Daria, Buzzed Up and Sold Out?

"Daria," Mom lifted her eyes from the screen after reading my online resume. "How do you expect to land a job if you don't take things seriously?"

"I took it very seriously, Mom," I pleaded. "Notice I even included my sentence as fashion editor in Highland."

"That is good," Mom granted. "But you listed 'capo' in the yamaguchi gumi as former employment."

Mom just had to insist on nitpicking.

"Well, I was going to put 'consigliere' but I thought that wasn't the best translation for what they had little old teen-age me be responsible for."

Dad put up his head from the business page, "You got some experience with international firms, kiddo? Alright! That'll take you far in today's world."

"Muh-om," Quinn reliably started up. "If Daria can take Italian lessons, why can't I? Italian is so the in thing now. And it would be great for fashion jobs in Milan. Ah, Tuscany. Or is it Kyoto? I guess I could ask Tiffany to tutor me. She speaks Vietnamese and Italian. Or is it Japanese and French?"

"Jake," Mom was momentarily distracted from me and addressing Dad while waving a dismissive hand at Quinn. "The yamaguchi...oh never mind. Daria, it's almost as if you don't want a part-time job to build your experience for college apps. A little extra pocket money wouldn't hurt either, young lady."

I was about to formulate a response which agreed with that without actually agreeing with it when the kitchen phone rang. Mom's cell phone was on the blink for a change and she immediately got up to see if the office needed her to bust a few kneecaps, legally speaking, for her law firm.

"Yes, this is the Morgendorffer residence, Helen Morgendorffer speaking. Daria? Yes, she is my teen-age daughter. To whom am I speaking, please? Oh? Oh. Yes, thank you. Yes, she can start tomorrow afternoon right after school. Thank you, I'll get the address to her."

That exchange and Mom's satisfied smirk as she hung up brought me low.

"That was , Daria. They're some kind of internet startup doing something or other that the caller couldn't really explain. Why they're located in Lawndale, God only knows. The important thing is they saw your resume online and think your wit and sensibility are just what they need to help them capture the teen-age market for the upcoming release of their something or other. You start tomorrow at three-thirty. I'll pick you up after school and get you there. You'll report to someone named 'Noah Barkman'."

"Alright kiddo!" Dad enthused. "Hey, do you need to go shopping tonight for some business casual duds? On the other hand everyone says those startups are all cool and edgy; 'edgy?', I think that means 'far out', anyway, you should fit in just fine."

"Far out, Jake!" Mom added and I had to admire her for her swift smirk augmentation.

"Daddy," Quinn spoke up and everyone knew what was coming next. "If Daria doesn't need any new clothes how about…"

"No, Quinn," Mom and Dad quashed her proposal at once. Quinn pouted faster than a New York minute but her frown did not beat the screaming speed of my half-smile through gritted teeth.

Dad put his finger on something in the paper and looked up again.

"Hey," he said. "What does this mean, 'hoist by one's own petard'?"

Mom's smirk continued as she answered, "Ask your daughter, Jakey. I think she'll have at least one good example for you."

DM DM DM DM DM

I couldn't help it: within fifteen minutes I had trained the white-haired twenty-something buzzdome founder to push his glasses up his nose at my whim. That I had developed the habit along with his conditioning just confirmed to me how much of a trained monkey most people were, your humble present company narrator not excepted.

"And this will be your workstation in the work pod," Noah Barkman said as he gestured at an old wooden desk which probably weighed more than the two of us combined. "Sorry, no computer as yet, we're still arguing PC vs. Mac to best emulate and leverage the teen-age experience."

"Oh goodie, I always knew I would be happier as a pod person," I replied.

Noah chuckled, "What a coincidence, we're showing Invasion of the Body Snatchers for bad movie night on Friday: the original 50's version and the '70's remake. You're welcome to view or not and invite a guest or not."

I tamped down the flicker of approval I could feel my lips forming. "Oh, good, yeah, the '70's version is to be prefered as the '50's flick was way too pie-in-the-sky optimistic."

Noah turned as a slightly shrill voice got louder. "Oh, here's your pod leader now: our chief information architect, Nora."

