This is a work of fan fiction. No material gain is expected from its posting. MTV and Viacom, Inc. retains all copyrights to Daria and its characters.
Everyone goes to Nick's
Trent welcomed the cool air that leaped on him like a jaguar as soon as he entered Nick's Tavern. Outside, Dega Street sweltered. The summer sun had set but it scarcely made a discernable difference. The hot, muggy air clung to everything like tar. Trent plunked at his shirt as he headed for the corner of the highly polished long bar.
"Hey, old timer," Nick said looking up from the sink as Trent sat down. "Happy birthday."
"Thanks," Trent replied. "But as for the old timer bit; you were born four months before I was."
"Yeah," Nick laughed in reply. "But I still got all of my hair."
Trent grinned glancing at himself in the mirror that ran most of the length of the wall behind the bar. He was bald from forehead to crown and a few white hairs had taken up residence with their close-cropped black brethren that grew along the sides of his head. It made him look older then his thirty-three years.
"A Tom Collins, please," he said pulling his eyes away from his reflection. "Don't bother putting fruit in it."
"You got it," Nick buoyantly replied snagging a clean glass from the stack before him and scooping some ice into it. He quickly mixed the gin, club soda, and lemon juice with practiced ease.
"Thanks," Trent said as Nick placed the drink before him. "Business looks good."
"Yeah," Nick agreed happily. "I'll be able to pay the bills tonight."
He scanned the room. It was a respectable crowd, especially for still being early on a Thursday evening. Nick smiled. For the thousandth time he was thankful that he took the gamble on opening his own business. It had been a hard row to hoe but it had been worth it. The bar was undeniably a success. Unlike most of the establishments on Dega Street, Nick's Tavern catered to an older clientele. Many of the patrons were people like Nick and Trent; people who had been haunting that section of Lawndale since their teens but found themselves increasingly out of step with the younger set that followed them. No one was going to mistake Nick's for The Zon or McGrundy's Pub. There was no live music and the restrooms were clean but it was near enough to the seedier elements of downtown to allow the thirty and forty-somethings the illusion that they were still on the edge despite driving SUV's and making mortgage payments on mock Tudor houses.
"How's Renee?" Trent asked interrupting his friend's thoughts.
"Getting grumpier by the day," Nick grinned. "I am so glad men can't get pregnant."
"Definitely," Trent agreed.
"So how's your love life?" asked Nick. "Gotten over Felicity yet?"
"I was over her the moment she dumped me," Trent replied with a hint of defiance.
"Yeah, that's why you haven't dated anyone in two months," Nick snorted.
"I was," Trent protested. "I haven't dated because I am tired of the constant break-ups. I don't seem to have the knack for making relationships work."
"Whatever you say, Trent," Nick said seriously. "Why don't you do me a favour? Don't cling to that stool like moss on a tree. Talk to a woman tonight. Just talk, that's all I'm asking."
"Maybe," Trent grunted. "If someone catches my eye."
"You can't win if you don't play the game," Nick shot back.
"You can't lose either," Trent countered laconically. "Anymore clichés?"
"You gotta get back on the horse that threw you. There are plenty of fish in the sea. Women are like buses," Nick laughed.
"Okay, okay," Trent chuckled holding his hands up in surrender.
"I have one more," Nick replied. "As long as I don't have to pick you up off the floor at closing time, your money's no good tonight, birthday boy."
"Thanks. I won't cut into your profits too much," Trent answered. "I don't plan on getting hammered."
Nick punched him lightly on the arm before moving down the bar to serve other customers. Trent sipped his cocktail and sighed. It seemed as if everyone he knew was determined to see him to the altar. He thought about Janie and her efforts when she was a teenager. It reminded him of Emma and was as harmless but when he returned to Lawndale after six years in the navy, he found all his old band mates married. He soon became a frequent guest at barbeques and dinner parties that always had a single female in-law of some sort present. The new Mrs.' Campbell, Moreno, and Tyler were determined women and not subtle in the least. Jesse, Max, and Nick went along with their wives labours with varying degrees of enthusiasm. He knew that they were his friends and wanted to see him happy but it did get irritating.
