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

Chapter Eight: Transitions

A Saturday morning in late August--

Derek and Stacy were walking down a street in Lawndale one day. Derek was telling Stacy about the upcoming Orientation at Lawndale State University.

"I'm going to go there after lunch and then I have to stay there overnight," Derek explained. "Sorry I won't be able to go out with you this afternoon."

"That's okay, Derek," Stacy reassured him, leaning against his arm. "I'll go shopping with my friends then. It should be fun, though maybe not quite as fun as doing Love's Labors Lost and Grease with you were."

"Yeah, that was really fun," said Derek, smiling. The last performance of Grease had ended the Monday before, and in between, they'd been practicing and acting in the musical. Stacy knew that come this fall, she was going to join the Drama Club. The whole experience of acting on the stage had helped her realize that there was more to her than just being pretty and popular.

What's more, ever since the first night's performance of Love's Labors Lost her father had really tried to improve his relationship to her. She had found that even though he was still a little taciturn, he was also sweet sometimes; while her father had gotten to really know Stacy for the first time in years, if ever.

And as Stacy had learned to assert herself and had learned to express her anger over the emotional abuse she'd suffered to her therapist, she'd begun to realize that her friendship with Quinn had become stronger, as had her relationship with Derek. She was feeling more confident now--and beginning to think seriously about going farther in her romance with Derek. Although she still wasn't ready to go all the way with him, she was thinking about getting to second base at least.

"I hope you have an okay time at the Orientation," Stacy then said.

"I plan on doing so," Derek said warmly. "It won't be as fun as being with you, but at least it shouldn't be too bad. That reminds me--the Orientation will end on tomorrow morning, so if it's okay with you we can go to Baltimore right afterwards and go to the Baltimore Aquarium! I got reservations for it."

"Oh wow!" said Stacy. "That should be cool! Thank you!" And she hugged him. He lifted her up and whirled around with her, both of them laughing. Then he lowered her to the ground and looked down at her, smiling warmly. Instantly, she felt herself being lost once again in the look in his golden-brown eyes.

However, before anything could happen, Stacy heard another male voice say, "Hey there, Stacy!" She turned--and then she froze, as did Derek. Across the street, they saw Jeffy--and a dog that was attached to a leash with him. And worse, he was heading across the street towards them. This wasn't good. Although Derek was still wearing quite a bit of cologne to mask his scent, the dog might still catch it if he got close enough--and that would be trouble.

As they approached, Derek immediately stepped away from Stacy--and thus away from the dog. Stacy knew she had to keep Jeffy and the dog away from Derek so she said, "Please don't get too close, Jeffy. Derek's got a phobia about dogs."

"All right," said Jeffy. "I'm sorry to hear that. Anyway, I was wondering if you had a dog that I could walk."

"Sorry," said Stacy. "My parents don't own a dog. Why did you ask?"

"Because I'm getting some money by walking dogs," said Jeffy. "I have a date with Quinn at Chez Pierre on Sunday and I wanted to earn a little extra cash."

"Well, I'm sorry but I can't help you," said Stacy. She was standing in front of Derek, who was standing as far away from Jeffy and the dog as he possibly could. But at that point, the dog suddenly began barking. Although the dog didn't sound ferocious, it didn't seem happy either. So Stacy said, "I think you'd better head elsewhere, Jeffy--in the other direction, please."

"Okay," said Jeffy. "Come on, doggie. Let's not scare the poor guy any further."

The dog was led off but it was still barking for awhile afterwards. Derek, who had turned pale when the dog began barking, took several deep breaths to calm down. Then he smiled a little weakly as he said, "Thanks, Stacy."

"You're welcome," said Stacy. "I think we'd better go in the other direction--and hope we don't come across any more dogs."

"Yeah!" Derek said. "I really don't want to have the same kind of experience Rachel had--especially since I'm not using you the way she used Trent."

"That reminds me," said Stacy. "You've been really patient with me, not trying to get me to go to bed with you. I really appreciate that."

