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 thirty-sixth John Lane story
Fists on her hips and eyes glaring with great intensity, Daria said, "Not just no, Hell no. So far this year, we've endured a dance, that stupid cruise, a night trapped on a mountain by a blizzard, Homecoming Court, the Thompson's Football Barbeque and Brittany's 'I Got a C' party. We've seen more than enough of our fellow classmates and we're not going to the prom."
Knowing that it had been a futile effort, Jodie said, "Okay, okay. I was just asking."
"And I was just answering in the most unambiguous terms possible."
"How about helping with the setup? We could really use John's artistry for the decorations and your writing skills for the program."
"Are you sure you want to turn artistic control of the prom decorations over to John? He doesn't follow creative directions very well."
"Hmm, that could be a problem."
"Look, Jodie, this time, please leave us out of it. That's all we're asking."
Jodie gave in. "You win. I won't bring it up again. I promise."
Sandi stared, dumbfounded, at the advertising poster for Star Teen Formalwear on the hallway bulletin board. Behind her, Stacy and Tiffany tried to see the poster while Quinn waited behind. Finally, Sandi turned and said, "Quinn, how did your sister get a modeling job and why have we not been informed of this vital piece of information?"
"Daria?" Quinn said, utterly confused. "Modeling? You do remember what she did when the Amazon Modeling Agency was here, right?"
Sandi stepped away so that the others could see the poster. Stacy and Tiffany gasped to see a picture of Daria in a trim, purple dress while John, in a formal tuxedo, held his hands around her waist. The logo on the poster read, "For all of your prom needs." Next to it was a similar poster featuring Jodie and Mack.
Quinn stared for a moment and said, "That's what she wore in the homecoming parade!"
Sternly, Sandi asked, "That's nice. Now will you please explain this...this crime against fashion?"
"We've got to get rid of them!" Panicky, Quinn tore the poster off the wall and looked around. On the other side of the main office, she spied another bulletin board with the poster. She ran to it and pulled it down, too. "All of them!"
Stacy followed and said, "They don't look that bad, Quinn. Actually, your sister looks really cute."
"And the boy, too," Tiffany said, following behind Stacy.
Quinn spun around. "We can't let her see them."
Responding to the commotion and gathering crowd of students outside, Ms. Li stepped out into the hall and evaluated the situation. "Ms. Morgendorffer. What seems to be the problem?"
"Um, nothing, nothing, Ms. Li," Quinn said, trying to seem calm and failing completely.
The principal took the posters from Quinn's hands and opened them. "I didn't think that your sibling rivalry went as far as vandalism. Fortunately, we have plenty of posters to replace those you've damaged. Now, run along before I decide that corrective action is necessary."
"Yes, Ms. Li," Quinn said before hurrying away toward Mr. DeMartino's room, where she knew that Daria had her next class.
John watched Daria stare at the poster. "Daria?"
With a disturbingly unemotional voice, Daria said, "Star Teen Formalwear reserves the unrestricted right to use any photographs, drawings or other visual media associated with the official use of this product."
John said, "That was in the small print, wasn't it?"
"I never thought that they'd be so desperate for advertising that they would use a picture of me."
"Daria! Thank God!" Quinn came round the corner of the hallway. "I need to...uh, oh," she said, stopping next to John.
John asked Quinn, "They're all over the school, aren't they?"
"This is bad."
"Really bad. Where did they get the picture?"
Daria said, "It has to be from the yearbook photos Ted took before the parade. I bet it's another one of Ms. Li's deals."
"Oh, Daria," Quinn said. "I was afraid that this would make you go all Dad on us or something."
Daria looked briefly at Quinn, shrugged and went into the classroom. "It's not like how I look is going to sell any dresses for them."
Quinn said to John, "That could've been worse, but I'm glad I'm not riding home with you two today."
John carefully entered Daria's room and crossed to her bed to sit next to her. "Hey."
He judged the time was as good as any. "So what part are you madder about? That your picture was used without your permission, or that you look good in it."
She sighed and leaned against him, resting her head on his shoulder. "Neither. Everyone's going to assume that we are going to the prom. Therefore, we'll have to listen to stupid questions about our plans for going and then stupid questions about why we're not going. Over, and over, and over and over. The casualties among brain cells could be high."
