Categories > Cartoons > Daria > To Annoy a Mockingbird

The Longest Road

by BF110C4 1 Reviews

Daria is trying to get ready for her future, however she has to deal with her family's intervention.

Category: Daria - Rating: PG-13 - Genres: Angst,Drama - Characters: Daria,Helen - Warnings: [!!] [?] - Published: 2012/04/12 - Updated: 2012/04/13 - 9218 words

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Chapter 03: The Longest Road


Disclaimer: Daria and associated characters are owned by MTV and Viacom. This is fan fiction written for entertainment only. No money or other negotiable currency or goods have been exchanged. Special thanks to the Outpost Daria for the Transcripts available there, they were invaluable tools for the development of this chapter, and in the future I hope I can be less reliant on them.

This chapter is dedicated to peetz5050 for his invaluable efforts making it more legible.

* I II III IV *

It had been one long harrowing trip; first there were dad’s attempts to bond with the rest of the family through wholesome sing-alongs, the only effect that his voice had over both siblings was disgust. First there was the badly out of tune singing then his almost preternatural ability to drive over every little forest creature who decided today was the day to see if the joke about the chicken crossing the road could be successfully reproduced by a mammal. Then there was the objective of the visit itself, Susan, Doug and her three year old daughter Ramona.

* I II III IV *

Both families were sitting in the modern living room of the house, both pairs of parents soon started talking about their respective children, while the older children were hoping for the visit to end, or at least something to relieve the boredom and embarrassment. Of course the toddler was unaffected by the rest of the people in the room.

“Daria, on the other hand, is more of a late bloomer… socially… and there's nothing wrong with that. Right, honey?”

From her place in the couch Daria didn’t dare to respond, for she didn’t consider herself as a late bloomer in any way, and socially she was just where she wanted, where no one would bother her, however she did know that the moment she opened her mouth she would say something in front of her parents friends that would ground her for years.

Quinn was sitting along her sister, calling Ramona with cute childish sounds; she always had a soft spot for children, a spot she used for the occasional babysitting job. Goo, goo, ga, ga. Goo-goo, ga-ga. Ramona. Ramona. Goo-goo, ga-ga.” When said little girl came towards her she consider her attempts successful, at least until her leg was filled with green snot “Ew!”

Then Ramona feeling bored already went to Helen with her favourite book. “Read to me.”

“Isn't she darling? What is she reading now?”

Doug and Susan were part of the new generation of parents, the one that relied in the most contemporaneous child psychologist to determine the correct way of raising their children instead of the good old method of touch and go, and call the grandparents in desperation whenever they bite far more that they could chew. This outlook resulted in some weird and often hard to understand actions.

The book, "My First S.A.T. Study Guide" is one of those children books who are aimed to the paranoid parents of the era of the Early Stimulation theory, the name of the book all but guaranteed that the prematurely worried parents would buy one. The content itself wasn’t anything revolutionary, it amounted to show the children words like apple, book, chair, desk and eraser; the only difference was the inordinate use of the A, B, C, D, E.

“We have to think about college application time.” Long term it was a good thing, it ensured that the parents would be aware early on about the scores of their children and detect problems when they could be easily corrected. As long as the parents didn’t overdid it.

“I mean, it's so hard to get into a good school now. What are you guys doing about it?”

The precautions that Doug and Susan, being so new to parenting, took, suddenly brought a wave of shame to Helen, they were already worried about SAT’s scores and getting into a good school while both her daughters were scant years of entering college and they were doing nothing about it.

“Well, Daria is about to enter a college prep course.”

* I II III IV *

One of the basic tenets on which the concept of freedom of speech is based is the inherent danger that an idea can have when used against tyrants, what isn’t said is the effects than an idea can have when inspiring those same tyrants to greater acts of terror. In this case the terror took the form of an early College Prep Course.

“One more time: I am not taking a college prep course. Actually, I may just skip college and stay home. It'll save me the trouble of moving back in later.”

While Daria had no intention of staying in her parent’s home more than a week after reaching eighteen, her father lacked a skin thick enough to survive her quips therefore almost causing an accident.

“Watch the road, Daria, if you don't get into a decent school your life will be ruined. This is for your own good.”

Despite her complaints Daria was the kind of person that would actually do her best in this kind of situation, so maybe being forced into one could be used to get her to be more responsible and thoughtful about her future.

“Way to go, Mom. She can't get her way all the time.” The problem of being a chatterbox is that there never is a mute button for your mouth.

“Actually, Quinn, it wouldn't hurt if you took the course too.”

“Wait a minute! Mo'ommm!”

“Maybe we can sit together.”

* I II III IV *

It was just their luck that LHS was hosting one of the courses at the beginning of the year, the rationale behind it was that if done early enough one could adjust their extracurriculars to increase their appeal to the targeted college. In the practice it was one more of Li’s plans to simulate competence in the eyes of the Parent-Teacher Association.

“Today's admission standards are more rigorous than ever, which is why...”

“Can we get on with this? I have someplace to go.” That wasn’t strictly true, the reason Jane was in the classroom was that she had been found, bored out of her mind, wandering the halls after class and volunteered by O’Neill to ‘maximize her potential’. Jodie gave her a questioning look, she was as aware of her reasons to take the course as Jane herself. “Television counts as a place.” mumbled Jane.

