Chapter 3: Bromwell Blessings
As Tom walked out of the last presentation of his college career, he looked at his phone to check the time. Looking at the display he was a little surprised that he had not had a text or voicemail message from Daria while she was underway. She usually gave him a call from the train. He had told her about this final presentation, but he had still expected at least a text message. Tom had left his phone on vibrate so that he would not disrupt any of the presentations, especially his own. He had to hurry, but he still had time to stop by his apartment and drop off his backpack before walking the six blocks to the train station. He wanted to be there when the Daria arrived.
While still a block away he heard the train's horn as it pulled into the station. Tom picked up his pace from a fast walk to a jog. He arrived on the platform just as the train's doors were opening. He saw Daria getting out of the car right in front of him. She was pulling a suitcase with a duffle on top of it. Running up he said somewhat breathlessly, "Hi Daria!"
Uncharacteristically, Daria didn't say anything. Bag in tow she ran over to Tom, grabbed him in a near bear hug, and just held on as if for dear life. Tom was really surprised by this. While Daria would initiate hand holding and the occasional kiss, he was usually the one to initiate close or more intimate contact. She responded to him, but rarely did she initiate physical contact. Something must be up. Tom wrapped his arms around her and just held her. He knew that when she was ready she would say something. He did gently kiss her hair – that beautiful auburn hair that he could never stop admiring.
After about two minutes Daria looked up at Tom. "I'm sorry, Tom," she said. "I'm just being emotional. It is so hard leaving Raft behind. It is not the apartment or even the people at Raft. It is this closing of a chapter in my life and not having a clue what is ahead. I feel kind of stupid like this."
Still holding her close Tom looked down into Daria's beautiful brown eyes. He said reassuringly, "Daria. I love you. You never need to feel stupid telling me how you feel or about something that is bothering or hurting you. I want what is best for you. I want what is best for us. This is a challenging time for both of us and we will come through it together. Tell me what you are feeling and I will help you in any way I can."
"I love you too, Tom. You are always so patient and gentle with me. I really never dreamed of being as intimate with someone as I am with you. I don't just mean the physical intimacy between us, but the emotional intimacy. I truly never thought that this would be possible, but here we are. We can talk more about my anxiety back at your place. It looks like it is just the two of us on this platform!"
Looking around Tom noticed that they were the only people on the platform. The crowd that had met the train had totally vanished. Daria let go of Tom. They shared a kiss. He grabbed the handle of Sher suitcase and hand in hand they started walking toward his apartment.
Tom said in a serious tone, "Daria, you have been a part of my life – an important part of my life – since we were teens. We've explored much together and grown so much closer. You make me happy. You are the single most intelligent person that I know and you challenge my mind as well as my emotions. I feel that I can face what comes next because I have you with me. No matter what, when I have you with me I am happy. I love you and I have a deep respect for you."
"I respect you too, Tom. I know that I am a challenge and probably a pretty crappy girlfriend. But I do love you and appreciate that you put up with me. You make me happy, too. That is no small feat. My parents never achieved that. When I am with you I know that I have someone who cares and will do his best to understand me and the things that I say. You are my intellectual equal. That is one of the things I love about you. We wouldn't be where we are if you weren't." With that she squeezed his hand as they walked.
"I think we have a bright future together, Daria," Tom said. "We just need to get through these next few weeks or months until we again have some stability and can look down the road."
As he finished his sentence they arrived at Tom's apartment. He opened the door. That is when Daria replied in total deadpan, "I agree. See, you are making me feel better already!"
Daria was in the bathroom looking in the mirror putting on the last touches of her makeup. It was a good thing that Quinn had taught her how to put on makeup to really highlight her features. She was trying to remember the last time she even wore any makeup. Certainly she had not worn any for her own graduation. This was more of a compromise for Tom's mother. Tom had asked her to do it and she was willing to do it for love! Well, at least to hopefully reduce the snide remarks which hurt Tom more than they hurt her.
