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.
Original characters and plot copyright Richard J. Lobinske. 2006.
This is the 48th story in the Falling into College series.
Nick Campbell threaded his tired old car away from the Lawndale Mall and down the residential streets of town. The open windows provided only partial relief from the August heat for him and the six-year old brunette seated next to him.
Ariel seemed unfazed by the temperature as she peeked into a shopping bag held on her lap. A red dress was neatly folded inside, along with a small box of new shoes. She looked up at her father with a bright smile. "Thank you, Daddy."
He reached over and patted her shoulder. "You're welcome, princess."
"Can I get the blue dress?" she innocently asked. "It's pretty."
"I'll see what I can do," he answered.
Content, the little girl smiled again and leaned back in her seat to watch the scenery go by.
After several blocks, Nick asked, "Are you still excited about starting first grade?"
Nick smiled and whispered to himself, "Please stay that way."
Soon, Nick pulled into the parking lot of an apartment complex. A worn "Vacancy" sign stood in front of an equally worn building. After parking, he reached into the back seat and picked up his daughter's overnight bag.
Ariel quickly unbuckled herself and pushed her door open to wait for her father. When he came around the car, she held the bag close to her chest and rushed inside the building. Nick sighed and jogged after, catching up when she stopped at a door and rang the doorbell.
A woman with hair the same shade of brown as Ariel's unlocked the door, opened it, and said, "Welcome home, sweetheart."
The girl held the bag up and excitedly said, "Look what Daddy got me!"
The woman looked at the dress and then opened the shoe box. "Oh, they're going to look pretty on you." Placing both back in the bag, she said, "Go put them in your room, please."
After the girl left, the woman said, "Thanks, Nick."
"Wish it could've been more, Sara."
Sara shook her head and said, "Nick, I know you mean it, but you need to do more."
"Once the band picks up..."
"Nick, Nick. That band isn't the answer. It's been over five years and you've gone nowhere. I think it's about time you started to look for something else."
"Sara, don't start..."
"Yeah, I know. Fighting over the band is what broke us up. But this isn't about us anymore; it's about our daughter."
"That was low."
"It's the truth. Nick, I only make so much as a cashier at Food Lord and food stamps don't buy clothes. I'm not asking for money to screw you over, I'm asking for Ariel's sake."
"Daddy's going to buy me a blue dress, too!" Ariel announced as she reentered the living room of the small apartment.
Sara silently mouthed, "Can you?"
He whispered, "I'll find a way," and then said to Ariel, "Daddy needs to go. Come say goodbye."
Nick squatted to receive a hug from his daughter as she said, "Bye, Daddy."
Looking at her friends Sandi, Tiffany, and Stacy as they left a table at Governor's Park, Quinn said, "I'm going to miss all of you."
Stacy said, "Gonna miss you, Quinn. Drive carefully."
"Yeah, Quinn. Be careful," Tiffany added.
Tiffany and Stacy started walking toward the exit, while Sandi held back. Quinn stopped and said, "Sandi?"
Her hair still bleached blond, Sandi abruptly hugged Quinn and said, "I'm really going to miss you. I don't know how I would've have made it this summer."
"That's what friends are for, Sandi."
"If I can, would you mind if I moved out to California? Lawndale...doesn't feel like home anymore."
"Sandi, that would be great!"
"You really don't mind?"
"No, Sandi. I think you'll like it out there." Quinn looked around and then asked, "Uh, where'd Stacy and Tiffany go?"
"I think they left."
Stirring a cup of ramen noodles that constituted his dinner, Nick looked through the small window of his apartment at the railroad tracks on the edge of town. The rail tops gleamed with moonlight among the grey and black shadows cast over the line.
He set the cup on the sill and pulled out his wallet, opening it. "Six dollars. Six dollars to last until Spiral's gig next Friday."
Nick closed his wallet and returned it to his pocket. He grabbed his dinner and started mindlessly consuming it as he looked at a group of photos on the wall. Ariel was prominent, from a ruddy-faced newborn to her kindergarten portrait. Nick turned away and dropped onto a threadbare recliner. Leaning back, he looked at a single picture of teenage newlyweds. "We were way too young to get married. But, Ariel's the best thing to come out of my life."
