Warning: This fic contains some harsh language, 'cause I figger movers probably talk like that. Well, some of them, anyway.
CHAPTER 1: Deep In The Spleen of Texas
Daria stared out the window from her low position in a plastic lawn chair wedged behind the passenger seat in the moving van. The streets of Highland were passing by the windshield and sliding over to the sides to disappear behind the truck. Only this time, they were likely to be disappearing forever. The thought caused an unexpected blow of nostalgia, which Daria quickly parried. There was nothing to look back on here, she reinforced that thought in her head. Nothing to lament, nothing on which to foolishly cling. Nothing, at least, that wasn't embodied in the souvenir that she had pocketed shortly before leaving. Onward and upward.
For many years for Daria and Quinn, Highland had simply been the place where they lived, surely there couldn't be much else out there. Daria was only four when they had moved there from Tarrytown, New York, so she didn’t remember that place particularly well. As Daria entered her teens and began to "come out into the world", she also began to see Highland as it truly was, i.e., a dusty and depressing redneck haven, deep in the rotten spleen of Texas. Perhaps its only redeeming factor for Daria was its unusually low proportion of people who spoke with that Texas twang.
Still, Highland provided its share of litigants for Helen. Jake was doing a little less well over at Muller Real Estate, and had become particularly restless over the last few years, and was genuinely excited to go into business for himself on the fast-paced East Coast. Quinn was either eager to make new friends on a new town, as she put it, or to simply climb the ladder, as Daria put it (in about the most polite terms that she could muster). Daria was simply glad to get out of Highland, but she held no big hopes for her future in this town called Lawndale. She knew that hope typically led to disappointment, and there was no need for disappointment on top of her usual background angst.
The doorknob from the front door of her old house was making an uncomfortable bulge in her pocket, so she took it out and began fingering it. It was nicely symbolic of the intelligence level of Highland, and it would make a positively Dada addition to the heart model and the big plastic wedge of cheese that she displayed proudly on her dresser. That is, if Helen didn't recognize it, or if the new owners of the Highland house weren't too bent on going in and out of the front door a lot.
The streets continued to be swallowed up by the back of the truck. Daria tried, but she just couldn't ignore them.
"Ah, the open road!" said Jake after taking a deep breath of the air that was rushing in through his open window. It was another deliriously sunny day in Highland, and it was only the time of year that kept it from being oppressively hot.
"Um, Jakey, technically, we're still in a residential area," pointed out Helen.
"Yeah, dad," said Quinn, "At least wait until we're out of town before you start embarrassing me."
"Ah, don't mind ol' Jakey!" said Jake, "He's just happy to be on the road again! On the road again-"
"Da-ad! Don't start singing!"
"Ah jest can't wait to get on the road agin!" *
[*] See End Notes for all song credits.
Jake stopped singing, only because they had reached a red light. Three very identical teenagers suddenly rushed into view on the left side of the car from behind, panting from their exertion.
"Say," started Helen, "Aren't they those three boys? Timmy, Tommy, and…"
"Todd, I think. Yeah, that's them," giggled Quinn. She stuck her head out the window. "Bye, guys!"
"I'm gonna miss you, Quinn!" said Timmy.
"I'm gonna miss you even more!" one-upped Tommy.
"I'm gonna miss you more than those two put together!" shouted the third teen, whose name was actually Tony.
"I won't be able to go on without you!" yelled Timmy.
"I'll die without you!" yelled Tony.
"Dude, you will not!" argued Tommy.
"How do you know?"
"You ain't got the dedication!"
"Oh, like you do!"
"Guys, please!" interrupted Quinn. "I'm sure you'll be just fine! Besides, I'm not like dying or anything! I'm just moving!"
"Yeah, she's just moving!" said Timmy self-righteously at his two companions. He then turned back to the car and yelled, "I'll write you!"
Tommy's turn was next. "I'll write you every day!"
Then Tony. "I'll write you twice a day!"
"Dude, you are so phony!"
"Hey, lay off!"
Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on point of view, the light turned green, and Jake peeled out. Quinn blew a kiss back at the three 'T's, who were waving frantically at the departing vehicle.
"Well," stated Helen with some amusement, "I don't think you'll ever meet a trio like that again."
"Yeah, I suppose so," said Quinn resignedly.
"They have your new address?"
Quinn hadn't thought of that. "I don't think so…" she said with a little smirk.
CHAPTER 2: Fuzz Buster
"So, y'all pullin' up stake, huh?" Daria turned her head to regard the scrappy, muscle-shirted man in the passenger seat of the moving van, who had chose that moment to try some small talk.
"I said, y'all movin', huh?"
"I don't know, you guys are the experts on that subject."
"Well!" said the mover, grinning, "Got ourselves a mouth here, don't we, Missy?"
Just then the driver, a larger man with prematurely thinning brown hair and a gray T-shirt piped up. "Hey man, if you start hittin' on that there lady, I'm gonna have to beat you with the tire iron."
"Oh, eat shit, Ben!"
Ben threw up his meaty hands from the steering wheel briefly. "I'm just warnin' ya is all! Besides, I think that red-haired one is more yer type."
"Dammit Ben, now that's just sick an' wrong!"
"Oh I dunno know there, I've seen some a' yer magazines, an' those girls ain't much older than she is."
"The hell they ain't! And you can just shut yer yap about that, by the way!"
"Whatever, Steve." With that, Ben turned his attention back to the road. Steve turned back around to Daria. "I just want y'all to know that Ben here is fulla shit. Keep that in mind." Daria wasn't sure which was more annoying, the use of the word "y'all" with the Texas accent, or without, as the case was here.
"I'll file it away."
"So whatter your feelin's on this here move?"
"Oh, I don't know. Trading one suburban hellhole for another, probably."
"That bad, huh? Well, don't worry, I'm sure you'll find friends in uh…Maryland or wherever it is. Just don't let that East Coast mentality rot your brain."
"The East Coast mentality?"
"Yeah, you know, runnin' around all day in a suit and blabbin' into yer cell phone nonstop and what have ya."
"I'm not worrying too much about that."
Steve leaned over a bit. "Good deal, Missy."
"Hey, remember, I'm chaperonin' here," said Ben.
"Fuck off! I'm just makin' conversation!" Steve turned around and faced the road. "Jeez…"
"Hoooowww many rooooads must a man walk down/ Beforrrrre you call him a man?" *
"UUGGGHH!!" Quinn slumped forward in her seat, careful not to disturb any of her outfits hanging next to her. "Maybe I should have ridden in the van!"
"Oh come on, Quinn!" said Jake's perky voice from the driver's seat, disrupting their song. "Why don't you join us! You know some Beatles, right?"
"Fine Quinn," sing-songed Helen, "You can sit in the back all by yourself then, we won't mind!"
"Good! Then you won't mind if I threw myself out of the car, either!"
"Sorry Quinn, but we're doing eighty right now, that wouldn't be a very good idea!" shouted Jake in the same tone as Helen.
"Eighty?" said Helen, incredulously, "Jake, in case you haven't noticed all the signs, the limit is sixty-five here!"
"Come on, Helen, we left late! We're going to need to make good time if we want to hit Texarkana by tonight!"
"Okay, but just try and be careful!"
"Huh! Don't think I'm careful? I may be carefree, but I am still careful!" With that, Jake put his hand on the car roof and began tapping out a rhythm with his fingers. "Yes'n hooowww many seeds must a white man…uh, is it seeds?"
"No, it's seas, Jake, 'how many seas must a white dove sail?'"
"White dove sail? Man, that Dylan was one far out guy!"
"Beforrrre she sleeps in the sand?" continued Helen.
"Yes'n hooow many times must the cannon balls fly? Before…uh…they stop?"
"No, it has to rhyme with sand."
Quinn buried her face in her hands. Hopefully Lawndale wasn't too far away…
The interstate was a double scar across the rolling brown-yellow Texas landscape. One thing Daria was secretly hoping for was that their new home would be more green. Of course, that would mean that it would rain more. There was, of course, always a trade-off.
A quarter of a mile or so ahead, a blue car could be seen on the side of the road, and a motorcyle was parked some yards in front of it. Some state trooper was filling his quota, obviously. A thought occurred to Daria, and she tried to combat it. There were tons of blue cars out there, she thought, although slightly less blue sedans. As they came closer, the car's shape became more and more distinctive. At fifty yards or so, Daria could tell that it was a luxury car, at twenty, a Lexus, and finally as they passed, there was no doubt in her mind about who owned the car.
"Oh, crap," Daria moaned.
