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 fortieth John Lane story
Walking down the hallway with Daria, John looked up at one of the speakers. "She didn't really say that, did she?"
Several calls of "Eww!" from other students led Daria to say, "No doubt about it. At least she didn't call it the gift that keeps on giving."
"Shh," John said. "You know the walls have ears and that might give her ideas about catheters and I'd really rather not go there."
Reading her class schedule, Daria said, "I'm curious about our new English teacher. I wonder who they could've found on such short notice."
John laughed and said, "I wonder if they're going to stick her with the Self Esteem class."
"If they do, I'll bet you fifty bucks she'll run screaming in well-reasoned terror within a week."
"Oh no, Daria. No sucker bets."
They reached the room and walked inside. Jodie and Mack were already seated and waved them over.
Jodie said, "How was your summer?"
"Different," Daria said, taking a seat.
"But in a good way," John added as he also sat down. "Mack, we heard that you survived the ice cream truck and palmed the last couple of weeks off on Kevin and Brittany."
"I feel kinda bad about it," Mack said. "But Brittany finally took over handling the money and they at least didn't owe anything for the last week."
"Jodie?" Daria said.
"Overworked, unpaid and I had a pair of shoes ruined by someone at the soup kitchen losing their lunch." She reached over and squeezed Mack's hand. "But we were able to get one nice evening together at Chez Pierre."
"Is the French on the menus as bad as I've heard?" Daria said.
Jodie laughed and said, "Oh, yeah. I think they had a first year French student do their translations."
A young woman with long black hair and a soft, coppery complexion entered the room and went directly to the blackboard. John guessed that she was probably fresh out of college and whispered to Daria, "This must be her first job out of school. Boy, is she in for a rude shock."
The woman wrote her name on the board and then faced the class. "Good morning. My name is Ms. Ruiz and as you may have noticed on your schedules, I will be your Senior English teacher for the year."
Kevin, quickly followed by Brittany, entered the room and he said, "Whoa, that doesn't look like Mr. O'Neill."
"You're late," Ms. Ruiz said.
"Don't worry," he said. "I'm the QB."
"Ah, Kevin Thompson. I've been warned about you. And the young lady behind you must be Brittany Taylor."
"That's me!" Brittany squeaked.
Kevin shrugged. "See, no prob."
"Yes, it is a problem," she said, emphasizing the full word. "That I expect not to be repeated. Now, sit down, young man, so that I can do the roll call."
"Come on, babe," Kevin said, escorting Brittany to desks behind Mack and Jodie. "This new teacher is like, a real slave drier."
Ms. Ruiz glared at him and firmly said, "Slave driver. If I can speak fluent English as a second language, I expect you to be fluent in your primary language. If you're not now, you will be at the end of the year."
Daria said, "All this time, I thought the Labors of Heracles were ambitious."
"You must be Daria Morgendorffer," Ms. Ruiz said as she sat on the edge of her desk and opened her roll book. "If I have to divert a river to flush the manure out of someone's brain, I will."
John smirked and said, "I think the Wonderful World of English has just changed for the better."
"Oh my God, you're kidding," Jodie said as she and Mack conversed with Daria and John during lunch.
Daria shook her head. "Mr. O'Neill's touchy-feely concern finally did him in and Quinn had a front row seat."
"I always thought the guy was a little creepy," Mack said. "But to think that...man, his mind must be down in the gutter with Charles."
"I'd give Upchuck better sense than that," John said.
Mack nodded and said, "I'll give you that one."
"Okay," Jodie said. "Kevin and Brittany heard some kind of story about you two having a 'trial marriage' over the summer. There has got to be a good story behind that."
"Mom and Dad were out of town the last week we were at the art colony," John said. "So, I had the cabin to myself. A few people have decided to, um, embellish what happened."
"A whole week alone?" Jodie said with good natured jealousy in her voice. "I'd kill for that."
