Brother, When You're Found

A Sequel to "Is It College Yet?"


Jake - I didn't mean to step on Dad's contact. The next day, he shipped me off to military school.

Mr. DeMartino - My mother didn't want her dates to know she had a son, so I spent a lot of time at the neighbors. Strange, twisted people.

Jake - I know! I had the same neighbors! (From "The Daria Hunter")


Daria - Don't worry, Dad. I'm sure you're doing better than your father did. For starters, wasn't he dead at your age?

Jake - Hey! (From "Jake of Hearts")


Helen - Jake, if you want I'll call that Mr. DeMartino. He's a bit high-strung, but he's a fixture at that school, and he can tell us if anything odd is happening. (From "The Lawndale File")


Jane: Wind, I don't know how to break this to you, but I don't think Mommy and Daddy will be bringing us home any new brothers or sisters.

Trent: Bummer. (From "Art Burn")


Jane - Anyway, being in a relationship can't possibly hinge on physical intimacy. 'Cause that would mean our parents are still doing it.

Daria - Which is absurd.

Jane - No chance.

Daria - I'd join the circus.

Jane - Right behind you. (From "My Night at Daria's)


Disclaimer: Daria's a trademark of MTV. I only borrowed it for a weak attempt to continue the myth...

Ages: At the start of season one in 1997, Daria was 16; now she's 18. To calculate the ages, I decided that this all happens in 1999. Jake is 46, so he was born 1953. His father lived from 1924 to 1969. DeMartino is (according to Outpost Daria) 48 in IICY, so he was born 1951. Trent's and Jane's siblings are 28 (Summer), 27 (Wind) and 26 (Penny) years old; their parents are 46 (Amanda) and 48 (Vincent).

Some Warnings:

Continuity: This fanfic sticks to most of what happened in the series and the other official sources, but Jake did NOT graduate at Buxton Ridge (Jake's letters in the Daria Diaries) and "Mad Dog" died before Jake met Helen, so he was NOT alive when they married ("Of Human Bonding"). Also, DeMartino does not have a buddy who married his mother ("Antisocial Climbers") - at least he does not appear in this fanfic.


This story begins at the end of the movie. Daria and Jane are sitting at Pizza King, talking about college and future plans. They just brought up a toast to college...


I. Choosing Partners

As they lowered their coke cups again, Jane looked at Daria. "You know there's still one last obstacle before you can forget Lawndale High for the rest of your life: the big prom. Ms. Li made it mandatory for all graduates and next year seniors to come and to bring a partner. It's her last chance to milk us for the benefit of school security." Daria took a deep breath. "I know that. I hope it won't get as pathetic as the last dance. Ms. Li's still mad at you for using water-resistant paints for your mural, forcing her to take money from the budget to clean all the walls. One of the best ideas you ever had." Jane smiled. "But this partner thing's going to be hard. It's the first time since fifteen months that neither of us has Tom hanging around."

"Aw, that's sweet. Do you miss him already?" "Jane, please!" "Sorry. But you're right. I don't suppose Quinn could lend us two of her admirers for that night?" "Forget it. When I told her I had blown off Tom, she asked why I didn't wait until the end of the vacations to do so. Besides, she'll soon have her own problems to find a date for the dance..." Daria managed to produce a small wicked smile. Jane's eyes widened. She leant over the table. "Out with it, Morgendorffer. What rumor did you spread about your sister? If it's still the Malaysian Toenail fungus..." Daria shook her head.

"No, I'm totally innocent... well, quite innocent in that matter. Quinn told me that she would wait until the day before the dance to consider all incoming offers. I think she expects the three J's to compete for her just as they did the past two years." "And?" "Do you remember the week when Quinn decided she needed a steady boyfriend because that would be mature?" "After you told her that more or less directly? Yes, it was funny to see all teenaged males of Lawndale expect perhaps Kevin, Mack and Tom line up to be examined for their possible use as Mr. Quinn." "She really thought it would make her more mature. Anyway, she ended up by trying out the three J's one after another." "Which culminated at the day your parents made a big dinner to meet their daughters' boyfriends, right?" "Exactly. At the end, the female Morgendorffers were left back because Tom and Jeffy decided to bond with Dad by catching a squirrel and returning it to the forest." Jane laughed. "That must have been awful for Quinn and you."

"At that moment, it really was. But Quinn calmed down after my mother told her she should do what made her happy in that matter. And when Dad came back later, he was so relaxed and happy that I feared he would want to have an own son. When Tom had to sneak out of my room at 4 am because we both fell asleep two weeks later, he met my father who had a night snack after too much sake. Tom told me later he had serious fears that Dad might kill him on the spot, but Dad welcomed him and even opened the door for him. I think Dad liked Tom, and was very sorry for accidentally telling Mom he had met Tom when he returned to bed." "So you two really didn't do you-know-what that night?" "No, we did NOT do 'you-know-what' that night, Jane!"

Daria had answered very decisively to appear angry. In fact, she was nervous. She wondered if she could ever tell Jane that Tom had come to her room in the guesthouse when they visited Bromwell and that, after some smooching and talking, they had slept together for the first and only time. Jane started talking again. "You wanted to tell me why Quinn'll have problems finding a date for the dance." "Oh yes. Most of her admirers became enraged when she chose first Jamie, then Joey and finally Jeffy just because it was the easiest approach to the whole "steady boyfriend" matter. And the three J's... well, they have wooed her for two years now. It became part of their routine: going to school, football team practice, doing things for Quinn. But when she decided to focus her attention on one of them at a time, they recognized that Quinn will probably never single out one of them to be her permanent boyfriend. She's just playing with them and the whole competition is jeopardizing the friendship between the guys." "Very deep insight. But how do you know about that? Did they tell you?" "They didn't. Mack told me they had a long conversation in the locker room. They made a vow that none of them should try to get Quinn because she isn't worth the trouble." "So Princess Grace won't have a date for the dance although it's mandatory." "Yes, but there's always Upchuck to comfort a lady in distress." Jane smiled. "I'm very sorry to disrupt your illusions, but he already has a date for the dance."

For one moment, Daria said nothing. Then she looked at her friend in mock fear. "Jane Lane, you can't possibly mean you have sunken that low! If I knew you were so desperate about guys, I'd never have stolen your boyfriend!" "Very funny, Daria. Haven't you noticed that Upchuck left very early at Jodie's party?" "First answer: I try not to notice Upchuck at all. Second answer: Even if I did, I'd have thought he learned that he'd never get a girl with his methods until he'd pay better" "Well, if you had noticed him, you would have seen him leaving with Andrea - holding hands!" "OK, now I'm shocked. They must both have been fairly drunk - the one to hit on the persona non grata of the opposite sex, the other to agree. But how do you know that this delightful couple survived the first hangover?" "I talked to Jodie yesterday. She told me that Upchuck reserved two tickets in the names of 'Ruttheimer and Hecuba'"

"So that's a surprise. But why should Jodie ask for both names?" Jane chuckled. "Come on, you know Ms. Li. She insisted on a list of all guests to know whom to accuse for any attempts to make Laaawndale High look bad. Jodie agreed to this to get the P.A. equipment for the dance." "Poor Jodie. But at least she has a boyfriend to take to the dance."

Jane got a mischievous grin on her face. "How about the easiest approach? I know two very ambitious musicians who could need a rest from practicing." "Are you trying to hook me up with Trent again?" Daria sighed. "You know that I'm completely over this stupid crush." "OK, then don't do it for yourself. Do it for me, Trent and our neighborhood." "Could you explain that clearer, please?" "Sure. Do it for me because Jesse won't come if Trent doesn't also. They have a Chewbacca-Han Solo friendship: Trent is the only one who can understand Jesse. Do it for Trent because he still feels bad about letting us down on this multimedia assignment. He was very sad that he didn't see you around as much as he used to be because of the 'Tom thing'. And do it for our neighborhood. Since Monique finally broke up with him, he spends most of his time practicing in the basement. The neighbors might appreciate one evening to walk on the pavement in front of our house without the feeling that an earthquake will arrive any second."

Daria leant back. She knew Jane for three years now and knew her way of sarcasm and joking, so she could tell that she was not sarcastic on this. She nodded. "You got me, Jane. I'll go to that dance with Trent. Actually, it will be nice to spend some time with the guys again." She paused for a moment. "After we're both through 'the Tom thing' without serious damage, life can go on." Jane looked worried as Daria referred to Tom. She remembered when she told Daria: "I should have jumped Tom while I had the chance."

Getting to know guys had never been her problem, but her sarcasm and very nature had driven all boys away after some days - except Tom. He wasn't put off by her art priorities, her living conditions or anything else about her. He never tried to impress her with his family's wealth or his social position. Jane had been really sad when it went down the time Daria stayed at the Lane house, and the "lady and the tiger" idea was originally - as she had confessed to herself after Tom left her - an attempt to repair their relationship. I wonder what would've happened if Daria hadn't barged in when we became passionate that day in front of my painting... She was still deep in thought when she heard a familiar voice. "Daria, can I talk to you?" It was Quinn.


The Morgendorffer sisters went home after Daria had agreed that Jane should ask the boys about going to the dance. As soon as they had closed the front door, Quinn turned to her sister. "Daria, you gotta help me! I need advice from a totally honest person." Daria measured her sister with a short look. "Is it about your clothing or about your looks?" "Daria, puh-leease! I have a really big problem and I need you." She went to the living-room sofa and sat down. Daria followed her, wondering if she should tell her sister about the vow the J's made when Quinn began to speak. "Look, Daria, you know that the school dance is next Saturday..."

Daria interrupted her. "...and you're wondering why no guy's yet asked you to go there with him." Quinn's face got an alarmed look. "What do you mean, Daria? I'm surprised that nobody has asked yet, that's right, but since I told them I'd decide on the day before the dance whom to take, they still have lots of time. Although I thought Joey, Jeffy and Jamie would ask me as soon as possible." "They will not ask you this time, Quinn. Mack told me that they decided to stop competing for you because it was ruining their friendship. But I'm sure you have enough potential candidates to replace them." Surprisingly, Quinn did not start to cry as Daria had expected. She just looked at the ceiling for a second before she turned back to Daria.

"That's sad, but that's not the reason why I wanted to talk to you." She took a letter from her backpack and handed it to Daria. "It was in the mail this morning. Read it." Daria looked at the simple white envelope and read aloud: "To Quinn Morgendorffer, 1111 Glen Oaks Lane, Lawndale. From David Sorenson, The Ivory Tower, Harvard, MS. You got a letter from David?" Quinn looked nervous now. "Yeah. He tells me he has got vacations and will come to Lawndale this week to visit his family. He asks if I made good progress in school and says he'd like to see me." "That sounds nice. Now why do you need sisterly advice from me?"

Quinn swallowed, then she began to speak slowly, as if she could wake up someone by talking at normal speed. "I... I'd like to see him and tell him how much the tutoring helped me this year. And... and I would like to ask him..." "Ask him what?" Quinn looked around the room like needing a hole to hide in. "Come on, Quinn. Tell me what you want to ask David. I'm still not capable of reading your thoughts." Quinn managed to look at Daria's eyes. "I would like to ask him... if he'd like to come to the dance with me!"

For a moment, none of them said a word. Then Daria drew a deep breath. "Okay, you would like to invite him to the dance. What's the problem?" "I don't know how to tell him. What if he doesn't want to? What if he has got a girlfriend at college?" Daria barely managed to suppress a smile. "There's only one way, Quinn. Ask him if he wants." "But just imagine he says no! And how should you know? You haven't got much experience with that. Just remember that Trent guy you had a crush on. You've never told him what you felt for him, right?" "Look, Quinn. First point: You asked me for advice and I gave you my opinion on that. Second point: I've had a steady boyfriend for almost a year, so I know a bit about that topic. And third point: I'll go to the dance with Trent because I have to bring a partner as graduate student, so I'm taking the easiest way. You have improved at school and you've got nothing to be ashamed of. If he doesn't want, pick one of your fans at school. But if you don't have the guts to ask him, you'll always wonder if he might have agreed. Believe me, I was there with Trent and never had the courage to ask. Don't be as dumb as I was. Ask him!"

Quinn looked at her sister, surprised at the outburst. "All right, I'll ask him. But don't tell Mom and Dad about it!" "Why should I do that? First thing Mom would want to know is who I'm taking to the dance. It'd be brave of you to take David with you, since your fashion-worshipping friends will probably drop dead at his sight. Didn't he drop them when they wanted to be tutored by him?" "Yes, he did. Sandi's still occasionally asking me what my "brainy geek-boyfriend" is doing. If he should really agree to come to the dance, I just got to have someone take a picture of her expression." She laughed, then she became serious again. "But you said that you'll take Trent? Did he ask you already?" "No, he didn't. In fact, Jane suggested that she'd take Jesse to the ball and that I'd help her if I invited Trent... I sound like a complete idiot, right?"

She broke off when she looked at her sister. Quinn had sworn that she would not do anything to humiliate Daria if she helped her with the decision about asking David, but the imagination of Daria asking Trent just to do Jane a favor was too much. She started to laugh uncontrollably. "Look, since I have to take someone with me, it was the easiest way to think of the brother of my best friend... Could you stop laughing, please? It can't be that funny!" Quinn calmed down again. "I'm sorry, Daria. But you admitted by yourself that you sound like a complete idiot." She sat up straight. "It's probably the best possible way, since you obviously don't want to invite Tom." They heard someone unlocking the front door. "Let's finish this later. I don't want Mom or Dad to listen to this."

 As they rose from the sofa, the door opened, revealing Jake carrying his briefcase. He set it down on the sofa table and gave his daughters a friendly smile as he picked up the remaining mail. Daria decided to start a conversation with him before he would ask what she and Quinn were doing. "Hi, dad. Anything for me in the mail?" Jake flipped through the letters. "Let's see... electricity bill, a postcard from Rita, the water bill..." He held up one letter and opened it. "Look, it's from my mother! I wonder what she wants..." He started to read it while Quinn went to the kitchen. After a minute, he looked up again. "She says she'll visit us tomorrow!"


II. Family Secrets, Part 1, Or: Sins Of Our Father

Later that evening, the Morgendorffer family sat in the kitchen, eating dinner. Helen had just arrived and wolfed down Jake's new meal creation because she had to leave again soon. Hearing that her mother in-law would come on the next day was not her idea of a nice family dinner. "But can't you call her to postpone this, Jake? You know that my workload is even bigger than usually because all the Schrecters are on a family reunion somewhere in Montana..." Jake cut her off. "I'll take a day off from work. I fixed the contract with that restaurant company yesterday, so I can stay home tomorrow and welcome my mom." He paused. "I wonder why she's coming. She wrote that there'd be something she wants to tell me personally... I hope it's no bad news." Helen looked at her watch and stood up. "I'm in a hurry, Jake. See you later."

After Helen and the girls left, Jake stayed at the table, obviously deep in thought. He hardly noticed Daria who came in the kitchen to get a can of soda a few minutes later until she slammed the door of the refrigerator shut. "Oh. Sorry, dad." Daria looked at her father. "Are you worried about Grandma Ruth?" Jake turned to her. "It comes pretty suddenly. But, knowing my mother, she's just checking that Helen treats me right. It's probably better that they won't meet immediately tomorrow." He chuckled. "Will you be here tomorrow, kiddo? I could use your help in dealing with her." "I'll be here until noon, I think. Jane and I want to go see a French movie at the Megamultiplex." "Thanks, Daria."


Ruth arrived very early next morning. As Daria entered the kitchen in their nightclothes, she already sat there, sipping coffee. After Daria had welcomed her, Ruth continued talking with her son. "But why couldn't Helen wait until I'd be here before leaving for work, Jakey?" "She had an important case to be discussed at 8am, Mom. She said she'd be sorry not to see you. But what was so important that you couldn't tell me by telephone?" "I got a letter from the Department of the Army yesterday. They want to name a barracks at Fort King after your father and asked me for my permission to do so. They also asked if we could come to Fort King for the official ceremony." Jake drew a deep breath. "Dad would've loved this if he was still alive... Not only having some military freak house bearing his name, but also condemning me to sit there and hear some colonel talking about Dad's decorations and merits..."

He looked at his mother. "What did you tell them?" "I told them that Dad would be honored and accepted it. You'll come there with me, right?" At that moment, Quinn entered the kitchen with her cell phone pressed against her ear. "Thank you Sammy. I'll be happy to come to your party next weekend. I suppose you also invited Sandi, Stacy and Tiffany..." Then she noticed Ruth. "Oh hi, Grandma Ruth. Anyway, can you believe that we have work to do in the vacation? O'Neill tried to prevent this because it 'might harm our unburdened souls', but the PTA head overruled him, saying 'If Anthony DeMartino can't...'"

          CRASH! Jake and his daughters gazes rushed first at the cup of coffee Ruth had just dropped on the floor, then at Ruth herself, whose face had turned white. "Mommy, are you alright?" He reached over the table and took her hand as Quinn terminated her phone call with some words. "You look like you had a stroke!" Daria and Quinn also looked worried as Ruth tried to sit up straight but failed miserably. "Shall I call an ambulance?" Quinn asked. Daria went over to the sink to wet a towel and placed it on her grandmother's neck. After a minute, Ruth recovered from the shock and glanced around at the worried faces of her family.

"I'm OK." she said. "Sorry for that, but tell me Quinn, did you really say the name Anthony DeMartino??!" Quinn nodded. "He's our history teacher at Lawndale High School, grandma." Daria said. "Do you know him?" Ruth's face became pale again, but it cleared after a second. She regarded her son and straightened in her chair. "I hoped that you'd never hear about this, Jakey; but I think now it's your right to know. I'd prefer it if the girls would leave..." Jake exchanged glances with his daughters, then he turned to his mother again. "I don't know what you'll tell me, Mom, but Daria and Quinn can hear it. They are grown-up by now and whatever I can stand to hear, they can... if they want to. And if it's about some family secret..." he shrugged, "...they're the only ones carrying on the name Morgendorffer." "But they should not be the only ones..." Ruth answered, causing total silence.

"What do you mean by this?" Daria asked finally. "Well, if your father thinks you shall hear this, I'll tell you." She looked at Jake. "Martin and I met fifty years ago. I was working at the local store back then and he was an army captain, serving at Fort King as drill instructor. We didn't fall in love at once, but with the time, we both became closer and closer." Jake listened fascinated. His mother had never talked about his father as 'Martin' before. "In 1950, Martin was sent to Korea as a company commander. Before he left, we engaged and promised to marry as soon as he came back." She sighed. "He wanted to have a house, a decent job and as many sons as I could give him. He fought in Korea until the end of the war, but he was allowed to fly to America two times; once to give evidence about a soldier who shot his sergeant while being drunken and once because of some medal. The second time, in late 1951, I met him after the ceremony in Washington and we spent the weekend there together. The first time, however, was different." She looked very sad at the thought, but then she continued. "Martin had to go to Fort Campbell because the trial was held there. I told him that I'd come down to meet him again, but on the day before he came, I fell off a ladder in the store and had a concussion, so nobody told Martin what happened and I wasn't there when he landed. He had looked forward to meeting me for months and now I wasn't there. On that evening, he drove into town, got drunk and landed in bed with a sixteen-year old high school girl."

Jake gasped while his girls just looked at Ruth. "On the next morning, I woke up and despite my condition called at Fort Campbell to tell Martin what happened to me. After some fuss like telling some dumb corporal why I had to talk to Martin, they found him and we could at least talk with each other. He didn't tell me about the high school girl at that time." Ruth looked angry now. "Two months later, I got a call from some officer at Fort Campbell who remembered my telephone inquiries about Martin. He told me that a pregnant young woman had been asking for 'a Captain Martin Dylan Morgendorffer, because she's having his baby' at Campbell. That night, I made a call to the Adjutant General's Office in Korea, telling them I had to talk to my fiancé ASAP. They assumed that he had left me pregnant, so he called three days later - at the store, because I had no phone at home. He told me all about that night, but when I got mad at him, he hanged up."

"But what did you do afterwards?" asked Quinn, who always liked a good love story with dramatic turns. "I didn't hear anything about Martin until he came back in February 1953. He returned to Fort Drum and I visited him there." Ruth looked rather unhappy. "I told him that I had waited for him and that I still wanted to marry him. He wasn't so sure until I reminded him that his military career would be over if the army learned about his illegitimate child." "That means you blackmailed him." "Daria!" "Yes, I did." Ruth looked at Jake, who was silent again. "Martin married me in July 1953, when I was already pregnant with Jake. He went down to Campbell once more, telling the girl with the baby that he couldn't marry her and gave her ten thousand dollars to keep her mouth shut. He asked me if I wanted to accompany him, but I told him that I wanted to see neither the girl nor the child ever in my whole life and neither should he." Ruth glanced at the kitchen clock before she continued.

"I hoped that with me and little Jake, he would settle down and realize all the dreams he told me about when we met for the first time. But his war experience and the knowledge that he had betrayed me as soon as he got the chance to poisoned our marriage. We were neither good spouses for each other nor good parents for Jake. After Jake's birth, Martin told me that he did not want any more children. He found a job fixing drainpipes and he still was a National Guard officer, but we both knew that he hated the life with wife and child. And since he couldn't act out his anger on me, he terrorized Jake..." Now her eyes were both fixed on Jake, who stared at his feet, his brain obviously full of bad memories. "His only remaining dream was to make his son a perfect soldier, thus reliving his career in Europe and Korea. When he decided to send Jake to Buxton Ridge Military School in 1965, I didn't stop him, thinking that it might be the best thing for Jake - and for us. But Jake's departure didn't improve our relation as I had hoped. In the following year Martin was sent to Vietnam to command a garrison. Three years later I got a letter saying that he died near Saigon. I took Jake out of Buxton Ridge and moved with him to West Virginia, where he met Helen in high school." Daria rose from her seat, fetched the coffee and poured a new cup for Ruth, who sipped at it, then cleared her throat.

"After Martin's funeral, I went through his things and found some photos of a two-year old child with black hair, sitting on the lap of a very young-looking woman. On the back of the photos, it said 'March 1953: Nora and Anthony' and an address in a small town near Campbell. I burned all the things, but I could neither forget the photo nor the fact that Jakey had an older brother called Anthony... DEMARTINO."


Daria stared at her grandmother while several memories went through her mind: Her encounter with Mr. DeMartino on the first day in Lawndale High... DeMartino in combat outfit at the paintball range - she remembered that he had talked with Jake there... DeMartino offering her gambling chips at the casino ship... DeMartino dragging both Ms. Barch and Mr. O'Neill at the field trip in the mountains... DeMartino throwing a sink through the window at the "OK to Cry Corral" and the children cheering... DeMartino as leader of the teachers' strike... She glanced to Quinn and Jake. Her sister was petrified, probably having similar memories of DeMartino while Jake continued to keep his eyes on his mother. At last Daria found her voice. "That means DeMartino is our... uncle?"

Ruth sighed. "He is, but I don't think he knows it. Martin sort of... well, he threatened his mother to ensure that she would never tell her son about his father. I kept silent about it for forty-eight years and wanted to keep silent until I died, but when Quinn mentioned his full name, I nearly fainted." "So the only question is: shall we tell him?" said Daria. "You know, I talked to him when we sat together at the paintball range while it rained... and he told me that his mother treated him badly... it would top things off for him if he learned that his father was an SOB without the courage to stand for what he did..." said Jake absently.

"I think we should tell him." Suddenly, all eyes were on Quinn. "Why should we tell him, sis?" Daria asked her. "First of all: I'll see him in school for another year. That means meeting him for several times each week, always thinking of him as Uncle Anthony. He may be screwed, but he's not stupid. One day he would ask me why I'm staring at him and I'd blare it out, humiliating myself totally." Daria smirked. "You told everyone that I'm your cousin. That worked for years." "Oh come on, Daria. Everyone knew it after you told the whole school at that stupid assembly. Anyway, would you like to live for almost fifty years with the feeling that you don't have a father? I'll tell him if you don't have the courage!" To his own surprise, Jake began to smile. "Relax, Quinn. I also think we should tell him all this." He turned to Ruth and his face hardened. "I don't know what part you had in this from the beginning, but Quinn's absolutely right. This has gone much too long."

At that moment, Helen entered in a hurry. "Hello everybody! I just have time for a microwave meal and then..." she broke off when she saw the looks of her family. "What has happened? Has somebody died? Dear God, please tell me..." Jake stood up and hugged her. "The exact opposite, sweetie. You'll never believe what Mom just told us." Helen listened with fascination as Jake repeated the story.


III. Baby, What A Big Surprise

Later that day, Jane called. The Morgendorffers had discussed about the new family member and the several ways to break the news to DeMartino - though the use of his surname had become more and more frequent during the last hours. Daria had supported the point of Jake and Quinn that DeMartino had a right to know about his origins and his half-brother. As a result, she had completely forgotten about Jane and their plan to meet for a movie. After waiting for thirty minutes, Jane went to the next phone.

"You've reached the Morgendorffer lair. All cats disappeared after being seen near our house are in a better world now." Daria said. "Hello Daria. It seems that your way to the top didn't lead past the Megamultiplex today." "Oh yeah. Sorry I forgot it, but I went through a situation you might know from experience." "Since there are so many several situations to master every day, give me a hint." Daria prepared for the revelation. "How about the discovery of an unknown family member?" "I always told you that you had enough intelligence for two people. So they found your moron twin?" "Actually, my grandmother broke down and confessed that Dad's father impregnated a woman two years before Dad was born." "So the infamous 'Mad Dog' had two kids? I assume the person showed up today and your Dad went crazy." "No, Quinn mentioned the name of a certain inhabitant of Lawndale at breakfast and Ruth seemed to get a stroke out of nowhere. When she recovered, she told us all about it." "And who, may I ask, enjoys the sudden benefit to be a part of the Morgendorffer family? Do I know him by chance?" "You do. It's Mr. DeMartino."

For a moment, Jane was silent. When she continued, her voice was full of disbelief. "Are you sure? DeMartino is your... father's brother??!" "According to Ruth, her beloved husband had a one-night stand with an underage girl forty-nine years ago. The result was our dear history teacher. And the best part is that he doesn't know it. We had a real battle here about the question of telling him or not." "And you were against it?" "No, I supported Quinn and Dad in telling him." Daria heard someone knocking at her door. "I gotta go. Bye." "Give Uncle Anthony my regards if you see him." "I will. Bye." Daria hang up.


