GOD SAVE THE ESTEEM
Ep 8: Eff Christmas

HIGHLAND, TEXAS
DECEMBER 23 1994

The tape starts. Amy, now a messy-haired young woman, is staring deep into the lens, and smiles as she sees the camera work.

"I guess you really do become more powerful than I imagine when you're struck down – well, dropped." She coughs. "This is Amy Barksdale, with a breaking edition of Freaks, Creeps, and Phantasms! Once again, we've been allowed access to the elusive and feared Morgendorffer tribe, the Scourge of the Burbs! The question of everyone's lips: how long can our reporter survive before the tribe matriarch turns on her once more? Odds on 'tonight' are currently 5 to 1..."

The camera moves closer towards a bungalow. It's a cheap affair, but someone's tried to brighten it up with spraypaint; the anarchy symbol and a smiley face dominate the wall. An aging black wagon sits in the driveway. Off camera, Amy is humming the Jaws theme as she gets nearer.

The door opens before she gets there, revealing the 29 year old figure of Jack the Snake, monstrous in his leather, piercings, and "I'M THE DADDY" T-shirt.

"Hey, Amy! Oooh, another report! Can I be the studio expert again? I love that!"

"So, Mr Snake, the question our audience wants to know: are relations with the wider world still under threat or has glasnost been reached?"

"Rita sent us a card again!" he beams. "Right there in the address, 'to Jake and Helen', cordially wishing us a merry Christmas! Wasn't that nice?"

"Helen wasn't happy to see it, was she." Amy sounds amused.

"No, no, she was very moody for a while after she saw it. How'd you guess? Oh, you go in, I'll go fetch your bags."

Amy enters the house, sweeping the hallways with her camera. She gives a tentative call of "Helen? I'm afraid I'm here!".

"Kitchen!"

The camera moves into the kitchen. It's a crowded place, with more plates, cutlery and glasses than it can hold, and signs of recent cleaning. On the main table, Helen "Hellion Wheels" Morgendorffer (she is currently trying a shaved-head look) is wiping the mouth of a small pink thing.

"This is a Freaks, Creeps, and Phantasms exclusive! Right here, right now, we're getting our first look at-"

"Now, Amy? Really?"

"-we're getting our first look at the legendary Daria Patti Morgendorffer!"

There is an expectant pause before Helen, sighing, raises the tiny form up to the camera. A two-month-old baby looks into the lens with a vacant, almost bored expression.

"Awwwwwww! Okay, okay, I was going to do this later, but I just have to now-"

The camera is placed down on the table, and confused activity can be heard. When it's picked up again, we see that the infant Daria now has a Santa hat on. She does not look any less bored. Helen is smirking.

"Two months old and she's sold out to commercialism already. What a disappointment!"

"We hope to get Daria's opinion on that statement later, but for now this show is taking a commercial break—"


Christmas was coming to Lawndale, and the inside of the Morgendorffer house looked like a tinsel bomb had been detonated in it. A fake tree, battered yet defiant like Blitz London, creaked in the corner, and Helen carefully placed a cartoon devil on the top.

"Honey?" called out Jake from the hall. "Should I spraypaint 'Happy Holidays' or 'Happy Commercialism' on the wall outside?"

"Hmmm. 'Happy Holidays.' That really pisses the social conservatives off."

"All right!"

Helen got down from her stepladder and surveyed her work. She frowned, then deliberately broke one of the baubles.

"That looks much better. Quinn! Give me a hand smashing all the baubles in the house!"

A cry of utter joy came from upstairs, followed by the sound of things breaking. Helen smiled: the joy of children was what the Christmas season was all about. The thought of "joy" and "children" made her inevitably think of Daria; it was a pity she had to be out with a friend. She was always so good with the spraypaint slogans...


Daria's first date with Tom. Daria's first date with anyone.

The very concept was terrifying. She had no real-world frame of reference, she had no idea if she should do or say anything she wouldn't otherwise say or do with Tom, she had the fear that Something Bad would happen and he'd want to avoid her from then on.

Luckily, Tom had picked a safe, soothing place for a first date. He'd pick the arcade. Shooting zombies, Daria thought, might calm her down.

She thought wrong.

"You're already dead! Be more dead already! GAH DAMN IT DIE crap."

"Player Two Has Left The Game," intoned Tom, continuing to play with an irritating abundance of talent. "Come on Daria, if you don't get good at this how will you learn how to murder all our classmates during the inevitable apocalypse?"

"All the ones that DeMartino doesn't get to first, anyway."

"He could be a zombie."

"If he hasn't died from a heart attack yet, he's not going to die of anything."

"So the secret to a successful date with you is killing things and bitching with people? Man, I do that all the time anyway. Where were you last year?" He thought his last line over. "I mean killing things in games, not in the Norman Bates sense. Though since you've never seen my mother and me in the same place at the same time, for all you know…"

"Well, we've killed many things and have been killed ourselves, thus completing the food chain. Speaking of, we going to lunch after this?"

"Sure. Pizza, right?"

"You know me so well."

She briefly worried that she should have asked to go somewhere else, somewhere that wasn't a regular haunt anyway, but squashed the thought before it could breed any offspring.


There was a new "Winter Wonderland" pizza at Pizza King, just out in time for Christmas, but investigation proved it was just a plain pizza with white sugar sprinkled on it. They thought nobody would fall for such crap, but then they saw Kevin eating some.

"So what do you want for Christmas?" asked Tom. "I hear people get presents for people they're dating, you see."

