Tigresses of Lawndale – 07 – Ambitions
By Dr T
Leonard Lamm and Jane gamble on their futures
Satisfied that Ms Lane should be causing no trouble, Ms Li made it back to her office and made the morning announcements. Then she greeted her first official appointment of the day. "Good morning, Mister Lamm!"
"Good morning, Principal Li," Lamm responded. "I'm afraid I have a meeting with the Ultra Cola distributers and corporate representatives shortly. May I get directly to the point?"
Inside his mind, Lamm was not happy. He had hoped to string Li along for a few more months until her budget problems plunged her into crises. Still, he had a good deal going. The question was if he could improve it. "Are you happy with the first month's results?"
"The advertizing money has been very good," Li responded. "I believe the estimates of the machine proceeds were projected to be a bit higher."
"True," Lamm replied. Actually, the machine sales were right where he expected them to have been, but he would never admit that. "I was wondering if you'd like to extend the advertisements?" He slid a slim folder over, outlining an upswing in advertizing.
Li frowned as she read over the proposals, until she saw the price offered. "Agreed."
"If Ultra Cola agrees, we can have it done by the end of the weekend," Lamm replied with a smile. 'Gotcha,' he thought. He doubted he could trick Li into raising the minimum product moved for a higher cut, but there was one more step in the ads he might be able to get out of her, if the football team continued to win.
That afternoon, Jane Lane stood in front of the huge blank canvas, just a little nervous.
She knew she was taking a huge gamble. Granted, she was certain she could create the painting she had imagined the previous Friday, and she was certain she could create it in the style she had envisioned as well. Realism, even photorealism, was well-within her abilities. But while they presented challenges to technique and vision, they rarely touched Jane's imagination. At least some of the earlier academic painters had shown some real imagination, in Jane's opinion. Jane was going to go beyond the photorealist/hyperrealist schools of painting, which usually worked almost entirely from photographs. If she could pull it off, she would have a good reputation going into any art school, and would probably have the backing of the Sloan Foundation. If she failed, well, only her friends and the Sloan Foundation would know, and she would be out a large amount of money in painting supplies.
Jane took a deep breath, and then laughed as she let it out. Win or lose, she was going to enjoy the challenge.
With only a few exceptions caused by necessity, Jane would paint from 3:30-6:00 every school day until nearly the Christmas break, and a number of the Saturday mornings as well. Nearly every day, Daria would come to remind her of the time at 6:00, and at the least John and Thor would walk them home. Some week nights, one or another of the couples would go out, and they sometimes went out as a quartet.
The first night Thor and Daria went together was that first Thursday, as she was going to the Villars' to meet his parents. Thor only had one sibling, an older sister who had just started medical school in New York. Like Jake and Helen, the Villars had not started their family until they were thirty, although in their case it was because they were in graduate school and then looking to start their careers rather than spending part of their twenties in a commune. They were now in their early fifties, four years older than Jake and Helen.
The Villars lived in a much older (mostly built in the 1920s and early 1950s, rather than the 1960s and 1970s), slightly more down-scale mostly skilled working-class part of town than the Morgendorffers and Lanes, and therefore the houses were also closer together and a bit smaller. These houses were built with front porches, and it was clear that the porches were still used, as nearly all had furniture on them.
Scholars of class in America have long noted that the more well-off a family is (and has been in the previous generation) the later they tend to eat their evening meal. Even though it was only 6:45, a number of people, especially older couples, had already finished cleaning up the dinner table and were coming out to sit in the pleasant evening air. Nearly all waved, and some greeted Thor by name. He, of course, waved back.
Daria should have realized that someone Thor's size was unlikely to be a complete genetic fluke. However, she was a bit taken aback when she met his six-foot six father (built along even broader lines than Thor), and then his slim six-foot three mother. Thor introduced both his parents as 'Professor Villars.' His father had merely smiled and shaken Daria's hand. Thor's mother had done the same, but added in Latin (and in a smiling, pleasing tone), "Welcome, young German girl who comes to steal my son."
Daria blinked, and replied using the same Classical Latin diction but in her old monotone, "I thank you for your welcome, old scholar who over-protects her son."
