Disclaimer: Daria and associated characters are owned by MTV. This is fan fiction written for entertainment only. No money or other negotiable currency or goods have been exchanged.
This is the twenty-second John Lane story
Walking down a corridor of Lawndale High, Daria said, "I don't think it'll work. Even if you can convince them to let you borrow a mosquito truck, they're not going to let you run paint through the sprayer."
John sighed and said, "Some people just don't understand artistic vision."
Mr. O'Neill rushed up, grinning wildly as he said, "Daria! I have great news!"
She said, "You decided to see the wonders of Europe on ten dollars a day...starting tomorrow."
"Oh, how I wish. No! Your essay placed second in the 'Spend a Day with Val' contest!"
"The Angst Girl."
John teasingly said, "Entering contests? You're holding out on me."
Daria gave him a fast glare and asked Mr. O'Neill. "How did it get entered?"
"I sent it in for you!"
Rubbing her temples, Daria said, "Too late to worry about that. But, I'll have something published; it's a small consolation."
"Um...sorry Daria, no. You're going to get a plaque."
"They're not even going to publish the damn essay?"
"But, you also get a 2-year subscription to Val!"
Daria irritably asked, "What am I going to do with that? I don't have a pet bird. Out of curiosity, does the winner at least get published?"
"No, but they get to spend an entire day with Val. I'm sorry you missed out."
"The subscription is sounding better."
"Come with me, Daria. One of the staffers wants to talk to you on the phone."
"Be still, oh my beating heart."
Since he hadn't been told to stay away, John shrugged and followed Daria and Mr. O'Neill into the teacher's lounge. I'm surprised Mr. DeMartino doesn't have a picture of Kevin on a dartboard.
Mr. O'Neill dialed the phone and waited a couple seconds before getting an answer. "Good afternoon, this is Timothy O'Neill, calling back. Ms. Cawthon, please...Hello! Yes, this is Daria's writing mentor."
Daria closed her eyes and clenched her teeth at the comment. John carefully placed one hand on her shoulder in an attempt to calm her.
Mr. O'Neill said, "She right here...oh, yes." He presented the telephone to Daria. "Ms. Cawthon, one of Val's staff writers, would like to talk to you."
She took the phone and said, "Hello."
"Hi, I'm Debbie. How are you?"
"I bet you're excited."
"Oh. Must be because you're used to this sort of thing."
"A woman of few words, I see. Val's going to spend the day with the first-place finisher, a girl in...um, something Valley, Illinois. Never heard of it. At the same time, I'll be at Lawndale High to present a plaque to you, in front of the entire student body."
"Can't you just mail it?"
Debbie chuckled and said, "Sorry, I have to hand deliver it."
"Oh well, I suppose I can't stop you."
"I'll see you in a couple days. Bye."
Holding up a copy of Val folded at the spine, John said, "Eight."
Disgusted, Daria looked up from the copy Mr. O'Neill had shoved into her hands earlier. "Eight?"
"That's how many times Val's name appears on this page."
"No lack of self-esteem there. No wonder Mr. O'Neill likes her. I'm still disturbed that he entered my essay without asking."
John said, "What I find more disturbing is that Mr. O'Neill must read this rag. How else would he even know about the contest?"
"John, that is creepy on so many different levels."
He pointed to an article on the page. "So is 'chili con cheesepuff'. We don't let your dad see this."
"Agreed." Daria's eyes suddenly brightened. "There is one good thing about the whole mess."
"I should be able to cash in for some bonus extracurricular activity credit with Mom."
"Have I ever told you that I like the way you think?"
"Are you sure?" Quinn asked Daria as the family ate dinner.
"I think you'll get a lot more out of the subscription than I will."
"I'm so proud of you, Daria," Helen said.
Jake said, "Yeah kiddo, me too."
Helen said, "I don't remember you sending anything in."
"Oh, Mr. O'Neill took care of that."
John said, "Guess English teachers know about these kinds of contests and such. Probably have teacher newsletters or something."
"I suppose. Anyway, I'm still so happy. Second place in a national writing contest; wait until I tell Rita."
