Nemo Blank


The Mighty Quinn

A sequel of
Daria's Season of Goodwill.

Characters belong to Viacom. Used without permission. This story is not to be sold, but it may be distributed and posted freely in unchanged form, so long as the authors name and email address remain. Copyright 2000, by Nemo Blank. Enjoy!




     The cannons stopped their roaring and the last of her defeated sailors escaped instant death by jumping into the sea. The strong, virile, manly, victor, highlighted on the ships rail with his pirate flag just visible over his shoulder, swung over on a rope to claim his swooning prize.

     He laughingly pulled his huge sword and with negligent ease ran her three remaining men through. He smiled, his earrings glittering and his square teeth gleaming white. "So, Daria's sister, I have you at last."

     Quinn rolled Duke Jeffy over with her foot. He was as dead as canned spam, neatly stabbed through the heart. Totally useless. She grimaced in irritation.

     Suddenly, the handsome pirate seized her and held her close. She moaned as he raised her chin, poising her delicate lips to meet his. He gave her that look, the melting one that made her shudder.

     She sighed, in sweet surrender. "Oh, Trentio the Bold, it can never work. I'm a princess and you're just a dirty, worthless but very handsome pirate. Queen Mom's going to draw, quarter and hang you, but then, we do have today. You have such a -"


     "Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!" Quinn bolted upright in bed, barely hearing the rustling patter as the waves of molten sound vibrated her massive jewelry collection off of its display hooks in the closet.

     BOMP BOMP BOMPA BOMP SKREEEEEEIT. Chunngguuuununununnnnggg.

     Quinn shrieked in terror, confused images of air raids going through her mind. Panting, her heart hammering, Quinn suddenly realized that the unholy din was coming from Daria's room.

     "DAAARIIIAAAA!" Enraged, Quinn scrambled up, ran into the hallway and threw Daria's door wide open.

     Daria was standing there with a green guitar, pick poised, peering at a book that was sitting on an old music stand from her flute playing days.

     "DARIA!" Quinn stared, aghast. It was a nightmare, come to life.

     Daria saw the light level change when the door opened. She put the guitar on the bed and pulled some foam shooters earplugs out of her ears. "Oh, darn. I thought that you were out, with everyone else."

     "God, Daria! You can't play that thing in here!" Quinn felt faint from adrenaline overload.

     "Tell me about it." Daria looked glumly at her blistered fingers. "Trent paid a lot of money for this thing and I have to learn to play it, Quinn." She sighed, with a touch of resentment. "It's not like I have anything better to do." Monique wouldn't have a damn thing on her. Spite was a good enough reason to practice.

     "Well, play it over there!" Quinn snapped. "I thought I was gonna die!"

     "Sorry, Quinn." Daria looked embarrassed. "I'd planned to hang around and get some help after Mystik Spiral was done, but I'm banned from practice over there. The guys in the band said that I was... distracting Trent too much."

     Quinn laughed. "Oh, Daria. You just let them make you leave?" Quinn would have just captivated them all.

     Daria shrugged. "They have a point. He's got to practice." She dug out some headphones. "I'll use the headphones. It won't be the same, but it'll keep the noise level down." She frowned. "I need a smaller amp, or at least one with a fully functioning volume knob. Trent redesigned this thing and his idea of low volume and mine differ. This is ridiculous. Trent's got a basement-" Daria broke off, looking thoughtful.

     Quinn picked up the guitar and winced as the amp rustled. "It looks pretty cool, Daria." She looked around. "Ga-od, You don't even have a mirror in here!"

     Daria took the Diablo out of her hands, unplugged it, turned it the right way around and handed it back. "Knock yourself out."

     Quinn walked into her room, looked into her mirror and adjusted the guitar to a more rakish angle.

     Queen Quinn strutted sexily onto the massive stage, her legions of worshipping male fans lustily cheering themselves hoarse. Slowly, dramatically, she raised an arm, the sweat from the hot stage lights gleaming in her bushy pit hair... "Eeeew, yuck!" Hastily, Quinn took off the guitar, shuddering.

     "Not your bag?" Daria, standing in Quinn's door, entered, took the Diablo back and slipped her sling on. Looking in the mirror, she shrugged. She did look kind of cool with it, but that didn't really matter. She would never play for anyone except Trent anyway.

     It would be a major pain in the ass to really learn. It was too good an instrument just to keep around to pluck out the odd tune on. That wasn't a problem though. Daria had plenty of time and discipline. She'd work at it. She had to. The only way to deal with the likes of Monique was through crushing superiority. In the mirror, her reflection assumed a rather chilling smile.

     Taking in Quinn's attire and the unmade bed, Daria frowned. "Sleeping kind of late today, aren't you?"

     Peering at her armpit, Quinn answered without thinking. "I got in late last night. I went up to Northport with Jane, yesterday."

     "What!" Daria was shocked.

     Quinn looked embarrassed. "Well, you've been... busy, and she was afraid to drive all that way by herself in the snow."

     Daria was dumbfounded. "So Jane took you along?"

     Quinn shrugged. "Tom couldn't come back with us because he said that he was watching his nieces." She frowned. "He is cute." Quinn had been very curious about Tom.

     Daria blinked in amazement. "She never said a word!"

     "Well, like I said, Daria. What's she suppose to do while you're out with Trent? She say's that it should take you about three weeks to get back to normal. So what's the big deal if I keep her company while you're busy? I like Jane. She's way different." Quinn brushed her hair out of her eyes and hoped that Daria wouldn't be jealous. Jane had told her that Daria tended to get very possessive of her friends.

     Daria blinked in amazement and said, unthinkingly, "Why would she want to talk to someone like you?"

     Quinn frowned angrily and retorted, "Maybe she's tired of all that crying that you do!"

     "Crying?" Daria's eyes blazed.

     Quinn began in a mocking tone, "Oh, look at me, I'm Daria, I'm sooo smart. Much too smart for everyone else. They don't understand a word I say, so they're all just worthless crap under my boots! Let's sit in the corner and make nasty little remarks about everyone. Boo-hoo, no one talked to me in school again today..." Quinn glared back at Daria.

     Daria's lip twitched. Then reluctantly, she smiled. "God, I guess that you really have my number. Sorry. I'm trying very hard not to fight, anymore."

     Quinn relaxed and smiled back. "I know, Daria. Me too. Thanks." She followed Daria back into her room.

     Daria eyed her, but didn't kick her out. "So, you like hanging around with Jane. What do you watch?"

     Quinn laughed. "On Christmas Eve we watched Santa's Sick Sad World. I liked it, once Jane explained the i- ironic subtext. That guy getting cornered by a horny reindeer was funny, in a hideous sort of way. Crapo Clause just turned my stomach, though. Honestly, where do they find a guy who climbs up on peoples roof and craps down the chimney? He should be locked up. Then we watched the Fashion File year in review. Jane liked it, once I explained the backstabbing politics." She paused. "Of course we were both fairly drunk, but the two shows seemed pretty similar."

     Daria laughed. "The Fashion File? That's rich." She could counter Jane's sly digs over the incident of the unannounced homecoming, now.

     Quinn solemnly shook her head. "You're just not getting it, Daria. We both had fun hanging around together. It's good to have friends that are different. You can't get much from the same people all the time."

     Daria nodded, reluctantly. "You have a point. I suppose. But it only goes so far. Some people are just incompatible."

     Quinn sensed an opportunity. "What do you think of Stacy?"

     Daria, caught off guard by this sudden shift, shrugged. "I usually don't think of Stacy at all, Quinn. When I do, it's usually because she's in the way or something. What are you getting at?"

     Quinn looked at her sister, thoughtfully. "Stacy's got some hidden talents. She made that skirt that I wore at the party."

     Daria just waited for Quinn to come to the point.

     "When I hang around with Jane, we talk about clothes." Quinn got a surge of satisfaction from Daria's expression. "Did you know that Jane designs outfits?"

     Daria swallowed her amazement. "No! What kind of outfits?" Mediaeval armor came to mind.

     "Well, it's nothing like that weird stuff that she paints for you, Daria. Jane designs beautiful dresses, better than anything that you can get in the store or see in a magazine. She's really, really an artist. I'm showing her what kinds of fabrics there are, what they're used for and how they drape. We're going to make up a bunch of her ideas."

     Daria closed her eyes. Quinn was like a free floating fashion plague germ. "So, you've somehow brainwashed Jane and turned her into a fashion fiend? No way, Quinn. How is she profiting from this?"

     Quinn smirked. "I guess you know her pretty well. Remember my website? Well, I've got a few thousand people who get their fashion info from the Quinndex now. We're gonna sell her stuff and Stacy's stuff on line." Quinn looked thoughtful. "Maybe even other people's stuff, later on."

     Daria nodded. "Well, I submitted that site everywhere, so I suppose that you have had a couple of thousand hits." She shrugged. "Good luck."

     Quinn shook her head. "You don't understand, Daria. I get a thousand hits a day since I got the scanner. We need your help. We need you to run the site and Stacy to make the clothes." Quinn could have found a pliable computerboy to run the site, but Jane wouldn't go for it unless Daria was part of it.

     Daria looked poleaxed. "A thousand hits a day? Are you sure that it's not just Upchuck 900 times?"

     Trent tuned his acoustic and sighed. He had a tune, a variation on the last one. Herb had called again, desperate for his jingle. He'd had offered Trent a bonus if he got the thing done sooner, but with work, practice and Daria it was hard to come up with lyrics. Herb seemed to expect miracles from him. Trent needed inspiration. Fortunately, these days inspiration was usually nearby.

     Daria sat on Jane's bed, worried.

     Jane was painting Daria, in a short, tight, shiny green leather dress.

     Daria shook her head. "Does Tinkerbell know that you stole her dress? If Trent ever sees that he'll probably buy me something like it and try to make me wear it."

     Jane shrugged. "You can only hope."

     "Jane!" Daria flushed. "Don't you think that you maybe exaggerated a couple of things there?"

     Without embarrassment, Jane shook her head. "I've seen the goods, Daria. That's exactly how you'd look in that dress."

     Daria groaned. There was no fooling Jane. She'd seen too much. Now Daria had to endure her extremely frank views on sex, which was all the more irritating in that Daria strongly suspected that Jane had yet to do the deed. "Oh, god. You and Quinn aren't going to make that, are you?" Daria suddenly knew, with a touch of dread, that she was going to be wearing that dress someday.

     Jane smiled. "Hey, amiga. It's all for one and one for all, in the rag trade." She planned to use Daria as her primary model, because Daria, from long practice, was easier to draw and because it would be extremely amusing. She couldn't tease her about Trent anymore, so this was the next best thing.

     Daria wondered again how she'd let Jane and Quinn talk her into it. "Well, just keep that away from Trent. I don't want him nagging me ab-"

     "Keep wha-" Trent had stuck his head in the door and now he stared at Jane's painting. "Woah! Hey, I like that!"

     Jane smirked and continued her painting.

     "I wonder if they have it at the Funky Doodle?" Trent looked at Daria the way a starving dog looks at a porkchop.

     Jane smothered a snigger.

     Daria shot her a glare. "So, Trent. What do you want?"

     Jane laughed out loud.

     Trent quit looking from the picture to Daria. "I was wondering if you could come down and help me?" He gave her the look.

     Daria smiled. "Sure. Just give me a minute with Jane and I'll be riiight down."

     "Okay!" Trent left, grinning.

     Jane raised an impassive eyebrow at her. "What?"

     Daria sighed. "Someday Lane, when you least expect it, I'll make sure that you get exactly what you deserve." Daria tried to glare, but ended up with an embarrassed smile instead. She left quickly, mourning the loss of her edge.

     Jane watched Daria leave. "Well," she said, softly, to herself, "Keeping Trent from self destructing when he finally gets a hit would be good. And a few nieces and nephews would just about take care of it."

     Daria came down to the basement and joined Trent on the couch. "So what's this big emergency?"

     Trent leered. "Well..." He laughed at her expression. "I'm stumped, Daria. I need help with some lyrics. Sing along and inspire me."

     Daria pulled away from him in surprise. "But I can't sing!"

     Trent didn't change his expression. "You? Sing? Of course not. All that I need help with is lyrics and phrasing, Daria. You can croak along with me and when I get something down, I'll get a real singer in to do your part. Maybe Monique could do it."

     Trent was aware that he was on thin ice. Jane had told him all about Daria's explosive reaction to the innocent kiss on the cheek by his ex-girlfriend. He didn't plan to see Monique again, if he could help it.

     Daria glared at him. "Well, you could at least... Alright," she relented, "I'll do it." That scheming bitch Monique... She clamped down on the jealousy, aware that she was being stupid. Self improvement wasn't easy.

     "Great! This is the tune that I have." He played it all the way through.

     "Adequate, I suppose. So what's this guy Herb trying to say?" Daria grinned at Trent's nonplused look. His tune was great. It stuck in the head like a remora.

     After an hour of brainstorming, Trent played what they had so far.

     I'm a millionaire in peso's and I really need a car
     I'll visit Happy Herb, cause he can stretch a peso far
     I wasn't lyin' baby, last night at the bar
     I'm still a millionaire in peso's with a Happy Herb car!

     Trent stopped. "Was that what you meant?"

     Daria nodded. "Sort of, but well...." She picked up his other acoustic guitar, played the tune perfectly and sang the part with a whole different phrasing and intonation. "Like that, Trent. But with some life to it." She smiled shyly at him.

     Trent swallowed and nodded. He'd never heard anything like it. "Hey, yeah, that's great, Daria! Why don't we take alternate lines? We can make it, you know, like a little lovers quarrel. At the end, we'll both sing and I'll come in with some change ups. That'll really give it something."

     Daria, caught up in the creative process, never noticed that he'd gotten her to really sing for him.

     An hour later, Daria went up to the bathroom and Trent scrambled over to his equipment trunk. He connected his PA amp and mixer, then unpacked and set up two microphones. He turned on his ancient Ampex four track and let it warm up. Running the tape back to zero, he paused it. He wanted to know if they sounded as good together as he thought.

     Daria came back down the stairs, looked at the recording gear and swallowed. "Look, Trent, I just don't know if I can sing into that thing."

     Trent spent a half hour rubbing her back and persuading her to relax and then started the recorder. After a few flubs, they finally laid down the track. When he played it back, he was unsurprised. Daria sounded great. Her oddly monotonous voice was haunting, her range narrow, but absolutely true within that range.

     Daria frowned. Her part in the duet sounded like a sarcastic bitch. If she sounded like that without even trying, what would happen if she really got mad at him? Would her sarcasm drive him away? She blinked in momentary despair. Having a relationship was so hard. She never knew what to do. Life was so much simpler, before.

     Trent gazed at her, for the first time considering her as a potential colleague. He had a sudden flash of her, on stage at the Shelbyville Coliseum, in the green leather outfit of Jane's painting, wailing away with her green Diablo. His mouth sagged open.

     Daria swallowed and looked away in humiliation. Her monotone was worse than ever. She couldn't seem to put any life into her voice at all. Her part seemed to drip sarcasm. She glanced at him and it was worse than she thought. He was staring at her, mouth agape with fascination.

     "Hey, Daria, Do you mind if I use this? Monique could never do that."

     Squeezing her emotions down, she shrugged like humiliation didn't matter to her. "Do whatever you want, Trent. Just... don't tell anyone that it was me."

     Trent laughed at her joke and rewound the tape. Maybe he could get her up on the stage someday. She'd probably hit the big time. That would be a kick in the ass. He could be her roadie.

     Herb was sitting at his desk, drinking his morning coffee and watching his two salesmen handling the customers. It amazed him that he had customers, this close to new year. Naturally cheap, he'd tried several other musicians before Trent had come back to town. They all gave him stuff that sounded like every other jingle out there. As far as he could tell, Trent's TV spot had made him at least a hundred thousand simolians to date. If he could get sales up again this year, he'd be able to take the Buick franchise away from Jerry Becker. With new cars, and increased revenues he could dramatically expand. He leaned back, contemplating a congressional run in 2010.

     The phone rang and Herb picked up. His wife, who was also his secretary, came on.

     "Herbie, that guy you were wanting to talk to is on the line."

     Herb sighed. "What guy?" She had the brain of a cockerspaniel, but a body that more than made up for the deficiency.

     "The music guy, silly!" She giggled. "I'm putting him on!"

     Herb shrugged. "Hello?"

     "Yeah, is this Herb?"

     Herb recognized the distinctive voice and sat up. "Trent! How's it going? Are you going to have it soon?"

     Trent smiled and turned on the tape player "Listen up, Herb."

     Herb gripped the desk and grinned. While he was listening, he got out the title of the Dodge. It was already filled out, in the name of Jane Lane. This was better than last time. Much, much better.

     Jane stood in the garage, measuring the hood of her car. She was planning on trying out her airbrushes with a mural, something to commemorate the year. It was a strange time in her life. So much had changed, yet so much had merely turned out to be different from what she had always perceived.

     Vincent was out of her life as a father figure. The man had clashed with her childhood image of him one too many times. She had always mythologised him, believing since she was very young that he was somehow aware of her, no matter how far away he was. The missed birthdays, Christmases and the total lack of the normal, daily intimacy that a daughter needs had led her to manufacture a childish fantasy. When that fantasy had abruptly collapsed, it had been like losing a real father.

     Maybe a stormy, silver-gray background, with some jagged rents in the clouds could symbolize that heartbreaking moment.

     Trent had changed in her eyes more than anyone. She had seen him as a hopeless slacker and to some extent she had been right. But then the admission had come from him. He stayed in Lawndale for her. He'd always sensed that her usual low key cheerfulness was based on a pipe dream. When the damn broke in Texas, she had felt so lost and disconnected that she'd briefly considered not returning to Lawndale.

     There needed to be light. Something to show the victory over the dark. Maybe rays of light breaking through the clouds. Green had always been Trent's color. That was one of the things that had made her pair him with Daria in her mind, long before the two had met. Daria habitually wore green and had the same ironically skewed outlook on life that he did.

     Jane was jolted out of her reverie by the sound of someone opening the garage door. She looked up and gaped.

     "Jane?" Vincent stood there, suitcase and camera bag in hand.

     Trent knocked on the peeling yellow door, tape reel in hand. He'd gone to see Herb and when he'd arranged for the title for Jane's car, he'd been asked to deliver the reel to the producer of Herb's commercial. Herb had said that there might have to be edits and he offered a bonus if Trent would oversee it. Trent accepted, happy to take the money. He'd give it to Daria, for her singing part.

     The last time, Trent hadn't met the guy. He'd just given Herb a reel with the music on it and collected his tires.

     The door opened and he found himself looking into the hardest, coldest black eyes that he'd ever seen.

     "Yes?" She looked at him, with scorn.

     "Are you Jay Jones?" Trent was a bit confused.

     She smirked, unpleasantly. "No, I'm Jacey Jones. I use the first initial in correspondence. What do you want?"

     "Hmm. Well, this is for you." Trent thrust the reel into her hand and started to walk away.

     "Oh! Wait!" She caught up with him. "I'm sorry, I was rude. You woke me up. Are you Trent?"

     Trent nodded. "Yeah. That's alright. I hate being woken too." He glanced at his watch and took another step toward his car.

     She grabbed his arm. "I really wanted to meet you after the last commercial, but Herb said that you were gone. I hope you didn't mind my edits."

     Trent shrugged. "It was only me and a guitar, uh, Jacey. I got fifty bucks and tires."

     "Herb! That... He told me that you had blown the budget!" She looked angry. "That commercial was worth thousands! He's going to pay big for this one. I hope you got more than fifty bucks this time!"

     Trent shrugged. "I got a car that was worth about five thousand." He followed her incredulous gaze toward his dented blue 1970 Plymouth. He laughed. "No, that's not it."

     "Well, won't you come in and listen with me? I'd like your opinion. This is a more complicated ad. I have some story boards worked out and there are some timing issues." Jacey tugged at his arm. She really needed contacts in Lawndale and she just knew that he would be shooting music video's some day.

