A Stranger in Lawndale
a multi-part story by Belle Book

Chapter Six: Opening Night

Dressed in a lovely deep-blue Elizabethan gown studded with sapphires, Stacy waited for Mr. O'Neill to begin their final (and dress) rehearsal. As she waited, she glanced over at Derek, who wore a deep green doublet and dark brown hose with brown shoes. He looked even more handsome in Elizabethan clothes than in regular ones, she thought.

Stacy thought back over the three weeks since Derek had confessed to her that he was a kitsune. For the first two or three days, she couldn't help feeling a little awkward around him. After all, she'd never gone out with an animal that could shapeshift into a human before. What's more, she was an American living in the late twentieth/early twenty-first century. Nowadays, modern people living in America didn't really believe in animals that could shapeshift. She doubted they really believed in vampires either, although they were considerably more popular than animals that could shapeshift. So Stacy had to adjust considerably to the reality that kitsune did exist -- and maybe vampires did as well. And other creatures, such as fairies. But by the end of the week after discovering the truth, she'd adjusted to the fact that she was dating a kitsune in human form and their relationship was back on track. Derek seemed relieved by that development and Stacy couldn't blame him for that. It must've been hard for him to deal with the lingering awkwardness she'd felt. Perhaps the fact that they had to practice the play almost every day helped her adjust.

Stacy had considered telling Quinn the truth -- she considered Quinn her best friend -- but Derek had asked her not to. He didn't want word getting out. Stacy agreed, especially after considering that Quinn probably wouldn't believe her. On the other hand, Quinn had once told her, Sandi and Tiffany during a meeting of the Fashion Club (when it still existed) that Daria had holidays staying over at her house (1). Stacy had thought Quinn was being creative, but now she wasn't so sure. Still, she didn't want to take the risk that Quinn wouldn't believe her and Derek had a point about not wanting word that he was a kitsune to get out. Quinn might well blab such news all over town if she did believe it, and that would cause all sorts of problems.

As the date of the play approached, she'd invited Quinn, Sandi and Tiffany to see her perform. She wasn't sure Sandi would make it, but Quinn and Tiffany had promised they'd be there. Stacy had also invited her parents to attend. Her mother flat-out refused, but her father said he'd try to make it if he could get out of a very important bank meeting. Derek had told her he was going to try to convince her father to be there for her. She hoped he'd succeed -- she wanted her father there even if her mother wouldn't go.

Suddenly, she heard Mr. O'Neill say, "I'm so proud of how far you've come! This will be the final rehearsal and I'm sure things will go just fine!"

Well, they'll go fine with some of us. Not so much with Kevin, Stacy thought but didn't say.

"All those who are onstage for the first scene, get into your places," Mr. O'Neill continued. Derek joined Mack, Robert and Zachary just offstage, waiting for their cue to begin the rehearsal.

A few hours later, Mr. O'Neill was impressed with most of the performers. The strongest ones since the first day were Derek and Stacy, who played Berowne and Rosaline. They sparkled every time they were onstage and Derek really brought Berowne to life. However, Mack and Jodie also did well as King Ferdinand and the Princess of France, although Mr. O'Neill had to cut some lines which would've had the King making fun of Berowne for loving a brunette since both Jodie and Mack were black. Charles also did surprisingly well in the role of Costard, pulling off the clown's self-assurance quite well. David Sorensen, Tad Gupty and Ted also did well in their roles.

Unfortunately, there were some who weren't so good. Brittany's voice squeaked when she played Maria; fortunately, she didn't have that many lines. Robert had a hard time remembering his lines when he had to play Longaville, so much so that Derek had to help him out quite a few times. And then there was Kevin. Even in the role of Dull, it was next to impossible to get him to remember his own lines. He remembered how Derek had once tried, only to give up and say that Kevin might be severely learning-disabled or even be mentally retarded. If Derek, a guy who was pretty good at helping other people out, couldn't help Kevin then the football quarterback was probably hopeless.

Luckily, the bad performers were outweighed by the good ones, so Mr. O'Neill was pleased with the results of the final rehearsal.

