“Welcome to Lawndale”
how can you see into my eyes,
like open doors
leading you down into my core
where I’ve become so numb without a soul, my spirit sleeping somewhere cold
until you find it there and lead it back home
now that I know what I’m without
you can't just leave me
breathe into me and make me real
bring me to life
- Evanescence, Bring Me To Life (Daria’s Song)
Traffic had slowed to a halt, turning the interstate into a long, thin parking lot. The driver of a bright red SUV shifted into park and reached under her glasses to rub her tired eyes. She flipped the visor down and looked at herself in the make-up mirror and saw plain but pleasant features, long auburn hair, and heavy black rimmed glasses shielding her blood shot eyes.
Yep, I’m still alive, Daria thought to herself. She spared a glance at the passenger’s seat. I’m surprised that this much quality time hasn’t inspired a quality attempt at matricide.
The object of her attention was lost in her own world of teenage sullenness. The girl’s mane of red hair was flipped forward, hiding her face and most of her emerald green t-shirt. Her black jeans were stuffed into knee-high tanker boots – the kind with metal plates protecting the shin and top of the foot. The way the girl sat, Daria couldn’t tell if she was asleep or hard at work practicing her sulking skills.
God, Daria thought, was I that broody when I was fifteen? She reflected a moment. Don’t answer that.
“Heather?” Daria asked quietly, “You ok over there?”
“I’m great,” the girl deadpanned. “I’ll be even better after I spend a few years rebuilding my totally destroyed life.”
“What!?” Daria turned in her seat to look at her daughter. “What do you mean by that, miss?”
“Nothing,” the girl sank deeper into the seat as she muttered her answer. “I just wish we didn’t have to move.”
“You know why we had to move.” Daria reached over and gently shook Heather’s shoulder. “New York just isn’t safe these days. You girls need a better environment to grow up in.”
“Why Lawndale?” asked a peppy voice from the back seat. “You and Dad always used to talk about how much you hated Lawndale.”
Daria looked in the rear view mirror at her other daughter. Damsel and Heather were twins, but they were as different as day and night. Where Heather was sullen and broody, Damsel was happy and cheerful. Damsel arranged her long hair in two long braids that draped behind her ears and over her shoulders to hang down her front. In contrast to her sister’s green and black punk look, Damsel wore a white dress with a pink sweater top and little pink ankle boots. Now I know how Mom felt, refereeing between me and Quinn, Daria thought.
“Lawndale is boring. Boring means safe. Besides, I’m sure we can have our own fun, once we settle in a little. I can show you all the places that Jane and I used to get in trouble . . . with the expectation that you’ll never go to any of those places and repeat our juvenile hi-jinks.” Daria winked in the mirror at Damsel, and then gave her other daughter a small smile.
“It won’t be too bad, I promise,” Daria continued. “And it looks like traffic is starting to move again so we might actually get there before the two of you are old enough to graduate.”
A couple of hours later, the SUV pulled up to the Crewe Neck gated community, and Daria rolled down her window to speak with the guard. He stepped out of the small guard house and walked confidently to the vehicle.
“ID?” the guard asked, looking in the window and around the interior of the truck. As Daria fished her identcard out of her purse she noticed a second guard walking around the vehicle, checking underneath with one of those mirrors on a short pole. She handed the card to the guard and watched while he ran it through his portable reader. After a few seconds the reader beeped and the guard handed the card back to her with a nod.
“You have a nice day Mrs. Morgendorffer, and welcome to Crewe Neck. Security contact numbers are in your HOA packet. Feel free to call us anytime, about anything, no matter how small. It’s what we’re here to do.” The guard stepped back and pushed the button to lift the gate, then waved to Daria to drive through.
Daria returned the wave and pulled into the neighborhood, looking for the turn off to their new home. Wow, she thought, I don’t think he’d be distracted by a sketch book full of naughty drawings.
She saw the house on the corner with the Fashionable House Realty: SOLD sign in the front yard and pulled into the driveway to park next to a large moving truck. Several burly men were unloading boxes and tromping them into the mansion. As soon as she put the truck in park both passenger doors flew open and her girls were pelting across the lawn towards the front door.
“Dibs on the bathroom!” Damsel shouted.
