Blood, Sweat, and Cheers

by Kristen Bealer

"Rah, rah, rah! Gooo, team!" Angie finished her demonstration and walked over to Jane with a cheerful smile. "Okay, now it's your turn. Give it everything you've got!"

Jane stepped forward, turned around, and held a pom-pom up in the air. For a moment, doubts began to invade her mind. Shrugging them off, she told herself, You've gone this far. No backing down now. Hell, you probably won't make the cut, anyway.

"Rah, rah, rah!" she cheered, mimicking Angie's movements. "Gooo, team!" She finished with a flourish, waving the pom-poms as enthusiastically as she could. No. This is silly, right? I'm just going to tell them--

The cheerleaders erupted into, well, cheers. Before she knew it, Jane was surrounded by a crowd of enthusiastic girls, enveloped in a group hug. She was stunned into silence for a minute, unused to so much physical contact. In spite of herself, though, she felt a little disappointed when the cheerleaders stepped back again.

"Welcome to the team!" Angie said, tossing her blond hair. The other girls nodded and grinned at Jane. This isn't what I want, Jane reminded herself. I don't really want to be a cheerleader. I don't want to be conventional. I just want...

"I just want you to come back inside and play with me," six-year-old Jane begged. She handed Trent his sandwich and plopped down across from him in the tent, arms folded.

Trent took a bite of the sandwich and shrugged. "If they want me to come home, they can ask me to."

"But I want you to!" Jane insisted. "No one else pays any attention to me. Mom's always working on her stupid pottery, Summer and Wind are always out on dates, Penny's just mean, and Dad..." Jane stuttered a little and was silent. She hadn't seen her father in almost a year, and she could barely even remember what he looked like. Mustering her best pout, she said, "I'm asking you. Please?"

Trent gave her a little smile, but Jane knew he wasn't coming back yet, not for her. He was waiting for someone else in the family to ask him. Someone other than Jane. He cared about her, she knew, but to him she was just there. She was the one who brought him sandwiches.

"It's not fair," she grumbled as she walked back to the house. "I'm s'posed to be part of the family, too. Don't I count?"

Shaking off the memory, Jane took another look at the girls gathered around her. The word "acceptance" floated through her mind. It was followed closely by "affection" and "family."

Why not? Jane decided. It might be nice to actually belong somewhere, for once.

"Great!" she replied, surprised to find that not all of her enthusiasm was feigned.

Sitting on the bleachers nearby, Brittany slumped over in dismay as Jodie put a comforting hand on her shoulder.

That afternoon, Jane stood before a mirror in her room and stared at herself in the cheerleading uniform. It took a minute before she realized that the doorbell was ringing, and she went to answer it.

"Well, hello, pod person who looks like Jane. May I please speak with the real Jane?"

Jane stepped aside to let Daria in. This was going to be harder than she thought. "I know how stupid it might seem, but before you--"

"Stupid?" Daria rolled her eyes. "Joining the track team was stupid. Joining the cheerleading squad is so far below stupid it makes Kevin look like Stephen Hawking."

Every word Jane had planned to say in explanation, from her family's neglect to her long-standing loneliness to her desire for acceptance, vanished before Daria had even finished her snide remark. All that remained was anger. "That's right, I forgot. Poor, dumb Janey isn't allowed to do anything without her royal majesty's approval."

Daria's smirk faded. "Excuse me?"

"Every time," Jane began, then jabbed her finger toward Daria for emphasis. "Every. Time. I do something that doesn't revolve around you, you act like a spoiled brat and throw a goddamn temper tantrum about it. The track team. Tom. And now this. I suppose you're waiting for me to throw myself at your feet and beg for forgiveness?"

"We're talking you becoming a cheerleader!" The disgust in Daria's voice only made Jane angrier.

"Yes, we are. I made a decision, and as my friend I was expecting you to support me on it."

"What, you expected me to be happy for you?" Daria sounded incredulous, and her voice rose almost imperceptibly.

"Happy? When are you ever happy about anything? Just because you revel in being alone and miserable doesn't mean I--" Jane didn't finish her sentence, because at that moment Daria abruptly turned and walked out the front door, slamming it behind her.

That Saturday, Daria was still fuming as she trailed behind the Fashion Club. She had avoided Jane in school the previous day--or maybe Jane had been avoiding her; it didn't really matter. The only highlight of the day had been O'Neill's total breakdown in class, and the students were already laying bets on how long it would take for him to come back to school.

"So, like, explain to me why your cousin or whatever has been following us around?" Sandi asked, goading Quinn yet again.

Quinn was running out of excuses. "She's like a personal shopping assistant, Sandi," she said. "Ooh!" she exclaimed, trying to distract her friends. "Look at those cute shoes!"

Sandi ignored the attempt. "Gee, Quinn. Do you really want us to accept her help in making our fashion choices?"

"Not that kind of assistant, Sandi." Quinn threw an almost apologetic look toward Daria before adding, "She's here to, um, hold our bags so we don't get shopper's cramp."

"I see." Without another word, the other girls began handing their bags to Daria, who accepted them with a brief glare at her sister. I should have found a way out of this. I bet Jane--

"Daria?" As though conjured by her thoughts, Jane was standing only a few feet away. Daria felt the bags in her arms grow even heavier as she saw her friend--ex-friend--standing with the cheerleaders. Shopping at the mall with her new friends. This must be her initiation. Or indoctrination. Whichever. She stared through Jane, waiting to hear her apology.

"We were just heading out," Jane said. "If you want, you can catch a ride home with us." The implication behind the offer was obvious: Give them a chance. Give me a chance.

"I think I'd prefer the company of the Fashion airheads to the Cheer airheads," Daria snapped, looking pointedly at Jane.

Jane stepped backwards, startled by the harsh tone. "You know," she said, "If you'd just let me--"

"Come on, Jane," one of the cheerleaders interrupted, glaring at Daria. "Let's just go." Jane gave Daria one last look before walking away.

It doesn't matter, Daria reassured herself. When she finally gets tired of the pom-pom zombies, everything will go back to normal.

As Daria sat down in her usual desk for English the following Monday, she watched Jane walk into the room. Hesitating, Jane looked in her direction. Daria took in the pink tank top and capri pants and rolled her eyes before turning away.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Jane walk over to a different seat near the other side of the room. Daria glared at her back until Brittany startled her by dropping into Jane's old seat.

"Hi, Daria," she muttered, glancing in the direction of Jane, now occupying her usual seat next to Kevin. Her cheerleading uniform had been replaced by blue jeans and a yellow t-shirt.

"Uh, hi, Brittany," Daria replied, surprised by the lack of enthusiasm in Brittany's voice. "If you're mad that Jane took your--"

"No!" The vehemence in the other girl's voice silenced Daria. Still staring, she explained, "I'd rather not sit there, anyway. Kevvie and I...we..." She trailed off and looked away. "He dumped me." Daria didn't know what to say, so she kept quiet. Brittany continued, "He got back on the football team, but I'm not a cheerleader anymore." At that, she glared one more time in Jane's direction.

"Oh. Um, I'm sorry?"

Brittany just shrugged and bit her lip as an elderly woman with gray hair shuffled into the room. The entire class winced as she scrawled her name on the chalkboard. In case any of the students couldn't read--and with a sidelong glance at Kevin, Daria wondered if maybe that wasn't so far-fetched--the woman said, "Hello, boys and girls. My name is Mrs. Stoller, and I'm going to be your teacher today."

Fifteen minutes later, Daria had pulled out a notebook and was working on a story while Mrs. Stoller read out loud to the class from "Charlotte's Web." She was so engrossed in her writing that she didn't notice Brittany reading over her shoulder until she whispered, "That's not right!"

Daria jumped in her seat and turned to look at Brittany. "What?"

Brittany pointed to the page she was working on. "Your story. It's wrong."

After a moment of confusion, Daria finally nodded in understanding. "I know, it's kind of violent, but that's--"

With a shake of her head, Brittany explained, "No, I mean your character, uh," she paused to glance again at the notebook before continuing, "Melody just clicked off the safety on her gun, but she's carrying a Glock."

Daria just stared at her.

Brittany sighed. "Glocks don't have a manual safety."

"How do you know that?"

"Doesn't everybody?" Before Daria could stop her, Brittany grabbed the notebook and pointed to something else on the page. "And here. You have this guy firing a machine gun with one hand. He'd totally get knocked over if he did that!" She flipped to a new page. "Here, I'll write down some ideas. Never mind the Glock; I think Melody would be better off using..."

Jane shrugged off Kevin's arm for the tenth time since the parade had started. And the parade had started ten minutes ago. "Kevin," she began in a kind but firm tone, "Didn't I tell you that touching me with any appendage would result in removal of said appendage?"

The threat didn't faze him, most likely because Kevin had no idea what the word "appendage" meant. "Relax, babe," was his suave reply. "You're the football sweetheart and I'm the QB. I'm supposed to be touching you and stuff. It's the law."

"Why the hell did the other cheerleaders vote me football sweetheart, anyway?" Jane grumbled. Then she felt Kevin's arm snake around her shoulders yet again, and her question was answered. Gee, thanks, girls. She wished, not for the first time that day, that Kevin would just find a new girlfriend already. Better yet, she thought as the float passed by a very depressed Brittany in civilian clothes, he could just swallow his pride and go back to his old one.

"Here, Kevin," she finally said, grabbing some candy and shoving it into his hand--the one that was already reaching for her ass. "Have some candy."

Robert turned to look at them. "I think we're supposed to be throwing that, ma'am."

As Kevin and the other football players began hurling the candy at spectators as hard as they could, Jane turned away in disgust. Her eyes immediately met the cold, disbelieving stare of Daria Morgendorffer. She looked away quickly, wondering briefly what Daria was holding in that brown paper bag.

Daria sighed as the float passed by, carrying the friend she'd thought she knew. It's been a couple of weeks already, she reflected. How much longer can she keep fooling herself?

She turned to look for a place to cross the street and nearly ran right into a young man standing nearby. Nearly losing her grip on the toilet paper in the bag, she fumbled with it for a moment before she looked up. "Sorry, I--Tom?"

"Oh, hi, Daria," replied Tom Sloane. He looked almost as miserable as Daria felt.

"Here to support Jane in her new, yet-to-be-exorcised school spirit?" she asked.

"I think she's got enough support up there as it is." His tone was light, but Daria could hear the slight edge in it. He saw Kevin trying to grope his girlfriend. No wonder he looks so pissed off.

"Don't get too worried. Kevin's about thirty seconds away from a knee to the groin, if I know Jane." She frowned. "Although I'm not so sure I do know Jane, anymore." That figures, Daria thought. Here I thought Tom was going to ruin Jane's and my friendship and we end up doing a very effective job of ruining it all on our own.

Tom shrugged. "I'm still trying to get used to it, too. I just keep remembering something Trent told me."

"'I swear, sir, I was just holding it for a friend'?"

Tom chuckled, then explained, "He said, 'Don't abandon her now, man. She needs you.' I thought he was kidding, but maybe..."

Daria narrowed her eyes. "What are you getting at? You think I abandoned her? She was the one who--"

Tom held his hands out and made a calming gesture. "No! That's not what I meant." He sighed. "Look, can we maybe start over?" When she didn't respond, he held out a hand. "Hi, I'm Tom."

She stared at his hand with one eyebrow raised for a minute before her expression finally softened. She shifted the paper bag to one arm, shook his hand, and replied, "Hi, Tom. Nice to meet you. Now, if you don't mind," she said before pausing to check her watch, "I have just under ten minutes to get this bag home to someone who needs it more badly than I'm comfortable thinking about right now."

Tom held up a set of keys. "I don't really have any reason to stick around, and I've got about half an hour before I have to pick up Jane from the end of the parade. Want a lift?"

With something dangerously close to a smile on her face, Daria shrugged. "Sure. Although I think I remember vowing never to ride in your car." With a nod over her shoulder in the direction of the long-gone parade float, she added, "But it's not like I'd be the first person we know who betrayed her principles."

