Note: This diary is strictly fictional, taking place in Arryn, in the A La Mode universe. It starts a few months before the comic does, and is censored so that children can read it. (Mallory is a college student after all.) Enjoy

August 31st

I was right. College sucks. I miss my dad; I wonder how he's doing in Tallahassee.

I just got this new diary as a little treat to myself. It was at a bargain price (an oxymoron regarding the textbooks here in the school store). Maybe I should describe it. It has flowers on the cover. Pink and green flowers strewn at someone's feet. It's like a random act of kindness.

Registration is killing me. No one likes freshmen. The teachers avoid you, tell you "no, we cannot accept you because the room is FULL. We have no more SEATS" like I am an idiot and not a kid trying to get her stupid schedule straight.

Oh wait. I'm not a kid anymore. I'm eighteen, on my own, with only my roommate to whine to. And perhaps everyone else in this house. I used to talk to my mom when I had problems, but that stopped the summer before last. Being a mom, she wanted to know where I was going at night, why I didn't speak to her anymore, and why I ignored my new step-family and didn't take my new little sister to the park and why I didn't help my new little brother with his math homework. I must say, it's good to be free. Now I don't have to see them anymore. I miss my room, but I lost it anyway when my older brother moved in.

I guess I should write it here lest everyone forget: MY MOM PUT MY DAD IN JAIL.

More on that later. I need to face the roommate, Ardic.

Sept 4

It turns out Ardic doesn't like people who whine.

"You're not a little kid anymore," she reminded me with a stern look. "No one forced you to come to this college."

I let her rant, listened a little, and realized that, with a grimace, she was right. ALL of the freshman had to deal with lousy schedules and backstabbing parents.

Okay, no backstabbing parents for Ardic, who has a beautiful painting of her family. Her dad tops her and the rest of the family in height, but her mother is hunched, holding a baby in her arms. A man with curly hair and a mustache has his arm around Ardic, squeezing her into his chest. She doesn't seem to mind, though.

"Who painted this?" I asked with fascination.

"The Historian, Matia," she answered, relaxing a little. "He painted this before I left."

"It's beautiful," I said, my eyes scanning the acrylic. Beside the **** accuracy of the body shapes, this painting gave an atmosphere of a jovial family, of one who enjoyed each other's company. Ardic was wearing white in the picture, her hair slung over one shoulder. Very different from the girl in the chador who was scrutinizing me.

"Thank you," she slid the canvas between two parts of a frame. "I miss them."

"I bet," I said sincerely, although it may have come out as catty. "Your family looks happy."

She gave me a look. "And yours is not?" she asked with iron clout.

I sighed. "It's a long story."

"We have time." She sat down on her bed, fingering the painting, tracing her father's face. "Dinner is not for an hour."

At least my story had a beginning, but then it went in several different directions. I decided to give the quick version. "My mom got my father arrested. They divorced. She remarried a new guy a month later, suddenly told me I had a new little brother and sister and a big brother who liked being the head of the household, and did all she could to keep my father from contacting me." I sucked my lips into my mouth. Thank God for chapstick.

An eyebrow raised. "When did this happen?"

I bent down, with a furious expression. "Last summer. I've been doing all I can to get my dad out of jail. She used him, that *****."

"Please don't use language like that."

That did it. "You don't get it, do you?" I exploded. "My mom was having an affair with another guy! Then, so that she could marry him, she took some of my dad's drawings and claimed they were child pornography! She has a lot of influence on the neighborhood, so he went to jail! He's not allowed to draw, talk to me, or do anything normal!" I took a deep, rapid breath. "Then she marries my NEW step dad, who has no idea what it's like to have your perfect family ruined by a self-centered ***** and thinks he's my new dad. He thinks that he can tell me what to do, what to say, and how to study! His kids are brats, wanting to play with me while I pay the bills and apply for college. And don't get me started on Bossy Brendon, who thinks he can walk all over me!" I took another deep breath. "I'd GIVE anything to have a family like yours, where at least you are happy! At least you're stable! At least they haven't betrayed you!"

