her.
“What do you want to do?” Ian asked. “This is coming up in front of the judge in a couple of days.”
“I know. Believe me, I know,” Helen muttered as she leaned back in her chair. The glare she gave the mess on her desk could have started a fire if she held it for much longer. “Subpoena Linda and Sandi Griffin, and this Brooke Wannamaker. I want to know the names of everyone at that party, and then I want them served as well. In the meantime, I’ll have a talk with Quinn and try to get that ball rolling.”
“This is going to take some time,” Ian said.
“Then why the hell are you still sitting here?” Helen asked Ian as she handed back the depositions.
“Color me gone,” Ian said as he stood up and walked across the room.
“And pull the Scharr / Wannamaker case from Riordan’s files. I want to know if there’s any connection to the Griffins there,” Helen said as Ian grasped the knob.
“Right. I can have something on that for you in a couple of hours.” Ian pulled the door open and pulled up short when he just about collided with someone on the other side. “Mr. Schrecter! I’m sorry, I didn’t know you were there.”
“Eric!” Helen blinked. “This is a surprise.”
“So I gathered,” Eric said as he reached out and turned the file folder Ian was carrying so he could see the tab. “Hmm. You can go, now, Ian.”
“Yessir,” Ian stammered as he slipped around Eric.
“So, Helen,” Eric said as he closed the door behind him. “Why is it that file said ‘Morgendorffer v. Sloane’ and not ‘ATC Motors,’ hmm?”
“Ian was just briefing me on what progress was being made on the case, that’s all,” Helen said reasonably. “Something came up that he thought I should know about and --”
“And you instructed him to serve three people with subpoenas and pull a two year old case file,” Eric finished for her.
“Yes, well . . .”
“Helen, we’ve talked about this.” Eric sat down in the chair that Ian had vacated a few moments before and pulled it up to her desk. “The juniors know what they’re doing, hell, they can probably do this stuff in their sleep. Your daughter’s in good hands, and she‘ll still be there when this thing is done, but right now I need you concentrating on ATC.”
“Eric, this is my daughter we’re talking about here, not someone else's kid who came in looking to strike it rich,” Helen said with an exasperated sigh. “You can’t expect me not to take a personal interest in this.”
“What I expect is that you’ll act like a professional and concentrate on the cases that you’ve been assigned.” Eric leaned forward. “Remember that report the lab coats at Quiet Ivy put together? Well, I’ve been going over it again, these last few days, specifically the parts about unhealthy self-involvement and a gross insensitivity to others needs.” He began tapping his index finger on Helen’s desk. “You’ve been entirely too involved in this child support case, a case that isn’t going to net this firm one plug nickel in billable hours. I haven’t said anything because, up till a little while ago, you’ve been keeping your focus on the ATC Motors case, and that’s where it needs to stay. Your job is to see to it that ATC Motors --”
“The Slones are blocking the child support motion even though their son stipulates to being the father, Eric, and now they’ve come up with something that’s going to make this even harder!” Helen glared back at Eric, whose eyebrow elevated at her interruption. “ATC Motors is not my job! My job is to see to it that my eighteen-year-old daughter can raise my grandchild!”
“I understand that --”
“No, you don’t! Dammit, Eric, gross insensitivity and unhealthy self involvement are part of the reasons that Daria’s in this mess!” Helen stood up and began pacing around the room. “If I hadn’t had my head buried so deep in this miserable place, chances are we wouldn’t even be having this conversation. I would have seen something like this coming and my daughter wouldn’t be looking forward to being a teenaged mother!” Helen stopped pacing and whirled on Eric. “I’m trying to keep a family together, for Pete’s sake, and none of this is helping any!”
“I’m trying to keep a family together too, Helen -- this firm. And the one who’s not helping right now is you,” Eric said standing up and facing off against Helen. “Look, families go through these things all the time. They’ll understand and they’ll be there for you when this is all over, but right now --”
“I’ve been telling myself that for years, first in Highland, and now here, but that doesn’t make it true!”
“But right now, I need you focused here!” Eric finished, shouting over Helen. “Dammit, Helen, when are you going to get your priorities straight!”
Helen blinked and stepped back from her boss a couple of paces. She wasn’t getting through to Eric at all, and for the first time in a long time it had finally sunk in. If what Maryanne had told her a couple days ago was right, it was no wonder Eric couldn’t maintain a stable relationship outside the office -- he was hard wired into it, heart, mind and soul.
“Eric, you’re right,” Helen said, taking a deep breath. “I should have had my priorities on this straight from the beginning.”
“Good, Helen, that’s great! Now, I --”
“Therefore, I am requesting an extended leave of absence, starting immediately,” Helen continued as she pulled her briefcase from underneath her desk and stuffed a couple of files into it. “You will have the formal letter by the close of business today, and I’ll ask Maryanne to distribute my active case load around the office, so nothing sits for too long.”
“Now wait one damn second! Where do you get off --”
“Don’t make me make this a letter of resignation, Eric. “ Helen straightened up. “Neither of us wants that, but I‘ll do it.”
“Yeah, I’ll just bet you would too,” Eric said as he followed Helen out of the office. “You’ve just screwed up any possibility you’ve ever had at making partner, you know that don’t you?”
Maryanne was looking very confused as Helen and Eric came out of the office and stopped in front of her desk. She couldn‘t help but hear the argument through the paper thin walls, and was wondering what was going on.
“Maryanne, starting today I’m gong to be taking some time off. Please distribute my case load around the office and tell Ian that I’ll be calling him in a couple of hours. There‘s also a few personal items I‘ll be needing out of my office later.” Helen turned back to Eric. “That’s not going to work, Eric. You’ve been waving that carrot in front of my nose for a year and a half and never had any intention of letting me get any closer to it, and I’m getting tired of chasing it. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I still have a long day ahead.”
Salvador Dali called the painting Persistence of Memory. Most other people only knew it as a weird painting with a bunch of melted-looking clocks and watches in it. Jane, however, was thinking up new and, occasionally, decidedly crude names every five minutes for the copy she was painting. She had spent the last four hours working on the reproduction and was bored out of her mind. The contractors had woke her up that morning with their off-again, on-again work on the gazebo, and Jane figured that she might as well get something constructive done.
This is the last time I copy Dali, Jane thought with a yawn. If doing the copy is this boring, how dull could doing the original have been? I need a caffeine break big time.
Jane turned to clean the brush she was using just as her brother walked into the room.
“Trent, you’re up early,” Jane observed tiredly.
“Those workers promised they’d have something done by two o’clock, so I thought I’d better get up and check it out,” Trent explained, running his fingers through his bed-head hair. “Hey, why don’t you bring your easel down and you can, like, portray the birth of the new gazebo.”
“Trent, if I had a spare moment, I sure as hell wouldn’t spend it painting,” Jane glowered with a shake of her head.
“Whoa, copying burnout! That’s why Spiral doesn’t play covers, because of what it would do to our creativity,” Trent pointed out. “And the ironic thing is, I am as free as a bird.”
“Good for you, Trent. Stay true to your art. I’m sure you’ll always have the negative bank balance to prove it.” That was the only upside that Jane could find to all of this. She’d have her own money stashed away for the future.
“Hey, Janey, I’d rather balance my artistic statement than my bank statement,” Trent replied with a little more energy.
“Hunh?” Jane raised her eyebrows.
“I don’t know,” Trent said after a second, then turned and started walking out of the room. “I thought I had something there.”
“My arm’s getting tired, dammit!” Jane shouted after her brother, as she massaged the exhausted muscles above her elbow. She looked down at her hand, still holding the brush, and watched the slight tremor in her fingers shake the bristles.