Noah made the intros and a twenty-something woman with dark-red severely cropped hair Quinn would have labeled 'pixie-cut' I think, gave him a bare glance before shaking my hand.

Before I could thank him or whatever I was supposed to do, Noah slipped away leaving me with another N-boss, Nora. She looked at me with a flicker of curiosity for a second then used her wrist-braced left hand to fish a cellular phone out of a pocket. I prepared myself to answer some technical question or perhaps give my perspective as a typical teen on teen attitudes to cellular phones.

"Do you think $6,000 is too much to pay for a bed?" She shoved the phone under my nose showing me a big bed on its small screen.

"Um, looks big."

"Good one, Morgendorffer, that was profound."

Nora nodded, apparently satisfied.

"Yeah, can sleep four comfortably. That's a good point."

"Are you expecting," I asked. "To revive the Colonial custom of bed sharing when you have extended visits from extended family? Then a large bed is more than worth it."

"Hey, yeah. When my sister visits with her two giant schnauzers she won't need to get a hotel that takes dogs. Only that one with the big shoe thing lets her have pets."

"Mark of a fine establishment."

Nora sighed and considered what to do with me next. I figured I could happily give typical teen advice on home furnishings all day but she led me around the office introducing me to the staff, mostly twenty-somethings who barely glanced up from whatever their multiple monitors were shining into their eyes.

"And we conclude the intros," Nora stopped before yet another second-hand office cubicle and desk arrangement in yet another style variant with the rest of the second-hand office equipment. "With Sameer, our ideas and implementation guy."

Sameer looked up at me with moderately more interest than his colleagues.

"Sameer will show you to your workstation and get you oriented." Nora turned to go then glanced back at me with a quizzical half-smile which I just knew that I had to practice with Jane.

Nora turned back as Sameer stood and dusted off his chinos.

"Oh, I almost forgot," Nora announced as she fished a bundles of magazines from a messenger bag.

"I assume you've already read these,"

To my horror she handed me a sheaf of Waif magazines.

"But just in case you read a different teen mag," She continued with a grimace and sneer on 'teen mag'. "Your first assignment is to get familiar with these and Waif's nascent web presence."

Nora then glided away without another glance.

Sameer stood from the one minute of work Nora's parting shot had given him. He grunted which I took to be instruction to follow him as he led me all of ten feet to another second-hand desk in yet another distinct style, this one out in the open without cube walls and in his direct line of sight.

"Dang, no Cannibal Frag Fest, well, unless I see him play too. He does have that fragger look."

"Um," I said with honesty. "Noah already had a desk for me."

"And that one had nice high boring grey walls."

Sameer said with a tiny degree of animation, "Noah sees the big picture only. I arranged for your desk to be put here myself."

Five minutes later I watched him crawl out from under my desk, dust off his chinos again and give my monitor a healthy but dispirited whack.

"Wifi is out on this old thing. Your network jack is dead." Sameer finished attempting to hook up my computer then gave up, "Okay, we will have it working by tomorrow afternoon."

I felt a sudden surge of work ethic. "Um, well what do you all do here. I guess I mean 'we' now that I'm a part of the happy tight-knit family."

Sameer glanced around like he suspected Ms. Li or somebody were listening. "We help other maximize their potential and expand the virtual marketplace."

"So you help them realize their actuality?"

"Exactly," he said as he patted his pockets. I think he was looking to write that down before he forgot.

He sighed and confessed, " "Look, I make big money, to sit around and daydream. I'm not about to rock the boat."

"I'm the idea girl at school too. Usually I'm the only one in school with any ideas."

I was about to ask if I was permitted to go eat pizza but I considered that I had just earned ninety minutes of pay for nothing. Then I cringed a bit as Sameer got a thoughtful look.

"Maybe, Miss Morgenthorp, we could spend some time on getting to know your thought processes."

"Sameer, uh, it's Morgendorffer. The 'Morgenthorp' name was already taken. But you can call me 'Daria'."

He looked as genuinely as contrite as the situation called for.

"Oh sorry, Daria. I try to get everybody's names right because people mess up my name more than I thought they might. 'Sameer' is an uncommon name here, I know, but I do not think it is that hard to say or remember."