They walked away, not noticing and unnoticed by a crying Tad Gupty. He was searching the crowd in desperation, one hand clutched firmly in Brittany Taylor's.

Later, as Daria stepped out of the car, Tom scribbled something on a piece of paper and handed it to her. "This is my e-mail. Listen, I think we should stay in touch. For Jane's sake."

Daria accepted the paper and nodded. "Assuming she ever comes out of her body-glitter-induced trance."

Tom drove away as Daria walked into the house. As she closed the door behind her, she glanced at the e-mail address Tom had given her. For Jane's sake. She shook off the uncomfortable feeling creeping around in the back of her mind and headed up the stairs to knock on the bathroom door.

"I said I was sorry! What else do you want me to do?" Standing in the middle of the Lane kitchen, Jane crossed her arms and glowered at Tom.

"You could start by keeping your promises," he suggested bitterly.

"We can go bowling with your friends anytime," Jane insisted. "The other girls scheduled an emergency cheerleading practice for Saturday and I've got to be there."

"What the hell is an emergency cheerleading practice, anyway? Did someone forget what a pyramid looks like?"

"Very funny. You may not take this stuff seriously, but I do. I made a commitment to the squad."

"Yeah, and you also made a commitment with me. And for a date last week. And another one the week before that. I've barely even seen you since the parade a few weeks ago. How many more dates are you going to break in favor of those stupid cheerleaders?"

"Excuse me, but I am one of 'those stupid cheerleaders.'"

"No, you aren't!" Tom ran a hand through his hair in frustration. "I've tried, Jane, really I've tried to get used to this, but this isn't you. The Jane I know doesn't do anything on anyone else's terms. When I met you, I could tell that you were, like, from a cooler world. Now, you're just...just..."


"Yes!" Tom exploded, throwing his hands in the air. "But why? What was wrong with the old Jane Lane?"

"Nothing," Jane replied. "And there's nothing wrong with the new one, either." With a wry laugh, she added, "You should be happy about this. I bet your parents are thrilled. They've always wanted you to have a conventional girlfriend, right?"

"But I didn't." The sorrow in Tom's voice was unmistakable. For just a moment, Jane wavered. She looked at the uniform she was wearing and put a hand to the ponytail in her hair, held by a scrunchie. Then she looked at the look of total incomprehension on Tom's face and her expression hardened. He doesn't--won't--understand. He says he likes that I do things on my own terms, but when it comes down to it, he just wants his own way. Just like Daria.

"If you can't accept me as I am, that's your problem." She put an added emphasis on the word "accept," but he didn't notice. Walking to the front door, she opened it and faced Tom. "It's up to you. Stay or go."

She knew what the answer would be before she even said the words. Tom took one last, unhappy look at Jane and walked out the door.

Daria barely listened as Quinn and Helen argued about Quinn's dating life--or lack thereof--that weekend while Helen and Jake attended a conference. She was still thinking about the e-mail from Tom she'd read earlier that morning. They'd only exchanged a few e-mails since the parade, but Daria had assumed everything was going smoothly between him and Jane. The news that they'd broken up had come as a complete surprise.

Helen's voice broke into her thoughts. "The boys of Lawndale will just have to suffer. I'll tell you what. You can each invite one friend over"

She trailed off, embarrassed, and the entire room grew quiet as everyone tried not to look in Daria's direction.

Oh, of course. Wouldn't want to remind me that I don't have any friends. Daria stood up and left the table without a word. As if I'd forget.

As she waited for English class to start, Daria plotted out a future Melody Powers story. She hated to admit it, but her stories had gained a sort of gritty realism ever since she'd let Brittany help with them. That girl has picked up all kinds of bizarre facts from going on safari with her dad. Or at least, I'm going to assume that's how she knows so many creative ways to kill someone.

She put away her notebook as Mr. O'Neill walked in. He'd come back to school about a week after his disappearance, but he was now noticeably more subdued. Daria felt a twinge of sympathy for the man in spite of herself, although she was grateful for his new reluctance to assign wacky projects.

While O'Neill began writing some notes on the board, Daria glanced over at Jane. She had remained in her new seat, while Brittany was still sitting next to Daria. O'Neill had been confused at the new seating arrangement at first but hadn't bothered to change it back.

For just a second, Daria considered inviting Brittany over that weekend. Then she visualized Brittany, Quinn, and any of Quinn's friends together in the same house and shuddered.

That evening, Daria was in her room working on her story outline when she heard a knock on the door.

"Occupied," she called out.

Jake opened the door a crack. "Huh?"

"Nothing. What do you need?" She turned in her chair to face him.

"Well, Kiddo," he began. "It's about this weekend."

Daria sighed. "I appreciate your concern, Dad, but I'm okay. I've just started working on a new story, so I'll probably be too busy with that to, uh..." Miss Jane.

"Actually, your mother was--your mother and I were thinking that maybe you might want to come with me instead. This trip could be a chance to, um," he said, then paused as if trying to remember something, and finished, "to really get to know each other. You know, talk about our hopes, dreams, fears, and, er, stuff."

I sure hope that "stuff" refers to Jane and not...I'd rather not even consider what else it might refer to. Out loud, she replied, "Mom blew you off for work, huh?"

Jake's face twitched slightly with suppressed anger, then relaxed again. He thought for a moment before speaking. "I know we're never really 'bonded,'" he said, making finger quotes as he said the word. "But I think this could be, uh, fun?"

Daria recognized the anxious look on his face and realized that he wasn't just asking her at Helen's request. He really is worried about me. She glanced at the computer screen and slowly said, "I guess the story can wait."

With a sigh, Daria turned away from the airplane window and looked over at her father. They'd barely exchanged half a dozen words since the plane had taken off, and he looked like he wanted to say something. Noticing his white-knuckled hands gripping the armrests, she struggled with herself for a minute or two before speaking.

"So this is probably kind of hard for you, isn't it?"

Jake pulled out of his reverie. "What? Why should it be hard? Why should I have trouble initiating a heart-to-heart conversation with my oldest daughter?!" The question started out rhetorical, but it sure didn't end that way.

Daria blinked at her father. "I meant flying. Heights. It's probably sort of rough."

"Oh! That." Jake relaxed, but only slightly. "Yeah, I suppose. Did I ever tell you about the time Corporal Ellenbogen--"

Desperate to avoid hearing the story yet again, Daria quickly interrupted. "Anyway, I think it's cool that you're dealing with it like this. It's, um, you know," she said, her voice gradually dropping to a murmur, "heroic."

Jake froze, mid-rant, with his mouth still open. Then he closed his mouth and smiled at his daughter. "Thanks, Kiddo." They sat in silence for a few minutes. A flight attendant came by, passing out bags of peanuts. "Uh, I guess things have been kind of rough for you too, huh?" he finally asked.

Daria looked down at the bag in her lap and began twisting it open. "Maybe a little." Jake didn't say anything, so she kept talking. "Jane and I have fought before, but we've always worked it out after a couple of days. Now it's been almost a month and I don't think she even wants to talk to me."

The bag finally broke open, but she just set it on her tray table and shifted her gaze to look out the window. "I'm not sure I want to talk to her, either. I mean, I want to, but I'm still kind of mad. I guess we both said some...things."

She watched a cloud drift past. With a trace of bitterness, she muttered, "Probably wouldn't have time for the Misery Chick, anyway, now that she's got her new clique."

She turned back to look at Jake when she felt his hand pat hers on the armrest. "Just so you know, Daria...I'm here for you." He glanced away, embarrassed, then looked back again. "I always will be."

Daria smiled just a little. "Thanks, Dad. A little melodramatic, but, uh, thanks."

"Sure thing, Kiddo." Jake picked up his own bag of peanuts and pulled it open. Clearly pleased with what Helen would have called a "breakthrough," he pushed onward. "So, what about boys? Got a fella you want to talk about?"

With a groan, Daria immediately replied, "No." She found herself wondering briefly if she'd have a chance to check her e-mail while they were at the hotel. Then, eager to break the awkward moment, she picked up the bag of peanuts and looked inside. "How did a salted goldfish get in here? Weird."

Saturday morning, Jane walked into the gym, pom-poms in hand, for practice. I don't feel very cheerful today, she thought.

She'd tried to wake Trent up to talk shortly after she and Tom had broken up, but he had fallen back asleep before she could even tell him about the fight that had started the whole thing. After that, he'd been gone most of the time with practices and gigs. Jane had barely seen Trent, asleep or awake, for the past few days.

Not that there's much he could have said. To him, breaking up is what you do when you're bored and want another shot at make-up sex. She sat down on the gym floor to begin her stretches. Most girls talk to their mothers about this kind of thing, right? Jane snorted. Most girls' mothers wouldn't start talking about butterflies. Reaching sideways to grasp one of her feet, she frowned. Most girls' mothers would be around to talk to.

"Hi, Jane!" She turned slightly in her stretch to see Angie walk in.

"Hey," Jane said in reply as she stood.

Angie stopped and looked at her. "Are you okay?" she asked. "You seem kinda...sad."

Jane forced a smile and began to dismiss the other girl's concerns, but something in Angie's expression stopped her. She cares, she realized. She's only known me about a month but she's genuinely concerned for me. "I broke up with my boyfriend a few days ago," she explained.

"Oh, no!" Nikki stepped into the gym just in time to hear Jane's words to Angie. Without another word, the sweet-faced brunette walked over to Jane and put her arms around her in a warm hug. Angie also came over to pat her on the shoulder.

"What's going on?" Lisa was standing nearby, watching the other girls. More cheerleaders were coming in now, and began to gather around Jane in a group.

"Guy stuff," Jane mumbled, a little embarrassed by the attention.

Lisa smirked. "The kind of guy stuff where we say, 'Awww,' the kind where we make fun of him, or the kind where we kick his butt?"

Jane laughed a little in spite of her sadness. "The kind where I get smothered with hugs, apparently."

Angie smiled at her. "You're on the squad, Jane. We don't just support the team; we support each other, too."

"Thanks," Jane said.

Lisa looked at her thoughtfully. "I think I know what you need," she said with a mischievous look on her face.

"What?" Oh God, please don't let the answer to this question be "a makeover." "

A rebound."

Nikki tilted her head. "But it's not basketball season."

Angie giggled. "No, she means Jane needs a new guy. A fling."

"Wait a--" Jane's eyes widened as she noticed the looks being exchanged in front of her.

"Okay, so who's available?" Lisa asked, tucking a lock of short brown hair behind her ear.

Nikki tilted her head and counted off names on her fingers. "Well, there's Jack, Robert, Peter..."

Jane waved her hands to get the girls' attention. "Hey, I never said I--"

Angie held up a hand. "Are we just counting junior varsity?"

Lisa nodded. "Better to start there. I'm sure we can find a suitable guy from the pool."

"Excuse me," Jane interrupted. "Let's say for the sake of argument that I even want to date someone else. Why does it have to be a football player? I mean, I know that rule about football players and cheerleaders having to date is just a load of crap."

Angie chuckled. "Oh, Jane. Of course you can date non-football players. But..."

Nikki finished, "Why would you want to?"

Before she could check herself, Jane replied, "Double-digit IQs?"

To her surprise, the girls only laughed. Lisa said, "Oh, please. Jane, nobody dates the football players for their brains."

"Except Jodie!" Nikki cut in.

"Yeah, sure," Lisa admitted, "but aside from Mack, all the football players are good for is eye candy and, well..." She grinned at Jane and the other cheerleaders giggled knowingly. "...Whatever else you want them for."

"And they're easy to manipulate," Angie added. "We can teach you all the tricks."

Jane opened her mouth to argue, but then paused to think about it. Okay, I've gotta admit the idea is tempting. And it would be nice to feel like the smart one in the relationship for once. "I guess I can do some shopping," she said with a gleam in her eyes.

Lisa said, "There's a party at Kevin's house after the game this Friday. It'll be the perfect time to browse the goods."

