"Ho, ho... ho! Good holiday cheer, or anti-feminist propaganda? Meet one Mrs. Claus who's not going to take it anymore, on the next Sick Sad Wo--"
Daria snapped off the television as her father stumbled into the family room, carrying a large box. Jake dropped it on the carpet with a crash, and turned to look at her. "Hey, Kiddo, want to help me put together the old Christmas tree?"
Daria walked over to her father and regarded the "Insta-Tree" box. "How much help do you actually need?" she asked.
Jake opened the box and began pulling out metal and plastic tree limbs, followed by a telescoping tree trunk. "Well, I've got to snap these on to the frame, like this--" Jake said as he began constructing the tree. Daria watched him impassively. "Hey!" Jake exclaimed a few minutes later. "That was pretty easy!"
Daria eyed the eight-foot tall plastic and metal monstrosity before her. "I guess this makes you King of the Forest?" she asked.
"Heh heh, good one, Kiddo!" Jake beamed at her.
"Duh-aa-ad! Not that fake tree again!" Quinn screeched as she ran down the stairs. "It's just so...tacky!"
Helen entered the room from the kitchen, adjusting her earring. "Now Quinn, this is a perfectly fine tree. It doesn't leave messy needles all aver the carpet, and we didn't have to get the car all dirty hauling it back from some lot. Plus, this way we've actually saved a tree that they didn't have to cut down. Besides, who has time to go pick out a nice tree? The real trees always have bare spots, but this one is full all the way around."
Quinn groaned. "Yeah, but real trees give the house that Christmassy smell, all nice and pine-y."
"We can douse the tree in Pine-Sol, if you'd like," Daria volunteered.
Helen glared. "Daria! You will do no such thing."
"Boy, do I remember this," Jake said, pacing around. "No Christmas tree for you this year, Jakey! Santa doesn't need a tree if all he's gonna leave you is a lump of coal!"
"Jake!" Helen interjected. "We need to get going soon if we want to find a parking space at the Mall of the Millennium," she said, smoothly changing the subject.
"Oh, right!" Jake said brightly, forgetting all about his rant. "Are you girls sure that you don't want to come with us?"
"Yes. Very," Daria said.
Quinn smiled at her parents. "Now how can I buy your presents if you're there with me?" she asked. Daria suppressed her gag reflex, but Jake and Helen seemed touched.
"Well, Daria, I'm leaving you the keys to the SUV in case you get inspired and decide to do some shopping, too. Just remember to be careful, okay, sweetie?" Helen said.
"No running over elves by accident. On purpose is still okay. Got it," Daria said.
"All right then, girls, we'll see you tonight," Helen said. "Come on, Jake!"
Jake dropped the fake tree limb that he'd been fiddling with. "Right, honey! Bye girls!"
As Helen shooed Jake out the front door, Quinn turned to regard her sister speculatively. The scrutiny did not go unnoticed by Daria, who finally turned to Quinn and asked, "May I help you?"
"Daria, since Mom left you the keys and all, could you drive me to the Lawndale Convention Center? They're having a crafts fair, and I wanted to do some of my shopping there."
Daria looked at her incredulously. "You're going to do your Christmas shopping at a crafts fair?"
Quinn shrugged. "Well, the Fashion Club decided that we were all going to get each other non-fashion related gifts this year, because, I mean, just because something looks cute now doesn't mean that it won't be totally out of style by the time it gets opened on Christmas. Besides, I think that Sandi's in one of her 'we're going to be deep' phases, so I need to find something that's appropriate for that."
"Water wings?" Daria asked.
Quinn's mouth twitched as she suppressed a smirk. "Duh-aaar-ia! I'm being serious here!"
Daria sighed. "Oh, what the hell. It'll get me away from that thing for a while," she said, gesturing to the fake tree.
A few minutes later, Quinn followed Daria out to the SUV. Daria sat in the driver's seat, fiddling with the rearview mirror, when the pine-tree shaped air freshener dangling from it caught her attention. Quinn offered her sister a small smile. "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?" she asked.
"That this would make the perfect ornament for our 'tree'?" Daria replied. "Then yes." She removed the air freshener from the rearview mirror and opened the car door. "You coming?" she asked Quinn.
Wordlessly, Quinn followed Daria back into the house. Almost smiling, Daria hung the air freshener on the fake tree. She inhaled deeply. "Mmm, new car. That's that Christmassy smell you were talking about."
