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.
Original characters and plot copyright Richard J. Lobinske. 2005.

This is the Thirty-seventh story in the Falling into College series.

Richard Lobinske


"No...no...no!" Karen Myerson's voice rattled through the apartment. "Dammit! Don't you even think of doing that to me today!"

Daria Morgendorffer spun her computer chair around. "Karen?"

Reclining on her bed, Jane Lane stopped sketching and placed the paper pad aside. "You okay?"

"Arrogant little pile of goat vomit! I told you not to do that!"

Daria rose and walked to Karen's room, to see the dark blond-haired woman staring at a blue screen on her computer monitor. Daria asked, "What happened?

Karen's fist pounded on the desk. "It died. Or if it's not dead, it's about to be."

Jane appeared at Karen's door. "Karen, you agreed, no violence against the machines."

'What?" Calming down, Karen sighed. "Oh. Yeah, I better take a break."

"I'll check it over for you," Daria said. "At least as much as I can."


Daria started to reboot the system. "You have current backups, right?"

"That I do remember. Though everything I wrote this morning wasn't."

"Hopefully things aren't too bad."

"That's what I get for getting an early start on a term paper."

Jane led Karen to the kitchen. "No good deed goes unpunished. Cookie dough?"

Karen laughed a little. "Forget the sugar. I want salt and fat."

Jane held her stomach as Karen grabbed a bag from one of the cupboards. Jane said, "You said it's an acquired taste, but I can't see how you can eat those things."

Munching on a thick, curled light tan colored wedge, Karen mumbled, "Pork rinds are good."

"So good, you have to import them."

"Just because the philistines around here don't know good junk food."

"I'll stick with cookie dough and potato chips," Jane said as she opened the refrigerator and stood up with a tube of dough in her hands.

"And you call yourself creative."

Jane pointed the tube. "Hey, them's fightin' words."

"Speaking of which, you doing that ice sculpture thing again this year?"

Jane grinned. "You betcha."

"Should I be worried that you have more room to experiment in this year?"

"I still have all my notes from last year, don't worry."

"Gonna need any more bugs?"

"Not this time."

"Is living this far from campus going to cause a problem?"

Jane shrugged one arm. "Not really. The problem is working around my time at the hospital."

"Oh, yeah. You didn't have a job last year."

"And I ate enough dorm cafeteria food to prove it."

"Looks like a hardware problem," Daria said as she came in. "Don't hold me to it, but I think your mother board's gone. Shouldn't have hurt your hard drive though.

"Crap! I only bought that thing last fall. Looks like I'm out a computer until next payday."

"I know you won't accept help from my credit card, but do you want to use my laptop until yours is fixed?"

"You sure?"

"I trust you, and it's not like I've got anything embarrassing on it."


Speaking around cookie dough, Jane said, "Except maybe the erotic literature she writes after midnight."

Daria raised one eyebrow and looked at Jane. "Like I would leave those on my laptop?"

Jane's head spun to face Daria. "What? Like you'd..."

Daria gave her a wry smile.

Jane slapped her forehead. "And I stepped right in it. Dammit Morgendorffer, you don't embarrass as easy as you used to."

Inside MacDonnal Hall on the campus of Boston Fine Arts College, Jane waited outside Professor Danovsky's office. Taped to the door was a one-page sign that said, "Boston Ice Tea Party Signup Inside."

After a minute or so, the door opened and one of Jane's next door neighbors from the year before came out. Nell Girard raised one of her elbow crutches in greeting. "Hi, Jane. Here to sign up?"

"You know it. You?"

"Thought I'd try this year, probably something small."

Jane was surprised. "I've only seen you as an airbrush jockey, didn't know you sculpted."

"Not so much lately, but I've got a few unconventional things I want to try."

"This is going to be interesting."

"I hope so. I've got to get going, see you later, Jane."

"See ya, Nell."

Seated behind her desk, the platinum blond woman inside said, "Jane Lane. I was hoping you'd take another shot at it."

Jane waved inside. "Hi, Professor Danovsky. Rabid dogs couldn't keep me away."

"Just don't include any in your entry. I heard you have a pre-vet major as a roommate."

Jane snapped her fingers. "Darn it. She was so good at providing the bugs last year."

