The Author as a Lesbian - Season 1




1. Episode One

Disclaimer: All recognizable characters are owned by Glenn Eichler and MTV; no infringement is intended, and no money is being made. Also, close paraphrasing and some verbatim use from various episodes, again, no infringement intended.

Sophomore Year

Daria turned to Jake as she was about to close the door to the Lexus and head into the new school. "I'll try to help Quinn through this difficult period of adjustment, Dad. See you." She sighed as she made her way, ignored through the doors of Lawndale High.

A short time later, she, Quinn, and the other four students that had transferred in a week after the start of term (due to a "clerical error" by the school that Daria suspected was a ploy to more easily control the new students) stood in front of their new principal, Ms. Li. The slightly heavyset, middle-aged Korean woman cleared her throat and adjusted her glasses as she continued the tour.

"As you can see, our Lawndale High students take great pride in their school. That's why you'll each be taking a small psychological exam to spot any little clouds on the horizon as you sail the student seas of Lawndale High."

"SOS, girl overboard," Daria quipped, folding her arms in front of her while she thought, Gee, isn't this a wonderful tool - to keep "undesirables," like gays and non-Christians, out, or at least put more pressure on them to stay in the closet.

"Nobody told me about any test!" Quinn piped up.

Daria rolled her eyes. "Don't worry. It's a psychological test. You're automatically exempt." As Quinn was relaxing from this knowledge, Daria whispered into her ear, "You have to have a functioning brain to test."

Quinn pondered that, then just as they were about to go into the office, said, "Hey!"

Daria walked out into the hallway and gently closed the door to Mrs. Manson's office behind her. Smooth, Morgendorffer. Just because she mispronounced your name - twice - you get into a battle that you can't win with someone that might actually start Mom and Dad thinking and digging. She leaned against the wall and softly tapped the back of her head against it. Yeah, you were true to yourself, but you violated a basic tenet of working in a system - don't be different without a good reason. She shrugged her shoulders. Oh, well, it's done, she thought with a smirk, and the look on that hack's face when I said, "It's a guy and a girl and they're discussing... a herd of beautiful wild ponies running free across the plains," was worth it.

Her smirk lasted into her History class, where her teacher, who at least got her name right, decided to quiz her almost as soon as she had sat down. Fortunately, she knew the answers and found that he didn't mind her spin on the facts. Plus, there were students that seemed to know even less than the two morons in Highland.

At dinner that night, Daria sighed to herself. This should be no surprise at all. First, her sister babbled on about all of the people who liked her and wanted her to join their group, then Mrs. Manson called, and now she had to go to this self-esteem class.

Daria walked next to the tall, black-haired girl that she had just met that day. "I don't get it, Jane. You've got the entire course memorized. How come you can't pass the test to get out?"

"I could pass the test, but I like having low self-esteem. It makes me feel special." Jane replied with a grin.

"Oh," said Daria, quietly. "The only thing that makes me special like that is that I'm gay," she replied with a Mona Lisa smile on her face.
Jane stopped in her tracks. Daria continued a couple of steps on, then turned to face her new friend. "Gay?" she asked in a short voice. "You mean you're -"

"Attracted to women and not men, yes, Jane," Daria said, waving her hand. "Don't worry, I'm not hitting on you. I just wanted you to know in case it ever came out." She looked down at the sidewalk. "It looks like we're becoming friends, and I wouldn't want you to get blindsided." Daria blushed. "You're the first person that I've come out to, besides myself."

Jane put her finger to her lips, said, "Hmmm," then shrugged her shoulders. "Can't see where it's such a big deal. I mean, as an artiste, I pretty much expect to be around alternate sexualities all the time." She looked up. This is my house, see you tomorrow."

"Seeya," Daria replied as she made her way home. Wow, she thought, a new friend. And she didn't freak when I told her! Daria wore a small smile on her face all the way home.

Of course, once she got home, her mother had decided to take an afternoon off to wipe away her guilt with some "mother-daughter bonding," which translated into Daria watching her as she tried on new suits at Cashman's, but even that wasn't enough to take Daria completely out of her mood. "It stands up and proudly proclaims, 'I am,'" she said of her mother's choices.

The next morning, Daria and Jane were walking to their first class when they saw Quinn, leaned back against a wall as a boy asked her questions about after school stuff. "Oh, nothing special. Go to the movies... or, like, a theme park... or out for a really fancy meal now and then... or maybe go to a concert, if, like, I know somebody's got good seats and is renting a limo and stuff."

Jane looked at Daria. With a smirk, she said, "You hear that? He hasn't got a prayer." Teasing, she added, "Who knows? You might, though."

Daria looked at her friend. "Ugh. That's my sister." She shook her head. "But you're right, he stands no chance - I'm just glad that we aren't after the same dates."

They were just passing out of hearing range when the boy asked, "So do you have any brothers or sisters?"

Quinn replied, "No, I'm an only child." Daria gritted her teeth.

"Damn, that's cold," Jane said. "She doesn't want to be the 'Lezzie's Sister'?"

"No, like I said yesterday, I haven't come out to anyone but you. This is all Quinn being Quinn."

As they were exiting self-esteem class that afternoon, Daria turned to to Jane and asked, "You know all the questions on the release test, right?"

Jane smirked and patted her messenger bag. "Got'em all here in my notebook, why?"

"Well, why don't we just take the test tomorrow and get out of the class once and for all?"

"Sure, but what would I do with my afternoons?" Jane had an idea of where this was going.

"Well, you could definitely use the time for math, but you could have more time to paint, or...go to UFO conventions?" Daria said, while bumping Jane's shoulder.

"Now you're talking."

2. Episode Two

Jane walked over to Daria, who was sitting on Jane's bed while looking through her sketchbook. They had managed to get out of the self-esteem class, though at the cost of having to be in a schoolwide assembly, which they both felt to be a fair trade. "These are really good, Jane," she said, looking up. "I didn't know you studied life drawing."

"Yeah, last summer."

Daria stopped at a page and said, "You're really bursting out of the picture plane here." They both smiled at the wording used by Ms. DeFoe, their art teacher, earlier that day.

"Oh, yeah. That particular model was quite bursty. I think she had her bursts done," Jane said with a snort.

"Speaking of which... Brittany invited me to her party." Daria blushed slightly.

"No kidding. So 'bursty's your thing? I have to warn you, she's dating the quarterback, who likes bursts himself." Jane winked.

"Um, no." Daria was blushing a deeper tint of red. "Brittany's sweet and all, but when it comes to my - so far non-existent - partner's physical attributes, I prefer slender, even willowy girls, though I'm attracted to some athletic types, as well, and... I just gave you soo much ammunition, didn't I?"

"Oooh, yeah." Jane covered up her wide smile with her hand.

"I hate you," Daria said as she glared.

"So, are you going?"

"Sure. And after that, I think I'll swallow glass. Why? Do you want to go?" Daria lifted her eyebrow.

"Oh, no, I'd much rather stay home and listen to my brother practice the opening to 'Come as You Are.' I bet I could get some great sketches there..."

"Well, I'm sure there'll be plenty of people posing. If you want to go, just make believe you're me. When you're popular, all unpopular people look alike anyway."

Jane thought for a while and then took Daria's glasses off, putting them on her own face. "Hi, I'm Daria. Go to hell. Unless you're a hot chick." She took the glasses off and handed them back. "Won't work, my face is too expressive."

"Tell Daria she can't go to Brittany's party. My popularity is at stake." Quinn fumed at the dinner table.

Daria leaned forward and let out a "Hmm." When it seemed that her mom was about to say something, she held up her hand and said, "Hold it, Quinn. Not that I care about your popularity or anything, but you're saying that it would take a hit because you have an unpopular sister around, right?"

"Yeah, and -" Quinn was stopped by her sister's hand.

"But that doesn't make any sense, since you've told the whole school that you're an only child, how could I have any effect on your popularity?"

"You - they - Auugh!" Quinn put her hands on the table.

"I think it's great that you two are going to be spending time together," Helen said. "Dad and I would be happy to drive you to the party and pick you up."

"No!" was chorused from both girls.

"Thanks, but I'll find some other way to get there." Quinn said as she got up and left.

Helen turned to Daria. "Daria, I'd like it if you'd keep an eye on Quinn at this party."

"I don't know what I did, but it couldn't have been that bad."

"I mean it. And she doesn't have to know about it."

Daria sighed. She could fight it, but - "I'll take that as a ringing declaration of parental approval."

"Just the way it was intended, sweetheart."

Jane and Daria waved at the blue car as it drove off, a, "don't do anything I wouldn't do," wafting back to them on the wind. Jane turned to Daria and said, "So, that's my brother Trent. The only other one of the Lanes that hasn't headed for the hills."

Daria smirked, and as they headed for the guard house, said, "That might have something to do with the fact that the hills would crumble if he sang in them."

As they came up to the gate, Daria told the guard, "We're here for Brittany Taylor's party."

He nodded and checked his clipboard. "Names?"

"Daria Morgendorffer," Daria said, suddenly very aware that Jane had wrapped their arms together.

"Okay, and you? What's your name?" The guard asked Jane.

"I'm Tiffany, but I don't know if I'll be on there. I'm Daria's date!" Jane said brightly, laying her head on Daria's shoulder. "She didn't ask me until this afternoon. Isn't that right, sugarplum?"

Daria muttered, "Um, yeah, right."

The guard looked at his checklist. "Tiffany Hodge, Tiffany Duke, Tiffany Fairchild or Tiffany Blum-Deckler?"

"None of those. I'm Tiffany...Quinn. And I'd really like my honey here to show me a good time tonight..." Jane trailed off as she kissed Daria's cheek, by now beet red. "Can we go?"

"Um - er - Oh, hell. Get outta here," said the guard, now with a goofy grin on his face.

"I hate you," Daria muttered as they walked, arm in arm, down the road to Brittany's.

"Just as long as you wipe the lipstick off your cheek."

After a short walk, they came to the Taylor residence and rang the doorbell. Soon, Brittany opened the door. "Daria, you're here. I'm so glad. Now we're even!" she exclaimed.

Daria nodded and gestured to her companion. "This is Jane. She wasn't invited, but she's good in art."

"But I have you for that." Brittany put her finger to her lips, then turned to Jane. "Hmm... what do you know about geometry?"

Jane smiled. "Lots of circles, squares and triangles."

"Wow! Come on in!" Brittany escorted both girls in, none of them noticing Quinn hiding behind one of the tigers.

They were at the snack table, commenting on the selection ("Wow. two kinds of chips." "Flat or Ridgy, you make the call."), when, suddenly, an arm draped over each of their shoulders.

"Hi, Chuck Ruttheimer here, and you are?"

They both looked back to see a lanky boy with curly red hair right behind them. Jane had opened her mouth, when Daria beat her to it. "The person who will kick your kneecaps off if you're still touching me in five seconds." She seemed ready to go further when Jane put her hand on Daria's shoulder.

"I thought we were here to have fun," she said. "And as much fun as it would be to see him writhing on the floor, I'll take the enjoyment of watching him bother other people over having to talk to the police all night." She looked up at the boy. "As far as that goes, Upchuck, how'd you wangle an invite?"

He looked down. "I dissected her frog for her." As one, the two girls turned and walked away.

Later, once they had made it down to the main room, (and Daria had stopped to tell Quinn's dates just how much she loved her sister) Jane looked around, then said softly to Daria, "Those guys are looking at us."

"Oh, Joy." was the reply.

"Hey, the one in the green shirt is cute... in a head-too-big-for-his-body kind of way."

Daria's eyebrow shot up.

"I hate you," Jane said, then turned as the boys came up.

"Hey. Partying hard or hardly partying?" the first guy said.

"Hardly interested," Daria shot back.

The second guy, not discouraged, made his sally. "So... where you girls been all our lives?"

Daria sighed and crossed her arms. "Waiting here for you. We were born in this room, we grew up in this room, and we thought we would die here... alone. But now you've arrived, and our lives can truly begin," she said as she rolled her eyes.

The first guy went up to Jane. "I'm Bobby. Wanna go to the laundry room?"

Daria turned to Jane. "But I thought you were my date, Tiffany."

Jane smirked. "True. Oh, well, sorry, guys." She linked her arm in Daria's as they both walked off. "Ready to go?"

"I was ready to go before we got here."

As they walked down the street, Jane bumped Daria. "So, have fun?"

Daria bumped back. Well, I didn't talk to a whole bunch of new people, I made Quinn want to throw herself down a well, and I got a date with a girl." She smiled softly. "All in all, a great night."

They had just reached the gatehouse when several police cars passed them. "Damn," Daria said.


"Those cops are heading towards Brittany's. Quinn's still there, and I promised to keep an eye on her. Let's hang here, and hope she has the sense to get out of Dodge."

About ten minutes later, with fists clenched, Quinn stomped her way to them, her shoes squeaking and squishing water. "Don't ask," she said. "Do you guys have a ride home?"

"What happened to your fan club?"

"They beat each other up. It was kind of... what's that thing, when stuff turns out funny? Moronic."

Daria smirked. "You mean- nah, it works either way."

Quinn looked up. "You want to call Mom and Dad?"

"And shift the balance of power?" Daria shook her head. "We walk." Just as she finished those words, Upchuck drove up in his pimpmobile.

"You ladies in need of a knight in shining armor?" smarmed Upchuck.

"Can we just take the armor and ditch the knight?" Jane said, grinning.

"Hey, it's a package deal, toots."

"All right," Daria said as they got in. "But no tour guide tonight."

3. Episode Three

As the Morgendorffers made their way home from Susan and Doug's house, Daria crossed her arms and said, "One more time: I am not taking a college prep course. Actually, I may just skip college and stay home. It'll save me the trouble of moving back in later."

"Daria, if you don't get into a decent school your life will be ruined. End of discussion," Helen shot back.

"Way to go, Mom. She can't get her way all the time," chipped in Quinn.

Daria put her hands on her knees. "Fine. But what in my unbroken string of 4.0 report cards makes you think that I need any help with the usual subjects of a college prep course, which are study and test taking skills?" She shook her head. "There's a college fair, made up of the colleges and universities in Boston. Instead of wasting money that you'll probably need for our college on this prep course, why don't we all go there, and talk to the horse's mouth for free? We even agree to be seen with you."

"We? But Muh-om!"

"Actually, Quinn, it wouldn't hurt if you joined us. It would give you a much better idea of what you need to do to get where you want to go in the next few years." She turned around. "Daria, it's a deal, on the condition that if a college that you like does suggest college prep courses, you will take them."

Daria sighed. "Deal."

"Thanks for coming along, Jane," Daria said as they both walked, transcripts in hand, in front of the rest of the Morgendorffer clan.

"No problem, amiga", Jane replied. "Besides, I need to see what I'd need to do to get into an arts college, myself." She looked around. "Wow, there looks like thirty or more colleges here. And all just from Boston?"

"It has an awful lot of schools."

They both shook their heads as they passed the booths for the various religious schools. "Not going to be preachers," said Daria. They halted for a moment before the BIT booth.

"You could probably get in there," Jane said.

"Yeah, but I want to write. I don't want to play with technology so much."

Similarly, they didn't even pause before the School of Professional Psychology. "I'll be more likely to need a psychologist then to study there."

Before they went any further, Quinn had pulled both of their parents to a booth staffed by girls in, Daria had to admit, very nicely done dresses. "Wow, those dresses are great!" she said to the girls at the booth for the Boston School for Fashion Design.

"Thank you," the tall girl with long black hair said, "Each of us designed and made our own dress. I'm Amy." She held out her hand, and Quinn took it.

"You made it?" Quinn asked. "I thought that you were a model." She blushed lightly.

"Not a one of us," Amy said, shaking her head. "For every model you see on the TV and in national ads, there are literally thousands of girls, just as pretty, who don't make it, or, worse, make it just enough to stay in the business, keeping on hoping, until the only things that they can do to support themselves are, well, things that most of us would rather not do. You like fashion?"

"Oh, yes. I love putting together outfits and makeup and hair and seeing it all blend together."

Amy nodded. "You might be right for us, then. We teach you to create the pretty clothes and outfits, and as part of your education, we'll send you out to intern with real fashion designers. Now, if you're more in to taking clothes that someone else made, and making a statement with that, you'd probably be better off learning costuming. Makeup, cosmetology. Or if you just want to wear it all, and want everyone to look at you, then you probably want to get into acting. All of those choices lead to good, honorable positions, it's just what you want to do, and what makes you happy."

"Uh, yeah." Quinn seemed very quiet as she accepted the SFD brochure.

As the Morgendorffers began to move on, Daria leaned over to Amy. "Thanks. I think that that's something that she needed to hear, but I know she would have rejected it from me."

"No problem. I have a younger sister, myself," said Amy. She smiled and handed Daria her card. "If you're ever in Boston, look me up."

"But- How?" asked Daria, flabbergasted and blushing.

"Most straight women look at my mouth when I'm speaking, not...below." She giggled. "Don't worry, you're a cutie, too."

Dazed, she and Jane (who was trying hard not to laugh) caught up with the rest of the group. No sooner had they done so, then Jane called a halt, herself, at the Boston Fine Arts College. The small man behind the table stood up and offered his hand to Jane. "Hello, I'm Donovan Murray."

Smirking, she took it, saying, "Jane Lane. So why should I think about going to your school?"

"Ah. Claire told me about you. Do you have any examples of your work?" Jane took her sketchbook out of her messenger bag and showed it to him. As he leafed through it, he hmm-ed several times, occasionally saying, "Ah," or "Very good." After a few minutes, he closed it, handed it back to her, and looked up. "Miss Lane, you are very, very good for your age. But it's not a conceit to say that we can help you become better. Separately, we have many classes required besides Fine Arts, because there are many very good, starving artists out in the world. We will teach you about the business of art, how to get the most for your work, and how to make sure that, as much as possible, you will be free to do what you want."

Jane lifted her eyebrow. "That all seems good, what would I have to do to get in?" She handed him her transcript.

He glanced at it and said, "Bring this up to a B average, if you can. Produce a portfolio for us. Here's a catalog that has the various requirements and costs. If you don't have the money, don't worry, there are scholarships, but that makes your GPA even more important."

She thanked him and they left. They went by a few more fine arts schools, who told Jane essentially what Mr. Murray had, then they stopped at the big booth. Harvard. The man behind the table said, in a bored tone, "Transcripts?" As they handed them over, he glanced at Jane's and handed it back. "You'll never get in." He looked more closely at Daria's, and said, "If you keep this up, and do quite a bit more extracurricular activities, you have a chance of making it into the Business School."

"Well, that's great, except I want to study writing." Daria said in her monotone. They turned and walked away.

Several booths down, they saw Raft University. Daria said to the man behind the table, "I'm Daria Morgendorffer. I'm interested in Creative Writing." She offered her hand.

