Tigresses of Lawndale – 11 – The Curse of the Barksdales
By Dr T
Amy continues her confessional to Daria, and Daria confronts Helen. Daria then starts a different path to Homecoming and along the way prevents a tragedy.
Daria and Amy had long ago finished lunch, but they still had a lot to talk about. "Shall I get us refills?" Daria asked.
Amy nodded. The pair went separately to the rest room and then returned with new drinks.
"Your mother sees a lot of herself in you," Amy told Daria. "I, on the other hand, see more of me in you. No doubt we're both wrong, and you're uniquely you, of course, but this will come back into the story in a few minutes."
"How am I like Mom?" Daria wondered.
"You apparently have very high standards, and are very protective of your friends," Amy pointed out, "and while you have periods of laziness that Helen never had, you are pretty driven academically in every area. That's all a lot more like Helen than me. Oh, don't get me wrong, in many areas I was pretty driven academically as well." She thought a moment, and said, "Helen was driven to succeed at everything in school, in part trying to get attention away from Rita and in part because that's just part of her; I was driven in some subjects, especially in a lot of subjects that aren't taught in high school. In some regular courses, I got low B's or even C's. You're sort of in-between, because Helen was also a joiner and I was in the orchestra and that was it."
"Well, I can see why even Quinn's low-level involvement bothers her, never mind my near-total dismissal of the whole school thing." Daria smirked. "I have some possible plans for that, just to prove I could have done it if I really had wanted to."
"Now that sounds like me. Anyway, I told you about going to the drive-in to make out at fifteen, but I never went as far as you did with a boy until after grad school."
"You mean. . . ."
Amy nodded. "Unlike my sisters, I not only entered by senior year of high school a virgin I left the same way, and was technically one until ten years later. I had some of the same intimacy issues you told me you're having."
"So, you didn't date in college?"
"Oh, I 'dated' in a sense, I just didn't date guys," Amy responded.
"Oh. . . ."
"I guess I'm about fifty-fifty in my interests," Amy said. "I met a nice guy when I had a two year gig at Tulane right after I got the doctorate. We had a great time, but then I got the job in New Jersey, and he got a job in Michigan, and we weren't interested in compromising or having that long a distance relationship."
Amy looked at Daria. "My response to your situation last Tuesday night when I was your age would have been much the same, if I hadn't run screaming from the house altogether. In fact, something similar happened at a party the summer after I graduated high school, and while I didn't run screaming, I did literally run. I couldn't even think of kissing a guy for about seven years."
"And the girls?" Daria asked quietly.
"I had always taken notice, and did a little exploration – we all pretended it was 'practice kissing' for being with boys back in junior high and into high school, although that had totally stopped by the time we started eleventh grade. I couldn't take that final step for a while, that is date and then much later make love, until I was a sophomore at UVA and was with a woman I trusted and was attracted to. We stayed a couple until we went off to different graduate schools. Staying together even that long sort of surprised us, because we knew that while we liked each other, we weren't life partners."
"I'm currently seeing a nice guy, but neither of us is serious," Amy responded. "How about you? Who are you attracted to?"
"Until I came to Lawndale, I was never really attracted to anyone all that much. . . ."
Daria sighed. "I never would have admitted this to anyone, not even myself before this past spring, well, summer really, but if you're fifty-fifty, I'm at least seventy-thirty, pro-boys," Daria responded.
"May I ask. . . ?"
"I had never thought about actually wanting any boy I knew touching me until I met Jane's older brother."
Amy nodded. "The bad-boy musician."
Daria smirked. "Well, he looks like one, but he's far too laid back to be bad. Then last winter, I started to fantasize about Jane's boy friend."
"The one that stole the kiss from you, right?"
Daria nodded. "Then, I started to fantasize. . . ." Daria broke off and blushed.
"Tom and Jane together," Daria admitted. "Then when I broke down confessing what Tom had done, Jane hugged and kissed me. All summer, I fantasized about Jane, although that's receded somewhat since I started dating Theo." She looked at her aunt. "Jane is more sexual and much more tactile than I am, although maybe less sensual, and certainly much more open, at least with me . . . although she's more interested in boys and less interested in girls than I am. I get more turned on by guys than girls – in fact Jane is the only girl I'm attracted to in that way – there's just something about Jane. . . ."
