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This is the sixth John Lane story
Morgendorffer Prison Blues
John Lane smiled as Daria Morgendorffer leaned against him, lightly dozing. He put one arm around her small frame and enjoyed the moment of closeness as they rode in the back of his brother's bandmate, Jesse Moreno's car.
Jesse asked, "Johnny, how'd you like the set tonight?"
Keeping his voice low to avoid disturbing his girlfriend, John answered, "Sounds like the band practiced a couple times this week." Instead of every couple of weeks.
"Yeah, man. We're like, gettin' real serious."
"This the place?"
Jesse stopped the car in front of the Morgendorffer house. John carefully shook Daria's shoulder.
"Hmm?" she mumbled.
Daria focused her eyes on her watch. "Oh. Oh crap, it's that late? We better get in."
John opened the car door. "The sooner, the better."
Holding hands, they got out and Daria whispered back inside, "Thanks."
Trying to move as silently as possible after Jesse drove way, Daria had her door key out when they heard Daria's sister, Quinn, say from behind a shrub, "Hold it, you two."
Daria looked at her in annoyance. "Funny."
Quinn had a predatory smile. "What are you two doing out so late?"
"We were planning our world takeover," John said. "Now that you've seen us, we'll have to kill you."
"You're usually out this late." Daria asked, "Can you tell us how to sneak in?"
"Well, for one thing, stop tiptoeing around like a couple of geeks." Quinn looked from one to the other. "Have a little dignity."
Daria sighed. "If we had any dignity, do you think we'd be out here letting you try and teach us how to be cool?"
After muttering, "Whatever," Quinn rolled her eyes and looked away.
From his upstairs bedroom window, Jake yelled, "What's going on down there!"
John's shoulders slumped. "Aw, crap."
"More threatening," Helen said from behind Jake.
"Let me handle it. Darn it!" he said to his wife before yelling back down at the door, "What's going on down there!"
John made a hand motion toward the front door before he stepped aside to be clearly seen by Jake and Helen. He called up to them, "I'm about to get my butt served on a platter?"
Jake asked, "John? What are you doing out there?"
Quinn let out a loud sigh and groaned, "Way to go, just draw attention to us."
Helen stuck her head out the window. "Quinn! What are you doing out there with John?"
Daria glared at Quinn and John dropped his head back in frustration.
Late the following morning, Daria and John were waiting on a sofa when Jake and Helen came downstairs and sat down.
Quinn paced the room and whined at the same speed, "I can't believe you thought I was going out with John! Blech!"
"I seem to recall that was John's reaction to the same concept," Daria sharply replied.
Helen firmly said, "Don't start. Your father and I are very upset that all of you broke your curfew last night."
Daria said, "I didn't know we had a curfew."
"Well, that's interesting Daria," Jake added, "I didn't either, but according to your mother..."
Helen rebuked him. "Jake!" When he stopped, she turned to the teens, "The point is all of you were out way too late, which is why tonight we're going to..."
Quinn cut her off, saying, "Destroy our lives with your crushing rules and regulations?" She dramatically held her throat. "I can't breathe, mother, I can't breathe!"
John leaned toward Daria. "If only it were true."
Helen said back, "No, tonight we're going to set some...boundaries. And we'd like your input."
"Well everybody knows that late curfews should go to people who can use them," Quinn said matter-of-factly. "Attractive and popular people with lots of friends."
Daria countered, "Wow! Who said that? Thomas Jefferson? Or was it Barbie?"
"It can't be her, she has only one boyfriend," John added with a smirk. "Therefore, she's not popular enough."
Jake pondered, "It can't be Jefferson..."
Quinn looked at her father with annoyance. "Of course not. No pin-headed historical person could ever make that much sense."
"After all, look at his taste in clothes," John said.
Quinn turned in surprise. "Exactly! I mean, how can you take anyone who wears something like that seriously?"
Helen gazed at the youths and said in frustration, "All right kids, forget the input."
Helen held up and unfolded a Ten Commandments-looking cardboard cutout with "Rules" marked across the top.
Daria couldn't resist. "Hey, does this mean we get to wander in the desert for forty years?"
Helen gave Daria a tired smile. "After much hard work, your father and I have come up with a set of guidelines I think we all can live by."
