Disclaimer: Daria and associated characters are owned by MTV. This is fan fiction written for entertainment only. No money or other negotiable currency or goods have been exchanged.

This is the first of the Last Summer series

Richard Lobinske

Saving One Last Summer

Summer daylight shining through a gap in the curtains formed a bright slash across a sleeping figure that slowly progressed with the passing of morning toward an auburn haired head. Upon reaching her eyes, the advancing sunlight elicited a soft groan from Daria Morgendorffer and a whispered, "Dammit," as she reached for her glasses. "If it's late enough for that little ray of sunshine, I better move before Helen of Lawndale launches a thousand ships to wake me," Daria muttered as she moved aside the sheet and adjusted the Mark Twain nightshirt she wore.

Looking around the grey padded walls of her room, she paused at the Diane Fossey trophy she had received yesterday at graduation, and allowed a small, proud smile. After years of feeling that few, if any, at Lawndale High ever noticed her work, it was a nice feeling. The smile slid into a slight smirk as she remembered the speech she made up as she walked to the podium, and wished she had pictures of the class reaction. Her smirk dropped to a grimace as, I wonder what Tom would have said about it, crossed her mind unbidden. The lurch in her stomach was followed by a spoken, "And the bastard still hurts like hell," as she started to the door, trying to put the recently ended relationship out of her consciousness.

Showered, refreshed and dressed in a green t-shirt and jeans tucked into her favorite boots, she was starting to feel ready to face the world, or at least her mother's need to keep her occupied and "engaged with the rest of us." Almost on cue, "Good morning sweetie," drifted up the stairs from her mother, Helen. "Would you like some breakfast?" In a lower tone, she added, "Or would lunch be more appropriate?"

Daria started down the stairs as she replied, "Either is fine, as long as it comes with coffee." In the kitchen, she poured a cup, opened a sugar tart and wandered over to the table.

Her father, Jake, looked up from the newspaper and let loose a cheerful, "Morning Kiddo, how's the first day of freedom feeling?" as she sat down and picked up her section of the paper.

"Much like any other, though I feel the freedom part is going to be short lived," Daria stated with a side glance toward her mother.

"Now Daria, you know how I just don't want you to waste such a valuable time of your life sitting around doing nothing useful," Helen said and narrowed her eyes, "If you're not willing to find a useful activity for the summer, I will just have to find one for you. I'm sure Mr. O'Neal would just love to have you help again."

"Mom, if you do that, I will need a lawyer," was Daria's cross rebuttal. She drew in a deep breath and looked down to continue. "After the college acceptance and rejection ordeal, finals, and the whole breaking up with Tom thing…" as she continued to speak, her shoulders dropped a little more, "…could you please give me some time to work things out before I have to find a useful occupation?" She lifted her eyes to meet her mother's when she finished.

That reminder stopped Helen in mid-stride, and then she turned and sat down next to Daria. "Oh Daria," she said, "I'm so sorry, I know you must still be hurting about Tom, but you need to learn to keep going, even when you don't want to." With her voice again dropping in tone and partially under her breath, she added sadly, "That's what we all have to do." Daria's brow knitted both at the response and the almost predictable ring of Helen's cell phone.

After, "Hi Eric," Daria simply ignored the remaining conversation as her mother stood up and drifted toward the front door. Daria nibbled her breakfast and sipped coffee as she enjoyed the morning paper ritual with her father. After a few minutes, Helen quickly strode past, speaking at the same pace, "Last minute meeting, must go in today anyway, shouldn't be any later than seven, Daria, could you please have the lasagna ready for dinner?" With that, the door closed and the house again fell silent except the occasional rattle of newspaper.

Jake peaked around his paper "Better find something quick, she's still on the warpath over your speech yesterday, something about you not being able to see the bright side of anything." His face changed from care to rage as he shouted "Don't I just know about being told to 'suck it in' and keep going, heard that all the time from the Old Man and Corporal Ellenbogen." As the rant continued, Daria rose and crossed to the dish washer, draining the last of her coffee on the way before depositing it.

"Okay Dad, I get the idea; I'm going over to Jane's," Daria spoke over her shoulder as she made for the front door and passed through.

Even thought the walk was not far, Daria was glad she chose the t shirt over her regular field jacket. The early afternoon sun and still air was sweltering and Daria looked a bit wilted when Jane Lane opened the door with, "Chateau Lane is open for business."

"Aren't we sounding cheerful for first thing in the afternoon," Daria said as she entered.