"However you feel is fine," Amy assured her niece. "Aunt Eleanor did have a life partner, a fact checker for Time magazine who died about eight years before Eleanor did. She told me she couldn't accept that physical side of a relationship herself until she was over thirty. I was twenty. You're ahead of our intimacy curve at least. If it doesn't feel right with Theo, you'll find someone when the time is right. It might be Jane, it might be another person. Don't let that bother you, especially if you can stay friends with Jane. The kind of friendship you've told me about over the last year is something precious."
"Thanks. But again, why come all the way here for this? You could have called."
Amy didn't directly answer. "Aunt Eleanor had kept up on the family news better than I had. Now I know what I said to you at the wedding, but I of course knew you were still in high school. I would have tried to meet with you after you graduated, if the wedding hadn't come up." Amy almost managed a smile. "Aunt Eleanor told me not to be an overly proud bitch and go. She was worried about the pressures Helen was putting on you, and knew she couldn't do anything about it. I started being a pen-pal with Aunt Eleanor when I was fourteen. I needed to try and do the same with you again." Amy looked at Daria with surprisingly sad eyes, which startled the younger woman. "I don't know if you remember, but I helped you guys move to Highland the summer before you started kindergarten."
Daria smiled a little wistfully. "Oh, I remember. I remember how you paid attention to me instead of Quinn, no matter how much she tried to charm you."
"Helen wasn't so happy, not because she resented my paying attention to you, but. . . ."
"But because I was the quiet one, the one she could trust not to wander off, the one who wouldn't make a scene," Daria said in a disgusted voice. "I would never scream for candy in a grocery store, or because someone wasn't paying attention to me. I never ran around like I was on a sugar high, just to claim attention."
"Exactly," Amy agreed soothingly. "I wasn't as much help as Helen had hoped for because I preferred to spend time with you."
"I used to dream you were my real mother, who would come and rescue me from Highland," Daria said in a small voice.
"And instead, in a sense I abandoned you soon after that next Christmas."
"Why?" Daria asked simply.
"I'm sure you don't remember. . . ."
"I remember every present you have ever sent me, from the Lincoln logs and Doctor Seuss books I got for my birthday that year to the Simone de Beauvoir you sent last Christmas." She also remembered Quinn tossing those Lincoln logs into the grill 'to help Daddy' and ruining the books with crayons.
Amy smiled. "The problem was, I spent more on you than Quinn. Your mother and I got into a huge argument that next spring, after I sent something to Quinn that didn't match her expectations, based on what I had spent on you. She had scolded me after Christmas, but when I didn't make up for it, well, we said some nasty things to each other, especially her to me about my life style and the possibilities of my corrupting or stealing you. Since after that, I always scrupulously adhered to her spending instructions, she forgave me, but I hadn't forgiven her until recently. I couldn't actually speak directly to her for about five years, although I don't know if she actually noticed."
Amy snorted. "I know. I am a very rational person, except when it comes to dealing with Mother and my sisters. Then my inner-child reverts to the pre-school stage, just like theirs do. It's a bit humbling, actually." She looked at Daria. "You're creating your own life, younger than I did, and possibly better as well. Your mother, for all her faults, not only loves you but cares about you and will help you in most ways. I love and care, too, Daria. I realized it was long past time for me to tell you that outright instead of hording up my resentments – that wasn't doing you any good. So, I needed to get past my own demons and pride, especially those concerning Helen, and see if I could still be part of your life, even though I don't deserve to be." Amy gave Daria a twisted smile. "Not exactly something to be said in e-mail or over the phone."
"I can appreciate that," Daria agreed.
"You would have appreciated it more though four years ago, when you got your first e-mail account," Amy said, a little bitterly.
"Very likely, but I'm glad to have it now." Daria then admitted, "Of course, things are also better now."
Amy nodded. "How bad was it? I got the idea that you and Quinn fought as much as Rita and Helen."
"I think we probably did, but that's also probably not that unusual," Daria pointed out. "There were lots of things that bothered me, but just discussing Mom, and Dad for that matter, two things stood out. One was the huge discrepancy I thought existed between the amount they spent on me and how much they pissed away on any of Quinn's littlest wishes." Daria snorted. "It still bugs me that she's gotten nearly anything she's wanted, well, so long as any individual item stays under two hundred dollars or so these days, while my requests were and are usually ignored. I thought the ratio was about seven or even eight to one in her favor. It turns out, however, that a lot of the time when they spend on Quinn they put an equal amount in my college fund. I would be willing to bet the ration still favors Quinn at least two to one, maybe even three." In that, Daria was being a trifle unfair, but the ratio still favored Quinn well over 1.5 to 1. "Still, the fact they let me think that the ratio was that bad shows how they ignore my feelings."