"That's right! A lot of thought went into this," Jake excitedly said before whispering to Helen, "Do I have to read these?"
Helen whispered, "Later."
"Too bad you didn't hire Charlton Heston to make the presentation," John said.
Quinn looked at the rules for a couple seconds. "Wow, the new system seems really great and interesting and I can't wait to sit down and really read through it."
Daria rolled her eyes, "Oh brother."
Quinn started to walk away. "But right now, I sort of have to go. I have a date."
"You can't go out on a date, it says right here that we don't permit that on a school night." Helen pointed to some print on the tablet. "Rule Eighteen."
John started to say, "That's going to put a...." He stopped and smiled, "Hmm."
Quinn quickly covered herself. "You know what? You're confused about my use of the word date. I have a date to meet with my...uh...algebra study group."
Jake responded, "Oh, well, that sounds okay."
Hesitant, Helen said, "All right. But as per the procedure outlined in Rules Twenty-One through Twenty-Six, make sure you sign in when you get back."
Quinn fired off a "Yeah bye," and headed out, saying, "And don't wait up, you know how study groups are."
"Good for you, Quinn!" Jake said. "Study hard!"
When John noticed Daria about to say something, he nudged her and quietly said, "Shh. Let her have the rope."
A little later that evening, Daria came into his room and pulled the door almost closed. "You're still a bit ticked at her, aren't you?"
John nodded. "I could've gotten both of you in unnoticed if she'd kept her mouth shut."
"Instead, Mom went into parental overload when they discovered all three of us out there." Daria rose up on her toes and gave him a quick kiss. "But thanks for trying."
Running almost on autopilot the next morning, John methodically spooned cereal into his mouth. Daria sat next to him at the breakfast counter, waiting for her toast.
Jake sat with them. When he noticed Quinn, still dressed in her nightshirt drag into the kitchen, he started to sing, "There she is, Miss American Bookworm."
Everyone looked at him as if he were crazy. Helen, near the refrigerator, rolled her eyes.
Jake said to Quinn, "You really must have been burning the midnight oil last night."
Sleepy and not comprehending, Quinn said, "We weren't burning anything."
"I mean your algebra study group."
Still confused, she asked, "What are you talking about?"
"The study group you went to. The sign-in sheet said you got back at eleven-thirty." Jake began to sound suspicious. "But now that I think about it, I went to bed at eleven-forty-five. Hey, I thought you got that watch fixed?"
Daria looked at John beginning to smirk and joined in. "A couple of times." Right after her toast popped up, she said, "Prepare to be busted."
Panicked, Quinn looked from Daria's small smile, to John's sure grin, to Jake's frown to Helen's scowl.
Helen said in her lawyer voice, "Quinn, were you at a study group last night or did you go on a date?"
"Don't you see how your rules are strangling me?" Quinn opted for an emotional tactic. "Yes, I went on a date, but we're in love and all the rules and regulations in the world can't stop that."
Surprised, Jake said, "In love?"
Helen continued the cross-examination. "With whom?"
John sat back and watched with satisfaction as Quinn squirmed.
"His name is Cliff. Oop, no wait, it's Clint. I'm not positive but I can find out at school."
His emotions rising, Jake let out, "You don't even know his name! And you're in love with him!"
Quinn tried to calm her father down. "You know what? You're confused about my use of the word love."
Jake wasn't mollified. "Do you have any idea how many of these rules you've broken?"
Daria motioned to the rules and gave a "watch this" smirk to John before she reached over and folded it closed to hide the text. "How many Dad? And which ones?"
Jake stammered, "Wha...what's that got to do with it?"
Quinn said in frustration, "Argh! Okay, ground me."
Helen picked up the rules and opened them, saying, "I wish it were that simple."
Jake firmly said, "Exactly," and then less firmly, "What?"
Helen pointed to the words "FAMILY COURT."
Daria pulled a book from her locker. "Don't look at me; this is a totally new form of torture."
John shrugged. "With a name like Family Court, I'd figured it was a family classic."
"Nope. This is a new insanity and I don't know what to expect."
"Probably not justice?"
Jodie Landon approached the two. "Hey, you guys wanna buy tickets for the faculty-DJ roller hockey game?"
Daria said, "Are you kidding?"