     Reluctantly, he went with her. She'd only begun acting civil when she'd realized that she might need him.

     Trent sat uncomfortably on her tiny couch, listening to the music. He looked around at the crowded room, surprised that she could fit so much junk in. The walls were covered with lesbian-erotic art.

     "God, Trent, that was good." She looked at him, speculatively. "Ever thought about shooting a music video?"

     He smiled. "Sure. You know, just as soon as the band gets a little better and we get a break."

     She shrugged. "That sound's familiar. Who's the other singer? Is she the only other singer in your band?"

     Trent smirked. "That's my girlfriend, Daria. She's just helping me out. She's way to smart to be in a band."

     Jacey laughed. "I was about to say that she sounds like Edie Brikell, but thinking about it, she really doesn't."

     Trent smiled, contentedly. "Daria doesn't sound like anyone. She's an original."

     Jacey shrugged. "She sounds like someone worth knowing." She rolled out a flip chart. "What I had in mind was this..."

     Jane sat uncomfortably across from her father. "So, why are you here?" She flushed. "I mean... Well-"

     "I came to ring in the new year with the family and to see you." Vincent shrugged, uncomfortably. "I didn't realize that my little slip of the tongue had hurt you so badly. I want to make it up to you, somehow."

     Jane just looked at him. He called forgetting her name a 'slip of the tongue.' What a guy.

     "What can I do for you, Jane?" Vincent clamped down on his urge to catch a plane, anywhere.

     Jane shrugged. "You do enough. The house has a roof with no leaks over my bed. The heat works. I get money for clothes every year. Food appears occasionally. I don't know what else I could ask for."

     "The roof leaks?" Vincent frowned.

     Jane nodded. "Trent does his best, but he's no handyman. He bought a bunch of shingles and nailed them on and it leaked worse than ever. He finally put a plastic tarp over that side of the roof. You can't see it now, because of the snow."

     "Why didn't you say anything?" Vincent saw the stains on the ceiling now. It pissed him off. "Household repairs aren't something that can be put off. Did any get into the fuse box?"

     Jane shrugged. "I told Mom and so did Trent."

     Vincent stood, examining the hall ceiling. "Amanda never pays attention to that stuff. Why didn't you tell me?"

     "How? You never call. You never got home this year, Dad. I haven't seen you here since... Well, a long time." Jane felt a little surge of satisfaction when she saw his wince. "You move around so much that we never know where you are."

     "Well, I'm going to try and be here more often, from now on." He was resolved to try and make it up to her.

     Jane smiled at him, a little sadly. Water didn't run uphill. She'd be moving out pretty soon. That time was already past.

     Trent flew through the door and ran straight down the basement stairs, not noticing either Jane or his father.

     "What's with him?" Vincent stared after his son.

     "Success is staring him in the face. He avoided it for years and it's made him a little jumpy." Jane smiled, fondly. "He's gotten pretty lucky lately."

     "Oh yeah?" Vincent cudgeled his brain. Trent was out of school, what the hell was he doing?

     The house shook as a power chord rang out.

     "Oh, yeah." Vincent tugged at his earlobe. Now he remembered why he wasn't so enthusiastic about the old homestead.

     Jane opened her mouth to elaborate and the doorbell rang. She opened the door and let Daria in.

     "Hey, amiga." Jane smirked "Lover boy is in the pit, torturing a guitar."

     Daria smiled. She was carrying her Diablo in a soft case. "They deserve it." She caught sight of Vincent. "Hello, Mr. Lane."

     Vincent didn't recognize her at all. "Hi! How have you been?"

     Daria smiled, a little shyly. "Pretty good, actually. Well, Trent's waiting. I'd better get down there and help him finish off that guitar." She went down the basement stairs.

     "Who was that?" Vincent thought she looked familiar.

     "That was Daria. Your future daughter in law, if Trent stays lucky." Jane wondered if Vincent would finally assign enough importance to Daria to remember her name the next time. She doubted it. He didn't even bother to remember hers.

     Vincent stared at the basement door, bemused.

     Daria and Trent played the jingle on their guitars, gazed into each others eyes and hummed along with the tune. Tearing himself away, he glanced at the stopwatch and slowly turned down the mixer's master volume slider with his toe. "And, that's it!" He unslung his guitar. "Did I ever tell you that you are a truly beautiful woman?"

     Daria flushed, smiled and sat Trent's old Yamaha acoustic aside. "Yes... Wait, that wasn't you. I guess not."

     Trent laughed, rewound the tape and sat down next to her on the couch. He kissed her, then stroked the nape of her neck, eliciting a shudder of pleasure.

     "Well, I met the director."

     "Director?" Daria's mind was elsewhere.

     "Director, producer, whatever. The lady who's shooting Herb's happy little commercial." He slid his hands under her shirt and kissed her on the top of the shoulder. "She want's to work with us on some other projects."

     "Ohhhh?" Daria was having trouble concentrating, but something brought itself to her attention. "Lady?"

     "Yeah, Jacey. She's really ambitious." Trent mentally cursed when he felt her stiffen. He wondered when she'd start trusting and get over the jealousy.

     Daria pulled back. "How old is Jacey, Trent?"

     Trent shrugged. "I don't know. She's around 25 or 26 I'd say." He frowned. She could be younger or older. Her hard black eyes said she was fifty, but her body said twenties.

     Daria relaxed a smidgen. "So, are you guys going to do a music video?"

     Trent nodded. "Someday, but when I said that she want's to work with us, I meant you and me, Daria."

     Daria pulled back to the other side of the couch, defensively. "Trent, there's really no need to do that. I know that my voice is horrible. Those old people asked me to leave the retirement home because my voice was so bad. I've tried to change it, but I just can't."

     Trent stared at her in surprise. "Daria... Look, your voice is different. You sing in a monotone, and it sounds really cool. Really you. So you aren't Brittany Spears. I can live with that." He took a cassette tape out of a pocket and handed it to her.

     "What's this?"

     "Just a tape of us, singing. Listen to it sometime." He started to get up.

     Daria grabbed his belt and pulled him back, trapping him against the arm of the couch. "We aren't done here, Lane."

     "It'll be right down here." Quinn steeled herself and led the way down into the Morgendorffer basement. She'd always been afraid of basements, ever since Daria had locked her in one when she was four, back in Highland.

     The basement was essentially a long, empty rectangle with the door and stairs at one end. Four small windows, high on the walls, admitted a small amount of pale winter sun light. It was much deeper than the Lane basement, with a lot of headroom. At the far end of the rectangle sat the gas furnace, set back a foot from the wall and in the right corner of that part of the room, next to the hot water heater. Water and sewer pipes ran high overhead. Some furniture cluttered the area beside the furnace, but the room was otherwise empty.

     Stacy looked around, noting the lack of light. "At least it isn't all creepy and wet down here. We need some lights."

     "There's a lamp over there." Quinn turned on the old floor lamp, revealing Daria's amp, a small couch that Jake had torn the upholstery on while 'helping' the movers and Daria's music stand. There was a small rug in front of the couch. Behind the couch was the furnace. Against the wall opposite the couch, an arrangement of planks and cinderblocks precariously held the original wall mounted TV from Daria's room and Jake's old camcorder, which wouldn't record any more, but which would still play back tapes. A number of guitar lesson videos and books were on the lower shelf.

     "What's that?" Stacy looked curiously at the amp.

     "That's just some of Daria's stuff. She's plays a guitar and that thing is part of it." Quinn wrinkled her nose at the amp.

     "This place is kind of cool." Stacy wondered if Quinn would ever admit that Daria was her sister.

     Quinn nodded, apprehensively peering into the shadowy corners. "There's no cable down here though. Eww! A spider!"

     Stacy walked over and kicked at it.

     "Watch out. They can really jump!" Quinn glared at the filthy thing.

     Stacy smiled. "It was already dead. Maybe we should spray down here, if Daria hasn't."

     Quinn was a little taken aback at Stacy's boldness, arachnophobia being a strong Quinn trait.

     "I think we'll have to put a long table right there, and mount some florescent shop lights over it." Stacy paced around the empty space, making plans. She'd never had anyplace larger than a closet sized storage room to work in before and the possibilities here excited her. "Do you think that Daria would mind us moving her stuff?"

     "Yes." Quinn decided that Jamie could do the electrical work. His dad was an electrical contractor, and he sometimes worked with him. Joey, Jeffy and maybe Trent could serve as the muscle, carrying down the tables and sewing machines.

     Stacy shrugged. "That's all right, I see a better way to do it, anyway."

     "Uhm, Stacy." Quinn decided to make her big admission now.

     Stacy was measuring along a wall, visualizing the layout of the proposed dress factory. "Yes?"

     "Daria isn't my cousin. She's my sister." Quinn waited for the shocked surprise.

     Stacy smiled. "Yeah, I know."

     Quinn gasped. "Really?"

     Stacy laughed. "Everybody knows, Quinn. I always wondered why you were so worried about it. Daria is a fairly popular senior."

     "Really?" Quinn was shocked, and a little mortified.

     Stacy shook her head at Quinn. "Jodie and Mack, Brittany, Kevin and almost all of the other seniors like her. She could never be Homecoming Queen, but she's okay."

     "She could be Homecoming Queen. She would just never care enough to make the effort." Quinn frowned at the ceiling, in the direction of Daria's room.

     Stacy looked at Quinn and nodded, doubtfully.

     "Hey, she's my sister. We're almost exactly the same size, except she's a little taller. When she takes those hideous goggles off, she's got a face that could seriously break some hearts." Quinn smirked at Stacy's surprised expression.

     Stacy shrugged. "She's not ugly or anything, but she never dated and she isn't in any activities. Why is that?"

     Quinn smiled. "Her boyfriend is only like the hottest guy in the state. He's got a band, called Mystic something. Daria just never liked any high school guys." Quinn smirked at Stacy. "And with a guy like that, who has time for activities?"

     "Ohmigod! You don't mean that guy... Clint Lane?" Stacy was in shock.

     "Trent Lane."

     Stacy sighed with envy. "I saw him at the Zen once, with Brittany and Andrea."

     "What? What were you doing with those two?" Quinn was surprised.

     Stacy looked at her, apprehensively. "I'm in the same group therapy with them. It's sort of a... breakfast club thing."

     Quinn stared. "Wha... But there's nothing wrong with you!"

     Stacy smiled, sadly. "But there is, Quinn. The summer before you came to Lawndale, I ate a whole bottle of sleeping pills and then went swimming. I've been in therapy ever since." She sat down on the stool. "I'd never tell Sandi or Tiffany, but you're more like... Well, a friend."

     "But why! You have it all, Stacy! A really good look with a great personality... I don't understand!" Quinn was shaken.

     Stacy shrugged. "I'm the same as all the other suicide survivors, I guess. In my case my parents divorced and I felt like it was all my fault. One day I decided it wasn't and I tried to get even with them."

     "The group... Brittany tried to kill herself?" Quinn was shaken.

     Stacy looked at her, sharply. "That's really like... none of your business, Quinn. Your family is still together, so you just don't know. The group is a private thing. We talk about our feelings and keep each other cheered up. Please, please don't ever say anything to Sandi about it. I shouldn't have-"

     "I'd never say anything to anyone. I'll forget about the whole thing and never ever talk about it again." Quinn sighed. "I'm glad that you didn't die, Stacy. I think that you're the only real friend that I ever made in Lawndale."

     Stacy smiled and stood up. "Thanks. So, what's the deal here? Who are these mysterious partners that we're going to have?"

     Quinn looked at her, thoughtfully. "Before I tell you, I want you to see some sketches that one of them made." She led Stacy to her room and brought out Jane's sketchpad.

     Slowly flipping through the pad, Stacy exclaimed over the artistry of the drawings and the beauty of the clothes. Sighing with admiration over a sketch of Quinn in a sarong like garment, she flipped the page and halted in shock.

     "Ghad!" Stacy giggled, flopped down onto the bed and laughed until the tears flowed free. Jane had drawn a pornographically hilarious sketch of a leering, well equipped cartoon pig with Upchucks features, doing something improbable to a cartoon rabbit. The rabbit had Sandi's features, mouth agape and eyes crossed in exaggerated bliss.

     Quinn laughed with her. "I'd love to see that posted all over school!"

     Stacy shook her head and wiped a tear away. "That would be too cruel, even for Sandi. Who drew this?"

     "Do you know Jane Lane?"

     Stacy nodded. "Yes, we've talked. She's really pretty nice. I didn't know that she was that good an artist, though."

     Quinn smiled in relief. "Well, she's Daria's friend and I like her too. You and her will be the designers, I'll sell it, Daria will be the business manager and we'll all make and model dresses."

     Stacy cocked her head at Quinn. "Maybe you should be manager."

     Quinn laughed. "Daria's way smarter than me. She'll make a great manager."

     Stacy shrugged, doubtfully. "What about Sandi and Tiffany? Won't they be mad when they find out? Maybe we should include them."

     Quinn shook her head, decisively. "I vote no. Sandi would try and take over and then ruin everything out of spite when she couldn't. Tiffany would be dead weight and Jane would eventually murder Sandi. Daria is going to be hard enough to-"

     "Okay, I don't think that I could work with Sandi around anyway." Stacy shook her head. "It's funny, Quinn. Without the Fashion Club, all the agenda's, schedules, official business... What would we all say to each other?"

     Quinn laughed. "We would do fine. Sandi would have to find something to argue about and Tiffany would be there to suck up. Maybe we can let them model for us, to keep them sweet."

     Stacy smiled, shyly. "Maybe they just won't care."

     "Maybe." Quinn doubted it.



     "I kind of have a confession to make." Stacy wondered if she was doing the right thing.

     "Oh?" Quinn smirked, knowing what was coming. "Go ahead. I'll keep it to myself."

     Stacy looked at her, nervously. "I'm going steady with a guy."

     Quinn nodded. "Yeah, I know. Ted. So what's the big confession, then?"

     Helen sighed and shifted restlessly in her seat. The doctor had assured her that she was still capable, but now she was having second thoughts. She did the math again. Did she really want to go through pregnancy again?

     Marianne buzzed from the outer office.

     "Yes, Marianne?"

     "Mr. Hedly would like to see you in the partners lunch room, today." Marianne crossed her fingers. Maybe she'd get a raise if Helen was given more responsibility.

     "Okay... Did he give any indication as to why?" Helen wondered if it was about the proposed new section. There'd been some talk about it at the party, people sounding her out, finding out what she thought should be included. Much of the firm's recent work had come from various clients of hers, the new rich from the growing local hi-tech manufacturing base who were entering the stratospheric world of IPO's.

     "No, Ma'am."

     "Thank you." Helen looked at the clock. She didn't have long. The door was closed at five after and no one gained entry until the lunch was over. She gathered her things and made for the lunchroom.

     Helen entered through the huge carved cherrywood doors and marveled at the sheer luxury of the room. Of course, it had come about because the Firm had found a way to write it all off, but still it spoke of wealth and power. The new building was very quickly becoming as crowded as the old one, though.

     She saw Martin Hedly sitting halfway down the table, next to a still embarrassed Eric. Ordering a salad from the caterer, she joined him.

     When everyone had been served and the waiter had left, the senior partner opened the meeting. After the routine business had been taken care of, Helen got a shock. Almost without consultation and amid effusive congratulations, She was appointed to head the new IPO's acquisitions and mergers unit. She would have a staff of ten associates, eight clerks and five secretaries. She sighed. This huge overhead would drag her down, if she wasn't careful.

     Closing her eyes, Helen suddenly realized that another pregnancy would be out of the question, unless she quit the firm.

     Eric noticed. "What's the matter, Helen?"

     Helen smiled at him, sadly. "Just a little headache. Nothing to worry about. So, Eric, how has Meiko been? Any little ones on the way yet?"

     Helen stood and listened to him talk about his wife and wondered if material success was really worth forgoing a child.

     Vincent called Amanda's guru, and finally tracked her down at a sweat lodge, undergoing the Hopi Sun-People convocation. That done, he called the rest of his brood. All agreed, after much bribery, blackmail and cajoling. The new century would be welcomed, albeit reluctantly, by all the Lanes, together.

     "What!" Jane was not a happy camper.

     Vincent smiled at her. She'd come around. Jane had always been kind of solitary. She'd cheer up when the family got home. "I said, that we're having a New Years reunion!"

     "And you didn't think to ask if anyone else had any plans? Me, Tom, Trent and Daria were going to Time Square." She glared. "We already booked the rooms." This was a lie. She hadn't been able to get a room in the city. They were going to stay in Max.'s van for a night.

     Vincent goggled at her. "Who is this Tom?"

     "Tom is my boyfriend. What, you'd rather I had a girlfriend?" Jane smirked and walked away, leaving him to stew.

     Trent sneezed, his eyes watering from solder fumes. He was replacing the volume pot on Daria's amp. He hadn't cared that the pot didn't go all the way down when the amp was his, but Daria did. He heard the basement door open, and footsteps come down the stairs. He tensed slightly in anticipation.

     "You shouldn't breathe those lead fumes, son." Vincent pulled up a stool to the makeshift workbench and looked around. Trent had an oscilloscope, a DVM, a signal generator, a frequency counter, a soldering station and a few hand tools. His area was crowded with partially disassembled band equipment.

     Trent looked at him, without expression. "I try not to. The ventilation isn't that great down here."

     Vincent straightened. "I have some small clip-on fans up in the photo lab. I could bring one down here."

     Trent nodded, courteously. "Thanks, but unless you don't use them any more, don't bother. I don't do this very often anymore."

     "Oh?" Vincent motioned to the rough workbench, with its burned and gouged surface. "You sure have a lot of gear there."

     Trent nodded. "I inherited most of it from Wind. He used to have that short-wave radio, remember?"

     Vincent laughed. "Yeah, I fell off of the roof when I was helping him put the antenna up."

     Trent smiled, politely. "I remember that."

     "I nearly busted my ass. I guess that you were about twelve, then." Vincent remembered that he'd gotten his contract with National Geographic the next day. He'd had to travel most of the year, after that.

     Trent nodded. That had been the last time that he'd seen his dad for more than a few weeks a year.

     "Well, you'd better hide that stuff, unless you want Wind to remember it. He's coming for new years, with his wife." Vincent smiled at the alarm in Trent's eyes.

     "Which wife?" Trent knew that there was some irregularity there. Wind was constantly ducking process servers. His ex was trying to get some of the money that he'd made in the software business, after the divorce. There was some speculation that his divorce hadn't been final when he married his secretary. It was ridiculous, but Wind morbidly feared the California courts.

     "Margo." Vincent frowned at Trent's revulsion. "What's wrong with her?"

     "I guess I just don't like her." Trent remembered the way that she'd chased him, backing him into a wall and groping him, attacking his zipper and inviting him point blank to a motel. Like he'd do that to his own brother.

     Vincent shrugged. "I can't say that I like her either. You have much better taste in women, son."

     Trent laughed aloud.

     "What's so funny?" Vincent smiled at him, puzzled and waiting to hear the joke.

     "Dad, I'm a musician. You should see some of the ... Well, let's just say that Jane is the one with taste. She kind of found Daria for me."

     He smiled, contentedly. It had taken time for him to really see Daria. She wasn't the type that he would have looked at twice, ordinarily. It had taken Jane to bring them together. He'd often just talked with her, like friends do. One day, he'd just been talking to her, like usual, when it had abruptly hit him that he couldn't imagine a life without her. He'd run like hellhounds were after him, but hadn't been able to stay away. She'd shocked him to his toes when he overheard her in the mall. He'd been standing behind her, wishing that he could just take her into his arms when Jesse had played his prank. It'd been a perfect moment.

     Vincent, looking into his unguarded eyes, felt a frission of astonishment. Things were moving very quickly around here. "Well... That's fine, son. I'm... happy for you. Your Mother, Penny and Summer will be coming too. You can introduce her around."