"Hey hey hey! I thought that car looked familiar!" said Ben with a laugh. He honked the horn as they passed. "Heh heh! Now ya see why I started slowing down some miles back?" He reached his hand over and patted his radar detector as if it were an old friend. In fact, it probably was.
"Well well well," agreed Steve, "You think we should wait for them, or just continue on to Texarkana?"
"Ah, they should be able to catch up soon enough. Hell, at the rate that guy was goin', I wouldn't be surprised! Say, Missy, yer Dad always drive like that?"
"More or less," answered Daria, unsure that any amount of correction would make the movers call her by her real name. "I would think that he would at least be out of Texas before he got a ticket, though."
"Well, it takes a helluva long time to get outta Texas."
"That's for sure."
CHAPTER 3: Borderline Disorder
The shadows were beginning to lengthen as Daria, Ben, and Steve ambled across the tarmac to the restaurant that was situated off to the side of the pumps in the truck station outside another nameless Texas town.
"You think Jake's gonna stop here?" asked Steve.
"Doesn't matter, as long as we rendezvous in Texarkana for the night as planned, things will be fine!" answered Ben somewhat impatiently. "'Sides, I'm hungry now, and I think that goes for everyone else here. Right, Missy?"
Daria perked her head up, and decided to lay down the law. "Who?" she asked?
"I don't see any Missy."
"Fine, fine, you don't like us callin' you Missy? We'll call you Darla then, that's right, right?"
"Well yer not bein' very helpful!"
"Okay, it's Daria."
"Daria, got it," he said apologetically, "Look, if I forget again, you just go right ahead and smack me upside the head, would ya?"
"Hell," Steve said enthusiastically, "Just tap me, I'll do it for ya, right good!"
"Yeah, then you'll be shittin' my shoe out the next day," grumbled Ben.
They sat down at the counter and ordered. The restaurant was alive with the clinking of forks on plates and the dull roar of pleasant conversation, topped by the movers, who went off on a conversation about various car and truck parts that made Daria groan inwardly. She put her head on her hand and began making little patterns with one finger out of the ring of moisture left by her water glass.
Just then, her reverie was interrupted.
"Well well well, if it isn't Ben and Steve the quasi-movers, heh heh!" said an almost comically lazy drawled Texan voice. Daria turned to face the source of the voice. He was a smallish, skinny man with a generous beer gut peeking over his pants waistline covered by a gray T-shirt. His head was topped with an orange Mack truck hat, and he regarded the trio cooly through wire-rimmed glasses with tinted lenses swiveled down in front.
"Hey, don't you be spoutin' that 'quasi' crap, Dale, we happen to be on a movin' job right as we speak," said Ben. He nudged Daria. "Tell 'im."
"We happen to be on a moving job right as we speak," said Daria in her best deadpan.
"Really?" answered Dale, "Sounds fun. Who's the girl?"
"She's one of the people we're movin', dingus!" said Ben testily. "Her sister's clothes took up too much room in the family car, so she's keepin' us company."
Dale leaned over to Daria, "You know, Missy, Ah'd be careful keepin' them company if I were you. Mm-hmm."
"Oh, screw off, Dale," said Steve.
"So does this mean Ah'll have to wait a while before Ah can request your services agin?" asked Dale.
"You know, my equipment? At your discount?"
"Dale," said Ben, staying calm, "This is neither the time nor the place to discuss this, got it?"
"Ah read you loud and clear, heh heh," said Dale, "Dumpster out back after dinner?"
Ben raised his fist. Dale made a startled "Gi!" noise and went back a step. He regained his composure and said, "I read you loud and clear, heh heh."
A heavier-set man in a white work shirt came up to Dale. A chubby pre-teen kid with close-cropped blonde hair stood to his side.
"Dale, food's arrived," said the man. His voice sounded very familiar to Daria.
"Yeah, Mr. Gribble, you don't want your Jumbo Country Skillet to get cold," advised the kid. "Ah know what that's like."
"Comin', Hank," said Dale, and followed the two of them to a booth on the side. Dale gave a wink back at Ben and Steve as he left.
"Man, that guy gets on my nerves," said Steve.
"Who is he, or do I want to know?" asked Daria.
"A complete nobody," said Ben, "Let's just leave it at that." He then focused his attention on the kitchen. Daria focused her attention back on her water-design. It probably was best to leave it at that. But she still didn't feel too good about it.
"Jake, could you please hurry it up, we're freezing out here!"
"Just a second, honey! I have to set the light meter!"
The air was surprisingly chilly, and the bitter wind from the east didn't help things any. Still, the Morgendorffers found themselves huddling in front of a large sign with the outlines of the states of Texas and Arkansas on its respective sides. Cars whipped by on the left and right. Photographer's Island, conveniently located in front of the Post Office in the middle of State Line Avenue was a popular sight for tourists, but generally not at this time of night.
"Okay," directed Jake, "Everybody scootch in now, get as close to the border as possible!"
"Can we switch sides?" asked Quinn, "I don't want to be in Arkansas! That state's full of hillbillies!"
"Okay," said Daria, "You can be in Texas instead, and be a redneck."
"Girls, quit it! Let's just get this photo over with so we can get back to the motel where it's warm!" yelled Helen.
"Hey!" interrupted Jake, "We would have gotten here earlier if it weren't for that stupid state trooper! Damn quota-filler, I was only five miles above the limit…well, maybe seven. Still, seven!"
"Jake, take the picture! I can only stand in two different states for so long!"
"Yes," agreed Daria, "We need to get back to our motel…in Arkansas…"
"Oh, shut up!" said Quinn.
Jake put the camera up to his face and moved up, then down, then to the left and right. "Helen, how do you zoom with this thing?"
"TAKE THE PICTURE!" all three women shouted at once.
"Okay okay!" He snapped the shutter button hastily, and produced a blinding flash. "Now you probably made me move it and it's gonna be all blurry!"
"Oh well," said Helen exasperatedly, "We'll always have the memory of being in two different states at once, and in the end, that's all that really matters, now let's go." They broke formation and began to head to the car.
"You know, it's a symbolic, really," philosophized Jake, "We're on the boundary between the old and the new! Between our old, stale existence in Highland, and our new and exciting life in Lawndale!"
"Wonderful, honey," said Helen with rolled eyes.
Daria rolled her eyes as well. She didn't have need for any more metaphors or soul-searching language. Just cut the ties and burn the bridges, she thought. Of course, those were metaphors as well. Damn writer's mind…
Her doorknob was still in her pocket as well. She decided that the first thing she would do upon arrival at the motel would be to put it in her luggage where it belonged.
CHAPTER 4: Foggy Mountain Blowout
"Na na na nana na nah! Nana na na! Hey Jude!" *
"Jake, we're done with that song!"
"What?" Jake frowned in concentration. "I think ‘Hey Jude’ was longer than that."
"Well not in this car, it isn't!" declared Helen.
"Okay, fine! Should we sing something else?"
"NO!" shouted Helen and Quinn in unison.
"Okay, okay!" said Jake, frustrated. "Well, what else can we do to pass the time?"
"How about sleeping?" said Helen with another eye roll.
"Helen, I have to drive here!"
"Well then concentrate on that for a while." With that, Helen leaned her head back and reclined the seat, which nudged against a few items of the gently swaying forest of clothing in the back seat.
"Mo-om!" Quinn shouted suddenly, "Careful of my outfits!"
Helen sat up sharply enough to almost bump her head on the ceiling of the car. "Oh, for the love of…look, everything's fine! You've already kicked Daria out of the car for these clothes, don't kick me out as well!"
"Mom," said Quinn, sensing the edge in Helen's voice, "I'm not kicking you out, I just want you to be a little more careful before you wrinkle my clothes."
"Well, I didn't get much sleep in the motel with those damn flat pillows and that neon sign, so I just need some rest, okay? I won't yell at you again," said Helen defeatedly, as she laid her head back again.
"Okay," said Quinn, and leaned over as well. Helen turned her head slightly and let out a weary sigh. Quinn sighed as well, more out of frustration. She leaned her head further over until it rested.
"Quinn!" Helen shouted suddenly, "Head off window!"
The sign on the freeway said: "Hope, Next 3 Exits".
"Hey Ben, we're headin' into Clinton country," said Steve, from the van driver's seat.
"Hoo, better be removin' the shoes then, huh?" answered Ben.
"Oh yeah! And probably the pants as well!"
"Hot damn!" Ben snickered, then saluted out the windshield. Steve followed suit. Ben looked back at Daria. "Hey Missy-er, Daria, show some respect for the hallowed ground of our good president, huh?"
