"Return Engagement"

The third fic of the 'DF Continuum'

By Steven Galloway


'Daria' is the superb creation of Glen Eichler and Susie Lewis Lynn for MTV, which is a division of Viacom International Inc., and is written solely for the purpose of entertainment and/or enjoyment of the readers of 'Daria' fanfics, and not for profit, so please don't sue me, I'm not rich. This particular 'Daria' fanfic is copyright © 2004 by Steven Galloway, and may be used only with my permission, which basically means that you can freely distribute it as long as you use my name, and not change its contents. My thanks to such books as "The Daria Database" by Peggy Nicoll and the "Daria Diaries" by Anne D. Bernstein for providing valuable information on 'Daria', and to Mike Yamiolkoski's Daria Character Database, which is the ultimate website for knowing all of the 'Daria' characters ever used on the show.

(Note to reader: This takes place almost a month after the events in "Sister Pact". For this fic, the episodes "Fizz Ed" and "Sappy Anniversary" have taken place.)

Chapter 1

(Scene One: Daria's room, late at night. Daria is wearing her Mark Twain nightshirt, propped up on her bed writing in her diary[?] Her thoughts are also "heard", which also double as scenes in her mind that we can "see")

From the "so-called" diary of one Daria Morgendorffer:

In two days, my brother will return to visit us here in Lawndale, the result of a bizarre, nearly one hundred and seventy-five year old tradition at Eastward College, where the faculty suddenly decides to go on a self-imposed, educational sabbatical for several days, and to sit around the place to discuss their various curriculums amongst themselves for some sort of reason.

Darren admits that he doesn't know why in the hell this all starts so soon near the beginning of the college year. He's heard of an old story about some kooky old chancellor, who suddenly decided to close down the whole damn school because he had to get home to tend the late summer crops on his farm, and it caught on in subsequent years with the people teaching under him, since they were farmers, too. Why couldn't they have simply moved their damn farms to the school, or better yet, have the students help them in their chores while teaching them? It would've saved a lot of time for all. Are the majority of professors there today still part-time farmers? Do they have backyard gardens to tend to?

Though I'll never admit it of course, I'm looking forward to seeing Darren again, just as I'm sure mom and dad and Quinn are. Jane, of course, has seen him twice since on her trips to and fro, so she doesn't count. Then again, it's not as if I'm running a number tally of some sort, so I might as well throw her into the mix, too.

I've gotten used to not seeing Jane almost every other weekend, since Tom's, um, "occupying" my time more. Ever since our little argument about his taking me for granted, or my perception that he was, we've gotten closer to one another. It's sort of weird, though, me having a "boyfriend", letting Tom into my life like this, exposing my thoughts and feelings about something to him--and about him. I guess it's kind of similar to when I speak to Jane (or to my family when I'm delirious) about a private topic, except it seems more personal with Tom, somehow.

Well, of course it's more personal. Tom's a guy who likes me. And I him. And those personal feelings have become so personal, they've become too personal to be written on this paper. Hence, those personal feelings are going to stay right up here in the ol' noggin head. For some reason, I hate using the word "noggin". Guess it isn't descriptive or complete enough for my writing, one of those words that's missing something somewhere.

Jane said that it would become easier and easier if I repeated "boyfriend" to myself whenever I looked deep into Tom's eyes. I responded that it would become easier and easier for me to deprive Darren of his girlfriend when I looked deep into her empty, open eyes as I dumped her cold, lifeless body into the abandoned landfill one of these nights. She stopped teasing me about Tom after that. Daria, you've still got it.

I still have Jane's company during the week at home and at school, where Ms. Li's gone into overdrive concerning Darren's visit. She's ordered a massive clean-up of the place by students, completely voluntary for real this time, per our little agreement over Darren's pending donation to the school. Jodie's headed the effort, of course, and with her well-known powers of persuasion, she had even gotten a surprisingly high number of suck--er, students to help in the cleaning effort in the name of school pride. Li's pulling out all the stops.

Poor Ms. Li. All of that preparation, only to have her ass nailed to the wall by Darren over her wreckless spending he found out about from Woo's little investigation of the school's finances after Jane's and my warnings. She's going to be in for a surprise, though Darren's said that it won't disqualify the school, he will demand some changes over the school's "unique" accounting techniques from her. If we weren't stuck in class, Jane and I would be in Li's office front and center, just for the pleasure of seeing her shocked face.

Moving on, it's been one hell of an active month since I've seen Darren the last time, hasn't it?:

First, William Appleton's body was found on a beach some twenty miles from here, and was subsequently cremated, according to his wishes from his last will and testament. How fitting for him in a way--the fire from the earth simply finished off his body, whereas the fire from the bowels of hell will simply finish off his soul, and from what I understand from some various religious literature, forever. All I can say is burn, baby, burn.

I don't know why, but I was a little surprised that Darren didn't ask for a DNA test, just to make sure it was him, even though the local forensics people said it was nearly impossible to get any samples because it was so badly decomposed, thanks to the saltwater the body absorbed, and that William Appleton's driver's license was found on him. I know he's dead, but still...

The hell with it. Maybe I'm being paranoid after that ass almost killed me and Jane that night. I suspect Darren simply wanted to quickly dispose of his uncle's body--and of his uncle's nightmarish memory. Can't say that I blame Darren for that.

The body being found also shut up any of those who had supported Darren's uncle, and had still held animosity against Darren and Constance, even causing a few more dissenters to put in for their severance pay, and quietly leave the company. I guess some of them had actually held out the hope that he was still alive, and would somehow ride in like the cavalry to save them all from my brother's and Constance's tyranny, or something. Oh well, at least my brother won't have to hear those nasty cracks about him having it easy anymore, even though he insists that he's unfazed by them.

Ahh, then there's Edward White, sans his beard and mustache, spotted in Chicago, thanks to that trap set up by Darren and Woo. White still somehow escaped, thanks to the bumbling efforts of the local Keystone cops. When Jane heard about it, she didn't let me or Darren forget it, and still hasn't, occasionally letting it playfully slip out about how right she was to me. I wonder if I should let my fist playfully slip out and knock that smug smirk off of her face? Nah, I couldn't do that. She'd probably tell me something like she was right about me finally getting fed up, and clobbering her. I don't think I could give her anymore satisfaction than what she already has, dammit.

Enough fantasy. Back to reality.

There's Uncle Jim, who's nearly going bonkers over still not finding aunt Millie, the same, though on a different level, for Darren, who seems to be resigned to not seeing her anytime soon. If Jane, our family, or his friends weren't there for my brother, I'd find myself beginning to get seriously pissed at Millie for doing this to herself, Darren, and everyone else. I mean, I know she was deeply hurt by Edward, and I can see her wanting to bury the pain someplace far off, but surely she'd know that she has people who care for her, and that almost two months should've been enough time to get over what he did to her?

Did I just write all of this because I'm actually worried about her? Yeah, I guess I did. Damn lousy, pesky concerns.

Oh, yeah. Krystal's coming with my brother too, mustn't forget that, oh no. Jane says that she's called practically everyday for Trent since Quinn and I left Darren's, and Trent's been talking, humming and singing about nothing but Krystal outside of the group's regular songs, even slipping her name in one of two of them at the Zen and at McGrundy's, where Mystik Spiral's getting much better gigs--and money. I guess their recent success on their tour has made the local owners sit up and take notice. They've gotten more requests to play at other local clubs, too.

Mom's basically turned them over to a promoter, though she's agreed to handle any legal matters for the guys that might come up--for a fee, of course. Despite quickly settling that lawsuit with the Weekly Blabber for $100,000, which surprised me because I had expected that it would go to trial, and would be for a lot more, leave it to mom to still squeeze out as much monetary blood as possible from her legal turnip.

