Tilting at Windmills
Daria and all related characters are
owned by Viacom. All hail Viacom.
idea copyright 2003
Dedicated to: Mr. Anonymous
Author's Note: I intend to return to original/humor fic. I just want to finish this Vignette project first.
Trent vignette: Episode #112: The Teachings of Don Jake
Trent eyed the envelope Vince Lane extended to him with suspicion. "You're offering me money?" His parents usually left checks for bills and the mortgage – with nagging from Jane – and if Trent or Jane wanted supplies for their various artistic pursuits, they were left to find materials from their own resources.
"Your mother and I just thought that you and Jane might need some new clothes, or a few fun things, since we've been off on projects a lot lately," Vince smiled jovially. "We'll be off again in a week, so you might as well catch as catch can."
Trent's mother was not intentionally devious, but his father was – good photographers always had a certain level of insanity combined with moral decrepitude. "What's the catch?"
"There is no catch, son! We just want to make sure you and Jane are covered for your trip to the Midwest!" This was Vince's first mention of a trip to the Midwest. Trent suspected Vince had started with the strategy of convincing Trent a trip to the family reunion was his own idea – since Trent generally only reacted rather than acted, Vince resorted to a new strategy of subliminal blackmail.
"Trip to the Midwest?" Vince's mother and siblings lived in the Midwest.
Vince smiled as jovially as a car salesman about to sell a Pinto with a bad transmission. "Your aunt just bought a split level in Aurora and she's invited the whole family for their reunion this weekend. Since your mother has a retreat that she scheduled months ago, and I have an assignment in Iceland, we thought that we could send you and Jane."
Trent was not fooled. "Dad, you hate Iceland."
Vince shoved the envelope in his hand. "Just go, son. This way you can contribute something around here. I don't want you to turn out like your Uncle Max."
Vince's older brother Max survived by living with various girlfriends and wives until they threw him out. Trent hated Max. His stomach turned at his father's comparison. Trent stared at the envelope in his hand. He would have to call Jesse and let him know that he could not play their gig at the Zon. "Do me one favor, Dad?"
"Break it to Jane."
Jane came down to the living room and sat next to Trent. He handed over the remote control. "Who were you talking to?" he asked.
"Daria," she answered. "She's going camping with her family this weekend."
"That sounds fun," Trent thought wistfully, "But I really don't want to spend any more time in a tent."
"Would you rather be camping or at this reunion?" Jane asked, knowing the answer.
Trent sighed. "You know what we have to look forward to …"
"And being eaten by a bear in the mountains really is a better choice," Jane agreed.
"We need an escape plan," Trent said. He pulled up a six pack of beer he'd hidden behind the couch. "Want one?" he offered to Jane.
Jane looked at the can for a minute, then grabbed it. "Hey, do you have any more of that?"
Trent took a quick mental inventory of the Lane kitchen and basement. "I think Mom and Dad left some wine and bourbon downstairs. Why?"
Jane popped the can of beer and chugged. "Start drinking, boy. Mom and Dad won't pack us on a plane if we're too sick to fly."
Trent could swear he saw glee in his mother's eyes when she dropped Jane and him off at the airport. "Make sure you say hello to your grandmother for me," Amanda told him as she kissed him on the cheek before he climbed out of her car.
"I will Mom," he promised.
"Have fun at your retreat," Jane said.
Amanda looked startled. "Retreat?" A flash of memory shot through her face. "Oh, yes, the uh, retreat."
Jane and Trent glared at their mother in unison before slipping sunglasses over their eyes. At eight am on a Friday, the sun shone too brightly for both of them, and no coffee in sight could work against their hangovers. With pounding heads and trepidation, their mother still insisted upon sending them into a Midwestern cave of rabid Lane-lions so diseased with convention that they thought Trent and Jane's lack of convention was the illness.
At least, thought Trent, reclining his business-class seat, they got us seats that won't kill my legs. He fell asleep before the pilot could announce take off.