Jane smirked. "Oh, I intend to do more than that. I never buy anything without trying it on first."

"Has anyone seen Jane?" Nikki asked, searching the crowded party for her missing friend.

"Rumor has it she's been in the laundry room for almost half an hour." With a wink, Lisa added, "I think she found something in her size and had the cashier ring up her purchase."

"You can buy the clothes in there? Don't those belong to the Thompsons?"

Lisa looked at Nikki for a moment, shook her head, and walked away.

Meanwhile, Jane stepped out of the laundry room and smoothed her hair. "Just remember the ground rules," she said firmly. "Hands go only where I give them permission to go, no talking unless I speak to you first, and if I find out that you've been cheating on me I will tell Ms. Barch about it...and videotape the resulting carnage."

"Sure thing, Babe," Kevin replied as he walked out behind her.

"And stop calling me that!"


TO: TSloane
FROM: DariaM


We've arrived at the Quiet Ivy Non-Relaxation Retreat, and you'll be happy to know that the answers you suggested for my questionnaire worked perfectly. Most of the staff are keeping a safe distance, except for one doctor who keeps asking if I'll participate in a case study. I think the answer about the penguins appeals to his professional curiosity.



TO: Brittany!!!
FROM: DariaM


We're at the brain spa I told you about, and you'll be happy to know that the building is just as pretty as you thought it would be. They don't give massages or manicures, though, so you might want to pick a different spa for your next vacation.

I've gotten to the scene where Melody shoots the communist underground's leader in the chest. How long do you think would it take him to die from blood loss?



TO: DariaM
FROM: TSloane


The penguin one? Damn, I thought the part about toads and cream pies would be the winner. I guess I owe you ten bucks.

Pizza on Sunday night after you get back? I'll buy this time.



TO: DariaM
FROM: Brittany!!!

hi, daria! i'm sorry to hear theres no manicures there. if the bullet hits the bad guy in the lung, it will fill with blood and he'll sufocate within minutes. but if the ribs deflect the bullet into his stomick, the stomick acid will leak into his chest and he might take a lot longer to die and it will totally be a lot more painfull! hope your having lots of fun at the spa!


"Kevin, your father needs you to run to the store for some barbeque sauce," Charlene Thompson said to her son as she walked over to Kevin and Jane. She smiled a little as she watched Jane pick up his hand, which was drifting into dangerous territory, with her own and place it firmly on his own leg. "Jane, why don't you go with him?" In an undertone to Jane, she added, "Just in case Kevin isn't capable of bringing back the sauce on his own."

Jane smirked and began pulling Kevin toward his Jeep. "On it, Mrs. T.," she said with a mock-salute.

Charlene waved back and turned back to her husband. "I like that girl," she told him. "Much smarter than some girls I could mention."

Doug Thompson grunted and went back to grilling.

"Are you sure it was Quinn?" Tom glanced at Daria out of the corner of his eye as he drove.

Sitting next to him in the car, Daria shrugged. "If it wasn't her, then it was the bootlace gnomes. Step one in their attack against the dryer sock elves."

Tom chuckled. "And after they conquer them, then the world. Or at least the world's remaining laundry."

He pulled the car into a parking spot outside a small local shop and they got out. Noticing that Daria was limping a little from having one boot unlaced, he held out a hand to stop her, tugged out one of his own laces, and tied it around the boot to hold it closed.

"And people say chivalry is dead," Daria remarked as she stepped into the store with much greater ease.

"Nah," he replied, walking with only a very slight limp. "It faked its own death for the insurance money."

Jane trailed behind Kevin as he wandered the aisles of PayDay, pushing a shopping cart and humming a song that she was willing to bet had something to do with a large number of beer bottles on a wall.

"Hey, Ba--Jane?" Kevin asked. Jane was proud to note that it had taken only a sharp look to correct him this time.

"Yes, Kevin?"

"What were we supposed to get again?"

"Barbecue sauce."

"Oh, yeah." Kevin went back to humming, still wandering from aisle to aisle. Finally, he spoke again. "Where is the barbecue sauce?"

"In my hand." Jane held up the mega-size jug she had grabbed five minutes earlier.

"Okay." More humming. More wandering. More cart-pushing. A few minutes later, Kevin turned to look at Jane. "What were we supposed to get again?"

Daria paid for the bootlace and stepped away from the counter. She pulled the shoelace off her boot and handed it to Tom, then began tugging at the plastic package. She struggled with it for a moment before Tom held out his hand in a silent offer. With a resigned sigh, she handed it to him. He wrestled with the plastic for another few minutes before the gray-haired cashier smiled and passed him a pair of scissors. He accepted them with a sheepish look and the package was open in seconds.

Tom handed the scissors back to the cashier. "It's okay," she said with a knowing smile. "I'm sure your girlfriend appreciates the effort."

They were halfway to his car before Daria realized that neither of them had corrected the cashier. She also found it odd that she was not all that surprised by the idea of Tom and herself as a couple. The question is, she thought, is feeling surprised about not feeling more surprised good? After a moment, she frowned. I have been spending way too much time around Brittany.

Jane and Kevin waited in line at one of the PayDay registers in silence. After a moment, Kevin turned and opened his mouth to speak. Jane shook her head. Kevin closed his mouth and faced ahead again.

As she looked around the store, Jane suddenly locked eyes with Andrea. For a second, Jane assumed she'd been mistaken. Why would Andrea be willing to wear a smock and restock toilet paper? With a wry smile, she glanced down at her halter top and skirt. Then again, who am I to criticize someone else's choices?

She looked back at Andrea and nodded a little in greeting. Andrea nodded curtly in response, then raised an eyebrow at Kevin. The message was clear: You can do better.

Jane shrugged, but before any other gestures could be exchanged, she realized that it was their turn in the check-out line and the cashier was waiting expectantly for the barbecue sauce. She handed over the jug with one last, thoughtful look in Andrea's direction.

"Huh?" Kevin said, eyes wide.

Jane repeated, "I think we should break up." She sighed, then added for clarity, "See other people. Separate. Call it quits. Split up. Give each other a whole hell of a lot of space." She had waited to do this until after the barbecue, when Kevin dropped her off at her house, but she was beginning to wish she'd simply pinned a note to his shirt and walked away.

Leaning against his Jeep, Kevin frowned in an attempt at thought. "But we didn't have a fight. And there's no way you could have found out about Kimberly yet--"

Jane covered her face with one hand. "Let's just call it irreconcilable differences."

"Okay. Um. What?"

"Go home, Kevin."

Jane walked into the house as Trent entered the living room from the kitchen. His eyes looked through her more than at her, as they usually did since Jane had joined the squad, and he coughed. "Some girl called for you a few minutes ago."

"Which girl?" Jane felt a slight pang as she reflected that, not so long ago, she wouldn't have needed him to narrow it down.

"I don't know. I told her you were probably out with, um, that guy, and she said if it was taking him that long to get you home then he was either getting killed or getting..." He trailed off.

Lisa, Jane thought as she reached for the phone. She glanced back at Trent to see the flicker of brotherly concern on his face. "We weren't doing anything," Jane reassured him, dialing Lisa's number. "I dumped him."

Trent nodded with mild relief and shuffled away. Lisa answered, and after the usual chit-chat Jane got to the point. "I broke things off with Kevin." She closed her eyes, waiting to accept Lisa's disapproval.

"God, what took you so long?"

"I know I only gave it a couple of weeks, but--wait, what did you say?"

"I said, what took you so long? Jane, he was a rebound. I'm surprised he lasted more than a few days, frankly."

"Oh. So you aren't upset?"

Lisa laughed. "Hell, no! Jeez, you stayed with him way longer than any of the rest of us would have. Except Brittany, obviously."

The sound of Brittany's name sent an unexpected wave of guilt over Jane. "Okay, then," she said. "Listen, I'm beat. Talk to you at school Monday?"


As she hung up the phone, Jane realized she hadn't even thought about Brittany since she'd taken her spot on the squad. I guess when you're popular, all unpopular people just fade into the background. Kind of like Da--

She abruptly stood and walked upstairs to her bedroom. Never mind.

"Well, I'll show Helen. I'll pick up Quinn and make the lasagna. When Jake Morgendorffer says he'll do something, he dues it, I mean does it. Dammit!" Jake finally paused in mid-rant and turned to his older daughter. "Daria, if I don't come back, remember to take the plastic lid off the lasagna if you cook it in a conventional oven."

"And if I cook it in an unconventional oven?" When Jake turned to head out the door, Daria spoke again. "Are you going to push the car there by yourself or would you like me to help?"

"That's right, dammit! The car's busted." He turned back, dejected. "Well, that's it, then. Some hero I turned out to be, huh, Kiddo?"

Daria looked at him for a minute and sighed. "Uh, I guess I do know someone with a car..."

Jake looked up, hopeful again. "That's great! Who?"

She couldn't look him in the eye. "It's kind of complicated."

"What's wrong? The car's safe, isn't it?"

"Well, it is a Pinto..." She decided that putting off the issue would only make things harder. "He's my, uh, boyfriend."

Huh. I haven't seen him turn that color since he mistook wasabi for guacamole.

Five minutes of panicking, frenzied questions, more panicking, eventual calm, and post-calm panicking later, Daria called Tom. Shortly after that, his car pulled into the driveway and Daria and Jake got in.

"Just head in the direction of the mall," Daria suggested as Tom pulled away from the house. "And take the most fashionable streets possible. We're more likely to find them that way."

They travelled in silence for a few minutes. Tom gripped the wheel and stared straight ahead, Daria toyed with the hem of her skirt and stared out the side window, and Jake leaned forward in his seat and stared directly at Tom.

"So," Jake said, eyes narrow. "You're sure this car is safe?"

Daria opened her mouth to say, "As safe as a car held together mostly by rust and bumper stickers can be," but thought better of it at the last minute.

"As safe as a car held together mostly by rust and bumper stickers can be," Tom replied. Daria covered her face with one hand and glared at Tom through her fingers.

To her surprise, Jake laughed. "Yeah, it's still better than my first car," he commented. "It was an old station wagon, and it was missing one of its doors. I had to let it warm up for ten minutes just to drive down the street to the grocery store!" His face hardened. "My old man hated that car. He said a real man would drive a car that has all its doors! He said a real man would know how to fix the engine so it would run smoothly! He said a real man would repaint it rather than drive a car that was hot pink!"

Daria groaned quietly as she heard the familiar prelude to a full-blown rant.

"My parents don't like this car, either, Mr. Morgendorffer," Tom interrupted calmly. "Of course, you've come a long way from missing doors and, uh, hot pink."

"Hey, yeah!" Jake exclaimed proudly. "You saw the Lexus back there, huh? It's a great car." After a short pause, he quietly added, "When it's running."

Everyone in the car began breathing a little more easily. After a few more minutes, Daria pointed. "There they are!"

Quinn and her friends were running down the sidewalk, shrieking, followed at a much slower pace by a small dog. Tom pulled the car over and braked.

Jake stuck his head out the window and yelled, "Quinn, over here!" The girls slowed down and approached the car with dubious looks. He noticed their hesitation and added, "It runs fine; don't worry!"

Sandi sniffed. "The car's condition hardly matters. The important thing is that people of our standing simply cannot be seen in a car that doesn't at least have leather upholstery and power windows."

Tiffany wrinkled her nose. "Ruuuusst."

A car drove past, clearly in need of a new muffler. The moment the girls heard the rattling noise, they opened the doors and piled into the car. Tiffany and Stacy got into the back seat with Jake while Sandi and Quinn forced Daria to move over so they could both sit in front.

As the car pulled away, Daria flinched away from Quinn out of years of habit--and abruptly realized just how close she was sitting to Tom. Quinn and Sandi's less-than-gentle shoves had pushed her off of the passenger seat itself and onto the console between the seats. Her left thigh was now pressed against Tom's right, and her cheek continually brushed against his shoulder.

