This fan fiction and associated stories were written for entertainment purposes only.

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Daria and associated characters are owned by MTV with all appropriate rights reserved.

Original characters and plot/dialogue are mine :)

Chapter 4 – Open Mic Night

Jane opened the front door of her home and greeted her two best friends with a semi-lucid "Yo."

"Morning to you too sunshine," responded Daria dully, drawing a smirk from her brother.

"Here... hold this," stated Jane through yawns as she shoved her full coffee cup into Alex's hand.

The young man brought the cup closer to his face and inhaled the aroma.

"This isn't your usual instant stuff," he commented.

He and Daria had been witness to Jane's usual morning routine on multiple occasions and could definitely tell the coffee in the cup was of a much higher quality from its much richer and fuller aroma.

"Oh yeah, this stuff is a big step up from the instant crystals," Jane responded as she stowed a large thermos into her backpack. "Mom came back from... Sue Tommy, or something like that a week ago,"

"Sao Tome?" corrected Daria inquisitively.

"That's it. Anyway, she brought a bunch of colored linen and a metric crap-load of the stuff with her. She even brought a new coffee grinder with her. Takes a little more work to make a pot, but definitely worth it."

"I can imagine. The stuff smells strong," remarked Alex. "Good, but strong."

"Just the way I like it," Jane replied, as she took a long sip from the steaming cup.

"It also comes in handy when I run out of paint thinner," the artist remarked as the trio began their morning sojourn to Lawndale High.

"So you guys hear about the break-in at .Com last night?" Jane asked after they had walked for a few minutes in amiable silence.

"I saw something about it in the paper this morning," replied Daria. "Did they run something on the TV news this morning?"

"No clue," answered Jane after swallowing a mouthful of coffee. "Trent told me about it last night. He and the guys drove past it on the way home from McGrundy's and said there were a bunch of cop cars in front of the place."

"The paper said that the front window was smashed and six of the computers were taken," remarked Daria.

"As much as I'd love to have a computer," began Jane between sips of coffee. "I just can't see myself trashing a coffee shop to get one."

"So... no need to search Stately Lane Manor for purloined electronics?" asked Alex jokingly.

"I don't like moving my easel from one room to another. Can you see me running through the streets of Lawndale toting six computer towers?"

"Fair enough," replied Alex with a chuckle as an image of Jane hunched over with six computers strapped to her back, like a cybernetic Sherpa floated through his head.

Jane downed the last of her coffee in one gulp and stashed the empty cup in her pack as she and the twins approached the front driveway of the school.

"Alright class! I've got your tests from yesterday graded." came the shrill, nasally voice of Janet Barch.

The 40ish woman picked up the stack of papers and turned her slit eyed gaze upon the students of her sophomore science class. Her face settled into its all too familiar disdainful scowl as she surveyed the right side of the classroom; the side of the room on which she had segregated the male students.

"MacKenzie!" barked the woman, "Get up here and return these pitiful tests to the rest of your testosterone poisoned so-called half of the human species!"

"Yes ma'am," replied Mack as quickly rose from his seat and walked to the front of the class.
He accepted the papers from Barch, carefully ensuring he avoided direct eye contact with the woman, and then quickly began distributing them to the other male students.

"Brittany," said the teacher in a vastly different, almost cheerful tone. "Be a dear and pass these out to the young ladies."

"Sure Ms. Barch," chirped the busty cheerleader.

Brittany hopped out of her seat and cheerily began handing papers out to the girls.

Daria looked at the test paper she had just been handed and gave a subdued smiled at the "100 A+" circled in the top corner.

Jane accepted the paper from Brittany and grinned. She held her quiz up to the side to show Daria.
Daria glanced over towards Jane and noted the "80 B-" and gave her friend a thumbs up.

'Looks like studying with the dynamic duo paid off after all,' thought Jane as she set her quiz back onto her desk and opened her text book to the chapter Barch mentioned.

Daria turned to her brother sitting beside her on the 'Male' side of the center aisle and immediately took notice of his confused expression.

"There was some improvement from the last quiz. But not enough for my satisfaction, which tells me we need to go back over some of the material in the previous chapter," the teacher began as she turned to the blackboard and began erasing the chalk inscribed words from it.

"Um... Ms. Barch," the boy began. "I think there's been a mistake with my grade."

Daria craned her neck and saw '71 C-' boldly displayed on the top corner of Alex's quiz.

'What in the...' began Daria mentally as she unconsciously raised an eyebrow at her brothers, less than stellar grade.

Movement in his peripheral vision caused, Alex to turn his head towards the other boys in the class. Charles, Mack and a few of the others were shaking their heads violently at him and/or making Stop/Don't/Turn back now motions.

Alex felt the paper being removed from his hand and turned to see his sister examining his quiz.

'What in the world could he have answered that poorly to get such a low grade?' Daria asked herself as she placed her brother's quiz on her desk beside her own and began alternating her gaze between the two papers.

'The multiple-choice answers are the same as mine. Looks like those are marked correctly,' she thought as she compared the two tests. 'Hmmm... looks like all of the essay and a good number of the fill-in-the-blank questions are marked as wrong.'

The distraction created by his male cohorts' exaggerated warnings and his sister taking the quiz from his hand prevented the boy from immediately noticing Ms. Barch had moved from the blackboard to a position directly in front of his desk.

"So you have a problem with my grading method Mister Morgendorffer?!" demanded Barch fiercely. "Think I should have gone easy on you like the other teachers?!"

Alex leaned back in his seat as much as the rigid frame would allow, and stared at the raving teacher with a confused and worried expression.

"Well you may get breezed through by your worthless male teachers, but you're not going to get a free ride in their classes, but not in my house mister!" the woman raved as she leaned in and glared at Alex.

"Ms Barch," Daria interrupted. "These answers are right."

"What?!" exclaimed the fuming teacher.

"If you compare his to mine," continued Daria, ignoring the hostility radiating off the older woman as she held up both Alex's test and her own. "His answers are either the same or close enough to mine to be counted correct. That assumes the 100 you gave me wasn't an error as well..."

Further argument was cut short by the sounding of the bell.

"Well since there seems to have been a problem with the grading of the tests," resumed the disgruntled teacher. "That means we'll just have to have another test tomorrow, now won't we?"

The students let out complaints of varying degree as they gathered their belongings and began filing out of the room for their next class.

No one noticed the cold glare Ms. Barch leveled at the back of Alex as he, Jane and Daria left the class.

"You know you're not going to survive much longer if you keep antagonizing the raging she-beast like that," remarked Jane as she and the twins made their way to their next class.

"Hey, it's not my fault she miss-graded my test. I'm not going to screw up my GPA because her ex-husband did a job on her," replied Alex. "But seriously, what was up with the grade she gave me?"

"It's almost as if she purposefully counted his answers wrong," stated Daria casually.

"Knowing Barch, that's exactly what she did," responded Jane.

The twins came to a stop and looked at Jane with inquisitive expressions. The artist realized the pair was no longer walking and turned around.

"You're... serious aren't you?" asked Daria.

Alex merely stood in place and blinked in obvious disbelief.

"Why wouldn't I be," asked Jane as if it were the most normal response in the world.

"OK..." began Alex as his brain restarted and the trio began walking again. "So she grades the guys more... strictly than she grades the girls?"

"That's a nice way of putting it," replied Jane. "She grades the students the same way she treats them.

"So she screws the guys over and breezes the girls through," stated Daria.

"Got it in one," replied Jane.

Alex furrowed his brow and angrily stated, "That is the most unethical pile of crap I've ever heard!"

"This is Lawndale High," retorted Jane. "I'm sure having no ethics is a pre-requisite for a teaching position here."

'Especially with Li running things,' added Jane mentally.

"True," conceded Daria. "But that doesn't explain why she hasn't been 'miss-grading' Lex's other tests and quizzes until now."

"That's actually the easy part to figure out," remarked Alex. "Up to this point, she's been giving us multiple choice ONLY exams."

"Good point," added Jane. "She couldn't screw the guy's tests over without either screwing the girls over as well or making it blatantly obvious that she's playing gender favorites."

"It's still insane that she's even been allowed to pull a stunt like that," the boy continued. "It's even more unbelievable that she's been able to do it for long enough that the student's consider it par for the course."

"Well the girls don't really have a problem, so we're generally not going to complain. Lord knows, with my grades, I'm not going to turn down a slight upward bump here and there," stated the raven-haired girl.

"Fair enough," stated Alex. "But I can't believe the guys just lay down and let her walk all over their grades like that."

"Well most of them are only skating by in their classes anyway," Jane responded. "And even if they weren't, they're probably too scared of the woman to complain about it. Hell, until you two showed up, I'd say Mack, Jodie and Upchuck were the only people to get A's and B's regularly enough for it to even matter much."

