Though the Course May Change Sometimes,
Rivers Always Reach the Sea
©2010 The Angst Guy (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Daria and associated characters are ©2010 MTV Networks
Feedback (good, bad, indifferent, just want to bother me, whatever) is appreciated. Please write to: email@example.com
Synopsis: Ten years after she met Daria Morgendorffer at Lawndale High School, Jane Lane has moved on with her life—but adulthood has led her in unusual directions.
Author’s Notes: See the story’s end for my notes. This story makes use of a special font for the title and chapter titles, a true-type font with a sophisticated flavor. The font is called Chaucer (one of several with that name) and is available as a free download from several places online: Fontage.com or Searchfreefonts.com, among other places.
Acknowledgements: My heartfelt thanks go out to Kara Wild, who sparked this story with a thread she began in PPMB’s “Deep Thoughts” about what the characters of Daria might be doing ten years after the show began (assumedly, in Dariaverse time, in 1997).
Wednesday, March 7, 2007
“A vineyard,” said Jane Lane. She opened the sketchbook and plans on the kitchen table and turned them to show them to her latest prospective customer. Most of her outfit was charcoal black: boots with pointed toes and high heels, bootcut slacks, and an open suit jacket, none of it so black as her hair, cut in a long layered shag. This was topped off with a low-key sprinkling of silver jewelry and a royal blue shirt that matched her eyes. It was the suit she wore when she wanted to be remembered as a professional, not what she wore when she was actually working.
“A vineyard?” Her tone indicating intrigue, Elsie Sloane took one end of the plans to study them. She wore white Capri pants, a turquoise tank top, and sandals so perfect and white it was obvious they had never touched dirt, even though she had been outside in her patio garden when Jane had arrived. Stylish sunglasses were perched on top of her head. She so smelled of sunscreen it was impossible not to sit near her and think of the beach. It was hard, too, to not stare at the skating rink on her finger pretending to be a diamond ring, but Jane was here on business and mostly resisted a peek.
“From the French wine country,” Jane elaborated. She pointed her pencil at the drawing. “I based it on photographs of a hillside vineyard in Alsace. I’d go with an Impressionist style—”
“That is lovely,” Elsie breathed. “That is just fantastic.” She didn’t seem to be saying it to be polite.
“Um, thank you.”
“You meant ‘Impressionist’ like that, uh, painter, I can’t think—”
“Yeah, I think that was him. Did he do the water lilies?”
“That’s him, and you’re right. This would be done in his style, exactly like that. If you want a pond, I can throw in a few water lilies, too, if you like.”
Elsie studied the sketch carefully. “I’d like to show this to Richard, if you don’t mind,” she said. “He’s footing the bill, since this is his house. Our house. Whatever.”
“By all means.”
“Do you have a card?”
Jane pulled one from her breast pocket and handed it over. “Call me anytime.”
“I’m going to talk to Richard,” said Elsie, putting the card aside and continuing to look over Jane’s proposal. “This would be the greatest looking bathroom in Lawndale.”
“That was the idea.”
Elsie sighed and sat back in her chair, giving Jane a smile. “I can’t believe I’m hiring my brother’s ex-girlfriend to paint a bathroom, and it’s not even in my own house—yet.”
Jane smiled and made it appear genuine. “Small world.”
“Have you heard from him lately?”
“You mean Tom?” Jane raised an eyebrow. “No. I haven’t talked to him in, oh, what, seven years now, since we left high school. I think he kept in touch with Daria for a while, but I can’t say for how long.”
“How is she doing?”
“Still in Boston, in graduate school. She finally got her Masters in psychology and is planning to get her Ph.D. in two, maybe three years. She’s working part-time at a psychiatric hospital on top of that.”
“I bet that’s a story and a half.”
Jane’s smile grew tight. “She has a few.”
“What’s she planning to do after she gets out?”
Jane exhaled and thought. “I’m not sure. At first I thought she wanted to do research, as that’s down her alley, but it sounds lately more like she’s going to jump right into the job market to pay off her student loans. She’s in pretty deep, though not as bad as—anyway, she doesn’t know yet if she wants to get into private practice or join a hospital. I don’t even know if she’s planning to stay in Boston. I’d like to see her more often, but—she’ll do what she’ll do.”