"So that's where they came from."

Jane sat cross-legged in front of a black haired seven year-old girl and explained, "You can't blame me for what your dinner tastes like, Becky."

Becky pouted. "But you're making us put away our paints to go eat it."

"You got me on that one, but aren't you hungry?"

"Yeah, but the food here is icky."

"Sorry, it's the only game in town and you do need to eat to get better. You want to get better, don't you?"

"Yeah, I want to go home."

"Don't worry, I'll be back tomorrow."

"You better."

"I will, now get going. I'll pick up the rest."

"Thanks Miss Jane." Becky smiled and left the room.

Once the girl was out of sight, Jane said, "I don't think I'd want to eat it, either."

A sweet, Latino voice said, "You wanted to ask me something?" Jane's boss, Mrs. Marquez, was at her office door.

Jane got up and brushed off her pants. "Yeah. Bel, can I get out about an hour early every day next week?"

"What've you got up your sleeve?"

"The Ice Tea party at BFAC is coming up and I've entered again."

"That's the outdoor sculpture contest using frozen tea, right?"

"The one and only."

The administrator rubbed her chin. "Hmm. Tell you what. I know you're going to talk about it and the children will want to see what you do."

"Yeah, but the BFAC quad during the ass-end of January isn't the best place for sick kids to be."

"Take photographs of what you do every day and bring them in so the children can see your progress. Make a nice program out of it and you can keep the hours on your timesheet."

"Thanks, Bel. I appreciate it."

"Good luck with your entry."

"I'll appreciate that, too."

Jane parked her phoenix-decorated black sedan between Daria's matching, unadorned sedan and Karen's blue light truck. "Last one home, at least it isn't my turn for dinner."

Jane wrestled her overstuffed backpack from the rear seat and marched up the stairs to the apartment. The wonderful smell of fried chicken greeted Jane when she opened the door. "Ahh. Karen's cooking tonight."

Jane unwound her scarf and hung it on the coat rack near the door, followed by her woolen cap and winter jacket.

Jane was about to yell that it was her when she noticed Daria sitting in the living room, talking on the telephone.

"So what if it's been almost two years," Daria said. "I'm giving you the last shot to say 'I told you so.' And don't tell me it's not tempting."

Daria nodded as she listened. "Now, didn't you enjoy that?...I thought you would...So anything new with you?...Mm-hm...Glad I didn't have to see that...That's good...That's a name you don't hear every day...That's true...I'll tell her that, just make sure you have armor on when she tracks you down...I hope things work out...That's okay, I really understand...Good-bye."

Jane half-sat on the back of the sofa. "So which one of us is going to be maiming whom? And why?"

Daria set the phone on the small coffee table and counted points on fingers. "You. Tom Sloane. For saying you're the only girl with an ordinary name he's dated."

"Considering certain other Lane names out there, I'll stick with ordinary, thank you very much."

"So Tom will live to see another day?"

"I'm feeling generous, besides, that means you have a weird name. Speaking of young Thomas, any particular reason for calling him, or him calling you."

Daria held up a letter. "Musings Magazine accepted one of my stories, and it wasn't about Melody Powers."

"Another notch on your keyboard."

"I'm not getting that cocky, I still get four times more rejections."

"You know, I don't think you've submitted anything to Musings since high school, have you?"

"No, I hadn't, but I decided it was time to try again."

"And you figured Tom should know since he encouraged you in the first place?"

"Something like that."

"Hi, Jane," Karen said as she entered from the kitchen, balancing a plate of chicken and a bowl of black-eyed peas. "Get signed up?"

"Yep. Even managed to get my time off from work paid in the process."

"You suck." Karen set the food down in a fake huff. "How'd you pull that off?"

"I have to photograph the progress and make a show for my kids."

"I'm sure that was some vicious arm twisting from your boss."


Karen walked back to the kitchen and said over her shoulder, "If you two hadn't noticed, it's dinner."

Jane rubbed her hands together eagerly as she approached the table. "Trust me, I noticed."

Jane leaned back against one of the storage cabinets while the children in the arts and crafts room were gathered around. "How does that sound?"

An eight year-old boy in a wheelchair, Anton, asked, "Can we help?"