“Not if I get there first!” Heather replied as both girls dodged around a mover and through the door. The man staggered, over balanced, and then juggled the package he was carrying. One of the men coming out of the house barely managed to nip it away from him before the unfortunate fellow finally tipped over and landed in the hedge along the front walk.
Daria dropped out of the cab of the truck to the ground, shaking her head in mild embarrassment. She muttered to the movers as she walked by them, “Sorry about that. Long drive. Kids. You know how it is.”
The inside of the house was huge and magnificent. She knew the first floor was littered with sitting rooms, a solarium, a billiards room, and goodness only knew what else. The second floor had dining rooms, a huge kitchen, and an honest to God ballroom of all things. The third floor had more bedrooms than they were ever going to need. Daria glanced around the foyer, seeing an irritated looking Damsel leaning against the wall near a closed door.
“Hey kiddo,” Daria called out, “You know this place has like fifteen bathrooms, right?” Damsel looked startled and ran off in search of one of the fourteen unoccupied toilets. Daria supervised the unloading of the last few boxes while she waited on the girls to return.
“So can we go look around?” Heather asked after both girls had walked back into the foyer.
“Sure,” came a voice from the staircase, “Let me give you the tour.”
“Aunt Quinn!” Heather and Damsel shouted together, and ran up the steps to hug their favorite aunt. Daria smiled quietly to herself, watching her normally fussy younger sister grin and enthusiastically return the girls’ hugs.
Quinn was fashionable as ever, but these days tended to go with an understated look. Today she was wearing a dusky rose power suit and matching shoes with sensible low heels. Daria glanced down at the sweats she had worn for driving comfort and briefly felt overshadowed. Ah well, she thought, Quinn does her thing and I do mine.
About an hour later the tour had progressed up to the third floor.
“Heather, here’s the room I designed for you,” Quinn opened the door and Daria’s eyebrows shot up. The room looked eerily familiar, with its maroon floor and grey padded walls.
“Absolute zero,” Heather said in hushed tones, and walked into the room to look around and start unpacking her boxes.
“And, just down the hall is Damsel’s room.” Quinn swung the door open into a pink, frilly confection. Damsel squealed, hugged her aunt, and ran inside to give the room a thorough inspection.
“The master bedroom is further down this way.” Quinn smiled at her sister. “I also took the liberty of claiming one of the guest rooms in the other wing. I hope you don’t mind.”
Daria shook her head in bemusement and motioned down the hallway towards the replicated bedrooms. “They aren’t us, Quinn.”
“I know,” she smiled cheekily. “They’re gonna be way better than us.”
A ghost of a smile slid across Daria’s face. “Thanks, little sister.”
“Welcome, big sister.” The women hugged briefly then Quinn pulled away, becoming more businesslike and opening her briefcase. “Here’s your HOA packet, you’ll need the information in there so don’t lose it. This envelope has all the realty contracts and your deeds for the land and the house, keep it in your safe and make a copy for your accountant.”
Daria flipped though the packets and noticed something interesting. “Crewe Neck Home Owners’ Association, Ltd: a wholly owned subsidiary of the Fashionable House corporation.” Daria glanced up at her sister. “You bought Crewe Neck?”
“Oh gawd, Daria!” Quinn rolled her eyes dramatically and said, “I would never own one of these McMansions. They’re fine for nouveau riche like you of course, but me? Honestly!”
“Of course,” Daria replied in a monotone. “I should have known that someone who was sensible enough to inherit all her money like you did would have too much taste to live in a dump like this. You still want that personalized guest room?”
“Yup,” Quinn replied with a small smile, waiting until Daria matched it. “Seriously, I just bought the HOA. Now the nasty old biddies won’t give you any trouble, and I got the opportunity to bring in a couple of experts to overhaul security for the neighborhood.”
“I noticed that the gate guards were pretty serious.”
“For what I’m paying them, they better be.” Quinn scowled briefly, then continued, “There are patrols, too: one roving guard in the day, two at night. Not to mention the motion sensors on the wall and security cameras at intersections inside the community. This is the safest place you could ask for outside Leavenworth.”
“Thanks,” Daria said quietly.