"Okay, guys, tonight is the first performance," he announced to the waiting group. "The performance begins at 8, so I want you here by 7 at the latest."

Everyone agreed -- even Kevin -- so Mr. O'Neill dismissed the group before heading out into the lobby to make a special phone call. However, since this was Mr. O'Neill he began ruminating over how to begin.

"Janet -- I mean, Ms. Janet -- I mean," he began.

After getting out of his costume for the play, Derek went to find Stacy. He had a pretty big surprise for her.

Unfortunately, he had to wait a couple of minutes before she came out. Her eyes lit up when she saw him, then she ran over to him. He pulled her into a tight hug before looking down at her.

"I've got a special treat for you, just because it's opening night," Derek whispered. "Reservations at C'est la Veal at 5:30 tonight before the show!"

"Wow!" Stacy said in genuine excitement. "That place overlooks a lake! I think it's so romantic!"

"I agree," Derek said softly. "That's why I picked it as soon as I learned about it." He then noticed that Stacy had a thoughtful look on her face. "What's wrong?" he asked her.

"I was just thinking that Quinn might be worried about my safety -- if she thought you were any danger, that is," said Stacy. "You see, last year Quinn and Daria's father accidentally started a fire (2). The Morgendoffers had to stay at the Grand Hotel and this bellboy, Bobby Stuart, fell for Quinn -- as usual with most guys. When we spent time at the hotel after Daria left -- I think she went to Jane's house -- Bobby gave Quinn (and the rest of us) a lobster plate and then suddenly showed up with an upgrade to the Presidential Suite. He claimed that his uncle worked at the hotel and that his uncle said this room wasn't going to be used, so he upgraded Quinn for free. She agreed to let him take her out as repayment for his actions. Afterwards, Sandi said that she thought Bobby was stalking Quinn. She pointed out that he always seemed to know where Quinn was."

"Well, it's possible, but right now I'd say it's more Sandi trying to mess with Quinn's head than anything else," Derek said. "I take it Bobby was going to take Quinn to C'est la Veal?"

"Yeah, and when we learned that, Sandi said that the lake would be the perfect place to dump a body," Stacy said. "It turned out to be a moot point -- it turned out that Bobby didn't have an uncle at the hotel. He billed the items he gave Quinn from her parents' account, only to delete the charges by breaking into the hotel's computer system. Maybe he was stalking Quinn, after all."

Derek reflected on that. "Maybe he was," he agreed. "I'm not sure he wanted to take her there with the intention of killing Quinn, but he might've attacked her at the very least if he asked her to go steady with him and she refused because she didn't want to give up playing the field. But don't worry, my little sweetheart -- I have no intention of doing anything like that to you."

"Thanks," Stacy whispered. "I've spent enough time with you to know that you're not like Bobby, but I couldn't help remembering those conversations with Sandi and what Quinn told me after she found out what Bobby did."

Derek smiled in relief and then released her before taking her hand. Together, they walked to his car and he drove her to her home. Once they arrived, he walked her to her door before telling her, "I'll pick you up at 5 pm. Until then, my love."

He took her in his arms, bent his head down and kissed her tenderly. She responded, lifting her arms till they encircled his neck. It was all Derek could do to control the surge of desire that rushed through him, because if he didn't, he might go further than he should -- at this point, at least. As a result, the kiss lasted a long time. Finally, he lifted his head and looked down at her before telling her, "Until 5 pm." Then he released her, went back to his car and drove off.

Mr. Jason Rowe was in his office when his secretary came in. "Yes?" he asked. He hoped that somehow his wife, Ursula, hadn't gotten past his efforts to avoid speaking to her. Things between them had degenerated to the point where he and his wife now slept in separate rooms so he wouldn't have to spend time with her. He still had some affection for Stacy; in fact, the only reason he hadn't asked for a divorce was because she still lived at home and he feared a divorce would hurt her badly.

"There's a young man waiting outside," the secretary asked. "He mentioned that he's dating your daughter. And he's a real hottie!" she added, smiling appreciatively as she said it.

"Send him in," Mr. Rowe said. He knew about this guy. It must be that Derek Powell, since he'd heard a young man by that name had begun dating Stacy. But why did Derek want to speak to him?

