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Synopsis: Brittany Taylor has a secret talent—and her new tutor, David Sorenson, is about to discover what it is.
Author's Notes: WacoKid posted an intriguing Iron Chef on PPMB in December 2006: “Write a short piece in which a Daria character finds herself [or himself] in the bedroom of a character whose bedroom she [he] wouldn't normally be in—Helen in Trent’s room, Mack in Tiffany’s, etc. In the room they must find and comment on/think about three items. The first must be something completely expected (say, a football in Kevin or Mack's room). The second must be something that seems unusual at first but sort of makes sense after you think about it for a minute (Jane’s power tools). The third must be something that completely changes the way the main character views the room owner (Brittany's Bible, Trent’s neo-Nazi music CDs). It can be as funny, dramatic, or outrageous as you wish.”
This story was my response. The Taylor estate and mansion are depicted in the Daria episodes “The Invitation,” “Groped by an Angel,” and “Art Burn.” The artwork at the end came from the MTV website’s Daria section, from a collection of character alter egos. David Sorenson is Quinn's tutor from Is It Fall Yet?
Acknowledgements: WacoKid’s Iron Chef was the spark that gave this story life, and I am very grateful for it. Thanks, man!
This cannot be happening, David Sorenson told himself the moment the front door of the mansion opened and he got an eyeful of his next tutoring student.
“Hey, you’re David, right?” said the zaftig bombshell with bouncy blonde pigtails. “I’m Brittany Taylor! Come on in! Everyone else is out, so we have the whole house to ourselves! You want to tutor me in my bedroom upstairs, or what?”
David paused just long enough before answering to hastily take in the major topological features of his prospective student. Going from the floor up, she wore trendy Birkenstock sandals, no socks, blue sweatpants with yellow stripes down the sides, and a Lawndale State University T-shirt showing the school mascot making a fist (“Go Gettum, Dam Beavers!”) that emphasized rather than concealed a stunning pair of breasts. A half-second before his gaze would have become impolite, David forced himself to look up at the bubbly young woman’s sky-blue eyes instead of her phenomenal . . . natural (?) endowments.
“The kitchen table will be fine,” he heard himself say. “Thanks.”
“Great! There’s lots of room there, the housekeeper’s already cleaned up, and we can get snacks while we study!” Brittany waved him in and walked off into the mansion, giving David a first-rate view of the hypnotic rocking of her heart-shaped derriere. “You want a soda?” she called over her shoulder. “We have diet everything!”
“Uh . . . sure, whatever.” He again tore his gaze from Brittany’s stunning anatomy and made himself examine, albeit briefly, his surroundings. The mansion, deep within the Crewe Neck gated subdivision, was an architectural tribute to the ostentatious tastes of the nouveau riche. It featured among other things a front lawn the size of a football field and an ornate marble fountain decorated with naked cherubs beside the driveway. Streams of water sprayed from some of the cherubs’ mouths, making a few of them look like they were vomiting into the fountain pools. Other cherubs seemed to be using the fountain as a public urinal. David shook his head, closed the huge oak door behind him, and followed Brittany down the grand entry hall, which was outfitted as if a visit from Louis XVI was anticipated at any minute.
As David entered the kitchen, which could have hosted a half-dozen chefs without complaint, Brittany shut the door of the double-wide refrigerator with a bump from her left hip and walked over to the marble-top dining table with a frosty can of one-calorie Ultra Cola in either hand. “Here you go!” she said. “I used to drink regular soda, but I got so bloated I couldn’t stand it!” She put down the cans, wiped her hands on her sweatpants, then jerked up the hem of her T-shirt to just below her fully packed white-lace bra. “Look at my stomach!” she cried. “I gained twelve pounds after I left high school, and here I am two years later and I’ve lost only seven! Can you believe it?”
David’s chest began to hurt because he was not breathing, but his brain didn’t notice because none of his neural functions were processing anything but incoming visual data. Brittany had only the slightest amount of baby fat, not enough to conceal her well-toned abdomen but just enough to improve the curvature. “You look great,” he said in a choked voice, hoping to put a stop to this merciless torment. “You’re better than great, in fact, but we really should worry about your educational well-being instead of your physical. I assume that’s what you’re paying me for.”
“That’s so sweet of you to say!” Brittany dropped her shirt and plopped herself in a chair at one corner of the table. “You’re so nice! It’s so hard to meet nice guys around here. Most of them are such jerks. They only want one thing, and maybe that’s okay after the first date, but they don’t have to be so grabby about it! And they never call afterward or anything!” Her frustration came to an end as she beamed at him. “I mean, if they want it so much, all they have to do is just be a little bit nice, and maybe I might even think about it on the first date, you know?” She waited for his response.