John leaned over and whispered to Daria, "If this rates gloating to your Aunt Rita, it has to be worth some serious brownie points."
Daria gasped and arched her neck as John gently nibbled on the base of it. Holding her around the waist, he said, "Congratulations."
"Careful," she warned, turning within his arms and placing her arms around his neck. "I might have to return the favor."
They kissed, holding each other close to feel the joy of togetherness and the warmth of their bodies. John moved his hands up Daria's back, gently caressing. She sighed and started to kiss his neck and run her fingers through his hair.
Because they were well used to listening, the light tread of someone in the hall broke the moment and they stepped apart, catching their breath as someone knocked on Daria's door.
"Yes?" Daria called.
Quinn asked, "Can I come in?"
"Sure, the door's open."
The younger sister grinned inwardly, recognizing Daria and John's shortness of breath. "That writer person from Val is supposed to be at school for awhile, right?"
"Can, um, the Fashion Club get a little time with her? To like, show her the advice booth and stuff."
"It's not like I'm going to be her tour guide or anything. As far as I know, she's going to be bothered by Mr. O'Neill and Ms. Li, interview me, and then give the award. After that, I'm assuming that she'll make a run for it, back to New York."
"It would mean a lot if you could try. Please?"
"What would be my motivation?"
Quinn smoothed down John's mussed hair without a word.
Daria sighed and said, "I'll try, but I can't guarantee anything."
"Thanks." Quinn giggled and left, closing the door quickly behind her.
John caught Daria as she slumped forward and pressed her face against his chest. "Just shoot me."
"Will Daria Morgendorffer please report to the office," Ms. Li said over the intercom.
Mrs. Bennett lowered her arm and turned from the blackboard. "Go on, Daria. I hope you have a good interview."
"So much for a quiet exit," Daria muttered.
John pointed his thumb at Jodie. "What did you expect after somebody put it in the school paper?"
"Hey, now I can add 'Award-Winning Writer' next to Daria's column," Jodie explained.
Daria groaned and pushed her way through the door.
"You have an evil streak in you," John said to Jodie.
"I'm only making sure that Daria gets the recognition she deserves, even if she doesn't think so."
"She's going to get even."
"I'm sure she will."
"Ms. Morgendorffer, come right in," Ms. Li said, holding the door for Daria.
Stepping slightly wide and keeping an eye on the principal, Daria entered and saw a brunette wearing a trendy, and slightly revealing, version of her mother's usual choice of attire.
The woman stood and offered her hand. "Hi Daria, you can call me Debbie. Nice to meet you."
"Um, hi," Daria answered, with little enthusiasm.
"Oh, this is so exciting," Ms. Li said. "To show Lawndale High in such a positive light. Right, Daria?"
"Well, I'll just leave you two alone for the interview," Ms. Li said, retreating into her personal office.
Daria looked at the writer and then at the security camera in the front office.
Debbie followed her gaze and said, "Why don't you show me around the school? I'm sure Ms. Li won't mind."
Daria turned and opened the door. "Want to start with the cafeteria? It should be safe now that lunch is over."
Stepping through after the teen and closing the door, Debbie said, "Are you sure? Isn't that when they turn the dogs loose to clean up?"
Daria faintly smiled and said, "Ms. Li would never subject her bomb-sniffing dogs to what the common students eat. Those mutts are fed almost as well as the football players."
"Somehow, I don't think you're a regular reader of Val."
"Hmm, this afternoon is getting more interesting for me. It wasn't your idea to submit that essay, was it?"
Daria tilted her head to look at Debbie. "No, and you're not as vapid as the magazine you write for."
"I have student loans up to my navel to pay off, but at least it's work in my field."
"Now that gives me confidence in pursuing a writing career."
"A little reality check. But, it still looks good on a resume."
"Grown up and sold out?"
Debbie rolled her eyes. "There's no way I could've moved back in with my parents." A second later, she stepped forward and stopped in front of Daria. "You're good. But, I need to get some answers out of you instead."
John found them seated on a small knoll outside of the library that he and Daria often favored. Ms. Cawthon was talking on her cell phone. "Hello? Pssstbt crkkllle ssssst. I can't sschhckk. Breaking up. Bzzxxt. Talk later, bye." Clicking it off, she laughed once and added, "I love these things."