Out in the living room Tom's mother was fussing over his regalia. She was pulling here and pinching there. She had put in a couple of safety pins to hold his hood in the perfect position. She had nearly had a fit when he suggested writing 'Daria' on his mortarboard. No, members of the Sloane family processed with clean mortarboards. There would be none of this garbage that the 'lesser people' might do to draw attention to themselves. Tom had acquiesced just to keep peace in the family. During all of this his father sat on the couch and read the Wall Street Journal.
Daria came out of the bathroom dressed and ready to go to Bromwell's commencement. Her auburn hair was brushed and perfectly set. Her oval face glowed with the makeup she had used. She wore a new and high quality emerald green polo shirt and black smooth skirt, which was above the knee but not too short. On her feet she had a pair of black sandals with only a very little bit of heel. And, of course, she wore her large round glasses.
Kay Sloane turned and looked at her, "My you look lovely, dear," she said. "You know you would be pretty if you got contacts so that we can see your lovely eyes!"
"Thanks Mrs. Sloane. But, I've tried contacts before and it didn't work out," Daria replied with a feigned smile. She thought, 'Thanks for calling me ugly in front of Tom.'
Tom watched the interchange and decided saying anything was a no-win situation. But, he would not have his mother making insinuations about Daria. He walked over, gently kissed Daria's cheek so that he did not mess up her lipstick, and said, "As far as I am concerned you are just smokin' hot!"
Looking up at her boyfriend's angular face, sandy hair and gray eyes, Daria raised her hand and stroked his cheek a few times. She quipped, "Remind me to tell you again to get those eyes checked! Reading all those little numbers in accounting is ruining your eyesight!"
While they were still looking at each other, Tom thought he heard a distinct snort behind him.
Angier Sloane put his paper down, looked at his watch and stated, "We have to go now. Come on." With that he turned and walked toward the door. He opened it and everyone filed out. Newtowne's civic auditorium was only two blocks away.
Once seated in the auditorium, Daria and the Sloanes sat mostly in silence listening to the pre-event music being played by a full symphony orchestra. Daria identified the music as a Mozart symphony. After sitting for a bit, Daria turned to Kay Sloane and said in complete deadpan, "Why is it that you hate me?"
Shocked at the abruptness and indeed the frankness of Daria's question Kay responded, "I don't hate you my dear. I just think that you are utterly wrong for Tom. I thought that when you two were in high school and I think that now."
"And why is that? Honestly, I don't see how you can consider me from the 'wrong side of the tracks.' I have hardly grown up underprivileged or from an uneducated family," Daria replied directly.
Kay looked at her and responded, "You are not from the wrong side of the tracks, though I think you are from too far down the hill for Tom. He needs someone who will travel in the right social circles with him and support him in his business career. That means someone highly social who can deal with the people and their partners he will use to attain high corporate positions. I expect him to become a CEO at a reasonably young age and he needs someone who can support him in that endeavor."
Daria paused and thought for a moment. "And only someone from an 'old money' family is able to do that?"
Kay answered, "Not necessarily. He needs a business partner that will keep him on track and bear him an heir to carry on after he is gone."
Then Daria added, "What about love?"
"Love is highly overrated my dear. After a few years and a couple of children you will become two ships that occasionally rendezvous in the night. But, you will stay together because of the shared value created by your partnership. You may find yourselves leading essentially separate lives, except when it comes to doing the tasks necessary to keep your mutual business going."
"Sounds depressing," Daria responded.
Kay said, "Maybe it is, but that is what it takes to keep family wealth going from generation to generation. Otherwise, it will most likely be gone by the third generation. By doing what needs to be done and suppressing your own feelings and urges you can enjoy a very grand lifestyle and achieve great respect in the community. Frankly, you come across as someone who would make a good hermit and that is not what Tom needs."
Daria just said, "Ah" as the symphony orchestra began to play Pomp and Circumstance and the processional started.
