GOD SAVE THE ESTEEM
Ep 26: Quaran-Tommed
Most of summer was, for Daria, the norm. She slept in as much as humanly possible, she was greatly irritated by loud noises and bad hygiene coming from her immediate family at any hour of the day, she watched TV, she was on the Internet at sociable hours, she hung out alone at the library and the cemetery, she hung around with her friend at Pizza Prince and the local art museum and the cemetery, she went up with her boyfriend to the arcade and weird movies and the cemetery ("I put that 'Zombies Have Right of Way' sign there two weeks ago and still nobody's taken it down…"), and made sarcastic comments about everything and everyone she came across, which is why she was banned from three shops.
But let's make it clear that Daria was doing something productive with her free time:
"Basically, it's the cast of St Jeb's in an alternate steampunk universe where the Confederates won the Civil War. And increasingly bad things happen to four of the main characters, up to and including the contraction of sexually transmitted diseases. And there were zombies, but I'm not sure they'll stay in."
"Some strange, not 'with it' people would point out that your fanfic is, y'know, nothing like the cartoon," said Jane.
"I improved the cartoon. Especially by killing people."
"You have to learn there's some things in life that can't be solved by killing people."
"But if you do your best and try really hard…" Daria saved the latest instalment of her fanfic and cracked her knuckles. "And it's nearly six. Time to head downstairs and observe the experiment."
Helen lumbered in from work and flipped on the kitchen radio, letting the angry passion of disco wash over her. Wait what?
"DARIA! I told you before, stop fucking with the stations on this!"
"Damn," said Daria to Jane. "They're detecting patterns after all. This means no-"
A primal yell filled the world as Quinn hurled herself down the stairs, leapt onto the kitchen work surface, and stomped the radio with an almighty stomp and a stomp-cry of "DISCO'S DEAD NOW!". ("That's more like it," said a happy Jane.)
"Oh Quinn. We had this talk, remember?"
The punk stared down, embarrassed. "I forgot."
"Well, I'll let it slide this time, it is hard to keep your head when reminded disco exists…"
Unnoticed by Helen, Jane and Daria had been engaged in muttered conversation. After it finished, Daria nodded to her friend and said: "I hear John Lyndon was a disco fan-"
"GO TO YOUR ROOM, DARIA!" screamed Helen.
She handed Jane ten dollars. "You win this bet…"
Tom was also having a normal summer. It was a beautiful day and he was in an office filing earnings reports.
"Keep up the good work and I'll let you use the shredder," said his father, a benevolent tyrant.
Could be worse, thought Tom. I could be on holiday at the Cove with all my relatives. Since that's exactly where he was going to be next week, this was a more morose thought than it seemed at first glance.
It was six by the time Tom got home from his 'internship' at Grace, Sloane and Page, and it was approximately 17.59 – right as she'd seen the car arriving – that Elsie had sat in Tom's favourite spot next to the TV and started watching whatever was on.
"Oh sorry Tom, I'm in the middle of something – you did set your show to record, right?"
"Yep! Oh, I think I might have accidentally recorded it over Gossip Girl, sorry."
It was the simple things in life you treasure, like watching your sister turn red with impotent rage. Before she could think of a cutting response, their mother entered the room, forcing a détente.
Kay Sloane was on the phone. "I'll just ask him now-" she said, and then turned to Tom. "Tom, would Daria like to join us at the Cove?"
Hell no, thought Tom, but he couldn't say that to his mother so he said, "I'll ask her" instead.
He was in two minds about it, really. On the one hand, if Daria was at the Cove then he'd have someone he wanted to talk to there. On the other, it'd involve exposing Daria to his extended family and taking her to the world's dullest summer retreat, and he wanted her to remain his girlfriend. Whichever option won, they'd both lose.
Elsie looked horrified by the idea of their family seeing Daria, so Tom decided there was another positive outcome from Daria visiting the Cove.
Kay had mentioned her son was dating a new girl to Mildred and other relatives before – and laughed nervously whenever any of them had gone "thank god it's not that Jane girl anymore" – but had always been vague about it. They knew her name was Daria, that she was a high achiever at school, and that her parents owned their own companies. They almost certainly (Kay hoped) had the wrong idea of who Daria was and what her background was like.
Sure, the girl was smart and well behaved and was thankfully nothing like her mother, but… well, Kay was always unsure whether she was telling a joke or if she was a dangerous sociopath. (Luckily, her social circles and history of hosting dinners with Angier's colleagues meant she was skilled at laughing at jokes she didn't find funny) She was also so dour and apathetic and cynical, the traits Kay liked least about her son and hoped would sort themselves out.
And… well, she wasn't really the sort of girl Tom could have a future with. Not with that background, it just wouldn't work long-term. (Oh god Helen and Jake as relatives OH GOD.) Not that Kay was a snob or anything, but come on. Still, as a teenage fling, Tom could do worse. But saying anything like that to Mildred just Wasn't Done; when Mildred suggested Tom invite his partner, she was obliged to pass the message on.
Maybe they'd get lucky and Daria would be busy. Very busy.
"I spy, with my myopic eye, something beginning with C."
"This game may be more challenging if we stopped lying on our backs looking upwards."