He took it, and said, "I'm Charles Woods. Pleased to meet you." He took a look at her transcript, and said, "If you keep these grades up, I don't see any trouble with you getting into Raft. I do have some suggestions for you, though." He handed back her transcript. "First, I'd suggest that you take a double major, Journalism and Creative Writing. The reason I say that is that, by far, there are more people that graduate with a degree in Creative Writing than who make their living in fiction. You may be one of those who is able, but it's always nice to have a backstop. Second, the school highly prefers that you have at least some extracurriculars on your record, simply because that exposes you to more people, which feeds into your writing. It's not mandatory, but it will benefit you." He took a sip of water. "Last, there's a summer writer's workshop at the Ashfield Art Colony that I am on the faculty of, and it would very likely benefit you to go, though you do need to have finished your junior year to do so."

Daria was bemused. "You've just met me five minutes ago, and you have all of these very specific suggestions for me. How did that come about?"

Mr. Woods smiled. "Well, you've got straight A's, and you came to me specifically asking about a degree in Creative Writing. That tells me that you are pretty darned sure what you want to do. The suggestions I gave about extracurriculars and the double major are just basic advice that I'd give anyone about that major. The writer's workshop will give you a taste of what you'd be doing, in time for you to decide that it's not for you, if you don't want it. Fair enough?" he said, as he gave her a bag with the information about Raft.

"Fair enough." And with that, she and Jane walked over to join the Morgendorffers, who'd been standing a few feet back.

"All right, Daria. So I take it that this Raft is your first choice?" Helen said, looking over the paperwork.

"I think so, Mom. They're offering what I want, with the least B.S." Daria said, looking over the catalog.

"I see. Well, they're not cheap. How about this? You keep your grades up, do the extracurriculars like the man suggested, and try to get as many scholarships as you can, and we'll cover the rest. Tuition, books, room, and board." She sighed. "I need to get in touch with your grandmothers to see if they've been putting aside a college fund as we have."

"And the summer workshop?"

"And the summer workshop."

Daria nodded. "I can work with that." A thought came to her. "Does Quinn know that she's basically throwing away her college fund each time she goes on a shopping spree?" Helen shook her head. "I mean, I know that you only have so much money, and whatever she spends at Cashman's she can't spend on college." A half smile came to Daria's face. "I have an idea. If she's still bent on going to the fashion design school, wouldn't it be good practice for her to sew and alter her own clothes before?"

Helen smiled back. "I'll give it some thought."

About an hour later the Morgendorffer home reverberated with the sound of, "But Muh-om!"

4. Episode Four

Daria walked towards her locker, lost in thought, even with Jane beside her. It had been a startling experience, to say the least, when the Morgendorffer clan had sat down last night and Helen had laid out the financial facts of life to them. Despite being a two provider family, and having saved for the girl's college since they were born, having both of the girls in the colleges that they were looking at, at the same time in four years, would stretch their finances to the limit.

"Now, several things can change," Helen had said. "For one thing, both of your grandmothers have college funds set up for both of you. Unfortunately , they are both known for using their control of money as punishment, to try and control what they couldn't, otherwise." Her eyes quickly flicked over to Daria. "Since, in my opinion, the probability of the next three years going by without triggering that reflex is slim to none, I haven't factored them in." Helen had also explained what would happen if she made partner. Daria had been flabbergasted - she hadn't put much thought into it, but her mom making partner would change these college plans from, "just doable," to, "would you like more fillet mignon with that?" Now she understood why her mom put in all of those hours and took those calls from that creep, Eric. "But they may just be dangling it in front of me as a way to keep my nose to the grindstone, or they may want more than three years of work for me to get it, so we're not going to count on it." She spread her arms. "So there it is. I'll admit, some of this came as a surprise to us, when we looked at it. We thought that our funds were more than ample for most colleges. I still think that with the standard amount of financial aid, we can get you both in. But the bottom line is this - this is what we have for you. We'll give you what we consider a reasonable allowance, but, beyond that, if you want money for something, it's coming out of your college fund, and that's something you'll have to make up, because there is no more."

"But moom!" Quinn started to complain.

"No buts, young lady," Helen had said sternly. "You can buy a hundred dollar outfit every two weeks to try and stay in fashion with your club, but if you do, you won't find any there when you try and go to college. It's up to you."

Daria smirked at the memory of Quinn stomping up the stairs, just as she reached her locker. "Excuse me," she said.

After moving away from her locker, Kevin turned to her. "Daria, you're a chick, right?"

Daria lifted an eyebrow. "Why? You have a biology test today?"

He got a puzzled look, shook his head, then said, "Like, why should I be interested in anything this Shakespeare guy says?"

She hummed, tapped her chin, and said, "You? Well... Hamlet has a skull in it."

After they filed into English class and sat down, Mr. O'Neill started speaking. "Class, I thought today we'd take a break from the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet to discuss the real life tragedy that happened last night here in Lawndale. Let's share our feelings of violation following the loss of our beloved cybercafé, Who would like to start?" He looked at his seating chart and pointed at Kevin. "Charles? Charles, did you hear me?"

Kevin smiled. "Do you mean Kevin?"

Mr. O'Neill blushed, and said, "I'm sorry. You uh, look like somebody else. What do you have to say about last night's horrible event?"

"I was home all night. You can ask my parents. Besides, I already have a computer."

O'Neill sighed, and said, "No, Kevin. I mean, how did the theft make you feel?"

Kevin thought, and answered, "Sad?"

Before Kevin could answer, Jodie spoke up. "I think I can speak for most of us when I say that the cybercafé served one very particular segment of the community, but it still pisses us off when people take what isn't theirs."

"Thank you. Jodie, about that word, 'community.' Isn't that the whole idea of a cybercafé? To jack us into the global community? I think what's most disturbing about this crime is the symbolism involved. Don't you agree, Jane?"

Jane snorted. "No."

Mr. O'Neill continued on without noticing Jane's answer. "Suddenly, we're cut off. We can't hail our friends across the globe and say, "It's a beautiful day in the cyberhood." They didn't just take a few computers. They took the symbol of our virtual community. To visit was to come together with the planet!" he ejaculated.

Daria was fed up. "Oh, come on."


Looking right at him, she crossed her arms over her chest and leaned back. "Come together with the planet? By staring at a screen for hours? Sitting in a room full of people you never say a word to?"

He looked up at the ceiling and rubbed his chin. "So, Daria, you believe that while connecting Lawndale citizens to our global neighbors, the cafe was alienating us from each other."

"I'm saying that if you're looking for what the cybercafé was providing, then put a Mr. Coffee in the computer lab."

Mr. O'Neill smiled. "So, in your opinion, what we really need is a return to the traditional coffee house of yore, where you'd watch some performers and share a cup with your friends, face to face."

Daria just shook her head while Jane patted her back and said, "You're a visionary."

He looked at the rest of the class. "Right here and now, let's pledge to make Daria's dream a reality."

"You mean the one where people walking down the street burst into flames?" she asked.

"The coffee house! We'll plan it, locate it, raise the money, and open it!" Mr. O'Neill said, excited.

"Oh, brother." Daria sighed.

"No way, baby." Jane was adamant, as they were walking to school the next day.

"Come on. Do it for friendship." Daria said from beside her.

"I have no friends. I walk alone."

"Well, then, do it for sisterhood or something."

"Are you nuts?" Jane looked at Daria.

"Probably. But, silly as it sounds, this may be the easiest extracurricular all year. Plus, you'll get to see me onstage."

"I'm bringing a Polaroid."

Daria and Jane went to Mr. O'Neill's room before class. "Mr. O'Neill," Daria said, "I'm interested in performing for your coffeehouse, if it's recorded as an extracurricular."

"That's great, Daria! If you could hold on while I try and fit these posters into the budget."

Jane looked over the specifications. "I could make those for half the price, if you gave me extra credit for my English grade."

Mr. O'Neill smiled. "I think we can work something out."

Daria smirked. "I'm sure you can." She put her hands on the desk. "I also want five percent of the gross, any night that I perform."

"But, Daria!" he gasped. "The rest of the performers are playing for free!"

"Mr. O'Neill, do you want this coffeehouse to succeed?" He nodded. "That means you have to get people in there. You know my work, you know that it's good, and that it's appropriate to a coffeehouse setting. If you don't ask me back, you don't pay me any more."

"Well... with the lowered costs of the posters, I think we can swing it....okay."

"Yay," Daria said in her monotone.

Daria laid on Jane's bed. looking through her papers, while Jane was doing sketches for her posters. "How about, 'The Bleakness that lies ahead?" she asked.

"Too sentimental."

"'No Life, No Hope, No Future'?"

"Too pie in the sky."

"'Mommy's Little Hypocrite'?"

"Too much like a children's book."

Daria sighed. "I wish I were dead."

"That sounds promising." Jane turned to her. "Listen, you gotta give them something they'll really appreciate. Picture Kevin and Brittany drinking in your words like an elixir of knowledge. Heady... potent... seductive." She said those last words in a husky voice, and licked her lips after, causing Daria to blush profusely.

"Are you marketing your own fragrance now?" Daria asked, after she had stuck out her tongue. She sighed. "I'm going to have to write something new for the occasion."

Daria and Jane were at a table right by the stage. They had just sat through several performances which could only be called "poor," if one were in a particularly generous mood, including a scene from "Romeo and Juliet," where Kevin forgot his lines, Brittany thought she was a "caplet," and Kevin walked around carrying a skull.

Andrea was just finishing up her poem. "I'm here. But where are you? Sure, I see your body. Anybody home in that rotting bag of flesh?" She turned and walked off the stage to polite applause.

"Thank you very much, Andrea. It takes a lot of courage to expose your raw emotions that way," said Mr. O'Neill, turning away when the spotlight showed Andrea taking a drink from a dark brown bottle. "Now, speaking of raw emotions, it's my pleasure to introduce one of Lawndale High's most gifted writers: Daria Morgendorffer."

Daria walked up to the stage and waiting stool, ignoring the sounds breaking glass and Brittany screaming at Kevin. "Thank you. Tonight I'd like to read a new story I've written entitled, 'Where The Future Takes Us'." All was quiet.

"As students standing at the dawn of a brand new century, we face certain choices. How do we prepare for the future? Melody Powers knew how she was going to prepare, as she checked the fit one more time on her tooled leather shoulder holster. She thought about all the communists she would be taking out tonight." The crowd suddenly seemed to become more alert.

"...Melody harbored no illusions about unilaterally stemming the resurging red tide. 'But,' she reflected with a grim smile, 'what special agent could resist the opportunity to fill a few Bolshevik cemeteries?'..."

"...As Melody sun-bathed on the Rio beach, she looked back upon the past few days with a certain quiet satisfaction: twelve dead Russians, five dead Chinese, three or four dead Cubans. The world was once again safe for democracy, she reflected while watching Tonio's exquisite chest rise and fall with his light snoring." Everyone's eyes were riveted on Daria as her tale wound down.

"Safe for democracy, or almost safe. Melody brushed some errant grains of sand off her fingers, tied her top back on, and reached into her beach bag. Tonio heard nothing, and that was a pity, because he would never hear anything again. 'So long, Tonio,' she thought as she calmly stood up. 'I could have loved you, if you weren't as red as the blood stain now spreading across the sand.'"

"Melody walked calmly away toward the hotel. There'd be a message there from HQ, no doubt. She hoped she had time to shower." Daria said as she stood up. The coffeehouse was silent for a minute, then broke out into thunderous applause. Daria noticed people gathering their things up as they started chanting "U.S.A.! U.S.A.!" She sighed and pulled out an air horn she had put in her skirt pocket, and triggered it at the microphone, causing a screeching feedback that made everybody stop.

"Excuse me?" Daria said. "Thank you all for the applause, but where are you all going?"

Kevin yelled out, "We're going to stone the Russian embassy, and let those commies know that they can't mess with us!" Daria slapped her face.

"Listen, that's an understandable, if really extreme reaction, except for one thing - There are no embassies in Lawndale." She sighed. "If you want to support the USA, sit down and have some more coffee, and support this coffeehouse." Thankfully, most of the customers were willing to do so, and everyone settled down through the last few acts.

As he handed her her cut of the night's take, Mr. O'Neill quietly said, "That was a good job controlling that crowd, Daria. I was afraid it might become a mob." He looked at her and said, "But maybe you could tone it down in the future?"

Daria shook her head. "They expect this, now. That's what is going to keep customers coming back. Plus, don't you always tell us that the right words can change the world?" He nodded. "That story was just an example of that."

"- and he believed that?" asked Jane, while they were both at their favorite booth in Pizza King, eating a slice.

"Well, he chose to believe that, rather than out himself as a communist, which I think he is." Daria shrugged. "As long as it doesn't affect him teaching me English, and it doesn't affect him counting my part of the take, I don't care."

"About that. You haggled hard. I thought your family was pretty well off."

"We are. But with one year's difference, both Quinn and I will be going to some pretty pricey schools, soon. My parents should be able to cover it - mostly. But there won't be any twenties or fifties coming into our hands at random, like there used to be."

"Ouch." Jane nodded. "I haven't talked to my parents yet, but I have a feeling that I may have to make a living with my art so that I can learn to make a living at my art." She looked up and winked. "Hey, there's that cute blonde waitress," she said with a grin.

Daria blushed and said, "I hate you."

5. Episode Five

Daria sat back from the kitchen table, watching Jake rant about the new Mall of the Millennium that was in all the papers. "A hundred miles? To go to a mall? Dammit, there's a mall five minutes away!"

He put his fists down on the table, until Helen interjected. "Sit down, dear. We're not going."

"Ooooh. Oh." was his reply as he sat down in his chair.

Quinn saw her chances to go rapidly dwindling. "It's not a mall, it's a super mall! The Mall of the Millennium. Shop there forever!"

Daria smirked and piped in. "If you play that John Lennon song backwards, it says, 'Imagine all the people, browsing in a mall.' Isn't that weird?"

Quinn gritted her teeth.

Helen looked through her papers. "It's too far away, Quinn, and you've done enough shopping for this quarter. Unless you want to dip into your college fund."

"Muh-om! As vice president of the Fashion Club, I need to know what's out there!" Quinn's fists were clenched.

Jake beamed. "Vice president? Did you know she was vice president, Helen?"

"Yes, Jake."

"Of the Fashion Club!" This fact seemed to excite him more.

"Yes, Jake. Vice president of the Fashion Club," Helen said in a near monotone.

Jake turned to Quinn. "Do you think this tie works?"

Quinn gently took hold of it. "Hmmm. It's nice, Daddy, but I think a mandarin collar would really set off your strong jaw line. Now, if you drive me to the Mall of the Millennium..." she trailed off.

Helen shook her head. "No more malls until you bring up your grade point average." This brought Daria's head up like a shot.

"Um, Mom? While normally I would stand back and let Quinn sleep in the bed she made, it sounds like you're changing rules midstream, and that doesn't bode well for me. I thought the decision to use our college funds for extra cash, up to a point, was ours, and you weren't going to stop us from doing stupid things with it. But here you are, tying the release of those funds to grades." She narrowed her eyes at her mother. "What gives?"

"Daria, after our discussion, I am more than happy to let you two to have the decision about how much of your college fund you use." Helen let out a small smirk. "But I reserve the right to stop her going entirely if she doesn't bring her grades up enough that she has the chance to attend a fashion school!"

"You're good. When you put your mind to it, you're very good," muttered Daria.

Quinn sobbed nearby, peeking to see if she'd gotten a reaction. "How will I hold my head up in the Fashion Club?" she wailed.

Daria smirked. "A traction pulley?"

Daria watched as Mrs. Bennett put the finishing touches to yet another diagram on the chalkboard. Jane ought to study it as an example of completely abstract work, she thought.

"In economics, we call this flow. We have a scenario of supply and demand, where a new demand is created by a previous supply. Does everyone follow?" Mrs Bennett asked. "Can anyone give me a concrete representation of this abstract theory?" She looked around and sighed. "Daria?"

"If we're talking concrete, I'd have to go with that repository of human greed and debasement: the mall."

Mrs. Bennett brightened. "Very good, Daria. The mall is a very beautiful illustration of all these economic principles. In fact, it would make for an excellent field trip."

Daria groaned quietly.

"We'll visit that brand new Mall of the Millennium. It's a perfect emblem of a modern day economic structure," Mrs. Bennett continued, ignoring Daria.

"Oh, joy, more torture and pestilence," Daria mumbled.

Jane smirked. "Cheer up, amiga, at least, it won't get you sick for real."

In between heaves, as she teetered on her hands and knees in front of the Mall of the Millennium, Daria forced out, "I hate you." Finally she stood up, turned away from the pile of vomit on the floor, accepted some water from Jane and spit what was left in her mouth in a trash can. "Won't get me sick for real, huh?"

"Hey, how was I to know that you'd get motion sickness?" Jane asked. Daria was about to go on, when Mrs. Bennett spoke up.

"We're in area B, section Pink, and we need to get to area C, section Orange. So, if we just bear right at area L, section Blue... oh, wait, sorry. Wrong level." She studied the map more closely. "Everyone, we'll walk down R Moss, and turn right at Q Canary. Please keep the flow, people, please keep the flow."

Brittany piped up. "Who would ever guess there'd be so many colors? The person who thought them all up must be a genius."

Jane smiled. "Yeah, and we haven't even gotten to puke green yet." She looked over at Daria, and her smile turned sheepish. "Oh, yeah."

As they walked, they passed by a multitude of specialty shops, including gift shops, a Lego shop, a giant bookstore, a fabric and sewing store, and even a fuzzy-wuzzy wee-bits store that distracted Mrs. Bennett until Jodie reminded her that they had an appointment with the mall executives.

Eventually, they made their way to the mall offices, and were escorted into a conference room that was populated by a large table and chairs, and had a floor-to-ceiling mirror on one side. Three mall executives sat together at one end, and one of them started asking questions.

"And of course, when you go to the mall, you look for what?" It seemed like an innocuous question, but something in it alerted Daria, even as she watched Brittany prop herself in the mirror, and listened to Jane reply.

"I always look for security guards leading away someone in handcuffs. Shoplifters are the best judges of merchandise." Daria had to smirk at that.

What was almost as funny was the executive's blushing response to her. "I meant more along the line of the qualities you look for? The stores? What should they be like?" Again, something tickled her brain. She sighed and then (for what reason she could not say) listened more closely to Brittany as she hopped up and down on her toes next to the mirror.

"Perky... a little bouncy... not too bouncy..." Daria's eyes moved up and down, until she shook her head, and listened to Jodie replying to the executive's clumsy questions.

"I have a question. Do you think our demographic can really be addressed by middle-aged middle managers telling us what's fun to buy?" She seemed to have struck the first executive dumb.

The second executive turned to Daria and asked, "How about you? How many times a year do you go to the mall?"

Daria's eyes narrowed. "Don't people usually get paid for participating in market research?" she asked.

"Research?" he asked in a strangled voice.

Mrs. Bennett tried to break in. "Now, Daria, these busy executives have been nice enough -"

Daria cut her off. "Yes, research." She turned to the other end of the room. "Mack, lights?"