“You two used to hang out a lot together, I remember.”
“Mmm-hmm. I don’t see much of her anymore. She came down for Christmas last, and we got to spend a little time together. Didn’t seem like enough. We keep in touch by e-mail mostly. Sometimes she sends me text messages when she’s sick of studying.”
“I don’t hear much from Tom at all, in Richmond. Funny, being his sister and all. I think it’s his wife’s doing, keeping him all to herself.” Elsie made a sour face. “I hate that stuck-up little southern b-word. Sorry to dump on you, but she really pisses me off. Her dad’s a movie producer, indie films, and she wants to be an actress when she grows up. Maybe she could do snuff porn. Cheap shot, I know. Sorry to go on about it.” She scratched the back of her neck and straightened in her chair. “I hope you don’t mind if I say so, but I wish he’d married you. You at least had common sense, plus you were fun. You make your own money, too, which is more than I can say for some people.” She gave a deprecating smile. “I include myself in the latter group, alas.”
Jane shrugged as if talking about an ex-boyfriend didn’t bother her. “Life rolls on.”
Elsie nodded and looked down at the plans again. “That it does. Well, I’ll get Richard to call you. This is exactly what I wanted, something exactly like this. It looks terrific!”
That sincere smile came up again in full bloom. “Well, good! I look forward to hearing from him. When’s the big day?”
“A year from now, next May. You do weddings?”
Jane’s eyebrow went up again. “I could give it a whirl. I’ve done some outdoor work for big parties, corporate events, that sort of thing. What were you thinking of?”
Elsie’s eyes went down to the sketchpad and the vineyard she wanted in her fiancé’s bathroom. “Let me call you back about that. I have a lot in mind, but I have to get going if I’m going to meet Mom downtown before one-thirty.”
Jane’s gaze went down to the skating rink on Elsie’s finger. “Please give her my best. I hope I wasn’t too scary to her when I was a teenager dating her son.”
“Nah,” said Elsie, getting up from the table. “Mom liked you, too. She liked Daria as well, but we both agreed you were a lot more fun.”
They shook hands and Elsie walked her to the door. “You didn’t really answer my question from earlier, when you got here,” said Elsie as she held the door. “What brought you back to Lawndale from Boston? You were at Boston Fine Arts College, weren’t you?”
Jane snorted lightly. Her smile became fixed. “It was too expensive, I’m afraid. I got one and a half years in, looked at my bank balance, and decided to work a little in the real world before I went back for the rest of my degree. Those student loans were killers. I’m lucky I paid mine off.”
“That’s what I’ve heard. I stayed long enough to lay the groundwork on my M.R.S. degree, then I dropped out. Mom and Dad had a fit, but I can always go back later after Richard and I get married. Whatever.” Elsie waved goodbye and Jane went down the steps to her company car: a fire-engine-red Miata convertible, which she had bought used though no one could tell. CALL JANE it read on the driver’s door in large white script. Below that it read: Custom Interior Decorating. Below that was: When you want more than the best. After that was her office phone number. She waited until she pulled out of the driveway to blow out a long sigh and shake her head.
“I swear to God,” she muttered as she accelerated, “if have to I kiss any more ass today, I’m going to rinse out my mouth with Lysol.”
* * *
Wednesday was dress-up day. Unless an appointment could not be scheduled for the middle of the week, this was the only time Jane dressed to kill instead of to get paint stains all over her. Her painting and decorating business could not take on many more new clients until she hired more skilled painters, and at the moment she had only her nephew Adrian for help after two other artists left in February to pursue other interests. It was past time to knock on a few cabins at the Ashfield Community for the Arts again and see if any other starving young creatives were willing to sell out to the machine to satisfy the relentless pressures for food, shelter, clothing, and spending money had led Jane to set up her business in the first place. With over a half-dozen new subdivisions under construction in Lawndale County, and more planned, there was no end of work in sight.