“It never used to,” she finished quietly.
Jane dropped the brush into a jar of murky cleanser and then dropped down on her bed, grabbing up the remote in the process. She figured that she just needed a break. After all, even the masters of old had to take some time off once in a while. Hitting the Power button on the remote, Jane was immediately greeted by the welcome, hammering beat of the theme from Sick, Sad World. Normally, she could veg out to this show for hours.
“What’s more heartless than pilfering a roll of toilet paper?” the announcer’s voice rattled the television. “Transforming it into a roll of twenties! ‘The Squeezablely Soft Counterfeiter,’ next on Sick, Sad World!”
“Counterfeiting?” Jane asked herself as she muted the commercials. She turned and looked at the painting sitting on her easel. What if --?
“Hey! This doesn’t go with the house! What about my resale value?” Trent’s voice echoed up from the back yard.
“Look, pal, that’s why I rent,” the guy in charge of the workmen said in an equally loud tone.
That’s it, I am so out of here. Jane shut off the television and headed for the door. She couldn’t relax with Trent and the workmen going at it like that. Besides, she had plans to meet up with Daria for pizza anyway, and even chicken and pineapple pizza was better than standing around her room and staring at that stupid Dali all day.
It only took a few minutes to walk the two blocks to Daria’s house, and a couple of minutes after that, Daria appeared at the front door. Visible through the door behind Daria, Helen was sitting at one of the sofas with paper work spread out on the other two as well as the coffee table. She and Jake appeared to be in a rather heated discussion, though that was a polite term for it.
“Dammit, Helen! You just can’t quit!” Jake was shouting before Jane could even say hello.
“I didn’t quit, Jake. I just took a leave of absence so I could concentrate on Daria’s case,” Helen loudly replied, trying to concentrate on her expanse of paperwork.
“We need every penny that we can get and you have to do this now??” Jake started prowling around the room. “How are we supposed to afford this on only one income?”
Daria turned back to Jane with an expression that clearly said ‘get me the hell out of here now.’ Jane didn’t need any translation and silently grabbed Daria by the arm and pulled her out of the front door and onto the sidewalk while quietly shutting it behind them.
“What’s with your mother?” Jane asked as they started walked. “She’s on a leave of absence?”
“Yeah, she told us this morning. Apparently Mom and Eric got into a big argument over how Mom was handling this big ATC Motors case and keeping track of the child support thing on the side. I guess that she finally wised up and told Eric that she was taking time off. Now she’s working full time on the suit she’s bringing against the Sloanes.”
“She’s still going through with that?” Jane asked with a raised eyebrow. “How come?”
“Yep. The Sloanes have been fighting it. Mr. more than Mrs., but still,” Daria sighed. “The fact that Tom’s on our side on this thing makes it more difficult for them, but it doesn’t help us all that much either.”
“Why not? You’re both eighteen.”
“But we’re still both dependants of our parents. Hence the problems.” Daria’s normal expression was beginning to look more troubled.
“Ah.” Jane nodded, deciding that now would be a good time to change the subject. “I didn’t see your aunt’s car there. Helen finally drive her off?”
“No, she’s at the museum. Apparently she got called in to go over some of that collection again. She didn’t seem too happy about it, though. Apparently, they‘re worried about finding another fake.”
“Mrs. S is going to flip when she finds out who your aunt really is,” Jane said with a smile.
“And here I thought her identity as an internationally renowned thief was safe at last,” Daria said dryly.
“No, I mean when she finds out that Amy is your aunt. She’ll go nuts.”
“Thankfully, that hasn’t happened yet. So far, all they do is talk shop about this stuff Aunt Amy’s working on. She hasn’t volunteered anything and Mrs. Sloane hasn’t asked.”
“Speaking of fakes, here’s a funny thought,” Jane said. “Wouldn’t it be hilarious if Gary was some huge art counterfeiting kingpin?”
“Oh yeah. You’d be laughing all the way to the big house,” Daria replied, stopping and looking at her friend.
“No, listen. What if my copies are really good enough to fool people,” Jane said, completely serious. “It would be a cinch for him to make millions off my hard work.”
“To do what, finance a secret robot army?” Daria asked with a cocked eyebrow.
“I’m serious. Look, Gary’s is only a couple of blocks away. We’re going to head over there right now and enact a sting operation,” Jane said with her hands on her hips and a determined look on her face.
“Fine. You wear the moustache and I’ll hide in the ceiling vent,” Daria said with a sigh. As they started walking again, she put her hand over her abdomen. “Come on, Junior. Mommy needs to help her crazy friend commit a felony.”
“You know, that’s the first time I’ve seen you do that,” Jane said softly.
“Talk to the baby. Or call yourself ‘mommy’ for that matter.”
“Lack of nourishment. I haven’t had any lunch yet,” Daria said, not wanting to pursue the subject. “Can we stop for some pizza before we make fools of ourselves at Gary’s?”
“Ha ha. Just no pineapple this time, okay?”
“Okay, here’s the plan,” Jane said as the walked up the street towards Gary’s Gallery. “There’s an invoice book behind the counter that should tell us who bought my last painting. You have to distract Gary while I’m grabbing it.”
“And just how am I supposed to do that?” Daria asked, still not believing that she was going to go through with this.
“You'll figure something out. Use your womanly attributes,” Jane said with a shrug.
“Gotcha. I'll give birth.”
“That’ll work,” Jane said as they walked up to the door. “Oh, and by the way, until you pop, I‘m ordering the pizza toppings.”
“What do you mean?”
“Broccoli and mandarin oranges??” Jane shuddered. “That’s almost enough to make me quit pizza for good.”
“Hey, we went half and half,” Daria said.
“Yeah, but I had to watch you eat it.” Jane pushed the door open.
“Hey, Jane!” Gary greeted the two girls as they walked into the store ad up to where he was standing. “How’s that Dali coming along? I think I can pre-sell it.”
“Great, great. Gary, this is my friend, Daria,” Jane gestured to Daria. “She’s . . . very interested in art recreations.”
“Um. Yes, I am very interested. Although --” God, this is so stupid. “-- gee, they look so simple, as if anyone could do them.”
“Nothing could be further from the truth! Let me show you.” Gary led Daria off to another corner of the small store as Jane slipped over to the counter and began shuffling through the stacks of papers. “Why do people yearn to see the great paintings for themselves when they can normally just look in a book?”
“Paper cuts?” Daria asked dryly as Jane ransacked the desk
“Color, texture, vibrancy,” Gary said, warming to the subject. Behind him, Daria saw Jane quickly roll up a couple of pages and stuff them into her pocket as she stepped out from behind the counter. “The palpable energy that comes from being in the presence of the work itself!”
“Thanks for clearing that up, Gary, but we really need to be going,” Jane said as she walked up behind the gallery owner.
“Oh, I know what I wanted to ask you. Can you do O’Keefe? The guy that bought your last painting, Steve Taylor, wants one for his wife’s birthday.”
“Ah ha. Our clever subterfuge has finally unearthed the truth,” Daria said.
“Steve Taylor bought my last painting?” Jane asked, not quite sure she had heard right.
“He’s a regular customer,” Gary said. “Why? You know him?”
“Yeah, sort of,” Jane said after a moment. All she had in her pocket was an address and a receipt for cash. “C’mon, Daria. Let’s, um, go and get some lunch or something.”
“Sure. I’m starved,” Daria said as they turned to go.
“Yeah, I’ll just bet,” Jane said weakly.
The two girls were about to leave the store when someone from the other side opened the door and stepped through. Amy Barksdale stepped through, replacing a pair of sunglasses with her regular, large round wire frames.