As Mack moved towards the switches, one of the executives said, "No! Don't-" as the room was plunged into darkness, and everyone could see the three men on the other side of the mirror, all staring at Brittany's chest.

While the students were murmuring, and Brittany was hastily backing away from the mirror, someone turned the lights back on.

The first executive stood up and spoke nervously. "The focus group is, um, a very important tool in mall management. We thought that with this live demonstration..." He broke of with a strangled laugh.

Jodie stood up. "I feel used. I feel abused. I feel that this is not a fun mall after all and the media should be made aware of it." The executive paled and reached into his pocket.

"All right, little lady," he said as he reached into his vest pocket, "Here's a coupon for a free frozen yogurt."

Jodie stared at him like a particularly odious piece of offal. "Don't insult me."

"Make it a ten dollar merchandise coupon?" he asked, reaching back into his pocket.

Jane shook her head. "You're still insulting her."

The executive sighed and pulled out a couple of handfuls of coupons. "Okay, a twenty dollar merchandise coupon for everyone in the class."

"You don't get it," Daria said. "There's a principle involved."

Jodie looked at her as if she was crazy. "No, there isn't." She walked forward to get her own coupon.

Daria looked at Jane, who said, "That's twenty bucks!" as she went to get her own coupon.

After the rest of the students had gotten their coupons, Daria went up to the executive. Quietly she told him, "There's still a principle involved."

As he stretched his arm out with a coupon in it, he said, "What principle?"

"The principle that says you're going to give me a coupon good for half off any purchase in this mall today, whether regular or sale price." Seeing his eyebrows rise, she continued. "The difference between me and the rest of the students is that I'm a writer, and the one that unraveled your little free focus group. I can keep this incident in the public eye for weeks, should I decide that you are culpable and unrepentant." She crossed her arms. "Well?"

The executive's face turned red, then he wrote a few lines on his pad, then ripped it off and gave it to her.

"Thank you," she said, as she made her way outside.

When she came out, everyone was looking at their coupons. Daria went over near Jane, who said, "Scissor Wizard. I can actually use a new pair of scissors. Here, I got one for you." She handed Daria a coupon from "As You Sew."

"Great," Daria said. "I can imagine spending twenty dollar on stuff to sew with out a sewing machine." They both looked up at Mrs. Bennett, who had started to speak.

"Daria and Jane, you'll observe traffic patterns at the food concessions, and Kevin and Brittany, you will study and report back on shrinkage."

"What's shrinkage?"

Mrs. Bennett looked at Kevin. "Shrinkage is the retailing term for shoplifting. I'd like you to analyze its economic impact. Does everyone else understand their assignments?" After everyone had nodded or muttered positively, she spoke up again. "Now, we'll meet back here at quarter to three. Remember, area F, section Moss, level three. Got it? F Moss Three."

Standing at the edge of the food court, Daria and Jane observed the crowd. "Traffic patterns at the food concessions," Jane said.

"Hmm. I've noticed a pattern. People walk in looking hungry," nodded Daria.

"And leave, stuffing their face," replied Jane.

"Assignment completed."

Jane let a small smile show. "Now, for extra credit, let's experience the traffic pattern for ourselves." They went in, and after getting lunch for themselves, sat down at a table.

About four tables away from them, the Fashion Club sat, with a boy holding all of their bags, discussing what new project to begin. "I know! A makeover project! We'll find some hideously out of style nobody and make her look as good as us," said Quinn, who then added, at a glare from Sandi, "almost."

The qualifier didn't completely placate Sandi. "That's so great, Quinn. I wish I'd had such a brilliant idea. You guys should impeach me and make Quinn president!" This statement confused Quinn. Sandi was always trolling this in front of her, and so far, she had declined it because Sandi always wanted power, and so the offer had to be a trap of some kind. But what if the offer was genuine? She shook her head, sighed, and went with her prepared response.

"Oh, Sandi, I never would have had that idea if it weren't for you. You said, 'The Fashion Club should do more for the community.' You're a great leader." Well, as far as a domineering bitch can be, she thought.

"That's 'cause you guys are such great leadettes," Sandi said, obviously just as sincerely. "Although, Quinn, I noticed that you haven't bought anything this trip. What part of the makeover are you going to supply?"

Quinn blushed. "Well, this is my first trip to this mall. I'm more checking out what's in, and what the mall carries right now - I'm stocked up on basics and I don't want to be out of fashion in case the mall is..." She looked over at Stacy. "So, makeover?"

Stacy smiled and began talking. "So we'll find, like, a loser poster girl, to show that we really, like, do stuff for people."

Tiffany wore a confused look. "But if we do posters, shouldn't we be on them?"

Sandi smiled. "We can have a fundraiser to buy her makeup."

Stacy grinned. "Cool, a party!"

The boy they had carrying their bags finally spoke up. "Can I come?" he asked.

Quinn tapped her lips with her finger. "Listen, um, guy, why don't you just wait in the car for us?"

He pouted. "But you said if I drove you I could hang out with you."

Quinn sighed. "Oh, all right! But don't try to participate, okay? We're in the middle of a meeting."

She turned to Sandi, about to continue, when Stacy pointed over a few tables and said, "Look! They'd be perfect!" Everyone followed her finger to see two girls, one in a red jacket, and one in a green, with their backs to the Fashion Club.

Tiffany nodded. "Wow, you're right. They need help."

The entire club got up and began making their way over to the two girls. Quinn, being slightly ahead, reached out and tapped the girl in green on the shoulder. When she saw Daria's face, she strove mightily, and managed to keep her scream of surprise to a short squeak.

Daria smirked and said, "Good to see you, too." It was only the pleading look on Quinn's face that stopped her from adding "Sis," to the end of the sentence. After noting that the rest of the Fashion club was a few feet back, she continued. "Well. What an unexpected opportunity for sibling bonding." Quinn's look, originally angry, relaxed as she realized that, with the exception of Stacy, none of the Fashion Club was near enough to hear, or bright enough to understand what a 'sibling' was. She turned to the rest of the Fashion Club.

"Just one sec, guys. I'm interviewing our first makeover candidate." And with that, she, Daria, and Jane walked a short distance away.

Daria spoke up, quietly, first. "I'm sure Mom and Dad will be really pleased to hear I ran into you. Here at the mall that they told you you couldn't go to. On this lovely school day." She shook her head. "And what they officially won't care about, but will disturb them, is the fact that you're spending more of your college fund."

Quinn crossed her arms. "Okay, state your terms." She crossed her arms. "And, just for the records, I haven't bought anything here. This was just a trip to see what was in fashion, no matter what the rest of them thought."

Daria appeared to think. "It's weird. I can't think of anything I'd want... from you."

With a small smile, Quinn asked, "How about a free makeover?" The effort of keeping a straight face was too much, and she let out a giggle.

"No, thanks... but, I wouldn't mind taking it easy around the house for a month."

"A month?" All traces of humor were gone from Quinn's face.

Jane turned to Daria. "I'd hold out for cold cash."

Daria continued talking to Quinn. "Or you can just never set foot inside a mall for the rest of your sorry adolescent life. And a ride home from your little friend would be great. Jane and I really aren't in the mood to take the bus back." She smirked. "Your not buying anything might mean that there's space for us."

Quinn sighed. "Ugh! Fine! Meet us in an hour on level five, area D, section Lavender."

As they walked away, Jane bumped Daria with her shoulder. "You got us a ride home. Cool."

Daria grimaced. "No, I blew it. I should've made them drive Upchuck home."

At this point, they had stopped in front of Scissor Wizard. "Hey, look. I can use my coupon."

As they entered, they found that it was a hair salon. Jane held out her coupon and said, "I was wondering if I could buy some scissors with this."

The stylist shook her head. "Nope, we're just a hair salon." She looked at the coupon. "This is just enough to do a basic wash and trim." She looked critically at Jane's hair. "Who cuts your hair?"

Jane sat down in the chair. "Usually I do it myself."

The stylist smiled. "Let's show you that there are better options."

Twenty minutes later, they were walking out of the salon to meet up with Mrs. Bennett and tell her they had found their own way home. Jane turned to Daria and said, "So, did she mess my hair up?"

Daria smiled a small smile. "No, Jane. She did a really good job on it. It suits you." Her small smile threatened to become a big one, but it was then that they happened on to Mrs. Bennett. Once that mission was accomplished, they headed toward their meeting point with Quinn. They were about halfway there when Daria called a halt at a store called "As You Sew." She ducked inside, and in about five minutes came back outside, where she and Jane went straight to their meeting point.

About a week later, Quinn was dusting the house when she heard her father call her name. She came down to the door, where he was talking to a delivery man. "Quinn," her father said, "Looks like you have to sign for this, it's for you."

Quinn looked at the big box with a folded piece of paper that had the name, "Quinn," on it in big, bold letters, and signed for it. She flipped up the paper and read what was written there.

Quinn, you seem to be trying to make a go of this and get into a college or design school, so, from my coffeehouse earnings, here's a tool to help you.

Quinn tore the plain brown paper from the box, and saw a Brother CS6000I Computerized Sewing Machine, with all sorts of stitches and features to make sewing easy. She picked up the box and headed toward her room.

Her dad's voice stopped her. "Wow, that seems like a mighty nice sewing machine," said Jake. "Who sent it to you?"

Quinn's reply was very quiet. "Daria did, Dad."

6. Episode Six

Daria and Jane were in Mr. O'Neill's class listening to one of the three reasons (the other two were on her chest) that Brittany was not a love-interest for Daria.

"Thoreau wasn't on Walden Pond because he hated the world. He was just mad at Jane Fonda. You know, he was her father in real life, too." Daria had just finished groaning at this gem of wisdom when Ms. Li rushed into the room.

"Good morning!" she said, then looked around. As Mr. O'Neill wasn't obviously teaching something, she continued. "I've got some exciting information for you all. A team of talent scouts from Amazon Models will be here this week as part of their national talent search, and the most promising Lawndale High student will receive a professional modeling contract!" She seemed more enthused about this possibility than the various academic achievements that she routinely announced.

"They got my letter!" Brittany squeaked.

Ignoring her, Jodie spoke up. "Why here?" she asked.

Ms. Li acted just the slightest bit nervous. "I guess they found out what a good looking group you are," she said with a forced laugh. "But, seriously, this is a great opportunity for you, and the even greater good of Lawndale High," she continued, as always drawling out the name of a school like a saint that she was praying to.

"Excuse me?" Daria had had enough. "But isn't modeling about dropping out of school to pursue a career based solely on your youth and your looks, both of which are inevitably declared over by age twenty-five?"

Ms. Li looked at Daria with narrowed eyes. "Do you have a point, Ms. Morgendorffer? "

Finally Jane jumped in. "And don't fashion people squander their lives loudly worshiping all that is superficial and meaningless while the planet keeps riding a roller coaster to hell?" Daria sighed in relief.

Ms. Li faced Jane, arms akimbo. "Modeling is a competitive field, yes, but the financial rewards are great. As principal, I'd be cheating our student body if I didn't allow them every opportunity to fulfill their potential."

That's so much cow manure, Daria thought. Out loud, she asked, "Excuse me. Can we assume the financial rewards are great for the school as well?"

Now Ms. Li's lips had compressed into a firm line. "That is really none of your business!"

Daria had been practicing her "Butter wouldn't melt in my mouth," innocent look and smile with Quinn, who had said that she had gotten pretty good. She used it now, saying, "But I don't want to miss a lesson in applied economics. I'm trying to fulfill my potential."

Astoundingly, it worked, and Ms. Li blushed slightly. "The school is receiving a fee for its cooperation, but every cent is going to capital improvements! We're finally going to get those bulletproof skylights for the swimming pool," she said, proudly.

Jane's face was a bit red, itself, and she seemed to be having trouble keeping her mouth still. Finally, she gave it up, and said, "Well, I for one am very excited about this. I can feel myself getting into the modeling spirit." She smiled widely.

Ms. Li smiled back. "Excellent!"

"May I be excused? I'd like to go to the girls' room and vomit up breakfast."

Lunch the next day was, to say the least, interesting. Daria could easily tell the girls who were interested in the competition by the food (or more correctly lack thereof) on their plates; so when Jodie sat down and began talking about it, she wasn't greatly surprised. She was, however, disappointed, and made that point clear.

Jodie, oddly enough, wasn't on her side. "You know, you don't always have to be against everything. If a kid wants to take a modeling class, you can't tell her no."

Daria took a breath. "Maybe not, but you don't have to let the fashion mob push the classes on school grounds, either."

Jodie seemed to be genuinely puzzled. "It's completely voluntary. What's the problem?"

"No problem. But why stop at modeling? Maybe there's a go-go bar downtown that would like to come here and recruit lap dancers." Daria frowned. There had to be a way to get her message through. "And before you say anything, I'm not against lap dancers, either." A very fleeting blush and smile crossed her face. "But we're supposed to be giving students education on how to live life in general, and how to prepare for college. I don't see how parents would like this."

Mrs. Bennett was trying to explain the fashion industry with her normal mix of clear words and mind-numbingly confusing chalkboard diagrams, when they walked in. Daria immediately classified them as posers. Both were in their forties, the man in a tight-fitting halter top, the woman in an outfit that Boy George would have classified as garish.

Mrs. Bennett turned to face them. "Huh. You must be the representatives from the Amazon Modeling Agency."

The man grinned back. "Well, I would hope so. We're a little long in the tooth to be attending high school."

The woman obviously saw an opening. "Speak for yourself, grandpa-pa," she said, and they both laughed.

Mrs. Bennett smiled. "I was just telling the class about how the fashion industry uses customer psychology to perpetuate itself in the marketplace." The two newcomers glanced at each other, then the man spoke up.

"You know, if the hem of that skirt were an inch higher, you'd have a look as up to date as tomorrow."

Mrs. Bennett blushed and looked down at herself. "Do you really think so?" she asked.

"Show off those gams, girlfriend!" Daria's eyes narrowed at this.

The woman clapped her hands once. "Now, who in this room is a potential superstar du fashion?" She looked at Jane. "You! You have a very interesting look! Have you ever considered the achingly glamorous life of a model?" Jane rolled her eyes, and showed her the drawing that she'd been working on, which was of two vultures, with the visitors faces on them, circling a crawling girl. The woman muttered, "You're more interested in the design end of things," and turned to her partner.

He chuckled, saying, "That's an excellent likeness of you, darling," before looking at Daria. His smile grew. "Oh, look at you. So waif-like... so pouty. Could you remove your glasses?"

Daria stared at him. "Could you remove your halter top?" she asked bluntly.

He looked over his glasses at her. "Pardon?"

"I can't take my glasses off. I need them to see scam artists," she said shocking both of them.

As the bell rang, and the students gathered their books, Daria noticed a husky redheaded girl. Sighing, she walked over to her. "Diana, right?" As the girl nodded, she continued on. "I saw the way you were looking at those guys. You'd really like to be a model, wouldn't you?"

Diana nodded, saying, "And I've heard that there's a need for plus-sized models, with the way perceptions are changing."

"I thought so," said Daria, taking a deep breath. "Take this for what it's worth, but I don't think you can trust those two as far as you can throw them. Did you hear what they said about Mrs. Bennett?" The girl nodded. "Do you think that she's anywhere close to being in fashion, even for plus-sized ladies?"

Diana looked down and shook her head. "No."

"As far as I can tell, they're some kind of scam artists." Daria looked straight at the girl. "Either they're going to want money from you, or they'll use you and humiliate you." Daria looked down yourself. "The reason I know is that I used to be on my old high school's paper as fashion editor, and we did an expose on people like this. A lot of time, they keep asking for money for 'additional classes to prepare you,' or else you're just there to make the people who they really want feel safe." She shook her head. "You do what's right for you, Diana, and I'll never say a word. I just had to say what I just did, because I won't let it be my fault that someone gets hurt." And with that, she turned and walked to her next class with Jane.

That worthy gave her friend a smirk as they walked. "If I didn't know better, I'd say you were sweet on that girl, Daria." She put her finger to her bottom lip, and said, "Of course I don't actually know better, so..." Daria's shoulder bumped her from the side.

"I told you, Lane. Slender, willowy, athletic. Plus, I've heard her in class. Not interesting." She shook her head. "I just couldn't pass up a chance to help her if I was able."

"Just a marshmallow, Morgendorffer, just a marshmallow."

Later that day, at lunch, Daria and Jane were in the crowded line to get their slop, when Kevin, acting the part of a maddened bull, with two straws in his nose, bumped Daria hard from behind, causing her to stumble forward and catch someone's shoulders before she fell. She wasn't entirely successful, her mouth catching the other person's neck, and as she inhaled preparatory to standing herself up, she got a heady mix of pot and perfume. Thank God that Jane can't see through my jacket, she thought.

As her feet steadied, a smoke-roughened voice from ahead said, "I hope you don't mind, but usually I get a room for meetings like that."

Daria blushed slightly. "Sorry about that. I was hit by the great bull Kevin-Thompson." She brushed the blonde girl's shoulders off. "I'm Daria Morgendorffer, and you're..that's right, Jennifer, um, Burns?"

The blonde girl nodded as they advanced in line. "That's me. Some guys call me 'Burnout,' 'cause I'm not that into listening to them, and I wander off sometimes. I don't partake of that much, though."

"So I guess you don't take enough to be a model?" Daria said, then winked. "Oh, right, that's speed. Well, once again, sorry," Daria said, turning back to Jane with a small but genuine smile plastered on her face.

Helen and Jake listened intently as Daria wrapped up her description of the day's events at the kitchen table. " then Ms. Li admits they're doing this to pay for new bulletproof skylights. The whole thing's enough to turn your stomach," she said, sitting back. "Which I guess is good if you want to be a model; eases the transition to bulimia."

Helen put her elbows on the table and rested her chin in her hands. "You really feel strongly about this," she said, with dawning comprehension.

"What do you mean?" Daria frowned.

"Well... you're talking to us."

"Yeah, well... yeah." Finally, the light went on.

Helen smirked. "I'm glad you feel strongly about it, Daria, and for the record, I agree with you."

Jake piped up, "Me, too!"

Daria smirked back. "I supposed you realize that now I have to reconsider my position." She tapped her chin. "Actually, I think I have, at least as far as Quinn is concerned."

Helen's expression dropped. "These people sounds like opportunists feeding off the vanity of naive young people. I pity the kids who get sucked in by them, and I pity their poor parents."

Daria nodded. "I agree. But Quinn is going to find people like these wherever she goes. At least with these people, we can make sure that she learns the right lessons when she comes home and says -" she was interrupted by the front door slamming and feet running towards the kitchen.

"Mom! Dad! Guess what? I've been accepted into a really exclusive modeling class!" Quinn almost shouted as she skidded to a stop in front of her family. "What?"

"- and after Romonica talked to Mom, I contracted to watch her and keep her from doing anything too crazy with this, and that she could use this as a learning experience to see if this is where she wanted to go."