“What? I can’t look out for my nieces?” Quinn lightly punched her sister on the shoulder. “Let’s go check out the air hockey table in the billiards room. I always wanted one, but it’s really too gauche for my house.”
Heather carefully looked over her new bedroom. The windows were decorated with short steel stubs, like they’d been barred over at one point. The floor was painted a dark maroon. Good for hiding bloodstains, Heather thought to herself.
The walls were covered in heavy, quilted padding. Heather lightly punched the padding a couple of times, and was satisfied by the softness. Walking over to the closet, she swung the door open to find the interior completely covered with carved graffiti – mostly weird poems and crazy ramblings. With a start, she realized that a few of the pieces were things she knew her mother had published back before she was born.
This must be just like Mom’s old room when she was a kid, Heather thought. I remember Dad telling me about this closet, and how Mom wrote stuff in it, just like the crazy lady who’d lived there before she did.
Heather heard her sister squealing from down the hall and rolled her eyes. She gets so excited over the dumbest stuff, Heather thought. Faintly, she could overhear her mom and aunt talking in the hallway outside. With a surprisingly quiet step in her huge boots she crept over to the doorway to listen in on their conversation.
“Oh gawd, Daria!” her aunt said in an exaggeratedly high pitched voice. “I would never own one of these McMansions. They’re fine for nouveau riche like you of course, but me? Honestly!”
“Of course,” her mother replied in a creepy uninflected tone. “I should have known that someone who was sensible enough to inherit all her money like you did would have too much taste to live in a dump like this. You still want that personalized guest room?”
Heather rolled her eyes and quietly pushed her door closed. Her mom and aunt were always teasing each other like that. Heather had gotten the idea that they didn’t get along that well when they were young, although they seemed tight as a virgin’s knees these days.
And after all, I can completely sympathize with not getting along with your sister, she thought. If she weren’t my twin I’d swear Damsel was adopted. Hell, maybe she got all the defective genes.
Snickering to herself she started unpacking her clothes and hanging them in her cool new closet.
Maybe moving here isn’t the end of the world after all.
Damsel wandered around her new room in a daze. It’s just so perfect! she thought. From the deep rose carpet to the salmon wallpaper to the cotton candy quilt and bedroom furnishings the whole room seemed to shout the word ‘girl.’ The bed even had a lacey canopy that hung down on three sides, and was tied back out of the way on the other.
Damsel started unpacking her hair care supplies and make-up into the drawers of her new vanity when she realized that she could still hear her aunt and mom talking outside the room.
“I noticed that the gate guards were pretty serious,” her mother said.
“For what I’m paying them, they better be,” her aunt grumbled. She then continued in a lighter tone, “There are patrols, too: one roving guard in the day, two at night. Not to mention the motion sensors on the wall and security cameras at intersections inside the community. This is the safest place you could ask for outside Leavenworth.”
“Thanks,” her mother said quietly.
“What? I can’t look out for my nieces?” her aunt replied as the two women walked off down the hallway. There was more conversation, but they’d walked out of Damsel’s earshot by then.
Aunt Quinn is worried about us, too. Damsel thought pensively, and sat in front of the vanity table’s heart shaped mirror. I didn’t think New York was that bad, but I guess Mom or Dad heard about something I didn’t. Or Heather got in a lot more trouble than I thought she did.
Walking back over to her stack of boxes, Damsel rooted around until she found the framed family photo she kept on her nightstand. Sitting on the edge of her bed, she let her fingertips brush over the glass.
Mom, Dad, me, and Heather. She sighed quietly, and blinked back tears. God, I wish Dad were here. Everything seems better then.
She gently placed the photo on her bedside table, then walked over to the big pile of garment bags in the corner. Sorting, arranging, and hanging her clothes would make her feel better.
“Hey, girls!” Daria shouted up the staircase. After a moment, the twins peered over the balcony.
“Yeah?” Heather shouted back.
“Dinner,” Daria replied. The immediate thunder of running feet on the stairs was all the display of appetite required to applaud the idea.
“Did you know that there’s a house intercom system?” Quinn asked, wiggling one finger in her ear.
“Actually, I did.” Daria smirked.
“Where are we eating?” Heather asked as she reached the bottom of the stairs.
