"Daria, sweetie, it's time to get up. You have practice this morning."
Daria heard her mother's voice, but still didn't stir. She had actually been awake for quite a while. She was just having a hard time mustering the inclination to move.
"Come on, honey," Helen said, entering the room, "you don't want to be late on your first day as a cheerleader."
Daria was glad the blankets hid her wince. "I'm getting up," she muttered through the covers.
"That's good, dear," Helen said, turning to leave the room, "oh, and will you be coming straight home from the Fashion Club meeting today or will you head out on your date from there?"
Daria sat straight up in bed, an annoyed look on her face. There was obviously something she needed to straighten out with Helen.
Getting out of the canopied bed, Daria left her room and walked down the hall to her mother's office. It was supposed to be the "family business center", but Helen had pretty much taken it over completely a few weeks after it had been set up. Daria watched her mother working behind the desk for a few moments. Now that Helen was making partner at her law firm, she practically lived in that room. All things considered, Daria thought the original decor would be more appropriate to Helen's mental state. She had no problem picturing her mother living in a padded room with iron bars on the windows.
"Uh, mom?" Daria began slowly. She had a sinking feeling that she knew where this conversation was going to end.
"Yes, sweetie?" Helen said without looking up from her work.
"I don't have a Fashion Club meeting today. You said I could drop Fashion Club if I took up cheerleading, remember?"
"Oh, Daria, you're a club officer. You can't just quit," Helen replied, finally looking back up at her daughter. "How do you expect to get anywhere in the world if you don't stick to your commitments?"
Daria paused. This wasn't entirely unexpected, but she had her hopes. "What about the commitment you made to me?" Daria asked, almost plaintively.
"Exactly," Helen said readily. "What kind of mother would I be if I taught my daughter it was okay to drop an obligation just because it was inconvenient?"
Experience helped Daria bite back the obvious retort. She turned and walked back to her room. She knew it was no use arguing at this point.
Daria walked up to her best friend's house, eyeing the strange sculpture in the front yard. In preparation for practice, she had her hair pulled back in a pony tail and had put her contacts in, but she felt funny about wearing the cheerleading uniform. She hoped that she didn't get ribbed too much about it. Hesitating a little, she knocked on the door.
The door practically flew open. "Oh, Daria," Jodie said, "you're early." Leaning forward, Jodie added in a stage whisper, "Thank you."
"Daria's here. I'm leaving now," Jodie called over her shoulder. She scooped up her book bag and headed out the door. The two of them headed down the walk.
Daria wanted to distract Jodie from the obvious subject as soon as possible, so she hooked a thumb at the sculpture and said, "Tell me again how that thing's supposed to be a folding coffee cup."
"Oh, it's supposed to be a swan or something," Jodie said resignedly, "Dad just calls it a folding coffee cup so he can write it off on his taxes." Quickly, she added, "So you decided to become a cheerleader after all?"
Daria swore inwardly, but knew that she wasn't going to be able to avoid the subject forever. "Yeah, today's my first practice," she said with a sigh.
"So does this mean you'll get to drop one of your other activities?" Jodie asked interestedly.
"That was the deal when I started pursuing it," Daria slowly agreed.
Jodie picked up on the lack of enthusiasm immediately. "Instead..." Jodie began.
"Instead I'm stuck with another stupid thing to do thanks to another reneged promise from Helen Morgendorffer," Daria replied, almost snapping at her friend. Daria couldn't send too much venom Jodie's way. Her workload paled compared to what the Landons expected from their daughter. At least Jodie seemed to like half the things she was forced to do.
"I'm sorry," Jodie said with sympathy.
"Thanks," Daria muttered. "I should have realized Mom would never let me drop Fashion Club."
Practice went about as well as Daria expected. Physical coordination was not one of her strengths, but she could smile and yell, and act as peppy and perky as any of her bubble-headed cohorts wearing the blue and gold of Lawndale High.
Daria went to her locker before homeroom. As usual, she had to interrupt the young couple making eyes at each other right in front of her locker door. If she felt like being direct, she would have blown a whistle to make the male jock take off running. But while she didn't care that much for Evan, she didn't feel like causing any problems for Jane Lane, so she decided to be polite.
"Excuse me," she said, clearing her throat loudly.
Evan jerked his head around. "Oh, hey Daria," he said, with a sheepish grin. "Sorry about that. Catch you later, Jane." Evan and Jane stepped away, Evan continuing down the hall and Jane stopping at her own locker a few doors down.
