It stays in the Family
I'm not familiar with US age rules, but I would recommend this story to be OK for everyone who is above the age of twelve and not particularly sensitive to occasional strong words or characters talking about sex. Have fun reading!
This fanfic takes place after the end of Season 3, in the year 1998. Tom has already met Jane and the last Barksdale family meeting was at Erin's wedding, which their mother could not attend.
Rita: Amy, how delightful. I thought you weren't coming.
Amy: I wasn't. But I thought if you two could put asides years of bitterness and resentment, then so can I. For a day.
Helen: Oh Amy, why do you say such ridiculous things?
Amy: Out loud? So Jake, you're still with Helen, huh? Shows remarkable fortitude.
(From #204: "I Don't")
I. Highway To Hell
"Muh-om! Why can't I borrow your cell phone?" Daria turned in her seat, hoping against hope that the whiny voice of her sister was only a part of some scary dream. If I continue ignoring it, I might wake up in my own bed instead of waking up to find myself in Dad's car with him, Mom and Quinn on some highway. Yeah, sure. Fat chance. "For the last time, Quinn: You're not going to call one of your friends - or a boy, for that matter!" Sure enough, that was her mother, sounding even more strained than before. Daria tried for another moment to reassemble the scattered parts of her dream - whatever it'd been about, it couldn't have been worse than reality - before opening her eyes slowly.
When her eyes were finally open, she was greeted by the same scene she had been seeing for three long hours before falling asleep at last. Jake was still driving; his gaze was fixed on the road ahead while his hands clutched the wheel tightly. Helen sat next to him with several files on her knees, one of which had fallen on the floor as a result of her sudden turn to answer the complaint coming from the backseat. Now Helen settled in her seat again and bent forward to retrieve the escaped file. Daria turned her head to the right, where Quinn sat: her younger sister looked very annoyed and fussed around in her purse for a lipstick or something else, deliberately looking out of the window at the roadside as a show of concealed anger over her mother's repeated stubbornness.
Daria sighed inwardly. It was bad enough to drive the whole morning confined with her closer family, not to mention hearing Quinn and Helen quarrelling and Jake having been quiet since about five minutes after the start. What was even worse, however, was the fact that she would have gladly traded the present situation for the one which awaited them in about - she glanced at the old yellow wristwatch on her left arm - two and a half more hours from now, if Jake kept on driving with approximately hundred mph.
Grandma Evelyn's seventieth birthday... celebrated by a whole weekend with her three daughters and their families. Daria shuddered at the thought. There hadn't been such a family reunion for ten years - at Erin's wedding, Evelyn hadn't been present and the explosive mixture the Barksdale clan was had fumed and broiled, but not exploded like it had earlier. But now everyone would be present - at Evelyn's home court, which would give her grandmother the moral right to shoot off the first salvo of barbs about the faults of Helen, Jake and their daughters, who would have to tolerate it for the sake of celebration and then complain about it for the whole trip back home, Daria thought.
Come to think about it, she couldn't really blame her parents and Quinn for being the raw nerves they had been since falling out of their cushy beds two hours before dawn this morning. Quinn had had to cancel several dates as well as the Fashion Club's Fantastic Fall Fad Finding which (Daria knew very well) Sandi had scheduled for this weekend deliberately to make Quinn "shirk away from her duties as vice-president", as Sandi would have called it. Jake had been forced to dump his business trip to the Maryland State Fair where he had acquired several big clients in the preceding years, most of which would be there looking for him; Daria knew that he had counted on getting new contracts at the fair, which would have given his business a shot in the arm. Helen would be away from her job instead of preparing the paperwork for a big lawsuit against the town's biggest housing corporation, which meant missing a round in the rat race for the full partnership Helen desired above almost anything else.
Ironically, the one person in the car whose life was disturbed the least by the family reunion was Daria herself: when it came up some months ago, she had complained to Jane how a perfect weekend for "Bad Movie Night" would be wasted, but since then, they had spent several Saturday nights at Jane's to watch TV or some borrowed movies - and three weeks ago, Jane had found another friend to spend the time with if Daria was not around... Tom.
Daria looked out of the window absentmindedly, her mind busy with Jane and the guy they had met at the last Mystik Spiral concert. She knew that most guys considered Jane to be more attractive then Daria, but up to now, every male who had taken interest in her friend had been driven away again by Jane's nature and her unique views. The occasional short flings Jane had were just another facet of her complex personality and the guys had barely been worth the short time she had spent with them. Daria had never really feared to lose her best friend to a guy, especially since Jane had seen her four elder siblings failing at their relationships and had vowed not to make the same mistakes, least of all those that presented the need for a priest, a midwife - or both.
But now, a guy had appeared who seemed to like Jane's way of life - and he had some of the character traits Jane had found only in Daria before: he was smart, witty and sarcastic. Moreover, he did not seem to care about his social position or about Jane's situation, which was a very touchy subject for her. If Tom had suddenly appeared at Lawndale High as a fellow student, he might have been the perfect addition for our friendship, Daria thought grimly. Too bad he appeared at the Zen instead and took Jane away from me... hey, wait a second, did I really think that? She shook her head. Stop it now, Morgendorffer. Jane's found a boyfriend and I should be happy for her. Besides, they'll probably break up soon, Tom will vanish and then it'll be just me and Jane again.
She was pondering the question how to say "I told you, didn't I?" to Jane as soon as Tom would leave for good when her train of thought was interrupted by Quinn leaning across the back seat. After retrieving a donut from the bag in front of Daria's feet, she looked up and noticed that her sister was awake. "Oh, hi Daria. Thought you're sleepin'." she said before taking a bite from her donut.
Daria gave her a sour look. "It's the only way to spend the time. You know I can't read in the car and..." she glanced over at her mother "...someone took the spare batteries I needed for my Discman to feed a cell phone." Helen gave her other daughter a small smile. "I already told you I'm sorry, honey. Did you at least have a nice nap?" Daria yawned. "I think so, but I had a weird dream. There was a stupid pink monster screaming that it wanted to have something from you, I remember. I don't think it was successful."
Quinn frowned at her. "Very funny, Daria. You know some people have a social life they have to organize somehow if they're dragged out of it for a whole weekend." She looked at her mother. "I don't except you to understand it, however." "That's not fair, sweetie. You know very well that I'm missing out on some very important things also. Besides, the date for Mother's celebration has been set four months ago, so you had enough time to organize whatever you wanted." "In that case, tell me please why you spent the first fifty minutes of the trip 'organizing' your matters by robbing both Marianne and your current intern of their much-needed sleep, Mom." Daria remarked. "Didn't you have four months to plan also?" Helen turned in her seat to look at her. "It's not the same, Daria - and it weren't fifty minutes!" Daria held up her wristwatch. "Sorry, Mom. If you force me to wear the stupid watch Grandma gave me, I can just as well use it." "Whatever. You should know that I..." "So you're a worse planner than me, Mom?" Quinn asked. "No way! But my work is so complicated..." she broke off when she saw that Jake had left the highway and rolled in front of a small gas station while she had been bickering with her daughters.
Jake slowed to a halt, killed the engine and unfastened his seatbelt, then he turned to his wife and daughters. "Before you go on like that, honey, consider one or two things. First: this is your mother we're driving to, please don't forget this. Second: Nobody - neither we nor the kids - are looking forward to what will inevitably end in open hostilities between you, your sisters and your mother with everyone else caught in the carnage. So please don't spend all your energy about some pointless argument who's suffering harder over this; we'll be miserable enough as it is." He drew a breath. "Quinn, do you need me to get you anything from the shop which might keep you from starting another fight with Mom?" "Yeah, a cell phone." Daria remarked. "Daria, since you're the only one here who seems to be able to sleep in the car, please try it again. Believe me, I'd like to do the same, but I just can't." "In that case, I'll come with you to stretch my legs and leave the angry kids in here to cool off." Daria said. Before her mother could react, she opened her door and stepped out of the car.
As Jake started filling up the car, Daria walked slowly towards the small hut that housed the cash register and a tiny shop, her mind still filled with the images of Jane and Tom in the Zen, at Pizza King and at Jane's house. Maybe I should try to call Jane tonight just to pull her leg a bit about the unspeakable things she might do with Tom while I'm away and Trent does his "intensive lyrics session" at Jesse's place, she mused. With my luck, I'm just disturbing something between them... hold it right there, that's even worse than the one in the car. I'll be miserable enough for the next two days without the mental image of the two fooling around... and not only because Jane would probably use it as an inspiration for a really sick painting... Brrr. She looked back to the car, seeing that her father was now walking towards her after leaving the cashier's hut.
When Jake reached Daria, he handed her a small box. "Here, kiddo, you might need these." Daria examined the box. "Did you get mints from the cashier?" "No, I didn't. These are earplugs for you to be able to sleep if there's another row between Helen and Quinn." "Thank you, Dad." They walked back to the car and entered, Jake handing out a Styrofoam cup of coffee to Helen and a magazine to Quinn. Daria stuck the plugs in her ears and leant back in her seat; it took her about five minutes to fall asleep now that her family was blocked out.
One hour later, Daria woke up again when Helen suddenly shouted "Stop!" followed by a sharp turn which made her head bounce against the window. She took out the plugs and rubbed her forehead. Quinn had obviously been sleeping also; she looked angrily at Jake who had almost missed the exit and swerved into the exit lane at the last possible moment. Helen closed her briefcase and shoved it under her seat. "Don't you want to have anyone noticing you did work on the way, Mom?" Daria asked. "Well... your Grandma asked specifically that her birthday shouldn't be spoilt by anyone's work - not like the last time." "I told her it wasn't my fault when the patron of the restaurant we dined at turned out to be an old client of mine. I also didn't ask for the detailed account about how his business went in the years after I left Cowton." Jake said slightly annoyed.
