Disclaimer: Daria and associated characters are owned by MTV. This is fan fiction written for entertainment only. No money or other negotiable currency or goods have been exchanged.

This is the twenty-fourth John Lane story

Richard Lobinske

Heart Flush

Helen saw a red-haired woman wearing combat fatigue pants and a close-fitting tank top crossing the yard toward the front door as she pulled into her home's driveway. She opened the window and said, "Can I help you?"

The woman said, "Hey, you must be Mrs. Morgendorffer. I'm John's sister, Penny."

A bird in the airline carrier she held squawked, so Penny added, "This is Chiquito."

"Oh, how nice to finally meet you," Helen replied, stepping out of her SUV. "John should be inside; the car is here."

Acknowledging the worn blue sedan, Penny said, "So Trent finally gave up on that old thing?"

"Trent didn't need it as much since he lives downtown, so John and Daria use it to drive back and forth to school."

"I'm surprised it's still running."

Opening the door of the house, Helen said, "Up until last week, it wasn't. Please, come in."


"Are you going to be staying in Lawndale?"

"Nah. I just spent a week with Mom and Dad after a volcano swallowed my native craft stand in Costa Rica and now I'm on my way to Puerto Rico."

"How interesting."

Inside the house, Penny looked around cautiously, like somebody who'd entered the enemy's camp. She said, "Um, nice place you've got here."

"Why, thank you. John's probably in his room painting. Why don't you go on up and surprise him? Top of the stairs and just to the left."

"Why not?"

Penny jogged up the staircase and opened the indicated door. "Hey, John! How's this for...oops. Uh, surprise?"

Incredibly surprised, John and Daria released their embrace and separated, with John falling onto the floor from the bed while Daria uncomfortably found herself pulling the edge of her shirt down.

John sputtered, "Penny?"

The older Lane grinned and said, "Mrs. Morgendorffer let me in, so..."

Red-faced, Daria said, "What's she doing home early?"

"I don't know," Penny said while closing the door and offering her hand to help John stand up. "But I bet you're glad I came upstairs instead of her."

Talking while eating quickly, Penny said to the Morgendorffer family gathered around the dinner table, "Me, Summer, and two of her offspring in one room..."

Remembering the size of his parents' cabin at Ashfield, John said, "One small room."

"Yeah," Penny agreed. "Bad idea. And people wonder why I don't want kids. Anyway, I couldn't take it anymore, so once I wrangled some backing, I took off for Puerto Rico. Since this is on the way, I decided to stop by and see my little brother gone good."

"That backing didn't happen to come from Mom and Dad, did it?" John cautiously asked.

"Don't worry," Penny reassured John, "I got the hint. Being gone so much, I never realized how much you and Trent were being shorted. The backing came from...other sources."

Helen said, "Don't forget that, as a lawyer, there are some things I shouldn't hear."

"Gotcha, not a word. That reminds me; do you handle divorces?"

Jake asked, "You're married?"

John groaned and said, "Wind."

Penny drained her glass and said, "You got it. When he started having to pay his own alimony, Wind's latest told him to take a hike."

"I don't handle divorces," Helen explained. "But we have a couple associates that do. Wind will need to set up an appointment."

Penny laughed. "Oh, I wasn't trying to hire you; I just wanted a professional opinion of how much of an idiot he's been."

With Penny about to leave, Helen asked, "Are you sure you won't stay the night? It can be dangerous out there."

"Last I heard, there weren't any counter-revolutionaries in Lawndale and I think I can handle any ordinary low-lifes I run into."

John waved and said, "Good luck, Penny."

"You too," Penny replied. "Don't let the bourgeois lifestyle ruin you."

"Too late; I'm getting rather attached to it."

After the family returned inside and the door closed, Jake asked, "Doesn't anybody think it's strange that Penny has red hair?"

"Da-ad!" Quinn said, amazed at her father's ignorance, "Don't you know that shade of red can only come from a bottle?"

"Really? How can you tell?"

She waved her hands and said, "Trust me, if you don't understand, there's no way I can explain it."

Upstairs, John followed Daria into her room and pulled the door near-closed. "That was close."

Looking at the floor, Daria said, "I'm glad Penny had a sense of humor about it."

Awkwardly standing next to her, John said, "We were getting a little..."

