Damsel

in

laugh, clown, laugh

 

 

you bought a mask, I put it on

you never thought to ask me / if I wear it when you're gone

I don't exist when you don't see me / I don't exist when you're not here
what the eye don't see won't break the heart / you can make believe when we're apart
but when you leave I disappear

 - Sisters of Mercy, When You Don’t See Me (Damsel’s Song)

 

 

            Damsel’s eyes opened in the darkness. A few seconds later, the opening strains of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy filled the room as her alarm clock went off. A few seconds after that, a heavy bass and drum line kicked in behind the orchestra. Damsel sat up and turned on the bed side lamp.

            Classical set to classic techno, she thought with a grin. That’ll get a girl’s heart going in the morning.

            She stood and stretched, then wrapped herself in the heavy pink bathrobe thrown over the foot of the bed. Yawning a little, she sat at her vanity and inspected her appearance. After taming the worst of her bed hair she stood and grabbed the top of the mirror, flipping it around so she could see the flat black screen attached to the back. She opened the small cabinet to her right and flipped on the computer tower concealed inside, then pulled the keyboard and mouse out and set them on the table.

            Let’s see if anything interesting happened last night.

            As soon as the computer was up and running she opened her browser and had it run the stored search routine. The headlines of news articles started populating the tab bar at the top of the screen. While that was running she loaded up a media viewer and had it start scanning the video files gathered from her tap on the neighborhood’s security cameras.

            I can’t believe Aunt Quinn shelled out that much money for security and didn’t have better safeguards put on their network.

            The media viewer’s tab flashed at her to announce it was ready. She watched the cuts of feed it had selected, speeding them up to ten-to-one.

            Looks like nothing interesting. I’ll find out who these folks are later, and then I can re-code the filter to ignore a few more faces. Now, let’s see what’s in the news.

            She closed down the media program and pulled the web browser back up and started clicking tabs, reading the headline of each.

            Jane! Spotted at Las Vegas Party. Jane! To Attend Opening of New Gallery in London. Jane! Seen with Teen Band Bad Boy? Damsel scowled briefly at the computer and set the news scan to ignore that particular gossip site on future searches. She continued reading. Clothier May Sue, Jane! Endorsement Called a Mockery. Melody Powers: Blood Reign to be Smash Hit of the Fall Movie Season. Interview with Melody Powers’ Creator, Daria Morgendorffer. Housing Market Still Booming, Is Your House a Fashionable House? Damsel paused to clarify the scan’s parameters slightly, in an attempt to exclude advertisements. Several Melody Powers and Fashionable House themed tabs vanished. She continued reading. Chatting with Quinn Morgendorffer: One of the Richest Businesswomen in America. Pizzaria Fight Sends Football Star to Hospital.

            Damsel sighed and read over the final article. It pretty much summed up the events as they happened, with a certain amount of slant towards portraying the local football hero as the victim of the altercation. Nothing in the news about them moving away from New York City, nothing about her, and nothing about Heather except the small article in the Lawndale Sun-Herald.

            “Good,” she said to herself. “About time the nosey bastards left us alone for a while.”

            “Heather, Damsel,” her mother called from the hallway. “Wake up girls, you don’t want to be late on your first day at your new school.”

            Heather glanced over at her clock and started shutting down her computer. I’ve got just enough time to do a short workout and grab a shower.

 

***

 

            Damsel pushed the door to the principal’s office shut and leaned against it, trying to calm herself. That was the creepiest guy ever, and she was going to have to dodge him around the school for four years. She was not looking forward to it.

            “Um, hi,” a girl said from nearby. Damsel jumped and looked around. A short brunette wearing a white blouse and skirt was looking at her expectantly.

            “Hey,” Damsel said and smiled weakly. “Sorry, I’m just a little freaked that’s all.”

            “Yeah,” the girl smiled warmly. “Mr. DeMartino has that effect on people sometimes, but he’s pretty much harmless. I’m Amy.”

            Heather stepped away from the door and shook the girl’s hand. “Damsel.”

