I just Live for Daria and her family. Given the rest of this little story will (should?) be focused on Daria and the actual gig, I wanted to ensure there was a decent portion dedicated to Daria and her family. I could have made this chapter it's own thing entirely, for all the potential exchanges, but the reality is that not every conversation is able to be had to its fullest. Sometimes you can only get so much across to someone else, with the rest sub-textual and subtle.
"Daria," a voice grated, O'Neil it's source. "Can I have a word, ah, if I may..."
"I'm afraid I don't follow." The nervous chuckle from O'Neil only made Daria frown. She tamped back a full-body flinch at the sound.
"You asked for a word." Daria hoisted the strap of her backpack higher, her eyebrow raised at him. Her attention shifted to Jane, who had her folio under her arm. She wasn't keen to hang around with it, not with the size of it.
"Oh. No. No, I had a specific thing that I needed to speak with you about. A, ah, it's a rather exciting opportunity, really."
"Okay, well, I gotta go to the art room so - I'll meet you at your locker, Daria."
Before Daria had the chance to beg Jane to stay, the raven-haired betrayer was gone. She watched the Docs flash out of sight, and her attention settled back onto O'Neil. He seemed cautious but enthusiastic, and she wanted to barf.
"Can we talk then Daria? A quick rap session, if you will."
There was no shift in Daria's expression. For some reason that equated to consent, which was a whole other moral issue. She felt cornered between her desk and Mr O'Neil, who had a wild look on his face.
"You've been asked to contribute to an exciting zine - or ah, magazine. Do you know about zines Daria?"
"Are we talking free press of the 17th-century french aristocracy or the princess in leather?"
"No, not Xena, though she is quite a, ah… Anyway! A rather prestigious zine, based in New York has reached out to Lawndale!" He handed her a flyer booklet, though it was only a series of pages stapled together. It looked handmade and rushed, though held charm in its offset print style.
"Isn't the point of a zine to be independently published by a small group, rather than backed and encouraged by big business." Daria paused, her brow furrowed. "I don't think prestige and grassroots mesh together."
"The point was, that… Well, they want to use your essay, the one you did about religion within children's literature."
"Dare I ask how they saw it."
"As part of attendance to this school, your work is freely distributed to the appropriate locations by Ms Li's word." The rhetoric was spouted without thought, and Daria could sense how practiced it had become. How many times had that been said in court? "In fact, all of your English work has been sent out since you arrived. It's in the school charter."
"I see." Daria smiled, though it lacked warmth. "Does this mean it was rejected every other time?"
"Not rejected, no, no..." O'Neil worried his hands together, shoulders hunched. "Just, not accepted. But isn't this exciting, you'll be published interstate before you've even left high school. That's a pretty big achievement, Daria."
Daria hiked her bag up on her shoulder, the slow turn of her stomach enough to spur her away. It didn't feel like an achievement.
"Well, you have until the end of the month to accept the offer. There's no downside here Daria, it's all up, up, up!"
Funny how up, up, up could feel so down, down, down.
Once out in the hall, she began to leaf through the pages of the zine, Block'd. Some were worthy of cringe while others gained a smirk from her. She had heard of zines before, she'd picked up a few, but they weren't an active choice of publishing. She'd nabbed a few from the Zon, where people had made lyric books and poetry.
They were free and offered Daria a night of amusement. It was fun to poke through the insides of other peoples' heads, and sometimes she'd even stumble onto a work by Trent. She kept those, for the sake of posterity.
But this? It was somewhere in New York and important. Important, prestigious... That's what O'Neil had said. This was a world away from the Zon, with people like her who would pick it up and pull her words apart. She couldn't imagine her work snatched up from her and taken to a different state, though that was how books worked, right?
And it was an opinion piece at best, supported with parts of Narnia.
Hell, parts of it had even been lifted from the book reports she had written in her elementary school days. It wasn't good work, it wasn't even okay work. She had only turned it in for the requirement, though her grades reflected no shift in quality. So when she tried, she got As. When she phoned it in, she got published in New York.
This is what people liked? Some tripe she'd written in her single digits?
God. She shoved the zine into her backpack, to rest against her locker.
The papers went unmentioned to Jane, who would only insist that she go with the zine to get a free trip to New York. While Daria admired her passion for exploitation, she failed to see the gain for her. She could let everyone know that she'd published some school assignment and receive a few pats on the head.
Who the hell would care?
