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 thirty-fourth John Lane story
Followed by Kay Sloane, John and Daria wandered through the Lawndale Art Museum. At one particular painting, John ducked under the velvet rope and stood back up inches away from it. He closely scrutinized the brush work for long seconds before whistling and saying, "Damn, that's phenomenal."
Behind the rope, Daria said, "Well, from what I hear, Maxfield Parrish was known for having a dash or two of talent."
John went back to examining the painting. "Yeah, but seeing it on the hoof is just...wow."
"It is kind of amusing that you are this impressed," Daria said. "You're usually not that into this kind of realistic painting."
"You don't have to be into realism to appreciate the brushwork and control, just like you don't have to write like Shakespeare to appreciate his genius."
"Point taken," Daria said. She checked her watch and sighed. "I'm sorry to break this to you, but our time is almost up."
"Already?" he asked, almost whining.
"We've had the place to ourselves for two hours."
John ducked back under the rope and took Daria's hand. "Sorry, it all seemed to go by so fast."
"Yeah, time flies and all that," Daria said, squeezing his hand.
Behind the couple, Kay Sloane sweetly said, "I hope you enjoyed yourselves. It's so nice when young people show such a real interest in art."
"Thanks, Mrs. Sloane," John said. "I'm really serious about my art and being able to examine these works up close has been amazing."
Daria said, "You've been very understanding in letting us in before hours."
"One of the perks of being on the board of directors," Kay replied. A little wistful, she added, "I hope Tom or Elsie will be as interested some day. Until then, I'll be happy to help their friends that are."
John smirked. "Even disreputable art types like us?"
Kay chuckled. "I wouldn't object."
"She doesn't know us very well, does she?" Daria said to John.
On their way home after a quiet, private lunch at a small restaurant on the edge of town, Daria stopped at the park near home and shut off the car. She turned and said, "Happy birthday."
John moved over and kissed Daria. "I can't believe you pulled that tour off for me."
"Mrs. Sloane wasn't a problem; I think she likes Tom having friends outside of that prep school. Going through Quinn is what cost me."
"Do I want to know?"
"You'll find out one way or the other, just keep quiet about it. It was part of the agreement."
"Quinn's going to be taking her PSTAT soon and wants some help preparing. I think Tom has rubbed off a bit on her."
Finding that he wasn't as surprised as he thought he would be, John said, "I don't see how that would come up in conversation, so her dread secret is safe."
"The fun part is going to be fitting that in with our tutoring assignment with Kevin and Brittany."
John sighed and shook his head. "Something I'm really not looking forward to tomorrow."
"Oh yeah, especially since this time, it's at Kevin's Grand Temple of Football."
John put his arm around Daria and said, "It's my birthday and I say we change the subject," before kissing her.
Daria put her arms around him. "I think I can agree to that."
That evening, John's painting session was interrupted by Quinn asking, "So, how did it go?"
He turned to see her standing in the doorway. "After the private tour of the art museum, we had lunch at The Venetian. Daria even paid the violin player to stay on the other side of the room and leave us alone. Hey, it was pretty cool that you helped set up the tour."
Quinn shrugged and smirked. "You keep Daria happy and that keeps her out of circulation."
John shook his head. "You're still at it. Even if she wasn't seeing me, I can't see Daria being any threat to your social position. She simply wouldn't be interested in dating a lot of guys."
Quinn rested her forehead on one hand and shook her head. "You can be so clueless. Okay, if Daria had stayed the way she was back in Highland, yeah, the guys wouldn't notice. But because of you, she's been noticed. If she were available, guys would be trying to go out with her, and since she's so picky...well, that would only make her more interesting."
John tried to say something, stopped and thought for a moment before finally voicing, "I'm glad we're not involved in all that. It lets us focus on writing and painting."
"Keep it up," Quinn said with a quick smile. She turned and started to leave, but said over her shoulder, "Oh, and you'd better remember to do something just as romantic on her birthday."
Sunday afternoon found Daria and John in Kevin's room, gathered at a table with him and Brittany. Around them, the room was a shrine to football and Kevin's prowess at the sport. "Hey!" Kevin said, excited to recognize something Daria mentioned during the study session, "I saw that in a movie. What was it called? Oh yeah, Toga, Toga, Toga."