            “Yeah, you’re Damsel Morgendorffer. You and your sister Heather just moved here from New York City. You have a perfect attendance record, no disciplinary record, and you’ve already taken some high school level courses. You graduated junior high with a three point eight grade point average.”

            Damsel blinked at the girl in confusion. “You know this why?”

            “I’m the Yellow Countess of Records. I’m supposed to talk to you today, the White Queen wants you to join one of our courts.”

            “I’m sorry, but that doesn’t make any sense.”

            “You’ve been invited to join the Lawndale Renaissance Society. It’s very exclusive.”

            Damsel nodded at the girl and thought furiously. It’s very exclusive, eh? This must be the popular people social club. It sounds pretty complex, but that’s a good thing really.

            “Well,” Damsel said. “Let’s go introduce me to some people then.”

            The girl smiled and led her out of the office and back outside where the other students were milling around waiting for the bell to summon them to their first class. People are like math problems, Damsel thought as they walked. Once you solve them, they’re not a variable anymore . . . they’re predictable. A social group is just a big mathematical equation. I just have to plug myself into it and then solve for popularity.

            Amy led her up to a small group. “Damsel,” she said, “this is Martha, Jessica, and Mike. I’ll leave out titles and courts for now since you haven’t been inducted yet.” Martha and Mike smiled and took turns shaking hands with Damsel. Jessica stepped back a pace and gave Damsel an icy stare.

            “You don’t have to decide whether to join right away,” Martha said, looking confused at Jessica’s reaction. “But we think you’d be an asset. You’re obviously intelligent and cultured, and I just love that skirt.”

            “Thanks!” Damsel smiled and smoothed out the skirt in question. “It’s a Versace.”

            “Versace?” Martha asked, obviously impressed.

            I think I may have just solved a piece of this equation, Damsel thought smugly.

            “Oh, yes.” Damsel beamed at her new friends. “I hardly ever wear anything that isn’t either French or Italian.”

            “I’m sure you’ll appreciate this then,” Jessica said, holding out her bag for Damsel’s inspection. “It’s a Prada. My mother used it when she was a girl and passed it down to me.”

            Ah, the negative integer.

            “That’s lovely.” Damsel gave her most sincere smile. “I don’t know if I could pull off something that retro. I’m just not a turn-of-the-millennium kind of girl.”

            Jessica blinked, apparently not expecting the subtle barb. The other people in the group looked slightly uncomfortable with the tone of the conversation, but Amy seemed to be the only one really following the repartee.

            Jessica opened her mouth to speak, but was cut off by a horrid racket from near the doors leading into the school. A group of three boys in leather trench coats were jumping around madly and making some kind of screeching noise. After a few seconds of this, Mr. DeMartino jerked the door open and started yelling at them.

            “Damsel,” Jessica said. “That girl in the ugly boots standing with those freaks looks just like you!”

            “Yeah,” Damsel sighed. “That’s my sister, Heather. She’s my evil twin.”

            “You have a twin? That’s kind of chill,” Mike said.

            “You haven’t seen her records,” Amy replied, shaking her head sadly.

            “This must be so embarrassing for you,” Jessica said, stepping forward and putting one hand on Damsel’s shoulder. “I’m sure she won’t mess up your potential social standing.”

 

***

 

            Damsel finished her salad and nodded at Martha. “Ok, let me test my understanding.”

            “Sure!” Martha said, smiling.

            “There are three courts: yellow, blue, and white. People within each court are given feudal style rankings, and sometimes jurisdiction over member activities in a certain club or area of the school.”

            “Right. It’s not fun to be ordered around as a freshman or sophomore, but you get your payback later when you have flunkies of your own. At least, that’s what they tell me.”

            “Yellow court does academic activities, blue court does athletics. White does both, and it outranks both of the other courts.”

            “Yeah, you also have to keep at least a two point five grade point average. We don’t want to collect the clueless.” Martha glanced around and leaned across the table to whisper. “But some of the blue court get away with a two point zero, as long as they’re winning whatever sport they play.”

            “You’re in the yellow court?”