"You're welcome," Derek said, his golden-brown eyes showing curiosity and a little confusion.

"I've been thinking things over," said Stacy. "I've become more confident and more assured. And I'm beginning to think of going a little farther in our relationship. At least to second base."

"You are?" Derek asked, surprise and delight evident in his voice and eyes. "When?"

"Maybe on the way back from our date in Baltimore," said Stacy, smiling warmly up at him. "How about it?"

Derek's reaction was to pull her into his arms and to give her a big hug. Stacy returned the hug, resting her head against his shoulder and just enjoying the moment. And then, she lifted her head--and saw him looking down at her with an all-too-familiar look in his eyes, before he bent his head down and kissed her. She almost melted into his arms, feeling happier than ever.

Lawndale State University, that afternoon--

Derek is standing in the lobby of the main building on Lawndale State University, along with a lot of other guys and girls, most of them a little younger than he was. However, there were a few guys and girls who were about his age or a little bit older, and one woman who was clearly middle-aged.

Among the people he thought were also incoming freshmen he noticed a young woman, about 18 years old. She had black hair and dark eyes, and clearly looked like a Goth. She wore a light gray short-sleeved shirt, a long darker grey skirt, and a fishnet on one hand. She also had a nose ring. He had a funny feeling this was Andrea, the empath who had figured out the true identity of his sister--she matched the description Daria had given of Andrea last June.

The middle-aged woman said, "Okay everyone! I want every incoming freshman to sign in right now. Then we'll all put you into groups for a tour of the place. You'll all be going to the same places, just not at the same time."

Derek got in line and eventually signed in. Later on, he was put into a group--and among the freshmen was the Goth girl he'd seen earlier. The young woman in charge of his group was about his age. She had blonde hair tied in a ponytail, a light blue jacket, a darker blue shirt and jeans. She also had the smell of alcohol on her. It wasn't very strong, but his keen sense of smell enabled him to detect it. She'd been drinking, though not enough that a normal human could smell it.

"Hello everyone," she said. "My name is Lindy Armstrong and I'm a junior at Lawndale State University."

The others around Derek started giving their names. The Goth girl introduced herself as Andrea Hecuba-Thome. Hecuba-Thome? Derek thought. That was an interesting last name! When it came time for Derek to introduce himself, Andrea was among those who turned to look at him. But she was the only one of them who had a speculative look--the others were clearly admiring his appearance.

At the end of the introductions, Lindy announced that they would begin their tour in the main building, which was the place for English and foreign language classes. As she led them out the main hall to the English and foreign language departments, Derek felt a hand tugging his shirt, so he had to get near the back of the group. When he was at the back, he turned--and saw Andrea.

"May I ask why you're here?" asked Andrea.

"You may, but before I answer you, I have a question of my own," said Derek. "Do you know a young woman named Daria Morgendoffer?"

"Not very well, but we're acquaintances," said Andrea. "I got to know her a little better when she was really worried about her good friend, Trent Lane. She was afriad that a girl named Rachel, whom she was dating, was bad news for him (1)."

Derek now knew this was the same Andrea who had alerted Daria as to Rachel's true identity. And this probably meant that she had realized who he really was. So it was time for him to come clean. He sighed and said, "That girl happens to be my sister. And I found out about your role in her being driven away thanks to Daria. After I had to save her and Jane from Ms. Li, she told Stacy, my girlfriend--she was with me at the time--about how she met Rachel. That's how I learned that you were an empath."

"I hope you're not mad at me for helping Daria figure out who she was--or at Daria for thwarting Rachel," Andrea said.

"Rachel was wrong to seduce Trent," said Derek. "I have no problem with her seducing a jerk so she could drain him of his vitality--but Trent seems to have been a nice guy. In fact, after Rachel told me about her time in Lawndale and about her encounters with Daria--she had three altogether--I realized that if Daria had a crush on Trent, he can't have been a bad guy. That's why I think Rachel was wrong."