Early the following morning, Quinn leaned against her red Vexxer and talked on her cell phone. "It's about time you called back, Daria. I'm almost ready to leave Mom and Dad's."
Sprawled on the sofa in her apartment, Daria said to her younger sister, "Sorry, Quinn, you know I don't like to talk while driving. Especially in Monday morning Boston traffic."
"What were you doing on the road this early in the morning?"
"Um, I was at Michael's. I meant to be home before you left, but we kind of overslept. Sorry."
Quinn giggled and said, "For two days?"
"Daria, I understand. It was his birthday, after all."
"Thanks. You know that if you weren't heading to Pepperhill a week early, I could've come down to see you."
"Yeah, but I wanted some extra time to settle into the Tri-Theta house and hang out with Fran."
"So, getting a head start on all those tanned beach boys had nothing to do with it?"
"Maybe a little. Anyway, I'm not too worried because we'll see each other at Amy's wedding next month."
"That's going to be a challenge to get to, considering my work schedule. But if I'm late, Amy will kill me. Or more likely, she'll get her maid of honor to kill me."
"At least you don't have to fly across the country."
"Considering traffic on I-95, you're probably going to get there faster."
"I'm kinda wishing I could fly out to California."
"Not looking forward to four days of driver's butt?"
"Ugh, and even with the air conditioner on, your back gets all sweaty and icky."
"Be strong, young Morgendorffer. Speaking of being strong, how are Mom and Dad?"
"Mom's all fired up over her new case and Dad's excited about the new business that Jodie brought in this summer."
"Now that we're not home underfoot, they really can spend more time with their careers."
"I was hoping that they could spend more time with each other."
"Daria, I'm sure they will after I leave. And we don't want to know the details, at least based on some of the misplaced items I've found. Eww."
"I'll second that eww, and please never tell me what they were."
"I think Sandi was scarred for life by what she found in the guest room."
"What a way to treat a guest. How are Sandi and the rest of the old Fashion Club?"
"Good. We got together for dinner at Governor's Park last night."
"That's nice. How's married life treating Lindy and Trent?"
"They're happy. I stopped by to see Lindy before going to the dinner. She's still walking on clouds after the wedding."
Helen looked out of the front door and said, "Oh, there you are."
Holding her hand partly over the phone, Quinn said, "Daria called."
Her parents walked over and Helen said, "Oh good. I was hoping she'd call before you left."
"Hey, Kiddo!" Jake called.
Quinn uncovered the phone and told Daria, "Mom and Dad are here."
Daria replied, "I never would've guessed."
Sound thundered and reverberated in the Lane basement as Mystik Spiral practiced. Following a painfully sour note, Trent cringed and stopped playing, followed by Jesse, Max and finally Nick. Trent said, "Whoa, Nick. What happened?"
"Oh, uh, sorry man. Just can't seem to get into the groove today," Nick replied.
Max said, "Get with it, Nick. We need to rock on Friday!"
"Yeah," Jesse said. "Friday's gonna be cool."
Nick set his bass guitar on a stand. "Maybe I just need to take a break."
"That's cool," Trent said. "Let's take five."
As a group, the four men went upstairs and directly to the kitchen. Trent opened the refrigerator and took out a covered bowl with a note on top that read, "Something to feed the bears."
Removing the lid, Trent said, "So that's why Lindy had me pick up chicken wings."
"Wings?" Jesse said, looking into the bowl and grabbing a handful. "Cool."
Putting the bowl on the kitchen table, Trent said, "Dig in," and sat down to help himself. Max joined in, and Nick sat down last.
Watching the other band members devour the snack as he ate a piece, Nick thought, Sara's right. We wouldn't have had those gigs in Boston without Jane and Daria's help, and even with Lindy setting up a website for us, we've only sold a couple hundred CDs and not even a nibble from some label. We're going nowhere.