"Yeah, but we'd have to move. Hey, isn't that your phone ringing?"
"Crap. Well, moving my arm doesn't count as proper movement, right?"
Daria checked the caller ID, smiled slightly. "Tom. How bad was work this time?"
"I'm hoping for another recession so the company is destroyed. Listen, my family hate you and have decided to invite you to the Cove so you can suffer a horrible, agonising weak of absolute tedium. You want in?"
"You couldn't sell homeopathy to O'Neill with a pitch like that."
"I know! It's a really boring time, believe me. You won't like it."
"This just makes me want to go even more." Daria was silent for a few seconds, then added: "Actually, I will go. I can help you dig the escape tunnel."
"…huh. I didn't expect this. I'll tell my mum and, oh yeah, we'll discuss this escape tunnel in greater detail beforehand. See you around."
She hung up and turned to Jane. "Tom's family invited me to the Cove. And one of these days, I'll ask which cove it is."
"Man, I never got invited. It's like I was working class or something."
"I'm surprised you agreed to go. Doesn't human contact go against everything you stand for?"
"Yeah, but I know Tom gets really bored there because there's no one he can properly talk with, and…" Daria blushed slightly. "Umm. Would I sound really pathetic and Brittany-esque if I said I'm excited his family want to meet me?"
"Yes. Yes you would."
"Thought so. You're my anchor, Jane."
Helen and Jake took the concept as well as could be expected. When the Sloane's arrived to pick Daria up, the two punks handed Daria an extra bag.
"It's full of punk music CDs and… a flare gun and guide to Morse code. I'm sure there's a sound reason for this."
"We want to make sure you can fight off the psychic contamination," said Helen. "If you find yourself agreeing the rich should have tax cuts, you just listen and you'll find yourself hating those Fascist fat cats once more."
"And the flare gun and codebook are so you can call in help if things get desperate!" yelled Jake, taking her by the shoulders. "Don't be too proud to use them, Daria! We all need help fighting The Man on his home turf! Don't be too proud!"
"You two keep me from feeling any pride, don't worry." Daria debated hugging them, decided that would count as 'contact', and waved instead as she walked off with her bags. "Try not to start any fights with the neighbours while I'm gone."
"They started it," muttered Jake.
Daria got into the Sloane's waiting car, noticing that Elsie just happenedto be sitting in the middle seat so she couldn't be next to Tom. "Very thoughtful, Elsie."
When Angier started driving, he put on The Carpenters to listen to. That, Daria would later realise, should have been her first clue things would be bad.
Meanwhile, at the offices of Buzzdome, Erin Chambers had a problem.
"Now, Jackleene, I don't want to be confrontational but… well, you're being a bit too… confrontational with customers-"
"Whatdoes that mean?" snapped the company's help desk woman, arms folded and eyes burning with hate for all things not Jackleene.
"Well, it's not very good for our marketing image when you call a client 'bastard'." Erin held up her hands to hold off the onslaught. "No, not even if the client is a bastard."
Jackleene muttered vague noises and went back to work. Erin would have to keep an eye on that. Buzzdome was slowly but surely getting into the black, but that meant keeping clients happy. Insulting a client's intelligence, manhood, and wife's fidelity did not do this. Except for that really weird guy who kept phoning at 4 PM…
"Erin!" Noah, President of the company, came over with a smart-dressed teenager in tow. "How's everything?"
"I think I know how to explain the new app to people over fifty."
"Whoa. Well, I won't hog up your runtime too long, just wanted to introduce you to our new intern – Jodie Landon, meet Erin Chambers."
In unison, the two women thought: Hmmm, where do I know that name froOH SHIIIIIIT.
The Cove turned out to actually be called "the Cove", a gated community of summerhouses by the coast. Two security guards patrolled the area, making sure no riff-raff got in. Since Daria recognised one of those guards as Steve, it seemed the Cove had already failed there.
Once the car was parked, everyone under the age of forty leapt out in a bid to escape any lingering presence of Carpenters. Daria turned to Tom and said: "Please tell me that was the last of it."
"It is, but you may be in for a lot of Glenn Miller if Great-Aunt Mildred hogs the radio." Tom sighed. "I really hope you brought your own CD player with you and a lot of books, because otherwise you'll be forced to talk to people and nothing else. We're effectively in quarantine here."
"I came prepared to avoid that. I brought the Internet with me."
Tom was horrified. "Oh no. Laptop with wifi?"
"…the next words better not be a combination of wifi, no, there, is, and here."
"This is primarily a resort for old rich people who want to get away from things. Dial-up is considered a bit too much here."
"Okay. Stuck with human contact then. On a scale of one to Lawndale High, how annoyed am I going to be by your relatives?"
"Lawndale High pep rally."
Where's that flare gun?
Jodie was meant to be observing Erin at work. Erin was finding it harder than normal to do her work though, as she had to position her seat so Jodie was always in her line of sight and never in a blind spot. Jodie scowled like a hardcore Communist who'd won a trip to Wall Street.
"So… do you want to see an example of a press release?"
"Okay. Would you…" Erin thought of any task she could set that wouldn't involve the girl having access to her computer, work profile, or stuff. "…like to go to lunch early?"
"Excellent! I'll stay here until-"
That went better than I expected. She didn't set me on fire or anything.
