Tigresses of Lawndale – 12 – Homecoming
By Dr T
The aftermath of the attack on Tiffany's sister.
No one asked Quinn directly what might be wrong with Tiffany, and despite some temptations, she was able not to say. Jane was acting nervous all day while Daria was able to pretend that nothing was wrong. If anything, Daria was looking forward to the results of her latest round of tests. If she was lucky, Daria would be allowed to drop the heavy forearm and wrist brace and go to a lighter one, like one used for those with repetitive stress.
Daria also noticed a full compliment of security all day, including some pass-throughs by the bomb-sniffing dogs, more to bring their handlers through the school several times than anything else.
In the end, nothing happened.
At least, nothing anyone noticed at the time.
That night, Daria sat sulking in the living room. She had been told in fact that she would have to wait two more weeks to switch to the lighter support brace. Helen and Jake were out for the evening. The girls had noticed that Helen had no more time at home as a partner, but that she was now spending a bit more of it supervising associates and junior associates, as well as a bit more socializing with the partners of other law firms and other movers and shakers, including politicos in Washington, Annapolis, and Baltimore.
Quinn came down and plopped next to her sister. "Nothing on?" Quinn asked, looking at the turned-off tv.
"Nothing fits my mood," Daria admitted. "If it were a bit colder, I'd be tempted to build a fire, just to watch it."
"Oh." After a pause, Quinn said, "Tiffany called a while ago. Unsurprisingly, she's pretty torn up." Despite being the most self-centered of the four Fashion Club members in many ways, Tiffany still cared about her sister.
"I can understand that," Daria acknowledged. "Did she say anything about Leah's condition?"
"Physically she's okay," Quinn replied. "She wasn't, well, she wasn't, and there are just some bruises and aches and pains."
"Well, that's good, but how is she handling. . . ."
"Tiffany isn't sure, but then, Tiffany is not a talker," Quinn had to admit. "She actually does see and understand more than people think she does. She just has a hard time expressing herself, because she talks, you know, slow. . . ."
"She wasn't like that when we got here," Daria pointed out.
Quinn sighed. "Please don't tell anyone, even Jane if you can help it. Tiffany has a history of mild seizures. She reacts to her new medications like that, which is supposed to be . . . what's the word? Atypical?"
"Anyway, it slows down her speech and even her reaction time, but not really her thinking. It frustrates her at times, I know. She'll probably never drive, but on the other hand, it's been over eighteen months since she had convulsions. Fortunately, both her parents are physical therapists, so Tiffany's had good care, and she did say Leah will be seeing some good counselors. They get all the care they need from Cedars, because that's where the parents work."
"Well, not good news, but good to know," Daria acknowledged.
"She knew that you and Jane were the ones who helped Leah," Quinn said quietly. "So, she asked if I could tell Sandi and Stacy, if I hadn't. Which, of course, I hadn't."
"Do you want me to be with you when you do it?" Daria asked equally quietly.
Quinn shook her head. "I just got off the phone with them. I did ask them not to say anything, although I don't know if that will do any good or not. Tiffany also asked that I thank you and give you a hug."
"Could you just say you did both?" Daria asked.
"I could, but . . . but I think I could use a hug," Quinn admitted, a little teary. "This has been scary, Daria."
Daria said nothing, she just lifted her right arm, and Quinn scooted over. Daria wrapped her good arm around Quinn's shoulder, and Quinn tucked her feet up on the sofa and laid her head on Daria's shoulder. Daria rested her head against Quinn's.
The two sat there quietly, and fell asleep. Helen and Jake were quite shocked to find them like that an hour later.
The next morning, Daria and Jane approached Tiffany. The other three Fashion Club members were hovering, while Tiffany was opening her locker (on the lower tier of lockers).
Tiffany put her jacket away, and, before closing her locker, pried a piece of paper from one of the air vents. She, like most girls, was used to getting such messages. Some were nice, some were rude, some were obscene. She was wondering which this might be when she saw who was approaching.
Tiffany simply walked to meet the pair and hugged Jane tightly, and then Daria. To each, she simply said, "Thank you."
Jane and even Daria hugged her back. "Excuse me a moment," Tiffany drawled. She unfolded the note and read it.
And read it again, confused for a second. Then, her face slowly moved to a scowl. "Does this mean what I think it means?" she asked Daria slowly, yet almost animated.