I'm not sure which is more uncomfortable, she thought. Being squeezed in between my boyfriend and my sister or having the gear shift between my--

Daria was very glad that it was too dark for anyone to notice the sudden blush that rose in her face.

After a moment, she turned slightly to make sure her father wasn't ready to pounce on Tom for failing to leap from the car rather than let Daria practically sit in his lap. Jake was nodding off in the backseat.

As she turned back around, she realized that pivoting to look backward had caused her chest to press against Tom's arm. She faced forward immediately, then glanced over at him. He was still looking at the road, but even in the fading light she thought she could see the hint of a smile on his face.

Jane took another bite of her cheeseless bell pepper pizza and chewed thoughtfully. It's all right, I guess, she decided. But I'd like it better with cheese. And some sausage and pepperoni. And no bell peppers.

Lisa, Angie, and Nikki, who had come over to Jane's house after cheerleading practice to hang out, had already finished a slice each. Jane pushed the remaining half-pizza aside as she ate the last bite of her own, then leaned back on the sofa.

"Anybody have room for a second piece?" she asked.

All three shook their heads. Nikki added, "We don't want to end up like the Pizza Girl!"

Lisa snorted. "That's just a legend, Nikki."

"And here I thought I knew all of the sordid tales of suburbia in this town," Jane remarked. "Who's the Pizza Girl?"

Edging closer to Jane, Angie began in a low voice, "The Pizza Girl was a cheerleader from, you know, old-fashioned times or something."

"Back before color," Nikki clarified. Lisa just shook her head.

Angie continued, "She was one of the best. She could do a perfect Double Twist Cradle every time, she mastered the Around the World in about five minutes, and she was always at the top of the pyramid."

All four girls paused for a moment of silent admiration.

"Anyway, she didn't just want to be one of the best--she wanted to be the best. So, she practiced all the time. Every jump, every stunt, everything any cheerleader had ever done in the history of, like, ever." Angie's voice suddenly dropped even lower. "But all of that practicing made her..." Jane involuntarily leaned forward to hear. "...hungry!"

Jane blinked in confusion. "You mean, hungry for vengeance? For the blood of her enemies? Hungry for what?"

"For pizza!" Nikki squealed.

Angie nodded solemnly. "First it was just one extra slice. Then she started eating three pieces at a time. Some people even say she once ate an entire medium pizza in one day!"

"Oh, the horror," Jane said with a smirk.

"I know, right?" Angie's voice rose back up to its usual perky level, then she lowered it again. "But all that pizza came at a terrible price. Because one day, right in the middle of a championship game, she got on the top of the pyramid...and crushed all of the other cheerleaders!"

Jane laughed. "The deadly consequences of pyramid pressure, next on Sick Sad World!"

Angie stared at Jane in shock. "You don't really watch that...that show, do you?"

"Well, not lately, no--"

She sighed in relief. "Oh, good. That show totally grosses me out! I accidentally watched it one day, and I couldn't believe how, like, icky it was!"

Jane tilted her head and raised one eyebrow. "Yeah, if only there had been some kind of warning that a show called "Sick Sad World" might be a tiny bit disturbing."

"Yeah!" Nikki chimed in. "I mean, how could she have known? It's sooo wrong."

Oh, come on, Jane thought with dismay. I laid the sarcasm on with a trowel. I didn't think even Nikki could have missed it. She turned toward Lisa to see if she'd gotten it, but Lisa's attention was now focused elsewhere.

Focused on Trent, to be precise.

"Hey, Janey," he said as he entered the living room. "Anything to eat?"

Jane gestured at the open pizza box. "Help yourself. Just make sure you wait at least an hour before getting on any pyramids."

"Huh?" Trent peered into the box. "Uh, maybe later," he said, rearing back slightly in disgust at the cheeseless pizza. He immediately turned and shuffled toward the kitchen in search of something more appetizing.

Lisa continued to watch him, careful to take a very appraising look at him from behind as he passed her.

"Doing a little shopping of your own?" Jane asked in a teasing voice.

Lisa looked away from Trent long enough to give Jane a wicked grin. "Absolutely. Wrap him up and slap on a bow; he's coming home with me tonight."

Jane stammered at that. Whoa. She's not exactly shy, is she? Of course, what did you expect? Blushing and mumbling?

Lisa licked her lips and continued, "But I'm forgetting your excellent advice--maybe I ought to go try him on first." She made as though to stand up and follow him.

Jane covered her ears and cried, "Ack! That's my brother you're talking about!" She wondered if anyone out there felt as uncomfortable as she did right then.

Daria had spent the rest of the trip home trying to ignore the warmth of Tom's body against her own. After an eternity of driving, Tom finally pulled up in front of the Morgendorffer house. She exhaled in relief.

Tom kept his hands on the wheel and continued to stare straight ahead as he quietly said to her, "Daria?"


"I need to shift the car into park."

With only a brief glance down at the gear shift, Daria very nearly shouted, "Everyone out of the car. Now!"

The Fashion Club plus Jake evacuated the car, Daria slid back into the passenger seat, and a relieved Tom parked the car before turning to look at her. "So," he said. "That was..."

Daria watched the others walk into the house. "Awkward? Embarrassing? Hellish?"

"Oh, I don't know," Tom replied thoughtfully. "It wasn't all bad."

The blush returned instantly, but as Daria glanced over to see Tom smiling at her, she couldn't suppress a tiny smile of her own. "Okay," she admitted. "Not hellish. Maybe heckish."

Tom laughed briefly, then grew serious. "Listen, I know you aren't all that comfortable with physical intimacy, and I--"

She held up a hand. "Thank you, Dr. Freud, but I think our forty-five minutes are up." The smile was still on her lips, but there was a warning tone in her voice.

"Okay. I just don't want you to feel--"

With a sigh, Daria leaned over and kissed Tom. The kiss lasted for at least five seconds, which beat their previous record by four.

Daria finally leaned back. Tom blinked and said, "I forgot what I was going to say."

"Good." Just as they started to lean forward again, a sharp knock on the passenger side car window startled them both.

Daria turned around to see her mother standing outside the car. Helen wore an expression usually reserved for male associates who asked her to get them some coffee.

"Uhohthanksforyourhelpgottagobye," Daria said and opened the door to step out and face her mother.

"And how long has this been going on?!" Helen demanded.

"How long has what been going on? Your love of peering into car windows?" Daria immediately regretted her sarcasm. Hands behind her back, she motioned for Tom to drive away. Thankfully, he followed her advice.

"When I come home from work to see a strange car in front of the house and my daughter kissing a strange boy, I think I have a right to be curious!"

"He's not a stranger, Mom." Daria sighed. Here we go again. "We're dating. We have been for a couple of weeks."

"So why haven't you introduced him to me or your father?"

As Daria tried to think of a good answer, Jake opened the door and saw them. "Oh, hi, honey!" he called out. "Dinner's ready and on the table, and Quinn's safe at home. Hey, did you meet Tom before he left?"

Helen gaped at Jake. "See?" Daria said. "Told you he wasn't a stranger."

Before her mother could react, she slid by her to head into the house. As she passed the SUV, she bumped into something on the door handle that clattered to the ground. Not caring what it was, she ducked past Jake to get inside as quickly as possible.

As she walked into the house, Daria tried to hide her smile. That was...nice, she thought. Okay, better than nice. I can't wait to tell-- She frowned slightly. Tell who? Brittany's nice and all, but I don't think I could handle "girl talk" with her. The half-hidden smile had disappeared entirely by the time she sat down to dinner.

Jane lay on her bed and stared at the ceiling. Boredom had been a rare feeling ever since she'd joined the cheerleading squad, but for the first time in more than two months she actually didn't have anything to do. No practice, no football games, no parties, no dates, no shopping plans. Just Jane in her room, trying to remember what she used to do when she had free time.

Art, of course. Jane was surprised the thought hadn't occurred to her sooner. But then, when was the last time you painted something other than a "Go Lions!" poster?

She bit her lip. There were a lot of things she hadn't done lately. Running, for example. Cheerleading gave her about as much of a workout as she'd gotten from running, but wasn't quite the same. There's something about being completely alone, with only the feel of your feet hitting pavement to keep you company...

Jane rolled over onto her stomach and sighed. I barely even have time for TV anymore. I know I've missed over a dozen Sick Sad World episodes by now. And when was the last time I watched a really bad B-movie?

With a shrug, she got up and pulled her easel out of the closet. The familiar routine gradually came back to her and within minutes she was standing in front of a fresh canvas, paintbrush in hand. She dabbed at some paint, reached the brush toward the easel, and...


Jane stared at the blank canvas with a slight frown. She had no idea where to start, or even what she wanted to paint. "How can I be blocked?" she muttered. "It's not like I'm burned out on painting." She closed her eyes, willing inspiration to strike.

Still nothing. Okay, maybe you're just trying too hard. Relax and let creativity flow.

She started dabbing bits of green paint on the canvas as she let her mind wander. Without paying much attention, she added brown and gold to the half-formed painting. Jane had begun painting black circles for glasses before she recognized a rough approximation of Daria's face staring back at her. She tore it off the easel with a groan and dropped back onto her bed.

Don't even think about her. Think about anything but her. I wonder if she misses me. She let out a quick, sharp laugh. "Yeah, right," she muttered out loud. "If she did, why would she have avoided me for this long?"

Jane lay in silence and tried not to think. After a few minutes, she heard conversation elsewhere in the house. She shook off her bad mood, got up, and went downstairs in search of a distraction.

"If subzero is already below zero," Trent was saying, "then how can it be below subzero?"

Max Tyler looked at him, confused. "Well, that's even colder."

"Even if it's colder, that's still subzero."

Jane interrupted. "Did Mom and Dad forget to leave money for the heating bill again?"

"No." Trent looked relieved to break off the debate. "We're putting together some new material for a gig this Saturday."

She arched an eyebrow. "Won't the subzero theme be a little above the barflies' heads?"

Max looked up from studying the song lyrics in his hand. "It's a high school party!"

"Then it'll be even further above their heads." Jane blinked. "Wait. High school?"

"Yeah." Trent glanced at a blurred note scrawled on his palm. "At the...Tylers' house."

Jane peered over his shoulder at the note. "I think that says 'Taylor.' Is this party at Brittany's house?"

"Is her dad named Steve?"


"Then I guess so."

"Taylor?" Max looked heartbroken. "So we're not playing at Steven Tyler's house?"

"Not unless you have a cousin by that name." Max suddenly looked thoughtful, and Jane realized he was probably wondering if he might be related to a rock star. She rolled her eyes and looked back at Trent.

"You could come, too." The look in his eyes finished the sentence: If being seen in public with us won't damage your popularity.

Jane glanced away. She hadn't heard anything about Brittany's party through the usual channels. And why would you? Popular kids don't go to unpopular kids' parties. A tiny voice in the back of her mind asked, Even when you're the whole reason she's unpopular? Shame and guilt flooded in, and she forced herself to meet her brother's gaze. "I'll come."

Daria walked next to Brittany as they left the school. "Have you ever thought about sending Melody to Africa?" Brittany was asking. "I could tell you all kinds of stories about safaris and stuff. It'd be really cool!"

"You mean, have her go after Communist elephants?" Daria shrugged. "Unless we turn Melody into an ivory dealer, I'm not sure that would work."

"Ivory? You mean like the soap?"

"Never mind, Brittany." Daria sighed and shook her head slightly.

They walked on in silence for awhile before Brittany spoke again. "Daria? Are you doing anything this Saturday?"

"Just devising a plot for total world domination. Oh, and some light reading." Seeing Brittany's quizzical look, she forced herself not to roll her eyes before adding, "No, I don't have any plans."

"Oh, good! Then you can come to my party!"

"Party?" Daria didn't even try to hide her disgust.

"My dad is throwing it for me because I got a B in English. I wouldn't have gotten better than a C if you hadn't been helping me with my writing." Brittany begged, "So you have to come! Please? It'll be fun!"