Andrea then explained, "When I first came in here, I thought I could tell that one of the people in here had an aura that had an animal-like quality to it, but there were so many students here that I wasn't sure which one was the one. Then I got in your group, I realized that the person with the animal-like quality to their aura was in my group. But it wasn't until you introduced yourself that I focused on you--and realized you were the one that had the animal-like quality. Not only that, that quality was very similar to but not quite the same as that of Rachel. I then realized you were a kitsune, like her. So now, why are you here?"

"It's a long story," said Derek. "I'll tell you the whole story at another time, so I'll just give the short version: I came here to find a permanent companion. I've been lonely for a long time and after I got in touch with Rachel--we'd been out of touch for an even longer time than I'd been lonely--I believed that I'd find my companion here."

"You said that Stacy's your girlfriend," said Andrea. "Is she the one for you?"

"Yes," said Derek. "I'm not using her the way Rachel used Trent. I fell in love with her. Believe me on that."

"Actually, I do," said Andrea. "I was able to pick up your emotions as you talked about Stacy. You radiated the same kind of feelings that Trent had for Rachel. I suppose Stacy returns your feelings for her."

"Yeah," Derek says, smiling warmly at that. "That's why we're dating. I have one more question. I don't really have a last name and just use whatever last name I can think of. But why is your name Hecuba-Thome?"

"Actually, it was originally just Thome," said Andrea. "But when I started getting into the Goth scene in middle school, I added the name 'Hecuba' to my given last name. I had it legally changed to Hecuba-Thome when I was 16 and old enough to do so."

At that point, they heard Lindy say, "Here we are at the English section." It was time to focus on the Orientation tour.

Lawndale Mall--

Stacy and her friends were heading towards Cashman's, as usual. Stacy was happy to spend time with her friends--or at least with Quinn. Sandi was still rather bitchy and Tiffany was as slow as she had been since her sophmore year--and hadn't been much brighter even before that. Still, Stacy felt enough loyalty to Sandi & Tiffany to want to stick around with them. Besides, maybe they had their own issues that caused them to be the way they were--or at least Sandi did. Stacy couldn't quite understand what issues Tiffany might have that would make her so slow, but maybe she had them too.

"My friend whom I met when I worked at Governor's Park (2), Lindy, just called me this morning," said Quinn. "She told me that she was going to be shepherding freshmen through Orientation today. Isn't Derek going to Lawndale State University? That's where Lindy attends college."

"Yeah," said Stacy. "I'll speak to him about it tomorrow. We're heading to the Baltimore Aquarium tomorrow afternoon."

"I've heard of it," Quinn admitted. "But the guys I dated never wanted to take me there, and I wasn't really interested in it anyway."

"I hope it's a nice treat," Stacy said. "It probably will be. Derek rarely takes me anywhere unless he thinks I might be interested in it."

"You really are lucky," said Quinn, a little wistfully. "Until I mistakenly believed that Mom thought I wasn't mature enough to have a steady boyfriend, I didn't really want to have one. I think it was because I believed that I'd be pressured to have sex if I had a steady boyfriend and I wasn't ready for it yet. But then I decided I should have a steady boyfriend to prove that I was mature enough to have one. But I just wasn't ready (3). But now that I see you with Derek, and I see how happy you are--I wonder if maybe I should get one as well."

"Only if you're ready to have one," Stacy advised. "One great thing about Derek is that he doesn't pressure me. I think he wants to sleep with me--"

"Of course," said Sandi, interrupting Stacy. "All guys want to have sex with a girl they're going out with."

"Would you please let me continue?" asked Stacy, a little angrily. "Thanks. I was saying that although Derek wants to sleep with me, he doesn't want to pressure or force me into it. He didn't even want me pressuring myself into it. So I'd give you the same advice he gave me. Ask yourself if you feel ready to have a steady boyfriend. If not, then wait until you are ready."

"I will," promised Quinn. "I think the main reason why I'm wondering about going steady now is because as I said before, I see how happy you are with Derek. But since I remember what happened the last time, I'll take my time deciding if I'm ready--and if I am, when I am ready to have what you have."