Daria refused to touch it, but did read the note. "It does," Daria practically growled. "Come on, we need to take that to Ms Li." Daria turned and took a step, but then realized Tiffany was still frozen. She turned back and snapped, "Jane, Quinn, tell the homeroom teachers. Tiffany, come!" This time Tiffany followed.
"Who does she think she is?" Sandi asked, mostly out of bewilderment, not active hostility.
"I don't know who she thinks she is, but she knows she's potentially the most dangerous person in this county as well as the smartest, never mind in the school," Jane responded. "When she uses that voice, just obey. Let's get going, Quinn."
Daria found Quinn waiting for her when she got in later that afternoon, around 5:30. "I need to get some things," Daria said. "We can talk in my room in a few minutes, if you want."
Quinn merely nodded and waited at Daria's doorway while Daria let down the access ladder and went up into the attic. She came down a few minutes later and invited Quinn into her room, where she took off her boots, took out a sewing kit, and sat on the bed in the position that traditional tailors had been using for thousands of years while exposing the left inner side pocket of a new, heavier denim jacket, one suitable for most days of a Maryland winter.
"What are you doing?" Quinn asked.
"Overall, Lawndale is much safer than Highland," Daria commented. "Still, all it takes is one lunatic. . . ."
Daria held up the object she had brought down from the attic. "If these were made of brass, they'd be called brass knuckles."
"Those would set off the metal detectors."
Daria nodded. "Very true. These are made of a hardened fiber, with small hard, sharp plastic inlays. A knife won't cut it and it would mess up a face pretty badly. A punch to the side of a throat with it should stop most people, and a punch to a windpipe might kill."
Quinn swallowed at that.
"No, I don't want to hurt anyone, let alone kill them," Daria assured her sister. "I would feel awful if I had to hurt anyone. I still have nightmares about stomping Feldman; hell, I am still a bit traumatized by what I had to do to that slime ball who was molesting you over two years ago! But I'd rather feel awful because I hurt or even killed someone, than know I could have saved myself, or you, or Jane, or a girl like Leah, and didn't." She had unpicked the double lining of the pocket, and quickly tacked the knuckle-duster into the lining. In short order, the pocket looked normal again, although she could get the knuckle-duster free in a few seconds.
"What did the note say?" Quinn asked. "Tiffany was still too upset to be asked."
"It said, 'Hey, Fat Jap! I almost got the little J.A.P. last night. Your turn might be soon'." Quinn made a face of disgust while Daria finished her sewing. "Do many people know that Tiffany has a body-image problem?"
"You mean her always asking if something makes her look fat?" Quinn asked. Daria merely nodded, so Quinn added, "That's a fairly new thing, according to Sandi. I'm sure a fair percentage of girls have heard her."
"But how about guys?"
Quinn shrugged her shoulder. "I would never mention it to guys, but I wouldn't be surprised if girls outside the club do to put Tiffany down."
"You're probably right." Daria looked Quinn in the eye. "The odds are that note really was from the would-be rapist. And, considering that yesterday was the day we all expected the guy who attacked me and the J's to attack someone, there is at least a fair chance they are one and the same."
"How fair?" Quinn asked.
"I don't know," Daria answered. "In my own mind, I'd say a ninety percent chance the note was genuine, and at least a sixty percent chance it's the same guy who assaulted me. But, I could be totally wrong."
"Can you give me a refresher on handling the bear-spray?"
"Of course," Daria answered. "Don't forget. . . ."
"I notified Security and the Nurse that I would be carrying before I left school today," Quinn assured her sister. "Daria, do you think we know who's doing this?"
"If it is all one guy, I think you know him at least," Daria replied. "You don't know who it is," she assured her stricken sister, "but you know him. It was probably sheer coincidence that it was Leah he attacked. I don't see how he could have followed her from the trick-or-treaters group, and he sure couldn't have known she was going home that way by herself, but it was dark enough the entire time they were out that it is remotely possible. Still, he attacked your sister, your three admirers, and threatened one of your friends. So, if you don't know him, he certainly knows you."
"I'm afraid," Quinn said quietly.
"I understand," Daria said as she unpicked the hem of the jacket so she could add the garrote.
"I think I'll just alternate between Joey, Jeffy, and Jamie for a while."