Quinn grinned. "Well, it makes a statement, at any rate," she said.
"Come on, let's get going. We've got crappy gifts to buy."
The Convention Center was hot, cramped, and filled past capacity. After fighting for a parking space, Daria and Quinn stood at the entrance to the crafts fair, mouths agape.
"Good grief...How ever did they manage to cram this much...junk...into one room?" Daria asked.
"Practice." Quinn pointed to a banner which read "Welcome to Lawndale's 8th Annual Holiday Arts & Crafts Fair."
"I have never seen so many scented candle booths in one place before," Daria said, aghast.
"Come on, let's see what they've got!" Quinn grabbed Daria by the arm and dragged her towards the booths.
"Aack, let go of me!" Daria cried. "Aren't you afraid of being seen in public with me?"
Quinn paused. "Daria, look at the crowd." Daria did. The sea of people consisted mostly of senior citizens and mothers pushing strollers. At first glance, Daria didn't see anyone even close to her own age. "None of these people care if we're related," Quinn said. "Now come on!"
The first booth they came to belonged to one of the many scented candle vendors on the premises. Daria picked up a fat, deep-rose colored candle and took a whiff. "Phew!" she exclaimed, setting it down again. "That smells like Country Fresh Bug-B-Gone!"
The vendor, a gray-haired man with glasses, scowled at Daria. Quinn looked like she couldn't decide whether she should be annoyed or laughing. Quietly, she picked up the candle that Daria dropped. After a moment, she wrinkled her nose and set it back down, silently agreeing with Daria's assessment. "I think I saw a booth over there with some really cute dolls," Quinn said. "Let's go see, okay?"
Daria silently followed her sister, after pausing to narrow her eyes at the candle vendor. The dolls in question were nothing particularly special, but they were wearing very elaborate costumes that were obviously made by someone with a lot of talent.
"Ooh, Daria, look at this one!" Quinn squealed. The doll had brown hair which was pulled back into two braids, giving it an almost eerie resemblance to Stacy. It wore a heavy-looking Antebellum-style wedding dress that had been crocheted out of white yarn and was adorned with tiny pink ribbon roses.
The booth's proprietress beamed at Quinn. "That's one of my daughter's favorites, although she always jokes that the braids make her look like a child bride," she said, pushing her bifocals back up her nose.
Quinn fingered the doll's fancy dress. "She's beautiful," Quinn said. "Did you make the dress yourself?"
The woman nodded. "On all of the dolls here," she said.
"Wow," Quinn breathed, impressed. "How long does something like this take to finish?"
"Well, when it comes to things like this, I have something of an obsessive-compulsive disorder," the woman laughed. "My husband used to have to come downstairs at night and force me to go to sleep, because whenever I started one, I didn't want to stop until I'd finished."
Daria inspected another doll, a blonde dressed up like a Gibson Girl. "I would never have the patience for this," she said.
The vendor shrugged. "I've had a lot of time on my hands. They gave me something to do while I was sitting there waiting for my kids to finish their piano lessons."
Quinn turned eagerly to Daria. "So what do you think?" she asked, gesturing to the bride doll.
"Do you think she'll like it?" Quinn asked.
Daria looked at the bride doll again. The childish braids combined with the grown-up dress made the doll into something that looked sweetly naive--Just like Stacy, Daria thought. "Well, you know her better than I do, but I guess she would," Daria said.
"Then I'll take it," Quinn said to the proprietress, smiling.
While Quinn completed her transaction, Daria scanned the nearby booths looking for something interesting. When she noticed a table set up with a bunch of very odd Christmas tree sculptures, her eyes widened.
"Daria!" Jane exclaimed from behind the table. "I never thought I'd see you here!"
Daria walked over to her friend, while Quinn stayed behind to chitchat with the doll lady. "I suppose I really shouldn't be surprised that you're exhibiting, should I?" Daria asked.
Jane grinned and gestured to her sculptures. "Hey, I've got to make my Christmas money somehow," she said.
"Mmm-hmm," Daria said. She picked up a small clay sculpture of what would be a fairly normal Christmas tree, if it wasn't for the bloody Santa Claus that was impaled by the very pointy star at the top of the tree. "And just how many of these have you sold?"