"Thanks," said Stacy, in relief. Then she asked, "Oh and before I forget, what's the name of your friend from Governor's Park?"

"Lindy Armstrong," Quinn told her. "She's nice enough, but she's got a drinking problem. I just hope she doesn't drink when she shouldn't--or too much when she should. She had to leave Governor's Park when the manager found out she was drinking on the job."

Stacy said, "If she was drinking while on the job, Lindy definitely has a drinking problem! I hope she realizes it and gets help--she might need it!"

Dinner time, Lawndale State University--

Derek was sitting with Andrea, another guy and another girl at a table. The guy was a real shaggy-looking guy who gave his first name as Dewey, but admitted that everyone called him Shaggy. The girl was a blonde whose hair fell over her face on one side. She called herself Jennifer. Andrea, Jennifer, and Shaggy were all trying beer, but Derek stuck to soda. He'd told Jennifer and Shaggy that he had an alcoholic uncle who died of complications from his alcoholism and that seeing what happened to his uncle caused him to swear off alcohol. But he privately told Andrea what he'd told Stacy earlier--that if he drank too much his tail would be revealed and he didn't want to drink alcohol if he didn't have to.

Since Jennifer and Shaggy talked to each other, it was easy for Derek and Andrea to have a private conversation of their own. Derek revealed the whole story of how he came to Lawndale, as well as his backstory. Andrea had revealed that her father was a military man who hadn't been pleased with Andrea's becoming a Goth and avoiding "normal" activities. That was why he and her mother had her work at Payday in the second half of her junior year (4). Derek was glad his own mother had never done such a thing to him, and he said as much.

As the meal wound down, he saw Lindy get up from another table and head over to one table to tell them something. The smell of alcohol he'd noticed earlier was more pronounced, and he noticed she was a little shakier in her movements than she was earlier. He began to suspect that Lindy might have a drinking problem of her own, or might even be an alcoholic. He made a mental note to mention it to Lindy as soon as possible.

Lindy got up with the four from the other table and headed over to his table. As she approached, the smell of alcohol became so strong that it almost overwhelmed Derek. Somehow he retained his composure.

"Now, I'm going to lead you to your dormitory rooms for the night, so that you can pack your belongings for the night," said Lindy. "I'll tell you all who you will be rooming with for the night. Derek and Dewey, you will be rooming together. Andrea & Jennifer, you will be rooming together." Then she told the two guys and two girls at the other table that they'll be rooming with each other as well. "Any questions?"

They had no questions, so they headed off to the dormitories. The girls were settled into their dormitories for the night before Lindy took the guys to their rooms. Derek and Shaggy were the last ones to be shown to their room. Derek had Shaggy go into the room first, claiming that he had something he needed to say to Lindy.

"What did you want to tell me?" asked Lindy.

"Has somebody ever told you that you might have a problem controlling your drinking?" asked Derek.

"Quinn told me that once before," Lindy admitted. "But I don't have a drinking problem. Believe me, if you met my mother, you'd know what a drinking problem really was!"

Derek wasn't overly surprised to hear that Lindy had a family member with a drinking problem, presumably alcoholism. Alcoholism tended to run in families more often than not. Lindy continued, "Whenever I think I'm going overboard with my drinking, I stop for awhile, just to prove that I can."

But you always return to drinking, thought Derek, but he didn't say it out loud. One thing he had learned during his travels is that people who had trouble with drugs (including alcohol, of course) were very good with denial. She probably had more of a problem than she wanted to admit, but she'd have to find it out on her own. He just hoped that she would do so before she or someone else was badly hurt.

"I hope that really is the case," he said instead. "If it isn't--if drinking's more of a problem than you realize or want to realize--I'll try to help you out. Your friend Quinn--that would be Quinn Morgendoffer, right? I know her because she's the friend of my girlfriend. My girlfriend's name is Stacy Rowe."

"Yeah, that's my friend Quinn," said Lindy.

"Well, I'm sure Quinn will help you," said Derek. "Of course, I don't know how I can help since I'm just a freshman, but I'll do my best."