"So how are Mack and Charles getting 'normal' grades when the rest of the boys don't?" asked Daria.

"Mack is captain of the football team. The last thing Barch wants to do is piss Li off because she flunked someone bringing 'Honor and Glory to Lawndale High'," Jane reminded the pair. "It probably ticks her off that she has to give him decent grades."

"Jodie doesn't strike me as the kind to be OK with her boyfriend being given a free ride through his classes?" asked Daria with a small scowl.

"Who said anything about being given a free ride?" Jane replied.

"You just said Barch is upset about having to 'give him decent grades'," reminded Alex

"Well yeah. Barch hates having to give the guys any kind of credit. You guys should have been here when he got his 1st A from her," Jane said with a chuckle. "I swear I thought she was going to explode."

Jane stopped laughing as she realized what Daria had implied.

"Wait. You thought Barch was being forced to pass Mack?" she asked.

The twins glanced at each other and nodded.

"Jeez you two," said Jane with a roll of her eyes. "Mack earns his grades kids. If it was just about the team getting passed do you honestly think the J's or, Heaven forbid, Kevin would have more than the C's and D's they get in her class when Mack brings home B's?"

"Wait that doesn't explain why Charles isn't flunking her class," commented Alex. "We all know he's definitely earning his A's."

"True, and Upchuck isn't on any of the teams. How's he avoiding the 'Barch Effect'?" inquired Daria.

"Probably has to do with his dad being a former Lawndale Lion himself," replied Jane. "I remember Jodie saying something once about Mr. Ruttheimer being one of the bigger Alumni Fund donors."

"And if there's anything Ms. Li values more than Honor and Glory, it's financial backing," added Daria. "Li would go out of her way to avoid upsetting an alumnus who has children attending the school."

"Especially one with deep pockets," finished Jane with a smirk. "And you can definitely bet that ticks her off. Especially when Upchuck acts like... well... Upchuck."

"So I have to either join the football team or get Mom and Dad to donate a wing to the school to get graded fairly by Barch," grumbled Alex dejectedly. "It just gets better and better here every day."

'We'll figure something out,' Daria thought as she watched her brother complain about their latest educational revelation.

The three soon reached their lockers and saw Brittany, Mack and Kevin conversing.

"Excuse us," said Daria, which cause both football players to look behind the quarterback.

Daria and Alex stood behind Kevin looking expectantly at the lockers he was leaning against. Jane leaned casually against the lockers behind them and gave a salutatory nod to Mack.

"Hey," greeted Mack as he pulled Kevin away from the twins' lockers.

"Hey Daria, you're a chick, right?" asked Kevin.

"Unless things have made a drastic change since this morning, yes," deadpanned Daria as she turned the combination knob a final time and opened her locker.

"Like, why should I be interested in anything this Shakespeare guy says?" asked Kevin, completely missing the sarcasm pouring off of the petite girl's reply.

"You? Well..." said Daria with a contemplative pause. "Hamlet does have a skull in it."

"And don't forget the sword fights in Romeo and Juliet," added Alex as his sister stepped aside to allow him access to the lower locker beneath hers.

"Actually, most of Shakespeare's plays had a fight or battle of some kind," commented Mack as he closed his locker.

"Really?" asked Kevin with an enthusiastic expression. "Cool."

"Though his tragedies always seem a bit too 'Days of Our Lives' for my tastes. I much preferred The Comedy of Errors," the football captain added with a smirk as he walked away from the group towards his next class.

Daria quirked an eyebrow at the unexpected literary reference and followed her brother and friend into class.

O'Neill walked slowly around his desk and leaned against it casually. He smiled lightly at his students before allowing a more serious expression to slip over his face.

Class," began the man solemnly as he brushed a bit of chalk dust from his lapel. "I thought today we'd take a break from the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet to discuss the real life tragedy that happened last night here in Lawndale. Let's share our feelings of violation following the loss of our beloved cybercafé, .Com. Who would like to start?"

He glanced expectantly around the room. When no one volunteered his eyes lit on the bored face of Kevin.

"Charles?" the teacher prompted Kevin but received no outward response from the boy. "Charles, did you hear me?"

"Yes Mr. O'Neill," responded Upchuck, which prompted the teacher to look at him confusedly.

The quarterback realized O'Neill was actually addressing him and responded, "You mean, Kevin?"

"Kevin, heh. I'm sorry," the befuddled man said as he realized the seating chart he referenced was upside down. "What do you have to say about last night's horrible event?"

"I was home all night. You can ask my parents. Besides, I already have a computer," Kevin hastily stated.

"No doubt, serving admirably as a doorstop," commented Daria quietly.

"Hey, you can play Madden on the computer," quipped Alex just as quietly back to his sister.

"Besides, we all know what Kevin would really be using the Internet for," whispered Jane.

The twins raised eyebrows at their friend and, with a smirk, Alex asked, "And what prêt ell would that be?"

Jane responded by hiding her face with her sketchbook and pretending to draw.

"I swear, just when the nightmares begin to go away..." grumbled Daria as she realized the direction Jane's line of thinking had taken.

"I think the cybercafé served one very particular segment of the community, but it still pisses me off when people take what isn't theirs."

Jodie's comments caught the trio's attention and caused them to give their attention back to the topic being discussed.

"That's how I feel!" agreed Kevin enthusiastically.

"Thank you, Kevin," stated O'Neill with a small sigh.

"Jodie, about that word, 'community.' Isn't that the whole idea of a cybercafé? To jack us into the global community? I think what's most disturbing about this crime is the symbolism involved. Don't you agree, Jane?"

"Not really, no," responded Jane.

O'Neill continued his rant, without acknowledging Jane had disagreed with him "Suddenly, we're cut off. We can't hail our friends across the globe and say, 'It's a beautiful day in the cyberhood.'"

The majority of the class stared at O'Neill with a bemused expression, waiting to see where the man was going to take his rant while simultaneously dreading it.

"They didn't just take a few computers," Timothy continued. "They took the symbol of our virtual community. To visit .Com was to come together with the planet!"

"Oh, come on," stated Daria. "You can't be serious."

O'Neill paused in mid step at the outburst and regarded Daria with a confused expression.

"Yes?" he inquired hesitantly.

"Come together with the planet? By staring at a screen for hours? Sitting in a room full of people you never say a word to?" remarked Daria.

O'Neill put his fist against his chin and leaned his head to the side thoughtfully and said, "Hmm. Interesting point, Dorian."

"Daria!" both twins and Jane exclaimed simultaneously.

The teacher jumped back a step at the vehement correction. He reached for his seating chart and noticed his error.

"Uh! Damn spiders," the embarrassed teacher responded as he made feaux motions of smacking an insect before he continued. "Daria, you believe that while connecting Lawndale citizens to our global neighbors, the cafe was alienating us from each other."

"I'm saying if you really miss the place, put a Mr. Coffee in the computer lab," replied the girl.

"So, in your opinion, what we really need is a return to the traditional coffee house of yore, where you'd watch some performers and share a cup with your friends, face to face," the man concluded.

Alex leaned to Jane and asked, "Did I just have a stroke and miss half of the conversation?"

"Daria, you're a visionary," teased Jane.

"I agree," nodded O'Neill. "Right here and now, let's pledge to make Daria's dream a reality."

"The one with leash laws for stupid people?" Alex asked his sister.

"I've always been fond of the one with Quinn stuck in the witch's oven," added Daria with a small smile.

"You sure it's not the one where you see yourself standing in sort of sun-goddess robes on a pyramid with a thousand muscled guys in loincloths chanting your name and throwing little pickles at you?" asked Jane.

The entire class stared silently at Jane for several moments. Alex and Daria turned to again regard their friend with single raised eyebrows.

"Or that could just be me..." she said as she again used her sketchbook to hide her face (which was close to matching the shade of her lipstick).

Mr. O'Neill blinked a few times and recovered quickly.

"The coffee house!" he exclaimed, which drew the students' attention again. "We'll plan it, raise the money, and open it!"

"Would that qualify as an extracurricular activity?" asked Daria with a pained expression apparent.

"Yes," replied O'Neill instantly.

"And you expect me to participate don't you?" she asked, although she already knew the answer.

"Of course," came the teacher's reply.

"Then I'd like to register as a conscientious objector," Daria stated flatly.

"Come on Daria. You have to work to make your dream come true," quipped Jane.

Alex leaned over towards Jane and whispered, "You do realize both of us are going to get dragged into this debacle?"

Jane looked at the boy in confusion for a second before it clicked.

"Ah crap," she swore quietly.

The kitchen was quiet at the Morgendorffer house on a Saturday afternoon as Alex, Daria and Jake sat quietly in their usual places at the kitchen table and read from sections of the Lawndale Post.

Helen walked into the kitchen long enough to grab a Powerbar from a box on the refrigerator and said, "Hi! Gotta change, dinner meeting."