The old apprentice system used by Renaissance masters suited Jane as well. Once she had a mural commission with the papers signed and one-third of the final cost up front, she went in with a digital camera and a sketch pad and drew out the entire work assignment, literally drawing out the placement of objects on the walls with special pencils. Once that was done, she turned over the work to Adrian, who came in and did the rough coloring, with Jane checking during lunch on his progress. She came in for the final work, adding details and fixing problem areas. Adrian was an apt pupil—no grand master, but far more competent than the average paint-pusher for basic work. She hoped he would stick around for a while until she found suitable replacements, but he had shown no inclination to run off as he had so often done with his miserably dysfunctional mother, Jane’s thrice-divorced oldest sister Summer.
Just as Adrian was the perfect apprentice, Courtney, Adrian’s fraternal twin, was the perfect office manager. She handled the appointment book, fielded calls, tracked basic finances, oversaw legal issues as they appeared, and mediated with the company’s tax accountant. She also played a practical-minded devil’s advocate to Jane’s musings about ways to change and improve the business. If Adrian ever ran off, Courtney was sure to go with him, but like her brother she showed no sign that she ever would. After living on the streets from one end of America to the other throughout their childhoods, the twins had repeatedly voiced a preference for a stable, predictable, and even boring home life as young adults. Jane had never asked what their homeless lives had been like, and they had never told her. She feared such ignorance was for the best.
As she sat in her car at a stoplight, Jane remembered the spring day she returned to Lawndale from Boston, depressed over her inability to break through a staggering creative block or find financial aid that would let her continue in college long enough to graduate. She came back to her parents’ home in an airport taxi, a loser in heart and soul, to find no one around except her youngest niece and nephew, who were looking through a garbage can in back of the house for something to eat. The kitchen was empty; the house had long ago been looted by vagrants. Jane’s older siblings, even her sometimes reliable brother Trent, had fled to the four corners of the world and not returned.
It was do or die. She grasped that at once. When Jane was fifteen, her parents had left their Do Not Resuscitate medical orders with her, perhaps sensing that she was the only responsible member of their family. Perhaps they also anticipated an illness-related inability to respond to doctors and feared legal delays, for with the DNR orders were legal documents granting Jane complete power of attorney over all her parents’ affairs once she turned eighteen. Jane had paid no attention to such orders until her father was killed by a pyroclastic flow on volcanic Mount Mayon, the year she started college. After the memorial service, she dug up the documents and studied them. Technically, they gave her complete control over everything her parents owned.
Including the house.
When all attempts to contact her mother failed, Jane immediately moved to put the power of attorney into effect. Helen Morgendorffer, Daria’s mother, referred her to a competent and inexpensive legal service. Jake, Daria’s father, volunteered small business advice that proved, for once, to be right on target. Do or die—and Jane did, and did not die.
I’m a survivor, she liked to say when the chips were down. It was the truest thing to ever come out of her mouth. Everyone she reached for survived as well.
* * *
The two-story Lane homestead at 111 Howard Drive had been repainted, the shutters repaired, and the front and back yards mowed and sprayed for weeds. All rusting abstract sculptures left behind by long-departed family members had been hauled away by scrap-metal companies. The mailbox was twice its former size and had the CALL JANE script on both sides. The front door had CALL JANE on it as well, in red script. Getting the house rezoned for small business had been a godsend.
“How’d it go?” called Courtney when Jane came in. Golden-haired Courtney, now nineteen, sat at a desk in the house’s former living room, surrounded by computer monitors, in-and-out baskets, phones, fax machines, printers, and a vase with an assortment of lifelike silk flowers. The crayon-marked walls had been wallpapered; the burnt carpeting had been replaced with a huge Oriental rug; the stained and threadbare furniture dropped by the roadside for scavengers to find, then replaced by wicker chairs with thick, comfortable seat and back cushions. Soft guitar music (Windham Hill, not Mystik Spiral) played from hidden speakers.
“She liked it,” said Jane, running a hand through her hair. She had small silver earrings now, three per ear, but they were usually hidden by the long shag. “Her fiancé’s going to call tonight, I hope. She says he’s paying for it. You should have seen her engagement ring. I could have bought this whole subdivision with that and a nickel.”
“What’d she think of the price for the bathroom?”
“She never asked.”
“Well,” said Courtney in a knowing tone, “that’s the rich for you, Goddess bless ‘em.”
“Yeah, for real. Any calls?”