Trent glanced back at his reflection as his thoughts wandered in yet another direction. A staid clean-shaven face with intelligent eyes stared back at him. He was thirty-three today. There was no denying that he was not a kid anymore but then he never tried to do so. He had seen too many people clinging peter pan-like to their younger days. They fooled only themselves frittering away of any chance they had of enjoying of the present in the process. It did not bother him to grow older. What did it mean? He felt the same as he had fifteen years ago. Other then the gleaming dome, he even looked much the same, only his style had changed. The earrings were history and he dressed better, discarding the earlier torn jeans and tee shirts for a more mature look but his lanky frame carried only ten pounds more then it had when he graduated from high school. Maybe it was as the old adage stated; age is a case of mind over matter. If you do not mind, it does not matter.
Trent's self-appraisal ceased when a slender, elegant brunette with shoulder length hair wearing a light blue blouse and navy skirt sat down on the stool beside him.
"Thank you," she said in a dulcet alto.
"Huh?" Trent asked in bewilderment.
The woman held up her glass. "For the drink."
Trent spied Nick at the far end of the bar grinning like the Cheshire Cat. Comprehension dawned. His friend had given her the drink saying that it was from Trent.
"You're welcome," he replied deciding to play along. It would get Nick off his back. Besides, the woman was very attractive. "I hope that you didn't think it too forward."
"It might have been if you had come over with some stale pick-up line but you didn't even look at me," she said. "Did you regret it so soon?"
"No, not at all," he quickly reassured her. "It's just...I was just lost in thought is all."
She eyed him speculatively as she tasted her cocktail. Fashion was no longer an obsession of hers as it was years ago but a well-groomed man still commanded her notice. A quick perusal showed that he was good looking, handsome even, casually but smartly dressed in a dark brown slacks and a pale yellow short-sleeved cotton shirt open at the neck. He smelled pleasantly of musk. He was smooth shaved. His fingernails were trimmed and clean. His leather shoes sported a gleaming polish.
"So what got you started on that dangerous mental activity?" she asked as she finished her rapid inventory.
"It's my birthday today," Trent answered. "That's always a time of reflection, I suppose."
"I try to avoid examining my life too closely," the woman replied. "It usually brings me around to thoughts of swallowing handfuls of sleeping pills."
Her voice was light and she smiled when she said it but Trent was a sensitive man and heard the undertone. She spoke the truth.
"May I use a stale line and ask if you come here often?" he asked trying to steer the conversation back into safer waters.
She laughed softly. "It's my first time here," she replied. "You must be a regular though. The bartender knows you by name. He said quite a few nice things about you when he delivered the drink you bought me."
"I can't say that I'm a regular but Nick was a friend of mine long before he opened this bar," Trent said. "We went to high school together and had a band for several years."
"Were you any good?" she asked.
"No," he replied "Not good enough anyway. We never got anywhere and finally called it quits. Nick became a bartender and I joined the navy."
"I did four years in the army after I finished at Lawndale High," the woman said.
"Always good to meet a fellow vet," Trent said. "So if you don't come to Nick's, where do you usually go?"
"No where around here," she replied. "Actually, today marked my first time back in Lawndale in over nine years."
"You didn't return here after the service then."
She took a long sip before she spoke. "No, I didn't. I wanted to escape Lawndale so badly that I didn't even bother to attend my high school graduation ceremony. I was in basic two days after I took my final exams."
"Where's home then?"
"Home?" she repeated as if it were an unknown word. "I live in Corpus Christi. Fort Hood was my last duty station. Staying in Texas was the easiest thing to do so that's what I did. I found a job and enrolled in Coastal Texas University."
"What are you studying?" Trent asked.
"International Business," she replied. "But I'm out of school now. I got my B.S. in June."
"Congratulations," said Trent.
"Thank you," the brunette replied looking down at the university class ring on her right hand. "I was so proud when they handed me that diploma. Considering what kind of student I was in high school, it was a major accomplishment."
"I know what you mean," Trent replied. "I earned my degree in the spring term, also. I could have gotten some long odds on that ever happening."
"So you're finished with college, too," she said.
Trent shook his head. "No, I'll be back at UML when the fall semester begins in a couple of weeks. I've been accepted into their MBA program."
"Congratulations," she said. "But what is UML?"
"They changed the name of Lawndale State to Maryland-Lawndale five years ago."
"Oh, I didn't know that," she said.
"On the subject of names, what's yours?" asked Trent.