David, whispered a voice in his head as he kept his gaze firmly locked on her sky-blue eyes, pull the pants up on your imagination and settle down. You came here to teach, not play “hide the salami.” She said on the phone that she was twenty, so she’s legal, but she’s your student, you have principles, there’s nothing here you haven’t seen before, and she has all the literal depth of a Penthouse centerfold. You’re between girlfriends, but you should schtup a fellow student from the graduate school, not this child.
“Hey, take a seat!” said Brittany, giggling. “You don’t have to stand there!”
“Um, right, right.” He pulled out a chair and sat, started to reach for his soda, then looked around with a puzzled expression. “You said you had some class materials from Lawndale State that you wanted to go over—”
“Oh!” Brittany exclaimed, sitting upright with a wide-eyed look. “I forgot the books! They’re up in my room. Here, leave your drink and come with me. I’ve got a lot to carry and you can help!” She caught David’s arm with a surprisingly powerful grip and pulled him out of his seat. “This won’t take a minute!” she said as she forced him to head for the stairs.
“Brittany,” he protested, “I don’t want to do anything inappropriate, so—”
“What?” she protested, drawing out the vowel and looking mischievous. “Helping me get my books is okay, isn’t it? I mean, you can’t teach me anything without them, right?” She grinned. “Or can you?”
“Um—” He sighed in defeat as he went up the carpeted stairs at Brittany’s side. No matter what she does, I’ll behave, no problem. I can leave if I have to. I should leave now, but she’s got one last chance to prove she’s not pulling either my leg or a more personal part of my anatomy. I couldn’t live with myself if I did anything, but this . . . this whole episode has got to be someone’s idea of a really bad joke, and I know of only one Someone who could pull it off. Not that I am blaming You for this, God, but You did have a small hand in what happened to Job, so it’s not that I’m not blaming You, either. Keep that in mind.
Brittany’s ornate room was feminine to the point of being mind-numbing, as he had expected. It was also reasonably well kept, aside from stacks of freshly laundered women’s underthings on the bed: eye-catching panties made of red lace, tiger-striped silk, tie-dyed satin, and a cotton pair with the blue-and-brown athletic colors of Lawndale State, complete with a fierce-looking beaver (still making a fist) on the front. Riveting as they were, the panties were not unexpected in such an environment, except that they were laid out in profusion right in the open, demanding to be admired, dreamed about, and slobbered over.
More surprising was the unsightly rat’s nest of books and papers stacked on a tiny nightstand beside Brittany’s bed—surprising because they were the only books in the entire room. Judging from the height of the pile, it was clear that Brittany was struggling through a full-time course load at the local college. David automatically examined the texts and pegged her as a not overly bright (well, duh) second-year liberal-arts student with an interest in acting: Stage Two Drama Workshop, Global Perspectives in English Literature, Math-o-Nomics II, Introductory Cello, Advanced French for Beginners—
He did a classic double-take before pointing to the thin black workbook near the bottom of the rat’s nest. “You play a cello?”
“Hey, I do!” Brittany squeaked in excitement. “How did you know? Oh, right, the book! Wait here!” She ran across her room and opened the doors to her palatial walk-in closet, in the middle of which, between rows of every sort of clothing, stood an actual violoncello on its stand. David gasped as his gaze ran over the feminine shape of the cello and his eyes drank in the rich, warm tones of the wood. (Was it made from real maple or that high-tech carbon composite? No matter.) The size and height of the cello made it seem more like a living partner than an instrument.
“I can play it a little,” said Brittany. As she spoke, David noticed from the corner of his eye that she was playing with her fingers like a nervous child, her forehead creased with anxiety. It did not seem to be an act. “Wanna hear me?”
Go ahead, it won’t do any harm. She’ll probably make noises like fingernails going down a blackboard, and then we can proceed—I hope—with studying.
“Please do,” he said. Moments later, Brittany was sitting on her makeup-table chair with a long bow in her right hand, the fingers of her left flicking the strings on the neck as she listened and judged whether she needed to tweak the tuning pegs. The cello rested on its tail spike between her thighs (luckiest musical instrument in history, David thought idly), the fingers of her left hand over the strings on the neck. Brittany’s eyes then glazed over, and she raised the bow and drew it across the instrument with an intense, preoccupied look on her face.
Immediately David felt himself pushed back by the deep, resonant notes that ran and danced from the bow, swiftly filling the air. Her bee-stung lips pressed tightly together, head rising and falling to the music, Brittany played a flawless and complex sequence of notes that seemed to repeat endlessly, over and over, while at the same time changing, growing, building, rising from the room toward the unseen heavens. David again forgot to breathe, but now it was Brittany’s skill that staggered him and not her sex appeal. Her timing was perhaps too quick and even a bit uneven, but her enthusiasm for the music was clear and immense. He could not place the composer; for some reason he thought it might be Philip Glass, though that did not seem likely.