The first module was one of the most useful ones; it was full of little tricks to perform better in the kind of tests that were used by the colleges for admittance. For people like Jane, who were fairly smart but bad at the exams themselves it was a godsend; Jane decided to stay the rest of the week just for the math based multiple choice problem resolution; for people like Jodie or Daria who already knew those tricks, and didn’t need them anyway, it was boring and redundant; and for people like Brittany and Kevin it was a waste of time as was any effort to try to get them to learn something not related with football or the practical application of human reproduction.

The workshop itself was a week long, in which they covered the most common requirements of colleges; mock interviews; academic, cultural, athletic and income based scholarships, and a bitter reminiscence of the cost of education by the professor giving the class, it seemed that for him student loans were considered one more form of racketeering. One of the most redundant parts of the course was the one titled ‘How to Make the Right Choice of Career’.

“Okay, this is an informational sheet ‘Push Comes to Love’ sends around to 600 leading colleges. It's called My Personal Goals and Aspirations. Let's all talk about college...” While writing on the sheet Daria’s mind started drifting away in a day dream.

Daria found herself in the classic sepia colored courtroom of innumerable noir films; seated around her in the wooden furniture were some of the greatest legal figures from literature and movies; as part of the jury she could recognize the face of Henry Fonda arguing with Lee J. Cobb on the reliability of a witness, the other jurors were listening with expressions that went from boredom, to deep concentration, to utter frustration; Henry Drummond and Matthew Harrison Brady were on the defense and prosecution desks, calm determination clearly shown on both, the former with Charles Darwin’s ‘The origin of species’ in front of him, the latter holding the Holy Bible on his left hand, a sheet of paper in his right; presiding the court was Joseph N. Welch, a man that looked both in and out of the silver screen as a fair and noble soul.

On the Space reserved for the Court Reporter there wasn’t a figure from any movie or book, it was her mentor and friend Elizabeth Primrose, not the kind arthritic old lady who taught her shorthand by letting her see old transcriptions of bizarre trials and challenging her to translate them, this Ellie was 40 years younger, with the sharp ears and dexterous fingers that had allowed her at one time in Texas to record all the screams and voices of more than thirty men who started a courtroom riot.

Then out of nowhere he appeared, a man of middle age, tall with dark hair and round glasses, serene yet resolute, the physical embodiment of his morals and determination. He was and wasn’t using Gregory Peck’s face and body, but for Daria it wasn’t a question of faces, it was a question of character, and he was the man that, as a child, she'd wished was her father whenever Jake and Helen ignored or patronized her, Atticus Finch. And in his hand he was holding the U.S. Constitution, passing it to her hands…

…With a jolt that drew more that one look from the teacher and the rest of the students Daria realized that she had reached the end of the questionnaire. Just as she was about to give it to the teacher and leave the classroom for the day she discovered that at some point of the test she had started using shorthand. “Great.” With a little bit of luck her already half eaten eraser would last long enough to correct her mistake.

* I II III IV *

She'd participated in the rest of the workshop related activities with far more zeal that was usual for her, while the academic exercises weren’t of any use for her she would still help Jane with hers, even teaching her some other tricks that were beyond the scope of the class; yet her real interest was focused on the truly interesting parts about finding a College that had the curriculums more related to their interests.

Crestmore and Bromwell were fantastic options, their prestige and resources allowed them to have the best in terms of programs, teaching aids and professors, Bromwell itself had the biggest legal library in the world. That meant that no matter what branch of law or literature she was interested in she would receive the best education on the market. To be an alumnus of those places guaranteed the bests jobs in or out of the government, it opened doors everywhere.

The problem was that to be accepted in one of those schools you needed a great amount of influence and money, or you needed the sort of scholarships that required far more work than her usual slacker ways could provide. But while doing the work was possible if she decided to aim for the top, the social rift was a different matter; those schools were a network of old pals, inside their walls you were one of the boys or you were out, and the discrimination against the lesser class was something fierce, therefore those places weren’t on her first option list.

Then there was Turner, a proud member of the ‘Historically black colleges and universities’, and staunch defender of the Human Rights and Civil Liberties. It sounded weird that an upper-middle class white girl from north of the Mason–Dixon Line would consider going to a former black college in West Virginia, but the place had one of the best curriculums in both human rights related issues and civil law. This was the place where ‘The Southern Poverty Law Center’ was born, and developed innovative legal ways to cripple hate groups by the use of civil lawsuits to seize their assets. It was also quite cheap for an institution of that quality, with a modest scholarship that she could get effortlessly with her A+ average and her trust fund she would be able to survive there without either working nor depending on her parents, and that was always a plus.

And finally Raft, a private research university near Boston, Massachusetts. The university was organized into two undergraduate programs and eight graduate divisions. It emphasized active citizenship and public service in all of its disciplines more than any peer school and was known for its internationalism and study abroad programs. Its Law School was particularly well respected, especially in the field of criminal law, those who graduated from Raft were always first picks of the most prestigious firms in the country. Its Liberal Art program combined with the flexibility of the curriculums guaranteed that the classes would be the kind of challenge she desired both as a lawyer and as a writer.

Those weren`t the only universities she had researched for this little project, many others were possibilities but she lacked as yet the necessary information to make even a preliminary decision, many more had been looked at and then dismissed when they didn’t manage to be up to her base standards, Middleton among them, legacy or no legacy.