“Aunt Quinn is taking us to eat at Pizza King,” Daria answered, still smirking at her younger sister.
“Sure am!” Quinn said with a big smile, then turned and whispered to Daria, “When, exactly, did you get so good at air hockey?”
“What else do you think English Lit majors do?” Daria replied as she led everyone out the front door.
A short while later, the family was seated in a corner booth at the old pizza joint. The red leather of the seats was a little more worn, and the grease stains on the table seemed a little thicker, but it was still the same old Pizza King.
“What can I getcha?” the waitress asked.
While her mother rattled off their order, Heather took the opportunity to observe the other patrons. At a booth near the door sat a group of giggly girls wearing blue and yellow cheerleader outfits. Off to one side a couple was splitting a pizza, obviously on a date. At the booth across from them, a group of boys in blue and yellow letterman jackets were finishing off a pizza and a pitcher of beer. A college aged girl with a book sat by herself in a booth a little further down the way, sipping a glass of water and absently toying with her silver ankh pendant. In the back corner a group of teenage boys in black leather trench coats were laughing at something said by a skinny girl in a red dress.
“And I’ll have a personal pizza, no cheese,” Quinn ordered after Daria was finished. “What?” she demanded, hearing Daria snort.
“So did you eat here when you were a kid, Mom?” Damsel asked.
“Yeah,” Daria answered with a wistful smile. “We ate here almost every day. I bet they’re still using the same cooking grease in the back, too. Smells the same, anyhow.”
Heather smirked while Damsel and Aunt Quinn made disgusted faces. The waitress brought their sodas and Aunt Quinn started extolling the evils of pizza cheese, causing Heather to slide off into a fugue of faux attentiveness. Aunt Quinn is great, she mused, but she sure has some weird ideas.
It took Heather a moment to notice that her aunt had stopped talking. She glanced up and noticed one of the letterman jacket wearers was standing next to their table, wobbling slightly and staring at the center of the table. The vacant look on the guy’s face sent a chill down Heather’s spine.
“Hey,” the guy said, sending the sour odor of beer wafting across their table.
“Hey, what?” Daria asked, giving him an irritated look.
Slowly his head turned, until he was blearily focused on Quinn. “You’re pretty hot for an old lady,” he said. “You wanna dump the kids and head back to my house?”
Heather could hear the guys across the aisle snickering. She put her palms on the table and tried to think of nothing. Her jaw tightened until her teeth ached. The sound of her heart beat drowned out the snickering, but not the sucking noise of the drunkard breathing through his open mouth.
“You might want to go bother someone else before we call the manager over and have you kicked out,” Quinn said angrily.
“Bitch,” he replied, and tried to grab her shoulder. His alcohol laden reflexes failed him, and he missed by several inches. He did not get a second try.
Snarling like an animal, Heather exploded out of her seat. Snapping out with her right foot, she caught the boor’s kneecap with the toe of her boot causing it to slide out of place with a sick pop. Reversing momentum, she smashed her heel into the now unprotected joint. His knee folded over backwards, making a sound like a phone book tearing. He collapsed to the ground, clawing at his leg and making a high pitched keening noise.
Heather rotated on her left foot, bringing her right knee up to chest level and sighting down her leg at the boy’s pale face. Suddenly, something grabbed her from behind and yanked her off balance. She toppled into the booth and spun around, raising a fist . . . and found herself nose to nose with a mirror.
“Please don’t,” Damsel whispered.
Heather deflated, all the rage pouring out of her and leaving behind only shame and exhaustion. She sat docilely while the injured teen’s friends tried to help him.
“Um,” one of the boys said, “he had a little too much beer, and we’re real sorry he got out of hand. Looks like you handled him pretty good, so how about we just get him out of here and we forget this happened, ok?”
“Take him,” Daria said in a dust dry monotone. “Take him and go. Now.”
They lifted their friend, and just for a second he made eye contact with Heather. She almost flinched back from the raw hate burning out of his gaze, then stiffened herself and showed him cool disdain in response. Then the moment was over as his friends turned him towards the door and staggered away.
Heather looked down at the table top. “I’m sorry,” she muttered. Before anyone could reply, another man walked quickly up to the table. He wore slacks and a button down shirt, both decorated with pizza stains, and a nametag that read: Arthur, Manager.