"Hey, the lady over in that doll booth bought three of these babies!" Jane said.
"Which ones?" Daria asked.
"Every piece here is a Jane Lane original," Jane said snootily. "But she bought one that was a decorated with candy canes and mousetraps, one that was painted with green glow-in-the-dark paint, and one that was really just a representation of what would be left of the tree if one of the candles had set it on fire."
"Oooh-kay," Daria said. "What on earth is that?" she asked, pointing at a painting that was propped on an easel behind Jane.
"Can't you tell? That's a partridge in a pear tree!" Jane said quickly.
"What?" Daria leaned in closer. "A part bridge in a pair of trees," she said slowly. "Jane, do you remember how Mr. O'Neill said that in Shakespeare's day, punning was considered to be the height of wit?"
"Yeah," Jane said.
"Well, Shakespeare's been dead for almost four hundred years. And that's not even a good pun," Daria replied.
"Snob," Jane said cheerfully. "So, how about it? You want a twisted tree of your very own?"
"No thanks," Daria replied. "We've already got one fake tree at home; I don't know if the place could handle another one."
"Aw, you're no fun," Jane said. "Why are you here, anyway?"
Daria sighed. "Quinn wanted to do some Christmas shopping. I agreed to drive her."
Jane smirked. "So then where's Quinn now?"
"She's over there by the...aw, hell," Daria said. "She disappeared."
"Well, I guess you'd better go find her." Jane paused, considering. "Unless, of course, you want her to stay lost."
"Don't tempt me," Daria deadpanned. "Ugh, I'm never going to find her in this crowd, and if I leave without her, she'll complain to mom, and then I'll never hear the end of it."
"Heh. Good luck, then."
Daria sighed again. "I'll need it. See you later."
Jane chuckled. "Later."
After forty-five minutes of searching, Daria was ready to give up. The place was too crowded, and it was making Daria grouchy. As she was bumped from behind by yet another stroller, Daria swore under her breath, wondering why the parents hadn't left the little brat at home. Overly cheerful Christmas music blared from the overhead speakers, and the atmosphere made Daria want to scream. She saw a spot across the floor that looked a little less crowded and headed over there, hoping she would be able to catch her breath and calm down a little bit. As she made her way over there, she heard a familiar voice grumbling.
"Jodie?" she asked, bewildered.
Jodie was dressed as an elf, handing out candy canes and fliers to passers-by. She looked decidedly unhappy about it. "I suppose you want a candy cane, too?" she groused. "Damn screaming brats don't even say 'please' or 'thank you' anymore," she muttered under her breath.
Daria resisted the urge to mock. "Um, volunteer work?" she asked.
Jodie groaned. "Yeah. Advertising the Christmas Cookie Bake-off. Like I have time for this," she complained. "I mean, I'm on the committee for the Winter Formal, and that's next week, plus I'm going Christmas caroling at a retirement home tonight with student council. I've got tons of homework, and my parents expect me to help out at their stupid holiday cocktail party tomorrow night. Lord knows when I'm supposed to get my shopping done. And everywhere I go, all I hear is this damn cheerful Christmas music! Have you ever listened to the words to 'Santa Claus is Coming to Town'? 'He sees you when you're sleeping, he knows when you're awake'? Is he a jolly old elf, or a stalker? It's just disturbing! What kind of message is this for the little kids? Augh, I just hate Christmas!"
Daria took a step back at Jodie's unexpected rant. "Well, Santa is an anagram for Satan."
"Thanks, Daria. That helps a lot," Jodie said, sarcastically. "What, you're going to tell me that you like this stuff?"
"Jodie, there's and eight-foot plastic tree in my living room, and if no one stops him, my dad is going to put a fiberglass reindeer on our roof. How do you think I feel about this?" Daria asked.
Jodie sighed explosively. "I'm sorry. It just gets to me, you know?"
"I know. Um, not to change the subject or anything, but you wouldn't happen to have seen Quinn, would you?"
Still grouchy, Jodie shrugged. "Nope. Sorry."
"Damn," Daria said. "If you see her, will you please tell her I'm looking for her?"
"Will do," Jodie replied. "Here, have a candy cane."
Daria accepted the candy with a wry smile. "Bah humbug. See you Monday."
"Bye, Daria," Jodie said.