"Fine, but stick with Jeffy until after the Homecoming Dance."
"Right, no need to make anyone jealous," Quinn acknowledged. "To change to a more pleasant subject, why did you invite the rest of the Fashion Club over tomorrow night? And who else did you invite?"
"I also invited Jane, Jodie, and Andrea," Daria replied. "As to why . . . do you know what I miss about Seventh and Eighth grade?"
"Let's see . . . nothing about school itself, I'm sure. . . ." Quinn said as she tried to remember.
A memory suddenly hit. "You went to a lot of sleep-overs for a while back then, didn't you?"
"I did, at least until Carole and Janet both moved away the summer before I went to Highland High," Daria acknowledged. "I was only invited to a few after that."
Quinn smirked. "Wasn't it mostly because you were allowed to check yourself out at the library, and you could bring all the steamy romance novels to the sleep-overs?"
"True, especially after those two both moved away, and then the idea kind of lost its appeal for everyone as one by one most started dating," Daria agreed. "Carole and Janet were best friends, but I think at least one of them must have liked me a bit to have invited me in the first place, and to have kept it going almost two years. Anyway, I don't want to read to you guys, but I thought we could watch an old movie or two that I think we'd all like."
"Well," Quinn said, "I guess it can't hurt to try. How thrilled was Mom with a short-order sleep-over?"
"Shocked that we might be able to get along long enough to pull it off," Daria admitted.
If an accurate poll could have been taken, very few of the males at Lawndale High, and even fewer at the Middle School, really took much notice of the assault on Leah Blum-Deckler. In large part, that was because it had been very down-played in the media, and in fact few of the boys even knew who had been assaulted.
The girls, of course, took more notice; it took little imagination for any of them to place herself in the younger girl's place. Many of the males, therefore, found their female classmates warier than usual, and a few downright hostile.
Still, life went on. There was a rather pep-less pep rally on Friday, and the crowd was a bit more subdued Saturday afternoon than would have been expected against Lawndale's archrivals. On the other hand, since the boys were far less affected, the football team was ready to play the next day. This year, the parade was held without the problems of the previous years, at least as far as Daria and Jane could see from their vantage point near one of the drug stores. When the Fashion Club float came by (pulled by Jamie's car this year), Daria and Jane got the other Lawndale High girls nearby to cheer for the still-upset and depressed Tiffany, which brought a small smile and wave from her.
Tiffany of course had to hurry home after the parade to be with her family – only her and her family's desire to pretend to the unknowing world that everything was fine had motivated her to ride in the parade. Daria was not surprised when Andrea turned down the idea once she learned that the sleep-over was only that. More surprising was Sandi's disinterest.
Fortunately, Stacy was still excited about coming. Jodie wanted to come, and had been forced to do some fast talking to get her way. Fortunately, while her mother disliked Helen on many levels, Jodie's father had actually come to rather like Jake and both of Jodie's parents liked Daria. This was accentuated by the fact that the first Lawndale Law tv ad was now up and running on the local stations, and it had impressed both Landons when Jodie had pointed out it was Daria and Jane's idea.
Helen and Jake thoughtfully went out to dinner. Daria laid out trays of pita and a wide away of meats, cheeses, and veggies, plus chips and dips. Jane smiled as she saw Daria make her various pita with either tuna or hummus. As they ate, the teens watched Forbidden Planet, which, as it turned out, only Daria and Jane had seen. They also had strawberry sorbet between movies. After dessert, the teens got ready for bed since it was after 9:00, although bed time was still far off.
Having seen one adventurous flic with just a hint of romance, Daria had chosen a more romantic movie for their nightcap. Right after Jake and Helen had gotten in, the teens settled down with loads of popcorn for Casablanca. Neither Jodie nor Jane had watched it in some time, and again neither Quinn nor Stacy had even seen it.
By the end of movie, while not in tears, the other four girls had the sniffles. As usual, only the Marseillaise scene had gotten to Daria, not only for its genuine passion, but the feeling of desperation she felt the cast, largely refugees from various European oppressions, conveyed to the audience – or at least it did to her.
As Quinn and Stacy settled down to sleep a while later, Quinn asked, "What did you think of the movies?"
Knowing that alone with Quinn her opinions would at least not be ridiculed, Stacy said cautiously, "Well, the first one was sort of . . . weird, especially the music, but in the end it did really fit."