"Yeah. And scary, but also..."

John softly smiled at Daria. "Yeah."

"This isn't going to get any easier."


"I'm glad Mom had me start on the pill. Most of my life, I've been able to keep my emotions under control, but at times now, I'm not certain."

"I, um, don't think that we're really ready."

"I don't think so, either."

"It's not because I don't think you're...uh...attractive."

"You're not so bad, yourself. The temptation makes me realize why Mom was so worried..."

"I'm realizing how your parents really took a big risk letting me stay here. They trust you."

Daria took his hand. "And you."

"I guess we'll have to keep trying to keep that trust."

"That's just what we needed: another annoying complication to surviving high school."

After parking the car in the school lot the next morning, Daria cocked an ear and listened. "That sounds so much better."

Not hearing anything, John asked, "What?"

"No more 'Mental in the Morning' nonsense."

Opening the car door, John said, "I wonder what school they're torturing this week?"

Picking up her backpack from the rear seat, Daria said, "Does it matter?"

"Hey, it would be the most likely place for a student to lose it and climb up on the roof with a sniper rifle."

"Hmm. Good point. Think they might secretly be on Sick, Sad World's payroll?"

"But what about their journalistic integrity?"

"Their what?" Daria asked as she closed the door.

Also closing his door, John said, "Sorry, temporary brain damage."

"Did you sneak out and listen to Mystik Spiral practice?"

"I said brain damage, not brain death."

Under the words, "Tristan and Isolde", Mr. O'Neill wrote as he said, "And of course, the concept of chastity is important..."

Kevin chuckled and said, "Man, those belt thingies must really suck. I didn't know those Round Table dudes were into that kind of thing."

Mr. O'Neill sighed heavily. "No, Kevin. It's not like that."

Ms. Li's voice over the intercom interrupted the class. "Mr. O'Neill. Please send Daria Morgendorffer and John Lane to the office immediately and have them bring their things; they will not be returning."

Looking at each other with their faces saying, "What did we do now?" the two pushed notebooks into their backpacks while the class watched.

Daria said, "Do you want us to read the next chapter tonight?"

Wringing his hands, Mr. O'Neill said, "Oh! Um, yes, read the next chapter."

Under everyone's watchful eyes, John and Daria left the room. Still turned to watch, Kevin said to Brittany, "I wonder if Daria's dad makes her wear one. You know, that's why John and Daria aren't doing it."

Twirling her hair around a finger, Brittany said, "I don't think I've seen anything like that when we change for gym class."

"Oh yeah, she must keep it hidden."



The sisters stopped just short of the office door and Quinn said, "You were called to the office, too?"

John said, "Yes."

"Oh God, what did you do?" Quinn asked.

Daria answered, "Nothing, as far as we know, and certainly nothing that would have you involved."

"Then what's going on?"

Daria stepped forward and opened the door. "I don't have a clue. Let's find out."

Quinn had barely closed the door before Ms. Li rushed toward them. "Daria, Quinn, your mother called and said your father has been taken to Cedars of Lawndale Hospital. You two and John are excused from school to go there."

"Daddy?" Quinn cried.

Daria paled faintly and said, "Do you know what happened?"

"No, Ms. Morgendorffer, but your mother was very clear that you should go there immediately," Li said, herding them toward the school exit, obviously intent on fulfilling Helen's directive.

Daria started to guide her stunned sister and said, "John, will you drive?"

"Yeah." John started to jog ahead, saying over his shoulder, "I'll open the car and get it started."

Minutes later, John was driving to the hospital with Daria and Quinn both in the back seat. Eyes wide, Quinn said, "What's wrong with Daddy, Daria?"

"I don't know, Quinn. We'll have to wait until we get to the hospital."

"You don't know? That's kind of scary."

"Quinn, I...I'm sorry."

Helen sprang across the waiting room and hugged all three teens. "Oh, thank goodness you made it!"

"What happened to Daddy?" Quinn quickly asked.

Helen glared back at the nurses' station. "They won't tell me anything."

"Mom," Daria said, attempting to be reassuring, "It's possible that they don't know yet. Start from the beginning: what do you know?"

Helen caught her breath and said, "Jake collapsed during a presentation to a new client, at Lawndale Downs Race Track. He was brought here in an ambulance and they called me from the emergency contact number on his insurance card. I called the school and got here about five minutes ago. They've been most uncooperative."