Daria's jaw clenched, but she held her voice calm. "That was Tora, Tora, Tora, Kevin. Not too bad, as movie history goes."
Brittany twirled her hair around a finger and said, "Ooh, I hated that movie. There was no love story in it."
"No, Brittany," Daria said. "I'm sorry, but there's nothing romantic about the attack that brought the US into the Second World War."
"I think they should make a new movie with a love story in it. Maybe get someone dreamy like Ben Affleck in the lead."
John rubbed his eyes and looked at the clock. "Well, now that we've got all the major players involved, I think it's time we take a break."
"Cool!" Kevin said. "Mom's got sodas and stuff downstairs. Let's go."
Watching her boyfriend almost sprint out of the door, Brittany sighed and said, "Would you like me to bring something up for you?"
John said, "We'll follow you down. I could get up and stretch, anyway."
Downstairs, Charlene Thompson was taking sodas from the refrigerator when Daria, John and Brittany arrived. Kevin stood by the sink, already drinking from a can. Charlene said, "I was about to bring something up for you kids."
"A little stretching is good," Daria said, quietly glad to be off of the hardwood chair she'd been sitting on.
Charlene placed the sodas on a tray and handed it to her son. "Take this upstairs for everyone, that's a dear boy."
He took it with one hand, "Sure, Mom."
Charlene then handed a tray with chips and dip to Brittany. "Could you please take this up?"
"Um, sure, Mrs. Thompson."
Charlene then said to Daria and John, "We're having the annual Football Barbeque here next Saturday. I really appreciate you keeping my son off of academic probation and I hope you'll be here."
John said, "I was planning on entering something in the Lawndale Downtown Art Show. I picked up the application when Daria took me to the art museum for my birthday."
"Oh, happy birthday! All the more reason for you to come to the barbeque. You don't have to stay at the art show, do you?"
"No, the judging won't be until Sunday."
"Then there's no problem! I look forward to seeing you next week."
"Um, sure," John said, avoiding eye contact with Daria.
"Oh, you're going to be at the barbeque, too! That will be great!" Brittany said just before she started upstairs after Kevin.
In a low voice, Charlene said, "I don't know what possessed Ms. Li to do something so level-headed as to make you my Kevin's tutors, but I'm glad. Now, maybe he has a real chance to graduate from high school...unlike his father."
Upstairs, they could hear Brittany tell Kevin, "Daria took John to an art museum for his birthday."
"Why would she do something like that?" Kevin answered.
"Um," Daria said, backing away from Mrs. Thompson. "We better head back upstairs, too. The Japanese just bombed Pearl Harbor and I don't want to leave them hanging."
Daria and John caught up with Jodie and Mack the following Monday at lunch. After everyone took a seat, Jodie said, "How was your birthday trip, John?"
"Pretty cool. Now, I'm going to have to come up with something as good for Daria," he said.
Mack said, "Do they have unlimited access cards for libraries?"
"Hmm, that's something to think about."
Daria said, "When we were over at the Thompsons helping Kevin and Brittany study, Mrs. Thompson invited us to the football barbeque next Saturday. Any survival tips?"
"Don't get between Mr. Thompson and the keg or the grill," Mack suggested.
"Keg?" John said. "Wait, they were serving beer on that stupid cruise ship, why not at the star quarterback's house?"
Gently teasing, Daria said, "He figured that out all by himself. I feel so proud."
"How did you get invited?" Jodie asked, somewhat surprised.
"Mrs. Thompson appreciates us tutoring her precious Kevin," Daria explained.
"Oh yeah, Ms. Li's bright idea to keep Kevin from being lynched by the rest of the team. As for advice, what I can add is to expand on what Mack said. Don't get between anyone and the food or the beer."
Mack said, "And be prepared for more sports talk than you can probably stand. A lot of the 'chaperones' are parents just as devoted to the cult of football as the Thompsons."
"Looks like we'll have to hang out with you two."
Jodie made a sad face and said, "Sorry, but we're not going to be there."
"What?" Daria said. "How are you not going to an event that brings honor and glory to Laaawndale High?"
"I wish I could be there," Jodie said with a sigh. "My dad's hosting a fundraiser for Congressman Sacks. Even with Ms. Li present, the sleaze factor will be lower at the barbeque."