* I II III IV *

Later on that evening Daria and Quinn were being interrogated by their parents under the cruel and unusual punishment of microwaved frozen lasagna. Daria gave them an account of the basic training for the fulfillment of the SATs, and the lack of relevance for an A+ student, steering clear of the topics in the Workshop she did like, hoping to limit the damage her parents could cause in the future in their misplaced enthusiasm.

“Then we filled out this worksheet, and that was pretty much it. Money well spent, since it wasn't my money.”

“You left out the best part.”

“Getting a date with the instructor is only the best part to you.” It was something that worried her about Quinn, she dated people based on their looks, their popularity, acquisitive power and finally docility. She never questioned their motives, mostly because she believed that their only motive was to worship her.

“It's not a date. We're meeting to discuss scholarship options.”

“Scholarship? Way to go, sweetie.” Jake was proud that her daughter would be eligible for a scholarship so early.

“There's no such thing as a making-out scholarship.” When faced with people like the instructor who didn’t play the same set of rules as her boy toys in the school, Quinn was hopelessly gullible.

“Uh, excuse me, but I think he would know better than you. Anyway, the best part, I meant, was the trip.”

“What trip?”

“We have to visit a college of our choosing.”

“Great! We'll go to Middleton!”

“We'll all head up to the old alma mater this weekend!”

“Wait! We get to pick the college, and no one said you could come.”

“But Quinn, your father and I would love it if you kids followed in our footsteps.”

“As much as I hate to agree with Quinn, I've already got plans to visit Vance at the weekend, their Law School's got an interesting internship program with a group of Street Legal Clinics in Baltimore, and…”

“But kiddo, Middleton is an excellent school, I know you’re gonna love it, plus it's closer, you could come visit here every weekend.”

“Look dad, twenty years ago Middleton was a descent institution with good programs in Business Management and Corporate Law, however since the student loan crisis of 1989, they had to shut down many of their more specialized careers. In fact the only remarkable thing they've got now is a series of courses in fiscal law regarding racketeering and RICO.”

“Daria, one thing is that you do not take your future seriously, but to go out of your way to invent such a story. It would do you a lot of good to actually know a place before trying to get away from it.”

“Look, could we at least swing by Vance, I already make an appointment with their academic extension office for an open class, maybe I can re-schedule for a later hour.”

“What? No! Vance is more than three hours from Middleton and the road between those places is terrible, all curves and potholes, and there are no rest stops on the way, and even if there were Mad Dog Morgendorffer wouldn’t let me use them! Oh, no! You’re a man, then hold it…”

“Three more hours cooped in a car with you? Do you know what that would do to my make up? It's bad enough that the cute guys there will be seeing me with you, but to go to another place after that would like kill my popularity before it even began.”

“Middleton's got nothing to offer to me, it might have been great before, but now it's blacklisted, it's taboo to go there, at least let me try Vance on my own.”

“Remember that I went to their Law school and it was a fine choice, going there did lots of good for my career, both Jake and I are who we are thanks to Middleton and I’m sure it will do a lot of good for your future too. We are all going to Middleton. End of discussion.”

* I II III IV *

After being forced endure once again being trapped in the car with their parents, plus a rocky trip through memory lane when the sweet images of college life filled with friendly students crashed into the cruel merciless wall named reality, they managed to meet the unfortunate student who was assigned to give them the guided tour.

“Hi, are you the Morgendorffers? I'm your tour guide, Heather. Welcome to Middleton.” She was a reasonably polite girl, especially compared with the students they had met until now.

“Hey, Heather. What's up?” It was sad the way their father tried to regain his youth by trying to appear hip to people less than half his age.

“Uh... shall we get started?”

“These buildings date from when Middleton was a colonial religious college. Back then, the all-male student body attended chapel twice a day, and endured whippings as punishment for impure thoughts.”

It was at this point that Quinn and Daria were saved the effort of ditching their parents by their parents vanishing in the search of their lost college years.

Daria was only half listening the tour itself, she was still angry with the way her parents ignored the research she'd done on the different universities, both regional and national, and her plans for Vance. For the first time in years she had been pouring actual effort into a school related issue and the end result was a united front between her father, her sister and her mother against her wishes.

So when Quinn finally decided that any serious effort to learn anything that would let her survive in the future was time wasted that could be used for getting to know about sororities and fraternities of a third rate school; Daria found herself not giving a damn about it. At least now she would be able to focus on her own interests.

Quinn was able to pledge herself to the Thetas without being a student nor anywhere near to the legal age, which Daria had to admit was an impressive feat of bullshitting from her sister and an even more impressive act of indifference and gullibility from the so called ‘sisters’.

“Quinn, you're in high school.” Even then she made one last effort before considering her lost to the demons.

“Listen, Daria. I don't stop you from reading. Don't stop me from this.”

“She's God's problem now, kid. Let's get out of here. This place gives me the creeps.” Heather was a wise woman who knew when to cut bait and leave.

“Well, now that my dead weight is in the bottom of this sea of vanity, can you give me the tour of the Law department? I want to see if I can make anything out of this visit”

“No, no way in hell I’m letting you into the hands of those sharks, half the teachers there are part of the Dinozzo Family, and you don’t want to see how the Bursar operates…”

“And that is officially the end of my interest in this honorable institution. Now how do we spend the next two hours until the tour is officially over?”

