Nemo Blank


Daria's Season of Goodwill

Writing is easy. All you have to do is stare at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.
Gene Fowler (1890-1960)

Characters belong to Viacom. Used without permission. This story is not to be sold, but it may be distributed and posted freely in unchanged form, so long as the authors name and email address remain. Copyright 2000, by Nemo Blank. Enjoy!




     Daria stood at the end of Jane's driveway and looked at the house. Jane and her family were off visiting relatives in Texas for the Christmas break and weren't due back until after the new year.

     Sighing, Daria continued her run, thinking about how surprised Jane would be when she got back and Daria offered to run with her. Running, she had discovered, was a good antidote to excessive thinking. By the time she got home, it was late afternoon and getting cold.

     Her glasses steamed up when she stepped through the door. Stumbling over a pair of shoes, she tripped on a plastic shopping bag sitting in the hall.

     "Ow!" Daria felt blood on her skinned knee. She was blindly groping around for her glasses, when she heard giggles.

     Daria flushed with humiliation. "I could use some help here, Quinn." Daria couldn't see a thing. It was all just an abstract achromatic blur to her. Her eyes hadn't adjusted to the darker house and weren't very useful anyway.

     "God, Daria, You're like, the worst geek that I know." Quinn contemptuously picked Daria's glasses up off of the floor and thrust them at her.

     Daria put them on and became aware of the Fashion Club smirking at her from the bottom of the stairs. "What's all this crap doing laying on the floor here?" she demanded, unsuccessfully trying to cover her embarrassment.

     Quinn smiled maliciously. "Those are old clothes going to the Christmas charity drive. Do you have anything that you want to contribute, Daria? Oh, that's right, all of your clothes are old. Sorry. Wouldn't want you running around naked and like, scaring people." Quinn looked at her laughing friends, basking in their approval.

     Silently, Daria walked toward the stairs, forcing the girls to step aside. Quinn had been getting worse lately. All she seemed to do anymore was chip away at Daria. Helen had started comparing them again, nagging Quinn about her lackluster grades and setting them against each other like they were a pair of new interns working for her.

     Daria bandaged her scraped knee and opened her door. Her computer was still on, so she sat down and wrote a little story based on a dream she'd had. Lost in the creative process, she jumped when her mother opened her door.

     "Supper, Daria. Have you been at that computer all day again?"

     "I'm pregnant, Mom." Daria's mouth twitched into her miniscule smile as Helen goggled at her. A shock deserved a shock.

     "Daria! Quit doing that!" Helen shook her head and came all the way in. Daria liked throwing bombs, but then if Daria was pregnant that was just the way that she'd announce it.


     Daria continued. "Pregnant with inspiration. I'm giving birth to a novel here. If it's all right with you, I'll just skip dinner. The sight of Quinn frightens away the muse."

     Helen sighed. Daria was skipping dinner almost every day now. "Tell me, Daria, when did you eat last?"

     Daria shrugged. "Lunch?" Maybe it was breakfast. She just hadn't been very hungry lately. She was sick of lasagna and she tended to snack on dried fruit or sunflower seeds after running. She was running a lot.

     "What did you have?" Helen was looking at her, suspiciously. Daria's face looked thinner and more defined. In fact Daria had a lean, lanky look about her now. She didn't look frail, but Helen had gone to a parenting seminar and learned to spot the symptoms of anorexia. She'd half expected it in Quinn, but now that she looked, she thought she saw the signs in Daria.

     "Toast." Daria felt her stomach sinking. Helen was in full cry.

     Helen stared at her, suspicions fully aroused. "And I remember breakfast. One small piece of dry toast isn't enough."

     Daria shrugged. "I'm not underweight, Mom."

     Helen frowned. "We'll see. Come on, Daria. Let's go. On the scale, now."

     Daria weighed herself, coming up to her usual 100 pounds. Helen, unsatisfied, made her stand against the doorframe in her socks.

     Helen manipulated a sliding height weight chart. "Daria, you are underweight! You've grown three inches since we made this mark." Helen looked at her. "Come on. You're eating every night until you can show me at least 110 on that scale."

     Daria grew angry. "Look, Mom, I don't care if I'm fat or not. I just get sick when I overeat. I'm not hungry!" She hoped that Helen didn't notice that the scale wasn't calibrated. Daria knew that she was light, but she felt fine, so she didn't worry about it.

     After loosing the argument, Daria ate, surprised to find that she was hungry after all.

     "Like, why would Daria be anorexic?" Quinn looked across the table, guilelessly. "She doesn't care what she looks like. No guy is interested, so that can't be it."

     Daria looked at Quinn and ostentatiously dropped her fork onto the plate with a clatter. "Oh dear, there goes my appetite." She instantly regretted the sarcasm.

     "Quinn! You're not helping. Can't you girls just try to get along?" Helen saw that Daria had been eating normally. She tried to revive her mood by making pleasant conversation. "So, Daria, tell us about your little story."

     Daria smirked. "I call it, The Corpse. It's about a dead man rotting unburied in the woods. He's trapped inside his body until it rots away. It's sort of a metaphor for life and marriage. He-"

     "Dammit Helen, now I'm not hungry!" Jake put down his fork full of lasagna.

     Dinner broke up by mutual agreement and Daria returned to her room.

     Inspiration having fled, Daria shut down her computer, laid back on her bed and stared up at the ceiling cracks. Her active mind, always searching and probing the world around her, turned inward. Her usual mode of thought was not kind. As she methodically analyzed her life, she found herself teetering on the brink of all out depression.

     Desperate to occupy her questing thoughts, she rolled off of the bed, dressed and took her battered green Toyota to the mall. Maybe some people watching would cheer her up.

     Walking around the crowded mall alone was even more depressing. It seemed that the whole world came in pairs, except for her. Catching sight of Quinn surrounded by boys, she quickly amended that. With Jane gone she had no friend that she could talk to, no family that understood her and no prospects of anyone ever being interested in remedying that situation. She stopped in front of a mirror in front of a boutique and regarded herself. A huge mall clock was reflected over her image, its reversed second hand ticking away. Knowing that she was being melodramatic, she contemplated growing old and dying alone while that clock ticked its uncaring rhythm. Then she wished that she was shallow and oblivious, one of natures butterflies, like Quinn.

     "God, I've got to snap out of this!" She could only wallow in so much self generated misery before growing bored with it.

     "Got the holiday blues, Daria?"

     Daria jumped.

     Upchuck grinned at her. "You need me. I've got the cure."

     "For what, overpopulation?" Daria smirked, instantly cheered up. Crossing swords with Upchuck was always fun. He was one of the few that could detect the full biting measure of her sarcasm. It was good to have at least one intelligent enemy.

     Upchuck took a slow step toward her. "Daria, you know that you're lonely. Lonely and lovely. I'm lonely too. There's just no reason for us to be lonely. It's a whole new millennium now, Daria. Time to get a life. We could get together and fight off the holiday blues. Turn off that useless brain and listen to your womanly instincts. Let me be your friend tonight. Let's see if we can make it, together," he crooned, moving closer.

     Daria stared, mesmerized.

     "Carpe Deim, sweetness. The clock is running. It's time to put all that sarcasm aside and try something new. Loneliness isn't necessary for a beauty like you. Let me love you, Daria. Let me help you find some happiness." As he spoke, he almost seemed to levitate closer to her. He stared into her eyes, speaking slowly, verbally caressing her with a hypnotic cadence. When he finished, he was very close and he smoothly leaned in and kissed her on the lips.

     For an instant, she was kissing him back. She suddenly froze, pulled away, gasped, gave him a wide eyed stare and then ran for it.

     Upchuck smiled through his heady rush and watched her run, knowing that it was no use chasing her right now. She would go somewhere and think it over, but she wouldn't be able to forget the attraction that she'd felt. It would work on her mind. He had come close, but not tonight. It was hard to predict her, because unlike most of his prey she was easily as intelligent as he was. He knew that he could use that against her later in the game, though. He ruled at triple-think.

     Upchuck looked up at the unobtrusive sprig of mistletoe that he'd tied to the fire sprinkler over the mirror. Women always looked into mirrors when they were vulnerable. It was a productive holiday trap, netting him a good assortment of kisses so far. He grinned. Getting a long coveted kiss from the incomparable Daria was like winning the thousand point free-play bonus.

     He faded back into the scene and silently smirked at an oblivious Sandi, who was pensively approaching his mirror. Upchuck could already tell by the way she walked that she was an ice cube that was ready to be melted. He would have to move faster, with a cruder approach, but she would respond to his zooming better than Daria had. He squirted some Binaca into his mouth, ran his tongue over his teeth, grinned and waited for his trap to spring.

     Daria sat in her car and let her forehead rest on the wheel. She couldn't believe that she'd almost been snared by Upchuck and his corny lines. Even now she was still responding physically to the kiss. A small, traitorous part of her mind was telling her to go back and finish what Upchuck had started. It was horrible. She didn't know herself at all, anymore. She sat there thinking for a long time.

     "Hey! Open up. I need a ride home." Quinn knocked at the passenger door.

     Daria jumped. "Well, well. It's my little cousin who shares the same biological parents, home and last name as me." She unlocked the door, fighting down the urge to start the car and drive away without Quinn.

     Quinn opened the door and slid in, throwing her packages over the seat and accidentally smacking Daria in the face. "Sandi like, disappeared. I don't want to get stuck here. Lets go."

     Daria put her glasses back on, pursed her lips in irritation, then relented. At least she'd been distracted from the horrendous episode with Upchuck.

     As they pulled out, Daria saw Tiffany and Stacy running after them. Remembering their laughter when she'd hurt herself, Daria didn't stop. Quinn was engrossed in the process of changing into her new shoes, so she never saw them.

     Trent smoothly eased the eighteen wheeler to a halt in front of his house. Yawning, he pulled the curtain that led to the bunks. "Darlene! We're in Lawndale."

     Darlene yawned and climbed out of her bed. "Already? We made good time." She'd picked Trent up outside of San Antonio. Liking his looks, she'd given him a ride home in exchange for his taking a job as her relief driver for two cross country trips. She'd taught him to drive and gotten him a CDL. She'd hoped that he would stay, but when she saw him stinting on sleep to practice his guitar she'd known that it just wasn't going to happen. Her ex husband was a country and western singer, so successful that it made her teeth hurt. Trent was just like him. It'd been eerie, having him sitting in the passenger seat, improvising songs. Even the voices were similar.

     "Listen, Darlin', if you ever need a job, just leave word at any truckstop. You have a great reputation on the road." Darlene admired the lean form as he swung over to the passenger side. If she was ten years younger...

     Collecting his pack and guitar, Trent turned and kissed her on the cheek. "It's been real, Darlene. Good luck on finding a replacement." He looked at her, worriedly. "Don't drive too many hours. It's not worth the-"

     She laughed. "That's what I like about you, Trent. You actually care. I don't like long good-byes, so scat."

     As she pulled away, he shouted after her, "Hey! Stop by the next time you're passing through!"

     Through a surprising prickle of tears, she honked twice in acknowledgement.

     Trent slipped on his pack and slung his guitar. Opening the garage door he found himself whistling. It was nearly Christmas, his family was far, far away and he felt really good.

     Daria was listening to Quinn chatter. It amazed her that anyone could be so casually offensive. A month previously, after a particularly bitter fight, Daria had finally had enough. After talking to Amy about it, Daria had decided to quit playing the old Barksdale wreak-your-sister game. It didn't make her feel any better and now that she was aware of it she wouldn't be a party to her family's long tradition of sibling hatred. Fighting with Quinn all the time took too much of her time, energy and patience.