"The doctors are probably still examining Dad and running tests. We'll just have to wait."

"You have to keep on these people."

Daria nodded toward some seats. "Come on, let's sit down."

Reluctantly, Helen followed Daria, with Quinn and John joining them. Helen sat where she could keep a constant eye on the nurses' station and the double doors to the treatment rooms. Quinn sat to Helen's left and anxiously watched with her mother. Daria sat to Helen's right and calmly kept an eye on Helen and Quinn. When John sat down, Daria discreetly reached for his hand, squeezing it tight and betraying the concern under her calm.

Almost an hour later, a woman in a white lab coat exited the exam rooms and stopped by the nurses' station. The desk nurse pointed to the Morgendorffers. With a nod, the doctor approached and said, "Mrs. Morgendorffer?" as Helen rose.

"Yes," Helen tersely replied. "How is Jake?"

"It looks like he suffered a minor heart attack."

"Oh, dear!" Helen said with concern.

"Is it bad?" Quinn asked, nearing panic.

"Fortunately, no. He's awake and being transferred to a regular room for observation and more tests."

Helen said, "When can we see him?"

"Ten or fifteen minutes, once everything is settled."

Daria said, "It sounds like there wasn't much heart damage."

"We still need to run more tests, but I don't think so. It's nice to see such family concern." The doctor then addressed Helen. "By the way, does your husband have a high-stress job?"

"He's self-employed."

The doctor nodded. "That's probably it. I've seen plenty of patients who were their own worst boss."

"Hi, Dad," Daria said at the door to Jake's hospital room.

From the bed, Jake said, "Hey, kiddo."

"Hi, Jake," John said, standing behind Daria, feeling faintly out of place yet knowing this was where he should be.

Helen hurried past Daria and John to her husband's side. "Jakey! Don't worry about a thing; we'll take care of you."

"Helen, are you okay?" he inquired.

Helen patted a book held in her hand. "This has everything we need to know about a heart attack survivor...and I'm going to follow every word of it."

Quinn followed Helen into the room and went to the other side of the bed. "We were so worried about you, Daddy."

"You were?"

"Of course. Can you imagine how freaked out everyone would be if you died?"

Jake gulped. "Died?"

"Dad, you're going to be okay," Daria said.


"Jake, calm down," Helen warned. "You're going to be released in a day or two."

"Yeah, Dad, and we're going to take care of you at home."

"Quinn, you'll be in school and Mom will be at work," Daria said.

John innocently asked, "Any relatives you could call to help out?"

Jake smiled. "Mom?"

"What?" Quinn exclaimed, standing in the upstairs hallway.

Helen repeated her statement, "You and Daria will have to share her room while your Grandmother Ruth is staying with us."

"Don't I have a say in this?" Daria said, almost as disturbed as Quinn.

"No. I'm not going to force Ruth or anyone else to sleep on a couch; she'll have to stay in one of the bedrooms. You are well aware that John sharing a room is right out, so that leaves one of you girls' rooms for Ruth. Since Quinn's room is...um..."

"Less disturbing?" Daria finished.

"I was thinking more conventional."

Quinn huffed and said, "Mom, my room is way more than just conventional."

Helen ignored her daughters' comments. "It's the only logical decision."

Daria looked directly at Quinn. "My room, my bed. Don't even try it."

"But Daria, I need..."

Helen said, "Quinn, it's your sister's room. You'll have to use the sleeping pad."

"Mo-om! Don't you realize what that could do to my hair?"

"Nothing that I'm sure you can't fix in the morning. Oh, and Daria, you will share your space, not rent it."

Quinn looked into Daria's room at her desk. "I'm going to need some space for makeup and stuff."

Daria sighed. "I can make space on the desk."

"Hmm, I'll have to bring my own mirror."

"I'll make space for that, too."

Quinn stepped to her room and looked in. "My clothes! Mom, you don't expect me to put my clothes in Daria's closet?"

Helen said, "I don't think that will be necessary; you'll just have to work around Ruth's schedule. Such as, laying out your clothes the night before."

"Uh? The night before? How can I make adjustments to fit my look for the day?"

Daria said, "You'll just have to fake it."