Jake looked up from his paper a few seconds after his wife left the room, turned to Daria and asked, "Did something just happen?"

"Hmm... Depends on your perspective," replied Daria without interrupting her own reading.

Jake shrugged and went back to reading the paper.

"I'm going to Rhapsody with Charles to pick up some strings. Be back later," said Alex as he stood and picked up his violin case from the floor.

He then walked over to the fridge, grabbed a bottle of water from it and headed out of the kitchen towards the front of the house.

A few moments later the sound of the front door opening and closing caught Jake's attention and prompted him to ask, "Did I just miss something?"

"No more than usual Dad," responded Daria with a smirk as she flipped the page of the section of paper she was reading.

Quinn strode through the kitchen and retrieved a yogurt cup from the fridge.

"Hi! No dinner for me! Emergency meeting of the Fashion Club," stated the redhead as she began to head back out of the kitchen.

"I'll make up a nice plate for you and cover it up with cling wrap," quipped Daria as Quinn exited the kitchen completely.

Jake managed to catch a glimpse of his youngest daughter on her way out.

"That was Quinn," he said with a smile towards Daria.

"Yes," confirmed Daria as she set the portion of the news she had just finished down and reached for the remaining folded sections of the paper. "But you still haven't identified Mystery Guests 1 and 2."

"Dammit," swore Helen as she walked back into the kitchen a few minutes later and leaned against the island counter top. "I just called Eric for directions and he said the meeting's canceled."

"Well, that just gives us the chance for a family dinner," she added more cheerfully.

"I'll throw another steak on the grill then," commented Daria.

"We're having steak?" asked Jake as he lowered his paper with a grin.

"No Dad," replied Daria with a sigh. "No steaks."

"Aw man," remarked Jake dejectedly before he resumed reading.

Quinn entered the kitchen long enough to toss the now empty yogurt container in the trashcan and gave a quick "Later" before she walked back out.

Helen leaned slightly to the side and watched Quinn grab her purse from the couch before exiting through the front door.

"Where's she going?" Helen asked with a glance in Daria's direction.

"Some kind of emergency meeting or crisis with the Fashion Club," replied Daria. "Someone probably woke up with frosted hair."

"Oh. Well it's good to see her so... involved with her club duties," commented Helen as she slid into her usual seat next to Jake. "You know, Daria, it wouldn't hurt if you got involved in some after school projects once in a while."

'Here we go again,' came Daria's mental response as she stopped reading and closed her eyes in frustration.

"I mean Quinn is in the Fashion Club, Alex has Band or Orchestra or whatever they're calling it these days..." continued Helen.

"Can't talk now," interrupted Daria, as she ensured the newspaper hid her face from her mother. "I'm chairing a meeting of the Resting Quietly Club."

"I'm serious. When you apply to college, they're going to be looking for that kind of thing. Right, Jake?" said Helen.

"Mmmhmm," replied Jake noncommittally without lowering his own paper.

"Actually, they're going to be more interested in whether I can pay for school," countered Daria.

"Jake, tell her," said Helen with a look to Jake's direction.

She saw that Jake apparently wasn't paying attention to the discussion. She snatched his newspaper from his hands and set it down on the table in front of him.

"Tell her!" she demanded.

"Huh, what?" he asked as he noticed his wife's growing anger.

"Tell her about the importance of extracurricular activities for getting into college," Helen prompted.

"Oh! Well, these days it's more about whether you can pay or not," the Morgendorffer patriarch stated in an off-handed manner, before he snapped his paper once again into an upright position.

"Jake, you're not helping..." Helen remarked wearily.

"Have you thought about a living will, Dad?" asked Daria with a smirk.

"Not really," he responded casually before he paused and again lowered his paper to look at his eldest daughter. "Do you think I need one?"

Helen rolled her eyes and let out a small sigh at her husband and daughter's antics and said, "Just think about it, Daria. That's all I ask."

"OK Mom," replied Daria. "I'll think about it."

'I'll think about not wasting my summer on some crappy irrelevant activity,' she added mentally as she reached for the next section of newspaper.

"Because, I'd hate for you to have to make up for a lack of extracurricular activities over the summer," Helen added.

"You wouldn't," remarked Daria as she stopped mid-reach. "Wait, what am I thinking? Of course you would."

"I saw a pamphlet for a lovely music camp for young women earlier this week..." stated Helen.

"Music camp huh? How come you don't play your flute any more Daria?" asked Jake.

"I haven't played the flute in years, Dad," she replied. "I stopped playing partly because I wasn't any good at it. Music was always Lex's thing."

"Oh yeah," responded Jake.

"Though, mostly I also stopped playing because you ran over my flute, Lex's violin and Quinn's clarinet with the car," reminded Daria. "Lex is the only one who wanted a replacement after that."

"Oh yeah," repeated Jake in a more regretful manner.

"Consequently," continued Daria. "I would have to interpret being sent to a girls' music camp as punishment for doing something very, very wrong."

"Nonsense," contradicted Helen with a wave of her hand. "It would just be an easy way of getting some extracurricular activity on your college applications... if you weren't able to come up with any on your own."

"I've already come up with something on my own," responded Daria. "I came up with the idea of having a simple, stress-free, normal summer for the first time in as long as I can remember."

"Dammit, Daria! Why does everything have to be so difficult with you?" asked Helen vehemently.

"Probably because you insist on making everything so difficult for us," Daria retorted dryly.

"I'm not trying to make things difficult for you," replied Helen angrily. "I just want to look out for your future. I want to make sure you have every opportunity available to you."

"You know what, it's fine," replied Daria in a voice even further devoid of emotion or inflection than normal. "I was wondering when it would be my turn to get sent away."

"Kiddo..." Jake began with an apologetic expression that managed to begin soothing Daria's flared anger.

Unfortunately Helen interrupted her husband with a fervent, "Now that's unfair Daria!"

"Welcome to my world," snarked Daria as she stood and headed out of the kitchen. "I'm going to Jane's."

Helen sat slack-jawed as her eldest daughter left the room. She and Jake jumped reflexively at the sound as the front door was slammed on Daria's departure.

"I swear, I don't know what to do with that girl anymore," complained Helen after she had regained her senses. "The nerve..."

"Honey, why don't you go take your shoes off and try to relax?"soothed Jake with a pat on his wife's knee. "I'll try to talk to her later"

'As if that will do any good,' Helen commented mentally as she stood from the table. "You're right Jake. I'll just go relax for a bit then start diner."

She exited the kitchen without waiting for his response, removing her low heeled shoes on the way to the stairs.

After his wife left, Jake glanced to his son's usual chair and noticed it was empty. He gave a confused glance around the kitchen and noticed that he was completely alone in the room.

"Where's Alex?" he asked the empty room, before he shrugged and resumed reading his paper in peace and quiet.

The front doors of Rhapsody slid open as Alex and Charles exited the music store.

"So what do you want to do now?" asked Charles as he reviewed his receipt.

"I don't know," replied Alex as he deposited his own receipt and his newly acquired sleeves of strings into the pocket of his green Army jacket. "What do you want to do?"

"Now don't start that?" said Charles with a faux British accent. "But seriously, what's the plan for today? Or are we going to go with our usual loosely structured lolly-gagging?"

"If feels more like a semi-organized dawdling kind of day," answered Alex.

At that moment Alex's stomach chose to voice its opinion in the matter as it began to grumble loudly.

"Good grief man, if you were hungry you could have just said so instead of scaring the locals with your best Rancor impression," chided Charles with a chuckle.

"I'd rather sound like a rancor than share the face of one," teased Alex in response. "Might as well check on the food plans for the evening."

Without being prompted, Charles reached into the breast pocket of his teal polo shirt and offered his cell phone to his companion. Alex quickly dialed the number to his own house and waited patiently for someone to answer.

'Quinn's at one of the girls' houses so I know she's not tying up the line,' thought the boy as the phone chimed with the 8th ring. 'Someone pick up.'

"Hello," came Jake's voice after the 10th ring.

"Hey Dad," greeted Alex. "Charles and I were out and about and I was calling to see what the diner plans were."

"Oh, your mother and I were planning to order Chinese," Jake responded.

"Charles and I are about two blocks away from Good Times. We can pick up the food and save the delivery costs," offered Alex. "You guys want the usual?"

"That works," answered Jake. "You should call Daria at Jane's and see if she wants anything."

"Why is Dia at Jane's?" asked Alex. "We were supposed to brainstorm about our assignment for English class."

"Well...," began Jake hesitantly.

"Mom and Dia got into it again didn't they?" asked Alex rhetorically.

Jake gave Alex his fragmented recollection of the conversation that led to Daria leaving the house. The boy sighed and shook his head at the situation.

"I don't think having them try to hash it out again would be a good idea until both of them calm down," stated Jake.