Trent and Jesse stood at the loading zone of McGrundy's, trying to unload the car parked right in front of it. The car had the word "Lane" painted on the side in bright blue on top of an otherwise silver-grey paint job. Trent kept trying to push it away from the door, while Jesse stood, arms folded. Trent had to move the car, but he had no keys and no one could get into the club to hear Mystik Spiral's gig unless he moved it. A police officer appeared from behind the back wheel well and grabbed his arm. "Trent, Trent, Trent!"
"But officer, it isn't even my car!" Trent opened his eyes wide.
Dark on dark. Utilitarian seats of three, no car. Janey's hand on his arm. In a moment, Trent lost his disorientation. "Ah, Janey," he managed through remaining hangover irritation. "What?"
"Let's think of a strategy. I don't want to arrive without a plan." Jane was right – their only real option was to fulfill the bare minimum of parental obligation and escape into the night post haste. Their best plan involved missing the reunion altogether.
Based on the activities initiated by Jane the night before, Trent had a suggestion that had saved him from dealing with unpleasant realities like angry girlfriends or Nick and Max before. "Hey, I already thought of that. As soon as we get there, we find a bar and we don't leave until we're unconscious." Better to have his stomach pumped from alcohol poisoning than to have another conversation with Uncle Max.
Janey was less hung over and far better able to see the flaws of his idea. "Good plan." Trent could see sarcasm running streams down the back of Jane's seat. "But first of all, they probably wouldn't serve me. And second, I don't want to pass out." Leave it to Janey to see consciousness as preferable even while facing an onslaught of relatives. "And right before you pass out, you'll decide it's time to be honest with anyone."
She had a point. The last time he went drinking with the entire band, he told Max he was a pussy, he admitted to the club owner he wanted to do vile things to his daughter and Jane found out what happened to her very fist paint set. "Oh yeah, bad idea. I wouldn't want to be honest with Aunt Ellie about her vacation pictures." She did have a knack for finding incredibly pointless monuments to pose beside. The last one of hers he saw – Trent wasn't positive – but he thought she'd taken a picture beside the monument to the guy who invented twist ties. Too bad she never went anywhere cool like the Spam Museum.
"Or cousin Jimmy about his modeling career." Jimmy had a bad complexion, worse hair and more delusions than Trent.
This game was fun. "Or Aunt Bernice about her hats."
"Who's Aunt Bernice?" Jane was too young to remember the last time they saw her, back when his parents still faced the reunion themselves.
"You know, from Middleberry?" Bernice did come down for one Thanksgiving dinner unannounced. Trent had opened the door and been hit upside the face with some mashed potatoes while saying hello. Bernice simply turned around and walked back to her car without a word. "She wears those straw hats. Thinks they're country or something. They look like the kind they put on horses to keep the sun off their head." Ow, head. His head still hurt from that seventh shot of bourbon.
"You say she's from Middleberry?" Trent hoped Jane was not building up to some weird joke; he really could not wrap his mind around anything besides ibuprofen.
"So we'd be flying out of the same airport." Jane was going somewhere with this, and he wished she'd hurry up so he could return to pain-free unconscious-land.
"Yeah, yeah, what's your point?" Trent wanted his nice sunglasses to block out the painful reality they had to face upon landing.
Jane leaned back, and then he saw it. The hat. The horrible, horrible horse hat. The nasal voice that issued from beneath the hat. "Hello, Trent."
Oh hell. "Um, hello Aunt Bernice," Trent said. He scrambled for something flattering to say. The hangover and his dislike of Bernice blocked anything useful. "I like your hat."
Bernice continued her knitting while Jane prayed with him for a plane crash or better.
Aurora's tiny airport had delusions as a legitimate transportation center. It even offered an overpriced magazine stand and the last-minute florist that real airports had. Trent and Jane only had carry-on, all the easier for a quick escape. "Let's see if they have a taxi service out front." Airports generally had their fill of opportunistic cab drivers waiting outside the baggage claim.
