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This is the fiftieth John Lane story
Helen spoke into her cell phone while pacing back and forth in the kitchen as two delivery men finished installing a new refrigerator. "Oh, Eric, I'm so sorry I'm running late. I had a household emergency...Oh, our refrigerator suddenly broke...What do you mean I should chill? I'm perfectly relaxed! ...Oh, refrigerator! Chill!" After a short, forced laugh, she said, "Oh, I agree. There's nothing funny about food poisoning."
Daria wandered into the room and said, "Unless someone else gets it. Then it's frivolity city."
Following her, John said, "Unless their aim is bad and you're the only one around to clean it up."
"Eww," Quinn said as she joined them. "Why would you say that?"
"Personal experience. But Trent learned to never eat fuzzy food again after that."
John shrugged. "I suppose that is another way to describe it."
John and Daria were walking between classes when Ms. Li's voice came over the PA system, "Attention, Lawndale High students. It has come to my attention that during our all-important Trail Mix Fund Drive Week, some individuals have been flaunting outside snacks from non-school-affiliated sources. Now, students...the Booster Club, Leadership Club, Chess Club, Dominoes Club, football, basketball, lacrosse and marbles teams, as well as the Fraternal Brotherhood of Future Marketing and Promotion Executives, need your help. I'm afraid we are going to have to institute snack spot checks! I'm sorry, young people, but you have abused your privileges!"
When the PA clicked off, Daria said, "We can't get out of this place soon enough."
John pulled a candy bar from his pocket and offered it to Daria. "A little bootleg chocolate to take your mind off things?"
Daria took it and said, "That works."
"And we have less than a month to go."
"Why don't we have time machines when we need them?"
"That would make life too easy."
"I figured it would be something like that."
The cafeteria was as crowded and noisy as ever while Quinn talked to the rest of the Fashion Club. "It's kind of the Sloanes' private resort on the coast."
Eyes open in wonder and resting her chin on both hands, Stacy said, "Wow."
Sandi said, "So, what are you going to wear? Getting the right look for a wedding can be so difficult."
"I won't actually be there for the wedding," Quinn said. "My mother doesn't want me to miss class, but I'll go up for the weekend. Most of that will be casual."
"Oh," Sandi said.
"That is, casual for the Sloanes."
Tiffany said, "Quinn, are you sure Tom doesn't have a brother?"
"Can't you get your sister to clone him or something? I'll pay."
"She's smart, but not that smart. Sorry."
"Maybe I can find someone online."
Quinn sighed and focused on her salad. "Yes, Tiffany."
With class almost over, Ms. Ruiz turned and said, "And now for another responsibility I inherited when I took the job. The school needs volunteers to lead incoming freshmen tours."
The class sat in silence.
The class sat still.
"I would say that it would look good on college applications, but everyone has probably already heard from most of their colleges."
When Daria faintly whistled, Ms. Ruiz shook her head and turned around. "I really should've read the fine print."
Standing in the kitchen and stirring a pot, John said, "Daria, could you please pass me the oregano?"
Also at the counter, Daria selected the spice from a rack and handed it to him. "Here."
Standing behind them and reading the manual of the new refrigerator, Helen said, "Hmm, the different vegetable bins have individual thermostats. That could be handy."
Sitting in the living room and painting her nails, Quinn said, "Hey, no more mushy celery sticks when you have to set the temperature for carrots."
Daria said, "Another milestone in the progress of science."
Looking up from the manual, Helen glanced out of the window. "Oh, isn't that ridiculous? They carted off that heavy, old refrigerator and left the cardboard box."
Daria looked over her shoulder. "You can't rely on anyone to finish the job."
Helen said, "Well, it's light. One of you three can take it out to the curb."
"We're busy with dinner," John said. "Quinn?"
"My nails are still wet," she said.
Daria said, "Hey, why don't you put Dad to work?"
"He ran off when he heard about a last-minute opening at some marketing conference. One of you will just have to do it later."
"That sounds like Jake," John said. "What about you?"