"You're going to try to calm Mom down about it right?" the boy asked his father hopefully.

"Yeah I'll try," replied Jake. "Could you talk to your sister for me I'd..."

"The water's just hot enough Jakey. Did you remember to bring up the baby oil and the straws?" came the sound of Helen's voice in the background.

"They should still be in the 'Fun Trunk'," came Jake's response to his wife before he turned his attention back to the phone. "OK... um where was I."

'I did not need to hear that,' thought Alex as he blinked at the uncomfortably colorful commentary.

"I'll talk to Dia for you Dad," reassured Alex.

"Thanks kiddo," said Jake happily.

"Jakey, the water's going to get cold. And I can't reach the spot between my shoulders," came his mother's voice again.

"You know what Dad, I'll just have Charles leave the food on the doorstep and ring the bell. Dia and I can eat and talk at Jane's," offered Alex as he tried to keep the horrifying images of what his parent could possibly want with hot water, baby oil and straws away. "Know what we'll probably be there till late talking. We'll call before we come home."

"Thanks again kiddo... woah... shiny hiney..." came Jake's response before the click indicated he had hung up.

Alex stared at the phone for a few seconds then slowly passed it back to his friend.

"What was that all about?" asked the freckled redhead as he slid his phone back into his breast pocket.

"Let's get the food. I'll explain the non-emotionally scarring bits on the way," Alex replied.

She was a Dallas cowboy cheerleader but her husband left her for... a hand model with a missing finger?! It's Glove Potion Number Nine... Next on Sick Sad World!

Daria shook her head at the television as she lounged across the front end of Jane's bed. The taller girl sat Indian style beside her friend on the bed further back and chuckled as she switched the TV off. Both girls jumped with a start by a sudden loud banging on the door to Jane's room.

"Can someone open the door please, my hands are full," came Alex's voice from the other side of the room's door.

"Lex?" inquired Daria.

"No, it's Shirley McClain. Of course it's me. Open the door!" the boy responded.

"What if we're indecent in here?" asked Jane jokingly.

"I promise not to peek. Besides, you're indecent whether you're clothed or not," countered Alex.

"He's got you there, Lane," replied Daria.

"Seriously!" pleaded Alex through the door. "This Egg Drop Soup is about to become truth in advertising!"

Jane leapt over Daria and rushed to kick the rubber wedge she used to secure her door away from the bottom edge. While it did little to actually prevent anyone from opening the door thanks to the carpeting near the doorjamb being worn down smooth, it did require one to have to push a bit more forcefully than usual when it was in place.

"Why didn't you say you had food?" chastised Jane as she pulled the door open to see Alex precariously holding multiple large and heavy looking bags one each arm; all bearing the Good Time Chinese Restaurant logo.

"And a movie," added Alex as he set the bags down and realized they all contained food. "I must have left it downstairs with Trent. I'll be right back."

He walked back out of Jane's room and the sounds of his boots could be heard descending the stairs.

"If I had known he was bringing dinner and a movie, I would have rolled out the red carpet for him," said Jane as she fished an egg roll from one of the food bags and began devouring the fried item.

"While I'm sure he would be quite appreciative, I don't think you could pull that off considering your hair is black," stated Daria with a smirk as she retrieved cartons from a bag.

Jane responded by blushing and then choking on her food as the unexpected innuendo caught her off guard.

'Give, and ye shall receive,' thought Daria as she smirked at being able to return the favor for the teasing she'd received regarding Trent.

Alex returned, with A Movie Shack bag and a six pack of Ultra Cola in hand, to find a teary eyed Jane coughing profusely.

"You OK," he asked worriedly as he pulled one of the cans free and handed it to the choking girl.

Jane accepted the drink, glad that her blush could easily be dismissed as results of choking, and waved him off the boy's concern with a gasping cough punctuated, "I'm...fine... wrong pipe."

"Next time chew before you swallow," he teased as he plopped down on the floor across from Jane and his sister.

Daria shifted to lean over the front edge and began to rummage through the cartons of food. Alex slid into a sitting position between his sister and Jane and pulled two of the cartons from the bags out of Daria's reach as Jane recovered from her coughing fit.

"I thought we were going to try and figure out how to get out of O'Niell's latest ill-conceived brainchild," stated Alex as he handed the boxes and one of the sealed packets of plastic eating utensils to his twin.

Daria opened one of the cartons and smiled as the enticing smell of sweet and sour chicken wafted up from the open carton.

Alex pulled out several cartons for himself and smacked Jane's hand with a smirk as she tried to grab the container of egg drop soup from him.

"So what happened," he prompted as he handed a second container of soup to the pouting room's owner.

"You know how Mom has been on this extracurricular activities kick since we attended that stupid Preparing for College course?" asked Daria after swallowing a mouthful of food.

"Yeah," replied Alex warily as he stirred the contents of his Styrofoam bowl.

"Well, she told me that if I don't find an extracurricular activity soon, she would find one for me for the summer," Daria advised.

"Oh great," said Alex. "Dad filled me in on most of it. What is she trying to get you to sign up for this time?"

"The details aren't really important," responded Daria. "The point is I've got to come up with an extracurricular of my own or I can kiss any dreams of a simple, quiet, relaxed summer goodbye."

"Well, you could always participate in Mr. O's coffee house project," suggested Jane. "It'll probably end up getting into the paper. That should be worth enough brownie points to keep your mom from pestering you for a while."

"I knew it was going to come back around to that somehow," complained Daria as she jammed her spork back into the carton of white rice.

"Just toss one of your more morbid poems or short horror stories his way and he'll just let you off the hook," offered Alex as he held his bowl up and scraped the last broth drenched mushrooms from it into his open mouth.

"That would get me off the hook with O'Neill but still wouldn't resolve the problem with Mom,"

"Damn, you're right," agreed the boy as he picked up and opened a carton of sweet and sour chicken of his own. "Well, guess you'll have to find something to..."

"Not so fast mister," interrupted Daria. "If I have to traipse down the Stupid Brick Road, you're coming with me,"

"Awwww, do I have to?" asked Alex.

"You've got a clean bill of health now. No more doctor visits, no more checkups or rehab sessions for them to have to take you to," reminded Daria. "As good as that is, it also means there is nothing to distract Mom from the fact that none of us is doing anything 'productive' this summer. If we work on it together, we'll both be able to get Mom off our backs about extracurricular activities... for a little while."

Alex sighed as he realized neither he, Daria nor Quinn were likely to be allowed to slack off this summer if her Mother's efforts continued in the direction they had taken that morning. At least not without something to placate her recent desire to see them add to their potential college applications.

"True," conceded Alex with a sigh as he stuck his own spork into a carton of rice and set it down.

"Besides, what kind of big, strong brother would you be if you left your poor defenseless twin sister all alone to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous ineptitude," added Daria with a fluttering of her eyelashes and a pitiful but cute pout at Alex.

"I swear. You share a womb with someone one time..." complained Alex with an eye roll while Jane laughed at her friends' antics.

"Yeah well, brainstorm later," interjected Jane as she reached for an unclaimed bag of steaming paper cartons. "My evening of regularly scheduled lounging was rudely interrupted with the promise of diner and a movie, and I plan on getting both before you two head out."

"Agreed," replied Alex as he popped open the movie case. "Besides I haven't watched this one in a while."

"Motion seconded... motion carries," stated Daria as her brother slid the cassette into Jane's VCR and hit the play button.

"That was pretty good," said Jane as she ejected the cassette. "I was a bit worried at first."

"Why? It's one of Mike Meyers' best movies in my opinion," remarked Alex as he and Jane rummaged through the remaining Good Times bags for any overlooked treats.

"Come on, the movie's title...." Jane replied. "It sounds like the tag line for a spot on Sick Sad World."

"Oh man, it does, doesn't it," remarked Alex with a chuckle. "She thought she was wedding a lumberjack... until she found real skeletons in his closet. So I married an ax murderer... next on Sick Sad World!"

Jane laughed out loud and Daria stifled a laugh of her own at her brother's comments before she said, "I am of two views on the movie honestly."

"What do you mean?" asked Jane as she frowned at an empty bag, crumpled it into a ball and tossed it inaccurately in the general direction of her trashcan.

"It's almost like two different versions of the same movie were smashed together," explained Daria. "The first half is the zany comedy you expect from Meyers. But the last third seems like it's trying to be a suspense/thriller."

"There's a noticeable tone shift," responded Alex as stretched his arms over his head. "But I think the slapstick, over the top craziness of the last part it keeps it from feeling totally out of place."

"I liked the poetry readings," commented Jane. "They just had that cool beatnik vibe going... despite the fact that he was basically tearing down his exes."

"It was a rather entertaining, as far as cathartic outlets go," added Daria.

"Hey Dia, Remember when we watched it for the first time," asked Alex with a smile.