Late the next morning, Nick's contemplation was interrupted by a woman asking, "Is there anything I can help you with, sir?"
The voice drew his attention away from the blue dress that Ariel had looked at and to the saleswoman standing behind him. "Um, no thanks. Looking around for school clothes for my daughter and getting prices."
"Okay, sir. But if you need anything, just let me know."
Hands in pockets, Nick wandered out of the store and into the main concourse of the mall. The crowd was thin as he dropped back into deep thought as he walked. Perhaps unconsciously drawn, or simply by random chance, he stopped in front of the mall's employment office. He stood up straight and ran his fingers through his hair to bring it under a modicum of control. Before he could change his mind, Nick pushed the door open and stepped inside.
Quinn was desperately relieved to reach an adobe-style house and park in the driveway. Stiff, she crawled out and leaned against the open door, bending backward to relieve and stretch tight muscles in her back. Feeling better, she took a suitcase from the car trunk and went to the house, enjoying the movement after her fourth day on the road.
Moments after Quinn rang the doorbell, it was opened by a petite young woman whose dark chocolate hair was held in a braid that fell to her knees. "Quinn!" she cried and hugged her friend.
"Fran!" Quinn squealed in response and returned the hug, dropping the suitcase in the process.
"Come on in," Fran said. "How was your trip?"
Quinn grabbed the luggage and followed, saying, "Fine. Just don't ask me to sit down."
"No problem. Want a drink?" Fran asked as she went into the kitchen.
"I don't suppose you have diet soda, do you?"
Fran reemerged seconds later with two cans. She handed one to Quinn and said, "I remembered and picked some up yesterday."
Fran's aunt stepped out of the kitchen and said, "Hi, Quinn."
"Hi, Beth. Thanks for letting me stay the night."
"Our pleasure." Beth nodded and returned to cooking dinner.
Quinn and Fran drifted into the living room, where Fran sat on the sofa and Quinn leaned over the back. Quinn asked, "How was your summer?"
"It was okay, but kind of dull without you around."
"Meet any interesting boys?"
"None that really jumped out at me. You?"
"A couple from the local state college."
Beth called out, "Just to let you know, dinner's almost ready and David will be home soon. You probably have time for a shower if you want one."
Quinn finished a sip of soda and said, "Oh, that sounds wonderful."
"Fran, can you get everything together for her?"
"Sure, Beth." Fran then said to Quinn, "I hope you remember the way."
"I think so."
Quinn took her suitcase to the guest room to retrieve her toiletries and a change of clothes. Fran was exiting the bathroom when Quinn arrived.
"All yours," Fran said and stepped out of the way.
Quinn said, "I won't be too long," before entering and closing the door.
Looking in the mirror before undressing, it suddenly dawned on Quinn that Fran wasn't wearing makeup over the accident scars on her face.
Sitting on a barely padded chair in the Lawndale Temporary Staffing Services waiting room, Nick wiggled his clip-on tie to try to make it rest a little more comfortably. His sole dress shirt was slightly tight and the tie's clip pressed tight against the bottom of this throat. Nick flipped through an old sports magazine, skimming parts of articles on two-year old football games.
The door at one end of the room opened and a thirtyish man stepped out. After a stop by the water fountain, he left and a man in a gray suit appeared at the open door. "Nicholas Campbell?"
Nick rose and walked over. "I'm Nick."
"Hi Nick, I'm Josh Allen. Come in and have a seat, please." Mr. Allen allowed Nick to enter and closed the door before taking a seat behind a wooden desk. He picked up Nick's application and quickly read through it. "It looks like you haven't had much formal work experience since high school."
"No, I haven't."
"Hmm. Freelance disc jockey and member of a band, Mystik Spiral. I think I've seen you at McGrundy's Pub once or twice."
"Well, I see you have experience with different sound systems and associated electronics, plus basic electrical knowledge."
"Yeah, it helps when an amp needs rebuilding."
Mr. Allen set the application aside and picked up a small stack of paper from another part of his desk. He skimmed several pages and then said, "Well, I have an electrician that's looking for a helper for a couple weeks. Starts Monday."
