"Home sweet home".
Daria kicked off her boots as soon as she walked into her hotel suite and made a beeline for the bottle of rum she had sitting on the desk. It was a little parting gift given to her from the head of the last journalism conference she attended and she had yet to crack it open. She didn't consider herself a heavy drinker but, sometimes, alcohol was a necessity. In a few short hours, she'd be back on the road and back at her old house with surprise dinner guest in tow. Dealing with both Trent and her parents would be more than enough excitement for one day. She grabbed for a glass that was waiting on the nightstand and filled it halfway, not bothering to go back into the hall to fill the ice bucket. She took a long drink before sitting down on the edge of the bed. After spending the day with someone else, it was strange to be alone again.
Alone: it was something she'd been for most of her life. She enjoyed her own company, even if it was a concept foreign to most. 'Humans are social creatures', was something she'd had spouted at her from more therapists than she could count, always as a gentle push for her to change her attitude. It never worked.
There were times when she tried to give people a chance but it always ended up being more trouble than it was worth. After Jane, she lost all desire to connect with people. The most interaction she got these days was at the job and, even then, she had her own private office. Even her parents joked about it, calling her their professional recluse. It used to be funny. Now, it was just a sad reminder.
It was hard to wake up to an empty house every day. Noise was her best friend and she often kept the TV and radio going at the same time, sometimes even at night. Then, the silence wouldn't press in on her from all sides. At least when Jane was around their apartment felt lived in. Her place now was cold and sterile, not like a real home at all. Maybe it wasn't one.
She took another long pull from her glass and willed the amber liquid to work its magic. The constant clashing of thoughts was what she hated the most about being home. It was like her brain suddenly forgot how to shut itself off. She looked over at her laptop, sitting stoically on the bedside table, and decided that she wouldn't be getting any work done today. Instead, she fished her cellphone out of her pocket and dialed a familiar number. It barely rang once before it was answered.
"Hey! Haven't heard from you in awhile".
"Hey, Quinn. Sorry, I've been...", she glanced around the room but there was no excuse waiting for her there, "distracted".
"What else is new?"
"Like you're any better".
"I've got three boys, of course I'm busy", as if on cue, there was a loud crash on the other end, "Ben, I told you not to climb on that!"
"Is this a bad time?"
"No, of course not! What's up?"
"...I saw Trent today".
There's an audible gasp on the other end and Daria could almost see Quinn's face, frozen in shock.
"Wow. What's he doing there?"
"Emptying the house, apparently".
"Is he, you know, okay?"
The genuine worry in Quinn's voice made her think about all the issues from the past. There was a time when she constantly asked herself the same question.
"He seems better".
"Do you think he's still..."
"On drugs?", she filled in for her, "No. He's not like he was".
"You don't sound too happy about it".
"It's weird", she let out a heavy sigh before pouring herself another drink, "I invited him over for dinner".
"With Mom and Dad".
She laughed, "Whoa, someone's feeling bold today".
"I might even watch a movie tonight".
"Living life on the edge", there was another crash, this one louder than the first, "Ugh, sorry to cut this short but I think my sons might tear the house apart. Tell Mom and Dad I said hi and it wouldn't kill you to come visit sometime. The boys miss you".
She frowned, guilt settling hard on her chest, "I know; I'll try to make it out there soon".
She hung up the phone and tossed it onto the pillow next to her. Talking to Quinn helped some but not much. Sleep didn't sound like a bad idea.
"Daria, what a nice surprise! And Trent, so nice to see you again".
Helen was the one to greet them at the door, a pleasant smile on her face. Gone was the trademark business suit she favored years ago, replaced by a simple cotton t-shirt and khaki pants. It was clear from the hint of makeup and neatly styled hair that she still cared about keeping up her appearance, retired or not. She quickly ushered them aside, gesturing for them to leave their coats and shoes by the door.
The warm scent of spices wafted through the house, guiding him to the kitchen. Jake was at the stove, stirring a pot of chili with the determined focus of a surgeon. Unlike his wife, his hair was completely gray and there were a few more lines on his face but he looked good for his age. He was humming to himself, completely lost in his own world.
Trent always thought that the Morgendorffers were the exact opposite of his own family. He distinctly remembered staying there one weekend when the rest of his family decided that it was a great time to come home and disrupt the delicate balance that he and Jane worked so hard to establish. His siblings were entirely grating and selfish, not only taking up every space but forcing everyone to focus on their problems. His parents were no better, holing themselves up in the basement and bathroom respectively to work on their own projects. He and Jane had no choice but to leave the house and the Morgendorffers were kind enough to welcome them with open arms. For the first time, he not only sat down to an actual family meal but he also earned the first grounding of his life. Of course, Helen couldn't assert her parental dominance totally as he left the same morning but it was enough to stick in his brain. He was shocked that she cared enough to even question him on his whereabouts. That weekend, he saw what a normal family was like. It seemed that not much had changed.
"Need a hand?"
A brief look of surprise crossed Jake's face but it wasn't long before he was walking around the counter to shake his hand.
"Trent, good to see ya! Been awhile, hasn't it?"
He was expecting some hesitation, especially with how tense things were with Daria, but it seemed the only one who was nervous was him.
"I'm sorry, I've had-"
"No need to apologize. Why don't you get the table set?"
