Nemo Blank

Presents yet another... whatever.

Out of the Slushpile

Quaeris Neminis parem? Nemo est nisi ipse.

--Seneca: Hercules Furens, i. 1; 84.

All characters belong to MTV. Used without permission. This story is not to be sold, but it may be distributed freely. Enjoy!



     Daria stood, staring at Trent, wishing that she wasn't so terribly vulnerable. Who was this guy? How had this happened? Once, she'd been serenely aloof, peering sardonically out at the world from behind great adamantine walls of diamond hard logic and ice cold cynicism. But now... she sighed. He could thrill her with a look or plunge her into hell with a careless word. She no longer thought of him as perfect, but as hard as she fought it, the terrible attraction was still there.

     The club around her had erupted into the usual pandemonium the instant that Trent's band, called Mystic Corn this week, had begun the Hurl Song.

     She makes me hurl, hurl, hurl/
     I hate to love that girl.

     The crowd had formed a mosh pit and many of the less adventurous were singing along.

     Daria, lost in her lovesick daze, was suddenly sucked in. Trying to get back out did no good. The crowd pressure inexorably pushed her in until she was right in front of the stage.

     Daria stumbled as someone hit her from behind. She spun around, desperately, unsuccessfully scrabbling for her lost glasses.

     Suddenly, she was lifted off of her feet and deposited on stage. Trent smiled at her as he let go of the back of her jacket and hurried to pick up the chord.

     What can I saaay, hey, hey/
     I can't walk away.

     Trent locked eyes with her as he sang.

     Daria, swaying and dancing, stared back at him. All she could see was his face, surrounded by a hazy blur. She thought that she just might melt into a little puddle and drain away through the cracks in the rough stage.

     I want to be free, free, free/
     But she's got a hold on me.

     The set ended and Daria, like a spell had been broken, realized where she was and blushed a fiery red.

     The cheering and shouting finally died down.

     Trent pinned her in place with a brilliant smile, took the mike and "Hey, we're taking fifteen. Remember, the bar is open, so you certified adults drink up!" He unslung his guitar and took Daria's hand, carefully leading her to a tiny, rickety table. "I'll be right back, Daria," he said, making his way back to look for her glasses.

     Daria gathered herself, felt a rising panic and started to stand. A hand, placed on her shoulder arrested her movement.

     "Are you sure that you want to go?" Jane stood there, looking concerned. It was dark and Daria had driven. Jane wasn't letting her get behind the wheel without her glasses.

     Daria took a tremulous breath. "I'm not sure of anything anymore, Jane."

     Jane nodded. "Now just isn't the time to go off and think it through, Daria."

     Daria shrugged uncomfortably. "He just saved me from being trampled. That's all it was."

     Jane laughed. "Daria, Daria, Daria. What the hell am I gonna do with you? You should have seen yourself up on that stage."

     Daria blushed again. "I guess I messed up his set."

     Jane shook her head. "You looked like you belonged there. He was singing to you. Look, just ride it out. Don't run shrieking into the night. You can't see. You'd get hit by a truck."

     Daria nodded, uneasily. "Okay, but I will if I get that damn rash back."

     Jane smiled at her friend. "Well, happy birthday, amiga. I think you're about to get a present."

     Trent came back bearing soda and her glasses. One lens was cracked. "Hey, Janey." He was less than enthusiastic about his sister's presence.

     Jane smiled. "Trent! Great set! Well, I see Tom found us a seat, so I'll see ya later!"

     Trent gave her a grateful look and then turned his attention back to Daria. "So... Daria."

     Daria leaned in toward him, "Yes, Trent?"

     Trent coughed. "You looked hot up on stage."

     Daria blushed. "You looked kind of blurry. Thanks for saving me, Trent. You had that crowd going wild."

     Trent laughed. "We had that crowd going wild. You were up there too, Daria."

     "Don't remind me." Daria took a drink of her soda. Her hand was trembling so much that a little sloshed out onto her wrist.

     "Daria! What's the matter?" Trent leaned forward and took the soda out of her hand, then took her hand between his, feeling the tremble.

     Daria completely choked. "Uhm, I'm a little nervous."

     Trent moved even closer. "Hey, I'm a lot more nervous than you. If you want me to, I'll leave you alone."

     "No, I.. don't." Daria almost whispered it.

     "Daria." Trent blinked, then swallowed. "We're good friends. Before I met you, I never knew that a girl could really be a friend. But you know what? I don't want to be your friend, anymore. I want more."

     Daria was spellbound. Unfortunately, the little sarcastic portion of her brain that was immune to all embarrassment spoke right up. "Okay, Trent. That leaves strangers, enemies, acquaintances, associates and lovers. What's it going to be?"

     Trent choked. This wasn't going as he'd planned. Daria always threw him off balance, then amused herself by watching him flounder. "Ah, well, If you want to put it like that, I pick lovers."

     "Good! Lovers it is!" Daria smiled in triumph, heart pounding.

     Trent leaned over and kissed her. "Wait there, Daria. I'm gonna give you your present, now."

     Daria laughed. "What, another one?"

     Trent laughed and kissed her again. "Just wait!"

     He took the stage, plugged in his acoustic guitar and tapped the microphone. "Hey there, fellow pilgrims, are you all having a good time tonight?"

     There was an answering cheer and people gathered around.

     "Well I know I am. I have something to say to my girlfriend Daria and since I'm a musician, I thought I might as well sing it to her." He strummed a chord and turned a pickup knob. "This is a little different from my usual style, so bear with me."

     "Is it the girl that was up on stage?" A fat, red haired punk with a nut and bolt through his ear shouted the question from the crowd.

     Trent nodded and pointed at Daria. "That's her."

     Daria sighed. "Oh lord, take me now."

     A heavily pierced, Gothic girl laughed and shouted, "Alright! Ice Box Woman, in the flesh!"

     Everyone laughed at Daria's expression.

     Jane sat down beside her. "Had enough birthday humiliation yet?"

     Daria smiled. "I can live with this. Besides, humiliation is supposed to be good for the soul."

     Jane smiled at her friend. "That's humility. Well congratulations. You finally bagged the elusive Trent."

     "Thank you. I couldn't have done it without you." Daria smiled at Jane. She really was grateful.

     Jane grinned and tried on a running gag she had with Daria. Aping a narrator in a nature film that they'd seen in school, Jane said, "As the new butterfly exits its cocoon, emerging for the first time into the light of day, it is particularly vulnerable to the attentions of this eight legged huntress."

     Daria just smiled, seraphically.

     Trent finally finished tuning up. He locked eyes with Daria and began.

     On the highway, playing games, I saw she had a mind.

     Daria smiled as Trent sang.

     I'll add more verses, If I'm not wrong, Some day this song'll be six hours long.

     The crowd exploded into applause.

     Quinn Morgendorffer hadn't really meant to let things happen so fast, but Jamie's well-planned campaign had overwhelmed her. He had quit following her around and when she 'accidentally' crossed his path he just politely ignored her.

     To add insult to injury, he had begun paying attention to Sandi and how the bitch had crowed! A furious Quinn had begun her pursuit and run right into his trap. Quinn couldn't abide rejection and her competitive spirit had led her into trouble.

     Quinn finally broke down and asked HIM out! First there had been the usual dinner at Chez Perre, on her, this time. He'd eaten like a horse. She had never realized how hideously expensive it was.