Daria liked Jane. They didn't have that much in common, but they shared a few classes together. Jane could usually be counted on to make a sarcastic comment whenever a teacher or student said something insipid. Daria secretly wished that she had the courage to talk back to teachers the way Jane did. She never really talked to Jane, but since she always had to stifle the giggles caused by Jane's barbs, she sometimes felt like Jane's private audience.
"So, coming out to the track to cheer us on later?" Jane asked, raising an eyebrow at Daria's outfit.
"Actually, I think I'm all cheered out for today," Daria replied, closing her locker. "Oh, but congratulations on winning the meet last weekend."
"Thanks. Congratulations on making the cheerleader squad. I'm assuming that's why you're dressed like that." Jane leaned in. "Or are you just acting out a fantasy for the boyfriend of the week?"
Daria chuckled nervously. The assessment was a lot closer than Jane knew. "Please. I just joined cheerleading to get my mom off my back."
"Isn't that why you joined the Fashion Club? And Yearbook? And did that modeling thing? And-"
"I know, I know," Daria cut Jane off, irritated. Trust Jane to remember all the embarrassing things about a person's life. "My shoulders may not be that wide, but it's my mother's favorite perch."
"Laying down paper must be a chore."
Daria giggled at that. Jane could be really funny.
"At least your mom cares about what you do," Jane added, looking away.
"Yours doesn't?" Daria was always interested to hear how normal mothers acted.
"Nah, when she's home she's usually holed up in the bomb shelter working on another pot. The benign neglect thing can be cool sometimes, but it gets old after a while."
"It's that bad?" Daria asked sympathetically. She didn't really want to hear Jane's life story, but she tried to be polite.
"Not per se. I mean, dad's never home, either, and my brother's into the whole slacker musician thing, so he's never awake. On the plus side, I have plenty of privacy."
"That's nice, at least." Daria tried to find something else to say, so the situation wouldn't be awkward. "Your brother's a musician?"
"Yeah, my older brother Trent. He's in a rock band."
"Wow, that's neat."
"You wouldn't say that if you had to listen to them rehearse."
"Do they play anywhere?" Daria was intrigued. Having a sibling who was in a rock band was cool.
"Actually, they've got a gig tonight at the Zen downtown." Jane's eyes lit up. "I'm going there to listen to them, why don't you come?"
"It sounds great, I'd love to," Daria said quickly. Then she remembered. "But I've got a date."
"Oh," Jane said quietly, lowering her eyes.
"Maybe some other time," Daria offered weakly.
"Yeah," Jane said, turning around and walking away.
Daria couldn't help but feel bad. She didn't mean to blow Jane off like that, and she did really want to go. With a pang of realization, she suddenly remembered hearing that Jane had taken that self esteem class eight times. Daria had almost taken that class herself, but her mother had bullied the school into letting her out of it.
She walked slowly towards her next class. Her day just didn't seem to be getting any better.
"Hi! You're cool. What's your name?"
Her relationship with Sandi Griffin had steadily gone downhill since that first day at Lawndale High.
"Da-aria," Sandi said to get her attention.
Daria was always mystified at Sandi's ability to add an extra syllable to her name. She stopped in the middle of the hall and turned to face the rest of her Fashion Club cohorts. She knew what Sandi was going to say. "Yes?" she asked innocently.
"Would you kindly explain your current unfashionable attire?" Sandi asked snidely.
"It's my cheerleader's uniform," Daria said slowly, "I wear it to lead cheers."
"Marigold with blue is a definite fashion DON'T, Da-aria. As vice-president of the Fashion Club, I would expect you to know that and to set a better example," Sandi replied, crossing her arms.
Daria brought her hand up to her face and pinched the bridge of her nose. Sandi Griffin was really her least favorite person ever. "Are we going to have this conversation again Sandi?"
Haughtily, Sandi continued. "If you have taken duties elsewhere that conflict with your responsibilities as a member of the Fashion Club, I may have to insist that you take a fashion sabbatical-"
"Shut up, Sandi," Daria said tiredly. Without looking, she stuck her arm out, blocking the path of another student walking by. Looking at the guy she stopped, Daria realized it was Joey. That was good, and not really unexpected. He, Jeffy, and the other one were always hanging out somewhere nearby. It was like having stalkers on call. Running her finger down his arm, she said, "Hi, would you get me a soda?"
Joey smiled broadly. "Sure!" he said excitedly. Jeffy and their other friend instantly ran up.
"I'll get you a soda!" Jeffy blurted.
"I'll get you two sodas!" the other one said, running off.
The three of them ran off in the direction of the soda machine, arguing loudly about who was going to get her how many of each type.
