This is my sixth Daria fanfic, after The Whole Truth, Emancipation, Blood Oath Of Patriots, By Any Other Name, and Smackdown.

Sincere thanks to Renfield, Justin Smith, and Robert Nowall for beta reading this for me, and also to you others who offered suggestions and encouragement.

This story takes place between Speedtrapped (#310) and I Loathe A Parade (#406), so Daria has no romantic inclinations toward Tom.

 

 

 

THE BEACHES of BARKSDALE

by

GALEN HARDESTY

 

Chapter 1

TO BOND A MOCKINGBIRD

 

Daria Morgendorffer sat on the sofa in the family room, remote in hand, hopefully flipping through the channels one more time. "Sixty-seven channels and nothing on." she muttered.

The front door opened and Helen Morgendorffer entered, briefcase in hand.

"Great news, Daria. Weíre going to the beach next Saturday!"

Daria switched off the TV and turned toward her mother. "Thatís nice, Mom. Have a good time. Bring me back a seashell."

"Youíre going with us."

"That wonít be necessary. Iíll just burn myself on the stove while youíre gone. You can bring back a bucket of beach sand, and Iíll stuff a handful in my crotch, and you guys can throw the rest of it at me. Itíll be just like I was really there. That way youíll be able to devote your full attention to bonding with Quinn all day, or until you go bankrupt, whichever comes first."

"Thatís very amusing, Daria. Iím sure your dry but sparkling wit will help to make the day a memorable one."

"Youíll have to ask Jane about that. Sheíll be the main beneficiary of it. Weíll be touring museums Saturday, remember?"

"No, you wonít, Daria. Youíll be at the beach with us."

Daria stood and faced Helen squarely. Her tone of voice became wholly serious. "Mom, Jane and I have had this trip planned for two months. I told you about it then. I told you again two weeks ago when we made our hotel reservations."

Damn. Helen did vaguely remember Daria saying something like that about two weeks ago. That would make this more difficult. "Iím sorry, Daria, but youíll have to reschedule."

"We canít reschedule. For several reasons, this is the only time both Jane and I can go. You reschedule."

"I canít. This is, uh, the only time Iíll be able to get completely away in the foreseeable future."

Daria was starting to get a bad feeling. She could tell that Helen was holding something back. "Well, I donít see any problem. You guys go to the beach, Jane and I go to the museums, we meet back here Sunday evening, everybodyís happy."

Helen was still trying to sound reasonable, even though she had no intention of actually being reasonable. "Daria, weíre a family. We do things as a family. Thatís how we stay a family."

A sarcastic tone crept into Dariaís voice. "Thatís funny. I thought we stayed a family by caring about and respecting one another."

Helen tired of the charade. "Daria, we need this time together to communicate with one another, to bond with one another. You will go with us."

Daria stalked out. "I am NOT going to rearrange my entire life every time YOU get a wild hair up your...

"DARIA! YOU ARE GOING TO THE BEACH WITH US AND THATíS FINAL!!"

 

-----:{ }:-----

 

Preparatory to ducking dinner, Daria had come downstairs to forage when sheíd heard Helen enter her bedroom to change. She was seated at the table eating a hot dog when Helen came in. Ignoring her mother, Daria stolidly munched and swallowed, occasionally sipping from a glass of juice.

Helen poured herself a cup of coffee. "I want you to get a new swimsuit, Daria."

Following an interval of silence, Helen tried again. "Daria, did you hear me? I want you to get a new swimsuit, and I want you to let Quinn help you pick out something attractive."

That word again. "What do you mean, Ďattractiveí? Something that picks up nails and screws?"

"No, Daria, that is not what I mean."

"Something that draws flies?"

"Youíre being ridiculous."

"Something that displays my bait to best advantage?"

Helen bit back an angry retort, smoothed her facial expression with a hand. "If you insist on phrasing it that way, Daria, yes."

Daria pulled out the neck of her raw sienna pullover shirt, peered inside. "Something with large magnifying glasses mounted on the top part?"

Pointedly not responding, Helen rose to refill her two-thirds full coffee cup.

Jake entered with the paper, sat down at the table. "Hi there, kiddo. Err.. whatcha doiní?"

Daria looked up from the front of her shirt. "Looking for my bait. Mom wants to take it to the beach and troll for morons with it."

Jake opened his mouth, then noticed the violet glow of ionization in a line between Helenís eyes and Dariaís. How either of them could stand up to the otherís glare he didnít know. Many a time his shields had buckled and collapsed beneath the onslaught of Helenís ravening beams, and he knew that Dariaís main battery was already every bit as powerful. Abandoning the Sun-Herald as useless against such hellish energies, he lifted off and engaged full reverse thrust.

"Jake, tell..."

"Gotta go check the worm-and-pinion gear on the Lexus!", and he was through the dining room door, on emergency boost for the relative safety of the garage.

"Wait, Dad, thatís in here," Daria called after him. "Iím the worm and Momís got me pinioned."

Helen disregarded Dariaís droll attempt to feign weakness. Sheíd already taken several hits from Dariaís sarcasm, while Daria was unscathed. "Why canít she cooperate cheerfully for once?" she thought angrily. Well, cooperate she would, one way or another. The family needed to spend some time together, to talk and share and grow closer. That was much more important than Dariaís little trip. Why couldnít she see that? Helen moved back to the table but didnít sit, preferring to retain the psychological advantage of height.

Daria reviewed her strategy and surveyed the tactical position. She knew this battle was lost before it had begun, as far as Helenís stated objective went. All she could do was make it a Pyrrhic victory for Helen, make her pay as high a price as possible, in as many ways as possible, as a deterrent against future violations. She must make Helen say, after Pyrrhus himself, "Another such victory and I am undone!" Daria fired another full spread into her foe.

"So let me see if Iíve got this straight. You want to trample on my rights which you have sworn to protect as an officer of the court. You want to cancel my long-established plans, kidnap me and drag me where I have no desire to go. Once there you intend to strip me as near to naked as the law allows and display my physical inadequacies to the world on a crowded public beach. And to make sure my humiliation is total, youíll stand me next to Quinn. Who gets to hold the sign pointing out that sheís my younger sister? Oh, yeah, and then you say, "Go on and have fun now, dear." And you expect this to foster a deeper, more meaningful relationship between us?

Helen waved an arm angrily, as if batting at a yellow jacket, dripping coffee on the table in the process. "Good grief, Daria, weíre talking about a day at the beach here! One lousy day for family togetherness! You need to adopt a more positive attitude!"

Daria sprang to her feet, fists clenched. "Weíre talking about you stealing my weekend of museum crawling with Jane! Memories we would have treasured the rest of our lives! Something we can never have now, because she will have already seen them! You need to adopt a blue-ass baboon and leave me alone!" Before Helen had finished parsing that apparent non sequitur, Daria was out the side patio door and gone.

Helen stared at the door, feeling furious and sad at the same time. Why the hell did she have to have plans this weekend? Daria almost never had plans! And why hadnít Helen entered that trip in her planner? She sighed. The gold card probably wouldnít do it this time.

 

 

-----:{ }:-----

 

Jane opened the door to Dariaís knock. "Come on in. This is Liberty Hall. You can spit on the mat and call the cat a bastard."

"What?" A puzzled squint replaced a darker expression on Dariaís face.

"Something my weird great-uncle used to say. I donít want to wear out "mi casa es su casa".

Daria smiled a bit and shook her head as she stepped in. "Ah, Jane. Who else could make me smile when Iím in this foul a mood?"

"Ms. Li getting run over by a garbage truck?

"That would do it."

Jane grinned. "Chum on. Tell Auntie Jane whatís got her widdo Dawia all upset!"

Dariaís smile vanished. "I canít go with you this weekend. I have to go to the beach with the psychopaths."

Janeís face fell. "Oh, crap! Well, come on and tell me about it." She put a hand on Dariaís shoulder and steered her toward the stairs. This could be her chance to finish up "Girl With Something Eating At Her Soul II".

 

 

 

Chapter 2

BUSTING UP CASHMANíS

 

Daria eyed the gold card with contempt. "Adopt a cheerful attitude? Enjoy myself? Be pleasant? While wearing a swimsuit picked out by Quinn? An isolated cabin in the mountains. In the middle of at least four acres of land. Preferably surrounded by officially designated wilderness. With water supply. Electricity not necessary. Definitely no phone."

"Daria, be reasonable. Thatís just not doable."

Arms crossed, Daria glared angrily at Helen across the kitchen table. The more she attempted to avoid contact, the more Helen had taken to lurking near the refrigerator. "Why should I be reasonable when you never are? Hmmm. Make that "Pretend to be pleasant." And you might want to rethink "Enjoy myself". A car. Three years old or less. Reliable and cheap to operate, paid for and insured. Medium to dark green. Never owned by a smoker."

Helen put the gold card away, pulled out the platinum. "Iím sure you can think of something you want other than a car, Daria. Why donít you go look for a swimsuit?"

Daria stared at the credit card for several long seconds, then said, "Weíll see. Keys."

Helen brought out the keys to her SUV. "Now, you be careful, dear."

"ĎDearí season is over, and your license has expired." Daria glared at her mother, then at the keys and card. Finally she took them, turned, and headed to the family room. "Quinn! Mall!" The pitter-patter of little feet resounded in the upstairs hallway and thundered down the stairs. The front door opened and closed. A few seconds later, car doors slammed, Helenís SUV started up and pulled out of the driveway.

Helen smiled a little, chose a wine cooler from the refrigerator. That hadnít gone too badly.

 

-----:{ }:-----

 

Daria drove along the semi-rural road to the mall, her mood several shades darker than its weathered asphalt. Quinn chattered gaily from the front passenger seat. "This is gonna be so cool, Daria! Youíll have a great time at the beach, now that youíre finally gonna have a decent looking suit! And maybe I can even stand to be seen next to- um, never mind." Her remarks confirmed that sheíd been briefed by Helen.

"Be still, my wildly beating heart." Daria fought the urge to increase the upturn of Quinnís oh-so-cute noselet with an axe hand strike.

"Jeez, Daria! If youíd lose that attitude and act normal, youíd enjoy yourself! You could maybe even meet some guys!"

"Why would I want to meet guys at the beach when I donít want to meet them at school?"

"Youíre a teenage girl. Itís your time to meet guys! Why donít you want to meet guys at school, anyway?"

Daria sighed. "I think I explained this before, Quinn. You donít date guys who ride the short bus to the special school, do you?"

"No."

"People of normal intelligence donít usually date retarded people. The line is usually drawn at an IQ of 70, thirty percent below average. Iím oversimplifying here, leaving out standard deviations and stuff. But if I were to draw a line thirty percent below my IQ, how many guys at Lawndale High do you think would be above that line?"

"I donít know... a dozen? Seven or eight?"

"One."

"Just one?! Who?"

"Upchuck."

"Yak! That begins to explain your bad attitude. But what if you moved the line down a little further?"

"If I move it down to forty percent below my score, it only nets me three other guys. A hopeless mamaís boy computer nerd, a sociopathic misogynistic hacker, and Mack, whoís taken. So you see, I have been looking."

"Which begs the question: where, and how? Youíre talking data here, Daria. Where did you get it?"

"Black bag job. I looked it up in the school records."

"They donít let students look at those!"

"I broke in at night, Quinn. Thatís what black bag job means."

"Damn! How do you do these things? Hang out with G. Gordon Liddy? More superpowers?"