Finally, this girl showed reaction. Shock, then shame as she looked down into her mother's face. "I am sorry. I had no idea." Then she added some sternness. "Regardless of how your family is, though, they are gone now. You have chosen to cut off from them completely. You cannot blame them for the problems you have now." She stood up. "You think my family is perfect?" her voice become softer. "You think my family, who want me to be independent, is stable? Why am I here, then, where there is no stability? Why am I here, when I would be happier studying languages at home, or in Madrid?" she shook her head at me. "I am close to my family, but I don't always understand them. They send me across an ocean to learn. Is there anything else you would like to tell me?"

Hot tears squeezed out of my eyes. I dabbed at them, ready to collapse. "I hate her," I moaned. "That cuckolding mother of mine."

Gingerly, she came out, took my hand, and began stroking it. She was trying. The rest of it came out, as it had come out when I had talked to Dr. Bill, but intuition told me that Ardic would listen, if not agree with what I had done.

Of course, my intuition has been wrong before. Only reason and human psychology can guide you in the world. And your own brain.

September 6th

It turns out I have a new friend, several housemates, and a fashion-conscious landlord. And my new friend is the same roommate who listened to me cry and criticized me for whining.

Ardic was pretty sympathetic when I told her everything. She then told me about how she hated and loved her older brother, Fareed.

"He likes to make fun of me because I'm a feminist," she grimaced. "He makes a joke out of everything, but he picks on me because he loves me the most. Or so he says."

"Feminist?" I asked, surprised. She was wearing a black chador that covered her hair, after all.

She tugged at it. "I only wear this as a sign of my culture. There is a saying that America erodes the heart, and I don't want to lose what I gained in Basque Country.

"I thought your parents were from Madrid."

"Basque Country," she corrected me. "We live in the mountains, away from everyone else and very cool. Not like here," she sighed.

I had to agree. We were in Central Florida, which tended to have sticky autumns. I spent a summer here once, when my family visited

I found out that she likes hot milk in the morning. So do I.

September 13th

It's been a while since I wrote, partly because I've been adjusting to my new schedule.

My fashion-conscious landlord (she keeps on telling me it's landlady, but I don't really see the difference) has a name: Didra Grand. We all call her Didee. She looks over us like a cheetah over her cubs and a piece of deer.

We all have chores, in exchange for paying less rant. Didee put up a huge Dry-Erase board in the kitchen filled with boxes for Dishwashing, Laundry, Cooking, and the works. I've filled out dishwashing for the week, as well as offering to manage her bills.

The other tenants are Didee's brother, B.B., a cute teenager in his first year of medical school. He has black hair with blue highlights and a very uncomfortable smile whenever he sees me.

Maybe I will go out with him, depending on how Didee feels about me handling the house finances. But Ardic also has her eye on him, especially since he is SUPER NICE. Not only does he get his chores done on time, but he pops in from time to time to hand us a cup of water or a chocolate bar. He might be the one to convince me that not all young guys are idiots.

On the other hand, it may just be because Didee is all over him, making sure he's dressed properly for med school and combing out his hair. Guys don't need their hair combed.

B.B.'s afraid of doing anything wrong under Didee's watch. In addition, he's afraid of doing anything wrong period. He doesn't know how to act when we happen to both want warm milk in the morning, or when he delivers laundry. Poor guy.

October 1st

October. Ye good old month of holiday spooks.

Halloween was never a big deal where I came from. At least, not a big deal if you were thirteen and handing out marshmallow heads to little monsters.

B.B. tells me that things are the same in Arryn. "In the local neighborhoods, the kids trick-or-treat," he said while we were washing dishes this evening. "But here it's an excuse to party," he muttered.

"Party's aren't so bad," I said to him. "Yeah, they're time-guzzlers and probably the worst ways to get introduced to alcohol, but it's also a way to destress and forget about everything."

"You drink?" he asked with a raised eyebrow.

I sighed. "No. I drank, yes, but I don't now. But," my tone becoming annoyed, "my point is that it depends on the party. If you have a small party with a few friends, you can make something like a birthday special. If you have a big party, it's a good time to socialize. It just needs to be done well.

"What makes you the expert?" he wiped his hands on a blue dishtowel.