Bromwell's processional was somewhat different than Raft's. Each college and each academic department had a banner that was carried in ahead of the graduates from that department. There was an announcement as the graduates of each college began their procession. All of the graduates of the college of graduate studies processed in together under the graduate college's banner. The jumbotron displayed various scenes relating to the college that was currently processing into the arena. All the banners had specific positions beside the dais.
Daria spotted Tom as he walked onto the floor of the arena. She was really surprised to see that he had again disregarded his mother's wishes. There on top of his mortarboard was a heart, a "u", and the name 'Daria.' The message to her – and his mother – was clear. When it came to Daria he would do as he pleased. Daria heard a disapproving muffled snort next to her. Kay obviously did not appreciate Tom's gesture.
The speeches were much the same as at Raft's commencement. All were pretty boring, except the main speaker. Bromwell was conferring an honorary doctorate on the national poet laureate. Daria found her speech both inspiring and insightful. She included readings from her own work as part of the speech. It really held Daria's attention and spoke to her as a young writer. She much preferred this speech than the one by the big donor Raft had featured at her commencement. She noticed that both of the Sloanes were fidgeting in their seats during the speeches. Clearly they had little patience for academic ceremony.
It was about an hour and a half into the ceremony when Tom walked across the stage. The dean of his college announced, "Thomas Sloane, cum laude." No sooner had Tom returned to his seat than both Angier and Kay were out of their seats and pulling out their phones. Daria saw them head for the main corridor. She didn't see them again until the announcement was made that the graduates could move the tassels on their mortarboards from the right side to the left side – signifying that they had now graduated with their respective degrees. The Sloanes sat in their seats for the recessional. When it was over they all went to the place they had agreed to meet Tom. He showed up about ten minutes after they arrived.
Tom came up and kissed his mother on the cheek and Daria on her lips. Then he said, "We should go back to my apartment and drop off my hood and mortarboard. I don't want to be taking these things to dinner with us!"
Angier commented, "OK, but let's hurry. I want to stop by the hotel and pick something up before we go to dinner. We have a 6:30 reservation at The Steamer and I don't want to be late. I have a table booked on the deck." The Steamer was the finest fish and seafood restaurant in Newtowne. They served only what they could buy from the day's catch, which they bought directly from members of the locally based fishing fleet. They were also known for their extensive wine cellar.
Sitting at dinner Daria felt that her relationship with the Sloanes was strained. Conversation was polite, but she had the feeling that something was going unsaid. According to Tom this was one of the hallmarks of his 'repressed family.' They never dealt directly with an issue short of an immediate and major crisis. Instead, they would try to simply act as if problems didn't exist. So, what was it that was going unsaid? This was clearly a guessing game.
The light banter around dinner did not give very useful clues. Daria had earlier confronted Kay about her feelings of Daria not being a suitable girlfriend for Tom. The directness had certainly taken her aback, but at least Daria knew where she stood. Now it was just a game of pretending to be polite to her until the Sloanes went home to Lawndale. At least there was no open hostility. Still, there was something going unsaid. It was time to take the initiative once again. This time she would try to get Angier's attention.
Daria stated plainly, "So, on Friday I got an email that I have an interview scheduled for Tuesday of next week in New York."
Tom responded right away with, "That is great!"
"I'm glad to hear that my dear," Kay said rather matter-of-factly. "It is so difficult to find work when you have a degree in the humanities."
Giving his wife a somewhat disapproving look Angier Sloane asked Daria, "So, who is the interview with?"
Deciding to be very general about it Daria replied, "It is with a company called Lucky 12 Communications. They produce several syndicated and cable television shows and they are looking for staff writers. Because their programming cuts across several genres they want someone who can write in a variety of styles." Daria thought to herself, 'OK, point one is made. Interview is with a significant company.'
Angier then asked, "How did you come to apply for this position?"
"One of their senior concept development managers is a Raft graduate. The company had decided to hold a national competition among applicants from colleges with highly respected English departments – especially those known for writing. They wanted to do it as much by invitation as possible." Point two is made – national, competitive, and exclusive. "Each contest application had to have a faculty endorsement. My thesis advisor knows the manager." Point two point five – inside connection through the Raft alumni network.