“Adrian’s finishing up at the Gupty’s. Did you use to babysit for them?”
“Yeah, in high school. They say something about it?”
Courtney grinned. “They told Adrian that you and Daria were the best babysitters they ever hired. Did you play ‘Cemetery’ with their kids, too?”
Jane laughed. “Let’s say that it kept them quiet,” she said. “It worked great on you and your sibs, as I recall.”
Courtney stuck out her tongue. “You’re a mean aunt. I ought to run away again.”
“Great, then I’ll use your paycheck to get a new outfit.”
Courtney gave Jane a mock glare. “I’ll stay, then, just to piss you off. Oh, yeah, Danny called. He wants to come over tonight. He’ll pick up dinner if you’ll call him back and tell him what to get.”
“Why didn’t he call me?” Jane checked her jacket pockets. “Oh, my cell’s off. Damn, forgot. Wonder if I missed any... no, just him. I’ll call him in a few.”
“Can we have wings? I found a coupon for a family-size basket.”
“Sure, whatever you want. You call him first, let me go to the bathroom. Let’s eat around six or seven. Do I have anything else this afternoon?”
“You’ve got that two o’clock at the Taylor place in Crewe Neck, but your three-thirty rescheduled for next Wednesday. You’re supposed to do that dining room at the Robertsons’ tomorrow, starting at seven.”
“Right, the Baroque thing.” Jane shivered as she walked off to the first-floor bathroom. “Beauty is in the eye of the check writer,” she sighed before she shut the door.
She checked her cell phone again before she did anything else. No calls other than from Danny. So far, so good.
* * *
The Taylor mansion was just as she remembered it from the times she’d visited it in high school: stately, slightly gaudy, huge. Why anyone needed Greek pillars on their front porch was a question to which Jane would never find an adequate answer. Pillars were worthless. Rumor had it the Taylors’ money was still good, though.
She rang the doorbell and waited. And waited some more. She was walking down the steps to go around to the back of the mansion when the front door opened.
“Hello?” A mildly overweight young woman in an olive-drab T-shirt and faded jeans peered out, shading her eyes with one hand. A single ponytail fell back to her shoulder blades. “Jane Lane? Is that you? Wow!”
Jane blinked, old images arising and trying to fit over the new. Astonishment paralyzed her, though she had anticipated the possibility of this very meeting. “Brittany?”
“Yeah!” The young woman enthusiastically waved her in. “Hey, good to see you! Long time no see!” Jane came up the steps and saw that her old classmate from high school was determined to hug her. She gave in. It was bad form to refuse a small favor for a potential client.
“Oh, my God!” cried Brittany as Jane came in. Brittany shut the door behind her. “Look at you! You look fantastic! I love your hair!”
Something was off. Brittany’s posture was strange, and she seemed to wobble as she stood. The former cheerleader’s mood was not as buoyant as it once was; her face was drawn and tired, as well as puffy with fat. The Brittany of old had also maintained a trim, curvaceous figure, but this Brittany had thick arms and love handles. Her once-sizeable boobs were bigger, too, and droopy even in her bra.
“Thanks,” said Jane automatically. “You look great, too.”
“Oh, no I don’t,” said Brittany, her infectious smile slipping. “I’m a wreck.” She then brightened. “Dad said he called you. Are you really doing the solarium? I thought you liked doing art stuff and everything!”
“I do. I’m just painting on a bigger canvas, you could say, doing whole rooms instead of little bitty pictures.”
“Yeah, I can see that! That’s so cool!” Brittany began leading Jane through the enormous house, tastelessly outfitted in a wealthy macho style with huge ceramic African beasts, the mounted heads of animal trophies, and photographs of wildlife-covered savannas, doubtless taken during actual safaris. “Hey, I thought you and Daria were in Boston! Is she back, too?”
“No, just me. Daria’s in grad school. I decided to get a real job before I went back, get some experience first.” Jane frowned. Brittany walked oddly, too—stiff-legged with short steps, like she was walking on stilts. Jane squinted: 513th MILITARY POLICE, read the cracked, blocky letters across the back of Brittany’s olive-drab tee.
“Yeah, that makes sense,” said Brittany. “Do you like your work?”