     After dinner, Jamie produced tickets to see A Generic Life at the opera house. The usher had led Jamie and Quinn to a private box instead of the usual seats. As soon as the house lights were turned down, Jamie reached behind the tasseled box curtain and with the air of a master magician removed a magnum of Champaign in an ice bucket and two tall, fluted, Champaign glasses.

     Quinn quite liked the Champaign and was somewhat unsteady on her feet during the intermission. She hadn't realized that the Champaign was affecting her quite so much, so she didn't drink much during the second act.

     Jamie went back to virtually ignoring Quinn, even when she put his hand in a place that it had never gone before. He just smiled at her and left his warm hand cupped casually on her breast for the whole second act.

     After the show, Jamie drove her past Sandi's house, slowing and looking at the place, then glancing at his watch. Stung, Quinn made a suggestion. That's how she found herself at Makeout Point, in Jamie's back seat. They had no condom, but in the heat of the moment she wasn't worried about it.

     Helen felt the car's attitude change and looked up from her laptop screen. "Jake! Where are you going? This isn't the way home." They were going up a mountain road, television tower lights visible ahead.

     Jake Morgendorffer looked slyly at his wife. "Hey, honey, Captain Jake is running this cruise. Your SUV's in the shop. That means I decide where we go tonight! Do you remember what we used to do every Friday night, before we tied the knot?"

     "Oh, Jake. How... romantic." Damn it! Helen thought, I'm way to busy for this horseplay. Well he's making an effort anyway. Better see it through and get up early Sunday to finish drafting the motion.

     Yep, thought Jake, this'll get her off my back for at least a month! A little slap, a little tickle and ol' Jake's a free man for awhile! This ought to be good for at least three golf weekends. She won't dare drag me to some god damn therapist to complain about the spice thing, after this. Spice. After two kids! What the hell does she want? Hey! This IS a good tactic!

     Helen reseated her laptop's power cord into the lighter socket. "So, Jake, where are you taking me?"

     "Makeout Point! Where else?"

     Daria looked glumly at her house and turned back to Trent. "Well, I guess I can't put it off any longer."

     Trent pulled her close and kissed her. "I love you, Daria. I can't believe how much I miss you when we're apart. It's like loosing an arm or something."

     Daria smiled and pulled free. "Thank you for that lovely image. And I love you too." She looked at her watch. "Two minutes left until curfew, I'd better get moving. Goodnight, Trent."

     Trent got out and ran around to open Daria's door, but she was already out. "Goodnight, Daria," he whispered. He watched her until she disappeared through the door. After staring at the house for a time, he shuddered at the magnitude of the emotion she'd inspired in him. After two months of heavy dating, he still had it bad. It was all so right. If she ever dumped him... Turning away, he tore his thoughts free, slammed his door and sped away into the night.

     Daria read the signs the instant that she opened the door. Jake and Helen were sitting on the couch, Helen holding an icepack to Jake's eye.

     Daria caught sight of Quinn, sitting on the bottom step, sobbing and knew that something cataclysmic had occurred. She instantly realized that her chances of staying out of it were slim.

     "Daria!" Helen snapped irritably, You're la... exactly on time," she finished lamely.

     Daria moved rapidly for the stairs. "Hello, Mom, Dad. Well, it's been a long day. I guess I'll turn in."

     "Hold it right there, young lady! Where have you been!" Jake sprang up, raced over and grabbed her roughly by the shoulders, inspecting her closely. "Well, your lipstick isn't smeared and there's no sign of hickeys, so you're only grounded for a week!"

     "You know, most people don't have to explain their whereabouts, once they turn eighteen. I was just over at Jane's," Daria said truthfully. Unbidden, an image of what she'd been doing at Jane's came to mind. She blushed and continued, "We listened to some music, tonight."

     Jake looked shocked. "Eighteen!"

     "Jake! For god's sake..." Helen turned to Daria. "You still live under our roof, young lady. So long as you do, you'll obey the rules. Family court tomorrow morning. You will be appearing as a witness and if you're not very careful, as a defendant."

     "I guess taking the fifth is out of the question then?" Daria asked. It's a good thing I don't wear makeup, she thought.

     "THE FIFTH! What have you done! See Helen! Like rabbits! Gagha, my eye!" Jake was loosing it, fast.

     "Don't worry, dad." Daria smirked. "We're no worse than you were at our age."

     Jake scowled. "Whoever gets knocked up is on the street--"

     "Jake! Don't you even say that!" Helen cut her self off and glared at him. He would be the one on the street if it came to that.

     Daria rolled her eyes. "Sorry, dad, but we seem to be growing up. I'm out of here in a few months anyway."

     "You two get to your rooms right now!" snapped Helen, half-supporting, half-pushing Jake back to the couch. "We'll deal with this situation tomorrow. And not one more peep out of you, Daria!"

     Daria was already making her escape. Passing an immobile Quinn, Daria looked at her bruised face, pulled her to her feet and hustled her up the stairs. Daria almost threw Quinn ahead of her into her nearly soundproof padded room. Firmly closing the door behind her, Daria rounded on Quinn.

     Glaring at Quinn, hands on hips, Daria barked, "What the hell did you do? They're going nuts!"

     To Daria's dismay, Quinn sat down on the bed and began to cry like a child. After a few minutes Daria sat next to her and began awkwardly patting her shoulder.

     "There, there... Tell your favorite cousin all about it," intoned Daria.

     Quinn turned and hugged her.

     Daria was so amazed and repulsed that she forgot the sarcastic remark that she had been saving.

     "Oh, Daria, it was so awful." Quinn sobbed and Daria handed her a tissue. "I was up at Makeout Point with Jamie and all of the sudden Dad was pulling me out of the car! I like, caught my clothes on the door or something and they came off! Dad like, totally freaked out and REALLY beat the crap out of Jamie after he saw that. Jamie was screaming and when he finally got loose and ran off Dad slapped me! Mom too! I think they're going to kill me! Oh, Daria, what will I do?"

     Daria looked at Quinn, eyes moist and face utterly blank. She got caught screwing Jamie. Try not to laugh, she'd never forgive you. Think... think of unfunny things... Upchuck in the Whitehouse. By dint of Herculean effort, she barely held it in. She cleared her throat. "Well, Quinn, this is pretty bad. I mean, to get caught doing a little making out on the couch is one thing, but this... well, hell, I don't know."

     Quinn put her head between her knees and rocked. "C'mon, Daria. You're a brain. Think of something!"

     Daria smiled, then hurriedly composed her face into its usual emotionless stare. This was the first time that Quinn had ever admitted that a brain had any use other than to stave off head implosion. "You're going to have to face the music but there are a few things that you can do to distract them. Remember, Mom's too busy to really zero in on you and Dad doesn't think of unpleasant things if he can help it. Replace the image with something else and you'll be alright."

     Quinn listened intently, impulsively hugged Daria again and then left. As soon as the door clicked shut behind her, Daria's sympathetic expression fell off of her face. Whirling around, Daria dived face first into the pillow and laughed so hard that she almost lost consciousness.

     The sounds of the muffled laughter reached Helen, who was passing by in the hall. She was briefly confused, having heard similar muffled sobs emanating from Quinn's room, then sighed, realizing that it was laughter.

     The next day, Daria called Jane and told her the news. After sharing a long spasmodic laughing jag, Daria gave the bad news. "We have family court at noon today and the craziness will be intense. I'm going to be sailing very close to the wind. I don't know if I'll be able to come to McGrundys tonight. When he wakes up, would you tell Trent for me?"

     Jane shrugged to herself. "Well, Daria, loverboy got up at eight this morning and was gone by eight fifteen. From the way that he was dancing and singing in the kitchen this morning, I kind of thought it had something to do with you."