     Trent mumbled something and unplugged his soldering iron. "We had a little trip planned, but it really wasn't that big a deal, I guess. Janey might be a little unhappy."

     Vincent sighed. "Jane seems to be unhappy with me whatever I do."

     Trent shrugged. "She's just... growing up."

     Vincent bridled. "Why should growing up make her hate her father?"

     Trent frowned. "She doesn't hate you. She's mad at you. She just thought that she knew you and suddenly found out that she didn't, really."

     "What?" Vincent rubbed his forehead. Being a father was the pits. The only children that he had that weren't totally screwed up were the ones that he'd had the least contact with.

     Trent looked away and started to put the amp back in its case. "You need to talk with her, not me."

     Vincent looked at him. "We don't really get along either."

     Trent wondered if he would piss Vincent off if he left. "I don't hate you or anything."

     Vincent sighed. "I guess not." He stood. "I guess you're going to test that thing. I'll just toddle along, before you loosen my fillings."

     Trent watched him leave, then plugged in his tone generator. He tested the volume and tone knobs, then brightening, carried the amp out to his car. It was time to go see Daria.

     Jake was reading his paper when the doorbell rang. He opened the door, saw Trent with the amp and then motioned him in. "Trent, my man! Daria went to the store with Helen. Something about not getting lasagna. They ought to be back pretty soon, if you want to wait."

     Trent put the amp down. "Sure." He sniffed. "What's that? It sure smells good."

     "It's Kitchen Sink Stew! Try some?" Jake led Trent into the kitchen. "We call it Kitchen Sink Stew because it has every thing in it but the kitchen sink!" He frowned. "But no dried habanyeros." Smiling again, Jake scooped a bowl full and handed it to Trent, with a spoon. "Eat up, big guy!"

     Trent took a big bite and his eyes watered. The stew had several different kinds of pepper in it and it instantly cleared his sinuses. He swallowed, inhaled deeply, then quickly ate the stew. "Mr. M, that was the best damn stew I ever tasted." Trent wasn't sucking up. He'd long since burned away most of his tastebuds. He liked cholula sauce on almost everything that he ate.

     Jake, watching his face closely for signs of deception, was overjoyed. Finally, an ally in this Kitchen Sink Stew hating world. The girls wouldn't touch it. Even Helen wouldn't try it. At least he didn't dribble cigar ashes into it, like the cook back in camp shithole. He frowned, then with effort that would have gladdened his therapists heart, tore his mind away from his dark memories. "I can't get anyone to eat it! Like a cold brew to wash it down?"

     Soon they were watching TV. Jake turned it to football, and Trent started getting into it. He'd gone out for football as a freshman, trying to impress Marjory Birkenstadt. He'd had almost gotten killed before being thrown off of the team for gambling. He and Jesse had been the two selected as scapegoats, so they had been sacrificed to protect the all important Tommy Sherman. Sherman and his goons had had it in for Trent and Jesse for the rest of their high school careers. When Trent had heard of his death, all that he'd felt was a vague satisfaction.

     Trent still wondered what life would have been like if he'd been allowed to play through his senior year. He hadn't been particularly big, but he was very, very fast. Sometimes, when he caught a game, he wondered if he would have been a rich NFL running back right now if it hadn't have been for Tommy and the coach's lies. He sat back and smiled. He might have been rich, but he might also have been injured. Besides, he would get rich from his band anyway and he probably would never have noticed Daria if his life had gone that way.

     He was absorbed in the game when Daria came in. She snuck up on him and kissed him on the cheek from behind the couch. He looked over at Jake and saw that he was asleep, so he pulled her over the back of the couch, tumbled her into his lap and gave her a much better kiss.

     "Whoo! Trent, you've been eating dad's kitchen sink stew." Laying with her head in his lap, Daria's lips stung slightly.

     "Yeah, it's good stuff." Trent wasn't talking about the stew.

     "Ever since he got that electric pepper mill set his cooking's been even more ghastly." She tasted his lips again, just to be sure.

     "Well, I like it hot." He smirked at her.

     "Really?" Daria gave him a look that set him afire.

     "Ahem!" Helen gritted her teeth and wondered if Daria was at least taking the proper precautions. She hoped that the infatuation would wear off soon.

     Trent backed off in a hurry. "Oh. Hi, Mrs. Morgendorffer."

     Daria scrambled upright on the couch, wearing a silly smile. Helen was glaring holes through them.

     "Hello, Trent," she grated. "Are you staying for dinner?"

     Trent decided that he'd better minimize his contact with Helen. "No thanks, Mrs. Morgendorffer. My dad's at home, so me and Janey are going out to dinner with him, tonight."

     "Oh." Helen swiveled her gimlet eyed gaze to Daria. "What is that box doing in the hall?"

     Daria glared back at her. "That's a guitar amplifier, mom. Trent was just fixing it for me."

     Helen forced herself to stop glaring. "Well then, will you please put it away? Someone's liable to trip over it, there."

     Daria allowed her expression to soften. Helen was trying. "Sure." She stepped toward the hall, but Trent vaulted over the couch and got there first.

     "Where do you want this?" Trent grabbed it and decided to get her a smaller, less cumbersome amp. It sounded good, but it's ancient, tube driven circuitry made it heavy.

     Daria flicked a glance at Helen, who was clearly hoping that they wouldn't go to up to her room. "I've been keeping it in the basement."

     Helen, hearing the word basement, relaxed. Her phone rang and she lost interest.

     Daria eyed Helen's back and concluded that if she stayed out of sight she would be forgotten. Quietly, she led Trent to the seldom used door. "I made a little... practice area down here," she said, a tell tale flush spreading down her face.

     Grinning, Trent followed her down.

     Quinn led her cavalcade into the house, rousing Jake.

     "Honey! What's all this?" Jake took in the three J's, each carrying a sewing machine.

     Passing, Quinn smiled at him. "Nothing, Daddy. We're just setting up that sewing room in the basement that I told you about."

     Jake stood. "Do you fellas need some help?"

     Jamie opened his mouth to accept and Quinn jumped in quick. "No, Daddy, you just sit back and I'll bring you another beer." There were things down there that Quinn didn't want him to see.

     Jake sat, happy to get out of it.

     Quinn led the way down, then halted. Daria was sitting on the sofa with Trent, rapidly disentangling herself. Repo Man was playing on the TV.

     Quinn smirked. "That door needs a bolt on the inside." She'd known exactly what Daria had in mind, the instant she'd laid eyes on the place. She also had plans for it.

     Trent laughed. "Yeah." He saw the porters behind her. "Hey, dudes."

     Jamie, Jeffy and Joey, a little taken aback, mumbled their greetings.

     Daria finally got herself together and spoke. "Quinn, what are you do- Oh, I didn't know that you were starting today."

     Quinn smirked. "Sorry to interrupt your fun, but we were just getting the stuff down here. We'll arrange it and get the lights and stuff tomorrow." She looked at Trent.

     Trent smothered a curse with a cough. Janey had told him about the sewing thing, but he hadn't really paid much attention. Reluctantly he stood. "I'll give you guys a hand." He looked at Quinn. "Come on out of the way, Quinn. Those things look heavy."

     Quinn came down and before she could say anything, Trent directed the J's to put the machines in a corner. When he went up the stairs for the next load, they followed, already used to obeying him.

     Daria watched him go, then looked at Quinn, who grinned back.

     "He's kind of a... stud." Quinn felt envy again.

     Daria shrugged. "He's used to bossing the clueless around."

     Jane started the compressor and pulled the trigger on the airbrush slightly. A fine mist of paint came out. She hummed, setting up a big sheet of white cardboard, then pulled the trigger again. A big blob shot out. "Damn!"

     There was a knock at her door.

     "Come in." Jane hoped it was Tom. Maybe the roads had cleared enough for him to risk driving his Pinto, with its bald tires.

     Vincent stuck his head in. "What's that buzzing sound?"

     Jane nodded at her compressor. "I got an airbrush." She scowled. "I can't seem to figure it out, though."

     "Hey, that's a nice one! Here, let me show you." Vincent took it from her and slowly drew a line on the cardboard. "See, this is a side mount, internal feed, dual action brush. Dual action means that the trigger controls both air and color. You push down for air and back for color. This allows you to change the width of the line, the range of value and the opacity of paint without stopping your hand motion." He smiled. "This is a great brush for detail work, but it takes a while to change the color cup."

     Jane took the proffered brush back and tried it. "Oh, this is great!" She marveled at how fine a line she could draw.

     Vincent saw the large, siphon type airbrush, assortment of smaller screw type brushes and spare color cups in the styrofoam case. "Hey, you really went all out! That must have cost you."

     Jane smiled. "Daria gave me all of this, for Christmas."

     Vincent suddenly realized that he'd forgotten Christmas again. Ah, crap! He thought. "Oh." He said.

     Jane frowned at him. "Where did you learn to use an airbrush?"

     Vincent shrugged. "I've been a photographer for a long time, Jane. I can remember knowing how to use one when I was a kid."

     But you can't remember my name. Jane looked back at the cardboard and drew a shape that looked like the first few microseconds of an explosion. "Is that so. Thanks for showing me how to use this thing."

     Jake was almost asleep when Helen spoke.


     "Umph. Wha?"

     "Are you awake?"

     Sighing, Jake came fully awake and reached for the lamp.

     "Please... Just leave it off." Helen didn't want him to see her face.

     He grunted.

     "I... I got a promotion." She said it in the same tone that she would have used to announce a cancerous tumor.

     Jake rolled over to face her, just able to see her face in the dimly reflected street lighting that leaked in around the curtain. "What's the matter?"

     Helen felt a tear slip out and run into her ear. "I can't have a baby!" It came out as a wail. "I don't have time!"

     Jake pulled her over to him. "You have all the time that you want to make, Helen. You just have to find a way to get what you want."

     "But the firm-"

     Jake suggested that the firm do something anatomically impossible to itself. Then he took her mind off of things.

     Jamie took a long look around and climbed over the fence. He reseated the wire-cutters and screwdriver in his pocket, picked up his shovel and crept over to the bleachers. He looked nervously at his watch. He was supposed to meet-


     Jamie stiffened. It was Coach Williams!

     "Where's your jacket and hardhat, White?" Williams strode up to a paralyzed Jamie.

     "What?" Jamie wondered if burglars wore that kind of gear, these days.

     "Get over there and help out." Williams shooed him toward the goalpost, where Ted was carefully shoveling snow away from the course of the disused underground conduit. "Thanks for showing up, White. This means a lot to me. Now I know who's really a team player around here."

     "Uh, right." He walked up and Ted handed him a hardhat and a reflective safety vest.

     "Ah. Jamie. I was beginning to wonder when you'd show up." Ted winked at him when Williams looked away. He gestured at the field. "You know the problem. All this old conduit running underneath the field is causing problems. It wasn't buried deep enough and it's heaved up. Someone could break their neck during spring practice."

     Jamie gaped. He'd expected to help steal the wire, but not so blatantly. He gave Ted an admiring grin. "Cool! What do you want me to do?"

     Ted glanced at Williams. "Go to the other side of the field and locate that end of the conduit."

     "No problem." Jamie picked up a shovel.

     "Wait, we have a metal detector. What you boys need to do is clear off the snow on top, dig it up, cut it where it goes under the track, pull up the old outlets and fill it all back in." Williams eyed them, happily. When he'd seen the conduit sticking up out of the ground, he'd known that he'd end up working like a dog to get it all out. Li didn't spend money on upkeep. He looked at his watch. "I'll be back in a couple of hours. Thanks, men. Thanks again for pointing it out, Ted. That could have caused real problems with next year's football schedule." He walked away, whistling.

     "Brilliant idea, man! How'd you get that stupid sack of shit to fall for it?" Jamie had to laugh out loud.

     Ted shook his head. "I can't take the credit. Do you know Daria's boyfriend, Trent?"

     Jamie nodded. "Yeah, he's a cool dude." Jamie had been brainstorming with them, trying to figure out where to get free wire and lights for Quinn. She'd been dumbfounded when he'd told her how much that stuff would cost, new. He'd told them about his father rejecting the job of pulling up the old wire under the field. Earl White had been stiffed by Li once too often, plus the job was too small.

     Ted frowned, then deciphered the slang. "Right. After you left, Trent came back to help Daria with her... guitar playing. Anyway, I told him what you'd said and about our plan to procure the material in an unauthorized way. I must admit, I had some misgivings. He introduced me to a concept called 'Social Engineering. He's really quite well versed in the art."

     Jamie laughed. "We usually just call it scamming."

     "Hmm, scamming. I wonder at the etymology of that term. Anyway, it was his idea. He had a piece of conduit and we bent it into a slight U shape on a tree trunk. Then we stuck it into the field last night, with one end under the track." Ted grinned. "I called Coach Williams and told him that I'd seen it while I was jogging on the track and that I was afraid that it would heave up the tarmac surface pretty soon. I helpfully volunteered us to remove the offending material."

     "Way to go, Ted!" Jamie laughed.

     Ted looked modest. "Just recycling."

     Trent wrinkled his nose and pulled the Tank up to the concrete pad. An old trailer, converted into a hazmat registration office, sat next to it. It was located far enough away from the body of the landfill that there wasn't much of a smell.

     He got out and went in search of his buddy. He found him, on the other side of the trailer, sitting on a lawnchair in front of a table full of cans, jars and bottles.

     "Doug!" Trent waved as he walked up.

     Doug, An ugly, hirsute man in his late twenties, wiped his runny nose on the sleeve of his filthy coldsuit coveralls. "Hey, dude." He gestured at the table. "Got all kinds of paint and shit here for ya today."

     Trent collapsed into an old barcalounger. "All right! Janey will be pretty happy. How's it going, Doug-man. Haven't seen you around much, lately."

     Doug took a swig from a whisky bottle. "I punched a hole in my head, man."

     "What?" Trent sat up. "No shit?" Trent waved off the offered bottle.

     "No shit. I was under my car and the jack slipped. Anyway, I got thumped on the head. I crawled out from under, reached up and felt a fuckin' hole! I went over to the hospital and they put some staples in my head, to hold the bone in place while it heals." He scowled. "It cost me eight hundred bucks."

     "Woah. Did that include getting them out?" Trent was sympathetic. He hadn't had any medical insurance either, until he'd gotten his job.

     "Nah. I clipped them out myself, with a pair of dykes. Took ten minutes. Those fucks would have charged me another five big ones. Fuckin' doctors." Morosely, he drained his flask.

     Trent coughed, covering his mouth to hide his smile. "Woah, that must have hurt some."

     "Fuckin' A, man. You bet it hurt. I had to cut 'em in the middle and pull 'em back through the skin. But it didn't hurt no five hundred bucks worth."

     Trent laughed. "Now you can tell people that you're a brain surgeon."

     Doug smiled. "Hey, yeah! So, how's it been going for you? I heard you was outta town."

     Trent shrugged. "Pretty good, man. I came back, got a new girlfriend, got a pretty good job in the mall, got the band back together... All I don't got is a bunch of big florescent lights."

     Doug smiled. "I think we can do business, my man. The old lights from the remodel job of the Federal building got dumped off here last week. I been keepin' it separate, in the Dougatorium. Come and take a look around my establishment."

     Trent collected five large box-lights, the bulbs, hanging hardware and covers, a bunch of hospital-grade three way switches, GFI outlets and a small fuse box. He also got about five hundred feet of ten gage, four conductor wire and plenty of steel conduit.

     Doug looked the pile over. "Fifty bucks."

     "Five," Trent countered.

     "What! This shit is worth hundreds!" Doug waved his arms, histrionically.

     "Hey, I'll just go to the end of the line then, Dude."

     They settled at twenty.

     Dirty and dispirited, Ted and Jamie straggled off of the field, having removed fifty yards of rotten wire. It was useless. All they got for their efforts was a brownie point from the despised football coach. As they reached the parking lot there was a honk. They saw Tent pull up in a beat up black van.

     "Hey, guys, how's it going?" Trent stared them down, ignoring their hostile gaze.

     "It's not going. That wire was crap!" Jamie suddenly noticed the thick bundle of conduit pipe sticking out the van's open back door. "Hey, what's that?"

     Trent shrugged. "I found some stuff that you guys might be able to use. Do you think that you could take it? I need to give Max his van back."

     Jamie opened the side door. "Hey! You've got everything that we need, right here!" He wished he'd known that before he dug up all that old pipe.

     Ted smiled. "Excellent. Stacy will be pleased." He blushed, for no good reason.

     "Really? Cool." Trent noted the muddy clothes and felt even more justified in his decision not to lift a finger. He watched in satisfaction while they unloaded the van into Ted's small pickup. With any luck, he could avoid all the labor and reap all the reward.

     Jane brushed at her face, then fell back to sleep. A few minutes later the tickling came again, this time strong enough to rouse her. "Whaa?" She fumbled for the lamp and saw nothing. Just as she was falling back to sleep, she heard a childish whisper. Tensing, Jane erupted out of bed and collared her niece and nephew, who had been hiding at the foot of her bed.

     "Ah ha!" Jane quickly bundled the shrieking children up in her blanket. "Gotcha!" She uncovered their faces. "Hold him down, Courtney! It's the death of a thousand kisses!"

     Adrian shrieked and laughed until after about ten kisses, she allowed him to escape.

     "Now, Courtney... Your turn!" Courtney got the same treatment.

     After Jane had washed off her lipstick mustache, she went downstairs to see what else the morning had brought.

     "Oh, there you are!" Summer smirked at Jane. "Good to see you, kid. Did they try the mustache trick on you?"

     Jane smiled. "Summer!"

     Summer laughed. "Hey, be grateful, Janey. I took the indelible marker away from them this morning."

     Jane smirked. "Art chicks can get away with anything."

     Summer looked at her, fondly. "Well you're really looking good. I see that you've managed to avoid my mistakes, so far."

     Jane shrugged, thoughtfully. "Your mistakes are kind of cute. All in all, I could do worse things."

     Summer shrugged. "Once you have them, you wouldn't give them up for anything. But sometimes I wish that I'd waited. Their dad is a dead loss and they're growing up wild. That little lipstick trick is just the tip of the iceberg."

     Jane returned an evil smile. "Well, Sis, don't worry. I taught them something that will take their minds right off of that!"

     Summer nodded. "I'm sure." She gazed at her sister. "Aren't you tired of that yet? No one's seen your hair since you started junior high."

     Jane shrugged. "I like the contrast between black hair and blue eyes." She had dyed it because she'd felt the peer pressure. She was being turned into a dumb blonde.

     "AAAHHH!" The kids ran past, a boxer clad Trent in hot pursuit, his lips and cheeks marked up with lipstick.

     "Hm, I see that they've developed consciences." Jane was a bit surprised.

     "No," replied Summer. "That'll never happen. I caught them filling up the pot with warm water. Janey, someday when your little hellions are bouncing off of the walls, I sure hope that I'm there to teach them the old dip the sleeping persons hand in warm water and make them pee in their bed trick. Guess who they try these things out on when there aren't any handy aunts and uncles around?"

     "Ohh, you are in a spot then." Jane grinned at her sister. They'd fought a little, but mostly Summer had helped raise her. "It's really good to see you."

     "Likewise, Janey." She took a drink of coffee. "So, what's going on with you? Why is dad so tripped out? You on drugs or pregnant or something like that? Because if you are, I'm going to beat you black and blue. As for Trent, I'm going to beat him into a quivering pulp and then break all ten of his fingers and both big toes. He's supposed to be watching out for you."

     Jane shrugged. "Nothing like that. Dad's just hanging around, trying to be my 'friend'. I don't know what he wants from me. I haven't seen him for more than three full hours in the last two years and now he acts all hyper because I don't fall all over myself when he comes around. I wish he'd go back to wherever the hell it was that he came from." She looked down, blinking away wetness.

     Summer nodded. "I wish I could say something big sisterly to make it all better, but you're right. He doesn't deserve any slack. If he wanted the father daughter thing from you, he'd have stuck around here or taken you with him. I guess you were about what, nine when he first went on the road?"