"An electrician like, house-wiring electrician?"
"Mostly subcontracting for new construction, but yes."
Nick took a breath and said, "I'll take it."
"I haven't even mentioned the pay."
"Whatever it is, it's better than what I'm making now."
Fran followed Quinn's car into the neatly lined lot and parked her metallic blue VW Beetle next to her friend. Each girl's eyes were fixed on the tall columns of the main entrance of their new home, the Theta Theta Theta sorority house. Fran was the first to speak. "You know, I think I can get used to this."
Quinn grabbed her friend's arm and pulled her forward. "This is going to be great." They trotted up the front steps and into the entry foyer of the building. Numerous students, both residents and recruited help were busily moving personal effects to the rooms.
A clear voice from their right called, "Fran! Quinn! Over here!" At a registration table was a blonde wearing a golden yellow shirt with "REGISTRATION" written in black above 3 copies of the Greek letter theta. She immediately looked through a file box on the table and removed two folders.
Quinn said, "Hi, Mary."
Mary passed the appropriate folders to Quinn and Fran. "Here are your room contracts and checklists. Make sure you go through the checklist and let one of the registration crew know about any problems with your room before you sign it." She next produced keys and handed them over. "Fran, you're in room 303 and Quinn, you're in 304. Third floor, suite 3-1 is at the end of the north hall."
"Let's get the rooms checked so we can unpack," Fran said, heading to the stairs.
They weaved their way up the two flights of stairs and down the hallway. To the left was a door marked "Suite 3-1 Rooms 301-304." Entering, they found themselves in a common living room, with a nice kitchen beyond. Set into the near corners, one hallway led off each side of the living room, paralleling the main hall. They found their rooms in the hall to the left, Fran's first and then Quinn's.
Each room had a small private bathroom just inside the door, with the main space beyond. A closet ran the full length of the dividing wall between bathroom and bedroom. The bedroom was supplied with a comfortable bed that had a shelved headboard, a waist-high dresser, desk, bookshelf and a nightstand. A wide window graced the far wall, with a fire-escape landing just outside.
Fran whistled and said, "Damn."
Quinn hugged Fran with one arm and said, "Yeah, I can get used to this."
The call of a single cricket surviving somewhere in the alley behind McGrundy's gave a counterbalance to the boisterous din of the last several hours. A bouncer opened the back door to allow the band members to load their gear into the black Suburban parked nearby.
Hauling a drum, Max said, "What a lame crowd tonight."
"Yeah," Jesse agreed, carrying his cased guitar.
Trent was the next out, carrying his guitar and a mike stand. "Maybe we need new material."
Sliding the mixing board into the back of the SUV, Nick said, "Guys, I, um, need to tell you something."
"Gonna finally tune your guitar?" Max jokingly asked.
"I don't need your crap right now," Nick snapped.
"Lighten up, dipwad," Max snapped back.
Trying to distract them, Jesse said, "Hey, anybody want a burger?"
"I can't afford one," Nick said. "That's why I'm quitting the band."
"I'm a little flush," Jesse said. "I can cover you."
"That's because you live in your parents' basement and don't pay rent."
Max said, "You can't quit, man. We're about to bust loose on the music scene."
"We're falling flat on our asses and not going anywhere."
Trent said, "It's a rough spot. We need to come up with some new stuff, and eyes are back on the prize."
"That's fine for you; you've got Lindy for a nice sugar momma. I've got a daughter to look after and this just ain't cuttin' it any more."
"Let's take a couple days," Trent suggested.
Nick said, "I don't have a couple days. I start temping on Monday. I can't stay out until three or four in the morning and expect to be at work by six. I'm sorry, but I don't have a choice this time."
"Dude!" Max yelled. "We're the Spiral, you can't just leave!"
"Yes," Nick answered. "Yes I can. Look, you can find someone else. Must be other musicians wanting to get into a band."
"But Nick..." Trent pleaded.
Nick said, "I'm sorry. It's been a lot of fun. It really has. But, I can't live on what I'm making now and do what's right for Ariel. I need a real job."