John pulled a couple dollars from his wallet. "We'll take two."
Daria exclaimed, "What? You're gonna pay to watch teachers skate around with DJs? Classic rock DJs?"
"You weren't here last year, Daria," Jodie said with a puckish smile. "Mr. DeMartino had to have an emergency angioplasty. He almost died."
John opened one eye wide in imitation of the teacher. "But a voice told him that his work here on Earth wasn't finished. Some of the students weren't wetting the bed yet. This year I bet he's more determined than ever to snatch victory from the jaws of death."
Daria asked, "What are you saying?"
Jodie said, "You know how there are people go to car races on the chance that they might see a crash?"
Daria accepted the tickets that John had purchased. "I'm in."
"What do those Supreme Court judges wear under their robes? Declassified government Polaroids next, on Sick, Sad World," the television announced to John, Daria, Jake and Quinn in the living room.
When Helen walked in, Jake said, "Hi, honey."
She surveyed the room. "Is everybody ready for their day in court?"
"Can't you just punish us?" Quinn asked. "I'd like to pay my check to society and get on with my life."
"Your father and I want you to have a fair hearing. Then we'll punish you."
"But a court procedure? Isn't that a little bureaucratic?" Daria observed.
Helen said, "Bureaucracy is the price we pay for impartiality."
Jake guessed, "Jefferson."
Helen corrected him. "Stalin." She faced the others to say, "It's all about fairness, that's why your father will make a terrific judge."
Jake grinned. "I get to be the judge?"
While he pushed a large chair in front of the television, John said to Daria, "He gets to be the judge?"
She said to him, "This is looking bad," before saying to her parents, "Look, someone once said, 'The most important thing in life is not to look like a geek.' Do you have any idea how geeky all of this is?"
Jake admonished her with, "That's it Daria, all I can say is that I hope you have a darn good defense lawyer."
Daria turned to Helen. "A lawyer? Mom?"
Like a lioness eyeing a gazelle, Helen said, "Sorry, honey, I'm prosecuting. And if I do say so myself, you're going down."
John sighed. "So much for impartiality and fairness."
Helen glared at him. "John. At least you had the honesty to come forward when you were outside the other night. We had considered leniency for that, but if you continue to question these proceedings, we will show no mercy."
John looked at her, dumbfounded. You have no idea of what I was doing, do you?
With a grunt of relief as he placed the large chair on top of the coffee table, Jake said, "There," and sat down.
Looking at Jake, John fought down a snicker as he mentally juxtaposed an image of a barbarian king upon a throne of skulls. I'll remember that. It'll make a good painting.
Jake solemnly intoned, "Family court is now in session."
Daria whispered to John, "You have that 'I was just inspired look' on your face."
In return, he whispered, "Jake the Barbarian."
With a motion of his hand, Jake said, "All rise."
Quinn and Helen stood quickly, while Daria and John took their time while deciding if Jake was serious.
He said, "Please be seated. The court calls the case of the family versus John Lane, Daria and Quinn Morgendorffer."
Tired, Daria asked, "Dad, what is this?"
"Dad?" Jake said, "I don't see any Dad."
Helen interrupted. "Your Honor, may the family proceed with our opening statements?"
"Will you approach the bench, please, councilor?" Jake winked at Helen. When she neared, he whispered, "How do I look?"
Shaking her head as she stepped away, Helen said, "Your Honor, let me make it clear at the outset that this is not a witch hunt. Daria, Quinn and John are fine young people who have often made us proud."
John, Daria and Quinn, in rare unity, said, "But..."
"But that doesn't make them exempt from the simple truth that rules are rules."
Quinn bounced up to answer the ringing telephone. While she was gone, Helen said after her "Or boundaries."
John watched and muttered, "Damn, she's about to do it again."
When she came back, Quinn said, "Your honor I have to go. I, um, made an arrangement to work, uh, on the school's adopt-a-highway...prior to this court date."
Helen said, "But we haven't even called you to the stand yet."
"Well, I was going to plead guilty or whatever anyway. I throw myself on the mercy of this um, honorable court."
"The court grants you permission," Jake proclaimed.
Quinn quickly said, "Thanks!" and almost sprinted out of the house.
Helen faced Daria and John. "Now then."