"That is very interesting," Angier said. "Do you have any idea how many entries they received?"
"My advisor said that they received around 1000 applications. Each application required a short essay. They then reduced the applicant pool down to 100 and sent out the competition packages to those people." Point three was made. Daria had shown that she could rise above the crowd.
Cleary Angier was drawn into this. She had his undivided attention. It is impossible to run a successful business without being competitive. In his mind Daria was clearly demonstrating that she would and could compete with others. "So what was in the package?"
"Well, we had to create sample scripts using the style of one of their shows. You were assigned a show. It was not a free choice."
"What show did you get?"
Daria replied, "Sick, Sad World." The trap was now set. Daria was ready to see if anybody stepped in it.
Kay piped up with, "That is such an awful show. I don't see how people can watch it! Why would anyone want to write for it?"
Bingo. Daria turned to Kay and said, "The point is not really the show. It is the opportunity. My passions are writing and literature. At this point in my life I need to identify opportunities and bring my talents, commitment, and enthusiasm to capitalize on the opportunity. Twenty years from now no one will know or remember what show employed me first. But by being in New York and active within the writing community I can look for the next better opportunity. Eventually I intend be in a position to create my own opportunities." Point four – I have a plan and I know how to use opportunities.
Angier said, "Daria, that is a very well thought out approach. I am impressed. In my business we are constantly seeking opportunities and we capitalize on those opportunities. The one thing I will add is that you need perseverance as well. Not all opportunities produce what you expect. Sometimes you fail. However, a person with perseverance will ultimately succeed."
Daria's single thought was, 'Got him.'
Angier went on, "So, continue your story about this upcoming interview."
"Well, I am in the final five. Again that information is from my advisor. He has clearly been a major help. There is at least some talk that they will hire all five of us and then force us to compete for three open positions. I am not certain they have decided yet themselves. I have reason to believe that at least part of this interview will be more like a 'day on the writing staff' to see how we respond to the pressures and deadlines, as well as to evaluate the quality of our work under those conditions. The entire interview will take up three days."
"Brutal but effective," Angier commented.
"I am confident in Daria's abilities," Tom said. "She is a great writer and has certainly worked under pressure while in school. You know that she was editor-in-chief of Raft's literary magazine."
Daria was pleased that her talking about the upcoming interview had the intended effect. Angier was clearly closer to being on her side. He saw that she was aware of the business aspects of her chosen field. She had to apply her writing to opportunities in order to advance her career. Winning over the Sloanes almost seemed to be a job for Melody Powers, Daria's fictional spy character. Daria knew – and didn't say – that she still had the goal of making a living from Melody Powers, but the realities of the world dictated that she gain both experience and credibility before she would be able to sell her first novel. Her desire was to work through a literary agent and not self-publish and hope to be discovered.
The following evening Tom and Daria sat on the couch in his apartment. Angier and Kay Sloane had left for home earlier in the day. Tom turned off the TV after the end of the latest installment of Sick Sad World. Holding Daria's hand he looked deep into her brown eyes and said, "I am so happy that you came to my graduation and that we will be spending these next few weeks here together. I'm sorry my mother was such a pain."
"You know how much I enjoy being with you," Daria said looking into Tom's gray eyes.
Smiling, Tom went on, "I think it is great the way you put my mother on the spot about her feelings toward you. I don't know when the last time was someone confronted her so directly. I honestly have no memory of it. It is like some fantasy!"
Daria gave Tom a half smile and replied in total deadpan, "I'm glad that I can fulfil your fantasies."
"You do that well, too," he said pulling Daria in for a long kiss.
After their lips parted Daria deadpanned, "With all this coming excitement we should be well rested." Getting up from the couch she took Tom by the hand and led him to the bedroom.
Disclaimer: Daria is the property of MTV and the characters from Daria are used here without permission. This is a work of fan fiction and is meant solely for the enjoyment of those who choose to read it. The material is not for sale and no profit is to be derived from it.