     Daria looked puzzled. "Trent? Dancing? Eight AM? What could he be up to?"

     "Well..." Jane drawled, "This is strange. He wouldn't tell me, so I guess that we should respect his privacy... nah.

     Daria shook her head. "No. Let him be. Look, I have to go. The dreaded Star Chamber is assembling and if I'm not one of the oppressors I'll be a victim for sure."

     "Judge Roy Bean presiding. Avoid looking them in the eyes and make no sudden moves. Good luck, mon ami!" Jane hung up.

     Daria went to the living room and sat down on the couch. Quinn came in next and Daria's eyes widened in amazement. Quinn wore a baggy green sweatshirt, a virulent yellow nylon jacket, black and white striped tights, baggy black safari shorts and high boots, ala Jane. Her face was bare of makeup and her hair was pulled into childish braids.

     "What the hell? You look like Pippi Longstocking on crack," said Daria, puzzled.

     Quinn shrugged. "I always thought that Pippi Longstocking was on crack."

     Daria's lip twitched and reluctantly, she smiled.

     Quinn smirked. "Well, Daria, you know, Dad's still pretty mad and I figured it's better to look a little less... good right now." Quinn looked a little embarrassed.

     Daria nodded. "Good move. I'm impressed. Hide behind a new image."

     The trial went just about like Daria expected. Helen vindictively prosecuted, Jake presided as a loopy hanging judge and Quinn put up a brilliant, spirited but ultimately futile defense. Daria sat quietly and was thankful that she was not noticed.

     That night sitting at their table at McGrundy's, Jane questioned Daria about the trial.

     "So what kind of time is she looking at?"

     "This last week of school and the next three months of her summer vacation." Daria shook her head. "She's doing hard time during break. No phone calls, no visitors, no going out without an escort and absolutely no contact with any of her Fashion Nazi friends."

     "That's... scary." Jane shivered. "Don't let them catch on about you and Trent. If they found out that you had a sex life and that your main squeeze was a tattooed, pierced, twenty two year old rock musician..."

     Daria smiled. "I think that my Mom knows or suspects. She keeps leaving birth control information in my room. Supposedly it's because of Quinn, but I seem to be getting it too. I just hope that Quinn's whining will keep them out of my hair. It wouldn't work on me anyway. I'd just threaten to move out and become the next Mrs. Lane."

     "Woah! Any time, pretty lady," said Trent, who had come up unobserved while they spoke. "We start our first set in five. I just wanted to see if I could get anything for you guys."

     Daria was blushing, embarrassed by her accidental proposal and pleased by Trent's offhand acceptance. "Uh no, I'm ok."

     "You're way past ok, Daria. How about you, Janey?"

     "Nothing, thanks. Good luck with the set." Jane shook her head and smiled at Jesse, who was hanging back, looking at her.

     Trent kissed Daria and made his way to the stage.

     "He wasn't kidding, you know," said Jane, hoarsely.

     Daria laughed. "He was joking, Jane. Get a grip."

     Jane looked at her fingernails. "Yeah, well, what do I know?"

     The music started and Daria locked eyes with Trent, as usual.

     Jane, amusedly watching Daria commune with Trent, winced as she caught sight of Kevin and Brittany approaching the table. "Oh, crap. It's the definitive argument against human evolution approaching at warp one. Set phasers on frappe, Mr. Sulu."

     Daria glanced at her and then spotted the trouble. "Well. Isn't this a lovely surprise. It's Kevin Gump and his future ex wife, Brittany DeGossip. Where is spontaneous combustion when you really need it?"

     Brittany pulled Kevin along, looking for a table. She'd heard from her stepmother that the house band in this place was it. It certainly looked that way; there wasn't an empty table in the place. Suddenly her face cleared as she spotted Daria and Jane at a table by themselves.

     "Look, Kevvie, its Daria and Jane! Ooh no, poor things. They're here without dates. They must be trying to fit in more. Let's go and keep them company!"

     "Who? Oh. Uh... cool," said Kevin wanly. Daria made him uncomfortable. Every time he talked to her he ended up babbling out something unbelievably stupid. Kevin knew a bunch of good lines, knew how to get to the cool, popular chicks, but not Daria. Kevin thought that he might have had a shot there once, but he had blown it. Now Brittany knew and watched him too closely to put the moves on. Kevin sighed. Daria was looking good these days and he couldn't do a thing about it.

     Kevin was a little bit afraid of Jane. His tongue froze to the roof of his mouth every time she looked at him. He had once gotten lost while hunting in the mountains. Unsuspecting, he had turned and met the bright, interested eyes of a panther standing on a big boulder right above him. He had stood and stared into the eyes of the panther for over a minute before it hissed at him dismissively and left. It had never occurred to him to use his rifle. Jane had the same bright, interested eyes and habitually wore the exact same expression. It gave him the willies. Panther eyes on a woman couldn't be good.

     "Hi, Daria-and-Jane! Mind if we sit with you?" Brittany sat down without waiting for an answer.

     Jane nodded at Brittany and turned her attention to the stage. Trent was narrowly eyeing Kevin.

     "Hello, Brittany, Kevin." Daria looked at them with hooded eyes. "What brings you two pilgrims into this den of iniquity?"

     "We heard about the band! They're supposed to be like, really hot!" Brittany glared at Kevin, impatiently.

     "Yes, they're pretty hot alright," said Daria, her eyes back on Trent.

     Jane sniggered.

     Kevin, belatedly getting the message, jumped up and asked what they would like to drink. Brittany asked for Coke and Kevin gratefully abandoned them for the bar.

     The volume increased and conversation became impossible. Brittany gradually became aware that the cute, intense looking bandleader was staring in her direction and the hunkey muscular guitarist was also casting glances her way. She slyly looked over her shoulder and saw Kevin flirting with a green haired Goth girl and drinking her Coke. Brittany decided on the spot to dump him if either musician came over.

     The first set ended to thunderous applause and the band left the stage. Brittany almost swooned with delight as both musicians gradually made their way through the crowd toward the table. Brittany put on her most welcoming smile and then eeped with shock as the leader abruptly swept Daria up, swung her around and then kissed her soundly.

     "That was great, Trent. I think the slower tempo you guys are using makes all the difference." Daria smiled dreamily up at Trent.

     "Thanks, Daria. I wouldn't be anywhere without my muse." Trent sat down, entwined himself with Daria and turned curious eyes onto Brittany.

     Jesse said "Hey," and sat down next to Jane.

     "This is Brittany Taylor, a friend from school. Brittany, this is my boyfriend, Trent Lane, Jane's brother. That's Jesse Moreno, rhythm guitarist for whatever they're calling the band this week." Daria looked at Trent, thrilled to introduce him as her boyfriend, even if it would cause trouble later.

     "Hey," said Jesse.

     "Any friend of Daria's," said Trent nodding at her. "Fifteen minutes until the next set. Can I get anyone anything?"

     They all declined.

     "Brittany came here just to see you guys," said Jane.

     "Oh? You heard of us?" Trent was pleased.

     "My stepmother was here last week and said you guys were good." Brittany was stunned that quiet little Daria had so obviously landed this prize. "How long have you two been like... a couple?" She pried.

     "About four months for those two," said Jane, wanting to deflect possible trouble. "Say, isn't that Kevin leaving with that Goth?"

     "Oh, damn him!" Brittany was furious. "The idiot drove me here in that stupid Jeep of his!"