Thor and his father, who had both looked at his mother with startled amazement, burst out laughing. Thor's mother blushed and apologized. "You didn't tell me she speaks Latin," she accused good-naturedly if somewhat stiffly.
"And Spanish and French," Daria replied. She could read and understand German, but could not really speak it.
The house had a simple plan. Facing the front from the street, the right two thirds of the house had the front room and then the dining room behind it. The left front had the entrance hallway and stairs leading upstairs and down to the basement, with the kitchen in the back, where some extra space had been added on in a renovation in the early 1960s. The front of the basement was the den, with a small laundry room and a small storage area converted into a wine cellar behind. There were three smallish bedrooms upstairs, plus just one bath, and the attic had been partially converted over into a library for the family's surplus books. Thor's parents were both in the community orchestra, a cellist and violist respectively.
Except for his laughter at his wife's joke-gone-bad, Thor's father said little. He seemed genial enough, and his eyes seemed to take in everything around him, but he was certainly not much of a conversationalist. 'Or maybe he just likes this chicken stew and dumplings,' Daria thought as the main course followed the salad. To her surprise, the Villars had a bottle of wine with dinner, and not only served Thor half a glass but had even talked to her mother and had permission to serve her about a quarter of a glass. Compared to the wine she had tried the previous summer, the pink Tavel was a revelation. Then Daria tried the stew. "This is really good," Daria said.
"Thank you," Thor's father said. His wife tried hard to interrogate Daria, but while decent at it, she had nothing on Helen Morgendorffer and Daria had long ago learned how to (usually) deflect her mother's questioning. Daria kept the conversation on the background – she learned that Thor's mother's family had been émigrés during the French Revolution to New York City who had salvaged enough money to get into banking and insurance, occupations many of her relatives were still involved with. The Villars, on the other hand, had been French-Canadians of long-standing who had ended up on the wrong side of the Maine border when it had finally been agreed upon.
The Villars were a bit taken aback as Daria dropped her spoon when it was mentioned that a Villars ancestor had fought with the 20th Maine at Little Round Top at the Battle of Gettysburg. Daria then had to explain her mother's strong roots in the Old South. "I had three ancestors on my mother's side in the Confederate army at Gettysburg, and the first Morgendorffer in America was there as well, although he wasn't involved until the third day. Anyway, Mom's maternal grandmother's ancestor was a Major in the Fifteenth Alabama that fought against the Twentieth Maine."
She turned to Thor. "Your great-great grandfather might have killed my great-great-great grandfather. Is it too late to claim wergeld?"
Thor's parents had been tense at first, in case Daria took such matters seriously, but they now relaxed as Thor asked, "Didn't you say your Aunt Rita was older than your Mother? If so, I would have to pay that cousin of yours."
"Oh, never mind then."
All four seemed to be more at ease after that, although the Villars could never be said to have relaxed. After dinner, Thor's parents cleared the table and shooed the teens out. After about ten minutes, they could be heard practicing down in the basement.
Thor meanwhile had led Daria upstairs to his bedroom – he of course left the door open. The master bedroom was over the front room and was the largest of the three bedrooms – Thor's was the back bedroom, twelve by twelve plus a closet. The wall his bedroom shared with his parents' had book shelves made from thick plywood and cinderblocks. It was clear that at some point the door to the bedroom had been reversed to allow for the bookshelves to extend nearly across the whole wall (otherwise the door would have constantly been hitting the shelves when opened). The shelves were about a third full of books: mysteries; novels and history in various languages; and language books and dictionaries in English, Latin, and the Romance languages. There were about a hundred cds, many of them, like Daria's, bought used. All of Thor's were 'serious' (from the medieval period through contemporary), with a few musicals and Gilbert & Sullivan operettas mixed in.
The rest of the room was somewhat Spartan: a queen-sized bed; a sturdy padded chair; and oddly at first glance, a vanity-dresser with a straight chair. When Daria looked closely, she saw that the vanity was actually being used as a desk, with a computer on the left, the monitor and keyboard in the center, and tv on the right. That also explained why some of Thor's personal objects (cologne, comb-and-brush set, a dish full of loose change, etc.) were on the shelves.