Becky gave her an angelic smile. "Please?"

More children chorused in, "Please?"

Jane smiled and shook her head. "It's twenty-five degrees out there. The doctors would skin me alive if I took any of you outside."

"Can we do something inside to help?" Anton pleaded.

"Please Miss Jane," Becky added. "We want to."

Jane lowered her eyes. "You kids are merciless, aren't you?"

Giggles greeted her comment.

"Though I'll have to think of something, you're in. But I warn you, I'm a brutal taskmaster."

More giggles.

Jane playfully clapped her hands. "All right, go get your things out and started on your projects."

The children dispersed to small storage cabinets to remove their art supplies: paints, pencils, paper, modeling clay, and an assortment of other media. Jane watched them and allowed her mind to wander, to freely touch on any subject, any idea, any image, until her imagination wove elements together for her new creation. She smiled and nodded while keeping an eye on each child. Okay, it'll bend the rules a bit. So what?

"Jane Lane, that is just plain frightening," Jane said to herself, looking at the raw pizza on the counter. "Complete pizza control. I control the toppings, I control how much."

She put the pan inside the oven and consulted the wrapper from the unwound cardboard tube the pizza dough had come in. Jane set a small timer and walked to the living room.

Daria was sitting in one of the chairs with her black and white cat purring contentedly in her lap. "What kind of toppings are you exposing us to today?"

"The leftover Kung Pow chicken from the other night's takeout."


"Some onion so we can say we had a vegetable."

"Mmm. Nutrition."

Jane pulled a chair over and sat next to Daria. "Uh...Can I ask a favor of you?"

"Under most circumstances, yes," Daria said with a small smile.

"I, uh, need to get a hold of two gallons of mold-making rubber, fast. The stuff's gonna cost a couple hundred dollars with express shipping."

"For the contest?"

"Yeah. I know I don't normally ask, but I changed what I'm going to do and need to get the stuff here by Tuesday."

"Wow, that's three days after you start. Cutting things close?"


"Sure. I'm a little flush with money this week."

"Thanks, you won't regret it."

"You've made me curious."

Jane only grinned in reply.

Jane carefully, but anxiously, explained her plan to Professor Danovsky. "It'll be like any other inclusion or supporting material that's been used. The part to be judged will be entirely my work."

The sponsor looked at Jane's proposal for a few moments. "I'll allow it."


"You've got a lot of guts trying something like this with only a week from start to finish."

"I like to think of it as creative insanity."

"Jane, that is one thing you have in abundance."

Jane bowed. "Keeping up a fine family tradition."

"Your father's photography. I'm well aware of it."

"It's still kind of weird learning how much of a reputation he has outside of Lawndale."

"You mean he's not recognized there?"

"Nah. But then, he's not there enough to notice if he was, I think he likes it that way."

Bundled against the Boston winter in a heavy blue jacket, Jane passed through Young Hall and into the courtyard. Numerous tables were in place and some BFAC students were already setting out a fascinating array of containers to freeze tea in. Jane looked around and found the heavy table marked, "Reserved for Jane Lane." Next to hers was a smaller, but also strongly built, table with a tall stool beside it that was marked, "Nell Girard." Jane noticed the table had a raised lip and several bowls were on the ground below it.

Going to an open gallery in Young Hall that was next to the courtyard doors, Jane saw Nell near one of the many large coffee urns. Clearly hand-made satchels hung off each hip from straps going over her shoulders. Leaning on one crutch, Nell had shifted the other crutch from her arm while she held a 2 quart thermos under the spout, filling it with hot water. Jane watched as Nell finished, sealed the bottle and placed it into one satchel.

Nell turned to pick up a second thermos and saw her friend. "Jane, I see we're going to be neighbors again."

"Just like old times. But at least we don't have to smell your old roommate's beauty products."

"Thank goodness."

"Well, I've got some containers to drag in."

"I'll be around."

Jane went out to her car and carried a stack of small trash containers to the courtyard. She put them on her table and separated them. Nell was seated on her stool, carefully pouring tea from the thermos bottle onto the table.

Around the courtyard, other students were filling containers, setting up tools and supplies or otherwise preparing to start their projects.

"Nell," Jane said, "You're gonna love what this feels like."