Moving back to Trent, I've never seen him behave like this before, even with Monique. It's like he's becoming almost--giddy about Krystal. It's scary to me not just because of the strange way he's behaving, but also because all of this is beginning to quietly drive Jane nuts, and I'd hate to see her allow herself to lose it because of Krystal's little head games, especially in front of Darren. She was definitely not pleased to know Krystal was coming with Darren, much less staying under her roof to boot.

Mrs. Lane's spaced-out delight at having "Trent's little friend" staying over for a few days didn't exactly improve Jane's disposition, either. It was all she could do not to tell Trent and her mother off, which wouldn't have done her any good, of course. Oh, well. Maybe we can avoid Krystal while she's visiting. At least that's what we plan to do. God, I hope Darren doesn't ask her to come with us anywhere, even with Trent. The tension could kill us all.

Only yesterday, after yet another call from Krystal to Trent, while Jane and I happened to be in the Lane's kitchen, I could swear that I saw my friend grind her teeth so hard that she was gonna end up like that "Metalmouth" guy Trent told Jane, my dad, and me about a while back. She somehow forced herself to grin when a smiling Trent told us that Krystal said hello, then she quickly left, dragging me along in the process, up to her room. Did I mention that she snagged my left arm in an iron grip of death while doing so? That arm's blood circulation didn't return for an hour--seriously.

Still, despite everything, I've got to hand it to Jane about keeping her temper over Krystal. It must be hell for her. She keeps telling herself that Trent will either eventually see through Krystal, or will get bored with her. So far, a penguin has a better chance of being spotted in Lawndale than that of happening.

To try and force the penguin to appear against all odds, Jane, Tom and I have tried like hell to find any trace of Sesame, concerning "Sty Lark", a.k.a. Krystal. Unfortunately, we've had no success. It's like Sesame's vanished completely. Hell, maybe she's staying with aunt Millie. I'd be tempted to add Edward White in the mix if aunt Millie didn't hate his guts for what he did to her.

We did, however, find Rocco in the Zen last week at a table, literally crying his eyes out about Sesame, of all things. He said that he hadn't seen his "gurl" since we did. For a moment, I honestly thought that he missed her--until the first pitcher of beer and several giggling, pushed-up bra wearing, super-tight leather-dressed Goth "gurls" immediately cured his depression. Nothing like women and alcohol to cure the blues.

On that note about Krystal, I haven't heard anything more from her via Darren over Rory and Stacy. Quinn also said that she and Sandi haven't found anything to connect those two at Stacy's place, so far. Both of them decided to not let Tiffany in on their suspicions of Stacy, with Quinn giving her reason that "The fewer people who know this, the better." Yeah, right. Obviously they're afraid Tiffany'll accidently slip out something to Stacy in her own inane way, and more than likely, they're probably right. Tiffany's elevator doesn't go all the way to the top, side, or bottom. It just floats there in suspended animation.

In a way, it's actually good that Quinn's worried about Stacy like this. It'll keep her mind off of what happened with David Sorenson. After our little talk over it right after he left, it's obvious that she's coming out of it, albeit slowly, but I can still see that his rejection really hurt her. She really liked the guy, and he basically rejected her the way she's rejected her drooling male entourage for years.

Darren sounded a little peeved when he heard, but I think I was able to get him to ease up a little. Jane said she made Darren promise not to hunt David down when my brother visits. I'm sure she was only joking--I hope.

A while back, I probably would've smirked widely in satisfaction at the irony of all of this, but now, after getting a brother and a--boyfriend, I've actually found myself softening to my sister's feelings, of all things. I'm understanding what it is to have a relationship, and what goes into keeping it strong.

God, I can't believe I just wrote this down, too. Should I cross it out? Nah. I'll just build one of those "Mission Impossible" self-destruct devices instead, and jury rig it to my "diary". In the event Quinn or my folks try to sneak a peek at it, it'll dissolve into smoke when it's opened. Note to self: Contact Peter Graves on the Internet in the future, and get those damn instructions.

I've just finished my lead article on teen self-esteem for TeenLife magazine, and I'm about to send it off by e-mail. Save for any possible minor corrections in spelling, Mr. Juarez has given his word that he won't delete or edit out anything, that he'll leave it as it is. In other words, the magazine, or this first issue at least, is completely at my mercy. I could have inserted anything, and have gotten away with it. I'm in a position that any other writer would kill to be in, a veritable dream that has come true for me, with even the blessings of my fellow writers to boot.

So why was I not merciless in writing this? Why, though I was being honest with this article as I usually am when I'm writing? Was I seemingly holding back? Was it because Jane, my family, and Tom liked it when I showed it to them, and I couldn't let them all down by adding something nasty to it in the final rewrite afterwards? Quinn in particular liked it, which scared the hell out of me. I guess that part about only the "popular" crowd being able to wear the on demand fashions over the "unpopular" crowd won her over because from her point of view, it was so true.

Quinn and me in agreement over something. I think I'm gonna be sick. Another note to self: Puke in Quinn's room, if necessity demands it.

Daria stopped writing, and glanced down at what appeared to be a credit card on her bed, then sighed. After a moment, she began writing again.

And then there's this. A Northolt Bank card sent to me this afternoon via a special courier from Darren for my 18th birthday, an "early present", since he's said that I can send him all the bills I pile up when I use it. It's the ultimate credit card, so secure that only a person who can produce their own driver's license or other legitimate I.D. can use it, and no one else. There's also the fingerprint encoded within the card's magnetic strip, which has to match the user's as a further security measure. Makes you wonder why all credit cards haven't gone down this route.

Oh, wait. That's right. Silly me. The stores and credit card companies need teens like Quinn or thieves (Is there any difference?) to wrecklessly use the regular cards to purchase gobs of stuff so the economy can be kept going (or so they all claim), and the store's and credit card company's pockets can be kept full from the compounded daily interest. Your plastic card at work. Only in America.

When Quinn first laid eyes on it, I could've sworn that I saw dollar signs in those eyes, and drool leaking from that mouth. My guess is that she'll be in here to lay on her charms soon to butter me up, and drive me bonkers. How I look forward to that...

Mom and dad immediately went into telling me how careful I had to be in using it, giving me the speech about "financial responsibility", and not "burdening my brother's budget with 'needless' things, even though he could easily afford them". Were they serious? They were giving the wrong advice to the wrong Morgendorffer daughter, since I have no intention of using this card ever, not even for a pizza--unless it's an absolute emergency, such as if I've become destitute and have to buy one, but that's it, I swear.

That Darren had gotten the card for me wasn't a surprise, since he was the one who practically badgered me into taking it, and had me to give my fingerprint to the local bank branch a scant week ago. I suspect the card was his way of trying to further make up to me his role in that little sting operation over my taking the job at TeenLife, even though I told him I was over it--that, and what Jane had told me about his feeling awful all over again about it when she returned to visit him. Dammit, why do I feel as if he shamed me into taking it?

I don't need or want his money. He's already doing everything else for me, Jane, and Quinn, isn't he? We'll be staying with him for a few years at his palace while going to college nearby. He's paying for mine and Quinn's educations in full, not to mention that he's already giving me some money with his monthly stipend, and has offered Jane a loan if she needs it for her artwork, not to mention her merely having him for a boyfriend has already done wonders for her artwork. We're practically swimming in his money and generousity.

Darren doesn't need to do this, right?


Dammit, dammit, dammit.

Suddenly, there was a tentative knock on the door. Daria looked up and smirked slightly while sitting up on the side of her bed and putting her "diary" in her strongbox, locking it. She quietly bent over and slid the box under her bed.

DARIA: (Thought v.o. as she sits up: Like clockwork...:) C'mon in, Quinn.

Quinn, dressed in her yellow nightgown with the pink bunny, entered with a slight frown, shutting the door behind her.