"Um, if it involves any clothing docking, then I'm afraid I must object," said Daria.
"Oh come on, we're just teasin'," said Ben, "I mean, maybe Steve here isn't, but I can't account for him."
"Hey, shut up!" said Steve as he guided the van around a pothole. "Man, didja notice that like, right at the state line, the roads suddenly went to hell?"
"Yeah, shit," agreed Ben.
On either side of the interstate, the trees were showing off their new spring outfits. Daria was reclined as well as she could get in the lawn chair behind Ben, reading Slaughterhouse Five, which she had amazingly managed to find in paperback among all the romance and western novels in a store near the motel in Texarkana. Her doorknob sat between her legs, since she had forgotten to pack it, and so decided to keep it on the floor of the truck.
"Nicer scenery around here, though," commented Steve.
"Mm-hm," acknowledged Daria, after taking in the bucolic wooded countryside. "Pass me my banjo."
Ben snorted. "Yeah, there we go. We could meet some a' the locals that way."
"Yeah, that'd be great!" said Steve.
"Hey Steve, squeal lahk a pig!"
"Heh heh! No way, man!"
"Ah said skweel lahk a pig, boy!" Ben reached over and punched Steve in the arm.
"Hey asshole, I'm driving!" shouted Steve. He punched Ben nevertheless.
"Boys, boys," said Daria sarcastically, "You can both squeal like a pig."
"Nah," said Ben, "I couldn't subject you to that. Nor Steve doin' it."
"'Specially not me doin' it," agreed Steve.
"Well, don't let me stop you," said Daria as she put her nose back in her book.
Five seconds later, the cab was filled with piggish squeals.
"I'm going to the picnic, and I'm bringing my appetite, and my briefcase."
"Uhh, why would you bring your briefcase to a picnic, Helen?"
"Why not? It's the first thing I could think of. Isn't that the point of this game?"
"Right, right." Jake suddenly swerved violently to the right, sending Quinn toppling into her clothing forest.
"Da-ad!" she whined.
"GAH! These roads are horrible! Did you see that hole? I could have gotten lost in it!"
"Jake," said Helen, "Just keep your eyes on the road,"
"Yeah, Dad," added Quinn.
"Quinn, leave this to me, okay?" grumbled Helen.
Jake could sense the family turning against him again for reasons that he couldn't quite grip, and quickly changed the subject. "Ah, jeez, you guys? Let's just get back to our game. Quinn? Your turn."
Quinn groaned and stared out the window. More trees went by, as they had been doing for hours. "I'm going to the picnic, and I'm bringing my…appetite, and my…" She let out a small sigh. "My briefcase, and my capri pa-a-a-ants," she continued, her voice gaining vibrato from the sudden bumps in the road.
"Capri what?" said Jake.
"Capri pants, Dad. I'd want to look cute, wouldn't I?"
"Ah, of course, uh…I'm going to the picnic, and I'm bringing my-y-y-y appetite, and my briefcase, and my u-u-u-u-uh…capri pants, and-" Just them, there was a loud report from the front of the car. "DAMMIT!"
"That doesn't count, Dad," said Quinn.
"Y'all mind if we put some Aerosmith in the stereo?" asked Steve.
"Nah, I find Steve Tyler's vocals greatly enhance the Vonnegut reading experience," answered Daria.
"What?" said Steve.
"Forget it, Steve, she's readin' her book, okay, leave 'er alone. 'Sides, you don't scorn a gal like that, she'll grind yer neck into the dust with those big-ass steel-toe boots a' hers."
"Christ! I just want a little travellin' music, is that so damn wrong?"
"Damn right, it's wrong, Steve," said Ben, his voice taking on a faux-grave tone. "Dead fuckin' wrong."
"Oh, like you would know! Look, Darla, could y'all just give me this?"
Daria folded her arms on her chest and smirked very briefly. "Well, okay, but only if you can get my name right in three guesses."
"Wooooo!" hooted Ben in his best FOX-audience imitation. "She's gotcha there, Steve!"
"Oh come on! It's Darla, right?" Daria remained impassive. "Shit, that's what you said, I know it! Well, uh…shit…uh, Dar…rar…rar…Dara?"
"OH! Two strikes there, Canseco!" whooped Ben.
"Dammit, Ben! Dar…rar…Dar…ia? That's it, Daria!"
Ben turned back to Daria. "Judges?"
Daria gave a thumbs-up.
"Looks like you win this round, Steve!"
"Good! Now can I play my goddamn tape?"
"Go ahead," said Daria innocently, "It's your truck."
"Actually, this rig's pink slip is in the hands of Yours Truly," interjected Ben.
"Yeah yeah, we all know, Ben," said Steve, rapidly losing patience, "Now would you put in the damn tape?"
"Yeah, hold up a second." Ben slipped the tape in with a click, then focused on the road ahead. "Say, Daria, isn't that your old man's car again?"
Jake grunted as he pushed against the tire iron. Helen looked on with increasing worry as veins began to stand out on his reddened forehead. Quinn sat on the back bumper of the car with her head in her hands, trying not to look out into the woods and imagine what could be lurking therein.
"Now Jake," pleaded Helen, "Your capillaries…"
"The hell with my capillaries!" shouted Jake, as he took a breather. "I think the nuts're beginning to loosen, just give me another second."
Before Helen could give him another second, she noticed a van slowing to a stop in the opposite shoulder. Steve hopped out of the driver's seat and gave a grunt and stretch. Ben and Daria soon showed up around the front. Jake froze. Quinn stood up sharply.
"Hey there, Mr. M!" greeted Steve. "Car troubles?"
"Uh, yeah!" said Jake. "Just a flat, no prob! Man, these Arkansas roads, huh?"
"Tell me 'bout it. Sure you couldn't use a little help there?"
"No!" answered Mr. M, almost before Steve had even finished asking the question. "Just poppin' the hubcap, loosenin' the nuts, removin' the tire, grabbin' the spare, and we're on our way!"
Steve gave Jake a brief sidelong glance. "Well, sounds like you really know your tire repair!"
"Yep, sure do!" said Jake. He grabbed the tire iron and jammed it back onto the wheel housing, managing to miss the lug nuts in the process. "Heh! Slip o' the fingers!" he broadcasted. There was another more muffled clink as he used a little less gusto to get his tire iron onto a lug nut.
"Oh, Darrrria!" said Quinn in the singsong voice that practically screamed, I want something! She beckoned Daria away towards the back of the car.
Daria gave Quinn her no-nonsense look. "Quinn, if you've bought some more clothes, then I'm afraid that we're completely out of room in the van, and the cab of the van. However, I believe there's a lake nearby…"
"Daria, come on, I'm not going to kick you out of the van, how could I do that to my sister? My flesh and blood-"
"Now let's not start getting gross here."
Quinn sneered. "I'm not the gross one around here. Anyway, my point is, I couldn't kick you out of the van, I shouldn't kick you out of anywhere! Especially not the family car."
"You mean the portable closet?"
Quinn began to lose her patience. "You know what I'm talking about, Daria, the family car! I'm saying that I shouldn't be able to ride in the car for the whole trip. It's just not fair."
Daria cocked her head. "To who, exactly?"
"Either of us!"
"Well, far be it for me to be unfair, but I'll let you have the car for a while longer. You need to be with your clothes."
"Hey, I'm just doing what any noble older sister would do."
"Tell me about it!" Quinn leaned heavily against the car.
"Hey, careful, honey!" shouted Jake from the left front wheel. "I just lost my grip on the nut!" He put the tire iron back on and began grunting and straining again.
"Stubborn little SOB, huh?" said Ben with a barely audible snicker.
"Yeah, I guess so," said Jake, his voice even beginning to take a Texas drawl as he kept up his act.
"Sure you won't let me take a crack at it?"
"Oh, what the heck, see what you can do," Jake conceded, and stood back.
Ben spit on his hands and rubbed them together, warranting a small shudder from both Helen and Quinn. He then blocked the view of the front tire with his body as he twisted the lug nut with a grunt. A few easy turns later, and it was off. The other three nuts soon joined it in the hubcap sitting on the embankment.
"'S'all in the wrist, Mr. M," said Ben, his own voice taking on that drawl.
"Uh…I'll…take it from here," said Jake, and reached in to remove the tire. Ben began walking back to the truck, and Steve followed. Quinn turned her head in that direction. Daria gave her a shrug and a pitying glance as she strolled after Ben and Steve.
Steve eased into the driver's seat and asked, "Think he can handle the rest?"
"Ah, don't worry, it's a piece a' cake. Start up the engine." Steve did. Daria settled back into her lawn chair.