While Daria returned to her family in the kitchen, Jane continued to stare at the phone. DeMartino as Daria's uncle? Jeez, I know my folks are weird, but at least they wreak havoc in other parts of the country/world than Lawndale. Daria has her family in dangerous proximity, and the discovery of an uncle whose temper she had experienced first-hand may just be another brick in the wall. Jane left the phone booth and started to walk home. I just have to tell this to Trent.


In the Morgendorffer home, the family council (plus Ruth) reached a decision. Quinn would try to call DeMartino the next day to tell him "that she had some questions about her homework" and ask if she could visit him at his house. If he should agree, Jake would accompany her and drop the bomb on his lost brother, hoping that he would believe the story.


As Jane arrived home, she went to Trent's room and looked inside: no Trent there. She went down into the basement: no Trent either. A short glance outside told her that his car stood in front of the house, so he had not taken it. She began to worry when she heard a noise from the most unlikely place for him to hide - Summer's old room, which was now Vincent Lane's (seldom used) home office. When she entered, she saw Trent sitting at the desk, writing rapidly on a sheet.

She looked around to spot any kind of coffee mug or a trace of some kind of illegal substance to cause this behavior, but she could see neither. Trent looked up. "Hello Janey. Where've you been?" "I planned to meet Daria at the movies, but she didn't turn up. I called her at home and got the most amazing story I heard for years. Do you want to hear it?" Trent smiled. "I've got a nice story too, but you first." He leant back as Jane settled on an old sofa at the wall before she cleared her throat. "Daria's grandma Ruth came to visit their family today. When Quinn mentioned DeMartino, Ruth said that he's Jake's half-brother and the result of a one-night stand of her late husband. So now the Morgendorffers have to decide whether to tell him and to face the consequences, or to keep the news away from him and leave him ignorant about his father."

Trent looked surprised. "That's a hard decision. It could have been worse for them, however. If you think about all the other lunatic teachers at Lawndale High like Ms. Li, DeMartino's a good pick. You know that he was the only teacher to understand my problems after what happened to Pat. If only..." His reminiscences were cut off as Jane sat up straight and looked at him. "I also wanted to ask you for a favour, but it can wait until you told me your story. If it kept you awake without coffee, it must be more amazing than mine." Trent shuffled on his seat, looking unhappy for a moment. "I don't know if it's more amazing, but it will change our present life considerably. Do you remember when Mom and Dad were here for the last time?" "When we both did unspeakable things to rebuild that damn gazebo? Me selling out and you doing manual labor? Yeah, I do remember it. Why?" "Well, that was six months ago. We didn't wonder why they came back together, did we?" "No, we didn't. But after they told us to chop down the gazebo, I did not really care, either." Trent looked thoughtful now.

"They came from some kind of WWF event where Mom studied Asian pottery and Dad photographed wild yaks. The important fact is, they come home tomorrow, and they sent a letter." "So what? They come for their annual visit. What's so important about this? They don't bring all our siblings with them, right?" Jane looked curious at Trent, who managed to smile. "They won't bring any of our older siblings this time, Janey... but they'll bring a younger one!"


For a moment, Jane was petrified. "What do you mean, younger sibling??! Did they..." Trent interrupted her. "Dad says in his letter that Mom was already pregnant when they were here last time, but she did not know it then. But now they come home to have the baby be born in Lawndale. They said that the magician in the Tibetan village told them they would have another son." Now Jane looked furious. "So they took this crap seriously? For God's sake, Trent! They are both nearly fifty, have five children and four grandchildren!" "Five grandchildren, if Wind's second wife speaks the truth." "Ha, ha, very funny Trent. How do you think they'll manage that? Our older siblings will show up here even less than they did before, if that's possible. I'll be off for college in six months and if you're smart, you better find a job far, far away from home, 'cause otherwise, you will have all the joys of parenthood here without anyone to share. Or do you really think that our parents will stay home and find jobs like normal people? I really hope that they'll find a good name for the baby. How about Wayne or Payne or perhaps Blaine?"

Trent decided to let his sister blow off some steam before continuing. When she had stopped, he took a long breath. "It's not my fault, Janey. If you're angry, bark at them. But Dad wrote me that everything is already planned. He will take an offer from an old friend at the Sun-Herald to be a freelance photographer and Mom is going to stay home. He also said that he is sorry for being abroad so often, but I think it's for the better. Can you imagine how many siblings we had if Mom and Dad would've spent the past twenty years together?" Jane began to laugh. "Next on Sick Sad World: The police had to separate them to avoid overpopulation. The Coney Couple." Trent laughed also, then he faced Jane again.

"Now what favor do you want from me? Need a ride?" "No, not this time. But Daria and I need an escort for the school dance, and since neither of us is willing to ask Tom, I thought that you might escort Daria and ask Jesse if he wants to join us as my escort... Hey, don't smile like that!" "Sorry, Janey. Couldn't help it. So your need of an escort is not another plot to hook me up with Daria?" "Of course not. What do you think I am, a matchmaker?" "Yes, you are. And it's a pity you chose me and Daria as targets for practice. She's a nice girl, but she needs someone having the same character traits as she has. That's something I can't offer her."

Jane fixed her brother with a steady gaze. "Thanks for the deep insight, but will you and Jesse come? Li made it mandatory for the senior students to have a partner with them." "Sure we'll come. I believe Jesse has even more motivation to step on Li's toes than I have. You know Li tried to bust him for ‚conduct unbecoming a Laaawndale High student' after she learnt of his moonlighting at that club for lonely housewives?" Jane made a pained face. "No, I didn't. That must've been some torture." "He vowed to pay Li back for what she did to him, so he'll be delighted to come. Shall I go call him..." he paused, "or do you want to invite him, dear sis? I think he'd like that even better." Jane frowned. "And you say that I'm a matchmaker. You call him now, and I'll call Daria later. Okay?" Trent smiled at her. "As you wish. I'll give your regards to Jesse. Oh, by the way, take my car." He threw her some keys before he left for his own room.


"Hello?" "Um... good morning, Mr. DeMartino. This is Quinn Morgendorffer. I've got some questions about my vacation work." "And what are these questions?" "Well... I can't give them all on telephone. Would it be OK if I came over to your house today... to ask them personally?" "But why can't you ask me now, Quinn?" "Um... eh... my parents just told me to cut down my excessive use of their phone, so I'd rather visit you at your place... that is, if you aren't busy..." For a moment, DeMartino was silent, then he answered, sounding thoughtful. "OK, Quinn. I'll be home until five, so you can come before then..." Quinn interrupted him "Thanks, Mr. DeMartino! I'll be there!" and terminated the call after finishing her sentence.

DeMartino looked at his phone, then addressed the person sitting on his sofa. "A student of mine called to clear some details about her work. I told her to come over later to talk with me personally." The person grumbled. "But you know that I wanted you to take me to the bingo at the "Olde Tea Cuppe" at 5:30. You promised me, Tony!" "She'll be gone by then. I told her I'd to leave at five, so there'll be no problems about your bingo, Mother."


On the other end, Quinn still stared on the telephone despite knowing that four pairs of eyes - Helen's, Jake's, Daria's and Ruth's - rested on her. Finally, she turned around. "He said I could come over today, but he'd leave home at five." "That's it? He didn't suspect anything?" Helen asked incredulously. Daria managed a smile. "It's nice to see that even a teacher with years of practice hasn't adopted the rough attitude to life which seems to be common with lawyers these days." "Daria!" "So, we'll visit him this afternoon?" Jake asked to prevent his wife from giving her elder daughter another lecture about life and its circumstances. "Are you sure you want to do this, Jakey? Maybe we better wait some time before we..." Jake turned around to face his mother, his face bearing a determined expression neither his wife nor his daughters had ever seen before.

"Now listen, Mom. This man's probably had a terrible childhood because his mother was used by a man who wanted some fun for one evening. A man who not only declined to support his child, but also forced the girl he got pregnant never to tell the child about his father. A man who did all this because his fiancée - YOU - had made him do so. As a result, this man grew up fatherless and with a mother who was probably too young to raise him as a child should be raised. If you would visit him to tell him about all this, he would freak out completely - and many judges wouldn't hold him responsible for whatever he would do."

His voice was stern now. "I will visit him to tell him the story you've told me and the girls yesterday. I hope that he will believe me, but I wouldn't be surprised if he threw me out." Nobody said anything for a moment. Finally, Daria spoke in a quiet voice. "He has a right to know about his origin, Grandma Ruth. I think it's better to send Dad to talk with him." "Thank you, kiddo. Quinn, we'll leave at 3:00." Jake started to walk up the stairs when Helen called him. "Jake?" "Yes, honey?" She smiled. "I'm proud of you."


IV. Brothers In Arms

Two hours later, a blue Lexus arrived in front of a modest house without much decoration or personal notes. Quinn and Jake left the car and walked up to the front door, hesitating a moment before ringing the bell. They heard some noise in the house, then the door opened and DeMartino looked at them. "Hello Quinn. Nice to see you." His gaze shifted to Jake. "Oh, hello, Mr. Morgendorffer." Jake pulled a key from his pocket and gave it to Quinn. "Wait for me in the car, kiddo. If this takes too long, drive home by yourself. I'll get a taxi then." "OK, Daddy." She turned and walked back to the car.

DeMartino eyed Jake curiously. "What does this mean, Mr. Morgendorffer? Quinn said that she'd want to talk with me." Jake drew a very deep breath, then he stiffed. "Quinn said so because I asked her to do so. I have to talk with you, Mr. DeMartino, and this was the only way to ensure that you'd listen." Now DeMartino looked even more curious. "Well, if it's about your daughters' grades, I think..." Jake interrupted him. "It's not about school, and it's also not some kind of business. As a matter of fact, it's kind of private, and I'd prefer you to sit if you hear it." He paused. "May I enter?" "Oh, sure. Excuse me for being so impolite." The two men entered the house, being watched by Quinn.


At the Lane homestead, Jane had slept till noon before having breakfast with Trent, this being a rare treat for both of them (especially with Trent buying fresh bread instead of taking whatever could be considered edible for anyone whose standards allowed food to have odd colors, toppings or shapes). Jane's amazement about her brother's behavior turned to joy as he told her that Jesse had agreed to be her escort to the dance and had even promised to wear a decent shirt - if he could borrow one from Trent, who had access to his father's wardrobe. After eating, running for an hour and a fast shower, Jane felt so happy that she had to fight her inspiration in order to phone Daria.

"Welcome to Radio Gaga. If you have a special wish, please sing it for us so we can replay it on air to humiliate you." "Hello Daria. Since I don't want to torture you with 'Old McDonald had a farm', let's skip the formal stuff." "Ah, our favorite customer. Anything new in the world of lonely loonies?" "Several things. For starters, consider yourself as the soon-to-be queen of the school dance, partying the night away with my brother at your side." Despite herself, Daria felt a smile forming on her face. "That's... nice. Will Jesse also come to keep you from stealing my thunder on the dance floor?" "Hah! You wish! Have you never seen Jesse when he worked... forget it, forget anything I said." "Jesse worked where?" Jane cursed her swift tongue. "Ask Trent or Jesse. If they tell you, it's OK, if not, please deny that I told you anything." "Alright, amiga. Now what else?" "Not so fast. li'l lady. How's Uncle Anthony?" "I don't know yet. Dad's just visiting him to fulfill the traditional family rites on the new member." "So may I come over to see Hero Jake's return - may it be victorious or not?" "Come over if you like, but first tell me the other news you've been holding back." "It's too big to tell it over the phone. I shall fill you in when I'm at your place." "Now you made me curious. I even told you about 'Dear Uncle Anthony' on the phone!" "Like I said. See you!" Jane hung up, leaving Daria with her imagination about the big news.


DeMartino sat down on his sofa and looked at Jake. "Have a seat, Mr. Morgendorffer." "Um, no, thank you. I prefer to stand. Well... how can I begin..." Jake cleared his throat. "Please excuse me for asking a personal question. Who is your father?" DeMartino stared at him. "Be assured that I've a good reason for asking this. Do you know your father?" "I never met my father. According to my mother, he was a young soldier who died in the Korean War before I was born." "Did she tell you more about him? Sorry, but I must know this, Mr. DeMartino." "She told me that he had promised to marry her before he left for Korea. After his death and my birth, her parents made her leave the high school she attended and she had to find some work to earn a living. But before I continue, I want to know why you're here." "I'll tell you. Only one question before that: do you have a photograph of your father?"

DeMartino rose from his seat and walked to a desk standing in the corner of the room, searching for some seconds before taking out an old photograph and giving it to Jake. It showed a young man of about eighteen or nineteen in an army uniform standing in front of a huge emblem of the 36th U.S. Infantry Division. Despite his youth, the man looked aggressive and proud.

Jake stared at the man who had made his own childhood a living hell and who had ruined the life of a young girl nearly fifty years ago in one night. "What... what was his name?" "Corporal Martin M. Dylan." DeMartino noticed the look on Jake's face. "Mr. Morgendorffer? Do you need a glass of water?" Jake sat down on the sofa and looked up to the man who had just proved to be Jake's elder brother. "Yes, that'd be nice. Better bring one for yourself also. I have to tell you something very important."


When Jane arrived at the Morgendorffer's house, Helen opened the door. "Hello Jane. Have you heard about my husband's brother?" "Yes, Mrs. Morgendorffer. Daria told me yesterday. Is she up in her room?" "I think so. Have you seen Quinn on the way? Jake told me that he'd send her home to talk alone with DeM... his brother." "No, I haven't seen her. Maybe she's taking a shortcut through Cashman's." Helen turned white. "Oh my! I hope she hasn't taken my platinum card..." She began to dig in her purse while Jane went up the stairs, smirking to herself.


DeMartino brought two glasses and a water bottle and placed them on the table. "Serve yourself. Now why did you ask all this about my father?" Jake took his glass and emptied it in one gulp. "Listen, Mr. DeMartino. I'm sorry to tell you that your mother has lied about your father." DeMartino jumped from his seat. "What?" "Your father did not die in the Korean War, he died in 1969. He was also not as old as your mother, he was ten years older. He abandoned your mother because he was already engaged to another woman." Now DeMartino stood completely, fixing Jake with a look that most students at Lawndale High would have interpreted as "RUN - NOW!". "I want an explanation, Mr. Morgendorffer - IMMEDIATELY!!!" Jake stayed calm and motioned DeMartino to sit down again. "The photograph you've shown me was made 1942, not 1950. I know this because I've seen it before. However, the man on the photo is your father, but his name is Martin Dylan - MORGENDORFFER. When he met your mother, he was a captain serving in Korea who had been called back to Fort Campbell in a disciplinary matter. They went out and spent the night together, but the next day he left again. Your mother bears no guilt in this, and I can understand that she told you an invented story, not the truth."

After Jake had finished, DeMartino stared at him for a moment, then the realization hit him square in the face. "Did you say... Morgendorffer? You mean like your name?" "Yes. The man on the photo is my - our father. He threatened your mother never to tell you about him because he feared for his military career. Like I said, I don't blame your mother for what she did. Martin Morgendorffer was a menace to anyone who questioned his power. I lived fourteen years with him as father, and my shrink still unearths new bad memories about that time in my mind every time I visit." Jake paused for a moment before continuing. "I'm sorry for all the disadvantages you and your mother suffered because of that bastard, and I hope to meet your mother to tell her the same." "Mr. Mor... I mean, Jake. My mother's currently here, and..." He was interrupted by the entering of an old, slightly unkempt woman who looked suspiciously at the two men. "Tony! You said a student of yours would come, not a man of your age!" DeMartino looked unhappy. "Um... please let me introduce you. My mother, Nora DeMartino; this is Jake Morgendorffer..." For the second time in 24 hours, Jake saw an old woman fainting in front of him before both men rushed forward to keep her from falling on the table.


Jane still grinned at her way to brush off Helen when she entered Daria's room. Daria sat on her bed, reading a novel. Her absent look cleared as she saw Jane. "Hello, amiga." She paused for a second, noticing Jane's grin. "Now I told you not to eat any kind of stuff your parents left behind. Just look at your smile!" "Gee, I'd love to do so, but you don't have one of these cute mirror thingies in here. Do you think your sister would help me out? I'll go find her..." Jane answered with a high, Britanny-like voice. Daria stood up and closed the door. "Now seriously, why are you grinning like that? Met some new boy?" "No, unfortunately not... I just broke the record for escaping your mom before being talked down again." "Congratulations, I'm so proud of you. Now what can be such a big secret that the guys bugging my phone may not participate in its discovery?"

Jane sat down on the floor next to Daria's bed, shifting several times until she found the right position, all the time being anxiously watched by Daria. Finally, she started to speak slowly, but clearly. "After we talked yesterday, I came home to tell Trent about your family's recent addition. He told me in turn that our parents had called, announcing their return to Lawndale." "So your folks come for their annual two-week visit. Do you and Trent want to live here again until they leave?" "I said "return", not visit, Daria. This time they'll stay here. My father even told Trent he found a job with the Sun-Herald." "OK, they'll stay here, big deal. You'll be off for college soon, so Trent has to worry about sharing the house with your parents. Come on, you told me that your parents lived permanently in Lawndale until you became eleven." Jane cleared her throat to drop the bomb. "Daria..., the reason why my parents come home is... my mother's pregnant. In two weeks I'll have another sibling!"

Daria stared at her friend. "Are you serious? Your mother must be about... fifty-odd or something! I mean... no offense Jane, but is that possible?" "As a matter of fact, she's forty-six. When Summer was born, she was just eighteen. But can you imagine how I felt yesterday?" Daria smirked at the thought. "Since I have a younger sibling, I might have experienced that kind of feeling. But Quinn's eighteen months younger than me, not eighteen years." "That's it. I've survived four older siblings up to now, but I can't cope yet with the thought of a baby brother or sister which could be my own child due to the difference in age!" Jane sighed exasperated. "You know the weirdest thing about it? I learnt to expect any kind of strange behavior from my parents: they left us alone for years at a time, spending their life with things like wanting to paint the sunset in the arctic winter or hugging yaks in Tibet. The only thing I never expected from them was another sibling. I wonder how they will make ends meet when the time has come. I almost regret not being there to witness the inevitable chaos the adaptation to 'normal life' will be for them."

Daria looked at her friend again. "You have to see the positive effects of it. Maybe both your parents and Trent will grow up to be 'honorable members of the adult society' and learn from the valuable experience." "That'll be the day! The only way to transform Trent into a concerned adult would be your love and... mmph!" Her sentence was abruptly ended by Daria's well-aimed nightshirt hitting her on the mouth. "Oh, do you want this to be a present for Trent as a proof of your undying love?" "I have harder objects in my reach, Jane." Daria warned. "Okay, I'll stop it. But speaking of Trent, did you tell your parents about the prom?" "I wanted to, but when Ruth's story came up, they would have forgotten it at once." "This would have been OK with you in the last three years, amiga. You're getting soft, aren't you?" "Maybe I am, maybe I'm just getting older. However, I told Quinn after our pizza time, and she liked the idea." "Really?" Jane said suspiciously. "Well, most of the time, we spoke about her choice for the prom, considering that she hasn't got one yet." "Did you tell her about the desertion of her fans?" "Yes, I did." "Did she cry or rage at the news?" "No, she didn't. In fact, she plans to invite David for the prom." "David... you mean that guy who tutored her and blew her off after she fell for him last year?" "That's the one. She even asked for my advice..." Daria broke off when the phone rang.


After several wet towels and a sip of brandy, Nora DeMartino had regained her consciousness. Her son and Jake placed her on a seat and waited for the inevitable questions from her. Finally, she spoke, still sounding emotionally disturbed. "Excuse me... but did you really say Morgendorffer?" Jake rose from his seat. "Yes, Ms. DeMartino. I am Jacob Morgendorffer, son of Martin Morgendorffer. I'm very sorry for what my father did to you." "Who sent you here? Does... does Martin still live?" Her face had turned anxious when she asked the second question, so Jake answered quickly.

"No, Ms. DeMartino. Like I told your son - my brother - just now, Martin died in 1969. He will never come back to threaten you." "I know that it might sound hard to you, but I'm glad to hear that. But I still don't know why you came today, Mr. Morgendorffer." "That's what I wanted to ask you, Mr. Mor..." "My mother is currently visiting us in Lawndale. Yesterday my daughter Quinn mentioned your name to her; after what looked like a minor heart attack, she confessed about her husband's sins concerning you both. I decided to visit you to find out the truth." He paused, then addressed Nora directly. "If you want to curse my dad, please do so. He was a rotten S.O.B. who died for his country before he could answer for what he did to me, to you two and to my mother. And please call me Jake." "Thank you... Jake."

"But why did you never tell me about my real father?" Anthony asked his mother. "Tony, you have to understand my situation back then. Many of my friends went out with soldiers, I just wanted to do the same, having some fun and maybe have one beer or two, so I went to town and met that... that swine. When I woke up the next morning in a cheap motel, he was gone, leaving not enough money to pay for the room, so I sneaked out the back door with a heavy head and few memories about the last evening. When I realized I was pregnant, I called Fort Campbell and became desperate when they informed me that there was no officer named Morgendorffer stationed there." She looked absent, remembering events staged half a century ago.

"At last I found a corporal telling me that Captain Morgendorffer had only stayed there for some days and had gone back in Korea. I decided to tell him about my pregnancy, hoping he would pass the message on." Now Nora looked sadly at her son, knowing what came next. "You were born in late 1951, which made me a 'lost girl' without support from my parents. I still tried to find your father through the army channels, hoping he would recognize his son and help us. But two years passed until he returned." She breathed a few times before she continued.

"Martin came to see me - us in October 1953. When I asked him for money, he told me that he had left the army, was married and had another son, so he could not help us in any way. I made a mistake by telling him that it was his damn duty to pay for his child." Nora touched her cheek with her hands, trailing the bone. "He slapped me so hard that I lost my right eye vision for some days and then he told me that I could have a one-time payment of 10.000 dollars for my child's education if I promised never to tell him about his father. I asked him about a different way to handle things, but he told me that I should better take the money before he would beat me up again. He vanished after that, leaving a wad of bills. I lived from it for the next year, after that I took a job as a dishwasher in the local milk bar. When Tony first asked me why he had no Dad like the other children had, I made up a story about a young soldier who died before he could marry me."

Jake had listened silently, regarding Anthony's expression while his mother talked. His brother had looked first shocked, then angry and sad, but when Nora finished, his face looked strangely calm. He rose to comfort his mother. "It's alright, Mom. Like Jake said, he can't hurt you anymore." Jake cleared his throat. "I can only repeat it, Ms. DeMartino, I'm sorry. I must add that my mother didn't want me to come here. Her marriage was poisoned by Martin's behavior, too; since she knew that he had betrayed her one time, she never trusted him again and they grew apart. None of this is an excuse for what my parents did to you, however."

"So what are we going to do now, Jake?" Anthony asked after a short moment. "Sell this touching story to the next paper?" "I had an idea on the way. It might sound somehow melodramatic, but I hope you'll like it." Jake waited a moment before he continued. "My mother is visiting us currently because the Army wants to honor my - our father's achievements by naming a barracks at Fort King after him. There'll be a big ceremony next weekend; my mother and I are invited to watch it." Nora and Anthony looked at him curiously. "I could call the officer who's responsible for the ceremony to ask him if some words from 'Colonel Morgendorffer's only son' would be appreciated. If he'd allow me to speak, I could introduce you both to the audience as living proof of Dad's bad character. But I don't know how to get you into Fort King..."

Anthony smiled slightly. "No problem with that. I'm a former member of the Army's Historical Division and a Lieutenant Colonel of the Rangers." He turned to his mother. "But do you want to do this, Mom?" Nora straightened in her seat, her eyes gleaming with enthusiasm. "Of course I want it, Tony! This swine treated me like dirt and publicly destroying his good reputation is what I've wanted for nearly fifty years!" Jake smiled. "I'll arrange it, Ms. DeMartino." He looked on his watch and rose from his seat. "I should leave before my family reports me as missed in action, but I'll call you as soon as I know anything new."

Anthony walked him to the door. "I can call a taxi for you, Jake." "Thanks, but the walk will be good for my health. Oh, by the way, as soon as my mother has left us, I'd like you to visit us for dinner. Bring your mother if you like." "Thanks, Jake. I'll gladly come." He stopped at the door. "Bye, Jake." Jake looked at him. "Bye, brother."


Daria picked up her phone while Jane idly threw Daria's nightshirt back on the bed. "Yes? ...Oh, hello Trent. ...Yes, Jane's here. You want to talk to her? ...You want to talk to me?" Jane's mouth formed a smile. "Yes. ...By the way, thanks for coming to the dance with us... Jane said what? That I practiced dancing just for this occasion?" Now Jane grinned visibly as Daria cast an angry glance at her. Then Daria adopted a sly look. "...Oh, it'll sure be fun, Trent. ...Jane told me that Jesse's a natural when it comes to dancing... Did he learn it somewhere?" Jane waved at Daria, whispering "No, no!" without success as Daria continued.

"...He was a dancer at the 'Dirty Dancer Club'? ...Yes, I know that club... No, I've never been there, but my dad once tried to get a consulting job there... I just hope you haven't worked there, too..." "He didn't have enough muscles for that." Jane said to no one in particular. Daria smirked and covered the mouthpiece. "Yes... okay..." She turned to Jane. "Trent wants me to tell you that my phone is excellent in picking up background noises and that he will await your return to show you how to tickle annoying little sisters without having enough muscles." Jane laughed. "Tell him that little sisters have to be caught before being tickled. He'll be asleep before I come back anyway." Daria listened to Trent speaking over the phone. "Okay... I'll send her over as soon as possible... goodbye, Trent..." She handed the receiver to Jane. "Big Bro wants to talk to you."