QUINN: (Walking over as Daria stands:) How'd you know it was me, Daria?

DARIA: Couldn't have been anyone else. (Reaches down, picks up, waves credit card:) Only you could've been near enough to hone in on my card while it was lying out on my bed.

QUINN: (Rolls eyes:) Oh, ha-ha, Daria. (Pauses, uneasy shrug:) I, um, was just passing by your room, and wanted to know--

DARIA: (Interrupts:) --Whether or not I've checked to see how much is on my card over the Internet yet?

QUINN: (Frowns:) Dar--ia! That is so not true! (Pauses to Daria's crossed arms and doubtful expression, sighs:) Okay, it is true, I admit it! I'm dying to know!

DARIA: (Brief, uneasy expression:) Um, I haven't checked, and truth be told, I don't think I want to.

QUINN: (Surprised look, gasps:) Huh? Why not?

DARIA: Because I don't plan to ever use it, that's why not. I don't want to be tempted to see the credit limit on Northolt's website. I might suddenly become freaked out at the amount on it, or something.

QUINN: (Snorts, holds arms out:) Oh, c'mooon, Daria! I'm sure it's like, not that much anyway! (Pauses:) You're not at least a little curious over how much Darren's put on your card? I mean, it's your duty to see how much it is, so, uh, you won't go over your limit in case you have to use it for something!

DARIA: (Deadpan tone:) Says the girl who goes through credit cards like water goes through a sieve.

QUINN: (Cocks eye and head:) Huh? A what? Isn't that a company that makes those eyelash curlers?

DARIA: (Sighs:) Never mind. (Pauses, adds:) Look, I'll make you a deal, since I suspect that I won't get any peace from you if I don't do this--if I show you what I have on my card, will you promise me that you won't tell any of your friends, and anyone else at school? The last thing I need is for Kevin to try and get me to buy him something stupid, like DVDs titled, "Vince Lombardi's Greatest Called Plays", and to sponsor a keg team party--

QUINN: (Mock-shocked look:) --Daria! Would I do that? (Daria gives her a "You would" expression) Hey! I haven't said anything to anybody since I heard you were getting the card, right?

DARIA: Only because mom and dad bribed you with their gold cards last week while practically begging you to keep your trap shut. (Pauses, more somber tone, look:) Quinn, I'm really serious, okay? I don't want this to get out--

QUINN: (Slowly smirks:) We--ell...what's in it for me to keep quiet, Daria?

DARIA: (Narrows eyes:) "Me", as innnn...?

QUINN: (Shakes head slowly, mock-admonishing look, playful tone:) Oh, Daria, Daria, Daria--must we play this game?

DARIA: (After a moment:) You're really gonna shake me down by getting me to give you some money off of my card, aren't you? (Pauses:) Wasn't it enough that you got some stuff off of our folk's cards?

QUINN: (Smacks mouth, rolls eyes:) Geez, Daria, what's the big deal? We agreed to keep getting money from mom and dad when they wanted us to do things we didn't like, remember, just not to Darren! Besides, it's not like we haven't done this before between us, you know...

DARIA: True, but we did our "business" in this way before Darren cropped up on the scene. ("Sighs":) I guess you haven't really changed, huh?

QUINN: (Frowns:) Now, wait a minute! I have too changed!

DARIA: Oh? How? You're basically wanting me to pay you to keep your mouth shut about my card, more than likely wanting a certain percentage off of it after I check the amount. (Adds, wry expression:) I wonder what our brother would think about what you're attempting to do...

QUINN: (Peeved, narrows eyes:) Don't you dare bring Darren into this, Daria!

DARIA: (Casual tone:) And why not? Should I agree to pay you a certain fee off of my card to keep quiet, and don't think for a second that I'm actually considering it, the bills will hit Darren's desk, since he's paying them. While it's likely that he wouldn't ask about my direct ATM withdrawals, he'll probably wonder to himself why in the hell I'm taking out so much money, since it's not exactly something I would do. He might even ask me sometime down the road what's up.

QUINN: (Pauses, now looking uneasy:) Um, d'you think he'd really do that? (Wide-eyed, gasps:) You wouldn't tell him why you're really doing it, would you?

DARIA: (Cocked eyebrow:) What do you think? That I'd keep quiet about what you're doing, taking money that's supposed to be mine to spend, just for me? Get real. The moment our brother would ask, even hinting indirectly what was up, I'd tell him everything, you can count on that, and you'd know he'd come straight to you, telling you how disappointed he is--

QUINN: (Groans, interrupts:) --Okay, okay! I get the message, and stuff! (Bites bottom lip, sighs, slumps:) I promise not to say anything to anybody about your card at school. Not to Sandi, not to Stacy, not to Tiffany, to nobody.

DARIA: (Looks her over, suspicious expression:) Hmmm...I see your fingers aren't crossed, the same for your toes. How about your heart--?

QUINN: (Frowns:) Daria! I said I wouldn't tell anybody, and I really meant it! (Looks off, softer tone:) When I think about it now, I know Darren would probably really be mad at me if I told someone. (Adds:) I--don't wanna have that happen. I know he's put a lot of confidence in me about stuff...

DARIA: (Takes this in, long pause. It appears to her that Quinn's actually sincere, for a change:) Um, fair enough. (Sits down at her desk, turns on her computer and monitor, small smirk:) Anyway, as an added security measure, keep in mind that I know where you sleep. It's all just a simple matter of my pillow in the middle of the night, your perky little face, and it's onto oblivion from there.

QUINN: (Sneers, slight smirk as she looks over Daria's shoulder:) I'll, like, keep that in mind, and stuff. (Pauses, adds with a pout:) Still, I wish Darren could've given me a Northolt card like you! I'm responsible!

DARIA: (While typing up the Northolt site:) Yeah, responsible like a fox guarding a henhouse. (Quinn glares down at her) Besides, Darren's told you that you'll get your's when you're 18, you know, and you're already receiving that monthly stipend from him like me, not to mention that mom's won her little surprise settlement with the Weekly Blabber--? Why, you'll have a 100,000 more reasons to nag her for stuff between now and then.

QUINN: (Snorts:) You heard mom's declaration. (In a mock-tone of Helen:) "This money is going to be invested for the future". (Rolls eyes:) Who's future? Her's and dad's? By the time they'll get to spend it, they'll both be so old, they won't know what to do with it 'cause they'll be so senile, and stuff!

DARIA: (While still typing:) If push comes to shove, at least they'll have enough money to pay somebody to care for them in their later years, though it wouldn't surprise me if our brother got them to live under his palatial roof instead. (Pauses, narrows eyes:) Why, he'd become the new Jock Ewing. (Continues typing)

QUINN: (Makes a face:) Ew! Jock straps are so unfashionable! (Daria gives a tiny eyeroll, continues typing)

DARIA: (Stops:) Okay, it's asking for my card's number, then it wants me to create a password. (Turns to, looks up at Quinn:) Turn around.

QUINN: (Frowns down at her:) Don't you trust me, Daria?

DARIA: (Smirks:) Of course not, even after our little agreement over your keeping quiet about my card. This is something altogether different. (Quinn narrows her eyes) Turn around.

QUINN: (Hard sigh as she turns completely around:) I don't see what the big deal is, you know. I couldn't use the dumb card, anyway, only you could!

DARIA: (Types:) This is true, but I wouldn't want you to get online at any time, and use my password to see if I had brought anything on my, now to you, suddenly "dumb card". That's my business.

QUINN: (Still facing away:) I thought you said you weren't gonna buy anything!

DARIA: I don't plan to, but in the event some serious emergency comes up, I might not have any choice if I'm really short of cash on the spot. Unlike you, I plan to be frugal with my money.