Amy merely nodded, and let Daria carry on.
"Whenever either of us had a problem or caused a problem, and I admit I probably had and caused more of both than Quinn outside of money, they were pretty good at trying to deal with it, for both of us," Daria admitted. For some reason, an image of a large box, decorated with crayons to look like a house, popped in and out of Daria mind. "But when it came to really knowing what we wanted or needed on the more personal level? Somehow, whenever the term 'fair' came up, it was to explain why things had to favor Quinn. They wanted to send us to some stupid summer camp? Could I please go to science camp? No, it wouldn't be fair for Quinn to go to a regular camp and me to go to science camp. Could we go see a cave or a dinosaur site or even a museum? No, Daria; Quinn would be bored, that wouldn't be fair." Daria's voice was now imitating Helen too well, although there was a nasty undercurrent to part of what she said. "I know, Sweetie! Yes, we're going to the lake, but you can't go swimming because Quinn hasn't learned yet. That wouldn't be fair! Oh Daria, we just went to the library a few days ago, Quinn doesn't need to get more books; you need to read more slowly. Don't yell at your sister for throwing your book in the lake, Daria, you shouldn't have brought a library book to the lake. Oh, Daria, get on the kiddy ride, you'll look cute with Quinn! Oh, Daria, be more careful around Quinn, you got her ice cream all over you. Yes, Quinn, we'll get you another. No, Daria, you shouldn't have dropped yours. Daria, if you're going to frown, get out of the picture. No, Daria. . . ."
Daria stopped and snorted. She took a deep breath and went on, "If I was yelling, I'd be just like Dad." She looked at Amy, who looked stricken. "The writing camp last summer was the first thing I really wanted that I got on my own without Quinn getting something equal or better in return, while Quinn got both attention and material goods while Mom and Dad added quietly to my college fund out of guilt as well as affection. Unlike Mom and Aunt Rita with each other, and maybe you with them, I don't blame Quinn so much. That's probably because, one on one, I usually had the advantage, if only because I'm older. And, since last spring, Quinn has been making an effort to make up for some of that behavior, and I've been trying to do that as well a bit longer."
Daria leaned back in her chair, and went on, "As for Dad, well, he sort of went along with Mom, rather than being an independent pain in the butt. One on one, he has as often been at least as supportive as he's been totally clueless at other times, but I can forgive him going along, considering he was a victim of real abuse as a child. As for Mom herself?" Daria shrugged. "Other than her favoring Quinn too much, which of course really means at least partially not favoring me enough, which shows part of this is just jealousy, on the whole, she's done a credible job. She's messed up, sometimes very badly, but then, if I do ever do have kids, I'll mess up, too, just hopefully in different ways."
Daria smiled grimly. "Unlike Tolstoy, I don't think there are happy families." Seeing Amy still looked stunned, Daria realized what she should do. She took Amy's hand and asked, "Are you my mother?"
"No," Amy replied, her eyes wide.
"Aren't my parents alive? Solvent? Non-abusive, and even, in their own clumsy way, at least somewhat caring?"
"And, whatever our private opinions, aren't they legally sane?"
"I suppose," Any conceded.
"Then I absolve you of any moral dilemmas. Yes, it would have been nice to have had you in my life over the last nearly thirteen years, but I doubt Mom would have allowed you much access until fairly recently. I could still use a mentor or at least a Virgil to my Dante." She squeezed Amy's hand. "I would also really like another close friend."
Amy smiled. "Then come along, my apprentice. I think it's time we left. It probably wouldn't be a good idea to go home with you."
As the afternoon progressed with no sign of Daria or Amy, Jake saw the warning signals of a major storm gathering around his wife. He had expected a squall, but things were building towards at least a Category Three. "When does your date arrive?" he asked his other daughter at 2:30.
"The Fashion Club is going to a dance over near Oakwood," Quinn replied. "I should be picked up for dinner in about three hours. Why?"
"If I was you, and I wish I was right now, I'd clear out before Daria and Amy get back," Jake answered.
"Mom's still on the warpath?"