Daria sat in the padded chair and gestured Thor to the bed. "Thank you for inviting me over," she said, "it means a lot."
"No problem, although I'm sorry about my mother."
Daria shrugged. "I'll excuse your parents if you'll excuse mine."
Thor merely repeated, "No problem."
Daria looked Thor in the eye. "The reason why it means a lot is that, in a sense, yours and John's offers for dating could be seen as being limited to the fall. I don't know how John feels about Jane, but I think tonight at least implies that you feel like I do, that we might want to keep this going."
"I do like you," Thor said, "a lot."
"And I like you as well," Daria acknowledged. "But I was wondering if you could fill me on some things."
Thor looked curious. "Like what?"
"Well, I think we both know what the other is up to, now and for the rest of this year," Daria pointed out. "And you should have a good idea about what I'll likely be doing next summer, and the places I'm likely to be going to college, and what I'll be majoring in, and even what I hope to do. How about you? You haven't really said."
Thor thought about that, and said, "I think you're right, but it's kind of difficult to explain."
"Do you know where you want to end up in say, ten years?" Daria asked. "Maybe, if you can do that, it would help you decide how to get there."
Thor smiled. "I tell you what; you go first, and I'll answer in at least as much detail as you." His smiled grew a bit. "What would your ideal life be ten years from now, and where do you think you'll actually be, if you know what you want."
"I've wanted to be a writer since sometime in eighth grade, although I've always made up stories as long as I can remember, and tried writing them down as long as I've known how to write. As to how I will end up actually doing that?" Daria shrugged. "In a sense, that would have been an easier question if this were twenty to eighty years ago. I would probably have had to try and worm my way into a publishing company as a reader, and worked my way up to become an editor, while sending my own writing out to supplement my income. While I would have likely loathed living in a place like New York, I would have had a two bedroom room apartment, the smaller one for me and the other a den for my books and writing desk. I would probably have had a row of house plants on the window sill of the den. Now, if you had asked a year to three years ago, ideally I'd just have been a writer and I saw myself having a small place in the woods – not much larger than the apartment I just mentioned, except for a larger main room, plus a cellar for storage and such, with a small herb garden, ideally in a green house."
Daria smiled slightly. "My parents are ex-hippies; they actually lived in a commune for a few years in the early Seventies. They're pretty bourgeois these days, but still have hippie-flashbacks. Starting part-way thought ninth grade, I liked to tease them, saying I wanted an isolated mountain cabin in Montana. For months, my Dad thought I wanted to be the next Unabomber. I actually never would want to be that far off the grid unless society really does break down. No, I thought I'd be happy in the Appalachians, a few miles from some decent-sized town."
Seeing Thor was interested, Daria went on. "You know I grew up in Texas, but I was sent to summer camp for several years in the Virginia foothills. I loathed the camp, but I actually liked the scenery. You missed that stupid camping trip Ms Li had last year, but even that reminded me that I liked that area."
Daria sighed. "That was me last year, and like I said, for the two years before that. I might still end up that way, but even though I would never admit it to my mother or Quinn, I've learned that I actually am a better person when I'm around Jane and a few other people – like you, and Mack and Jodie and John and a few others. I like life better. I didn't realize I was changing like that all through last year, and my unconscious jealousy almost cost me my friendship with Jane."
Daria leaned forward, her forearms on her knees (although with no weight on her left arm). "I need to be a writer more than ever, but I think I also need to be with people a little more than I used to think. I hope Jane and I are still close friends ten years from now. I still can't see myself wanting children, but I can see myself in a real relationship. I hope I've gotten through at least my B.F.A. and M.F.A. in writing by then. I hope I've established myself well enough as a writer to live off the income, or if not, that I have a job I can stand while I work in that direction." Daria leaned back. "How about you?"
"I envy you," Thor replied.
"What? Why?" Daria glared at him. "I hope you didn't get me to say all that and have nothing to say."