Quinn stretched in her seat and smoothed the creases in her jeans. "I hope we'll be arriving fashionably late; I hate to be early for something." "Fat chance of that happening with Dad trying to press the accelerator through the floor of the car for five hours." Daria remarked. "Don't you want to stand at the patio and wave at the others as they arrive?" Quinn pondered the idea for a moment before she looked at her sister. "Grandma's house doesn't have a patio, Daria." "Had you fooled for a second, didn't I?" "Stop it, girls." Helen said. "Let's try to be nice to each other for the next days..." Daria finished the sentence. "...so Grandma can see what a perfect family we are - compared to Rita and Amy, who either married several times or not at all." "That's the spirit, sweetie."
After ten more minutes - filled with a last 'moral briefing' by Helen - the car rolled towards a slightly worn-down, colonial-style three-storey house with three cars standing directly in front of it: a black Chrysler Jeep, a white Ford Taurus and a brown Dodge sedan. Quinn turned to her sister. "Seems like we're the last ones to arrive after all." Helen frowned. "Now let's see: that huge show-off jeep is Rita's. I guess the Ford belongs to Brian and Erin, but I don't know who might own that brown thing. Maybe Amy's got a new car." Daria shook her head. "Amy wouldn't use such a thing for her own funeral, Mom. Don't you remember her red roadster?" "Oh yes. Isn't it pathetic to play the rebel even when she's already approaching her fortieth birthday?" She looked at Jake. "Isn't it?" Jake looked surprised. "What? Oh, sorry, honey, I thought you were talking with the girls." He stopped next to the Jeep. "Why don't you three get out here; I'll park the car and come back with the bags." "Okay. But don't take too long; otherwise Mom will start calling the bars again." "Last time I had an accident, Helen." The girls and Helen stepped out, then Jake drove away.
II. There Must Be Some Kind Of Way Out Of Here
As the three females walked up the driveway, the door opened to reveal a tall white-haired woman with a stern look on her face. Helen produced a smile and embraced the old woman. "Hello Mom. How are you?" Evelyn beamed at her daughter. "Hi Helen. It's so nice of you to come. I'm so glad you could take some time off from your job." She released her again and turned to the girls. "Oh my, Quinn! You look stunning. I'm surprised you haven't brought a nice young man to accompany you. And Daria... you must tell me about your schoolwork!" She looked at Helen again. "Haven't you brought Jake?" Helen's smile faded a bit. "He's just parking the car and will be back in a minute." "If you say so. I just hope he finds back." "Mom, he lived here with me for over a year, so he knows his way."
They went into the house and - after Evelyn demanded it - exchanged their shoes for fluffy houseslippers Evelyn handed them from a big plastic bag. Helen looked at her feet sticking in what looked like two oversized hamsters, then she peered down the hall into the living-room. "Hasn't Amy arrived yet, Mom?" "Oh, she's already there, honey. Her car broke when she bought flowers for me at the mall this morning. Did I tell you that Rita's arrived on Wednesday already to help me with everything? Her new friend is such a nice man. Erin and Brian came at 4 am in the morning, and... oh, just go say hello." She walked to the kitchen while the girls and a rather annoyed-looking Helen opened the door.
When they entered the living-room, they caught the last part of something Amy had said to Rita. "...I really hope that stupid car hasn't busted something vital this time. It'd be a shame to miss the farewell lecture of my boss." Rita's answer to that was lost as everyone rose to welcome the newly-arrived. Amy hugged her sister and then her nieces, whispering "...finally someone intelligent..." into Daria's ear before she walked out into the hall. Rita also hugged Helen briefly and waved at her nieces, then she motioned to a tanned man of about fifty years with slightly greying hair. "Helen, this is Delano Franklin, my current companion." Delano presented a set of beaming white teeth as he shook hands with Helen. "I'm glad to meet you at last, Helen. Rita has told me so much about you." "She did?" Helen asked as she shook hands with Erin and Brian, who had shared the love-seat on the far side of the table before. Rita smiled at her mother, then she scanned the room. "Hasn't Jake arrived with you, Helen?"
At that moment Jake entered from the hall. "I'm here, Rita. It's good to see you too." He hugged her shortly before he shook hands with Erin, Brian and - after Rita had introduced them - with Delano. Evelyn appeared again with some bottles of red wine, followed by Amy carrying a tablet with several plates and glasses. As she placed it on the supper table, she gave Jake a tired smile. "That's what you get for arriving early to your mother's birthday." She came over to embrace him. "How was the trip?" Jake returned the embrace. "Oh, it went okay. Is that brown car outside yours?" "That outdated heap?" Evelyn gave her a sour frown. "No, my car decided to stay at the mall instead of bringing me here." Amy said. "The brown one is Maldwyn's car. He's upstairs at the moment."
Evelyn looked disappointed. "Oh Amy. This was supposed to be a surprise until dinner." Helen looked at Amy. "Did you bring someone?" "No, I didn't. You better tell them, Mom." Evelyn hesitated. "Well, you see, I met this very nice man three months ago at the bakery. He offered to help me carry my bags and I invited him for dinner to thank him. Since then, we've met regularly. He went to wash his hands before supper." Helen looked less than pleased at the thought that her seventy-year-old mother was seeing a man, but refrained from saying anything as they sat down at the dinner table. After everyone had settled, they heard a knock on the door and Evelyn called "Come in, honey!" Helen drew a face.
When the door opened, it revealed a smallish, white-haired man in a tattered grey suit and loafers whose shy gaze immediately reminded Daria of a mole. She leant over to Amy sitting next to her and whispered. "How old is he exactly?" "Seventy-nine." Amy answered while Evelyn introduced the old man to Daria's parents and to Quinn. After he had sat down between Delano and Evelyn, Maldwyn gazed across the table and then rose again to stretch out his hand to Daria. "I'm sorry I've overlooked you, little lady, but when I saw you sitting next to your mother, I thought had that double vision problem again. You do look like Amy; I believe many people are telling you this." Daria shook his hand and smiled. "Well, I'm Helen's and Jake's daughter actually, but thanks anyway."
Quinn, Brian and Erin laughed at the sight of Maldwyn's awkward face while Evelyn was clearly embarrassed and the others tried to keep straight faces at the old man's mistake - with the exception of Helen. Daria had just glanced at her mother, but she could have sworn she had seen a look of anger passing over Helen's face. Jake might have seen the same thing because he grabbed a long knife and offered it to Evelyn. "Would you like to carve the meat by yourself, Evelyn?" Evelyn immediately grabbed the knife. "Oh yes, of course. Who wants to have a slice?" Rita held up her plate. "One for me, please." Helen seemed to consider something for a moment before she held up her plate also.
As everyone took from the meat, the potatoes and the other dishes, Amy whispered to Daria. "Poor old Maldwyn; he really must've thought you're my daughter." Daria smirked. "I'd be honored, but Mom wasn't so amused, I think." She poured gravy over her potatoes. "Did I ever tell you Quinn thought the same after we met you at Erin's wedding? She really asked Mom and Dad if they'd adopted me from you." When Amy did not answer, Daria quipped. "I'm not your child, am I?" Amy smirked. "Well, I was told that bearing a child is an experience a woman never forgets and I can't remember doing this, so you must be Helen's child. Are you disappointed now?" "Oh, no problem." Daria smiled. "But you should worry about Quinn; she might take this not as well as I do." "She'll live."
For the next ten minutes, the room was filled with the sound of eleven people eating, drinking, filling their plates and talking with each other. Since Daria had missed out on breakfast when they had started in the middle of the night, she took great portions of everything with special emphasis on the yellow gravy for the meat, which the others somehow ignored more or less. The reason for this became clear however after she had just taken seconds on meat and potatoes; a second later: her stomach suddenly started feeling heavy and grumbled loudly while something tried to fight its way back up towards the esophagus again. She rose hurriedly, excused herself and rushed out of the room, hurriedly opening the doors in the hall until she finally found a bathroom.
When Daria finally returned to the dining-room, the others had finished eating already; the only person left in the room was Amy, who was busy putting back the unused porcelain into Evelyn's cherished oak sideboard. Daria walked up to her aunt. "Hello Amy. Need any help?" Amy looked up and smiled warily. "No, thanks. Is your stomach better again?" Daria nodded. "I should've warned you before: Mom loves to try out some new recipes whenever she has guests. Since her skills haven't improved over the years, her audience has reduced until the only ones left are either blood-related to her or had their palate amputated." She grinned. "That might be an explanation for Helen's all-lasagna diet, by the way. You know: better feed your loved ones with food someone else spoilt than making bad food by yourself." Daria smirked as Amy placed the last plate in its place and shut the heavy wooden door with just the necessary amount of force to make the contents clank loudly without actually damaging something.
"Did I miss anything good?" Daria asked when she and Amy sat down at the table again. "Well, there was Brian whispering to Erin that his mother's cooking could whip Mom's even on porridge day, Maldwyn complementing the food - after telling Jake that his throat has never been the same again since he accidentally drank a full glass of pipe cleaner he mistook for prune juice, and Jake being quiet except for a longing sigh when Delano mentioned the business conventions in Vegas he used to visit before he came over to the east coast. And those were just the males who aren't bearers of the Barksdale madness gene." "Hmm. Now I remember why Dad made his will before coming here." Amy frowned. "He really did?" "I don't think so, but he told me Thursday evening that he might be better off making a will before facing this experience unprepared."
Amy laughed for a moment before she pushed back her chair. "Speaking of your Dad, he offered to drive me to the mall where my car blew its radiator. Do you want to leave this party for an hour or two?" "You mean to get rid on the dead gerbils on my feet and miss out on seeing more family blowouts? Where do I sign?" Amy rose. "Then it's a deal. I think your father is outside, 'testing the car for some strange noise', as he called it. I hope he didn't hide a thermos of pure martini under the backseat this time." "What do you mean 'this time'?" Daria asked. "It's a great story, but let's tell it in the car with some distance from the house - just don't ask him before what happened to Helen's Dodge Dart and what caused the jagged scar on his left hip." "Aye, Auntie."