Trent shook his head. "Okay, but think it over. We'll hold a spot for you."
Nick reached inside of the door to McGrundy's and picked up his guitar case. "Thanks, but I have thought about it. I won't forget all this, but...I'm sorry. I better go."
Nick made a hasty exit, leaving the others standing in silence. Finally, Jesse said, "Damn, that sucks."
Trent cocked his head and asked, "Sugar momma?"
Carrying several plastic grocery bags each, Quinn and Fran weaved through boxes randomly stacked in the living room. Fran called, "We're back!" toward the right-side hallway.
A brunette with tightly curled hair emerged from the hall. Quinn said, "Hi, Grace. Where's Tammy?"
Grace said, "Stuffed under a desk with her butt up in the air trying to hook up my computer."
A muffled voice said, "I heard that!" Moments later, a deeply tanned blonde came out, brushing her knees. "Just because you tried to hook your mouse to the monitor port."
"But they kind of look the same."
"Grace, do I need to tell you the difference between male and female connectors, again?"
"Eww, no. But why couldn't they come up with different names?"
"Because all the old electronic geeks were perverts."
A bright chirping sound caused Quinn to rush her bags to the kitchen and take a cell phone from her pocket. "Hello."
"Hey, Quinn," Sandi said from her tiny efficiency apartment. "Sorry I missed your call yesterday. I worked the evening shift at Cashman's."
Quinn started emptying the bags by pulling out a six-pack of diet soda. "No problem, I was just letting everyone know that I got here safely."
"How's your new place?"
While talking, she started ferrying things to the refrigerator. Celery and carrot sticks, frozen cheeseless pizza, and other low-fat snacks. "It's really nice. I told you about Fran, and the other girls are Grace and Tammy."
"You know, I'm starting to like having a place of my own. The quiet is...nice."
"Never thought I'd hear you say that."
Sandi laughed, "Yeah. You'd almost think your sister rubbed off on me."
Fran joined Quinn and unloaded her groceries, sport energy bars and protein drinks, along with a careful selection of breads, meats, fruits and vegetables. She held one of the energy bars back and started snacking on it while Quinn talked.
"Daria would die to hear you say that. Have you seen Stacy or Tiffany? I couldn't get a hold of them yesterday."
"No, Quinn, I haven't seen them since we had dinner together."
Tammy and Grace joined them in the kitchen and stared at Fran's stash. Seeing them, Fran said, "Trust me, you don't want to eat like this."
Quinn said to Sandi, "I hope they're all right."
Jesse and Max were stretched out on the sofa of Trent's living room while he sat in an easy chair. At her computer desk, Lindy half-paid attention while the band discussed Nick's departure.
Jesse said, "Nick turned down a burger. He's serious, man."
"We've been through this before," Trent explained. "You've been mad, I've been mad, Max's been mad."
"He didn't seem mad," Max said. "If he's gone, what're we gonna do?"
Lindy turned her chair and said, "I can search online for anyone in the area looking to join a band. I bet there are one or two college students looking."
Trent shook his head. "I don't know. Mystik Spiral is the four of us."
Lindy said, "Bands replace members. It's life. Even the Beatles had to replace someone before they hit the big time."
Max said, "Whoa, you mean George wasn't one of the originals?"
Lindy rubbed her eyes and said, "No...Ringo wasn't the original drummer."
"Get out! The drummer's the heart of a band."
"It's true," Trent confirmed.
"Oh, man." Max beamed with a realization. "Well, I guess it shows how important the drummer is."
Jesse said, "But we need a new bass player."
"I'll start looking online for you," Lindy said. "I'll also swing by the colleges and put up some flyers. The state schools have registration and add-drop next week."
"You know, we better get somebody by our gig on Friday," Trent said.
"But, who's gonna fill in for Nick during practice?" Jesse asked.
Trent slapped his forehead. "Ah man, practice. We better find somebody by Thursday."
Lindy started typing at her computer keyboard. "Better set up auditions on Wednesday, so you three have a whole day to fight about who to hire."