“Want to see some real college dorms, with real college TVs?”

* I II III IV *

After that and a few more historical yet irrelevant buildings Heather finally arrived to her room and proceeded to teach Daria some of the main activities of the life of a student. Things like having to take part-time jobs being overworked by bosses who knew that students could only ask a quarter of the salary an illiterate moron could get, the humiliation of begging the parents for money to avoid hunger, and of course the business of cheating out of doing your homework.

It was right after the end of the episode of Court TV that the deliveryman came with the envelope for Heather.

“My psych term paper, finally. Nobody respects deadlines anymore.”

Curious about the kind of work that a supposedly starving undergraduate would pay good money for, Daria took the papers and started reading. It must have been a joke; there was no way that she would have accepted money to take this for an elementary school book review, much less pay for it.

“Uh, you paid somebody to write this for you?”

“It was a collaboration. My part was to say how long it should be and when it was due.”

“But the first paragraph doesn't even make sense, and I’m pretty sure this is the name of an actor… How much did you pay for this?”

“Fifty bucks.”

“Well, you should get reimbursed; this would get an F on elementary school English class.”

“Fuck, you’re kidding me”

“Nope, I’m pretty sure William Shakespeare and William Shatner are not the same people, and that Othello never met the Khan on the ‘Kobayashi Maru’.”

“Damn, damn, damn. I shouldn’t have trusted that little nerd. And there's no time to get someone else, deadline is tomorrow, and… Wait a second. Have you read Othello?”

“And what if I have?

“Look, you’re a smart kid. Could you fix this? I’ll pay you ten bucks?

“I couldn’t fix this for a hundred; this term paper is unfit for a hamster cage. What I could do is write a new one if you’re willing to pay the price.”

* I II III IV *

While Daria was giving a lesson in English Literature alongside a practical test on business management, Jake’s Rose Colored Glasses had finally come off, letting him realize that he had let two daughters adrift in a sea of rebellious, horny, drug addicted guys with unlimited access to a number of dark corners. Helen had left five minutes earlier to meet with the Bursar, Peter ‘pony’ Dinozzo, so finding his children and protecting their virtue would fall to him. It was a shame that he forgot that the Flower Generation was left behind by history for more than twenty years.

At this point after making sure that Daria was indeed capable of writing a college level paper of at least C+ quality, Heather went to hunt the moron that she had contracted for the job, intending to get back her fifty dollars and have enough to eat after paying off Daria.

* I II III IV *

Meanwhile on the dorm’s communal computer Daria was typing the report at high speed, from time to time comparing her work with an old paperback copy of Othello, the other residents were looking at her with a mixture of curiosity and amazement.

For Daria it was a challenge, no matter the circumstances it is hard to write between 10 and 15 pages about Othello, without preparation or another paper to base it on, plus the time constraints, she had barely enough time to type it, no first draft, no proofread, for someone who was used to do A+ homework without opening a book this was the closest thing to pressure in her scholastic career. And yet she was capable of having a couple of conversations on the side.

“I'll give you a couple of useful tips for the exam; first, the book title Sons and Lovers does not have an apostrophe in it... anywhere. Second, unless your ex-boyfriend is an authority on D.H. Lawrence, don't base your thesis on something he said while making out.”

“Mm... What about something he said when we broke up?”

“No, in fact consider that anything that sounded remotely useful when you broke up is suspicious.” And to think she was reserving that piece of advice for her sister.

“Mm… Okay, thanks.”

“Look, there is no way I’m going to be able to help you with your papers while I’m busy rewriting this Ode to the Space Operas in the half hour I got left. So please just give me the highlights of whatever problem you got and I will do my best to help you. Just remember to leave the money on the table before your turn.”

* I II III IV *

Meanwhile Jake was already desperate about finding his daughters before one of the resident punks would do something. Until now his attempts had consisted of asking random people about a girl with a pink top and another with glasses and a green jacket, the responses went from the nervous rejection to rude gestures. He was already desperate enough to rip the photographs of his daughters from the application forms for the newsletter of the school and use them to create a couple of ‘Wanted’ signs when he saw a geeky boy in a white shirt arguing with a familiar brunette.

“Heather I’m sorry, my frat ‘brothers’ force me to do it, it's part of the pledge of Sigma Stigmata.”

“I don’t fucking care if it's part of a pledge or not, I want my fifty back. Right NOW”

“Okay, I thing I got a hundred bill, do you have enough change”

At soon as he got the bill out Heather took it with a swift movement. “Consider the rest as punitive damages from the screw up, that’s about what I’m going to pay anyway to the gal redoing the work”

Then she felt a couple of large arms holding her by her shoulders and trying to turn her around. Her response was an elbow to the stomach of the attacker. Just as she was going to follow up with the traditional kick between the legs she finally recognized Jake Morgendorffer trying to talk even as he was trying to breathe.

“Heather… thank god… where… daughters?… campus full… animals… pot… dark corners”

Suddenly understanding what Jake’s ramblings were about, it was Heather’s turn to be nervous. “Mister Mordendoffer, Daria is having a tour right now of the… dorms, yes, about life on the school campus, and for your other daughter…”

* I II III IV *

Helen was seated outside the Bursar's office thinking about how distorted some of her memories had become; unlike Jake she did remember how the students could be at the college with their elders, and didn’t that thought make her feel old?, the problem was that what sounded witty to an undergrad, was just plain rude to an adult.