"Um, guys?" said Daria, "Out of curiosity, just how long were you going to let Dad turn the lug nuts the wrong way?"
"Well," said Ben with a snicker, "I guess I caved in at about a minute or so. Why, were you gonna hold out longer?"
CHAPTER 5: Errands
Forests gave way to farmland. Farmland gave way to city. The pattern repeated, and as dusk gave way to twilight, the moving van crossed over the bridge to the East.
"Good that we gained some time on Mr. M today," said Steve.
"Yeah, well we almost didn't, as you recall," reminded Ben.
"Yeah, I think I've heard it about five hundred times today, and no, I'll never have that big a' breakfast again, thank you very much," answered Steve. "Either way, they had that blowout, and we got ahead of them, and have bought ourselves some time, so drop it, wouldja?"
"Well, someone's cranky today. Oh hey, hold up a sec, is Daria awake yet?"
"No," came the flat answer from behind them.
"Ah, good! Say, Daria, you wouldn't mind if we were to run some errands before we rendezvous with your family at the motel, would ya?"
"Errands?" she asked.
Some time later, the Morgendorffers were on the I-40 bridge between states.
"Everybody awake?" asked Jake, some optimism creeping back into his voice.
"No," replied Quinn sleepily.
"Look out the window, dear!"
Quinn looked out and couldn't see anything at first, but then noticed some rippled light marks on the otherwise uniformly dark surface outside the car.
"Huh. Water," she said.
"Not just any water, honey," said Jake in full reverie mode, "That's the Mighty Mississip! The Olllll' Miss. The Olllll' Man."
Quinn rolled her eyes. "Right, Dad."
"Dee-eep river…" +
[+] Movie Ref Guessin' time again. Only 100 points for this one, it's pretty easy.
At that same time, Steve was parking the van in an alley surrounded on both sides by warehouses. In fact, the whole area was surrounded by warehouses, prompting Daria to say:
"This must be Memphis' renowned Warehouse District."
"Yeah, this is the site," said Ben. "Come on, Steve." He opened the door and hopped out of the cap and did the requisite grunt-and-stretch.
Steve looked uneasy. "Hey, Ben, could I speak with you a second?"
"Uh, okay," said Ben. Steve led him off a ways from the car.
Steve looked gravely at Ben. "Ben, do you really think we should be doing this with a legit customer around? And an underage one at that?"
"What, Daria? I think she trusts us."
"Yeah, but she's only sixteen!"
"So? Remember the Stevenson job? We let those two teenage idiots hang around then." +
"That's completely different! One, they were just a couple of lowlifes who really thought we were moving the Stevensons out, and two, that was the middle of suburbia! This is the inner city, and we're about to leave a sixteen-year old girl all alone!"
"Come on, Steve, the doors'll be locked, and people probably won't even be able to see her! 'Sides, she's got moxie. I have a feeling that anyone who tries to mess with her has got a surprise comin'."
Ben took a breath, as if about to argue further, then let it out. "Well I sure as shit hope you’re right, Ben," he said calmly. They walked back to the van.
"Listen, uh, Daria? As you know, we've got some errands to run," said Ben.
"I know, I might want to run some too. Don't worry, I'll meet you at the food court," answered Daria sarcastically.
"Uh…yeah," said Ben, and he scratched the back of his neck nervously. "You think you could stay here with the van instead, and you know, be lookout?"
"Lookout?" The reality of the situation began to hit Daria.
"Yeah, you know, in case…someone comes."
"Like a van inspector?" Daria asked incredulously.
"Well, like…uh, yeah, we're illegally parked, um, look, we gotta go now, just honk the horn if you see somebody," Ben said hastily, and then began walking off towards the back of the van. Steve paused for a second, then followed. Daria watched them until they disappeared from view.
[+] See "Stewart Moves Away", Beavis and Butthead.
Jake drove listlessly down the freeway. Somehow, he just hadn't pegged the rest of the family to be such spoilsports. So he stopped for some Elvis memorabilia. Were they in a hurry? Maybe Helen had to report to that Eric Schrecter fellow on a certain day, but there was time for a little fun, right? He couldn't help but remember travelling cross-country with Helen and their friends while in college. All of them crammed in a VW van, intent on a destination, but seeing America along the way. Talking, laughing, playing silly games, and Seeing America. They had stopped at every corny tourist trap they could find, and still had pictures from most of them. Now he was taking his loving family across America, or half of it at least, and he wanted to get out and see what he could see.
This was not going to be like going to Yellowstone with "Mad Dog", where every rest stop was scheduled, and for bathroom breaks only. This was not going to be like looking at landmark for five minutes (on the dot) and going on. This was not going to be where he would be dragged away from all the neat little shops and stands and crammed in the car and forced not to speak, 'cause Daddy had to concentrate on the road, as if it were a great big puzzle.
No, this was going to be a fun family trip, like the ones that he and Helen had been too busy for lately. The only difference would be that they would start the trip at home, drive in one direction, and at the end, they would be home again. Helen's eyes were closed and her seat was reclined. How much sleep does one woman really need, wondered Jake. Quinn was also listless, and leaning towards the window, sitting a good few inches away from her clothes. And Daria wasn't even in the car, she was in the moving van, all alone. Jake turned off the freeway and headed towards the Days Inn in an anonymous Memphis suburb. It wasn't until they had parked that he realized that there was no moving van in the parking lot like there should have been.
It's all right, Daria reminded herself. The doors were locked, the light was off in the cab so no one could see in, and besides, there was no one around anyway. And that sound off in the distance wasn't a gunshot, either.
Daria looked out the window again, but there was nothing to see. Nothing that was letting itself be seen, part of her said. Shut up, said the other part. She settled back in her lawn chair and slid downwards. Ben and Steve had been gone for ten minutes, give or take an hour or so. They were up to no good, that was obvious. And whether or not they were in range to hear the horn if she honked it was debatable. But there was nothing to fear, really. Who would approach a moving van in the middle of the warehouse district? Would somebody really want to steal it? And did people really think that there were unarmed girls hanging around in them? Was that where they would look? Were there even any of "They" around?
Maybe she should have switched places with Quinn back in Arkansas. Would Ben and Steve decided to do this with sweet 'n' precious Quinn in the van? Probably they would be throwing her in the Mississip. Or perhaps selling her right now in some other alley. That thought wasn't as comforting as Daria had wanted, in fact, it was quite the opposite.
Daria found herself clutching the doorknob, and turning it over endlessly in her hands. Her unconscious self was clinging to the sheltering notions of home and hearth embodied within the lump of metal. Her conscious self was planning on using it to clock anyone who came near her.
"I hope our room is facing the parking lot," remarked Jake as they climbed the stairs of the motel, suitcases in hand.
"Yeah, that would be a wonderful view," remarked Quinn.
"I want to see if the van has come yet!" said Jake, exasperatedly. "They should be here by now, they got a lead on us!"
"They better not have crashed, all my stuff's in there!" whined Quinn.
"What about your sister?" spat Jake.
Quinn looked a little shocked. "Oh, right, and my sister, of course."
"They might just be having engine troubles, but I don't remember seeing them from the road. And they saw us," said Helen. She then added with a hint of bitterness, "Twice."
A noise startled Daria, despite her attempts to remain cool. It was just the van's back door sliding open. Either Ben and Steve were back, or someone was stealing their stuff. With a heavy sigh, Daria opened the door and stepped quietly out of the cab. She was supposed to be looking out, after all. First, she leaned over and looked under the van towards the back. From the waist down it looked like them. They also had a pair of hand-carts fully loaded with boxes. Daria wandered to the back of the van and decided to make a nice entrance.
"Finished with your errands?" she said in her best villain voice, and folded her arms over her chest.
Ben and Steve stopped what they were doing. "Yeah, finished," said Ben, "We got some decent merchandise."
"What?" hissed Steve.
"Oh come on," hissed Ben back at him, "She's not stupid, you know!" He turned back to Daria with a contrite expression. "Look Daria, I know what you're thinking, and let me assure you, this stuff is mostly factory rejects anyway."
"Well, I guess that rules out drugs then," said Daria, twisting the knife, "So I'm guessing...guns?"
"Naw, naw," said Ben, "Just small appliances...and some surveillance equipment."
"I'm also guessing that that's what that Dale guy back in Arlen was interested in?"
"Oh yeah," said Ben, loosening up a bit, "He's one o' them conspiracy theory types. I guess a guarded attitude never hurt anyone."
