A fan fiction by Brother Grimace



CONTINUITY NOTICE: The time-frame of 'It's All About Respect' is at the end of Season Four, about the time of 'Psycho Therapy'. However, in this reality, the events of Episode #313, 'Jane's Addition', HAVE NEVER OCCURRED. For the purposes of this piece, as of the beginning:


Several other events from the mainstream 'Daria' continuity have still occurred, such as Quinn's encounter with David (the tutor from 'Is It Fall Yet?') and Daria's conversation with Trent about his ability to detect 'emotional shifts', but in a different context.



Chapter: << 01 02 03 04 05 06 07 >>

Chapter One


            "All right, Jacob - what do you think of this?"

            Sitting at a prep counter in the kitchen of Chez Pierre - Lawndale's four-star restaurant (and frequent stomping grounds of one Quinn Morgendorffer, fledgling man-magnet and trophy-wife-in-training), Jake Morgendorffer looked up from the laptop computer he was working at to see a sliver of raw fish on a saucer... held aloft by the sexiest female hand in recorded history.

He took the sliver of fish and sniffed it gently. "You used one of the older blades to slice this... I can just barely smell the tang of the metal on the tuna."

Jake slid the sliver into his mouth, allowing the gourmet-quality tuna to practically dissolve upon his tongue. "You can taste the metal. You wouldn't dare serve this tuna to any true aficionado."

Lauriel de la Ribas, the head chef and star attraction of Chez Pierre, walked around the counter from her cutting board, placing a second sliver of tuna on the saucer. "VERY good. Now, try this..."

Jake sniffed, then took in the scent of the tuna with a deep breath. "You sliced this with the bone knife - and used red wine to mute the tuna's natural scent..." He tasted the tuna, and a look of pure pleasure moved across his face like sunlight. "Italian wine... no... something from the Simi Valley?"

"I like to experiment, " Lauriel said, the light playing off her large, dark, anime-class eyes as she placed the saucer down. "How would you cook this, Jacob?"

"I'd slice the tuna into steaks and smoke them over an open fire with flavored chips and fresh herbs," Jake said, turning back to his laptop. "I think that apple chips would add a complexity that your guests would enjoy - maybe a touch of coriander..."

"You like to take chances and experiment in the kitchen just as much as I do," Lauriel laughed, and not for the first time, Jake looked up at her with an appreciative gaze Lauriel knew was only partly directed at her physicality. She was used to the stares of men, but not as used to the gazes of men who respected her skills as a chef (as amateur chef Jake certainly did). In his case, however, she felt that she could get used to it...

As for Jake - Lauriel was, quite simply, the most beautiful woman he had ever met. She was in her mid-thirties, of Spanish descent, and towered over Jake at a solid six-foot-three, with a slender, softly curved form that could elicit envy from Seven of Nine. Her other physical features - a complexion of flawless bronze, light-streaked ebony hair (naturally shaggy and nearly waist-long) tied back into a bouncy ponytail, a gentle smile capable of removing intelligent thought from almost any man - made Lauriel and her fledgling cable cooking program a ratings success... and removed almost any chance of her having any true female friends, not to mention making her a target for every prowling wannabe playboy in sight.

            When Lauriel came to Jake to hire him as a consultant - she needed help preparing her show for a national scale, as she was being scouted by the Food Network - the subject of them being able to work together without 'losing sight of the ball' came up in conversation. Jake put her fears to rest right away:

"If I sat here and told you that I didn't think you were a very pretty girl, you'd call me a liar and walk right out of here. The point is - I'm not here to hit on women, I'm here to make money by helping you make money. If anything else happens - it'll cost us money. I can do the math. I'd rather make money than make advances that'll cost me an account and wouldn't be welcomed anyway."

            "Besides," he said, "I'm married. I take that seriously - but more importantly, so does my wife. If I cheated on her - I'm afraid of what I'd wake up and find next to me in bed!"  

            It had taken five months of hard work - not to mention nearly firing Jake twice before she realized his business style was unusual (but for the people she'd been dealing with in television, right on the money), but it had been worth it for Lauriel. Besides the success of her program 'North of the Border', she had also gained a good friend in Jake... 

            "Yes, but you get paid to experiment - I get 'the look' whenever I suggest preparing anything other than 'Microwave Masters'-brand family-size lasagna, " Jake said, shaking his head. "Oh, look, girls - Jake's about to remove the flavor from the food.' It gets annoying sometimes, trying to show Helen and the kids that there's more to the culinary arts than just labeling things as 'fuel for the body' and 'fuel for the body that tastes good."

            "You get off easy - I get 'Hey, senorita, how's about moving those jalapenos over here?" or "Just what else on the menu's good and hot?"

            "You wanna tag off? You can have my kids, and the jerks can watch my rear as I walk away! Oh, but you'd have to sleep with my wife - and now I won't be able to get THAT image out of my head with a block and tackle..."

            "As though you'd want to, " Lauriel smirked, popping open a bottle of water. " Keep it up, Idea Boy. The idiots will never know what type of meat I serve them, and I'll save a bundle on consulting fees."

            Draining half the bottle, Lauriel recapped it and turned to Jake. "Let me ask you something, Jacob. I've been a pain in the butt for you on occasion over the past few months. Why didn't you cut my account loose? Despite the little speech you gave me in our first meeting, you're not Mr. 'Greed Is Good, Greed Works."

            "Simple - I still plan to have my way with you," Jake said, his deadpan answer an exact replica of Daria's trademark delivery. "The truth is, I understand where your frustrations were coming from, and I didn't take it personally."

            "Why not?"      

            "I could tell that you're not really not like that. You're nervous and a little scared about being a beautiful, successful woman in a field traditionally dominated by men, Lauriel. Sometimes, you don't take well to anything unusual or different, because you had to take 'by the book' as a way of life - otherwise, you'll get accused of sleeping your way up the ladder."

Jake reached for a small bowl filled with fresh orange slices, and ate several

before he continued on. "I can understand that - I've dealt with it before. Good Lord -have I dealt with it before. You see, the trick was to get you past the 'pain in the ass' stage to a position where you can trust me to be there for you. I figured that once I did that, we could work together to get some work done. Basically, it's like being a mother, a boss and a best friend all at the same time."

            "Oh, like a dominatrix," the beautiful Latina replied, laughter in her voice.

            "You have a truly warped sense of humor, lady," Jake shot back, but not unkindly.

            "One day, I might just show you," she teased. "Do you have any idea what I can do with slaked ice, spiked rubber boots and a melon baller?"

            Jake raised one eye in an exaggerated manner. "Are you trying to seduce me, Lady de la Ribas?"

            "If you have to wonder about it, Jacob, then the answer is no." Lauriel said, fluttering her eyelashes in the same exaggerated fashion just as a bone-thin man bounced into the kitchen, his overmoussed hair rock-steady as he moved with a dramatic flair common to those people who believe they're born to be on the stage or the screen.

"Sorry to interrupt your sexually-charged moment of honest and quiet reflections on the state of your relationship," Victor Phillipe huffed, the television-version French accent he spoke in making Jake wince. "However, we are starting to receive guests for this evening's closed dinner party. The Sloanes do wish to see you beforehand - I believe that they want you to -"

            "Take their young prize stallion off to the stable and let him prance upon my wild oats," Lauriel said. "I've said it before, you phony little frog - I don't mingle or hop on a pedestal for the guests unless I want to. Through my creations, I provide these individuals with a singularly unique experience in world-class culinary gratification; one that assures that they more than get their money's worth. And you know what? Because I AM that good at what I do, I don't screw my guests AND I don't have to - in any fashion whatsoever. Bring me another message or invitation like that, and I'll snap your damned head off."

            Victor gave the two of them a truly disapproving look. "While we French understand the lure of l'amour, we also understand why discretion should be a married man's intention."

            The maitre'd huffed once again as he turned and left. "A nation full of fools like him, and they still thought banning absinthe was a good idea," Lauriel growled. "Jerk. He's been giving the owners an earful of 'the chef's got her latest boy-toy with her today'. Like he hasn't tried time and again."

            "You said, 'tried.' What happened?"

            "I prepared a soup from snapping turtle a month after I arrived," Lauriel laughed. "I introduced him to, shall we say, the Monica Lewinsky of the animal kingdom the night before. He hasn't approached me that way since."

            Jake fell off his stool with laughter. "Oh, God!" he cough-laughed, letting Lauriel help him back up. "And here I was, about to introduce you to a gentlemen who may be someone you could spend time with."

            "You're setting me up on a blind date?"

            "Would you want it?"

            "If he screws up, I'll come looking for you. Who is he?"

            "His name's Anthony DeMartino. He's a history teacher at Lawndale High - really, he could be the principal there, but he's loyal to the battle-ax in charge," Jake told her. "I'll set it up."

            "You're becoming more and more invaluable to me, Mr. Morgendorffer."

            "Just remember that when you're grousing about my fees or my bonus."

            Oh, yes - about that..." Lauriel spun around slowly, almost teasingly. "You know, we've got a surplus of lobsters from the shipment that came in yesterday - that School Board awards banquet planned for the weekend got cancelled because they ran out of money..."

            "That happens a lot in this district - I've never understood why," Jake agreed. "Got any plans for them?"

            "Well, I happen to know that we've got at least ten or twelve more than we need," she informed him. "Weren't you talking about wanting to try your hand at that asparagus and lobster dish from 'Iron Chef'?"

            A tiny, knowing smile went across his face. "You know, I think I was." 

            The same smile crossed Lauriel's face. "And aren't you a student of French cuisine?

            "Correspondence courses, if you listen to the ball & chain."

"Well, I could have sworn I heard you say that your wife's a huge lobster fan..."

            "You know - I could surprise them with a new dish or two..."

            "No, that's how you knock them off their feet," Lauriel smiled, pulling out a letter from her smock. "Surprise them by telling them that your client the cook wants to film the first episode of her show - the first one to go on the Food Network nationwide - at your house."

            Absolute shock in his eyes, Jake took the offered letter from Lauriel, scanned through it as he slowly rose from his seat, and fastened his gaze upon her. "You did it," he said softly, pride and triumph in his voice. "Welcome to the next level, Lady de la Ribas. You made it."

            They looked at each other for a long moment, and Lauriel grasped him in a bear hug, both of them squealing in victory! "We DID IT!" she cried out, spinning Jake around like a plush toy. "WE DID IT!!!"

            "PUT - ME - DOWN!"

            "Oh - sorry, Jacob."

            "I know I should live for moments when you get really happy, but I really do need to breathe on occasion!"

            "Oh, you big baby."



"...Forty-seven...forty-eight...forty-nine...Fifty!" Daria Morgendorffer exclaimed, holding Jane Lane's ankles as she counted off the number of sit-ups Jane did. "Fifty sit-ups in just under ninety seconds. Now, will you tell me what's got you all fired up about being 'Miss Teen Jock Queen?"

"One word, my psychopathic cohort - money!"

"First off, I'm not a psychopath, I'm a sociopath. I know EXACTLY what I'm doing," Daria yawned, wiping her knees off as she rose from the floor of Jane's room, and unsticking a wayward paint brush from the sole of her right boot. "Second, you're not getting into some stupid race Ms. Li's setting up, are you?"

"Not exactly," came Jane's response. "I've been thinking that I'd like to expand my horizons, and explore new areas of my -"

"I told you once, and I'll tell you again - I'm not doing anything with you that involves naked 'Twister', waking up sticky or getting my hair messed up."

"Oh, you say that now, dear amiga," Jane smirked. "Just wait until you want that slot on 'Jerry Springer'. You'll be begging me to have Upchuck come over so we can all play 'Vulcan Love Slave II - The Potion of The Pon Farr."

"You talk entirely too much for someone who leaves her kitchen unguarded and doesn't employ a food taster."

Jane stood up and began doing stretches. "I'll get a real food taster when Trent and I start eating real food. Back in the real world, however - I want to start experimenting a bit in sculpture. I'll need my own supplies, but it wouldn't be right to use the house money to buy something that's just for me."

"You could call your parents, or bum it from me."

"They're on the same track right now - learning how to make large-scale ice sculptures in Anarctica. They'll be out of touch for a while, and we may need your Montana Cabin Fund someday," Jane told her. "Anyway, I picked up a flyer the other day at school for the annual Lawndale 15k Run. Easy money for a fleet-footed artist..."


"Every chance I get," Jane laughed. "Hey, you will show up at the run, won't you?"