Jake already sat in his Lexus when they came out and walked to the right side of the car. Amy shoved Daria forward and opened the rear door for herself while Daria sat down next to Jake. As soon as the two females had fastened the seatbelts, the car took off with a jump that pressed Daria into her seat.
After he had turned the next corner, Jake slowed down and smiled at Daria apologetically. "Sorry, kiddo, but I can't help it. I've been there several times, but this place still gives me the creeps. No offence, Amy." Amy snorted. "I was born and raised there, but I feel the same. Thanks for the ride, by the way." Jake smirked. "Thanks for giving me an excuse to leave Castle Barksdale, Amy. I would've driven back to Lawndale for a comb if anyone would've asked for it." He stopped at a red light and adjusted the air-condition settings. "Where did you say your car stranded?" "At Circus Court. You might remember it from..." she stopped suddenly, looking at Daria, "...well, I think you know the way." Jake gave her an astonished look, then he also glanced at Daria before he changed into the left lane. The rest of the way, he seemed to be lost in thought and spoke only once: when they drove by the school all the Barksdale girls had gone to and Amy asked him to slow down; he just replied "Oh, sure".
When they reached the mall and drove into the parking lot, Amy leant forward to Daria. "I just remembered the mall has a great bookstore, Daria. Why don't you go ahead and browse while we go to the information and ask for a good repair service which works 24-7." She smirked. "I don't want to spend additional time at Mom's while my car is standing around waiting for a radiator transplant." Jake glanced at Amy. "Yeah, that's right, Daria. Have some fun; we'll get you after we've taken care of Amy's car." He stopped near to an entrance, which looked like a circus tent with sliding doors painted like flaps. "Uhm, okay. I'll see you guys later then." Daria stepped out and walked into the mall.
As soon as the car had vanished from sight and turned the next corner, Daria stopped walking and looked back, her mind busy with what had just happened. If I'm not completely stupid, I just got a fast brush-off from my father and my favorite aunt - 'go into the bookstore until we come to pick you up'. That's about the lamest excuse I've ever heard... but why would they want me to leave? Daria pondered for a moment. They might want to get me a present for my birthday - except that it's still seven months away and Amy wouldn't need Dad's help to get something for me. Dad might need Amy's assistance for that... but in that case, Mom would've come also and I would've been left at Grandma's with some dumb excuse like bonding with Quinn and Erin. Besides, it didn't seem like the two had planned to shake me off... it's been more like a spontaneous decision...
Well, whatever it was, it could wait until she'd had seen that bookstore Amy thought to be so great. Daria went over to a plan of the mall hanging at the adjacent wall... and discovered that the only bookstore in the mall was a place the plan described as "Fair(y) Tales - the ultimate place for little Princes and Mermaids". Daria shook her head before she looked at the plan again to ensure that her vision had not failed her. "Fair(y) Tales?" That's something I would've expected from my grandmothers to send me to... ten years ago, when I was busy reading Lord Of The Rings. Either Amy played a trick on me... or it was the first idea she had to have me out of the way for some minutes... or more, if they didn't intend to visit the information booth, for that matter. She frowned.
Now why would my dear aunt want to invite me to accompany her just to send me off like that while she stays with Dad? A possible explanation would be... no, don't even think that, Daria. If that were really the case, Amy certainly wouldn't have invited me along... and she sounded genuine about her car before supper. Moreover, it took a moment for Dad to play along, so he wasn't part of whatever plan Amy had... I better go look for them before they're gone.
Daria walked out again to scan the parking lot... and immediately saw Jake's Lexus about thirty feet away, standing across two regular parking spaces. She peered across the pavement and discovered Jake and Amy just as they entered a small café on the other side of the street. After waiting for a minute, Daria crossed the street thirty feet away from the café and peered through the open door: Jake and Amy had taken the booth farthest from the entrance and were talking vividly. She entered reluctantly and walked slowly to the adjacent booth, thinking if they look up and see me, I can still say I wanted to get Dad's credit card or else, until she managed to slip into the booth without being seen.
When she sat safely against the wall that separated her from Amy sitting in the next booth, she caught the last part of Jake's sentence. "...and anyway, you promised never to talk about it again!" "Of course I did, Jake." Now Amy spoke -but she sounded different from her usual, easygoing tone. "But you were there for me when I needed help. I still admire you for that, and I always will. I never intended to hurt you - and Helen, for that matter." "I know that, Amy. But what happened in '76 still has the power to destroy so many things... my marriage, your relationship to your sister and your nieces... the whole family would freak out, no matter when it happened!" "Calm down, Jake. I didn't plan this to surface today, you know. Why do you think I sent Daria off? I hope this crappy mall really has a bookstore..." She trailed off. "Anyway, she might've suspected something when you practically dropped dead at the wheel after I mentioned this place."
They were interrupted by a waiter inquiring about their order and Daria had the chance to process the things she had just heard. Her father and her aunt had obviously been close before her birth... and discovering this might destroy her whole family... Amy had feared that she might suspect that something was amiss, so she had sent her on a wild goose chase... She collected her thoughts. I don't know what happened yet, but there's only one thing with such an explosive potential... them having a sexual affair. She remembered that Jake said 'what happened in '76' and made a quick calculation. Mom and Dad married in '75, him being 23 and Mom 24. In 1976, they were 24 and 25. Amy is eight years younger than Mom, so she was... 17. Just like I'm now. Still a minor. Holy crap.
Daria tried to fight off the mental image of how her father and Amy might have looked twenty-two years ago and concentrated on the terrible result of her deductions: that her father might've had sex with his underage sister in-law - one year after his marriage. If that was true, the knowledge might change her life forever and telling it to Quinn, Helen or anyone else in the family could result in her parents' divorce, not to think about what Helen might do with her husband and her sister or what she and Quinn might have to endure...
Suddenly Daria realized several things simultaneously: Jake and Amy might have been too busy talking to notice her entering after them, but they would notice her when they decided to leave or if she tried to do so. Moreover, the waiter would appear at her side any second now and ask for her order, which would force her to answer and thereby giving away her presence. Finally, she felt that she owed it to the two to at least give them a chance to explain... but that required showing herself. She rose slowly and peered over the wall.
Amy looked at Jake again. He had not moved since the waiter had interrupted their talk and now he avoided looking at her. Since she was lost in her thoughts herself, it suited her fine to be silent for a moment, occasionally gazing at the man sitting opposite her and comparing him with the boy her elder sister had brought home twenty-five years ago. He'd been so eager, so carefree, she thought. I hope Helen appreciates what she got - that is, the boy he was before she started to change him into the repressed, angry man he's now.
Suddenly Jake's face twitched and he looked at her, his face totally shocked. His mouth was obviously trying to form a word, but nothing came out. "Jake? Is something the matter?" she asked when she realized that he did not look at her, but at someone behind her. Before she could turn her head, she heard a familiar voice from behind. "Hello, Dad. Hi, Aunt Amy. I'm afraid I overheard you."
III. The Ballad of Jake and Amy
One minute later, Daria had sat down in the other booth and had ordered a milkshake. Amy had moved over on Jake's bench and now they both sat opposite from Daria like delinquents in court, waiting for her to start talking. Daria waited until the waiter appeared with her milkshake and two cups of coffee for the adults, then she bent forward and fixed them in her gaze.
"Before you say anything, I must confess that I followed you. There is no bookstore in the mall, unless you count the one that sells only Dr. Seuss or the Grimm tales, so I suspected you wanted me out of the way. Now for the big question that's haunting your minds: I heard everything from '...promised never to talk about it again' and I've already made the obvious connections, which wasn't pleasant. Now please tell me the rest: what happened in 1976?"
Jake emptied his coffee in one long gulp, motioned for a refill and looked at Amy; when he saw she would not answer the question, he faced his daughter. "Listen, Daria. Before we continue, you must know two important things. The first thing is: Helen knows about it; the second thing is that I must ask you not to tell Quinn or any other relative, particularly not Grandma Evelyn or my mother, of what we're about to tell you." Daria nodded slowly.
Amy leant back and took a sip of her coffee as Jake started. "I better tell it from the very beginning. When I met Helen for the first time in 1973, she was already living in the commune she had started with Willow and Coyote in an old farmhouse near Smithville, New York, where Mom and I lived. I had a summer job as replacement mailman and delivering the post to the commune was part of my daily routine. One day, Helen waited at the gate and asked me why I worked for the 'Man' instead of pursuing my own dreams. I told her that earning money was a necessary thing to do before being able to pursue my dreams and we had quite a discussion. Since we'd enjoyed talking, she stood at the gate again the next day... and we became very close, so to say. When my job ended, she invited me to join the commune and I gladly accepted to be with her; the ideological side never fully persuaded me although I agreed with many things. Helen and I both went to college in Middleton - which was heavily frowned upon by other members of the commune - and we always knew that the commune should just be a station in our lives, not the final goal. In June 1975, we married and left the commune, which earned us much scorn and anger from our friends."
The waiter came to refill Jake's cup, which gave Amy the opportunity to carry on. "After Jake and Helen had married, they came back to Cowton where Mom and I lived. Helen still visited law school at Middleton, while Jake worked in a local consulting firm and earned the money they needed." She breathed deeply before continuing. "I'd always been the youngest of three daughters in a house reigned by Mom, who expected me to follow Rita the School Queen, Helen the genius - or both. Things went OK as long as my father was around, but he died in 1970 when I was ten years old, leaving me alone since Rita and Helen left our home soon after his death. Mom grieved only for a month before she started going out with other men, which freaked me out and led to some deep problems between me and her. To make a long story short, I led a miserable life at the time Helen returned from Smithville... with Jake in tow."
Daria drank from her milkshake and wiped off the foam with a napkin. "So Mom and Dad moved back here, but Mom was at Middleton most of the time?" Amy nodded. "Mom was PO'd that Helen and Jake had married without a decent ceremony, but she adjusted to the situation by inviting them over for tea on Saturdays, which gave me the opportunity to get to know Jake better and to tell them about the hell that sharing a house with Mom meant." She looked at Daria. "Your mother was usually uninterested in my problems and loved to point out that, if she'd survived Mom for nineteen years, so could I. With Jake, things were different: he liked to talk with me and seemed genuinely interested in my life. If I dare say so, I saw him as the big brother fate had denied me."