The young man walked into his office and immediately Mr. Rowe understood why his secretary thought that the guy was a total hottie. For the guy was incredibly handsome! He also looked a little nervous as he said, "I'm Derek Powell. Thanks for letting me see you."

"I don't really have anything at the moment," said Mr. Rowe. "But I do have an important meeting that I have to be there in a half-hour and it'll run through dinner, which we're going to have catered."

"I hope the meeting will end before say, 7 pm," Derek said. "I think you might've heard that Stacy's going to be in Love's Labors Lost."

"And you want me to attend," said Mr. Rowe. "Is it that important that I should excuse myself if the meeting runs past 7 pm?" asked Mr. Rowe.

"I think so," Derek said, firmly. "For one thing, your wife won't be there. Stacy asked her and she flat-out refused. Besides, it might help Stacy to know you still care about her. I fear your being such a workaholic has caused you to neglect her, and that may well have contributed to Stacy's insecurity as she's exposed to your wife's verbal and emotional abuse."

Mr. Rowe stared at Derek for a moment. He'd never heard someone say anything like that to him so bluntly. "Are you sure my own efforts to avoid my wife as much as possible have hurt Stacy that badly?" he asked.

"So you're a workaholic because your wife is behaving like such a bitch," Derek said thoughtfully. "Stacy suggested that might be the case, although she also thought your ambition might've made you a workaholic. But getting back to your question, although I can sure understand why you don't want to be around your wife, I'm afraid it has hurt Stacy pretty badly. The least you can do to help her out is to be there for her. Besides, I told her I'd try to convince you to come. You might really like seeing her play the role of Rosaline."

Mr. Rowe thought for another moment. There was something about Derek's earnestness which made him want to help Stacy out by showing up. And he was one of the managers now. It might not hurt him to excuse himself if the meeting ran late so he could see Stacy perform. "I'll talk it over with the other managers while I'm at the meeting," he promised. "If they agree, I'll excuse myself if the meeting runs late so I can see Stacy perform. I believe they won't mind -- I've been at enough late meetings that one where I leave early won't hurt -- but I need to make sure."

Derek sighed in relief. "Thank you, Mr. Rowe," he said. "If you come, I'm sure Stacy will be very happy. Now I must go. I've got to get ready for a date of my own. I'm taking her to dinner at C'est la Veal before the play opens."

Mr. Rowe was impressed. That was almost as expensive as Chez Pierre, and even more romantic. "I hope you two have a great time," he said.

"I'm sure we will," said Derek, smiling briefly before waving his hand farewell as he left. Once he was gone, Mr. Rowe got ready. The meeting would begin soon and he didn't want to be late. But he was going to talk to the other managers before the meeting began. He hoped they'd agree that he should be there for Stacy. Especially since his wife wasn't going to be there.

Stacy was ready at 5 pm. She was wearing a lovely deep blue dress, blue eyeshadow, Kiss-Me-Coral lipstick, a hint of blush and a floral perfume. She didn't put on a whole lot of perfume, largely because Derek's sense of smell was keener than a human's and she didn't want to overpower him with the scent of her perfume.

As she heard the car pull up, she said, "I'll see you later, Mom!" before heading out. There stood Derek -- and he looked even more gorgeous than usual! He wore a green shirt, a dark brown sports jacket and black pants.

"You look awesome!" Stacy told him. "How many clothes have you bought since you came here?"

"Actually, none," said Derek. "I use my magic to change clothes. It doesn't take much energy and it cuts down on expenses. It can help me afford to take you to expensive French restaurants, for example," he said, grinning. "Anyway, you look so beautiful, Stacy."

"Thanks," Stacy said, smiling and blushing slightly. "I'm looking forward to having dinner at C'est la Veal!"

"So am I," Derek whispered as he escorted her to his car. "So am I."

C'est la Veal was almost as beautiful on the inside as it was on the outside. A lovely pale blue interior, subtle lighting coming from chandeliers, pale blue tablecloths on the tables, swan napkins, and lovely red roses in crystal vases set the romantic mood. The pictures of women wearing French fashions and of Marie Antoinette helped as well.