"My mom," I reached for the yellow soap, squirted it all over my hands, and rubbed furiously. "She was on the neighborhood committee, and she was in charge of all the social events. She was good at it, I admit."

He became pensive. "My mother died when I was ten. She committed suicide."

Thank you, B.B., for making me uncomfortable and morbidly fascinated. "Oh," I bent my head. "Sorry."

"It's all right," he folded up the dish towel and set it next to the sink, where tiny splashes of water had gathered. "My dad took it hard. Didee kept us all going. She got me through school even though I wanted to do nothing but lie in bed."

"What was she like?" I ventured.

"Didee? Oh, you mean my mom. Well, she was a quiet person, very quiet with her lips pressed together all the time with prim dignity. Didee and she ran the house together after I was born; my dad was a doctor who made house calls for the wealthy people here. That's how-" he stopped. "Never mind."

He didn't have to continue. I had the image in my mind. Ardic is going to be jealous, I thought nervously.

October 5th

Is there no one in this household who can do basic math? I'm going to start charging for my financial advice; should've done it weeks ago.

Didee and I have reached an agreement. If I do taxes and let her style my hair (what's the point? It always looks all right), then I don't have to pay rent, even though the university is covering my boarding expenses. At least I'll have savings this year.

Ardic and I have maintained a civilized atmosphere to each other. She has started talking to B.B., but he's afraid of her. I see it in the way he talks. She's too bold, too . . . tight-buttoned. I think she reminds him of Didee too much.

I'm not an expert at psychology but I think it has to do with the fact that he wants to date a nice girl, someone who won't push him around or talk so abrasively. Ardic doesn't mean to, but she can rub people the wrong way if they don't know her.

Speaking of psychology, I need to find a way to get my studying done, even if it means foregoing my nights to Movie Club. Otherwise I'll end up failing two courses this semester.

October 7th

Oh, I haven't mentioned my course schedule. I registered in August, during the usual scramble to figure out what the **** I'm doing this semester. Hard to believe that it'll be over in two months. Why does time fly so fast when you're doing stuff or procrastinating?

Right now I'm a Finance major since finance is my strength. As said before, I'm taking Psychology (blecch), English Composition I (double blecch), Women's Chorale (kill me now), Introduction to Accounting (favorite class) and Calculus II (totally awesome).

Women's Chorale is okay. We get to stretch, give each other massages during warm-ups, but they've made me an alto.

I have been a mezzo-soprano since middle school. I have never been assigned as an alto. My voice knows it; the low notes come out really clunky. But they said I'd have to get retested at the beginning of next semester, but for now I'm stuck between the mezzo-sopranos and the altos.

The only good thing about it is that I've met really nice people in the alto section. There's this girl named Bitsy who could be my identical twin- if she weren't four inches taller, with perfect hair that alternates between ringlets and waves, and an alto I.

Ah well. Ardic's stuck with the first sopranos, who never sing on key. More power to the altos.

October 10th

I don't believe it. I don't believe it. Surely Didee has heard of my reputation. Surely she must have a plan to interfere with what I'm doing; she knows everything.

I don't even know how it happened. B.B. and I were talking in the so-called "practice room" (where Ardic and I go through our chorus stuff and someone bangs on the piano) because we had nowhere else to go. We got on the topic of parents, which was less painful to talk about than I thought it would be.

Turns out B.B.'s dad remarried too; he got hitched with his Key Largo nurse. B.B.'s okay with it, though, because he and his dad were never that close. "I blamed him for my mother's death," he said, his knuckled popping from his hands. "And before that he was always working; you know the type. I figured he was the worst guy for my mother to marry, because she always needed people, you know?"

I did know, having once been that kind of girl. It made me think about my dad, how he was the stay-at-home parent, while my mother went around organizing committees. But he was the real breadwinner, because working in the religious service was based on selflessness and not paychecks. I didn't tell B.B. about the prison thing because I'm looking up lawbooks to get my dad out; it's a personal project.

Instead I told him how my dad would videotape me wandering around the backyard in a blue and white dress while I counted the number of stones in the grass and called them the Queen's red roses. He read Alice in Wonderland every night when I was eight, and helped me dig a bunch of holes to find rabbits. Mom hadn't been too happy about that, but she filled the holes with all these saplings, so it worked out.