All those concerns were bought to a halt when the Bursar's door opened and a figure stepped out of the room, the man was short and pudgy, with a round face marked by a badly trimmed beard. It was clear than even in this temperate weather he was sweaty and odorous, yet that wasn’t the thing that gave Helen pause; it was the fact that she recognized him.

His name was Alexander Harrington and while she had never met him until now she did know many things about him, most of them bad, the rest simply horrible. The first thing they gave her when she came to Vitale, Davis, Horowitz, Riordan, Schrecter, Schrecter, and Schrecter, after signing her contract and the Sexual Harassment Liability forms, was a brief listing the notable VIPs and lawyers in the area, it was roughly divided into three main sections, people to mingle with, people not to mingle with, and people to run from; his name and mug shot were under the latter section, more specifically in the :“look out for black vans with the logo ‘Flowers By Irene’” subsection.

He was an expert at fiscal law, well known in the field of Fiscal Paradises and quite successful protecting assets from falling under RICO, therefore all of his clients were usually under semi-permanent surveilance by the police. She didn’t knew much more about him, her field was corporative negligence and therefore organized crime and tax evasion was out of her circle of competence, that particular speciality in the office was under the jurisdiction of Roger Riordan except that he was terrible in jury trials, far more comfortable erasing paper trails from his own office…

Maybe she was reading too much into this, mobsters have children too, maybe it was the first and last time he would be in this university.

“Well Pete, as always it was a pleasure, but you know how it is, I have Intro Law 101 in fifteen minutes, and those kids are sharp, they’re already looking for ways to unlock trust funds and we are still on the first trimester.”

“Bye Alex, send a big kiss to my goddaughter, tell her uncle Pony is visiting this weekend.” After saying goodbye to his friend, Peter gave a quick look to his agenda and said.

“Ms Morgendorffer? Good afternoon, I’m Peter Dinozzo, but my friends call me Pony, come in.”

* I II III IV *

When Heather returned alongside a badly shaken Jake, Daria was still on the computer madly typing; at her side was a small bundle of bills and a couple of odd papers that hopeful residents had left with her for at least a few tips, and maybe even a revision.

“Daria, thank god you’re here. Did any of those punks touch you? I’ll kill them…”

“Dad, calm down. What's going on?”

“…If they made you smoke pot I’ll…”

“Dad, Dad… DAD.” At this point he finally slowed down a little “Ok, Dad, deep breaths, steady, steady.”

“I’m fine, I’m fine… Thank you kiddo. Now, are you ok? What are you doing here? Did any of those animals out there do something to you? Or gave you anything weird to smoke? Or take you to any dark places? Where is your sister?”

“In order, yes, working on an immoral term paper, no, no, they wish, and in the process of infiltrating a sorority.”

At this point Heather was looking nervously at the drama unfolding in front of her, eyes widening at Daria’s answer, and then to the growing crowd gathering to watch the entertainment.

“Good, you’re right. What do you mean with a term paper? No, wait did you said something about Quinn and a SORORITY?

“Well this is a practical example of how does it feels to cram for a Term Paper when the deadline is only a couple of hours away, it's supposed to show the stress of doing things at the last minute. As for Quinn, she found her path in the educational system by joining her fellow ‘soul sisters’ of the Thetas.”

“Oh, the Thetas, I remember the Thetas, they were always a blast at the parties; I remember this party where they took a hose and… GAAHHHH!! I need to save my little Quinn! Helen is going to kill me…”

“Dad, focus, now. Where’s Mom?”

“She's at the Bursar's Office, I wanted to go, but she thought that a more firm touch was needed.”

Daria then addressed the public in the common room of the dorm. “Does anybody here have the number of the Shark’s Tank?”

* I II III IV *

The university fee she could understand, it was well within the price range they could afford for both of their children even at the same time; she also saw the relevance of rules forcing students to live on campus for at least their first year, she would admit that there was some sort of logic in a deposit for the right to live on campus, even if it was far larger than strictly necessary; but why did anyone need so many kinds of insurances?, most high risk employers didn’t have that many options, and the fact that there was a specific contribution for garbage collection was outrageous.

“I just can't figure out what all this is paying for.”

The 'Pony' laughed just like his namesake “I understand your feelings, Ms Morgendorffer. Many of our parents experience similar sticker shock, if I may...”

‘My god even his laugh is suspicious.’ thought Helen.

“That's why I refer a lot of our parents to this institution.” he said, proffering a brochure. “It's not a bank, but a family business that understands families. They can set you up with a cash loan on very agreeable terms.”

“What's this address?”

“It's a candy store. That's their business. They sell candy. And make loans. Oh, and haul trash. They got a variety of interests, actually. You play the ponies, Helen?” It was then that the phone rang answering Helen’s prayers for something to interrupt the meeting.

“Hello? ... Yeah, she's here.” Passing her the receiver he added. “It's your husband Ms Morgendorffer, he sounds agitated.”

“Thank god... I mean yes, thank you.” She then concentrated on the phone call.

