Burned Out

Chapter 9: To, Cute

Sitting on her bed as she looked down at the lyrics she had written in her notebook, Jennifer snorted in disgust. It's all just crap! She thought to herself as she paged through the assorted works. Pablum. She flipped another page. Trite. Another page turned. Cliché. Another page turned. "Garbage!" Frustrated, she threw the notebook across her bedroom, nearly tearing her Iron Maiden poster when it struck.

A knock on the open door caught her attention as Samantha peeked in. "Hey, you going to school today, or are you just going to trash your room?"

Jennifer pulled her legs up close and hugged them to her body. "If there's a choice, then I'll take the second one, thanks." She all but buried her face in her knees as she tried to hide herself away from the all existence. "Really not up to facing the world, today."

Her sister walked over and sat next to her on the bed, but didn't move to touch her. She stared up at the ceiling as she said, "Yeah, we all have days like that. I think that's why adults are allowed to drink, since we can't always just take a day for ourselves; not like you can." They sat in silence for a few minutes, until Jennifer, still wrapped up around herself, leaned against her sister, who smiled a little. "Still frustrated about the lyrics?"

"Have you ever had a problem that you knew you could solve, but doing what was needed to solve it would mean possibly embarrassing yourself, and maybe making someone you respect think that you're a complete and total loser?"

Samantha looked down at her sister, or rather, the top of her sister's head quizically. "Is that what all this fit pitching is about? You're worried that Daria will laugh at your attempts at lyric writing?"

If possible, Jennifer burrowed herself into her knees even deeper. "You don't get it, Sam. She's a brilliant writer. Even her first drafts are a thousand times better than anything I've ever done. Plus, she's my only real friend. I'm not sure I could handle her looking at me with pity in her eyes, even unintentional."

"You know, it's a good thing she isn't here to hear you insult her like this," Samantha replied. Jennifer looked up at her in confusion, so she added, "Do you really think she would be that poor of a friend, that she would look down at you; even over this? From what I've seen of her, Daria is the type that treasures her friends, and while she might be brutally honest, you also won't get anything resembling pity from her, not over this."

Jennifer silently considered her sister's words before saying with a sigh, "I suppose you're right."

"So, how good is her poetry?" Samantha asked. "I mean, I heard her short story when she read at the coffee house, but do you think that will translate well to lyrics?"

Still leaning against her sister, Jennifer smiled. "That's the thing. Half the poems I've read of hers sound like they were ripped right out of our songs. A lot of what she writes is the same subject matter that we play, and most of them would go well with our musical style. Heck, we could even use the others as an excuse to branch out into other, different styles. There's this one she wrote called, 'No Hope, No Life, No Future', that would almost read like a Soundgarden song with the right music."

Samantha rubbed her chin in thought. "Hmm... I did like Black Hole Sun... Tell you what. If you manage to convince her to write the lyrics to a song, and if I like it, we'll take it to rest of the band and see what they think. If it's half as good as her short story, we may have a new songwriter for the group."

"Thanks, Sam," Jennifer said, snuggling into her sister. Now I just have to get up the courage to ask her.

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"So Quinn said something like, 'Dating, shopping, perky hair' with school pulling in a distant fourth place, but of course, Mom being the overachiever, at least in front of people outside of the family, asked her if she didn't want to reprioritize that order, but the time management consultant shot her down as being honest, which immediately made her reorder her own priorities, so that quote, 'getting the spice back in her marriage' unquote, was first."

Jennifer shuddered as they walked into the school for morning classes. "I know that parents had a sex life, otherwise they wouldn't be parents-"

"Kinda the defining factor," Daria interrupted.

"But why does your mother insist on talking about hers in front of her kids?" Jennifer continued as if Daria's comment was part of her sentence. "I mean, I know my mom had to have sex at least twice; once for Sam, and once for me, but at least she hides it away from us shamefully."

"Like any normal parent would," Daria added. "I think we've well established that my parents aren't exactly normal, especially when compared to your mother, Jenn."

Jennifer gave her a sideways smile. "No wonder you'd rather hang out at my place than have me come over to yours. If I were you, I'd be eternally worried if this was the time my mom just started talking about sex in front of you."

Daria nodded back. "A valid concern. Knowing her, she'd probably use one of my stories as an opening to find out if you were active or not. Well, that and the fact that the fashion police like to use our living room to plan their eventual takeover of the world."

Jennifer almost grinned at the opening in the conversation. "Speaking of stories-"

"Hello? Quinn's... cousin, or something?" Sandi's nasally tone carried well over the general hubbub of the chatter in the hall, cutting right into Jennifer's attempt to broach the subject. Turning to the source, they saw the fashionista in question waving them over, while a desperate Quinn was trying to wave them off.