"Only if they've got lions for the Christians and snipers for everyone else," Daria yawned, lying back on the bed.

"You know, Daria - if you lie there on my bed and fall asleep, I might have to call Prince Trent in to awaken you with a kiss," Jane said, stripping out of her running shorts and reaching for a towel off of a wall rack. "However, he and the guys won't be back for hours, so you'll just have to dream about that magical kiss... over and over... All over and over..."

Jane laughed as Daria lifted her head up to glare at her. "All right! I'm going to take a shower - and you'll just have to dream... Trent... warm water... sax music... 'Cinemax After Dark'..."

"Janet Leigh, Jane Lane," Daria growled. "Same initials. Large empty houses. Showers. Tall, skinny guys nearby. They were both asking for it. Do you see a pattern here?"

            "Somebody needs a boyfriend really bad."

            "Speak for yourself."

            "I am."

            Jane laughed as she headed out the door, and Daria punched the pillow a number of times before she folded it and stuffed it under her head.

            "Damn stupid best friend," she murmured. "Damn stupid crush. Damn stupid me."

            Daria sighed, taking off her glasses and slipping them onto a nightstand. "Damn," she sighed. "Why couldn't I have a normal life - or at least one with long stretches of boredom and make-work assignments from teachers, and the occasional guy who thinks I'm a little more than okay..."

            Her eyes slowly began to close; Why can't I? I'm not that horrible, am I? Would it really hurt so much if I just gave a little...Is it the world that's screwed up, or is it just me? And what if it is me, what then -?

            She shot to her feet, now wide-awake and with eyes the size of saucers. "Where the hell did THAT thought come from?"

            "You know, one of the essentials to taking an effective shower is soap," Jane drawled, slipping back through the door. "I've learned to keep my own bars - I hate wondering where particular hairs came from, and - Daria. What's wrong?"

            "On, nothing," the tiny brunette said, her still-wide eyes and flushed complexion all but screaming 'Problem!' to her friend. "Something crawled up on me - I think it was a spider or something."

            "Nah - it was a roach," Jane said, opting to pass on a quick interrogation of Daria. "And if you see it again - for God's sake, don't kill it! His name is Javier, and he lives here, too."

            Daria didn't rise to the bait. "Hey, did you sign up for that Sociology seminar? I need a science class, and you said you'd go in with me!"

            "Yes, but I -"

            "Oh, no. You're not getting out of it - you promised you'd help pull me through with a decent grade!" Jane persisted. "Besides, it CAN'T be that hard - it's the only class Trent ever got an 'A' in while he was at Lawndale outside of music... and Home Economics... don't ask."

            "Jane, come on - didn't we already get credits for the advanced 'Driver's Ed' course?

            "Of course - and tell me you don't like being able to actually ride a motorcycle!" Jane pointed out. "You didn't want to do that, either, and now - you could be Jessica Alba's stunt double in 'Dark Angel!' Just think... you out on a lonely road, wearing your leather bodysuit, thundering along on a kick-ass Ninja -"

            "Suzuki 6SX1300R Hayabusa," Daria replied absentmindedly, raising Jane's eyebrows into the ionosphere. Somebody's actually been giving her 'Dark Angel' fantasy a bit of thought... I wonder just how many times she's seen Trent's eyes on 'Streaming Freedom Video'..."I really don't need another science class -"

            "Then do it because of the teacher!" Jane prodded. "I heard that Dr. Armalin's a real blast to be around - and sometimes, he arranges COLLEGE credits if you do well in his class. I could really use that when I go off to school - that way, I won't get stuck blowing a grand or two sitting in 'Supergeek Training 101' with the zero-and-one crowd when I could be painting nudes of football players!"

            The look of pleading finally cracked Daria's indecision. "Okay, I won't pull out."

            "And the villagers rejoice!" Jane laughed, tossing a stack of writing paper into the air. "Hey, don't slip off just yet - after I change, we'll do a quick pizza run."

            "Can't - Dad's got some big news he wants to spill at dinner."

            "Want some help with the lasagna?"

            "Dad's probably cooking tonight - no telling what he's going to subject us to," Daria warned. "It's your stomach..."

            "I've been doing the TV dinner thing all week," Jane told her. "I'll take the risk.


            Doctor Kyle Armalin sipped from a can of root beer and read through a sheaf of papers as he paced along the front porch of his home, taking in the unseasonably cool temperature of Texas in the spring.

Lawndale, he sighed, looking around the neighborhood. God, this place blows like a '40's big band!

He lived - if you could call his recurrent stays in the stereotypical suburban litmus test for sanity called Lawndale, Texas living - in one of the better areas, not more than a mile from the Taylors, and taught seminars at the local high schools and a number of the junior colleges. When he wasn't teaching the five-week 'Special Projects in Sociology' seminar, he was moving about the country as a special psychological consultant (usually to the societal elite, celebrities, actors and movie stars). This gave him a certain cachet with the public, a certain level of celebrity, and the attendant access to the small things and the silly things. Kyle couldn't remember the last time he had to really wait to be seated in a good restaurant, and free show tickets to the latest road show productions off Broadway were not unknown.

            Actually, playing celebrity headshrinker for a few years had been a big help with location, too, he thought, if not with the assignment in and of itself. He wasn't 'JUST another teacher'. Most of the other instructors at Lawndale High School had to make do with apartments or small homes; he luxuriated in a split-level domicile that could have doubled for an executive's weekend getaway home.

Having my own money helps. Oh, not that Uncle Sammy doesn't kick in more than his share by giving me two checks - one REALLY big one as a civilian contractor, and the other for still wearing the dress blues. Even if I'm officially just a reserve officer... even that doesn't matter, because that's one of the great things about America. If you live in a certain area, dress in a specific manner appropriate with that area, and spend money accordingly - then no one really questions where it comes from or who you really are. Thank God for the almighty dollar.

Besides, knowing that a psychologist was a neighbor tended to keep the unusually curious Lawndalians at arm's length. After all, he might write another book someday, because the one he did before did so well, and because it was his doctoral thesis, he might want to use something fresher this time... Nevertheless, he still had more than his share of invites to parties, barbecues and dinners. He'd go from time to time, and someone would inevitably ask about his profession - and beat around the bush about some slip of the tongue, some imagined mental problem, or if a dream about playing in a water fountain with an acquaintance of the same sex meant that they were repressing homosexual tendencies. Kyle had learned long ago how to handle those with a gentle hand. However, he had no problem with setting a particularly obnoxious or annoying person back on their haunches:

'So, tell me, Doctor," sneered the woman, a particularly attractive Nordic blonde model whose imperious attitude somehow STILL failed to detract from her physical perfection. "It's quite obvious that, when you look around the room, that Jatan and I are the most beautiful and desirable women in sight."

Kyle looked away from the woman to cast an examining eye upon the willowy beauty a few steps away, with flawless, glistening skin of a dark, rich chocolate hue and slightly catlike eyes of sparkling jade. He gave her a half-smile, and turned back to the lovely Icelandic woman with slight scorn in his tone.

"And, as Mr. Flynn would have said, 'What a pity that your manners don't match your looks."

"Mock all you want, but you know that you want me. Every man here wants to sleep with both of us - and most of the women, too. There isn't a single man here who wouldn't kill to have one or both of use on his arm. Some might say that I have problems with my ego - what do you say?"

"Miss - if you want my services, I'll give you my card. As far as your presence in my bed - there's nothing you could do for me that I couldn't achieve on my own with my right hand and a copy of 'TV Guide'. Good day."

Of course, he still slept with her about a week later - and her friend a couple of days afterward. What was her name again...? Oh, who cares. I got what I wanted from the snobbish wench anyway.

            Kyle caught his reflection in the window. He was African-American, about average in appearance - six-foot-one, just over two hundred pounds, fit but not a fitness freak, with his hair cut neat and short. He had almond-brown eyes, a couple of shades darker than his skin color, which held a noticeable sharpness in them that fluctuated from the fluid concentration of a scholar, to the watchful glare of a predator, waiting for prey to appear...           

Two young women, both uncomfortably beautiful, drove past in a BMW roadster with the top down as he turned towards the street, and they waved at him as they passed.

Excellent pickings in the hunting grounds this season, he thought to himself. It's almost a shame I don't have time to really get out and wander amongst the local villagers. Although - that one with the short black hair... I'll be sure to try to meet up with HER again, if the chance arises.

And that thought sputtered for a moment as he remembered his disastrous meetings with the local African-American unity coalition, a number of years back. Being such a small portion of the Lawndale landscape, the African-American population was determined to make certain that they were noticed - and with Kyle's arrival, they felt (even though he wasn't going to be a full-time resident) that he would become a strong, and vocal, member of their group -

Maybe he could have handled himself better - but regardless, the meeting had gone terribly, and most of the affluent African-Americans in town would have little to do with him from that point on. Maybe he should have tried to put in some time with one of the local groups, or done some weekend work with the Lawndale Urban League's T.S.T.M. (Tomorrow's Scientists, Technicians and Managers) Program, or just made one hell of a donation to the unity coalition.

Maybe he shouldn't have gotten pissed off when someone called him 'Oreo!' because he had gone out a couple of times with Leah O'Dell, a Ph.D. in literature from Belfast who was teaching Irish and Welsh folklore at Middleton. It wasn't anything serious - hell, they hadn't even driven in the same cars - but some tongues just have to wag, and he wasn't in any mood that night to give the comment the attention it deserved (which, he admitted later, was none).

Maybe he shouldn't have stood up angrily and said, "This is just a chocolate-covered 'Peyton Place', and you're all Lawndale County hypocrites! Lift every voice and sing about THAT!"

He shouldn't have gotten angry about that, but that little bastard had hit a sore spot for him. He didn't date much growing up - okay, try 'at all'. Boy, did his brothers all give him hell for that, and Kyle still seethed when he remembered his father's asinine remarks about he must be a faggot - if he's not, then he'd get out of those books and into some girl's pants every once in a while!

            The other kids weren't any better.

"Hey, Kyle. You don't like watermelon, you can't play basketball, you don't watch 'Soul Train' or read 'Jet' or 'Ebony' - what kind of black person are you?"

If there was one thing Kyle Armalin truly hated, it was being told - and especially by other people of his race - what constituted 'the Black experience'. He despised growing up in the malaise-filled, courtesy-deprived, lower-middle class area of a small city in Ohio that lived for sports, the weekend and any good dollop of filthy, hurtful gossip. He hated the mindset of the school district, which downplayed 'learning' as opposed to 'education', which the local 'conformity camps' (his term for the schools) provided in abundance.

He hated being alone all the time. He hated how he'd have to buy sack lunches. He did, though, opting to eat a ham salad sandwich, a small handful of carrot sticks, an apple and sip a carton of milk in places like a bathroom stall or out on the bleachers of the baseball field. That way, he wouldn't have to search for an empty table to eat at by himself, because no one would offer him a seat. That way, he wouldn't feel the all-too-familiar sensation of burning shame and frustration, because he hated the snickers and outright laughter that would follow him as he would wander about the huge cafeteria, sometimes having to stand against a wall and eat there... He hated not being able to find out-of-the-way places to just be alone and not feel lonely for a few moments, and hated the way he was constantly browbeaten into doing things he didn't care for or want to do, just to make everyone around him happy... or to at least shut their mouths about 'the weird things he was into...'

Like reading.

But Kyle absolutely, truly and without hesitation loathed the people who always said 'It you don't do (insert your choice here) - then you're not a real Black person!'

Kyle grew to abhor everything around him, shutting himself off from anything resembling social interaction, and he was learning how to lash out at the people around him. The final straw began to bend when he turned eleven, and he began to study martial arts. The more difficult (and deadlier) forms held his attention longer and more effectively, and he was a horrifically fast learner - he gained his black belt rating in Isshinryu Karate in just under a year, and a brown belt in tae kwon do about five months later. He had also begun to fiddle with the truly devastating facets of the form known as ninjitsu...

Things really got out of hand during the middle of his sophomore year, just before Thanksgiving. He was riding his bicycle into a local hangout, and accidentally scratched the paint on a car belonging to a cheerleader girlfriend of a varsity football player. Words were exchanged - the kids didn't really care for the sullen bookworm who didn't seem to want to socialize, and Kyle certainly didn't care for any of them... Like water running downhill, blows were certain to be exchanged.

Except that Kyle decided on that day that, like the passage said, it was better to give than to receive.