"I learned how on the Internet, and bought a few lockpicks. I probably couldíve just sneaked around the janitors." (1)

"Well, anyway, the beach is a totally different situation. You donít have to pick one guy and spend the rest of your life with him. Weíll only be there for a day. Find one, or several, that might be able to keep you amused for a few hours. If he doesnít pan out, throw him back and get another one."

"Yeah, as if there were a chance in a hundred that Iíll find a guy who can keep up his end of an intelligent conversation."

"Ghod, Daria! Donít you get it? The beach is a place people go when they want to turn their brains off! Where they can forget about work and school and problems and worries for a little while! Try it one time! Leave all your studies and your philosophical mopery and your plans for world domination at home, and just be a little beach bunny for a few hours. Itíll do wonders for you!

"Iíll take it under advisement." Daria wondered why the prospect didnít disgust her as much as it should.

 

 

-----:{}:-----

 

"Come on out, Daria, and stand in front of the mirrors so you can see how you look."

"Mnrmfmrr..."

"Youíre being silly. I said Iíd put one on too and draw eyeballs off you, if you want."

Daria emerged from the dressing room in a pleather string top with medium low bottom. "Time enough for that particular humiliation later." She studied her reflections. "Fits okay."

Quinn gave it a critical eye. "Yeah, but the colorís wrong for you. Want to try this one? White looks good on everyone but albinos." She held up a white bikini with some kind of crystals set in geometric patterns on top and bottom.

"Kind of Rhinestone Cowboy looking. Besides, Iíd be afraid to sit down anywhere or eat anything in pure white."

"Mmm, itís a point. I guarantee youíd look great in this one. The color sets off your hair and brings out your eyes. Itís a little on the green side of teal. Not on Waifís summer in-colors list, but..."

Daria held the flimsy-looking assemblage of triangles in front of her. "Thatís a plus in my book. But itís too skimpy! String top and bottom?"

"String bikinis always fit because theyíre so adjustable. Try it on. Itís not that skimpy."

"Mmmh.. all right. But see if you can find one that color with a few more square inches of fabric." Daria took the suit back into the dressing room.

A few minutes later Quinn was again waiting impatiently outside Dariaís dressing room. "Come on out, Daria. Letís take a look."

"You come in. Help me get the top adjusted right."

Quinn slipped in and closed the door. She started taking up slack on the strings that tied behind Dariaís neck. "Oh, yeah, this is gonna look really good on you. I didnít notice that this top had any padding."

"It doesnít."

"Well, itís doing something. It makes you look..."

"Like I have boobs? I do, you know."

"I know that. Those awful jackets and the sport bras donít fool me. Letís just say this suit suits your figure exceptionally well. Go take a look." Quinn stepped out and held the door open.

Daria walked out to stand in front of the mirrors, with Quinn behind her right shoulder. "This definitely works for you, Daria. It really enhances your bustline."

"Yeah, by letting it all hang out. Itís just too skimpy! Dad would have a cow!" Dariaís eyes flicked from mirror to mirror. Damn! It was really too bad she didnít have anyone she wanted to attract.

"He does that all the time. Better than that, Mom would have a cow internally and probably hurt herself trying not to show it! Daria, if ever you go to the beach or the pool, and donít want to be invisible, this is your swimsuit."

Just then a loud commotion made them turn around. Over at the department boundary, two young men were extricating themselves from a heap of wreckage that had recently been a display. They glanced at Daria, then hurried away, red-faced.

"And the verdict is in! Youíre a knockout!" Quinn grinned.

"Oh, come on!" said Daria, trying to hide behind Quinn. "I didnít do that!"

"You donít think so?" Quinnís eyes darted around the store and spotted something. "When I say, walk over to in front of that chair, then back to in front of the mirrors. Ready... go! Go now!"

Unwilling, but impelled by Quinnís tone, Daria walked to the spot indicated. There were no boys or men visible from her viewpoint except a couple in the far side of the store, too far for them to make out what she was wearing. She headed back toward the mirrors. She hadnít taken three steps when a similar clatter erupted. Turning, she saw two boys, whom she vaguely recognized as Lawndale High students, picking themselves out of the same pile of wreckage. They, too, glanced at Daria and hurried away, embarrassed.

"Definitely a traffic hazard!" Quinn smirked.

"Small wonder- Iím practically naked!" Daria ducked back in the changing room. "Did you find anything else?"

"Try this one. Itís not the same color, but it goes with your hair and skin tones."

A few minutes later, Daria peeked out of the dressing room. After a look around, she timidly emerged in a spring-green bikini with white polka dots and white trim. She turned from side to side in front of the mirrors. The top covered a bit more of her bosom, and the bottom had two-inch sides.

"I like it. It looks good and I donít quite feel naked."

"Yeah, but the last one looks great, and the feeling will go away. That top has kind of an engineered look to it."

"Hmmm. You mean the underwire?"

"No, just the general look. And you donít need an underwire."

"Well, I like it and it feels comfortable and I want my clothes back now, so Iíll take it."

"Jeez, Daria, you are worse to shop with than a guy! Iím gonna run right over there and look at those new tank tops."

Forty-five minutes later, Daria was browsing the magazine rack at the bookstore when Quinn caught up with her. "Daria! Whyíd you run off on me like that? Iíve got a bunch of stuff waiting at the checkout counter!"

Daria gave her a "donít even think of trying that with me" look. "Well, hurry up and pay for it. Iím about ready to go."

"Gimme the card." Quinn held out her hand.

"The card is my bribe. I know you well enough to know that you worked out your own deal with Mom. Move it or hoof it."

"Come on, Daria! Donít be selfish! You know what the credit limit on that card is! You canít possibly... omigod. Omigod! You canít be planning to max out Momís platinum card!"

Dariaís face and voice remained expressionless. "Hide and watch. Iím leaving in five minutes."

 

-----:{ }:-----

 

Ten minutes later, heading home in Helenís SUV, Quinn was feeling sorry for herself. "I had to leave a bunch of stuff, stuff I really needed! How could you be so mean!"

Daria kept her eyes on the road. "If you really need it, Mom will buy it for you. Youíre not my kid, thank goodness."

"Ooohh!! I hope you do max out Momís card! Sheíll make cat food out of you! I did that once with Dadís card, and I know!"

"That was gross stupidity on your part. The case here is entirely different. Gross thoughtlessness on Momís part, compounded by gross stubbornness. She knows sheís wrong, but she wonít admit it and sheís still making me go, for no good reason that I can see."

Quinn dropped her snit in favor of curiosity. "You could just go with Jane anyway."

Daria wasnít averse to a certain amount of conversation on the topic. "I considered that, of course. But that would allow Mom to make me the bad guy. She could ground me, cut off my allowance, not buy me a car, and who knows what else. Sheís really good at that Family Court crap, and she enjoys it Ďway too much. What she did to me would vanish away and count for nothing because I wound up going on my trip despite it."

"But I donít see how maxing her platinum will help you."

"Iím not going to give away my plan, but generally speaking, Iím going to play a positional game. Grab up small incremental advantages, one by one, while sheís driving toward her main objective. Tactically, Iíll turn it around on her. Iíll obey. Iíll go to the freakiní beach. That allows me to seize the moral high ground, from which to guilt trip her and rain down terrible punishment. Strategically, my objective is to make sure she never dreams of pulling a stunt like this again, without allowing permanent, irreparable harm to come to our relationship. That last part will be the hardest. It would help a lot if I knew why sheís so dead set on going to the beach this weekend. Do you know anything about that?"

"No reason in particular, that I know of. My theory is that she has a family bonding geyser in her head somewhere, and every so often, when it builds up a head of steam, it blows."

Daria chuckled. "Nice imagery, and a pretty good fit to the known facts. But it doesnít help me much with this problem. Iíll keep looking for another reason."

Quinn smiled a bit at the rare compliment from Daria, and decided not to rat her out to Helen. Daria had never before allowed her this much insight into her planning for such a major struggle. Quinn would keep her eyes and ears open, maybe even take notes. She might learn more this weekend than she would from this whole semester of school.

 

 

-----:{ }:-----

 

Daria studied her monitor screen with satisfaction. "That about does it", she thought. Just then Helenís voice called from downstairs. "Daria? Did you get a swimsuit? Iíd like to see it."

Daria grabbed a shopping bag from the floor. Standing, she picked up Helenís platinum card from beside her keyboard, blew on it and fanned it in the air, grinning wickedly.

She came down the stairs and walked over to the sofa where Helen was sitting, surrounded by her usual notes and transcripts. She placed the bag on the coffee table. "Quinn-approved bikini. Keys. Card. You might want to refill that before the weekend." From the far love seat, Quinn watched intently.

"The SUV? Weíre taking the Lexus."

"The card." Daria turned away.

"Daria! You maxed out my PLATINUM?!"

Dariaís head snapped around so fast that her hair flared out horizontally. She skewered Helen with her gaze, turning back to face her foe squarely without seeming to move her eyes at all. In a tone as hard and cold as ice on Pluto she said, "Would you like me to cancel my purchases?"

Helen quailed before Dariaís steely glare and the promise it held. She barely avoided physically flinching. There were three more days before they left for the beach. She knew she couldnít take three days of Dariaís cold fury. One or the other of them would be dead before they pulled out of the driveway on Saturday morning. She needed Daria on the beach in a reasonably good mood. Helen shook her head. No dollar amount had been mentioned. She hadnít a leg to stand on. "Where did you spend all that money?"

"The mall, the Internet."

But what in the world did you buy?"

"Beachwear, prescription sunglasses, books, magazines, software, a scanner, a motherboard, and a telescope." Dariaís look said, "Object to something. I dare you."

"A telescope?"

Daria smiled ever so slightly. "A twelve and a half inch, f five point seven Newtonian."

"That sounds like a handy size. Can you collapse it and carry it in a pocket?"

"No, Mother. Twelve and a half inches is the diameter of the primary mirror. The tube is eighteen inches across and six feet long. I can break it down for transport in the trunk and back seat of a small car."

"Good grief! Thatís not a telescope, thatís an observatory! I donít believe youíre that interested in looking at stars."

"Not stars so much as nebulae, galaxies, the outer planets, maybe some asteroids. Iíve been looking at pictures of them for years in books and magazines. I want to see them for real." Daria turned and went back upstairs. Helen watched her go with a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach. Quinn watched her go with admiration, thinking, "Iíve got to learn that look!" Jake mentally upped his estimate of Dariaís power rating. Sheíd definitely scorched Helenís hull plates that time.

 

 

 

Chapter 3

ROAD KILL

or

JUST AN OLD SWEET SONG

 

Jake took in the scenery scrolling by, felt the hum of the smooth asphalt, the powerful sweep of the Lexus rounding a curve. He looked over at Daria, his eldest, riding shotgun. "Donít you just love the open road? Letís have a song!"

Daria looked back at her father, and found herself enjoying his enjoyment, even after cringing at his totally corny Andy Hardy attitude. Oh, well, he was only embarrassing himself in front of his immediate family. Laying aside a sarcastic remark, she selected a response that might provide a bit more fun.

"Okay!

In heaven there is no beer

Thatís why we drink it here.

ĎCause when weíre gone from here

Our friends will be drinking all the beer! Everybody!"

Jake and Quinn joined in.

"In heaven there is no beer

Thatís why we drink it here. (Yeee-haww!)

ĎCause when weíre gone from here

Our friends will be drinking all the beer! Stomp yer feet!

In heaven there is no beer (Stomp! Stomp!)

Thatís why we drink it here. (Stomp! Stomp!)

ĎCause when... "

Helen yelled "HOLD IT!"