Jane hesitated, then answered truthfully. “I like it, but it’s a job.”
“Yeah, you’re right. Fun stuff’s not so much fun when you have to do it.”
“That’s it.” They did not seem any closer to anything that resembled a solarium, so Jane cleared her throat. “So, how have you been?”
“Oh...” Brittany’s voice trailed off, then returned at half strength. “You know, getting along. Taking it day by day.”
“I heard you went to Great Prairie State, you and the other cheerleaders.”
“Yeah.” Brittany pointed and they took a right turn at the end of a hall. Hot, moist air clung to their faces, and they both shaded their eyes against the sudden light.
“Ah,” said Jane, looking into a brilliant, green-filled room with a glass ceiling. She fanned her face with a hand. “This must be the solarium.”
“This is it!” Brittany carefully took a step down to the floor as she entered the room, then set off down an aisle through a forest of tropical palms and flowers. “Dad left his notes over here somewhere, for what he wanted you to do.”
Jane watched the way Brittany walked. Something was definitely wrong with her legs. Jane was on the verge of asking when, in the course of studying Brittany’s peculiar gait, she saw Brittany’s left jeans leg rise above her black shoe.
A black metal rod came down into the shoe instead of a human leg. Brittany moved in the same stiff-legged way using the other foot, too.
Brittany was walking on stilts.
Jane realized her mouth was open. She shut it.
“Here they are,” said Brittany, stopping at a glass-topped table to pick up a sheaf of papers. “I think he got tired of the jungle in here and now he wants something sorta normal like, you know? Something we don’t have to water so much and clean up all the leaves. Here’s all his stuff. Hey, are you all right? You look really pale.”
“It’s the humidity,” Jane whispered, looking at the pages Brittany handed her but seeing nothing.
“Yeah, it is pretty foggy, isn’t it? Hey, can I get you something to drink? You have a little time to talk?”
“Sure. Sure thing.”
“This is so great! I never see anyone from high school around anymore! Well, Kevin’s in town, but he’s married now. He’s got kids, can you believe that? I mean, wow!”
Brittany led to the way to the kitchen, where they drank sodas and compared notes about former classmates. Jane had lost touch with everyone except Daria. With her computer and a social networking site, Brittany had gotten back in touch with quite a few classmates and even a few teachers.
“Jodie’s got her MBA and is working for a company in the northwest suburbs of Chicago,” said Brittany, ticking them off her fingers. “Mack’s married, he’s in San Antonio. I knew you and Daria were in Boston but I thought you were still there. The other cheerleaders are all over the place. Andrea I think is in Denver. Upchuck I think is in Baltimore, not all that far from here.”
“Eww,” said Jane, making a face.
“Yeah, I know. And, um, that Fashion Club, the girls that Daria’s sister hung around with? They’re all over the place, too, except Tiffany. She’s the only one still here.”
“Tiffany? You’re kidding.”
“No, she works in the Junior Five department at Cashman’s, at the mall. Isn’t that a hoot?”
Jane almost said something then about Quinn, Daria’s younger sister, and her hundred-thousand-dollar debt that not even a squadron of boyfriends could pay off, but squelched the impulse. They laughed and compared a few more notes. A lull came in the conversation when Brittany began to stare at her empty soda can and play with it.
“What happened?” Jane asked, though she wondered if she shouldn’t. “I mean, uh, to...”
Brittany let go of the can and reached up to rub her mouth. “Oh... well, you know, like I wanted to do something after Nine Eleven, I was so upset and all... so I kind of joined the Army, you know? I was in Afghanistan for a while, then I got sent to Iraq, and when I got to Mosul they blew up my Humvee, bam, just like... that. It killed every other guy in the Humvee but me. I don’t even remember it ‘cause I had a concussion. The doctors fixed me up as best they could, sorta, then they sent me home.” Her voice went flat. “So... here I am. Not much else to tell.”
“What do you do all day?”
“Nothing.” The one-time cheerleader looked across the kitchen, avoiding Jane’s gaze. “Just sit around, play with the cats and the computer. Nothing.”
Jane swallowed. “Can you drive?”