"She will be. And you've only seen Mom fight with your Aunt Rita, where she usually wins, or with her mother, where it's usually a draw. You never saw her fight with Amy." Jake shuddered at the memories. "Amy is even more ruthless than Daria. Their fights usually end with a draw, because there was no quarter given and no surrender contemplated."
"I think I'll ask Joey if he wants to drive around a little before dinner."
"Good call, Quinn.'
"Well, Daria, I see you made it back," Helen said in the faux coo that Daria knew meant she was angry. Then the anger came out. "And just where is that sister of mine, anyway?"
"I took her to the train station, since she drove my car down."
"Yes, let's talk about your driving an illegal vehicle. . . ."
"The car is legally registered, and remember, she even went to the extra expense to have it fitted out with US-approved air-bags," Daria replied. "There is nothing wrong with the car except you have decided you don't like it, probably because Aunt Amy considered my desires."
"And just what does that mean?" Helen demanded.
"How many trips to science museums did we take as a family?"
"Well, none that I can remember off hand. . . ."
"Art museums? Plays?"
"I don't know what you mean. . . ."
"When we drove past the national monument with the dinosaur tracks all those times, how many times did we stop? No answer? The answer to all the above is, of course, none. Now, how many times did we go to amusement parks? Or a beach?"
"Why, lots of times, Sweetie. Those were things the whole family could enjoy!"
"I didn't enjoy them!" Daria snapped. "But you didn't care, did you? All that mattered is that if we went someplace I liked, Quinn would have thrown a fit, whereas if we went places I loathed, I'd just suffer in silence. As the old saying goes, 'the squeaky wheel gets the grease'. Quinn, when she wasn't being the perky happy child, squeaked and threw fits and I wouldn't, so she got the attention, she got to set the agenda, she got the grease."
"I explained about the money. . . ." Helen started, but Daria just broke in.
"Yes, let's talk about that, too. Why let me think you were spending at least five or six times as much on Quinn as on me, if not more, instead of the twice you actually do? Were you afraid it might make me loathe my sister less, or did you want me to think you only cared twice as much for her instead of five or six times?"
"We've tried to insure equity. . . ." Helen said weakly.
"On big ticket items, I'm sure you're right," Daria agreed. "On the nickel-and-diming the two of you that Quinn does, we both know that wouldn't come close to being even. Now don't get me wrong; I know you love both Quinn and me. In the major scheme of things, you are certainly not a bad parent. When the chips have been down at school you have almost always backed me up, no matter how much I had to pay for that at home later." Helen winced at that. "However, deliberately or not, you at least reinforced the very family dynamic you loathe about the one between you, Rita, and your mother. Maybe it's because Rita was the oldest and I'm the oldest, but nearly everything you have done went to show favoritism towards Quinn. The one person who would have favored me, you drove away."
Helen sat, very pale. "I wondered if she would tell you about that." Helen looked at Daria. "If she had just made something of an effort. . . ."
"Why should she have made a better effort than you?" Daria retorted. "I'll give you the benefit of the doubt and say that you told both my grandmothers not to favor Quinn over me. . . ."
"I did! I have! Many times!"
"But they never have," Daria pointed out. "They've both easily spent three or four times as much on Quinn. . . ."
"They matched that in your college funds, I promise!"
"Nonsense! There would be at least twenty percent more in each of them if they did," Daria snapped. "I'll ignore what Grandmother Tess did in giving Quinn most of what was left over from Erin's college fund. . . ."
"You know about that? . . ."
"Obviously. I'll ignore it, because it's her money and her decision. But you allowed me to think I was even more uncared about that I was. . . ."
"We care about you. . . ."
"You care about my wellbeing, and you care about my future," Daria agreed. "I see little evidence that you care for me as the actual person I am or about my feelings. Tell me, did you tell either grandmother to stay away from Quinn, because you were afraid they would turn her into snobbish, spoiled clones of Fifties-stereotypical housewives? No, of course not. But what did you tell Amy?"
Helen flushed from embarrassment.
"That's right; you accused her of wanting me to become, what was it you said? 'A man-hating, anti-social dyke like you'? The one person, who was none of those things as you certainly knew, who might have actually helped me, you threw out of your life, and therefore out of mine, for over ten years! It wasn't by her choice! I'm surprised you deigned to let me near her at the wedding. . . ." A thought hit. "Let me guess, someone told you she was dating more men than women by then. Is that it? 'Some of my best friends are homosexuals, but I wouldn't want my daughter to be friends with one'?"