John said, "Must not be important."
"Only my boss, Val."
Daria said, "Can you teach my mom that trick?"
John asked in mild surprise, "Consorting with the enemy?"
"The enemy is one of us. John, this is Debbie. Debbie, this is John."
She smiled. "So you're the tall, dark, handsome, blue-eyed stranger."
He sat next to Daria. "It's true; you don't get much stranger than me."
Debbie said, "I can see what you two see in each other."
"Speaking of seeing," John said, pointing to four girls walking directly toward them. "You've been spotted by the Fashion Club and they have a target lock."
Daria rubbed her hands. "Look, I promised my sister that I'd see if you were interested in talking to them."
Debbie started counting. "Let's see, the alpha lion, the power behind the throne, the worker and the supporter."
John said, "Damn, you've got them pegged."
Sandi stopped with the rest of the Fashion Club behind her. Quinn carefully raised her hands and shrugged, "Sorry," to Daria.
Sandi asked, "Are you, like, the writer from Val?"
Debbie said, "Yes, and you are?"
"Sandi Griffin, President of the Fashion Club."
Debbie stood, and with well-honed dignity, brushed a couple stray blades of grass from her suit. "A pleasure, and who are your companions?"
"Quinn Morgendorffer, Vice-President."
"Stacy Rowe, Secretary."
"How are you?"
"And, Tiffany Blum-Deckler."
Debbie said, "Hi, everyone."
"We're here to show you the best of what Lawndale High has to offer in fashion."
Debbie examined the girl's attire. "Hmm. Hip and bouncy simplicity with an overtone of cute."
"Thanks, and it's not all about us." Quinn explained, "We have our fashion advice booth open after school every day. So, we can pass on our knowledge to others."
"Interesting." Debbie opened her purse and removed a business card, which she handed to Quinn. "My job today is to interview Daria, so I wouldn't have time to do your Fashion Club's activity justice. Why don't you write up what you're doing with the booth and send it to me? We'll see where it goes from there."
Quinn stared at the card. "Write?"
Debbie lightly laughed. "Yes, and you just email it. I'm looking forward to hearing from you, please don't disappoint me."
Sandi said, "Um, sure. We'll write it all up and send it to you. Stacy, did you get that?"
Opening a notepad in a near panic, Stacy said, "I, uh...just a second."
Writing fast, she said, "I got it, Sandi."
Checking her watch, Debbie said, "I think we need to get ready for the presentation. Daria, I must get the plaque from my car first, and then I'll meet you backstage in a few minutes." To the Fashion Club she said, "It's been a pleasure, but if you will please excuse us."
"Okay, you're like, excused." Sandi replied, still trying to figure out exactly what had just happened.
Moments later, John was walking with Daria toward the auditorium. "That was pretty slick, how she dealt with the Fashion Club."
"I think I could learn a few things from Debbie."
"Should I be worried?"
Daria glanced to the side at him. "I don't know; should you?"
"Daria! Ms. Cawthon!" a seriously winded Mr. O'Neill called as the two, plus John, neared the backstage door of the auditorium. He caught up when they stopped and stooped over with his hands on his knees, catching his breath.
"The person responsible for all this," Daria said to Debbie. "Mr. O'Neill, my English teacher."
"I'm sorry..." Mr. O'Neill said, stopped for a couple breaths, and continued, "...that I couldn't meet you sooner."
"Daria and I have had a fascinating afternoon, no problem."
"I'm...sure. Daria has such a...sharp wit."
"You're not exactly showing us a good example of physical fitness," John said.
"Oh, when I was you age...I...um..." Mr. O'Neill realized who had just spoken. "...uh, couldn't have kept up with you...but I could hold my...own."
"Can we help you?" Debbie asked.
"I wanted...to thank you for coming all this way...to make the presentation to us."
Daria frowned and said, "Us?"
"You know," Debbie said. "It got me out of the office and New York for the day in a company car."
Mr. O'Neill stammered, "Um..."