The doorbell rang, causing Helen to whirl around, saying, "She's here! Now everyone, behave yourselves," before rushing downstairs.

"Behave ourselves?" Quinn said, putting her hands on her hips. "What does she think we've been doing?"

Noticing Daria and John's glance at each other, Quinn moved to the stairs, saying, "I don't want to know. Better go down and see Grandma."

"It's so good to see you again, Ruth," Helen said upon opening the door for the diminutive, gray-haired woman.

"Hi, Grandma," Quinn called, rushing up behind Helen.

"Helen, Quinn," Ruth said, "How's my Jakey doing?"

"He's upstairs, resting," Helen said.

"I see. Where's Daria?"

"Here, Grandma," Daria said from halfway down the stairs. "Along with the latest addition to the family, John. Believe me; Mom had a hard time with that delivery."

Ruth looked up. "Oh, that boy you took in. Are you sure he's safe?"

John said, "Trust me; this place is a lot safer than my old house. For one thing, the roof doesn't leak."

Offended, Helen said, "Ruth! How could you say that?"

"Just being careful," Ruth explained. "You never can tell what some people may actually be like until it's too late."

"Like your husband?"

Faintly, Jake's voice could be heard, saying, "Mom? Is that you?"

"Jake! I'll be right up," Ruth called as she hurried up the stairs, weaving between Daria and John.

After she was out of sight, John said, "Hmm, not much different than Grandma Lane."

Helen said, "John, I'm sorry. I didn't think that Ruth would say anything like that."

Daria raised her eyes toward Jake and Helen's room. "I can't wait for when she finds out how close our rooms are to each other."

"Oh dear," Helen said, beginning to rub her eyes. "Daria, I don't think it would be a good idea to leave your pills around for her to see."

Leaving the bathroom that evening, John passed Ruth, who warned him, "I'll be keeping an eye on my granddaughters' door."

He frowned and stepped to his room, closing the door and sitting heavily on the bed. Just a couple more years and we'll be away at college. I guess I can't blame Ruth: the situation looks suspicious. But dammit, can't we get some credit for not giving in? Get a little support for not giving, "Something could happen tomorrow and you'll never know," as an excuse?

He dropped backward and stared at the ceiling. With what happened to Jake... John shook his head and quickly sat up. "No, you're not going there."

Quinn knelt on the floor, setting up her sleeping pad. "Daria, I've been thinking."

"A year ago, I'd have been shocked by that statement," Daria said while reluctantly clearing space on her writing desk.

"Funny. What happened to Dad was scary. I'm, um, thinking about becoming a heart doctor. You know, just in case something happens to him again?"

Daria stepped across the room to the shelf near her bed and picked up an anatomical model of a human heart. "Want to borrow it?"

"Ew, what's that?"

"A model of a human heart."

"No way; that's gross."

"Only trying to help."

Thinking more clearly, Quinn said, "That really is what a heart looks like, isn't it?"


Quinn played with the edge of her sheet. "You think I was silly for even thinking about it."

Daria almost made a sarcastic remark, but stopped. "Quinn, I don't doubt your sincerity, but..."

"But, you don't think I'm smart enough."

"No. Actually, I think that it wouldn't be something that suits your talents."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Before Daria could respond, Quinn added, "Wait...you think I am smart enough to be a doctor?"

"You are my sister; you just use your intelligence in ways...I don't."

"Like, what?"

"Tell me about your date from the, hmm, twenty-third of last month."

"Let's see," Quinn paused for a moment to bring up the memory before saying, "Dennis, a 56 on my dating scale. He wore a really cute shirt, but his shoes were a little scuffed. We rode in his father's BMW with..."

"That's good. How does that dating scale work?"

"Well, I figure in his height and build, taste in clothes, the kind of places he knows to take a girl out to for dinner, the car he..."

"Where did it come from?"

"I figured it out."


"Oh. But, I thought you thought that was so shallow."

"Well, I think the goal is, but the effort you put into making it shows that you're smarter than you pretend to be."

"But, you don't think I'd be a good heart doctor."

"No more than I would."

With a devilish grin on her face, Quinn looked up and over toward Daria. "You know, you're my sister, too."

Understanding, Daria said, "Thanks, but you're not giving me a makeover."

In the school cafeteria the next day, Daria tapped her fork on her plate. "The really weird part is, I swear, that they keep trying to listen for...I don't know what."