"I remember what you sounded like last year."

"I might have been mentioned it a few times."

"Nonstop, you mean. I'm looking forward to it."

Freezing tea in the trashcans took overnight, even out in the winter cold. Jane arrived early and signed up for a turn using the rolling winch frame to lift the ice blocks onto her table. While waiting, she watched and talked with Nell, who was carving faint ripples onto the frozen table surface. Spaced around the table were several circles cut through the ice, waiting for some addition.

By mid-morning, Jane had her time with the winch and hoisted her ice blocks onto the table. After considerable grunting and huffing, she freed the frozen tea from the makeshift molds and Jane was ready to begin.

Nell looked over at the carving tools Jane put on the table and said, "Hey, aren't those the ones your friend Daria gave you for your birthday last year? When everyone got snowed in by that winter storm."

"Yep. That was a lot of fun."

Jane and Nell talked and laughed through the day. On Jane's table, the legs of a kneeling figure took shape, while Nell's table became the surface of a pond, the circles filled with an herbal tea that produced a nice green color to form lily pads.

Monday afternoon, Jane faced the room of children and said, "Just remember, you have to have it done before I get here on Wednesday. Otherwise, have fun."

Diane, a plump girl who was bald from chemotherapy, raised her hand. "Can we do anything?"

"Anything." Jane waved her arms wide. "Anything you want."


The ten children in the room immediately went to work with the singular focus only a small child intent on a special project can have.

Getting home late, Jane cried, "Yes!" when she saw the two large boxes on the floor near the table. "It got here."

Karen called from her room. "That stuff weighs a ton. What is it?"

Jane went to Karen's door. "Room temperature vulcanizing rubber for making molds."

Karen finished typing a sentence on Daria's laptop. "You artists get into the weirdest stuff."

"Daria's door is closed. What's up?"

"She's in a bad mood."

"Any particular reason?"

"Didn't ask. Figure she'll vent some time or another."

"And you hoped she'd wait until I got home so I might be the target?"

"That's right."



"Don't worry, I won't cut anyone's head off," Daria said, opening her door.

Karen inquired, "Doing better?"

Daria shook her head. "If by better you mean safer to be around, yes. If you mean by mood, I'm working on it."

"Give it up Morgendorffer, Karen and I aren't letting you off the hook until you spill."

Daria sighed and glared at her friends. "Michael had a crappy day at work. When I tried to make light of it, things went downhill."

"And you two got in a fight," Karen surmised. "Have you made up yet?"

Another sigh. "Yeah. We have."

Jane lightly, and playfully, pushed Daria's shoulder. "So what's the problem?"

Karen added, "Yeah, me and Derek fight occasionally."

Daria said, "I don't like being normal?"

Karen and Jane folded their arms and eyed Daria.

"Look, you two. It bothers me, okay? I don't bounce back immediately. It takes a little while to recover."

Karen patted Daria on the upper arm. "Now that I believe. By the way, you owe me for making dinner tonight."

Daria managed a weak smile. "I'll make lasagna tomorrow, will that be sufficient?"


Jane wagged a finger at both. "Make sure you leave me some, especially if you invite your pet vacuum cleaners over."

Karen laughed. "You know Michael will be here, it's in his contract."

Daria cheered a little more. "I think Derek's pulled the same contract on you."

"So you know to make enough for everyone."

"Okay, a double batch, as usual."

Jane patted Daria's other arm. "I knew we could cheer you up."

Daria turned to go back to her room. She looked over her shoulder with a soft, sarcastic smile. "I hate you."

While the children put their supplies away, Jane was already getting her winter gear on. "These look great everybody. We'll start the next step when I get here tomorrow and everything should be ready to go by Friday."

She saw each one out of the room, some moving on their own, and others with the help of a nurse's assistant. After the room was empty, Jane gathered up the Polaroid photos from the night before and packed them into a small folder that she loaded into a backpack.

Bel stepped out of her office. "Jane, we might have a problem."

Jane stopped. "Problem? What kind?"

"The Public Information office is raising a stink over what you're doing."

Jane couldn't comprehend. "What are they raising a stink over? The kids are having a ball and the BFAC faculty judges all gave their approval. You'd think they would like the publicity."