QUINN: (Snorts, looks halfway around:) Huh, no surprise there. (Adds, realizes:) Besides, I'm more careful with my money these days, or have you forgotten?

DARIA: (After a moment:) No, I haven't. I have to admit that you have been somewhat frugal, too. (Pauses, adds, wry smirk:) I've sneaked around and have seen those deposit slips concerning your savings account--

QUINN: (Deep frown, interrupts, cuts eyes over:) Hey! You have the nerve to look through my personal stuff, but then I can't look at what you have on your card? That's not fair!

DARIA: (Continues typing, slight frown of her own:) Don't blame me if you leave your slips lying around on your bed for everyone to see, and you have your door wide open! If I were you, I'd get a safety deposit box! (Quinn fumes at this, glares at the opposite wall. Daria relents, softens tone:) Look, I haven't seen you buy anything, other than getting some stuff off of our folks. (Pauses, cocks an eyebrow:) So how do you explain the gold cards and the $100,000 whining?

QUINN: (Evil grin:) Call them "financial rewards" for my good behavior, (adds quickly:) that's what I meant by sayin' I had changed, you know. (Daria shows a brief smirk in admiration as she continues to type) I think I deserve it. (Pauses, cuts eyes to her right:) You wouldn't even buy a good book with your card, or something, if you saw one in a store, at least?

DARIA: (Stares at the screen, sits back, turns pale:) Unless that good book costs $60,000, no, um, not likely--(Quinn turns around, stares over Daria's shoulder in wide-eyed shock)

At that moment, a shocked Helen and Jake suddenly barrelled into Daria's room, looking over her's and Quinn shoulders as well. Quinn frowned in mild revulsion as Helen and Jake practically squeezed her in. After an instant, Quinn broke free, now looking over their shoulders.

HELEN: What in the world?! That much money's on your card, Daria?!

JAKE: Wow! $60,000 smackeroos, with up to $20,000 to draw out for cash at a bank, and up to a thousand at an ATM!

DARIA: (Perfectly calm of course as she turns around, looks up at them:) Yes, you may enter my room, Mom, Dad. (Pauses:) How long were you two listening at my door, if I may inquire? (Adds, glances at Quinn uneasily, and vice-versa:) And um, what did you hear?

HELEN: (Red-faced with Jake, looking guilty:) Uhh, er, just a little bit, sweetie. Er, since we're not as busy on our jobs as we used to be, we, ah, just decided to suddenly come up here and spend some time with you, right, Jake--? (Motions head)

JAKE: But honey, you said that you wanted to see if Daria had checked out her card, yet--(Helen slaps his shoulder) OW! (Suddenly gets it, nods with his goofy grin:) Uh, yeah! She's right, Kiddo! We didn't even hear about Quinn making that crack about our old age your mother's gonna punish her for! (Quinn moans. Helen sighs. Jake frowns:) No, wait--we did hear that--(glares at Quinn:) dammit, Quinn!

QUINN: (Uneasy look, chuckle, inwardly relieved that's all their parents heard:) Uh, look, it was just a tiny little joke, Mom, Dad--

HELEN: (Wicked, slow smirk, which causes Quinn to give a massive eyeroll:) We'll talk about that "tiny little joke" later, Quinn. (Turns to Daria, keeps smirk:) Not to mention your little crack about your father and I needing someone to take care of us in our old age, sweetie. We've still got a very long ways to go before we reach that stage. (Daria gives a brief snort) Honey, your father and I know $60,000 is a tremendous amount of money for you. We should've asked Darren how much he was planning to put on this card. If you can't handle it, I'm sure we can tell your brother to lower it--

DARIA: (Turns off her computer and monitor:) Nahh, I--(frowns, pauses, rises from her seat, turns to them:) Waaaitaminute. What do you mean, "If I can't handle it?" You both just gave me a lecture about financial responsibilty, and now you're telling me that you don't believe that I should have this much money because you think I'll suddenly go on a spending binge that'll make Quinn's look pale in comparison?

QUINN: (Grins wickedly:) Yeah, as if--

JAKE: (Waves hands with Helen, wide-eyed:) No, no, Kiddo! It's not like that at all--

HELEN: (Frantic nod:) Your Father's right, sweetie! We know you're responsible, really! It's just that it never occurred to us that your brother would put that much on your card! (Glances at Jake, who nods:) We figured at least--(pauses, shrugs:) oh, a thousand dollars or two--

QUINN: (Crosses arms, disdainful look:) Oh, please. Nothing less than at least $5,000 in this day and age, yeah, maybe--

JAKE: --But 60,000 bucks?! That's a whooole lotta moolah, Daria!

DARIA: (After a moment, nods:) Yeah, it is. I admit it, you're right. However, now when I think about it, Darren wouldn't put that much on my card if he didn't think I could handle it.

QUINN: (Nods:) Daria's got a point, Mom, Dad. (Daria drops an eyebrow in suspicion. Quinn shows a small smirk:) He probably knows Daria's the type who wouldn't spend a penny on anything, save for the boring, drab stuff that people like her use. (Shrugs:) You know, you are what you buy, and stuff.,.

HELEN: (Mild frown, admonishing tone:) Now, Quinn, I don't think you should say that about your sister--

DARIA: (Returns the smirk, interrupts:) --Normally, I'd say that you've actually gotten me pegged, Quinn, but just for that, I think I'll break out my card, and use a few thou to hire a hitman to take you out, and I don't mean to Chez Pierre. (Quinn licks her tongue out)

JAKE: (Wide-eyed:) Helen! Did you hear that?! Daria's gonna rub out her sister! (Frowns:) Dammit, Daria, there's no way I'm going to allow you to--

HELEN: (Massive eyeroll, interrupts:) --JAKE! Get a grip! Daria's only joking!

JAKE: (Snaps out it:) Huh? (Looks between them all, embarassed, grins:) Heh--of course! I knew that! Good one, Kiddo!

HELEN: (Sighs:) Sweetie, you'll be 18 in a week-and-a-half, so we guess you're close enough in age to make your own decisions. If you feel that you have no problem with this amount on your card, then your father and I won't say anything more about it, right, Jake?

JAKE: (Thumbs up:) That's right, Daria! Darren must really trust your judgement to give you that much!

DARIA: (Pauses, ponders this:) Um, yeah. I guess he does. ("Yawns":) Well, if there's nothing else, I think I'll turn in for the night. Gotta get that sleep for school, you know. Can't afford to miss Mr. O'Neill's exciting class, and all that.

HELEN: (Glances at Daria's alarm clock. It only reads "9:30":) Um, of course, dear. (Smirks:) Oh, and Quinn--?

QUINN: (Cocked eyebrow:) Yeah, Mom?

HELEN: (Keeping the smirk:) Your sister's right. You do require a safety deposit box for your deposit slips, because I saw one as well the other day on your bed while I put your folded clothes up. (Daria shows a slight smirk, while Quinn rolls her eyes) First thing tomorrow, I'll get you one with your own key, okay?

QUINN: Um, okay, Mom. (Quickly adds:) Just make sure I get both keys to it, alright? (Glances at Daria:) I don't want some people trying to look in it, if you know what I mean...

HELEN: (Like Jake, mildly chuckles in response to Daria's now-glaring at Quinn:) Of course, sweetie. Goodnight, you two. (Leaves)

JAKE: (As he leaves behind her:) Yeah, goodnight, Kiddo, Princess!

DARIA: (Deadpan:) Goodnight. Sleep tight. Don't let those hungry bedbugs bite.

QUINN: (Shudders:) Ew! Icky bedbugs?!