     Jane nodded. "My ninth birthday was the day after he left."

     Summer sighed. "I got pregnant with the twins that next year. I wonder what would have happened if he'd stayed?"

     Jane shrugged. "He had to make some money, Summer. He had a lot of kids to feed."

     Summer snorted. "Bullshit. He's got a trust fund, Jane. He's a fairly rich man. There's just no excuse for him. He left because he was a father too early and he was bored here."

     "Rich?" Jane remembered what Beaureguard Lane had told her.

     "Our grandfather was a fairly rich banker. He didn't approve of Amanda or something, so Vincent sort of cut himself off. The whole family is pretty comfortable."

     "I didn't know that." Jane decided it had to be true. Neither of her parents seemed to work in the conventional sense.

     Trent came back with a giggling child tucked under each arm. "Look what I caught! Anybody want to buy some half-pint slaves?"

     Summer shook her head. "Sell 'em south. They eat too much."

     Trent sat them on their feet. "Well, I guess I'd better get my branding iron out, then."

     "Ooh! I'll take them!" Lips pursed, Jane reached for Adrian. They shrieked, then ran off at high speed, taunting Trent.

     Summer laughed. "Cute lipstick, Trent. Have you gone punk?" Summer and Jane exchanged smirks.

     Trent rubbed his face, then grimaced. "Be right back, sisters." He went to wash his face.

     Summer shook her head after him. "He's sure filled out a lot, lately."

     "Daria thinks so." Jane smiled.

     "Who's Daria?" Summer was very surprised that Jane would approve of any girl who liked Trent. She usually described them scathingly as groupies, or worse.

     When Trent came back down the stairs, his sisters fell silent, looked at each other and started laughing.

     "Now I remember what it's like to have a pack of sisters in the house. I'd better just get along to work now." Trent knew from long experience that they'd talk incessantly about him, so long as Wind wasn't around.

     "Oh? Not going to stay and tell us all about Daria?" Summer smirked.

     Trent gave Jane a 'you asked for it' look. "Sorry, Big Sister, I just don't have time. Maybe Jane could tell you all about her new soulmate, Tom. See ya!" Trent left, laughing all the way.

     "Yes, do tell, Jane." Summer leaned forward frowning, her chin resting on her clenched knuckles. She had to make sure that Jane didn't end up like her.

     Jake came home, a little tired, but very elated. He'd gotten a contract to handle the advance legwork for Merck industries proposed expansion into the area. It could mean a lot of money and influence. He sat down on his couch and wished that Helen would hurry up and get home. He wanted to share the big news.

     A kid wandered by, carrying a great big conduit bender.

     Jake stared after him, then followed. He opened the basement door, then reluctantly went ahead. He hated basements, ever since his father had used one as a prison for him.

     Jake looked around in disbelief. The dim basement was now brightly lit. Two kids armed with hammer-drills were attaching runs of conduit to the cement walls.

     Quinn came through the door behind him. "Daddy! What are you doing here?"

     "That's my line, Quinn." He inspected the lights. The ceiling had been drywalled.

     Jamie came up beside him. "Hi, Mr. Morgendorffer. Everything here is done strictly according to code."

     "Nice job there, big fella." He turned to Quinn. "What are you doing down here?"

     Quinn rolled her eyes. "I'm making a sewing room, Daddy. For me and Daria. I told you already!"

     Jake took in the chalked notations on the wall, where outlets were being run down the cement wall. "Pretty fancy sewing room."

     Quinn looked at him like he was crazy. "Well, it's my sewing room."

     Stacy came through the door, two cans of paint in hand. "Will this be enough?"

     Quinn shrugged. "I don't know."

     Jake took a can and read the label. "No. You're painting cement here. You need to prime it first, because it will just absorb this paint if you put it on directly. You need three cans of primer and another can of paint." He frowned. "These paints aren't the same shade. You're going to have to mix it up before you can use it."

     Quinn shrugged. "Daddy, would you please get us the stuff we need? We'll do the work."

     Jeffy scowled and Joey looked at his watch.

     Jamie said, "You know what looks good on a cement floor? Gold paint. They make a special kind of sealing paint. We can seal this floor and paint it over after the walls dry. If you're going to be down here a lot you should do it anyway. It keeps the radon out."

     Jake shrugged and nodded. "Sure! I'll head over to the hardware store, right now." He turned to Jamie. "Is there anything else that you need?"

     Daria sat on a stool at the counter behind Trent's section of Megatunes, half watching the clock. She had a borrowed Hamer and was making great progress. Fortunately the amp that she was using could be turned down very low. Periodically, Trent would come by and help.

     Someone tapped her on the shoulder. She turned to see Monique smiling at her.

     "Well, hey, hey, hi, cutie pie! You're sounding pretty good!

     Daria made herself smile back, politely. "Thank you."

     Monique laughed. "I knew he'd get you into playing, eventually."

     "Really?" Daria was surprised that Monique knew anything about her.

     Monique shrugged. "He asked me to give you a hand getting started, but I can tell that you're far from a beginner."

     Daria put the Hamer down on the counter. "I've been playing acoustic on and off since I was about twelve. I was never really serious about it, though."

     Monique nodded. "I can tell by your fingering. It's natural for you." She handed Daria a card. "I teach a little class out of my house. It's five dollars a lesson, if you want to go a little farther."

     Daria took the card. "Thanks, but I already have a free teacher."

     Monique smiled. "Trent's very talented, but he's a doer, not a teacher." Her smile widened. "I taught him how to play in open D tuning... and a few other things that you should really appreciate."

     Daria frowned briefly, then flushed. She wondered what would happen if she brained Monique with the Hamer. "Is that so," she said, flatly.

     Monique suppressed a giggle and shook her head. "Look, Daria, you don't have to worry about me with Trent. We just wasted time together until someone better came along. That's all over. Me and Candy are together now, so relax."

     Daria flushed a deeper red. "Sorry, Monique. I can't seem to help it. I trust Trent, but I-"

     "Want to see any woman who could ever possibly tempt him burn eternally in a particularly hot patch of hellfire." Monique smirked. "It comes through pretty clearly, sweetie."

     "Did you say Candy?" Alarmed, Daria suddenly realized that Monique's teasing closeness might have a reason to it other than Trent.

     Monique nodded. "She's my girlfriend. She plays keyboard in the Harpies."

     "Whew!" Daria made a show of relaxing, not wanting to appear as phobic as she suddenly felt. "If you only knew how many nightmares I've had about you and him."

     "Well, I might act like I'm still interested, just to watch you get jealous, but it isn't going to happen, so relax, Daria." She picked up the Hamer. "Trent's a good friend. You're good for him. I hope that you won't have him avoid me any more. She played a riff. "He's a great contact for the Harpies. He gets us gigs. Trent's a pretty influential guy in this town."

     Daria relaxed for real. "I don't have a problem with you talking to Trent. I'll tell you what, Monique. I'll take a few guitar lessons from you. That'll let him know that it's okay."

     Monique smiled. "Good!" She played part of a Harpies guitar piece. "Try that."

     Daria shrugged and played the whole thing through without a mistake. She'd heard it often enough.

     "Oh! That's good!" Monique laid her hand on Daria's shoulder. "Maybe you could swing over and sit in with the Harpies sometime, Daria. I could teach you a lot."

     Daria felt sweat spring forth on her palms.

     Jane sat at the foot of her bed, trapped between her sisters.

     "All men are dogs!" shouted Penny, into Jane's left ear. "Has he tried to get into your pants?"

     Summer looked at her, sympathetically. "It's okay to get laid, Jane." She leaned in close, then shouted into her right ear, "But only if you have a ring! A ring! If he really wants you, get him to stand up with you first!"

     Penny grabbed her arm. "Who is this guy, really? How well do you know him? Are you sure he's clean? Who knows where that thing's been!"

     Summer grabbed her other arm. "Tell me, has this guy got a job? When the stork comes, will he run for the border, like Steve?"

     The phone rang.

     Jane wrenched herself free of her family and snatched it up. "Hello?"

     Quinn was a little taken aback by the desperation in Jane's voice. "Hello, Jane, this is Quinn. I hope I didn't call at a bad time. I just have a quick question about paint and I-"

     "Oh no! Really? I'll be right over!" Jane hung up and looked at her sisters. "Sorry, gotta go. Big emergency at Quinn's!" She suddenly sprinted for the front door, just a blurry shape grabbing up her car keys on the way.

     After the front door had slammed, Summer looked over at Penny and grinned. "Damn, she's as fast as you! Do you think she believed any of that crap?"

     Penny shrugged. "Well, maybe she'll take a few precautions."

     Summer smirked. "Maybe. I've sicced the twins on her as much as I can today. If that doesn't make her think twice, nothing will." She picked up Jane's picture of Tom. "God, that guy is cute!"

     Penny nodded. "If I'd have met a guy that looked like that when I was her age, he'd have had me in the sack ten minutes later."

     Summer nodded her agreement. "Her age, hell! But those were the good old days."

     Jane pulled up to the Morgendorffer residence and knocked at the door.

     Jake answered. "Jane-O! Hi!" He stepped back to let her in, then remembered. "Daria isn't home."

     Jane smiled. "Well, I actually need to talk to Quinn for a minute."

     Jake brightened. "Well, Quinn is here. Come on in!" He led the way to the basement door, and opened it. "She's down there."

     Jane looked down, smelled fresh paint and heard Quinn cooing at one of the J's, scamming some more work out of him. She closed the door. "On second thought, If all of her little... friends are there, it can wait."

     Jake shrugged and walked ahead of her toward the living room. "So, what's up, Jane? You look a little depressed."

     Jane hung her head. "My whole family is at home. There's just no place to hide."

     "Again? I've been there before!" Jake shook his head, wincing at a memory. "A few years ago, all of Helen's sisters stayed with us over the Thanksgiving weekend. Well, if you want," he gestured at the TV, " an Emergency! marathon is on TV-Land right now."

     "Oh, good!" Jane sat. "I like that show."

     "Me too! I never saw it much back in the 70's, because we didn't have TV in the commune." Jake sat back, happily. He liked to have someone around to talk to. He had papers spread on the coffee table and his laptop booted up, but the work was almost done.

     "No TV! All those wholesome values. What a terrible place." Jane was joking.

     Jake grimaced. "It was okay. In some ways it was like military school, but instead of some fat old retired noncom screaming at you with his whisky breath it was always some 'movement' guy running his big mouth." Jake frowned. "Communist punks, always hitting on Helen. I'd drag 'em out behind the barn and show 'em who's the real reactionary pig. They couldn't give anyone that crap about the dialectic with a mouth-full of broken teeth!"

     Jane was interested. For an instant she'd glimpsed a much more dangerous Jake. The fiery tempered man that had undoubtedly attracted Helen. "Why did you stay?"

     Jake shrugged. "Helen was there. She finally saw through them and we left, together."

     Quinn looked around, happily. The walls were white, the room was bright and every thing was perfect. She stepped carefully, avoiding paint droplets, even though they were mostly dry, as she helped Jamie fold up the last of the tarps that had covered the floor while they painted.

     Jamie, the only one who had stayed the distance, put the paint roller in the plastic garbage bag and tied the neck. "Well, that looks like it will do, Quinn."

     Quinn eyed him. She had seen how he took the lead anytime something had to be figured out. Jeffy and then Joey had snuck away when the work got onerous, but Jamie had proven to be a perfectionist who seemed to enjoy the job for its own sake. She was glad to have had a chance to see him in his element. "Why don't you take off those coveralls and come over and sit on the couch with me?"

     Jamie stared at her in happy shock. Christmas had come again. "Sure!" He stepped out of his White Electric coveralls and followed Quinn to the couch.

     "Thanks for helping, Jamie. I knew that I could depend on you." Quinn turned on the TV. "Ooh! How does this thing work?" There was no antenna and no remote.

     Jamie plugged in the power brick for the old playback-only camcorder, pushed the play button and the screen cleared. An introduction came up and then South Park started.

     "Cool!" Jamie sat back.

     "Daria was watching this?" Quinn sat next to him and then with deliberate intent, leaned into him. "It's kind of cold in here with the windows open."

     Hesitantly, he put his arm around her. "I know a way to keep warm." He pulled off the old blanket that was laying over the torn upholstery on the back of the couch and tucked it in around them. "Comfy?"

     "Oh, yeah."

     Daria pulled up and saw Jane's car at the curb. When she got inside, she was surprised to see Jane and Jake, sitting at the table, locked in a deeply serious conversation. Jane looked almost like she'd been crying.

     "Hi Kiddo!" Jake smiled at his daughter. "Where have you been all day?" He saw Daria's sharp gaze on Jane and wanted to distract her. Jane didn't need to talk anymore.

     "I was at the mall." Daria eyed Jane and decided not to bother her with questions. Trent had already spilled the beans about her problems with Vincent. If there was anything that Jake knew, it was how to relate to a problem like that.

     Jane managed a nod. "Hey."

     Daria nodded at her in return. "Want to go watch some TV?"

     Jane shrugged. "I kind of lost track of time, here. I'd better get home before the pizza gets there." She smiled at Jake. "Thanks."

     "Hey, anytime, Jane-O!" Jake bustled away, to spare her any more embarrassment.

     Daria followed her out. "Is everything okay?"

     Jane nodded. "Jake really helped. He had some pretty cogent things to say about Vincent."

     Daria nodded in agreement. "He's pretty much been through that wringer. I guess if anyone could tell you how to get past it all, he could."

     Jane looked at her. "He hasn't really told you anything about it, Daria."

     Daria nodded. "Ruth did, when he had his heart attack."

     Jane looked surprised. "So you know about the beatings?"

     Daria's mouth sagged open.

     Jane shook her head. "He doesn't talk about it, but one reason that he got dumped into hotel hell was the old Mad Dog's enjoyment of a good beating after a night of drinking with his buddies. I guess that none of you really know much about Jake, Daria."

     "W- Why would he tell you?" Daria felt a little of anger that this... outsider knew more about her father than she did.

     Jane looked unutterably sad. "He was explaining why a man would walk out on his family. He said that those twists get passed down."

     Daria gazed at Jane in horror.

     Jane sighed, then straightened. "He made me understand about 'sins of the fathers' being visited on the child. He told me that if I ever want to understand why, I have to find out about Vincent's demon." She scowled "Mark Lane, the banker."

     Daria watched the car pull away, and then went to put some lotion on her sore fingers. Maybe there was such a thing as knowing too much. Jake's blundering began to look an awful lot like a man desperately controlling his inner monster. It came out, usually inappropriately, but never, ever physically, or directed at the family.

     Trent sat in the basement, playing with his acoustic, trying to drown out his sisters offspring. They had somehow bonded with him and he suddenly found himself in a quasi-parental role. Adrian had a set of Max.'s drumsticks and an old snare drum. Courtney had a rusty harmonica that he thought might be Daria's. The racket was indescribable, but sometimes they seemed to synch up with him, and for a brief moment, they'd be jamming.

     He saw Summer standing on the stairs, staring at Adrian. He stopped and after a moment, so did they.

     "Hey, Summer." He got up and unslung the guitar.

     Summer just shot him a look. "The pizza's ready!"

     Courtney dropped the harmonica, but Adrian reverently tucked his drumsticks into his belt before pelting up the stairs.

     "Thanks a whole bunch, Trent." She spun around and stalked out.

     Mystified, he followed, but she caught him again at the top of the stairs.

     "Trent, what the hell are you doing to my children?" Summer really had a head of steam up.

     Trent, knowing better than to answer an angry woman's question, replied with one of his own. "Why are they so interested in me?"

     "Why? Why! Because you're cool uncle Trent, the rock star! Steve is long gone, so you are the male relative that they," her voice dropped, "especially Adrian, adore! You have to be careful, Trent! Adrian does everything that he sees you do!"

     Trent gazed at her, thoughtfully. "I see. And you don't want him playing drum."

     Summer shuddered. "Being a telemarketer is bad enough without having a kid beating on a bucket all day long."

     Trent's eyes narrowed and then he grinned. "Don't worry, I'll take care of it."

     Summer looked at him curiously. "How?"

     Trent looked at her with messiahnistic intensity. "Trust me, Summer. He won't give a damn about the drumsticks."

     As they all settled down around the table, Amanda and Wind came in together. Wind announced his divorce from Margo. This time he seemed happy about it. His lawyers thought that he would come off pretty well in court, he crowed, as she seemed to have never been legally divorced from her first husband.

     "I caught her..." Wind looked at the children. "doing something wrong, so she's got no legs to stand on in court." He smiled.

     "Well thank god!" All three sisters said it simultaneously, then laughed.

     Penny smirked at Trent. "Well, what you ought to do, Wind, is follow Trent's lead. He just lets Jane pick out his girlfriends for him. I know someone who'd be perfect for you, but she lives in a village in Nicaragua."

     Wind laughed. "No fixups. Come on, the shrimp's a rocker. He probably has a million girlfriends and can't remember their names half the time."

     "No. Penny's right, Wind. You could do a lot worse." Trent smirked at Jane. "So who are you gonna get for him?"

     Wind stared at Trent, astonished. "What?"

     Amanda suddenly gasped, happily. "You and Daria? Oh, Trent, how sweet!"

     Gritting his teeth, Trent stoically endured the impromptu convocation of the inquisition. Only Vincent and Jane left him alone.

     After dinner, Jane followed Amanda out to her bomb shelter to try and find out a little bit about Mark Lane. All that Amanda would say about him was that the one time that they'd met, he'd been very cold and formal toward her and that Vincent had always refused to speak of him. He had cut all ties with his fathers family until the day that he'd been informed of Mark's death. He'd been so totally unmoved by the news that it had scared Amanda.

     Jane went to her room, and started her compressor. Soon, as she'd hoped, the noise brought Vincent to her door, anxious to have another conversation. She would oblige him.

     "Hi, Janey. What are you painting?"

     Jane shrugged. "You, if you'll sit for me."

     Vincent smiled, pleased. "Sure, baby!"

     He sat.

     "So, Daddy, do you know Beaureguard Lane?" Jane turned off the compressor and started mixing paint.

     Vincent looked pleased and uncomfortable. She'd called him 'daddy,' but asked about one of them. "Well, he's my uncle, my father's brother. Who told you about him?"

     "He called and apologized for that fiasco at the reunion in Lane. He seemed pretty nice." Jane had already been re-embursed for the money that she'd spent on the trip and then some.

     "They all have good manners." Vincent sounded like he was talking about vampires.

     "I guess he's my great uncle, then." Jane saw the flash of negation pass across his features.

     "He's nothing to you. Nothing!" Vincent sprang to his feet. "I should never have let Mom browbeat me into going to that sorry town."

     Jane pounced. "What did Mark Lane and his brother do to you that was so bad?"

     Vincent stared at her, an expression of cold fury growing on his face, until she swallowed in fear. Finally he spoke.

     "Those filthy... they killed Jan, my sister. Her full name was Jane Lane. She called herself Jan, in the third person, when she would talk. She only answered to Jan. I hate them for it. Both of them."

     Jane exhaled, feeling faint. "They... killed her?"

     Vincent spun suddenly, and began pacing, a vein in his neck throbbing. "As good as. Jan was beautiful, like you. She was also autistic, unable to speak coherently. My father was embarrassed by her. He ignored her, treated her like a thing." Vincent snorted. "Hell, he treated everyone like a thing. She was just a worthless, broken thing to him."

     He stopped pacing and stood still, looming over her. "Like all assholes, he was very concerned about his precious reputation. He would cringe every time one of his banker friends asked about her. Then the ultimate in bad taste happened. Even as little as she could communicate, she managed to find a lover when she was twenty. Another high level autistic. A man named Robert Parker that she met at her independent living class."