"Jane, you know what some of the...ice projects have looked like over the years."

"What do you...oh, no."

"They're afraid you'll do something controversial that'll look bad for the hospital."

"Don't they understand that I wouldn't do a thing to hurt these kids?"

"I know. That's why I managed to finagle a meeting between you and the PI office. If you want to be able to keep your time on the clock, you're going to need to sell it to them."

Jane felt a large portion of her anger and frustration fall away as she pushed the doors open to the courtyard. The same sense of community she felt the year before was there again. Wondrous works grew around the courtyard. One was a comment on the recently decided presidential election showing the two candidates as Tweedledee and Tweedledum. A raven made of very dark tea rested upon a golden bust of Athena. Nearby was a large replica of a Viking-era Jelling rune stone covered in intricate, intertwining and fanciful beasts.

Jane stopped and felt a jealous grin when she saw Nell seated at her table, airbrush in hand. Jane watched as Nell carefully sprayed a thin layer on portions of the carved lily pads. Nell sat back and saw Jane. "Hey, there."

Jane closed the distance and looked down. Nell had sprayed a stronger brewed version of the same tea onto the leaves to provide shade and depth. Jane examined the effect for several seconds before saying, "So that's what you meant by unconventional."

"If I keep the layers thin and be patient, it works like a charm. The rules make no specification on how to apply the tea."

"Damn, I'm impressed."

"Thanks. I'm curious about what you're planning as a surprise. A kneeling girl seems rather...plain for you."

Jane's shoulders sagged. "It's a long story. This one might be really costing me."

"What happened? If you don't mind."

"Damn bureaucrats. Hopefully, I can clear things up tomorrow."

"Good, everyone's still around the table. That means there must be food left," Jane said as she closed the apartment door.

Various greetings came from Daria, Karen, Michael and Derek, all gathered at the table.

Jane scooped out the remaining block of lasagna and plopped it onto a plate. She stood near the table, eating and talking. "Daria, I need you to dredge up some old summer activity experience for me."

Daria looked over the top of her glasses at Jane. "I'm not watching over a roomful of kids."

"Um, not that summer, the previous one. I need to convince the hospital's PR office my project's a good idea. The butthole there thinks it might look bad if there's a controversial entry at the contest."

"Oh, that summer job. I think I remember enough from working with Mom's law firm's PR rep to help.

Karen folded her arms. "You? PR? No way."

After a grudging nod, Daria said, "Summer between tenth and eleventh grade. It was Mom's idea of a 'constructive summer activity.'"

Karen looked at Michael. "Did you know about that?"

The young man pushed his glasses tight against his face. "Yes. We compared summer horror stories last July when she came out to Detroit."

"Hrrmph." Karen opened her arms and drummed her fingers on the table. She said to Daria, "Keeping your friends in the dark."

"Like you've told me a lot about all of your summers," Daria replied, and then said, "Jane, other than being grumpy, what are they threatening you with?" Daria asked.

"Because my kids are involved and the contest is a public event, they have to give approval for it to have official support. If they don't give it, any time I've spent with the kids working on the project will be considered off the clock. I've spent all week working with them on this, so I won't get paid at all."

"Which means, you'll do it anyway. But didn't you know about this ahead of time?"

"Bel didn't think there'd be a problem. She gave me the go-ahead and filed the paperwork expecting it to go right through."

"So somebody's playing a power game."

"Over my paycheck. I really need the money, if only to pay you back."

"When's the meeting?"

"Thursday afternoon."

"Get me the background on the contest and any of the old controversies. We need to know what they're going to use against you."

"Thanks. And also thanks for saving me some dinner."

Karen set her fork down. "Well, we do have to live with you, plus your whining about it would scare the cat."

Jane pulled rubber gloves on and told the gathered children. "I mean it, don't touch. This stuff is really gooey."

She poured pale, blue rubber from a mixing bowl into a small plastic food storage box. After, she tapped the side of the box to work out air bubbles. Satisfied, she picked up one of the polymer clay sculptures the children had made and gently pressed it halfway into the rubber.

"We need to let this cure overnight before we can do the other half. Let's move on to some more."

The children watched, fascinated, as Jane filled small boxes and set the sculptures into each. After setting the last, she picked up her backpack and removed a folder.