"Ah. And what do you get out of all of this? I know I'm getting inspiration for new art." She showed Daria a sketch of the Fashion Club as a group of Peacocks, crowded next to a block where several severed heads lay.

"No pushing to redecorate my room for the next six months."

"That's not an awful lot, by your usual standards." Jane was intrigued.

"Well, mostly because there's no way that I can't win. If this turns out like I think it will, Quinn gets embarrassed and learns a lesson about professional modeling, so she doesn't have to be steered. If it doesn't, well, she is pretty enough to be a model, and with the right people pushing her, could make it - though I don't think she'd be happy at the end with it - and then Mom and Dad could easily afford my college. But either way," Daria stretched a little and looked around at the school auditorium, "I get to get out of class and watch pretty girls with no shame. Where's the loss in that?"

"True," agreed Jane, who suddenly looked onstage. "Oh, hey, isn't that 'Burnout,' the girl you pawed yesterday...she's the waitress at Pizza King, too, now that I think of it." She looked at Daria, who was now blushing brightly, but still looking straight at the stage. "All win, you said?"

"I hate you, Lane."

In the event, things proceeded much as Daria had predicted. As Quinn dated more as a sign of status than because of any genuine affection for the boys she dated, she refused to be intimate at all, going to the bathroom when they wanted her to stroke a boy's chest. At that point, Ms. Li walked in, and seeing the students in compromising positions, put a halt to the competition.

Things weren't quite finished at that point. When Daria came home after visiting Jane's that evening, she walked into a discussion between Quinn and her mother on the subject.

"We agreed that you would take that one class and that was it." Helen sounded slightly exasperated. "We made a commitment to each other. Now it's time to honor that commitment, Quinn. No more modeling classes."

"Muh-om! I'm not talking about taking classes! I'm talking about winning the modeling contract." Quinn crossed her arms.

"Sweetheart, please don't take this the wrong way, but what if you don't win?" Helen asked with a concerned look on her face.

"Don't win?" Quinn looked almost shocked. Daria decided to butt in.

"Don't win." Both Quinn and their mother looked in her direction as she continued. "Quinn, I saw that competition, and you're not going to win. And I think that's a very good thing, as far as you're concerned."

Quinn gave a little 'hmmph!' and crossed her arms. "Jealous?"

"Not even a bit, or I'd be asking you for beauty tips, Quinn." Daria shook her head. "You're my sister, Quinn, and even if I don't like you most of the time, I love you and want you to do what makes you happy. And it should come as no great surprise that I think that you're one of the most beautiful girls of your age, anywhere. Most guys want to be with you, and most girls would give their eye teeth to have your beauty. But that doesn't blind me to the objective truth.

"From what I see, you really, really don't want to get into an intimate position with a guy, at all. That's okay, you're only fourteen, but it would be needed in modeling, and it's what lost you the competition." Daria looked into Quinn's eyes. "Like I said, this is a good thing. Remember what Amy at the college fair said?"

Quinn hung her head. "That there are hundreds or thousands of really pretty girls for every top modeling position. And that the girls who were really screwed were the ones who had just enough beauty and talent to get them to the edge, always hoping, never being able to turn away until their looks deserted them and the only things they could do were things they didn't want to do." Quinn, her eyes wet, was surprised when her mother hugged her tightly, and even more so when Daria continued.

"Exactly. And like I said, I think it's a good thing." Daria took a breath and let out a sigh. "Even if you could make it to the top, you're way too smart to be happy in it. Haven't you noticed that any supermodel who has any brains that she shows the world, gets out of modeling as soon as she can? Quinn, you'd be bored stiff as a model. Haven't you noticed that you and Sandi get into all of your political infighting only when there's nothing interesting going on?" From the look on her face, Quinn hadn't. "But look at this thing. An individual competition, should have had you all torn to shreds backstabbing each other to get that prize, and what do you do? Work together on meal plans, clothing, and makeup. Again, not what these people want. They want individuals that are barely smart enough to follow orders, and are just in it for what they can get. You know, out of the people in that auditorium, they'd probably choose Kevin as closest to what they want."

"Kevin?" Quinn's jaw dropped.

"Kevin." Daria smirked. "Hey, I saw you finish your first dress the other day. How did your Clubettes react?"

Quinn blushed. "I messed up a hem, and Sandi suggested that I take it back to Cashman's to get it fixed."

"So, your first dress, and it's already up to Cashman's seconds status?" Helen said from behind Quinn. "That's really good work. I'm proud of you, honey."

"And I'm fixing the hem this weekend."

"Well, it's no sackcloth and ashes," Daria said, "but I guess it'll do."

Helen looked up at her eldest. "Should we plan on you for dinner tomorrow, Daria?"

"Nannh. I think Jane and I'll get fed at Pizza King."

"You're going there a lot, lately." Helen raised her eyebrow. "Is there a boy working there that we should know about?"

"No, not at all."

7. Episode Seven

Ms. Barch was once again complaining about the way that her husband left her. This time, she had connected it with positive and negative reinforcement. Daria sighed. And I, like a fool, had to give her a detailed answer when she asked for examples. Personally, I blame getting distracted by Jen. She shook her head.

The prize for that correct, if extended, answer was to have Kevin for a lab partner. She smothered a smirk. At least she wasn't the person with the worst luck in the class, though she didn't know whether to give that award to Brittany or Upchuck. No matter, they got each other as partners.

As she sat down in the cafeteria with Jane, Daria said, "So, now Kevin's my lab partner."

Jane snorted. "Next best thing to working alone."

"Oh, no," Daria replied, then said in a bad mimic of Kevin, "He likes mazes."

"Maybe you could get a wind-up toy to distract him."

Daria snorted, herself. "His wind-up toy is working with Upchuck."

Just as Jane was recovering from her laugh, Kevin came up to the table. "Hey, Daria." He put on what he thought was a suave smile. "Mind if we do the maze thing at your house? My cable's broken."

Daria looked into Jane's eyes and let a slow smile creep over her face.

As soon as she entered the kitchen, Daria knew something was up. Quinn and their mother were both sitting down, looking at her. Daria sighed and sat down.

"Daria, I heard you're working with Kevin Thompson on a science project. He's quarterback of the football team, isn't he?" Helen said with a smile.

Daria raised her eyebrows and looked at Quinn, who shrugged and said sheepishly, "Brittany was sobbing in the bathroom."

Before it could go any further, Helen interjected, "Science is fascinating. Tell me all about it, honey."

Daria briefly glanced at the table. She did not hand me that straight line on a platter, she thought, then looked her mother straight in the eye, and said, in perfect monotone, "It all began approximately 14.5 billion years ago, with what we call the Big Bang. In the first microsecond after the event, the -" she was cut off by Helen.

"Oh, forget it, Daria. Quinn, how was your day?"

Quinn rubbed her hands together, and started to babble. "It sucked. First my teacher gave my paper on Cleopatra's makeup don'ts an "F" -- like he would know. Then my heel broke. Then, like, the day was almost over and only two guys had asked me out. Luckily, just before..."

Helen held her hands together and looked at Daria. "Daria, please tell me about the project."

Daria sighed. "All right. It's about how behavior is affected by positive or negative reinforcement."

Helen smiled. "Sounds super."

Daria's eyes narrowed. "Like... say, you have a friend who responds to everything you say with, "Sounds super!" This insincere reply is the same whether you saved a life or killed a bug, and thus what would normally be "positive reinforcement," becomes "negative reinforcement," causing you to withdraw from that person or persons."

"Wow. That's fantastic!"

Daria rolled her eyes. "And I'm going to take a field trip to Alaska for the next several months, where I'll live in a hut with four guys. I'll let you know what we name the baby."

"Sounds - wait, baby?" Helen's eyes hardened.

"It would be nice it you would actually listen to me when you ask me to talk with you, Mom," Daria said in a flat tone.

"You were talking about positive and negative reinforcement, Daria," Helen replied. "And, in that vein, maybe if you and Kevin work well together, he'll associate you with feeling good and want to include you in his circle of friends. That would be positive reinforcement, wouldn't it?"

"For who?" Daria raised her eyebrow.

"Maybe I'll help with the project. I'm into science," Quinn said into the silence.

"Who are you, and what have you done with my - oh." Daria looked at her sister. "You're aware that besides the fact that he already has a girlfriend who's in your league as far as beauty goes, and who puts out, he's a stupid guy that expects a lot of special treatment because he's 'the QB!'?"

"But he's a sophomore. And popular. And this is the first chance I'll have to talk with him away from her. My popularity would go through the roof with an upperclassmen boyfriend!"

Daria held her hands up. "I think you're headed for trouble, whether you win or lose, Quinn, because I think the girls here look a lot more dimly than you think on poaching another girl's man, but it's your call. I'm going to set things so that Kevin's not going to interfere with the lab. As long as you don't mess with that, go right ahead." She turned to her mother. "Since when did you think that my not having a lot of friends was a lack of ability?"

"Well -"

"It's not. As a matter of fact, I have several friends at Lawndale High, though none so close as Jane. I get along with most people, and heck, I'm even working with someone who would be in a learning disabled class, if he didn't play football very well! I've told you more than once, I don't choose to befriend everyone. If that's a mistake, then I'll make it. But don't push me and try and force me into becoming friends with people that I don't like, all right?"

Helen seemed about to reply when her phone rang. "Phone!" she said, and picked it up.

The doorbell rang. "Door!" Quinn said, then got up to answer it.

Daria smirked.

After opening the door and seeing Kevin, Quinn sighed. "Hi, Kevin."

Kevin smiled as Daria came up behind her sister. "Hi, Quinn. Hey, Daria, I'm ready to start this maze thing."

Quinn smiled. "I'm helping. Let's go."

"Wait a minute, Kevin," Daria said. "There's something I want you to see." They all walked into the living room, where Jake was softly snoring. Daria picked up the remote and turned the TV on, and changed the channel. "Look, Kevin: the Pigskin Channel. Great big guys slamming into other great big guys. Fun."

Kevin plopped down on the sofa. "Cool!"

The announcer's voice came from the TV's speakers. "The Pigskin Channel! Classic football games 24 hours a day -- every day, all this month."

"Good thing I had nothing planned."

Daria winked at Quinn, who said, "Kevin, if you want a pillow or anything, there's one on that chair."

He said, leaning forward, "Thanks, babe. Just put it behind my back."

Quinn turned to Daria and, making shooing motions, asked, "Shouldn't you be working on your project? You know, teaching a mouse to fetch or whatever?"

As Daria walked out to the garage, she said, "Looks like there's plenty of fetching going on already."

Quinn sat down close to Kevin and said, "Kevin, if you want a soda or anything, there's some in the fridge. I know I'm kind of thirsty."

Completely oblivious, focused on the screen action, Kevin replied, "Thanks, babe. Could you, like, put some ice in it?"

Quinn stood up and put her hands on her hips, and asked, "How many cubes?"

She just stared at him when he said, "Two is cool."

As Quinn made her way to the kitchen, she muttered, "Isn't he supposed to be doing this for me?" to herself.

Brittany looked like she was in a completely cliche spy movie as she entered Upchuck's garage. Big floppy hat, sunglasses, and a trench coat were all in evidence as she pulled down the window shades.

"Welcome to Casa de Chuck, bella senorita," he said. "Don't worry, toots. This torrid affair shall remain our little secret -- as it must."

She pulled down her shades and looked at him. "Listen, Upchuck, you come near me and Kevin will bust your..."

Upchuck smiled at her. "Kevin? Kevin's busy now... with Daria!"

Brittany stamped her foot. "Ooh!"

He continued. "But you're right. Passion can wait until we've constructed our maze. There's the saw." He pointed.

She crossed her arms. "Excuse me? I don't do saw."

His smile, if anything, widened. "Oh, my fragile petal -- either you do your share, or I tell everyone we're dating."

Brittany turned up her nose. "Hmmph! Like anyone would believe that."

Upchuck was now grinning. "But they would believe... this." He pulled a photo out of his back pocket. "Isn't that Sam Stack, quarterback for Oakwood? Our rivals? And aren't you making out with him?"

Her jaw dropped. "But Kevin and I broke up that week. Wait... how did you get this? You pervert!"

"Silly me! I was taking pictures and forgot I had the telephoto lens on." He held the photo where she couldn't reach it. "Ah, ah, ah! On second thought, I'll start the maze. You can get me a soda."


"In the kitchen. I take two cubes -- not one, not three -- two." He chuckled as Brittany went into the kitchen, and muttered, "Slave for a week."

Daria sighed as she finished up the plan for her maze, and got out the pine boards. She looked up as the garage door opened, and Jane came in, followed by Jen.

"I was walking around the Zon, being bored, and look who I ran into!" Jane said with a smile. "I mentioned you were making a maze, and Burnout said she'd done woodwork before."

Jen shrugged. "Took shop class. I doubt you have anything as hard as making a dugout."

Daria spoke up. "You can help? I mean, you don't need to, it is my and Kevin's project..."

"No problem," Jen said while she picked up the boards individually. "It's just less time around my dad and brothers." Her expression darkened for just a moment, then brightened as she saw another piece of equipment. "Great! you have a planer!"

In the living room, Kevin was still watching the Pigskin Channel, a nearly empty plate on the TV tray next to him. Quinn tried to snuggle close to him. "Gee, Kevin, I hope the steak isn't too medium rare."

"You suck!" he said to the TV. Then he turned to Quinn. "That's my team! Oh, the steak? It was cool. And I really like this yellow dip. Hey, tomorrow night, let's have Sloppy Joes."

She looked with puppy-dog eyes at him. "Um, I was thinking tomorrow night you might take me to Chez Pierre. The food there is, like, really good and the waiters are, like, really foreign."

"Gee, babe, there seems to be plenty of good food right here."

Quinn stood up, her fists clenched, as Kevin continued to yell at the screen. She took one more look over her shoulder at him, and then dusted her hands off, just as the doorbell rang.

It was Brittany, soaked from head to toe. Quinn took a breath in, shook her head slightly, and pointed to the garage. "Daria's in there."

Brittany looked confused. "But I wanted -"

Quinn cut her off. "You need to see Daria. She's in the garage. There." Then she quickly walked to the garage door, stuck her head in, and said, "Daria? Brittany's here to see you."

Daria raised her eyebrow, and turned to Burnout. "Jen, do me a favor? Play along with what I do."

Burnout shrugged and said, "Sure, but what -" And at that point, the door slammed open, and Brittany stood in the doorway.

"Stay away from Kevvy!" She said.

Daria gave a small smile, and said, "I think you'll find that I am, Brittany. I'm working in here, he's watching football inside. Besides," she said, putting her arm around Burnout's waist, "I'm not really interested in Kevin, at all." She kissed Jen on the cheek.

"You mean you're a-a-a-" Words seemed to fail Brittany.

Daria spoke very softly. "I mean that I'm attracted to girls, yes, Brittany. I've told very very few people, but I didn't want you to think that Kevin was cheating. Can you keep it quiet, please?"

Brittany nodded and then grabbed Daria and started sobbing. "Help me, Daria. I'm in so much trouble!"

Charles Ruttheimer III was sitting back in his recliner, a huge smile on his face. Brittany Taylor at his beck and call for a week! The thought kept him smiling as he answered the door, when his smile died a horrible death. There stood Brittany, Daria, Jane, and that Burnout girl, and they brushed him aside as they entered his house. As soon as he closed the door, they turned to face him.

Daria was the first to speak. "Upchuck, I cannot believe how a guy supposedly as smart as you pulled such a bonehead play." She looked him in the eyes, her determined ones easily overpowering his shifty ones. "Come on! This is Barch's Science 101!" She waved her hands. "Barch hates men, therefore, with a mixed sex partnership, who's giving the presentation?"

He did a facepalm, then looked at the floor. "The girl."

"Which means, and I hope you're catching this, that not only does she need to know what the heck you're doing, she has to actually want to do well. And right now," she looked at the cheerleader, "Brittany, would you flunk this lab, just to make sure Upchuck failed, too?"

"Darned right!" Brittany squeaked.

"So this is what you're going to do, Charles. You've already built your maze. You are going to hand me the picture, and the negative. Then you are going to spend the rest of the week training the mouse, and teaching Brittany just what you're doing. Am I clear?"

"Crystal," Upchuck said as he handed over the photo and negative.

As Brittany lit the picture and negative outside Daria's house, Daria hugged Jen from the side, and brushed her hair out of her face. "Just remember, Brittany, keep quiet about this. I'm really not ready to deal with all of the crap I'd get if this got out, okay?"

"Oh, sure!" Brittany said, hugging Daria. "That's the second time you've helped me out. You're so nice!" Daria blushed.

After Brittany left, Daria turned to to Jen and said, "Thanks for playing along, Jen. I know I didn't give you a lot of warn-"
She was cut off when Burnout gave her a kiss. Jane gave a small, almost wistful smile, before she started laughing and clapping.

"It was all right. There are people that I'd like to kiss less," Jen said, giving Daria a small smile. Nobody noticed the drapes in the Morgendorffer living room move.

Daria and Jane were walking home the next day. "You should have seen Barch's face when Brittany explained their project. She was all ready to fail them both, when Brittany comes out with a word-for-word description...I think Upchuck must have spent most of the time drilling it into her. And then I got my A, and Kevin his D."

Jane smiled. "And Burnout?"

I think we'll spend a little time together." She looked up at Jane. "You're welcome, too. I doubt we'll be doing anything more scandalous than we did yesterday."

"I'd love to," Jane replied, then looked up to see her house. "Well, here's mine. Talk to you tomorrow."

When Daria opened the door to her own house, she heard her sister's voice from her room. "Daria? Can you come up here for a sec?"

8. Episode Eight

A/N: My original intention was not to have this particular chapter this soon in the series - I had originally intended to build up to it a good bit more. However, my read of the characters tells me that this is what they would do - any other choices wouldn't be true to them. I'd welcome feedback on this issue. Also, the chapter after this one will not be tied to a canon episode, just letting you know.

"Daria? Can you come up here for a sec?" Quinn's voice floated down from upstairs.

Daria shrugged and made her way up her sister's room, where she saw Quinn wearing a white satin dress that hung perfectly over her developing curves. "What do you think?" asked Quinn. "I'm going to wear it the next time I go to Chez Pierre."

Daria looked up and down the dress. "Wow," she said. "Quinn, you'll knock any guy you're with over dead, with that on. Is that a pattern?"

Quinn beamed. "Well, it started as one, but I decided that I wanted it tighter here, " and she pointed to one part, "and for the pleats to fall longer here," she pointed to another part. "You really think it's good?"

Daria crossed her arms. "I think it's very good. In fact, I think you are able, now, to make clothes for yourself better than Cashman's. How much did the materials cost?"

"About a fifth of what a dress like this would." Quinn hugged Daria. "Thank you for the sewing machine, Daria!"

A smile flitted across Daria's face. "You're welcome, Quinn. Now, if I might get to my homework?"

The student's in Mr. DeMartino's class leaned forward as he spoke softly. "And on that fateful day, his followers obediently drank the poison brew."