"Could you buy me a fuel-air bomb to use on the school?"

"Maybe. What's the back-up present?"

"Books," they both said in unison. Both smiled.

"How about you?"

"Oh, gee, good question. All I really want is a new car and Dad's sorting that out before Christmas, so… Well, I'll leave it up to you."

She took a bite out of her pizza. "I hear it's the thought that counts, so I'll just think really hard about buying a present and we'll say that was the present."

"Got anything planned?"

"My parents hold a Christmas Eve party ever year, that's pretty much it. That and sleeping in late."

"Ha, only the one party? I envy you. Old money loves its parties, and my parents can only turn down so many invitations before it looks suspicious. I'd invite you along as my plus-one, but I'd like to stay dating you."

Daria looked down at the table and its interesting stains. "Um. Yeah?"

"It is a pretty strange concept," said Tom, "interesting, funny girl attracting a boy. I must be on drugs or something."

"Well could you Just Say Yes for the near future?" muttered Daria, blushing slightly.

"I shall take Shaggy up as a role model."


Tom walked her home, so the two of them could point at and mock her neighbour's Christmas decorations.

"...the whole nativity, on their lawn, in statue form. Well, I guess at least Baby Jesus won't be getting lonely."

"I can't wait to see what they do for Easter."

As they reached her house, they were greeted by the sounds of raised voices: Daria's parents having a loud debate with an irate neighbour about culture war and how America was a Christian country. The two of them had responded to that with...

"Are your parents calling upon Satan?" asked Tom.

"Mm."

She'd worried about this: her parents and Tom in the same vicinity. He knew of her parents and had briefly seen her dad, and they knew that she had a friend called Tom who was from a family with money (and had seen his car get towed away), but there was no awareness beyond that. There'd only been one encounter and that had been embarrassing: Tom had been bewildered (and who could blame him?) and tried to joke his way out of it, and her father had automatically referred to him as "capitalist pig-dog" on sight.

That was one brief encounter, before anything had been going on. Now it was...

He'd sounded confused. That was potentially a promising sign. It wasn't a negative reaction. He was used to Quinn and he already knew her parents were odd, maybe...

If they talk to him for more than ten seconds – oh god, if he says his surname-

"I'll walk the rest of the way," she said, a little snappier than she'd intended.

"Er, okay," he said, confused still. "Do you want me to call-"

"No! No, I'll call you. It's... Bye."

She walked quickly, hoping to widen the gap between them before her parents turned round.

The neighbour was storming off, while her parents were dancing in a semi-circle and singing:

"SATAN! We're worshipping SATAN! Because Satan has the things that we adore! SATAN! We're worshipping SATAN! Because Satan keeps us stocked with drugs and whores!"

"Oh hey kiddo," said Jake, turning round as she reached the front yard. "Where've you been?"

"Just out. With a friend. Nothing special."

"Is that him there?"

Her father waved. With leaden feet, she turned round to see Tom tentatively waving back. Damn it.

"That's your friend Tom, right?" asked her mother. "You know, we're already inviting Trent to the party: if you'd like to invite your friends along too-"

"Maybe, I don't know if Tom will be able to come."

Inside, her mind screamed "OH **** " again and again.


That had been odd, Tom had to admit. Now he'd expected that, to some extent. He knew Daria had little experience with dating. It was likely she'd get confused and nervous, and wouldn't be very intimate first time round. Fine.

But then she'd closed in on herself and started to snap near the end, with no warning. What was that about? Had he done something that had irritated her, should he have not asked about her parents? Did she not want her parents to see him, was he a shameful secret?

I'm the shameful one not good enough for their family? Now that's just the wrong way round he thought, and immediately felt guilty about thinking it.

Maybe the second try would end better.


The house had been decorated but Daria barely noticed that. Her only concern was getting to her room before anyone could talk to her more. In her room, she was safe and protected.

Okay, be logical. I can invite Jane only and say Tom was busy... no, Jane and Tom talk, he'd find out I never invited him and then I'd need an excuse that could be contradicted. Okay, right: I can just not invite him and explain why. He's reasonable, he might understand. And then might decide I come with too much baggage...

Oh DAMN IT, I should have hugged or kissed him or something at some point.

"Joy to the sodding world," she muttered under her breath.


CHEVY CHASE, MARYLAND
CHRISTMAS EVE 1997

The tape starts with an establishing shot of a house: we recognise its type from earlier tapes.

"Warning: this documentary of the Barksdale-Morgendorffer extended family Christmas will contain scenes of graphic arguing right from the start. Viewers of a sensitive disposition are advised to move state." Amy sounds fed up.

She rings the doorbell and is answered by Edie Barksdale, aging but still sharply fashionable.

"Amy," she says coolly. "I do hope you won't be showing the family up with your camera games."

"Just wanted to film the happy occasion."

"Keep it that way." She goes inside, not waiting for Amy to follow.

"So, beloved daughter, how's that new job as a TV reporter seen by millions across the country? Oh, not so bad, not so bad, meeting lots of interesting people…"

The house is refined and expensive, and full of noise that doesn't quite fit such a place. Most of it is coming from a adorable gurgling red-haired toddler, who is running around at high speed and sometimes yells "KISTMUS!". An eight-year-old girl, a brunette in a tasteful dress, is giggling and playing with her. Two boys, an eight-year-old and a five-year-old, are fighting over a toy robot, but deliberately keeping the noise down so nobody will notice.