Daria got a sadistic smirk, as she started walking over. "You'll have to excuse me. My sister wants me to stay away."

Upset as she was at the interruption, especially since it likely meant that she wouldn't be able to work up the courage again the rest if the day, Jennifer could hardly blame her, given how poorly she had personally seen Quinn treat her older sister. Besides, Daria was a master at burning someone, while leaving them wondering whether or not they had been insulted.

She watched as Daria walked over and exchanged a few words with the gathered girls that she couldn't quite make out, even going so far as to lean close to examine the face of one of the girls' face. Then she said something that had all the girls there glaring daggers at her as she walked away nonchalantly.

As they walked to their lockers, Jennifer said, "You know, someday, you're going to have to teach me how you manage to alienate half the school with just a single sentence."

Daria twirled a lock of hair around a finger, and in a voice eerily reminiscent of Brittany's, said, "I don't know if that's something you can teach."

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"Conjugate the verb, 'to go'..."

Angie looked at Jennifer, unconcerned as the rest of the class was deep in their own self-study groups' work, her brow scrunched up in thought. "Ire, eo, is, it, imus, itis, eunt!"

"So eunt is..."

Again, Angie's brow creased in thought. "Third person plural... present indicative? 'They go'?"

Jennifer nodded, but not quite ready to let it go. "But 'Romans go home" is an order, so you must use the..."

Angie thought for a moment in silence before adding, "The... imperative?"

Smiling, Jennifer asked, "Which is..."

"I!"

Jennifer smiled, but shook her head. "How many Romans?"

"Plural! Ite! Ite!" Angie replied, hopping around in her seat, clapping.

Jennifer erased "eunt" from the paper in front of her, replacing it with "ite". "I... te... Domus? Nomitive? But 'go home' is a motion towards, isn't it, Ange?"

"Dative!" Angie quickly replied, but quailed at Jennifer's smile suddenly disappearing to be replaced with a frown. "No, not dative! Not dative. The... accusative? The accusative! Domum! Ad domum!"

Again, Jennifer's smile returned, and she asked, "Except that domus takes the..."

"The locative?"

"Which is?"

"Domum!

Jennifer grinned as she erased 'domus' from the paper and added the correct word. "Dom... um... Now then, got it?"

The cheerleader smiled and nodded. "Thanks, Jenn. Latin still gives me no end of trouble."

"I thought you spoke French?" Jennifer looked at her quizzically. "Isn't it descended from Latin?"

"That's like asking an English speaker why German gives them trouble," Angie replied with a roll of her eyes.

Just then, Principal Li's voice erupted from the PA system. "Would Daria Morgendorffer please report to the Principal's office? Your sister-"

"Cousin!" Quinn's voice quickly interrupted.

Ms. Li's annoyed voice came back, saying, "-Cousin needs you."

"What do you suppose that was all about?" Angie asked.

Jennifer noticed how everyone in the class had perked up at the announcement, some of them giggling. "No doubt, her cousin had some real emergency, like a chip in her nail polish, and needed Daria to go home and fetch a fresh bottle."

Angie took note of the venom in her voice and shook her head sadly. "I don't know why she insists on continuing the façade. Everyone in school already knows their real relationship; they're just humoring Quinn in the hopes of getting in her good graces."

"Or her pants," Jennifer added.

"Or that." They sat in silence for a moment before Angie said, "You seem to have a real problem with her."

"I just don't understand how she can treat a cool older sister like Daria that way. Heck, even if they weren't related, I don't get why she would do that." Jennifer started scribbling on the paper, drawing a stick figure with bouncy hair being attacked by stick figure dogs. "I mean, I have a cool older sister, so I know what I'm talking about, when I say this. Someday, she's going to regret all this, especially if Daria ever decides to cut all ties with her." She finished off the doodle with a badly drawn airplane shooting the first stick figure, which somehow caught it on stick-figure fire.

Angie felt bad about the way she treated her little brother for all of half a second, until she remembered how he acted around her and her friends, not to mention what he did to her Barbie dolls when he was four. Shaking her head, she said, "Yeah, not a lot of people can see how cool Daria really is, especially when Quinn is ostracizing her by proxy through her friends. Good thing she's got someone like you, huh?"

Jennifer shrugged and physically pulled into herself like a hiding turtle. "I dunno about that. Most I can do is stand by and listen to her complain, and believe me, there's plenty to complain about, and I'm not just talking about her sister."

The cheerleader patted her hand sympathetically. "Sometimes, that's all that's needed."

Jennifer gave her a shy smile from behind her curtain of hair.

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That evening found Jennifer perusing a few library books on Greek mythology in her room, hoping to find some inspiration for a song, when the phone rang. It was picked up on the fourth ring downstairs, allowing her to return to her research for all of half a minute, when her mother called up, "Jenn! Daria's on the phone for you!"