     It had taken her a surprising amount of time to break the habit of casually cutting Quinn down. She had been ashamed to realize that almost every word that she spoke to Quinn was an insult of some kind. Stopping was hard, because she really had very little to say to Quinn otherwise. In the absence of Daria's punishing verbal counterblows, Quinn had taken to running Daria down to her face.

     "So now I have to keep Mike from finding out about Brendan because Brendan's got a Jag but Mike's family has a big Yacht that they might take out this summer." She glanced at Daria, expecting an acid comment. "I don't know why I'm telling you this. It's not like you could help. You've never even had a real date." Quinn watched keenly and saw the telltale twitch of Daria's cheek as the hateful words impacted her. She waited for Daria's crushing counter attack, but once again, nothing happened. Daria just drove along, silently. Quinn was shallow, but Daria's abdication of the sibling battlefield hadn't gone unnoticed. Quinn was worried that it was all some gigantic plot. Daria was a wickedly good plotter.

     Quinn had just opened her mouth, a fresh series of attacks coming to mind, when she saw the tear fall. Her mouth stayed open as Daria glanced at her, then embarrassedly wiped her cheek.

     "Like... Was... I mean..." Quinn fell silent, the unaccustomed feeling of deep, scouring shame steeling over her. In Quinn's life there were some absolutes. Her rivalry with Daria was one of them. The fact that Daria did not cry or show any emotional weakness whatsoever was another. Casting her mind back, the only time that she could ever remember Daria crying was once when she'd had an earache.

     "I'm so sorry." Quinn said it softly, then fell as silent as her sister. She worriedly watched Daria all the way home. The single tear was the only comment that Daria made.

     When the Toyota halted, Quinn got out and retrieved her packages. The silence had worked on her mind. When she closed the door, Daria abruptly started the car and drove away.

     Quinn stared after the dwindling taillights and hoped that Daria wasn't feeling suicidal. Her words had been harsh, but true. Daria really didn't have much of a life. She felt a twinge of panic. Daria had been acting so strange lately. What if she just... quit?

     Daria drove slowly down the empty streets, looking at the Christmas displays. She had sensed a burst of remorse driven verbiage coming on and she didn't really want to hear it. Pity was unacceptable. Pity from Quinn, doubly so. If Quinn wanted to talk, she'd have to break her bad habits, just like Daria was trying to do. Daria nosed the car toward the mountains. She wanted to think and she always thought better with a view.

     Pulling into her usual spot, Daria put on her coat, got out and sat on the warm hood. Looking down at Lawndale and the city lights beyond, she smiled. Thinking of Upchuck and his mirror trap, she began to laugh. Life wasn't so bad, so long as she didn't take it seriously. In a place like Lawndale she could only survive so long as she maintained her sense of the absurd.

     Trent ate burritos for breakfast in front of the TV. Every time someone mentioned Christmas or the Millennium party, he changed the channel. MTV was lamer than ever and he just couldn't stand the inane commercials. He snorted in disgust as a band worse than the Spiral came on. Life wasn't fair, but then no one had ever said that it would be. Struck by a particularly good lyric, he shuffled out his notebook and wrote it down. He looked at all the disconnected crap that he had. Kick-ass tunes were easy for him, but he was just incapable of stringing all of his profound insights together in a meaningful way. Sighing, he cast around for something to do.

     Trent hung up the phone. Monique was out, Dan had a new girlfriend and didn't want to hang out, Bill was working and most of his other friends had long since left Lawndale. He scowled. The blowout with the band had severely limited his social circle. He needed to find another band, or get the hell out of town.

     Nosing the old Plymouth into the street, he headed down to Dega Street to hang around the Sound Hole and talk guitars. It was a good place to look for leads to a new group.

     Pulling up, he was shocked to see that the display window was empty! He got out and peered through the dirty glass. There were only debris and garbage left inside. He felt a sinking sensation. Lawndale had reached a new low. It ought to be renamed Lametown. He needed to find something to do.

     As Trent was staring disconsolately at the ruin of a truly great music store, Axl came across the street.

     "Oy, mate." Axl grinned at the lost expression. Trent's devotion to his chosen lifestyle greatly amused him.

     "Hey, Axl." Trent nodded at the store. "What happened?"

     "A bloody huge chain moved into the mall. Floyd couldn't compete, so he sold out and joined them." Axl smirked. "Bloody good thing that they don't do effing tattoos or I'd really be in the shiite, over there wearin' an effing uni-form, like Floyd."

     Trent took a shocked step backward. "No! A uniform?"

     Axl shook his head. "Yea, mate. A bloody smock. It's a flippin' shame." He looked at his tiny shop with fondness. "Couldn't bloody imagine it. Nothin' like 'avin a place of me own."

     "That's true. A place or a band of your own is the difference between living and slavery." Trent's face fell when he remembered the acrimonious slanging match that had blown Mystik Spiral apart. It had started over the merits of the band's old tube driven Marshall PA amp. Trent had re-tubed it, put a 10db pad on the output and added a humbucker to the input stage. Max and Jesse hated the new sound and Trent had gotten mad. It had gotten ugly, then it had gotten personal, then it had gotten physical. Nick came unglued at Trent and his chronic lateness and suddenly Mystik Spiral was no more.

     A new Cadillac pulled up in front of Axl's place.

     "Maybe you've got a customer there, man." Trent smiled at his friend. He hoped so. Axl made a precarious living at best.

     A beautiful and expensive looking blonde, in her mid thirties, wearing a fur wrap and a sprayed on black dress got out, teetered on her heels and looked uncertainly at the shop.

     "Whoof! Bloody 'ell! See yer, Trent." Axl hotfooted it back to the shop and shepherded her in.

     "Good luck!" Trent called after him. He got into his Plymouth and made his way to the mall.

     He found the new Megatunes store and wandered in, entranced. The prices were lower, the selection was greater and the security guard was Jesse.

     "Woah! Dude." Trent goggled incredulously at his buddy, forgetting that they were avowed enemies now.

     Jesse shrugged. "Need money, man. Good to see you."

     "Likewise. But that cop suit!" Trent felt the lapel. "Did you have to take some kind of training?"

     Jessie nodded. "Yeah, I did a test. But the bossman told me all the answers." He scowled. "I had to buy the uniform though. The ones they had were all too small."

     "So what's it pay?" Trent still couldn't get over it. Jesse had gotten a military style buzzcut several months previously and with the uniform it really made him look like a cop.

     Jesse coughed. "Eleven bucks an hour. We gotta get the band back together, man. I might hurt someone if I have to keep this up."

     "Fine with me." Trent rejoiced internally. Maybe things would get back to normal. "Heard from Nick or Max?"

     Jesse looked a lot happier. "I saw Max last week. He wanted to play. I'll call Nick tonight."

     A kid in the store finished sawing through a security cable, palmed a harmonica and walked right past Jesse, who yawned prodigiously.

     "So, what do you do?" Bemused, Trent watched the shoplifter walk away.

     Jesse shrugged. "Walk around the mall. Talk to girls. Eat. Watch stuff."

     "Cool." Trent smiled. Jesse had his own take on things.

     "Want a job?" Jesse brightened. It would be much more bearable if Trent worked there too.

     "Ah, let me think about it, man." Trent shuddered. Being a trucker had been bad enough. The day he turned rent a cop was the day he'd just shrivel up and die. "I'm gonna go talk to Floyd for a while."

     Jesse shook his head. "Not here. Floyd moved to Jacksonville. He flunked the drug test."

     Trent shrugged. "Too bad." He felt a little superior. He'd long since given up drugs.

     He left Jesse to his rounds and went back into the store. He was admiring the action on a beautiful black cherry Alvarez, when he felt a tap on his shoulder. A harassed looking middle aged man was standing there.

     "Excuse me, but do you work here?" He was holding a Yanko deluxe, a crude Chinese copy of a Strat'.

     "No." Trent looked at the Yanko. "Lame guitar, man. Single coil pickup, two position switch, no tremolo and it's wired wrong or something. It buzzes like a beehive. It's got no phase cancellation to speak of. You'd have to get someone to look at the pickup wiring."

     "Do you think that it would be good enough for a beginner?" The man looked at the $120 price tag.

     Trent shook his head decisively. "No. I take it that it's a gift?"

     He nodded. "For my sixteen year old son."

     Trent scratched his chin. "Get him a good used guitar. That way he'll have something worth playing and if he decides to sell it you wont have lost much." He looked at the used guitars that he'd been fingering. "That FS Telecaster looks rough, but it plays good. Now getting the right amp is a real art..."

     Trent lectured until the man held up a hand. "Look, I'll give you twenty bucks to pick out the best economical combination for a beginner. With everything that he'll need."

     Trent shrugged. "Sure." He asked about the kid, how big his hands were, how long his arms were. Then he tested guitars and amps until he had two that fit each other. He also recommended some basic guitar lesson books and gave him Monique's number. She ran a small class out of her house these days.

     Pocketing his twenty, he went back to the Alvarez. "Merry Christmas, Trent," he said, carrying it to the counter.

     The manager came out and stopped him before he reached the counter. "Hi, I'm Jerry Lake," he said, offering his hand. "Do you want a job? I need you to hang around and do just what you just did. The pay is pretty good, fourteen bucks an hour with bennies and a commission on sales. You'll make as much again on commission if you're any good."

     Trent looked at the price tag on the Alvarez, and around at all the guitars. He could even practice here. "Yeah. That'd be cool. I'm Trent Lane." He shook Jerry's hand.

     Jerry grinned. "Floyd said that you'd be along." He produced some papers and a pen. "If you'd just fill these out, you can start right now." Jerry felt a whoosh of relief. Trent was an excellent salesman, even when he wasn't trying. He'd be helpful in the recorded music section too, in a pinch. Christmas was coming and they just weren't selling enough guitars. The public looked, but it didn't buy without advice. The store would be closed and he'd be out of work if he didn't move his quota.

     Jesse and Max pulled up to the trailer and got out of the Tank. A baby wailed and a woman's voice came through the thin wall trying to quiet it. Jesse raised his fist to knock and the baby fell silent.

     Jesse looked at the door in consternation. He couldn't knock without waking the baby, which would piss off Nick and stop the peace mission before it got started.

     The two musicians looked around, wincing. The forty foot aluminum trailer had several cars parked around it, in various stages of repair. An old bench seat from a van like the tank sat next to the door, serving as lawn furniture. An umbrella covered table sat by the hitch, the umbrella pole bent and the canopy ripped up. The lawn itself consisted of red dirt and crabgrass. It was a dismal scene.

     Jesse tapped lightly on the door. He held his breath, but the baby didn't cry. Nick opened the door, looked at them and then stepped out. A frail, pretty, young looking girl smiled at them from the doorway.

     They followed Nick to the umbrella table and sat down.

     "Dude..." Jesse wasn't very articulate.

     "Hey, criminali! Why the hell haven't you been to practice?" Max knew just what tone to take.

     "I don't need to practice." Nick grinned at them. "I'm a bass player, man. It's in the bones."

     "I saw Trent today. He's back in town for good. He took a job at Megatunes, selling guitars." Jesse paused delicately. "He want's you to come back. He's say's that he's ready to apologize, grovel, whatever."

     Nick looked at them, uncertainly. He'd blown his top first. "I should be the one apologizing."

     "We all should." Jesse looked at the trailer. "Do you feel like coming out for a while?"