Slipping into her "reader service" mode, Debbie said, "Thank you for 'encouraging' Daria to submit her essay."
"Well, I try to bring out the best in my students."
"When he's not trying to bring up our lunch," John whispered to Daria.
"There you are, skinny!" Ms. Barch shouted, rounding a corner of the building.
Caught by surprise, Mr. O'Neill said, "Ja...Ms. Barch. I'd like you to meet Ms. Cawthon, from Val magazine."
"Val! That exploitive rag!" Ms. Barch said with utter repugnance. "What in the world is she doing here? Bringing her here is almost as bad as when Ms. Li let that modeling agency run amok on campus. If I were principal, you can bet that sorry episode never would've happened!"
"Uh...She's here to present Daria with a writing award."
"Daria?" Ms. Barch focused on the teen. "I though you were above such nonsense. Don't tell me that you've been corrupted by the traitor to the X chromosome!"
"It's a long story," Daria said. "Mr. O'Neill can explain it. But, we need to head inside for the assembly. Maybe, we can discuss this later."
"It's been quite an experience meeting you two, but Daria's right, we need to get ready," Debbie said, making a fast exit with Daria and John.
Once inside the auditorium and with the door closed, Debbie asked, "What a pair of loons. You know, I get the feeling that those two..."
"We don't talk about it," John said. "The very idea..."
"...is too horrible to even think about," Daria said, completing the sentence.
"And I thought my high school was screwed up."
Just before things started, John went out into the auditorium and found a seat next to Jodie and Mack. Jodie leaned over and said to John, "Daria must hate this part."
"If it wasn't for the bargaining leverage with her mother..." John said.
Jodie said, "And I thought my folks were bad."
Mack nudged her. "They are."
She nudged back. "Just because you're the only one around here with halfway-normal parents."
"Excuse me? Dad changed my name after seeing a basketball game."
"Mack, in this town," John said, "that's only mildly abnormal."
"Okay, you've got me there."
Ms. Li stood at the podium to address the assembled students. Debbie was a couple paces to her left, and Daria uncomfortably waited slightly behind Debbie.
"I'm surprised Mr. O'Neill isn't up there," Jodie said.
John said, "I'm sure you realize how Ms. Barch feels about magazines like Val."
Jodie rolled her eyes and imitated Ms. Barch's voice. "Quisling's Sisters!"
"Daria left Mr. O'Neill to explain to her why he submitted Daria's essay."
Mack cringed in sympathetic agony. "Ouch."
"Students," Ms. Li addressed the crowd. "It always brings me great pleasure when one of our own brings honor and glory to Lawndale High. It's with great excitement that I introduce Ms. Cawthon from Val magazine."
Debbie traded places with Ms. Li behind the podium. "Hi, everybody. I've had a great time here at Lawndale High."
The students gave a half-hearted cheer.
"On behalf of the staff of Val, it's with pleasure that I present this plaque to Daria Morgendorffer, for her outstanding writing skills in placing second in our 'Spend a Day with Val' contest."
Daria stepped up to the podium; those that knew her could see the slight hesitation. "Thanks. All of this was really a surprise."
Mack asked John, "Can you tell us how Daria plans to snuff out Mr. O'Neill?"
"It looks like Ms. Barch might be doing the job as we speak."
Mack shivered at the idea. "Remind me to never tick-off Daria."
Debbie took her cell phone from a pocket. "Val wanted to say a few words on this occasion. Just a moment while I ring her up."
After several seconds, she said, "Val, it's Deb. Daria Morgendorffer's right beside me and the school's waiting to hear from you."
Debbie placed the phone close to the podium mike and stepped back. Val's voice sounded distant as she said, "Hey, Daria! This is Val and I'm so jiggy with talking to you this afternoon. I've spent a great day with my new pal, Kay, and she's writing about her experiences. I bet you two would hit it off. Maybe both of you could come to New York and spend..." Val paused and suddenly screamed, "...He did not leave me! I dumped that has-been loser! I don't care what he wants to do with that slut Gwynnie! That little bitch..."
Debbie dove for the phone and snatched it away, covering it with her hand. Mixed gasps and chuckles rose from the audience.