Hello Jake… What? … slow down, I can’t make any sense of what your talking about… where is Daria… there, right put her in the phone… Ok, Daria tell me what's going on… Uh huh…uh huh… and you’re where… and Quinn? … She’s with whom? … no, we’ll talk about it later, right now I’m calling the fuzz… the fuzz Daria, the Campus Police… no, I’ll go there, you stay where you are and keep your father from running off and doing something stupid… we will talk about this later.”

As soon as she hung up, she rose from her seat apologizing to Pete. “I`m sorry Mister Dinozzo, but a family emergency just came up, I hate to leave in a hurry but I have to save my daughter from a sorority.”

“Forget about it.” he said, channeling his inner godfather. “I know everything about family woes. I’ll see you later when you come back; they all came back eventually…”

* I II III IV *

On this day the intrepid explorer Quinn Morgendorffer had managed to joint the insular community of the Sigma Stigmata, as the ritual entrails she was hoisted on the shoulders of several frat guys of the highest ranking; around them the lesser and pledge brothers circled the procession while doing a respected tribal dance and chant of long held tradition.

“Keg... Queen. Keg... Queen. Keg... Queen.”

In the Fraternity community the Keg Queen is a figure of great Honor, she gets to drive the kegs to and from the distributor, therefore being responsible of keeping the parties going.

From her lofty position Queen Quinn rejoiced while admiring the display of respect her new petitioners offered to her. In this case her position was mostly ceremonial since she lacked both a driver’s license, and more important, the 21 years needed to get the booze out of the liquor store. Yet she did not care, since the day was hers and no one would dare to stop her.

Then the unexpected happened, a siren wail signalled the arrival of danger; now the links of tradition, respect and honor were replaced by fear, they heard only their instinct, the imperative of the survival of the fittest. As one man they ran, leaving everything behind, dropping everything, even the beer, even their Keg Queen…

“Ouch”

It was this scene that Helen witnessed as she left the back seat of the campus police patrol car.

“Quinn! What did they do to you?!”

“They made me their queen! Isn't it great?!”

“Is this your daughter, Mrs. Morgendorffer?”

“Yes, officer. Thank you for your help.”

“She appears to be underage, madam.”

“Don't worry, Mommy, I have I.D.”

“Quinn, where did you get a false ID?”

“Umm, could we pretend you didn’t hear that?”

“We have strict rules about minors at fraternity parties. I'm afraid I'm going to have to escort you all off the campus -- immediately.”

“Damn fuzz.” Helen finally remembered why she hated the campus rent-a-cops, they were all party poopers.

* I II III IV *

While Helen was being kicked off her Alma Mater by the campus police, Jake was talking with the current residents of the dorms, asking Heather about some of the landmarks and traditions that they used to have in his day, some which survived and some that didn’t. Heather of course was as accommodating as possible, since if he raised a complaint her post in the academics office would be forfeit for leaving a minor unattended.

“… And what about the Milestone theater? I remember we used to do a lot of plays; there was this one where we tarred and feathered one of those pigs of the army, with a real pig.”

“No, Mr. Mordendoffer, the old Milestone theater was demolished after finding an infestation of fire ants in the foundations.”

“Damn, those tin soldiers won once more. God damn army pigs… and call me Jake”

“I wouldn’t worry about that… Jake. The ROTC program was shut down in 1993 after the school lost its federal funding.”

“Ha, take that you Buxton Ridge wannabes”

Meanwhile Daria was giving Heather’s term paper one last quick read, printing her paper and doing a quick check on the spelling and grammar. Then while her father was celebrating the death of the ROTC called her contractor to give her the final product.

“This is good Daria, really good, much better than whatever that creep could have done, and faster, way faster.”

Retrieving her wallet she started counting money. “Here you go, 75 dollars. Say, do you want some extra expending money? We could make a killi…”

At this point the dorm manager came to the common room, carrying a note with her. “Mr. Moll the doll fer? Campus Security called, your wife is waiting for you in the parking lot.”

“We’ll talk about this later, call me.” Was Daria’s parting words as she gave Heather her phone number and hurried after her father.

* I II III IV *

The ride back to Lawndale was filled with pent up tension; for the family it had been a day full of ups and downs, mostly downs. At the end it was Jake who broke the silence.

“Helen, where did my Middleton go? … It used to be a place full of cool dudes who believed something; but now it's full of rude, horny, sell-out capitalists.”

“You’re right, the Bursar was a crook of the worse kind, and the fuzz is worse than ever, how dare they try to ban me from my Alma Mater, don’t they know I’m more successful than any of the slackers of this generation will ever be.”

“Don’t know about that Mom, my sisters from Theta were quite nice, and the guys from Sigma Stigmata made me their keg queen! A queen, me!”

“Quinn, don’t get me started with that, we still have to talk about your actions today; and Daria, as the elder sister I hold you partially to blame.”

“Sorry, I left my leash in my other jacket alongside my flea powder.”

“Don’t talk back to me young lady.”

“I wasn’t going to drag Quinn to a tour for her to be a pain in the ass all the way, nor was I going to be following her like a lost puppy. I couldn’t go to Vance, so I was hoping to learn something, anything, from this visit, but all I got was the latest front of the local mob and a bunch of old memories from I place I never cared about.”

This time the silence lasted all the way home.