John said, "Listen?"

"Like they expect me to fart on command or something."

"That would be an effective way to get them to back away."

"In that case, I'll eat an extra helping of Mom's 'Heart-Smart Chili' tonight."

"Your grandmother didn't seem too impressed by it."

"She's from the 'when in doubt, toss in an extra helping of lard' school of cooking."

"Glad I stayed out of the kitchen."

"Well, cooking is women's work," Daria said with annoyance.

"Yeah, her comments to Quinn about how to find a good man were...enlightening."

Daria shifted on the hard plastic seat and several nearby students paused to listen. She said, "See?"


"Your mom's home?" John asked as he parked the car behind Helen's SUV.

"Looks like it."

"Must be keeping an eye on the competition."

Daria reached over the seat to grab her book bag. "Dad's never going to want to leave with the way they've been pampering him."

John reached back for his bag and pulled a card from it. "Speaking of weird, this was in my gym locker today."

Daria read the card, "Lawndale Locksmiths. We'll open anything." She asked him, "Trouble with your locker?"



"And I bet it's only going to get weirder."

Opening the house door, they heard Helen saying, "Ruth, I regularly cook for my family."

"Oh, really? Where do you keep your bacon fat?" Ruth said.

"My what?" Helen said, as if replying to a rude comment about her appearance.

"From cooking bacon. Don't tell me you let it go to waste."

"Ruth, Jake needs to cut back on his fat intake."

"It's only a little bacon fat; it won't hurt anything."


"Okay, Helen. Since you don't have any on hand, I'll have to just do without. Where's your lard?"

John said, "Quinn would be horrified to hear that."

Daria said, "I'm not too thrilled, myself. But at least Grandma hasn't offered to make sausage yet."

"Is that bad?"

"She usually starts with a fresh pig."

"Better than a stale pig."

"John when I say fresh...um, have you ever heard of blutwurst?

"Hmm, there are some artistic..."

"We better let them know we're home."

John yelled, "We're home!"

Daria made a face at him. "Subtle."

Helen came around the corner from the kitchen. "Hi kids, we were just preparing dinner."

Ruth stepped up beside Helen. "Your mother's a little short on things, but I'll do the best I can."

Taking a step up the stairs, Daria said, "We'll say hi to Dad and then start our homework while you two are busy."

"Daria, don't you want to help with dinner?" Ruth asked.

"I'll pass." Taking another step, Daria said, "You know what they say about too many cooks..."

"But how are you ever going to cook for your, uh..." Ruth stopped, uneasily watching John.

John said, "Husband? Don't worry; I plan on getting a job at Cluster Burger. That way, we can have all the discount burgers we will ever need."

"We better go see Dad," Daria said, pulling on John's hand to hurry him up the stairs.

On the landing, John said, "Sorry, I couldn't resist."

She quickly gave him a kiss. "I'm grumpy because you beat me to it."

"Daria, is that you?" Jake said from his room.

At the door, she said, "Yes, Dad. How are you?"

John also said, "Hey, Jake. Doing any better?"

Jake shrugged. "Better? I don't know, well, maybe, I suppose."

"You're starting to sound like your old self," Daria said, stopping beside her father's bed.

He reached for her hand. "What if I'm not? Something could happen at any time and it'll be up to you to take care of things."

"I think Mom might have a thing or two to say."

He gripped harder. "Helen will be too upset, and Quinn...oh God!"

Daria loosened Jake's hand. "Dad, the doctor said you're going to be fine after some rest."

"That is, if Helen and Ruth trying to outdo each other doesn't overwhelm everybody first," John said, half serious.

Jake said, "Let's face it; anything could happen to any of us."

"Well, yeah, I suppose so," Daria tentatively agreed.

"And we'd miss the things we were looking forward to, like my promise to walk you down the aisle," Jake said while nodding toward John.

Daria said, "I don't remember that, but...I suppose it could be negotiable."

Jake sighed and said, "And what about all the stuff we've been putting off for 'the right time?' What if something happens before then? Think of everything we'll miss!"

Suddenly uneasy, Daria mumbled, "Um, yeah, Dad."

The same unease fell over John, for what he was certain was the same reason. His thoughts after running into Ruth the night before came back to him.