“Hi Daria, Jane,” Amy greeted the girls. “Fancy meeting you here. Picking up another commission?”
“Not really,” Jane said. “Just, um, checking to see how my stuff was selling.”
“What are you doing here?” Daria asked. “I thought you were working at the museum.”
“Oh, I finished what I was doing earlier than I thought and remembered Jane talking about this place at the art fair. I thought I’d check it out.”
“Well, we’ll leave you to it,” Daria said. “We were just heading out.”
“Can I give you a ride someplace?” Amy asked.
“No thanks. I figured I’d walk while I still had the ability,” Daria said.
“Hey, Amy, do you mind if I ask you an odd question?” Jane asked Amy, and got a nod in reply. “That pastel that you showed me at the art fair, did the girl you said you got it from have long brown hair and tattoos on her forearms? Dark blue eyes?”
“Uh,” Amy thought for a moment. “Yeah, I think so. Why? Do you know her?”
“Well, sort of. I thought I recognized the style. There was this girl at an art colony I went to last summer who did some pretty good pastels.”
“Oh, okay. Well if you see her again, tell her to keep up the good work,” Amy said. “From what I saw, she has some great stuff.”
“Uh, yeah, sure,” Jane said unsteadily. “Well, we’ll be seeing you.”
“Later,” Amy said as the two girls left the store.
Daria watched the emotions play across her friend’s face as they walked away from Gary’s. When Jane hadn’t said anything after part of a block, she decided to break the silence.
“Are you okay?” Daria asked.
“Remember when I said I thought I knew who did that picture your aunt got from the fair?”
“Yeah, you said her name was Alison.”
“Well, Alison has brown hair, dark blue eyes and tats on her arms.” Jane frowned, her mind obviously not in the present.
“Jane, what happened?” Daria asked, bringing Jane to a stop with a hand on her arm. “If she did something, well, that she wasn’t supposed to --”
“No, nothing like that,” Jane said, dismissing the subject. “Well, not really, anyway.”
“Then what? Jane --”
“I really don’t want to talk about it, okay?” Jane said, resuming walking. “C’mon, let’s just go over to the Taylors’ place. I’ve got a couple of questions for that guy.”
Helen thought she was finally getting ahead of the curve with Daria’s case. She had reviewed the entire document from cover to cover, and was now in the process of filling in the blanks. According to Ian, the subpoenas had already been served, though finding a judge to do them on as short a notice as Helen had given had been pretty difficult. She would have loved to have been able to see Linda Griffin’s face when the papers for her and her daughter were served. Imagining the scene brought a look of grim satisfaction to Helen’s face as she worked.
The doorbell rang and broke Helen’s concentration. Jake was out in the garage, piddling around with his model railroads, and neither Quinn nor Daria were home. Tucking the stack of papers she was going through against her side, she got up with a sigh and went over and opened the door. Standing there, and looking more than a little nervous, was Stacy Rowe.
“Hi, Stacy,” Helen said quickly. “Quinn’s not home yet.”
“Yeah, I know,” Stacy said with a bit of a shake in her voice. “Actually, I came to talk to you.”
“Oh. Stacy, honey, I’m just in the middle of an enormous --”
“It’s about what Sandi said about Daria at a party,” Stacy interrupted rapidly, as if she was afraid that she wouldn’t get the words out fast enough.
“Oh . . . Come in,” Helen stepped aside to give Stacy a little space. She knew that Stacy was the nervous type and didn’t want her running off before she could say what she wanted to say. It must have been serious if she was here on her own. Helen mentally pulled on her kid gloves. “Why don’t we go in the kitchen and sit down, hmm?”
“Would you like a soda or something?” Helen asked, putting her paperwork on the sofa as they passed and grabbing a note pad. She thought about getting her micro-cassette recorder out of her briefcase, but she didn’t want to frighten Stacy any more than it appeared she already was.
“No, thanks, Mrs. Morgendorffer,” Stacy said as she walked into the kitchen.
“Please, have a seat.” Helen gestured to one of the chairs surrounding the table. “Do you mind if I take notes while we talk?”
“Whatever,” Stacy said. “Look, could you not tell Sandi about this? She’ll go nuts if she finds out I’m telling you this.”
“I can’t promise anything, Stacy. We’re going into court Tuesday,” Helen said as gently as she could.
“Oh, okay.” Stacy looked around the kitchen. “Um, don’t you need one of those guys with the typewriter thingy for something like this? Or a tape recorder or something?”
“Well, I should have a recorder. You don’t mind?”
“If you’re supposed to have one, I guess not.”
Helen left the room and grabbed her recorder and a fresh tape out of her briefcase in the living room. By the time she had gotten back into the kitchen, Stacy had taken a steno pad out of her own back pack and was sitting there looking at a page covered in shorthand notes. Helen sat back down, placed the tape in the recorder, and turned it on.
“For the record,” Helen said formally into the machine’s miniature microphone. “It is three ten pm, Sunday afternoon. Helen Morgendorffer, attorney at law, present.” She put the recorder down in the middle of the table. “Would you state your name, sweetie?”
“Stacy Rowe,” Stacy said, leaning in towards the recorder slightly and closing her steno book. “I’m Secretary of the Lawndale High Fashion Club. Although, we haven’t been meeting for about a week now.”
“I see. Why did you come here today?”
“Well, uh,” Stacy took a deep breath and let the floodgates open. “I wanted to talk to you about this thing that’s going on with Daria and what Sandi said about her being at a party with a bunch of guys, which is totally not true. Sandi just said that because she bombed a test that Daria gave when she was substituting in Language Arts. Then she tried to make Daria look bad because she knew about her being pregnant and all and brought it out to the entire class so that she could make Quinn look bad too because she kept calling Daria her cousin for so long. Then Sandi got Brooke to tell this rumor about the party to some lawyer guy and --”
“Wait,” Helen interrupted Stacy‘s story. “This would be Brooke Wannamaker?”
“Yeah, she’s the one who’s nose caved in because of --” Stacy started, but Helen stopped her with a raised hand.
“I’m familiar with the story,” Helen said, jotting a couple of notes. “How did Brooke get involved with all of this?”
“Well, uh,” Stacy fidgeted and played with one of her pigtails for a couple of seconds, then opened her steno pad to a certain page and pushed it towards Helen. “Here, I wrote it down.”
“I’m sorry, Stacy, I don’t read shorthand,” Helen said, looking over the page. It might as well have been in Arabic.
“Oh, I thought all court people could,” Stacy said, taking the pad back.
“Unfortunately, no. I never could get the hang of it,” Helen said with a half smile.
“Oh. I suppose I ought to read it out loud, huh?”
“Why don’t you just tell me the high points of it first, hmm?”
“Well, I was in Junior 5 trying on some new clothes and I heard Brooke talking with this other girl, Veronica I think her name is. Brooke was telling Veronica that, um, well, she was saying that if she told Sandi’s story to this Tom guy’s parents’ lawyer, then she would get the Vice President’s spot in the Fashion Club after Sandi tossed Quinn out of it.”
Helen and Stacy turned to see Quinn, wide-eyed and shocked, standing in the doorway of between the kitchen and living room.
“Quinn, calm down and just wait a second --”
“Quinn, I’m sorry!” Stacy was on her feet and ran over to where Quinn was standing, practically in tears. “You weren’t supposed to know about this! Neither was I, really, but when I heard Brooke and Veronica talking about it, I just had to do something! Sandi was all mad at your sister, and now she’s going to be mad at me too and I didn’t know what else to do!! You’re my bestest friend and a really good vice-president and oh GOD!!”
