OF LIFESTYLE CHOICES AND DEFINITIONS OF SUCCESS
a Daria fanfic by Wyvern337
The traffic signal changed, and the battered old hybrid pulled into the intersection. It accelerated somewhat unevenly, the electric motor on one wheel doing noticeably less work than the other three. “You really should get that looked at, Jane,” said Daria from the passenger seat.
“I’m a risk taker,” her friend replied.
“Thanks for giving me a lift from the airport,” said Daria.
“Glad to oblige, amiga. It was really a treat finding out we were both going to be in Lawndale for the holidays...It’ll give us a chance to catch up sometime while we’re here?” Jane’s voice pitched-up into a question at the end of the statement, not-so-subtly hinting.
“A chance I wouldn’t miss for the world,” answered Daria sincerely. “It’s been too long as it is. You can catch me up on the art history teaching job --”
“Art history assistant professorship,” corrected Jane, taking a corner not quite on two wheels.
“It becomes less of a mystery how this car got to be in the shape it’s in,” said Daria, gripping the armrest hard.
“It’s had the motor problem since I got it,” replied Jane. “Used vehicles are like that.”
“Tell me about it.”
“Do I have to?”
“So, is it true about Trent moving back into your folks’ house?” Daria asked, changing the subject.
“Yep,” said Jane. He says the rent’s cheaper. Of course it’s literally true -- my folks started charging him rent when he moved back in. I blame your mom for that -- or maybe mine for starting to hang out with her more as the years went by.”
The comment drew a soft chuckle from the passenger seat. “At least there shouldn’t be any problem with paying now that Mystik Spiral’s become a going concern.”
“If you can call it that,” said Jane. “Never did hit the big time. Still, they’ve got a few CDs out, they tour occasionally, they don’t have any problem getting paying gigs and they haven’t killed each other yet.” Jane paused for a moment, thinking. “And they -- well, Trent and Jesse, anyway, I wonder sometimes about Nick and Max -- are doing what they always wanted to do. And that probably is at least as big a taste of success as most people get, come to think of it.”
“Would you do me a favor, Jane?” asked Daria.
“Uhh...yeah?...I guess?” replied Jane a little dubiously.
“Tell my mom that when we get to my folks’ place,” finished Daria.
“Please tell me you two aren’t still having that...that war over college,” said Jane.
“More like sporadic sniping across a demilitarized zone,” replied Daria, “but it never completely stopped.”
“Ahh, next topic?”
“Your entire family going to be there for the holidays, I mean Quinn, too?”
“Yeah, her and Jamie. At least part of the time...she was able to tear herself away from her job for a few days. How about your family?”
“The entire extended Lane clan,” confirmed Jane. “So expect Trent and me to show up on your doorstep in, oh, about two days.”
“Good,” said Daria. “It’ll save me the trouble of arranging to meet you at the Pizza King or whatever they’ve replaced it with when we get together.”
“Here we are,” said Jane, slowing as they drew up to the curb. “Morgendorffer residence. Want any help with your bags?”
“Will I have to tip you? Nah, I’ve traveled light. I should be able to manage on my own.”
Daria retrieved her two traveling bags from the little vehicle’s hatchbacked cargo space, and trudged up the walkway to her parents’ house, noting as she did the absence of a familiar ‘04 Lexus. Looks like I beat Quinn here, she thought as she arrived at the door. She didn’t even have to knock -- as she prepared to put down one suitcase to do so, her father flung open the door, exclaimed “hey, kiddo!”, and enfolded her in a crushing bearhug. Daria didn’t return the hug -- suitcases -- but she didn’t flinch from the contact as she might’ve done when she was younger. When Jake let go of her she looked over her shoulder at Jane, but her friend was already pulling away from the curb and into traffic.
“Uh, get your bags for you?” asked Jake, noticing why his hug hadn’t been returned.
“Thanks, dad,” said Daria, handing the cases to him. “Oh, I almost forgot.” She took one bag back, opened a side compartment on it and pulled out one of two identical rectangular objects. “Hot off the press, dad, the latest -- not even due in stores for a couple more weeks.”
“Melody Powers?! a new one?” Jake dropped the suitcase and grabbed the book with both hands.