Seeing her mother's glare at John, Daria said, "Didn't we have a refrigerator box when I was a kid? I seem to remember spending a lot of time playing in one."
After a brief laugh, John said, "You know, I remember having one, too. Helen, can you keep an eye on things for a minute?"
"I guess. Why?"
"I've got an idea."
Standing in the door to John's room after dinner, Helen crossed her arms and said, "Oh, for goodness sakes. You brought that box up here?"
Spreading his arms over the box, John said, "It's full of possibilities!"
"I hope it's not full of ants from the yard."
"I'm reasonably sure it's critter-free."
Helen shrugged. "It's your room. If you want to trip over it in the middle of the night, I'm not going to stop you."
After Helen left, Daria said, "So, what is your plan?"
John replied, "You said you remember playing in a box like this. Same here. Maybe we can kind of recreate our old boxes."
"You want to regress into childhood? That would require going through school all over again."
"Not regress, but visit."
Daria walked up to the box and touched it. "You know, you might be on to something."
Seated next to the box and drawing on it with crayons, Daria said, "This is going to be a schizophrenic box."
On the other side, John said, "You had a house as a kid and I had a fort; what do you expect?"
Thinking back to Highland, Daria said, "You wouldn't believe how girly my room was at the time."
"Was your mother in charge of the décor?"
"Then I'm not surprised at all."
Daria laughed. "What about yours?"
"Eh, it was mostly hand-me-downs or stuff I made myself – one of the disadvantages of being the youngest of five and, well, less than attentive parents."
"I've mostly come to terms with it. Last summer cleared things up a lot."
"But not everything?"
"No." After shaking his head, John grabbed a sketchpad and crawled inside the box. "I remember spending a lot of time in my fort drawing."
"I used to spend a lot of time reading." Daria stood and, as she walked to her room, said, "I'll be right back."
In her room, Daria scanned the bottom row of her bookshelf and, after a moment, picked out a worn copy of Black Beauty. "It's been ages since I read this."
Later, as Daria pulled the covers up and closed her eyes to go to sleep, the distant memory of a slamming door caused her to hold the sheet tight and want to crawl back into the safety of the box.
In his room, John looked at the dark shape of the box. Oddly, he then recalled a box of half a dozen cupcakes with a candle placed on each one.
"What are you two doing in there?" Quinn said the next morning as she looked into John's room. "And please tell me that you're fully dressed."
Daria put a bookmark in place and crawled from the box. "We're sharing a bit of our mutual childhoods. What are you doing in here, anyway? I thought you were driving down to visit Tom and his family."
"I am," Quinn said. "But, um, I wanted a little advice first."
"From us?" John said, still inside the box.
"I'm going away for the weekend with my boyfriend. Um...you know how people talk."
Daria said, "Ah, I see. Tell the truth. Your friends will accept and those who don't accept aren't your friends and wouldn't believe you anyway."
"You're nervous," John said.
"Yeah," Quinn quietly said.
Daria said, "Tom seems to be well behaved."
"Oh, he's always been a gentleman. He's really been good about not pressuring me or anything."
"You're thinking about pressuring him," Daria said.
"Not really pressure, just, um...suggest."
John said, "I guess, do what you feel is comfortable."
"And be safe," Daria said.
Quinn closed her eyes. "Please, Mom and Dad already gave me that speech."
Daria put a hand on Quinn's shoulder. "We had to endure it too."
"What do you suggest, Daria?"
"What I always suggest. Do what you feel is right. If you don't feel that things are right, don't."
"You make it sound so easy."
Daria reached over with her free hand to hold John's. "If things are right, it is."
Tom walked out to greet the approaching red SUV. As soon as the door opened, he said, "Glad you could make it, Quinn."
Quinn flexed her fingers and said, "The drive was horrible."
"That's one advantage to letting Dad do all the work," Tom said, taking her hand into his and gently massaging it. "The wedding was even duller than I thought it would be; you didn't miss anything."
"So what's going on now?"
"Dad and my uncle are playing checkers while Mom and Elsie are playing tennis. The rest of the family is off doing this and that."