He was tired, and he wasn't happy, and he was lonely. He was so alienated from (and shunned by) his peers that he hadn't had an actual conversation with someone his own age in over three weeks; the instructors in his school avoided him because he was incredibly intelligent but made no effort to show his skills in class. He simply turned in his assignments (some so well done that some teachers would keep them as examples of how the work should be done), and just sit back in their classes, saying nothing...

Nobody ever thought of reaching out to him. After all, there were other smart students, who weren't so WEIRD, and were prettier, or more vivacious, or just more fun to be around. After all, who would you rather have in your class - HIM, or that unbelievably beautiful blonde, the one who's barely five feet tall, but already wears a 36C cup, has a face that fuels fantasies for a week AND already has a serious taste for college-level calculus and trig? Oh - don't forget that she turns seventeen two days before Christmas...

That was the day that he simply lashed out. It was coming, without a doubt.

The final tally was fourteen football players, four cheerleaders (Kyle wasn't a sexist) as well as five adults and eight teens who wanted in on the fun and learned the hard way to mind their own damn business. The least severe of the injuries to the opposition included a sprained back, two sharply bruised noses, and a few broken fingers. Kyle himself only suffered a black eye, and being sucker-punched was when he flipped the 'on' switch that left blood smears, vomit, teeth and the remains of voided bladders in a hellish circle surrounding the spot where he had placed his bicycle. In less than four minutes, Kyle had effectively decapitated the Fort Christian high school football team, solidified a high ranking on EVERYONE's 'don't fuck with' list in the area, and provided the owners of the eatery with a story that they told to customers until they retired....

All he had wanted was a large order of steak fries.

It was about that time that the Professor came into his life. The courts and his family were only too eager to turn Kyle over to the erudite gentleman in the wheelchair, and after three years with him, Kyle had learned many lessons about himself and others. Enough to let the anger go; enough to choose a course of helping out others - to give something back, but in his way. That course led him to the U.S. Naval Academy and to the U. S. Marine Corps... and to other, more discreet organizations...

Surprisingly, it also let him to teaching. Not that he disliked teachers, but the ones he had were of the 'We're here to EDUCATE you - do as we say!' variety. He always figured that it was a way of passing on what the Professor gave him; it also made him slightly happy to think that several teachers were whirling in their graves at the thought of him in front of a classroom of impressionable teens. Piss on all of you, and let maggots gang-bang in your rotted ears.

As for that girl, the Professor would say, 'If you want to, go talk to her. But do it because you want to talk to her. Once you understand that, you won't worry about things like that anymore.'

Well, I already made my decision in that area. Thank you, sir, he thought silently, and flipped through the sheaf of papers. Thank you for everything.

The seminar at Lawndale High starts tomorrow, he said to himself. I wonder if I'll find anyone worthwhile. I wonder if the kids will learn anything, or try to... I wonder if I'll be able to complete the assignment on schedule.

He drained the last dregs from his can of root beer, and sat it down before going to the front door - and finding that it was locked.

I wonder where I left my stupid set of keys...


            "Okay, everyone - it's time for another 'Jake Morgendorffer' special!"

            The three Morgendorffer ladies sighed in unison as Jake turned to the oven, removed a large, covered pan, and placed it off to one side as he stirred in a double-boiler, whistling cheerfully as he added fresh herbs to the mix.

"Dad, I really don't have time for a fancy dinner - the Student Council's meeting in a couple of days, and the Fashion Club has to do a presentation so they won't cut our funding. We're having a special meeting tonight to decide on what we're going to do there," Quinn said, already out of her seat and halfway across the kitchen when the boomerang gaze her mother whipped out scooped her up and neatly deposited her back into her seat.

"Fine - I guess Sandi'll have to give the opening remarks and wear the first outfit - I'll just have to wear the final one..."

            "I don't care if you wear a spare robe from the Dancing Ito's - if there's going to be suffering at this table, we'll share it equally," Helen remarked, turning her utility-belt glare upon Daria and setting it for 'pacification'. "Daria - another letter from Grove Hills came for you today. I think that it's time you reconsidered - and without sarcasm or disdain this time, thank you - your decision to spend some time there."

            "I'd rather do time in Attica and be the main attraction in the female inmates' uncensored production of 'Caligula' than go to that school," Daria retorted. "Can't we all just accept that I'm not the narcissistic, pampered, clique-driven teen blowhard which that school seems to cultivate?"

            "No, you're just aspiring to be a withdrawn, self-alienating intellect who inwardly wants to be part of a group - but whose people skills will soon atrophy through lack of use to such a level that even someone who simply approaches you in a forceful manner will be seen as threatening," Helen fired back. She noticed the way Jane glanced away so Daria couldn't see her expression, but chose not to use it against her daughter...     

"If you keep going in the direction you're charging towards, you'll end up in a cabin out in the wilderness-" Jane and Daria exchanged whimsical glances. "-Or in a sanitarium. If you're REALLY unconcerned about being around other people - you could end up in a dirty apartment off a fourth-floor freight elevator, sharing your two rooms and a bath with sixteen cats, a plain mattress and box spring, four dresses from a church giveaway, and a nineteen-inch black-and-white which doubles as your light after sundown."

            "Gross!" Quinn grimaced, brushing her hair back. "God, Mom - even Daria's got more self-worth than that!"

            "Of course, that's just my opinion," Helen continued. "I could be wrong - and you could prove me wrong, Daria..."

            "And the inquisitive gazelle, wary and yet very thirsty, approaches the bank of the river," Jane said, in her best 'Jim Fowler' voice. "She knows that the crocodiles are nearby, but where? Not knowing can mean the difference between the gazelle slaking her thirst, or becoming an all-important meal for the hungry crocodile..."

            "Oh, Jane, stop that!" Helen snapped. "I know I've said it ad nauseum, Daria, but what you do in these years of your life will determine the course of your entire future!"

            "Exactly - and if I wanted be a backbiting hypocrite, a manipulative, self-absorbed jerk or a political candidate, I'd burn rubber transmitting my application to Snob-Effete Academy," Daria deadpanned. "You do want me to be a better person, don't you?"

            "Not all of the kids there are like that, Daria," Helen hissed, "and according to the letter, you'll get to see that for yourself. Some of the students are coming to Lawndale in a couple of weeks - they're doing a national tour."

            "I'll have to download copies of their live album off Napster," Daria snapped back as she turned to Jane. "Are these guys into that ska sound, too?"

            "Hey, ska IS real music!"

            "That reminds me, Helen - Horizon was wondering about some of the old albums we have, and -"

            "Jake, why are you babbling on about the sky?"

            "I'm talking about Horizon, not the sky, and -"

            "Jake - why is that pot smoking like that?"

            "It's supposed to do that, Helen!"

            "Oh, JAKE-!"   

            "I don't understand why you guys think the 'Big M's' food's will be so horrible," Jane queried, looking at the downcast and sullen expressions at the table as Jake focused his attention back to the stove. "It doesn't smell bad-"

            "Jane, dear, Jake's cooking is like sex in the 1950's," Helen said, momentarily forgetting her audience as she sipped her coffee. "It fills you up and keeps you going - but the actual eating leaves something to be desired."

            Daria raised an appreciative eyebrow and Jane nearly fell off her seat as Quinn all but went into contortions at her mother's quip. "Mom! How can you talk about - I need a shower..."

            "Can't stay away from that pulsating spray, hmn?" Daria deadpanned, ignoring the sharp glares from both Quinn and Helen. "What -?"

            "Daria, dear, I think you're going to enjoy your father's creations tonight -"

            "I am? Jane, can you still see the scars from the removal of my taste buds?"

            "-And you'll enjoy it so much that you'll let the compliments flow... and the greatest compliment of all is asking for seconds."

            "And if I decline?"

            "For starters - did I mention how Eric's niece is getting her room remodeled? She won a complete room makeover in that magazine - what's the name... oh yes - 'VAL".

            "GAH!" Daria cried out. "You wouldn't -"

            "Did I mention how they're looking for the next makeover - not to mention 'the Makeover of the Year," Helen purred, her eyes now catlike slits. "First - a COMPLETE bedroom makeover. Then, an all-expenses paid, two-week trip to L.A. for a $50,000 shopping spree in Beverly Hills with the stars of the WB Network show 'Charmed' - as well as a walk-on role on the show. There's an intensive one-day motivational workshop with Anthony Robbins, workout sessions with Richard Simmons, and complete hairstyling, body massage and facial sessions followed by a photo shoot with photographers and stylists from 'Vogue' and 'Val' magazines - so you can appear on the covers! You'll also have appearances on 'Hollywood Squares', 'The Tonight Show', 'Politically Incorrect', and 'Street Smarts - and a lunch date with Jason-Shane Scott and David Fumero from the ABC soap opera 'One Life To Live!"

            Jane unconsciously moved a couple of inches away from Daria, whose face was beginning to lose all color, while Quinn listened to the description of the 'Makeover of the Year' - her face flushed with what could only be labeled as desire. "Then there's the highlight of your trip to L.A. - a dinner date and private concert with 'O-Town'. 'Entertainment Tonight' and several teen magazines'll tape it all - COMPLETE media coverage... Did I mention the new VW Beetle you'll get, color-coordinated to match your wardrobe, or the $25,000 in spending money you'll receive?"

            Helen turned to cast her gaze upon Jane - and the little brunette could have sworn that the lights in the room went dim...

"Did I mention that the rules say 'You and your best friend' - and that SHE gets the same treatment as well...?"


            Daria helped Jane up off the floor, then turned baleful eyes upon her mother.

            "You've been saving this one for a rainy day - haven't you, Mom?"

            "I'm just concerned for the well-being of my child, Daria."

Helen's face didn't give away a smidgen of emotion - or even remotely attest to the fact that she'd already entered Daria in the competition - OR that she was ALREADY in the contest's semifinals. The owner of the magazine - 'Val' herself - had actually called upon finding out about the entry, saying that she was looking forward to redeeming herself by getting a chance to rehabilitate the girl she had made notorious nationwide as 'D - the Anti-Teen'...

"However, I've always been told that a healthy appetite is a sign of a healthy teenager."

            At that moment, Daria was firmly convinced that it was a drop of her mother's blood that the 'Titanic' had rammed into.

"I'm not getting out of this one, am I?"

"Not even if you had Houdini, Johnnie Cochran and Bill Clinton on retainer and speed-dial, dear," Helen replied. "Dig in - and don't be shy."

"You guys play rough at the dinner table," Jane said, leaning in quietly towards Daria. "Is the food that bad when your dad cooks?"

"I have Calista Flockhart's figure for a reason."

"Not having enough sense to put down moldy books in order to eat a good dinner?"

"Keep talking and you're next meal's going to be served through a straw."

"You'll have to do better than threaten me with three square meals a day, " Jane smiled, looking up as Jake brought a steaming platter to the table. "Hey, what's this?"

"I was inspired by 'Iron Chef!" Jake exclaimed, lifting the cover to reveal large vegetables in a thick sauce. "This is 'Twice-Flavored Vegetables In Lobster', with a thickened sauce of butter, white wine, pressed-lobster broth and fresh herbs, and warm bread chunks for dipping!"

"COOL!" Jane exclaimed, her expression the only positive one on a female face at the table.

"It's 'twice-flavored in lobster' because I first steamed the vegetables using lobster broth instead of water, and then I baked them in chopped lobster parts!" Jake said, hyped up because of the response Jane gave him. "The vegetables absorb the flavor of the lobsters, but it's a vegetable-only dish!"

"Jake..." Helen said slowly, putting down her coffee cup, "How much did this cost...? It sounds like it was very expensive, and we can't afford to waste money on your - your experiments in trying to cook like every overblown, overhyped 'Galloping Gourmet' who managed to get someone to point a camera at him..."

"Dad - all this butter? I mean, with all of this oil, this will just RUIN my complexion!" Quinn sputtered. "And asparagus? Nobody eats asparagus - and they're so large - and they're WHITE! These can't be any good; after all, everyone KNOWS that all asparagus are tiny and green - And these hunks of bread? Eating all of that bread - that's just an invitation to end up with a waist like Camryn Manheim - Did you see the THING she wore to the Emmys! She looked like the fat lady in one of those cartoons where Bugs Bunny wears the hat with the horns and gets hit by lightning!"

"I used ten lobsters, honey - but that's how many you need for the recipe, and, c'mon, just taste it! I know you love lobsters - that's why I made it -"

"If I eat a serving, the bad things from 'Val' will go away," Daria droned. "For every bite, I take a step away from Leslie Bibb and her perfect smile. Each sip of sauce is a moment further from colors with funny fruit names..."