Daria shot her mother a feigned hurt look. "What?"

"That song doesnít have an end to it, does it? Letís sing something with a finite number of verses, shall we?"

"Party pooper! Umm, letís see... Ah. A thousand bottles of beer on the wall, a thousand bottles of beer!"

Clueless as ever, Jake joined in happily. "Take one down and pass it around, nine hundred ninety-nine..."

"Daria! Jake! We are not singing a thousand choruses of that stupid song!"

"All right, Mom, weíll cut it down some. Nine hundred ninety bottles of beer on the..."

"Daria!"

"All right, Mom! Jeez! Nine hundred bottles of beer on the wall, nine..."

"Daria, either pick another song or letís do something else entirely!"

"Grouch. Well, how about a game? Dad, remember that strange game your grandmother taught you?"

"You mean Old Dead Pig? You want to play that?"

"Sure. Iíll start. Old dead pig in the road. I one Ďim!" Daria poked Jakeís elbow.

"I two Ďim!" said Jake.

"I three Ďim." said Quinn, who, sitting behind Jake, was next in the rotation.

"I four Ďim." said Helen, without enthusiasm.

"I five Ďim!" smirked Daria.

"I six Ďim!" from Jake.

"I seven Ďim." from Quinn.

"I eight Ďim." muttered Helen.

"You ate him?!" chimed in the other three. "No wonder you stink!"

"Quinn, you start this time," said Daria.

Quinn eyed Daria speculatively. "I one Ďim!"

Daria poked Jake again. "I two Ďim!" he said.

"I three Ďim!" smirked Daria, and turned around to face Helen.

"All right! I get it! I stink!" Helen snapped. "Daria, thatís not a game, it never was! It was just something to keep small children amused, in a time when children were more easily amused than they are now." She shot Daria a cranky look. "Most of them, anyway."

Daria smiled a pleasant, innocent smile. "Just trying to keep a family tradition alive. This is supposed to be a family day, isnít it?" She turned back around to face forward. "Some of us could stand to adopt a more cheerful attitude."

Quinn stared at Daria with the dawn of a wild hope. Could this be the return of "Party Daria" at long last? Quinn counted the times sheíd seen Daria go manic before. She came up with four, the first three starting with Daria trying to get on someoneís nerves. The last time, at Dariaís twelfth birthday party, had involved cough syrup, probably too much. Daria had been hilarious, truly the life of the party, making wicked observations, telling jokes, making up awful variations on party games and keeping everyone in stitches. Quinn had liked that Daria so much she hadnít even gotten angry about being temporarily less popular than her sister. Ever since then Quinn had secretly longed to see "Party Daria" one more time. Maybe, just maybe, her wish was about to be granted.

 

 

-----:{ }:-----

 

Jane entered the next room of the art museum and was momentarily stunned. Taking up almost an entire wall was Picassoís "Guernica". She realized it must be a reproduction, but it was still magnificent. Gazing on the twisted, tortured figures in the midst of the cubist carnage, Jane wondered how Daria and her twisted family were doing. They must be on the road, about halfway to the beach. How deep was the blood in the floorboards of Jakeís Lexus right now?

 

 

-----:{ }:-----

 

"There was blood in the saddle

There was blood on the ground,

And a great big puddle

Of bloo-ood all around.

 

The cowboy lay in it,

All covered with gore,

And he wonít be a-ridiní

No bro-onco no more."

 

Helen saw Dariaís eyes watching her in the rear view mirror. Hastily, she stuck her smile back on. Helen was sure that, while Dariaís lips might be singing "cowboy", she was thinking "mother", and that she was similarly substituting "her daughter" for "no bronco".

"Thatís, uh, nice, dear, but do you know any more cheerful songs?"

"How about ĎBarnacle Bill the Sailorí?"

"Is it a clean version?"

"I didnít know there was a clean version. It doesnít matter, I already taught it to Quinn."

"Daria! Shame on you! When did you do that?"

"A long time ago, as soon as I learned it."

Helen looked over at Quinn, who grinned. "Well, weíre not singing it."

"Why not, if we all know it? Itís a fun song."

"Daria, we are not singing that vulgar song!"

"Well, poo! Whatever happened to adopting a cheerful attitude and being pleasant? Or was that just me who was supposed to do that?"

Helen scowled in thought. She couldnít let Daria make her look like a killjoy, while casting herself as a little ray of sunshine. "I know. Letís play the picnic game. Why donít you start, Daria?" Daria liked this game and was very good at it, so she couldnít plausibly turn it down.

Daria smiled a small crooked smile. She appreciated craft in her opponent. Fine, she thought, letís see what we can bring to the picnic. "Okay. Iím going to the picnic, and Iím bringing... my angst."

"Of course," smirked Helen. "You take that everywhere. Iím going to the picnic, and Iím bringing my angst and my briefcase."

It was Dariaís turn to smirk. "Of course. And your cell phone, and your determination to break through the glass ceiling."

Helen kept her smirk in place. "Good comeback," she thought, a trifle grudgingly.

"Hey, my turn!" Quinn piped up. "Iím going to the picnic, and Iím bringing my angst, my briefcase, my cell- oop! Nonono! And... cheeseless pizza. Your turn, Dad."

"Okey-doke! Iím going to the picnic and Iím bringing my angst, my briefcase, cheeseless pizza, and, umm, donuts! With pink icing and little colored sprinkles!"

"Iím going to the picnic and Iím bringing my angst, my briefcase, cheeseless pizza, donuts with pink icing and little colored sprinkles, and... my existential angst."

Helen snorted. Daria was almost begging for it. But sheíd let it slide. "Iím going to the picnic, and Iím bringing my angst, my briefcase, my cell phone, donuts with pink icing and little colored sprinkles, my existential angst, and a federal statute."

"HA! Gotcha!" exclaimed Daria. Jake chuckled and Quinn giggled.

"What?!" said Helen, puzzled.

"You said Ďcell phoneí instead of Ďcheeseless pizza,í smirked Quinn.

"Couldnít stand to be without it, huh, honey?" grinned Jake.

"Ha, ha. Yeah, you got me that time," said Helen, faking a good-natured smile. What galled her was that she actually had left her cell phone behind, so she could devote herself to her family without distractions for once. She felt cut off, out of the loop without it, and that anxiety was what had led to her slip-up. Damn. No good deed goes unpunished.

But wait. Dariaís reaction indicated that sheíd deliberately set that trap, and maybe even covered it up with that obvious straight line on her second turn. Was she that devious? Helen had to get her into law school somehow! A mind like that could slice Johnny Cochran or F. Lee Bailey to bits in a courtroom! Helen sighed. Too bad that mind was after her right now.

 

 

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Walking rather quickly past some overly flattering seventeenth century portraits, Jane stopped at a picture of two duelists. Painted by a French artist whose name she didnít recognize, it almost looked like a double portrait. Both duelists were dressed very elegantly and both were obviously real persons, in contrast to the spectators, who had probably been done from the artistís character study sketchbook of ugly street people. As they glared at each other past crossed rapiers the larger, more mature duelist looked very formidable and determined, but the younger one had an air of supreme confidence. The artist seemed to be suggesting that he would be the winner, without actually painting the result. Jane couldnít help wondering how Dariaís duel with Helen was going.

 

-----:{ }:-----

 

 

"Ooh, yum, I can hardly wait," said Daria insincerely. "Iím going to the picnic, and Iím bringing an Amicus Curiae brief, a butterfly embroidered on my pink baby tee, cookies, a copy of Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak, an Extradition order, my impeccable Fashion sense, a dish of Garbanzos, a copy of Hero Of Our Time by Mikhail Yurievich Lermontov, an IRS audit, a pair of pink Jellies, a platter of Knishes, a copy of Letter To Gogol by Vissarion Gregorievich Belinski, a paid-off Mortgage to start the fire with, a diamond necklace, Orange Roughy a la Jake, a copy of Petersburg by Andrei Bely, a Quit Claim form, a rutabaga for Daria, a big pot of squirrel stew, and a copy of...

"If you name another Russian novel, Iím coming over that seat back!" Quinn threatened truculently.

"Iíll give you a boost, dear," mediated Helen evenhandedly, "And later you can help me strangle Amy for getting her started on the damned things."

"Wusses," sneered Daria. "I even let you skate on the authors. Okay, picking back up, a rutabaga for Daria, a big pot of squirrel stew, and a copy of The Good Girl's Guide To Bad Girl Sex by Barbara Keesling."

"GAAH!!"

"Eeek!"

"DARIA!!"

"What?"

"NO DAUGHTER OF MINE IS..."

"JAKE! Iím on it! Daria, why are you reading a book like that?!"

Daria radiated innocence. "Iím not."

A bit of puzzlement adulterated Helenís angry expression. "What are you doing with it, then?"

"I donít have it, any more than Quinn has a rutabaga. I happened to see it in the bookstore, and it starts with a ĎTí." Daria let her poker face slip enough to reveal a slight smirk. "Your turn."

Helenís expression was a curious amalgam of relief, embarrassment, and irritation. "Oh. Well, umm... would you repeat what we have so far?"

Daria allowed her smirk to expand a teensy bit. "Nope."

Helenís expression went right back to angry. "Daria! Did you use that salacious book title just to distract me?!"

Dariaís smirk was pretty good sized now. "Yup. Your turn."

Quinnís hands were still covering her mouth in what she hoped looked like a shocked expression, rather than the large grin they were in fact hiding. This wasnít exactly "Party Daria", more like the earlier instances when Daria was tormenting an unpleasant babysitter, or, in one case, Helen. But sheíd do. Sheíd do. This was gonna be a fun trip. Quinn struggled to control her grin so she could lower her hands.

Helen groused and snarled, but Dariaís smirk was unyielding. "Well then, Daria, I guess you win. If youíre going to play gorilla ball, perhaps we should go back to singing songs. Cheerful songs."

Daria thought a minute. "Quinn, remember that song we heard on TV a couple of weeks ago?"

"You mean ĎOur Houseí?"

"Yeah. Thatís cheerful. Mom, you and Dad come in on the chorus. It goes:

And youíre always welcome at our house

Any time of day!

Youíre always welcome at our house

And we hope youíll stay!

"Okay, first verse." Daria and Quinn began to sing.

"A man came to our house, our house, our house

A man came to our house to sell us a broom.

So we said ĎPlease come in!í and we hit him with a hammer

And we put him in the closet in Fatherís room.

 

And youíre always welcome at our house

Any time of day!

Youíre always welcome at our house

And we hope youíll stay!

A boy came into our yard, our yard, our yard

A boy came into our yard to get his ball.

So we said ĎPlease come in!í and we took him downstairs

And we bricked him up in the basement wall.

And youíre always welcome at our house

Any time of day!

Youíre always welcome at our house

And we hope youíll stay!

A lady came to our house, our house, our house

A lady came to see why I wasnít in school.

So we said ĎPlease come in!í and we gave her poisoned lemonade

And stuck her in the freezer where itís nice and cool.

And youíre always welcome at our house

Any time of day!

Youíre always welcome at our house

And we know youíll stay!"

 

 

"Daria, do you know any nice songs where nobody dies?"

"Well, letís see.. Ballad of John Henry? Nope. He dies. My Darling Clementine? Sheís lost and gone forever. On the Lone Prairie? They buried him there. Barbara Allen? Dies. Big John? Cave-in. The Irish Rover? The whole crew drowns but one guy. Streets of Laredo? Heís cold as the clay. Casey Jones? Scalded to death by the steam. Running Bear? The raging river pulled them down. Patches? Same. Moody River? Same. Ode to Billy Joe? Same. Teen Angel? Silly me. How about ĎBarnacle Bill the Sailorí?"