"I thought you said this was a family gathering."
"It is. The Sloanes all get together in one place to go off and do our own things. They wouldn't want to do anything like talk, now would they?"
"Which means we can talk and nobody will bother us. Except for Elsie when she gets off the court, but that's for general sisterly annoyance."
Her hands feeling better, she held his and said, "If they're all so busy, do you think, maybe, that we could spend some time alone?"
"It shouldn't be difficult. Hardly anyone actually goes out along the beach."
"I was thinking about, uh, a more private kind of alone."
"You mean like – oh." After a moment's confusion, he said, "Are you sure?"
"I think so."
"Okay. But, look, if you change your mind or anything..."
Quinn smiled and kissed him. "I know you'll do the right thing."
Getting home from the conference, Jake set his suitcase down and went to the empty kitchen. There, he found a note and read, "Jake, in case you get home early, I went to Food Lord to pick up something for dinner. Quinn has already left for her visit with the Sloanes. Daria and John are upstairs."
Setting the note down, he shrugged and said, "Okay. I guess I'd better say hello."
Whistling, he trotted upstairs and saw the door to John's room was open. When he looked in, he was initially confused, but then he smiled. "Hey kids, are you in there?"
John crawled out of the box. "We're here."
"I remember Daria used to have a box like that, back when she was this high," Jake said, holding his hand about waist level.
Daria appeared and said, "You do?"
"Sure, kiddo. Hey, you've decorated it, too. Wow."
"What else do you remember about it?"
"You'd hide in there when you didn't want Quinn to disturb your reading. Boy, did you like to read. John, have we ever told you how she almost wore out her library card?"
He grinned. "Oh, I can believe it."
Daria said, "Did I hide in there at other times?"
Jake laughed. "When you didn't want me or Helen to disturb your reading."
Daria shrugged. "Oh, don't worry about it."
As Jake smiled and walked to his room, John remembered the cupcakes, the box, and what they meant together.
Sitting on the bed while Jake snoozed next to her, Helen sighed at the sight of legal papers spread over her lap and bed. "That's enough for one night," she said before scooping it all into her briefcase and setting the offending luggage on the floor.
She then curled up next to her husband and said, "Good night, Jakey."
"Hmm? Huh?" he muttered, now partially awake.
"Just me. Good night."
"Oh, good night, Helen," he said as he put one arm around her shoulder. His eyes closed for a second and then opened again. "Do you remember that refrigerator box Daria had as a kid?"
"No," Helen mumbled.
"Sure you do, honey," he said. "When she was a little girl."
"She used to read in it all the time."
Helen opened her eyes. "Now, I remember something."
"Do you remember her falling asleep in it? I can't remember why I was coming home in the morning, but I can picture myself checking on her. I almost panicked when she wasn't in bed, but then I found her in the box. She was so cute, but I got the idea she was hiding from something."
Helen held her hands to her face as her memory raced back.
Jake said, "I think Daria remembers some of it and it bothers her."
Holding a bouquet of flowers, Quinn looked at the flickering candles and said, "Oh, how romantic. You're so sweet."
Tom gently placed a hand on her forearm. "I wanted things to be special."
"They are. You are."
"I was going to say the same thing about you."
Quinn leaned against him. "This feels right."
"Yeah, it does."
She moved closer. After several seconds, she said, "Are you sure this is private?"
"Positive. Nobody comes out here to the beach cabin because it's too far to walk."
She looked up at his face and smiled. "Good."
Helen was already in the kitchen, preparing flapjacks, when Daria and John walked in. "Mom, you're up early," Daria said.
"I thought I'd do something special – and get a few moments to talk to you."
"Okay..." Daria said, going on automatic defense while John went to the coffee maker and prepared two mugs.
"You and John's box project reminded Jake and me of a few things from when you were about six years old. We think you might remember some, too."
"I remember reading and playing in my old box. It was my little refuge from the world."
"Even when your parents were fighting," Helen said.
The loss of color from Daria's cheeks told Helen that her daughter remembered.