The blonde was on the phone on her desk in a flash. Covering the receiver, she called down, "I got it!" She waited until she heard her mother hang up before speaking into the phone. "Hey, Daria. You calling to tell me more stories of sibling abuse?"

"Well, since you asked so nicely," Daria replied. She gave a small sigh, but a modicum of humor still crept into her voice as she told her about the "family emergency" Quinn claimed earlier that day. "Apparently, Quinn heard about a sawbones operating out of the mall where all the popular kids get bits of plastic shoved into their popular faces in order to make them even more popular."

"Now I'm imagining a civil war era surgical tent in a field, where a model gets some emergency liposuction before returning to fighting for the catwalk," Jennifer said with a grin.

Daria smiled as she laid down on her bed to stare at the ceiling. "Now there's some interesting imagery for a story. Unfortunately, the actual thing wasn't nearly that engaging, though I imagine the sanitary conditions of a mall operating theater would be on a similar level. No, this butcher convinced Quinn that she could be even cuter than she already is, and all it would take is just six thousand dollars."

"Six thousand?" Jennifer exclaimed. "I'd say go for it. That's pretty cheap for a personality transplant."

Daria almost hesitated, but decided to go forth with the rest of the exchange. "That's not even the best part. She then went on to tell me that for twenty thousand, she could fix me, which means making me look like Quinn."

Jennifer almost gave a short bark of laughter, but her smile was still evident in her tone. "Why in the name of Nietzsche would you want to look like that troll? She needs six grand worth of plastic bits shoved in her face!"

"And then, to top it all off, she sent me home with a pair of fake boobs. Says they'll change my attitude."

"Wow. Going for the hard sell, huh?" Jennifer knew that Daria was secure in her looks, but she could hear the uncertainty in her voice.

The sarcasm was back in force, however as Daria replied, "I know. If I didn't have such low self-esteem, she might have gotten to me."

"I think she's underestimating the depths of your misanthropy. Not even three fake boobs could change this attitude."

"No, but a third boob would help me get a job as a prostitute on Mars," was Daria's sarcastic reply.

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Jennifer shook her head in amazement. "Your mom seriously got upset at that? She couldn't tell it was a joke? Wasn't it her fault for eavesdropping and only hearing part of a conversation?"

Daria shrugged as she pulled a small wooden box from her locker and tucked it under her arm. "She's got this weird notion that it's her job as my mother to eavesdrop on any and all conversations I might have. I'm just lucky I was able to convince her we were talking about a movie, so I didn't have to explain that Quinn had convinced the principal that she needed me to escort her for a family emergency, and that I never bothered to tell her about it. I don't mind dropping Quinn into the shark tank when I can't blackmail her, but this time would have implicated myself as well."

"Don't feel like cutting off your nose to spite your face, eh?"

"My nose has done me no wrong. Other than the occasional cold, that is," Daria replied.

Just then, Kevin limped by, looking like Quasimodo's younger, uglier brother. Jennifer stared at him in wide-eyed astonishment. "Wow, Ms. Barch really went the extra mile this year."

Kevin mumbled something in reply, but the only intelligible word was, "Okay."

"What?" Daria asked, trying to avoid any spray.

Removing a wad of cotton as big as his fist, Kevin tried to replenish the moisture in his mouth. "Daria! Man, I need your advice. You're used to being unpopular." It didn't even seem to occur to him that what he just said was insulting.

"Thanks," Daria said with a roll of her eyes.

The QB straightened up as much as he could with the brace he was wearing forcing him into a stooped posture, relishing in the feel of his vertebrae popping back into proper alignment. "It's really bumming me out that people hate the way I look!"

Daria gave it all of half a second's thought before replying, "Well, a respectable member of the medical community once told me that money can make anyone look beautiful."

Kevin's ubiquitous smile returned. "Hey, thanks Daria," he said, replacing the cotton in his mouth.

Jennifer watched him leave, shaking her head. "What do you suppose he's going to do with his newfound wisdom?"

For her own part, Daria just couldn't muster up the wherewithal to care. "What's the difference? He's gone."

"Fair enough." She gestured towards the box and asked, "So, is that them? What are you planning to do with them?"

Daria shrugged. "Not sure. Even out a wobbly table leg, maybe make some boy very happy? The possibilities are limitless."

This seemed to be a day for interruptions, as Charles approached them. "Good day, ladies! What's in the box? Art project? Science experiment? Adorable little pet? Arf!"

"Maybe you could tell us, Charles," Jennifer said as she opened the box, revealing two orange-sized plastic sacs filled with what appeared to be some sort of gelatin.