"Too bad you can't publish a column in the paper that says, 'We're not going.'"
"That would be too easy. You know people will have to ask to 'hear it in person.'"
"How about a shirt that says, 'If you ask me about the prom, I'll kill you.' Nah, Ms. Li would say that it violates the ban on violence-themed clothes."
"Why do people put such importance on a stupid dance?"
"Because they know it will be the high point of their pathetic lives?"
Daria tilted her head and kissed the side of his neck. "You sure know how to cheer me up."
He moved his arm around her waist and held her closer. "You looked good in that picture."
"Much to my embarrassment."
"Everyone saw us in the parade. It's not a secret."
"I know, but I'm not yet comfortable with it."
"Do you mind if I'm comfortable?"
Daria snuggled against him more. "Yes, you're very comfortable."
Jake set several serving dishes on the table and announced, "Bavarian beef, spaetzle, and sauerkraut."
Seated, Helen said, "Jake, you're not using one of your mother's recipes, are you? You don't need that much fat in one meal. None of us need that much fat in one meal."
"Don't worry," John said. "We skipped her advice that 'everything tastes better with a dollop of lard.'"
"Thank you." Helen cautiously leaned forward. "It smells good."
"I think it's the beer," Daria said, also deeply inhaling the aroma.
"Beer?" Helen said.
"Hartzwesten Dark," Jake proudly said. "I had to drive all the way to Oakwood, but it was well worth the trip."
"You drove all the way to Oakwood for beer?"
"It's really good beer, Helen."
"It's just like cooking with wine," John said, seeing Helen's concern. "It adds flavors and there's no alcohol left after it's cooked."
"What about what was left in the bottle?" she demanded.
"Um, I drank it," Jake admitted.
"What about the rest of the six-pack?"
Jake nodded to a single, permanent, swinging cap bottle on the counter. "It's sold in singles."
Helen settled down. "Good, as long as John didn't take care of it. This really does smell good."
Daria whispered to John, "She's worried about beer when Dad knocks back those hundred proof martinis?"
"She seemed more worried about me drinking. Let's face it; the beer has to taste better than Jake's martinis."
"Drain cleaner probably tastes better than Dad's martinis."
As Jake started to dish up the food, Quinn said, "Now that everyone is finished talking about Dad and John's cooking, do you want to hear my big news?"
"Oh, Quinn. What news is that?" Helen asked.
"I've been selected as one of the prom hostesses. Only four girls and four guys are chosen. It's a big honor."
"How wonderful," Helen said.
Jake said, "Way to go!"
Quinn wasted no time in asking, "I'll need to get a dress."
Helen said, "Of course, proms are an important part of the high school experience. You can use the gold card."
Helen turned to Daria and John. "What about you? You haven't mentioned anything about the prom."
Daria shrugged. "We're not going."
"You told me that you were going to think about it."
"We did, and we decided not to go. I'm assuming that by 'think about it,' you meant for us to consider both sides and make a decision, not 'we agree and this soothes our egos.'"
Helen sighed in disappointment. "I don't suppose I could get you to reconsider? Proms are one of the high points of high school and I don't want you to regret missing the chance."
John said, "Yeah, I guess all that underage drinking and sex are hard to forget. Well, unless you drink too much, then you probably forget everything."
"John!" Helen said. "That's not what I'm talking about. Jake, tell them about how much fun you had at the prom!"
"Um, Helen," he said. "The military school didn't have a prom. But, we did have a dance and one year I had a date..."
Daria quickly said, "Um, we've heard that one before, Dad."
"No prom, we get it," John said, helping out.
"What would it take to get you to agree?" Helen said.
"Nothing that you can afford," Daria said.
Helen said, "That's not a reasonable starting point for negotiation."
"No, it's realistic. Mom, we really don't want to go. I'm being honest enough to admit that with a high enough bribe, I could be convinced to go. But, since such a bribe would involve several years' take-home pay for you and Dad...I don't think that you will be willing to pay it."
Helen dropped her head in defeat. "Okay, Daria. But if you change your mind, we're here to help you get ready for the big night."
"Don't wait up."