Helen looked away in shame.
"You didn't say anything about Aunt Amy being friendly with me after the wedding, but you didn't actually share her e-mail or phone number until after I had sort of dated Ted and Quinn dragged me on that stupid date with Robert! Huh, my mother, the liberal homophobe."
"I'm not proud of my reactions," Helen admitted. "I will even admit I was wrong, but sometimes our reactions, and yes our prejudices, can overwhelm our preferred philosophical choices."
"I can see that, even if I don't like it. You know, my inclination is to react to this news by going out and kissing a large number of girls," Daria pointed out.
"But will you?"
"Probably not," Daria conceded.
"There was another, equally wrong, purely emotional reason why I was so harsh with Amy," Helen said in a small voice.
Daria looked at her, and she asked gently, "Were you afraid your sister would steal your child from you?"
Helen nodded. "Aunt Eleanor did that with Amy to a large degree, no matter what Amy might think. I know Mother often over-dramatizes things, but Aunt Eleanor was much more important to Amy than Mom was in most ways after the age of fourteen or so. Whenever I cooled down, I would try to make amends, but then Amy would do or say something, I'd get angry, and well, you know in my own way I react to my family the way your father does in regards to his father. It's not healthy, and we've partially dealt with those problems, but they are certainly still there, waiting to leap out."
"Yes, well, please try and refrain from leaping on me," Daria replied, although fairly gently. "Tell me, you love me and Quinn. Do you actually like either of us?"
"You're right, of course," Helen agreed. "Love can be unconditional. I can say, while generally I have liked you both, I like you each more and more as time goes on."
"Fair enough" Daria conceded. "Seeing how there hasn't been much blood spilled, I think I'll still go over to Jane's to show her my new car. Then, after I kiss her, we're supposed to meet John and Thor over at Pizza King – we're having a pizza party at Thor's parents and watching The Thing and Them."
"And will you also kiss Theo?"
"Then kiss Jane as much as you'd like."
"Whoa!" Trent said.
Daria disengaged from Jane's lips and asked Trent, "Was that over the car or the kiss?"
Trent took in the black VW Bug in the driveway. "The car is cool. I guess that means I can still drive my car tonight after all."
"Yep. Come on, Jane."
Jane just stood there, dazed.
"I think you broke her," Trent said, amused.
"Naw, I just bent her a little in one of the few ways she wasn't already. Ready, Jane?"
Jane still said nothing.
Daria took Jane by the hand and led her to the passenger side of the Bug. She stuffed her inside and fastened the seat belt. "Bye, Trent!"
"Don't do anything I wouldn't do!"
"What wouldn't you do?"
"I wouldn't kiss my sister," Trent pointed out, teasing. "Especially not like that!"
"I promise, Trent, I will never kiss my sister like that!"
Trent smiled and shook his head. "You two are still too weird."
As they started down the street, Jane finally spoke. "You kissed me!"
"Yes, I did. And you know what? I even liked it, and I hope you did, too."
"I did," Jane admitted. "But why?"
"It's a long story, but basically, Mom told me to."
"Oh, this I've got to hear!"
Daria had hit the highlights by the time they got to Pizza King, where John was working until 6:00.
"You know, Morgendorffer, I don't think your Mother was being that literal."
"I didn't hear you complaining, Lane."
"True," Jane admitted. "You are a
damn good kisser."
"Thank you; so are you."
Daria shrugged. "Crude estimate." She thought a moment, and said in a soft voice, "To tell you the whole truth, as much fun as I had this summer at the drive-in and certainly am having now with Thor, part of me is still uncertain if the physical pleasure and yes, emotional comfort, is worth letting down so many defenses. I was surprised enough during the 'rash incident' to discover I have a libido, and I'm still not sure not certain how powerful it is. In any case, while the outside of people can be attractive to me, I am more attracted to the actual person, and hence gender isn't the overwhelming factor it might be for other people. You?"
"Well, I know I like the risks of lowering whatever defenses I might have, and that until last spring I would have said I was one hundred percent pro-male," Jane claimed. "My libido is nicely developed, at least in my opinion. As for the other, well, maybe eighty-twenty right now, and that's more because of you than Alison."