     Nick shook his head. "I need to stay with Nancy tonight guys. She's a little down. They let her go at the bookstore today."

     Jesse perked up. "Hey! Bucket O Books is looking for someone!"

     Nick looked glum. "Her Sprint crapped out on the way home today. It sounds ugly, man. We're down to my Ford, and it's not running right. I'm going to have to hock my bass to fix it."

     Max cracked his knuckles. "I am Maximillian, the maximum master of all that is mechanical. Lets rope that Sprint up, pull it to my lair. I'll have it running in no time." He'd briefly owned a Sprint in high school.

     Max was as good as his word. He replaced the broken timing belt, gapped the plugs, changed the glutinous oil and the clogged oil filter, put in new air and fuel filters and fixed several other minor problems. He tuned it up and Nick drove it home, rejoicing.

     The next day Jesse got the fortyish but still good looking owner/manager of Bucket O Books to hire Nancy by the simple expedient of sleeping with her. She'd made no secret that a no strings roll in the hay with him would get him anything he wanted. He told her his terms and she accepted without quibbling.

     Trent opened the door. "Nick! Man, it's good to see you."

     Nick came in. "Hey man, about what I said-"

     Trent halted him. "You were right. We all need to be more disciplined. That early, late, whatever crap won't work for any of us any more. Max works at the Food Lion, Jesse's a rent a cop, you're a drywaller and I'm a sales clerk. It blows, but them's the facts. We can't pose around like we're some big successful group until we really are. We gotta keep our eyes on the prize!"

     "I'm with you, fearless leader!" Nick grinned at Trent. When he bestirred himself, he could give an inspirational speech that would make Bear Bryant turn green with envy.

     "That's why I want to have a fine for lateness. A dime a minute for practice, a dollar a minute for gigs. Up to fifty bucks. The money to go for equipment." Trent saw that he had a supporter. Mystik Spiral was back. Now they just had to practice.

     Daria stared at her computer screen, unable to overcome her block. Sighing, she saved and then powered the system down. She turned on the TV, saw a new Sick Sad World coming on and settled down to some TV watching.

     Quinn stared at the magazine and knew that she was passe. Opening her purse, she counted, then straightened. "Mom, can you drive me to the mall?"

     "I don't have time to take you tonight, Quinn." Helen sighed. "Get your sister to drive you, if she's speaking to you."

     Quinn's piercing voice came through Daria's wall. "But Mo-oom, I just have to go to the mall! I need to shop! It's almost Christmas!"

     "It's your own fault, Quinn. You shouldn't have taken the car without permission. You'll just have to reconcile yourself to it." Helen sighed. Months before, Quinn had taken Jake's car and been pulled over. Her license was suspended before she even got it. She'd be forced to beg rides until she was eighteen.

     Daria could plainly hear the ensuing dramatics and once again wished for another layer of sound deadening padding. The TV chose that minute to throw in it's two bits. "Misery chicks get what's coming to them, next, on Sick Sad world!" Daria grimaced and turned it off. The show had started to grate.

     Quinn stood uncomfortably in front of her sisters door, mentally rehearsing her appeal. Uncertainly, she knocked.

      Daria came out, jingling her keys. "I have to get some things anyway. Come on, T- Quinn, lets go." She was glad that she had caught herself before calling Quinn Tonto. It was amazing how many gratuitous insults she had been accustomed to throwing at Quinn. True, they mostly went over her head, but it had conditioned Quinn into believing that every incomprehensible thing that someone said was an insult. Daria had been forced to face facts. She had warped Quinn's character, somewhat.

     Quinn jumped back, eyeing her uncertainly. "Okay, let me get my coat."

     "And gas money." Daria smirked after her. Her tank was almost empty and Quinn could do the honors.

     Daria walked into the Mall and began her usual pattern of shopping. Looking at all the idiotic products so prominently displayed seemed to confirm her hypothesis that most people simply bought the shiniest bauble in sight, with all of the discrimination of a magpie. She saw Upchuck's mirror-trap and couldn't suppress a smile. The mistletoe was still there. She'd been ready to tell him that she had mono, just to give him something to think about over the holidays, but he wasn't there.

     Quinn pulled together the outfit and modeled it in the mirror. She looked good. No, she looked great. Quinn knew that she would look merely good in virtually anything, except perhaps those awful clothes that Daria wore. To really complement a body and face like hers took artistry. Toting up the $270 price, Quinn frowned. The money was no problem since she'd started modeling for department store catalogs, but it would tap her out until the next job in mid January. She'd bought Daria an eighteen dollar clock radio this year. God knew that she'd gotten worse presents for Daria, but it just didn't feel right.

     Putting her clothes on, Quinn frowned in concentration. There was something going on with her sister. Something scary. Daria didn't really seem to be there at all any more. She just ghosted around silently and looked at people. Quinn hadn't seen Jane around for a while and remembered that the Lanes were on a trip. It was true that Daria's friends were more interesting than her own, but they were gone and Daria was quite obviously friendless again. Quinn felt another stab of remorse for what she'd said in the car. Maybe she could help Daria. Get her some clothes, so maybe she could get a life. Quinn often snooped in Daria's room and had always sneered at the empty closet, but thinking about it now just saddened her. Her sister had so little sense of herself that she didn't seem to care what she wore. Leaving the mess in the dressing room, Quinn went to find her sister.

     Looking for her in book and music stores, Quinn caught sight of someone who looked an awful lot like Jane's older brother, Trent. He was surrounded by a crowd of eager looking girls, playing a guitar. Quinn approached, uncertainly and waited for him to notice her.

     "Hey! Daria's sister! Is Daria here?" Trent had finally seen Quinn hovering at the edge of the crowd.

     "Hi, Trent. My name is Quinn, for the fifth time. Daria's around somewhere. I didn't know that you worked... here." Quinn felt a little glow of pleasure as the crowd began drifting away from Trent. Other girls always felt so overwhelmed by Quinn that they usually didn't even try to compete. Frankly appraising Trent, she had to admit that he was worth competing for.

     "Sorry, Quinn. I'll remember from now on. Yeah, I work here for now, but as soon as the band takes off I'm outta here. So what are you doing?"

     Quinn smiled, enjoying the attention. "Well, I'm actually looking for a present for Daria. Any ideas?"

     Trent got a pleased look. "Cool!" He smiled raffishly. "I think that you ought to get her a guitar." Trent had a thing for girls that played guitar. In fact, he admitted to himself, he had always had a thing for Daria. Daria with a guitar would be like adding chocolate syrup to double Dutch chocolate ice cream. "She's got the hands for it." He sighed. "Beautiful hands... Uhm, for the guitar."

     Quinn laughed. Daria wasn't so pitiful after all. She had this guy well hooked. "What, do you get a commission? Besides, Daria already has a guitar. It drives me crazy. She tortures me with it. I can't stand it when she plays. I was thinking about getting her a new outfit."

     Trent gaped at her, thunderstruck. "What? She plays? Really?"

     Quinn smirked. "She has a little guitar that she got at summer camp back in Highland. She was twelve and I was ten." Daria had played it all the time until some weird neighborhood boys had heard her and made fun of her singing. She'd only played it in her room after that and not very often. Lately she'd been playing the harmonica instead. "Well, bye, Trent. I'm going to go get Daria a few things to wear."

     "Uh, Bye...," He desperately tried to remember her name. It came to him just in time. "Quinn."

     Daria was staring at a tarantula in a terrarium in the pet store when someone tapped her on the shoulder. "Eyagh!" Daria jumped, further scaring the huge spider. Daria had been staring it down for almost five minutes. She had been lost in a fantasy of having it wind up in Quinn's bed somehow. It had been lost in a nightmare of being a big eyed monster's dinner.

     Jesse smiled at her. He liked looking at the giant bugs too. "Hey, Daria."

     Daria goggled at him. "Uh, Jesse?" Only the voice was familiar.

     Jesse shrugged. "Yeah. I'm working."

     Daria smiled at him. "Good! Nice uniform."

     Jesse blinked. He'd never noticed what a great smile Daria had. "Cool bugs."

     Daria shrugged, embarrassed by her jumpiness. "Well, I'd hate to have one crawl on me."

     Jessie nodded uncertainly. He liked the big tarantula and felt sorry for it. He planned to let it go when he quit. "So, are you looking for Trent?"

     Daria froze for a second. "Trent's in Texas, with Jane. Why would I be looking for Trent?"

     Jesse stared for a second. "He didn't tell you? But I thought that you and Trent were-" he clapped his mouth shut. "Never mind. I've got to go, Daria." He sauntered away.

     Daria followed. "What do you mean, Jesse?"

     Jesse slowed, halted, then flushed. Well, it's just that Trent likes you, and I thought that you were... you know, friends."

     "Friends?" Daria looked at him, compellingly. "Spell it out, Jesse."

     Jesse wished that he could remember when to shut up. "He likes you, Daria. He talks about you." Jesse smiled. "Every time I go over to his house you seem to be there. The way you guys are, I just naturally thought that you two were together. Hell, everybody does. Sorry."

     Daria smiled, brilliantly. "He likes me?"

     Jesse's eyes flicked up in alarm and then back to her. "Yeah, he does. Do you like him?"

     Daria shuffled her feet. "Yes," she said in a small voice. "I do, but I think he's pretty much unobtainable."

     Jesse grinned. "Would you ever tell him?"

     Daria smirked. "Not if my feet were being held in a fire. Not if the earth stood still. Not if -" Her eyes widened and she swallowed. "He's standing right behind me, right?"

     Jesse grinned even wider. "Sorry, Daria, it was the only way that I could save my own life. See ya." He fled into the depths of the mall.

     She turned to see Trent, wearing a triumphant smile.

     "Hey, Daria. I like you too. And forget about that unobtainable thing. Sheesh, its only four years. When you're twenty I'll be twenty four. Big deal."

     Daria swayed in shock and he put a steadying arm around her.

     "I uh, I..." Daria blinked and brought her rebellious limbs under control. "I'm glad." She had no idea what to say. She had imagined this scene so many times that it all seemed unreal now.

     Trent hesitantly hugged her, then took her arm in his. "So, tell me, how have you been?"

     Quinn came out of Buckets O' Books and saw Daria. She was arm and arm with Trent, strolling along the promenade looking like a happy part of a well established couple. Quinn had to admit that they looked good together, but she also had to admit that she was just the tiniest bit jealous.

     Daria smiled over at Trent. She was thrilled to hear about his job and his plans for the future. He'd discovered a talent for salesmanship and a liking for the extra money. "So, Trent. Is Jane back too?" Daria had been meaning to ask, but kept getting distracted.

     Trent chuckled. "No, poor kid. She's at the Lane family lollapalooza in Lane Texas, if she hasn't run shrieking into the desert. After the second time Aunt Maggie asked me if my wearing earrings meant that I was a 'pederast,' I had to hitch on out of there."

     Daria smirked. "I suppose that she thinks that Jane's also a lesbian?"

     Trent shrugged. "Maybe. If she asks, Jane's likely to say that she is, just to throw a chill into them."

     Daria laughed. Jane was about as far from lesbian as it was possible to get and still be human. "So you're all alone for Christmas?"

     Trent shrugged, ruefully. "Looks that way." He gave her a sidelong glance.

     Daria cleared her throat. "Well, if you want..." She flushed.

     Trent smiled at her encouragingly. "Go on?"

     Daria took a breath. "We're having a Christmas Eve party at my house. It's a work thing. Some of Dad's clients and Mom's new partners. I have to be there, but if you came by early I could put in an appearance and then leave with you." Daria paused, then continued in a rush, "You could come and eat Christmas dinner with us." Daria stopped, waiting for an answer.