"Right." Ben looked around, heaved a mighty sigh, and said, "Look, Daria, we've been feeling bad about leaving you all alone like that, but we had some clients to attend to."
"I've heard that before," said Daria matter-of-factly.
This threw Ben off momentarily, then his face lit up. "Tell ya what, as a token of our gratitude though..." He picked the topmost box off his hand truck, then continued, "You can have this here microwave. On the house."
Daria looked at it. She was hard-pressed to remember the last time somebody gave her such a nice present. But then reality set in, Helen would doubtlessly wonder where it came from. Garage sale, perhaps? Nah, it was probably a pretty new microwave, the box looked unopened, and so Helen would probably lecture her about spending her money foolishly, a lesson lost on Quinn, of course, but nevertheless...
"Ummmm, I better not," decided Daria.
"Aw, come on, Daria!" chimed in Steve, "Your very own microwave, you know, to make popcorn and burritos and such!"
"Yeah, that's what they say at first, but soon you're steaming broccoli in it."
"Forget it," said Ben, "Let's just load this stuff up and get to the motel, the family might be there by now."
Upon arrival at the motel, they decided that the official explanation for their tardiness was to be a bout with vapor lock.
CHAPTER 6: Getting There Is...
The morning, Daria was in the bathroom a little longer than usual, much to Quinn's annoyance. She was succumbing to vanity. Maybe Quinn would be happy to hear that, thought Daria. Nevertheless, she was giving herself the look-over. Quinn had picked her birthday outfit out, there may be some unpleasant surprises. It looked all right, though. New green jacket, mustard-yellow T-shirt, and a pleated black skirt, which at first seemed a little too Catholic-school-ish for her tastes, but her trusty boots helped to offset that. The warm weather had prompted her to ditch the leggings, as well. A new look for a new home. Onward and upward. She shrugged and left the bathroom.
Quinn met her instantly. "It's about time, Dar-" She paused as she gave Daria the look-over. "Well, you like?"
"I guess. I never thought I'd ever say this, especially to you, but...how do I look?"
Quinn frowned for a second before decisively stating, "It's you, Daria." She skipped off into the bathroom before she could follow up. Well, thought Daria, I guess that's about as good a compliment as I will ever get from her.
The road was becoming curvy again as the Morgendorffer Lexus headed into the Appalachian foothills.
"So Daria, how's the trip been?" asked Jake. He had talked Daria into riding with them that day, and was eager to start this family trip business anew with his other daughter.
"Oh, it's been all right. I just wish we didn't have to be in a car the whole time," answered Daria, her eyes out the window."
Jake was patient. "Would have been too expensive to take a plane, Daria. Wouldn't have been as interesting, either. I mean, look around! We're seeing America, isn't it great?"
Daria had been afraid of this. "Yes, this trip has allowed me to see America for what it truly is."
"An endless string of gas stations, fast food joints, and strip malls."
Jake fell silent. A bit too silent for everyone.
"Jake, it's all right, dear. I'm sure she was just being facetious," said Helen, "Weren't you, Daria?" She turned her head and evil-eyed Daria as she said this.
"Um…yeah," Daria said.
The cab of the moving van was littered with soda cans and coffee cups, and was grimy in the It’s-never-going-to-be-clean-so-why-bother way that most utilitarian vehicles and buildings were, a fact that was largely lost on Quinn as she shifted uncomfortably in the plastic lawn chair. Still, it was better than hearing Helen and Jake sing, right? Steve popped in a tape, and after several seconds of empty Mylar, there was a sudden thunderclap of music.
"YEAH! YEAH!" sang Steve.
"DUDE LOOKS LIKE A LADY!" continued Ben and Steven Tyler in unison.
"DUDE LOOKS LIKE A LADY!"
Quinn did a full-body cringe.
"How about we play Spot The Car?" ventured Jake.
"There’s one," said Daria, pointing randomly out the window.
"No, kiddo! I mean, spot the cars with something about them, like out-of-state plates, or maybe a certain make or model!"
"Okay," said Helen, playing along, "How about we spot the cars with, oh I don’t know...uh, a door that’s a different color than the rest of the car."
"Uh, Mom," said Daria, "Three of those cars passed while you were talking."
"And here come another three. Whoops, make that five."
"Now, could you please give me a chance to-"
"There’s one behind us, too."
"Hey, there’s another two!" shouted Jake enthusiastically.
"Could we please try a different kind now!"
"Come on, Helen, don’t be a sore loser!"
"I just mean, maybe something that’s not quite as...common. Let’s look for foreign cars instead."
"Yeah, I’m goin’ to the picnic, an’ I’m bringing some alcohol!"
"Ooh, that’s original, Steve!"
"An oldie, but a goodie, Ben. Your turn."
"Okay, I’m goin’ to the picnic, and I’m bringing alcohol, and I dunno...beer?"
"Beer is alcohol, that doesn’t count."
"Well, what else do you bring to a picnic that starts with ‘B’? Booze?"
"Well, what about bread?"
"You mean sandwiches, and I dunno, picnic, sandwiches, it’s kinda implied."
"Some people probably have picnics without sandwiches."
"Yeah, and they’re morons, Steve, they don’t count. Hey, how about broads!"
"Yeah! Can’t have a picnic without some babes!"
"A double! Okay, Quint, your turn."
Quinn was near catatonic. "Ummm, could we play something else?"
"Hey, I found another one!"
"Jake, we stopped playing that game!"
"Hey, crank that one up, Steve!" Steve did, and they both faced the back seat and began singing along with Manfred Mann on the radio. "Come on without! Come on within! You’ll not see nothing like the Mighty Quinn!"
Quinn buried her face in her hands.
The next day, Daria found herself back in the moving van. Quinn had spent a surprisingly short time in the bathroom that morning, which Daria at first thought might have had to do with the unusually long time she had spent in there the night before. Then Quinn had darted out the door, and Daria found her sitting with arms folded in the back seat of the Lexus, practically daring her to make something out of it. The more Daria pondered these events, the more she began smirking in spite of herself.
They hit the road yet again, and crossed into another state. Jake, Ben, and Steve were the only ones to notice.
"Well, it would appear that you did a number on Quinn yesterday," said Daria.
"Hee hee!" laughed Steve, now back in the driver’s seat, "All we did was sing her song! You know, that ‘Quinn the Eskimo’ one?"
"I see," said Daria and smirked again. She could hardly blame her.
"You’re not still pissed at us, are you?" asked Ben.
"For the warehouse thing? Nah, it’s all right. You gave me a microwave, and for that, I will honor you forever," she said with perhaps only a trace of sarcasm.
"You didn’t take the microwave," said Steve.
"It’s the thought that counts."
"Amen to that," said Ben. "Now let’s get ‘er going. We got promises to keep, an’ miles to go before we sleep."
"Robert Frost," Daria said automatically.
"Yeah, Frosty," said Ben, "Read that poem somewhere, that line’s always stuck out. Possibly ‘cause he repeats it. Still, cool line."
"Yeah," agreed Daria, somewhat surprised to hear poetry from one of these guys.
"But remember always that the Lord is-" click
"Ah have seen the Beast, and Ah know" click
"-proof positive that the Department of the Census is the true Shadow Government-" click
"-they had large, pitch black...penetrating eyes-" click
"-does not the Bible say-" click
"-vile coverup-" click
"GAH!" shouted Jake in frustration. "Stupid AM radio. Time to check the FM."
Thirteen Country-Western stations later, Jake stabbed the power button again and drove on in bitter silence.
"Do you go on these long-haul trips a lot?" asked Daria.
"Sometimes," answered Ben, "We usually do more day trips, or overnighters. Steve usually handles the night shift."
"Isn’t that usually how you do these trips?"
"Well, if we could, we would, but we gotta time our driving alongside your ‘rents, on account a’ you riding with us."
Daria was a bit surprised at herself. For much of the day, she had wondered about this. She might be cramping these guys’ routines. And she felt concerned about it.
"Would that be easier and quicker? I mean...you’ve got...you know...just because my sister-"
"Look, don’t worry about it, Daria," Steve filled in. "It’s not like we’re in a hurry or nothin’, not like we got a wonderful life back in Jackass, Texas to get back to. And hey, when’s the last time we had a chick in the van? Huh, Ben?"
Ben rolled his eyes and snorted. "Fuckin’ retard child-molester..."
The fresh smell of manure suddenly crashed in a big wave over the Lexus. Traffic ahead was slowing. Quinn’s reaction was instantaneous. "Ewwwwwww-uh!"
"Well!" said Jake, as they began to round a corner. "Smell that Barnyard Perfume, huh?"