"Flatterer." Daria decided to tease Jane a little. "I wonder what would happen if we kissed like that in the hot tub."
"In front of John and Thor? Daria, just because John and I are going down on each other doesn't mean I want them to see us as potential porn stars!"
"I concede the point," Daria said. After a beat, she said, "Note to self: only kiss Jane in private." Daria smiled just the tiniest little smile as she saw Jane blush slightly. It was rare for her to have the upper hand over Jane when it came to teasing about intimacy.
It was a slightly unusual grouping of older Lawndale High students who met in the back meeting room over the Pizza King just outside of town at 12:30 Sunday afternoon. There were eight couples, some more serious than others. Thor and Daria, John and Jane, Jeffy and Quinn, Joey and Stacy, Jamie and Sandi, Mack and Jodie, as well as three students Daria really didn't know and one she did. Ted DeWitt-Clinton was present with Tori Jericho, and Jodie had brought a couple as well, Adam Jones and Jessica Simon (a senior football player and junior cheer leader), whose inter-racial relationship bothered no one, to the surprise of some people. (Tiffany had refused to come, saying, "Dancing? Sweat. Eew.")
All sixteen students were wearing loose, comfortable clothing, and with three exceptions, they were wearing sneakers or similar footwear. Daria, Quinn, and Tori were wearing ballet slippers. Daria took charge:
"Welcome, everyone," she said. "This is of course Quinn's idea, and one which I certainly found interesting. The idea is to bring some formal dance steps to the school dances, rather than just the free-form gyrations. I don't care for that at all, but of course, no one is saying there is only one way to dance. We also learned that Tori has also been through dance classes, including ballroom, and she has graciously agreed to help. Jodi has also had some experience."
Tori nodded. With Quinn and Jodie behind this idea, it might just catch on, and she also liked ballroom dancing more than what passed for dancing at school dances.
"So, we're going to learn dances for four-four, two-two, and three-four time. I can assure you, Mystic Spiral will not be playing anything like a traditional waltz, minuet, fox trot, or tango, but we can dance to about two-thirds of their songs that way. So, first up, who here can waltz?"
Besides Daria, Quinn, Tori, and Jodie, Ted and Jessica raised their hands. Ted and Tori, Quinn and Jodie, and Daria and Jessica (it turned out that she had also endured a year of dance lessons) therefore demonstrated, with Quinn and Daria dancing the male parts. The others quickly picked up the basic steps after about forty-five minutes. The same six knew some other basic steps for the various meters, and after a fifteen minute rest, spent the next hour learning them. After another short break, Daria played some Mystic Spiral songs; those were harder to dance to than the older music, but they managed it.
"So," Jane said as the group took another break, "how about that fox trot and tango?"
"Does anyone besides me know how to do them?" Daria asked. She had spent two more years in dance classes than Quinn, one year before Quinn had started, and the final summer in Highland. Only Tori knew those dances.
"Does anyone other than Jane want to learn?" All the females raised their hands, and so the males, a little reluctantly, did the same. The next hour was a bit grueling.
"Is there anything else anyone wants to learn before we get pizza?" Daria asked. Seeing Sandi and Quinn about to speak, Daria added, "Yes, one pizza with be cheeseless."
"Could we learn at least one line dance?" Stacy asked. She cringed a little when Sandi gave her a dirty look and said, "I thought you got over that years ago, Stacy."
That look and comment made Daria say, "Hey, Jane! Do you think we can give the Spiral a heart attack by doing the Achy Breaky line dance to Freakin' Friends?"
That made Jane laugh, and in short order all the girls, including a slightly grumbling Sandi, were doing the steps, along with a fascinated Ted.
"Oh, what the hell," Mack said, and he joined in. That pulled in the rest of the guys.
Half an hour later, John and the other guys had brought up the pizza and drinks. Sandi looked at Daria and asked, "Like, why didn't you ever show off before? You are quite good."
"You are," Tori agreed. "I mean, it was clear you were a little rusty in spots, but you really have more talent than most of the girls our age I've seen at the local studios."
"Thank you," Daria replied. "I liked the exercise well enough during the nearly five years I had to do this, but I really didn't like the people I danced with."
"I can understand that," Tori said.
"I only dropped out because I was tired of dancing with girls and eleven and twelve year old boys," Jessica added.
"Exactly," Daria agreed. "And then, well. . . ." Daria sighed and looked at Quinn. "Do you want to tell the story?" Daria asked in a voice that only Quinn and Jane realized meant that she was hurting inside.