     Trent nodded. "Sure. That'd be great." He hadn't been looking forward to a TV dinner on Christmas. "Maybe we could go to the Zen after we scram from the party."

     Daria nodded and he followed her eyes up. Tied to the fire sprinkler was Upchucks sprig of mistletoe.

     Trent coughed nervously, then kissed her.

     Quinn stood on the other side of the mall, watching the kiss go on and on. She sighed enviously and looked ruefully at the shopping bag that she carried. It looked like Daria would be okay without the new outfit, but getting her a clock radio still didn't feel right. Actually, the way she had grown made the old green jacket and flare skirt hug her pretty tightly. Maybe something nice, but reasonably priced would do. Lost in thought, Quinn stared at her sister and planned a new ensemble for her.

     Jane got out of the cab and paid the driver the last of her money.

     "Hey, what about tip! I want tip!"

     Jane snarled at him. "You want a tip? Don't feed the hand that could bite you." She stalked away from the puzzled cabby and cautiously opened her door. Everything seemed to be in place. That hadn't always been the case for her homecomings. This time Trent had locked the place down like a fortress. He had thousands of dollars worth of music gear hidden behind some clutter in the basement.

     Clumping tiredly up the stairs, Jane felt the anger simmer within her. She needed to sleep, but she also needed to paint. The host of this years reunion, Maggie Lane McBain, had proven to be a truly vile individual. Trent had fled a few scant hours into the visit.

     Her supposed father, Vincent, had left soon after, claiming that he'd been given an important assignment. He'd gotten her name completely wrong when he was saying goodbye. Even Jake Morgendorffer wasn't that out of it. Amanda had taken one look at her face and disappeared into the wild blue yonder after him, leaving Jane alone with the 'straight' Lanes. The 'straight' Lanes looked down upon the 'bohemian' Lanes and didn't mind showing it to the sole representative present. Driven out by their rudeness, she'd finally caught a ride into town with the newspaper carrier and rode home by Trailways. She'd spent three days and nights on the bus and hadn't slept more than five hours.

     Jane took a shower and then fell into a deep, dreamless sleep. When she awoke, she didn't know what time it was. Her clock was unplugged and it was dark. Rolling over, she heard a TV playing. She hadn't turned a TV on, so Jane slipped out of her bed and got Wind's old baseball bat out from under her bed. Creeping down the stairs, she saw the back of a familiar head. Trent was sitting on the couch in the gloom, watching The Thing on TV. She lowered the bat and contemplated her brother, wondering if she could give him a shock.

     A feminine murmur told Jane that he wasn't alone. Suddenly the back of another head became visible as the unknown girl shifted from where she'd been cuddled up against him. They kissed and her profile became visible. Jane smothered a gasp. It was Daria. Jane was about to speak, when Daria got up and padded into the kitchen. All that she was wearing was a pair of cotton panties.

     Mortified, Jane crept back up the stairs and tried to get back to sleep. Back in bed, she wondered how this new development would change her life. For all of her teasing, she'd never really expected this. She felt a sudden fierce hope that everything would work out and Daria would stay with him. Trent needed someone firmly based in reality. Daria needed someone who would help her push her self imposed limits. He hadn't had anyone to fight for before, so he'd allowed himself to drift. Daria was too rigid. She rationalized her shyness and allowed herself to become isolated. They were really very, very good for each other. Plus, Daria would make the ideal sister in law. Jane liked her better than any of her real sisters.

     Trent leaned back and smiled down at Daria. She wasn't wearing her glasses, so he knew that she wasn't really watching the TV. Looking at her unfocused eyes, he felt a tremendous sense of protectiveness well up. She was so vulnerable. Grabbing the remote, he turned down the TV volume and turned on the stereo. An alternative version of an old Christmas carol came on. He reflected that this was the best Christmas season of his life. "So, Daria. Quinn tells me that you're a secret guitar player."

     Daria blinked in surprise. "Quinn?"

     "I talked to her at the mall the day before yesterday." Trent smirked. "She told me all about your terrible secret."

     "What, that I love an idiot?" Daria blushed. She'd been teased unmercifully about the guitar. Jake, Helen and Quinn had been just about as unsupportive as it was possible to get. Beavis, Butthead and half of Highland had turned out to mock her monotonous singing. She knew that Trent wouldn't mock her, but his strained pretence of enjoyment would sting even worse.

     Trent laughed. "Come on, you can tell me. I won't look down on you. Guitar players are perfectly acceptable. In fact, they're almost as acceptable as a beautiful girl." He reached out and took her hand. Rubbing her fingers, he could feel a set of calluses. It excited him.

     Daria shrugged uncomfortably. "I play, a little. Row Row Your Boat, stuff like that. I learned in summer camp. I won the guitar in a swimming contest." She played fairly often, but never where anyone could hear and she never, ever, sang.

     Trent smirked. "So, when we broke down on the way to Alternapaloosa and you asked me what cord I was playing, you already knew?"

     Looking away, Daria mumbled an assent. What she'd thought at the time was that she was a better player.

     "Maybe you could play for me someday." Trent was surprised and a little unsettled by the humiliated look that Daria was wearing. What had happened to her? Why would anyone be humiliated about someone finding out that she played the guitar?

     "I- I don't sing very well, Trent." Daria flushed.

     "Hey, me neither." Trent caressed her, reassuringly. "I think that you have a beautiful voice. You just have to find your natural range and stick to it. Anyone can sing." Trent settled down to the task of overcoming her inhibitions. He was good at that.

     When Jane woke again, wan daylight was coming through the window. She got up, dressed and crept down the stairs. No sign of Daria. She padded to Trent's bedroom and carefully cracked the door open. Thankfully, Trent was alone. Confident now, she went downstairs, got some cereal and called Daria.


     "Daria! How's it going?" Jane wondered what Daria would tell her. Possibly nothing.

     "Jane! Good to hear from you. Where are you?"

     "Home." Jane smiled. "I got in yesterday afternoon and crashed."

     "Yesterday!" Daria flushed. "Have you seen Trent yet?"

     Jane bit back a laugh. "No, not yet. I was pretty zoned yesterday. I just passed out."

     Daria sighed with relief. "Well, what are you doing for Christmas dinner?"

     "I don't know. Eating some delicious cereal, unless Trent bought something."

     "Come over here and eat with us." Daria smiled. "I already invited Trent."

     "Is that a fact? Thanks for the invite, Daria. You're a lifesaver."

     Daria squeezed her eyes closed in embarrassment. Jane should have made a big deal out of that. "You saw, didn't you."

     Jane gave an involuntary snigger. "Well. Sorry, Daria. I suppose that it wouldn't help to tell you that I approve? You two belong together. It's been obvious since you first laid eyes on each other."

     "No, It doesn't help. What are you going to do today?" Daria was glad that she had someone to hang around with while Trent was at work. She wanted to get him a present.

     Jane looked at the clock. "I'm going to cash a travelers check and do a bit of Christmas shopping. How about you?"

     "Same. Do you want a ride?"

     "Sure." Jane heard Trent stirring. "When?"

     Daria looked at the clock. "About an hour?"

     "I'll meet you over there. I need to stretch my legs." Jane said goodbye and hung up.

     Trent walked into the kitchen and halted. "Janey!" He hugged her, happy to see her.

     "Well, been keeping busy, Trent?" Jane teased.

     Trent looked at her, suspiciously. "When did you get in?"

     Taking pity, Jane played dumb. "Last night."

     Trent wasn't deceived. "I would have heard you last night."

     Jane shrugged. "I got out of a cab, went straight up the stairs and straight to bed. I'm not sure when it was. I was really tired from three days in a bus."

     Trent relaxed. The last thing he needed was Jane teasing Daria. "Any more cereal?"

     Jane shook the box. "A little. There's no milk left."

     Trent shrugged. He only liked milk in his coffee. He'd bought a quart and expected to throw half of it out anyway. He poured a bowl and ran some tap-water into it. "I'll get you some today. Could you make a list of stuff we need?"

     Jane smiled at him fondly. Nature had shortchanged her in the parent department and compensated her with at least one really good brother. "I got some conscience money from Dad. I can-"

     "Keep your money. I'm working, Jane." Trent smiled at her shock. "I'm the generalissimo of the guitar department at Megatunes, in the mall. Jess is a security guard."

     "No!" Jane was pleased. "What about your vow?" When he got his first guitar Trent had sworn that he would never work without it.

     Trent smirked and handed her his CDL. "It's to late to worry about that, Janey. I was hitchhiking across Texas and I just sort of ended up with a job as a relief driver. it was a lady in distress type of thing. Besides, I have guitars in the mall and I had my guitar in the truck."

     Jane shook her head. Trent was a sucker for a sob story. "At least you came back."

     "This area has its attractions. So tell me Janey, what's this conscience money from Dad for?" Trent had immediately caught the air of hurt that she was trying to conceal.

     Jane shrugged, looking away to conceal the incipient tears. "He forgot my name. He kept calling me Jan. Then he realizes it, hands me a big wad of his travelers checks and takes a cab before things could get ugly."

     Trent sighed, went over and hugged her. "Don't worry Janey. Plenty of people care about you. God but he's a flake. If I ever have any kids, I'm gonna be there for them." God damn, Vince. Get your head out of your ass, he thought. Sharply contrasting with Trent, who could barely tolerate him, Jane had always worshipped the ground that Vincent walked on. He wasn't worth a second thought in Trent's opinion.

     Jane sniffled, then began to cry on his shoulder. "It's just that sometimes I feel like I'm not even there. If I just walked away, the only ones who'd know or care would be you, Tom and Daria. God, Trent. I know that I'm legally an adult now, but did they ever care at all? Its like they're the kids!"

     Trent stroked her hair. "Hey, Janey, it's not your fault. How could anyone be a better daughter than you?" He shrugged, helplessly. "It's them. They're just a couple of over-aged flower children. They care, but not about the right things. Dad spends so much time in South America trying to save the damn rain forest that I really wouldn't be surprised to hear that he has another family there."

     Jane smiled through her tears. "Now that would be a good Sick Sad world episode. Men with two families, who don't know either."

     Trent smiled back at her. "Feeling better?"

     Jane nodded. "I don't know what I'd do without you, Trent. Thank you for staying here with me these last few years. I know that you wanted to go to LA."

     He shrugged. He worried about her. He'd never been able to shake the feeling that if he left he would never see her again. "LA's overrated. Here, I'm a big fish in a little pond." He wiped a tear away from her face. "Hey, Janey. I'll always be here for you." He looked at the clock. "Want to come to the mall with me? You could hang around and do some shopping. Watch me work."

     "No, I've got plans. I'm going over to Dega Street with Daria." Jane looked up at him, interested to see how he would react to this new topic.

     Trent coughed. "Uhm, Janey. About Daria."

     "Daria? What about her?" Jane was enjoying herself.

     "Well, we sort of got together while you were gone. She's my girlfriend now." Trent smiled at her. Daria had told him all about Jane's not-so-subtle two year campaign to get them together. Told from Daria's point of view, it was a hilarious story.

     Jane laughed. "Well, it's about time! Maybe she'll settle you down, slackerboy."

     "Don't count on it, Yenta."

     Jane walked up the driveway and knocked on the Morgendorffer door. It flew open. "Mike- Oh, it's you. Hi, Jane." Quinn motioned her in.