DARIA: (Turns to her:) Don't worry, it's just a play on words--(adds, tiny little evil smirk and "menancing" tone:) unless you don't change your bedsheets on a daily basis, that is. Then, it's open season on you with those tiiiiny little dust mites, also known as the "bedbugs", that'll prey on your body during the night, slooowly devouring your delicate, pink skin as you sleep--

QUINN: (Becoming nervous:) Well, um, I've just changed my bedsheets tonight, so I'm not worried--

DARIA: (Looks up, mock-ponders, back in her normal voice:) --Or is that when you change your bedsheets? Now, I'm not quite so sure--

QUINN: (Now uncomfortable:) Uhhh, I think I'll just leave--

DARIA: ("Frowns" in deep thought:) --Maybe it's a combination of both, upon further consideration--(Quinn bolts from the room into her own, slamming her bedroom door. Daria shows a rare grin as she quietly shuts her own door:) Yep, Daria, you've still got it. Knowing Quinn, she'll probably be either snoring on the floor in her sleeping bag, or lying on a bare matress come the morning. I really should stop with the mind games on her--(pauses:) nahhh.

Daria paused, then looked down at her card.

$60,000. Also $20,000 I could draw out of the bank immediately. I could buy just about anything with this, if I wanted. Perhaps a new car to drive around town in. Nah. I usually can either drive mom's or dad's in a pinch, or ride with Tom in his when I don't need to walk. Lawndale's not exactly the size of New York City. Besides, if I bought one, Quinn would pester me to lug her and her fashion zombie buddies around. I couldn't take that, no matter what...

Books? Sure, I could buy those, but then, Darren's got a whole load at his place that I could read anytime. I was gonna get some anyway from him, since the Car--Lawndale County board of commissioners last week had cut the county funding for that proposed new library building to replace the old one we currently have. I guess they needed the extra money for the really important things, like that new practice field for Lawndale High's football team I read about in the Lowdown...

Hm. I'll definitely need some new clothes for college, though I'm in no hurry to purchase any, of course. I can imagine Quinn'll have a conniption when she falls all over herself on insisting on helping me to buy some so she--

Daria slapped her forehead with her free hand.

AGH! Dammit! I can't believe I'm doing this! I just said that I wouldn't buy anything with this damn card, and now here I am considering buying everything my greedy little heart desires! I'm becoming Quinn! Nice work with the personal ethics, Morgendorffer. Repeat to yourself: I will not use this card. I will not use this card. I will not use this card...

Daria paused yet again, then looked down at her card again. This time she slightly smirked.

Except for pizza when Henri doesn't fix it, and I'm out with Tom or Jane. Yes, definitely for pizza...

The next instant, her room phone rang. Daria casually tossed her card on her bed, and began to make her way to the phone. Before she could reach it, it stopped ringing.

DARIA: (Thought v.o.: Either somebody here has already gotten it, or it was a wrong number, and the other party hung up, or the phone suddenly's got a mind of it's own, and doesn't want me to answer it. If it's the phone, I'm outta here.)

Immediately, there was a quick knock on her door. Almost as immediately, a frowning Quinn opened the door, and walked in.

QUINN: It's Jane on the line. (Adds:) I just spoke to mom about those bedbugs, dust mites, or whatever, and she said there was no such thing.

DARIA: (Tiny Mona Lisa smile:) Actually, there is. I just told you a half-truth about them eating your skin while you sleep. In a way, they really do eat your skin, but only when it's dead and fallen off your body, and it doesn't have to be while you're sleeping. They're so tiny, you really can't see them. Practically just about every home in the world has them. The mites travel on visitors to other homes who might not have them, so more than likely, we have them, since your friends and Jane show up here often, or we go to their homes. (Quinn stares at her uneasily for a moment, then glances around as if she's trying to see them) You can look it up on your laptop for further info, if you don't believe me.

QUINN: (Now briefly smirks after a moment, snorts:) Real funny, Daria, playing with me like that. (Crosses arms, small smirk:) Maybe I should tell a "half-truth" to the whole school about your having that Northolt card, even risking Darren getting mad at me.

DARIA: (Showing no emotion, but in a subtly dangerous low tone, deadpan:) Then how about the full truth from me, Quinn? Darren's anger would be the least of your worries if you open your mouth. (Narrows eyes:) I'll break off and gnaw on your bones if I even hear the word "Northolt" from any of our classmates at school, whether or not it's directed at me.

Quinn stared at her, wide-eyed for an instant, then quickly left, slamming Daria's door. Daria smirked. Mission accomplished. She went beside her bed, and picked up her phone.

DARIA: I got it, Quinn. (There is a click from the other end) Hey, Jane. (Jane, dressed in her usual bedclothes, appears via a "split screen". She's at her canvas in her room, holding her cell phone in her left hand, while painting with her right one. We can't "see" what it is she's painting, for the back of the canvas is only shown.)

JANE: Yo! Did I catch you at a bad time, amiga?

DARIA: I just insulted my sister by playing with her mind, sooooo, no.

JANE: (Snickers:) Figures. (Light, casual tone as she paints:) So, did you check the credit limit on that Northolt card you got today yet?

DARIA: Yeah, as a matter of fact, I--(pauses, drops an eyebrow:) hold it. I didn't tell you yet that the card came in this afternoon. How'd you know?

JANE: (Pauses painting for a moment, shrugs:) How else? Darren told me over the phone when he called earlier that he expected the card to be there today. (Continues painting)

DARIA: Oh. Well, yeah, I checked.

JANE: (Amused grin:) What did you think about that $60,000 on it?

DARIA: (Sighs:) You knew about that, too?

JANE: But of course. Darren wanted you to be surprised by the amount.

DARIA: (Picks up the card:) Oh, I was "surprised", alright. So was the rest of my family.

JANE: Bet Quinn fell all over herself at the amount, huh?

DARIA: She figuratively did a 360 degree backflip, along with my mom and dad. They both thought that my brother would have put far less on it--(pauses:) like me. This kinda blows my mind.

JANE: (Cocked eyebrow:) It does? Why? It's basically a birthday present, right?

DARIA: (Sits on her bed:) It's more than just a "birthday present". It's no different than if he had given me $60,000 outright, Jane. Darren didn't have to give me this card, just a good book, or something. I would've been more than happy. (Pauses, slightly pained expression:) Um, I think it had something to do with his still feeling guilty, you know, about that "sting" he did to me to take the writing job.

JANE: (While still painting:) Annnd, you think this is his way of paying you back, sort of a "bribe", is that it?

DARIA: (Slight frown and irritated tone:) Well, when you put it like that--

JANE: Daria, even though Darren might be kinda sorta doing that, what's the big deal? You've taken money from your folks and Quinn, either when they've done something to you that you didn't like to get you to forgive them, and in Quinn's case, for blackmail, or to get you to do something that you didn't like. How's Darren any different?

DARIA: (Tries to rationalize this, for Jane's hit the nail on the head here. Pauses:) Look, Jane, Darren's--well, Darren's a guy who I can get money from anytime, right?

JANE: Right. (Pauses:) And--?

DARIA: (Looks off for a moment:) And thus, he's no, um, challenge for me to hit him up for moolah, as opposed to my parents. Quinn and I even made an agreement that we wouldn't try to finagle anything from him, just our folks. After all, he's already giving us money, right? (Uneasy shrug:) It would be too easy, like taking Waif from a Quinn.

JANE: (Slight frown:) Amiga, give me a break. I don't buy that B.S. attempt at logic anymore than you do. I think you simply want a brother without any strings attached, as opposed to getting into those usual monetary games with the rest of your family. Darren's paying you some attention, some real attention as a brother, but he's trying to do it in a genuine way. You merely wish to return the favor by simply being a sister to him with no strings attached, in this case, his moolah.

DARIA: (Stands, pauses at this for a moment, slightly smirks:) Dammit, am I that obvious, Dr. Lane?