* I II III IV *

That night when Helen opened her daughter’s door, she found Daria absorbed in her work, writing something on her computer, while checking from time to time a pamphlet under the light of her lamp. She always looked so small in this room, with the dirty grey padded walls almost absorbing the light and the furniture, or more appropriately, the lack of furniture beyond the bare minimum. It gave the room the illusion of a larger space while keeping the nagging feeling of claustrophobia in the back of the mind.

About the only things that gave the room the feeling of being lived in were the posters pinned to the walls, even if they were as morbid as the rest of the room. Kafka’s 'Metamorphosis’ sharing a wall with an old poster of ‘Anatomy of a Crime' and a white sock incongruously sewn to the wall that Daria refused to explain. The model of a realistic human heart was in a way her fault, she had told Daria to get something more feminine to decorate her room in Highland, like stars or hearts, “Be careful what you wish for…” she thought to herself. At least the contractor had cut the bars on the windows before they arrived, if not Daria would surely have kept those as well. The part of Helen that was still a nonconformist understood that Daria liked the room not only for its gloomy atmosphere, but for its uniqueness.

Then she remembered the reason she was standing there, and after gathering courage for a few additional seconds, she loudly knocked on the door.

“Dear, can we talk?” Even while clearly showing confusion Daria automatically saved the archive she was working on before closing it.

“Um, yes, sure”

“About what happened today, I just want to say that I’m sorry. For your father and I Middleton is more than a school, it's the symbol of our freedom, for me it was the first time I didn’t have to deal with my mother or Rita trying to dictate my life, and for your father it was a time to be free from the shackles of your grandfather, and avoiding Vietnam. It was on the campus where we met for the first time, where we made our first true friends. What I want to say is that we were lost in our nostalgia and we were unwilling to hear you. I am sorry.”

“As much as it pains me to admit it some of the blame falls on me too, I have been a little too apathetic about your projects these last few years, doing the bare minimum until you lost your enthusiasm, while you did try to motivate me to keep going. I guess that after all this time, we let the inertia substitute real conversations, and on this occasion it did bite us in the ass.” Daria looked up into Helen's eyes and said quietly “Sorry.”

It was at this revelation that a moist eyed Helen hugged her daughter. Said daughter went stiff for a moment before tentatively returning the hug.

After a few seconds they separated, and it was Helen who asked first what both wanted to know. “Is everything all right?”

“Everything is forgiven, Mom”

Waiting a few seconds after Helen left the room Daria opened once again the Application letter to the Sloane Foundation’s scholarship. Even if she didn’t win one of the rather generous monetary prizes being one of the finalists of the prestigious award would all but guarantee access to any school in the United States or abroad. Plus all the required actions needed to be even contemplated would be easy to redirect to lesser programs if necessary. While filling in the final data, she whispered a few sad words, almost too softly to hear them herself.

“Sorry mom, but while I can forgive both you and Dad, there are some things that cannot be forgotten.”

* I II III IV *

In the master bedroom Jake was still in shock from the clash between his generation and the current one. “I can’t believe just how the place is filled to the brink with punks Helen, all of them rude and sex crazy. What happened to our Middleton?”

“Oh Jake, nothing happened, kids today think of exactly the same things we did in our day, or don’t you remember our performance on the backstage of the Milestone Theater?”

“Oh yes, we were hiding there from the fuzz and you only had that little pink number, and we were trying to be quiet when we were doing it because we could hear the pigs a few yards away and…”

At that point Helen decided to shut Jake up with a passionate kiss.

“What if instead of talking about it we have an encore.”

They expended the rest of the night in a far more productive way of reminiscing about their college days than talking.

* I II III IV *

It was the final day of the College Prep workshop; on this occasion they were going to discuss the students' college experiences.

“Okay, okay... so, like, let's all talk about our college experiences. Uh...”

“My big brothers stripped me naked and covered me with molasses, and left me in the middle of a field at night! It was awesome!” more than one student was invited to participate in the secret rituals of the fraternities; it seemed that Kevin was as good an anthropologist as Quinn.

“I had a good time, too. I walked into the student center and these kids were reading poetry -- then they let me make up some of my own! And they were really interested in my feelings and thoughts and... stuff.” If true then Brittany did have hidden depths somewhere, probably buried under her bra.

“Huh? That sounds stupid.” On the other hand Kevin was as deep as a puddle, one in the middle of the desert.

“Shut up, naked boy.”

“I went to Lawndale community college for their art program and they taught me that if I take the career in a few years I will be ready to teach seventy year old widowers how to do arts & crafts with macaroni.” Jane did learn as much as her fellow cynic. More or less nothing but how the cruelty of reality affects the future.

“How about you?” On the other hand Mack outdid both girls in the Department of Reality Checks.

“I learned about the first-string exemption. Turns out if you make the starting squad, you never have to take any exams.”

“All right!” If the make out scholarship plot hadn’t demonstrated by now just what kind of person the instructor was, then that little phrase proved it.

“Yeah. I'm looking forward to a great education. May I please have my money back now?”

“You little... oh…” Understanding that discretion was the better part of valor he redirected the attention to the Morgendorffer sisters. “…and you two. How did you like the famous Middleton College?”

“Daria got us thrown out.”

“I got us thrown out? I beg to differ, Keg Queen.”

“Keg Queen?! Can I have your autograph?”

“Dream on, naked boy.”

“Whoa, whoa, wait a minute! You got thrown out of Middleton? I, I just can't understand you kids sometimes. How can anyone get thrown out of that cesspool?”