     "Don't worry, we'll take you home, Brittany." Trent chuckle-coughed. "I know where it is. I dropped Daria and Jane off there for a party once."

     Daria and Jane both laughed.

     "Yeah and we ended up getting a ride home from Upchuck." Jane smiled at the memory. "I wonder what ever happened to Bobby Bighead, the amazing octopus boy?"

     Daria smirked. "He probably drowned in the washer."

     "Who, or what is this Bobby Bighead?" The muscular Jesse didn't seem very amused. "I thought you were going out with that Tom dude.

     Jane smirked. "He's just another intrepid adventurer who tried to climb Mt. Jane before me and Tom got together."

     "Huh." Jesse looked at the stage.

     Brittany flicked her eyes shrewdly between the two. "So Jesse, you're a pretty big guy. Did you play football in high school?"

     Trent and Jesse laughed.

     Jesse said, "Yeah, I was a Lawndale Lion. It was a bummer, so I quit."

     Brittany's eyes grew wide. "You quit the team?"

     Jesse frowned. "That was a team like a chain gang is a team. Four guys got themselves disabled playing that dumb game while I was there. In one game I got hit in the head so hard that I started bleeding out of my ears and nose. Coach Wayans told me to 'walk it off'. My ears still ring from that. I clocked him one and claimed temporary insanity due to the head injury. They couldn't do a thing. That's when the trouble really started."

     Trent shook his head. "That idiot Tommy Sherman and his goons caught Jesse and tried to make an 'example' of him, during scrimmage. But first they staked down a tackling dummy and let Jess run into it."

     Jess laughed. "Team spirit my ass. More like gang spirit. But I buffed up and then got good and even. I quit and let them try life without a good halfback. Tommy almost got killed that year."

     Brittany looked puzzled. No one had ever talked to her about the downside of being on the team. "It's not like that now," She said, uncertainly. "We have a different coach."

     Jesse smiled, bitterly. "Do the players ever play injured?"

     "Only if they want to." Brittany looked a little distressed now. "They shouldn't, though."

     Jesse nodded. "A team stops being amateur when they pay the coach. How do you think your boyfriend got that Jeep? From what I hear, he couldn't even hold a job in a nut stand. Tommy Sherman won the state championship so he got a Trans Am."

     "A Trans Am!" Brittany completely missed the point.

     "Yep. The wages of sin," said Trent, exchanging a conspiratorial grin with Jesse. Tommy's Trans Am had been mysteriously ripped off and thrashed after a drunken Tommy had peed into the window of Jesse's old Chevrolet.

     "Crazy days," said Jesse, smiling nostalgically.

     "And more to come." Trent clinked his Coke on Jesse's beer.

     "So, you came to my party?" Brittany was racking her brain, trying to remember Trent at one of her parties.

     "No, I just provided taxi service. It's not really my side of town." Trent gently dislodged Daria and rose. "I guess I'd better get to it. I see McGrundy over there."

     Daria put out a hand and halted him. "Remember, Trent, you're not asking for a favor. He owes it to you. Be sure and hit him with the head count and the overall increase in--"

     "I won't forget, sweetheart. Be right back." Trent kissed Daria for luck and walked briskly away.

     Jesse also stood. "Showdown time. I'm going with him." He smiled at Jane, frowned and walked after Trent.

     "God, you guys are SO lucky!" Brittany gushed. "Those guys are just great! You ought to try going out with an orangutan like Kevin at least once so that you can really appreciate them!"

     Daria snorted and looked at Brittany with a glimmer of real affection. "No thanks, Brittany. Remember, I worked with him and I also had to do that behavior modification experiment with him. I think that it gave me a chillingly accurate picture of life with Kevin."

     Brittany and Jane both laughed.

     "I've reconsidered our deal. You can keep both 'Kevvie' and the rat." Brittany looked abruptly serious. "It's so strange, Daria. I'm not even mad at him. We've been going steady since the sixth grade and I... I just don't care! Do you think that there's something wrong with me?"

     Daria and Jane exchanged glances.

     "When did you first start cheerleading, Brittany?" Daria asked, delicately.

     "Right before I met Kevin," Brittany reminisced, glad to change the subject. "I was at a football game with my cousin Melody, who was a cheerleader for Schotkey High. She was babysitting me and the squad sort of adopted me." Brittany smiled at the memory. "They let me cheer and the crowd really ate it up! I've been a cheerleader ever since!" Brittany abruptly frowned.

     "How did you meet Kevin, anyway?" Daria asked in an offhand manner.

     "In sixth grade. He was always the quarterback for the flag football games during PE. I started cheering for him and we just started going together." Brittany now looked troubled. "I guess he was just there."

     "So Kevin is just a humble cheerleading aid?" asked Daria, interestedly.

     Brittany nodded sadly. "Kevin the quarterback and Brittany the cheerleader. It's like a... you know, story. But it's over now. It's like staying alone in the theater after everyone's left. There's nothing new! I guess I can't blame him for not being... more. I need a real person, who can think for himself.

     "Wow. Thank you, doctor Daria." Jane was impressed.

     Brittany looked at Daria, who was looking back sympathetically.

     "I really feel better about Kevin now. It's been a long time coming, but he's history." Brittany sniffled a little. "I can't expect him to be perfect if he doesn't know the story. At least I know it isn't my fault." Brittany smiled sadly. "Thanks, Daria. You should be a psychologist. You always seem to know what to say to make things a little... clearer."

     "It comes of having a completely crazy family." Daria said with an embarrassed gesture of self-depreciation. "Mom has been dragging us to therapists for years and I had to learn their tricks to... uh, let's say 'discourage' them."

     "I'll bet that's an experience they never forget." Jane grinned knowingly. "How many of them have you driven out of the profession?"

     Daria flushed, looked even more embarrassed and turned away. "I just encourage them to leave me alone," she mumbled, then brightened. "Hey look, here comes trouble!"

     Jesse and Trent walked up, grinning.

     "Pizza's on us tonight!" boasted Jesse. "We got a really big raise out of the owner!"

     Sitting down with Daria, Trent looked closely at Brittany and saw the tears lurking. He had seen time and again how damaged people would seek Daria out for help. Brittany was pretty, in a cheap, overblown way and she seemed to be a sort of friend.

     "You're invited too, Brittany." Trent smiled at her, but was distracted by the tantalizing prospect of getting a glimpse down Daria's blouse as she shifted on his lap and so missed the naked envy flashing across Brittany's face.

     "Why thanks, Trent! Congratulations on the raise. I really like that second one you played. It's really edgy and... kind of dark. What's it called?" Brittany twisted her hair with her finger and tried to ignore the way that Jesse was staring at Jane.

     "Its called Talk, Dammit," said Trent, frowning at Jesse. "I wrote that one the week that I met Daria."

     Daria got up. "I'll be right back, Trent." As she headed for the ladies room, Jane and Brittany followed.

     Trent shook his head. "Why do women do that? I looked in there once. It's no better than ours."

     Jesse laughed. "I always wanted to look in there. I just never had the nerve. I guess it's herd instinct. It keeps one of us from cutting them out when they leave the water hole."

     Trent leaned back. "So, Jess, what's the deal with you and Jane? Do I have something to be worried about?"

     Jesse sighed. "Nah. She likes that dirty son of a bitch, Tom. I don't see them breaking up anytime soon. I'd like to catch him in a dark alley..."

     Trent laughed. "So why don't you make a run on Blondy? She's on the rebound."