"You were already a bright girl and almost a year older than some of your classmates," Helen explained. "It was all new to us and we didn't understand what you were going through when the school called us. We were young, stressed and took our frustration out on each other. One night, after a big fight, your father ran out and stayed overnight in a hotel. You heard and hid in your box."
"Do you remember how you got back into bed?"
"Jake carried you there when he got home."
"You were unhappy and we didn't know what to do. We tried our best, but I know it wasn't enough. I like to think we've learned a little bit since then."
Daria said, "You have. I never thought about how my problems caused so many for you."
Helen used a spatula to lift a flapjack from the griddle and put it on a plate. Offering it to Daria, she said, "It comes with the job."
Daria accepted the plate. "I feel like I owe you."
"Have a good life and you'll be paid in full."
"That sounds like a pretty easy deal."
Helen smirked. "The easiest one you'll ever get out of me."
When John stepped over with the coffee, Helen served up a second flapjack and gave it to him, asking, "What do you remember about your box?"
The previous night's remembrance came to him. "It was my sixth birthday present, along with a jumbo pack of crayons," he said. "I guess that was one of the times money was tight for my parents. Instead of a cake, we had a six-pack of cupcakes. It was probably a good thing Wind wasn't living at home or someone would've been left out."
"Oh, my," Helen said.
"The box was mine and I was able to make it whatever I wanted. After last summer, I know that Mom and Dad tried their best, too. A few years ago, I would've been mad, but now...I have sympathy for them."
"That's very mature of you, John," Helen said.
"I've had a few good influences."
Accepting the compliment with a nod, Helen then said, "I can almost picture you as a little Calvin in his time machine."
John said, "Well, except for the hair."
Daria said, "I don't even want to know what you made with a transmogrifier."
"Just imagine what I could do with one now." After eating a bite of breakfast, John leaned against the counter. "I wore that box out. Thinking back, it was probably the present I played with the most. They didn't have much money, but they knew what I would like."
"You're getting awfully philosophical this morning," Daria said. "Especially considering that you've barely had any coffee."
"You got me thinking, damn you," John said. "I'd be tempted to go see them, but the last I heard, Dad was in New Zealand and Mom was in Saskatchewan."
Helen said, "They travel a lot."
John nodded in agreement. "But I think I'll go see Trent." He took a bite and said, "After breakfast."
"Mmm," Quinn hummed as she opened her eyes. The real feather bed in the guest suite, which was decorated with art nouveau elegance, felt like sleeping on a cloud and her mood matched the feeling. Smiling, she swung her legs over the side of the bed and rose, picking up a robe from the nearby dresser on her way to the bathroom.
Half an hour later, she came back out with the same soft smile on her lips. After changing clothes, she walked out into the hallway to go downstairs.
Elsie Sloane was coming up the stairs and saw Quinn. "You're smiling as much as Tom this morning."
"You and Tom. Your absence was noted last night and some of us saw the candlelight in the beach cabin."
Quinn sighed. "Elsie, please don't..."
"Tom would have to do something really stupid to make me angry enough to use the nuclear option and in that case, nobody would win. You're safe; I won't say a word."
"But try to dim the glow. I think even my parents could see it."
"Thanks for the warning."
"And you two owe me for keeping our cousins from going down there to investigate."
"Oh, my god."
Elsie waved and said, "See you later."
"Bye," Quinn said, warily turning and going downstairs.
Elsie watched her and then grinned. "Aw, my brother is growing up."
Downstairs, Tom greeted her with, "Sleep well?"
"Yes," Quinn said. "I ran into Elsie on the way down. I think we owe her a favor."
"Ah, there they are," John said as he looked around the corner to the alley behind the Zon where the members of Mystik Spiral were loading their gear into the Tank. The very slow motion told John that they also had hangovers. "Hey, guys," he said.
"Ah!" Max cried.
Nick glared at Max. "Quiet."
"We don't need this," Trent said. Looking up, he said, "Oh, hey, Johnny."
"I think you guys have had better mornings."
Trent squinted. "Yeah, you could say that."