Stacy pushed past Quinn, practically bawling as she ran out of the house. Quinn was hot on her heels after a stunned second or two, calling out her friend’s name. Left behind in the kitchen, Helen reached past the tape recorder on the table and picked up the steno pad that Stacy had left behind, looking at the page that she had seen. She sat in silence for a second, then picked the telephone up off of it’s base and dialed a number from memory.
“Hello, Maryanne?” Helen said when the person on the other end of the line picked up. “This is Helen. Could you come over to my house right away, please? I need you to transcribe some shorthand.”
Stacy’s burst of energy had finally spent itself after about half a block. She leaned against a light post, tried to catch her breath and contain her tears. The combination of crying and running didn’t make for much when it came to covering great distances.
I finally went and did it! I try so hard to be accepted and liked and do the right thing and now I’ve screwed it up for good! Stacy thought frantically. Sandi’s going to hate me and Quinn’s never going to talk to me again!
She turned to see Quinn running up to her, out of breath herself. Quinn leaned her shoulder on the light pole and tried to recover.
“This is where you tell me you hate me, isn’t it?” Stacy panted, looking down at her shoes. “Well, go ahead. I can . . .” She sniffed. “I can make new friends.”
“Stacy, I don’t hate you! You‘re still my friend,” Quinn said, breathing hard. “And I’m not mad either.”
“Yes you are. Sandi will be, too when she finds out. She always does.“ Stacy sniffed again. “And then I’ll get thrown out of the Fashion Club and nobody will like me and I’ll never be able to get a date or anything.”
“You stood up to her before, remember? When she spilled the beans about Daria?”
“That was different.” Stacy glanced at Quinn, then looked back at her shoes. “That time it felt like she was talking about my mom.”
“I know. That wasn’t very nice.” Quinn put her hand on Stacy’s shoulder. “This isn’t very nice either, what she’s doing now.”
“No, it’s not.” Stacy sniffed again. “Are you still my friend?”
“Of course,” Quinn laughed. “C’mon, let’s go back to the house.”
“Okay.” Stacy smiled tiredly.
“Only, let’s walk this time. One thing for sure, you can’t run in suede shoes.”
Amazing what threatening not to pay someone can accomplish, Jane mused as she sat back on the steps of the newly completed gazebo, a smile on her face. Then again, it’s pretty amazing what money can make someone do, too.
Jane had run home on her lunch break from school to find Trent and the workmen sacked out in the back yard around the half completed structure. That had been the final straw, and Jane let it be known in no uncertain terms that the job was to be completed by the time she got back from school, four hours later, or they wouldn’t see one red cent. She even drafted Trent into helping, semi-against his will, but he knew better than to argue with Jane when she got that mad. Apparently, the workmen weren’t going to try either, because, as threatened, the gazebo had been finished by the time Jane had arrived home with Daria and Tom in tow. Now Trent was sitting at the base of the gazebo, rubbing his arms and looking like he was wishing he had an ice pack.
Daria and Tom were standing next to the gazebo, looking the thing over. The new gazebo didn’t quite match the one that had collapsed, but they were all willing to bet that neither Vincent and Amanda Lane. Neither of them were home for any real length of time, and that little detail wasn’t enough to bother Jane anyway. She had had Tom stop at the gallery just long enough to tell Gary that she had quit.
“So, Gary took your resignation in stride?” Daria asked, watching Trent rub his arms and occasionally glare at Tom.
“He said his door is always open if I should change my mind,” Jane said, then lowered her voice conspiratorially and lowered her eyebrows. “But, between you and me, there’s something fishy about that door. I think it’s a counterfeit.”
“Whoa,” Trent groaned.
“You know, maybe I will do a painting of the gazebo,” Jane mused. “I can call it ‘Descent Into Madness.’ “
“Or ‘Gazebo.’ “ Daria said.
“Good thing Spiral’s still traumatized, because I think I’m too sore to play,” Trent groaned from his place on the ground.
“What happened?” Tom asked.
“Musicians aren’t really accustomed to hard labor,” Jane said with half a smile. ”Trent had to help the workmen put this thing up or they wouldn’t get paid.”
“Yeah,” Trent said with a frown.
“What are you guys doing out here?” Amanda Lane said as she and her husband Vincent walked around the house and into the back yard.
“Mom! Dad! You’re back early!” Jane said in surprise. She hadn’t even heard their van drive up.
“Our hotel broke off the mainland and floated away,” Vincent explained. “Hey, it might not be safe to sit in there.”
“We’re risk takers.” Jane smirked, knowing it would take more than an exploding fog machine to take this new gazebo down.
“We really should tear down this ugly thing,” Amanda said, looking over the structure.
“Yeah, only country house phonies have gazeboes these days,” Vincent said in agreement.
“But, Wind said that this was your Naming Gazebo,” Trent said, looking from parent to parent in confusion.
“Wind said what?” Amanda asked.
“He said that this was where you took the kids to decide their names,” Tom prompted. “Seemed rather passionate about the subject, too.”
“Oh, now I remember,” Amanda said with a smile and a shake of her head. “Years ago, Wind wanted to change his name to ‘Ronald.’ We made up that story so that he’d appreciate the name we gave him.”
“Ronald?” Daria asked. What was wrong with that?
“You can see we had no other choice,” Vincent said. “Tell you what, as soon as I unpack, Trent and I will grab some axes and chop this gazebo up into kindling! What do you say, son?”
Trent just groaned while Jane got an angry look on her face.
“I’m gonna kill Wind,” Jane promised.
“I’m gonna get some aspirin,” Trent groaned as he levered himself up from the ground.
“Why?” Amanda asked. “What’s the matter?”
“Take a seat and I’ll tell you a little story about your Naming Gazebo,” Jane said, not about to let the product of her stress and a week of cranking out copies of paintings get chopped to bits.
Trent didn’t bother to listen, but simply wandered into the house and walked to the upstairs bathroom. After rummaging around in the medicine chest for a few seconds, he found the aspirin bottle and dumped four pills into the palm of his hand before walking over to his bedroom. Grabbing a stale, three-day-old soda from on top of his stereo, Trent walked over to the window and looked out into the backyard.
Tom and Daria had taken Jane’s place on the gazebo steps, while Jane walked back and forth and related the relevant events of the past couple of weeks to their Mom and Dad, who were shaking their heads in disbelief. Trent looked down at Tom and Daria, who were holding hands between them. He doubted that the Sloanes lived in a country house, but that didn’t make Tom any less of a phony in his book.
Trent popped the aspirin into his mouth and then washed it down with the flat soda, almost gagging on the taste.
“Eww,” Trent groaned, tossing the can in the general direction of the trash can, then walked over to his bed and picked up the duck-phone, under which was a list of gigs that they were scheduled to play. He ran his finger down the list.
“Aw, crap,” Trent groaned again. They were supposed to play McGrundy’s on Sunday nights, and he had forgotten to call them and let them know that the band wouldn’t be able to make it. He picked up the receiver and dialed a number from memory.
“Hello?” A woman’s voice answered after a ring or two.
“Yeah, is Max there? It’s Trent.”
“Yeah, hold on a sec.”
There was about a minute’s worth of background noise before the phone was picked up again.
“Yeah?” Max sounded like he had been sleeping.
“Yo, Max, it’s Trent. We got a gig tonight.”
“Dude, we’re still traumatized, remember?” Max said, waking up a little.
“Well, I forgot to call McGrundy’s,” Trent explained. “So I guess we play traumatized.”
“Jeez, man! I bet you forgot to call the Zon too,” Max groaned, mentioning their Tuesday gig.
Trent looked back at his list. “Crap!”
Max chuckled. “I’ll throw the drums in the Tank and meet you in a couple of hours.”