"My God, Jake - that's almost a thousand dollars!" Helen exploded. "How could you be so stupid as to waste good money on your silly chef fantasies when we have two children that we need to take care of! They need clothing, books for school, a roof over their head and they don't need to worry about if we'll lose the house because you wasted the bill money -"

"Not to mention the money Quinn'll need for deep analysis and rehabilitation once she has to go from Cashman's to K-Mart," Daria interjected.

"Mom, if Dad spent all our money on lobster, does this mean that I have to take back my new clothes? Because if we don't have any more money for food, that's okay, because I'd rather still look good, and everybody knows that the best models don't eat much anyway."

"That's because they're usually on IV's in the intensive care unit for drug overdoses," Daria verbally lobbed towards her sister. "They're much, much better to be around afterwards - after all, 'heroin chic' means 'you no need eat or speak'."


"Daria, stop harassing your sister," Helen growled. "Jake, are you so lost and out of touch with everything that you'd think that this was even remotely a good idea? How could you even fathom that I would for one moment think that this was in any way something that I would want you to do at all, let alone do because you'd think I'd like it -"

Jane was oblivious to the free-for-all rants; she was enjoying Jake's dinner immensely.

"This is great, Mr. Morgendorffer," she finally managed to say - after her plate was cleaned, and she had vacuumed Daria's portion away. "Can I have some more?"

The silence in the room would have terrified a demon.

"You know, Lauriel thought that it would turn out well," Jake said, the verbal morass from Helen and the girls disappearing as he moved over to her and doled out another serving. "So - what do you like about it, specifically?"

"It's just so crunchy!" Jane exclaimed, watching as Jake ladled a helping of sauce over the vegetables. "You've made it so you brought out the taste of the veggies, but the lobster's right there, too! The herbs really build on the flavor of everything... oh, man - this is good! I wish I had told Trent - he'd really love this... Could you pass the bread, Quinn?"

Shocked, Quinn wordlessly passed the basket of warm bread chunks to Jane as Jake turned to Helen. "By the way - Lauriel thought that you'd enjoy the lobster for our celebration," he said, no trace of vindication about him as he focused in on his wife. "She received word that her show's going to be picked up by the Food Network - and the lobster was a gift for all of the help I've given her with the program."

"What happened to cold, hard cash?" Daria blurted out - and was instantly regretful as she saw the hurt look on Jake's face... and the sharp glance from Helen.

"Funny you should mention that," Jake continued, pulling a check from his jacket and tossing it onto the table. "That's the initial payment from Lauriel's.... Ms. de la Ribas' company account."

"Holy Mother of God," Jane said, her eyes going wide as she saw the amount of the check. "Now that's a nice chunk of change."

"What? Let me see - "

"Be quiet, Quinn," Helen snipped, scooping the check up - and swallowing hard as she saw the amount. "Oh, my."

" She'll make the balance in about three weeks - when we set up in the backyard for the video shoot, " Jake continued. "That's the big news - 'North of the Border' will shoot the very first program to air on the Food Network here, at OUR HOUSE!"

"What?" Quinn blurted out, excitement and pride in her voice.

"What?" Daria blurted out, disbelief and horror in her voice.

"WHAT?" Helen bellowed, her amazement and regret evaporating into anger and snippiness over the perceived invasion of her territory. "You agreed to let people come into our home - people who you haven't even had the decency to introduce me to-"

"But Lauriel's asked you out to lunch and to Chez Pierre for dinner so she could meet you at least six times-!" Jake tried to interject, but Helen on a rant was like a Republican on the topic of Clinton and Lewinsky; let the morality avalanche proceed!

"-And use it as some sort of open air concert for cooking for some manless, half-talented bimbo who doesn't realize that she should be at home cooking for her own husband and family, rather than for the myriad of fools out there across the country who have to watch the television to find out how to cook their food, and you have the absolute gall to do this - on your OWN initiative! - without even talking to me about it? I can't believe that you did this! Why didn't you ASK first?"

"And if she realized just how many times she crossed the Neutral Zone on that trip in the Galaxy-class 'U.S.S. Hypocrisy', she'd blow herself up," Daria droned as she leaned in on Jane. "You actually like my dad's cooking?"

"Let's just say that I thought writers were more observant," her friend replied.

"I'm going to be on TV?" Quinn asked no one in particular. "This calls for an emergency meeting of the Fashion Club - we'll have to put a Special Trendsetter Alert Bulletin out on our website for our fans, and we'll DEFINITLY have to drill with the candidates, so that they don't embarrass us on camera - Dad? Do you have any idea what you or Miss Ribas will be wearing - and if she needs help, tell her that we'll be glad to coordinate a wardrobe and give her a makeover, as long as we get an on-screen credit on the show AND she definitely has to have us up front and mention us on the air-"

"Dad, I'm going to be really busy that night - I've got a very important project that I've got to finish for school, and I won't have time to be part of the studio audience," Daria said offhandedly. "I'm very sorry, but I think that Quinn and her friends'll more than make up for my not being around -"

"I didn't say which day, Daria -"

"I'll be busy with the project every day."

"I didn't say at what time."

"I'll be operating 24/7 at school, Dad - I'll only have time to come home to eat, and take showers, and sleep -"

"You know," Jake said, as though he were talking to himself, "Sometimes I think about how nice it would be if I did something special, like other men, and how proud they must be, having families that support them as they try to reach those goals."

Jane looked up from her plate, one eyebrow cocked as her gaze swept over Helen and the girls - who had the good sense to look ashamed. "I always thought how nice it would be if my family supported me in my dreams, and not in a 'Look, Homer's going to screw up -it's our job to watch over him!' sort of way..."

The kitchen was silent for a long time; Helen sank back into her seat as Daria coughed nervously and Quinn pulled at a strand of hair. "I'll be there to cheer you on," Daria said, looking up from her plate. "I won't make fun of anyone during the show."

"Really, honey? Thanks!"

"Rah, rah. Go, Dad."

"ALL RIGHT!" Quinn blurted out. "She doesn't have to thank us on air or put us up front - but we have to have some good shots during the show AND I'm not budging on the on-air fashion credit. That's in the Fashion Club by-laws, and we'll have to get a waiver from the union..."

Jake turned hopeful eyes onto his wife, who stared deep into her reflection on the kitchen table. "Would it have been that difficult for you to at least call me before you said 'yes'?" Helen sighed, and she lifted her head to see the puppy-dog expression on Jake's face.

"Fine. Let's have the cooking show film here."

"Thanks, Helen!" Jake cried out, hugging his wife. "I'm going to call Lauriel and give her the news!"

Jake disappeared into the living room, and Helen looked over at Daria. "What have we done?"

"The supreme sacrifice, Mom," Daria shot back. "We've given up a night of our lives so that someone we care about can make a fool of himself in front of all America and still get paid incredibly well. All in all - not a bad trade."

"When you think about it in that manner - I have to agree with you."

The two Morgendorffer women shared a smirk.

"This is the most strange family," Jane said, finishing off a huge chunk of bread and digging into another serving of veggies. "God, I LOVE vegetables! I am going to be SO regular for the next couple of days -"

Jane suddenly found herself alone in the kitchen. "Say, since I'm already here and I'm spending the night - can I have a beer?"


            "Hello, Daria," Jodie Landon said, catching up to Daria and Jane as they walked out through the cafeteria doors and into a student-infested hallway of Lawndale High School. "Jane, you don't look well."

            "She learned not to take a fine American beer with her gourmet dinner," Daria deadpanned. "My dad cooked last night - celebration over a big account he landed that's really coming together."

            "Hey, that's right - my parents were talking about your dad the other day. They said that he finally got his 'pet cigars."

            "Don't remind me," Daria said, recalling how low her father had been after he lost a major client (who wanted to market novelty cigars for eccentric pet owners) - and how he had been even lower after he found that Andrew Landon had made a small fortune by developing the idea for the client. She shuddered, recalling that was when he really threw himself into his gourmet-cooking trip... "Dad's work with the cook finally paid off - he said that she's going onto the Food Network."

            "Yeah - the prettiest cook since Miss May 1992 played patticake in her 'Playmate Video Review," Michael Jordan 'Mack' Mackenzie drawled, sliding up to kiss Jodie on the cheek. "She's straight-out cute, and, man, can she make a shrimp salad - Owww!"

            "That's for not having enough sense to wait until I was gone to say that," Jodie smiled, watching as Mack rubbed the spot where she pinched his arm. "Yes, she's very beautiful - she could easily be a model if she wanted. I think that a lot of women around town would be glad if she just packed up and went to New York or somewhere..."

"Oh, we can't have that," Charles Ruttheimer III rumbled from behind, and the four teens turned to see their carrot-haired classmate pivot away slightly from his locker and into their conversation. "An exquisitely-formed creature such as the divine Lady de la Ribas should be revered here in our midst as the perfect desert flower which she is, rather than wishing that she be swept away from our view as the first rays of morning light brush away the gentle whispers of a particularly pleasant dream."

He sighed, his eyes misted in reverie. "I shall never look at shrimp salad the same way ever again."

"Boy, I wish I had a pair of those," Jodie said, glancing down at Daria and Jane's boots. "Getting deep down here."

            "Real deep," Jane agreed, "but hey - at least Daria's not his favorite target of lust anymore."

            "Oh, fear not, sweet and fair Daria," said Charles - or 'Upchuck', as he was known to the student population of Lawndale High, as he came around and snaked an arm around Daria's waist. "The sweet, sculpted beauty that I know as your angelic face shall always grace my amorous heart, but for every valley of fragrant, blooming stems that are the women within our community, there must be a Psyche, a maiden with a face that reminds us that the gods do exist. Know that I will, and that in fact I must return to seek true love in the wonder of your arms, but for a chance to stand even a single moment in the fond gaze of a Lauriel - she who is female transcendent, a modern Andromeda that could never be possessed by any poor, simple mortal, let alone one such as me - is a quest worthy of the greatest hero."

            "Okay, fertilizer stocks just crashed through the basement floor," Daria said, her eyebrows raised nonetheless by the extemporaneous prose as she removed his arm, "and you get to join them."

            Upchuck let out a sharp cry of pain as Daria took his feet out from beneath him with a sharp sweep of her right foot and dropped him right on his bottom! "Maybe the cold concrete'll cool him off," she smirked, as Upchuck started to lift himself from the floor. "Let's get out of here before Bad Prose Boy gets to the next verse."

            As they started away, Mack looked over his shoulder. "You know, he's going to score big-time when he hits college," he observed. "He's got a line of bull that's going to be Death itself on those co-eds."

            "You don't really think that girls will fall for that, do you?" Jane asked. "Even those drones from the Fashion Borg don't buy into his pseudo-poetry!"

            "All I know is that girls want someone to tell them that they're pretty, and if you can do the poetry thing too, then nine times out of ten -the deal is closed!" the young man said. "Hey, I didn't make up the rules -"

            "No, you're just going to die by them," Jodie said, tossing the Evil Eye at him grenade-style. "That's a load of bull."

            "I don't think so - I mean, if there was a girl here at Lawndale who looked like Ms. de la Ribas, guys with girlfriends would have to do all sorts of mushy stuff to prove that they weren't thinking about her," Mack shot back. "And if you could make the other girls think that you wanted THEM rather than the super-hot girl, you'd start racking 'em up -"

            "Hey, I've got an idea," Jane suddenly piped in, cutting Mack off and saving his life from the beating Jodie looked like she was about to deliver Fed-Ex. "Let's talk about how all of you are going to help me pass that Sociology seminar!"

            "I've got a better idea," Daria said. "Let's just go to class."

            "Daria, don't you want to take the seminar?" Mack asked, concern in his voice. "After all, you and Jodie are probably going to ace it, leaving us jocks-"

He pulled Jane close to himself. "...To squeak by with our B-minuses."

            "Hey, I'm an artist!"

            "And you picked up that 'keep going until you win!' attitude from Man Ray and Dali," Mack joked, "the one you use to keep pushing Daria towards your brother - Owww! "

            'Somebody around here talks FAR too much," Jodie said, stuffing a Chewy Granola bar into Mack's mouth. "Here - 'Chewy stops the chatter."

            "Especially if you don't get the point after the Wookie rips your arms off," Jane joined in, trying not to notice the five-alarm blush that covered Daria's face, neck and ears.

            "Look, you're a athlete - even if you don't wear anyone's school colors or a letter shirt," Mack pointed out gently, stopping to chew the granola bar. "There's no shame in that - it just means you've got it in you to compete and win. It also means that we have to hang out with the brains - if we're nice to them, they'll give us jobs when we're older..."