"Daria, John, don't let things pass you by."

Needing to change the subject, John said, "Just about everything passes the blue bomb."

"Yeah, it's the only car with bug splatters on the back bumper," Daria said, picking up on John's intent.

"Hi, Daddy," Quinn said, entering the room. The younger sister walked over and stopped at the foot of Jake's bed. "Daria, I think we need to do something downstairs. Grandma asked Mom if she's going to hire an interior decorator, and they're both holding knives."

Sitting on her bed and wearing a nightshirt, Daria asked Quinn, who was organizing her makeup for the morning, "Okay, you're connected to the school rumor mill. What gives? People were looking at me strange all day, and listening for something."

Uncomfortable, Quinn said, "You didn't hear?"

"No, that's why I'm asking you."

"Well, um, people are saying that Mom and Dad are making you wear a...whatcha call it...chatterley belt."

"A chastity belt?" Daria almost spat. "Kevin! But come on: half the girls in the junior class see me naked every day in gym class and should know better."

"They, uh...say it's made of brass."

"Yeah, and they probably say I could freeze the balls off a brass monkey."

"With bunny fur edging."

Daria shook her head in disbelief. "Fur edging...bunny fur edging."

"That's what someone said that they saw."

"Did you at least try to dispel that little bit of fiction?"

"Daria, you know trying to stop a rumor like that would only get me included. No offense, but...no way. You know what that could do to my dating potential?"

"Yeah, yours would probably have pink fur."

"Daria, we need to do something about this rumor, just in case it spreads."

Outside the gymnasium, Daria halted John as they walked to PE class. "John, I better warn you."

"Warn me about what?" he asked, curious.

"I'm going to squelch this chastity belt rumor. Hopefully with logic, but if called for, any means necessary. No telling what the repercussions might be."

"You're serious."


"That'll work for our class, but what about the others?"

Daria allowed a small smile. "Quinn realized what might happen if people associated 'sister' with 'chastity belt' and she agreed to educate the sophomores."

"With the freshman falling predictably into line," John said, returning the smile.

"And the seniors will ignore everyone else, as usual."

Quinn stopped in the middle of the school hallway. "Sandi, like I would allow anything like that in our house?"

The rest of the Fashion Club stopped and turned. Sandi said, "But people have said they've seen it."

Quinn shifted her attention to Stacy. "You know something like that would leave huge panty lines. Have you seen any on Daria?"

"Gee, Quinn, no I haven't." Stacy said.

"Yeah," Tiffany added. "You really can't see them at all."

"Okay," Sandi agreed. "But what does this have to do with us?"

"Daria lives in my house. Do you want people to think we approve of it?"

Sandi's eyes hardened. "The rumor ends now."

Clad in her gym clothes and aware of the attention, Daria walked to one end of the girls locker room and stepped up onto a bench. "By your stares, I'm confident you've all heard the rumor about my, or my parents' choice for me, of undergarments."

A light buzz of chatter answered her.

Daria's eyes met each student's in turn. "There really are no secrets in here. You know nobody has seen me wearing a chastity belt, or anything remotely similar."

The chatter continued unabated.

"But for some reason, you choose to believe the rumor anyway." Irked, Daria said, "John and I have chosen not to have sex out of a sense of responsibility to ourselves. That's right: it's our choice, not my parents' nor anybody else's."

The other students' attention started to wander as Daria's temper rose further. "Since it's clear that you still can't understand this simple concept, here's clear evidence that the rumor is wrong."

She suddenly turned and dropped her shorts, mooning the entire class.

"Was it an accident with a time machine and a condom? I am my own grandpa - the paternity test! Next, on Sick, Sad World."

Sitting on the edge of his bed and leaning against John, Daria said, "Do they have some kind of psychic connection to our problems?"

"I think we can safely say you are not your grandmother," John replied. "Especially after gym class today. I can't believe you got away with it."

"Good thing Ms. Morris wasn't in the room and that set of cheeks didn't turn as red as the other, once I realized I'd actually done it. Kind of silly, since it's not like any of the girls hadn't seen my ass before."

"True, but when presented in such a style..."

Daria nudged John. "You're just jealous you didn't see it."

"Blame me?"

"I suppose not." Turning serious, Daria said, "What Dad said last night got to you too, didn't it?"