The end of the week had slammed into Daria, with little shift in tone. Each day she palmed the papers, and each day she ignored them. She had til Thursday to give O'Neil her answer, and so she would just not speak about it. He'd get the picture, he'd move on.
Friday night was quiet, and for that Daria was thankful. Helen had gone out to dinner for a work appointment and Jake had followed in step. Quinn said she'd be home early, so she didn't expect to see Quinn until the next morning. This left her in the quiet, alone, her hands-free across her keyboard.
In her lack of expectations, she was still disappointed. She had expected Helen to chase her down with bunting and for Quinn to hound her ankles. They both seemed content to let her sit, quiet and alone on the night before her birthday. There was no demand for a family dinner, and there was no forced outing.
Daria worried her hands together, to warm them up against the cool of her room.
It was fine, really. She hadn't wanted them to fuss anyway. That was the whole point. That was why she wanted to go out the next night, to have a party - or, no, she was out to avoid her family. The family that was happy to avoid her.
The night brought little in the way of words, save for a story about Dolores Haze. It was born out of the urge to write a horror mixed with a thriller and wound up as a character study of a victim instead.
Any writer must hope to obscure themselves behind the character and their experiences, so the audience may draw in the most genuine account - or the writer must deceive the audience if the character is so inclined.
And then it was morning, the morning.
Daria blinked back the sunlight, her head angled on her pillow in a terrible way. She had a book in hand, one she had clung to throughout the night. Her thumb had marked the page with heat and pressure, now indented at the spine for life.
The room was silent, the house was silent… She woke each year to her mother's giggles and a song, a testament to her slow death. Maybe that was too morbid. Probably.
But Daria dressed in this silence, she snatched her glasses onto her face and things remained unchanged. Her floor was still a respectable mess, her door was still closed. She stepped out into the hallway, the same silence - except there was a clatter in the kitchen.
It had to be nine, or ten. She trod down the stairs, aware that she'd slept far beyond the normal.
At the kitchen table was her father, newspaper in hand, and Quinn by his side. Her mother bustled around, with a phone against her shoulder and a grating squawk in her voice. Everything was in order, though she felt no different.
But why should she, it's only her birthday.
"Morning kiddo," Jake greeted, a smile offered to his daughter. "Happy birthday."
Daria smiled, unsure. "Thanks."
Quinn grunted something past her skim milk, her eyes heavy from a lack of sleep.
"Did you guys all get in late or…"
"Ah, that damn Eric," Jake began, the paper ruffled between his hands. "He turned up two hours late 'cause his dog was sick, and then we had to stay even later because of a collision on the highway - it was a mess Daria, a damn mess."
Helen made a sound from the counter, her eyes wild at Jake.
"Mess… mazing… Amazing night," he tried to correct, but he bore the same worn eyes as Quinn. They all seemed worse for wear, while Daria had slept soundly. She snatched a piece of toast from the center of the table, unaffected by how cold it was.
"And you Quinn?"
"I plead a fifth."
"That's the fifth."
"Oh, I know what I meant." Quinn laughed in a cruel way. "Joey and Jeffy got into a fight, and then that other… Juan? Whatever, he got involved, and then it was the whole thing because Jeffy went with Sandy to go get Tiffany and Alice, and Alice was like… Totally not - "
"I get it."
"I know, right!" Quinn squealed, her hands covered her face. "I was stuck out till like, three in the morning and it was so gross, my makeup had like, baked onto my face."
"Wait, three?" Helen cut in, though the distance remained. Her hand was against the mouthpiece of her phone, her shoulders squared as she watched her daughters.
"It… Felt, like three." Quinn corrected. "It's an expression, mom. Right, Daria?"
Daria met Quinn's eye, though for a fleeting instant she felt pity for the girl. She nodded, though not before she gave a significant narrow of her eyes to Quinn. "Totally."
"Oh, right, of course," Helen returned to the mix-and-match conversation on the phone, where it felt more like jargon slung around for the sake of noise. She had an omelet in the works, which made Daria's single slice of toast look like a tragedy.
"Thanks," Quinn said, her voice gentle. "Happy birthday, Daria."
Daria felt the strangest seize in her throat, a smile tugged at her lips. "This 'cause you get the house to yourself on a Saturday night?"
"Duh," Quinn grinned. "I hate to say it, but I owe you."
Daria shook her head, unsure what had come over her family. It was a mix of the old, the disinterested air around her birthday, but Quinn seemed to notice. Her father had, too. It only left Helen on the phone, but that was a staple of her childhood. She got it; it kept the roof over her head and her book collection plentiful.