            Jane couldn't help but to burst out laughing. "...As long as we keep setting them with intros to the other cute athletes!"

            "See what I have to put up with, Daria?" Jodie sighed. "All this just to have someone around to open pickle jars, defend my honor, and buy 'bunny baskets' for me on Easter. Don't worry - you'll get one soon enough, and then we can talk about problems with our tripods."

            A smile crept back across Daria's face; Mack stopped as the three young women kept on. "Hey, wait a moment - what's a tripod? I'm not a - oh, yeah, real funny. You guys are thinking about Kevin."

            As Mack started after them, Jane turned to Jodie. "Man Ray and Dali?"

            Jodie gave off a defensive glance. "He reads..."


            "Good afternoon, everyone," Kyle said, seated on the desk in the front of the classroom. "I'm Kyle Armalin. My doctorate is in psychology, my money for teaching this class is in the bank, and my tolerance for idiocy is not available for service at this time. Welcome to my seminar."

            "Excuse me," Daria asked, raising her hand. "If you're a psychologist, then why are you teaching a sociology course?"

            "Chicks," Kyle shot back. "Don't anyone go running to Naomi Wolf or Anita Hill just yet, though - that was a joke. Don't worry, my master's work was in sociology... can't have America's youth being given any less than the best when it comes to their educational system, right? Anyway - for the next thirty-one days, I'm going to screw with your tiny little minds. In case no one told you - you're now my lab rats. You just won't be fed here at school, but considering the food I've seen here, that's not a problem. Thanks for volunteering. "

            "Finally - truth in advertising," Daria sighed, and was awarded with smirks from both Jane and Jodie. "And I always wondered what happened to Mengele's 'how-to' books..."

"Some of you - those with extraordinary taste and intellect - will come to believe that the theme to 'Jesus Christ, Superstar' should play whenever I enter a room," he continued, allowing a bit of humor into his voice. "Those enlightened individuals, however, will only receive 'C's in this class."

Kyle stood up and let the smile disappear from his face, an action that gave Jane a start and made Daria suddenly uneasy. "And now - we open Door Number Three. There's something that I think all of you should know. I'm not going to ask you to do anything as silly or as embarrassing as now standing up and telling me who you are and all about yourself. This is for two reasons. One - if you're worth remembering, I'll learn your name or I already have it, and Two - by the end of this course, most of you will probably be gone anyway."

"Well, this one's got a new attitude, " Daria observed softly. "And yet another 'tough love' type hits the Utah Beach of education - Lawndale High."

"Only because of young men and women such as yourself, Miss Morgendorffer, " Kyle said, his voice casual as he popped open a can of root beer and took a drink. "I understand that you don't give a rat's ass about 'school spirit' or for your fellow students in general - and that's your boggle - but I do care about their morale. Even more importantly, I've been paid to attempt to impart knowledge to them - and that's why I think that you and I are going to have a problem. Just because you're more jaded than a jewel collection from the Ming Dynasty gives you no right to make others feel worthless... but that's a discussion for another time. For right now, however, you can either remain silent or leave."

            Without a single word, Daria stood up, gathered her books and started towards the door. "And, Miss Morgendorffer?" Kyle called out, not even bothering to look in her direction. "Part of the problem or part of the solution. It's your choice as to how you'll be seen by others - and as you make your choices... let them be made of your own free will. "

            Daria went through the door - and was visibly startled as the sight of most of the LHS faculty greeted her, laughing and checking tickets as Mrs. Bennett clicked her stopwatch.

"One minute, fourteen seconds!" the economics teacher called out, a huge grin on her face. "As she walked out, she didn't hesitate - AND didn't give him any back talk or parting shots!"

            "YES!" Mr. DeMartino cried out, his voice carrying through the hall. "Like the saying goes - 'Know Thy Enemy'! Pay up, suckers! Pay up - ALL of you! Big Daddy's going courting, and he's gonna fill his pantry - to-night!"

            Standing off to one side, Daria watched with a sickening sensation in her stomach as several teachers looked at her with facial expressions ranging from outright pity to contempt and disgust. As she observed quietly, Mrs. Bennett counted off money from a wad of bills large enough to choke Monica Lewinsky, and other teachers grudgingly plopped bills into Mr. DeMartino's quivering hands.

She began to walk off - and then glanced up to see Kyle smirking at her before turning back to his class. "Let's talk about your assignments for this class, including the main project..."


            "Hello - Morgendorffer Consulting, how can I help you?" Horizon Bridger said, brushing back a wayward strand of her close-cropped, whitish-blonde hair from her eyes as she picked up the telephone receiver. "Yes, Mr. Gupty - Mr. Morgendorffer has received your suggestions list for the new sets, and we're waiting to hear from the local distributor on whether he can get those... no, they've already told us that they're not willing to drop their prices on the flatscreen monitors for the backdrop. No - they say that they can only provide a 36-inch screen at that price, even if they receive on-screen credit... yes, sir. Mr. Morgendorffer's already informed them that we'll have to find someone else if they can't get the five-foot flatscreen, or if they don't come down another ten percent on two 36-inch screens. Yes, the HDTV-capable ones."

            The pretty twentysomething looked up, smiled and waved as Helen walked into the office. "They've agreed to call back by Thursday with their new prices. Oh, and I was in touch with Angela Li, the principal at Lawndale High School. She said she's willing to listen to a proposal for the program - yes, 'The Trials of Teen Marriage'. She said that if we can give her time to tell about the low teen pregnancy rates at LHS & how teenage pregnancy, even if they marry, is a bad thing - she started ranting about 'how teen parents bring nothing but dishonor and tarnished glory to Lawndale High'. I'll tell Mr. Morgendorffer that you'd like to come in on Friday - I'll see about that. I'll tell him that you called. Yes, and you, too."

            Horizon hung up the phone. "Mrs. Morgendorffer! I always wondered when we'd get to meet, with your schedule... It's so nice to finally meet you!"

            Helen's eyes narrowed. "And who would you be, young lady...?"

            "I'm Horizon Bridger - Mr. Morgendorffer's intern," she said, smoothing out her skirt as she stood and came around the desk to shake Helen's hand. "From Middleton College - I'm a Business Administration major. I'll be here off-and-on for the next year; thirty hours a week in the office during school, and full-time during the breaks and summer session."

            "I see."

            "You know, I thought that I'd probably be bored out of my skull here," the young woman said, turning in a graceful half-circle as she scooped a number of files off her desk and walked over to an open file cabinet, "but with the entertainment and television accounts that we have or who've inquired about coming on-board, I've barely got time to breathe!"

            Maybe you could if you got out of that Heather Locklear power-whore business outfit, Helen inwardly hissed, noticing the way that Horizon's stylish, yet entirely appropriate business suit failed to hide the young woman's athletic figure. Oh, look, and it's in the right color - Lewinsky blue... Jake's got some explaining to do!

             "How long have you been working here, Ms. Bridger?"

"Since mid-January - just about the time we got the Gupty marriage show," Horizon said, closing the file drawer. "When they changed the status of my internship, I got to start as soon as the semester began."

            "You've got a paid internship?"

            "I've got a dream internship," Horizon said, taking a marking pencil and going over to a large chart on the far wall. "Full ride on tuition and fees, I get a salary here, one-third reimbursement on my clothing for work and a company car! Granted, it's just for work, but still -!"

            Company car? Oh, you've definitely got some fast-talking in your future, Jacob...

            "Where is my husband, anyway?"

            "He should be at the Settlement - Miss de la Ribas is having a meeting with some of the other chefs, and they wanted Mr. Morgendorffer to sit in and get an opinion on what they've been doing."

            Really. "Well, when my husband returns, Ms. Bridger-"

            "It's 'Miss'. I don't want anyone chewing on me for doing the 'raging feminist' thing."

            "-Please tell him that I stopped by."

            Helen took a step towards the door, then turned back. "That's an unusual name - 'Horizon," she said. "Your family-"

            "World-class hippies," the young woman laughed, spreading her arms for emphasis. "My dad's 'Breeze' and Mom's 'Barley' - boy, were they bent out of shape when their little bundle of joy and hope for changing the world went into the business school!"

            Horizon suddenly stopped and turned to Helen. "Oh, that's right, you and Mr. Morgendorffer were in the movement, too! They used to call you... Lavender, wasn't it?"

            "He told you that story...?" Helen said, and the young woman suddenly realized that danger was in the room.

            "No, he just mentioned it when I interviewed for the internship back in September," Horizon assured her, now very aware of the 'pissed-off jealous tiger' look Helen was burning in her general direction. "You know, he talked about his dad being mad at him for doing the 'summer of love' thing - and I said that it wasn't nearly as bad as when my parents started getting mail addressed to 'H. Elizabeth Bridger'. They thought I was ashamed of my name, and wouldn't give me any of my letters until I promised to use my first name - at least for official school documents."

            "Well, are you?"

            "Am I what, Mrs. Morgendorffer?"

"Ashamed of your name?"

            "No, but I've already found out that while people actually listen to what 'H. Elizabeth' has to say, 'Horizon' is the hot hippie chick that gets hit on by all the guys - and girls who want to 'experiment," she said, an edge starting to creep into her voice. "I like it when people listen to me."

            Then why did you introduce yourself as 'Horizon...?

            "Because the people who come to Mr. Morgendorffer listen to him," the girl replied bluntly, and Helen realized she had spoken out loud. "He listens to my ideas and doesn't care what my name is - so the clients who come here listen to me, and my name doesn't matter."

            Horizon went back over to her desk, sat down and placed her hands flat against the desktop. "Is there something else I can do for you, Mrs. Morgendorffer?"

            "No. I'll speak to my husband later."

            As the door closed behind Helen, Horizon shook her head slowly. "I'll just bet you will. Bitch."


            "...And so the Doctor waits right until Ms. Li's almost in the door, and then he goes, "Ms. Li and a lawyer go on a cruise, but fall overboard in shark-infested waters. Neither gets eaten. How come?"

            Daria came around a corner as Sandi Griffin, her Fashion Club cohorts gathered around in a herd, kept talking about Dr. Armalin's class. "He goes, 'Professional courtesy!' and looks right over at her - I SWEAR it was as if he did it on purpose!"

            "Gee, Sandi, I hear that the Doctor's a really great teacher!" Stacy Rowe gushed, and Daria rolled her eyes as Sandi placed her hand on the girl's shoulder.

            "He is, Stacy. Dr. Armalin's class is a place where REAL learning takes place, and not necessarily out of a book," Sandi replied sagely, noticing Quinn turning a bright shade of red. "Oh, don't worry, Quinn - some people just simply aren't ready for the challenges and the pure mental exertion that this class demands. You should be glad that you weren't selected... and it's not a reflection on who you are."

            "Really, Sandi?"

            "Really, Quinn," she calmly continued. "You have to simply accept that some of us are meant to be leaders, and the universe gives them the paths they need to move on toward their destinies. Some of us - like you - are meant to be followers. This is not a bad thing. The world needs people like you, Quinn. The Doctor would say that you have a destiny, too!"

            Quinn's face perked up a tad; Daria grimaced as she saw Catfish-Quinn heading straight for the Wonder-Lure Sandi wiggled on her hook. Being one of the only sophomores chosen for the seminar had really puffed up Sandi's ego.

            "I do?"

            "I learned so much from the Doctor today, Quinn. Because of that, I KNOW you have a destiny," Sandi told her. "People like you, Quinn; you'll build the homes and offices that people like me will live in and govern from! You'll grow and cook the food for my dinner, you'll make sure I receive all my messages... you'll attend to my children as though they were your very own, and announce the 'Blue-Light Specials' that my employees will use to enhance their family budget. This is why I can still associate with someone like you, Quinn... because good assistants are so VERY hard to find - and at the end of the day, we will always need workers in this world."

            Daria almost winced as an ashen-faced Quinn turned and wordlessly melted away into the crowd of students. "Ouch," Jane said, and Daria turned to see her friend standing besides her. "Now I know what the Narns at the Quadrant 37 outpost must have gone through."

            "Tell me about it, " Daria agreed. "If you listened closely, you could hear the cracking sounds as Quinn's soul began to splinter. I was almost impressed."

            "Sandi does have a talent for slicing through the hull," Jane observed. 'And just think - this is after only one class with the Doctor."