"We are not singing that vulgar song!! Think of a game or something!"

Daria was really getting into her role as activities director from hell. "I know! Letís play ĎHelenís last nerveí! Whoever makes her screech their name the most times wins!"

"Daria!"

"One for me! Yay!"

"DARIA!"

Daria fired off a snapshot of Helenís face. "And Daria surges ahead to an early lead."

"Daria, canít you for once get into the spirit of a family outing and just have fun?"

"Mom, I am having fun. Really."

With a sinking feeling, Helen realized that this was true. Daria was enjoying herself immensely, in direct proportion to how much she made her suffer. "Would it be possible for you to enjoy yourself in such a way that others could enjoy themselves as well?"

"You mean like..." Daria locked eyes with Helen. "...take into consideration the rights and wishes and feelings of others? Gee, I donít know, Mom. You tell me." A line from an old movie popped into her consciousness. Then as I end my refrain... thrust home! She pictured Daria de Bergeracís rapier sheathing itself in Helenís heart. The expression on Helenís face told Daria that her thrust had indeed hit home. She turned back to face forward. "I know, Dad! Letís sing the Young Aviator song!" Jakeís grin answered Dariaís. To the tune of "My Bonnie lies over the ocean", the two began singing:

 

"The young aviator lay dying,

And, as in the wreckage he lay,

With his buddies all gathered around him,

These last dying words did he say:

 

"Take the spark advance out of my kidney,

The connecting rod out of my brain,

From the small of my back take the crankshaft,

And assemble the engine again!"

 

Helen cringed. That was one of the songs Jake had learned in military school. More than the gross lyrics, more even than the knowledge that Daria had selected it just to annoy her, the realization that Jake had somehow been bonding and sharing with Daria when she hadnít was like bitter gall to her. How the hell had he done that? The two of them hadnít gone on any trips or outings together, well, except that one stupid seminar, hadnít set aside any "quality time", hadnít reserved a suite or a cabin or a cabana, hadnít done any of the planning and preparation and hard work sheíd done organizing this trip. Had they just sat at the table or on the sofa and... done it? Was that possible?

 

"... hurtled through the ether, many thoughts went through his mind.

He thought about his mother and the girl heíd left behind.

He thought about the medics and he wondered what theyíd find.

And he ainít gonna jump no more!

 

Gory, gory, what a helluva way to die!

Gory, gory, what a helluva way to die!

Gory. gory, what a helluva way to die!

And he ainít gonna jump no more!"

 

Oh, God, another one! How many of those awful songs did Jake know? Had he taught Daria all of them? Did she actually like them? Probably. Daria had that morbid turn of mind. Or had she just learned them to please Jake? Naah. Daria had never learned anything from her like that.

Oh, wait. Yes, she had. Daria had learned to read during those long days at the law library at college. In those moments stolen from her studying. What a sponge her little brain had been! Daria could read kiddie books by the time she was three, and almost anything in the paper by four.

Her brain was still a sponge, come to think of it. Sheíd about cleaned out the school library, and was complaining about the pickings at the city library. But she hadnít learned anything from Helen lately. What had Helen offered to teach her lately? She couldnít think of anything. And actually...

A memory from that long-ago time surfaced. Sheíd been reading something in a law book, she couldnít remember what.

"Mommy?"

"Mmm."

"Mommy?"

"Yes, Daria..."

"Whatís this word?"

Helen had looked down, Daria was sitting in the floor with a copy of the Middleton College newspaper, pointing at an article on the front page. Helen bent down, looked closer. Dariaís tiny finger was pointing at the word "the", the most common word in the English language.

"The. t Ė h Ė e the."

Helen had pointed out the letters and gone back to her law book. A minute later...

"Mommy?"

"Yes?"

"Whatís this word?"

"And. A-n-d and."

And so it had begun. Daria had continued to pick out words, usually very common words or words next to very common words. Helen couldnít remember ever being asked about the same word twice. So Helen hadnít initiated teaching Daria to read, either. Daria had pestered it out of her.

What a treasure she was! One in a million. No, more like one in ten million. Helen felt ashamed for ignoring her so. Daria was such a quiet child. She almost never pestered Helen after sheíd learned to read. So easy to ignore. Sheíd just go and read a book.

 

"For itís beer, beer, beer

That makes us feel so queer

In the Corps

In the Corps

In the Corps

In the Corps

For itís beer, beer, beer

That makes us feel so queer

In the Quar- ter- mas- ter Corps!"

Good grief, they were back to beer again! "You know, dear, the purpose of this trip is to spend time bonding with one another. Why donít we do that for a while?"

"But we are bonding, Mom. Dad, arenít we bonding here?"

"We sure are, kiddo!"

"Quinn, arenít we bonding?"

"Yeah, I guess." Quinn gave a lopsided smile. "Iím sure seeing a side of you that you donít often let out."

"Well, Mom wanted me to be pleasant and have fun, and she paid for it. Itís costing me, but Iím like an honest politician. Once Iím bought, I stay bought."

"I donít detect any bonding taking place between you and me, Daria. When is that going to happen?"

"When you stop treating me like chattel. Or like some prop on the set of ĎThe Helen Barksdale Story.í Daria struggled to maintain a pleasant tone.

"Good grief, Daria! Iím just trying to get the family together for some quality time, so we can talk and share and get caught up with each otherís lives!"

"The quality of this time is extremely poor, from my viewpoint."

"Whose fault is that? This trip is costing me a young fortune, and youíre not giving it a chance."

"Itís your damn fault! You kidnapped me! You stole something from me that I can never get back! What did you expect? Money canít buy my love!"

The ensuing silence lasted almost to the beach.

 

 

Chapter 4

CHIC of the BURNING SANDS

 

Jane stared at ĎLe Dejuner Sur LíHerbeí by Manet. From a distance it was obvious it had been painted in a studio rather than on location. The forest in the background looked like a not-so-well-done canvas backdrop, and the lighting was flat and directionless. But Jane wondered what Manet was trying to do here.

The painting supposedly depicted a picnic and swimming outing, but the Ďpicnicí was merely a few fruits and a lumpy bun, sketchily indicated in the lower left corner, strewn on the clothing of one of the two girls. The other girl, still in her slip, was wading awkwardly in some unconvincing Ďwaterí in the background. Two young men reclined in the foreground, apparently absorbed in some intellectual discussion. Jane remembered reading somewhere that their hats indicated they were college students. They must have just gotten out of a really fascinating lecture, Jane thought, not to notice the naked girl sitting within easy grabbing distance of both of them.

The girl, whose face was pretty although her hairstyle sucked, was staring straight out of the picture plane at the viewer with a smug little smile. It reminded Jane of Dariaís "I know what youíre thinking but Iím way ahead of you" look. Jane concluded that Manet had intended to provoke the Art Establishment of his day. She could certainly sympathize with that.

But it irritated her that the men were fully clothed, while one woman was jaybird naked and the other headed that way. Why were the women always expected to show all their goodies, or lack thereof, while men were free to wear whatever they felt like? Jane turned and walked on. Was there any contemporary art in this gigantic rockpile?

 

 

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Daria put down her beach bag and small boom box and looked around. Quinn had had a point. The beach was a very simple environment. Sun, sand, sea, people walking around in few clothes. One could put oneís brain on standby here, if not turn it off altogether. She opened the rented green-and-white beach umbrella, jabbed its metal tip into the sand next to a white-painted wooden beach lounge chair. It stood tall and proud for three seconds, then toppled over. Daria sighed. Maybe Dad could do it when he finished checking them in.

Quinn said, "Gosh, Daria, I really wish youíd gotten that other bikini you tried on. You looked so good in that one!"

Daria thought, "I knew you couldnít keep quiet about that bikini!"

Helen looked at Daria. "Really? Why didnít you get it?"

"She thought it was too skimpy. It wasnít, really. It was so perfect for her!"

Sensing that her moment was approaching, Daria began building up her nerve. "You can do this. This is normal beachwear for this decadent age. You are not naked. You do look damn good in it," she told herself.

"Daria, you really should try to overcome your shyness and be a little more outgoing. This is exactly why I wanted you to let Quinn help you pick out a suit. In fact, I believe some money changed hands in aid of that..."

"Well, actually, I did get that bikini." Daria turned her back to Helen and Quinn and carefully placed her camera on the arm of a beach lounge chair. She quietly unbuttoned the five large sky-blue buttons on the printed white beach cover-up she was wearing, but didnít open it.

"Oh! Thatís wonderful, dear. Why donít you go up and put it on?"

Whipping off the cover-up in a smooth, quick move, she said, "Got it right here."

Helenís eyes and mouth opened wide, and Daria snatched her camera and preserved the moment for posterity. Then she spun and shot Quinn too. Daria wondered what most held her motherís attention, the tiny (Daria thought) blue-green bikini, the fact that she actually had something resembling a figure, or Janeís body art.

Jane had offered to do it in an attempt to cheer Daria up a little. Daria had seen the parent-freaking potential and had, in fact, cheered up. Their discussion of the possibilities, accompanied by evil chuckling, had helped decide Daria to go for the skimpy string bikini when she saw it, and had served as a catalyst for much of Dariaís tactical planning. Loosen up. Donít be shy. Be more attractive. Helen was always telling her that. Well, Daria would do it, sheíd decided, and see if Helen really meant it.

There was nothing inherently sexy about Janeís artwork. Around one upper arm she had done a stylized morning glory vine, the kind with lavender flowers, and around the other, a multicolored Celtic border motif. On her right shoulder was a floral design done in Art Nouveau style. Sheíd done a multicolored cockatooish bird on Dariaís back, in such a way that it looked like it was perched on her halter string. Daria thought it looked like it was thinking about untying the knot.

On Dariaís stomach Jane had done a clump of flowers, starting with a large one with her navel as its center. A butterfly hovered above them, just below her bikini top, and a bug-eyed cutesy little spider clung to one of the stems. The first thing the viewer noticed about them was that they seemed to be growing out of her bikini bottom.

Several shops along the strip advertised body art, but Daria was willing to bet she couldnít get anything near this good for less than a hundred. Jane had had plenty of ideas for her legs and lower arms, but Daria had vetoed them to preserve the element of surprise. And, she saw now, Quinn and Helen were definitely surprised.

Several thuds and exclamations in male voices caused Daria to turn around. She snapped an offhand shot of a colorful heap a short distance away. The heap separated itself into three young men, earnestly discussing which of them was the clumsiest. Gathering her courage, she set her camera down and went over to offer assistance. Lifting up on the forearm of one as he extricated himself, she asked, "Are you all right?"

"Iíll live- no thanks to Nutso and Klutzo there. Hi! Iím Harry." His arms were hairier than average.

"Thatís íway too easy. Iím Daria."

They were all looking at her, but trying not to ogle. Daria thought she could stand it, but she could tell she was starting to blush. "It gets worse. This is Tom, and thatís Dick." They exchanged smiles all round.

"Surely you jest."

"I wish. And donít call me Shirley. Sorry. We were uh.." Harry looked down at three dented soft drink cups and a big damp spot on the sand. "just going to get something to drink. Can I buy you a soda?"

Daria estimated these young men to be two or three years her senior, probably college students. The one called Dick was wearing an Auburn t-shirt sporting a big fierce tiger. Their age would increase Helenís harelip index, the fact that they were cute would torque Quinnís jaw, and if they were in college there was a good chance they had three-digit IQs and could speak in complete sentences. She wasnít likely to do better any time soon. And, like Quinn had said, she could always throw them back. Engage Beach Bunny mode.