"Quinn!" Stacy said over the phone. "I'm sorry I missed your call, but I was out of town for a race and didn't get home until late Sunday."
Seated on a lounge chair in the secluded back yard of the Tri-Theta house, Quinn flopped back as she remembered. "That's okay, I kinda forgot about the race. How'd you do?"
Stacy said, "So-so. I couldn't keep a good line through turn three the whole race and I still think Dad's running the engine a little lean."
"You didn't understand a word that I said, did you?"
"I understood 'so-so', but other than that...um, no," Quinn admitted.
Stacy laughed and said, "Don't worry. So you made it to back to Malibu. Been to the beach yet?"
Looking down at the pale skin exposed by her modest, blue two-piece bathing suit, Quinn said, "Not yet, I'm pre-tanning."
"Your sorority has tanning beds?"
Quinn chuckled, "No, Stacy, I'm in the back yard. But it's safe; they have a nice privacy hedge."
In a nearby lounge chair, Fran sarcastically said, "Because it's a crime around here to be seen with pasty skin."
"Who was that?" Stacy asked.
"Oh, that's Fran, she's here with me to even out her tan," Quinn said, referring to the lighter colored bands of skin on Fran's arms and legs close to her black, one-piece suit. Skin normally covered by shorts and a shirt.
"Oh, your old roommate. Tell her that I'm so jealous of her hair. Between the helmet and HANS device when I race, I can't wear my hair too long."
Quinn held the phone away and said, "Another one jealous of your hair."
"Thanks, but it's long only because I just trim it. Takes a while, but anyone can grow something like this."
"She says thanks," Quinn relayed to Stacy.
"Great. I've got to go to work, but I wanted to catch you before I left. Glad you made it."
"Thanks. I hope you do better in your next race."
"I hope so. See ya, Quinn."
Closing the phone, Quinn said, "Wow. I can't believe I forgot about Stacy's race."
Sweat soaked Nick's shirt under the afternoon sun as he threaded electrical wire through open wall studs. All of the wiring along the exterior walls was complete and another crew had started applying the sheathing.
The master electrician stopped at several points and checked Nick's work. Nick watched from the corner of his eye as the man squatted and made an adjustment to one wall fixture. Nervous, he concentrated again on his present work as his boss stepped up.
The electrician said, "You're doing a good job and I appreciate your enthusiasm. But, you can slow down a little." He cocked his thumb back. "It's worth taking a little extra time to do a job that'll last."
"Okay, I'll try to remember that."
"Don't worry, son. You're doing a good job. Hopefully, you'll learn to do a great job."
Tiffany slowly said, "Hey, Quinn. I got your message."
Seated in the central living room of the suite with her roommates and watching a romantic comedy on Tammy's DVD player, Quinn said, "Are you all right?"
"I'm fine, Quinn. Why do you ask?"
"I left the message four days ago. I was getting worried."
"Oh, sorry. I forgot to check my messages."
Quinn sighed in frustration.
Tiffany asked, "How's California?"
"I'm so happy to be back, though getting used to the traffic again will take a while."
"You should get Stacy to help you."
Giggling, Quinn said, "Good one, Tiffany."
"I'm going to the gym. Bye, Quinn."
The young man attacked more than played guitar and attempted to sing:
Can't stand your lips, can't stand your eyes,
can't stand your teeth, can't stand your thighs,
that's why I loathe...you...
He started wildly swinging his guitar, but somehow avoided hitting anything as he added his big finish:
Dammit! Dammit, dammit, dammit!
Seated at the gazebo in his back yard, Trent coughed and said, "Thanks. We'll let you know."
The man walked past the line of others waiting to audition. He grinned and said, "It's in the bag man. Ya might as well go home."
Max said, "He's got fire in him, if nothing else."
Jesse said, "He ain't got good rhythm."
Trent scratched his chin and said, "But, he might help with songwriting."
Jesse called out, "Uh...next!"
A kid of about 18 walked up and plugged in his guitar. "Hey dudes. Man, I hope this will be my ticket out of high school."