     Tears started in his eyes, then were burned away by the sheer force of his rage. "Jan would get happy sometimes and run around that friggin' mausoleum that we lived in, knocking things over. She was doing a lot of that, in those last days. Then he found out about her and Robert. She just disappeared, Jane. Mom was frantic. It was only after she called the police herself, a week later, that she found out that there was no investigation and that he'd been lying to her, all that time."

     Vincent collapsed back onto the bed. "He'd had her locked up. We couldn't even find her to go see her. He wouldn't talk to us about her, just emptied all of my mother's bank accounts and went off to Zurich to hide, while his fat ass brother ran legal interference for him in Connecticut."

     Jane exhaled. "No!"

     "Mom fired all the servants and sold the furniture to come up with enough money to hire a detective. I went with him to do legwork and keep expenses down. We finally found her in a private mental hospital in Fishkill, New York. We got a writ and they had to produce her."

     He inhaled, deeply. "They'd lobotomized her, Jane."

     Jane gasped.

     "She was nothing but a zombie after that, all the life gone out of her eyes. She was the living dead. She drowned in the bath tub, a week after we got her home. I'm... I think that Mom set it up and let it happen. A mercy killing. Jan really was a thing, after they'd butchered her mind."

     Jane started crying. She held on to him tightly, feeling the tremors of rage passing through him.

     "Mom eventually forgave the worthless bastard, but I never will. After the funeral, I hitchhiked west, out to Frank's place in Venice Beach. That was the summer of 68, when I was seventeen."

     Jane blew her nose and tried to control her sobbing.

     He sighed, less heated now. "I only saw him once after that, in a lawyers office when my trust fund was turned over to me. My grandfather had made Mark and Beaureguard the trustees and they did a good job, investing it in the war."

     Jane shook. "How could they do that to her? Didn't anyone care?"

     He shook his head. "It was a bad time, Jane. Dead kids were coming back from 'Nam every day and no one knew what to do. Bad things were happening to everyone and one poor girl that couldn't talk... Well, he was a very powerful man. She was just one more sad story in a world full of them."

     Jane took his hand. "I'm glad that you named me after her."

     He smiled. "You're a lot like her, Jane. Always happy, always self contained. I've always felt... more connected with you, wherever I was. I guess it was just a fantasy, but I always kind of thought that she'd come back to me, in you." He shrugged. "That's why I accidentally called you Jan. Being so close to one of them made me think of her."

     Jane smiled through her tears. "What did you do in California?"

     He looked at her, fondly. "I grew up a little. I stayed with Frank and finished high school. I met Amanda there. We were both in the photography club and she was my favorite subject for composition."

     Jane smiled.

     He pulled a Kleenex out of the box and dried the tears on her face.

     He frowned. "Then I got my draft card. I didn't have money for college, Jane. That meant no rich-boy exemption from the draft. Frank was close to broke, so he couldn't help. He talked to my dad and there wasn't any hope there. Dad used his veto over my fund to try to force me back home. It was come home and suck up, or go to Vietnam."

     He shook his head. "I just couldn't do it. After high school, I kept signing up for college and not showing up. Berkley never reported that I wasn't a student, so I had an exemption for a while. The thing is, they always checked up. I got a job changing tires at a truck stop and waited for the inevitable."

     Jane's eyes widened. "You weren't in college?"

     He shook his head. "Not then. Things were rough, Jane. We went to your uncle Trent's army funeral the same week that I graduated and they announced an increase in the draft. I was pretty much resigned to taking my chances over there, but Amanda found me a way out."

     Jane was leaning forward, wrapped up in the story. "How! What did she do?"

     "She was just seventeen, still in high school, but she was smart. After losing her brother, she looked up all the rules for the draft and saw that married men with kids weren't being taken." He smiled. "She went after me like... well, a few weeks later she was pregnant with Wind. We went to a judge and got married. Things were tight, but we were happy. I got my draft letter right after Wind was born and they had to let me go."

     He frowned, remembering how they had tried to pressure him into signing the waver at the induction center. He'd been hard muscled from his job and had threatened to break a colonel's nose.

     Jane sighed. "That's a great story, daddy."

     He smiled. "Yes, it is. Anyway, things went pretty well for us after that. I worked hard, got a lawyer and got control of the fund. Dad wasn't so respected after the thing with Jan. He got really sick, had a run of bad luck and made some political enemies. He lost a lot of clout after the election, that year. I finally beat him in court."

     "Did you ever speak with him again?"

     Vincent seemed to deflate. "He called me up and cursed me, the night he died. I've never told anyone about that before."

     Jane looked at him, stricken. "No..."

     He shrugged. "Not all stories have happy endings."

     Trent went into his room and reached under his bed. He pulled out his first guitar, the one his Uncle Frank had given him when he was just ten. He took it out of it's case, dusted it off, went over the wood with some polish, restrung it and started tuning it up, waiting for the inevitable visit from Adrian. Courtney preferred to visit with Amanda and Penny, out in the bomb shelter.

     This guitar had kept him busy and out of trouble when all the kids around him were running wild. He hoped that it would do the same for Adrian. He heard a hesitant little knock at the door and smiled.

     "I'm passing the torch here, Uncle Frank. Hope you're happy, wherever you are," he whispered, on his way to the door. Frank, a poor musician all his life, had died when Trent was just fourteen.

     Quinn heard Daria playing as she approached the basement door. She'd never really listened to Daria before, but her playing was pretty good. She smiled, remembering how years before, Daria had 'tortured' her with her old guitar by singing 'The Mighty Quinn' to her. With hindsight, she wondered why she'd been so horrified and embarrassed. Quinn suddenly felt sad. She could have had a friend and confidant all those years.

     Descending the staircase, Quinn didn't turn on the new lights, not wanting to disturb Daria.

     Daria came to the end of her exercise and shook her tired hand.

     Quinn startled her, applauding. "God, Daria, you're really good! Are you going to join Trent's band?"

     Daria laughed. "No way, Quinn. Band mates fight all the time. I want to keep him for myself."

     Quinn shrugged. "I can understand that." She turned on a lightswitch, filling the room with brilliant light.

     "Ugh, I feel like I'm being x-rayed," said Daria, squinting.

     Quinn flipped a switch, turning off two of the lights. "That's a little better." She walked into the middle of her new empire and swept her arms out. "Well, Daria, I did my part."

     Daria sat her guitar down. "What do you want from me?"

     "I want a virtual store." Quinn waved an arm at the sewing machines. "Here's how it works. We make cute outfits, take pictures of them and sell them over the Internet. You build the store so they can get a look and I'll sell everything that we can make, with my site and column."

     Daria smiled at her. "Careful, Quinn. Your brain is showing." She looked at the tables, thinking. "I'll have to diagram this out on a bunch of notepads. We need to break the process down into steps and then work on each step."

     Quinn nodded. "Well, if you need my help, I'll be right here." She sat down at a sewing machine with a couple of blue sheets. "I need to practice. I'm going to make a cover for that couch. Stacy can't do it all, and I'm not that good at it."

     Daria smirked. "I'd have thought that you'd have those three goons down here, learning to sew."

     Quinn flushed. "Well, I thought of it... but I can't, now. Two goons, please. I'm going steady with Jamie."

     Daria started coughing. "Whaaat?"

     Quinn frowned and crossed her arms defensively. "Well, you were having a good time, having a boyfriend. Why not me? Don't I deserve to be happy too?"

     Daria got control of her Larynx. "Yes! Sure Quinn, I'm not... well It's just a shock."

     Quinn frowned. "Why?"

     Daria shrugged. "No reason."

     "Daria, tell me why it's a shock!"

     Daria shrugged again, unwillingly. "Remember how you used to taunt me all the time for never dating, by hinting that I was a lesbian, where Mom could hear?"

     Quinn flushed. "I'm really sorry about all that. It's hard sometimes, but I like that we don't have to fight all the time anymore."

     Daria nodded. "Likewise, so please don't take offense at what I'm going to say. I was beginning to suspect that you-"

     "No!" Quinn stared, then giggled, then laughed herself red faced. "Wait till Jamie hears about this!"

     Daria shrugged, embarrassed. "Well, so maybe I was a little wide of the mark. People usually attack you out of their own weakness. A stupid person will call you stupid, a coward will taunt you for being afraid... They project their own weakness when they attack. So when you started that lesbian thing, it made me wonder."

     Quinn stared at her, lost in thought. "That's true! Tiffany always calls people fat, and Sandi calls them tacky." She smirked. "I wish I'd known them in grade school. I wonder if Lawndale Middle School has pictures..."

     Daria smiled and played the opening riff of The Mighty Quinn.

     Quinn laughed aloud. "I don't know why that ever bothered me so much."

     Daria shrugged. "It was probably my singing."

     Quinn shook her head. "You sing fine. Better than me, anyway."

     Daria smiled, in her understated way. "Thanks."

     Quinn shook her head. "Sandi said all that lesbian stuff about you, first. I was just needling you, using her words. She was always using you to get at me. Saying how you and Jane were lesbians and all. That was stupid, even then. Jane checks out every guy that walks by. Even then, you broke out in hives every time Trent looked at you."

     Quinn looked at her, curiously, wondering how far Daria had gone with Trent. "Still, I dated a lot of guys. Why would you even wonder about that?" Quinn cocked her head at Daria and schemed. Maybe she could get Daria to talk about her sex life.

     "Well, it was the sheer number of losers that you date. You never seemed to distinguish between them. I mean, come on, Quinn, you wanted to date Kevin! I would sooner date Upchuck than that moron."

     Quinn shrugged. "Daria, you don't know what it's like. Not everyone is as lucky as you. You move to Lawndale, find this great friend with a totally dreamy brother, get to know him really well without any pressure and then one day you hook right up! What about the rest of us? We have to date six losers a week, just to try and get to know someone."

     Daria nodded. "I guess you're right. That's why I never really bothered. I just don't see dating as a way to get to know someone. First you get to know them. Then you date and see if you could love them."

     Quinn nodded in agreement. "I've dated Jamie at least a dozen times. I never thought much of him until I saw him taking charge in the basement. He's like Trent. He's got something going for him. I really like Jamie. Why shouldn't I go steady? Fending off six losers a week is getting boring. Besides, all that dating of losers was starting to turn me off of men. How'd you like a lesbian sister for real?"

     "Well, I wouldn't disown you or anything. I'd rather you weren't, though." Daria chuckled. "I guess that you could join the Harpies and keep Monique far away from me, then."

     "Monique? Isn't that Trent's ex girlfriend?"

     "Yes. The Harpies are her band. She apparently swings both ways, now." Daria shuddered. "She's being very friendly, lately. She used to get my name wrong all the time. Now she's putting her hands on me and calling me sweetie pie, and honey, telling me that she can teach me things."

     Quinn's jaw dropped. "Ewwww! I guess that outfit has more going for it than I thought."

     Daria looked at the ceiling, unhappily. "I still think that she's trying to stay close to Trent."

     Quinn looked less than surprised. "Well duh, Daria."

     Daria looked at her in surprise. "You don't think that I'm being paranoid, or bigoted?" She implicitly trusted Quinn's social instincts.

     "No." Quinn eyed her sister, shrewdly. Daria was too passive sometimes. "She misses him. She'll try to be your friend so that she can keep him in sight. When you have your first fight, she'll move in on one and console the other. She probably wants a threesome."

     "Well I don't go in for that sick stuff! It's ...degrading!" Daria stood, angrily. "What if she's... better in bed? What if he gets bored?" I've got some serious research to conduct, she thought.

     "So, you are having sex with Trent!"

     Daria flushed as she realized what she'd just admitted. "No comment. I'm going to get to work on the website, now."

     "I always thought that I'd be first." Quinn shook her head at her departing sister. Still waters ran deep. "God, Daria, I hope you're taking precautions. I'm too young to be an aunt."

     Daria smiled back at her. "Don't worry about it."

     Bingo, thought Quinn.

     She was fitting the blue cover onto the couch, when she heard Jake yelling that her friends were here. The door opened, and Sandi poked her long nose down the stairs.

     "Like, Quinn, are you down there?"

     "That guy... said she was."

     That guy. Quinn wrinkled her nose. Tiffany had been to her house a hundred times, had been introduced to Jake and seen him around at least a dozen times, yet she still called him that guy. "I'm right down here, Sandi."

     Sandi descended the stairs and inspected the place. "This is pretty good, Quinn."

     "Thanks." Quinn wondered what was eating Sandi. There'd been no catty remarks yet. "Would you like to sit down?"

     Sandi and Tiffany sat on the couch and Quinn sat on Daria's amp.

     "What's that thing?" Sandi looked at the amp, puzzled. "A radio?"

     Quinn shook her head. "That's the amplifier to my sister's electric guitar."

     Tiffany looked startled. "You haave a... sister?"

     "Daria." Quinn looked into Sandi's eyes and was surprised to find nothing but amusement at Tiffany's dimness there.

     Tiffany looked up at her. "That one girl that lives here with you?"

     "Surprise! She announced it in that assembly last year. Remember?" Quinn shook her head, exasperated. She wanted to get back to work.

     "Come on Tiffany, it was just a joke. Of course Daria's her sister. She announced it. She has the same name. She lives here. Like, get a clue." Sandi and Quinn looked at each other in a moment of perfect non verbal communication.

     "Tiffany... Have you ever thought about going to the doctor to find out why... you read so slow?" Sandi wondered about her. She seemed to be getting dumber and dumber.

     "I'm not... stupid." Tiffany smiled thinly. "I'm just... stoned."

     "Whaaat!" Both girls stared, wondering if it could be true.

     "I toke up every day... from my... stepdad's stash. It helps me like... maintain." She stretched, languidly. "You guys are like sooo fucking boring."

     Quinn slowly toppled off of the amplifier and started laughing.

     Sandi stared, then also began to laugh. She hee hawed like a mule, setting Quinn off even more. After a while, Tiffany started to giggle. She had a hard time stopping, once she got started.

     After a few minutes, Quinn laughed herself out. "So, anyone else? I told about my sister, Tiffany told about being a total stoner, what about you?"

     Sandi flushed. "I like, don't have any secrets."

     Quinn gave her a look of calf-like innocence. "I called you a few times this week. Your brother said that you were with some guy. Are you dating in the afternoon, now?"

     Sandi's flush deepened. Charles had gotten right through all of her defenses. He wouldn't go away now and honestly, she didn't really want him to. For all of her posturing, she often had real trouble getting a date at all. No one dated her twice. "Like, why are we even talking about this? We're going to the mall to check out the new fashions. Are you coming?"

     Quinn looked at her and smiled. She had a weapon of last resort now. "Oh, Sandi, I'm like, sooo sorry, but I have to stay here and help Daria with the website. I promised! You go on. Hey, you can tell us all about it at the meeting!"

     Grateful for Quinn's forbearance, Sandi left with most of her arrogance intact.

     Daria ordered the dress. Her Visa was accepted and the transaction approved. She checked the orders file and saw that it had been correctly appended. Then she checked the data base and saw that the whole business cycle had been entered correctly. She spent the rest of the day checking the secure server layer and trying to induce a mistake, but she didn't find a problem. She finished that evening.

     Jodie knocked on the door.

     Helen answered, with a surprised smile. "Hello, Jodie. How are you?"

     Jodie gave her a polite smile back. "Hi, Mrs. Morgendorffer. Is Daria here?"

     Helen shook her head, regretfully. "Sorry. She went somewhere with her sister."

     Jodie shrugged in disappointment. "I should have called."

     Helen smiled. "I'll tell her you stopped by." She was glad to see that Daria was widening her circle of friends.

     "I heard that she had a boyfriend." Jodie was fishing. Rumors were swirling around Daria. Jodie was very curious.

     Helen's eyes narrowed. "Yes. Daria has an admirer." Her tone indicated that she wasn't exactly thrilled about it.

     Jodie was happy to get a little information. "Do you know where they went?"

     Helen shook her head. "All I know is that she took Quinn somewhere. Would you like to come in and wait?"

     Jodie shook her head. "No, I'd better be getting back."

     Helen smiled. "If you like, I could have her call you when she gets back. I'm telecommuting today, so I'll be around."

     "Sure." Jodie smiled her thanks. "See you later then, Mrs. Morgendorffer."

     "Bye, Jodie." She closed the door and went back to the table. Her office was being moved, so she'd stayed home today. She'd decided to take Jake's advice and get a game plan. With all these people working for her, the whole job had changed. She had to get them to produce. Her days of being in competition with people inside the firm were over. Now she must lead.

     Helen went back to her research. She had several pamphlets on surrogate mothers and a stack of legal opinions outlining the hazards of such a contract. There was no way that she could take the time to bear another baby herself, but she could definitely afford to hire someone else to do it. After all, if it was hers genetically, what was the difference? It was a whole new century. Test tube babies would soon be the norm. It was unskilled labor after all. Several nearby clinics were in the business. She could easily live fifty more years and she had always wanted a boy. Immersed in her research, she forgot all about Jodie.

     Daria stared at Quinn and Jane. "Let me get this straight. Part of this thing is that I'm going to have to model?"

     Jane nodded. "You got it. I'm going to start with three dresses. Each dress will be the first in a line. Yours will be called Daria's collection. There'll also be Quinn's closet and Stacy's line."

     Sourly, Daria spoke up. "How about Jane's stinking laundry pile?"

     Jane shrugged. "Whatever sells. I can't seem to design for myself. Stacy says that she will, though. I'll be there along with you. And it's Jane's Stuff, although I like the laundry pile idea."

     Quinn piped up, "We'll do our parts. You should be ready to do yours. You are the manager, Daria. I-"

     "Hold it!" Daria looked at her sister. "I'll help with the paperwork and the computer. I'll even model, God help me. But this is your show, Quinn. You're the prime mover. Face it, Sis. You are the manager."

     Quinn looked a little deflated. "But... you're the smart one. You can-"

     "I know absolutely nothing about the clothing business. You're the one with the expertise, Quinn. And I might be smart, but then, so are you." Daria gave Quinn one of her rare smiles.

     "Sorry to break up this little hallmark moment, Daria, but you just passed Stacy's street." Jane was exultant. She had already planned a whole series of dresses around Daria. She had seen Quinn's website, with its busy message board. She was really beginning to think that she could make some money out of this.

     Trent sat on his stool, his feet aching. He'd been selling guitars and drum sets like crazy. His hand hurt from demonstrating guitars. Suddenly hands covered his eyes.

     "Daria?" He smiled in anticipation.

     "Guess again!" Monique giggled as he pulled away.

     "Monique! Cut that out. Daria will go nuts." Trent, back on his feet, grimaced in irritation.

     Monique sat on his stool and smirked. "Sorry. So, what's this I hear about you doing a commercial?"

     Trent leaned on the counter and frowned. "Where did you hear about that?"

     "A friend of a friend knows the producer." She smiled. "I heard that your little girlfriend sang."

     "She's big enough for me." Trent wondered what she wanted.

     "She said that Daria was good." Monique smirked. "We're always looking for a few good women in the Harpies."

     Trent shook his head. "Daria's not into all that gender bender crap, Monique. I don't think that she'd ever go for the Harpies."

     Monique shrugged. "I never thought I would, either, but we're changing our image. We're getting away from the lezzy look, moving toward a more Femme fatal type of thing."

     Trent frowned. The news that Monique had become a lesbian had left him with decidedly mixed feelings. "Won't that piss off your fans?"

     "What fans?" Monique sighed. "This Lesbian thing isn't as popular as they say."

     Trent shrugged. "Whatever does it for you, Monique."

     "Hey, I really appreciate you handing out those cards for me." Monique smiled at him, knowing exactly what he was thinking. She was making a pretty good living teaching guitar. Trent was a good friend. She sometimes wished that she'd tried a little harder with him.

     Trent saw a customer. "Whoop, gotta go. Maybe this guy will turn into another student for you."

     She shrugged. "Go get 'em, Trent."

     Monique was watching him expertly sell a keyboard, when suddenly she felt hostile eyes on her. She turned around and saw Jane and another woman who looked a lot like her, watching from outside the store.