"Ms. Cawthon!" Ms. Li demanded as she strode back to the podium. "What is the meaning of this?"
Debbie gulped. "I'm sorry, Ms. Li. Val can be temperamental at times."
"Sound more like plain mental," Daria said. More chuckles came from the other students.
Ms. Li held out her hand. "I want a word with her."
Random screaming noises, muffled by Debbie's hand, continued to flow from the cell phone. "I don't think that's a good idea."
"Don't argue with me, I know how those creative types like to play at being high strung. Give me that phone."
Debbie presented the device. "It's your ear."
"Ms. Val," Li started to say. Her eyes bugged open wide and she moved the phone away from her ear as more indistinct ranting sounded. She passed the phone back to Debbie and then stepped to the podium.
After clearing her throat, Ms. Li rapidly said, "Thank you, um, thank you, Ms. Cawthon and congratulations, Daria Morgendorffer. Assembly dismissed."
Looking at the plaque, John said, "I didn't know it was possible to do a pink anodized coating on brass."
Seated on the other side of the booth, Debbie said, "Never underestimate how tasteless you can be if you throw enough money at something."
Holding a slice of pizza, Daria said, "From what she sounded like, I think the plaque was a better deal than an actual visit from Val."
"It is." Debbie sighed. "If I can keep from killing her for another year and a half, I'll have all my student loans paid off. I keep telling myself that."
"I don't know if I can take much more encouragement," Daria said.
"Life's sometimes like high school; you have to put up with a lot of annoyance to get where you want to go. But, it's better than the alternative of not trying to go anywhere. You end up with a lot more annoyance."
"And I thought I was cynical."
"You are, it just needs to mature a bit more."
"Too bad Val's tantrum made everyone forget why we were there," John said. He smiled down at the award. "Well, almost everyone."
"I like the way you two are together. A lot better than watching Val and her boy toy."
Daria said, "Let me guess; pretty to look at, but so air-headed that you need to keep him away from sharp objects."
Debbie coughed with laughter. "Yeah, he was eye-candy looking for easy influence. I've seen tofu with more personality."
"Hey Val Lady, can you do that ventroquil..trillo...nitrill...um, throwing your voice thing again? It was really cool." Kevin said as he stepped up to the table with Brittany.
John rolled his eyes. "Speaking of tofu..."
Helen gently nudged the award and stepped back to see if it was level. Unhappy, she nudged it again and rechecked, which brought a smile. "Now everyone can see your accomplishment, Daria."
"Wow, that's the same shade as my diarrhea medicine," Jake said.
Daria rubbed her temples. "I'll think of that always, Dad."
"No problem, kiddo."
Quinn hurried past them and up the stairs. Along the way, she talked on the cordless phone. "I'm on my way to my room now, Stacy. We can do this."
Helen looked up the stairs at the departed daughter. "She seemed in a hurry."
"Must be important Fashion Club business," John said.
A couple days later and curious about Quinn leaving Daria's room, John poked his head inside. Daria was reclining on her bed, reading from a sheet of paper. He asked, "What's your sister plotting this time?"
Daria turned the sheet to face John. "She...asked me to proofread something."
"She and Stacy actually wrote an article to send to Debbie. It's...not that bad."
"Granted, it needs work, but I promised to help her on stuff like this."
"And a deal's a deal."
Teasing, John asked, "So, are you going to get help from her anytime soon?"
John looked up from drawing his regular cartoon for the Lawndale Lowdown to see Jodie enter the newspaper workroom carrying the new copy of Val.
Jodie read from it, "Confident and smart, Daria Morgendorffer is ready to face the twenty-first century on her own terms. In both her style of dress and attitude toward life, Daria blends function with femininity, showing that she won't be a follower of trends, she'll be making them."
"Dammit," Daria said in mock indignation. "I made another good impression."
Jodie flipped a couple pages. "Better than the winner of the writing contest. 'My terrifying day with K and the underground anti-teen brain culture.'"
"Sounds like you two might've hit it off," John said.
Daria shrugged. "Eh, we'll never know."
Thanks to Kristen Bealer, Ipswichfan and Mr. Orange for beta reading.