“What?” Brittany glanced down at her legs. She had not yet said anything about her prostheses, which Jane could now tell started at the knees. “Um, yeah, sure. It’s not too much trouble. Why?”
“I thought you might come over to my place Sunday for dinner. I run my business out of my parents’ old home on Howard Drive. We’ll order out and you can meet my niece and nephew. They work for me. Everyone else in my family kind of ran off after my father died.”
Brittany’s eyes widened in horror. “Your dad died? Oh, no!”
“It’s okay, it was in two thousand two. He was filming a volcano in the Philippines and it sort of blew up on him. I don’t think he suffered much. It happened pretty fast. He just got too close.”
Brittany reached across the table for Jane’s hand and held it. She was tearing up. It made Jane tear up, which surprised her as she hadn’t cried about her father since the memorial service. He hadn’t been around a lot in Jane’s life, so most of her tears had been for herself. A funeral had been unnecessary, as her father was already buried beneath a solidified river of gray ash.
They talked a while longer, exchanged e-mail addresses and phone numbers, then Jane took the solarium notes and promised to call back after she looked them over. At the doorway, Jane reached over and impulsively hugged Brittany again.
“I’m glad you made it home,” she whispered, trying not to cry.
“I don’t know if I’m so glad about it,” Brittany said. She sniffed, then began to shake as she cried in earnest. Jane gave up and joined her. There was nothing else she could do.
* * *
Jane parked briefly at the end of the Taylors’ long driveway to wipe her eyes. She was grateful her next appointment had rescheduled. Her work day was over. The rest of her midweek day, though, was not, and she really needed it now.
She stopped by a women’s fashion store, more to kill time and regain her composure than anything else. She checked her cell phone again when she was behind a blouse display: no new calls. The coast was clear for her next meeting, one that she would never write down in any scheduling book or program into any PDA. She didn’t see anything in the store she wanted right away, so after a while she drifted back to her car and headed for the northwest side of town.
When she reached a strip mall of small business offices, she pulled around back and packed behind a row of trees so her car would not be easily seen. Before she got out, she took a moment to close her eyes, rub her face, and collect herself as she always did.
“This has nothing to do with me missing Daria,” she whispered so that only she would hear. “This has nothing to do with my father’s dying or never being there for me, nothing to do with all the free consulting work Jake’s done for me because I was his daughter’s only friend, or with him finding out that Helen was banging that guy Eric she works with for the last eight years, or me feeling sorry for him because he’s had a bypass and he’s scared to death of that one last heart attack he knows is coming. This has nothing to do with any of that. This isn’t even in revenge for Daria stealing Tom, though I do admit that is a very interesting thought. This is only for me, my one little bit of fun because I work so hard all day to keep what’s left of my family together, to keep our heads above water, and I want that one little bit of fun that’s left to me. I love my life, I like what I do, but everything and everyone depends on me, and I need a break. That’s all I want, and that’s all I need, that little break, that one bit of fun that’s mine alone. That’s all.”
She got out of her car and locked it, then walked around the row of trees and up the sidewalk that ran behind the little business mall. Her step became lively and light. Nothing seemed out of place; no one was paying attention to her so far as she could tell. At the last rear door to the strip mall, she stopped and pushed a button by a door that read, JAKE MORGENDORFFER, CONSULTING.
The intercom clicked. “Jake Morgendorffer!” said a cheerful, familiar voice.
She grinned with excitement. “I need some consulting,” she said. “I haven’t had a really good consult in a long time.”
The door buzzed and she went in, shutting it behind her. It locked automatically. She took off her boots and socks and left them by the door in the coffee room, then walked into the office area. He was waiting for her in the conference room with his tie off and shirt half unbuttoned, smiling. They fell together without a word, locked together like opposite-pole magnets in each other’s arms, mouths drinking in their breath and soul. He tasted of peppermint with a hint of bourbon. One of his arms held her to him across her shoulder blades; the other hand reached under her jacket and down inside the back of her slacks, over her buttocks. His fingers encountered only skin. She shivered.
“I took your advice and didn’t wear any underwear today,” she said, looking up, all innocence. “You got any more good consulting for me?”