"Iíd like that. But before we go, do you guys do beefcake? Iíd like to get a couple of photos to torture my friends with."

"Do we do beefcake?!" grinned Tom, "We AM beefcake!" He and Dick each offered Daria a bulgy bicep to hang onto, and Harry did a low crouching pose in front.

Hesitantly, Daria adopted the appropriate curvy, hip out, one knee slightly bent pose in the center. "Mom, would you get my camera there and do the honors? Mom?"

Helen blinked twice, picked up Dariaís camera, and took the shot.

"How about the classic ĎGirl-overhead-on-surfboard" shot?í suggested Harry. "Just pose like youíre lying on your side on a surfboard. Right hand on the side of your head, elbow up..."

"Like this?"

"Perfect! Now lean to your right and stiffen up..." before Daria could do more than gasp and widen her eyes, she felt multiple male hands grasp her bare flesh. She froze, which was the right thing to do in the circumstances. Harry took a grip on Dariaís upper left arm, put his other hand below her right armpit. Tom placed his hands above and below her right hip, and Dick lifted her legs. In a second they had hoisted her above head height.

"Eeek! Take the picture! Take the picture!" squeaked Daria. "One more! Now let me down eeeeasy!" They set her down as lightly as a feather. Quinn didnít actually turn green with envy, but she did look like sheíd just had all her pink baby tees stolen.

Daria, not quite believing what sheíd just done, came forward and took her camera from Helen, stuck it in her little drawstring purse, and grabbed her towel. Helen held out a hand. "Daria, that bikini..."

"Is the one Quinn picked out for me, as per your instructions. The one I thought was too skimpy."

"And what are you going to do now?"

"Just what you told me to a minute ago. Try to overcome my shyness and be a little more outgoing." She turned and walked back toward Harry, Dick, and Tom. "Okay, guys, Iím ready to outgo!"

Helen and Quinn stood watching the four walk away until something flew into Helenís mouth, breaking the spell. Quinn grinned at her mother coughing and spitting for a second, then realized she didnít have her bait in the water. She yelped "swimsuit!", turned and sprinted for the hotel entrance.

 

 

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Quinn burst into the hotel room just as the bellhop was leaving, clawed open the smaller of her suitcases, and began digging frantically for her swimsuit. "Uuhhh! A fine time she picks to start taking my advice! I never thought sheíd have the nerve! Thatís not a swimsuit, itís a freakiní phaser! Freakiní stuns every male within fifty feet and she just freakiní walks up and grabs the cutest ones! I canít compete with her in that thing! Oh, crap, did I just say that? Aarrgh!"

Jake, somewhat startled by her energetic entrance, said "Hey, kitten! Whereís Daria?"

"She just ran off with half the guys on the beach! The cute half! Sheís ruining my life again!"

"Gaah! My baby!" Jake ran out. Quinn was half undressed before she noticed that the door was standing open.

 

 

 

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As she approached the hotel, Daria spotted Helen lounging in a beach chair. She seemed to be conversing with a woman in the next beach chair. The closer Daria got, the more there seemed to be something familiar about this other woman. Now she was close enough to make out the womanís features in the shadow cast by her floppy beach hat. It was Rita. "Oh. O-O-oh. Comes the dawn!"

For an instant, Helen looked like sheíd been caught logged on to a porn site, but quickly recovered. "Daria! Look who I just ran into! Can you believe Rita and Erin are staying at the same hotel we are?" Her look dripped with pleading.

Daria set her autopilot to ĎMaintain Pleasant Facadeí while this new development was being analyzed. She waved and smiled at Rita. "Hi, Aunt Rita. Itís a small world after all, eh? How long have you been here?" Helenís expression relaxed slightly.

"Just a couple of hours. We must have gotten in at almost the same time as you guys."

"What an amazing coincidence!" Daria shot Helen a look that could scrape barnacles at forty fathoms, then reclined in a chair on the other side of Rita.

"Really? I thought Mother might have mentioned to Helen that we were going to be here."

"Mom didnít say anything to me about it. How have you been?"

"Oh, fine, fine! You look great in that bikini, Daria! And I know Erinís going to want to know where you got the body art!"

"My friend Jane did it last night as sort of a consolation gift for me missing the museum trip we had planned. If she came down here for the summer, she could make a fortune."

"She certainly could. Helen was telling me you left with three young men earlier, and Quinn met someone shortly thereafter."

"Yes, theyíll be back around in a few minutes. Oh, hi, Quinn. I hear you met a young gentleman."

Quinn stalked up, a disgusted look on her face. She was wearing a rather demure two-piece green checked swimsuit with matching headband/kerchief, the top of which came up almost to her neck in front. (2) Casting an envious glance at Dariaís bikini, she replied, "I thought so at first, but he turned out to be a young octopus! What about your three guys, Daria? Did you have to ditch them too?" She seemed to be hoping that was the case.

"No, theyíre very nice. Theyíre engineering and physics majors, down from Auburn for the day. I came back to get some sunblock. They all offered to slather me up, of course, but they didnít have SPF 45." Daria reached over and drew her beach bag closer, extracted a white squeeze bottle from it, and began applying sunblock to her shoulders.

"So, what did you find to talk to physics majors about?"

"Physics, mostly. You know, Brownian movement, thrust vectors, the three body problem, wormholes, the Big Bang. Stuff like that." Daria smiled slightly at Quinnís facial expression, which indicated misconceptions as to the nature of some of these topics. "Tell me, Aunt Rita, did your parents equate family bonding with long, arduous journeys, or did Mom get that somewhere else?"

"Well, as I recall, Dad would usually grab me and sit me on his lap and grill me. If that didnít work, heíd resort to tickling. Momís favored technique involved baking brownies or gingerbread. Maybe Helenís flashing back to her hippie days in that old VW microbus with Jake, Coyote, and Willow."

Daria looked over Rita at Helen, whose face was turning red. "As soon as we hit Lawndale, weíre getting you a case of brownie mix." Behind Helen she happened to notice Jake emerging from the hotel, clad in plaid swim trunks, unbuttoned hawaiian shirt and straw hat, and holding some beverage with a little umbrella in it. She quickly finished applying sunblock, put the bottle away, and donned her sun hat.

Daria wished her dadís first look at her in this bikini could have been somewhere a bit more private, like for instance a stretch of howling wilderness, with him on one side of an impassable gorge, and her on the other. She lay back, crossed her ankles, and covered her face with the hat.

Jake walked up to Helen. "Hi, honey. Iím feeling better now. Sorry I got excited. Uh, has, uh, Daria come back yet? Oh, we have company! Pleased to meet you, Ms. uhh... GAAH!! RITA!! I mean, um, Hi, Rita, fancy meeting you here! How nice to see you!"

"And itís always good to see you, Jake." Rita favored him with a lopsided smile. Helen favored him with a mild glare.

"And this lovely young lady must be Erin!" Jake ventured, attempting to regain lost ground. "You look spectacular in that bikini, Erin! Uhh, are those tattoos?"

"Jake, thatís not Erin." said Helen, giving Jake a very peculiar look.

Confused, and getting the distinct impression that Helen thought he should know this person, even with her face hidden, Jake ran through a list of possible identities for the mystery babe. It was a very short list, and none of the names held up. He decided to cut his losses and just ask. "Uhhh, do I know you, Miss?"

Daria sighed. "No, you donít." She moved the hat down to uncover her face, simultaneously covering most of her chest, though she doubted this would help much. "Hi, Dad."

"G- G- Daria! Y- y- youíre w-... youíve g- g- d- ... GAAH! Jake grabbed up a beach towel and was starting a lunge for Daria when he was stopped in his tracks by death glares from Helen, Daria, and Rita.

"Jake! Put that down! Youíre making a spectacle of yourself, and youíre embarrassing Daria!" snapped Helen.

Jake stood trembling, eyes bulging, teeth clenched, paralyzed by indecision and cluelessness. Taking pity on him, Daria slipped on her beach cover-up, walked to a spot of empty sand between the beach chairs and the hotel, and motioned to him to come over.

"Save it, Dad. Itís Ďway too late. You canít help me now."

"Huh? What are you talking about? What do you mean, running around almost naked? No daughter of mine..."

"Save it! You should have spoken up last Tuesday when Mom and I were arguing about this, and you ran and hid in the garage! You left me alone, she won, and now here I stand almost naked because thatís what she wants. You donít think Iíd not-quite-wear something like this by choice, do you?"

"I.. I wouldnít have thought so... but why?"

"It turns out Mom set this whole thing up after Grandma Evelyn called and told her Rita would be here today."

"Aw, gee, that stinks! Iím sorry, kiddo! Uhh, what can I do to help?"

"Right now, nothing. Why donít you just avoid Mom and Rita and do what youíd do if you were here by yourself. Iím going to have lunch with some nice boys I met. Quinn will probably bag some guy pretty soon. You know what Mom and Rita will be doing. Have fun at the beach. If you can help me later, Iíll let you know."

"Just one thing, Daria. Please tell me those arenít tattoos!"

Daria smiled up at her father. "Theyíre not tattoos, Dad. Jane drew them on with marker pens. Theyíll be gone in three days." She turned and went back to her beach chair. Jake headed back to the hotel for another nerve tonic.

Daria spotted Erin returning from the water in a royal blue bikini. Her hair was done up under her sun hat, except for a couple of ringlets framing her face. She looked really good, but pensive. Daria got the impression that Erin would be more comfortable today on a more deserted stretch of beach, idly searching for pretty seashells. She wondered where Brian was, and recalled that sheíd heard no mention of him.

Tom, Dick, and Harry walked up. Daria introduced them around. Helenís pleasant smile mismatched her eagle-eyed gaze. Quinn gushed, then caught herself. Erin showed a trace of amusement at this.

"Does this place weíre going have a dress code?" asked Daria.

"The Claw is right on the beach, and anything thatís okay on the beach is okay inside." Dick replied.

"The Claw?" inquired Helen.

"Itís a seafood restaurant about a block that way." said Tom. "Theyíre known for their steamed crabs."

Daria checked to make sure Jake was out of sight, then removed her cover-up and hung it on the back of her beach lounge chair. She pulled the sunblock out of her beach bag. "Could anyone put some of this on my back?" she inquired, and immediately had three volunteers.

Pining for her three Jís, Quinn watched them go. "Mom, can I borrow your card for a little bit? I need a new swimsuit."

"Quinn, thatís ridiculous. That suit looks fine on you, and this is only the second time youíve worn it. Now is the time to be enjoying the beach, not shopping."

"But Mo-omm! Itís so frumpy! It makes me look like an old maid! Itís ruining my life!"

"Quinn, you are not going to scour the strip looking for a bikini skimpier than Dariaís! Youíre too young. Anyway, itís time for lunch. Go find your father, and donít say anything to set him off again! I could kick your.."

As Quinn trudged off bewailing her ruined life, Rita remarked, "Daria seems very comfortable and self-assured around those college boys. Didnít you say she was a bit shy?"

Helen turned and looked at the retreating figure of her daughter, such of it as could be seen past her solicitous male companions. She blinked a few times and smiled an uncertain smile. "I guess I was wrong about that."

 

 

-----:{ }:-----

Daria stared out to sea. There was remarkably little of the sea to see on a moonless night like tonight. The beachside lights of the hotels dimly illuminated the sand and the lines of foam on the wavelets that softly caressed the shore, but the water was so calm tonight that there werenít any waves steeply angled enough to throw reflections back to her here on the beach. The horizon was indicated only by where the stars stopped, and by the tiny yellowish lights of a solitary distant vessel.