The host, a middle-aged man, had come to greet Derek & Stacy as soon as they arrived. "Hello and welcome to C'est la Veal," he said, smiling. "How may I help you two?"

"I'm Derek Powell, and this is Stacy Rowe," Derek had explained. "I believe we have a reservation for 5:30."

"Ah, yes," the host had said. "Follow me." He led them to a table near a mini-aquarium with fish inside. Stacy gasped as she saw the mini-aquarium and Derek was impressed as well. He left them to look at the menus.

Derek helped Stacy into her chair, then got into his chair before looking at the menu. There were several first courses on the menu, but he wasn't too interested in them. He was more interested in the second (and main) courses. There was a Lobster Cobb salad which included Tasso ham, romanine lettuce and avocado; a Mushroom Tartalette with herb salad; a grilled grouper with mushroom fricassee; a grilled Bigeye tuna with basil relish; Benne seed fried breast of chicken with spoonbread and haricots verts (whatever that was); grilled lamb tenderloin with grilled zucchini and pommes frites and finally bruised beef shortrib with creamy polenta, parsnips and carrots.

Derek looked up at Stacy, who was looking at her own menu, then he looked over at a nearby table, where a couple had just gotten the grilled grouper with mushroom fricassee and the Lobster Cobb salad. They looked like really big portions. He realized he and Stacy would probably have to share their meal, especially since Stacy didn't like to eat much.

"What would you like to have, Stacy?" Derek asked her once she looked up from her menu.

Stacy said, "I'm not really sure. There's a couple of stuff I like. Maybe you have something you like -- as long as I like it, too."

"I think I'd like to try the Benne seed fried breast of chicken but I have no idea what haricots verts is," said Derek. "I think I'll ask as soon as we get a waiter."

At that point, a tall, dark-haired, handsome guy with a small moustache approached them. "Good evening," he said. "My name is Phillippe and I'll be your waiter. Do you two want anything to drink before I take your orders?"

"I'll have a diet soda," said Stacy.

"And I'll have one as well," said Derek.

When the waiter went to get their soda Stacy asked, "You're not having wine? I can't have any because I'm underage, but you're probably old enough."

"I don't want to take the risk of getting drunk," explained Derek. "When I was much younger, not too long after I'd learned how to shapeshift -- I was invited into an older man's home. I wound up getting slightly drunk on his wine and he discovered I had a tail. He nearly fainted and I took the opportunity to escape. Ever since then, I've learned what my drinking limit is and ever since I could have something other than wine -- drinking water was pretty bad for a long time -- I've always tried to avoid drinking alcohol."

"Ah," Stacy said. " I guess I can understand why you'd be unwilling to drink any alcoholic beverages -- for the same reason that you use more cologne than most men probably do."

"Yeah," said Derek, chuckling at the teasing tone in Stacy's voice. "I try not to use too much cologne but I don't want to get chased away by any dogs, either. Anyway, do you like the Benne seed fried breast of chicken? We can share it if you do."

"That's one of the things I'd like," Stacy said. "Oh, here comes Phillippe."

Sure enough, Phillippe came over with a bottle of soda in a bucket full of ice. He set it down and proceeded to fill their glasses before asking, "Have you decided yet?"

"I was just wondering," said Derek. "Would you mind telling me what haricots vers is?"

"Oh, it's just green beans," said Phillippe. Derek was greatly relieved, though he could tell Stacy wasn't overly happy about it.

"You still want the fried breast of chicken entree?" Derek asked Stacy.

"Okay," said Stacy. "I don't have to have all of the spoonbread and green beans, after all."

"We'll have that one, please," Derek told Phillippe. "We'll be sharing one entree, please."

"A very good choice," said Phillippe. "I'll be back with your order."

As he went to take their orders, Derek put a hand in the pocket of his slacks. "I have something for you, Stacy," he told her softly as he pulled out a little box. "I hope you like it."

"Oh, wow!" Stacy said in genuine surprise. She opened it -- and gasped as she saw a crystal bracelet inside! "It's beautiful!" she whispered. "Thank you so much!" she said, hugging him.