While John painted, Daria sat on his bed, writing. She looked up and said, "You really aren't interested in the prom, right? I've been doing the talking for both of us and I want to make sure."
"It's not a big deal for me. To let you in on locker-room talk, most guys are looking at this as a very expensive date with a greater than normal chance of getting laid and/or drunk in the process. Mack might see this as a chance to be romantic with Jodie, but really, he's the only one I can think of."
"Damn, you're starting to make me sound optimistic. I only wanted to stay away because it's a stupid, crowded dance."
"There is that, too."
"You know we're going to go through this even more next year as seniors."
"We can always say that we're worried about vampires crashing the prom."
"Nah, with our luck, Brittany would turn out to be a slayer."
John laughed and said, "Good one. Anyway, we need to deal with this prom and worry about that one later."
"Which means standing firm and saying, 'No,' regardless of the number of times we need to do it."
"Too bad we can't back that up with a brick to their foreheads."
"John, we don't want to give Ms. Li an excuse to sentence us to the prom. No bricks."
A few minutes after Daria left, Quinn knocked and cracked open John's door. "Hey."
"What's up?" he asked.
Quinn came in, but warily watched the hallway. "Okay, you're not going to the prom. I don't understand it, but that's you and Daria's thing and I'm not getting involved."
"Thank you, Quinn."
"But what are you going to do on prom night?"
"We haven't really thought about it."
"Oh John, what am I going to do with you two?"
"You've got to go somewhere and do something that night."
"Do you really want to just stay home?"
"Daria and I can have a nice, romantic evening here just as well as anywhere else and we don't have to go to a lot of extra effort and expense. It's being together, not where we're at, that's important."
"Need I remind you that Mom and Dad are going to be weird on you all night if you stay here?"
"You've got a point."
"So you'd better think of something, and promise me that it will be something nice."
Distracted from the tutoring session, Brittany twirled her hair around her finger and said, "Daria, do you have your dress for the prom?"
Daria tightly closed her eyes and massaged them with her fingertips. "I'm not going to the prom."
Without hesitation, Brittany angrily spun and slapped John across the face. "How could you!"
Recoiling from the powerful hit, John said, "Huh?"
Kevin flinched in sympathy. "Man, that had to hurt."
Daria reached over and grabbed Brittany's arm. "Brittany!"
She looked back and said, "I'm so sorry, Daria. Who'd he ask out?"
"Nobody. We decided not to go," Daria explained.
"What?" Brittany said, perplexed. "But, you're on all those posters."
"Those are pictures of us from homecoming. The company that gave us the clothes is sponsoring the prom."
Kevin said, "Dude, you're not going?"
John shook his head.
"But the prom is the best night to score."
John, Daria and Brittany glared at Kevin, who said, "What?"
John said, "Daria and I wanted to something a little more...personal."
"Ohh," Brittany said, clearly misinterpreting. "Where are you going?"
"We...haven't decided, yet," Daria said.
"John," Kevin said. "It better be good."
John muttered, "Yeah, no pressure."
Stepping out of a restroom stall, Daria found Sandi, Stacy, and Tiffany waiting. A bit further back, Quinn held up her hands as if saying, "I have nothing to do with this."
Sandi said, "Um, Daria."
"It's a really big honor for us to be invited to be hostesses for the prom."
"We're really excited about it," Stacy said. "And we're, um, confused about why you don't want to go."
Daria leaned back against the stall frame. "Why don't I just get on the intercom and explain to the whole school? It'll save so much time and effort."
With her usual drawl, Tiffany said, "Because Ms. Li won't let you?"
"Good one," Daria admitted. She stood up straight and asked, "Look, why is everyone so interested in whether John and I go to the prom or not?"
"Because, for some reason that escapes me, you're two of the most popular juniors in school and people follow your lead," Sandi said.
"Come on," Daria replied. "Popular?"
Stacy said, "Everybody reads your column and John's cartoons are so funny."
Sandi added, "Plus, you hang out with the other two most popular couples in school; Jodie and Mack and Kevin and Brittany."
Daria sighed. "Look, we're only trying to survive high school. We not trying to set any kind of example and we're not looking for people to follow our lead."
"But they do, so you better get used to it. You have a responsibility," Sandi said.