Jane took the receiver from her friend. "Hi, Trent... Yes, I know that... they're here already? But they said... Mom's in hospital? Then why do you waste time in flirting with Daria... Ouch!" She looked at a pencil Daria had thrown at her head. "No, that was just Daria... I deserved it?... You're not much of a supporting brother... Okay, I'm on my way. Bye, Trent." She terminated the call and stood up. "My parents are here already. My mom's in hospital because there were some complications and now Trent wants me to bring her some clothes and stuff." "But why you? Can't he do that as well?" Jane smiled. "The last time I was in hospital, Trent was supposed to bring me some of my stuff. He brought me two shirts from Summer, one sock from Dad, Penny's bathrobe and my mother's jacket completely with paint spots on it. Since that day, Trent is exempted from any kind of courier job." "That reminds me of the day I drove hundred miles to get you two out of jail and Trent's songbook to him. Shall I bring you to the door?" Daria offered her arm mockingly. "Gee, I'd be delighted, but without the arm. Now that we're singles again, the boys out there shall see we're accessible." "You know you're sounding like Sandi Griffin, don't you?" Daria remarked as they left the room.


V. Rituals

As soon as the girls reached the stairs, they heard Ruth's voice from the living-room. "But Quinn, you really need to practice cooking before leaving school! Your mother's not the best example with that, I know..." She was interrupted by Quinn's high voice. "I know how to operate a microwave, Grandma Ruth. Besides, I can cook a bit." "But don't you think there's still much room for improvement? I could teach you how to make more sophisticated meals while I'm here... and I could also include Daria and your mother in this. I'm sure your sister would appreciate it..."

On the stairs, Jane turned to Daria. "You heard that? There's still hope for your future husband." Daria glared at her. "One more word and I'll tell her about my poor abandoned friend living without parents and proper food. Believe me; she'd love to help you." "OK, you win. Let's get out before she sees us." Both proceeded to the door when Daria suddenly tripped over a shoe lying in her way and fell on the floor with a loud noise, causing Ruth and Quinn to stop their talk and go to the corridor. Quinn reached her sister first, looking somehow exhausted. "Daria! I didn't know you were here! Grandma and I were just talking about you!"

She leant towards Daria's ear and whispered. "Help me! Grandma's on the 'women don't need education' trip again! Do something about it!" Daria turned to the cause of her fall, immediately recognizing it as part of Quinn's shoe collection. "That's why you're building traps in the house, right?" Quinn looked surprised as Ruth entered. "Hello Daria. Nice to see you're there. You can help me with making dinner now..." She stopped, seeing Jane at the door. "Who's that?"

Daria rose from the ground, brushing off some dust from her skirt. "I'm fine, Grandma, thanks for your concern. That's my friend Jane. Jane, this is my grandmother Ruth." Ruth looked critically at Jane's earrings, her boots and the rest of her clothes. "It's nice to meet you, Mrs. Morgendorffer. I'm very sorry, but Daria and I were just leaving for my house." Daria smirked at her friend's fast reaction as Ruth adopted a sad look. "But Quinn and I wanted to cook for the whole family so that we can all eat together. Your father just called to say he's on his way home and your mother'll be here in about an hour, so we can have dinner then. Maybe your little friend would like to participate also..."

Daria started to open her mouth for some kind of polite apology, but Jane was faster. "Thank you, Mrs. Morgendorffer. I'd like to have dinner with you and your family." Both Quinn and Daria looked shocked. "However, my mother's in hospital and I promised to bring them some things to the hospital with Daria's help. But we'll probably be back for the meal." Daria smiled now while Quinn's face had turned from shocked to angry. "That's right, Grandma. I'm afraid you and Quinn have to cook alone. See you later, sis." She went outside with Jane as Quinn stared after them.


When they were outside, Daria turned to her friend. "Now that was purely evil. My grandmother got the expression that you're a nice polite girl who likes doing things for your parents and eating with my family, but in fact you managed to pull me out of 'Cooking for future husbands 101' while condemning Quinn to the full blast of it. And since I know my grandma can cook, you'll get sensible food for once while Trent has to hunt for songbirds in your garden. Kudos to you." She mock-bowed to Jane.

"At your service, oh sarcastic one. But you just mentioned Trent. Do you want to invite him too?" "Maybe later. No outsider should be forced to eat with two Lanes at a time, even if it's the semi-sociable minority." "No more ego inflation, please. I'm about to face my parents, so I need to get into the normal Lane depression they know and love about me." She produced the keys to Trent's car. "Riding that heap should just do that. Let's go." Both girls went into the car and drove off.


As the girls arrived at Casa Lane, Trent was already awaiting them. "Hi Janey, hi Daria. Dad just called to say he also needs a new set of clothes because he'll sleep in some guest room in the hospital. The baby's not there yet, but it'll happen soon..." He looked on his hand. "He also said to bring some stuff to read for him to pass the time." Jane looked on Trent's left hand, which was partly covered with inky writing. "Thank you, oh brother mine." She noticed some more writing on the right hand. "Anything more?"

Trent looked on his hand. "Let's see... oh, sure." He smiled mischievously. "Please step aside, Daria. I told Janey I'd tickle her when she returns and I like to keep my word." He advanced towards Jane, who immediately fled up the stairs with Trent on her heels. Four seconds later, Daria heard her best friend cry loudly. "Trent, you lousy cheater! You locked my room... aah, not there, you..."

Daria raced up to witness the family battle, but stopped short as she heard Jane a second time. "That's not fair... haha, don't do that... stop, stop, I surrender, you win!" When Daria arrived on the top of the stairs, she saw Jane and Trent both sitting on the floor. Jane was giggling uncontrollably while Trent smiled at Daria. "Sorry for that, but every four months we have to clear out who's the stronger one. And like every time before, I rule!" Jane looked peeved. "Every time you cheated, you mean. But locking my door is a new idea, I must admit." She stood up. "Come on, Daria. Let's better get out of here before Trent starts tickling you also."

Instead of answering to that, Daria glanced at Trent, then she nodded towards Jane. "I'll grab her and you continue what you just did before I came up, okay?" "With the greatest pleasure, Daria." "Hey, wait! I'm sorry, I'm sorry!" "Too late, sis." Jane had to use all her running skills to reach the hall closet before Daria and Trent could get her.


After apologizing through the closet door about 'making an extremely tasteless joke' and a quick run through her parents' clothes, Jane drove to the hospital with Daria riding shotgun. As they parked the car and got out, Jane turned to Daria. "You know you don't have to do this. If you want, you can wait in the lobby until I come back. I just told your grandma you'd help me to save you from making dinner." Daria smirked. "Yes, I know that. But maybe your parents mistake me for Penny and will be happy about her supportive daughters. Besides, my presence will give you the moral right to leave after the usual 'hi Mom, here's your stuff and good luck with the birth' instead of getting caught in family talk." "Hey, not every family's as screwed up about 'getting to know each other' as your folks are." "Now remind me please why every Lane older than 24 travels the world alone instead of living with his 'loved ones' at Castle Lane?" "Good one, Morgendorffer. Now let's go face 'em."

They went inside and walked towards the information counter to see a bored blonde sitting there. Jane stepped up and slapped her hand on the counter, making the blonde look up hastily. "Hey, lady! I've an urgent delivery for a patient here. Can you tell me the room number of Mrs. Amanda Lane? Please hurry, she needs these things ASAP!" The blonde turned to her computer to look for the room number while Jane whispered to Daria. "See? It's just knowing how to ask them!"

Finally, the blonde turned again. "The room number's 209, second floor. The elevator's over there." She paused for a moment. "Say... this name Lane... we once had a student with that name here volunteering to work with sick children. She painted the whole ward with so horrible motives; we had three lawsuits from parents with traumatized children. Do you know if there's any connection between them?" Daria watched her friend as Jane's face adopted the color of her jacket. "Um, no sorry... I don't know that. Y'know, I'm just the messenger..." Jane stuttered before she strode to the elevator with Daria behind her, the latter fighting to keep a straight face.

As soon as the doors closed, Daria started to laugh. "See? It's just knowing how to answer them!" She looked at Jane whose face slowly returned to its normal color. "But why didn't you tell me you scared children with your mural? I'd have loved to see it!" Jane cocked an eyebrow. "To be frank, I didn't know it. They threw me out for my idea to paint a scalping scene. They must have tried to clean the wall with normal methods to get the Wild West scene off and discovered the oriental masks I painted underneath." She smiled as the doors opened. "I almost forgot it."


Room 209 turned out to be the biggest one of the ward, overlooking a nice hospital garden. When the girls entered after knocking once, Jane's father rose from the only bed, looking anxiously at them. When he recognized his daughter, his look became sad. "Oh, hello Janey. I hoped it'd be the doctor..." "Hi Dad. Nice meeting you too. Have you met Daria?" "Mhmm... you're Jane's soul mate, right? I think I met you when we were in Lawndale last time." He shook her hand. "Jane said you helped her with the whole school stuff. We Lanes sometimes need a good push in the right direction to succeed. Thank you."

Jane frowned. "Now where's Mom? Trent just said you needed some things for the hospital." "Mom's already at the birth station and I'm here waiting for any news; that's why I looked a bit dejected at your sight. I thought it'd be a nurse with my sixth child." Vincent opened the clothes bag Jane had brought. "Thanks for the clothes. Do you and Trent need money for dinner?" He pulled out a tattered multicolored wallet made from some jungle fibers. "No thanks. Daria invited me to eat with her family tonight and we have to be back at eight." She smiled. "Nice to see you still keep Penny's wallet, however." Vincent smiled too. "Well, it was a birthday present and it's indestructible. I'll stay here and phone you if I hear anything new. Bye Janey." "Bye Dad." "Bye, Mr. Lane."


When the girls returned, they were welcomed by Quinn. "Finally! I was just thinking about calling at Jane's house to ask for you!" "It's good you didn't; you'd have woken up Trent." remarked Jane. "Now who are you and what..." "Don't give me that, Daria. Dad rejected to say anything about his meeting with Anthony until you'd be here. Now come for dinner!" "Yes, Mom." The three girls went into the dining room where the older Morgendorffers were already waiting at the table. Jake looked relaxed while both his mother and wife were obviously waiting as hard as Quinn was. "Here they are, Dad. Now please tell us what he said,!" "Yes, tell us, Jakie."

Jake smiled at his older daughter and her friend as both sat down. "Hi, Daria, Jane. Do you want to hear about Anthony, too?" "JAKE!!!" "Just kidding, honey. Now first thing: Mom was right, he is my brother. He showed me a picture Dad left when he returned to bribe the girl and which she gave to Anthony. She told him that his father was a war hero who died in Korea. He didn't like my story, but I told him that his mother was not to blame since Dad used her." "Are you sure he believed you, Jakie?"

Jake glanced angry at Ruth before continuing. "His mother was there. She came in and Anthony introduced me. The poor woman fainted on hearing my surname, and when she recovered, her first question was if HE had sent me." Quinn and Helen looked shocked, Daria's face became angry and Ruth seemed helpless as Jake spoke on. "I told both of them he was dead, buried and forgotten. I also apologized to her for Dad's sins and offered them the chance to pay him back."

Daria smiled. "Do you want them to vandalize the grave? This should be nice to film..." "Daria!" "Nice idea, kiddo, but I thought of something different." Jake turned to his mother. "You said the Army wants to honor Dad with a ceremony next weekend at Fort King. I invited both of them to come with me." "That's not exactly paying him back, honey." "No, but some words from both about Dad's honor and sense of duty in critical situations will probably bring out the true nature of Colonel Martin Morgendorffer." Now Ruth looked shocked. "Jakie, you can't do that! He was your father and..." "Sure I can. In fact Anthony and his mother liked the idea. They'll come over for dinner soon to plan it." "But I don't want to meet that woman and her... her..."

Jake interrupted her before she could find a suitable expression. "And I don't want you to meet them, Mom. You'll have to meet them next week at Fort King for the ceremony, but since you told me you'd leave tomorrow to participate in your local church baking sale, I see no problem." Helen sensed the friction between Jake and Ruth and tried to defuse it by small talk. "Will you go to the prom, Quinn? I met Stacy's mother today and she told me her daughter was so excited about it she could barely sleep." Daria smiled. "Of course she will. Better swallow your platinum card before she finds the catalogue of ‚Grand Dresses'"

Quinn glared at her sister, then she smiled too. "Yes, I will go. It's mandatory for the juniors and seniors anyway... oops." Ruth smiled. "Does that mean Daria and Jane have to go to that prom also?" She turned to Daria. "How nice! Tell me all about it, Daria! Whom will you take?" "Thank you very much, dear sis. Yes, we must go and bring a partner and yes, I already have one and no, I won't ask Tom." Daria said before Helen could start with the obvious questions. "But whom will you bring then, Daria? I mean..." "Since we don't want two of Quinn's leftovers, Daria can take my brother and I take one of his friends." Jane chimed in. "And Quinn still tries to find the courage to phone David." Daria added. "Hey!" "Oh, sorry Quinn. Thought they knew that."


VI. New Perspectives

          After a good and wholesome dinner (even Helen had to admit that Ruth could cook better than any member of her closer family) which included some further inquiry from Ruth about Jane and her family as well as about Quinn's friends, Daria saw her friend to the door. Once outside, they both took a deep breath and relaxed, Daria being the first to speak again. "Now that you've seen the madness of my paternal ancestry clearer, what do you think?" Jane smirked. "If old 'Mad Dog' was only half the swine you told me, it's clear why 'Jakie' went screaming into the night first chance he got, ending up as a hippie. But at least your parents dumped their ideals about twenty years ago and went for the ruthless capitalistic world while mine tried to make do with occasional jobs for symbolical pay, if any." "Now don't tell me you'd rather have my parents. I'd still prefer being a butterfly on its own than being treated like a court witness every second time I forgot to put my plate into the dishwasher or left soda stains on the carpet!"

Jane smiled at Daria's short summary of Amanda Lane's philosophy for raising children, then she looked back to the bright shine of the living-room window. "How did you like my performance for Ruth, by the way? I think I succeeded in presenting myself as a nice friendly girl always ready to help." Daria looked at the window too and smiled before adopting a look of mock anger.

"You know that Quinn and I will from now on be measured according to the high standard you showed off, don't you!" She smirked. "Seriously, that was really clever. Telling her about how wonderful you and Trent work along to help your poor parents with their medical problem was just amazing to see, especially since you forgot to say that this ‚medical problem' is the sixth baby in nearly thirty years." "Yeah, that might have sabotaged the touchy story a bit. But the best part was Ruth asking Quinn why she can't manage to find such a nice friend like you did." "Including the question if ‚this snotty bitch with the male voice' had found a good place for rehab." "And Quinn trying to tell that Sandi's red eyes during Ruth's last visit were caused by an allergy against a fascinating new peach mascara. It was really hilarious." Jane looked at Trent's car still parking at the curb. "Something tells me I should go home and ask Trent if my mother has already managed to produce a new sibling for us. Tell your grandma the nice friendly girl says thanks for the wonderful meal." She walked to the car and kicked the door lightly, which opened at once. Before she entered, she turned back to Daria. "I'll phone you tomorrow. If I'm really a big sister now after being the youngest for eighteen years, I'll need some tips on how to live up to my role by tormenting the newborn." "I'm sure I'll be able to give you some hints from my experience with Quinn." As Jane drove off, Daria looked after her for a moment, then she smirked and went back into the house.


When Daria returned to the dining room, Quinn and Ruth were clearing up the remains of the meal while Jake already sat in the living room, watching TV. Just as Daria left the room again, Helen appeared at the other door. "Daria, I wanted to talk about the prom with you." Daria groaned. "Mom, you heard that I'll be taking Trent to the prom. He won't care about my dress or anything else about me, so I don't care either. I'll just take something from my wardrobe." "I see. And which of your many formal dresses will you choose for this occasion?" "Mom, I am NOT going to turn into Miss America just for one stupid evening. Besides, I won't become the prom queen anyway. That honor is reserved for Jodie as reward for all her work." Helen smirked. "Daria, I didn't want to persuade you to take a great effort for that. It's just that Amy gave me the dress she wore at her prom when she was here for the last time. Maybe you'll like it." Daria looked at her mother questioningly. "Amy gave you her prom dress? Why that?"

Now Helen smiled broadly. "She said that if you were ever in the situation to need a formal dress, you should rather take hers instead of buying a new one with money we would need to clothe Quinn." "Okay, that sounds like her. Where is this dress?" "I hid it in the back of Jake's wardrobe. He'd never look there." Daria looked at her father staring mesmerized at the television. "Good idea. But why didn't you hide it in your dresser?" "Well... the last time I had bought a dress for the 'Legal Limbo' at the county court, Quinn found it and gave me a thirty-minute lesson about how the Bordeaux color clashed with my hair and my shoes. I didn't want her to find the dress and assume it was mine... it wouldn't fit me, you see." "I see."


After both women had gone to the master bedroom, Helen shut the door. Daria smirked as he mother dug between Jake's suits and coats and finally drew out a big grey packet. Helen placed it on the big bed and turned to Daria. "Okay, now turn to the door." "Mom, it's not my birthday." "I know, but I want to see your face when you see it. Please, Daria." "As you wish." Daria turned to the door as Helen started unpacking the dress. "Now turn around again, honey." Daria looked on the bed to see a three-quarters length, sleeveless black dress with green ornaments at the sides and a dark blue neckband lying on it. Just as her face adopted a look somewhere between shock and joy, she heard the unmistakable click of a photo being made and saw her mother sitting on the edge of the bed, holding a camera and smiling her head off. "Sorry, Daria, but Amy asked me to do that. How do you like it?"

Daria fought between the anger about her mother's trick and a genuine feeling of happiness. Finally, she smiled at Helen. "It's beautiful. But are you sure Quinn won't want to wear it?" "She won't be asked, Daria. This is your prom dress, if you don't want a new one." "Why should I want a new one? It's..." She stopped for a moment, then she suddenly embraced her mother. "Thank you."


Ten minutes later, they went down again after Daria had tried on the dress to learn it fitted her perfectly. As they sat on the sofa, Jake looked up for a moment. "What were you two doing up there?" Helen kept a straight face. "Oh, just a short talk about putting back the lid on the laundry bin." "That's nice. Did the dress fit you, Daria?" For the second time in ten minutes, Daria was flabbergasted. "How did you know, Dad?" "Give me some credit, Daria. I was searching for my blue tie two days ago and found the dress. I remember Amy wearing it back when we drove her to her prom - and I was the one fetching her at 3 am when her partner had tried to open it and she had knocked him out cold before walking two miles to the next telephone. It's quite a story, but you better ask her about it." Daria smiled. "I'll do that as soon as I'll see her again. It fitted perfectly - and I like it. I wonder what Trent will say."

Ruth came in from the kitchen, wiping her hands on a frilly blue apron Helen had received as a Christmas gift from her years before they had moved to Highland. She looked at her three relatives sitting happily on the sofa together. "Quinn and I are nearly done with clearing up. She'll come too as soon as she's finished washing the big pot I used for the soup and the bowls we took for the mousse au chocolat." Daria looked towards the kitchen. "Poor Quinn. She didn't even eat anything of the dessert." "Still she must know how to cook something like that, Daria. If her future husband fancies mousse au chocolat, for example..." "...I'll gladly send him to you so he can learn to make as much of it as he wants himself, Grandma Ruth."

Quinn entered the room, still wearing Jake's long 'Kiss the cook' apron. She glanced at her parents and at Daria. "Thank you all for the big help. Wait... neither of you helped me and Ruth. Just forget it." Helen rose from her seat. "Sorry sweetie, but your father had enough stress today with his meeting Anthony, and you know I worked ten hours again." "It's okay, Mom, I know that. I meant Daria." "Quinn, you know that Daria helped her friend today." Quinn crossed her arms, looking doubtful. "She still could have helped with the menial labor. By the way, why did Jane need help, anyway?" Ruth chimed in. "Oh yes, that's what I wanted to ask this nice girl after dessert." She paused. "Of course, if it's personal, you don't have to tell."

Daria looked around her family, feeling all eyes resting upon her. Finally, she decided to tell them. "Jane's parents came home today because her mother is going to have another baby. That's why she and I had to bring some things to the hospital. Jane has promised to call if she's got a new sibling already." Ruth looked confused. "But Jane must be your age, Daria. I mean... how old is her mother?" "She's my age, Ruth." Helen said. "Still it's unusual. If you think about Jane's four older siblings..." Now Ruth's face had turned to an expression of shock. "She has four older siblings?" "Yes, Grandma Ruth. Her older sisters are 28 and 26 and her brothers are 27 and 23. The Lanes are a big family." "Does that mean Mrs. Lane became a mother at the age of 18?" Ruth looked disgusted at her son's family. "That's far too young for a girl! How can someone have such low values!"

Jake rose from his seat and gave his mother a stern look. "Maybe it is, Mom. Still I think that Amanda Lane decided deliberately to have a child with the man she loved - and who married her. Don't forget that I learned just twelve hours ago that some men weasel out of their duties after taking advantage off girls that age." Ruth went pale as Daria smiled at her father. After a few moments, Ruth breathed audibly and sat down on the sofa. "Erm... thanks for reminding me, Jakie." She rose again. "It's been a long day and I think I'll retire. Goodnight to all of you." She left the room while the others looked after her. As soon as she had vanished up the stairs, Helen turned to her husband. "That wasn't nice, Jake!" She leaned over to kiss him. "But she really deserved it this time." Quinn grimaced. "Ewww, Mom!"


Five minutes later, the other Morgendorffers retired to their respective rooms. Daria was just changing into her night garments when the telephone rang. Okay, that's either Eric Schrecter remembering that Mom hasn't had her weekly fifty calls from him yet - or it's Jane announcing the arrival of another Lane. She sat down on her bed and lifted the receiver. "Morgendorffer Manor?" "Hi Daria. You're speaking with the second-youngest member of the Lawndale Lanes." "So you're a big sister now? Congratulations. What is it?" "It's a boy. My parents called ten minutes ago and told me. Trent just left for the supermarket to get us some lime juice and chips. He told me it's the traditional family ritual to be performed at the arrival of a new member."

"Nice style. We didn't have a ritual, if you don't count my throwing mashed carrots at Mom when she told me she'd found me a sister to play with. Mom loves to tell that story on Quinn's birthday - each and every time." "Ouch. Anyway, now I'll need advice on being a big sister to fulfill my role properly. Can you help me out?" "I'm sorry, Ms. Lane, but our gifted advisors don't work after 11pm." "I see. Anything new on your side?" Daria smiled at the sight of Amy's dress now hanging in her open wardrobe.

"Not much after you left. Oh, wait: I destroyed your new-found glory by telling Ruth and the others what 'medical problems' your parents have. Ruth gave us the benefit of her POV about eighteen-year-old mothers until Dad reminded her that her own husband impregnated a sixteen-year-old girl. That silenced her." Jane whistled audibly. "Seems like having a brother works wonders with your Dad's self-esteem. Say thanks to him for defending my parents next time you see him." "I certainly will. Don't tell anyone, but I like this new Dad better than the oblivious one of the last six years." "Why six?" "It's a long story, but until I became twelve, we lived in Boston where Dad had his own business while Mom was still trying to find a job as lawyer. On my twelfth birthday, she found one - in Highland, Texas. After several long talks, Dad sold his business and bought a partnership in a Texas consulting firm."

Daria paused for a moment. "He hated Texas, his new job and especially his partners, who were a bunch of lazy rednecks constantly working at the very border of legality. One year later, they crossed it big time without Dad's knowledge. The FBI found out and took all the partners - also including Dad - away for several long interrogations before the official trial. Dad managed to convince the judge that he had no share in the dealings of his partners, so he was released. However, the firm had to pay a million dollars for violating several trade and civil laws. As one of five owners, Dad's share was two hundred thousand, which we could only afford because Mom worked overtime at her job for several months. Dad's firm was liquidated and he had to find a new job. By that time, the whole state had heard about the trial against his old firm and he had a hard time convincing people that he was innocent. Finally, he became an assistant to one of his former rivals after Mom had pulled some strings. His new boss gave him a very hard time for two years until we moved here - again because of Mom's work. Since that time, Mom has had the higher income and the better jobs. Dad never really forgot that his reputation and his business would've crashed completely if Mom hadn't prevented that - and he must have thought many times about the good business back in Boston he left to give his wife a chance to start her own career. All that can do bad things to a man's self-esteem, especially because Mom reminds him every time he takes a risk."

Jane waited some seconds after Daria had stopped talking. When she was sure that her friend would not continue, she spoke. "You never told me that, Daria." "Well, it's not the kind of story one tells lightly - not even to a close friend, Jane." Daria added to prevent Jane from saying anything. "But like you said yourself; having a brother works wonders for him. I hope he'll stay that way, for his sake as well as for my mother's." She looked around her room until her eyes were back on the dress in the wardrobe.

"But I wanted to tell you something different. After I returned from seeing you off, Mom told me that my Aunt Amy had left her old prom dress here so I could use it some day." "Let me guess. Either Quinn saw it and whined until she got it or it was hideous and now you're looking for a way to avoid wearing it." "Not exactly, Jane. Quinn doesn't know about the dress yet and it's fantastic."

She withdrew her ear from the receiver because of a loud clacking sound Jane had produced by hitting her phone with the flat hand. "Sorry, Daria, but I just heard the word 'fantastic' in relation with a dress. Quinn must have interfered somehow." "No Jane, I said 'fantastic'. My mother showed me the dress and I genuinely like it." "That must be some garment. Shall I tell Trent to go rent a tux for the prom so he won't vanish next to you wearing that dress?" "No thanks, Jane. He won't need a tux, but... ehm, I wouldn't mind if you could ensure that his clothes don't have any holes except where his limbs need some." Jane laughed. "All right, amiga. He'll be clean, combed and clothed according to your wishes. But let's meet tomorrow to discuss this further, I'm tired." "So am I. Goodnight Jane." "Goodnight."


VII. Family Values

          Jane rose very early the next morning and prepared for her usual run before breakfast. When she went down to the kitchen, she found Trent hunched over the table, snoring loudly. Shall I wake him up to make him go to his room or shall I let him sleep there until I return? Well, if he was there the whole night, he'll stand another thirty minutes - and he'll appreciate some real breakfast, so I'd better take a few bucks with me. She tiptoed out of the room and left the house quietly.

          After five kilometers and a quick stop at the supermarket for rolls and jam, Jane returned to her house in good mood. Her mood improved even more when she saw her father's old Volvo standing in front of the house and smelled fresh coffee as soon as she opened the door. As she passed the kitchen, she started to laugh when she saw Trent and Vincent sitting at the table, both having small eyes and scuffed hair and were holding on to coffee mugs. Vincent raised his head to look at his daughter.