"Ewwwwwww! Eww Eww EWW!" Quinn covered her nose with her T-shirt.
Helen had a bit more edge to her voice. "It’s not ‘Barnyard Perfume’, Jake. It’s an overturned fertilizer truck!"
Sure enough, it was. Cars and trucks were backed up behind it in a huge line, the front cars of which were ripply from heat off the road. The truck had crashed in such a manner as to spill its aromatic contents over both lanes of the eastbound freeway. An orange-clad highway crew had just showed up, and the members were taking pains to walk around and look at the pile as much as possible.
"GAH! DAMMIT!" Jake pounded on the wheel with his hands, then his head.
"We’ll never make it to Lawndale!" whined Quinn, who had rediscovered her inner child over the hundreds of miles spent in the back seat.
"We will too make it to Lawndale," argued Helen, "We will put as many miles behind us as we possibly can in as little time as possible after this, and we will get there!"
Jake suddenly had a thought. "We’re not going to skip Smoky Mountain, are we?"
"Oh, Jake, get real! We’re very tired!"
"But we can’t just drive through the Appalachians without taking in some of the natural wonders! Oh, sure, maybe Dad could, since he can’t enjoy anything except maybe molding his son into a proud American man, oh he always seemed to get a kick out of that!"
"Jake, this isn’t about your father!" Helen spat with hundreds of miles of accumulated venom, "This is simply about wanting to get to our new home, get some essential things moved in, like the bed for example, and settling down!"
"Or maybe it’s just about wanting to get to work with that big-shot Schecker guy! I’m just trying to make this into a nice family vacation!"
"Well, in case you forgot, part of our family is riding in the moving van, the other part in the back seat doesn’t like to get herself dirty, and the last part is tired of flat motel pillows!"
"What is it with you and pillows?! You’ve obviously never slept out in the woods in nothing but a crude stick lean-to! Like Dad would make us-"
"Oh for heaven’s sake, it’s not about the pillows! Well, maybe kind of, but we just want to get home!"
"Fine then! We’ll travel your way, straight down the highway, zipping past everything, no memories but a string of gas stations, fast food joints, and strip-malls!"
"Oh, please don’t be so melodramatic."
"Yeah! That’s what we’re gonna do! Starting now!" Jake tapped the accelerator, but only just enough to edge closer to the bumber of the ’65 Chevy truck in front of them before stabbing the brake again. Quinn stared out the window, looking for a sign of something sane.
CHAPTER 7: Ennui On The Rocks
"Jake said to stop here," said Ben, pulling into a motel on the outskirts of a town that Daria didn’t even bother to learn the name of.
"Manure truck," Steve said for about the fourteenth time since they had checked up the Morgendorffers at a pay phone. "That's just un-fuckin'-believable."
"So I guess you're stuck with us for a while," said Ben to Daria. "Wanna go get some grub?"
"Grub is good food," said Daria flatly, wiping sleep-mucus out of her eyes.
"That's the spirit!" said Ben.
Jake sat on the edge of the bed staring at the painting above the TV. It was a landscape in Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Helen prodded and kneaded at the pillows on her bed. Quinn dug through her makeup case, making a slightly different, and hopefully better arrangement of the items inside. All eyes were glazed, and all mouths were frowning
Daria was still absent, presumably still with the truckers, "getting some grub", as the note left on the door of the van had so eloquently stated. However, considering that they had been delayed by the manure truck for nearly forty minutes, and the van had gotten a head start on them that morning, this seemed unlikely.
"Have the pillows passed the inspection yet?" Jake asked, in a low voice, as if he was still unsure that that crack should pass his lips.
"Pardon me?" oozed Helen. Oh, please, not again, thought Quinn, who had managed to hold her tongue for the entire trip on the subject of motel pillows.
"Oh, nothing," said Jake in a tone that implied that it was anything but.
"Um, could I go...take a walk?" asked Quinn. She added: "I’ll be back by curfew-er I mean late. Ten."
"Fine," said Jake, "Go have fun all by yourself."
Quinn forced herself to get up and head for the door despite having picked up on Jake’s tone. "Bye!" she said as she exited, knowing that once out the door, she could quiet whatever conscience might force her to stay.
"Fine," said Jake quietly but decisively. "Fine," he repeated under his breath.
"Jake," said Helen wearily, "We’ve been crammed in the car all day, we just need a little time to ourselves."
"Fine!" said Jake again.
"I’m just going to...take a walk," said Helen.
"Don’t do that, Jake, I can tell it’s not fine-"
"I’m going now!" Helen sing-songed threateningly.
"Fi-ine!" echoed Jake.
"The door is closing!" shouted Helen from the doorway, "Bye now!" She slammed it shut.
"Fi... Ah hell..."
After a listless flip through the TV channels, Jake too vacated the motel room with a more specific destination in mind.
There was nowhere near the hotel where there would be any teenagers. It didn’t seem that way. It was just another outpost of cheap motels and fast-food joints off a freeway exit on the outskirts of another freeway town. Still, Quinn entered the McDonalds with a few dollars to spend on a softie, and the dim hope that maybe there’d be some cute guys there. As it turned out, there was one. A little old, perhaps, but cute.
Quinn walked by him and took a scrunchie out of her purse, making sure to drop it right in front of his table.
"Hey there, you dropped this," he said.
"Oh, thanks!" Quinn said, and took the scrunchie back from him. "Seems like there are never any polite people anymore, they’ll just steal things right off the floor when you drop ‘em."
"Well," said the young man with a grin, "Not me."
Quinn pointed down and asked, "You going hiking?" He was wearing a pair of expensive hiking boots that didn’t have much wear in them.
"Kinda. I work for the ranger station nearby. Wildlife management."
"Oh, wow," said Quinn, shuddering inwardly, but pressing onwards nonetheless, "So you manage all the cute forest animals?"
"Yep, all of ‘em," he said proudly.
Quinn sat down at his booth. "You don’t mind, do you?"
"Nope," he said with a glint in his eye and a lazy smirk, "Not at all. My name’s Will, what’s yours?"
In the low yellow-ish glow of the motel bar, Ben and Steve watched the Astros-Padres baseball game on the ceiling-mounted television with mild interest and a couple of domestic beers. Daria sat between them, also nursing a beer, albeit one of the root variety, which was one of the conditions on which she was allowed inside. The other was that Ben and Steve keep an eye on her. They took turns at the second one, for the most part.
"Can you believe they wanna tear that place down?" muttered Steve.
"Wha?" said Ben, idly.
"The Astrodome. Used to be the eighth wonder a’ the world, now they’re just gonna tear it down. Probably for more fucking luxury boxes."
"Well, times change. Besides, when did you get on this historical preservation kick?"
"When they decided to tear down the fucking Astrodome!" said Steve, as if it were obvious.
"You’ve never watched a game a’ baseball there in your life. Or football, and ‘sides, the Oilers are gone anyway."
"Yeah, well, it’s still the Astrodome," said Steve, not about to abandon his point in the face of logic.
"Hey, Daria, you’ve been pretty quiet, what’s your opinion on the subject?"
Daria looked up from her root beer. "Big multi-million dollar stadium devoted to people chasing after a ball gets torn down. I guess I would be happy if I knew they weren’t replacing it."
Steve rolled his eyes, which was more or less what Daria predicted. Ben, however, grinned. "You’re really a ray a’ sunshine, aren’t you, Daria?"
"I call things as I see them."
"That’s always good."
"Yeah, tell me about it," was Daria’s reply. She had been patronized before.
"Well, maybe it won’t win you every friend in the world, but hey, who needs that?"
"Yeah, the teeny-bopper. She have any kinda feelings at all about kicking you out of the car?"
"Well, not until she started to realize why I didn’t fight her about it."
"Yeah, you’d rather ride with us sonsabitches," said Steve with a laugh.
"Better than hearing Dad torture every Beatles song he knows," replied Daria.
"They seem like nice folks," said Ben, "So I’m guessin’ there’s all sortsa dysfunctionalities lurking under the surface?"
"Dude, you made that word up," objected Steve.
"An’ what’s your point?" said Ben with a glare. "Anyway, is that it? Some kinda hidden suburban nightmare kinda deal?"
Daria wasn’t sure if she was ready or willing to describe it in such harsh terms. "Well, not really a nightmare..."
"Ben," interrupted Steve, "You’re not gonna go all guidance-counselor, are you?" Daria was a bit worried about this herself.
"Shut up, Steve." Despite his rebuke, Ben relented. "I’m sorry, Daria, you don’t have to talk about your folks if you don’t want to."