John asked Mack, "You too?"
"Moral support," Mack answered. "And to keep her from killing the congressman or her dad...or both."
Daria heavily sat back in her chair. "So we're going to be surrounded by football players, cheerleaders, their parents and teachers with no back-up."
"Plus any other students that might be invited. Considering how popular she is with the sophomore football players, there's a good chance your sister and the rest of the Fashion Club will be there, too."
"Oh, my cup runneth over," Daria said, feeling another layer of doom descend upon her.
In his room, John worked over an abstract sculpture, adding a complex layer of multi-colored paint to the surface. The young man paused and grabbed a handful of candy from a nearby bowl. "I thought about using gummy bears for the color, but I keep eating the things."
Daria, who was sitting on his bed writing, asked, "Gummy bears?"
"If you nuke them, they melt into a really cool glaze."
"Art that attracts every bug in the building by saying, 'eat me.' I don't think the art show people would appreciate the humor."
"Hmm, I hadn't thought about that. It's a good thing I went with the paint." He then cleaned his brush, flexed his hand and said, "I could use a break."
"In other words, you're hungry and you want something other than what you've been munching on," Daria said, closing her notebook and rolling off of the bed.
"Now that you mention it..."
Daria gave him a fast smile and said, "Not that...at least with Mom and Dad downstairs."
"Dammit," he playfully said. "Then I guess it's raiding for chips and dip or something equally unhealthy."
When they reached the kitchen, Helen was at the table reading through some paperwork. She looked up at them and said, "You've been busy tonight. Homework?"
Going directly to the refrigerator, John said, "Working on my project for the art show since I can't put it off until Saturday like I'd planned."
"Oh?" Helen said. "And what's stopping your well-planned procrastination?"
Daria replied, "Mrs. Thompson personally invited us to the football barbeque, as a thank you for tutoring Kevin. It would've been rude, even by my standards, to turn down the offer."
"Oh, that was nice of her," Helen said. "See what happens when you reach out to others?"
"Yes, I believe it's called positive reinforcement," Daria said, letting only a little sarcasm filter into her voice.
Helen let the comment slide and asked, "Who else will be there?"
John ticked off on his fingers, saying, "The football team, the cheerleaders, parents, most of the Lawndale faculty and guests invited by any of the above."
"Meaning that this will be a great chance for you to network with your fellow students and teachers in a friendlier setting," Helen said, sounding very pleased.
Wearing a breezy, trendy spring outfit, Quinn bounced down the stairs talking on the phone. "It'll look fine, Stacy. Don't worry."
Both dressed pretty much as normal, John and Daria were in the living room preparing to leave. John carried his sculpture and Daria was holding the door open.
Quinn said, "Anyway, we can talk at the party. Bye." She turned the phone off and said, "You're wearing that same old stuff? Granted, it's better than your old green jacket, Daria, but still. It's a party. You could do something a little nicer."
Daria sighed and leaned against the door. "There's going to be a bunch of football players eating sauce-covered meat with their hands. I'm planning on keeping my distance, but there's no telling how far the splatter range will be."
"Not to mention chips and dip. You can bet there will be salsa dribbled all over the place. I'm going to be careful of where I sit."
"We can probably skip the whole sitting part; it'll only make us stationary targets," Daria said.
"Hmm, good thinking," John said as he continued past and to the old blue car.
Quinn looked down at her nice clothes and said, "Note to self: keep your distance from anyone eating."
After John had dropped off his sculpture at the Lawndale Civic Center downtown, Daria drove them to the Thompsons' and found that they had to park on the street almost a block away from the house. The street was lined with cars and the entire front yard of the Thompson residence was filled. Already familiar with the house, they walked around the side to the back yard, which was filled with people milling around or watching the grill.
Doug Thompson, wearing a sweatsuit, jogged out of the house with a package of hamburger buns in his hands. He reached a rather large outdoor grill and said, "Doug Thompson scores and lifts his buns high in the air!" He laughed at his joke, then placed the bread next to a platter of premade burger patties. "Hey folks, welcome to the annual Lawndale High football barbeque. Grab some food, make yourself at home, and feel free to toss around the old pigskin. And if she objects, use a football." Once again, he laughed and a few others joined in.