Jane and Trent stepped out into the warm Illinois air. There was no form of transportation in sight, and according to the directions their father gave them, the hosting aunt lived about seven miles from the airport. They needed a ride or they faced a long walk in unfamiliar territory. Vince had given Trent enough money to rent a car, and Trent conveniently forgot to remind him that he was not 25 so he could not rent a car. "Do you see any buses or taxis?" If they had no transportation, the only real option involved turning around and boarding a plane.
"I see no mass transit of any kind," Jane informed him. She'd double checked, and even dodged when a particularly large minivan drove past.
"Well, we got no way to get to the party. I guess we'll just have to fly home." Trent attempted his best fake disappointment.
"We gave it our best shot," Jane rehearsed her own disappointment for the tap dance she and Trent would have to give their parents.
Were it not for his hangover, he would have run to the ticket gate. The slow movement, however, became his enemy. Just as he turned, the sole employee of the Aurora land strip airport flipped the sign to closed. Ground control would route all other flights to Chicago. Trent suddenly realized why his parents sent them via a charter flight rather than routing them through Chicago --- it was far more difficult to escape from a small airport.
Jane grasped at a final straw of hope as she saw a convertible pull past them. "Hey, it's Aunt Bernice! She rented a car!'
Trent waved. Bernice might still be pissed off about her hat, but she was family. That had to count for something. "Hey, Aunt Bernice!"
Bernice gave them each a cruel smirk, honked her horn at them and drove off, laughing. Trent and Jane did not need to say a word – they were both thinking the same thing. All they needed to do was replicate the word and make a gender appropriate term for the men in the Lane family as an accompaniment.
"Hey Trent, I was wondering-" Jane asked as they trudged to their aunt's house.
"How come we never have to see mom's side of the family?"
Trent stopped dead in his tracks. "You know, I don't think I have ever seen or heard from them ever."
The sun set while the walked, but Jane and Trent kept their sunglasses on, allowing the streetlights to guide them through their additional dark. Trent thought of his shades as protective gear, though in dealing with his dad's family, he would have preferred a helmet. He and Jane moved up the sidewalk that led to their aunt's split level with dread. They met the door, and stared at it for a full minute before Trent spoke.
"So let's just walk in and face them straight on. They're not going to intimidate us." Trent suspected that what was in store was far worse for him than for Janey. He was technically old enough for employment now.
"No way." Janey was right – stealth was better. Maybe they could even fly under the radar. "Hey, I think I left my in-flight magazine back there."
Spending the night waiting for the airport to open did sound a lot better than entering the cave of Lanes.
Just as they could have made their escape, the door opened. "Jane. Trent. I might have known you'd come looking like this." Trent did not bother to ask what she meant – "looking like this" indicated anything that did not come from a mall or an L.L. Bean catalogue to his father's family.
Jane made the rounds in the living room. She and Trent did agree that since she was still in high school, her perceived "sins" were much less than Trent's as an unemployed twenty-something. Trent headed for the back kitchen, where he knew someone in the family would stash the booze. They needed a fuel supply for those Lanes who did not find enough solace in torturing the Vince Lane branch of their family tree. Trent looked around the corner – he was mainly only concerned with avoiding one relative. While the other Lanes yelled and called him names – Uncle Max just got to him. Trent felt like he was staring at an alternate future that sooner or later led to car, garage and exhaust pipe.
His tactical error came from turning his back to the room while he opened the refrigerator looking for a beer. There was Max, arms extended and blocking his exit. Shit.
Trent popped the beer can open and stood his ground. Max, already at least a case of beer ahead of Trent, closed in, wrapping his arm around Trent and blocking all possible escape. Trent could not even resort to crawling under the kitchen table because of the sundry coolers reunion-ing relatives piled beneath. "I always liked you Trent. You were my favorite." Trent, for a moment, thought about Wind's first marriage at the age of 18 – in that moment he realized that the wedding date was set for one of the Lane reunions. He understood a lot about his brother and sisters in that moment.
"And why is that, Uncle Max?" Trent hated that this man liked him, and the shared blood made him even more repulsive. Max had not even bothered to ask him how he was or what he was doing; the Lanes had already filled in the story with no word from Jane or Trent.