"I don't do--" Daria looked at the pleading look on the other girl's face. With a slight sigh, she said, "Maybe."

"Great!" Brittany smiled. "I'm inviting Jodie and Mack, too. Plus some other people from school."

Daria didn't need to be told that "other people" meant "unpopular people." She hadn't really thought very much about Brittany's lowered status at Lawndale High, other than noticing she'd become slightly more mature. However, seeing her expression at that moment told her that Brittany was still not happy about the change.

"Okay, Brittany," Daria said. "I'll be there. Just one thing, though."


"Can I bring a date?"

Brittany's eyes lit up and she threw her arms around her. "That's wonderful!" she cried.

"Um...thanks?" Daria took a step back to get out of the hug.

"No problem. Saturday at seven. Don't forget!" Brittany waved as she turned in the direction of her house, and Daria continued on towards her own.

Later, in her room, Daria asked into the phone, "How would you like to go to a party for someone you've never met and make small talk with people you have nothing in common with?"

Tom sounded amused. "Sounds like every single social event my parents have ever dragged me to. Should I assume I don't have a choice in this one, either?"

"Of course you don't have a choice. Going to potentially mind-numbing parties is part of the job description of boyfriend."

"Admit it, Daria. You just want to show me off."

She smirked. "What else are guys good for if not their usefulness as accessories?"

"Would you kill me if I said that you're starting to sound like your sister?"

"Yes. Slowly."

"Okay, I won't say it, then."

"And speaking of Quinn, I think she's finally discovered an obsession even worse than fashion."

"Ritual sacrifice?"

"I wish. She's fascinated with angels."

"As in, playing harps and dancing on pins?"

"More like changing tires and pulling kittens out of trees. The whole thing is getting silly."

"It's probably just a fad. I bet she'll forget about it after a few days," Tom predicted. "Look on the bright side: in the meantime, you don't have to listen to the merits of frosted versus metallic lip gloss."

"I'll take your advice and ignore your disturbing familiarity with cosmetics."

"I do have a sister, you know."

Daria started to reply, but heard Jake hollering up the stairs at her. "Gotta go; dinner's ready. Talk to you tomorrow?"

"Looking forward to it." Daria heard the affection in his voice and smiled as she said good-bye.

"...a family whose house caught on fire, and the cat saved their baby's life."

Daria looked at her sister with mild contempt, but said nothing. Just a fad, she reminded herself. Besides, she was in a good mood that even Quinn's prattling couldn't ruin.

Helen smiled. "Quinn, I think it's wonderful that you're discovering your spiritual side."

"Thanks. I think I'm very spiritual."

"Yes, you take after your mother in that." At this, Daria smirked. She has a point--they both think they're spiritual.

"Hey, Quinn," Jake said. "Can you hand me the lasagna?"

"Sure, Daddy." She picked up the pan. As she leaned toward Jake to pass it to him, the light fixture hanging above her broke loose from the ceiling and fell, hitting her on the shoulder before crashing to the floor.

Quinn's shriek would have shattered glass, if the glass wasn't already lying in pieces around her. The rest of the evening was a flurry of activity as the Morgendorffers rushed to the hospital. They made it there in record time thanks to Jake's driving habits, which broke laws both civil and physical.

"I really am sorry," Jake told his daughter yet again as he opened the front door for her. "I had no idea the light was loose. I'm just so sor--"

"I know." Quinn suddenly winced, and Daria realized she had probably tried to shrug. Not a good idea with a broken collarbone.

Helen followed them into the house. "At least it was a minor fracture," she added. "You'll only have to wear the sling for a few weeks."

"Uh huh." Quinn stared at the floor, a slight frown on her face.

"Is your shoulder bothering you?" Jake asked. "I've got the painkillers right here."

Quinn shook her head. "No, thank you." She gingerly made her way up the stairs.

Daria watched her go. Okay, so not only did she fail to squeeze an entire new wardrobe out of Dad's guilty conscience, but she also just said "thank you." Something's very wrong here.

By Saturday, Quinn was still moping around the house. Even Joey, Jeffy, and Jamie's spirited efforts to act as her own personal slaves had failed to cheer her up. She was watching the news on TV when Daria came downstairs to wait for Tom.

"Is everything okay?" Daria asked. "I haven't seen you this depressed since clunky jewelry came back into vogue."

Quinn sighed. "You wouldn't understand."

Daria sat down next to her. "I might. That's the advantage of being a brain. I understand stuff."

"It's not a brain thing." Quinn struggled with her thoughts for a minute. At last, she placed her free hand on her sling and said, "It's about my guardian angel."

"Are you worried he dropped a light fixture on you because you refused to pay his protection money?"

"Very funny." Quinn looked away. "It's just, I was right in the middle of talking about guardian angels when it happened. What if..." She paused. "What if there aren't any guardian angels? Or worse, what if there are guardian angels but I'm the only one who doesn't have one? Or maybe I do have a guardian angel, but he's a jerk!"

Daria looked at the pain on her sister's face. Feeling genuinely sorry for her, she opened her mouth to speak. The doorbell rang. With a slight growl of impatience, she got up. "Hold on one second."

She opened the door to see Tom. "I hate to ask this," she said quietly, "but could you maybe wait in the car for a little while? I'm kind of in the middle of something."

"Anything I can help with?"

Daria shook her head. "I'm helping Quinn deal with something."

Tom smiled. "Pleather shortage?" Seeing Daria's serious expression, he quickly added, "I'll wait in the car."

She closed the door behind him and returned to the living room. Sitting back down next to her sister, she said, "Quinn, I'm going to be honest with you. Until I see some pretty convincing evidence to the contrary, I think we're on our own."

Quinn sniffled quietly.

"But," Daria said slowly, "that doesn't mean there aren't something like guardian angels out there."

"What do you mean?" Quinn finally looked at her.

"Well, you remember that program you were watching a few days ago, about the mystery man who changed someone's tire?"

"Uh huh."

"Let's say he wasn't an angel. Just an ordinary guy who saw someone in trouble and helped her out. Doesn't that still count for something?"

"Yeah," Quinn said, brightening a little. "Kind of like how the Fashion Club helps out people who wear black socks with brown shoes!"

"Um, something like that. The important thing is, it doesn't matter who's responsible for saving lives and stuff like that. What matters is that there are people who care enough to do it."

Quinn thought about that. After a few minutes, her expression cleared and she smiled for the first time in days. "Thanks, Daria."

"Don't mention it. Promise not to talk about guardian angels ever again and we'll call it even." Daria allowed her sister a tiny smirk before she left to join Tom outside.

Jane followed Mystik Spiral into the Taylor house, carrying two mike stands. She half-listened to the ongoing argument over subzero numbers as she put them in place, then turned to get more equipment. She almost ran into Brittany, who had been standing behind her.


"Hi, Jane," Brittany said quietly.

Jane took a nervous step backwards. "Hi. Um, I know I wasn't invited, but I'm just helping my brother." She gestured toward Trent, feeling guilty and uncomfortable.

"It's okay." Brittany smiled. "It's really okay. I'm not mad at you." She added something under her breath that sounded like "anymore" before immediately continuing, "You should stick around. There's hardly anyone here yet, but I invited some people you know. Jodie, Mack, Daria..."

Jane drew her breath in sharply. "Daria? Daria's coming to one of your parties?"

"Yeah! She should be here any minute. And she's even bringing a--"

Taking a step toward the door, Jane shook her head. "I really should be going, actually."

"Don't you want to wait and say hi to her before you go?"

She shrugged. "I don't think she'd be interested in talking to me."

"Oh." Brittany looked disappointed, but waved as Jane walked out the door. Five minutes later, the doorbell rang. Brittany opened the door to see Daria and Tom.

"Sorry we're a little late," Daria said. "Something important came up."

"Don't worry," Brittany assured her. "Everything's just getting started."

They walked inside, and Daria stopped short when she saw the band. "Mystik Spiral is playing?"

Trent looked over to see Daria and Tom together. He blinked in surprise, then started to move toward them. At that moment, Nick started messing around with the mixing board, producing a loud resonance that broke several nearby vases. Trent cast one last, odd look in their direction before turning away to talk to Nick.

Brittany turned back to her. "Did you know the lead singer is Jane's brother? She helped them set up."

"Jane's here?" Daria nervously glanced back toward the door.

"She left a little bit ago. Too bad you just missed her."

Daria shrugged. "I don't think she'd be interested in talking to me."

"Hmm." The look on Brittany's face was unreadable, but it made Daria feel strangely nervous.

"Thank you," Trent said into the microphone over an hour later. "We're, um, never mind who we are. Mr. Taylor wants to say something."

Steve Taylor approached and picked up a mike. "Hey kids!" he called out. "We have a little present for Brittany, to show her how proud we are. Bring it out, Ashley-Amber."

Ashley-Amber, Brittany's stepmother, brought out a large black case and handed it to Steve.

"Brittany, baby, this is for you," Steve said, opening it to reveal a large, translucent slab.

"Oh! Thank you, Daddy," Brittany said as she picked it up and peered at it.

"It's a book!" Ashley-Amber exclaimed. "Because you're so good at reading and writing and other English stuff!"

As Brittany began trying to pry open the pages, Steve chuckled. "It's not a real book, sweetheart. It's made of genuine near crystal. Borrowed again from Brian's college fund, but you're worth it."

"I see." She clearly didn't, but she tried to look pleased about the gift for her father's sake. Brittany set the "book" aside as Mystik Spiral began to prepare for their next set. Before Trent could step back up to the microphone, though, she pulled him aside.

Daria watched, curious, from across the room. All she could tell was that Brittany was asking him some questions, and he was reluctantly answering them. What kind of information could Brittany possibly want from a slacker musician? Do I even want to know?

Watching Trent, she idly wondered if maybe she ought to talk to him, too. I could ask him how Jane is doing. She shook off the thought. Jane is doing great, I'm sure. Without me to cramp her style, I bet life in Popularville is fantastic. Daria looked away, suddenly depressed. Tom noticed her change in mood and put an arm around her, but it didn't help.

After a few minutes, Trent picked up his guitar and Brittany walked away, looking thoughtful. That nervous feeling started creeping back in.

On Monday, Brittany caught up to Daria on her way to the cafeteria for lunch. She was tense, and it showed clearly in her voice. "So, I was talking to that, uh, Trent? At my party on Saturday?"

Daria looked sideways at her. "I noticed."

"And he mentioned that you and Jane had a fight? And hadn't talked to each other in, like, forever?"

At that, Daria stopped dead and turned to glare at her. She'd hoped that would be enough to bring an end to the conversation, but Brittany was too focused on her goal.

"But I also talked to some people? And I think that Jane's, you know, kind of lonely since you aren't friends anymore? So maybe if you wanted you could, um, sit with her at lunch today and talk about stuff?"

Daria resumed walking, but didn't reply. She's trying to do something nice, she reminded herself. Just let her down easy. "I appreciate what you're doing, but--"

They entered the cafeteria at that moment, and Daria spotted Jane right away. She was just sitting down at a table, alone, and the expression on her face was unmistakably lonely. She stared at the table top in front of her, shoulders slumped. Maybe Brittany is right, she thought. Strange as that sounds.

She took a few steps in Jane's direction. She's the only real friend you've ever had. If she's ready to put this whole thing behind us, then so am I. Just sit down, swallow your pride, and apologize.

Daria was only a few feet away when suddenly she was buffeted from behind by half a dozen cheerleaders. She just barely prevented herself from being knocked to the ground, but by the time she had regained her balance all of the empty seats near Jane were full. Jane's eyes lit up and she smiled at the cheerleaders as they sat down. The whole group began whispering and giggling together.

Narrowing her eyes, Daria stepped back. I guess she's not as lonely as Brittany thought she was. Looking over her shoulder one last time, she lowered her head and walked away.

As she was walking out the doors after school, Jane felt a tap on her shoulder. She turned. "Brittany?"