Daria turned back around and leveled her gaze at Sandi. "They seemed to think I was fashionable enough," she said dryly.
Before Sandi could reply, a male voice behind her said, "Hey, Daria!"
Inside, Daria wasn't sure whether she should cringe or cheer. Outwardly, she put on a smile and turned to face her caller. She decided to take advantage of the male jock's mastery of poor timing. If there was one audience member she wanted for this performance, it was Sandi Griffin.
"Hey, Kevin," Daria said cheerfully.
"You ready for our date tonight?"
"Not right now, but I will be by the time you pick me up."
"Oh, good. Huh?"
"Never mind. I'm looking forward to it."
"What time should I surprise you?"
"How about I call you when I'm ready? That way you won't have to wait for me."
"Cool. Uh... do you remember where I said I'd surprise you?" he asked, leaning in close.
"Of course not, silly," Daria said coyly, "you said you wanted it to be a surprise, remember?"
"Oh yeah, of course I did," Kevin said, straightening back up. "I'll, uh, see you later."
"See you," Daria said as Kevin walked away. Turning around, she cocked an eyebrow at Sandi's stunned expression and gave her a smirk that would put a canary-eating cat to shame.
Stacy was the first to recover. "Oh my god!" she squealed, running up to Daria. "You're going out with Kevin Thompson!"
Tiffany quickly flanked Daria. "That's so great," she droned.
Daria ignored the two flunkies, and sauntered straight up to a now steaming Sandi. "Sandi," she said casually, "the only reason I'm a member of this stupid club is because it carries the most prestige with the least amount of effort. If it were up to me, I'd quit in a heartbeat." Leaning in close, she added, "But if you try to kick me out, I'll take every boy in Lawndale with me." Turning around, she marched down the hall towards her next class.
Daria originally set her sights on Kevin when her mother hinted that Daria might not be as popular as she could be. Horrified at the clubs or activities that Helen might bully her into this time, she realized that dating the school's quarterback might be a big enough trophy to get her mom to back off. Maybe far away and hopefully for a long time.
She had started out by "helping" Kevin with his homework. This of course meant doing the work for him, and parts of it were kind of fun. Writing an essay that was bad enough to have come from Kevin while still good enough to get a decent grade proved to be quite a challenge.
She had then suggested that he could thank her by taking her out sometime. She assumed he would obey his lust over any obligation he felt towards Brittany, but he seemed a little resistant to the idea. She finally figured out that in Kevin's mind, quarterbacks could only date cheerleaders.
The idea was appalling at first, but then she realized she could seriously use the situation to her advantage. By joining the cheerleading squad and dating the most popular boy in school, she wouldn't have time for the Fashion Club, and she would be "forced" to drop it. After dating Kevin for a while, she would engineer their breakup, send Kevin running back to Brittany, and quit cheerleading because of the "bad memories".
She had even convinced both Brittany and Kevin that it was all Kevin's idea, so no one would see Daria for the gold-plated bitch she really was.
But her plan blew up in her face. Helen had gone along with Daria's hints and suggestions about dropping Fashion Club in place of cheerleading, but when the moment came, she showed her true colors. Now she was stuck with the Fashion Club, cheerleading, and Kevin.
Daria felt like crying. It had felt really good to tell off Sandi like that, but she hated admitting what a user she really was. She should have been telling Sandi she was resigning once and for all, but that just wasn't meant to be apparently. Helen Morgendorffer expected her daughter to be pretty and popular and maintain a positive attitude, and what Helen Morgendorffer wanted, Helen Morgendorffer got.
Well to hell with Helen Morgendorffer! She could force Daria to stay in the Fashion Club and cheerleading, but she couldn't control whom she dated. Brittany could have Kevin back, Daria never wanted him in the first place. She'd stand him up and find something else to do tonight. Something fun. Glancing over at where Jane was sitting, she started scribbling a note with a look of determination on her face.
Daria walked home alone, feeling happier than she could remember in ages. She was going to a rock club tonight. Not because she was on a date, and not because everyone else was doing it.
She blew off the Fashion Club meeting. Just as well, considering the mood Sandi must still be in.
Daria thought about what she'd do when she got home. Hopefully, she would have the house to herself. Helen would have gone in to her real office long since, and would no doubt be kissing corporate butt until well into the evening. Jake, well, he could be counted on to not be there even when he was home.