"No, I'm not that bad," Thor replied. "You do have a better idea of what you want to do than I do any more." He made a face. "You and Jane went to an arts camp and got inspired. I went to a music camp in June and got my ass kicked." Daria's eyes went wide, as she had not known any of this.
"Don't get me wrong; I'm very good," Thor went on. "I'm just a step or so lower in raw talent than I thought I was. If we had the same number of professional orchestras here as they do in Europe, I might be able to make a decent living. Here, it could be an all-consuming hobby if I wind up playing for pocket money in a community orchestra like my parents. I know now I could make it through any music program, but I don't want to teach and I'm not quite good enough to play on the level I would need to in order make a decent living. What else am I good at? Languages? Maybe, although I am nowhere near as good as my mother. She's fluent in ten languages and competent in I don't know how many more. I have Spanish, French, Italian, and Latin. I can sort of read Portuguese and muddle my way thought German. I certainly don't want to teach people how to speak a language, and I'm not all that interested in literature, or at least not in literary theory."
"I know," Daria agreed. "All that theory makes me wonder if I would really want to get a PhD in English or Comp Lit."
"There is just one thing I do truly excel in," Thor said softly.
"Football," Daria said flatly.
"Football," he agreed. "Of course, that's always a crap shoot, a career that even for the most talented can end in a split second. And not even counting career-ending injuries, I'd be lucky to play until I'm thirty. Four years of college ball and five to ten as a pro would likely pretty much end my ability to play the bass at any decent level – sprained and broken fingers are pretty common and I've just been lucky so far."
"Do you know where you'll be heading to play?"
"I can't hear or make any firm commitments until after the season," he replied. "From what little I do know, there are may be, I don't know, a few hundred places to choose from."
"What were your SATs? Or is that an irrelevant question?"
"It is, and in a good way – seven-eighty verbal, six-sixty math, eight hundreds on the French, Spanish, and Latin achievement exams, and a seven-twenty on both the writing and the history/government ones." Thor looked over at Daria. "Who knows? When I have to decide next spring, maybe I'll have a reason to pick some particular area at least."
"It would be so easy to claim to make that commitment, wouldn't it?" Daria whispered.
"It would, and we both know that even if we meant it now, it could unravel," Thor agreed.
Daria snorted in derision. "I don't respect Quinn's mind much, but she said something to me the other day when I was wondering about life after college and all the problems there would be getting there, let alone after," Daria mused. "She said, 'don't be such a realist that you forget about your dreams'. That's probably the most profound thing I've ever heard her say."
Thor held out his hand. "A dream?"
Daria stood, turned, and sat on his knees, careful of her brace, saying as she did so, "That gives us hope, Theo."
The pair kissed, and then Daria simply sat in his lap for a while, her head on his shoulder while he held her.
Oddly, the Lawndale Lions had a very simple to know schedule that year, alternative away and home games. Although the third game, the second of the five away games, was a bit closer than the first, neither Jane nor Daria were going, which John and Thor understood. (Lawndale won 36-6.) While Jane spent most of Saturday morning painting, she stopped when Daria showed up at noon with a light lunch. They then treated John and Thor to the movies, going to see the newly released director's cut of The Exorcist, and then to dinner. The other three refused to consider Jane's suggestion they find some place that served pea soup, and instead went to a barbeque place.
Sunday afternoon, Daria did something she would have sworn the year before she would never be doing – she went with Jane to Mall of the Millennium to search for swimwear, having failed to find anything acceptable in Lawndale.
Daria refused to enter Bikini Island until they had checked out several other shops. Fortunately, Daria found a two piece suit which could not be described as a bikini, although it was somewhat more revealing that the suit she had worn to the bonfire on the Fourth of July. That, however, had been a vintage suit borrowed from the large wardrobe maintained by the Ashton State theatre department, and loaned out on the condition it be returned cleaned and without having gotten in the water.
Jane refrained from teasing Daria too much; she wanted to share a hot tub with John the next Saturday as much as John wanted to share it with her. She was comforted by the knowledge that Daria would be nearby, even if the suits did not have any place to carry a canister of pepper spray, and so while it should be enjoyable, things would not get out of hand ('Or in John's hands,' Jane thought, mentally adding, 'at least not yet.').