In another part of the room, the grown-ups are 'talking'. (All are dressed for the occasion; Helen and Jack have their normal hair colour and a few less piercings) Helen is having a tense conversation with a slightly older woman, a demure sort with the same hair as Jake, who views Helen with guarded suspicion.

"And here we see the collapse of diplomacy, as Jake's sister – this reporter can't remember her name and neither can you – erects fences across her borders..."

Rita is pointedly not facing Helen at all, and is in polite talk with an old woman.

"...desperate alliances are being formed between the states of Rita Jun-Ho and Ruth Morgendorffer, with the loss of all other neighbours..."

Three men we haven't seen before are attempting a conversation; one of the men is dressed in an airline captain's uniform and carries the air of someone who expects to be called "Captain" at the start of each sentence, and the other men (a Korean with a southern accent and an aging but handsome man in a sharp suit) have desperate smiles on their faces and glance at each other.

"...and the Husband Alliance is in danger of severe break-up as Captain Ryan Steele makes unfair demands on the other parties, namely that they spend more than five seconds talking to him. Even veterans of Barksdale women lack the arsenals for that!"

In the corner, an old man with service medals on his suit is talking to Jake, who looks like he's trying not to explode.

"Evacuate Chevy Chase, people – the J-Bomb could go off at any moment."

Amy turns the camera to see a three year old Daria sitting on her own in the corner, patiently looking at a picture-book about dinosaurs and mouthing names to herself. The camera starts to move towards Daria, when Edie reaches the girl first.

"Daria, what have I told you?"

The girl doesn't reply, but lowers her head.

"This is shameful behaviour, it really is – what must people think of you, being so rude? You'll never get anywhere behaving like this." She yanks the book from the unprotesting Daria's hands. "You can have this back after dinner, now go and behave yourself."

She walks off, heading towards the three men with a mutter of "'Captain', god's sake". The camera doesn't follow her. Instead, it moves towards Daria and comes down as Amy kneels.

"Hey there, sprat," she says gently. "You don't want to play with your cousins?"

"Not really," says Daria, her voice having a nasal quality to it. "Erin's games are weird, and Finn and John don't want to play with me anyway."

"You know, I think it's quite possible this house might be haunted. There should be a Sick, Sad World report, Junior Reporter Morgendorffer."

Daria smiles a little half-smile. "Okay."

"Maybe we'll even catch Santa early! What did you ask him when you saw him at the mall?"

The girl looks around nervously. "Please don't tell Mummy and Daddy, but..." She looks at the camera, quite solemnly, and whispers: "That's not Santa at the mall. He sounded different on two different days and I heard another mall had a Santa. It's a man lying."

"Oh! Why don't you want your Mum and Dad to know?"

"They think it's the real Santa. Dad was really excited about it. He kept talking about it all the way there and back. He'd be upset if he knew it was a lie."

There's a pause before Amy replies: "I won't say a word, I promise."

As she starts to stand up, the camera winks out.


It was that most glorious of days: the last day of Lawndale High before the holidays started.

Everyone was in the festive spirit. Steve and the other security guards wore Santa hats as they frisked you and pointed tasers; Ms Defoe was letting the Art class make their own Christmas cards; Mr Ewing hadn't even turned up for Maths class (nobody realised for half an hour), letting people have a break as his present to them; Mr O'Neill was trying to give cheery Christmas greetings, then tried to be inclusive and mention other holidays, then worried he was offending Christian students by saying "happy holidays"; and Mr DeMartino was gleefully teaching about Christmas on the Eastern Front of WW2.

Daria decided she'd give DeMartino an extra Christmas present.

"I don't think I understand," she said. "Could you go into more graphic detail, especially on the fate of young, teenaged draftees?"

DeMartino grinned and all his teeth were shown.

The final subject was Gym, and Ms Morris was also in a festive mood. She was so festive, she was getting everyone to do Christmas-themed cheerleading chants and routines.

"Funny how this festive activity is the same thing you'd do if you were trying to sneak a cheerleader practice into regular gym class," said Jane, in earshot of Morris.

The teacher turned round and smiled. "Oh no. I'm just trying to do something fun for Christmas. I'm untouchable if it's fun at Christmas."

"I don't like fun," said Daria. "Can I go home early?"

"I'm allergic to fun and have a note," added Jane.

"Nice try, ladies. Now work on those splits."

As they watched, Brittany – doing a perfect split – fell onto her face.

"Daria, if you have a plan to get out of this, I'm right behind you, especially if it involves stripping or murder."

"Sure. Remember I told you about my parent's and the Satan song?"

Daria's plan worked very quickly and made one cheerleader start crying.


"Hey, would all four of you go out with me? Because I heard-"

The Fashion Club, as one entity, ran away. Ever since they'd created rumours that they were sexually easy, this had been happening. They were starting to think that maybe, just maybe, they shouldn't have attempted that tactic. (But then they remembered they were becoming a bit less popular before and that strengthened their resolve)

"This is getting extremely difficult," said Sandi. "We are getting dates but… well."

"On the plus side, the guys are spending a lot more on us now," said Elsie.

"True, very true, but some of the guys coming up… I mean, that last one. What was he thinking? Those shoes were so last season."

"Yeeeeaaaahhhhhhhh."

"When do you think we should…" Stacy gulped. "Um. Perform?"

Sandi turned to her, horrified. "Sta-cy! The Club has, like, standards to uphold! Is someone getting too pushy?"

"Yeah, the rest of us would need to know to not date him," said Elsie.