"In that case," Daria said, beginning to walk past the other girls. "I hope people start making decisions for themselves and not keep imitating us or anyone else."
Sandi watched Daria leave and then asked Quinn, "She doesn't get it, does she?"
"She does," Quinn said. "She just doesn't like it."
In the Lawndale Lowdown workroom, John looked up when he heard the door open. When he saw who was there, he thought, What does Ms. Li want now?
At a computer, Daria stopped typing and rotated her chair to face the door. "Yes, Ms. Li?"
"Ms. Morgendorffer, Mr. Lane. Just the people I wanted to talk to. Rumor has it that you are not planning on attending the prom."
Daria grumbled, "Et tu, Ms. Li?"
"Don't try to talk us into going," John said.
"Let's not jump to any conclusions, shall we?" Ms. Li said.
"Okay," Daria said. "Then what do you have on your mind?"
"Star Teen Formalwear is very happy with sales for this year's prom and attributes it to successful advertising."
"With Jodie and Mack on one set of posters and us on the other set," John said, not liking what he figured was coming next.
Ms. Li smiled. "Exactly, Mr. Lane, and despite you and Ms. Morgendorffer's well-known aversion to such things, you haven't complained. For which, I am pleasantly grateful and attribute to your personal growth this year. While most students view the prom with great anticipation and delight, if you choose to forgo such activity, who am I to say otherwise?"
Startled, John said, "Um, thanks for being so understanding."
"That's what makes the difference between an educator and a good educator." Ms. Li turned back and opened the door, saying, "Now please, don't let me delay you any further," before exiting.
"She's up to something," John said.
Daria said, "I think that after the company used our images on the posters, that's her way of saying that she's not expecting us to cause trouble at the prom."
"As tempting as it might be to now plan something, I'll take the out."
"That goes for both of us."
Taking advantage of the spring warmth, Daria and John sat together on the back yard swing after dinner. Arms around Daria while she rested her head on his shoulder, John said, "You know, going out someplace special this Saturday would be kind of romantic."
Eyes closed, Daria almost purred. "Hmm, yes, it would."
"I don't know."
John got an idea and smiled. "Washington's only about an hour and a half away. How would you like to spend a day at the Smithsonian?"
Daria looked up at him. "I'd like that. I'd like that very much."
"We can spend the day, have dinner and then drive back that night."
"Mom's going to want photos."
"I'll bring the Polaroid to keep her happy." John thought for a moment. "You know, this might be a good time make a pitch for a digital camera..."
She gave him a knowing smirk. "And the software to process it. You want a new toy."
"Yeah, and this is a good excuse to get one."
Helen peeked out of the sliding glass door and smiled, thinking of the times she wondered if her daughter would ever be happy. Hoping to help with that, she opened the door and walked over to the swing. When she said, "Hello," both started and moved to slide apart. Helen motioned with her hand and said, "Do you mind sliding over so that I can sit down?"
"Sure, Mom," Daria said, moving to give her room. "What's up?"
"Daria, John, It's very nice to see you happy together."
"Thanks," John said.
"Well, some things you only have one or two opportunities to do."
"Like go to the prom?" Daria said.
"Yes. Please, hear me out."
Both teens nodded.
"The prom might seem silly or a waste of time now, but in later years, it might be a very good memory. But, it won't be if you never give it a try."
"True," Daria said. "But we were just talking about our plans for this Saturday and I think that they will produce better memories."
"Oh?" Helen said.
"I'd like to take Daria down to Washington to spend the day at the Smithsonian. Just the two of us and maybe a nice dinner before heading home. We see our classmates almost every day. Seeing the sights there will be something...more."
Helen slowly shook her head. "I should've known you'd have already thought of something and I can't say that you haven't come up with something that I think will make both of you happy."
Daria carefully said, "So, are you okay with our trip?"
A soft smile slowly formed on Helen's face. "Yes, Sweetie, you can go. But take pictures."
John winked at Daria and said, "Speaking of pictures..."
As they prepared to leave the newspaper workroom on Friday, Jodie said to Daria, "I'm so jealous. Do you want to trade parents?"
"Not on your life."
Jodie sighed. "I didn't think you would."
"Haven't things gotten easier since your mom started telecommuting? You were hoping the work would keep her busy."