Various noises of shock and incredulity washed over the class as Mr. DeMartino stood up and spoke in a normal (to him) voice. "Jonestown: one charismatic leader exerting his demonic will over scores of followers. What lesson can we take from this tragic example of herd-like behavior?" He turned to one of his most herd-like students. "Kevin?"

Kevin, as was normal, seemed confused. "Uh... BYOB?"

Mr. DeMartino, uncharacteristically, simply sighed. "Please return to your stupor, Kevin..." He turned to the chair next to Kevin's. "...while we continue our discussion of cults! Can anyone give me another example of a group using coercive techniques such as peer pressure, chanting, and social isolation to achieve control over its members? Brittany?"

Brittany's countenance showed several wrinkles as she tried to figure things out. "Cheerleading?"

Mr. DeMartino smiled. "Ah, Brittany. Sometimes, despite a complete lack of insight, you stumble upon an interesting answer."

Brittany smiled, and squeaked, "Wow, and I didn't even have to read the chapter!"

Jane snarked quietly to Daria, "She'll never have to worry about mind control."

Daria replied, "No, but she'll have to watch out for ferrets building a nest in her head."

As the bell rang, Mr. DeMartino's voice could be heard above the din. "Now remember, your term papers are due Friday, and no excuses will be accepted."

As Daria and Jane walked away from Mr. DeMartino's class, they caught sight of Quinn talking to a boy. Jane smirked. "Hey, there's Quinn with one of her many admirers."

Daria smiled back. "She's well liked among classmates of both sexes." She shook her head. "That sounds like we're in some Japanese anime production." As they got close to Quinn, she said, "Quinn, some guy named Skylar was looking for you this morning."

Quinn's eyes widened in shock. "He figured out that you're my sister?"

Daria slouched back and relaxed. "Actually, he seemed to think I was your au pair. He asked me how I liked America so far."

Quinn gave a half-smile. "People are so weird!" she said as she turned back to her boy.

Quinn was painting her toenails, and Daria was watching the TV, when the Sick, Sad World trailer came on. "They bake cookies by day, but they really heat up the night! G-string grandmas, today on Sick, Sad World."

Quinn looked up and said, "Gross!"

Daria nodded. "For once, we're in agreement."

Quinn frowned. "This color looks nothing like melon. It's way too pink. Oh, hey, Daria? What are you doing Thursday night?"

"Forget it. I don't like kids. I didn't even like kids when I was a kid." Daria shook her head.

"But you gotta take my baby-sitting job! I could end up all summer on some public beach. Six bucks an hour!"

"Oooh. I could make a down payment on that isolated mountain cabin." Daria looked at her. "You need to honor your commitments, Quinn."

Quinn sighed. "If I can't go out with Skylar, I might just get so frustrated that I'd tell what I saw from the windows yesterday."

Daria crossed her arms and narrowed her eyes. "And what, pray tell, was that?"

Quinn smirked. "You kissing a girl, Daria. That burnout chick. I saw you!"

Daria took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and let it out. "I thought we'd been getting along better, Quinn. This may be standard negotiating, as far as you're concerned, but it's not, for me." She held up any arm to forestall any comment, not seeing that there was none forthcoming. "All right, since it's got this far out, I'm going to talk to Mom and Dad about it, and you're going to be there, tomorrow." She looked straight at Quinn. "I'm asking you not to tell them anything until I do; if you don't, then we just had a normal bump, if you feel that you have to blab sooner, then I will cut you out of my life for a long, long time." She looked with narrowed eyes at Quinn's frightened face. "Are we clear?"

Quinn said in a small voice, "Clear."

Just as that finished, Helen walked into the room, carrying an obviously full briefcase. "I'm sorry I have to work late tonight, girls. There's angel hair in the freezer, girls, and don't forget, tomorrow we're hosting the couples workshop. It's focus on teens night! I expect you to be there. "

Quinn replied automatically, "Sorry, Mom, I have a date. Remember what you said on Saturday? A commitment's a commitment."

Helen sighed. "Well, I guess I did say that. Well, I'll see you there, Daria."

Daria gripped her hands together in front of her, pushing her knees apart. "Actually, Quinn won't be able to make her date, And I need to ask you and Dad to call off your couples workshop, Mom. We need to have a family meeting as soon as possible."

"But why, Daria? We'll be putting a lot of people to a good bit of trouble, since we're supposed to host."

Daria looked into her mother's eyes, her own filled with unshed tears. "Mom, how often do I ask for anything besides basic food, clothing, and shelter? I'm asking you to trust me when I say that it's important, and that it has to be as soon as possible, which means tomorrow after dinner."

Helen was taken aback at the obvious emotion in Daria's eyes. She stopped, opened her mouth to say something, stopped again, then set down her briefcase and gently put her hands on her eldest daughter's shoulders. "Will you be all right until then?" she asked softly. Daria nodded. "Then we'll be there." She cleared her throat and looked at Quinn. "And you will, too. Family commitments trump dates." She hugged an unresisting Daria, picked up her briefcase, and looked at her watch. "Oh! I really have to go!" And with that, she walked out to her car.

As they listened to her drive away, Daria turned to Quinn, and said, "Thank you," before turning to go up to her room. Quinn shrugged and started dialing Skyler's number to break her date.

"So you're coming out to your family tonight?" Jane asked, after Daria had told her what had happened.

Daria nodded. "Well, my parents at least. If Quinn isn't generally aware of what's happening, she isn't as bright as I think she is."

Looking over at her best friend, Jane remarked, "You seem to be taking this well."

Daria stopped, forcing Jane to do so, as well, she looked up into her eyes, and in her gaze, Jane saw fear. "Jane, I'm terrified," she said. "There's no guarantee that they won't try to change me or brainwash me, or even just kick me out, because I bring such shame on them. Or they might try to beat the devil out of me. Jane, can I stay with you for a while if they kick me out?"

Jane reached forward and pulled Daria into a hug, feeling her sob almost uncontrollably. She rubbed her hand in circles along Daria's spine as she murmured, "Shh. It'll be okay. I don't think they'll kick you out, but if they do, of course you can stay. It'll be all right, Daria. It's okay..." She repeated herself for several minutes until Daria's sobs slowed and stopped.

Daria pulled back, took her glasses off, and wiped her eyes on her jacket. "I'm sorry, Jane, I don't know what came over me."

"Nothing to be sorry for. You just showed that you were scared at a moment of great stress. Welcome to the human race." Jane smiled. "Now let's get to class."

The rest of the day passed in a haze for Daria; she couldn't focus on anything except what she was going to say, and got caught more than once not knowing the answer in class. She didn't even really notice when Quinn joined Jane and her for lunch, only truly being aware she was there when her sister gave her a hug as she left for her class.

As they walked home, Jane caught her hand and brought her to a halt. "Would you like me to come along with you, for moral support?" she asked. "Or amoral, depending how you classify me," she snarked.

"Jane, that means a lot to me. But if you were there, they'd automatically assume that I was in a relationship, which I'm not, yet. Plus, I called it as a family meeting, and Mom and Dad might be unhappy if someone outside the family was there." Impulsively, she hugged Jane.

"I can tell it means a lot, amiga. In the months I've known you, I've seen you hug exactly twice - this morning and now." Jane patted her back. "It's going to be okay." They had reached Jane's house. "I'll see you tomorrow, and remember, I'll be here if you need me." She turned and walked up to her door, as Daria continued to trudge home.

Helen took the last of the dishes from the table, and after putting them in the sink, sat down and looked at Daria. Dinner had been quiet, and odd not only for that reason; Quinn had taken her place at the table, when normally she would have sat as far away from Daria as possible. Daria was at her normal position by the window, but if you knew her, you could see that she was restraining herself from jumping out the window and running away. She took a breath. "Well, Daria? You asked for this meeting, why don't you let us know what it's about?"

Daria nodded. "All right, Mom. But before we get too far into things, I have some things to tell you. Could you wait until I've finished before you start in with questions and everything?" Everyone nodded, including Jake, who had somehow thrown off his cloud of cluelessness. "The proximate cause of this meeting was that, the day before yesterday, Quinn saw a girl kissing me, and yesterday, tried to blackmail me into trading babysitting at the Gupty's for her silence on the matter." As both her parent's jaws dropped open, she held up her hand. "Let me finish! I'm not blaming Quinn for doing anything horrible. One of the ways that we get along is to trade silence on minor infractions as trading chips, and if you didn't know we did it, you should, Mom, since we learned it from you." She gave a pointed look at her mother, then continued. "What she didn't know was that I've known for well over a year that I'm gay." The silence when she took her next breath was deafening. "I was not going to 'come out of the closet,' as they say, to you until I was at least in college, and probably after, but I also promised myself that I would not hide who I was, simply for fear of the consequences. I am Daria Morgendorffer, a lesbian, and though that is not my only description, it is a true one, and I will not lie about it.

"Before you get into your questions, I'd like to answer some that I'm sure that you have." She took a breath, and looked around. Quinn was acting bored, inspecting her fingernails. Jake was staring at her and blushing, slightly. And Helen - her mother had on her "lawyer face," looking at her, face blank of expression, with her right hand twitching as if searching for a pen. "First, I'm sure. I'm very sure. I have looked over what happens to gay teens, heck to gay people in this country, and it's very often not pretty. This is not what I'd choose. It's what I am. Next, when did I know? As I said, about a year ago. All the gossip I overheard was about hot boys and the hot actors; all I'd daydream about were the actresses, and the hot girls in class. I tried over and over, but this is who I'm attracted to. I'm out to Jane, two other girls in my grade, and now you. I don't have a girlfriend; the girl that kissed me was a friend that was helping me convince the quarterback's girlfriend that I wasn't interested. Those would be the two other girls I'm out to, by the way." She took another breath, and let out a sigh, schooling her features into some semblance of her normal neutral face. "I think that's pretty much what I had to say."

Helen was obviously shocked by the news, and so her reply to Daria started rather slowly. She had gotten as far as, "Well, this certainly is news, Daria. Why -" when she, and every female at the table, jumped from the sound of Jake's fists hitting the table.

"TAKE IT BACK!" Jake yelled at her, his face scarlet red. "You are not a lesbian!"

"I'm sorry, Dad, but I am," Daria said, quietly, as Helen said, loudly, "Jake!"

"No, Helen," Jake said, his voice only a bit lower. "I will not have a dyke in my house!"

"Daddy!" Quinn was shocked.

Daria had been reaching in her backpack, and now she pulled out a sheet of paper. "I'm sorry that you feel that way, Jake," she said, then pushed the sheet over to him. "Then would you sign that, please?"

Jake looked at it suspiciously. "What is it?"

"It's the paperwork for me to become an emancipated teen," she said, a tear dripping down her cheek as she stood up. "I'm going to my room and pack my things."

As she went up, Quinn followed her, trying to apologize. Daria took her by the shoulders. "Listen, you have nothing to apologize about. The way you've acted proves to me that whether I'm gay or straight doesn't matter to you, and that's all that I could want." Then she went in and packed.

Fifteen minutes later, she came down, a large duffel bag perched on her back. Jake was leaning back in his chair, arms crossed and looking everywhere but at Daria or Helen. Helen was glaring at Jake. Daria picked up the paper, noticed Jake's signature on it, put it in her backpack and picked it up. "I'll put this into the judge Monday after school. Until then, I'm going to be staying at Jane's. You know her number, Mom." And with that, she turned and walked out the door.

Jane was working on some abstract art when she heard the doorbell ring. As she opened the door, she saw Daria, loaded down like a pack mule, who then collapsed into to her arms and started bawling her eyes out.


9. Episode Eight and a half

Jane answered the door, later that evening, to find Helen and Quinn on the doorstep. Her mouth compressed into a straight line, and she led the way to Penny's room, where she turned, pointed in, and said, "She's in there," before stepping back. Helen and Quinn softly walked in, and in the light from the hallway, saw Daria, curled into a fetal position and covered by a blanket.

"Daria!" Quinn squealed as she ran to the bed and took her sister in her arms. Daria said nothing, but opened her own arms.

"I'm so glad that she's safe." Helen said, turning to Jane. "Thank you."

Jane's eyes grew hard as she looked back. "You could have thanked me by not making this necessary. "Are you all crazy over there?" she hissed. "Daria told me that she planned to come out to you all today. Twice she broke down in public over it today." She put her arms akimbo. "How many times has she ever broken down in public?"

"Well, none that I can recall. But she seemed so prepared, had paperwork and everything..."

"This is Daria we're talking about, Helen. She's always prepared. But that's not important. Do you know what she broke down about?" Helen shook her head. "She was bat-shit terrified that when she told you, you were going to kick her out, or try and brainwash her, or something. And then you go and do it." Jane threw up her hands. "Daria says you had uranium in the drinking water down in Texas." Her narrowed eyes sought Helen's. "What's your excuse here?"

"Enough, Jane." Both women turned to see Daria, her hair completely mussed and the front of her shirt wet, her glasses on the nightstand, holding onto Quinn to sit up. "They came over here, I take it that they aren't trying to kick me out of here." She looked at Helen, who knelt and took Daria into her arms for a hug.

"I'm so sorry, honey," Helen said as she rocked Daria back and forth.

"As much as this would be wonderful dialog for a romance novel, why don't we go to the kitchen? I think we all could do with a coffee or Ultra-Cola." With that, she got to her feet, picked up her glasses, and started out the door.

In a few minutes, they were all seated at one end of the kitchen table, drink in hand. "Before we get started on anything," Helen began, taking a hundred dollar bill from her pocket and handing it to a stunned Jane, "this is a down payment on whatever we work out between us, should Daria be staying here, Jane. Her father may have resigned his responsibilities, I have not." Turning to her daughter, she said, "This has no effect on what we decide here. I love you and want you to come home, but I realize that we might not be able to swing that right now. I am glad that you have a friend that you can turn to, and I want to do my best to ensure that you can continue to.

"Daria, as you know, your father didn't take your declaration very well." Helen gave a small smile when all three girl's eyes rolled simultaneously. "I'm sorry I wasn't over earlier, but I was trying to make sure that he didn't do anything...precipitous." She held up several checkbooks. "I'm sure that you would prefer that he not be able to do something like draining your college fund to pay off one of the cars, or something similar." Putting away the checkbooks, she sighed. "Your father -" she started, only to encounter Daria's raised hand.

"Jake." She said. "Until and unless he accepts me, warts and all, he's not my father, he's just the sperm donor."

"All right, Jake. Jake has, as you know, a lot of issues stemming from his father. One, which I wasn't as familiar with as I wish I was, is that his father was very much of a homophobe, which wasn't that rare in the 50's and early 60's. The problem is, that Mad Dog," she looked over at Jane and said, "her grandfather," looked back at Daria and continued, "took every opportunity to push his views into little Jake's head. Jake knows a lot of the views that he has are wrong, so when confronted with them, he usually tries to avoid the issue completely, for instance by acting so befuddled that no one, not even he, expects him to recognize someone as gay.

"But you got him in a position where he couldn't act confused, couldn't walk away from the situation, and I wasn't aware of the situation or the issue in advance, so I couldn't steer him around it, so he reacted as Mad Dog taught him - exactly wrongly." Helen drew a breath. I am not apologizing for him and not saying that you did anything wrong. I'm just explaining his behavior as best as I know."

"Fair enough," said Daria. "But you wouldn't be explaining if you had gotten him to recant his words. He'd be here, himself. What are you suggesting?"

"You're right, he hasn't. I want to give him time to work through this, and I want to try to get him to accept counseling. I know you have the emancipated minor paperwork, but I'd really like you to not use it unless you absolutely have to. I'm your mother, and I want to stay that way."

"I see." Daria sat back. "And what happens if he doesn't want to work through it, or that after several months, he still hasn't finished the process?"

Helen gave out a mirthless smile. "In that case, we'll likely be going through a divorce, so I can't promise anything." She looked at Daria. "You're that important to me."

She turned to Jane. "Would a hundred a week cover her food and anything else?"

Jane thought. "I guess. I'm not really treating her like a renter, more of a guest."

"If you find you need more, let me know." She looked at Daria. "You are welcome to come home and get anything you need, or to visit Quinn or myself. I'd prefer that you call first to avoid having a screaming match with your- with Jake, but if you have to come over, you can. You are my daughter, and I will provide for you." She ran her hands through her hair. "We will find some way to get through this." Helen smiled. "Oh, and I'd like to meet this not-quite-a-girlfriend of yours."

10. Episode Nine

Sandi was leaning on a bank of lockers, surrounded by the three J's. "So I said, 'Sure, it's a nice car. Do you have enough gas to get to Loserville?'"

All of the boys laughed appreciatively. "That's funny, Sandi!" said Joey.

"You really know how to tell a story," added Jeffy.

"Thanks," replied Sandi, with a small smile.

"Tell us about the part with Quinn again," asked Jamie.

Sandi's smile disappeared. "Quinn wasn't in that story. It was me, Tiffany, and Stacy."

"Well, then, take Stacy out and put Quinn in," Joey said, helpfully.

Just then Quinn walked up to the group. "Hi, guys! Hi, Sandi!"

"Hi, Quinn!" the boys chorused. Sandi remained silent.

"Hi, Sandi," Quinn repeated.

Sandi, looking away from Quinn, noticed a crowd of girls paying attention to something and quietly murmuring approval.

"Oh," she said, walking toward them.

Joey decided to take the initiative. "So, Quinn, I was wondering if..."

"No," said Quinn, who walked off, following Sandi.

Everyone was crowded around Brooke, a girl who seemed to have gotten a nose job.

Stacy said, "Oh, it's so cute!"

Tiffany added, "It's the cutest."

Brooke looked up. "You think so? I told Dr. Shar..."

The two girls smiled. "Oh, Dr. Shar, she's the best," said Tiffany.

"Everyone uses her," piped in Stacy.

Brooke seemed to be nervous. "I told Dr. Shar that I wanted cute, but you know, not too cute."

Sandi waved her hand. "It's not too cute. It's cute, but not obnoxious about it."

Just then Brooke saw Quinn walk up. "What do you think, Quinn?"

Quinn came close to Brooke, made a show of examining her nose, then said, "It's cute."

Brooke looked at Quinn with tears in her eyes. "Just cute?"

Sandi spoke in a disapproving tone. "Quinn has very high nose standards."

Quinn, irritated, told Sandi, "I said it was cute!"

Sandi replied in a pompous tone, "Oh, like you meant it." She mimicked Quinn "Oh, it's cute."

Quinn clenched her fists. "Well, at least I thought about it. I didn't just say it was cute without thinking."

"Excuse me? Are you saying we're shallow?" Sandi asked, her eyebrows raised.

"No, I'm -" Quinn began, but she was cut off by Brooke.

"Wait, you guys were just saying it was cute?"

Sandi crossed her arms and lifted her nose, saying, "No, Quinn's just so deep, she thinks we would say something's cute when it's not cute, which we wouldn't." She glared at Quinn.

"No way." Tiffany chipped in.