“Uh, dad, laptop?” said Daria, a little crossly.
“Sorry,” said Jake sheepishly.
“That’s all right, it’s well-padded where I’ve got it buried and it’s survived worse than being dropped a foot or so onto a hard surface.” Daria leaned over and picked the other suitcase back up.
“Hey, honey!” called Jake as he walked towards the kitchen. “Come see what our daughter the novelist’s done this time!”
“You mean the one who’s ‘singlehandedly responsible for reviving the Cold War thriller?’” called Helen, quoting a review of Daria’s last work in the series as she strode into the living room.
Please, not again, not already, thought Daria. “At least they didn’t try to credit me with singlehandedly reviving the Cold War,” she replied.
“True,” agreed Helen pleasantly. “I hope your old room’s okay with you...your father and I’ve cleaned it up for the occasion.”
“Sounds okay to me, Mom,” said Daria. “I’ll put my bags up there and be right back down.”
It was the same space in the same house, of course, but it wasn’t really Daria’s old room. The padding was long since gone from the walls, as was the handrail, the bolted-in television set, and all the old furnishings except the bed, dresser and a set of bookshelves. It was her parents’ main guest room, Quinn’s old room having been turned into a study of sorts that could -- probably would, starting that evening -- also serve as a second guest room. Daria set her bags on the bed, opened them and unpacked. Some things went into dresser drawers, others into the closet. The schizophrenic poetry carved on the inside walls had been plastered over when the room had been redone, though Daria had copied much of it into her notebook before that had happened. There’d been some good material for stories in there.
Daria thought back to when the room had been redone. It had been Helen’s doing, right after she’d moved out. Almost as if she were trying to remove all traces of Daria’s previous occupancy there. Of course, the two of them hadn’t been getting along all that well at the time...
Shoving the thought from her mind and the empty suitcases into the closet, Daria turned and walked back downstairs. She’d made her choices, and both she and Helen were as over it as they were likely to get.
Now, how to avoid the subject until Quinn shows up and takes some of the pressure off...
Jake was ensconced on the livingroom couch, eagerly reading of Melody Powers’ latest exploits. When Daria entered the kitchen, she noticed to her surprise that there was no food in evidence, only her mother talking on the phone.
That would explain why I didn’t smell anything when I arrived...it’s not like I’m jetlagged or anything....
“...And it’d better be fresh this time. Goodbye.” Helen hung up the phone and turned to Daria. “I just finished ordering dinner from the deli at the supermarket. Quinn agreed earlier to pick it up on her way in.”
“I guess it was that, frozen lasagna, or Dad’s cooking,” Daria replied.
Helen made a face at that last presented alternative, but said nothing.
“Speaking of Dad’s cooking, how’s the heart doing?” said Daria.
“Not bad at all, everything considered,” said Helen. “Of course we would’ve told you if anything serious happened. He’s actually got fewer dietary restrictions now, which he’s happy about.”
“I guess whatever tubing they’re using doesn’t have the same problem with buildup arteries do. They really perfected that technology just in time for him, I don’t know about you but I’d hate to go through another close call like the one we had back...” Daria let her voice trail off.
“Of course, we’ll be making payments on that thing ‘til we’re a hundred,” said Helen. “Artificial organs might be a reality now, but they don’t come cheap.”
“If it keeps you both alive that long, I wouldn’t complain too hard,” replied Daria. “So when’s Quinn due in?”
“Oh, any time now,” Helen replied. “Jamie’s coming down separately a few hours later -- scheduling differences.”
“I used to imagine it -- you’ll remember I even wrote about it once -- but I have to admit I was still a little surprised when Quinn married her high school sweetheart,” said Daria.
“Now why couldn’t you have done that, Daria?” asked Helen. “It would’ve made supporting you ‘til you finally got that big break easier.”
Looks like you’ve managed to put your foot in it yet again, Daria. Here we go...
“Supporting me off and on. Most of the time I was supporting myself with things like office temping, starting right after I got out of high school and decided to put college off for a few years,” Daria pointed out.