"She has less time to think of new activities, but going back to the business world has fired her up again about breaking the glass ceiling."
"That sounds like my mother."
Jodie chuckled, and then with a hint of deviousness, said "We should get them glass cutters for Mother's Day."
"Jodie, you're making progress," Daria said.
"Thanks. Hey, can you do something for me?"
"Depends on what you ask."
"Just do something silly and fun tomorrow. Something I can try to imagine about while going through the full manicure, pedicure, skin treatment and hair stylist attack."
"Damn, that sounds like something that Quinn would put herself through. Tell you what, I'll think of something, but not too silly."
"You have standards, I understand. Thanks."
Waiting with Daria, Jake and Helen, John watched Quinn come down the stairs in her prom gown and then execute a perfect pirouette at the bottom. She said, "What do you think?"
"Oh Quinn, you look wonderful," Helen said.
Jake stared for a second and said, "Wow."
John had to admit that Quinn was stunning. In a sense of fairness over the cost of the trip (and John's new camera), Helen had upped Quinn's budget for the dress and when combined with her ability with makeup and accessories, it showed. "Impressive."
They all looked at Daria as she looked Quinn over. After a long silence, she said, "Sis, you've outdone yourself."
It took Quinn another couple of seconds to recognize the lack of sarcasm in Daria's voice. Overjoyed, she said, "Thanks, everybody."
After Quinn went back upstairs, Helen teasingly whispered to Daria, "That was very nice. Are you getting soft in your old age?"
Daria shrugged and said, "She hasn't given me any grief about not going to the prom. I was returning the favor."
"As you wish, sweetie."
"You'd better check on Dad," Daria said. "He looks a little shell-shocked."
Helen turned to see Jake staring at the spot where Quinn had been. "Oh, my."
"I think you need to remind him again that we're growing up and it's okay."
"I'm afraid you're right."
After Helen led Jake to the kitchen, John said, "What was that about?"
"Oh, Mom just being herself."
"Uh-huh. Quinn really looked very nice."
"Do I need to be jealous?"
John put his arm around Daria's waist and kissed her cheek. "She looked nice. You're beautiful."
While John and Daria ate breakfast in the morning, Helen placed her car keys on the dining table. "You are not driving that unexploded bomb all the way to D.C. Take mine."
"What about you?" Daria asked. "You never know when Eric will call."
Helen said, "Oops, I forgot to charge my cell phone. I don't think I'll hear from him today."
"Gotcha," Daria said, appreciating the sarcasm. "When's Quinn leaving?"
"She's going over to Sandi's at 9:00 so that she can get ready with her friends."
"I see," Daria said, not wanting to think about her parents alone in the house all afternoon and evening.
John said, "You said to try to be back by around 11:00. We can extend that if you want."
"That's fine." Helen then admitted, "You don't need to stay out as long as I did for my prom."
"Oh?" Daria said.
"Never mind," Helen quickly said.
Daria and John smirked at each other, but let the matter drop out of a sense of self-preservation.
"Hey, kids," Jake said as he came into the kitchen. "Are you ready for your big adventure?"
"I think we have it covered," John said.
"They went to Washington when I was in military school, but I got left behind. You know why?"
"Do we really want to?" Daria asked.
"They said I was too much of security risk to go to the Pentagon! But I went back years later and we got them, didn't we honey?"
"Um, yes dear," Helen said. "I don't think Daria and John are going to be interested in a bunch of hippies trying to levitate a building."
John said, "I know it was the sixties, but please, never tell us what you were smoking. Okay?"
By then, Quinn came in and said, "Are Mom and Dad telling stories again?"
"Yes," Daria confirmed.
Quinn went about preparing some cereal and juice for breakfast while she talked. "Okay, then I don't want to know, either."
Helen muttered, "That's probably for the best."
Undeterred, Jake said, "Quinn! Are you ready for your big night?"
"Of course, Daddy. We'll meet at Sandi's at 9:00, manicure and pedicures at 9:45, skin treatments at 11:30, tanning salon at 1:15, hair at 2:30, reconvene at Sandi's for final makeup at 5:00, and the limo will pick us up at 6:45."