Brittany took a deep breath. "So, I was talking to your brother? At my party on Saturday?"

Oh, God, please tell me they aren't dating now. "Okay."

"And he mentioned that you and Daria had a fight? And hadn't talked to each other in, like, forever?"

Jane turned around again to leave. "I don't think that's any of your--" Her mouth abruptly stopped working as she caught sight of Daria. Daria getting into a car. A car that belonged to Tom.

Brittany was saying something about loneliness, but Jane had stopped listening. The only thing she was paying attention to was the kiss Daria and Tom shared just before he drove away.

She felt completely numb. Well, nice to know I'm doubly replaceable.

Jane ran home from school for the first time in months. Her shoes were all wrong for the activity, but she ignored the pain in her shins and didn't stop until she was in the house, up the stairs, and in Trent's room.

She saw that Trent was asleep and didn't care--she wanted to vent, and someone had to listen. Grabbing the door handle, she hauled back and slammed it as hard as she could.

Trent sat upright in bed, startled but still half-asleep. "Max, keep it down, all right?" he mumbled. Jane slumped on the edge of his bed and glared at him. He blinked and said, "Uh, did I forget to close the fridge again or something?"

She rolled her eyes. "I'm not mad at you," she said. "I'm mad at Daria."

"Oh." Trent started to lie back down. "Yeah, I know."

Jane swatted his leg to keep him awake. "No, this is a new kind of mad." She crossed her arms. "Turns out Daria's got a new boyfriend."

Trent nodded sleepily. "Uh huh. Tom."

She vaulted off the bed. "You knew?!"

"I saw them together at the gig on Saturday."

"Why the hell didn't you tell me?"

"Dunno. It didn't come up, I guess."

"It didn't--" She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. "Look, never mind that. What matters is, I'm really freaking pissed off about it."


Jane had only just started to regain her momentum; this stopped her dead. "What do you mean, 'why?' We're talking about Daria! With Tom!"

"I thought you guys broke up. You and Tom, I mean."

"Okay, yeah, but..."

"And weren't you dating that one guy for awhile after that?"

Jane growled under her breath. "Oh, just forget it. You don't understand."

"Guess not," he replied. But Jane was already leaving the room, slamming the door again behind her. He stared at the door, confused, for about ten seconds before rolling over and falling asleep.

As she stalked down the hall, Jane continued to fume. Fine. They deserve each other. Hope they live miserably ever after. Once in her room, she started pacing back and forth, unable to keep still.

In fact, so what? I don't miss Tom. I've got my pick of any guy I want. And I don't need Daria. I've got plenty of friends now. She turned on the radio and forced herself to sing along with the latest Guys 2 Guys single. And from now on, Jane Lane is going to have the time of her life.

"Home sweet home," Daria muttered as Tom's car pulled in front of the entrance to Le Grand Hotel after the Fellini film festival. She turned to Tom and asked, "Want a free towel for the road?"

"No, thanks," he replied. "But I could really use a ridiculously tiny bottle of shampoo-slash-conditioner."

"Sorry, I think Quinn and the other Fashion Overlords have already confiscated them."

"So how's sharing a room going for you two, anyway?" Daria just looked at him. He nodded. "Right, dumb question."

She sighed. "I wish I had somewhere else to stay. Brittany offered, but I don't think I could handle staying in the same house with her for that long. Especially not with her family."

Tom teased, "Well, there's always my house..."

"Which would go over spectacularly with your parents, I'm sure."

"It was worth a shot."

"Thanks," Daria said with a sigh. "It would just be nice if I--" She stopped before she could finish with, still had a good friend to turn to. She and Tom hadn't broached the Jane issue since they'd started dating, and Daria didn't consider this the best time to do so. "--I wasn't so tired of Quinn and her friends," she finished lamely.

They exchanged a kiss before Daria got out of the car and headed into the hotel. Feeling melancholy in spite of the pleasant date, she tried to ignore the odd sounds coming from her parents' room. As she reached the room she shared with Quinn, she noticed Bobby, the bellhop, knocking on the door with a food service cart in front of him.

Quinn opened the door and Bobby raised the lid with a flourish. "A lobster platter," he said with a smile. "Courtesy of my uncle."

"Wow, thanks!" Quinn exclaimed. She stepped back and waved him in with her free arm, the other still in a sling.

Daria followed him in, muttering an aside to Quinn, "You don't even like lobster."

"I know," Quinn replied quietly. "But he's so kind to bring me so much stuff, and I don't want him to feel bad."

How much "on the house" stuff is this guy bringing her, anyway? Daria wondered briefly before pulling out a book and stretching out on her bed.

"...And that's what's new in the Domain of Jane Lane," Jane said, grinning widely into the webcam. "Go Lions!"

With a few clicks, she stopped the webcam from broadcasting and checked the number of hits from that day. "Almost two hundred in the past twenty-four hours!" she exclaimed. "Never mind Lawndale High--if this keeps up, I'm going to rule the world!"

Feeling pleased, Jane moved on to her e-mail. She smiled to see at least a dozen messages sent to the e-mail address she'd created especially for the webcam. She opened the first one.


TO: CheerGal
FROM: TotalStud

Hey CheerGal,

Love the show, but maybe you could spend less time talking about cheerleading and more time showing off some of your moves. How about you prove just how limber cheerleaders can be, hmm? I bet you look hot in your uniform. Something low-cut and slinky would be great, too.


Jane rolled her eyes. "Looks like Upchuck found out about the webcam." She deleted the message and moved on to the next.


TO: CheerGal
FROM: superdood69


TAKE IT OFF!!1!!!!!1!


With a frown, Jane deleted the message. "Okay, even Upchuck has more subtlety than that. But still, there's bound to be a couple of pervs." She opened another message and read it. Her eyes widened and she immediately grabbed a pair of scissors and sliced the webcam cord in half.

"Forget it. I am officially out of the webcam business for life," she said with a shudder.

After school the next day, Daria sat outside the hotel, reading and trying to ignore the antics of her parents in the pool. God, I wish the Fashion Club would hold its weeklong meetings on sling-friendly fashions somewhere other than our hotel room.

In a rare case of good timing, Quinn and her friends walked by at that moment. "...and the sandals massage your feet while you walk! Bobby said I could keep them. He's such a nice guy."

Daria looked up from her book, frowning. Bobby the gift-giver strikes again. This has got to be costing his uncle a fortune.

The sound of fashion-related conversation began to drift her way, so she closed the book and headed in the direction of her room.

Jane glanced once more at the fake ID in her hand as she, Lisa, Angie, and Nikki waited in line. "It doesn't look much like me," she said dubiously.

Angie shrugged. "It doesn't really matter. They never look very closely at them, especially on weeknights. All the clubs in Lawndale figure most high school students will try to sneak in on the weekend, so that's when they crack down."

"Apparently they've never considered that high school students can just skip class the next day." Lisa smiled and corrected herself, "I mean, can mysteriously come down with the flu overnight."

Jane smiled back. "Are you sure Ms. Li won't get suspicious with all four of us claiming sick? I'm not exactly one of her favorite people."

Nikki giggled. "You're on the squad, Jane. Ms. Li won't care, and even if she does, Ms. Morris can pull a few strings for us."

As they walked into the club, Jane smirked. Who'd have thought Morris would ever be on my side in anything?

Lisa headed straight for the bar and ordered them all wine coolers. Then the girls went out on the floor to dance for a few songs, and came back to the bar feeling thirsty. Something was said about margaritas, and the evening grew a bit blurry after that.

The next morning, Jane woke up and immediately wished she hadn't. Never mind school, she thought as quietly as possible, Can I just skip the rest of my life?

That same morning, Daria woke up to see Quinn's bed hadn't been slept in. Don't panic, she told herself. She may have decided to stay over at one of her friends' houses. She reached for the phone, but realized she didn't know any of their numbers.

She was just starting to look for any kind of organizer or datebook to track down some phone numbers when the door very quietly opened and Quinn began tiptoeing into the room. She saw Daria and her eyes widened.

"Fifteen!" she blurted out.

", thirty. And I don't even want to know his name."

With a gasp of horror, Quinn cried, "It wasn't that! Gawd! Bobby upgraded me to the Presidential Suite free of--"

Daria crossed her arms and cut her off. "Free of charge. As usual. You don't think there's something weird about all this?"

"Oh, come on, Daria. You sound just like Sandi."

"If you value your life, don't ever say those words to me again."

"Whatever. Look, Bobby's not a stalker, okay? I bet he doesn't even own a pair of binoculars."

Stalker? Binoculars? The hell? Daria shrugged it off. "I'm talking about all these fancy gifts. Do you really think he'll be able to keep his job if he doesn't stop handing out these perks to you?"

"Why wouldn't he?"

Right. Quinn never looks a gift horse in the mouth unless she's trying to find a receipt so she can exchange it for shoes. "How about this: if Bobby keeps this up, not only will he likely get fired, but there's a good chance you'll get in trouble, too."

Quinn just smirked.

Okay, she's got a point there. She's been able to talk, coax, or flirt her way out of trouble since she was five. Daria put a hand to her head, rubbing her temple in an attempt to ward off a growing headache. "Look. If Bobby gets fired, he won't have any money to buy you nice things. And you'll be stuck dating a jobless loser with no cute uniform."

"That's terrible!" Quinn cried. "But do you really think his own uncle would fire him?"

Now we're getting somewhere. "You mean the hotel manager?" Daria raised an eyebrow. "I noticed a sign by the front desk as I walked by on the way to our room yesterday. Apparently, the hotel manager's name is Susan Blake. So unless Bobby's uncle recently underwent some major surgery..."

"He lied to me." Quinn's expression was cold enough to make even Daria shiver a little.

Daria sighed. "I know you're upset," she said, "but we should probably talk to hotel security about this."

After a moment, a cruel smile formed on Quinn's face. "No," she said simply and walked over to the phone. Cradling it between her cheek and shoulder, she punched in some numbers, waited, and hit a few more before hanging up.

"What was that?"

"I just sent a message to Bobby's beeper telling him to meet me at the Presidential Suite."

"He gave you his beeper number?"

"Yeah, in case I ever need anything. And now I need something."

Daria was almost afraid to ask. "What?"

"Revenge," Quinn replied as she picked up the phone again.

Jane staggered into the kitchen in search of coffee. Trent was at the table, watching her curiously. "Rough night?" he asked.

"No need t'shout," she muttered.

Trent laughed, then coughed. Jane winced at both. "Is this a bad time to mention the Spiral has practice here tonight?" he asked.

Jane scowled at him. "No music. Else death."

"Okay, I guess we can move it to Max's house."

"Do that. Thanks. Kill last."

Quirking an eyebrow at his sister, Trent said, "So, can I get you something to drink?"

In response, a very sick-looking Jane lurched out of the kitchen and ran in the general direction of the bathroom.

Trent chuckled softly and reached for the phone to call Max.

Daria glanced sideways at her sister as they walked down the hallway toward the lobby. "I have to admit, I'm kind of impressed."

Quinn flipped her hair and smiled with satisfaction.

"But how did Joey, Jeffy, and Jamie get here so fast?"

"I think they've been doing speed drills or something. Aren't they sweet?"

Daria smirked. "'Sweet' isn't the word I'd use to describe three guys pummeling a fourth into unconsciousness."

"Hey, I called security before they did any lasting damage!"

"True, although I noticed you made sure we all had enough time to clear out before the guards arrived. How do you suppose Bobby is going to explain his being passed out in the Presidential Suite?"

"He probably won't get a chance to say much, considering how many bottles from the minibar I emptied out and scattered around the room."

Daria thought for a moment. "Quinn?"


"Remind me never to lie to you. Ever."

Jane had only just recovered enough from her hangover to feel human again when the doorbell rang. She opened the door to see Angie, holding a box overflowing with chips and plastic cups.

"Um, hi," she said, blinking a little in the late afternoon daylight. "What's up?"