“Thanks, Max.” Trent’s shoulders slumped, and he tried not to wince.
“No problem, but you have to call Nick and Jesse. Later.” Nick hung up.
Trent hung the phone up for a second and then picked it up and dialed Jesse’s number. As the phone rang, Trent wondered where Jane kept her deep heating muscle rub. He was going to need a lot of that when the night was over.
On Tuesday afternoon, Amy sat at her worktable in the storage and restoration room of the Lawndale Art Museum, flipping through what she hoped was her last batch of paperwork of the day. Being an art appraiser and authenticator meant she spent most of her working hours either squinting through a magnifying glass of some kind, or into a word-processor to crank out the acres of paperwork the job seemed to require. The pay was great, but on the whole the job was horrendously boring.
Why couldn’t I have been a reporter or a photo journalist? Damned well would have been more exciting than this, but it wouldn’t pay as well, Amy thought as she closed her folder and glanced at her watch. Helen and the kids are supposed to go into court any time now. I’ve got to get moving if I’m going to be there for any of it.
Amy tossed the folder into the bench’s shallow drawer and locked it as the telephone over on the wall near the door started ringing. She ignored it as and picked up her purse while one of the museum employees got the phone.
“S and R,” the young man said into the receiver. “Yes, ma’am, she’s just heading out. . . Okay.” He hung up the phone and turned to Amy, who was walking towards the door. “Mrs. Sloane wants you to swing by her office on your way out, something about the big bordello tapestry. Says it won’t take two minutes.”
“Thanks,” Amy said as she walked out of the big sliding door and began to thread her way through the museum’s back corridors. Two minutes tended to mean half an hour, but maybe she could get this put off until tomorrow.
As she approached the open door to Kay’s office, she heard Kay’s voice coming through the door and into the corridor. Her initial assumption was that Kay was dealing with one of the museum personnel about something, but when she heard the response, she stopped in her tracks just short of the door.
“I have to meet Moore in court in half an hour. He says he finally has what he needs to put that miserable woman out of our misery,” the terrifyingly familiar voice said.
“Excellent, I just need to have a quick conversation with Amy and I’ll meet you there, okay?” Amy heard Kay reply.
Amy felt like her intestines had turned to ice water and dropped down to the bottom of her belly. This time there was no tinny answering machine speaker to distort the voice she heard. It was a little older, and a little rougher, but it was practically a sound bite out of what was probably the worst chapter of her past. Swallowing hard, and trying not to hyperventilate, Amy took that one last step around the corner and into the doorway.
“Oh, you’re here,” Kay said pleasantly when she saw Amy in the doorway. The man who was the source of the voice sitting on the leather sofa, and glanced up at Amy blankly. “I know I was going to introduce you two tomorrow, but there’s no better time like the present. This --”
“Actually, Kay, we’ve met,” Amy said flatly, the ice water in her belly turning to gasoline as she put the match to it. “Hello, Angier.”
“I’m sorry?” Angier said, looking up from the briefcase as he closed it. “You must have me mistaken for someone else. We’ve never had the pleasure.”
“Oh, we’ve met, alright. Though I wouldn’t exactly call it a pleasure today.” Amy walked into the office, blood pounding in her ears. “You’ve gotten a little grayer on top and put on a little around the middle, but I definitely remember you, and we’ve definitely met.”
“Well, then, miss, I would appreciate it if you would refresh my memory,” Angier said politely, standing up and looking Amy in the eye.
“Nineteen seventy one. There was an fraternity party at the Rho Delta Psi house for the prospective Bromwell freshmen that spring. As I recall, you were showing off a brand new Corvette Stingray at the time. Pretty proud of yourself, too.” Amy watched Angier’s face change as he dredged up the old memories. “You remember now? Young girl about twenty? My hair was a little shorter then, and a little lighter.” Amy dipped her hand into her purse, pulled out her glasses and put them on. “And I wore a slightly heavier version of these a lot back then, too.”
Warning bells were screaming in Angier’s mind by now. He took a half a step backwards and looked Amy up and down as the fog of recognition slowly began to lift. Behind him, Kay was looking between Amy and Angier with an expression that was pure shock and confusion.
“Your parents had that boat, what was it called?” Amy asked rhetorically. “Oh yes, the Mary Rose. You were able to replace those two bottles of wine with out them knowing then, right?”
“Son of a--”
“Amy, wait a minute,” Kay said, coming out from behind her desk. “What are you talking about?”
“We never did get much sleep that night, did we, Angie?” Amy went on turning the screws, ignoring Kay for the moment. “I believe the term you used that night was ‘oops,’ wasn’t it? Then when I told you the doctor said I was pregnant, you said you ‘didn’t need a rug rat screwing things up,’ didn‘t you?”
“Amy . . . Barksdale??” Angier said quietly, finally finding his voice as the pieces clicked home.
“Do you remember me now, ‘Angie’?“ Amy’s voice practically dripped ice. “Do you??”
“Lady, you’re nuts,” Angier said flatly.
“Angie, what is going on?” Kay asked, somewhat desperate for an explanation of the drama playing itself out in her office. “What are you two talking about?”
“Kay, this was long before we had ever met. It’s nothing you need to worry about. Really,” Angier said to Kay, then turned back to Amy. “And as for you, you should of had brains enough in your head to be on the pill or something. You want to blame me for something that you didn‘t have sense enough to do --”
“I don’t remember being the only one there that night, mister,” Amy cut Angier off. “You had just as big a part in it as I did!”
“Will someone please explain to me what the hell is going on here!” Kay almost shouted.
“It’s simple, Kay,” Amy said, looking Kay in the eye. “In seventy-one, your husband got me pregnant. When I told him, he said it wasn’t his problem and walked out without so much as a backwards glance.“ Amy took a deep breath as her emotions began to overtake her. “Because your husband here wouldn’t take responsibility for his actions, I felt the only choice that I had was to have the pregnancy aborted. Due to complications from that procedure, I can’t ever have children.”
“And how is that my fault?” Angier shot back.
“I’m not entirely blameless, Angier, but you sure as hell aren’t innocent either!” Amy turned back on Angier. “You’re son’s a bigger man than you are, you worthless sack of grits! He’s at least trying to do the right thing by Daria, despite your interference! He’s not trying to screw over my niece like you did me!!”
“Who?” Angier blinked.
Amy spun around and practically ran out of the office, tearing her glasses off of her face and stuffing them back in her purse. She choked back a sob and, when she hit the corridor, broke into as fast as a run as her blurred vision would allow. She hadn’t broken down like this in years. But then, she’d never had to face this particular demon in years, either.
Back in the office, Kay’s shocked brain was still trying to catch up with what had just happened. Angier, for his part, was dealing with it with nauseating indifference. He shook his head and picked up his briefcase from the sofa.
“That woman’s nuts, Kay,” Angier said with a chuckle. “Twenty years gone by and she’s got the gall to blame me. You believe that garbage?”
“Angie, what --?” Kay started to ask.
“Kay, honey,” Angier said as he put his free hand on his wife’s shoulder and gave her a peck on the cheek before walking out. “I promise, I’ll tell you all about it tonight. But right now I’ve got to make sure that these people don’t fast talk their way into a free ride they don’t deserve. Whoever they are.”
Her niece, Kay thought, not having heard anything that her husband said after he walked out the door. She closed her eyes and tried to get her mind to work through the shock to make a connection that she knew was important. Then it hit her.
“Daria is Amy’s niece,” Kay whispered to her empty office, and all the pieces fell into place with a nearly audible click. Then, at the top of her lungs, Katherine Sloane said a word that she hadn’t used since it had gotten her mouth washed out with dish soap when she was ten.