Watching, Ms. Barch said, "I see where Kevin gets his charm."
Walking close, Daria nodded to the beer keg a short distance from the grill and said, "If you think he's charming now, wait until he's had a few."
"Oh, great!" the teacher grumbled before stalking away.
John took Daria's hand, saying, "I can tell that this is going to be such a lovely day."
"Daria! John! You made it," Brittany squealed, almost bouncing as she came over from the other cheerleaders.
Beside his girlfriend, Kevin said, "Hey, dudes."
"Hi, Brittany," Daria said. "Hi, Kevin."
John nodded and also said, "Hi."
"Why are you dressed like always?" Brittany asked.
A middle-aged man walked between them carrying an overloaded plate of munchies. A blob of chili-cheese dip fell from the plate and hit the ground next to Daria's boot, splattering it with unnatural colored orange goo. Daria looked down and then back at Brittany, who then said, "Oh."
"Excuse me," Daria said. "I want to find a napkin to wipe that off before it eats through the leather."
"Oh, that would be bad," Brittany said as she led Daria to large folding table covered with food. She picked up a couple of napkins and gave them to Daria. "Here."
Following behind the two girls, Kevin said to John, "You know, it's kinda freaky, but our babes are starting to, um, bond or something."
Beyond the fact that Daria and Brittany stepped away together, John was aware that he was walking beside Kevin. "I can think of more unsettling things."
While Daria started cleaning her boots, Kevin grasped Brittany's hand and led her away. "Come on, Dad's about to light the grill."
She tugged back slightly and said, "Okay, but not too close this time."
Surveying the various foodstuffs as he reached the table, Mr. DeMartino said, "Ms. Morgendorffer and Mr. Lane, what a pleasant surprise."
Still kneeling, Daria said, "Shh, I'm incognito."
"I can't blame you for wishing to hide, though I am curious as to why you are here at all."
"A side effect of Ms. Li's 'Peer Tutoring' program," John said, also starting to peruse the table. "I figure we can ignore our fellow students and just raid the food."
"Ah, yes. Curious timing about that," Mr. DeMartino said, starting to load two plates.
Ms. Li came up behind him and looked as if she were going to say something. Mr. DeMartino gave her a brief nod over his shoulder and went back to his task. When she spotted the teens, she said, "Daria Morgendorffer and John Lane. Kudos to you for coming out and mingling with your fellow students and teachers."
Daria stood and said, "Nothing says togetherness like the ritual consumption of burnt animal flesh."
A loud "whoosh" announced that Mr. Thompson had lit the grill.
Kevin pumped his fist and said, "Go, Dad!" while Brittany slowly shook her head.
John looked over at Mr. Thompson backpedaling from the grill and said, "Or human flesh."
Daria also looked and said, "I hope he wasn't attached to those eyebrows."
Quinn and her friends in the Fashion Club found a picnic table as far away from the food as possible and settled down to watch and be seen. Looking at the crowd, Sandi said, "That's your sister and her boyfriend. I guess they're moving up in the world."
Quinn shrugged. "There's lots of people here."
Tiffany said, "She still looks so pale."
"Yeah," Stacy said. "I hope she's wearing sunscreen or something. I hate it when you get burnt and your skin starts to peel off."
Before Tiffany could even start to say, "Eww," Sandi said, "Stacy, we don't need to hear about your trip to the beach again."
"Sorry, Sandi," Stacy mumbled.
Looking back at Daria, Sandi said, "Sunburn is a fate too horrible for anyone, even the unfashionable. Quinn, is an intervention needed?"
Wanting to avoid what she knew would be an embarrassing confrontation for her friend, Quinn replied, "No, Sandi. I made sure she used sunscreen before she left the house."
"Very forward thinking. That's why you're the vice president."
"Why, thank you, Sandi."
"Though I don't know why you would let her come to a party in that thing she's worn several times already."
"I thought I'd take one step at a time, Sandi," Quinn said. "With brains like hers, you just can't rush things."
"I see. Maybe we should go over and say, 'hi' to her. You know, let her get used to being around good fashion in a, like, low pressure kind of way."
Tiffany said, "Great idea."