"Sure thing, Mr. Morgendorffer".
He shook his head, "You've known me long enough now to call me Jake".
Trent found his way over to the cabinets to grab the plates and he neatly arranged them on the table. Funnily enough, he never knew how to set a table properly until he stayed at a halfway house. He thought about whether or not it would come up in conversation as he set out the silverware. He wasn't ashamed of what he'd been through but it was just one more addition to the slew of mistakes he had tacked on his back.
"Any chance you can make a duck out of this?", Daria's voice cut through his thoughts as she handed him a paper napkin. He noticed that she'd already set some in the empty spots he'd left next to the plates.
"I wasn't gifted with those genes. Janey was always good at stuff like that".
A sad smile raised a corner of her mouth, "I know".
They both stepped back in time for Jake to set a steaming pot down on the table. Trent had to admit that it looked good. Home cooked meals were few and far between for him with his own culinary skills being mediocre at best. He was going to take full advantage of this situation. He took a seat across from Daria while Helen and Jake occupied the seats at the ends of the table. Food was divvied up among them and they ate in silence for several minutes before Helen started the conversation.
"Daria, that last article you wrote about corporate spending was certainly...colorful".
"When you're a hard hitting journalist, you have to get to the heart of the story", she picked over her toss salad, "I appreciate your feedback".
"Don't you worry about backlash?"
"Mom, let's skip the politics tonight. How's tennis going?"
"It's going well. Your father's finally shaping up to be a great doubles partner".
"How can anyone make it to the damn ball in time?", Jake grumbled into his bowl, "I'm supposed to be taking it easy".
Helen rolled her eyes, "A little exercise is good for your heart, Jake. Doctor's orders".
"And think of how accomplished you'll feel when you get that perfect backspin".
"Daria, whatever happened to that nice young man you were dating? Paul, was it?"
That piqued Trent's interest. He caught the bright flush that burned her cheeks as she fumbled for her glass of water.
"It didn't work out".
"What happened? You two seemed to get along well".
"Not well enough".
"That's too bad", it was clear that she wanted more information but Daria's face was enough to deter even the most curious observer, "Trent, where are you staying these days? I feel like it's been ages since I've seen you".
"Still in Boston. I thought I'd want to move eventually but it's grown on me".
"That's great. And how have you been? You look well".
He was used to hearing that these days. He looked healthier than he did before and, for the most part, he actually was. He was a walking zombie at his worst, completely strung out more often than not. It was clear to everyone but himself that he was headed downhill fast. Like most, he needed a wake-up call. He only wished it took less than a life.
"I'm making it".
"It's terrible about the house. Our new mayor is all about advancement and renewal. I swear, the people around here just couldn't wait to make changes. I'm sorry, you probably don't want to hear about that".
"It's alright. That's actually why I'm here. Figured I'd pack up whatever I needed while I still have the time".
"Speaking of that", Daria said evenly, "Trent needs a place to stay for awhile and I graciously offered him the guest room".
Helen didn't seem fazed by this. On the contrary, she looked excited about the news.
"Of course! We'd love to have you around".
"Thank you. I promise I'll stay out of the way".
Jake looked at him thoughtfully, "Say, how do you feel about cooking? I could use a sous chef".
"I can certainly try".
It was strange being back in their lives again but a change of pace was exactly what he needed.
Trent was out smoking in the driveway when Daria finally made her exit. Outside, silhouetted by the yellowing glow of a streetlight, he seemed almost ethereal. He was silently gazing at the night sky, so preoccupied by his own thoughts that he barely noticed her walk up next to him.
"I know, bad habit", he said without turning to face her.
"Shouldn't you have quit that too?"
He dropped the remainder of his cigarette to the ground, snuffing out the glowing ember in one quick step. He went to pocket his lighter but somewhere in between it slipped from his fingers and fell. It was then that she took notice of the way his hand was shaking. It was clearly a tremor, completely random, and she caught herself staring. She immediately averted her eyes as she bent to pick up the lighter but she'd seen that knowing look in his eyes. The damage was already done. Knots of embarrassment tangled up in her stomach and she forced herself not to so much as glance as she handed it back to him. She could sense that he too was embarrassed by the way he shifted on his feet and she wondered why he should feel badly. She had made the mistake; he didn't have anything to be ashamed by. She had to store this with the ever growing list of new information about him to be properly mulled over later.
"...Sorry", she whispered, "I didn't mean to-"
"Would be weirder if you tried to pretend it didn't happen", this time, he slipped the lighter into his pocket with no issue, "Just one of a few side effects that I was too fucked up to care about".
"Will it get any better?"
"I guess it's a possibility. Thanks again for this".
"It's no big deal. I'll head back this way tomorrow, if you need more help".
"Don't let me bother you".
"It's not a problem. It's the least I can do".
That was as close as she could get to acknowledging where they last left off. She thought back to the funeral as little as possible, for her own sake. She knew that she'd have to revisit it eventually but tonight was not the night.
"Guess you'll be heading back after tomorrow".
The promise of returning to the city was what she always clung to but, this time, it didn't provide as much comfort for her. Usually when she left, there was nothing here to hold her back.
"Well, I'll see you then".
He gave her a wave before he turned back towards the house. She wrestled with the urge to call out to him, knowing that she didn't have anything worthwhile to say. The closing of the front door made the decision for her.