"Yes I do. How many notebooks did we go through on those silly poems?" the girl asked her brother with a small smile of her own.

"Too many," admitted Alex as he batted Jane's hand away from the plastic wrapped fortune cookie he had set beside him. "Alright, enough procrastination... We need to figure out what we're going to do for Mr. O'Neill."

Daria's expression turned to a frown, and then to a thoughtful half-smile again as she asked, "Hey Lex, do we still have them?"

"Have what?" asked Alex as he pointed his finger in a chastising manner at Jane who was, again tried to purloin his fortune cookie.

"The notebooks," prompted Daria as she tossed her own unopened fortune cookie from it to their friend.

"I think so," mused Alex aloud as he paused to think for a moment. "They should have been packed up with your books from the old house."

He suddenly began to realize what his sister had in mind and smiled.

"That could work actually," continued Alex. "I'll talk to Charles at school tomorrow. I'm sure he'd love to get in on this."

"How to make an already unpleasant situation worse... just add Upchuck," quipped Daria.

"Come on Dia," said Alex. "You know we've got a perfect opportunity..."

"I know, I know," interjected Daria. "We can do it without accompaniment. But..."

"If we have to do this, you know we'd both rather do it right," finished Alex.

"Just keep your pal on his leash. That's all I ask," Daria added.

Jane turned her head back and forth between her friends as they conversed.

"Upchuck... accompaniment... leash... What the hell are you two talking about?! Do I even want to know what you two are talking about?!" demanded Jane. "I swear, when you two get into your little zone, it's like watching someone talk on the phone, and only getting half of a conversation."

"I think I know how Lex and I can both participate in the coffee shop project, not destroy O'Neill's fragile psyche too much more than usual, and get Mom off our backs about extracurriculars at the same time," Daria replied with a conspiratorial smirk.

Daria and Alex entered O'Neill's classroom about ten minutes after the last bell of the day and saw the teacher sitting at his desk leafing through a phone book. They walked up to the front of the desk and waited for the teacher to notice them.

After a minute of no response, Alex cleared his throat loudly. The man looked up from the thick phonebook a bit confused by the twins' presence.

"Hello... Daria and ... Alex," said O'Neill with only a slight pause and a bright smile at being able to remember their names without his seating chart. "What brings you to my class?"

"We wanted to talk to you about something, sir," replied Alex.

"Well, I'm always glad to give an ear to a young person in need." said O'Neill. "Oh no! You haven't had a lapse in your self-esteem have you?"

The man picked up the self-esteem manual already lying on his desk with a worried expression.

"We want to volunteer to work on the coffeehouse project," offered Daria quickly to alleviate the overly sensitive teacher's concerns

"Fantastic!" O'Neill exclaimed as his expression shifted again from instant worry to cheerful enthusiasm as he focused his attention on Daria. "What made you change your mind?"

"Did anyone ever make you practice 'Pop Goes the Weasel' on the flute every day for two years?" asked the girl.

"Um, no... but I once had to recite the Gettysburg Address wearing a rainbow wig and panties that said 'Tuesday'," Replied the teacher with a glance to the ceiling. "Whatever made me want to join a fraternity?"

"And that fills my disturbing imagery quota for the week," commented Daria dryly.

"I could have gone my whole life without that mental picture and been quite content," responded Alex.

O'Neill shook himself out of his nostalgia and continued, "Anyway, that's great! I guess you want to read one of your essays."

"Actually we were thinking something a little more... appropriate to the setting," remarked Alex which prompted the teacher's visage to shift yet again to concern.

The teacher's worry was short lived and he was almost ecstatic as Alex and Daria explained how they planned to participate.

"Oh yes. I think that will go over very well for the reopening," O'Neill said with an enthusiastic nod.

"I'm really not much for public speaking," added Daria, in hopes of cutting off any suggestions of such from the teacher.

"Are you sure?" asked O'Neill. "I mean don't you want to make sure that your work is properly presented?"

"That's why I'll be giving the actual reading, sir" stated Alex.

"He's a bit more comfortable than I am with the whole performing in public thing," stated Daria as she placed a hand on her brother's shoulder.

"Well this will be an excellent opportunity to showcase both of your talents. A 'Team Morgendorffer' production," the teacher said with a smile and a dramatic arching wave of his hand. "Oh yes this will work nicely."

O'Neil looked up from scribbling a note regarding the twins' participation and looked up to see they were still standing at his desk.

"Did you need anything else?" he asked.

"No sir," responded Alex as Daria shook her head.

"Well if you'll excuse me I have to make some calls about the decorations for the event," the teacher stated as he lifted the antennae on his cell phone. "Who knew that having banners printed could be so darned expensive?"

The twins stopped in their departure and smiled at each other.

"Actually sir..." interjected Alex as they both turned to face the teacher's desk again.

"We may be able to help with that," finished Daria as the two glanced at each other with similar smirks.

"No! Not just no, but hell no!" stated Jane fervently as she set her palette down and shook her head at the twins. "I'm not getting dragged into this public debacle in the making."

The two stood up and walked around their friend's bed to stand before her.

"Come on," pleaded Daria. "Do it for friendship."

"I have no friends. I walk alone," stated Jane dramatically.

"Do it for school spirit," joked Alex.

"Sorry, I had that exorcised years ago," replied Jane.

"Well, then, do it for sisterhood or something," begged Daria.

"I've already got two sisters. That's more than enough for me, but thanks anyway," Jane quipped as she turned away and picked up her palette and twirled a thin paintbrush in a glob of paint on it.

"It will get you an A's worth of test points in Literature," added Daria.

"I don't know..." said Jane hesitantly, as she thought about her weak C grade point average.

"If you agree to help with the decorations you get in for free as a member of the staff," added Alex. "You'll have a front row seat for the train wreck without having to actually participate like we will."

"The potential for emotional scaring is pretty high," admitted Jane after a moment as she made a few preliminary lines on the canvas before her.

"You get to watch us humiliate ourselves in public... in front of an audience," offered Daria with a half smile.

"The staff gets free coffee and snacks all night," added Alex with a small smile of his own.

"I'm bringing a camera, a duffel bag and my trucker's thermos," replied Jane with a grin.

Daria sat at the head of her bed and read through the poetic endeavors committed to the paper within. Alex sat Indian-style in the center of the bed and perused a notebook of his own.

The only sounds in the room were the turning of pages, synthesized gunfire and the occasional grunt-splat that marked another undead dispatched as Jane played Cannibal Fragfest on her friend's computer.

"How about, 'The Bleakness That Lies Ahead'? " asked Daria as she glanced at the title to the first poem in the notebook.

"Too sentimental," replied Jane from her seat in front of Daria's computer.

"'Survival Guide to Suburbia'?" suggested Alex as he leafed through a notebook of his own.

"Too National Geographics," responded Jane as she ended the life of yet another digital zombie with a click of the mouse.

""Mommy's Little Hypocrite"?" suggested Daria as she flipped past some of the shorter entries in the notebook.

"Too much like a children's book," answered Jane with a thoughtful look.

Daria slapped her notebook closed and tossed it on the small pile of other rejected notebooks.

"I wish I were dead," she stated flatly with a sigh as she rotated on the bed and leaned her back against her brother's shoulder

"That sounds promising," quipped Jane as she turned to face Daria and Alex. "Listen, you gotta give them something they'll really appreciate. Picture Kevin and Brittany drinking in your words like an elixir of knowledge. Heady... potent... seductive."

"I thought we were doing a poetry reading, not marketing a new fragrance of perfume," commented Daria.

"Oh yeah I can see it now," said Jane as she stood up from the computer chair and grabbed two pairs of socks from Daria's nearby clothesbasket and stuffed them into her shirt.

"Oh Kevy! I love the way you smell after a long day of football practice," stated Jane as she approached Alex with a batting of eye lashes and a bad mimic of Brittany's squeaky voice.

"Yeah Babe," stated Alex as he imitated Kevin's clueless expression and voice with almost frightening accuracy. "That's because I'm the QB. Babes can't resist the QB."

"Oh Kevy," continued Jane as she put on a piteous pouting expression, complete with puppy-dog eyes. "Can you ever forgive me for sleeping with the opposing team's running back... and the track team... and half of the water polo team?"

Alex stood up, and swung Jane into a dramatic dipped pose reminiscent of a romance novel cover.

"I could never get mad at them... " he said, blatantly looking at Jane's sock-padded chest before returning his gaze to her face. "You... I mean you. Hey what kinda QB would I be if I couldn't forgive my babe?"

"Ineptitude... by Calvin Klein" added Daria with a smile.

The three teens held their serious expressions for about four seconds before they all broke out laughing.

"Uh... should I leave you two alone?" she asked with a raised eyebrow and a smirk as she recovered from laughing and noticed her brother and Jane still in their dipped dramatic position laughing with their eyes closed.