Daria said, "It's not like we were that alone. All the adults at the colony kept an eye on us. But I will admit that they were not especially vigilant."
Mack asked, "John, can talk your parents into adopting us next summer?"
Seated at a lunchroom table with the rest of the Fashion Club, Quinn said, "Of course I want you there. Everything has to be perfect and where else can I go for that?"
Sandi said, "We're just making sure, Quinn."
"Ooooh, I'm so jealous," Stacy said.
Tiffany agreed. "Yeah, jealous."
"Don't worry, I'll make sure to let any really cute boys I meet know that I have the most popular and fashionable friends for them to meet."
The fleeting, almost hungry looks in the other girls' eyes bothered Quinn, but part of her understood it. Lawndale High wasn't a very large school and, to be honest with herself, the pool of dateable guys had started to shrink. Some said the wrong thing or wore the wrong clothes or even drove the wrong car. Some stepped away and refused, or couldn't afford, to play the game anymore and others had, somehow, found matches that made them happy for at least the present. A secret part inside Quinn hoped that it would distract the others so that they wouldn't notice her backing off of the old game of competitive dating.
"All of you realize," Sandi said, "That these new dating prospects will require a complete upgrade to our wardrobes."
"We need a shopping trip," Tiffany said.
"I saw the cutest new sleeveless dresses in Waif," Stacy said. "I can't wait to buy one."
"How about Saturday?" Sandi said. "We can go to Cashman's before going over to Quinn's house."
"Sure, Sandi," Quinn said. "That sounds great."
As John was preparing to leave Art class, Ms. DeFoe asked him, "Have you decided on what to show this Saturday?"
Caught by surprise, John said, "How did you know?"
She tilted her head and said, "I'm a supporter of the Lawndale Art Museum and saw your name in the newsletter."
"Are you going to be there?"
She laughed and said, "On a teacher's salary?"
"Don't worry; it's to get money out of the guilty rich. So, what are you showing?"
"I thought I'd bring some of the stuff I did over the summer."
"How was Ashfield?"
"Pretty good, once you get past the veneer of pomposity and ignore nine out of ten residents."
She chuckled and said, "Sounds like an art colony, all right."
Despite it being after lunch, Mr. DeMartino was in a surprisingly good mood by the time Daria and John had history class and things proceeded nicely while he passed out the course syllabus and textbooks.
Kevin idly flipped through his book and stopped at one picture. "Hey, Mr. D."
"Kevin, I see you have your book open. Is this a hopeful sign of your improved attitude toward learning?"
Kevin held up the book so that Mr. DeMartino could see the picture and said, "This dude was in last year's book."
"Benjamin Franklin was an important historical figure."
"But I thought we were going to get some new history."
"You will learn new things, Kevin," Mr. DeMartino said, starting to lose his composure.
"Then why this old guy? I mean, he's not really new."
"Because it doesn't matter if you are studying U.S. History or World History, some people are important enough to be discussed in each class."
"But he's, like, old history."
Brittany looked at the picture and said, "Eww, you're right. He's really old."
Kevin said, "Yeah, he's like this old, balding guy. Why would anyone want to learn about a loser like him? How about someone like Don Shula? He's a winner."
As Mr. DeMartino gave up and bashed his head against the chalk board, Daria said, "There is some stupidity that no amount of optimism can overcome."
John looked at a collection of his paintings propped against one wall of his room and said, "I guess you could call this my 'Art Colony Reboot Period.'"
Sitting on the bed, Daria said, "Better than a 'Rebirth' period, or you'd try to use the placenta in something."
John stroked his chin and said, "Do you have any of your anatomical catalogs handy?"
Daria rested her face in her palm and said, "Me and my big mouth."
Helen knocked and opened the door. "Hi, kids. Dinner's ready."
"Okay, Mom," Daria said.
"Big decisions?" Helen said to John.
He nodded. "Yeah. Trying to decide what will show the best for the crowd."
"I'm sure you'll do fine. You have good taste."