"I have to admit, I was worried when it started, but in the end I can see why she wanted us to see it," Quinn conceded. "And Casablanca?"
"I used to think your sister didn't have many emotions, but she really knows romantic movies, doesn't she?"
"She does, although again, I was worried about it when it started," Quinn agreed. "I sometimes think I'll never figure her out."
Next door, Jane had taken the evening in stride and was already asleep, as was Daria. Jodie, however, was awake, and wondering about the many layers of her friend, and wondered if she had seen more than a tiny fraction.
Jodie was startled to be woken the next morning by a hand touching her foot. She was disoriented for a moment, wondering where she was and why she was being awakened this way.
The first memory was of making her way through the strange house in the middle of the night to use the toilet. Then she remembered which strange house she was in – Daria's. Only then did she open her eyes to the bright light of morning, with a showered and partially dressed Jane over her. "Hey, sleepy head," Jane teased.
"What time is it?" Jodie muttered. "Why don't you go run or something?"
Jane snorted. "I've had breakfast, talked with the Morgendorffers separately to avoid power-walking with Daria's Mom, run for an hour, and just got out of the shower. As for the time, it's a few minutes before Eleven o'clock."
That made Jodie sit up. "Really?"
"Really," Jane replied. "Quinn and Stacy went over to take Tiffany and Leah shoe shopping at some special early morning sale at Cranberry Commons. Apparently the legal eagles of Oakwood and Lawndale have some big brunch the morning of this game, and the Morgendorffers left about thirty minutes ago. Daria's been cooking since a little before Nine o'clock."
"I don't think I've slept this long since . . . I don't know when," Jodie admitted.
"Then it's probably a good thing you did," Jane replied. "It's good to unwind every once in a while, not to mention we'll be dancing until after Eleven tonight."
"Good points," Jodie admitted. "What's for lunch?"
"Just left over cheese and cold cuts on equally left-over pita. Oh, and one of Mister M's potential clients imports sodas from around the country to DC and this part of the state. Daria said the black cherry is fantastic, and she saved three bottles for lunch."
"Tell her I'll be down in twenty. I have to admit, I'm really hungry!"
"Then come down as you are and change after lunch," Jane said with a shrug.
"You know, I think I will," Jodie replied. "Mom would have a fit, which is a good reason to do it!"
Daria and Jane would again watch the game from the student government section of the press box. This time, they had stocked the fridge with root beer and had bags of salty snacks ahead of time, but none of the girls were overly hungry during the first half. While Lawndale led as the half ended 23-6, the three had tried to solve the problem of the attacks, and had come up with nothing.
"Hey, Jodie," Daria suddenly asked as the football teams left the field and the band prepared to come on, "how come there's no big fuss about homecoming during the half-time show? Don't most schools announce the Homecoming Queen then? Or at least introduce her?" She was sure that had happened two years before, when her parents had dragged her to Homecoming under protest.
"They usually did the latter, until this year," Jodie commented. "For some reason, when the half time show program was submitted this year, that part was left out and was publicized without the Queen having to come on the field and wave."
"I bet you feel terrible," Jane commented.
"Just terrible. Ms Li was not happy, but decided not to print a corrected outline."
"Very clever," Jane acknowledged.
"Say, Daria. . . ."
"Uh-oh," Jane muttered.
"You know, you showed you're pretty coordinated, even musical, this week."
"I didn't sing that much," Daria growled. She had sung and clapped a few songs in order for the dancers to go through the steps at different speeds.
"I know you don't like joining things, at least in part because your mother wanted you to have activities to put on your college applications."
"True," Daria agreed.
"So, now that it will really be too late for you anyway, since you've already been more-or-less accepted. . . ."
"Would you organize the Lawndale Spring Review? It's traditionally done by a senior. I promise I'll back you in getting people."
"Those are usually badly done skits and worse musical productions," Daria pointed out. "The last two years' have been mostly bad rap acts."
"True," Jodie agreed.
"Okay," Daria agreed.
"I know you don't like being out in front, but this will allow you to run . . . wait! You'll do it?"
"I'll do it, if Jane will design under my direction, and if I can get Theo and Quinn, and maybe Tori, to agree to help as well as you and Mack."
"Deal," Jodie said.
"Deal," Jane said, and then she smiled evilly. "This is going to be fun."