"I'll think about it if I need help, but right now I don't need it," said Lindy. "You go in and get some sleep. Good-night, Derek."

"Good-night, Lindy," Derek said. He headed inside. Although he knew Lindy still wasn't ready to admit that she had a drinking problem (at least), he knew he'd have to be there for her when she realized she needed it--as much as he could, considering that she was a junior and he was a freshman.

11:30 am, the next morning--

Stacy had just left church with her parents an hour ago. Once she got home, she got changed into her regular clothes. Derek told her the previous day that he was going to pick her up at 11:30 am and they'd have lunch at the aquarium before looking at the various exhibits. She also put on a little perfume, which she hadn't done before heading to church.

Right on the dot at 11:30, she heard the car pull up. She went outside, and saw Derek waiting by his car. "Hey there, Derek!" she called out as she rushed to him.

"Hey, Stacy!" he said as he hugged her. He smiled before saying, "Nice perfume. Come on. We have to get going so we can reach Baltimore by noon."

Stacy hopped in. Derek got in as well and soon they were on their way to Baltimore. Stacy looked eagerly at the surroundings. She was very excited about going to the Baltimore Aquarium. True, she had never been there before, but she believed--and hoped--that she'd like it.

"I wonder where we should eat for lunch?" she asked.

"We can either go to the Aquarium Cafe in the main building or to the Atrium Cafe in the smaller one with the dolphins," he said. "The Aquarium Cafe includes freshly made pizza, flame-grilled burger, daily specials, and beverages. The Atrium Cafe has burgers and fries, ice cream and fountain soda."

"I think I'd rather go to the Aquarium Cafe," said Stacy. She grinned at Derek as she added, "We can have some pizza and I can suggest you have some beer so I can see you remind me that you don't want to reveal your tail."

He chuckled at that and said, "I think you're developing a nice sense of humor. As long as it's not nasty but just playful, I'll definitely take it."

After lunch--

Having had lunch in the Aquarium cafe in the Pier 3 Pavilion, Derek approached the information desk and soon got a guide named Tyler Isaacs who could explain the various animals in the five levels of the main building and allow them to see the dolphins in the Pier 4 pavillion.

As Tyler began showing them the various animals in the first level, Wings in the Water, Derek was amazed by all the fish he saw. He was glad to see the sharks and stingrays from a safe distance, but he wished he could pet the green sea turtle. Still, maybe it was just as well--the turtles were endangered, after all. He, Stacy and Tyler eventually went up an escalator to the second level, Maryland: Mountains to the Sea. There were all kinds of fish native to Maryland on this level and the exhibits progressed from the Allegheny stream, to a tidal marsh, to a coastal beach and finally to the Atlantic Shelf.

"This is amazing!" said Stacy. "I never knew there were so many fish native to Maryland!"

"Now we both know," said Derek, smiling. After learning all they could about the fish which were native to Maryland, they then went up an escalator to the third level, which was called Surviving Through Adaptation. Tyler pointed out such unique animals as the chambered Nautilus, the giant Pacific octopus and the electric eel. Derek was glad that the animals were behind that glass tank--he didn't want to encounter them, although he suspected that they'd only attack if provoked. Then they went to the fourth level, which had three aquatic habitats. The first was the sea cliffs exhibit.

"Wow!" said Stacy as she looked at the sea cliffs and Tyler pointed out the animals there, including the Atlantic Puffin. When they traveled to the Pacific coral reef exhibit, she was equally awestruck--as was Derek. But he was also only too aware that that habitat and the one in the Amazon rain forest were endangered thanks to short-sighted humans. Unfortunately, they couldn't pet the giant Amazon River turtle either--it was behind the glass tank in the Amazon River forest exhibit--but he was happy to see it as they went up to the fifth and final level--the upland tropical Amazon rain forest one.