     "What, that Barbie doll?" Jesse looked thoughtful. "She's pretty well built, but I don't know about cheerleaders, man. I got worked over good by that bitch Amber, back in high school." He sighed. Jesse was getting a little tired of one nighters. He envied what Trent had with Daria.

     Trent shrugged. "Suit yourself. You could always look up ol' Mona from Pomona, again."

     Jesse shuddered. "Now that's a fate worse than death. Did you see those big copper staples she had in her cheek?" He looked around the club. "I wish they'd quit wearing all that shit in their faces. A man could get abraded. Christ, some of them look like they've been dead for a week."

     Trent nodded. "Daria looks hot with a navel ring, but I'd pass right out if she ever got her face pierced. I don't even like it when she wears makeup."

     Brittany, checking her makeup, said to Jane, "So, you and Jesse aren't dating?"

     Jane sighed. "He'd like to, Brittany, but he's just... not my type." Jesse was physically perfect. His room temperature IQ left her cold, though. She had a thought. "Hey! Why don't you take him off of my hands?"

     Daria, coming up to wash her hands, said, "Hold it now, Jane. She had to swap a rat to get Kevin. If you compare the relative value of each of these units, it becomes clear that for Jesse you should hold out for a much larger rodent."

     Brittany giggled. "Well, Kevvie... Kevin is a football player, so he should get used to being bought and sold. I'll tell you what, Jane. I'll give you Kevin, my little brother's pet rabbit and my little brother. You can have them right now. If you don't like them, just drop them off at the pound."

     Jane smirked. "Okeyfine! You got a deal! I'll pick up my thralls someday when they become wealthy enough to buy their way out. My rabbit can stay where it is, tended by my younger thrall."

     Everyone laughed and the three girls left.

     Daria snuggled up to Trent and said, "So, did you get the five hundred?"

     Trent cleared his throat. "Three hundred and free beer was as far as he would go."

     There was a flicker of wrath in Daria's eyes. She'd wanted him to ask for eight hundred. "Well, maybe this place just needs a few Saturday's without you, just to get the point across."

     Trent shrugged. "We'd loose our gig."

     Daria laughed. "Who is he going to get, the Harpies? This is Lawndale, Trent. You are the big fish in this pond. People don't come to this dump for the cheap drinks or the decor. You're the draw. McGrundy is just getting greedy."

     Trent and Jesse exchanged nervous looks.

     Trent said, "It took us a long time to get this gig, Daria. We don't wanna rock the boat."

     Daria shrugged. "Just a thought. It's your band."

     Jesse stood. "Come on, Trent, getcherassingear, we gotta play."

     Trent, deep in thought, disentangled himself, stood wordlessly and walked away, like an automaton.

     Daria's eyes abruptly teared. She looked down at the tabletop, devastated.

     Jane rolled her eyes and looked ill.

     Trent reached the stage, spun on his heel and ran back to the table. "I almost ruined my luck!" he said, loudly. He pulled a sunnily smiling, wet eyed Daria to him and kissed her soundly.

     Brittany and Jane laughed hard as the whole room gave an ironic cheer. Daria blushed scarlet.

     None of them saw Jake, standing at the bar, watching them in the mirror. He was well disguised in jeans, a dirty ball cap, mirror shades and an old field jacket. He watched his daughter and her boyfriend for a while and then made his decision. Jake drained his beer, belched, shrugged philosophically and left.

     Brittany watched the four musicians set up and asked speculatively, "How come the other guys in the band didn't come over?"

     Jane shrugged. "Nick has a girlfriend and a kid. Maybe Max thinks that we have cooties."

     Daria smirked. "Those guys see way to much of each other as it is. Besides, Max is chasing women and Nick is trying to ruin his chances."

     Brittany laughed. "Why?"

     "Those two always compete." Jane wasn't really very interested.

     Brittany was hot on the scent. "We're women! Why didn't they come over here?"

     Patiently, Daria explained it. "Well, Jane is Trent's sister and she's got a boyfriend, so she's out as a one night stand. I'm Trent's girlfriend," an expression of intense happiness flashed across her face as she said it, "and I'm totally off limits. You were sitting here with Jesse and nobody touches that which belongs to Jesse and lives to brag about it. All in all, there just wasn't any incentive."

     Jane arched an eyebrow. "Actually, by the rules of finders keepers, Jesse belongs to Brittany."

     Daria shook her head. "Jesse's not picking up on it. Trent told me that he's a little nervous about Brittany being a cheerleader."

     Brittany looked faintly superior. "A lot of guys are like that around cheerleaders. You just have to take the guy role over and get things going. When they figure out that you're also a real person they get over it." She tugged her curl, thinking hard. "We need to start with something that he's comfortable with. A question that he can answer or something that he can explain."

     "Well, outside of weight lifting and guitar playing the only thing that we know that he likes is electronics." Jane paused and thought about it. "I heard him telling Trent about tube amps, once. He actually built one. Trent's using it right now. Maybe you could ask about his amp.

     "What's an amp, what's a tube, what's a tube amp and what's the other kind of amp?" Brittany looked at the two, inquiringly.

     Daria rattled off short, concise answers, eyes drifting to Trent.

     "Well it looks like Daria's been caught up by the hypnotic power of Trent the fascinating, yet again." Jane smirked. "Brittany, I guess we'll have to plan this crusade to snare the mad scientist on our own."

     Brittany laughed and then laughed harder when she saw Daria's totally abstracted state. "Maybe I'll just ask him to set my watch for me."

     Jane elaborated on Daria's explanations and gave Brittany a short overview of what all the band's equipment was and how it worked. Brittany and Jane put their heads together and came up with a series of bait questions calculated to keep an expert talking for a long time.

     Daria locked eyes with Trent and didn't hear a single word they said.

     Later that night, Jesse sat trapped in the center of a pizza parlor booth, a pulchritudinous golden haired cheerleader firmly hanging on to his arm.

     Jane and her coconspirators watched in fascination as Brittany expertly drew Jesse out a little at a time. Abandoning his usual monosyllabic vocabulary, he spoke freely about band equipment, holding forth at great length on his theories of distortion, frequency response and the greater mellowness produced by a thermonic device.

     Jane was amazed. It had never occurred to her that Jesse was just shy.

     Whenever Trent started to get too interested in the technical discussion, Brittany would change the subject, asking a series of yes or no questions.

     Brittany maneuvered Jesse so skillfully that when he offered to drive her home, he thought that it was his own idea. As the two left, Brittany twirled her hair and winked broadly at them from behind Jesse's back.

     Helen was adamant.

     "Sorry, Mom," said Daria, "I'm not getting paid enough to engage in child rearing activities."

     "Daria Morgendorffer, you'll do as you're told!" Helen stood in full cry, hands on hips. "If you don't help us with this you're liable to get a much closer look at the joys of child rearing sooner than you ever thought possible! Quinn has shown herself to be totally irresponsible and it's up to you as a caring adult member of the family to do your share to keep her out of trouble! Remember, you are an officer of the court and we fully expect you to do your part to uphold the court's authority!"

     "Do I get a gun?" Daria's tongue froze in her mouth as she caught Jake's angry bloodshot eyes boring into her over the top of his paper. "Okay, okay. What do you want me to do?"

     Helen looked at Daria speculatively. She hadn't expected such an easy capitulation. As a trial lawyer, she was used to sizing up adversaries quickly. Daria sized up as a fell adversary indeed. Helen was suspicious, expecting traps. "Daria, I want you to walk Quinn to and from school every day for the rest of the week. I've arranged with Angela Li to have Quinn kept in detention during her lunch period so that she won't have access to boys or to her friends outside of a structured classroom environment. Your job will be to act as her chaperone. She is not to have contact with that boy, or any boys!" Helen looked troubled but firm. "She needs some time without the usual distractions, to grow up a little."