"I meant… eh, whatever. Point is, we're don't perform. We're better than that."

Stacy breathed a sigh of relief. "I was really worried about that! Thanks Sandi!"

At that point, her mobile phone rang. Apologising to the Club, she walked away to take the call: a brief check saw it was Jeffy calling. As she clicked to answer, her voice changed slightly and her posture altered.

"Hi, Jeffy! How are things going?"

"Oh, um, okay Stacy – oh hey, wanna go out again tonight? And my house is totally free later if you want to, you know-"

"Oh I know," she smirked. "That'd be nice. Café Lawndale meet-up? I can check Wired online while waiting."

"Uh, sure! See ya!"

After she hung up, another call came in: Quinn. Her posture slouched, her voice got rougher.

"Hey Killer!"

"Hey Death Rowe! How's Oakwood – okay, I don't give a shit, look, the gang's going out later tonight, you in?"

"Piss, can't. Some preppy jock actually asked me out on a date – figured I'd have fun breaking him in and shit, see if he wants to hang with cheerleaders after that!"

"Rock on! Have fun!"

Stacy hung up and instantly went back to being Stacy Prime. She ran back to the Club, terrified what Stacy and Elsie would be thinking now she was late omg what if they thought she was putting out omg omg!


"I have a new car!" said Tom, beaming happily.

"Really?" said Jane. "I never knew! If only you'd told me about it seven times earlier in the day, I might have figured it out."

"Hey, I'm a guy and I have a new mechanical penis substitute. It makes me happy."

"How much rust has this one got?" asked Daria.

"None, sadly: my dad shoved one of his old ones on me. But first chance I get, I'm buying a piece of crap, just you wait."

The three of them headed for the school parking lot, and right there was a Jaguar XJ. It didn't look second-hand. The black metal gleamed like polished leather. The edges were sleek, the roof a panoramic glass affair, the headlights like narrowed eyes. This was a car that said "I am richer than you, bitch".

"This is a car that screams 'please steal me'," said Jane.

"Nah, if car thieves go near it, they start to feel inadequate and below its station. It's got an aura to it."

"It looks new," said Daria faintly.

"Jaguar XJ," said Tom, and he sounded somewhat embarrassed that she'd pointed this out. "Only came onto the market in 2009. My dad had a new car, so…"

"Your father's company is doing better these days then?" asked Jane.

"It's been recovering for months now, yeah. Dad decided to splash out. If you're thinking 'that's a bit irresponsible', then you're thinking just like Mum does – and you're right to. So, want a lift?"

"Sure!"

"How about you, Daria? We can hang a bit before the date proper."

Being addressed directly made her snap out of her daze. "Okay," she said.

After dropping Jane off, Tom turned to Daria and said: "So, anywhere you want to hang?"

"Um, not really."

"We could try my parent's club. They charge my folks for meals whether they eat them or not, so we might as well get their money's worth."

No. She didn't want to go there. She was worried enough before about Tom meeting her parents for more than five seconds and how they might – how they would respond. Now he had this new car that screamed that he had more money than they'd ever see, and a country club would just be a greater sign of where he came from – and that hadn't mattered before because she rarely saw signs of it, but now here it'd be in her face and that's another place she could never fit in, and it'd be made clear that he was only in Lawndale by chance and this whole relationship was on sand—

"Daria? You okay?"

"Fine. Sure, the club."


HIGHLAND, TEXAS.
DECEMBER 20, 2000

The video starts in a dark, crowded hall: on stage, a portly man is giving a speech about the good Christian values that Little Angels Elementary School tries to install even when it's not Christmas. Amy's voice cuts across him.

"This is Awesomely Amy, reporting from the depths of school, where Little Angels Elementary is about to start the first grade nativity play! Sources indicate Daria Morgendorffer has been forced to play a sheep. There's other stuff happening too, but we'll be skipping ahead to the important stuff!"

Someone in the audience shushes her. The video skips a bit, and restarts when the stage is full of small children dressed as sheep (girls) and shepherds (boys).

"Are malcontent students going under woolly covers? Kids on the Lamb, now on Sick, Sad World!"

The sheep are moving about on all fours, making "Baa!" noises. You can just about make out Daria, looking grumpy, saying "Humbug". The shepherds mill around, with two specially chosen shepherds singing a song. Two other shepherds are making comments to each other about the song and then laughing, obnoxiously.

Suddenly, an "angel" appears: "Sons of Adam! I bring you good news!"

"The play's over?" calls out one of the shepherds.

"Heh heh heh! Yeah, that'd be really good!"

The lead actors are ignoring this. "An Angel of the Lord!"

The shepherds bow down, except for the two who spoke out of turn. (They're still ignored) The sheep are also bowing, except for Daria who just doesn't seem bothered.

"The Son of God has been born in your land! Go to Bethlehem, shepherds, and bear witness to his coming!"

"Huh huh."

"I hope they're taking us to Bethlehem too, or we're going to die out here," says Daria in a monotone.

"Cool! Then we can, like, have burgers!"

"That's cows, Beavis."

The lead shepherd stands, confused and flapping his arms nervously, as he's clearly forgotten his next line. The angel, equally flustered, blurts out "yes, shepherd, you go to the west! The west!"

The boys begin to mill off. As they do, one of the girls asks "yeah, why are we staying here?"

"Yeah, shepherds are jerks!"