            "Yeah - I've been hearing people talk about that class as though they've just been selected for 'Top Gun'!" Daria snorted. "Everyone's acting as if this guy's the best thing down the pipe since the swinging door. I don't see it."

            "Well, I don't know," Jane mused. "I mean, he's really got something about him that fires people up!"

            "Great. I'll steal a semi-trailer full of Coca-Cola, you find two thousand people, someone give the Doctor a call - and we'll all teach the world to sing."

            Jane simply shook her head. "Whatever. He wants to see you after classes."


            "The Doctor. He wants you to pick up your assignment for today - and I think he wants to talk to you."

            "Oh, joy. He'll either rant at me for challenging his authority, or do a mopey 'Mr. O'Neill' shtick on how I should try to take advantage of my opportunity."

            "I don't think so, Daria. If anything - he seemed kind of... disappointed in you."

            That got Daria's attention. "About what?"

            "I don't know. It just seemed like... y'know, like he expected you to put up a fight, or try to cut him down."

            "Wonder why?"

            "Hey, if you ask me, I think he wanted to see how far you'd go. He kind of reminds me of you a bit, anyway. I mean, you both can throw a phrase like a spear!"

            Daria looked up at the clock on the wall. "Whatever... well, no sense putting this off."

            "You want I should come with, kemo sabe?"

            "Sure - more fun for everyone."


            "Miss Lane. Let us have this room."

            Jane tapped Daria on the shoulder in a consoling manner. "I can only show you the door, Neo. You alone must choose to walk through."

            "Vanish, drama queen."

            As Jane closed the door behind her, there was silence in the classroom as Kyle, seated in his desk, directed his gaze at Daria, seated in the front-row desk directly before him. "From 'The Matrix', right?"

            Daria shrugged. "She loves the film."

            "She should. It's a film with unique visual effects and serious questions about the illusion of the world around us. An artistic young woman like her would gravitate towards it."

            There was a long period of quiet. "But what about you...?"

            "Excuse me?"

            "I am wondering what I am going to do about you. Regardless of what tack I sail, I'm going to have words with Principal Li in relation to your presence in my course."

            "It sucks to be you," slipped out of Daria's mouth - and for the briefest of moments, she could have sworn a smile nearly surfaced.

            "Well, now it's your turn in the barrel."

            Kyle sat back for a long moment, then leaned forward. "All right - here is the deal. Say the word, right here and now - and I will give you a 'B' for the course. You will never have to set foot in my class again, and you receive a high grade, free and clear."


            Kyle raised one eyebrow. "Do you really want that answer, Miss Morgendorffer?"

            "Excuse me?"

            "As I look at you, the belief that you really don't want me to tell you grows larger and larger," he said. "Take the 'B' and walk away. Now. Please."

            "I think I'll take the answer."

            "As you wish, " he replied, after another pause. "I do not believe that the time, effort, resources, mental exertion and collateral damage that would be involved in successfully helping you complete this course could or would be adequately justified, explained or demonstrated as having been worthwhile, even to the current administration of this institution." Kyle spoke, his soft words hanging in the air like a death sentence. "If at all possible, I would like to bypass the prospect entirely.

            "In other words - taking out the technobabble - you don't think that I'm worth the trouble."

            "Incorrect. Taking out the technobabble - those are the exact words."

            Daria blinked at Kyle's bluntness. "Well, I can tell you lied about getting your doctorate in psychology."

            "George Mason University, Class of 1990," he corrected. "My doctoral thesis was entitled 'Culling The Herd - The Psychological and Socio-Political Effects, Moral Considerations and Legal Ramifications of Median- and Long-Term Human Engineering Within Closed and Isolated Social Constructs.' When I watched 'Survivor', I could have told you that Richard would win from the first three episodes."

            "Watching that show doesn't solidify your credentials as an intellect with me."

            "Please don't look down your nose at me while I'm looking down my nose at you, Miss Morgendorffer. I've got my education."

            They sat in silence. "You know, they're all fools here."

            "If you're trying to get on my good side, you'll have to go a step beyond blinding me with the obvious."

            "I didn't tell you why, though," he said, and Daria drew back a little from the predator's thin smile that crossed Kyle's face. "You know, you've got a wonderful little psychodrama going on here, and the entire world's your stage. From what I've seen so far, you're really working the 'Please, God, help George Bailey' angle down to the bone - and they're all idiots because they're all buying into it. They're going to give you ample chances to hurt them as you 'search for yourself - because they think you're the one."

            Daria looked at him. "Pardon?"

            "The instructors. The students. Principal Li. Your family, and your friends - if you actually deign to let anyone in that close," Kyle told her. "In every school, if the teachers are lucky, they come across one unique student during the course of their careers - a student with the intelligence, and the commitment, and the vision to become something worthwhile... something special... something that, at long last, justifies the calling of becoming an educator. The students look for this student because, someday, they can look back and say that 'they knew them when... "

            He coughed. "It could very well have been Jodie Landon - but she doesn't have any vision for her future beyond 'I have to be the ultimate student,' and 'I must not embarrass the African-American people.' She believes that she has to serve 'The Cause', but as of now, she really has no idea what 'The Cause' is - or what her life entails past that. And so, here at Lawndale High School - to borrow a turn from 'The Matrix' - they believe that you are The One. "

            Daria looked at Dr. Armalin, her face unreadable as he continued. "They're wrong. You don't want that, for some reason. You don't want anything anyone here can give you or help you to find. I don't know what the reason for that is, and I don't care. You've got a core of armor around something within you, and whatever that thing is, it makes you want to lash out at everything and everyone around you. The fact that your favored methodology of character assassination is employed in a passive-aggressive form - for the moment - doesn't resolve the base problem within. If anything, it makes the need for resolution more urgent, before it manifests in a more... proactive fashion."

            "You think I'm unstable."

            "INCORRECT. I think that you would fight me every step of the way in helping you uncover and resolve your problem - and that, by the way, is not in my job description. I think that you would not only fight me inch by inch, but that in doing so, you'd poison what could be a rewarding and educational experience for the others in the class who really want to be there, and who want to take something good away that will help them advance themselves. I owe it to the other twenty-four students -"

            "Hey, Doc - cool kung-fu demonstration!" Kevin exclaimed, and Daria saw Kyle wince slightly at the sound of his voice. "Hey, Daria."          

The Doctor glanced in Daria's direction and sighed. "Twenty-three. Did you want something, Thomphson?"

            "Just left my books," he said, going to a desk and fishing out several 'Ratboy' comics from the bookrack underneath. "So, Doc - did you learn from, like, Bruce Lee or bald-headed monk-dudes who don't get any on purpose and live in those Chinese temples up on a mountain, where you had to shave your head and wear orange pajamas?"

            "Isshinryu Karate, Kevin," Kyle said. "Ka-RA-te - NOT 'kuh-rotty'. Most of my beginning classes were held in the dining room of an old church, and my 'sensei' was an overweight businessman with thinning blond hair who doubled as one of the local slumlords."

            "Cool! You being black and everything, they could make a movie about you - 'Preacher of Death, Teacher of Death!" he exclaimed. "Gotta jet - Brittany's waiting!"

            As the clueless teenager disappeared through the door, Kyle shook his head. "And the sad part is that he's right. Somebody could make a movie about this."

            "No. The sad part is that it would be a hit."


            They were both silent for a moment.

            "You know, there is another alternative," Kyle said. "I think that you'll enjoy it because you won't necessarily have to see my face again. There are two special preparatory academies that I believe could provide you with a far more challenging milieu than your current one, and would also allow you to maintain - if you so choose - the mindset that you're worked so hard to maintain."



            They were both silent.

            "Moving on, Miss Morgendorffer. You simply choose not to be part of this world."

            "Wish I could hitch a ride off with a Vogon constructor ship."

            "Reconsider the option. They'll steal your towel and have you placed in the REAL Total Perspective Vortex - although I've no doubt that in YOUR case, the Vortex would do the screaming! And as for the Infinite Improbability Drive saving your butt at 29 seconds in - well, it doesn't work. It's a failure as big as the Starfleet Transwarp Development Project, Zhang Han San's 'Operation SPRING DRAGON', and the 'Darksaber."

            Daria raised an eyebrow in surprise, and Kyle resisted the urge to laugh. "Everyone should have some knowledge of the world around them unrelated to their chosen pursuits, Miss Morgendorffer - trivia and factoids both useful and useless. Incidentally - you are not the first teenager to believe he or she is different than everyone around them. One day I may give you cause for nightmares... and tell you about the luge ride through the thousand Chinese hells that was MY adolescence."

            A can of root beer appeared from Kyle's desk, and he drained it dry before turning back to Daria.            "I believe you've already been approached to go to Grove Hills before," the doctor yawned. "If you want, Ms. Li and I could certainly get you in almost immediately, and with your potentials and your transcripts, you're certain for a full scholarship. The other facility is Fielding-"

            "Grove Hills? Let me get this straight - you're so sure that I'm going to be a pain in the ass that you're willing to send me off to another school on the other side of the state just to get me out of your hair?"

            "Enjoy the moment, Miss Morgendorffer. You have a right to feel proud."

            Daria's right boot squeaked as she dragged her foot across the floor. "I've been to the 'Turned-Up Nose Factory' before. Pass."

            "You'll get a higher caliber of education there than here."

            "I could do that by going to the kids section of the LHS library."         

            "If you stay here and things remain as they are, you'll simply become a bad apple that'll spoil the barrel. "

            "Go away and sacrifice myself for the greater good? Next."

            "If you go there and Columbine the place, you'll probably cause an investigation that'll have Ms. Li in the same prison wing as the Unibomber and the bastards who baby-nuked the Federal Building in Oklahoma City."

            "True, but why should I travel when I could cause the same amount of pain and suffering right here at home?"

            "If you go to Grove Hills and succeed, you'll present a positive image of the young men and women that are coming out of Lawndale High that would bring a lot of praise and acclaim to your family, your friends, your fellow students, the school, Principal Li, and the city in general."

            The two were silent for a moment - then burst out into fits of uncontrollable laughter! "All right, that was reaching, even for me," he said, fishing into his desk for a box of tissues that he shared with Daria. "However, you do need to make a choice. Reconsider your options."


"A - suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune... namely, remaining exactly where and who you are. B - becoming part of the solution and trying to adapt by manipulating your current situation to your advantage. C- there is already a deal on the table, Miss Morgendorffer. If you want it, you have an easy way out. Your decision?"

            Daria wasn't sure what surprised her more - her answer, or the honesty within it.

            "I need to think about it. All of it."

            "Fair enough," the Doctor agreed. "I'll give you food for thought in the interim. May I make a personal observation?"

            "Please do."

            "Someone once said of me, 'If he couldn't laugh, he'd probably kill everything in sight.' For you, trying to find at least a smile - on occasion - may not exactly be a pursuit leading to death."

            "Thank you, Doctor Armalin."

"Good day, Miss Morgendorffer."

            Daria slipped through the door, and Kyle pulled another can of root beer from the small cooler in his desk drawer. "Reverse psychology with the Purloined Letter attached," he said, taking a deep pull from the soft drink. "The only classic method that the intelligent ones still fall for - and every single time..."



            Helen stirred aimlessly with her spoon in her glass of iced tea with lime and medicinal herbs, a calming drink that her family doctor had suggested for her several months ago, and tried without success to casually glance around the restaurant. She actually enjoyed taking her lunches at 'The Settlement', a comfortable eatery for the white-collar and professional types, but it was beginning to become more and more family-oriented - and Helen was beginning to seriously think about finding another place to take clients out for a 'real Texas lunch' - suckers. Besides, you couldn't really get into the fray with some red-faced little brat crying because his sibling 'touched' him or stole a fry from her plate, and really, can't those damned 'soccer moms' play 'suckling cow' in private and at least breast feed off in one of the corner booths? At least they're set up for a bit of privacy...

            "Would you like to tell me who you're expecting to see here today, Helen?"

            Helen turned back towards the annoyed facial stylings of Eric Schrecter, her immediate supervisor and one of the partners at the law firm she worked for. He was also - although he had never come right out and said it (as though he had to, with some of the things he'd done) - a man who was VERY interested in her... future in the law. "We've been here thirty minutes, and I'd like more than coffee and a small plate of fried onion strings!"

            "You're absolutely right, Eric - I just thought that we would be able to have lunch here today with my husband and one of his clients. They were supposed to be here."