     "So you want me to keep the boys away. I guess that's what I do best." Daria felt a little guilty, but in a battle of wits with Helen she needed every scrap of advantage she could get.

     Helen looked mortified. "No, Daria, thinking is what you do best. I need someone there to think for Quinn until she learns how to do it for herself."

     That's not what Trent says I do best, thought Daria, guiltily. Seizing on the huge loophole Helen had left, Daria made her move. "I'll look after her, Mom. She won't get knocked up on my watch!"

     Jake slammed down his paper and exited, wordlessly.

     Puzzled and distracted, Helen missed the opportunity to nail down her terms. "Okay, Daria, I'll trust in your judgement. Remember I--"

     Daria interrupted and shifted the battleground. "I don't want a little bundle of joy around here either, Mom. Look how the last one turned out. I'll keep her on the straight and narrow. Just don't expect me to hang around here and guard her all summer."

     Helen pursed her lips at Daria, knowing that she had lost the initiative. "We will negotiate that later. This week just do as I ask."

     One last push, thought Daria. "How do you expect me to make Quinn do as I tell her? She certainly never has before." Daria shook her head. "Maybe I need a little stun gun, some handcuffs..."

     "Daria! No more jokes." Helen dug in her purse and gave Daria a brand new Motorola flip phone. "If you have trouble with Quinn, just call me or your father and we will immediately come and collect her."

     "Wow, this is pretty cool. To bad Jane is the only one that ever calls me. How does it work?" Daria turned the phone on.

     "We were going to give that to Quinn for pulling up her grades and passing her junior year. Now its yours." Helen briefly explained the phone's operation.

     "I don't think I want it." Daria was deeply ambivalent about taking Quinn's gift phone.

     Helen smiled and suddenly hugged Daria, then kissed her on the top of the head. "You're an amazingly good girl, Daria. Don't worry, Quinn will get another one when this is all over."

     Seeing how disarmed Daria was by her display of affection, Helen refrained from extorting any more promises out of her.

     Quinn came down the stairs and glared at them. "So, Daria gets to be the jailer today?"

     Helen's face hardened. "Shut your mouth, little girl! You're under punishment, so keep your snide complaints to yourself. Be grateful to your sister. I just barely managed to keep Jake from accompanying you to school today. You know the rules. If you cause Daria the slightest bit of trouble we'll arrange to drive you to and from school and to personally deliver and pick you up directly from each class!"

     Quinn looked horrified. "No! Not that! He would TALK to people!"

     Helen looked satisfied. "Just do as you're told, young lady." Helen's cell phone rang. "Oh, Eric, Hi..." Helen grabbed her briefcase, pantomimed her goodbye at them and left.

     "I suppose you're enjoying this." Quinn looked at Daria sourly.

     "Immensely." Daria smiled slightly, this being tantamount to a slap in Quinn's face.

     "Damn. I hate this!" Quinn sulked.

     "Talkin' back to the walkin' boss'll get yew fiiiive days in the box, li'l missy," said Daria in a thick southern accent, ala Cool Hand Luke.

     Quinn sighed and slipped on her book bag. "Well let's go, Colonel Klink."

     "Ooooh, HO-GAN!"--Daria shook her fist--"It's ninety days in the cooler for you!" Daria smirked and then locked the door behind them.

     When she reached the sidewalk, Daria saw the three boys lurking at the corner.

     "Ooh, look there, Quinn. Three stooges, no waiting." Daria smirked at the black eyes and bruised face of Jamie. "Moe looks a little bit run down today."

     Quinn sniggered, surprising Daria.

     "Run along kid, ya bother me," said Daria.

     "You're not going to rat on me?" Quinn was shocked.

     Daria raised a mocking eyebrow. "Certainly, but not for this. You stay in sight and make your explanations. Please don't jump into the bushes with them and get pregnant. I'd get in to ever so much trouble."

     Quinn blushed. "Gotta go, Daria. Try not to embarrass me too much today. And uh... thank you." Quinn walked away toward her groupies.

     "Remember, talk yes, bushes no," Daria called after her, trying to provoke another blush. In great good humor, Daria walked to school, trailing half a block behind the gaggle of juniors, as usual.

     At lunch, Daria and Jane sat at their usual table and plotted.

     "I know its suspiciously convenient for us, but from what I've been reading they're better off staying close to Lawndale and growing their local reputation." Daria looked down at her Jell-O. "Ugh. Boiled extract of horse hoof. What gastronome could resist?"

     Jane laughed. "Trent isn't going anywhere soon and Nick won't quit his job to tour. Hey, that reminds me. I still don't know where Trent's going every morning. Did you ask him last night?"

     Daria shook her head. "No, I have an idea, but I'm going to give him some space. I would hate to have him think of me as a nosey, controlling bitch. I'm already worried that maybe I'm pushing it too far with his band. If he wants me to know, he'll tell me."

     Jane coughed on her apple juice. "That'll be the day. Look, I love Trent. He's the best of my siblings and the closest, but god is he passive! He needs you, Daria. Don't worry."

     Daria became aware of Kevin approaching the table. "What do you suppose the dummy wants?"

     Jane fixed her eyes on him. "Who cares."

     Kevin abruptly changed direction at Jane's scowl.

     "Woah, do you think you could teach me how to do that?" Daria was impressed.

     "It takes years of practice to master the evil eye, Daria. It's a terrible power and I don't think you're ready for it." Jane smirked at Daria's expression. "Hey! You already got it! Welcome to the coven."

     "I'll bet its about Brittany." Daria smiled. "I haven't seen her today. I wonder if she and Jesse... Nah, she'd practically have to drug him."

     "I don't know, Daria. Never underestimate the power of a blonde. We could call Trent and see if he made the band meeting." Jane began digging for change.

     "Allow me, monsieur." Daria pulled her flip phone out of her pack and dialed Trent's number.

     "Wow! How'd you score that?"

     "A perk of my new job as Quinn's personal turnkey. I call it the ratline." After seven rings, Daria hung up. "He's not there."

     "There it is again. What the hell is he up to?" Jane shook her head.

     Daria shrugged and changed the subject. "I picked up a couple of good ideas out of those marketing books. We need to start collecting the names and addresses of the fans at McGrundy's. That way we can build a fan profile, find new people who fit it and better target the band's presentation and our advertising efforts to a more receptive audience."

     "How do we get them? And what do we do with them when we have them?" Jane was game, but puzzled. She was willing to help, but only to a point.

     "T shirts, bumper stickers and CD's are the key. We hold a drawing every hour. If people fill out a card for the drawing, we'll have an MS fan database in no time. Then we can use fliers, direct mailing, coupons and email to promote Mystik Spiral. If we can guarantee to fill a club, then we get a percentage of the take. That means more gigs, more money, more exposure." Daria paused and looked blankly into space. "If we can create the appearance of success, then real success will soon follow."

     Jane scowled. "That is if prince charming and his gang can bring themselves to try. I can't believe that lunkhead."

     "It's their band, Jane. We can get the fans out but they have to make the fans." Daria sighed.

     "Um, Daria?" Kevin was back, stinking as usual of peppermint deep heating rub.


     "Did you see... um that is..."

     "You want to know what happened to Brittany," said Daria, flatly.