"Example: I would never tell Quinn that she looks cute in that thing she always wears."

Quinn took a breath, and decided to put some of Daria's suggestions to good use. "Just what thing are you referring to, Sandi? As far as I know, I wear different, clean clothes every day."

"Um, your top."

Quinn put her finger to her lips. "You mean this top?" She pointed to the one she was wearing. When Sandi nodded, she continued. "Oh, you mean the one that we went together three weeks ago to buy, two weeks ago you told me was out of style, and one week ago, you were wearing yourself, until someone told you that the color didn't match your skin tone well? This top?"

She looked at Brooke. "I'm not going to always tell you things look nice, but I'll give you my honest opinion. Your nose looks cute."

"It is?" said Brooke.

Sandi, annoyed at not being the arbiter, chose to speak up. "Let's ask an average person. Quinn, there's that girl you know. Let's ask her." She started waving down the hall, where she could see Daria, Burnout, and Jane. "Hello! Quinn's cousin or something."

Quinn started to motion Daria away, but thought for a second, changed her mind, and motioned her forward. Daria, intrigued, turned to her friends and said, "You'll have to excuse me. My sister is willing to acknowledge me in school. I've got to find out what's up." All of them walked up to Brooke and the Fashion Club.

"So Quinn's little friend, or whatever, take a look at this." Sandi pointed to Brooke.

"She's my sister. Gosh, Sandi, don't you ever pay attention?" Quinn smirked.

Daria stepped up to Brooke, who was shivering slightly, cupped her chin, and stroked her jawline with her thumb as she examined Brooke's face. "What is it?"

Tiffany said, "It's Brooke's new nose. Isn't is cute?"

Daria smirked, winked at Brooke, and said to the rest of the girls, "Don't worry, it'll grow out," before turning and leaving for her next class.

Daria was watching with some amusement the drama unfolding in Mrs. Barch's class, where the teacher was attempting to show that people were treated differently based on their physical attractiveness. The fact that Barch got to make Kevin Thompson ugly and indirectly torture him was, she was sure, simply a serendipitous bonus.

Unfortunately, she was kept from seeing an end to it by a summons from the office. Apparently her sister needed her.

As they were riding on a city bus, Daria spoke up. "I'm truly touched. Not only did you get out of class by faking sick, but you convinced the nurse to let your sister take you home." She smirked. "Of course, we don't appear to be going home...but getting out of class today's a bonus, so we'll call it square."

"I need you to be my...alibi."

Daria raised her eyebrow. "Generally, you want your alibi not to be a witness at the scene of the crime."

Quinn shrugged. "I just need you here, okay?"

"Okay." Daria shook her head. "Why?"

"Why what?"

Daria looked at her sister. "Why me and not one of your hundreds of friends?"

Quinn looked uncomfortable. "I need, uh, someone who's known me for a while and who's like that thing."

"What thing?"

"You know, honest." Quinn blushed. "So I can't trust my friends to give me an honest opinion." She spoke softly. "But I can trust you."

As they walked into the doctor's office, Daria and Quinn saw the doctor turning around in her chair. Daria compared her - unfavorably - with the Joker for looks and facial mobility. As she saw them, she spoke. "So, hello there, Quinn, whichever one of you is Quinn. What brings you here?" She looked straight at Daria.

Quinn spoke up. "It's my nose."

Dr. Shar grimaced (the contortions the went through could not be called a smile). "Oh, honey, nothing wrong with that nose. It's a pretty little schnoz!"

Quinn was aghast. "It's a schnoz?!"

"No! It's the tiniest little thing."

Quinn looked hopeful. "Thank you. Can you fix it?"

Dr. Shar put her hands together in front of her. "Oh, honey, I wouldn't touch it. It would be a crime against nature, and an ethics violation Dr. Shar just doesn't need right now! But, let's see if we can't do something with those cheekbones..." She was moving the camera above her head to take a picture when Daria stood up and grabbed Quinn's hand.

"We're leaving." She turned to Dr. Shar. "Thank you for your time, but we've decided against anything at this time." Ignoring the Doctor's calls, and all but dragging Quinn, she left the office.

Once they were on the bus, Quinn tore her hand from Daria's and faced her. "What was that all about?"

Daria turned to her and said, "If you listened, you got her professional opinion. Once you did, everything else was a sales pitch designed to con or scare you into buying something; that something being to get your body altered."

"Wait, what was her opinion? She was talking about cheekbones when we stood up."

"She said that she wouldn't touch your nose - that not only did it not need it, but that she would get an ethics violation for doing it. Then she tried to sell you on cheekbones." Daria shook her head. "In the unlikely event that you would need plastic surgery, she's not the one to give it to you."

Quinn sighed. "Oh, all right."

A few days later, everyone was amazed to see Brooke with multiple changes to her body, with the biggest being her much smaller waist and her fuller lips. Sandi made it very clear that the vice-president's position might be opening up for Brooke soon, and Quinn ran to talk to Daria at lunch.

"I mean, I like being attractive and popular. It's, like, me, okay? So if Dr. Shar makes everyone else attractive and popular, then I'll have to be even more attractive just to keep up, and then if they, like, go back her to catch up to me, then I'll have to go back, and pretty soon it'll be like one of those vicious things!" She took a melodramatic tone and continued. "Where will it end Daria? Where will it end?"

Daria sighed, and looked around. Seeing no one but Jane and Jen around, she quietly said, "You don't need surgery, Quinn." She ran her fingers through her hair. "I was hoping it wouldn't come to this, and I'll deny I ever said it, but there's nothing wrong with you. Physically. You've got the kind of looks that make other girls mentally ill. Why do you think they're all rushing to go under the knife? They're trying to catch up with you, and there's a limit to just how beautiful or cute you can be. So stop it. You don't need any plastic surgery. You're perfect." She looked straight into her sister's eye. "Speaking as a girl who likes girls, I'm here to tell you that, if you weren't my sister, I'd be attracted to your body. And I never said that."

Quinn said "Ooooh!" and was about to get up when she saw a few girls walking quickly and holding their noses sympathetically. "What happened?" she asked.

"It was Brooke," one of them said. "Total nasal relapse."

"You could see into her brain!" said another.

"Without a microscope?" asked Jane.

11. Episode Ten

Daria, Jane, and Jen were standing by Daria's locker. Jane looked at Burnout, and asked, "Jen, why do you hang out with us all the time?" She held up her hands. "I don't mean any offense, don't get me wrong. And I like you being around. But you're almost always so quiet. And I wonder if your other friends might feel abandoned, with all the time you spend with us."

Jen bowed her head, hiding her face. She started to say, "I won't bother you-" but was stopped by Daria's hand on her arm.

Daria then reached in and tilted her chin up, until she saw Jen's eye, and she brushed the hair away from her other. "Hey," she said softly, "One thing that you know is that neither of us lie to our friends. That what we make fun of the others for. And Jane said she liked you being around. Just so you know, I like you being around, too. So you're here, and that's settled." She stood back. "But what she asked was why you wanted to be around us, and not around your other friends?" she asked in near her normal monotone.

Burnout blushed just a bit. "To be honest, unless we were partaking, my other friends were pretty boring," she said, glancing down a bit. About the only things they had going for them were as a source of herb, and that they were better to hang around than my brothers and dad."

"Your mother not around?" Jane asked softly.

"No." That single word carried a note of extreme loss. "She was in an airplane crash, seven years ago."

Jane hugged her. "I'm so sorry."

Jen shook her head gently, and looked down again. "No biggie. It's been a while, but I still miss her, ya know?" She took a breath and looked at them. "Anyway, my dad and brothers pretty much treat me like one of the guys, which is good in some ways, 'cause I've got a wicked cool little Indian," she smiled. "but in a lot of ways it's bad, because my brothers get into a lot of fights with each other, and it's no quarter, unless you want to be a complete wimp. And Dad's answer to any discipline problem is a whipping, and that works for my brothers, but not for me." She gave them a crooked smile. "I usually try and stay out as late as I can."

She looked up. "Why you two? You like me, for one." Jen ran a hand through her hair. "You guys talk about interesting things, and tell it like it is about a lot of the stuffed shirts around here, for another. And, well, I'm not totally into girls, but I'm not totally into guys, either, and anyone who can see below the surface can tell that both you and Jane are hot, Daria." This last was said with one hand on Daria's shoulder, and looking straight into her eyes. "That's a reason that I kissed you a week or so back, so you wouldn't put me into the 'friends only' pigeonhole."

Now it was Daria who was blushing. "Trust me, you aren't." Focused on Jen, she didn't see Jane's wistful smirk.

Their discussion was cut short by the approach of Jodie. "Hey, you guys wanna buy tickets for the faculty-DJ roller hockey game?" she asked.

Daria raised her eyebrow. "Are you kidding?"

Jane interjected, "We'll take three!"

Shocked, Daria turned to Jane. "What? You're gonna pay to watch teachers skate around with DJs? Classic rock DJs?"

Burnout tapped Daria's arm. "You weren't here last year, Daria." A slightly sadistic smile flitted over her face as she remembered.

"Mr. DeMartino collapsed on the floor in front of everyone and had to have an emergency angioplasty." Jodie looked down. "He almost died."

Jane continued for her. "But a voice told him that his work here on Earth wasn't finished. Some of the students weren't wetting the bed yet. This year, he's more determined than ever to snatch victory from the jaws of death."

Daria turned to her best friend. "What are you saying?"

Jodie gave a little smirk, herself. "You know how there are people who go to car races on the chance that they might see a crash?"

Daria nodded and pulled out her money. "I'm in."

After Jodie had walked away, Daria turned to Jen. "Which reminds me. Are you doing anything tomorrow night?"

Jen shook her head. "I'm free."

"Good. My mom wants a command performance with my, 'not quite a girlfriend,' who instigated all of the time I'm spending at Jane's. We'll do dinner tomorrow night at seven, at Pizza King."

Jen blushed again. "I don't know -"

Daria waved her hand. "She's just trying to learn what's going on in my life. My sister and," she pointed at Jane, "our yenta'll be here, too, so don't freak."

"All right, I'll be there."

Outside Pizza King, Jen leaned back against the bricks, trying to hide how nervous she was. She was wearing a pair of white jeans, and her real leather jacket, both gifts from last Christmas that she hadn't worn since. "Relax," she heard whispered into her right ear, and she jumped just short of a foot in the air. When she landed, she turned to Daria and said, "That wasn't nice!"

Daria smiled at her. "But you do need to relax. Mom is not going to rake you over the coals, though I would suggest that you answer whatever questions she has truthfully. She's a lawyer, and has a built-in B.S. detector." She put her hands on Jen's shoulders and turned Jen towards her, then said softly, "You're going to be fine," and then leaned forward and softly kissed her lips.

"Where is this volcano I have to jump into?" asked Jen, who then gave a wide grin.

Helen had gotten a large table in the party room, rather than the booths that the girls mostly used when they visited. The pizza had been ordered, as well, and was on the table. After making sure that everyone was introduced, the group set to eating with a vengeance. Finally, the pizzas were nearly demolished, and the girls were sitting back from the table. Helen put her hands together on the table, and looked at Burnout. "Jennifer," she said, "I'm sure that you know what the kiss you gave my daughter precipitated," and at this point she waved her hand, "and please, don't apologize for it. Daria has said, and I believe that it was completely innocent. Nevertheless, it set into motion a course of events that led to Daria not living at home, presently." She looked at Jennifer. "Can you tell me about yourself?"

Burnout fished into her pocket and handed a dollar to Helen. "That do for a retainer?" Wordlessly, Helen nodded. "Daria told me that it wasn't wise to lie to you, and I didn't want you to be forced to take actions we'd both regret." Helen nodded and sat back. "I do okay in school, but my home life isn't the best, and the past couple of years, I've occasionally partaken to get through everything. I've still made it through, and I'll still graduate on time, I just sometimes need to step back." She took a breath. "I met your daughter - well, she actually ran into me, about a week before, 'The incident,'" she made the quote marks with her fingers, "and I was helping your daughter to prove that she wasn't interested in the quarterback to the head cheerleader, because, as I understand it, you wanted her to network more. Anyway, what she," and here Jen pointed at Quinn, "saw was right after, when Daria was thanking me for playing along on short notice. I was just telling her that it didn't have to be playing along if she didn't want it to be."

She took a breath. "I'm sure I don't have to tell you, Mrs. Morgendorffer, but you have a beautiful daughter in Daria, even if she works to cover herself up, so she doesn't get attention just because she's pretty. I'm attracted to both boys and girls, and I'm attracted to Daria." She was about to continue, but Daria reached under the table and gently squeezed her hand.

"I see," said Helen. "And you're right, I do have two wonderful girls." She smiled at her daughters. "I do have to ask, have you acted on your attraction to her?"

Jen let out a breath in relief. "I kissed her that day, and she kissed me today to calm me down," she said. "Other than that, we've just hung out as friends."

Helen nodded. "I think that that's been acting responsibly, as best as you can." She briefly looked at the ceiling, then again at Jen. "I'm not going to forbid Daria from seeing you -"

"Not that you could at this point," muttered Daria.

"Yes, that's one reason I'm not doing it, dear," Helen said. She turned back to Jen and said, "I'm also not going to be a hypocrite and say that I've never smoked pot. Both Daria's father and I have, as part of the commune culture that we were in at the time. I would ask you to limit your use around Daria, and listen to the advice of an old hippie when she says the world is better when you can see it more clearly, but that has to be a decision that you make." She looked around the table. "Beyond that, I want you - want all of you - to let me know when you need help. You are all my daughters or very important to my daughters," her eyes flashed briefly on Jane and continued looking, "so if you need help, ask. I'd rather get a call for help, then to find out too late that I could have." She smiled at all of the girls. "So," she said, "who's up for cheesesticks?"

Daria, Jane, and Jen walked up to the gymnasium. Daria thought, From the sound of it, I'd guess that they've already begun. She looked at Jane. "Think anything has happened yet?"

Jane smirked. "You mean anything cool? Nah, the ambulance is still in the lot."

"Well, we need to change that before we go in," said Daria, as she turned, wrapped one hand around the back of Jen's waist, entangled the other in her hair, and gave her a deep kiss.

"Ahem," said Jane. "That was cool. But why don't we watch the game?"

As they sat down, the action between Mr. DeMartino and Rock-n-Roll Randy was heating up, and they were working for control of the puck. "Come on... take... your punishment like... a man!" grunted Mr Demartino.

Randy smirked. "I'm not a man, dude, I'm a rocker!"

"Why you..." Mr Demartino took control of the puck and advanced. "Where's your rock & roll power now? Hippie!" he crowed.

Randy came from behind and whacked Mr. DeMartino's knee. The older man crumpled to the ground, holding it.

"Yes!" a call from in front sounded from what appeared to be Andrea.

Randy yelled, as well. "Woohoo! Rock & roll power forever!"

"My knee!" Mr. DeMartino yelled as he struggled to his feet, then almost fell over again. "Arrgh!" he grunted as he limped off the playing floor.

"Damn!" Andrea said.

Daria smirked at her friends. "I don't suppose we can get a refund?"

12. Episode Eleven

Daria, Jane, and Jen were in what had become the normal positions for the three in Jane's room: Jane on a stool, working on a piece of art (in this case, gluing plastic shards onto pottery), Daria on her stomach, on the bed, writing (in this case, part of her next Melody Powers short story), and Jen reading, sitting with her back up against the headboard. Something swung into Daria's field of vision.

"Put down your weapon. I surrender," she said, without looking up.

Jane snorted. "A little respect for the Stickmata 5000. Finest glue gun on the market."

Burnout looked up. "And I thought you were on your way to a sci-fi convention," she smiled, and patted the back of Daria's leg.

Jane knelt down, her shoulder by Daria's head, and her arm right by her nose. "No, thanks. Reality is bizarre enough for me." As she was gluing things onto her sculpture, she asked, "Why do I get so much fun out of this?"

Daria raised her head to see what Jane was doing, inhaled to speak, and caught a light whiff of perfume, mixed with clay dust. "Past life as a barnacle?" she said as she reached out to touch the sculpture, only to have her hand swatted away.

"Don't touch!" Jane said with a smile. "It took hours to build. It's the subject of a painting."

Daria snorted. "You're going to end up one of those old ladies who build their houses out of bottles, aren't you."

"And end up being eaten by her cats when she dies," Jen piped in from behind her book.

Jane was about to retort when a very loud sound, like a guitar chord, resonated through the room, and caused the sculpture to collapse.

"There goes your genius grant," quipped Daria.

"Yeah, but maybe Trent will share his with me."

"That's Trent?" asked Jen.

Jane nodded. "Come on, guys. Let's go complain about the noise, hmm?"

As they stepped down into the basement, another guitar riff shook the house, this one different from the first. "Isn't that two guitars?" Daria asked, a touch loudly.

"Yeah. The other one's Jesse. He plays rhythm in Mystik Spiral."

"Mystik Spiral?" Jen asked.

"Trent's band." Jane replied.

"Sounds like one of those Doors cover bands that play brew pubs," Daria opined.

"Heh, they wish!" As they reached the basement floor, the two guitars started playing. Well, they're not horribly out of sync, Daria thought.

Trent started singing, his smoke-roughened voice doing no favors to the lyrics. "You're an angel in black / You sure have a knack / For putting my heart on a shelf in the back / I'm waiting my turn / Oh, when will I learn? / My poor heart, you're giving it freezer burn. Yeah..."

More guitar playing. Jane finally shouted, "Yo, Trent!" When the guys stopped, she continued. "You wanna turn it down a bit?"

Trent raised his eyebrow. "Are you kidding? Hey, Daria. Hey, Daria's friend." He looked at Jen.

"Hey, Trent," Daria said. "This is Jen, she goes by Burnout, sometimes, too."

"Hey," Jen said.

"Whadda ya think of the song?" Trent asked.

Daria winked at Trent. "It has a beat and you can dance to it, if you have no shame."

Trent laughed, then coughed. "Good one, Daria. It's called 'Icebox Woman'."

Jesse spoke up. "You guys oughta come to the next Mystik Spiral gig. We'll put you on the list." Trent nodded.

"Daria thinks the name Mystik Spiral sounds like a Doors cover band that plays brew pubs." Jane smiled. "Don't ya, Daria?"

"Lane, are you trying to start a fight between us, or are you trying to get your views across passed off as mine?" She turned to Trent. "In all fairness, I did say that."

"Hmmm... maybe you're right. Would it help if we spelled mystik with two Y's?"

Jen shook her head. "No, still the same sound in the name."

Jesse asked Trent, "We doing a show this weekend?"

"Nah, we're going to Alternapalooza this weekend."

"You're going to Alternapalooza?" Jane was surprised.

Jesse nodded. "Yeah. It's way out in Swedesville."

"You think your car will make it?" Jane's look expressed doubt on this point.

"We're borrowing our drummer's van, the Tank. It's indestructible," Jesse said, proudly.