"I want you to see some of the other works being made."

Don, a ten-year old covered in burn bandages, said, "C'mon Jane. We don't want to see that stuff. Show us yours."

Jane carefully admonished him. "Be patient. I'll show you, but I want you to see what we're going up against first."

The boy sighed dramatically. "If you say so."

"I do." She started to show the photos. "But we'll get to our project eventually."

The frozen contents of the small bowls had been placed on each lily pad on Nell's table. Using a cutter on a hand grinder, she was shaping the pale, golden ice into blossoms. Nell shut it down when she noticed Jane come over. "Hey."

"Cool stuff, Nell." Jane winked, "You should get second place with that."

Nell winked back. "Or maybe you will."

"We'll see."

Jane got her tools from the storage cabinet and went to work on the table the girl in her piece was leaning against. For the moment, her worries drained away.

Jane looked into her boss's office. "Bel, ready for the meeting?"

"Ready as I'll ever be. Got all the photos?"

"Every one. Outside of some political commentary, I can't think of anything they'd be upset about from this year's batch."

"I hope you're right."

On their way to the Public Information office, Jane put a hand on Bel's arm. Before she could speak, Bel said, "I know you will. I'm going to try my best to make sure you get paid for it."

Once Bel and Jane were seated, the thirtyish woman with short black hair leaned forward on her desk. "This hospital considers its reputation to be of vital importance, so I hope you appreciate the reason for our concern."

Bel said, "Mrs. Jamison, I do understand."

Mrs. Jamison glared at Bel. "Then how could you approve of subjecting our patients to such outrageous and controversial subjects as come out of BFAC?"

Old, bad feelings between them were apparent when Bel returned the glare. "It is a well-respected art contest. I believe that the children getting the rare opportunity to participate looks good for the hospital. As I stated in my memo to you when I gave the approval."

"Mrs. Marquez, in years past, this contest has generated controversy because of some of the entries."

Jane removed the photos from a folder. "These are the entries this year. Outside of a little political fun, there's nothing controversial here."

"Miss, I did not ask you."

Jane's eyes flashed wide. "You're talking about my project and a contest at my college!"

Bel patted Jane's clenched fist.

Jane wrestled her anger under control. "I'm sorry. Please understand that this means a lot to me."

Mrs. Jamison said, "I'll be with you in a moment." and returned her attention to Mrs. Marquez. "Were you not aware of the prior controversies? Like the mating porpoises? The 'Roadkill Café?'"

"I've lived in Boston almost all my life. I'm aware of what's happened before, but there haven't been any problems lately. Those two were back in the eighties."

"What about the one with politicians performing certain sex acts with an oil well?"

"That was back at the start of the Gulf War. There's nothing like that going on now."

"But there is a history. Okay, Miss..." Mrs. Jamison looked at a form. "...Lane. Now I'll look at those pictures."

Jane handed them over and the Mrs. Jamison examined each carefully. "These look innocent enough, but are you sure that there aren't any surprises?"

"We have to do all the ice work inside the courtyard."

"But somebody could change things at the last minute."

Jane thought for a minute. "Someone would have a hard time changing one at the last minute and have it look good enough to compete."

"Suppose they don't want to compete, only make a statement."

Jane felt a slim smile form. "Believe me, everybody out there is trying to win. Not only is there a thousand bucks on the line, a win at this can be a golden ticket into a major gallery. We're all too hungry to get our art recognized to pull a stunt like that."

"Very well. Now, I can see you wanting to participate. Why involve the children?"

"Be...Mrs. Marquez knew I couldn't avoid talking about it. So we thought of having them see what was happening. After a while, I came up with the idea of having them join in. I checked with the faculty sponsors and they said okay. Think of the good news coverage we can get if I place well and can say that the kids had a part." Jane gazed expectantly at the older woman. "Mrs. Jamison, they're having fun being part of a grown-up contest and they're excited about it. The parents are also excited."


Bel removed a stack of paper from a folder. "These are letters from the children's parents, thanking Jane for giving them the chance to participate."

A momentary scowl appeared on Mrs. Jamison's face before she took the letters and scanned them. She then waved a hand over Jane's photos. "Which one is yours?"

Jane pointed to it.