"Good morning, Janey. Had a good run?" "Yes, Dad. If you had arrived earlier, you could've participated," Vincent smirked. "No, thanks. I know that it's been the sixth time for me to father a child, but waiting for the birth without being able to help still wears me out. At least Danny was born in a hospital like you were. That karmic birth helper down at the commune might've been a help with the first two, but somehow I prefer midwifes and doctors." Jane grinned. "Danny Lane? Sounds good." "You were waiting for Wayne or Shane, right? Sorry, but even your Mom and I have lost some of the old ideals."

          Trent looked up too. "Hi, Janey. Can you believe that? I came home, had a nice snack and when I woke up again, Dad was already there and almost force-fed me some coffee." He turned to his father. "Thanks by the way. I needed that." Jane walked to the next cupboard and took out several plates. "I brought some rolls and jam for breakfast. You can start already while I take a shower, but if you value your life, you leave at least three rolls and two mugs full of coffee for me." Vincent lifted his hands in a gesture of innocence. "I'd never deprive one of my children from food and drink in any way." Trent smiled. "That remark was pointed at me, Dad. Still, a band has to keep up regular meals, right?" "Maybe, but after the last time they ate the whole food in the house which I bought, I prefer to issue warnings."


          One hour later, a properly showered and nurtured Jane sat down in her room to call Daria. After the second ring, someone answered. "Quinn Morgendorffer." "Hi, Quinn, it's Jane. Is Daria there?" "Oh, hi Jane. I thought... it might be David." Quinn said disappointed. "Hasn't he called yet?" "No, he hasn't. I wonder if he's already got my letter." "He'll call back for sure, Quinn. In the meantime, I'd appreciate it if you could give me Daria." "Oh sorry. Just a moment." Jane heard Quinn call through the house. "Daria! Telephone! It's Jane!" Ten seconds later, Daria's voice came through the phone. "Hello Jane. What's new?" "You mean apart from the fact that Quinn is anxiously waiting for a male being to call her for the first time in her life?"

Daria sounded surprised. "How do you know?" "When I said my name, she blurted out that she's awaiting David's call." "Yeah, I know. I hope he'll call her. For most of my life, I wished that Quinn would be stood up in that kind of situation, but now, ironically, I would pity her if it really happens." "You're getting soft, Daria." Daria snorted. "I know. But there must be more interesting topics than Quinn's yearning for an older man." "Sure there are. My father came back from the hospital this morning and told us that the new baby will be named Danny. He probably meant Daniel, but Danny sounds good also." "Danny Lane. Sounds quite normal. Haven't your parents considered more... individual names?" "I don't think so. But since I've succeeded to get an almost normal name - except the catchy rhyme, of course, I didn't expect a return to old traditions anyway."

On her end of the line, Daria smiled. "Yesterday you said we should meet to discuss things for the prom." "Oh yes. I told Trent over breakfast that he'll have to compete with the new, style-enhanced Daria, Mark 2000. When Dad heard this, he agreed to lend him his designer suit." Daria whistled quietly. "Somehow, I can't see either Trent or your father in a designer suit." "You will, believe me. He doesn't like to talk about it, but Dad hasn't always shot photos of birds or trees for nature magazines. Nine years ago, some big Italian designer hired him as a last-minute replacement for another photographer who literally left a white line all over the customs area at JFK when he entered the country. Dad did his job well and, as a gift on top of the fee, he got a hand-tailored suit worth about ten grand from that designer. Since Trent has roughly the same build as Dad, he can use it for the prom." "Lucky me."


After some further prattling, the girls finished the talk and Daria went down to the kitchen. When she entered it, she found Jake and Ruth sitting at the counter and talking about the invitation to Fort King. "Okay, Mom. If you insist on it, I'll await you at the nearest train station and drive to the Fort with you. But it's really a waste of gas. We could easily take Anthony and Nora with us from here..." Ruth shook her head vividly. "No, Jakie. I really don't want to meet these two earlier than I have to."

She noticed Daria. "Hi, darling. Don't you want to accompany your father to Fort King and meet me there?" Jake intervened before Daria could answer. "Mom, I told you I wrote an E-Mail to the officer responsible for the ceremony and said we'd come with two persons only." "But how will A... that Mr. DeMartino enter the fort if he's got no invitation?" Jake threw an angry glance at his mother. "You know his Christian name very well. Why don't you use it?" "Well... you have to understand..." "No, I do NOT have to understand what you and Dad did to Nora and Anthony, Mom. Don't make me tell you again on whose side my sympathy lies; you know you'd regret it." He calmed again. "Anthony will enter with his army ID card and he can take Nora with him without any problems. We'll meet them after the ceremony." Ruth sighed. "As you wish, Jakie."

Any further discussion of this topic was prevented by Quinn rushing into the room, waving an open letter. "Dad, Grandma, Daria! David just wrote me he'll come to the prom with me! Now I can start planning my outfit and the accessories..." She drifted off while mentally already digging through her inventories. Daria smiled. "So he really wants to see you again? Congratulations, sis. Now you'll just have to find a dress as good as mine." Quinn looked up from her letter. "No offence, Daria, but that can't be very difficult, judging from your normal style." She paused. "You won't wear that horrible bridesmaid dress, will you?" Jake attempted to say something, but Daria was faster. "Sorry, Quinn. You'll have to wait for the big evening to see, just as all the others. By the way, do your fashion friends already know about your partner for the prom?" Quinn grinned broadly. "They'll have a big surprise."


          Later that day, Jake drove his mother to the station to see her off before he stopped by at his office at Halcyon Hills. When he entered it, his gaze fell on the family picture on the wall. It had been shot 9 years ago on a trip to Cape Cod they had made to celebrate his biggest success yet. He looked closer: there was seven-year-old Quinn in a bright pink dress, wearing a "Come to Cape Cod"-hat and smiling for the camera. Daria stood next to her, wearing a blue shirt, green shorts and a cap. The nine-year old was clutching a copy of Moby Dick she had declared 'fit for the trip'; she was also smiling slightly. Behind the girls, a younger, very relaxed Helen beamed proudly into the camera, holding up a shell Quinn and Daria found that day. Since Jake had taken the picture himself, only the female Morgendorffers were on the picture.

          It's funny how everything's changed in the last decade, Jake thought. In 1990, everyone looked so happy and all the problems of the nineties were so far away. He looked at the picture again and felt the usual twitch of nostalgia creeping up his neck, but then he shook his head. That's nonsense! My girls are grown-up now and as far as I know, they are happy. Daria has overcome her isolation and found good friends in Lawndale; Quinn has passed the stage of being a fashion fanatic and is not ashamed to show her intellect anymore - so I don't have to dread the day when some smartass designer comes up with a design she can not wear. He smiled at this thought. And Helen is succeeding at her career - this time without sacrificing mine for it. He eyed the old picture once again before leaving his office. If the Jake of 1990 would have been on the photo too, knowing what his family would be like nine years later, I bet he would have smiled his head off.


When Jake returned to his home, Daria stood outside waiting for him. "Hi Dad. Anthony has called and asked if your invitation for dinner tonight is still standing. He wants you to call him back." "I'll do that as soon as I've changed my clothes. Your grandmother objected to me seeing her off in casual clothes, so I had to put on my grey suit." Daria looked at his appearance as they entered the house. "Figures. It was scary talking to DeMartino as my uncle after three years of knowing him as a teacher, by the way. Are you going to invite him for tonight?" Jake nodded. "You realize that, with Grandma Ruth gone, one of us will have to cook dinner, right? Mom does have some lasagna in store, but I doubt this will be fitting for a family reunion. Of course, I could try to cook..." Jake shook his head. "Thanks kiddo, but I prefer to cook myself."

Daria put her hands to her hips in mock outrage. "Hey, I thought parents must encourage their children in trying out new things to become independent adults. My self-esteem could be permanently harmed by your distrust." Jake smiled. "Unlike your teachers, I know you since your birth, Daria. You've always had enough self-esteem for several kids - at least since the day you preferred to almost break your nose trying to learn to walk at the age of fifteen months instead of taking my hand." "Thank you for that awkward mental image. Can I at least help you with tonight's dinner preparations? I'm sure Quinn would be happy to participate also." "Sure."


Quinn was buried deep in her wardrobe when Daria knocked at her door. "Yes? Come i... mmphh!" Daria entered to see her sister sitting on the floor, looking angrily at a heavy dark-blue coat which had obviously just fallen on her head. "Damn thing! Oh, hi Daria." Daria smirked. "Are you fighting with the coat? If your clothes attack you without provocation, you should use more mothballs - or this counter curse stuff Stacy tried to poison Sandi with." "Ha-ha, very funny Daria. You know that was only Stacy's desperate try to heal Sandi from laryngitis - although Sandi deserved each second of being speechless. However, don't quote me please." She giggled. "Now why're you here? Need some advice on clothing for the prom, sis?"

Daria drew a grimace. "I told you I have a prom dress which you as well as all other people will see on the very evening, not before. No, I wanted to summon you to a joint father-daughters effort to cook dinner for tonight when Anthony comes with his mother. Dad is just calling him to repeat his invitation." "And I'm supposed to be big help in the kitchen because I wasn't fast enough to escape Grandma and her rants about ‚the true calling of womanhood'... hey wait, did you say ‚daughters'? You are also part of it?" "Of course I am, sis. Can't you see me working in the kitchen to prepare an edible meal?" "Given the fact one of us had to inherit Dad's illusion that he can cook, I always feared I'd be the one since you spent every chance you got - and many dollars also - at Pizza Prince." "Well, since Dad humored me by telling me how much he'd like my help, I'm somehow trapped in it. Now come on."


 Two hours later, Helen returned from her work to find her family preparing dinner. Daria was laying the table in the dining-room while Quinn supervised a pan with beefsteaks a la Jake and shredded some carrots in a mixer. Jake appeared from the cellar where he had gone to fetch a good wine and some beer. When he saw his wife, he placed the bottles on the next table to embrace her. "Hi, honey. You're just on time for dinner with Anthony and Nora. They'll arrive in about ten minutes, I think, so you still have time to change clothes." "Don't you need help with the meal, Jake?" Jake smiled at her. "No, the girls have helped me already."

He looked at the bottles. "I hope our guests appreciate the wine I got from my staff as farewell when we moved to Texas." "But... that's the finest item in your collection, Jakie! Don't you want to save it for..." Jake shook his head. "I know it's our twenty-fifth anniversary next year, but considering past celebrations, the wine would just be gulped down by either of us as compensation for some inevitable quarrel with our relatives - whoever feels obliged to tell another family member off, starting with our mothers." Helen considered this for a moment, then she laughed. "You're right, honey. I just imagined the reaction of my folks hearing that, twenty-four years after my wedding, I met my brother in-law - after he taught our girls for three years. Amy will have the laugh of the decade and everyone else will go ballistic. It would be a shame to waste the wine on them." She headed upstairs, still smiling.


VIII. Family Secrets Part 2, or: Join The Army And See The Worst

 Anthony and Nora arrived fifteen minutes later and, after a cordial welcome, had a good dinner with the Morgendorffers. During the meal, nobody started a conversation deeper than a request to pass the gravy, the salt or the potatoes. After everyone had finished, Jake leant back and looked at his daughters sitting opposite him. "Could you please clear the table and put the remains into the fridge, girls? We'll move over so you'll can work better." While the girls started taking away the dishes and other things, the others went over to the living-room and sat down again.


When everyone had settled with a glass of wine and some crackers, Anthony was the first to speak. "Thank you for the meal, Jake. It was excellent." "Well, my girls deserve some praise too; they helped me making it. Thank you for coming, too. I was shocked when my mother told us about you and your mother yesterday; but your shock must've been much worse." Anthony looked at his mother, who sat next to him and looked quite pleased with the situation. "I was shocked, believe me. But now after I know about my... our father, I feel like having an old problem off my back. However, I'd like to know more about him and his family. Since Mom's family threw her out because of me, I never had much of a family." He looked at his mother again before turning towards Jake. "Were all the Morgendorffer ancestors like Martin, or was he just the occasional black sheep?"

Jake adjusted his position before answering. "Dad seldom spoke about his origins, but my mother told me after his death what he'd told her when they met each other for the first time." He paused for a moment. "From what I know, John Morgendorffer - our grandfather - was born in Austria around 1890 as Johann von Morgendorffer, second son of a rich baron. He was a very clever child with special excellence in English. Since his elder brother Martin was destined to inherit the title as well as all other family possessions, John was forced by family tradition to enter the Imperial Army as a cadet although he would have preferred to study his favorite subject in America or Britain. According to what Mom told me, John hated the military and looked for a way to leave when war broke out in 1914. He was lucky enough to be a captain in the General Staff planning section, so he didn't see any combat for three years. When the United States entered the war in 1917, the Germans asked their allies for extra troops to fight the new enemy in France. John was promoted and appointed to be part of a group concerned with possible actions against U.S. forces. In late 1917, he went to St. Mihiel with that group to check out possible future theatres for the Austrian forces as well as to interrogate American POWs caught by the Germans. Two days after his arrival, Major von Morgendorffer was caught by an American patrol - or, to tell the truth, he deserted, taking the only chance he might ever get to leave the army and see America."

"When the U.S. command realized that John knew not only the operation plans of a possible Austrian intervention, but had also learnt about the complete German plans in the American sector, they offered him a deal: if he told them everything he knew, he would get a ticket to America, the U.S. citizenship and a small allowance for his help. He accepted and arrived in New York in early 1918; one year later, he met his future wife Susan who worked as a waitress in a bar he occasionally visited. After the war, they moved to Oklahoma when John was hired as teacher for German and European History at a private school with the help of the Department of the Army, which owed him more than he ever understood. In 1924, their only son was born - our father Martin, who got his Christian name in honor of Baron Martin von Morgendorffer, his Austrian uncle far beyond the Atlantic."

Jake took a sip from his wine glass and looked at his daughters entering from the kitchen, then he continued. "In 1928, John planned to return to Europe by ship to visit his Austrian family with his wife and son. One day before they wanted to start, he got a phone call from an old friend imploring him to cancel his plans and to never return to Austria again because a right-wing group of ex-officers had set a price on his head for betraying his country - and that both his father and brother had damned John's name and sworn to deliver him to this group if he ever returned to Austria." Anthony's left eye became bloodshot. "These scoundrels!"

Jake nodded sadly. "John stayed at home, but it must've been a hard shock for him, especially since he lost his job one year later because of the depression. In the next years, he and his family lived at the edge of poverty. In 1934, the department of the Army offered to take ten-year-old Martin as pupil in Buxton Ridge Military School including board and lodging. Although John still hated the military, he had to accept this extraordinary benefit. He soon regretted it when his son was molded into a bullying, brutal soldier-kid at Buxton Ridge and started to loathe John for having deserted to the enemy in wartime. During the thirties, John's health went down due to several reasons. His son's behavior was probably one reason; the fact that he couldn't find work again was another. The last straw - according to my grandmother's diary I found after Dad's death - was a reading a newspaper article published in 1940 after Germany had defeated France, which named among leading Nazi officials a 'Baron Martin von Morgendorffer, old party member and honorary Brigadeführer of the SS forces' - John's older brother."

Nora gasped as Jake carried on with his story. "John committed suicide in late 1940, leaving behind a note explaining that he killed himself because he'd failed to make a difference in any way. His widow Susan later found work in the Pentagon when the Army needed women fluent in German to translate enemy documents; she died in 1944 from cancer. Martin entered the Army in 1942 and was not present at his father's funeral. He neither attended his mother's funeral because he landed in the Provence with his unit on the very day of it. When he came back from Europe, he had no family or close friends anywhere, so he stayed in the army and was posted at Fort King, where he met my mother before he went to Korea. Dad seldom spoke about his Austrian ancestry - mostly since he never met them - but once, when he saw a picture of some Tyrol village in a prospectus, he told me that he'd been in that village in May 1945 and that a villager had told him that another man called Morgendorffer had visited the local pub one week before, leaving behind a Nazi uniform full of medals. Like many G.I.s, he had collected memorabilia among the way through Europe, but this very day, he was out of cash, so another G.I. bought the item for some dollars. Dad said that he'd have loved to get that uniform."


The DeMartinos looked expectantly at Jake, then they leant back when he did not continue his story. Helen gazed around and, seeing that they all still had some wine in their glasses, shifted her position on the love-seat closer to Jake. Anthony cleared his throat. "So our grandfather was an Austrian aristocrat? It's a pity neither of us ever met him; he seems to have been a nice man according to what you say, Jake. At any rate he didn't deserve to have such a son like... he had."

Nora smiled at her son for a moment, then she gazed towards Jake and Helen again. "I think it's our turn now to tell what our lives were like. When I met Martin Morgendorffer, I was a normal high-school girl in Kentucky which didn't really know much about life outside my town and family. He gave me a crash lesson which crashed everything I'd awaited from or about life till then. As soon as my pregnancy was clearly visible, my parents sent me away to escape the local gossip and forced me to take up a job as a dishwasher. When I learnt that the man whose child I bore had gone back to Korea and would probably never return, I told my parents the same lie I later told Tony: a young soldier had fallen in love with me, had promised to marry me and had been killed in Korea. They didn't like it, but took it better than if I'd told them the truth."

"After the end of the Korean War, Martin came to my home town to cure his sin with money; I took it only after he violently attacked me for telling him he had a son to care for and that he couldn't just throw some money at me and leave again. After the money was spent, I worked again, leaving Tony alone often for long times in our little shabby apartment. When he started going to school, I soon had to learn from his teachers that he had problems with the other children."

Anthony took over the story. "To be frank, I became a big bully feared and hated by other kids. Mom tried to change this, but our situation forced her to work the whole day while I had much time for boredom and mischief. At the age of 11, I broke the arm of another boy, who was the son of the richest family in the county. They dragged me and Mom to court for that and the judge gave me a choice: to go to juvenile prison for three months or to enter a special institution where I would learn discipline and rules. I took the latter and left my mother in 1962 - for Hardcastle Heath Military School."


Now it was Jake's turn to look flabbergasted. "You were also... I mean, you went to military school during your teenager years?" "Yes, Jake. It would've pleased our father to know that his illegitimate son followed his path just like you had to, don't you think?" "Like hell it would. How long did you go there?" "Wait a moment... from 1962 to 1969, seven years. After the initial shock wore off, I adjusted to it and did what they told me. Since I went there on court order, the state paid my fees and living until I was 16. By then, I'd grown accustomed to the school and had friends there, so I stayed two more years since Mom had saved enough money for the fees due to not having to feed and clothe me for five years except on vacation. When I graduated in 1969, the government was already frantically looking for trained men to send to Vietnam. Mom had just lost her job back then and lived off social welfare, so I had to find work in order to make a living. In the end, I volunteered for seven years to earn money for college and went to Vietnam in the spring of 1970. Mom hated the army because of Martin and what he did to her, but since I still believed having a war hero as a father and was eager to show my courage in combat, she didn't stop me in spite of herself."

Anthony emptied his wine glass, then he continued. "I made three tours in Vietnam; first as a sergeant, then as an officer. When I returned to the U.S. in 1973, I was a first lieutenant with the Army Commendation medal, four purple hearts, four silver and bronze stars and two Distinguished Service Crosses who'd seen enough of war for his whole life and looked forward to studying and becoming a teacher after four more years in U.S. garrisons. Little did I know about the army then." He looked disgusted at the thought. "My CO surprised me with the news that, due to my performance in Vietnam and my knowledge of Asia, I had been selected to become a member of the U.S. forces in South Korea after one month of well-earned vacation. So I spent fifteen months somewhere near the DMZ as captain and G3 officer of a recon force, making plans against possible northern infiltrations which never happened - until two days before the end of my tour. When I drove through the area for inspection, I was ambushed by North Korean guerrillas who blew up my jeep with an anti-tank rocket and left me in the wreck to die. I woke up three months later in a hospital in the states, learning that I avoided death only by an inch and that the surgeons had to reconstruct almost my whole right leg with metal."

"It took me five more months to rehabilitate and to get away from the painkillers. After my return to service, I learned that I had to spend eight more months in the army because my months of rehabilitation did not count as ‚having been in the service'. In late 1976, I finally started to study history at Maryland State. Things went smoothly until November 1979, when religious fanatics occupied the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and its personnel became hostages. The U.S. government decided to start a military action to liberate the hostages and I was recalled to active service as an expert on helicopter missions. The commando action failed due to technical reasons and I was one of the people held responsible for that. I went back to my studies, being demoted from major to captain and with reduced pay from the military that proved too low to live from only. When I complained, I was offered a return to my former rank and salary if I volunteered for four more years after graduating. In the end, I accepted to finish my studies."

Daria refilled his glass. "So you went back to the army after you finished college?" DeMartino nodded. "I graduated in 1983 with honors and got several offers for teacher's posts in Maryland and Pennsylvania which I couldn't take up because of the deal I made with the army. As soon as I was a regular major of the army again, I was sent to a language school in Texas to polish up the dialects I learnt in 1980 for the Iran operation with special weight on military terms and words. After some weeks there, I found out that I'd been earmarked to become a military advisor for the Afghan Islamic warriors who were supported by the U.S. government against the Red Army with arms and tactics. On New Year's Eve 1984, I flew to Pakistan, crossed the border in deep winter and lived as well as fought the next twelve months among people filled by the same belief that would've made them my favorite target four years earlier and who were now allies of my government. When I returned from Afghanistan, I got this here as ‚a sign of gratitude from a very thankful nation'." He took out a piece of metal with fabric and flipped it carelessly on the table.

Quinn took up the item and examined it closely before she handed it to her father. "Dad, do you know what this is?" Jake looked at it for about five seconds, then he stared at his brother. "But this is... you really received..." "It looks like a sheriff's star, Dad." Quinn said as Daria took the item up. "This is the Congressional Medal of Honor, Quinn. I never knew it's being awarded in peacetime." She looked at her uncle. "Well, this puts you in a row of American heroes like Forrest Gump." "You really received the Medal of Honor? From the Congress?" Helen asked incredulously. Anthony shrugged.

"Actually, it was a small ceremony in an office at Capitol Hill. The Reagan government didn't want too much publicity about the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, especially since it wasn't primarily for Afghanistan, but against the Russians who'd occupied the country. I didn't really care about it at that moment - I wasn't allowed to wear it in public at first - but I soon found out that, being decorated with the highest award a U.S. soldier can achieve, I had free choice of a new post. After some static with the Pentagon, I became a member of the Army's Historical Division and stayed there until my return to civil life in 1987. The army asked me to stay, of course, but considering how they'd treated me after the Iran operation had failed, I was glad to be out of the military. I'm still a Guard officer, but I haven't been in training since I applied as history teacher at several schools all over Maryland to avoid moving to another state in 1987. I finally got accepted at Lawndale High, where the faculty was then dominated by several veterans of U.S. wars. Most of the veterans retired through the years, but there are three left, apart from me."

He looked directly at Daria and Quinn. "Guess who." Quinn thought about it. "Well, I'd say Coach Gibson is an ex-soldier. But that's probably the easiest one." "Correct. He participated in the Grenada attack as a Marine Corps sergeant. The other two are harder to guess." Daria smiled. "Ms. Li, of course. I've always said she learned most of her stuff from ‚Apocalypse Now'." Anthony nodded. "Angela has already served in two armies. She's originally from Vietnam and became interpreter for the MACV in 1969. When the US withdrew in 1973, she hooked up with a young G.I. to be able to get a US passport and escape the inevitable defeat of her country. Once she'd arrived here, she ditched the poor sob and applied for a job at the army intelligence service. She was at Military Intelligence 1990 in the Second Gulf War as well as later in Bosnia and still holds a commission in a Guard battalion. Now who do you think is the third veteran?" Jake guessed. "That man-hating woman who teaches science, maybe? Or that gym teacher?"

Anthony smiled. "They look like it, I know. But not every soldier is John Wayne with a gun in each hand and a knife between his teeth. How about Tim O'Neill?" Now Daria laughed. "No way, Uncle Anthony! I'd rather say Bennett or Manson. Even that pedophile I replaced as substitute looked more army than O'Neill. Wait... you're serious, aren't you?" "Yes, I am. I know Timothy O'Neill for almost twenty years now. We first met each other in 1980 when I was a major planning the operation against the Iran and he was a young lad trying to earn his way through college by serving as gunner in a Huey. When his helicopter crashed, I pulled him out and saved his life. He visited me later to say thanks and we became very good friends. After he'd finished his studies in 1988, he managed to get a post at LHS too, so we saw each other regularly. Don't judge Tim from how he's been over the last three or four years. He still suffers from the biggest and worst mistake he made - and I fear he always will." "And what was it?" Helen asked him.

Anthony looked at his glass, then he fixed Quinn in his gaze. "Please don't ever let him know that I told you." "But why not? Was it something illegal?" Anthony sighed heavily. "Much worse. He met a wonderful woman at college which he married in 1989. Laura and Tim were the nicest couple I've ever seen. They often invited me to dinner or for holidays, knowing that I lived alone and had no family to be with. Tim almost never drank alcohol, especially not when he used his car. Now after Ms. Li took over the post of principal in late 1993, she made a rousing party at her place in Oakwood and most people got pretty drunk, including Tim. When the party finally broke up, I offered him a ride since I'd stayed sober the whole evening. He declined it because his wife needed the car the next morning to drive to her job. Despite his inebriation, he managed to drive the whole route back and almost up to his place - but when he arrived there and accelerated to get his car up the curb to park it, he overlooked someone standing there and ran that person over. He stepped out and saw his wife lying under his car, bleeding."

The Morgendorffers gasped while Nora just nodded sadly, knowing the story already. Anthony continued. "He stood there in his stupor and his shock, just holding her until a neighbor came out, saw them and called an ambulance. She died that very night in the ‚Cedars of Lawndale', Tim and I standing next to her. Three days later, he tried to commit suicide by asphyxiating himself with the exhaust fumes of his car entering through a hose. I hadn't seen him that morning and came to his place to look for him - just in time for saving him again, this time from his own guilt. He accepted psychological help and slowly went back to his former life of teaching, but he'll never again be the same joyous, care-free man I knew. That's the reason why I worked against Barch trying to lure him into marriage, by the way. She doesn't know about Laura since she came to Lawndale High one year later and was still married with her husband back then. Nobody ever told her about Tim's dead wife, so she just regarded him as what he is now: a friendly shy man who listens to her and doesn't interrupt her when she's ranting about men in general. After some time, she marked him out as possible prey. Since I feel obliged to protect him like I did twice before, I won't let Tim marry her, whatever the price may be!"