The following Wednesday, Jane was busily painting when she heard someone enter the storeroom she was using. Thinking it was far too soon to be bothered, she was surprised to see it was Thor and John. "Aren't you guys early?" she asked, confused.
"Where's Dar. . . ." John started, but then she caught himself. "That's right, she's getting checked out at the hospital."
Glancing at her watch, Jane saw it was only 4:18. "She'd be in the library even if she was here. Why are you guys so early? And is it important?"
The two looked at each other. "I suppose not immediately important," Thor admitted, "but it is worrying."
"Can you make it quick?"
"Someone played a nasty trick on Quinn's J's," John replied. "Joey's probably already at the hospital."
"I guess John can give you the details later," Thor agreed.
"Okay, I really need to do this," Jane told them. She looked at John. "I do want you to tell me later."
As Jane learned later, there were two main sections of lockers in the boys locker room, a large general section and a smaller one (with much larger lockers) used by the sports teams. Someone had managed to get past the combination locks of the Three Js' lockers and had put small shards of glass and a few tacks in each of their sets of cleats. Joey had been the first to get to the point of putting them on for practice, and had shoved the first one on hard. Although it turned out he did not need stitches, his foot was pretty lacerated, and it would be three days before he could even limp. The entire team had checked out their cleats, but only Jeffy and Jamie's were also sabotaged.
If Ms Li had been angry at the attack on Daria, she was outraged by the attack on three of her football players. However, half the male population had gym class on any given day (Lawndale operated on a four day flow schedule, so that missed days and holidays did not disrupt the schedule). In addition, of course, all the football team and their 'trainers' and 'equipment boys' had easy access to that area. About thirty other boys had permission to use the training and weight equipment, and over twenty of them had that day.
Even girls could have risked sneaking their way into the boys' area via the corridor leading to the pool or through the gym, as those areas did not have cameras. While it would have been very difficult for any of the girls in regular gym classes to do so, it was not impossible, plus the field hockey team, pep squad, and a dozen girls who also had independent permission to use the workout equipment had slim chances, especially if it had been more than one person had been behind the attack.
Daria was not the only person to wonder if there was some link between the attack on her and the attack on her sister's most ardent admirers. However, despite everyone's best efforts, no leads turned up.
While the attack was worrisome to Daria and Quinn, they and Jane got some good news that Thursday, as their scores came in the mail. Daria had achieved the equivalents of A's on her CLEPs, and would be ready to take the language CLEPs in November. Quinn was fairly happy with her SAT scores of 490 verbal and 560 on the math. Jane was more than happy with her scores. She had raised her verbal from a 600 to a 630, and even better her math had gone from a 300 to a 480.
Daria had been doing some secret research to help Thor, and one idea spilled over after Jane had told Daria her scores. "I know BFAC would be your first choice," Daria stated, "but have you considered applying to schools in Rhode Island?"
"Daria, I know I'm good," Jane replied, "but the Rhode Island College of Art and Design is one of the best, period, and in some ways it may be the most prestigious art and design school in the US."
"Remember, my first choice is still Raft, but Bromwell and Ellis are close behind," Daria pointed out. "Ellis is just north of Providence, and so sort of in-between Boston and Bromwell. And while Ellis isn't exclusively an art college, they have a very well-known and respected art department."
"Don't they require SATs around thirteen-fifty?" Jane pointed out.
"For general admissions, yes," Daria replied. "For their art and music departments, it's eleven-hundred. You now have eleven-ten." Daria handed Jane two sheets of paper. "Their portfolio requirements."
Jane glanced over them. "Pretty much the same as BFAC's," Jane had to say. "What the hell, why not?"
"Thank you, Jane," Daria said with such sincerity that Jane was startled. Seeing the enforced lack of emotion on Daria's face, Jane said nothing, but felt warmed by the fact that Daria cared for her so much.