Mrs. Jamison picked the photo up. "I'll go through these. I'll let you know my recommendation to the Vice President and his decision tomorrow."

Bel's soft tap on her hand convinced Jane not to speak up, allowing Bel to say, "Thank you."

On the way out to the parking lot, Bel told Jane, "Tell your friend that getting the parents on board was a great idea."

Jane said, "Oh, Daria will enjoy being reminded that she learned something useful at that PR job."

Bel pointed her car remote at a silver minivan and released the door locks. "Jane, I'm sorry. I was hoping I was wrong, but I think that you're getting caught in an old feud I have with Mrs. Jamison."

"I'd wondered at the looks you two gave each other."

"I thought she was over it." Bel opened the van door. "Jane, I promise, if she goes against us, I'll do everything I can to make sure you still get paid."

"Bel, if we get good press, I just want a picture of her red face."

"I can't promise that."

"That's okay. See ya tomorrow."

"Goodnight, Jane."

Trying to keep the paper bag full of Chinese takeout from slipping out of her grasp, Jane pushed the apartment door open and yelled, "I could use a hand here, unless you want to eat off the floor!"

Karen's muffled voice said, "Daria, can you help her? I'm under the desk trying to figure where to stick these computer cables." She quickly added, "And I don't need any suggestions."

Daria rushed over and grabbed the food before its final plunge. "Got it."

"Great," Jane said with relief.

Daria headed to the table. "How was the meeting?"

"It went." Jane followed, saying, "You were right about power games, the woman has an old beef with my boss."

"Do you get paid?"

"I'll find out tomorrow."

"That bites."

"Hey, it looks like the parents' thing hit like a ton of bricks."

Daria began separating the contents of the bag. "You have to admit, when my Mom called or wrote in..."

Jane joined Daria in sorting. "...she got results. I think you learned that lesson."

"It is also good PR practice." Daria turned her head and called. "Karen, you going to eat?"

The muffled voice replied, "Yeah. I think...ah, that's where the little bugger goes. Almost done, be out in a couple minutes."

Jane opened her meal boxes and sat down. "She must've got her computer back."

"Yeah, I'm kind of jealous. My old desktop is a bit of a dinosaur now."

"Do I see a little techno-lust, a la Jake?"

"Maybe just a few upgrades."

Pulling slowly and steadily, Jane opened the rubber mold halves and removed the last sculpture. After returning the original to Becky, Jane placed the mold in a cardboard box. "Looks like we're ready."

The girl said, "Don't forget to take pictures."

Laughing, Jane told her, "I won't."

Bel and a floor nurse walked over to the gathering. Bel said, "Miss Jane and I have to take care of something, Nurse Wilkes will be in charge while we're gone."

Jane stood up. "Now don't give her a hard time. We'll be back soon."

Going down the corridor, Jane said, "Let me guess; Mrs. Jamison likes to be a drama queen. Couldn't she just call with the answer?"

"She likes to be the boss of her little world."

"If you don't mind, what happened between you two?"

"Short version: The VP tends to rubber stamp PR's recommendations, so a couple years ago, I did an end-run around her about something and the hospital ended up with egg on its face. I was reprimanded, I apologized, and made sure I've gone through channels ever since, but it looks like she's still holding a grudge."

"I hope she's over it now."

They stopped before Mrs. Jamison's office door and Jane wiped the sweat from her palms. "Here goes nothing."

Jane pushed the door to the courtyard open with a boot and slipped through with the box full of finished molds. She rushed across to her station, put the box on her table and looked around at the other contestants finishing their projects.

Nell looked up from airbrushing a spot on a frog resting on one of the lily pads. "Well, are you in the money?"

Jane smiled widely. "If it wasn't so icy, I'd be dancing like a frog."

"Great. Now what's in the box? Your surprise?"

"Oh, yes. One from each of my kids."

Well after nightfall, Nell finished up her tabletop pond and watched Jane carefully file away the mold lines and sprues from the small castings. Made with very weak tea, each of the children's sculptures had been reproduced as icy, crystalline figures.