Quinn smiled at him. "In the name of Lawndale High's under-age students, thank you for that. If it wasn't for Li's non-fraternization policy, they might compete with Britanny and Kevin for the best make-out places. Brrr." She shuddered.


Helen looked around the group and offered another refill of wine and soda, which everyone declined, then she sat up straight. "Since Jake's already told you about the family origins and Martin's parents, I think I'll complete the picture with our past life. After Martin was killed in Vietnam in February 1969, his wife Ruth took Jake out of Buxton Ridge Military School and they moved from their home near Fort King to West Virginia because Ruth had relatives there and wanted to be close to them after her husband died. Jake had excelled in all non-military subjects at Buxton Ridge, so he was allowed to enter the local high school as a junior despite being only 16 years old. I was a senior in the same high school at that time."

Helen smirked. "I still remember the first time I met him. I ran the school paper and, being interested in politics and the current situation, had already clashed with the principal over several articles in the paper before. One day, Jake entered the room we used as office and told us he wanted to join. When I saw his formal appearance and his buzz cut, I immediately suspected the principal had sent him to replace me as editor. I soon discovered that spineless abiding to authorities was the thing he was least likely to do at that moment." "I had jumped on other people's calls for over six years at Buxton Ridge back then. The most attractive idea for me about being with the school paper was the thought that I could do - and say - what I wanted and tell things I didn't like to other people." Jake said. "Helen accepted me as writer and we became colleagues before even thinking about other relationships."

"I was part of a liberal clique in my town which included several rich children as well as smart blue-collar kids and some older people earning money for college. Jake became part of it when he started to go out with a girl named Eleanor who was the school's biology genius and a member of the group. Soon, we saw each other at the work for the paper and after school in the only decent diner that town had. We never thought about any romantic feelings then, especially since I also had a boyfriend, a boy from my class whose over-religious parents had named him Jeroboam." "Weren't there any people with cool names, Mom?" Daria asked her mother. "No, Quinn... oh, sorry, Quinn. Very funny, Daria. Well, a friend of ours had a mountain cabin at Aspen - his parents had it, actually - and he invited us all to spend a part of the 1969 summer vacation there. Jake and I drove there along with some others and ran straight into disaster when Jeroboam got into a fight with local boys at the gas station in Boulder and Jake tried to help them."

Daria's face lit up. "So that was the famed 'Boulder incident'!" "Yes, it was. The station manager called the police and we all spent one night in jail before they found out that the local guys had just picked a fight out of boredom. We left Boulder and spent three weeks at the cabin before returning home. One year later, Jeroboam and I graduated along with several others from the group, which was on the verge of breaking up anyway. By then, we four - Jake, I and our respective partners - had decided to start a commune since Jeroboam's parents had died and left him some land in Wyoming with a farm on it. We moved there in 1971 after Jake and Eleanor had also graduated and our parents had accepted the idea of a pause between high school and college."

Jake took over while Helen took a sip from her wine glass. "It was a rocky time for everyone involved. We attracted other youngsters who moved in and soon lived on the farm with about twenty people and thirty pets or farm animals. Some people changed their names to cement their 'transition' into a higher being, better humans or just to escape the draft - I don't remember it exactly. Thus Eleanor and Jeroboam became Willow and Coyote while Helen and I stayed with our names. Most of the time, we tried to grow crops on the fields or produce something without harming plants, animals or the air around us. The commune just went on into 1972, then 1973, 1974, 1975, most people trying to avoid thinking about their future and the decision how to continue. Helen and I were the ones who tried to stay reasonable despite the other peoples stupor and stagnation."

Helen swallowed the last of her wine, then she went on. "In early 1975, Jake and I finally admitted two things to ourselves: that we had grown very close to each other and that we wanted more from life than the daily political discussions and the ritual squabble about whose turn it was to give the organic waste to the animals. We married in June 1975 in a ceremony at the next lake, just like several commune couples had done before - including Willow and Coyote, who had become the most militant members on most of our topics, from macro biology to world politics. The difference in our case was that we announced some days later that we would leave the commune and start at Middleton College after the summer. Despite many tears and accusations that we would ‚sell out' at college, we left and thus avoided the ruin of the commune a year later."

"After we both made it through the basics successfully, Jake earned himself a MBA with honors and we started thinking about children although I was still in law school. Daria was born in February 1981 and Jake became an assistant in a consulting firm in Boston to learn the necessary skills for his own business later. We moved to Boston in 1982 shortly before Quinn was born, Jake starting his own business the same year. In 1984, I started to work again and everything went well until we moved to Texas in 1990 because I got a good offer from a law firm in Highland. For Jake, it meant to leave his flourishing business and starting again from space one; the girls had to adapt to a completely new location and I got as many chances to become a full partner as I got back in Boston: nil. One year later, Jake's business crashed over illegitimate actions of his partners and his reputation suffered so hard that, in the end, he had to work for one of his former rivals who treated him bad to make up for past defeats he had suffered against Jake. He managed to leave that firm in 1993, but since his reputation was still bad from the scandal his partners had caused, his new business went slowly while I still tried to become partner at my firm."

"Finally, I applied to ‚Schrecter et al.' in Lawndale, Jake sold his firm to another rival and we moved to New England again in 1996. And as far as I can see today, it was the right decision for all of us." Daria looked up from her glass. "Very touching, Mom. But in this case, you're right." Anthony smirked at his niece. "Is she really? From my point of view, you've had your image problems at Lawndale High as well as clashes with my dear colleagues over ethical and other reasons." "Sure I had my problems here - sometimes even with you, Uncle Anthony. But I had Jane as well as Jodie, Mack and others - and Highland High topped everything Li, Morris or the Fashion Club could muster against me." "I'll relay that to our local dictator-in waiting after the vacation, thank you." His gaze swept to Quinn. "Since Quinn here has the bonus of another year at LHS, maybe I'll wait a bit before I do so. Angela will blow a fuse anyway when I tell her that I can't teach the senior history class due to familiar bias."

The DeMartinos left four hours later after more reminiscence and talk about family and school matters. While the girls went up to their respective rooms, Jake and Helen had another glass of wine before they also retired to their room.


IX. That Which Does Not Kill Us...

On the next morning, Daria woke up to the sound of her phone. She shook her head and felt her brain ache. I hate it when Mom's right, she thought. That damned wine they had last evening really isn't compatible with teenagers. Well, at least Quinn had her part, too. After a moment, she lifted the receiver just to hear a very agitated voice on the phone. "Hello? This is Stacy. I got to talk to Quinn. Is she there?" Daria drew a grimace before answering. "Hi Stacy. This is Daria. Quinn's here, but..." Now let's try out how dear little sis' digested that rotten grape juice. "...if you wait a moment, I'll put you through." "Thank you, Daria." Daria pushed the ‚wait' button before she rung up Quinn's phone. After about ten seconds, a tired Quinn answered "...whatsehellson, Mom?" Daria put every ounce of cheerfulness she could muster in her voice. "Good morning, Quinn. You'll be so delighted to hear that Stacy's on the phone and eager to talk to you." "Cut it out, Daria. Mmmm... okay, put her through." Daria relayed the call, then she dropped the phone back on the floor and rose from the bed to collect her thoughts.

Last time I woke up in that state, I had Tom's arm - and leg - lying right over my body, she mused. I wonder if that's what he was up to when he came to my room to comfort me after my talk with that idiotic Bromwell woman. She pushed her boots aside and opened her dresser. It was a good thing he had this crappy wine with him, otherwise I would've been all over the minibar... and that might've been difficult to explain to Mom, being on college tour and all. Daria grabbed some underwear, socks and her usual t-shirt/skirt combination and went over to her desk, still reminiscing about Tom and their night together in the Bromwell guest house. On second thought, Mom would've fumed over an emptied minibar, but it still would've held less danger than the story of what really happened: Tom came to my room with a bottle of wine, we drank it, got tipsy, made out - and if Tom hadn't brought that neon-colored device with him, we might've... Brrr, that thought is just too icky to pursue it on an empty stomach. I better go occupy the bathroom as long as Quinn's glued to the phone with Stacy. She opened the door and left her room. 


Daria showered, brushed her teeth and clothed in the bathroom, then she went down and prepared breakfast. After some time, her parents came down also, Jake looking unshaven, but very chipper while Helen had tired, mole-like eyes and walked unsure. Daria looked up from her cereals and smiled at her parents. "And the winner of the unofficial drinking contest between consultants and lawyers is... the consultant. Congratulations!" Jake grinned at her as he sat down on his chair. "Good morning to you too, Daria. How come you're already up and eating?" "Quinn got a call from Stacy and is still on it, I think." She noticed that her mother searched the kitchen for something. "Sit down, Mom. Your coffee is already prepared; just push the button on the machine." "Thanks sweetie." Jake put some jam on his bread and fixed his daughter in his gaze. "How did you like the wine, by the way?" Daria's answer was prevented by a disheveled but smiling Quinn entering the kitchen, who sat down and started talking immediately.

"Hi everybody. Stacy just called and told me that they were invited to the prom by Joey-Jeffy-Jamie. Sandi and Tiffany accepted at once, but Stacy wanted to clear it with me in case I had dibs on either of the three. Talk about your true friends." "And what did you tell her, honey?" Helen asked from the counter. "I told her she should choose Joey, he's the brightest of the three - and I've blown him off worse than the other two when I tried out boyfriends." "Did you tell her that you'll bring David?" Daria asked. "No way. I want Sandi to think I'll come without a date. If I told Stacy, she would blurt it out first chance she got." Quinn grinned expectantly. "I told Stacy we'd meet each other in front of the school tonight and that I had no time before that because of important family stuff."

Daria finished her meal and rose from the table. "Did you also teach her not to call other people in the middle of the night?" "Come on, Daria. You know I... wait, you had a headache from the wine too, right?" Jake grinned as he regarded his two daughters. "See, Helen, that stupid guy at the commune was right after all: let your kids try out everything at least once if you don't know for sure it's poison." "And if your kids happen to like what they had?" Quinn asked. "Depends on what you took; if it was just alcohol or something else derived from organic stuff, you're supposed to tell them about risks and side effects of the stuff." Daria smirked. "If it happened to be a sample of the ‚advanced chemistry kit' however, go get the stomach pump and the rubber coat." Helen added hurriedly to anticipate Daria's comment about Jake's ill-timed hippie reminiscences. Daria shrugged her shoulders and stacked her dishes in the dishwasher as the telephone rang. When she took up the receiver, she heard a very familiar voice at the other end.

"Hi, Daria. Hope I don't wake you, but I wanted to know how the evening with DeMartino and his mom went." Daria went to the living-room and sat down. "Well, first you didn't wake me, I was having breakfast with my family." "Aw, how sweet, Is that what real families do?" "I think so, but don't get mushy on me, please. Anyway, Anthony and his mother were here until about twelve yesterday, and I learnt many interesting things about him - as well as things about Dad's family he never told us before. Remember when I envied you for having a surname no one ever wanted you to spell out?" Jane chuckled.

"You mean your recitation of ‚101 different ways to misspell Morgendorffer'? Yeah, of course." "Dad told us his grandfather was a major of the Austrian army named von Morgendorffer who deserted to the U.S. in World War One. Please call me ‚Euer Durchlaucht' from now on." "Jawohl, euer duck-lord... or whatever that funny second word was. Anything special about DeMartino I might like to know?" Daria leant back on her seat. "Several things. Old ‚Mad Dog' should've kept him and abandon Dad first chance he got. Anthony went to military school too, but he graduated with honors and entered the army afterwards instead of leaving to become a hippie like his other son did." "Let me guess, he came back traumatized from Vietnam and started teaching to pay society back for what it did to him." "Not really. He told us he originally volunteered for seven years to earn money for college, but finally left after eighteen years of service as a lieutenant-colonel with a big bucket full of medals and combat experience in Vietnam, Korea, Iran and Afghanistan. He didn't tell us in detail what he did over there, but even I know that you don't get the Congressional Medal of Honor and about every other decoration available for service men just for the writing of duty reports."

Jane whistled. "So old DeMartino is an American hero, eh? Trent once mentioned that he overheard him and Li talking about making the pledge of allegiance mandatory for the freshmen. He talked Li out of it by saying that he'd done enough ‚patriotic garbage' for three lives himself and that he'd resign if she ever introduced it. Seems he was right about the expression ‚patriotic garbage'." "Yes, he was definitely right about that. By the way, Anthony said there's a school regulation that teachers may not teach relatives of them to avoid possible nepotism. Just imagine Li's reaction when she learns she must find another history teacher for Quinn." "I'd love to see that." "So do I. But talking about Trent: did you tell him about the Anthony thing?" "Of course I did, Daria. Trent told me you can be happy since DeMartino's the best pick of the faculty members in ‚Looney High'."

Jane waited for a witty answer from her friend, but Daria was silent. "Hello? Earth to Daria?" Daria cleared her throat. "Sorry, Jane. I just thought Trent would've said something like ‚Oh, damn; anyone but DeMartino, poor Daria.' From what I know about both, I thought they must've clashed at least every second lesson." "They didn't ever, Daria. They..." Jane trailed off and it was Daria's turn to wonder about her friend's silence. Finally, she heard Jane again. "Ehm... I think you should know about it as Trent's friend... look, do you promise me you'll never, ever tell Trent I told you about it?" "Tell what, Jane? I mean, I do, but what?"

Jane sighed through the line. "Listen, I know you must think that Trent was as aimless and sloppy in school as he's now, sleeping twenty hours per day and giving a damn about his future." "Well, I mean..." Daria hesitated. "He wasn't, Daria. He was no Jodie Landon - and no Daria Morgendorffer, I must add..." "I get the point, Jane." Daria said. "...but his overall performance was always satisfying if you don't count math, which has been a mystery for all Lanes and will ever be. Anyway, he went through high school without any problems until half through his senior year." "And what happened then?" "Almost all the time in high school, Trent had a girlfriend called Patricia Norman. You've met her younger brother Corey; he's one of Quinn's more stubborn admirers." "Oh, sure. All he needs for being labelled as one of the ‚Three J's' is an initial 'J'. So Corey has an older sister?" Jane sighed again. "He had an older sister, Daria. Pat Norman died on January, 21, 1994 - at our house."

Daria drew her breath audibly as Jane continued. "Trent and Pat met at the first day of high school and fell for each other immediately. Pat was a leading member of Lawndale High's drama club and convinced Trent to join too; he played minor roles like Don Peter in Much Ado about Nothing. They were inseparable as a couple; when they began their senior year, Jesse and Nick made a bet whether Trent would propose to Pat before or after the graduation, it was obvious to everyone that he would one day. In January 1994, Trent, Pat and friends went to a party given by another drama club member to celebrate the successful premiere of their latest play. The host was a boy who lived in Crewe Neck with rich parents, a big house and everything a teenager can ask for. It must've a rousing party for all I heard, food and drinks included. Now after midnight, the host opened a bottle of Yugoslav vodka provided by his Dad and offered it to everyone. Most people just had a sip and decided to switch back to other, less aggressive drinks, but Pat and Trent liked the taste of the vodka and shared three quarters of the bottle between them."

"Neither Trent nor Pat herself knew that she had a rare kind of allergy against stronger alcoholics which had never shown before - mostly because she'd never been much of a drinker for all I know. They left an hour later after Pat told Trent her stomach burned, so they went to our place to sleep there. When they arrived here, Pat was already white as a wall and collapsed on the floor after coming in. Trent called an ambulance and woke me up since our parents were away, but when the paramedics came, she was already in a deep coma, and after they had tried for an hour to bring her back to life without success, they gave up."

Daria found her voice back. "So Trent had to witness his girlfriend dying in front of him in your hall? Some people have gone mad for less." "You're right, amiga, but the whole thing became even worse. Since Trent was in shock, I called Pat's parents and told them to come immediately; when they did, they found Trent slumped over their dead daughter and almost went nuts too. I summoned my folks from wherever they were back then and spent the next days consoling my numb brother, which went OK - until the post mortem arrived, saying Pat had been pregnant for two months and the allergic shock had only been lethal because it had burst the baby's umbilical cord and thus inflicted a severe internal hemorrhage, killing both mother and child." Daria gasped.

"After learning this, Trent broke down completely. He didn't attend the funeral and he couldn't go to school for over three months. When he finally returned, most of the seniors had already forgotten about Pat and her fate, so Trent drew closer to his friends who tried in vain to get him back to his former self. By then, Li had thrown out several teachers who'd gone against her way of running the school and wanted to set a disciplinary example, so when Trent came to ask her about his graduation diploma, she told him that he'd been absent too long to graduate and could also not repeat the final year."

"What?! I know she's a bitch, but that..." Daria cried furiously. "I know that, but please have mercy with my ear, Daria." "Sorry, Jane. What happened then?" "When Dad asked Li for a talk about the whole matter, it became clear that Li, who'd never taught Trent herself, had been influenced in her decision by the math and science teachers as well as Morris, who'd struggled with my other siblings and had branded Trent to be just another Lane troublemaker - despite his good grades in English, History and other subjects. After Dad proved this to Li, she had to concede that Trent wasn't the kind of bum our three older siblings had been, but couldn't be persuaded to give in about the graduation issue for official reasons - until DeMartino threatened to inform the PTA and the superintendent of schools as well as every single newspaper around here." Jane sighed. "Trent graduated with the same grades he'd had before Pat died, but we all knew that he wouldn't go on to college after what he'd gone through. Since then, Trent is the man you know: a lazy slacker without motivation or greater targets than to get up, eat and drink once a day at least and meet his friends for ‚practice' - and if nothing very positive happens to him soon, he'll probably stay like that forever."

Daria swallowed audibly. "But why did DeMartino do this for Trent? I mean, what if Li had forced the issue and accepted his resignation?" "To answer the first question: DeMartino was Trent's favorite teacher and knew it. Don't forget that these were the times of a Tommy Sherman and the beginning of Li's ‚muscle beats brain'-program. Therefore, DeMartino was ready to reach out for anyone genuinely interested in what he taught, and Trent - like Pat, by the way - loved history. If Li'd really thrown him out..." Daria finished the sentence for her "...the Pentagon would've taken him back into service after one phone call if he would've wanted to. He told us the army asked him several times to come back, but he never wanted to return." "I wonder why. No posting in this country's army can be worse than teaching under Li, in my opinion." "That's what I told him last night, but he said that, after his country made him spend more time in selected parts of Asia than at some army bases in the USA, he thought he'd seen it all."

Jane laughed. "Poor Anthony. Just imagine what he's missed by now: Grenada, Iraq, Somalia, Yugoslavia, Kosovo, Afghanistan again..." "Yes, I know 'Join the Army and see the World's cesspools'. He also said that, when he finally left the army in 1987, his superiors tried to hold him back by practically promising him the command of either the 82nd or the 101st Airborne Divisions in ten years from then. But you better ask him directly if you want to hear some war stories." "I'll remember that, thank you. However, let's give the past tragedies a rest and concentrate on a present tragedy - such as the fact that you already have a dress for the prom whereas I don't. I know I've asked a lot from you in the past, but... will you accompany me to some stupid shop to see me molested by some old, envious woman armed with needles who insults my perfect, hard-trained body?" "Of course I will. Don't you remember the time I had to get that blasted bridesmaid's dress? I'm waiting since then to pay you back, you know." "But you really did look lovely, Scarlett." "Jane, I'm only saying this once. If you don't want me to bring Quinn - or Dad's camera, shut up about that."


X. Girl Talk

After some time of reading and a short brunch with her family, Daria prepared to leave for Jane's house. She was just walking down the stairs when the doorbell rang. Before Daria could get it, Quinn rushed past her from the kitchen and jerked the door open to reveal David Sorenson standing in the entrance. David stepped in and gave Quinn a short hug. "Hi, Quinn. Are you sure your friends aren't going to burn you on a pile of outdated clothes if they see you associating with me?" Quinn smiled at her former tutor. "They'll drop dead at your sight, David." She scanned his rumpled blue t-shirt, his slacks and sneakers critically. "Although they probably wouldn't recognize you in this look, I think. We'll have to get you something that flaunts your intelligence and style..." Daria called down the stairs. "You better run now, David. She's not in full predator mode yet, so you still have a chance." David looked up and noticed Daria. "Hi, Daria. Nice to meet you again and congratulations to graduating from Li-dale Hell." "Thanks. How are your studies going?" "Fine, thank you." He turned back to Quinn. "I'll promise I'll look my best tomorrow night, okay? In the meantime, I wanted to invite you to a fat-free salad somewhere to talk." "Give me five minutes, David. I'll be back." Quinn turned and ran up the stairs to her room with David looking after her. Daria smirked.

"Do you think she's changed since last summer?" "From what she wrote me about once a month, she has. Is it true that she's among the best students in her class now?" "Believe it or not, she really is. It seems like you've created a brain-beauty hybrid, David." "My pleasure, Daria. How's your life going these days?" "School's out, life's normal and future... I've been accepted at Raft in Boston." "Sounds good. Please excuse the personal question, but how's your boyfriend?" Daria considered for a moment. "He's fine too, but I'm afraid he's not my boyfriend any more." "Oh, sorry. Will you be at that stupid dance too?" "I have to, David. By the way, do me a pleasure and keep Quinn away from that formal fashion shop at Cranberry Commons today. My best friend's still searching for something and if Quinn would hear we'll be there shopping, she'd come over to 'help' us and Jane doesn't deserve that."

David leant against the doorframe and gave a thumbs-up sign. "Count on me, Daria. I'll keep her safe and harmless at the other end of the mall if we're there." "Don't tell her I told you, but I think you're the only guy around with any chance to bring her to a mall and keep her out of the clothes shops." Quinn came down the stairs again and entered the room. "I've got to run, David; we'll see each other at the dance, I'm sure. Bye." "Bye, Daria." Quinn looked after her departing sister. "Okay, I'm ready. What did you two talk about, by the way?" "Oh, school, college, life - you know, brains stuff." "Very funny."


When Daria arrived in front of Lane Manor, Jane already stood outside and welcomed her. "Hi, amiga. Ready to get a sparkling dress worthy to be worn by me?" "Not really, but if we find some kind of fabric suitable to cover the more intimate areas of your hardly-trained body, it'll suffice." Jane hit her friend playfully on the arm. "Come on, you're just envious of my lean figure and good style." "The only envy felt by anyone will be the one our usual combinations will feel if we neglect them for this stupid dance. Now move it before I come to my senses and run away screaming. Didn't your sisters leave some dress you could wear?" "Summer got her first kid when she was still a junior and thus never went to a prom, and Penny hasn't worn a dress since her seventh birthday. She also missed prom because Li frowned on the idea of her wearing jeans and a "Satan Rules" t-shirt to the prom. Mom's got some dresses, of course, but they are either from their hippie era or have big clay stains."


"Oh, by the way, Quinn might be at Cranberry Commons too." Daria said as they approached the mall. Jane stopped immediately to look at her friend incredulously. "You didn't!" "Actually, she'll be at the Food Court far from the shop you wanted to go to, but if you need more than one hour to find something, I can always summon her to help you." "How did you manage that, Daria?" "It was quite easy. David came to take her out on a salad and diet soda, so I told him to keep her away from us if they go to the mall." Jane sighed audibly. "Thank you, amiga. I don't know how I can ever repay you." "Oh, there might be a way." Daria produced a camera from her pocket. "Just smile when I document your quest for a prom dress." "Yeah, I'd definitely repay you for that."


Five minutes later, the two friends entered the "Memorable Days" store in the mall and were approached by the next saleslady, who showed them to a big rack of dresses in the back of the store. Jane scanned them critically, then she took three dresses from the rack and disappeared in a dressing room while Daria sat down on a chair and started to read a novel she had brought with her. After five minutes, she was so concentrated on her book that she did not notice a girl with wavy black hair sweeping past her. The girl stopped in her tracks, turned and looked directly at the sitting figure, exclaiming. "Daria! I'd never imagined finding you here!"

Daria looked up to see Elsie Sloane standing in front of her. She collected her thoughts and smiled at the other girl. "Hi Elsie. How are you?" "I'm fine, thank you. What're you doing here?" "I'm helping Jane to find a dress for the school's prom. She's still in there if the clothes monster hasn't eaten her yet." She looked at the two black dresses over Elsie's right arm. "Are you shopping for the Starry Night Ball again?" "I'm afraid not. You see, our Grandma died the day before yesterday and now we'll fly down to Georgia for the funeral next week and stay for the weekend." "Oh, I'm sorry, Elsie. Please give my regrets to your folks and Tom." Elsie laid the clothes on the adjacent chair and sat down beside Daria. "So you and Jane go to your school's prom? Fielding's prom was just last week; Tom really had a hard time finding a girl on such short notice."

Elsie held up her hands in defense as Daria looked critically at her. "No offence, Daria. I know that he asked you about it and that you accepted, but I also know you two decided to cancel it after you broke up. The hard time I meant was in fact the one Mom gave Tom because she wanted to make sure that the chosen girl would fit to him socially, so she rejected three of his female classmates who were interested." Daria smirked. "I guess I should be honored because I would've 'fitted socially', right?" Elsie nodded. "You really should be, Daria. Don't tell him, but my parents really appreciated you and your relationship with Tom; before he'd met Jane and you, the girls he used to bring home were really bad." "Meaning that they never had a chance to become a member of the clan, right?" Elsie hesitated for some seconds, then she answered. "To tell you the truth, Mom honestly believed you two had a future, especially after she learnt of your night together at Bromwell..." "What??!"

Both girls turned rapidly to see Jane standing behind them, wearing a blue ankle-length dress without sleeves and looking totally flabbergasted at her best friend. "You and Tom did what?" Daria shushed her down with both hands and gave Elsie a look that made the younger girl flinch back from her. "Ehm..., I'm sorry, Daria. I thought Jane knew already..." Jane sat down beside them and fixed Daria in her gaze. "So you and my ex did the deed after all and you didn't tell me! Now how..." Daria interrupted her.