A block and a half down and ten minutes later, in an expensive bar called Monet’s, Amy Barksdale wiped her eyes on a bar napkin and tossed back the last of her double scotch. She was supposed to be heading towards the courthouse, but every time she thought about how Angier Sloane would be there, she would burst into tears again.
“The boy stood on the burning deck, his feet were full of blisters. He tore his pants on a rusty nail and now he wears his sister’s,” Amy whispered to her self for the fiftieth time. It wasn’t helping.
“Beg pardon?” the bartender said.
“Don’t beg, it’s undignified.” Amy’s deadpan was extremely shaky. “And get me another, would you please?”
“Sure thing,” the bartender said as he took the glass and headed down to the other end of the bar.
Amy grabbed another bar napkin off of the stack in front of her and blew her nose. Getting sauced had never helped before, and she knew that it wasn’t going to help this time, either.
So why the hell are you doing it now?
“Amy?” Kay Sloane’s voice said from behind her. Amy turned around to see Kay take a seat on the barstool next to her. “For a minute there, I didn’t think I was going to find you.”
“What are you doing here?” Amy asked as the bartender returned with her drink.
“Helen Morgendorffer is your sister,” Kay said, pointing out the obvious.
“Freaking duh,” Amy mumbled as she picked up her drink.
“Why didn’t you say something? Why didn’t you mention you knew Angie?”
“Because my sister is taking your family to court. I didn’t think that it would help matters for you to knowingly be giving aid and comfort to the enemy. Besides, you didn’t ask.” Amy put down her glass without touching the contents.
“It never occurred to me to do so,” Kay admitted with a shrug. “Tom only mentioned that Daria’s aunt was in town. I never thought to make the connection.”
“You’ve got a good kid there, Kay,” Amy said, staring at the surface of her drink. “He’s a hell of a lot better than his old man, no offense.”
“Uh, none taken,” Kay said as Amy picked up her glass and took a big sip of her drink.
“As for the other thing, I didn’t even know that he was the same Angier Sloane from way back then either.” Amy looked at the rocking surface of her drink again as she put the class back on the bar. “At least I hoped it wasn’t.”
“Amy, I know that this is going to be a hard thing to talk about, but I have to ask. What happened between you and Angier? The whole story, not the Cliff‘s notes version.”
“The whole thing, hmm? You asked for it.” Amy turned to the bar tender. “Double scotch for my friend, here.”
“Believe me, you’re going to need it,” Amy said to Kay, taking a deep breath before launching into her tale.
It had been a long time since Helen had to try a case in Family Court. She’d had to study the procedures in law school, as well as several case studies, but that had been years ago. Thankfully, Ian was second chair, and the two of them had spent most of the morning going over the case and refreshing Helen’s admittedly rusty memory of the procedures. And while Judge Burton tended to run a relatively informal courtroom, she was not one to be easily impressed either.
Tom and Daria both sat at the Morgendorffers table, both looking like they’d rather be somewhere else, particularly since Jake was sitting in the row immediately behind them, looking like he wanted to strangle Tom. On the Sloane side, Angier and Moore, his lawyer, were both looking smug. Back in the court room’s small gallery, most of the principal players, as well as those summoned to testify were scattered. Jane, Trent, Quinn and Stacy, her mother in the row behind her, sat on the Morgendorffer’s side of the room, making it obvious where their support lay, while Sandi and Linda Griffin and taken places on the Sloane side. Tom’s sister Elsie sat on their father’s side of the room next to the aisle, and about as far from the Griffin’s as she could get and looking as though she would rather be someplace else altogether. There were a few others scattered throughout the room, mostly other students, in the company of their parents, all of whom had been subpoenaed by Helen and Ian.
The entire afternoon’s proceedings had centered around refuting the story the Sloanes’ had gotten hold of that said Daria had “met” with several boys over the course of a party one night. Tom had stipulated on the stand that the child was his, but with no paternity work to back it up, Moore made it out that Tom was simply being soft hearted. Sandi and Brooke’s stories on the stand were quickly shot down by Stacy and her shorthand account of Brooke’s conversation with Veronica, who had also been called in and had backed up Stacy. Various students that Stacy and Quinn had named had also testified that Daria had never been anywhere near the party in question. When Moore had tried to paint Daria as being promiscuous outside of their presence, the response had been varying versions of “yeah, right.” Moore made a mistake by calling Jake to the stand when Helen wouldn’t, but his ranting didn’t help either side. Moore then tried to spin it his way by claiming that Jake had been coached to act that way on the stand.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, I have never seen a more convoluted case of ‘he said, she said’ come through this courtroom in a long, long time,” Judge Burton said from the bench. “Quite honestly, this whole thing plays out like it’s some kind of teen-angst soap opera. Mrs. Griffin, if I were able to bring stiffer penalties for perjury, I would do so in a heartbeat. Your daughter has co-opted several people in a ridiculous attempt to derail Ms. Morgendorffer’s and young Mr. Sloane’s claims, all because she wanted to get back at Ms. Morgendorffer’s sister for some imagined offense. This should have never left the walls of the lunch room, much less found its way into a courtroom. Personally, Mrs. Griffin, I recommend therapy. For both of you.
“Insofar as the actual meat of the case is concerned, there are items that are not so easy to dismiss. Though young Mr. Sloane has stipulated to being the father of Ms Morgendorffer’s unborn child, and that she has also stipulated that he has been her only partner, there is a lack of actual laboratory work to back up either of those statements. In my opinion, that should have been the first thing on anyone’s agenda, and why it was never carried out is beyond me.” She flipped open a folder that was sitting on the bench top in front of her. “Mrs. Morgendorffer, I understand that you were the one who instigated these proceedings, and decided to argue your own case. It would seem that you have forgotten the old adage about a lawyer who represents themselves having a fool for a client.”
“Your Honor, “ Helen said, starting to stand up. “With all due respect --”
“Mrs. Morgendorffer, sit down. I am ruling on this case, and you are shutting up,” Judge Burton interjected, causing Helen to slowly sink back into her seat. “This case was handled badly from the beginning on both sides with several key pieces of evidence being left out, most damming of which is the actual, documented paternity of this child. Though I am sure that Daria’s word is golden with her parents, it would seem that Tom’s is not. Therefore --”
“Your Honor, forgive my interruption, but would it be too late to address this court?”
Judge Burton looked up to see two women walking in through the double doors at the back of the room, one with short brown hair, the other with long wavy brown hair and wearing glasses.
“That depends, who would you be?” Burton asked.
“My name is Katharine Sloane. I’m Tom’s mother.” Kay walked down the aisle and stood between the two tables at the head of the courtroom. Behind her, Amy took a seat next to Jane.
“I’m not a big fan of courtroom theatrics, Mrs. Sloane, especially today. Make it good and make it brief.”
“As you wish. The Sloanes are withdrawing their objections to Mrs. Morgendorffer’s child support petition,” Kay said calmly.
“WHAT?!” Angier rocketed to his feet. “Kay, what the hell are you doing? Have you flipped?”
“Order!” Judge Burton rapped her gavel on the counter. “Mr. Sloane, take your seat!”
“Angier, you were a total bastard before, and I’m not about to see history repeat itself,” Kay said to her husband before turning to Helen. “I take it that the original amount you specified when this whole thing got started will still suffice?”
“Uh . . .” Helen, for the first time in a while, was speechless.
“Kay, what the hell has gotten into you?” Angie asked loudly, ignoring the judge’s order and walking over to face his wife down.
“I just had a long and detailed conversation with Amy about what happened back then,” Kay rasped through a clenched jaw so that only Angier could hear. “And you and I are going to have another long and detailed conversation about that as well.”