Daria looked at John, who shrugged, and she rose. "Your honor, we plead guilty. And place our faith in your wisdom, compassion, and your keen sense in fair play."
Jake nodded. "Well said. Grounded for a month."
Daria exclaimed, "What? Quinn's the one that stayed out late last night."
"We have to set boundaries, Daria," Helen warned. "Nobody said the justice system would be fair."
Jake speculated. "Actually, I think somebody did say that, Jefferson or somebody..."
"What have I told you about backing me up?" Helen snapped.
Jake added, "Sorry, the sentence stands. All three of you are grounded for a month."
Back to Daria and John, Helen said, "Grounding also means that doors stay open at all times."
John looked up in disgust. "At least Quinn has a nasty surprise waiting for her when she gets home."
Quinn's cry of, "I'm what?!" echoed through the house.
Seated together on her bed, John squeezed Daria's hand softly. "At least there is some justice."
Daria looked at the open door of her room. "A small consolation."
"But I'll take it."
Daria looked at him. "Me, too. Plus, we'll be together and she'll be cut off from her pack."
While running in gym class, Mack motioned for John to slow down so they could talk. "Daria mentioned that you two are grounded and won't make the hockey game."
"Yeah. Trust me; there were some advantages to absentee parents."
"Too bad, the pool for what time Mr. DeMartino blows out is up to a hundred and sixty bucks."
"That'd be cool to win."
"Any chance of getting time off for good behavior?"
"It's not looking that way."
"At least you two get to be together."
"With the grounding, we're back to keeping the doors completely open. The most Daria and I can do is hold hands now and then."
"And I thought the Landons kept a close eye on me and Jodie."
"Just think of how bad they'd be if you lived in the same house."
"I'd rather not, but I can see your point."
"Thanks. Uh, excuse me."
John picked up his pace and was soon alone on the track with his thoughts.
Daria set her fork down and looked at the wall clock. "Now off to the exercise yard before lockup."
Jake said, "Hey that's right! Any final words before grounding officially begins?"
Quinn complained, "This sucks!"
Helen chided, "What have I said about using that word?"
"That you'll ground me or something?"
"You know Quinn," John slowly said, "A simple ground wire to a lightning rod would solve a lot of your problems."
When the clock chimed, Helen said, "See? This will fly by in no time."
Quinn stared into John's room. Daria sat on his bed, reading Moby Dick, while he painted Capt. Ahab driving a harpoon into a white whale. She said, "Jeez. Reading stories about animals and drawing them. How second grade can you two be?" and stalked away to her room.
John turned the painting toward Daria, revealing that Capt. Ahab that looked remarkably like Helen.
Daria smiled and said, "Nice, but which one of us is the whale?"
"Who do you think?"
"But, she'd never wear white after Labor Day."
"Just part of the horror."
"And just think of all the blubber."
Incarcerate. John watched in mild awe as Daria put the Scrabble tiles down to extend Jake's placement of the word "rate" on the board. Damn, she's good, and she used all seven of her letters in one shot. That's gonna be worth some points.
While Daria was adding up her points and her parents were still letting the word soak in, John examined the board and his tiles. Hmm. It's a cheap shot, but I'll take it. He placed a "d" after Daria's word to spell "incarcerated."
At Pizza Prince, Mack and Jodie rolled their eyes and controlled their laughter when overhearing Kevin and Brittany.
Kevin tried to explain, "Then she said her parents are trying to change her generic makeup or something! And add John's to it."
Brittany squeaked, "They really should. I hate that generic makeup; it gives me hives! But why would John be wearing makeup?"
"I don't know, but it's so freaky, babe. I mean, they're weird enough as it is."
John sat on his bed, self-critiquing a painting as the final touches dried. Quinn looked through the open door and said, "Watching paint dry? The only thing worse is watching somebody else's paint dry."
Concerned about the sound, Jake went up to Daria's room and knocked on the door. When there was no answer after a second, he slowly opened it and looked in, relieved that Daria was alone. He said, "Yeah, hi Daria. I was kind of wondering if maybe you could stop now."
Daria stopped playing her harmonica and said, "Dad, these tired bones may be locked behind prison walls, but when I play this rusty old harp, my soul flies, free as a bird."