"I'm here to help get stuff ready for tonight," she explained. At Jane's blank stare, she added, "For the party?" The stare intensified. "Wow, you were really gone last night, weren't you?"

Jane groaned. "I forgot to call in sick."

Angie shrugged. "Don't worry about it. Lisa called for all of us this morning. Oh, and she and Nikki are going to be here soon to help, too."

"Right, let's get back to that. Help with what party?"

"The one you said you were going to have here tonight!"

Jane tried to remember the previous night and came up empty.

Angie offered, "You said it after something like the third shot."

"That explains it," Jane said. "I don't think I'm in any condition to host a party tonight, though."

"No problem! We all know the drill by now, anyway. The cheerleaders set up and bring the food and the football team brings the music and the keg."

"Keg?" Jane repeated with a groan. Her stomach churned in protest. "I think I'll just stick with coffee, if you don't mind."

"Well, I'll say one thing for sure," Jake ranted as he drove the family home that evening. "We are never staying at Le Grand Hotel again!"

"Definitely not," Helen agreed. "Drunk bellboys, fraudulent charges, and God knows what else was going on at that hotel. I'm just glad you girls didn't get caught up in that mess."

"Um...yeah," Quinn said from the backseat. "Aren't bellboys weird?"

Daria added from next to her, "I told you we should have stayed at the Dutchman Inn."

"Come on, Ba--ick--abe!" Kevin wasn't quite able to stand under his own power, so he was leaning on Jane's shoulder for support. "Who ssshays the party has to be over? Let's have our own little party righ' here."

Jane held up a finger. Kevin tried to focus on it. "Number one: my name is not 'Babe.'" She held up a second finger. He frowned at the effort of trying to look at so many objects at once. "Number two: the party is, in fact, over. As you can see, the only people still here other than us are completely unconscious." She held up a third finger. He looked amused at the trick--six fingers on one hand. "Number three: I dumped your ass a month ago. Remember? Irreconcilable differences?"

Kevin waved away the barely-understood argument and nearly lost his balance as a result. "Yeah, but that was, like, monthsh ago. How 'bout some make-up se..." At that point, he mercifully slid to the floor.

At that moment, Jane heard Trent's car pull up. She wasn't sure where he parked, considering most of the cars were still outside, either temporarily disabled or missing their keys. Jane suspected Mack was behind that.

Trent walked in, bleary-eyed from a long night of practice. Intent on his bedroom, he stepped over a snoring football player, skirted around an overturned keg, and kicked aside a plastic inflatable cactus of uncertain origin.

He didn't appear to register any of it as he made his way to his bedroom. Jane sincerely hoped his bed was empty, then wondered if he'd even notice if it wasn't.

With a sigh, she nudged Kevin off her feet and took a look around the room. Cups and other garbage were scattered everywhere, the entire house looked like it had simultaneously gone through a tornado and an earthquake, and the carpet was stained with what she hoped was only beer. She didn't even want to think about some of the more interesting odors drifting through various areas of the house.

Guess I'm not getting to sleep before sunrise, she thought as she headed into the kitchen to look for a garbage bag or twenty. Seeing the state of the kitchen, she stopped and groaned. Or before graduation.

"April Wheat Blond or Peaceful Sunrise Blond?" Nikki asked, holding up two bottles.

Sitting at the kitchen table, Jane yawned and shrugged at the same time. "Whatever will look good on me," she finally replied. I just want an easier way to fit in, she mused. Who knew it would be this hard just to pick a bottle of hair dye?

"April Wheat will look better with your complexion, but Peaceful Sunrise would bring out your eyes better," Angie said thoughtfully.

"Maybe we could do both!" Nikki suggested. Jane nervously put a hand to her hair.

"What, do blond hair with blond highlights?" Lisa shook her head. "Too much. This is her first time dyeing her hair. Let's go easy on her, okay?"

Jane nodded, relieved. "Thanks."

"Okay. April Wheat, then," Angie decided firmly.

"Good idea," Jane said. "I don't think we want to bring out my eyes while they're still bloodshot."

The other girls smiled in sympathy. The cheerleaders had returned the morning after the previous week's party to help clean up, but the signs of wear were still written all over Jane's face.

While Angie went to mix the dye, Lisa leaned against the kitchen counter and said, "I take it there won't be any more parties here for awhile?"

"Not until I can put in puke-resistant carpet and furniture," Jane answered. "And I don't think I'm going out clubbing again with you guys any time soon, either."

Nikki patted her shoulder. "It gets easier, I promise!"

"Okay, we're all ready!" Angie said as she returned with the dye.

Angie pulled on a pair of rubber gloves with practiced ease. "So, I guess you've done this a few times," Jane teased, tapping a lock of the girl's blond hair.

Gasping in mock-anger, Angie replied, "Why, Jane, are you implying that I dye my hair?" She crossed her arms and sniffed. "I'll have you know I'm a natural blond...ish." Her pretended dignity slipped and she started giggling. Lisa, Nikki, and Jane joined in as she began working on Jane's hair.

Smiling a little, Jane relaxed and joined in the gossip and laughter as Angie expertly applied the hair dye. Now this is more like it, she decided. I'm packing in the crazy life--there's a huge difference between fitting in and flipping out.

"Wow," Brittany sighed. "Can you believe the school year is already over?"

"Just take out the 'already' and stick in a 'finally' and I'm with you," Daria answered as they left the school.

"What are you doing this summer?" Brittany gave Daria a tiny smirk. "Do you and Tom have anything romantic planned?"

Daria shook her head. "Tom's working in his father's office this month, doing all of the extra boring work not even the interns will touch. I'm going to do my damnedest to make sure my mother doesn't come up with any stupid activities for me to waste my summer on."

"Well, don't forget about Jodie's Fourth of July party."

"I have a feeling you aren't going to let me," Daria said. "What about your summer plans?"

Brittany grinned. "It's going to be so fun! You know how much I like helping kids?"

"I seem to remember something about Tad Gupty developing a major crush on you after you helped him find his parents at a parade awhile back. A crush that ultimately led to his parents removing every issue of National Geographic from the house."

"Oh, he's such a sweetie," Brittany gushed, Daria's remark whizzing over her head as usual. "Anyway, Mr. O'Neill asked me to volunteer at this day camp he's running and I said yes!"

"Good for you," Daria said, briefly pitying any kid who had to deal with O'Neill and Brittany at the same time.

They walked on in silence for a minute or two. Finally, Brittany spoke. "Um, so how are things with you and Jane? Are you guys still mad at each other?"

Daria started slightly, then stared at the ground as they walked. "No. And I don't want to talk about it."

"You are still mad at her, aren't you? Because I was thinking, and--"

Keeping her voice perfectly even, Daria replied, "You don't get it, do you? I don't want to talk about it. I don't want to think about it. I told you, I'm not mad at Jane. Now let it freaking go, okay?"

"Okay. Do you want to come over to my house and hang out for awhile?"

"Brittany, I said let it go."

Jane finished signing Nikki's yearbook and handed it back to her. Nikki immediately flipped it open to see what Jane had signed. "Ohhh," she cooed. "That's so sweet! I hope you have a great summer, too!"

"What are your plans for this summer, anyway?" Angie asked as she handed Jane her yearbook.

With a slight grimace, Jane said, "Tutoring. I have a lot of catching up to do, and I think I'll need most of the summer to do it." She sighed. "So, in spite of everything I stand for as a Lane, I signed up for the school's peer tutoring program."

"That's pretty rough," Lisa commented as she signed Jane's yearbook. "I bet if you asked, you could probably get a couple of by's."

Shuddering, Jane said, "Let's not even talk about that, okay?" Under her breath, she added, "Damn integrity."

"Okay, then," Lisa said. "You've got to do something fun, though."

Jane shrugged. "Right now, fun means catching up on the sleep I missed over the past few weeks."

"You're at least going to make an appearance at Jodie's Fourth of July party, right?" Angie asked. "Practically everybody at school is going to it."

"Yeah!" Nikki said with a smile. "What day is that, again?"

The other girls exchanged glances. "Nikki," Jane suggested gently, "maybe you should look into that tutoring program, too."

Nikki giggled. "Oh, I don't think I'm brainy enough to help people with their homework."

"No kidding," Lisa muttered with a snort.

"Come on, now," Angie protested. "Nikki's good at some stuff."

Giving her a knowing look, Lisa replied, "Yeah, but there's no way Ms. Li would let her teach that!"

All of the girls laughed. After a moment, Nikki said, "Yeah. And besides, there's no need to tutor people in cheerleading. We've already got enough girls on the squad!"

Seeing that Lisa was about to explain the joke to Nikki, Jane quickly changed the subject. "Anyway! Are we going to meet at Jodie's or go to the party together?"

"Hey, I was wondering," Tom asked Daria as they watched television at her house that afternoon. "Are you interested in going to the Starry Night Ball? It's a benefit for the Lawndale Art Museum."

"Is this another one of those things that you're asking me about to be polite, but you know I wouldn't enjoy it?"

"Depends. Do you enjoy excruciatingly dull and stuffy social events?"

"I don't even enjoy fun and interesting social events." She smiled at him. "I appreciate the offer, though."

He smiled back, and she leaned against him as he put an arm around her shoulders. A minute later, they heard footsteps and pulled apart in time to see Helen enter the room. She glanced at the conspicuously innocent-looking couple doubtfully before asking, "Daria, what are you going to be doing this summer? I don't want you alone in the--wasting your time hanging around the house while your father and I are at work."

Before Daria could reply, Quinn came down the stairs and saw Helen. "Mom," she said matter-of-factly, "I think I need a tutor this summer."

"Why, Quinn!" Helen exclaimed happily. "What a responsible thing to do."

Thankful for the change in topic, Daria asked, "Won't the Fashion Victimizers revoke your membership for that?"

Quinn shrugged her now-slingless shoulders. "If there's one thing I learned from my brush with death," she said, ignoring Daria's eye roll, "it's that life is just too, too short to worry about frivolous things like that. Besides, I really want to get into Pepperhill University."

"So life is still long enough to worry about frivolous things like party schools?"

Helen interrupted. "You know, Daria, you could follow Quinn's example."

"What, you mean by applying to a third-rate college?" Daria didn't like the look in her mother's eyes.

"I mean by tutoring. I'm sure Lawndale High has some kind of peer tutoring program, and I think it would be an excellent idea for you to sign up." Helen's tone made it clear that this was not a suggestion.

Daria sighed. "Fine." It could be worse, I guess. As long as I don't end up paired with Kevin. Anyone would be better than Kevin.

One morning over a week later, Jane stuffed several textbooks into her backpack and took a deep breath. "Here goes nothing," she grumbled. Turning toward her bedroom door, she hollered, "Hey, Trent!"

Trent appeared in the doorway shortly after, guitar in hand. "Yeah?" He looked uncomfortable as he glanced at the pom-poms, trendy clothes, and scrunchies scattered around her room.

"Can I get a ride to school? I'm in for a grueling morning and I really don't feel like walking." She smiled and tried to meet his eyes, but his gaze kept sliding away from hers.

He frowned. "I thought you usually had cheerleading practice after school." He said the word "cheerleading" in the same tone of voice he usually used when he said, "Doors covers."

"School's out, Trent. It's summer."

"Oh." He tilted his head. "So why are you still going to practice?"

"I'm not going to cheerleading practice," she explained patiently. "I'm going in for peer tutoring."

"Whoa." He shook his head. "I've kind of got a lot of stuff to do today."

"That 'stuff' wouldn't have anything to do with your bed, would it?" Jane asked, slightly annoyed.

"Whatever," he replied, tossing her his car keys. As he turned and walked away, she thought she heard him mutter something under his breath about selling out.

Now very annoyed, Jane hefted her backpack and headed for the car. I do not need this today.

"Welcome, tutors and tutees!" Ms. Li announced to the not-so-enthusiastic group gathered in the cafeteria. "Let me just say how thrilled I am that so many of you are willing to help out their struggling fellow students, free of charge!" She chuckled slightly and continued, "Now let's prepare for some education. You have all been assigned a partner, so please check the lists posted along the back wall. Commence learning!" she finished, leaving the room with a dramatic flourish.