JANE: (Smirks:) I'm afraid so, my beleaguered patient. (Pauses, uneasy look:) Ah, are you planning on turning down Darren's card because of the amount, or asking him to lower it? He seemed to be really happy that you accepted it.

DARIA: (Glances at her credit card, ponders:) Nah. (Jane looks relieved) My dad of all people said something that really kinda got to me. He said that Darren must really trust my judgement to have put that much money on the card.

JANE: (Quieter tone:) I think we both know that's obvious. (There's suddenly a click on the line) Hey, is somebody trying to call you? I don't think that's from my end--

DARIA: Hm, I think you're right, Jane.

JANE: (Nods:) More than likely, it's probably Darren, wanting to find out your reaction to his gift. He said that he wanted to call you before he and Curtis had finished their studying, and just before he went to bed. I'll get off the line so you can talk to him, Daria. See you in school tomorrow. (Smirks:) Try not to gush too much while you're thanking him for his incredible generousity.

DARIA: (Deadpan:) Jane, this card can pay for your funeral in full, remember that.

JANE: (Chuckles:) That will be taken under advisement, amiga. Later. (Clicks off her phone. The "split screen" goes to Daria's side)

Daria clicked off her phone, then on.

DARIA: Hello? (Slight smile:) Hey, Darren. (Pauses:) Yeah, I just got the card in today. (Pauses, smirks:) Oh yeah, I saw the amount on Northolt's website, um, thanks. (Quickly adds:) Now I can buy that missile and launcher I've always dreamed of to destroy Lawndale...(chuckling is heard from the other end)


(Scene Two: Casa Lane, Jane's room. Jane, having just tossed her cell phone on her bed, has immediately resumed her painting, this time narrowing her eyes, as if she's in deeper concentration, which she is)

After a moment, Trent, carrying what appeared to be a garbage bag in the hallway, stopped at Jane's open door. He cocked an eyebrow at her painting, sat his bag down in the hallway, and quietly walked in, going over to her from behind.

TRENT: (Looking over her shoulder:) Whoa. It looks like you've put in some pretty intense work there, Janey.

JANE: Thanks, Trent, I--(suddenly becomes wide-eyed, turns around, panicked, spreads arms:) AGH! What in the hell are you doing in my room?!

TRENT: (Taken aback for a moment:) Huh? Uhh, your door was open, and I just walked in. Sorry, I didn't know you didn't want to be disturbed.

JANE: (Glances over at her door, thought v.o.: Dammit, he's right. I should've had it shut. Nice Kevin-like move, Lane. You should've just painted it in Trent's room.:) Oh. Um, that's okay. (Quickly adds:) Look, about this painting--

TRENT: (Slight smile, gently interrupts:) --It's okay, Janey. I'm not angry at you for doing it.

JANE: --I did it because---(pauses, for it's finally registering:) hah? You're not pissed that I did this? (Jane steps aside, motions with her arm. We now "see" that it's a painting of a terrified Krystal, who's lying on her back, spread eagle, on the bare ground in an unknown mountain range. [She's fully clothed, sorry!] Her arms and hands are tied to wooden stakes. She is staring up, wide-eyed, and mouth open. Krystal is also engulfed in a huge shadow, as if something above is about to fall on her--and it is. At the top of  Jane's canvas, there is a just a bit of what appears to be the bottom of a huge, spiked boulder.)

TRENT: (Shrugs, chuckles, coughs:) No, I'm not. You're an artist, and this is how you express yourself, and stuff, like me with my music. We have to have outlets, or something, or another. Besides, I expected that you'd do this.

JANE: (Utterly dumbfounded expression:) You DID?

Trent wordlessly smirked and nodded. He went over to Jane's bed and sat down on the edge. Trent patted a spot beside him gently, motioning Jane to sit. A still-dumbfounded Jane walked stiffly over, and quietly sat down. She looked over at Trent warily.

TRENT: (After a moment, very low tone:) Janey, I know that you don't really like Krystal. I know you've been kinda trying to be nice around me when I say Krystal's name, and stuff. (Jane stares at him, stunned) I think I sorta saw it right when I first started to see Krystal, and I think I know why.

JANE: (Swallows hard:) You---you DO?

TRENT: Sure. You think if things get anymore serious between me and Krystal, that she's gonna replace you somehow in my life. Janey, no matter what happens between Krystal and me, you and I will always be brother and sister, that won't change. We've got a bond that nobody will ever break.

Jane merely continued to stare at Trent in disbelief, not knowing what to make of this, both by her brother's surprise reaction to her painting, and his remarkably poignant and touching remark about their sibling relationship, even though his reasoning about her and Krystal was obviously off the mark. Jane decided to go along with this--for now. No need to tell Trent what I really think about Krystal, since I can't prove it at the moment.

JANE: (Slight smile, quieter tone:) Uh, well, I--guess that's ri--(pauses, realizes, slight frown:) hey, waitasec! Are you saying that I feel sort of threatened by your having Krystal as a girlfriend? That she'd somehow "replace" me? Because I'm not, you know!

TRENT: (Pauses, confused look:) Ummm, you're not?

JANE: (Stands, throws arms open:) Of course not! I wasn't like that when you started to go out with Monique, (adds under her breath:) at least at first. (Through subtly gritted teeth, resumes her tone:) I mean, if you're happy with--her, then I'm happy for you!

TRENT: (Thinks, narrows eyes, rubs chin, stands:) Hmmm. (Pauses:) Then why did you paint Krystal like that?

JANE: (Wide-eyed, thought v.o.: Oh, poopie. Me and my big mouth. Think, Lane, think!) (Phony smile:) Beeecause it's my attempt at a joke about her, that's why! (Trent gives her a very odd look) See, I'm just razzing Krystal by painting this, 'cause, ah, I'm gonna give it to her as a welcome gift! Yeah, that's it! A freakin' welcome gift! (Thought v.o.: Oy.)

TRENT: (Narrows eyes:) Hmmmm. (Shrugs, small smile:) That's pretty cool, sis. (Looks at painting again:) I think Krystal's gonna like her gift.

JANE: (Thought v.o.: I was planning to hang it up in here, and look at it to cheer myself up whenever I got depressed, but, what the hell.:)  I'm sure she will, bro. (Thought v.o. wicked smirk: I can always paint another one, and now when I think about it, this could send a blunt warning message to Krystal if she hurts Trent, too...)

TRENT: (Starts to leave:) Well, I'm gonna go, Janey. I just finished cleaning my room to get it ready for when Krystal visits us, and after I take this last bag of garbage out, I'm gonna hit the sack--

JANE:  Yeah, ok--(wide-eyed, realizes:) you just cleaned WHAT?

TRENT: (Stops, turns to her:) I just--(Jane zooms past him into the hallway. Trent looks after her, dazed:) huh? (Follows her)

Jane had vanished into Trent's room as he followed her in.

JANE: (From inside, mock-amazement:)  The hell--? What's this I'm standing on? It looks so--bare!

TRENT: (Ditto, droll tone after a moment, annoyed:) It's called the "floor", Janey.

JANE: (Still in her mock-amazement tone, from inside:) And what are those flat, smooth, bare barriers that are surrounding me? I don't think I've seen those in a looong while. What they're called escapes me at the moment--

TRENT: (Still in his droll, annoyed tone:) I think they're called "walls", Janey...



(Scene Three: The McKinna's castle-like home, Rory's room. Rory, dressed in his silk pajamas, is typing on his computer. We "see" what's on the computer monitor's screen)


































Rory shut off his computer and monitor, then frowned deeply. He wordlessly rose from his desk, and left his bedroom. After a moment, he walked over to Krystal's bedroom door, which was right across the hallway, then knocked.


KRYSTAL: (From behind her door:) Come in!


Rory walked in and quietly shut the door behind him, still with his frown. Krystal, writing at her desk, and dressed in her nightclothes, looked up at him, cocking an amused eyebrow. She was surrounded by her accounting books, both on her desk, and on the floor.