He pulled a large unopened bag of regular M&Ms from his desk.

"You know what an algorithm is." I did and he did not wait for an answer.

Sameer continued, "Computer programming involves often finding the right algorithm for the problem."

He surveyed my clean, flat unoccupied desk surface for a moment before slowly dumping out the whole bag. He handed me a single black plastic chopstick.

"Do not touch the candy with your fingers. Use only this to sort out only the green and blue pieces into two piles of one color only in each pile. I will time you. Ready? Begin."

I noticed he was not keeping time. Sameer only glanced at the pile once in a while seeming to be more interested that I was using the chopstick only and not my grubby paws. I actually was trying to be speedy not having had my exercise for the day. I swiftly made separate piles and attempted to sort more than one blue or green piece with a single motion.

"Don't they have robot slaves yet for this kind of thing? Why bother, I guess, when you have high school interns?"

I soon had four piles of green and blue which I consolidated into two and pronounced, "Done. Is my reward to eat 'em all?"

He smiled slightly and carefully scooped the green and blue together into an empty bowl which he placed at his right hand.

"You can have those," He gave me the empty bag, waved at the less colorful remains and turned back to his code.

"Hey buddy, no praise for my lickity-split sort? Um, at least I have a present for Jane."

Carefully scooping up the unworthy-of-Sameer colors back into the bag, I looked around the office. Late afternoon was apparently not busy bee time at Buzzdome. I was obviously dismissed so I put my time down on the random strip of discarded print out Nora gave me for a time card-not padding it too much-and headed for the Pizza King with my gift for my friend.

DM DM DM DM DM

"Okay," Jane said as she painted and I reclined on her bed with my Melody Powers notebook. "I won't drag you to the witch doctor or head shrinker or even Mrs. Manson. I understand, just barely, why you were engaging Princess Grace and the other Clubbies in conversation about mascara and blushes."

"Yeah, I was noting their prattling and catch phrases for work, Jane, in an effort to customize Buzzdome, Inc.'s clients' web pages to get the maximum attention from the elusive typical upper-middle class short-attention span teen girl with spending money."

"What I don't understand," Jane stood back from her painting and eyed it then me. "Is that you're suddenly a nice little corporate drudge. Not that I'm complaining if you keep treating me to pizza and the occasional decent home-cooked meal. Oh, and sort out more blue M&Ms for Sameer and bring me the residue, Morgendorffer."

I put the notebook aside and stretched out on my back in contemplation of Jane's ceiling, not the full head over foot of bed meditative pose but a relaxed stretch and stare.

"It's fun," I mumbled.

When Jane looked at me quizzically I spoke up, "It's fun. They let me do some simple coding and web design although they had to remind me more than once that black and dark green were not attention grabbing colors for the teen market. Well except for that creepy Goth lolita site they had me code and that site Noah made clear, was just as much for middle-aged male creeps as to grab the money of Andrea Thorne types."

"Ewww," Jane and I shuddered in unison.

"And Jane, this is challenging my deeply held beliefs but it seems to be a place where popularity does not matter. There are some of the most socially backward members of the human species there but if they can code and layout web designs parting Quinn and her ilk from Daddy's money they advance and are recognized."

To Jane's slightly arched brow of mild scepticism I went on, "And you know how Mom's always complaining about hitting the glass ceiling at work? Dad says Eric couldn't find his ass with both hands and the place was run worse than Lawndale High until Mom came along to do all the work and get none of the credit. Well, Noah knows he'd be nowhere without my direct boss-woman Nora and he makes sure everyone knows that. She's, oh God, I think I'm going to be sick, an inspiration. Now I might have wash my mouth out with vinegar to get back a proper cynical teen perspective."

I had my trump card ready, my surprise. "And I let them see some of your sketches, Lane. My head bonked the keyboard in abject surprise when they actually liked your stuff. There might be a commission or two in it for you. Then you can buy the pizza next time. They even liked Quinn's fashion sketches for backgrounds and bought a few."

Jane dropped brushes into thinner and thankfully threw open a window before turning to me with a big smile and question.

And how much are you charging Princess Grace for finder's fee?"