Daria wandered through the crowd, looking for Quinn. Instead, she found Tiffany. Quinn's fellow Fashion-Clubber was seated at one end of the room's stage, reading to a small group of children. Remembering Tiffany's painfully slow reading, Daria stepped for a closer look. It was a picture book.
"Twelve drummers...drumming. Eleven pipers...piping. Ten lords a-leaping. Nine ladies dancing. Eight maids a-milking, seven swans a-swimming, six geese a-laying. Five really pretty golden rings. Four calling birds. Three French hens. Two turtle doves. And...a partridge in a pear tree," Tiffany monotoned.
The assembled children clapped. "Thank you, Tiffany," one of them squeaked.
"Like, you're welcome," Tiffany said. "Uuuh, the next story is in half an hour." The children scampered off. Tiffany noticed Daria standing there. "Hey, you're that girl from Quinn's house."
Tiffany cocked her head. "Are you here for story time?"
Daria cocked an eyebrow, wondering if Tiffany was asking whether she was there as a reader, or to be read to. Since neither was the case, Daria dismissed the thought. "Have you seen Quinn?"
Tiffany nodded. "Oh yeah." She paused. "Wait, do you mean today? Then no."
Daria cringed inwardly. "Merry Christmas, Tiffany," she said, turning to go.
"Wait, you're not here for story time?" Tiffany asked.
Daria simply looked at her. "Do I look like someone who enjoys reading to small children?"
Tiffany shrugged. "You were with that little kid that time."
"So why are you doing this?"
Tiffany shrugged again. "It's like, volunteer work. And it's like, my gift to the community. Sometimes...the best gifts...are the ones that aren't, like, tangerines."
Daria blinked. "Tangible?"
Tiffany nodded. "Yeah. Tan-jib-ul."
"Mmm, okay," Daria said.
"It’s the season of hope and light," Tiffany drawled, tilting her head.
"Um, yeah," Daria replied. Tiffany seemed like she was trying to convince her of something.
"You probably hate this time of year, don't you?" Tiffany asked.
Daria narrowed her eyes. "Why would you think that?"
"You're, like, a brain. You're always...thinking about...stuff," Tiffany said, as if that explained everything.
Daria tried not to give too much weight to Tiffany's words, although she had a feeling she knew where this was going. "And what does that have to do with Christmas?"
"It's all, like...happy. And people are all warm and fuzzy and feeling good about stuff." Tiffany was speaking even more slowly than normal, as if she thought Daria was going to have trouble grasping the concept.
"And that leaves me where?" Daria asked.
"You're still thinking about how dumb we all are. That's why you never smile," Tiffany said.
"Dumb...for being happy?" This was going back to Daria's reputation as "The Misery Chick."
"No...for like, ignoring the bad stuff," Tiffany said slowly. "We're all...hoping for stuff, and you're like, knowing that it's not gonna happen."
Vowing that she wouldn't let Tiffany know how accurate her assessment was, Daria asked, "Are you talking about world peace?"
"Well...yeah. And being able to eat pizza with cheese without worrying about getting fat." Tiffany scratched her head. "Uh, besides, everyone goes out of their way to make sure everything is really, really cute during the holidays, and you're like, obviously not into that."
Daria smirked. "Would you call a fake Christmas tree cute?"
Tiffany's eyes widened. "Fake Christmas tree...that's sooo wrong."
"I agree with you," Daria said.
"Uh, I need to get ready for the next story now," Tiffany said.
"Well, don't strain yourself. Bye," Daria said, turning to leave.
"Bye...uh, Merry Christmas, Daria."
Whoa! Daria thought. Did Tiffany just actually say my name correctly? Daria turned back to look at her, but Tiffany was leaning over a box of books, pondering the choice between two picture books. Daria shook her head, and walked away.
Daria was about go give up on looking for Quinn when she saw the three J's. Two of them were heavily laden with packages, and the third was carrying a soda. Figuring that they were also seeking Quinn, Daria decided to follow them.
Sure enough, they led her right to Quinn. She was looking at a display of macramé cell phone cases, but turned around as the boys approached.
"Hey Quinn. We got you that soda," Jeffy said.
"Thanks, guys," Quinn said, taking the can from him. Then she noticed Daria. "Hi!"
Surprised that her sister was actually acknowledging her in front of the harem, Daria replied, "Hi. I've been looking for you."