The night sea breeze gently caressed her cheek and toyed with her hair. The near solid wall of hotels and the lateness of the hour muted the traffic noises on the strip, so that the chuckle and murmur of the tiny wavelets could actually be heard over them. Occasionally a large fish would announce its presence in the black water not far from shore. Blacker by far were Dariaís thoughts, and much too painful for this gentle, peaceful night.

Tom, Dick, and Harry had headed back to Auburn after dinner. Daria could return to the bosom of her family, or she could stare at the black sea and reflect on what sheíd learned earlier and put aside for the afternoon. So here she was. Helenís mother had called and, for whatever reason, told Helen that Rita and Erin would be here today. And Helen had, for whatever reason, instantly planned and initiated this reenactment of Shermanís March to the Sea, killing, raping, pillaging and burning all in her path. Now, as the smoke cleared and the situation revealed itself to her, Daria felt very pillaged. Pretty sore and singed, too.

What the hell had Rita ever done to Helen so bad that Helen felt the need to use Daria as a club to beat her with? If Helen hated Rita that much, why didnít she just write her off and cut her out of her life? Or was something else involved? Or someone else? "Hell yes, thereís someone else involved- me! How can I get uninvolved? Who do I have to kill?" The squeak of sand told Daria of the approach of a foolhardy person with poor timing.

"Daria?"

silence

"Daria?" said Helen again. "Are you all right?"

"No."

"Daria, if Iíd told you Rita was going to be here, it would have been even more difficult to get you to come."

"Well, of course! It would have been blatantly obvious to everyone that the only reason you wanted me along was for ammo in your lifelong battle to one-up Rita. But you knew it, you knew it was wrong, and you went ahead and did it to me anyway. How could you?"

"Is it so wrong for me to be proud of my daughters? To want to show them off? To brag on them?"

"No. Is it so wrong for you to dragoon me, yet again, for cannon fodder in your sibling wars? To wreck my long-established plans and force me to serve your jealousy-based whim? Iím not some Tiffany lamp you scored at an auction! Iím not a trophy! Iím a person!"

Only silence answered her, a silence Daria, at length, chose to break. "What I donít get is, why? Rita is a thoroughly beaten foe. You have a successful career, a successful marriage, and two daughters, either of whom stacks up well against Erin. The only thing she has that you could possibly envy is her relationship with your mother, and thatís only by default, because you avoid her as much as possible."

Another, shorter silence ensued, this time broken by Helen. "Oh, Daria, you donít understand. Rita was always the pretty one, the perky one, the popular one. I cared about human rights, Rita cared about the right handbag. I cared about starving children, Rita starved herself to stay thin. Mother told me I was being silly, and told Rita how pretty she was. I got the good grades, but Rita got the attention and encouragement."

"I donít understand that?! Substitute the name Quinn for the name Rita, change a few details, and itís the story of my life! I canít believe you even said that!" Receiving no reply, Daria continued. "Surely there was a time when a young Helen Barksdale swore a mighty oath that sheíd never treat her children the way sheíd been treated. So what happened? Why are you doing this to me?" Daria continued to gaze out over the black ocean as she waited for a reply, but she heard only some sniffs and other small sounds vaguely indicating that Helen was upset. At length she spoke again.

"It looks to me like your real problem is not with Rita, but with your mother. You feel she owes you. Everything that Rita got, that you felt you deserved but didnít get, she still owes you. Youíre withholding your affection from her until she settles up. But sheís lonely. When you rebuff her, she turns to Rita for that affection, at least partly to try to make you jealous. She gives Rita her affection and money, and makes sure you know it, hoping youíll show up for your share. But this makes you even more resentful, and drives you further away. I donít think grandma understands that."

Helen broke her silence. "Daria, that is so... so perceptive! So dead on the mark! How do you do that?"

Daria turned to face Helen, her eyes moist. "Itís easy. Itís so horribly easy. Weíre in the early scenes of that same play right now. I play you. Quinn plays Rita. Youíre your mother. ĎThose who cannot learn from history are condemned to repeat it.í Behold your future. Only I wonít let myself be jerked around like that. Iíll just cut you off cold." She turned and walked off down the dim narrow pathway of firm damp sand between land and sea, and gradually vanished into the night.

Helen stared unseeing into the darkness that had swallowed up her firstborn daughter, contemplating a future almost too bleak to contemplate. After several minutes, she turned and slowly began walking in the opposite direction along the line of farthest reach of the little wavelets.

Farther up the beach, at the line of small detritus that marked the dayís high tide, a larger lump shifted restlessly. It hugged its knees tightly, its long strawberry blonde hair stirring slightly with the sea breeze. Quinnís sad eyes followed Helenís receding form, then turned and vainly sought for Daria in the opposite direction. Finding nothing, they turned to the lights of the lone vessel far out at sea, creeping along the unseen horizon. "But I donít want to be Rita!" she moaned softly into the noncommittal night.

 

 

Chapter 5

SHOWDOWN at the SEASIDE BAR AND GRILL

 

An hour later a tired and wrung-out Daria approached the seaside entrance of her hotel. The fine dry white sand seemed to suck the last of the strength from her weary legs. The hard concrete patio was a relief when she finally reached it. Entering the lobby, she paused and put a hand to her forehead, trying to remember their room number.

"Daria!"

Daria turned toward the sound of her name. Helen arose from a settee beside a potted palm and came toward her. Daria turned away, slumping against the side of the arched entryway.

"Daria, we need to talk." Helen held out Dariaís cover-up.

Daria handed Helen the beach towel from around her waist, accepted the cover-up and put it on, not caring whether anyone was watching. "Mom, Iím very tired."

"Iím tired too, honey, but we canít just leave this where it is. Neither of us would get any sleep tonight."

"Speak for yourself. Iím used to going to sleep racked with disappointment, resentment, and bitterness. I do it all the time. I have no choice."

"Daria!" Helen looked wounded. Deep down, Daria felt a little bit ashamed. But not very. It was true, after all.

"All right, so talk."

"Letís go in here. Itís more private and I could use a drink." Helen steered Daria toward the hotel lounge.

 

-----:{ }:-----

 

Jane sat alone at a restaurant table, shuffling through the art postcards sheíd bought earlier while waiting for the dinner sheíd ordered. Sheíd enjoyed the art museum, but she knew sheíd have enjoyed it much more with Daria. Daria appreciated art almost as much as Jane, even though she couldnít paint as well. Daria would have appreciated Janeís commentary on the artists and their styles and techniques and Jane would have enjoyed Dariaís droll observations on the paintings, the artistsí mental quirks, their fellow patrons, and whatever else her rapier wit might skewer.

Jane sighed, shook her head sadly, and wondered what Daria was doing now. Probably not eating dinner. It was after eight. Jane paused at the postcard of ĎThe Absinthe Drinkerí by Degas, a melancholy scene in a tavern or bar, very brown. Daria would probably know exactly what Absinthe was. The disturbingly unbalanced composition focused on an almost-pretty young woman seated demurely at a table with a stemmed glass of cloudy off-white liquid in front of her, and a totally spaced-out non-expression on her face, overlaying some terrible sadness.

Jane shuffled to the next postcard. Also titled ĎThe Absinthe Drinkerí, this was an early Picasso in the Impressionist style depicting an old, vulture-like woman with incredibly claw-like hands, glaring intently into a glass of evil-looking green liquor and toying with a sugar lump.

Jane looked from one painting to the other. They somehow suggested Daria and Helen to her. Jane was disturbed to realize that she wasnít sure which suggested who, or why.

 

 

-----:{ }:-----

 

Inside the lounge, Helen signaled to a waiter and they slid into a dimly lit booth. Daria said "Iíll have a coke. You have what you were going to have plus a shot of bourbon." At Helenís shocked look she said, "Well, what did you expect? You drink. Dad drinks. Youíre both former drug-crazed hippies. I never had a chance." Helenís expression became even more shocked, then very sad. She looked like she was going to cry.

Daria relented. "I shouldnít have said that. Up to now Iíve only had a taste, a couple of times. Iím very protective of my brain cells. But if this talk is going to accomplish anything useful I need to mellow out some, and I left my herb garden at home. Iím still in a foul mood."

After a moment a waiter came over. Helen said "Iíll have a Jack Daniels Black, neat, and a sloe gin sling." The waiter nodded, wrote on his pad, and turned to Daria. "Coke, please." The waiter said "Right away." and left.

Helen rubbed her face and looked at her daughter. "All right, where are we?"

"Weíre at the beach, so you can accidentally run into Rita and rub her nose in how financially well off you are, how stable your marriage is, how beautiful Quinn is, and how smart I am. To achieve this, youíve wrecked important long-standing plans of mine and Janeís, made it painfully obvious that you donít respect me as a person, and trashed our relationship for the foreseeable future."

"Is it really that bad?"

"As of now, my plans are to tolerate you till Iím through college, then never see nor speak to you again. In other words, to use you like youíre using me while I need you, but then to cut you out cleanly so you wonít be a continuous thorn in my side like your mother is to you."

Helen looked like sheíd been punched in the gut. Tears ran down her cheeks. Daria pretended to study a snack menu. Then Helen quickly wiped her eyes with a napkin as she saw the waiter approach with the drinks.

After the waiter had left, Daria unwrapped her straw and stuck it in her coke, still not looking at Helen. She took a long sip, then just stared at the crushed ice on top for a while, prolonging a chance moment with no clear thought in her head. Then looking around to be sure the bartender wasnít watching, she picked up the shot glass, emptied half its contents into the coke, and set it back down. She stirred the coke with the straw, then tasted it. The bourbon definitely added a complex, pleasant flavor to the cola.

Daria looked up at Helen, who was taking a large swallow of her reddish pink thing, a fresh tear starting down her cheek. This was taking too long. She lifted the shot glass and downed the rest of its contents. Almost immediately, her brain felt like it was being gently sloshed around in a bucket. She swayed slightly, grabbed the edge of the table, and blinked. This must be the origin of the term "sloshed". "Damn." she said.

Helen looked at her with an unreadable expression on her face. "Strong?" she asked.

"Yeah, but thatís not what I was damning."

"What, then?"

"I like it."

"Huh?"

"I just found out I like the taste of Jack Daniels straight. I didnít need to know that." She felt a tear slide down her own cheek.

"Oh, sweetie..." Helen looked like she was about to grab Daria and try to hug her over the table. Daria pulled back and glared at her. "Donít you sweetie me, you user!"

Looking as if her heart were about to break, Helen said, "Daria, is that really the way you want it? To never see me again?"

"Of course not. If it were, Iíd be up in the room asleep, instead of down here sacrificing my brain cells." Daria sipped coke through the straw. "Och, brrain cells, I harrdly knew ye." she mumbled, then glared at Helen again. "But Iím tired of being used, taken for granted, trampled underfoot, and misunderstood. If thatís not the way you want it, things have to change. What you did was wrong."

Helen started to say something, thought better of it. "All right. What I did was wrong. I ignored your desires and feelings. I ignored your rights. I brought you here to show you off to Rita. I should have let you go ahead with your plans. Iím sorry. Will you forgive me?"

Daria looked at her mother and smiled a tiny bit. There was still hope. "if youíre sorry, are you willing to make restitution?"

"Well... yes. What do you mean by restitution?"

"Three things. Treat me right, restore what you took from me, and compensation for treating me wrong. A peace offering, if you like."