"Only ten percent. For you Jane, I'll make it five. Um, make it five and a pizza, carnivore's delight of course."

DM DM DM DM DM

"Hey, Morgendorffer," Nora looked up from the monitor displaying my latest attempt at coding. "Nice use of recursion and a clever application of the mod operator. That should cut down on our app to count and classify hits by most-used teen words by several milliseconds."

She nodded sagely if a bit distracted as I quipped, "Yeah, every picosecond counts. And the mod operator is so cute. I think I'm going to explain it to my weird art friend and my fashionable sister; they'll come up with some cute sketches, recursively of course."

Nora's cell phone buzzed; she smiled as she glanced at the screen. She waved it at me.

"My bed's here! My landlord let the delivery guys in. Took six hefty men, she texted, to set it up."

I enthused, "Giant schnauzers can sleep well in Lawndale at last."

Nora stood up between me and my squeaky desk chair. She crossed her arms and looked at me with the expression I had come to recognize meant a particularly snarky, funny remark was coming.

Or not.

"Daria, it's after five on a Friday. Everyone's gone. Barkman doesn't mind if we have a little fun after hours if it doesn't get out of hand."

"Yeah," I said as I walked with her back to her desk. "One thing I've noticed is that buzzdome gets out of hand at the drop of a hat. If anyone can stay awake long enough to watch it drop."

My eyes must have widened as she pulled a flattish bottle of something cutely amberish from her bottom desk drawer. Two glass tumblers plopped on her desk after the bottle. She looked up and grinned slyly at me.

I didn't know what to say but I obeyed her commanded to get a bottle of sparkling water from the Buzzdome-stocked fridge. She popped the top on both bottles and carefully measured out portions into both tumblers.

"Umm, Nora. I appreciate the camaraderie, I don't know if you noticed but I've got the whole underage, minor, illegal-to-drink thing going on here."

She took a smallish sip and waved her glass at the remaining glass sitting on the desk fizzing away.

"Oh, don't worry about it, kid. It's Friday. I've had a long damn week here at buzz-f-k-dot-com and I bet you've had a long sucky week in school."

Another sip before Nora continued, "Barkman plays some fusty D&D knock-off Friday evenings for a few hours before he's likely to show up again. Have a sip. There's only a jigger of fine bourbon in all that water. Even a slender chica like you will barely feel it."

Quinn had her mimosas, I knew; Mom her gin-and-tonics and red wine, and Dad his beloved martinis. Still, watching them get occasionally lit had both turned way down any desire I had to drink and whetted my curiosity.

The first sip was warm and cold at the same time. Nora gave me a huge crooked smile as I almost suppressed a shiver when it tickled all the way down.

"So that's what it feels like," I said almost unwittingly.

"I'm a terrible person," Nora announced as she took a longer pull. "I gave you your first drink. Daria, I'm going to hold you-and myself-to only two. Next one smaller for you. And we'll get a cab back to our respective abodes. My dime."

"Unless, of course, you want to help me put my new huge, high-thread-count cotton sheets on my new huge bed?"

I was a couple more sips closer to the bottom of the glass myself and could not keep down a giggle.

"Eep, I have not giggled for years. Darn demon rum, er, bourbon."

"You know, Nora, I'd like to see the mammoth mattress, really, but I promised Mom and Dad to get back for some family bonding."

"Sure, Daria," Nora said without regret. "We can do our own bonding here over drinks and some other time at my place. You know I had my doubts about hiring a high-school kid. The last college chick we had was a ditz, but it really worked out with you. Coding and copy-writing and just being a cool kid in general. I'm going to miss you when this internship thing is over next week. But you're always welcome at my place, testing out my bed or other pieces of furniture."

She added a little 'hee-hee' laugh as she took a few steps closer and reached up to stroke my cheek. Her lips scrunchied together and she bent down the all of a half-inch necessary to line up our mouths.

And I turned my face to hers then jumped back.

"Eeek," I shrieked as my ass hit the sharp corner of her second-hand desk. That jerked the warm fuzzies from the booze right out of my slender chica body.

"Nora, Nora, I, wait. No, I'm, uh, Nora, I'm not gay."