"No," Quinn said quietly. "And I am sorry."
Daria acknowledged the apology, and went on, "At the end of the summer before we moved here, the local dance studios had a combined dance recital. The final dance was the Lindy – that's a very fast swing-era dance, which can get very physical and complicated. I still don't know if I landed wrong because of something I did or what my partner did, or both, but I did, and then I tripped, and took out four other dancers, one of whom slid into the boom box we were dancing to and kicked it off the stage."
There wasn't a sound in the room. Daria snorted. "Yeah, this is about as silent as the auditorium was at that moment."
"Until I laughed," Quinn admitted, red in embarrassment. "Again, I know I wasn't sorry then, but I really am now."
Daria shrugged. "I don't know if I would have laughed at you if you had done it, but I would have taken just as much guilty pleasure in it . . . back then. Anyway, after the move, Mom was so busy, she neglected to force me to reenroll in a dance class or self-defense class or Quinn into. . . ."
"What? Those are perfectly acceptable activities."
"Alright, I give! I surrender!"
"What are they, Quinn? Or should we get that information elsewhere?"
"Quinn has made her choices, and I shall not reveal them," Daria told Sandi. "You should have asked last year, when I would have sold you the information for a nickel. As it is, Mom has let her get away with just the yoga you all do."
"You ought to take her ballroom dancing," Tori told Thor.
"That could be fun, after New Year's," Thor said thoughtfully.
"How about this week?" Sandi asked. The group gave her an odd look. "Like, if we're going to be ready to dance Saturday, we, or at least most of us, could use a bit more practice."
"And it's fun!" Stacy said.
"We can't do it Friday, of course," John mused.
"Tuesday would get at least some of us out of giving out candy," Tori pointed out.
"I can ask if this room is open," John offered.
It turned out the space was available, and so the group agreed to come back Tuesday night at 6:15, for pizza and then dancing.
Tuesday night was something of a repeat of Sunday. Tori had recruited four younger couples; all the girls had taken dance with her, and so had two of the boys. Most of the teens had agreed ahead of time, and had donated some money to cover at least some of the cost of the pizza and soda.
It was a little past 9:15 when the group broke up, and Daria and Jane were two of the last to leave as they helped clean up. Daria was driving her VW back towards via Casa Lane via some back streets, well below the speed limit as she and Jane were talking.
"Looks like someone lost his basic costume," Jane commented as Daria turned off a residential street and in to one of the few totally undeveloped areas in town, one that had scrub for two blocks before hitting an intersection where a few small businesses were. They were just seven blocks from Howard.
Daria noticed that indeed a white sheet was caught around a bush. She snorted and opened her mouth to comment when she brought the car to a halt and then backed up about thirty feet, about half the distance to the sheet.
"What?" Jane asked.
Soundlessly, Daria pointed out the front window to their right. Jane frowned and rolled down the side window and poked her head out.
Sure enough, visible sticking out from under a tangle of an overgrown hedge and other bushes was a bare foot and calf, the pale flesh showing clearly against the dark background.
Daria backed up a bit more and angled the car, and then turned off the car but not the lights. That put the foot at least a bit in the light. She reached across Jane and unlocked the glove compartment, pulling out a small flashlight. This didn't work by batteries, but by squeezing a lever.
The two got out of the car, Daria carrying the bear-spray in her right hand, her car key poking out from between her fingers on her left, ready to be used as a weapon if necessary. Jane carried the flashlight.
"Miss?" Jane called, still hoping despite the foot's now-obviously diminutive size and stillness that they had caught a trysting couple.
Daria slipped the keys into her denim jacket and knelt, touching the ankle carefully. "It's cold, but I can just feel a pulse," Daria stated. "Leave the flashlight and run like hell to the gas station. Tell the cops to look for the car lights."
Jane was already sprinting. "Right!" she called.
As Jane ran, Daria closed her eyes for a few moments and listened. She could hear the rustle of the leaves in the trees and on the ground as well as Jane's receding steps. Then she could hear the shallow breathing of the girl she could now see was naked from the waist down, with a hoodie, a shirt, and an undershirt pushed up high under her arms. She also had a sock on the other foot.