Since the three Js alternated at the starting tight end and wide receiver positions (and usually bringing the plays in from the Coach), Joey's having to miss the home game against Cumberland High that Saturday, when there was not enough time to alter the game plan, hurt the offense. With the Lawndale offense spending much less time on the field and Cumberland having outstanding receivers and a quarterback with an arm nearly as good as Kevin's, Lawndale's defense was challenged for the first time. However, Lawndale managed to hold on for a 16-13 victory. It was such a see-saw battle that even Jane and Jodie paid attention for most of the game.
After the game, Thor and John were even more tired than usual, although not actually exhausted. Still, they were looking forward to that evening. They made their way to Beef-n-Cake, where Thor, John, and Jane ordered the same meals as they did two weeks before. Daria also ordered the burger this time, and by unspoken agreement no one ordered the onion rings. Instead, everyone got large chocolate shakes, although Thor was the only one to finish his during the meal. He ordered another to take with him.
The Yanuzzis lived in a different old section of town than the Villars, this one the original up-scale area behind down town. The area's proximity to the hospital as well as downtown and the court house, plus the scale of the mid-to-late Victorian houses, insured a steady supply of physicians, lawyers, and other upscale professionals in the 125 years since the area had started to be built up. While the better part of the downtown area had lost nearly all the small traditional shops (butchers, grocers, small general and department stores, newsstands, etc.), diners, and the town's original play house and movie theaters, they had been replaced by some upscale restaurants and clothing stores, and a number of real estate agents, law offices, etc. before blending into the slightly more down-scale area the homecoming parade went through on the way towards the high school, and then, just beyond that, Main Street crossed Degas, where the real down-scale area started.
The Yanuzzi house was a large late Victorian set a few streets back from Main Street. Behind it was what had originally been a two storey stable, later converted into a four stall garage. The bay which had the stairs going up to the loft (mostly used by the extended Yanuzzi family to store records), had first been converted into a play area on the ground floor, but was now divided into a front area which led up the stairs and a back area which held the large hot tub. There was a small washroom at the top of the stairs, where Jane and Daria took turns changing into their suits and flip-flops.
Daria's x-rays had shown her slight fractures were healing fast, but she had been told she still needed to wear the heavy brace most of the time for a few more weeks. She left the brace upstairs with her clothes, but had exchanged her glasses for her contacts before leaving the press box that afternoon.
"Ready?" Jane asked.
"Mostly," Daria admitted. She looked at Jane, "The guys have been pretty good, but if they're not wearing anything but a leer, I'm making a break for the pepper spray."
"I doubt they would do that, but if they do, I'll do my best to block them so you can reach it. Just don't forget to rescue me."
The two friends took deep breaths and went down the stairs. They found the lights in the back area dimmed, but not excessively so. Both teens were already in the tub. Before Daria could comment, Thor and then John stood to greet them. Thor's trunks were rather baggie, and Daria was glad that, while John's suit was tight, it was far from a Speedo.
The room was not large but it was decently-sized, twelve feet across and fifteen feet deep. The large hot tub was as long as the twelve-foot wall it was set against, and ten-feet in the other direction. The boys' clothes were hanging on hooks and there was corked matting on the floor leading to the steps up to the tub (which was set three feet above the floor, and was four feet deep with three feet of it water). There were also a pair of air heaters, with the electronics set safely away from the tub, and water-proof controls for the tub heater and water jets. The only other object in the room was a trashcan in one corner.
Thor helped Daria into the tub, and then helped her settle into so that her left arm couldn't knock against anything. The water was warm, and John set the jets to a soothing speed. The quartet snuggled into couples, and spent the first ten minutes happily holding each other and working on their milkshakes. When they were finished, John got out and tossed the empty cups into the trash. Then he stood next to the lighting controls and just looked at Daria, knowing that she would set the pace.
"Let's see," she said simply.
John turned off the lights, and Daria asked for time for her eyes to adjust.
When they did, Daria realized that the frosted triple-paned window behind them still let in a fair amount of ambient light, and that there was a small pane of similarly frosted glass in the door leading to the other room. Between the two, it was dark enough to ignore what the other couple was doing, but there was enough light to see what you wanted to see.
"Don't stub your toe getting back into the tub," Daria said, and then turned to her boyfriend.