B.B. talked about his mother playing the piano; not the white baby grand in the practice room, but a large, solemn black one. "She had this way of pressing the keys," he gestured with his hands, "like she was forcing the sound out from the piano. A good sort of forcing, though, like-"

"She was pushing to get its soul," I suggested, thinking of penance and such. B.B. nodded, slightly embarrassed.

"That wasn't what I was going to say," he said.

From there we somehow discovered a mutual like for movies, and we agreed to go see the documentary on fairy revels and Tam Lin. I'm going tomorrow, in lieu of studying for English.

I can't believe it. B.B. is a little kid in a med student's body who's been forced to become an old man. I'm a rebellious, spoiled girl who only believes in rational thought. What have I done? What have I gotten myself into?

When is Didee going to kill me?

October 20th

Still in shock; I had a great time with B.B. No, make that a superbly frigging EXCITING date.

Turns out he is a very good movie watcher, especially when it comes to the theater at the university; he's up to date on all the films and can estimate their quality very well based on five minutes of one preview. He doesn't even mind that we get twenty minutes of previews for a 2 hour movie.

In addition, he's QUIET. For some reason my mother would go on chanting in this singsong about the dishes that I had been putting off all day, or commenting on how scandalous the main character dresses or how the guy is touching her shoulder (yeah, I know, considering HER scandalous behavior). My dad didn't like watching films, even though he videotaped them. He saw them as work, I think, because he'd talk about the cinematic effects and the director's take on things. I mean, jeez, movies are made to be WATCHED, not dissected.

But B.B. just watches with a look of utter bliss, even for the most horrible and boring films. He sometimes closes his eyes, but only for a few moments to savor a great scene.

Speaking of horrible, it turns out that Arryn goes crazy during October, the month of Halloween. Not only are they showing The Rocky Horror Picture Show, but they're also putting up Carrie, Brazil, A Clockwork Orange, and quite a few experimental films from the Communications school. B.B. loves this, because horror films are his favorite. He grew up on Twilight Zone reruns and has a very good Rod Serling impression. Not only that, but he can simultaneously burst into song and dance without the slightest trace of self-consciousness and not embarrass me at all.

"I wanted to go to performing arts school," he told me as we were getting some M&Ms from the concession stand. It was this huge bag that was only 5 dollars, which is a good deal considering that B.B. still doesn't have a bank account. "But they're really hard to get into and Didee and my dad . . ." he looked down, "it might've worked if I had joined drama in high school. But the thing was my grades came first, and I was taking a lot of advanced classes to get into the Honors Medical program. Also, the drama students were very possessive; I tried out every year, tried to figure out what I was doing wrong-"

"You should've gone to my school," I said, grabbing a handful of M&Ms from the bag; they were slightly sticky. "There was a choir of eight kids, not including me because I had religious choir, and only five students in drama. They totally would've let you act."

He had this cute shrug, like a little squirrel. "It's too late now. I'm 20, and I didn't even have the guts to apply because of the competition."

I took his hand, trying to comfort him, and I felt confused. I liked B.B., he liked me, we liked the same things, but something was missing, that oomph that's supposed to happen when you're in love. B.B. has the oomph, as I can tell from the big smile on his face when he sees me, but I don't, even though I think he's a very nice guy.

Maybe it was that year of total hell that made me lose the oomph. It's like how trauma victims can't handle anyone hugging them, and it takes a while. I want this relationship to work, if it's a relationship, because I like B.B. It's not often you meet a guy who, even if completely horny, will respect your space. (That's Didee's doing, probably; maybe that's why she hasn't approached us; she approves. I don't know.)

Speaking of which, Ardic's not speaking to me. She just fills up the room with incense or scented candlelight and does all these cool geometric designs to her hair. She then covers up the cool hair with her veil or chador, even when it's 80 degrees outside and she's obviously boiling in it. I've tried talking to her, but she brushes me off. It's a good thing we're not in the same choir section; that would probably make it harder to be friends with her.

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