“Kay!” Angier turned to his lawyer. “Roger, do something!
“Katharine, you’re making a scene,” Moore said from his seat, trying to maintain some dignity. “Let the judge --”
“Mr. Moore, you’re fired,” Kay snapped at the attorney, then looked back up at the Judge, who had given up trying to calm things down for the moment. “Your Honor?”
“Now just a second!” Angier said.
“Angie, shut up.”
“Who am I to argue with the absurd?” Burton shook her head. “With the objection withdrawn, I order that the specified amount of support for the child of Tom Sloane and Daria Morgendorffer be paid in full over a time period not to exceed two years from this date.” Judge Burton banged her gavel one last time. “Case Closed. And you do realize you’re getting the bill for court costs?”
“I’ll deliver the check myself,” Kay said with a nod.
“Good. Now everybody get the hell out of my court room,” Burton said as she stood up and started to walk out. “You people are giving me a headache.”
Outside the court house, the various players in the case of Morgendorffer v. Sloane filed out and down the steps. Daria, Tom, and Jane grouped together while Trent continued down to the parking lot across the street to get his car. Other groups were forming as people passed each other on the steps.
“Well, ya did it, baby face,” Jane said to Daria, slinging her arm over her friend’s shoulder. “What’s your secret?”
“Fancy footwork and clean living,” Daria said, looking uncomfortable at Jane’s public display. “Well, fancy footwork, anyway.”
“And here I was hoping it was the secret to what the just happened in that court room,” Elsie said as she came down the stairs and walked up to the group.
“No kidding. I thought she was about to rule against us,“ Tom said, getting a cocked eyebrow from his sister. “Not that I was comfortable with the whole thing to begin with, mind you.”
“Me neither,” Daria said. Then she frowned as something crossed her mind.
“What?” Jane asked, seeing the look.
“I just thought of something.” Daria looked at Tom. “Your mother came in with Aunt Amy.”
“Yeah. Coincidence.” Tom shrugged.
“And pulled the objection to the petition,” Daria said. ”Remember the conversation we had with Aunt Amy the night my parents found out I was pregnant?”
“Yeah. I still don’t see . . . where . . .” Tom looked over to where Helen, and Kay were standing and chatting. He watched as Amy walked out of the building and down to the pair steps. “Wait, you don’t mean . . .”
“It makes sense,” Daria said, also watching her aunt.
“Hoo boy!” Tom whistled.
“What?” Elsie asked, looking from Daria to Tom. “Is this about why mom was so pissed? What is it?”
“Let’s just say that Thanksgiving is going to be a lot more tense than usual this year.”
Hearing her name called out, Daria turned and saw Jodie quickly climbing the courthouse steps towards where she was standing.
“Jodie?” Daria walked down a couple of steps to meet her. “What’s going on?”
“I talked to the people my parents know on the Board of Education,” Jodie said, coming to a stop.
“And?” Daria asked hopefully.
“No luck.“ Jodie shook her head. “They said pretty much the same thing that you did at lunch the other day: that it’s a legitimate assignment to make up for lost credits, no matter how nauseating the subject is.”
“Terrific!” Jane threw her hands in the air, while Daria looked down at her boots. “Now what?”
“Now I do what I should have been smart enough to do a week ago,” Daria sighed. “Talk to my lawyer.”
“I’ve got to be at the congressman’s office,” Jodie said as she headed back down the steps. “Good Luck!”
“Yeah,” Daria turned towards the little group that her mother was in. “I’m gonna need it.”
“Katharine, I --” Helen started to say to Kay as Amy walked up to them.
“Helen, this really isn’t the best time,“ Kay said with a sigh. “And you can call me Kay, if you like. We’re going to be grandmothers, after all.”
“All right, Kay, then. But there’s something that I don’t understand,” Helen said. “Why pull the objection? The case was completely fouled up. The judge was about to rule against us, even a blind man could see that coming. You would have won in a walk!”
“Your sister and I -- a bit of information I didn’t know till about an hour ago, by the way --had a long conversation in Monet’s.” Kay looked at Amy, then back to Helen. “She told me everything about what happened, including the fact that she can’t have children,” Kay explained.
“A sad story to be sure, but surely you didn’t pull out just because you feel sympathetic towards Amy!”
“Helen, when I say she told me everything, I suspect that she told me one particular detail that she hasn’t told you even after all this time -- the name of the man who got her pregnant.” Kay looked Helen in the eye, an earnest expression on her face.
“His name? No, she . . .”
“His name was Angier Sloane,” Amy said.
Kay simply nodded.
“Dear God!” Helen blinked as if a flashbulb had gone off in her face.
“Evidently, it all happened a few months before he and I met. He seemed so sweet back then. And driven. If I had only known what had happened before . . . Well, hindsight and all that. Besides, Grandpa Maxwell taught us to take responsibility for what happens when we screw up. He didn’t say it quite so politely, though.” Kay sighed. “I let myself be convinced that all this was deliberate.”
“So, this is reparations for what happened with Angier and Amy?” Helen asked with a raised eyebrow.
“Helen, don’t look a gift horse in the mouth, okay?” Amy said tiredly.
“Well . . . I suppose you‘re right.” Helen sighed. “I could use a drink.”
“Not me, I’m afraid. Unfortunately, I have a few other pressing matters that need to be dealt with.” Kay looked back up the courthouse stairs and found Angier walking out of the big doors of the building. “If you’ll excuse me.”
“Of course, Kay,” Helen said as Kay started back up the steps and towards her husband. “I hope that they’re going to be all right.”
“It’s a society marriage, Helen.” Amy observed. “At the end of the day, they’re more interested in the bottom line of their bank book. They’ll not talk to each other for a week, and afterwards you’ll never know that anything was wrong.”
“God, that’s sad.”
“Tell me about it.”
“Mom?” Helen heard Daria call out, and turned around to see her daughter walking towards her, with Jane and the Sloane siblings in tow.
“What is it, sweetie?” Helen asked.
“Hi, Amy,” Daria said to her aunt as she walked up. “Sorry to interrupt, Mom, but I figured that you might want to hear about this while you still had your momentum up.”
“Hear about what, Daria?”
“It’s about an assignment Ms Li gave me as a make-up for the Phys Ed credits that I won’t be getting.”
“Since when are you worried about a little extra credit work?” Helen was confused.
“Since it involves social suicide,” Jane said from behind Daria.
“What?” Now Helen was even more confused.
“Let’s just go, Mom,” Daria said. “You can drop me off at Jane’s and I’ll explain along the way.”
Movies and an enormous victory pizza had been the order of the evening for Daria, Jane and Tom. Elsie had tagged along, having avoided going back to the Sloane household, where the opening salvo in what looked to be an epic argument between Kay and Angier was being fired, and had promptly gagged at Daria‘s choice of pizza toppings. Tom had turned a little green too, but he gamely picked the pineapple out of his sausage and mushrooms and passed them on to Daria, who ate the whole thing with gusto. That had sparked a conversation on the subject of the grossest pizza that occupied them till Sick, Sad World polished off their night.
Trent had made a brief appearance, grabbing a slice of pizza and scarfing it down, pineapple and all, while getting his guitar from his room and heading out to set up for the gig at the Zon. On the way in and out, he had given Tom a dirty look, but didn’t stop to really explain. Jane had no real idea either, and Tom wrote it off to the stress of the last couple of days.
An hour later, as Tom, Daria, and Elsie were about to leave, Trent had called from the club saying that he had forgotten their lyric book, and could Janey bring it over? Tom volunteered to deliver the book after they dropped Daria off at home, since he and Elsie had to go past that part of town anyway.