"Oh well, you know it goes when you're shopping," Quinn said. She held up one of the phone cases. "Does this just scream 'Mom,' or what?"
"Mom's phone is surgically attached to her ear. She doesn't need a case for it," Daria said.
Quinn's face fell. "Oh, good point."
"Are you almost ready to go?" Daria asked. For her, this was pleading.
"Oh," Quinn said. "I'm going to get a ride home with Johnny here."
"Uh, I'm Jamie, Quinn," Jamie spoke up.
"Right," Quinn said. "So you can go, I guess."
"I've been dismissed," Daria said, irritably. "See you later."
"But thanks for driving me over!" Quinn called to Daria's retreating back.
Daria shook her head. Quinn was getting a little better about acknowledging Daria in public, but she was still quick to ditch Daria when her friends showed up. Daria snorted. "Season of hope and light, eh?"
Daria pushed her way through the crowd, seeking the exit. From above, an instrumental version of "Jingle Bell Rock" assaulted her ears. The overpoweringly sweet smell of gingerbread made Daria's stomach cramp. A stroller clipped her ankle, but the woman pushing it continued on without noticing. The child inside it screamed. The din of a thousand voices calling out merrily pounded inside her head, and Daria gasped for breath. Finally reaching a side door, Daria pushed it open and expelled herself into the brightness outside.
The difference was amazing. Outside, the sky was cloudy, but the sun was strong behind those clouds, turning the entire sky into a glowing white mass that was almost too bright to look at. The cheerful babble of voices was replaced with the quieter hum of road noise from the street. Daria rubbed her temples and inhaled the scent of car exhaust. Daria made her way across the parking lot, her boots crunching in the shards of a broken bottle that littered the pavement. By the time she reached the car, her head was clearing. Daria unlocked the door, got in the car, and stared out through the windshield. In her mind's eye, she could still see the crafts fair: Quinn and her admirers laughing, Tiffany reading to a crowd of adoring children, Jane bantering with a potential customer, Jodie the dour elf handing out candy to ungrateful brats.
Sighing, Daria turned the key in the ignition and headed back for home. She was most definitely not in the Christmas spirit. All Daria wanted to do at this point as to go to her room, lie down, and stare at her ceiling through her eyelids for a while.
Three different families on Daria's street were putting up their lights when Daria got home. She knew that her own house would be just as garishly decorated as soon as her father got the chance to pull out the ladder. She hoped he wouldn't fall off the roof again this year. Daria wondered why Jake even bothered. Every year, he made a huge production of putting up hundreds of Christmas lights, and every year, his head almost exploded when he got that month's electricity bill. One would think that Jake would have made the connection by now.
Daria entered the house and headed straight for her bedroom. Kicking off her boots, Daria reflected that even though Jane's brother Trent was something of a slacker, she couldn't help but agree with his unspoken philosophy: if all else fails, take a nap.
The ringing telephone startled Daria from her slumber. Daria groped for her glasses and stared blearily at the clock. It was four-thirty; she'd been asleep for a little over an hour. Groaning, Daria picked up the phone.
"Hello?" she asked.
"Well, you sound even more thrilled than usual to hear from me," Tom said.
Daria shrugged, even though Tom couldn't see her do it. "Sorry, I was asleep. "
"In the middle of the afternoon?" Tom asked.
"Hey, it beats doing stuff," Daria replied.
"Mmm," Tom said, noncommittally. "Well, my parents have just killed this magnificent tree, and I was wondering if you would like to come over and help us commit atrocities on its corpse by covering it in tinsel and glass orbs."
"That's an interesting way to look at it," Daria said.
"I thought so," Tom replied.
"We've got our own atrocity here at my house. Dad got out the fake tree this morning."
"Ouch," Tom said. "Plastic and metal?"
"Yeah. It's really ugly. Quinn almost went into conniptions when she saw it." Daria paused for a moment, considering. "I guess that almost makes it worth it."
"So, what do you say?" Tom asked. "Feel like coming over? You can help me and Elsie make fun of my mother's Christmas village. All of the people in it are at least twice as tall as all of the doors."
Daria bit her bottom lip. "Well, you know how much I hate to miss an opportunity to mock somebody else's family for a change. Gah. But I guess I should try to get some stuff done before my family gets back from their shopping."