     Jane took in Quinn's outfit. She was wearing a tweed skirt, a shoulder padded V neck tweed jacket and a tiny purple string bikini top that was partially visible in the open front. She looked like a package that was ready to be unwrapped. "Hi there, Quinn. You look nice. Hot date?"

     Surprisingly, Quinn blushed. "Yeah." She closed the door behind them. "You've got a boyfriend, right?"

     Jane looked at her, surprised. "Yes, Tom. He's in Northport, visiting family. Why do you ask?"

     Quinn blushed. "It's just that... Well, How did you know that he was the one?"

     Jane smiled. "Would you believe that our eyes met across a crowded room?"

     Quinn giggled. "No."

     "Well that's how it happened. Ask Daria, she was there." Jane looked around. "Speaking of Daria..."

     "She's still in the shower." They sat down on the couches. Quinn got an interested look. "How about Daria? How did she meet Trent? Did they click right away?"

     Jane laughed. "God, yes. I took her down in the basement, where my brother was practicing. Daria froze like a deer in the headlights. Trent choked and forgot how to play his guitar."

     Quinn frowned. She had selected Mike to be her boyfriend based on a pretty rigorous criteria. He'd narrowly edged Brendan out due to his family's greater wealth. She had planned on telling him tonight, but Jane's story made her decide to rethink it.

     The doorbell rang.

     Quinn popped up like she was on a spring. "Bye, Jane." She exited rapidly.

     Shaking her head, Jane watched her go. She had a sneaking admiration for Quinn. No one that Jane had ever met was as single mindedly competitive. She turned on the TV. Sick Sad World was a rerun, so she flipped around until she came to an old silent movie. Soon she was laughing as the comedian was running from a platoon of cops.

     Jake came downstairs. "Jane! When did you get back? Good to see you, kiddo. Hey, Harold Lloyd! I love these old slapstick films." He sat down and soon they were laughing companionably together.

     The movie went to a commercial, and Jake looked over at his daughter's friend. She looked lonely to Jake. "Say, Jane. What are you doing for Christmas dinner?"

     Jane shrugged. "Daria invited me over here, if that's all right with you."

     Jake laughed. "You're welcome here any time. I was going to invite you. Bring your brother and your fella, if you like. We're also having a Christmas Eve party, but I don't suppose that you young folk would want to come."

     Jane was touched. He really seemed to care. "Thank you, Jake. I accept. I'll be here."

     Daria came down the stairs. "Hey there, Jane. Ready to go?"

     Jane stood and smiled at Jake. "Bye, Jake."

     "Bye, Girls! Watch out for black ice!" Jake laughed at Harold Lloyd's antics as the two girls left.

     Daria started the car. "Sorry about that. He tries to bond with everyone who crosses our doorstep."

     Jane snapped, "I like Jake! He's a great guy. At least he cares. Maybe you ought to-" She sighed. "Sorry, Daria."

     Daria was looking at her in surprise. "What brought that on?"

     Jane glared blackly out of the window. "Good old Vince kept getting my name wrong. He lasted about two hours at the reunion and then bailed on me. Mom followed and left me all alone with those miserable Texas Lanes." She looked at Daria. "Don't be fooled. Jake's a great father, compared to some."

     Daria felt sorry for Jane. In the two years that she'd known them, Vincent and Amanda Lane were home so infrequently that they usually didn't recognize Daria at first. "I'm sorry, amiga."

     "Hey, there's nothing for you to be sorry about. Let's forget about it. Now tell me all about you and Trent." Jane smiled as her friend blushed and started babbling about Trent. Daria was obviously delirious with happiness.

     They visited several stores around Dega Street and Daria got Trent his present. She also saw Jane looking wistfully at an airbrush and impulsively decided to get it for her. When she dropped Jane off, Daria came back and bought the entire set.

     Trent looked at his watch. He'd gotten one when he got the job. Ever since he'd blown it on Daria and Jane's multimedia project, he'd made a real effort to be more aware of time and his obligations. He'd felt like a heel when he'd looked into Daria's cool eyes to apologize. It was the only time he'd ever seen a look like that from her and it' d burned like live coals. The hard part wasn't that she was mad. It was so much worse. What she had been was sorry about his immaturity. He'd aged about six years over those few days.

     Trent pulled into Happy Herbs and looked at the junkers. He saw an 88 ford Taurus that looked pretty good. Herb came out eating a sandwich when he saw Trent.

     "Trent! Where the hell have you been? That commercial did wonders. Made me a shitload of bread. I need ya ta do another jingle for me. Maybe somthin' a little more fancy-like. More dudes singin' or something'. Yer the expert."

     Trent shrugged. "What's in it for me, man?"

     Herb shrugged and eyed him shrewdly. He could tell that the kid had grown up, so fifty bucks and tires just wasn't going to cut it. Herb looked thoughtful. "How about that Taurus?"

     Trent laughed. "That crapmobile? I gotta pay for the other singers. You got anything under ten years old?"

     Herb led him to a 91 Intrepid. "Well, this baby is under ten. I could let you have it on a trade. Your old beater, two jingles and five hundred bucks."

     Trent smirked. "Did you see a turnip truck go by? I think I must have just fallen out. Oh, wait, I didn't. One jingle for the car, fifty bucks and you pay the license and tax."

     They settled on a straight across swap. Trent could take the car, but Herb wouldn't release the title until he had a jingle. Herb was mollified when Trent arranged to leave the car on the lot until Christmas Eve. He was anxious to get a new commercial out. His business had skyrocketed after the first one.

     Trent arranged for short term insurance and made it back to work just in time.

     That evening, Trent took Daria and Jane out to the Zen. He wasn't playing, but he didn't want to hang around at home. He had an agenda, and it required a bit of stealth.

     Daria stood by Trent while bands played and people came to pay their respects. During its month long hiatus, people had missed Mystik Spiral. When something that could be danced too came on, they danced.

     Daria came out of the bathroom and froze. Trent was across the room by the stage, talking to Monique. He seemed very intense. She smiled and nodded. Then she kissed him. He laughed.

     Daria felt her stomach plunge into the abyss. The room seemed to go dark, tinged about the edges with golden sparks. She felt a second of absolute, shocking clarity, knowing that she was a real Morgendorffer, completely susceptible to the infamous Morgendorffer rage that had made her grandfather, Mad Dog Morgendorffer, a legendary Marine and her father a legendary traffic hazard.

     "Hold on there, Daria!" Jane grabbed her from behind, jerked her back into the restroom and wrestled her to a standstill. "It wasn't what it seemed to be!"

     Daria was gasping for breath, riding a wave of pure icy rage. It was like walking on lightning. "Then what was it?" She barely retained control. She felt like she could break Jane into a thousand pieces if she lost it even for a millisecond. Nothing that lived could stand up to her.

     "He just wanted her to help him get you to play the guitar for him. Now please, calm down, babe. Don't blow it over a little misunderstanding. Monique is a friend. Just a platonic friend. They tried to fan those embers for years. It's just dead, Daria. She told me that she left him because he falls asleep when she's f***ing him!"

     "Oh, God." Daria leaned against the wall, trembling, partially supported by Jane. "Oh, God, Jane." She started panting. "What's wrong with me? I knew that he wasn't a virgin. Of course he isn't interested in her. He doesn't have her name tattooed over his heart!" Daria was bathed in sweat. She looked like she'd taken a shower with her clothes on.

     Jane hugged her. "You always expect the worst, Daria. Believe me, he's had them all and all he really wants is you. I know. I saw how he treated them and how he treats you. They were just toys to him. You really matter, like his music."

     "You saved me." Daria felt light, like a tremendous burden had been dropped. "You did. Thank you." She pushed away from Jane and vomited into the toilet.

     They came out of the bathroom, Daria pale and shaky, and Jane awed by the intense psychic force that Daria's small frame could generate. The rage had been palpable, crackling around the restroom like lightning. She tried to fix the face in her mind. She needed to get to a sketchpad, fast!

     Jane caught Trent's eye. He saw Daria's posture and shoved his way through the crowd.

     "Daria!" He put his arm around her. "Not feeling good? Let's go, baby."

     Wordlessly, she leaned her head on his shoulder. She closed her eyes, thanking providence that Jane had grabbed her in time. Walking along with him she vowed to eradicate that temper. It had the potential to ruin her life.

     As they got into the car, Jane broke the tension. "So, Trent, got any new tattoos lately?

     Helen strode around the house, imperiously directing her family to various tasks.

     Daria was standing on a chair, putting up balloons and party decorations, Jake was outside stringing yet more lights and Quinn was in the kitchen making canapés.

     "Mu-oom! How many more of these things do I have to eat? Uh, I mean, make?" Quinn sounded very put upon.

     "Those are for the guests! How many do you have?" Helen strode past Daria punching buttons on a calculator.

     "A hundred and twenty." Quinn wanted to get away from the food. She loved canapés.

     "That'll just about hold Trent." Jane stood at the sliding glass back door with Jake.

     "Oh, hello, Jane." Helen was glad to see another warm body. "Do you want to help Daria with the decorations?"

     "That's why I'm here." Jane pulled another chair to the wall and started putting up decorations. "That and to escape the musical stylings of the new, improved Mystik Spiral."

     "Ooh, so that's it." Daria smirked. "I thought for a minute that you must have just emerged from a pod or something and were trying to replace the real Jane."

     "Hey! Canapés!" Jake walked over and ate ten. "I love these things! What's for dinner, honey?"

     Helen sighed. "Just keep at it Quinn. I'm going to the store."

     Later, they looked at the completed decorations. The place looked great. The theme was 'remember the sixties' and Jane had shown her genius and really improved on the commercial decorations. A Christmas tree in the corner twinkled merrily and long narrow tables ran along the wall, bearing alcohol and empty platters where the party food would go tomorrow. Jane had borrowed Trent's smoke machine, which sat in the corner and produced an ankle level bank of white smoke. Small dots of light crawled across the ceiling, changing colors as they moved. Jane had been in a kinetic mood once and had made a light sculpture. A hammered sheet metal cone full of holes rotated around a bundle of different colored lights. It had been a poor bit of art, but a great effect. Jake had dug out some of his old psychedelic leftovers. The buffet table had Lava Lamps with black lights on each end and an old angel hair plant in the center. The TV was on, a video game connected that had an aquarium display when it was paused. Fish swam and the TV speakers quietly burbled and splashed.

     Jane took one look at Trent and shook her head. "Forget it, Romeo."

     Trent's eyes widened in surprise. "What's the matter?"

     Jane bundled him back into his room. "This isn't another evening at the Zen, Trent. This is a party at Helen and Jake's house. You have to dress."

     Trent shrugged. "Well, I'll do the best that I can."

     "Let's take a look." Jane peered into his bleakly empty closet. "God, but you and Daria are real soulmates. This is all that you have?"

     Trent shrugged. "Got my smock." He'd reluctantly taken to wearing the store uniform, after Jerry had threatened to break his arm.

     Jane opened her parents door and looked in Vincent's closet. Vincent and Trent were exactly the same size, so it wasn't a problem. Digging in the back she found a single breasted pinstriped gray suit from the sixties. She took the pants from that and found a light blue chambray shirt that almost matched. Digging out a narrow regimental tie and a black leather jacket, she brought it to Trent. He shrugged, went back into his room and put it on.

     When he came out, Jane smiled. "You'll do." She looked thoughtfully at her mothers clothes. "This dress wouldn't be too bad for me, with a few alterations."

     Daria came out of her room and ran into Quinn and Helen. "Uh-oh. What's the beef?"