"Listen, Jane! First thing: lower your voice, for Pete's sake! I know several colleagues of my Mom who shop here, so hold it until we're out of the store. Second thing: Yes, I did, and I'd planned to tell you - after the prom." She turned to Elsie. "How do you know, by the way?" Elsie hesitated, then she answered. "Well, after you two and Mom returned from Bromwell, she told Dad late in the evening... just when I happened to walk by quietly for a nightly snack. I don't think they noticed me, but I overheard most of it. I didn't tell Tom, if that lightens your load." "Well, he knew anyway." Jane said and received another deadly gaze from Daria.

Elsie rose from her chair and looked straight at Daria. "Listen, I'm sorry I blurted this out. Can I invite you two to a pizza as an apology?" Jane smirked. "Aha! I sense another chance to freeload on the famed Sloane fortune! Let's go immediately!" She started to walk straight towards the entrance. When she had almost reached it, Daria called after her. "Jane, don't you think you'll be slightly overdressed for pizza, wearing an unpaid prom dress?" Jane stopped and looked at the dress. "Oops, I forgot. Do you like the dress, by the way?" Elsie smiled. "It's stunning, Jane. Buy it." "And you, Daria?" "I second that. Let's go, I'm hungry."


After Jane had paid for the dress, the three girls proceeded to the nearest Food Court and sat down, avoiding the topic of Tom and Daria's love life until they all had a soda and a big slice of pizza in front of them. Jane took a big bite out of hers before she fixed Daria. "Okay, amiga. We've got time and place of the incident. Now we need your motivation. I thought you were so nervous about the whole thing?" Elsie chimed in. "Yes, I felt so sorry for Tom that evening; him with all the candles and the flowers, but without you as the crowning detail..." She was stopped by a murderous glance from Daria. Jane grinned from ear to ear. "He really made that much fuss over it? How sweet!" Daria gave Elsie another angry look, then she took a bite from her pizza and sighed.

"Alright, here's for my so-called love life." She gulped down some soda. "You remember that Tom, Kay and I went looking for colleges some weeks ago and first visited Bromwell to have interviews with the admission officer. Tom went first and dazzled the woman by mentioning about hundred of his relatives who practically built and made the place, which gave him the birthright to become a member of the chosen few to be admitted this year. No offence meant, Elsie." "None taken, Daria. In fact, you're right about the whole nepotism thing stinking like hell, but since Dad's been pushing Tom towards Bromwell for the last ten years, I guess he's accepted his fate. Carry on." "Anyway, he came out - after almost an hour of talk - and the first thing the interviewer asks me is 'Are you as full of Bromwell lore as Tom?' before I was even sitting." "Ouch" "Well, I needed some time to remove my mental blockade about the stupid questions like what I'd hope to reap from the unique Bromwell experience, then it went more or less smooth."

She took another bite of pizza and some soda to swallow it. "I had planned to proceed to Boston after having some coffee, but then we met a friend of your father who works there." Elsie laughed. "Let me guess: Braggin' Bill Woods, the biggest airhead of the east coast, right?" "That's him. When he saw us, he invited us to lunch for the next day and - after expressing his disbelief that a Sloane could even think about considering another option besides Bromwell and ignoring me as a possible student - we settled for breakfast instead, which meant staying the night. I was less than thrilled about it, especially when your mother got us three rooms in the 'Horatio Alger Sloane Wing' with a single phone call, showing me again how things work there."

          Jane leant forward. "The 'Horatio Alger Sloane Wing? Now that's talking about influence." Elsie smiled awkwardly. "Well, like Dad would tell you..." she lowered her voice in a good imitation of Angier "'s only a wing, Elsie; those damned Shearersons from Hyannisport actually had the nerve to donate the whole biology building." Jane laughed. "Okay, so you were stuck in Bromwell for the evening. What happened then?" "Well, Tom's mother insisted on entertaining Tom and me with stories about life at Bromwell; you know, where to eat, what to do, which places to avoid - the whole freshman program. It wasn't until quarter to twelve until we all went to our rooms." "Where at least one person didn't stay." Jane remarked. "Do you want to hear the story or use your dirty mind to imagine the details by yourself?" "Sorry, Daria. Please continue." "When I was finally alone in my room, I was so frustrated with the whole day and the Bromwell machinery that I was mad at Tom for bringing me there and mad at myself for accepting. In fact, if I'd have had a car of my own, I might've left immediately. Then someone knocked at my door and shook me out of my gloom."

          Daria finished her slice and fixed the other girls. "Before I continue: no one's going to know except you two, understood? It's hard enough to tell you, but if my parents or Quinn knew, I'd be dead meat." "Sure, Daria." "Of course." Daria sighed again. "It was Tom, of course, planning to apologize for everything from the interview up to the behavior of both his mother and Professor Woods towards me. He had scrounged a bottle of red wine from somewhere as a peace offering - I'm sure from some servant who'd already organized booze for the preceding Sloane generation - and offered to drink some of it together. We killed most of the wine and... got intimate, so to say. I guess it was both the frustration and the need to hold on to something... or someone, in that case."

She held up her hand to stop Jane's upcoming comment. "Let me just answer the questions in your mind according to curiosity and dirt. One: yes, we knew what we were doing despite the wine. Two: yes, Jane, it was fun... and you should try it yourself some time. Three: no, Elsie, you're not going to be an aunt; we used protection - each time, which provokes question four: no, we did not screw around like two horny gorillas although we repeated 'it' later that night - twice, to be exact. Finally question five: Tom stayed the whole night with me before he sneaked out in the dawn to get back to his room and to destroy the evidence."

Elsie smiled. "And that's where your nefarious hormone- and wine-soaked plan failed, Daria. Did you two really think that a Bromwell servant would find some wine for Tom without checking first with Mom whether she allowed it or not? She told Dad that the man asked for her consent, and she took a lucky guess about Tom's plans. In fact, she said - but don't tell Tom, please - that if he'd ordered a six-pack of beer, she'd have declined since he would've drunk it alone in his room and caused a scandal at breakfast." "How could she be sure that Tom wouldn't court Daria with beer?" Jane asked slyly. Now Elsie grinned from ear to ear. "Mom told Dad that if their precious only son would've intended that, it would've meant that eighteen years of high-rate education had gone down the drain." All three girls laughed before Elsie pushed back her chair and rose from her place. "I have to leave now. Thanks for the insight in my dear bro's love life." "Thanks for bringing it up." Jane joked, which earned her a kick from Daria's left foot. Elsie was already two paces away from the table when Daria called after her. "Elsie, wait." Surprised, the younger girl turned. "Yes?"

Daria hesitated for a moment before she spoke. "Listen... give Tom my regards and... if he still feels bad, tell him I'm sorry. I guess I never told him, but apart from Jane, he's been the best friend I've made around here - and it's been a real pity that we didn't meet sooner. Just... tell him that if you think he needs it, okay?" Elsie frowned. "Anything else?" "Tell him Jane says hi." "Jane, you're absolutely no help. Ehm... tell him I'm already looking forward to seeing him when we return home for the vacation. Now leave before I get even mushier." Elsie grinned. "I'll be happy to. Have a nice vacation. You too, Jane." She waved as she walked away.

Jane fixed her friend. "Now that was the most emotional Daria I've seen for months. Are you sure that you're not regretting the decision to break up?" "It was inevitable, Jane. He'll go to Bromwell, where he'll continue the 'ancient and most noble tradition' of the Sloanes, and I'll have Raft and its opportunities. About the emotional side... you don't need me to tell you how nice it felt to have him around, I think." "Well, you still have me, amiga." Jane quipped. "Yeah, I know." Daria smirked maliciously. "But one day, dearie, you'll find yourself a nice gentleman and discover that men were made for a reason... even if no one's found it yet." "I'll be happy to. In the meanwhile, let's go and find some shoes to go with my new dress." "I asked for that, didn't I?" "Of course. Now move."


XI. Making An Appearance

Thirty minutes later, the girls left Cranberry Commons after Jane had found a pair of medium-heeled blue shoes to wear for the prom. Daria walked Jane home before she continued her way towards her own house. When she entered it, she faced Quinn who had run towards the entrance after hearing the sound of the lock. The redhead looked eagerly at her sister, then she frowned. "Where are your shopping bags?" Daria smirked. "Hi sis. Why do you ask?" Quinn looked outside. "When I returned from downtown with David, Dad told me you had gone shopping with Jane. Didn't you buy anything?" Daria pushed off her boots and smiled at Quinn. "Did David really drag you downtown? Remind me to give him an A for effort; I only asked him to keep you away from "Memorable Days" at the mall." "Aha! So you really were at the mall. Didn't you say you already had your dress for the prom?"

Daria went to the kitchen and took two sodas from the fridge, giving one to Quinn. After the first sip, she fixed her younger sister. "I do have a dress for tonight, Quinn. However, Jane still needed one and asked me to help her finding a dress - and to ensure that you wouldn't enlighten us with your encyclopedic knowledge about color and style combinations." Quinn frowned again. "Sorry, sis, but you know I'm right. What will you wear, by the way?" "I'm not sure yet, but I've succeeded in narrowing it down to five choices. Shall I show them to you?" Daria held up her hand. "Please not, Quinn. I've got my share of clothes modeling today and there's still the prom to survive." "Have it your way. Will Trent and Jane come to pick you up?" "They won't. I was afraid that Dad would want to immortalize this important station of my life by ambushing us with a camera, so I told them I'd come over to Howard Drive in my usual attire to change clothes there. We'll drive to the school from there in Trent's Plymouth."

Quinn smirked. "In other words, you'll leave the whole fame to me and David. Thank you." "I'm sure you deserve it more than me, sis." "You mean because my partner's a Yale undergraduate instead of a grungy dropout musician..." she broke off when she saw her sister's pained face " offense, Daria. I'm sorry for that." "It's okay, Quinn. I think that's how he sees himself, I'm afraid. If we could only persuade him otherwise..." Quinn looked confused. "I'll tell you later, Quinn. Right now, I must go and pack my stuff." She emptied her soda and threw it into the trashcan. "If Mom and Dad come, tell them I've already gone to Jane. See you at the prom." "Okay. Don't do anything I wouldn't do, sis." "Likewise. Bye."


When Daria arrived in front of Casa Lane with her dress and some low-heeled shoes borrowed from Helen in a big plastic bag, she saw Jesse who had just knocked at the front door with one hand, trying to balance a big parcel between his chin, his right arm and the doorframe. Before she could address him, the door was opened abruptly and Jesse dropped the parcel on the doorstep. Trent looked out and smiled at the sight of his best friend kneeling down to retrieve his parcel. "Hi Jess. Looking for anything special down there?" Jesse grinned. "Thought I saw one of my plectrums lying on the doormat." He rose again and dusted off his pants as Daria walked up behind him. "Must've been a cockroach. Oh, hi Daria." "Hi, Jesse." She fixed Trent. "Hello Trent. Do you really have cockroaches in the house?" Trent smiled at Daria. "Hello Daria. We don't have cockroaches, but Jesse still likes to pull my leg about having vermin. You see, we once had a cellar party with some girls and one of them had a screaming fit when something she'd mistaken for a potato chip decided that it wanted to leave the party and fly back to its nest." "It was the girl you'd called dibs on weeks before the party, man." Jesse remarked. Trent frowned at him. "Thanks for reminding me. Come in."

As soon as Daria had entered the house, she heard a loud thumping sound, followed by a muffled curse. Seconds later, a door flew open and Jane appeared at the top of the stairs, in a long, paint-stained shirt and nylons, smirking at the sight of her best friend. "Hi, Daria. Not in your fabulous dress yet?" "Not until later." She fixed Jane. "You don't seem to be either." Jane looked unhappy. "Well, I just had a little problem... Trent, do you think we still have that stuff Dad used to clean my graffiti from the front wall?" "I could go and search for it. Why do you ask?" Jane drew a grimace. "I tried walking in my new shoes and stumbled against the easel - with my latest work on it. Now I own a wonderful pair of amazing Technicolor dream heels." Trent laughed. "Do you really think what cleaned the wall might be good for suede? You know it took the lawn three years to grow back at the place where Dad dropped some of the stuff." "Hmm. Maybe you're right, but what about my heels?" Daria smirked. "Just wear them like they are now, Jane. Li will fume and everyone else will think it's your newest art project." Now Jane smiled. "You talked me into it, amiga. Let's do it." She turned to Trent and Jesse. "If you don't mind, gents, we'll prepare ourselves now for the festivities." She walked back to her room with Daria following her while the two men went to Trent's room to change into their suits.


Daria and Jane left Jane's room forty minutes later, both wearing their prom dresses and fine shoes. Just as they walked down the stairs, they heard loud clattering in the kitchen, followed by a baby cry and several voices. When they had turned the corner, they saw Trent and Jesse standing besides the refrigerator in black suits and Amanda Lane sitting at the table with a small baby. She looked up and recognized her daughter. "Jane, honey! How are you?" Jane smiled at her mother. "I'm fine, Mom. Have they already released you from hospital?" "Well, the nice doctor said that, since Danny's my sixth child, I could go home." She looked at Daria. "Oh, hi. Who're you?" Daria stepped towards the table to shake Amanda's hand. "I'm Daria Morgendorffer, Mrs. Lane. I think we met the last time you were in Lawndale." "Oh yeah, now I remember. Sit down and tell me what happened since then, honey." Jane looked at Trent in a mute cry for help, but Daria was faster. "I'm sorry, Mrs. Lane, but we've got to leave for the school's prom soon."

 At that moment, Vincent entered from the living-room with a tattered blanket under his arm. "Here's the baby blanket, honey. See, I told you I'd..." he broke off and looked at the two girls. "Wow, Janey, you look fantastic. Hi, Daria; the same goes for you." He laid the blanket on the chair next to his wife and walked out again. Jane used the interruption and gestured to Trent and Jesse to leave the room along with Daria, then she went up to her mother and embraced her. "We have to leave now, Mom." She gave the baby a smile. "Hi, Danny. See you both tomorrow." Amanda smiled. "Have a nice evening, honey."

Just as the four prom-goers went out of the house, Vincent called after them. "Hey, stop it. You won't escape before I made one or two nice photos." Jane turned. "Please, Dad. Do we really have to do this?" Vincent looked pleadingly at her. "Come on, Janey. You know that your siblings didn't go to their prom for various reasons." He made an apologizing motion to Trent. "OK, Dad. But not more than five pictures. Come back, guys." Daria whispered to Jane. "You remember the big reason to come to your place was the fact that I didn't want my Dad shooting amateur pictures of me in this dress?" Jane whispered back. "Let him have the fun. Besides, he's a professional, so the pictures might even come out nice." "Alright, you know how vain I am. Let's get it over with."

Vincent made them stand together and shot several pictures, then he lowered his camera again and smiled. "See, that didn't hurt a bit. Jesse, Daria, I'll send you some prints as soon as I'm through with developing them." "Just don't forget that Mom and the baby might need the bathroom, Dad." "I thought since we're back permanently now, I might install a darkroom in the basement. That might be better for everyone's bladders." "Thank you from the bottom of my stomach. Let's go, folks." They entered Trent's car and drove off, Vincent waving goodbye until they disappeared around the corner.


The parking lot of Lawndale High was already almost full when the Plymouth drove up in front of the main entrance, so Trent unloaded his passengers and drove on to look for a space at the gym. Jesse looked at Jane. "You know I've avoided this place for the last four years, don't you?" "Yeah, I know. Trent hasn't been here since he came to pick us up during the teacher's strike and was recruited by O'Neill to write a forceful protest song..." Jane smirked. "Let's wait for him in the lobby. I don't want the popular people to think we outcasts weren't allowed in." She crossed the road with Jesse and Daria following her. Just as they reached the entrance, the doors opened to reveal Jodie, wearing a grape-colored dress and looking very exasperated. She smiled at the three. "Hi, guys. Nice to see even you're here to pay a last respect to 'the place that enabled you to grow from adolescents into mature, intelligent Americans of tomorrow'. Please forgive me if I sound corny, but if you'd been forced to proof-read Ms. Li's speech for tonight, you would sound exactly the same." She looked at Daria. "Do you think your mother could defend me in court if I strangle that hag with my own nylons?" Daria smiled. "She probably would - and I'd be happy to give evidence that you committed justifiable homicide. Shouldn't Mack be at your side to keep you back - or to help you with the nylons?"

Jodie pointed towards the gym. "Li made him my assistant with the special task to ride herd on his team buddies. After last year's disaster, she wanted to assure that none of the jocks will try to ruin the fun with animal waste or rotten fruits." She noticed Jesse. "Who are you, by the way?" Jane shoved him forward. "This is Jesse Moreno; he graduated with my brother and will be my escort for tonight." Jesse shook hands with Jodie. "Nice to meet you, Jesse." She grinned suddenly. "You wouldn't be the elder brother of Danny Moreno, the sophomore who tried DeMartino's patience last month by asking him to sponsor the introduction of a 'Manly Rock Music Club'?" "Yeah, I am. Did you hear that Mr. D. accepted to piss off Li?" Jodie laughed. "He didn't!"

The four turned when a huge white limousine stopped in front of the entrance. Brittany stepped out in a sheer golden dress, followed by a tuxedo-wearing Kevin, who looked surprisingly lean without his usual shoulder pads and his football pants. Jodie made a pained face, then she whispered to Daria and Jane. "It's probably my last encounter with them as an item, so I should play nice and say hello to them. See you later." Jane looked after the departing Jodie, then she shook her head. "There goes the Mother Teresa of Lawndale. I know her for over ten years now, but I'm still amazed at her kindness towards her fellow humans - especially the ones who'd never even think about repaying that kindness to her or anyone else." She hooked her arms around the waists of the other two. "Let's go inside to wait for Trent. I don't want to talk to the 'Dumb Duo' - or to Upchuck, while we're at it. I saw his pink pimpmobile stopping at the corner some seconds ago." "Don't you want to see Andrea in a ball robe?" Daria asked. "Wait a moment, in Andrea's case that would be a Baal robe." Jane shook her head again. "I know her for over ten years too, but unlike Jodie, she's never been the talking type with me. In any case, Upchuck's with her and I don't want to talk to him." "Okay."

The three waited for ten minutes for Trent. In these ten minutes, two people had asked Jesse if he was a bouncer, Stacy had showed up - with Joey at her side - to ask Daria if Quinn would come to the prom (and which boy would be her escort) and Tim O'Neill had welcomed them, being overjoyed that even the 'ehm..., let's be bold and say not-so-extremely-popular' students would honor their school 'and, let me add this, also the teachers who educated them over those past years' for a last time. Finally they saw Trent's lean figure appear in front of the entrance and step through the doors - happily talking with Anthony DeMartino. The two men scanned the room before they waved and walked over to Jesse and the girls. Several people looked surprised at Trent in his expensive suit, but even more whispered with their friends when they saw Anthony giving Daria a short embrace which his niece returned.

When the teacher released Daria again and turned away to welcome Jesse and Jane, Daria looked around and saw at once that the people most flabbergasted were Sandi, Stacy and Tiffany, who stood next to the faculty lounge door. Finally Sandi walked over to Daria. "Say, Quinn's sister... is hugging teachers a new thing among unpopular people or did I miss something?" Jane smirked. "I'd like to fill you in, Sandi, but I think it's Daria's privilege to do so." "Huh? I don't understand?" Daria smiled at Sandi (which was already enough to make the younger girl uncomfortable) before she spoke. "Please let me introduce my long-lost uncle Anthony, Sandi. I think you know him." Sandi looked as if a dinosaur had just flattened her wardrobe. "Your... your uncle? Mr. DeMartino's your uncle..., now wait just a freakin' moment, does that mean he's Quinn's uncle too?" "Since you know that we two are full sisters: yes, he's Quinn's uncle too." "But I don't understand! How can he be your uncle... I mean..."

Stacy came over to them after noticing Sandi's astonished face. "What has happened, Sandi? Can't Quinn come?" "I just told her DeMartino's my and Quinn's uncle, so she's still fighting to cope with it." Daria said. "And no, Quinn will come to the prom, but I won't spoil her surprise about who's escorting her." She gave Sandi a short push. "Go take her to the next girls' bathroom, Stacy. I think she might need a moment to digest the information." Stacy took her friend by the arm to guide her, supported by Tiffany who had approached also and the three girls walked away from Daria when they saw Quinn entering. Sandi immediately brushed off the other two, straightened herself and walked back towards Quinn, adopting a look of faux concern. "Hello, Quinn. It's brave of you to come even though no guy asked you to be his date tonight." She leant towards her friend. "You know, we could persuade Stacy to let Joey be your escort for tonight. If we tell her that his black hair clashes with her brown, she'll probably accept." Quinn frowned, then she smiled at Sandi. "Oh, Sandi. It's so sweet that you'd like to help me with finding an escort - at Stacy's expense, of course - but I don't think it's necessary." She turned and knocked at the door. "I asked a very good friend of mine if he wanted to be my escort and he accepted. I think you know him, Sandi." The door opened and David stepped in, giving Quinn a kiss on the cheek.

Sandi was petrified for a moment, before she started to stammer something inaudible and ended up just staring at David like someone trying to fight a serious hangover. David glanced over to Quinn - who visibly enjoyed every second of the situation - then he took Sandi's limp hand and shook it. "I'm delighted to meet you again, Sandi. Quinn told me that she made so much progress this year. I hope we'll meet each other again later so that you can tell me about your studies." Sandi stared at him, then she stepped back, muttering "Uhmyesl... sorry...Igottagotothebathroom." before she ran towards a door at the other end of the hall. Quinn smiled at David, then she turned to see something that amazed her even more than Sandi's reaction: the sight of her own sister in a stunning dress, laughing her head off along with everyone else present, including Stacy and Tiffany.


XII. Dancing With Stars In Your Eyes

Fifteen minutes later, the Morgendorffer sisters stood at the buffet with Jane, Trent, Jesse and David. Daria took a glass of punch and toasted towards her sister. "To Quinn Morgendorffer, who has silenced the great Griffin beast!" Quinn grinned. "Thank you, Daria. Stacy told me that you almost knocked her out already with the news of our family addition, but I must admit that I'm quite proud of myself." She took two glasses and handed one to David. "Thanks for this, David. I'll never forget Sandi's face when you asked her about the academic progress she'd made since last year." "Though it was almost as good when she stumbled back out of the door she had fled to with Jamie on her heels." Jane remarked. "Yeah, and then him asking her if she was so eager to dance with him that she'd even follow him to the boys room. Hilarious." Quinn laughed. "Come on, David. Let's test if you are as good a dancer as you are as a fellow conspirer." "I thought you'd never ask, my dear." He took her hand and guided her towards the dance floor.

Daria gave Quinn and David a last look before she turned to her friends. "I still wonder if he's got any serious designs about her, but even if he has, he'll treat her better than all the boys of her age." Jane laughed. "Are we jealous that Quinn got herself a nice college student as dance partner?" Daria rolled her eyes. "Nah, I rather dance with Trent." She pointed to the dance floor where David was just whirling Quinn around. "From what I can see, David must've had dance lessons at Yale and I'd feel ridiculous if I'd be used as a human gyroscope. Besides, you know I always wanted to dance with Trent." She looked at her friend's brother. "You haven't told us yet how you met DeMartino, by the way. When you two came in, you shocked most of the students - and of the teachers."

Trent shrugged. "I ran into him when I had just parked the car and was on the way back to the school. He immediately welcomed me and we talked about old times. He asked whether I knew about him being a Morgendorffer, by the way." Daria smirked. "What did you answer?" "I told him I knew and I congratulated him. Don't take this the wrong way, Daria, but there have been times when I'd gladly traded your concerned and supportive parents for my own air-headed set which rather traveled around the world than care for their kids during the last years." He looked thoughtful. "I still can't adapt to the thought of sharing the house with them - not to talk about Danny and all the changes he'll mean to their life and mine." Jane punched her brother's arm playfully. "Well, if it threatens to change your normal lifestyle, you could still go to college somewhere else - or move over to Jesse."

Trent shook his head. "No offence, Jesse, but I don't think that'd work out; you know how your folks reacted last time the band and I slept over. Did your mother succeed in having that Persian rug cleaned and fixed, by the way?" "No, man. But you know it was Nick's fault." Jane whispered to Daria. "Somehow, I don't want to know the details of this event", then she addressed Trent again. "Well, as long as you aren't sleep-deprived from our new brother testing his lungs at 3 am, you might ask Daria for a dance before she walks off to find someone else to throw her around." "I could throw something at you, Jane." Daria warned before she looked at Trent. "She won't stop before we dance, I'm afraid. Let's go and humiliate ourselves a bit; I won't see most of these guys ever again anyway." She waved at her friend. "If I go, you'll dance too, amiga." Jane shrugged. "Let's go, Jesse. Those people need someone to show them how to do this anyway." She took his arm and pulled him towards the dance floor, Trent and Daria following her.

Fortunately for Daria (and Trent), the DJ was just playing something easy to dance to, so they managed to dance for several minutes without making bigger mistakes. Jesse and Jane were visibly enjoying themselves and, since Jesse was really an excellent dancer, they were the center of attention after the first song. When the music stopped for a moment, neither of them realized it until the people around them started applauding - and a camera flashed. Jane looked at the source of the flash and immediately saw the camera in Daria's hands. Jane scowled for a moment, then she grinned at her friend. "Tell me you caught my best side." Daria smirked back. "Regarding how Jesse spun you around, I think I photographed your rear - so yes, I caught your best side."

Before Jane could produce a suitable comment to her friend's witticism, Anthony came over from the buffet where he had been standing talking with Mr. O'Neill. "Nice dancing, Ms. Lane. Did you learn this when you were a cheerleader?" Daria burst out laughing, but was silenced by her friend's glare. "Actually I'm a natural when it comes to dancing, Mr. DeMartino. Would you like me to show you?" Anthony smiled. "Only if you start calling me by my first name." He glanced at Daria. "Do you mind?" "Not at all, Uncle. I'll wait for my escort. I believe he's gone off to some corridor reminiscing."  Anthony's face became serious. "That's something I wanted to ask both of you. Is Trent still traumatized after..." he looked at Jane " know, Patricia's death?" Jane nodded sadly. "He never really recovered - and now he's wasted already so much time that I'm wondering whether he'll ever do. He manages to hide it better than before, though." "Yes, I saw that when I met him outside. What's he doing for a living now, by the way?" Jane snorted. "Nothing except occasional gigs at Dega Street which barely pay his guitar strings and gas for his car."