"I was beginning to wonder when you were finally going to ask that," she laughed squeezing his forearm gently. "It's Cassandra, Cassandra Griffin."
"I'm Trent Lane."
"So with the whole world to choose from, why did you come back to Lawndale, Trent?" Cassandra asked.
He smiled. "It's my home. Why did you return after all this time?"
Cassandra tossed the rest of her drink down before speaking. "My brother Sam needs a bone marrow transplant. I happen to be a perfect match, the only one in the family. The doctors said that it would be better if they did not have to freeze and transport the marrow so here I am, back where I swore I'd never be again."
"It sounds like a good reason to break the vow," Trent sagely said.
"Maybe," she muttered tapping the side of her empty glass. "Do you want another one?"
"I'm still good," Trent replied. "But I'll get you one. What would you like?"
Cassandra thought for a moment before shaking her head. "No, I better not. The way I'm feeling right now, I probably wouldn't stop once I got started."
Trent laid his hand tenderly across hers. "The reunion with your family hasn't gone as well as you hoped it would?"
She sighed deeply. Tears suddenly welled in her eyes. "I...no...it hasn't. I thought that, you know, nine years might have changed some things. I had long since moved on or, at least, I thought I had. One hour with Mom proved otherwise. She has neither forgiven nor forgotten. We were right back at each others throats."
"I'm sorry to hear that," Trent said compassionately.
Cassandra freed her hand. She snared a handkerchief from her purse and dabbed carefully at her wet eyes. "Listen to me. I meet a good-looking guy and I immediately start dumping on him. You're probably thinking that I'm one of those overly emotional, needy females to be avoided at all costs."
"It's all right," Trent said.
"No, it's not," she replied. "But it's kind of you to put a polite face on it."
Trent shrugged in response.
Cassandra folded the cloth abruptly.
"Enough about me and my family," she said briskly. "Tell me about yourself, Trent. What do you do for a living? Are you married? Do you have any kids? What about your family?"
Trent smiled deftly adjusting to her latest mood change. "At the moment, I work at a car dealership but since I have earned my degree, I've looking around for other opportunities. I've never been married and I have no children. What's left of my family live far from here."
"What's left of them?" Cassandra repeated. "You've lost one of them lately, I take it?"
"Most of them in truth over the last few years," Trent told her. "My father died of some sort of tropical fever in Cambodia seven years ago. One older sister disappeared in Central America. The last we heard from her was shortly before my father died. Another older sister died in a car accident. No one has a clue where her kids got themselves to and my brother drowned himself after his fourth divorce. It's only me, mom, and my younger sister left."
"So much grief in such a short time," she replied sympathetically.
"The grief is mostly in that we had drifted apart from one another," Trent said. "Now, of course, that gulf can't be bridged."
"Is that a veiled hint?" Cassandra asked sharply
Trent looked at her in surprise. "No, it's not," he replied grasping the source of her sudden anger. "I don't know what your situation is."
Cassandra nodded, mollified. "Where do your mother and sister live?"
"Mom mostly stays at an artist colony in the Finger Lakes area of New York and Janie lives on a farm in Maine," Trent answered.
Cassandra frowned. "Janie. Jane. Jane Lane?"
"She was but she's married now. It's Jane Dayne, these days," Trent said. "Did you know her in school?"
Peals of laughter burst from Cassandra. Trent did not see where the humour was but enjoyed hearing her. Her unabashed laughter was surprisingly musical.
"I'm sorry," she finally said. "But Jane Lane Dayne of Maine was just too much. Please don't tell me her husband's name is Cain."
"No," Trent grinned. "It's Bede Cuthbert."
"As in The Venerable Bede?" asked Cassandra suppressing her merriment.
Trent nodded. "And Cuthbert was an Anglo -Saxon saint, if you didn't know."
"I didn't," she said. "How did he get tagged with those names?"
"His father is a professor of medieval history," Trent explained. "His particular field of study was Pre-Conquest Britain."
"That's fine but to saddle a kid with Bede Cuthbert," she said. "Not done."
"It was done," Trent said. "He prefers to be called B. C."
"I can understand why," she said. "But back to your earlier question, I kinda knew Jane in high school. She was a grade ahead of me. We belonged to totally different cliques but her circle and mine overlapped slightly. Her best friend and my best friend were sisters."
"Daria and Quinn," Trent supplied.