Daria stands up, ruining the illusion that she is a sheep, and just starts to walk off stage. After a few seconds, the other girls shrug and do the same thing. A few confused mutters can be heard from the audience, and harsh whispering from a teacher offstage.

The video skips ahead again. Daria is being held on her mother's shoulders, with both Helen and Jake looking proud. The video zooms in on Daria.

"Daria Morgendorffer! How does it feel to be banned from ever being in a school nativity play ever again, and even from watching one?

She smiles. "It's a Christmas miracle."


Sedimentary Rock Country Club was everything you'd expect. Unfortunately. Everyone was well dressed, everyone was eating elegantly, everyone reeked of money and class, and even though Tom was dressed 'wrong', he walked in like he was meant to be there. Daria felt, looked, was out of place, and it was making her edgy.

There was just something that made her uncomfortable, beyond the fact she was out of place (she was always out of place). Some deep buried instinct was screaming out to stay on her guard, and something else was telling her to feel ashamed.

"Boy, you can really smell the mould on the old money in here, can't you?" said Daria, harsher than she'd intended.

"Better on the money than on the food," said Tom.

"But it'd go so well with all the spit and urine that you know the waiters are adding to it."

Tom looked at her, and slowly pulled a spoon out of his mouth. "You waited until I was swallowing until you said that, didn't you."

"If it makes you feel any better, I just prevented myself from eating."

"Mutually assured destruction!" Tom looked up and winced. "Uh oh."

"Someone admitted that they didn't evade tax?"

"Worse."

'Worse' turned out to be a middle-aged couple, dapper and dressed in a rich-but-not-flaunting way (though the man had a horrendously ugly sweater). That didn't seem too bad. At least, it didn't until Tom said:

"Mum, Dad, hey – this is Daria. Daria, Mum and Dad."

Oh crap. Suddenly she wished she had a different jacket on, and then she wanted to zip her jacket up and hide inside it, and they were looking at her.

"You must be one of Tom's Lawndale classmates," said Mrs Sloane.

"Does it look that obvious?"

That was vicious and petty and right now Daria didn't care. It was lash out or curl up.

"I've been hearing interesting things from Tom about that school," said Mr Sloane, effortlessly ignoring her last remark. "How many are true and how many are him trying to scare the old people?"

"No, really, our History teacher is Metalmouth," said Tom. "Would I lie to you?"

"Sure. Next you'll tell us that 'Killer' punk girl is real too."

"She's my sister," said Daria.

"Oh."

Uncomfortable silence reigned.

"That… must be interesting?" Mrs Sloane sounded worried.

"Sometimes."

More silence.

"Ah Kay, look, the Pearsons are here, we haven't seen them in a while…"

Tom's parents left, but the silence stayed. It stayed for the rest of the meal.


Erin thrust a present to Helen as if it was a shield.

"This is for you! Merry Christmas! I mean, it will be merry Christ- um…"

"I don't bite, Erin," she said, irritated. "Well, only in fights and with Snake –"

"AAAAAH!"

"Sorry." She sighed. "Thank you for the present, Erin. We did get one for you, it's somewhere under the tree if you want it early."

"I'll wait until after we get back from Christmas at Mum's." Erin fidgeted. "Um… We'll give Mum your love?"

"Ha, bollocks you will! You can tell her every time I hear the word twat, I think of her!"

"I… I'd rather not say that, if it's okay with you, Aunt Helen."

"Oh, very well, I suppose that's only fair."

Once they were out of the Country Club, Tom said: "There was no call for that."

"For what? She looks at me and assumes I have to be one of the dregs of society-"

"I go to Lawndale! Where else would she expect me to be finding new friends from?"

Daria couldn't meet his glare.

"Come on, Daria, don't give me more of the sound of silence."

"I will admit I could have been more tactful."

"Oh yeah, that's some great introspection there."

"All right! I was on edge the whole time we were in there and I kept feeling like I was being judged and I took it out on her and it was wrong, are you happy now?"

He stared at her, stunned, and again she wished she could hide inside her jacket.

"Daria, if you'd said you didn't like it, we could have left. You know that, right?"

"I didn't want to mess up the date."

"Irony!"

"I really needed to hear that, thanks. It really helps the conversation."

He held up his hands in a gesture of peace. "I'm sorry. Can we start over?"

"You actually want to keep talking?" she asked, looking at him with pleading eyes.

"I don't want the date to end on a bum note, no, why does that surprise you?"

She didn't reply.

"Oh. Look, Daria, I won't lie and say I was happy with what you did, but I don't hate you or want to cut things off or anything."

"My family's throwing a Christmas party and they said you could come," she said quietly. "Jane too. It's the 24th."

"My family's been invited to a very fancy Christmas party. So, of course, I'd love to go to yours instead."

"Okay."

"You don't sound too thrilled."

"I'm just… Never mind."

Before entering the car, she suddenly grabbed Tom and kissed him. It was badly done, driven by desperation and fear and lacking any care, but it was a kiss. Her first proper kiss with a boy.

He blinked as she drew back. "That was random."

"Um."

"Wanna do it again?"

"Sure."


On the 23rd, Erin and Brian were leaving the house for Virginia. Daria knew they'd want to spend time with Aunt Rita at Christmas, but found it suspicious they were leaving before the party guests started arriving.

On the way out, Erin handed her a card: "Merry Christmas, Daria!"

Daria opened it to find, well, a card. And book vouchers.

"I couldn't think of anything," said Erin, embarrassed.