"Yeah, but you know, Jess, it eats gas. I don't know what we're going to do for gas money," Trent commented.

"I could probably scrounge some up, if you let us come along. We'd enjoy that, wouldn't we, Daria, Jen?"

Jen replied, "Sure."

Daria said, "I may have another solution." She turned to Jane. "I take it that you trust Trent driving?" Jane nodded. She turned to Trent. "You have insurance?" He nodded. "Give me a couple of minutes." Daria trudged up the stairs.

A few minutes later, she came down and sat on an amp. "Here's my proposition," she said, looking at each of them in turn. "I just finished talking with my mom. She's willing to lend us the SUV to go in, and pay for half the gas, but she has a few conditions. First, Trent drives all the way, both ways, and he brings his insurance papers with him. Second, when we aren't in the car, I carry the keys. She'll give me a credit card in case we get caught after dark, so we can stay at a motel - in separate rooms." She shot narrowed eyes at the guys. "And last, we either carry a couple of sets of clean clothes or put towels over the seats - she wants it back as clean as she left it. The SUV gets around 24 miles per gallon. With Mom covering half the gas, it's like it's getting 48 miles to the gallon. So, what do you say?"

Trent and Jesse looked at each other and shrugged. "Sounds good," Trent said.

"Trent, you and I'll go to my house at seven to pick up the SUV, and then we'll leave at nine?" Everyone nodded.

The Fashion Club was in Cashman's, trying out clothes, trying on "alternative" fashions for Alternapalooza. Sandi glanced at what one of them was holding up, and said, "Friends don't let short-waisted friends wear hip-huggers." The offending garment was quickly put down.

Stacy was looking at the security tag on a dress she was looking at. "I hate these big plastic things. They're so ugly!"

Quinn snorted, in a ladylike fashion. "If I were gonna shoplift, I wouldn't take that cheap thing."

Sandy said, her nose in the air, "Quinn, cheap is in this season."

Quinn took a breath, about to agree with one of Sandi's outrageous statements, once again, to get along, and sighed. For Sandi, fashion began and ended with Waif. In looking for more patterns and better ideas for the clothes she was making, Quinn had found that that just wasn't true. Waif wasn't even on the cutting edge; it left that territory to Cashak, FMAG, and JC Report, among others. What Waif did was similar to an infomercial - it slanted the fashion news in such a way that it made it seem that the magazine's advertiser's wares were the latest in fashion. Since it was marketed to middle-class American teen girls, few knew the difference, and of the ones who did, most simply chose to not buy the magazine any more, much like Quinn had.

That still left Quinn with a conon- conund- a problem. Every time she had to give in to one of Sandi's little brainstorms, it frustrated her, whether it affected her directly or not. But she had gotten the feeling that, if she stood up to Sandi too many more times, right or not, that she and the Fashion Club were going to be parting ways. She picked up another dress and pretended to look at it as she kept on thinking. Thinking long-term wasn't her strong suit. That was Daria. What she was good at was having an entire situation thrown at her, and figuring out what was the way to get the best out of the immediate situation. And, always, the best she could get out of the immediate situation was to go along, let Sandi think that she was absolutely in charge, and keep the Fashion Club around her for mutual protection.

And it came to her. Today would not make or break her, so she should go along today. But soon - as soon as she could - she needed to talk to Daria and get her advice, even if it meant being around that art geek Jane, and the pothead Jen.

"Oh, then get the dress, definitely."

Daria and Trent walked up the driveway to the Morgendorffer house, Daria for once in jeans and a black t-shirt, to see Helen standing outside. "Trent, do you have your insurance card?" He nodded, and held it up so that she could see it. "Good," she said. "I'll expect you to follow all of the rules that Daria, I'm sure, laid out?"

"Sure, Mrs. M," Trent answered. "It's all cool."

"I'm glad, because, Trent?" He looked up. "I'm entrusting the safety of my sixteen-year-old daughter to you. The fact that Jane speaks so highly of you, and that she'll be going, are among the primary reasons why I'm letting her go, and helping you out. But, Trent?"

He nodded.

"Just remember that I'm a lawyer, and if she gets hurt, may God have mercy on your soul, because I won't."

About nine fifteen, they had finally gotten on the road. Both Trent and Jesse had commented very favorably on how driving and riding with actual shocks and springs felt, even though Daria forced them all to wear their safety belts. The girls were squished a little in the back, and after a few minutes, Jane leaned over to Daria, who was in the middle, and said, in a gravelly voice, "Yo, hi. I'm Dolores. I'm doing ten to fifteen for armed robbery. What are you in for?"

Daria adopted a similar voice, and said, "Betty, five to ten for B & E."

Jen put on a high tone. "I'm Grace, I'm innocent," she held her hand up.

Jane gently took the hand. "The cops did that to you, didn't they? Bastards." She grinned at Jen.

At this time, the SUV was driving through a toll booth. As they were leaving it, Jesse spoke up. "Oh, man. That was Curtis Stalano."

"Who?" Jane was mildly curious.

"He graduated with us. Now he's working in a toll booth. Whoa." Trent sounded a bit apprehensive, a bit "There but for the grace of God go I."

"You'd never catch me in a job like that," said Jesse. Daria had a comeback, but held it in.

"Hey man, we're artists. Who knows where we'll be in five years," Trent replied in what seemed to be a well-worn conversation to Daria.

"Say it, Daria. Whatever you're thinking, say it. If you don't, they'll go on like this for hours," Jane said in a soft voice.

"We've got a vision." Jesse was getting into the groove.

"Eyes on the prize, man. Eyes on the prize." As was Trent. Daria looked to either side of her. Jane was rolling her eyes, Jen had put on a set of headphones, and was apparently listening to music. Daria sighed.

"I'd say that the big question, then, would be - what is the prize you have your eyes on?"

Trent and Jesse looked at each other, then shrugged. The each tried to describe what they wanted.

"To be a really good band -"

"To only work when we want to -"

"To play our music -"

"To play the really big auditoriums and stadiums -"

"To get a record deal -"

"To -" The last goal was cut off when Jen, her eyes closed, and clearly singing along with the song on her headphones, broke out with, in a clear and strong voice:

"Oh, I hear the weather's nice in California
There's sunny skies as far as I can see
If you ever come back home to Carolina
I wonder what you'd say to me..

Trent was shocked. "Whoa."

When they were in the booth of a diner by the side of the road, Daria started again. "Trent, feel free to tell me to shut up, if you don't want to hear what I have to say. You're the one person in Jane's family that's stood beside her through thick and thin, and she's become the best friend I've ever had." She was so focused on Trent's reaction, that she didn't see the quick frown cross Jen's face when she said that last.

"The fact is, that you have some of your goals already. You're earning a living - barely, but doing it - doing what you love; playing your own music when you want. This is not something that everyone gets to do, even for part of their lives." She looked at them both. "But your other goals? You're going to have to give up and compromise on some things to get them. To get the record deals, the really big venues, you have to be a really good band. And that means, even if you have the talent, every day getting up and practicing your craft, working together with your band, so that every time you play, it could be straight off the CD. You need to make it a priority to get to your gigs on time, so that bar and club owners know that when they hire you, you'll be there. You need to consider changing up the band a little," she nodded at Jen, who hadn't been made aware of the reaction to her singing, "if it will make the songs better." She stared at them both. "You need to understand that the 'prize,' is, in effect, pay for the time that you spend working on your craft, so by looking at it, you're in effect agreeing to sell out."

She took the accusing looks they gave her back calmly. "Of course, you need to decide what you won't compromise or sell out in order to get to where you want. I can't tell you what those points are, but you could probably tell me - they're the things most important to you. Decide on them now, when you have no pressure on you, and don't compromise on them. As for the rest, do what you have to. If you become successful, you'll look back in a few years to discover that you've gotten a job, but one doing something that you love to do, so that'll be all right." She looked at her watch. "Time to get back on the road."

It was quiet the rest of the way to the concert, even though Daria had drank too much tea at the diner, and had to run behind some bushes when they were stuck in a traffic jam. When they got there, everyone wandered around, going from band to band, Trent and Jesse in one group, and the girls in the other, Daria actually holding on to both Jane and Jen's hands. When they all met up afterwards, they decided that it was close enough to dark to get rooms. A couple of hours later, they were all in the girls' room. Trent and Jesse looked at each other, but Trent spoke up.

"Uh, Daria. Jesse and I were talking, and we knew some of the bands that played today. A couple years ago, they were playing the same clubs that we were - in fact we were better than them. Then they disappeared, and we hear them now - there's no comparison. They'd wipe the floor with us." He wiped his hands on his pants and said, "We'd, uh, kinda like your advice on what we should do."

"Me? I'm just a high school sophomore."

Jane nudged her. "A sophomore that spent the last hour and a half of our drive to the concert giving them much needed advice." She smiled. "Admit it, amiga, you're very good at long term strategy."

"You're cool," said Jesse.

"All right, what I can help you with, I will, but at this point, it's just a couple more suggestions. First, you need to get your whole band together, discuss where you want to go, agree on your goals and how you're going to get there. Things won't work if your drummer -"

"Max," Jane supplied helpfully.

"If Max is very comfortable doing what you are now, barely scraping by, but also putting in the minimum possible effort, and you all want more. Once you've reached agreement, or gone your separate ways and gotten new members -"

"Replace Max?" Jesse's face was crestfallen.

"That was a 'what-if,' Jesse," Daria said softly. And I don't know what you've decided not to compromise. If you want to keep the band together at all costs, you might not go much higher than you are. Or Max and -"

"Nick," Trent supplied.

"And Nick might have just been waiting for you to provide the leadership. I can't tell you because I don't know them. Anyway, once you reach agreement on what you want to do, you need to decide on what you're going to do to get what you want, and what penalties you're going to assess when people don't do them."

"Huh?" Both guys seemed confused.

"Don't worry about it, I was going a bit far afield. But once you decide how you're going forward, you need to see a lawyer, to set up an agreement so that things don't get fought over later."

"Wow. Deep." Trent was rubbing his goatee.

"Deep indeed. But it's getting late, Trent. Would you guys mind letting us get some sleep?"

"Oh, sure."

Once the guys were gone, Jane spoke up. "Three girls, two beds. Who gets their own bed?" Daria and Jen exchanged glances, but it was Jen that spoke up.

"How one?" she asked with a grin.


13. Episode Twelve

Daria and Jane were sitting at the table, eating delivery pizza for dinner, when the doorbell rang. Jane got up to get it, and when she returned, led both Helen and Quinn.

"Have a seat," said Daria. "There's some pizza left, if you're hungry." Quinn grabbed a piece, pulled the cheese off of it, and dug in.

Helen waved off a piece of her own, and began to speak to her eldest. "Daria, your f- Jake has been going through counseling for the past few weeks. While he hasn't gotten to the point of admitting that he was completely in the wrong, which he was, yet, he has made progress to the point that both he and you would benefit from getting together to talk about this issue. We've decided that a good time and place would be on a camping trip this weekend."

"Why in the world would I agree to that? For that matter, why would you think that it was a good choice?"

"Daria, this is not an excuse, but Jake's been under a lot of pressure lately. And strange to say, but camping in the woods has brought his stress level down in the past."

"And you want to use part or most of the trip to talk about Jake's problem with my orientation?"

"Essentially, yes." Helen focused on her daughter.

"I see." Daria looked back into her mother's eyes. "In your opinion, will he apologize to me and tell me that he had been wrong to say and do what he did that day?"

"Daria, I can't predict things like that. That being said, I think that there is a high probability of him doing so, since he's been looking for ways to weasel away from his position for a week or so now."

Daria sighed, and put her hands on the table. "I guess I can spend the weekend trying to mend fences," she told her mother, "but I have a few conditions."

"Yes?" Helen asked with a raised eyebrow.

Daria began counting on her fingers. "First, regardless of what happens that weekend, I retain veto power on any moving of me back into the house. I do not want to be forced back in because Jake says an insincere apology that he thinks will appease you. Second, Jane will go with us." Responding to Helen's raised eyebrows, Daria said quietly, "I know that you two have not supported Jake in his homophobic comments and actions. But the fact remains that you remained living with him afterwards, which to some extent did support, or at least tolerate, those actions. I want someone in my corner who has unabashedly supported me through all of this. I love you, Mom, and I'm thankful for everything you've done, but that person isn't you, it's Jane." She leaned back. "Plus, if Jake starts going off the deep end and yells about me being Satan's whore who'll go to Hell for being how God made me, I'll need a compadre to help me get out of the situation." She took another breath. "And last, before we go, I want another thousand to go into my college fund."

Seeing Helen about to speak, she continued. "I know that you showed me that you were putting as much as you comfortably could, already. I want you to become uncomfortable, so that you don't treat this as just a throwaway attempt to get me back in the fold, but a genuine chance to come together that you're paying for." She turned to Jane. "I'm sorry, I didn't ask, Jane, can you make it?"

Jane gave a wry grin, and said, "Well, there's a family reunion that weekend, but since our parents only send us to soak up the vitriol that the rest of the family has for us, I guess I can take a pass this year."

Jake was leading them down the path to their campsite. The drive there had been mostly quiet, as Daria didn't want to talk to Jake without his full attention, and no one else wanted to mess up the fragile truce between the two. That left puerile comments about the weather and scenery, and there was only so much that could be done with that.

Jake was pointing at various things, such as the stream, berries on a bush, and other things, saying that those would be their resources for the weekend. Daria and Jane rolled their eyes; they had each hidden pop-tarts™ enough to last them the entire weekend in their backpacks. Finally Daria added, after another declaration, "Look at those bushes, they're our toilet!" Jake turned and pursed his lips, but didn't say anything to them at the time.

When they got to the campsite, the girls went off to gather wood for the night's fire while Helen and Jake started to set up the tents. "Ngh... gn... gahhhh!" grunted Jake as he attempted to force a tent into position, unsuccessfully.

Helen sighed as she dug the fire pit. "We should have started this earlier."

Jake muttered at the tent, "You sound like my father."

Not quite catching him, Helen asked, "What?"

"Oh, he knew everything about camping," Jake said. "Course, he had a different approach! No tent for Mad Dog Morgendorffer! Oh, no! No sleeping bag, either! You lash some damn sticks together for a lean-to, slept on a bunch of pine needles, and if it rained, well, tough crap! No tent for Mad Dog Morgendorffer, and no tent for little Jakey, either!" Jake managed to get the tent set up, this time and sat down beside it.

Helen came over and rubbed his back. "That's good, honey. You're letting out some of that tension."

Just as Helen saw the girls coming back, dry wood in their arms, Jake, his hands over his face, ejaculated, "Why couldn't he just love me for who I was?"

Helen looked at the girls, held her finger to her lips, and nodded off to her left, where they moved off. By the time Jake had moved his hands, wondering where Helen was, she was looking him straight in the eyes. Jake ran over the last part of their conversation in his mind, wondering what he had said to bring that look to her face. No tent, no sleeping bag, pine needles, why couldn't he - Why couldn't he love me for who I was? Jake looked at the other tent, and his face turned ashen. "Oh, my God." Tears started leaking down his face, his eyes focused on something a thousand yards away. "My God, my God, what have I done?" He pounded his fists into the ground. "You goddamned fucking bastard!" he screamed to the heavens, then took his head in his hands. "And God damn me for a fucking bastard, too," he said to the ground. Finally he looked up to his wife, tears streaking down his face, and more unshed in his eyes. "This is what you've been trying to tell me the last few weeks, isn't it? That I shouldn't condemn Daria just for being who she is and being honest about it." He bowed his head down and shook it. "Damn it, Helen," he said in a voice just louder than a whisper, "for some reason I can't figure, she trusted us! She trusted me to accept her as she was, and what did I do? Outcast! Unclean! Remove thyself!" He sniffed. "Oh, Helen, why don't you just divorce me?"

"Maybe," a monotone voice said from his other side, "she knows that you will eventually find your way to the right decision, even though it may take you some time."

He turned and almost threw himself on his eldest daughter. "Oh, God, Daria, I'm so sorry! I should have accepted you as you are right from the start. Can you forgive a foolish old man?"

Daria awkwardly patted him on the back. "You know, I think that if there's one thing that's constant, it's that everyone is human, and everyone makes mistakes." She took a deep breath and sighed. "I forgive you, ...Dad."

When the time came to tell scary stories, everyone took their turn, until Jane, who was last. "I've got a very short, very scary story. It's a true story. Trent's stuck up at the family reunion alone, with the rest of the family that uses ours as the reason to band together - against us. He's going to be with our screaming Grandma, our drunk Uncle Max, Aunt Bernice and her hats that should be used on horses, Cousin Jimmy and his 'modeling' career, and," she shuddered, "Aunt Ellie and her vacation pictures." She smiled. "I'm just hoping he makes it through the experience alive."

Daria, Quinn, and Jane were all happily asleep in their tent when Helen's head came through the part. "Daria, Quinn, get up. I need you. Your father's in a sickening mood. Jane, you, too. We can always use reinforcements."

Everyone could hear Jake's voice from outside. "Are they decent, Helen?"

Helen rolled her eyes. "Yes, Jake," she said, and pulled back out of the tent, just in time to be replaced by Jake.

"Up and at 'em, ladies! Time to join the forest morning, already in progress. Breakfast is on Mother Nature. Yum! Meet you around the fire in five minutes!"

Helen stuck her head back in. "Please, girls. I'm afraid I may hurt him."

Daria walked alongside her father, hand in hand. "Wasn't that breakfast great, kiddo?"

She looked at the ground. "Actually, uh, I'm not a real berry person, Dad. I sort of didn't eat mine. I'm waiting for lunch." She looked back up, hoping she hadn't hurt his feelings too much.

She relaxed when she saw him smile. "Oh, well, you're gonna love my roasted acorns a la Jake!" He paused and looked around. "Can you believe the whole continent used to look like this?"

Seeing Jane come up from behind, she gave a small smile. "It makes me yearn for the past." Just as Jane caught up with them, they reached a fork in the road, and saw that one side was blocked with a sign reading 'DANGER! TRAIL WASHED OUT.'

Jake looked at the fork and said, "Look at that, Daria: a fork in the trail. If you go one way, you can't go the other."

Jane came up and nodded. "Unless you're twins."

Jake continued. "This way over here leads to an entry-level job. A little bit of money in your pocket. Soon, you're wearing a suit and tie every day like all the other faceless saps, living in a boring little house in a bland little town, and doing so well you're in debt up to your disappearing hair! That's where that trail leads, Daria."

Daria smirked. "I guess that other trail is the one that leads to personal and spiritual satisfaction. That's why they don't want you to take it."

"Dammit, Daria! You're brilliant!" Jake exclaimed just before he climbed over the sign and went down the washed-out trail.

"Wait, it was a...joke." Daria facepalmed herself.

"Funny how just yesterday you said that everyone makes mistakes, and here you are, proving it today." Jane smiled at Daria.

"I hate you."