"You're welcome," Derek said, hugging her back. "Although I planned on getting you that bracelet before tonight, I decided to wait to give it to you because you could use it as the love token Berowne gave Rosaline in Love's Labors Lost that Rosaline shows to the other ladies from France in the final scene."

"I'm glad you decided to wait," said Stacy. "This is a great present -- and I'll have fun showing it onstage!"

"I'm glad you love it," Derek said, smiling brilliantly.

At 7:55 pm, Mr. O'Neill was doing his final pep talk for his actors. He glanced over at them. All of them were here -- even Kevin, who may have been 5 minutes late but was still here. He remembered how Kevin hadn't shown up for the Medieval Faire performance of the play about Palamon, Aricite and Emily (3) and he'd had to choose Jeffy to take Kevin's place until the quarterback showed up. Unfortunately, things had gone downhill after that. After he learned later on that Brittany had volunteered to drive Kevin to the play, he suspected that the cheerleader had somehow prevented the quarterback from arriving on time. But this time Kevin didn't get to do a love scene with another woman -- he didn't have a love scene at all.

"As you bask in the glow of the limelight of tonight's performance, I want all of you not to just speak your lines. I want you to become the character you are going to play (4)," Mr. O'Neill said. He turned first to Stacy, who was standing next to Derek. He figured Derek didn't need to be told how to become Berowne -- he knew the play well enough that he could probably become Berowne with no real effort. But Stacy might need the help.

"So Stacy, I want you to put yourself in the shoes of Rosaline," Mr. O'Neill continued. "Here is this young woman who's already attracted to Berowne. But once he, the King and the other lords begin courting her she's mischievous enough to contemplate tormenting him -- and does so. She also senses that he's not ready yet for love and so she has him visit patients in hospitals for a year before she accepts him. I want you to be mature enough to understand your suitor's immaturity."

"Well, Derek may be more mature than Berowne, but I think I can get into Rosaline's shoes well enough to treat Derek as if he's an immature gentleman who's not ready for love," Stacy said, smiling at her boyfriend. "And besides, it'll be fun to really tease my boyfriend."

"Excellent!" said Mr. O'Neill. He then turned to Mack, who was playing the King. "Mack, I want you to be a very young king who wants to make a name for himself and assumes that the best way to make a name for himself is to be renowned for scholarly learning."

"But he's not mature enough to realize that true learning's more than just hitting a lot of books," said Mack, very dryly. Derek and Stacy laughed at that, as did Jodie, Ted and David Sorensen.

"Yeah," said Mr. O'Neill. "Jodie, like Rosaline the Princess of France must be mature enough to realize that her suitor isn't ready for love yet and so your actions must reflect that knowledge. The same thing goes for the other lords and ladies connected to the King and the Princess. Kyle, David and Ted I want you to be men who are totally enamored with your own language -- and in some cases, your own learning -- and for the most part, blissfully unaware that you're just silly. Charles, I want you to be a rustic yokel who may have a hard time with some of the language and is totally clueless that you're being used to deliver a love message to the girl you actually love, but still quick-witted and capable of appreciating the others in the sub-plot."

He finishes giving advice to the other actors who had roles in the play, although he didn't give any advice to Kevin. That was largely because he didn't have to -- Dull was stupid and so was Kevin. Kevin didn't need to become Dull, he already was Dull, in a way.

"Don't forget that all the best actors had to start somewhere," Mr. O'Neill continued. "So while you're out there underneath the bright glare of the lights, don't think of this as just a simple summer theater production. Think of it as an initial hurdle on the path to success and acting stardom! And if you win an Oscar and have to make an acceptance speech, perhaps you'll mention how this modest play was the turning point. And now let's take a moment to visualize the audience, waiting eagerly for great performances! And finally, let's take a moment to remember poor James Dean."

"James Dean has been dead for way too many years," Derek pointed out. "We should remember him soon after he died, but not this long after he died."

Mr. O'Neill frowned, but then changed the subject to the matter at hand. "Get ready and do your best!" he said.