Back and forth like bumblebees flew the notes, slowing and speeding, gliding and trembling, as Brittany’s sure hand slid the bow across the strings. David felt himself grow faint: she was a natural prodigy, a musical savant of breathtaking caliber. The chords climbed and grew in might, roaring and fighting, forcing themselves against the walls and ceiling, clamoring for release. All too soon, however, the blonde cellist drew out a long last note that rose as she inhaled . . . then lowered her head and sighed, removing the bow from the strings to rest the tip on the carpet. The cello leaned in repose against her left shoulder, silent and spent between her parted knees.
He did not want to disturb the silence afterward, but he had to know. “What was that?” he whispered in awe. “The piece, what was it?”
Brittany looked up, roused from her reverie. “Um . . . that was Bach, I think, but I can never remember which . . . I have it written down somewhere. It’s the start of a long thing he did a long time ago or something. Wait.” She got up with the bow and cello in hand, walked over to a messy bureau, poked through a pile of lipsticks and other cosmetics for a moment, then pulled out one scrap of paper from among many such, which she handed to David. On the scrap, in Brittany’s flowery hand with a purple felt-tip pen, were the words: J. S. Bach, Suite No. 1 in G Major: Prelude.
“That’s what it was,” she said. “I wrote it down all the songs I know so I wouldn’t forget them. That’s one of my favorites. Was it okay?” She looked like a puppy that had tried a new trick but wasn’t sure if anyone saw it. “The other students liked it, but my teacher says I need work, so he sees me after class sometimes. I’ve only been doing this for a year, and—”
A year?!? “That was incredible,” David said with a dry mouth. “I can’t believe it.” Something then struck him as peculiar. “You said your teacher feels you need work?”
“Yeah. He says I play like . . . like a tape recorder or something.” She turned red and looked at the carpet as she spoke. “He says I’m sort of good, but . . .”
The pigtailed blonde hesitated before replying. “He said I don’t have any heart. In my music, I mean. He’s working with me on it, but mostly I think he just wants to go out with me. I mean, we’re kind of going out and everything, but I wish he’d work more on my music than—” Brittany looked up, embarrassed but trying to be nonchalant “—I wish he’d work more on my music than on me, you know?”
David nodded and looked away for a moment in shared embarrassment. He understood now. “I don’t agree with him,” he said, and he made himself look at her. “You do have heart when you play, a tremendous heart. I thought that was magnificent.”
“Thanks.” Brittany’s tone became lackluster despite her smile. She looked down at her cello, her fingers toying with the neck. “My dad used to make me take violin lessons when I was a kid, and that helped a little bit, but it wasn’t as much fun as this is. I always liked music, but mostly to dance to, you know? My dad got me the cello right after he got divorced from my stepmom. He wanted me to have something to remember him by. He’s in New York City now, working in advertising for some big magazine. He’s got a little place on Manhattan, too little for anyone but him to live there because it’s so expensive, but my stepmom got the house in the divorce and she said it was okay for me to live with her after I moved back here from where I was going to college when I had to quit. Anyway, my mom’s in Los Angeles, my dad’s in New York, and my stepmom and me are here. My stepmom’s skiing at Vale for the weekend. My little brother’s in Arizona in a special school.” She frowned. “He’s got problems. It’s pretty bad.” With an exaggerated shrug, she looked up and gave David a white-toothed smile. “Anyway, that’s where everyone’s at!”
“Are you majoring in music at Lawndale State, or—?”
“Oh, no, no, I’m trying to be an actress. I thought I might go out to L.A. one of these days after I graduate and live with my mom, if she has room, and maybe we could do some acting stuff together so I can learn the ropes, like they say. I’d like to be in the movies, but my mom says she works really hard and maybe gets a bit part once every few months, so it’s tough. It’s all in who you know, she says. I don’t know anyone, but maybe I’ll get lucky. Who knows, right?”
“Yeah.” What else was there to say?
“I wanted to ask you something,” she said, and the anxious look came back in her face. “Do you think I should major in music? My dad says there’s no future in it, and my mom says he’s right, which is weird because they never agree on anything, but my stepmom says I should do what I want and not worry about anyone else. I don’t know, you know. Like I want to play a lot, and I’m kind of taking cello classes because my mom said actors have to know all sorts of stuff to get acting parts, and the more stuff you know how to do, the more parts you might get. I can do cheerleading and paintball and acrobat stuff, sort of, and this too, so maybe that will help. I hope it does.”
David nodded. He had almost forgotten about her body. “We’d best get your books and go back downstairs to get started on lessons.”
“Okay.” Brittany reluctantly put away her cello and bow again, leaving the stool in the middle of her bedroom. She followed David downstairs as he carried all her books for her. He never once wondered why he did it. They put the books and workbooks and papers on the kitchen table and sat down and stared at them. They hadn’t even opened their drinks yet.