Amy paused to drink the rest of her coffee; when she placed down her cup again, she sighed and motioned to Jake, who continued. "When the fall term of 1975 started, two things became clear soon: Helen's workload was so huge that she started spending every second weekend in Middleton and Amy's feud with Evelyn turned from sour to ugly. One day in early November, Amy appeared at our door at 6 in the morning; when I let her in, she told me that she'd spent the night in the local park after her mother had thrown a bowl after her - and had in fact managed to hit her with it, causing a bleeding head wound." Daria gasped as Amy traced her head slowly and turned to Jake. "Can I continue?"
"I told Jake he shouldn't try to talk me into returning to my house because I'd rather live on the streets than with Mom. He treated my wound, gave me a hot chocolate and listened to my endless stream of complaints. Somehow, I must've fallen asleep after spending a sleepless night on a park bench; when I woke up, I found myself in the master bed in my underwear and it was 3 pm. To be honest, I feared at once that Jake had taken advantage of me and my situation, so I rushed out of the bed to find him." She smiled.
"I entered the small living-room and saw Jake sitting in his old armchair, reading a book. When I asked him what he'd done with me, he told me that, after taking off my wet clothes and putting me in his bed, he'd gone over to Mom to tell her that I was at their place and didn't intend to return home. At that moment, I was angry at him for betraying my trust, so I shouted at him what a damned crook he was. He just held up his hand and told me that he gave Mom a choice: either I would be allowed to move out or she should go straight over to the local police station to give them a detailed description of me because I'd run away from home again - and also that he'd do the same in my situation."
Daria turned to her father with open mouth. "You told Grandma this? I can't believe that!" Amy smiled. "It gets even better. Jake told me Mom tried to brush him off by saying she couldn't allow me to live alone because I'd screw up very soon just like I did at everything else, but he'd offered to let me move in with Helen and him until I'd graduate from high school. That's when I jumped up and hugged him fiercely, as far as I can remember." "That's what I remember also, so it must be the truth." Jake said with an amused look.
Daria needed a moment to collect her thoughts, then she smirked also. "Then you lived happily ever after, I expect?" Jake's face became serious again. "Sadly, we didn't. You see, I acted impulsively to rescue Amy from endangering her life and her future just because of domestic problems. I also did it because I was absolutely sure that it was the best solution." Amy reached over and took his hand, but drew back when she saw Daria's frown. "It was the right thing to do and I'll be in Jake's debt as long as I live." she said after a moment. "But the right thing still can be wrong if the third party, whose consent is needed and silently expected, suddenly gets angry because she wasn't asked." "What do you mean?" Daria asked. "When Helen came home the following Friday, she found me living in the room that was meant to be a study for her weekend homework and a possible future nursery for their children." Amy said. "That night, she and Jake had a long discussion which ended with him losing his temper, telling Helen she was as ignorant about my welfare as Mom'd been, that she was away most of the week anyway and that the money for the rent came from his paycheck."
Jake looked down on the table, then he continued. "I stood by my decision and in the end, Helen had to accept it. What I failed to see at that time was the simple fact that, after being separated from me for most of the week, Helen wanted to be together with me for the weekends and that having her sister in the small apartment wasn't her idea of marital closeness." "Thanks, I'm getting the picture." Daria said with a defensive gesture. Jake shrugged. "You wanted to hear the story, Daria. Anyway, Amy was happy with her new home and I was glad that I had a person to come home to after work. I'd told Amy that I didn't care what she did as long as she still went to school, and she never abused that privilege." Amy took a small glass of soda the waiter had just brought her and continued. "After Jake had 'rescued' me from Mom, I swore to myself that I'd make him proud by succeeding at school and not causing any problems. I never realized that my presence itself was a problem for his marriage."
Jake slid back in his bench to stretch his muscles. "In early 1976, things between me and Helen got worse when she decided that, due to her workload, she'd reduce coming home to every third weekend and would only pore over her books if she was home. Amy sensed that something was wrong, but thought that she could lift my spirits by taking care of the cooking, cleaning and other chores, which in turn annoyed Helen when she heard about it. Then, on March the 17th, I got an anonymous letter at work saying that Helen stayed in Middleton over the weekends because she had fallen in love with a fellow student and slept with him whenever she could. That evening, I stopped at the liquor shop on the way home and bought several bottles with the deliberate intention of getting totally drunk on Martini. Amy came home when I was halfway through the first pitcher and, when I told her why I was busy getting wasted on a normal day, she joined me in eliminating the booze." Daria looked shocked at him and her aunt.
Amy swallowed the remnant of her soda and looked straight into the eyes of her niece. "I'd had alcohol before in spite of being underage - I'm sure you've found a way to taste some too although you're not 21 yet - but I'd never drunk hard stuff like Martini. I just felt that Jake needed company in drowning his frustrations and was seriously angry at Helen for betraying the man who'd been so kind and friendly to me. It took me about two glasses to tell him that and another two before I told him I hoped to find a man like him sometime in the future. After the second pitcher, I tried to comfort him by physical contact."
IV. Two Sisters
After almost a minute of silence, Daria finally spoke, fixing first her father, then Amy. "So what you're telling me is that, being alone in a small apartment, under the influence of much alcohol and in an emotionally problematic situation, you two... turned to each other?" Jake nodded. "This was the only time? Ever?" Amy drew a pained grimace. "If you insist on getting the details, we did 'it' several times, according to the number of condoms on the floor." "Blerch." Jake sighed. "However, we had a rude awakening when Helen came home the next morning and found me in bed with her sister. I tried to explain it to her and showed her the letter, which she recognized as being written by a girl who'd been her arch-enemy in high school. She solemnly vowed that there was no other man in her life and I made clear that I'd felt neglected when she stayed at Middleton instead of coming home. In the end, we managed to make up."
"And what happened with you?" Daria asked Amy. When Amy did not answer, she asked again. "Aunt Amy? What about...?" Jake interrupted. "Daria, you have to understand Helen's situation. Whatever our motivations had been, having Amy move in with us had resulted with me and her sleeping together... and she only had our word that it had never happened before, not to forget." "Coming from two people who had just cheated on her." Daria remarked. "Exactly. It took her a while and long talks with each of us separately to be convinced, and nobody could say for sure that the same thing couldn't happen again as long as the basic situation wasn't changed." Daria stared at her father, who looked down, then at her still silent aunt. "They didn't throw you out, did they?"
Amy swallowed hard, then she spoke quietly. "While Helen talked to Jake in the kitchen, I sat on their bed and tried to face the facts. Jake had given me a home when I was on the brink of running away, and my way of saying 'thank you' had been to sleep with him and thus destroying his marriage to my own sister. I was sure that, when they returned to the bedroom, they would throw me out on the street where I belonged right after announcing their inevitable break-up." She wiped a tear from her left eye. "When I learnt that they'd made up, I was so relieved that I would've done anything they asked, however hard it would be for myself." Amy swallowed again. "Back then, I thought that Helen's conditions were remarkably fair, regarding what I had done to them." Daria leant forward. "What were Mom's conditions?" She looked at Jake. "Did you know them?"
Jake handed Amy a napkin before he answered his daughter's question. "Yes, I knew what she wanted - and I agreed, since I thought them to be the only way to save my marriage." He sighed. "Helen demanded I should apply for a transfer to the Middleton branch office my firm had and use my vacation to look for a new apartment there. Amy would continue living in our apartment and we would pay the rent until August, then she would have to move out for college. This way, she had the chance to graduate from high school and apply for college without worrying about housing and food while she was still here. I encouraged her to apply for a scholarship to pay for college and she quickly succeeded to find one that covered her needs." "That sounds very fair." Daria said. "I thought Mom would've demanded much worse things." "She did, kiddo." "Huh?"
Jake laid his arm around Amy, who was now sobbing into her napkin. "I didn't learn about the other condition Helen forced on Amy for not telling her folks about this until at Erin's wedding, when I asked my drunken wife why Amy hadn't visited us more often - and she gave me the reason. In exchange for silence, Amy had to disappear from our life until Helen could be sure that she wouldn't be a danger for our marriage anymore." Daria gasped. "What did Mom mean by that exactly?" "Amy thought that Helen had just meant that she shouldn't apply for college at Middleton or in the state of New York, but Helen soon made clear that it meant much more. Amy went to a west coast college for three years, made her BA and planned to change to Brown University for her postgraduate studies in late 1980. When she announced this at Rita's second wedding, Helen threatened to divulge the secret to the other family members if Amy came east again. Finally, Amy gave in and continued her studies at Berkeley instead."
Daria still fixed her father. "You mean... after several years apart, Mom still considered Amy a danger to your marriage?" Jake shrugged. "I can't see another explanation for her behavior. Don't forget that we still didn't have kids in 1980, because Helen had wanted to finish law school before bearing a child. Being the son of a failed relationship, I accepted that even though I believed we could do better than our own parents." Daria smiled weakly. "You did." "Thanks, kiddo. Anyway, we'd just learnt before going to Rita's wedding that Helen was pregnant with you, but decided not to steal Rita's thunder - although your mother would've loved to, believe me. I can only guess Helen feared that if Amy would settle near Middleton again, history would repeat just when she was bearing my child."
Amy had calmed again and signalled to Jake she would continue. "I stayed in California until 1986. By then, you and Quinn had arrived - with less than two years between your births, which showed to the whole family that Helen and Jake's marriage was as happy as they could wish. In April 1986, I got an offer to become assistant lecturer at New York State with the option of a permanent slot after two years, so I called Helen and practically begged her to allow me to take that post. She accepted immediately, telling me she had no problem with me moving to the northeast. No offence, Daria, but I should've known my sister better than to be fooled by her sweet words." "I don't understand." Daria said. Jake looked at her sadly. "We moved to Highland in May 1986, Daria."