Tom tried to hide his disappointment. "Okay. Well, if you need any help moving the bodies, you know who to call, right?"
Daria uttered a brief sound that was either a sigh or a laugh. "Yup. Goodnight, Tom."
"Goodnight, Daria. Talk to you later." Daria heard a click as Tom hung up the phone.
Daria leaned over and put on her boots. Humming tunelessly to herself, she opened her door and went downstairs. She stood before the fake tree, inspecting it from all sides. The pine-shaped air freshener still hung crookedly from one of the metal limbs. Daria thought about Tom and his family, who were by now decorating what was undoubtedly one of the most magnificent Christmas trees in Lawndale. Daria shook her head.
"I want a real tree, dammit," Daria said.
The tree lot was a strange urban forest. Daria wandered in and out of the rows, relishing the darkness and relative quiet. After looking at the price tag of a gorgeous Douglas fir, Daria bit her lower lip and headed off towards the smaller, potted trees.
"Hey Daria! Looking for a Christmas tree?" Kevin approached from behind, wearing a Big Sam's Tree Lot apron over his football uniform.
Daria raised an eyebrow. "You mean this isn't where the Easter bunny lives?"
Kevin scratched his head. "Uh, I don't think he comes until later. Now we've just got trees."
"Hmm." Daria pretended to think it over. "Well, it has been a while since I made a ritual sacrifice to the power chipper."
"Cool," Kevin nodded cluelessly. "So, you want one of the little ones, then? They'd probably fit into the chipper easier."
Daria suppressed a smirk, realizing that Kevin hadn't understood that she was joking. "Well...I don't want to insult The Mighty Chipper with a puny little tree...but I'm a bit strapped for cash, so yeah, I'll take a small one."
"Okay," Kevin said. "So these over here, are like, in pots. That makes them emviron...envirusmental--uh, good for the earth. These two-foot trees are only twenty-five dollars."
Daria walked all the way around one of the trees, inspecting it from all sides. "I think The Mighty Chipper would approve of this specimen."
"Are you going to take it out of the pot before you throw it in the chipper?" Kevin asked.
"Hmm," Daria said. "The red foil around the pot gives The Mighty Chipper indigestion. You don't want to see a pissed-off chipper-shredder."
Kevin's eyes glazed over as he imagined the possibilities. "Heh. That would be cool."
Daria shook her head. "Kevin? The tree?"
"Oh yeah." Kevin scratched his head. "I'm like, not allowed to take the money. Big Sam said something about ice cream trucks and negative cash flow. Let me go get Robert."
Daria secretly wondered if Robert would be any better with money than Kevin was, but decided that it wasn't really her problem.
Robert walked over, with Kevin in tow. "This one?" Robert asked. Daria nodded. Robert tore the bottom off of the tag and wrote something down on his clipboard. "That will be twenty-five dollars, including tax."
Daria handed over the money. "The Mighty Chipper will be pleased."
Robert looked confused. "Whatever you say, ma'am. Let us help you get this over to your car." Robert and Kevin each grabbed a side of the pot and followed Daria over to the SUV. Daria opened the tailgate, wondering how she would secure the tree so that the potting soil wouldn't spill all over the place.
"I've got some twine, and we can tie it to the side so it won't tip over," Robert said, as if reading her thoughts.
Daria watched Kevin and Robert arrange the tree, surprisingly efficiently. "Uh, thanks, guys."
Kevin grinned. "No problem, babe! 'Tis the season, after all!" Kevin slung one arm over Daria's shoulder, trapping her in a bear-hug. "Merry Christmas!"
Daria cringed and tried to extricate herself. "Um, okay. Uh...I'll see you later."
"Goodbye, ma'am," Robert said.
Daria slowly got back into the car, confused. "Did I just get hugged by a football player...and did he just call me babe?" Daria shuddered. "Weird."
Quinn came in through the front door, humming cheerfully. "Daria? Are you home?" She dropped her shopping bags by the stairs, then paused as she noticed pine needles on the carpet. "What the..."
Sitting next to Jake's Insta-Tree was a small potted pine. A note was tied to it.
"Girls?" Helen called. "Are you home?"
"In here, Mom," Quinn replied.
"Where's Daria? Where's the car? Oh God, did you get into an accident? Quinn, call nine-one-one!" Jake looked around frantically, not noticing the tree.