Great Aunt Mildred von Trier (nee Sloane) was old, but how old was hard to tell: a combination of slight surgeries and hair dye made her look both in her fifties and like someone in their eighties trying to look in their fifties. Add in a 50s classical dress and skirt in sunshine colours and designer glasses, style horribly offset by an entire mouth of gold fillings. She smiled as she approached, and Daria forced herself to look away from the mouth.
"Kay, Angier! And how's my favourite grand-niece and grand-nephew?"
"Not here by the look of things, so you'll have to settle for us," said Tom.
She laughed. "And this must be Daria!" Mildred looked at Daria and the happiness in her eyes was slowly replaced by confusion. "I say, is that really the fashion these days?"
"I hope not or I've been living a lie."
Mildred's confusion was replaced with greater confusion.
"No, it's just my favourite ensemble. I don't really follow fashion."
"Better start, dear, if you want to keep your man happy!" Mildred laughed again, and Daria sensedTom wincing. "I hear you're a Morgendorffer – the Georgia Morgendorffers or the Prussia Morgendorffers?"
"Er… Dad visited Georgia once if that helps. But Atlanta won't let Underground Railrock play their Eff The South concerts there anymore, so he refuses to go on principle."
Mildred laughed once more, choosing to believe Daria was joking. "What school was he at? I may know some of his old tutors…"
"Middleton College, Buxton Ridge Military Academy, and General Custer Memorial Elementary."
Mildred's laugh died in her throat. She bravely carried on, asking about Daria's mother and was excited to hear of Helen's family pedigree. Until the dreaded phrase "Middleton College" came up again.
"Your… your parents must have done really well in their companies then!" she rallied. "What sort of turnover are they looking at?"
Daria had gone from feeling embarrassed to being pissed off and decided to spread the love around with: "Well, they can't afford to hire any staff but themselves, but Mum's handling the Lawndale County Hell's Angels vs. Baltimore County Hell's Angels civil case and Dad's got a consultant gig with the Chug & Jugs chain."
The conversation had been killed, and so had the mood, the light in Mildred's eyes, and some ants (Angier had trodden on them). Everyone waited for everyone else to say something.
"Anyone mind if I put a CD on when we get inside?" asked Angier.
Buzzdome's staff ran on a diet of crisps, energy drinks, candy, coffee beans, and Frosted Flakes. A lone piece of fruit sat sadly in the back of the canteen cupboard, until Jodie had pity and decided to eat it.
"Brought your own food in?" asked coder Xiangdong, eyeing the fruit while he eat a bowl of Oreos. "I keep meaning to do that myself but…"
"It just doesn't feelright to work in IT if you don't eat crap," said Nora, a fellow coder, as she threw coffee beans into her mouth and washed them down with Red Bull to emphasise her point.
"Exactly. But don't let us put you off, er…"
"Jodie. I'm actually more interested in the corporate side of things." No I'm goddamn not, thanks a bundle Mum."It's only three days a week, I've also got Congressman Sachs, Force for Families First, and babysitting."
"That's a busy workload."
OH HELL YES IT IS. "It's not so bad." It's better than last year.
Nora frowned. "Force for Families First… wasn't that the one that claimed Alvin and the Chipmunks was encouraging pre-teen promiscuity."
Yes."I'm not too sure."
"So you're at, let me guess, Lawndale High?" asked Xiangdong.
"I was, I'm transferring to Grove Hills."
"Wow! Congratulations, I hear that's a hard place to get into. Pretty intense too, isn't it?"
Five people had nervous breakdowns last year and had to be committed. But it's not Lawndale High, so…"Oh yes, very much so."
"How're you enjoying working with Erin?"
It's interesting. "That BITCH-" crap I got it the wrong way round! "Er… I mean…"
"I have the strange feeling one of us isn't considered good enough for the other," Daria told Tom, once she was sure the Carpenters crooning was covering them up.
"Yeah, I'm just not suitable. Still, it could worse-"
"ANGIE! AUNT MILLY!" boomed a stranger's voice, and Tom winced ("now it's worse"). The voice belonged to an early 40s man who had heard the term 'fat cat' and taken the first half to heart. He'd clearly lived a life well lived, especially when it come to gluttony, hair dye, and finding the most tasteless tasteful jewellery ever. "And young master Tommy! I hear you've finally escaped Pleb High!"
"Hello Uncle Michael," said Tom, his voice as lifeless as a tax collector.
Michael Sloane looked at Daria. "I didn't know Aunt Milly had a new servant."
"This is my girlfriend Daria," said Tom, voice as cold as a tax collector's personal life.
"HA! That's a good one, you've always been a funny lad. ANGIE! Finally got your son to the proper school then?"
Before Daria and Tom could flee to safer pastures (like Somalia), a striking and severe-faced blonde woman of Michael's age came in, dressed to the nines and carrying coats. Until she dumped the coats on Daria, saying in a Swedish accent "we've left the suitcases outside, our bedroom's the one on the-"
"Daria's my girlfriend, Aunt Sibylla," said Tom, voice as tired as a tax collector who wished he'd gone with his childhood dream of driving a train.
"Please Tom, it was a long drive, keep the jokes for later."