"Sure, you're not, dear." Nora said drily.

She stood back and looked at me carefully.

"Oh, wow, I get it. Not only this is your first drink but your first girl kiss. Probably your first kiss altogether, huh? It's okay, Daria. I don't bite, well, only gently if you ask sweetly."

"Nora, look, wow, you're cool and everything. Leaving aside that you're my boss and everything. I'm into guys. I LIKE guys, just guys. Yeah, big, strong guys or maybe slender soulful ones who play guitars. Sorry if I gave you the wrong idea somehow. Sorry."

"Did I honestly just call someone 'cool'? Okay, more important things to think about here and now."

"Daria, look, it's okay, I understand. A lot of us think we like guys or only guys at first before we admit it to ourselves. My gaydar is infallible so don't worry about it. It can take time to figure it out; I can help."

I became aware then that she was slowly walking me into a corner, me taking short steps back before her advance. Both our heads jerked up as we heard the front door open and clunk shut and Noah Barkman's signature minimalist whistling.

Nora slipped swiftly to her desk, downed my glass and hid it in a drawer. She smiled at me sweetly and a little desperately as I beat a retreat past Barkman. I barely heard him compliment me on my Frendamint Slenderizing Gum account efforts as I escaped to a warm Fall evening in a hip gentrifying section of Lawndale.

DM DM DM DM DM

"Daria," Mom said as she and Dad came quietly into my room.

"Daria," Mom continued as she sat down on my bed. "What's wrong, dear?"

"Darn, can't a girl come home and tramp dejectedly up to her room with her head hanging down without everyone getting all concerned?"

"Yeah," Dad said considerably louder and with as much concern. "Have you got another mini-Mussolini boss like I had in Highland? Don't let the Man push you down, kiddo. You're worth a dozen like him."

I rolled over onto my back and before I knew it choked out, "My boss...my boss tried to kiss me."

Face burning I rolled onto my tummy again and buried my face into my pillow.

"What the eff am I ashamed about? Why can't I tell them just the whole story? Maybe because, because did I want Nora to kiss me? No, no, it's not right."

Dad predictably went off on that, "What!? Why, I'll, I'll kill him. I'll hammer his little punk head into his little punk ass keyboard."

"Her, Dad." I raised my head enough to get that out. "Her, it was Nora."

"Oh," Dad deflated and knelt at my bedside.

"Hey, maybe I can make an exception just-this-once and hit a girl," Dad proposed. "Helen?"

Mom awkwardly put a hand on my back and rubbed. Both her and Dad's gestures made me feel infinitely better.

"Daria, just tell us what happened." Mom urged.

"Yeah, kiddo, um, Daria, we believe you. Tell me and Mom or do you need some time?"

I turned my head to the wall as Mom continued to rub the kinks on my back. I soon felt Dad's slightly more awkward but equally comforting hand join hers.

"Well, for the first time in my life, my womanly wiles almost led to my downfall…" I knew it sounded stupid but I did not know how to begin. I was grateful when Mom cut off that idiocy.

"Daria, please, I know you use sarcasm to help you deal with the idiots you find around you. In this case please, just tell Dad and me what happened. We do believe you, sweetie, and we're here to support you but we need to know what happened."

"Thanks, Mom, sorry. Yeah, alright then, not much to tell. Nora let me have a project that involved something more complicated than sorting M&Ms by color for Sameer and she was reviewing it and telling me it was really a good job and also offering advice. She asked me to work late tonight, remember, to help her get that out. We were the only ones in the office. She said she had a lot of other projects and help she could give me but she needed to know me better. Then, God, she took my arm lightly and she kind of awkwardly leaned in and closed her eyes and aimed her lips at mine. God, when I jumped back I banged my butt on the sharp corner of that big, battleship desk Nora has. I probably have a bruise. She jumped back too. Then she said, um, she said she could tell I was, uh, that's about it, she said I didn't have to be afraid of her. And it might be my fault because I sort of accidentally flashed her with my unmentionables earlier but really, Mom, Dad, it was an accident and I didn't think she saw it anyway but maybe I gave her the wrong idea 'cause she couldn't help but see it and I should start wearing longer skirts. But than Noah came back and I ran away, yeah, that's it, I mean I got away. I didn't say anything to Noah, should I have said something?"