     "Well no. Yes. That is I had to get something and--"

     "She ran off with the guitar player and shacked up." Jane smirked.

     "What!" Kevin was shocked. "No! Awww, you guys are kidding, right? Ha, Ha, that's pretty funny, Jane. Now what really happened?"

     Daria winked at Jane. "Well, Kevin, after you left with Druidella, Brittany got a little mad. She demanded her little brother's rat back and under the terms of the warranty I had to agree. So then I swapped you to Jane for a vole and a lint covered red M&M. Sorry about that, but you know how it is. Can't get enough of those M&M's."

     "So she saw the Goth chick." Kevin shrugged and a wicked little gleam appeared in his eye. "So, Jane, you're lookin' good these days. Wanna go out, tonight?"

     Jane made a little gagging noise and started coughing. "Um, no thanks, Kevin. I've already got a boyfriend."

     "Aw, come on, Jane, I'm the QB! Who could be better than me? Besides, it was a red M&M. You gotta feel something for me!" Kevin gave Jane a sly smile.

     Jane looked ill. "Kevin, I hate to have to tell you this, but you being the QB isn't all that attractive to most women. In my case, it's a definite negative."

     Kevin looked outraged. "So what's this fairy boyfriend of yours do?"

     Jane's eyes blazed. "One, he's all man and two, it's absolutely none of your business."

     "Probably some lame art-boy. You don't expect me to give up, do you?" Kevin smirked. "Well girls, gotta go."

     Kevin walked away, whistling. He'd finally managed to get to Jane.

     Astounded, Daria stared after Kevin. "What do you make of that? He almost sounded like he had a double digit IQ." Daria halted as something occurred to her. She turned and saw Jane's red face. "You know, Jane, I think that Kevin really does have a little crush on you!"

     Jane stood and picked up her tray. "I'm going out where unpleasant little Twilight Zone episodes like this don't happen."

     "Leaving town?"

     "Bugger off, misery chick." Jane left in the opposite direction from Kevin.

     "Uh oh, Tom, heads up." Daria dug in her book bag; finally selecting one titled, The Science of Charlatanism. How to create your own cult in five easy steps. "This ought to be interesting," she murmured.

     Quinn was mortified when Ms. Li came for her, right in front of the Fashion Club.

     "Ms. Morgendorffer, your mother left strict instructions. You will be going straight to detention with your lunch. I must say that it does my heart good to see parents getting involved with a student's education like yours are." Li gave her an artificial smile.


     Ms. Li waved her objection aside. "If you want, I can call your father. He's expressed an interest in eating lunch with you every day for the rest of the week." Li's smile turned genuine. It was truly excellent how easily an inmate could be controlled with the help of the parents.

     Stacy looked at her sympathetically, but Tiffany and Sandi showed only amusement.

     "So, Quinn, how far along--" Sandi began.

     "That's enough, ladies. Come on, Quinn."

     Quinn sullenly nodded, picked up her tray and trudged off to detention.

     On Tuesday, during lunch, Daria found out that Trent had a job selling guitars at the Sound Hole on Dega Street.

     "Yeah, I got Tom to drive me and we followed him." Jane snickered. "I can't wait to hear the excuse he comes up with."

     "Why would he need an excuse? He needs the money, Jane. Middleton's going to cost him thirty thousand or so and he isn't all that keen to take out a bunch of loans. Between the band and the paycheck I doubt if he'll have to." Daria was a little pissed, but Jane was Trent's sister and entitled to snoop.

     Jane looked thoughtful. "You never had to listen to the endless 'eyes on the prize' speeches he would make. From the time he was ten and Dad gave him a guitar, Trent's been bragging that the only job he would ever have would be as a musician."

     "Well, lay off. Circumstances change and it's hard enough to change with them without family members rubbing it in every chance they get." Daria smiled her little Mona Lisa smile.

     "Oh ho, what have we here? Decided not to live in the dorm, have we?" Jane was amused. Obviously Daria had made some pretty shrewd guesses. "Dad salted enough investments away to cover college for anyone who wants it. I wonder what he's really saving for..." Suspicion struck home. "Daria, you aren't... nah."


     "Daria, I don't want to piss you off, but I hope that you'll remember that I'm already an aunt five times over and don't see any need to make it six. You don't need a kid to land Trent." Jane waited for an explosion.

     Daria flushed. "Jesus, Jane, I'm in love but that doesn't mean that my brain has seized up. I'm on the pill. Eventually it will happen, but not for a while. I don't feel any need to lug a kid around while I'm still in school."

     Jane smirked. "Uhm. So you and Trent are doing the deed then."

     "Oh yeah. On every horizontal surface we can find." Daria's smile was wicked.

     "Ugh. That image was just a little bit too graphic." Jane shuddered and turned a little green. "I hope that doesn't include my kitchen table."

     Daria looked startled then gave her a seraphic smile. "You mean galloping Gertie?"

     "What's that about your table?" Brittany put her tray down on the table and sat down. She wore tight black leather pants, a red fringed belt and a tight black Mystik Spiral T-shirt. On her head she wore a red kerchief headband, wrap around shades and a set of dangling dagger earrings. Her hair was brushed straight and pulled back in a severe ponytail. Her ensemble was completed by red, knee high, motorcycle boots. She looked spectacular.

     "Waugh. You don't wanna know. Well, if it isn't the missing cheerleader. And with a whole new look yet." Jane was relieved to change the subject. "Tell all, Brittany."

     Brittany looked around. "Has the monkey boy been looking for me today?"

     Daria smirked. "He's been to busy hitting on Jane to notice that you were gone. Besides, he probably wouldn't recognize you."

     Jane looked furious. "If he doesn't knock it off, I'm going to rip his lips off. He keeps calling me 'Babe' in front of people." She shuddered. "The worse I treat him the harder he tries. He's Upchuck, only about a hundred IQ points dumber."

     Brittany looked happy. "I'm just sorry it had to be you, Jane." She giggled. "Kevin thinks he's god's gift to womankind. He's always had a little self destructive streak." She frowned. "I hope he doesn't make trouble. He got mad and beat me, once. If he does it again and Jesse finds out, he'll kill him."

     Daria looked at her, angrily. "He got away with it?"

     Brittany reached for her curl, didn't find it, then said, "It's in the past."

     "So, back to you, Brittany. Why didn't you come to school yesterday?" Jane steepled her fingers and leaned forward, conspiratorially.

     "I'm in love." Brittany sighed. "I spent the last two days in Jesse's apartment."

     Jane whooped. "Score!"

     Daria's head hit the table. "Oh my aching feet."

     Brittany reached up to twirl her hair, found none and asked, "What's going on?"

     Daria sighed. "We had a bet, Brittany. I have to run with Jane everyday, now. I hope you had a good time."

     Brittany giggled. "Oh yeah. Jesse's my one and only now." She sighed, dreamily. "He's so much better than Kevin."

     "Brittany! Where have you been? You missed practice! What are you doing sitting with them? And dressed like that!" A cheerleader had come up behind them and was staring at them in horror.

     Brittany grimaced. "Hi, Doris."

     "God, Brittany, where's your uniform? You should know that Kevin's been chasing some looser girl..." Doris blushed as she recognized Jane. "Come over to our table, we need to talk."

     Brittany smiled at Daria and Jane. "I guess we do. Be right back, girls."

     Daria and Jane watched curiously as Brittany strolled over to the Jock table, pointed at her T-shirt, spoke a few sentences, answered a question, spoke heatedly as she pointed at Daria and Jane and then stalked back. The assembled cheerleaders stared at her in amazement as she strutted away from them.