"That's right," Cassandra acknowledged.
"Do you still see Quinn?" asked Trent.
"Occasionally but we talk two or three times a week," she replied. "She keeps asking me to come and work for her. She started her own company, you know. It's just over in Rockville."
"Yeah, Daria's mentioned it to me a few times," Trent said. "Marketing of some kind, isn't it?"
"Demographics research," she clarified. "Very detailed. Very scientific. Several very different companies call on her expertise and not a few political types, also. She's done so well that she's already a millionaire."
"So why don't you take her up on the job offer?"
Cassandra waggled her hand. "Part stubbornness, a desire to make it on my own and partly because Rockville is too near Lawndale for comfort."
Nick wandered over to them. "You two ready for another round?" he asked spying their empty glasses.
"A couple of orange juices please," Trent said.
"Uh-oh, he's starting to hit the hard stuff," Nick quipped. "Better keep an eye on him, Slim."
"No problem. He's easy on the eyes," Cassandra replied sliding off the stool. "Excuse me for a moment, Trent. I have to take care of my mascara."
Trent stood as she left. Both men watched her as she wove her way through the crowd before disappearing into the women's restroom.
"You two seem to be hitting it off," Nick observed.
"Maybe," Trent cautiously replied as he sat.
"What's with the maybe?" Nick asked. "That is one gorgeous babe, to say the least."
"She's mercurial, to say the least," Trent responded. "She has some issues with her family. I think she's pretty vulnerable right now."
"That would be blood in the water for some guys," Nick said.
"Yeah, it would be," Trent replied. "So?"
Nick chuckled ruefully. "Ah, the white knight rides again. I guess her panties aren't going to end up on your bedroom floor tonight."
"You always were a romantic, Nick," Trent said ironically.
"We Scots are a direct tribe," he laughed in reply. "But can I give you a nickel's worth of free advice?"
"Sounds expensive but go ahead," Trent answered.
"Get her out of here."
Trent blinked in amazement. "Why?"
"I don't know what brought her to my place," Nick said. "But she's not the type to hang out in bars."
"What makes you say that?" Trent asked.
Nick shrugged. "You just get a feel for people when you run a saloon so why don't you take her somewhere else. Some place fun that's not quite a date. Increase the comfort level and see where it goes."
"She lives in Texas," Trent pointed out.
"She's in Maryland tonight," Nick countered. "Throw the dice. It might be the beginning of a beautiful friendship."
Nick turned away, taking orders as he moved down the bar. Trent tapped his chin. He could not refute that Cassandra did indeed intrigue him. He wanted to get to know her better but was not sure that it was worth the effort. Her distain for Lawndale was quite evident. She would certainly be gone as soon as the bone marrow procedure was finished but he was not sure how long that process took. He was still mulling the matter over when she returned at length.
"I'm back," she said, placing her purse on the counter.
"Do you like mysteries?" he hurriedly asked as he stood.
"I devour them," Cassandra replied somewhat surprised by the question. "I have the latest Martha Grimes in my handbag right now in fact. I also like Sue Grafton, Lawrence Block, Margaret Fraser, Edward Marston, just about everyone in the genre, really."
"D. B. Morgendorffer?"
"Yes, her, too," Cassandra laughed. "I wasn't surprised that she ended up writing mysteries. I thought that she was spooky when we were in school. I was half afraid of her most of the time."
"You were afraid of Daria?" Trent asked incredulously.
She shrugged apologetically. "She was so different. I couldn't understand her."
"She marched to a different drummer, to be sure," Trent said.
"Yes, she did," Cassandra agreed. "Anyway, why do you want to know if I like mysteries?"
"They're having one of those murder mystery parties tonight at the UML student union," Trent said. "As part of the end of summer term activities."
"You mean those role-playing games where everyone pretends to be a suspect?" she asked.
Trent nodded. "Yeah. It begins in about an hour."
"Some of the bookstores in Corpus Christi would host those occasionally. I always wanted to go to one but they were usually on a night that I had classes," Cassandra said.
"I'm parked just up the street," Trent said gesturing toward the door. "We can be there in fifteen minutes."
"That sounds good, Trent," she replied spiritedly. "Let's go."
Trent gently took her elbow guiding her toward the exit. The Cheshire cat smile returned to Nick's face as he watched the pair leave his tavern together.