He held her a little tighter and whispered, "Yeah."

Ruth pushed the door open and walked in with a tray of chips and dip. "How about a nice snack?"

Daria said, "Grandma, we ate dinner an hour ago."

Ruth set the tray down on the bed. "I don't want you to go hungry."

"Um, thanks," John said, unconvinced.

Helen stepped into the room. "Ruth, you don't have to."

"Helen, it's no problem. I remember how young people can get hungry."

Stern, Helen replied, "I meant watching them like a hawk."

"You know what they say about teenage mothers. I don't want Daria to get into that kind of trouble."

"She and John have been very responsible. It's not like they've been having sex every day after school, or even anything close."

Ruth snapped, "I wouldn't be surprised if they did, what with the way you and Jakey acted like rabbits the first time you were home from college!"

"Ruth!" Helen shouted, more from embarrassment than anger.

"You frightened the dog!"

"That dog was frightened by its own shadow!"

"The way you two carried on was appalling."

"Hey!" John yelled.

Daria said, "We're still here."

Ruth shot back, "Stay out of this."

"You're right, Mom," Jake quietly said, standing in the door wearing his pajamas. "Helen and I were, um, overeager when we were young."

"See!" Ruth triumphantly said to Helen.

Jake smiled proudly at his daughter, "But Daria and John are much better than we were. I've wondered if I'd been a good father, or if we'd been good parents, and then I look at Daria. I don't know how, but we must've done something right. Better than the Old Man did with me. A lot better."

While Ruth stared in silence, Helen said, "Jake! Is it safe for you to be out of bed?

"I think so," Jake replied.

Daria said, "Um, thanks, Dad."

"Yeah, Jake, that was really cool," John said in agreement.

Ruth said, "Jake, you're fooling yourself; you don't know what teenagers are capable of doing."

Daria replied, "Like you do? Your kids were sent off to boarding schools as teenagers."

"We thought it would be best for them," was Ruth's weak reply.

"We're doing what we think is best for our children," Helen said.

Trying to reassure, Daria said, "Grandma, your concern wasn't unfounded. It hasn't been easy."

"Daria and I had to earn that trust," John said, reaching for a handful of chips. "And we haven't always done a good job of it, but we keep trying."

"See, Helen? Even they admit that they haven't done a good job," Ruth said.

"At least they're honest about it," Helen said. "Teenagers can find a way to do anything they're not supposed to, if they're determined. Jake and I had to accept that even if John lived somewhere else, they would be just as tempted, if not more."

"They're good kids, Mom," Jake plainly said.

Ruth warily said, "Maybe I was wrong about them." Still trying to grasp a situation very different from what she'd assumed, Ruth noticed John's munching on chips and said, "Though I see that I haven't forgotten everything about raising children."

"Your grandma's gone home and Jake seems to be his old self, so things are back to as normal as they can be around here."

"Because of my stunt in gym, now I'm called Full Moon Morgendorffer. Things change but the effects remain the same."

Standing next to Daria's writing desk, John picked up a bottle of fingernail polish. "I thought Quinn got all her stuff out of here when she returned to the Temple of Pink."

Scanning her closet, Daria said, "Allegedly, but I'm double-checking to make sure she didn't leave anything behind as a hint to be more fashionable, like that."

"I suppose that's a better explanation than spontaneous generation."

"Oh, it could still be a stray. You wouldn't believe how fast they breed. Quinn brought six bottles when she moved in and took fifteen away. That must be number sixteen."

Setting the bottle down, John said, "Helen and Jake really stood up for us."

Daria stepped back and pushed the closet door shut. "Yeah, but how much do we deserve it? Don't forget Penny catching us."

"Or how we both reacted to Jake's comment about missing the things we've put off for the 'right time.'"

"That was the drugs talking, I think."

"In a way, it made sense."

"It did."

They looked at each other for long moments, feeling desire, and responsibility, and uncertainty. John nervously asked, "So, do we keep waiting, or not?"

After a thoughtful silence, Daria faintly said, "I don't know."

"Me, either."

Daria crossed the room to hug him and lay her cheek against his shoulder. "I love you."

"I love you," he gently replied.

"I want to know."

"Me too, so I guess we wait."

Thanks to Kristen Bealer, Ipswichfan and Mr. Orange for beta reading.

January 2007