     Jane stared at Monique, expressionlessly. When she had her full attention, Jane nudged Penny and walked over.

     Trent saw his sisters and waved, still dealing with the customer.

     "Hey, Jane, Who's your friend?" Monique noted the nearly identical hairstyles.

     Jane smirked, unpleasantly. "Monique, this is my sister, Penny. Penny, this is Monique, the woman that Trent turned into a lesbian."

     Penny raised her eyebrows at the hostility, then curtly greeted Monique. "Hiya."

     Monique stared at Jane for a moment, then forced a laugh. "Pleased to meet you, Penny. Any sister of Trent's is okay with me."

     Penny nodded, sensing undercurrents of dislike running between the two. "Buying something today?"

     Monique shook her head. "No, just dropping off some cards. I get guitar students from Trent." She put some cards on the counter.

     Jane spoke up. "Monique's a Harpy."

     Penny laughed. "Pretty harsh, wouldn't you say, Monique?"

     Monique laughed along, uneasily. "My group. We're the Harpies."

     "Sort of a younger, female version of Iggy Pop and the Stooges." Jane was both accurate and subtly insulting.

     "Yeah. Hey! There goes Jesse! Well, gotta run. See you, Jane. Nice to meet you Penny. Tell Trent I said toodleoo" She left, avoiding Trent.

     Penny gazed after her. "That's one mixed up little chick."

     Jane snorted. "Her bones are going to get mixed up if she keeps this up."

     Penny shrugged. "Your friend ought to let Monique work her wiles. If Trent falls, then she doesn't have much invested. If he doesn't, then she knows that he's got a real jones for her."

     "Now that sounds like the voice of experience."

     Penny looked briefly sad. "Yeah, Sissy, bad experience."

     "Jesus! Don't call me that!" Jane looked around, fearfully. "If Daria ever hears that... well, it won't be pleasant."

     Penny smiled. "Sorry... Janey."

     They watched Trent handling a flurry of customers.

     "I'd have never imagined that he was actually employable," Penny mused.

     "It's probably the only straight job that he could ever hold down." Jane smiled at him. "He's really a great guy."

     Penny nodded. "Yeah. That car... It's better than mine. It's strange seeing you guys, now. I guess he was about fourteen when I left." She watched him field an inordinate number of questions from a good looking woman. "How well does he like this Daria?"

     Jane shrugged. "He seems to care what she thinks. I don't know, Penny. They seem happy. Daria adores him. He seems to feel the same way. I think that they're good for each other."

     Penny shrugged. "She's young."

     Jane started to speak, then checked. "She's still not very secure with him. Daria's got a real temper, and she's the most stubborn human being that I've ever met. If he really pisses her off, it would mean bye-bye Daria."

     Penny nodded. "That will pass."

     Trent walked over. "You guys are doing wonders for my reputation. Jerry thinks that I have a harem."

     Penny and Jane laughed.

     "Who's Jerry?" Penny had noticed a man way off on the other side of the store surreptitiously watching her. He looked like a Jerry.

     Trent saw her looking. "That's Jerry. Want an introduction, sis? He's your age, divorced, no girlfriend, no kids, good job, no drugs, never been arrested, doesn't smoke and is as lonely as hell."

     "How do you know all that?" Jane was taken aback.

     Trent shrugged. "This store won't hire you if you're not bondable. If he had a bunch of monkeys on his back, he'd have never been made manager."

     Penny thought of her failing business back in Nicaragua. She had nothing to go back to but an increasingly lonely and precarious living. She'd been thinking of moving back to Lawndale, ever since she'd seen all the help wanted ad's in the paper. "Sure."

     "When he's done with the customer." He looked at Jane. "I thought you were out shopping with Daria today."

     Jane shrugged. "I was. I got everything I needed at the first store, then saw Penny across the street. Quinn and her friend wanted to go all the way to Stamford, so I ditched them. Daria's going to be pissed, but she'd be pissed anyway, having to shop with Quinn."

     "Come on, Daria, just one more stop." Quinn was busily sorting through her list. She had already visited all five of Stamford's fabric stores and she wanted to visit the one in Lawndale again.

     Daria pulled off of the freeway, taking the downtown Lawndale exit. "Oh, alright."

     Stacy, who had been quiet since they left the city, finally spoke. "Is it true that you and Trent Lane are going out?"

     Daria looked at her through the rear view mirror. "Sometimes." Daria smirked to herself. She much preferred staying in. Taking pity on Stacy, she amplified her comments. "We go to the Zen, sometimes."

     Stacy smiled. "I saw him playing there, once."

     "My condolences."

     "I thought he was pretty hot."

     Daria smiled and stopped at a traffic light. "Yeah, me too." She dug into her memory. "Whatever happened with that guy, what was his name... Bret Strand?"

     Stacy teared up. "He... he never called. I don't understand it."

     Daria shrugged, uncomfortably. She was doubly cursed with empathy and intelligence. "Not everyone has to like each other. And that's a good thing, Stacy. What if you had a big romance with the guy and then found someone better?"

     Stacy looked thoughtful. "I did. But, you know. I still want people to like me. Don't you?"

     Daria frowned in puzzlement. "Do I like you, or do I want people to like me?"

     Stacy shrugged. "Well, both."

     Daria blinked. "Look Stacy, you have to stop worrying about these things. Like the old song says, 'You can't please everyone, so you've got to please yourself.'" She looked back in the mirror and relented. "I like you well enough. If someone doesn't like me, well, to hell with them."

     Stacy sighed. "I can't be like that."

     Quinn broke in, irritated, "Well, what do you care what Bret thinks? You have Ted, now. Besides, Bret's a jerk!"

     Stacy shrugged, unwillingly. "Still..."

     "Still what? Are you going to let every jerk that comes along get to you? Come on, Stacy, tell us what you really think of him." Quinn had wanted to say that for a long time.

     Stacy sighed. "Bret... Bret was a real ...creep." Her voice grew stronger. "He lied to me, t-took advantage and really made me feel like... shit. I hate him!"

     "See? Didn't that feel good? Now you know the power of the dark side, my young apprentice. Your next lesson will be the application of sarcasm." Daria looked at an amused Quinn and smirked.

     Stacy smiled uncertainly. "I guess it really wasn't my fault after all."

     Quinn leaned back in her seat. "Fault? If you run over someone, that's your fault. Someone not liking you is like the weather. It's no ones fault. It's just how it is. I don't like short guys. It's not their fault."

     Stacy suddenly looked worried.

     "What's the matter now?" Daria was curious and surprised at how adept Quinn was at pinpointing the issue.

     Stacy shrugged. "It's my birthday next month. "I'm getting a car. I hope I don't run anyone over."

     Quinn smiled. "Oh, how cool!" Inwardly, she seethed with jealousy.

     Daria, making a right, said, "Well, good. Maybe you could take Quinn on these safaris from now on."

     Stacy perked up. "Sure!"

     Daria glanced at Quinn. "Not that I mind, really."

     Quinn smiled at her, gratefully, then looked back at Stacy. "I wish that I hadn't taken the car. Now I have to wait until I'm eighteen to drive."

     Stacy looked suitably sympathetic. "How did you get caught? You never said."

     Quinn reddened. "Dad had about thirty unpaid parking tickets. He's in a big fight with the city. The police ran the plate when I made an illegal lane change and pulled me over. I got busted, Dad came to get me and he got busted, then Mom came and bailed us out. Now my license is suspended and Mom won't do anything about it."

     Daria smiled. "Our parents are legendary to local law enforcement. They cringe whenever my Dad passes them. Usually at about warp eighty."

     Stacy smiled politely. "Oh? Why is that?"

     "Dad drives like Eviel Kenevel on speed. Mom loves suing the county and state. She likes traffic court. Says that it gives her the thrill of criminal law without having to associate with criminals." Daria smirked. "She ties the policemen in knots. Besides, she says that she could make a good living on her own now, with the experience that she's gotten."

     Stacy nodded politely. "It must be strange, having a lawyer for a mom. My mom's an office manager."

     Daria shrugged. "Having no basis for comparison, I couldn't say." She looked back at Stacy. "So, you're dating Ted. Does he still act like he just landed here from planet Zero?"

     Stacy giggled. "Yes. He said that you took him out, once."

     Daria frowned. "I wouldn't call that a date. He ended up playing on the virtual reality gizmo all night."

     "It took him weeks to figure out what he'd done wrong." Stacy sighed in relief. "I'm so glad that you dumped him. I really like him."

     Daria shrugged. "I didn't dump him. I never picked him up, so he couldn't be dumped, Stacy. It was a non-dumping situation. We just went our separate ways."

     Stacy laughed. "Well, he thought he'd been dumped and dumped hard. He treats me like a queen because of that. I've never had a guy so... attentive to me, before."

     Daria looked at her, thoughtfully. She wondered how far Stacy had gone, just to please some guy. It could explain a lot about her reaction to Bret.

     Penny sat at the table in the food court, waiting for Jerry to close up, leafing through the paper. The local economy was really booming. She thought of her kiln back home and her tourist knick knack business and tried to feel enthusiastic about it. She couldn't.

     Absently, she circled an ad. She decided to see how good of a job she could get. After all, she was a college graduate. She had degrees in political science and history. Being a Nicaraguan potter no longer seemed like a very noble thing. Maybe she needed to look after herself, for a change. Let the comrades get on with the dope smuggling without her.

     Dope was the only good business in the whole lousy country. The tourists that she saw usually weren't interested in souvenirs. They usually wanted large pots, with false bottoms, for export.

     Jerry Lake locked the grating and set the alarm, gulping nervously in anticipation of dinner with Penny. It had been a very long dry spell for him. After the divorce, he'd been so gun-shy that he'd avoided women like they were plague rats. He'd grown short of breath when Trent had introduced Penny. They'd been talking, all day.

     Daria sat rigid on the Lane couch, next to Trent. She had an idea of what was coming, so when the commercial aired, she was able to keep her composure.

     "Alright Daria and Trent!" Jane added her voice to the congratulations coming in from everyone else.

     Adrian, showing a streak of pure, deliberate evil, asked Daria, "Are you going to marry Uncle Trent?"

     Daria colored. "Usually, people wait until they get asked, before answering questions like that, Adrian."

     Undeterred, Adrian forged ahead. "But if he asked, what would you say?"

     "I'd say that smart people don't answer hypothetical questions." Daria narrowed her eyes at him. "Or ask them."

     Courtney, just as precociously evil, exchanged a sly glance with her brother, assumed a look of stunning innocence and said, "Can we call you Auntie Daria?"

     Daria swallowed.

     "Alright! Time for bed, you two!" A grinning Summer hustled them away, while the rest of the Lanes quickly found something more interesting to do.

     The doorbell, newly repaired by Vincent, rang. Amanda led Tom into the living room, chatting with him.

     "Tom!" Jane flew to him and kissed him. A little hurt at his low key reaction, she drew back. Then she put it down to her mothers presence. "I see you've already met my mom, Amanda."

     Tom smiled. "Yes, she was just telling me that Daria had gone Hollywood on us."

     Daria looked away from Trent. "Hey, Tom."

     Trent laughed. "Yeah. The Ballad of Happy Herb, the Movie."

     Tom smirked. "You know, that jingle's also on the radio. I heard it this morning. Congratulations, Trent, Daria." He wondered why Daria looked so embarrassed.

     "Let me get my coat." Jane ran up stairs and Tom gazed appreciatively after her.

     Trent and Daria sat on the couch in the basement, kissing.

     "So, you never really answered Adrian." Trent teased her a little.

     Daria thought quickly. Punishment was due and Trent was the closest Lane. "Oh, Trent! I'm so happy. Who would of thought that you would propose so soon. And in such a novel way. Yes. I accept! Let's do it early tomorrow morning, at the Chapel O' Love, over in Clarkeston. They've even got ordained celebrity impersonators and it's darn cheap! Just think, we could be married by Buddy Holly or even Elvis! That way, we can get the honeymoon over before school starts. We'll just elope, and surprise everyone!"

     Trent gasped, then started coughing, violently. After a moment, he fell silent. He'd been planning on it someday, but it was way too soon. Thinking of the fat paycheck that he was getting, he wondered what would happen if they did.

     Daria almost burst a blood vessel, holding in her laughter. "Are you all right there, Sugarlips?" She let a little Texas twang emerge in her speech.

     Trent glanced at her, his eyes filled with suspicion. "Well, goood, babycakes! Hey, lets just stay up all night so that we're ready, first thing in the morning!"

     Daria locked eyes with him and they both started laughing.

     Trent shook his head. "You really got me, Daria."

     "Your sister's little brats really got me, so we're even."

     He shook his head. "Those kids need an exorcist. Whatever you do, never ever fall asleep where they can get at you."

     Daria smirked. "Adrian clearly worships you. I think he's a little jealous of all the attention that I'm getting."

     Trent frowned. "I'm really worried about him, Daria. He's at the age where he could go either way."

     Daria looked closely at him, not wearing her glasses, and saw that he was seriously worried. "What's wrong?"

     Trent sighed. "It's Summer. She can't control Adrian at all, any more. The poor kid tries to latch onto any guy that he meets, looking for someone to... well, be. If he runs into a bad kid, that's just a little older... I can just see him, getting used, ending up in jail, or worse."

     Daria hugged him. He wasn't oblivious at all. "He needs a dad. Where's his?"

     Trent frowned. "He's off chanting in some airport somewhere. He joined this weird cult called the Perfects. He was suppose to stay pure and celibate while the Master took Summer for a test drive once a week. Summer went to see them to try and talk him out of it, got called into the divine presence and ended up trying to castrate the Holy One with a nail file."

     Daria laughed. "That could get you in deep Dutch with the inquisition. No indulgences for Summer!"

     Trent shrugged. "Now she's banned from the whole religion, along with every living Lane. We're supposed to be a family of demons and succubae. Evil incarnate. The Perfect Master pisses his pants when he thinks of her."

     "So, the secret of your charm, reveled." Daria snuggled close. "Those poor kids."

     "It's no life for them, living in a forty foot trailer, moving every six months. No wonder they run away all the time." He sighed. "Not everyone gets good people like Jake and Helen in the parental lottery, Daria."

     Daria shrugged. "I don't know, Trent. Mom's gone right off of her rocker. She wants a boy before she gets too old, but doesn't want to go through another pregnancy." She looked up at Trent. "She's going to hire some woman to carry the baby, Trent. It'll be conceived in a test tube and put into a surrogate."

     Trent whistled. "What does work like that pay?"

     Daria shrugged. "She suggested thirty thousand. The surrogate would hang around for about a year after conception. Long enough to breast feed, then get her final check and a hearty 'get lost.'"

     Trent grimaced. That was more information than he really wanted. "How do you hire someone for a job like that?"

     Daria shrugged. "That's the lucky part. None of the clinics will get involved in that aspect of it. You have to find the surrogate yourself. My mom is so obsessive that she'll find something wrong with every single candidate that answers a want ad. I'll be long gone by the time she really does it. Quinn can spend the next two years changing diapers."

     Upstairs, Summer lay on the bed in her old room, head by the heater vent, listening to Daria and Trent's voices carry up through the duct. Frowning, plans flashing through her agile mind, she pulled a calculator out of her purse and started punching buttons.

     Trent was right. Things had to change for Adrian. He needed a man in his life, worse than she did. Steve was long gone, but Trent was right here in Lawndale. The Jones place across the street was for rent. She was sure that her parents wouldn't mind her staying for a while, but she had to have a place of her own.

     Selling the fifth wheel would net about twenty thousand. Steve's father had paid almost thirty for it. Plenty to get into the Jones place. She could run her telemarketing business from there, which would easily cover rent. But with thirty thousand... She could finally finish up and get her DDS. She really wanted to be a wealthy dentist. Then maybe she could afford to track down Rick, get a good lawyer and get her other two daughters back from their rich grandparents. With a jailbird son like Rick, they couldn't be very good parents.

     Fetching the phonebook, she looked up the Morgendorffers.

     New years day was hectic for Daria. She spent the night at the Zen with Trent, Jane and Tom. Trent was happy, having finally gotten a gig for Mystik Spiral. The crowd liked the new sound, calling for more. When the clock counted down and the lights stayed on, everyone went home in disappointment. Daria never did make it home that night.

     "No" Daria set her face, stubbornly.

     "But Daaariiia, you can't model without a makeover! We want to sell the dresses." Quinn managed to take entirely the wrong tack.

     Stacy fluttered her hands in distress. "But ... you can look really good!"

     Daria shook her head, stubbornly. "I already look fine, thank you. I only agreed to let you take pictures because of a fit of temporary insanity and because you guys did all that sewing."

     Quinn glared. "You're going to ruin everything!"

     Daria shook her head. "If it's such a big deal, you do it."

     Jane came in. "Trouble in the ranks?"

     Quinn glared at Daria. "I told you that she'd back out!"

     "Hey!" Daria stepped back. "I don't believe this. I didn't volunteer to become some Barbie doll. I like my eyebrows the way that they are. Bring on the dress, but I won't get painted up like a.. a-"

     "Model." Jane walked over. "If you want to back out, I suppose that there's nothing that we can do."

     "Come on, Jane! You know that wearing makeup isn't ... she trailed off, as she remembered that Jane wore makeup.

     Jane smirked. "What were you going to say?"

     Daria shrugged. "Honest."

     "Like your little homework racket?" Jane knew that Daria was on the ropes. The real reason that she didn't want to wear makeup was fear. Daria wore her identity like a flag. On the surface, she was as hard as steel and as cold. But Jane, being one of the few people that had seen behind the facade, knew that a real soft touch lived under all that cynical armor.

     Daria scowled. "I just don't see why it's necessary. I'm the only plain one here. Why make me parade around in makeup? Why not let Quinn do it?"

     Jane smirked. "That's what Bridgett Bardot said."

     "Ga-od! Look at that color! I'm a redhead, Daria. I can't wear that!"

     Daria smirked. "If you're so good at makeup, you can just tint yours lighter."

     Quinn shook her head. "No! This is the color I like." She frowned. "I tried to do that once. It didn't work out. It's like wearing the wrong lipstick, or not using blush. It's just not me."

     Daria shifted the battleground to an argument that she could win. "Not you? Don't you think that it's a little hypocritical to wear all of that makeup like that? Don't you try and deceive people? When I sell a term paper, I'm not the one who's cheating anyone. I'm paid to do a job."

     Jane eyed Daria as she rapidly demolished Quinn. One of Daria's favorite things was a good argument. She could chop logic with the best of them. Daria knew that she looked fine. She just feared the possible humiliation that the attention might bring. Growing up in Highland with a set of thick glasses had taught her two contradictory lessons. To avoid attention and to stick to her guns. Daria stubbornly defended her glasses and her plain apparel.

     Jane saw Quinn's eyes start to glaze and brought Daria's train of logic to a screeching halt. "Do you think that all attempts to enhance the appearance are inherently deceptive?"

     Daria eyed her warily, scenting a trap. "No, I can't really say that."

     Jane's smile widened. "Well, what's the problem then?"

     "I just don't think that it's necessary," said Daria, grumpily.

     "Do you think that I'm a ditz?" Jane set her up for the kill.

     "No... of course not." Daria narrowed her eyes, trying to see it coming.

     Jane baited the hook. "Yesterday you said something to that effect about Kathy Berg. Remember? Why did you think that she was a ditz?"

     Daria shrugged now on firmer ground. "She's so... blond."

     "My Mom's blond. Everyone thinks she's a ditz. Don't bother saying that you don't believe it too." Jane saw from Daria's flush that she was still on the critical path. "Which of my sisters would you say was the ditz?"

     Daria shrugged uncomfortably. "Summer. She's a telemarketer, Jane. Her kids run away all the time."

     "Whoops! Someone's prejudice is showing. Summer has kids, supports them with a successful business and has managed to hang on to them for at least the last twenty months. Penny's the biggest ditz of all time! She thinks that South America is the place to hit it big in the pottery business? Unless she fills them with cocaine and ships them to LA, it's a sure thing that she'll end up broke in the fast food industry somewhere." Jane rolled her eyes. "Hopefully somewhere in the USA, but hell, she might end up in a taco stand somewhere south of the border."