            “Yeah, I’m in the National Beta Club.” Martha blushed. “A couple of school clubs, too . . . but that’s my big one.”

            “Hey, me too!” Damsel pulled her PDA case off her belt and showed Martha the pin decorating the front.

            “Great! We need more yellow court people. The blues have us outnumbered by about three to one.”

            Damsel looked thoughtful. “I was thinking about going out for cheerleading, too. But if yellow court is more thinly populated it might end up being a better deal.”

            “Oh, well, yeah.” Martha looked a little disappointed. “But you know, if you add a couple of other activities you can go for white . . . it’s only got four members right now.

            “You need to do more than one of each activity for white court?”

            “Oh, yeah. Otherwise it’d be too easy. Our by-laws state you have to be in at least two academic activities and two athletic activities, and maintain a three point zero grade point average.”

            Damsel’s eyebrows shot up. “No wonder there’s only four members.”

            Ah ha, Damsel thought. Looks like a moderately difficult hurdle to jump, but I know I can add a second athletic activity and goodness only knows how many academic ones. The grades are gonna be the easy part. Being part of the exclusive sub-clique within the exclusive social club is exactly where I want to be. Damsel smiled brightly across the table at Martha. Plus, all those activities will look great on a college application.

            “What about this?” Damsel asked, tapping the silver starburst pin next to her Beta Club pin.

            “Dunno. What is it?”

            Before Damsel could answer they were joined by Jessica and another girl.

            “Ladies,” Jessica said, then motioned towards her companion. “Damsel, this is Katie. Katie, Damsel.”

            “Nice ta meetcha,” the girl said, then quirked an eyebrow. “Silver Award? You don’t look the kumbaya type, but I’m impressed.”

            “Kumbaya?” Jessica asked.

            “Girl Scouts,” Damsel said with a smile. “Are you one too, Katie?”

            “Nah, never made it past junior scouts. It was fun though.”

            “Well, that’ll make you double yellow.” Martha said. “You sure you want to go out for cheerleading, too?”

            Jessica looked up sharply. “You want white court.”

            Damsel gave the smaller girl a predatory smile. “I don’t settle for second best.”

 

***

 

            Damsel stuck her head through the door and looked around at her sister’s room. “God, this place is depressing.”

            “At least my room doesn’t look like Pepto vomit,” Heather said from the bed. She didn’t bother to look away from whatever she was doing on her PDA.

            “Why do you have to be so gross?”

            “Why do you have to be so irritating?”

            “Hey!” Cherry said from the floor. “I’m trying to concentrate down here.”

            Damsel looked down at the girl who was her sister’s freaky friend, as well as being their cousin. She was wearing goggles and a pair of VR gloves, all plugged into a nearby GameBox.

            “There’s a zombie behind you,” Heather said.

            “Huh?” Cherry looked around and suddenly started making shooting motions with one hand. “Ack! Ack! Ack! Dammit.” She lifted the goggles and looked irritated. “How did you know?”

            “There’s always a zombie behind you.” Heather smirked at her friend. “But it only attacks you if you look.”

            “Heather, you’re such an asshole,” Damsel said. The other girls looked over at her for the first time. Heather choked back a laugh and covered her face with a pillow. Cherry leapt to her feet.

            “Damsel, I’m so sorry!” she cried out, wringing her hands.

            “What’s your damage?”

            “We let them get you . . . you, our own flesh and blood!” Cherry posed dramatically, lifting the back of one hand to her forehead. “You’ve become one of them.”

            Heather looked down and tugged down the tunic of her cheerleader uniform. “Um, freak-girl?”

            “What?”

            “I’ve always been one of them. Remember?”

            “Oh, yeah.” Cherry sat and pulled the goggles back over her eyes. “And quit calling me a freak, it’s irritating.”

            Damsel sighed and walked down the hall to her own room. Well, that’s one idea down the drain. Damsel closed her door and sat on the bed, feeling dismal. I wonder if Heather even remembers when we were cheerleaders together in junior high.