"How do I treat you right? What do you mean by that?"

"Treat me like Iím me, Daria. A unique human being, valuable and valued in my own right. Iím not a brainy but socially retarded Quinn, in need of a makeover, a new wardrobe, and charm school."

"Daria, Iím very well aware that youíre unique. I do love you and value you for who you are. It isnít wrong for me to want you to be more attractive."

"YES, DAMMIT, IT IS!!" Daria glared bloody violent demise across the table. Her hands twitched for Helenís throat. Her canines glinted in the dim light. Helen recoiled from the vehemence more than the volume of Dariaís outburst, realizing immediately that sheíd struck a major raw nerve.

"Alright, dear, alright! Tell me whatís wrong with it!" Helen made down-boy motions at her daughter, who struggled to get her rage pent up again.

Daria glanced around, noted with surprise that no one was staring at her. She took a long sip of bourbon-flavored coke and a deep breath. "Itís wrong because you always just say it like that and leave it there, like it was a self-evident universal truth, totally obvious and requiring no further discussion. "Be More Attractive." Attract what? From where? For what purpose? You never discuss, never specify, never explain. So discuss already."

The waiter came over, and Helen made the "another round" gesture. "Well, boys, of course, Daria. Youíre a very pretty and interesting teenage girl, and you should be dating at your age."

"Boys. From where?"

"Well, from school, sweetie. Must we belabor the obvious?"

"The only thing obvious here is the fact that youíve never thought this through. And yes, we must belabor it. Weíre going to run it down and beat it to death, once and for all, and then weíre never going to speak of it again. Right?"

Helen returned Dariaís glare. "Weíll see. Proceed."

"There are at Lawndale High four male students intelligent enough to be potential dates for me, theoretically. Two have such serious psychological problems that they date no one, and no one wants to date them. A third simulates an equally serious set of mental disorders as a defense mechanism. This works so well that he is the most despised student at school. The fourth is Michael Jordan MacKenzie, honor student and captain of the football team. Jodie Landonís boyfriend. All the rest are my intellectual inferiors to such a great extent that we have practically nothing in common.

So. There is no one at Lawndale High I would want to date. There is no point in my attracting boys if Iím not going to date them. Therefore I deliberately minimize my attractiveness. It saves time, energy, and misunderstandings all around. Do you understand?"

"I see what youíre saying, Daria, but you could be driving away some bright, interesting boys you donít know about yet. Itís not like you have everyoneís IQ scores on file."

"But I do."

"What?"

"I have everyoneís IQ scores on file. And SATs. And PSTATs."

"Daria, are you pulling my leg? And if not, where and how did you get them?"

"I refuse to answer on the grounds that it might tend to incriminate me."

"Great. Iíve raised a criminal mastermind."

The waiter brought the second round of drinks. Helen asked, "What are you doing with all those scores?"

Daria looked down at her coke and said nothing. Her shoulders slumped a bit.

"Daria?"

"Looking for potential dates." Daria said softly. She paused but didnít look up. "In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. But in the land of the stupid, the smart chick is lonely as hell." She took a sip of bourbon, showed no reaction.

"Oh, sweetie, Iím sorry! Itís nice to know youíre interested, but youíre going about it in such a clinical way! Boys arenít lab rats, you know. Those numbers donít tell you everything! And even if they did, it couldnít hurt you to be a little more attrac-

"YES, DAMMIT, IT COULD!! $#;+! You did it again!!" Daria glared balefully at her mother, trying to decide how much of her look of wounded innocence was genuine. "Look, when you say ĎBe more attractiveí donít you see that youíre really saying ĎTear down your defensesí? Well, Iím not gonna do that without a damn good reason! I put a lot of time and effort into my armor, and it works for me, and Iím keeping it until I donít need it any more, or until I have a really good reason to take it off!"

"But Daria, honey, donít you see that as long as you wear that repulsive outfit, you have no chance of meeting any bright boys that may come along, from wherever? Thatís a high price to pay for repelling the stupid ones."

"Thatís not true. It doesnít work on the bright ones, just the dullards. Mack MacKenzie and I are friends. He sees through my disguise. He knows Iím not homely. And the smartest guy in school is constantly bugging me for dates."

"What? Why havenít I heard about this? Why donít you date him?"

"Picture Austin Powers, you know, from the spy movie? Picture him with curly orange hair, and even more obnoxious. Now combine that with one of those neurotic little dogs that runs up and humps your leg. Thatís Upchuck. Iím not that lonely."

"Upchuck?"

"Charles Ruttheimer the third. The aforementioned most despised student at Lawndale High. Look, I think you saw today that I can be attractive if I want to, and that I can hold the interest of men who are interesting to me. From now on, you leave it to me decide when, where, and whom to attract. Agreed?"

Helen sighed. She couldnít believe she had lost on this point. "All right, Daria. Agreed."

"Moving on, then. ĎTreat me rightí also means donít spend ten times as much money on Quinn as you do on me."

Helen felt a sinking sensation in her net worth. She was almost guaranteed to lose here. "I believe youíre exaggerating, Daria."

"I donít claim to have the exact multiple at my fingertips. But in the interests of fair play, Iím sure you wouldnít mind going back over the last, say, four years, toting up what you spent on each of us, and equalizing things with a cash payment to the slighted offspring, whoever she might turn out to be?"

The sinking feeling became a giant sinkhole opening up beneath Helenís financial edifice. "Daria, I canít do that."

"AHA!" Daria pointed an accusing finger. "Youíve just admitted that you know itís true, and that you have a pretty good idea of the magnitude of the discrepancy." Her eyes bored into Helenís. "The magnitude of the injustice."

Helen squirmed internally. Daria had well and truly nailed her. The bourbon didnít seem to be affecting her mental sharpness at all. Did the kid have a hollow leg? "What do you want me to do, Daria?"

"For now, just admit that the problem exists, and agree to do something. This will take more and clearer thought to resolve than we can give it tonight. And remember, youíre on both sides of this one. Your mother owes you a lot more than you owe me. Think about it from that perspective. And thereís no time like the present to start equalizing your outlays. Either spend more on me, or less on Quinn, or a bit of both, starting now."

"Even thatís going to be tough. You know how important clothes are to Quinn, and youíre almost allergic to them."

"My cabin fund is very important to me. And Iíll be needing a new wardrobe for college. Iíll get a new piggie and start a clothing fund."

"You? New clothes?"

Daria gave her mother a Ďsarcasm detectedí look. "At whatever college I go to, the students will range from Ďbrightí upward. I wonít need to repel people like that. Just donít expect me to join the Harvard Fashion Club."

"Oh! My heart! The shock!" Helen clutched her chest and swayed.

"Ha, ha. The point isnít what the money gets spent on, but that I donít get shafted."

"Thatís a good point, Daria, but not the only one I have to consider. Allowances are for motivation, not just money distribution.

"You might want to consider rewards for grades. A lot of parents do that."

"Youíd certainly be getting the lionís share of that, but you donít need any encouragement to get good grades."

"Quote: I got the good grades, but Rita got the attention and encouragement. Unquote. You know the result of that. Do you suppose that if Quinn saw me being rewarded for my academic performance, her grades might improve? Especially if she needs that money for clothes?"

"Itís certainly worth considering. Like you said, the subject needs more thought than we can give it tonight. What else?"

"Treating me right also means never doing this to me again. Or anything resembling this."

"Donít worry. After the last few days, and today in particular, I wouldnít dream of it."

"I went a lot easier on you than Iíd planned to, you know."

"I noticed you behaved very decently when you saw me talking with Rita, and I appreciate that."

"I could have burned you so bad right then."

"I wondered why you didnít."

"Iím not sure. Maybe I was afraid it would burn our bridge. Maybe Iíve absorbed some of your attitude toward her. Mostly, I didnít see any long-term benefits for any of us in handing her a big win. But now Iím worried that I might be handing you a win. I think I impressed Rita, and here youíre getting your bonding, in a mean drunk sort of way. I sure as hell donít want to encourage you to try this again."

"You neednít worry. This is a lot more like plea bargaining than bonding, and I have a feeling that Iím not out of the woods yet. I do solemnly swear that I will never again pressgang you to fight in my sibling wars. Okay?

"Iíll take that as coming from my mother, rather than from a conniving weaselly lawyer. On that basis... okay."

"Great. Now what do you want me to restore?"

"The museum trip."

"Gladly. But you said you could never get that back because Jane has seen the museums now."

"I had an idea. Iíve heard that Chicago has a very nice set of museums."

Helen straightened up and blinked a couple of times. "But itís so far away!"

"Jane has a cousin who lives in one of the Chicago suburbs; Wheaton, I think. She could help us if something came up."

Helen looked at Daria, thinking.

"It wouldnít be too expensive if I had a good reliable car."

Helen smiled. "Iíd love to have you on my negotiating team. It sounds doable. Now I wonder what you might have in mind for that peace offering."

"The car."

Helen gave a wry smirk. "Iím a little tapped out right now, dear."

"You and Dad were going to buy me a car, werenít you?"

"For your birthday, or Christmas, we hadnít decided."

"So youíd just be moving up the timetable a little. You wouldnít be out anything extra, other than a replacement birthday present."

"Iíll talk to your father and see what we can do. But you did put a sizeable hole in my discretionary cash."

"Umm... tactically, this is dead wrong, but... the telescope I ordered wasnít exactly the telescope I designed. I could squeeze some money out there, and still get the performance I want."

"The telescope you designed? You didnít order it out of a catalog?"

"No, theyíre going to build it to my specifications. I designed the optical system to give the best combination of magnification and rich field for my purposes, while using reasonably priced off-the-shelf eyepieces and minimizing the aberrations common to Newtonian reflectors, particularly coma. And I designed the focusing system to..."

Helenís eyes glittered. "Darling, where did you learn to design astronomical telescopes?"

"Out of books. Once you understand the principles, itís mainly a matter of keeping track of interrelated factors and..."

"Daria sweetie, I really want to hear this, but it is getting late, and we are tired, and... do you think you could tell us about it in the morning over breakfast?"

Daria read Helenís expression carefully. "Would Ďusí perchance include Rita?"

Helenís expression took on an easily read look of pleading. "Yes, dear. Us would."

Daria smiled wryly. "Sure, why not? Weíre in agreement on the matters we were discussing?"

"Yes, Daria. Fair and equal treatment. Trip to Chicago. Car. You can start looking for one when we get back."

"Great. And of course, you wouldnít try to sneak the cost of the car, the trip, or my credit card purchases into the financial equality calculations."

"Daria! Youíre killing me!"

"Hey, you know how things like that can breed resentment in a mother-daughter relationship. Besides, weíll make your mother pay for it. And besides besides, you just got back your invitation to my wedding and your grandmaís license."

Leaving the rest of her drinks, Daria slid out of the booth. Helen met her with open arms and wrapped her in a hug. "Oh, darling, Iím so glad we got this straightened out!"

"Hey, get a room!" Daria groused weakly, too tired to flinch away.

"Good idea." Helen laughed, throwing an arm around Dariaís shoulders. They tottered toward the elevator together.

 

 

 

Chapter 6

ON THE BLOODY MORNING AFTER

 

 

Daria became aware of a soft bustle of activity around her. She thought she detected morning sunlight through her closed eyelids. She was in a bed, lying on her side... and she was not alone. Her leg was thrown over someone elseís leg, and her hand was on someone elseís chest. Oh, hell. What had she done? Please let this not be Tom, Dick, or Harry. Or some drunken sailor from the bar. Or... damn! Who could it be that wouldnít be awful?