“A few years?” Helen exclaimed. “Daria, you never did go to college! And all those years your father and I helped you out with rent and money and groceries and --”
“Remind me to tote that figure up for you sometime,” retorted Daria, “and compare it to what you would’ve shelled-out for four years of room and board -- and tuition, and books, and --”
“It would’ve been worth it,”said Helen. “I still don’t see how anyone these days could possibly be considered a success without at least four years of college.”
“Then you haven’t been looking,” replied Daria sourly. “I’m not just self-supporting, you know. I think I’ve done pretty well for myself. Ever since the first Melody Powers novel came out --”
“And what happened to making a difference, changing the world, all that?” Helen shot back. “Instead of going through journalism school you’ve become a ‘success’ at writing --”
“Eehehewww!” exclaimed Jake from the other room. “Would that even be...anatomically possible?”
He’s already on chapter three? wondered Daria. A certain enemy agent’s demise had come from a particularly...inspired....stanza carved into the plaster behind the closet rod. She had to admit to herself, though, that her mother had struck a nerve with that last assertion: there were times when Daria did feel like something of a failure because, rather than becoming a crusading journalist, she’d parleyed her writing skills into a career that involved merely entertaining people. Still, she was only one of two daughters...
“What about Quinn?” she asked Helen.
“I told you, she should be here any ti -- oh, you think you’re going to derail me like that?” Helen replied.
“Will, if I’m not going to do any world-changing, maybe at least someone I’m related to can,” said Daria, continuing her counteroffensive. “Didn’t I once hear a story about how one of my parents once pointed out to the other that college was a ‘crippling expense’, and that maybe it’d be better if only one of us went?”
“Sure did, kiddo,” agreed Jake cheerfully from the livingroom.
“And so,” Daria pressed onward, “while one of your daughters was eschewing her higher calling and squandering her talents as a mere novelist, what was your other one doing?”
“Going through college....” admitted Helen.
“And deciding to -- and doing well-enough to, to all our surprise at the time -- go on to law school afterwards,” Daria continued for her.
“And she passed the bar with flying colors,” said Helen, taking up the narration. “And then went on to become a...a....”
C’mon, Mom, it’s been long enough you can get it out without choking.
“A public defender,” Helen finished. “Wasting all that potential! why --”
“Wasting?” countered Daria, finding herself to her mild surprise to be genuinely offended. “Just because Quinn chose not to use her law degree to put herself on track to making the firm ‘Vitale, Davis, Horowitz, Riordan, Schrecter, Schrecter,Schrecter, Morgendorffer, and Morgendorffer?’ So when Quinn dedicates herself to fighting injustice and making the world a better place, it’s a waste of potential?”
Helen colored slightly embarrassed at herself, and looked down. Daria suspected her mother secretly envied Quinn for having done something at least close to what she’d originally gone into her own profession hoping to. Envious and guilty -- guilty because of the envy , and guilty because she had succumbed to the allure of a higher payscale -- or maybe just life’s demands -- instead of staying the course. And as for her other daughter...a thought suddenly struck Daria.
“Mom, I --” she began.
“Hey, everybody!” interrupted Jake, “look who finally showed-up!”
“...So then he said ‘Mrs. Morgendorffer-White, are you sure you’re considering your words carefully? This country doesn’t keep political prisoners,’ so then I said ‘did I say political? What I meant to say was --” Quinn noticed her sister, started, and then said “I’ll have to call you back,” hitting the phone’s ‘end’ button as soon as she did.
It had been a few years since Daria had seen her sister in-person, and she was somewhat surprised at what she saw: Quinn’s long red hair was pinned up in a tight bun, and she was dressed almost as Helen used to, only in bluish-gray instead of maroon. She was carrying a grocery sack in one hand, and a cell phone in the other. Quinn placed the phone in her pocket and set dinner on the counter. “Hey, Daria! guess you beat me here this time. How goes the novel-writing?”
“Good enough, I guess,” said Daria. “Another Melody one’s just gone to press -- remind me, I’ve got a copy for Jamie.”
“Oh, he’ll like that,” Quinn replied. “You should hear him go on to his friends about how his sister-in-law’s the chick who writes the Melody Powers series. What happened to that movie deal, anyway?”
“It fell through, but there’s been some hinting at another offer,” said Daria. “My agent and I are considering. So what’ve you been up to lately, sis?”