The students jostled each other as everyone ran their fingers over the lists, trying to see who they'd be partnered with. Two fingers stopped at the same set of names at the same time, and two faces turned to look at each other with the same expression of horror.

"Crap," Daria and Jane said in unison.

Jane stepped back, folding her arms. "I'm sure Ms. Li will let us change partners," she said with exaggerated politeness. She turned to look for the principal.

Daria replied, "Yeah, if there's one thing you're good at, it's changing. Tutors, hair color, personalities..."

Turning back to see Daria's smirk, Jane glared. "I just didn't want you to have to lower your standards. After all, you'd never contaminate yourself by spending time with a lowly cheerleader."

"'Contaminate'?" Daria narrowed her eyes. "Are you sure you're allowed to use four-syllable words now?"

"I've got a couple of four-letter ones for you."

"Oh, how mature."

"Mature?" Jane's voice began to rise. Other students were looking in their direction. "You sulked like a toddler when I dared to try something different, yet you talk to me about mature?"

"You turned your back on me!" Daria practically shouted. A crowd was beginning to gather around them as more people started watching the argument.

"Only because you turned yours on me!" Jane leaned forward to be face-to-face with Daria.

Daria's jaw tightened. Just as Ms. Li could be heard pushing through the crowd and demanding an explanation, both girls whirled around and stalked out of the cafeteria in opposite directions.

"These girls shoot more than the breeze when they hang out together! BFFs with BFGs, next on Sick Sad World!"

With a groan, Daria turned off the television and flung the remote onto the sofa cushion next to her.

"Daria?" Quinn approached her and sat down. "You've been, like, more than usually depressed lately."

"And you've been more than usually cheerful lately. Let's call it even."

"Dariaaa," drawled Quinn. "You can trust me. I didn't tell Mom about you blowing off your tutoring thing after the first day, remember? Just tell me what's wrong."

"Don't you have a date?"

"It's not a date-date," Quinn corrected. "David and I are just meeting at Lawndale State's library later to do some research. And don't change the subject!"

"I don't want to talk about it."

"Fine," Quinn said with a smirk. "Then I'll talk about the last Fashion Club meeting. Okay, so Sandi said that floral prints were definitely out of style, but I reminded her that she wore a floral neck scarf just last week, and then she said that florals went out right after that day, and Stacy started freaking out because she couldn't remember which day she wore her floral minidress, but Tiffany got confused because she thought we were talking about coral, so then Stacy asked if her coral lip gloss was still okay and then she started breathing really--"

"Gah!" Daria covered her ears. "Stop!"

"Then talk."

Daria sighed. Seeing that Quinn wasn't going to give up, she began, "It's about Jane..."

Jane glared at the top of the kitchen table while Trent hunted through the fridge in search of something appealing or, failing that, nontoxic. At last she looked over at him. "Are you ever going to ask what's bothering me?" she snapped.

Trent closed the fridge. "Uh...what's bothering you?"

She raised an eyebrow at him. "Do you actually want to know?"

"I dunno." He reluctantly sat down at the table and stared at his hands. "Is it, uh, cheerleading stuff?"

"Stop doing that!" she exploded.

Trent looked up, wide-eyed. "What?"

"Stop looking everywhere but at me when I talk to you, stop muttering under your breath whenever we're in the same room, and stop saying 'cheerleading' like it's some kind of curse!"


"What's with that, anyway? Are you mad at me or something?"

"No," he said. "It's just your whole, you know, popularity thing. You're always hanging around with your new friends and going to parties and stuff. It's, I don't know, different."

Jane crossed her arms and leaned back in her chair. "Just because I'm trying new things doesn't mean I'm a different person."

"Yeah, but I thought that with you not doing art anymore, and doing so much other stuff instead..." He nervously scratched the back of his head. "We wouldn't have as much, you know, in common."

She looked more closely at him. "You were worried about losing me?" He shrugged, and she smiled. "Well, at least you care. Nice to know I matter to someone."

Trent finally made eye contact and smiled back. "So, uh, did you still want to talk about what's been bothering you?"

Jane's smile faded a little, but she gave him a grateful look. "It's about Daria..."

"Daria! I'm so glad you came!" Brittany hurried to meet Daria as she and Tom walked across the Landon family's lawn.

"Thanks, Bri--" Daria started to say, only to be cut off as the other girl grabbed her wrist and dragged her away.

"We'll be back in a little while," Brittany called over her shoulder to Tom.

"What's going on?" Daria demanded as she was pulled around the side of Jodie's house. "Where are..." She trailed off, seeing Jane standing in front of her.

Jane groaned. "Brittany, is this the big surprise you asked me to wait for?"

Brittany begged, "You guys have to talk!"

"I don't think we have anything to say to each other," Daria said, purposefully not looking at Jane.

"And I think we've both said more than enough already," Jane said, doing the same.

"Talk, dammit!" Brittany shouted. Both girls stared at her in shock. "Now," she said, satisfied that she had their attention, "someone tell me how this started."

A few moments passed in silence before Daria finally said, "She joined the cheerleading squad."

Brittany fixed a curious stare on Daria and quietly said, "What's wrong with cheerleaders?"

Daria had nothing to say to that. Jane crossed her arms and glared at her.

"And Jane?" Brittany continued. "For a cheerleader, you don't look very cheery."

Jane bit her lip. Both girls looked vaguely embarrassed.

"Okay," Brittany finally said. "So talk." With that, she turned on her heel and walked away.

After a very awkward minute, Jane said, "God, she's even more annoying when she's right."

"Hey," Daria shot back. "She's not so bad. Give her a chance."

"Oh, so now you like cheerleaders?" Jane sounded more tired than angry.

"She's not a cheerleader anymore. As I recall, you had a lot to do with that."

"Right, and that's why you stopped talking to me. Selfless concern for Brittany."

"Hey, you stopped talking to me, too."

"Maybe, but it's not like you tried very hard to change that."

"I'm confused. What are we fighting about here?"

"We're fighting about you, Daria Morgendorffer, being dumb enough to think an extracurricular activity is worth screwing up a really good friendship for." Jane's voice was shaking slightly. "A really important friendship."

Daria looked at Jane thoughtfully and sighed. "I'm sorry if I did that. I just wish you'd given me a little more time to get used to the idea before it went this far."

Jane nodded. "Now that you mention it, I wish I'd done that, too."

"Um, I really missed you."

"Well, I really missed you, too. Only don't ask me to go out clubbing with you."



After a few more minutes of quiet conversation, the girls walked back to the party. Brittany was anxiously waiting for them. "Well?" she asked.

"We're going to settle our differences. Pistols at dawn," Jane said, deadpan.

"Fortunately, neither of us will be awake enough to use them at that hour," Daria added.

The two girls shared a brief, tentative smirk. Brittany clapped her hands together. "This is the best Fourth of July ever!"

A few days later, Jane and Daria sat at a table at The Zon as they waited for Mystik Spiral to come onstage. "Just like old times, eh?" Jane asked with a small smile.

"Ooooh, I heard the rhythm guitarist is really cute!" Brittany said from her seat across from Daria.

"Not entirely," Daria said in reply to Jane.

"You can have the rhythm guitarist," Lisa said from next to Jane. "I'm here to see the lead singer!" She shot a wicked look at Jane, who buried her face in her hands. Nikki and Angie giggled, and after a moment Brittany joined them.

"Keep it down," Quinn called from the table next to them. "Some of us are trying to have an intelligent conversation."

Daria looked over at her and David and smirked. "So are you two doing research into the history of grunge or is this finally a date-date?" she asked her sister quietly.

Quinn replied in a low voice, "A date-date. But I think it'll be the last one. Turns out he's actually kind of shallow. I like guys with a little more...depth."

At that moment, a roar went up at the table on the other side of Daria and Jane. Everyone turned to look as two of the football players began a chugging contest. Several of the cheerleaders sitting with them rolled their eyes in disgust.

Sitting next to Daria, Tom remarked, "Wow, you were right. This is much more interesting than the country club. Most of the people there do all of their heavy drinking at work."

"Just as long as it doesn't impair their ability to accept bribes," Jane said, giving him an uneasy smile. Things had slowly gotten better between them, but some awkwardness still remained.

"How are things going at that day camp?" Daria asked Brittany.

"Not too bad," she replied, twirling a lock of hair around her finger. "There is one boy that isn't having much fun, though. Hey, I bet you two would get along really well! You should come with me later and meet him."

"Are you suggesting I would voluntarily spend time with O'Neill and a room full of kids?" Daria asked. Brittany tilted her head with a pleading look, and Daria shrugged. "All right. I guess I owe you one." She turned to look at Jane. "And speaking of which, don't we still owe each other some tutoring sessions?"

Jane winced. "I was hoping you'd forgotten about that."

"Hey, I'm not letting your IQ drop just because you'd rather wave some pom-poms."

The girls shared a smile, relieved that they could joke about the subject, even if a bit uneasily. "Just tell me one thing," Jane said quietly. "Do you really accept me as a cheerleader?"

Daria thought for a minute before answering. "As long as you don't expect me to come to any pep rallies then, yes, I think I can accept it."

Jane smiled. "Great!" She turned to Lisa. "I'm quitting the squad."

"What?" Lisa, Nikki, and Angie all cried at once.

"I'm done. I'd like us to stay friends, but I've decided I don't need cheerleading anymore." Glancing over at Brittany, she added, "If it helps, I think I know someone who could take my place."

The cheerleaders looked nervously at Brittany. She gave them an encouraging smile, and Angie said, "Okay, Brittany. Welcome back to the squad!" The girls squealed and squeezed each other's hands.

"That's it?" Jane whispered to Daria. "They snubbed her for months, and now they're all best friends again?"

Daria studied Brittany's face carefully before responding. "Not exactly. I have a feeling she's not going to make it that easy for them." Thinking back to some of their joint Melody Powers stories, she added, "You'd be surprised at how creative she can be when it comes to vengeance."

"Hey, Babe?" Jane turned to see Kevin and groaned. "I told you, my name--" She stopped when she realized he was looking at Brittany. "I heard you're a cheerleader again. You want to go, uh, hang out in my Jeep for awhile?"

Brittany rolled her eyes. "We're through, Kevin. We broke up, and we're going to stay broken up."

"Aw, man," Kevin said. "Is this one of those irregular differences things again?"

She looked at him in confusion for a minute, then sighed and shook her head. "Go home, Kevin."

At that moment, Trent and the rest of the band took the stage. "Hey," Trent said. "We're Mystik Spiral. And this one's for Daria and Jane..." Cheering and applause erupted from the tables around the two girls, and Trent added, "...and those other people, too."

The band began to play. "When the aliens come, when the death rays hum, when the bummers bum, we'll still be freakin' friends!"

Brittany leaned forward to ask Daria if Melody would ever fight communist aliens, while Jane, Lisa, Angie, and Nikki debated the merits of some of the more attractive male patrons in the room.

"When the whip comes down, when they nuke the town, when dead clowns can't clown, we'll still be freakin' friends!"

Quinn and David were deep in conversation, heads bent together in a gesture that spoke more of friendship than romance.

"Freakin' friends! Freakin' friends! 'Til we come to bad ends, we're freakin' friends!"

Daria gently squeezed Tom's hand as he leaned in to kiss her on the cheek. Nodding to Jane, he excused himself to go get more soda for the girls.

"Freakin' friends! Freakin' friends! 'Til we come to bad ends, we're freakin' friends!"

Brittany, Nikki, Angie, and Lisa all got up to dance, and they were soon joined by the rest of the cheerleaders and the football players.

"Freakin' friends! Freakin' friends..."

And as the band played on, Jane and Daria shared uncertain smiles as each wondered what the future would bring for their friendship.

Thanks to the folks at the PPMB for feedback and comments.