Jodie's head fell towards her chest. "What have I done?"
"You just gave power to Daria Morgendorffer, future Mistress of the World," Jane teased.
"I'll draw up an announcement next week," Daria said to Jodie. "You'll need to reserve the chorus room after school in December, for anyone or groups who want to audition appropriate musical numbers. We'll also need lots of time after New Year's for rehearsal. You, Quinn, and I will also need time to rehearse our number."
Jodie's head snapped up. "Rehearse what?"
"You'll see," Daria smirked.
"Oh, God," Jodie moaned.
"If your parents complain about the time you have to spend after school, have them talk to me," Daria added.
"You know nobody will audition," Jodie warned. "Everything is always last minute."
"I know," Daria acknowledged. "That means I can do what I want and no one can legitimately complain. With you and Jane on board, and I'll get Quinn and Tori on board as well, this will work."
"Oh, God," Jodie complained.
"I'll ask Mister DeMartino to sponsor it," Daria mused. "He likes Annette Funicello."
"Oh, what have I done?" Jodie asked the universe.
Despite Kevin throwing an interception in the second half, Lawndale romped over Oakwood, 41-12. Daria had invited Jane and Jodie over to have dinner with their boyfriends at her place the previous Tuesday. The pair had brought over their dresses before going to the game. The boys would change into street clothes at school after the game and then change into their suits at the Morgendorffers.
The trio arrived at the Morgendorffers just a few moments before Quinn. Quinn therefore followed the trio into the kitchen. "I really don't understand," she said.
"What don't you understand?" Daria asked, curious rather than hostile.
"Why are you making dinner instead going out?" Quinn asked. She smirked. "Although I suppose our grandmothers would be pleased."
"They would, at first glance," Daria agreed, going over to the huge stew pot that had been cooling off since 12:30. Daria lifted the lid, and strong meaty aromas filled the kitchen.
"What does that mean?"
"Jane, how many real meals have the four of us done at your place?" Daria asked. "Five, right?"
Jane thought for a moment, and nodded.
"OOooo, sneaking the guys over to Jane's for some private time," Quinn teased.
"Who does most of the cooking?" Daria asked, ignoring Quinn.
"Oh, John does. Mom gets a kick out of watching him," Jane answered. "Yes, Quinn," Jane teased back as she handed silverware to Jodie so she could start setting the dining room table, "Mom is well aware of it." 'Well, three of the five times, anyway,' Jane mentally amended. "She's a decent cook, when she remembers to cook at all."
Daria was skimming surplus fat off the top of the cooled stew. "So, this isn't us auditioning for jobs as housewives, it's simple payback. You can still join us, by the way."
Quinn looked into the stew pot and made a face. "What's in there?"
"Lean ground beef, some bison and ostrich in part for the novelty and in part to keep the fat down, and two kinds of sausages. I'll add some of those little smoked sausages in a minute. I cooked leeks in red wine. . . ."
"Mom watched," Daria scolded. "I'm sure she and Dad will enjoy the rest of it with dinner out here." She sealed the jar she had placed the surplus grease into and tossed it. "So, never mind the recipe, but there are also turnips, potatoes, carrots, celery, and, as the Colonel used to say, eleven herbs and spices, although they probably aren't the same ones. I'm sure I used a lot more paprika at least." She turned the stove to medium heat. "The guys will want and need protein, and there's plenty of it. I'll also do Grandma Ruth's dumpling recipe, although I quartered the amount of lard going in."
"Thank you!" Jane and Jodie chorused.
"I'll also toss a salad," Daria added. "Jane baked an apple-and-pear pie. . . ."
"Fruit from out of our back yard," Jane put in.
"And I helped with that," Jodie added. "Plus, I got some nice gourmet vanilla ice cream to put on the pie."
"Yumm," Jane said as Daria got out the mixing bowl for the dumplings.
"Jodie, could please get me the buttermilk from the fridge?" Daria said.
Quinn shook her head in wonder, and went to get dressed.
On the other side of the entrance to the kitchen, Helen backed up a few steps and then came forward to give the illusion she had just entered the house shortly before. "Aren't you running a little late?" she asked Quinn mildly.
Quinn gave a small, startled 'eep' of surprise, and ran to the upstairs bathroom.
Helen smirked for a moment and went on into the kitchen. "Hi, girls! Is everything under control."