The two stopped laughing, opened their eyes and turned to stare at Daria in confusion before they faced each other again and realized their faces were inches from each other.

At that moment, the door to Daria's room opened and in walked Quinn.

"Daria can I borrow some..." the red head began before she caught sight of Jane in her brother's arms, their faces precariously close.

The heads of the room's three occupants all turned towards Quinn, who stood still in her sister's doorway and blinked twice.

"Phone," she quickly said as she made an about face and walked back out of the room.

Alex and Jane faced each other before they straightened up and let go of each other.

Alex coughed and said, "I'll um just go head off the rumor mill before it starts grinding away what little reputation you have."

He then exited Daria's room in hopes of catching his youngest sister before she started spreading unfounded rumors.

"Well, that wasn't awkward or anything," stated Jane as she flopped down on the bed next to Daria and removed the socks from her shirt.

"Could have been worse," remarked Daria, unable to hide her amused smile. "He could have dropped you."

"Oh please," responded Jane. "That only happens in TV sitcoms and bad literature."

"Speaking of bad literature," segued the bespectacled girl. "That's exactly what we have a lot of here."

"I wouldn't say these are bad," stated Jane as she picked up one of the discarded notebooks and skimmed through the first poem in it. "OK, this one is pretty bad."

"None of these seems right for the café opening," stated Daria dejectedly. "I'm going to have to write something new for the occasion."

"Well you better get a move on it. The opening is this weekend," reminded Jane. "Take it from me, O'Niell won't take 'I hit my snooze button too many times' as a legitimate excuse."

"Yeah... hmmm..." responded Daria as her face took a thoughtful expression.

"That could work..." she added as she picked up a pencil and began writing in a fresh notebook. "Jane you are a genius,"

"Of course I am," responded Jane smugly before her expression shifted to curious. "But just so we're clear... why am I a genius again this time?"

"I'll tell you later," stated Daria as she moved from the bed to her computer chair and continued writing fervently.

Jane recognized when someone had been hit in the face by their muse and decided to leave Daria to her creative devices.

She quietly exited Daria's room and made her way down the hall.

"Give it back!" came Quinn pleaded as she jumped repeatedly in an attempt to reach the cordless phone.

"I will do no such thing," stated Alex as he held the phone above his head and well out of his sister's reach. "The last thing Jane wants is someone running off at the mouth about her personal life because they think they saw something."

"You two were like totally making out! This will finally be my chance to scoop Sandi on confirming a rumor," whined Quinn.

"First things first, we were not making out," chastised Alex. "We were goofing around trying to figure out what we're going to do at the coffee house opening for Mr. O'Niell's class."

"Oh! Umm... Seriously, why are you guys even bothering with that stuff?" asked Quinn. "It's not like you need extra credit or anything."

"Because, unlike you Brat, Dia and I like to plan ahead for things." teased Alex which rewarded him with a raspberry from Quinn. "I don't feel like spending my summer in a summer learning program or whatever other community service idea Mom thinks will 'round out our college applications'. I'm surprised you haven't been working on how to pad your own extracurriculars to keep Mom off your back this summer."

Alex could tell by Quinn's suddenly wide-eyed worried expression that she hadn't even thought about their mother's usually fanatical devotion to ensuring their every moment of free time was spent doing something "productive".

"Crap, I didn't even think about that," swore the red head.

"Maybe you should spend a little more time thinking about that, and a little less time on gossiping," said Alex as he handed the phone back to the girl. "And secondly, what rumor you were going to confirm?"

"You know..." stated Quinn.

"If I knew, then I wouldn't have to ask," answered Alex. "Spill it Pip."

"Well... everyone's talking about how you and Jane are, like, you know..." said Quinn.

"Why would they think that?" responded Alex as he rolled his eyes.

"Well you are always hanging with her, and like going to her house and stuff," answered Quinn. "And she, like, slept in your bed and everything."

"For crying out loud! Doesn't anyone have anything better to do than worry about whose dating who?" he asked rhetorically. "We're friends. That's all. I wasn't even here when she slept over, or did someone forget that little detail."

Quinn looked sheepishly at her brother but didn't say anything.

"Even if we liked each other that way, do really think we'd be making out in Dia's room... with Dia there?" he asked again rhetorically.

"I guess..." admitted Quinn hesitantly.

"You guess? Let me ask you this," offered Alex, having detected Quinn's disbelief. "Would you want to kiss your boyfriend in front of Dia? Or me, for that matter?"

"Ewww!" exclaimed Quinn with a squinted disgusted expression.

"See my point? Besides," continued Alex. "Dia hangs out with her more than I do. Next thing you'll tell me people think that she and Jane are an item."

Alex chuckled at his last statement but stopped when Quinn stammered, "...umm... yeah... about that..."

"You're kidding right?" he asked, which prompted a head shake from Quinn. "And everyone calls Charles a perv. You and your buddies need to get your minds out of the gutter. And no confirming, denying, whatever about whoever, ok?"

"Just ruin all my fun why don't you," complained Quinn with a pout.

"Fun huh? How much fun would it be if someone started a rumor about how you have the biggest crush on Mr. Demartino?" asked Alex.

Quinn's expression shifted from a sad pout, to disgust, then to fear for a moment before settling into a smug smile as she dismissively said "Oh puh-lease... As if anyone would believe something like that about moi."

"Aren't these the same people that believed I was Dia's boyfriend, and believed it when you told everyone you were an only child despite the fact that we all have the same last name and arrived in town at the same time?" he rebutted. "Which, by the way, I'm still ticked at you for that only child thing."

"I said I was sorry for that already, jeez," Quinn stated.

"You apologized to me, Pip. You never told apologized to her," Alex said with a cross expression.

"She just blew me off, as usual," whined Quinn as she turned away from her brother and crossed her arms angrily.

"Well maybe if you were half as sincere with her as you were with me, she'd actually listen to you from time to time," answered Alex as he wrapped his arms around his sister and gave her a squeeze.

"Fine, I'll try again," conceded Quinn with a sigh.

"Good, but back on topic..." responded Alex as he let Quinn go. "They'd believe it because, firstly, they're gullible and more interested in embarrassing or one-upping you than knowing the truth..."

"True," acknowledged Quinn thoughtfully.

"Scondly, and most importantly, I'm your brother," he concluded. "They'd consider me a reliable source. I mean, why would I make something like that, up."

"Ohmygod!" Quinn squeaked. "You wouldn't do that? Please don't do that. It would like totally ruin my popularity."

"Calm down Pip," soothed Alex. "I'm not saying I would do that."

'Though Dia might if you ticked her off enough,' came his mental addendum.

"Just trying to make a point. What you say about us and the people we associate with carries a lot of weight because you are popular and you are our sister," he continued.

"I didn't think about that," admitted the red head.

"And remember it goes the other way as well. Dia and I may not be popular, but because you're our sister, people will believe what we say about you." he stated with a conspiratorial smirk. "So please, no more spreading gossip about me, Dia, Jane, Dia and Jane, Jane and I, or any other crazy combination thereof."

"Fine," agreed Quinn begrudgingly.

"Or at least take the time to get your facts straight before hand, OK?" he requested as he playfully bopped her on the head.

"OK, you big meanie head," stated Quinn as she punched him playfully in the arm and followed it up with a hug. "Sorry."

"Yeah, yeah," teased Alex as he returned the hug then moved to leave. "Apology accepted Brat."

When he exited the room, Alex saw Jane leaned against the wall beside the door with her arms crossed, smiling lightly.

"So, everything taken care of with the Countess of Rumorville?" Jane asked.

"As well as can be expected," answered Alex with a sigh.

"Anyway, Daria appears to have been bitten by the writing bug so I'm going to head home," announced Jane as she pushed off of the wall and headed to the stairs.

"It's pretty late," stated Alex as he glanced at his wristwatch while he followed the girl down the steps. "I'll walk you home," Alex

"Naaa," declined Jane. "I'll be fine. Besides wont Daria need your help finishing the piece she's working on?"

"I'll probably have to proof it later, but that will be after she has it mostly finished," he replied.

"Ahh gotcha," replied Jane as they approached the front door.

"Anyway, I insist... Years of matriarchal conditioning won't let me accept your declination. It is my pleasure, nay, my duty to ensure you return to your most auspicious abode safely," the boy continued as he opened the front door for Jane and gestured, as dramatically as he had spoken, for her to proceed. "After you m'lady."

"You've been hanging around Upchuck for way too long, pal," said Jane with a small chuckle as she exited the house. "But since I apparently have no say so in the matter, I guess I'll allow you the privilege of escorting me."

Alex locked the door behind them and the two began to make their way towards Howard Drive. They walked at an unhurried and leisurely pace. They discussed the decorations Jane had been commissioned to finish, Alex's plans for his portion of the performance and other random topics. Before long they stood on the sidewalk in front of Casa de Lane.