            Damsel walked to the bookshelf, pulled down a photo album and returned to sit on the edge of the bed. She flipped though the book, looking at pictures of herself and Heather. Together at camp, before her sister dropped out of the scouts. Together at cheerleading competitions. Celebrating their early birthdays in Aunt Quinn’s old apartment in New York. Later birthdays at home, after Mom stopped working all the time so she could be there for them. The two of them at the dojo, studying with their sensei.

            That was where we first started being different. I started braiding my hair because I thought Ms. Rowe was really iced. I never really got much into the fighting part of martial arts, although Heather soaked it up like a sponge. She learned so fast . . . I didn’t realize it at the time, but I think she was learning faster than Ms. Rowe wanted to teach her.

            A light knock at the door broke her reverie. “Come in.”

            Jane came into the room and pushed the door closed again. “Hey there, mi hijita.”

            “Hey, Dad.”

            “You look gloomy.” Jane sat on the bed next to her daughter and looked over her shoulder. “Did the bad pictures make you sad?”

            Damsel sighed and closed the album. “What’s going on with you and Mom?”

            “Well,” Jane looked a little uncomfortable. “remember the family talk after we got back from Trent’s?”

            “Yeah.”

            “We kept talking after you and Heather went to bed.”

            “And?”

            Jane sighed and ran her fingers through her hair. “And we have a lot of problems to work through. Daria has always had trust issues and I kind of abandoned her there for a while.”

            “You didn’t!”

            Jane gave her daughter a wry smile. “I appreciate the vote of confidence, but your mom and sister would disagree with you.”

            “Heather is stupid.”

            “You know better than that.”

            “I miss her.”

            “The two of you are growing up. That means growing apart a little, too. Doesn’t mean you aren’t still sisters.”

            “We should get counseling.” Damsel clutched the photo album to her chest and gave her father a solemn, big eyed stare. “All four of us.”

            “I don’t disagree, but your mother wouldn’t allow it and you know it.”

            “Yeah. She’s always hated therapists and psychologists, hasn’t she?”

            “Since before I knew her. It just got worse over time.” Jane shrugged. “I don’t care for them either, honestly. That’s why I don’t push it.”

            “So, now what?”

            “Well, I was thinking we could celebrate you getting on the pep squad,” Jane said, grinning. “Of course, part of me is appalled that I have a cheerleader for a daughter but I keep telling myself this is just a phase.”

            Damsel laughed and nodded. “Heather and Cherry coming with us?”

            “Nah,” Jane said, standing and walking to the door. “It’s just me and you against the world, kid. Your mom is staying home to keep an eye on the delinquents.”

            “Ok.”

            “How does ice cream sound?”

            “Good for you. I’ll be having frogurt. I have to watch my figure now that I’ll be in this uniform every Friday.”

            “Just who do you think you have to keep a figure for, anyway?”

            “Daa-ahd!”

 

***

 

            Damsel put her spoon down, then stacked her bowl on top of the two others already sitting on the other end of the table.

            “Frogurt, huh?” Jane smirked.

            “It was chocolate. Chocolate with fudge in it. I couldn’t say no.”

            Jane eyed the stack of bowls. “You couldn’t say no three times. Are you going for another one?”

            “No.” Damsel leaned back and wiped her mouth. “I’m going to get a stomach ache if I’m not careful. How was yours?”

            “Good. So tell me more about this club you joined.”

            “I haven’t joined yet. I want to pick up a sport first, so I can get inducted directly into the leadership circle. Martha told me that there’s only been one other person that joined straight into the white court.”

            “Who?”

            “Rachel Landon.”

            “That’s,” Jane paused for a moment, and then smirked. “Ironic.”

            “Why?”

            “Partially because her sister was a join-aholic, too. Just answer me one thing.”

            “What?”

            “This society doesn’t obsess about fashion does it?”

            “Not that I’ve noticed, why?”

            “No reason. So, what sport are you looking at?”

            “I don’t know. Something that doesn’t conflict with cheerleading. What do you think? I’m sure you and Mom were in all kinds of clubs and activities when you were in high school.”