Daria dropped the coats and prepared to storm out, only for her path to be blocked by a frazzled blonde woman of Erin's age and her husband, who was of Angier's age. She tried, and failed, not to stare. This was hard as the woman had highly-expensive, immaculately fitting clothes of the latest fashion that were covered in snot and baby sick.
"Oh, thank god – please take him and clean him up a bit, can you?"
Before Daria could complain, a blanket was thrust into her hands. The blanket contained a baby. A very ugly baby with tiny dark pits for eyes that stared into her soul, a down turned mouth, and a load of mess around its whole head. It blew a raspberry at her, clearly detecting the stench of lower-middle-class on her.
"Oh yeah, my cousin Shelly had a baby recently oh GOD," said Tom, staring at it.
The baby stared back and then spat something up. On to Daria. She silently handed the infant to Tom, who cringed at the sight of its slobbery smirk.
"Is your family genetically programmed to look down on me?"
"It does seem to be looking that way."
"I thought your family wanted to meet me. Turns out they wanted to meet someone else with my name."
"Ha ha!" laughed another new arrival, Tom's age and blond and dressed like the preppiest preppy that ever prepped. "You'll be earningthat pay ton-"
"Daria is my girlfriend, Tristan, not the cleaning lady," spat Tom.
His cousin blinked, looked at Daria, and then laughed again before leaving.
"If it makes you feel any better, last year the cleaning lady putting itching powder in Tristan's pyjamas," said Tom. "I was her lookout."
"She set her sights too low."
The ugly baby decided to fart in Daria's direction – Daria assumed it had decided because it looked rather smug about the fact. As she sighed, she could hear Michael Sloane guffawing about something that sounded very unfunny indeed; Angier Sloane casually walked over.
"Daria, did your dad give you any punk CDs to take here?"
"I take the fifth."
"Can I borrow one please?" he pleaded.
Jodie was between Erin and the door. To go to the bathroom, she'd have to walk past leaving her back turned. No, bad idea. Hmmm. Maybe if she waited for Jodie to go pee first…
Erin had been waiting like this, in total silence, for ten minutes now.
"Why did you have an affair with a married man?" Jodie asked suddenly.
"Because he asked and my fiancé was crap," she said before she could think of better wording.
"My dad says you came onto him and tempted him."
"What's his cover story for the kinky sex?"
"It was just the once." Jodie looked on as Erin struggled not to laugh. "I see. So he asked, and you agreed because your fiancé was 'crap'."
"I was desperate. He knew I was. And he knew that I wasn't going to seriously challenge him." Erin's voice had become lower, her eyes shadowed.
"So your version is that my dad is such a bastard that he deliberately went for an employee that he sensed was weak and desperate. That's what you're telling me."
"And that he was into kinky sex."
"And that he was into kinky sex." Jodie stared into Erin's eyes, then looked down. "I was really hoping your version wouldn't fit the known facts."
"You already knew he was into-"
"The other parts, I meant." Jodie stood up and began to walk out. "I've got to go."
Erin blinked. "But you still have an hour to go," was the only thing she could think of to say.
"I won't squeal if you don't."
Daria had intended to hide in her room, preferably with Tom, but to her horror she realised she'd be sharing a room.
Who, once she saw the duo enter, grinned savagely and started playing Lady Gaga on her CD player. Tom and Daria retreated to his room – which, it turned out, had to be shared with Tristan. Who was raising what he thought was a salacious eyebrow. Out of options, they went outside.
"I'd like to say a few words in defence of my family but I can't."
"Hey, why should I hog all the fun of embarrassing relatives?" Daria kicked the sand, imagining it was Elsie and Tristan's faces. "And you come here every August?"
"We want to pretend we like each other. Anyway, my grandparents are turning up later and I'm sure they'll like you."
"You are not."
The grandparents Sloane turned up, prim and austere and wrinkly, and they too thought Daria was the cleaning lady until Mildred had a quiet word with them. Then they stared in shock. (Daria waved back)
Grandfather Sloane sought out Angier and in dry, cultured tones told him: "I've seen that girl you're letting Tom court, and Mildred has informed me of her… background, such as it is."
Angier wilted under his father's glare. "Ah…"
"You've let the family down, you've let your son down, but worst of all, you've let yourself down."
Meanwhile, Mildred and Grandma Sloane had combined forces to "coincidentally" go outside for a chat, right where they could see Tom and ensure That Girl wasn't trying to lure him into anything sordid. The teenagers gave up and went back inside, right on time for Shelly to yell "Alasdair needs his diaper changed, where'd the cleaning lady go?".
Dinner was, at least, interesting in an anthropological sense. Daria could see Angier turn into a ten year old before her very eyes when the grandparents Sloane asked about the firm, eagerly talking about earnings and contracts and growth and lookit me I'm doing well LOOKIT ME. Michael Sloane would then immediately jump in with "my firm's doing even better than that, pay attention to ME, damn it, I'M MORE IMPORTANT" (he did not quite phrase it like that), and Shelly's unnamed, far-too-old husband stared with interest and said "wow, I'm VERY interested, please accept me people with money and influence!" (he did not quite phrase it like that). Tristan, Tom, and Elsie were amazing, they continued to eat and look as if they were paying attention despite, and their eyes made this perfectly clear, not paying attention at all because it didn't concern them. That took years of training.