Sorry to disturb her, Jake said, "I'm sorry, honey, you go on and play."
"Thank you," was her quiet response.
After he closed the door, she moved closer to it and roughly played the opening bars of Dueling Banjos. From John's room, the next bars, also inexpertly played on harmonica, replied.
"Can you teach me how to paint?" Quinn asked.
John rolled off his bed. "What brought that on?"
"Ugh. I asked Daria for something to read and she's pulling my leg about some story about a girl everyone fights over and a giant horse."
"Yeah, that was...you know it?"
"Well...okay, I read the Cliff's Notes."
"She wasn't joking?"
John said quietly, "In her own way, she was trying to be nice to you."
"I thought she was teasing me."
"She was still doing that."
"Maybe she likes you. Trent and I tease each other all the time."
Quinn hesitantly smiled. "Um, thanks."
John could hear Helen yell, "Jake! You cannot revoke their grounding," as he walked to the door.
Jake said, "But I'm losing."
John chuckled as he opened the door for Mack and Jodie.
Mack said, "See, he's okay. John, what's so funny?"
John tilted his head toward the kitchen. "Daria's cleaning her parents' clocks at Monopoly."
Jodie asked, "You're not playing?"
"She's already cleaned mine."
Mack and Jodie both laughed at that.
Jodie said, "There've been a lot of rumors about what you've been going through. Some of them quite bizarre."
Daria walked up behind John and said, "It's hell in here."
Mack asked, "When does it end? John mentioned the chance for early release was slim."
"I don't care," Daria told them. "It's been too long already. We've paid our debt."
Jodie said, "You mean..."
"That's right, we're bustin' out."
Daria slipped into John's room, holding the cordless phone. "Forget the harmonica tapes. Mom and Dad are both working late; we can just walk out."
"I knew they couldn't keep up the pace. But what about Quinn?"
"I'm betting that she'll have something lined up in seconds and be out longer than we are."
"True. Well, we better get going, in case Trent forgot to shut the car off."
When John and Daria reached the front door, Quinn said, "Hello?"
Daria told her, "Mom and Dad are taking the night off from being jailers, so we're taking the night off, too."
"You're busting out?"
John said, "Quinn, do you really want us to hang around tonight with both your parent's gone?"
Quinn stammered, "Oh, um, no. Go on, have fun kids."
Daria eyed her sister. "I suspect you have some scam worked out for yourself but since I can't prove anything, I'm asking you not to rat on us."
Quinn stroked her chin. "Hmm, okay yes, I will do this thing you ask. But one day I may ask a favor of you."
Daria rolled her eyes. "Never mind."
Sitting in the high school gym bleachers with Jodie, Kevin and Brittany, Mack pointed to Daria and John entering. "Hey look, they're loose."
Jodie turned to Brittany and said, "See? I told you they were okay."
"She looks fine, for her." Brittany twirled her hair. "And it doesn't look like John's wearing makeup."
Kevin watched them with suspicion. "I don't know."
John put his arm around Daria as they sat and allowed himself to relax against her warmth. Daria hesitantly put her arm around him and whispered, "We're not normally this public."
"Nobody's watching us. I think something's about to happen down there."
On the court, Mr. DeMartino was circling his old roller-hockey nemesis, Rock-n-Roll Randy, and abruptly took control of the puck, moving toward the DJ's goal.
Seeing the teacher getting away, Randy slammed his hockey stick into Mr. DeMartino's knee, sending him to the floor.
About halfway down the bleachers, the usually quiet Goth girl, Andrea, pumped her fist in the air and yelled, "Yes!"
Randy circled around DeMartino and boasted, "Woohoo! Rock 'n roll power forever!"
Mr. DeMartino growled, "My knee!" and pushed himself up.
Andrea wadded up her pool ticket. "Damn."
Daria leaned her head on John's shoulder. "So close. I bet that was just the teaser; the real blow-out will come later."
John kissed the top of her head. "Optimist."
She tilted her head up and kissed him on the lips. "Only when it comes to other peoples misery."
Kevin shaded his eyes and watched Daria and John. "Whoa. They like, really did something to them. That's gross."
Brittany followed his look. "What, babe?"
"They kissed." Kevin shuddered.
Jodie looked at Kevin, confused. "Yeah."