* I II III IV *

It was after the end of the workshop that Daria and Jane found themselves walking down the street towards their respective homes.

“Thrown out of college without enrolling first. I'm damn proud of you.”

“Thanks, but the credit goes to my sister, I got to do a term paper instead, earned 75 bucks for two hours of work.”

“Cool, so you’re paying for the pizza today, how nice.”

“I walked into that one, didn't I? However the person responsible for my windfall sent me an e-mail, she wanted to meet me in Pizza King this afternoon. Do you still want your free pizza?”

“Dear, I live for free pizza, plus the extra attraction of having a college girl pleading to a high school student for her homework should be amusing enough by itself.”

* I II III IV *

Daria and Jane were seated by the window of Pizza King snacking on some fries when Heather made her appearance.

“Hey Daria, who’s your friend?”

“Jane Lane, artist extraordinaire at your service. But you can call me ‘Your Majesty’.”

“Heather Ingram, your majesty.”

“Now that there are no longer strangers amongst us, why did you want to meet me here? I hope it's not for the quality of the pizza, because you’ll be disappointed.”

“It’s not for the pizza, although it’s almost impossible for an undergraduate to be disappointed by any kind of food. No, today they returned the Term Paper, while the quality of the grammar itself all but guaranteed a B, it was much to my surprise that the teacher gave it the only A+ of the class.”

“So I’m already above college level, I should quit school and start my own company, I’ll model it after the Venetian Army.”

Jane decided to add her two cents. “No, I think that those long dresses would clash with your boots, plus the only black dude worth a damn around here is wrapped in Jodie’s little finger.”

Heather was smiling at the antics of the high school girls, and with a slight flourish she got a pack of cigarettes and a cheap lighter, lighting one she continued. “Mind if I smoke? No. Well, as I was saying, it got an A+, and all of the dorm residents know that it was you who did it on short notice, it was also you who gave them a great deal of advice that did help them with the homework. So I came here to see if we can do business.”

“So, what is the current rate for ‘collaboration works’ in university level papers?”

“Well, I was thinking a dollar per page.”

“Please, I’m wounded that you think so little of me. Five dollars per corrected work, ten for doing it from scratch like last time.”

“Are you trying to throw me on to the streets?, two and five.”

“No, but you’re buying quality and that's more expensive; three and seven and a half, with a rush bonus of 50%, final offer.”

After doing some math, Heather finally agreed. “Ok, I can work with that.”

“Ok, I’m only going to do a limited amount of work per month; I don’t want to burn out before my time. You can auction my slots, that way you will earn the difference, offer and demand. And all that jazz. By the way do you have a list of the prospective jobs and their due dates?”

It took only a few seconds for the brunette’s brain to reboot from the last bomb before she gave Daria a single folded sheet. At this point Daria took her stenographer notebook and did some quick notes on it.

“Okay, I can do the ones for literature and history easily enough, it should take me an afternoon; I need to do a bit of research for the economics paper, but it's doable. Jane, do you want to earn some pocket change? There is one here about Andy Warhol, plus a couple about renaissance painting.”

Through all this Jane silently watched in awe at her friend’s bargaining skills then blinked for a moment and smiled. “Sure, why not? There’s this camera I’m dying to buy.”

Heather wasn’t so sure to add an unknown factor to her new business. “Are you sure about that? You say it, we sell quality, and we can’t lose that so early in the game.”

“Don’t worry, I can vouch for Jane’s work, she’ll deliver.”

“Yeah, got paint instead of blood. Plus I just love Campbell's Soup Cans.”

Heather still sounded a little skeptical, but before she complained Daria decided to move forward. “Okay, I think we can have these ready for Thursday, I don’t want to meet here too often; it lacks privacy for this kind of meeting. Jane, can we use your house for the deposit and delivery?

“Sure, just make sure to call first; don’t want Trent to believe that the money fairy is giving him some bucks for a new amp.”

“Now that the business meeting is over, does anyone want pizza?”

“Hell, yeah. Us starving artists can never refuse free food.”

“Free food? Thank god I’m still broke.” said Heather. “I could use the extra fuel until… Say, isn’t that your sister?”

It was indeed Quinn, and she was arguing with their former college prep instructor.

“Uh!” Quinn then ended the conversation by throwing a soda in the instructor's face.

“I should have known Daria was right about that making-out scholarship!” With those parting words Quinn left behind the drenched creep with the Lolita complex.

“Well, the floor show is over, a shame my sister wasn’t drinking coffee or diet sulfuric acid.”

“Now, I’m sure that you seem pretty comfortable with the brain-dead. So, let's go to a party. The Sigma Stigmata’s are choosing a new Keg Queen after the tragic loss of last Friday’s chosen one to the Campus Police.”

* I II III IV *

During the dream sequence I mention many actors from legal thrillers. In order of appearance, Henry Fonda and Lee J. Cobb are part of the cast of “Twelve Angry Men”, Henry Drummond and Matthew Harrison Brady are on opposite sides in the movie “Inherit the Wind”, the judge is Judge Weaver from “Anatomy of a crime” interpreted by Joseph N. Welch who was a real life attorney who fought against Joseph McCarthy and of course Gregory Peck played Atticus Finch in “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

* I II III IV *
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