            "Oh, I see - Jake's stepping out on you and you want to catch him," Eric nodded. "Well, why didn't you say so? We could have brought Kendall Dennis and his crew, and they'd have gotten it all on tape! In fact, we can start them on a nice little surveillance rotation on the bum and his floozy, and within a week we'll have enough dirt to put him into a corner the way a cat corners a mouse -"

            "I'm not trying to get a divorce, Eric, " Helen said, a touch sharper than she intended, "I just want to see what this de la Ribas woman looks like."

            "Excuse me - Lauriel de la Ribas? The four-star chef over at Chez Pierre? Your husband's been working with HER?"

            He started looking through the menu as if it were a road map to the Fountain of Youth. "Wonder if they serve a shrimp salad here... definitely could go for that..."

            "Wipe the drool from your mouth, Eric," Helen miffed, sliding a napkin across the table. "It's unbecoming for a man of your stature. You're not a nineteen-year-old fraternity rat anymore."

            "And that's a shame," Eric all but sighed, his eyes fixated on an image floating in his mind. "I'd have a poster of her on every wall I owned. I have to hand it to Jake - I didn't think he had the skills or the jewels to go out and pull down a world-class piece of action like THAT -"

            Eric actually wilted and sank down in his seat under the nova-bomb detonation of Helen's soul-consuming expression; he actually had to remember to breathe, and forced himself not to squeak... Thank God you didn't lose control of your bodily functions and you're sitting down so your knees don't unlock, the way you did last year when you copped a feel off her when you two were alone in her office at last year's Christmas party and she hit you with that five-minute stare... For the love of God, woman, I was hopped up on that 'White Chocolate Brownie Surprise' that Marianne's sister-in-law brought in, loaded up with that home-brewed hashish extract from her basement chemistry setup - it really wasn't my fault...

            "Is this a private emasculation, or can anyone join in?"

            Eric was immediately grateful for Linda Griffin's appearance at the table; he reached for a glass of water and drained it with a shaky hand as Helen turned her gaze upward-

"Oh, please," Linda huffed. "I was ignoring looks like that when I was fifteen and in the Girl Scouts. Save it for the rubes and the weak-minded, Sistah Soldjer... so, aren't you going to ask us to join you, or is this an intimate lunch - I mean, private..."

            "I don't see anyone else - "

            "We're sitting HERE?" Michelle Landon exclaimed, walking up to the table and catching sight of Helen. "Linda, I wanted a quiet, relaxing lunch break -"

            "We're sitting with two lawyers, Micky," Linda responded, sliding smoothly into the chair next to Eric. "Trust me - the shop talk THEY have will relax you to the point of suspended animation."

            "Speaking of suspended animation - I heard about you going back on-air over at the station," Helen cracked back. "Sorry it didn't work out... all that blond ambition going on over there... and in the back of your husband's SUV..."

            "That reminds me, Helen - seen anything interesting on the Horizon lately? No? Drop by your hubby's office after hours."

            "Well, well, well, " Michelle said quietly, noticing as Lauriel, along with a number of other men & women, walked out of the kitchen area. "Look who's prowling about the neighborhood..."

            Helen and Linda stopped their snarling long enough to take a glance in the direction Michelle pointed - and their faces fell as they saw Lauriel, dressed simply in a burgundy-colored silk blouse and matching slacks that STILL made her the object of many covert and obvious stares.


            "THAT's Lauriel de la Ribas?" Helen exclaimed, catching onto Eric's unintelligible grunt of recognition and arousal. "That's - that's what she looks like..."

            "She's not that attractive," Linda said, but the fire had gone out of her voice. "She's dressed like a common secretary, and she should wear better shoes, maybe some heels - but she knows that she'd look like a redwood tree in October... exactly what shade of hair color is that supposed to be, and for God's sake, get a real haircut instead of that ten-dollar 'weedwhacked' perm she's got! With all that hair flying all over the place, she looks like the girl in the cage from 'Planet Of The Apes'... probably has the same IQ, too."


            "That's who Jake's been working with," Helen echoed tonelessly. "That's his big account."

            "Oh, you've got to be kidding," Michelle said, turning to face Helen. "Oh, no. No, no, no. You need to cut THAT action off at the pass, Helen. Cut it off before you need to cut him loose or off at the knees."

            "Jake's the consultant who got her syndicated?" Linda said incredulously, and she reached out to pat Helen's hand sympathetically. "Oh, you poor woman. You didn't know?"

            "I knew," Michelle growled, watching Lauriel the way a lioness watches a new predator in her territory. "That bitch came to Andrew with her proposal. I told him that he'd sign with her on Tuesday - and Wednesday, they would find him floating off the shore. This is not a joke. I am not trying to play."

            Lauriel happened to look in their direction, and started over. "Here she comes now," Michelle continued. "Hope you all had your insulin boosters for the week - otherwise, get ready for sugar shock."

            "Excuse me - you're Helen Morgendorffer, right?" Lauriel said, extending her hand as she reached the table. "I'm Lauriel de la Ribas. Your husband's been working with me on my television program."

            "So I've heard," Helen responded, a lump of liquid ice expanding in the pit of her stomach as she shook the offered hand. "This is Michelle Landon -"

            "We've met," Michelle interjected, the tone of her voice clearly stating that her part in this conversation was OVER.

            "- Eric Schrecter, one of the partners at the law firm I work for -"


            Helen sighed at his response. "-And Linda Griffin."

            "It's very nice to meet you, Mrs. Griffin."

            Linda took Lauriel's hand in her own and held it for a brief moment; she felt her face flush slightly as she looked into the taller woman's eyes and felt the impossibly soft, gentle touch of Lauriel's fingertips, just barely brushing against hers as she brought her hand away... She was suddenly very glad that she hadn't stood up to meet Lauriel, and even moreso that she had chosen to wear one of her braziers with a touch of padding: If she can have an effect like this even on other women - and I know I'm straight! - what chance does any man, let alone one like Jake, have against a woman like this? Poor, poor Helen...

            "It's very nice to meet you, too, Miss de la Ribas."

            "Please - it's Lauriel."

            "Of course."

            Lauriel turned back to Helen. "I just wanted to thank you personally for allowing us to shoot my program in your home. I know how much this means to Jacob, with all of his interest in the culinary arts, and it's so nice to meet people who really support the dreams of the people that they love."

            "Uh, yes... well, thank you."

            "I won't keep you from your lunch," Lauriel said, starting away from the table. "I'll see you soon, Helen. Thank you again."

            The foursome exhaled as one as Lauriel passed through the front door.

            "Jacob -?" Michelle seethed. "Better do something to lock down your territory, Morgendorffer."

Linda turned to Helen. "I'm so sorry," she said, her cattiness replaced by sympathy swirled around a healthy helping of supportiveness. "If there's anything I can do..."

            "Ditto," Michelle said, standing up. "Let's get out of here. I'm not that hungry anymore."

            "I second that," Helen said, glancing over at Eric as she stood. "Eric, let's go."

            "I still want something to eat."

            "We can go somewhere else," Linda told him.

            "I don't... I really don't think that I can."

            The three women sat back down, and as one, craned their heads in Eric's direction as he turned slightly away, his head slightly drooped in shame.

            "Impressive," Linda remarked, her deep, gravelly voice sounding remarkably familiar as she lifted the tablecloth slightly and glanced underneath, causing Eric's complexion to go scarlet. "Most impressive."            


            As the light from the setting sun turned the living room of Fortress Morgendorffer scarlet and orange, Jake lay back on the living room couch. He yawned slightly as he sipped a double shot of Captain Morgan on the rocks, and read through a copy of 'Zagat's New York City Restaurant Survey'.

"Well, that's something I didn't know," he said to himself, flipping over to another page. "Oh, come on - that place got four stars? Speaking in accents while you wipe a bird's ass on rice crackers and serve it for seventy dollars doesn't mean it's a four-star experience -"

            He lifted his head as the telephone rang, and he lifted the phone from its cradle. "Morgendorffer residence."

            "Hello, Jake," Anthony DeMartino said, tossing darts at a photo of Kevin Thomphson as he spoke over the phone in the Teachers' Lounge at Lawndale High. "I'm over at the school, finishing up some lesson plans for the next few days. Wanna cut through the ball and chain & head out for a few cold ones?"

            It's an idea," he said, glancing over at the staircase. "Helen's got some big case she's prepping for, and she's decided the bedroom's off limits."

            "It really bites down and swallows, doesn't it?" Anthony sighed. "First one's on me. Hell, first five are on me!"

            "What did you do, Tony - win the lottery or something?"

            "Something like that," Anthony admitted, not going into detail on how betting on Daria had let him take the entire faculty of Lawndale High School for over two thousand dollars. Jake's a good man, but betting on his baby girl's attitude problems - not to mention the other ones she wouldn't admit she had - were definitely not the way to get on his good side. Better to let sleeping dogs lie...

            Also better not to think about how Angela would be pissed off about the gambling - especially since 'the school' didn't get its cut. No problem - I'll just invite her to go up the coast this weekend to the Peterson Inn. They should have restocked that green tea Angela enjoys so much by now, and I'll run down to Dega Street to get some of those jasmine incense cones for the room - better get some lemon and mint massage oils, too...

            "So, get up off your butt and head on out! We'll hit that new Western bar with the micro-brewery and the indoor open-pit grill - they've got a special on those 'Texas-size' three-liter pitchers of beer and 72-ounce steaks! If you can finish it all in an hour, it's free!"

            "Just don't take Lauriel there on your first date, okay?"

            "Who?" Anthony said, absolute confusion in his voice. Sometimes, his good friend Jake slipped a gear or two... "Who's Lauriel? Isn't she that cook or something you've been working for?"

            "I've been helping her get her show ready to go national," Jake told him. "I'm sorry - I thought I had already asked you. Lauriel's a bit lonely around here - she doesn't have many friends, and I told her I'd see if you'd like to go out with her..."

            Anthony hesitated; he'd been seeing Claire Defoe, the Arts & Crafts instructor at LHS on-and-off for a couple of years (if you call sleeping with someone seeing them), and he didn't want to hurt her feelings. He'd figured out, though, that he wasn't going to marry Claire or even have a normal relationship with her. It wasn't good policy to become involved with someone you work that closely with, especially if he became the principal after Angela was promoted... or incarcerated... or if it came out that he'd sampled her exotic wares on occasion. too...

            Besides, Claire didn't cook - and that de la Ribas was very attractive... "Oh, yeah - the chef. Warren said something about her at the bar a while back. I think that I'd enjoy your friend's company for dinner, Jake. Find out when she'd like to go out, and tell me all about the lady's likes and dislikes..."

            "Well, she's a basket case for the romantic stuff," Jake told him, "but you've got to be respectful of her. Treat her like a piece of meat and you're history, but if you can make a nice, Silhouette romance-type gesture - say, you pick a flower for her while you're walking down the street, or have a bouquet of flowers delivered to her during a business meeting - she'll forgive the fact that the others in the meeting were pissed off by the sudden floral appearance."

            Anthony laughed, and Jake's brow narrowed. "What's so funny?"

            "What you just said, about the floral appearance - you sounded just like your daughter Daria," Anthony chuckled. "Keep going-"

            A loud, sudden THUMP! came from the second floor, and Jake nearly jumped out of his skin! "Helen?" he cried out, tossing the phone down and hurrying to the stairs. "Helen - are you all right?"

            "I'm just fine, Jake," Helen called back, her voice muffled through a door. "I'll call you in a minute..."

            Jake shrugged as he went back to the couch. "Jake, what the hell just happened?" Anthony exclaimed.

            "Helen just knocked something over upstairs - nothing major," Jake sighed. "That offer of yours - still open?"

            "Meet you in a half hour, Morgendorffer," Anthony barked. "Better get the couch fixed up for later - she's not going to want you in the room smelling like a beer ad, and we'll get a cab to bring us back if we hit too hard."

            "Sounds like a plan, DeMartino."

            Jake put the phone down and glanced up towards the stairwell. Helen was acting strangely - she didn't make one derogatory comment about his cooking the entire night, and she asked (not ordered, but actually and POLITELY asked) that he wait downstairs while she worked on something in their bedroom. She also palmed a twenty off on both of the girls and sent them packing for the night to their friends' houses - must have a real doozy of a deposition to prep for tomorrow morning... Oh, well, might as well finish off my drink and get the blankets for the couch -

            "Jake, could you come up here for a moment?"

            "Sure, honey."

I might as well, he thought - I'll grab a couple of the good pillows while I'm up there, and a pair of my pajamas - and where are my kangaroo slippers?