I could feel the house shake as Dad jumped up.

"Daria, you didn't give her any ideas. Don't blame yourself. I'm going down there tonight. Noah what's-his-name still haunts the place about this time. We'll have an apology and more from them. That Nora will be lucky if she can get a job banging keys in some cruddy data entry office after this."

"Jake, calm down," Mom said and not in the usual exasperated tone she uses when Dad gets uber-excited. "Daria, you said they have those new internet cameras set up recording everything for one of their projects. Any chance this was all caught on tape?"

I rolled onto my back, pulled up my knees and glanced from one concerned face to another. I couldn't help but chuckle.

"It's not on tape, Mom. This is the modern age, all digital on computer hard drives but no, the cameras were all taken out this morning, recalled due to overheating or some stupid flaw. No, she timed it right, I guess, no one there but the two of us."

"And thanks, Dad, Mom. What do I do?"

Dad looked at the floor and rubbed the back of his head. Mom let out a long sigh.

"You never go back there without us, at minimum," She said. "Daria, if you were still a little girl your father and I would talk about it and decide for you. But you're a young woman, you have to decide. We'll back you completely. Hm, you're a minor but still over Maryland's age of consent. Hmm, not sure we can make much over your age then."

For once I was happy to let Mom start to ramble at home like a lawyer.

"She's your superior, Daria, she can't treat her reports like that. I'm ready to call the police and help you file a report. I'm ready to do whatever's legally necessary, but…" She trailed off.

Dad knelt beside my bed. I will never forget the look of loving helplessness in his eyes.

"But, kiddo, we believe you, but no record, just the two of you alone."

"Yeah," I said. "I know, her word against a little nothing high-schooler. Where's a peeping tom when you need one?"

Dad awkwardly patted my knee and said firmly, "You're not nothing. Look, let's all think about it over the weekend. Think, kiddo but don't, try not to lose sleep over it,okay? She's not worth it. Talk to us anytime. You know what? I always think better on a full stomach. I'll go to Good Time Chinese for some moo goo gai pan; BBQ pork and those potsticker things, with six you get egg rolls. Or is it six egg rolls and you get pot stickers? How's that sound? We'll have my penne alla pesto tomorrow."

Both their eyes widened as I could feel a genuine smile form and I didn't try to suppress it despite the massive pain as it nearly cracked my face.

"Thanks Dad, that sounds great actually."

Soon after Mom and Dad left I could hear the hesitant scamper of little feet in fashionable platform jellies.

"Just come in, Quinn."

Quinn sat on my bed and looked at me like I had a non contagious fatal disease.

"Quinn, I'm not dying but ask me about that again on Monday before we have to go back to school. I take it from your display of pity, keep it coming and I always thought pity was underrated, that you heard."

"Yeah, sis, I heard you guys talking, most of it. You know I saw that Nora the couple times I was with Dad to pick you up. Figures, she didn't make any attempt to accessorize those wrist brace thingies. You can just tell sometimes who not to trust. Um, are you okay? She didn't really hurt you did she? I mean I know it hurts but not, like, scratch you or slap you or anything, did she?"

I could see Quinn was mostly sincere or trying to be for my sake to her credit.

"No, Nora didn't 'really' hurt me. But Quinn, do I really give off, um, you know, gay vibes? Can everybody just tell by looking at me? Maybe I can work this into an excuse to get home schooled all by myself. Well, maybe Jane to keep my company."

Quinn put her finger on her cheek in thought then sucked her cheeks in even deeper further thought.

"You know," She said reverting her face to its normal cute configuration. "You know some creeps at school think you and Jane have a, a thing. I think it's partly because Jane is a weird artist already and you two are always together. The rest who even talk about it say you're just a-unsexy. They got that word from health class, I think."

I sat up in bed.

"I think you mean 'asexual', Quinn. 'A-unsexy' would mean I was sexy, I think."

"But do you know what I think and what I tell them, Daria?"