John said, "Are you going to the prom or preparing to land at Normandy?"
Quinn playfully rolled her eyes. "John, these things take careful planning. You can't just leave anything to chance."
"I agree," Daria said. "Planning for Normandy was a piece of cake compared to the prom."
Quinn fixed her gaze on John. "And I suppose most of this trip is planned around, 'let's keep it loose.'"
"More or less," he answered.
"Do you at least have a dinner reservation?"
Quinn slowly shook her head, but smiled. "That is so, you."
John half stood and bowed. "Thanks."
Daria said, "We're going to start at one corner of the National Mall and work around at our own speed. There's no way we can see everything in one day, so we're not going to try. When we get hungry, we'll find someplace to get lunch and when we're done for the evening, then we'll find someplace for dinner. It's the time together that's important."
"You win; just don't stop at a Burger World or something, okay?"
"Deal," Daria said. "We'll find a Cluster Burger."
Quinn dramatically tapped her forehead against the table. "You two are hopeless."
Daria looked around for someplace to sit and when she didn't see one, chose an empty section of wall to lean against while watching John stare, transfixed, at the Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton on display. When a docent came near, Daria said, "He's in the zone. Communication is impossible."
The kindly gentleman said, "A big dinosaur fan?"
"Artist. He's either picturing some grand work involving a T. rex and the demise of our high school, or he's in awe of its capacity to consume raw meat."
The man patted his rounded stomach and said, "I remember being like that, once."
"It gives me hope that we won't have to feed the black hole inside him forever."
The docent joked, "I never could've put two kids through college if I had to keep paying for the same amount of food I ate as a teenager."
John stirred and said, "Man, that thing could gulp down the entire track team without breaking stride."
Daria said, "Okay, it was both."
"Huh?" John said, coming fully back to reality.
"Enjoy the rest of the museum," the docent said as he stepped away.
John asked, "Was I drooling on the floor or something?"
"The pigeons were beginning to wonder if you were new statuary."
Seated on a bench with his legs stretched out, John gestured with his partially-eaten lunch and said, "Eating a hot dog on the National Mall. There's something definitively American about it."
Seated beside him, Daria said, "Eating food you really don't want to see made in a city whose main product you don't want to see made. I completely agree."
John fished a guidebook from his back pocket and said, "I've seen your dad make Kitchen Sink Stew. I think I can handle a tour of the Capital."
Daria thought for a moment and said, "John, you may have just come up with a way to change politics as we know it."
Arms folded, John stood back while Daria wrote on a page of his sketchpad with a large marker. "What are you doing?"
"Something I promised Jodie."
"Yes, Jodie." Daria capped the marker and said, "Okay, I'm going a few steps up the stairs and I want you to take a picture."
John turned the camera on and said, "As you command."
Daria went halfway up the steps of the Capitol and then turned, displaying the sketchpad page, which read, "Landon for President."
"What in the world?" John asked. "She talked you into being her first campaign worker?"
"She wanted me to do something silly. What could be sillier than me as one?"
John laughed and raised the camera. "I bow to your superior sarcasm." He took the picture and said, "Jodie's going to love it or try to kill you."
After the waiter placed their plates on the table, Daria looked around the tasteful décor of the restaurant and said, "Real French cuisine. I think that Quinn would approve, even if she's never actually had it."
"Mmm, it sure smells good," John said. "A part of me is curious about how things are going back in Lawndale. What if somebody went crazy and attacked with a battleaxe? We'd miss it."
"This way, we have a good alibi," Daria said.
John reached across the table to hold Daria's hands. "Today's been fun."
She smiled and said, "Yeah, it has."
The wonderful day together made John consider how lucky he was. "I love you."
Daria looked down slightly, then back up to say, "I love you."
"I wish we had more time."
After dancing through most of the evening, Quinn joined her friends at a table and eagerly sat down. "Ahh," she said, allowing her feet to rest.
Almost bouncing in her seat, Stacy said, "This is so much fun!"
"I've never danced so much," Tiffany said.
Sandi declared, "This has been a momentous evening."
Quinn said, "Wow, what a night. We're going to remember this forever."
Moving at only 35 mph on the interstate while heavy rain pounded against the windshield, Daria strained to see through the darkness ahead. "I can't keep this up," she said.