"Yes!" they chorused, which was followed by two "Hi, Mrs. Morgendorffer," from Jodie and Jane and "Hi, Mom," from Daria. Helen watched with amusement as the other two girls watched Daria blend the dry ingredients and then cut in some lard and vegetable shortening with a hand 'pastry blender', as well as an egg and just enough buttermilk to get the right consistency. It was clear that neither of the teens had seen this done before, at least outside of a cooking show. Helen noticed Daria had some other ingredients to add off to the side, but other than the bottle of paprika, she wasn't sure what they were (actually just finely chopped chives and celery, with a little celery salt, plus some chopped bacon).
When Daria was done, she covered the bowl with a clean dishcloth and went over to taste the stew. She looked at her mother.
"I made certain your father didn't add anything to it," she promised.
"Good," Daria replied. "This is supposed to be savory, not spicy. He can add some of his atomic powered hot sauces to his own bowl."
"Oh, I hope not," Helen said as Daria tasted the warming stew.
The guys were seated in the dining room, and laughed when they saw the bowls Jane had brought over (all made by her mother). She, Daria, and Jodie first brought in their bowls -- nice-sized bowls holding stew that made the boys' mouth water, and with a nice-sized dumpling which was cut in half -- but which originally had been about two-thirds the size of a baseball. Mack and John got larger bowls containing about half again as much stew and a dumpling and a half. Thor's was almost a serving bowl, with twice as much stew as the girls' and two dumplings.
The three football players had played a tough game despite the final point total and were very hungry.
Once the guys had worked their way about a third of the way through, signaled by their finally paying attention to their salads, Daria asked, "So, how are the odds of making the state championships?"
"As of last weekend, there were twenty-one undefeated teams across the state," Mack said. "Now there are thirteen. Riverdale is also currently undefeated."
"We play them next week," John added.
"Six other currently undefeated teams play each other, either next week or the week after," Mack went on. "If we stay undefeated, we should be in the tournament."
"Sixteen teams start," John added.
"So, if you win six more games, you'll be the state champs," Daria mused.
"Exactly," John pointed out. "Well, I suppose if we lost to Riverdale in a close game we could still have a shot at the playoffs. If we lose to Lawndale East, then we probably wouldn't." Lawndale County East was a consolidated school district, with the 'suburbs' of suburbs like Lawndale and Riverdale and some farming areas. Since that team had a current record of 2-6, a loss to them would indeed hurt Lawndale's chances of making the playoffs.
"We have the best points scored/points given up ratio of any undefeated team in the state right now," Thor added. "That should also help our chances."
"What are your chances of winning the championship?" Jane asked.
"So-so," Thor stated.
That made John wince, but he did not really disagree. Instead, he said, "We've been lucky so far. When the other teams have tried to plan against us, they've done the wrong things."
"Like what?" Daria asked, "And does that mean you know what the 'right things' would have been?"
"If they don't at least try to double-team Thor on most plays, he can usually disrupt anything but short passes and runs to the outside," John pointed out. "If they do double-team him, and in a few cases they try triple-teaming him, the rest of us are good enough to usually take advantage of out-manning the rest of the offense. So first of all, they have to stick to short passes to the sides, and runs that way, which really cuts down on what the opposing offense can do."
"The other teams' defenses all know the key is Kevin," Thor went on. "Mack is an excellent high school running back and an outstanding all-around athlete, but the other running backs are nothing special. And Mack can be stopped if the defense would watch him and not Kevin. But this year, the three J's really give us some flexibility as receivers."
"By rotating them so often, they stay fresh," Mack agreed. "All three have good hands, even if they are mediocre runners once they get the ball."
"The defenses have keyed in on Kevin by trying to pressure him," Thor went on. "Kevin isn't bright enough to react poorly to that type of pressure and has the skills to slip out of being sacked and to throw on the run."
"So, you're facing Lawndale," John said to Daria. "You have a good, flexible high school team and the inside scoop on the Lawndale players. How would you play us?"
"I'd keep my best blocking running back in the backfield for most plays to help protect the quarterback from Theo, while running at least half the plays to the outsides," Daria responded. "As for Kevin . . . I'd keep the defense in as much motion as is allowable, because he might not be able to follow random movement. And the defensive players should make as much distracting chatter as they're allowed for the same reason."