            Jane stared at her daughter for several seconds before she started giggling. The giggles slowly grew into helpless laughter. A few seconds after that Jane folded her arms on the tabletop and rested her head on them, still laughing and pounding the tabletop with one fist. After about a minute of this, she looked up and saw her daughter’s expression and immediately started laughing again.

            “What?”

            “Don’t look at me like that!” Jane said, still desperately trying to choke off her laughter.

            “Like what?”

            “Like you’re all offended.”

            “I am all offended. I don’t know what’s so funny.”

            “Me and your mom . . . in clubs . . . and activities.” Jane lost it, and buried her face in her arms again.

            “So, you weren’t in clubs and activities?”

            “No, not as such.” Jane’s voice was muffled by her arms and the table.

            “Nothing?”

            “Well,” Jane answered, wiping her eyes and trying to focus. “We entered a few contests here and there, but nothing that ended well. We were in a couple of short term extra-curriculars, which also did not end well. Oh, and I was briefly on the track team.”

            “Really?”

            “Yeah, for about three weeks.”

            “Oh. Couldn’t cut it?”

            “Hey! I’ll have you know that I set records in Carter County that haven’t been broken to this day!”

            “Then why’d you quit?”

            Jane sighed. “The principal was leaning on the teachers to pass the sports kids no matter what the grades should have been. I couldn’t be a part of it.”

            “Oh.”

            “Plus, your mom was really clingy when we were kids. She was against anything that took time away from us.”

            “Oh.”

            “And there was a guy involved. I can’t remember his name, now . . . but I remember he turned out to be a big jerk.”

            Damsel quirked an eyebrow.

            “What? I can’t like guys? I just like from a distance now. Married, you know.” Jane pointed at her wedding band, and then continued. “Besides, it’s not like your mother can’t keep me interested at home.” Jane smiled broadly and wiggled her eyebrows.

            “Thank you,” Damsel said, covering her eyes with one hand. “Thank you so much for those mental scars.”

            “Well, I could . . .”

            “Please, don’t.” Damsel ran one finger around the inside of a discarded ice cream bowl and licked it clean. “Unbroken track records?”

            “Yup. Between me and your Aunt Penny there should be quite a few records in the Lane name.”

            “I think I just picked my sport.” Damsel smirked at Jane. “I hope you aren’t too attached to those records, Dad.”

            “Leave ‘em in the dust,” Jane said proudly.

 

***

 

            “Damsel! Wait up!”

            Damsel tuned and watched Martha jog up to her, red faced and out of breath. When the girl seemed to get her breathing under control Damsel said, “What? Tell me quick, I don’t want to miss the bus.”

            “Forget the bus, I’ll give you a lift home. She wants to meet you.”

            “She?”

            “Laura, the White Queen of Lawndale.”

            “Oh.” Damsel swallowed. “Did she say why?”

            “I didn’t ask. She just said find you and bring you to the library.”

            Damsel nodded and started striding back towards the main school building, leaving Martha to trot along behind her. After a few minutes she arrived at the double doors leading into the library. She could hear Martha huffing and puffing from further down the hallway.

            “Wait out here until you catch your breath. No need to embarrass yourself, Martha.” Damsel pushed the door open and walked inside, missing the slightly hurt look on the other girl’s face. One of the library’s study tables had been placed opposite the door, and a willowy brunette was sitting expectantly behind it. To her right sat a dark skinned young man, and to her left was a raven haired girl reading a book. Damsel stopped in front of the table and met the brunette’s gaze.

            “Please sit,” she said. “I’m Laura Midhaven, the White Queen of Lawndale. This is Steven MacKenzie, the White Duke of Blue.” He gave Damsel a warm smile and nodded his head. “And this is Courtney Phelps, the White Duchess of Yellow.” She waved absently without looking up from her book. “Matthew couldn’t be here today, unfortunately. As we have a quorum, I hereby call this meeting of the White Court to session.” She rapped her knuckles smartly on the table and Courtney put down her book.

            “We have expressed an interest in you joining the Lawndale Renaissance Society,” Courtney said. “This is most unusual in that we normally do not extend invitations, only accept or deny petitions.”