Daria could also hear someone moving some distance away through the scrub. Daria put the spray into her left hand and squeezed the flashlight, playing the beam around. She saw the shoes back between herself and the sheet, while the missing sock was partially hanging from the girl's mouth. A torn skirt was also near the girl's head.
It was a chilly night, in fact the first frost was likely by morning, but no doubt when the girl had started off it was warm enough with the light undershirt, shirt, and hoodie, all of which were pushed up onto the girl's tiny breasts. The hood of the sweatshirt was pulled over the girl's head, but there were a few long black curls showing. "Leah?" Daria called. "Leah? Is that you?"
A very soft moan of pain came from the girl.
"Leah . . . I don't know for sure that's you, but you're going to be alright," Daria said, pulling the girl's upper clothing down to cover most of the exposed skin and then putting her hand over the bare foot to warm it and to give the girl some physical assurance.
Daria did not have to keep up the pep talk for long, for Jane was back less than five minutes after she had left, and the first squad car was there less than thirty seconds after Jane had returned. A pair of detectives and the ambulance were at the scene less than three minutes after the patrol car. Lawndale was a suburb that tried to take care of its own, and on Halloween nearly everyone was on alert.
Daria was able to identify the girl as Leah Blum-Deckler. Like many couples, the Blum-Decklers had tried and failed to conceive a child. A married cousin serving a tour of duty in Japan had left behind a pregnant mistress. When the whole story had come out a few years later, the Blum-Decklers had adopted the then three year old. As often happens, Mrs. Blum-Deckler had gotten pregnant a little more than a year later. Daria had met the now-11 year old a few times over the previous two years.
The detectives were two of the detectives Daria had met over her own assault. Both had taken her measure, and while no footprints would be found, it would turn out Daria had indeed heard the would-be rapist's escape. His trail would easily be traced to the point he had emerged from the scrub, but no further.
In fact, over the next two days, as Leah recalled what had happened, it was clear that the rapist was fortunately inexperienced, failing to actually rape the struggling girl. When Daria's slow-approaching car was heard, the assailant had rabbit-punched the girl into unconsciousness for a few minutes as he escaped. No doubt, had Daria and Jane not stopped, he would have been close enough to come back and try again.
Leah had been to a classmate's Halloween early supper party, but had argued with some of the other children as they had finished trick-or-treating. (Lawndale required trick-or-treaters to be off the streets by 9:00.) Rather than go back to the party for cider as the parents of the children were called, Leah had started the nine block walk home. She had been grabbed near to where her sheet had been found. (All the girls had worn old white sheets with holes for eyes, in part for the visibility and in part as a tribute to the Charlie Brown special.) The police, making out the time line later, would decide that she had been fondled as she struggled for at least five minutes before the assailant had started to partially strip her. He had removed her running shoes in the first assault by stepping on the heels, and had stuffed the sock in her mouth once he had pushed her to the ground in the brush. He had had his hand over her mouth before then, but while she had struggled she had not thought to try and bite.
All that, of course, Daria would also learn later. That Halloween night, as she came in the front door at nearly 11:45, she was confronted by her angry and concerned mother, her very worried father, and a rather frightened Quinn. All had been worried that she was so late. Daria merely held up a hand for silence, and then told the trio what little she knew.
While Jake and Helen tried to absorb what had happened, Daria stopped Quinn before she could get to the phone. "Tiffany and her family are going to be too busy and upset to answer the phone, assuming they're even home. Now, I would imagine Tiffany won't be in school tomorrow, at least during the morning. I think, if she's not, you shouldn't say anything to anyone."
Helen was now paying attention. "Why?" Quinn asked.
"Because tomorrow is the first Wednesday of the month – which is when I was attacked and when the three J's were attacked. On the slim chance the same person attacked Leah, or the equally slim chance some other high school kid did, then the security people, who will already be on the alert might just luck out and see someone acting like they know what's going on. Right now, Jane, me, you three, the Blum-Decklers, and the rapist know what happened. Stacy is a natural gossip, and while the word may get out tomorrow, you know Sandi will tell her mother, and her brothers will overhear. You said one started ninth grade this year, and the other is somewhere in middle school, right?"
"Sixth grade," Quinn agreed.
"So the word would get out. The less that is said, the more likely that slim lead might pay off."
"Don't lie; we don't know the details, and we don't know how Tiffany has reacted," Helen reminded Quinn.
"So . . . I don't really know what happened, do I?" Quinn stated as she figured that out.