Mr. Rowe sat in a position fairly far back in the theater. Luckily for him, not only had been able to get permission to leave the meeting if it ran over, it ended early enough that he was able to leave and see his daughter perform.

He waited through the first two scenes for a glimpse of his daughter, but he got to see her boyfriend in action. Derek seemed to be a really good actor, really getting into the part. Finally, in the third scene, Stacy appeared and after the girl playing Katharine described Dumaine, Stacy got her first speech. Mr. Rowe was highly impressed by Stacy's performance. She showed a playful mischievousness and a surprising spirit in her lines.

But the real delight for him was her rendition of Rosaline's first conversation with Berowne. Stacy positively sparkled in her byplay with Derek, and Derek sparkled just as brightly. It was clear they were as well-suited to each other as Berowne and Rosaline were in the play.

Mr. Rowe watched the rest of the first act with genuine enjoyment. And he knew what he was going to do even before the intermission came. As soon as he could, he went to make a call to a floral shop. Once he got a clerk, he asked her to send two bouquets of flowers to the former coffehouse and deliver them before the end of the play. Then he waited for the second act to begin.

11 pm that night --

It was the end of the play and time for the actors to take their bows. Stacy waited until almost everyone else was onstage, taking their bows. Then she stepped forward with Derek and went out to take her bows.

The audience had been applauding all the others before Stacy and Derek arrived onstage to take their bows, but the cheers doubled when the two stood onstage. This both surprised and thrilled Stacy. She believed she'd done a good enough job on opening night, but she hadn't been sure. Now she was pretty sure she'd done just fine. Of course, she knew Derek had done an awesome job.

Once the curtain calls were over, Stacy saw Derek getting a lot of congratulations -- including one from Mr. O'Neill. Then Mr. O'Neill turns to Stacy and says, "Well done, Stacy! You did a fine job as Rosaline!"

"I agree," said Derek. "You really conveyed a playful mischievousness when you were teasing Mack and later when you were teasing me. I'd like to see more of that from you."

Stacy smiled brilliantly. "Thanks, Derek," she said. "And you were awesome as Berowne! You really know how to steal a scene!"

Stacy and Derek headed back to their dressing rooms in order to get out of their costumes and back into their regular clothes. When Stacy came in, she was stunned to see two bouquets of flowers in her dressing room!

Stacy went to check them out and saw a card with one of them. She opened it and she gasped. The note said:

Dear Stacy,

I not only managed to get permission to leave early to see you perform if the meeting ran late but was able to see you perform without having to leave early. I saw you perform and you did an awesome job, especially when you were performing with your boyfriend. But that's not why I bought you these flowers. I bought them because Derek helped me realize something.

Both before and after your birth, your mother became really bitter, as you no doubt know. She began taking out her bitterness on me, and it soon got to the point where I began wanting to spend less and less time with her. Therefore, I began spending more and more time at the office, to the point that I became a workaholic. However, I made one major error with that decision -- I neglected you in the process, leaving you to your mother's emotional abuse. I now realize that was wrong.

I do not know how I'm going to be able to balance my desire to rectify the damage already done while avoiding my wife, but I want you to know that I will endeavor to do so. I just want you to know that I'm very sorry for the error I made and that I will make every effort to spend time with you in the future and learn what you are doing. Perhaps these flowers will be the first step on my new path. But for now, I want you to know that I still love you and that I'm proud of you for your performance.



Stacy's eyes filled with tears as she read it. She had to show Derek the card. He would be happy to know that he helped bring her dad to a realization that he had made an error and needed to connect with her. She hoped her father would succeed at it. At least the bouquets were a start.

1. Referred to in "Depth Takes a Holiday," which I put down as having actually happened. Still, I'm not as willing to say that the episode "Daria!" really happened. I'm more inclined to believe that there was a hurricane but the "musical" itself was due to one of Trent's ideas.

2. Referred to in "Fire!"

3. Referred to in "Fair Enough."

4. Referred to in The Daria Database and in "Fair Enough."

Incidentally, I used a menu from the Charleston Restaurant in Baltimore for the C'est la Veal menu. I found the menu online.

To be continued,
Belle Book