"Okay, thanks Eric, bye Eric - bye Eric." Helen hung up, a loud exhale passed through the air before her. She leaned forward, her hands clasped to the counter, her head dipped low. The posture remained as power mantras slipped between her lips, and Helen was back upright.
"You good mom?" Daria asked, vacant as she chewed at her toast.
Helen approached with her arms extended, to wrap around Daria's head. She hugged her close, her hands on Daria's cheeks and the maternal plush of chest and stomach against Daria's back and head. She felt trapped in the embrace, but it lingered for only a few seconds.
"Okay, are you dying?"
"Maybe," Helen said in a dry voice. "No, just, what your father said. It was a disaster, and I'm - happy birthday Daria, I am so sorry. We all had a late start, we didn't have a chance to do a breakfast for you, or anything special."
Daria offered a smile to her mom, surprised at how genuine it felt. "It's not a big deal."
"Oh, yes it is a big deal! You're eighteen, you're a legal adult in some countries, this is a big, big deal." She bustled away to finish off the omelet, only to slide it onto the table before Daria. It had bacon and herbs mixed into it, cheese and sausage, a mix of delicious food.
"No, don't worry, I was going to bring it up to you, but…" Helen sighed again, her hands framed on her head. "It's only nine and I am already about to go back to bed. What is this weekend, honestly."
Daria tried not to impress the fact this weekend was her birthday; everyone was busy, and she would be out for it.
"I was gonna pack my stuff and head to Jane's at ten. Could I get a lift? I'm gonna have a bag."
Helen stilled, as did Jake. There was a moment of exchange, of eye contact and emphatic head tilts. Quinn took it upon herself to leave, a wiggle of her fingers sent to Daria as she left. The flash of red hair left her alone with her mom and dad, and the strange silence that had risen.
"So," Helen made a few low sounds in her throat. "We need to talk."
"You're not gonna let me go."
"No! No, not… Well, we are," Jake looked to Helen, as if to beg her for something.
"Fine, go, I'll do this on my own, as always."
Jake, who would defend himself on every point, shot out of the kitchen like lightning.
Helen took the spot by Daria, her hands folded and the face of a lawyer upon her. She steepled her fingers, and the near-black expression let on where Daria had spawned from. There was silence between them, all until Helen reached across to touch Daria's shoulder.
"You aren't in a sexual relationship with Trent, are you?"
"If we are, that would be news to me." Daria stilled her hand on the fork, her brow furrowed.
"And not with Jane?"
"Mom, what the hell."
"Look, I just - if you're going to, that's fine, I'm fine with that, but you're going to go and - you're staying with them, in a different city." Helen looked older in that moment, her hand returned to the table between them. She toyed with the ring on her finger, the one Jake had gotten her years ago no doubt. "It's going to be exciting, and it's your birthday…"
"I've stayed at Jane's plenty. I don't wanna have sex with either of them." Daria mouthed a few confused curse words, brows knit together as she tried to catch the train of thought Helen was on.
"I want to make sure you're safe and happy and you're doing what you want, not what your peers want."
Daria dug her nails into her palm, unsure where all this newfound concern popped up from. She had stayed at the Lane family home more than once, she could have slept with either of them more times than she could have counted. Why was there this concern now?
"I'm not going to stop you from going, but I just want you to know, bands, they just… A girl can get lost in a man's voice and fail to hear what he's really saying."
"That was… Weirdly profound, mom."
Helen gave her a unimpressed look, only to stroke at Daria's hair with a gentle touch. "I worry, that's all. I want you to have a good birthday for once. We try, we try so hard Daria, but what you want and what I want don't always match up. You'll be in college soon, I know, and I just… I want to see a photo of you smiling on your birthday for once."
"Mom, I know, I'm - I can get a photo for you. How about that?"
Helen seemed taken aback, but kept herself together. "I'd like that. Get the band to sign it," she added with a mirthful smile.
"If they can spell it. I think it's two whys."
"Yes, why are they on stage and why are they so terrible - " Helen's hand snapped to her mouth, a low giggle fell out from between her fingers. "I'm sure they're lovely."
Daria smirked back, a flash of teeth as she found more and more of herself within her mother. Or, more of her mother within her. She finished the omelet without much further conversation, aware that for once she'd be away from her family for most of her birthday.
The Spiral had to drive five hours to the gig, and it started at seven. That left them a few hours of flex room, and Daria didn't want to be the reason they failed to arrive on time.
It wasn't until she arrived on the Lane doorstep that she realized what she had signed up for.