“I deeply apologize for that, ladies. That’s not the first trouble that young man has caused in here. Your meal will be on the house, and next time he comes in here he’ll discover that his Pizza King privileges have been revoked!”
Daria nodded to the man and he backed away from the table, nodding and smiling at them while wringing his hands. Quinn leaned back and closed her eyes, reaching up to pinch the bridge of her nose with one hand. Heather stared at the tabletop and said nothing. Damsel looked back and forth between them with huge eyes. After the manager had retired from the dining area and most of the other patrons had stopped staring at them, Daria sighed and turned back to the table.
“We will discuss this in detail later, young lady,” she said, directing a stern look towards Heather. “At this time I’ll just say that while your actions were questionable, the intent behind them is laudable.”
“You’re not mad?”
“No. Concerned, but not angry. We will discuss this further at a later time.”
Heather breathed with relief as her mother turned to Damsel.
“And that was a very brave thing you did. I have very courageous, if somewhat impulsive, daughters. I’m proud of both of you.”
“Excellent parenting form,” Quinn muttered without changing her posture. “I’m fine, by the way.”
“Of course you’re fine. My daughter neatly handled the problem when she kicked the hell out of that juvenile sack of . . . .”
“Mom!” Damsel interrupted, “the pizza is here.”
Pain, burning colossal shooting pain, legs are on fire, pain so bad she prayed for death or unconsciousness. Her vision cleared, and she looked up at her tormentor. Standing above her was a slight red-haired girl wearing black over-alls and metal plated boots. Heather looked up into her own face and saw only disgust and slight disappointment.
“I expected so much more from you,” Heather said calmly, then stomped again. Her foot came down like a sledge hammer, snapping bone and tearing joints. Again the waves of nauseating pain.
Heather sat up in bed with a strangled cry, covered in sweat and cold chills. Oh God, oh God, oh God, it’s just a nightmare, just a nightmare, don’t scream, don’t wake up the house, just a nightmare. Her stomach clenched violently and she clamped down her jaw. Can’t be sick, can’t vomit, can’t scream, don’t let anybody know, just another nightmare, oh God.
She huddled in the center of her bed, shivering and trying to control her stomach. Slowly, the shaking subsided and her stomach stopped flopping around. She sat up and pulled her hair back away from her face. The clock read four a.m. but she felt like she hadn’t slept at all.
Hell, I didn’t sleep. I had nightmares all night. She sighed, letting the dream replay itself in her head. I wonder if that’s what I looked like to the guy in the pizza place. Damn him anyway.
Giving up on sleep for the night, Heather slid to the edge of the bed and reached onto the floor for her boots. She brusquely shoved her legs into them and jerked the buckles tight, then stood and straightened her night dress. Should probably finish getting dressed if I’m gonna stay up, she mused. Nah, I’m gonna want a shower before that.
She rooted around in her dresser for clean undies, and the closet for a fresh pair of jeans, t-shirt, and a bath towel from the shelf. Holding the bundle of cloth to her chest she quietly opened her door and stepped out into the hall. On her way to the bathroom she paused and listened. She heard her mother’s voice downstairs, but couldn’t tell what she was saying.
Dropping her bundle next to the bathroom door, she turned and crept down the stairs. At the bottom, she looked down the hallway and saw the light on in her mother’s office. A few steps down the hallway and she found she could make out what was being said inside.
“Just come home,” Daria said. Heather’s eyebrows shot up at her mother’s pleading tone. Mom never took that tone with anybody, ever. She couldn’t remember a time in her life when her mother’s word hadn’t been law. Not even Aunt Quinn crossed her when her mind was made up.
“Because your daughter needs you. I need you.”
Heather held her breath while she waited. Mom must be on the phone to Dad.
“There was an incident today. Some drunk tried to grab Quinn and Heather went postal on his ass and damn near crippled him. I’ve already taken care of his hospital bill.”
Postal? Heather wondered. I guess I mailed him an ass beating alright. Special fucking delivery. Then the rest of what her mother had said registered. Mom is paying that jerk’s hospital bill? I guess she’s worried he’ll sue or something. Probably talked it over with Gramma.