"So it'll be Charles and I definitely. Maybe Stan, since he's also in Mr. O'Niell's lit class with us," stated Alex.

"Who," asked Jane.

"Stan Mooreston," responded Alex. "Sits a few rows back from us in O'Niell's class. He's in Mr. Johansen's class with Charles and I,... plays the saxophone."

"Cool. So you kids gonna stop by tomorrow after school and check out the banners," asked Jane as the pair walked up the front walkway of

"Well I might not, depending on how far Dia gets with the actual writing," Alex remarked. "I still have to work out the accompaniment with Charles and make sure we can pull it off without sounding too bad."

"Oh yeah, good luck keeping Daria from beating him into a senseless pile of goo... well more of a senseless pile than he already is anyway," responded Jane. "Speaking of senseless piles, Max agreed to give you guys a hand."

"Cool," replied Alex with a smile. "How'd you convince him to help?"

"Oh, a little flattery here, bribery there, a touch of ear twisting on the side," answered Jane. "Plus, Trent managed to convince him that it would be good exposure for 'The Spiral'."

"Nice, and for the record Charles promised me that he'd be on his best behavior," stated Alex with a shrug. "Hopefully we can make it through without him having to have Dia's boots surgically removed from a very uncomfortable place."

"If not, we could always film the ensuing slaughter and turn that into O'Niell. "We could call it a performance piece depicting the battle of the sexes," quipped Jane. "Even if O'Niell doesn't like it, it would pull in a few extra credit points from Barch."

"It's always good to have a backup plan," deadpanned Alex as they reached the front door. "Well here you are, safely delivered home."

"I would have been fine you know," said Jane casually with a smile. "But I appreciate the thought."

"What are friends for? Besides, it's the least I can do for almost tarnishing your sterling reputation," he joked as Jane leaned against the inside of the doorway.

"Please..." dismissed Jane with a hand flip. "If my reputation were sterling, I'd have pawned it ages ago. Besides, I told you guys before, I like the tarnish on my image. It adds a touch of color."

"I know, I know," replied Alex. "Still..."

"I appreciated sentiment," said Jane as she gave him one last smile before turning back into the house. "Night amigo."

"Buenas noches amiga," replied Alex with a wave as he headed back up the walkway and walked home.

"That was a most... emotional reading from Garret," said Mr. O'Niell worriedly as a scruffy 20-something man with the broken neck of an acoustic guitar clenched in his hand, walked angrily from the slightly raised dais in the center of the café that served as a stage for the evening's performers.

As a member of the cleaning crew swept the remains of the former instrument, Daria and Alex smirked at their teacher from their seats in the back of the newly christened Café Lawndale.

Around them, was gathered a decent size crowd. Patrons of the newly opened shop milled around the large open room. Most sat at low circular tables scattered evenly through the center section before the stage. Others, like the twins, sat at more elevated half-circular tables against the walls on cushioned stools. A few even lounged on over-large beanbag chairs sprinkled sparsely throughout the place. Almost everyone had a cup, mug or bowl filled with some variety of coffee-based beverage.

"It's not as bad as I thought it would be," commented Daria as she slowly glanced around the dimly lit room.

"I have to admit, they did a good job with the place," agreed Alex as he similarly surveyed the room. "Jane's banners turned out great."

Daria glanced up at two large cloth banner that hung over the brightly lit stage which bore 'Welcome to Café Lawndale!' and 'Open Mic Night' in bold yellow on colorful star and planet bedecked dark backgrounds. Daria noted the other smaller versions of the two banners draped in lit sections along the wall and main counter of the coffee shop.

"If I hadn't watched her while she was working on them, I would have guessed Mr. O'Niell had them professionally printed," confirmed Daria with an honest smile at her friend's talent.

"Speak of the devil," commented Alex as he noticed the young artist approaching their table.

"Hola amigos," mumbled Jane around a large oatmeal raisin cookie as she approached the twins table.

"Hola Juanita. ¿Cómo están esta noche?" returned Daria flatly.

"¿Qué haces, chica?" prompted Alex.

"Yeah... uh... you know I don't actually speak Spanish right?" replied Jane as she removed the large cookie from her mouth and set her oversized mug of steaming coffee and several bags of snack food onto the table.

"Really? We kind of assumed..." began Daria with a surprised expression.

"...with the whole 'Hola amigos' thing..." added Alex equally surprised.

"Oh, that. Just something I picked up from Penny after she came back from her first trip south of the border," explained Jane as she tossed the snack bags into a duffel bag underneath the twins' table. "She was gone for a year or so, and when she came back, that's how she would answer the phone when her friends called."

"Where did you guys pick it up?" asked Jane.

"You can't spend the first half of your life in southern Texas without being able to speak Spanish," answered Alex.

"I'm here. But where are you?" stated Andrea as she read from a tattered notebook before the mic. "Sure, I see your body. Anybody home in that rotting bag of flesh??

She walked off the stage as the crowd clapped politely.

"That was a confidence inspiring response," stated Daria sarcastically.

"This may not be a poetry crowd," remarked Jane.

"You think it's too late for me to learn how to juggle?" asked Alex.

"Probably," answered Jane. "Although if you missed and hit a few spectators you'd probably get as much applause as Brittany did for booting Kevin off the stage."

Mr. O'Neill took the stage again as Andrea stepped down and returned to a front row table with several of the other Goth's of Lawndale High

"Thank you very much, Andrea. It takes a lot of courage to expose your raw emotions that way," stated O'Niell nervously.

A spotlight shined on Andrea's table. The girl could be seen drinking from a bottle wrapped in a plain brown paper bag. She coughed once in surprise and quickly moved the bottle behind her out of sight.

"And, speaking of raw emotions," the teacher continued. "It's my pleasure to introduce one of Lawndale High's most gifted students: Alexander Morgendorffer."

"Thanks Mr. O'Niell," returned Alex nervously as he took the microphone from the older man and slid it back into its holder on the stand.

As the boy thanked his teacher, several others took the stage and took their places at the various instruments that had been occupying the stage unused for the majority of the evening.

"Tonight I'd like to perform a bit of poetry written by my ever-so talented sister, Daria," stated Alex with an extended arm pointed towards Daria.

The spotlight swung in the direction he pointed, to illuminate the small table where Daria and Jane sat. Daria blinked a few times as the bright light shone in her face and gave a nervous wave.

"This is a little piece called 'Lawndale Blues'," he announced as Charles began to strum out a mid-paced rhythm on his Double Bass.

The sound of a saxophone and Max's drumming joined the low strumming to create a simple jazzy tune. Alex took several deep breaths to soothe his nerves before he leaned into the mic and began.

Lawndale... Laaaaaawndale


Tame... tedious... tiny... trite... town.

Quietly floating on the edges of the land of Mary.

Lazy... lethargic... Listless... Lackadaisical...

And all manner of other words meaning dull that begin with 'L'

Alex lowered his head and nodded quietly in time with the slow rhythm for four or five beats before he continued.

'I don't wanna go in today' they sleepily complain as the alarm clock wails its mournful morning moans.

Begging for what will be an empty and unsatisfying extra ten minutes of half-sleep.

Hoping above hope that today won't be the day they end up running down the halls of their school or office.

Screaming at the top of their lungs for no real reason...

Alex paused for effect as the Stanley held mid-pitch note on his sax for several long seconds.

...Except to break the monotony of another uneventful day.

In Lawndale... Lazy Lawndale


The accompaniment stopped playing and dropped into silence.

So boring!

Max beat out four quick beats in time with Alex's own pantomimed drum beat motions.

So tiring!

Another four quick beats in sync with Alex's hand motions.

So unexcit... ed

The musicians resumed the lazy jazz groove.

But that's life here, on the edges of the Land of Mary.

Lazy... lethargic... Listless... Lackadaisical...


See you... in 'L'

Alex lowered his head and looked at the floor with his last line. The other musicians ended with a slightly off beat but typical symbol heavy jazz flourish.

The crowd was dead silent s Alex and his fellows finished their performance. When the boy looked up he saw the crowd simply sitting in their seats slack-jawed.

'Well, if you're going to bomb, might as well do it spec...' he started internally.

He never had a chance to finish the thought, as the roar of applause and cheers from every corner of the café.

Alex blinked in shock a few times before he turned to look at his accompaniment.

Stanley and Charles appeared to be equally surprised by the positive response of the crowd and shrugged at the Alex.

Max simply slid his drumsticks into a back pocket and headed towards the steps of the stage. On his way down he stopped next to Alex and said, "Not bad kid."

Alex glanced around the dimly lit room and his eyes lit upon his sister and Jane's table.

Jane was hooting and clapping as loudly as the rest of the audience while Daria merely sat with her arms crossed before her, and a neutral expression.