Derek was awestruck at all the lush foilage he saw, as well as the animals all around him. There was a cave of various glass enclosed displays with reptiles, terrestrial arthopods and amphibians, among which was a blue poison dart frog. It looked beautiful and was brightly colored but Derek was glad it was hidden behind glass and neither he nor Stacy could touch it. He didn't want either one of them hurt by its poison. But the best part was that they could walk freely in the enclosure and see birds and animals moving around freely in it.

"It's just like being in the Amazon rain forest," he told Stacy softly. "I hope the Brazilians are able to look past the short-term profits and see that the rain forest is worth protecting--that all rain forests and forests in general are worth protecting."

"I think this is the most amazing part so far," said Stacy. "I'm glad you took me to this place--and I'm glad I agreed to go with you."

>From there, they went down an escalator and were in the Atlantic coral reef exhibit. As they went down a walkway, they saw all sorts of fish that would be found from close to shore to out in the trench and the deep ocean, including a green moray eel. They then saw the open ocean exhibit, which was full of several species of sharks as well as sawfish. The final thing they saw was an underwater viewing area, which was amazing as well.

>From there, they went to the Pier 4 pavilion, where Tyler took them to the dolphinquarium. There Derek and Stacy watched in amazement as the dolphins gamboled underwater and on occasion leapt out of the water and into the air. As he watched Stacy gasp in delight and saw the joy and wonder on her face, Derek smiled. She looked so happy, and that pleased him.

This was shaping up to be a terrific day for them both.

6:30 pm, entering Lawndale--

Stacy was so happy as the car she & Derek were in entered Lawndale's city limits. It had been such a wonderful day. She was glad she got to go to the Baltimore Aquarium--it was all she hoped it would be and perhaps even more. But the best part was still to come.

Derek drove her to a lake in Lawndale. He'd found it while looking at a map of the area and on the way back to Lawndale, he'd asked Stacy if she wanted him to take her there and to spend time in a boathouse overlooking the lake (5). She'd agreed, naturally, so they parked their car near the lake and walked hand-in-hand to the boathouse.

Once they got there, they slipped inside. Derek gradually drew Stacy into an embrace, and she sighed as she rested her head against his shoulder. "This was a perfect date," she told him. "Thank you for taking me to the aquarium."

"You're welcome, Stacy," Derek whispered. "I hoped you'd like it--I did." Stacy looked up then--and found herself looking down into Derek's golden-brown eyes. Everything began to fade away once again except for a feeling of anticipation.

Derek then bent his head down and kissed Stacy. She melted into his arms, her head falling back in total surrender as Derek pulled her even closer into his arms. Sensations more intense than she ever felt even when he kissed her almost overwhelmed Stacy.

Derek lifted one hand and began gently stroking Stacy's back, causing her to tremble. Finally, he rested his hand against the small of her back--only to move his other hand and slowly, tenatively, begin caressing her more intimately. The intensity of the sensations she was feeling increased, exciting her but at the same time making her a little nervous. She wasn't sure how far she could go before it was too far. And yet, she wanted more, lifting one hand to rest itself in his hair. She was beginning to crave more.

But as Derek's hand moved down Stacy's stomach toward her jeans, she was beginning to tremble once again--and not solely in anticipation. A mixture of excitement and fear began to fill her. She wanted to go further, but she was becoming more and more afraid to. And somehow, in the midst of the intense sensations, she was dimly aware of a new tension within Derek--before he slowly moved his hand until it was also against the small of her back and then lifted his head to look down at Stacy.

"I could feel your excitement--but also your fear," he whispered. "I'm sorry if I scared you too much."

"You didn't," she reassured him. "That was only as about as far as I wanted to go. Still, it's been a wonderful day and I'm glad I got to share it with you."

"Me too," he whispered as she rested her head against his shoulder once again.

Note: I went on a couple of field trips to the Baltimore Aquarium when I was a girl and I loved it, so I decided to use it in this section.

1. Reference to Rey Fox's fanfic "Kitsune".
2. Reference to "Is It College Yet?"
3. Reference to "One J at a Time".
4. Reference to "Mart of Darkness".
5. Referred to in "My Night at Daria's".

To be continued,,,