     "It's your clothes, Daria." Quinn glanced back and made sure that she still had Helen's support. "You need to wear something a little... dressy tonight."

     "Quinn! Mind your own-"

     "She's right, Daria. We're trying to make a good impression." Helen chose her words with care. "This is an important occasion for your father and I. Won't you please help us by dressing a little better?"

     Daria gave an almost imperceptible little shrug.

     Helen sagged in relief. "Quinn has agreed to help you, Daria. Please, let her work with you. If you don't like it you can change it later."

     Daria gave a reluctant nod. Looking glumly at Quinn, she tried to remember the last time that Quinn had insulted her. Surprisingly it was almost a week ago, when she'd gotten zoomed by Upchuck. "Well, Quinn, what do you have in mind?"

     Quinn smiled. She'd always wanted this chance, but as Helen had pointed out, it had to be handled very, very delicately. "Well, we'll keep to your basic colors. They're good ones for you. All it will take is a little adjusting."

     Daria emerged from Quinn's room two harrowing hours later, her good manners strained and her patience worn thin.

     Helen yelled up the stairs, "Are you girls ready? The guests should start arriving pretty soon!"

     Daria came down the stairs, and Helen goggled. Daria was wearing a simple black and silver sequined slip dress, with a V-neck green velvet top. The whole thing wildly accentuated her figure. Her hair was curled, a hint of makeup outlined her full lips and she wore slip-on sandals. A faux ruby pendant was around her neck and she was wearing her contacts. She looked like a model.

     Daria halted at the bottom of the stairs. "Well?" she demanded, irritated.

     Helen wasn't stupid. She didn't make a fuss. "Oh, you look nice, Daria. Can you help me put these platters out?" Shallow trays full of ice lined the table. Platters of finger food, loosely covered with saran wrap were sitting on the ice.

     "Uh, sure, Mom." Daria felt a little disappointed. She'd been ready to revolt at the slightest sign of motherly gushing.

      Jake backed into the house, his arms full of plastic cups and plates. "These were all I could find- Gah!" There was a strange woman in his house. "Who... Daria?"

     Daria stuck her lower lip out. "That's the name."

     "Are you going to wear..." Jake trailed off, caught by Helen's incendiary glare. He walked away muttering. He'd gone to the store as the father of two young girls. He'd come back as the father of a girl and a beautiful young woman. He didn't like it a bit.

     Helen smiled at Daria. "You just took him by surprise, dear."

     Daria shrugged uncomfortably and the doorbell rang.

     "Please get the door, Daria." Helen looked at the clock. It was still ten 'till seven. "It seems that we have earlybirds."

     Daria tugged at her thin velvet top, wishing that it buttoned up a little farther. The doorbell rang again and she opened the door.

     Trent stood there with a bottle of wine and a shocked expression. "Duh... doh... Daria?"

     Daria was staring at him like a cat at a trapped bird. "Well, don't you look handsome today," she purred.

     Trent swallowed and brought his knees back under control. He just couldn't fathom his luck. It was incredible, but she was his. He had a sudden, vivid memory of her naked body. "My, God. I love you, Daria."

     Helen walked in and almost fainted. Daria was liplocked with Trent on the doorstep. "Da-" She checked, then went back into the kitchen to keep Jake away. Daria was of age and was no longer controllable that way. Suspiciously, Helen wondered how long it had been going on.

     Jake came in with a big box of uncased CD's. "Look! I've got a great selection here! Oldie's 101 had a format change sale and I got all of our old favorites, Helen. I forgot all about them. They were in my trunk. I'm gonna load them into the CD magazine and set it on random. Hey, look! It's Captain Beefheart!"

     Helen stopped him. "Jake. About Daria. She's got a... boyfriend."

     Jake wrinkled his brow. "Really?"

     "It's her friend Jane's brother, Trent." Helen braced herself.

     Jake shrugged. "Trent? Hey, he's a musician, isn't he?"

     Helen frowned, eyeing him. "I think it's serious. I don't want you making a scene and embarrassing her, Jake. I mean it."

     "Perish the thought." Jake still felt like an utter fool for not noticing Daria earlier. It was like one day she was eight and the next she was eighteen "She's a grown woman, Helen. She'll find her way."

     Helen fought down her feelings of incipient abandonment. She had a party to give, clients and partners to impress, a life to lead. Daria suddenly growing up and having a handsome man on her arm was just another incomprehensible part of the science fiction world of the year 2000

     "Hey! You're blocking the road!" Jane had a stack of freshly baked peanut butter cookies precariously balanced on a plate.

     Daria and Trent unclenched and led her in.

     "Wow! That's a whole new look for you, Daria." Jane looked at her friend, awed by the transformation.

     "I like it fine." Trent grinned at Daria.

     Daria shrugged. "I got Quinned. What happened to you?"

     Jane was wearing a red strapless gown and elbow length white gloves. She smirked. "I got this big lug all clipped, combed and dressed, so I figured that I'd better do the same."

     Daria slipped her hand around Trent's arm, possessively. "Well, thanks. You did a nice job. He looks good. You look great today, Jane. Kind of regal. It's too bad that Tom's not here to enjoy it."

     Jane's face fell and Daria realized again that Jane was having a hard time coping with the holidays.

     Trent stepped forward. "Don't be lonely, Jane. He'll be back in a week, school will start back up soon and everything will be back to normal. Come along with us tonight."

     Jane put on a smile. "Nah, I wouldn't want to cramp your action. I'll hang around with Quinn tonight and play with her fuzzy little mind."

     Daria took the cookies and put them on the buffet table. "Well, you guys got here first. If anyone else shows up for this little shindig they'll start arriving soon."

     Quinn sprayed a little perfume on and looked in the mirror. She'd gone all out on Daria and then realized that she had some serious competition in the looks department. To make sure that she was remembered as the most beautiful Morgendorffer girl, Quinn had retrieved her red miniskirt from its place of honor. She smirked into the mirror. She had it. She was hot, loaded and there'd be a million broken hearts crunching underfoot before she was done. She'd invited both Mike and Brendan, just to see how they measured up. It would be winner take all.

     The doorbell rang, and Quinn came down the stairs. It was Eric and his new wife, Meiko.

     Quinn said hello, her eyes drawn to Trent. He was one burning hunk and Quinn had to fight down the urge to take him for herself. "Hiii, Jane and Trent!"

     Trent smiled at her. "Hi, uh..."

     Quinn stamped. "Ohh!"

     "Relax, Quinn. Just a joke." Trent laughed. "You look good today."

     Quinn smiled at him, wishing that Jane was a brother. "You too! Where'd you get that great retro outfit?"

     Trent shrugged. "Janey made it for me."

     "Well, it's really in!" Quinn looked at Jane, unable to come to a decision regarding the gown. She had a very good clothes sense, but Jane's gown seemed to stump her. It was either daringly avant guard or it was mockingly archaic. In either case, she decided that Jane had the potential to be fashion forward.

     Jane smiled, knowing just what Quinn was thinking. "Like it? It's an original Lane."

     Later that night, Quinn danced with Mike and Brendan. She marked how Brendan fawned over Jane and how Mike, although attentive, kept sneaking glances at Daria. Without a second thought she demoted them to the status of also-rans. They could date her, if they showed her a good time, but they'd never get past first base. She demanded absolute devotion in a boy. Abruptly, she wondered why she was attracted to Trent if that was the case. He'd been oblivious, mocking and downright rude on occasion, yet she liked him better than any of her usual dates. She'd never make a move of course, but she'd measure boys against him from now on.

     Later, after Daria and Trent had slipped away, Quinn noticed Jane staring out the window with a sad, lost looking expression. Quinn cocked her head and considered the facts. Daria and Jane were almost inseparable and now Daria was spending every free minute with Trent. Jane couldn't be jealous, so she was just sad.

     Quinn decided to help. She'd always had a sneaking regard for Jane and had an idea that Jane felt the same way about her. Now that she'd made her peace with Daria, maybe she could be friendly with Jane, too. Quinn didn't really have friends like Daria did. She had supporters and rivals, nothing more. Stacy was the closest thing to a friend that she had, but she'd never allowed Stacy to get too close.

     Imperiously, Quinn dismissed the boys and then invited Jane to her room to watch that awful sick show that her and Daria liked. Quinn produced a purloined Champaign bottle and two glasses. Soon there was a convivial glow in the room.

     Jane had fetched one of her sketch pads and some of her colored pencils from Daria's room. "So, Quinn. What's happening in the world of the pop-pop-popular pod people?"

     Quinn smiled. "Well... I really shouldn't tell you, but what the hell. Stacy's crying over her secret attachment to that Ted geek, deathly afraid that we'll find out and expel her from the Fashion Club. If she thought about it for a second she'd realize that she is the Fashion Club. Without Stacy to keep things calm we'd mutiny ourselves out of existence in about three hours."

     Jane laughed. "I guess you guys are smarter than I thought."

     Quinn smirked and continued, "Sandi's disappeared, last seen in the delightful company of Upchuck. They were seen by Brooke, sucking face in the mall. Brooke's going to use it to leverage her way into the big time. Tiffany got a letter back from the Tom Bailey school of broadcast and is still reading it. It might take until next July for her to finish. So here I am, hanging around someone who can actually make conversation. It's kind of stressful. With the Fashion Club, all you need is about ten stock phrases and you're all set. Maybe I ought to just get a parrot."

     Jane finished laughing and showed Quinn her sketch. In it, Quinn was wearing a yellow and red miniskirt and a metallic sheath style top trimmed with red and yellow piping.

     Quinn gasped. "God, Jane! That looks great! Where did you see that? How much is it?"

     Jane sighed. "I just made it up. No one has it and no one ever will."

     Quinn looked at her, amazed. "You're a very talented designer, Jane. How come you never make anything like that to wear?"

     Jane shrugged. "I'm not very good with a sewing machine and Daria... Well, Daria's kind of picky about who she'll be seen with."

     Quinn guffawed. "Peer pressure in the grunge clique! Ha! It's priceless! I'm secretly interested in medicine and you're a repressed clothes horse."

     "I just like the artistic side. Medicine?" Jane could hardly believe it.

     "I'm going to be a surgeon someday. A famous heart surgeon." Quinn smiled, dreamily. "I'll save everybody from heart attacks and be a hero."

     Jane chortled, "Dr. Quinn, medicine woman! Breaker and mender of hearts!"

     The two girls laughed and talked for a long time, comparing notes on Daria and gossiping about Trent. Jane turned out sketch after sketch, some making Quinn catch her breath.

     Quinn looked at Jane's latest sketch and sighed. "I want this dress, Jane. I've just got to have it. Do you mind if I make it?"

     Jane shrugged uncomfortably. "I don't know how you would. I don't know what kind of fabric to use, or where you'd get the buttons."

     Quinn laughed. "Stacy is an expert seamstress and I know absolutely everything about fabric. I can find it if it's made."

     Jane's interest quickened. "Sure, go ahead." She looked around. "If you have some newspapers and tape, I'll even draw you some patterns."

     "Great! So, this top, Jane. Do you see it as silk, velvet or maybe a light rayon - polyester mix?" Quinn got out a notebook and wrote down the questions that she had.

     Jane shrugged. "I just don't know, Quinn. What's the difference?"

     "Well, take a look at Mecca. Welcome to fabric 101, with Quinn Morgendorffer." Quinn opened her huge closet. "I've got at least one of everything in here. Pretty soon I'll have a Lane original."

     Jane stared at the assortment, awed. "Wow. How the hell can you afford all this?"