“Do I ever,” he growled. His hands came around front and fumbled with the buttons on her pants. She put her arms around his neck and let him, hoping he wouldn’t rip or tear anything. He didn’t. The pants hit the floor and she kicked them away—everything to the dry cleaners, later. He put his hands under her buttocks and lifted her to the conference table, and it was her turn to undo his pants.
“It looks like you were expecting me,” she said, but that was all she got out before his mouth again found hers. He was amazingly strong for a man in his mid-fifties; he had begun working out at a local gym after they began coupling three years earlier. She reached down, made the final desperate connection, and that was the last sane thought she had.
She had a lot of crazy thoughts, though. That would be such a riot if even with the pills and everything, I got pregnant and had Daria’s sister or brother. I bet she’d have a cow the size of Pittsburgh if I did. Damn, now I know why Helen stuck with him all these years. He’s an animal when he gets going. He’s a monster, a powerhouse. Slam it to me, hit that thing. I can’t imagine why Helen felt she had to look somewhere else for... oh boy, here it comes, I’m going too, here we go, now hit it, hit it, HIT IT HIT IT HIT IT YES HIT OH OH OH OHHHHHHHHHHH—
“You have remarkable fortitude,” she said a half hour later. She lay across him on a narrow sofa, her head cradled in his shoulder. For some reason, her words made him laugh.
There was no sound other than a clock ticking, their breathing, and thumping of his heart in her ear. The old muscle was working just fine.
“I can’t stay too long,” she whispered.
“That’s okay,” he whispered back. He kissed the top of her head and stroked her silky hair.
“I love it when we’re like one person,” she said. “I love that.”
“I love it, too.”
She sighed and got halfway up, got a preoccupied look on her face, and carefully reached down. “I don’t have to go right yet, though,” she said, keeping a straight face for as long as she could. “What do you think?”
He looked back at her with warm gray eyes. “Viagra’s a great thing, that’s what I think,” he said.
They both burst out laughing. Not once did Jake say a single thing about Quinn or her credit-card and college-loan debts, and for that Jane was infinitely grateful. Twenty-five minutes later, after she cleaned herself up in the office bathroom and kissed him goodbye, she was gone.
* * *
“I don’t see why you have to take a shower as soon as you get home,” muttered Adrian that evening around a mouthful of chicken wings. “I have to take a shower with all the crap I get over me, and you don’t.”
“If you had to kiss as much ass as I do,” Jane retorted, “you’d shower, too.”
Everyone laughed. Danny played his old guitar at the kitchen table while they ate. He was in a soft-core Led Zeppelin mood tonight: There’s a lady who’s sure / All that glitters is gold...
“Heard from Jesse today,” Danny said. He sat next to Jane as he always did.
“They still in San Diego?” asked Courtney, licking her fingers. The chicken wings were great but messy.
“Yeah.” Danny scratched his chin. He had the same wiry physique as his older brother, but far more going on upstairs. “They’re still playing small gigs around southern Cal. Trent says hi. Nothing much else new, except Jesse’s got a new girlfriend, he thinks. Hard to tell.”
Everyone laughed again. They all knew Jesse. He was clueless.
“Are they planning on staying?” asked Jane, wiping her hands on her eighth paper napkin.
“Didn’t say anything about it, so I guess so.” Danny began playing a new tune, one vaguely familiar to Jane. It was particularly soft, almost aimless.
“Jane, are you going out to Ashfield Saturday?” asked Courtney.
“Yeah. About time. I’ll probably be gone all day.”
“Good luck,” said Adrian. “We’re missing a lot of work.”
“I know it.” Jane remembered something and cleared her throat. “By the way, I’m going to invite company over Sunday. She’s an old classmate of Daria’s and mine, Brittany Taylor.”
“What’s she like?” asked Adrian.
“Oh, she’s my age,” said Jane. She took a breath. “She was in the Army a few years ago, in Iraq. She... her vehicle hit a mine or IED or something, and blew up.”
Everyone looked up at her. No one moved.
“She lost both her legs from the knees down,” Jane finished.
“No way,” said Danny, his mouth hanging open.
“Oh, my Goddess,” said Courtney. She sat back in her chair, her face white. “That’s horrible. That’s just horrible.”
“Is she in a wheelchair?” asked Adrian.