“It’s funny,” said Brittany, before David could ask her what she wanted to do first. She was looking at the books. “When I got out of high school I went to Great Prairie State, you know, with all my girlfriends, and it was like the best time of my life, and then I got my grades and I was like flunking everything. I wasn’t even doing that good at acting. And then I found out my dad had kind of like borrowed all the money out of my college fund after the divorce, because he said he lost like almost everything to my stepmom, though I think he’s doing okay now for money at his new job. Anyway, I didn’t have any money left so I couldn’t go back to Great Prairie after my freshman year, but my stepmom Ashley-Amber said I could go to Lawndale State and she would pay for it because the tuition wasn’t as high, which was sort of okay I guess, though I sort of miss all my friends but at least I can call them when they aren’t busy, and—”
“Brittany.” David decided to face the issue squarely. “You don’t really want to study today, do you?”
“What?” She sighed and the corners of her mouth turned down. “No. I’m no good at it. It’s too much for me. My stepmom says to do my best, but it’s just too much. I’ve been trying to get back into studying for weeks but I can’t do it. I’m just not that smart and I’m kind of burned out. That’s why I called you when I saw your ad in the paper.” She cleared her throat and reddened a bit. “Um, actually, I sort of didn’t want to study even when you got here, and . . . and you’re nice to me, which not that many people are anymore, and I sort of wanted to say thank you for that. It meant a lot to me, what you said about me, you know, having a heart. That was . . . nice. Um, so, you know, if you want to, you know, like . . . go upstairs and we can . . .”
Her index finger began to describe a circle on the tabletop.
David was very sad, but not for himself. He had been here before many times, but never in a way like this with someone like her. May as well go out with a bang.
“Brittany,” he said, and she looked up. “I don’t know why or how,” he continued, “but when you play you have a genius in you that I don’t think one person in a million has. You have a gift more precious than all the gold in the world.”
She blinked, having clearly not expected this, and waited.
He leaned forward on his elbows, hands open to her. “I know a lady in Baltimore who auditions students for a music conservatory, one of the finest schools in the country. If you’ll let me use your phone, I’ll call her and see if we can get an appointment to see her as soon as possible. I want her to hear you play, today if we can arrange it. Would you go see her if I can do that?”
Brittany’s face screwed up. “But I don’t have the money to go anywhere else!” she cried.
“The school gives scholarships! That’s what you would audition for! I’ll even drive you over to see her!” He waved dismissively at her homework. “You don’t want to study today, and you don’t have to study—but you do have to try this, please, for yourself. Go with me, or go see her yourself, whatever you want to do, but see her. Would you do that?”
She looked pensive. “Doesn’t an observatory have like telescopes and stuff?” she said.
Don’t say it, don’t say it— “Conservatory, Brittany. That’s a school for people who play music.”
“Oh.” She chewed her lower lip. “And it’s okay if I don’t do any homework today?”
“Forget the homework. This is a million times more important. Please do this.”
She drew in a deep breath. “I can’t stand studying right now. Okay.” She winced. “Oh, I forgot, I’m supposed to meet Antoine at his place tonight.”
“Forget Antoine. He’s a creep.”
A smile broke out over Brittany’s face. “Yeah, you know, I thought he was, too, but—”
“Can I call that lady and see if she’ll see us today?”
“Um, uh, sure. The phone’s over there.”
Her hand caught his arm before he could get up. “Thank you, David,” she said.
“Sure,” he said. He put his free hand on hers and gave a reassuring squeeze.
The moment drew out.
“You sure you don’t want to go out with me?” she asked softly.
He looked very, very sad, and felt it. He would be proud of this moment—and would also regret it—for the rest of his life. “No. I’m sorry. It would never work between us.”
She looked sad, too. “I know. I had to ask.” She withdrew her hand. “Thank you,” she said, and the way she said it made his regret easier to bear.
“You’re welcome.” He got up and made the call. The lady had time to see them at three that afternoon; they could make the appointment if they left right away. They did.
“I forgot to ask,” said Brittany on the way there, “but where is that conservative place?”
“It’s the New England Conservatory of Music,” he said, negotiating the early afternoon traffic of Baltimore’s suburbs. “It’s in Boston, Massachusetts.”
“Boston, huh. A couple girls from my high school went to college in Boston. I wonder if they’re still there.”
“Maybe they’ll come see you at one of your concerts.”
“That would be funny, yeah! ‘Hi, Daria! Hi, Jane! Small world, isn’t it?’ I wonder what they’d think, seeing me in Boston at a conservative-ry. I bet they’d be speechless!”
Her prophecy, though accurate, proved woefully understated.
Original 03/02/07, modified 03/05/07