“Uh, I’m really not supposed to say,” said Quinn. “I was only yakking about it on the phone ‘cos mine’s encrypted.”
“Quinn, sweetie, how much do I owe you?” Helen interrupted.
“Don’t worry about it, Mom, I’ve got it covered. Jamie said to start without him, since he’s going to be ‘til tonight getting here,” said Quinn in reply. “So I guess we should start setting things out unless you guys want to wait awhile.”
“No, we might as well get started,” said Helen. “Daria, Quinn and I will handle unpacking the food if you’ll set the table.”
“Fair enough,” replied Daria, heading over to the cabinet where the dishes were kept.
“So what were you two talking about when I arrived?” asked Quinn, innocently trying to continue the conversation.
“Wasted potential,” replied Daria, intending to use the statement as a springboard to discussing the insight she thought she might’ve just had. Unfortunately, Helen took the statement in just the wrong way.
“Your sister was trying to use the subject of your career and accomplishments to deflect attention away from how trivial her own are by comparison,” said Helen acidly.
“Trivial?!” Daria managed -- just -- to avoid dropping the stack of plates she’d gotten down. “It isn’t enough that what I’ve chosen to do with my life isn’t quite up to the standards you’ve set for me, now the truth comes out -- as far as you’re concerned because I’m not directly trying to save the world the course my life’s taken only amounts to trivia?!”
“Well if the shoe fits. What would you call your accomplishments relative to, say, your sister’s?” answered Helen.
Daria’s knuckles whitened as she gripped the stack of plates. She met her mother’s gaze. If this was going to be war, then so be it: “What would you call yours, Mom?” she said in a low, dangerous voice.
“STOP IT, BOTH OF YOU!”
“Quinn?” chorused both the other two women in astonishment.
“I said stop it,” continued Quinn in a more-normal voice. “You two have been doing this ever since...ever since Daria graduated from high school, it’s a big part of why we hardly ever see each other anymore, I’m sick to death of it and I’m not letting this holiday season get ruined by it. Mom, I know you wish you could’ve done something more like what I’m doing, but things -- Daria and me not the least of them -- got in the way and you just did what you had to do. Maybe you could try not to hate yourself or anyone else for it!”
“Um, there’s also --” began Daria.
“And you Daria,” Quinn continued, “you’re the daughter who always reminded Mom most of herself. When you chose a career that involved making your own way ahead of trying to make the world a better place, did it ever occur to you that, fairly or not, she saw you making the same mistake she made with even less of an excuse than she had when she made it?”
“Uh, I’d kindof just figured that out a few minutes ago,” admitted Daria. “It was what I was trying to say when...” she trailed off and looked at the floor.
“Weren’t the Fabulous Bickering Barksdale Sisters enough?” continued Quinn, frowning, her arms folded across her chest. “Do you two really need to structure your lives around having the same fight forever?”
For a long time no one said anything. Finally, Helen looked at Daria and said “You know, sometimes I swear she’s getting to be just like you.”
“You’re trying to give me nightmares, aren’t you?” accused Daria, looking sideways at Helen.
“Really, though Daria, I am sorry,” said Helen. “The things I’ve done in my life that I consider mistakes were mine to make...your life is your own and I...have a lot less business that I’ve been acting like judging you.”
“Mom, I think I’d have handled things better if I weren’t...having issues with some of the same things. I’m still not entirely sure about how I should live my life, or what I should do with it, but at least maybe I can stop blaming you for my nagging self-doubt,” Daria replied.
“Daria, honey, I really am proud of you,” said Helen, emotion thickening her voice, “and of what you’re doing with your life. I’m so proud of both my daughters...” Helen stopped talking, momentarily unable to continue.
“Well I’m glad that’s at least on its way to being resolved,” said Quinn.
“Does that mean it’s safe to come in?” called Jake hopefully from the kitchen’s entryway.
“God bless us every one,” Daria deadpanned to no one in particular.
DISCLAIMERS: Daria and all related characters are owned by MTV/Viacom. I wrote this story for fun and am not making or going to make any money off it. I don’t even own enough to be worth suing, anyway, so please don’t.