"It's fine. Saves me returning any items. I did have a present for you, it's under the tree-"

"I'll open it when I get back. Oh, before I go: Grandma might be calling you. She's interested in how you're getting on."

"Oh."

That was all Daria could think of: 'oh'. Grandma Barksdale hadn't seen or spoken to her in years. Why would she now? Was it because Erin was living her? Or something else?

"Why?" she asked.

"Oh, Daria, you're always such a grumpy gal! Why'd Grandma need a reason to call her granddaughter?"

Erin, of course, had seen and spoken to Grandma Barksdale. Some parts of the family were worthier than others. (Daria had a brief flashback to the country club and wasn't sure why)

"Have a safe journey, Erin."


WASHINGTON DC
JULY 26, 2002

The tape starts with Amy and Daria looking into the camera (Daria appears to be sitting on a table).

"Merry Christmas from Amy and Daria!" says Amy. "We're speaking to you from beyond the grave – if we die between July and December, anyway – and thought you'd like to see this footage of Kick-Butt Quinn from when you were at London."

"Though if you wanted Pistols in the Park, it'd have been cheaper to go to New York," says Daria.

"And now, without further ado:"

The tape skips back to an early day. There is a studio apartment – it's big, a sign the owner is earning a fair amount of cash, but there are very few personal items and decorations, a sign the owner just sleeps here and stores their stuff. But the main thing we notice is a five year old Quinn in a adorable little Mohawk running around and, occasionally, hitting furniture with a stick.

"Iyama annychist!" she sings as she gives a chair a good whacking. "Iyama antikast!"

She throws the stick aside and pushes the chair with all her might until it topples over. She squeals with delight as it hits the floor.

"No future! No future!"

"Having fun?" asks Amy from off-camera, sounding amused.

"Yes!"

"Well, stick to the lounge where I can keep an eye on you."

"Okay, you fascist pig!" says Quinn in a cheery voice, before running off.

The tape skips again. Daria is on a beanbag chair, quietly reading Animal Farm. Loud crashing and bashing noises can be heard. The camera turns to show Quinn is making a serious attempt to murder a futon, giving it a vicious kicking and pummelling. The furniture remains unharmed, and Quinn gives it a dark look before turning to Amy.

"Aunt Amy, can I borrow the scissors please?"

"You remember how to hold them safely?"

"Yes, Aunt Amy."

"Well, go ahead, but if I see you using them dangerously you're losing them, young lady."

The tape skips again. Quinn tears into the futon with the scissors, leaving gouges in the offending item: the footage has been sped up and the Sid Vicious cover of My Way has been dubbed over the top.

The tape skips once more. A man of Amy's age, slightly chubby and wearing spectacles, is in the room and looks appalled. He's facing Quinn, who is looking rebelliously at him.

"I can't BELIEVE what you've just done to your aunt's lounge! What in the name of-"

"Ah, let her have her fun," says Amy, sounding neutral. "I never liked that futon anyway."

Quinn cries with joy and runs off camera with the scissors. The man looks at Amy as if seeing her for the first time and not sure what it is he's seeing.

"Quinn really wanted to go to London and see Mr Rotten," says Daria from off camera.

Click.


The 24th arrived. Every shop was crowded with people who'd realised, oh yeah, they still had to buy presents. Sidewalk Santa's abounded. Daria sat in Café Lawndale and got her Scrooge on.

The door burst open, and a cheery voice sung out: "Oh, it's Christmas at Ground Zero/And if the radiation level's OK/I'll go out with you and see all the new/Mutations on New Year's Day!"

"Hi, Aunt Amy."

Her aunt plunked herself down next to Daria and held up four fingers. "There are five."

Daria sighed. "There. Are. Four. Lights."

"Attagirl! So, any particular reason you wanted to meet early?"

"My boyfriend's coming to the party."

"Ah?"

"His name is Sloane. As in those Sloanes."

"Ah."

Daria said nothing after that. She just stared at her aunt, seeking guidance and assurances. Amy bit her lip.

"Well, I'd tell him to fall over and pretend to be unconscious when hit."

"I would've asked him not to turn up but I was afraid he'd think I didn't want him around. It's… it's not going very well at the moment, Aunt Amy."

"You said he was your best friend after Jane."

"He is, but there's…" She reached for words to describe. "There's some different feelings in there, and I can see new sides to him that I hadn't before. And they're not sides I'm comfortable with. I knew he was wealthy but seeing it so clearly… and there's sides to me and my family that I don't want him to see. And I don't want seeing him."

Amy looked at her, concerned. "Do you ever feel like you're being judged?"

"Kinda, at his parent's club. The whole thing just left on edge. And I'm afraid he'll be judged, at best, and my parent's will be upset I'm dating someone like him, and I haven't the slightest idea of how to get out of this."

"Our family," she said quietly. "It always leaves us fucked up."

Daria had no response to that. Her aunt looked almost as bad as she felt, morose and with the eyes of someone remembering pain. This wasn't a side to Amy she'd seen before. It wasn't one she liked.

"Tell you one thing," said Amy. "Your parents don't like making you upset, and they're proud to have someone as smart and principled as you as their daughter. You need to hang onto that, because it's never a fun time if you think your parents don't care. I can't promise you they won't turn on Tom because there's a reason they're defensive around you and that class."

"Remember how cryptic hints are really annoying if the show is cancelled early?"

"Okay. There's… you don't tell Helen I told you this, all right? Your grandmother was and still is wealthy, you know that. There's extreme bad blood between her and your mother, you know that. And your grandmother was… making you upset. I don't know if you can remember back then."