Skirting the edge of the crowd, Daria and John unwittingly encountered Mr. O'Neill coming around from the other direction. He said, "Daria, John. I'm so happy to see you."
Daria and John mumbled, "Hi," and fruitlessly hoped to avoid further conversation. John wondered, Why does everyone seem to be so happy to see us out of our element?
Mr. O'Neill said, "Isn't it fun to have teachers, students, and parents all mingling together free from the confines of the classroom?"
John motioned toward Mr. Thompson holding the tap and pouring beer into a plastic cup for one of the parents. "The beer looks pretty free, too."
"Oh, um, yes," Mr. O'Neill mumbled, embarrassed by the rather immature display.
"Hello, um, Daria," Sandi said as she reached them. "How are you today?"
Unquestionably surprised by Sandi's approach, Daria slowly turned to the Fashion Club and said, "Okay, I guess."
"I hope you're having a good time," Stacy cheerfully said.
John half-smirked and said, "It is rather amusing to see what spawned some of our fellow students."
"Yeah," Tiffany slowly said. "It's like, what happened to them?"
Daria said, "That whole aging thing is pretty brutal."
"But isn't that what plastic surgery is for?" Tiffany innocently asked.
From the house, Mrs. Thompson appeared carrying a couple bottles of barbeque sauce. She went to her husband, who had returned to the grill, and said, "You left them in the kitchen." Looking around, she loudly asked, "Now, where has Kevin and that Brittany gotten off to now?"
In shock, Sandi said, "She's wearing the same sweatsuit as Mr. Thompson." The rest of the Fashion Club turned to look, also showing surprise, though Quinn seemed to be a little amused.
Mr. O'Neill, still listening to the teenagers, said, "I think it's rather cute that they have matching clothes."
Daria turned to John and said, "Should I be worried that they consider somebody to be less fashionable than me?"
John put his arm around Daria and started to lead her away. "I'm more worried that Mr. O'Neill considers it cute that two adults dress alike when it's not Halloween or hunting season."
"Thanks," John said as Mr. Thompson placed a hamburger on his plate.
Mr. Thompson scooped up another two hamburgers and put them on John's plate. "Aw, have three. He's a growing boy, right Daria?"
Daria groaned and said, "You could say that."
"I bet!" Mr. Thompson said, laughing. When he spied Ms. Li, he waved and said, "Ms. Li, can we talk?" To Daria and John, he said, "Hang on, you two."
"What can I do for you?" Ms. Li said when she reached them.
Not bothering to lower his voice, Mr. Thompson said, "Are all those tutoring sessions for Kevin really needed? I'm sure Daria and John here have better things to do and Kevin can use the extra time to work on his throwing arm. I really think we can take the state championship this year."
Ms Li glared at him, annoyed that he would bring the subject up so publicly. "The tutoring Ms. Morgendorffer and Mr. Lane are so generously providing ensures that Kevin stays on the team so that he can lead Lawndale High to victory."
"Come on, Ms. Li," Mr. Thompson said. "He just needs a few byes like before. They were good enough for his old man; they're good enough for Kevin."
Stern, Ms. Li said, "Mr. Thompson. In my judgment as a professional educator, what we are doing is in the best interest of both your son and Lawndale High."
John whispered to Daria, "And all this time, we thought she was just covering her ass."
Daria shrugged. "Same thing."
"You're with me, right?" Mr. Thompson said to Daria and John, before adding with a wink, "You have other things you'd rather do with your time."
Hearing the discussion, Mrs. Thompson came up behind her husband to say, "Which I'm sure doesn't include getting in a family way."
"Whoa, Charlene," he said while turning. "Daria's a smart girl; she won't make the same mistake we did."
"Damned right," Mrs. Thompson shot back. "And as long as they're studying with Daria and John, I hope Kevin and Brittany won't either."
The discussion had also attracted Kevin and Brittany, who now stood beside Daria. Brittany said, "This is kinda freaky how they're talking about us."
"I actually agree with you," Daria said.
"I'm confused, babe. Are we getting protection from John and Daria? I thought we got it at Drug-N-Stuff," Kevin said.
Carefully balancing his food, John suddenly started to gently push Daria, Brittany and Kevin away from the grill area. "I'm hungry; let's go eat."