She heard a whisper, and her bedmateís chest moved in time to the words: "But, Mo-om! Sheís all over me!" It was Quinn. Huge relief. Dariaís world picture reoriented around this information. She gave no sign of awakening.

"Just a little longer, dear. She had a rough night."

Uh-oh. Evil Daria was whispering in her ear now. This was wicked. She really shouldnít. Quinn hadnít done anything awful to her recently. But hey, she was supposed to be having fun.

Daria mumbled a bit, very low. Quinn turned her head toward her, listening. Daria said, "mmhmm, Sandi", then paused a bit, then repeated "Sandi."

Quinn hesitated, whispered "Yeah?"

Daria mumbled some more, very quietly. Quinn moved her head closer to Dariaís. Daria mumbled "ímember Saturday?"

Daria wished she could see Quinnís face now, but she continued to feign sleep. Moving her lips very close to Quinnís ear, she whispered "Remember, Sandi?"

Quinn whispered "Yeah?"

Smiling a bit, Daria murmured languidly, "mhmm, letís do it again!" as she stuck her tongue in Quinnís ear and moved her hand up to Quinnís...

"NAAAAAH!!" Quinn vaulted out of bed and began brushing at her chest and ear as if roaches were crawling on her. Then she grabbed a pillow and began whomping Daria with it.

Pretending to be just waking up, Daria cried "Aah! Hey! Cut it out!" as she rolled off the bed to the floor on the other side, wearing a sleepy, confused, frightened look.

Helen turned around from the mirror. "Quinn! Stop hitting your sister! I thought I asked you to let her sleep!"

"But Mo-oomm! She touched my..." Quinn waved a hand vaguely about her thoracic region. "And then she... Uuhhh!"

Helen looked at Daria, who shook her head and shrugged confusedly, then back to Quinn. "She was asleep, Quinn! Donít be so hypersensitive! After all, sheís your sister! Now apologize to her!"

Quinn glared at Daria, who maintained her expression of wounded innocence. Quinn pouted, then said "Iím sorry I hit you with a pillow.", muttering under her breath "I shouldíve used a chair leg."

"Daria, would you like the next turn in the bathroom?" asked Helen.

Daria rubbed her head. "Might as well. Canít sleep now." Daria got up and ambled toward the door that opened onto the balcony, stretching as she went. She was amused to note that Quinn carefully stayed beyond her reach.

 

 

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Daria had hoped to hit the hotelís breakfast bar and load up on honeydew melon and strawberries, but a consensus had formed in favor of one of the local pancake hells. Daria had managed to order some strawberries with a Belgian waffle. Now they were awaiting their orders.

Quinn was describing a ride about a half mile down the strip. "...And there are bungee cords hanging from the towers, and a cage hanging between the bungee cords, and one or two people get in, and they cock it, and it shoots them like five hundred feet in the air! You can hear them screaming a mile away! Like, who in their right mind would get into that?!"

"The giant slingshot? I rode it. Three times. Once each with Harry, Dick, and Tom. I was terrified, but they insisted."

"Gosh, I wonder why theyíd do that." Quinn mused, giving Daria a sideways look.

"Beats me. All I did was scream and hang onto them for dear life. Youíd think that would be annoying. After I went with Harry, I figured Tom and Dick would have gone together. But maybe they didnít want to be photographed in that cage with each other, or something." Rita and Erin smirked at each other, and at Daria, who sent them a wink. Helen was smiling a little, seemingly in spite of herself.

Quinn looked a teensy bit annoyed. "Jeez, Daria, it sounds like you acted like Brittany all day. Youíre not secretly a blonde, are you?"

Rita and Erin gave Quinn dirty looks. Helen said "Quinn!" and managed not to smirk.

Quinn, realizing her faux pas, said "Oops, sorry! Figure of speech." and put on her most disarming oopsie face.

Daria smirked at her sister. "I was just trying to follow your advice, Quinn. Remember, you said I should turn off my brain and be a beach bunny for a few hours. I found I couldnít turn it off, so I settled for acting like you."

"Well, you canít go wrong there, if you get it right."

Helen said "Daria, what was that you started telling me last night about designing your own telescope?"

Daria started drawing on a paper napkin. "Well, I decided to go with a medium-sized Newtonian reflector because itís the best choice for faint deep-sky objects, and it gives the most performance for the money. Most of the commercially available reflectors in the ten-to-sixteen inch range are f 4.5s. They give whatís called a richest-field view with a 32mm eyepiece. But they have problems with coma, which is a smearing of star images toward the edges of the field. I calculated that an f 5.7 mirror would give me a richest-field view with a 40mm eyepiece, which are as readily available as 32mm. A mirror of that f ratio has almost no coma, and gives me higher magnification for planets and asteroids, but doesnít result in an unmanageably long tube. So I ordered one custom made." Daria finished the sketch, passed it to Rita, and started another one. Rita saw a little Daria figure standing next to something resembling a siege mortar, substantially larger than she was.

"Then I designed the focusing system to move up and down the side of the tube instead of in and out at right angles to it, the way it is on every other Newtonian. That lets me keep the bottom end of the eyepiece as close as possible to the diagonal mirror at all times without intruding into the light path, so I can use the smallest possible diagonal and minimize the obstruction and light loss it causes. That necessitates having the diagonal move up and down with the focuser." When the coffee and juice arrived, she was pointing to the diagram and talking about bowlegged spiders eliminating diffraction spikes.

Jake seemed fascinated. Helen was beaming. Rita, Erin, and Quinn were goggling, more or less. Rita asked, "So when will it be ready?"

"Thereís a five month backlog. The actual work will only take a couple of weeks, maybe a little more for polishing the mirror. After it arrives, as soon as I get it collimated and get familiar with it, Iíll call you guys and we can have a star party." Rita was making vaguely agreeable noises when the pancakes started to arrive.

 

 

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Daria gazed out her window at the scenery rolling by. They were past the dunes and the bays, headed back homeward through piney woods. The only things that still bespoke proximity to the ocean were the twisted, snaky branches of some of the pine trees and the palmetto scrub that grew between them.

It hadnít been as bad as sheíd feared, aside from finding out that the whole huggermugger had been instigated by Grandma Evelyn. Sheíd cleared up some stuff with Helen that had needed to be cleared up, and her demands had been acceded to at the peace conference. And she had had a good time with Harry, Tom, and Dick.

It bothered her, though, that that good time had come as a result of her wearing that skimpy bikini and being outgoing and... attractive. Sheíd known she could be attractive if she wanted, and now she had proof. Good. But the idea that sheíd yielded to coercion and good things had come of it... Well, she hadnít actually been coerced, sheíd decided to do it for tactical reasons, and it had had an unexpected side benefit. Yes, that was it. Dammit.

There was still more discussion required with her mother, though, and then there was that huge can of worms that was Helenís relationship with her mother and her sisters. Daria wondered if any of them would live long enough to get that completely straightened out. She had a sudden image of a bent, old figure in a cemetery, shaking a cane and cursing feebly at gravestones. Probably not, since Helen had some serious issues with her father, who was no longer available for discussions.

Daria looked over at Helen, with whom she was sharing the back seat on the return trip. "Mom, what happened to drive you to play this "My stuffís better than your stuff" game with Rita?"

"Hmm?"

"It seems to be very important to you, almost a compulsion. Is it because your father bought her a sports car and bought you a... what was it?"

"A Dodge Dart." Helen said it like she would have said "dog fart", with an appropriate facial expression.

After a short silence, Daria tried again. "Did it maybe have to do with you getting her hand-me-down clothes? I notice you donít make Quinn wear my hand-me-downs."

Helen stifled a laugh. "Not since sheís been old enough to notice, anyway. And your hand-me-down production has been pretty sparse of late."

Daria stayed on track. "Or was it something else? Something that happened when you were very young?"

Traces of bad old memories flickered across Helenís face. "Goodness, Daria, there were a lot of things that happened when I was young. We had the usual fights and arguments, and Rita picked on me because she was bigger, and I did sneaky things to get back at her, and all of that, but I canít remember one particular thing like youíre asking about. Do you really think Iím that driven?"

"Well... yeah. Look what just happened. Your mother calls and tells you whatever she told you, and you immediately launch this expedition and... you know. What made you do that?"

Helen fidgeted and looked uncomfortable. "It just occurred to me that it would be a good opportunity for all of us to spend some time together! Does there have to be more to it than that?"

"O-o-o-kay! Well, nice talking with you, Cleopatra."

"What?"

"As in ĎQueen of Denialí."

"Honestly!" Helen redirected her attention out her window.

After the silence had dragged for a while, Daria shrugged and said "You know, we didnít actually wind up spending much time together. We kind of went our separate ways when we hit the beach. The most time we all spent together was breakfast at Waffle Awful, if weíre counting Rita and Erin. Otherwise it would be in the car going to and from."

"Well, thatís not so bad, is it? Oh, wait. I withdraw the question."

Daria smirked a little. "It just occurs to me that we could be having this conversation with the car sitting in the driveway, and Dad could turn around and get in on it, and weíd save gas too. For that matter, thereís that nice sofa and love seats in the family room. If weíre going to do all our family bonding and life-catching-upping down by the sea or in the middle of the forest, why have a family room at all?"

Helen grimaced. "Honestly, Daria, you ask the strangest questions."

Daria smiled Helen a Mona Lisa smile and said nothing.

"Ohhh! I just think that when we all go somewhere new together, do something different as a family, it enhances the experience and makes it easier to talk and share and grow closer to one another. Is that so hard to understand?"

"Not a bit. Thatís exactly why Jane and I wanted to see those museums together."

Helen lowered her head, put a hand to her forehead. "How long are you going to beat me over the head with that?"

"That wasnít my intention. Iím just saying that I grasp the concept."

"Does that mean you might consider doing something like that with me someday?"

Daria looked at her mother and smiled a genuine smile. "Iíd love to. In fact, we could do exactly that. Iíd still like to see those museums. We could even invite whosis and whatserface up front there, if you think we could drag them into a museum without wild horses."

Helen smirked. "Maybe if I told Jake it was an auto show..."

Daria added "And Quinn that it was a fashion show..."

Quinn said, "I heard that."

Helen said "Maybe just the two of us." She shared a smirk with Daria.

 

After a period of companionable silence, Daria ventured "You know, competing against Rita as a child helped make you what you are today- successful, aggressive, a fierce competitor, driven to excel. Did you ever consider thanking her?"

Helen grimaced. "Honestly, Daria, you ask the strangest questions."

Daria smiled Helen another Mona Lisa smile.

 

 

La la LA la la.

 

 

 

 

NOTES

  1. MIT Guide to Lockpicking: http://www.lysator.liu.se/mit-guide/mit-guide.html Thanks to Justin Smith.
  2. This is the same swimsuit Quinn wears in "Fire!"
  3. This story originally had a seventh chapter. Iím going to send it to Lawndale Leftovers. You can find it there if youíre interested, and Iíll leave it on the fanfiction.net version.

 

 

 

 

Disclaimer

 "Daria" and all related characters are trademarks of MTV Networks, a division of Viacom International, inc. The author does not claim copyright to these characters or to anything else in the "Daria" milieu; he does, however, claim copyright to all those parts of this work of fiction which are original to him and not to MTV or to other fanfic authors. This fanfic may be freely copied and distributed provided its contents remain unchanged, provided the author's name and email address are included, and provided that the distributor does not use it for monetary profit. (as if.)

  Galen Hardesty [gehardesty@yahoo.com]