(Daria had similar training but only when it came to discussions about sell-outs, keeping it real, and fucking The Man. She had no defence against earnings reports.)
Sibylla and Kay continued their own conversation elsewhere, all bright smiles and happy voices and sentences like "I didn't know that was back in fashion" and "so glad to hear you can get your children into Fielding now" that hid big, sharp knives in people's backs. Daria assumed Shelly would have gotten involved too if she hadn't been distracted by baby Alasdair screaming his head off because… well, he was a baby, god knew why.
When the servant came in to clear the starter plates, Daria looked at her, nodded slightly to the Sloanes, and raised a "WTF?" eyebrow. The servant shrugged in response.
The boredom continued on during the main course, as Michael boasted about how good a job everyone at his company was doing so he could steal credit from them (he did not quite phrase it like that).
"…and some would say I should share some of the success but come on, if you pay them toomuch they'll stop being hungry and start slacking off!" said the massive-bonus earning fat man. "And so I said to the union pleb-"
"Daria, you're using the wrong fork," cut in Grandmother Sloane.
Everyone fell silent and turned to look at her (including the baby which was almost impressive). She looked down at the fork. It was slightly smaller than another fork.
"I'm experimenting. I want to see if it can still be used in eating the main course. So far, my hypothesis is proving correct."
Everyone stayed silent and looking at her, and Grandmother Sloane looked quite affronted. Finally, she said: "I suppose I should not expect you to be aware of these things."
"We are a primitive bunch in Lawndale."
That didn't seem to have gone down well either. Grandfather Sloane turned to Angier: "Angier, are you going to allow such indiscipline?"
"Daria, don't be rude at dinner," mumbled Angier.
But that's all I do at dinnertime.
"Grandmother, could you please pass the salt?" asked Elsie, sucking up.
"Tell me," asked Grandfather Sloane, eyes boring into Daria, "how long did Tom have to spend courting you? I imagine you were aware of his wealth beforehand."
"These roast potatoes are excellent!" said Kay, loudly and desperately. "You really should give the cook a raise, Mildred-"
"Raise? Was no one listening to a word I said?" asked Michael (Daria tried not to smirk when she saw Tom mouth "no").
The patriarch, however, was not one to be deterred: "What was it that drew you to the boy?"
Oh crap. Daria ran through a list of potential lies, but Grandfather Sloane looked like he'd tear through four miles of silver lining to find a trace of cloud. Her only way out of this was to tell the truth, but that was a way in to the next circle of Hell. Her eyes flickered over to Tom; Tristan and Elsie noticed and, without any communication whatsoever, both collaborated to lean forward and block Tom from her line of sight. Oh CRAP.
"He made a well-timed joke about giving chlamydia and swine flu to his ex girlfriend," she said.
Grandmother Sloane had taken the wrong moment indeed to take a drink. As she coughed it back up, Michael Sloane pointed an accusing finger at Daria: "SEE WHAT YOU'VE DONE!"
"That is certainly not an appropriate joke to make at the dinner table," said Husband Whatsisname, looking to brown-nose.
"Do you allow this girl to slander one of your offspring like this?" thundered Grandfather Sloane, his beady gaze switching back to the trembling Angier.
Tom sighed and raised his hand for attention. "I really did make that joke."
Grandmother Sloane automatically tried to spit-take even though she hadn't drunk anything that time. Everyone else stared at Tom, then at each other, then at the floor.
"It was really funny," mumbled Daria.
There would have been a grim silence, but baby Alasdair ruined it by making flatulent tongue-sticking-out noises.
"And how've you been doing at school, Elsie dear?" asked Mildred.
When everyone went to bed, Angier jammed in headphones and cranked up the borrowed Fear CD.
"Ein zwei drei! Gonna strangle me a bitch, gonna leave her in a ditch!" he muttered under his breath, only to turn and say "metaphorical bitch, honey" when he saw Kay looking at him oddly.
Daria lay in bed, bitter and annoyed and oh god would Elsie ever stop snoring.It sounded like Godzilla with a snotty nose. It was bad enough that she had to, once again, put up with people who thought there was something wrong with her because she wasn't like them, but this was insult to injury.
The snoring actually got worse. Suspicious, Daria said "they're starting to realise I'm only dating Tom for his money-"
The snoring stopped.
"Gotcha. Now care to explain why you're deliberately trying to make it hard for me to sleep?"
"No," replied Elsie.
"How easy is that girl?" Then: "OW!"
"Sorry, my foot slipped."
"You crossed the room!"
"It was a big slip."
The next morning, after hours of trying to sleep through snoring and the baby crying, Daria lurched awake and was glad to find Tom sitting alone. She joined him for breakfast, mumbling "brains".
"Well, you came to the wrong place."
"I know what to expect now. I'm naturalised. I hope."
"You know, the beach is quite nice. We could go for a walk, just the two of u-"
"Daria!" bellowed Mildred, as if she'd not heard a word and wasn't desperately intervening. "How about joining us for a game of bridge?"
"TOM!" echoed Uncle Michael. "How about joining-"
"Yeah, I heard it the first time."
Lucky escape there! thought Mildred.