Daria's face became angry. "So you came back east... and we moved to Texas? That's about the meanest, foulest..." Amy interrupted her. "I think you're right, Daria. I felt the same when I flew over to find a suitable apartment and stopped by at Mom's just to hear that Helen had known about their move to Texas since February." She paused. "Daria, I don't want to sound resentful, but the fact that my own sister still judged me capable of stealing her husband - one decade after Jake and I spent one lousy night together while being totally wasted - really hurt me. I established myself at NY State and tried to forget the fact that I had ever slept with Jake, who now lived with my stupid sister somewhere in the desert of western Texas. It went surprisingly well - until Mom celebrated her sixtieth birthday in 1988 and no one could pull out of showing up."
Jake signalled to the waiter to bring another round of coffee and milkshakes, then he turned to his daughter. "I don't know if you remember it, kiddo. It was almost the same situation like now, with everyone being forced to call off things considered to be important - I think my ears never fully recovered from Quinn's shriek as I told her she couldn't attend her best friend's birthday - and Helen would've probably been on edge even if Amy hadn't been there - but she was." Amy took over while Jake gulped the rest of his coffee. "When I arrived, Mom stood in front of her house and was busy welcoming Helen and you kids; Jake was still in the car. I parked, said hello, and gave everyone a short hug: first Mom, then Helen, then you kids... and suddenly Jake stood in front of me."
"We hadn't met for almost ten years and I didn't know about Helen's threats to Amy, so I did the logic thing: I embraced my sister in-law who hadn't been around for a long time... until I glanced at Helen's face." Jake said. "I've known Helen for twenty-five years now, but I never saw that murderous expression on her face before - or later, for that matter. I released Amy immediately, who hadn't seen Helen's fiery eyes and mimics, and dove back into the car before Helen could do anything physical. Amy went into the house with you and Quinn while I unloaded the car and Helen just sat on the hood without speaking. She never said anything about it back then, but I saw she was furious."
The waiter came with the new round of drinks and they paused until he had left, then Amy took a sip from her coffee and spoke again. "Mom's party was a big failure, to say the least: even you children must've felt the bad mood that seemed to waft through the rooms. We drank to Mom's health, to Dad's memory, to the next generation, but it all seemed to be a gigantic tragic play that didn't end although everyone desperately wanted it to." She cleared her throat.
"At ten, Helen brought you and Quinn into the room you shared with Erin and asked me to help her. When we were out of the room again, she practically pushed me into the next wall and shouted at me why I kept harassing her and Jake. Until that moment, I'd always felt that I bore the full guilt for what had happened between me and Jake, which in turn placed me at Helen's mercy, but that was too much. I brushed off her hands and shoved her away, then I told her it'd never been my intention to steal Jake from her. We went out of the house and talked for several hours until Jake came out and told us that Mom was at the brink of disowning us for walking out of her party. Since then, I've met Jake, Helen and you two several times and as far as I can see from here, I'm not jeopardizing Helen's marriage anymore - if I ever did so."
She finished her coffee and rose from the bench. "Let's look for a service station now. Like I said, I don't want to spend more time here if I can avoid it. Do you have any questions left, Daria?" "Just one. What's the connection to the mall that made dad suddenly tongue-tied?" Jake smiled as he stood up also and motioned for the check. "When Amy succeeded getting her licence, I decided that this needed a celebration. Like a certain other person present, she had a weakness for corny theme restaurants, so she and I dragged Helen into 'James Bond's Best Beef Burgers' here in the mall, which had the stupidest marketing idea I ever saw being realized - and I've been a consultant for over twenty years now. We had a great time and even got a souvenir photo made. As far as I remember, Helen defined how to look bored by her expression." Daria laughed as Jake drew his wallet and paid the check. As they went out, Jake laid his arm around Daria. "Please don't tell anyone what you've heard from us, Daria. This thing has stood between Helen and Amy long enough and they buried the hatchet ten years ago, so let it rest." "Of course, dad."
V. Love Of My Life
When the three entered the mall and approached the information booth, a burly man in a suit standing there suddenly turned and gave Jake a big grin. Jake stopped in his tracks and stared at the stranger. "Roddy?" The man stretched out his arm and shook hands with Jake like Daria had seen him do with Coyote Yeager. Jake measured the man. "Holy crap, Roddy, it's you in the flesh! What're you doing here?" The man laughed. "Roderick Francis van Piltz, chief supervisor of Circus Court, at your service." Jake grinned. "You sold out, man - but welcome to the club. I'm a marketing consultant, before you ask." Roddy slapped him on the back. "What're you doing around here, Jacko? I haven't seen you for... oh, since you ran away with Helen the Harpy." Jake smiled at him. "I'm here for my mother in-law's seventieth birthday. I married Helen and we have two children - Quinn and Daria here. Oh, and this lady is Helen's sister Amy. Amy, Daria, meet Roddy, the only man I ever met who could deliver a spontaneous lecture why pouring the water left from the collective bath on the unfertilized radishes was the only way to save the world from dying before next Saturday."
Amy and Daria shook hands with Roddy, who gave them an apologetic smile. "I'm very sorry, ladies. If there's anything I can do to get my foot out my mouth again..." Jake interrupted him. "Are you still on a first-name base with car guts, Roddy?" Roddy nodded. "Would you mind looking at Amy's roadster? Her radiator seems to have transferred to the next life." "Hey, it's the least thing I can do for a friend!" Roddy answered. "Let's go see this roadster."
As soon as Roddy had opened the hood - after complimenting Amy on her car, saying that 'everyone seemed to favour those shining matchbox cars nowadays' - he smiled and asked the others to stand back. When they were five feet away, he took a screwdriver from his shirt pocket and stabbed it into the plastic lid which sealed the hole for the radiator water, then he turned to Amy and smiled. "That should be enough to drive a few hundred miles, Miss. You should have the whole fluid system checked soon, however." "That's all?" Amy asked.
"Well, you could go to Walt's Waltz at the main road to get another opinion, but I'd strongly advise against it. Besides, all he could do is taking your car apart now and start working on it on Monday - if he gets a new radiator that fast." "Thank you, Mr. van Piltz." Amy said. "Ah, like I said: everything for an old friend and his relatives." He leant over to Amy. "There's a thing you could do to pay me back for the help." "Yes?" Amy inquired. "Tell Helen the Harpy Roddy says hi." Jake laughed. "No problem. See you around, Roddy." "Bye." He walked away.
After Roddy had vanished behind the sliding doors again, Jake turned to the other two. "Does either of you have something else in mind that might keep us from returning to the joy of Evelyn's birthday festivities?" Amy shook her head. "Okay, then let's head back. Amy, do you feel safe to drive alone?" "Yes, I think so. If the car blows up, I can still try that guy your friend mentioned." Daria looked at her. "Is it okay if I drive with you, Amy?" Jake looked surprised, but Amy immediately opened the right door and Daria entered. Jake drew out his keys. "Okay, then we'll see each other at Evelyn's. Be careful, Amy." He walked over to his own car while Amy climbed in also and started the engine.
As soon as they had left the parking lot, Amy fixed Daria. "Okay Daria. What do you want to know?" Daria smirked at her aunt. "Everything Dad isn't supposed to know, of course." "And why do you think that there might be such a thing?" Daria sat back in her seat and fixed Amy. "I've heard many things from you and Dad today, some of which were hard to swallow... the idea of you and him having sex, for example. But among all these things, one detail was left unsaid." Amy accelerated and followed the road that led to the highway. "Mom will have to believe me when I tell her I wanted to try out how the car behaves at higher speed; I'm afraid we'll need more than the ten-minute drive back to the house. Now which detail was missing that could be so important for you to know?" Daria stretched out her legs. "A simple question: what did you feel for Dad?"
Amy hesitated before answering. "Do you know you inherited Helen's skill to see the weak link in a long chain of arguments?" "That's exactly what I meant, Amy. Mom might've flipped out finding you and Dad in bed together and I fully believe that she guilt-tripped you into thinking that everything was your fault. But this doesn't explain the fact that Mom wanted to keep you away from her husband for years and I know you aren't that afraid of Grandma to throw yourself at Mom's mercy instead. I think she's realized something twenty years ago which I realized today while hearing the story. It wasn't just the common loneliness and the alcohol- you loved him back then, didn't you?"
Amy tightened her grip around the wheel and took a deep breath. "I still love him, Daria. Jake was kind and gentle to me when my mother and my sisters were either hostile or ignorant - and I can't tell what hurt more. I believe you've been there yourself, if only for some time." Daria nodded silently. "The only close relative who was always there for me was my Dad; when he died, I cried for several days and nights until Mom said I wouldn't be allowed to go to the funeral if I kept on crying. I always dreamt of having an elder brother instead of two elder sisters, especially since those sisters were Rita and Helen. I told you already I looked up to Jake like he was my elder brother; it wasn't until I moved over to his apartment that I suddenly saw him as more than that. Sadly, he was married to my sister, the harpy. I've heard that description of Helen before and used it quite a few times myself during my childhood, to be exact."
"I hate to ask you, but I must know this. Did you deliberately plan anything like what happened after that ominous letter came?" Daria asked. "Not like this, Daria. I had some immature girlish daydreams that, one day, Jake would come to his senses and ask himself why he should be content with my snotty, bossy and know-it-all sister when he could have me. Living together with Jake has been an experience I've looked for in college and afterwards without ever coming close with another man. When I finally got my chance to tell him how I felt - after about half a gallon of Martini - he was so drunk he was beyond any chance to understand what I said, let alone remember it later."