"Our plates are over there," Kevin said, pointing to a table. "Let's go. I'm hungry, too."
Walking away with the other couple, Daria whispered to John, "What was that about?"
He whispered back, "It's that damn conscience thing. It didn't sink in to Kevin that his dad said he was a mistake and I don't think it would be a good idea to hang around for another shot."
Moments later, they heard Mrs. Thompson say, "If only I hadn't had that third cup of 'hunch punch' at the prom..."
John and Daria picked up their pace as he said, "I'd like a third cup of brain bleach."
They sat and started on their burgers, trying to ignore the continuing argument around the grill. Mr. Thompson's voice cut through their efforts as he said, "Will you women chill out?"
Shrill voices made them look up to see Mr. Thompson spraying Ms. Li and his wife with beer from the keg tap, forcing the watching crowd to scatter while Quinn and the rest of the Fashion Club sat, unconcerned and safely out of range.
"Damn," John said. "I left my camera at home."
"Yah!" Ms. Li cried and kicked the tap out of Mr. Thompson's hand, revealing that sometime in the past, she had some form of martial arts training.
"You go, girl!" Ms. Barch yelled from across the yard.
Mrs. Thompson grabbed the tap and began spraying Mr. Thompson. "Why don't you chill out?"
He sputtered and backed away. "I'm just trying to help our boy!"
"By making him follow in your footsteps?" she screamed. "You flunked your senior year! I want Kevin to actually go to college and play football!"
"He'll get in," Mr. Thompson yelled, between dodging the beer and taking quick gulps. "When he wins the state championship!"
"Wow, Kevvie, your mom is really mad," Brittany said.
"Yeah, I haven't seen her that mad since Dad came home with the stripper."
John said, "Yeah, that sounds like a bad move."
Mrs. Thompson stopped spraying beer and tossed the tap aside when she realized that her husband was drinking what he could of it. "And end up like that bum, Tommy Sherman?"
Kevin looked at John, and then quickly at Daria. "Man, Tommy Sherman was totally uncool. Daria, you've gotta help me."
Arms folded, Helen glowered at Daria and John when they returned home. "Why, pray tell, do you smell like beer?" she demanded.
John said, "You're probably going to find this hard to believe..."
Helen warned, "That's usually not a good start."
"Kevin's parents got into a fight," Daria said. "Mrs. Thompson kicked the keg."
"Keg? The Thompsons had a keg at this barbeque?"
"Adults only," John said. "Like the cruise."
Helen sighed. "Go on."
Daria said, "The keg fell over and the tap broke off, spraying beer. We were caught in part of the splash."
"I'm supposed to believe that?" Helen said.
"It's in the police report," John said.
Daria said, "The neighbors called about a disturbance. The cops arrived, we gave statements, the Thompsons didn't want to press charges against each other, the cops left, and then everyone went home."
"You're provisionally free for now, since I can check that story...which I will."
John said, "We understand." He sniffed himself. "Do you mind if we go upstairs to change? This is some really bad-smelling beer. I don't even think my brother's band would drink it."
"I have dibs on the shower," Daria said as she moved past John up the stairs.
Combing his damp hair and wearing fresh clothes, John left the bathroom and went to Daria's room. "Hey."
Daria was lying on the bed with hands behind her head, gazing at the ceiling. "Hey back."
John sat on the corner of the bed and looked up at the ceiling cracks. "They're still there."
"Life was a lot easier when I was a complete outcast who was never invited to parties."
"You have to admit that it was amusing. Well, most of it."
Daria let a small smile form on her lips. "In a slapstick kind of way. But was it worth it?"
He looked down and saw the smile. "I guess we won't know for another year."
"That's what I get for having principles."
John reached over and held Daria's hand. "You'll be making a difference in a child's life."
"A real big child," Daria said, sitting up.
"Kevin sounded like he was really sincere."
Helen stood in the doorway and cleared her throat. "Your story checked out."
Daria nodded, as did John.
"You two look to be deep in conversation. Is there anything I can do?"
Daria rested her head on John's shoulder and asked her mother, "Do you have any advice on tilting at windmills?"
Some dialog from: Mart of Darkness by Rachelle Romberg
Thanks to Kristen Bealer, Ipswichfan and Mr. Orange for beta reading.