Erin looked at Jodie. Jodie looked at Erin. Both waited for the other to talk. Silence stretched out, taut and tense.
Or it did until Erin farted. "Uncle Jake was trying his fried curry again," she said by way of apology.
"I have a baby brother. It's nothing I haven't experienced before."
"So, um, now the ice has been broken-"
"I keep thinking that if I transfer to Grove Hills from Lawndale, I'm running away," said Jodie. "That's because that is why I wanted to transfer. I'd be far away from everyone who knew what happened and around people who thought like me, I'd be in a safe place."
"Yeah, I know, but I need to talk to someone who knows everything but doesn't have a stake in things."
What's Grove Hills? thought Erin.
"One Club," said Grandmother Sloane.
Daria looked over her cards again: she had a strong suit of hearts, several high-scoring cards. Now she wouldn't know what cards her partner Sibylla had, so she'd be careful with her suit.
Mildred, one of the opposing team, shrugged. "No bid."
If I have this right, Sibylla should have a good hand of something or other and will either back my hand or put forward another suit that-
"Three Clubs," said Grandmother Sloane.
Wait, what? "Three Hearts."
"Four Clubs," said Sibylla.
"Four Hearts!" snapped Daria. Then she realised that she did nothave a good enough hand to go for that, certainly not as a beginner. It was almost like Sibylla was deliberately trying to sabotage her own team-mate to help the matriarch.
When Sibylla laid her cards down, the 'dummy' of the offensive team who didn't play, and those cards had all of two clubs, Daria felt the urge to slit someone else's wrists.
"One Diamond-" began Tom.
"Now don't rush into things, Tom," said Grandfather Sloane. "Take another look and be surethat's what you want to do."
Tom duly did. "One Diamond."
"Now, now, don't be stubborn, young Tom," said Uncle Michael. "This is a game that requires thought-"
"Once you've made a decision, there's no going back," warned cousin Shelly's husband Creepy McOlderguy (Tom thought that was it).
"One Spade." I have one spade, you bastards, prepare to suffer.
Grandfather Sloane, Tom's partner, turned out to have a lotof spades, and that meant Tom was in the game with the 'dummy' hanging over his shoulder, offering "suggestions" for every single move. (They lost. His grandfather chose not to think about the implications of this)
"It's a shame your father is not involved. Where is he?"
Stran-gu-la-tion!thought Angier in tune, bobbing his head up and down in his room.
"Can I borrow that after you?" asked Kay.
"Oh, hard luck, Daria," said Grandmother Sloane after the tenth straight win.
"Fun as is this is, we've been playing for an hour and…"
"Have you got something else you were intending to do?" Beady ancient eyes beaded into her. "Stuff in private?"
God damn it."I'd like to read a book."
"Gracious me!" exclaimed Mildred. "That would hardly be appropriate, it's very unsociable."
Jane smirked the instant she saw Daria was calling her: "Yo, amiga! How's the hobnobbing?"
"I am hiding in the toilet to make this call and get out of another round of Bridge. Everyone assumes I'm after Tom for his money. Everyone. Even the baby."
"I don't blame them. Of course they think people would only marry a Sloane for the wealth. It'd never be for their personalities."
"How bad is it, exactly?" asked Jane, slowly, as if probing a rotten tooth to see if it'd come out.
Daria told her.
Killer Quinn had only just left the house to join the gang – they were going to mooch around sinisterly outside a church – when Jane ran over and grabbed her:
"QUINN! It's an emergency! Daria's in trouble and I need to get to her asap and I need a car and I don't have time for Trent to wake up!"
"What sort of trouble?"
"Rich people being snobby-"
Quinn's eyes hardened. "Come with me."
"WHY DOES THIS KEEP HAPPENING TO ME?" cried Eric Schrecter as his car drove itself away from his parking space, leaving a shattered driver-side window in its wake.
"FRESH FLESH SLINGING DOWN YOUR STREET!" roared Quinn along to the radio, which was playing too loud for human comfort inside the car. "FRESH FLESH WON'T YOU TASTE MY MEAT!"
Jane growled "driver's privilege", took out Quinn's CD, and slapped a replacement in. "Bounciiiing off of clouds… we were… Is there a love lost and found-"
"EWWWW! This is wuss music! I'm not putting up with this."
"Hrrr… Fine. But I don't think we're going to find a song that we both like."
"We coulda been anything that we wanted be!" chorused the girls. "Clapclapclap!But don't it make your heart glad – that we decided, a fact we take pride in – we became the best at being baaaaaad!"
"…and really, those girls just don't have any self respect, not if they can't wait until – I mean, really," said Mildred. "Back in our day-"
"Yes, we'd never have done anything before marriage," said Kay (who was totally lying and had). "But I think-"
"Yes, any such girl would be most unsuitable," said Mildred, casting not-so-subtle looks Daria's way.
"Well, some of them just aren't raised properly," said Grandmother Sloane, as above.
"Their parents were probably punks or something as teenagers," asked Elsie, the picture of innocence. "What do you think, Daria?"
Daria tore off Elsie's face with her bare hands and then turned on everyone else until she was sitting on a bone-composed throne on top of a mountain of burning flesh-
"Sorry, I was just thinking about something," she said. "I've seen girls at school who were obsessed with dating, tried for a new boy every week. I think that's just lacking in respect."