"They’re not so bad," conceded Daria, "I mean, they could be abusers or religious nuts, I suppose."
"Tell me ‘bout it," said Ben, "My parents sent me to Catholic school, Steve’s did too. And look how we turned out!"
"Right. Anyway, they’re just career people, really. That’s why we’re moving."
"Well, if I didn’t say so before, let me just say that you’re lucky that you’re getting the hell outta Highland."
"Yeah, but I’m going to Lawndale. It just sounds like a town full of yuppies with identical houses and shining green well-manicured lawns. I mean, the word ‘lawn’ is right in the name, even. I don’t see any reason to see this move as simply trading one bland suburban anthill for another."
Ben was silent for a second before answering, "Yeah, but still, Highland, shit. At least maybe you’ll be stepping up from the white trash a little."
Steve butted in again. "Oh yeah, like we’re hardcore socialites."
"You know what I mean, Steve! Like those two punks you see at the Maxi-Mart all the time, Beaver and Butthole or whatever. I mean, I’d hate to see where they’re gonna end up in ten years, and half the town ain’t much better."
"I appreciate the effort to cheer me up," said Daria, betraying no signs as to whether she really meant it or not, "But who’s to say that people are different over on one side of the country than the other?"
"Well, on a whole, they ain’t much different," said Ben, "But still, there’s always gotta be some chance that there’s somebody cool there. And just remember, no matter how rich and wonderful the people are, there are always kids who don’t buy into it. Heck, I’ll bet you anything that the richer and whiter the neighborhood is, the more kids get fed up and want to rebel."
It made a certain twisted sense. "Hmm," Daria replied, genuinely thoughtful.
"Hey, speakin’ a’ rich and white, look!" said Steve, and then in a louder voice in the direction he was pointing: "Hey, Mrs. M!" Ben reached around Daria and smacked Steve on the back of the head. Helen caught the end of the motion, and it only added to her surprise and discomfort.
"Oh, hi!" said Helen with a nervous wave. Her face then fell as she asked, "Where’s Daria?"
"Don’t worry, she’s right here!" said Steve, leaning back slightly so that Helen could meet her daughter’s red face. Ben rubbed his eyes, looking away from Steve.
"You took her into a bar?"
"Don’t worry, she ain’t drinkin’," said Steve, a little wounded at Helen’s distrust, "And she’s right here between us. What, didja think we were going to leave her all alone?"
"You could have maybe taken a little responsibility," spat Helen, falling back on the old mother’s standard.
"Don’t worry, Mom, I’m fine," said Daria, trying to defuse the situation, "They’re...responsible people." Daria met Helen’s eyes as she said this.
Helen’s reaction was at first one of indignance, then a sort of relief. She gave Daria a sidelong smile and said, "Did I just hear a compliment out of you?"
"It’s been a long and arduous trip, I’m beginning to break character," replied Daria.
Helen took a half a step back, then decided that she had to stay. After her exit from the room, she couldn’t come back so soon. And she just needed a little drink.
"Well all right. But I just need a little drink, don’t be here very much longer, we were wondering where you were!"
"Right. By the way, where’s Dad?"
Helen grimaced a little. "Probably out buying more ugly souvenirs." She walked around to the other side of them, where the bartender was.
"Hmmmm," said Daria with a frown, "I think I just put two and two together."
"Trouble?" asked Steve.
"Yep. I think Dad must be getting idealistic again. That’s always trouble."
Not too long after, Steve saw another familiar face. "Hey, there’s Mr. M!" Ben tried to stop him, but it was too late.
"Oh, hi there, guys," said Jake, dejection in his voice. "Where’s Daria?"
"Here," said Daria flatly and with a roll of her eyes. He was sure to notice on his way to where the bartender sat anyway.
"Daria?! What are you doing in a bar?!"
"Just drowning my sorrows," said Daria, quickly adding, "In a mug of root beer."
Jake was just getting warmed up, however. "I leave you guys with my daughter, and you take her to a bar?!"
"Relax, Mr. M!" said Steve, "Like she said, it’s just root beer, and besides, we couldn’t just leave her alone before you got here! She’s in good hands, right Daria?"
Daria thought Steve exaggerated the word "good" a little too much, but still she said, "He’s right, Dad, we’re all right."
Jake calmed down a little. Daria was alone a lot, it seemed, or else she just didn’t have as many friends as Quinn. "Well, look, I just need a little drink, don’t be down here much longer, okay, Kiddo?"
"Don’t worry," said Daria, who was truly beginning to tire of the surroundings by now.
"I’ll be up shortly too, wouldn’t want to leave Quinn by herself." Jake suddenly stared ahead as his mental gears started turning, "Oh wait, she went on a walk."
"A walk?" Daria somehow didn’t believe that Quinn would ever just walk around.
"Yeah, she better not be out too late," Jake continued as he walked around and ordered a drink. After he got it, he glanced back at Daria and the movers, then decided to take a table instead.
Daria followed him with her eyes, then turned her sight towards the back corner, and then did a double take, as she noticed a flash of pink by a table in a back corner. No, it couldn’t be, she thought, but it was. Sitting across from a tall young man in a khaki shirt, loose blue jeans, and hiking boots was the unmistakable pink T-shirted form of Quinn Morgendorffer.
Jake, meanwhile, had found Helen at a table and had sat down opposite her. They were starting to talk, but Daria couldn’t make out what they were saying. Either way, their attention was away from Quinn at the moment.
"Hey, Daria, what’s...oh...shit," said Ben as he got wind of the situation. He turned to Daria and whispered, "Does she usually go for older guys? I mean, I bet that kid’s got a fake ID, but still..."
"I don’t know," said Daria, sensing that the weight of the situation was on her shoulders, "No, I’ve never seen her with a guy this old." Daria’s mind raced, what did Quinn do when she was out? Did she know what she could be getting herself into? Daria looked back at Quinn, who had managed to find a table without Jake and Helen noticing, and had seemed not to notice them herself. However, she did notice Daria, and immediately looked away.
"Want us to go rough him up for ya?" asked Steve.
"Um...no. I mean, it’s none of my business who Quinn’s charming."
"Don’t you think it might be the other way around?" said Ben, "Think, she’s been cooped up in the car for four days now! And can’t you just tell a jerk from a mile away?"
Daria liked to think that she had that ability. And the way that this young so-and-so held himself did suggest a certain jerkiness. But Quinn was only here for a night. But didn’t their very presence in a bar suggest that he was trying to get her drunk? But Helen and Jake were in there. But they didn’t seem to notice.
"Well, I just hope she knows what she’s doing," said Daria. She somehow felt that Quinn did, but wasn’t sure.
"Geez, I dunno, Daria."
"Neither do I."
"Is this seat taken?" asked Jake. He was surprised to see that Helen had taken refuge in the same place he was. Still, it was an opportunity to fix things, and that was going to have to happen sooner or later, preferably sooner.
"No, go ahead," sighed Helen.
Both took sips of their respective drinks and stared just to the right of each other before Jake spoke up.
"Helen? Remember when we drove to San Francisco?"
Helen sighed. "How could I forget?"
"Exactly. I mean, all the good times we had..."
"Jake, we were young then."
"Well, we didn’t have any responsibilities, any job, any kids."
"Yeah, but does that mean we have to be so businesslike about it? Think, Helen, this is vacation time for us."
"The earlier I show up ready for work in Lawndale, the better off I am with this new firm."
"Aw, Helen, is that really gonna be important in the long run? I’m sure Shecker’s not treating this like a race."
"Schrecter," Helen corrected.
"Whatever. Either way, we never seem to get out and go anywhere anymore, Helen!"
"Well, do you think the kids are enjoying it? Quinn’s been silent the entire trip, I’ll bet Daria’s having more fun than she is."
"Well that’s another thing! We need to get them together! I’ll talk it over with the movers, this can work, Helen!"
Helen took another swig. "I’ll have to think about it." She took another swig.
A while passed, and Quinn left the bar with the mystery man.
"Hold on, I gotta go back to the van, I left something in there," said Daria.
"Okay, we’ll wait here, probably about time to call it a night anyway. Gonna wanna be able to drive tomorrow," said Ben, as he handed Daria his keys.
Daria turned to the front entrance. She told herself that she was going back to get her doorknob, so she could pack it away properly, but that wasn’t the whole reason she was out there. And only moments after pushing through the front door and entering the chilly night air, she saw the real reason, even though she wasn’t sure she wanted to. Damn moral dilemmas, she thought.