The detonation of noise from his playing was unmistakably loud and irritating. After about ten seconds, Trent held up his hand and shouted, "Okay! Okay!"
The boy stopped. "Huh?"
"We'll let you know."
The kid snatched his guitar free and stomped away. "Damn old farts won't give a kid a break."
Jesse said, "Man, he sucked."
"We may be criminales," Max said, "but that was criminal."
Trent shook his head. "That guitar must be working off some bad karma."
"Next!" Max said.
The next applicant appeared with an acoustic guitar. "Uh...bear with me, will ya? I'm still kinda learning this thing."
Trent quietly groaned.
Over an hour later, the band members sat around the gazebo and dejectedly looked at each other. Finally, Trent suggested, "Maybe we can try again next week."
Jesse said, "What about Friday?"
Shrugging, Trent said, "We'll go on without a bass player."
Max slid off the seat and stood. "Guess so. Jesse, still need a ride home?"
"See ya tomorrow at practice," Max said to Trent as he and Jesse started walking to the front of the house.
"I'll be here."
"Can't we get a bass guitar machine?" Max asked in deep frustration as he left Trent's house the next evening. "You know, like those damn drum machines?"
At the door, Trent said, "Um, Max, I don't think they make them."
"We need somebody. The three of us just ain't doing it. Hey, how about we try the 'I loathe you' guy anyway? Worth a shot."
Stepping out behind Trent, Jesse said, "He couldn't tell a C from a G cord."
"Like you can?"
Trent stepped in. "Hey."
Max said, "Trent, right now, we suck."
"You know, yeah," Jesse agreed, forgetting or ignoring Max's comment about his playing.
"It's temporary," Trent said. "We'll find someone."
"I guess," Max said.
Jesse said, "Maybe. Sometimes, I wonder if we should move on."
"Speaking of moving on," Max said, motioning to his blue car, "If you want a ride, I'm heading out."
Trent watched as they piled into his old car, half smiling at remembering some of the good times associated with it.
The car coughed, sputtered and roared to life. Max put the car in reverse, but after moving a couple feet, three loud clunks sounded under the car and it jerked to a stop. Max cussed and slammed the shifter into drive. The car jerked forward and stopped with another loud thud under the car, followed by the sound of liquid splashing on pavement.
Max flung the door open and rolled out to look underneath the car. "Ah dammit! The tranny's shot!"
Seeing the dark liquid flowing downhill from the car, Trent said, "That doesn't look good."
Max crawled up and looked over the top of the car door. "It bites. I don't have the scratch to drop in a new tranny, even if I rebuild a POS from the junkyard."
"How are we gonna get home?"
Max said, "Um, Trent?"
Trent pulled keys from his pocket and pointed to his truck. "Hop in."
In the morning sunlight, a tall man with brown hair pulled into a ponytail connected a cable to Max's car and started winching it onto a service truck's lowered deck. Printed in an arc along each truck door was a logo proclaiming, "Rowe Custom Automotive."
Standing beside Trent near the tall yard sculpture, Max said, "It had a good life, but it's time to say goodbye. Mr. Rowe's going to give me a good scrap price for the old car."
"You're not gonna fix it?"
"Trent, it's dead."
"Mmm. Means I'm gonna have to give everyone rides."
Max scratched the back of his neck and said, "No, you're...not."
"New rig? Cool."
"No, Trent. Between Nick and the car, it got me thinking. You, me and Jesse have been together for ten years. And, we haven't gone anywhere."
The bald man nodded. "I'm leaving the Spiral, too. Maybe see if I can get a job with Mr. Rowe."
"Max, what about 'eyes on the prize'?"
With a clunk, Mr. Rowe leveled the cargo deck of the service truck and walked around to complete securing the car.
Max said, "There's no prize for Mystik Spiral." He started walking to the loaded truck and added, "But dude, you did find a prize. Don't pull a Nick and lose her over us."
Lindy opened the front door and said, "Hey, Jesse. Trent's downstairs getting his gear."
Hands in pockets, Jesse absently said, "Hmm. Good timing."