Amy left the highway and drove on the opposite ramp to take the same way back. "It's ironic that you've got so many character traits of Jake as I first met him, yet you also saw what he failed to see himself after getting the story second-hand from him and me. I wasn't lying when I told you I felt responsible for the possibility of their marriage breaking up, but I never lost a word on whose side I would've been - neither then nor today in the café, as you might've realized. The reason Helen wanted me out of their life has always been the fact that she knows I fell in love with her husband and never fully recovered from screwing up at it." She looked at Daria. "You haven't asked why I rarely visited you even after I made peace with Helen. Visiting more often would've reminded them and me of our common time in Cowton and might've destroyed the truce we had established after ten years of silence originating from her side. The fact that Jake was stuck firmly under Helen's heel also contributed to this. And..." she trailed off, mumbling something almost inaudible. "And?" Daria asked.
"Well, you might've noticed that you and I are sharing certain resemblances in hair color, figure, look, we're both wearing glasses..." "What are you leading up to?" Daria inquired. Amy pointedly glanced in the left rear-view mirror, then she suddenly looked straight at her niece, her eyes wet now. "Don't you see? I loved your father without any real hope of success, but your arrival was the final sign that Jake would never abandon Helen for me; and as I saw the first photos of you Mom showed me, I knew that, if he and I would've had a child, it would've probably looked exactly like you! You were both the testament of my failure and the promise what might've been if things had worked out different!"
Daria stared at her aunt, who had shifted her gaze on the road again, then she silently drew a tissue from her pocket and handed it over. After Amy had slowed down and dried her eyes, she peered over to her niece. "Thank you, Daria; I think I'm okay again." Daria smirked awkwardly. "Yes, crashing with his eldest child on board might be the wrong thing to show Dad how you feel." Amy smirked also. "Well, I'd eliminate one of the two most important things binding him and Helen together - but risking my own neck doesn't sound so good." She pointed to her purse lying between the seats. "I told you about the photo that was made when I visited this stupid restaurant with Helen and Jake. Would you like to see it?" "Do you have it with you now?" Amy nodded. "In the inner zip pocket."
She opened the purse and took out a small, slightly dog-eared photo; after replacing the purse, she examined it closer. Jake and Helen, both in their mid-twenties, stood on either side of an adolescent Amy. The younger and thinner Helen looked straight into the camera with a bored expression; the twen Jake smiled brightly into the lens, his face yet creaseless; and 17-year old Amy... Daria focused on the smiling girl in the middle, then she compared the image with the 39-year old Amy on the driver's seat, who smirked at her. "Maybe you better compare it with yourself, Daria; you might find more similarities."
Daria adjusted the rear-view mirror until it showed her own face, then she gazed at the photo again - and gasped. Amy was maybe an inch or two taller, her hair was shorter than Daria's own and not as thick - that was Jake's influence, she knew. Amy was also slightly leaner and had probably had weighed some pounds less than Daria did now... but apart from these minor differences, they looked like twin sisters: the brown hair, the brown eyes behind round glasses, the thin figure with the not yet fully-developed female forms... The dark-blue jacket and the green skirt Amy'd worn over black tights and brown leather boots on the photo made the likeness between them even more stunning.
Amy saw the astonishment in her niece's face and smiled. "I told you you look like I did when I met your Dad, didn't I?" "Yes, but this... don't misunderstand me, but I suddenly pity Mom just a little bit." "Why that?" Daria grinned. "Well, she did everything to ensure you and Dad would never again have the chance to... well, you know - and then her own child grows out to be a copy of you." "Imagine how you'd look if I'd been around you more often than I actually was." Daria laughed. "Judging from your look back then, I wouldn't only be the bookworm I'm now, but also better at PE and thus be able to keep pace with my friend Jane, the merciless jogger." Amy laughed. "See, that's another similarity: I also had a friend which ran dents into the local pavements; when I lost a bet at the age of fifteen, I had to run with her and started liking it." "What was the bet about?" "What bets do you think fifteen-year-old girls make?" "Oops. Forget it."
The car left the main street and turned into the street where Evelyn lived. Amy stopped and pointed to an apartment tower hundred meters down the road right to them. "That's where Jake and Helen... and I lived in '75 and '76, by the way." Daria looked at the unappealing building which had definitely seen better days. "Charming." She put the photo back into Amy's purse and pondered for a moment before she fixed her aunt again. "Dad said you didn't come to the east U.S. for ten years until we moved to Texas in 1986. Was he right?"
Amy smirked. "I really stayed away all the time - with one notable exception. In July '85, I went to Philadelphia to see Live Aid with a friend and stayed in a hotel for one night before returning to Berkeley again." Daria started laughing. "You risked Mom's wrath and the discovery of your night with Dad - for a concert?" Amy shrugged. "Well, in '85, she'd had nine years to cool off, and if she'd really gone to Mom with it, tough luck. I was twenty-six, independent from Mom and on the way to my MA. Besides, it wasn't just a concert, Daria. You see, Helen and Jake are late hippies who'll never forgive themselves for missing Woodstock, although Jake was at Altamont at least. When I was your age, the dreams of love and peace had been replaced with the reality of Watergate, Saigon and My Lai, while the continuing threat of nuclear annihilation was still strong. Helen's generation had withdrawn into acid-fueled dreams of a new age, but my generation had seen them fail. Live Aid was something like the proof that there was something the individual could do against all this. I believe Joan Baez said 'This is your Woodstock, and it's long overdue' and I think she was right. I still believe that there are more children today who own their life to food which was paid with money coming from Live Aid than to their parents wrestling in the mud at Woodstock, and I'd have never forgiven myself for missing it."
She arrived in front of Evelyn's house and parked the car next to Rita's jeep. When Daria unfastened her seatbelt, Amy held her back. "Listen, Daria. I know Jake asked you already in the café, but..." "Don't worry, Amy, I won't tell him or anyone else about what we talked about." She paused. "However, after what you two told me in the café, I expect him to put two and two together and have an idea why I rode with you." "That's okay; as long as doesn't suspect that I love him still - or ever really did - the general situation hasn't changed. As far as I know, he wanted to tell you after your 18th birthday anyway to explain why Helen and I aren't on the best of terms." "Instead of comparing you, her and Rita with me and Quinn like he's done up to now, you mean." Amy smirked. "Thereby giving you the irritating idea that sibling rivalries last forever." "Exactly."
VI. You Don't Fool Me
When the two females entered the house again, they almost ran into Helen, who was busy wiping the stained-glass window of the door and now frowned at her daughter and sister. "Nice to see you two are back. I assume you just forgot that Mom asked everyone to help with cleaning and tidying up the house." Daria glanced at Amy, who smiled awkwardly. "Oops. Thanks for reminding me, Helen. What do you... sorry, what does Mom want us to do?" "Well, she said you should help Erin and Brian planting some flowers by the pond..." "The swamp, you mean," Amy muttered, "...and Daria, you can help Jake with cleaning up the attic. Quinn might've done it, but she's afraid of spiders." "What does she do instead?" Daria asked. "She's inventorying Mom's loose photo box with Rita." "I pity her."
After receiving a big garbage bag and a pair of plastic gloves from Evelyn, who sat in the kitchen drinking tea with Maldwyn, Daria mounted the old ladder to the attic. When she arrived at its top, she saw her father sitting on a huge oak crate, reading an old issue of Time. Several boxes, trunks and crates stood around, but Daria could not see anything lying around which would have justified two people to clean up. Jake looked up and smirked at her. "Hi, kiddo. Nice to see you've come to help me with this." "With what?" Jake grinned. "With having some time off from your Grandma's cleaning frenzy. After I single-handedly cleaned the whole six-room cellar ten years ago at her sixtieth birthday while Rita and her second husband made out up here, I made a mental note to apply for the attic next time - and I told Evelyn I needed your help. She hasn't been here for years as far as I know, so there's nothing to do here besides dusting off, which I did already. Take a magazine and sit down." "Good idea." She scanned the heap of old magazines in an open box, took one out and sat down next to Jake.
Five minutes later, Jake laid his magazine aside and cleared his throat. "Say, Daria... I noticed you wanted to drive with Amy. What did you talk about?" Daria turned at looked directly at him. "Sorry, but I promised Amy not to tell you... or Mom, for that matter." "Then let me guess. After what you learned today about what happened between me and her, you wanted to hear her views. Am I right?" "Maybe." "So let's say you talked about her side of the story. In this case, she might've told you something important she thinks I never saw." "And what would that be... I mean, given this case?" Jake sighed. "Isn't it obvious, Daria? Amy really fell in love with me and she still believes I never knew." "You know?"
Jake rose from the crate and went over to a small window. "I knew it all the time, Daria. Amy said in the café she told me she wanted to 'find someone like me' when we got drunk together on that night in '76. Maybe she was already too drunk herself to remember it correctly or still thinks I was already too wasted to understand her; but in fact, she told me she loved me." Daria stared at him. "Now wait a moment. You understood that... and still slept with your 17-year-old sister-in-law... after she'd told you she loved you?" "It wasn't so easy, Daria."
Daria fixed her father, who sat down on another crate opposite her. "Give me a break, Dad. I've heard more family secrets today than ever before. So what wasn't easy?" Jake inhaled audibly before he sighed again. "The whole situation wasn't. I honestly believed Helen had really cheated on me - and Amy had grown on me in the past months while Helen was away most of the time. Alcohol can cloud your brain, but it can also make you consider things very clearly. There I was, believing my marriage was about to break up and with the younger sister of my wife, who was witty, funny... and also much more easy-going than my absent wife. To sum it up: I was frustrated, hurt and doubtful." "Doubtful about what?" "About whether I'd chosen the right Barksdale woman." Jake said.
Daria gasped. "You really considered leaving Mom for Amy?" "Yes, I did so... believing Helen had already betrayed me, of course. I've never dared to imagine what might've happened if Helen hadn't come home the next morning... but now I believe that, after another week with Amy, it wouldn't have been as easy to have everyone return to how life had been before as it was after one night." "Does Mom know that?" "I never told her, but she must've felt it somehow. You heard how angry Amy still is about how Helen blackmailed her to stay away from us - and don't forget that Helen didn't tell me about that until last year." "You mean she mistrusted you also." Jake nodded slowly. "We had problems for a few years and might've split up after all if it hadn't been for your birth."