After a couple seconds of silence, Daria said, "So..."
"Daria?" Helen said.
"Quinn's been planning what to wear ever since we got back from Ashfield. When are you going to start asking us about how we're going to look for the crowd?"
A lighthearted smirk formed on Helen's lips. "I'm sure that Quinn will have some advice for you, but then, she still hasn't learned the futility of pushing against an immovable object. You'll do fine, in your own way."
Temporarily befuddled by the compliment, Daria could only said, "Um, thanks."
"My pleasure," Helen said, still amused. "Now, hurry downstairs before your father decides to 'rescue' the lasagna."
After dinner, Daria stopped by her sister's room. She opened the door and leaned against the frame. "Okay, let's get it over with now."
Studying a spread of magazines on her bed, Quinn looked up and said, "Get what over?"
"Your suggestions on how to dress for the dance."
Quinn rolled her eyes and said, "Daria, you can be so clueless at times."
"See what I mean?"
"No, I don't."
"I'm not going to give you fashion advice."
"What? Who are you and what did you do with my sister?"
Shaking her head, Quinn got off the bed and walked over to the door. "You're going to the ball with one of the artists."
"Artists and their dates are expected to dress for the show, not the ball."
"You're still losing me. What's the difference?"
"Okay, let me put this in words that a brain can understand," Quinn said, starting to enjoy teasing her sister.
Daria folder her arms. "Funny."
"Tom and I are going with the people that are paying a lot of money to charity for good PR and to see and be seen by others. We have to look perfect. You and John are going to show his art. You want people to see the art, not the artist."
"Okay, I get it," Daria admitted. "We get to dress down since we're basically staff."
"Let's say that artists are expected to look alternative."
"Alternative we can do."
Sandi scrutinized the coral-colored evening gown Quinn was wearing and said, "I really think that other gown looked better."
Quinn said, "So do I, but I don't have any good jewelry to go with it."
Sandi put her hands on her hips and said, "Then you just have to go out and buy some."
"I need real jewelry for the ball, not costume. Even I'm not going to push Mom's gold card that far. I'll have to get a dress that matches the good jewelry I already have."
"If you say so," Sandi said.
"I really like the color," Stacy said. "I say go with it."
"Yeah," Tiffany said. "Nobody wears coral the way you do."
Sandi glared at each and said, "Looks like everyone agrees with you, Quinn." The annoyance in her voice couldn't have been clearer.
As John and Daria prepared his paintings for travel, Helen came into his room and held out a set of car keys. "Use my SUV tonight. There will be more room to safely carry your paintings."
John didn't hesitate to grab the keys and say, "Thanks."
Daria said, "Don't want us to be seen in the blue bomb? There shouldn't be a problem, if you think about Tom's old car. Even we don't have a bumper held in place with duct tape."
Helen said, "Tom is one of the Sloanes and, let's be honest, he's allowed a little eccentricity that won't work for the two of you. I don't want you to waste time being questioned by rent-a-cops armed with tasers."
John said, "Yeah, tasers bad."
"Okay, high voltage, paralyzing shocks are never high on my to-do list. We'll take the SUV," Daria said.
"I thought you would be reasonable," Helen replied.
When he parked near the loading doors of the Lawndale Art Museum, John wasn't surprised when an off-duty Lawndale police officer walked up to the truck. The officer held a clipboard and said, "Name, please."
"John Lane," he answered. "I'm displaying some of my art tonight."
"Yes, sir." The officer checked off the name and then said, "Ma'am, you are?"
"Daria Morgendorffer. I'm here to help him."
"I don't see...oh, there it is. Someone misspelled it as Darius. You can park here to unload and then please move your vehicle to the main parking lot when you are done."
"Have a nice evening," the officer said before walking back to his station.
"Darius," Daria said, shaking her head. After an amused thought, she added, "Do you remember the security guard at Crewe Neck when we went to Brittany's party?"
"Oh yeah, you were on the list and I wasn't."