"I think Mom's met the cook Dad's been working with," Daria said, lifting her head from a hardcover copy of 'Without Remorse' as Jane hovered over her easel and canvas, working on a 'Conan'-style four-color of Daria and herself as post-apocalyptic 'Road Warrior'-meets -'Zena' barbarian women. "This evening, she slipped me and the Red Menace a few bucks each and showed us to the door. I think she's going off on another legal marathon to ignore the fact that Dad being somewhat competent in some area bothers her a bit."

"What makes you think she didn't put you in the airlock just so she and your dad could star in 'The Beast with Two Backs?" Jane asked, putting a second red streak beneath a tire to resemble a smear of blood under the wheels of the car. This one would be freaky. Daria with 'Cleopatra 2525' defense gauntlets, flying and blasting away at a death-beam-shooting, giant half-robot, half-demon Mr. DeMartino while she herself stood on the hood of a beaten-up Ford Pinto drawn by four cybernetic dachshunds. She was waving a chainsaw and rifle like Bruce Campbell in 'Army of Darkness', laughing as they chased down the Fashion Club and the Gupty family... Funny, her drawing in Ted Dewitt-Clinton as a 'Joxer' clone and Mack as Iolaus... nice swords, though...

"When Mom's put out about Dad, she works and becomes even more of a law computer. Even if she was bothered, she'd never do anything soap opera-like, like the 'seducing him in the living room with candles' schtick. Her attitude's more like 'Put your hands on my man and I'll put my hands on your throat. Mom doesn't get jealous - she gets her hands dirty."

"You sure? She might be - I mean, that Latino chef is really hot!"

"I don't know - never watched the show."

"Nicholas tapes it all the time - I baby-sit for him every now and then, and he's got at least forty tapes with the show!" Jane said, painting a torn-off Upchuck head being spit out of a cyber-wiener dog's mouth. "There's even a fan club for the people who watch 'North of the Border'. They call themselves 'Border Crossers'.

"Okay - level ten 'geek alert'..." Daria sniffed. "What's the show about, anyway?"

"Your dad's been working with her for how long and you don't even know what her show's about?" Jane laughed. "Sometimes, you are the worst! Her show's about highlighting food from all over the country: 'Each country has it's own trademark cuisine except America. America's a collection of all cultures and tastes.' So she goes all over the country and invites people to Lawndale from all over, and then goes into her kitchen here and makes those dishes that collectively makes up 'neo-American Cuisine."

"And you actually watch this," Daria said, raising an eyebrow as she looked up at Jane's painting. "Why lowjack the wiener dogs?"

"It just seems right," Jane shrugged. "Hey, let's get Chinese - lots of crab rangoon, okay?"

"Okay," Daria agreed, rolling over as Trent Lane walked in through the open door, a couple of bags of takeout in hand. "Hey, Trent. What's in the bags?"

"Hey, Daria," the slender, handsome musician echoed, handing one of the bags off to her. "The guys and I went out for Greek food. We got you some gyros and these potato things - I don't know what they call them in Greek."

Jane scooted over and looked down in the bag. "They call them fries, you smeg blot," she said, hoisting her own bag away from him. "Sit down there and look at Daria - I need to use your noggin for a minute."

Trent smiled kindly at his sister (and missed the scowl Daria lashed out with) as he walked over to her canvas. "Wicked," he said, looking it over. "What's the inspiration?"

"This seminar I'm taking with Daria," she said, digging into the bag. "Cool! Real roast beast and flavorings!"

"Hey, where's all the sour cream?"

"Sorry, Daria. Max got hungry on the way back. He's into condiments. It's a personal problem," Trent shrugged, turning back to his younger sister. "What kind of seminar?"

"The one you took back in your sophomore year - the same professor's teaching it, too!" Jane gushed. "It's too cool - I heard that we'll be doing the whole underground shelter and 'rebuild the Earth' thing in the class, like the 'Dylan Hunt' movies that Gene Roddenberry did in the '70's! I'm going to come up with some cool name and be like Tina Turner in 'Thunderdome'..."

            "Doc Kyle's teaching the class, hmn?" Trent said, his eyes darkening slightly. "Underground stuff -that's that Greek letter-thing... Hey, don't take all of the stuff in the class too seriously. It's just more schoolwork, when you look right at it."

            "Hey, you got an 'A' in there!"

            "See? Anybody can blow through there with a decent grade. Don't get into the hype. It's not all that..."

            "Oh, sure - that's why you had cheerleaders and all the REALLY pretty girls in school chasing after you for the rest of the year!" Jane teased him. "Don't want your little sister to grow up and have all the eligible men realizing what a catch I am, is that it?"

            "Just tell those guys to remember that I've got three friends, a van and a shovel," Trent smiled, heading for the door. "We can take care of the body."

            "I know a body you need to take care of - five-foot-four, brown hair & eyes, cute but really shy..." Jane ducked as a pillow went flying past her head. "See? She's trying to hurt your sister - better give her the tickle torture. She'll love that."

            Jane never expected the return voyage of the pillow via Trent's backhand and took a faceful of goose down, missing the momentary, soulful glance that Trent tossed in Daria's direction - and Daria caught a piece of, bringing a blush and a gentle smile to her face.

            "Hey, jerk, I owe you for that one!" Jane sputtered, blowing feathers out of her mouth - and then seeing the looks on the two faces in front of her. "Wait a moment - what'd I miss?"

            "Nothing - you caught the pillow like a champ," Trent said, giving Daria a wink as he reached over and kissed Jane on the cheek. "See you later, favorite little sister."

            "I'm your only little sister, jerk!"

            "That's why you're my favorite," he shot back. "Bye, Daria."

            Jane looked over at Daria, a big smile on her face as Trent left. "He loves me."

            "He must," Daria said, looking into her bag. "He gave you extra sour cream."

            The two girls dug into their dinner, unaware that Trent stood motionless outside the door listening to them. "Gotta make a trip over to that school if she gets too into Doc Kyle's number," he said to himself softly. "The doc's trip can get way intense, and take Jane places she doesn't need to go."


            Jake reached the top of the steps, and stopped as he caught a whiff of burning paper - "Fire!" he cried out, barreling down the hall and into the bedroom. "Helen, are you -"

            His mouth hanging open, Jake stood just inside the doorway and stared at the bedroom, now exotically lit by a legion of candles and filled with the intoxicating scent of incense as music began to play softly in the background. "Is that...yeah. Hey, this is nice. This is real nice, Helen."

            "Blue Rainwater incense - I know how much you liked it," Helen's voice came from one side, "and a little Al Green. "

Jake's eyebrows rose as music began to play. "Come on in, man of mine."

            Jake took a pair of cautious cat-steps into the room, drawn in by the soulful tunes of 'Tired of Being Alone'. "Boy, you weren't kidding when you said you needed the room tonight," he murmured. "Who's your client - Superfly, or the Sultan of Brunei?"

"Very funny, Jake," Helen replied. "Remember that weekend we took up in Sacramento - out at your brother's cabin?"

Jake turned to see his wife - he forgot that his mouth was open, and literally drooled at the sight.

            "Close your mouth, honey," Helen said as she stood backlit by the bathroom lights, the supple curves of her body visible through the nearly-translucent, scarlet-hued, gossamer-lace lingerie she wore. "So, what do you think?"

            "You're wearing the 'red onionskin," he croaked, barely able to speak and unable to take his eyes off his wife. "I love that outfit..."

            "I know," she said, deliberately brushing full against him as she swept past to close and lock the bedroom door. Helen knew that one surefire way to catch her husband's attention was with the really sexy, uber-'Victoria's Secret'-type of lingerie; she found that out years ago, when she picked up the 'red onionskin' lingerie in a Paris boutique during an overseas trip several years ago. (Actually, she got it as a gift from one of her former classmates from law school, who picked it up as a gift for Helen during a night they spent partying in one of the more colorful... clubs... in Amsterdam, but Jake didn't need to know that.)

            "I want to apologize to you, Jake," she said, her body molding against his as she went into her husband's arms and they began to dance slowly. "For the way I've been acting. I haven't been a good wife lately... and I haven't been much of anything else, either. I should be more involved with the things that interest you."

            "What I'm interested in the most is in my arms, right now," Jake told her, kissing her forehead gently. "Everything else is small stuff that we can work out, if we put our minds to it and try.
            Jake lifted Helen's face to his own. "And I know that we can work it out, because I love you, and you love me," he continued, giving her a warm, soft kiss that made tears flow from Helen's eyes. "The rest of it can wait."

            They were in their own tiny, blissful moment of forever, Jake and Helen, together in one another's arms and in the whispering touch of the emotions the music brought forth, Helen giving herself over to the sweet security of the strong, comforting arms that enfolded about her. I could live in this moment for the rest of my life, she thought, marveling once again at the grace Jake possessed as he danced. He's always been such a good dancer - why don't we go out that much anymore, so I can feel this good more often... oh, God, Jake, I feel just so right when you hold me like this - when you touch me like this... it's times like this that make it all come together for me. No outside world, no one else, no cares that go beyond our bedroom, and you're there, Jake, to take control, because you're my man, and you know exactly how to take care of me...

            Helen lifted her head from where she rested upon Jake's chest, a heated, yet mischievous gleam rising from within. "I think I need to work upon an apology, Jake," she said, easing her husband back down upon the bed. "Oh, and I believe I owe your new intern an apology as well. She'll get hers tomorrow."

            She lowered her head and bit off the top button of his shirt: it was a silly thing to do, but Jake liked it when she was aggressive in bed and she planned to make him very happy tonight. "You'll get yours right now."

"Helen, I thought you were working on a case..."

            "What I'm working on tonight is a bit more rounded off, Mr. Morgendorffer," Helen replied crisply. "You need to come out of these clothes - right now."

            Jake was still thrown off a bit by his wife's sudden downshift into Bond-girl mode, but that didn't last long; Helen definitely knew how to push her man's buttons and get him up & running.

"I - I just came up to get a blanket - and my pajamas."

            "Think again, Jake. You won't need any clothes tonight."



            I wonder where Jake is, Anthony said, lying back on the single-size bed in the nurse's office as Claire ran her fingernails gently across his bare chest. I'll have to apologize for blowing him off - but things come up... he'll understand.

            "Stop thinking so much, Tony," Claire murmured, arching herself and sighing as Anthony ran his fingers through her hair and down her back. She really loved it when her Tony caressed her like that...oh, God, especially like that... "This isn't why you're here, is it?"

            You're right about that, he agreed, sending her into gales of light, pleasant laughter as he rolled her over and began to nuzzle at her neck. Still, as long as everybody remembers why they're here, and everyone can be adult about things, no reason why we can't all have a few moments of fun every now and then...

            For her part, Claire Defoe gripped the shoulders of the man she loved, giving him every bit of emotion and passion within her as she began to slowly move her body with his, matching his rhythm with her own.


            An hour and fifteen minutes later, Helen collapsed back upon the pillows, her breath returning in short, sharp gasps as she brushed sweat-moistened bangs of hair away from her eyes. My God in Heaven, she thought, lifting herself up and over to gently place her lips upon her husbands, he is still so damned incredible at this. You were always great in bed; that's probably because there's no way to be wishy-washy about it. You're in bed to get laid - now let's get to it! And he's still got what it takes - like an old Chevy truck, he's in for the long haul...

            "Penny for your thoughts," Jake said, running his hand over Helen's bare thigh and receiving a contented purr in return, "and don't try to negotiate a higher fee."

            "If there's any talk of pay, Mister Man, then I should be paying you," she replied, snuggling in tight against her husband. "You are... such... a wonderful man. I don't tell you that enough, do I?"

            "It's not important, Helen-"

            "It's important to me," she corrected him firmly. "And you're important to me. I love you, Jake Morgendorffer."

            "I know that, Helen," he replied, "and I love you, too. Do you know how much I love you?"

            "How much?"

            "I think we need to take a trip..."

            "Oh, really?"

            "Yes... and we'll have to go through - 'Insect Airport!" Jake said, and a squeal of giggles spilled from Helen as he pressed his lips to her neck and made a loud, buzzing sound as he let his breath escape. "I think we've got a Queen Bee coming in, and she's looking for her drones!"

            "Jake, I think that bee needs to behave - stop that, Jake! - Oh, I think that bee needs more direction from the tower..."

            Helen laughed and pulled her husband to her, and as she laughed and played and shared pleasure with her husband, a nagging thought kept resurfacing through the sweltering, raging sea of their lovemaking:

            No, he wouldn't do that, not to me... Not my Jake...


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