Jake looked at his daughter, anticipating a reply to the revelation he had just made, but Daria stayed silent for some time, studying the ceiling. Finally she looked down at Jake again and drew a long breath. "Listen Dad, I've just one more question, then I'm satisfied. It's pretty personal, so I'd understand if you refuse to answer it..." "Shoot, kiddo." Daria hesitated. "Well... if you and Mom were at odds with each other for years, why didn't you quit her for Amy or some other woman? Like I said, you don't have to answer." Jake managed a smile. "It's okay, Daria. I think there were probably several reasons to stay with Helen. The first and most important was the fact that I loved Helen and had married her. I know you and Quinn must be sick and tired to hear about my father being a bad influence, but he'd screwed around whenever he got the chance and didn't even care that Mom knew it each time. I'd hated it and swore to myself I wouldn't become like him. The second reason was that after all, I was the one who had actually cheated on the other and felt guilty as hell about it." He paused.
"So you're saying you stayed with Mom out of loyalty, guilt and love." Daria remarked. "That's about it, but there was another reason, Daria. You already know Helen didn't tell me about blackmailing Amy to keep away from us, so, when Amy broke off contact and also refused invitations to visit us, I thought she'd regret what we did and thus wanted to avoid me." He looked down. "To be honest with you, I believed that she'd fear seeing me again - and I wouldn't have blamed her. After Evelyn's sixtieth birthday, Amy and Helen got along better and I learned that my assumptions had been wrong, but by then we had you and Quinn, which might've disturbed Amy, because she still seldom visited us."
Daria looked at her father sadly. "She told me today that she seldom visited us because seeing me as a child reminded her of herself and showed her what might've happened if she'd been the woman you'd married." Jake stared at her, then he slowly wiped his eyes with a shirtsleeve. "Poor girl." He coughed. "The others must've finished their works by now. Maybe you'd like to return to them while I put back the magazines and the crates." "Well, I'd rather..." Daria broke off her protest when she saw the silent plea for solitude in his face. "I'm on my way, Dad. See you." She descended the ladder without looking at him.
When the family reassembled for supper, Daria was anxiously awaiting some kind of reaction from her mother about the fact that Daria had been away along with her father and aunt, but ironically Helen was missing herself. Jake noticed that Evelyn was visibly peeved about this, so he went back to their room to look for his wife while the others started eating. Ten minutes later, Daria's parents came in together, Helen giving her and Amy strange looks before she sat down and started eating. Quinn looked curiously at her sister, but when Daria's face remained impassive, her attention returned to the salad in front of her. Evelyn made sure that everyone got plenty of food - "since you all worked so hard" she said - so Daria had to eat much although she was not feeling very hungry.
As soon as everyone was finished, Amy pushed back her chair. "How about a game of scrabble? It's an old family tradition." Evelyn frowned. "Not recently, if I remember correctly." "Well, it was when we were kids and Dad was alive." Amy fired back. Evelyn held up her hands. "OK, if the others want to play too, you can play. I'd appreciate it if someone helped me with the dishes, however..." "I'll do that." Rita said "maybe Helen and Jake can help me." "Of course, Rita." Jake said before Helen could object, then he whispered to his wife. "Would you prefer to get beaten up at Scrabble by Daria?" Helen nodded and they went to the kitchen with Rita. Maldwyn said goodbye to the others, promising to come back the next morning in time for breakfast, so in the end, the scrabble game featured Daria, Amy, Quinn, Erin, Brain and Delano, and took place at the dinner table.
While Amy laid out the board and Brian was outside getting some beverages, Quinn leant over to Daria and asked "What's wrong with Mom and Dad? They are somehow at odds since we're here." Daria shrugged. "Must be the family stress." Delano rubbed his hands as they started. "I must warn you; I'm considered to be a fairly good player." Quinn smiled at him. "If that's true, you just might have a chance against Daria; she used to flatten everyone else at Scrabble." "We'll see." Two minutes later, the first discussion started when neither Delano nor Erin wanted to accept Daria laying "shebeen", which, according to her, meant an unlicensed pub in Ireland; only after Amy consulted a dictionary and proved that Daria had been right, they gave in grudgingly.
After two more similar discussions, Daria decided to retire to her bed - to be exact, the mattress - in her grandfather's former office which was now her grandmother's sewing room. She brushed her teeth, changed into her sleeping attire and lied down on the mattress, intent on falling asleep before Quinn might come into the room too to disturb her. As Daria gazed at the dim ceiling, she recollected the events of the day and the revelations it had brought. The fact that Jake and Amy had once been a couple and harboured strong feelings for each other had shocked her and the curiosity to learn more about it had prevented any serious consideration on her part... until now.
Daria turned several times to find a better position on the thin mattress and tried to think about something else, like school, Jane or other matters, but each time she started to follow another line of thought, the picture of Jake and Amy in the theme restaurant popped back into her memory. Finally, she rolled on her back, opened her eyes and contemplated the situation. Both Jake and Amy were still attracted to each other after all these years, but neither had ever had the courage to tell the other one since their only chance had ended in a fiasco when Helen had barged in on them. After that, Helen had made sure that her sister couldn't be a risk to her marriage anymore by keeping her at the east coast and has also - after several problematic years - managed to keep Jake by bearing his children. Daria tried to imagine how their parents and Amy had lived in the small flat and how each of the three had suffered from what had happened. Several images went through her memory: the picture of her parents' wedding, the old apartment building Amy had shown her, a photo of herself as a baby lying in her mother's arms, other photos of her family life up to now...
Suddenly the pictures changed in her mind just as she was finally starting to feel sleepy: Jake embracing a younger Amy at his wedding instead of Helen, Amy and Jake standing in front of the apartment building and holding hands, herself lying in Amy's arms as a baby, Amy playing with a younger Quinn and Daria and a happy Jake standing next to them... She bolted up and stared at the dark wall. Now where in hell did that come from? she wondered. Do I really... no, I don't think so. Grandma's stupid food is beginning to affect me, I think. I should sleep now and stop thinking about all this past stuff. Why should I seriously consider how life might've been with Amy as my mother instead of Mom...?
Because it might've been better, a voice in her head told her. Because you've learnt today how your Mom treated her own sister and her husband before you were born, that's why. Because you've always believed that her present faults had accumulated over a period of more than twenty years and with the help of a clumsy and useless husband... but you always knew that once, your Dad had been a friendly, easy-going type... and what you learnt today meant that, after having a bad childhood caused by a nightmare of a father, he'd found an intelligent and beautiful girl who was his perfect soulmate, only to lose this girl because he'd already been married with the girl's sister. Because you've asked yourself more than once what your father must've done to your mother in the past to justify the treatment she gave him since as long as you remembered.
Daria heard someone walking up the stairs and coming nearer, so she sunk back into the pillow and pretended to be asleep. Quinn opened the door, took a huge beauty case from a bag on the other mattress and exited again. After the door closed again, Daria peered after her sister and decided to stop thinking about a possibility long extinct. Her father was married to her mother; whatever had happened or not happened long ago wasn't her concern since nothing would ever happen again between Dad and Aunt Amy... sad though it was.
VII. A Day In Your Life
Helen woke up from the sound of a door opening. She opened her eyes slowly and, after a short moment of confusion, realized that she was lying next to Jake in her old room in her parents' house. When she scanned her surroundings, she recognized Rita standing in the doorframe, clothed in a jumpsuit. Helen sat up and looked at her sister, who held out a cordless phone. "There's a call for you, Helen." Jake had woken up also and heard the last bit; now he gazed at Rita with sleepy eyes. "Morn'n, Rita. Who'd call Helen here..." he looked at his watch on the pillow beside him "...at ten past seven in the morning?" Helen hesitated. "Well... I told Eric he could reach me here in an absolute emergency..., oh, just gimme the phone." Rita complied. "Hello, Eric? Oh, it's nothing... I know you wouldn't if... they did? Monday morning?! I'll do my best... You think that's the chance for me to make partner? I'm coming back ASAP... Yeah, see you too." She switched the phone off and jumped out of the bed. "I'm sorry, but I gotta return to Lawndale as soon as possible. Can you drive me to the next station now, Jake?"
Jake yawned. "I'll gladly drive you, honey, but don't you think we should wait until we had breakfast? That way, you could say goodbye to everyone and your mother might be less peeved about your unplanned departure." "Forget it, Jake. If I leave now, I'll avoid all the complications of prolonged goodbyes." Helen said while hurriedly putting on a crumpled blouse. "You mean you'll rather let me explain at breakfast you stole away in the middle of the night." Jake observed. "Oh, for the love of..." Helen looked at Rita. "Can you give me a ride, Rita? I see you're clothed already." Rita smiled. "Yes, I like to rise before the break of dawn and welcome the new day by practising Tai Chi..." Helen interrupted her while she was zipping her pants. "Tell me in the car. Please tell Mom I really regret leaving, but I must. Bye." She blew him a kiss, grabbed her watch and left with Rita.
When Jake woke up again at 9:15, he pulled a bathrobe over his pyjamas and went downstairs into the living-room, where he found Daria sitting on the sofa, leafing through an old photo book. She looked up when she heard the door open and smirked at the rumpled attire of her father. "Hello, Dad. Has Mom beaten you to the bathroom?" "Mom got a phone call from Eric to return early and had Rita drive her to the train." Daria frowned. "Didn't you want to drive her?" "I wanted to, but I suggested to her to stay until she'd had breakfast with the others. She preferred to ride with her sister." "Ouch. So now you're the one to explain her sudden absence to Grandma? I pity you." "Yes, I know. At least Rita's involved in this, so Evelyn can't start about us being the black sheep again."