Max announced with drunken joy, "Cuz you're a BUM! You're a lousy BUM! You're a rotten BUM! You remind me of myself. You know why?"
Trent, in that moment, saw himself as his Uncle Max and he almost cried out with the impact of the self-hatred. "Cuz I'm a bum." Trent decided, after that moment, to lay off the booze no matter how painful the reality. He might have other failings, but he had no reason to add alcoholism to the list. He would never torture his nieces and nephews in the manner that Max tortured him.
Trent noted that his parents failed to supply funds for a hotel room for Jane and himself, likely because they fully expected an escape attempt. This left Jane and him to share a floor, with all the other hapless relatives under thirty-five tucked around one another. He felt himself pinched, poked and prodded in places he would not allow Monique near. Unable to sleep, he finally asked Jane, curled under his arm mainly for protection from too many foreign punches. "Janey?"
"Yeah Trent?" she did not wake as kindly as he did; Jane slept far more regularly.
"Do you feel weird about sharing a room?" Before Summer and Wind married, their parents stuffed them in Jane's room together. While this meant that sometimes Trent found watercolors on his lyrics notebook and Jane caught Trent using a broken guitar string to noose and hang her teddy bear, for the most part, they managed the shared space fine. They still shared hotel rooms when their parents brought them along on trips.
"We've done it before."
"Yeah, but not really like this." Trent felt like he and his sister were sleeping in enemy territory, and if either one of them fell unconscious, they would find themselves either bound and in use as a piñata for the rest of the family, or tied to a chair for reprogramming before a trip to Marshall Field's. Just Jane and Trent's short conversation started off a cranky cacophony; Trent wasn't sure, but he could swear someone tried to bite him in the kneecap.
Jane gave Trent his sunglasses along with a cup of coffee before she sat down beside him at the kitchen table. All of the Lane-bots that slept on the floor with them were up, relatively cheerful and preparing themselves for a lively day of family reunion fun. The fun followed the same schedule: first came the evening dinner, then the day long croquette tournament filled with polite conversation about window treatments and the proper placement of baby pictures in office cubicles, and then an evening of movies or a dinner outing to something bland.
"Janey, what time is it?" Whatever time, it ranked as unholy.
"How should I know? Even if I could get my watch on at this hour, my eyes are too blurry to read it." Jane was no more of a morning person than Trent --- all of his branch of the Lane family exhibited the nocturnal gene.
Some overly chipper female relative informed them that they were up at 7 a.m. 7 a.m. rattled around Trent's mind like an obscenity. Bernice dropped her purse and keys on the kitchen table in front of them.
"Janey, it's seven o' clock on a Saturday. And we're awake." Not only awake, but awake in hell.
"Soon the wooden balls will be clacking," Jane said. "Clack. Clack." The inanity driving them to further insanity.
"We gotta get outta here." Trent was desperate, and afraid Jane might turn on someone with a croquet mallet. He was afraid he might turn on someone with a croquet mallet and add some wickets to the scenario. Trent stood up, stretched, and palmed Bernice's car keys while pretending to stretch his back across the kitchen table. "Get your stuff Janey – and mine. Meet me out front in ten minutes."
Jane raised an eyebrow that just barely appeared above the line of her sunglasses. "Make it three."
Bernice had parked her car at the curb; Trent did not need to navigate around any cars crowded up on the driveway. Jane was throwing their bags into the back of the convertible before one of their aunts thought to ask what they were doing. "Hey!" she yelled, running down the walkway to the car.
"Move fast Janey," Trent warned, starting the engine and hitting the accelerator, forcing Jane to dive into the car as it moved.
Jane settled into the seat next to Trent. "Think Mom and Dad will be upset?"
Trent stared down the road ahead. "Probably."
"Do you think Bernice will call the police?"
No question. "Yes."
"So, what do you think Mom and Dad will do to us? It can't be worse than making us go to the reunion." Jane stared at the rows of clapboard houses.
Trent smirked. "It doesn't matter. I do know we'll never be asked to do their dirty work again, though."