     Quinn smirked. "Like I said, Jane. Stacy's an expert seamstress and I know absolutely everything about fabric. We buy the dress, copy it and then return it. There's no other way that we could afford all this, otherwise." She puled out a flimsy red velvet top. "This costs seventy dollars in the store. We can make it for ten. Three, if we use cheaper fabric. The stores go along with it because they know that we influence the paying customers."

     Jane was impressed. "You're not at all what you seem to be, Quinn."

     "No one is." Quinn looked at her pensively. "I'm almost as good a writer as Daria. She made a website for me for my birthday, and it's gotten pretty popular. It's called The Fashion Quinndex. I write about what's wrong and right with the world of fashion. I get about a thousand hits a day and I've been profiled on CNet."

     Jane just stared.

     Quinn cleared her throat and continued. "Medical school is expensive, Jane. I think that we could sell a whole lot of your patterns and dresses if we wanted to. We'd need you for ideas, me for sales, Stacy for production supervisor and Daria to set the website up. We'll all model, because we're all like, babes. I just know that my readers would buy our dresses online. We could net a few hundred thousand dollars for each design if we worked at it. Do you want to go partners?"

     Swept along by alcohol and Quinn's enthusiasm, Jane nodded. Quinn was her fathers daughter. "Sure! Four way split?"

     Quinn shook hands with Jane. "Great! I'll tell Stacy and you persuade Daria. Wait till I get your dress out onto my website! We'll sell a thousand of them for a hundred dollars each, before sundown!"

     "Agreed. Let's wait until after new years for that, Quinn. Daria's still jumpy as hell over hooking up with Trent. I don't want to disturb her until the glue sets a little." Jane smiled. "I really want her for a sister in law. You should see the harpies that my brother Wind brings home."

     Quinn was elated. Here was opportunity knocking down the door. "Here's to Lane Originals, and us!" They clinked glasses and finished off the Champaign.

     Jake finally got the drunken Eric and embarrassed Meiko into a cab and out of his life. The party had been very successful and he'd gotten the green light on the Beakins account. Helen's partners had zeroed in on his contacts and a lot of money would change hands as a result. Much of it would fall into his pockets.

     He was happy to have had a candid word with Eric. He'd long suspected that the man had been trying to break him and Helen up with his unreasonable demands and constant interruptions. He'd been right. After feeding Eric ten deceptively strong vodka martini's, Eric's true colors had emerged and he'd made a pass at Helen. Jake had quietly told him to grow up. Helen was his. Jake doubted that Eric would be a problem for either of them any more.

     At McGrundy's, Trent slow danced cheek to cheek with Daria. He'd often been forced to serve as dancing practice partner to both Penny and Summer. He'd hated it at the time, but now he was glad. Daria was a natural, and they moved well so very well together.

     Jane opened her eyes, poked her head out from under the blanket and groaned. She was in the usual sleeping bag that she used over at Daria's, but something was wrong. She looked at the Pepto-pink ceiling and winced.

     Where the hell... It came back to her. She was in Quinn's room. They'd polished off a bottle of Champaign and some wine coolers and then played Doom on Quinn's Nintendo. She had a vague memory of shrieking with laughter as Quinn demonstrated how you played with plushtoys. Doing all the voices, Quinn had carried out a mock trial of Sandi Rabbit, charged with all manner of unlawful perversion with one Pigchuck the Perverse. Quinn, in the persona of Executioner Duck had beheaded the stuffed rabbit with a small camping hatchet at the conclusion of the trial. The pleas of the rabbit and the official callousness of the duck had been hilarious.

     Jane got up and groaned. Quinn was sprawled on her bed, snoring like a sawmill, still clothed and wearing one shoe. As Jane walked for the bathroom, she kicked an empty Champaign bottle under the bed.

     Jane showered and came out of the bathroom just as Jake came by. "Good morning, Jane-o! Merry Christmas!"

     "Good morning, Jake. Likewise." Jane wondered how he could be so chipper looking in the morning.

     "Would ya do me a favor and tell Daria that we need her help? It's time to clean up." Jake smiled at her assent and went down the stairs.

     Jane walked over to Daria's room and peeked inside. The room was empty and the bed was made. She sat down at Daria's desk and picked up the phone.

     Daria woke up again to the accursed quacking of Trent's duck-phone. It had rung three times that night, and Trent had slept through it each time. She would answer and the voice on the other end would hastily apologize for the wrong number and hang up. After the third time she'd gotten the idea that it was Trent's father, Vincent. He'd never identified himself and he didn't call back, so she'd gone back to sleep.

     She grabbed the phone. "Hello?"

     "Hey, Daria. You'd better get home. Jake's starting the cleanup and he thinks you're still in your room." Jane was interestedly flipping through Daria's photo album. The never before seen Highland section had a photo of what appeared to be two humanoid mutants wearing bras and jockstraps. The picture was neatly labeled 'Beavis and Butthead come out'.

     "Right. See ya soon." Daria slid out of bed, showered and rapidly dressed.

     When the front door slammed, Trent woke up. "Daria?" He reached over to the empty side of the bed and sighed. Maybe it was all a dream. He got up and trudged to the bathroom. Looking into the mirror, he smiled. He had lipstick all over his ears.

     Jane faded from the Morgendorffer environs, but not before Jake gave her a gift certificate for a CD at Soundmart. She felt warm inside all the way home.

     Jane fried up some bacon and made some potato pancakes for breakfast. She had to stand guard, lest Trent gobble down all of the bacon. Jane was determined that they would sit down together for breakfast, at least once this year. She had to laugh at Trent's woebegone expression. She finally slid the plate in front of him and nodded. He attacked it like a machine.

     "I hope your manners are better tonight, Trent." Jane smirked as he checked.

     "That's right, we have to eat over there tonight." Trent paled. "I'm not looking forward to talking with Helen."

     Jane shrugged. "What's the problem? You have a home, a car, a band and a good job. What else could she want?"

     Trent shook his head. "I don't think that anyone could be good enough for Daria in Helen's eyes."

     "Well you're plenty good enough for anybody! Helen saw you kissing on Daria last night. She can just get over it." Jane wasn't going to stand by and let her brother be abused by anyone, not even for Daria.

     Trent perked up. "Yeah, they both saw, didn't they. They seemed cool with it."

     After Jane finished washing up after breakfast, the phone rang. Jane answered, "Yello?"

     "No, mostly puce. What was in those wine coolers?" Quinn smiled at Jane's laughter.

     "Quinn! Still plotting the downfall of Sandi Rabbit?"

     Quinn chortled, "No, Pigchuck's doing that. What I really called about was to find out if it was just the booze talking last night. Before I get started, were you really serious about selling your dress designs?"

     Jane felt a bit of apprehension, but went with her instincts. "Run with it, Quinn. We shook on it and a deal is a deal, drunk, drugged or crazy."

     "Good! Hey, dinner's at six tonight. You guy's going to be here?"

     "Sure." Jane still had trouble believing how much alike Quinn and Daria were, under the skin.

     "Excellent. Well, see you!" Quinn hung up.

     Before she could take her hand off of the phone, it rang again.


     "May I ask who it is that I am speaking with?" The twangy Texas voice came loudly through the receiver.

     "Jane Lane. What can I do for you?" Jane wasn't very happy with Texans at the moment, so her voice was brusque.

     "Miss Jane, I am Beauregard Forrest Lane, your host for the Lane family lollapalooza and I was wondering where you and your family had gotten too." The man's voice was very dignified in an antebellum Texan way.

     Jane inhaled sharply and fought down a nasty retort. "I don't recall meeting you, Mr. Lane."

     "I was unavoidably delayed in the capitol. When I got to the shindig, every single out of state Lane was gone."

     Jane remained silent.

     "Will you at least tell me why you all left? Was my hospitality lacking in some way?"

     "I don't know what you're talking about, Mr. Lane. I encountered no hospitality whatsoever. I was treated like a leper from the start. I was given a cot on the porch sleep on, along with the dogs. It was freezing and the bugs bit like hell. Then that witch Maggie started in on me. The first thing that she said to me was that I looked like a lesbian. Frankly Mr. Lane, If I had had a vehicle I'd have left immediately. My brother stuck his thumb out and was gone within hours. It took me days to get a ride to the bus station, and the paper carrier almost raped me before I finally got free of him. I don't think that I care to attend any more Lane family reunions, thank you."

     The man was silent for a long moment. Then he spoke, his voice shaking with anger. "I most humbly apologize to you and your family, Miss Jane, and beg your pardons. It appears that my instructions were roundly ignored and my guests were ill treated. You were supposed to be shown to my hotel in Lane and extended every courtesy. I don't know what to say, Miss Jane, except that I'm very, very sorry. That paper carrier will be fired immediately."

     Jane felt a little sorry for the old man. "Well, us bohemian Lanes aren't too well liked anyway, so it was probably for the best."


     Jane laughed. "We're all artists here, Mr. Lane. I'm a painter, My brother's a musician, My other brother is an artisan, my sisters are sculptors, my mother's a potter and my dad is a nature photographer. We're a little bit out there. You banking Lanes don't like us and we don't like you. So there."

     He sighed. "We are, some of us, bankers, Miss Jane. But we started out as artists. The Lanes made their first money as craftsmen in the seventeenth century, in the hand painted porcelain industry. Yours is a proud heritage of artistic achievement. I would venture to say that your 'bohemian' Lanes are the true flower of our ancient family."

     Jane was a bit curious, and spent a long time talking with him about family history. Beauregard was interested in Jane's family and seemed delighted to hear about Trent and Daria. He spent some time expertly drawing her out, delicately prying family details out of her. Before he hung up he made Jane give him the name of her bank, so that he could reimburse her for the bus trip. She was suppose to have been flown home.

     She hung up and rubbed her ear. Looking at the clock, she saw that she'd been on the phone for three hours.

     As she stood, the phone rang again. "Damn!"


     "Jane?" It was Vincent.

     Jane spoke coldly "Are you sure? Maybe it's Jan, or Sally or something. You ought to get yourself a thinkpad, Vince. It dials for you and makes the names of your acquaintances and business contacts ever so much easier to remember."

     Vincent, sitting in his hotel room in Caracas, winced. She'd never called him anything but Daddy before. "Again, I'm sorry. How can I make it up to you, sweetheart?"

     "How about some tuition? I'll be going off to college in six months and I don't want to have to strip for it." Jane smirked. That one had to have stung.

     Vincent sighed. "Sure. Sure. There's plenty of money for that. Look Jane... Can you put your mother on?"

     "Sure. I'll be sure to tell her that you're waiting." Jane put the phone down and went for a run.

     Trent wandered in a few minutes later. He saw the phone off the hook and picked it up.

     "Amanda?" Vincent heard movement.

     "Who is this?" Trent asked.

     "Trent? Where's Amanda?" Vincent was getting confused.

     "I haven't seen her for a month." Trent wondered if Vince was smoking pot again.

     "She's not there?"


     "But Jane said she was! She said that she would tell her..." Vincent trailed off, suddenly aware of what had happened. Jane had left him hanging as an object lesson.

     "Now why would she do that?"

     "You broke her heart, Vince. Merry Christmas." Trent hung up and went down to practice his guitar.

     Jane showered, brushed her teeth and then came downstairs. There was a knock at the door. Jane opened it and was elbowed aside by a package laden Daria.

     "Yo, ho, ho, It's Daria Claus! Merry Christmas." Daria sat her packages down.