     Daria shrugged. "So, they're both ditzes. Congratulations."

     "Thank you. But you only admit it in Penny's case after you have it explained to you. The ugly truth is that you think that all blondes are ditzes, therefore Summer's a ditz."

     Quinn, staring rapt at the sight of Daria being out argued, suddenly covered her mouth to hide her smile. She had just come to a shocking realization.

     Daria reluctantly nodded "It does seem to work out that way, most of the time."

     Jane fixed her with her eyes. "Well, if that's the case, then you must be a ditz."

     Daria raised a hostile eyebrow. "How do you arrive at that conclusion?"

     Jane lowered the boom. "Because, as you so often say, misery loves company and like is attracted to like. How often do you see raven-black haired people with blue eyes?"

     Daria's mouth sagged open. "You? A blonde?" she asked, in disbelief.

     Quinn giggled and Stacy gasped.

     Jane nodded, smiling. "Blond as corn-silk. Just like Mom and Summer. Surprise! And the reason that I dye my hair is that I was being forced into 'blondness.' People expect you to be ditzy. Try being a blond artist sometime, if you want to be ignored. Makeup is just a professional survival strategy for me."

     Daria sat. "And me wearing makeup is a necessary business strategy. I own myself beaten. Do it."

     Daria tensed as Quinn applied lip liner.

     "Oh, Daria, don't worry. If you seem to be losing intelligence we'll just shave your head and hide your contacts." Quinn was getting a little irritated.

     "Just because I'm a lapsed cynic doesn't mean that I can't be as vain and egocentric as the next person." Daria sighed. "I meet a boy and so much for the ol' philosophy."

     "What philosophy?" Quinn was curious.

     "Cynicism." Daria suppressed a smile at Quinn's expression.

     "What kind of philosophy is that? I thought it was like a disease or something." Quinn was very curious. She had never thought that there was an actual reason for Daria's contrary attitude.

     "Ow!" Daria nervously pulled away from Stacy's tweezers. She hated getting her eyebrows plucked. "Most people believe most of what they're told, solely because it's convenient and makes them feel good. Basically, a cynic believes that virtue is the only good and that the essence of virtue is self-control. To achieve self-control, you need to control your reactions to the environment around you. To do that, you need to know what the environment around you really is, by having a completely accurate, unemotional view of the world. In other words, complete independence from falsehood. That's why a good cynic always test's everything she's told and always points out the world's blatant hypocrisy."

     Stacy stared into space. "I couldn't live like that. The world is just too icky."

     Daria sighed. "Me neither, it seems."

     "That sounds boring as hell, Daria." Jane smirked. "Even Mr. Spock gave that up. What changed your mind?"

     "Trent." Daria scowled. "I got a look at him and that was that. First I lost the self-control, and then I lost my virtue and now I seem to be losing my independence. It's enough to make a cynic out of a girl." Daria shook her head, ruefully.

     Jane and Quinn laughed.

     Quinn waved for attention. "I feel a great philosophical insight coming on."

     "Enlighten us, oh guru," said Jane.

     Quinn struck a professorial pose then belched. "Philosophy... is always wrong." Quinn smiled slyly at Daria.

     "You're a great natural philosopher. You ought to start a cult." Jane had long since come to the same conclusion.

     "I have one. My followers are taught to carry my bags, take me to dinner and fetch me a soda on demand." Quinn giggled. "Well that's it, Daria. Take a look!"

     Daria stared into the mirror. "Holy crap! All I need is a red nose and I'm a clown." Her face was outlined in ringlets of curls.

     "You know, Jane, this is going to be really good. We ought to tape this. The boys are going to swarm around her like bees to honey." Quinn was proud of her work.

     Jane smiled at the thought. "And you know Daria. She'll swat them for all she's worth. Swat, swat, swat! Now that's entertainment!"

     Daria, still unsure of herself and wanting to avoid the attention of her peers as much as possible, frowned. "Don't you guys think it's a little perverted to try and pimp your sister and your brothers girlfriend like this? Besides, If you think that I'm going back to school like this, you're right out of your tree."

     Daria stared at the dress and gulped. Instead of leather, it appeared to be made out of some sort of soft, shiny, vinyl-like material. "You have got to be kidding me."

     Quinn held it up. "Oh, Daria, quit being such a baby. This is more material than a bathing suit, and you've worn those before. Just put it on and pose. If you only knew how lucky you are to be able to wear something like this- Why, think of all of the girls that would just kill to be able to fit into this kind of thing."

     Daria scowled. "I'd kill to get out." She picked up the dress. "I haven't worn a bathing suit since I was eleven."

     Jane came back in. "What's the hold up, now?"

     Daria crossed her arms, defensively. "That isn't the dress in the painting." This one had a panel cut out, strategically placed to expose her bellybutton.

     Jane flicked a glance at Stacy. "Well, Cutting that part out made it even se- better, Daria. It also saved us a lot on our manufacturing costs." She sighed, theatrically. "You could pull out and let everyone down, I guess. Or you could just wait around for Trent."

     Daria stiffened in alarm. "Trent! The deal was, that this is strictly between us." She gulped. "God, he'll want me to wear that... thing everywhere!"

     Jane looked at the clock. "He's coming by at three. We could waste time, or we could-"

     Daria snatched the dress out of Quinn's hand. "Get that camera ready!" She ran for her room, panicking.

     "And bring your guitar!" Jane yelled after her.

     Stacy looked puzzled. "Why do you want her to bring that? The guitar might cover up the dress."

     Jane smirked. "Trent saw my sketch. He asked for that picture."

     Quinn laughed. "Poor, popular Daria. God, you really know how to get around her, Jane."

     Jane nodded. "The key to Daria is Trent. Keep that in mind and you can get her to do almost anything."

     Stacy shook her head. She picked up a square of green material and went to the area where they were going to be taking photo's, against the white basement wall. Photographers lights, with their reflective colored umbrellas, were set up to properly light their subject. "Got the camera?"

     "Yeah." Jane opened a hard camera case, pulled out a pan tilt head and carefully began assembling the tripod.

     Vincent had given her an incredibly costly digital camera that he'd tried to use and then given up on. He'd also given her and Stacy a crash course on lighting and indoor photography. The good thing about the digital camera was that the picture could be viewed immediately.

     Quinn's PC was set up on a nearby table. A wire, taped to the floor, ran to the tripod from the PC. The screen showed color bars, which Quinn had matched with a printed test sheet that came with the camera.

     Mounting the camera on the tripod, Jane focused it on the scrap of the green material. She snapped a picture, then watched as the PC opened a new window and displayed the green material. It was way too dark on screen. Jane spun a reflector a little to let more white light fall on the fabric. She took another picture, this time with Stacy sitting on the stool, holding the scrap.

     Daria stood angrily, holding her guitar in front of her like a shield.

     "But Daria, you've got to smile." Quinn glanced anxiously at Jane, afraid that she might start laughing again.

     "Go to hell." Daria glared as Jane went back into hysterics.

     "Jane!" Quinn bit her lip and tried to keep a straight face.

     Stacy started sniggering uncontrollably, taking Quinn with her.

     Daria, happy to have an excuse, started to go. "Right! To hell with-"

     "Hey, Daria. You look... perfect." Trent stood at the door, grinning at the pandemonium.

     "Uhm... Trent." Daria blushed and smiled. "You're early."

     Jane choked off her laughter and took the picture that she'd been waiting for. "Gotcha!"

     Daria shot her a look, but was unable to stop smiling.

     "Hey, Daria. Coming out with me tonight?" He walked over to stand beside Jane.

     "Sure!" She beamed at him.

     "You should wear that. Let's have a look."

     Jane was clicking away, getting Daria as she talked to Trent.

     "Well... Okay." She put down the guitar. Vaguely, the little part of her mind that remained unaffected shrieked its dismay. Daria effortlessly suppressed it.

     "Damn, Daria. You're smokin' hot." He wished that his family wasn't around. He didn't want to take her to Jessie and Max.'s sty, but he had to take her somewhere. Maybe it was time to get a place.

     Quinn watched, shocked and fascinated, as her icy-tough sister melted into a compliant puddle, right before her eyes. She exchanged an amused glance with Stacy, who had at last quit ogling Trent.

     Summer entered the office building and walked to the security desk. "Hi, I'm Summer Lane." I have an appointment with Helen Morgendorffer."

     The receptionist smiled and flipped through her daybook. "Ah, yes. Go on up to the twelfth floor and you'll be directed from there." The guard handed her a visitors pass. "Please wear this at all times while you are in the building."

     "Thank you." Summer rode the elevator up to Helen's floor and found her offices. Sitting in the secretaries office, she watched Helen, through the open door.

     Helen was charging around her office with a phone, issuing a flurry of orders, making demands and motivating her associates to ever greater feats of legal endurance. A radio in the office was softly playing oldies and Summer exchanged wry glances with Marianne. Helen stopped, and Marianne motioned her to go in.

     "Hello, Summer." Helen showed her to a couch. "Please, sit down." She strode over to her desk and returned with a folder, sitting in an arm chair that was well positioned for such tee a tees.

     "Well, according to your physical, you're in excellent shape and perfectly able to bear another child." Helen looked briefly uncomfortable. "It's not that I couldn't myself-

     Summer interrupted. "You're just busy. I understand. If I wanted another kid and had the money, I'd pay someone else to do it, too."

     Helen smiled. "According to your resume, you've had four already. How do you keep such a trim figure?"

     Summer shrugged. "I never seem to pick up the fat, the way that some girls do. Mom's the same way."

     Helen nodded. "Well, I don't see any impediment to doing this deal. You're ideal. If you want to sign the contract, I see no reason to delay."


     Summer and Helen signed and Marianne, a notary, witnessed it.

     Summer put her copy in her purse. "When do I get the first check?"

     Helen smiled. "Come down to the clinic Wednesday afternoon and I'll give you the first check. When the embryo is viable and the pregnancy takes, you'll get a second. Thereafter, every successful week of pregnancy will get you a check."

     Summer thought. "Could we make this a cash deal?"

     Helen's smile grew. "Of course, we could pay cash, If you don't like checks, Summer. Taxes are a matter between you and the government. Not our business at all." This would increase Helen's leverage over Summer in case she tried any funny business with the baby.

     "Good! As soon as I get that first payment, I'm moving into a house across the street from my parents." Summer smiled. "I need to get my business started here."

     Helen looked at her, thoughtfully. "What does Amanda think of this deal?"

     Summer laughed. "I'm not telling anyone about this, Helen. Not until I'm so far along that it can't be hidden."

     Helen nodded. "It's probably for the best." She frowned. "If my daughter finds out that you're the surrogate, she'll tell your brother."

     Summer shrugged. "Well, thems the breaks."

     The radio station went to commercial. When you're a millionaire in pesos and you really need a car, Come talk to Happy Herb, he can really get you far..."

     Summer noted that Helen's leg was bobbing with the tune. "Daria's a really good singer. They sound great together."

     Helen looked up. "What?"

     Summer was shocked. "That commercial. You mean you didn't know? That's Trent and Daria!"

     Daria stood uncertainly in the Zen, eyeing the early crowd. Daria hadn't really allowed herself to think about it, but now it looked like she was going to be sitting around alone for half the night, in what she thought of as that costume of Jane's, while Mystik Spiral played its set. Trent had helpfully taken her coat and put it in his car.

     A black man, easily in his mid thirties, walked up to her. "Hey, sweetmeat, you lookin' fine. Wanna go somewhere for some tube steak?"

     "How romantic." Daria walked away from him, toward the stage.

     "Hey, baby, just come along with me. I'll show you a wild time." He trailed along after her. "You know what they say. If you ever go black, you'll never go back!"

     "Then why are you still here?" Daria wished that Trent would hurry up. He'd gone up the stairs to talk to the manager. She saw Jesse and headed for him.

     "Are you a racist?" The playa was getting desperate.

     "I object to the whole race of obtuse morons. Leave me alone."


     Jesse suddenly stepped into his path, causing a collision.

     "Watch where you goin', whiteb-" He took in the rippling muscles. "Scuse me."

     "Yah. I will, maggot. This time. Say one more word to her and I'll tear an ear off of you." Jesse glared as he watched the man move away, rapidly.

     "Thanks Jesse." Daria wished that she had driven herself. She felt more than exposed in the dress.

     Jesse nodded and took her arm. "Bo already threw him out once tonight. He must have slipped back in when he was in the cra- bathroom. Come on over here, I'd like you to meet someone."

     Jesse cut his way through the growing crowd until he reached a big table in the back. "Hey! Ursula!"

     "Jess!" The woman squealed and threw herself into his arms.

     "Woah! I just saw you this morning." He laughed and kissed her. "This is Daria."

     Ursula, hanging on to Jesse's arm, looked at her and said, "You're Trent's girlfriend? No wonder Monique was so jealous."

     Aha! She IS still after him! thought Daria. "Pleased to meet you. Monique was jealous?"

     Ursula smiled. "Trent's like her safety guy. When it all hits the fan, she goes back to him. As soon as she saw you, she knew that Trent wouldn't be there for her to pick up any more."

     Daria suddenly placed her. "Hey, aren't you the drummer for the Harpies?"

     Ursula shrugged. "I'll let you know. We had a big fight, yesterday. There might not be any more Harpies."

     "Oh, that's too bad." Daria looked around for Trent.

     Jesse looked concerned. "What will you do?"

     She looked thoughtful. "Find a new band. Maybe head out to New York, or LA."

     Jesse frowned. "I hope you stay."

     "We've got a gig here tonight. Three sets before Mystik Spiral." She sighed. "I hope they show, too."

     "Ursula!" Monique and Candy walked over. "Well that's three, anyway. Any sign of Nicole or Lori?"

     Ursula shrugged. "Not yet, but it's still early. They might show."

     Monique looked at Daria and did a double take. "Wow! You look good today."

     Daria managed not to cringe. "Thanks. You too."

     Monique looked at Candy. "Do you remember Daria, honey? Trent's girlfriend?"

     Candy mumbled, "Hey."

     "Hello." Daria blinked when Candy scowled at her.

     Monique looked back at Daria. "See, you're not the only one who's jealous."

     Daria gaped and Jesse laughed.

     Candy frowned at him. "Laugh it up, fuckface."

     "What is your problem, bitch?" Ursula grabbed Jesse's arm and hung on, like she was afraid that he might get away.

     Jesse bridled. "Yeah, you-"

     "Hold it!" Monique interrupted. "Candy, lay off."

     "Mean dyke," mumbled Jesse.

     Candy glared back. "Why don't you and Lolita here go find your own band, dummy?"

     Ursula lunged at her, but Daria and Monique got between them.

     "What the hell is wrong with you?" Daria was stinging from the Lolita comment and would have left, but the playa was still lurking around.

     "She's a man hating mega-bitch, that's what's wrong." Ursula took Jesse's arm again. "We can't just be a rock 'n roll band. We have to be some lesbian political party. Well, I like men, you PC witch. So do Nicole and Lori. I don't care about your lifestyle, so quit fucking around with ours."

     Monique looked embarrassed. "Lay off, everyone. She didn't really mean it." She took Candy's hand. "We had an agreement, baby. No more activism."

     Candy deflated. "Sorry," she mumbled, to Ursula. She looked up. "I'm sorry, Daria and Jesse."

     Jesse shrugged. "Cool. No prob."

     "Right." Daria replied, tightly.

     Ursula didn't say anything. "C'mon, Jess, Daria. Sit down with us and have a soda." She looked at Candy. "What are you drinking?"

     Candy looked narrowly at Daria. "Just soda. We wouldn't want little Daria to get into trouble."

     Daria glared at her. "You just have a way with people, don't you."

     Monique shook her head. "Lay off, Candy."

     Ursula frowned. "Well, we'll go get it. Come on, Jess." The two left, heading for the bar.

     Monique sat, and a minute later so did Candy.

     Monique leaned forward. "So, Daria, that's quite a look for you. Where did you get that dress?"

     Daria, gazing after Ursula and Jesse, shrugged. "Like it? It's a Jane Lane original. It retails for a mere $250."

     Candy looked interested. "Trent's sister made that?"

     Daria shook her head. "She designed it. My sister actually made it."

     Her eyes widened with pleasure and she smiled, startling Candy, who thought for an instant that Daria was coming on to her.

     "Trent!" Daria stood, as he came up and kissed her.

     "Woo-hoo! Trent's a lucky boy!" He swallowed. "God, Daria. That dress does things to me."

     She smirked. "You can wear it later."

     Trent, Candy and Monique laughed.

     "Ooh, kinky." He sat, pulling her into his lap.

     "Ugh, get a room, okay?" Candy looked ill.

     Trent briefly pried his eyes away from Daria. "Hey, Monique, Cindy. How's it going?"

     Monique smiled at him. "Couldn't be better."

     "My name is Candy." She glared.

     "Yeah, whatever." Trent turned back to Daria and tuned them out.

     Monique winced, then looked at her partner. "Come on out for a minute. We need to talk."

     Quinn was uploading the photos of Daria that she had chosen, after much consultation with Jane and Stacy. Daria hadn't cared in the least, having left with Trent soon after he arrived. Her interest in the whole project still hovered somewhere around zero.

     Jane was on the phone. "Really?" She frowned. "Well, if that's the way you want it." She hung up, a little violently.

     Quinn looked up from the computer. "What's wrong?"

     Jane tried to smile, failed and shook her head. "Just a little bump in the road." She shrugged. "Tom broke a date." She sighed. "Car troubles. He's still working on it."

     Quinn smirked. "Jamie would cut off his finger before he would break a date with me." The phone rang. Of course it was Jamie, breaking his date. Quinn slammed the phone down. "When am I gonna learn to shut up? He has to help his dad with a job tonight," she explained, embarrassed.

     Stacy smiled. "Ted's out with his parents tonight. Some religious thing."

     "Girls night out?" Jane counted her money.

     "Sure! I haven't done that in years!" Stacy was glad that she'd finally found some friends.

     Quinn frowned, thoughtfully. "I've never done that."

     Daria sat, stubbornly. "No way."

     "Come on! You'll love it!" Trent worked his wiles, to no avail.

     "Forget it!" Daria crossed her arms.

     Ursula looked at Jesse, unhappily. "We could loose our gig."

     Jesse's eyes widened in alarm. If the Harpies broke up, Ursula was as good as gone. "Please?"

     "Do you really need five people? Why not let Trent or Jesse do it?" Daria felt the panic building. She was going to humiliate herself beyond redemption, but she couldn't refuse Jesse. Not after all that he'd done for her.

     Monique exchanged glances with Trent. "Well, we could, but you're here and you know how to play most of our list. We're an all girl band. You know, grrl power and all that crap." She smiled. "Cheer up! Lori might just show!"

     "Daria, come on. You're good enough." Trent shrugged. "You already know how to play and you're used to the Diablo now."

     Ursula jumped in. "It's just rhythm, Daria. You know the chords." She smiled. "You don't have to sing, but it would be nice."

     Daria hesitated. "But... I don't have my guitar."

     Trent flushed. "I just happened to pick it up while you were up in your room. It's in my trunk."

     Daria smiled. "You- This is all some plot?"

     He shrugged. "I was going to try and get you up with me, but this is better." He smiled. "You'll look hot up there."

     Helen came in very late, sore and shaken. She'd taken Jake to the fertility clinic and had the procedure carried out. Dropping him off at his office had been a mistake. She suspected that he'd gone to a bar.

     The test tube baby process had been a strange thing to contemplate, but even a stranger thing to see. Now all that remained was the insertion of the embryo into Summer, once it had begun its development.

     Helen took off her coat, sat her briefcase down and sighed. No one appeared to be home. Making her way to her room, she changed out of her business ensemble and then looked in Daria's room. She rubbed her forehead. The room was empty.