Something rose from the depths of Daria's mind, memories she had made sure she'd forgotten. An old woman and the feeling of absolute fear on seeing her. A cardboard box. Huddling in fear because her parents were yelling about something.

She remembered, had always remembered, her mother saying "there's nothing wrong with liking to read" all those years ago, but she'd forgotten the yelling. And knowing it was because of something she'd said about…

"Daria?" Amy sounded concerned. "Daria, do you want to keep talking about this?"

She hadn't realised she'd started crying.

"N-No, it's okay. I do remember, enough of it, it's just…" She wiped her eyes and tried to get her voice under control. "Grandma didn't stop visiting us, did she? Mum and Dad stopped her visiting, right?"

"Yeah. If they turn on Tom, it's because they're afraid of the same thing happening again. They both have reason to hate someone in a family who'd make a child feel like that."

"Tom wouldn't do that," Daria said, her voice harsh.

"I know." Amy stood up. "Come on, sprat. We'll swing by Jane's on the way and you can have fun watching her be unable to talk in my presence."


The party wasn't meant to start for another two hours, but the Morgendorffers and their guests pissed on your confining ideas of "schedules" and "noise pollution". Hulking vans and cars blocked the driveway, and The Clash screamed through the windows. Trent smiled as he left Amy's car.

"Your family's cool, Daria."

A Christmas pudding hit a window from the inside, to the sound of cheers.

"On this we shall agree to disagree."

Some of the decorations were already down and chairs had overturned, and someone had spilt beer on themselves. Three couples from Helen and Jake's student days were here, and Axl and his girlfriend from Dega Street, and Quinn had her friend "Burnout" round (who seemed not to notice what was going on around her). At the sight of Trent, Quinn squealed and ran over.

"Hey Trent! I loved your new song, I get everyone to download it – legally, I mean, like duh! Want some beer, Trent? I can get you some! Anything!"

"Uh… yeah, beer's cool," said Trent, as if afraid he might trigger something.

"My brother forgot your sister would be here," said Jane. "He also forgot to change his underwear this week, but what can you do?"

"You see Mr Mackenzie there, the man who thinks a belly that size should be attached to tight leather jeans? In a few hours, he'll vomit, believe me. Do not be there when it happens. It sprays."

"It's just like The Zon then."

"Okay, he's not that bad."

"ONE, TWO – DOWN!" yelled Helen, leading everyone in a mass quaffing of their beer.

'Dingo' Yeager started to cough as his went down the wrong way. The other punks cheered, and he and his wife smiled at his embarrassment, smiles that didn't quite reach their eyes. Amy burped loudly from her beer, and the punks cheered that too. Then Quinn had to try and beat it, and they were all off.

"I'm surprised you did come home for this," said Jane.

"It's Christmas, being with your family and hating it is the tradition."

"So when's Tom turning up?"

"Crap. He said he might turn up early, so he could chat before the party. And since now's technically early, I'd guess right… about…"

Nothing happened.

"But you know what I me-"

"HEY!" roared Mrs Mackenzie, jabbing a steel-claw-tipped hand at the window. "Some rich prick's parking a Jag out there! Fucking insult, that is!"

"Let's go throw things at it!" yelled Jake, smashing a bottle on the table. "No fat cat comes near Jake the Snake's house, no SIR!"

The doorbell rang.

"Huh. I guess they do." He sounded confused. "Honey, do we know anyone who sold out and got invited by mistake?"

Amy and Jane glanced at Daria. She was frozen to the spot, her face blank. Jane glanced at Amy, nodded to the door.

"I'll go check," said Amy, sounding light but making sure to check Jane had a hand on Daria's shoulder before moving. "They see any of you guys, they'll wet themselves on the nice clean porch."

"It's gonna be okay," whispered Jane. "Promise."

"You can't promise that."

"I can and I did."

The door opened and closed. Footsteps came nearer. Daria didn't turn round; instead, she saw the reaction of the party, everyone looking like rabid mongooses with a cobra in their midst. Nobody spoke. In the background, the Clash were singing about cities drowning.

"So this isn't the Goldman Sachs party?" asked Tom, unseen but sounding unbothered. "Damn. I'm going to miss the annual 'Rape the Poor' competition. Can I at least wipe out your savings so this night isn't a total loss?"

"THE HELL YOU CAN!" Jake brandished a bottle, murder in his eyes.

"Snake, he was joking," said Helen, sighing. "Well, you certainly sound like a friend of Daria's, Tom."

"Ewwwww, he's wearing a shirt!" said a disgusted Quinn.

"Made with exploited child labour in Afghanistan, no less, and regularly washed in the tears of orphans."

Some people chuckled. Daria allowed herself to turn round, and there was Tom dressed a bit preppy but looking at ease, and Amy was standing behind him and clearly she had forewarned him and oh thank god, nothing bad was happening yet.

"Speaking of, isn't it time to play Pin the Noose on the Senator?" asked Daria, finally able to speak.

"HELL YEAH!"

"I LOVE THAT GAME!"

"WOOOOO!"

The punks left en masse to the game, as did Trent and Amy (Trent looked very intrigued). Jane looked at Daria and Tom, winked, and then left them alone too.

Daria kissed him quickly.

"My joke's weren't that good."

"You've certainly made it through Level One. Got a few more to go though."

"At least I know the princess is in this castle."

"That was lame," she said, smiling.