KRYSTAL: (Snorts:) May I help you?

RORY: Why, yes, as a matter of fact you can, you bitch. (Krystal gives him a "What did you say?" look) You told Stacy's friend Quinn Morgendorffer when she visited with her frigid bitch sister a few weeks back that I was talking to Stacy over the Internet, didn't you?

KRYSTAL: (Stands:) Pardon? (Frowns:) What in the hell are you babbling about, Rory? Where'd this come from?

RORY: (Walks over, scowling:) Don't play innocent with me, Krystal! Stacy just told me in a virtual chatroom that her friends suspect that I'm talking to her! (Goes up to her:) The only way she could've known that was when you told Quinn! Didn't I tell you if I wanted to see Stacy Rowe, that it was my business? Remember what I said to you what I'd do if you tried to interfere? (Pauses:) "Sty Lark"? (Pauses:) "Darren"? (Krystal narrows her eyes) Yeah, that's right, that. (Begins to turn away)


Krystal suddenly grabbed a surprised Rory by his collar, and flipped him on his back as she slammed him on her bed. She straddled him as she tightly held his collar, so much so that she had twisted it around her fist, up to his throat. Rory found himself barely able to breathe.

KRYSTAL:  (Low snarl and whisper:) Let's get something straight, you ass--it's true that I heard something to the effect that you may have been "speaking" to Stacy, but for your damn information, it was Quinn who told me herself, or rather it was Darren who did! He told me Quinn had said Stacy had mentioned wanting to see you again at their lame high school one day, but suddenly said that she didn't mean it like that! Quinn and her friends then suspected she was somehow seeing you! I didn't say a damn thing to anybody! They figured it out on their own!

RORY: (Pauses after a moment, ponders this as he tries to breathe:) Let's--just say that I believe you, and at the moment, I still don't. (Gasps:) Why didn't you say anything to me about it since then?

KRYSTAL: (Slow, feral smirk:) Because you didn't want me to "interfere", remember?

RORY: (Gasping again, frowns:) Slick little--you'd like that, wouldn't you? For me to be caught?

KRYSTAL: (Grins:) It would sure as hell make it easier for me if you were out of my life, Rory, I admit that.

RORY: (Returns grin:) Just as I'm sure it would be for Jane Lane if you were out of her brother's life, eh, sis? (Krystal squeezes his collar tighter) ACK! Cut--it--out--Krystal! I'm---really--choking--here!

KRYSTAL: (Glares, through clenched teeth, draws closer:) Your point being--?

RORY:  (Cuts eyes down, manages weak smile:) How---about---this--? You're---turning---me---on---since---I---can---gasp---see---your---boobs?

Krystal gave Rory a disgusted look, then released him. She wordlessly climbed off of him, and stood on the floor. Rory rubbed his neck as he stood up.

KRYSTAL: I swear, Rory, if you do something bad to Stacy, I don't give a damn what you say to Darren or our parents about "Sty Lark". I will mercilessly kick your sick, sorry, ass.

RORY: So noted, sis. However, I intend to see the little "Nibblet" while you're visiting the slacker-slash-bum in that "Lawndale" place. (Krystal narrows an eye) We're going to experience the sights and sounds of Baltimore.

KRYSTAL: As I recover from your rather audacious and blatant announcement, of which I'll further ask about in a moment, I must wonder as to how you're planning to do this while you're going to school, if I may ask? White Plains community college's schedule doesn't exactly coincide with Eastward's.

RORY: This is true. (Pauses:) See, I've decided to forgo my final year at my beloved community college to pursue my new roving businessman's job full-time. School has no more interest to me. Mr. Smith has asked if I could devote more time to it, and I said yes. I could make loads more money working for him than I could in my undecided major.

KRYSTAL: Ah, I see. (Sneers, doubtful tone:) And you've done such a wonderful job so fast, that "Preston Smith" now wants you full-time. (Smirks:) Mummy and daddy are okay with this? I know our daddy won't let you live under "his" roof, and lay around, job or no.

RORY: Couldn't agree with you more, so I'll be moving out as soon as possible. (Krystal's mouth drops in shock. Rory smirks:) See? I'll be out of your life for real, sis. Don't ever say I didn't do you any favors.

KRYSTAL: You're--serious about this? (Scowls:) Don't screw with me, Rory.

RORY: (Chuckles disdainfully:) That would be an interesting thought if it wasn't so sick and wrong, Krystal--(grins in a suggestive manner, leans forward, which actually makes Krystal cringe:) right? (Pauses, backs off:) No, it's true.

KRYSTAL: (After a moment:) If you're serious, then it's the best news I've ever heard in my life. Where in the hell are you going when you move out, brother dear? New York City?

RORY: (Mock-gasps:) Why, you're a freaking psychic, sis. Mr. Smith even helped me pick out a nice apartment in Menlo Park. (Krystal frowns for an instant, confused. Rory picks up on this, grins:) No, not where Thomas Edison once spewed out his inventions in New Jersey. This is a newly-redeveloped upscale tenement named after that place, as a matter of fact. It's not that far from Park Avenue. After I get settled in, I'll even invite you and our parents so I can rub your snotty little face in my success.

KRYSTAL: I'd rather rub your snotty little face into the ground. (Pauses, narrows eyes:) If I had any doubts that you weren't up to something illegal with this elusive "Preston Smith" character, they're gone now. He's paying you to smuggle some drugs into the country, isn't he?

RORY: (Rolls eyes:) Oh, please. I know you've been checking around and hadn't found anything...

KRYSTAL: That's right, I have. Nothing on this "Preston Smith", which is even more suspicious. I've checked on the Internet, and found nothing as well. (Pauses, narrows eyes:) Does he live overseas, or something, is that it?

RORY: (Now annoyed:) I told you that I'm clean, now. No more illegal activities.

KRYSTAL: Except going out with underaged girls. (Pauses:) Why did you tell me about your meeting Stacy Rowe in Baltimore while I'm in Lawndale?

RORY: (Grins:) Simple, sis. If I'm caught with Stacy, I'll assume that you told them, and I'll make a beeline straight to Darren, and tell him about "Sty Lark"--or I will when I get out of jail on bail, whatever. In other words, if I go down, you'll go down with me. I'm counting on you to discourage her buddies from following her to Baltimore, if they suspect anything.

KRYSTAL: (Scowls:) WHAT?! You bastard! Don't you dare drag me into your sick schemes!

RORY: (Chuckles:) Too late, sis. You're in it deep. Call it my "punishment" to you over keeping your mouth shut concerning Stacy's friends suspecting us. (Yawns, stretches:) Well, I'm tired. I think I'll call that "Sherri" chick before I turn in. (To Krystal's scowl:) She's some girl I met yesterday, someplace. Forgot where, though. Ah, well. (Shrugs:) Got her phone number, you know. She's hot! G'night, sis. (Leaves)

Krystal glared silently after her brother as he left. She looked as if she wanted to follow, but her phone began to ring. She glared once more at her door, then went over to answer the phone.

KRYSTAL: (Curt:) Hello? (Pauses, surprised look:) Trent? (Pauses:) What? (Pauses:) Is something wrong? (Sighs, glances at her door:) There's--nothing wrong. I'm just tired, (quickly adds, "perky" tone:) not that I'm tired of talking to you, that is. I'm sorry I sounded so snappy. I'm glad you called, as a matter of fact. I need some comforting words from you--sweetie. (Pauses, smirks:) So, how's Jane? I'll bet she's really eager to see me when I visit, huh...?



(Scene Four: The Appleton mansion, the same time)


Darren and Curtis entered the foyer. Both looked tired.


DARREN: (Yawns, stretches:) And so goes another studying session.