"I guess this shows that Lawndale police are at least slightly more competent that your average security guard."
"I feel safer already."
Inside, Kay Sloane warmly greeted them, saying, "John, Daria, I'm so glad you could make it. If you'll follow me, I'll show you to your gallery for the evening."
"Thanks for the invite," John said. "This is a big chance for me."
"Encouraging the arts is the reason for the museum's existence."
"Anything more than that?" Daria asked.
"Now that you mention it," Kay said. "I wonder if I could get your opinion on something."
"Oh?" John said.
"Quinn. I'm trying to figure out her and Tom. They don't seem serious, but then they keep going out, so I'm never sure."
Daria said, "I think it's more of a mutual protection society. They both get to go on dates with no worry or stress and avoid having to go out with new or different people."
Kay gave Daria a wry smile and said, "I'd wondered. I can see that about Tom, but Quinn seems so outgoing..."
"She acts shallow to keep people from seeing who she really is," John said. "I think she trusts Tom enough to relax around him."
Kay reached an empty gallery and said, "Here we are, and thank you. That's just what I needed to know."
John looked around the room with eyes that became distant and thoughtful. "I can work with this."
Daria reached over and gently pulled Kay from the room. "When he gets like that, just stay out of the way or he'll trip over you."
At the front entrance of the museum, the doorman bowed and said, "Welcome, Master Thomas." Rising, he said, "And a good evening to you, young lady. If I may, you look enchanting."
"Why, thank you," Quinn said, enjoying the doorman's manners and amused at Tom's discomfort with the formality.
Tom said, "Good evening, Mr. Constantine. I hope life is treating you well."
"As always, young Thomas. As always. Please, step inside. I believe your parents are waiting for you."
"I'm sure they are," Tom said. "We had better go to see them."
Tom led Quinn through the foyer and into the main hall of the museum. Formal dining tables with ice sculpture centerpieces filled the room as the high society of Lawndale and the surrounding area greeted each other and their families.
"This is really nice," Quinn said, honestly impressed with the elegant and tasteful display.
Tom chuckled and said, "Yeah, it's a bit classier than Chez Pierre."
"Oh, my God," Quinn said. "I can't believe I used to think that was such a great place."
"Price isn't everything." Tom pointed and said, "There they are."
Angier, Kay and Elsie Sloane were waiting at the table, along with fine crystal and silver settings for two more. Angier had his usual "Business Friendly" look about him, Kay was still as excited as she had been earlier with John and Daria, while Elsie mainly looked like she wished to be somewhere, anywhere, else. Kay rose and said, "Tom, Quinn, have a seat."
Angier politely nodded and said, "Hello."
Meanwhile, Elsie seemed to awaken from her slumber and said, "Hey."
After returning the greetings, Tom and Quinn sat down. Quinn whispered to Tom, "I hope I remember what fork is for what."
"Follow my lead, and be glad that they're not serving lobster this year," Tom whispered back.
Seated with Daria at a comfortable and more simply set table for two near the entrance to his gallery display, John craned his neck to look at the main hall and said, "I think we came out ahead on the deal with a private table for two. Eh, some would even call it romantic."
"Oh, instead of calling it, 'keeping the riffraff out of view?'" Daria jokingly said.
John straightened his back and said in a faux-haughty voice, "I prefer to think of us as staff, not riffraff."
"So the stable boy and the scullery maid get a table of their own. How quaint."
He shrugged. "I'll take it. Come on, even you have to admit the food's good."
"Very," she said. "I almost feel guilty since it's the same stuff they're serving out there."
"I said, almost," Daria corrected. "We only have a year before starting college and I need to get into the habit of never turning down free food."
John took a bite of his dinner and said, "That is a philosophy I can believe in."
"Hello, Tom," a pretty blonde said while stepping past Quinn as if she wasn't there.
Uncomfortable and annoyed, he said, "Hi, Melanie."
"It's nice to see you out and about like this instead of skulking around the little people."