Kevin shook his head. "But they like, live together like brother and sister. Isn't that like, illegal for them to do that thing...you know...incense."
Mack leaned over. "Kevin, they're not related."
Jodie said, "Daria's parents are John's guardians. Daria and John are not related. What they're doing is okay."
Kevin's eyes popped open. "You mean, John likes her...as a babe? That's just too freaky."
Brittany watched Daria and John contentedly sitting together. She sighed and frowned at Kevin.
Helen opened the door found the silence of the house disconcerting. After a couple moments, she saw Quinn asleep on a sofa with a book on her chest and John's cats, Zachary and Tyler, asleep on her lap. Helen quietly said, "Quinn?"
Quinn startled awake and pushed the book away. "Ugh! Get off me!"
The book slid into Zachary, who meowed in disdain and jumped to the floor, making sure his hind claws were extended as he pushed off. Tyler jumped to the other end of the sofa and rebuked Quinn from there.
Helen asked, "Where are Daria and John?"
"Mr. DeMartino didn't go down, but you have to admit that Barch beating up Randy was worth the admission price," John said to Daria as they approached the house.
Daria pointed to the driveway and a young man tossing pebbles against Quinn's window. "They just never seem to stop."
The boy called up toward the window, "Quinn! Quinn!"
She opened it and said, "Tommy, go away."
"But you said..."
Quinn snapped, "You're two hours late, jerk."
The boy walked away and Daria and John walked up.
Quinn said, "Oh, hi Daria, John."
Daria, John and Quinn sat on sofas in the living room, waiting for Helen and Jake. Daria said to her sister, "Um, thanks for not ratting us out last night."
Quinn shrugged. "It was fun watching you climb up the lattice before Mom looked in your room, besides; I liked that book."
"The Iliad. I don't know if that Homer guy could write any stuffier, but I liked it. Although the idea of Mom having the same name...brr."
Helen came in. "Children, we're very proud of how you handled yourselves yesterday. None of you snuck out or had anybody come over."
Jake grinned. "So we have a surprise for you."
After a moment, John said, "Well?"
Helen said, "We're putting all of you on parole. You'll have to call home if you're going to be later than seven, but otherwise, the grounding is over. You've proven that you understand the need for discipline."
Daria discreetly watched Quinn as she answered Helen, "Um, wow. Thanks."
Quinn rushed up to her room, calling over her shoulder, "Okay, if Tommy calls, tell him I'm on my way."
Helen sighed and lowered her head.
Daria held up her harmonica. "The week wasn't a total loss; would you like to hear some Junior Wells?"
Helen glared at the musical instrument. "If you two promise to make those things go away, you can stay out late tonight."
Jake said, "Sure, ten, ten-thirty. Have fun."
Seated at Pizza Prince, Daria told John, "Now, we owe Quinn big-time. That has me worried."
"But it might be worth it, look at what you got her to read."
"Um, yeah. You know she's not as dumb as she pretends to be."
"I'm...starting to figure that out."
When Kevin walked up to the table, Daria said, "Kevin, I already told you, my parents did not conduct experiments on us."
He waved his hand dismissively. "I know, I know, but seriously, now tell me the truth."
Daria sighed and said, "All right, John had a magnetic device implanted in his head."
John raised an eyebrow.
"No, no. Not that." Kevin asked, "Are you like, John's babe or something?"
"John is my...boyfriend."
John reached over and held Daria's hands.
Kevin faced John. "She's like, a brain. Doesn't that, uh, cause problems?"
John softly ran his thumbs over the backs of Daria's hands and looked straight at Kevin. "Trust me: it doesn't, and it has its advantages."
"Think about it."
Daria gave him a small smile. "If you figure it out, it could make you unpopular."
Kevin stepped back as if threatened. "Whoa, dude, that is so uncool."
John leaned toward him a bit and conspiratorially said, "It's the price you pay, but it's worth it."
Kevin stepped back once more before turning and fleeing.
Daria smiled at John. "There's no sadder sight on this earth, than a football player trying to think."
"Who said that?"
"I believe it was Jefferson."
The Big House by Sam Johnson and Chris Marcil via the Outpost Daria transcript
Thanks to Ipswichfan, Mr. Orange, and Kristen Bealer for beta reading.