Quinn took my hand and got a genuine sweet smile on her cute face. I might even have to try practicing that smile some time. Maybe even around Jane. I shook my head.

"I tell them that you're my big sister and you're just fine however you are!"

"And you are sexy." She added. "Your wardrobe and shoes can use some help,well duh, but you know maybe we can still get Mom and Dad to spring for a business casual do-over for your closet but sneak some nicer stuff in there for evenings and weekends. You know lots of boys actually like boots like yours on girls and you've got the trim legs for that too, so let's show them off even though you're so short. Well, not too short as you know how to work that skirt at least."

"Quinn, yeah, I know, you'll never let me forget you surpassed me in height in fifth grade already. Look, I, uh, I appreciate it."

"Sure, Daria, sure," She got to the door then turned.

"Um, Daria, you know, I don't care, I really don't care if you're gay or not or ambivalved or bivalent or whatever as long as he or she treats you good. If you get a girlfriend, Jane or whoever, bring her over. I don't think Mom or Dad could love you any less either. Well, maybe let me and Mom prime Dad first so he doesn't coronary out or something."

"Thanks, sis, um, so if I do get a girlfriend in Lawndale, that's one or two fewer competitors for the boys, right?"

I think I was teasing her. I think so being new to the practice of teasing instead of mocking and scoffing.

"Sure, Daria, sure, that's the only reason," Quinn shot me a sweet sly smile and left.

DM DM DM DM DM

As I came out of my room on Monday morning I heard Dad's steps clomp to the front door.

"Daria," he called. "You got mail. Well, special bike messenger delivery guy mail anyway."

I came downstairs to his confused look as Dad was gazing at an envelope. He turned it over this way and that slowly before handing it to me.

"From Buzzdome," I said just as Mom came up. She stood by him and we all looked at the thin standard-size envelope in my hand. I could see my name through the little cellophane window, my name in a graceful printing I had come to recognize as Noah's.

I turned down Dad's offer of his pocketknife and slit it open with my fingernail, the one sharp nail I still had left after the weekend of chewing the rest to the nub. Dad caught the rectangle of paper which fell out of the letter I unfolded.

As he looked at it I saw his eyes grow wide and he made a little moue of surprise. He turned it over and looked at the back before handing it to Mom.

"Hey, that's my check," I said guessing at its significance. "If you want to cash it I have to give you lessons in how to forge my signature. Or Quinn, she's pretty good at it. Let me guess; it's my last check from Buzzdome, the week's part-time wages of sin."

The room brightened as my own eyes widened when Mom finally handed it to me. Buzzdome was paying me a decent wage for your standard issue lazy teenager as I understood it but the figure on the check was ten times as much as they owed me.

I finally read the letter, out loud for the benefit of my parents.

"Dear Ms. Morgendorffer,

We regret to inform you that Buzzdome, Inc. no longer has need of your service. Buzzdome, its board and employees has decided to take a new direction in its pursuit of web excellence, an exciting direction but one which does not include the audience of the modern American teenager.

Your knowledge of their habits and advice has been invaluable but we no longer require your services. In gratitude of your service and dedication please accept this severance check.

Yours,

Noah Barkman, CEO, CIO, COO

P.S. Your keycard has been disabled. No need to turn it in."

"That's it," I said looking up at Mom and Dad.

"Weregild," Dad surprised me with. "Blood money. I'd still like to give that Barkman and Norah bloody noses."

Mom put a hand on Dad's arm and took the letter herself. She scanned it before answering.

"Daria, this means nothing. You can take that check and cash it and we can still go to the police and courts."

"And it's still my word against hers," I said.

They nodded sadly.

I looked at the big number under the date then at the endorsement line on the back.

"Mom, Dad, how about a stop at the bank, then a trip to the world's biggest Books by the Tonne in Mall of the Millenium? After that I can treat all four of us, yes, Quinn too, to someplace good, maybe even better than Pizza Prince. Oh, and bring Jane along when she gets back from being a roadie all weekend? I think I better warn her of a few things."

Mom and Dad smiled tentatively and nodded.

"You going to be okay, kiddo?" Dad asked.

It was a question to which I thought I knew the answer.

"Yeah, Dad, I am."