Axl had brought Rock Band with him. Tom and Jake had the guitars, Dingo the drums, Amy hogged the mike. God Save The Queen blared out, with Amy trying to match the right lyrics. Jake lasted twenty seconds before losing the game ("DAMN IT!" he yelled as he threw the guitar away) but Tom was hammering away at the keys, hitting most of the beats and even joining in with the song.

"There's no future, no future, no future for YOU!"

When the song finished, he raised his guitar like a sword. Jake slapped him on the back.

"You're all right for a capitalist pig-dog, Tom my man!"

"I try my best, Snake."

"We need to give you a nickname… Hey, Hellion, what's a good name for our man Tom here?"

Helen guzzled another can and wiped her mouth before saying: "How about… Tomb Sloane! Oh, that rocks! You'd totally get the girls creaming their panties with that!"

"Hey, yeah! You could score easy!" said Jake happily.

Tom blushed. "I… erm… Okay, you do realise I'm dating your-"


Daria was in the upstairs bathroom, but even there, above the sound of Black Flag, she could hear her father's scream.

She ran down as fast as she could, her heart thundering: what was down there? Tom unconscious? A screaming match? The disappointed eyes of parents? What?

What she found when she got there was her father had been intercepted by Jane (I owe you again, she thought) and was happily recounting the time he'd meant Banksy and got into a fight with him. Her mother, however, was coming towards her, her face unreadable.

"Daria, could we find somewhere quiet to talk?"

"Here? No."

"Hrrr. Your room, then."

Tom watched Mrs Morgendorffer go, checked Mr Morgendorffer was still occupied, and then turned to Trent.

"You think I'm going to get out of here alive?" he asked the slacker.

"Hmmm. I hope so."


"How long have you been dating?"

"About a week," muttered Daria.

"And you didn't tell us."

"I wanted to avoid a situation where I'd be having an uncomfortable conversation and Tom would be in danger of being murdered and turned into Christmas dinner. Which is happening now, so you see my motivation."

"Tom…" Helen sighed, clearly trying to pick her words clearly while being partially drunk. "Tom's a nice guy, okay, but that type are different to us, if you… Crap. I can't think of a single damn thing to say that wasn't said to me or your father when we were dating, and none of them ever worked, did it? Just… just come to us if he needs a beating, okay?"

"That's it?" Daria asked. "I spent days worrying how you two would react! This isn't a very punk reaction, Quinn's going to be upset with you both."

"You're a bright girl and you're a realist, I assume you know the chances of this relationship working out in the long run and you don't need me to tell you. The only thing I think you need from us is to know we're here if you need us."

"Thanks," she said quietly.

"Come on, I'm going to need help thrashing June Mackenzie's high score on Knights of Cydonia…"


On Daria's way back, the phone rang. She picked it up, hoping it wasn't the police.

"Morgendorffers residence, we all have alibis."

"Am I speaking to Daria?"

She didn't recognise that voice, but what other old woman would be calling now?

"Hi Grandma."

"Your parents are having a party, aren't they? It sounds like a herd of elephants being slaughtered."

She didn't say anything.

"I hear from Erin that you're the top of almost all your classes. I knew you were intelligent, but I hadn't realised you'd done that well! I'm very proud of you."

"Thanks. Erin said you might call but didn't say why."

"I want to see how my granddaughter is doing. Your parents rarely, if ever, let me see you girls. Did you know that? It's not my choice I haven't been around much."

"I know."

"I… This is a bad time, isn't it? I'll call again at a more convenient time. I'd like to know more about how you're getting on."

"Okay."

"Goodbye, Daria."

She'd sounded sad, desperate. Daria hadn't expected that. That wasn't how she remembered her grandmother or how anyone else seemed to be either. She suddenly wished she'd asked the old lady to keep talking.

Unsure of what had happened, Daria returned to her family and friends.


"You're a bum, you're a punk!" yelled the women as one, Jane flipping people off.

"You're an old slut on junk!" yelled back the men, Tom with increasing gusto. "Lying there almost dead with a drip in that bed!"

She had family and friends around her, as with every Christmas. And the best present of all was that things seemed like they'd be okay.

"You scumbag, you maggot, you cheap lousy faggot! Happy Christmas your arse, I pray God it's our last!"


In his lonely shack, Anthony DeMartino drank a lonely bottle on his lonely Christmas. He'd thought about going out to the bars and fleshpots, trawling for some other desperate company, but he wasn't drunk enough to have lost his sense of shame yet.

Another Christmas on his own.

He checked his email, mainly as a distraction. His blog, The Angry Teacher, often got feedback but rarely did he get anything personal. Still, replying to comments would be a distraction.

There was an email to him.

An email with a link to a site called Lawndale Leaks.

I thought you'd like to know that I started this because of your advice back in November. You planted an idea and I'm learning to use my abilities.

Merry Christmas,

Daria

He smiled, a genuine smile.


"The boys of the NYPD choir were singing Galway Bay! And the bells are ringing out for Christmas Day!"

THE END

AUTHOR'S NOTES: As mentioned before, this fic has ties to another fic, Brian Taylor's "Moving Pictures" (sadly not on ) which has a young Amy. The video flashbacks are deliberately written in the style of Moving Pictures, and Freaks, Geeks and Phantasms was a "show" teenaged Amy made with her camera.

This was originally written before Christmas 2010 - and bugger, because by writing 'in the future' I missed my chance to make some very vicious Wikileaks jokes re Lawndale Leaks. Oh well!