Quinn was standing against the passenger door of the young man’s car. The young man was facing her and was leaning against the door with his hands on either side of Quinn. They were fairly far apart, but the man was closing the distance with his face. Daria continued to walk towards the van. What could she do? The only trump card she possessed was her existence, which Quinn would disavow to anyone. But would that do any good here?
Daria wouldn’t be given the time to ruminate on it. Quinn looked over in her direction and recognized her instantly. The young man noticed this also and looked over her way. Daria froze.
"What’re you looking at?" Will sneered.
Daria’s typical answer was "I’m not sure yet," but here she decided to try her position as a deterrent to this guy.
"Quinn?" she said.
"Uh..." Quinn furiously tried to figure out how this complete stranger could know her name.
"Who do you think you are?" the man said.
"I think," said Daria, some attitude creeping back into her voice, "That I’m her sister."
"Yeah? Well then why don’t you leave lil’ sis alone then?"
"I’m wondering the same thing about you," said Daria, hoping that this guy was the type that wouldn’t hit a girl. Way to go, she thought, getting yourself into this without any plan of how to get out.
"Me and Quinn here are just trying to have a good time, so why don’t you buzz off before I forcibly remove you?"
"I don’t think that would be such a good idea, punk," said someone from behind Daria. Daria did a 360 degree swivel to see Ben coming in from behind.
"And who the fuck are you?"
"Let’s just say I’m the guy who’ll kick your ass if you come any closer to either a’ those girls," growled Ben. Will sized him up. He was about as tall, but probably up to thirty pounds lighter than Ben. And not all of Ben’s weight difference was in his ponch, either.
"You their Daddy?" he asked, trying to sound like he still controlled the sitation.
"No, but their Daddy is right inside that hotel bar, and what’s perhaps even more frightening is that their Mommy is there too, and she’s a fuckin’ lawyer!"
That appeared to be the straw. Will got up from his leaning position and started stepping away, giving Ben the evil eye the entire way. Ben gave it right back to him with change. Eventually, he strode around to the other side of the car, got in, and backed out without looking over at the trio. Quinn looked near tears.
"Come on, let’s go," said Daria.
"Why?" was all Quinn said.
"It’s late, and we need to get back to the room."
"Why?! So we can listen to Mom and Dad argue some more? Or worse, sing?!" She fixed Daria with an evil glare that Daria rarely saw. "You’ve ruined my life again."
"What, by chasing off a would-be rapist?" said Ben incredulously.
"He’s not a bad guy! And I knew what I was doing. I was just trying to have a little fun, Daria, meet some new people. Not like you’d understand that."
"Quinn, we were only going to be here for one night," said Daria calmly.
"So?! We’re going to a whole new town! I want to know that I can start over!"
"Oh sure, you don’t ever worry about making friends, you can just sit around and mope all day! Well, I’m different, Daria!"
Daria tried to turn this over in her head. "I’m not sure I like where this is going."
"Well you don’t have to!"
"Just try to tell me that that guy wasn’t comin’ on to you," said Ben, "And he was at least eighteen, if not actually twenty-one, you want to be with that kinda sleaze?"
"Well maybe if there were any younger guys around this motel..."
Daria didn’t like that remark a bit. "Quinn, let’s just get back to the room before Mom and Dad have a fit. Did you see them at all in the bar?"
"They were in the bar?"
"Yeah. So were we," said Ben. "You guys weren’t that far apart, I’m surprised they never saw you."
"Well...I never saw them."
"You both probably got off lucky then," said Ben coldly.
Quinn thought this over for a second, then finally responded. "Let’s go back. Wouldn’t want them to freak, we still got another week to go in the car."
"You have fun then, I’m heading back to the bar to carry Steve out," said Ben.
Slowly they all turned back towards the lobby.
"What were you doing out here?" asked Daria to Ben.
"Well, I forgot to tell ya that you kinda hafta pull while you turn the key in order to get it unlocked. You still need to get in?"
"Um, no, I’m fine," Daria said without thinking.
"You were going out to check on Quinn, weren’t you?"
D’oh, thought Daria. "Um...partly."
Ben snorted. "Yeah, whatever. Well then, I hope that maybe, after all this is done, Quinn’ll appreciate you a bit more, huh?"
"Maybe," said Daria, who really just wanted to drop the subject. She knew how likely it was that Quinn would come around.
Ben said his good-nights as he entered the bar, and somehow at the same time, Jake and Helen exited, hand in hand.
"Oh, hey, kiddos!" said Jake, "You going back to the room?"
"Um, yeah," said Daria, and Quinn nodded half-heartedly.
"Well, just get rested, okay? We’re gonna have fun for the rest of this trip, starting tomorrow!" shouted Jake. Helen gave an enthusiastic nod. Daria and Quinn looked at each other and sighed.
The rest of the trip passed fairly smoothly. Everyone got together for a quick tour of the monuments in Washington D.C., and had dinner at Union Station, where Quinn promptly began to fill some more empty space in the back seat. She eventually started acknowledging Daria’s presence, mostly when the whole family was together. Daria and the movers got along fine for the rest of the trip, and even paused for a while at a truck stop where Sick, Sad World was playing on the TV. This was chalked up to another bout with vapor lock when they showed up at the motel after the Lexus did.
Upon entering Lawndale, Daria took pause to take in the surroundings. Another standard suburban anthill, just as she had expected. However, she did take interest in the strange iron sculpture in the front yard of one of the houses. Must be the neighborhood Bohemians, she thought.
Quinn noted the bars on one of the upstairs windows as she exited the car, and immediately set to staking out the house to find "the normal room." Daria was rather pleased with what she was left.
Later on, the family was all gathered around the "For Sale" sign. After a couple fashion shots of Steve, Ben finally took the family’s picture. Jake waved, Helen smiled steadfastly, and Quinn struck a pose. Daria was her usual impassive self. For her, it was the beginning of a new chapter. Too bad it was just the same old book...
la la LA la la...
[*] Song Credits:
"On The Road Again" was written by Willie Nelson.
"Blowin’ In The Wind" and "The Mighty Quinn" were written by Bob Dylan.
"Hey Jude" was written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney.
"Dude Looks Like A Lady" was written by Steven Tyler, Joe Perry and Desmond Child.
END NOTES: First off, for anyone who doesn’t know, certain lines of dialogue and story ideas were taken from The Daria Diaries, by Anne D. Bernstein for use in this fic. This was important, as the book is considered to be official canon material, and it had laid a few guidelines for the trip. Certain other guidelines are based on C.E. Forman’s pre-move fic, "Good-bye, Diarrhea." I will discuss at least a few of these...
I didn’t have any plans to write a fanfic right after "Choice of a Skewed Generation", but one day, during a minor re-spawning of the Other Age-Old Debate That Wouldn’t Die, i.e., the "Where is Lawndale?" debate, the trip from Highland to Lawndale got mentioned. Martin J. Pollard, esteemed Webmeister of Outpost Daria, posted that a cool idea for a fanfic would be one chronicling that trip. Unfortunately, Martin and Rich both declined to write this fic, since they were too busy with other things. I, on the other hand, have made it my life goal to be in a state of business as little as humanly possible, and so began brainstorming.
The most telling section of Daria’s diary regarding the move, in my opinion, was the statement, "The movers were pretty cool." This is a pretty high compliment from Daria, so I tried to make the movers into down-to-earth guys who respected Daria enough for whatever reason that they in turn earned her respect. According to "Good-bye", these movers are the same as the movers whom Beavis and Butthead befriended when they robbed Stewart’s house. I take full responsibility for any differences between their personalities in that episode and their personalities here, because heck, I had fun writing for them. In addition, I was unable to find pictures of them, so I made up my own vague physical descriptions instead.
Also from "Goodbye" is the time of year that this is set in: Easter break. Apparently the calendar shown in "Esteemsters" was on May. Go fig...
Locations? Well, according to John Berry, Mike Judge did come out and state that Highland is supposed to be in Texas, so I decided to run with that, even though I always found the lack of accents on that show to be evidence to the contrary. As for the location of Lawndale, I kept it on the East coast, in accordance with "College Bored", but left the eventual location vague (Maryland? Pennsylvania? Connecticut?), because I’m a bastard that way. >;) I’ve never been to that part of the country, except for Washington, D.C. Thanks to Paperpusher for the consultation in regard. And thanks to the rest of the beta readers as well.
Congrats also to Matt, who was the only one to correctly guess the movie reference in "Last Dance With Mary Jane". It was spoken (chanted) by Klang, the high priest of Kaili in the movie "Help!" with the Beatles.
As always, the address to call is firstname.lastname@example.org Thank you, and may all your dreams be wonderful...