"Ahem," Quinn sharply said.
"Melanie," Tom said, "I'd like you to meet my date tonight, Quinn."
She turned and said, "Oh, hello. I haven't seen you around Fielding or St. Swithun's. Are you a new exchange student?"
Quinn felt a Daria-like annoyance and answered in kind. "I'm from Highland."
"Really?" Melanie said. "You don't even speak with an accent."
"Thank you, I've had a lot of practice."
"I can tell."
"And with a little practice, you might be able to pass as a local where I'm from in Texas." Quinn took Tom's arm, said, "If you will excuse us," and led him away.
"Thanks for the save," Tom whispered.
"Skulking around with the little people," Quinn fumed. "If it wasn't a crime against fashion to damage a Sammi Rudolph gown, I'd have...oooh."
"I'd say you got her pretty good," Tom said. "On an intellectual level."
Quinn stopped, smiled and said, "I did, didn't I?"
An older gentleman with a ring of white hair around his bald head inspected one of John's paintings and then turned to Kay Sloane. "I agree. Why don't we take it before the board this evening, since we're all here?"
Carrying two sodas, John came back into the gallery and stopped beside Daria. "Here you go. I ran into Quinn out there and from what Tom said, it sounds like you've been rubbing off on your sister."
"Just a little verbal fencing with an unarmed victim."
"There may be hope for her yet."
John noticed the man and said, "What's up with the guy next to Mrs. Sloane?"
"He's Mr. Loudon, the head of the acquisitions committee, and he thinks they should buy it."
"So you mean I'm getting something more than free food and drink out of this?"
"If four out of five members agree. You've got two already, so..."
"We need to make sure we don't say the wrong thing to the wrong three people. Who are the others?"
"Um, I don't know."
"That's what I get for drinking three glasses of soda," Daria grumbled. The nearest restroom was across the main hall from John's gallery, so Daria had to venture out past the refreshments table and through the well-dressed crowd to reach it.
A part of Daria noted that the standard of attire was elegant and, by a vast majority, in excellent taste. She thought it was a pleasant change of pace from what usually passed as fashionable at Lawndale High. Also, a small part of her felt underdressed, though she was wearing one of the nice dresses that Quinn had convinced her to buy for special occasions. She saw Quinn and gave her sister a small wave while noting that she had chosen well for her dress, and further realizing that Quinn's fashion sense had shifted some over the summer to something more mature.
A young man of perhaps eighteen or nineteen stepped up beside Daria and said, "May I interest you in the next dance?"
"Well, yes, unless you have an invisible twin."
Daria faintly smiled and said, "No, I don't."
"So, may I interest you in the next dance?"
"Sorry," she said, "but I'm here with my boyfriend. His work is in the gallery across the hall."
The man sighed and said, "Shoot. All the cute ones are taken or chasing after the hot dates."
"Hopefully, not all," Daria said, trying to be somewhat helpful.
"Thanks." He looked toward John's gallery. "You're with that guy?"
"He has some interesting stuff. I mean interesting in a good way and not the usual style for this place."
She felt a smile form because of the remark. "I'll tell him you said that. Some of the reactions have been less than encouraging."
"That's just the old school members being themselves. The rest of the board members have at least entered the nineteenth century."
"That explains a few things." Daria motioned to the restroom door and said, "Excuse me."
"Oh, sure," he said and faded back into the crowd.
Entering the restroom, she thought, I have to admit that they have better manners around here than at Lawndale High.
Quinn and Tom stopped at the gallery and Quinn fell back against the wall. Embarrassed, Tom said, "I'm sorry for the complete lack of manners you've had to deal with tonight."
"What's going on?" Quinn said. "Some kind of contest to see who can grab you first?"
Daria went over to Quinn and said, "Are you okay?"
"I'm beat," Quinn replied. "They're like sharks out there. You'd better keep John close or they'll be all over him, too."