"What was that stuff we were drinking?" Jesse said.
"I don't know, but it was green," Max said.
"I thought it was orange," Nick said.
Trent said, "Those were the glow sticks."
"Cool," Jesse said.
Trent led John away from the van. "What's up?"
"I've been thinking about Mom and Dad."
"What about them?"
"They were struggling, financially, for a long time, weren't they? A lot longer than I realized or they even admitted when the Morgendorffers adopted me."
Trent nodded. "Yeah. What made you think about that?"
"I remembered something from my sixth birthday. They gave me crayons and a big box."
"Things have got to be bad if that's all you can afford, but they still gave me something that meant a lot to me."
"They've always loved you, Johnny."
"I know, and I'm slowly learning how hard things were for them."
"I wish they would've been home for you."
"Yeah, but I think I ended up where I needed to be."
Trent tousled John's hair. "Yeah, you did."
"So, do you think Mom was right with all of her 'everything happens for a reason' stuff?"
"Nah, you got lucky. Glad you did."
"What about you?"
Trent looked back at the band. "I kind of found my own luck."
Trent shrugged. "We don't make much money, but we're doing what we want to do. That's lucky in my book."
"Yeah, it is."
Watching television with Jake, Helen looked up when Quinn opened the door. "Welcome back; how was your trip?"
"I had a good time, Mom."
Jake said, "How was the Sloanes' little getaway place?"
"Very nice. Oh, Kay and Angier say 'Hi,' to both of you."
"How nice," Helen said.
"I want to go freshen up after the drive home."
"Go on," Helen said. "You can tell us all about it when you come back down."
"Okay," Quinn said, hurrying up the stairs. She dropped her bag in her room and crossed the hall to crack open her sister's door. "Daria?"
"Yes, Quinn?" Daria said, closing her book.
"Got a minute?"
"First minute is free; additional minutes will be pro-rated to match the subject."
Quinn entered and closed the door. "Relationship stuff."
Daria swung her legs over the side of the bed to make room for Quinn. "I'll do what I can, but it's not like I'm a font of wisdom on the subject."
"You're getting things right with John."
"Um, yeah. You seem to be getting along well with Tom."
"Very well," Quinn said.
"So, what's going on?"
"Tom and I, um, slept together last night."
Daria took a moment for the news to sink in. "I see, and you want to know if it's going change things. Yes, it will."
"With John, we feel closer. But, let's be honest, we don't get a lot of time alone together that way and it can be – frustrating."
"I bet that's one thing you're looking forward to in college."
Daria blushed and said, "Yes."
"Things get more complicated, don't they?"
"You are going to be closer, more intimate, more vulnerable and there's a whole new set of things to miscommunicate over. So yes, things will be more complicated."
"And he's leaving for Bromwell in a few months."
"I don't know what to tell you except that I wouldn't be happy separated from John."
"I guess it's something we'll have to figure out on our own."
Daria said, "I'm getting the feeling that's what most couples do, anyway."
"Thanks for listening," Quinn said.
"No charge," Daria said. "I figure I can cut my sister a break on important things."
Feeling good when he came home, John stopped by the sofa and said, "Hey, Jake. How's the game?"
Watching TV, Jake said, "The umpires are blind as bats, but for once, they're blind for my team!"
"Enjoy the game," he said, continuing on to the kitchen, where he saw Daria and Quinn seated at the table. "Do I need to be worried about sisterly plotting?"
Daria said, "No, but I could use some backup here."
Quinn shook her head. "Daria, last chance. It's your senior prom. The big one."
"It still has just as much attraction as last year," Daria said. "Though I wouldn't mind John and me continuing our tour around the National Mall. We didn't get to see everything last year."
"When I convinced Tom to go, I swore to myself that I would talk you into it," Quinn said.
Daria said, "You shouldn't make promises to yourself that you can't keep."
The rest of the conversation faded for John as he remembered their prom-avoidance trip the year before and the promise he had made.
Some dialog from Boxing Daria by Glenn Eichler
Thanks to Kristen Bealer and Ipswichfan for beta reading.