Rising above Jane was the form of a smiling girl kneeling with her arms resting on a fanciful, round display stand. With care, she climbed onto the support table. Jane put a small puddle of tea on the stand top and then placed a figurine on it, allowing the sub-freezing temperatures to turn the water into an adhesive. When everything was in place, Jane slipped off and stepped back.

Jane's smiling girl was looking at a menagerie of glittering figurines on the display table.

Nell tapped her on the shoulder. "Jane, that has class."

"So does yours. I never would've though of airbrushing accents."

Nell tapped the box full of neatly packed molds. "Why do I think you're not done with those yet?"

"I got my boss to buy some clear casting resin. I'm making a full set for each of my kids and one for me."

Jane's old roommate, CC, joined her and Nell waiting by their projects while the judges made their rounds. CC was dressed comfortably for the cold, while Jane and Nell were wearing some of their best. Jane's boots were polished and her heavy red jacket had been dry cleaned. Nell used her second set of crutches. The chrome was polished and fresh, white rubber tips were on the bottom of each.

The grey, overcast sky threatened snow through the morning while the three chatted. CC finished one of her dorm Resident Assistant stories, "So the girl comes back down to my room dragging the wet sweater and wanting to know how to get the bits of toilet paper out of it."

A deep voice behind them said, "Hi, Jane."

Jane spun around. "Mack?"

Michael MacKenzie smiled with satisfaction at Jane's surprise. "Well, most people at school call me Mike now, but I'll let you get away with"

Nell slowly looked him over. "Jane, you've been holding out on us."

"No kidding," CC added. "He's cute."

Jane stammered, "W-what are you doing here?"

"Thought I'd take a look at your work for myself."

CC offered him her hand. "Jane's showing her usual social graces. I'm CC."

Mack shook her hand. "Nice to meet you."

"You got a brother?"

Nell leaned on one crutch, slipped the other free of her hand and offered it. "Or two? Hi, I'm Nell."

Mack laughed and gently shook her hand. "Sorry, only a big sister."

Jane continued her surprise. "You drove all the way here for this?"

"And to see you."

CC pushed Jane in jest. "You have been holding out on us."

Mack said in Jane's defense. "We haven't been on any real dates...well, since that one in seventh grade."

Nell chuckled. "Now that was a loaded comment. So you've had an unreal date?"

From near the courtyard doors, Daria said, "Mack?"

He waved over at Daria, Michael, Karen and Derek. "Hi."

The four of them joined the rest. Michael nodded and said, "Good to meet you again."

Daria said, "Mack, this is my other roommate, Karen, and her boyfriend, Derek. You two, this is Mack MacKenzie, a friend of mine and Jane's from Lawndale.

"Hi, Karen. Daria and Jane have said a lot about you."

"Hi, Mack. Was it anything good?"


"They lied."

Derek laughed and shook Mack's hand. "Hey. Now you see why those three get along so well."

Mack held up his hands to everyone. "Okay, hold on a minute." He grabbed Jane in a hug and they held for a moment. "There, that's better."

Daria crossed her arms and smiled. "Ooookay. There's a story behind that."

Jane did something Daria had rarely seen, she blushed. "Um, Daria. There was a reason I was so tired on the way back after New Years."

Mack kept one arm around Jane when he said, "I stopped by to see Jane after we left the Zon and left around eight in the morning."

Daria winced and looked at the ground. "Um, has..."

Mack interrupted her. "Jodie and I talked again a couple days later. Thanks for trying; I always knew you were a closet romantic."

"So you and Jodie are sure?"

"We're sure. When I look back on it, it wasn't the separation; it was that we were going different ways. It would've happened if we'd both gone to Lawndale State."

"I understand." Daria looked at him. "You and Jodie were kind of an inspiration. Gave me hope that someday..." She held up her hand, clasped with Michael's.

"If it gave you hope long enough to find him, then I'm glad."

Jane hurriedly said, "Shh. They're announcing the winners."

"Nada for both of us. Oh well, better luck next year?" Nell told Jane.

Jane looked at the figurines and at Mack. "Can't really complain about my luck this year."

Two men weaved through the crowd, one holding a microphone and the other a video camera with the logo of a local television station on the side. The one with the microphone asked, "Ms. Lane?"

Jane laughed. "Can't complain at all."

Thanks to Ipswichfan and Mr. Orange for beta reading

July 2005