Jake sat down next to his daughter. "What're you looking at?" She showed him the spine of the book, which said: '1968'. "I wanted to see how Mom looked when she was my age." Jake opened the book at random and glanced at a page with photos of the three sisters at a family banquet: 17-year old, slightly plump Helen in a black dress, 18-year old Rita wearing a low-cut blue dress and silver earrings and finally 9-year old Amy in a pink dress, making a face to the camera. He turned the page and saw another photo of the whole family: Helen and Rita standing behind a brown-haired man, who sat on a couch with Amy on his knees. Daria peered at the photo. "Is this Grandpa David?" Jake nodded. "I've never met him, but from what Amy said, he didn't deserve to live in a house with four... let's say complicated females. I think Amy never really recovered from his death - unlike her sisters and her mother, which made it even worse for her."
He rose again. "Do you know if anyone else is up already?" "Well, Delano has gone jogging and Erin took Grandma's purse to get fresh rolls and some fruits. Oh, and Quinn woke up when I did and whined until I agreed to her using the bathroom first." She leant back. "To be frank, I didn't intend to participate in the family bathroom fight anyway, but now Quinn thinks she owes me." She smirked. "Might be useful sometime in the future." Jake laughed. "Well, her blissful cleansing will be over soon; I'm going to chase her out of the bathroom." "Good luck." Daria returned to her reading as her father left.
One hour later, the family assembled for breakfast. When Jake announced why neither Helen nor Rita were present, Evelyn became visibly annoyed, but she refrained from speaking out her discontent since Jake emphasized the fact that Rita had offered her sister a ride, which might be a sign of better relations between them. Amy raised her eyebrows, but Evelyn smiled at her son-in-law. "That's nice, Jake. Let's hope Helen has a nice trip." She looked at the old clock hanging above the sofa. "I'm wondering why Rita isn't back yet, however. Did you say they left at quarter past seven, Jake?" "Yes, I did. But maybe Rita's met an old friend, like I did yesterday when I drove Amy to the mall." Erin took a bite from her roll. "Maybe Mom's got a problem with her car again, Grandma. A month ago the jeep's brakes sort of malfunctioned and Mom almost crashed. I believe that mechanic she dated for a while fixed it somehow." Evelyn looked doubtful. "In that case she'd better have it fixed properly. As soon as she's back, I'll give her money for that..." As she trailed off, Daria looked at her Dad, knowing he'd think the same thing like her: If Mom were here, she'd be furious - again.
Just as everyone's attention was returning to the food in front of them, the doorbell rang and Evelyn rose to answer it. When she opened the door, she saw two policemen standing in front of it: an older, overweight man with captain's bars on his collar whose nametag said 'Chambers' and a young black-haired officer. The older man stepped forward. "Good morning, Evelyn. Can I come in?" Evelyn answered coldly. "Good morning, Ralph. I'd appreciate it if you could get used to calling me Mrs. Barksdale. What do you want here?" Ralph stepped back again. "As you wish, Mrs. Barksdale. I'd like to talk to you - inside." Now Evelyn looked angry. "But I don't want to talk to you. Besides, my family's there and..." Erin's face appeared behind her. "Can I help, Grandma? I heard..." she broke off and stared at Ralph. "Why're you here, Father?" Ralph smiled for a moment. "Hi, Erin. Nice to see you. I've got to tell your grandmother something important..." Evelyn interrupted him. "Tell it and then drop dead, Ralph. If it's about Rita, she isn't here and you know she loathes you now. Now what's so important?"
Ralph sighed. "You're making this even more difficult than it is already - for us all, Evelyn. Believe me, I'd rather be anywhere else now than here." He took off his cap and motioned to his subordinate to do the same before he cleared his throat. "Two hours ago, a jeep swerved off the Highway and collided with a bridge pillar. Both passengers were killed." He took a deep breath. "I regret to inform you that they were identified as your daughters Rita and Helen."
Later, Daria could only remember how fast everyone had jumped up from the table when they heard Evelyn's scream. Jake was the first one in the hall and saw his snotty and aristocratic mother-in-law writhing on the floor with Erin crying next to her. Before he was able to inquire about their agony, Ralph Chambers - Rita's first husband and Erin's father - pulled him outside to inform him about the death of his wife and Rita. Daria was the last one to arrive in the hall, having sat at the far end of the table between Quinn and Amy, so when she finally reached the scene she found her father sitting alone on the outside stairs, looking like a ghost. Brian was comforting Erin while Maldwyn sat next to a sobbing Evelyn. Amy stood next to the door with an arm around Quinn, quietly talking with Chambers. Daria somehow knew immediately what had happened, so she just stood there, watching her family mourning. Finally, she walked over to her aunt and gave her a long hug before saying quietly. "I'll take care of Quinn. Please go outside to Dad; he needs you." Amy seemed to consider for a moment before she released Quinn. As she looked at the lonely man sitting on the stairs with his back to the others, she wiped a tear from her eye and then gazed at Daria, mouthing "Thank you" before she went outside to comfort Jake.
Epilogue: Still Crazy After All These Years (June 1999)
"...my advice is: Stand firm for what you believe in, until and unless logic and experience prove you wrong. Remember, when the emperor looks naked, the emperor is naked. The truth and a lie are not sort of the same thing, and there's no aspect, no facet, no moment of life, that can't be improved with pizza. Thank you." Daria ended her ad-libbed speech as winner of the Dian Fossey Award and stepped back from the microphone. As the students cheered and applauded, Daria scanned the audience until she found the two people for whom this day was maybe even more important than for her and her fellow graduates.
It had been a very hard time for both of them, she thought. Despite the obvious mutual attraction they'd felt for each other so long, neither had wanted to make the first step for an obvious reason: both had believed that declaring their love might kill Evelyn, who had survived the terrible day of the accident only to break down at Rita's funeral - she would never forget the solemn row of about three dozen men between 40 and 65 who had been her aunt's lovers, friends or even husbands (three of them). Evelyn had spent several weeks in hospital and thus hadn't been able to attend Helen's funeral - which might've driven Mom crazy if she'd known it, Daria mused.
She paused for a moment while remembering her mother's funeral. Most of Helen's colleagues had been there: Eric had nearly been flattened by Jake after telling Horowitz and Vitale that finding someone to fill Helen's position in the firm would be hard. Jake had been close enough to hear the next sentence also, which was that Helen had been the perfect subordinate for Eric: fierce enough to tear up any opponent in court, but too shy to demand a partnership as reward for her superhuman workload and dedication - 'a typical working girl'.
Daria smirked to herself. Eric had considered himself lucky when Jake had been stopped by several junior associates before he could beat up the man who'd practically killed his wife and sister-in-law by ordering Helen back from Cowton with the old promise of a partnership - and now boasted at her funeral how he'd exploited Helen all the time. Two weeks later, the local police had received an anonymous hint that Eric Schrecter, attorney at-law, had bribed judges and jury members in several cases to ensure the success of his trials - and that he'd used extortion as well as hired bullies in several cases to reach his objectives. Helen hadn't been able to become partner, but her notes about what Eric had told her at the firm's '97 Xmas Party after too much eggnog had been good evidence to have Eric thrown out of the Maryland Law Association and being sentenced to ten years; his associates had sacrificed him to save their own skins.
Daria looked at her sister sitting next to the happy couple. It was also ironic that the self-styled family expert on dates and personal relationships had never imagined that two of her closest relatives might feel more for each other than casual sympathy between in-laws... until Daria had taken the matter in her own hands. She'd asked her sister some hypothetical questions about widowers who found a new woman and her view on a mutual love which had been suppressed because it might've destroyed a family, but which could be realized after the obstacles had disappeared; only after Quinn's answers had been the ones she'd wanted to hear, Daria had informed her of the secret she'd learned five months before while overhearing a personal conversation in a café booth. This had been an easy task compared with the next thing she'd done, Daria remembered.
Even after Evelyn's health had returned to normal, the two people who now sat close together on the stands holding hands and enjoying the sunny day had hesitated to approach each other - until Daria had given both the push they had so desperately needed. After many hours of discussion about loyalty to dead spouses and siblings and the impression their union might make on Evelyn and the rest of the family, both Jake and Amy had admitted that there was more than just sympathy between them. In the next weeks, Amy had come to Lawndale every weekend to spend time with Jake and his daughters; she'd had also been in Lawndale for Christmas... and received a marvellous present from Jake, who'd called in all the favours, connections and IOUs he'd collected over years.
Daria had known he'd been absent most of the evenings in December, always telling her and Quinn to eat on their own because he'd have business duties - in the week before Christmas, Quinn had even suspected he might have a mistress. At Christmas, however, everything had been explained when he'd given Amy a simple brown envelope which contained a letter from the president of Lawndale State College, offering Amy a full professorship to start after the spring break. Amy had just found the voice to thank Jake before he asked if she'd like to live with him and the girls in Lawndale. She'd accepted immediately and had moved over as soon as the winter term had been over. They had told Erin when she'd called on New Year's Eve, knowing she'd pass it on to Evelyn, but the old woman had waited until April to give them a call: when she finally did, her first question after 'Is it true?' had been the inquiry whether they intended to marry. Jake had told her in his friendliest voice that neither he nor Amy were in a hurry to do so and she'd be informed if any new grandchildren would be on the way... that had been the last thing they'd heard from Evelyn up to now.
"Ahem..." Daria turned her head to see Ms. Li and realized that she still stood at the edge of the podium. She made a benevolent 'carry on' gesture to the principal which caused a wave of laughter among the graduates before she went back to her place. Jane looked amused at her friend. "What were you doing up there, amiga? You looked like you were planning to tell us the answer to life, the universe and everything." Daria smirked. "Sorry, no can do. The people who told it to me said explicitly not to give it to artists who might use it in their work." Jane shook her head. "And here I was thinking you'd become soft in the end and decided join the human race after all." "I did, Jane. Didn't you listen to what I just said up there?" "I did, but I don't think anyone here really understood what you really meant." Daria smiled. "Oh, some people did understand it, I think." She turned around to look at Jake and Amy - her parents, as far as she saw it - and studied their happy faces, knowing she would treasure this sight forever.