CURTIS: (Ditto:) Tell me about it. Man, I'm beat. I'm glad I only have two classes tomorrow, and they're not until the late morning. All the other professors are getting off early for the break. I'm gonna sleep in until an hour before they start. (Pauses:) You?

DARREN:  Three classes, early morning, then the rest of the day off. Good thing I'm used to getting up early. (Pauses, narrows an eye:) So, ah, what do you plan to be doing during the break?

CURTIS: (Shrugs:) Funny you should ask. Honestly? I don't know. Unlike you, I don't have any real plans. (Chuckles:) Get this--my dad of all people is giving me time off from his firm--with pay! (Darren's eyebrows rise in shock) Yeah, I can't believe it, either! He says that I've done such a good job there, and have had such good grades at school, that I've earned it--not that I'm disagreeing with him, mind you. (Sighs:) Thing is, this means I have nothing to do. Talk about irony.

DARREN: (After a moment:) Well, uh, I'm sure someone--I mean, something will come up, right? You never know.

CURTIS: Here? (Snorts:) I seriously doubt it. There's nothing to do. I wish I could see Lena while I'm off. (Looking anxious:) You know she's finished her studies down at East Florida University, right? She's got a--

DARREN: (Gently interrupts, nods, grins:) -Yeah, I know, I know, you've told me this, what, a dozen times, now? (In a droning tone, since he's said this before:) "Lena's got a few months before she comes up here in the spring to Eastward, so she's working at a hospital near Homestead in the meantime."

CURTIS: (Embarassed expression:) Uh, yeah, sorry about that. (Hangs head:) God, I miss her. (Darren appears to be about to speak, Curtis interrupts, slight scowl:) And no, I don't want you to offer to fly me down there to visit her, so drop it. (Notices Darren's surprised look, lightens tone:) You know that my eating you out of house and home here is enough of a handout.

DARREN: (Slight smile:) Fair enough. Actually, I was going to ask your opinion about my giving that Northolt card to my sister. (Apprehensive look:) Do you think she really liked getting that much on her card? Daria sounded--(pauses, ponders:) I don't know, sort of resigned to having it, like she was only doing it to please me. I only put that much on it to insure that in an absolute emergency, she'd have enough money in a pinch--

CURTIS: Hey, you don't have to sell me on this. (Grins:) I'm sure that if Daria suddenly needs to rent a Ferrari, that card will come in handy. (Darren rolls his eyes) No, seriously, I'm sure everything's cool, and even if it's eventually not, Daria can ask you to cut it down, right?

DARREN: Yeah, I guess. I just don't want her to feel guilty in having the card, that's all. Even with Helen winning that quick surprise settlement with the Weekly Blabber, I figured Daria wouldn't have to go to her or Jake anymore to ask for money if she needs it--

CURTIS: (Narrows eyes:) --Just to you, right?

DARREN: What's that supposed to mean?

CURTIS: Don't take this the wrong way, bud, but $60,000 is a heck of a lot of money, you know--? Do you want Daria to feel as if she's beholden to you because you've just given her that much money to do with as she pleases?

DARREN: "Beholden" to me? But I'm not trying to do that at all! I just want Daria and Quinn to know that I can be there for them in a pinch!

CURTIS: And I know that you will, bud. Nothing wrong with that, since I feel the same way about my sisters. (Frowns:) Don't tell them I said that, by the way. I just think you don't have to go overboard to do it, you know?

DARREN: "Overboard"? But you just said--

CURTIS: --I said that if Daria can eventually cut it down if she feels uncomfortable with it, I never completely disagreed with you that she shouldn't have that much. I think that's between you two. That being said, she's your sister. You have money. Lots of money. Money that you can share with your sister, and the rest of your family. Hence, you can give some money to your sister. Nothing wrong with that.

DARREN: (Narrows eyes:) Just that it shouldn't be so much money, right?

CURTIS: (Shrugs:) Eh. Like I said, if Daria feels uncomfortable with having that much money, she'll let you know.

DARREN: (After a moment:) I suppose you're right. Sooo, after I finish my meeting with Constance at Appleton, we're still going to get together before I leave with Krystal, right?

CURTIS: (Nods, smirks:) Yeah, yeah, at Sean's for dinner. Krystal's gonna join us with a few others.

DARREN: Alright, then. See you tomorrow.

CURTIS: Take it easy. (Fiona comes up from the side, opens the door:) Thanks, Fiona. (Leaves)

FIONA: (Curtseys, smiles:) Goodnight, Master Curtis. (Shuts the door behind him, turns to Darren:) All is ready for the arrival of the "Special Guest", Master Darren. She'll be here the day after tomorrow, right after you leave, as a matter of fact.

DARREN: (In a "Mr. Burns" type of grin, look, and tone, drums his fingers together:) Exxxcellent. (Fiona giggles for an instant, covering her mouth)  Speaking of vacations, are you ready for your's, Fiona?

FIONA: (Blushes:) Oh, um, yes, Master Darren. Mast--I mean, Jesse will be here late tomorrow. We're going to Niagara Falls. He's never been there before, like me.

DARREN: (Chuckles:) You'll love it. Niagara's beautiful, but also terrifying. (Smirks:) Don't get too close to the railing, and fall over.

FIONA: (Small smile, chuckle:) I won't, Master Darren, I promise. (Leaves)


Darren was about to leave upstairs when Tina and Elenor entered the foyer. Darren dropped a curious eyebrow when he saw Tina.


DARREN: Hm. I thought you were already gone, Tina. You usually don't stay here this late, unless it was something important.

TINA: (Smirks:) Just making sure everything's secure before I leave for several days, Darren. Have to keep the rest of the security staff on their toes, you know.

DARREN: (Nods:) Ah. (Pauses:) Hey, that's right,  you're going on vacation, too, aren't you? I thought you were already gone.

TINA: (Uneasy expression, glances over at Elenor, who gives her a cool look:) Um, yeah, but it's more like some personal time I've built up. I decided to take it, since you're going to be gone for a few days, and the mansion's basically going to be a ghost house, with no one here other than Elenor and Claude, save for our "Special Guest". Henri's even going to leave to go back to France for two weeks, if you recall.

DARREN: (Rolls eyes, winces:) That's right! I'd forgotten that! (Cocks a playful eyebrow at Tina, smirks:) Have any plans with the boyfriend?

TINA: (Throws yet another uneasy glance at Elenor:) Uhm, we're still going over them, Darren.

DARREN: Well, have a good time, wherever you're going. Goodnight, you two. (Leaves up the stairs)

ELENOR: (Looks up after him:) Master Darren. (Waits until Darren's rounded the corner, turns to Tina, small frown, lower voice:) Tina, I don't think this is a good idea. Master Darren will not be pleased when he finds out.

TINA: (Hard sigh, same lower voice:) Elenor, I think it's a great idea. It'll only be for a day or two. Somebody's got to keep an eye on Darren, and unlike the last time, he won't be able to go in incognito. People will know who he is, and might not give him a moment's rest. Besides, I can scope out this "Lawndale" place for myself, you know, to get the layout of how it looks, and all that. (Pauses:) And I know you're worried about him like I am.

ELENOR: (Pauses, then slowly nods:) I--am. I admit it. But where will you stay? If you wish to be near Master Darren, it has to be somewhere nearby, right?

TINA: (Ponders, realizes:) Umm, now that you've mentioned it, you're right. I really don't know. (Quickly adds:) Oh well, I'll find a hotel, or something. (Looks at wristwatch:) I'd better go, then. Goodnight, Elenor. (Opens door, leaves)

ELENOR: Goodnight, Tina. (Closes door behind her, leans against it, sighs, slumps, thought v.o.: Master Darren will definitely not like this...) (Leaves)



Continued in Chapter 2