     Jane laughed. "That's suppose to be 'ho, ho, ho.' "

     "Daria Claus spits upon convention." Daria removed her orange winter coat.

     Trent came out of the basement. "And what did you bring us today, Daria Claus? Beside your lovely self, of course."

     "Oh, brother!" Jane looked at Trent sardonically. "Quit reading those damn books. They make you sound like Upchuck!"

     Trent flushed. In high school, on Nick's advice, he'd read a book called How To Flatter And Manipulate Women For Fun And Profit. It had been completely worthless, but Jane had caught him reading it and had made him pay, ever since.

     "Are you two done? Good. This is for you, Trent, with my love." Daria handed Trent his Christmas present.

     He opened it. A tiny voice activated tape recorder rested on a stack of microcassetes. "Woah! How did you know? I always wanted one of these! Sometimes lyrics come to me and I just don't have time to write them down. I've probably forgotten about ten potential chart toppers that way. Thanks, Daria!" He kissed her, tore the package open and loaded a cassette and the batteries that Daria had included. He spoke into it. "Testing, testing. Daria is the greatest." He played it back and it came out crystal clear.

     "Jane, I got this for you." Daria handed Jane a large package.

     "What, no love with that?" Jane eagerly ripped into the package.

     "With a boot up the-"

     "All right!" Jane danced around, jubilant. "A full set of air brushes and a little compressor! Oooh! A set of mixing cups. And paint!" She grabbed Daria and hugged her. "Thank you! This is a great present!"

     Daria couldn't suppress her pleased smile. Jane was definitely snapping out of her depression.

     "Hey, sweetness, I've got something for you." Trent blushed at Jane's leer.

     Daria looked up at him, coquetishly. "Well, Trent, are you going to give it to me?"

     Jane laughed.

     "Daria!" Embarrassed, Trent knew that he was in a no win situation. Whatever he said would be twisted back on him, treated as suggestive. The only thing left was to accelerate toward the flames. "Any time, baby. But first, a gift." He went down the basement stairs.

     Jane was delightedly examining her little compressor. "How can you afford this, Daria?"

     "It's probably hot." Daria smirked at Jane's reaction. "I got a writing job."

     Jane looked at her, incredulously. "Really? With who?"

     "The Mafia, I think. It's mostly term papers. I get an assignment and one to three hundred dollars in the mail. When it's done, I email it to a corespondent school in Atlantic city. I've been doing a brisk business all this last month. I have a large library of papers, now."

     Jane shook her head. "The wages of sin is... cash." She pulled a box out from under the table. "Hey, Daria. Merry Christmas."

     Daria opened it. It was a Lincoln green ankle length coat, much warmer than her old jacket. "Ooh! This is nice! Love the color. That's what I was looking for when I bought my jacket." She slipped it on. "Oh! It fits perfectly! Thank you, Jane." Daria beamed at Jane. Her orange winter coat could go into storage now.

     Trent returned with a long flat package under one arm and a heavy, poorly wrapped square package under the other. He put the flat box on the table in front of Daria. Trent took her hands. "Merry Christmas, Daria. I love you."

     Daria blinked heavily, then smiled. "That's nice to hear."

     He looked surprised. "Lyric coming!" With a flourish, he pulled out his micro-recorder. Clicking it on, he sang into it. "I love guitars, I love to dream. I love Daria, in her coat of green." He clicked it back off. "Cool present. I'd have never-" Suddenly Daria was in his arms.

     Daria felt a tear trickle down her cheek. "You really do love me."

     Trent kissed it away. "More than double Dutch chocolate ice cream with extra chocolate syrup."

     Jane smiled at the romantic scene and thought of the tremendous fun that she would have teasing Daria about it, for the rest of her life. "Better watch out, Trent. She's mobbed up. If you compare her to Rocky Road she'll have her goombahs rub you out! Open the presents already, Daria. The suspense is killing me."

     Daria shot her a dirty look, then disengaged herself from Trent. "Okay, let's see what wonders lie within." She began unwrapping the present, careful to salvage the wrapping paper.

     Jane rolled her eyes and exchanged an amused glance with Trent. Daria was as thrifty as a puritan housewife. She saved string.

     Daria got the wrapper off and opened the cardboard shipping box. She gasped in shocked pleasure.

     "What is it?" Jane couldn't see over the lid of the box.

     Reverently, Daria picked up her gift. "God, it's just beautiful! What kind is it, Trent?"

     Jane gasped as it came into view.

     "It's a Hamer Diablo. I thought the color would suit you." Trent had paid $505 for the electric guitar. It was an emerald green twenty four fret beauty and it's slim body, light weight and narrow neck would fit Daria perfectly, like a custom design. He knew because he'd looked it up in the store's Hamer order book, then found a guitar that matched.

     Daria settled the sling around her neck, fingered a chord and grimaced. "Going from nylon to steel isn't going to be easy." She looked at him. "Thank you, Trent. I think that this is easily the best Christmas present that I've ever gotten."

     Trent was grinning like a monkey stowed away on a banana boat. "You look totally hot with that guitar, Daria."

     Jane took a picture. "Be right back!" She bounded away up the stairs.

     "Thanks. We're color coordinated." Daria sat it down and kissed him. "You'll get another present tonight."

     Trent laughed. "That was what I was hoping! Open your other package."

     "Shouldn't we wait for Jane?" Daria traced his lower lip with her finger, for the moment uninterested in her present.

     "Nah, its not that great a present." Trent swallowed and had to look away from her wanton gaze.

     Daria relented and opened the other package. "Oh, good, an amp."

     It was one of Trent's older Fusion practice amps, that he'd modified from an old PA amp and rebuilt with cheap Sovtec tubes. It had a to have great big powdered carbon resistor on the output to keep it from destroying the speaker cone. It had a great, fully driven sound, but wouldn't blow the ceiling off.

     "It sounds good with the Diablo. It's pretty crisp. I played it a little when I was setting it up last night." Trent hated to part with it, but he really didn't need it. He couldn't use it in a gig. It tended to hiss. It was a great amp for a beginner, because in didn't have any extra features. His AX-2 with its many effects would have sent Daria into fits.

     Jane came back down the stairs, carrying a large box. "These are for you, brother mine.

     Trent opened the box and laughed, pleased and surprised that she'd noticed. "Damn, Jane, you shouldn't have spent so much money." He pulled a set of green 'gator hide cavalry boots out of the box. They looked like something that one of the Kings Musketeers might wear. "How did you know?"

     Jane smiled. "I saw you looking at some boots like them in the Bootery last July."

     Trent kicked his shoes off and tried them on. "God, they fit perfectly! That's a first. Oh! The foot sculpture! But how did you know which color?"

     Jane smirked. She'd measured his feet in all dimensions before ordering the boots. She'd told him that she was going to do a sculpture of a giant human foot, modeled after his. She'd actually made clay molds and wax castings of his feet and sent them to the custom boot makers, who'd been much amused. "Everyone knows that you have a thing for green, Trent."

     Stamping in his new boots, Trent delightedly hugged Jane. "Yeah. Hey, Thing for Green. Good name for an album." Trent smiled. "I do seem to have a thing for green. C'mon."

     Trent led the two girls to the garage. Ordinarily the garage was packed to the rafters with junk, but Trent had made several runs to the dump and emptied out all of the forgotten crap. He'd found a well equipped little workshop underneath it all.

     He paused at the seldom-used interior door. "Close your eyes, Janey. Keep 'em closed until I tell you it's time to open them, okay?"

     Jane nodded, bemused. She'd thought that he'd gotten her art supplies, like usual. She wanted to get it over with so that she could go play with her new airbrushes. She was guided to a spot.

     "Open your eyes, little sister." Trent nodded to Daria, who waited with a camera.

     Jane opened her eyes to a gleaming, freshly detailed, forest green 91 Dodge Intrepid. Her jaw dropped and she looked at Trent, incredulously. "Is that... mine?"

     Trent nodded. "All yours, Janey. With my love."

     "Oh, my, God!" Jane let out an ecstatic shriek. "It's beautiful! I can go see Tom now! Oh, Trent, thank you so much! She squeezed him so tight that his back popped.

     "Hey, anything for you, Janey." Trent hugged her and wondered where his parents were and if they even knew it was Christmas. Vince should have given Janey a car. He'd seemingly stopped trying to be a father with Penny though. Trent and Jane had been forced to scrounge most of the things that they'd needed, skimping on food and household repairs to afford the things that they wanted. Trent hadn't set out to become a grunge musician deliberately. He'd just been grungy. His clothing had never been a fashion statement. They'd been an income statement. In high school, Penny had made him buy new clothes by throwing away his old ones when they got too disreputable. He'd scrounged from Wind as much as possible, but she'd fought a stubborn battle to see him as well turned out as possible. Then she'd left and he'd quit buying clothes, although Daria had recently thrown away all of his pants with holes in the seat.

     Trent handed her the keys. "It's insured for the next two months, Janey. Why don't you take it for a spin?"

     Jane abruptly started crying. "I don't know what I'd do without you guys."

     After a general three way hug, Jane took them for a ride to look at the Christmas lights. It was already dark, and some houses were veritable light shows.

     Dinner was a bit strained. The obvious physical closeness of Daria and Trent and her complete lack of interest in concealing it made Helen crazy.

     "So young man, are you still a musician?" Helen gripped her butterknife like she was going to skin him.

     "Yes, Ma'am. Part time, anyway. I'm the new floor manager at Megatunes now." Trent smiled at Daria. She was running her bare foot up and down his calf.

     "So you're a cashier?" Helen looked like a prosecutor closing in on a Mafiosi."

     Jane, Quinn and Daria all giggled.

     Trent smiled at her, woodenly. "No, I'm actually the floor manager."

     Jake frowned at her. "Did I ever tell you girls where I worked when I met your mother?"

     Quinn looked at him in astonishment. "But I thought you were in college!"

     Helen's eyes widened in shock. "Jake! No!"

     "I didn't get a dime from the old Mad Dog, so I had to work for my keep. I got a job off campus, bouncing and tending bar in a stripjoint." Jake paused, his eyes boring into Helen's. "The Boom-Boom Room. It wasn't the highest status job, but hey, I was young. A youngster has to start low, unless he's rich."

     Helen sighed in humiliation.

     Jake smiled and leaned back. "There were some truly beautiful women working there."

     Helen colored and shot a little smile at him.

     Jane's face went blank with astonishment. Quinn, Daria and Trent were gaping at Jake. Only Jane saw Helen's reaction. She covered her mouth with a napkin and smiling, wondered if Daria would ever learn that she was the eldest daughter of a bartender and a stripper from the Boom-Boom Room.

     "But how did you meet Mom?" Quinn was still curious.

     "She made me quit working there." Jake smirked at Helen, who seemed to have been taken down several pegs. "Your mother really hated that place."

     Dinner went well after that and the time came for the Lane's to leave. Helen almost lost it again when Daria went with Trent.

     "Jake..." Helen stared out of the window, trying to ignore the familiar way that Daria and Trent held onto each other.

     Jake shrugged. "What am I suppose to do, honey? We raised a good daughter. She waited until she was eighteen. I'm sure that she wouldn't fall for a total bum. This is Daria we're talking about here, the queen of realism. If we bother her, she'll just leave. Are you willing to risk that?"

     Helen gripped his arm. "We're getting old, Jake."

     Jake sighed. "That's just Y2K fever talking. We could still try for a boy, if you really wanted to."

     Swept along on a wave of panic, Helen nodded, decisively. "Let's do it, Jake. We're running out of time!"



The story continues!