Charles picked one up, hefting it with one hand curiously. "Hm. Call me country bumpkin, but... what is it?"

Jennifer put an arm around his shoulder and said in a low voice, "Tell me, Charles. What is the first part of a girl boys want to touch?"

It took a moment, but dawning horror crept upon the boy's face, and he dropped the implant back into the box as if it were a dead plague rat, and ran off holding his hand out like it was contaminated.

Jennifer watched him run off and shook her head as she closed the box. "Guess we can cross making some boy very happy off the list."

Once more, their conversation was interrupted as Quinn walked up to Daria. "Daria! Daria, I need to-" She finally noticed Jennifer and made shooing motions with her hands. "Shoo! Shoo! I need to borrow six thousand dollars."

Annoyed at how she was treating her only friend, Daria furrowed her eyebrows at her sister. "I don't have six thousand dollars."

"It's an emergency!" Quinn pleaded.

"Have you checked under the couch cushions? That's usually where I find loose thousand dollar bills," Jennifer said, but was ignored by the younger Morgendorffer.

Quinn paused for a moment as if she were thinking, which fooled no one. "Here's what you do. Tell Mom and Dad that Dr. Shar says you need human growth hormone. They'll believe that."

"It's so plausible; who wouldn't?" Jennifer interjected.

"But instead, Dr. Shar will do me, and charge them for you, and you'll probably grow anyway," Quinn concluded excitedly.

Already, Daria was poking holes in the plan. "Good plan, but what makes you think Dr. Shar's gonna go for this?"

Quinn wasted no time abandoning her earlier act and replied, "It was her idea!"

Daria shook her head. "I can't have this on my conscience."

Quinn fixed her with a disbelieving look. "You don't have a conscience."

"What I meant was, I don't feel like it."

Quinn stomped her foot, looking like a kitten trying to be fierce. "You've got to! Where else am I gonna get six thousand dollars?"

"Amway?" Jennifer suggested. Quinn actually seemed to consider this before walking away with a smirk.

Daria threw Jennifer a glare. "You're paying for my therapy."

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Jennifer carefully plucked out Bolero on the guitar, while Andrea sat next to her, going over her most recent experience in the girls' bathroom, her own guitar forgotten in her lap. "So she tries to pull some bull crap feminist logic that she just heard somewhere about solidarity. I doubt she even knows what the word means, let alone the implications of using it."

"Solidarity? Really?" Jennifer asked incredulously.

Andrea threw up her arms in exasperation. "Exactly! I mean, I'm not exactly the most ardent supporter of the cause, but even I know you don't go around spouting things like that to people who might take it to mean that you're on their side, especially if they later find out or already know that you aren't. Remember last year, that girl who pretended to be a feminist, trying to get a better grade out of Ms. Barch?"

"The one who ran crying from the school and transferred a couple days later?"

"Right. Can you imagine if Quinn had used that line on Ms. Barch?" Andrea shuddered. "Not only would we be picking up pieces of her for days, but I doubt the rest of the school year would be all that pleasant for the survivors." She shook her head and remembered that this was guitar class, so she tried to look busy with some random fingering. "So anyway, Quinn then gave me this lame line about sisterhood being powerful, so I asked her if she was even a little afraid that there might be a Hell." She shrugged as she added, "I just hope she figures out who to manipulate with that line, and who not to ever mention sisterhood to."

Jennifer shrugged as well. "It's her problem, I guess. Just have to hope that it doesn't come back to bite anyone else in the butt. Well, no one undeserving, anyway. So, what did she say then?"

Andrea chuckled and looked down at her fretboard, trying to get her fingering right for an actual chord. "She didn't. She just kinda glared at me and walked out in a huff. I tell you, with the way she pushes her looks, she'll either make some lucky boy a great trophy wife, or be asking people if they want fries with that when she turns thirty."

Jennifer guffawed, missing a note, so she returned to the beginning of the measure as she considered Andrea's words. "You know, I'm not so certain. Despite her over-reliance on her looks, Quinn does have Daria for a sister, a lawyer for a mother, and her father owns his own consulting firm. None of those three are dummies, even if they don't always use their brains, or are overspecialized in their areas of expertise. I doubt Quinn is as stupid as she likes to pretend."

"What, you think she's an idiot-savant, or just sandbagging?"

"The second one, I think," Jennifer replied after a moment's thought. "She may not be as brilliant as Daria, but surely some if their parents' intelligence rubbed off on her."

Andrea looked over at Shaggy, who was strumming silently on his own guitar. Both smiled knowingly as they looked back at Jennifer.

It took a moment for Jennifer to notice and stopped her own playing. "What?"

Andrea's smile became a grin, which was mirrored by Shaggy and she shook her head. "Nothing."

Jennifer eyed them suspiciously before returning to her own guitar.