“This place is called The Zon?” Elsie asked as Tom swung onto Degas Street.
“Yup,” he said as he spotted the club in the distance. “Don’t worry, I‘ve been there before. It’s pretty tame.”
“Says you,” Elsie said. “Hanging out in grunge clubs is your thing, not mine.”
“Well, then wait in the car. I just have to run in and give this to Trent, anyway. It should only be a couple of minutes.” Tom spotted a parking spot about a half a block away from the place and angled the old Jag in its direction.
“Well, don’t take too long,” Elsie said. “This neighborhood even creeps me out in the daylight.”
“Just lock the door, and you’ll be fine,” Tom said as he pulled the car into the spot and bumped up against the curb. “I’ll even leave the engine running in case you want to make a fast, if futile escape, okay?”
“Oh thanks, I feel so much better,” Elsie said as Tom grabbed the beat up binder off of the seat and climbed out.
The crowd hadn’t built up to any appreciable degree yet, so Tom had no problems getting inside the club. He spotted Trent and the rest of the band up on stage, tuning up and checking their instruments and microphones. A thin brunette dressed in Goth ware was working a mixing board next to the stage as Tom walked up.
“Check one, check two,” Trent was saying into the mike as Tom was walking up. “What do you think, Monique?”
“Sounds as good as it‘s going to get,” the woman answered. “Toldja you needed new mikes.”
“Yeah, well,” Trent said as he stepped away from the mic and saw Tom walk up. “Hey. Where’s Janey?”
“She said she wanted to get a couple of hours in on some special project that she was working on, so I volunteered to bring your book over after I dropped Daria off,” Tom explained.
“Nothing better to do?” Trent asked with a glare. “Like takin’ care of Daria, maybe?”
“Trent, she’s home. With her parents, such as they are,” Tom said as he handed the book over.
“Yeah, at least they’re takin’ care of their kids,” Trent said as took the book and handed it to Max, then stepped off of the stage. “But, then, it’s not like Daria has a whole lot to look forward to now, thanks to you, is it?”
“What are you talking about? She won the child support from my parents,” Tom explained, though he was wondering where all this hostility was coming from. “The bills will be taken care of, and there’ll be plenty left over. What’s the problem?”
“What’s the problem? You think that just because your Mom threw a bunch of money around that everything’s going to be just swell, don’t you?” Trent said, walking up to Tom and glairing down at him. “Throw a little cash around, and everything’s cool, isn’t it?”
“Trent, what the hell are you talking about?” Tom asked, frowning and taking a step back. Trent’s breath smelled of beer.
“This isn’t going to turn out good,” Max said as he heard what Trent and Tom were saying.
“Tell me about it,” Monique replied.
Monique, Jesse, Nick, and Max watched as Trent and Tom squared off in the middle of the club, beginning to attract more attention to themselves.
“You know damn well what I’m talking about!” Trent shouted into Tom’s face. “Daria had plans for her future! She wanted to go to college and have a real career, dammit! How’s she supposed to do that now?”
“You don’t think that I know that? She’s going to have more help than she knows what to do with when the baby comes! She can still go to college and have a career!”
“And be a mother at the same time? Look at Daria’s Mom and tell me that works!” Trent glowered. “You shoulda just kept your freaking pants on, kid.”
“I don’t believe this! It was an accident! A one in a million chance that something could’ve happened and you’re treating me like I did this deliberately!” Tom had finally lost his cool and was nose to nose with the musician. “You’re talking like you think that it’s just Daria that’s going to be affected here! Well, there’s a baby involved too, hot shot.”
“Yeah, there is! And I bet you got enough money to handle that too, don’t ya? Just pass the kid off to a baby sitter when you don’t want to deal with it, or private school, or a nanny or something like that, right? Throw enough money at the problem and it’ll go away, right?”
“No! It . . . Dammit, Trent, I am trying to take my share of the responsibility for all of this, but no one wants to believe me! I get naked hostility from Jake when ever I show up to take Daria to school or to her appointments, Helen’s been on my folks’ back because of this child support stuff, and my parents were ragging on me because I won’t leave it alone and forget about it! What the hell is it you people want me to do!!?”
At that point, both of them started shouting at once, yelling in each others’ faces from point blank range. They would have kept it up for a good long while, but the bouncer came up to the two arguing youths and shoved them apart.
“Take it outside!!” the bouncer yelled, stopping the argument momentarily.
“Fine!!” Tom and Trent roared back, causing the bouncer to blink in surprise.
Both of the young men stomped out of the club. The crowd parted in front of the two like water around the bow of a ship. Monique and the rest of Mystic Spiral followed then at a distance, with a small crowd of curious onlookers behind them.
As the two passed out of the door and walked out onto the sidewalk, Tom turned around to continue their discussion -- and was totally blindsided by the hammer-like punch that Trent had thrown. Tom was spun around and stumbled a couple of paces before falling to one knee. He checked his lip with the back of his hand for blood.
“I just stood around and watched as you burned Janey, and damn near Daria too when you went behind Jane’s back,” Trent said, fists clenched, ready for a fight. “Well, I’ll be damned if I’m going to stand around and watch you do that to Daria, especially now!”
“Damn,” Tom muttered, seeing blood on his hand. He hadn’t wanted this. He hadn’t started this. He was just doing a favor for Jane before going home. But now . . . “This is going to be one long freakin’ night.”
Tom pushed himself up from his knee and turned back on Trent. He lead with a right hook as he turned, and the fight was on.
Monique and the band watched from the club door as the two went at it. The spectators began egging on which ever was their favorite at the moment, or just whooped it up when ever a particularly solid blow was landed.
“Maybe we should do something?” Jesse suggested.
“Nah, let ‘em go, man,” Max said with a shake of his head. “They both got issues.”
They were quiet for a moment while they stood and watched the fight.
“Ah, hell,” Monique said, reaching down and pulling a camouflage wallet out of one boot. “Ten bucks on that Tom kid. Any takers?”
“I’ll take that,” Nick said, pulling his own wallet out. “Trent’s got six inches reach over him.”
“Yeah, but he hasn’t got the staying power,” Max said, digging into his front pocket. “Ten on Tom.”
“Dude, you don’t know Trent,” Jesse said as he came up with ten of his own.
All four winced in unison as an obviously painful blow landed on someone.
“Ooh,” Monique said, putting a hand to her lips. “Ouch.”
“Damn, that’s gonna leave a mark in the morning,” Max commented, as sirens were heard in the distance.
to be continued
Not much in the way of notes this time around. The hardest part was coming up with a title for this episode, so I enlisted the help of those gracious denizens of the PPMB to assist me in choosing a title. You already know the winner (unless you read stories in reverse), so here’s the rest of the candidates and the results of the voting.
HEARTS BURNED -- Roger E. Moore 40% [ 8 ]
WOMANLY ATTRIBUTES -- Robert Nowall 10% [ 2 ]
EASEL FUEL -- Brandon Lague 35% [ 7 ]
HEARTS & BRIDGES BURNED -- Greystar 10% [ 2 ]
ART BURN & OTHER TUMMY TROUBLES -- Greystar’s missus 5% [ 1 ]
Also, I couldn’t have done any of this without the help of the Beta Readers in no particular order) --ajzin, Been Breeck, Robert Nowall, Roger E. Moore, Crusading Saint, Scarlett, and Betting on Delusions. Thank You all for making this story more than it was when I started it.
As always, there‘s an open invasion the artistic types out there to do any fan-art based on my works. Any questions, comments, or whatever can be sent to Greystar@hotmail.com.
See ya next time!