"Oh, that's just not right," said Grandmother Sloane with distaste. "I don't know how you stomach such displays, Elsie."
Elsie shot a brief, murderous look at Daria, who smiled back. Whirlwind, reap, the.
"And then there's those girls who make themselves available so they can get pregnant and trapa boy into marriage," continued the matriarch, once again looking suspiciously at Daria. "All for the money-"
Daria opened her mouth and said FUCK THE MOTHERFUCKERS FUCK THE and was bewildered to find she'd turned into an angry black guy until she realised the radio was playing.
Everyone else was in panic and flailing around and the baby was crying and Michael Sloane was screaming "What is this, is this urban music?" (clearly spelling urban with an "n"), and as it happened Tom sneaked over and grabbed Daria's arm.
"That'll keep them occupied for a while. I'd hoped I wouldn't have to use my secret weapon until tomorrow at the earliest, but needs must…"
"How long can ejecting a CD take them?"
"I superglued the tray shut."
Daria kissed him.
"Jane, slow down, there's some pigs!" Quinn wound the window down, stood up, and mooned the offending police car. "EAT IT FASCISTS!" She sat down again. "Okay, speed up again."
Maybe I should've woken Trent up after all,thought Jane.
"…and damn it, damn it, everyone I met was full of, of this utterly petty brand of elitism, full of bitterness about their last schools and oh so eager to be able to be ugly and smug and get supported and nobody challenge them -" Jodie paused to breathe. "One boasted that they're around people they can about Ayn Rand with now but that's not all she was glad about, she was glad because everyone agreed with objectivism and nobody's going to seriously argue with them about it. And do I want to be like that? More and more, I think: 'my parents went on about it and the greatness of being driven by reason, and what did Dad do?' No, he just and they just like it because they can be assholes and justify it as 'enlightened self-interest', and how different is that to things I criticise liberals for doing and I dunno what to do anymore."
Erin, sensing the end of the soliloquy, snapped out of her stupor and said: "Do your parents want you to go to… er, whatever that school was called?"
"Oh, do they want it," said Jodie. "They've been boasting about it for weeks to all their friend and colleagues, Dad's happy to take credit for me even though he's never around and neither think 'hey, our daughter wants to go far away'-"
"So they'd be really upset and lose face in front of everyone if you decided to remain at Lawndale, right?"
Jodie thought about this and slowly, terribly, began to grin. "Yes."
"I did that twice with my mother's boyfriends," said Erin. "And at my wedding, which was satisfying until the horror kicked in and I had to try and get my mother to talk to me and realised I'd lost all my old friends and-" She cut off before her voice started to quiver. "But it was fun with the boyfriends!"
"Lose face," whispered Jodie, her eyes closed in rapture. "You're a great listener, Erin."
Erin, who had tuned out during the first five minutes, said: "Well, it goes with the job."
"Oh. I should probably do some actual intern stuff while I'm here, I guess."
"You're here to intern?"
The beach would have been romantic if not for the cold wind and the distant cry of MOTHERFUCKERS . Still, Daria would take what she could get. She let Tom wrap his arms around her stomach and leaned back into him.
"I was hoping we'd be doing more of this."
"Me too. Ah well, I do have other tricks up my sleeve."
In the distance, they heard a shotgun go off and the rap music cease.
"Two of them unable to be used now the radio's broken."
"Now they'll come looking for us." Daria sighed. "If they found us making out, how much worse would things become?"
"Would it be worth it to see the look on their faces?" She smirked. "And for other reasons too."
"Your ideas are intriguing and I want to subscribe to your news-" said Tom before Daria cut him off. They stayed like that for fifteen seconds before Mildred's horrified scream split the air.
Daria pulled away, smiling. "That was worth it."
"Nah, we need to do it again just to be really sure. For science."
"It's time for another game of bridge," said Grandmother Sloane in the tones of Judge Dredd sentencing a puppy-rapist. "While the men are on a brisk walk somewhere else."
The baby, upwind of Daria, chose to emphasise this point by farting loudly.
Still worth it, just about, thought Daria. Where are you when I need you, Jane?
"Jane, I though the Cove was near, like, a beach," said Quinn, confused. "Where did all these farms come from?"
"WE'RE NOT LOST!"
"In these grim days, we need to keep our standards," barked Grandfather Sloane as he (slowly) led everyone on the walk down the beach.
"I quite agree," said Aunt Shelly's twice-her-age husband.
Right, screw it. "Just to double-check, cousin…" Tom racked his brains. "…I forget-"
"My name is-"
"-but do our standards include marrying women who are only half our age, the second-biggest sign of mid-life crisis after wearing a T-shirt saying 'I Have A Big Willy Honest?"
Angier just about turned his laugh into a cough when his father turned round.
"Don't be rude, Thomas," said his grandfather.
"Oh no, we wouldn't want to be rude. Except all those times we're openly calling someone a gold-digging slut, but looking down on people is what separates us from the animals."
"Angier, are you going to let your son act out in this way?"
"Tom, be respectful of your grandfather," mumbled Angier.
Angier paused a few too many seconds in thought.