Daria loved her flaky father, even though he spent so little time at home. When he wasn't at his office, he was on the golf course or at a bar - in order to meet new clients, according to his tax forms. Jake would smile and nod at home, but would always walk calmly out the door to go enjoy life. Daria figured he spent so little time at home in order to avoid Helen. Maybe he just didn't feel needed at home. Sometimes she quietly wondered what her father would be like if she made a regular habit of maxing out his credit cards.
Maybe she'd spend the afternoon reading. Not Waif, either, but something with substance. Reading was her favorite activity, next to writing. Or maybe she'd lounge in front of the t.v. watching the trashiest show she could find. Let the mindless world pander to her instead of the other way around for a change.
She couldn't wait to change out of the stupid cheerleading outfit and into something comfortable - not fashionable, comfortable. She preferred dressing to please herself instead of others, anyway.
She had already removed her contact lenses at school. She hated the way they stung her eyes, and would have preferred wearing her glasses more often. Adjusting the oval wireframes on the bridge of her nose, she silently wished that she could get a pair of frames that would make more of a statement, instead of the latest ones hawked by the current supermodel.
Daria spent the entire walk home daydreaming about how she'd spend her afternoon, her evening, and the rest of her life. She wore a happy, content smile, which quickly faded when she got close enough to her house to notice her mother's SUV in the driveway.
"Damn," she thought to herself. "Oh well, maybe I can hide in my room and pretend to do the homework I finished in study hall."
Daria entered the house and quickly made her way up to her room. Setting her books down, she noticed that her closet door was open and that some of her dresses had been laid on the bed. She got a cold feeling in the pit of her stomach when she noticed that the shoeboxes on the floor of her closet were in disarray.
Before she could investigate further, and almost to confirm her anxious sensation, she heard her mother call her from down the hall. "Daria, could you come here, please?" Helen's voice sounded very firm.
Daria walked into the business center, where her mother was seated behind the desk staring at her with a stern expression. "You didn't go into the office today?" she asked her mother nervously.
"No, I worked from home today so I could be here and help you get ready for your date," Helen said dismissively. "However, while laying out a few outfits for you I came across these." Helen picked up a steno notebook from a small stack she had on the desk in front of her. "Care to explain?"
"They're just some stories I've written."
"Really?" Helen said, raising an eyebrow, "I find it hard to believe Mr. O'Neill would assign something like this."
"They're not assignments," Daria said, starting to mumble and stare at the floor, "I just like to write in my spare time."
"You like to write this?" Helen flipped open one of the notebooks and read a passage. "...I could have loved you if you weren't as red as the blood stain now spreading across the sand..." Helen looked pointedly at her daughter as she picked up another notebook and flipped it open. "Melody Powers sighed as she began picking what was left of Misha out of her hair..."
Helen looked at Daria expectantly, but Daria continued staring at the floor.
"Why would you write such grotesque drivel?" Helen finally asked.
Daria wanted to explain about the multi-layered satire and societal criticism woven throughout her stories, but in the face of Helen's icy glare, she could only mumble, "They're fun."
"Fun? I'm very disappointed that you find pleasure in such a worthless pursuit. If this is what you spend your free time doing, we may have to find something else for you to do."
Daria was devastated. She knew Helen wouldn't understand her stories, which is why she hid them. But hearing such harsh criticism of the one aspect of her life that she took pride in really hurt.
Helen tossed the notebook into the trash can by her desk. "We'll discuss this more later. Go get ready for your date."
Daria looked down at the notebook, resting there so close, but knowing she was unable to retrieve it. It was a good, if admittedly bizarre, story, and writing it had given her a fleeting sense of freedom. She wanted so much to grab it out of the trash can and scoop the others off the desk and run away with them.
"Well?" Helen asked meaningfully.
"No," Daria mumbled.
"What?" Helen asked, surprised.
"No," Daria said loudly, looking up at her mother, "I'm not going on that date."
"And why not?" Helen asked forcefully, standing up.
"Because I don't want to go out with him. He's an idiot and I don't like him," Daria said, the words spilling out of her defiantly.
"Then you shouldn't have agreed to go out with him," Helen said matter-of-factly.
"I didn't agree to go out with him. I tricked him into thinking he asked me out."
"Why would you do that?"
"Because I thought if I dated the quarterback you'd leave me alone and let me do the things I want to do." It was time to be completely honest with her mother, and Daria wanted Helen to know what she honestly thought about her.
"We've been here before, Daria. If I left you alone all you'd do is nothing."
"So I have to do everything I hate just so you can try to recapture your youth?"
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"It means I'm tired of being a whore to your vicarious attempts to forestall the aging process!"
Daria picked up the phone and held it to the side of her face that wasn't red and stinging. She had stopped crying a while ago, but her hand trembled as she dialed the number.