            “I believe that she will be an asset to us and to Lawndale High School,” Laura replied.

            “I agree,” Steven said.

            “Very well.” Courtney said. “Motion denied, the invitation will be extended.”

            Laura focused on Damsel. “Would you like to join us?”

            “Yes,” Damsel said. “But I was hoping to hold off another couple of days.”

            Courtney made a disgusted noise under her breath, but Laura simply nodded and asked, “Why?”

            “Because at this time I haven’t gotten accepted on the track team.”

            “Amy has provided me with a copy of your transcripts. You already qualify, more than qualify, as a member of the yellow court or the blue court. You don’t need to be on the track team.”

            You know, Damsel thought to herself, I’m pretty sure there are a few school regulations about handing around people’s transcripts. Mental note: blackmail material.

            “She doesn’t want to be blue or yellow,” Steven said. “She wants to head straight to the top. Isn’t that what interested you in her to begin with?”

            “Yes. Damsel, what do you say?”

            “I say never leave a problem half solved.”

            “Alright.” Laura nodded. “Steve, do you have the information I wanted?”

            “I spoke to Coach Strickland. She wants Ms. Morgendorffer for the girl’s basketball team and doesn’t like the fact that cheerleading would conflict with that. However, the situation being as it is she told me that Ms. Morgendorffer would definitely have a place on the team when track season rolls around.”

            Damsel’s heart leapt. She hadn’t been able to get the girl’s coach to give her a straight answer on whether or not she’d made the cut for the team. Coach Strickland had told her to wait until next week when everybody would find out together.

            “Courtney?” Laura asked.

            “Her academic credentials are well in order.”

            “Excellent. That being the case I move that we induct Damsel Erica Morgendorffer directly into the White Court of the Lawndale Renaissance Society. Any opposed?” No one moved. “All in favor?” She and Steven each raised a hand. “Motion carried. Welcome aboard.”

            Damsel smiled brightly. “Thank you. I’ll do my best.” She stood and shook hands with each of the others.

            “Normally you’d be inducted as a White Lady, but honestly I feel you have too much potential to waste it spinning your wheels at the bottom of the food chain.” Laura looked thoughtful. “I’m investing you with the title White Baroness. I’m not giving you a grant of territory right now, but I’m sure you’ll have earned one before too long.”

            “Thanks again.”

            “Thank me by proving me right.” Laura sat back down. “Now, if you’ll excuse us we have more business to discuss. You’ll be invited to future meetings of the White Court.”

            “Ok.” Damsel left the library with a bounce in her step. It’s started. There’s nowhere to go from here but up. In a couple of years I’ll be the White Queen, and everyone will look up to me. Everybody will love me, and the ones that don’t . . . well, too bad for them.

            “Come on,” she said to Martha when she got out into the hall. “Let’s get going, I need to get home and tell my parents. They’re going to be so proud of me!”

            “Yes, ma’am,” Martha said, and fell in behind.

 

 

            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 Notes: The full quote that the title of this story comes from is “Laugh, clown, laugh, even though your heart is breaking.” and comes from the Lon Chaney film Laugh, Clown, Laugh which is (mostly) based on the opera Pagliacci. I can’t do the story credit in a few lines of exposition, and it’s well worth seeing. If the social by-play inside the Rennies seems unrealistically complex and somewhat silly, then I’ve done them the way I intended to. I used to be part of a very silly social club that, while we used a completely different set of titles, was just as convoluted and nonsensical as what I’ve portrayed here. Damsel’s middle name ‘Erica’ is, according to a names website I looked at, Latin for ‘heather’, which makes sense to me. Heather’s (previously unrevealed) middle name is ‘Regina’ which is thematically similar to the concept of a damsel. Also, I hope I’ve managed to generate a few Damsel fans here . . . I want her to be more than Heather’s annoying sister. On the other hand, after reading back over this it occurs to me that Damsel is kind of a bitch. Oh, well . . . she has her reasons.

 

            Author: the NightGoblyn