"Exactly," Mack replied. "Kevin just doesn't have the mental capacity to figure out changing defensive backfield patterns when they shift at the last second. Fortunately, no one has figured that out yet."
"Let's hope they never do!" Theo replied.
Meanwhile, in the kitchen, Helen and Jake were marveling at Daria's stew as they ate at the breakfast table. "Wow! This is really good!" Jake said for the third time. "And I know I shouldn't say this, but the dumplings are better than Mom's!"
Helen was a bit torn by all this, but she only said, "Considering the top-grade ingredients Daria used, I'm glad it came out so well."
"I wonder why Daria's never cooked like this before," Jake mused.
That did amuse Helen. "I would imagine so she doesn't get stuck doing the cooking. Doing a special meal is one thing; doing cooking from scratch very often would take more time that any one of us would want to give. Remember, both Daria and Quinn scored hundreds in home ec during middle school."
"That's true," Jake had to admit. He looked down at his large bowl of stew with satisfaction.
"Daria used very lean meats, including bison and even ostrich," Helen pointed out. "She also used canned broth instead of making it from scraps and bones, and bought the low sodium version, so that was likely healthier as well. On top of that, she added herbs and what tastes like some shredded bacon to the dumplings. Not to mention that she used less shortening than your Mother's recipe, and only a small part of that was lard. With all the carbs in these dumplings, it can't be a perfectly healthy meal, but it's pretty close to healthy."
"Either way, it's darn good." He raised his glass of Austrian Zweigelt. "This is good, too, especially for the price." He lowered the glass of red wine a bit. "Do we want to know how she knew about this? I never heard of it."
"Let's just assume she's as good researching wines as she is everything else," Helen stated, also raising her glass. "To our eldest."
Jake gently clinked his glass to Helen's.
The dancers caused a bit of a stir during the homecoming dance, but given whom some of those dancers were, there was no criticism. Instead, it turned out that a fair number of the Lawndale students had enduring dance lessons in one form or another – unsurprising, perhaps, given the very middle-to-upper middle class demographics most of them came from. By the end of the evening, nearly a quarter of the students had at least tried to adjust their rusty ballroom dancing skills to accommodate the stylings of Mystic Spiral, a trend which would continue at Lawndale High dances for the next four years.
By the time the dance was over, many of the students – especially the football players, cheerleaders, and band members – were pretty well exhausted. Brittany Taylor certainly was, but she found she could not sleep. After tossing and turning for nearly an hour, she gave up and got out of bed. She turned on the lights and simply sat at her vanity, staring into the mirror. The conversation she had had with Daria at the dance simply wouldn't leave her.
Jodie had mentioned that Daria would be in charge of the Lawndale Spring Review, and so she had asked Daria if she thought the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet might fit in.
"Why do you think Kevin would do a better job on stage in front of a large audience than he did at the coffee house?" Daria had asked.
Brittany's shoulders had slumped, as did her chin. "He wouldn't," she had whispered.
"Brittany, if the Review goes off as I hope, I promise you'll be featured in at least one of the numbers."
"Why?" Brittany had asked. "We're not really friends, even if we get along."
"Do you really want to know?"
"I do," Brittany had answered. Looking back, Brittany felt like she had been in a story, a fairy tale, and was asking the good witch, the fairy godmother, the master narrator in short, for why there was suddenly an unexpected path.
"I could say that it's because, even though it was a backhanded invitation, you did invite me to my first party at Lawndale. I could say it's because of what you told me when I was emotionally confused about wearing my contacts. I could even say it's in part because, although we are not friends, we are friendly – you've never intentionally put me down, you've always treated me as a person of worth, even though most of what we value is very different from each other. In short, you really are a good person, Brittany Taylor. While all that is true, above all I have a vision for the Review, and there is at least one part you can play in it that I think you would enjoy."
Thinking about that scene for now the sixth time, Brittany realized that while she had never really been mean to Daria, she hadn't been nearly as nice as she should have been. Yet Daria, who could easily cut her down now that the power was reversed to some degree, was offering her a hand. That started a chain of remembrances of other offers she had made in return for help; most had turned out badly. But then, that was Daria. Brittany turned off her lights and looked out the window at the twinkling stars. That always made her feel small, and yet connected. "You're a good person, too, Daria," she whispered to the Universe, "no matter how hard you try to hide it."