Aware of his mood, Lindy said, "Sorry about Max. But, Trent says that the band started with you two."
Lindy stopped and leaned against a wall, watching. She said under her breath, "This doesn't look good."
She waited for several minutes until Jesse reemerged from the basement. Looking at the floor, he rushed by and said, "See ya later, Lindy."
Trent followed seconds later, forlornly carrying his guitar case. Lindy took his free hand and asked, "Was that what it looked like?"
"I'm sorry. I know how much the music meant to you."
"Jesse and me had been playing together for twelve years."
Putting her arms around his waist, she asked, "What are you going to do now?"
He moved his arm around Lindy's shoulder and held her close. "A gig's a gig."
Gently pushing Fran into the red Vexxer, Quinn said, "I know, I know. No blind dates. Trust me, I learned my lesson."
Dressed in light summer wear like Quinn, Fran asked, "Where are we going?"
"It's a surprise."
"That's what worries me."
Quinn jogged around the car and got in to drive. "Don't worry," she said as she started the car and drove out of the parking lot.
"It's a party. I know it. First free Friday in Malibu and you've found a party."
"Quinn, you're scaring me."
Leaving campus, Quinn took a short drive down the Pacific Coast Highway and off a side road, making a loop to a public access beach. She pulled to the roadside and parked.
Fran asked, "Here?"
"Here." Quinn picked up a small digital camera and said, "Stand over there."
Shrugging, Fran said, "Okay," and stood at the spot.
Quinn pushed buttons on the camera back and whispered, "I hope I got this right." Placing the camera on the car hood, she leaned over to look at the small display and adjust it on Fran. Happy, she pressed the shutter and the screen started to display a numeric countdown from ten. Quinn hurried to Fran to stand beside her friend. "Smile."
After the camera flash, Quinn rushed back and checked the camera. "Yes!"
Fran approached at a slower pace. "Hmm. I didn't break the camera."
Quinn showed the small display. Behind the two young women were the beach and the setting sun above the horizon.
Fran said, "Nice picture. But, what's this all about?"
Quinn replied, "Realizing I have a new home."
"California. Now that I'm back, I know that this is home."
"What about your friends back in Maryland?"
"Sandi will probably be out here by next year, but Stacy and Tiffany are making their lives back east. We'll stay friends, but we have to move on. We would all have to give up something important to stay together in Lawndale. And yeah, my family's back there, but...this is what feels right for me. I'll go back to visit, but like Daria staying in Boston, I'm staying in Malibu."
"And I'm out here because...?"
"Only a good friend would understand."
"Yeah, I understand."
Trent stepped onto the stage of McGrundy's Pub and sat against a single wooden stool behind a microphone stand. He coughed and said, "Hey, I'm Trent Lane. I know you're expecting Mystik Spiral, but we've had a change of plans. For a lot of years, we used to say, 'Eyes on the prize' and followed a dream."
Trent strummed the guitar and made a small tuning adjustment. "That's over. Mystik Spiral's gone. Some dreams don't last."
Looking in the crowd, he found Lindy sitting to one side and watching, rolling the bright yellow no-alcohol ID band around her wrist. He smiled at her and said, "But others do."
He strummed his guitar again and started playing. His burred voice sang a song he'd first performed the previous summer:
Love has the schedules,
For where we have to go.
Love makes the rules,
Why, we hope to know.
"Nick? What are you doing here?" Sara asked. "You're up and moving by noon on a Saturday?"
Nick held up a box sealed with a white bow. "Just dropping something off for Ariel."
Hearing Nick's comment, the little girl picked up a VCR remote and paused the video she was watching. Ariel then hopped off the sofa and rushed to the door. "Something for me?"
He knelt down and said, "Just for you, princess."
Ariel opened the box and squealed in delight to see the blue dress she'd seen the week before. "Oh, Daddy!"
Sara said, "How'd you...?"
"I listened to some good advice."
I Loathe You from Café Disaffecto by Glenn Eichler
Thanks to Kristen Bealer, Ipswichfan and Mr. Orange for beta reading.