Tom slowly shook his head. "He's probably safe. Among the Muffys, they compete for what they consider high value dates. Usually based on what a guy's family is worth. Regrettably, I'm in the top bracket and John is..."
"Substandard, but I can live with that," John joked. "Why don't you hang out here with the crazy artist and his girl? That should keep the sharks at bay for while."
Daria looked at John, back at Quinn and then John again. "Oh no, you've got an idea fermenting in that head of yours."
"Never let inspiration get away."
Watching a middle-aged man examine the painting that Mrs. Sloane and Mr. Loudon had discussed earlier, John whispered to Tom, "Out of curiosity, is that guy on the acquisitions committee?"
"Yes, it's Mr. Vilano. Why?"
"Your mother and Mr. Loudon were discussing buying it earlier tonight."
Tom rubbed his forehead. "Don't count on his vote. He doesn't consider anything that smacks of that 'newfangled abstract stuff' to be art."
"Great. That means I have to get the vote of the other two. Can you point them out?"
"Uh, oh," Tom said.
"There they are right now, the Hamptons."
"Is that a problem?"
"Not them exactly, but, um, their daughter..."
"Is one of those that hit on you earlier."
Daria said, "Let me guess, she's the kind to hold a grudge and knows how to manipulate her parents."
"Yep. Let's hope...damn."
Melanie joined her parents from among the crowd and followed them into the gallery. She saw Tom and Quinn and an evil smile formed on her lips.
"That's her," Quinn said.
"I'm sunk," John said. "Oh well, at least I got free food and I think a few contacts out of the deal."
Having saved it for last, John took down the painting he'd hoped to sell and said, "Could've been better, but not a really bad night."
"I'm sorry," Quinn said.
"You couldn't know," Daria said. "Besides, I'm proud of how you handled her, my apprentice."
"It felt good," Quinn said. "But..."
"Look," John said. "Personal snits and other stuff are common as hell in the art world. It's not your fault the parents listened to their bratty kid."
"But sometimes, we'll listen to our other child," a man's voice said. Mr. and Mrs. Hampton stood behind them, along with the young man that had asked Daria for a dance earlier. Mr. Hampton said, "Our son tells us that your lady friend was very charming and pleasant and that your art is fascinating."
Tom said, "I didn't know you were back in town from Crestmore, Raymond."
"Only for the weekend," Raymond said. "I see that you've caught the fancy of the young lady's sister. The family resemblance is unmistakable."
"We're friends," Tom said.
"If you say so."
Angier and Kay Sloane arrived in the gallery, along with Mr. Loudon. The latter came up to John and shook his hand. "The committee has agreed to the purchase."
John couldn't speak for several seconds. Overcoming his shock, he said, "Um...cool." Inside, he thought, God, that sounded just like my brother.
Kay produced a check from her purse and said, "The committee also found your asking price acceptable."
John took the check and stared at the amount that he'd thrown out more as a lark than a real price. "It's been nice doing business with you."
While the family ate breakfast the next morning, John rested his cheek on one hand and stared at his breakfast bowl. "I should've kept my mouth shut."
"Now, John," Helen said, lifting her coffee cup. "You'll appreciate having that money set aside for when you're in college."
"You'd have only blown it on paint and canvas, instead of something important like pizza," Daria said. "Art junkie."
"Hey, John!" Jake said, folding the paper and turning it toward the teen. "You're in the paper."
Quinn looked and said, "Since when do you read the society page, Dad?"
"It's a great place to find contacts!"
"You made it into the paper; that's great. We'll need to keep a clipping for your college applications," Helen said.
"That's nice. I see the picture of John and Daria. What does it say about me?"
Jake read silently and then said, "Sorry, Quinn."
She looked again, failed to find any mention and sat down. "Daria, if you had the slightest amount of fashion sense, you'd be dangerous."
Some dialog from Is It Fall Yet? by Glenn Eichler and Peggy Nicoll
Thanks to Kristen Bealer and Ipswichfan for beta reading.