Alex raised his eyebrow at his sister. Daria's expression shifted into a wide smile rarely seen in public. She raised her hands to either side of her head and began snapping her fingers.

Alex returned his sister's smile and took a bow with Charles and Stanley.

Jake sat at the kitchen table Monday morning with his children and read casually from the news paper. Alex and Daria flanked their father and ate from large bowls of cereal while Quinn sat beside her brother with a yogurt cup and a few slices of melon on a plate before her.

"'Café Lawndale is off to a promising start after last night's Open Mic night'," read Jake aloud from the Lawndale Post.

"Wow last night actually made the paper?" asked Alex as he set his spoon down into his oatmeal and moved to read the paper over his father's shoulder.

"Hey, isn't that the coffeehouse you were working for?" asked Jake.

"Yeah, we had that presentation for Mr. O'Niell's class," answered Daria as she moved to look over her father's other shoulder.

"'The Lawndale High administration is very happy with the community response to Lawndale's new young adult coffeehouse after its opening night'," Jake continued to read. "'We're just so proud to have so many talented young people who are ready and willing to put their talents towards this project, commented Timothy O'Niell. O'Niell is an English Teacher at Lawndale High and the organizer of the effort to rebuild and reopen the Café after the unfortunate break-in that threatened to close the business down'."

Helen walked into the kitchen with her briefcase in one hand, cell phone clutched between her shoulder and ear.

"Early meeting at the Royalton," she announced. "No time for breakfast."

"But you haven't even tasted my Crêpe Suzettes yet," deadpanned Daria.

"We're having Crêpe Suzettes?" asked Jake enthusiastically, distracted from the article.

"No Dad, we're not having Crêpe Suzettes," answered Alex with a smirk as Daria and Quinn rolled their eyes at their father's gullibility.

"Aww man," responded Jake dejectedly.

"What's the rest of the article say," prompted Daria.

"Oh right," said Jake as he resumed reading the newspaper aloud. "The highlight of the evening was a particularly spirited reading of poetry written specifically for the occasion by Daria Morgendorffer, a sophomore at Lawndale High'."

"What?!" asked Helen and Quinn in unison.

Quinn hopped up from her seat and crowded in beside her brother and father. Helen stopped in the kitchen doorway and turned back towards her husband and children with a surprised expression.

"'The poem was presented with musical accompaniment provided by Max Tyler, drummer for local rock troupe Mystik Spiral, and fellow Lawndale High sophomores Stanley Mooreston and Charles Rutheimer III'," continued Jake. "Hey isn't that the band you guys are always going to see with Jane-O?"

"Cool. They managed to sneak in a plug for the band," said Alex.

"'The poem itself was recited by another Lawndale sophomore, Alexander Morgendorffer; the author's brother. The group wowed the Café Lawndale crowd with their spoken word performance, which was pleasantly appropriate for the venue in this reporter's opinion.' Wow, that's great kids!" exclaimed Jake as Helen crossed the kitchen and took the paper from her beaming husband.

"'Timothy O'Niell went on to say Daria is such an impressive writer that I knew her contribution would be emotionally powerful'," read Helen aloud. "'Teens are impressionable, and it does this educator's heart good to see young people like the Morgendorffer twins and their classmates taking an active role in their community's well-being'."

She blinked a few times and glanced back and forth between her eldest children before she inquired. "Quinn did you know about this?"

"Well duh, Mom," replied the red head off-handedly. "They've only been talking about it, and practicing it with Jane and Upchuck for, like, the past three weeks."

Helen blinked and examined the article again.

"Why aren't you mentioned Quinn?" asked Helen.

"um... I had a date that night," replied the red head off-handedly.

Helen placed her fists on her hips and stated "Well that's no excuse..."

"It was a project for Mr. O'Niell's sophomore class," interrupted Daria.

"Remember, Quinn's just a freshman, Mom. She's not in our class," Alex added.

"Besides," continued Daria. "It was little more than a glorified music and writing exercise..."

"Which are our spheres of influence, not Quinn's" added Alex. "I doubt she would have enjoyed working on it even if she had anything to contribute to the project."

"Yeah, that whole coffeehouse thing is like, so totally retro," Quinn commented aloud with a silently mouthed 'Thank you' in her siblings' direction.

"Not to mention it wasn't our idea to participate in the first place," continued Alex.

"It definitely had the initial earmarks of one of Mr. O'Niel's educational disasters in the making," stated Daria.

"Well you two definitely made lemonade out of lemons," praised Jake as he stood and walked over to the kitchen counter and retrieved a pair of scissors from a drawer.

"Just remember, you have to be careful what you let people talk you into," the man added as he carefully clipped the article from the paper and hung it prominently on the refrigerator with a frog shaped magnet.

"Yes, we've got to maintain constant vigilance against those who'd force or manipulate us into taking actions or participate in activities we'd never agree to on our own," commented Daria snidely.

"I'll say!" agreed Jake reflexively as he stepped back and looked at the clipping one more time.

Helen paused for moment at the comment, but immediately continued on her way out of the kitchen.

'Ouch,' though Alex and Quinn as they noticed their mother's brief pause as she left.

Jake reclined against the headboard on his side of the bed in his pajamas. He read quietly from a cooking magazine by the light of the nightstand lamp.

The sounds of the faucet quieted and Helen exited the bathroom wearing a mid thigh satin nightgown. She climbed into bed slid under the covers, reclined similarly to her husband.

"Jake?" Helen asked quietly after several minutes of silent contemplation.

"Yeah honey?" responded Jake without looking up from his magazine.

"Do you think I'm too hard on the kids?" Helen asked hesitantly.

"What do you mean?" he responded as he licked his thumb and turned the page.

"I don't know. It's like every time I try to get them involved in something that will help them in the long run, it always ends the same," continued Helen as she scooted to a more comfortable sitting position with her back to the headboard. "We have the same argument, over and over again, and when it's all said and done, I end up looking like the bad guy."

'Especially with Daria,'she added mentally.

"I don't think you're being hard on them," answered Jake.

Helen smiled at her husband's comment.

"But I still think it would be a good idea to ease up on this extracurricular push you're on honey," continued Jake, which caused Helen's smile to fade. "You have to look at it from their side. The kids have been through a lot."

'Especially Alex and Daria,' thought Jake.

"I know Jake. I know," said Helen tiredly. "We all have. I just want them to get past it. I want them to start thinking about their futures. Their individual futures..."

"Helen..." said Jake in a chastising manner as he closed his book and set it on the nightstand beside the bed.

"I'm sorry Jake, but I just don't like how clingy they are with each other," remarked Helen with a cross of her arms.

"Helen, they're twins. They've been together, literally, since the moment they were conceived," replied Jake, as small amount of his frustration managed to creep into his voice.

Jake closed his eyes and took a deep, calming breath before continuing.

"Do you remember in the hospital, when they were born?" he asked.

"God do I. They would both scream bloody murder if you tried to separate them. The nurses learned pretty quickly to put them in the same basinet in the nursery if they wanted to get the other babies to sleep," she responded.

Her stern expression softened at the memory of standing beside Jake watching Alex and Daria sleeping side by side in the Hospital nursery.

"Remember, after they started walking?" Jake continued.

His mouth turned up at the corners into a goofy grin as he remembered the twins, no more than 4 or 5 years old, running through the front yard of their tiny house in Highland, holding hands the way they always did.

"I swear, you would have thought their hands we glued together," recalled Helen with a light chuckle.

"That's what I'm talking about honey," continued Jake, as he roused himself from his nostalgia. "You always talk about wanting to 'bond with the girls', and about how I should 'bond with Alex'... But those two have a bond that neither of us could even dream of."

"I know, Jake," replied Helen quietly as she leaned her head against her husband's shoulder. "It's not that I don't like how close they are. I don't like not understanding it."

"I don't get it all the time either, honey," said Jake as he reached his arm over and around his wife's shoulder and kissed her forehead. "But that doesn't make it a bad thing."

"I guess I am making too much of it," Helen admitted hesitantly.

"Maybe a little," agreed Jake with a grin and a wink which rewarded him with a playful smack on the chest.

"Besides, neither of us has the best track record where our own siblings are concerned," Jake said as he set his magazine down on the nightstand.

He scooted further under the covers before he again pulled Helen close to him. The two lay like that for several quiet minutes, with Helen snuggled against her husband.

Jake smiled as he felt Helen fully relax and drift off to sleep with her arms around him.

'I think us not completely understanding how they can be so close, is a good thing,' he thought as he carefully switched off the nightstand light and fell asleep in his wife's arms.


Some dialog and basic story concept from: Cafe Disaffecto by Glenn Eichler

Original Episode transcripts available at Outpost Daria

A big thanks to all of the fellow inmates at PPMB for serving as my unwitting beta readers :)