"If I'm reading the GPS right," said Jane, "the most direct way to the right road is… right across those fields and these woods."
"It's not our car," pointed out Quinn.
"Oh look," said Daria. "I lost again at the game I never played before today. I hope this doesn't harm your view of me."
"There's no need to make a fuss, dear," said Sibylla.
"Thanks for the colour advice, pot." (Nobody got the dig but they recognised it was one)
"Daria, if you want us to believe you're serious about Tom," said Grandmother Sloane, "then you should act with more décor-"
"What I want, I can't say at this table without ignoring decorum."
"I have never been spoken to in that-"
"You missed out."
"We're almost out of the woods!" Jane narrowly avoided another tree. "Nothing can stop us now!"
"Girls just wanna have fu-un-"
In her panic, she almost crashed the car. "Damn it, Quinn, don't go there!"
The family Sloane were nothappy, except Elsie who was watching everything with a big grin. Tom and Daria finally got to stand together in the summer house, under the glares of angry old people.
"But are your chief weapons fear and surprise?" Tom asked them all.
"Thomas, you're on thin ice already-"
"I thought I'd fallen right through it and was catching hypothermia now, but hey. What do you think, beloved welfare-scum sexually wanton girlfriend?"
"Oh definitely, my cynically-entrapped meal ticket," said Daria.
"I KNEW IT!" yelled Mildred, unfamiliar with snark.
"Well," growled Grandfather Sloane. "This is clearly something that is having a negative influence on Thomas. I think we can all agree-"
"Father, I think you're overreacting to this," said Kay wearily. "Her sense of humour is bizarre but she's still a well-behaved, intelligent girl. For god's sake, does she really seem like she's going to get pregnant anytime soon?"
Everyone turned slowly to look at her (including the baby, who seemed affronted).
"Angier, are you going to let your wife act in this manner?"
Angier thought about this for a few seconds. "Yes," he said.
If the grandparents Sloane's jaws had dropped any lower, they'd have fallen off.
The dented, stained form of Schrecter's stolen car finally reached the Cove, but one final, immovable obstacle was on its way.
"Hey Steve," called out Quinn.
"Hey." He stood between the car and the Cove, shaking his head. "Sorry, Killer, Jane, but my whole job here is to stop people like you coming in."
"We'll give you a beer if you let us in."
He thought this over. "It'd have to be a six-pack job really."
"We could just call Daria on her phone," said Jane.
"But I wanna scare all the rich people!" grumped Quinn. "And smash a few windows!"
"I'm phoning Daria."
"Aha." Daria lowered her phone. "Er, my sister and friend have turned up to take me ho-"
Angier snapped his head round, his eyes hungry. "What was that, Daria? Your sister, a secretary at the firm, has told you there's some urgent issues that I need to look into?"
"Oh dear! Sorry Mildred, Dad, everyone, looks like I've got to go! It may be a lengthyproblem to sort out too, I'm afraid I'll need Kay along too – oh, and best take Tom and Elsie, show them what they might have to deal with-"
"Daria's sister doesn't-" began Elsie, before she was cut off by Angier bellowing "WE BETTER PACK NOW AND QUICKLY GOODBYE".
As Tom's parents (and Tom) rushed to the bedrooms, Grandfather Sloane scowled at Daria. Apparently, a problem at the firm must be Daria's fault too. She made sure to give him a big, toothy grin. (The baby started crying)
Daria got into the wrecked car with Tom in tow; Jane looked at him quizzically and he said: "My parents insisted I ride with Daria."
"Huh huh huh," said Jane.
"This has never happened on any visit to the Cove," he told Daria. "I think your family has been having an influence on mine."
Angier drove past, singing "STRAAANG-U-LA-SHUN!" out the window as he went.
"And on that bombshell, I'd like to apologise for my family being… uh, what's the word-"
"Cunts," offered Quinn.
"Shut up, posh boy."
"Well, I suppose it's flattering to know I'm considered such a threat," said Daria. "Though, um… when they first started… okay, never mind, I shouldn't have expected you to risk alienating half your family from the start-"
Tom blinked, took a deep breath, said "excuse me a second", and stepped out the car & walked back into the Cove.
Half a minute later, there was an enraged roar and then Tom came running back and leapt into the car. "PUNCH IT!"
Jane hit the accelerator, while Daria asked "what did you do?".
"I said I'd prefer they do not make such accusations about you again," said Tom. "Aaaaand I might have expressed the opinion that one or two of them have sexual relations with horses."
"Tom, that's the most romantic thing you've done since you punched that Evan guy in the face." She meant it. "But you've just burnt bridges with half your relations…"
Nobody spoke for a few seconds, then everyonesaid "so no downside" in unison and high-fived.
AUTHOR'S NOTES: What Daria's doing in her fanfic is what fic writers have done with Daria herself (but not all in the same fic).
Johnny "Rotten" Lyndon really did like disco.
The Buzzdome crew are all from the episode Sappy Anniversary; apart from Mildred's name, Tom's family are all original to this fic.
Angier's new favourite song (and Quinn's) are both by punk band Fear, Jane is quoting Tori Amos, and the song that both Quinn and Jane can like is Bad Guys from Bugsy Malone. Thanks to Brian Taylor for the suggestion of Angier trying out Strangulation.