"Let's hit the next exit," John suggested. "And wait for stuff to blow over."
"Okay, but try the radio again and see if we can get a weather report."
"I'm on it." He leaned over and hit the scan button on the radio, skipping past fragments of music and commercials before finally hitting a channel that sounded promising.
An announcer said, "The Highway Patrol has issued a travel advisory for Interstate 95 through 4:00 AM. Heavy rain and road flooding have created dangerous conditions and officials recommend that all but the most essential travel be avoided."
Daria said, "That settles it; I'm pulling off at the next exit."
"Four in the morning? We're going to need to find some hotel rooms unless you want to sleep in the truck."
"Hotel rooms sound good to me, though I'm not looking forward to calling Mom and Dad to explain."
"Or the grilling we're going to get when we make it home."
"If we get two rooms, it should ease their fears a bit."
Looking through the car window at a hotel office, John said, "We might as well both go in now. It's not like we have any luggage or anything."
"Not even a stupid umbrella," Daria grumbled.
"We can use a couple of blank pages from my sketchpad."
Holding the heavy paper over their heads, John and Daria made a dash for the office. They had to run around a minivan containing a family that had pulled into the parking lot and stopped near the entrance. Inside the office, they dropped the only partially effective paper into a trash can and got into line behind two men who were separately registering at the front desk. While Daria and John waited, a harried-looking man, just as rain-soaked as they were, ran in and joined the line behind them.
The men in front took their key-cards. One headed straight for a room and the other went to the door to motion someone inside.
Daria stepped up and asked, "What do you have left?" as she rested her wallet on the counter and removed her mother's credit card.
The tired and harried looking desk clerk said, "Two rooms. One double, non-smoking, and a single king-sized, non-smoking. Everything else is full."
Daria quickly glanced at the man behind them, and then his expectant family waiting in the minivan. Her conscience not letting her take a room away from them, Daria gulped down a lump in her throat and said, "We'll take the single, please."
Daria closed the room door and said, "Yes, I'm as nervous as I look."
"Me, too," John replied, looking around nervously.
"Good thing that the gift shop was open so that we could get some dry clothes and toothpaste."
"Do you want the bathroom to change?"
She shrugged. "The idea of me changing in the bathroom seems a little too pat. You use it."
"Okay, just let me know when it's safe to come out."
Inside, John swapped his damp clothes for a t-shirt that said, "Washington: Below the Beltway" and a pair of plain shorts. He had time to drape the wet things on the shower curtain rack before Daria knocked and said, "Nothing to see here, now."
Her t-shirt read, "Pentagon price for this shirt: $2.7 million," and though long enough to reach mid-thigh, was slightly on the tight side. John gently ran his fingertips along her shoulder and arm. "I think there's something to see."
Daria gave him one of her soft smiles and said, "You're spoiling me."
"Is that a problem?"
"No, not really."
John gently put his arms around her. "Good, because I wasn't planning to stop."
After enjoying the embrace, she said, "The sooner we call Mom and Dad, the better."
John let her go and nodded. "You're right. Good luck."
Daria sat on the edge of the bed and flexed her fingers before picking up the phone. With, "Here goes," she dialed home and waited.
Helen answered, "Hello?"
"Hi Mom, it's Daria."
"Daria! Are you all right? This weather is horrible."
"We're okay. John and I pulled off of the interstate to wait out the storm."
"Thank goodness. Quinn called and she and her friends are staying at Stacy's house. It's the closest one to the high school."
"But be careful; they expect it to last for most of the night and those rest areas may not be patrolled that well."
"Mom, we, um, used your credit card to get a hotel room."
"Oh, that's good...thinking. 'A' hotel room? One?" Helen said, immediately attune to every sound her daughter made.
Daria closed her eyes. "Yes."
"Not that I don't trust you, but why not two rooms? We can afford it."
"It's all that was available. The hotel is booked solid now."
"Oh. They didn't ask about your age?"
"I think the poor clerk was too frazzled. Mom, I know you're worried."
"It comes with the job, sweetie."
In the background, Jake yelled, "Is that Daria and John? Are they okay? Have they been in an accident?"
Helen patiently said to him, "They're safe and staying in a hotel for the night."