"Calm down, Jake," Helen said. "Now, where is Daria?"
"I guess she decided to do some shopping after all," Quinn said, gesturing at the small tree.
Helen groaned. "Pine needles on the carpet."
Jake brightened. "Hey! She got a potted one! We can plant it in the backyard when we're done!"
Quinn smiled. "Does that mean we can get rid of that...thing?" she asked, pointing at the Insta-Tree.
Helen pulled the note off the tree. "What's this?"
Jake peered over Helen's shoulder. "It's a note!"
Helen pinched the bridge of her nose. "Yes, Jake, it's a note."
Dear Mom, Dad and Quinn:
I bought a real tree. Real, as in live. Deal with it. Mom, I'll clean up the pine needles later tonight. Dad, I'll help you take the fake tree apart. Quinn, if Dad decides to put the fiberglass reindeer on the roof, don't expect me to go find a real reindeer to replace it.
P.S.: Quinn, Mom and Dad were lying to you. There really isn't a Santa Claus.
Quinn raised an eyebrow. "That's so sweet...for Daria."
Helen sighed. "Well, I guess it will be nice to have a real tree in the house for once."
Jake grinned. "Hey! I'd forgotten all about the old fiberglass reindeer! That's a great idea!"
Quinn and Helen groaned.
Trent opened the door blearily. "Oh, hey Daria."
Daria raised an eyebrow. "Did I wake you?"
"Nah. Want some coffee?"
"That's okay. Is Jane around?"
Jane appeared behind her brother. "Did someone just take my name in vain?"
Daria rolled her eyes. "Hey Jane."
"What's up?" Jane asked.
"You got any of those twisted tree sculptures left?"
Jodie returned from caroling that night tired and frustrated.
"Oh, Jodie, someone left a package for you a little while ago," her mother said.
"What?" Jodie asked. "Who was it?"
Michele shrugged. "It was that Morgendorffer girl. She said something about appreciating the irony."
"Hmm." Jodie opened the box, half-wondering if she should be frightened. "What the...?" She pulled the object out of the box, bemused.
"What in the world is that?" Michele asked.
The small Christmas tree sculpture was topped by a tiny Santa Claus. Santa had a candy cane impaling him through the heart. "I think it's a Jane Lane original," Jodie said.
"I worry about some of your classmates," Michele said.
Jodie grinned. "So do I. Probably not the same ones you do, though. Good night, Mom."
Michele shook her head. "Good night, dear."
Daria drove down Glen Oaks Lane slowly, looking at all of the Christmas lights. Against the dark sky, the displays didn't look quite so garish. As she pulled up to in front of her house, she could see the silhouettes of her family, gathered around the Christmas trees. She smiled furtively. "Yeah. It's the season of hope." She glanced up at the glow-in-the-dark elves gracing her neighbor's roof. "And blight."
An explanation of the timing: this fic will be released in April 2001. I completed all of Part One about two weeks before Christmas 2000, and had planned to finish it in time to release on Christmas Eve. Obviously, this didn't happen. Real life and jury duty intervened, and suddenly it was December 27th. I figured that by that time, people were probably really sick of the holidays. I know I was, so I decided to wait.
So why April? Well...I guess I'm just in time for Easter. Only 250 shopping days left till Christmas. (Or something.) :)
Thanks to everyone who read my first fic, "An Unerring Sense of Color." Special thanks go out to the people on the Paperpusher's Site Message Board who encouraged me to write another one. And of course, I guess I'll also have to thank my mother, for buying the horrible fake tree that inspired me.
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this. Happy holidays, and if you'd like to send me feedback (which would be most appreciated), you may do so by e-mailing me at MeScribble@aol.com. Thanks!
Daria and her "pals" are the creations of Glenn Eichler and Susie Lewis but are owned by MTV, a Viacom company, © 1997, 2000. This work of fan fiction was created purely for entertainment purposes, and no one is making any money from it. From reading other people's disclaimers, I have gathered that fan fiction is a "substantially transformative" derivative work, and as such is protected by the Campbell v. Acuff Rose Music Supreme Court decision. Woohoo. So don't post this for money, even if you could find someone willing to buy it from you. Also, if you run a fan fiction website and would like to add this to your collection, please drop me a line at the e-mail address listed above. I'd like to keep track of where this thing goes. Thank you!