“She has artificial legs. She seems to get around pretty well without crutches. I guess she had a lot of time to train with them. She says she can even drive.”
“Maybe we could go by and pick her up anyway,” said Courtney. “I can go get her.”
“I’ll get her,” said Jane. “I’ll call her back after dinner. Oh, I left the notes in my car. Her dad wants his solarium redone.”
“We’ve got the money to give her a little party, if you like,” said Courtney. “We cleared seventy thousand net last year, and we could do a lot better this year if we can get those two people replaced, and soon.” Courtney gave her aunt a meaningful look.
“Saturday, I know, I know.”
The phone rang then. Jane got it. She came back to the table after five minutes.
“Elsie’s Richard,” she said. “We got the job. He didn’t ask about the price, either.” She looked up at Courtney. “Add twenty percent to labor when you fax the contract over.”
“Aye-aye, cap’n.” Courtney looked at Danny. “You staying over tonight?”
Adrian laughed and coughed at the same time. “Jeez, Court, cool out. It’s their sex life.”
“I wasn’t invited over yet,” said Danny, putting on a sad face and hanging his head.
“Yo, Danny,” said Jane, poker faced. “Wanna stay over tonight and reenact the time you helped me move into my dorm at college? Eleven a.m.?”
Everyone laughed. Danny turned red and wouldn’t look anyone in the face, but he grinned and began playing that soft, aimless song again. After a few chords, he began to sing: “Then as it was, then again it will be / And though the course may change sometimes / Rivers always reach the sea...”
Danny wasn’t a powerhouse in bed, but he was creative and fun and knew how to take his time. It was good enough for Jane. “What is that song?” she asked.
“Led Zeppelin,” said Danny. “Old song called ‘Ten Years Gone.’ From the seventies.”
“Ten years gone,” repeated Jane. “It was ten years ago this year that I met Daria.” Her gaze became unfocused though she seemed to be looking at Danny’s guitar. “Life rolls on.”
“Life rolls on,” agreed Danny, who was a far better guitarist than his older brother Jesse, and a better businessman, too, given the local music store he managed, though he was every bit as clueless about women as Jesse was.
Jane didn’t mind. It worked out better that way. “What are the words to that song again?” she asked, finished with the chicken wings. “Sing it through for me.”
He nodded and began over at the beginning. Jane thought of Daria as he played, and she smiled a very peculiar smile.
Author’s Notes II: In no particular order, here are my notes. Danny Moreno, the “recording secretary” for the Mystik Spiral Fan Club, is known only from The Daria Database, which is also the source for Jane being entrusted with the DNR orders for her parents (she keeps them under her bed). The book implies that Danny knows a lot more about guitar playing than his big brother Jesse does. Adrian and Courtney are known only from the episode “Lane Miserables” and The Daria Diaries. Brittany’s possible attraction to the military life came from the amazing abilities she displayed in “The Daria Hunter.” Daria and Jane visited Brittany Taylor at home in both “The Invitation” and “Art Burn”; more of the mansion is seen in “Groped by an Angel.” Elsie Sloane and the Ashfield Community for the Arts are known only from Is It Fall Yet? Jane joked in “My Night at Daria’s” that she planned to have sex for the first time on her college move-in day at 11 a.m., which she pulls off here with her boyfriend Danny Moreno, an idea spawned by the many shipper tales pairing Jane with Jesse. Speaking of the Jane/Jake thing, that came from a PPMB Iron Chef by Insanity (“Iron Chef: Jake and Jane”), dated September 2004. (Jane’s comment about Jake’s “remarkable fortitude” was originally voiced by Amy Barksdale under different circumstances in “I Don’t.”) Jane’s time as a babysitter for the Gupty kids was described in “Pinch Sitter.” The Led Zeppelin song lyrics referenced herein are from “Stairway to Heaven” and “Ten Years Gone,” the latter being the source of this story’s title, and thus the connection to Kara’s musings about the characters ten years later. The Lane home address is from The Daria Diaries. Last but not least, the location and appearance of Jake Morgendorffer’s consulting office was shown on the “Virtual Lawndale” webpage on MTV’s Daria website, at:
Original 03/09/07, 05/29/07, 09/02/07, 04/11/10, 05/17/10