     Opening Quinn's door, she saw Quinn, sound asleep in her bed. Shrugging, she closed the door and went down to the living room.

     Uncharacteristically, she poured herself a vodka martini and turned on the TV. The news was grim, with wars all over Europe, Asia and Africa. Turning the channel, she found an old favorite movie and sat back, trying to relax.

     Unbidden, thoughts of Daria and her no-good boyfriend came to mind. Was it somehow her fault? The constant encouragement to get out and enjoy life could have somehow backfired. Surely Daria, of all people, understood how unstable musicians were. What if she got pregnant?

     Her roommate at Middleton, Dawn, had gotten herself pregnant by a would-be rock musician. Helen wondered what had become of her. She remembered the rumors, the vicious little cuts, the subtle ways Dawn had been ostracized. Helen had done her best, but a pregnant woman needs the security of a husband. One day, Helen had come back to her room and Dawn had been gone. She'd gotten a couple of postcards, but she'd never found out what had finally happened to her.

     A car pulled up outside and Helen looked out the window, expecting Jake. What she saw made her groan.

     Daria, was being kissed goodnight by Trent. The kiss wasn't any kind that a mother wanted to see. Helen let the curtain fall closed and sat back down.

     The door clattered open and Daria walked in, smiling, right past Helen, totally oblivious.


     "Aaah!" Daria almost dropped the guitar. "Mom?"

     "Where have you been?" Helen forced a pleasant tone.

     "Uhm, just over at the Zen." Daria unslung the guitar. "I sat in with a band."

     "Trent's band?" Helen tried to remember the name, but couldn't.

     "No, I'd never do that. There's a no girlfriends rule anyway. It's too easy to break up a band like that." She sighed. "It was the Harpies. An all girl group."

     Helen got up and opened the closet door. "Oh, that's wonderful!" She waited, but Daria didn't take off her coat.

     Helen looked at her, suspiciously. "Your coat, Daria. Take it off."

     Daria sighed. "Alright." She shrugged out of the coat. "Yes, I'm wearing something a little different."

     "God!" Helen hung up the coat. "What are you wearing? You look like a... I can't say."

     "Well that's a relief." Daria made to leave.

     "A costume for the band?" She grew quiet. "Do you have anything else to tell me?"

     Daria shrugged. "Well, I didn't get booed off of the stage." She suddenly realized what was eating Helen. "I did some singing with Trent a few days ago. We did the background vocals for a commercial. The commercial is on TV now."

     Helen nodded. "It's on the radio too. I heard it at my office this morning. I felt like a fool when Summer told me that it was you. I'm your mother, Daria. I should know what's going on in your life."

     Daria felt a spasm of guilt, then she looked sharply at Helen. "What was Summer doing in your office?"

     Helen concealed a wince. She worded her response carefully. "She had a contract that she wanted me to look over."

     Daria frowned. "Summer couldn't afford thirty seconds of your time. What kind of- My God! She's the surrogate!"

     Helen couldn't help a smile. Daria would make a very fine lawyer, someday. "Surprise, Daria. You're going to have a new brother in nine months."

     Daria winced and shook her head. "You know, something like this could scar a girl for life, Mom. My lov.. boyfriend's sister is going to have my brother. It sounds like something right out of the Jerry Springer show."

     Helen hadn't missed the slip. "So long as you don't have your brothers surrogate mothers brothers child, you don't have to worry, Daria." She sighed, frustrated. "Don't blow it, Daria. You need to be very careful. A mistake now could cost you a decent life. Take it slow, honey."

     Daria stiffened, angrily. "I can manage my own affairs, Mom. Goodnight." She stalked away, less angry than she let on.

     "Daria!" Helen called after her.

     Daria paused, on the foot of the stairs. "Yes?"

     Helen regarded her. "You sing beautifully, Daria. I'm very proud of you. I told everyone that I know about your commercial."

     Daria blinked. "Thank you, Mom. And, in case I haven't said it lately... I do love you."

     "Thank you dear. I love you, too." Helen felt her eyes get wet. She didn't remember ever saying that to her mother until she had turned thirty. She suddenly realized that she was doing the right thing in having another child. She would miss this sort of thin too much. Just being a lawyer would be too empty an existence.

     "Goodnight." Daria walked rapidly up the stairs.

     Daria woke up to Quinn shaking her.

     "Get up!"

     "Uh?" Daria closed her eyes.

     "Get up, Daria!" Quinn pulled her out of bed and halfway across the room.

     "Aaah! Quinn?" Daria finally woke up, being dragged out her door by the arm. "Get OFF!" Daria pulled free and stood up. "What the hell is wrong with you?"

     "The Site, Daria! We have orders! Hundreds!" Quinn was so excited that she was dancing in place.

     "Shit." Daria scowled.

     Quinn looked at her, upset. "But that's good, Daria! We made over twenty thousand dollars!"

     Daria gripped her head. "God, why did I stay out so late? Look, Quinn, it took all three of you two days to make that dress. You can't touch a penny of that money unless you ship the dress. School starts Monday, so how long do you think you'll have every day for sewing? Three hours? Four?"

     Quinn's face crumpled. "So... we have to give it all back?"

     Daria shook her head, slowly. "We need a manufacturer, Quinn. We need to make a deal."

     Quinn shook her head, blankly. "How?"

     Daria smirked. "We need a company meeting. Then we'll have to talk to the company marketing consultant and our lawyer."

     Quinn frowned. "Dad and Mom? They can't sew!"

     Daria nodded. "But they can sew up a deal."

     Jane had an immediate solution. "Raise the price!"

     Daria nodded. "Done. It's useless. I doubled it then raised it again by half. The orders are coming in, faster than ever."

     "How much was that?" Quinn was thrilled, even if they might never get any of it.

     Stacy looked at her notes. She'd started taking minutes automatically, in her Fashion Club minute book. "Twenty six thousand yesterday, two thousand this morning, with 223 dresses ordered as of eleven AM."

     Quinn seemed to take heart from this touch of normality. "So, how do we get someone to make these things for us?"

     Daria shrugged. "Anybody got a clue?"

     A voice came from the bundle of blankets on the futon. "Try S&P's guide to the manufacturing industry."

     Jane's eyes widened. "Penny? Why are you sleeping there?" They had met at Jane's, because they couldn't get through. Summer had the phone tied up.

     "It's the twins." Penny sat up, wearing a Middleton sweat shirt. "Some fool taught them how to make a sleeping victim wet the bed by putting their hand in warm water while they slept."

     Jane sucked in air through her teeth. "Oops."

     "Anyway, you look in the S&P guide for the regions small manufacturers. You find out what their smallest job lot is and when your orders reach that level, you have them make a run." Penny stood, brushing her hair with her fingers. "Or else you find another business that has a half order and combine your orders. What are you selling?"

     Jane looked embarrassed. "Dresses." She explained everything.

     Stacy declaimed tearfully, "But it was only supposed to be ten dresses a week! We had ten orders six minutes after we posted the pictures to the site!"

     Penny started laughing. "Well, it sounds to me like you need someone who knows small scale garment manufacturing. And I'm in the market for a job. What a coincidence!"

     "Where did you get your experience." Daria was hopeful.

     "I went to El Salvador right out of college as a Peace Corps volunteer. I helped set up a textile industry." Penny frowned. "I was the co-founder and manager of Los Hermana's Dress and Shirt factory, until it started getting profitable. Then I got deported as a communist and the district commander's brother bought it for a song, at gunpoint."

     Quinn was awed. "Daria? How much could we pay?"

     "Nothing." Daria thought. "How about ten percent of the net this year? We can renegotiate next year."

     Penny sat. "Deal. But if you go public, I want stock options."

     "What?" Quinn had no idea what Penny was talking about.

     "It's an e-business." Stacy surprised them all. "E-business are worth a lot, even if they aren't."

     "Fine with me, Penny. Anyone object?" Jane looked around, happy that Penny was staying in Lawndale.

     Everyone agreed.

     "Hey, I like that. E-Fashions." Daria smiled.

     "And we got a name!" Penny had a yellow pad and was writing, furiously. "That's all you need, kids. A snappy name, a website and a product that's proven itself net-saleable at all. We'd better register that name today and get the domain name, if it's available. I want lots of options. Now tell me about the product." What the hell was I thinking? Nicaragua! I must have had a brain tumor or something!

     "So how do we get an order filled?" Jane was proud of her sister.

     Stacy cleared her throat. "Well, need to make sure that the sizes are right. Daria really came up with a good instructions for them to measure themselves. Our order form is smart, and won't accept orders that are outside a certain range of sizes. The really good industrial sewing machines can be programmed for different sizes. Whoever we get to do the sewing, has to have good equipment." She made a note.

     Daria nodded. "That's a good point."

     Penny finished writing. "I recommend a maquiladora."

     "What's that?" Quinn thought it was some sort of a drink.

     "It's a factory in Mexico, right on the border. It's really cheap to make things there. You can bring the goods across without paying tax." Penny smiled. "I could set up there and do the manufacturing and shipping. You ladies could do the advertising, selling and design." She looked right at Daria. "Any of you know anything about bookkeeping?"

     Reluctantly, Daria waited a minute, then nodded. "I know a computer that does. I helped my dad set up his Quickbooks program."

     Jake was in his office, talking to Kurt Moline, the head of Investico's loss management group. "So, Kurt, I could really help some of these stragglers come in for you guys."

     Kurt sat on Jake's couch, idly looking out the window. "Sure, Jake. We have some real losers-"

     Quinn suddenly pushed through the door. "Daddy-" She saw he had company. "Oh! Sorry, Daddy."

     Kurt brightened. "Who are you, young lady?"

     Quinn smiled at him perfunctorily. "Hi, I'm Quinn. Daddy, I've got this big problem-"

     "Sure honey. I'm a little busy right now," He dug out his wallet. "What do you need-"

     "I don't need money! I've got too much! I need help. It's my E-business, Daddy! I've got fifty thousand dollars worth of orders in a day! What do I do?"

     Jake dropped his wallet. "What? What e-business?"

     Kurt, quietly thanking the kindly god that had put him in the right place at the right time, whipped out a laptop computer. "What's your URL? Quinn, do you have any investors?"

     "In the basement, Daddy! The sewing room! We sell dresses on the Internet." She heaved a sigh of exasperation.

     Quinn focused on Kurt, who was listening avidly and told him the URL.

     "We don't need money. We need someone who can make dresses, fast!"

     Kurt nodded, typing furiously. "Investico can really help you, Quinn. Jake! How about Poochie's Paradise?" We could combine the orders and get the plant in Tijuana working on it by tomorrow."

     "Poochie's Paradise?" Quinn had picked up on a word here and there, but most of it was gibberish.

     "A business that makes clothes for dogs, Sweetheart." Jake had his computer going and was rapidly calculating percentages and break even points.

     "Do you speak Spanish, Quinn?" Kurt had already gotten the information to the group's acquisitions manager. The return email told him to get a piece of it, now.

     Quinn shook her head. "No, but Penny does. She's been living in Nicaragua for the last eight years. She's going to be handling our manufacturing. All she wants is a percentage of the profit and something called options." She's going to find a m- maqiladora."

     Jake and Kurt exchanged alarmed glances.

     Daria got out of the elevator and walked to her mother's office.

     Marianne smiled a greeting. "Hello, Daria."

     "Hi. Is she busy?"

     "Always, but I'll see if she can squeeze you in."

     Daria walked into Helen's office.

     "Hi sweetie. Is there something that I can help you with?" Helen was glad to see her.

     Daria sat down and took a tablet out of her knapsack. "I need some legal advice."

     "Well, that's what I'm here for!" Helen looked at her daughter, happy to see that she had a smile lurking around her lips. Since she'd gotten a boyfriend, she seemed to be breaking out of her shell.

     Daria took off her glasses and rubbed her eyes. "Well, Mom, we started a little business in the basement. It seems to be getting way out of hand..."

     "My God! You're pregnant!"

     "Excuse me?"

     Helen glared. "Business in the basement? Come on, Daria. I went down there and looked. You and that boy-"

     "Mom! For the love of God, for the last time, I'm not pregnant!" Daria glared back, exasperated. "I need legal advice! Do I have to hire a lawyer?"

     Helen heaved a sigh of relief. "Alright, Daria."

     Daria nodded. "As I was saying we, meaning Quinn, Jane, Stacy and I, started a business in the basement. We call it E-Fashions, and we need to make everything legal, so that we can get a corporate bank account."

     Helen smiled absently her mind already back on business. "I'm sure you do. It's nice to see you girls thinking about the real world. I can give you some books that will tell you what the steps are." She started rummaging around on a bookshelf.

     Daria wished that she had her whistle from school. Maybe that would get her mothers attention. "Mom, we have employees, $50,000 in orders, contracts to sign, product to ship... And school starts Monday."

     Helen blinked, got over her shock and to her credit, didn't turn a hair. She shifted right into professional mode. "We'll set this up as a corporation, Daria. I have a shell company already. We'll just change the name." She regarded Daria. "Now tell me all about it."




     Trent Lane's band, Mystic Spyral hit the charts when he was twenty three. He won a Grammy at the age of 24. He still tours with Mystic Spyral and has appeared as a very cool and laid back hit man in several successful action movies. He is married to a supermodel, just like he always wanted and has triplet daughters, Amy, Helen and Jane. He primarily resides in Boca Raton, but spends part of the year at his townhouse in Manhattan.

     Daria Lane was busted for her part in a national cheating scandal when she was just nineteen. Although narrowly avoiding a racketeering conviction, it was revealed that she was the primary source for numerous dissertations and theses. She found it impossible to get into college after all the publicity. This didn't bother her, as she had already banked $9,150,000, her after tax share of the sale of her E-Fashions stock.

     Her immensely successful modeling career followed the overnight success of E-Fashions. Buoyed by the intense publicity the company received after appearing in Forbes Magazine, Daria became a cover girl while she was still in high school.

     After her first album debut and her Grammy, Daria tried to become a serious writer, but found that she had been typecast worldwide in her breakthrough role as a ditzily murderous Bond girl. She still acts, models and sings, a perennial favorite on the TV talk circuit. She has been offered a syndicated talk show on UPN, but her much more laid back husband, Trent, has convinced her to spend more time with their children, for now.

     Jane Lane-Smith is chief designer for E-Fashions. She has one child, Quinn, and another on the way. Her husband, Tom, is a congressman and the assistant chairman of the DNC. He expects to hand pick the next President of the United States. He hasn't told Jane yet that he intends to run as Vice President.

     Quinn Star is divorced, very lonely, has no children and is an up and coming surgeon at Mercy Hospital in NYC. She has retrained and now specializes in nerves, primarily rebuilding and installing eyes, after organ cloning took all the fun out of heart surgery.

     She wrote a best selling book, My Body, My Temple and appears on Good Morning America as the medical corespondent. Her fame grew after she appeared in a public service message to encourage children to wear UV eye protection.

     She recently appeared as a fill in guest on Conan O'Brien's talk show and it came out that she was Daria Lane's sister. Conan spoke for almost everyone when he opined that a lightweight ditzy supermodel like Daria having a brainy, no nonsense surgeon-author-businesswoman for a sister was like a cat having a tiger for a littermate. Quinn just laughed and laughed.

     There is talk of picking her as the next Surgeon General. Quinn has considerable influence in the Democratic Party, because Jane's husband Tom calls her for advice on medical issues.

     Helen Morgendorffer is a US Senator. She took the seat away from her former boss, Eric, and is generally acknowledged as a huge pain in the ass by her fellow Senators. Her ten year old son, Coyote, is in grade school, and calls himself Coy.

     Jake Morgendorffer dotes on his son, daughters and granddaughters. He owns the Washington Redskins, which he bought after retiring from his consulting business and following Helen to Washington. After he was profiled in Forbes Magazine and credited with the astounding success of E-Fashions, he got several huge contracts that made him very, very rich. Quinn has replaced his heart three times and makes him get a checkup every month. He recently hired a down on his luck ex quarterback named Kevin Thompson as an assistant trainer.

     Kevin is working out, having finally kicked his drug problem. He still isn't over Brittany, who left him for the Air Force Academy. She caught him and Evan spying on Quinn through a hidden video camera in the girls locker room and decided that he wasn't her type after all.

     Brittany is a USSF Major, currently assigned aboard Orbital Battery Alpha. Major Taylor has recently written a well received and highly classified paper advocating a first strike on the Greater Arabian Peoples Republic. Battery Alpha is a stealthy mobile space laser platform, part of Space Command's SDI forward deployment. It's massive lasers and particle beams are poised to absolutely ravage an entire hemisphere at the first heat bloom of an unauthorized missile launch.

     Stacy and Ted are married and are both oceanographers working for the Woods Hole institute. They recently discovered that Kraken were intelligent life forms, with underwater villages.

     Amy is married to a mega rich TV producer, has a son and fights with her husband all the time. She's thinking divorce.

     Sandi lives in an immense mansion in Lawndale and has eight children, four boys and four girls. She has few outside interests, beyond keeping them in line, staying fit and fending off the nearly constant onslaught of her husband, Charles. She was intensely relieved when she found out that he'd gotten himself a mistress.

     Charles has expanded his father's companies and is poised to move into the first tier of global industry. He a full time mistress, but still loves his wife. He can't remember all of the children's names though, so he calls the boys 'Sport' and the girls 'Princess.' He's still a sleaze, having recently turned down fifty thousand dollars for a nude picture of supermodel Daria that he obtained in high school.

     Mack had a successful football career with the Dolphins, and successfully did his job, which was to keep the drug addict QB, Kevin, in line. He finally went crazy and tried to kneecap Kevin with a .38 Special.

     Mack was traded to Dallas, where he was injured and released from pro football. He got very fat and went into the car business. He has a big Lada dealership outside of Austin now. Jodie left him in college and currently on his fifth wife, he's long forgotten her.

     'Jeffy' is a regional manager for McDonalds. He makes $230,000 a year and is quite wealthy. He recently married his secret high school crush and is so happy that he occasionally pinches himself to see if he'll wake up.

     Jodie works for Morehouse Magazine. She found her husband Jeffery, in McDonalds. She'd recognized him working there and in equal measures of pity and loneliness asked him out.

     As soon as she realized that he was a corporate mover and shaker instead of a counter worker, she'd decided to marry him. She'd always been subtly attracted to him in high school, but that jerk boyfriend of hers that her father loved so much had been in the way. The fact that her father is a huge bigot and viscerally disapproves of interracial marriage is like sugar on top. She'll quit her job just as soon as Jeffery gets her pregnant. She desperately wants children.

     Tiffany was a perfume counter girl at the Bon. Now she's married to a long suffering Chinese businessman, has produced a child every other year and rules the house and the entire extended family, including two Chinese villages, with an iron fist technique learned from Sandi.

     'Jamie' is a gunnery sergeant. in the regular Marine Corps. After the night that Quinn broke his heart, he went straight down to the recruiter and enlisted without a word to anyone. No living being would dare call him 'Jamie' to his face anymore. Gunny White despises all civilians, treats women badly and since passing through the crucible of the brushfire wars has very little comprehension of and no interest in the world outside of the Corps. Scarred, cruel and hardened to his grisly trade, he plans to do thirty years and then open a bar with his retirement, on the laughably slim chance of him living that long.

     Brittany recently saw him march by, gloriously bemedaled in his dress blues, while she was having her transport refueled at a naval air station. Instantly wanting him, she conceived her strategy, made her plan and boldly implemented it before the sun went down. He felt like he'd been hit by a train. He doesn't know it yet, but he will be ordered to level one space survival training very soon. It has recently been determined that a guard force is needed for military space stations. The USMC was a natural choice. A certain Major was given a free hand in designing the training and implementing the policy. She has bent all of her shrewd tactical planning ability toward her goal of having him serving under her command.

     Andrea was killed in a drunk driving incident when she was in college. No one went to her funeral except Daria, Jane and oddly, Charles.



The End