After several rings, a scratchy male voice answered the phone. "Yeah?" he said tiredly.
"Um, hi," Daria began nervously. "Is Jane there?"
"I don't think so. She's probably still at her track thing."
"Oh. Is this her brother?"
"Yeah. Who's this?"
"This is Daria Morgendorffer." Daria felt a fresh tear trickle down her cheek. "Can you let Jane know I can't make it tonight after all?"
"You were gonna come to the Zen tonight? That would have been cool-"
Daria hung up, starting to sob again.
When Kevin picked Daria up, she was still wearing her cheerleader outfit. She was able to convince Helen that he would be wearing his football uniform, and would be expecting her to dress likewise.
A light coat of foundation applied to her stinging cheek as well as some eye shadow hid any evidence of her earlier argument with Helen.
Jake and Kevin exchanged some brain-dead pleasantries about the Pigskin Channel, and Helen directed some telling comments towards Daria about enjoying the evening before she was able to usher Kevin out the door.
Normally, she would direct her dates to take her to Chez Pierre, where she could enjoy a fine dinner, or the local pizza place, where they could be seen together. Tonight Daria didn't care about anything and just wanted to get the whole thing over with as soon as possible.
Kevin took Daria to see the latest action movie, and afterwards, not surprisingly, they went to the pizza place. As expected, their presence together engendered a lot of whispered conversations between the other teenagers who were there. It was exactly the sort of talk that Daria had engineered their date for. She had never felt more ashamed.
Daria barely paid attention as she smiled at Kevin and laughed at his feeble attempts at humor. Whenever the conversation would start to die, she'd just ask him something about football, and that would start him prattling again.
When they left the pizza place, Daria was hoping he'd just take her home. She had forgotten about the surprise she told him he had for her. Using his unique brand of logic, he had actually worked out what the surprise was.
He took her to the football field behind the school. He had her do cheers for him while he ran plays with himself. The metaphors were too obvious and numerous for her to put up with it for very long.
If Daria had paid more attention to those underlying metaphors, she probably wouldn't have suggested they get back in his jeep. Kevin responded enthusiastically, and it became quickly apparent that he expected an enthusiastic response form her. When she protested, all he said was "It's okay, babe. You're a cheerleader now."
She raked his face with her nails, jumped out of the jeep, and Kevin drove off with a snarl. As she burst into tears and sank to her knees, she knew she had never felt more miserable in her entire life.
She wasn't supposed to be crying on a football field, she thought indignantly. She was supposed to be at a rock club. She tried to picture what it must be like. It was probably loud, crowded, and grungy, filled with kids who would be acting wild and rebellious simply because they could. It sounded heavenly.
She hated her life. Every aspect of it. She hated being completely controlled by her domineering mother. She hated being forced to be a person she loathed.
It was times like this that she wished she had a sister. A little sister that she could love and hold. They would be perfect friends, and they would team up against their mother and expertly play her to get what they wanted. A little sister would make her life worth living.
Of course, realistically Daria knew life wasn't like that. If she did have a little sister, she would probably be a whiny spoiled brat. But big deal! A whiny brat would probably want to dress up, and go on dates, and follow fashion trends, and have a desire to be a stuck-up poser. Let her! If Helen had one daughter acting the part of the vapid little girl, maybe she wouldn't be able to pay attention to what the other daughter was doing.
All Daria wanted was to be herself. To be able to dress how she wanted, say what she wanted, and do what she wanted. If Helen had two daughters instead of just one, maybe she'd remember her hippie roots more and realize that all rivers led to the ocean.
But Daria was an only child, and Helen felt an intense pressure to make sure she raised her daughter right. And for Helen Morgendorffer, there was only one right way to do anything.
Daria stopped crying, and with a heavy sigh stood back up. She discarded the thoughts of a sister. She knew such daydreams were pointless. Wishing for a sister didn't make it real. It was just a fantasy, a cartoon to entertain herself and distract her from her meaningless life.
Slowly, she began the long walk back home.
There you go. My fourth foray into the Daria fan fiction community. Please send me feedback at Renfield@meerkatmeade.com.
Disclaimer: Daria and all related characters were created by Glenn Eichler and Susie Lewis and are trademarks of MTV Networks, Inc., a division of VIACOM international, Inc. All rights reserved by trademark holders U. S. National and International Law and Convention.
"Malice of absence" is a work of fiction produced solely for fun, and is not meant to be distributed for profit. It may be distributed to Daria fans everywhere, provided the author's name and e-mail address are left intact.