     "What did you say?" Jane was incredulous. "I've never seen them go silent like that before."

     Brittany smiled. "I told them I was dating Jesse, hated football and quit the cheerleading squad."

     "Why did you point at us?" Daria felt a little worried.

     Brittany scowled. "I told them that you weren't losers at all, that you were flygirls for the coolest rock band in the city and that they were all a bunch of losers for labeling people without knowing them."

     Daria looked back at the jocks, who were still staring and sighed. "Uh-oh. Cover blown, Jane."

     Jane grinned nastily at the table and they looked away. "We could always kill them. All we have to do is wait for it to rain and tell them to look up. Turkeys drown that way, so it ought to work on them."

     Daria shook her head. "They forget quickly. Just ignore them."

     Graduation came and Daria, the Valedictorian, made a speech that was appreciated in some quarters and disliked by most. None ever forgot it though.

     Daria took the podium and began. "I came, I saw, I survived. High school is over and for some, it's all down hill from here. In ten years, we'll have a reunion and some will come back to rub their success in our faces, some will cringe and spend that weekend drunk and some will appear, clueless as ever, looking sounding and acting exactly the same."

     Daria smirked. "We made our social choices in sixth grade and most of us have molded our personalities by accentuating those traits that brought us success in this institution. I hope that we all take a few minutes to think about that chilling little fact. The big bad world isn't a high school. Our beloved high school coping mechanisms won't work there. You don't get a 'by' because you're an athlete in the corporate sector. If you can't turn in a report on time, you're fired. All the enthusiasm in the world won't pay the rent."

     Daria speared them with her eyes. "Here, we were Jocks, Preps, Brains, Punks, Goths and Stoners. Out in the cold concrete jungle all such categories become blurred and irrelevant. We all have to master all the skills that an adult needs. In short, it's time to start thinking long term and outside of the box. Brains like me will have to learn how to at least appear to be friendly and enthusiastic. Jocks will have to learn how to apply all that dedication to the art of thinking. Preps will have to step out from behind their anonymous conformity and get noticed in whatever hierarchy they end up in. The Punks and the Goths will have to conform, at least from nine to five. The Stoners will have to learn how to get through the day without chemical additives, or else learn to flip burgers and operate a mop with some degree of effectiveness."

     Daria took a breath and looked at the audience. She certainly had their attention. "Some of us are thinking that the hard part is over. Actually, we're like soldiers. We just had a long, safe, boat ride. Now it's time to hit the beach called life and begin our individual battles for survival. Now, fate strikes. We make the choices that will determine our future. Most of us are going to college. Some are going to technical school. A few of us are going absolutely nowhere, because we aren't thinking ahead. I'd like to remind everybody of that ten year reunion. Where do you want to be in a decade? Look around, pick out any nine people. Statistically, out of your group of ten, one will be dead, one will be an ex-con, one will be insane and one will be on welfare. That only gives you a little better than even odds that you'll be happy."

     Daria's eyes drilled into them. "With that in mind, I'd like to wish each and every one of you the very best of luck. So goodbye, good luck, keep plugging away and be ready to really rub it in at the ten year reunion."

     It was a thoughtful class that received their diplomas that day.

     The first week of Quinn's imprisonment passed lightly. She could still socialize at school and Daria was very understanding about giving her some time before and after to talk to her friends. After one rough patch when Sandi suspended her from the club for missing the meetings, Quinn convinced herself that she would be able to worm her way back into her parents' good graces fairly quickly. Remembering Daria's advice to plan for the long term, Quinn regretfully missed the dance without argument.

     The first weekend was bad. Helen had a new phone line installed and kept the old number only on a cordless phone in her bedroom. Whenever anyone called for Quinn, Helen would explain that Quinn couldn't receive calls for three months. In the face of Helen's wrath, Quinn's calls quickly tapered off.

     Over the first week of the summer vacation, Quinn re-read every fashion magazine in her collection, twice. She accessorized, gave herself makeovers, tried all of her clothes combinations on and to her horror, found that without the Fashion Club there to constantly reinforce it, her fashion consciousness was slipping away.

     Resolving to get through prison unscathed, Quinn reluctantly donned the outfit she called her court clothes and set about inspiring pity in her parents.

     Jake wouldn't even talk to her. Helen seemed to fly into a rage anytime Quinn spoke. In desperation, Quinn finally sought out Daria.

     "Hi, Daria." Quinn stood in Daria's doorway. "What are you doing?"

     "I'm on a bus to Port Huron." Daria looked up from her book. "Oh look. It's your stop, Quinn. Please collect all of your belongings and exit to the front."

     Quinn looked ready to blubber. "Come on, Daria, I'm bored out of my wits. No one will talk with me."

     Daria sighed and marked her place. "Okay, Quinn, but there are certain ground rules. No talk about boys, clothes, hair, fashion, jewelry or the unfairness of your situation."

     "Makeup it is then!" Quinn sat on the bed.

     "Its going to be a long, hard three months," said Daria, closing her eyes.

     Quinn talked nonstop about makeup strategy for over an hour, minutely analyzing Daria's skin type, until Daria abruptly leapt up and fled to Jane's for some peace and quiet.

     Quinn felt better, but she soon grew bored again. She remembered Daria's book and went snooping in Daria's bookshelf.

     "Oh god, just how low can you get?" Quinn looked at Daria's wall calendar. One week down, eleven to go. "Pretty low," she murmured, picking a book at random and sitting on the floor.

     When Daria returned she was amazed to find Quinn in her room reading Jane Eire. "Quinn! You're reading an actual book?!"

     Quinn's eyes flicked up then back to the book. "Hi Daria. Do you mind if I borrow this?"

     Daria shook her head. "Not at all. Just don't fold the pages to mark your place. Here, have a bookmark."

     Quinn took the mark. "Daria, could you pick a few books out for me? I never knew that I would like to read."

     Daria favored Quinn with a genuine smile. "Sure, Quinn. That's probably for the best anyway. I'll put the ones you should read on the lower shelf. There are quite a few here that would give you nightmares."

     "Thanks, Daria," said Quinn abstractedly, leaving with her nose in the book.

     Daria shook her head in surprise, sat down at her desk and went back to her research. She was teaching herself how the music business actually worked. It was a real eye opener. "Create a buzz... Hmm."

     Daria and Jane were in Jane's room, surrounded by stacks of paper, cassette tapes and manila envelopes. They both had computers, Jane her desktop and Daria a laptop. They had a little promopack production line going, sending Mystik Spiral demos to every worthwhile venue in the region.

     Daria had carefully researched the industry and with Jane's help had done a little long distance social engineering to find out who the actual movers and shakers were. Daria had a special promopack that included Bio's, pictures and a narrated video of a Saturday night at McGrundy's for them. She figured that it couldn't really hurt. If they listened to the tape, Trent might get a break.

     "Daria." Jane made a face, got a tissue and wiped envelope glue off of her tongue. "I think you're really doing a great job and everything, but as much as I love my brother... I just can't spend all of my time on this anymore. Tom's starting to get really pissed."

     Daria looked startled, then repentant. She'd just assumed that Jane would be willing to work for Trent as hard as her. "Sorry, Jane. I guess I just took you for granted again. I always seem to be the one who has to apologize."

     Jane waved her hand, dismissively. "I can't help you tonight because I'm heading up to Glace lake with Tom."

     Daria smiled. "Don't do anything that I wouldn't do."

     Jane laughed. "And just what wouldn't you do?"



The end. For now, anyway.