Anthony looked down. "It's really a shame. You both know I don't tend to praise students..." Both girls nodded. "...but Trent really had the potential for rousing success. I wonder if..." He broke off when he saw Trent appearing at the far side of the hall and walking towards them. "There he is, so let's continue this later. Anyway, this is supposed to be a happy event." He offered his arm to Jane. "If I may?" She took his arm and both walked towards the dance floor, passing Trent on the way. Daria looked after them and smiled at Trent as he arrived. "Sorry I left you here, but I just had to make a tour through the school. It brings back so many memories..." Daria could see in his face what he thought about, so she silently took his hand for a moment until he looked at her again and smiled. "Never mind, Daria. Do you want to dance again?" "I'd be happy to." "Then let's go."


Several hours later, the party came to a close and the four friends went back to Trent's car. As they drove through the night, Daria looked out of the window, deep in thought. So that's it. That was the big prom that some of my classmates have been talking about all through high school. She smiled to herself. It's funny how my perspective changed over the years. When I arrived here, I was dead certain the Four Riders of the Apocalypse allied with the Nine Nazgûl would not be able to drag me to the prom. After the first year, Jane and I had vowed to go there hand in hand and play the 'happy couple' for all the idiots who believed we were lesbians. Then Jane met Tom and I thought I'd be on my own - only to find the situation reversed some time later. After all, it went really smooth... and I believe my fellow students also had an evening whose memories each of them will treasure - or damn - forever.

She leant back in her seat as the pictures of the night passed through her mind: Sandi had mysteriously vanished after her first dance and left Jamie free to stalk other prey while Stacy had danced for hours with Joey and they had left together practically hanging onto each other - they were probably at Lover's Lane now, Daria mused. Tiffany and Jeffy had also gone their separate ways soon after the first dance, Tiffany leaving later since two of her friends had already gone and Quinn had been inseparable from David for the whole evening. Maybe there is something between them, Daria thought for a moment, but it seemed more like her sister had - finally - found a real friend like she had had all the time in Jane. Her thoughts wandered to her fellow graduates. Britanny had danced with Kevin, but everyone present who'd seen before through the past years could tell that her heart was no longer in this - and Kevin must've felt this too, Daria thought, since she'd seen him leaving later, looking rather downcast.

Sad though this was for the former lovebirds, it had given Jodie and Mack the chance to enjoy the evening without riding herd on anyone. Daria had known Jodie for three years now, but she had never seen her friend as happy and relaxed as an hour ago when Jodie and Mack had been elected Prom Queen and King - make that announced, Daria corrected herself. Small chance of anyone else winning this even when Kevin and Britanny had still been a real item - these still had made second place for old times' sake. The big surprise of the whole election had been the fact that the third place had gone to Upchuck and Andrea, who had obviously enjoyed themselves and - as strange as it sounded even to herself - Daria had to admit that she was happy for them. I was also a loner when I came here, but then I met Jane, Trent, Jodie, Mack - and Tom. Andrea and Upchuck - Chuck, she thought - had always been on their own because of their special personalities and their behavior; it was comforting that, in the end, they had found each other.

Jane looked over to her friend and, when Daria kept staring out of the window, nudged her gently. "Hey, amiga. Penny for your thoughts?" Daria turned her head slowly and smirked. "I'm just reminiscing, Jane. Now that the nightmare's over, we've got to start idealizing high school as 'the best time of our lives'." "You mean rather than telling the next generation: 'I was young and needed the degree?' You aren't going mushy on me, are you?" "After all that's happened, maybe. Still, if I start saying things like 'this day is the first day of the rest of my life', please make sure that the rest of my life is limited to this day." "I'll be glad to."

The car stopped in front of the Moreno house and Jesse stepped out, waving goodbye as the car drove on. Ten minutes later, they reached Glen Oaks Drive and Trent stopped again before turning to the girls in the backseat. "That's it, Daria. Thanks for the evening; it was nice to meet DeMartino again." Daria leant forward and kissed him on the cheek, drawing back in time to see Jane's amused grin. "Thank you too, Trent. I had much fun tonight; in fact, more than I ever thought I could have at my prom. Jane and I've already agreed to meet tomorrow night for pizza - my treat. Maybe you'd like to come too." Trent smiled. "I'd love to." Daria turned to Jane, considered for a moment and then hugged friend fiercely. "Thanks for the last three years, Jane." Jane returned the hug. "Don't thank me until you've experienced going to college with me; as soon as you're away from your folks, I'll make you the party queen of New England." Daria smiled. "We'll see. In the meantime, we'll enjoy our vacation - and we'll meet tomorrow so you can hear how the mighty Morgendorffer brothers performed in their fight against the US Army." She opened the door and went out, looking after the car until it had vanished around the corner to Howard Drive and then walking back to her house.


XIII. The Day A Legend Died

          When they arrived at Fort King, Jake and Ruth were welcomed by a young captain who gave them a short tour of the whole area before he led them to a football stadium with hundreds of chairs on the lawn and a podium with several seats. Behind the podium stood a huge picture of Jake's father in full colonel uniform with seven Purple Hearts, one Distinguished Service Cross, two silver and two bronze stars and several rows of combat ribbons. Jake cringed inwardly at seeing the determined expression on his father's face that had (far too often) meant trouble for him during twelve years of his childhood. He looked at his mother and was not surprised to see her smiling at the sight of the "heroic picture". She really loved that goddamned bastard, he thought grimly.

The captain waved at two seats on the podium. "That's where you will be sitting during the ceremony, Ma'am." He turned to Jake. "Oh, by the way. Colonel Blunt asked if you would like to speak a few words about your father to the audience. It would be a wonderful gesture, Sir." "Don't worry, Captain Fox. Please tell Colonel Blunt that I'll be happy to say some appropriate words about my father's merits." He smirked. "I've got another question, Sir. The colonel wants to introduce you, and I couldn't find out whether you had also served in the army. If you did, it would be nice to mention something about that, too." Now Jake looked slightly amused. That's for you, Dad. "I did not serve in the Armed forces, Captain." And soon you and about 1000 other people will know why.


          Fifteen minutes later, an old Volkswagen sedan arrived at Fort King main entrance. When the corporal on duty looked through the driver's window, he saw two people sitting in the car: a smallish elderly woman with graying hair in the back seat and a lean, middle-aged man on the driver's seat wearing a rumpled grey suit and sunglasses. Since neither of them looked like they were allowed to enter the base, the corporal sighed. Damn tourists, he thought. Now I got to explain the way back to the highway again. He forced himself to produce a friendly smile as he addressed the man. "Hello, sir. I'm afraid you have missed the road towards Lake Sacohana. If you make a U-Turn and keep driving..." The man interrupted him gently.

"That's nice, corporal, but we wanted to visit the ceremony at the base." "Sorry, Sir, but this is a non-public ceremony. You can only enter with a personal invitation." I bet this old idiot thinks it's like the cookie-sale at his local church. Go see ‚The Longest Day' if you want to have a look at the U.S. Army, pop. "Well, I'm afraid we don't have an invitation, corporal. But we are... relatives of the man honored by this ceremony." Oh, Lord. "Listen, Mister. If you have no invitation or another document which allows you to enter this base, I have to demand that you leave instantly." The driver smiled. "Oh, sure. wait a minute." He took out his wallet and began to search it. OK, that's enough for today, the corporal thought. "Mister. If you don't want me to call the cops, you should vamoose now and take that rust bucket of yours with you." The woman on the back seat spoke for the first time. "Come on, Tony. Do what this nice man wants." She smiled also at the corporal, who relaxed slightly. Well, at least that old hag knows what's good for her.

The man had finished searching in his wallet, took out a small rectangular item and turned to the corporal again, who sighed inwardly. "This should be enough to let us enter." Now he's surely showing me some photo from Vietnam or even Korea and telling me that he brushed the shoes of this Colonel Morgendorffer for six years or so. Well, let's get this over with. He looked at the card the other man had given him and read out: "Lieutenant-Colonel Anthony Dylan DeMartino, U.S. Army Rangers, Army Historical Division." He paused for a moment, then he continued reading the card. "The bearer is allowed to enter all Armed Forces Bases and installations without presenting any further ID. He is allowed to take up to five people with him. The bearer is also allowed to see and copy all internal documents up to ‚Most Secret' level in order to fulfill his duties." Crapcrapcrapcrapcrap.

A split second later, the corporal had opened the gate and snapped to attention. He did not dare to relax his position until he could hear that the car had not only passed him, but had also crossed the next street and left his field of vision. Then he drew a very long breath, took off his helmet and wiped off his sweat. I'm pretty sure that NEVER happened to John Wayne.


          After a short performance by Fort King's own band, a small man in uniform rose from his seat at the back of the podium and stepped to the microphone. "Ladies and Gentlemen, members of the Armed Forces, I'm Colonel George S. P. Blunt, CO of the 99th National Guard Brigade. I'm honored to welcome you all for this special ceremony for a true American hero who fought for his country in three wars and rose from private to the rank of colonel before he gave the ultimate sacrifice a soldier can give to his country: his own life. We are here to honor Martin Dylan Morgendorffer, who volunteered for service at the age of eighteen and enlisted in the 36th Infantry Division. He fought with this division for three years in Italy, France and Southern Germany, earning three purple hearts, one silver and one bronze star as well as the bars of First Lieutenant and the nickname of "Mad Dog" derived from his Christian name initials. After the Second World War, he stayed in the army, right here in our newly-built Fort King."

The colonel made a short pause before continuing. "In 1950, Captain Martin Morgendorffer was transferred to the 25th Infantry Division in Korea as a company commander. Again his performance was spotless, this time resulting in two more purple hearts, another bronze star and the Distinguished Service Cross for his three-day raid into hostile territory beyond the Naktong River during the perimeter battles of 1950. Martin Morgendorffer returned from Korea with the temporary rank of Major in 1953. In the same year, he left the active service in favor of a position in the National Guard and married his fiancée Ruth Kent. In 1954, he became father of a son whom he named after one of his highest superiors in World War II: Jacob Devers Morgendorffer. I am happy to say that Colonel Morgendorffer's widow and son have both come here today to witness the ceremony in his honor."

Blunt turned and gestured at Jake and Ruth, who both rose and got a short applause before they sat down again. "In spite of his regular work, Martin Morgendorffer always kept a keen interest for the army and his country. When the 99th National Guard Brigade was founded in 1956, he played a vital role in its induction and held several important posts in it: after being its first operations officer, he took over the command of the first battalion and finally became deputy commander of the brigade in 1964. One year later, his country called him back to service and for the third time in twenty-four years, he answered the call without hesitation." He looked up for a moment, then he spoke again. "Lieutenant-Colonel Morgendorffer, as he was by then, received an extremely difficult command: a garrison in the Mekong Delta, which was infested with enemies fighting a guerilla war against the South Vietnamese. For three years, Martin Morgendorffer held this garrison with American and ARVN soldiers and proved the truth of his nickname "Mad Dog". This earned him another Silver Star, two more Purple Hearts and a full colonelcy. In 1969, his name was on the list for promotion to the rank of brigadier general in spite of being a National Guard Officer of 45 years. One week before his assignment would have ended, Colonel Morgendorffer died in a VC bomb trap which was laid out for him personally."

Now the colonel took a deep breath. "As a young private, I was a member of Colonel Morgendorffer's 'Task Force Firebird' and had the privilege to meet him as well as to experience his handling of critical situations. He became one of the reasons I decided to stay with the army and become an officer. Today, I'm standing here as CO of the unit Colonel Morgendorffer built up almost from scrap. It is a great honor for me and every day, I'm trying to follow his example of leadership and courage." He turned around to the gigantic picture behind him and saluted. "Thank you, Sir. I wish our country had more people like you." The audience clapped as the colonel looked at Jake, giving him a sign to step towards the microphone.

Jake rose slowly, scanned the audience as he adjusted the microphone and smiled as he saw Anthony and Nora sitting at the end of one of the middle rows. Let's start the show, he thought as he looked at the people in the audience who were now waiting for him to begin to speak. Now we'll have some honest words about your merits, Dad. That's for all the years of mistreatment.

"Thank you for your warm words about my father, Colonel Blunt. I think you were able to present his military achievements and merits better than I ever could." He cleared his throat. "Ladies and Gentlemen, you just heard that my father entered the army at the age of eighteen and died at the age of forty-five while being on duty in Vietnam, which means that three-fifths of his life were spent in the service of his country. I think that the army was the most important thing in my father's life. Even in the late 1950's, when he worked as contractor in the town we lived back then, he kept close connections to the Army through friends and colleagues who had stayed there and all his actions and manners were dominated by his past career in uniform. His idea of a perfect life was to spend it in the service of his country, and - when this time should have come - to die fighting for his country. I believe that, if he had known that this was his fate, he would have been glad and thankful."

Jake readjusted his hands before continuing his speech. "Indeed, when I was a boy, I never understood why my father had ever left the place he called 'the perfect work for him' whenever he talked with me about his time of service. Those of his friends who had stayed in the army after the Korean War and who visited us occasionally, never understood this either, as far as I could gather from their talks with my father. He always said that, as a guard officer, he still was a part of the army, which meant he would be present if his country needed him. But his friends saw as well as I did that a few weeks of duty each year could not make up for a past where every day had been dedicated to the army. Therefore, my mother and I were happy for him when he was sent to Vietnam in 1965, not knowing he would never fully come back except as a coffin decorated with the flag he gave his life for."

A woman in the audience stifled a sob, an elder man who wore a shabby coat with several medals wiped his face to hide a tear, and even Ruth, who knew what her son would say next, felt touched by the speech. Jake surveyed the audience with a short glance. I have them where I wanted them. Now for the honest part of this. "It was not until ten days back that I learnt the real reason why my father left the army in 1953. Back in 1950, my father was subpoenaed for a trial at Fort Campbell because a former subordinate of him had shot his captain in Korea and my father was to be questioned as a witness for the prosecution. While he was there, he had sex with an underage girl in a local motel after deliberately getting her drunk."

 Despite the almost collective gasp of the audience, he continued. "On the next morning, he left before the girl woke up, 'forgetting' to pay the bill on the way. Three days later, he went back to Korea without having left Fort Campbell a second time and without another contact to the girl, who found out two months later that she was pregnant." Now the audience was a beehive of whispering and mumbling as Jake looked on his notes. "My father had only made one mistake: he had mentioned his name to the girl and, Morgendorffer being a very unusual name, she remembered it even two months later. However, when she called Fort Campbell, they told her that no officer with that name was stationed there. One day later, someone remembered my father's visit and phoned the second woman who had called for him and had left a number - his fiancée, my mother. She called Korea and, after insisting on talking to Captain Morgendorffer, they had a rough talk which ended with him hanging up, being too cowardly to continue."

Colonel Blunt rose from his seat in the first row. "Mr. Morgendorffer. Don't you think you should finish your speech now and leave the microphone?" "I'll need just two minutes more to give the audience an idea about the true values of my father, colonel." Jake gave his father's portrait behind him a short glance, then he focused on his notes again.

"When my father returned from Korea in 1953, my mother met him and gave him a choice: either he would marry her, leave the army and find a way to make the girl forget him and his crimes forever, or she would contact the girl herself and ensure that he would have to face punishment both from military and civil justice for what he did. He chose the first way and asked for release from active service and transfer to a National Guard outfit, which my mother accepted as a compromise. Then he went down to Fort Campbell and offered the girl 10.000 $ in exchange for a written statement clearing him from any responsibility for the child, a two-year-old son. When the girl, who had been thrown out of school as well as her home for getting herself pregnant, declined this, he forced her to sign the statement and take the money before he vanished again, never to return to that place."

"My parents married in 1953, shortly before I was born. By then, my father had got work as a rain pipe mender and we settled down near Fort King. In the following years, it became clear that the choice my mother had forced her husband to make had meant to take away the only place and pastime he had ever truly loved, for which he never forgave her. Since he could not train and educate young recruits the way he had done and had intended to do until death or old age should stop him, he focused on the only target he still had for his lessons - me. My mother did not appreciate the way he treated me, but she feared that, if she told him to stop it, he would leave us. From 1954 to 1966, we lived a miserable life, my father suffering because his wife had virtually ended his career, my mother suffering because her husband hated her for that and me suffering because my father tried to mould me into a perfect man and soldier who should one day become all that he himself had never achieved. This also involved enlisting me in military school from age 10 on, although he knew I hated every second I had to spend there. Even when he went to Vietnam, I still had to stay there. When I finally got out, it was only because my mother decided to take me out of it after my father died in 1969."

Jake glanced through the audience. The higher officers looked shocked about his speech, but the lower-ranking people and almost everyone in civilian clothes seemed sad and touched about his words. And here comes the crowning detail, he thought as he cleared his throat to signal that his speech was not finished yet. "For almost fifty years, I could not understood my parents' actions against me or each other, not knowing about my father's crimes which doomed several people as well as himself to live a sad life." He raised his voice to prepare for his next words. "Please let me introduce two people on which Martin Dylan Morgendorffer inflicted an even more terrible life than on his lawful wife and me, needing just one night and a short visit three years later to do so. This is Miss Nora DeMartino from Roaring Spring, Kentucky, and her son Anthony DeMartino, who was born in 1951 - nine months after Captain Morgendorffer used his mother as a cheaper alternative to a prostitute and then chickened out of his responsibilities."

Both Nora and Anthony rose from their chairs; Nora looking very awkward, her son with a determined expression. Jake smiled at them before he concentrated his gaze on the colonel in the first row who had turned his head as well as many other people, looking totally flabbergasted as Jake addressed him directly. "Colonel Blunt, dear members of the Armed Forces, ladies and gentlemen. My half-brother, his mother and I hereby ask you to reconsider the idea to honor Colonel Martin Dylan Morgendorffer by giving his name to a military building or institution. There may be a reason to acknowledge his purely military acknowledgements during the Second World War, the Korean War or the Vietnam War, although I can not imagine that his leadership in training and combat will have been different than his behavior towards his wife, his son and Miss DeMartino as well as her son Anthony."

He cleared his throat. "Let me say just one more thing: For forty-six years, I wished that my father had stayed in the army because I thought that he might have been a better father and husband if he had continued the only career which ever satisfied and pleased him. When I learned, ten days ago, why he had been such a failure in civil life and what he had been capable to do even while being part of his beloved army, I could only imagine which atrocities he might have done if he had lived longer and risen to the rank of general, commanding thousands of men in peacetime or war. I am sorry for wrecking a celebration for which many people must have worked very hard, but I can only repeat what I said before: Martin Dylan Morgendorffer was a ruthless man who never cared for others except if they proved useful for his military or private aims. His premature death saved me and my mother from a lot of grief, but he nevertheless used his time to cast at least four people into decades of despair."

Jake nodded to the colonel and returned to his seat. The colonel rose slowly like he had to concentrate on each single motion, then he went on the podium and took the microphone. "Ehm... thank you for your speech, Mr. Morgendorffer. I think it gave us all some previously unknown information about Colonel Morgendorffer and his nature." He paused for several moments before speaking again. "In the light of these new developments, the Fort King committee for the history of the garrison and the laudation of its past members will reconsider its decision to name the newly-built compound in the honor of Colonel Martin D. Morgendorffer. The final decision will be announced in one or two weeks. Thank you for coming and in the name of the 99th National Guard Brigade and its members, a good weekend to everyone."


XIV. The Power Of Free Speech

When Jake and Ruth descended from the podium, they were awaited by Nora and Anthony who had pushed their way through the leaving audience. Much to the surprise of the others, Nora embraced Jake who just smiled at any uniformed person passing by. "Thank you so much, Jake. I waited fifty years for that." Anthony looked around at the crowd, then he also embraced Jake shortly. "That was excellent, Jake." Several civilians passing by gave them a friendly nod or a smile, which made Ruth look awkwardly around herself; once or twice, she even tried to hide behind Jake.

Suddenly, Jake got a hard slab on the back from behind. When he turned around quickly, he faced an older man with many medals and ribbons on his green uniform and a murderous expression on his face. The man looked at the DeMartinos for a moment, then he fixed Jake again. "Good evening, Morgendorffer. Do you remember me?" Jake measured the stranger for a moment, then he shook his head. The man grinned and waved a thumbless hand. "Last time I saw you, I told you we'd meet again. Still not able to climb a rope, I think?" Jake stared at him. "Ellenbogen!" The old man snarled at him. "So you remember me, don't you! What do you think you just did out there?" Jake looked to his companions, then he smiled. "Well, you just heard it yourself, Ellenbogen. What do you think it sounded like?" Ellenbogen made a step towards his former pupil. "You defiled your father's oath and his honor, you punk! If he'd still live, he would..." Jake cut his former instructor off with one motion of his hand.

"He doesn't live anymore, thanks to some VC who spared me the task of doing it myself. Why do you think did he order you not to let me participate in weapon practice? He damn well knew he was the only man on earth I'd use a gun against - apart from you." Ellenbogen fumed. Just as he drew back his arm to strike Jake, Anthony stepped behind him, blocking Ellenbogen's move and pulling back his arm. "Sorry, Mister, but I can't have you attack my brother." Ellenbogen looked back to him. "You're his half-brother, right? Leave me alone, you little bastard!" He spat out towards Nora, who had watched the encounter silently behind Jake. For one moment, Anthony's eye became bloodshot, then he shoved the other man away. Before Ellenbogen could stop his momentum, he tripped over Jake's right leg and landed on the ground with Anthony towering over him. "Your name, please?" "Corporal J. Walter Ellenbogen, former instructor at Buxton Ridge Military School." Jake said from behind as Ellenbogen stayed silent.

"Corporal, eh? Nice to see the ladder of promotion is still as slow as it used to be." Ellenbogen rose and brushed off his uniform pants, then he looked at the two men. "It's First Sergeant now, Morgendorffer. You're way behind the news." Anthony looked at him almost pitifully, then he pushed the old NCO back on the ground before he pulled him up by his jacket collar again. "Okay, First Sergeant Ellenbogen. You've insulted my brother, my mother and me and you also tried to attack my brother - as an army member on army terrain. Either you apologize for that at once or I'll go over to Colonel Blunt and demand at least two of your stripes for that." Ellenbogen laughed. "And how do you want to do that, you damned civilian?"

Anthony took out his ID card and waved it in front of his opponent's face. "Don't underestimate me, Ellenbogen. I'm a Guard officer who knows the laws about struggles with civilians. Tomorrow the local newspaper will say that Fort King had to pull back their proposal for the new blocks because the man they wanted to honor was found out to be a sadist who took advantage of drunken underage girls. If you don't play along, it will also say that a frustrated NCO of Fort King attacked the man who brought this message without any further provocation and because of an old grudge. What do you think will Colonel Blunt tell the papers - and how many minutes will he need to summon you to his office to hand in your resignation? How old are you, Ellenbogen? Too old to apply for another job after a dishonorable discharge from the army, right?"

After Anthony had finished his tirade, Ellenbogen stayed in his sitting position and looked up to the other man, his face white now. Then Jake stepped towards them and smiled at his brother. "Now I have to return the compliment, Anthony. That was excellent." He turned to his old nemesis. "Get up, Ellenbogen. It's a shame to see you sitting there like that!" Ellenbogen rose slowly. "Now listen. We won't complain about you now. You've got one week to hand in a resignation due to age and exertion to the Colonel. If you're still here next Sunday, we'll have your rank and your decorations for what you just tried to do and what you did to me back at Buxton. The choice is yours, but like my brother just said: Don't underestimate us." Anthony grinned at the old soldier as he laid his arm around Jake's shoulders. "You heard him, you blockhead. Now drop dead." Ellenbogen nodded hurriedly to the women before he walked off at a fast pace. Nora laughed and even Ruth smiled now as the four continued their way through the crowd.


Five minutes later, the four arrived at their cars. Just as Jake pulled out his key, he heard an exasperated voice calling "Mr. Morgendorffer!" from behind. He turned to see the young captain who had led him and Ruth around hurrying towards him. The officer stopped in front of them and paused for a moment, then he spoke. "Thank God I found you, Mr. Morgendorffer. Colonel Blunt sent me to ask you if he could speak with you for a moment." Anthony looked at him critically. "Does he want to talk with me, too?" "Of course, Mr... DeMartino, right?" "Yes, Captain Fox. Is this about my brother's speech?" Fox hesitated. "Well... it will be, I think." Jake looked over to Ruth and Nora, the he turned to Anthony. "What about our mothers? I don't think we could drop them off at the next PX for a coffee." "I don't want any coffee, Jakie!" Ruth called from the car. "OK, then you stay here, Mom." Jake winked to Anthony. "Let's take your car to the colonel's office. We can drop your mother off at the next coffee shop. Captain Fox, can you drive with us to show us the way?" "Sure, Mr. Morgendorffer." Ruth looked after the car until it turned at the next corner.


After a short drive on the main road and a stop at a small mall to leave Nora there in a café, the three men arrived at the headquarters building and walked up to the CO's office. Colonel Blunt already stood in front of his office door and awaited them. "Ah, Mr. Morgendorffer, Mr..." "DeMartino, Colonel. Lieutenant Colonel DeMartino, to be exact." Blunt looked surprised, then he shook their hands. From behind, Fox said something inaudible which made Jake turn to him. "What did you say, Captain?" Fox's face became red. "It answers the first question Colonel Blunt had: how Mr. ... sorry, Lieutenant Colonel DeMartino and his mother could enter the base without an official invitation for the ceremony." Blunt led the other three into his office and gestured to a group of seats, then he took a thick file from his desk and handed it to Fox. When everyone had settled in a seat, Blunt addressed Jake.