A distance behind Jake, Daria, and Jane, Helen was walking with Quinn. "Quinn, everywhere you look you see doors opening. Everywhere your father looks, he sees doors closing. A long corridor of doors slamming shut, and at the very end, there is one open door he must someday enter... and never may he return. I can't go on. Leave me here. " said Helen, just before she sat down on a stump.

"Muh-om?" Quinn said, as she looked at her mother, whose eyes were severely dilated.

"Go on, Quinn. You're so young, so beautiful. You should lead the tribe into the new century."

"What tribe? Mom, what's wrong with you?" Quinn was visibly shaken.

"Now go tell Gray Fox I have given my blessing," Helen said, sitting back and fainting.

Quinn yelled, "Dariaaaaa!"

Daria, Jake, and Jane were walking along the washed out trail. "Dad, I don't think this is a good idea," said Daria.

"It's not cautious, is it, Daria? It's not the sort of thing a responsible family man would do." Jake seemed more determined to go forward.

Jane looked at Mr. Morgendorffer. "Are you feeling okay? You look kind of pale."

Jake looked at the girls. "Maybe you think we should go be to camp, huh? You go back to camp, Daria! I'm going to see what... who is down this trail. You hear that, old man? I don't care what happens to me girls! I'm past feeling pain." And of course he chose that moment to walk right into the trunk of a tree. "Ow! Dammit!"

As the girls were helping him up, they heard Quinn's voice in the distance. "Dariaaaaa!"

Daria sighed. "Come on, Dad. Quinn needs us."

As they left, Jake called over his shoulder, "I'm not done with you yet, old man!"

In short order, the group found Quinn bent over an unconscious Helen. "Quinn? What's wrong with Mom?" Daria asked.

"She was talking about buds and doors and stuff and then she told me to lead the tribe and she fell asleep," Quinn answered. Jake knelt next to Helen.

"Helen?" he asked softly, then smiled as her eyes fluttered open.

"Wha...? Oh! Jake, honey, you had us a little worried," she said with a smile.

"You had us worried, Mom." Quinn was very nervous.

Jake continued talking in a soft voice. "Quinn said you were talking about some kind of tribe?"

"No, honey, the tide! I was saying we ought to set sail while the tide's still high." She smiled widely, and the girls could see that her eyes were still dilated.

Quinn hugged herself. "Dad?"

Jake chuckled. "Don't worry, sweetie. Your Mom sounds a little nutty but she's making perfect sense." Now his eyes were dilated, as well.

"She is?"

"Sure! If we try to sail at low tide and ran aground, we'd be sitting ducks for Captain Cutlass' men." Jake leaned his head back and laughed. "I don't know about you, but I don't want to be skinned alive and thrown to the sharks, right girls? Come on, let's go gather some provisions!" With that, he and Helen ran off, laughing.

"This is really scary," Quinn swung back and forth.

"All right, let's not get panicked. We're going to look at the situation calmly and objectively. Agreed?" She looked at Jane and Quinn.

"Okay," they chorused.

"We're out in the middle of nowhere, nobody knows we're here, we have no way to contact anyone, and our parents have gone insane."

"Well, not my parents, but since they aren't even here...I'll shut up now," Jane said as she sat down.

"This is really scary," Daria said.

"But why did they go insane?" Quinn looked puzzled.

"Knowing Dad and his excellent woodland skills, I'd say it was the berries. Except..."

"It couldn't have been the berries," Quinn said.

"That's what I think, because you ate the berries, too, and you seem okay." Daria looked closely at her sister. There was something...

"No, I meant because those weren't the glitter berries."

Jane spoke up. "Damn, her eyes are dilated, too."

"Grab her, Jane!" It took a couple of minutes for the girls to wrestle Quinn into a position that Jane could control her in, while Daria went to the tents to get some rope. Just as they had her secured, Jake ran by in his boxers and boots.

"That's going to take a while to get out of my brain," Jane quipped.

Daria nodded and hid some rope behind her back, just as Helen walked up, twigs and leaves in her hair. "Girls, have you seen your father's spirit animal?" she asked. "He was just telling it about his childhood when it jumped up and scampered off."

Jane said, "I think it went over there," pointing away from Daria. When Helen turned that way, they grabbed her arms, and soon her legs, and tied her, as well.

Daria tied one of her remaining lines to a tree, and left it limp. A few minutes later, Jake came running by, and she pulled back on the line. After Jake tripped and fell, it was the work of a few moments to tie him up.

Heavily breathing, Daria smiled at Jane. "Thanks, I don't think I could have done it without you."

"No problem, amiga. But those berries can't be good for them. How are we going to get them to help?"

Daria pondered for a few moments, then said, "The trail we took to get here is big enough for the SUV, and we can turn around in the clearing." She looked at Jane. "Normally, I'd say something about tearing up the environment, but this is an emergency. You watch them while I go get the SUV." She knelt down and felt in Helen's pocket, took out her keys, and headed down the trail.

Two and a half hours later, Daria brought the SUV into the clearing, and found Jane sitting on a pile of gear. "Good news, amiga. About a half hour ago, I heard something ringing in your mom's backpack. Turns out she brought her cell along. I called emergency, and there are going to be ambulances waiting when we get back to the road, as well as an extra driver." They quickly tossed the gear into the back, and loaded the family in and put their safety belts on.

Another half hour, with the SUV stopping and starting with Daria's heavy hand on the gas and the brake, they were met with several vehicles with flashing lights, their patients were transferred to ambulances, and a nice park ranger volunteered to drive them to the hospital where their family's stomachs were being pumped.

Later that night, Jane was helping Daria pack up the things she had brought over. "Are you sure you want to go back?" Jane asked.

Daria sighed, "Yeah. If they'll have me, they are my family." She winked at her best friend. "But nothing says that we can't have a lot of sleepovers."

14. Episode Thirteen

Daria, Jen, and Jane were walking through the halls as they heard Kevin skid to a stop in front of his best friend, Michael McKenzie. "This is it, Mack Daddy! The week of weeks!"

Mack looked at Kevin, partially amused. "Too much hero worship isn't healthy, you know. And don't call me that."

Kevin kept going, non-plussed. "But the man is coming! The man! Tommy Sherman brought it home, bro! The state championship. And now, he's coming back to Lawndale."

Mack sighed. "I know all about it. Jodie's giving the speech about the new goal post, remember?"

"Oh yeah! Does she need any help with ideas for that? Like, from a quarterback's point of view."

Mack eyed Kevin. "Gee. I'll ask her... when there aren't any sharp objects around."

"Cool!" Kevin responded, obliviously.

Later, out on the high school lawn, Daria turned to Jen and Jane and asked, "What's the big deal about this football guy, anyway?"

Jane smirked. "He was quarterback three years ago when the school won the state championship. My brother knew him."

"Well, why name the goal posts after him? Why not the whole stadium?"

Jen grinned. "Goal post."

"See, his trademark was, he always wanted to run the touchdown in himself," Jane reminisced.

"A real team player."

"But he couldn't keep from waving to the crowd when he did it. They cheered, he waved, and wham! He ran right into the goal post," Jane continued.

"What an intelligent young man," Daria snarked.

"He broke his own nose twice," Jen piped in.

"Then, in the playoffs a week before the state championship, he scored the winning touchdown, and hit the goal post so hard he cracked his helmet. He was unconscious for six days. Miraculously, he woke up the night before the big game feeling great. The next day, he led the team to victory." Jane seemed unimpressed.


"Isn't it?" Jane smiled. "So now the school's bought one of those new goal posts designed to break apart rather than split your skull."

"Why only one?"

"Budget cuts," Said Jen.

"And they're naming it after good ol' Tommy Sherman." Jane winked. "And here comes the lucky Student Council member who will do the honors." Jodie walked up to the group.

"Gimme a break. Hey, Daria, I can't get past the introduction to this speech. Can I read it to you?"

Daria gave a wry grin. "Does that mean I don't have to listen to it later?"

Jodie sat down and began to read from her notes. "'Good afternoon, students, faculty, and distinguished alumni of Lawndale High. As a representative of your Student Council...' Any ideas?"

"It is my privilege today to once again send the message that learning is no substitute for winning." Daria said in her signature monotone.

Jen jumped in. "And that it's not how hard you study, it's how hard you play football."

"Gosh, thanks so much. You think I like this?" asked Jodie, looking down.

"If you don't believe any of it, why give the speech?" Daria asked, genuinely interested.

"Because I'm on the Student Council. It's a job with many responsibilities, and today it's my responsibility to kiss the butt of some jerk getting a goal post named after him, but at least now I feel really good about it," Jodie said, nearly spitting out the last words.

While she had been talking, Mack had been walking up to the group. As he arrived, he looked at Jodie and said, "Hey."

Jodie got up and faced him. "Leave me alone!" she said, then stalked off.

Daria looked at Mack. "Chicks," was all she said.

He looked to the other two girls. "Yeah, chicks," they chorused.

The girls were getting books from Daria and Jane's lockers when they first saw Tommy Sherman. He had stopped in front of Brittany, who had knelt to tie her shoelaces. When she finished, she saw a pair of legs in front of her that didn't seem to stop.

"Keep going. It gets better." He dropped down a hand to help Brittany to her feet, then continued. "Hello, beautiful. I see one thing about Lawndale football has improved a lot since I was unanimously voted most valuable player: the cheerleaders."

Brittany squeaked happily. "You're Tommy Sherman!"

The aforementioned player nodded. "You know your sports," he said, taking the chance to look over her body again.

"My boyfriend's Kevin Thompson. He's quarterback of the team. He worships you!"

Tommy twitched an eyebrow at the unwanted comment. "That's great. Listen, they're putting me up at the Lawndale Manor. Why don't we head back there, order you some champagne, get horizontal, and you can find out just how big a hero I am." He leered at her.

Brittany was shocked at the apparent incomprehension of the big man. "Didn't you hear what I said? My boyfriend is your biggest fan?"

Tommy snorted. "What are you telling me? He wants to watch? I don't know..." with the last, he actually seemed intrigued by the concept. He wasn't so intrigued a moment later when Brittany slapped his face and stormed off.

Raising his voice, he called after the cheerleader. "All right, all right, he can watch. Hey, where are you going? Did someone flash the bimbo signal?"

After seeing this little vignette, Daria clenched both her fists and teeth together.

This was not the only time that the girls saw Tommy Sherman tick off people; wherever he went, he was either leering like a pervert(which he did with everything female, including once with The Fashion Club), or deeply insulting people with his arrogance(which he did with everything male, including Mr. O'Neill). Such actions did not endear him to the friends, and only the fact that Quinn seemed to be handling the attention like an adult(that is, hauling off and slapping him) stopped Daria from doing something drastic.

At the bell for the next-to-last period of the day, the girls were once again headed for their lockers, only to find Tommy Sherman leaning on them. Daria sighed. "Excuse me," she said, politely.

Tommy's eyebrows rose. "You're kidding, right? You think I'm going to talk to you?" He looked at Jane. "You, maybe. Like, four hours into a kegger." When he saw Jen, he grinned. "The kegger'd start with you."

"Only if I wanted a beer bong," Jen said.

"Perhaps after I vomit on your shoes... Nanh. Even my vomit wouldn't want to get close to you."

Daria, looking straight at Tommy, said. "I really don't want to talk to you."

He looked back, incredulously. "Yeah, right. You said, 'Excuse me.'"

She raised her eyebrows. "You're on my locker."

He stood to his full height, his face a twisted mask of bile. "Do you know who I am? Tommy Sherman?"

Daria crossed her arms. "I know the whole school's turning itself inside out because of some egotistical football player, and I've seen you insult or proposition just about everyone you come across, so my guess is that you're the football player guy. Congratulations, you must have worked very hard to become such a colossal jerk so quickly."

She was going to say more, when Jane said, "screw this," tried to duck around the player and get to her locker. She was most of the way there when his hand snaked out and caught her by the throat, and lifted her up.

As she started to struggle, Jen caught onto his hand and tried to pull him away from Jen's throat, all while he said, "Now, I had to stand and listen to you, you're going to listen to me." Daria stood in shock as he finished his sentence.

Seeing Jane's face turn purple broke the spell. Walking up to the football player, she said, "Let her go!"

Tommy seemed to find this amusing. "Why? What are you gonna do about it?" He took a breath before continuing. "You're one of those misery chi-AHH! OOOOH! AIEE!"

His attempt to armchair analyze Daria had stopped because she had, in quick succession, done four things that had caused the aforementioned noises. She had jumped, putting all her weight on the heel of her right boot, landing on his left instep. While standing on his injured foot, she had lashed out, with all her strength put in her left heel, at his right kneecap, likely breaking the patella, and certainly causing the ligaments to tear. She had then balled her fist and hit him hard in the groin. After he had collapsed (and somewhere in those few moments he had dropped Jane), she walked to the other end of her body and put light pressure on his throat.

"Make a move, mister, and that will be the last breath you ever take." She looked up to see Jen bending over Jane, who seemed to be recovering. "Jen!" she almost shouted. The girl looked up. "Go get the security officer. When you get there, I need Him, the nurse, and Ms. Li. Go!" Jen ran off. Daria looked around, and saw Jodie in the crowd of people. "Jodie!" she said loudly. Jodie managed to look up from Daria's foot to her face. "I need to borrow your cell phone." Jodie came forward and, avoiding Tommy's arms, reached out and handed it over.

Daria quickly dialed her mother's work. "Marianne?" she said into the phone. "This is Daria, I need to talk to Mom. It's an emergency."

"Mom, I've been in a fight."

"He was hurting Jane."

"I'm fine. I don't think he thought someone a third of his weight could hurt him. I could ask him, though."

"I'm keeping him from hurting me or running off until the security officer gets here. But I'm going to need you, soon."

"There was no misunderstanding. He's some kind of alumni, in his twenties, he was strangling Jane, and he had his hand on Quinn's ass earlier today, Mom."

"She slapped him silly."

"All right, I'll see you in a few minutes, Mom. Bye." She hung up and handed the phone back to Jodie just as, from three different directions, the security officer, the nurse, and Ms. Li rushed up to the scene.

The security officer spoke first, as the nurse quickly went to Jane and started to check her out. "Miss? Would you mind taking your foot off the man's neck?"

Daria looked at him and said, "Not at all, as soon as you immobilize him by some other means. He attacked my friend."

Ms. Li looked at Daria and said, her fists clenched and her face slightly flushed, "Ms Morgendorffer, what is the meaning of this? You seem to have assaulted a valued alumnus who has brought honor and glory to Laaawndale High." As the security officer handcuffed Tommy, and Daria removed her foot from his throat, she continued. "Can you give me a reason why I shouldn't expel you?" Looking around, she saw the crowd. "All right students! Everyone not directly involved with this incident, or a witness to it, you need to go to your classes!" She turned back to Daria, who had her arms crossed as she waited.

When she was sure she had Ms. Li's attention, Daria said, "I can give you reasons, but since I only want to do this once, let's wait until the," and she counted off with her fingers," police that the security officer called, ambulance that the nurse called, my Mom, and my mom's lawyer get here. Then I'll tell my side, we can take a look at the pictures of Jane's neck, and we can all watch the security footage that I know you have of this." At that point, Helen Morgendorffer, leading a person she would later introduce as James Vitale of Vitale, Davis, Horowitz, Riordan, Schrecter, Schrecter, and Schrecter, arrived.

"Don't say another word without checking with me, first, Daria," were the first words out of her mouth. Then she turned to Ms. Li, and as the Police and EMTs began to arrive to look at the crime scene and take Tommy and Jane to the hospital, respectively, she asked, "Ms. Li, why was a pervert like this allowed free rein in a school?" When Ms. Li proved too shocked to answer, she said, "Oh, come on! My daughter has said that he has spent most of today either," and her she looked up, as if she was reciting word for word, "'insulting every guy he encountered, or trying to get into the pants of every girl my age or below that he could.'" She looked down, straight at Ms. Li. "That would include my other daughter, Quinn. The fourteen-year old?" Helen looked like she was going to say more, but Mr. Vitale grabbed her shoulder.

"I think that we need to get Daria's side of the story, and see what the security tapes say," he said. "And from the looks of the police, I think that they think so, too."

Several hours later, after the security footage had been reviewed, Daria was finishing up her statement. "I was mad at him for what he'd tried to do to Quinn, but she had taken care of herself. So I was just trying to get to my locker and switch books. And I wasn't the nicest person in the world to him, but the worst thing I called him was, 'colossal jerk.'"

"Not nice, as she said, but certainly not 'fighting words,'" interjected Mr. Vitale. Ms. Li reluctantly nodded.

"And I wouldn't have done anything to him, I mean, he outweighs me three times over! But...he had Jane, and she wasn't breathing, and..." a tear dripped down her face. "I just remembered everything I'd read or heard about fighting off a rapist." She took a breath. "Even a very skinny woman usually weighs more than eighty pounds, and that much, on an edge, hurts an instep. It only takes seven pounds of pressure to break someone's kneecap. Everyone is sensitive in their groin. And if you have them down, weight on the throat will keep them down until help arrives." She looked around. "And that's what I did, until you all, variously, got there."

Mr. Vitale was the first to speak up. "Do we all agree that Ms Morgendorffer's story fits the security footage?" Everyone nodded, Ms. Li a bit reluctantly. "Then perhaps we can free the police to making sure that Mr. Sherman remains their guest, and Daria to a well-earned rest, while we discuss what would be an equitable settlement?" He looked at the principal. "Ms. Li, it might be best if you brought your superintendent, and the board's lawyers, in on this."

"- and the general outcome is that Tommy Sherman, whether he actually gets convicted or not, is off his team, and out of our hair for the foreseeable future." Daria took a breath. "The school board is going to pay a sizable settlement to cover their liability in letting Tommy wander about without an escort, which goes to several people. My mom, for her work in putting together this settlement, just made partner."

The rough voice rasped up from the bed. "Congrats. I know that's going to make college easier for you."

"It is. But part of that settlement went to me, and I'll be able to go to any school in the country, as long as my grades are up." She shook her head. "I never thought I'd say it, but I'm going to keep doing those cafe gigs. Having to have a new Melody Powers story every few weeks keeps me on my toes. Oh, yeah, besides having all of this medical carefree, you get part of the settlement, too, unless you want to back out and get your own lawyers. Mom said you could, but that you'd have a hard time getting a settlement this good. So you're going to college, Lane." She looked down and wondered why Jane's smile looked so wistful.

"Why...Why'd you fight, Daria?" she rasped. "I know you didn't have any training. Why's you take on a guy three times your size?"

"Jane," Daria said in a voice both unwontedly serious and emotional, "If you repeat this, I will likely deny it. I saw him hurting you, and everything went offline. He was hurting you and may have been killing you. You are the most important person in the world to me. Don't ask me how you got there, but you did. Other people are very close, Jen, Mom, Dad, Quinn, but you are...there. I would not live in a world without you." Tears fell down Daria's cheek and onto Jane's arm. "So you'd better not die, you bitch!"

Jane's grip on her hand was strong as she struggled out three important words. ""


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