"I'll have you know that I have been up and about for hours today," Jane impishly relied. "I found out Gary's Gallery has done so well lately that he opened a small side gallery for original work. So I got up this morning and went to talk to him, and he asked me to display my work on consignment."

Daria's eyes widened slightly in excitement as she heard her friend's opportunity. "That's great. Now you won't have to worry as much about what to do this summer like I do." Daria's words started out matching her excitement, then fell as she thought of another summer of enforced labor.

"So, the double-X packing parental unit is into the summer activity frenzy already, I take it?" Jane said as she led the way upstairs to her room.

"That's putting it lightly, she even threatened 'Okay to Cry Corral' duty again if I don't' find something fast," Daria groused as she dropped onto the bed with her head hanging off the edge.

Pulling a half-consumed tube of cookie dough off a table and pointing the remote at the TV, Jane sat on the bed and proclaimed, "Okay, this requires serious brain food."

As she offered the dough to Daria, the TV announced "Bioengineering lakes with bug droppings to suit their needs, Terraforming Insects, next on Sick, Sad World."

Hours later, Daria sat on Jane's bed with her arms folded in front and a look of almost desperation on her face. "Why don't you try something like I worked out?" Jane queried. "Get into some serious writing jags and tell your mother it's practice for your future career. Maybe even send some in and get a little cash out of the deal," she added.

"The idea has merit, but Mom would never go with it, she'd say it was too much like lounging around all summer," Daria sighed. "The only way it could work would be to make it look like a real job." Daria paused with a slight wrinkle of her eyebrows as she thought; then with brightening eyes, said, "Kind of like a free-lance writer. Hmm, this could work after all."

Jane turned and pointed her brush at Daria, "I bet if you set up some kind of schedule to make regular submissions, she just might go for it."

"Careful, that thing's loaded," Daria said as she ducked a small blob of paint slung off the brush, then added after a bit more thought; "Play off her lawyer streak, present it to her as a contract, keep her 'involved' in the process and leave me free to do my writing. I think we have a winner here." Daria allowed a small smile to cross her lips as she finished.

"Great!" exclaimed Jane. "Now that we've solved your problem, maybe you can help me fill out my financial aid forms. You don't think I'm going to able to sell enough at Gary's to pay for BFAC, do you?

Daria said, "Fine, but this is going to require more brain fuel," as she headed to the kitchen with thoughts of more cookie dough on her mind.

Daria slid a sheet of paper across the table toward her mother. "Here's the deal; I write at least one complete story or poem every two weeks and submit it for publication. The envelope will be filled in your presence and you will deliver said envelope to the post office to avoid any subterfuge on my part. You will sign off on every delivered manuscript. First late delivery will result in a written warning, subsequent late filings will result in loss of allowance for two weeks." Helen viewed the presented contract with a practiced eye as Daria continued, "I get to practice my writing as a freelance author, get practical experience with deadlines and the submission process. With a little luck, get a story or two published and maybe even earn a little money at the same time." Daria could read the growing acceptance on her mother's face and moved in for the coup de gras. "As an extra plus, published works will always look good on grad school applications."

Helen laid down the contract with a pleased, proud smile. "This looks agreeable, you have a deal. Just remember, I'm not a pushover as a boss," she said as she signed the contract. "Grad school? Looks like we may need to keep adding to your college fund," Helen continued with further pride that here daughter was already thinking that far ahead.

As Helen made the last comment, Daria thought, Just a little payback for all your spending on Quinn now. She reached across the table to retrieve the contract and signed it herself. "Now if you will excuse me, I would like to get to work," Daria said as she rose from the table. She then added, "I hope you realize that it would be a better time-management learning experience for me to set my own hours."

"I like how much initiative you are taking on this project, of course you can set your own schedule, Sweetie," Helen said, just as she realized what that meant. Daria continued up the stairs as Helen quietly said to herself, "How does she do that?"

Daria settled into her chair with a feeling of satisfaction and release. Practiced mouse clicks opened the word processor and started a new file. She picked up the small steno pad next to the keyboard and flipped through pages until one brought her trademark smile, "That should do nicely," she said and started typing:

The high energy laser slipped between a gap in the curtains and slashed across the bed toward the sleeping figure. As the beam neared the auburn haired head, Melody Powers rolled out of bed with a loud "Dammit!" as she reached for her pistol.

Thanks to Steven Galloway, Roentgen, Isa Yo Yo, Parker-man, Ranger Thorne, The Angst Guy and Mahna Mahna at PPMB for comments and critical suggestion

May 2004
Rev. Jan. 2005