“No, it hasn’t all been handled. Besides, everybody here is stressed over the move to Lawndale, even Damsel. You’ve got a responsibility to your family, goddamn it.” The sound of a fist hitting a desk drifted into the hallway.
Heather frowned. She hated it when her parents fought, and especially hated feeling responsible for it. If I hadn’t jumped that guy, Mom wouldn’t be trying to get Dad to come home early and they wouldn’t be fighting about it.
“I’m turning into my parents?” Daria said, her voice jumping in volume. “Well if I’m turning into my parents what the hell does that say about you? Pot. Kettle. Black.” There was a brief pause, then “Hello? Hello? Damn it.”
Heather quietly walked back down the hall, blinking back tears. She started to head back upstairs to the shower, then stopped. Mom needs me, she thought with a small sigh. Turning back down the stairs, she deliberately stomped a couple of times and scuffed her boots on the hallway carpet before she reached her mother’s office.
“Mom, you still up?” she asked, knocking softly on the door.
“Yeah, sweetie. Come on in.”
Heather pushed the door open and walked in, seating herself in one of the cushy chairs her mom kept around for agents and producers. Her mother was sitting behind her desk, rubbing her eyes. Her glasses were on the desk next to the phone.
“For what, sweetie?”
“For what happened today. For what happened . . . for everything.”
Her mother sighed and put her glasses back on. “I was going to discuss this with you later,” Daria said, glancing at the phone. “But under the circumstances I guess we may as well talk about it now.”
Heather nodded, and stared at the carpet.
“It was a great and noble thing to protect your aunt. I already told you that I’m proud of you, and I am.”
“But if your sister hadn’t stopped you . . . well, there’s no telling what might have happened. You have to learn to control your temper.”
“Also, if you’d waited a second she’d have maced him anyway. Quinn does not take kindly to strangers who attempt liberties with her person.”
“So it was a wasted effort?”
“Not at all. I feel better knowing that you can defend yourself should the need arise. I feel better knowing that you’re willing to defend your family, and I sincerely hope you realize that includes Damsel.”
Heather looked up in shock, but her mother continued before she could reply.
“I do not feel better knowing you have a hair trigger temper, or knowing that violence is your first choice of action.”
“Damsel is my sister,” Heather said. “Of course she’s family. Irritating, self-absorbed, and frivolous family . . . but still family.”
“Good,” her mother replied, leaning back in her chair. “I’m sure she feels the same way about you, and that’s perfectly healthy. Your aunt and I loathed each other at your age. If you’re smart, and I know you are, you’ll eventually grow out of it. Now, what about the other thing?”
Heather returned to studying the carpet. “I dunno.”
“Language is a gift.”
“I don’t know,” Heather said with a scowl.
“I strongly suggest you find out. Violent tendencies do not lead to pleasant careers. I can arrange counseling.”
Again, Heather looked at her mother in shock. Again, her mother continued before she could interrupt.
“However, I’d rather you had some time to deal with this yourself. You’re an intelligent young woman. I know you have discipline and self control, as I’ve seen you exhibit both qualities.”
“I’ll do my best.”
“That’s all anyone can ask. I’m here if you need to talk to me.”
“One more question, then I’ll stop running your business.”
Heather grinned, feeling some of the tension drain out of the room. “Yeah?”
“Why are you up at four in the morning?”
“Nightmares?” Daria examined her daughter’s pale face. “Never mind, you’ll tell me if you need to talk about it.”
“Yeah. Lemme shower first.”
“Language is a gift.”
“Yes. Let me take a shower first.”
“Alright. The kitchen in this place is huge, so if I’m not back by the time you are call for a search party.”
Laughing quietly, Heather headed back upstairs to shower and change.
Disclaimers: Stereo Hifi font is ©1997 by Cathy Davies. This story based on characters and situations created by Glenn Eichler and Susie Lewis. The Daria TV show is a trademark of MTV Networks, a division of Viacom International Inc. and is referenced here without permission, and without profit. Original characters and situations created by the author are under (K) – all rights reversed. Hail Eris.
Author’s Note: In case anyone was curious . . . yes, the girl in the pizza place wearing an ankh is Scarlett. Small nod to TAG.