"First of all, I must express my surprise about your speech, Mr. Morgendorffer. It might've been better if you had told Captain Fox or me about the contents before the ceremony. If we'd known that..." Anthony finished the sentence. " could've rescinded your friendly invitation towards him and his mother to control the damage. Pardon me for saying this, Colonel, but I spent enough time in the army to know how you and your staff would've handled this situation: total silence to the media, no acknowledgement whatsoever to my brother or his family and - after some months - another honorable officer from one of the many American wars of this century would've replaced Martin Morgendorffer as the All-American Hero a thankful country honors with a building."

Blunt looked angry for a moment, then he calmed his expression. "Maybe, but still it wouldn't have been such a scandal like today. Whatever your father did to you and your mothers, gentlemen, he still served his country loyally for many years." Jake leaned forward. "That's exactly what I came here for also, Colonel. Our father was an active member of the army for fourteen years and spent thirteen more as National Guard officer. If his character was only half as rotten as I remember, he must've violated army regulations more than once - especially in the treating of subordinates." Captain Fox opened the file Blunt had given him and looked up. "To be exact, fifty-three times." Blunt's head darted to him. "Captain Fox! How the hell can you reveal classified information to civilians!" Anthony smiled like a cat which just found a crippled mouse. "Thank you, Captain." He turned to Blunt. "Fifty-three violations? The only similar case I heard of was discharged dishonorably after thirty violations of army laws and regulations. Either he must've had pretty influential friends at G1 or he had photos of the JCS in a gay orgy." Jake laughed, then he also fixed the colonel who had shrunken in his seat while Captain Fox still looked nervously at the file in his hands.

Finally Blunt straightened himself and drew a deep breath. "The truth is that your father was really prosecuted fifty-three times for several kinds of violations against army regulations, but in all trials except four or five, other soldiers leapt up to his defence and swore that the respective accusations were wrong." "Meaning that he had either very dedicated enemies or dedicated friends, Colonel. I accept that this can happen five times, maybe ten. But fifty-three times? Did anyone ever think that ‚when there's smoke, there's fire'?" Fox looked into the file again. "Actually, some did. When your father left the army in 1953, he benefited from a law that officers transferring to National Guard units received an amnesty from every present or future investigation against them for crimes committed while in the service. That law was rescinded later, but it did apply to your father. Moreover, thirty of the charges filed against him are about his role in Vietnam and there he stood under the aegis of a General who went to Buxton Ridge with him."

He gazed towards Blunt, who stayed silent, the he continued. "The truth is: being charged for what he did to Ms. DeMartino in 1951 would have been one of the few things which could've removed him from service at once. The early fifties were a different age, for the military as well as for civil life. Being accused of - if I remember correctly - giving an underage girl alcohol, then taking advantage of her and, on top of that, first weasel out of the consequences and then coercing the girl to keep quiet would've reduced General MacArthur himself to the rank of colonel in 1953; a young captain risen from the ranks doing that would've been busted with a dishonorable discharge after five minutes trial - and the sheriff's men would've waited for him at the gate, I guess. By consenting to leave the army, he ensured at least that he could maybe return one day with a clean record." 

Jake nodded thoughtfully. "Thank you very much, Captain. Did you study law, by any chance?" "Yes, sir. When I leave the army, I'd like to enter a law firm." Jake pulled out a card. "Call me then, please. My wife is a lawyer and, after what I saw in the last half hour, she'd be happy to help you." "Thank you, Mr. Morgendorffer." "No problem, Captain." Colonel Blunt cleared his throat audibly. "Excuse me, but weren't we talking about something else here?" Anthony smirked. "We were, Colonel. If I remember correctly, you were just starting to give me and my brother an explanation what you - and the army - will do now that you can't name your new buildings after a man who proved himself to be unworthy of wearing his country's uniform." "Well... I think... maybe..."

Jake cut him off. "Listen, Colonel. Since you seem a bit unsure about what to do now, let me help you. My brother and I give you a choice: either you advise the Pentagon to give Ms. Nora DeMartino a financial compensation for her treatment by an army officer and drop the idea to honor our late father once and for all; or you stick to the ‚Colonel-Martin-D.-Morgendorffer-Complex', in which case I guarantee you I'll have every left-wing and liberal newspaper in front of your gate by the end of next week as well as make an official complaint to your superiors for lack of investigations about the officer you wanted to honor." "And please don't be so stupid to depose of Colonel Morgendorffer's file or anything like that." Anthony added. "I still know several high officers at Pentagon - like the Chief of the PR Division, who doesn't like possible disasters like this here at all."

Blunt looked helpless at Jake leaning back in his seat, at Anthony regarding him sternly across the table and at Fox still holding the open file, then he sighed. "All right, gentlemen. I'm not comfortable with it, but it looks like I don't have a choice here. Tomorrow I'll recommend my superiors to support your proposal to cancel all present or future plans to honor Colonel Morgendorffer in any way. I'll also inform the local press that the plan to name the new installations after your father has been drawn back since new information has come up which proves him unsuitable for giving his name to a military structure. Do you agree with that?" Anthony and Jake looked at each other, then Jake rose from his seat and shook Blunt's hand. "We agree, Colonel." He turned to Anthony, who had stood up also to thank Blunt. "Let's go. I can't wait to tell my mother about this."   


XV. Ghost Busters

Six days later, two men walked across a cemetery somewhere in the Midwest, one wearing a trenchcoat over his favorite blue suit, the other one wrapped in a coat he had pulled up until it nearly reached his greyish-black hair. Both men were carrying something: the first one bore a small bag, the second one had a slightly wrinkled newspaper. The younger one in the trenchcoat led the way past several rows of tombstones before he stopped in front of a grave whose withered stone indicated that no one had cared for it for years. The second man slowly approached the grave and bent down to read the epitaph aloud.

"Martin Dylan Morgendorffer, Colonel U.S. Army. 1924 - 1969 R.I.P." He looked up to his companion. "It looks deserted. Doesn't your mother pay someone to care for it?" The first man shook his head. "Not anymore. After she visited us last year, she gave it up, knowing I'd never pay for it after her death. I haven't been here for a decade and didn't plan to come for much more time, to be honest." The second man smiled. "But now we're here to pay him a visit. Do you still want to do what you told me? You know that he'll stay just a photo for me despite it all, but you knew him and lived with him for fifteen years..." "Only twelve years. During military school, I saw him once or twice a year if he allowed me to return home." The face below the brown hair became grim. "Yes, I still want to do this. He made me practice stone-carving to be a mortician and stonecutter 'because I'd never learn how to work around the living'. He'd never have thought this skill would serve me thirty years later..." The man took some instruments from the bag. "This is exactly the right way to honor him."


Half an hour later, another man went through the same row. He was an old man making his annual visit to his brother's grave which had become routine for him. As his gaze went across the tombstones and their inscriptions, he wondered about the two men he had passed on the parking lot. Usually people were quiet and subdued when they came to the cemetery, but these two had looked happy and satisfied. From the corner of his eye, he had seen the older one pulling out two cans of beer, passing one to his friend.

They might've been bums, but they had looked very respectable and well-off... One of them had even worn an army uniform with many medals and several rows of combat ribbons which showed when his coat opened from the wind. Maybe a former war buddy... He shook his head to stop thinking about total strangers as he reached his brother's grave. Everything looked like it should be; some flowers, the stone recently cleaned and the rim trimmed. Not like the grave to the right, he thought. From his visits, he knew that it belonged to an army colonel who had died approximately about the same time as his brother.

When he kneeled down towards his brother's grave, he noticed a newspaper lying on the other grave. The paper's headline said: 'Fort King rescinds honor to war-hero - new information about the to-be-honored given as reason.' The man pulled the paper off the grave to throw it into the next trashcan and discovered two photos lying under it. Wondering what they were doing on a grave, he took both photos in his hands and looked at them. The first photo looked like a Xerox copy of an enlarged photo; it showed a ceremony with several officers in the background and two men opposite each other. He immediately recognized one of them as President Ronald Reagan, shaking hands with a lean, black-haired army officer who held a medal in his other hand. After a second look, the old man recognized the officer; it was the trenchcoated stranger he had passed on the parking lot. The lower half of the picture was partly hidden by a sentence that must have been written on the original photo, saying: ‚To Lieutenant-Colonel Anthony DeMartino, in grateful acknowledgement of his exceptional service. Ronald W. Reagan, 18.2.1985.'

 Yep, must've been a war buddy of the dead colonel, the man thought as he examined the second photo which showed a man and a woman in the mid-forties along with two teenage girls; a family picture obviously. He identified the man on the photo as the second stranger from the parking lot. The woman - his wife, probably - smiled into the camera with a look of true happiness while embracing the girls with one arm each. The red-haired girl on the photo - quite the poster girl, the man thought - gave the camera a professional smile while the other girl, with brown hair and thick-rimmed glasses, looked aside, seemingly uninterested. The old man examined the photo closer for several seconds before he discovered that the girl did not just look aside: she glanced at her father with an expression that showed her pride and care for him and for the other members of her family around her.

The old man laid the photos back on the grave and stood up. Those two men must have loved that colonel very much, he mused, to place photos on his grave which showed their achievements in work and life. He smiled as he started to turn back to place the flowers he had brought with him on his brother's grave. Wait, there was something new about that grave itself, he suddenly thought. It was still pretty messed up, but the headstone looked different. He started to read the inscription. Martin Dylan Morgendorffer, Col., US Army, DSC, 1924 - 1969 R.I.P., that was the line he had always noticed, but below it there was a new, freshly-carved inscription. He read it three times before being sure that his eyes had not betrayed him.


Roast In Purgatory - your sons Anthony and Jacob



Epilogue: Fifteen years later...


Daria Morgendorffer left Lawndale to study journalism at Raft University. Her 2006 doctoral thesis about the failures of American investigative journalism before the Iraq War of 2003 earned her a summa cum laude as well as the offer to publish it as a book. After some gentle prodding by her parents and her friend Jane Lane, she agreed. "Writing for War", published in 2007, became an international bestseller and laid the foundation for Daria's career as freelance writer for several newspapers and liberal radio programs. In the same year, she met someone from her past...


Thomas Sloane studied journalism and law at Bromwell University. After the second term, he had a nasty fight with his father since his performance at Bromwell did not match the expectations Angier had of his only son. Finally, Angier stopped Tom's allowance to force him into a change towards economics and business administration, but Tom managed to get a scholarship and finish his studies. He was accepted at the State Department, applied for the Latin America Desk and spent the next two years abroad. He returned once in 2006 to settle the family matters when his father committed suicide after 'Grace, Sloane and Page' was liquidated because the firm had bribed several high officials to influence the government's decisions in favor of the firm's business.

In 2007, Tom returned from Bolivia for another short visit and, while staying in New York, he met his former girlfriend Daria at a party. After one week spent together and the realization that neither of them had had a real relationship since they broke up, they decided to try their luck a second time, with Tom getting a post at the UN Headquarters and Daria becoming a regular writer for a liberal NY newspaper and occasional guest professor at NYSU. Eighteen months later, they married in a small ceremony, having only their sisters, Jane, Trent and Daria's parents as guests. Thomas Sloane, PhD, and Daria Morgendorffer Sloane, PhD, are currently living in Queens with their five-year-old daughter Jane.


Jane Lane started studying at Boston Fine Arts College. In 2004, she graduated and returned to Lawndale where she got a job as assistant in "Gary's Gallery". After two years, she decided that the administrative work Gary made her do wasn't satisfactorily enough for her, so she moved back to Boston and started painting and sculpting again, hoping to get help from former classmates and acquaintances. After learning the hard way that the local art scene did not appreciate her style, she lived from occasional jobs as waitress or cleaning-woman, telling her friends she could manage by selling her works.

When Daria and Tom visited Jane after their honeymoon to surprise her, they were shocked by Jane's true fate and promised to help her; first by getting her a job as museum guide in the Bromwell art collection, then by lending her money to buy a partnership in the "New York Modern Art Gallery", where she could exhibit her works as well as manage the place with some other people. After some successful deals and the chance to show her art at the Lawndale "Starry Night Ball" (sponsored by Morgendorffer Consulting), she was able to pay off her partners as well as paying back Tom and Daria. With 33, Jane Lane is manager of her own gallery, a freelance expert on American art of the 20th/21st century for the MOMA and a regular guest on New York's parties where she occasionally shocks the other guests with caricatures of VIP's drawn on her napkin.


Quinn Morgendorffer graduated from Lawndale High in 2000 and went to NY University to study for her MBA. After getting it in 2005 and some months of unsuccessful job-hunting, Jake offered her to return to Lawndale to work for him as sales consultant. Quinn's people skills and her image as former "Queen of the high school" along with Jake's old connections helped "Morgendorffer and Daughter Consulting" to several new high-paid contracts and a steady flow of new work, making it the most profitable consulting firm in the whole state. To the amazement of friends and family, Quinn has stayed single in spite of many offers throughout the years; her best male friend is David Sorenson, lawyer of "Morgendorffer, Vitale and Sorenson".


Jake and Helen Morgendorffer stayed in Lawndale after her daughters went away for college. After getting rid of his trauma about his father, Jake became both a better husband and better consultant which caused a "second spring" for their marriage (and for some time Daria and Quinn feared her parents would get another child, too). In 2002, Helen finally became partner in her firm after a freak accident involving a collapsed roof in a conference room, survived only by John Vitale. She changed the company's outline slowly and supported new talents like David Sorenson and former Army Captain Stephen Fox. Three years later, Jake hired Quinn as consultant for his firm and enjoyed a steep rise of work, money and prestige. In 2014, both Morgendorffers are planning to retire, leaving their respective business to Quinn and David.


Ruth Kent Morgendorffer lived for five more years before she died from a heart attack caused by diabetes. Her last wish included having a photo of her husband in full dress uniform to be put into her coffin. Jake respected her wish in a special way: after her death, he destroyed all remaining pictures of his father in uniform except one - the one destined to be buried with his mother.


Anthony DeMartino endured three more years as history teacher under Angela Li's rule before he finally managed to get her fired for several charges of using book funds for security measures as well as for neglecting urgent reconstruction programs. As Li's deputy, he became principal himself and immediately started a thorough reorganization of Lawndale High. Over the next two years, DeMartino changed the school significantly and also finished his doctoral thesis about war crimes of the U.S. Army in the Korean War. In 2004, he was recalled to active service in the Army Historical Division with the rank of Colonel, where he worked on violations of the Geneva and Hague Conventions by members of the U.S. forces in Vietnam.

After the Bush administration stepped down following the landslide democratic victory at the 2008 elections, he quickly ascended the promotion ladder to become Major General and Chief of Military History in 2009. In the same year, he was appointed deputy chairman of the Clark Commission, which investigated the direct involvement of the Bush administration in several scandals and war crimes. The final report of the commission and DeMartino's testimony in front of the Congress were instrumental for the decisions to ratify the Rome Statute concerning the International Crime Court at The Hague and to prohibit the use of mercenaries as substitutes for US armed forces in future conflicts; the heads of the mercenary forces used for the 'dirty work' in Iraq were extradited to the ICC in 2011 and are currently serving long-term sentences in Scheveningen or Leavenworth.

Lieutenant General Anthony D. DeMartino, PhD, finally retired in 2011 after two years as army member of the U.S. Foreign Affairs Group. His mother Nora died in 2007 from cancer after living eight years from the compensation money the Army paid her due to Martin Morgendorffer's behavior towards her.


Timothy O'Neill used his new-found backbone to assume a greater role in the school policy with the help of Anthony DeMartino and Claire Defoe. His relationship with Janet Barch came to a sudden end when DeMartino had to fire Barch along with gym teacher Ada Morris in 2003 after they made a joint attempt to drug and then castrate star quarterback Chris Griffin. After DeMartino went back to the army, O'Neill took over as principal and continued his friend's reorganization program as well as hiring new teachers. In 2008, he married his deputy Claire Defoe after living with her for three years. Their wedding was especially remarkable for its best man and maid of honor: a former colleague (now brigadier general) and a former student (now gallery owner). In 2014, Timothy O'Neill is still principal of Lawndale High and loves his profession so much that he sent his former superior a letter to Leavenworth, enclosing a photograph of the whole faculty holding a "We DON'T Miss You, Angela"-banner and the annual superintendent's report, declaring Lawndale High to be "the best-led school the district ever had".


Trent Lane realized very soon that Jane's departure and the continuous presence of his parents - not to mention of his new baby brother - practically put an end to his aimless life, but old habits died hard and he struggled for some time against the inevitable, but necessary conclusions. In 2000 he was sentenced to fifty hours of social work after repeatedly violating the speed limits. When Anthony DeMartino learnt about this, he offered Trent to work off his debt to society at O'Neill's summer camp as an assistant for music instead of cleaning up Village Green. To the great surprise of DeMartino and O'Neill as well as of himself, Trent's Music Class was a rousing success. When DeMartino became principal of Lawndale High in 2002, he asked Trent to become a substitute music teacher for the freshman classes in order to improve the quality of the music lessons, which had deteriorated under Li's rule.

After two years of substituting, Trent was able to secure a scholarship for studying music at Lawndale State to become a real teacher. He returned to Lawndale High in 2008 to continue teaching there. With 38, Trent Lane is still living in his childhood home at Lawndale. His way of teaching, relying on practical experience rather than hours of reading music, has made him popular throughout the state and also became the most frequent reason for parents to send their children to Lawndale High. In his free time, he still plays guitar at the "Zon", along with its owner Jesse Moreno, "Crewe Neck"-cop Nick Campbell and truck salesman Max Tyler.


Amanda and Vincent Lane stayed in Lawndale for the next twelve years to raise their son Danny. During that time, Vincent helped to establish the Sun-Herald as the most important newspaper of the county; he also won the Pulitzer Price twice for his photo stories about the local wildlife. Amanda started to teach arts at Lawndale High in 2009 as a substitute when Claire O'Neill gave birth to her twins Anthony and Daria-Jane; when Claire returned, Amanda started to give courses at Lawndale State instead. Vincent left the Sun-Herald in 2011 for a two-year tour through the Brazilian jungle and came back just in time for the birth of his first great-grandchild, Adrian's son Lewis. Amanda and Vincent still live at Howard Drive in their old house with their sons Danny and Trent; the latter lives in a separate small flat installed over the garage and has made it a ritual to have dinner each night with his parents after his return from work at Lawndale High, where Danny will start in the fall as a freshman.


Elsie Sloane graduated from Fielding in 2001 and went to Newtown College to study Business Administration - forced by her father, who had concentrated his efforts on his daughter after he had failed in Tom's case. After two years, she dropped out of college and tried to start a career as a freelance writer for magazines and newspapers. Elsie was on the brink of success when her father's firm crashed in 2006 and she returned to Lawndale to help Kay, who suffered hard from the loss of wealth, influence and of Angier, who had escaped both shame and prosecution by jumping off the roof at Halcyon Hills.

For the next two years, she lived from the tiny rest of the Sloane fortune that Kay had managed to hide from the official confiscation, later from occasional jobs as secretary and as clerk at J.J. Jeeters. In early 2008, Daria and Tom pulled a few strings among relatives and friends to get Elsie into the Sun-Herald, where she soon managed to become a regular writer on local politics and social matters: her series of articles about the traditional families of Lawndale and their darker sides has earned her the dubious fame to be the first person who has become officially persona non grata on the whole area of Crewe Neck.


Brittany Taylor went to Great Prairie State University and finished with a BA in psychology to the amazement of all her friends, acquaintances and family members. She returned to Lawndale to find work after her father and stepmom were killed in a car crash. After making ends meet by working as a hostess for several car salesmen (for example 'Happy Herb' Henman and 'Wally' Slimer), she took up Margaret Manson's post of school psychologist at Lawndale High in 2011. Although her performance in helping the students is still unsatisfactorily, Principal O'Neill keeps her due to the wish of his wife Claire. Britanny is still unmarried and living alone, although she likes to flirt with the music teacher occasionally.


Kevin Thompson repeated his senior year at Lawndale High, flunked it again and left the school. His relationship to Brittany Taylor ended the day she left Lawndale for Great Prairie State. He worked at his father's construction firm and at several other places (getting fired after some days each time) before he decided to join the Army. Private Kevin Thompson, USA, died in a bomb explosion at Camp Hell, Afghanistan in 2004, receiving a Silver Star posthumously. However, this award was withdrawn after an investigation of the causes of the explosion which proved that Private Thompson had received a mysterious package from a bearded man who asked him "to give it to his commander as a present". Private Thompson walked through all security tests with the package and was blown up along with sixty-two other soldiers in front of the division's command post. The investigation calculated that he might have reached the division commander with the bomb if he hadn't spent two minutes at the gate, flirting with a female soldier.


Michael J. Mackenzie went to Vance University and finished with an MBA. He married Jodie Landon in 2004 and started a firm merchandising school cafeteria food. Due to his own experiences at school and some contacts acquired at Vance, his business soared immediately. In 2014, Mackenzie Food Inc., is the biggest supplier of cafeteria food in the USA. Its founder is a multi-millionaire and has received several awards from health care and parent-teacher organizations for his liberal policy in supporting minorities. He and Jodie (a leading member of the Democratic Party) are also the first winners of the "American Social Achievement Prize" proclaimed by President Michael Moore.


Sandi Griffin spent her senior year at Lawndale High. Two days before the final exams, she realized that her overall scores were disastrously low and that she needed an A in literature to avoid flunking. Since her ability for concentrated learning was virtually nonexistent, Sandi used the assets she had - she tried to seduce Mr. O'Neill to get the A. Unfortunately (for her), Ms. Barch overheard Sandi's "come and get me"-talk as well as O'Neill's negative answer before she entered to face Sandi. After two weeks, Sandi was released from hospital only to learn that Ms. Li had announced by P.A. what Sandi had done. In the same night, Sandi fled from Lawndale with some clothes and all the money she could find in her brothers' rooms.

Her friends and family didn't get any news about her until her father set out to find her in 2006. After five months of following cold traces and vague hints, he found her - in a hospital for mentally-disabled people. He was told that his daughter, who worked as a prostitute in Houston at the time of her accident, had tried to sedate a customer to steal his money, was caught in the act, fell down the stairs when trying to escape and suffered a concussion which broke some links in her brain. After her father took her back to Lawndale, she got a place in the 'Cedars of Lawndale' permanent care ward where her brothers visit her each Friday. Sometimes, they also bring her clothes; the former Fashion Club president especially likes pink shirts with smiling animals.


Stacy Rowe graduated from Lawndale High in 2000. For the next five years, she studied politics at NY University. After finishing her MA, she returned to Lawndale to work in the mayor's office as assistant commissioner for education. In 2011, she became head of the democratic party of Lawndale County and married her long-time boyfriend Joseph "Joey" Black, who will run for the governorship in 2015.


Tiffany Blum-Deckler failed her senior year at Lawndale High and left the school after the first three weeks of her second senior year to work as a waitress at the local "Good Time" Chinese restaurant. When she got fired after constantly forgetting what the guests had ordered, she applied at Cashman's for a job to fill racks. Her habit to give advice about clothes to the "fashionably challenged" earned her a quick promotion to assistant manager after only two weeks; after her second year, she became chief manager for Cashman's Lawndale shop; after three more years, she became county chief manager. In 2010, she topped her career by changing to the Cashman's central as assistant director for styling and design. Tiffany Blum-Deckler is known throughout the clothes industry both as an expert on fashion and style and as incredibly uninterested in every other possible topic (which makes her a rare guest on cocktail parties and similar occasions).


Jeffrey "Jeffy" Brown and James "Jamie" White both graduated from Lawndale High in 2000 and went to Big Tree College. After one year, both were fired because of their permanent stalking of a fellow student with reddish hair ("she looked remarkably like a school crush of ours", they said at the trial) and joined the army. Corporal White was severely wounded in an infantry assault on Kirkuk in 2003 and died one week later in an army hospital at Baghdad. Corporal Brown, having witnessed his best friend's injury as well as at his death, appealed for release from active service because of psychological reasons and spent almost three years in a clinic at New York before the army classified him as being "qualified for active service" and promoted him.

Sergeant Brown died in the first days of the short war against Iran in late 2008; his surviving squad members testified that he might have deliberately mishandled the hand grenade that killed him. Their former history teacher dedicated his farewell speech at West Point to both friends, citing them as examples for those young men who were attracted to the military with false promises and hopes by ambitious recruiters trying to fill their assigned quota.


Andrea Hecuba and Charles Ruttheimer were together for two years while he studied in Yale for his MBA and she took Medieval History and Creative Writing at Connecticut State College. In 2003 Charles was forced to take over the family's newspaper chain after his father died from a heart attack in a hotel room he shared with his 'secretary', a girl of Charles's age. Due to his sudden life change and the need to move to Washington, he and Andrea separated, but stayed on good terms. Influenced both by Andrea and by a long talk he had with Daria when they met each other in Lawndale after his father's funeral, Charles changed the outlines of Ruttheimer News Inc. significantly, promoting women into higher positions, firing several right-wing chief editors and changing the corporation's name. Andrea finished her studies and lived in England as an exchange historian for five years until Charles offered her the chief editorship of an academic journal his father had bought in the nineties for tax reasons; Andrea agreed. To the amazement of their former LHS fellow students, both did not keep their school time attitude towards the other sex; Charles married a nice girl in 2009 and settled down in a suburb of Washington D.C. while Andrea lives in Baltimore with a steady boyfriend. 


Angela Li ruled Lawndale High for three more years until the PTA had finally enough material to bring her to court. Facing the choice of resigning on her own or going to prison, she chose the first option and took up her National Guard commission as POW interrogator at Guantanamo Bay. In 2010, she was discharged dishonorably from the army to be tried at the International Crime Court at The Hague along with her superiors after the Congress finally ratified the Rome Statute. In 2014, Angela Li has already spent four of her twenty-five years in prison and has been moved from Scheveningen to Fort Leavenworth.


First Sergeant J. Walter Ellenbogen, USA, left the active service two days after the ceremony at Fort King to avoid Jake's revenge he knew was only too well-earned. In 2001, the government sent him an offer to return to the active service due to the growing manpower shortage; Ellenbogen accepted the offer. Three days after becoming part of the army again, severe violations of his duty in his time as military school instructor in the 1960's became public; DeMartino had learnt about his return from a contact at the Pentagon and gave the army a meticulously collected file about the black spots of Ellenbogen's career. Ellenbogen got a dishonorable discharge including the loss of his veteran benefits and is currently living in a run-down RV in Kentucky.