"Oh, thank goodness," Jake said.
Daria whispered, "One, two, three..."
"A hotel!?" Jake exclaimed.
"Damn," Daria muttered.
"Jake," Helen said. "Let me get the details from Daria and then I'll fill you in." To the phone, she said, "You're father's a little concerned."
"To be honest, I'm a little concerned, too. I know that nothing happened when you went to that concert, but you were in separate rooms. Temptation can be..."
"Strong. Trust me, I know. I, uh, really know."
Intent, Helen said, "Is there something you want to tell me?"
Daria held her hand over the phone and looked up at John. He sat next to her and said, "How bad?"
"This may sound weird, but I think we should be completely honest with Mom about what we've done. It's the right thing to do."
Despite the dread in his stomach, John kissed her on the cheek and said, "Okay."
Back to the phone, Daria said, "Mom, do you remember the last time Aunt Amy came to visit?"
"I think I had a hangover for two days."
"Mom, that night John and I...went further than we'd ever gone before." Daria tried a joke to lighten the effect, "But, by certain politician's definition, we didn't have sex."
"And why are you telling me this now?" Helen demanded.
"Because you trusted us and deserve to know."
Helen relented, remembering that she never felt able to talk to her mother. "Thank you, Daria. I know that wasn't easy to say."
"We'll try our best to be responsible. Just so you know, I have my pills with me and I'm up to date on them."
"Sweetie, I know you will be. And Daria, from now on, consider anything between you and John private. It's hard enough accepting that my little girl is growing up and I don't think I'll ever want to know details."
"Thanks, Mom. What about Dad?"
"Let me worry about that. Good night, Daria. Drive safe tomorrow."
Daria hung up the telephone and said, "That went better than I expected. We now have, 'Don't ask, don't tell.'"
John woke in the morning feeling Daria's soft skin pressed against his back and her arm around his chest. He slowly and carefully rolled to face her. Several locks of auburn hair fell across her peaceful-looking face. "Good morning."
Her deep brown eyes blinked twice before staying open. "Good morning to you, too."
John slipped his hand over Daria's waist and gave her a kiss. "As much as I hate to say it, we should probably get going."
"Let's wait a few more minutes. I like how this feels."
"Mmm, I can't complain."
Daria kissed him and said, "Things seem different, now."
"A good kind of different."
"A good kind."
Daria moved her other arm around John and pulled him close. "Thank you for your promise last night."
John held on to her just as tightly. "I look forward to keeping it."
Daria said, "We're home," as she and John came inside.
"And all in one piece," John added.
Helen almost ran out of the kitchen. "Welcome home, dears," she said and reached out to hug Daria and John.
Surprised, they took a moment to return the favor. Daria said, "Mom?"
"Sorry Daria, just getting a little emotional."
She said, "That's okay."
"You're good kids."
John said, "Thanks, we, um, try."
"Can we go upstairs and change?" Daria asked. "It's been a long trip."
"Oh, oh, yes, go ahead," Helen said, letting them go.
Quinn was waiting for them upstairs. "It's about time you got home," she said, giving a very good imitation of her mother.
Daria said, "Quinn, we're tired and we want to change. Can it wait?"
Quinn pushed John toward his room and directed Daria toward hers. "John, go change; Daria and I need to talk."
"Quinn," Daria warned.
"Look, Sandi saw that Mom's car was gone when she dropped me off this morning. By lunch time, everyone at school is going to know that you two didn't come home last night."
"We were stuck in the storm like everyone else. I understand you stayed at Stacy's."
"Yeah, at Stacy's with three other girls." She looked at John about to comment and said, "Don't even go there, you know what I mean."
John took Daria's hand and said, "Okay, no jokes. But look, if everyone knows we stayed out, they're already going to assume stuff. There's not a damn thing we can do about it."
"But people look up to you!" Quinn said.
"Then they'll have to remember that people on pedestals are still human," Daria said. "And anything we did last night, we did out of love."
Quinn stepped back. "You're the only two that can pull that off. Okay. Now, just tell me that yesterday was special for you."
Daria and John looked into each other's eyes. "Yes."
Thanks to Kristen Bealer and Ipswichfan for beta reading.